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August, 2004: 3 9 12 13 15 23 27 28

8/3/04-Tues.-Took little (about 15 pounds) Puff for a morning walk, the day already well underway and quite warm. I'd wet her down with the hose before we left. She did a poop in someone's grass by the road, and, while she was still on a short leash, I began carefully picking it up with a couple plastic bags, using each as a mitten so as not to get dirty myself, then folding them in to stay hygienic. Another walker came by, was impressed, and thanked me for being a good neighbor.

Later I saw a more typical example of our neighbors, a young man walking his big dog. The latter was not on any tether at all and wandered freely about the lawns, then took a huge dump in the middle of one lady's lawn. The dog's owner just carried on as though everything were right with the world. I felt like using my walking stick (golf club) and flinging the smelly pile in his face.

Fran was off, before I returned, on a forty mile (each way) trip to a community on the other side of Austin where she's conducting two-hour clarinet workshops this week.

I left the beast in her crate and drove over to our HEB supermarket to get some pictures printed and do a bit of shopping. They were having their weekly 8-10 AM "senior day" and offering free coffee with a muffin. I was happy to accept these while waiting for the prints to be ready.

A fat kid, around eight, went by, accompanied by a lady I assume was his mother. At his suggestion they stopped at the drink deli for him to get a large (loaded with calories) smoothie. I call that child abuse.

Meanwhile, we learn that Medicare will now pay for obesity treatments, though how this will not bankrupt Medicare, when over half our population is overweight and the system had already been running out of money, is not clear. Whatever happened to dieting and exercise? The politicians and their bureaucratic minions seem to feel no need to be responsible. There is perhaps little difference in kind, only in degree, between them and the owner of the unleashed dog I saw this morning. At least the real shit is biodegradable.

This afternoon we signed Puff up for a training class, to begin next week. It may be a waste of time and money for such a hyper creature, but we must try! Puff should find the classes entertaining. In fact, she went along with us over to PetsMart this afternoon and already has found the caged birds there rather fascinating.

Speaking of dogs, these are very much the dog days of summer. Although this really refers to the coincidence in the northern hemisphere of "dog star" Sirius' being visible in our summer sky near the sun, here in the American south it connotes a time when the days are so hot that the dogs cannot be bothered to do anything but lie about. Our temperature was quite high in the last few hours, indeed it remains aloft at 9 PM. And it is forecast to be even warmer tomorrow. The heat index then is expected to rise to 106° F (41° C).

The head and face pains continue, but have not become so severe I am compelled to see a specialist. Nor are they constant or predictable enough for me to self-diagnose. They are sometimes hardly there at all, but at other times involve my left ear, eye, and jaw, plus that side of the face, in considerable discomfort. As I've had this kind of aching before, and it has frequently gone away after awhile, I'm not too alarmed. I realize, though, there is a small chance of a major condition. Still, given the symptoms, if I have cancer it would be so far advanced that a thorough physical and tests would now make little difference to the outcome.

The meditation is being done, but without special developments of late. It is simply a process and apparently is following its natural course. I think for the next few days I may concentrate, in my sitting sessions, on the head pain. Certainly it gets my attention. Might as well let it be useful.

8/9/04-Mon.-Over the past few days, the pain through one side of my face and head has both increased and became more concentrated, centering in the left ear area. At times I was waking up with the discomfort or being distracted by it during the day. So, I called and got a doctor's appointment for this afternoon.

The meditation has also been less effective lately, from lack of sleep as well as preoccupation with the condition.

Meanwhile, Fran and I went over to the Tien Jin restaurant for brunch today. They had good food as usual. We enjoyed an interesting discussion there of Janet Lowe's book, Value Investing Made Easy. I had finished reading it this morning and was sorry to have found the work poorly written, with several internal contradictions and a too shallow or facile treatment of certain key issues.

The visit with the physician went well. Vital signs were normal. Weight is down to 156 pounds (six more to drop, for my year-end goal). Blood pressure was 120/62. My regular doctor being on vacation, I was seen by a very efficient, pleasant backup M.D., Dr. Mildred Cleveland, who, instead of fulfilling my ever present cancer fear (my brother, Ralph, having died of a malignant brain tumor), diagnosed allergy-inflamed and irritated sinuses, plus combined inner ear and ear canal infections, for which she wrote me prescriptions and gave a free medication sample.

I stopped at the HEB supermarket pharmacy on my way home to pick up the drugs.

Have continued to be concerned over Puff's various problem behaviors, especially her tendency toward accidents if we don't monitor her very closely and take her out frequently. Just as was true after she'd had a lot of water to drink while we were visiting Fran's Aunt Theresa and Uncle Frank (during our June trip), night before last Puff had drunk quite a bit while playing a frenetic water hose game with Frances, and then needed to pee repeatedly for an hour or so afterward.

When Fran played the same game with her the next night and then warned me that Puff might again have to relieve herself more frequently, I became irritated that she seemed to be doing with Puff the exact opposite of what we need with her now, to get her housebroken and into a calmer and more predictable overall state.

Frances and I then did a little raised voice communicating for awhile, with me emphasizing again the need for consistent treatment of the dog, in ways to encourage her better self-control, but Fran at least as adamant that, essentially, there is no problem (as she's said before - hmm) except with me and, even if there were, she'd rather keep on playing with the dog just as and when she pleases than do anything different to have a better outcome.

I feel that Fran, by herself, provides about as much chaos in my life as I can handle, or would want to, and that the addition of a semi-permanently uncontrolled dog into our home is pushing the envelope of what I can tolerate at all amicably.

However, it was clear Fran is not flexible on the dog training issue. So, reluctantly, I said that, since the beast is her dog, she'll need to be responsible for its training and behavior. I'll no longer try to assure the animal is adequately watched or kept within bounds. Whatever the outcome, as Fran isn't willing to cooperate with me on a training plan, will now be up to her. She said that was "good." So be it.

With our last dog, Pepper, we had the good fortune, Fran and I, to agree on most aspects of her care and training. We seemed to positively and about equally (if in different ways) bond with her. This was most helpful when, inevitably, various problems or crises with the dog developed.

In fact, our mutual love for and amusement with Pepper even helped carry us through some other rocky times, as when my brother was dying, and Fran and I didn't see eye to eye on her joining me to help out with his then topsy turvy household, or even on her going for short visits there with me.

Unfortunately, we cannot count on the same kind of shared feeling for Puff as we had for Pepper or on agreement concerning her needs. I wonder if our marriage would have been happy or persistent this long had we felt and thought as differently about how to deal with that dog as we do regarding this one.

Of course, on reflection, I see that some of this train of thought and feeling is accounted for by a recent lack of sleep, the medical problems, and mood altering effects of over-the-counter meds taken recently.

Further, to be philosophical, I recall from various relationship or counseling workshops in which I've participated that there are very few ideal parents or children. Yet, by and large, at some point in their lives both sets of folks, in spite of often tenuous or incomplete bonding, and however flawed things might have seemed when they were struggling through them, admit to themselves and even to each other that they genuinely care for and love those with whom they had felt estranged lo those many years and believe that they have been enriched by the interaction.

So too, perhaps, for Puff and myself. Maybe in time we'll have become accustomed to one another and, in the end, feel that we are friends. Till that day, though, as the Buddhists say, and I am lately often reminded, "life is suffering."

8/12/04-Thurs.-I got up between 5-6 AM and went out before dawn to see the Perseid meteor shower. After about half an hour, I had perhaps seen two faintest of the faint possible meteor streaks, or perhaps they were my imagination. But I definitely saw the conjunction of a quite bright planet Venus and a crescent moon to the east, near the horizon. Cool. The dog got up too and kept me company, distracting from the viewing with her hard to ignore appeals to play.

"Cool" also describes the temperature a little while later as Puff and I went for a morning walk. Ever the predator, as we walked along Puff, too quickly for me to stop her, began snapping up and scarfing down earthworms she'd find stranded on the sidewalk, where they'd gone to escape adjacent yards' sprinkler system inundations. But then, within a block, the beast was promptly sick, upchucking both the worms and her breakfast onto the road.

Frances was off fairly early, while Puff and I were walking (or scarfing and upchucking), heading over to Zilker for photography opportunities and volunteer work in the park's Hartman Prehistoric Garden.

I got together with Ron today, after some initial difficulties communicating and coordinating just when and how we'd manage the in person exchange of his birthday card and gift. We met in the Barton Creek Mall, at the Sears entrance he normally uses, and after I'd passed him the goodies and he'd checked them out over at his truck and was properly appreciative, we walked at a good pace for about a mile and a half inside the mall. Once my left foot, having had a prior workout this morning, began getting symptomatic, we sat on one of the mall benches and talked for a few minutes till time for Ron to get cleaned up for his sales rep work shift.

Ron was upbeat and affable but, typically, having a lot of problems, as from anxiety or defensiveness that he'd done the wrong thing to give up his postal service job, and from significant money difficulties that were a direct result of that decision. In addition, he was still plagued by the same physical and mental concerns he'd had before nixing his mail delivery career.

He's now thinking of applying for regular 8-5 type jobs with the state. If he's successful, he'll be able to better match his own daily agenda with those of his cohabitation partner, relatives, and friends. I'm sure he hopes as well for a better income and for government worker benefits again. Surely wish he manages to be hired as he wants. He's got a few strikes against him at this point.

We talked too about his oldest daughter, Esther. She's a graduating high school senior this next school year. She recently started as a part-time (about 16 hours a week, to continue during the school year) technician in an optical outlet that is at Sears but not exactly part of Sears, permitting them to both be on the payroll there without violating any nepotism rules.

He said it's an exciting time in her life. She's almost ready to start applying for admission to colleges/universities and for needed scholarships. She is bright, has excellent grades, is well liked (good references), and is Hispanic (which may mean eligibility for minority privileges in selection), and so has a good chance of gaining entrance to a decent school with most of her expenses paid. She already knows, he says, that she wants to focus on microbiology, intending to get into the exploding biotech field. More power to her. I certainly wish her luck.

She's also started dating, though at this point, the proud daddy says, she does not consider it "dating," as it is very low-key. Considering that he and his first wife were intimate when he was a high school junior and got married after she became pregnant, still before Ron started his senior year, I expect he's very much hoping her dating remains casual for awhile.

This evening I did needed watering around the house, meditated, and worked on some investing research while Fran took our pooch to her first obedience class. That experience was mostly a joke. Puff stayed for more than half of the class time upright on her hind legs, waving her front legs, and trying to be a part of everything that was going on but her own lessons. With one exception, she was the least attentive of any of the canine "students," proving as highly distractible, excitable, and, well, hyper as we've always known she was. Still, apparently she did learn a little better how to sit when commanded to do so.

The exception was a Labrador puppy, already weighing about 50+ pounds, that is used to being left alone outside all day while its owner is at work and who plays with her, once she gets home, so rambunctiously that the owner had bad bruises up and down her legs. The Lab had to be put on a muzzle type leash for the class and spent the entire time rolling around and struggling, trying to get that special harness off. All things considered, our pet situation could be worse than with Puff!

I'm on the road again in the morning, going to another nephew's (Chris') graduation, this one in Waco, TX. Expect to be returning on Sunday.

8/13/04-Friday the 13th.-Overslept this morning and left on my trip a little late. Then I made decent time till I reached the Andice exit from Georgetown and had pulled off there for a snack breakfast. When I went across the overpass, for as far north as I could see and all the way back to where I was, I-35 traffic was stopped. Looking south, it was then backing up further, where I'd just been.

I asked the Whataburger manager if he knew a back road way to Killeen, and he gave me directions from out toward Andice. I was hoping that, having gotten there, I'd be past the wreck or whatever obstacle had I-35 blocked, and would lose only 15 minutes or so of travel time once I'd returned to the interstate. That, in fact, is how it worked out.

He asked me if I knew why they called the nearby town "Andice." When I said "No," he told me that years ago there wasn't much to the highway from Austin to Waco, and when you'd reach Georgetown there was just a handmade sign by a dirt road saying "beer and ice." Eventually the "beer" part of the sign fell off or was shot away, and folks started calling the little town that sprang up by what was left, "and ice." Later the words kind of ran together, and the name stuck. (It's a cute, even half plausible, Texas tale, but I doubt it is true.)

8/15/04-Sun.-The weekend went well overall, despite a problem for awhile with the great new air conditioning at mom's place (one relative wanting the temperature hot, and not noticing he could just close the AC vent in his room).

We witnessed Chris graduating from Baylor University and joined a large celebratory gathering afterward at Ninfa's, a favorite Mexican food restaurant in Waco.

Joel, Allen, Nina, Sharon, and I had gotten together at my mom's for this weekend's festivities.

Diane and her boyfriend, Hank, were there for the day, down from the Dallas area.

Several of Chris' mom's relatives showed up too, as well as his whole primary family. His sister Tess' boyfriend, Roger, was on hand, as was Chris' girlfriend, Helen.

Last night, several of us looked at old videos of family gatherings from yesteryear. They were both entertaining and poignant. Some who were amusing us from these fifteen or sixteen year old tapes are now deceased. Others, perhaps the majority, are greatly changed in appearance, having in the intervening time grown up, old, fat, bald, or all of the above. In one case, a girlfriend liked by many of us is now married to someone outside our family, while her earlier boyfriend, my brother Pete, remains single and seemingly unable to "settle down."

Leila, perhaps surprisingly, has lost weight and is presently very thin. That this in our group has proven exceptional is telling.

Joan was prominent in our family then but has since divorced Ron, who, instead, for several years has been living with Claudia, but the latter seems uninterested in their getting married.

No doubt in the next fifteen years there'll be just as many changes in our extended family, some unforeseen.

For Fran and myself, the interlude so far has not had such dramatic effects. But time has taken its toll on us as well.

I got home about 2 PM. Everything was normal here. Frances had had a bizarre, disturbing episode of vertigo while I was away, but it has not recurred.

I indulged in a late afternoon nap and in the evening went for a walk with Puff, meditated, put things away that I'd taken on the trip, and had a hot bath. Fran and I also went out for Sub sandwiches. Mmm, good! I'm once more reading the fine Patrick O'Brian sea yarns of Napoleonic times.

8/23/04-Mon.- Arose about 7:30 this morning. Fed the dog and made sure she had done her outside business. Got ready and took her and myself for a walk. As usual, she was fairly uncontrollable. At least the beast was on a leash.

Back at the house, I ran some computer stock value screens, then went to the bank. Cashed a check and got my free cup of coffee.

Fran and I had tried to go visit Mary and Jim this summer, before he would be off to begin his Juilliard graduate studies in The Big Apple. However, she was adamant that she didn't have time.

Jim even offered to host our stay, with no demands on his mom, but she refused. Since he finished high school, it's been pretty much that way when either I or both Fran and I have attempted get-togethers in Houston that involve him.

Just as she would not consider his coming to see us at our place, or going on camping or other outing trips with us when he was younger, she continues to thwart his possible involvement with us now that he's all grown up (age 22).

In any case, Jim himself remains rather passive in such impasses. And, likely as not, at this point he really doesn't care much one way or the other.

This just past weekend he left for NYC and today should be making initial adjustments to his new campus and metropolis.

There are some uncles and aunts with whom I've had less contact than between Jim and me in recent years. I wonder if any of them have felt this as a personal loss. It hardly would seem so, but, like Jim, I never went to the trouble or had the sensitivity to find out.

My mom (almost 82) has now definitely cancelled participation in the vacation to Yellowstone that we'd been planning over the past year. She begged off due to concerns about recent fatigue and foot problems and has instead made arrangements for a shorter visit with relations in CA. She'll fly out to see them and mostly just stay in their house. I'm somewhat disappointed, yet partly relieved as well. She does not walk or drive well anymore, and, with too much time together, our personalities can sometimes grate.

So, in only about two weeks, I'll be off alone on a relaxed road trip, heading north. My sister- and brother-in-law in WI have just written of near freezing, early fall conditions there. Sounds great! And Yellowstone is a little farther north and at several thousand feet higher elevation. There's an excellent chance I'll see snow or lovely autumn colors during my stay in the national park next month.

Here in Austin, we continued to enjoy our coolest, wettest summer in several years.

Next month should prove to be among the more interesting for both Fran and myself. We have just put out a new issue of our newsletter. We'll have to get cracking on the next one too, since I won't be around here to work on it for most of September, and Frances will be busy with opera rehearsals and performances, then on a camping/dog shows trip and visit with her mom, her sister, and the latter's kids.

8/27/04-Fri.-Not one of my better days. Went for my six month skin cancer checkup this morning and passed: no cancer lesions for over a year now. Considering that in the 18 months before that year I'd had to have four cancers removed, including three extensive, expensive excavations for them in (and subsequent remodeling of) my nose, this was terrific!

And then, over at Trudy's for breakfast, I used the occasion to write a new investing essay for our newsletter (due out late next month). So, it would seem all was going well.

Nonetheless, I woke up from my nap (having only had about four hours of sleep last night) in just thirty minutes and, even after another rest attempt, was feeling out of sorts and/or very depressed the whole rest of the day. Everything seemed to trigger irritation, resentment, frustration, or deep sadness. Indeed, this gloomy mood persisted even when there were no incidents that could be remotely considered negative. I kept having morbid thoughts as well, just short of suicidal.

During meditation, which was of low quality, I did more obsessing about oblivion.

I was so tired that the idea of fatigue as the reason for my bleak outlook did not dawn on me till quite late.

My nasal difficulties persist, and I am once again wondering if the irritation I feel in the left nostril could be more than an allergic reaction, yet fatalistic if it might be due to a serious form of cancer, convinced that it would be too late now if the latter is the case, or feeling life might not be worth living anyway if I must have extensive portions of the inside of my face chopped out. Still, these are not rational thoughts. Only a few weeks ago a physician told me there was no cause to think it other than sinusitis at this point. And I haven't even finished the free medication sample since then. It may be too early to be writing my obituary.

Oh well. Perhaps tomorrow will be better. I'll try to get to bed a bit earlier than 2-3 AM for a change.

8/28/04-Sat.-I've run out of the kind of well worn cheap paperback mysteries and thrillers I devour in a variety of reading moments through each day. But in lieu of another trip to a secondhand bookstore, I've decided to reread the John LeCarre espionage fiction collected over the decades, beginning with the morose and romantic tragedy, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Since I began the original version of "Steps," this long-running journal, about thirty-three years ago, I've become much less an idealistic, spiritual seeker. Now it seems to me the worth of any personal philosophy must be judged against the assumption there is nothing left of ourselves beyond the death and decay of the physical form. To believe, expect, or hope anything else may be quite natural, but is hardly proven or likely beyond a reasonable doubt.

The issue then becomes what, if anything, may be said that is relevant to us if we are, almost certainly, completely mortal, if, indeed, we effectively cease to be with the permanent loss of function of major portions of our brains. To the unflinchingly authentic philosophy which positively addresses real values under these circumstances, without sugarcoating anything, I would give my allegiance. To paraphrase what someone has said, I do not want your heavens or your hells. Just tell me things which are true about our brief time here.

This morning after my walk I helped Frances for awhile with the latest, large accumulation of excess branches or small trees from our yard, readying them for brush pickup next week.

I also took some pictures in our backyard with Fran's digital camera, both to gain more experience and comfort with using it and to have photos to send my Chinese pen pal, with whom I exchange brief letters and at least one digital image per e-mail.

His pictures to me from the People's Republic of China are proving to be interesting even though the photographic subjects, like mine, are usually quite ordinary. The pictures he sends, relative to those I take here, often convey a lush, fertile quality from one rural landscape there.

Several of my images today came out rather well. Encouraging!

Fran and I went out for lunch to Black-eyed Pea and split a vegetable plate. I had a bowl of vegetable soup plus black-eyed peas. (How original!) I drank lemonade and left the margarine off my roll and cornbread.

I slept more and better last night as well as during a nap this afternoon.

The meditation - and everything else - was relatively good today.

We did have a disappointment this evening. A slight cool front came through, bringing with it a lightning show. But it passed by without giving us needed rain.

On my walk with Puff tonight, we encountered three unleashed dogs. I had to bop one with the handle of my umbrella to get it to keep its distance. Since owners are so thoughtless as to let their mutts run loose, doing as they please, I wish I had one of those electronic stun devices to use on any that become unruly and aggressive.

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