8/1/03-Fri.-I've done a bit more online research into greener pastures for an enjoyable retirement. MI sounds inviting, even with the snow and cold (though I guess it is different if you have to put up with month after month of cold and snow and to drive a lot in wintry conditions). I noticed that Lansing, MI, has a reasonable cost of living, including lower overall taxes, compared with Austin. If we get too restless we may take off for there or for OR, where the same is true. In the latter instance, however, one must be more selective to find a modestly priced yet good situation. WY, DE, and NY (not NYC) also have more advantageous housing and taxes than here. All five of those states, of course, have much better summers than in central TX.
In the last couple days I've used a legal advisor program and prepared a couple wills for Fran and myself. They'll be our first official ones to date. Hope to have them completed, witnessed, notarized, filed, and a copy sent to our alternate executor before the trip to WI next month.
Fran is quite happy with the new digital camera, with which in recent days she is getting some rather neat pictures from our yard of storm clouds, plants, insects, and larger animals (lizards, toads, and our dog, Pepper).
Frances and I write short essays from time to time for a family newsletter. One of mine got noticed by National Public Radio (NPR). Probably nothing will come of it, but a lady from Sound Portraits, who does work under contract for NPR, e-mailed and then called the other day and interviewed me about the essay for a few minutes. The piece was about a former patient, back in the 1960s, when I was a psychiatric orderly in a Berkeley, CA, hospital. A doctor did brain surgery on her. I was in the operating room, and it was rather gruesome, the whole situation.
Nothing special is going on for us right now. The stock market has stopped its upward race and retreated some. I'm doing a little homework on small companies, following our assets rather closely, then making a few tactical trades, trying to hold onto most of the big increase we have seen in our nest egg over the last several months.
I'm also very much enjoying a book I picked up from Half-Priced Books a few days ago, Buffett - The Making of an American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein.
8/6/03-Wed.-I have a molar that is painful when I try to chew certain foods with it, and so it is probably cracked. However, it is not bad enough that it hurts at other times. I had at first scheduled another appointment with my current dentist. The dental insurance company has taken a month just to get me a list of other approved dentists in this area, and it will likely take at least a similar period to switch me over to a new dentist, get me a new ID card, etc.
But I just don't trust my dentist after he messed up a tooth when replacing a tiny filling. He had also caused unnecessary pain to Fran when working on one of her teeth. So, I'm canceling the current appointment and changing dentists. If necessary, I'll plan on waiting till we are back from WI before taking care of the molar's reconstruction. I won't continue to support clearly incompetent care!
Night before last, as I was going about my otherwise private ablusions, I noticed a repeated rasping noise coming from one wall in my bathroom. A little investigation revealed it to be apparently from one or more mice, intent on eating us out of house and home.
Since we could not see how to get at the creature without more harm to our abode than to him or her, the last half of our day yesterday was spent waiting on, and then being on hand to pay, a contractor to help us rid the place of unwanted beasts.
How the rodent(s) managed to get in was still a mystery, as it would seem the intruder(s) would need to have walked upside down to get into the only crevices (near and just below the roof eaves) we thought possibly large enough to allow admission. Then this morning, as the rodent(s) had still not been apprehended, the pest remover found a hole through a vent near the roof on the side of the house by the infested wall. The vermin seem to have been climbing right up the siding and squeezing through a space that may have previously been created by nesting birds.
The baiting and trapping efforts are ongoing. Our workman is due back here late this afternoon to arrange several strategically hung mousetraps, along with the cookie dough smelling glue paper he'd used unsuccessfully in the wall itself yesterday.
Fran and Pepper are well. In fact, I am pleased, surprised, and amazed how well the dog is doing, in view of the facts that she will be fourteen years old next week and was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer almost a year ago. We still take her on walks at least every other day, usually wetting her down first during these very hot days here. She also is still eating well, though we must coax her along to get her to finish her meals, as she doesn't like her special diet much. Fortunately, we have developed some tricks to help keep her dinners fun and interesting, but without giving her food that would be unhealthy. She does act quite lethargic much of the time and is not nearly as playful as just a couple or three years ago.
My mom and Frances have been proving that three heads - actually neither of them having two heads, but rather my own being included in the head count - are better than one and are assisting with the research and planning for our proposed Yellowstone Park trip, now only about thirteen months away.
As we learned this week that we can also take Pepper (there being rooms where dogs are permitted, and it being OK to have them in the park if on leashes and well supervised), assuming she's still alive by 9/04 and does not then need constant care, I'm beginning to get excited about that vacation.
Fran's been busy with a number of her interesting, ongoing projects. This past week, for instance, she was using her new digital camera for "underwater photography" and showing me the stunning results, including never by us before seen (but now clearly discernible) cell division, early gill formation, and so forth, in the first couple days of toad egg and tadpole development in our ponds.
8/11/03-Mon.-The efforts, competence, and reliability of our pest control contractor have proven to be meager. We are apparently out a significant fee and the cost of fixing a hole in the wall. He has failed to catch any rodents, comes by only when or if he feels like, often fails to arrive after saying he will, usually makes us wait on him anywhere from several hours to all day(!), and has not lived up to his promise to repair the damage to our wall. In short, he's about as bad as any, if not the very worst, house-related contractor with whom it's been our pleasure to need to deal. Saturday and today he stood us up completely, either making flimsy excuses afterward or, when we finally called him early this evening, simply lying, saying he would come an hour later, but, as of 11 PM, never doing so, and again not calling to explain.
This sort of contractor comedy has actually gone on for over a week now. Tomorrow we plan to contact him and ask for our money back. If he refuses or just blows us off once more, we'll contact the various professional organizations to which his ad in the phone book says he belongs as well as the state licensing agency that gave him authority to call himself a pest control operator, and let them know what a bad news piece of thieving trash he is. Hopefully they'll keep a record of our information for the future reference of anyone investigating his bone fides.
At this point I figure we may as well just "eat" the loss, the aggravation and uncertainty of a happy outcome making taking him to small claims court hardly worth the trouble and extra expense. It will be a relief to be finished interacting with the sorry S.O.B.
Meanwhile, however, there is a bit of good news. We've heard no more gnawing. We figure, now that our esteemed contractor has evidently completely flaked out on us, we'll patch things up at the wall as aesthetically as possible and put out some of that poison that makes rodents run for water, placing it in a carefully closed shoe box with an opening small enough for mice (but not for cats or other larger creatures), setting it on the ground below the vent hole through which we suspect the mice have entered our little palace. Once we've seen and heard no more signs of rodents for awhile, we'll patch up the screen, checking all the other vents as well and making sure they can not allow further such entries.
Temperatures have gotten rather intense of late, with a string of very hot days and highs up to 110°F, followed, mercifully, by a few cooler times and passing thunderstorms, some of which have actually wet our 1/3 acre lot a little.
I hear of folks worse off than we. In Paris and London, for instance, the mercury has also been into the 100°F or above range, but they are unused to such Hades-like conditions, generally having no air conditioning.
The rivers there are getting too warm to safely sustain the fish populations and still adequately cool off the reactor fuel rods of the continent's many nuclear power plants. Forest fires rage in numerous places. The Alpine glaciers are melting at a record rate. Anyone would think we are in the midst of a global warming catastrophe, at least, anyone but ultra-conservative politicians in the US who, no matter what the issue, attempt to carry on with business as usual according to their unique lights, regardless of either the rest of the world's opinions or any inconvenient facts.
Fran and I have just finished for the first time the drafts and printing of our last wills and testaments, hoping to meet soon with some friends, who will be our witnesses, and a notary public, to get all the last spaces properly signed and/or initialed in the next few days. Then we'll store the official copy in a locked fireproof box with other important documents, and send another copy to our alternate executor. For their assistance, we'll take our friends out for an evening of wining, dining, and light repartee.
8/13/03-Wed.-Today is Pepper's 14th birthday! She seems rather perky. Fran took her over to Zilker Botanical Gardens this morning. Later the mutt went with us to PetsMart for some easily chewable treats (hopefully OK for her diet) and an opportunity to sniff the pet rodents there and be excited by some other dogs as well. This evening she received her wrapped presents, over which she was most thrilled, tearing through the paper in almost record time.
Fran continues to be getting great fun from her new digital camera.
She thinks she's talked the pest control contractor into giving us our money back. I'll celebrate if so, but am not holding my breath! He told us yesterday he'd bring the check by that evening, this morning at the latest. Of course, per his usual pattern, he never showed up. I'd bet a tidy sum that, unless we keep badgering him, maybe even then, he'll not fulfill this latest promise anymore than he did about repairing the hole he put in our wall, and so on.
We're very much enjoying a cool spell that began a day or so ago. Our highs are now 15-20°F lower than last week. We've also received a good bit of rain from a few thunderstorms.
Frances and I are watching the delightful film, "Chocolat," for the second time since renting the videotape on Sunday. If you've not seen it, I think you'd really get a lot out of it. It's a great drama and has its share of sad and distressing parts. Yet we found it in the comedy section. The music is neat. As we finished the first viewing, about Midnight last night, Fran and I were playing, and then I found myself dancing around the house, foot problems and all! Even our ancient birthday dog started to get feisty.
Fran and I had a stunning viewing of Mars, appearing in conjunction with the essentially full moon, the two worlds seen in clear space amid foreground clouds last night. This is supposed to be the closest the red planet has been to us in fifty thousand or more years. Certainly, despite proximity to Luna, our brother orb is quite bright in the night sky.
8/19/03-Tues.-A busy day. Had my annual physical this AM. There were no surprises, which at my age is good news! Also got a vaccination for pneumococcus pneumonia, recommended for someone of my vintage and with a history of asthma (next such shot due in ten years). The doctor also set up an exercise treadmill test (ETT), in-house at Austin Regional Clinic. They said a referral was not needed since they were doing it there, but that if this caused any problems later with my insurance (as it had last year), they could give me a back-dated referral that would cover it. (Hope that's accurate information.)
Afterward, went over to Trudy's for a snack brunch. It was even more than usually packed, the noise level rivaling the roar of a space shuttle launch.
From there, I headed off to the nearby mall to get in my AM walking. Also did some shopping and picked up a fairly recent paperback Tom Clancy novel, Red Rabbit. Then, this afternoon, I read some and took a short nap.
In early evening, Fran and I met our friends, Matt and Glenda, got our wills witnessed, signed, and notarized, and, afterward we all did a little wining and dining (except for Fran who doesn't like vino) at two excellent eateries. We had a great time, though there was a little hassle due to Frances forgetting her purse at the Bangkok Cuisine restaurant. (This had a happy ending, however.)
There's been no further contact from our best of all possible pest control workers. As he's also the owner of the business, there is no higher authority in his establishment to whom we can refer our grievances and repeat a request for reimbursement. You may judge the degree of my displeasure, though, by noting that, though I've never done this kind of thing before, with Fran's highly able assistance, I've notified the state pest control licensing agency, two professional organizations that list our esteemed pest riddance company, and the Better Business Bureau (to which he belongs) of the situation and why we think an injustice has been done. Now we may as well just forget it and get on with our lives.
Meanwhile, so far as we can determine, the only victim of our own pest removal efforts has been a hapless bird who triggered one mousetrap while trying to eat its peanut butter bait and lost several feathers for its temerity.
Fran yesterday discovered and tried out some superb and free software, Xenu's Link Sleuth, that in only a few minutes checks all one's site links to see if they are still properly functioning. This collection of Vintage Diarist pages has between 900-1000 links, and checking them regularly for current URL viability was getting to be a chore. Now we can keep them all up-to-date quite easily following monthly or even weekly scans.
8/22/03-Fri.-Drove to Waco this morning. Mom got back from the Y a little after 1 PM. We both had a short rest. While lying down I heard an approaching thunderstorm. It was pleasantly dramatic but brought little rain.
In late afternoon Mom prepared for supper. Horace and some of his family were coming over to help consume it.
Joel arrived about 4 PM. He said he now will be sharing (once the new place is ready and available - it's a just built home - a big place he'll be sharing with two guys - meanwhile he's been staying in an apartment vacated by the builder. He's now in the San Marcos university and in A.C.C., five courses (sixteen hours) altogether, this fall. He's in the block teaching program. Joel will be in student teaching next semester. He, Tess, and Jim are expecting to graduate next spring (and Chris?). Joel is through with summer school and goes back to school next week. He's taking sign language as his foreign language requirement.
Joel and I played pool and chess. Then I set the table and watched a movie on TV, an early Pearl Harbor film, "Tora Tora Tora!"
Horace, Charlie, and Keith arrived about 6 PM, then Leila soon after, separately, as she needed to pick up Virginia from a dance practice, I think.
We all had supper and sat around chatting till Leila needed to leave again. Next Horace and his young boys, and Joel and I played pool (except when Joel was watching TV with captions in the kitchen, or Mom and I were viewing the Friday evening PBS business and world events programming for about an hour). Charlie, almost single-handedly, cleaned up all the dishes!
Ron, Esther, and Jane arrived about 9 PM and had snacks or watched TV or played pool too.
After Horace, Charlie, and Keith left, Jane and Esther were playing computer games or talking on cell phones or watching TV, Joel kept watching TV with captions for the hearing-impaired in the kitchen, and Ron and I watched "The Fourth Protocol" movie in the front room till fairly late.
I'd expected to write Fran an e-mail afterward, but Mom was sleeping in the computer room.
Funnily enough, though Mom had told us Leila's aunt had died, and we'd sent Leila a sympathy card, Horace told me his wife appreciated the gesture but that her aunt, though certainly ailing, was still among the living. Oh well!
8/23/03-Sat.-Slept quite badly last night, up numerous times.
I went this afternoon to a modern western, with Joel and Mom, "Open Range." It was OK, but certainly not great.
Not much else is going on. There seems to have been some kind of communication snafu between Leila and Mom. Apparently Leila got mixed up, refuses to take responsibility for it, and now is royally pissed at Mom, blaming her. Of course, I don't really know who's right. So typical. Neither one would simply call the other to get it worked out, till too late.
Read for awhile before going to bed tonight.
Mom, in her cups, tonight was talking about Jane as if she were not right there (though she was), complaining that "Something is wrong with Jane." I asked her not to talk about the young girl like that, that it might hurt her feelings and she might not understand what Mom meant. Mom was boozily uncomprehending at first why she shouldn't just keep talking about Jane that way, even with her in the room. It seems she thought that something's wrong with Jane's posture or the alignment of her spine, but that's not what she said, and even that criticism in front of Jane could hardly go down well. Ron and I both tried to explain to Mom about this, but it wasn't sinking in.
8/24/03-Sun.-Esther had earlier been invited to stay over at Horace and Leila's last night and have a slumber party with their daughter, Virginia. However, because of the misunderstanding between Mom and Leila, who seems to get her kicks from blowing things out of proportion and holding onto her grievances (perhaps as one way to be more in control), this never happened. Mom finally left Leila (who screens all her calls) a couple apologetic phone messages. But the latter lady was not ready to be appeased, even if had been her fault. So, she never would call back, and Esther had to stay here at Mom's place last night.
Joel's been keeping to himself a lot, playing pool, watching TV in another room (usually cartoons with closed captioning for the hearing impaired - understandably enough, since he's nearly deaf), or checking things out on the computer, all pretty much on his own.
Ron was talking with Mom about Claudia's history. She was the oldest of a couple adopted sisters. When she was seventeen, both her adoptive parents died and she was left with the responsibility of caring for herself and her younger sister. She married a man who turned out to be manic-depressive and who committed suicide. She discovered the body. She had problems herself with depression for quite awhile. Just as she had to look after her sister alone, after her husband had committed suicide, she had to rear her child, Sharon, by herself. Apparently Ron's not nearly as badly off as her husband was, but he too tends toward depression. And, of course, in the last couple years Claudia's breast cancer has been quite a stressor.
On my walk this morning down to Lake Waco and around a nearby park, I saw two hares. Back at Mom's place, we saw five white-tailed deer bachelors with nice racks, in the cleared area just behind her backyard.
Played pool with Ron after he, Esther, and Jane were back from church services and a few chores had been done.
Joel meanwhile had met with some of his Jehovah's Witness acquaintances and spent most of the day with them.
Mom, Ron, his girls, and I went swimming at the Y before my brother and nieces departed for the return to Austin.
Later Mom and I drove out, past a bad accident, to the undeveloped family lot, a source of hassle, taxes, and frustration but no gain for many decades.
Joel still away, Mom and I rented and watched a video, "The Emperor's New Clothes." It was an engrossing and entertaining drama, about what might have happened if Napoleon had escaped from exile and then lived as an ordinary man.
After I'd called and had a chat with Fran, Mom, whom I'd thought ready to go to bed, wanted us, instead, to begin watching a second movie, a foreign film, "Himalaya." This turned out to be a stunning movie in the finest film tradition. (But we stayed up too late. Of course, Mom fell asleep long before it was over.)
8/25/03-Mon.-Said "Goodbye" to Joel (planning on sleeping in this morning) late last night after Mom had finally gone to bed. No doubt thinking about his friendships among the Jehovah's Witnesses in Waco and how convenient Mom's place and hospitality are, he told me he'd be visiting her more often and so might see me there again soon. I'm sure Mom does not mind being such an inn keeper for him, if it means he has more social success and contentment. She has, indeed, over the years generously been there in this way for each of her children and grandchildren. Through Hank and Kathy she has a great grandchild as well, whom she's never even seen, as that youngster (a girl, I believe) was adopted right after being born and before leaving the hospital, apparently never to have contact with her blood relations again. But I'm sure Mom has not forgotten her and, given half a chance, would provide for her as much as she could as well.
Mom has, all her life and against the best counsel of her intellect, been prejudiced against Blacks (though now, through her Y contacts, several of her friends are African American). Yet, now that Allen has married a lady from Ecuador who is of mixed race, apparently of both Black (her mother) and American Indian genetic heritage, and they are expecting their first child next month and though Mom knows this urchin is likely to have Negroid features and hue, she is eagerly awaiting the birth of her newest grandchild and doubtless will be as unreservedly welcoming and loving of her as she has been toward her many other descendants.
I left Waco this morning at 8:30 AM, heading for Austin.
Fran is enthusiastic about our buying a laptop computer system, trying to convince me of the need and advantages of one. Except for its CD-writing function, that our current computer lacks but which is required now for us to have adequate backup of our many files, it seems more a luxury to me at this point, perhaps an item to be subtracted for budgeted discretionary spending rather than something, like phone service or an auto, that we (almost) must have.
Settled in at home again. Sorted and put away my things from the trip. Did a little catching up on e-mail.
After a nap, I took a bath and did some meditation.
But then I began to feel nauseas. I even threw up a little. It seems weird, but I had the impression this was a reaction to the tea I sipped during my time in the tub. In fact, it is the second bout of indigestion following home-brewed tea. I suppose I must throw out that batch.
8/28/03-Thurs.-Up at 4 AM, awake since 2:00, my mind restless and brooding, unable to sleep. The retirement this week of a couple of my longest former work colleagues and friends, from the best of all possible state jobs (from which I had retired at the end of 2001) has brought to the fore many negative memories and images from that house of hate. As usual, the current victims there are being harassed by a new host of increased expectations and stressors amid chaotic, deteriorating conditions. If anything, their circumstances are worse than when I was deciding whether or not to exchange a retirement annuity for a paycheck. I made the right choice.
Besides that, I've a new dental appointment at 8 AM. Given the unfortunate results from the last couple such encounters and that the tooth in question this time is much more symptomatic and complicated to restore than was the case in the earlier instances, I'm rather worried things may again be made much worse. These days I've little confidence that the dentists subscribe to the dictum: "First, do no harm."
Fran has been discussing more the new (laptop) computer system her mother has gotten and which she (Frances) is enthused to purchase for us (or at least for herself) as well. The more I hear of it, the more I have misgivings, if it is intended to supplement or replace the system we use together now, that seems to do most that we need. She indicates, for instance, that, though we'd need to spend around $1700 (perhaps also plus tax) for it, it would not have a convenient, easy to use mouse or keyboard, so that it would be best if we used separate, added ones instead. I figure a PC system can be obtained for $1700 that would have more than we need in terms of functions, memory, superior modem, CD-writer/burner, improved printer, and so on, and also have a keyboard and mouse that are convenient and at least as good as what we have now.
She wants to have the laptop for use on trips. But on vacations we'll have more than enough to do just planning, enjoying, and resting up from our holidays without this added distraction, which would encourage one person to be staying up too late doing her own thing or privately occupied instead of our doing things together, and perhaps at the expense of our getting sufficient sleep. It has seemed to me that a problem on our vacations already is that Fran tends to do be impatient of our doing things cooperatively, wanting to control just what we do and when, often changing the rules or revising the plans, sometimes at my expense and almost always at the cost of abundant good rest and relaxation. Another toy that entices her toward still more of this seems unlikely to be in our mutual interest. And if we try to use it online while away from home, we'll probably incur significant extra phone charges.
Fran suggests we could use the proposed laptop on the dining room table or the desk she made for me that we have for the phone, etc., in our master bedroom. But one of the things I like about the PC system is that it is not intrusive, that it has its own place, i.e. in the computer room, so it cannot disrupt activities and working space in other parts of our small house. At least now, when we're separately involved with our computer stuff, it is confined to that one place, and we can interact more normally in the rest of the residence.
She says too we could use the phone jack in our main bedroom for both the laptop and the phone, using a special connection device and plugging the computer in as well with one of those multiple-use plugs. However, we already have an octopus of wiring at the outlet next to that desk, so much so that some of it stays warm because it is overloaded. We cannot safely add more there. Nor would I want to.
I can understand how she might wish this toy, just as her mom has one and is delighted with it. But in her mom's household there is the difference that the system is almost exclusively for her use, Fran's dad not taking any interest in it.
Here it might make more sense for us to have a system we can both use well and with versatility and that pleases the two of us, one, as with the Dell system we have now, that we have chosen together. Only if we cannot find such a system might we need to go with separate expensive systems, one for her, mostly out of her discretionary spending budget, and another for me, out of mine.
We do have the means to have separate systems and yet have them still stay "in their place," since both my spare room and the existing computer room have phone jacks and convenient electrical outlets that are not already fully in use. As an interim step, we could thus have the old computer and terminal in my extra room and a new PC or laptop in the present room designated for our computer use, where we'd also have the computer files, scanner, and printer.
If we feel a need to "spread out" our computing in the house beyond this, maybe we need to wait till we can afford a larger house, so the person who wishes to expand where she computes can do so anywhere she wishes in her end of the house, so long as the common areas are not interfered with in this way.
Of course, it is way too early to be making any final decisions about our next computer(s). Much may go into the final choices we make, besides just the above considerations. But these are some of my current impressions, relative to some of her initial suggestions.
I'm very much enjoying a rereading, after many years, of Edward Beach's submarine warfare novel, Dust on the Sea.
Need to try again to manage a little sleep prior to getting up to be ready for that appointment. And I suspect a nap or two will be in order today, before I'll feel like giving Fran the long massage she's due by this evening!
Later (2:20 PM). The dental appointment went OK. There still is little improvement in the tooth that had a filling replaced a few weeks ago, despite now three attempts to get it right. I suppose I must adjust to it just being this way, somewhat abrasive against my tongue in one place, a frequent reminder that life is not perfect, that we should never expect it to be. The work of remaking the cracked tooth is to begin tomorrow morning.
8/31/03-Sun.-Up at 2 AM, awake since 1:00, my mind again restless and brooding, unable to sleep. I'm distressed to note that the recent dental procedures appear to have made things worse, the symptomatic tooth now, after much drilling and a temporary crown being installed, far more sensitive than before. I'd suggested to the dentist that I needed a root canal. He insisted otherwise and proceeded to remove about half the tooth. A mold has been made for the permanent crown, due to be installed in latter September. Of course, if the tooth continues to be acting up this badly, a root canal will be essential, preferably before we leave for WI in eight days, or at least before the permanent crown is attached. I'm rather aggravated with the gentleman for so easily dismissing my request for an orthodontist referral (for the root canal) to begin with. But now the die has been cast. I must wait to see if the inflammation settles down or not. I have it in mind that drinking lots of liquid will help. I aim too to use anti-inflammatory medications.
Have been intrigued and enthused lately with a new site I've discovered, mentioned by one of Fran's pen pals, MIT Open Course Ware. Here are a wide variety of university curricula, readings, and so on, offered online for free, with which one may easily augment one's education on his/her own. I'm particularly partial to the literature and history offerings. Believe I may start by gradually reading several of the books for a course on Twentieth Century Literature.
Our weather lately has been particularly unpleasant, even late at night hot and humid, without relief. There is now some hope, however, of short-term improvement. We have a 70% or better chance of rain today through tomorrow. I've little faith in our luck with the clouds though. Way too often the storms pass us by if the precipitation chances are less than a full 100%. We'll keep watering till downpours really drench.