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6/1/05-Wed.-Am still feeling quite badly from the spine difficulties. If there has been improvement, it's been too subtle to notice. May have to go to the doctor over this, though it is similar in kind, just greater in degree, to several prior episodes of "excruciating" back problems, all of which eventually got better without significant medical intervention. The record of back surgeries' average results five years later is not at all good: most people are again having as much or more trouble as before the operation(s). So, I'm determined to use conservative methods of dealing with this if at all possible, but may need a doctor to prescribe more pain killers than the over the counter variety I've been using.

The back strain, pinched nerve, slipped disc, or whatever it is, has been intense enough that after a bad time on this morning's slow, two-mile constitutional, I determined I'd not go to my investment group meeting tonight and would spend most of the rest of the day in bed, on the sofa, or otherwise taking things very easily. Merely getting up, sitting or lying down, or walking can involve sharp pains, sometimes with referred soreness or partial numbness elsewhere or unpleasant throbbing sensations. Nonetheless, I now believe it better not to "give in to" the soreness, and so will go on to the meeting after all.

Before 4 AM, this morning, Frances and I were awakened by yet another thunderstorm, this one accompanied by a great, noisy wind that thrashed our trees about violently amid the heavy fresh showers and the lightning. Puff could not be much comforted and finally settled, cowering, in her kennel for the interim. This time, unexpectedly, Fran and I were both in the mood for passion, remarkably so in view of what's been happening with my back. Eros found a way. Worth the wait.

The windstorm was over long before we'd gotten up again at a more normal time (after 7), but, as revealed on my hike around the neighborhood, it had spread a wide trail of damage. Kindling sized branches and leaves were down by the thousand or million wherever I looked. In addition, several trees, hefty branches, or parts of trunks had broken or fallen, some blocking parts of the roads.

Our yard was not spared. One smaller branch was now bent over onto the new roof. A number of larger ones, heavy with water, were hanging far down or twisted in among others in ways that, if they do not bounce back once in the sun for awhile, will necessitate their being cut out.

The worst occurred partly due to action by the little terrorist squirrels who claim squatters' rights here. Fran calls them "arboreal beavers" because they have a tendency to gnaw the bark away in a circle around some of our tree branches, killing them.

In this case, they had weakened the entire top part of one of our best trees, a good sized oak we had planted many years ago. Their gnawing had been too high for us to stop them with little wire or tape barriers, such as we have used elsewhere, and they had completed the destructive encirclement about three-quarters of the way around the trunk. The storm did the rest, snapping the tree about a third of the way down from the top, ruining its appearance.

I've tried various ways to rid our yard of the squirrels, but obviously without success. We were disappointed, for instance, that they were too smart to avail themselves of the peanut butter bait we'd put out for them in live traps, intending to carry any we captured many miles away, out into the country. Mixing poison with the plastic wood we used to fill in holes they made in some of our siding also did not work. They just made fresh holes elsewhere. Short of shooting the pests, despite the hazard to our neighbors, or putting out kinds of poison that could also do in our dog, we do not know what course to take.

So I try to be philosophical about them. Considering that they have also helped keep our various pooches entertained and have brought in the pecans and acorns from which we have acquired many nice additions to our lot's small forest, I figure it's just a case of: the squirrels giveth; the squirrels taketh away.

As the sun began to stream through our partially devastated yard, the humidity seeming to be about 150%, an interesting phenomenon to observe this morning was a thick column of steam rising off the compost bin that currently holds a nearly full volume of warm, rotting vegetable matter. Somehow it seemed a fitting symbol for nature going on doing its thing regardless of the transient ups and downs of we mere individual humans.

6/6/05-Mon.-Waiting for my pain medicine prescriptions to be filled. The back problems have not gotten better. It seemed for awhile that they were diminished. I even managed to give Frances a long massage yesterday without yelling, but later that evening, simply bending forward a little caused such intense, sudden pain that I dropped what I'd been holding and fell backward. Essentially the same thing happened today at the clinic, when I tried to get up after the nurse had called my name.

Even a slow walk for about a mile this morning was often agonizing. When I got back to the house, I called my regular doctor for this afternoon's appointment. Following the exam, he said I don't have a slipped disc (happily) but do have torn muscle in the lumbosacral area. He recommended rest, hot showers, hot baths, little or no lifting, and only mild, back-friendly home exercises, their extent governed by the pain. For now, neither walking nor swimming are advised.

Most of today has been occupied with this business. I'd gotten to the clinic early, hoping to perhaps thus not have extra waiting after the designated time. Instead, everyone who came in after me (for an hour) was seen before me. I was not called for another half-hour beyond the 1:45 appointment.

Next, I did not notice right away (who besides a pharmacist or another physician can read a doctor's handwriting?) that my health care professional had apparently not finished the prescription. I went back and checked with his nurse. Sure enough, the quantity for one of the pills had been omitted. Another half-hour went by before she brought the now properly completed slip back out to me.

Rush hour traffic having begun, it took awhile to get to the HEB pharmacy I use. "Do you want to wait an hour or come back tomorrow?" they asked me. After my little "dropsy" scene in the waiting room, and with the discomfort still quite noticeable, I elected to wait for it, simply grateful I'd be getting some relief before much longer.

Over the past few days, a number of things have been breaking, wearing out, or ceasing to function. Mirroring what was occurring with my back, and besides the recent trees damage and vacuum cleaner problem, several developments have brought home the entropy theme. "Things fall apart." Or at least the universe tends toward disorganization much more than vice versa. A few days ago, for instance, I had to relax the settings on our refrigerator/freezer. Their motors were running continuously and still not keeping things cold enough at the previous levels.

Meanwhile, our mower, bought new just three months ago, has stopped working, and neither Fran nor I can figure out how to fix it. This is, in fact, about the tenth time it has broken down since I bought the lemon. (I'd be taking it to a dealer now for attempted warranty servicing, but, with my back on the fritz, cannot safely lift it into the car trunk, not even if I handle only half the weight and Fran the rest.)

Other things currently threatening imminent breakdown include our house thermostat, the PC monitor, and several places on or in our 19-year-old house.

Saturday, I met again with my brother, Ron. We enjoyed a breakfast together and discussed quite a variety of things. He is doing better in his security company sales job than I had feared he might, just a little below his trainer's expectations, though significantly under Ron's own hopes for $50,000 a year in commissions. But he now has the cushion of disability payments from the Postal Service, so perhaps, even with a somewhat lower than preferred income, it will work out alright for him this time.

Frances has some good news since the last entry. She'll have a significant part in The Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production here, starting later this month, of "The Mikado." She'll also be helping the Austin Symphony Orchestra with the July 4 festivities. Fran is very pleased too with a couple public service web sites she's been asked to design and manage.

Our muggy, hot days are back in earnest, and we'll not be looking for much respite from them till well into the next autumn season.

I am not really complaining so much as noting the change. When my brother Ralph died at the tender age of 38, I resolved thereafter to be content with whatever extra time I have. I may quibble about this or that inconvenience, but, bottom line, even the longest life really is very short. This is so obvious as to seem trite, but it is well to appreciate what we have.

Each person is different, and, cynical as I am by now, I question how much one may fundamentally change, notwithstanding all sorts of growth groups, religious conversions, popular psychology movements, and such, but, to the extent we can, let us be positive and, from this foundation, at least little by little, respond to our wondrous being with joy, curiosity, humor, friendship, and even compassion. Look how many see no options but pettiness, violence, or obsessive strugggles (ultimately failed) for more and more power. As someone has said, we die alone, and we shall be dead for a very long time.

Yet, this view too is rather simplistic and unnecessarily restrictive. It seems beyond my philosophy or wit to manage it, but we are not merely saintly beings, basking in our glorious goodness. So our dark sides must be integrated as well! But how is this conjurer's trick to be accomplished?

6/11/05-Sat.-I'm trying to adjust to my new life as a handicapped person, considering ruefully that this could be "As Good As It Gets." The back problem has been wincingly severe for close to three weeks now, despite advice and medications from my physician. Muscle relaxers are great if one needs to catch up on sleep, but the agony resumes as soon as one is out of bed again. Putting on or taking off pants, sitting down on or getting up from the toilet, getting into or out of a car, picking something up that has fallen to the floor, even putting on or taking off the dog's leash, simply walking across a room, or merely sitting for a little while at one's PC, typing in a journal, all these and similar activities (virtually every movement of any kind involving the spine - is it too late for the invertebrate option in this lifetime!?) have become part of the list of my least favorite things.

I'm to see the doctor again on Monday (6/13). Meanwhile, the lawn is literally going to seed. Our cars are going without their regular checks under the hood. Puff is doing without over half of her walks and much of the daily romping we used to do. Most every step is now accompanied with my trusty golf club (improvised cane). I use the plunger (plumber's helper) to help get up from the commode without screaming, and am not always successful. I used to be distressed, when trying to rest, by Puff squeezing up next to us. I'd insist that she go elsewhere, perhaps to her own comfy, upholstered chair opposite the bed, but now I welcome her friendly presence, her little bod a living hot water bottle against my sore torso.

There are a few advantages to my current predicament, such as an evening Fran and I shared the other night, as I was lying down on the front room sofa, getting warmed from under my dorsal region with an electric heating pad, and together Fran, Puff, and I watched funny animation films about "Wallace and Gromit."

With all the extra hours spent horizontal, 'cause all other options are too painful after a short time, I'm remembering more dreams. A short segment this morning, for instance, involved Sam Malone, from "Cheers," flying badly at night a World War I biplane. I was a passenger and in the second seat as, time and again, we nearly crashed, meanwhile getting quite lost in the dark. We never lifted above the height of the many utility pole wires. There were many canyons, some of them artificial, created by the several story high buildings to either side.

I've no idea what to make of that, but was glad to wake up from it.

In our ongoing, extended family soap opera news, after many score hours of e-mails, phone conversations, or in person meetings on what to do about Ron's 50th birthday celebration and when (finally having settled on a weekend in October as good for everyone concerned), my mom, who, with her compulsion to be totally in control, for several months now has refused offers of aid with needed reservations for folks who will be arriving from out of town or for the one covered picnic area at the park we had chosen for our proposed pot-luck and grilled victuals luncheon, etc., has now decided unilaterally that, instead of a special weekend devoted to feting Ron, she'll merely have a dinner for him the same weekend one of my nephews is getting married there in August. When I pointed out that we had gone to a lot of trouble to contact everyone and arrive at a good weekend to focus our festivities on Ron exclusively, befitting the lavish kind of celebrating that earlier had been done for me and our sister when each of us had achieved the half-century mark, she said she had "given it a lot of thought" and realized this new arrangement would be the best way to "get it over with and be done with it." Besides, she added, as if she had just thought of an irrefutable argument in her position's favor, this way it will be a real surprise for Ron, since now he's expecting it in October. (What I did not say: "Duh! Yes, Mom, because you had specifically asked me to clear that weekend with Ron, to be sure he could be off from work then. Also, based on the prior decision, dearest Mother, my sister, Alice, had made advance reservations for a cheap fare airline roundtrip over the October days in question. And Mary [sister-in-law] had pointed out, when you had brought this up before, that our nephew and his bride-to-be might not care to have their special weekend shared with Ron's occasion.") At least it's seldom dull in our "best of all possible" families. If I were not too often exasperated with such dynamics, I might be able to write them into a pretty funny comedy!

In another regrettable, not so amusing development, my nephew, Joel (the nearly deaf young man who, despite his disability, graduated with honors from college a year ago) has just been given an ultimatum: resign or he would be fired from his special ed teacher position with one of the local schools. He has accordingly resigned and is now looking for new work. He said the students were responding well to his instruction, and he does not know why the school wanted to let him go. We don't understand what the problem had been, but suspect the administration just got tired of how difficult it is communicating with him. Special ed for the youngsters is all well and good, but most employers do not want to make special efforts with adult workers. Surely hope he has better luck with a new position soon. Joel would seem to have a lot to offer.

6/13/05-Mon.-Over the weekend, I felt my back problems had been significantly improving. Nearly a full day had gone by with no severe new pain of the type that, till then, had almost caused me to scream several times each 24 hours for the previous couple or three weeks. So, I had called my clinic and cancelled today's doctor appointment. (The physician had suggested I needed it only if I were not somewhat better.) But last night there were new instances of surprising, sudden, intense discomfort, when I would try to get up from lying down or from a sitting position. So, though perhaps my symptoms are not quite at their worst, I'm disappointed and wondering if I did away with the appointment too soon.

Frances returned, from her duets visit with a musician companion this morning, bearing what she called "good news." Her friend, Sarah Reiner, mentioned that she had once had back problems similar to mine, but she had gotten better, indeed she had recuperated fully. But it had taken a full year!

She said she had continued doing yoga throughout the ordeal, and one day, after she'd simply gotten used to the severe muscle tear and its pain being part of her existence, she just noticed it was not there anymore. Sarah also said she'd gotten some relief from smearing Ben-Gay over the affected area.

Fran and I went out for lunch today at The Black-Eyed Pea. My injury was hurting so much that even slight shifts in position while in the car on the way over would send waves of pain through me, as if someone were "playing" the spinal nerves like a harp (or at least a cheap tuning fork). Simply getting out of the car and walking slowly over to the restaurant sent new jolts of pain shivering through me. Sitting still in the eatery was not good enough for my new pain gods. They continued sadistically to zap me every few seconds. The prospect of yet another year of this sort of treatment was less than inviting.

On our way home, we stopped at Wal-Mart and purchased a few needed household items as well as a sturdy, Velcro back brace and a container of the store's chemically equivalent version of Ultra Strength Ben-Gay.

I'm giving each a good try, starting with the brace. Have been wearing it for several hours so far. The pain has continued, but it seems a little less acute or shocking than without the device. On the other hand, the brace itself is rather uncomfortable to wear, just as I'd imagine a tight girdle would be for a modestly stout woman who wished to look a bit more svelte than was actually the case.

This is all getting tiresome. It seems, though, I have no choice in the matter. Both the doctor and Ms. Riener have said, just as was true of my earlier torn plantar tendon, a good long time will be needed for proper healing.

I've been trying to distract myself from the back difficulties with chess games played at and with researching good investments.

Meanwhile, this evening Fran clambered onto the top of our house, assuring me she'd be very careful, and cut free the branches that the recent windstorm had blown against our roof. While up there, she noticed substantial amounts of fecal material, apparently from large fowl, and wonders if it could be due to vultures recently roosting there. I speculate it could have been from a large hawk staying in an overhanging tree. Based on a feather or two and the morbid remains we've found, we know we've had at least one in our area, seemingly feasting on some of our doves and yard rodents.

6/22/05-Wed.-My back is not much better, though some days are more pleasant than others. I need to use an improvised cane for most walking, and I have a lot of pain from time to time. Driving, or even riding, in either of our cars tends to leave my posterior regions feeling poorly for a few hours.

I had to pull teeth to get it, incurring some ire from one or two in my doctor's office (am sure they can handle it!), but eventually did receive a referral my insurance company will honor, for prescribed physical therapy. However, by the time I received it, the PT department for my clinic was booked till late next week. Hopefully, I'll not lose much more conditioning before the first session, on 6/30. Am trying to keep healthy with exercises on my own.

Fran and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary today. Time flies, a whole generation, when we're having so much fun.

Fran got me a very nice DVD/VCR player, the first one we've had, making do before with just a VCR machine. Now I need to learn how to program it! I'll be seeking bargain DVDs from E-bay or Amazon.Com.

She acquired a variety of less distinguished presents from me, plus the promise of more, some of which she needs to pick out for herself. I intended on taking us out to eat at a new restaurant today, Gino's Italian Village, one recommended by food critics in "The Austin Chronicle," but the neighborhood turned out to be quite rundown, and only when we got there did we discover that the hours posted online were incorrect: they no longer serve lunch. Sigh.

We went instead to a very good Persian food restaurant, Alborz, so all's well. I drove. However, it messed up my back a bit again. The spine area does not seem to like my looking back, when merging, to assure I do not miss seeing cars coming up on my left (a "blind spot"). Nor does it appreciate the vehicle's bucket seats.

Neither Fran nor I have ever received so much as a polite acknowledgement from any of the extended family or new in-laws, in connection with scores of darned good pictures we took at Tess and Roger's wedding last month. They obtained from us CDs with excellent, print quality images, plus notification of superb online gallery links, with no comment (except to note a few we had failed to get). We thrive on a minimum of appreciation. A single sincere word can make a world of difference. People have to go out of their way to offend us, but a few manage to do so regularly.

At times it is necessary to remind ourselves that these are very ardent Christians, among the supposed elect of God, who, even if Revelations says but 144,000 men will be worthy enough to get into Heaven, are much better than the rest of us and so are justified in whatever arrogant rudeness they manifest toward the many less august mortals than themselves.

We have needed to resort to watering our jungle of a yard. The turf is drying out quickly, even if the grass is several inches high because the mower situation is not resolved. We've had a little drought here since the beginning of the month.

We did manage, one day last week, to get the mower to a dealer who said he services the kind of machine we have, but naturally he did not call us by when he said he would, to let us know it is ready to be picked up and whether or not he would admit to its warranty covering the cost. It is about to the point we need to start follow-up contacts with his enterprise.

I called Sears today about the vacuum cleaner part, also under warranty, which they were to replace, after we had taken in the broken one over three weeks ago. Our experience with the company over this little standard part (which any decent appliance company should be able to replace in a matter of minutes) and my difficulties dealing with their computerized answering "service" and eventually their at least partially sentient representative (who put me on hold for an extended period and then later cut me off without explanation, and, despite my being nothing if not extremely patient with him, did not call me back, even though he had gotten my name and number ostensibly so he could return the call in case of such an eventuality), made the reason for Sears' recent bankruptcy and current "holding company status" more clear. Two further calls, and a good deal of frustration subsequently, led to the revelation that, for unknown reason, the part in question had been sent to a Sears location about one hundred miles from here.

Only now, after my calls, are they planning on correcting this and sending it or a new one to the correct store. They promise they'll have it for us in another week or so. With luck, they may even call us after it has arrived this time. We are not holding our breath. It is just as well that we are not compulsive about keeping the house clean and that Frances remains committed to her choice and purchase of this best of all possible vacuum cleaners, even if she does swear she'll never again do any business with Sears.

My chess games have been a brighter aspect of our all too human condition lately. As luck would have it, I have been winning all my games for several days now. Of course, I had lost all my games in the first few days of play, on the web site I use, so my head is not getting too big about this recent reversal of fortune. "This too shall pass."

Speaking of changed circumstances, I find myself philosophical about how quickly and easily one's life can be altered by the merest thing. In this case, picking up our little 18 pound dog in not quite the right way, just once, about a month ago, and so injuring my back, has rendered me in effect disabled, though previously, for my age, I had been in quite good health. Now I'm putting on a little weight (not enough exercise and needing to take a small amount of food with the pain medications), am unable to be as active as I'd been before, often find it better to sleep on a pallet more accommodative of my back situation than the bed I share with Fran, and cannot, without a lot of soreness afterward, still alternate with her the long massages we have been used, for the last couple decades or so, to giving each other about once a week.

Fran has been playing more with Puff out in the yard, since I have not been at all fit to take the beast with me on the fast-paced two-mile walks we used to do together once or twice daily. After or in the midst of long, frenetic ball or water games out there, Puff will sometimes drink incredible quantities of liquid. The other night, after a vigorous session and then Puff imitating a camel's behavior on finding an oasis following a long desert trek, when she could not in time get either Fran's or my attention to her needs (Fran, I think, intent on some mentally consuming project on the computer and I taking a private break in the restroom), our best pet had an accident on the carpet at the back door and left another, even larger puddle outside my WC. We were upset with her, but not terribly so. She'd obviously been trying to obtain our help with getting out. Later, she still had to pee several more times in a short interval.

I've been attending meetings in the company of investing, vegetarian organization (with whom tried out the delicious food at a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant on 6th Street, Mekong River), or book discussion group acquaintances, and am finding these quite interesting and/or entertaining.

My sister-in-law, Mary, and perhaps also her son, Jim, is (are) coming Friday, 7/1, to spend the Independence Day weekend with us and go to The Gilbert and Sullivan "Mikado" production (in which Fran has an orchestra part) with me. We're looking forward to this, particularly if Jim makes the trip too. He, especially, is a lot of fun to be around.

Frances, no slouch in the amateur photography department anyway, has been taking really amazing insect and spider pictures lately with her little Optio 450 digital camera. In the last few days, for instance, she captured close-up images of tiny flies having sex while on the wing. The pictures came out so clear and detailed that the wings are not even blurry, and one can see quite small aspects of their bodies. Individual units of their proportionately large compound eyes, for example, can be seen in some photos. Her shots are so startlingly revealing (and the subjects often so alien) they are like windows into another universe. Of course, the point is that they are not of another universe at all, but that we generally do not really see much of the fantastic realm we inhabit.

Although she may never be conventionally successful, having her artistic or photographic products published in a popular book or widely featured in another medium, as I think they certainly deserve, Frances is satisfied to see the results herself and to share some of the best of them with a few friends and family. And already she has, in fact, had a number of her picture or drawing images borrowed (with credit given) for textbooks, online educational sites, T-shirts, museums, newspaper articles, and other purposes. An image was put in a mosaic. Another of them was used on a commercial TV nightly news program. A couple people have even, with permission, used her images in tattoos! Many students have borrowed her images for overnight homework assignments. A few have included them in masters or Ph.D. level research papers.

The closest I have gotten to any "15 minutes of fame" was being interviewed about a true story I wrote of a patient given a lobotomy. (The session was not aired.)

I had a regular dental checkup last week. Although the technician noted in the chart that my OH (oral hygiene) was good, on x-ray the dentist discovered evidence of a large infection in a tooth, which now, even though not symptomatic so far, must have a crown and probably a root canal, the first appointment for which is scheduled for 6/29.

I suppose developments like that are inevitable, yet find the evidence of my degeneration distressing. Wish I could, as with some of my relations, be convinced of a higher meaning for my apparently insignificant existence, or that, perhaps through meditation, I might better come to terms with death, meaninglessness, and our "existential dilemma." Maybe one day. Meanwhile, best to relax and enjoy the show. "Onward through the fog."

Have continued, amid the current bout of musculoskeletal or other challenges, to be rewarded by good reading. Recent works of special appeal are: The Detective is Dead, by Bill James, and Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi.

6/25/05-Sat.-I stopped for lunch at HEB while waiting for some CD digital pictures to be developed. Earlier I had dropped off some graduation day photos at my niece, Esther's, house, leaving them with her mom. Got home in mid-afternoon, while Fran was napping, and kept quiet so as not to wake her. Played several online chess moves. Later, I took a nap myself. Also did some essential yard watering today and played with the beast.

We have things so great in this country! Even with my bad back, and having never made more than a state employee's salary (about $42,000 a year) and Fran earning even less, we are able to enjoy so many, many boons and pleasures, to such a degree we usually take them for granted: early retirement; nice (or at least adequate, reliable, and comfortable) private transportation; abundant good, very convenient food; (irritating at times, but basically) fine dental and medical care; attractive or functional and inexpensive clothing; cheap housing that's quite sufficient for our needs; plenty of entertainment, some quite good; many relatives and at least a few friends who, like us, are reasonably secure, free of much fear for our lives or safety; indeed, comparative political freedom itself and fairly stable (despite all the nightly news stories' hints to the contrary) local, Texas, and national governments; opportunities to be creative and meaningfully productive; interesting hobbies and pet(s); a multitude of labor- and time-saving conveniences; almost instant communication with folks literally around the world; and a nest egg we accumulated ourselves that's likely to last us the rest of our lives (knock on wood).

Nonetheless, there are frustrations, even in these idyllic circumstances. Yesterday, we had gotten our mower back from its "warranted" service and repairs, which it turns out were not actually covered by the two-year new mower "warranty" and so cost us about a third of the purchase price.

I am usually fairly compulsive, not assuming others will take care of dotting I's, or crossing T's, putting everything back together again properly, or otherwise looking after my stuff as if it were their stuff. But I slipped up this time.

Once the mower had been returned home, I checked one of the handle's four wing nuts to make sure it was tightened down on its bolt, but then simply assumed the rest were adequately fastened as well. Evidently not all were, for while I was (finally!) mowing part of our front yard today, a bolt came completely out, and the handle began to come apart. Fran and I spent about twice as long looking for the bolt as I'd taken to do the mowing. She was able to find the nut, but the bolt remains missing, even after I had continued looking while the sun got lower, following Frances' belated departure for tonight's performance of "The Mikado."

If it still cannot be found tomorrow, we'll have to seek a duplicate of the dealer's special bolt at a hardware store. Meanwhile, the mower, dysfunctional so often before (since I bought it only this past February), again cannot be used.

Still, in the "glass is half full" or "count your blessings" category, happily I find myself married to someone who is, like most women but more so, better organized than her spouse. Though managing it in a manner less tediously methodical than mine, she has as a result saved me countless hours, scores or hundreds at least, possibly thousands, over the twenty years of our matrimony, through suggestions or advice on better ways that things may be done, or simply taking over tasks (like bill paying, typing, dishes, putting away in albums large quantities of photos, sophisticated computer operations, much of the packing for trips, vacuuming, and so on) that she can do more efficiently than I.

Last night, I joined my AAII investment group in a picnic feast out at a member's rural place, a lovely house on several acres, the covered area where we dined having many tables and chairs and a rock wall of perfect height for our plates, so we were able while eating to look out on Bear Creek, which flows through the host's property, and on a limestone cliff opposite. Cypress trees dotted the bank, and swallows or swifts gracefully wheeled and dipped.

Several of us naturally chatted about investment matters. Most all the others seem much more into market timing than I, and several tackle exotic speculations such as commodities, selling securities short, or options. More power to them. Nobody was giving his or her rates of return, but I'd be surprised if the average among these enthusiasts is superior to that of the average AAII member, or even to the market average. I suspect, however, that several have had more success in their careers than I.

A few mentioned some frustration with the market lately. None were very interested, after politely listening to mention of some of our techniques, in methods that generally seem to be doing a little better than the mean yet with less volatility. On the other hand, Fran and I cannot afford beautiful houses on picturesque creeks! And what most of these folks have accomplished has been done despite also rearing kids and seeing them through college. Quite impressive, all in all!

An entertaining interlude in our visiting and "victualizing" that evening was provided by a distinguished, extroverted gentleman in his mid-eighties, sharp for his years, who did amazing card tricks with the natural polish of a pro. He quickly had gathered a number of us into a little knot of awed spectators (and sometimes participants), none of whom could figure out how he did what he did.

In my case, for instance, he flashed the deck's cards quickly past my gaze and asked me to pick one and keep it to myself. Out of a dozen or so that I noticed, I chose one, apparently no different, in how it was quickly presented, than any of the others. I told nobody my selection. But he produced it!

The other day, on the radio I heard an announcer quote a visiting Buddhist teacher, who, in answer to the question "In a nutshell, a single sentence, what is the essence of Buddhism?" replied: "This is it!"

I believe in Zen the reply to such a query might have been more concise, simply: "This!"

We might contrast such replies, and the insight or attitude behind them, with more common views in the west, or even generally: "Is that all there is?" or "I am OK (and you are not)."

Realizing full well that a lot of the time I fall into that second camp, what is it about ourselves that allows a few the former responses and most, if we're honest, the latter ones?

6/28/05-Tues.-In the positive spirit of "The New Heroes," a PBS series recently begun which offers inspiring documentary sketches of several people who in various ways are giving hope instead of despair (to paraphrase Robert Redford's introduction), I shall only note here, but not ventilate about, the less than perfect aspects of our idyllic existence lately. The reader may be correct is guessing, though, that some of these circumstances have been met by us with less than complete enthusiasm.

  • Tomorrow I go to my first dental appointment for another root canal and crown. In the past, more than once we have been in doubt whether the procedures indicated by this dentist were really necessary. However, since the experience with other dentists in recent years had been worse, we are sticking with him and generally following his guidance.

  • Frances, given that the back injury has precluded my cutting up the storm-damaged tree trunk or limbs in our backyard, was taking it upon herself to get the chore done and sawed a finger rather badly with our sharp bow saw.

  • Puff, on walks with me today, demonstrated her eagerness to be greeted and petted, by several strangers met among the way, with submissive peeing. Till now we had been in some doubt whether she had acquired this hard to alter nuisance response. No uncertainty remains.

  • I barely completed the mowing of the front yard on Sunday (following Frances' having happily located, if not the bolt that came with the machine's handle, at least one that would fit in lieu of it). Before I intended to stop the mower engine, it cut off by itself, in the same manner as it had done often prior to the recent work on it. After I yet again spent a half-hour cleaning it up as much as possible, it ran well today for about 10 minutes, then stopped and could not be restarted. Neither a dirty air filter nor lack of gasoline was the problem. Though with wide variation in the exact amount of time, on average, before and after the costly labors, the machine dies after about 30 minutes of use and cannot then be urged to run further.

  • Our air conditioner is not this year seeming to operate with its customary efficiency, and we suspect it may need a "tune-up."

  • My adjustment to our latest toy, the combination DVD/VCR, is not without some figurative gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair, as I come to terms with the complex, multi-step, fraught with failure programming it requires, in contrast to the ease and clarity of setting our old VCR quickly just as we wanted it.

  • My back problems are not as acutely severe as about a month ago, but also are not much improved. The pain is still often intense with even minor changes in posture, especially excruciating when first getting up from bed or pallet.

  • Fran has been having to spend many hours online researching for the proper identification of insects or spiders she's been photographing in our yard or at Zilker. There does not seem to be a good source in reference books, several of which she already has, or on the World Wide Web for the ID of other than the most obvious buggy creatures. So she has a backlog of scores of great pictures of beasts awaiting designation and yet may only find one every other day or so. Meanwhile, inevitably, the number of photos goes up. She has taken over 80,000 pictures (many fantastic shots) with her small digital camera in less than two years.

Other than the above frustrations or traumas, things are going pretty well for us. The rest of this week will be fairly busy, not merely because we must make a little headway on the difficulties mentioned and the new ones that will be arising, but since my physical therapy officially starts on 6/30 and we have out-of-town weekend guests arriving 7/1.

6/30/05-Thurs.-Midmorning finds me at the Far West Austin Regional Clinic (ARC) waiting to be called for my first physical therapy session. When one of the PT Dept.'s staff called to confirm I'd be coming today, she advised getting here early, to fill out some paperwork, and wearing casual clothes. So, I'm here in a cutoff, midriff exposing, purple, armless t-shirt and a bright red thong (actually, a conservative t-shirt and shorts combination).

Yesterday, my dental appointment went as well as could be expected. The dentist felt, after all, that no root canal was needed, just a "crown prep." and did the job well enough that he was finished in half the time originally scheduled and I've had no subsequent symptoms. The tooth doesn't even ache. An appointment for gluing in the permanent crown was scheduled for about a month from now.

Later. If with the just previous date's entry there appeared to be a conspiracy of negative circumstances hemming us in, by now things seem to be turning a bit more in our favor. But who ever really knows? Maybe the "negative" things were proverbial blessings in disguise. Perhaps, now that there have been improvements, we shall be lulled into a dangerous complacency! (Clearly, one can take this analysis stuff too far.)

Anyway, regardless of all that, Fran's finger is better, I'm encouraged with the progress from my physical therapy session (even though the therapist diagnosed a disc problem, and previously the physician - who had spent a lot less time with me - said it was just a torn muscle), we got our mower back today (not fixed, but at least we now know we'll never need to deal with that shop again, and there was no extra charge), I managed late this afternoon to get our entire vacuum cleaner swapped, free of charge, for a brand new one (and the warranty remains in effect for this one as well), I'm adapting, more or less, to the new DVD/VCR machine, and we're looking forward to our visit over the long weekend with a favorite nephew, Jim (and his quite acceptable mom, Mary).

My most interesting reading at the moment is John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. I find it an intriguing coincidence that, after my above light reference to an armless t-shirt, as I was reading later today the beginning pages of this novel, there were mentions there of an armless totem, and speculations on the possible significance of this. I first thought they were going to treat it as a phallic symbol, but in the larger context of the book I would guess the suggestion that it referred to a peaceful stance or philosophy of life (without arms, disarmed, disarming, unarmed) is more relevant.

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