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3/1/04-Mon.-I voted as an absentee today in Texas' primary and made my selections on the few other election issues. During the same trip, Fran and I went over to Burger King and enjoyed some of their more heart-healthy sandwiches, for which we had a two-for-one coupon.

A follow-up thought concerning Yellowstone in September. Although it would be very disappointing if Fran cannot join us because of her opera obligations, Mom and I could still go on our own. Indeed, Frances suggested this herself, though we all may surely hope it does not work out that way.

Late that month, Trudy, Fran's sister, with her kids and some of her champion Rhodesian ridgeback dogs, is likely to drop in here for a few days. It should be fun to see how those huge canines and our tiny one get along, and how Puff takes to the youngsters. Our last pet was rather standoffish about other dogs, and also tended to nip at children who kept pestering her. But I suspect Puff will take to such treatment like Brer Rabbit to the proverbial briar patch. On the other hand, the wirehair fox terrier breed tends to be fearless with other beasts, taking on even those much bigger than herself if they don't agree that, regardless of the size discrepancies, she's the most dominant canine around. It is a trait that makes me wonder how the wire fox terriers have survived!

We three went over to Zilker Park this AM for walking and/or checking out all the sights and sounds, plus taking pictures of our cream Puff in the botanical garden settings.

Linda, Fran's mom, tells us she is feeling better and is very appreciative of all the contacts from friends and relatives.

Fran and I had a fun dinner get-together, in belated celebration of her birthday, with some of our Baltic Buzzards friends, plus Matt's younger brother, Luke, a very nice fellow, last night. We started at Bombay Grill, and then the others drove over to our place and stayed about another hour or so, chatting and meeting Puff who, for a change, was on her best behavior. She loved all the extra attention.

Happily, Fran and I have resumed normal conjugal relations, after a hiatus that began with her leaving for Florida late in January and continued with our initial adjustments to a mighty little disruptive wind, Puff, blowing through our formerly more orderly and restful lives.

Far be it from being housebroken, our wirehaired (even her whiskers are curly!) pup is near success at breaking-in her house owners. Hardly a square yard of our lot exists that has not suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous Puff, some with gnawed-off perennial stalks and stems, some with multiple fresh little indentations where her snout has briefly burrowed. Nor have our fair forms been spared the marks of her razor sharp toothy grin. Our clothes now have dozens of tiny tufts where threads have been severed and pulled outward. Our flesh has several punctures, mainly on the hand or arm areas, but with a few wounds even about the face and head. One could say, without fear of error, that Princess Puff rules by means of terror!

Actually, our attempts at training this tyrannical terrier have their ups and downs. Sometimes it feels as though we are gaining a bit of better control, but then a new pile of toxic waste appears on the tax records I have spread on the floor in an out of the way room, a fresh yellow-hued great lake materializes upon the tiles below where we fix out meals, or Puff suddenly leaps up, grabs a mouthful of shirt or slacks fabric, and pulls with all her yanking weight.

Still, she has her charms.

My spouse was off Saturday afternoon to a fellow gardener's abode downtown, for a visit and to pick up free plants, bringing back bucketfuls. He and his partner have converted their entire large lot over to cultivated areas, leaving no regular yard. In fact, they put dirt across half of their driveway for yet more room for flora. So, he always has wonderful natural things going on and plenty of cuttings and extra young offspring of chlorophyll organisms to bestow on visitors like Frances.

When she returns from his house, I see a look of cool appraisal in Fran's eye, that means she's mentally measuring the worth of our already reduced grassy carpet against the pleasures she'd have if it were all transformed into islands of wildly growing things, separated only by little brick walkways or the occasional pond.

But I hold out for the balance of my turf, if for no other reason than that I get a modicum of aerobic exercise from manicuring it periodically, whittling down the thatch or pulverizing the masses of leaves, meanwhile loading up the atmosphere with great new clouds of greenhouse gases. (One day there will be no more Homo sapiens messing about on this pearly world. I want to do my part toward that worthy outcome.)

3/4/04-Thurs.-Up a couple times during the night, initially with our pooch, who'd been making noises of distress (or boredom) from her kennel, then later with a lot of pain in my right shoulder area. I took the dog out the first time. She both pooped and peed. The second time, I massaged the symptomatic joint and moved my right arm around until the worst of the tension was resolved. The alarm went off about 6:45. I got ready, drove Fran's car over to Wal-Mart, left it for an oil change plus lube, and stopped at Chick-Fil-A for coffee and a snack while waiting for it to be ready.

Puff had an accident, urinating on the kitchen floor, just before I left, only minutes after Frances had taken her out. The dog had not wanted to do her business in the yard. Essentially the same thing happened twice yesterday. I wonder if her urinary infection is back. For a few days it had seemed she was doing a lot better, only eliminating outside. Now it's as though she just doesn't get it. In the book The Weekend Dog the author indicates that, using the kennel training method (which we are), the puppy will usually be completely housebroken in three or four weeks. It's now been four weeks for Puff, but unless we take the bull by the horns to get her out frequently, she still messes where she pleases, inside or out. Discouraging!

Of course, our friends, Glenda and Matt, who almost always have three or four dogs about, tell us puppies aren't really old enough to begin understanding housebreaking till at least three months old. Puff will be just ten weeks of age tomorrow.

I guess we really lucked out with Pepper who perfectly fit The Weekend Dog script and, from very early on, gave us absolutely no problems with accidents, from Puff's current age until already quite old and when suffering from both liver cancer and bladder disease.

Once again, I see the value of "low expectations."

I'll be taking the pup in tomorrow for her second set of shots and to pick up some Frontline Plus. She's already been bothered by a few fleas.

Fran's teaching her to fetch a ball. That she understands very well, running to it, retrieving it, and bringing it back several times before getting tired or distracted. Pepper had never learned to fetch. So I suppose, just as with humans, there are different kinds of dog intelligence.

Last evening, Frances and I took Puff on her first long (about two miles) aerobic walk in the neighborhood. She did pretty well, running to keep up, or even staying slightly ahead of us, much of the way, and not struggling against the leash (as she had a little when I walked her down the block to our bank of mailboxes, at the end of her first week here). She got rather tired, though, and a couple times we had to lift up her still tiny torso and carry her awhile. Afterward, she was exhausted and slept deeply (until the wee hours, when Fran and I were trying to rest).

Fran's learned that the opera rehearsal and performance dates, the season always beginning in November before this, have been moved back to September this year, during the period when we would have been going to Yellowstone.

The room reservations were already going fast last October, when we made ours, so changing the time we'll be there is not an option. Besides, the only other time we'd been interested in going (to avoid most of the madding crowd) was in June, and that month we'll be involved with the services for Fran's dad in IL.

I've asked Mom to think about our going ahead, just the two of us, but our "chemistry" is often not the same when Fran's not around to buffer and distract us from the inevitable frictions arising from our respective rough edges and a lifetime of "issues" between us. Chances are she'll opt not to go if Fran cannot be there too.

Later. While I was away taking care of the oil change business, my mom sent an e-mail suggesting possibly Linda, Fran's mom, might join us on the Yellowstone trip. Linda and I have never gotten along well. This is the lady who gave me information on dealing with a heart attack for my first wrapped Christmas gift after Fran and I'd gotten married. It wasn't even a joke.

She and Fran have a fairly exclusive relationship and, before Mike's death, were apt to complain to each other about their men as if they were restricting them, meanwhile going off together and leaving their husbands at home for extended periods (as they left him, dying of cancer, alone while they went on fun trips together last month).

Linda's always been very reserved around me, never really friendly, and after the last visit Fran made to FL, before which Linda had made clear Fran was welcome but I was not, I told Frances she should understand that I now felt she (Linda) also was not welcome in our house. I figured I was showing laudable forbearance, then, when I recently accepted with little comment Linda's saying she now wanted to come here for awhile, after things settle down some for her following Mike's dying.

Unfortunately, true to form, often giving precedence to her mom's feelings over mine, as though seeking ways to curry favor and gain Linda's further approval, on seeing my mom's suggestion and without consulting me, Fran sent Linda an e-mail saying my mom wanted her to join us on the Yellowstone trip. Wonderful!

Since I'm definitely not interested in a trip to Yellowstone with Linda instead of Frances, I'll leave it to my wife to sort out this new complication she's created, hopefully without getting me that much further in Dutch with Linda. Of course, it will likely now be clear to her mom that I'm the reason her involvement in the trip is being nixed. How do things get so complicated?

At times it feels as if I live now at the mercy of the separate agendas of these four strong-willed females, Fran, my mom, her mom, and Puff. But that simplistic assessment doesn't take into account my own strong-willed initiatives and reactions. Nor that I've had a hand in the level of utter confusion let into my life. At the moment, though, I'm seeing the need to adjust the chaos dimmer knob downward!

We've been getting quite a drenching here in south Austin in the last few days. During a one-hour period this afternoon, for instance, we must have received two to three inches of cloudburst precipitation. All low areas and ponds in our yard are now full. This storm front is roaring across Texas with quite dramatic, often destructive power today, in places accompanied by winds up to 80 MPH. It fits my mood fairly well.

3/7/04-Sun.-There've been a couple neat changes lately. Amazingly enough, since the last entry Fran's mom, Linda, and I have been in touch and are now actually acting like people fond of each other. She was moved by a sincere tribute for Mike, Fran's dad, which I'd written and sent to her, and I, in turn, was surprised and pleased with her quite positive response to it. So, at least unless or until there are new signs of serious estrangement, I'm happy to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, my mom is seeming content with our going to Yellowstone, an opportunity for some quality time together, just the two of us, next September.

Puff is not suddenly a well-trained beast, but at least has had only one accident since Thursday and is not biting us as much as before. She is still demanding enough of our attention and care that I continue to feel fatigued most of the time, particularly as, both at night and during a hypothetical afternoon nap time, she is often noisy and letting us know she wishes us to look after her rather than get another forty, or even twenty, winks. It would be so much easier if we intended that she be only an outside dog, but we are more ambitious than that for her, hopefully not naively so.

I've begun corresponding with a thirty-nine year old man in Beijing, China, who needs help with his English and is studying and translating books (from English) on the history of science. In the e-mail received from him today, he asks for assistance with the following poem, which he says is on page two of A History of Psychiatry, by Edward Shorter:

"Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
 That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
 How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
 Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
 From seasons such as these?"

I'm no scholar, as I hastened to let him know, and so can only guess at the poet's metaphorical meaning or how it applies to Shorter's book. Have you any ideas, Reader?

My pen pal requests that I put the poem into modern English. Hmm. This is likely beyond me. I've no idea, for instance, what "loop'd and window'd raggedness" may be, unless it is a state of being barely clothed, in tattered garments, held about one's person with improvised loops and ties.

Nor have I a clue as to why these lines open a book on psychiatric history. Or how to convey such ideas properly to someone of another culture, of which I know little.

Still, the periodic effort to communicate with the fellow about such notions holds my interest.

Another pen pal, a "lady in Spain," asked my views on the death penalty, the average U.S. adult citizen having one or more guns, and our assumed right to bear arms.

I am generally opposed to the death penalty, I wrote her. I'm sure circumstances could occur that I'd consider an exception to that view, but I'd rather be "incorrect" occasionally, with life sentences given for even terribly heinous crimes, than opt in favor of capital punishment in more instances.

I do not think the state killing people makes for a better society. And, as capital punishment is practiced in our country, it is clear that the poor and minorities are much more likely to be put to death by the government, sometimes even in error, occasionally even when those in power are aware of major mistakes in the defense or prosecution of the individuals who will be so killed. This is not a rational approach to criminal justice, it seems to me, and instead at times simply serves short-sighted and/or corrupt political ends.

I very much wish the owning of firearms were a rare exception here. The U.S. constitutional protection of the right of a militia to bear arms has been analyzed by historians. It turns out that our founding fathers did not mean that anyone who wishes should have one or more firearms, let alone machineguns, assault weapons, etc. The intention, as I understand it, was that communities could raise and arm groups of people for local defense in time of war or insurrection, not that each person could arm himself for vigilante type self-defense (or offensive) activities. In the past this "right" appears to have been selectively applied. White men have seen to it that they have abundant access to and ownership of firearms, but have sought to keep them out of the hands of certain minorities. Is the assumed constitutional "right" to bear arms only the law of the land for the dominant white race?

Also, even if the relatively inefficient weapons of the late 18th century (when our Constitution was written) were intended to be accessible to the average citizen, that would be a far cry from endorsing the arming of the general populace with highly lethal modern firearms.

And one need only look at the result to find ample cause for concern. Far from protecting us, the general ownership of guns, rifles, semi-automatic weapons, machine-pistols or machine-guns, etc., has led to probably the highest level of criminal, suicidal, or accidental deaths and injuries from firearms of any country in the world, certainly of any developed nation. Again, it is politics, not reason, that is at work here. There may be a link between our prevalent ownership of firearms and our too often "cowboy" and unilateralist approach to foreign policy. There might be a connection too between our "western justice" approach to dealing with criminals, by killing them, and our sense of a "right" to individually bear arms.

Yesterday, Frances and I went to one of her favorite eateries, Buffet Palace, near Anderson and IH 183 (or North Lamar). Good vittles!

This afternoon, I gave Frances her long massage while we watched the amusing 1964 Blake Edwards film, with Peter Sellers, "Shot in the Dark." It was so funny! In one place, though, I laughed after just having taken a sip of coffee, unfortunately splattering the liquid on Fran's exposed foot and leg.

On my evening walks lately, either for exercise or just to give Puff a chance in our backyard to take a "whiz," I've been struck by the beauty and drama of our night sky. In the last two or three days, we've had clear weather, and the Moon has been approaching and then achieving fullness. Night before last, it conveyed a most eerie yet stunningly evocative mood, the Moon's brightness coming through our large live oak tree branches so intensely there was no need for any artificial light, yet the Moon itself was obscured by the tree's trunk. The scene had a dreamlike, surrealistic quality. Tonight, as the Moon was just lifting off the horizon, it had that huge, orange aspect it sometimes acquires, looking so large it gave the illusion it was falling to Earth. Later the planet Jupiter looked quite near the Moon, while, almost opposite in the starry bowl, Venus stood out as an even more striking night-time jewel.

3/10/04-Wed.-Up about 6:30 this morning, having gone to sleep only four hours earlier. I took Puff out for her first pee of the day, fed her, took her out for her first poop plus a second pee, checked e-mail messages, jotted down notes on what's most pressing to do this Wednesday, and heated up water for coffee.

But by then Frances had gotten up and said she'd leave shortly with Puff for Zilker Park. I felt too exhausted to join in their fun, and instead used the opportunity to get in a nap, waking up just before they returned three hours later. At least now I shouldn't be so tired!

Yesterday, Fran and I completed getting our 2003 records ready for the CPA to prepare our tax return, a major project this time and one for which I'd been working some almost daily for months. Never before had there been so many transactions, stock splits, investment company name changes, stock dividends, buy-outs, mutual fund buys and sells for short-term vs. long-term profits, and so on. Nor, prior to last year, had we ever had such capital gains. We'll likely owe a hefty amount to Uncle Sam.

But, being essentially retired, our actual earnings were quite modest, only about $6000 between us, so the contributions we may make to our tax-deferred retirement accounts are limited.

We wonder if we ought to incorporate. Are there still significant tax breaks for a couple who treat their finances, for legal purposes, as a business, or is that no longer true in the current, low tax environment? Better ask that question on a tax strategies discussion board.

I need to get the financial papers over to our accountant. Once that's done there are several other priorities pending.

Early yesterday afternoon we had a thrill. Fran heard some sandhill cranes (big migratory birds) calling and, looking up, saw them above our backyard. She rushed in and got me. We both watched as four Vs of them (about 100-200 individual fowl) approached and then began rotating and riding some thermals (rising columns of warmer air) above our immediate neighborhood until they were all much higher. For awhile all four Vs had merged while in the thermals column, but then the birds separated again into new formations and continued their long journey, from the SE to the NW, on out of our viewing or hearing. They were probably departing the Texas coastal marshes just that morning and, in a few days, with luck, will be in the northern states, perhaps WI, IL, or MI, for the spring and summer. Indeed, there's a good chance we'll see sandhill cranes again when we, migrating as well, are up north in three months, visiting again our relatives in WI, or attending the memorial for Mike in IL.

Last night, nearby, a poor cat was crying, perhaps another one caught in one of our neighbors' trees.

Early that evening I saw a male anole (a colorful kind of lizard of our area, that can easily change color between brown and green) walking along the top of our wooden back fence.

Night before last, when out with our pup, Puff, I had my flashlight and, in the leaf litter, saw my first ladybug beetle of the new, early spring season.

Later. Made my trip this afternoon over to the accountant. Stopped for coffee at Randall's on the return trip.

When I bought my car, back in 1990, it was to replace a VW Beetle I'd had since 1974, that never had a radio. So, I was delighted that my Toyota Tercel came with one, and I could now listen to NPR or KMFA, Austin's classical music station, whenever I wished. This made the long commutes to and from work a lot less onerous.

But now there's a short in the radio system. I'll be driving along, listening to a great piece of music or an interesting story on National Public Radio when, without warning, usually in the midst of a musical phrase or verbal sentence, the speakers just go silent. No amount of fiddling with the dial or the on/off switch makes any difference. Whether or when the sound returns seems completely random. It may be in a few seconds or not for several weeks. Then, when it comes back, there's no preamble. It's just suddenly there again, regularly starting right in the middle of whatever was airing at the time and once more continuing for an uncertain period, a few nano-seconds, a minute or two, an hour, several days, and so on, so that one perceives the phenomena as islands of information, indeterminate in duration, windows into other realms, but ones which, likely as not, could close in the very next moment, leaving another half-expressed thought hanging, its remainder filled in solely by one's imagination.

I'm close to selling the car, or giving it away to a charitable agency for whatever they can get out of it. It cost me so little. I've had it for fourteen years and acquired it for less than one year's current car lease of even a cheap vehicle. But it is wearing out and no longer meets the requisite pollution control standards. So, I don't figure it's practical to get the radio fixed.

But each time I notice the discontinuous radio reception I'm reminded of the Kafkaesque ironies and uncertainties in most interpersonal communication, or the unreliable mentation of Alzheimer's patients, too often presenting them with but discrete, puzzlingly brief and out of context islets of coherence amid a disordered world of frightening or meaningless stimuli.

Near where I sit in the Randall's deli area, a young woman appears, accompanied by four small children, two in her grocery basket and another pair on foot. Each is of different age. They range from about six months to four or five years old. All resemble her in their complexions and facial features. She looks to be no more than twenty-one. How stunningly different her life than mine!

But let us not be moralistic about the superiority of one lifestyle over another. They are simply different, each with its unique universe of experience.

It would be so interesting to return in a hundred or a thousand years and see what has become of our species! If we manage to persist, will we be, at the beginning of the next millennium, even recognizable as the same creature who lived, loved, thought, worked, suffered, played, created, meditated, explored, fought, and died in the early 21st Century?

3/21/04-Sun.-Rose about 7 AM and looked after Puff, then went back to sleep for a little while. For some reason, the care for our puppy has not seemed to get much easier. She is still having accidents if we do not take her outside on average about every hour or so. She's also still biting us, though admittedly not as severely as before. Digging in the yard is a new trick she's refining at the moment, even when we have taken her on walks to both tire her and give her plenty of exercise. Of course, she is a terrier, for better or worse bred to be smart enough to go after active prey and to dig into small places so she may seek and kill rodents.

The lack of substantial results for all our efforts and time with Puff reminds me of most meditation. Yet, as with that endeavor, it still seems worthwhile to do this as best we can.

Fran and I have different styles with the pooch. She is pretty good with the dog a lot of the time, but when tired or frustrated tends to raise the frequency and volume of her yelling or screaming to correct the dog about biting, wetting the carpet, or whatever. I generally do not get so excited or exasperated that I just bellow at Puff, but the ongoing monitoring and care about just how/what/why/when I do things with her, to hopefully eventually have a beneficial effect, wears this old timer out, and I feel I'm sleepwalking a great deal of the time. Meanwhile, little else is getting accomplished, or at least that's the impression I have. Clearly, young people would have an advantage at this type activity, whether supervising human or canine babies.

I was looking online this morning for either tips on specific puppy training problems (like peeing in the house, biting us, or digging up our yard) or a comprehensive guide to overall puppy training. Nothing filled the bill just right. Much of what I read I'd known before, but somehow it does not apply so well with our present creature, a rather wild and willful spirit (vs. our last pet, Pepper, when she was a pup) and also smart enough to really cause trouble.

I'm reminded by Puff of the esoteric tale about the need to keep the mind occupied constructively, comparing it in the fable to a little devil kept as a pet, the previous owner earnestly warning the new buyer, though, that it must not be left unattended with nothing appropriate to do.

All goes well at first. The new owner conscientiously gives the little devil tasks to keep it busy, these then are properly done, and there are no problems.

But one day the new owner gets distracted and is called away on some matter. While still far from home, he remembers that he'd not given the little devil his tasks for that day. He is somewhat concerned, but figures "How bad could it be?"

That evening when he gets home all appears to be as it should. When he goes to check on the little devil, he seems content and happy. But then the new owner notices something odd in the backyard and, going to investigate, finds that the little devil has been busy after all: there's a baby being roasted for dinner on a spit.

I understand now why none of the internet advice on training the new dog was sufficient. I was looking for something the equivalent of Zen and the Art of Intelligent Puppy Training. Still, not to make entirely light of the situation, I believe there's good that may come of a more enlightened or conscious attitude toward relating with Puff and assuring she groks her lessons well. Though I am often exhausted by this process, there's at least a chance that the overall effort, done in the right manner, may help me - in a meditation sense - to become a bit more awake.

Meanwhile, if part of the time Frances' best way of dealing with the dog is to yell and scream at her, stressing us all out, other than letting her know that's really bugging me and may be counterproductive with Puff as well, it's in one way none of my business. I have all I can do to be a good owner and trainer myself, without taking on the added burden of trying to teach Fran anything.

Today is Bach's birthday. One could do far worse than to cultivate the thought and works of such geniuses as he.

Several of my present pen pals speak, read, and write more than one tongue. My Chinese correspondent, for instance, knows Japanese well and is becoming proficient in English too, besides of course knowing his native Mandarin. But I am not a good student of foreign languages. After several years of study, first Latin and later French, I was able to read and write some of the latter, but still had great difficulty understanding spoken French or talking in the French language myself. So, I went to Quebec, Canada, to learn it at first hand, as the population there is French-speaking.

Unfortunately, their accent is quite different from the French of Paris that I had studied, and I was still having great trouble understanding others or learning to speak the French of Canada. I also had no close friends there and grew lonesome, so that I returned to my country earlier than I had planned.

But this was during the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, when many young American men were going to Canada to avoid being drafted for, and serving in, a war in which they did not believe. It was also a time when a number of people were illegally buying and selling drugs.

For both of these reasons, the border security between Canada and the U.S. then was quite strict or intense. The police at the U.S. border thought I seemed like someone who might be trying to break the law, so I was taken off of the bus at our border and made to open all my baggage, which they then searched through rather thoroughly, and to even go into their building and be interrogated and "strip searched."

In fact, I had by then made a few chums in Canada, and had their names and addresses written down and with me, so I could keep in touch by letter. The authorities must have thought these were draft-evasion or drug contacts and took down all this information.

Afterward, the border police never apologized, just said I was free to go, and did not assist with putting things back where they belonged and retying my belongings, having spread them all around. The rest of the bus-load of travelers were watching, having been made to wait until the authorities were through with me. Of course, the police were just doing their jobs, but it was an unfortunate incident which was upsetting at the time.

Though I did not agree with the U.S. policies about Vietnam, I was not against my country, trying to avoid military service, or involved at all in any drug traffic. Indeed, I had served in our National Guard and later worked for four years for our Department of the Army.

But what happened that time at our border gave me a glimpse of how hard it must be for many people coming into the country when the guards may be suspicious of them. Such difficulties are too bad, but seem inevitable. Perhaps they are even more likely now that each country is alert to the possibility of terrorism.

3/27/04-Sat.-Though we did not retire till well after midnight, the pup had us up before dawn and again an hour later. So, willy-nilly, the day began well before 7:00. But we made up for the deficit with an afternoon nap.

We're well though a little exasperated with our pet, still not housebroken and in this respect seeming to be little improved from a month ago. Unfortunately, we don't know how else to train her than we are already doing. I've even checked a few online sites and read a book on the subject, but have gotten no brilliant new insights. So we're keeping fingers, toes, eyes, and stars crossed that more maturity will bring her better sphincter control and a greater desire to please us on this issue.

Naturally, our "toilet training" woes are nothing compared with anecdotes we hear from Fran's sister, Trudy, who has three young kids, the middle one now two and beginning (but not quite there) to get into this "go potty" idea. For instance, the other day she made a big brown mess in her panties, pulled them off and left them on the floor, but did nothing to clean herself up before sitting on the toilet to finish, smearing the seat and herself more, of course. Trudy has a sense of humor that comes in very handy!

Fortunately or not, Puff loves the water so much she plays in it whenever she gets a chance, drinking vast quantities in the process, and then needing to do No. 1 more frequently or urgently as a result.

The big project with Puff the Magic Dragoness for today was a trim. Before this, she looked a lot bigger than she actually was because her hair was about an inch (2-3 cm) thick all around. That also meant she got easily overheated. Fran did the honors in giving her a haircut, while I remained on hand in case an extra couple hands might be required to control the squirming creature. However, to our surprise, she was just fine with it. The only mishap was that she ate a lot of the just clipped hair before we could stop her. Now Puff looks terribly cute in a different way than her fluffy former self, like a dwarf version of the properly groomed adult wirehair fox terrier. She's growing like a weed and is probably half her eventual size. Hopefully, she'll be a lot cooler in this new incarnation.

Another Puff-related difficulty has arisen: fleas. Despite our applying Frontline Plus medication to her back, she's regularly bringing the pests into our house from the backyard, where they're available due to our neighbors' untreated mutts (and due to a mild winter that didn't freeze enough of the fleas or their eggs from last year). Once inside, the blood suckers love to transfer their appetites over to me.

We started using Frontline Plus back when Pepper had fleas, in spite of a less effective medication we'd been using for her earlier, and got an infestation started in the house, after which it took a couple months to finally kill them and their progeny off. Meanwhile, I received hundreds of bites.

I don't want to let it get to that point again. We've been rationing Puff's flea meds so as not to hurt her, given that she's still a puppy, but if the amount of Frontline Plus we're putting on the pup is insufficient to deal with the problem, I'll have to start using Sevin Dust on her and spraying her kennel and other key areas inside with anti-flea chemicals. These will probably be more hazardous than the Frontline Plus. Nonetheless, short of keeping her outside all the time, such steps may be essential to assure no new explosion of the vermin in here.

I took the beast out for a whiz night before last, about 4 AM, and was in my bathrobe so had not turned on a yard light (with concern over the close neighbors), so was only using my flashlight to keep from falling into or over one thing or another. Puff immediately became curious about a little hole in one side of our deck, and then was sniffing at a scent trail on the deck itself. I impatiently assumed she was just doing anything, as usual, except what I wished her to do (hurry up and take a pee so I could quickly get back between the covers), but then there was a loud racket of something hurtling itself across the deck and into a pile of leaves on the other side, then some more sounds of crashing through undergrowth and/or knocking into stuff for another second or so. With all the commotion, it seemed the culprit must have been big enough to be a cat, opossum, or even a raccoon. In the next few minutes we both (man and dog) tried our best to investigate. Each time we'd begin looking carefully, we'd see nothing untoward, but then, shortly after we'd stop, the racket would resume. It turned out there was another, bigger hole at the other side of the deck. I surmise there is(are) one or more wood rats in a den under there or in the quite nearby vicinity. Fran and I had already known we had some of them living in and under a pile of old wood at a far corner of our "back forty" (1/3 acre).

The spouse and I have had a fair share of other tenants associated with our abode since we moved here in 1986. Sparrows regularly make nests in the attic of our garage. Last summer we had a mouse in my bathroom wall. Carpenter ants have excavated several large tunnel holes into our mainly wooden structure. A few times there were termites, almost pandemic in this area, with which we've had to deal. Squirrels for some months tried to gnaw through the side of the house, and they often use our roof as part of their otherwise arboreal superhighways system. Once we had a snake in our kitchen. Geckos inside the house are normal, and occasionally we get anoles in here as well. Once a bat or bird flew into our chimney and could not extricate itself. It died in there and caused a stink despite our having walled up the fireplace and put duct tape all around the edges of the cover. Large spiders infrequently take up housekeeping too. When we first moved in, there were scorpions also, but since the yard has been getting more water, we've not seen them for years.

To notice all the raking that needs to be done lately, you'd never know spring is well along in its progress here toward summer. Ironically "fall" here, the time of the most dropping of leaves, occurs at this time of year, for we have large live oaks as well as species of traditional oak trees that drop their leaves just as the new ones are coming in. Fortunately, this year one of Fran's gardening friends wants a number of bags of our excess leaf litter to use for mulch at her place. The rest I'll be grinding up with the mower till the finer remains will decay better in our compost bins. Live oak leaves are tough and, left to nature's devices alone, sometimes do not break down and rot for years.

Thursday night I got a treat, a complimentary admission to the dress rehearsal of Austin Lyric Opera's "The Flying Dutchman" production. I'm certainly no fan of the Nazis, who thought Richard Wagner's music and anti-Semitic ideas were so terrific, nor of opera in general, but, almost despite myself, do love his works, in fact most of what I hear at the various dress rehearsals Fran gets me into for free. The only difficulty is that I don't care for the silly stories on which these operas are based. So I try to concentrate mainly on the orchestra pit and to ignore the ridiculous on-stage things going on above it. As long as I can hear the live instrumental musicians for an evening, my time is well spent, and then the sooner the fat lady sings (and hence the operatic foolishness is over), the better! This was particularly so this time, for the "beautiful" heroine (loved the line in which her father assures the mysterious Dutchman suitor she'd be "as faithful as she was beautiful") was played by a quite grossly stout personage.

I'm a political junky and have been following most aspects of the "war on terrorism" here and around the globe, so am aware of the emotional aspect of the Spain bombings and their effect on the election in that country. I had also been aware that the majority of Europeans had major doubts about the wisdom of so great a focus on Iraq, in contrast to other, perhaps more direct or UN or consensus-approved aspects of this anti-terrorism worldwide effort.

In any case, it is highly regrettable now that the dealers in terrorism seem to have been encouraged by the Socialist Party win in the recent Spanish election, and by the repudiation of the prior Spanish prime minister who, in spite of public opinion, had so supported the U.S. Iraq position.

I wish I felt differently, but in fact I have little respect for politicians of most any party. I think too often they are corrupt in the sense that they will manipulate how they are seen in the press or through commercials and by means of conveniently concocted speeches, all the time taking the popular polls into account, and meanwhile distorting the records of their opponents, to make little sound-bite victories in the hope of squeezing out sufficient votes to attain or maintain power, but, once they are assured a new or another term, frequently the campaign promises or policies are forgotten. The system lends itself to short-term, reactive measures at the expense of well reasoned, long-term solutions.

Alternatively, ideological or even religiously driven decisions are made to the neglect of rationality and common sense, and opponents are painted as insufficiently patriotic or soft on this or that or prone to raise one's taxes, not moral enough, and so on, in the effort to sway the electorate emotionally, which, to my view, is the least reliable method of arriving at decisions in a democracy or elsewhere. I am reminded that in stock investing, when something is very popular, it is generally the wrong way to go.

Of course, the electorate has some responsibility here too and is too often overworked or otherwise too busy to really study the issues, or allows itself to be emotionally swept up in one feelings-based argument or another. It is scary to me how we are governed, given such circumstances and how crucial the issues are.

Occasionally a nation will be lucky at a moment of crisis. A Winston Churchill, an Abraham Lincoln, or a Mahatma Gandhi may step forward at a critical time and attain the reigns of power. But most politicians are perhaps not of such august stature. Yet the military, environmental, health, social, or economic crises that are looming today might be just as imposing as those we've encountered in the past. From where shall we find such great leaders today? Is it likely they'll be discovered through political fund-raisers, sound bites, or an inundation of attack ads? Or from massive demonstrations in the streets, for that matter?

Chances are, though, as always before, humankind somehow will muddle through, in spite of those who rush around yelling "The sky is falling!" Doubtless folks of a more measured, steady approach will see us through these troubled times too.

Frances and I enjoyed brunch once again at Jason's Deli this morning. I had a California Club sandwich with fruit. She satisfied her hunger pangs with a heaping full salad buffet bowl and all the trimmings.

Tonight Frances will be busy with the evening's opera performance. I'll take Puff for a walk in our neighborhood and do some meditation, first aid for my unsettled mental state of late.

3/31/04-Wed.-Yesterday, I continued my searching for a replacement auto. The car I've had for the last fourteen years would not pass inspection without $300-400 in additional work on its pollution control system; it's Blue Book value is only $500 or less, even if that improvement were made. Meanwhile, its upholstery is falling apart, and under the hood it's held together in places with twisties and bungee cord. Its radio does not work right. It has no AC. The vehicle is not worth insuring for another six months, but that bill was also due.

The day before, I'd found a car online that I liked, in theory, and had even paid for a vehicle identification number (VIN) report on it, which checked out OK, but the color was black, and I wondered if this might affect other drivers' ability to notice it in poor visibility conditions (night, rain, twilight, fog, etc.). I looked up together words or phrases like "black color," "car," and "safety" on Google and found articles indicating a black car is much more likely to be in accidents. In one study, they were in five times as many injury mishaps as light colored vehicles!

Since the car I'd wanted was available at a good discount, I considered buying it and then having it painted a bright color. But I found out that, for this job to be done right, the repainting would cost half as much as the car price, too much.

Then I found online another couple cars (one red, one white) in which I was interested. I enlisted Fran's assistance to partner with me in giving them the once over and a test drive. The first one had a lot of appeal at the price, but would have required about $1000 in repairs before being really road-worthy. Still, it was a little gem, and we were thinking of going ahead and getting it.

We decided, though, to check out the other one, at a South Austin dealer, before deciding. Long story short: our salesperson there showed us a couple cars, the second of which was in much better condition than the one we'd looked at and liked first: newer, still partly under warranty, and with lower mileage (26,600). The sales rep was willing to negotiate down to our price. He made the sale by offering me $1600 for my 1988 Toyota Tercel (which, as above, after emergency costs to pass an inspection, was worth at most a couple hundred bucks) to get the cost of the total deal where I wanted it, nicely below the normal retail for this excellent condition Nissan Sentra GXE. It's the best car I've ever had, obtained now at a quite reasonable price.

My curse, though, is that since childhood (and its demons) I've almost never (with the exception, fortunately, of securities investments) been able to make a significant decision or commitment without a punishing torture of regret that I've just, irrevocably, made a terrible mistake and so ruined the rest of my life!

This "buyer's remorse," both over the quite necessary, practical, and probably wise car purchase and our (actually adorable) current puppy (who's been at times particularly wild, frustrating, stubborn, destructive, and seemingly "untrainable" recently, leading to my frequent exasperation and Fran's new name for her, uttered like an oath, "You little shit!"), left me so (typically) drained and depressed or, alternately, in such high anxiety by last evening that I was having death wish fantasies of ready means to oblivion, imagining it to be better than this existence.

Fortunately, with a hot bath, meditation, more rest, and the light this morning of a sunny new day, my perspective improved, though Fran and Puff may still feel it has quite a way yet to go before my disposition could be called easygoing or cheerful.

I've registered for one of the U.T. community courses, starting next week, on film scores. It's taught by Brian Satterwhite of the University of Texas faculty, who is himself a KMFA film music commentator and a successful movie composer. Should be fun, interesting, and a great way to get away from the house, and out of my recent puppy-sitting rut, for several evenings in April.

Later. The more sanguine mood happily continues. And this afternoon I analyzed our stock shares portfolio, finding it more than $12,000 above the current target. Accordingly, I sold off at a profit several equities in our margin accounts, enough to offset (and then some) the full cost of the car purchase (which had been done for "cash" using brokerage account credit), leaving still a balance to employ by mid-April in new IRA contributions.

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