Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old year, new year

Part of me wants to say good riddance to the old year, but I really don't want to rush things along too fast at this age. It's time to take down the holiday desecrations decorations and clean up the mess in anticipation of making another one. We will undress our 9-foot "Christmas" cactus and hope it survives the short days of another winter. Sorry for the picture quality, but you get the idea.

I got to do a few new things this year, like have major surgery (I wouldn't recommend it if you don't have to), and starting this thing, whatever it is/turns out to be. Some terrific bloggers stopped blogging, but some new ones have started. A lot of people died, but even more were born, and the planet is still turning on its axis. So while it seems there were a lot of new things going on, it's still the same old, same old on this tiny planet at the edge of our galaxy in an obscure corner of the universe. In our lifetimes the solar system has been pretty reliable and that is a good thing. Just before sunrise this morning it looked like this out the front door.
  Not much snow for this time of year, but it has been considerably warmer than what used to be "normal".

I am thinking about getting into some competitive napping when the activity level drops off during the day. The competition is tough, though (those words are almost the same) with a dozen cats. Here is what I am up against.
Of course, I have to clear off an area, probably on the sofa, to make a kitty-free zone for myself. I often meet with some resistance, but I am bigger than them, although outnumbered. I could send them to the window to watch the bird feeder. Someday I may start a network of cat entertainment channels which could be scenes out windows. I'll call it CATV. It will have to be a subscription channel as I have to make enough to keep the clowder fed. I better go warm up for the competition. I feel a yawn coming on. Gotta rest up for another year. I hope we all make it through. As Red Green says, "We're all in this together, I'm pullin' for ya."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Another holiday season is upon us and the days are starting to lengthen. Stitch has gone down to St.Paul to visit her family so we opened a couple of presents last night. We are saving the rest for when she gets back on Monday. We have an assortment of decorations on the nine foot high cactus in the living room as well as on our walls and windows. We didn't decorate our "moosemas tree" (moose antler) this year because of space issues, I guess. We don't bring in a tree from outside and stick it inside somewhere as we already track enough of the forest into the house. It would seem as though the only reason to bring an actual tree indoors would be for heat. If I feel the need for the smell of an evergreen I can just step outside and crumble some needles between my frozen fingers. That is if my nostrils haven't frozen shut. Normally I would only be slightly exaggerating the winter conditions, but this year has been unusually warm. Only two mornings below zero. I know the overall picture is bleak, but for my own selfish reasons global warming is a good thing.

I hope you all survive the holiday season intact and that you are aware of the good things in your lives. Whatever it is that you celebrate, I hope you have a joyous happy wonderful time. Not like Bevis the cat who has to put up with untold humiliation.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Real Locals and "Stitch"

Just up the road a piece and at the very edge of the U.S. is a Reservation. It is a beautiful area with thick forest, steep hills, and a beautiful shoreline with islands nearby. There is a casino that is the basic enterprise for the village of about 300 and it is the largest employer in the county. It is called Grand Portage. The Roomie (I need too come up with a better moniker for her) has worked there for six years. I worked there for most of a winter not too long ago. Many of the employees are from the other side of the border as are most of the gamblers. I don't get the gambling thing, but it is fascinating to watch. I worked closely with a couple of the locals whose families had been there for many generations and learned a lot about the culture and history of the village from a more intimate point of view.

I explained to my native friends that my ancestors came over to check out the continent about a thousand years ago. They thought it was nice, but it wasn't their home and they headed back across the sea. My family returned in 1947 to try it again. My brother and I are the only ones still here and we don't have any children. When we are gone this time I don't think the natives will notice.

So the Roomie needs a better moniker. How about Stitch as she does a lot to hold us together here. She has an amazing ability to fix things, but has the decency to seek my approval if the "fix" has anything to do with me. She is considerate in that way. Anyway, back when daylight saving time kicked in again she brought home a piece of paper from work that stated, "When told the reason for daylight savings time the Old Indian said, 'Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.' Free your mind and think". This is the kind of thinking that made Will Rogers (part Cherokee) so popular, well-liked, and understood.

This is Stitch steering one of the dragon boats at the annual races in the harbor.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Update and Solstice

Our little town is still unsettled, but the holiday activities will help it through. Two people are still in the hospital in Duluth, but they will eventually heal physically. The shooter is unlikely to ever see the light of day again and the courthouse, scene of the mayhem, will be reopened on Tuesday. We are not immune to senseless violence, but let's hope we never accept it as normal.

In less than a week we will be in the Winter Solstice, or as it is often referred to "the reason for the season." I don't know exactly how long humans have been aware of the exact date, but I am pretty sure it goes back at least 5000 years. I am not enough of a scholar to remember the dates of construction of Stonehenge, but the people (or aliens for all I know) that built it  (late neolithic or early bronze age) knew when the solstice was. We have a local pageant with theater, puppets, dance, and music to celebrate the return of the light. Christmas as we know it was starting to be celebrated about 1500 years ago at this time of year. Between other religions and old pagan celebrations we end up with a lot of things to celebrate at about this time of year. Everyone has their own beliefs and I certainly have mine (or not), but the return of the light excites me. I do suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and really like being outside on sunny days even with temperatures well below zero. I have to take care of the horses, anyway, so I will be outside. So the frantic pace of human activity at this time of year makes me think that to some extent everyone in the northern hemisphere is fighting off the effects of short days. 

Then my mind starts to wander. I think of hanging out in my cousin's back yard in Bergen....

or those summer projects I'd like to do (isn't that boat finished yet??)...
But then reality strikes and I realize that I just need to make the best of what I am doing now...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Office Christmas parties

Tomorrow night I have to go to the Cooker's "office" Christmas dinner party. The reason I put this in quotes is because it combines All the lawyers in the area. I think it is about 6 or 8.  Actually they are all pretty nice and basically decent people as are their minions staffs. One is even a fellow alumni (undergrad-small Lutheran Midwestern College on a hill). The biggest issue I will have is that we have to be there by six o'clock. I get off work at five, rush home, get cleaned up, and dressed properly (even clean undies - thank you for Margaret Day Murr) and to the resort restaurant by six. That gives me ten to fifteen minutes to turn myself from an honest working guy into a casually sophisticated, well read, confident gentleman who can schmooze with just about anyone about anything. They all know more about the law than I do (gawd, I hope so!), but there will only be a handful of other subjects that I won't be able to converse in intelligently. I have to drive so I won't be drinking any alcohol except maybe a beer with the main course. This means that most of them, except their drivers, will be getting more intelligent and talkative as the night goes on. At least in their viewpoint. Hey, it's a free meal and I might get a few good husband points for socializing with the county sharks. You never know when I might need one.

 UPDATE: There was a shooting at our courthouse today and the county attorney was shot as well as two others. The suspect is in custody. The Life Flight helicopter can't fly because of the weather so they took him to Duluth via ambulance. This is a small community and this sort of thing doesn't happen very often. When it does everyone is affected and we often know the people involved. Attorneys often get a bad rap or poked fun at, as above,  but they are as human as the rest of us and no more bullet proof. Do you know that in the U.S. there are 10,000 gun deaths each year? That is more than one every hour. Anyone can have one or get one and there seems to be an endless supply. The more there are the less people feel safe and then everyone feels they need one to protect themselves against all the others that have one and may flip out at any moment. It is a spiraling, self perpetuating nightmare with no end in sight. What is inherently wrong with our culture?
Needless to say there is no party tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Harry Chapin

My friend Kendra reminded me that I have had an earworm (song stuck in my head) for the last two days. It is Harry Chapin's "Taxi" from 1972. I didn't think it was that long ago, but he died 30 years ago. He was the kind of guy that burned the candle at both ends and gave away all his money. As a social activist, " "He saw hunger and poverty as an insult to America". For his work he received the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously in 1987.
Maybe writing about him and this song will be cathartic and the earworm will go away. I'm not sure I want it to leave just yet and miss the chance to hear it once more. Here is a link to a slightly faster version of the original, but very well done from all those years ago.

When the Cooker gets an earworm it is usually some misheard lyrics like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "There's a Bathroom on the Right", or Hendrix, "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy". Makes for some good humor.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Neighbors and life's celebrations

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. It was sunny AND above freezing! A rarity at this time of year. As I was putzing around in the garage I discovered that stretching is even a problem after a six week lay-off. Good grief! It's going to be a while before I can compete with John Henry as a steel drivin' man, unless you count  driving my 1995 Sable to work.

I think life's celebrations can be that cold slap in the face that we need to realize we are at a different stage of life. Birthdays when you are very young, parties as you age, graduations, sometimes followed by weddings and then last night it happened. Retirement parties! And she is younger than me! There have already been some funerals, but that'll be the next very regular thing. I am powerless to change any of it, so I will just gracefully accept it. NOT!

 Here are some of my closest neighbors.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Get back to work! (you goldbrick!)

This week i decided I had better get back to work. My pto was running low and I am feeling pretty good. I started out with a couple of 10 to 5 days and then jumped back into the old 8 to 5 routine. I survived intact and wasn't too tired so I am going to start doing some of the horse feeding and watering chores this weekend. I did give myself a precautionary warning yesterday morning however. I was lying on the sofa (a favorite position) when I reached down to pick up Orange Ruffy, an 8 pound cat. As I put him on my chest for a little pet and purr time, I felt a muscle tighten up in my neck. It was fine by the end of the day, but I take it as a sign not to be too anxious to get back to my normal routine. It's amazing how much physical ability you can lose in six weeks. Let that be a lesson to me!

Yesterday morning it was -4F (-20C) when I went to work. At least it wasn't windy. It hasn't been very cold up to this point and doesn't look like it will be until closer to Christmas. I didn't get to see the eclipse of the moon this morning because it clouded up overnight. Drat!

With the holidays coming I started to look into selling my hordes of gold. One class ring from 1969 (Brandywine Senior High School - go Bulldogs!) and a couple of miscellaneous pieces of yellow metal that I don't know what they are. For a fun research project (I am very curiosity driven. Have I mentioned that?) I thought I would figure out how much my pile is worth and see what all those hundreds, maybe thousands, of gold buyers would give me for it. Most of this week the market price has stayed up in the $1700 per troy ounce (31.1grams) region which makes me want to get out my gold pan when the creeks thaw out. HOWEVER, the gold boys, cash for your precious heirloom company, and their ilk (guaranteed best prices paid! yes-sirree!) tend to pay about HALF of the actual value of the metal. The brick and mortar stores say "don't mail to the other guys", and the mail guys say "don't go to those rip-off brick and mortar guys". They try and confuse people with words like "pennyweight" (1/20 of a Troy ounce or 24 grains, Troy ounce= 480 grains) and Troy weight. However, a gram is a gram is a gram, always, and it takes 31.1 grams for a Troy ounce. The purity of gold is measured in karats, 24k being pure gold, 18k being 75%, and 12k being 50% for example. The other purities are proportional So, a little arithmetic can go a long way when the rip-off artists gold buyers make you an offer. Most of the jewelers will give you a little more and if there are any stones involved they will give you something for them or you can have them back. The gold refiners will usually pay considerably more, as well, but they rarely deal with non-commercial interests like you and me. Also, most web information is self-promoting, not reliable, and it is very difficult to find a disinterested third party review. There you have it.

Time to go out and give the horses a snack and fill their tanks. Here is Draugen and his grand niece Beezer (I'll tell you the story of her name some other time) 
Here is a shot of a couple of Icelandic horses I met while in Iceland (a likely place to meet Icelandic horses).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Cooker and the Roomie went traveling today with a friend. It's an international shopping trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario. I don't know (and probably don't want to) what they do up there, but they obviously have a good time and come back tired carrying exotic Canadian goods. Maybe they'll bring me some Tim Horton donuts. This leaves me a day to call my own, so after making some pancakes and topping them with some locally brewed maple syrup, I took a quick trip to town. After stopping in at the Senior Center to buy some Christmas cookies in support of our local animal rescue organization I bought the local fish wrap (newspaper) to bring home and read. It promptly put me to sleep and into dreamland. When I woke up there were some images of my pre-adulthood floating around in my head and I thought I might share some of those images. This is the man who I named this blog after. He is in his mid forties in this shot.
 This is back in the mid sixties. Of course we all looked pretty good then. Even me!
 Ah, those days of summer past. I must have spent ten or twelve summers at the beach. I forgot to mention that this is on the Delaware Bay, just inside the Atlantic Ocean. So how many of you have actually met someone from Delaware? I spent the first eighteen years of my life there before heading for the center of the continent. I lost my accent pretty quickly so that I would blend in and the locals couldn't tell I was practically an alien. Although when people got to know me they did start to question my planet of origin. I still refuse to tell.

The people at the beach had a pretty good handle on the art of doing nothing. Of course, you must realize that one income was usually enough to take care of a family back then. Sometimes someone would pick up a seasonal or part time job to have a little "mad money", but it wasn't necessary for survival among the working class. Here is a typical weekend afternoon.
 Well it sounds like the girls are home so I better make up some story about all the things I got done while they were gone. I know they won't believe me, but why should they? They always appreciate a good story no matter how much embellishment occurs.