Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spring Song

I think spring is finally here. We haven't had a freezing temperature at night for over a week, and the days are reaching up into the mid- and upper-60s. The sun appears in the east around 6 a.m. or so and doesn't dip into the west until nearly 8 p.m.

We've had rains off and on over the last few weeks (even a couple of thunder claps, which send Patty shooting upstairs to hide under the bed), and the grass is getting scraggly enough that I'll have to seriously think about assembling the lawn mower. Also, I'd say it's fairly safe to put the snow thrower away until next fall.

Patty in the afternoon sun
Looking at the square footage of the driveway and walks versus that of the yards, I think it's about the same area I'll have to cover with the mower. There will be extra effort the first time around the yard, as the trash passers-by have tossed into the front yard over the winter will have to be collected. (The small stuff, I already did a once around picking up beer cans, tennis balls, fast-food wrappers and the like.)

I've had the house opened up on several occasions, but Patty doesn't seem interested in getting back into the window casements, staring at the outside world. When they stay open all day and night, I think she'll get back into the habit. By the end of fall, I'm sure she'll be slightly offended when the windows close up again for the winter.

She does have a wonderful time sun bathing in the living room, though. And with a plant growing in the window, she's sure to get that lovely afternoon sun, no matter how glaring it gets.

Homemade politics
We've had another election, this one for the city council. My new council member is Jessica Olson. I got one of her circulars in the mail and, once again, it encapsulates the reason I love it here in La Crosse. Instead of hiring a marketing firm to send out slick campaign materials, it was all done at the kitchen table.

You can see by the picture that the circular is handmade with construction paper and paper doilies, along with a photo of Jessica. A short letter outlining her positions was included. The envelope is hand addressed, and the stamp is licked and placed by hand. Even the return address sticker is hand applied. I'm glad she won.

The biggest news since my last entry is that my sister Kittie and her husband David are going with me to Paris for Le Salon Chocolat in October. We've got the plane tickets purchased, I rented a two-bedroom apartment in the Marais for us, and we're looking at what else to fill the week with, beyond the chocolate fair.

We just couldn't resist the temptation
David wants to see the Eiffel Tower. I want to hit some of the museums that I haven't made it to in my previous trips, and I'm trying to get them on an evening boat tour of the city. No one's really had time to pore over the information, as it's tax season for Kittie and David is very busy at work.

I do have time, so I'm online every couple days looking up potential eateries and orienting myself to this new neighborhood. I usually stay down by the Louvre in the 1st arrondisement, but I had a problem finding any decent apartments in that area, especially two-bedroom places.

The Marais is the gay district in Paris, although I didn't choose it for that reason. It was the cheapest two-bedroom apartment with double beds and a large soaking tub. It's also two short blocks from the Metro station and two short blocks to the Monoprix (think Target meets A&P). There are also many places that sell hamburgers, just in case we get a hankering for home. Also, there's a Starbuck's a couple blocks down the Rue Rivoli.

I've also coughed up some money to Rosetta Stone to brush up on my French. In Paris, just about anyone who deals with the public speaks English, but I'm going to be prepared at least to feel good about speaking with the natives if needed. I go to sleep every night with French swimming around in my head, which is a good sign, as I recall.

In a few weeks it's going to be warm enough to get started with spring cleaning. I really understand what that means now. After months and months of a closed-up house, Clearing everything out and polishing up the place is at least a necessity, if not a requirement.

As per usual these last few years, I waited until the last minute to do my taxes. They were fairly simple this year, so it took less than an hour, and I'm getting money back, which is nice. With my move to La Crosse happening in April, my car registration and insurance was due as well, followed by my homeowner's insurance in May.

So that's my post. I'm trying to keep up at least one a month. If my life ever gets exciting, their frequency might pick up. But I wouldn't count on it.

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.