Saturday, September 24, 2022

News and Updates

1. It’s actually autumn here in Baja Canada, by both the calendar and the weather. I’m good with that. Summer only gets romanticized because for the first two decades of most Americans’ lives it’s the one part of the year when they have unstructured time to spend how they like, but the weather itself is miserable. Bring on the crisp nights and the cool breezes and the grey skies, I say.

2. We went up to see Lauren and Maxim last night, dropping off Maxim’s bookcase on the way and then finding a nice dinner right by campus. I’d never been to a Brazilian steakhouse before. There’s a salad bar full of lovely stuff that you can help yourself to at any time, and then there’s meat that they bring around, and that’s pretty much the set up. There is no menu. You just sit there with a large piece of wood on the table that has one end painted red and the other end painted green and if you turn it so the green end is up someone comes by with a skewer full of tasties – steak, pork, chicken, and in one case grilled pineapple – and slices some off for you and if you don’t do anything after that more people come by with more skewers. Eventually you turn the wooden thing over to red and they stop coming for a while. And then the cycle repeats. It was a very nice experience, yes indeed, though I suspect not one I will repeat frequently.

3. Tonight we will go over to a fundraiser dinner at the local historical society where Oliver is working, and I suspect I will be there with some of the kind of community leaders that I don’t get to see in person very often even if this is a fairly small town. Look at me, ‘obnobbin’ wi’ the upper crust! Well, it’s for a good cause, and somebody has to paper the house.

4. While I’m on the subject of food, I was very happy to notice last week that my local grocery store here in southern Wisconsin carries chinotto! It’s right there in the weird soda aisle, waiting for me to place my greedy paws on a four-pack and toss it into my cart! That store carries almost everything. Life is good.

5. I’m nearly completed the project I was supposed to have completed on August 31 and it will be an entirely frabjous day when that happens. I may celebrate irresponsibly if I can remember how to do that. At least I’ll sleep better, which at this point of my life is a celebration in itself.

6. My life is a constant whiplash between the fact that my everyday experiences are perfectly fine and yet the broader culture and society in which I live seems to have landed squarely in The Worst Possible Timeline. I have a lovely family, good friends, a job that I generally like with colleagues I enjoy talking with, a house full of books and tea, and at least at present no major health issues that I am aware of, and yet the prelude to WWIII is happening in Ukraine, the planet is melting down, and unapologetic Fascists have taken over one of the only two major political parties this country has and 46% of Americans are perfectly fine with that as we barrel toward what may well be the one of the last free elections in American history. Truly these are interesting times.

7. We are all held hostage by delusions of madmen.

8. So there is a story about a mermaid who can sing and dance, one where she and the other main characters break out into song at just the strangest times, accompanied by full, unseen orchestras. You might have seen it. Her best friends are a crab with a Jamaican accent, a flounder, and a seagull with bad hair whose main function in the story seems to be giving the mermaid incorrect names for flatware. The mermaid falls in love with a human prince who happens to be drowning nearby, and then a giant evil octopus swaps out her voice for a pair of legs so she can pursue him romantically. The octopus eventually turns into an eldritch god and is stabbed to death by a boat, after which the mermaid marries the prince. And the thing about all of this that strikes some people as being unrealistic is that … the mermaid … is … black? Really? Are those people receiving the psychiatric care they so desperately need?

8. Seen online: “The sort of people who will forcibly load people they hate onto airplanes are also the sort of people who will load them into boxcars.”

9. It’s a strange and lovely thing to see adults that you knew when they were very young children all grown up now and interesting to talk with on top of everything. This whole getting older thing does have some advantages after all.

10. It’s Great British Bake-Off season again. It’s nice to watch a show where people genuinely seem to like each other and help each other out, where the stakes are fairly low and there really aren’t any villains. I haven’t quite figured out a favorite among the candidates yet – so far Janusz and Maxy are in the running, but we’ll see how it goes. That will come in time I suppose. Right now the main issue I have is that they broadcast the shows on Tuesdays in the UK but not until Fridays in the US, so for several days I just have to avoid my Instagram account – a good 15% of which is devoted to former Bake-Off contestants – so I don’t get spoilers. On the one hand, yay Bake-Off ! And it’s not such a bad thing to skip social media. On the other hand, Instagram is my primary source of funny memes and we all need funny in these parlous times. It’s a trade.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Cheesecake

Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, laugh in the face of danger, and stare death in the eye until it blinks, which is a pretty impressive thing to do when you’re staring at an eyeless skull.

For many people this involves feats of physical derring do, adventurous visits to risky places, or open defiance of the laws of nations or physics, but for us it meant going into a mid-20th-century recipe book to look for a cheesecake recipe.

Let me tell you, ol’ Betty Crocker does NOT fuck around when it comes to cheesecake.

Dustin has been staying with us for a week now and it turned out that yesterday was his birthday so we figured there ought to be a celebration. Oliver said that back at Small Liberal Arts College they usually would have a cheeseboard for dinner on the occasion and that was pretty manageable for us – we often do that, though we call it “Swedish Breakfast,” and we had just been to the local Sheep and Wool Festival last weekend and very quicky located the cheese booth where our friend Karen was working. You have to buy some cheese if you’re going to monopolize someone’s time that way, and it was good cheese after all.

So, we asked, what kind of cake do you want after dinner? And the answer was “Cheesecake.”

Kim found the recipe and after our eyes popped back into their sockets we thought, “Yes, Yes, YES – this is absolutely the cheesecake recipe we need to make.”

It calls for two and a half pounds of cream cheese, which is rather more than a kilogram in metric. Nine eggs total – five whole and four yolks. Sugar. Heavy cream. The zest of two lemons and an orange. The barest hint of flour, because there must be some legal requirement about that. A few other things that I no longer recall because I was still kind of reeling from the cream cheese requirements. It’s quite a cake.

Clearly the American Heart Association had not been invented when this recipe hit the presses.

It was, as you would expect, remarkably good.

We feasted on cheeses, meats, crackers, fresh bread, olives, and jams (including a bergamot jam that we found at an Italian deli in Kenosha) for dinner, and then after a suitable period to allow for digestion, we hauled out the cheesecake, sang “Happy Birthday,” and dove in.

We cut the pieces pretty narrow. Betty Crocker herself says that the recipe – which is supposed to fit into a 9” spring-form pan though in the end we were very glad to have substituted a 10” one – feeds 20 people. The four of us got through about a fifth of it, so that works out about right. There were no moves for seconds.

The rest of the evening was spent poring over other mid-20th-century cookbooks, reading the most striking recipes out loud and wondering how anyone survived, although to be fair you never know how things will turn out until you actually make them.

We’re all big fans of Dylan Hollis, who has gathered a following of several million people by putting out 90-second TikTok videos of himself making vintage recipes, about a third of which he ends up liking, often against his better judgment. If you’re over 40 you can also find the videos on YouTube. They’re worth it.

“Floof powder!”

Someone once told me that recipes made in the 1920s through the 1940s tend to be fairly reliable because they were made by people trying to feed their families, while recipes from the 1950s through the 1970s are to be treated skeptically until proven otherwise because too many of them come from companies trying to get you to buy their ingredients. I’m not sure when this recipe was created, but it’s definitely a winner. It had the feeling of something you’d keep in reserve as a special treat in hard times – a blowout sort of thing that would use up scarce resources for a celebration and then you’d talk about it for the rest of the winter.

There’s still a lot of it left.

There will just have to be further feasting. It’s a dirty job, and we get to do it.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

News and Updates

1. The first two weeks of the semester are basically madness for advisors, as we try to get all of our students in to see us at least once before the deadline for adding classes passes. My whole calendar is “Outlook blue” until at least the 19th. But that’s good, really. It means my students are coming in and getting what they need.

2. The first two weeks are generally pretty light for faculty, though, as things ramp up. And then everything switches: advising gets calmer as schedules are set and financial aid issues get resolved, while teaching gets more stressful as assignments start coming in and classes start in on more substantive material rather than just going over the syllabus and getting the foundations laid. Good thing I get to have both kinds of stress!

3. It’s a cool autumn day here in Baja Canada, grey and rainy and perfect. This is the weather I live for.

4. Oliver’s boyfriend Dustin is visiting us for the next week or so. There was a moment of panic when Oliver realized that he had misremembered the landing time for Dustin’s flight and we had to go hurtling out the door to get to the airport, but all ended well. It’s nice to have him here. Midgie has decided that Dustin is an acceptable person to sit on, which for a cat as cowardly as this one is quite an endorsement.

5. I’m not sure how both of my children ended up dating Texans, but there you have it. It seems to be working out just fine so far.

6. The Queen of England died the other day and so far I can’t figure out who is annoying me more – the raving royalists who insist that the world come to a halt until proper obeisance is made or the screeching grievance choir insisting that she was personally to blame for every evil of imperialism going back to James I. We had an entire revolution to allow me to be not overly concerned by what happens to the British royal family, for one thing, and for another if I wanted to listen to a screeching grievance choir I’d head over to the latest fabrications vomited forth by our unlamented former president and his lunatic cult. I’m sorry to see her go – she was a calm and dignified presence in a world sorely lacking in such things, and by all accounts had a fairly sharp sense of humor – and really that ought to be enough.

7. There is a fine line between a literary biography and a fanzine.

8. The more we hear about what stolen documents were retrieved – and not retrieved – from der Sturmtrumper’s lair, the worse it gets. This is a Category 5 national security disaster that will take a generation and probably tens of billions of dollars to recover from if it can be recovered from at all, and it is extremely illuminating to see who finds this troubling and wants it thoroughly and properly investigated and who is doing their absolute best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Makes you wonder what each group is thinking, really. Remind me, what is the penalty for stealing secrets and imperiling national security? Let’s look at historical precedent and find out, shall we?

9. One of the joys of autumn weather is that you can cook slow-simmered dinners without worrying about making the entire house into an oven. Red beans and rice, here we come.

10. Now is the point where all of the things that I meant to do over the summer come home to roost and I spend the next two weeks trying to figure out how many of them I can move to the fall and how many of them will just have to get tossed onto the large and ever-growing pile of things labeled “Oh well.”

Monday, September 5, 2022

An Adult Cat

You should wish this cat happy birthday! She’s legally old enough to vote today.





There is a part of me that thinks we should try to get her registered, but if we did that some humorless right-wing idiot would come by screaming dimwitted conspiracy theories about the 2020 election at me and I would be forced to exercise my Constitutional right to remove from the planet through blunt force anything that annoys me and then there would be one less right-wing idiot cluttering up the US and there was a train of thought I was following as to why I should not try to register the cat to vote and I seem to have forgotten why doing so was a bad idea.

It will come to me.

Oh, right. Cats are by nature libertarians and nobody outside of a college dorm lobby at 3am on a Tuesday thinks that’s a good idea so going out of my way and possibly committing a felony in order to create another libertarian voter is just a stupid plan from the get go, so we’ll pretend I never brought it up.

It’s pretty impressive that she’s that old, though.

We got her from the local animal shelter after our most recent earlier attempt at owning a cat ended in ignominious failure. The cat Kim had when we got married had been moved to Grandma’s a couple of years before this in order to spare her having to deal with toddlers (when your two-year-old comes up and says, “Hey, Daddy, I’m a cat! HISSSSSSS!” it’s probably a sign that the cat just isn’t happy with small children) and eventually a friend gave us a new one who ended up hiding in the basement for two months and then running off in the dead of winter, never to be seen again – much to the heartbreak of Oliver and Lauren who just wanted a pet – so when we went to the shelter for a new one our priority was to find a cat who was friendly.

They let you play with the cats before you make any decisions, and it didn’t take long for us to choose this one. She played with us.

They told us her name was Smokey and we thought we’d keep that until 5-year-old Oliver started calling her “Smokes” and we thought this might give people the wrong impression of our parenting skills so we batted around ideas for a new name for a while. I finally suggested Mithrandir, which any Tolkien nerd can tell you means “grey wanderer” – it seemed fitting for a grey cat we found at the shelter after they took her in as a stray – and Kim agreed as long as we shortened it down to Mithra. She often goes by Pookie for some reason. I assume it has something to do with her secret double life of crime and I don’t pry too much.

She’s been a good and faithful companion. She likes her people and will be reasonably friendly to visitors, unlike Midgie who is the most cowardly animal I’ve ever owned (up to and including the turkeys) and will hide at the slightest suggestion of company. She’s utterly incapable of sitting still in your lap unless she walks all over you for a while beforehand. She’s put up with 4H Cat Shows, innumerable veterinary visits, and even Midgie, who is a sweet cat but a bit of a noodge. She was a good hunter in her day.

She’s old now, and mostly blind. She can see shapes and shadows but we’re pretty sure that’s about it, and whenever we come home from work she echolocates at us until we find her and let her know we’re there. We have accepted that we will not be rearranging the furniture for the foreseeable future. She’s also a bit arthritic and we’ve put little staircases up to the taller chairs and the sofa. The things you do. Other than that, the vet says she’s in pretty good health.

Mostly she likes sitting with you, warming her old bones and generally hanging out with her people.

We’re not really sure when she was born, of course. The shelter told us how old they thought she was when we got her and we did the math and figured Labor Day 2004 was close enough, so that became her birthday to us.

And here she is, legally an adult in person years.

Happy birthday, Mithra.





Wednesday, August 31, 2022

What Doesn't Quite Work

One of the most useful things I have ever learned I got from a friend of mine, up in the lighting booth while working on a play over at Home Campus. We were discussing the vagaries of the new automated equipment that we were working with on this particular play and whether or not any of it was trustworthy.

“Technology is what doesn’t quite work,” my friend said. “When it works all the time, it’s an appliance. Refrigerators used to be technology. Now they’re appliances. Computers are still technology.”

This past week has been absolute proof of the fact that computers are very much technology.

Set the Wayback for two weeks ago, Sherman, and let’s see how this tale unfolds.

My status at Home Campus, and indeed at every campus I’ve ever worked on or for, is contingent. I am never guaranteed employment more than 36 weeks in advance, and often not more than 17 weeks in advance. Welcome to the adjunct life. You get used to it, eventually.

But most of the time the folks who make those decisions know well in advance that they’re going to extend my contract so the word simply gets passed along to whatever HR department needs to hear it so they can keep me on the payroll while the paperwork gets processed.

For long and complicated reasons that have been outlined but not fully explained to me and which I probably wouldn’t understand even if they were so I am not complaining about this fact, this did not happen this year. So while Home Campus was going through the usual process of saying, “Yes, he’s coming back, don’t do anything drastic,” the good folks at the Mother Ship (and, from what I gather, the Home Planet as well) saw my contract expiring and said, “Well, he’s out. Cut him off immediately.”

So I was officially “fired” last Monday when the new contracts started, along with a number of others in the same predicament. And then the folks at Home Campus went “What?” and got corrections made and I was officially “rehired” last Thursday, after three days of unemployment during which I got no notice of any of this and still thought I had a job and still showed up to do it. I’m assuming I was hired retroactively. I’ve been assured that I still have insurance and whatever benefits, sick leave, and general fringes that I had prior to this. I’m hoping I got paid for working. It is quite possible that all of this is true.

Unfortunately, when the various HR departments did this they also wiped all of my access from all of the shared drives that I need to do my job. Eventually this became obvious (vide supra, re: no notice) and after a 45-minute phone call with the IT people over at the Mother Ship on Monday it turned out that I needed to file an individual ticket for each folder I had ever been given access to in order to get that access back. After several minutes of searching they did provide me a list, and I filed the tickets which all went to whomever owned the folder so they could approve me. There were five. Four came back in an hour or two, but the most important folder – the one most directly connected to my job as an advisor – can only be approved by my former boss, who left in March.

Remember how quickly they “fired” me? My boss, as described above, left in March. MARCH! This sticks in my head for some reason, perhaps because it’s been several days and the situation remains unresolved despite the intervention of my current boss on my behalf as he’d like me to go back to doing my job thank you very much.

So that’s the first issue.

While this was going on, I was receiving frantic emails from Apple that I needed to update my work computer to the newest OS (12.5.1) because there was some Monstrous Hack (tm) going on that allowed any random scraggly-bearded incel tapping away in his mother’s basement to take over and render odious my entire computer. I know from hard experience that I do not have permission to update an OS on my work computer because reasons. This is why I was still running 10.15.7 and hadn’t even sniffed at 11.0. Another phone call to IT and eventually they said, “Sure, go ahead. We’ve given you permission. Just do it at the end of the day, as it will take a while.”

So I did this on Monday as well.

Tuesday morning I came in and the computer had in fact updated, and while it needed several restarts to do things like find the keyboard and put the menu bar back on the desktop such things are to be expected and eventually it was up and running. It’s faster, so that’s nice.

And then it got complicated.

I have three browsers on my computer. I mostly use Firefox, because I like it and I see no need to justify that any further. I also use Chrome when necessary, and because some of the programs I use can’t have multiple log-ins on one browser I also use Safari.

After about an hour’s use, Firefox randomly decided I needed a new “profile” and gave me the choice of accepting this immediately or accepting this immediately. I weighed those options and decided to accept it immediately, whereupon it restarted and promptly erased several hundred bookmarks and all of my saved passwords.

There was an interlude of colorful language.

Some internet searching eventually revealed that there is a way to access old profiles to get all that back and gave step by step instructions on how to do that except that all of the pathways necessary to get to any of the relevant folders in that process had been diligently greyed out and rendered unusable. I’m sure there was a reason for it and I’m sure that reason involved “security” because that’s the catch-all reason for everything inconvenient and maddening involving computers, but the upshot is that at some point in the next few weeks I will have to recreate all those bookmarks individually and try to remember all of the passwords. I’ll probably end up just writing the passwords on a list and taping them to the side of the computer because that’s what happens when “security” becomes more important than actually being able to use a machine. It’s kind of counterproductive that way, but so it goes.

That’s the second issue.

Another of the consequences of updating the OS was that now every time I wake the computer from sleep there is a window dead center that cannot be hidden, only moved, asking me to choose a certificate from a pull down menu (which one? who knows) and log in to confirm it (can I do that? who knows). I can also hit Cancel. In any event the net result of any of the choices offered is the same: it goes away until the next time the computer wakes up and then the cycle starts over.

That’s the third issue.

The fourth issue is rather more worrying.

As part of the latest round of “security” we all must download an app onto our personal cell phones that the university is not actually paying for and every time we log in to an ever-increasing range of programs the log in process now includes the browser version of the app having to get approval from the phone version of the app, which means that I can’t actually do my job without my personal cell phone that the university is not actually paying for, which sticks in my mind for some reason. The app must be satisfied.

But I have the app in all of its versions – all of the various campuses (campii?) that I work for require one or another of these apps and eventually even I figured out that resistance was futile – and it generally does what it ought to do, though often at its own chosen pace.

But on Tuesday I tried to log into a mission-critical program and when I told the Firefox version of the app to contact the phone version of the app to get approval it gave me a popup window that basically said, “Your browser is out of date and you can’t use our app anymore until you update it.” It then provided step by step instructions on how to do that.

Bear in mind that this app is an officially sanctioned product here, approved by the University as being appropriate. You would think this would mean those instructions could be trusted. You’d be wrong, of course. But you would think.

So I followed the instructions and was soon greeted by ANOTHER popup window notifying me that I do not have the permission of the IT department to update my browser. So I am required by “security” to do what “security” will not let me do, which means that I can’t do anything.

I switched to Chrome and discovered the same thing, except that my Chrome browser expires tomorrow rather than this past Tuesday so I did get a couple of days to work with it before it disappears.

So I called the IT folks again. We’ve gone back and forth several times now to no great success, and tomorrow I will neither have access to my shared drive files nor to almost all of the mission-critical programs I need to do my job. Meanwhile, classes start Tuesday, we still have incoming students who need to be enrolled, and I have several large summer projects that need to be completed before the fall officially begins but likely won’t.

Technology.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Loans and Forgiveness

Sometime in the summer of 1984 I sat down at the dining room table with my parents with the paperwork for a student loan between us.

My dad had filled out the PHEAA form a few months earlier – the Pennsylvania version of the FAFSA before there was such a thing – and after much bureaucracy I’d gotten my financial aid package from the university I was hoping to attend. It was a generous package, enough so that I could actually afford to go there. And part of that package was a student loan.

My dad pushed the papers toward me. “I’m not signing this,” he said. “This is your loan.”

I understood what he was doing. This was my education, and while my parents would help me to the best of their ability there were certain things that I needed to take responsibility for and this was one of them. I signed the papers.

I signed similar papers in each of the next three summers as well.

I graduated college in 1988 and started paying those loans back later that year, after my six-month grace period expired. With four years off while I attended various graduate schools (you don’t have to repay student loans as long as you’re in school for at least six credits, which is a point that the bank refused to recognize until I threatened them with legal action) it took me until 2009 to finish repaying them. There were some lean years in there, particularly between graduate schools, but I never missed a payment.

We finished paying off Kim’s loans a couple of years before mine. She graduated before I did, so that made sense.

With this in mind, we made sure to put aside money for our kids so that they wouldn’t have to take out student loans when they went to college. Like most states, Wisconsin has a 529 Plan system that allows you to do that. It meant some sacrifices, but it was worth it. Oliver graduated without loans. Barring economic crisis, Lauren probably will too.

This is good.

Part of my job is advising students about financial aid and how it works, including student loans. My advice is always the same: Don’t take them if you don’t absolutely need them. The student loan industry (and consider, for the moment, the fact that “student loan industry” is an actual thing, and what that means for our culture) is quite possibly the most predatory and soulless branch of the financial services sector today, which is saying something in a field that includes payday lenders. They wrapped Congress around their little finger a couple of decades ago and now you can’t even get out of repaying those loans if you die. Unlike most debts, they’re not discharged by bankruptcy either. They’re a racket, pure and simple. But not everyone has the luxury of turning them down, and for those students I simply advise them to be careful, explain to them how the system works and where to start, and tell them not to take more than they need. They’re always surprised by the fact that you don’t need to take the entire loan. I suspect that’s by design.

So, bottom line:

1. I am intimately familiar with student loans – how they work, what the consequences are of both taking them and not taking them, and what the cost/benefit analysis is regarding whether to take them or not.

and

2. I paid mine back. It took me over twenty years, through good times and lean times, when I had much better things to spend that money on, but I paid them back.

Joe Biden announced this week that the federal government will forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for most borrowers.

You know what?

This is an unmitigated good. This is a thing to celebrate. This is what government serving the working majority of the population instead of the parasitic elites should look like.

Student loan debt has been a primary factor in keeping educated Americans under 40 shackled to low-paying, abusive jobs, so that they can keep making payments. Eliminating it entirely would free up immense reserves of entrepreneurial talent and money, stimulate the economy, and constitute one of the best investments in the American economic future that we’ve seen in decades.

Naturally the small and petty are against it. “I paid my loans!” they whine. “Why don’t they have to?” Or, even more small and petty, “Why should my taxes pay for their loans!”

First of all, the amount we’re talking about here - $298 billion, including everything over time – constitutes roughly 0.3% of federal revenue.  It’s statistically insignificant compared to the tax giveaways that have gone to the already wealthy in the last few years, by an order of magnitude. It’s a classic example of what can happen when miniscule amounts are taken from large groups to produce vast benefits for society as a whole, including those who had those miniscule amounts taken. Honestly, folks. It’s not that hard and it’s not my fault that so many Americans have been duped into forgetting how this is supposed to work.

More importantly, if your reaction to this is “I carried my burden, why shouldn’t everyone have to carry their burden,” instead of “I carried my burden, nobody should have to carry that burden,” I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how to convince you that you should care about other people. I probably could wrap my head around the kind of immorality if I wanted to do so, but I don’t. The whole point of life is to make things better for those who follow, and the fact that you suffered should not mean that everyone else has to suffer as well.

Seriously, people, try to keep up.

Naturally the American right wing is horrified. They’re losing a key lever to keep younger Americans subservient to their corporate masters. They’re losing a way to bludgeon the poor into serving in the military. They’re watching people NOT SUFFER, which frankly galls the Party of Performative Cruelty no end.

Eh. Fuck ‘em.

I paid my student loans. I paid them entirely, every last dollar, in good times and lean times. I paid.

And the only thing I don’t like about this loan forgiveness bill is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Wordle

I got Wordle in three today.

That’s a little better than my average. I usually get it in four. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. I’ve only ever missed it twice – both times because I had n guesses left and the final letter could have been any of n+2 options.

I don’t suppose there are many people reading this who aren’t familiar with Wordle. For those that aren’t, it’s a guessing game. You get a five-letter word and you’ve got six guesses to figure it out. If you get a letter correct but in the wrong place, it gets colored yellow. If you get it in the right place it gets colored green. It’s very much like the old game Mastermind, which I used to play a lot when I was younger. You get one shot at it per day, and then it lets you get on with your life. You have to like that.

It was one of the things that came out of the pandemic, I suppose.





Some people want more challenge or more game play so other versions have sprung up. There was one where you were given the outline of a country and had to guess what it was and I played that off and on for a time. There are specific versions for specific interests, where the words all have a theme to them. There are straight-up copycats that let you play many games per day if that’s your thing. Kim and Oliver have landed on a version called Squardle, which has six different words and an intricate color-coded scheme of hints that escapes me entirely. I play Quordle, which has four words and you get nine guesses, but each guess counts for all four words at once.

But mostly it’s Wordle.

I’ve never posted my score that I recall. I don’t mind that people do – if my social media feeds are going to be taken over by something, this is harmless and vaguely charming – but that’s not why I play it.

One of the things we started doing back when Wordle was fresh and both Oliver and Lauren were in the middle of college semesters was posting our scores to a group text, just the four of us.

It’s a nice way to keep in touch, to share an experience with those you love. We could celebrate our successes and commiserate our losses, but most importantly we could do it together even if we were far apart.

We still keep this up after all those months, though more sporadically than perhaps we did before.

But I always enjoy seeing their scores pop up on my phone, a sign that we have shared something that day and are together at least that much before things spiral away as they always do.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

News and Updates

1. The Summer of Visits has drawn to an end now that our friends Mike and Krista have gone back to Pittsburgh. They dropped off their son at his new graduate program earlier this week and then swung over to see us before they had to go back home, and it was just lovely to have them. There was pizza! There was conversation! There was not nearly enough time, but that’s how it always is when good friends are with you. We shall have to do this again.





2. We also had one of our neighbor’s kids stay with us for a night as well, as they had to be out of town and couldn’t take them along. It went very well! It’s good to have the place full of noise and activity.

3. Lauren seems to be settling into her new apartment. She now has wifi! And through the magic of FaceTime she gave us the nickel tour of the place in its new “actually set up mostly how we like it” manifestation. College student art is a wonderful thing.

4. Speaking of wifi, we may have solved the “one-house outage” problem that has been plaguing us for the last week or so. All of our services would cut out completely at random intervals so we’d call the cable company and they’d say “Huh, there’s no general outage – only at your house,” but they’d also confirm that it was a signal problem rather than a modem problem (i.e. a “them” problem, not an “us” problem). The cable guy came out Friday and determined that the rat’s nest of cables in our basement installed by previous cable guys was not doing us any favors and neither was the band-aid spliced line going out to the street, so he replaced them both. So far all seems well.

5. I’m a bit over halfway through reading The Sandman by Neil Gaiman now, which is something that a) I have wanted to do for a long time because Neil Gaiman, and b) never thought I would actually do because graphic novels are kind of wasted on someone who mostly just reads the words without paying too much attention to the art. Also, it’s 75 issues and both the individual issues and the hardback collections that came out a while ago are far beyond my price range for the set. But it felt like a gaping hole in my reading, and now that Netflix is making the series into a television show I figured they’d have affordable versions printed as a tie-in and it turns out my sense of American commercialism is spot on these days. So now I have the books. They’re deeply weird and a fair amount of fun and I’m enjoying them, though I confess I do much prefer regular novels. Perhaps I’ll get to the Netflix show sometime as well.

6. The horror stories from Forced Birth America just keep mounting up here in the Evangelical States and for once the media is actually reporting them to the general public for wide consumption instead of sweeping them under the rug. This is what you wanted, anti-choicers: deliberate, ostentatious cruelty that makes you feel morally superior to those in need. Please choke on it, with my regards. It is possible that the disgust and outrage of the American majority over this might actually prevent – and will almost certainly lessen – the supposed “red wave” that the GOP was expecting in this year’s midterm election, which might be the only shadow of a positive thing to come out of this moral cesspool. Because while the cruelty is the point with those people and there does seem to be a maddened crowd baying for it, the simple fact is that the audience for cruelty is smaller than they think.

7. Have you noticed that the GOP is no longer bothering to hide the fact that they plan to do away with democracy in the US? They cannot win free and fair elections so they’re just going to make sure we don’t have them anymore. The latest proto-Fascist GOP politician to say the quiet part out loud is Greg Lopez, former mayor of Parkland and a serious Republican candidate for governor in Colorado. Lopez has publicly proposed revising the Colorado voting system along an electoral college model that would explicitly give conservative districts more weight than other districts – one article I read noted that it would give the two thousand rural voters in three sparsely populated counties more than twice the electoral votes of the nearly three-quarter-million voters of Denver and its surrounding counties, and would have turned the 2018 gubernatorial election – which the GOP lost in by double digits – into a right-wing landslide. “It’s not about one-person, one-vote,” said Lopez. “It’s about true representation.” You will notice the assumption here that only conservatives deserve representation and that nobody else counts. David Frum, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, once pointed out that when ideologically committed parties realize they can’t achieve their goals through democratic means they don’t give up on their agenda – they give up on democracy. We’re watching this happen in real time in the US. Watch your back.

8. If the prospect of the GOP seizing power in the US doesn’t terrify you, you’re either complacent or complicit.

9. It’s actually been a nice summer here in the waning days of the American republic, though. Other than a week here or there of hot weather we’ve had highs around 80F/27C and lows around 60F/15C most of the time – especially recently – and while that’s warmer than I would prefer it to be it is still about as nice as you’re going to get in the summertime, particularly as the climate heats up around the globe. I’ll take it.

10. We went to the Arts & Crafts show that my old museum has every year and I got my usual assortment of dip mixes – I’ve reached a point where I generally try to buy consumables rather than things, as I have enough things in my world. Apparently this is the last year they’re going to have that show, which came as a bit of a surprise to me since it was our major fundraiser when I was there. But times change and while the number of vendors and volunteers has declined in our post-pandemic (or, perhaps, still pandemic) world the workload to set one of these things up has remained constant. So I understand why they’re looking for other ways to raise money, but I will still miss the show.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Moving Day

We spent most of today moving Lauren into her new apartment. It’s a nice place that she’ll share with her bestie for the upcoming school year.

She’s been on campus this summer rather than moving back home after the semester ended. A job with the university let her have housing in the dorm for cheap, and she ended up taking a couple of classes as well. She’s definitely wringing the place dry, and that’s what you should do in college – get everything you can out of it, and then take that experience with you when you leave. I try to tell my own students to do that, though I’m never sure if they take me seriously when I do. But it’s good to see Lauren following that path.

She came home for a bit last week, mostly to hang out with us and get caught up on cat time. There were also a few assignments she had to take care of for her classes, most notably her public speaking course which required her to give two presentations to a minimum audience of five people each. A cavalcade of her friends came over to listen to each of them, and it was good to see them. She has nice friends. We fed them snacks.

Lauren also spent some of that time packing up things she’ll need for her apartment, and by last night the kitchen was an unwalkable pile of bags and boxes. She’d gone back to her dorm room by then, however, to pack that up, and we all convened at the apartment this afternoon.

Kim, Oliver, and I drove up, met Lauren, Aleksia, and their friend Luke, and we all unloaded the stuff from home – including a bed and some furniture. Fortunately the place has an elevator, which as someone who is on the downslope of middle-aged I very much appreciated.  Afterward Lauren and I went over to her dorm room where she learned the Great Truth of Moving: "you have more stuff than you think you do." But eventually it got loaded up, carted over, and loaded out.

She and I also made a grocery run, because you can’t just leave someone with an empty fridge like that. We had a grand time of it, wandering around and picking out food. Food is love, after all.

I remember my first apartment, the summer after my junior year of college – a sublet that backed onto Sansom Street near 36th in West Philadelphia. It was a fourth-floor walk-up with a flat black-tar roof in a hot summer that saw Philadelphia reach 108F/42C more than once. I shared it with my friends Terence and Amy. Terence eventually bought a small air conditioner that we set in the window over the kitchen table. At full power it kept the table cool. At some point he gave up entirely and booked a trip to Hudson Bay, Canada, which is something you can do when you have more money than you know what to do with and you want to be somewhere that's cold. Amy found a boyfriend who had an air-conditioned apartment, though he’d come over sometimes with Sri Lankan or Indian food that was spiced at “Sterilize” levels which I appreciated. The bedrooms were small and it had a galley kitchen, and you could set a chair on the fire escape to watch the city parade by below and catch the evening breeze. It was exciting and I loved it, for all the heat and grime of the place.

I never did move back home after that. Not for more than a visit.

Lauren seems happy with her new place, and I’m sure she and Aleksia will have their share of adventures there.

I wish you well, my daughter, and I’m proud of you.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

News and Updates

1. The summer is rapidly coming to an end but the projects I have to complete are not and that’s just how it goes in this world of expectations.

2. In my defense, I have made significant progress on the biggest project, the one they’re paying me to do over at Electronic Campus. There is even a decent chance that I’ll have it done by the agreed-upon due date of September. I confess I’m not nearly as worried about that as they are – they don’t pay me until completion, so I figure any delays are my problem. But we’ll see how it goes. It will be nice to get it off my plate.

3. I also sorted another third of the books in my home office and removed about five boxes for donation to an unspecified worthy cause at an even more unspecified later date. This brings me up to about fourteen boxes in my basement. Now that we’re mostly (kind of?) between pandemics, perhaps the various places that take such donations will be accepting of them again. It would certainly be helpful for my basement.

4. One of my rediscoveries during this sorting was a cookbook that was given to my grandfather on the day I was born, according to the inscription on the inside cover. For some reason he was in Madison WI that day. Goes around, comes around, I guess. Perhaps I will try to make some of those recipes someday.

5. I managed to watch most of the UEFA Women’s Cup, including the semi-finals and the finals. They were great games. Alessia Russo’s backheel goal for England against Sweden – “impudent,” according to the announcer – was the goal of the tournament and I hope they replay that forever. Since then the Premier League and other soccer leagues have started up again and the long Summer Sports Dead Zone has begun to pass away for another year.

6. I am watching the ongoing legal destruction of Donald J. Trump with unmitigated satisfaction and joy because I can be petty just as well as the next person, and I am eagerly looking forward to him receiving every last one of the terrible things that are coming to him for his open corruption, sedition, and outright assault on laws, morals, human decency, and the Constitution. Knowing him he may yet find a way to slither out of it, but one can dream. I will also be delighted when every single one of his minions, lackeys, cronies, enablers, and supporters likewise receives their due. I worry about the level of damage they all will do in the process though, as it is already considerable and likely to be ramped up to unholy levels in the coming months as the nets close in. It will take my country generations to recover from the damage they have done to it, if such damage can be repaired at all – it will not be fully healed in my lifetime – and there needs to be a price for that.

7. Kyiv still stands. Russia has begun to mobilize for what they now realize will be a protracted war that they cannot afford and in the long run are not likely to win but cannot figure out how to end, and it is going to get worse before it gets better for everyone regardless of how far away from the battle they are. But Kyiv still stands.

8. It’s actually been a pretty decent summer here, weather-wise. A few ugly-hot days. Some stretches of the usual “way too hot” weather here and there. But for the most part not nearly as bad as it is in many places in the world. Today and yesterday, in fact, were comfortable. Every day where it’s below 90F (32C) is a day closer to November and civilized weather.

9. I have recently had reason to be glad that I spent some time reading The Phantom Tollbooth to my kids when they were younger. It’s interesting how things come back in odd ways.

10. It’s good to hear from former students, and even better when you can help them move forward even after they are technically no longer in your care. Some days are good days.

Friday, August 5, 2022

More Visitors!

This has been the summer where people come to visit us.

You need those now and then. You can’t go traveling every summer, after all – it gets overwhelming after a while. Sometimes it is nice to stay home and have people come to you, and then you can return the favor later on.

Plus, we seem to be in a bit of a lull, world-wide-pandemic-wise. COVID-19 has stabilized now and, with vaccines freely available, it is mostly a voluntary form of death rather than the rampant killer it started as. Monkeypox is on the rise but so far hasn’t become a huge deal outside of fairly specific circumstances. No doubt that will change, as previous such diseases changed, so we will be keeping a close eye on that (as you should too). But for now it’s a lull and we’re going to enjoy it as best we can.

Not long after our Swedish friends left we had visitors from Up Nort’, as they say here in Baja Canada. Our friend Sherry moved way up to the northern fringe of Wisconsin a while back so it’s always good to catch up when she ventures into the deep south here, especially since she brought her new fiancĂ©e Evelyn to meet us. There were homemade pizzas and glasses of Italian wine and some lovely conversations, and we’ll look forward to having them over again. Or, as noted, venturing north to visit them sometime.




Last Saturday my brother and my niece drove out from the Correct Time Zone to stay for a few days, which was a grand time for us. They don’t usually drive this far – day-long drives are a midwestern habit that mystifies people in the Northeast Corridor, for whom there is nothing of any conceivable importance that is more than a two-hour drive away, even if you can only get about ten miles in that time on occasion. It was a shift in mindset for me when I moved out here, I’ll tell you that. But it’s a relatively simple drive thanks to the interstate system, and as long as you don’t grow old and die trying to get around (or, if you miss the turn or if the GPS decides to get angry at you, through) Chicago it’s pretty straightforward.

The first thing we did was hit the County Fair, which is a proud bit of Americana that gets culturally more important the closer you are to the nation’s tender midsection. It’s been kind of a strange year for us with the Fair, since this is the first year since 2009 where we didn’t have a kid showing projects or the adult responsibilities that come with same. We could go as guests! Whenever we wanted! Or not at all! No barn duties! No selling cream puffs at the 4H tent! We could even leave whenever we wanted! Honestly, it was kind of strange.

That’s where we were when Keith and Sara arrived, actually. We’d gone there Saturday for dinner (mmmmmmmmm …. fair food ….) and met Lauren and Maxim there for the show that night – a comedian who has made a fairly good living by defining, living, and gently ridiculing midwestern stereotypes. He was good, though his opening act was rather tiresome, I thought. But opening acts are there to be ignored, so we had a good time anyway. I left a bit early to be home for when Keith and Sara drove up, and eventually everyone gathered in the living room, catching up.

We went back to the Fair the next day with Keith and Sara and wandered around the place for a while. It’s smaller than it was pre-pandemic – 4H, like many community organizations that center on meetings and group projects, was pretty hard hit by COVID-19 and it will take a while to rebuild it – but there were all sorts of projects and sights to see. We watched the duck and piglet races, toured through the animal project barns (Beef, Dairy, Poultry, Rabbits, Swine, and so on), visited the Art and Craft projects, and found a spot in the Bingo tent to eat whatever moderately non-lethal food that we could find at the Fair.







I just want to say, in my defense, that it did occur to me that perhaps I could have taken that last photo from a slightly better angle, cattle-wise, but unfortunately this did not occur to me until after we had walked on a bit. I suppose it’s more authentic in a way.

Also, on the subject of “moderately non-lethal food,” the mini-donuts come in a bucket with more than you can eat if you’re over 40. Just a head’s up. We gave it a valiant effort, though.

We did a lot of eating on this visit, because that’s what we do. Good food, good company, good conversation – what more do you want out of life?







There was also a visit to Madison, because of course there was a visit to Madison – it’s a fun place to wander around.











But mostly it was a visit to hang out together. There’s always at least one very late night of conversation whenever we get together, and it is a lovely thing to have people in your home who just fit in and act as family, especially when they actually are family.






They’re back east now, and the place is eerily quiet again. But Lauren will be home for a few days pretty soon, and we have one more set of friends who will be here in a couple of weeks, so the Summer of Guests will continue.

And this is a lovely thing.

Monday, July 25, 2022

On Having Dry Chickens

You know how there’s that strange little sensation in the back of your mind when you’re not doing something you should be doing?

I live with this all the time, frankly. I have reached a point in my life where I can be fully productive while still procrastinating about things I’d rather not be doing in the first place and that sensation in the back of my mind is kind of like your neighbor’s car alarm these days in that it provokes neither alarm nor action, only the annoyed belief that someone ought to be doing something about it and whether that someone is the neighbor or police thwarting the car theft or just the car thieves being quick about it and getting the job done and over with, as long as the alarm stops you’re good either way and that’s as much attention to it as you’re going to pay, thank you.

But sometimes there is a different reason for it.

It occurred to us the other day that this was the first weekend in over a decade where a) the County Fair was starting in less than 72 hours and b) we weren’t washing chickens.

Lauren has aged out of the 4H now and even though we still have the chickens from last year there are no new ones and no need to bring any of them back from the barn, set up an assembly-line of large buckets full of warm water and various chicken-cleaning solvents, and put together a makeshift pen in the garage to store them overnight so they wouldn’t get filthy again if we took them back to the barn before we hauled them off to the Poultry Barn at o’dark-thirty to get them into their cages and ready for judging.

There is nothing on this earth more ridiculous than a wet chicken, and nothing quite as annoyed as a rooster in a darkened garage.

The rabbits remain unbothered and ungroomed as well, this year.

We haven’t raised turkeys in three years, but even there I sometimes feel the vague echo of a belief that I need to be finding giant cages so I can haul them around town in the van, or calling the processor for the Sad Appointment that always follows the Fair.

I’m not even going to discuss the year Lauren was in the Swine Project except to say that I remain eternally grateful to Andy for taking care of all of the swine housing and transportation requirements. Also, if you’ve never seen a 4H Swine Showmanship event you really should sometime, as it is quite possibly the only thing as ridiculous and wonderful as the wet chickens.

We’ll definitely go to the Fair at least once or twice this week, because it’s a lot of fun and we know how it works pretty well by now. There’s even an act we are interested in seeing that we might actually be able to see. You never know.

But we won’t be living at the Fairgrounds like we have done pretty much every year since 2009 (except for the Plague Year of 2020, which we will gloss over lightly for so, so many reasons). No small animals to mind. No theater productions to rehearse and put on. No art projects, photographs, or houseplants to be judged. We’ll be visitors. We probably won’t even buy the “All-Fair Pass” that we used to get from our 4H Club as a reward for helping out during the year.

Things change.

We’ll probably get a creampuff, though. You can’t skip those.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Oliver's Tree

When Oliver was a baby there was a storm here in Our Little Town.

We get storms all the time, but this one stood out. I was working at the library at the time and I remember looking out of the big plate glass windows and thinking, “That is not a healthy color for the sky,” and then it turned black and the winds kicked up. You could see the inch-thick plate glass bowing in and out from the force of the wind, which makes it just that much more bizarre that I had to devote my time to going around to the various library patrons and telling them to move away from the windows before they got shredded and got blood on our nice clean books, or words to that effect.

Kim was home with Oliver, who was maybe six months old at the time. She remembers looking at the sky, grabbing Oliver and running down to the basement as the rain came in horizontally through the windows and hit the walls on the other side of the rooms.

There was no official tornado that day, but there were straight line winds that substituted pretty evenly.

The library lost power and I remember walking around with another employee looking through the parking lot to see what the damages were from that side of things – there were toppled signs and trees, but otherwise things were okay. We never lost power at home, though the power line did come down in our front lawn still live and we had to dance around it for a day or two until the utility guys could get to us. Getting home was a trick since so many trees had come down that it was difficult to find an open street. The neighborhood just west of us was completely blocked off for days.

In the wake of this, the Shade Tree Alliance in our area offered free trees to anyone who wanted one planted in their terrace so we took them up on it and ended up with a European hornbeam tree that we could see from our front door. It’s a slow-growing hardwood, but a pretty tree for all that.

We refer to it as Oliver’s Tree.

It’s had a couple of decades to grow since then and it was doing pretty well. It’s a lovely thing when the ice storms come by, for example.





Last night we got another storm. Not the one we were expecting earlier that evening – that missed us pretty much entirely – but another one that hit at 2:20am this morning. Go ahead, ask me how I know that. Let’s just say that the first thing I looked at was the clock and the second thing I looked at was the view from my bedroom window and of the two the former was more detailed. I couldn’t even see my neighbor’s house for the rain and the wind.

Up until this spring there was a big maple tree across the street from us, but three straight days of tropical-storm-strength winds managed to split it in two and the neighbors had to take it down. We lost our evening shade, and it turns out we also lost our windblock – I suspect that’s why Oliver’s Tree took such heavy damage from last night’s storm.




 
I got the big limb facing the sidewalk down, which took some time as a) I do not own a chain saw and b) the European hornbeam grows quite the tangle of branches and getting anything pulled down through that web is a trick. I’m hoping that is the end of it.

But the big limb facing the street also split and I’m not really convinced it will survive. I’ll leave it there until the leaves go brown, just to be sure, since I don’t want to take more down than I have to.

Kim says that this tree is often used for topiaries so it’s a species that can handle being pruned pretty ruthlessly. I’m hoping this means it will survive. I’ve been trying to train it to grow up and to the sides rather than over the street or sidewalk, so we’ll see.

Go little tree, go.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Visitors from Scandinavia (Part 2)!

What do you do with a house full of Swedes?

A great many things, it turns out. Despite their having visited us a number of times previously there were more than enough things to do and places to explore that we ran out of time long before we ran out of options. So they’ll just have to come back is all. We’re looking forward to that.

Some of it has already been described in this space – they were here for Oliver’s graduation party, for example, and David joined us for our Father’s Day celebration – and some of the things we did we’ve done before with them. It’s good to revisit favorites now and then. And sometimes we just hung around and enjoyed each other’s company because we do that. That’s how you know you’re comfortable with people after all.

Oddly enough, one of the first things we did once everyone was actually here with us was meet some of Maxim’s family when his mom and brother brought Lauren and her friend Isaac back from a vacation they took up in northern Wisconsin (where by all accounts a grand time was had by all). We gathered at a nice little restaurant and enjoyed good conversation and then found an ice cream place where we could continue doing more of the same. It was lovely to meet them, and we look forward to doing so again!




 





One thing this group likes to do is go outside, which is a mystery to me sometimes but it can be fun with the right company. We went to the local beach here in Our Little Town for an afternoon, for example – it’s essentially a big pond that they’ve put a sand beach next to so you can go swimming if you want. You can also hang out with a good book under the many trees and enjoy your snacks and conversations with those not currently swimming, which was my strategy. Kim brought back tamales from the nearby Mexican grocery/taqueria since we were there over lunchtime, and we feasted. We also went to a state park in Illinois one day because we thought there’d be a beach and there kind of was but it was closed for construction – only in Illinois do the beaches get closed for construction, in my experience – so Sara and I hung out by the lake and read while Kim, Mats, Maria, and David went hiking. We also went to a nearby state park here in Wisconsin and wandered around under the trees where it was significantly cooler than it was in the sun. There was so much Nature.


 







We spent a day up at Devil’s Lake State Park as well, which is always fun. Devil’s Lake is a good-sized glacial lake where you can go swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding if such things strike you as entertaining, and it is surrounded by boulders and picnic tables for those interested in non-wet activities. So there’s something for everyone, really. It took us a while to get there, though.

For one thing, we stopped on the way to pick up Lauren.





For another thing, we also stopped to visit Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron, which is a place of wonder that you should definitely see if you’re passing through southern Wisconsin. It’s basically an open-air museum of found-metal sculptures, some of them grouped into displays and some of them set apart as individuals. They range from about a foot and a half tall to over thirty feet and they’re pretty much what you would expect to find if Dr. Seuss had dropped acid and learned how to weld. Apparently they light the place up a couple of nights in the fall and that’s something to see. We decided that it would be an eerily calm place after a snowstorm as well.

















It has to be said that Dr. Evermor was a really good welder, by the way. You will not find a better bead in any shipyard on the planet.

He died a couple of years ago, unfortunately, but his daughters are running the place now and they’re doing a good job of it. The grass is cut more regularly and there is an actual designated parking area. It’s still free to visit (donations encouraged!) and unless you know where you’re headed it’s easy to miss, but definitely worth your time.

Eventually we made it up to Devil’s Lake, where we spent a good day hanging about doing all such good things as Devil’s Lake has to offer.




 





Hanging about is a seriously underrated activity, by the way. You’re supposed to rush around and be productive and cutting edge and experience novelty and excitement with every passing moment here in this modern world, but there is a lot to be said for taking things slowly and simply enjoying the people you are with.

It helps if you have a cat to enforce this, particularly one who is almost old enough to vote and is therefore very much interested in having a quiet lap to relax upon.









We spent a fair amount of time in Hanging About Mode.













At one point there was an expedition to get pedicures, which I only heard about second-hand (-foot?), though it appears to have been a success even with Sara’s foot in a boot. You have to adjust your goals to fit reality sometimes.





Also, if you’re hanging out with us there is usually food involved.

We fired up the pizza oven, which we have now gotten down to a science.









We made Swedish meatballs in the new oven, which is remarkably more efficient than the old oven, to the point where you have to be careful about the handles on your pots lest they melt.





We grilled!





And one memorable evening we went out for Mexican food here in Our Little Town – we have all of the finest chain restaurants in America here, plus really good Mexican food – and were sitting there having a lovely time of it when a woman came over and said that she had been there having a celebration for her daughter who had just turned 21 and they’d ordered a yard of margaritas and had barely touched it before her daughter decided they needed to go to an actual bar and would we be interested? Sure! we said. Who wouldn’t want a tower of margaritas? Thank you, kind woman!







There were a couple of things we did that can broadly be lumped together under the general category of theater, only one of which was actual theater – a summer production of Grease at Local Businessman High School that was a lot of fun even if the play has not aged particularly well. The music is still good, though, and the cast did a marvelous job of it. They always do good theater down at LBHS.

Another of the vaguely “theater” things we did was go to the House on the Rock.

If you’ve not been there before, well. It’s an experience. I’ve written about it before in this space and it’s all still true. The House on the Rock is basically what happens when way too much money meets not nearly enough medication, and it is quite possibly the weirdest museum in the world just for the sheer unadulterated what-the-fuckery of the place. You can read about it online, but until you stand there goggle-eyed staring into the abyss of insanity that the place embodies you really won’t understand it. Naturally we built it up as a place our friends needed to visit, and equally naturally they said they’d go. It’s just a wonder we didn’t go on previous visits is all.

The House on the Rock has basically two parts, and the whole thing takes between three and five hours depending on how fast you move and what your tolerance for unbridled psychosis happens to be. First there is the House, which is – as advertised – on a Rock. It looks like what you’d get if Frank Lloyd Wright had married Elvis back in the early 1970s, thoroughly carpeted, full of desperately uncomfortable sitting areas, artifacts crammed into every crevice, running water, and, every so often, a full-sized hydraulically powered orchestra that you can get to work by dropping one of the special coins into the slots provided. They give you coins when you buy your tickets. There are more of these than you would think acceptable and they range in decor from full-on “Mikado” through “Miss Cinnamon’s House of Leisure” on the tackier side of Las Vegas.







There’s also an Infinity Room cantilevered over a ravine that is legitimately cool.









They funnel you through on a path and eventually you get to the end and you think to yourself, “That was weird, but I made it through unscathed.”

And then you go into The Collections.

The Collections is just a series of vast, incredibly crowded exhibit rooms, each one just slightly more unhinged than the one before it. There’s a room with about three hundred model circuses. There’s a room with nothing but doll houses. There’s a room done up to look like a Victorian street full of grievously overstuffed storefronts. There’s a room that has multiple cars, a sub-room full of antique cameras, a giant Rube Goldberg contraption (including a capsule biography of Mr. Goldberg), a wall of Burma-Shave advertisements, and a cafe that sells slices of pizza bigger than your head. On and on it goes.

There are three rooms that always get the most reaction out of people whenever we go visit, however.

The first is the room with the life-sized model of a whale being attacked by a giant squid. It’s about three stories tall and surrounded by a winding ramp with maybe a hundred or so model ships, some of which are actually labeled, and the fun part is watching people walk into the space and catch sight of it for the first time.









The second is the Carousel Room, which has what is billed as the World’s Largest Carousel and for all I know that might be true. It has over 300 carved animals on it – not one of which is a horse – and it spins fast enough to generate electricity which is good because it has a lot of incandescent lights on it and the room is noticeably warm. There is another collection of carousel horses in a different room, as well as at least two other carousels in yet other rooms that are somehow both bigger than the average studio apartment and too small-scale to actually ride on. You go through the Carousel Room the first time, and then at the end of the tour they walk you through again on a catwalk higher up so you can get a closer look at the massed squadrons of angels hanging from the ceiling, most of which are now clothed.







The third room has a name but I generally just refer to it as Tim Burton’s Most Recent Therapy Session. Even the entrance – which takes you from the Carousel Room into the Therapy Session Room – is what you’d expect it would be.





It takes about half an hour just to get through this one room, since a) the path through it is particularly knotted, and b) you just have to slow down and try to take it all in regardless of the psychic damage you sustain.









The last vaguely theatrical thing we did was much more civilized. If you’ve never been to a RenFaire, you’re missing out. They’re blessedly quiet, for one thing – no blaring music, no flashing lights, just human powered everything. And they’re oddly relaxed for something that involves a fair amount of self-generated weirdness. The one here in Wisconsin is a sterling example of the genre and we try to go at least once a year even if it’s just us. Bringing friends is just a lovely bonus.

We got hold of the Theater Department down at Home Campus and said, “Trevor,” (for that is his name), “may we borrow some costumes for a trip to the RenFaire?” and Trevor said we could.







In the end there were two subgroups of us who went. One group – Kim, Mats, Sara, and Maria – wanted to get there early in order to see the opening ceremony, especially since this was the first weekend the RenFaire would be open this summer. They eventually stayed for the closing ceremony as well and shut the place down. The second group – me, Oliver, Lauren, David, Aleksia, and Maxim – went a bit later and left around 5pm to go find dinner on our own. We all had a grand time, though.







We have long since reached the point where we see no need to stick together at events like these, so people pretty much scattered around doing whatever they found interesting. There were a lot of interesting things. The various performers did their usual combination of physical acrobatics and skills plus the constant patter of double-entendres and puns that you expect at such things. The vendors kept us supplied with food, knick-knacks, and assorted other items. And the crowd was as entertaining as anything else – there was a nice mix of people in costume, people wearing various nerd-shirts (I had one of my Discworld t-shirts and I know at least two people caught the reference), and people just there for a good time. Since then I have spoken with three different people who were there that day as well, including one whose son I saw up on stage during The Broon Show. Go to the RenFaire!









Because we all split up like that we all got a slightly different version of the RenFaire, but we all converged at the Mud Show because you kind of have to do that. We love the Mud Show. I didn’t realize that they take it on the road during the months that the RenFaire is closed in Wisconsin, and it turns out that Maxim had seen them at the one in Texas. After the show he went up to talk to the lead guy and they had a good conversation.









But all good things must come to an end, and while we weren’t sure if the airline gods would smile on everyone in the end flights were booked, rebooked, confirmed, and readied. We had a lovely breakfast together, shared our goodbyes, and watched them head on out.

Next year in Stockholm.