Statistically Speaking

The most recent WordPress post-feedback screen I have captured

Wow. We have had nearly 120,00 hits on the blog since I began just over two years ago (and according to ClustrMaps nearly 32,00 discrete visits). Of course, much as I might wish everyone was seeking enlightenment and entertainment from my writing, plenty of those hits are folks looking for clip art on the internet (particularly of late, searching for astronomical or stellar pictures and thus landing on the piece of Stars in Heaven posted as one of the Longer Items). Even so, itʼs a statistically interesting pair of totals on which to end the year.

The statistic that motivates this post, however, (and of which this post is the culmination) is one that WordPress has made significant by giving me little goals to reach when I manually post to “Publish immediately.” The company presents as feedback such information as shown in the picture to the left, alongside these paragraphs. (As you can see, itʼs the response to my now notorious post on the malfunctioning optical drive in my iMac from last week).

If you count forward, this information means that on Tuesday I was notified that post was my 496th. Wednesdayʼs post, which I wrote immediately after publishing on my Christmas harvest, therefore was the 497th addition to Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog, and Thursdayʼs grammatical dissertation (incomprehensible as it may have been) the 498th. Obviously, then, yesterdayʼs retrospective disquisition added up to 499.

And today marks the 500th post. Five hundred in just over two years. (I wonder if any of it has been worthwhile to anyone…)

Thatʼs why I have been focused on getting something up every day here as the year winds to its close. I guess WordPress did its job with those little goals.

Now I wonder what 2012 will hold for Wakdjunkaga…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

500 Words

An interesting year closes tomorrow night. 

A year ago I was completely involved in my quest to post something daily here on the blog. I did so, and not so surprisingly (at least to me) I havenʼt even posted 150 times this year (considerably less than half the possible days). Things change?

A year ago I had no connection to the USDA nor any awareness of the emerald ash borer. Boy, did that situation change. And I am looking forward to renewing that relationship (both with the bug-hunt and the governmental agency), Congressional asininity permitting.

Last year I was trying to dictate as many words to the computer as I could. Just now I am excited about uploading handwriting into editable text.

A year ago, we had nearly (or more than) a foot of snow on the ground. This year everything is gray and brown — bare and possibly more depressing than a white winter (of course, before the last three years, we went through a phase of winters that often had no snow until January, or very close thereto).

A year ago, thanks to a Christmas gift, I was listening nearly nonstop to the Allman Brothers (again, after an almost forty-year gap). I donʼt think Eat a Peach or Live at the Fillmore has played since April. Lately, not having been able to afford the complete (huge) Europe ʼ72 live Grateful Dead box, I have been listening a lot to the two of those concerts I did purchase. And some new/old Rolling Stones — The Brussels Affair, pretty good music. And (potential blog topic here) Joe Grushecky. Yes, Mozart, Miles Davis and Bob Marley, too. Clapton (in various guises). Bach. A 2011 Christmas gift means Jefferson Airplane, as well.

A year ago I imagined I would have completed my NaNoWriMo 2010 novel, and I just realized I havenʼt added a word in the last twelve months (and my performance for November this year was so crapulous I know I will be discarding just about all those words). Sad.

A year ago I was hopeful that the relatively new phone-line filter Qwest technicians had installed would make my internet experience smooth. As I recently reported — no such luck. (Thanks for nothing, CenturyLink. And by the way, my bill still says I am paying for “high-speed internet with MSN.”  Didnʼt MSN die?*)

I felt pretty self-satisfied, a year ago, and optimistic about myself and my writing. Then I wasted what time I could have given to writing until I was working ten hours a day, on the road. And then I made only feeble efforts to get the gusto back. 

I had no big new yearʼs resolutions in mind a year ago. But I feel as though I had better make some seriously significant changes now (at least I have been getting my large and lazy arse out of bed for some time hitting the streets these past mornings — but weʼll just have to see if that reluctant effort persists).

A year ago things to me looked pleasingly bright. Right now, the view seems pretty bleak.

So why am I smiling?

* MSN did die. I got an e-mail announcement of the demise/change. The software no longer works on Janetʼs Windoze laptop; she has to get her e-mail using Hotmail (on Firefox). The web siteʼs free. To anyone, whether they pay money unnecessarily to CenturyLink or not — disbelievers should just click the link above. (I really do have a long phone call to endure, complaining, soon.)

Okay. With the footnotes, this is definitely more than just 500 words.

And the much-delayed explanation behind this recent flurry of posts is coming tomorrow (really; it would have been today, as previously promised, but I couldnʼt count).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Gramatically Speaking (and — another favorite theme — looking backward)

clip art image

Todayʼs post arises directly from yesterdayʼs. And as yesterdayʼs got a little bloated with extraneous complaints (about CenturyLink) and (in picture captions in particular) additional information about the Echo smartpen (which I am using to compose longhand right now), Iʼll try to keep this short and as sweet as possible for this human.

Yesterday I originally composed this sentence: “A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, I find it forces me to write almost legibly,” which I corrected before publication as “A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, it forces me, I find, to write almost legibly.” And I wondered if you, Gentle Reader, knew why the alteration was important (and necessary).

The difference was required because of the nature of a dependent clause. Thatʼs a clause (words that grammatically could be a sentence,* having both a subject and verb in the appropriate relationship) used to describe or “modify” a word in another independent clause, almost invariably —  because of how our language operates — describing the word right before the dependent clause starts. “I am writing the sentence which you are reading” is an example. “I am writing the sentence” is the main clause, and “which you are reading” is the dependent clause modifying “sentence,” telling you which sentence I am discussing. (I am keeping this discussion simple because in reality there are many kinds of subordinate clauses.)

In yesterdayʼs sentence, “it forces me to write almost legibly” is the clause dependent on (describing) the noun ”pen.” The “I find” is an interjected clause,** intended in its turn to modify the dependent clause (“it forces me to write almost legibly” in case you had forgotten). And if placed in its original position, immediately after “pen,” then “I think” becomes the modifier dependent on “pen,” meaning it and “pen” should somehow be related*** (and theyʼre not). “Pen” is the antecedent for “it” in the actual dependent clause (and itʼs that pronoun/antecedent relationship — between “it” and “pen” — that creates or permits the dependent clause to work and have meaning, just like “which” and “sentence” in the example I invented in the previous paragraph).

Short and sweet — “I think” couldnʼt follow “pen” logically/syntactically because that position is where the actual “it forces me to write almost legibly” clause had to fit. So in revision I did with “I think” what it grammatically did: inserted it interjectionally within the clause it modifies.

(And with that utterly roundabout and probably unclear explanation, I have created the necessary post for today.****)

* Actually my example of a subordinate/dependent clause (“which you are reading”), that I present toward the end of the paragraph, could never be a sentence on its own because it begins with a subordinating, relative pronoun. (So my example isnʼt exactly the same kind of subordinate clause as the one I used yesterday.)

** a third clause, and the shortest one of the sentences involved, having only a subject and a verb in it

*** and the meaning would be that I am a pen, and Iʼm not a pen, please.

**** And I will explain tomorrow (or one soon thereafter) what my fascination with having a post a day this week is all about.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Toys (and Problems)

The 8½-by-11 inch notebook that I have not yet opened, preferring to fill the starter, I think, first (see starter directly below). The special notebooks provide on each page — actually each spread — controls which one accesses by tapping the pen on the printed control items, visible also in the starter notebook image below. I saved the images fairly large so that you may, by clicking on them, observe details.

I could have gone into more detail about our Christmas celebration yesterday.* I thought about it, briefly, as I was editing (and slightly expanding) what I had originally written. But then CenturyLink kept cutting out my internet connection (predictably — no surprise, there, because my Internet Disservice Provider** leaves me high and dry, disconnected, offline at least a half dozen times each day), and I realized I hadnʼt actually asked my family for their permission to “appear” on the blog. Finally, I sympathetically realized that you, Gentle and Imposed-upon Readers, had probably somewhat more than you really ever wanted on my Christmas holiday.

But I could have detailed the entire twenty minutes (and somewhat more) that the family actually took exchanging gifts. Why? Because I had recorded the events, using a new toy that had finally arrived just after December began — my Livescribe Echo smartpen, designed to record audio and digitally remember what I write for later computer use. (It was my splurge purchase out of my summer salary this year, although I really shouldnʼt have splurge purchases of any kind.)

The Echo smartpen (in the middle, I hope obviously) with a standard Zebra or two for size comparison. A plastic tip covers the sensitive ink cartridge that serves to activate the penʼs smart functions, and if you click for the enlarged image, you can almost see the speakers/microphone built into the pen for recording audio. There is also a screen which indicates by LED the time and date and other functions.

And unlike my CenturyLink internet connection, the pen works fine. A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, it forces me, I find, to write almost legibly*** (and legibly enough that the  associated handwriting-to-digital-text software**** actually can transcribe what I write into editable digital text at about 90-95% accuracy — which is better than my apparent mumbling has accomplished yet with speech-to-text using Dragon Dictate). Even just experimenting so far, I have done really well turning my script into digital text pretty easily (perhaps today I will attempt to do that for the blog).

The recording aspect is intended mostly to capture lectures and meetings (with notes — the audio being linked to the text or doodles one writes down in the special notebooks). I thought my smartpen might help me when my thoughts are running widely and rapidly ahead of my fingers and pen, writing. So far, that situation hasnʼt arisen, although I fell asleep last night imagining myself capturing the conversations all around me in, say, a Barnes & Noble Starbucks coffee area as I sat sipping a decaf-skim quad latte and composing the next adventures of Søren and Judah.

The starter notebook (roughly A4 size?) and protective cover (protective both for the notebook and most importantly, for the pen) included in my purchase. This is the one that I have been using so far. Inside the notebook cover are further controls, including a calculator and access buttons for status items and other settings — plus the NavPlus cross (also visible to the far bottom left above), which one could draw for oneself anywhere any time, used to get to uploaded smartpen software and menu items.

Except for the additional and continuous expense of buying the special notebooks necessary for the audio records and script transcriptions to operate correctly, I think the pen is pretty nice. (Oh, yes, you also have to buy the special ink cartridges that fit the pen. But I thought ahead, slightly, and bought some notebooks and refills when I bought the pen.) And I used it to write down my annual record of what Christmas gifts The Lovely One and I receive, so this year I also have an audio record of what was going on as I wrote (a rather self-conscious one on my part, admittedly).

The only problem I have is that my pen wonʼt register itself online (using the Livescribe Desktop and Connect software***** that automatically starts up when I attach the pen via USB for a charge and uploading of my most recent documents). Unlike some software and hardware companies (and ISPs**), the Livescribe technical support team has been industrious in trying to help me with the problem. Unfortunately, although I have reset my pen and downloaded and reinstalled the software again (and downloaded and installed two other bits of software not generally provided to the public), the pen still wonʼt register. I fill in my personal information (which by now the program and Livescribe know), but when I click the Continue button, nothing happens. Ever.

So far no cure (which means as of yesterday when I tried the latest fix). Very puzzling (and really only frustrating because I canʼt acquire my “free” full subscription to Evernote that came with the pen unless I register the pen). But kudos to Livescribe for actually trying.

Maybe tomorrowʼs post (when I should explain why I am seeking to post daily by yearʼs end, except, if you read on to the end, through the endnotes, I have another plan in mind by the time I finished editing this post) will be created by handwriting…

* I know: youʼre glad I didnʼt.

The picture is from my Chronories logs for last Thursday. Although it was a very bad day overall, the CenturyLink performance was just about average. And CenturyLink kicked me offline again (#4 for 12/27/2011) as I tried to upload this picture today for this post.

** CenturyLink, of course. (I grow more and more certain that our problems here in Our Town result from the ancient [copper] telephone wires that contemporary telecommunications companies want to use for far more data than such wires could ever serve, not to mention the switching and relay posts and such that really, really are antiquated and inappropriate. And yet, we pay here in the rural Midwest the same rates, pretty much, as optical fibre cable subscribers in the big urban centers… Not exactly appropriate. Or fair. When they were still Qwest, the company did assign technicians to install a house-wide filter to help my service; however, it never made much difference, really, and in recent months, the whole situation has just gotten worse. …But probably all this is another blog entirely.)

The picture to the right indicates just one day (and for CenturyLink a pretty average day) of my (tastefully edited-by-blurring) frustration at having an internet connection.

*** I had to revise that sentence from A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, I find it forces me to write almost legibly.” Do you realize why?  — As I havenʼt written a post on grammar and usage in a very long time, Iʼll tell you tomorrow (even, or especially, if you did know why).

**** MyScript 

***** Both of which, contrary to some online reviews, donʼt seem buggy on a Mac (except probably for my registration issue).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Pretty Nice Christmas

Margaret nearly buried amidst the wrapping paper

The Lovely One and I traveled to the middle of Our Fair State to celebrate Christmas with my side of the family, departing on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and returning on Monday/yesterday. The drive both directions was lovely — brilliant days with scarcely a cloud in the sky (Christmas itself was utterly clear with a sky of a deep wedgewood-blue. And warm, well over 40°F).

We gathered at my brother Paul (and wife Nancy)ʼs place because, as a minister “Pastor Paul” had work to over those days — even with his co-pastor undertaking her regular duties, he was presiding at a total of four services, two on Saturday (Janet and I attended the rural churchʼs candlelight service that began at 4:00 PM) and two more on Sunday, including the afternoon Spanish service. Meals, times together, Christmas Day stockings and gifts were scattered between trips to church — plentifully. I had a good time and some excellent visits. Janet found this year especially pleasant, too.

David, Jess and Tim

Besides my generation (sister Margaret, the pastor himself and brother David), both of Paulʼs offspring (Rachel and Tim, with Timʼs relatively new wife Jessica enjoying her first Burrow Christmas) were present — nine of us altogether. Our hosts were actually able to get us all around their dining room table at one time, several times (an achievement of which Janet was particularly envious). Maybe we were a bit crowded in the living room for gift opening, but that just made the time more cozily enjoyable. And we even got to each speak with the absent brother Stephen about 6:00 PM on Christmas.

Paul, Janet, Rachel and Nancy

As the photos reveal, sharing British-style (China-produced) Christmas crackers has become a favorite part of the Burrow Christmas stocking stuffing. Although the crackers usually donʼt pop when pulled, we love putting all our crowns (contained within the cracker) on our heads (mine atop my Guinness cap) as we read the lamely punning riddles and check out the little “presents” that also spill out when the ends of the cracker get pulled apart. I have a little, plastic three-inch ruler that might actually come in handy.

Christmas Day was a wildly enjoyable time. Trite, but, tritely, true, too.

Isnʼt that an ash? — The cerulean Christmas sky beyond a tree in the parsonage yard.

And it didnʼt hurt that, even though My Beloved and I had agreed on “no presents” between the two of us this year, I made out like a bandit, including ironically two live Jefferson Airplane albums (that I hadnʼt even specifically asked for, from Rachel, which I am listening to as I type — just not on the computer, natch) and an iTunes gift card. Harold Lamb Cossack adventures, Guinness, The Moonstone on DVD and a Joseph Smith biography completed my personal portion of the hoard. The Lovely One may have done even better, and weʼll be eating on on several restaurant gift certs. I believe my spouse feels as lushly rewarded this Christmas as I do.

I hope everyone else felt as over-satisfied with their hauls.

Then, once this pair of Burrows had cruised back across half our state home, Janet and I opened the presents from her side of the family. The plethora and over-plus of generous abundance persisted bountifully. Among other treats, I am contemplating for suppers this week several recipes from the Sheryl Crow cookbook Janet received, and my hands are warm in my new fingerless wool gloves, typing this, as I ponder how to spend a new B&N gift card. Wow. (And thereʼs more, but Iʼll restrain my greedy gloating.)

Anyway, the best part was seeing so many relatives (both sides — counting our visit to Janetʼs folks the previous weekend).

My best seasonal wishes to everyone out there (a little belated, perhaps).

Now the lengthening days bring us toward the yearʼs end…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Apple Sucks!

Apple Sucks Facebook page

I have a problem with Apple, Inc. Once upon a time, just over two years ago, my iMac worked fine. I especially appreciated being able to insert CDs and have them play or be able to import them into iTunes and play my music on my computer or iPod digitally.

All that changed about eight months ago, however. After one or more of the companyʼs upgrades (I really should put that word in quotation marks) — or else when I foolishly spent my own money to upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard, the computer no longer usually accepts disks. It scans them and scans them and then ejects them without ever even mounting the disk on the desktop, nor does iTunes open automatically as it used to do (and as I still have the preferences set to do when a disk is inserted). 

I am inserting disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after disk after… and having them each and all invariably rejected even as I type with incendiary fury on my pitifully pathetic Apple Bluetooth Chiclet-key keyboard (will it stand up to the task?).

Sometimes if the computer “eats” my CD, I can get the damned awful device to recognize, sometimes even play or import the CD by restarting. But thatʼs not how a computer should work (nor is it how it is supposed to). And I imported thousands of CDs (almost our complete collection) without an issue over three years, 2005-2008, on my wifeʼs wretchedly vile HP laptop, into iTunes (for Windoze). Obviously and certainly something (very bad) has happened.

Whatʼs wrong?

Clearly, Apple has chosen to make the CD-playing process worse. I believe (and saying “I believe” without any further support is all the “evidence” our politicians appear to believe is necessary these days, falsely) the wicked corporation has made it harder (impossible, in my case) for consumers to avoid using the proprietary iTunes Store to get music. And thatʼs wrong. Thatʼs evil.

And I am calling them out on it.

Apple sucks. (And I will not use the iTunes store, ever, until my own CDs are able to mount again. Please join me.)

Ah, the incredibly incompetent machine just ate the last CD inserted. Time for another effing restart, I guess.

* Of course, I would gladly accept anyoneʼs assistance or advice on correcting/improving this situation…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The 2011 Christmas Letter

Yes, like so many other Americans, The Lovely One and I indulge in an annual Christmas letter reprising the presumed highlights of the year gone by. My parents began the tradition fifty years ago (more?), and at least some of the time all of their offspring have continued to perpetrate the subliterary ritual. Since I promised, unwittingly mextatextualizing, to post the letter here so the recipients could see the included pictures in a larger format, here is the missive we mailed out with our cards a week or ten days back…

Happy Holidays, One and All!

For the first time in several years, the world is not white with snow, and although today is pretty chilly, weʼre looking forward to highs in the forties about mid-week. Furthermore, itʼs bright and sunny today, the grass is green, and itʼs time to get this thing written once again for your pleasure or instant dismissal to the paper-recycling basket.

Janet and Miss Jones

Janet’s job at Cottingham & Butler continues as demanding as ever, still serving two masters, both the Chairman-and-CEO and the President. Once again, it was her original boss, the CEO, John, who provided the most interesting event to relate. This year he and his wife Alice both turned eighty, and John wanted to celebrate in lavish style, renting the Dubuque country club and inviting live talent to perform. Of course, much of the preparations fell not to him or Alice, rather to his trusty executive assistant, and Janet had her hands more than full for the first months of 2011, planning, arranging, supervising, coordinating and presenting the Big Bash.

First, she had to find possible entertainers and fairly rapidly produced a short list of available artists for her boss to winnow down to one — Broadway legend and former Partridge Family matriarch Shirley Jones. Then came negotiations with Miss Jonesʼs agent (and stars, even septuagenarians, do have their requirements that the host site must oblige, including temporary housing and technical specifications like stage size and lighting — for all of which of course Janet had to arrange the provisions, which meant next she was lining up technicians for sound, stage and lights, not simple on relatively short notice). Then there were guest invitations and responses (and in some cases re-invitations and/or personal phone calls when this or that close friend of the Butlers neglected to respond) and further arrangements or re-arrangements as the Big Bash drew closer and closer. Finally, Janet discovered she herself (and spouse) were also on the invitation list — mostly so she (and as it happened I) could handle last-second details or issues, as we did, including the seating chart that John and Alice only provided in rough form the morning of the party, April 30, and the arrangement of the tables themselves. We even served as house light operators for a key moment during Miss Jonesʼs performance, and Janet, as she had known for many weeks, acted as the starʼs dresser.

Although the day of the Big Bash was a busy one for both of us, it was an exciting and delicious (for me — Janet didnʼt get to eat her meal, having to depart the party room to prepare the talent to perform) fête, and Shirley Jones was not only talented and effervescent but delightful and personable, as were her accompanist and stage manager/technical director. We got to sleep in a (for us, free) hotel room that night, late, while the Butlersʼ driver Cal chauffeured the accompanist to OʼHare and then returned to deliver Shirley and her manager to the Dubuque airport. It was an exciting, unique experience.

Janet had also arranged another major production for 2011, this one for us. Serving on the board of directors for The Grand Opera House in Dubuque, she had begun to feel a little pressure from her board peers to perhaps do something artistic for the theater, like in particular… direct a play. So she put us down to direct One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest this year, commencing in August with performances ending September and beginning October — perhaps hoping to build from my experience in the Maquoketa Peace Pipe Players production from 2010 (please consult your meticulously maintained files of previous Christmas missives for details on that, naturally). We were delighted by the large turnout for auditions and the astonishing level of talent from which we could choose. The group we wound up with (after some days of negotiating and dismissing difficult or timid former choices) was just about as perfect as we could wish.  We also enjoyed a talented, organized stage manager in operatic Megan Gloss, who kept the cast and us on track and productive. Departing Grand technical director Keith Ahlvin made me a lifelong admirer (and even friend) by his ingenuity and creative scenic design and construction (on which I worked daily throughout September). Weʼre excited we may get to see Keith on his new job at the Adler Theater in Davenport when we go to experience Mannheim Steamroller on December 21. Rehearsals went swimmingly, even with the night we were exiled to the alley outside the theater for another group inside, and the show was a moderately attended, scintillating success.

August had also marked what we had hoped was the end of many weeks work on our upstairs bathroom (it wasnʼt, and as I type this, I really should be finishing the paint job in that room). In July Janet consulted with a local business to install a new countertop and sink and put new flooring in our bathroom (we got so excited about the wood laminate products that we also re-did our kitchen/dining room floor). She arranged as well to have the cabinets refinished before it became my obligation to paint the chambre du toilet (that convenience was likewise replaced with a modern extended-bowl, low-water model). A period of forgetful laziness (and play practice) preceded our sanding, caulking and preparation of walls and joints for the paint job I hope to complete by the time you read this. My retirement years continue to feature major and pleasant improvements to our home.

outside Parliament

Our biggest pleasure of the year was an almost spur-of the-moment weekʼs vacation in mid-October. We had toyed with what to do and where to go once our Dubuque play had wrapped, focusing mostly on western New York and perhaps Niagara Falls, but serious investigation revealed that prices for that potential driving trip were going to be sky-high — exorbitant enough that when Janet ironically searched costs for a week in Paris or, really having a lark, Budapest, she found that we could in fact spend a lovely week in the Hungarian capital for considerably less than the Finger Lakes region. She learned this two weeks before her vacation time was to begin, the day before she took off to Wisconsin for her annual Festivus getaway with her sister Diane. Fortunately or un-, when she told me about Budapest, I said we should just go for it, completely unprepared and almost utterly unplanned. And we did, booking the trip (air and hotel) that very evening.

looking across the Chain Bridge and Danube from Buda at Pest

Ten days of frantic research and packing brought us to OʼHare and a joyless flight overseas on United (now near the dregs, the bottom of our list of friendly skies) improved by our dawn-hour Lufthansa hop from Frankfurt to Budapest. We spent seven nights in the cities united across the Danube, enjoying both the reconstructed historic Buda side on the hills and the busy, modern Pest side where we roomed. Food was wonderful (gotta love that paprikash! And those “meat pancakes,” too!), sights were scenic (even when overcast or rain-drenched), the people we met were friendly and enthusiastic, and we had a glorious time — visiting the castle and the former nobles region in Buda, buying foodstuffs and presents in the Great Market Hall, wandering streets and byways, visiting the Jewish Quarter and the Great Synagogue as well as St. Istvánʼs Basilica and Mattyas Church, plus classic coffeehouses (fin de siecle, neo-Baroque gilded gloriosity and bookish paneled elegance preserved and restored). And did I mention the food? Flying home on Lufthansa restored our preference for European airlines (free and tasty meals, free booze, legroom) after the SwissAir disappointment from Prague two years ago. I am trying to complete a travelogue on my blog with more complete details and plenty of pictures, which you may check out or ignore. We had a fantastic time.

trapper John

And why wait until October for vacation, as appears to have become our habit since I left education? First, I spent nearly six weeks substitute teaching this year. Almost the entire month of March I effectively had my old Andrew job back when the current teacher had to take time off as her father died, and that particular segment of the school year meant that I got to renew my experience with both large group and individual speech contest and directing the spring play (the school generously paid this poor sub somewhat more for all those many, many extra hours). Fortunately for me, the kids were also generous and forgiving of this old man, so the time went quite well. But my earnings for the year went further. Around Valentineʼs Day, a friend suggested me for a job with the USDA; when I followed his lead, I got a quick interview and a definite offer as a “seasonal bug trapper.” I was the front line to contain the spread of the emerald ash borer (about which thereʼs plenty of information online if you just google that bug by name or even “EAB”). I spent half of April and all of May, June, July and August in my government-owned vehicle on the roads and sometimes highways of Clinton, Jackson and eastern Dubuque counties, four ten-hour days a week — creating and hanging large, sticky cardboard traps and then returning to check for bugs and replenish the lure inside to attract more insects, finally visiting each site one last time in August to check again and remove the traps. I learned much about the differences between many kinds of trees (ashes being the only variety in which I was supposed to be interested) and between many, many kinds of bugs — none of which on my traps were actually emerald ash borers. It was a definite adventure, and I now know more about the back byways of eastern Iowa than I ever thought I would. I also had five days working on the currently more serious gypsy moth campaign. Again, if interested, you can find much more on the blog. I am excited that if federal funding exists, I get to do not quite the same again next summer.

And looking ahead seems an auspicious note on which to leave this yearʼs Christmas letter. We aspire for more pleasant adventures for us and for all of you in Maya-calendar-ending 2012.

For the present, we hope this festive season finds you and yours all happy and healthy. We wish you all well and would like to see you any time.

on the cruise boat, our last day in Budapest

Janet wishes these letters were even shorter than they are (this one ran two pages, with pictures, of ten-point Palatino), but I didnʼt name other deserving participants in the play, or mention seeing family (Margaretʼs visit for One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest, for instance, and nephew Timʼs wedding to his bride Jessica), provide quick updates on siblingsʼ lives, or mention other news from other relatives.

Thatʼs 2011, folks.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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The Festival of Lights Begins

The Lovely One and Wak on Chain Bridge, Budapest, by night

Happy Chanukah, one and all.

My fair city celebrates the beginning of the eight nights with brief appearances by two of the dimmest, densest and most Dextreme of the Republican candidates vying for the GOP Presidential nomination — Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.* Although extremely tempted to attend their noxious appearances in Our Town and batter them with difficult but justified questions, I will instead merely note their undesirable presences here and instead buy some groceries (pop, made almost affordable with a coupon, and if available, some cauliflower and broccoli to be made, perhaps tomorrow, into a veg curry Iʼve been intending to invent**). At my belovedʼs unstated request, I will leave the two disappointed wannabes to preen unhindered and pristinely unrealistic for the intended, fawning audience they have come to stroke.

some of each kind of the mentioned possible Chanukah reading, skill-lessly posed for your pleasure

Anyway, I thought Iʼd make a brief post (at long last) to commemorate the start of the holiday. Having unintentionally, as I once mentioned, nearly terrified my mother that I might convert to Judaism (thanks to my growing collection of books, actually read and often annotated, on the subject), when I realize that another of the many holidays, High Holy Days, or festivals has come around again, I take gentle notice and sometimes pull out my English Mishnah or Tanakh (or portion thereof) or Kabbalah and while away (or possibly waste) an afternoon or evening or several in pseudo-religious reverie/not exactly study. (Of course, for all their supposed devotion to Israel — merely in reality to fulfill their Fundamentalist-nonsense silly end-times schedules/programs — my aforementioned Christian Right intolerants in the region today would  probably eviscerate me for such, however idle, behavior — certainly so if I chose instead to peruse the Qurʼan for equally indolent, valid, scholarly reasons.)

[I donʼt think, looking at the books I have chosen to photograph, that I ever told about our honeymoon. The Lovely One had intended for us to vacation in Bermuda, a place to which I have never yet gone, right after our marriage in 1982. We had planned to wed on the Saturday following the final teacher workshop and head directly off that Sunday to bliss in the Atlantic. That was the year that our then-superintendent in Andrew famously could not count to 180, the necessary number of days required by the state of Iowa for a school to hold students in attendance each year, and we endured a really harsh winter with about a dozen snow days.*** Both situations extended the school year in fits and starts that finally prohibited yet one more rescheduling of our tropical honeymoon. So instead, we went to (not exactly) exotic and not-so-distant Minneapolis for a week (a full week after our wedding), and during our stay my new bride accompanied me to several Jewish bookstores — particularly Brochinʼs from which the Artscroll Ecclesiastes and the first volume of the Seder Moed derived.**** I got a lot of peculiar looks as I perused the shelves, but The Lovely One, who fancies she has some of the appropriate ethnic look, was accepted quite merrily. Irrelevantly, but perhaps connected to another religion, it was also on that trip that I had to leave the new wife alone in a middle eastern restaurant, sipping many cups of Turkish coffee, while I hurried back to our hotel room to retrieve my forgotten wallet as quickly as I could so we could pay for our meal.]

And that concludes our Chanukah portion of todayʼs post.

I havenʼt forgotten to continue my Budapest travelogue; I have just gotten wasteful of my time (again, as usual — the unfortunate theme of this year that I am trying to change — again — just now). I had thought that I had written roughly four days of our experience in Hungary, but I discovered that I was mistaken. I had merely taken notes to help myself remember what we did each day; thus the chore of recapturing and writing about the splendid (if wet) week abroad got harder, hard enough for me to forget to accomplish any further posts.

However, I do intend to correct that lapse into inauthentic laxity (and addictive behavior, wasting my time online — curse you, Mark Zuckerberg), although in searching the blog for the links included today, I also realize that this yearʼs posts have developed a sad and sorry theme of “Iʼll write on that — whatever-‘that’-may-be — soon”).

So we have a climactic cliffhanger. Will the decrepit old man actually keep to his intentions for once and complete the travelogue? Or, typically for 2011, not?

Find out soon. (But not tomorrow, as I already have a post prepared, promised, via snail mail, to some fifty supposedly eager recipients of Burrow Christmas cards.)

* And the other Rick keeps stomping around the state, pointlessly, as well, speaking today just down Dylanʼs Highway 61 in Bettendorf (or Davenport — I donʼt remember which, although I am sure that local news anchor Gary Metevier will mumble his way wretchedly through a pointless story about Santorumʼs visit).

**  — not really: it will be merely a version of the fish (or chicken) curry I mentioned a year ago. Even so, such variation is (or well may be) experimental for me.

*** And we did indeed in those distant days march manfully to school through at least three feet of snow, uphill both ways.

**** Both the hardback Mishnah in the picture and the paperback on the Sefer Yetzirah are later acquistions.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest, Day 2 (Saturday, October 21, 2011)

Todayʼs post takes The Lovely One and me on to our second day in Budapest — Saturday, when we crossed the Danube to Buda to explore stuff that really reminded us of our Prague experience. Previous posts are yesterday, Saturday and Friday.

I talked about our visit to this building during our first day, but I never had a picture show of the structure itself. This is Janetʼs favorite Budapest site, the neogothic glory of Parliament.

We had flown in under overcast (ground fog — thick, at that) in Frankfurt in the blackness of 5:00 AM on Friday, October 21. The rain moved into Budapest on Sunday (thick wet air — misty mostly rather than actual rain) and continued all through Monday.* We just heard that Tuesday is supposed to repeat today/Monday.

The Lovely One looks back at me on Széchenyi lánchid with Hungarian flags flying in the stiff breeze.

But first there was Saturday — a glorious day of high, blue skies, scattering early clouds for brilliant sunshine. Saturday was a wonderful and invigorating day, perfect (if autumnal and therefore slightly chilly weather — however, for our whole trip this year, not any time as cold as Prague was two years ago, though). That morning, having slept a dozen hours, we arose about 8:30 to shower, drafts and head out across the Chain Bridge (almost just outside our doors) for Buda and the royal palace complex.

Although not so intimate (or old) as the romantic Karlův Most/Charles Bridge in Prague (these comparisons are inevitable, though not really were particularly appropriate, as Budapest has suffered considerable damage in warfare, some quite recent, including World War II, unlike Prague), Chain Bridge/Széchenyi lánchid — built from 1839-49** and open to vehicular traffic — has wide pedestrian ways on each side (passages that pedestrians traversed in both directions on both sides) offering memorable vistas down then up the Danube (Duna), South and North, depending which side you were walking. Parliament’s neo-Gothic spires and neoclassic green dome shone brilliantly in the grey morning. I shot far too many photos of views and bridge works as we walked eastward across the river.

the last few steps up to reach Fishermenʼs Bastion

Once over, although I easily spotted both, we elected to forgo the already extensive line for the funicular straight up the steep hillside or the set of steps which led directly ahead to the (rebuilt) castle/palace complex. We angled right (South) off streets paved in macadam (with smaller, cobbled ways off, downhill, on our right), switching back (at last) northward, steeper, until we took steps straight up to…

… a medieval-like complex I eventually figured out was Fisherman’s Bastion, with St. Mattias Church just ahead (much closer than my guidebook reading had prepared me to expect). The whole area was crowded with multiple (maybe ten?) tour groups in full tourista-rude mood and mode.

Mattyas church

Of course, nothing up there is actually old (except underground) because of the war(s) damage. We saw the Fishermanʼs Bastion, where we arrived atop the hill, and the very nearby Mattias Church, wandered around the streets of the old town area (now nice and relatively desirable residences with plenty of supposedly overpriced restaurants and right by the church an ultra-modern Hilton hotel on medieval foundations) for several hours before eventually making our way over to the castle, where we were stopped by and talked with a nice young man hawking tickets to a concert that evening (at a Baroque former casino that turned out to be just cross the street from where we ate dinner Friday night, thus just around the corner from our hotel). We offered to think about it and went on to look over the castle, although not electing to visit the museums that fill it up — Hungarian art and Hungarian history (we did do a free subset of the history in a corridor off the entry way that Rick Steves told us about in his Budapest book, where we also used an ATM for our weekʼs cash). The courtyard was scenic, particularly with the green dome looming overhead, but as Rick Steves notes, feeling empty somehow. 

A shot in the castle courtyard

On our way out, we did buy the tickets from the guy (now with a girlfriend with whom he was eating a midafternoon lunch) so we had an activity that night (and the concert we attended later was good, too). Then because the caverns under the castle are a big sight to visit one way or another, we took a “tour” of some of the former wine storage area. The expereince was mostly intended just to be a tasting of Hungarian wines (we were, I believe, the only people all afternoon to actually do the tour, which was kind of fun if excessively informative, almost entirely in in Hungarian, about the countryʼs many wine regions — Hungary is resuscitating its wine industry that produced mostly mediocre junk wine under the communists). It was cool and medieval in the cellars, and I took (again) far too many ill-focused pictures before we got to the end of the line and had to turn around and retrace our route back to the beginning for our (included/featured) wine tasting. The enthusiastic young man who served our four wines, explaining about the region and vintering for each vintage, was very nice (and even got The Lovely One to attempt the final Tokai — She Who Usually Shuns Any Sweet Wine actually drank a dessert white). We were enthused about our underground adventure and bought four bottles after our tasting (not, however, including any Tokai). 

Heading home on the other side of Chain Bridge, Janet clutches lovingly to our purchases from the wine cellars.

Heading home, we opened another bottle of the St. István red (resupplied) in our room, then changed for dinner and the concert. We ate just up Mérleg utca at Palinka Bistrot Kafeház (coffeehouses, as we would discover, can be many kinds of places in Hungary, including actual restaurants, like this one) where, at our charming young waitressʼs suggestion, we ordered the prix fixe feature of the night, “meat pancakes” (sounds strange the way the restaurant chose to translate the thing, actually an Hungarian specialty, palacsinta is a heavy crepe filled with meat, in this case ground beef, we think — I had them at two other restaurants later, always delicious) followed by duck leg (slightly paprikash, as was the sauce for the palacsinta) with warm cabbage/sauerkraut and potatoes. It was great, and the waitress was very nice and even funny all evening (however, only one other family came in for dinner after us, and we arrived as one other couple was grumpily finishing their meal — all of us tourists). Then the concert, featuring the Hungarian cimbalom for about a third of the numbers — rather like an open grand piano struck with hammers, soft but very pretty sounds. We were back to bed about 10:30.

* (drizzle and light precipitation the whole night before, also that night and the day after)

** (this version is a reconstruction after the Nazis blew up all the bridges retreating from Hungary before the Soviet advance in WWII)

The neoclassic castle dome from the castle courtyard

This bit of our story actually combines what I tried to write in Hungary with elements of my letter to my brother. As itʼs all I have so far, I think I may add some more pictures and some details later (letʼs hope — at least I shall — tomorrow).

A view of the castle complex on our way across the bridge in the morning.


©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Same Thing Again (in a Different Way) — Budapest

All right. So I have posted my original narration of our first day (actually, calendrically two days) arriving in Budapest. About a week after we got home, I wrote what I intended to be the quick summary version of our trip to my brother Stephen in a letter. My summary bloated into nine pages. So I have what amounts to an alternate version of the events I took time to record while we were actually in Hungary (not just for the first day, but the next two as well).

I am posting the letter version of Day One to see which you, gentle readers prefer…

Gellért Hill with Liberty statue atop, shot from Buda (although I donʼt remember just when, maybe from the #47 tram on Sunday). This, blog readers, is the picture I put into Stephenʼs letter with these paragraphs.

First, Budapest was wonderful. Some things about the city reminded us of Prague (more of the “New Town” area we werenʼt in most of the time in Prague than the thousand-plus year-old “Old Town” — mostly because Budapest has suffered considerable damage in warfare and rebellion over its history, unlike Prague; the Nazis even blew up the bridges when retreating from Hungary, and the Soviets bombarded the castle hill, Buda, where armaments and supplies were located, as they “liberated” the area). We also used public transit, which didnʼt happen in Prague (no real need except for the two- or three-mile hike in the rain, both directions, to visit the old castle). Although I intend to write a full travelogue with many photos, hereʼs a brief synopsis of the trip (assuming, that is, that I can keep myself brief — adding this after I just spent an hour on our flight over and the first day).

We left on Wednesday afternoon, October 19, in order to overnight and leave our car at a hotel with transport to and from OʼHare, flying out about 2:30 PM the next day. A park-and-fly packager company got us in the Hyatt Regency OʼHare for less than half the hotelʼs actual rates (pretty cool), and the place was very fancy. However, being out in the middle of nowhere in the OʼHare suburbs, we had to eat at the hotel restaurant — a bit pricey but it was actually quite good food. Not having to get up hours before dawn (our usual departure schedule), we slept well.

Great Market Hall, near Liberty Bridge, at the end of Váci utca — I left it quite large, so if you click on the picture, you can appreciate those roof tiles.

We got to the airport easily, and even used the new-fangled pre-check-in online (via a kiosk at the hotel) and inhuman bag check devices to get ourselves quickly to security (we did actually have to talk to an actual counter staffer to check the bags, but that went really smoothly, as we already had our boarding passes from the hotel kiosk). We flew out on United to Frankfurt, changing planes there for a smaller plane to Budapest (nothing much evidently flies direct from the states to Hungary). The United tourist seats were small, uncomfortable and inhumanly close together (my knees literally pressed into the seat in front of me without that person reclining his/her seatback, and I could not get to my carry-on under that seat — no way to get through my legs and no room whatsoever). However, we survived for seven and a half hours; I even slept for about four hours (Janet couldnʼt as her person in front had reclined his seat and she had absolutely nowhere to go; she tried to complain to him and to the cabin crew without success, or even any actual response).

Nowadays United and other American carriers have invented a new tourist classification (costing about a hundred bucks extra) that offers “more legroom” (about two inches worth) and, for some, computer power plugs; I believe Janet wishes we had taken that option — now. We of course arrived the next day (October 21), having seen the lights of southern England and northeastern France/southern Belgium in the darkness. The layover in Frankfurt was pretty brief, but even with me misdirecting us in the complete wrong direction to find our departure gate and having to wait in line and get through passport control, we made it with a half hour to spare (the return layover was to be even shorter).

The Lufthansa flight to Budapest was like heaven compared to the international torture experience on United, making us hopeful that, with the return being booked as a code share on Lufthansa, the flight home would be better (longer by three hours into head winds). Our plane got us into the Budapest airport about 8:30 to 9:00 AM, and we were downtown, via taxi (after, just like Prague, absolutely no immigration procedure whatsoever at the airport) well before 9:30. However, unexpectedly, the very friendly (and, like all Hungarians we met, English-speaking) girl at the desk had our room ready for us, even that early in the morning! (There was some problem finding our reservation, as Expedia had somehow gotten my middle name as our last name, but we worked it out.)

The lower half of St. István Bazilika, showing the square — the top part was in yesterdayʼs post.

The hotel was right down by the Danube (Duna, locally), just across a big park (Roosevelt tér, named for FDR) from the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lachíd, named for the Count who paid to have it built mid-1800s — the current version is, of course, a reconstruction — supposedly because storms kept the Count from boating across to Buda when his father was dying, so he arranged for the Danubeʼs first bridging between Buda and Pest). We were actually on a side street (Mérleg utca) around the corner from the Gresham Palace (rebuilt as the Four Seasons Hotel — with a really cool lobby). Ours turned out to be an excellent location, making it easy to walk to most sights, which had been our idea in booking that place.

We got to the room (a huge three-room suite — bath, living area/kitchenette [sink in counter over a microwave and tiny fridge, actually a mini-bar stocked with drinks to buy)] and bedroom), cleaned up a little, unpacked a little, and then headed out (we knew we couldnʼt afford to collapse until it was truly evening here in Europe, making Janetʼs first day a hugely long one, but she held up really well). I guided us past a nearby basilica (St. István, named for the Magyar** king who accepted Christianity for himself and his people in the early eleventh century) and off northward toward the Parliament building, a vast neo-Gothic marvel, which we examined all around, and then we headed back along the river (more or less — major four-lane roadways run right by the water), past our hotel and south along Vaci utca,* a pedestrian mall and popular tourist/shopping street all the way south to the Great Market Hall, maybe a mile or so downriver from our hotel, where Janet had us actually shop at the many, many stalls for some food — cheese, bread and a couple grapefruit — intending to make use of our kitchenette for breakfasting. I was nervous about trying to interact this early (and use the 20,000 forint bills I had acquired from the airport ATM so weʼd have cash for the taxi; the 20,000 HUF bill is the largest in circulation, roughly a bit less than $100) and worried that we wouldnʼt communicate with the vendors (actually there to sell to locals), but the place is a major tourist stop, too, so I neednʼt have worried. We spent the change from our taxi driver (food, even dining out, was noticeably inexpensive in Budapest) and headed home to relax before finding a restaurant for dinner.

a park near Parliament (I think itʼs to the right), showing a nice planting of flowers and a statue. Statues are literally everywhere. Literally.

We had both packed quite light (at least for us, trying in our elderly years to finally learn), but we each did have at least (for me, only) one change for evening dress, and we did change after relaxing over a bottle of red wine from the mini-bar (only 1450 HUF, and we figured $6.75 for a bottle of wine was pretty good, even though we later saw that same wine in a grocery store for 750 HUF) and sought out a place Janet remembered seeing early in our hike that featured “pumpkin risotto” on their menu outside the door. We did find the place (actually just on the other side of the Four Seasons), a bar mostly, and successfully got a seat (pretty early dining, at only about 6:00 PM, for Budapest), ordering the risotto, both of us, and a bottle of red wine, which turned out to be the same thing we had enjoyed in the hotel room. We were back in the room, exhausted and getting ready for bed well before 9:00.

* (“utca” meaning “street,” and pronounced “ut•stah” — accents in Hungarian always on the first syllable only, the “u” like “put” and a solo “c” sounding “st”; the “s” alone, by the way, as in the cityʼs name, is always “sh,” so itʼs pronounce “Bu•dah•pesht” with the “e” like an American short “e” — in fact quick food eaten between slices of bread is “szendvics,” which would come very close to “sandvich”)

** [pronounced “Muh•dyahr,” so every time I have said that word for forty years, I have been utterly wrong, the “gy” combination in this case being said “dy”]

I did here edit out the “letter” portions, leaving just the travelogue. Compare with Friday and Saturday, folks… I notice that I explain different things in each one, however obvious that they must overlap. Preferences? Comments?

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.