Does Dictation Work?

And wow. It has been a while since I last posted™. I even have another post I began that day on the poetical-composition process which led to that (presumably final) version of the poem, “Aubade in Retrospect” — itʼs mostly complete™ but never appeared. (Mostly complete in that it records the evolving versions but doesnʼt get into why I felt I needed to make the changes I made. Maybe someday — probably, as long-suffering Gentle Readers™ will realize, not soon… )

So what happened? (Other than my usual intermittency of posts™.)

Work happened. My seasonal job, trapping bugs for the Department of Agriculture, started almost right after that post* with the now-usual trip to Des Moines for orientation, testing, acquisition of supplies and re-familiarization with my GOV (thatʼs “Government-Owned Vehicle” for those who need a review from the last two summers). The Lovely One™ and I went out early (she must go along because I bring home my GOV, therefore requiring transportation out there) since she prefers not to drive both out and back in one day. So we had a little one-day minivacation in Des Moines (if any stay in our Fair State Capital™ can be considered a “vacation” at all — Bob Weir having captured the essence of the city in his song “Salt Lake City,” which “really makes Des Moines seem second rate”), enjoying a delicious and different Russian meal and then tasty pub grub before she left me on my own for Sunday evening in a hotel. It was a long, lonely evening™ (even with my multi-thousand-book Kindle library) inspiring some life changes about which you will all have to wait to learn™.

Our Emerald Ash Borer training was May sixth and seventh, and we started to work immediately. As of today, I am almost done putting up the traps.

My first year, I only had a three-county area, right around my home. Last year my region expanded to ten counties and took me out past Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, requiring several nights away from home in two different locations twice a month. This year I add seven more counties (although with fewer traps, just lots of driving), and I have already spent five nights (out of ten workdays) away from home — Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Tama, Coralville and Cedar Rapids — getting to know a variety of hotel rooms in several chains: their luxuries, limitations and idiot-advertising required to access the (falsely) “free” wireless Internet™.

As you will learn, when I (eventually™) upload the information from my smartpen and permit the computer (using MyScript for Livescribe™) to OCR My Horrible Penmanship™, my renewed relationship with hotel rooms has made me thoughtful (at least periodically and not very profoundly) or, minimally, reflective.

And I have been busy™.

You are supposed to notice the earclipped microphone...

Youʼre supposed to notice the earclipped microphone… (this photo itself is a Whole ʼNother Story™ and an enthusiastically  novel experience at that, regardless of self-consciously stern expression)

Those ten-hour days™ really can get long, making me appreciate my Fridays to myself™. I appreciate the time so much that Iʼve fallen-behind-on-correspondence™ (again — my apologies, Aunt Alaire and brother Stephen™) and made no effort — until now, that is — to keep up with the blog™. However, several technological influences (more on those perhaps to come™) rekindled my interest in using Dragon Dictate™ for composition. So I unhooked my little Bluetooth™ microphone from the power and slipped it around my ear, remating it (necessarily after its long rest, unused) with its receiver, and have attempted — successfully, it seems, so far — to dictate words directly into MacJournal™. Without mystery crashes™, strange word insertions™, random cursor malfunctions™ or other typical behaviors of Dictate™ when dictating not into its own text window.

Thus Todayʼs Title™.

However, for now, having proven that my technology works (thanks, Nuance™), I should mow the lawn. Then write some (long-delayed™) letters.

* I had felt that poem and its (so far only private) reflection on its creation was a kind of farewell to winter dormancy™, stirrings of spring™ and a last gasp toward writing before Work™ (and earnings) began.

And No Rewards™ for those Perceptive Few™** who glommed onto Todayʼs Fun Theme™.

** (even publication days, like this, here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog™ only garner fewer than fifty hits nowadays)

Alternative Title™ = “Option-2”

©2013 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.


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.

Free as a Bird (Not)

The poster for our production. It was one thing in which I participated productively yesterday.

Rainʼs moving in…

Of course, the radar has shown that rain closing in all morning, but the front wall of the rainfall has curved around Our County, encompassing Dubuque and a big region south of Interstate 80, but not us. Yet. The forecasters continue to insist it is coming; it will probably be here by the time I get this item composed, edited, illustrated and finally posted for today.

My summer job has ended. Like so many college students I enter September temporarily unemployed. My GOV still needs to be returned to the main office, and that event is currently scheduled for sometime late next month. So Iʼll earn a day or two daysʼ income taking it back and getting debriefed. Unfortunately, The Lovely One will have to take a day off work to drive me home afterwards. Or else I will have to locate other help lest I remain stranded in Urbandale…

Until that trip, I no longer have the ten-hour days encompassing my time and energy.

Fortunately or un-, my time is not yet quite my own. Our play* is busy in rehearsals, currently four nights each week (soon to become five), and I also have some duties during the day to fulfill (now that Iʼm “free”). Like finding some costumes, acquiring or manufacturing sound effects, helping to locate props, and assisting in set construction.

I also need to apply formally to work as a substitute teacher in districts nearby, and at least in Our Town that means about a dozen pages of various forms to complete along with credentials to locate and copy. So thereʼs plenty to do to keep me busy.

But I still find time, fatuously, to create and post material to the blog, like this. And I still want to take time to work on real writing and even give myself a chance to read some things for pleasure. This morning I composed a letter to my brother Stephen, long-overdue, and vague bits and pieces of what I had to tell him kept churning through my mind to become this post. However, now that Iʼm trying to put those same fragments of thoughts into print, Iʼm not sure I really have much to say. So at least this post will be brief.

And maybe I will get this into the electronic æther before the rain arrives.

Thanks for reading…

* I hope some may remember that Janet and I are directing One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest for the Grand Opera House in Dubuque. Auditions were held August 7 and 8, with actual rehearsals beginning on the 11th. The performances will begin September 23 through October 2.

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

Wrapping Up

The trap from our tree, viewed from above, showing: bugs stuck to the exterior, the spreader and the lure depending thereupon. (The hanger is cut off slightly, lying to the left.)


The month of August is nearly gone with just one little post from me to mark this time, way back on the first of the month. Pretty sad record, that.

Whatʼs up?

Work. Plenty of it.

August is the time for all the purple traps for emerald ash borers to come down, and I have been churning around Clinton, Jackson and eastern Dubuque counties every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all month long trying to get every one of my traps removed and trashed. (Yes, once I have examined the trap to consider each bug stuck thereon this final time, the big purple contraption is nothing but trash — saving the “hardware:” the hanger, which holds the device aloft from a branch, and the spreader, which holds the triangular trapezoid in shape and from which dangle the packets of scent lure which supposedly draw the bugs. In fact, one of the most vital jobs this past month has been lining up or otherwise locating trash bins which will accept all the disassembled and flattened traps — including those at campgrounds and parks, civic and other government offices/facilities and [at least in my case] several cooperative schools and businesses.) And as of today, the job is done. I left the trap in our own front yard for the very last, and after cleaning out the city of Dubuque itself, I came back here and pulled down that one last trap.

Several days of work remain. I still need to go over the trap sheets in comparison/contrast with the official maps of trap sites to ensure that I didnʼt somehow skip one (or two or…). Iʼll focus on that tomorrow, and because I canʼt remember a couple of key sites, I figure the GOV and I will be on the road for at least some (if not most) of the day double-checking and verifying. And I have a collection of several hundred hangers that I need to put in some kind of order (evidently wired together in groups of ten and placed neatly in boxes. Too bad no one told me to save the boxes I started with, since those, having been emptied, are long gone to recycling). And the good old GOV needs a thorough cleaning inside and out before I repack it with leftover supplies and the preserved hardware to take back to Des Moines sometime in the future.

The gypsy moth trappers are still busy far into September, and I could have worked about a week longer myself, if necessary (it wasnʼt). But come Thursday evening, I am finished.

— So why havenʼt I been at least posting a couple of times each week? My torpid nature, naturally. And The Lovely One and I are very busy in the evenings directing a play — One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest* for the Grand Opera House in Dubuque. We held auditions early in the month, the seventh and eighth (casting over a long, arduous evening on the ninth), and rehearsals began that Thursday. Weʼve been practicing every weeknight since then (with me desperately trying to get both Act One and Act Two blocked before the necessary rehearsals last week — a triple dose of time and effort). Of course, preparations for the rehearsal period to commence began even earlier than auditions.

And so it goes… until the two weekends of performances — September 23, 24, 25, and September 29 and 30 and October 1 and 2.

Time has been (and will remain) at a minimum, a premium. And I had better be off to Dubuque right now for tonightʼs rehearsal!

* You will have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the cast list (at least it will remain visible until showtimes, I hope).

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

Stuff, some serious

I begin more than a little distracted and preoccupied today. One of our good friends (and one of my favorite former students) has had life take a bad turn when accidentally her husband suffered a long fall at work on Friday. I only know about the incident from Facebook, but my heart is torn with worry and concern, and we wish her and him all our very best. Sometimes life is simply not fair. Many times.

Mark Twain, as students in American Literature/Advanced Composition and English III (including Carrie) got to hear in a biographical video for many years, once remarked in the wake of his daughter Susyʼs unfortunate death, “We were robbed of our greatest treasure, our lovely Susy in the midst of her blooming talents and personal graces. You want me to believe it is a judicious, a charitable God that runs this world. Why, I could run it better myself.” In the face of far too many events, I find myself chiming agreement with Clemensʼs dire judgment. (And I am absolutely uncertain just how much I feel apologetic whatsoever to my conservative and evangelical or otherwise convinced and devout readers for this expression of my exasperated and powerful doubts.) At least, Teagan and his fellow worker live. We must hope for the best, and I do.

I got online, not expecting to learn bad news, about two oʼclock Sunday afternoon. Janet had left to take a two-hour burlesque workshop, about which she was very excited (as were a good number of other people in her Zumba class). Perhaps Iʼll feel like writing about that once I know more about it. Right now, as I write, she is still gone learning to shake her tassels. And my heart is still stone.

Earlier in the day, we were just having an ordinary Sunday at home — doing laundry, reading a newspaper, conversing, vaguely planning possible meals for the week, drinking coffee… About noon, she suggested perhaps we head outside and go to Theisenʼs for some rubber boots. I have talked for at least three winters about wanting some rubber galoshes, and I suppose she figured it was finally time to shut me up. After all I could have gone on my own any day, but I never had. So we drove the mile to the store and looked around. I tried on size tens and then size nines, wondering if I wanted boots or the ten-dollar-cheaper shoe-sized galoshes. I went for the more expensive boots, size nine.

See colored text

As we were heading toward the checkout lanes, she brought up another long-mentioned idea — a bird feeder. In this case the idea is one sheʼs talked about for a long time. So we headed across the store to the aisle where she could see wooden combination birdhouses/feeders (for far more money than we intended to spend). They also had a selection of tubular plastic feeders with multiple perches, which we examined and from which we selected a model. Then we had to determine which bird feed to buy, not easy as none of the bags explained very much for utter, complete novices like ourselves, but we eventually made a choice about what to feed the birds we hoped to see and headed to finally check out.

Since the boots were still the most expensive item by a long ways, I got to buy everything. And once we got home, the boots came in handy for the very first time as I stomped through the snow to hang our new feeder from the fruit tree in the back. I remembered reading that birds like some sense of shelter or cover when feeding, so I decided to hang it from the tree rather than from the convenient hooks on the otherwise unused clothesline poles at either end of our decrepit rear patio. The job wasnʼt even hard, the little piece of cotton rope — dyed green many years ago for the Andrew spring play, “Jack and the Beanstalk” — having been cut, pretty much uncalculated, to exactly the length I needed (although I don’t know how I did that; I just grabbed the full length of rope and cut off a few inches to use).

So now the feeder hangs in the tree waiting for birds we havenʼt seen yet this winter to arrive and eat. I hope they enjoy it. Something might as well get some pleasure from this sunny day.

Not much of a post, I admit, but I write distractedly, most of my thoughts having been driven far away from such lighthearted and simple matters. Please send whatever positive energy in which you may believe to the benefit of Teagan Rouse. And best wishes, Teagan and Carrie. You are both in my heart.

Attempting to take a photo for this post, I discover The Lovely One seems to have carried the camera along to her workshop. Our new bird feeder looks much like this image I found googling. Ours has a metal wire rectangular hanger at the top rather than the plastic loop shown.

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

Last Yearʼs Job, 2

Yesterday, I introduced you all to some details of my engagement with Census 2010, getting as far as my own training efforts with a crew of enumerators in Maquoketa…

If you look closely, you will see that mine is among the counties “most likely to return.” We still had plenty to do, tramping door to door in person.

Meanwhile, one of the people from my own crew leader training, a woman who insisted on asking questions about everything and thereby slowing down our training, was failing as a trainer/teacher over in nearby Preston. Eventually, on Thursday night, after her third day of training others, during which time she had only gotten through the first dayʼs material, she either volunteered to resign or was fired/reassigned. I got a call at about nine at night to inquire if for bonus pay (as I was about to go way over forty hours in one week) I would take over her class and finish two-and-a-half days training in one. My boss was going to edit the materials for me, so all I have to do really was read; I was hoping to be designated the perpetual trainer anyway; and these people in Preston were supposed to be the crew that I would get assigned if I stayed as a crew leader anyway (a situation nafu altogether, as the training materials were clearly written that the trainer would turn out to be the boss for the crew s/he was training), so I agreed. That day was easier than Iʼd even expected because the meeting room in Preston was considerably nicer than the dilapidated environment of the classroom I had to squeeze my group into every day at the Maquoketa community center. And the crew was delighted to have the former trainer gone and anyone in her place, so they loved me.

Unfortunately for my plans about being a permanent trainer, my boss was now down one crew leader, and when, during that day in Preston, the call came from Cedar Rapids asking about my availability to train a new group of random numerators in Davenport the next week, I hesitated accepting and finally decided I would stick with being a crew leader to help out my boss who had been pretty good to me (a good choice in the end as one of those random new trainees was the woman I replaced briefly in Preston). She was delighted, and I ended up being assigned not these new people I had just met in Preston on Friday but the original crew I had trained in Maquoketa (no comment on their intelligence, but they seemed delighted, too).

If everyone had just filled out the original form, the government would not have had to spend its precious tax-derived resources on me and my crews…

The job didnʼt turn out to be too hard except for BS work imposed from above (without warning — for instance, Wednesday or Thursday of the next week, once our enumeration process had actually begun, all of us crew leaders were suddenly instructed that by the end of the day, actually 2:30 in the afternoon, we had to assign all of the work that we had for our crew — supposedly about six weeks worth of home visits — immediately, without regard to the things we were supposed to care about, such as keeping enumerators as much as possible close to their homes*; I had a similar task just to get started in the next operation, only we were to ensure that our assignments that time made sense — requiring a twenty-hour day of nonstop work, with the first training session starting the next morning**). As the enumerators finished work, I was supposed to go over their census forms and pay sheets very carefully before submitting them that same day to my boss, who in her turn passed them on up to Cedar Rapids. This process didnʼt seem so bad until I was receiving several hundred forms each day, and it was nearly a week before my boss informed me that it would be all right not to pass everything on in the same day, just the pay sheets, thus giving me the chance to actually study the forms. The hardest aspect for me was keeping my work under forty hours a week, especially when the Bureau decided we crew leaders were to take work seven days a week.

Anyway, the job evolved into a routine, more or less, and wrapped up early in June. I got the chance to work a few days longer when Cedar Rapids wanted me to doublecheck one of my enumeratorʼs work, in person through revisiting the homes and contacts he had listed. So for about three days I got to experience for myself just what enumerators job was actually like (leave it to the government to train someone as a boss who had never done the job of the people he was bossing) and to receive the mileage pay for the distance I had to drive to get to the vacation community where my worker had found so many uninhabited residences (logical when you realize it was a vacation community on a lake, and so most of those trailers and cabins were not actually homes).

Later, I got offered the chance to work the next operation as well, getting trained after a week off in late June, this time at regional headquarters in Cedar Rapids, and doing pretty much the same job I had done before with a different (larger) group of people over a larger area, rechecking submitted work that somehow the big boys up the ladder of command didnʼt like (which mostly meant my workers got to annoy for the third or fourth time people who didnʼt want to talk to the Census in the first place). That lasted about a week and a half, keeping me busier than in the first operation day by day through completion, and I resigned officially toward the end of July.

Not much detail there, but I kind of enjoyed running over in my own head what I remember of those experiences.

* I felt so glad the the wad of nonsense I submitted (and had to keep revising for weeks to actually give out the work where it really belong) not only kpet some bureaucrat way up the chain of command looking good but shamefully kept my own nose so polished and brown.

** There was no reason for doing it all before I had even met my crew, but once again someone I would never meet could say in his/her area all the work was assigned and in the hands of enumerators by such-and-such a date, regardless of how much rewriting we peons would have to do to actually get the work done. The government as a whole does operate a whole lot like the armed services…

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

Getting a Job

I was writing my brother Stephen this morning (that would mean yesterday/Tuesday), and I realized in telling him about a few things that Iʼve never really discussed my adventures not quite a year ago with Census 2010. Of course, having taken the sacred federal oath “to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and Title 13ʼs utter Census secrecy about all gathered information for 72 years, I canʼt talk about any of the actual work of enumeration. But I can talk some about how I got my job.

Last March, Janet was getting concerned about my lack of extra income during retirement, above and beyond my monthly IPERS stipend (me in those days not receiving all that many substitute jobs from Andrew, maybe merely a couple each month), and I was just about getting guilted enough to head over to the Maquoketa Community Schools and volunteer to start subbing for them (something I still have not yet done, but probably need to). About that same time, Janet noticed in the local paper an article about qualifying for Census 2010 work. All I needed to do was call a phone number and make preliminary arrangements to show up for a scheduled test in a few days. Doing something completely different and making some money both sounded interesting (although Iʼm not sure if “interesting” really fits with making some money), so I made the call. The bureaucrat who answered was completely surprised that someone was volunteering to take the test this late in the process and really really curious how I knew about the test (he evidently had nothing to do with the article in our local paper). Now, after my experiences with the Census, I am assuming he was one of my over-bosses in the Regional Office in Cedar Rapids, although which one I really couldnʼt tell you. He did get my name on the list, and early on the Wednesday morning following I walked over to the local community college building newly built beside the high school. If nothing else I would get the chance to check out this new building.

To prepare for the test, potential Census workers could go online and attempt a practice version. I had done so and missed four or maybe five questions, which didnʼt seem very good to me (it wasnʼt). On two of those wrong answers I would have been correct if I had taken the test somewhat slower, but I had freaked out at the timing aspect (itʼd been a couple of lifetimes since Iʼd last taken a timed test, regardless how many times I had supervised the tedious and lengthy ITEDs). For the real test I tried to be more relaxed, and in the end I only missed two, which still didnʼt seem very good to me (I had found out on Facebook that a former student had gotten a job with the Census having earned 100% on his test). However, when my test supervisor was processing the exams later in the day (I was amazed, and you may be too, at just how primitively pre-digital — paper-driven — the Census Bureau still operated this last time), she noted that I had in my personal profile listed “leadership qualities.” She called to ask me what those were, merely teaching experience and directing plays, but that more than my, to me, mediocre score got me a job as a crew leader, and I was to go to training which began in about ten days in Eldridge, just north of Davenport.

We all received bags exactly like this, to contain our materials, and a badge identifying us as Census 2010 workers.

A brief series of phone calls got me confirmed for training, although governmental ineptitude appeared, as I should have predicted, when my name was not on the list of permitted trainees as I arrived, passport in hand, to get taught about my newly acquired job. However, a few more calls from the training site sort of clarified my status, and I was permitted to stay and learn. About thirty of us were at this site, under the tutelage of two people, a young woman and a man about my age, who it would turn out would be the supervisors/bosses for us (half with the woman and half with the man).

Training wasnʼt exactly what I imagined, being mostly these two immediate superiors reading verbatim training materials to us. And most of the lessons covered the training for the people I was supposed to supervise, enumerators. The days were long and pretty boring, and I discovered at the end that I hadnʼt paid enough attention to the right stuff when we took a concluding test (but I did just fine on that anyway). On the first day I got fingerprinted for the first time in my life (and I would get my opportunity to fingerprint others when I trained my crew later) so I could pass an FBI scrutiny for some level of minimal clearance, I guess. The training lasted four days, as apparently most Census trainings of various kinds do.

My most vivid recollections now are of the gloomy cellar-like, concrete-block community center/bowling alley (we didnʼt get into the bowling part, only the large meeting room in the community center half) where we first met. The Census does not pay for facilities, so all meeting rooms and training centers have to be arranged as freebies, which was a problem for our training, since no one place was available for consecutive days. We ended up in the Fellowship Hall and also the tiny Sunday School classroom at a church down the way from the community center for our final two days. We were released on our own for lunch for an hour at about noon each day, and as I brought my own sack lunch, and the warmth of spring was just bringing new growth and comfortable days, I remember wandering around parking lots and later around residential neighborhoods beyond that church, studying shoots of leaves and little crocus and other plants just starting to sprout and spread. (Those memories feel like heaven now in the midst of January.)

And that got me to a thousand words (and a bit more), so I had better quit for now…

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

Flurries on a Few Things

The weather tops my attention for this post (written yesterday/Monday), and that was not just flurries…

Snow is cascading from the sky. It has been since sometime in the night, although the heaviness of the snowfall has apparently only increased as the day has dimly brightened.

I awoke on time for my run, but I was already aware from the weather forecast Sunday night that Iʼd probably be shoveling instead. I did, although there was less than an inch of snow on the concrete of the driveway. Even so, it took me about an hour to scrape what I could clean, some of it twice, as I was not keeping up with the snowfall. I got back inside in time to stir Janet from bed, telling her she probably wanted to give herself a little extra time for the drive. Then I showered and shaved and got her stuff ready and packed for her car. We ate our little breakfast (two of the little mini-quiches apiece, half a grapefruit each, milk and tomato juice) and got her on her way, just after the plow came through. So I redressed myself in winter gear and headed back outdoors as she drove away. This time I could keep up even less well than in the full dark earlier, but I scraped away the driveway and half the street in front of our residence again.

Now itʼs 10:00 AM, and the driveway is again full of snow. The plowʼs been through again, but only along the middle of the street. As this little storm is supposed to last into the night, it looks as though I may have a busy day.

Of course you should be reading all of this in past tense, as Iʼm not going to post these unremarkable observations until Tuesday morning, when hopefully the clipper storm has passed.

I clearly (heh heh) waited too long (or should have waited longer) to take some shots, as there was no visible snow in the air at 11:00. “Lookinʼ out my back door…” at ugly Gasser True Value, where some poor schmuck was trying to clear their delivery zone, reminding me I needed to get back out for a third spate of scraping and shoveling this newfallen snow.

The snow keeps changing from tiny little darts to big fat fluffy flakes and back. The wind seems to have let up somewhat, as the flakes I am watching out the window are mostly falling straight down. When I went out at 5:00, the wind was whipping pretty briskly from the southeast, cutting right through my layers of sweatshirts, especially when I was at work out in the street. So when dressing for my second round with the shovel, I decided to try out the new white windbreaker Janet had given me for Christmas. It worked quite well, keeping me warm enough that I think I’ll try dropping one layer of sweatshirt when I decide to go back out again, probably around noon. Of course the weather Monday/today isn’t supposed to be terrifically cold, with the forecast temperature here in town just at or below 32°.

The warmth of the day is one of the problems with this storm. There is a chance for freezing precipitation if the air gets warm enough. I am hoping Janetʼs drive home after 5:00 PM won’t be during a time of sleet or icy downpour. (I must admit, that when I got back indoors about 8:00 AM, I was relieved I had no message indicator for a substitute teaching job today. Iʼd rather not be driving on the roads, although I should go out this afternoon to pick up a prescription for The Lovely One and some stew meat for Tuesdayʼs dinner.)

Speaking of temperatures, the furnace seems to be working fine — the rest of Saturday, that night, Sunday and Sunday night, and even now. Currently, through the day, I am keeping the place a couple degrees warmer than usual, but we should still be in “testing” mode after the boiler’s misbehavior on Thursday evening and Saturday morning.

Also working fine is Dictate (okay, saying that was a mistake; that dang program just interpreted the opening of this paragraph as “Also working phone line is Dictate”). However I am getting more accustomed to its shortcomings, and overall it does seem to be more accurate than it used to be as MacSpeech. I also donʼt appear to be inserting as many random syllables, my breaths or sighs or chuckles, as I used to. Of course, Iʼve also gone to using Dictateʼs own Notepad within which its accuracy is best (when “best” means adequate, as it tried to make that “its” into “itʼs”).* In most other programs, even trying to dictate into e-mail, the oddity of ignoring the final few letters or syllables, particularly of long-ish phrases, from what I have said persists. That’s frustrating. Then again, the instructions with the software told me plainly that the program works best with its own Notepad.**

(I really shouldnʼt complain about Dictate. Revising/editing right now with my aching fingers and hands, rather than my mouth, Iʼm typing as many goofy mis-strikes and other typos as the mishearings the dictation software devises. For instance, I just actually typed, “Iʼmm tyrping as many gofy misstrikes…”*** and even now “oinstance.”)

So, including deliberately recorded mistakes, now I have constructed a post, saying absolutely nothing, for this Tuesday. The snow keeps falling and remains heavy. But the radar shows weʼre covered by precipitation only just past Cedar Rapids — good news. The bad part is the amount of pink (freezing precip) that map indicates as well.

Winter in Iowa. What can you do? Except shovel and shovel and keep on shoveling. It could be worse. I could live in, oh, Wasila, Alaska, and then imagine what Iʼd have for neighbors instead of creosote-hell Gasser True Value…

Now itʼs time to try for a photograph of the snowfall to illustrate this post. Benevolence, all!

* Unfortunately, within the Notepad, apostrophes are regular typewriter straight marks, not the curly apostrophes I prefer. (I hope I caught and corrected them all, having forgotten to just “Find/Replace” once I copied the text over to Scrivener before moving the HTML version into WordPress on the browser. Learning, always learning.)

** Strangley, I have switched the iMacʼs sound output back to the microphoneʼs earpiece, at least for a while Monday, as I dictated and after, because it seemed soothing (and of course, the mic couldnʼt hear any of the music from iTunes and try to interpret those noises as parts of my messages). I also just realized that the sound of the music, which right now isnʼt particularly harmonic, being some jagged King Crimson improvised composition from the Eighties or Nineties, can give me a clear signal of just how far from the computer I can go before losing the Bluetooth connection.

*** Seeing “misstrikes” made me decide, however, that the invented word needed to include the hyphen: “mis-strikes.”

(At just shy of 1200 words for today, I am finding, that especially with wordy captions and all these footnotes, I am not doing well at keeping my posts shorter than last yearʼs. I hope thatʼs not a problem, faithful readers.)

©2011 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