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2/1/05-Tues.-For the past few days we've once again been enjoying cool, rainy conditions, often with a biting breeze. Despite weather that makes being outside less than perfect for humans, and nearly two more months of the official winter season, signs of spring already are everywhere in central Texas, with fresh growth abundantly evident.

As my brother, Ralph, in 1990, then only 38 but enduring terminal brain cancer, watched and appreciated flowers and tree buds opening for the last time, I could not help wondering how many more times about the sun I'd be permitted to see nature's annual renewal.

Today Fran has gone off for another attempt to locate and buy a new vacuum cleaner she likes. We thought we'd selected one a few weeks ago, but later we saw online customer reviews saying that kind has serious problems.

In the course of her investigations for that purpose, Frances noticed lawn mowers (one of which we badly need) on sale at Home Depot. So I'm off to purchase a power grass cutter.

I've gone for a human hair shearing as well, also at a promotional, bargain price.

It's been about a year since I brought Puff back from Killeen. Now several months since flunking her second obedience course, she is getting away with way too much misbehavior, almost as if we had not trained her at all, though she is at least finally fairly well housebroken.

The beast is so independent and disinclined to "come" when we call her or to follow other commands such as "stay," that at times it is like having a cat instead of a canine. But then, people like cats too, and Puff is quite amusing, playful, and, unlike a lot of cats, affectionate.

I get her to pee outside instead of in the house by offering, if she'll "Go pee first," to twirl a rope for her, till she repeatedly jumps (up to about 5-6 feet of vertical leaping, a sight to see, given that her own height is only about 15") and finally catches it. Works every time. Almost nothing else does, besides offers of food or a treat.

When we tell her to "come" or to "stay," she treats it as an occasion for the "keep-away" game. As we generally are not prepared to waste time chasing her down on such occasions and, in any case, she is faster and more agile than either Frances or I, the dog's antics then are frequently an exasperating trial.

I may not have much success, but intend to use the time, while Fran's away visiting her mother later this month, for new training of the creature in civilized decorum, especially regarding those important commands.

Am considering joining, or at least trying out a few times, a group that meets periodically to sample pot luck vegetarian meals. In one of our local papers they describe it in a way that sounds fun, and the write-up says they also welcome folks who at times eat meat. I had previously been a strict vegetarian for a number of years, but then was a backslider, and now too often eat just about anything I like, but with a variety of fairly healthy things added in for good measure. Reminds me of how, when in late adolescence I had very early university classes, I used to consume a pint of chocolate ice cream or a candy bar for breakfast, washed down with a bottle of sugar free Coke. See, the sugar free aspect was to balance out the other, bad stuff. Hmm.

These days, I still like fried chicken, fudge, cheese sandwiches, and so forth, but at least have most such gross foods in moderation or only occasionally. I love hot dogs a lot, especially if grilled over a campfire, but don't have them all that often either. Frances really enjoys ordinary bologna. She fries it and makes sandwiches from it that way, sometimes also adding scrambled eggs. To each his or her own yucky foods. She loves raw or cooked oysters, both of which I hate. I like stewed black-eyed peas, and she definitely does not! And so it goes.

2/9/05-Wed.-We have now finally gotten a vacuum cleaner, but I have to be philosophical about our two-year search for the right one to replace the old Hoover. The new appliance looks like an amusing little toy and must be momentarily shut off about 25-50 times during the cleaning of just our small house, to operate correctly the rest of the period it is in use. However, it is the one Frances insisted on getting, and she will now be employing it, so that is her choice. My mom had offered to get us one for Christmas, anticipating a charge of around $250 for a good one. This one cost $70, including tax and a warranty plan. Sometimes it does not pay to argue, and I was not prepared to go to the mat over what quality vacuum we'd get.

Frances is about to head off (on 2/13) for a 2-3 week camping visit with her mom in FL. I'm sure they'll have a ball. Puff and I shall keep one another company back here, except for a brief stay with my mom in Waco for a few days, starting on 2/18.

I did purchase and bring home a good power mower. It is assembled, but needs to have vital fluids (oil and gasoline) properly added. I'll try it out in the next several days on our front yard, which already has some winter rye grass several inches high.

Last Wednesday, I attended another investment group meeting sponsored by AAII. Unlike the first one I had gone to last fall, this one was quite interesting, so I'll plan on continuing to go each month.

The planning for my brother, Ron's, 50th birthday celebration has been going well, despite initial frustrations. It appears now we'll have a big shindig for him in October.

Fran and I celebrated Valentine's Day early, today in fact, just as we'd had her birthday festivities in advance, due to her upcoming trip. I took her to a favorite Middle Eastern restaurant for lunch. Also got her a greeting card, a gift card to Barnes and Noble, one of her preferred bookstores, and three packages of her top choices in chocolate candy. I did not expect anything, but she has been giving me tons of help with web sites and was quite appreciative of my gifts.

We all, Frances, Puff, and I, went for a several hour hike at Enchanted Rock last Friday. It was fun, except when I had a fall, getting scraped and bruised, but the injuries could have been a great deal worse. A few folks have had serious bone crunches there, or even lost their lives after pitching head downward off the steep granite domes. We saw plenty of interesting wildlife, especially many deer, some rabbits, and several bird species. The park was wetter than we had ever experienced before. Greenish blue lichens, bright mosses, and blooms of pond algae gave the area more color than usual. Still, one had to watch one's step more than in the past, as I proved with my spill, due to the rocks being much slicker than normal.

I've been reading interesting articles and books about climate, based on research using ice cores. Apparently, soon after we adjust as a species to global warming (assuming we are eventually successful at that), a dramatic return to extremely cold conditions, with new massive glaciations in the northern hemisphere, is likely. In the meantime, though, it is now almost certain we'll have a great increase in temperatures in the arctic, averaging perhaps 10 degrees or more (F), before the end of this century. Most sea ice there is expected to thaw each summer by then. The major ocean current systems of distributing temperature about the globe may be greatly curtailed, leading, ironically, among other things to a deep freeze situation for northern Europe.

2/13/05-Sun.-Fran left early this AM for her visit and camping trip with her mom in FL. She is not due back till 3/4 or 3/5. We had a pleasant parting, and I took a number of digital pictures, then processed and sent several of them to her sister and mom.

But last night I had one of my, fortunately infrequent, minor tantrums over this or that aspect of our relationship. There is little she can do at this stage about any dissatisfactions I may have with the marriage. We never mastered the ability to communicate sensitively, as recommended in a marriage counseling workshop we attended. So, each time these little fiascoes occur, we can go back and forth between fighting unfairly and just doing our best to pretend the other person is slightly crazy and will come to his or her senses soon.

Being ever the idealist, sure, I'd prefer she defer to me more in questions of where and when we'd go on vacations, instead of just deciding on her own to go again on an exclusive trip with her mom. Or I'd love it if in matters of home maintenance she'd seek my advice or even ask me to do what is needed, rather than assuring I stay away from the latest repair project, lest she feel she must do it over to get it right. Or I might have liked it if she'd gone along with me in my preference that we have kids. Or that we have meals in a more conventional manner, not merely quickly fixing our own, independent of one another. Or that we both liked to go out in the evening and dress up a little for the occasions, or have friends more in common, rather than, for the most part, going our separate ways even in developing and maintaining our friendships. In other words, I'd like to have had a traditional (make-believe?) marriage, one in which my spouse doted a little on me and I on her, and we kept inspiring each other and making passionate love well into octogenarian years...

Well, reality of course is quite different. To be generous about my own assets, my IQ is about 10 points or so lower than hers, while my body (at 61) lacks the energy she (at not quite 47) displays, and I take longer to do everything from dressing to going to the bathroom, not to mention getting (and staying) turned on.

She has become tired of my more stodgy lifestyle and goes off to be with friends or her relatives as and when she chooses. She never was interested in our having children. Frances is convinced that, at least 99 times out of 100, she will do a better home repair job than I would. And she regards my, perhaps understandable, self-doubts in this friendship with disdain.

I like making a big deal about special days, such as Valentine's, birthdays, or anniversaries, while she often just ignores them and feels free to be traveling with others at these times, or otherwise to not get me anything when such occasions come up on the calendar.

She feels no need to defer to me about much of anything. As we grow older, it seems we are becoming more estranged than close, especially so now that we are retired, and it is achingly obvious both that we like to do very different things with our extra leisure time and that being together often brings on disagreements.

Under the circumstances, I sometimes wonder if it is too late to correct an error we seem to have made in tying our lives together almost twenty years ago. It seems a marvel, when I ponder it, that we've remained together and reasonably content this long.

Still, those kinds of cogitations do not seem to find comfort in my being except when I am already depressed. And in our marriage we have in fact had many laughs and good times. Nor, except for my occasional silly "fits," do we seem worse as a couple than many others who stay together, through thin and thick, for a half century or more. Indeed, when I am more objective, I see that we are probably, if not ideal, at least above average spouses.

Anyway, I am quite glad to be over my latest pique and today once again feeling pretty good about things.

Lately the squirrels, though, have been doing their darnedest to wreck not only our wedding commitments (catalyzing one of our recent arguments) but our home, quite literally. They gnawed a salad plate sized part of our siding away in an area we had, only a year or so ago, already spent quite good money to contractors to fix. Wonderful.

I am concentrating while Fran's away on doing a lot of meditation. I may have no eureka or enlightenment experiences, but intend at least to achieve some type of mild breakthrough, even if to do so I must stay up meditating well into each night, or for much of several 24-hour periods with but a few breaks. It has been a long while since I have focused on meditating for a large number of hours and with few distractions. If nothing else, it may lead to greater rest and relaxation. We'll see.

2/15/05-Tues.-It's 2 AM. With luck, I'll do a little better than yesterday about getting to bed at a relatively reasonable hour. (It was 4:30 AM before I shut out the light to get my forty winks then.)

We (Puff and I, that is) are doing fine. I'm trying to get caught up on the tax records for our 2004 stock and mutual fund transactions.

Have taken the dog on several walks since the last entry. We had an entertaining encounter with a squirrel, another with an opossum. And Puff really likes a stretch of back fences where she can get lots of dogs stirred up as she goes by.

I'm taking Puff to the vet later today for her annual heartworm blood test and then for a new prescription of pills to ward off that condition, so prevalent here in the South.

Received two calls from Pete Sunday evening. He is serious, he says, about a Brazilian lady, one of three different women he met while out Tango dancing in that country during his Christmas vacation, women who, after a one- or two- or three-night stand, each told him they were in love with him, adored him, and/or want him, that he is wonderful in bed, etc.

This one, whom he says is so sweet and very much in love with him, was divorced seven months ago and has three children living with her. But she manages one of Brazil's most successful hotels, is smart, pretty, and so forth, so he is sure she is not a gold digger, just out to get a rich American, besides which he told her if they got married he might be poor the rest of his life (which sounds realistic unless she supports him with proceeds from the hotel). It all sounds bizarre. Pete has never been able to sustain a long-term relationship with a mature woman.

Anyway, this is the most excitement in my family since Nina proposed to Allen, or was it the other way around? Pete's already asked our mother's advice ("caution"), so her gossip spreading is in hyper mode.

Fran drove all the way to her Mom's place in Ocala Sunday, leaving here about 8 AM and arriving there before midnight. I was apparently taking a shower at the other end of the house when the phone rang, so she left a message on the answering machine saying she arrived safely. We talked then "tonight" (Monday night - Valentine's Day - as I have not gone to bed yet since 2/14 began) and exchanged long distance Valentine's greetings.

Among other things, Fran told of her and her mom being on a hike and coming across a family of armadillos. She described their comic misadventures after they had sensed the humans' presence, one running headlong into a tree, for instance, while another was apparently too obtuse to notice anything wrong and just kept snuffling along through the dirt at Fran's feet, even as Frances knelt down and put her hand right over it while her mom took a picture (Fran looking as though she were petting the cute little creature).

Puff's ears went up only about 1/4 inch when I played Frances' Sunday night message. The canine was sleeping on Fran's side of the bed. For some reason, she did not appear to register Fran's voice as representing her.

For awhile she had been a little clingy and wanting to be played with a lot, but that's normal anyway. She also looked at the garage door a couple times and out the computer room window, as though expecting Fran to drive up any second. But by now she seems content to just take things as they come. Of course, when her mistress returns, she'll be terribly excited and all over her.

Have been very much enjoying a fascinating book by Richard Alley, The Two-Mile Time Machine - Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future.

Have had nine meditation sessions since the last entry. Am experiencing some vivid memories and other compelling imagery.

For instance, there was a time I recalled from the early 1960s, when I noticed a boy of ten or so years at a canoe rental livery, for boating on Lake Austin. He obviously had a bad wound on top of his foot. The manager of the livery was taking no responsibility, no doubt afraid of a law suit. The boy had fallen out of his canoe into fairly shallow water awhile before. Small trees had earlier been cut at an angle on the lake bottom, when the water had been low, making for sharp spears sticking up, and he had been unlucky enough to fall so one had gone up into the bottom of his foot, then all the way through, and out the top. His mother had been called but the manager was having nothing more to do with the boy.

My friend and I talked with him awhile as he waited for his mom. I think he was a little in shock. He clearly needed emergency attention, but I felt helpless. There was no bleeding outside his foot, as though, both at the top and soul of his foot, the wounds had closed up again after he'd wrenched his foot off the sharp spike. The man inside the rental place was refusing even to provide clean water or rags, and we were out in the sticks. Other than taking him to a hospital, which could get complicated as his mom was on the way, I knew nothing we could do but talk with the boy and sympathize.

I wish I could say that I comforted him, cheered him up, and stayed with him till his mother arrived. That certainly was what I should have done. What I actually did was a lot more callous or cowardly. I tried to talk with him briefly, but then could think of nothing else to say. He said it would probably take his mom another half hour or so to get there. So I asked if there were anything I could do for him, knowing he would say there was not, wished him luck, and went off with my friend for several hours of fun in our rented canoe, hoping the boy would be gone so I'd not have to deal with his crisis when we got back, which is how it worked out. I was much younger then, of course, and also emotionally less mature. It's no excuse, just a fact. Much later I thought of that incident when reading Camus' The Fall.

A number of things like that, too many, come up from my past, that I would prefer to forget, when I meditate very much. It is perhaps one reason this process has always been painful for me, to the extent that I have never pursued meditation to a truly advanced, in depth degree. Till now, I have always gotten bogged down in hitherto suppressed or repressed depression, fear, or anger, and so, sooner or later, have each time dropped the whole business and resumed a perhaps more shallow, less authentic or challenging existence. Will this time be different? We'll see.

2/16/05-Wed.-It's 2 AM again! I seem to be getting into a rut, while Fran's away, of going to bed later and later.

Have completed another six meditation sessions since the just prior entry. The imagery and memories that arise during these times continue to be more numerous, noticeable, and vivid than usual.

Almost exactly a year after I'd photographed Puff in Austin's last snow, when the pup was hardly big enough to fill my hand, and also a year after the first time I took her to our vet, I had an appointment this morning with her to have her heartworm blood test and get a new year's worth of chewable heartworm medication. The test was happily negative, and I received the prescription.

Despite her apparent thinness after Fran's recently giving Puff a trim, she tipped the scales this time at 17.6 pounds, a gain of 2.6 pounds since she was seen in June for spaying. Thus, she is right in the normal adult weight range for wirehair fox terriers (15-18 pounds), and takes after her mother (18 pounds) more than her father (15 pounds) in matters of mass.

Our vet and his assistant both remembered Puff from her much earlier visits and doted on her, commenting on how she had grown up into "a horse." They said seeing the dogs only once every few months, it is always surprising to them how big the puppies have gotten by the next time they come in. They also mentioned she was a very handsome example of her breed, not just in appearance but in her alertness, gregariousness, and high activity level (which she demonstrated by jumping around on her hind legs while waving her front paws and trying to get them each to pet her). For once, her ears, which often stick up, stayed properly flopped over to the front. She did not even yelp when the blood was taken and afterward had no fear, just wanted to play and get lots of attention.

She is due her new shots (Rabies & Dhipp) and an annual exam on 4/6/05.

My brother, Ernie, who lives near Dallas and has a construction business, was passing through Austin, after bidding on some potential new jobs elsewhere, and was on his way north, just about in time for the worst of our rush hour traffic. So he decided to call and see if we were available to join him for supper, while he waited till the worst congestion had moved on. I told him Fran is in FL, but I would be glad to see him. We met at the Tien Jin restaurant that Frances and I go to frequently. Had a good talk. The food was delicious.

At one point, he asked me a question, just after I'd stuffed my face with half of a very hard fortune cookie. I could not answer his query in this condition, and then it was taking unusually long to chomp through that quite resistant desert. I got tickled and started laughing, which only made things worse, with a little danger I might choke on the crumbled, bunched up fragments of cookie, as I was by now laughing so hard, mostly through my nose, that my eyes were tearing up and steaming, and I was also flushing beet red, I'm sure.

My levity must have been contagious for Ernie became so amused at my predicament that he began laughing uncontrollably too, and the two of us were facing each other across the booth, howling with laughter that just would not quit, even after I mercifully, finally managed to safely chew up my big bite of cookie, swallow, and get its debris out of the way.

Our laughing jag probably only lasted about five minutes but seemed to go on much longer and to attract the attention of all the eatery's patrons and staff before it had completely ended. Some new folks had come in and were seated while this was going on. I fully expected them to tell the waitress: "We'll have what they're having."

2/17/05-Thurs.-This time, it's 3:30 AM. I've got to get out of this routine.

I've had a total of twenty meditation sessions since Fran left early Sunday, but am beginning to feel fatigue almost all the time. There have been more memories surfacing, but the dominant sense during the meditation in the last 24 hours was just of great tiredness.

I'm also not getting much done besides the meditating, though tonight (Wed. evening) I did go to my second meeting of the contemporary literature group with whom I got acquainted last month. There were fewer people there this time, just two other than myself, but we still had a fine discussion, and I got to know the others a little better.

One good thing to come from this time while Frances is away: our dog, Puff, and I are developing a closer bond than we have had till now. Neat. Hope this does not change once Fran returns.

Later. Up about 8 AM. Did my ablutions, took Puff for a two-mile walk, looked after some investments business on the computer, wrote and sent a few personal e-mails, made a couple calls (re a prescription renewal and a mystery book club), played a little with the dog, shopped for a book for the contemporary literature book group, and went for brunch. Once home, fed Puff lunch before resuming my meditation sessions.

2/18/05-Fri.-Have stopped as usual in Georgetown for a brief rest, on my way north to Woodway and a visit there with Mom.

In an e-mail received early this morning, she wrote that Allen, whom she had thought would visit this weekend too, along with his wife Nina and young daughter Sharon, had let her know he and his family had been fighting the flu, were still very tired, and so thought it best not to go to see her this time after all. Instead, Mother and I shall have a more intimate interaction (just she, me, and Puff) over the next two or three days. Sometimes these small, close family reunions can be quite relaxing, fun, and pleasant. On the other hand, they have often been occasions for mild frustrations and friction between us, or for me to feel isolated as Mom retreats into one of her depressions, almost invariably self-medicated with lots of booze.

Later. The rest of the trip was uneventful. The same cannot be said for the balance of the day. Mom and I left Puff at home for awhile and went to Baylor's interesting new Ollie Mae Moen Museum. I took a number of digital pictures while we were there this afternoon. Next, we went to Bangkok Royal for delicious Thai dinners.

As we were leaving, Mom asked me what I had done with her keys. It turned out I had borrowed them to open the van and put something there, rather than take it into the museum with us. But I had given them back to her. And she had driven us to the restaurant afterward. Mom had already checked her purse and all her pockets for them and was just hoping that I somehow had them. When we looked, there they were in the vehicle's ignition, but with all the doors locked and the windows firmly closed. We debated what to do and wound up, with help from the eatery's staff, calling a cab.

Then we chatted, back in the restaurant again, for another forty-five minutes or so till the taxi arrived. It was inconvenient and a modestly expensive lesson, but no real harm was done. Mom was embarrassed and also particularly disappointed, though, that we missed our favorite current events PBS TV programs that evening. As luck would have it, I had taken the precaution of arranging for my VCR to record them while I was away, so, for me, the evening was simply different than expected but held no particular regrets. Puff was perhaps the most affected by the lost keys incident, trembling in fear in the strange dark house by the time we had gotten back. We took her with us when I drove, now with an extra set of keys, to the restaurant parking area so Mom could finally head the van homeward.

The evening could have been more dramatic had we managed to lock ourselves out of a car at night in a different city, with no backup keys readily available. But we came out of this situation pretty well, and Mom decided in future to use a magnetic key holder, hidden under the vehicle, to assure she can get back in, should the same thing happen again. (Hopefully, no thieves will think to check there.)

2/19/05-Sat.-Watched the sci-fi movie, "Twelve Monkeys," on cable TV last night, after Mom had drifted off with help from several bourbon drinks. Meanwhile, I played ball with the dog.

Today was low-key. I think Mom was somewhat at a loss without Allen, Nina, and Rachael around. She even suggested we drive up to Fort Worth to see them, since they were now not coming to see us. We discussed it, though, and then she reluctantly agreed it might not be best to drive so far for a brief visit with them, especially as they might still be exhausted and could even be still contagious.

So we spent the day simply, had nice enough vittles for breakfast and lunch at home, read, rested, chatted some, arranged to meet for supper with Leila and her husband (my brother Horace) and several of their kids (Virginia, Charley, and Keith) at a favorite Italian place, and picked up a couple videotapes for entertainment later this evening. Leila, Horace, and their family live a mile from Mom, but, oddly enough, do not see her all that much more than I do, getting together mainly if she bribes them with a meal and drinks out at a good restaurant. Oh well.

Tonight, after my taking Puff for an after dinner walk, we watched the first of the movies we had rented, a quite droll and silly one with plenty of laughs, "Without a Paddle." By the end of it, though, Mom was definitely in her cups, and so, quite pickled, did not appreciate the second film, "I, Robot." But I enjoyed it quite a bit, as Puff and I did our best to ignore the mouth-open, snoring old figure sprawled in her TV chair, rather unladylike as to posture, awareness, and attire.

2/22/05-Tues.-Got to bed a little after 2 AM. Up then around 9 this morning. Got myself presentable for the day, looked after the dog's needs, recorded a stock purchase, went shopping for groceries at HEB, and had lunch.

Last evening, I got a call from Frances in southern FL. She and her mom have been having a grand time on their RV camping trip, with much to experience or photograph (taking at least hundreds of digital pictures) and enjoying boardwalks, beaches, museums, aquariums, gardens, rivers, and parks. They've spent several days in or around the Everglades, for instance. Fran reports seeing lots of birds and other interesting wildlife, in addition to abundant alligators, some too close for safety. She related an incident in which a large aggressive male alligator was on the path, blocking it, and rather testy about people getting close and trying to go around him there. In order to get by, it became necessary to completely leave the walkway, but this involved risk too as other Crocodilia were lurking in the grown up areas near the regular route.

Despite such adventures, or even partly because of them, Fran and her mother were in high spirits. They were having troubles from serious sunburn on the tops of their feet, especially so for Fran, who had gone barefoot too long on a sunny beach, but she said she was almost over this. They also had been donating plenty of blood to their favorite mosquitoes charity. All in all, though, Frances gave the impression of a woman thoroughly enjoying being retired.

Puff and I have been content with our less dramatic lifestyle over the past few days. Between our play times and walks, the dog is getting sufficient exercise. She pretends she hates it when I give her a fine comb "brush," but afterward the grooming stimulation has perked her right up.

With the intensive meditation regimen of five or six sessions a day, I was not getting enough other things done, such as catching up on our stock transaction records and cost basis calculations. So I have cut the meditation back to three sessions a day. These continue to be productive of interesting, if not always pleasant, imagery and memories.

Our weather lately has been most spring-like, with lows only in the 60s (F), highs in the low 80s, a number of sunny days, but plenty of intermittent rain as well. Our grass is half a foot tall in places, and there are numerous plants already in bloom. The buds on several trees seem about to burst. The live oak trees, which are evergreens, are beginning to lose their leaves as the annual leaf growth is starting.

My brother, Ron, has finally, definitely broken up with Claudia, the woman with whom he'd been living for several years. Originally he thought they would be getting married in the fall of the year they met, then she kept putting off the wedding plans, and she indicated she was content with their being "partners" instead. I was sorry Ron acquiesced in this change, for it seemed to me she might be kind of stringing him along, that she only wanted a more casual relationship and on her terms, but one she would feel free to end if she found things were no longer convenient for her. He had been too distressed by his last divorce, after really having tried to make that marriage work, to feel he could insist on anything with Claudia. I felt it was a rather one-sided involvement, in terms of the commitment between them.

He has helped see her through some dark times, as when she had breast cancer and discovered it had already spread quite a bit, and having subsequent chemo and radiation therapies as well as several surgeries. And it was she who encouraged him to leave the Post Office since he felt it was stressful for him, despite the fact, if they had thought it through, this could very well mean insufficient income or medical benefits and that he might lose all his years' of built-up seniority and credit toward a retirement income.

As it turned out, the worst outcome has occurred. He did not receive the Post Office disability he had hoped for, but is now without what he had there and finds that his current work (as a sales clerk for Sears), at only about a third or a quarter of his previous earnings, with no medical, just won't pay the bills. Nor, at his age (fifty this year), does anyone want to hire him for a good job, especially given that he currently has a bad record at the Post Office, having claimed to his supervisor there that the letter carrier job was too stressful.

Ironically, after having urged him to leave his good job, Claudia now said she did not want a deadbeat under her roof and that if he could not pay his share of the bills, she wanted him out. As mentioned here before, the lady has a bad history with her men, usually mating with depressed males not as smart as she and whom she can emotionally manipulate, then losing them to suicide or booting them out after they get into situations similar to Ron's. I think she's really bad news for them, that, having picked weak men, her transactional analysis "game" includes sabotaging each of them into failure.

But Ron is not taking any responsibility for the mess he's gotten himself into. He is now asking people in his primary family for handouts, somehow having lost to Claudia the towels, dishes, silverware, and such that he had at his own trailer before moving in with her. Nor does he still have the trailer (or the land he had bought to put it on). He probably deeded it over to Claudia at some point, to pacify her about his inability to contribute much to their common budget. Bizarrely, he has moved back in with his third wife and their daughters, but says it is just a temporary living arrangement (till he can get back on his feet financially again), an option not too good, but better than living under a bridge or just out of his truck.

I'm surprised she agreed to this, but perhaps she knew he could not keep paying any alimony if he had to rent an apartment, since in the meantime Claudia had convinced him to buy a nice new truck, an expense he did not have when he met her, and, on his tiny Sears paycheck, the math just does not work out.

Ron has also gotten a loan from our mom to help tide him over. I wonder if it will ever be repaid.

As so many times in the past, Ron likes to go his own way, seldom, even when he was with Claudia or each of his wives, being interested in our getting together socially. Indeed, he usually would not even acknowledge my e-mails, or sometimes not my calls, when I would suggest we have a meal out or go to a movie, meet to catch up on how each of us were doing, and so on. This time too I have been in touch, but there has been no response.

Under the circumstances, I can understand that he may not feel keen to talk or meet, perhaps just being too down or embarrassed even to get back with me. Of course, I know where he works and his approximate schedule there. I may be able to use the excuse of planning for our celebration of his fiftieth birthday anniversary to go see him.

2/23/05-Wed.-Our ISP (AT&T, bless its corporate lack of heart) has become almost totally dysfunctional in the last few days, automatically disconnecting within seconds of establishing any internet connection, and also taking much longer than usual to establish a fleeting connection in the first place. Before a page can be received or a log-in completed, the next disconnection almost always renders the entire wait and effort to that point fruitless. The result is that, for a simple review of one's online brokerage account status, a task previously requiring but 2-3 minutes, nearly an hour is now required. Just checking for e-mail messages, culling the good ones from the junk, and bringing them in can take 30 minutes. Equity research online is impossible. Attempting to add short entries to the various journal sites occupies me for half a day. AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

2/25/05-Fri.-Have stopped for lunch at south Austin's Tien Jin restaurant.

Happily, the ISP difficulties mentioned so recently have completely resolved. Yea! It is such a relief that there was nothing seriously wrong with our system and that I can easily perform routine computer operations again.

Am considering going Sunday evening to an "eating meeting" at the local Unitarian Fellowship, an opportunity to get acquainted with their activities and members. Have not done this kind of thing, going to a religious institution mainly as a social outlet, in many years. But I do not make friends easily outside a people setting of some type, like (in times past) work, the Lifestream Way, an investment group, the Sierra Club, a graduate school class, a labor union organizing committee, a choir, a Wesley Foundation coffee house, a support group, a drama club, and so on. Since my retirement, a little over three years ago, I find I have an even smaller social network than before. I am committed to trying out at least one new social setting a month until I find my "social calendar" is again as full and rewarding as I could wish. At least at a Unitarian organization there is unlikely to be an expectation I would share a particular set of spiritual beliefs. Agnosticism is, if not encouraged, at least tolerated. Accepting outright atheism is perhaps a stretch for folks there, but one need not throw it in their face. I tend to alternate between those two rather bah-humbug-ish poles.

During a recent walk, perhaps stimulated in this by reading a few days ago the quite intriguing book, Richard Alley's The Two-Mile Time Machine - Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, I was struck by how tenuous, despite our species' current seeming domination of earth, are our collective existences here.

In five minutes, when lights and traffic would permit it, I can readily drive the approximately five miles between my home and the Colorado River that divides this city, north and south. On a clear, unpolluted day I can easily see at least twice this distance, to the downtown metropolis and beyond. If I fire a bullet toward the river from a high-powered rifle, and it manages to complete the trip without accidentally hitting something or someone on the way, it will cover the same five-mile space in only around 30-40 seconds. It is, in other words, a not very great distance. In fact, it is merely .000625 the diameter of our planet, a value small enough that, looking at a cross section of our orb from a distance, we would be hard pressed to even notice it at all. Yet 99% of us exist in a terribly thin region, at or above sea level, only about 1/5 this distance. The five mile interval defines the inner and outer limits, in the entire universe, of a sheer shell, from about a mile beneath to roughly four miles over the surface of our world, within which we can comfortably live, without expensive and cumbersome life supports. If earth were a grape, the region in which we could live normally upon it would be far thinner than its skin. Even in that rarified realm, we are restricted largely to the areas of solid ground surface, less than a third of the planet's surface, and to Goldilocks places, neither too hot nor too cold.

Yet this terribly limited, superficial human presence is still subject to the apparent whims of climatic, astronomical, or geological forces outside our real control. Civilization has arisen only with the "acquiescence" of these forces. It could not have been born within or withstood earth's earlier periods of extreme global warming or massive ice age glaciations.

So, for all the vaunted self-importance of a variety of our leaders and spokespersons, perhaps a bit of humility is in order before all that is greater than we and still mostly beyond our understanding. Our being is in a sense at the mercy of this...whatever it is, god, fate, that which is, or ultimate mystery?

I don't know if it has to do with my relative isolation while Frances is away or my extra meditation in this period, but I notice I'm somewhat wordier lately!

Later. I had just written the above while at the eatery and was heading home when, at the intersection of Brodie and William Cannon in south Austin, I witnessed an accident. It was between two vehicles, what looked like a larger white van and a smaller red one. Their drivers were apparently both waiting to turn left from adjoining turn lanes, initially facing east and ready to go north onto Brodie, the white van in the outermost (or most southern) of the two left lanes, the red one in the innermost (or most northern) of the left turn lanes. When the light changed, the outermost, or white, van proceeded into the intersection heading left as the red one was doing as well. The red one remained in its lane as it began the turn. However, the white one immediately began veering into the red one's lane, failing to yield right of way, its left front fender therefore colliding with the red one's right front fender. Debris was scattered on the roadway.

The drivers stopped and seemed to exchange some information, but just a few seconds later, by the time I had gotten out of the intersection myself* and parked at the nearby drugstore parking lot, both vehicles were already gone. I looked for them and even drove around to see if I could find them to report being a witness or offer my version of what had happened, but never was able to locate them again. So I called 311 and told the Austin Police Department of the incident as soon as I got home, and left my name and number. Oddly, the APD said the accident, which I'd estimate would cost about $4000-5000 (counting both vehicles) to fix, had never been called in by either driver or by anyone else before me. (*I was on William Cannon, stopped in the left turn lane opposite the red van, initially facing west and about to head south down Brodie, when the accident occurred.)

2/27/05-Sun.-It seems I blew my first chance to get involved with south Austin's Wildflower Unitarian Church. I had remembered the date of the social get-together wrong, and it was not at the church, as I'd thought, but in a private home two evenings ago, per their newsletter, which I finally rechecked this morning in anticipation of going there tonight. Hmm.

I have to question how real my commitment had been to this venture, to be so easily deflected. I may still try out at least one of the Unitarian Fellowship activities here, but not this weekend. Meanwhile, I'm still looking for the next social outlet to try, in accordance with my regimen of at least one each month.

2/28/05-Mon.-Enjoyed the Academy Awards show last night, but it didn't seem as big a deal this time as in years past. Was it just me?

Puff and I went to bed around 3AM. Both of us got up once to do our necessaries and then rose for the day about 7:30 this morning.

I took us for a walk, brushed my teeth, and then drove us over for a free (coupon) breakfast for me (and an impatient wait at a shady spot in the car for the beast), plus grocery shopping at HEB.

Continuing my speculations on ways to build a social network, I made a short list this evening of options (besides Unitarian Fellowship activities) in which I've at least a tentative interest: a beginner's chess group, a bowling league, a choir, a writing group, a mystery book discussion club, a ceramic sculpture class or group, a theater group, an environmental organization, a potluck eating (vegetarian?) group, volunteer counseling, some other type volunteer activity involving contact with all age groups and both sexes (friends of Austin libraries perhaps?), and meditation group(s). I'll do a little research through Google, community colleges, and Austin papers, and then take the next step(s).

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