For those who read yesterdayʼs post (and an unresponsive lot you were, considering all my carefully cultivated literary suspense, although I did give away the “new word” through the link Janet had given me) the title of todayʼs post tells it all. But so does my continuation of my little narrative essay, so read on…

“A lump, huh? How long have you had it?”

“Janet just noticed it last night. I donʼt really know how long itʼs been there…”

“Well, letʼs take a look.”

So I pulled off my t-shirt (this was becoming a habit within ten hours) and turned around. No real reaction.

“Which side?”

“The left. On my shoulder blade.”

He prodded at me. “Here? On the scapula?”

“Feels like it. Janet said the bottom of my shoulder blade.”

“Uh uh.” He took my left elbow and pulled it back, then up, also pushing on my back, on the lump I assumed. He moved my arm some more. A minute or so passed. Then, “Crap…”

That woefully unmagical word! It made me freeze a little. No one wants their doctor, or their friend, saying that when examining something that might be wrong with you.

He kept manipulating my arm, apparently trying to get a good view of the lump by raising or depressing the scapula. After a couple more maneuvers, he told me, “Let me move it.” I tried to relax and let him take charge of where my arm went, including high over my head and back through some positions it had already been. Also more poking and massaging on my back.

Then he corrected himself, probably realizing what had slipped out of his mouth. “—Uh, not ‘crap,ʼ uh, ‘cancer,ʼ you know. Just… itʼs hard to tell… Itʼs not, not a tumor, not malignant or anything. Not cancer.”

Best words I had heard in many years. They probably even beat, “you have won the lottery” or “yes, we want to publish your story,” although I havenʼt had the chance to compare yet. At least now I might get to get that opportunity and take our vacation, finish the stories I have going.

“Thatʼs good,” I said.

“Uh huh. — Try crossing your arm over your chest.” I did. “And now, up over your head. High. Higher than that…”

Now I had control of the arm while he prodded at my back with both hands. We put me through quite a few contortions for a couple more minutes.

“Okay, you can put your shirt back on.”

I did and turned around to look at him.

“Itʼs not a tumor, not cancerous. Probably itʼs a lipoma.” I wasnʼt sure I heard the word correctly (this was my new word that I featured so suggestively to begin yesterdayʼs initial post on this medical session). I must have looked doubtful because he repeated the word at least five times trying to explain it to me. “A lipoma is a collection of fatty tissue beneath the skin. Theyʼre harmless. Itʼs just fat. Your fat usually flattens out into layers, like what gives us a belly, but in this case it just stays in a lump right under you skin.” Mr. Overweight here wasnʼt sure this new thing wasnʼt an issue with me being just fat in general. And he went on…

I am not even close on the explanation, so Iʼll just quit pretending that I remember what he said at all accurately. Heʼs really quite clear in his explanations of medical issues and I understood, but I am afraid that nervous tension put me in the wrong frame of mind — shocked pleasantly — to have taken full note of every word. I got the key information, though: the word, lipoma, and the diagnosis, harmless. The tougher issue, the reason for his exclamation, is that itʼs difficult to tell for sure without surgery if itʼs actually a lipoma. He told me an x-ray, even an MRI might or might not show the mass very clearly in my case. It was probably, probably even undoubtedly, a lipoma. But to be sure, I should see a surgeon, and he would make the referral for me.

Wrong shoulder and too high, but a lipoma

At some point in the conversation I had remembered to indicate my upcoming obligations — vacation, performances, possible substitute teaching jobs. He said it would probably be best to get me right in. If the surgeon, our local surgeon at the Jackson County Regional Health Center, Dr. Atienza, who has had the joyous opportunity of getting physically inside me twice already — once for double hernia surgery (thanks be to the novice doctor at the old medical office who finally determined that I had to get that operation, as our health insurance counted hernia surgery as cosmetic/elective and wouldnʼt have paid otherwise) in 2001 and again over Christmas break my last year of teaching, my celebratory end to 2008, when I succumbed to current friend doctorʼs blandishments to get a colonoscopy — , decided either to take a biopsy or actually remove the lipoma, I would heal in a couple of weeks (which is the same recovery time I was promised after the hernia operation, and I was still pretty feeble at the walking game more than a month afterward; itʼs the recuperation that really sucks with surgery, and no one ever talks about that).

And that was that. I remembered to bring up my inflamed toe (recovering from an ingrown nail, as I had diagnosed myself — still somewhat infected, though) and the fact that my meds were running low. He wrote out a new prescription for both blood pressure and cholesterol. I forgot the third item on my list was not the reason I had gone in (the lump) but the tinnitus, so Bill still doesnʼt know about that little annoyance/symptom.

Reminding me to razz Janet about that imaginary party, he took his leave. The nurse returned to call the hospital and make my appointment with Atienza (which will be tomorrow), and I was free to leave. Having walked down the hill to the office, I called Janet (as per my instructions) while walking uphill home. I think she may have been as relieved as I was.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Lump

I learned a new word on Friday. As some may have noticed, I have been having fun learning new words lately (look here and here, for instance). My doctor recently taught me an entirely new word I had never heard before and briefly explained it before setting up another appointment, this coming Wednesday, with a surgeon. (Janet did some more research once I phoned her with my report of what happened at the doctorʼs and passed an informative link onto me.) So, as you are probably wondering, was it somehow a bad word?

Thursday night, as we were getting ready to take showers and head for bed, I realized I had never shown Janet a huge scrape that (I think) I acquired backing into the big forsythia while mowing. So I stripped off my shirt (thanks to the wonderfully cool weather during that mid/later part of the week, not a sleeveless), to reveal the moderately large red welt. She never even saw it.

Suddenly, she gasped. “You have a big lump on your back!” And being Janet, she swung me around to give herself a better look, palpitating at the bump and making me realize I did kind of feel something on the lower end of my left scapula.

I twisted out of her grip to wrack myself around and get a glimpse of my own back in the big bathroom mirror upstairs (where she was shedding her contact lenses and doing whatever all it is she does before hopping into the shower). And indeed, I could see this long, narrow lump, maybe a couple of inches in length and over an inch wide. Of course right then, it looked huge to me.

Naturally, although neither one of us said it, our first thoughts were grim. And we havenʼt even watched an episode of The Big C. From her manipulations, I could tell that the bump wasnʼt real hard, actually kind of soft, maybe even temporarily malleable. Was that a good sign or a negative one? And now that she had palpitated the lump, it kind of ached squishily down there on the bottom of my shoulder blade. I felt/imagined the ache right through my shower and lying down in bed, where we decided (or I got told) that I should visit the doctor first thing on Friday (actually, Janet imagined me calling to see about an appointment, but I, knowing our doctors take walk-ins, knew I would head down right at 8:00 a.m. to see if our personal doctor was in).

A few years ago, maybe almost ten or more now, we elected to change medical offices here in town, partly because we werenʼt thrilled with the billing system at our former physicians (they somehow could never code the service correctly to get insurance to pay for the costs — of course, the schoolʼs insurance company pretty much had a policy of turning down any claim at least once to see if they could avoid paying their just cost by tricking us poor patients into forking out the dough ourselves). Partly because we had gotten a little concerned that we werenʼt being considered as seriously as we would have liked, even though it was that doctor that got me onto Lipitor for my skyrocketing cholesterol. And partly because we decided to become patients of a friend of ours, whom we had originally met when I had cast him in the Peace Pipe Players production of My Fair Lady and then, when a major actor backed out almost immediately, advanced him into a sizable role (not Professor Higgins) and with whom we have become great friends over the years.

So we switched, and the change has been very good, although I wasnʼt sure how he would feel about (or was going to tell me about) whatever dire condition the lump indicated.

I arose with the alarms on Friday morning to take my run, considering that it might be my last cool one for a few days and maybe, depending on what this lump was, my last one at all. All the possible difficulties, horrors and complications of this medical abnormality ran though my head as I pounded my heavy way around town. I didnʼt even notice the heaviness or ache I had imagined from Thursday evening (although I did feel it after my shower). Over breakfast, Janet figured out that I was going in person that morning and agreed that was the best plan, asking me to call her as soon as the appointment (well, not really an appointment, as I would be a walk-in unwell patient — so “session with the doctor”) ended, with whatever kind of news I had received. We got her off to work, and I got on the computer to check e-mail and Facebook for twenty to thirty minutes and then changed into not-at-home clothes to walk down the hill to the doctorʼs.

I got set up at the desk and sat down in the waiting area, pulling out my big red notebook from the big back pocket of the vest and starting to write some more about Søren and Judah. Five sentences later, a nurse called my name. We went into the back by the examination rooms, where she took my weight and conducted me into the chamber for blood pressure (which was excellent — 117/74 — and notice that I did not tell you the weight) and the announcement of what had brought me in today… a strange lump on my back. She nodded and smiled and told me that the doctor would be in directly. Once she left me with the door closed, I got out the notebook again, but I had no words to set down before our friend and doctor arrived.

Being who he is, he started off mock-chastising me for not inviting him to an imaginary party on our new driveway to inscribe names in the wet concrete (which would have been an abomination to The Lovely One). He really felt left out, he laughed. And told me more than once to be sure to let Janet know he was angry not to have been invited. (A good laugh was had by all.)

And then he added, “So you have a lump on your back, huh? I guess I had better take a look.”

We have reached a thousand words, so I guess (evil laugh inserted here), youʼll all have to wait for tomorrow to find out the diagnosis and learn my new word.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The Nine of Stars

Nope. Not a new suit in the deck of cards (not even the Tarot deck), although I was pleased to be able to invent a title that suggested just such a novel card. This is just the next piece of the opening chapter/short story from Stars in Heaven. Hey. Itʼs Sunday, and I seem to have fallen into a trap. I will even be generous today and offer nearly a thousand words. Enjoy. I hope.

Reading right to left (like Hebrew or — Rightists gasp! — Arabic), itʼs angry Moose and Squirrel, Dahlink!

Just thinking about the long trek to the city could make him entirely exhausted, although he had slept very well and for a long time each night since their arrival.

Uncle Rimmon’s house lent itself to sleep at night at least. That had surprised him. It was so noisy. Everywhere. But somehow at night, jammed amidst all these people, above you below you all around you, lying on the floor in Uncle Rim’s three-room flat between Daniel and Jism (who snored), believing you’d never fall asleep, wishing for the dream silence of home (once Ghorf had drunk himself unconscious)… suddenly it was morning and you had slept the whole night through, no wakening whatsoever.

Still he felt so tired now, and the things his eyes beheld seemed to be wavering and pulsing in the immense heat.

The journey took forever. Day after day after day, walking the dusty roads away from home, trailing along after Daniel and the two men and the three horses, Ghorf in no mood for rest talk. After about a week they even took lunch while walking. He felt as though he could still touch the fruit juice sticky on his chin and chest, trying so hard to stick his head far forward and bite as he trotted along.

“Move it, ya damn brat. Serve you right to be left out here lost, wouldn’t it?” And a thwack from Ghorf’s big walking stick. “Now keep up!” As if stumbling in pain, his arm or back absolutely useless from the shock, could help him keep up. And don’t beg to ride. The horses were along to carry the stars, not worthless whiners who didn’t know when they had it good. Thought he hurt, did he? Ghorf would show him what real pain was all about, he would. Would he like that, would he?

No matter what in his life, the boy realized of a sudden, there was always a shadow. Not Daniel, though he had been truly terrifying in the past. But Ghorf. Even Daniel’s behavior—first the poundings, then this new thing, this Escape—derived actually from Ghorf, from Daniel’s own turmoil with his father and his ways. The boy wasn’t the only one to suffer from Ghorf’s savagery. Strange as it seemed to realize, he understood now that Daniel suffered too. Ghorf beat him, his own son, just as freely as he battered the boy. Daniel just passed on what he had received, and so the boy took double clubbings. Unlike Daniel he had no one to transfer it onto.

Ghorf. Always Ghorf. His very name the sound of gagging bloody phlegm in your throat.

Ghorf’s nagging, croaking, sneering voice lancing your concentration as you picked stars, worse than thinking of the dust. The dust was always there, omnipresent, but you might just get used to being alone on your own out there in the brilliance of potential death, when suddenly his irritating nonsense filled your helmet and your head. Him sitting back on the veranda, sucking down beers. Ghorf never picked stars—”done enough o’ that when I was a boykid. Your turns now. So get to it! And damn-don’t miss none, neither.”

And your days and nights, daydreams and nightmares for these last six weeks, slogging along the dusty roads to the city. Long days, hard days, waking well before sunrise, choking down cold scraps of last night’s greasy supper—rancid meat you carried most of the way from home, rockhard blackbeans barely cooked, and rice of course—even while you were chasing down the horses and packing up bedrolls and repacking the burdens and making sure the fires were completely out and everything else while Ghorf sat on what Daniel always called his fatass, giving orders.

Whacking you with sticks he’d found, whaling on you when he felt really pissed. Leaving long darkblue welts that slowly turned greenblue then yellowgreen over the long weeks. Chopping right through your skin. “Won’t work, willya? Then bleed fer it, bratkid.”

And Daniel: “Coulda been worse, kid. Coulda been me. Glad you’re along this year. Damn glad.”

But they both got their share. And then some. More than their shares. More than anyone could have ever deserved in a whole long lifetime, in a spacer’s lifetime even. Ghorf seemed almost to feed on their pain, gaining strength from every unjust beating. He was like some dynamic force of nature, bigger and more awesomely powerful than anything the boy’s little mind could conceive. Stronger and more terrifying than he had any need to be.

It had been Ghorf, all along Ghorf that had made Daniel seem so much less consequential. Daniel’s daily torment was a kind of attention, which is why its absence this last year left a longing, that dim, strange yearning of some kind. With Ghorf, inattention was a blessing.

Perhaps it was Ghorf’s neglect since they had arrived that made Uncle Rim’s place seem restful…

From here on, the exposition is pretty much concluded and things start to happen (which may mean this is the last of these posts, too — sorry, Colleen).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Weekʼs Worth of What?

A week feels long sometimes, but alternatively (I keep using those other hands so often, letʼs just play the variety game today) lately for me the weeks seem to rush by, as do most days. For instance, I totally wasted Thursday, although I donʼt really know how or why. Too much Facebook for one, I am sure, and other online investigations. Also, having performed the evening chores — the next dayʼs lunch, supper, even watering the driveway (faithful readers should know what I mean) — I sat down to read and catch the evening news at 5:00, and promptly dozed off until about 6:30. A nice little nap for the guy who stayed up too late watching a rental movie the night before but still hauled his fat-engorged body from bed to take a morning waddle around town about 4:30 in the predawn morning. But that doesnʼt really explain where the rest of the day vanished without me having accomplished anything.

The week blew by with hardly a whisper, too. Sure, I got posts written and dancing out into the digital ether, including this one (actually written yesterday just before noon) and yesterdayʼs hesitations and reconsiderations (and all the others, too). I started the week worried about my ingrown toe (yep, you have now heard about it for the third time), which is still there but better, better. By Friday, other health issues had taken precedence in my thoughts (but thatʼs Mondayʼs post, heh heh), and I got the chance to show the toe to the doctor promptly at 8:00, along with the real problem. (He said it was still infected some but I should keep doing what Janet had gotten me to do earlier — soak the foot for a few minutes in Epsom salts morning and evening — with no more treatment needed unless the infection did not go away soon. As I have only taken antibiotics once in my life, for bronchitis a couple of years ago, right around my birthday, I will gladly forgo the drugs, as undoubtedly I have repeatedly throughout my life, unaware that I was perhaps seriously infected, as the lung infection felt no different to me than the extended cold I usually suffered wintertimes during most of my years of teaching.) He also got to renew my meds for blood pressure and cholesterol (might as well cover all my bases while I was in the office). By the end of the work days, I had switched what was foremost in my mind, although still in a medical rut.

I gave…

Even so, this was a powerfully unproductive week. Yes, I wrote some more on Judah and Søren while in Dubuque on Wednesday (more on that little trip next week, too), awaiting both my big appointment (thatʼs the news next week one day) and the strike of noon to pick up Janet for lunch (this time at Star, a favorite of ours, especially for their soups of the day — Wednesdayʼs was sweet-pepper chowder — and all-you-can-eat salad and biscuits). And I added a couple more paragraphs in the waiting room for the doctor Friday morning. I paid bills and balanced the checkbook against the bankʼs monthly statement, filed documents, investigated some issues online, kept up with all my Facebook friends and with my followed blogs (even contributing a comment on one thought-provoking post here), and… not a lot otherwise. I didnʼt get/have to sub, so no money came in. The driveway got its unveiling on Wednesday evening (and Janet was the first to drive upon the virgin surface; I held off until after she was home to put away the truck). And I watered every evening. But literally hours and hours leaked away without any special notice or record. Heck, I didnʼt even read much this past week (a post on that upcoming, too). On the other hand, I did give blood again (this time, for the first time, here in Maquoketa), having been prompted a while back by an e-mail from the Mississippi Valley Blood folks.

Simply amazing, the amount of time one (and by that pronoun I mean “I”) can utterly waste. Because I did.

However, most of this weekʼs posts (if not all of them prior to this) ran well beyond the thousand-word limit, so Iʼll do the usual Saturday thing and keep this one brief(er). Did you find even this post an utter waste of your time? (After all, I really just kept hinting at what I plan to write about next week. What was it? Three times?)

Hopefully (a word I abuse just as badly as the next person — I should have said, “I hope that”), you each accomplished much more in the week gone by than I did. And feel free to let me/us know what it was that you achieved through the comments section below…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Not an FHF®, Really… Itʼs Not…

I just got kind of scared… Again. On Facebook.

My Newsfeed has me concerned.

I acknowledge, if anyone whoʼs been reading this blog needed the clarification, that on my Facebook page you wonʼt find any comfortably numb flags flying figuratively to indicate my weakminded submission to the preachments of hidebound zealots with no religious perspective or Constitutional understanding (although the FoxNewsHeads are all still yammering their tired tirades about their misnamed “Ground Zero Mosque”). I completely fail to perceive what is nobly “American” about narrowminded bigotry and disrespect for others. I thought we fought a Civil War, endured Reconstruction and struggled finally for Civil Rights to deny and undo (ineptly) that dark and evil, fetid armpit of U.S. history. (These are American Muslims wanting to build in NYC and not al-Qaeda terrorists, regardless what nonexistent nonevidence Foxautomatons flash around onscreen, and John Stewart has already skewered the recent “follow the money” deception.) I had thought that everyone, inspired by my usually least favorite President, had decided nearly nine years ago that degenerating into terrified weasels rather than arising to genuine American ideals was playing into the terroristsʼ plans, so it was best to conserve our generous, traditional values rather than succumb to fear and resulting uncivil hatred. So I wonʼt be flying that flag of fear, intolerance and terror.

“Those were the days, my friend / We thought theyʼd never end…”

Or should I, like some broadcast and published commentators, blame the current economy for the moral perversion of so many (because it must be forgivable to turn into wildeyed, malevolent abominators just because big corporations prefer to pay stock benefits to buddies rather than hire workers to make and sell stuff)? In times of economic threat, itʼs easy to turn like rabid dogs on convenient scapegoats. Or so I have heard. Thatʼs yet another poor excuse for not measuring up to the standards that should be ours as a nation. (And, of course, as Righitst screaming heads loudly instruct us, we must all dutifully be terrified of governmental efforts to ease such economic tremors of unfettered capitalism, seismic plunges that once again donʼt appear to hurt the big-time capitalists whatsoever, just the ordinary underpaid working stiffs.)

But I have said this already, a week ago.

I am just wearied and frightened by the deliberate moral blindness sweeping the Right (and the Fundamentalist Right in particular). But totalitarian intolerance scares me (I said that before, also). So, no, I wonʼt be stupefied by TeaPot chanteuses tunefully braying the fourth verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as some kind of (incorrect and inadequate) proof that our eminently not-Evangelical founders (never) wished to create what one hurtful sliver of contemporary “Christianity” wrongfully hankers to metamorphose/degrade the country into. Nope, we are not and cannot be a theocracy — itʼs Constitutionally guaranteed.

All the shrill, demented and lying screeds of the religious right are just wrong: Islam is simply another monotheism, a sibling faith, or at least close cousin creed, to Christianity (and Judaism). Allah is simply God in another language, kids, regardless what loveless, execrating pastors preach (and yeah, with a load of other scripture to hamper any mutual understanding, just like ours, and a mutual load of misdeeds in history for everyone to overcome). As they say, we are all People of the Book (well, in these dire days of religious wrongness, perhaps that “we” doesnʼt include me). The only ones who donʼt understand are mentally straightjacketed, intolerant fundamentalists (of both denominational families) irrationally, meticulously and willfully closing their wild eyes to the truth.

The recent news of hate-crime stabbing in New York City is —

…And I had to stop there because I realized that my crop of debased websites was just scaring me. And as I had observed myself, fear breeds hate, and I was descending into doctrinaire generalities, which is wrong.

Then I was going to delete the whole post in its entirety, but I thought what I had erupted might become a good object lesson, for me if no one else. So I will cut to the conclusion because I could use that admonition, too.

As the world heard a long time ago, “Love your enemies.” Itʼs unalterably clear and concise, if you take your scripture seriously (literally?). Submit to that unavoidable Word and let us all find freedom from fear.

All this is why I chose to use the Iberian Sepharad/Al-Andadalus conviviencia for Judah and Sørenʼs adventures. However…

“Something too much of this.” So…

Now for something completely different…

(I certainly hope The Pythons havenʼt gotten that so-useful phrase copyrighted or trademarked).

Letʼs get back to candyfloss and unimportant airiness.

The toe is better although still imperfect (I told you this would be completely different). I hope these cool days permitting long and liberating runs arenʼt prolonging the recovery, but the mornings are so gloriously temperate that I have not been able to resist scampering around town (okay, this lardkeister isnʼt exactly romping with unusual speed or lower-limb dexterity, but I am pushing to go faster than has become typical). And the weather forecasts say early next week is a muggy return to what we had come to expect of this August, at least until maybe Wednesday, so I decided to enjoy while I may. I hope that I got myself up and headed out for another long one this morning, toe or no toe.

Anyway, the ingrown toe is still red and somewhat large (at least Janet says so; the redness I can see for myself). But it doesnʼt hurt. (I knew you were all very worried.)

(Ironically, completing the run on Thursday morning — now what a gloriously cool early day that was! — I discovered that I had blood around the toe of my sock, the left one, while the toe formerly in question was the right big toe. Investigation revealed that a poorly cut toenail, having grown out with a sharp corner, had gouged a bit of hide from the neighboring toe. And I hadnʼt felt a thing. Kindly, The Lovely One installed a band-aid on the wounded digit until I could trim the offensive nail appropriately. Now I need to determine a good system of cleaning bloodstains… Perhaps CSI, which is usually on Spike all day long, would help.)

I also intend to mow the lawn today (another issue just pressing weightily on each of your frontal cortices, I know). But I bring it up with Thursdayʼs post in mind, as everything on my mind (truly) today seems to be nodding backward to things I have said already. And in that mode still, I begin to weary of carting water to the grass seed along the driveway… (but that is what I must do, so this is the end of todayʼs post).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Nonpresidential Shrub Update

I have been astonished at how our bushes and shrubs have grown this year (on the other hand, I was also amazed last summer). However, as discussing their growth gives me the opportunity for an easy, relatively quick post at an interestingly busy yet lazy time, Iʼll show and tell about the bushesʼ bigness. (I think I continue droning on about the marvels of domesticated nature because I really donʼt have anything of any import to impart.)

I showed you most of our shrubs and stuff weeks ago, here and here. Itʼs worth clicking on the links and checking the old photos to compare the various plants to their more modern state (I should acknowledge that I shot some of these pictures earlier in August, so there are already some differences now: the big forsythia in particular looks much healthier and fuller than it did a while back — although I realize now that I didnʼt even think to take its picture). I will try to pair links with pictures at the end so you can compare for yourselves. (And I did just now go outdoors and took some newer shots of some of the plants.)

Last year, I believed it was the temperate conditions that played so well toward the plantsʼ health and growth. This August has not been temperate at all (in fact it reminded me of the summer that we first bought an air conditioner for our bedroom on the day before the start of school), and still something about the weather has been good for vegetable progress (which inspires images of incredible plant excess thanks to Andrew Marvellʼs “To His Coy Mistress”).

Hydrangea in bloom

Anyway, back to the back yard. First up is our little hydrangea, for which I buried a variety of rusty metal objects in the dirt this spring. The only effect of the iron oxide in the ground seems to be a greater pinking of the flowers (we had read that rusty nails made white hydrangea blooms turn blue). It has filled out and grown a bit taller, but just like last year, once the blooms began to show, further growth on the bush seemed to stop. This picture is from the beginning of the month, August 4, but the only real difference is that once again the weight of the blossoms is dragging the bush more open (and less pretty).

Rose of Sharon

Next up, we have across the yard, the local native, a rose of Sharon, which is past its full blooming, when in late July and early August the bush was ablaze in white flowers. But a few remain, and the plant itself has grown taller and wider. Janet has begun to push for some trimming, especially lower down, near the concrete. The bees love this bush. When I mowed two weeks ago, I stirred up maybe a half dozen when I got the mower in around the base (and myself into the branches above). Fortunately, it was a hot afternoon (as they all were back then, in fact up through Monday, with Tuesday being the big changeover day when the cold front came through and the temperatures and humidity both sagged to much more acceptable degrees), so the bees lazily ignored me, more or less. I did not get stung, although one big girl hung around my face for awhile.

Dogwood, photographed on Tuesday, 08/24/2010

I also love how huge the dogwood has grown and wonder just how gigantic it might be if the rabbits hadnʼt gnawed the stems and branches to almost nothing late in the winter and during the early spring. Rabbits (and ground squirrels, and for Janet, squirrels in general) provide the only reason I would ever imagine wanting a gun (or that the city allowed shooting firearms within the town limits). But weʼre prepared for them! Perhaps late yesterday or today sometime, if the wind has dropped, using some animal repellent we purchased in May that we just havenʼt seen the need to spray around yet, I may have taken the necessary precautions. And I will if I havenʼt yet, repeatedly, if it can keep the long-incisored rodents from trashing my plants again. — As you can see, the dogwood is quite a bit too large (nearing five feet tall or even over and just about that distance across, all new growth this spring and summer, astonishingly) for us to try to encircle with some rabbit fence, as we did do with the new sand cherry that the dratted conies consumed within a week of its planting.

The unknown-species "big bush" getting big indeed, although it has lost its lovely aurora of delicate “flowers” that blow away on the wind

And finally: the big bush (the one with the unacceptable nickname if you check back) is taller than it was supposed to get (by a couple of feet at least), and it is beginning to widen out, especially toward the east (would that be away from the wind, perhaps?). The overhead wire it is stretching branches above is just for cable TV (Mediacom whom we donʼt like much — we think it was their workers rather than city crewmen who took out parts of the lilac, which is doing very well itself, including extending higher branches back toward the pole), and no one in the neighborhood is currently on cable, so we donʼt really care how tall it gets, although we may get instructed to care. Weʼll see.

Other bushes have grown big, too. I just didnʼt shoot more pictures when I went out to do yard chores on Tuesday afternoon. I did, after all, have to scrub out the birdbath, water all the plants in pots and a few of the smaller plants in the yard (weigelas and baby lilacs), and in particular water the grass seed in the dirt along the sides of the driveway, the last of which takes considerable time when using just a watering can. An hour later, I decided to come indoors again, finish thawing squash soup for supper (along with a couple of Panera asiago cheese bagels), chop up a pound of feta to create crumbles for Janetʼs daily lunch salads, make the morning coffee (only to discover weʼre out of espresso, already), and then retire to the office to compose this post and remain a comfortable couple of days ahead of real time.

The big, old forsythia is bigger yet (and as I said above, filling out for some of the strange dead places — I may even have to trim it). The new forsythia is taller than the dogwood, thick with leaves, and doing very well. The big lilac outside the office window on the west now hides the bottom corner of the window, almost a third. The burning bush, at the other/eastern end of the patio from the rose of Sharon, is also taller and deeper than ever. (And unfortunately, the creeping Charlie in the yard has also gone nuts this August, trying to take over everywhere on the north and west — there may be a post in that pesky problem someday.)

To wrap this up, I am going to attempt a little do-it-yourself slideshow/comparison activity, allowing you to access the photos of the various shrubs and such from earlier in the year and more or less now.

Rose of Sharon — then, now.

Big bush — then, now.

Hydrangea — then, now.

Dogwood — then, now. Both in the distance from the nothing where it started and overall, its growth is the most amazing.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Driveway Done!

taken Sunday — our new driveway in its final, finished state (and dry). Go ahead: click and click again for the enlarged view.

By the end of today, our cars will be in the garage, off the street, where they have resided while at home for the past ten days. The driveway is done done done, all dried and set, and we can actually drive on it. Scott told me  to wait until Wednesday, and to be completely confident weʼre waiting for Wednesday evening. I hope Janet will get back from Dubuque and her workout with enough light to appreciate her new grand entry. (I may even hold off and let her get the first drive into the garage, but then again, maybe not.)

As we had worried, the junk dropping from the trees was a problem (leaves and pods made dents and holes in the wet surface when they fell onto the newly fashioned drive a week ago). So we tried patching the imperfections, thus creating darker areas, but we donʼt care so long as itʼs smooth.

The new driveway is novel for us in very many ways. First, for me, I have never lived at a place that got a new driveway until now. Not any of the homes where I lived as a child ever got repaved (perhaps because we never lived anywhere all that long until Mt. Pleasant, and the driveway on Green Street was in pretty good shape through my fatherʼs death), nor has anywhere I dwelled as an adult (the apartment in Ft. Madison had no driveway; the house on Emma Court had a gravel drive; the Matteson Street apartment was also graveled although I had to park in the street anyway; Maple Street just had a tiny concrete slab outside the garage onto the alley, and that was home to Janetʼs red Mustang, while my van still parked on the street in front; the rental house had a nice drive (which the people living there now have redone); the Arcade street house was accessed from gravel; and this place has needed a replaced driveway for decades*). The driveway has also cost us the most money we have spent on home improvement without taking out a loan (soon to be second place to the new furnace/boiler). That  notion is a little scary, especially knowing that the furnace and our vacation are still coming out of the account!

I donʼt know if I would ever have gotten around to redoing the drive without Janetʼs determination (and the model of our neighbors to the east, who got theirs redone about two or three years back). I tend to let nature take its course on things and adapt myself (even to the jarring shocks of my shovel encountering the crevasses in the drive at 5:00 a.a.) rather than intervene and change things. Thatʼs why we trim when Janet thinks bushes are too grotesque and intrusive, not when I decide to (because I wonʼt come to that decision). By the way, notice in the picture that the sand cherry to the right of the drive in the picture has been trimmed; Janet thought it was dropping sap on the new concrete.

I also donʼt know if all the choices in getting our new drive were the best ones, either. She left me to interview the prospective construction/concrete companies/guys, and I donʼt know if I made the best choice or not. We went with the lowest bid (but with thicker concrete and including the fill), which sounds too much like government decisions. However, itʼs done now, and we will just have to see.

Our neighbors got smooth drives, while ours has a roughness to the surface created by the lightweight paddle on the long handle (that I pointed out here). Our concrete also looks very pale (especially with the dark splotches of patch that I did on Sunday and Monday). Again, I donʼt know any better, so weʼre hoping all is well with what got done. With all the fill the guys put in (eight tons, they said, but that might have been enthusiastic exaggeration), we shouldnʼt see the settling the old driveway endured, so that alone should help prevent some level of cracking.

Whatever. As I keep telling myself (and as I have said already here), itʼs done, and weʼll live with what we chose to have done. For at least quite  few years it has got to remain better than the old one ever was. And better than the streets of Maquoketa, which the city elects to have “seal-coated,” which means tarry asphalt thinly applied and gravel dumped on top of that, leaving any street so “repaved” nothing but an in-town gravel road for months, and our street seems to get done the worst of any street in town, although a good number of the ones I run down in the mornings have their little problems, too. Right now our street rises in a noticeable hump to the middle because of the various layers of asphalt-and-gravel, making for not the safest winter driving along the rolling hillsides of the two lanes. We also used to be able to just shovel or blow snow right across the street to clear a space in front of our driveway, but that job has gotten harder as we now have to push definitely uphill from our side to the crown in the middle. (But the cityʼs errors in street-maintenance judgment are another issue altogether, right?)

So the new driveway is complete and will get used for the first time this afternoon or evening. We hope for the best.

* For a review of some of those old houses, check here.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The Ugly Toe

I am not sure if I should post a picture to accompany this post (or even write the post at all, but then, we all are getting familiar with how desperate I may be getting for ideas). On the other hand, having written it, what the heck…

I have gotten considerably better about running lately, churning out about thirty miles a week (donʼt sneer or condescend, actual athletes — thatʼs pretty good mileage for me). I have even gotten back into the long loop, six miles around town, some days. Once again, I should acknowledge that the word “run” is at best a fantasy-approximation of the actual sluggish trudge/jog that my aging body incapably almost doesnʼt accomplish. A considerable number of svelte, healthy, trim young women in lithe track suits speed past me regularly (one or two even twice a morning), pony tails bouncing insouciantly with contemptuous disdain. I saw one gangly guy, visibly running like a girl (no offense to women, but it is the best possible description of his wayward arms flapping unsynchronously to his wide-spaced legs), turn onto the sidewalk about a block ahead of me one day last week, and although I had figured there would be one individual not merely crawling along on all fours that I would end up passing, he easily galloped away, ever increasing the gap of distance between us until I gratefully turned the corner toward home. Equally or more aged folks feebly strolling in the morning breeze are about the only ones I ever pass nowadays, and even they cannot avoid hearing my hoglike approach.

But I am back at it, instead of loafing for an extra hour or two in bed before arising to help Janet with breakfast and lunch and getting her away to work (which had become the alternate-week pattern usually in the earlier summer — one week on, one week off with huge, poorly selected lunches every week to boot). And furthermore, the running so far hasnʼt injured me again — yet. This spring I got off track after pulling a muscle in my left leg, and then as I got myself back at it, my right knee acted up. (I really, really enjoy getting old.) Pain made it particularly easy to decide on getting nearly seven hours of sleep instead of not-quite-five.

With pain in mind, we are back on track. Sometime late last week (I think it was Thursday), I noticed that my right big toe hurt, noticeably so on Friday, and by Saturday morning I knew I had somehow let myself suffer an ingrown toenail. At least that is what I think these little situations are — a situation I never faced at all until I was about forty, and which I have only suffered about a half dozen times altogether. The redness, swelling (and pus eventually) I attribute to my near blind personal toenail clipping: difficult for the aged fatty to bend himself sufficiently to bring his face near enough his toes to see what heʼs doing when he tries eventually to trim the knifelike nails. And Mr. MultifocalLenses canʼt twist his head awry enough to find a viewing angle that puts the toes in focus with his glasses on. So I am generally cutting somewhat blindly. And periodically pay the price, like this past weekend.

I ran with the possibly infected toe on both Thursday and Friday (six then five miles). I mentioned the problem to The Lovely One on Saturday morning (she had noticed me wincing with every step and shunning shoes for my sandals). My normal regimen is to suffer a day or two and then with some rigid tool — fingernail or plastic knife — press back the enflamed flesh along the side of the toe to reveal the bit of nail that has been buried. It is exquisitely painful and usually produces the oozing liquid behind the inflammation. She offered to soak my foot in lukewarm water enriched with epsom salts that evening (although her definition of “lukewarm” apparently matched my footʼs definition of “scaldingly hot”) as we watched a rental movie, Date Night (not bad, amusing often, but not life-changing or -enhancing whatsoever) while eating grilled scallops for dinner.

Sunday the toe was better but not by much. Janet thought it looked even more gross, red and enlarged. I opted for flipflops and sandals again. And again, as we did episode ten of I, Claudius, I put the foot in the plastic tub of (considerably cooler) salted water. I even sat an extra hour, watching a big part of Inglourious Basterds on one of the movie channels (not bad, like all Tarantino films featuring great dialogue — even in French and German with subtitles — and without much letʼs-just-turn-this-off-now gruesome violence of the sort that made Janet never get further than just past the opening conversation between the Mr. Colors in Reservoir Dogs).

Monday morning, I awoke before the alarms (a side effect of plenty of sleep on Friday and Saturday nights) and got out to do my miserable excuse for a run (unfortunately without my iPod, which somehow had lost all charge between mowing the lawn Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, but I found the six miles of semisilence — my hearing leaves nothing completely silent these days, what with the insubstantial celestial choir of cicadas I tintinitically pseudo-hear — interesting and not boring). And my toe never complained. Until later, as I was watching another movie, The Last Station (which Janet had selected but not really wanted to watch, and as it had to be returned by Monday evening, I decided to go ahead — liked it a lot, especially Plummer and Mirren, both juicily enjoyable doing Tolstoy and his wife, but likewise with the ever-excellent Paul Giamatti, and the young folks and the doctor were all good, too). The toe is still visibly red and somewhat swollen. I did take the picture. Weʼll see if my nerve permits me to include it.

It should be better by the end of this week.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

“Iʼm a substitute for another guy” (or gal in this case)

Corny, but available

Itʼs easy to sub on a short day of school, as I did on Friday for my first paid work since leaving the Census (which ironically reared its presence in my life both Thursday and Friday). Itʼs hard to go home when itʼs hot, even early, as I did on Friday as well. Probably the best part of the substitute teaching I did was getting an air-conditioned room for the hours between 8:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. I would not have had that experience at home. And the teaching went pretty well, too. The kids were fine — with a minor exception toward the end of the day, but I canʼt expect every seventh grader not to behave like a spoiled seven-year-old with intellectual-developmental challenges. Can I? And the kid did complete the work they had — how well is an entirely different question, as is how much s/he kept other students from completing their work further/better. (I probably should have been more aggressive against the kid, but instead s/he has likely earned rural-retard immortality among the minor characters in “Mantorville,” since I found the childʼs name to be almost irresistible for some insignificant villain among the delusional and wicked in Quetzal County.)

It was actually a shock to receive a call to become a substitute teacher for the second day of school (although apparently they needed one for the very first day as well). I guess from having to avoid such work last year until November, I wasnʼt expecting to get my chance so soon (and I took the opportunity to post my schedule of conflicts, for at least the next couple of weeks, in the overly optimistic sense that another call could be forthcoming at any time).

So far in my limited experience as a sub, I have only repeated in science and art. Otherwise, I have taught social studies, third grade, and now business courses. I believe the business was the easiest experience to date. All the fulltime teachers I have briefly replaced had good lesson plans to follow (that usually filled the available time, ever an important issue for a sub: keep those kids busy while Iʼm here!) and pretty well behaved students. I found art to be pretty pleasant, too, and I would guess for the same reason as I did Friday — small classes.

Probably the most taxing work is with elementary kids, who demand and need constant attention. Furthermore, just dealing with them is novel for me. When I got to work with third grade once last spring, not only was everyone of adult age amused (even the high school students), but I had no idea how to handle the most basic daily activities (lunch orders, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, recess dismissal, supervising lunch — about which I have already written). Even in art, supervising the kindergartners was pretty intense (but I think successful). Fortunately at both my levels of teaching with little kids, they themselves kept me to their idea of the straight and narrow, by pointing out what I did wrong — such as not dismissing the class in groups, by, say, rows, instead of as an unruly mass.

I had always felt while actually teaching that I was not cut out for middle school/junior high. My exposure to that age group as a sub has reinforced my preliminary judgment. Theyʼre just too wild and childish for me to instruct validly. Notice it was the seventh graders, still in just their second day “upstairs” as we say in Andrew, and therefore one would presume still terrified and uncertain, who gave me the most issues. (I still havenʼt decided if sustained repetition of “Hershey-squirts” — think about it if the term is new to you, as it was to me, and remember that youʼre maybe thirteen and showing off — is worth sending a constantly giggling/talking whippersnapper to the office. Probably. But it isnʼt my style.) Fortunately, working at Andrew as a sub I can only face middle schoolers for some (possibly most) of a day. Third graders were far better.

Periods on Friday were only a half-hour in length, so the stress level was pretty low. And I got to write, just as I had last school year. Working on Søren and Judah almost side-by-side through what should/may be the climax to “Mistakes by Moonlight,” I scrawled down about a thousand words (five pages more or less, as well as the first two sentences for this post), and thatʼs more than I have done sweltering in the office in the muggy sultriness of these dog days 2010. (I really do miss last summerʼs temperate aridity, no matter how much neighbors, not the ones on our block, and newscasters whined and complained about the coolness a year ago.)

All in all, I felt that my short day of substitute teaching was a better heat-avoidance technique (thanks to my actual teacherʼs air-conditioned room) than a trip to the mall or somewhere equally commercial.

So the start of the school year did mean something important to me. Of course, now I do have to be ready for that phone call at 6:30 (or 7:00) in the morning, just as I have returned from the daily “run”/not-even-a-jog, giving me the opportunity (proper word choice there?) to work that day instead of idling at home as I would otherwise have done.

Oh. For the youthfully illiterate (in rock lyrics), we can thank The Who (meaning Pete Townshend), for the title. Gotta love the greatest rock band of them all: “The song is over / It’s all behind me…” “Rock is dead, they say.”

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Eighth Stars

Orionʼs “Belt”

As has become my habit now, hereʼs another installment from Stars in Heaven.

I want to include a long section, following what appeared last Sunday and preceding this little chunk, about the trek from the boyʼs home (actually I guess it would be the home to most of the characters — the boy, Daniel, Ghorf, Jism [and Aunt Sarai, but sheʼs not on the journey, so only a recollection in the boyʼs thoughts]) to the city, which amusingly I just realized I have never named. I fell in love with If-naryadh’iq square, but I never named the city.

The square, by the way, owes itself to several places (the main one in Marrakesh, of which many details about the fictional square parallel) that Janet and I visited on our 1984 trip to Morocco (ironically/coincidentally, during Ramadan, as we now are also). Anyway.

I want to write (but havenʼt yet written) about the long journey — first the uncles and the two boys hiking for a while, then the caravanserai where they attach themselves to one of the regular caravans to the city. The first portion, the walk, is mostly tedium, but I have several incidents in mind for the caravanserai. The actual caravan journey is still pretty vague to me (which along with the uninteresting aspect of the foot journey may explain why I havenʼt gotten around to writing any of this). Regardless, I wanted to indicate that, although I wrote the next section (and the next and the next after that) as one big hunk of evolving narrative, my plan is that this comes quite a distance after what you (may) have read so far.

The whole travel narrative remains in the boyʼs thoughts, as has just about everything so far.

You can tell me if you think itʼs necessary…

Ghorf was sure they were late and would arrive only after the harvest fair was over and all the offworld trade departed with their portion of this year’s stars. Ghorf, yapping and hollering, whining through supper and again at breakfast and full volume all along the hot dusty roads. Ghorf, kicking your backside long before dawn in the days before they joined the caravan, “to get you going, bratkid, are-you-gonna-sleep-all-day?” Ghorf and Jism bickering, shouting, all along the trail:

“We’re right on schedule, cuz. Cut the crap, huh?”

“We were with the caravan long before this last year.”

“We were not. And you know it, Ghorf.”

And they trudged on, as weary as the little boy in Aunt Sarai’s stories. The little boy, who didn’t listen to his kindly step-aunt when she told him what not to do, who always ended up in some terrible calamity that taught him the lesson of his life. She told good stories, Aunt Sarai. He missed them on the journey, even when he was telling himself he was like that little boy, condemned to wander the big world’s vast deserts in search of happiness.

But unlike the little boy in the stories, he would never find it. Never ever, never never never. The rhythm of the words, remembered, rocked in his mind, echoing inside of his skull. His head felt large and heavy on his neck. His eyes seemed slow and tired.

Orion is my favorite constellation, mostly because I figured out to see it for myself and I can actually see it (the constellation will be rising into  clear evening viewing above the horizon by late October and remain very visible in the southern sky through the winter). I laugh to realize that the mythological Orion was a mighty hunter, ironically for my favorite star image.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.