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.

Nothing to Say?

So, itʼs two months and a week since my last post. What else isnʼt new?

Well, jaw-droopingly enough, The Lovely One  has actually asked me to try posting regularly. (I know — tradition holds she hates any time I spend at the computer, even writing, and she has always thought my pathetic posts here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog were, uh, pathetic.) So at her behest more or less, letʼs  conclude the ten-week hiatus:

ClocksI have been doing nothing much with those 69 days. nearly nothing at all. (I did finish and revise a short story to submit for possible publication — the result still suspended in the atmosphere somewhere/somewhen. “Scholarsʼ Folly” takes Søren, sans Judah, from northeastern Iberia to Córdoba for a really bad day with supernatural intrusions, his subsequent ethical self-flagellations being reserved for what will become the following chapter in the final novel. However, that effort filled less than a week, really, the original composition having been part of my NaNoWriMo 2012 enterprises. The revised product was e-mailed for editorial consideration way back in mid-January.)

Today, having actually gotten a break from nearly daily snowfall (no lie — culminating in three days of flood-inducing rain), punctuated by regular weekly blizzards (both requiring me to shovel rather than head out to exercise first thing in the darkness before dawn), I did my time on the elliptical and came home feeling genuinely determined to do something (for once) today.* So here I am pecking away…

Unfortunately with nothing to say.

You see, that (lack of postable content) has been the major problem (other than lazily and worthlessly diddling all my time away each day) preventing the blog from acquiring updates. Nothing to say…

(And when I consider all that I found myself able to blather in 2010 when I did the post-a-day thing so glibly and logorrhea-cally, perhaps the current chastity of content seems less pitiful and more prudent. Perhaps.)

The same lackluster life (mine) has also prevented me from keeping my letter-writing particularly current (and I do need to write both to my long-suffering aunt and communication-deprived bother later today or no later than tomorrow). I havenʼt even added more than a few thousand words to my creative endeavors. Plenty of mental composition but nearly nary a word even smartpenned to paper for eventual upload into the (contemptibly frustrating) digital presumed-reality.**

However, even with this despicable deficiency of (for equally miserable want of better terminology) subject matter, I felt as though I must post something. So this drivel is it.

Enjoy!

* Of course, my eff-viscerating, worthless computer has had other ideas: those first few sentences have taken some seventy minutes to get on the screen, as multitudes of pointlessly intrusive background processes have taken over the computerʼs processor cycles ahead of my considerably-less-than-feeble keyboard smashing (but regardless how fiercely I punch a key, for some reason Spotlight uselessly updating its database or the virus-protection programʼs mercilessly intrusive “Behavioral Injection” activities take precedence regardless). Yep, nothing has changed; and the computerʼs incompetence frustrates me and drives me away from the infernal screen/mouse/keyboard to do something that might seem potentially productive (or at least less emotionally traumatic) — like reading the Kindle instead (but more on that tomorrow). Appleʼs demonic apparatus and its meddlesome softwares even contrived to get me to delete somehow the original final sentences of the parenthetical conclusion of the paragraph above the one to which this footnote appends.

** And now, suddenly there is no ceaseless drive-grinding (blessed silence on that front for my tinnitus to fill with ethereal cacophony of unreal audio-effervesence instead), and the menu meter indicates merely four percent of the memory and processor active — thus my letters and words actually transfer from brain-and-fingers through the keyboard to the machine and thus the screen (and eventually, we hope, onto you). Astonishing.

Facebook Timewaste

Once again, I do have reports on reading (and recommendations thereby/fore), not to mention some travel and maybe even other items, for future posts — assuming as inevitably ever, the damned device permits.

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

Let It Be Over. Please.

Today, at about 3:00 PM, The Lovely One and I filed our taxes, federal and state. 

This is the absolute earliest I believe we have ever filed. In the old days, teaching, I had speech contests keeping me constantly busy, large group and individual, district and state and All-State, until the beginning of April. And the spring play started about mid-February… So I never filed taxes until we got right onto the Ides of April.* One year, very early in our marriage, I faintly recall appealing for late filing (easily granted, as we always made sure, living on the edge of poverty with no spare cash to fork over whatsoever, that we received a refund**). Regardless, we never filed our taxes in February.

As of 2006, filings got both easier and harder. Janet entered into a small business enterprise on her own, selling BeautiControl products*** part-time (and according to My Beloved herself, “half-assed”). But that made our taxes more complex, and so that year I first bought a tax software program, the same one I still use, and put myself in the capable grip of Intuit Software and TurboTax… And we enjoyed the taxation benefits of Janetʼs little business taking loss after loss (and no financial juggling there — her description of her business aggressiveness combined with BeautiControlʼs decidedly pyramid structure for profitability pretty much ensured she wasnʼt getting ahead providing friends and family with make-up and whatnots).

We still use TurboTax. And as I continue to feel familiar with its interface, I feel pretty warm toward it (I think only beloved Scrivener — used as I type right now — tops my affections for software). Granted the Q&A approach the developers devised as integral to the interface in TurboTax leaves a user like me several layers of reality removed from the actual tax forms (I couldnʼt believe the nearly literal ream of paper that printed out in the first year to be mailed off to the IRS and state tax authorities). And I have grown skittish of those red (meaning money owed) and green digits (indicating refund available) that appear in the upper left corner of the TurboTax window, changing marginally or dramatically with each new piece of information entered. I still look over the final papers (actual tax forms), closely but not always intelligently, in amazement, always surprised at what digits on what novel forms my answers have churned out.

The business forms have been expanded with self-employment forms (and, surprise! extra taxation for payroll taxes not automatically withheld/paid as one expects from an ordinary employer) as I have tried to develop my own business.**** (Unfortunately with little overhead and me witless about claiming my computer use or possibly the “office” where our computers sit as a home office, everythingʼs just taxable income.) The complexities keep multiplying. And the refunds keep dwindling, smaller and smaller year by year. (But this year we again avoided paying either state or federal government any additional cash.)

More surprising, for three years now, we have taken the standard deduction! At least according to the software, that choice is our better bet (and now that we own our house outright, it even makes sense). Still, it takes some weeks of consideration and search to conglomerate all our records (and for Janet to work through, compile and total her figures for her “business”) and for me to get TurboTax up to speed (and its latest updates installed each time I fire up the software) and information filled in (this year we were waiting until, well, now for Intuit to pass on IRS Form 3800). Even retiring, I didnʼt immediately get on the ball with our annual tax calculations. In ʼ10 and last year, I didnʼt really get to it until about now.

So this year I resolved to be better, and I had most of our information input a week before Andrew Community School got around to mailing the W-2 for my subbing in 2011 (and I had those numbers pretty accurately temped in from the last paycheck). And now weʼre done (I hope, I pray, I plead, I desire… oh, donʼt audit us, Infernal Revenue Service, please donʼt — I donʼt think I actually understand any of it, nope, none of it, not at all).

* (being an old codger I really miss — not really, appreciating the extra month with that schedule I just summarized — being able to “Beware the Ides of March” for the IRS)

** Yeah, yeah, sure, I know: if weʼd kept that extra withholding, weʼd have been able to invest it or save it or somehow earn money on it… Like hell. Although the feds never grant any interest earned on what amounts to overpayment, I would rather sleep easy believing I do not need to scrape together a few hundred (or thousand — neither of which amounts would I have available) to gratify Uncle Sam at the last minute. Since Bush withholding adjustments and moreso since retirement, finances have gotten trickier, and we keep running very close to no refund.

*** Can Rick Perry, Herman Cain and everyone else out there say, “Pyramid scheme?”

**** Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A. 

Unsure if you have used the right word? Unclear about your punctuation? We can resolve every issue… in print and on the internet!

Whatever your text creation or editing needs, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A., can resolve them!

Resumes, articles, web pages, presentations — whatever you write, we can help make it perfect!

We solve your text problems!

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

500 Words

An interesting year closes tomorrow night. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why am I smiling?

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

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

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

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

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.

.

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.

Going It Alone

Work continues, obviously. This week I put in almost 50 hours…

I went out on my own, working, for the first full day on Thursday. I spent the day restoring or replacing traps which had blown down from their locations in trees. My partner was finishing a few things in Dubuque County (and replacing one or two downed traps herself) before heading back home (for her) to do nine placements for Linn County.

So I got to go out by myself. I had done a few hours on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons (her travel time to and from our region where I actually live) but never a full solo day. I did all right, but not everything went smoothy or well.

First, I discovered that the “trap sheets” we create for each trap need to be in some order other than the one my partner had established (personally, I think it was merely the order in which we had placed the traps). Numerical order, as each two-mile by two-mile square has a unique number, seems most logical to me, if only because that system would make it possible to quickly locate a specific grid without unnecessary and extensive  searching through a whole countyʼs set of sheets (over a hundred, or even fifty more, for each our of three counties). I wasted nearly twenty minutes in two cases right off, heading north from home for several resettings, trying to discover the right trap sheets (for the detailed map we/she had drawn of the exact site) when numbered order would have sped me to the right sheet in almost no time. So at the end of the day I spent a half hour reorganizing the Clinton County sheets (and I will do the same for Jackson to start my Monday).

…could actually be my (current) GOV…

Second, my GOV continues to act up. Not the vehicle itself, but the dashboard display* (that which went beserk, sending the speedometer into nonsense mode, as the tachometer has always been — “always” since I met the GOV, at least). This whole week the “Service Engine Soon” indicator (the almost most worthless warning light a car designer could under-imagine) has been on, so I finally asked for permission to take the GOV in for service (well, for a price estimate for possible service) on Friday, and I stopped by the local Chevy dealer to set up an appointment midmorning on my solo Thursday.

Third, not long after I left town again, heading south this time, having finished replacing a downed trap on Clinton Countyʼs 280th Avenue, I somehow, accidentally, locked myself out of the running vehicle. Even my cell was not in my pants but tucked next to the emergency brake. I was utterly stranded, on my own, out in the country on a gravel road.

I couldnʼt believe it. Nor understand how it had happened. I had thought that one reason we left our vehicles running as we placed and replaced traps was to avoid just this ridiculous issue (I know that my pickup wonʼt allow me to lock myself out while the key is in the ignition). Naturally, panic set in. And the darkening skies bespoke the rain that was on its way (fortunately, although I didnʼt know that in advance, not to actually arrive until Friday and today — what a dreary pre-springlike, unsummerly weekend this has become).

However, I did think I could see some outbuildings around a big bend to the south, perhaps a half mile or so distant. So, the GOV being ironically as secure as possible, even though the engine was running, I set out down the road afoot. The place didnʼt look too promising as I arrived, only sheds, a car and stuff visible until I realized I was overlooking the earth-sheltered house beside the drive. I had to wander rudely out “back” beyond the house to find a door, but fortunately, an older man (than I) answered and actually let me use his phone to call 911.** The surly operator did dispatch a deputy sheriff. I hung up and returned the guyʼs cell, thanking him profusely for actually responding to my knock and helping me. Then I went back up the road to my GOV.

Although my savior had to leave to work on a house for his daughter, he did return in his truck when the Sheriffʼs office called him back to let me know that a big accident had taken all the deputies. And he left me a tarp under which to huddle if/when the rain came. (Now thereʼs a Good Samaritan, one of my favorite people of all time!) I paced up and down the roadside, adding perhaps six or eight thousand steps to my daily count, my mind wandering into sick realms of possibilities and dire fantasies (I had just watched Criminal Minds the previous night, on which the serial killer of the week made use of people being out of their usual patterns and comfort zones to kidnap, torture and eventually kill them — for instance).

Time does seem to expand under stress, and I couldnʼt read the dashboard clock through the tinted windows of the GOV, but I guessed that about an hour later a deputy showed up and very quickly, very professionally (even somewhat sympathetically) solved my problem for me. (I donʼt think he spent more than a minute performing the entry to the vehicle, while I was distracted, probably appropriately, with some paperwork to complete on his visit.)

I was on my way about a hundred minutes from the time I had last paid attention to the time. And I completed all my other trap replacements before conducting the GOV to the auto dealerʼs service entrance for its visit.

And that “service” situation is a whole ʼnother story, brethren and sistren.

* (its speedometer went awry as I drove it home originally from Des Moines a month ago, although it settled back into normal operation again within a day or two, and I just use my personal GPS device to provide my actual speed)

** The 911 operator scolded us, me in person, for using that number for my predicament — evidently not an emergency (a situation I had hesitantly anticipated). But neither of us, my rural savior nor me, had any idea what other number to call!

And, yes, the best I can guess, I actually tripped the lock myself, accidentally, when inserting my extendable pole from the rear hatch along the passenger side to the front. Now I make sure the pole tips downward as it passes along the side of the vehicle, and I also turn off the GOV and keep the keys on my person.

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

Bent

The aches and pains about which I complained recently only grew worse this past week of work. That’s partly because Iʼm so old, I suppose, but also because of a glitch in the system that only grew worse as time went on.

The glitch first occurred two weeks ago Thursday, my first few attempts to set traps on my own, just a brief week into the process (and literally a week after I first got guided through the procedure in the field, my introduction to the actual job). My partner had headed home (she lives in the area of our work, at a hotel, for the four ten-hour working days and then returns to her own abode and her husband for the long weekends), and I decided to fill out my full day by attempting to place traps in two open (untrapped) squares in the area we had worked that week.

I hopped in my GOV and headed south. I had a bad time locating any ash trees where our maps indicated formerly trapped ashes were (this problem is relatively common: my partner usually considers whether the county or the local farmers have taken down the stuff in the ditches since last year, although I donʼt always see any signs of such activity). I passed by a farm where a lovely ornamental ash stood in their yard (we are permitted to ask about trapping trees in peopleʼs yards but generally go for ashes along the roadside/right-of-way) and found a scrubby little tree atop a ditch on the fenceline (and I hoped in my inexperience this small thing might actually be an ash and not a walnut nor a boxelder nor a hackberry nor an elm* nor a…). I parked, put on the GOVʼs flashers, and got out and around to the back end of the Trailbalzer to assemble the trap (that last step being a series of tasks at which I am genuinely becoming proficient, although I still hesitated and worked to get everything just right that day). Then I pulled out my pole and carted both the assembled trap and the pole up the ditchside to the lonely little tree atop the rise on the Iowa prairie.

Thatʼs when the huge wind blasted me and tried to tear the trap from my hands. Still I persisted, slipped the trap over the hook atop the pole, and attempted to extend the pole upward at the tree with the windblown trap flying sideways. Three times the trap blew away off the hook and I had to fetch it, the last being the critical incident. In the big wind, the pole, fully extended, flexed and arced like a bow as I struggled to raise it and the trap aloft. On this third failure, the pole actually bent in the gale (of probably only 25 mph, sadly). I realized the small arc had become permanent when I tried to slide the various elements back within each other to collapse the pole and replace it in the GOV. The collapsing process had become a struggle as I had to force the now slightly bent pole pieces into each other.

And thatʼs how I had to work for the next week and the next (this past week) — pulling and twisting mightily just to extend each of the aluminum tubes and pushing with full strength to force them back within each other once a trap had been placed. The same extreme exertion extending the pole and returning it to its collapsed condition for every trap we placed (and I am not even whining about the issues that arise getting a trap up into a tree and successfully hooked over a branch, particularly challenging with messy, excessively branching ash trees**). And we have been trapping about twenty-five trees each day.

So my pathetic muscles and my ancient joints grew more and more sore with each exhausting day. Also my aspirin and ibuprofen intake increased (failingly) in direct proportion to the excruciating pains.

Worse, whenever I had to fully extend the pole (and with the trees that my partner remembered trapping previously, thatʼs about one in five over the past few weeks) not only was that a demanding chore in itself, but if the wind was blowing briskly or hard, the pole bent more, so the effort of collapsing and extending grew worse daily. Until yesterday when it grew impossible. After a particularly high branch (the lowest we could even reach with the pole on that particular tree), I couldnʼt push back or pull out the top extension more than about eighteen inches at all after about 10:00 AM. I took to removing the hook on the end just to get the pole to fit in her GOV for the trip to the next site.

Fortunately, after a whining phone call to my boss, we arranged for me to pick up a different pole from our supervisory tree tech out of the Quad Cities. Now I (along with both my aching, painful [possibly “tennis”] elbows — and wrists and knuckles and…) am looking forward to doing some less difficult trapping next week.

* …And we have actually had local residents point out to us that we have placed an emerald ash borer trap in a walnut and an elm (and weʼre pretty sure that more than thrice the previously trapped “ash” identified by its colored spot on our maps was probably a walnut).

** One sign for me that we have truly found an ash is to observe that there is far too much “junk” growing helter-skelter among the possible branches to make  hanging the trap at all easy. Walnuts are much “cleaner” trees.

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

Labor Pains

Work is sort of settling into a rhythm. I am not entirely sure itʼs a rhythm I am going to enjoy. But my partner and I are making considerable progress, averaging more than twenty traps a day (including two-mile by two-mile squares where we couldnʼt locate a usable ash tree), which she seems to believe is very fine work. On the other hand, the work has me feeling not so fine, physically and intellectually (inflicting some pain and some stress).

All work is stressful. When folks have asked me about retirement, I have almost invariably responded, “Any day spent not working beats every day of work.” And itʼs true. Just knowing I have to get up and get going to the job induces a mental burden that we all accept for granted while working. My retirement interruptus has just made me aware of blissful life without that psychological pressure. Furthermore, the job is just lots of effort. And time.

I had, in anticipation, after my interview back in late February, thought that the (federal-budget-induced) ten-hour days, providing a whole Friday each week just for me and not for work, would be a good thing. I hadnʼt beforehand, however, thought about how physically demanding (at least on an old guy) ten hours in the field would be. (However, currently I would be happy if each day were only ten hours long. So far that hasnʼt yet happened. And the work is wearing me out.)

On Tuesday, I got in my whole ten hours and nearly two more and then did the little daily chores around the house — fixing breakfast (cutting up a grapefruit, not so hard) and making lunch (a couple of salads — most of the work is ripping up lettuce leaves and remembering The Lovely One likes hers with, in order, nuts, berries cheese and then chicken). Finishing, I felt like maybe I too would relax now and watch the final few minutes of the ninety-minute, Gaga-esque episode of Glee that Janet was enjoying (her job has made her endure even more — and progressive — stress than I have been discovering), when I remembered, after an ungentle nudge from my beloved (I told you she was feeling some stress lately) that I had promised to buy necessary groceries after work on Monday, which hadnʼt happened when my ten hours extended toward twelve that evening also. So I wearily redressed in out-of-house attire and headed away to Fareway. (I did feel good to accomplish the promised task.)

Worse, the physical effort is telling on my antique physique (such as it is). My elbows and knuckles have constant hurts (the elbows escalating at times and in certain positions to actual pain, the hands and digits acting up so my typing, as right now, is fifty percent more inaccurate than usual) that keep me from dropping off to sleep and have increased my aspirin/ibuprofen intake (particularly for bedtime). I am, after all, a physical worker in this job, as I was only periodically and briefly as a teacher. (Bah. I just misspelled more than half the words in the previous sentence, including the word “sentence, ” twice, in this parenthetical remark. Symptomatic.)

So I hurt and I feel the stress of having to go to work. Poor, poor pitiful me (or some semblance of those letters nearly randomly scattered or missed — thanks for spell-checking, small miracle these days). I donʼt mean to whine, but itʼs all true, too.

I am weeks/months (meaning issues and issues) behind on my magazine-reading. The stack by my favorite chair in the living room is disgusting (and wonʼt get reduced this weekend). And it keeps growing every time I fetch in the mail. Sigh. I try to read something for pleasure every evening, just as I did in teaching days — my only and minor escape. Again.

And worst of all, my partner likes AM talk radio. I have had to endure the venal and false Tush Rimblow (decipher that one, if necessary) daily. For two solid, self-serving, rant-filled, deceptive and distorted whining, braying hours each afternoon. That mental and spiritual torture may be the heaviest straw of all.

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