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.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Waiting for Whiteout

National Weather Service: "Winter storm warning remains in effect until 6 a.m. CST Tuesday…Expect snow to develop around noon and then diminish around 6 a.m. Tuesday. The heaviest snowfall rates will occur between noon and 8 p.m. this evening. Total accumulations of 8 to 12 inches are expected. Look for significant reductions in visibility to as low as 1/4 mile…due to a combination of snow and blowing snow. Traffic will be very difficult to impossible…especially for the evening commute." Hot damn.

It's about 10:30 a.m. and I'm just kind of waiting. I called Mark at Eagle Eye to make sure I was on his list of properties they clear after a snow storm, since we had only talked about it when he was here last. He did have me down, so anytime there's a snowfall over 2 inches, he comes and clears it automatically.

I think winter is finally here. Daytime highs are in the mid- to upper-20s all this week, and lows on several nights are expected to dip into the single digits. And I'm really enjoying it. I'd forgotten how brisk and alive cold weather makes me feel.

A Swarm of celebrating Solbergs
Glen (lower right) oversees the present giving Xmas Eve.
Sister-in-law Pam has been taking care of me from a distance. She brought over an old heavy coat of Steve's for me to wear until I get one of my own. She also brought over some loaner gloves for me, though I haven't used them yet.

Speaking of Christmas, it has come and gone. Christmas Eve was held at the house in Ettrick. It was pretty much a Solberg event, and there are lots of them! Pater familias  Glen proudly says, "Six kids, ten grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren." Glen's recovering from a stay in hospital, and I could tell that having the kids around really lifted his heart, though they did wear him out over the course of the evening.

Most of the gifts were for the kids, who really did a great job staying civil and polite with all those new toys.

After the kids finish opening their presents, the adults have a Chinese Auction, where everyone brings a gift. Numbers are chosen from a hat; number 1 picks a gift. Number 2 can pick another gift or they can "steal" the gift number 1 opened. Number 3 can choose a present or "steal" from 1 or 2. After being stolen twice, a gift becomes unstealable. And so it goes until all presents are disbursed.

It's not such a bad little tree.
After everything's been unwrapped and all the stealing has occurred, you can always negotiate with someone. I swapped my gift for one Emily had gotten (Amanda picked it as her proxy, since Emily and Jim had to leave to go to another gathering). So I swapped with Emily and ended up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree (from the TV special) with one red ornament. It speaks to me.

Christmas Day and Saturday I spent at home, watching all the Christmas programming that I've been recording on the DVR: The Simpsons Christmas specials, South Park Christmas specials, and a number of films ("The Bishop's Wife," "Miracle on 34th St." "A Christmas Carol," etc.). Spent some time missing family and weeping over loss. Not a lot of time, though.

I'm finding that letting out a minute or two of weepy sadness will vastly improve my frame of mind for the next couple days. If I sit on the grief, it can ruin a whole week or more and send me into spirals. So crying is like an emotional laxative for me, a real soul movement, keeping things regular.

Sunday, the McDougal branch of the family reassembled in Ettrick for yet another Christmas celebration, this time exchanging gifts with the immediate family. Ettrick had gotten some snow (in La Crosse it had been misty rain), and there was ice on the road in front of their house, so I spent some time practicing turning and sliding the car on the ice before I parked. It felt very familiar from my years in Alaska, and I realized the skills were still there, just needing to be reawakened and honed.

Being my first holiday gift giving here, I stayed safe and got people gift cards to Menard's (Pam's and Avis' favorite store), which is Wisconsin's version of Home Depot (only much nicer, with almost anything you could think of under one roof). Pam gave me a pair of gloves, which is nice, because I my hands were freezing for most of the drive out there (30 miles). I also got a blanket for the car, which joins the ice scraper that Amanda gave me as a welcome present back in April. I already had the car winterized back in November, so I think I'm ready to go.

•  •  •  •  •

I just checked the Doppler radar on my phone, and the wall of snow is almost here. I'm snug in my house, waiting to watch this all unfold, wondering what Patty's reaction will be.

Speaking of Patty, she got a Christmas gift as well. It's a stocking that says "Santa's Favorite Cat" (now she has one to hang on the mantle). Inside were with three tiny fleece pillows filled with catnip. I left the pillows inside the stocking so she wouldn't lose them under the sofa. She loves her present and has been drooling and squirming over it, attacking it. I don't think I've seen her this worked up since we moved in.

•  •  •  •  •

I look up at the window and tiny snowflakes are drifting through the air, already accumulating on the ground and rooftops. The car is safely stowed in the garage, so I can avoid scraping and sweeping snow the next time I want to go out. But I've got all the provisions I need for the next several days, and plan to watch this all from my place here near the fire.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Yes, it's the Christmas blog entry, with the traditional opening and closing videos for your enjoyment.

It's been two months since I put anything down here. I've been in some dark, reflective spaces during that time, all of them relating to Steve's death and two years of transitions. One of the reasons I took a year off from work was to have this time to do this mourning, beyond my physical relocation. And I've been doing a lot of it since the anniversary of Steve's death.

Natalie likes to build forts on the sectional.
I also realized well over a year ago that people just really don't want to be around that. They have genuine concern, but it is evident immediately that personal mourning is not something you can pass around and share with others. It's something you wade through on your own. So there are good days when things get done and there are bad days when I ponder my own mortality and wonder how much time I've got left in this new home.

But no matter how dark I get, I haven't gotten anywhere near suicidal, which is something mourning tends to bring up. No, I don't want to go away. I want this transition phase to be over. And I think that the New Year will bring that, especially when I pay my first year of taxes on the house.

Halloween gala costume winners
The weather has been  unbelievably mild, with highs in the upper 30s to mid-40s. Evening clouds keep the heat in, and it has rarely dropped below freezing at night. There was one period of a few days when the highs were in the upper 20s and it dropped into the teens at night. We got an inch or so of snow which stuck for a couple days, then melted with the next warmup. By all accounts, we will not have a white Christmas this year. In fact, the high is supposed to be 38º. We may get sleet and rain on Boxing Day.

Halloween, I attended the Center's Gala. I went as a trivia quiz, with 20 cards pinned to my shirt. Each had a famous quote from a horror movie, with the name of the movie on the back of the card (like "Heeere's Johnny!", which is from "The Shining"). It took some coaxing to get folks to open the cards, many saying, "I don't really watch horror films." The winners of the costume contest are shown above. There was also a Tippi Hedren in a green tweed suit with stuffed crows attacking her.

The Solberg cousins
In November I started my dental work, which is going to be a long haul. Also, we put together the first newsletter for the Center, which got published last week. We're doing it all pretty much by e-mail, so there's not a lot of personal interaction involved. The final product looked pretty good, considering, and I'm sure we'll be getting the routine down in the new year.

Final ornaments for the tree
Thanksgiving was with the Solberg clan, and it was a very casual affair, with just about everyone in attendance. There was a downstairs family room space (where the photo of the cousins was taken) where the kids could escape. Slowly, I am becoming a quantity to the Solbergs, all of whom I'm not sure I've met.

A fireplace for the stockings
The Saturday after Thanksgiving I invited everyone over to help me put up Christmas decorations. It's been three years since I last decorated for the holidays: In 2012, Steve and I spent Christmas in Eureka. In 2013, Steve had just died and I wasn't feeling festive. In 2014, I was getting the house ready for sale, so the decorations stayed put.

Dining room tree(s)
In December I fully realized that I was in the midst of the Holidays and, as I have always said, "'Tis the season to be dealt with." I promised myself that, beyond getting the holidays up at home, I wasn't going to force holiday cheer if it wasn't spontaneous. One of the things I did want to do was go down to Riverside Park and see the Rotary Lights.

Steve and Pam stopped by the first Friday of December and we had Pizza Night at my place. Afterwards, we went down and checked out the lights. We walked through the park looking at the lights, but they also have a drive-through set up so you can circumvent the park in comfort. Of course, those in vehicles didn't have a chance to stop and purchase some hot chocolate.

Entry for drive through

The sidewalk is Christmas Tree Lane

A geodesic igloo? Sure.
The evening was one of those nippy ones, and Pam brought an extra heavy coat for me, since I haven't gotten around to purchasing one in all this mild weather.

We walked in from the south, along the sidewalk, and all the park trees were festooned with lights. We were a block away and already feeling festive. We crossed the street into the park, which was ablaze with displays and scores and scores of small Christmas trees sponsored by various organizations in town.

Some displays were high tech, some were simple and obviously homespun. All of them were impressive. We circumvented about two-thirds of the park when we stopped in to have a cup of cocoa and warm up in the "warming tent" provided.

We completed our trek around the park, heading along the river side of the park. There was one animated display which I really liked. A flying saucer appears in the trees with Santa standing below with a present. A beam emits from the saucer, an alien beams down and receives the package from Santa. It's kind of blurry with all the other lights around competing, but the video's worth a look.


Finally, we walked back to the car, and Pam and Steve dropped me off at home before heading back to Ettrick.

On attempting to get a full list of siblings from Pam, she explained the family doesn't give everyone gifts. They have a white elephant Christmas gift exchange. So I really only have to worry about the immediate family.

Yes, you guessed it: I haven't even started shopping. However, I know what I'm getting each person, so that will make it easier. And I plan to hit two, maybe three stores, so it shouldn't get too hectic. And knowing that I won't be driving home in the snow from Ettrick is a plus.

So, for the first time in decades, New Year's resolutions are foremost in my mind. I am ready to put all this upheaval and change behind me, get on with life in La Crosse, and make something meaningful happen for me, especially on the work front. After all, getting someone to hire me would be far simpler than setting up the business again. Either could happen; I've given up crystal balls.

I hope this finds you well and happy, and that your holiday season is filled with joy. I close with one of my favorite Christmas cartoons from childhood (or before).