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6/3/04-Thurs.-I'm just back from a walk with Puff, but the exercise was necessarily shortened due to my left foot problem. Unfortunately, the dog picked up a number of burrs which I've needed to brush and comb out of her coat.

Recently, I've been watching the excellent PBS videotaped documentary, "The Great War." Am also enjoying reading the quite well written personal memoir of newscaster Bob Schieffer, This Just In. The news from around the world today is not all that removed from the kinds of conflict, the clashes of ideas or the misunderstandings and inappropriate reactions and powers gone amuck, that were heard and seen a century ago, leading up to World War I, or again, later, to the Russian and Bolshevik revolutions and civil war, World War II, the "Cold War," the "Korean conflict," the Vietnam War, the first George Bush-led war with Iraq, turmoil and genocide in the Balkans, the "war on terrorism," the conquest of Afghanistan, genocides in Africa, or the second George Bush-led war with Iraq.

Doubtless, such violent confrontations will go on and on, but the technologies now are ever more sophisticated, yet less and less sensitive to the lives of the ordinary individual. Whomever is currently in power seems to regard them as of little relevance next to his or her own whims and aspirations. Regrettably, we have only slight reason to be hopeful as we forge ahead into the 21st Century. It appears likely we'll be seeing in this "new" age the same horrors, only perhaps magnified and carried out with even greater gusto and vengeance.

As in the Middle Ages, the present leader of "Christendom" declares himself God's chosen one and unleashes his divinely wrought wrath and hellish might upon the dark forces and peoples of "evil," whom he tends to define loosely as anyone who threatens his status quo view of American global (gasoline guzzling) hegemony.

We are, as a nation, too often fools, too willing then to be led by fools, and yet in our folly we are not alone. As Merry (among others) said, "This will not end well."

Yesterday and the day before - following several similarly uncomfortable (but not quite so Hades-like) days that began this past weekend - were quite warm and humid, with the heat index up to about 106°F. Overnight, however, a mild cool front came through Austin, bringing with it welcome heavy rains and a lowering of the mercury. Today the highs are predicted to be about eight to ten degrees below those of Wednesday.

Fran, Puff, and I were in Waco, starting last Friday and continuing through Monday morning. It was a pleasant enough experience overall, though at times I was so uncomfortably hot and tired, plus so bored and exasperated with the inanity of certain relations, I wished I could punch a button and be randomly projected elsewhere or "elsewhen," though, in retrospect, there would be lots of far worse places and times than this particular Purgatory. We had a good celebration of the recent or upcoming graduations of four of Mom's grandchildren.

The alienation between the generations being what it is, there was perhaps less enthusiasm among the graduates than might have been hoped, but at least family rituals were preserved and the four each received, instead of the multi-thousands of dollars they'd expected after all her hints, a much more modest check from our matriarch for their troubles.

It did not help that one nephew, already nearly numb with sleeplessness, had to go just before our main rites in suit and tie to a wedding held out of doors in the steamy afternoon, without even an awning to attenuate the effects of a baking sun. Or that another graduate had kidney stones she was painfully waiting to excruciatingly pass, and was on enough medication she was herself rather stoned. A third graduate, nearly deaf, nonetheless brought several of his Jehovah's Witnesses friends over to his Grandma's to enjoy her free food, play quite raucous radio music, and be entertained with much frivolity while several of the rest of us were trying to watch a video movie farce Fran had provided, "The Wrong Box." The fourth graduate took several opportunities to play the piano with such fortissimo and oblivion to others that the latter closed themselves up in a small end of the house for a more peaceful time together.

Hundreds of pictures were taken of the festivities. Some may turn out nicely.

Throughout the weekend, though, whenever we would be at Mom's place with others, folks were entranced with Puff, a most social, amusing, and affectionate little beast, especially as compared with Pepper, our erstwhile best loved mutt who was something of a prima donna and tended to bite or at least snap at strangers who would try to play with her.

Unfortunately, Puff's papa is having some trouble. One of Puff's parents' owners called to see if we knew anyone who can give him a good, new home. He is smaller than her mother. For some reason the female dog has started attacking him badly, so that they must keep them separated for his safety. It is severe enough that, even while they are quite sad about it, they must find him another place to stay. We hope for the best for the fellow, but do not know of anyone who would want him right now. He is a nice dog, just seemingly not dominant enough for his own good.

The other night, shortly before we'd left for the family reunion, Puff was outside and did an "intruder alert" growl. The invading beast turned out to be an opossum. I called Frances who took several pictures. This one came out rather well, showing in greater detail than I've seen before the animal's interestingly complex and ugly nose.

Our yard has of late become the repository of a number of rodent carcasses, in various macabre states of disrepair and disintegration, perhaps brought here by neighbor felines. After one large rat had met its ultimate fate, had become ripe, and so was stinking up the area, Fran and I had a midnight argument about whether it should be buried vs. left out to rot so she could more quickly add its cleaned skull to her collection of hundreds of other animals' skulls and skeletons.

In a bit of a huff, I rushed out into the dark to put a few spadefuls of dirt upon the wretched body (seeming by then once more alive, with bugs and putrefaction). Regrettably, in the process and poor visibility I caught the shovel handle on something, which then tore loose. Moments afterward, too late, I realized with the help of a flashlight it had been Fran's prize passion vine. About ten feet of it were ripped asunder, never to grow again.

The next morning, I didn't bother to fight with Fran over it or to defend my actions in any way, but simply admitted the accident and, then, unknown to her, sped off (while she was closeted in her room) to a couple plant nurseries until I could find a large, healthy potted passion vine, which I left for her to find later, just outside the back door.

It was the right thing to do. The replacement flora is now properly planted and seems to be doing fine. Indeed, it has already started blooming, with flowers even more spectacular than the original. The newcomer is also a hybrid, more tolerant of our winters than the prior plant. In this instance, anyway, "all's well that ends well."

My brother, Pete, came by Tuesday afternoon. After some silly chatter, we went to the nearby mall and watched "Shrek 2," a quite fun animation comedy. Later we picked up Frances and drove over to Trudy's restaurant for supper, and there resumed our shallow chatting.

Pete seems to "jingoistically" buy the overall Bush administration spin on things. He makes no distinction, for instance, between a war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq, and he sees the abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners by our soldiers as justified, merely feeling the matter has gotten too much news coverage. Everything would have been fine, from his viewpoint, if our troops' and interrogators' policies and behaviors had just been kept secret, never mind that we were employing torture, were violating the Geneva Convention, and that we had apparently been keeping hundreds or even thousands of Iraqis incarcerated who were innocent of anything other than being in the wrong place when our units did their prisoner collection sweeps.

He and I disagree about these and many other issues. Pete's in town to see if he'd like to now make Austin his home again, after having found life less than delightful in the several other places he's taken himself over the years. He's not yet learned the hard lesson it took me awhile to discover, that so long as we're miserable within ourselves we'll not be at our happiest no matter where we are, and so will be cursed to restlessly wander there and here in quest of that elusive inner peace.

Frances, Puff, and I are leaving in just over a week for IL and then WI, for the long delayed memorial services for Frances' dad and, while we're there, for a lot of visiting with relations on Fran's side of the extended family, and for plenty of activity in area parks. This may well be an extremely busy working vacation as well, for Fran's sister and her family are just in the process of moving to a farmhouse and several hundred acre property.

The trip will have us away from home for about three weeks, not returning till the very end of June. I'm somewhat nervous about the healing of my left plantar tendon, concerned it might be overly tested by the inevitable physical stress of this holiday, but will hope for the best.

In any case, there should be some fun times before our return. I'm looking forward to seeing nieces and a nephew. There's a chance too of cooler weather there than in Austin, though at times our experiences in the "north country" have been unfortunately hot too.

The trip to Yellowstone Park I had intended to take in September now seems less likely to occur. My mother (almost 82 years old) overdoes it sometimes in her part-time work, leading exercises, especially so for an older person. In fact, it is amazing she is still going strong at this occupation! But she has hurt one ankle, and had already been complaining of pains in both a knee and hip.

She is beginning to think she'll not be fit enough by September's trip dates, and, since she continues to do too much with her classes, I'm afraid she is correct. It is too bad, particularly as she does not require teaching those classes for the money, and keeps on with them mainly for the social and physical conditioning benefits. But she does not know how to pace herself! I've talked with her about using a wheelchair at Yellowstone, but she is just not interested.

Later. A new problem, or rather a resurfacing of an old one, has developed with Puff. In the past couple weeks she has twice wet herself in the house when excited by others. Then tonight, only minutes after she had peed out in the backyard as she should, she also peed in the house, quite a lot. We'll now have to monitor her more or less constantly again just as if she were still a small puppy. Either she has, even after all our lessons, never really learned her housebreaking lessons or she again has some problem with her genitourinary system, as she did with a mild infection when I had just gotten her from Killeen. Whichever is the case, this is a bad time to have to deal with it, only days before our long trip to IL and WI.

6/7/04-Mon.-The evening of 6/4, on David Letterman's TV show, comedian Billy Crystal said that as he's getting older he's discovering new talents. For instance, he never simply pees anymore but instead urinates in Morse Code, He mentioned too that his age mostly affects his morning routine. Now he wakes up...pees...gets out of bed...

It was pretty funny stuff (and all too true, sooner or later)!

Today, have just had my locks shorn.

In the barber shop, the TV was on, showing the beginning of several days of solemn rituals, prayers, and tributes in honor of Ronald Reagan, who died the day before yesterday.

Clearly Nancy Reagan, as well as the current President, plus the other Republican powers that be, are trying to make it seem Reagan, that old right-wing reactionary who, as Governor of CA, encouraged police attacks against peaceful demonstrators and gutted education there and, as President, fired the nation's air traffic controllers, ran up then record deficits, increased poverty, curtailed Civil Rights efforts, involved us in a disastrous and failed campaign in Lebanon, claimed to be for smaller government but increased the size of government significantly, skimped on domestic imperatives, and was almost impeached (and should have been, if the stringent standards applicable during the Clinton administration had been used) over his illegal Iran-Contra dealing, this "father" of modern Republican conservatism's current success at the expense of much that was good about our country before his "era," who's been out of the public eye for about a decade while suffering from Alzheimer's disease, somehow now deserves the same national "mourning" rites as John Kennedy, cut down in his prime, received after his shocking assassination in 1963.

To me, it's all just partisan politics, part of the new election campaign, and such an attempt by current Republican leadership to rehabilitate the old criminal, and so get a few more votes and maybe George W. elected for a second term, as to be a travesty.

It reminds me of how old deceased Soviet historical brutes from time to time were given great fanfare and cast in a new, more favorable light, when it suited the fancy and fortunes of those currently in power.

Are we really free citizens in a democracy today, or are we manipulated masses whose opinions are cynically molded for them by competing specialists of spin who work out, at the same time as they're coming up with new policies, how they'll sell them to the easily influenced and gullible electorate not yet sufficiently "on board," while denigrating the opposition and pandering to their loyal constituents, such as today's evangelicals, who can be counted on to support George W. Bush, right or wrong?

I do admit Reagan was politically quite effective. To the extent this raised the morale of our citizenry, after a period when it had been dealt several body blows, and also resulted in the "evil empire" falling faster, history perhaps will be deservedly kind to him. But history will also have to judge whether the period of social conservatism, combined with fiscal irresponsibility, that he ushered in will ultimately prove better or worse for our country than the more progressive attitudes and politics that he and his right-wing friends and imitators replaced.

Fran and I published the latest issue of our newsletter over the weekend.

We're now involved in several final chores and errands before our trip to IL and WI, starting early Friday. As I lack a laptop, this diary will not be brought up to date until our return, rather late this month or early in July.

I personally am hoping on this upcoming journey to be looking out for real estate opportunities, and "comparison shopping" for a possible new community to which we might move before too many more months or years. Indeed, if we happen to find just the right kind of place, we could leave as early as next year, perhaps having two residences for a short, interim period. But, chances are, we won't be so fortunate.

Trips are often an interesting change of pace, however, and, to the extent we can stay well enough rested and not get stressed out by the challenges of travel (and of being for days at close quarters with another or several others), they may provide entertaining diversions. The last time Fran and I headed up to WI, for instance, there were a number of very neat wildlife sightings.

It was also good to get to know my nephew, Jay, and niece, Violet, better, not to mention Trudy and Scott, my sister- and brother-in-law.

We've enjoyed more rains today. Still additional precipitation is now predicted for tonight and tomorrow, so that it seems we'll not need to water the yard more before we depart.

Today, for the first time, I took a CD over to a close supermarket for developing into pictures, a fresh technology experiment for me. These are images Fran took from the Memorial Weekend reunion. If they turn out as well as from a film camera, I'll likely be in the market for a digital camera myself before the end of 2004.

I'm thinking of beginning a new web site soon, focusing on favorite landscape shots, photos I've taken over the years at various picturesque locations. I'm no expert or professional, but if one takes enough snaps and has a convenient camera, nice things can happen.

6/11/04-Fri.-At 8:50 AM we've just begun our trip north, Puff's first big adventure. Traffic is perhaps a little lighter than usual for a Friday, thanks to the "national day of mourning" in honor of Ronald Reagan, which I choose instead to think of as for Ray Charles, who's also has just died and yet made a much less partisan or controversial contribution to the well being of the nation-state.

Fran forgot to flush her toilet before we left. Her bathroom doubtless will be quite ripe upon our return in about three weeks.

Later. After Mom and I had a rest this afternoon, while Fran was continuing some of her laptop picture activities, my better half left Puff with me and then went out to Mom's shed where she indulged her natural history hobby and observed some quite interesting wasp skirmishes, which were "better than Serengeti!" as she then enthused.

Mom took us out for supper to Golden Corral. Delicious! However, as usual in such a situation, I ate more than was wise. While on vacation is not the best time for a reducing diet, but I really must have a low caloric intake but higher exercise regimen and, ultimately, get weight down to (and maintained at) 150 pounds or below, roughly ten pounds under my present mass.

This evening, besides our Puff care, Fran continued her laptop projects, and Mom and I watched some of the traditional Friday business and/or current events TV programs.

I also took Puff for an evening walk.

This afternoon, at Mom's request, I looked up information on a company that's trying to sell her long-term care insurance. What I could find was not encouraging. Its parent company had been bankrupt last year, and the insurance company itself had its rating lowered to below average. To learn more I'd need to pay for rating service reports. We talked about it some, and I gave her my advice, that she shop around more, get reports on any companies she really liked, buy insurance from the best of these, if it seemed worthwhile, and meanwhile set aside $250,000 in cash equivalents to cover long-term health care (i.e. self-insure), in case she'd need such services before reasonable, reliable insurance for it were arranged.

However, she follows others' suggestions as much as, if not much more than, mine and often lets her booze and wishful thinking, or even her confusion, do her thinking for her. She'll do, finally, what she pleases about this and most other matters.

We also talked about how heavily invested she is in equities. I think she should sell most of her stocks and put the proceeds in cash equivalents or conservative annuities (that she can revoke without serious penalty, in the event she requires the funds for an emergency).

But she chose to keep her portfolio as it is, roughly 70% in stocks, about three times what I'd think is best for her.

My left foot is still quite sore, in fact seems worse today than yesterday. I'm worried about the effects on it of this long trip (and related activities) so soon after re-injuring the tendon while going to and from Oklahoma City about a month ago for Jim's graduation activities.

6/12/04-Sat.-We hit the road about 7:50 this morning.

I was up multiple times with "plumbing problems" last night.

We got through Dallas and its traffic turmoil about 10 AM. Puff barked her outrage as a motorcyclist sped toward us from behind. Anything unusual sets her off. We corrected her but were also quite amused.

Yesterday we saw a roadrunner, near Mom's place, when driving to get supper.

At 11:10 AM we left TX and entered OK.

As the day wore on and we slowly progressed through OK, Puff (perhaps too distracted and excited by this initial long trip experience) repeatedly failed to do either no. 1 or no. 2 during our several stops, despite much encouragement. Finally, to our relief, after she'd had a drink while Fran and I were stopped for a late lunch at a cool, windy, shady place, she did her business, as if as an afterthought. Evidently, to judge by how long it took, she had needed to go rather badly.

At 4:15, we arrived at the MO Welcome Station. From a safe distance, Puff got to greet a couple ferrets and an Airedale there.

Compared to our trip to WI last September, we haven't seen much wildlife so far. Fran did this morning, in TX, see a lone deer close to the highway.

A little before 6 PM, we arrived at Springfield, MO, and checked into our room at Motel 6.

I took the dog off for her nether region duties, which she eventually did. She was still too excited to eat.

Fran and I left her in the kennel and took ourselves to Shoney's for supper.

Fran was feeling quite wiped out and went quickly to bed on our return. Meanwhile, Puff, who has figured out (and definitely agrees with) whose dog she is, lay down near Fran for the duration. I took a long hot bath, reading at first and then simply indulging in the luxurious sensations while meditating.

Afterward I was feeling very tired but also unaccountably depressed. Best, I thought, to try to get in some extra rest myself.

6/13/04-Sun.-In the wee hours, after earlier naps, with dramatic sounds of a superb thunderstorm as background, Fran and I last night warmed the sheets by fooling around, the dog meanwhile safely closed up in her kennel.

Our canine got her revenge about 8 AM, as we were heading out of Springfield. She suddenly surprised us by leaping from the backseat of the car into my lap, in the process upsetting an almost full cup of coffee I'd been holding, the contents instantly splashing over a goodly area, soaking and staining my seat, clothes, a book, this journal, and maps, all in harm's way. We were fortunate to only swerve but not lose control of the car. Motel 6 had offered free coffee but with no lids, and I'd made do. Hopefully I won't ever again do that with a loose puppy in the vicinity!

About noon, we left St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. The weather's been great during our driving so far. We've also been admiring an abundance of roadside flowers.

Arrived at the trailer (which Linda had rented for the week) around 5 PM. After our mutual greeting, Linda took Puff off on a walk. The two bonded instantly, though later she said she wished Puff were more controllable. So do we!

Meanwhile, Fran and I unloaded the car and put our stuff in the limited available trailer space. It is much the worse for wear and rather "dumpy." The setting could be better too. Hundreds of such trailers are all crowded together, most occupied. A major, very busy highway is only about a block away.

Privacy inside the trailer is rather lacking. There's just one tiny toilet. The door to the bathroom has no latch or handle and swings open unless something solid (like my foot) holds it shut. But, heck, why complain? Linda is paying! Won't take our money.

We three humans went to a supermarket for shopping and brought back vittles for several days, including a really scrumptious chicken dinner that we enjoyed later this evening. Back at the trailer site, on our return from the shopping drive, there was a rabbit nibbling at some of the nearby grass. It casually hopped away on our arrival.

Afterward I took Puff around the park's fishing lake (not the swimming pond). She liked going near the banks and there rousted a couple ducks who swam away. Puff jumped right in and started after them for a short distance!

The ladies kept themselves entertained, as usual when they're together and not on an outing, with their digital picture albums displayed on laptops.

Linda had several gifts for Puff that the latter enjoyed: a pair of grooming gloves, a brush, and (her all time favorite) a furry, stuffed bat toy hand puppet.

Since Linda is willing (eager!), and the trailer rules are for no pets, Puff is staying nightly in Linda's van with her while we're at this park.

Linda and Fran finished their chatting and laptop stuff at close to midnight. After showers and the transfer of the beast, we all hit the hay around 1 AM.

Fran said she'd found her first tick while taking her shower. The hot water soon ran out when I was taking mine. The joys of camping, or anything close to it, have unfortunately often eluded me. Actually, though, initial stodgy reactions aside, I've several times enjoyed camping (and summer camp, which this is more like), though it has never, in my experience, been an unmixed blessing.

6/14/04-Mon.-I was surprised by how light it was before 5 AM this morning, with the birds already noisily calling their songs and territorial warnings.

I went back to sleep, though, and dreamed of game fish in the nearby lake, as well as of other wildlife in the park environs.

We had light breakfasts and, after ablutions, I took the problem-pet on a new walk.

Shortly following this, we left Puff in her kennel while Fran, Linda, and I went over to the home of Mike's sister (and Fran's aunt) here in Joliet, Harriet. We chatted and looked at family pictures of the ladies' relatives and friends for the better part of three hours. Harriet was nice enough to fix and serve me a cup of coffee and even offered some tasty muffins.

Back at the trailer, we fixed and ate a lunch of leftovers and played with (and looked after) Puff. Linda asked me to review paperwork she had on an annuity, and some more on a mutual fund she uses for an IRA. Following Mike's death, she needed to make decisions on what to do with these assets.

Her comments were minimal, but it was pretty clear she mainly wanted reassurance there would be no problem just continuing both with no change, so, once I'd realized they were part of a conservatively allocated portfolio, I agreed with her that the "no change option" would probably be just fine for her needs, allowing her the alternative of making changes later if she wished.

We all rested the latter part of this afternoon, having done enough "work" for one day with our visit at Harriet's place.

About 5 PM, we took our now barely clad bods over to the swim pond and horsed around in and out of the water for an hour. Happily, we had the water mostly to ourselves. There was a neat fountain in the middle.

In the past couple days I've seen several robins, the first noted in many months.

The "plumbing problems" have been particularly a nuisance since this trip began. It's regrettable that my doctors and the HMO bureaucrats did not sanction better treatment of the underlying condition. I'd wager good money that if they had the difficulties I have with an enlarged prostate they would damn sure have it out, or at least see that its effects were aggressively ameliorated, and would then consider the measures quite medically warranted.

6/15/04-Tues.-Not one of our better days, though we're getting more used to the summer camp routine here now.

We were up by a little after 7 AM and ready to head over to Frank and Theresa's (Linda's brother and sister-in-law) by 9:00.

But first I took Puff out for a final "pee break" and then put her in the car. (Despite the dog's having had several "bathroom" type accidents in the last 2-3 months, Fran thought Puff was ready to be a guest at Frank and Theresa's, so we might see how she interacts with their schnauzers. I think she and Linda also wanted Frank and Theresa to meet our cute pet.)

Just as I pushed down the lock and slammed shut the back seat car door, uncontrollable Puff leaped for the opening. Before I could stop her or the door, one of her front paws was caught and she was screaming, but I couldn't immediately release her because now the door was locked!

Once I had gotten her back out again, she leaped away, still whimpering, no longer on her leash.

Fran had come running and helped comfort and restrain Puff, but in the melee, when I was reaching back to hold her, the dog suddenly jerked up, deflecting my hand, which hit Fran so hard in the face it was as if I'd socked her.

Once we'd made sure Frances' nose wasn't broken and gotten the dog safely back into the car, we set off for Frank and Theresa's. I pondered that, just the evening before, Frances had found not only several four-leaf clovers, but even one five- and one six-leaf clover! (She pressed the plants in the pages of a book and also documented them with digital pictures.) Were we now experiencing our "good luck?" As it turned out, the best was yet to come.

After arriving at the relatives' place, we began a lengthy, friendly visit that would last about five hours. Frank and Theresa were properly impressed with Puff. When we went out by their pool, she jumped right in and proceeded to drink about a quart of the swim water! She also played a lot and ran about frenetically till quite wiped out, and wound up napping on their master bed. When she woke up, Linda, Fran, and I were all concentrating on other things, like Theresa's questions about what to do with some stock inherited from her dad.

Of course, Puff, with now nearly a quart of water ready to exit, couldn't wait very long and, when there was not a ready way to the egress, soon peed a nice quantity on Frank and Theresa's carpet. Somewhat belatedly, Fran rushed her outside where the canine peed even more while I applied carpet stain remover, plenty of hastily obtained paper towels, and liberal loads of apologies.

Fran came back with the beast, we all relaxed and continued our discussions, and Puff peed yet again on the carpet, with no attempt whatever to let us know she needed to go out.

This time I rushed her away, letting Fran do the apology and cleanup routines. Altogether, Puff peed eight times between 10 AM and 2:30 PM (when we were able to leave). Boy were Frank and Theresa impressed!

Then, on our drive back to the trailer, Puff somehow got her head caught in the car window and began screaming again. I was wearing my seatbelt, had trouble finding the release, and so couldn't immediately get over to relieve the dog's latest trauma. The screaming thus persisted a few seconds longer. Lord!

The worst was over, but at our late lunch in the trailer I bit the heck out of my lip.

A little while later, Puff was doing her usual impulsive jerking about, got herself underfoot, and began screaming again when I accidentally stepped on a paw.

This pet is turning out to be rather "high maintenance."

I relieved stress by swimming with Fran before supper, quite refreshing!

6/16/04-Wed.-Up about 7 AM. Before I had dressed, fixed a cup of coffee, or even gotten out of the tiny bathroom, my mother-in-law was barging in and making herself at home in the little trailer. Hmm.

Today is to be a busy time. Besides hours spent visiting another relative, we must pack our stuff up and vacate, so the WI clan (Trudy, Scott, and their family) can move in tonight. We'll check into our motel, shop for more groceries, prepare vittles for tomorrow's ceremonies (in honor of Mike, Linda's spouse, Fran' s and Trudy's dad), continue the more careful care of our problem-pet, greet and visit with the new arrivals, return to the motel, and then make preparations there for bed.

The temperature now is noticeably lower than in central TX. There the nightly lows are typically in the 70°s (F). Last night the mercury here dropped to 62° (F).

The diminutive toilet in the trailer, almost a toy, got blocked this morning, and flush water just backed up. We can't use it anymore and have no means to fix it. We did report it to the park management, and they plan to deal with the situation later today.

After breakfast, packing, and Puff walks plus brushing, we left for the next relation's house about 10 AM.

Later. We had a nice get-together with Linda's older sister, Charlotte. Happily, it was also shorter than the last couple days' visits, not quite two hours. Like Fran's Aunt Harriet, Charlotte charmed me by serving coffee. The sibling dynamics was interesting to observe. Charlotte kept trying to put Linda in her place, implying that the latter had not adequately prepared for the funeral luncheon tomorrow, while Linda became defensive and nervous, ready to leave a lot sooner than with the other such visits this week. Charlotte also made a point of including me more in the conversation, almost to the exclusion of her sister, for a little while.

Still later. We were waiting for Trudy, Scott, and their kids to arrive, expecting them by early evening. It was about a 400 mile drive, so we figured they'd leave early this morning and get here around 5-6 PM, in time for us to have a good time together and yet for all to get settled well before bedtime.

By close to 10 PM, we'd still had no word from them, and they hadn't shown up. As Linda seemed mildly concerned, I suggested she call them. She didn't have their cell phone number, she thought, but they answered (their phone forwarded) when she called their home number, and they turned out by then to be only about a twenty minute drive away. They soon arrived.

Trudy and Scott had left home about 1 PM and made some stops, for dinner and breaks, along the way.

But meanwhile Fran and I had quite a movie marathon night, viewing "Titanic" at the trailer, then "Down with Love (a very good and funny film)," and "True Lies" at the motel.

6/17/04-Thurs.-A rather trying day, but we accomplished one of the main reasons for our trip: attending the memorial functions related to Mike's life and death.

Linda had been rather anxious that all would go well, had slept little the night before, and was evidently relieved that some forty or so friends and relatives went to the services (at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery) and to the VFW lunch and reception afterward, most all aspects of the day, as Linda had planned them, going well (in spite of Charlotte's admonishments).

Later we went back for yet another time of visiting at Theresa and Frank's, besides the five hours spent with them recently. I did not take this with good grace, particularly as I was concerned about Puff (who wound up being stuck in her kennel over six hours with no break, the longest so far for her) and, besides, I kept drifting off, falling asleep (!) as Frank and Theresa went over and over the same complaints and concerns they'd trotted out for us two days before. Still, I remained fairly polite.

This evening we (Linda and I - Fran walking the dog and taking pictures) had a lot of fun, though, with Trudy, Scott and their family at the park swimming pool.

6/18/04-Fri.-Checked out of the motel about 8:15 AM. Scott and I headed off toward WI (without the kids or the ladies) around 9:15. Arrived at Trudy and Scott's place at 6:25 PM. We left soon afterward to go pick up the four dogs.

6/19/04-Sat.-Yesterday evening the sunset was much longer in arriving, here in WI, than in central TX, well over 1000 miles to the south. Before getting the dogs, Scott drove us over to their farm, to unload his pickup and so make room for the animals. Next he offered, and I accepted, a ride around their spread's acreage on his new four-wheel Yamaha off-road vehicle. It was a fun, mildly exciting trip. I rode behind, holding onto some bars for tying on loads, as he negotiated narrow vs. wide paths, up and down hills, along old roadways (grown in and not used in decades), a snowmobile trail, the shoulder of the highway, through one edge of a cornfield, and so on.

My bladder was screaming for relief after awhile, but this was too pleasant a way to enjoy an hour or two for us to stop. In the course of our motorized twists and turns, we had several deer sightings, some of the animals noted at only a short distance. We also saw a pair of wild turkeys and a pair of sandhill cranes, the latter standing elegantly and quite tall.

After leaving the farm and picking up the Rhodesian Ridgebacks, we went home, but not before having many other sightings of wildlife. A rabbit hopped along a small, low bridge. A raccoon walked, then ran, ahead of the truck for a little distance. We saw as well at least another 10-15 deer. It seemed, on the way there, we could see deer almost everywhere we looked. (Of course, Scott also found and killed a tick crawling on him. I haven't found any yet and am hoping I didn't miss ones that would turn up later, fat and juicy with my blood.)

Later. Today's adventures at least equaled Friday's.

Scott's friend, Liz, who has horses of her own and also boards Admiral, Scott and Trudy's horse, stopped for Scott and me this morning about 8:30, so we could all go to an auction. Scott wanted a horse companion for Admiral out at the farm, for as soon as the fencing, etc., would be ready for them there. Liz was along as a consultant about horses for Scott, and because she had a trailer for transporting a horse, in case Scott were successful in a bid.

On the way over to the house, barn, and corral where the auction was being held, we saw more deer, near the road. And, once there, we saw a bald eagle soaring overhead. (Back in Scott and Trudy's neighborhood, I've seen a chipmunk and rabbits.)

The auction began at 10 AM, but before it got started the three of us (and several others) looked at the horses. Liz gave advice, and Scott took note of the ones in which he had the most interest.

We didn't know then that the items least favored by the people wanting to pick up good deals would be sold first, and that the horses would not go till late afternoon. As it turned out, then, once the novelty wore off, the auction was only mildly holding of the attention, or even boring, for most of the day, but turned out to be quite exciting in about the final hour. That's when Scott bid intelligently and picked up "nine" horses (including mares that were well along in pregnancies and so would provide foals in the next few months) plus harnesses, collars, bridles, and a saddle. The horses, with numbers thus calculated, cost him on average about $335 each. Several of them, including a draft team, had already been ridden, but the ponies, and of course the coming foals, would need to be broken.

The ladies and kids showed up, from IL, about 6:30 this evening, an hour after we'd returned from the auction. (Scott and Liz will need to pick up his newly acquired horses in the next couple days, the trailer taken today being much too small for the number purchased!)

My nephew and nieces, Jay, Violet, and even six-month-old Cheryl, and I played this evening in the front room after supper. Most of the time they insisted I was a "horsy."

6/20/04-Sun.-Up today about 6:30, as Scott, Trudy, the kids, and their dogs were all up and active.

Roughly an hour later, Liz and Cher, one of Liz's daughters (who looks after Admiral), stopped by for Jay and Scott. Liz had a large trailer this time, and they were going to pick up the horses Scott bought yesterday and take them to Liz's place for boarding, all, that is, but two who would still be kept at the prior owner's till they could be bred. Once that had occurred and Scott would have the farm readied, he'd have all the horses taken to his place. Jay was along for the ride, so to speak, as Scott rightly figured he'd be excited about the ponies.

Meanwhile the rest of us got (or were gotten) ourselves ready and went over to Trudy and Scott's farm for awhile. I worked on beginning to clean and straighten up the upstairs storage and crawl space in their house, but had not made much headway on it when we were called to go over to Liz and Jake's place to watch Scott's horses being unloaded. We got over there in time to see most of them being taken into a corral area with electrified fencing. Then scores of pictures were taken. The horses are, indeed, beautiful and highly photogenic.

It's Father's Day, and in a small way we helped Scott celebrate the occasion.

We also drove over to Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, and went to the Como Park Zoo, Conservatory, and Amusement Rides there, stopping on the way for Dairy Queen lunch vittles and, later, for gasoline (and a pee break for me!).

On the way back, we stopped first at Famous Dave's BBQ and had their feast. Later we went to a fireworks place, and Scott loaded up with an abundant supply to use on July 4th. The completion of the trip back to Trudy and Scott's seemed endless as I was quite tired and also again badly needed a restroom. I was wondering too about Puff, stuck in her kennel the whole time we were away, roughly eleven hours, another record for her being left alone and penned up. The other dogs were in a different part of the house and, for the most part, could roam about freely inside (except for our guest room where Puff was).

6/21/04-Mon.-My left foot is being a nuisance after the last two days of walking and standing a lot. To be on the safe side and try to avoid further injury to the torn plantar tendon, my helping out with chores at the farm is now, at least for today, reduced to looking after one or two of the youngest kids. So, I've been babysitting Cheryl, or she and Violet, for the past couple hours this morning. At least this has freed Trudy to work on the house projects much of this time.

A little past noon, Jay was picked up from his pre-school.

We went to Trudy and Scott's old place for lunch. Then, about 2 PM, it was back to the farm again, this time taking two vehicles and all of the dogs, plus the three kids. I drove the truck (with the dogs).

While the ladies worked on other (generally more energetic) projects, I looked after Cheryl and Violet and spent the afternoon cleaning windows and shelving at the farm house.

Jay, age five, helped me with the house chores for awhile but kept using way too much of the wood and window cleaner, which were consequently soon running low. To my several suggestions that he use only a little of each cleaner, he merely insisted that his mommy could buy more if we ran out. Hmm.

A small fence pen was completed in back and all the dogs were closed up in there. Unfortunately, the younger of the Rhodesian Ridgebacks kept jumping up and pushing down the top of the enclosure.

I yelled at them "No!" and they would stop for a few minutes, but then they'd start again. Finally one of them jumped up, pushed down, and then leaped over the temporary gate. The dogs all had to come into the house till repairs were made.

While I was entertaining Cheryl, after her nap, I felt some itchy places and then saw a flea on my leg. Apparently the farm house is infested. I already have about ten welts from the flea bites.

The ladies left me in charge of my young nieces and of the dogs while they went for a truck bed full of stuff from storage. Later, after unloading, they went for another batch, this time leaving Jay, the girls, and the canines. It was a long day, but we went back for the evening to Trudy and Scott's about 6 PM.

On the return drive, we saw a pair of bald eagles.

After supper, there was more looking after dogs and kids (though this time with Scott), while the ladies went to a local orchestra rehearsal.

Then Fran and Linda elected to stay out at the farm together in Linda's RV-type van tonight, using the farm house's bathroom facilities to better enjoy the natural surroundings. I'm not so into roughing it, and besides I was not invited. So, I'm batching, one day before our wedding anniversary (which, under the circumstances of our trip, we've decided to celebrate after we get back to Austin).

6/22/04-Tues.-Our 19th wedding anniversary. As is said, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since our ceremony in north Austin, on the 22nd of June, 1985.

Got up today at 6:45 after a generally good night's rest, interrupted twice, though, by plumbing needs.

After our usual wake-up activities and ablutions, Jay was dropped off at school, Scott went to do a dairy herd health check, Trudy went to the hardware store (while I looked after Cheryl and Violet), and then Trudy drove over to the farm in the van, with her dogs (except for Lady, who was left in her kennel this time) and my nieces, while I followed her again in one of their trucks.

Fran, Linda, and Puff joined us about mid-morning, the dog absolutely filthy and needing to be thoroughly hosed down, still looking brown even following the rinse.

The late-arrivals helped Trudy with this morning's main project, getting the primary hay barn cleared of stored things, junky debris, and a several years' accumulation of old hay, so some of the freshly mown hay, cut (and due to be baled soon) by a farmer who leases farming acreage on Trudy and Scott's property, could be put up in the loft.

Meanwhile, this morning I've been alternately cleaning in the farm house and checking on or looking after Cheryl or she and Violet. Unfortunately, the fleas are still a problem in the part of the house where I need to be for these efforts. My left foot remains a nuisance too. Trudy says she released a fogger that kills fleas. These must have hatched from the eggs of those already gone to flea heaven. She probably didn't set off a booster bomb.

When we went back to Trudy and Scott's current sleeping residence for lunch, Trudy wished Fran and me "Happy Anniversary!" As an afterthought, Linda chimed in with the same greeting. Tellingly, Linda, who as I've mentioned had monopolized most of Frances' free time in the last twenty-four hours, through the middle of this morning, was enthusiastic, saying, "And boy did we celebrate it!" The irony, that she was referring to her time with Fran, excluding me entirely, was undoubtedly lost on my mother-in-law.

Linda and Fran had returned this morning from their hiking and night alone together at the farm with neat tales of their and Puff's adventures (the dog having submerged herself in a filthy swamp, for instance, which accounted for her coat's now darker hue) exploring the perimeter of the place, with moon, deer, wild turkey, and cool insect sightings, and accounts of hearing the loons, or of moments when there was, eerily, no sound whatever, without wind, traffic, birds, or bugs spoiling the purity of the silence.

I'd originally suggested Fran and I stay out at the farm. However, she had dismissed it, saying there was "no need." Yet last night she claimed she was not choosing her mother over me but, rather, the farm over being with me. Hmm. Still, it's really not a big deal. She and Linda likely had a better time together than the three of us, or Fran and I alone, would have, doing the same things.

Both those ladies and the dog also brought back, besides their anecdotes, an abundance of ticks. Linda said it was the most ticks she'd found on her person in over thirty years. (I don't envy them that part of their treasured time together.)

Perhaps in honor of our anniversary, maybe just in response to comments about sore muscles after work done recently (not to mention long drives, wrestling with the kids, or minor accidents), this evening, following a delicious spaghetti dinner Trudy fixed, Scott and Trudy suggested Frances and I take advantage of the Jacuzzi they have upstairs, adjacent to their bedroom. We were already quite fatigued but happy to accept the offer.

All seemed perfect at first. Fran and I were indulging together in the Jacuzzi's effects and sensations, finding that gentle stimulations between us easily excited reactions similar to those for the recipient of a sensual massage. But then the machine shut itself off much too early, apparently overloaded for some reason, and did so about four more times, ceasing within just seconds or at most a minute or so. Switching mental/emotional gears, into a more intellectual and frustrated than romantic mode, as we were trying to figure what should be done differently and so avoid the automatic shutdown, at first resulted in my machinery shutting down as well, though a little extra stroking from Fran's soapy hands restored things to a pleasantly anticipatory state. When the next logical step seemed appropriate, though, and even as Fran was physically quite well prepared, she indicated the tub setting did not seem right to her, that she was afraid it would be as uncertain of successful consummation as sex under weightless conditions in space (an experience I'd not known she'd attempted!), and so did not want to try. My "flag" waving, I felt it was a case of "all dressed up with nowhere to go." Somehow the romance didn't last much after that. Then, to compound the deflationary aspects of the occasion, before getting out I became so hot my blood pressure must have dropped rather low, and I nearly fainted. It was then nearly a half-hour before I could safely raise my head, dry off, dress, or walk without holding onto things. Oh well.

This afternoon, besides my own work inside the farm house and caring for the kids, we were all (Linda, Scott, Trudy, and, to a lesser extent, myself), moving old, loose and baled hay, from the barn loft to near the garden Trudy is putting in across the entrance road from the house.

Later we had left and gone to see Liz and her family, and for others to take pictures or watch while Scott took nasal and blood samples and gave some required injections to a number of horses (including his new ones). The herd he and Trudy now have is superbly beautiful and interesting. Some of the horses look like they could be show champions.

I've suggested to Fran she might come up here to stay for an extended period, as she loves the farm so much, to help Trudy and Scott get their place started in exchange for room, board, and neat experiences. But she says she's not interested in as much work as there is here, for more than a few days at a time.

After the Jacuzzi difficulties, Fran said "I'm sorry I'm not feeling that romantic. I do love you, and anyway we had a nice day." I love her too, but sometimes, of course, things don't work out as one would wish, and it's disappointing.

6/23/04-Wed.-Woke up three times during the night for no. 1. Fran got up twice for the same reason.

On our short walks around the neighborhood we've been seeing black squirrels, not the gray ones more familiar in TX.

Since Fran and Trudy went to the latter's meat processing research workplace, to do the slaughter and spleen removal (for analysis as part of a special study) of over two hundred young turkeys this morning, Scott and I took Jay to school (and Trudy picked him up later). Scott then left to see about repairs to his tractor.

Spent an hour or so this morning looking (successfully) for keys that had fallen out of a pocket, and, in the process, reorganized Fran's and my trip stuff in the guest room.

This afternoon, all of us went over to the farm for more work, the others on the hay project while I was looking after kids, my less than macho role here while my foot mends.

Fran did our laundry at the farm house too, a welcome development as we were getting very low on fresh, clean clothes.

We've all been finding a lot of new ticks. Wonderful.

A storm came through in the late afternoon, leaving the sky at the farm dramatically beautiful, but ruining the freshly cut and not yet baled hay. So much for a season's efforts on one hay meadow.

Tonight we enjoyed delicious steak dinners (except for Fran and Jay who said they didn't like steak) with wine (one small glass each for the four of us who were imbibing).

As the storm was coming in a few hours ago, I got one of Scott and Trudy's mowers and cut part of their lawn, that needed a trim again. I walked slowly and carefully, and also kept the amount of mowing to a small section, still trying to protect the foot. I managed to fit that much "manly" exertion in because Cheryl (Trudy and Scott's six-month-old) got tired enough to go to sleep.

This evening my hot bath was cut short after Trudy reported a "big leak" in the basement. Apparently there was a break somewhere in the upper tub drain plumbing, which they had put in themselves, and a little water was running down there. So, I'll be showering, not bathing, for the next several days. (For farm folks, repair and other projects never really end, and they must learn to do as much without help as they can, or they soon run out of money paying contractors all the time.)

Late tonight we watched a "Circe de Soleil" show and had ice cream. Mmm, good!

With the storm came cooler weather, and we heard that Yellowstone, a few hundred miles west of here, was down to 28° (F) today (what I call mild summer weather!).

6/24/04-Thurs.-Fran and Linda have gone off to another (larger) Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, zoo for the day.

The temperatures here in WI during this trip have been ideal, occasionally up to about 80° (F) for the day's high but generally in the 70s, 60s, or even 50s. The lows have been in the 40s and 50s.

Trudy took Jay to school as usual this morning. He's going on a field trip with his class.

Then she, Violet, Cheryl, and I went over to the farm while Scott continued his efforts to get his tractor fixed. He's also been working some out at the farm.

I got one of their push mowers started again this morning and cut another section of the yard at the farm. I helped Trudy too with unloading first some old hay next to her new gardens area and then a number of boxes of books, from back in their college days.

I wound up spending the bulk of the morning again looking after Cheryl, who proved this time to be quite a pill, cranky and yet disinclined to take a nap. She would cry if not held and entertained with mindless, repetitive games, such as building towers of blocks for her to endlessly knock down.

There was a time when I thought I'd like, as a "retirement" job, to work with kids, as with teaching kindergarten or elementary school, working as a child day care center attendant, or even simply doing babysitting, for pay. I figured in this way to compensate for a sense of deprivation, that I'd never had kids of my own.

However, perhaps I'm not really as deprived as I thought, or else it really makes a difference if the kids in question are yours, for, much as I enjoy my nephews and nieces, and though, overall, they are above average in intelligence and talent, and so more interesting to be around than the run-of-the-mill urchin, a few hours of pretty constantly looking after just one or two young 'uns goes a long way toward boring me or wearing me out. I suppose, if I am ever to find my niche, it will not, after all, involve teaching or looking after other people's children.

If all that is required is playing with the children, I'm fine and, indeed, in my element, as with my "horsy" antics with them last Saturday evening. But the moment I must serve in a supervisory, grownup, or substitute parent role with kids, it becomes an aggravating chore, maybe partly because my experiences with my father were unsatisfactory and so I never could accept his authority or grok the adult authority role for myself. He was my main male model, but I spent much of my childhood and youth hating him.

A related thing happened for me in my relationship with Jim. After my brother, Ralph, his dad, died, and, trying to be a good uncle, I began going over to Houston to spend a number of weekends with he and Mary through the years of his growing up, Jim and I were at first great buds. However, as I came to take more of Mary's side in conflicts between she and him, feeling I had to back her up when he would have his minor rebellions, my role with him became less that of playmate, more that of an adult authority figure, one in which I was distinctly uncomfortable and which he, naturally enough, did not appreciate.

Ultimately, the best of our rapport gone, we had little more to do or say together, and I've no idea how it would be possible to ever get things back to the way, for a delightful while, they were. Maybe it is similar to a parent's dilemma as well. Only a precious, rare few parents seem to remain best buds with their kids, once it's time for them to start growing up.

Between times when I was taking care of Cheryl or Violet this PM, I put the legs on a nice kitchen table for Trudy and Scott, then shined it up with furniture polish.

Next we went over to Sara's for Jay' violin lesson. It was nice to meet both Sara and her husband, Harry. As Trudy said, "Harry is an interesting guy." We had a pleasant conversation during the lesson. Harry is a poet. He also shares with me some political views, and we touched on some of these in our discussion. He and Sara have a beautiful location, a nice house right on a small lake.

This evening, Trudy fixed a great meal of baked turkey, dressing, and trimmings. Unfortunately, the occasion was marred by the absence of the adults for whom she cares the most, Linda, Fran, and Scott. Scott was still working but had not called to say he'd be late. Her mother and sister were on their way back from the zoo, but it was a two-hour drive, and they were stuck in slow traffic, as we learned later.

The supper also suffered from the fact that Jay and Violet were both acting like brats. Trudy was feeling quite frustrated and exasperated. She decided all the kids and dogs, plus she and me, would go back to the farm for awhile to: 1. get a little more work done; 2. let the dogs have a chance to blow off steam after being cooped up most of the day; and 3. give the children a chance to wear themselves out before bedtime. She even suggested a bonfire.

But I was now not at my best, tired, cold (no warm jacket, yet the wind chill must have been in the 30s (F), and feeling used, having already had a day of too much interacting with not so well behaved or tempered urchins as well as helping with other chores at the farm. I'd been so looking forward to a relaxed evening in which to unwind and even felt resentful that Trudy had changed our routine to include still more work, less time for R & R.

I was actually considering a confrontation with her over the matter, but then Fran and Linda, in one vehicle, and Scott, in another, all showed up, and the atmosphere improved in short order.

6/25/04-Fri.-In our talk yesterday, Harry, Jay's violin teacher's spouse, commenting on my view that our species' tendency toward violence is genetic, said it's his impression that it is, instead, an addiction, one that, like alcoholism, can be resisted and, with group support, successfully overcome, but that no complete cure was possible. However, instead of restraining the tendency, most individuals, nations, and cultures foster violence until it seems so pervasive as to be genetic.

I'd guess that a certain amount of genetics is involved but appreciate Harry's addiction idea, as a practical one for how to better get a handle on and restrain our very aggressive natures. Alcoholism too, or the susceptibility to it, is apparently genetic. Yet programs such as those of the support group, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), are often highly effective for some as a means to keep it in check.

Harry pointed out that there is too much stress on "good" vs. "evil," too little on "right" vs. "wrong" behavior. He feels distinctions need to be made, in our decisions about policy, between what is factual or informational and merely value-laden. The latter, being prejudicial and/or emotional, is not a reliable or correct basis for either rhetoric or action, though there are, admittedly, powerful political incentives for value-laden approaches over more dispassionate, objective, and mature ones.

While I believe a non-violent means to settling conflicts is, in 99.9% of the cases, the more appropriate one, and that if our species does not soon learn this lesson, we shall cease to be, at least in our current form, yet I realize that, realistically, there will from time to time be Hitlers, Stalins, or Napoleans who will not be shamed, "supported," or coerced into more responsible styles and so must be forced into compliance with a potentially quite violent "big stick."

I also recognize that an idealistic program of non-violence may have little chance of success in the actual world, one in which aggression is so universally inculcated. Indeed, violence is an integral part of nature and so of life itself.

Up today at 6:30. After dropping Jay at school, Trudy did some grocery shopping and also brought back donuts. Mmm!

Our visit, including today, will be for three more days. We head out early on 6/28. It's been an interesting holiday and a change of pace, with comparatively beautiful weather conditions, but the normal routines of home are now also inviting.

While I've been very impressed with the farm life in which Trudy and Scott are becoming involved, not least by the feeling of accomplishment they get from large projects efficiently completed on a grand scale, and by how long (essentially continuous) the hours are for a farm family, I am renewed in my self-image as essentially a city slicker. I like to take my rural exposure in reasonably small doses, and, at my age, this is unlikely to change much. Perhaps I just don't like working that hard.

Even Fran, who is much more into the natural world than I, says after this experience that farms are neat to visit, but she wouldn't, if she did not need to, want to live where ticks are such an ever-present nuisance.

Despite all this, though, I'd still love at some point, to acquire a property with an adequate residence and plenty of extra acreage and to spend the rest of our lives there, or at least as much of it as practicable.

I'm inspired by the record of Jimmy Carter who, after what some saw as a failed presidency and beginning again with no savings and such huge debts that, in spite of his presidential pension, he had to sell his peanut farm, went on to found his highly successful Carter Center, so good at achieving its negotiating, peacekeeping, and medicine distribution goals that Carter's accomplishments in this venture during the latter decades of his life prove him to be a genuine contributor to the well being of the species.

In my own case, life to this point seems marginally satisfactory, but with little very meaningful having been attained, certainly nothing extraordinary. Carter's example gives hope that, at least in smaller ways, I too before I die may positively add to our overall status in the world, offsetting perhaps some of the harm I've done.

This afternoon the plan again was for a return to the farm in the evening. The big difference, though, is that we broke for siestas, or other preferred activity options, in the early afternoon.

After a good nap this early PM, I checked our e-mails for the first time in several days, borrowing Scott and Trudy's computer for the purpose. We had received one, dated 6/20, from Tim, a grandson of Kim and Randolph, my aunt and uncle, reporting that Kim had died on 6/20. He had asked that I notify my mom and others in our extended family. She was to be cremated. Randolph, who is about 89, asked that there be no memorial service. I suppose he couldn't handle one. Her death has likely really shaken him. They'd been married 70 years. Too bad Tim didn't just contact my mom directly so the word could have been sent out at once. He had her phone number and e-mail. Sometimes people behave strangely. Kim had been terribly ill for a very long time, yet had such an inner beauty and vitality that people were gladdened to be with her in spite of her multiple infirmities.

I forwarded his e-mail on to my mom and followed it up with a phone call to make sure she'd gotten the sad news. She too was perplexed, and somewhat annoyed, that she had not been better and more promptly notified. The same thing had happened when Kim's daughter, Stephanie, died a few years ago.

Tonight, out at the farm after a splendid fish dinner, I mowed some more and then we had a bonfire and Scott's pre-4th of July fireworks, as Jay was terribly eager for an appetizer of the show Scott traditionally puts on for Independence Day, and, of course, Fran and I will not be here by 7/4.

We took Puff, which was a mistake. She was fine at first as the evening progressed, even showing eagerness and curiosity about the initial, smaller fireworks. But then one went off, right above our heads, that was quite loud and lengthy. Frightened, she jerked hard on the leash. Somehow, Fran, holding the leash and sitting in a lawn chair, toppled over, hitting her head. She seemed clearly, if temporarily, concerned and disoriented herself, which feelings no doubt were telegraphed to Puff. The rocket display was also still continuing, with loud bangs and multiple flashes. Our poor puppy, now quivering beneath an adjacent chair, was traumatized and terrified, shaking, trying to run away, her heart racing when I picked her up. I held her for awhile and took her back to the van as Scott set off new fireworks. She was still so upset she kept trying to crawl into the tiny space beneath the passenger seat. I comforted her as best I could, but it was close to an hour before she calmed down enough, once the show had completely stopped, to come out of her place of security.

Earlier this evening, Fran climbed to the top of the tallest silo at the farm, for the neat view and to take pictures from aloft. She said, though, it was rather scary to be so high.

6/26/04-Sat.-At the bonfire/fireworks celebration last night, my mother-in-law noted a high half-full moon (quarter moon) and then said "Or is it half empty?"

Perhaps motherhood is the best factor in favor of an eventual win of non-violence over the alternative. If all, or even simply many, mothers got together against aggression, they could surely make a difference. I note that Russian mothers helped bring an end to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and that MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has been quite effective. As Trudy points out, it is hard to understand, knowing how much of a mother's life goes into creating, bearing, and rearing a child, how anyone can willfully take a human life. But since some do, it is natural and incumbent on mothers, who have such a vested interest in their offspring's survival, to do all they can to limit the proponents of violence. It is perhaps little different than for female lions who would protect their progeny, or female polar bears wary of the threat to cubs from rogues among their potential mates.

After some lengthy plumbing problems, I got to sleep last night about 1:30 AM. Rising at 6:30, as usual at Scott and Trudy's, was not easy.

Much of the morning and part of the afternoon and early evening were again spent intensively involved in child care. While there can be satisfactions in babysitting, for the most part I dread it. Looking after children is especially challenging for the obsessive-compulsive, as I seem to be. After all, I'm striving for order, regularity, and plan, while kids, bless 'em, are all about disorder, disorganization, and spontaneity.

Challenging as this visit/trip has been for me, and I have at least as many scrapes, bruises, or insect bites - from mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, running into things, etc. - as during Army basic training or the first weeks at my folks' small, first retirement ranch, it has been something of an adventure, and that element of our lives has been lacking of late.

I also mowed a large part of Trudy and Scott's yard today, which, however, again aggravated my left foot problems.

Time and I hop along.

6/27/04-Sun.-Our last full day of visiting with Trudy, Scott, and their family. Got about five hours' sleep again last night. After breakfast, though rain had started, I slowly and carefully mowed their front yard at the pre-farm residence. A dreary day.

Fran and Trudy made two or three more trips for hauling furniture, etc., from where it was being stored, out to the farm and unloaded it. With concerns over my foot, I had stayed back at the house.

Am on child monitoring duty again this PM, though so tired I am hardly remaining awake.

6/28/04-Mon.-Up at 6:00, to have plenty of time not only to get ready, have breakfast, and finalize packing the car, but also to say our goodbyes to Trudy, Jay, Violet, and Cheryl (having told Linda, who's staying out at the farm, farewell last night, and Scott still being asleep this morning) who were leaving for work, school, or daycare a few minutes before our departure.

We completed our visits in the north country with Puff having had "only" three accidents, the most recent a poop on the carpet at Trudy and Scott's place a few mornings ago. As at home over the last three months, her accident rate continues to average about once a week. Her record is better than it might be, but certainly not such as to permit us to consider her housebroken or to begin to take her proper eliminative behaviors for granted. Frustrating. Since we clearly cannot rely on her not to pee or shit on our hosts' floors or in a motel, despite all our efforts at training her heretofore, before future trips we'll probably need to put her in a commercial kennel for whatever time we'll be away. Too bad.

We got underway, for the journey back to Austin, at 7:20 AM, hoping to achieve roughly half the return distance before stopping for the night.

While driving through MN this morning, we saw a big flock of large flying birds, likely snow geese but possibly sandhill cranes, circling aloft, a little head of us for awhile, perhaps taking advantage of thermals for extra lift.

We stopped for lunch about 1 PM and later lost close to a half-hour after I missed an exit on the outskirts of Des Moines. Still, we made fairly good time, overall, leaving IA and entering MO at 3:45.

We entered KS around 5:30. After a few discouraging setbacks, we were checked into a room at Motel 6, in Emporia, KS, by 8:30 this evening.

Fran, Puff, and I got into more hassles tonight over the dog's behavior and how best to deal with it. We discuss certain basic, consistent rules to be followed with the beast, but then Fran rationalizes the pups lack of cooperation and breaks with the guidelines, undermining the habits we're trying to instill and making excuses both for Puff and her own leniency toward her, as that "She is so cute" or "She's still just a puppy" or "I've been trying to train her, but it takes time" or "She's fine! (i.e., Just take my word for it, for the rules or consistent treatment of the animal don't matter.)"

I'm getting kind of tired of this. We're still going 'round and 'round about the same issues over which we disagreed nearly four months ago. The dog is taking up too much of our time and emotional energy due to her exasperating lack of good habits.

It seems to me the problems are interfering with our marriage. I've remained more stressed out since we got the dog, then found out she is generally uncooperative, and now we repeatedly cannot agree on reliable ways to deal with her behavior.

Such disagreements and the obnoxious incidents themselves keep things keyed up and us on edge.

6/29/04-Tues.-I got up before 7 AM and took the dog out, fed her, and had her out again while Fran, who takes much less time than I to get ready, continued to rest or "sleep in."

I also checked the car oil. The level was close to two quarts low (half the total). I added one quart and plan to add a second a little later today.

Enjoyed a hot bath at the motel, got dressed, did my teeth, finished my packing, loaded the car, and checked out. Fran, meanwhile, completed her morning routines, packing, etc., and still had time to work on her laptop photo image projects before I was through.

We got underway (starting out on a KS toll-road to the southern part of the state) by around 9 AM. I like the look of the Kansas rolling hills, ponds, washes, grassland, and shallow gorges, with only here and there a patch of blooming wildflowers, a stand of trees.

Fran suggests this "Antelope (sic) Restoration Area" is thus designated so that bored motorists can have something of interest to do, looking for the threatened pronghorns, but that no actual restoration is occurring.

While we were thus engaged (looking for pronghorns) this morning, we spotted a white-tailed deer near the highway. Later we saw a red-tailed hawk on a close-by fence post. Then, still later, a pair of them were flying not far above the interstate. By 10 AM, we still had about 500 miles left, to get to my mom's Waco place. If all goes well, after stops for meals and breaks, we should arrive there about mid-evening.

Meanwhile, we reached the northern OK border at 11:25 AM.

We got to Oklahoma City and filled our gas tank at 1:20, just before a dramatic rainstorm enveloped the metropolis.

Arrived at the TX border at 3:25. We stopped in Gainesville for a late lunch. Unfortunately, as was true last September on our return from WI, the timing will be perfect for our getting enmeshed in the worst of Fort Worth's stop-and-go rush hour congestion.

Completed reading Bob Shieffer's book, This Just In - What I Couldn't Tell You On TV.

Have begun Blind Man's Bluff - The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, by S. Sontag and C. Drew.

We arrived in Waco and at Mom's house at roughly 7:15 this evening.

A positive development since we'd last visited her: for an unknown reason, she is on the wagon, drinking no alcohol at all, though complaining of trouble sleeping. Her mental state late in the evening is now much improved. Hope she stays on that wagon this time!

Fran and I had more disagreement last night over leniency (her position) vs. consistency (mine) of the training and care of Puff. It worked out OK this time, but I'm irritated that these conflicts must continue over matters that ought to have been reasonably assessed and resolved months ago.

6/30/04-Wed.-We were up by a little after 7 this morning, had some nice final visiting and breakfasting with Mom, and then were underway, for the last leg of the trip back to Austin, by 8:20.

During the first part of our journey this AM, we were plowing through an intense rainstorm, requiring use of the wipers on high, and even experienced several brief, scary moments of our car hydroplaning.

Despite the rapid back-and-forth of the wipers, visibility got low enough we had to drive about 45 MPH for a stretch. We passed areas of swollen streams as well as of flooding along nearby roads and fields.

It will be good to get home, for several reasons, not least to reassure ourselves about the condition of our house after being vacant for three weeks. We know of others who've had break-ins or major water damage while away.

Later. We made it back by 10:45 AM, having driven 3,224 miles since departing on 6/11.

The house and yard appeared to be in good shape except for flooding in the usual spots outside (and one large tree with an infestation of scale up and down its main trunk and along some of the first branches - hope we can save it!).

During the month of June alone, mostly while we were away, this area received 14 inches of rain! Our 1/3 acre looks like a jungle and feels (to walk on it) like a rice paddy. The grass is over a foot high in places, washed out down to bare tree roots in others.

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