Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Letter

Neither Ellie nor I are fans of the annual Christmas letter, preferring to send cards with hand-written ( in fountain pen, of course ) notes. Our year, however, has been very untypical and we felt it deserved to be told as a story. I share our Christmas letter.

The end of 2015 is coming. Even without Pope Francis’s visit, his Family Synod, and ISIS’s terror, it has been an auspicious year for Ellie and me. It began with Ellie’s living full-time with our dearest friend Loretta, who had been battling cancer since her surgery in 2011. By last December it became evident that Loretta could no longer manage her meds. Ellie’s help, which had been frequent, became full-time. Little did we know what that would ultimately mean.

As Loretta’s ability to cope declined, I spent more time with them, retreating from more and more of my discretionary activities and many required household duties.

In home hospice from the beginning of the year, Loretta moved to the hospice facility on July 22. Although Loretta wanted to die at home, her pain forced her to the facility, where she died peacefully on August 10. Ellie was alone with her.

The experience has been both a blessing and a cross for everyone. Ellie and Loretta deepened their spiritual bond, I learned much about myself, and Loretta about letting herself be taken care of. There were many people who came to see Loretta at the Hospice facility. They came with so much love, neither the room nor Loretta could contain it. Their overflowing love blessed us.

We arranged the funeral and burial, putting into motion the plan the two of them had conceived. The funeral was beautiful, all Loretta, and included a champagne toast at the lunch. We buried her a week later in a columbarium at the St John’s Abbey cemetery. Fifteen people drove the eighty miles to participate in the ritual.

In spite of the difficulties, Ellie feels profoundly blessed and privileged by Loretta’s allowing her into her life and by the trust Loretta placed in her. That trust continues, as Ellie is Loretta’s Personal Representative ( i.e., executor ), so has charge of caring for the estate as well as the cats. These cats are two elderly, spoiled cats, which Ellie promised to take care of … and which have proven to keep her – and us – at Loretta’s. She continues to live there and I spend the huge bulk of my discretionary time with her there. Our plan is to adopt the cats as we bring closure to Loretta’s earthly life and as Ellie moves home. ( By the time you read this, she may be home. )

The estate project continues. Until that is further along, it will continue to “matter most” to both of us. Please pray for us as we will surely pray for you.

In spite of challenges and difficulties, we cling to the joy of the Gospel ( “All will be well; all will be well.” Julian of Norwich ) and wish you and yours a Christmas and Christmas Season that is Holy and joy-filled, and a 2016 that is filled with love, wonder and awe.


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Monday, December 21, 2015

Technical Difficulties

The other day, I casually browsed to this blog to find out what Walter had written.  What I found was a 404.  I could have started making snide comments about their technical support, but that person is me.  So, a bit of research, a chat session with my registrar, and it became obvious that the problem was my DNS.  One more chat session, and a technician admitted that they had lost some DNS entries.

I chatted with four of their people.  All had a picture of themselves up, and all happened to be hot chicks.  What are the odds?  The last young lady was able to put back some of the entries, and I was able to put back others.  The blog is back up, as you may have noticed.

But our email is another matter.  We chose Microsoft to manage it, for one very good reason; it was free.  Why do they manage personal domain email for free, when everyone else is charging?  They didn’t know either, and started charging soon after we signed up.  We were grandfather in though, which was good.  Until a week ago, that is.  The server information, needed to setup your DNS, can be found on the management page.  The management page is for paid customers only.

I don’t blame them.  I’d charge for my service too.  That does leave us with four options.  We could pay Microsoft, we could pay someone else, we could manage our own email, or we could give up.  It’s not worth paying for, to me.  Managing my own email is not something I’m interested in doing either.  Looks like it’s time to make a strategic retreat.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Time Off

I am taking some time off. 

Today's post is brief, next week I share something already written but I think will be of interest, and I am taking New Year's week off in its entirely. I urge each of you to do the same ( except for ... you know who you are ). 

Spend time with your family, your friends; be sure to tell you you love them. Because you do not because I told you to.

I wish each and every one of you joy-filled and holy Christmas and Christmas Season, and a 2016 that is filled with wonder and mystery.
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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bringing Wisdom to the Role of Will Executor

“I suppose you’d toss it; that’s your answer to everything.”

The work of finalizing our dear friend Loretta’s earthly life has been a tedious process. It has been tedious for me and I haven’t been the one doing it, for the most part. Ellie has been doing it and doing it ( I don’t mind saying so ) rather well. She has brought a level of wisdom to the procedure that I am sure I would not have had.

Loretta was nothing if not organized, and, boy, was she organized! Ellie has found many boxes with a handwritten comment on the side, purportedly describing what’s inside. And, viola!, that is what she found inside. And she has found things ranging from pictures of her trip to Greece, to slides ( yes, transparencies ) of her two trips to Israel, to undeveloped film canisters, to papers documenting some family
history … birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates and the like. Ellie’s found things with huge sentimental value to Loretta. These things strike an emotional chord for Ellie; but they are, ultimately, of no value to her. As mentioned previously, Loretta was a voracious reader; there have been enough books to both float a battleship and choke a horse.

We’ve taken over 50 pounds of paper to be shredded and I’m not sure we’re done. Ellie has carefully decided that each of the sheets is not worth saving. She has set aside a fairly significant number of pictures, planning to offer these to Loretta’s nephew. She has asked my opinion about something, I’ve given it, and she has accused me of insensitivity, “I suppose you’d toss it; that’s your answer to everything.” There is more truth in that than I’d like to admit, and it’s her willingness evaluate everything that marks the wisdom that I say she is bringing to this endeavor. I am almost certain I would not be doing that.

Organizationally, while there have not been glitches at every turn, there have been enough glitches to keep it “interesting.” Our attorney failed to send us copies of various communications mailed on our behalf. Different people at the financial institution that held Loretta’s investments gave us different answers to the same questions. The nephew who lives in Chicago decided he would take the care after initially declining it. When I called our Department of Motor Vehicles to see about transferring the title the answer was, “Talk to the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles, that’s where the car will be titled.” When I spoke to the Illinois department, she asked whether the nephew will have the necessary paperwork to drive the car to Illinois, “after all, it’s not his name on the title.”

Good things, too, have happened.

Communication with our attorney and the investment company is improved.

Loretta’s estate sale is scheduled for next month. A real estate agent recommended to us will be selling Loretta’s condominium after the estate sale.

About the cats, the friend of a friend of a friend of ours ( or , perhaps, the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of ours … I get confused ) is looking to replace a cat. Via this chain of friendship, or somehow, she heard about Loretta’s cats and we are in the process of exploring with her the possibility of her having them. We pray for a successful outcome there. Please pray with us.

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

My Spouse is still not Home

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I said, recently, that, after caring for our dear Loretta, burying her cremains, and staying to get her affairs in order, Ellie is coming home; I was excited. I was also premature.

The work to get ready for the estate sale, scheduled for mid-January and for which Ellie has to be out by the end of December, is still significant and both Ellie and I have found it advantageous for Ellie to stay at Loretta’s to be close to the work. Moving home and driving eight or so miles to the work, is both unappealing and a huge hassle. 

Of course, that’s not the whole story.

I also said in my prior post, “I will be sharing the space of which I have had exclusive (mis)use for over 10 months ... ” Consider that (mis)use. My belief is that it would not be unusual for a man, in my circumstances, to turn the place into what I would deem a pigsty. Used unwashed cups, plates and silverware are everywhere; clothes too; crumbs and other reminders  of meals past are on the floor; seat cushions are in disarray; dust bunnies are everywhere and dust is an inch or so thick on all horizontal surfaces.

Except for the dust issues, none of that is me. What is me, however, is paper almost everywhere. Office paper. The kind delivered  by the USPS. I collect these under numerous categories. One is, “Gee that was mailed to Ellie; she doesn’t need to see it now, but she should see it someday.” A pile begins. Another is information she and I should go over ... sometime. Pile 2 begins. An information packet that clearly has a home in my office in the basement; but I am upstairs and not going to the office right now, so I put it on the stove near the stairs to pick up next time I go that way. There are several subcategories like this, and so several piles accumulate on the stove. Another category is, “Yes, I really want to read this, but I don’t have time right now.” Anothert pile starts. I can’t keep track of all these piles, so I might start a second pile for a category for which I’ve already got a pile going. I have a serious tendency to do this to paper ( Ellie calls it a sickness; I cannot disagree much ) but Ellie would not put up with it. She’s not here, so there’s nobody to call me out.

I have not kept this a secret. Ellie knows I have work to do to make Ellie feel like something other than she’s moving from an estate project to moving to a fix-up project when she walks through the door. I want to do this and have not done very much yet. My excuse is that I am still spending a lot of time with Ellie at Loretta’s. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

A Time to Think of Giving Thanks

The Thanksgiving holiday is always a good time to take stock and recall what we're thankful for. The last time I did this publicly was two years ago; I shan't compare the two reflections. As I ponder the year, numerous events and people which inspire gratitude come to mind. Some events are horrific ones generating gratitude because I was not part of them.

I am thankful for:
  • Ellie, my sweetheart of a wife.

    I would hope the reason for this is obvious.

  • The downing of the Russian passenger aircraft, for which ISIS took responsibility ( and wanted, can you believe it, credit ).

    My gratitude is that neither I nor any of my loved ones were on that plane.

  • The visit of Pope Francis to the United States.

    I am grateful that he is the leader of my faith family.

  • The synod on the family that Pope Francis called and presided over.

    The specific outcome(s) of the Synod are not important; I am grateful for his calling for it, for his asking for input about it from the laity, and for his consistent message to the clergy in attendance: speak your mind, disagree if that what is on your mind, debate and disagreement are the marks of a church that is alive.

  • The many snippets ( sound bites if you will ) that Pope Francis has uttered ... and some of these precede this year The general tone is home-spun rather than intellectual wisdom, the kind most everyone can relate to. And it speaks of a church more interested in the people of the Church than the Church itself. A sampling:   
    • "Who am I to judge?"
    • "I see the church as a field hospital after battle."
    • "I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God ... "
    • "Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption:"
    • "It is harder to let ourselves be loved than it is to love."
  • The ISIS attack(s) in Paris

    While I certainly abhor both the attacks and the evil behind them, I am grateful they didn't happen here and that they didn't directly touch anyone that I know.

  • On a much more personal level, there are a number of 2015 events and people I encountered that inspire gratitude.
    • The retreat I went on just after Easter; it was a wonderful experience.
    • The fall that Ellie experienced while I was on retreat did nothing more than worry most everyone connected with it.
    • Ellie's moving in with Loretta to help care for her cancer ... I am grateful she was able to do that and proud of her for so doing
    • My ability to cope while Ellie was gone.
    • The extraordinary grace Loretta brought to her entire dying experience.
    • The friends of Loretta's who came to see her while she was in hospice and brought more than enough love to fill the room.
    • The staff at the Hospice who did so much to keep Loretta comfortable and welcome Ellie and everyone who came to visit Loretta
    • The staff at the Basilica who did so much to make Loretta's funeral and burial a celebration of her life.
There is much for each of us to be thankful for. Please do it. And please take a small amount of time at the end of every day to notice the beautiful things that happened and the people who touched your life that day.
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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Taking the Chill out of the Air

“Fire department!”

It's a brisk fall day. Ellie and I return to Loretta's after lunch, and she is chilled. She had spoken, half-heartily I thought, as if it's too early in the season, of having a fire in the fireplace. I seat myself at the dining room table. "I don't see the flu control," she says, "will you look?"

I come. I look. I fail. I am about to get on the floor and look for the handle up in the chimney.

"There it is," Ellie says, pointing at a lever that moves horizontally over the fire place door. I move it; we hear the flu change position. I return to my newspaper, Ellie lights the log and sits next to me at the table.

Soon ... "I can smell the fire," I say; "should that be?"

"It's ok."

I return my attention to the paper.

"Whoop whoop." Suddenly, a smoke detector is blaring. There are three smoke detectors within spitting distance of one another ( code requirement ) at the end of the hall ... one in each bedroom above the door, and one in the hall ceiling, inches from each door. I see no smoke, and I’m positive I need only to move a little air past the detector and we'll be home free. "Which one is it?" I wonder as I scoot down the hall. I find it and wave my rolled up newspaper at it; silence. "I knew it," I said to myself, "darn I'm good," and walked back to the table. Before I sit down it, or another detector, is blaring. "Well, rats," I say, and begin another trek down the hall.

Long story short, we are seeing the smoke that's setting off the detectors, I've exchanged my rolled up newspaper for twelve inch by twelve inch lid to a plastic litter box pail, I'm frantically waving it and I'm unable to silence the detector(s). We have to put out the fire. I douse it with water but this creates, of course, even more smoke.

We have all the windows open, one vertical fan left over from summer is running on high, and we're looking for another, smaller, fan to blow right on the alarm in the ceiling. ( This one seems to the one causing the most noise announcing: "smoke, fire, evacuate, evacuate" loud enough to drown out most commercial jets ). All the noise and/or commotion is bothering the cats, too; their high-pitched yowling is adding to it.

Suddenly, on the apartment door, Bang. Knock. Knock Bang Knock. "Fire department!"

Grateful they didn't break down the door, "Hi, I'm Walter."

Realizing there was no fire danger, they brought a huge fan to the outside doorway at the foot of the steps, and I immediately feel a cold draft from this fan. The lead fireman walks down the hall, saying, "The alarm will not shut off until the smoke is cleared," just before finding and using the kill switch on the detector. Silence. Golden silence.

The fireman determined the fire was, indeed, out, and, inspecting the fireplace, found the flu closed. Ellie and I had closed the flu immediately prior to lighting the log. Well ... no wonder, then

The fireman took Ellie's name for the report, told us there'd be no charge for the call, and we thanked him for coming as he left. Ellie and I, feeling weak-kneed and foolish, sat on the sofa, overwhelmed by thoughts of worst-case scenarios.
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Spouse is Coming Home Again

“They have to eat.”

Ellie is still living at Loretta’s ( for which I blame the cats ) and this is getting harder and harder. In addition to her wanting “just to be home” and my wanting the same, the actual caring for the cats is starting to wear on her. They eat ( and if  you know anything about cats you know that means she feeds them ) pretty much every three to four hours, 24x7. So, yes, even overnight they are yowling, meowing and expecting food.

I say, “They’re spoiled. You’ve done it.”

Ellie says, “They have to eat.”

Friends have urged us to consider putting them down … “They’ve lived a good life and you’d be sending them to Loretta,” goes the thought process. Neither Ellie nor I believe that’s a good idea. Even though we blanch at the idea of taking them home, and there don’t seem to be any viable alternatives on the horizon, both of us prefer that to putting them down.

We visited the cats’ veterinarian, who has four cats of her own ( and is hugely disinterested in adding two cats to that number ), to try to get a handle on some of this. “I keep my door closed at night or I wouldn’t get any sleep.” That pretty much sums up the meeting. Oh, in addition, “You’ve rewarded them for their behavior so changing that behavior will be difficult.”

On putting them down, this vet subscribes to the American Veterinarian Association’s position: she will not do euthanasia for convenience – which is how she would see this because the cats are healthy. Never mind that we received the cats accidentally and neither Ellie nor I have every actually had any cats of our own, or had a desire for same. Were we to take them home and things not be going well after two weeks or so, that would change the “for convenience” tag.

So … unless something quite unforeseen comes up very quickly, my life will soon change dramatically. I will be sharing the space of which I have had exclusive (mis)use for over 10 months with both my spouse ( finally ) and two cats ( yikes, really? ). This is clearly very good news with a dose of bad news mixed in. ( If you’re not sure which is which, you have clearly failed to pay attention. ) I’ll keep you posted.
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Returning to the Neighborhood

"It was good seeing you again!"

I previously mentioned that this summer brought the end of an era to my neighborhood card game. The traitorous couple ( said with the utmost in humor ) that moved to Arizona was in town recently, and the visit promised both a dinner involving all 4 couples and a 4-hour all-male card game. I looked forward to both as soon as I knew of them.

The dinner, held two houses from mine, was splendid. I enjoyed seeing the transplanted couple. The food was very good, the atmosphere warm and amiable. Ellie, still recovering from the exhaustion of caring for Loretta and in the throes if a nasty cold and worse cough, was not in attendance. Because of her absence, I told the story of Ellie, us and Loretta's cancer. It was the first time I told the whole story to this audience, ( We didn’t talk a great deal when playing cards – we’re four men, after all -- and Loretta had died after the breakup of the game.) and the wives knew only what their husbands might have told them, which I suspected wasn’t much. They were quite caring and understanding about the situation. Pre dinner talk moved to the topic of life in Arizona, the move and related things.

When we sat down to dinner, ( corn bread and wheat buns, both a green and a fruit salad, ham, scalloped potatoes ) the hostess, suggesting she'd make a care package for Ellie, asked if Ellie likes ham. 

"It's one of her favorites," I told her.

 "Wonderful. I'll package that up. Don't leave without it." As if I could.

The meal was wonderful; the conversation included many follow-up caring inquiries into our life of the last year and dealing with both Loretta's estate and caring for her cats. I went home with both a care package and a heart full of gladness for our caring neighbors. And, of course, an eager anticipation of the next day's card game.

The game was a reprise of our monthly competition. We drew for partners, our special option rule was in effect, and we were scheduled for four hours. The singular difference was we were playing during daylight. I drew the new Arizona resident for my partner, and that pleased me; we shared a level of communication I did not share with the others.

We got off to a bad start; before my chair was warm, we had played just two hands but lost our first game. Before I got up for my first serving of snacks, we were down three to nothing. Luck was against us; when we bid, bad things happened. When we bid nulo ( this is a hand in which the bidding team intends to take no tricks ), we'd find big cards in the middle, and small cards in the opposing team's hands. When bidding high, we'd find the opposite. Soon enough it was five or six to nothing.

My partner is a very rational man, but he got up and, for good luck, walked around his chair twice; naturally, that made no difference. Not being superstitious, I got up and, somewhat desperate, walked around the table. That was equally (in)effective. Finally, I changed the pen I was using to keep score. Almost immediately our luck changed.

But not that much. I would love to tell you we started making no-trump hands, and setting them when they bid ... but I'd be lying. Our luck did change, but not that dramatically, and the 4-hour game ended, mercifully, with the score 9-3 (or, 3-9 if my team's score is mentioned first). We got up from our seats and thanked our host. My neighbor went to pick up his wife to drive up north, and my partner and I went outside.

"It was good seeing you again!" we said practically simultaneously. We hugged--a little awkwardly. ( Well, I’m not actually sure we hugged, but if we did I am sure it was awkward. ) He climbed into the car he had borrowed from his son and drove off; I walked home.
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Saturday, October 31, 2015

And Where Have You Been?

My coauthor Walter recently took some time off of blogging for very good reasons.  I took that as an excuse to take some time off too.  That's a good reason.  Right?  Right?  Well, I did need to wander the Mojave Wasteland circa 2281.

I was a huge fan of Skyrim, logging hundreds of hours.  I knew it was built on the same engine as the Fallout games, but never really looked into them.  They appeared to be the same game, but with a less interesting setting.  Boy, was I wrong.

With all the hype about Fallout 4, I decided to spend the $10 on the previous game, Fallout New Vegas.  I was immediately surprised by the polish, and style.  The way they convey emotion and story with camera angles, and eye movement.  Even the way scenery was arranged told a story.  Then came the real shocker.  It came out before Skyrim.

Part of the explanation came from the fact that fans have created texture packs that I took advantage of.  The rest of it all comes down to game design.  I do enjoy urban fantasy stories, and there does seem to be some of that in the game.  The world has just enough fantasy to be interesting, but enough reality to be believable.  The world is fully flushed out with history and lore.  And it has something Skyrim never had; style.

A month later, and a couple dozen hours into a $10 game; I regret nothing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Never Though I'd Need to

The other day some friends and I, mostly kids, attended a "monkey show".  It stared a monkey, and a very different kind of animal I had never seen before.  I really was surprised.

I've talked about this before, but gender equality is important to me.  Some of the women I know don't believe that.  The fact is, I have seen more sexism directed against men than I have women, and I'll speak up for anyone being judged based on how they were born.

The show we saw was billed as "Monkey Business with Frankie the Monkey".  It was mostly a man doing some comedy, some magic, and a monkey doing a few tricks.  The jokes and magic were lame, and the trained monkey would have been more impressive if he didn't require a treat every few seconds to keep his attention.  But these things did entertain the kids, so I'd have to say that was successful enough.  What I do fault him for was his attitude towards gender.

He began by asking for volunteers.  A lot of hands went up; little hands.  Kids excited to see a monkey close up.  Then he clarified, "real tough guys".  Half the hands went down.  He made a big show of how he needed "boys" who were "manly", and "real tough guys"  He picked three, and then spent some time getting them to attest that they were in fact, "tough guys."  He had them take there seats again to recall during the volunteer portion of the show.

He eventually did recall them, and proceeded to scare them.  Now I'm not sure how I feel about that.  It didn't seem kind, but it can be fun to be scared, and I don't think he traumatized them or anything.  What appalled me is that, when the boys acted scared, he then told them they weren't very manly, and were, "acting like little girls."  At one point he even produced a pink ball cap to taunt the boys with very notion that one of them might be the owner of a *gasp* pink cap.

I had never seen such blatant negative sexism, and it was against women.  Suddenly all of the self proclaimed feminists would have a shining example to point to.  But no one was pointing.  I looked over at a friend who calls herself a feminist.  She was holding one of her little girls, and smiling.  What was happening?

When the show ended, I went off to her about it.  She didn't like it either, but didn't want to ruin the fun.  I got the impression she wasn't shocked because this sort of thing wasn't all that uncommon for her.  Is it that they see sexism everywhere, even where it isn't, and become desensitized?

I wrote an email, and got an immediate response.  A women in charge of customer service for the theme park they were performing at promised to print my email, and see what the handler had to say about it.  She promised me that is not the message they are trying to send to the children.  I was glad to finally find a voice of sanity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Go Lions

A lion kills a village, and no one cares.  A dentist kills a lion, and..  boy howdy.  The other day the subject came up, and a friend suggested that hunting the dentist would be only fare.  Someone has to say something.

I don't think it's wrong to kill an animal.  I wouldn't eat them if I did.  I personally wouldn't kill a lion, because I think they are too intelligent.  Clearly the dentist didn't agree.  Instead of blaming a man for doing something perfectly legal, maybe they should just make hunting lions illegal.  But there's only one problem.  You could save a loin, but put an end to lions.

Am I crazy?  If a human kills a lion, there'd be less lions.  How can lion hunters be good for lions?  A better question would be, 'What good are loins to people?'

Sure we like to look at them - behind glass.  We love the idea of them frolicking in their native habitat - somewhere far from here.  And from across the world, us Americans can pat ourselves on the back saying we speak up for the lions.  But what about the people who live next door to the lions?  How would you feel as a poor man in a poor country trying to raise a family next door to a loin?

For the people of Africa, lions are a liability.  Or at least they would be, if people like that american dentist weren't ready to pour thousands of dollars into their economy to hunt one.  A poor nation can afford to pay for parks, game wardens, and anti-poaching patrols with that money.

Mistakes were made in this case; apparently by hiring an unethical guide.  But let's not make a mistake of our own.  Most of the people talking about hunting the dentist are doing nothing for loins as a species.  The ones doing the vast majority of the work preserving large game for future generations are ones who hunt legally.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Still Batching It

"I blame the cats."

Loretta's death was over a month ago, and we buried her more than 3 weeks ago. Ellie is still staying at Loretta's, and I am still batching it. "How can this be?" you might ask. ( Perhaps not, but let's assume you do. )

A specific promise Ellie made to Loretta was to care for her cats ( whom Loretta dearly loved ... "love Loretta love her cats" was a saying that her friends understood to be more than just a cutsie saying ) and her thought was she would bring them home.

The cats had been with Loretta since they were kittens, virtually since birth. They are both elderly ( mid-teens ) and missing Loretta had caused them considerable stress. At the time of Loretta's death, they were already missing her for two plus weeks and neither Ellie nor I wanted to further stress them by so soon moving them to their new home. They were, after all, elderly, set in their ways, and spoiled practically rotten. That meant somebody ( Ellie ) had to stay with them, as they needed feeding much more frequently than anyone could manage who was not  living there.
( Ellie is the executor of Loretta's will, and staying there puts her much closer to the amazing amount of work that needs to be, also a positive. But that is another story. )

It did not take very long for Ellie to realize taking the cats home was not a good idea. There were good reasons, beyond my not particularly wanting them to move in with us, but those need not concern us here. This meant, however, that if we were serious about minimizing stress, which we were, we wanted to find a permanent home and then move them directly there.  A temporary move to our house presented them with too much stress in too short a time.

To make matters worse, we quickly discovered that none of our friends had an opening for two cats; we'd have to find temporary shelter for them, from which they would move to a full-time home. Even without taking them home first, we saw two moves in the immediate future for these two elderly, loveable, spoiled feline friends. We could not possibly take them home, introducing yet another move into their near future(s). This cemented Ellie's continuing to stay at Loretta's and my batching it for a while yet. We have since discovered that cat rescue places are also full, not currently taking cats. We're pondering our options while Ellie continues to live with the cats.

"You're still batching it?"

"Yup. I blame the cats."
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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The MN State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair has ended, but that's okay.  I've had my fill.  I was able to attend twice this year.  Most people will tell you that there's a lot to see and do at the fair, but don't listen to them.  The state fair is all about the food.  He are my high points.

1919 root beer
It's actually about the same price as you'd get in a restaurant.

Foot Long Hotdog
No, you can't get these just anywhere.  The fair has a few stands that are some kind of chain.  They just say, "Foot Long Hotdog" on the side.  They're the all beef ones with grilled onions.

Cheese Curds
The best can be found near the campers on Machinery Hill.  They have the crispiest shells, and they serve them with marinara.  You get a lot.

Fresh Lemonade
This can be found throughout the fair.  Or you could make it very easily at home, but you don't.

Deep Fried Candy Bar
It's at a booth that just says "Deep Fried Candy Bar" on it.  This is a name brand candy bar, there are a few to choose from, dipped in mini donut batter, deep fried, and rolled in powered sugar.

These are just a few of my favorites, and the list does go on.  The most amazing thing is, every one of them has zero calories...  Okay, I probably gained a pound in the last couple of weeks, but I'll do it again next year.  No regrets.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Odes to Loretta

I wrote several poems celebrating Loretta after her cancer diagnosis four years ago. I share two of them here.

A Life on the Brink

Senior citizen
Now retired
But always and ‘er
The teacher.

Any topic
Church, world, metaphysics
Any place
Hers, mine, a coffee shop.

Never preaching
Only talking.
Her very being
Enriches me.

Disease’s stricken her
Slowly taking energy
And vibrancy
Threatening life.

Days are fuller now
But shorter
Filled with hope about treatment
With prayer … brief activities … love.

Barbs as Good News

My friend had stabbing, debilitating back pain. Tough though she is, all she could do was hide from it by slumping in sleep in her living room chair. Movement from the kitchen table to that chair was slow, deliberate, and reminded me of the walking dead from the movie of years gone by. A visit to the Emergency Room surrounded by two nights resulted in a transformation that is hard to imagine and even harder to describe.

Sharp stabs of back pain,
She retreats to sleep to cope.
Her new barbs cheer me.
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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Diet vs Budget

I continue my journey to reduce the amount of food I get from restaurants.  I've easily cut it in half.  You could call that a success, although I imagine that most adults would have been able to get down to zero by now.  I continue to experiment in cooking.  As expected, all this "success" has lead to is an obvious change in my diet.  You might be thinking that less fast food is a great idea to lower my calorie intake, and increase my nutrition.  That's debatable.

I had found places like Chipotle and Subway to be great sources of fresh veggies on the go.  Now any vegetables need to be planned around.  They need to be eaten in a few days, or thrown away, which would completely defeat the point.

I think I'm active enough, and sweat enough, to not worry too much about salt.  When I cook I do consume less, and fast food is of course loaded with it.  Although I am getting most of my food from the grocery store now, it is mostly boxed dinner type stuff, and that's just as high.

As for calorie count, I can't say for certain, and that's part of the problem.  When I was eating from restaurants, I ordered from the menu, and ate it all on the spot.  There was little question to the amount of calories I ate.  Now I'd need to measure and weigh, and I'm just not.  It's not to say I can't, but it's a habit I have not yet formed.  I did just put a new battery in my food scale, and do want to find the motivation to start.

I will say my sugar intake seems to be down.  I had been eating dessert every day, and now it's about every other.  Mostly because the desert I find in grocery stores are not quite as tempting.  The amount of dessert I buy out is probably my biggest failure in my plan to eat out less though.

Then there's the biggest problem with this plan.  I have to choose when to stop.  Cereal is cheap, and relatively healthy, but there's nothing stopping me from eating four bowls at a time.  When eating out I bought one meal, and ate it.  Now I have to tell myself when the meal needs to end.  Even when cooking, it's just inefficient to make one serving at a time.

Dieting while preparing most of my own food is still pretty new to me, and I think I am making progress.  I'll keep you all informed of what I find.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Celebrating Loretta's Life

where have you been all of my life?

We celebrated Loretta’s life with a Catholic funeral Mass on August 15 – a fitting date as Catholics celebrate Mary’s assumption to heaven on that date and Loretta’s heart had a special place for Mary.

The funeral was, in many ways, typical: the urn with her cremains was stationed at a Marian altar during the visitation; a guest book rested on a podium next to a table, which table contained a picture of Loretta, a 16x20 inch photo she had given to Ellie and me for our wedding anniversary several years prior, and a basket for condolence cards; there were easels set up with picture boards, documenting Loretta’s look and life over the years.

In several important ways, though, this was an untypical funeral. Many people came to pay tribute. They came not to commiserate about Loretta’s death but to celebrate her life by talking with other people similarly touched. To pay tribute to a woman of incredible faith who had struggled to live well with her cancer. Loretta had never felt sorry for herself, was never mad at God, and came closest to complaining when she said, “I have my good days and my bad days.” She continued to end conversations with, “Let’s continue to pray for one another.”

The readings, readers, and music were chosen by Loretta; while they said goodbye, they also celebrated life. The Basilica pastor presided at the Mass, and praised Loretta as both a woman of the Church ( of course she didn’t like every decision made by the male hierarchy ) and a woman of faith, pointing out how the latter made the former possible. At the end of Mass, my wife, Ellie, spoke words of remembrance celebrating both Loretta’s life and her Lithuanian heritage.

LABAS. I thank you for coming and joining in this Celebration of Loretta's life. Loretta was a multi - faceted woman. However, the one facet of her, we all have in common, is knowing her as an incredible woman of Faith. She was deeply rooted in spiritually and lived her entire life under the umbrella of Scripture. She is indeed a Holy Woman and it has been an honor and a privilege to be her Friend.
Loretta lived to be 84 years of age. She was who she said she is ... A woman of faith, generosity, pride, dignity, moral standards and ethics.. I asked her once if she had any regrets in her life and with without pause she said ...NO regrets, What a model ...What a witness .... I believe she is in the Arms of God ... Her life of prayer and discernment has led her home. May we have the Grace to follow in her footprints.

I have only known Loretta for about 10 years. Yet, it seems like we had known each other for a life time. When we met, she said ... Ellie, where have you been all of my life? I looked at her .. smiled and... said "Loretta, and where have you been all of my life? What a Gift ... What an incredible Gift.
It has been an honor and a privilege to walk this Journey with her. I have met and felt surrounded by love from many of you ... Loretta's family, friends and colleagues..I am truly humbled!

She will be sorely missed by many and yet she will live in our hearts forever. And I believe we will see each other again ...and so for now I say ....
To you, my dear Lithuanian friend, .. ACHOO .... Thank you, my friend ... ACHOO!

(Bow at her Urn)

Approximately one hundred twenty five funeral attendees stayed for lunch. There were people from all over the area, all talking not about how they’d miss Loretta, but about how alive and alert she was and how encounters with her were life changing. We knew we’d miss her, but we celebrated her life.

While we celebrated, her cremains patiently awaited burial the following Saturday, another Catholic feast honoring Mary.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Adventures in Growing Up

When I became an adult, I got a job at a restaurant.  It paid very well if you consider the fact that I didn't have to buy food five days a week.  It was a great way to start out as an adult, and strike out on my own.  I never did continue to grow up.

I've been taking care of myself for almost fifteen years, and I've never really cooked for myself.  Sure, I've cooked for hundreds of others, but never for myself.  My last home didn't even have a kitchen, and it was never a down side.

Now it's 2015, I'm in my early 30's, and I cooked a thing.  I borrowed a mini crock pot.  I put two potatoes, a cup of chicken broth, some minced garlic, and two pork chops in it, and turned it on.  Eight hours later I had dinner.  In hind sight, I should have used more liquid, but it worked out just fine.  It was delicious.

The reason for this development is a desire to grow as a person.  Oh, and the money.  I've come to the conclusion that cars are expensive, and I really have no excuse to not have plenty of money.  I'm a single guy, with no large expenses, or drug habits.

As I write this from Mcdonald's, I do realize I have some work to do.  Next time I plan to try some spices.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Love in the Room Overflowed

Rest in peace, dear Loretta.
 As you know from her obituary, our dear friend Loretta died recently after four years of living with a cancer that her oncologist told her was not curable. She struggled mightily, but finally succumbed after seven months in home hospice and almost three weeks at the hospice home.

A large parade, perhaps menagerie, of people came to see Loretta there. A non-inclusive list includes a retired priest, a friend who had moved to Florida, the father of Loretta’s ten-year old God-daughter ( and sometimes the mother and sometime the ten-year old herself ), current pastor of a little French church in downtown St Paul, the director of the Department of Liturgy at the Basilica of St Mary, the mother of a female Chicago Police Officer ( both daughter and mother had been in RCIA at the Cathedral with Loretta ), and a middle-aged brother and sister who were born in Lithuania. Because we know Loretta, we know almost all of these people. The ones we didn’t know adopted us almost immediately. These friends brought so much love the room could not hold all of it. Their love overflowed to Ellie and me often and in varied ways, including: taking Ellie’s clothing home and laundering it; bringing food for our sustenance; offering to pray over Loretta with us; praying over Loretta and anointing her; offering to regularly keep vigil well after visiting hours so Ellie could get some sleep in the lounge on a much more comfortable sofa than was available in Loretta’s room; keeping watch so Ellie and I could have some time, which included going to Loretta’s to spend time with her cats. This so touched me it brought tears to my eyes and brings tears to my eyes still when I think of it.

We initially went to the home, we were thinking, for a couple to three days, to get Loretta’s pain under control. It soon became apparent that returning home, with Ellie caring for Loretta as she had been doing, was not viable. It became apparent even sooner, and this is not a knock, that although the place was very nice, it was a place. Loretta didn’t want to die in a place; she wanted to die at home. There’s a song, “You can’t always get what you want.” This want was going to be denied.

The staff at the home was wonderful, very caring, very hospitable, and able to figure out what both Loretta needed for pain control and we needed to be able to keep our watch. The social services person was a gem; the spiritual guide was a woman that both Loretta and Ellie knew from one of the parishes around town.

Ellie had lived with her for the last seven months of her life, stayed with her at the hospice home, and was with her when she died. They were alone. It was a fitting end to a life very well lived.
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Monday, August 17, 2015

The People vs Common Sense

In my search for a vehicle I came across a great deal.  I found a car know for reliability with a beautiful leather interior to match a classy exterior.  How could I afford it?  They were selling it for 30% below bluebook.  Now we wonder what's wrong with it.  We kind of need to know before buying it.  People don't just throw away thousands of dollars.  But that answer was simple.  It has flood damage.

Now I know next to nothing about cars.  I have little experience with mechanical things in general.  It really is just an experience thing.  When I've tried in the past, I've picked them up fast enough.  I feel like I can use common sense to get though this sort of thing.  When I apply common sense to this problem, it seems like a great deal.

I brought a friend, and sat in the car on a humid day.  We took a whiff.  We smelled nothing out of the ordinary.  Common sense tells me that if the cabin had been exposed to water for any length of time, we'd be smelling mildew and such.  Again, using common sense, that tells me that the electronics are probably fine since they are mostly in the cabin.

Now the engine is being replaced, and the electronics are probably fine.  It comes with a one month bumper to bumper warranty.  I don't see a lot of other things that can be expected to go wrong.  And if there is something else to worry about, what are the odds it would cost more than the thousands I'm saving?  Common sense says, "Buy this car."

But I don't actually know about cars.  Common sense has been leading people astray since the dawn of time.  I asked the experts, and they all say the same thing.  'Under no circumstances would anyone ever buy a flood damaged car at any price.'  Okay, I'm exaggerating, but that is the sentiment I got.  I actually hired a mechanic off of Fiverr to ask specifically about long term damage potential.  He would not buy it either.  He said that connections wear over time, and they will ware faster if they've been exposed to water.

Shorter replacement cycles on parts that will wear out anyways doesn't seem like a reason to pass up this deal, but I just can't bring myself to choose common sense over the experts.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rest in Peace, Dear Loretta

Javra, Loretta C., Obl SB
Born 7/24/1931 and died in St. Paul on 8/10/2015. Preceded in death by father, Bernard Javra; mother, PetroneIla Myra Chipas; stepfather, Anthony Chipas; brother, Leonard Javra: guardian, Petrika Rusteika; numerous relatives in Lithuania. Survived by nephew, Bernard Javra (Thao, Evan and Alexander) of Naperville, IL; also by numerous cousins in Lithuania and cousin, Stephen Soles (Florence. dec) of Chicago. Graduate degrees in theological studies in religious education, studied two summers at the Tantur Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem. A member of the Sisters of Casmir Chicago for 20 years before relocating to Minnesota in 1973 where she served as religious educator in the following parishes: Religious Education Center, Hastings: St. Rita, Cottage Grove: St. Leo (now Lumen Christi), St Paul; St Pascal Baylon, St Paul; MMCC, Burnsville; St Odilia, Shoreview: St Lawrence, Mpls; Cathedral of St Paul. In addition to working in the above churches, Loretta also taught classes in a number of parishes and institutions in the Twin Cities until her retirement in 2007. She also facilitated a local scripture study group of women in the Highland Park area from 1984-2014. She has been an Oblate of St Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, MN since 1999. Loretta traveled extensively to areas concerned with her religious ministries (Israel, and the other lands of the Bible). In addition, Loretta visited Lithuania, home of her parents and ancestors during the summers of 1994, 1995 and 2002. She loved the land of her ancestry and spoke her first language, Lithuanian, since her childhood. She and her brother learned English when they began elementary school in Chicago. She continued to speak, read and write Lithuanian all her life. She was a member of the Lithuanian American Community in Minnesota. Mass of Christian Burial 12 noon Sat., Aug. 15, 2015 at The Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St. Mpls, with gathering starting at 10 AM. Burial at St John's Abbey Cemetery, Collegeville, MN. on Saturday, Aug. 22, 11 AM, everybody welcome! Memorials preferred to Basilica Landmark, Our Lady of Peace Hospice, or the Lithuanian American Community in Minnesota.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Buying Time

Six months ago, I arrived back in the US after an extended vacation to my new home in a similar location to the one I had left the country from.  That is to say, the same old commute.  I was in no shape to improve that with a car, but spring was on it's way.  I am still here, but spring is long gone.  There are decisions to make.

Early in my stay here I got an indication that I might need to move again in the near future.  That is another option.  I could move close enough to have a more reasonable commute.  To make a long story short, I found a few places, but I just can't run out on my friends and landlords so quickly with just an indication.  And I do like having friends as neighbors.

So that brings me back to option one, a car.  A new car, new to me that is, can be a fun purchase.  Driving is a chore to me, so I can't say I feel that way.  I find it stressful.  I find just owning a car to be stressful.  Having the most expensive thing I own sitting out on the street sucks.  Then there's all the insurance, the fees, and the tickets.  I have no idea how someone who goes out of his way to try to follow all the rules has gotten so many tickets.

There are things to look forward to.  This time around I will have a garage, so that should help.  I plan to buy a car with less mileage than my previous cars, so that should cut down on surprise maintenance.  There has been a lot of that as well.  I will need to get a car loan for that, so it will mean more insurance though.

Then there are people.  Relying on a car to get to work is a less than ideal situation in my opinion.  Socially, you kind of have to.  You never really know where the you will want to be to hang out with friends and well wishers.  It will be nice to not have to explain that it's hard to get there.

And even though there are a lot of added costs with a car, there are some savings.  Public transit has a price.  Plus I always insist on paying for lunch if someone else is giving me a ride.  Even my own food will be cheaper.  I currently eat out a lot for convenience.  I spend so much time traveling, it's just a good time to do it.  Plus grocery shopping is such a chore without a car.

Which brings me to time.  Owning a car will literally save me hours a day.  I plan to wast most of that, but in funner ways.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cancer Advances

“Did you ever think it would come to this?”

In a prior post, I spoke about Ellie’s and my developing a friendship with Loretta, cancer striking Loretta and Loretta’s determination to live through the pain. Loretta’s pain recently skyrocketed, and she moved from home hospice care to in-patient hospice care.

After her herculean effort to come to the dining room at home, I sat with her at table. She kept your eyes closed, she said, because of the pain.

My breath catches in my chest as I consider this; my eyes swell with tears. It becomes hard to write; it becomes hard to see.

We are sitting on her bed at the hospice; “I never thought it would come to this. Did you ever think it would come to this?” Her question, directed to me.

“I always knew it was a possibility,” I responded carefully, “but, no, I didn’t think it would come to this so soon.”

Later, sitting in a chair, you dropped your chin to your chest, and I became frail and helpless and afraid.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Fake Space Navy PT

As I've stated before, I've joined the Honor Honor Harrington fan club, which is a pretend space navy.  I haven't attended many club events, but I've had fun at the ones I have.  With Convergence behind us, and the months of bridge building, PT has started up again.  The space navy may be pretend, but the pain is real.

I've never exercised as an adult.  I never exercised as a kid either, outside of gym class.  Sure, I've done things that involve getting exercise.  I actually walk quite a bit.  But I've never really tried to get exercise aside from a few pushups at the start of my day.

So what was I thinking going into my first physical training?  I thought I could do it.  My joins are good, and my muscles get some use everyday, if not strenuous use.  What I found should not be surprising.

We did it in sets.  Sets of squats, and different kinds of sprints.  We did five, then stretched a bit, then five more sets.  I kept up.  I was out of breath, but I'm still young, and minorly active.  Then we started jogging.

I did fine for the first block.  I made it the second and third.  Then I started power walking, and sprinting in spurts to catch up.  After about a half a mile I started the slow walk back on my own, the short way.

As I said, this was a renewal of the PT.  Most were out of practice.  Only one guy met me back at out beginning still jogging, and he is on active military duty.  I was not alone.

My take away from all this is that my endurance is low, and I don't want it to be.  I've decided to start jogging in the morning.  A couple times a week to begin, and see where it goes from there.  Currently my commute is long, and it really wouldn't add much time to my morning commute to replace one bus with a jog.

As always, I'll keep you informed.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dueling or Complementing Graduation Speeches?

A couple posts back, I posted my 26 sentence graduation speech spontaneously written in response to my summer writing instructor's suggestion. Another student read hers to the class and I was intrigued by the similariies. We are quite different: I drive a car, she bicycles; I am a retired techie, she is a teacher; we differ in gender and age; she is young enough, probably, to be my granddaughter. Our speeches, however, though differing significantly in word choice, strike a remarkably similar tone. Or so it seems to me. Thoughts?


ABC's of Advice 

Katie Murphy-Olsen's

A-Z Advice to a Graduate
Always be open to new ideas.
Be able to create your own situation, your own story.
Centaurs don’t actually exist, but serve useful roles in fiction.
Dinosaurs were the stars of Jurassic Park.
Every one of you has what you need to be successful in this world.
Decide who you want to be/what your person is.
Every time you have opportunity, chase your passion.
Fight the tendency to give in.
Give your best in all circumstances.
Have open eyes and ears and being.
Illuminate life for others.
Judge others not.
Kick yourself in the backside when tempted to give up.
Live for the moment.
Miss no opportunities to be kind.
Neglect no one.
Oppose the idea that there are groups, us and them.
Promote unity in everything.
Quit doing things and being with people who suck your energy.
Spend time with people and doing things that give you energy.
Together, with and in community, support and build up one another.
Unite your skills and your people.
Victimize nobody.
Whenever you have a win, celebrate it, no matter how small the win.
X – let it mark the spot you want to stand, and then stand there.
Y are you waiting for my permission to start?
Zoom out, now, and get going on your life!

Addressing this group is an honor.
Believe in yourself as much as I believe in you.
Can you see your beautiful future?
Dangle in the unknown-- in your academics, in your life, in your past.
Energy will carry your spirit to places you will find peace.
Friends--you and me--now will find places in your heart.
Growth mindset verses fixed mindset--grow!
eavens are looking at you. Heavens will your way.
believe in you.
ust remember you cheerleaders.
indness and love will be your guides.
earning it will be hard. Learning what you have done was hard. Learning and learning from from your strength.
otivation will follow and push you.
either right here or over there, we are in there.
btuse and acute are triangles of learning, balances and degrees.
ower and persistence and passion fit together in different ways for different reasons; each is needed, each is hope and each can be influential.
uietness will be helpful.
oughly figure out who you are and be mindful of growth.
tudy (the world). Sit (patiently). Secure (good people to you).
enacity will be a good partner.
nderstand you don't understand everything.
oice your opinion with grace.
hy? How?
enophobia will be all around.
ou are you.

Zigzag until you find what you're looking for.

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