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February, 2007: 2 4 10 19 26 27 28

2/2/07-Fri.-Fran and I arrived in Waco, for a new weekend visit, around noon. It has been a relaxed, low-key day. We went out to eat with Mom this evening. Then Fran worked on a jigsaw puzzle while Mom and I watched our customary, weekly PBS news programs. I got in a little meditation this afternoon and evening.

2/4/07-Sun.-The dog, Frances, and I went to the Waco zoo yesterday. The weather was cool enough for Puff to stay in the car. We left the windows down a bit. About half-way through our stay there, I went back to check on her and gave her a break and exercise run.

I had gotten a little bent out of shape, and was finding it hard not to give Mom a large piece or two of my mind about it, after she'd told me that my brother, Horace (who happens, in his self-righteous, fanatical Christian way, to feel rather contemptuous of her), though with her complete agreement or at least acquiescence, charges her not only a management fee but also commissions for his stock brokerage relationship with her. (Talk about a conflict of interest.) The result is that he gets an extra $10,000 or so a year of her funds, for the same services that cost us about $500 a year through Charles Schwab. Horace has never had a single college course. He is pretty smart and a good salesman, but his qualifications as a financial consultant, broker, or money manager would not seem, objectively, to warrant even an extra $1000, much less $10,000, annually, of either her money or anyone else's. On the other hand, he and Leila have provided her with five grandkids. That doubtless counts for a lot. It's none of my business anyway. (Yet it does bug me. Even if not very wisely, Mom makes all her own investment decisions. And Horace not infrequently mixes up or delays executing her orders. So what does she need his expensive "management" for, except as an excuse to be generous to this grandchild producer? Perhaps too she hopes to placate him. She knows of his negativity from the way he disrespects her both in private and public. How many thousands would it take to buy his love? Clearly a lot more than she lavishes upon him.)

I took a nap late in the afternoon, but Fran stayed up, further putting together the jigsaw puzzle or processing more of her digital pictures.

Last night, Horace, Leila, Chris, Charley, and Keith came by Mom's (after a delay following Leila and Horace's church winning a dodge ball tournament), for a pot-luck dinner and an early celebration of Chris' birthday this week. He had been unable to come last weekend, due to an important inventory for which he was partly in charge. But he flew in yesterday from Las Vegas, where he and Helen live and work, to be on hand and help Leila grieve over her mother's recent death.

Despite that somber catalyst for his trip and my personal reservations about Horace and Leila, not to mention their own antipathies, we all had a pleasant enough visit last evening, dining on good vittles, chatting, joking, playing pool, and so forth.

Today, Mom, Fran, and I had a leisurely morning. After our snack brunch at home, Fran helped Mom with a computer problem while I got things packed up and out to the car, added oil to its engine, etc.

We drove home with no troubles and had most of our trip stuff put away by 3:00, just in time for some needed rest.

2/10/07-Sat.-Have been down lately. My mom and at least one of my brothers apparently have problems with bipolar disorder. Both have from time to time, or in Mom's case more or less all the time since Dad died, treated it themselves with alcohol. I wonder if I have at least a mild form as well.

Or it could be just a combination of fatigue and situational blues. But under the throws of this funk, little is enthusing presently. Instead, a variety of little or not so minor matters are giving me the impression the glass is half-empty. For instance, our cooler, largely overcast weather of the last day or so, that normally I would love, stimulates sadness now.

And there have been disconcerting little frictions with some in my family or during my library volunteer shift.

For awhile almost every dream group meeting led to my feeling more upbeat. There was plenty of positive feedback as well as at least the semblance of healthy change occurring. But when I am feeling as I have been lately, I am reminded of the importance of low expectations. High hopes lead to disappointment. This is true recently for the meditation regimen as well. I tell myself it is merely a phase, but while depressed it is hard to believe this.

It appears too that I either have once more gotten too much on my proverbial plate or need more sleep. Perhaps both are true. In any case, there is as usual too little time in one rotation of the planet. A mountain of still pending big and little projects troubles me. I seldom feel either well rested or that I am accomplishing enough to make a real dent in this majestic peak!

Among my acquaintances, several (people and/or pets) are ill or even dying.

The mower we bought new about 16 months ago, and which I have been nursing along ever since, quit on me twice more today, after operating for only 10 minutes or less. I spent nearly an hour beforehand getting the machine cleaned up from the last time, then had another clean-up session with it after it went caput for the second instance in less than five minutes. GGGGRRRRR!!!!! I have no confidence that it will run properly when I try again tomorrow. It has been this way off and on since we got it.

To touch on happier matters, I am looking forward to attending an Austin Chamber Ensemble concert (in which Frances is performing), tomorrow afternoon. Dvorak and Mozart compositions will be featured.

I saw the new Clint Eastwood directed movie, "Letters from Iwo Jima," yesterday afternoon, while over at the Barton Creek Mall anyway to get in a few miles of walking exercise there. It is a terrific film, but, again, not likely to lift one's spirits.

A similar assessment may be made of my current reading, The Sea, by John Banville.

This evening a funny thing occurred. Fran had gotten home late from a concert performance, and we were talking about why: a fatal auto mishap had traffic badly backed up on Mopac. Then, as we were chatting, Frances noticed something strange going on with Puff. She was making an odd noise and moving in a weird way while hunkered down under a table. It turned out she had a foot caught, stuck on a cream cheese wrapper she had grabbed off a plate, where I had it next to the rest of my supper, and while Fran and I were busy discussing the hazards of vehicular movement in this fair city, our best of all possible pooches had managed not only to snatch but also to snack on most of the stolen product before her bizarre movements had gotten our attention. She was soundly scolded, of course, but then had an accident herself, peeing on the carpet, after we had both yelled at her. (Sigh!)

2/19/07-Mon.-Have finished reading The Sea, by John Banville. I love this quote from it (on page 137 of the Knopf hardback edition), for its elegant simplicity: "Given the world that he created, it would be an impiety against God to believe in him."

The last several days have seen the usual round of routine activities for Fran and myself. She has finished the last for awhile of her rehearsals and performing, though she continues duets and pleasant visits with a friend, each week when they are both in town. Fran's almost daily outdoor nature photography sessions go on also.

My readings, book discussion meetings, library volunteer work, dream group, etc., are ongoing.

Valentine's Day came and went this past week. We exchanged appropriately sweet, traditional cards, and the next day (to avoid the crowds) we had a celebratory dinner at Alborz.

Instead of special wrapped gifts, we decided on a vacation trip to Houston, for Frances did not think of anything else she would like to have. She even has plenty of such luxuries as chocolate to last for weeks if not months. But we'll head over to Houston next week for a few days of browsing museums or going to the zoo. Fran may also spend a few hours at Brazos Bend State Park. I'll go to the park as well if not too tired from our drive that first day. We had originally planned to stay in a motel at night while there, but for various reasons that idea turned out not to be so good. Instead, we'll be at my sister-in-law Mary's place. We'll also take her out to dinner at a nice restaurant one evening.

Speaking of vacations, we got negative news several days ago. Fran was notified of the next Gilbert and Sullivan Society rehearsal schedule. It turns out, things get hopping for their new production a week earlier this year than previously, which nixes our plans for a trip together to Yellowstone. Quite disappointing, especially for Frances. Also expensive. We had to commit to paying at least 10% of our total bill, up front and nonrefundable, to make our lodging reservations. So, now the question, as it was in 2004, is whether I shall go by myself. Her not playing the G&S Society gig is out of the question. She has my complete agreement on that.

Puff has had another hair trim. She gets these every few months. She looks quite different without all the fur-ball fuzz. Her behavior has altered too. Now she tends to be rather cool or cold and hyper, not nearly so lethargic as she naturally had been becoming when getting hot easily much of the time.

Oddly, unlike Pepper, she does not like to wear a sweater, even if shivering with cold. The few times we have put it on her anyway (concerned about her health as we have experienced very frigid days and, especially, nights recently), she acts depressed. Of course, now she is more than usually affectionate too, wanting the comfort of our heat apparently. Fran likes her to sleep next to her, under part of the cover.

We are finishing up our February newsletter, so the last days have been hectic, but we are getting things wrapped up in time.

I have also finished the 2006 stock transaction cost basis recording for our tax return. We got the compiled report printed this evening, ready for our CPA.

After coddling the lawnmower repeatedly with fresh maintenance sessions and following just five tries, I finally got half of the back yard mowed and its leaves mulched. I have had it with that machine. Once I at length complete the other half, I'll be ready to pitch the thing into the nearest dumpster and buy another. Meanwhile, behind the house it is quickly approaching time to plant 2-3 pallets of new turf in our sad excuse for sod.

Nor are mower hassles the only ones. Our printer often gives us fits as well. And Fran's car still burns oil like a greasy spoon eatery.

Though not at the level of dedication to which I aspire, meditation remains a part of my daily agenda. I am aiming for less overall complexity in the coming months, and so more opportunities for this type regimen.

2/26/07 (2 AM)-Mon.-This should prove to be a busy day, at least after a late night "nap." Along with placing a hold on our mail, we need to pack up, so we can leave early, if not bright, tomorrow on our trip to Houston. I also need to get a haircut and do a variety of other errands or chores before being free to depart.

Today is Fran's birthday (49), and we'll have a minor celebration. Even if it is 7 squared, in our usual way of thinking about such things there is nothing special about one's 49th birthday anniversary. How different if we had 7 fingers and toes each instead of 10.

Have taken on additional responsibilities with each of my book groups. I think the new duties make me a glorified secretary, but some in each organization are treating me as the leader. Fortunately, it does not require much skill to facilitate the activities.

At the meetings, my synapses are occasionally short-circuiting at just the wrong time. Along with most everyone else, I call these senior moments. They are worrisome. I cannot tell, though, if I have them now more than ever. I used, even as a child and teenager, to have a lot of trouble thinking of just the word or name I wanted. In those days, though, I was witty enough to cover for it by pretending to have such gaps on purpose, then coming up with a precise, roundabout description of what I could not name, till someone else would get it, to my relief.

Of course, at this age one has concerns about Alzheimer's. When I was growing up, it was just called dementia (or worse). My maternal great grandfather, by Mom's report, suffered from it, to the point he could no longer function independently by his 70s, despite having led a productive, apparently interesting life till then. Mom said her mom had some problems mentally as well. And Mom herself certainly has lapses, when she cannot recall having told someone the same thing only five minutes before. But I ascribe that to her ongoing alcohol abuse. Ongoing, at least, till a few days ago. Her doctor has advised her to quit, saying it and caffeine are contributing to infrequent tachycardia episodes. We'll see if she stays on the wagon this time. Hope so!

At least I'm as yet able to act the part of someone who has it fairly well together, and our investments are still going up nicely under present stewardship. Knock on wood.

I get the impression at times that Frances already thinks I'm more over the hill than feels the case for me. If so, it should be intriguing to see how such divergent assessments play out over time. How can spouses hope to be objective in such matters? And in more than a few instances there may be a large conflict of interest. I have worked on locked wards where patients were admitted by their significant others, and it was obvious they mainly wanted the people out of the way, to the extent of exaggerating the conditions' severity. In one case, a lady even received a lobotomy, kindly approved for her by her husband. Perhaps best to enjoy things to the fullest now, for... (smile).

On recent walks, Puff and I had an encounter with an opossum, one night, and heard a chorus of coyotes the next evening.

I'm taking Ibuprofen currently for a variety of sharp and dull pains, mainly from an exacerbation of plantar fasciitis and the problem with my right wrist and forearm to which I referred in the dream of 2/19 (see "Dream Realm Diaries,"). I suppose I need to see a doctor about these aches. Of course, if the arm problem is due to bone cancer, there seems little point. More likely it is just from a flare-up of osteoarthritis. For that too, though, there may be little point consulting a sawbones. What could she or he do about that? Well, one thing is positive: this kind of pain really focuses the mind. It has got to be good for my meditation!

We said "Goodbye" to our lemon of a lawnmower yesterday. After the last time (Saturday) it had failed to function, in disgust and also with a feeling of superbly good riddance, I put it on the curb for our neighborhood's bulk garbage pickup this week. By several hours ago it was gone, apparently having been picked up by scavenging junk dealers or just folks looking for a bargain. I wish them better luck with it than we had!

2/27/07-Tues.-We got underway toward Houston about 8:45. Driving conditions were somewhat hazardous, with fog and mist. Fran and I were both a little on edge, which often results in briefly bickering exchanges. We can go for weeks with nothing close to an argument, then be snapping at one another easily as soon as involved in a trip.

I recall an NPR segment about people who successfully combine domesticity and career, working in partnership with the persons with whom they are also in relationship. All interviewed agreed this was a big challenge, not able to be pulled off by most. The acid test, for whether or not a couple could manage it, was if they liked going on vacations together as much as or better than just their routine times at home.

There certainly might be exceptions, but in general Frances and I would not seem to be good candidates for living plus working closely together. Being retired presents its own hurdles for a dyad. Yet usually we do alright. And in fact this morning Fran and I were talking pleasantly again long before our first stop, in LaGrange.

Not far past there, I saw a dead calf with several vultures. We had also seen a red-tailed hawk, not to mention abundant road killed animals: raccoons, deer, etc.

Later. We got to our sister-in-law Mary's place (where we're spending the nights) about noon, stayed just a little while, and set off for Brazos Bend State Park. But we missed a turn and drove out of our way for another half-hour or so before realizing the error. By the time we could then arrive, there would not be enough opportunity to enjoy what the park had to offer before time to go meet Mary for our dinner plans. A wasted afternoon. We learned later the signs were down that would have led us to it in the direction we had first been going, though these were up and clearly obvious the other way. We speculate one or more of them were taken out by Hurricane Rita or else by road construction workers. Anyway, Fran, who had gotten the directions and was driving, was pretty upset at this frustrating wrinkle, a not so great beginning to our vacation. Still, we had not had have a wreck or even a car breakdown, just an unfortunate mix-up.

2/28/07-Wed.-After yesterday afternoon's disappointment, things went much better for us toward and into that evening. With a bit of difficulty, but nonetheless successfully, we had found our way back to Mary's place. Her house is bright, neat, clean, comfortable, and well organized, an ideal retreat. We rested, played with the dog, ventilated a little once Mary had gotten back from work, and then went out to eat at a great Indian food buffet restaurant. We had a most pleasant (if somewhat expensive) time visiting over our victuals. Then there was a little more visiting, plus more play with Puff, back at Mary's.

Mary is both early in retiring for the night and an early riser. ("Early to bed and early to rise makes a man [or woman?] healthy, wealthy, and wise..." or something like that.) Once she had gone to bed, I did some meditation, Fran took a shower, and our canine explored.

During the day, whenever my mind would not be occupied otherwise, I noticed my symptomatic right arm. I have never before experienced anything like this. Although the pain seems worst in the wrist area, there is a burning sensation as well as soreness all up and down the extremity. It is especially focused in the joints, from shoulder to fingers (except for the elbow, for some reason). The feeling of hot soreness is even present somewhat between the joints. It is as if the arm has the flu, for it feels achy and "feverish" almost throughout.

The ailment is quite puzzling, and I am left just speculating about the cause. Various things would seem to fit some but not all the symptoms: cancer; residuals of a mild stroke; shingles (for which I had a vaccination 2-3 months ago); lupus; rheumatoid arthritis; a bad strain; a broken bone; osteoarthritis; etc. Already I can notice a tendency to do less with the right arm due to the pain. Obviously, this must be countered with extra physical or occupational therapy exercises, till I have a better handle on what this is and it is (hopefully) under better control.

I have an appointment to see the doctor about it next Tuesday.

Later. My plumbing was not cooperative last night. As a result, it took nearly two hours to get to the point I could sleep. Then I had to be up with the same problem in the middle of the night.

I was tired therefore for most of today's activities, but they were pleasant enough. Frances and I drove to the Houston Zoo and had no major difficulties with directions. We stayed for about five hours, enjoying what there was to see and taking quite a few photos.

We got home in time to look after Puff's needs before Mary returned from work. Then, we reviewed our pictures, got ready, and drove over to meet my brother Ernie, in town to manage one of his contract construction projects. We had a good dinner together at a TexMex restaurant next door to his motel. Mary, meanwhile, was off for an evening of Buddhist philosophy instruction and meditation, not returning till nearly 10 PM. She got ready and went to bed soon after getting home.

Her second car (her son Jim's when he's in town) has a dead battery, only discovered this evening. I offered to jump it for her, but she prefers to deal with the problem through AAA and the dealership.

After taking the dog for a late walk and playing with her awhile, I got ready for bed too. Typically, Frances beat me to it, though, already asleep by the time I took my shower.

Am appreciating a new book, Forever, by Pete Hamill.

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