Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How did I Spend my Week, Anyway?

“Have you posted, yet?” came the accusatory question.

It’s Friday; no, I have not posted. I’m at least two days late; perhaps three. And I still don’t have anything ready to go. ( Well, yes, I have three drafts …  ) How has my life gotten this way? Let’s look.

Each day this week has had events take up large blocks of time, leaving mostly small blocks for other activities. I am not good at writing blog articles in small units of time.


I meet two friends at 11:00 for a picnic lunch. I do my morning rituals, skip my Basilica work, rush to get my lunch together, and arrive at the chosen spot barely in time. We break up around 2:00; Benjamin and I play a game of Go ( which I win … ); we stop at a Print Shop. As we’re negotiating here, my wife calls; we’re each 15 miles from home, but close to one another. “Care to grab a bite of supper and then go shopping for a printer?” she asks. At supper she gets a call requiring immediate attention, so we part ways after supper. At home, I disassemble a Japanese fountain pen … please let it suffice to say I spent the bulk of the evening with this project. I did write; nothing blog-worthy.

I do my weekly Basilica inspection. I write my weekly report and submit it. I have lunch. Yielding to my addiction to fountain pens, I spent some time with two Japanese pens I’ve owned for a while and which I had
( nearly ) given up on. I did write for ten minutes ( minimum writing
goal ), but produced nothing blog-worthy. I went to my weekly singing lesson. Ellie and I watched the news when I returned, then did the shopping we were going to do Monday, purchased a printer and spent the remainder of the evening getting it running.
This is the day I work with my friend on genealogy, and I leave the house around 8:15. This day I return earlier than usual; but it’s because my wife and I are going out with our son and daughter-in-law. There is little time between getting home and leaving for dinner. We get home late and while I have time for my daily writing, it’s not blog material.

OK, here I made choices. I took a walk ( doctor’s orders ) in the morning and did some work associated with a volunteer job at the Basilica. In the late afternoon a good friend, my wife, and I went to Mass, then out for a bite to eat, and a quick stop at a grocery store. I did my daily writing, but created no blog-quality material.

Here again I chose to walk. I did some laundry. Then I accompanied my wife to a significant Dr Appointment. Upon returning, we had a little time to get ready to go out with dear friends to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. This celebration is a 14-year tradition I am committed to. My writing this day was starting the piece you’re reading. I did find some time, between the Dr appointment and the anniversary celebration, to work on the three drafts mentioned in paragraph one.

So … It’s official. I don’t have time to write a blog. I promise to turn over a new leaf.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Attache Case

"I'll call 911!"

"This is the emergency telephone service; how can I help you?"

"I just found, in the front yard of my house, between the bushes and the house, what appears to be a kids' attaché case, which contains a balance beam scale, … "

So began a brief and quite bizarre episode in the life of this homeowner and his wife. I had been mowing the lawn and noticed, behind the bushes in the front of the house, a small, pink, attaché case. The bushes were low dense evergreens and nobody would have spotted it from the public sidewalk running in front of the house. I did because I was looking in from the side, behind the bushes.

This is a youngster's attaché case … we don't have children living at home and there are none in the immediate vicinity of our house; strange, indeed. I went behind the bushes, got the case, and took it to the back door; "Honey," I called to my wife, "come see what I found."

She came and gave me a rather funny look, as if to say, "So? Where did you get that?"

"I found it behind the bushes in front of the house," I said.

"In front of our house?" she asked, still seeming puzzled.

"Yes, our house. Stashed, as it were, behind the bushes."

This seemed to pique her attention. "Hmm. What's in it?"

"Don't know; let's look."

"Duh, good idea."

We went to a table on our porch and opened the case. Much to our surprise we failed to find "business papers" of any kind. We did find numerous small zip lock plastic bags, several of which were full or nearly full of some sort of white powdery substance. And a balance beam. Crude, but a working balance beam. "Some kids were playing druggie," Ellie said.

"I doubt it," I replied. My knees were feeling a little weak and my stomach began twitching just a little. "I'll bet … ," and, "I wonder … ," and, "Who might … " came out of my mouth, under my breath, almost inaudible.

"What?" she asked.

"I'll call 911," finally.

After hearing what I'd found the 911 operator took my contact information and said she'd send someone. Moments later ( or so it seemed ) a clearly marked city police cruiser pulled onto our parking slab … strangely having come in the alley, approaching our property from the rear. A uniformed cop ( I use that word with utmost respect ) got out of the car; "Whatcha got?"

I showed him the case, describing how I'd found it and where; he put it on the hood of the car, opened it, sighed a little, noted the balance beam scale, wet the tip of his forefinger with his tongue, touched the powder in one of the bags, and put a small amount of the powder to his lips and tongue. ( "They tell us we're not supposed to do this." ) "Drugs," he said. "I'll take this whole thing to the station."

He wrote a case number on a business card and gave me the card, suggesting, "You might want to know what happened to this; call 911 and ask." With that he took the now closed case, got into the cruiser, backed off the parking slab and zoomed away.

"Well," I said to Ellie, "that sure happened fast. I blinked and he was here and I blinked again and he was gone."

"Was he actually here?"

I waved the business card he left; "Yes, he was here. His name is Officer Tripp."

As we told this story to family and friends we became more and more curious. "You sure he didn't just take off to ( for example, Tahiti )?" was a common reaction.

Our inability to be sure was unsettling. This feeling was only to grow.

I had not planned to follow up, but the kinds of questions asked when telling this story ( Full Disclosure: our own curiosity was involved here. ) pushed me. 

"This is the emergency telephone service; how can I help you?"

I gave her my name. "I'm following up on a call I made last weekend. The officer you dispatched gave us his card with the case number on it and invited us to follow up."

The emergency dispatcher had only two problems: there was no record of the case number Officer Tripp left with us; there is no Officer Tripp on the staff of the city's police department.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, August 18, 2014

Artistic Attempt, Take Four

In my quest to find an artistic talent i have tried music, writing, and drawing.  I found i can be a lack luster writer with no additional practice needed, so it is something i should stick with.  Drawing is doable, and worth the effort.  Music turned out to be something i have no natural talent at.

My newest effort is sculpting.  I did a little in high school, and remembered it coming naturally to me.  Looking back, i don't know why i didn't stick with it.  Recently i met some people at Convergence who are into Ball Jointed Dolls.  None of them made them, but they did make clothes, and accessories.  It is also popular for them to customize commercially available dolls by repainting and doing minor sculpting with fine sandpaper.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mentoring, No Testosterone, FollowUp

The meeting begins: “Please tell us who you are and why you’re here.” She starts the short way to me around the table. Very quickly it’s my turn.

“As I said in my blog, …, I began — having no idea I was going to share this — and I spoke of my testosterone laced imaginings of being a big brother, my “Big Brother without the Testosterone” take on this mentoring, and the tightness of my stomach thinking of trying to mentor someone with the wisdom to survive being homeless. Nobody laughed – well, there was a chuckle, or maybe two, but it was clear they were laughing with me.

As the leader spoke more about the program, and we progressed through the rather good hand-out she had prepared, a couple of things emerged for me.

This is not yet a Basilica program; it’s an initiative, an idea and a vision that will have to grow flesh and blood.

The other thing that occurred to me is that the people who would provide the leadership for that growth were in the room with me. ( And I did not feel myself called to be one of them. )

The hand-out included kind of a best-practices list of things that work for a mentoring program. As we worked through the list, additional items of clarity emerged.

Mentoring is about establishing a trusting relationship with the person being mentored ( not about teaching skills ).

The trusting relationship is about meeting the needs of the person being mentored ( not about meeting the needs of the mentor ).

The needs of the person being mentored might be any of a number of needs across a wide range of possibilities, including career, employability skills, and academic success.
It occurred to me that, “I can do this.” In a structured environment I can establish a relationship with just about anyone … it’s only in a quasi-social setting that I’m toast I have trouble navigating the waters.

In my excitement, as she was obtaining our availability to attend training sessions, I failed to look at my calendar and forgot about my just-committed-to Monday writing class. I thus didn't mention I'm not available Monday evenings. Monday is a good night for the most people, so the Mentoring Training sessions will be held on Mondays.

Later, as I begin putting those training sessions in my calendar, I see the writing class, previously entered. With much embarrassment and an enormous strain on my integrity, I prepare an email. My time as a mentor will be on indefinite hold.

If you would like to comment but don’t care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Reflections on Smart Phones

I was once seated at a restaurant next to an older couple.  They ate their dinner in silence, as though the other was not there.  They apparently had noting to say to one another.

This is what came to mind when my co-author Walter recently wrote about the reflections on a smart phone.  It never occurred to me that a couple seeing each other for the first time in who-knows-how-long would know that nothing life changing has happened in the interim.  If it had, he or she would have texted.

Perhaps the reason my experiences differ is because i move through life more independently.  I do not begrudge the anticipation lost by having my curiosity satisfied more often, and can't imagine doing so.  It may be a failure of imagination on my part.

When smart phones first became available i wanted one.  I did have a good reason: it was new and shinny.  I did not buy one, but i did buy an ipod touch to complement my dumb phone, and later complemented the pair with a 4G hot spot.  It was economical, and the three devices provided me with much of the same functionality.  Now that prices have come down enough to get a cell plan with voice, text, and data for $30, i finally upgraded to a smart phone a year ago.

I remember the days when i often didn't know something, and had to accept that the answer was not within reach, and wouldn't be any time soon.  Those days are behind most of us.  When i was young, less than 1% of the world's population owned a computer.  Now more than 90% have one in our pockets.  The impact of that will be profound and unpredictable.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Radicalization OR How I came to Mistrust Authority

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

It’s third grade, a Catholic school in Milwaukee. A spelling bee is occurring. Team A is lined up in the front of the room and Team B along the windows at the side.

“Tom. Broccoli.”

“Broccoli. b  …  r  …  o  …  c  …  c  …  o  …  l  …  i. Broccoli”

“That is correct. Very good.”

“Yes!” I say, as I throw my arms in the air, jump a little, and my hair goes up and comes back down on the top of my head. The constant jumping up and down when my side correctly spells a word is taking a toll on my appearance: the hem of my neatly tucked in flannel shirt is becoming more and more visible. And I am perspiring. But I don’t care; we continue to spell most of the words correctly; it is close, but we are winning.

My team is B, in front of the frosted windows which separate the classroom from the cold and a lot of snow. We’re playing for the right to an outdoor recess and the competition is intense. It’s been a long, hard winter; recesses have been indoors, as there has been a great deal of snow and temperatures have been dangerously cold. Everyone is longing to go outside, even if all bundled up and just for a walk around the playground. The members of the team that wins this spelling bee will have an opportunity to do so before the members of the other team.

As kids miss their word, they have to sit down, open their spelling books, and write out each word in the six lessons covered by this spelling bee ten times. I notice that several of these students are sitting right in front of members of my team. And that it is likely that my teammates are able to review the spelling words in real time. And that it is even possible that a spelling book would be open to a lesson containing the word one of us is supposed to spell in the competition.

“Fred. Seasick.”

“Seasick. s  …  e  …  a  …  s  …  i  …  c  …  k. Seasick.”

I am struck sort of numb by this possibility; if this situation is actually benefiting anyone, it’s clearly my team, and I don’t think we should have this benefit. I doubt I can resist the temptation to look at the book if I have trouble with a word when my turn comes. Being a ‘goody-too-shoes’, I think I need to tell the teacher about this unfair advantage.  Thinking about how grateful she will be, I get almost as excited about telling her about this as I do about our side
spelling a word correctly.

“Walter. Puzzled.”

In my excited fantasizing, I don’t hear my name.

“Walter? … Puzzled.”

I recover, “Puzzled. p  …  u  …  z  …  z  …  l  …  e  …  d. Sister, …” I want to tell her about the possible advantage my team has.

“You know the format, Walter. Say the word, spell the word, say the word again. You didn’t follow the format, so you missed, sit down.”

“But … ” I sputter.

Her glare would’ve frozen the Great Salt Lake. I sit.

As I stew in the juices of this plainly unjust expulsion from the competition, I realize something unsettling is happening to me. The rigid application of the rules ( I am no troublemaker; she knows she doesn’t have to rigidly apply the rules to keep me from making trouble. ) changes both my attitude and my feelings about my teacher. Not realizing I'm losing my innocence, I do slowly realize I will never completely trust either her or her authority again.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, August 4, 2014

How to Feed Myself - #2

My adventures in dieting continue.  I started it with two questions: 'Can i do it?' and, 'Should i?'

The first i already answered in my last post on the subject.  It's a definite 'Yes'.  To date, i've lost ten pounds in a little less than ten weeks, and i'm on the last notch of my belt.