Yearʼs End

…And suddenly the year is at its end. I am somehow surprised that I have actually, as of this unessayʼs ætheric appearance, composed at least a post a day for a full 365 days, not to mention no less than four or five further posts-worth of commentary here and elsewhere. I suppose I should use the opportunity of this final day in 2010 to reflect musingly on my little collection of essays over the year. Perhaps I will. However, as has become my typical practice, I begin instead with no particular goal in mind, simply considering that a decade ends today (I guess I canʼt tag a post automatically with “The Aughties” any longer).

The gloomy fog outside my head. Pretty bleak (and I mean both words). This picture has partners on the blog, earlier in the year, for comparison and contrast. If you look closely, you can see piles of creosoted logs, plentiful in whitecapped black piles, fermenting in the wet and slushing snow.

Naturally, it is really the-day-before-this, the thirtieth, on which I write (and if I choose to post something for the new year tomorrow, it may be that far in advance as well). I goofed the morning of yesterday away, watching the old Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes Dressed to Kill on Encore Mystery and then (only after it had appeared) editing yesterdayʼs post and adding a preface to “Mistakes by Moonlight.”* It was going on 2:00 by the time I actually forced myself to begin hunting and pecking away toward this post. And I had to interrupt myself almost as soon as I had begun (right here, as a matter of fact) because I had promised Janet I would head out into the drizzle and fog to purchase some female medication for her.

Not an inspiring first two paragraphs for our final day here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog 2010. But then 22 out of 56 cars I encountered on my little drive out to and back from the hidjous** Walmart, even in this day of factory-installed daytime-running-lights (albeit in our financially destitute county, nearly the nadir here in Iowa, many of those cars are at least as old as my truck and even decade[s] older), somehow neglected, in fog so thick I couldnʼt see to the bottom of the dip to the south on Western Avenue, a mere few hundred feet in distance, to have their headlights on.*** Uninspiring indeed. So was the fact that I bought a pair of jeans larger than I have ever worn before in my life — because good intentions and all, I still need to make it through this winter somehow, and the old ones are cramping if not my style my blubbery waist.

Yes, in looking back over this pas twelve months, I can say with certainty that I have grown… fatter. Not my ambition for retirement. Somehow the workouts havenʼt been materializing. Too easy to get busy on the keyboard (or cruising the internet, food at hand). Some things must change, and change fast.

A year ago, I modestly assessed my writing accomplishments and determined to try to put up a post each day for as long as I could, perhaps all year. Now I have done that. And precious little else. Tomorrowʼs resolve may be more standard and predictable (and I hope I avoid the typically unsurprising nonfulfillment of that vow to work out and lose weight). Unfortunately, although I have now accomplished my 2010 ambition, I know it came at the cost of my other writing activities (particularly the drudgery and depression of sending stuff out for rejection), even though the blog did help me finish four stories this year, starting several more and extending most of the others considerably (and spew out 50,000 words in a “novel” in November). I also accumulated a little cadre of pretty regular readers: thank you all. That may be the best of all possible events this year.

And Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A., acquired two little editing/proofreading jobs (thanks, clients, sincerely; your perusal of the blog probably got me the work). Maybe my other new yearʼs resolution should be to get serious about that alternative career. Anyone? “Whatever your editing or textual needs…”

Of course, if anyone knows a good, well-connected literary agent, an introduction would be a wonderful gift!

Accomplishments? I worked for Census 2010 for a few months and learned a few things about how governmental organization operates (probably none of that insight positive about our government in action). I learned about plastics “crazing” and acquired my nice still “new” glasses (not an altogether positive experience, either, really). I discovered and lost a lipoma. Went to Alaska, sort of, cruising (about which I still have at least three unfinished posts I could yet present). Played Picasso and an asylum inmate (reversing chronological order there). I wrote some pretty good essays here (mostly the political ones, sorry to point out, right-aligning friends), particularly the four collected as de monastica libertate, the howl against the faux anti-NYC mosque madness, and this, and this, and this**** (And now I have wasted more time rereading most of those, but I think itʼs worth it.) Not much else. Probably not the best year of my life, in the end.

In the wide world, itʼs been a bad year, filled with bad economics, wicked and deceptive political maneuvers (still going on here in Iowa), misery and torment. Wars and rumors of war. What little good has managed to be contrived has been overshadowed and criticized by forces of repression, selfishness, ignorance and greed. Probably not the best year of our lives, unless weʼre excessively rich or the ultra-wealthyʼs political tools… On the other hand, at least weʼre alive and reading these otherwise dire thoughts (I had to get one last other hand in here this year).

Just look where reflecting on the year gone past has gotten me. In a gray fog of bleak gloom. Not very positive at all. Perhaps thatʼs why we all wish each other, “Happy New Year” (and so many of us drink the old one into its tomb). But that is exactly, a happy new year, what I would wish for each and all of you.

* Did anyone notice that the day before I did finally collect the fragments of my thoughts on religious freedom and collect them here? As an essay, I think it holds up fairly well.

** Wouldnʼt that be the opposite of “frabjous”?

*** Now thereʼs a sentence for you. Probably not my record for length this year, but pretty close.

**** And so little came of any of them… So fitting for my midwestern fog today and yesterday. Oh, well. Tomorrowʼs thirty degrees colder and clear, a new year.

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

Winter Mourning (pun intentional)

From <; which has a “poor reputation,” so you should probably avoid the source.

I drove to Dubuque to visit Janet for lunch and do a little shopping beforehand (groceries, and with our nearby/local Aldi closing at home, I will in 2011 shop for foodstuffs afar more than we would like). The drive northward, starting about 9:30 in the morning, was magical.

We have endured fog in the night all week as temperatures, dewpoints and humidity generally increase ahead of a couple of rainstorms bearing down on us today and tomorrow — a sarcastically great end of the year, particularly with a huge risk of freezing rain the night of New Yearʼs Eve. The air so far, however, has remained in the teens overnight, so in the morning as the fog lifts, each of the tiny branches in all the trees, bushes, sheaves of wild grass poking through the foot of snow cover, sticks of weed — everything is coated in a glistening sheath of fragile snowlike ice (which the growing minor heat of the day will cause the trees in particular to shed all across the area around them, at home meaning our driveway, in a light but continuing localized shower of of snow crystals).

I had enjoyed similar views of gloriously frosted trees when we drove sister Diane up to Madison on Monday (and enjoyed some excellent Indian/Pakistani cuisine for lunch — at a buffet, in fact), but that day had been mostly overcast. Yesterday, until about noon, we had blue skies, of that chilly cobalt-azure fretted with hoary wisps of cloud that only winter skies display. The views of white-glazed trees against the sapphire welkin were beautiful. And I am afraid that I drove with only a third of my mind on the driving, mostly struck with wonder at the stark, chalked world around my almost floating vehicle.

I can feel why some cultures designate white as the color of mourning, as the experience did have a quietly mortal and sterile quality about it. Somehow crystalline winter mornings like that make me fall into reveries about portending medieval battles (and also foggy ones, in particular, on my way to work in wintertime). If I were an excessively Romantic escapist like Robert E. Howard, I might fantasize about previous lives burbling up in my consciousness, but I tend to imagine the setting as preceding some future conflict once this civilization has collapsed — a grim situation, but with the threatening thrill of that conflict ahead, also wickedly exhilarating. But mostly I didnʼt think, just looked and savored (and invented the contrast with Howard).

Unfortunately, I didnʼt stop to take some pictures (I should have). I just kept driving and never broke the mood.

This is my own scan, but I really should have taken pictures of the morning beauties from my drive.

The generous mix of Santana, Allman Brothers, Dylan, CSN&Y and Sly & The Family Stone (donʼt ask — recently added, all) just compounded the fine feeling of the fine morning. Even, once I arrived more or less, the drive around the back route to hit the western edge of Dubuque didnʼt go too badly (although the road was rough zooming downhill through Rockdale to the first turn onto Old Mill Road), and even the idiots (Dubuque drivers are all cerebrally challenged, according to The Lovely One) on Highway 20 and the NW Arterial werenʼt too bad (nor was that traffic particularly heavy).

I visited the western Hy-Vee for Tofu Scrambler (a nice mix of what we believe is curry and other spices that you add to crumbled tofu and then essentially fry, just with almost no fat in the pan; Janet thinks itʼs like spicy scrambled eggs and says we could have it for breakfast, although we have only ever consumed the creation for supper, which we will do again tonight).* I also stopped by the Starbucks counter for a latte, where they convinced me to go for a quad venti (although I order decaf with skim, I prefer my coffee to taste like coffee), and it did work (the regular venti latte tastes insipid, even less than milky — but with the exception of a few local entrepreneurs, all downtown from that Hy-Vee there in Dubuque, Starbucks is all we have better than diner java).

Then it was across the highway to Samʼs Club, first for gas (their prices are always about seven to ten cents cheaper than the rest, even when Maquoketa is running significantly cheaper than Dubuque — dang mega-chain stores), and then for some victuals and such inside (I may even have found my new pair of running shoes for less than $18; Iʼm going to try them out at the Y today). Mostly I just wandered around to kill time amusingly before heading downtown to pick up The Lovely One. I even did the blood pressure check (my doctor tells me to avoid those devices, but I figure if I use them all the time on my own, I get a pretty standard set of scores — and it killed some time amusingly).

I arrived outside her place of employment about eighteen minutes early, so I hauled out the big red notebook and wrote some more on story/part two of Søren and Judahʼs first adventures together, getting down about five hundred words of pillow talk between Søren and a certain red-haired lovely before it was time to stow stuff away and clear that passenger seat for my favorite passenger.

Lunch at Star was wonderful (the ham and potato soup was especially nice, probably due to the delicious presence of butter — durn you, Julia Child). Then I dropped her off at work again and headed back home (with a stop at Fareway for tofu). The homeward excursion was lots less lovely — the trees had lost their silvery, shivering sheaths of whiteness, and the dayʼd turned gray with the arising of the fog. Itʼs after 5:00 as I type now, and itʼs really gloomy outdoors (not just due to dusk — that moistureʼs filled the air thickly). I hope Janet makes it home soon, before the possibly freezing drizzle may begin.

Ha. With only one day remaining in my year of posts (yes, 2010 is nearly dead), I wasted today on this. Hoped your enjoyed reading! I actually spent time Wednesday and yesterday afternoon working on that poor-homeschooled-child-searching-out-evolution-info that I pondered (and pandered) upon yesterday, close to a thousand words (plus dictating well into chapter 5 of the first Sepharad adventure).

* If you happen to try searching that name (tofu scrambler), you can find that there are many recipes available to do it yourself (weʼre just lazy).

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

Fishing with Darwin

Having given blood again Monday (conveniently at the United Methodist church just up the street), I may have sucked any clear purpose from my writing. I had found something on Sunday, checking over my blogʼs stats, that got me musing, and today, those vague perturbations turned into a post…

A screenshot that shows the WordPress Dashboard for this blog. Click to enlarge.

Browsing through the statistical information that WordPress provides on oneʼs blog can be fascinating (too fascinating, killing hours of time periodically). That was how I developed one previous post, having spent far too long musing on the ways and means that had and had not brought readers to Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog. (I promise that today, unlike that previous exploration of statistical marvels, I wonʼt affix an endless series of blog links to this post.)

The most obvious statistic which a WordPress user finds is the count on the number of hits each day. WP presents that on a bloggerʼs main screen, the Dashboard, along with possible spam, recent comments, oneʼs own recent drafts for the blog, and a summary of the most popular posts recently. But the WordPress enumerators have much more available under the Site Stats link.

There you can get not only the numbers but also some interesting other information, such as recent websites referring viewers to you and what search terms lead viewers from search engines to your site. It was the list of search terms that let me know so many people were looking for images and information on Impressionists, probably for assignments in art history. By the way, that single Impressionist essay I posted with pictures (mostly borrowed from other sites, just as the hitters on this blog were likely doing) remains among the most popular items on the blog. Site Stats is a favorite stop for me when I’m checking e-mail, Facebook and the status of the blog as I begin each day.

The belegged fishy symbol in question/being searched about…

Recently, one search drew my interest. The day after Christmas, someone had arrived at Wakdjunkaga’s Blog by searching for “darwin fish rather than the religious creationist view.” Itʼs not a particularly profound request, but it touched me emotionally. My interest wasn’t because arriving here would be inappropriate for such a search (I am clearly no creationist) but because of the peculiar wording of the investigative quest. The latter part of the antithesis, “the religious creationist view,” makes a fair, mispunctuated sense. It’s the opposition of that wishfully contrafactual point of view with the “darwin fish” that intrigued me, putting that parodic image in contradistinction to a barely theological belief.

The emblem is merely a kind of joke (it actually began as a joke that blossomed into profit, even with legal suits, moreso than the smiley face provided for its creator), perhaps most popular as a Jeffersonian sign of resistance to the aggressive intrusion of (what should be a personal) religion into daily life, or personal opposition to deliberate ignorance wailing in terror of scientific rationality. Unfortunately, the parody emblem in no way posits any particular point of view, merely a vague mistrust or antagonism to willful fatuity. I sport a Darwin fish on my truck (and unfortunately sold the old vehicle, rapidly, a decade ago with its better, plastic emblem still attached) not in opposition to religion but to empty, wish-fulfilling falsehoods.

Can you see the fishy emblem?

Faintly amusing to me, back in the Nineties, when I subscribed to the MacAddict periodical, on the more-or-less humorous final page of one issue, the writer listed “things that were so over” and prominently featured the Darwin fish as the emblem of a debate long-settled (I guess that writer underestimated the stubbornness of wishful self-deception in America). And one of my neighbors-to-the-westʼs kids (at least at one time, a year ago) had a “Truth”-fish-eating-a-darwin-fish emblem on his vehicle, which I guess wasnʼt meant to concede the debate (by having a larger specimen consuming a smaller one — thus admitting survival of the fittest?) but rather to assert oneʼs personal denial of the the rationalistʼs parodic imagery, as acceptable as my truckʼs rear end. I do enjoy the aggressive and devouring “Truth”-Christ asserted in what must be deliberate defiance (or ignorance) of the Saviorʼs Gospel preachments (the link, just to present an evangelical view on that matter).

But I didnʼt want to post today to vent my spleen against nonsensically self-referential bias-defense maneuvers but rather to briefly imagine what might have caused that search which landed, however briefly, on this blog. Was this some poor homeschooled kid in an unobserved moment trying to find some unbiased, objective information, using the pathetic misinformation s/he had available? I can see this child hunched over the computer in the postChristmas haze, struggling to acquire knowledge rather than mere propaganda but only possessing the jargon of the True Believers, attempting hastily to discover what might be learned before the Authoritative Presences intervened once again. A sad scenario that perhaps could become a story…

Of course, alternatively, it might as well have been someone searching from the other end of the rationality spectrum. But if so, I donʼt have a good guess why the fish emblem would be the alternative to religious prejudice* rather than a biological point of view. Surely even an adolescent scientist wouldnʼt oppose the symbol to a creationist belief?

Of course, the information from WordPress is what it is. I donʼt know who searched that eight-word phrase or why. My awareness that it happened, however, just stirred my imagination. Maybe I should have put my effort into that story I mentioned instead of huffing my internal furies by discovering all those shrill creationist sites I have linked. In that other universe, you might have read instead…

Christmas was over. We went to church on Sunday, the day after, the day that the Brits call Boxing Day, and heard about how the wicked evolutionists are headed to hell. Including everyone who has a demented Darwin fish on their car.

I had seen a Darwin fish on one of the cars that came to the church building in the fall when the pastor permitted a blood drive. I think I know which nurse was driving it, and he had been the one to take my pint of blood. He seemed like a nice man, and I thought he was kind of cute, being so solicitous about just another girlʼs state of mind as she got her elbow pierced. Was he going to hell?

What did that silver emblem on his Camaro even mean? All the pastor and my parents ever said was “godless communism.” And thinking back to his big brown eyes, teddy-bear personality, suddenly I donʼt feel all that certain I know what their accusation even means.

And that could begin the story the search inspired.

*Oh, boy. That site is crazed.

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

Dictating at a Distance

Although Dragon Dictateʼs not exactly not new for Christmas, I wanted to play with dictating what I have to say (an ironic concept, especially when you hear yourself say it out loud), so Iʼm trying to keep my fingers off the keyboard and speak the text you have/get to read today. (Therefore as always with dictated material, if you see mistakes, please let me know.) The goal was to get dictation up to the same speed that I can do typing.

Somehow, having to insert the punctuation, while deliberating about what I wish to get in the text, I normally/previously end up dictating more slowly than I type. Somehow my brain has learned to shut off other thoughts and stimuli when Iʼm typing that persistently distract me when I talk. I also find myself irresistibly drawn to edit what I have said (or more practically, proofread, which the softwareʼs inaccuracy-rate does make necessary —although I find the Dragon upgrade that I am using today noticeably more accurate than I ever felt the old MacSpeech version ever was). I experimented earlier with wandering as far as I could from the computer while performing other tasks— in the case youʼll see below, making the bed— while dictating, to see how well the program worked. If nothing else comes to me, perhaps Iʼll force the results of that little experiment on you as part of todayʼs post.

Yep, nothing else comes to me. I have marked the obvious interpretation errors in maroon.

12/26/2010 2:15 PM

Letʼs entitled this stream of consciousness.

What I accomplished while dictating the neighboring nonsense, even though I sat on the bed to watch the weather before the photo got snapped.

Iʼm going to go into our bedroom and make the bed. Letʼs see how well it hears me.What one of the problems with dictation I can see is that one needs to remember to continue to put in punctuation marks. Since I donʼt generally think in terms of punctuation, this is going to probably be the hardest aspect of trying to turn myself into a dictating machine.

Right now I am trying to put pillowcases on the pillows which will be interfering with my voice and possibly brushing the microphone. It should also create a bit of extra noise that the program may interpret as words. Will have to see.

I got three pillows covered. I am now by the south window working on Janetʼs pillows period and now Iʼm wandering around the bed trying to figure out how Iʼm going to do the bad. That means getting a sheet on it. The hard part with the sheet always is finding the correct corner for my feet. Now Iʼm leaning over trying to find a corner for my head so I can wrap it around the bed lightly moving onto my feet now over by Janet speaks and finally to her head which is the first one will put on completely. Now totally attach her foot corner all the way and back around to my head. And catch that. Now the troublesome corner when I see, where my fingers have poked through a the she is. But now itʼs done, so now for the top sheet. Flatbed across the bed. Walk around to Janet sighed. ~The sheet trying to get it square. Moving back around trying to make sure I have enough sheet. Itʼs going to be easy to write in sentence fragments. Because that way I can remember to get some punctuation in. A crouching down at the foot of the bed. To talk in the sheet. Now itʼs time for the first blanket. Tossing it out on the bed, wandering around the bed and pulling it square, trying not to cheat and give either of this too much blanket. In back to Janet had looks pretty good. Should a put, in after Janet had.

In the sheet at the bottom, struggling to get it to fit with the sheet. Itʼs screwed up the sheet and blanket up by my head. 16 now. Trying for the bedspread comforter, which I probably shouldʼve called a bedspread/comforter. Will the claim that straight and square, trying to cover the underlying blanket, not having great success. But itʼs adequate. The letʼs put on some pillows. First Janetʼs. And her fancy covering,. Now the second blanket which lies across the foot of the bed, with the silky cops pointed toward our heads. Now my pillows if I can get them in the right order. First the lumpy heavy one covered in a blue pillowcase, followed by the almost 1 in the slick tight pillowcase, and finally the good one in a pillowcase that matches the sheets. Then my fancy,. Then my bedsit pillow.

Heading back into the office to see what I have created.

Not inspiring prose, chock full of errors in transcription. However, it amused me, both to keep babbling while I worked and to read what garbled garp the program created from my sometimes muffled and long-distance muttering. I think I am most amused at myself when I forgot what punctuation mark I had already inserted (viz: “And her fancy covering,.”), although I also chortle over talking to the sheet instead of tucking it in. “Silky cops” stirs interesting notions, too!

Well, that has to be the most pointless post of the year. And yet I put it out here. Thatʼs what vowing to get 365 individual daily blog posts (plus one more accidentally) will accomplish. My apologies.

Janet and I were gone yesterday, taking Diane back to Madison where Steve met us for lunch and then drove his wife on home (therefore I patched together this bit of nothing/time-waste on Sunday while listening to Eat a Peach for the first time in almost forty years and iTuning the other CDs I received for Christmas). Think positively: at least I had a minute dose of fun. Today I should be at work developing something (we hope) more worthwhile of your investment of time. Check in tomorrow and see…

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

Christmas Memories

Such a corny title, admittedly. But it describes exactly what I am about to relate…

Probably not the best image to select for Christmas stuff, but I couldnʼt resist, and if you read the article youʼll understand why this image fits.

So Christmas has come and gone. For some of us here in eastern Iowa that means not quite a foot of snow, around Jackson County perhaps nine to ten inches. Although some snow fell on Thursday night, the 23rd, leaving me about four or five inches to shovel first thing in the morning on Christmas Eve, the white precipitation just kept falling and falling all through the day on Friday. I ended up shoveling three times, at first removing maybe four to five inches, then another two or three inches, and the last about another inch.* Janet’s sister Diane and her husband Steve, along with son Ryan, did successfully make the drive from near Milwaukee without too much trouble. They only first encountered accumulation on this side of Madison, where they actually stopped for about an hour at a mall. According to them, the only bad roads were from Dubuque to Maquoketa, meaning that 61 had barely been plowed in only a single lane.

Steve’s comment was, “There would have been no problem if the plows had been out.” He observed that Iowaʼs only other plow must have been getting gassed up again at that time. Good joke when youʼre Cheesehead. On the other hand, about a decade ago, Janet and I were driving up to their place for a little visit after Christmas (coincident with Dianeʼs birthday — both she and their father have post-Christmas December birthdays), and we had to turn around in Dickeyville, as the road conditions and blinding snowfall had gotten too bad to continue (I know Janet thinks we could have continued, but I have never been a fan of wintery poor-weather driving.) However, sometime after noon on Christmas Eve, they were there, and the festivities began.

Christmas Eve was a pretty quiet day. Ryan and Steve fairly quickly descended to the family room, where they figured out what sports our satellite offered and watched. The TV was on most of the time for one or the other or both of them for the next two days. Diane and Janet quickly hunkered together to make preparations for the big holiday and talk. And talk. And talk. But then that’s what they get together for. Periodically Steve or I, sometimes even Ryan, would drift into their conversations, but pretty much it was hen time. And they did and still continue to enjoy themselves together.

Sports, of course, had small, even nonexistent, appeal for me, and as Ryan was assigned the office as his bedroom, with the blowup queen mattress on the floor, I figured I would be off the computer until yesterday/Sunday at the earliest. (It didn’t quite turn out that way, as Ryan was hardly ever in his room, and Janet wanted me to boot her computer for him to use – a failure by Christmas Day — and then this iMac so we could all appreciate an animated elf-card that Diane had created of the family, which would not run in Flash 10 on Janet’s computer. I got to check e-mail and Facebook on Friday and again on Saturday in turning my computer on for Ryan to use after the Christmas exchange was completed.) And I wasn’t sure I would be on yesterday if I had to go along with The Lovely One and her sister to Anamosa; but with Steve and Ryan electing to leave early, I was able to get left at home. I did have to shovel some more, clearing the ice from under where the Boyer car had been, and what little lakes of ice had formed from icicles dripping off our eaves by the front doors. And Sunday was the day to wash our sheets and do some other laundry. But it also meant I got to get on and create this post. (Not much of a post, I admit, but with merely these dwindling days left in fulfilling The Vow, everything seems not to be inspiring me to greatness, I fear.)

I am corrected: itʼs “The Complete 40th Anniversary” DVD set. Best yet.

The Eve passed quietly. We enjoyed Janetʼs homemade chicken noodle soup for supper, along with homemade foccaccia. I donʼt think any of us ate all that much, having noshed on popcorn (a lovely gift from Sharkleen in St. Louis that we all appreciated, girl! Thank you, maʼam, and we all hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas!) and too much other stuff, including cake balls. I retired to the bedroom to read for a while still not wanting to watch sports or interfere/undermine (with) the girlsʼ hilarity, eventually showering and heading off to sleep. I finished A Christmas Carol, having begun it the evening before.

I got up early (-ish) on Christmas morn to shovel the drive again. We had gotten some more light snow in the night, less than an inch I calculated, and it had to go before the parents (the girlsʼ parents) arrived, which didnʼt actually happen until noon. However, delicious cinnamon rolls from our neighbors to the east made a great breakfast, and preparations for the big Christmas midday meal filled the morning. Once Bing and Betty arrived, we ate (ham, my cheesy potatoes, a vegetable casserole we all enjoy from Betty, brown-and-serve rolls, and a cranberries-with-blueberries dish enlivened with cinnamon and allspice that Janet had found on the internet to use up two bags of cranberries she hadnʼt needed for flower-arrangement Christmas gifts for both sets of neighbors). We still have enough ham left over for three Cratchit families!

Then came the gifts. I felt quite pleased with my provisions for The Lovely One, who seemed appreciative, and I made out pretty well for myself:

Thank you, all! Great gifts that I will (and have already begun to) enjoy profoundly.

I read in the two Lovecraftian books that evening once the Nortons had departed for home (perhaps ideas have fermented for more developments in Mantorville!), while Steve and Ryan watched TV (and then Steve went to bed) and the women talked some more. And then to bed myself, a fifty-eighth Christmas completed.

A lovely Christmas, and I hope you all enjoyed your holiday just as much.

* Late in the afternoon nephew Ryan went outdoors — barehanded, to my astonishment — and shoveled perhaps another two inches by himself. Wonderful help. Thanks, Ryan! (Even though I know you were mostly just bored and simply needed something to do.)

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


More of the Tourist

I started a story about the Tourist last Sunday. Here is some more for a quiet Sunday after Christmas…

Eventually we began our descent. I began to feel as if I almost couldn’t breathe.

The landing felt rough. But I was ready for that. I used the opportunity to shake his seat as violently as I could.

Typically for O’Hare, we taxied around forever before reaching our arrival gate. And then we sat in the plane interminably, waiting for all those ahead of us in the cabin to get to their feet, get their stuff and get out of there. Finally I could see people in front of the bulkhead beginning to move.

But my tormentor didn’t wait for anything. Contrary to instructions, he was on his feet and pulling his massive carry-on from the overhead bin while we were still rolling. He continued to stand in the aisle while the plane eased lengthily to its final position, while everyone waited for the exit-tube to get attached at the door, and while all those in front took their turns deplaning.

Of course, the thorn in my side didn’t wait for most of that. Once he, from his privileged position, could see motion further front in the tourist section, he began trying to shove his way out, and I lost track of him as I began to worry about making my own exit.

Actually, I didn’t need to worry about my own exit. O’Hare was not my final destination, and I was taking this plane on west. On the other hand, security regulations required that I checked through customs here in Chicago, so I was going to have to get off; I would just be getting right back on.

After my endless, awful ordeal, I wanted some room for myself. I wanted to stretch my legs. However, unlike the jerk ahead of me, I sat patiently and waited for the plane to pretty well clear before heading off myself.

When I reached the big echoing, overcrowded baggage claim area, there he was standing tall and slim, leaning against a pillar, waiting for whatever bag he had checked. I humped my way into the crowd around the conveyor belt carousel. He was already yapping on a cell phone. They weren’t supposed to come out until after customs.

Did this moron care about anything — except himself?

I tried to focus on the carousel. Bags were appearing and tumbling down to start the long rotation — red bags, blue bags, black bags; bags of all colors and all descriptions, and none of them mine. I pushed my way, as gently as I could, into the crowd, trying to keep my back to the annoying source of torment from the flight. And then, just as I saw my bag start to teeter out and down, there he was right beside me, pushing me aside as he reached for his executive case and garment bag which had arrived so conveniently together. As he swung away in his self-obsessed oblivion, I took the case in the gut. And so, gasping for agonized breaths, I got to wait one whole turn of the conveyor to grab my own modest and small bag.

By the time it arrived, I had my wind back.

Iʼll keep it short for today, as I assume everyone is still holidaying with family and/or friends. Interestingly, I just rediscovered a book I bought as a cut-out years ago, a mystery anthology entitled Murder for Christmas. Although this Tourist tale doesnʼt have a Yuletide glitter or setting, I did, accidentally, select it for the season.

Merry Boxing Day and enjoy this week sagging between Christmas and New Yearʼs!

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

No Carol… but Wishes Warm for You and Yours

Merry Christmas!

When I was not still young — in my high-school teens and college years and even those first years as a single dolt out teaching school — I was not given to appreciating mornings. I liked to sleep and sleep late. That behavior made Christmas a bit of a puzzle. I was still young enough to be uncontrollably eager for presents, but I was too adolescent to even want to get up when comfortably and utterly out and off in sleepland.

I wasnʼt very pleasant when awakened in those days, either (perhaps I am still not much better; I think I am, but Janet usually awakens after me when I do arise early to run or shovel snow…). My brothers, sad to relate, used to bribe each other to be the one stuck with waking me up on Christmas morning. Paul, next younger and nearest me in ways more than age, had the cash to pay Stephen or David to do the dirty deed. Somehow, at least as I recall it now, older sister Margaret wasnʼt involved in the yanking-John-out-of-bed-so-we-can-all-start-opening-our-presents bit. Itʼs displeasing to recall that I must have behaved like such an ogre that no one wanted to have to nudge me toward consciousness…

Sorry, siblings. I hope Iʼve already apologized a long time ago. I should have.

You can see (not quite in focus) some of Janetʼs wrapping skill under our tree.

I donʼt know how well I will awaken this morning, but it wonʼt matter. If all went well — and with that up-to-seven-inches of snow the weather folks predicted for yesterday (and the night before), it isnʼt easy to predict (writing on Thursday night to be prepared for distractions on the Eve and today) whether the storm will trouble the transportation plans of Janetʼs sisterʼs family, who were supposed to arrive about noon yesterday — the ceremonious events wonʼt commence until around lunchtime, when the Norton parents arrive from Anamosa. I donʼt even know if Janetʼs planning much of a breakfast at all.

I spent Thursday, around all the tasks The Lovely One wished to have accomplished by the stay-at-home spouse (shower scouring, vacuuming, fixing my special potatoes, shopping for groceries…) and, most important, wrapping Janetʼs gifts. Sheʼs a fantastic gift wrapper (and crafty all around, thus the now-famous decorations), but I am clumsy at it, incompetent, creating saggy wrappings and lousy extras on every package. However, I tried, and after all it’s the contents that count (no, wait — shouldnʼt that be the thought that… ?). So I hope we are all ready.

I had originally intended to write a little dissertation on A Christmas Carol and my lifelong experience and heartfelt attachment with that wonderful story. But it will have to wait. I have this started, and I donʼt want to make a Christmas Day post any too long. Besides, Janetʼs gotten home (on Thursday), and although sheʼs busy in the kitchen doing her own preparations, itʼs rude of me to peck away in here (the office) without her. Very unsociable. Very unseasonable (if Dickens has anything to say, and he does, on the subject of Christmas).

I hope everyone enjoys a very merry and serene day (with or without that first syllable included in the holidayʼs name).

Iʼm only a week away from the complete year (365 plus one) of posts!

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

Christmas? Elementary…

The snow seems so utterly appropriate today…

As Christmas Eve arrives, I remember that this festive time of the year is connected emotionally for me with Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps not for the reasons one might suspect. Yes, there is “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” with its seasonal setting (December 27, for the uninitiated) and even seasonal themes (not the robbery part, but the forgiveness element). But that story came later than my original tying of the great detective to Christmas.

When I was a child, we seemed always to make great journeys for Christmas, visiting both my maternal grandmother and my fatherʼs folks over the break (since my dad was a teacher, as I have reported before, we enjoyed the ten days to two weeks off that education provides). Both sets of grandparents lived in Iowa, about two or three hours apart originally (later my Grandma Fischel moved to Traer, where she died, a location that put the two sides a little closer for travel purposes). And, as I remember things, we always, invariably, tediously for me, had to be at both households over the holidays. Sometimes actual Christmas arrived at my momʼs motherʼs, sometimes at my paternal grandparents (and even sometimes the holiday was at “home,” then we would get on the road to Iowa). The problem was that we werenʼt living in Iowa for much of my remembered childhood, not returning to this state until my sophomore year in high school (the big move to Mt. Pleasant), so our family had some long drives to get away from home for the holidays.

I told about those drives for Thanksgiving. The pilgrimages at Christmastime were simply snowier, on worse roads, freezing even colder in the back of my dadʼs car. (I am, by the way, certain that my attitudes as a child made those drives just as unpleasant for my siblings and parents. Apologies at last.) It seems like it was always either dark or snowing to me now, although I know better — just one or two events remaining as the only relics of those visits.

My Burrow grandparents lived in an old farmhouse, later a new ranch farmhouse, across the road from my Uncle Bill and his family, who had taken over running the farm. I dimly recall the old farmhouse, which by the way had no running water (meaning we used an outhouse), but the new home is the realm of most of my memories. They had old-fashioned bubble lights on their Christmas tree, which some of my siblings still think is the only kind to have (although I do remember hearing those were about as dangerous as any kind of tree illumination). The whole clan, four big families, would gather at that place for Christmas Eve when my grandmother would make her notorious oyster stew (notorious among us younger cousins who didnʼt like the slimy oysters), and in hilariously overcrowded conditions we would eat, us kids usually being discharged to the basement, which was fine with us as we had developed many games to play down there, including one involving the clothes chute (a novelty, I believe, to all of us, something found only there, at the grandparentsʼ house). Presents were on a draw-a-name system, at least by the time I got old enough to understand, so we didnʼt have too many gifts awaiting us at this celebration, but it was still great fun.

And you probably expect me to say I got a Sherlock Holmes book for Christmas one year. But I didnʼt. Well, I didnʼt back then…

However, it was at my grandparentsʼ home, perhaps not even at Christmastime, that I first read one of the tales. It was in a book of stories for children that the old folks owned, probably just for us grandchildren, and sometime between about fifth and seventh grade I devoured whatever was in that book, including the excitement of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” That story was my introduction to Arthur Conan Doyle, a pleasure I have never outgrown.

That wasnʼt my first encounter with Holmes, however. One summer at Spartan Village, when my dad was getting his masters, or some further training, through Michigan State University, I think as part of some other kidʼs birthday celebration/party, many of the boys and girls in our area went to the movie theater to see the Peter Cushing Hound of the Baskervilles. It mesmerized and terrorized me, and I know I had dreadfully, delightfully technicolor dreams for weeks after involving the scenes and settings from that movie. (I am pretty sure that reading the other story came later.)

In Mt. Pleasant, at the public library I found the Christopher Morley one-volume edition of all 56 stories and the four novels (which Janet kindly gave me for Christmas many years later and many years ago, 1986) in which I first read all the stories, particularly The Valley of Fear. I believe I was reading that book while waiting for the dentist at least once. (I actually have the feeling I was reading Holmes while in a dental waiting room one time in Michigan, earlier, as well.)

My Sherlockian enthusiasm was rekindled in my adult life, me having given way to more literary reading in my late college and early teaching years, by acquiring the two volumes of Baring-Gouldʼs Annotated edition about 1979 or ʼ80 (by mail from Barnes & Noble, only a mail-order catalog house in those days, or Scholarʼs Bookshelf, from which I also acquired a complete Arden Shakespeare and a complete Shelley), once I was in Jackson County and living in the apartment on Matteson Street. I really enjoyed his quirky notes and the game of pretending the characters were real (the Irregular practice of which I had previously been innocent). I also got aroused by his rearrangement of the stories in his own chronology, which gave many of them a freshness, out of order.

As a teacher at Andrew Community School, I eventually incorporated Holmes into the curriculum, once I realized that I was instructing kids who had never read any of the stories. An old textbook had “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” in it, and because it was usually late December when we would read some Doyle (either before or after Dickensʼs A Christmas Carol, perhaps my first favorite piece of literature), I also included “The Blue Carbuncle.” Over the decade or so that we included Holmes in Advanced English, I acquired some old videotapes of the Jeremy Brett series, particularly, although not a favorite story for me, “The Resident Patient.” I hope the students enjoyed that unit; I meant for them to. They should. The tales are pure storytelling, done pretty well, and Sherlock Holmes is, like Tarzan, one of the few literary figures mythically larger than the literary oeuvre in which he actually resides.

I have lots to say on Holmes, but I have wildly exceeded my thousand words, and perhaps a genuinely literary post isnʼt the thing for Christmas Eve. Later will do fine. I will conclude merely by adding that the current updated Sherlock on PBS (from Britain) gets it very right and works well. Robert Downy Jr. wasnʼt bad at all, either.

Happy holidays!*

* Weʼre supposedly getting up to seven inches of snow overnight and today.

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

Waiting to Work

Both yesterday, writing, and today, having posted, I am actually, literally Waiting to Work.

As I had to substitute yesterday, I am sitting at the computer before 8:00 AM (yes, yesterday) trying to think of something to say. And “say” is the operative word. Although MacSpeech Dictate rather strangely hung as the computer started up (and keeps dropping the last letter of each final phrase that I speak right now), after a quick forced quit it is at least listening to me and putting some words into the document that may become today/Thursday’s post. Amazing the problems a system upgrade can create.

Another interesting phenomenon since Snow Leopard is that the computer now puts out the audio not through its own speakers but instead into the single earphone on my little Pantronics dictation microphone. So here I am with Grand Funk Railroad’s “Into the Sun” blaring into my left ear only. The changed audio output is not a problem really, although I need to experiment (at another time because right now I just want to get a post done and go to work) with having a microphone but also sound through the speakers, if I wish, or headphones. I know the microphone and MacSpeech Dictate prefer the relative silence of just my voice rather than having to distinguish what I am saying from (now) Jimi Hendrixʼs “Can You See Me?” but this earphone isnʼt really made for great audio, even to damaged ears like mine. And it just seems strange to have the sound in that one ear alone…

I could be in a better mood than I am with work and therefore pay ahead and a successful completion of a PayPal transaction yesterday (no, not thanks to the PayPal button, still absent from this blog, although I have hopes of adjusting my own CSS to include it once I have time to think of such esoterica, but through PayPalʼs e-mail invoicing system). Christmas is just over the horizon, too, and the winter solstice (which an amusing number of Facebook friends made a huge deal about Tuesday and in the early hours of which we here in Iowa stood no chance of catching the once-in-a-lifetime coincident lunar eclipse) lies just behind us — today is minutes longer than yesterday, and the real today — Thursday — is longer again.* All these are good things. However, for the first time really since retirement, I didnʼt sleep well Tuesday night (and interestingly, neither evidently did a half dozen friends on Facebook, if one trusts their status updates). My mind was for once too restless to roll disconnectedly into slumber. And all my thoughts revolved around computer things and software possibilities, not notions I would prefer to haunt me once the machineʼs shut off. (Ah, the intolerable excitement of new software!**)Perhaps I was also unconsciously concerned about my teaching assignment for Wednesday (which actually makes no sense — itʼs a position I have filled before; I should be more worried about my second sub assignment for the new year ahead, when I will get to teach vocal music all day for the first time in my life).

The lovely eclipsed moon we couldnʼt see in my area, Tuesday morning.

Wednesday was the last day of school for 2010 at Andrew Community School. I am hoping (although by the time the post appears, I will know) that this is (was) a low-key and unexciting day. The late afternoon and evening hours will be (probably really were) intense, as will today, for the time has arrived for final preparations for Christmas (among which domestic efforts, I shamefacedly acknowledge, still remains the wrapping of gifts for The Lovely One, a task I have been intending daily for at least ten days, the problem being that I do such a poor job wrapping gifts, particularly in contrast to her creative skill). Later today/Thursday I shall be cleaning bathrooms (our shower in particular), making up beds, and vacuuming and whatever all else Janet will have indicated on a list for me to accomplish.

And MacSpeech Dictate developed an amusing problem a while back (so I switched briefly to typing again). Having capitalized the title of the Grand Funk song, the software remained stuck in Word Caps mode, and I couldnʼt get it to change except for a single word at a time. But a normal quit and restarting the program seems to have a positive effect. New system, new surprises. Every day.

Oh, well. Time now (both yesterday as I write and today as I need to get going on the household chores) to wrap this up and work.


* Strange that during most of our winter (all of the official season) the days grow longer, even though we remain mired in snow and cold.

** And although I would not like to admit it, software can be exciting, offering interesting and amazing possibilities. Scrivener got me going when I discovered it. Suddenly, writing was exciting again. Ditto for dictation software (a thrill I am attempting to revive). And PDFpen, permitting me to fill out forms distributed by PDF only (drat you, International Thespian Society) in days after typewriters have vanished (I even got rid of the old reliable IBM Selectric I retained in the basement for decades just to fill out forms for ITS and Iowa High School Speech Association). I also fondly recall my first days with System 7 and a whole mess of freebie control panels and extensions. Right now, MacUpdate lured me with a very inexpensive package of ten programs, each of which has its own allure (and about which I may write in days ahead).

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

Desperate Randomosity

an eastward perspective on fog across a badly shoveled driveway, 12/21/2010

Fogged in all morning (so far) on Tuesday*. I stepped outside to take the pictures that appear today, and icy stuff was falling and crackling on the crispy snow. Ugly, unpleasant day. I hope today is better.

The Lovely One needs me to head out on the potentially icy streets of town to run some errands for her, too. But I would like to check on the weather conditions weʼre supposed to be having first. Our driveway, which I awakened myself not long after 5:00 to clear of what had accumulated during the evening and night, currently looks very dicey for road conditions to me. But I am pretty sure that Janet thinks retirement has made a driving coward of me (I do know that I drive much less than I once did, especially nowadays when she almost invariably chooses to be the one to drive her car when we go out of town together).

…time passes (temporal transition of an ordinary nature)…

However, waiting until noon, everything was just wet. Channel 6 news at noon said the weather had warmed above freezing, and now I believe it (although it also means that I will have to get my weary rear outdoors this afternoon, Tuesday, early, in order to get the driveway cleared of of what I hope has become slushy ice). While I was gone, I installed Snow Leopard, just keeping up with the times a little more than a year late, thinking as well of Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd., S.A. (gotta stay up-to-date if weʼre gonna attract any business, hey?). As I type/dictate now, Software Update is downloading a mess of further updates (I guess Apple did not send out the newest version of the system, even after a year). I still have the iLife and iWork DVDs to go through, but I decided to use wait time to have something for a post today, no matter how random and disorderly.

looking through fog across our front yard to the southwest

And speaking of disorderly, letʼs just randomly change topics (and days of composition) now:

Good-for-nothing Qwest had us offline six times between ten oʼclock in the morning and six in the evening on Monday**. Not quite once an hour, but just about, and if I hadnʼt been out shoveling for two of those hours, I would not have been surprised if their utter contempt for us consumers-of-their-lack-of-service would not have manifested itself in several other outings that I perceived as just one because of my being away from the disinternetted computer (and home network) at the time. This contemptible corporation (meaning its chief officers in particular) really needs to receive repeated doses of severe discipline, and I am starting to feel in a revolutionary frame of mind. Shape up, Qwest, or perhaps you will suffer the consequences.

…temporal transition of a literary nature…

I typed the above paragraph on Monday evening after returning from an unpleasant drive to get my hair cut (actually, both The Lovely One and I drove out, as Janet only makes one appointment for both of us, my own head not needing much care or attention, not having much hair to cut). The snow just kept falling all day Monday, and then turned into sleet or freezing precipitation overnight. I was certainly slicing/plowing through a frozen glaze when I worked on the driveway yesterday morning (that would be Tuesday morning, the day I am typing these later words here). This December has not been a nice one for weather.

But enough of all of that. Qwest has kicked me offline (again — meaning yet yesterday, or Tuesday), even with Snow Leopard running (I was hoping it might make some difference). Let us take that as a sign, especially as I keep being distracted with novel software issues. I will bring this to an end of sorts, go downstairs and restart the modem (again), and post this.

And then get back to software updating. Apparently endlessly.

Happy Wednesday, all!

* …And the fog never really lifted (at least by the time I got this into WordPress, about 4:00 PM).

** I was trying to live up to my resolve to create a stockpile of posts for the holiday weekend (and before and after) when the internet vanished while I was attempting to make access. Yet again. Sure, it was snowing/had been snowing, but this kind of disservice has become simply ordinary from this maniacal corporation of slovenly incompetence and unconscionable overcharging.

(It is fun, now in December when WordPress makes the digital snow fall on the blogs that permit it, to see their “snow” on my wintry pictures! It makes me wonder if the snow-filled images will have any appeal by next summer…)

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