Where Does the Time Go?

End of May we got together with an old friend. He lives in Maryland but was going to be in Wisconsin for a funeral. I estimate it has been over 30 years since we have all seen each other face to face.

We met Jon, and at that time, his wife Molly, when we were in graduate school at Northern Illinois University. Curt was a Graduate student in Ceramics and Jon was one of his ceramics professors. The unusual part was Jon and Curt were the same age, separated by 25 days, Curt being the older. A friendship and a mutual respect developed between the two of them. I got to know Molly better and the four of us became friends. Once we graduated, we left Illinois. There was no email then, no Facebook so  but kept in contact with each other through letters and Christmas cards. Jon and Molly visited us once in Green Bay and we visited them once in Maryland.

Then: Curt and Jon

But over the years the cards and letters got fewer, life happened, as it does, and we lost track of each other. A few years ago I found Jon (or he found me) on Facebook. Our mutual interest in birds, love of food and Jon’s connection to Wisconsin (he was born here) brought us together. He was going to be in LaCrosse in May and then planned on doing some camping in Door County, so we knew this was the time to rekindle an old friendship. In the intervening years there has been homes in 5 states, 3 children raised (He-2, Us-1), careers built, a divorce, less hair, gray acquired and a couple of retirements. But here we were again eating and talking and laughing.

Now: Curt and Jon

Funny thing with good friends, the conversation picked up like we just saw each other yesterday. And with that many years gone by we had a lot of catching up to do.

Pharma-Scrabble

I’m sure you’ve noticed the proliferation of advertising for prescription drugs on the TV in recent years. Gone are the days when the name of a drug might give you some understanding of what it does. The names are often a meaningless and atypical grouping of letters (with frequent use of “bohemian” letters like J, V, X, Y & Z) that are intended to make the drug name stand out but instead makes them all start sounding the same.

Over the past several weeks I’ve been keeping track of the drugs (mostly prescription but a few over-the-counter) advertised on broadcast TV during prime time. I’ve come up with 31 different drugs although I’m sure I’ve missed some.

In looking over the names it occurred to me that many of them would be great Scrabble or Words-with-Friends words (if proper names were allowed) so I tallied the scores each would bring, not counting any double/triple letter/word bonuses.  Any thing above 15 is a respectable score but some drug companies are just not trying very hard to win the game and use too many low scoring vowels and consonants in too short names.  A few load the deck, using hardly any vowels and extra “bohemian” consonants.

Of course, their scoring potential aside, I doubt you could tell me what more than a handful of these drugs are for.

The addition of the X saves the day with a score of 19

Score = 8    Too short, too many low scoring vowels

Score = 13

Score = 20

Score = 17

Score = 16

Score = 18

Score = 11

Score = 13

Score = 15

Score = 18

Score = 16

Score = 15

Score = 16

Score = 11

Score = 17

Score = 21

Score = 15

Score = 12

Score = 12

Score = 12

Score = 14

Score = 14

Score = 14

Score = 10

Score = 21

Score = 14

The winner at 39 points. Too bad there aren’t two Xs in Scrabble

Score = 24  Good job of packing the high scoring letters into a short name

Score = 17

Score = 20

Another Turn of the Page: The Need to Escape

“I was burning through books every day – stories about people and places I’d never heard of. They were perhaps the only thing that kept me from teetering into utter despair.”
Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury

full-shelfYes, our country right now is in such a state of turmoil and uncertainty that only escape into a book can keep the demons at bay. As the quote so apply says, keeps us “from teetering into despair.” Is it as bad as all that? Well sometimes. We have a narcissistic egomaniac in the White House and if it wasn’t for our humorists (who are gifted with tons of material every day) and our books, we might all just explode. Immersing oneself into an adventure, a mystery, a romance, another life, another world can be so fun and so comforting. Here’s what we escaped into in January.

jan1. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (2016) 391 pages. A plane crash, eleven on board, only two survive, Scott, a painter, and a young boy, J.J. who Scott manages to save by swimming to shore with the boy on his back. Other occupants, like J.J.’s father, were controversial and powerful figures. Could they have been targeted? Is Scott a hero or villain?

2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) 460 pages. Something awful happens at the annual Pirriwee Public School fund-raising. You know the What but not the Who or the How. Along the way you discover some of the dangerous little lies that people tell just to be able to face the day.

3. As You Wish : Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (2014) 259 pages. If you have seen the movie The Princess Bride you will love this book. And then you will want to watch it all over again.

4. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (1997) 449 pages. The story of a soldier gone AWOL from the Civil War and his perilous journey home through the devastation the war has left in its wake. But also the story of Ada, who he is trying to return to, and her struggle to survive on her farm alone after her father dies.

5. The Gulity by David Baldacci (2015) 672 pages. Will Robie series #4. This book continues the life of Robie, a government assassin who now finds himself at a crossroad in his life. His last assignment, where he killed an innocent bystander has resulted in him questioning his capabilities.

6. Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey (2005) 240 pages. A book about an old guy examining his life, a book about a young man who thinks about the world, a book about a marriage relationship, a book about facing oneself, a book about discovering the effect one has had on others. Also WWI, WWII and even some rugby.

7. Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck (2012) 146 pages. When the white police chief’s son, who we know has raped a young black girl, is found stabbed to death in the woods, the first person accused is Eldred Mims, known as the Pee-can Man. Eldred is a homeless black man who mows lawns and does yard work for a living. Though innocent, Mims is sentenced to prison.

8. All the Stars in Heaven by Adriana Trigiani (2015) 447 pages. This novel is a fictional account of the relationship between actors Loretta Young and Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild in 1935.

Just Who Was Wearing Those Hats?

hatsSaturday, January 21, 2017 was the Women’s March, a significant and historic event. I was not available to march but lent my support by knitting 13 pink hats known as Pussyhats. Three of my hats went to the Washington March with a High School friend and two of her companions. They reported that the experience was amazing and on their way home they continued to proudly wear their hats. At rest stops and gas fill-up people asked to take their pictures. The hats also served as very positive conversation starters. By the way, the latest numbers I saw on the Washington Women’s March was a half million.

My Washington Marchers from Illinois

My Washington Marchers from Illinois

Two of my hats went to Madison, WI with two very close friends. They marched with 75,00 to 100,00 other participants. At one point near the end of the march a young woman asked my friend Marjorie where she got her hat and how could she get one. Marjorie immediately removed her hat and gave it to her. Then Patricia gave her hat to the young woman’s companion. It was that kind of day.

My Madison Women in front of the the statue 'Forward" A Wisconsin Women's Memorial from the Columbian Exposition 1893. Sculptor: Jean P. Miner

My Madison Women in front of the statue ‘Forward” A Wisconsin Women’s Memorial from the Colombian Exposition 1893. Sculptor: Jean P. Miner

Proud owners of new Pussyhats courtesy of two amazing women.

Proud owners of new Pussyhats courtesy of two amazing women.

As you can see from the last picture not all people who marched on Saturday were women. There were many men there in support of women and women’s rights. And a lot of them were wearing hats, yes Pussyhats, with courtesy and permission from their ladies. They didn’t just take them. Here is an album of Wisconsin men at the march from the blog Each Little World. All photos copyright of photographer Mark Golbach.

The remainder of the hats I knitted went to Washington to be distributed to whoever needed one. But now what? The march may be over but there is still alot of work to be done. Here’s my pitch if you want to be part of the movement. The Women’s March project has initiated 10 Actions in the first 100 days. Follow this link to get involved. First action, postcards to your senators. Go ahead, do it, do it now.

The Morning After

mourning-buntingI went to bed last night depressed. It was only 10:30pm and as I watched my state of Wisconsin go down like the Titanic I knew what the outcome of the presidential election was going to be. So I tossed and turned and once in a while my heart said, “maybe, you’re wrong.”  But my brain knew the absolute truth. The bigots, the racists, the misogynists, the haters, the fools, the naive, the idiots, had won the night.

So I woke up in a very sad mood. I checked my iPad quickly to see the result and it seemed worse than I imagined. As I made my way down to the breakfast table I decided I could not bear to watch acceptance speeches and endless analysis. I already was at my wit’s end after almost 2 years of political ads and primaries and anonymous phone calls and debates. So most of my morning was spent on a very low key. A cup of yogurt, a few pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. Once I took a shower and got dressed I did what I usually do when I am anxious or depressed, I clean. I tidy up. Kitchen floor, check! Bathroom, check. Vacuuming, check!

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“Buck up, kiddo, tomorrow’s going to be another day.” – a little known Master Yoda quote

As I worked my mood started to change to fear. Fear of those who think this victory will give them freedom to bully, discriminate, assault and abuse anyone they don’t agree with or don’t like the color of. Because that was what some of this election was about. It wasn’t only those who were getting a raw deal on their health care or haven’t had a decent job in years who voted. I can accept those complaints. But those who think hate is now the acceptable status quo are the ones I fear. That voting for The Donald now gives them that right. However, the wise Jedi Master Yoda once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” No, I didn’t want to go there. That just makes me like them.

I am sure my social conscience will rise up again and I will get involved in some way. But I am weary. I became an Independent Deputy in January and have been registering people to vote at libraries, high schools and local colleges in my area. I have been answering questions about voting, I have been encouraging people to vote, I’ve been putting signs in my yard….I am tired of it all. So, for now I am going underground, to decompress. I need to read and knit and work on my art. I need to concentrate on my physical therapy and get this new knee running like …a knee. It is going to take a bit to shake off the yuk that I feel from this election and Donald Trump. I also plan on avoiding as much of the inaugural hoopla as possible. Watching him and his family party just seems wrong. Getting away would be nice and Canada always seemed a possibility but I think it is closed right now. So I will be staying put, and damn! after four years of this new administration I’ll have the cleanest house around.

BFFs

Last week I spent three fabulous days with two dear, dear friends from high school  (graduation: June 1967). We have been getting together on and off over the years either going out to Colorado to where Lynn lives or up here in Wisconsin with me or to Arlington Heights in Illinois, Audrey’s stomping ground. Last year we got together in Santa Fe, New Mexico and vowed that we would not let years go by before getting together.

Reason 1) We ain’t getting any younger.

Reason 2) We heard about the untimely death of one of our former friends.

Granted we had lost touch with Sue but it still was a shock to hear of her death in a car accident. In high school we used to be a “group” of five but Marie left us very early from a severe health issue. Then we were all working on marriage and kids and everything else that comes with life so we hadn’t even started to think about our mortality or getting together to celebrate old times, since those times weren’t that far in the past.

But hold on, this wasn’t supposed to get so maudlin. This year was our 2nd consecutive gathering and I was not going to miss it no matter what. That meant hobbling around on my arthritis riddled knees (coming up this fall: knee replacement ). So with drugs and a knee sleeve, I made it. Of course my besties sure made it easy. We held back on the walking (the tram around the Chicago Botanical Garden was great) and Audrey even had a small stool for getting into the back seat of the van. However the bag of frozen carrots I iced my knee with in the evenings might never be the same. The rest of the time we talked and ate, and laughed and drank, and talked and ate some more. Another year, solving all the problems in the world. We’ve all had our trials and tribulations, our health issues and setbacks, our joys and celebrations. It was good to share them. So I am ending here with some pictures that I know Audrey is going to kill me for posting. I subscribed her to my blog last week but I think I heard her say something about not wanting to see herself on it. Close your eyes Aud!!

Then: circa 1967. Looks like Aud and Lynn went to the same hair salon. Hmm, so that's what they did on those weekend outings without me.

Then: circa 1967. Looks like Aud and Lynn went to the same hair salon. Hmm, so that’s what they did on those weekend outings without me.

Now: circa 2016. Looks about the same to me except Aud and I have exchanged smiles.

Now: circa 2016. Looks about the same to me except Aud and I have exchanged smiles. (from left – Jeanne, Audrey, Lynn)

Saying Goodbye

butch5A dear member of our family passed away during the night. His name was Butchie, and he was a cat. He hadn’t been well for about two weeks and when we first noticed that his eye didn’t look good and he was sort of listless we took him off to the vet. To make a long story short, after various tests and shots and pills, he just wasn’t getting better and finally, about four days ago, he stopped eating and became very weak and could hardly walk. That is why I found it strange that he had made it up the stairs to the second floor of our house and went to sleep for the last time outside our bedroom door. That is where Curt found him this morning. You know, even when you are expecting something like this it still takes you by surprise and the tears can’t be stopped.

We got him as a kitten from the Humane Society 17 years ago and promptly lost him the first day. We searched the house, the first floor, the second floor, the basement. No kitty. At the time he didn’t have a permanent name so mostly we called kitty, or Snowball ( ha ha, black cat named Snowball) or Kuro Neko ( black cat in Japanese). We went outside, all over the yard, down the road…calling, looking. Finally we went back into the house, he had to be here. I think it was my son, Nathan, who finally located him behind a bunch of boxes and the parts of a dismantled loom in my studio. Waaay far back, underneath, in the dark, a little black smudge. Later he officially became Butchie.IMG_0087

He soon got used to this crazy family who had taken him in and became, as we liked to say, a “good dog”. Butchie would come when you called (Butcha, Butcha,Butcha), he would cuddle on your lap, he was a food freak, he would be constantly underfoot from following you around. Never aloof. He liked to sit on the washer in the laundry room (right off the kitchen where he could see any food falling to the floor) or “help” out on my work table or on the computer keys while I was typing.butHe was a keen observer of nature.

butch&chipbutch7He had a cuddle buddy in Zelda, who we got just a bit later.

Butchie and the Zel

Butchie and the Zel

He was a member of the family and as much as he drove us crazy at times, he was much-loved.

Butchie and Nathan

Butchie and Nathan

He will be missed. Hope there are lots of jingle balls, catnip and tuna treats in cat heaven sweetie.

Goodbye old pal.

Goodbye old pal.

Like finding money in the street

banner.1
When I was a child I often had dreams of finding money in the street. Usually it was small change, nickles, dimes and quarters that I would find lying in the gutter. First a single coin or two which I would pick up, then look around to see if anyone else had noticed these unwarranted riches. Seeing no one else interested, I would look along the gutter and invariably find more coins that I would gather up. Sometimes even silver dollars. Now this dream is no doubt rife with psychological meaning. In my dream I always felt both elated at finding this money but also slightly guilty because I knew it wasn’t really mine. And why find the money in the gutter? We lived in a semi-rural area and we didn’t have gutters on our street.

Vegetable havest

Vegetable harvest

This is the season of harvest. I don’t always plant potatoes but this spring I found a bag with three types of potatoes that I had bought last fall at our local farmer’s market, and promptly forgot. I don’t have a picture of them as I found them but I’m sure you can imagine what they looked like; shriveled, spongy and with ghostly spindly roots and sprouts entangled with each other.

Being of frugal German stock, I thought why not plant them rather than toss them. They were already well sprouted and if they failed to grow I wouldn’t lose anything but if they did grow so much the better. Well, they grew – at least most of them did after a late spring frost – and vigorously too!

Yesterday I dug them. When I dig potatoes I’m taken back to my childhood dream of finding money in the street. Digging potatoes, to me, is magical. You loosen the earth around the plant with a fork and when you pull it up, magically, there are jewels attached to its roots. And seemingly unwarranted for the little effort on my part.

Loosening the potato vine

Loosening the potato vine

You loosen the earth around the plant with a fork and when you pull it up, magically, there are jewels attached to its roots

Jewels hidden below

Jewels hidden below

Invariably, a toad has found a resting place in the shade beneath the potato vines

Invariably, a toad has found a resting place in the shade beneath the potato vines

I don’t know what variety these potatoes are. The small beige one is probably Russian Banana, a fingerling type. The dark blue, almost black is of the type sometimes called All Blue. And the red is a mystery.

Dusty jewels

Dusty jewels

Washed jewels

Washed jewels

Cut jewels

Cut jewels

 

 

 

 

When cut they are quite the surprise. Creamy yellow, shocking blue/violet and rich pink inside.

 

 

 

One of the benefits of the season is a quick harvest lunch.  I am quite pleased to say that all the fresh ingredients; potatoes, onion and garlic come from my garden.

Potatoes, sliced and starting to fry

Potatoes, sliced and starting to fry

Fry.2The three potatoes were sliced, tossed with a little olive oil and salt and fried until barely tender. Then a sliced onion and a clove of minced garlic were added and the potatoes continued frying until they and the onion brown a little and maybe get a bit crispy around the edges.  Add salt and pepper to adjust the seasoning.  Sit down and have lunch and dream of finding riches lying in the street or hidden under a potato vine.

Another Turn of the Page: My Madness (it just happens to be March)

“There were two sets of double doors leading out of the antechamber, one marked STACKS and the other TOMES. Not knowing the difference between the two, I headed to the ones labeled STACKS. That was what I wanted. Stacks of books. Great heaps of books. Shelf after endless shelf of books.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

 

stack-of-booksI love stacks of books too. I’ve been reading since I was a kid. My Mom would take me to the branch library where we lived in Chicago and we would both get books to read. ( My sister, not so much). I probably got my love of reading from my mother who was always reading a book as far back as I can remember. But I don’t think I really fell in love till I visited the main Chicago Public Library at Adams and Lasalle in downtown Chicago (in the 60’s). There were beautiful mosaics on the walls and ceiling, reading rooms and a lot of books. It is now the Chicago Cultural Center and its replacement is the Harold Washington Library Center (built in 1991). The next library that I loved was the old Swen Parson library at Northern Illinois University where I did my graduate work. I recall there being narrow metal stairs that went up into some of the stacks. The aisles for the books were narrow and sort of dim. By today’s standards it would be old, creepy and the perfect place for a murder mystery. But I thought it was an adventure. You never met too many people in the stacks so you felt like the whole place was yours. I remember browsing in the sciences and finding great resources and images for my art work. So my March Madness is a book madness and I think my fellow book group people are similarly afflicted. We once again gathered on the second Thursday of the month and this is what we read.

march1. The Undertow by Jo Baker (2011) 352 pages. Jo Baker was the subject of our author presentation this month probably because many of us have read her book Longbourn and enjoyed it. Undertow was her first published novel and it is a story of four generations of a family from WW I to the present.

2. Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand (2014) 256 pages. After not having great luck with holiday reading, Pete finally found a Christmas book he truly enjoyed. Winter Street is the name of the inn that Kelley Quinn owns with his 2nd wife Mitzi. Between them they have four grown children with problems of their own. Kelley is looking forward spending the holidays with them until he catches Mitzi kissing Santa Claus, and not under the mistletoe.

3. Behind the Scenes by Judi Dench (2014) 256 pages. The autobiography of British actress, Dame Judi Dench. A candid blend of reminiscences and photos.

4. The Pearl by John Steinbeck (1947) 87 pages. Our classic of the month. Really a novella, The Pearl is the re-telling of a Mexican folk tale. The story is of Kino, a poor pearl diver, who finds an enormous pearl. He sees it as the path to dignity for his family and an education for his son, but it brings tragedy instead. This was a pretty quick read so our reviewer also read Tortilla Flat by the same author. Tortilla Flat has more humor and is a nice contrast to The Pearl and before you judge the attitudes and the language, remember it was written in 1935.

5. The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward (2015) 270 pages. In this novel, Carla is a girl being raised by her grandmother in Honduras.  After Carla’s grandmother dies she is left to care for herself and her younger brother. The area they are living in has become quite dangerous so Carla decides to leave Honduras and attempts to make the treacherous journey across the border. A very timely story and one that might give you a different view of immigration.

6. The Swimmer by Joakim Zander (2013) 432 pages. This debut novel by Swedish author Zander, is written in a similar style to Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo but the story is more on par with the spy novels of Ludlum and Follett. Fast-paced and filled with suspense and subterfuge, you might just read all night.

7. Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I learned the Unexpected Joy of Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall (2014) 294 pages. Probably the most unusual book in today’s mix. Not a gardening book, not a self-help book, but a memoir of an unusual friendship between two people who seemingly, on the surface, have nothing in common.

8. A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan (2014) 288 pages. You won’t remember Mr. Heming, he was your realtor, but Mr. Heming keeps a copy of the key to every house he has sold. He then “visits” when no one is home. Eating some food, looking through their things, their papers. Sometimes he hides in the crawl spaces and attics to listen and view them through the cracks. To him this is all normal because he is doing no harm. Definitely creepy.

And there you have the March books. As a bonus feature I have added pictures from the two libraries I spoke about earlier.

Staircase to the reading room and stacks of the Chicago Public Library

Staircase to the reading room and stacks of the Chicago Public Library

 

Stacks in the Swen Parson Library, NIU

Stacks in the Swen Parson Library, Northern Illinois University