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12/2/02-Mon.-On Friday we went in the morning to Waco's Cameron Park Zoo and had a good time. The two lionesses were evidently a little disturbed by Fran's staying at the viewing area awhile, taking pictures quite close to their territory, and so each suddenly rushed over, reared up on hind legs, and expressed her feelings by repeatedly smashing the Plexiglas right next to Frances and at about her head height, leaving long streaks of mud where their forefeet and paws had slid past, inches from Fran's face.

I snapped a couple photos and hope they capture the drama of the moment, which proved thrilling for my wife, who assumed, but was not quite certain, the clear barrier would hold. This kind of intimate interaction would not have been possible in the old-fashioned zoos of my childhood.

Perhaps because of the cool temperatures, a number of the animals were more active than usual, though not the sloth, who stayed slumberous on his nest.

In the reptile house a number of tropical snakes were in their water tanks, which must have been relatively warmer for them. Despite no special catalyst behavior on my part, a medium-sized rattlesnake, apparently annoyed with my presence opposite his section of Plexiglas, coiled up, rattled his several rattles ostentatiously, and prepared to attack my foot should I be foolish enough to take a step closer.

Near the lemur island, the Australian black swan powerfully swam over and made a big show of begging for a snack.

On Saturday, we drove home and took lengthy, luxurious naps.

Yesterday, Fran and I enjoyed an Indian food buffet, and she received a macro-massage.

The last vet. appointment was successful. In lieu of surgery, Pepper now has a more specific antibiotic plus a special diet for her bladder difficulties. Fortunately, for now she is essentially asymptomatic.

This morning we got up in the dark about 6:30. I did my swimming, for about thirty-five minutes, at the Y.

Later I ordered new near-vision glasses, picking them up this afternoon.

I'm gradually reading through The Best Short Stories of the Modern Age, edited by Douglas Angus, 1962. So far, I'm most impressed by Anton Chekhov's "Gooseberries" and Joseph Conrad's "Youth."

12/4/02-Wed.-A pleasantly cool and windy fall day. This morning we also had very overcast skies and light rain. We may finally have a good freeze in the next couple nights.

I swam at the Y to a count of forty-eight times the length of the pool, unwound any still tight muscles in the Jacuzzi (what bliss!), and spent another few minutes in the sauna.

Later I picked up recently developed photos from H.E.B., drove home, and sorted them.

I had lunch with former colleagues, Maria and Sandy, at El Jacalito, not too far from my earlier workplace. We had a great visit, our first in several months, catching up on each other's news.

I worked for awhile on my next autobiographical essay for our newsletter, "Wagnerian Express."

Also recorded a couple more investment transactions, in Quicken, and got started preparing holiday cards to send out.

12/5/02-Thurs.-Fran has a brief Baltic Buzzards performance tonight at a synagogue, as part of area holiday festivities. In December, of course, the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian faiths (among others?) all are involved in spiritual commemorations and celebrations.

In a dream last night, I was staying at "Ramada Inn," a motel I never frequent in reality. This AM on the news I learned that U.N. inspectors in Iraq were taking a break and would likely resume next week, after "the end of Ramadan." Interesting coincidence. I'd not consciously taken note before that we are currently "in (the Muslim holy month of ) Ramadan."

This morning I had the latest doctor appointment and Trudy's restaurant combination. Saw the podiatrist once again. My left foot is still fairly symptomatic. The doctor decided the orthopedic inserts must be sent back to the maker for adjustments.

Our weather is invigorating - without being excruciating - gusty and cool (37° F this morning, but expected to be 28° by tonight). The wind-chill is well below freezing. Time for Fran to protect her pond plants and raised bed succulent garden again.

I note with no surprise that results of a Gallup International survey involving tens of thousands of people (exclusive of China and Egypt, whose governments would not permit the survey interviews to be conducted) show that, since the George W. Bush presidency began, public opinion is markedly more negative toward the U.S. than before. Typically, Bush has dismissed the findings as irrelevant to his views and policies. Indeed, he probably figures he scores points at home for leading our country into less politically correct positions abroad.

Completed today's quotas of meditation, exercise, and Quicken transaction records. (This last bit was challenging, involving stocks purchased, spun-off, and merged, with subsequent name changes and stock splits.)

12/7/02-Sat.-Sixty-one years ago the Pearl Harbor attack brought our country reluctantly into World War II. Now, with Saddam Hussein's voluminous declarations submitted to the U.N. today, undoubtedly denying possession of weapons of mass destruction (for which we have evidence), it appears we are close to a new, "preemptive" war (with Iraq), for better or worse, one that looks to have many wider world implications.

Last night when I'd put my legs under the covers the sheets seemed unusually chilly. At first, Fran (who's always sensitive to the cold) and I just thought it was because of the cool weather, with a light freeze predicted, though this was puzzling since other frosty times had not had this uncomfortable an effect. Then I realized the sheets were not merely cold but also damp! It turned out Pepper had wet our bed, for the first time in her thirteen-plus years. Apparently she released a surprisingly large quantity of liquid. Poor mutt. She would not have such accidents if she weren't ill.

I slept on the sofa in the front room instead. This AM we took the bedding over to the nearby Laundromat. Fran also treated the mattress. We'll need to take special precautions from now on, of course, since Pepper is no longer completely housebroken but also is not primarily an outdoor dog.

Late this afternoon we are having my brother, Ron, his partner, Claudia, and his daughters, Esther and Jane, over for supper and socializing. Fran has a very nice spread planned.

On the NPR news yesterday there was discussion of our country's unemployment situation. Though much less a problem than elsewhere, Europe for instance, where it is common for ten percent to be out of work, for our white collar employees conditions are the worst in several decades, with often one hundred to a hundred fifty applicants for each opening!

Fran and I, albeit not in the best financial situation, feel lucky to be relatively secure through this period, when so many well qualified people are putting up with more difficult circumstances.

12/9/02-Mon.-The response came to the claim we'd put in for plumbing damages by the city to our system. We're out about $850, altogether, for wasted water and repair expenses, plus our time and trouble, because Austin utility workers destroyed our water valves while changing one of their meters. They admit they caused the problems but say it is "routine" and that they interpret their laws to mean they are not responsible for such "routine damages." Rather upsetting. There is no appeal short of suing, which would mean still more money, time, and trouble, all likely down the drain. It's another government rip-off. For peace of mind, I've chosen to think of it as simply one of life's little frictional costs, a necessary evil.

But isn't this attitude further folly? It gives me a tiny illusion of control. But truly, when under sentence of death, how much can anyone be in charge? It is a joke. An infant tells himself things to feel better about when and whether his mother denies him her breast. That is how much control we have.

In life there are many fairy tales. When enraged as a small child, overwhelmed by the force of our own fury, we may think for a little while we have absolute power. (If we're George W., we may not get beyond that phase, only mask it in socially acceptable guises.) Later we may think our parents are gods, or that Santa Claus exists or that some Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or Hindu deity or Sikh master, or whatever, cares about us and that, by following his/her/its precepts, as variously interpreted, we may go to heaven, and may see our enemies and detractors sent to hell.

Still later, we may realize these are all myths or delusions too, but cling to the notion that by thinking, acting, praying, or meditating in a certain way we could yet in some form have a dream-like eternal life even after our bodies and minds have ceased to exist.

But we'll not live forever. Like my dog, Pepper, we have all already begun to die.

Still later we cherish the fantasy that our lives have meaning, even in the absence of any objective basis for such a concept. Eventually, somehow, we must come to terms with ultimate meaninglessness.

Perhaps the last mirage is this idea that we are in control, our final hope in these our last days. Those who believe at least in this little trick of the mind are sooner or later at great risk of suicide.

Each time we experience something it is one of a kind. When that moment has past it is out of our grasp. What we call memory is just another moment of unique experience. What we call the future is but our imagination. The present always happens before we have a chance to either interpret or control it. Those processes come later and are a few steps removed from spontaneous reality. All we can do, all we can be, ever, is conscious or unconscious in the fleeting instant.

12/12/02-Thurs.-Slept late this morning, after being up an hour or so during the night.

The bright sun this afternoon was welcome following a thunderstorm this morning and quite a bit more rain over the last few days.

We head off with Pepper in the morning for a visit till Sunday with my brother, Allen. His Ecuadorian wife cannot yet enter the U.S. Allen says it's a problem with the respective countries' visa and immigration bureaucracies. He and she have been busy gathering, completing, and submitting forms. Meanwhile, at her request, since they first met a few months ago Allen's been taking her more money each of the several times he has gone down there to visit.

I suppose, as long as she is well provided for, Nina won't care too much where she is living. On the other hand, since one of her objectives may be to sponsor her large extended family in coming to the U.S., I guess from her point of view the sooner she settles here the better.

Fran wants to buy an external CD burner. We'd previously gotten a more sophisticated burner. It did not work right and messed up the computer - too much software for our system. Hope the new experiment has a happier ending.

Pepper seems alright these days, for an old dog with cancer. She was quite enthusiastic as I took her for a walk this evening. My constitutionals are still at a slower pace and about half as long as before the plantar fasciitis symptoms began, but I'm counting my blessings that I can put one foot in front of the other for a mile or so without significant pain.

I learned today that Fran's sister and brother-in-law (in their forties and expecting to both work for quite some time), are trying to buy a fixer-upper place, with one hundred seventy acres, near them in WI. If they're successful, I'll be so envious. Not only do they have neat kids, but then would have a great country spread as well!

For us, the step up to a rural lifestyle must at least await a major upturn in the stock market and possibly also the beginning of my Social Security benefits in a few years. If we get tired of holding our breath, one or both of us may need to go back to work.

Retirement sometimes is more about setting realistic budgetary and lifestyle limits than fulfilling one's dreams. Still, things are not so bad. And, for now at least, it beats the alternatives. It's all relative. My dad didn't get a fairly big place, with close to two hundred acres, till in his seventies, but had been retired since he was forty-eight!

12/13/02-Fri.-Thomas Aquinas said each of us exist through God, in Whom we are and have always been an idea. Whether or not god exists in any form we would recognize as relevant to our existences, if as some mystics, physicists, and ordinary meditators like me have suggested, time is not divided into a past, present, and future except in our minds, but rather that all exist in an eternal now, it is sufficient to say I am, therefore I am, have always been, and will be.

There is no more necessity to posit god as my origin than to summon a deity for the big bang beginnings of our universe. In each case, we are right to then question what, then, came before - before me, before the universe, before god, before time? If the question is meaningless when it concerns time, it is equally without meaning when applied to either me or the universe - and god is not involved unless we artificially thrust him/her/it into a picture already complicated enough. To paraphrase Thomas Aquinas, each of us has always existed in the ever present temporal moment.

Of course, if space and time are in relation to one another and both are influenced and defined by gravity and light, there may be no sense in suggesting that time existed, let alone anything else, before there was a universe. But don't get me started!

12/14/02-Sat.-In a relaxed way we got up and ready for our trip yesterday, heading off for Fort Worth a little before nine. After a couple breaks, we arrived about three. Fran bought us a map, checked it, then drove over to the Botanical Gardens. We hung out there till time to go meet Allen at 5 PM.

We enjoyed a nice, low-key evening after shopping, with a meal fixed at home and a (not so great) rental movie.

Fran had a room and narrow bed to herself that night. The mutt slept on a pad near the sofa reserved for my nightly slumbers.

When Pepper stirred and seemed a little restless, about 3:30 AM, I took her out for a walk, to forestall another accident. Despite the city (and Allen's apartment complex) lights, much of the sky was quite clear. I could see the Orion and Big Dipper constellations and, almost directly overhead, a planet (Mars?). Then, while waiting for our pet to take a whiz, I saw a bright shooting star. Neat! I lay down out by the apartment courtyard, the cold cutting through my jacket and Pepper solicitous and puzzling over what was "wrong," watched the heavens, and in a few minutes saw four more of the Geminid meteor shower, two quite dazzling.

This morning by about 9:00 we'd gotten ourselves ready to start the day, and all but Pepper went out for breakfast.

We dropped Fran off at the zoo. She wanted to stay about four hours, eager to take a multitude of pictures. I declined (concerned about skin and foot conditions plus leaving our not so healthy dog for that long) and stayed with Allen as we drove back, picked up the mutt, and ran some errands, including his preparing yet another form, with photos, for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, getting copies made, and readying the little package for mailing.

Tonight we went to a Fresh Choice buffet (with an internet discount). Mmm good!

Later we watched "Armageddon" on television, very farfetched but with lots of fun special effects.

12/15/02-Sun.-We all went to Denny's for breakfast again, then, in separate cars, over to the Botanical Gardens for further leisurely walking and picture taking. Allen afterward drove over to his weekly Lifestream Way association meeting, while Fran, Pepper, and I made our trip back to Austin.

In free time on the road, when Frances preferred to drive, I read from Warren Buffett's compiled letters since 1977, from the Berkshire Hathaway annual reports, as religious a rite for a value investor as daily Bible readings for a fundamentalist Protestant Christian.

Once back, there was a message from my mom that my maternal step-grandmother, Carmen (her father's second wife), just shy of one hundred, had died.

12/18/02-Wed.-We've gradually been getting things done for the holiday season. Yesterday we finally mailed the last of our cards and gifts out.

We sort of celebrated by taking ourselves for lunch over to the South Austin Marriott hotel for what was advertised as an American Grill Buffet. In my hot little hand I had a two-for-one coupon they'd sent us in the mail. We were the only patrons in a luxurious dining room through the first half of our meal.

It was a buffet of sorts but not what we'd expected. I certainly found plenty of tasty vittles to fill my tummy, but the variety was somewhat lacking and the main entree, pizza in a couple varieties, apparently - from the taste - was originally of the frozen kind and, after seemingly having sat on a hot plate for a couple hours, was dried out and hard. The bread rolls also had been sitting out too long and were no longer soft. The salad, though, was excellent, the sausages scrumptious (if you like that sort of thing, which Fran does not), and the brownies delicious. I went away feeling it was not as good as our favorite Indian food buffet but a pleasant enough gustatory experience, for the price. Fran, however, was very vehemently and vocally disappointed. Oh well.

Had an (in retrospect) amusing encounter in the men's changing area at the Y this morning. There are narrow benches set a couple feet away from and parallel to banks of lockers along three walls. After finishing my fifty times across the length of the pool, then time in the Jacuzzi, and finally a few minutes in the sauna (feeling as decadent as any ancient fat Roman senator enjoying his famous baths), I returned to my locker to put on street clothes again.

A young man evidently rather full of his own importance was doing everything he could think of to advertise how much territory was "his" except pee all 'round. First, he had set a large carryall (normally left on the floor or put on top of the lockers, out of the way) on the bench in front of my locker, blocking where I would have sat down. When I arrived, he made a show of moving it, all of three inches closer to his locker at the end of the row, and said "Excuse me." I felt alright about this, not a big deal. "No problem," I said. I could work around his stuff. But then he negated his apology by taking his keys out of his pocket and putting them down at the new place where I would have been sitting. So, I set my bag of wet swimwear and sneakers down next to his keys, to save at least a little room for myself.

At this point, he took a large pair of shoes out of his carryall and, instead of putting them on - he was dressing after all - or conveniently near him on the tiles, he set them on the bench to the other side of my things, right next to my bag. He now had his stuff stretched out, with small gaps, over a six foot length of "sitting" space.

Then he took his shirt, on a hanger, out of his locker, setting it on the latch for the empty locker next to mine (four down from his!) in such a way that it partially blocked access to my locker. This was a little much.

So, when I'd finished drying myself off, I draped my towel over my bag, "accidentally" letting it fall over his (now rather distant from him) nicely polished shoes. I also placed my combination lock on the bench right next to his keys.

When I moved my bag to the floor and sat down in the small area left where it had been, though, he used my momentary inattention as an opportunity to nonchalantly shift his carryall over just enough to knock my lock onto the floor.

Neither of us were saying anything more during this comedy. Each was pretending to be totally cool and absorbed in his own separate preparations.

I placed the combination lock back and moved my bag up in such a way as to be handy to me and yet to overhang where he'd thrust his keys, then continued to put on socks and shoes.

He then made a big show of patting his pockets and looking for his keys, before sweeping them up from under the side of my bag, shoving his shoes on, and huffily racing out of there with his carryall.

Hard to believe this whole farce was enacted by grown men, supposedly mature fellows. Ha, ha. From such silliness wars get started!

Yesterday afternoon I helped Fran pick up her car from our preferred mechanics. It had developed a minor problem during our trip back from Fort Worth.

Then I took Pepper over yet again to the vet. I picked up some more special food and some further advice on her care. She has been doing OK, all things considered, but seemed to miss her dry treats, which are forbidden on the current diet.

The doctor said we can bake some of the canned prescription food, like batter for cookies, on a sheet in the oven and, once cooled down, they can be stored easily and given to her just as we'd normally reward her with conventional dog biscuits. I tried this out today. It worked well and she loved them. So this evening Frances has fixed a whole baking pan of them, which should last the mutt through our next trip, this time to Waco and a visit with my mom, starting Christmas Eve.

12/21/02-Sat.-Frances and I have just completed the latest issue of our newsletter, "Wagnerian Express." It includes a short essay about a long trip my primary family took when I was about twelve, and my first girlfriend.

Last night Fran had her regular Friday Baltic Buzzards rehearsal. I had been invited too and we had a fun little Christmas celebration, with snacks, chilled wine, and singing of festive carols.

I think the wine was worth it, the first I've had for awhile, but today I've been paying the price, with more frequent urgency in the nether regions. This does get old!

Pepper is visibly going downhill. It is sad to see. She has less appetite than just a few days ago and often cannot seem to get comfortable. She wet her sleeping pad last night, apparently without realizing it. Usually now, though not always, it is hard for her to move about and she does so quite tentatively. The slightest change in what is expected causes her such anxiety or confusion that she has uncontrollable trembling until we can distract her with a treat.

My adjusted foot orthotics are back. I'll pick them up Monday. My newest glasses had a loose screw I'd not noticed, which of course was lost, a nose piece falling off in consequence. So, I'll need to make an extra trip to get them fixed while I'm out for the orthotics.

We went today for a buffet lunch at a Chinese food place Fran loves. I wish it were still one of my favorites. The service was rather lacking, our waitress quite negligent. This was our last official buffet permitted for the month. We must ration them, both for my health (as I tend to eat too much when it's so easily available) and our finances!

The house that our closest and best erstwhile neighbor had vacated a few months ago is empty no longer. The new folks moved in today. We've yet to meet them, but heard their moving van being unloaded and their muffled voices through our master bedroom wall, which is adjacent to their front yard.

Our subdivision seems now to be filled mainly with lower class or, at most, lower middle class folks, many of whom have children they do not supervise well, who play in the narrow streets a lot, often daring drivers to get quite close to them before they'll move out of the way. This is merely the latest challenge to an easygoing disposition here. As previously touched on, they also are too often destructive. We'd move if our budget would readily permit it. Unless we move far away, which has its own drawbacks, we cannot afford the places we'd like.

Of course, in a sense, we could buy such a place, but only by using more of our precious principal. But, should things get bad enough, we no doubt could move, for instance, to central New York, which has geographical and climatic appeal, lower taxes, and more reasonable housing.

The Y continues to be mainly a healthy and calming influence. Friday morning, many other of its patrons must have begun their holiday vacations early, for I had the pool largely to myself most of the time till I'd had my swim of about a half mile, alternating a crawl with side strokes.

Had a bit of a scare last night. While getting ready for the Baltic Buzzards party, I discovered an irregular brownish-black spot under the skin on my under lip. It was slightly tender and could be easily felt with my tongue once I was aware of it. With my obsessions about such abnormalities, I quickly checked it out, under "signs and symptoms," online. It fit most closely the descriptions and pictures for a malignant melanoma, the most lethal kind of skin cancer.

But I'll never know whether that's really what it was. Just as one compulsively worries with the tongue a fresh hole from which a wisdom or baby tooth has been pulled, so, through the evening, I discovered I could not leave it alone and was repeatedly touching and pushing at it with that powerful oral muscle. Then, as I was getting ready for bed, I looked in the mirror to remind myself just how close to a melanoma it appeared to be. It was gone! All that remained was a small reddened space. By today even that has all but disappeared.

When I married Frances, in June, 1985, her mother, no doubt aware of the voracious demands for proper stimulation of a brilliant mind - having one herself - privately, just before we left on our honeymoon, implored me to "keep Fran's life interesting." I told her I would do my best. I took her counsel seriously and have endeavored to see to it Fran has not been without sufficient mental fodder, if not from interaction with my own more modest equipment then at least via our overall intellectual environment.

For a long while I did not mention to Fran this promise I'd made on her behalf but then, a few years ago, I did. She seemed amused and delighted. Tonight, to my surprise, she reminded me of it once again, and assured me that I had been keeping it.

12/22/02-Sun.-We went for separate walks again this morning. The dog seemed too slow and stiff to accompany Fran in her more aerobic, fast walking style. Pepper was OK on a slower constitutional with me, but took many breaks to sniff this and that or to pee.

On the way I noticed a cute, cheery sounding little wren, in a tree near one of the neighborhood houses. It was making a whole lot of noise for so small a bird.

Afterward, Frances and I took ourselves to Trudy's South for breakfast. It was a quiet affair as we soon lapsed into comments about situations or people who disappointed us in some fashion, topics that do not encourage further discourse. This all too common (in more than one way) kind of "dialogue" serves no beneficial purpose that I can see and certainly is not pleasant. Why do we do it? I think I'll make an effort to alter this situation, come what may. I'm starting by acknowledging it! We may go on from there...

Later.-We were both feeling better after completing a major yard project, raking most of the leaves into huge piles and chopping them with the mower into mulch small enough that it would settle into the grass. (We're now getting rain tonight, which should help that process.)

Indeed, following my meditation and a massage, plus a nap for both of us, this evening we were joking and laughing.

On Tuesday we head for Waco and Christmas visiting with relatives there. Fran has had enough of such family socializing. Were it not for this and our dog's troubles, I'd probably really enjoy my time there.

As things are, we'll no doubt get through this time alright and be able to relax back at home by next weekend, unless Pepper gets a lot worse.

12/23/02-Mon.-It's redo day! After my session at the Y, I went to the podiatrist to pick up my redone foot orthotics. Gave myself a doctor appointment "treat" of breakfast at Kerbey Lane Cafe. Then on to Barton Creek Mall to return some gifts I'd gotten for Mom, but which Fran warned were not likely Mother's cup of tea. So I'll redo her gift shopping too. Finally, it's over to the shop where I'd recently gotten new glasses, which already must be repaired.

Meanwhile, Fran will have gone for a walk with Pepper, despite stormy weather (added later: turned out the dog was thrilled, on that adventure, to spy a nearby nearly drowned young opossum looking for a way out of minor floodwaters, finally making it to a tree), and gotten Xeroxes made of our "Wagnerian Express" newsletter, for the couple folks who still need hardcopies.

At Kerbey Lane, it was family time. The normal influx of patrons was reduced, with our main college closed, but several young couples - no doubt on vacation and enjoying this nostalgic return to one of their favorite pre-parenthood university haunts - were here with small, cute, boisterous, and high-volume toddlers.

I was up a couple times last night. With an ear always cocked now through the sleep period for Pepper's stirrings (to forestall, with preventative trips outside, some further accidents), I sleep more lightly, much as was the case while babysitting my still urchin siblings when our folks were enjoying a late date, later when on night call as a volunteer for the Austin Rape Crisis Center, or, about a dozen years ago, in attendance with my brother, Ralph, during the long nocturnal "watches," after he'd been bedridden by a brain tumor.

Last night, around 4:00, the mutt was up and ready to go out, in the middle of a heavy rain. Since she now sometimes will not come in after such exits - simply standing out there, as if having no clue that she might return - I went with her, with both bathrobe and umbrella, but kept her on a leash.

Pepper is now eating less than just a week ago, and what she does consume is usually only with hand feeding. Fran and I, in our separate ways, are not unaffected, our grieving having already begun. I think the mutt may be close to crisis.

While doing my swim today, I realized I miss the daily associations of the workplace. I may be able to replicate these with a variety of volunteer or other involvements. But when things are a little more medically stable (both for me and Pepper), I think I'll renew my efforts to get some type of job, preferably one with a little intellectual and social stimulation. We'll see. I have mixed feelings about such a step. Of course, even if I want work, the kind of job I'd like may be unavailable.

12/26/02-Thurs.-We had an uneventful trip up to Waco from Austin and a happy time here that eve. Mary and Jim had also arrived. We all laughed heartily at the wooden acting, terrible casting, and paucity of meaningful plot of the videotaped movie, "Star Trek III - The Search for Spock." Jim and Mary, were then the only other visitors at Mom's.

The next morning, Christmas Day, dawned cool and bright. I'd gotten up once during the night, about 4 AM, taking Pepper out for no. 1. The stars were brilliant in a clear sky.

Ron, Claudia, Esther, and Jane arrived a little after Noon, just about the time Leila and Horace, with their five progeny, also made appearances. We had a large, tasty, and typical Christmas lunch, consuming "vast quantities."

Gifts were opened. Imminent obesity threatened, even in formerly thin people, before the end of the next meal.

After successive clean-ups in the kitchen, some played pool. Some went for walks. Fran and others played on the computer. A few worked on a jig-saw puzzle Frances had brought. Late in the evening another videotape, "My Fellow Americans," was shown, an enjoyable comedy.

A pair of female deer were spotted out behind Mom's place.

This morning, for the second day in a row, I slept for an extra hour or two. What luxury! I felt so much better than with our usual getting up while still dark and suffering half a day till after nap time approach.

The whole gang went out to eat at Golden Corral and took pleasure in both good visiting and vittles.

I took a short rest this afternoon, wishing for quiet and a less extroverted vacation. Instead, Mom had impromptu drop-in holiday callers, one a quite boorish fellow whose second wife had recently left him (and could talk of nothing but himself and how impressive he was). He was accompanied by two much nicer folks. There were six additional guests besides Fran and me. Of course, I was really the boorish one, wanting to be by myself, or just me, Fran, and Mom. Well, at least I stayed polite and pretty much kept such feelings to myself.

I played some pool with Ron, Esther, and Jane till time for them and Claudia to leave.

Jim, Mary, Mom, Fran, and I had a supper of high-cholesterol snacks and then watched a video of "Scrooged" - lots of laughs yet also a "feel good movie." Then Mary and Jim said their "goodbyes" and headed off.

My spouse and I leave in the morning.

12/27/02-Fri.-"On the road again!" Glad to be heading home once more. Overall, though, it was a satisfactory holiday visit.

As was true a couple nights before, when I took Pepper out in the wee hours to relieve herself, it was as if we were out in the country, the heavens resplendent with stars, Orion and the Big Dipper agleam among them.

In recent months there've been few of the references to Fran and me making love that occasionally would appear here before. It is not that I, or we, have been either less lustful or affectionate - nor is the earlier mere incidence of such mentions a good indicator of the absolute amount of our sexual congress - but rather that, in my advancing years, I seem to have acquired a bit more discretion. Indeed, there are times still, and not yet rare, when the passion between us is quite pleasant.

While the "beast with two backs" does not emerge nearly so often as when in courtship and early marriage we might with relatively frenetic, not to say rabbit-like, frequency have steamed the windows, yet our lascivious license was never so simply latent that we were in danger of forgetting how or what went where.

Nonetheless, out of some newly discovered concern for decorum, matrimonial mating may in future receive scant mention, or none, between these journal sheets.

For all my "experience" with women before I met my wife-to-be, the human female remains very much a mystery to me.

Fran and Mary had a dispute yesterday, my spouse leading the attack to the extent that Jim came courteously to his mother's defense. I've known for some time the two women, though civil, were scarcely friendly toward one another. Oh well. I stayed entirely out of it. Any pacific efforts of mine would probably have been as fraught with hazard as a bull's china shop attempts at finesse.

Like the highly literate author - whose fame derives from his father's line - of The Education of Henry Adams, I realize that much of one's wisdom may come from women. Yet they remain, in their feminine essence, as if of another being entirely, an altogether alien creature.

It is only the male who seems to "strut" about the stage of this now absurd and yet again poignant life play.

Even for a "sensitive nineties kind of guy," the female mind and mystique remain largely locked away, inaccessible, deeper than poetry, more paradoxical than an esoteric parable.

It is perhaps ironic, therefore, that most women seem to see themselves as more matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, well-grounded, and realistic than their men.

12/31/02-Tues.-Awoke from a nightmare about 4 AM. Asleep again an hour or two later. Meanwhile, let the dog out once and wrote a new "Phil's Place" entry, related to the dream.

As of today, have officially been retired for a full year. It's been a more challenging beginning to this phase than expected, but there are no promises in life. Willy-nilly, we must take it as it comes, like the weather, and be grateful.

This morning dawned cool, blustery, and bright, a beautiful winter day. How many more shall we have this exquisite? Under the influence of these stimulating conditions, the mutt has perked up again.

Wearing duct tape now! It turns out this is the best treatment for itchy viral warts, just discovered on the back of my hands. The tape is supposed to augment the body's immune reaction to the virus, while also cutting off air to the warts. Looks rather weird though.

My New Year's resolution this time is simply, beginning tomorrow, except for very special occasions, to entirely cut out anything (regular or decaf. coffee, regular or green tea, chocolate, alcoholic beverages, caffeinated soft drinks, antihistamines, etc.) that might adversely affect "the flow."

If after six weeks of this austere discipline I still have severe difficulties in the nether regions, I'll see a urologist again and obtain what further treatment I can. At this point, the situation is still so serious as to preclude many social involvements, including employment. But if it does make a significant difference, I'll maintain the new regimen.

New Year's Eve, like Halloween and Independence Day, is another rough one for Pepper. Folks tend to do strange, upsetting things (from her point of view) at such times, like make a lot of noise and set off illegal fireworks in the neighborhood. Traditionally, she becomes very frightened on these occasions. Now, with old age and confusion accelerated by her bladder and liver ailments, she is especially vulnerable to and scared by such stimuli.

Frances and I have no special plans for the first day of 2003, except that, at my urging, in lieu of our making a really nice meal for ourselves, we expect to go to a restaurant that offers a holiday dinner of turkey with all the trimmings, where I'll likely pig out, and Fran will eat sparingly.

One of our nieces, Esther, has a slightly prominent role in the Rose Bowl Parade, tomorrow morning in Pasadena, CA. If convenient, I may check it out on TV and see if I can spot her. It's not really my cup of java, but I know she'd be pleased if I happen to see her instant of glory.

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