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11/2/03-Sun.-Fran and I got a late start this morning, and I missed my early morning window for walking in the neighborhood, before the sun was high enough that more exposure would threaten further skin cancer lesions.

So, I drove over to the Barton Creek Mall and did the AM constitutional.

The mall has an interesting new shop, likely one of several now scattered around the city, Helen Lytle's River City Scenes. Helen, a now famous local painter, was one of Fran's first friends in this metropolis after the latter had moved here from Tallahassee, FL, to do graduate work at the University of Texas, as Helen was just completing her art degree and had yet to sell her first creation.

Halloween night we had a number of costumed and otherwise decorated young guests. In years past this series of intrusions has been quite upsetting for our canine. But this time our poor proud mutt is going deaf and, while she did get rather exercised a couple times, mostly she was able to ignore the monsters by just moving to a spot on the front room carpet where they were no longer in her line of vision.

Fran is now slightly better recognized than before for her talents. Last week she received notification, and a small certificate, that she was among the finalists in a photography competition. Her picture will be on display at the National Wildlife Federation's online site one week next year.

A pair of our Baltic Buzzard friends last Tuesday evening helped me acknowledge the completion of my 60th year. If one thought about it a certain way, he or she could get a little down as a larger and larger count of birthdays are being celebrated, reflecting on the losses associated with age of youth, stamina, abundant good health, and almost unlimited choices.

But in the spring of 1990, when my brother, Ralph, was dying of brain cancer at thirty-seven (turned thirty-eight the month before his death), many times, to visit and help out, I found myself driving over from Austin to Houston shortly after sunrise and along the way passing miles of fields or roadsides filled with exquisite wildflowers. I knew it was Ralph's final spring and tried to see them with his eyes. Since then I've not taken the change of seasons or even of days so for granted as I did before. There is no difference, in this, between being older and younger. One never knows, after all, when what we are seeing, thinking, feeling, or doing may be for the last time. All things considered, I think I'm pretty happy about my advancing years, though sometimes the nuisance medical problems can be rather exasperating.

Autumn here is progressing apace. A few of our trees' leaves are turning to yellows or reds and then falling. Fran has our gardens at a level of maturity such that we still have many blooms appearing and remaining well into the fall. Of course, here it is rather mild. Our highs in the last few days have still been in the 85-90°F range.

We've had a call from Frances' mom, Linda, about Fran's dad, Mike. He's in the hospital after emergency surgery Friday (10/31) for malignancies, of which they'd not known before his symptoms became severe that morning. While he was there, the hospital accidentally punctured a lung and had to do a new procedure to hopefully correct that.

Meanwhile, after Linda had been waiting for a long time in the visitors' waiting area, a nurse finally appeared and told her she could see "her" now. Once it was straightened out that the person she wanted to see had not been a her when he entered the hospital, she was advised that Mike was not yet out of his second anesthesia. Following a very long day, almost all of it at the hospital, she went home at the end of visitors' hours still without having a chance to see him.

She overheard an orderly calling for a nurse to come help because he had messed up some procedure with another patient. Linda said Mike was one of the lucky ones, having been assigned a bed in a room, that most of the new admissions were being left in the hallway. Modern medicine in this best of all possible worlds.

We're hopeful but aware we might at any moment get another dreaded call from Florida. If Mike rallies and recovers from Friday's horrors, he'll have major struggles ahead. It is thought he has cancer of the pancreas. It apparently had already spread to his small intestine. His odds of beating this may be quite poor. (Of course, we thought our pooch would not be long with us after her liver cancer diagnosis over a year ago, but she still shows symptoms only of old age.)

In the past few days the sun was more than normally active, sending two sun spot plumes in earth's direction, the effects of which here at "the third rock" were expected to result in more than usual Aurora borealis phenomena. Indeed, there were reports of these northern lights (usually not seen farther south than Alaska) being visible in the night sky as far toward the Equator as Texas. I eagerly organized a hike out to a good vantage point so Fran and I might not miss such a sight. When conditions seemed opportune, we headed off at a brisk, excited pace late one evening toward an open area from which we looked forward to having a good view of the sky's bowl to the north. Since in one stretch of our route we had to travel south, I turned around there and walked briefly backwards to see any shimmering curtain that might suddenly appear in our night sky as we hurried along. "Oh! Look at that!" cried Fran, who'd kept forging and looking ahead. It had been a large shooting star. Still walking and viewing things backward at the time, I missed it of course. And that turned out to be the only interesting phenomenon observed then.

I am in that transitional stage, through (I hope) with most or all of my working career, but not yet established in and fully comfortable with my more leisurely retired status. I've been undecided about how to meaningfully and/or pleasantly "get out of the house." One possible step in that direction came to my attention about ten days ago, a supposedly superbly directed choral symposium, the rehearsals for which begin in January. We would be singing Bach's "Magnificat" and Mozart's "Mass in C Major" ("Coronation" mass). The first eighty applicants (in the right voice ranges, presumably) will be accepted, with no auditions required! For folks like me, who had been in a few choirs way back when but over the decades have become, to be kind, somewhat rusty, this has particular appeal.

Yet I am put off by a couple things, one of which is that we must pay $10 for each of the 15 rehearsals and/or performances. I'd like to think we'd be good enough, even if some rust had gotten into our musical joints, to have folks pay us, or at least for us not to need to make any payment for the privilege. Reality is what it is, though, not what we'd wish it to be.

Another possible hurdle was knowing my proper voice range. In the past (at least forty-three years ago), after puberty I was always classified as a tenor. But at a recent karaoke event I had trouble with that higher part when I attempted to sing "Moon River." Yet I did fine singing bass in Bett Midler's version of "The Rose." Yesterday I asked Fran's help with the issue. She actually used some music composition software to write out and play for me the tenor vs. bass parts of a popular tune on the computer, so I could then sing along with each. Sure enough, I'm no longer a tenor, but a bass! I'd no idea an adult voice could change so much.

Frisky has been quite a pain on her special prescribed diet. Over the past year at times we've practically had to hand feed her. Last week we finally discovered (to which Frisky likely says: "Duh!") that she eats it much better if we add warm water. It's not supposed to require the liquid, but apparently her ancient little jaw muscles and/or salivary glands have not been doing full duty for awhile, so the extra softening and lubrication the water provides makes a big difference.

Fran's orchestra rehearsals for the next Austin Lyric Opera production begin in about a week. Last night she was busy with the Baltic Buzzards for a lively tango dance workshop gig.

Meanwhile, I continue to pore over volumes of investment related materials, seeking the next Microsoft selling for a fraction of its true value.

11/10/03-Mon.-Fran's and my romantic pleasures were cut short in the wee hours of morning as a certain essential part, called upon for extra duty after having already participated quite enthusiastically for awhile, fell down on the job, so to speak. This sort of thing fortunately only occurs infrequently. Yet it is naturally disappointing and disconcerting for both of us when it does. We were philosophical and made light of it. What else can one do?

We went, on Thursday, over to the Enchanted Rock State Park. That is a quite strange place. Nearby there is a huge quarry from which marble is obtained for construction, but the authorities chose to save several large domes of volcanic material and associated layers of other stone, since the effect is so interesting and the spot has its own whimsically and austerely special beauty.

While we were there we encountered few other people throughout a rather large area. Within five minutes after our arrival, though, we came across an impressively antlered white-tailed deer buck and several smaller females. They were almost unafraid, and Fran was able to take their pictures from a distance of only about fifteen to twenty-five feet.

I was feeling my age as we were pretending to be goats, clambering around the boulders and up and down steep portions of high rock walls. Several muscles and joints felt sore by that evening. Still, the weather was overcast, so that I did not need to worry much about sunburn, the temperatures were cool to mild, there was a brisk breeze much of the time, and we had abundant good opportunities for fine photography. It all made for a fun day! Our dog, however, for the first time, having become too old and somewhat feeble, was not able to go with us and had to spend the time by herself at home.

I dropped off a roll of film from that trip this morning at HEB for developing.

Fran's dad, Mike, despite the severity of his malignancy, heart, lung, and Parkinson's disease conditions, is doing well, over the initial crisis and already discharged and home from the hospital again. He is even on a regular diet once more, though the surgeon had to remove about a foot of his small intestine, riddled with cancer, just over a week ago. His prompt recuperation has been the more remarkable because the medical center staff did all they reasonably could to prevent it, including, besides the errors of note in my last entry, messing up his proper fluid arrangements, both coming and going. In one twenty-four hour period, his liquid nourishment was incorrectly placed so that, instead of flowing into his body through a special attachment into a vein, it was leaking all over his shoulder and down his back on one side, pooling below, and then dripping onto the floor. This was allowed to continue for a considerable period even though he complained of the discomfort from being soaked on one side. The best of all possible nursing staff also somehow fouled up the excretory process. The proper bladder function was blocked for awhile, his catheter being clamped in the closed position!

While we are celebrating his getting out of such a place in relatively good condition for the short-term, he may have a hard time battling the cancer for the long-term as it had gotten quite a good start before being caught and appears to be a very hard kind (pancreatic) to completely cure.

Fran's begun the new Austin Lyric Opera season. She is part of the orchestra, with their first rehearsal yesterday. The next performance is of the opera "Turandot." (I take advantage of comp tickets, that I get due to Frances being part of the productions, to see some of the performances. They often have quite good and popular music associated with them, as well as lavish costumes and sets. So, I'm looking forward to the "Turandot" dress rehearsal, on 11/20.)

Frances has enjoyed some tango music performing gigs recently too, plus duets with a friend made when Fran was playing as a substitute in the local Gilbert & Sullivan Society orchestra a few months ago.

I went ahead and registered to be part of the Austin Mid-Winter Choral Symposium I'd mentioned earlier. Now that the die has been cast, I'm glad I did. It will be interesting to see if my formerly decent singing voice may be restored to some of its prior potential, despite the intervening decades.

Reader, have you any special fall or early winter holiday plans?

We celebrate several holidays in the fall or early winter. Next in this country we have a Thanksgiving gathering and feast day (as if we needed to eat any more than usual!) the last Thursday of each November. It falls on 11/27 this year. At that time, we (Fran and I) sometimes enjoy the occasion on our own, together but without joining a lot of (or any) others, or sometimes with my family. I'm sure if we lived close to Fran's folks, we'd celebrate it with them instead. This time we'll be going up again to my mom's place for that time.

Before we learned of Mike's illness, we had also planned for holidays in December, including several days on the Texas Gulf coast, at Galveston, where we appreciate the excellent seafood restaurants and walking along the beaches or in special parks where we can see seabirds and other wildlife. The town also sometimes has a fireworks display while we are there, in honor of commencing their "Dickens on the Strand" celebration of the Christmas season. The streets and shops are usually festively decorated for Christmas, in bright colors and with lots of lights in the evenings. There are museums, botanical gardens, and an aquarium to see in the area too.

Besides that, Fran and I would often do something else private and special for the Christmas holidays, in addition to any visiting with friends or relatives. And then there are New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, with their own fun traditions.

This time, though, we'll need to see what the situation is by then with Mike. We have offered to go to Fran's folks' place in December, both for a visit (we'd not been there since December of 2001) and, perhaps, to help out, if his cancer has begun to take quite a toll by then. But they've been reluctant to say what they want for that time. They are proud, independent people and, if not feeling too well, sometimes do not want visitors, just when they might need help the most. Before he entered the hospital, they had told us they didn't want us going to see them this time. But we'll have to see if things are different now. It may be they'll wish for Frances at least to go (by herself).

Fran yesterday gave me a most welcome and excellent massage (while David Attenborough on videotape told and showed us the wonders of the world of birds for an hour).

A friend was relating some odd questions she had gotten on a recent examination. I recalled similarly unreasonable, far-fetched, or inscrutable test queries. Once in high school, for instance, having no prior training or knowledge of classical and romantic styles in literature, I was asked to write an essay comparing the two for a National Teachers of English Contest. That I answered well enough to be a runner-up from VA and recommended for a scholarship in the subject (which I ignored, of course, naively convinced at the time that happiness lay in my attempting to become a physician) only shows the generally poor level of erudition in this country and that our educational system at the time rewarded the creation of vast amounts of bull fecal material.

On another occasion, this time for a senior undergraduate level literature course, though we'd not been asked to study either the song or the film, I was required to extemporize on the use of irony in the "Mrs. Robinson" song used in the Dustin Hoffman (as Benjamin) movie, "The Graduate." In those days the brain cells had not yet begun the avalanche of decline that has since swept through, and I managed a reply the teacher liked. I've no idea how I would answer such a question today.

Reflecting on Mike's just ended horrors at the hands of his hospital staff, plus the recent Halloween rituals, I'm reminded a bit of teasing amusement my father had one time when I was four. He thought it would be droll to have me enjoy a carnival "fun house." So, he paid for my entrance into this experience and bid me lead the way through the darkened halls of the place, from the sides of which for a seemingly endless period all manner of horrible, scary things would leap out and scream at me. At the end was a room apparently on fire, and I was told I must go through it to get out.

My father thought it hilarious, and laughed and laughed, that after surviving this episode I was as white as some of the ghosts that were supposed to be out on such nights. For years afterward I would have nightmares and nearly scream my head off from the separate, private part of the house (attics or basements usually) to which I would be assigned for sleeping, it being my parents' policy that their first born should get over his fears by dealing with them himself.

I did, however, find fascinating our visit once, when I was about five, to an above-ground cemetery in New Orleans. There the water table is so high that ordinary graves fill up with water. So special little crypts are build above to house the remains. Unfortunately, they are often not kept in the best of repair. On this occasion we were intrigued to find whole sections of the little structures broken and fallen outward, revealing the skeletons or parts of them in disarray. Those of children were especially sad and gruesome to my young imagination.

11/14/03-Fri.-This evening, Mom, Fran, and I got back from our trip to see Aunt Kim and Uncle Randolph as well as my cousin, Conrad, and his wife, Susie. Although it has been a quite taxing journey (which my wife and I complete, with a return to Austin, tomorrow), it has proved also to be a rather rewarding visit. However, Kim, already quite frail, unfortunately had a bad bout of flu and a high fever the night before and was still extremely fatigued. Randolph (at nearly ninety), is dealing with newly diagnosed prostate cancer. Within the past couple weeks he was also in the hospital and near death with an acute kidney condition.

I'll not be surprised if in the next few months we get a call with the news that either of them has died. But they've both rallied after many other severe episodes and may well do so again.

11/16/03-Sun.-A number of years ago there was a kind of writing I could do, a type of free associative poetry I suppose, such that I'd merely sit down with a blank sheet of paper in front of me and put down whatever came into my head. Frequently it would sound rather interesting once I'd transcribed it like that, almost a sort of automatic writing. Lately, though, the brain synapses do not seem to be quite up to the task, or at least not in the same way. Now the blankness may just persist for minutes - or seemingly hours - at a time. Or the results may read like something one just dashed off on the spur of the moment. Nonetheless, every now and then it is a fun exercise. Today this has led to the current entry in Phil's Place.

It occurs to me, reflecting on my earlier intense desire that we have children, but did not and almost certainly never shall, since Fran really could not see herself in that role, that perhaps it is not so bad. This surely is no worse than it must be for millions of would-be parents who for some biological reason cannot have kids, or at least than for surviving members of a former couple when one of the pair dies early, before they have had offspring. Yet, willy-nilly, folks go on under those circumstances, and most must live meaningful, rewarding lives, not forever warped by the supposed omission of a vital part of existence.

For some reason, I recall Jake, a German shepherd dog we used to have and love when my family lived in Arlington, VA, as I was in the sophomore and junior years at Washington Lee High School there, but how it used to chase cars, tearing off after them and biting at the tires, distressing and distracting the drivers. The dog needed to be firmly trained not to behave that way, kept behind a fence or, failing that, always fastened to a leash or a chain when left outside. If essential, perhaps after the reasons were explained to her children Mother could have given him away or sold Jake to a family that lived out in the country. But instead, my mom, who was busy, sought simple solutions, and clearly did not have much feeling for inconvenient pets, took him to an inexpensive veterinarian and had him "put to sleep." The vet also got rid of the body for her. I went off to school one morning, along with my sister, Alice, and brother, Ralph. When we got home, Jake, who always used to greet us so enthusiastically on our return, was just not there. Mom hadn't told us what she was going to do. The creature had seemed a member of the family. It was hard getting used to his absence and knowing that he had simply been killed for misbehavior.

Sometimes things are outside our control. The unpleasant ones are easily noticed and remembered, but much of reality, whether what we consider "good" or "bad," is outside our capacity to alter it in any way. It just happens.

Pepper is usually acting more lethargic, with occasional happy bursts of energy and enthusiasm. It is also easy now for us to believe she's going deaf. This time last year she'd come from anywhere in the yard when I'd call, and she could go on most walks with us, though she'd perhaps be slow. Now, most of the time we have to whistle a high note to be sure she notices when we're trying to communicate, or we must go up to her and surprise her with our touch to get her attention. She only goes on walks about every other day and takes half again or even twice as long to travel the same distance as in the autumn of 2002. It's a pain, but Fran and I still alternate taking her, to be sure she gets as much exercise as she can handle.

At my request, Frances has lately been tutoring me in some of the less sophisticated aspects of web site management. And I'm still trying to learn the art of investing. Such pastimes beat working!

I've been eating a little too well (especially after folks were celebrating my birthday last month, and then we had Halloween) and so am trying to follow in moderation the Ornish diet. I'm not compulsive about it.

Tonight I'll be giving Fran a long massage while we watch "Coyote Waits," a PBS mystery based on the Tony Hillerman novel of the same title.

11/22/03-Sat.-A few days ago we enjoyed overcast skies and a short storm that brought about an inch of badly needed rain. But the next morning dawned as a perfect autumn day, with dry brisk winds from the north (the tree branches thrashing about wildly!), deep blue overhead, and lots of sunshine. Today was again fairly dramatic, with more strong winds, though this time coming in from the south, balmy, and laden with Gulf of Mexico humidity. Within just a day, however, we're to get a quite strong cold front, dropping temperatures dramatically.

On the evening of 11/18, we looked for Leonid meteors and each thought we saw one or two faint ones, but got neck strain and cold feet after awhile. The return on our "investment" did not seem adequate, so we called off the search after a few minutes. In previous years we've had much better luck with this shower.

On that date too I'd felt refreshed and well rested for the first time in at least a week. The night before I'd gone to bed early. In the morning I slept late. You'd think that in retirement folks would get plenty of sleep, having all that extra time, but, instead, like kids who do not want to miss anything and so stay up too late, we usually do not settle down for the night and turn the lights out until well after midnight. To compound the problem, we tend to get up before the sun, figuring we'll make up for the sleep deprivation with an afternoon nap. But I don't slumber well during the day and am awake again too soon. Ironically, on average I probably get less snoozing in now than when working full-time. This is a difficulty for which there's a ready solution! Yet, after nearly two years of living in leisure, it persists. Oh well.

In the "stuffing too much into available time" category, my sister-in-law, Trudy (Fran's sister), and her husband have us beat. She is due any day now to deliver their 3rd child. She's 43 and had their first, Jay, when she was 39 (i.e. all born near or after the traditionally recommended final age, of 40, for bearing children). So far all seem to be doing not just fine but great!

And, this past week, they closed the deal on the purchase of a 268-acre fixer-upper farm complete with a large house, barns, sheds, and silos (all of which thus make more enticing the prospect of our future visits). Trudy also breeds, trains, and shows (around the country) champion dogs. Both Trudy and Scott work full-time and have a variety of neat hobbies. They even have found the means to manage a large investment portfolio.

As mentioned briefly earlier, our visit, along with my mom, with my Uncle Randolph and Aunt Kim, who this month celebrate their 70th anniversary, went well except that it needed to be too short, only about three hours. Kim had been terribly sick the night before, nauseas, running a high fever, and exhausted. She looked terrible, as though she'd been through quite an ordeal, which indeed she has. Yet her first words were about us and how we were doing. She observed right away, with some kidding humor, that my nasal member, despite three surgeries, as yet looks fairly nose-like.

Randolph is more frail than ever as well and still tends to deal with his anxieties and frustrations by buying things. He had previously often had two or more of a wide variety of items he could not really use, i.e. two motor boats, two or three riding lawn mowers, twenty rifles, a couple houses, and so on. Of course, he also has sufficient wealth, through shrewd investing, to make such extravagant and eccentric purchases possible.

His lifetime tally of motor vehicles has now gone up by several more from around 110 (!) early this year. At that time he'd only recently traded in an expensive, new auto for yet another new one, also fully equipped, just because the first one had gotten a puncture in one tire.

Conrad, his son (my cousin), a physician still heading a clinic and practicing medicine at age 69 (his birthday, which we also helped celebrate, on the day of our trip and visit) was there, along with his wife, Susie, who works for him in the clinic. Conrad said his dad has now taken to buying a new auto every month, eleven so far this year.

Randolph tried to get himself and Kim into a retirement community, once the severity of their combined disabilities had sunk in to the point he had to acknowledge it. But the agency that administers the facility rejected their application, saying its use was partly based on economic need and that Kim and Randolph could afford instead to hire all the home health care they required. For unknown reasons they refuse, however, to go that route.

So Conrad and Susie must do double duty, tending to their own busy lives and also caring for Conrad's parents. Even now, under these circumstances, despite recent hospitalizations for each of them, Kim and Randolph refuse to live in Conrad and Susie's spacious house, insisting on staying in their own tiny place, one that Randolph recently bought on impulse, immediately after the retirement community rejection. It is conveniently a mere three doors down from and on the same road as Conrad's clinic, which itself is about three blocks from Conrad and Susie's house. So the latest residence purchase decision does make a certain sense.

Randolph pointed out that they have a pool in a park across the street from his new place (though clearly neither he nor Kim will be doing any swimming) and that his tiny house is just half a block from his bank. (Conrad says, however, that his dad cannot make it up the hill even that far to the bank, or to any other establishments nearby. He can still drive though!)

Fran's father, Mike, has learned he has a type of pancreatic cancer for which chemotherapy is sometimes effective. He and her mom, Linda, talked with a lady who began such treatment for the same kind of cancer ten years ago and is doing OK with this therapy. So, that at least seems a good sign.

For Christmas this year, Fran's getting a laptop, one that has terrific image quality, to augment her budding digital photography hobby. (I'm actually only contributing ¼ of the price, but this is a little above our usual recent price range for presents. We each also have a discretionary spending budget, from which most of the rest of the needed funds will come.) She's really excited about it. It's been ordered and is due for delivery day after tomorrow. She can hardly wait!

This just past Thursday, I went to see the latest opera production, "Turandot." Super music and excellent staging! The plot really was sorry, however!

My brother who lives here in Austin, Ron, along with his paramour, Claudia, threw a birthday party today for his youngest daughter, Jane, who is ten. I went and had a good time, even though Ron burned the grilled chicken and yet undercooked it inside, which led to my having serious indigestion.

There was some bad news from Ron, though he seems clueless and unconcerned. In his late forties now, he's worked his whole career, after getting out of a hitch in the Air Force, as a carrier for the U.S. Post Office. But he failed to save anything for retirement. And he had for years underestimated how long he'd need to keep working before he could get any benefits. I think he saw it as like the military and simply assumed that, once he had his twenty years in, he could retire with perhaps 60% of his pay and all of his medical covered. Unfortunately, it does not work that way at all. When this finally dawned on him, he became quite depressed at the prospect of needing to work there many more years and also did not see how he could in a reasonable time put aside enough for retirement on his own.

Just as earlier he'd convinced himself, without any evidence, that he would be able to retire after a couple decades at a 60% salary, now he has gotten it into his head that he is disabled. I believe the primary reason for this latest delusion is that he's heard that on disability, if his claim is accepted, he would get a salary similar to what he'd expected to get by now in retirement and would not have to work any further, or at least not at his current job description, which he feels is too stressful.

Essentially, I believe he's playing this card as a way of retiring early without paying all his dues for that boon. And he managed to find a psychiatrist who goes along with his claim that he is disabled, giving him a statement, which he turned over to the Post Office, saying he is mentally unfit for the carrier work anymore and encouraging his employers to find him a less stressful job. I think Ron's convinced all the postal jobs are pretty stressful, so if he cannot do the carrier work he'll have to be granted disability and given a monthly disability check for the rest of his life. (Ron has always been a pretty good storyteller. But sometimes he has the misfortune to believe his own yarns.)

On the strength of such assumptions, he has not been working for the past two or three months, just waiting for the Postal Service to grant him disability. If their disability claims department is anything like the state's or Social Security, they'll have him seen by their own professional, and then there's a good chance the claim will be turned down. After all, lots of folks working for the Post Office feel under stress, some even "going postal," without having been given disability. And Ron himself describes his mental difficulties as mild.

If he persists in the attitude that he cannot do his job anymore, they could just fire him. Ominously, today he said he had almost run out of medical leave and could not return to his past work now that the doctor says he's unfit. Yet the Post Office has given no indication they are granting his claim, certainly not soon. He told me he was hoping to find some temporary work to tide him over till the claim is approved.

I think he is disabled only in the sense that he's not prepared to take his medicine, having failed utterly to prepare for his leisure years or for the reality of needing to work longer than he'd wished. But I merely made sympathetic noises in talking with him today. What good would it do now to tell him he may have lost all the good of the many years he's worked there and have nothing to show for it? Claudia seems rather worried too. I suspect she's not prepared to share her house for long with an unemployed, penniless partner who's burned all his bridges.

A number of weeks ago, she and I had tentatively suggested to Ron that this might not be the way to go, but he had ears only for what he wanted to believe. I hope very much it works out for him as he wishes. The alternative seems quite sad.

We've been busy getting our latest online family newsletter issue ready: new photos, features, and essays. It was finalized yesterday.

The U.S. dollar, and our nation's finances as a whole, are in relative long-term decline, it seems to me, even if business looks pretty good in the short-term.

I don't see how we can long carry on as a net debtor nation. And now that Bush has led us into a huge budget deficit as far ahead as eye can see, so tragic since we began the new century with huge projected surpluses, it will mean there is a larger and larger drag on the economy as well as on the individual's earning and residual buying power.

It seems our policies lately are guaranteeing that this country will go the way of Britain into second class status. It's simply a matter of time.

The big question in my mind, then, is whether we'll do so resignedly or kicking and screaming. If the latter, I suspect there will be a lot more bellicose involvements outside our borders, decreasing overall geopolitical stability and, in the end, simply speeding the deterioration at home where, in the meantime, we'll likely see more repressive policies, administrations using the excuse of the "war on terrorism" to justify less democratic governing and more partisan power grabbing.

We cannot continue indefinitely in the role of the world's policeman when we lack the resources for even our domestic needs. And other nations, particularly China, will bide their time and gradually encroach on areas of our former supremacy. Yet who else is there willing to be the "benevolent" superpower we have at least tried to be? To mix metaphors, once we are spread too thin, a situation that may come sooner than later, who if anyone will take the free world leadership baton from us and run with it?

I have some ambivalence about Bush. I came of age politically while John F. Kennedy was a candidate. Thanks to manipulations of the media by his father, of which we would not know for many years, plus, at least to some extent, the inspiring man Kennedy was, and the lovely images we had of he and Jackie as a couple, while he lived that presidency was the closest our nation has come to the pomp and circumstance that has for centuries filled our British brethren with patriotic pride.

Nothing in our political life since his assassination, forty years ago today, has seemed so great. We bought into all those wonderful images, and, even now knowing they were largely false, that behind the scenes he was having multiple affairs, had ties to the mob, was disabled by back and other problems, was reliant constantly on strong drugs, was so brash and inexperienced he nearly got us into a nuclear exchange, and was partly responsible for getting us into the horror and folly that was Vietnam, still his presidency stands alone for many of us, against which nearly impossible standard no George W. Bush can compete.

I know it is not fair to compare the two, yet my reactions are emotional as much as rational. And, if Kennedy was progressive and known for how he tried to reach out to the rest of the world, Bush is regressive and known for thumbing his nose at just about all of it except for Prime Ministers Blair and Sharon.

Yet my reaction to Bush is not absolutely negative. I do not agree with terrorists and their efforts against our president, no matter who he is. And, as an investor, I can appreciate the short-term benefits his policies have given us, lowered taxes and a strong leaning toward the needs of large corporations at the expense of individuals.

I realize, though, that his approach to governing for the long-term can prove disastrous. I believe we are headed down a darkening path so long as his presidency continues and that the shadow of his influence will last well beyond his administration, all the more so if, as I currently anticipate, he is reelected.

But since I do not presume that you, Reader, would agree with me in such rants as above, and in any case understand that they would make no difference, I'll try after this to keep most of my feelings and comments about our esteemed leader to myself.

11/23/03-Sun.-Our fall weather has finally fully arrived with a cold front that swept through this morning, accompanied by blustery winds. The weather forecasters now say the mercury will get down to 28 or 29°F tonight and tomorrow night, our first freezing temperatures of the season.

Fran and I did our usual cold front rituals soon after the front's getting here, bringing in or otherwise protecting the most vulnerable plants, wrapping the outside faucets, switching the thermostat setting to warm, and moving space heaters into strategic locations (like my bathroom!).

Fran has an opera performance this afternoon/early evening.

We've been noticing that Pepper seems to have lost weight, a consequence, we suppose, of her liver disease, lack of appetite much of the time, and, despite our best efforts to have her to go on walks with us, not getting as much exercise as when she was younger and healthier. Fran weighed herself and then herself holding the mutt last night, and we found that our canine has lost 20% from her ideal level, about 25 pounds. Even though we may be risking new bladder stone problems, we've decided to start supplementing her diet with a few table scraps, such as carefully selected chicken pieces (cut off the bone), which she loves. We've avoided giving her such food before as it's "bad for her." Yet there's a balancing of risks situation now. The immediate and paramount problem is to keep her from starving.

11/27/03-Thurs.-Thanksgiving Day. We're visiting and participating in the traditional festivities at my mom's place.

Yesterday Fran and I drove up here to Waco from Austin, getting in about 11 AM. Traffic wasn't as bad as we'd feared. To avoid bad congestion, we'd left about an hour earlier than usual.

Fran's been spending a lot of time playing on her new laptop. It arrived a few days ago. She's quite pleased with it. She's brought it along on this trip.

Meanwhile, I received my music scores and audiocassettes for the coming winter choral concert (Mozart's Coronation Mass and Bach's Magnificat) in which I've decided to participate. I began trying to familiarize myself with the pieces. It turns out I've completely lost my ability to follow this kind of complicated music in the last forty-three years since I was last in a choir. I was overwhelmed just trying to read the musical scores and keep up with the cassettes. Very discouraged, I was ready to resign in advance and even drafted an e-mail to that effect for the director. But Fran (who's a professional musician, of course) suggested I not send it but rather hang in there, take the process step by step, and give myself a chance, despite the initial difficulty. She said she'd assist as she could, adding that she's had occasions too when complex instrumental music seemed too much at first, but that generally one improves substantially with greater exposure to the music and on seeing that it can actually be fun to learn it. So, I'll give it my best shot. We'll see what happens. I'll treat the whole endeavor as one of my experiments. At the moment my expectations are rather low, so perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised once the rehearsals begin in January, or at least by the time we have the performances in February.

After I'd had a short nap yesterday and Mom was going to be shopping, Fran and I went to the zoo. We saw a number of interesting things, including mating pythons, grass munching Galapagos tortoises (the nearest from only about a meter away), and active rhinos at close quarters.

Mary arrived about 6 PM.

We all got an early start on eating vast quantities last night (and continued this tendency today).

As the evening wore on, my mom was clearly indulging more in strong drinks of whiskey, replenishing her cup repeatedly and becoming tipsy, a not uncommon state for her in the evenings.

Life makes allowances for youthful mistakes, yet holds even slight indiscretions against us in old age.

She was becoming embarrassingly maudlin, loud, and loquacious, her speech getting noticeably slurred. I suggested we watch a movie.

We laughed and laughed at "When Harry Met Sally" on the VCR.

This morning I went on a nice walk. We all then had a good time hanging out together, including Nina, Allen, and Sharon, who arrived a little after noon, shortly following the breezy entrance of a brand new cool front.

Tonight Allen and I played chess and then several of us watched an entertaining PBS dramatization of the musical "Oklahoma," while Fran, Mary, and Nina worked on a jigsaw puzzle.

11/28/03-Fri.-Our whole group, Mom, Mary, Allen, Nina, Sharon, Frances, and I, went this morning over to an old rock hound's place to look at things he had for sale.

Several of us bought a variety of stone specimens. Fran and I got about thirty, at an average price of just 15¢. Quite a few were very nice.

Afterward, we went out to eat for lunch at Bangkok Royal, an excellent Thai restaurant in Waco.

Last night Frances and I enjoyed watching several interesting programs on the "Discovery" channel, on prehistoric hominids.

Allen and Nina have asked me to be their infant, Sharon's, godfather (and my mom to be her godmother, there being no closer female blood relations in the US, except my sister who, in CA, might as well be in a foreign country!). I am honored, even though I realize the significance of this likely ends as soon as the upcoming christening ceremony is ended. At least I don't have to head a mafia organization!

Early this afternoon, Mom and I looked online at tour and related activity options for Yellowstone Park, so we can make needed early reservations for such, once the new year's schedule is available.

Then it was time to head home.

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