Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Still Breathing

I guess it's time for another entry, though nothing much is going on.

Christmas bins
I have yet to get all the boxes down to the basement, mostly because once I got everything into the new bins, there are excess boxes, which means having to glean everything out of them, then break them down and get them out to the garage.

New plant in the window
It seems like, being cooped up in the house on cold days, I could get all this stuff done, but I seem only to attack one or two chores a day—if there's nothing good on Netflix. I have been making a concerted effort to keep the kitchen clean (it's very easy for things to pile up). I have the disability that most men have: being incapable of rinsing a dish and putting it directly into the dishwasher. My M.O. is to stack them up in the right side of the sink and let them "soak" (which means just sit there). Pots and pans need to be done by hand, so those pile up in left side. Lately, I've tried to have everything clean before I go to bed, and this has been fairly successful.

Little improvements have cropped up around the house, like a new caddy for the shower upstairs (the old one had weird red stuff growing on it: it was only 12 years old), finally repotting the plant I got several months ago at the grocery store (it's at the living room window, adding class to the place). More puttering. I also got a second toolbox, so there's one for downstairs and one for upstairs. Maybe I'll get to mounting all the stuff needs mounting (the vacuum cleaner, new smoke/CO detectors) and get the rest of the artwork up on the walls.

Sitting area is looking good these days
Things have been nice and warm (well, 40s and 50s, which seems almost tropical) and the snow has melted away. It would seem that spring was here, but the upcoming week will bring a cold snap, a couple days of near-freezing daytime highs and down into the teens at night. Get precipitation with that, and it means more snow and more snow removal. I am now fully prepared for winter weather, with my snow thrower, my snow shovel, my snow boots and nearly 70 pounds of ice melt salt still remaining. This will ensure that we don't have any more heavy snows.

Mower and thrower: Going green
I have been thinking on spring though, and bought a lawn mower that runs on the same batteries as the snow thrower. I'm taking responsibility for the yard myself, since hiring someone is such a pain. Mark (my previous yard guy) really spoiled me. I figure taking over the mowing might even lead to getting out in the yard and planting something. I'd really like to have something planted that would come up with the spring thaw. Something with color.

I have also been tackling the unpacked boxes upstairs. When you have extra room, it's very easy to leave all the stuff you don't use all the time in the boxes it arrived in. Most of it is office flotsam that really should be stowed or tossed, but there's enough stuff among it that should be out and available, so each box needs going through. I'm digging through, organizing stuff to be stowed and finding homes for the stuff I want to keep out and available. And getting rid of more empty boxes. Then there's the books and the artwork.

Sassy brassy stuff
I've finally put up the brass hook rack in the bedroom. I dragged out all the brass stuff that hadn't been polished in three or four years and bought some Brasso. It took a good afternoon of elbow grease, but now my comedy/tragedy masks, the hook rack, and the house numbers are all shiny. (Getting the numbers back on the door is another chore I've been putting off because of the cold.)

I also broke down last month and bought a new iPhone 7 (my previous phone was an iPhone 4 and the battery was starting to fizzle, not holding a charge overnight). The new phone has lots of bells and whistles, and I now get reception when I'm out in Ettrick at Pam and Steve's place (Friday nights are Pizza Nights, you'll recall).

Finally found a decent lamp
The last and most recent acquisition is a lamp for the "conversation area" in the living room. I finally found one that I liked that didn't cost an arm and a leg. And, of course, it came in a box; two boxes, actually. More breaking down and stowing.

This weekend we spring ahead, timewise, and I think the change will do a lot toward making things feel more like spring. This past winter, I noticed how long nights and short days affect me. It's not as pronounced as dark winters in Alaska were, but it still is a change. Maybe I need one of those sun therapy lamps.

I've gotten used to the cold, though, and enjoy it. Temperatures in the 30s are quite comfortable, and when it gets into the 40s things are downright cozy. All too soon, though, I'll be bitching about the weather being hot and muggy. Life's like that.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How Cold Was It?

Time to drop a line here. Not a whole lot happening, since it's winter.

After the ice storm early last month, which covered everything in ice (of course), there were four or five days of deep-freeze weather, and walking outside was genuinely dangerous. Things warmed up after that, and we had a week of days in the upper 30s and lower 40s, which melted most of the snow and ice. There are still a couple patches of ice at the end of the driveway that won't succumb to the snow shovel, but the car can navigate them easily, so things are OK.

Then the temperatures fell and another storm came around.

Having learned my lesson, I cleared the driveway and walks of snow the very next day and headed out to Blain's Farm & Fleet (where I got my cold-weather togs with brother Steve) to pick up some sidewalk salt (referred to as ice melt). It's actually a mix of different salts (magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and sodium chloride). I got two 50-pound bags of a mix that melts ice at temperatures down to -5º: one in the garage and one on the back porch. No one told me that one of the things you do when winter shows up is go out and get ice melt.

I haven't spread ice melt on the whole driveway and sidewalk, but it did take care of the inch-thick sheet of ice on the back door walk. Until then, just taking out the garbage was a life-threatening proposition. I'm getting the hang of this winter stuff.

At Blain's, I also picked up a couple of plastic bins designed specifically to store Christmas stuff. I've filled the first one with everything that goes on the and under the tree. The Xmas tchotchkes are assigned to the second bin (I have yet to bring up their individual storage boxes from the basement). 

The tree has its own box, and garlands and wreathes their own box as well. Shlepping all those boxes up from the basement is not difficult, but I just haven't had the motivation yet. I am determined to get all the holiday decorations down and away by Valentine's Day. My friend Sandy gave me the inspiration for that deadline. You get two months of decorations that way, and I consider that reasonable for the amount of effort that goes into putting them up.

Looks good, tastes like crap.
I have been experimenting with my cooking on these long winter nights. It can be risky, though. I see these intriguing recipes on Facebook and decide to try them out. Some are good, but every once in a while I invest in a full dinner for four and end up with horrible results. 

This week it was a chicken and rice casserole. The recipe called for cooking it for two hours as 320º. Sounded like a long time to me, but I followed along. The resulting dish was absolutely hideous, though it did look good coming out of the oven. I ate one helping and ended up tossing the rest: the chicken was dry and overcooked, as were the vegetables, and the rice was muddy with a slimy mouth feel.

In winter, when the daytime high is 12º and the nighttime wind chills hovers in negative numbers (sometimes -20º to -30º), it's easy to stay in the nice warm house. When I do bundle up and go out, I really enjoy the cold, even when it's in the teens, like today. 

I headed out and did much-needed shopping errands today (a new cutting board and bathroom accessories from Shopko, extra glass shelves for the powder room from Menard's, and grocery shopping at Festival Foods). Cold in the teens is invigorating. Cold above freezing is downright comfortable. I'm getting used to this.

A storm came through a few days ago and dropped less than an inch of snow. If it's less than two inches, the city does not require you to clear your sidewalks, so I just let it sit on the sidewalk and driveway, since the car actually does better with a little snow on the ground.

I was putting together my shopping list this morning when I got a Faceook message from the wife of the guy who did snow removal for me last year. She was asking about the snow on the driveway. I wrote back I was clearing the snow myself and asked if Mark (her husband) was doing snow removal (and she was fielding offers for him). She said no, but she and Mark worry about me and she noticed the snow in the driveway as she was driving by, so she checked up to see if I was OK or needed help.

I love this town and its people. Thinking of others is the norm here.

I am not one to make New Year's resolutions, but I came up with one this year that rang true for me: Show up. Too many times I've let attending a meeting or social events just slide: too cold, too tired. So I'm making a point of getting next door on Sundays for the Unitarian Universalist services, and I've been going to functions at the Center, like the annual meeting. Because nothing of consequence happens if you don't show up. And, at some point, I'm going to locate a part-time job to fill in some of the idle hours. It's out there; I can feel it. It just hasn't arrived yet.

Brother-in-law David said I should be putting more pictures in the blog entries. Problem is, I don't remember to take them (except for the casserole). And I usually sit down to write these in the evening, and all the light's gone outside. And also, my phone has been losing its charge over the course of hours: the battery is dying, and it's time to cough up the cash and upgrade from my iPhone 4 to the iPhone 7. It would probably motivate me to take more photos, since the camera would be much improved. The Verizon store is just down Losey Boulevard, across from the supermarket.

But that's an errand for another day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snowed In

Winter has been different this year. Probably the biggest change is that, instead of finding someone to do snow removal, I decided to get a snow thrower and a snow shovel and do the job myself. Good exercise. I had looked over the costs last year, and I could purchase an electric snow thrower (no gas to deal with), an extra battery for it and still spend less than I did on snow removal last year. But the one thing you can't buy at the store is experience with snow removal. But I believe in the slogan of my Alma Mater, Cal Poly: learn by doing.

The Christmas tree at the Solbergs.
You can see my tins in the orange circle
Christmas Eve was spent with the Solberg clan, again at Patty's in Dakota, Minn. For the kids, I scored a dozen tins at the dollar store, as well as a dozen tiny gingerbread houses. I took the chocolate-covered popcorn and loaded up the tins, putting a gingerbread house in the middle of each. For the adults, I had a dozen Lennox Christmas ornaments that I scored from QVC last year. They never got onto the tree, so they were still in their boxes.

Everyone was pleased with their gifts, and I think a little embarrassed, since no one had bought for me. No problem. The reason I did it was to get into my head who was related to whom and how many adults and children there were in the Solberg clan. It's a lot of both.

Now it had snowed earlier in the week, and I got my first taste of DIY snow removal. The second battery for the snow thrower was on back order, so I discovered it runs for about 45 minutes on one charge. Luckily, that's about as long as I could last outside, so I got the sidewalk out front done and the sidewalk to the house and two passes up and down the driveway before we both pooped out.

The biggest pain is the large dirty piles of street snow that the plows deposit on the side of the road (including in front of the driveway). My snow thrower just can't handle large chunks of refrozen street snow, so clearing the driveway has to be done with shovel, which is much more labor intensive. I can get about a third of the driveway entrance cleared before I have to take a break and catch my breath. If you haven't shoveled slushy ice-snow, you have no idea how heavy it is (my guess is about 35 pounds a shovelful).

So, the night before Christmas Eve I went out to do some grocery shopping. Returning home, I turned into the driveway and the back fender got caught on the edge of the ice heap next to the driveway. The back end of the car was sticking out about two feet into the street. Rocking the car, I got the back of it out of the street, but no matter how I tried, I could not get enough traction to pull the car forward into the driveway.

I left the car with its lights and emergency flashers on, went to the garage and retrieved some large sheets of cardboard to put under the front wheels to get traction (it's a front-wheel drive). I went to start the engine and the battery was dead. Lovely. Assessing the situation, I called AAA.

It was about 9:30 in the evening by the time I called, and the woman on the phone was pleasant and helpful. Someone would be there in the next two and a half hours. I was deflated at the wait time, but realized there were probably plenty of cars stuck on the side of the road out in the middle of nowhere. I was in my driveway and could walk back into the nice warm house to wait. Even my bad luck seems to be somehow blessed.

The tow truck showed up about 11 p.m. The guy assessed the situation,  got the jump battery out started the car and I demonstrated how I couldn't get it to move.

"Do you have a traction control button on the dash?" he asked. I did indeed have a button with an abstract tire design and "TC" on it. "Turn it off," he said. I did, and suddenly the front tires surged, grabbed the snow and ice, and lurched forward, pulling away from the snow piles and up into the driveway.

I got the car into the garage with great relief. I thanked the guy profusely. He suggested I run the car for a half hour or so in the garage to charge the battery, which I did. But the next morning (Christmas Eve Day), I went out to start the car and it was once again dead. Old battery. So I called Steve and Pam and asked if they could head about 20 miles out of their way to come pick up me and my presents on their way to Dakota. They did. I have a great family.

To further show how great my family here is, on Monday morning after (Boxing Day), Jim and Emily made a special trip into town from Ettrick, stopped on the way in to pick up a new battery (at a discount because they know the guy who owns the auto parts store in Galesville), and Jim installed it lickety-split.

I headed to Ettrick after them and we had the McDougal Christmas. I received many lovely presents, including Jim and Emily's traditional steaks and, this year, venison; pillows-in-a-tote and prepared frozen meals from Amanda and, of course, socks from Avis and catnip bean bags for my cat Patty.

A week later, Amanda, Pam and Steve came over for New Year's Eve and I made a rather dismal simulation of Dad's clam chowder. We also had sandwiches on croissants and toasted the New Year with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Brut champagne. Steve and Pam left early to get home and Amanda stayed overnight.

The weeks since Christmas have been odd, with temperatures just above freezing for a few days, then rain getting everything slushy and wet, followed by a plunge into single digit temperatures and below-zero nighttime lows. This causes the water on the streets and sidewalks (and driveways) to freeze, clean and slick, creating a glazed ice surface upon which it is impossible to walk.

The first time this happened, I went out to Blain's Farm & Fleet with Steve and I got a real cold-weather coat, a pair of real snow boots, effective and comfortable gloves and a funky head cover with ear flaps. I'm not really focusing on fashion here, but comfort, warmth and survival.

Last night and this morning rain fell, turning to snow in the afternoon; just enough to need clearing. This time out, I recalled what I had learned the last time around: don't let the snow sit for even a day, as it will be ice by the time you get to it and take three times the effort to remove.

The back-ordered second battery had arrived in the interim, so now I can do the entire chore of snow removal without waiting four hours for the battery to recharge. So I headed out with a fresh battery and did the deed today. With clearing the front steps, the sidewalks and the driveway, it takes about an hour and a half. I didn't want to put it off, since the next several days the temperature will again plunge to single digits above and below zero, with a wind chill factor of -10º to -30º.

Once the snow removal was finished, I got into the car and braved the streets, most of them still covered with snow and ice, just to practice driving in these conditions. It was also about getting out there, back on the horse, and coming home to face the hell hole of my driveway entrance.

A couple times, at stop signs, I had to turn off the traction control to get the car moving, and at one stoplight I had to cruise through a yellow light turning red because the brakes were ineffective and I would have skid into the intersection after the red had turned. Little lessons.

Returning home I had no traffic behind me which I felt good about, just in case the turn into the driveway was somehow compromised. But I negotiated the driveway with no problem and was safely back home. Off with the gloves. Off with the heavy coat. Off with the snow boots. Into my moccasins and I'm home for the evening. Fire in the fireplace. Cat sleeping next to me on the couch. With all the inconveniences, I really like winter a lot.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Let It Snow

Happy Holidays, folks.

The first real snow of the season started this morning. Big, fat flakes drifting softly to the ground. Having just finished the Christmas decorating this weekend, it kind of completes the feel of the season.


The temperature outside is just above freezing, which is nice because the snow won't stick to the roads or sidewalks. I have yet to pick someone to do the snow removal for me, so that's fortunate.

I was originally going to have Thanksgiving by myself. I've been feeling an urge to begin my own traditions in this new house (which is not so new anymore). In the end, I went to the Solberg gathering in Dakota, Minn. It's a very Midwest meal, with everyone bringing crockpots filled with food. So there's no gathering about the table or carving the turkey. Everyone serves themselves, buffet style, eating off disposable plates with disposable cutlery: hot dish as Thanksgiving.

New tree…with remote!
Steve and Pam came over the Sunday after Thanksgiving and helped me drag all the Christmas stuff up from the basement. I did have one large element already upstairs: the new tree. Last year, while Emily and I were taking down the old tree, two full strands of lights (it was a pre-lit tree) shorted and every bulb on them blew out. Time for a new tree.

Back in July, I was watching the Republican National Convention. I found that I could only take about 30 minutes at a time, then I would switch over to QVC, which was having Christmas in July, a monthlong sale of Holiday stuff. There was a tree for sale with pre-lit RGB LEDs (each bulb can be any color by mixing the RGB primaries). What drew me to it was the "warm white" setting, which mimics the traditional incandescent mini-bulbs' hue.

So I had ordered my tree back in July and it's been sitting in its box in the corner of the dining room ever since. We opened it, and it was a cinch to assemble: a simple stand, and each of the three sections lights up automatically when you place them together: one wire to the wall and done. For once in my life, putting up the Christmas tree was without trauma of any kind.

Looks even nicer at night with a fire.
Since then, I've been puttering, hanging ornaments, and binge-watching "The Simpsons" on TV. Then, this weekend, Emily and Jim dropped by on Saturday to help out with finishing up the tree and getting the holiday tchotchkes out and arranged. I've been going about the house since then, jujjing and fluffing out all the artificial greenery. Today, the empty boxes are heading back to the basement and all should once again be presentable.

Things to do this week: get a new pair of winter boots. Get more winter shirts (Hawaiian shirts just don't make it, even when you layer). Get gift containers for the chocolate-covered popcorn I'm going to give the kids this Christmas. (I'm not sure where that will be, but I'm planning on doing the big Solberg Christmas.)

You may have noticed that I've made no reference to the recent presidential election, its outcome and my feelings and prognostications thereof. That's because I'm still processing the entire thing. One thing I will say, it's nice to have a brother who's a political scientist, since he provides a saner view of the happenings of the last month. I will probably be more vociferous about this new kind of politics.

Until then, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Make It Stop…or Start

Absolutely nothing of note has happened in the last month. I hit this wall with presidential campaign coverage, like being at a train wreck: you can't look away and you can't do anything about it, but it fascinates with its shock and horror.

I haven't heard anything from Ryan or the Pump House folks since I "helped out" with the performance there in September. He said he was going to send me a list of upcoming shows I might be interested in running, but it never showed. I thought about e-mailing him, but then I realized I don't want to be involved in a group that seems to flaky.

Same thing is happening with the Center. I dropped a line in early October, saying we should get together to plan out the fall newsletter and find someone to edit it. The reply was, "Let me think on that," and I haven't heard anything since, except the mass e-mailing telling everyone the Halloween Gala (a significant fundraiser) had been canceled because of lack of ticket sales.

Once again, I had the urge to head into the fray and save the newsletter, taking over the editing, writing and planning on top of the layout, but I backed off. If producing the newsletter is a burden on the organization at this moment, then we drop the newsletter. I have found, in the past, that taking on whole projects for a non-profit on a solo basis is not a good idea.

This ad caught my eye.
So I'm at a loss: I've tried working with the community theater, the Pump House theater, the LGBTQ Center and none of those places were welcoming or really of interest to me. I keep thinking that, if I were about 20 years younger, things would have turned out different. I'm seeing, over and over, that my age is a real barrier as far as other people are concerned.

The job front is also vacuous. Nothing of consequence has come along in any graphics field. I'm still in fine shape financially, so it's not a vital thing to be employed, but it would be nice to have something to create routine in my life right now (one of the reasons I was really hoping to land the job at the Pump House earlier this year).

So I have devolved into watching the cable news channels, obsessing on something new each day. And I just can't believe anyone could think Trump was capable of being president. And I just don't understand how people can so vehemently hate Clinton. And I don't think either candidate has mentioned anything of substance since the last debate (and sparse little then).

All the down-ticket campaigns, at least here in Wisconsin, have taken a page from the Trump nasty book, and we see all sorts of vicious, stilted, unsubstantiated attacks and innuendo. One ad from a Republican PAC against the democratic candidate for Senate (Feingold) ends with an atomic blast (this is what will happen if you vote for him). It has even trickled down to the local state races with tiny ad budgets.

But tomorrow this will all culminate. I will stroll over to my polling place, only a block and a half away, and do my duty. Hopefully, tomorrow night (and perhaps Wednesday) will be the last time I have to focus on this. I just hope to God that things work out for the best.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rain, Gun Violence and Beer

Fall is in the air. A few trees have started turning red/orange/gold, giving a small preview of what the landscape will look like in a few weeks' time. And, with it, comes the cooler and shorter days, and nights when the comforter goes back on the bed. I even had to turn on my new furnace for the first time this week. It had that new furnace smell; not pleasant like a new car smell, but kind of burney, like something from the factory being scorched off the new metal.

This weekend is Oktoberfest, which means I will be avoiding the downtown, as the sixth-drunkest city in America (my own La Crosse) spends a weekend guzzling beer, staggering home in the wee hours past my house and leaving empties and puke on my lawn. It's midwest culture at its finest.

This has been the wettest September on record for La Crosse, and one of the wettest summers.

A second round of storms from last week.
We had over 8 inches of rain in August and over 12 inches of rain in September. Lots of flooding, especially in the rural areas. Luckily, here in the city, there are only a few places that flood, no matter how hard it rains. My block, thankfully, is not one of them.

The storms arrive, usually from the west or northwest. Normally, a band of them follows the front of a low pressure system and they move through fairly quickly, with lots of thunder and lightning, dumping a couple of inches of rain in a short period of time. One or two this month had one, two or three bands of storms coming through sequentially. They moved slow and the bands of storms were deep, meaning that they could dump three or four inches of rain in a day's time.

The Mississippi is was at minor flood stage earlier this week in La Crosse, but it's already subsiding. It was the other rivers in the area that did the most flooding and damage. A big part of that is crops still in the fields that ended up underwater for days.

Fun times for me since the last post: I got together with Ryan, who runs the theater space at the Pump House, and we went over the rudiments of the lighting board. It's a very weird layout, like a two-scene board, but with the capability to record scene presets in each channel. It reminds me of trying to set the time and radio stations on my bedroom alarm clock. I still haven't figured out how to program it, but I know it is possible—with both.

One-time choir sings finale of gun show at the Pump House
I ran the board and house lights for the National Stop Gun Violence groove in, with over 400 cities in the nation participating. Here in La Crosse, it started at several bars in town with stages, then everything moved over to the Pump House, and afterwards people gathered at Riverside Park for a candlelight vigil.

Board operation consisted of dimming the house lights, bringing up the stage lights and then sitting there. It was an easy first gig for me, but Ryan was running around, emceeing, organizing the various groups of performers (dancers, singers, musical groups, solo performers, rappers) and fielding the organizers' concerns and complaints.

Other highlights of the last few weeks: Taking the car in for routine maintenance and finding out there was a crack in the fuel pump and it was leaking gas. Kinda dangerous. Of course, they had to take off the gas tank to do the repair and replacement, and the new fuel pump was over $500, so the whole thing came to about $900.

Add that to the $1800 to replace the front end steering this spring, and it's still cheaper than car payments for a new one. I'm not really interested in getting rid of this car any time soon: it was Steve's car, so I still have a little bit of him (and California) sitting in the garage.

A second highlight was keeping up with my doctor appointments. I have decided to quit smoking (it's about time) and my quit date is Oct. 13, the third anniversary of Steve's death; also the third anniversary of my starting up smoking after having quit during his illness. I'm confident I'll do it this time, since cigarettes are almost $9 a pack here, and it's an easy way to save a couple thousand dollars a year. And, too, I'm really tired of having to keep track of how many I have and where I can get more.

A lot of the rest of my days has been filled with the almost addictive onslaught of the presidential campaigns. Going into the whole mess would take far more space than I want to devote to it. Suffice it to say that I can't wait for this election season to be over. That is one thing, I think, that everyone can agree on, no matter which side(s) of the fence you're on this election year.

I did want to share this video from Randy Rainbow with you, though. It's one of the few parodies that have made me truly guffaw.

So I have two weeks to smoke 'em if I got 'em. I'm looking forward to the colors of the fall foliage. After that comes Halloween and lots of dead leaves, then Thanksgiving (yea! I can put up my new tree!) and the start of winter. By the holiday season, things will be frozen for the next several months, and there will be snow. Time to go out and get new boots and a new winter coat.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

This Post Is Much Too Long

This entry was generated over three months' time, but I tried to keep the narrative chronological.

June 15, 2016

When I talked to my sister Kittie this week, she commented that I hadn't made a blog entry since March. Part of the reason is there wasn't much happening. Part of it was my lack of motivation to write.

I went to the auditions for "Billy Elliot," sang and danced and did not get cast. I wasn't miffed, as acting is not my forte. I tried out in the first place because, in my experience, casting adequate males, especially in a musical, can be difficult. I was offering myself up in case they needed male bodies on stage.

Natalie and Uncle Pete at
Cameron Park Farmer's Market
One of the things that spring brought was an opportunity to open the windows and air out the house. When I did, cat hair and dust bunnies emerged from every crack, corner and crevice in the place. The downstairs vacuum was out of bags, and they're impossible to find. A1 Vacuums over by Papa Murphy's Pizza did have them, so I dropped in. After some conversation, I had purchased six bags for the vacuum and also a Dyson cordless.

The Dyson is amazing; about the size and weight of a can of coffee but with the suction of a full-sized vacuum and motorized heads for bare floors, carpet and one just for stairs. I actually use the thing quite a lot. The only downside is that it only holds a charge for 15-20 minutes, then it needs at least three hours to fully recharge. But doing the floors, or the stairs, or the upholstery each takes well under 10 minutes, and I have the canister (with the bags) as a backup.

The family gathers for Natalie's sixth birthday
Mark, who took care of snow removal in the winter, is now taking care of the yard for me. His only fault is that he doesn't invoice me. I had to ask for one, and he'd racked up a couple months of mowing, so I owed him $245. The yard looks really great, though, and he has a handle on eradicating the weeds, so I'm happy.

I've been trolling the want ads and Craig's List, looking for a part-time job and a table for the kitchen. One job advertised (image prep for a yearbook publisher) was through Manpower, so that meant going down and filling out lots of paperwork, watching a half-hour video on what chemicals you shouldn't drink and how to pick up boxes.

Me, Steve, Pam at free
summer concert in the park
They wanted to test my computer skills, but they had no tests for Adobe products, so we saved some time there. Never heard anything back, as was the case for the few resumes I've sent out previously. I'm assuming I'm too old or over-experienced in most employers' eyes.

Just this week there was an ad on Craig's List for a part-time office assistant in an "arts association." I e-mailed a cover letter and resume Friday of last week, so if I hear anything, it should be in the next week or so. And I'm still looking for that table.

I vowed that I would keep all aspects of the presidential election out of these pages. It's so bizarre that it really deserves its own blog, and there are millions of people on Facebook and Twitter putting in their two cents, and I just can't compete with the information and entertainment value there.

But I just had to share this:

August 30-September 11, 2016

I started a post back in June and forgot about it. I just returned from the family reunion in California and I've promised everyone a blog post, so here goes.

To pick things up in July, the weather has been much muggier and hotter than last summer, even the locals have said so.

Back in June things got warm enough that I stopped using the furnace. A day or two before that, I had turned it on and heard a grinding noise. There was a good six weeks before things heated up enough to think about using air conditioning, so I didn't worry about getting the system fixed.

The first weekend when it was going to hit the 90s (and humid), I thought I'd better get someone out here to look at the furnace and let me know if the AC would work on its own. The folks at Bagniefski HVAC sent over the same guy who replaced the dehumidifier pump last summer.

This year's PRiDE poster
He checked things out and said the furnace part would be about $700. He also pointed out that the system was almost 20 years old and due for replacement. I had known this when I bought the house, so I told them to put together a quote for replacing both the AC and furnace. I was pleased to find out it would be under $5,000. So I told them to go ahead and replace it.

Also in June, I gave up finding chairs for the living room anywhere locally and went online to find something I liked that was affordable. I did find the chairs I wanted that were the right scale for the room. They arrived, and I had a fun week figuring out how to put them together, since they arrived without instructions.

In early July, I got a reply from the part-time administrative assistant position. The art association turned out to be the Pump House, our regional art center here in La Crosse. I had a phone interview with Toni, the director of the center. I think it went pretty well. She said they were still receiving applications and I would be contacted, whether I was picked for a second interview or not.

This year's drag poster
Also in early July, I finally saw a doctor and got back on my blood pressure medication. I had gotten to the point where I was feeling like staying around for a while. It was time to put an end to mourning Steve, to leave Pasadena and California behind.  But damn, it's hard to get back into the habit of taking pills every morning.

The same day of seeing the doctor, I drove out to Ettrick and Steve, Pam, Emily and I drove up the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi, stopping along the way for some lunch. We got to Red Wing, which used to have a pottery outlet which included a Fiestaware store with all their current products available.

When we got there, the outlet was closed, along with the Fiestaware store. We had to make due with a quick look inside the local theater (beautiful architecture) and heading back home. I'm sure I could just jump online and order the dishes in a couple minutes, but the drive north was a lot more fun.

My birthday is in July (the 29th), and Pam, Steve and family gave me a surprise party by showing up at my house on the Sunday before. Steve and Pam had given me the birthday present of a table and chairs for outside, and this time they showed up with a small gas grille, brats to grill, and a chocolate ice cream cake that was unbelievably rich (there's still some in the freezer).

Kitchen table closed
Alesha and I met for a newsletter meeting at the Center the next day. Alesha is one of two people temporarily replacing Jackson, who resigned as director of the Center in June. She let me know that Alli, who had up until then been editing the newsletter, was going to put together this next issue and then would resign.

Also on the agenda was putting together posters for La Crosse PRiDE and the annual "So You Think You Can Drag" fundraiser. (Most Pride celebrations happen in June, but for some reason the Center holds theirs in September.)

I did some preliminary designs for the posters and started putting the newsletter together once Alli got the copy and pix to me. All of this had to be out of my hair by mid-August so I would be unencumbered when I left for California and the family reunion, being held in Oceano this time.

Kitchen table open
That same week my search for a drop-leaf table for the kitchen was finally over. I found the perfect one on Craig's list. It was in a second-hand shop in Houston (across the river in Minnesota, about 20 miles away). With Steve's help (and his van), we went over and got the table. The woman said it was handmade by a man in Yucatan (not far from Houston). Solid walnut with beautiful grain, it has a couple scratches. It was my birthday gift to myself. With it, I think I'm done furnishing the downstairs.

On the week I was leaving for the family reunion, I sent an e-mail to Toni at the Pump House, letting her know that I would be out of town for a while (and hoping to get some kind of update about the job opening there). She e-mailed back, asking if I could come in for an interview that Friday. I said I would be on the road somewhere between San Francisco and Pismo Beach on Friday, but I would be happy to interview anytime after my Aug. 25 return.

Mechanic inspects plane
My itinerary was to leave La Crosse on Wednesday the 17th, fly into San Francisco and visit with my friend Kathy Shields for a day, then rent a car on Friday and drive down to Oceano for the reunion. And so I left for the La Crosse airport Wednesday morning, checked in, went through security and started to wait. And wait.

The plane arrived and was in the process of boarding when the airline announced that they had found mechanical problems; they were waiting for a mechanic to show up and check it out. So we waited. And waited. Finally, we were asked to go down to the check-in counter to reschedule our flights, since they had canceled this one. So 42 people (the flight was full) headed down and queued up for the unhappy process of rearranging their flights.

Sunset from the deck at our vacation house
It was soon obvious that there were no flights out until Friday. Everything was booked. They were offering to bus folks to Minneapolis the next day and flying them out of there. People were angry and a few were getting downright abusive. By the time I made it to the counter, the two women were getting frazzled. Not only were they having to tell people they weren't making their flights, they were also having to return each and every checked bag. It being a small airport, they had no crew in the back to help out, and they scurried from computer terminal to the back, searching for luggage.

As I approached the counter, the woman there had big, flustered eyes. I had been thinking about how to resolve my problem. It became quickly clear to me that I wasn't going to make it out in time to visit in San Francisco, so I was thinking of flying straight into San Luis Obispo airport, but that meant adding a third leg to my flight, and I didn't want to spend any more money. She looked up from her computer terminal, ready for another round of fending off customer outrage. Our eyes met. I smiled.

I leaned in and said, quietly, "I think you're doing a fabulous job," and her face relaxed and she smiled. "OK," I continued, "Here's what I think will work for me," and put forth my plan to fly out of La Crosse on Friday (two days hence) and connect with a flight into San Luis Obispo.

Having someone be pleasant about the situation (after all, it wasn't her fault), she dug down into the reservation system and put together a flight that would work for me, even though it meant getting to the airport at 5:30 a.m. No charge for the extra leg, and she threw in three meal vouchers to boot. She went back and got my bag, smiled and thanked me. I'm hoping I helped make her day a little more tolerable, perhaps providing an example of how to deal with adversity in corporate America.

Jessie and Mark in Oceano
When I got back home, I checked on Expedia for my new itinerary, and what I found there didn't make a whole lot of sense. The new flights were shown, but also a bunch of junk that didn't seem to relate at all, so I called the airline, got a customer rep and explained what was happening. Not only did she confirm the flight changes, she also removed the junk and built a return flight plan as well. She had to go to her help desk, and then they had to go to their help desk, but it all got cleaned up.

Also, Toni had e-mailed, asking for an interview with me the next day. I answered back, saying that, indeed, I would be able to make a 5:30 p.m. interview Thursday. We had a really good interview, she showed me around the facility, and I left feeling pretty good about it. The only thing that threw me was when we were going upstairs to the small theater space and she asked, "Are you OK with stairs?" like maybe I needed a walker. After nearly an hour and a half, I felt like I'd made a good impression.

And so onto my flight out West on Friday. I got into San Luis Obispo around 3:30, picked up my rental car and went to find the house we were sharing in Oceano. Now, Oceano is the only beach in California that allows motorized vehicles, It is a haven for RVs and ATV enthusiasts, and the various vehicles were lined up several blocks long when I arrived, blocking my access to the street our house was on. With a little help from Google maps, I found a back way into the warren of vacation rentals in which our house was situated and found the place.

Dolphin statue in Morro Bay
Jim, Carla and Chance had already arrived, and I was thirsty. There was nothing to drink in the house and, even though I was fairly worn out, I grabbed Kittie and we went to the store to stock up on drinks for 10. Steve drinks Pepsi, I was drinking Coke, the girls would want beer and I picked up sparkling water just to be healthy. We had dinner at the local Mexican restaurant.

Around 10:30 I headed back to SLO airport to pick up Steve, Pam, Amanda, Emily and Natalie and their bags. Kittie and David met me there, and we all headed back to Oceano. Back in the house, Amanda and Natalie, Emily and I were staying in the "kid's room." Jim and Carla were in the downstairs bedroom, Steve and Pam were in the master bedroom and Chance was staying in the garage.

Saturday was a hang-out-together day, punctuated only by a trip back to the airport so Steve could pick up a rental car (the agencies close at 10 p.m., so they couldn't pick one up when they arrived), coordinating plans on who was doing what the rest of the week. Also, my friend Jessie had come up to visit, and we spent most of the day together, mostly hanging at the house.

Jessie had gone on Air bnb and found a tipi for her accommodations. It took me a while to find the place, but it was a real throwback to the '60s, very much a hippie kind of place. The proprietors lived on several acres with other members of their family, and the owner had built the various accommodations himself. Being an artist (ceramics his specialty), he had created a spiral staircase out of old gears and tools, and the rooms made of found objects and old patchworked building materials. It was all wonderfully creative and quaint.

Steve at the Meadow Park
It was great spending a day with Jessie, catching up on all the things that don't make it into correspondence. When I dropped her off after the day, I told her the next day was a family picnic, and she didn't need to come if she didn't want to. She had planned to head back to Irvine anyway, so we said goodbye. It was great to see her again.

Sunday was, indeed, the family reunion picnic. Jim, Carla and Chance did not attend, but the rest of us headed to San Luis Obispo for the get together. Brother David and his family were meeting us at 1 p.m. at Meadow Park in SLO, and it was sort of pot luck.

Dave, Jaden and Steve
When we got there, Thomas, Dave and Alain's next-youngest son, was there with his girlfriend (a very attractive couple). They helped put up the shade structure while David and Kittie started up the fire. Having brought hot dogs, we did not know that Thomas and his girlfriend were vegetarians. Even so, they hiked over to a convenience store with Kittie to get some Match Start, since no one had brought any lighter fluid.

Around 2 o'clock, Dave, Alain, their daughter Kittie and youngest Jaden arrived with a load of really good food, most of which was vegetarian, thankfully. Really good pasta salad. Dynamite deviled eggs. The rest of the afternoon was visiting and catching up. I was walking from the barbecue area to the bathrooms and a thought washed over me and I smiled: Mom was very happy we'd all gotten together.

From left: Pam, Kittie, Thomas & girlfriend (rear),
Jaden & Kittie McD (front), Alain and David (rear) and Natalie
There were two other excursions (well, three) we took. On Tuesday we all headed out to Morro Bay to window shop and have lunch at the Galley, where Steve had a summer job many, many years ago. The food was really good and I found a really nice art glass bowl for the dining room. (Just because I'm finished furnishing the first floor doesn't mean I'm finished with the accessories.)

On Wednesday there were two excursions: the women went to Santa Barbara for the day and I headed up to Monterey to meet up with Kathy, since I hadn't been able to visit her due to the travel plans snafu. I arrived around noon and we met at the aquarium. There was a mix up in that she arrived earlier and bought me a ticket. I bought my own ticket before I knew, so she got a refund.

Steinbeck statue at Cannery Row
We walked down Cannery Row to Sly McFly's for a rather overcooked hamburger and walked around the waterfront before heading back to the aquarium. The last time I had been there, they had just opened their Jellyfish exhibit, and I wanted to see it in its final state.

There were lots of jellies! and there was a circular tank with a current with schooling fish (mackerels) and a million-gallon deep sea tank with huge sharks and tuna swimming to and from, disappearing into the distance.

The final stop was at the otter tank, trying to get some photos of the little guys just before their feeding time. They were romping around in anticipation of their meal, and it was almost impossible to get one in focus and not moving.

It was really good to visit with Kathy again, and I was glad she was willing to meet me halfway. Monterey was a really great place to meet, since the next choice was Salinas or Greenfield or King City, none of which are really destinations.

I got back to Oceano around 7 that evening. I had to pack and be ready, since I had to get to the SLO airport before dawn to make my flight back. SLO to Phoenix, several hours of layover, Phoenix to O'Hare airport, several hours of layover, Chicago to La Crosse, getting in around 10 p.m.

Lots of jellies
The next day I had a second interview arranged at the Pump House, since the president of the board of directors hadn't been able to attend my first one. It was at 5:30 on Friday. It went well and I genuinely liked Ryan (the president), as we shared a passion for theater and, in particular, intimate performing spaces like the one on the second floor of the Pump House. They also let me know that they had had over 60 applications, and I had made the cut to the top four.

Otters and fish
Two days after arriving back from California, there was a get-together for Ettrick Days at Pam and Steve's place. Any of these occasions are overrun by Solbergs (Pam's side of the family), and usually the only place I ever interact with them.

Pam knew I was interested in getting a mature kitten in hopes of having a playmate for Patty. In July, I had tried to bring in a full-grown cat but Patty fled from her and she, in turn, cornered and attacked Patty. It was obvious to me that neither one wanted to share the house with the other. That lasted only one day and I returned her to the rescue couple who were trying to find her a permanent home.

Deep sea tank
So when Pam found a stray kitten in their garage, she offered her up as Patty's potential new friend. I met her (Gracie) at Ettrick Days and she was totally sweet. I had brought a carrier just in case, and that evening Gracie came home with me.

Gracie made herself right at home, and Patty hissed at her the first time they encountered one another. Patty reacted to Gracie's presence as she reacts to most new things: by hiding under the bed upstairs. In the meantime, Gracie found every lost ball and cat toy in the house (most of them under the couch, which she was small enough to crawl under).

Gracie and Mark
In the following week or so, Patty grew grudgingly accustomed to Gracie, even tentatively touching noses. But every time Gracie chased Patty, trying to play, Patty would turn on her at some point and hiss vehemently. Gracie just didn't understand.

And Patty became very aloof towards me, keeping to herself and not sitting with me. Every time she entered a room, she would scope it out, searching the nooks and crannies for where Gracie might be hiding. Meanwhile, Gracie had taken to climbing into the compartments of the entertainment center/TV stand, snuggling up to the warm cable box and unplugging various connections. It got a little irritating, having to pull out the whole setup and search every cable until I found what was unplugged and discovering where it should go.

On the Tuesday after Gracie arrived, I got an e-mail from Toni letting me know that they had offered the position to someone else. That was a letdown, to be sure, but after a little grousing, I replied, thanking her for considering me and saying I'd be interested in doing volunteer work, particularly related to the theater. She replied that Ryan had been running the theater space pretty much on his own, and that he would probably be interested in having me share some of the running duties (lights and sound) for the various productions they have come through the theater.

Riverside Park, the Mississippi at sunet
I contacted Ryan and he was very enthusiastic about getting me involved. Sometime in the next couple weekends we'll get together to familiarize me with the systems and perhaps schedule me to run some performances.

Now on to another travail: a few days before I left for California, the dryer decided to stop heating, so I called a guy, recommended, who does appliance repair. He showed up and took a day to find out what was going on. He did tell me that the machine was "amazingly clean," and that I shouldn't need to replace it for a long time.

He came back the next day with someone who "really knew about Maytags" and the two of them figured out the problem was "a part that never breaks" but it did. Phil (of Phil's appliance repair) found a replacement part and finished the repair that afternoon. It's so nice to have it back. It's also good to know, according to Phil, that "you're gonna have these machines forever." Now the water heater's the only appliance left to need replacing anytime soon.

Final concert of the summer
I had mentioned Gracie and Patty to Kathy in an e-mail, and she replied, relating her experience with an older cat and a kitten. She said when the kitten arrived, her cat did the same thing, and was a changed cat ever since, keeping pretty much to herself.

I thought about that and came to the realization that Patty didn't want to have a cat friend. She was plenty happy being the only cat in the house, and keeping Gracie around was only alienating her. So last Friday, I popped Gracie back into the carrier and returned her to Ettrick, where she was warmly welcomed by humans and dogs. The two cats already in residence are rather indifferent to her. Most important, Natalie loves playing with Gracie when she visits, and she's in Ettrick far more often than she's here visiting me, so she was happy to see Gracie's return.

When I came home that evening after returning Gracie, Patty had figured out that I had removed the interloper from the house, and she was affectionate and loving, though I had caught her once or twice checking in the corners, just to make sure there's no one there.

The day before Gracie's return, Steve, Pam and I went out to dinner at (ironically) Gracie's, a greek place near UW-L. Pasted in the front door were the two posters that I'd done for PRiDE and So You Think You Can Drag?! I pointed them out and I think Steve and Pam genuinely liked the work.

Mississippi River (left), Black River (center), La Crosse River (right)
After gyros, we went down to Riverside Park for the last installment of Moon Tunes, a free series of concerts in Riverside Park every Thursday during the summer. This one was R&B themed, and soon we were heading for the international gardens at the north end of the park. It's a series of gardens inspired by the various sister cities La Crosse has around the globe. They had expanded them since me last visit with two more gardens. The additions also included a nice sitting area right on the river, where the Black, La Crosse and Mississippi rivers conjoin. The sun was setting but I got a few usable images.

So that just about catches us up. The warm and humid days are starting to give way to cooler days and much cooler nights. I have caught one or two trees in town starting to turn to autumn colors, so we're counting weeks until things start to change. I'm feeling good that I replaced the furnace and I'm looking forward to seeing some savings on the heating bills this winter.

Heron statue, Pam and Steve
Another newsletter is on the horizon, and I have a feeling that I'll be editing as well as laying out this one. This weekend was PRiDE, so hopefully we will have a good recap of it and the drag show, which was moved from the Cavalier Theater downtown to a larger venue at the La Crosse Center, the town's convention facility. Then there's the Halloween Gala fundraiser in October, so I'm shooting for early November for the fall issue.

And I'm trolling the newspaper, Craig's list and other venues for part-time work again. I want to try and find something meaningful, and not just a job to fill some hours and make a little money. The Pump House gig would have filled the bill, but it obviously was not to be. Perhaps getting involved in running shows for them will create that connection that will find me meaningful employment.

And hopefully, there will be more posts here on a more frequent basis. It certainly would be better than taking several days' work processing all these photos and writing this never-ending narrative in lieu of more punctual posts.