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April, 2006: 3 7 10 18 25 28

4/3/06-Mon.-On National Public Radio the other day, I heard of a woman falsely accused of murder who used her small cell as a meditation and exercise retreat. Free now, following years in prison, instead of bitterness ruining the rest of her life, she is a teacher of yoga. I came in on the end of the piece and did not catch her name or that of the person being interviewed about her, but was struck, in just the small portion that I did hear, by her extraordinary inner resources and success in transforming a horrible circumstance into an inspiring means to something meaningful, a way for her life, despite such a setback, to make a positive difference.

On 3/31, I had my second root canal appointment. It was marked by a difference of opinion between me and the dentist about the need for further antibiotics. The jaw area around the affected tooth continued to be raw and sensitive even before that day's additional ministrations. He was insistent that I do not require them, however. Of course, as he writes the prescriptions, that was that. The root canal work that morning seemed to be well done.

Before it began, I received four injections of local anesthetic. Shortly after the next to last was inserted, I had an involuntary spasm and felt as though a hot poker had been pushed into my head. The dentist said the needle must have "hit a nerve." My muscle contractions resulted in a jolt of anesthetic squirting where it should not have, hence the final injection.

The tooth or area just under it is now more sore than when I had first sought the current treatment and is at times throbbing. When I eat, it is quite tender to the merest touch of food, and the pain is significantly increased by heat or the pressure of chewing. In further phone calls today, I had explained the tooth's or underlying gum's reaction and had inquired again about antibiotics. After a delay of several hours, while I waited in vain for the promised call back, then finally phoned the dentist's office again, I was advised that I must be having "referred pain" from an abscess in some other tooth (which infection coincidentally just began and is set off by the merest bit of food contacting the root canal treated tooth...yeah, right). The request for antibiotics was again denied. I could understand the dental specialist's hesitancy if I were trying to get strong pain medicine, but I am not, merely something to treat the possible secondary infection that seems to have been ongoing for days.

Well, willy-nilly, I must simply take it on faith that the denial of antibiotics is appropriate, though online there are references to needles causing this sort of problem, which can then typically be corrected with penicillin. With luck, the doctor really does know best. I was diplomatic enough not to mention to him my researches on the web.

At least two more appointments are required before the restoration of that tooth can be complete. I am hoping that it "settles down" on its own soon. Additional trauma, while it is still so sensitive from the last couple sessions, might have rather unpleasant repercussions.

Frances has had a dramatic series of photographic coups at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center recently, including capturing excellent images of a wide variety of butterflies. Also of a medium-sized rattlesnake. Though it had objected when she stepped over it's sunning position across one of the paths and had coiled as if to strike, both creatures went happily on their ways once Fran had taken several digital pictures of it.

She is decidedly disappointed in having missed the chance there twice to photograph a snakefly, her first two sightings of the species, which, I understand, is only occasionally observed by even the most conscientious of naturalists.

Fran is working up a presentation to one of the nature groups here in town, complete with many illustrative images from her collection of insects images. And there is a friend giving a recital soon for whom she will have a part among the supporting instrumentalists.

Our investments have been doing well, particularly those emphasized in the tracked portfolios, as at Investor's Journal.

We have bad news from our nephew who is a student at Juilliard. He has not been fortunate with his PhD applications. Once he finishes the current program of study, in May, his life may need to take a new direction than his intended career in music teaching and related activities, if he also receives negative responses from the final schools to which he had applied.

Have been busy with the usual round of volunteer work, including for our classical music station and the city library. Have also restored our power mower to its quite fragile level of performance and used it further on part of our "back forty." Our tax return is almost ready, and it appears we may actually be due a small refund.

I found a copy of Pride and Prejudice in a giveaway pile not long ago and so now am reading this most famous Jane Austen work for the first time, enjoying it so far.

One of the other volunteers during the KMFA fund drive mentioned to me that a mixed choral group of some note here, though it requires auditions of its candidates for membership, is more lenient with the men it accepts, having fewer of them than the women. So, I am now thinking of trying out for it in a few months, maybe after some voice lessons. We'll see how that goes.

Puff is her usual adorable yet incorrigible canine self. She has discovered a sweet dessert in the back yard, abundant fruit falling from our loquat trees. Fran has now begun collecting it daily after finding that the beast had been gorging on the rotting bits.

Puff and I were both mightily surprised on a late evening walk this past week when a large tomcat began chasing us! Such behavior was so aberrant that I was afraid it might have had rabies. It kept coming for many yards, avoiding my attempts to ward it off, seemingly quite intent on attacking the pooch, till I had in fact jogged hurriedly away with the excited canine, both of us looking back several times to be sure he was no longer following.

All three of us in this little household are variously struggling with the latest Daylight Saving's time change. I am sure that eventually we shall adjust, but it is not always with good grace that we do so!

4/7/06-Fri.-The most symptomatic tooth area is finally beginning to "settle down," though as yet hurting enough it seems best not to chew on that side. A couple more appointments will be required. Meanwhile, for unknown reasons, the rest of my ivories are more sensitive than usual, especially to cold or hot foods and liquids. Another molar (on the opposite side) now feels so painful when very warm or cool that I wonder if it has an abscess. Go figure.

We're doing fine, otherwise, except that one of the people at the library facility keeps trying to get me to do things too rough on my already sore back (having the gender stereotype that all men are supposed to lift heavy things for always weak women). I had to tell him in front of a customer that, as I'd let him know several times before, I am not supposed to lift more than about 5 books at a time, or around 10-15 pounds, not the 50-pound box he had promised I'd carry out to her car for the customer. In the end, this younger woman wound up lifting the box into her trunk herself. As it should be, if she didn't want to take the time for the slower (5 books at a time) method.

Fran's mother, Linda, is doing even better, having gotten back more range of motion than she had before the recent knee surgery.

However, she is having trouble of another sort at the moment, having "lost" all the digital pictures she took while at the nursing home/rehab. facility. A backup program seemingly put them into a file format that her photo programs could not open. She's just sick over it. Fran thought maybe the situation was not as terrible as it appeared and that perhaps the pictures could be restored. She wanted to work with Linda on it. However, it appears that Linda, maybe out of frustration, has herself deleted the files where the inaccessible pictures had been stored.

Mom sent an e-mail recently in which she mentions the book Al Qaeda, by Paul Williams, and his (co-authored) other book Osama's Revenge. She said he presents compelling evidence to support a claim that the US will be hit, probably with suitcase-sized nuclear weapons. He feels, she said, this is now inevitable, though just when it will occur of course cannot be known. The premise is that terrorists aim for a simultaneous attack on several major US cities, Wall Street, and our ports. The destruction, plus our nation's reactions to it, he argues, would bring the country to its knees.

She added that in a recent discussion she had (of conceivable terrorist or natural disasters) with my brother, Horace, he agreed that there would be areas where society would break down. He was convinced this would occur even in stodgy, conservative Waco. Accordingly, he said he keeps a loaded gun at his office and has many other firearms ready at home. I presume this staunch Bush supporter and extreme right-wing Christian would be among the first to take "preemptive" action, attacking others in times of lawlessness to try and assure he and his family come out alright.

If we are fortunate, perhaps the awareness of the possibility, even likelihood, of major things (at an uncertain time in the future) going wrong for each of us, and/or for a larger culture, nation, and so on, will motivate us to live more in the moment, to regard each experience we gain as a treasure. I have heard of this type reaction among people who have had near death (or very close call) experiences, and who thereafter saw the further extension of life as a gift. I hope, at my best at least, I can more often have that attitude.

I was scanning a book by Stephen Levine at the library, on Wednesday, A Year to Live. In it he reports on a 12-month experiment in appreciating the immediacy of life. He chose to live in that period as much as possible as though he had learned he had a terminal illness or a death sentence, such that at most he might live just another year.

I wonder what each of us would do differently if we really believed we had a year or less remaining to live. There was an interesting program on National Public Radio the other morning about some doctors' changed outlooks after learning they had what would normally be interpreted as terminal cancer. Two of them were still alive after over a year, but neither felt sure how much longer she or he would survive. The beautiful thing was that they were not incapacitated by the experience but instead hopeful and doing what they could to both protect their ongoing health and yet still be hopeful, productive, and engaged.

Fran and I have both been doing our usual volunteer activities. In addition, yesterday I was on hand when we had our annual termite inspection. It was negative. And this morning, while Fran was once again at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, I took Puff for her annual exam and vet shots. The folks there remembered her from her tiny puppy days, when she weighed just 4½ pounds the first time I had taken her in. They were enthusiastic about her robust health, the great state of her grooming, etc. Most days, Fran or I or both take Puff for a walk in the morning, and I take her on another one in the evening. Over the last few days, our evening walks have been for about 4 miles each, while I try to get my weight under good control through both diet and extra exercise. (Down from 160 pounds, a few days ago, to 158, but I hope to reduce to 150 by about the beginning of next year.)

The long Austin mosquito season has begun again in earnest, and we can hardly go outside and return, or even just let the dog in, without some of these "mossies" (as they say in Australia) getting in too. We have gotten some of our zappers functional once more, with new batteries. They are getting plenty of use!

4/10/06-Mon.-Over the weekend, I watched a "Live From Lincoln Center" PBS broadcast from Juilliard, commemorating the school's 100th anniversary. By coincidence, I also learned in the past couple days that our nephew, Jim, who completes his Juilliard degree in May, has been accepted for a doctoral program at UT and so will be moving here in August. Also that Mary, his mother, will be joining me in a Waco visit with Mom over the Easter holiday period. Fran will be busy with a couple rehearsals. She's also performing with a few other musicians in a concert tomorrow evening.

Of the US news lately, what is there to say? We have an immoral, bankrupt, utterly corrupt national government. Those currently in power appear now to be the worst, but neither party offers the country reality or any means to soon grow closer to it. In our illusions we grope about, stumbling and bungling from crisis to crisis. Often they are of our own making. The misguided actions only render everything so much worse.

4/18/06-Mon.-Today is the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake. With a little help from some engineers dynamiting huge swaths, ostensibly to create firebreaks, it was followed by a conflagration that destroyed essentially the entire city in three days. Yet in less than 10 years it had been all but completely reconstructed and was readying itself for the next World's Fair. Impressive. Would love to see that kind of transformation in LA and MS, in the wake of Katrina and its aftermath, but unfortunately do not expect to see a repeat of this type performance along the Gulf.

My symptomatic molar and the surrounding gum area have not been acting up badly for awhile, so today I scheduled the next appointment: 4/25, and payment: $605. All tolled, this tooth's recent and current renovations are to run about $1400, assuming nothing else goes wrong before the process is concluded. That is the cost after insurance! In the 1960s, I had my first root canal, a silver pin insertion, and a crown done. The restoration has lasted just fine through to the present, and the total cost was $125, with no insurance.

Fran, Puff, and I returned Sunday afternoon from a weekend trip to Waco and visit there with my mom and my sister-in-law, Mary. It was, all in all, a pleasant interlude. Mary was telling us of her upcoming (June) trip to Alaska. Linda, Frances' mom, will be taking a cruise there in May. Lucky people! They have a good chance to see glaciers before they have melted.

Meanwhile, here is TX, the climate is going berserk. Last fall, our fair city had a string of eight days with temperatures at or above 100°F. Yesterday, the high here in Austin was again 100°, the predicted high today as well. There were blackouts in south Austin. Apparently the city had scheduled maintenance at the power station, so that much of the grid was shut down. Nobody overruled this once it was clear we were in for really hot weather, and the demand exceeded the supply of electricity. Naturally, south Austin had a lower priority than north of the river, so we did without.

While Fran was at a rehearsal last night, I got a long distance call from the mother of one of Frances' arachnid hobby geek friends. It seems he had had a heat stroke earlier that day, and she wanted us to go look after his dogs while he would be in a hospital. We would have been happy to do it, but, as it happened, by the time Fran got home he had been checked out by paramedics and found to have recovered well enough he did not have to be admitted. He had gone exploring out near Hamilton Pool, at a new park that has opened in that area, on what used to be a ranch owned by the same person who had donated Hamilton Pool to Austin or Travis County. Evidently he later donated parts of the adjoining 4000-5000 acre ranch to the city or county as well. Anyway, he thought he had been doing alright, though his dogs were quite debilitated by the heat, so he headed back to his car, only to find that the outside temperature there, per both his and a park ranger's thermometers, was 111 or above. Before much longer, he lost most all his mental capacity and ability to function, a rather scary time! His only remaining thought was that he had to call his mother. Fortunately, he managed to complete the phone contact and follow her advice. Soon he was doing much better.

Based on our recent experiences here, we can now count on only about five months of fairly comfortable weather, November through March. I recall a time when Fran and I were agreed on and planning that, before things would get really unpleasant in Austin due to global warming, we would sell our place and move to a far more attractive, cooler part of the country. Then Fran unilaterally decided we would instead remain here indefinitely. Hmm. So what were all our preparations for retirement about?

I recall too, with a sense of irony, how Frances used to sneer at old people who retired and moved to this neighborhood (back when it was still a pretty good part of town, though with houses affordable to not so "high incomers"), as though they could not do any better than this after all those years of saving and investing for their leisure years.

Meanwhile too, local teenagers have set up a basketball hoop in the road, across the street from our property. They have been playing at almost all hours of the day or night. They have even been loudly shooting hoops at 2 AM. Just one more way, from my perspective, in which this neighborhood and the quality of our lives are both deteriorating. Nothing is being done about other nearby hoops in the road. Evidently the police do not enforce laws against such things. The youth have ignored my expressions of dissatisfaction with this situation, of course. If anything, afterward they have thrown even more of their bottled water, Gatorade, and soft drink containers into our yard or onto the street in front of our house. I do so love this situation!

Yet Frances does not care to so much as discuss moving. Nor does she even show interest in our planning a new vacation to a nicer area. When I brought this up last time, she was curt and abrasive. She has invited her mom, with whom I get along no better than most in-laws do, to spend several days with us in latter June and early July.

I have another book group meeting tonight. Did not care for the last discussion selection, Out. But a number of the books picked are pretty good, and I have enjoyed them.

4/25/06-Tues.-Had my annual dermatology exam last Friday. No new lesions were found. I was pulled up short, though, by the doctor's instructions. She asked what measures I use to avoid further cancer. I proudly described some of my several and compulsively redundant measures, only to be told they were not nearly enough. Particularly here in TX, she said, where the sun's rays are intense and so much in evidence throughout the day, a person who tends toward skin cancer must be very careful whenever going out in daylight for any reason. The harmful effects are cumulative. And there is no restoring the skin's defenses once the damage has been done. So, besides all my good habits till now, she recommends using sunscreen over all exposed skin surfaces, starting as soon as I do my first bathroom routines of the day, plus sunglasses whenever going out, plus wearing a wide-brimmed hat, not merely a baseball cap.

The real "axis of evil," Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld (BCR), the three whose combined actions have proven to be the actual worst threat to democracy in the world, were in the news for more idiocy today as George W. gave his pronouncement that to help deal with rising energy costs he would lift the pollution guidelines on oil producers during the summer (hint: the final months before the Congressional elections) so that more oil might be added to the system and prices could go down some. The BCR axis has never been concerned with either the environment generally or people's health in particular, so the latest policy blunder would seem to be a no-brainer for them.

Speaking of errors, I note that recently Secretary of State Rice, who as our then National Security Advisor repeatedly lied in the run-up to the second Iraq war, has admitted that "thousands of tactical" mistakes were made by this country in Iraq. For once, a statement of hers is credible. In light of all the deceptions or spins of the truth, plus the amazingly consistent record of gaffs otherwise by this administration, what is not credible, however, is her assertion that in the single key overriding decision that counts, the strategic one about whether or not to invade that country, they were correct. What are the odds for this Keystone Cops gang having gotten that particular one right out of thousands that were so glaringly wrong?

Am enjoying another book group selection: Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart.

I went today for my latest (fourth, so far) dental appointment about the symptomatic molar. I was advised that it can sometimes take a year to get over the soreness after a root canal and that my symptoms to date are quite normal. After much grinding inside my mouth and multiple noises reminiscent of the fingernails on a chalkboard cliché for causing chills down the spine, I got a temporary crown and was sent on my way. The whole rigmarole is expected to end in about another month, when the permanent crown should be ready and properly affixed.

My brother, Ron, called late this afternoon, following a scary episode today in which he briefly fell asleep while driving home from Killeen. It seems he's been nodding off more but enjoying sleep less of late, and this time nearly hit another driver. From the description of his symptoms, I think he may have narcolepsy. I suggested he see a doctor for possible treatment, besides getting his weight down and assuring he has more rest.

He's rather worried, not simply because of the tendency to fall asleep while driving, but also because he is afraid he may soon lose his sales rep job. He is not making his company's minimum quota and does not know how to improve the record. Sales of the type he is trying to do are just hard. People who knew and loved Ron tried to suggest he might not be cut out for door to door selling, but he left the retail sales job he enjoyed, at one of the malls, confident that it proved he was ready for the big bucks he believed the new company and opportunity offered, and so he ignored what he had not wanted to hear.

He compounded the situation by then buying a house he could not afford unless he were doing quite well in the new position. The stress of his predicament, plus loneliness in the long evenings and nights out in his Jonestown place, where he is far from any positive social outlets, leads to his having trouble sleeping as well as to his overeating while watching late night TV. At least he has not gone back to drug or alcohol abuse, but in a sense he is not living a fully sober life. In my view, he is what is called a "dry alcoholic."

Ron is unfortunately just one of millions or billions who give truth to the David Thoreau line about most men leading lives of quiet desperation. I'm reminded too of the Eugene O'Neill play, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," in which it is so bleakly demonstrated that we are ruled by our illusions. Yet again and again they fail us. Perhaps we must have them. Maybe we simply could not bear the hopelessness implied in absolutely confronting the true state of things. And what harm is there in having a few self-deceptions? Indeed, how many can live without yielding a bit to their seductive appeal? But who can then know the number which are just enough, when too many may usher us into a living hell.

Speaking of near misses, Fran and I had one during a sudden rain shower the other day. Our brakes locked when we were trying to slow for a stoplight. We could do nothing but watch and wait while adrenaline rushed into our bloodstreams and an apparently inevitable collision loomed. Frances had been driving, but it might just as well have been me. I do not think there was anything she had been doing wrong. And yet here we were both involuntarily trying to push our feet through the floorboard, to somehow slow down or halt that long slide. We both could hardly believe our luck when we stopped three inches or less from the car ahead. Whew. There was much relieved, nervous laughter and chatter between us for the next half-hour or so!

On a far lighter note, central TX has just experienced a wonderful cool front. It has brought temperatures down not only to the bearable but even into the supremely pleasant range. On a blustery four-mile walk with Puff this evening, the wind-chill was no higher than the upper fifties (in degrees F). The pooch was beside herself with excitement, racing about in basic joy at being alive! I fully shared her bubbly emotions, even if these old bones and sinews did not leap around as hers had. Nonetheless, as a mood rejuvenator, the more comfortable mercury readings are like taking a pill and losing twenty years of age!

Have been seeing several fireflies lately. Also, a large scorpion was noticed during our walk. It acted as thrilled with the current weather as we were.

4/28/06-Fri.-Am over at Seattle's Best Coffee, near Brodie and Slaughter, taking advantage of a free macaroon java blend. Things have radically changed since I was last here, perhaps a year ago. Then there were only two other customers softly chatting together amid plenty of peace, quiet, and empty chairs/tables. Now wireless computing appears to have been added as one of the location's perks. On entering, I find that all the best locations are taken by people with open laptops. Two laptop bearers are even doing without tables and inhabit a couple upholstered chairs. Three of the wireless lingerers appear to also be conducting business by cell phone while they manipulate digital menus. Ironically, things in the present circumstances seem less social, each person preoccupied with her or his own stuff (pretty much, I'm sorry to say, as it is as well too much of the time for Fran and me at home these days, since Frances got her laptop - of course, she feels much the same about some of my hobbies...). The average sale, though, seems promising, at about $5 just for a fifty cent or less to produce drink, plus the occasional pastry, from what I can tell during my time here sipping today's gratis beverage.

But I must be off. Have brought the pooch, who waits in the car, and the early morning cool is giving way to a warmer, humid sultriness. Need to get to the library to pick up a book on hold, then give our beast an outdoor romp, and rush home before she bakes.

Later. I also picked up a few things at a Goodwill near the coffee shop, including a stuffed toy hand-puppet for the entertainment of our ever so spoiled best of all possible canine monsters. She loves it!

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