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.

Failed Again

Even the title for this piece failed again (the effing computer having tke over from th keyboard nput — as you can see here — so I had to go back and add the “in” at the end of “Again;” and Iʼll just leave the stinking errors in this parenthetical addendum as evidence of what Appleʼs miserable excuse for technological advancement forces me to endure daily/hourly/every minute and second that the effing computer is on — not that anything Windows-based would do any better, I perceive*).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

I began this rant on the tenth, intending to mention I had failed (one piece of the total set of failures to which the title refers) to fix our kitchen sink (replacing the faucet) because the original supply lines were too short for the new faucet. I needed 21 and 23 inches of line respectively (cold and hot water), and places in town only sold 20-inch lines. However, real life and time in general have intervened, and thanks to a trip out of town (intentionally for brunch with My Belovedʼs sister and her husband and his sister and her significant other) I got what I needed, which I could have acquired in town it turned out — extension lines. I installed them successfully (so far) with only one hiccup when the cold water leaked the first time around. Wow.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My first plumbing job! (Although willing to do just about anything with electricity, thanks to my long noncareer with theatrical lighting and special effects, I have avoided accidentally flooding either our house or any theatrical venue by my plumbing incompetence.) My aged retirement continues to provide new adventures and experiences.

See the moisture (and the meter)?

See the moisture (and the meter)?

Now the only failure involved with that endeavor is that our main valve on the water entering our blessed abode has developed a bit of a leak. Just a little constant moisture down the copper line and wetness all the way to the drain in the basement floor.** But thatʼs before our water meter so… well, allʼs well that costs us nothing, for the time being.

The real failure, to which my nearly week-old title referred, is that my most recent attempt toward publication had just received rejection. Again. (And again and again and again, even though I donʼt keep resubmitting and searching out new market possibilities as I should. Nor even writing all that much either.) I had churned out and polished a brief 5000 words extending my Sepharad story (stories/series) with an adventure for Søren in Córdoba, encountering Lovecraftian horror (and his own weaknesses) as he attempted to earn some cash abetting two quarrelsome students of nigromancy. “Scholarsʼ Folly” (which may give away or, preferably, retrospectively suggest the nature of Sørenʼs climactic slip-up) being crafted for a Mythos market, hasn’t many innate qualities to make it attractive outside the specific anthology for which I wrote it. Sadly.

My own little cover for a short story (that didn't sell)

My own little cover for a short story (that didn’t sell)

Failure again.

Too bad they couldntʼ have rejected me more delicately (or even personally):

Hi,

Thanks for taking the time to sub to OUR LOVECRAFTIAN ANTHOLOGY and for your patience. We are going to pass on this.

Cheers,

THE EDITORS***

At least — good news — I do get to work again trapping bugs for USDA APHIS PPQ this summer. Take that, Sequestration!

And now, maybe to work on some fiction writing…

or else dinner.

* This (forthcoming) thought is not original with me (I believe I read something like this somewhere a long time ago, probably on the internet somewhere/when), however, it remains so utterly valid, I must type it out: Would we tolerate automobiles (or even cell phones, and I don’t mean “smart” ones) that operate as poorly as personal computers do? Admittedly mine (2009 iMac, bought as my last educational purchase at retirement) is now four years old, come June, but my truck is thirteen this year (a decade in my possession).

** I at first wrote “cellar floor,” an inaccurate description of our finished basement.But that slip reminded me that when I was small I read that supposedly (I think according to Robert Frost) the loveliest phrase in English was “cellar door.” Thoughts? Results of your research? Both welcome.

Deliberately so — one side is completely finished, while the other has no ceiling (for property-taxation reduction reasons).

But according to my New York Times link, the loveliness of “cellar door” was evidently H.L. Menckenʼs notion (no bet that we would not have heard about him in elementary school in the Sixties).

*** Detailed information (such as the editorsʼ names and the anthology title) have been altered/omitted to protect the unenthusiastic (and foolish?).

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

For the Fam

Having just recently sent letters off to my aunt and my distant, Minnesota-immured brother, I realized that those two, however intermittent my correspondence may be, are far more up to date on the lives of The Lovely One and me than any of my siblings or the rest of my kith and kin (the undoubtedly most frequent visitors to the blog). so for their benefit, I thought I might post a brief review of recent months for us here in Our Town…

First, I evidently do have a job ahead this summer, the Republicansʼ wicked refuge of sequestration (permitting them as ever to continue doing what they do worst — nothing) notwithstanding. Things will change this summer, and my employment will only be part-time (it was already merely seasonal). The very fact that a year ago I was already at work (within a day or four) evinces the difference. I feel excited — not the least because My Beloved is already growing intoxicated at vacation possibilities (that I need a job to fund).

A hint on the destination?

Zgubiłem się. Czy pan mówi po angielsku?

(But more on that in future. Right now, thereʼs nothing booked and just a Lonely Planet Encounter travel book in hand.)

Last week, exactly to the day as I write (but may not have sufficient afternoon ahead to post), our mailbox got “vandalized” — accidentally damaged, we think, in reality, based on the evidence we could observe:

  1. tire tracks veering into the gutter and apparently onto the curb,
  2. the door on the box getting bent and the latch twisted in the direction of the bending,
  3. the iron pole on which the box was mounted bent nearly forty degrees,
  4. no damage to the neighborʼs box right beside ours and first in line for damage.
Ours was rusty ad had long ago lost its little red flag

Ours was rusty ad had long ago lost its little red flag

We (neighbor Levi and I) concluded that a semi or big truck must have caught the latch and the door with the trailer or box of the vehicle, wrenching the whole mailbox askew (and almost apart) before releasing its unintended hold as the large vehicle made its turn to the nursing home across the street. We bet the driver didn’t even know what he had done, sheltered high up in his cab on the far side of his truck.

Anyway, we have now spent sixty-some bucks on a new, modern box, and I still have to buy a 4×4 post on which to place the new thing (not to mention, with Leviʼs assistance, dig out the old pole — on its concrete base, if itʼs at all like their old box was — install the new wooden post and get the mailbox upright upon its stand).

In other damage news, I broke my glasses about six weeks back, removing my balaclava as I arrived a the hospital to work out, the woolen facemask pulling my glasses away from my head to crash and break on the concrete floor. I got new frames (the style, however, being now defunct, I was “lucky” to get a stockpiled pair from across the Atlantic) and spent over a hundred dollars.

And in other optical news… Just over a week ago, Janet had a day off from work for her annual eye exam (now to change to semi-annual — Iʼll explain) which she has endured/enjoyed ever since her detached-retina surgery back in 2008 or ʼ09. This yearʼs was supposed to be in May (the ophthalmologist was trying to let her avoid snowy/icy roads that hadnʼt yet interfered for her formerly February appointment), but we got a call earlier in the moth letting her know that the doctor would be unavailable at the scheduled time in May, so she reset for March 27.

This was her first afternoon appointment so far (the next will be back to morning, we already know), and everything ran smoothly — particularly so since we got to sleep in relatively late (at least for us). However, there was big news: as had been predicted right after her surgery, she is beginning to develop a post-surgical cataract and will eventually need to have the lens in her eye replaced. This is not altogether bad news (or even bad news at all, she insists). The surgery so changed the shape of her eyeball that she is hugely nearsighted in that eye now (way, way worse than she was normally/previously), and that problem, which leaves her with great difficulty reading, could be resolved with a surgically implanted corrective lens replacement. However, her insurance pretends that simply replacing her lens is “elective cosmetic surgery” and will not pay for it (as though being able to see is in any way “cosmetic” whatsoever), but they do pay for cataract surgery. She has been kind of waiting for her predicted post-surgical cataract to develop so she can get her lens replaced and help her vision. We are to return in September (a six-month gap, scheduled to avoid overlapping my then-potential work schedule, to which I guess we now must get accustomed as the ophthalmologist keeps tabs on her developing situation).

Hmmm… what else?

We took a few days away from home to visit Schaumburg (that means Ikea) and St. Charles (to again find a favorite restaurant had closed — this one shuttered with a police notice on the door, scarily) for The Lovely Oneʼs birthday. Stephen and Aunt Alaire got the tedious details on both (and I could upload the same for a future post, too — there was some amusement involved periodically, along with the shopping and dining).

And more or less (neglecting that both of us are currently and mysteriously suffering back pain, mine inventively resembling what I imagine passing a kidney stone might be like — thus limiting our exercise regimens a little just now) thatʼs our news.

Posts of more general interest to come?

©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.

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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.

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.)

Hmmm…

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.

Mothers Day

Having spent Saturday with Janetʼs folks in our annual Motherʼs Day celebration (involving a wicked lunch on really good but caloric and often fatty foods and a shopping trip for flowers to be planted over the next several weekends, the restaurants and now the greenhouses varying over the years), I want to take a short space to commemorate my own absent parents, particularly, of course today, my mom. I lost both parents in just over a year back in 1982 and 1983, my mother holding on through cancer to attend our wedding (The Lovely One and mine) only to succumb a few months later, over Labor Day weekend (better known as Old Threshers in Mt. Pleasant). My father followed at Christmastime a year later, the victim of his own handiness with automobiles, sadly. As everyone tends to say, I still miss them both and each.

This is a poem I wrote while my mother was still alive, but I donʼt think she ever saw it (I never was real quick to share my verse in the old days, particularly among my family).

My mother lives on in many peopleʼs thoughts and memories, but I have enshrined some of her in parts of Aunt Sarai in Stars in Heaven, not the least the love and attention that character devotes to my surrogate in the story.

I see it as a mate to the poem I once wrote thinking my father had suffered a heart attack or a stroke… And itʼs my post for this Motherʼs Day, entitled…

Motherʼs Day

Body wracked with quick endless motion,
knife-filled electric nervewind tears cold-keen
through intricate path-patterns, exorcises me:

human hurricaneʼs wailing implosion
shreds, slices, splatters, cracks controlled emotion.

Autumn iceblasts sleet forgotten hollows clean
and scream away warmth of rational debris,
reveal me bare to air’s acid corrosion.

The insincere wind shrieks silently within,
racing a hundred burnt-end lazy notions
like splintered leaves spat down empty boulevards,
slapped and snapped, shattered epileptic shards.

The disease of existence takes no potions
but that girl-breath brush in youth. The restʼs just sin.

Written on Mothers Day

14 May 1978

What do we know? A little consideration and a bit of serendipity resulted in some interpretation on this piece, tomorrow.

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

What a Weekend!

Except for the heavily falling snow (which was only too true on Saturday), a good idea of the drive to Anamosa on Saturday.

Well, it was a good thing I actually had a post ready to go for yesterday morning. Having gone to Anamosa to visit Janetʼs folks and see the local community theatreʼs production of Scrooge, braving icy roads from our weekend “blizzard” (it didnʼt quite come together here in eastern Iowa the way it did so many other places, like Minneapolis, but everything around here is coated in ice, especially our driveway), we returned on significantly better roads (good work, Jackson County highway department) just in time to catch the weather forecast (well, Janet did; I was unloading clothes from the dryer and transferring the load we had left in the washer over to dry) for this week (The Lovely One says that itʼs now supposed to snow on Wednesday/tomorrow as well, of all the blooming bad news I didnʼt want to hear — I still have a beloved wifeʼs Christmas presents to purchase), and for me to learn that Andrew Community School was already slated for a two-hour delay Monday (gotta love kids getting excited on Facebook). Then the phone rang, within a half hour of getting home, and I got a job substituting yesterday as well (one of the teachers was snowed in to our north, where the blizzard really materialized in something other than ice, sleet and wind). Even with the two-hour delay, there was no way I was going to get a post up and out there Sunday night or during those early hours before I had to brave icy roads in my skittish pick-up en route to Andrew.

I am, however, typing on Sunday evening after the phone call. Janetʼs wrapped some more presents (several for me — there must have been some kind of secret exchange going on in Anamosa as well), I have made her Monday lunch and our breakfast. Itʼs not hard on either — rip up lettuce; add nuts, berries, cheese [feta], and chicken; pour a container of raspberry vinaigrette dressing, matched with a little container of fat-free black cherry yogurt; wrap a spoon and fork in a napkin; and get our her lunch bag. Breakfastʼs even easier — halve a grapefruit and cut out the little sections in each half; wrap in Aldi-generic saran wrap around the little bowls we eat them in; store in the refrigerator. Now weʼre baking the remnants of a box of year-old frozen fish sticks (which we donʼt eat very often, maybe once a year, obviously) to consume with rigatoni-and-cheese (home-made with shredded cheddar cheese, the only cheese in the house; and itʼs not macaroni because the rig is also all we had in the cupboard). So I have a few minutes to churn out a few words, so that I donʼt have to work or think very hard Monday evening once I get home from school.

(And having topped 500 words, I feel pretty darned pleased with myself. I could just quit here — you wish — and only have to search out some kind of photograph to illustrate this abominable post. Weʼll see. Tomorrow, after all, is another day — which would actually be yesterday once this posts, but weʼve been all over that before. Once I have actualy been through my second day in a row at school — I also subbed on Friday — I might have more to say. Or not.)

My thumbs are making this typing job somewhat clearly difficult. The shoveling I have completed and completed seems to have done a number on my joints, particularly those of my right thumb. However, having started this non-essay typing, I suppose I will finish it the same way. We may not have gotten much snow (about two and a half inches officially, I hear), but the stuff I shoveled out Saturday afternoon was heavy, brother!

Update Added 12/13/2010 (which would be, ah, yesterday)

And my thumbs continue to ache, especially when doing whatever thumbs have to do when I touch type (or whatever you might call my elderly modification of the basic skills of touch typing — that I slowly learned way back in the tail end of the Sixties as a sophomore in high school and have modified and abused and personalized ever since).

Another “borrowed” image (as always click the pic for the source), but pretty accurate for E17 Monday morning.

The teaching job was pretty simple. The current English teacher is a wonderfully engaged, diligent and competent young woman, and she had excellent lesson plans for me, even severed by hundreds of miles from her books and references (and with lots on her mind other than school — I think I can recall myself calling in sick and never having plan one for the sub back in the Ft. Madison days). Besides, the day started two hours late, so classes were only about a half hour each, and she fought her way back to these sickly southerly climes before seventh period even got underway. Astonishing fortitude and endurance! The biggest challenge was the 17-member speech class, of which at least five were absent, who had to go to the library to begin research for their final project, a persuasive speech. With a single exception (after some actual discussion among the group for perhaps five minutes), no one did anything for the class — frustrating.

Furthermore, before departing the allowed halls, I got my third chance since retiring to volunteer my expertise to get the lights working for a show (this time the upcoming elementary winter concert). I wonder if Iʼll be timed out as of the end of sixth period or if I might get some more dollars for the quarter-hour or twenty minutes spent onstage. Either, way, even with a stop to buy some stamps, I was home before the school day ended in Andrew.

Anyway, the drive up was a little tense, the roads being as bad or worse than Janet braved on Sunday to Anamosa. Even 61 had only one lane on each side relatively clear, and the drive eastward on E17 was nothing but ice in the morning (I was grateful it was so darned cold that the ice wasnʼt even slippery, as I had discovered walking some mail to the box before I left for school). Homeward-bound was much improved, and here I am, adding nothing much to finish this up before I get to real work — pasting stamps on all our Christmas cards, which we wrote and prepared while cabin (-fever) -bound on Saturday. There are only sixty of them to mail out… And then I have to repeat the breakfast/lunch activity for tomorrow/today.

And thereʼs another two to four inches of white stuff heading our way for Wednesday into Thursday, too. “Writing, Life and Times in Iowa” indeed! Not much “Life” in the wintertime, it seems.

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

Janetʼs Pumpkins

Truck bed contents; please compare with list to the left

Right now in the bed of my pick-up, I have :

  • two bags of water-softener salt (ballast for icy roadways)
  • and an old birdbathʼs supporting pillar (also ballast, although it may have to go because when I brake, it just rolls around battering savagely into the bed liner and sides of the truck),
  • along with a piece of plastic sheeting which contains evergreen remnants not used in this yearʼs winter decorating
  • and three pumpkins (which also roll around freely when I drive).

I have been determinedly instructed that the pumpkins are not to be used to make pumpkin pies. Why not? “Theyʼre not the right kind of pumpkin.” The list of things about which I donʼt possess the vaguest iota of understanding increases.

About this point, one might begin to wonder why I should take such an interest in the detritus in the truck bed (and as for actual detritus, thereʼs the remnants of the truckloads of leaves I hauled to the yard waste recycling area last Friday, barely hours before the snow buried our yard seven inches deep). All that stuff, except perhaps the leaf remainders and the winter weights, are remnants of Janetʼs seasonal decorations. The pumpkins are left from her autumnal adornments, the greenery, as I said already, constitutes what she didnʼt need, but paid for, to embellish the house for this festive current season.

The pumpkins, as the title for today may have indicated, comprise the focus of our attention. Janet has loved to decorate with pumpkins, indoors and out, for as long as we have been at our present home. A couple annual visits to the local produce farmer have been a regular feature to our late-summer lives for decades — just so she could acquire up to a dozen variously sized and colored “winter squashes.” These she would place strategically and cleverly in her interior and exterior displays of fall-like stuff. And it was all good (even lugging the sometimes hefty pumpkins from the gardenerʼs sales counter to the car or truck). Until the squirrels attacked.

About seven years ago, The Lovely One noticed a troubling development with her outdoor displays: something had disrupted them, scratching the winsome surfaces of the pumpkins, even gouging out craters — defacing the seasonally contrived bits of beauty. That first year the problem didnʼt go much beyond creating holes in the pumpkins, if I remember correctly. But the next fall was chaos. The trouble-making wild creature opened every pumpkin available, usually just one or two at a time, repeatedly and unrepentantly scattering seeds and innards across the rest of the display and the yard. We made more than one or two trips for pumpkins that year, perhaps five or six, and each time the new pumpkins, within only a few days, would suffer the same depredations and defacements. It was heart-breaking (well, for her; personally I was preoccupied directing the Andrew fall play, not getting home until many hours after dark so therefore not observing the greedy destruction). And that year, the nefarious perpetrator of damage made him/herself known, cockily sidling up to a fresh pumpkin even as Janet watched horror-stricken from the front window, not even darting away when she rapped vigorously on the window, only skittering a few feet off when the perturbed wife exited the house onto the front steps to drive the tiny terror away.

A squirrel! (From the damage done, I would have guessed a whole horde of rampaging, barbarian squirrels, but we never sighted more than the one bold and saucy malefactor.)

two of this yearʼs three pumpkins

An insolent, villainous, impudent, nefarious and shameless squirrel. Who didnʼt even eat the molested pumpkins!

The following year was just as bad — surprisingly because I had been under the misapprehension that squirrels lived but a single twelvemonth. Had the vicious and insulting little tree rodent taught the trick to its equally verminous offspring? Or were we dealing with a super-squirrel, a remorseless and immortal sciurine pest?

Janet tried every remedy available from the laudatory experience and folk wisdom of friends and neighbors to the plethoric superabundance of the Googled internet. She sprinkled red pepper, which our squirrel evidently took for an Hispanic twist, pumpkin salsa. She sprayed the pumpkins with hairspray. She liberally laced the area with blood meal (which never did much to inhibit the depredations by rabbits on our bushes in the back yard, but…) and with ammonia, and even let me spray the pumpkins with bug poison.

All to no avail.

The little critter got even more daring and boldfaced in its vandalism, once going out of its way, when we attempted to scare it away from the pumpkin display, to leap into a tree via one of her other autumnal exhibits and deliberately knocking that arrangement over as it kicked off up the trunk.

It appeared that the squirrel was taking a personal joy in frustrating and defeating The Lovely One, who nevertheless continued to clean up the widely spattered messes, procure more pumpkins, and repair her displays.

The ultimate ignominy occurred over a weekend we had been gone. Arriving home, even as we pulled the car into the garage, she instantly realized the pumpkins by the house had again been despoiled. Heading right to the orange globes of goodness to verify her suspicion, she found the paramount insult… The squirrels had left her a note! It was only semiliterate and not particularly clever (but then a rodent brain is none too substantial), saying “Thanx for the treats, Janet” and, I believe, requesting a better quality of pumpkin in future.

We were both outraged to think that fellow humans, someone from the neighborhood, rotten kids, apartment-dwelling and cigarette-smoking laggards, demonic students, deranged old folks from across the way, whatever, had actually contributed to the devastation. And then thumbed their noses through cocky, pseudo-sciurine epistles! (We didnʼt learn for months, nearly summer of the following year, that the note actually resulted from her puckish old friend and niece to our neighbors, Nina, who in visiting her relatives learned of Janetʼs plight and thought of the prank to play.)

In the long war between the Martha-inspired beloved wife and the diabolical rodents, the squirrels had at least temporarily won.

2010 was the first year following that fatal fall that we had tried actual pumpkins outdoors. In the years between, since that ugly autumn, Janet had avoided squashy decorations altogether and then acquired some ceramic imitations of the real things to use. However, this fall she elected again to try real pumpkins (at least one outside, I think two), and except for a very late-season scratch on one of them, nothing bad happened. Has super-squirrel expired at last?

Now I just need to find a good time to dispose of the malingering curcubitae at the (steep and icily hilly) vegetative recycling spot…

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