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.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Healing Month

I know it's been a while since I wrote anything here, but I've been busy reorienting myself to my new teeth and pondering the departure of winter.

Before and after: some screen shots of my winter viewing.
In the last few weeks, the freezing temperatures have pretty much disappeared, and highs in the upper 40s and lower 50s have been common. There is no snow to be found here in town, though it did fall on the last Friday I went out to Ettrick for Pizza Night about three weeks ago. (I also fell on a patch of ice outside Steve and Pam's place, which resulted in a bruised tailbone, a wrenched elbow and a twisted ankle.) It had been in the upper 30s during that Friday, and just when I was about to head out, a light flurry, a mere dusting, began to fall in town. I waited for 15 minutes or so, and it didn't seem to be sticking on the driveway, so I decided to hit the road. As I told myself, "You've got to get used to driving in the snow. It's just part of winter."

By the time I was halfway to Ettrick, the snow was coming down at a healthy clip. About six miles from Steve and Pam's, I discovered what "white out" means, the world disappearing into something denser than any fog, and folks were driving 45 mph instead of the usual 55-60. On my return home, I left about an hour earlier than I normally would, but the snow was still melting nicely on the pavement and never accumulated into slush. That was the last snow we've seen.

Duplicates: They even put in
my two crooked teeth
The healing of my mouth was/is an ongoing thing. Every couple days I'll still see small bits of red when I take my dentures out. They fit perfectly, but I do need to use Poligrip in order to keep them anchored while eating. Beyond not having sensation in the teeth, the denture feels like my own teeth, and every couple days I'll forget to take them out before bedtime. I can't bite down on anything hard (solid chocolate, for example), but I've mastered just about every other sort of food density.

There has been a definite emotional component to acquiring dentures, a sort of passage into a more mature look on life. There was a definite mourning for my missing dentition, and it did have the quality of someone snipping off a couple of your lesser-used fingers. With the fitting of the denture, however, I have begun to feel whole again, and my mood has improved immensely.

The telephone: my stage persona.
Another thing that helped was getting involved with the stage production, "Boeing Boeing." I am a lowly backstage grip, mopping the stage before house open, handing off props and ringing the telephone on cue. The cast (six) and crew (two) are very nice, though, and I try not to get into monologues about working in professional theater, or elucidating on the number of shows I've directed. I let a comment drop here or there so people understand I'm not a neophyte and David, the show's director and the theater's executive director, has a much better idea of my past experience.

The center of the audience from onstage.
The theater itself is very nice, fairly new, with a 300-seat proscenium main stage fully equipped with a fly system and ample lighting equipment, a scene shop in the rear and ample storage and workspace in the four-story (counting basement) building. There is also a black-box space for smaller productions and several rehearsal rooms. Since the space was designed and built as a theater complex, there's nothing jerry-rigged. It sits on the banks of the Mississippi and there are wonderful river views out the lobby windows.

The show is only running for two weeks, so this time next week it will be a memory, the set struck and the company disbanded. I am hoping, though, that my involvement will continue. Tomorrow and Wednesday evening they are holding auditions for "Billy Elliot," and being a male who can carry a tune, I figure I've got a fairly good chance of being cast as one of the miners. If I was 60 pounds lighter and 15 years younger, I might try for Billy's dad. Even the chorus would be fine, just as long as I never have to mop the stage again.

I'm finally taking the car in tomorrow to get the front end checked, as well as the brakes. It made it fine through the winter, and now that things have warmed up I'm realizing most of the noises it made this winter were just noises it makes when it's freaking freezing. But warmer weather does not make the shimmy in the front wheels go away. It starts when I hit about 65 mph, so it's not a problem around town, but something I should have taken care of nonetheless.

My car registration renewal came in the mail last week (a flat $75); a reminder that it's coming up to one year I've been in this house. I'm having Mark from Eagle Eye come and remove the awnings from the front of the house, and I have to get someone in to fix the concrete slab in back. At present, the concrete there has subsided below the foundation line, and all the rain/melting show accumulates next to the house instead of heading out into the yard. I'm also hoping to use the extra patio space the slab will provide as an outdoor entertaining area when the weather gets warmer. Brother Steve has said he will get me a patio set for out back in lieu of his original housewarming present of a snow blower.

I continue to browse the want ads for part-time positions that I might fill, but I'm still in no hurry. My funds are holding out better than I expected, so I easily can go for another year without worrying about wolves at the door. Having no mortgage really helps out.

Patty in the living room.
With this warmer weather I'm also realizing the touch of cabin fever that I had over the winter. As I look back, I remember going through the same thing in Ketchikan some 45 years ago.

The birds have been evident in the back yard for several days now; small finches, a few robins and several cardinals, their red almost shocking after so much winter white and gray. The trees, too, seem to be considering putting out leaves, some budding but not completely committed to bringing forth spring. As Steve says, the large old trees are wisest, and when they go green, you know spring has arrived.

Fresh air is also a real plus. After winter cold, a daytime high of 52º is reason to open the windows and air the place out. Patty is especially happy about this, since it means being able to sit in the sill of the open windows, smelling the world directly. She, too, has noticed the feathered activity in the back yard, and it interests her to no end.

Yes, I do like having seasons.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ego, Hunger and Aggression

More frosted windows after the storm
What a way to ring in February. Highs and lows. We had our first snow storm since December. You folks in California experienced it as really night winds and lots of rain. It headed east from there, dumping dumploads of snow on you folks in Colorado and hit us a day or so later. It dumped about eight inches of snow is a short period of time, then it got cold.

Today, it's 40 degrees outside. I've got the window open just to smell the fresh air. Patty was astounded, and actually sat in the sill, as she had done all summer, and sniffed as the crisp air.

One hour's accumulation
My biggest high this week was hearing from the artistic director of the La Crosse Community theater, offering me an offstage/backstage position in the next production, "Boeing, Boeing." If you're not familiar with it, it was a big hit in 1965. It's about a guy in Paris who juggles a bevy of stewardesses/girlfriends with aid from his begrudging housekeeper.

I went to the table read on Tuesday. The show is being directed by the artistic director, who directs one show each year. In talking with him, I mentioned that I had been a member of the Los Angeles Theater Center in the 1980s, and he commented that he was working with the company that installed the LATC ticketing system, so there are some connections there.

I'm hoping things will start expanding for me once I'm known as experienced and reliable (almost as important as talent when it comes to community theater). Tech rehearsals start the first week of March, and the show runs weekends though the 20th.

The major trauma of the week was the extraction of my 5.5 remaining upper teeth on Thursday in preparation for a full denture. The only other time I had multiple extractions, I went through oral surgery, since my dentist wouldn't do extractions or root canals (I came to realize she just wanted to do kids' teeth, and I was taken as a patient because she was hard up for money). This meant a general anesthetic and no real memory of the experience.

This time around, though, the dentist was game to pull the teeth, and I have a great deal of confidence in her. It was also about $500 cheaper than going to oral surgery, so I agreed.

It was a most unpleasant experience, even with her excellent chairside manner. Four teeth came out easily, since they were deteriorating and ready for extraction. My two canines, however, had deep roots and no interest in going anywhere; most of the pulling and yanking, cracking and drilling was expended getting them out.

I went home with a prescription for Vicodin, which I filled immediately. Once home, I slapped a bag of frozen peas on my upper lip, which helped with the swelling. The Vicodin took care of the discomfort and pain, and knocked me on my ass, so sleeping was about all I did.

On Friday, my niece Emily stopped off after work and picked up stuff to eat that didn't need teeth. So I've been surviving on Malt o Meal, mashed potatoes and canned gravy, chocolate milk shakes, cottage cheese and applesauce. Tomorrow I'm going to expand to scrambled eggs and yogurt, but the food needs to be swallowable without any chewing whatsoever.

I never realized how much mastication influences food and eating. And I've never realized how many ads there on TV for foods. I really do miss chewing, and am painfully aware of not smiling and speaking too much in order to masque my dental demise. Now feeling like Toothless Joe, I'm more than willing to drop the thousands of dollars it will take to assure that I'm grinding and grinning with abandon into future decades.

With the subsidence of the swelling, I can actually speak quite comfortably. My next appointments are on Wednesday and Thursday, when we pick out tooth color, etc. The Wednesday after that, I'm scheduled to get my choppers, and the 25th is my final appointment for final fitting. By the time my first rehearasal comes around, I should be back chewing and smiling like the fool I've always been.

Please forgive any misspellings, bad grammar or sentence fragments, but I just don't have the energy to proof and edit this entry. I'll come back in a week and see how close I got to perfection.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Flush With Progress

I'm getting used to winter, I think. When it's in the 20s, I can go outside to take out the trash or get something out of the car and only feel chilly. (Of course, I only stay out for a couple minutes.) And this week the highs are going to be in the 30s, so a couple layers and a regular coat will do me just fine.

New bathroom turning blue.
Old bathroom…ewww

The biggest thing to happen this last week was getting the toilet and sink installed in the guest bath. On Sunday, I went to Menard's and got the paint for the bath and arranged to have Mark from Eagle Eye pick up the fixtures on Monday, which he did. I painted the wall in the bathroom so it would be done before Mark showed up.

It took most of the day to get the fixtures in and the plumbing hooked up, but he did have time left to install a new kitchen faucet. The old one was from the '60s, sort of crusty and the volume of flow was very hard to control. The new one has a removable head that toggles from stream to spray. Getting the new one installed was no problem, Mark said, but getting the old one out was a struggle.

Sink before and after.
So, by the time he left, things were up and running. I now have 3 1/4 baths again (full bath upstairs, half bath on the main floor and 3/4 bath in the basement). I was almost giddy when, responding to a natural urge, I got to inaugurate the new toilet. It's one of those that has a small flush and a large flush. Slowly, the modern conveniences of the 21st century are being incorporated into the house.

After all the hesitation about colors for the house, I've made the first choice with the bathroom. The color seemed on the lighter side when I chose it, and I calculated that I could do the entire room with two quarts, but after painting the wall (maybe a quarter of the wall space), I had used up a full quart, and there were still touch ups needed. So, it's back to Menard's to pick up a gallon more.

Other fun things for the week: I got an answer to my e-mail from the community theater, with the tech director offering a stagehand position for the next show in the season. The tech is in early March with a two-week run. I answered back and accepted. Well aware of what a headache volunteer workers can be, starting with a backstage position is the way to do the least damage to a production if I turned out to be a disaster.

And this Thursday, we have the first meeting of the Center's communications committee this year. We have a couple of marketing interns from UW-L, so I'm excited about what innovations they can bring to the various platforms on which we work. Then Saturday is the annual breakfast for the Center, something for which I will have to get up early.

The first week of February will bring another dentist's appointment, and we'll talk about that later.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

How Cold Was It?

Last week's forecast; this week will be more of the same.
Things are relative. And so, cold is relative. The 8-day forecast at right was followed by
Monday: 0º high/-11º low;
Tuesday: 11º high/-10º low;
yesterday: 22º high/8º low;
today: 21º high/17º low.

The numbers get dizzying, but the result is a rollercoaster ride from chilly to bone chilling. I had to stop and think: -2º is actually 34º below freezing. The wind chill has dipped to -20 or so at night, but the snow indicated in the forecast above was no more than flurries, leaving less than an inch on the ground.

Ice on the balcony window
I find that when you ford out in single-digit cold, a day in the 20s is downright balmy. The result is that when the days are particularly cold, I just stay inside. When the highs and lows both fall into positive territory, it's time to go out and do shopping and errands.

On those days when I relegate myself to the house, I try to cypher out the best tactics for keeping the place warm. During the day, the thermostat is at 65º and I supplement it with the fireplace if need be. At night, I set the temperature at 45º and run a small space heater (a Christmas gift from Amanda) in the bedroom. Still, my last gas/electric bill was $335 for the month, which is about what I expected.

Patty has found her warm place in the laundry basket in the bedroom upstairs. I've lined it with an old shirt to keep her warm (and to keep the cat hair off the laundry). I've even taken to putting a small towel on her when she sleeps downstairs. At first she was quizzical, and a couple times just outright objected to it (you can tell by the small, irritated yowl she gives), but once she caught on that it kept her warm, she acquiesced to it.

Patty under her blanket
Last Friday I chanced the drive out to Ettrick, which was uneventful. Pizza Night was embellished with Pam's recounting of her trip to Thailand from which she had just returned. Steve had just downloaded the photos she'd taken, so they weren't organized at that point. I think perhaps this Friday we'll get to see those.

I found a really good deal on the toilet and sink for the downstairs bath, so I purchased them online. Next week I'm having Mark from Eagle Eye pick them up and install them. This means I get to paint the bathroom this weekend. It should take about 45 minutes, as it's not much larger than a double closet.

The Christmas decorations are still up. I've dragged the storage boxes up from the basement, but haven't gotten around to filling them. I think I'm avoiding stowing everything because when the tree comes down, there's going to be a big empty space in the living room that will need chairs and/or a love seat to fill between the two occasional tables already there.

There's another communications committee meeting at the Center the end of this month. We've scored a couple of part-time interns from UW-L, so hopefully we'll get up-to-date and informed ideas about how to get the message out on a cross-platform environment. I understand the concept, but I don't know enough about marketing to actually plan things out.

I also got a reply to my e-mails to the community theater, asking what things I wanted to get involved with. I wrote back (to both tech and artistic directors) on my experience, what I liked doing and what skills I had to offer. Haven't heard back from either, but January has seemed like a quiet, even dormant month, so it fits. Now, however, I feel free to contact them whenever I see something upcoming on the season calendar.

And I still love the crunch of the snow under my feet and the prickle of cold air on my face. I forgot how much I've missed winter in my life. Now I just have to go out and get a winter trousseau, as I'm relying on layering and a rather raggedy coat that Steve loaned me last month to keep me warm.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

New Year's Evolutions

The storm did come, dropping about six inches of snow overnight and during the next day. There was nothing blizzardy about it, although at times it came down heavily enough that the high school across the street was barely visible through the flurries.

As I suspected, the snow plows were out on West Avenue during the storm, meaning the street was open, even when the storm subsided and side streets were still piled with snow. I decided that I would wait a couple days before heading out in the car.

Mark (handyman guy) showed up about 9:30 on Tuesday morning, with snowblower and snow shovel and salt. It took about and hour and a half for him to really clear out the snow, but when he left sidewalks and driveway were clear of snow and ice. He did such a good job that the few snow flurries we've gotten since (never more than an inch) simply melted away.

New Year's Eve was quiet and I spent it at home, which is not so out of the ordinary for me. Times Square in New York in on the East Coast feed, so there's no delay involved, like on the West Coast, so the ball dropped at 11 p.m. There was also the Chicago Star, which is raised at midnight Central Time. Once that happened, I went up to the balcony and watched the fireworks set off at Grandad Bluff to the east. It was a full show. I would have liked to go out on the balcony but the snow had piled into a drift against the door, about a foot. I did get the door open, so at least I got a clear look.

My Alma Mater's 2016 parade entry
On New Year's Day, I got up and checked out the channels carrying the Rose Parade (in L.A. I had always watched it on Channel 5 because there were no commercials). HGTV ended up being the only station without commercials, and they had a 30-minute delay, so it didn't start until 10:30 a.m.

I always watch for the Cal Poly float. I worked on one once. I remember putting gray bark on a very large elephant. Usually, the Cal Poly campuses in SLO and Pomona make the front and back halves, joining them about a week before the parade and finishing them off in Pasadena.

A curly-haired Jesus waves from the Lutheran float
Their entry, animated gummy bears, was very nice. And, not too far behind it, was the Lutheran float. They had Jesus on the float. Jesus was standing in front of a lighthouse (he's the light of the world; get it?). Jesus was waving to the crowd. His wig is cheap and obviously synthetic hair. He was very, very white. No semitic lines on that Scandinavian shayna punim. He seemed like a nice guy, though a little intimidated by the crowds.

In the early afternoon, I gave Steve a call. Even though it was New Year's Day, it was also Friday, and Friday is Pizza Night in Ettrick. Also, Pam had gone on a trip to Thailand with friends, so Steve was alone, if you don't count Glen and Avis. So I asked if we were doing Pizza Night and he said sure, and asked me to pick up a pizza on my way out. So I stopped at Papa Murphy's and picked up a take 'n' bake cowboy pizza and headed out to Ettrick for Pizza Night with brother Steve.

Fireplace before and after
I was just checking back in the posts and realize I never posted any before-and-after pictures of the floors, only a couple of in-the-process photos. So I dug back in my photo archive and put together these shots of what the floors looked like, well, before and after.

Before and after stairs
At the beginning of December, I realized trying to get stuff done on the house was problematic, since Mark was swamped with work, and I really wanted to focus on holidays with the Solberg side of the family. And although I am not officially related to them, I was drawn into the fold and shared their low-keyed celebrations (see the two previous posts).

This first week of the new year was on the warm side (34º and 36º highs), so things started melting. I was sitting in the living room when I heard distant dripping sounds. A quick check showed things melting everywhere. The piles of snow along the streets were melting, as well, and driving in town became a slushy wet mess but passable with reasonable driving.

Tamara (and new haircut) are in the mirror
Yesterday, I went to the barber (her name's Tamara and her specialty is beards and buzz cuts. I had let the beard grow out to the point of being Santalike. I was hoping to get those looks from little kids that a rotund, gray-bearded older man gets during the holidays. Didn't really happen for me, at least not last year. I left looking really sharp.

This morning I woke up. I knew the weekend was going to be a cold snap. When I checked the weather app on my phone, it read: "Wind Chill Advisory. From the National Weather Service. Wind chill advisory remains in effect from midnight tonight to 10 a.m. CST Sunday. Expect Wind chill values to range from 20 to 25 below zero between midnight and 10 a.m. Sunday. These cold wind chill values will cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes to exposed skin. Be sure to wear your hat and gloves." Awww, Mom…

Today, we've already hit our high of 24º. Presently, it's 16º, dropping to -1º tonight. Sunday's high is forecast at 9º, with a low of -5º. I think winter is really here. And now I've got to go out and do some shopping to stock up for at least the next week, as it's well below freezing for the next week (and the foreseeable future), and I want to hold up inside if things get too icky outside.

Snowflakes are falling lightly outside. Got to sign off and get to the store now.

I like winter, inconvenient though it is.