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11/2/04-Tues.-Election Day in the U.S. This is not, unfortunately, likely to be the conclusion to the longest, most contentious, and most expensive election campaign in my lifetime, but at least, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it should be the end of the beginning. The election itself will quickly resolve the presidential contest only if one candidate surprises us with a decisive win despite the electorate's being split about 50/50 as recently as last weekend.

Not confident enough in the electoral process or willing to simply allow democracy to prevail, the Republicans (who ironically claim to champion democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq) are using a variety of legal and illegal bullying tactics to limit voting, especially among traditionally Democratic Party leaning minority citizens, including error-filled Republican exclusion lists (affecting close to 60,000 potential voters in three key states), Republican challengers potentially harassing Black voters in Ohio, Republican lawyers intimidating Indian voters (by following their cars and copying down their license numbers) in South Dakota, anonymous calls and fliers giving Democrats false information to keep them from voting, and (allegedly) Republican hired voter registrars simply throwing away the official registrations of Democrats in Nevada. (To be fair, there is also a report of Democratic Party hired voter registrars throwing away some Republican registrations in Florida.) These are the kinds of tactics one might expect of the incumbent party in a third world country and led a comedian to quip that George W. Bush is a "banana Republican."

Thousands of lawyers of both main political parties now are poised to sue, and so attempt to overturn the election, if it does not go as they would wish.

All great civilizations and empires in the past have come to an end. Can our system of government be long sustained when elections are undermined by tricks, fraud, or legalistic manipulations? Unless there is a groundswell of popular reaction against this trend, our nation may be less democratic and more fascistic in the years ahead. If by hook or crook Bush is reelected, he will almost certainly pack the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, with conservative justices ready to support his party's accumulation of power and subversion of freedom.

I'm spending this potentially momentous day in a low-key fashion, following public radio and TV coverage of the election, stopping over at HEB to renew Fran's auto registration, playing with Puff, picking up a couple videotapes from Blockbusters, doing my meditation, having an afternoon nap, and taking care of a little investment research and record keeping.

Fran left before 4 PM for a quartet rehearsal. The musicians are getting ready to perform next Tuesday evening.

A happy circumstance for folks here in Austin today: we are at last having cool enough autumn weather to warrant wearing a light jacket outside. Our walks are truly enjoyable for a change.

11/3/04-Wed.-7 AM. Well, it's all over but the counting. As a citizen and an Independent, in contrast to a voter who very much preferred an outcome other than a return of Bush for President, there is one thing about which to be glad. This very dirty campaign is at last all but over. The outcome, Bush's return for "four more years," was predictable (as indeed I forecast here soon after the 9/11/01 terrorist tragedies).

But in fairness to Bush and his strategists, dirty politics or not, Kerry was outfought and proved to have been a weak candidate in several respects. He failed to reach out to and take advantage of the anger in the Black community, after it had been disenfranchised so significantly in 2000. He obviously was not comfortable relating to Black Americans, and yet they could have easily given him the margin he needed. Similarly, he failed to take the Mexican American voters as seriously as they deserved. He might, for instance, have chosen Hispanic NM Governor Bill Richardson as his vice presidential running mate. This too almost certainly would have given him the votes he required.

The bottom line is that before America breaks the current hold of conservatism on all branches of government (one I think the country may come to bitterly regret), a truly strong opposition must be developed. If the Democratic Party is no longer capable of delivering that, a third party, perhaps led by a real moderate, someone more inclusive than either the Republican right wing or white male Liberal-led Democrats, and supported by a hugely powerful internet campaign, should take up the slack. It is not too early to begin creating that new challenge.

Kerry and his camp will have their "till all the votes are counted" endgame, but the result is foregone. Over the next few weeks or months, the talking heads will be endlessly rehashing why and how things turned out as they did. Yet this time they'll not be wringing their hands over the kind of limbo we had in FL for 89 days in the last presidential election. That, at least, is a positive development.

As an investor, I welcome the likely bullish short-term reaction of Wall Street to the election, though in the long run I fear it may have proven to have been prematurely optimistic.

11/7/04-Sun.-With acknowledgements to the humor and wisdom of Prairie Home Companion, I am having difficulty dealing with a post 9/11, post 11/2 world. I am relieved, however, that the presidential election campaign is finally over. It was quite interesting, but I was dismayed by how much the contest became a fight filled with lies and dirty tricks. I'm appalled at how divided our country's populace has become. Even now that voting has ended, the rift between us seems rather bitter. Many grave problems remain. Yet I shall try to be optimistic.

I envy folks farther north the bright fall colors their autumns provide. Here things are less dramatic, though some of our trees are at last just beginning to change their leafy hues. We have other pleasant things to observe. Only a few blocks from our house, I saw a large buck with impressive antlers recently. Fran heard migrating sandhill cranes flying over our area a couple days ago. Neat things seen on my walks lately included spiders falling ("ballooning") from the sky, reportedly by the millions, and monarch butterflies, apparently newly out of their chrysalises, looking fresh, bright, and whole, and not as though they had already flown hundreds or thousands of miles toward winter havens, or been attacked and nearly missed by lots of birds.

On Thursday, we found a lost dog while I was out walking Puff, our terrier. The wandering canine, whose name is Tamale, followed us home and then let Frances catch him. Fortunately, there was a phone number on his collar to call, and his owner came and got him, very pleased that Tamale had been rescued and returned. Evidently the mutt had already roved about three miles from home by the time he spotted Puff and me and began to go in our direction. Tamale is a cute dog that looked a little like the one called "Benjie," in a 1970 movie of that name, except white. I am glad we were able to help return him to his home. The man said Tamale had earlier in the day slipped out the front door, through his daughter's legs, and then had run off and disappeared before they could get him back.

Today it is again my turn to give Frances a massage. We exchange relaxation massages every other week, an hour at a time. By now, after our courtship and close to 19 1/2 years of marriage, we've each given and received about 500 massages! They are great, and we don't mind giving them because we want the other person to feel good. Besides, we know we'll get one again too in a few more days. We usually watch some type movie on the VCR while doing laying on of hands. This helps keep things interesting for the one manipulating the other's flesh. The one receiving can either just relax and enjoy how splendid it feels or can watch and listen to the movie too as the partner does his or her magic ministrations, whichever is preferred.

11/11/04-Thurs.-I spent much of yesterday plus part of this morning researching stocks, for the selection to be introduced in the current Investor's Journal entry. Although such pursuits are time-consuming, they have proven worthwhile so far, the resulting tracked portfolios performing at least 50% better than the S & P 500 Index.

Meanwhile, certain other aspects of my life in retirement are not so positive lately. I had warned Frances before we got married that, due to the big age difference (almost 15 years), the time would inevitably come when I'd not be functioning physically as well she. Fran said it did not matter so long as I would still be affectionate and a good companion. Happily these things do not seem to be abrupt, and, even after twenty years, we can enjoy being together in all the ways we could before.

But I am slowing down and notice sometimes having less stamina and passion. In other ways too I am "not the man I was." Mentally, ideas do not come as readily, ease of speaking (once a dependable talent) is diminished, and puns or cartoons no longer so quickly (or ever!) strike me as funny. Nor do I often come up with jokes of my own. Yet in younger days I was known as a constant cut-up or comedian. Go figure.

Going to the bathroom used to be a minor matter, dispensed with in just a few fast trips a day. Now (particularly since my health insurer and specialists don't think the difficulty serious enough to warrant much if any treatment - easy for them to say) it can take multiple "breaks" to assure adequate bladder voiding, and the disruption to the rest of life is sometimes up to one-third of waking hours.

This, in turn, naturally means there is less opportunity to do things I wish, either necessary chores or desired projects and entertainments. Sleep is also affected, reduced perhaps an hour or two a day. I have heard that when one is old he or she will not need as much sleep. I'm now convinced that, instead, older folks just cannot sleep as well and so, willy-nilly, must make do with less snoozing.

The fatigue I feel never completely leaves. I think it even possible that insufficient sleep, rather than dying brain cells and lost synapse connections, is the main reason for not now being so swift on the uptake as in early adulthood.

All in all, I am acting and feeling more my age than I had expected I would by now. I always thought of myself as "youthful," even in middle age or later. Now, in spite of this, the fact of my aging is disappointingly apparent.

When I see pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt at age 60 or consider the life of Ernest Hemingway, who was doing so poorly physically and mentally in his last few years that he took his life at age 62 rather than deal further with the humiliations of getting old, I realize that, relatively speaking, I'm doing fairly well for someone of my (61) years. Yet they are taking their toll.

Others actually accommodate this fairly well, particularly so for Fran herself. Her sister, Trudy, though, and to a lesser extent her husband, seem when we visit them to prefer me to keep up and participate in a wide variety of activities consistent with their and Fran's younger, more resilient, less problematic physical forms. The need to avoid much direct sun, because of a high potential for skin cancer, to limit use of my feet, when the plantar tendons are injured and symptomatic, and to be fairly near a bathroom, or at least able to often go "into the bushes," put quite a crimp in my capacity for hours of farm work.

Trudy seems a bit intolerant of the situation, as if she thinks I am merely malingering rather than doing the chores they feel that, now that we're retired, they are entitled to ask us to do for them. Of course, this only comes up about once a year or so. Her attitude seems a milder form of the prejudice, regardless of what I did or do, that I experienced from Fran's and Trudy's dad before he died. I don't know why I let it bother me. (She was even more unyielding in her opinions of her father-in-law, till he conveniently died several months ago.)

Frances and I plan to stay in a Motel 6 over our time with my mom this Thanksgiving holiday, and have made reservations. Several of my other relations will be there too.

Early tomorrow I'm off, on my own, for a few days' visit with Mom, and while there I'll be attending the musical "My Fair Lady," in which one of my nieces has a singing and dancing part. Should be fun.

We are enjoying our first significant cool weather of the fall season. But still the temperatures are about 10-15°F above those experienced while I was in Yellowstone. At night our lows are only in the 40s.

I'm continuing to experiment with my new camera, taking pictures about everyday. This morning, for instance, I started a series of "Images from My Morning Walks," which today featured a large picturesque boulder, an attractive clump of flowers, and close-ups of a millipede.

Tonight I was doing my exercises while watching the PBS Nova miniseries, "Origins," on the beginnings of the universe, our planet, and life here, as well as on the search for and speculation concerning life elsewhere in space. It was quite interesting and very well done!

11/13/04-Sat.-I'm visiting at Mom's place again. My nephew, Joel, came in about 7 PM last night.

Joel had not been aware things were shaky between Ron (his dad) and Claudia, or, rather, he knew that they had gone for some counseling last September but not that, since then, Ron may have moved out. I didn't have any current info to give him. They may still be together, both living in her house the way they have the last several years, or by now Ron might be living under a bridge. I did not put it that way. But Ron does not stay in touch with anyone well, even if we are his son or his brother.

Joel had been wondering why his father has not answered any e-mails lately. He wants Ron to join him in a hunting trip - for feral pigs - or loan him his rifle. Evidently it is legal now to kill them. He thinks he knows where some are and where it is safe, with respect to people, to shoot them.

I did not rub it in about Ron reaping what he had sown (having given up his postal job for one paying about a third as much and without any benefits), but let Joel know Claudia and his dad had been having differences over money matters, and Ron had thought, when I'd seen him in October, that he might be moving out soon. Joel seemed depressed to learn this and said he had thought Claudia pretty nice. He did not understand how they could be having money problems when she had a good job. But I said she thought Ron ought to be paying more of his share of the expenses.

Joel checked out the leak in the pool room, since he had heard that Ron and another of my brothers, Allen, had been working to fix it. He said it looked to him as if the spot (from the leak) on the ceiling were larger now than before. He also noticed a new problem, that the ceiling now has a crack all the way across, as if there had been some pressure on it from above, when the fellows were trying to discover where the leak was and how to mend it. Oh well.

We've been having great weather, sort of overcast and cool, but dry, excellent for getting outdoors.

I took the new camera with me on walks yesterday evening and this morning and snapped a few pictures, though nothing special.

Overall, things have been fairly pleasant here this time. The drive up was uneventful except for a truck that tried to swerve into my lane while I was still next to him. Obviously, no harm actually was done, but it was briefly a close thing.

I have the house to myself late this morning. Joel went off to try to scare up some Jehovah's Witnesses friends and have fun hanging out with them. He hopes and intends bringing some of them back here for pool later.

Mom has gone off for her monthly storytelling group activities, expecting to get back a little after noon.

She and I watched more than our fill each of business and political programs last night on public or financial cable channels.

Joel and I then played pool ourselves (he winning two of the three games) and visited for awhile.

After he'd gone to bed, I watched a little more TV, and then hit the hay a bit earlier than usual for me. In keeping with Veterans' Day commemorations, the AMC classic movies station is showing one war movie after another, each evening through Sunday. Alright!

Leila, Horace, and their family still have not confirmed with Mom any time to celebrate Leila's birthday. Mom had offered to take them out to dinner, something she's been trying to arrange for nearly a week.

A positive development, though, was that late yesterday evening Leila did bring the tickets by for "My Fair Lady." She and my niece, Virginia, were stopping by, in any case, so the latter young lady could borrow some costume jewelry from Mom, as it was needed for her part in the musical. This accomplished, they left with hardly a breath of wasted time or effort. No doubt they were busy. I think it was Virginia's (and the play's) opening night.

Mom is quite pleased with new birdseed she obtained for free (a large sample) from a local merchant. She said, since almost immediately after she put it out in her bird feeder, the birds have been coming by, virtually non-stop. Indeed, I saw three or four varieties, quite a number of birds total, stopping for snacks in just a few minutes while I was particularly watching. Cardinals were the most spectacular of these dining fowl.

Mom's really thrilled about how something worked out this past week. She said that, after Ron and his youngest daughter, Jane, were here last, there was a burn ring on her kitchen working space, where someone had taken a hot pan off the stove and left it sitting on the counter. (In view of Mom's drinking habits, it would not surprise me if she did this herself, then forgot about it.) She had tried about five things to get it off, but none were successful, and so, resignedly, she had gone to Lowe's for an estimate of how much it would cost to simply replace her counters. They must have sold her on a wider project, perhaps including cabinets too, for she said the cheapest the whole thing would cost was $4000! (I must look into investing in Lowe's stock.)

She was trying to decide whether to just leave a large hot pad always covering the offending blemish or to contract out the work as Lowe's recommended when her cleaning lady stopped by for her usual twice a month cleaning of the entire house plus doing the extra little projects Mom had waiting for her, all for $40 each time. Mother complained to the lady about the ring and her quandary about what to do. Long story short, before leaving for the day, the cleaning woman asked Mom to go see something and showed her the counter, now looking like new again, saying she knew a few tricks for such problems.

Mom said she had already told the lady she did not need her much now and to just come once a month. I suggested she at least give her a nice Christmas bonus, if not a pay raise. She thinks she'll do the bonus.

She had earlier been a little peeved, ventilating to me that the lady now costs her the $40 each time, when she was only getting $30 before Mom had "given her" (a phrase too reminiscent for my sensitivities of wording that might have been used once for very menial servants or even slaves) to her friend, Kathy, who, on seeing how much work she did in a four-hour period, had promptly given the woman a 33 1/3% increase, so Mom reluctantly had felt she must go along with that too. I believe this miracle lady is Hispanic, one of the millions Mom objects to from Mexico. (My mother had similarly patronizing, prejudicial things to say about Hungarian refugees she employed for housework in the late 1950s.)

Later. This afternoon, after a rest period, Mom and I drove over to her dealership. She had been sent a key and needed to see if it fit the lock of a free truck being given away to some lucky person. Evidently many folks had received such sales gimmick keys. Close to a dozen others drove up and went in, apparently for the same reason (as I heard enthusiastic yells about it from one to another) while I was waiting for Mom to come out. She did not win the truck but was asked if she needed another vehicle and told the sales folks "maybe," giving her name and address to make sure they can keep after her till she gets it.

I had stayed in the van, figuring that way she'd spend less time listening to their spiel, and also not wanting to hear one myself. While I was there, a corpulent lady of about 50 years or so, heading in too and seemingly intent on winning the truck, caught her heel in a drain hole adjacent the showroom that (stupidly) was not covered, having just a yellow patch painted around it. She promptly fell on her face, hitting hard enough to scrape her hands, bruise her face, and knock her glasses off. She kept lying and then sitting there a little while. People rushed to her assistance, naturally, though none from the dealership, and she managed to then go on in under her own power. She was lucky, and perhaps so was the dealership.

When I told Mom about it, she said the lady should sue (this from a Republican, though they generally say there is too much of suing). She said her cousin in CA's wife had a fall like that, which also did not require treatment, and that she had sued and got a net $3000 out of it. With money like that to be made, maybe Frances and I should go looking for places to fall, especially in CA. Fifty falls a year could result in a fairly good living!

We went on over to the local library next, and checked out some videos and books. For tonight, we got the video of "High Noon," an academy award winning Gary Cooper western which also featured the debut of a beautiful, young actress named Grace Kelly.

On the way back, in the notoriously speed-patrolled hills of Woodway, Mom suddenly interrupted our conversation to say, "Well, I don't know what she wants. I wasn't doing anything to warrant her attention, but I'm going to stop and find out." Convinced Mom had a lady cop flashing lights behind her, I was surprised that, instead of slowing to a stop, she suddenly veered across oncoming traffic lanes, did a 180, drove back a little way, and lurched into someone's driveway. She parked so hurriedly and on a steep incline I was afraid she might not have set the parking brake as she got out and rushed up to a woman at an open garage. But the brake was on. It seems the lady and her daughter had "flagged" Mom down by waving their arms at her.

They had been having a garage sale, getting rid of most everything before it started raining. The ladies were packing up a final big box of clothing after the downpour started, but, when they saw Mom's van coming by across the street, for some reason they thought to wave her over and offer her the things for free instead of having anything left. They did not know Mom from Eve, and she had no notion who they were. Yet on some plane they must have been "soul sisters."

Mom quickly looked at the things, several nice clothing pieces for both men and women, as well as some for children, and immediately said she'd be happy to take all of them, that she supervises charities through the local Hope House project and one other, ARC, I believe, and that the condition of the items was good enough that she was sure they would be put to excellent use at one or the other charity outlet.

All three ladies were quite pleased, and Mom struck up a new set of acquaintances, mentioning that she lived just a few blocks away, finding out as well that the ladies had recently moved there from Houston and that these were extra things they felt they did not need or have room for in their new place. I've no doubt that, as simply as that, Mom has thus just made some new friendly acquaintances, who may well later become close friends, and also has looked after the proper disposition of the extra clothing. Neat!

This afternoon, before our outing, I drifted briefly off to sleep, having then a flying dream, but one that was not only, for a short time, exhilarating, as usual with such experiences, but also frustrating. This time, I flew but not as high as I would have liked.

Demonstrating either her insight or prurience, when I mentioned this dream fragment to Mom, she said it sounded like I was worried about "not getting it up" as easily as before. Hmm. I did not agree or disagree with her interesting interpretation, but I suppose it possible, though I'd just thought of these as flying dreams, not wet ones, before.

She reminded me that 20-30 years ago she had related a dream to me in which she had been trying to serve Dad, and the spaghetti, even before being put into the heat and liquid, was not stiff as it should be but more like already wet, tender pasta, and I had asked her if Dad was having trouble staying firm and hard as often or as long as she'd wished, even before "putting it in," or, in other words, if he was then performing "like a wet noodle." She had clammed up right away because she'd not realized just what the dream might have implied or wanted to discuss such intimate matters, though, indeed (she told me today), that was exactly what had been on her mind lately, about a result of Dad's aging on his sexual functioning. Hmm. I guess it is true, as they say, that the main thing worse than getting old is the alternative.

11/14/04-Sun.-Fran has written a couple e-mails that I've read from here, on Mom's computer. She's been making productive new efforts with Puff at terrier training. Good! Hope they are effective.

At the dinner for Leila and her family tonight, finally coordinated for after the musical, my nephew, Charley, said he likes big dogs, that they are more manly than little dogs. Sounds like an idea he may have gotten from his dad.

The "My Fair Lady" performance was good for a high school production. The orchestra did not sound very good, but I suppose that is typical of this level of musicianship. The production also seemed rather long and slow in places. Still, overall, I liked it and certainly am glad I went.

Virginia was in it for many scenes but did not have a significant or particularly noticeable part. She seemed to act, sing, and dance adequately but without any special flare. There were a few of the students who, despite minor roles, really were into them. One in particular looked and sounded, for instance, like she could join the cast of "Riverdance!"

It was nice to see my niece, Tess, again, as well as her boyfriend, Roger. Not in school this semester, due to a pre-registration quota problem with the one course she still needs to graduate, she is now co-owner of a small dance company. It will be rehearsing and performing in Fort Worth, their first performance tentatively scheduled for February.

Horace, Virginia, Mom (of course), Joel, Chris, and Keith were also there tonight.

Joel, who is nearly deaf, left directly for home from the dinner. He had suggested our getting together later this week to see the movie, "Ray," at Austin's Westgate Theater, where there are sub-titles shown for the hearing impaired. We'll have to see if this works out.

11/15/04-Mon.-At just before 11 AM, I've stopped for a light brunch on my way home from Waco.

The visit went well, overall. Besides enjoying seeing the "My Fair Lady" performance and several relatives, I talked with Mom about the group long-term health care company which approved Frances and me for coverage, and that might be available for her as well. She asked several questions, looked through the info, and decided she'd like me to get the ball rolling, to see if she'd be eligible to apply and could be accepted, saying if so that she'll definitely purchase the insurance.

I have my doubts their underwriters will accept her, but it is certainly worth a try.

Meanwhile, last night, for the second evening in a row, Mom drank herself to sleep, staggering about dangerously and nearly falling when she got up for her last of multiple drinks and yet again when she went on to bed. As she had done the night before, she left the door completely open when she used the toilet closest to the living room, oblivious of either decorum or my nearby presence. The night before last when she had done this, Joel had been there along with a dozen of his Jehovah's Witnesses guests. When I gently confronted her about it, Mom made light of it, saying "No, I didn't close the door or open it!" Evidently, assuming this line made any sense at all, she was just not bothering with social niceties as long as she managed to get her bottom onto the commode in the most convenient manner possible, too plastered to care!

As was true yesterday, by the next morning she had completely forgotten her behavior the night before, our conversation, etc. Today she even thought I had gone to bed before she started her imbibing, having totally blacked out the subsequent hours! I as well as others have talked with her before about her drinking. She has quit numerous times, only to start again within a few weeks or even days. Her doctor, no doubt unaware of how much she puts away, even told her he'd prefer she have a drink before bed every now and then than get hooked on some prescription drug to help her sleep. That was all the encouragement she needed to go off the wagon once more.

Later.As it turns out, the long-term health care insurance she and I had considered this weekend is not available to Mom. I'd have to still be working for the state. It only became an option to current employees about a year ago, so I could not have taken care of it for her by the time I retired, in 2001. Too bad.

I suspect she won't bother trying to get anything now, or else will have much trouble finding a plan she can afford that would accept her. Several of us had repeatedly urged her to get it several years ago when she was younger, her health was better, and her drinking had not become nearly so big a problem. At that time, though, without even looking into it, she was adamant that she did not need or want it. Now it is almost certainly too late.

It was great getting back home and seeing Frances and Puff again this afternoon. Both greeted me enthusiastically. Fran and I chatted awhile and then took naps. Tonight, the pooch and I took a long walk. Later Fran and I enjoyed some passionately affectionate touching.

11/22/04-Mon.-This is the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination here in TX. And it is another dreary, wet day. Already we've had the highest amount of rainfall in November ever recorded (13 inches!). Fran's and my yard is a sodden, muddy mess. We can hardly go out into it with Puff, in attempt to get her to do her necessary business despite the recurrent downpours, without tracking in soggy topsoil. Last night, having ignored her eliminative needs earlier, to avoid staying out in the latest tempests, she apparently could hold it no longer and pooped on our carpet, proving that she is still, at eleven months of age, only housebroken when it is convenient. Joy!

We completed our family newsletter over the weekend, a busy time.

Day after tomorrow, Frances and I expect to leave on a trip to Waco, planning to stay two days for the Thanksgiving holiday get-together at my mom's place.

Today, for brunch, we're cheering ourselves, in view of the overcast and showery conditions, with a buffet meal at Bombay Grill.

Later. The newest gully-washer has proven too much for our aging roof. This became apparent as we were lying down for a nap and saw substantial wet spots growing on the ceiling just above us. There seemed nothing effective to be done amid the then still ongoing storm. So we took short naps anyway.

Afterward, a pile of leaves was found in one of the roof's water channels, over our master bedroom. It had apparently dammed up the liquid, giving it a chance to gradually soak through the layer of old shingles. We cleared off the leaves. But tomorrow there is a 90% chance of yet more rain. I suppose that will give us a good test for whether the leaves were the main problem or we must get a new roof installed right away.

A few evenings ago, my nephew, Joel, and I went to the movie about Ray Charles' life and career, "Ray." The theater was showing it with subtitles, which helped Joel who is all but deaf. This was, for me, a depressing film, but well done. I thought the music (of course) and lead acting (Foxx) were excellent.

I'm beginning a superb 1974 science fiction book my brother-in-law, Ed, recommended, The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

11/26/04-Fri.-This is our country's traditional day after Thanksgiving beginning to the commercial Christmas season. Malls and shopping centers everywhere are packed with eager early shoppers. A good time for one to stay home, I think. So, except for a walk, I did.

Our expected trip to Waco for Thanksgiving did not work out quite as planned. My mother became ill with a flu, or some such, and at first thought she wanted to cancel the festivities. By the time she had changed her mind, we were having our roof leak problems and then were busy with the first stages of getting them resolved.

Altogether, we received about 14 inches of rain over the past three weeks. Businesses as well as residences here have been hurt by leaks and flooding. A few people were also killed or lost their vehicles after they tried to drive through deep, rushing water covering parts of roads. With extra runoff from higher neighbors' yards, our property got enough water to become a creek racing through, and then a small lake. Much of the topsoil and grass from one end of the lawn is now mixed with twigs, acorns, other seeds, small dead creatures, and leaves, in muddy deltas across a large swath of the rest of the backyard.

Getting estimates from contractors for the needed roof work turns out to be quite time consuming, nerve wracking (as the leaking may go on with further damage till the problems are completely fixed, and we are not sure we can depend on the contractors), and expensive. It appears it may be many weeks before the work can be done, since, following the tempests, there is a long waiting list of people needing new roofs. So, things are on edge here for awhile. As noted in the last entry, we were hopeful that just clearing the roof of leaves would solve the leakage difficulty. But major additional storms the next day proved this to be erroneous optimism, as fresh wet spots appeared on our master bedroom ceiling.

After starting the ball rolling last Tuesday, arranging with three different companies, we have now gotten two inspections of the roof and estimates of how much it will cost to fix: around $3100 to over $5000, depending on the quality of the materials used and whether taxes will be added to the quoted prices. This is more than Fran makes in her part-time music performing each year and a significant fraction of my official retirement income. Still, we are feeling a little better that the trouble will likely be resolved, even if expensively, in the next month or two.

All the extra water in our yard has been even more stressful for many little animals, those that normally live in or on the ground. A few have found at least temporary refuge on higher levels. One of these is the pretty reptile in the picture, a garter snake wrapped about an Agave stricta plant in Frances' raised bed garden. The serpent is a little larger than one otherwise just like it, that I saw on a walk and rescued from a heavily traveled street, where it was sunning itself one cold morning in early spring. I had brought it back with me and released it behind the house. I suspect this animal is the same one (having grown some over the summer months) and that he or she has thus found refuge twice.

Our dog continues to be an amusing, energetic addition to our lives. Nonetheless, though she has now been through two obedience courses, Puff remains rather incorrigible, having flunked each set of classes and, instead, mostly doing as she pleases, often thus exasperating her owners!

Since we needed to stay in Austin to see contractors, but had nothing planned for the big meal here, Fran and I just went for our Thanksgiving dining to a restaurant that has everything prepared: salad, soup, rolls, beverage, roast turkey, sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. We got more than enough good food to eat. I even had plenty of leftovers to take home and heat up to enjoy later.

I heard an inspiring, true story on the radio yesterday, about an old widower who had nothing and nobody except his $500 pension check each month. Feeling lonely, he put an ad in the paper seeking a family who might take him in if he would contribute that check to their finances. He got hundreds of responses. He found a lady and her daughter, seeking a substitute father and grandfather, after theirs had died, and they all were delighted with the new arrangement, so that now they are a bigger, happier family together.

Of course, in a lot of cases there might have been people just taking advantage of the aging fellow, using his money but making his life more miserable. However, this time it worked out great for all three. Alright!

I guess, as our population gets older, there will need to be more creative solutions like that.

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