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12/1/06-Fri.-The weather in Galveston has changed again. Now there are just light breezes, and the sky is sunny, virtually cloudless. But the mercury still shows it to be much cooler than on our first couple vacation days.

We checked out of the motel about 8:30, went to IHOP once more, and then departed for Austin an hour later. It's been a nice vacation.

Tomorrow, I resume the usual schedule of meetings and volunteer work.

12/4/06-Mon.-It has been good getting back into my usual volunteer shift routines at the library and seeing friends there.

Fran, our resident computer guru, for my Christmas present is creating a site for my dreams or related records. We hope it will be ready in the next several days. Then folks who really have no interest in others' dreams or who find them "too much information" can just "not go there," but folks more intrigued by the topic can keep up with this side of my recent experiences. Since so much of my thinking and feeling lately is tied up with either the dream life or dream group, I believe there's a risk this journal may suffer from the omission once dream type material is only available elsewhere, but hopefully not. In any case, as Frances has designed it, the new site looks great. I'm eager to see it commence.

This morning, I took Fran's car in for the annual vehicle inspection and pollution control testing. Last year, this turned out to be a big, costly hassle. Naturally, we are anxious to find out if that will also be the case this time.

While waiting for her car, I walked over to Kerbey Lane, the South Lamar location, and had breakfast.

I'm enjoying reading the following books currently:

  • A Holiday for Murder, by Agatha Christie;
  • The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova; and
  • The Endurance, by Caroline Alexander.

And I've had these additional dreams lately:

First, from 12/2, one I titled: "Four Found Pairs of New Reflective Change"

I am in a large restaurant/meeting place/working establishment. On some fashionable stone or covered concrete stairs, several feet from the nearest diners or employees, I see a number of odd denomination or mint coins. There are two sizes and kinds of coins in stacks. I look around to see if I can tell who would have left them, but nobody is close, and I can't remember who might have been there. There are, at a quick glance, four coins each of two foreign looking denominations, around four stacks of two each in all. They are attractive, as if freshly minted and in polished and nice looking hues, the smaller ones about penny size or dime dize (size) in diameter but much thicker, perhaps a quarter-inch or half-centimeter in thickness, hollow, and silvery (or a similar light metal) looking. The other four stacked coins, two stacks of two, I think, are about quarter size in diameter but also much thicker than our quarters, maybe three-eighths of an inch thick or a centimeter thick, looking like hollow checkers made of fresh polished copper or of a burnished bronze, reddish brown appearance. I can't identify either the design or script on either type coin as anything I've seen before. They could be expensive play money, a unique minting or(of) real coins, foreign currency from an unknown country, or even alien artifacts. I am picking them up and debating whether to let the facility's management know, and turn them in as lost and found, or just keep them [when I wake up].

And this one, just last night, entitled: "Arrested by the Past"

I'm sitting in a car at night, having just arrived in a parking area, when a guard confronts me, shining a bright flashlight in my eyes through the windshield, then through the open driverside (driver's side) window, and announces that he's with the A.G.O. and I'm under arrest. My car will be impounded. He says it is due to some violation. I protest that I'd not known I was breaking any laws. He says the A.G.O. is authorized to take actions it deems necessary and my alleged ignorance is no excuse. [Free associating on this dream: A.G.O. (American Government Organization?) Stopped by AGO? (Ego?) Arrested development? Progress halted by ego (guard, status quo)? Guilt from something in the past? Open "driverside" (Opened riverside? reversed?). Window. (Win-Dow... investing?). Wind? Violation. (Who violated? Who was violated? How?) Light in eyes. Insight? (Just) sitting (meditation?). Parking. Impounded: Imp-hounded? Car. (Maybe thinking about taking Fran's car in today, when I had the dream.) Bright. (Intelligence? Spiritual revelation?)]

Later. Fran's car passed inspection, but has a very worn engine belt. So, we took it in for the needed repair at a shop which could get to the job this morning.

12/8/06-Fri.-I've had a couple new dreams since the prior entry:

First, this one, on 12/5/06, which I've titled "No More Mister Nice Guy:" At night, outside in a dark part of town, I'm in a life and death battle with several others whom I know. I'm armed only with fists, feet, and head. So far the others are not using guns or knives either. I've been fighting as if my life depended on it. Though exhausted, bloodied, and badly battered, I've been holding on. I am neither giving in nor running, as if there were anywhere to go. Soon they'll either come at me in sufficient numbers or with more deadly weapons, so I can no longer win or break even. The fury and violence of the fighting so far is already frightening. I've yelled at them to leave me alone, but they do not. I've warned them to stay away or I'll continue to fight them as hard as I can, but they come on. So, I must be vicious, slamming them with right or left punches that would break bones and tenderize slabs of meat. Yet I know they will, as soon as they get a chance, beat the hell out of me, smash me to death if they can. [I suppose, in the dream group's assessment, I should "let" these toughs, whoever they are, beat me to a pulp, and then see what happens. It is scary.]

Then, on 12/6/06, I had one I called "Almost Time to Go. Now What?" It went as follows:

My supervisor and I are in a clinic setting, supervising a new, young, male doctor (physician) who has been assigned to our area, showing him the ropes, and trying to make sure he does not royally screw up. We are all working in a poor section of town. Many of the people here are barely hanging on. Overdoses and other crises are common in their lives. Our new doctor must realize that if he makes a mistake with a prescription or a diagnosis, there may be nobody to back him up and correct it. His mistake then may have serious, perhaps deadly consequences on the street. I am feeling anxious about the green doctor, lest he mess up, but am also appreciative that he means well, is conscientious, and is bright enough to do alright once more experienced. I like him. He's a fine fellow. He is pretty nervous about just starting out, but has both a good head on his shoulders and a good heart.

In another scene, I've been a social worker, counselor, or another sort of community healer. The young doctor's being in the clinic means that my own job there is now over. I'm being reassigned or retired. Some of the people in the neighborhood are saying "Goodbye." My leaving has been explained to them, and they seem concerned, glad because they care for me and assume I'm pleased to be moving on, but also very worried. A number of them had depended on receiving my empathy, social services help, and wit on a nearly daily basis, and don't know how they'll manage once I'm gone. A nearby social worker or nurse realizes an old man has been given the wrong prescription. If she had not happened to notice it, he'd probably have died. I hear her in the background complaining about or chewing out the new doctor, even as I'm trying to tell folks it will be OK once I'm gone. This is my last day here. It is not just that I'm worried about my former clients. I'm really quite sad to be leaving them. They are my friends.

[Off the top of my head, I wonder if this may not be another belonging dream? I'm concerned not only about things going wrong if I'm not there (in the poor area and the clinic), but the absence in my life then of an almost daily sense of purpose and friendship. I like that the new doctor is a good guy and should do well once he knows the ropes. (What are the ropes?) It seems I've made a difference here. It would be nice to think I'll be missed when I'm gone. My concerns over the new doctor may relate to feelings about being in the dream group, not really knowing yet what I'm doing, but trying to wing it. There's also concern over how to be relevant in retirement, particularly as I have no children or grandchildren, now that I am no longer engaged the way I was while working.]

In the dream group, night before last, we discussed the immediately preceding dream. Additional ideas or insights included:

  • The dream may not actually be so much about belonging, meaning, or making a difference as I thought. Instead, such thoughts or feelings could be just from the old ego's point of view, but "he" is being retired or otherwise shifted away and will no longer be part of the picture, which is a good thing.

  • It's also upbeat that the setting is to change, and so the cast of characters, for most of the activity in this dream is in the poor (wrong) part of town amid a bunch of losers. In fact, though both the anima and animus are generally positive, the female reminding me of my longtime Lifestream Way and vegetarian restaurant friend, Michelle (whom I once asked to marry me), and the younger male being someone I like, with a good head and heart, the only negative aspect of it is that the Michelle character, the nurse or social worker, is trying to stop the doctor from "accidentally" killing off folks in the neighborhood.

  • From this point of view, the intention of the dream is to kill off several of the bums, junkies, or other riff-raff parts of myself, eliminate an antiquated ego, and then for me to start afresh in a better place.

  • It's also positive that I'm to be replaced by a "green doctor," for green in this context (as opposed to jealousy) represents opening of the heart center (or the expressive, spontaneous, and emotional, as opposed to the analytical, relatively lifeless identity that seems to have been more dominant for awhile).

  • Overall, the potential offing or removal of various old parts or settings of the dream self is considered very beneficial.

  • I have the possibility of "owning" the green doctor self, a healer who is bright, likeable, and conscientious, possesses a good head and heart, and is capable of getting rid of dysfunctional aspects of the self.

  • The consensus in the group was that the dream was quite encouraging, that my continued nervousness or unease about it reflects my old ego's defensiveness and anxiety till the transformation is more complete, unused as I am to the new order of things.

  • Nonetheless, the import of the dream is that big changes have been and will be occurring, and that they will serve me well, a most happy situation.

There may have been worthwhile, even remarkable, changes that the dream group can see, but in our regular lives Fran and I are certainly still having major differences at times. Although her involvement in "The Nutcracker" had caused her to shorten the planned trip to FL to visit her mother by three days, from 12 to 9, as earlier explained to me (and which I'd welcomed since my initial offer had been for only a 10-day total trip, including travel days), this morning I learned Frances believed all the lost days had been added onto the end of the trip, meaning it would be, once again, for 12 days!

I am in complete disagreement with this change, which I would never have approved had I realized what Frances thought. I'd only OK'd adding one more day at the end, for a total of 10 days, the length of trip-plus-stay I'd originally suggested. (As indicated here in the past, her mom and I often do not get along well.)

Unfortunately, this emotional impasse is hardly the best way for us to get ready for a trip that would likely have been a drain in the first place. However, once Fran has already told her mom, as of course she has, that she had restored the trip length to its longer version, there is no way to change it back to what I'd accepted and first proposed. This is so infuriating!

From now on, I suppose (whenever we determine or alter our trip plans) we must both agree, with a hardcopy calendar right in front of us as we discuss it and fill in the mutually agreed upon dates, precisely on what days we'll be traveling and staying with relatives, lest further such miscommunications otherwise occur. In this instance, we not only had a misunderstanding the first time the trip was set up, with Fran telling her mom it was 12 days instead of 10, but then, despite our airing our feelings about that, managed to have yet another argument over exactly the same issue, with the identical error, despite the seemingly fortuitous intervention of "The Nutcracker." Amazing! (Sometimes it does not appear that either of us are as intelligent as I know we are. It is as if, when two people are wed, a large portion of their gray matter automatically dies.)

I suppose there is a way to see this favorably. Had it happened 6-7 months ago, when I was already distressed by other matters and had not begun interacting with the dream group, it might have led to Frances and I getting a divorce. I'm angry and feeling used or taken advantage of, but am not proposing we go our separate ways.

I'm off early tomorrow for Waco again. My niece, Virginia, is in another play I want to see, and Mom will be attending the production with me. Am due to return on Monday. Mom's just had a mishap with her back and is in a lot of pain. I'm not actually sure she'll be feeling fit enough to sit through the show. We'll have to see how it goes.

Frances had packaged and wrapped for me a large box of presents I'd bought yesterday for Mom, expecting to give it to her over the weekend, since I'll be in FL throughout the holidays. The wrapping was excellent, and the presents fit into it nicely. I had already put it into my car for the trip. Unfortunately, I forgot about this when I was about to take Puff with me to the bank today. I opened one of the back car doors and she immediately jumped up and in, right onto the perfectly wrapped package.

"Oh s[-bleep-]t!" I exclaimed, sure that she would have punctured the sheer wrapping, especially as there had been space left at the top of the box, which would have sunk in when she leaped onto it, and the gift paper could not have had that much give. Frances had come out to the garage to close the door after I pulled the car out, and we both found it hard to believe when we saw that the wrapping remained intact. Miracles, apparently, really do happen. Still, not wanting to tempt fate, I quickly put the box into the trunk.

At the bank, the staff was keeping customers from using the check writing area. Several pieces of masonry had fallen there, as well as some of the stone veneer in the front of the tellers' section. I recall when that bank had been built. Till now, I had always thought of it as a new building.

Time passes. Things change without our taking them into account. Then suddenly a minor thing happens, and we get a fresh perspective. Every once in awhile as I'm looking in the mirror, shaving, putting on sunscreen, or whatever, I am surprised to notice how old a visage I have acquired. How strange! It is but one of many ways we may be pulled up short by a reality that creeps up on us, as if on stealthy feet.

12/10/06-Sun.-"Prairie Home Companion" is on the air at my mom's Waco residence. The sky is overcast, though the weather folks say our chances of rain are slight. Temperatures are in the fifties (F). My mom is still in substantial pain from a bad back strain last week. If she gets up or sits down, the discomfort is enough to cause involuntary gasps and groans, and this in a woman with normally a much higher tolerance for agony than most.

One aspect of "being" must be to experience real feelings authentically. If so, I've been quite successful in this type emphasis over the last day or two, still having abundant anger and sadness.

Last night I went to see Virginia, my niece, and the rest of a high school drama ensemble competently perform a shortened version of "Steel Magnolias." I thought she acted particularly well, but of course I'm biased.

I saw four red-tailed hawks during the drive up here yesterday. Cardinals, squirrels, and finches are cavorting in Mom's patio/backyard areas this morning. She says she saw a pair of white-tailed does (female deer, that is, rather than a form of "to do") out behind her chain link fence a couple mornings ago.

In my recollection, Mom has always been big on decorating for Christmas, and this season too, in spite of few if any around over the last several days to help her and of having thrown out her back, bright red and green, artistic gifts or artifacts are arrayed through much of the abode just as though she were expecting a major yuletide party at any moment. Christmas music from records, tapes, or CDs is also often playing in the background.

This is greatly in contrast to my own residence, where we have not one decoration, inside or out, other than a single holiday card that my brother, Allen, and his wife, Nina, sent us. I've taped it up above the fireplace area (closed off with extra shelving for books, videotapes, and Puff toys).

Neither Frances nor I are in the "Bah! Humbug!" camp, but our revelries at home are now seemingly insufficient to inspire a repetition of the same rote rituals of putting up colorful lights, balls, and other knickknacks of the season. Partly, I suppose, it's because we usually go elsewhere to celebrate these special times, with parties in others' homes or trips to see relatives in somewhat distant places. And perhaps such displays are as often as not for kids' benefit and delight, while our rooms are certainly not havens for the younger set.

From a Christmas spirit standpoint, the best that may be said of Fran and me is that we are somewhat like Scrooge on December 25th, having as yet quite austere personal quarters but migrating out from his den from time to time for merry celebrations elsewhere, to which he's only too happy, though, to contribute.

Later. Mom and I enjoyed going to a Christmas program at my Waco brother's (Horace's) church this evening. There was abundant musical entertainment from church members of many ages. Some of the cutest and most appealing performers were the youngest.

Horace sang solo and earlier in a duet with my niece, Virginia, as well as participating in both a male trio and quartet. Virginia sang with Horace and did a ballet interpretation. Horace's son, Charles, age 13 then, handled the sound system last year, but this time he managed the videotaping of the entire program. His younger brother, Keith, contributed some nativity scripture readings. (I learned recently that all Horace's kids think I'm going to Hell. Chris is apparently smart and competent, yet he believes what he's been taught from an early age, that this world was created only about 10,000 years ago.)

12/11/06-Mon.-I see myself in the extended family as like a professional diplomat, participating enough in the customs of many cultures to get along well and fit in with any number of divergent belief systems or ways of adjusting to existence, yet, also like a water strider, never becoming so immersed (in any of them) to lose my detachment or ability to move freely among and between all of them. Of course, this also means I do not get particularly close to any of my relations. Our love for one another is generally restrained.

I had a dream last night (which I'm calling "In Case You Don't Hear From Me Again..."):

I'm about to leave on an experimental trip or test flight. Everything's set, but now beyond my control. I'm alone in a confined space, as with the cab of a small car on the driver's side, when all other space is occupied. It is a narrow, in some ways coffin-like space, only large enough for me to sit. It may be in a tiny ocean-going boat or submarine, an early one-man spacecraft, or the cabin of a new type airplane. I'm using a speaker phone to talk with my brother Horace. I tell him something such as: "If our communications break down, then I'll try to contact Mom. If that does not work either, let's try...[?]. There's around a 25% chance we won't be able to talk to each other at all and about a 50% chance I'll be able to talk to you but not you to me, or vice versa."

[In reality, I was leaving today from Waco for Austin in my compact car, with my trip stuff taking up all but the driver's seat. I think much of that journey is out of my hands, for the drivers with whom I share the road are numerous enough to cause a lot of traffic congestion and are too frequently reckless. I always am aware of my mortality when driving I35 and Mopac for any significant distance. Also, I think communication and understanding between me and Mom is difficult, but they are truly problematic between me and Horace. At times, he seems like an alien to me (as when recently he was showing a handgun at a public event, taking it upon himself to apprehend a streaker and then, at the same time, using his cell phone to summon a police helicopter and other gendarmes on the ground to take over from him). He likely feels much the same about me, except, with his excessively fundamentalist and self-righteous religious perspective, he might say I'm "of the devil." Of course, what is at issue here is not the real Horace or Mom, but those aspects of myself. Interesting. Perhaps even distressing. So far, I'm only seeing the superficial explanations for the dream's content.]

Upon my return from this morning's driving adventures, I had a neat surprise: Frances had put up an artificial tree and some tastefully simple, yet effective Christmas decorations. Her aesthetic talents at such times come in handy. The overall look of our main living areas is now most pleasantly seasonal.

12/13/06-Wed.-Tonight, good viewing of the Geminid Meteor Shower began. It is to reach its peak just before dawn tomorrow. After my literature book group meeting this evening and then my walk with Puff, I settled down on my back, right in town, to watch for them in the spacious front yard of the vacant house across the street from our place. This was about as relaxed and lazy a way as I could imagine. Conditions were far from ideal, due to both city lights' glare and a thin cloud cover that was spreading over the sky's zenith. But in about 45 minutes I saw five meteors, a couple bright ones, one of which was fairly slow, and three others that were dim and fast.

I had the following dream, that I'm calling "I Think You'd Better Go," about an hour before time to get up this morning:

Several crows [or ravens? Poe?] have been loudly tapping on the sheet metal door, roof, and sides of our building. People have been getting hurt. A message has been received, left anonymously for us to find, with an "XXX" sign, implying one or more of us [including at least myself] will be attacked or killed. A tough, practical, fierce fellow has taken over the defense. "Why is all this happening?" I ask him. "Someone at the library [where I work as a volunteer] is a snitch," he says, as if telling what's been going on [in the dream group?] puts us in jeopardy. He adds in a firm, brooking-no-objection tone: "I think you'd better go!" At first I think he means I'm the snitch and he's mad I'm putting our operation and all of ourselves (us) in danger. But then I realize he sees me as the least able to defend myself, too innocent, idealistic, or naive, and not up to the grim realities of the fight that is coming, and wants to get me away before things turn even more nasty (violent).

[Regarding the above dream, I've been hurt by a lack of trust implicit in Fran telling her mom we'd not be coming home from our visit with her until two days later than the date Fran and I had agreed to. I've argued with Fran about it, but otherwise am not doing anything to correct things this time, though the situation has left me sad and angry. I have not consciously been obsessing over it, as I might have in the past, but I do feel that, if important agreements made between us will not be kept, then something major is lost in our relationship. I am resolved to take a firm stand when we arrive at future such arrangements. If there then is a similar result, the consequences for Fran will be less palatable than merely my being upset. Perhaps the dream shows doubt that I'm up for the kind of strong will and resolve needed to assure her breaking of agreements definitely will have such a deterrent cost for her, implying that this ego identity may be too weak for the task, but that a stronger one is waiting in the wings to take over once I'm out of the picture, either "killed" or leaving voluntarily. I also think the current ego is not ready for the kind of life changes required for a much greater emphasis on "being," resisting them with one lame excuse or another, such as not having enough time or first needing to better understand what "being" means.]

12/14/06-Thurs.-With much assistance from my wife, Frances (who designed it and has done everything else except the entries), the new site, "Dream Realm Diaries," is now online! Henceforth, dream related content will be posted there, leaving these pages free for other matters.

Besides our both putting the finishing touches on the dream site, Fran spent a few hours today at a natural setting east of I35, observing the flora and fauna and taking plenty of photographs. I have been gradually getting things done that must be completed prior to our FL trip. It is due to begin in 10 more days. I also went out for and got a haircut, read awhile in the book The Historian, did investing research, prepared more Christmas cards for mailing, took a couple long walks with our best of all possible canines, and meditated for about an hour and a half.

Now, in late evening, I've continued my annual Yuletide tradition of watching the classic version of "A Christmas Carol," based on the Charles Dickens book.

12/22/06-Fri.-We got our monthly newsletter out yesterday, just a short time before Frances had a sudden, extreme pain, focused in her lower left back, that would not quit. It was so severe she was hyperventilating with the agony from it and said she had never experienced anything to match it.

I called a 24-hour nurse service and was advised to take her to the emergency room or call 911. I rushed her over to the South Austin Hospital. Although the staff there was very responsive in getting her seen initially and diagnostics started, Fran was left for more than an hour without relief before being given intravenous pain medication. This did help some, but it was not till a couple hours later, when she was given still more pain meds, that she found the pain lessened enough that she could really relax.

I found the attentions and competence of the entire emergency room staff with whom we dealt to be excellent. It was just regrettable that the routine in such cases meant a several hour delay in getting the pain relief, when the likely diagnosis of passing a kidney stone was apparent from the outset. What with exams and a CT scan, getting results back, conferring with the doctor and nurse, discharge through the business office, and so forth, we were there for about five hours.

As it turned out, Fran was given prescriptions for further (oral) pain meds, once the CT scan confirmed a kidney stone that was by now close to being completely passed, on the left side, plus a second, somewhat larger one, on the right, that as yet had not begun its trip through the urethra.

Happily, she successfully and uneventfully passed the first stone only a few minutes after we had gotten home. Yea! She is fine now except for some dull aching. She'll keep the new meds (picked up from an HEB pharmacy) on hand in case of need when the other stone starts its trek.

She had been scheduled to leave yesterday evening, for her part in a holiday performance, only a couple hours after we drove to the hospital. In our haste to get her over there, we had not taken the necessary phone numbers. After about an hour, fortunately I was able to use a phone book and call from the hospital, to get word to the right person that Frances could not make it and would need to have a last minute substitute. He arrived in her place barely in time, having had to cut short planned entertainment with his visiting parents.

Meanwhile, preparations for Fran's and my FL trip and vacation have continued at a frantic pace, with much still to be done before we are free to leave, early Sunday morning. The emergency ordeal yesterday certainly put my concerns about the length of the FL vacation in better perspective!

12/24/06-Sun.-Christmas Eve Day. We began our road trip about 8:45 this morning, our destination by this evening, Gulfport, MS. Traffic was light. Weather was cool and rainy.

Fran completed her performances of "The Nutcracker," missing only the one when she was passing a kidney stone. I saw the matinee yesterday in the company of our friend, Sam. It was not the best showing of the orchestra, currently lead by a not so good conductor, but overall the ballet was delightful. I also enjoyed seeing all the cute youngsters attending.

Already this month, there have been several Christmas parties or dinners, starting with my get-together with Mom in Waco, on 12/9.

Then, on 12/17, the Baltic Buzzards and their spouses, plus a young couple who live next door to Matt and Glenda, got together for an evening of eats, drinks, caroling, and being merry.

On 12/19, most of my mystery book group met for a holiday dinner and book exchange before our discussion of mysteries with a Christmas theme.

On 12/22, my brother, Ron, his daughters, and I got together for another Christmas supper, and I took pictures and passed out a little pile of book gifts. We had an interesting, wide-ranging discussion. Esther is about 20 now and in an honors university program. She hopes to go into environmental law. She's also works in her dorm and is a medical assistant when off from school. Her sister, Jane, is about 13, self-conscious over her appearance (not as stunningly attractive as her sister), doing well in school and with her musical instrument playing, but her current real love is the late night reading of sorcery she does in secret (from her mother).

No doubt there will be other dinners and parties during our stay in FL with Fran's mom.

As of 11 AM, so far in this trip I've noticed a hawk and some waterfowl.

We were east of Houston by noon. The next major anticipated hurdle is where I-10 heads down toward New Orleans. There's usually a traffic bottleneck there.

About 12:30 PM, eastbound I-10 was entirely blocked just ahead of us by a big truck. All vehicles were being shunted off onto the frontage road, slowing the flow down to less than walking speed. An 18-wheeler chemical truck had lost its rear set of wheels. It was askew, at least 1/2 mile ahead of that back axle and wheels. The protective barrels at a large guardrail had been smashed. It was not clear if more than one vehicle was involved in the mishap, but from the cars and trucks stopped, I would guess it was at least a three-vehicle accident. Once past that area, we had virtually no traffic on our side of I-10. Had we come upon that scene later, we likely would have been in a traffic jam for at least an hour. Passing this accident debris-field actually just took about ten minutes, as we were among the first to arrive and to be rerouted afterward.

By 4 PM, we had finished "lunch" in Lafayette, LA, and were on our way farther east. I figured if we did not have an accident ourselves and did not get caught in a huge traffic tie-up, we should reach Gulfport, MS, and our motel room by around 8 PM tonight.

In fact, we were checked in by 7:30. Last year when we were through, all area Motel 6 rooms had either been damaged by Katrina or were occupied by refugees and repair crews. This time, we got a room in Gulfport without difficulty. And it appears to be either completely new or fully refurbished. Of course, even after a senior discount, my charges for the night are about half again the usual Motel 6 room rate.

12/25/06-Mon.-Christmas Day. We had breakfast near Mobile, AL, and then drove on into FL this morning. By noon it appeared we had about 6 more hours of driving to reach Ocala, where Linda lives, our destination today.

The scenery on the trip so far today has been often dramatic, moody, and interesting, with shades of lighter and darker gray in both a frequently overcast sky and in lakes, rivers, and bays. At times there have been wind gusts or driving breezes, the latter enough to cause white-capped waves. Many seagulls and a few larger waterfowl have been seen.

The car has been using oil as much as ever, on average probably a quart every 90 miles. This is a pain. It's easy to forget and go too long without adding more. At least twice on this trip it has gotten so low as hardly to register on the dip stick. It should not surprise us to need to replace this vehicle before long.

This has not seemed much like Christmas. The closest thing to snow is the occasional patch of bare, white sand visible between the highway and the stands of long needle pines. We've exchanged a few "Merry Christmas!" greetings with folks, but for the most part it is just a matter of pushing down on the accelerator, adjusting the steering wheel to stay within the lines, like we used to do in kindergarten or first grade, and patiently waiting as the miles go by. One day of this is the same as another, Christmas or not. It will be well after dark by the time we arrive. Our best of all possible pooches, Puff, helps keep us entertained through this time and space shifting process. She stays puppy-like well into adulthood, and probably will remain so till disabled by age. But her life, of course, unwinds at a faster pace than ours.

Death comes to each and all too quickly, whether "right out of the box" or after a few generations. Many like to think we are so special an animal that our kind (alone) shall live forever, even after every last cell of our physical forms has ceased to hold any precious vitality. We have reason, perhaps, for fear and hopelessness if such a notion is unrealistic. So there is a strong vested interest, and nothing like objectivity, concerning the question being answered affirmatively. I too certainly wish it were the case.

Instead, however, I believe we may as well admit we are not particularly unique, except perhaps in intelligence and aggression, neither of which seems likely to confer immortality. So, while those qualities may give us the arrogance and imagination to see ourselves as infinite, there's a good chance we deserve a humbler self-concept and far lower expectations overall.

If we do not go to heaven, hell, or someplace in between, and do not reincarnate till we "get it right," and do not in any way share consciousness with an endless assortment of ourselves in other realms or universes, all fancy but implausible notions, then this is it. We'll soon succumb, like everything else alive, and will be dead for a rather long time.

In that case, the only thing we have is this very moment, be it quite rewarding, terribly painful, or, more likely, pretty much like another, just so-so or humdrum, not so much different from our sleeping and dreaming states. Perhaps it would be good, as in some cultures, to imagine death always close at hand, like a little bird sitting on one's shoulder. It can just lean in a bit, give us its little peck, and we would forever cease to be.

Just as pairs of folks who have become accustomed to being a couple, married or whatnot, are qualitatively different by virtue of that experience from folks who've never been in a long-term, committed, mature relationship, and bonded with another person in that way, so too people who have borne and cared for and reared a child must have also become qualitatively changed from their childless years.

As has come out in recent introspections, I am grieving over having had no kids. This process has been going on and no doubt will, perhaps for quite awhile.

I've been thinking I might do volunteer work with kids or become a teacher, and so make up for the deficit, and at the same time meaningfully contribute to something bigger than and more lasting than just me. But surely that is fooling myself. Being around kids more has its place, but it could never take the place of actually being a parent, anymore than the idea of eternal life makes up for the reality of death.

My "only hope," if any, must be some type of transformation, different from yet as meaningful as the change parents go through in the course of looking after and loving their offspring. What the transformation might be, I do not know.

On the other hand, the reality is, if no such profound change ever occurs, in the final analysis, it's just no big deal since, win, lose, or draw, we'll all be dead in about 100 years or less, and everything that happens on our little world and in our short time here, objectively is absolutely insignificant in the grand scheme. Of course, subjectively, if it works out, how cool to achieve enlightenment, or some such, before the little bird leans in and gives me a peck!

12/26/06-Mon.-Puff's Third Birthday. We arrived last night about 7:30 (Eastern Time) and had a pleasant (if very tired) evening with Linda. Got to bed about 1:30 this morning.

Today we drove over to the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and saw an alligator, bald eagles, deer, white ibises, anhingas, a woodpecker, a little blue heron, sandhill cranes, a hawk, an American egret, cormorants, and several misc. smaller birds.

Then we went to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens (KBG) and saw many intriguing floral examples, including huge stands of lush, luxuriant bamboo, dramatically acoustical in the strong breezes. We also saw several lizards and a ribbon snake.

A one-armed man was working in the KBG main building, and a path down toward a large swampy area was now closed. The story was that a man working there was attacked by an alligator in the last year or so. His arm was badly enough hurt it had to be amputated.

In the last couple days, several times I've noticed a recurrent, localized sharp or burning pain in my right chest or chest wall. I don't recall having this symptom before. Maybe it is just from gas, maybe from cancer, or perhaps it represents some condition neither so mild as the former nor serious as the latter. I'll just observe it for awhile and see if it gets worse or goes away, then, if necessary, have it checked out by my doctor.

12/27/06-Wed.-Fran and Linda went gallivanting on their own today. Puff and I looked after the home fires. The ladies went to the Tampa aquarium as well as two or three interesting parks and still, despite close to four hours of driving, made it back by a little after 7 PM.

Puff and I walked about 4-5 miles around Linda's retirement community. We also played numerous games. And I meditated through five sessions.

I began the research for our 2007 investing.

Linda gave me a couple books for Christmas, and this time was careful in her selections. One is on initial Zen practice. The other is a marvelously illustrated work on dreams.

Relevant to my recent comment on it being cool if I would attain enlightenment is this quote from the Zen book, Butterflies on a Sea Wind, by Anne Rudloe: "Participating in a [Zen] retreat is not about sitting all tied up in knots worried about personal issues, nor is it about waiting for a cloud of enlightenment to descend upon one's head. A Zen retreat is very simple. We were just there to experience being still if possible and to see what can arise from that stillness." The same, I believe, applies to meditation practice generally. Thus for years my practice repetition has merely been "just sitting," while I try to take note of feeling, sensing, thinking, or "imaging" distractions.

12/28/06-Thurs.-Linda, Fran, and I spent much of our free time today at the Silver Springs theme park, where we've been several times previously.

12/29/06-Fri.-We left for more outings about 9:45 AM. Our first stop, around 10:30, was the take-out point for the Juniper Springs canoe and kayak run. We all had a pit-stop, and the dog got to play in the water. Next, we drove about another 40 miles or so for photos, hiking, etc., in Ravine Gardens State Park (a park with a big ravine, lots of azaleas, and sulfur springs).

The Ravine Gardens were pretty cool but, besides azaleas, had tons of potato vines, and almost countless wood ticks, many of which stowed away on Puff and the rest of us. Yet there were enough "primitive plants" here, including magnolias, ferns, palms, palmettos, and mosses, that we could imagine small dinosaurs might still be here as well.

I think it is not just children I miss having, and for which unmet desire I have been grieving, but the whole "Leave It to Beaver" 1950s idealized home and family setting I had craved, after a less than perfect upbringing. Although I would, for other reasons, not trade places with my brother, Horace, he comes closest in my primary family to having fulfilled that particular American dream. He has five kids, a lot of social connections in his church and community, good close bonds with all his kids and his wife, Leila. He is also the breadwinner and provider, while Leila is in charge of the homestead, working only part-time as and if she has time from other things. And his kids, whatever their hang-ups and fanatical, right-wing religious indoctrinations, are bright, well behaved (for the most part), conformist (in case that's a positive quality), and reasonably happy. It would perhaps have been as impossible for me to attain that, given all the turmoil, rebellion, fear, experimentation, and anger with which I began adulthood, as to have landed on Mars.

We left the Ravine Gardens area around 1 PM and next headed for Rodman Dam, where we had a snack lunch and watched for osprey, bald eagles, anhingas, and cormorants in action. The outing was disappointing, however, as few birds were on hand. I saw only cormorants. They were not fishing, just sunning themselves. We left there about 2:00. The temperature was about 80°F. There was little shade. Many folks were there, though, for dirt-bike and 4-wheel all-terrain-vehicle "sports."

We were back at Linda's place by 3 PM.

At my suggestion, Fran and I took her out for a big buffet dinner this evening. Everyone had a good time.

Later, I watched my favorite Friday evening TV programs (PBS business and news shows).

I helped Linda with some research she wanted on an insurance annuity mutual fund she owns. Meanwhile, Fran helped her with some major difficulties with "Outlook Express," on her new computer configuration.

Later, I took our pooch on a long walk and got ready for bed.

12/30/06-Sat.-By 9:30 we are on our way this morning to the University of Florida at Gainesville's natural history and art museums.

Last night I must have slept only about four hours and needed to get up and take a bathroom break about eight times!

The insomnia, though, gave me a chance to think things through in connection with not having had kids:

  • Already noted is that it is not simply being without children that "causes me grief" but not having the entire, idealized "Leave It to Beaver" (and maybe "Father Knows Best") lifestyle.

  • Any number of my own decisions (if only by default) led to my being childless, including originally not wanting kids, as in the Zero Population Growth (ZPG) days, when I felt it was irresponsible to add to an already too extravagant number of people on the globe.

  • I also broke up with my high school sweetheart, when it appeared inevitable otherwise that we'd be hitched and having kids before I was 20.

  • In fact, there was a succession of women with whom, each for a time, I had romantic involvements. Several would have wished for us to have offspring. The latest of these was a lady from Beaumont I'd gotten to know while living in Orange, TX. I had ended things with her after she had told me of a happy dream she'd just had, that she was giving birth to and then with me rearing our daughter. Of course, there were other rationalizations I gave both myself and her for ending things yet again. Chief among these was the concern I had that I could not be a good father for her boy, then about three and four, whose real father had been abusive and now never saw them at all.

  • When the kid would throw tantrums, I grew exasperated and angry, though at other times he and I got along great. Unwilling to face my own shortcomings, I liked to think the boy - and who knows what he'd already suffered that led to his insecurities? - was just spoiled, and that if I were a permanent part of the household he'd need to be made to "shape up!"

  • Ironically, this reaction replicated my own father's, when he had returned from World War II (and occupied Japan) to find me, a 2-3 year old boy he hardly knew, already getting set in, till then, happy youngster ways. He felt my behavior insufficiently respectful of or obedient toward him.

  • I know now that both my father and I, in our turns, were (or would become) victims of post-traumatic stress. It was like a disease he had caught and then, unintentionally but definitely, passed to me. (Those women I had known, and our potential children, may have been fortunate things did not work out for us, lest this "disease" would have been spread still further.)

  • The above background - and it could be much more detailed - supports the conclusion that one reason Fran and I did have a successful courtship - and even that we have remained together for over 21 years - was because, however much I may in part have wished to be a parent, I was somewhat relieved as well that with her I would almost certainly never have that particular opportunity (and challenge), since she was, from the outset, emphatic she preferred no children and would in fact even have an abortion if she were accidentally to become pregnant.

  • From this it is clear Fran and I are not at all uncomplicatedly "bad" and "good," respectively, on the "Why didn't we have children?" question. We both played significant parts in that outcome. Even as I become more ready, even eager, for kids later on (just as my brother-in-law, Scott, would, though initially firm they would never have children - he too fearing a tendency in himself toward abusing children - eventually be an adoring Dad), so too I have always had in part a dread that my rages and low tolerance for frustration or stress would get the better of me if around even my own kids for long. There is, then, certainly nothing to "forgive" about Fran on this issue. And if inclined to blame at all, I must look to myself.

  • But having done an exegesis, of sorts, into how we got here, "barren" and condemned to remain so, what now may be said? Must I simply view the balance of life as wasted, meaningless, or at least terribly deprived, because of this felt deficit?

  • There are, in fact, ways I have already been a nurturing "parent" over the course of my life. I was at least 8 years older than my seven siblings (18 years older than the youngest of them) and, quite often as we were all growing up, and even later, I was called upon to serve as a third parent. While at times I regarded this as a burden, more often I enjoyed the role, much preferring it, in fact, to having continued to be an only child. Some of these "big brother" or "parental" bonds and inclinations have persisted through the decades even till the present day.

  • Of course, I've also been parental in relation to several well loved pets.

  • Though it has been much less so once he has grown older, in the early years after my brother, Ralph, was diagnosed with brain cancer, I have had a not merely uncle-like but somewhat parental relationship with my brilliant nephew, Jim, age 8 when Ralph died.

  • I have also tried to have good relationships with each of 16 nieces and other nephews, besides Jim, and in fact loved free-for-all romps and many other great interactive or engaging games with most of them when they were younger.

  • Though for either of us it does not bear dwelling upon, and is less and less the case anyway, when Frances and I first met, she was in her late twenties, and I was forty (27 and 41, respectively, the next year when we were married). Exceptionally intelligent, competent, and independent though she is, there were some aspects of our initial relationship that were parental-filial.

  • There is reason to think that, through intensive journaling, meditation, psychotherapy, hypnosis, dream work, etc., I can recapture much more of the feelings and memories associated with each of these and other positive, nurturing sets of relationships.

  • I can also be even more involved in future with at least some of our nieces and nephews.

  • I can, of course, do volunteer work with kids too, for instance through a Unitarian or American Friends Service Committee "church," Austin Children's Shelter, Austin Children's Theater, a StoryTime commitment through a school and/or library, Big Brothers Big Sisters, a school mentoring program, etc.

  • And I can plan for financial gifts, from my own discretionary funds, to nieces and nephews.

  • Even if none of these should be expected to compensate for or replace the unique parent-child involvement most couples have with their own kids, they can add to life's richness.

  • Beyond this, I can better get in touch with my own inner child.

  • I can realize too that, as I am getting older, a larger and larger proportion of the population are young enough to be my children, grandchildren, etc., and seek to relate to everyone of the right age whom I get to know as might a kindly (but not officious or patronizing) parent or grandparent.

  • I can be receptive to interaction with the "magical child" in everyone, or to that part of each person that is the most genuine, fresh, spontaneous, creative, playful, direct, and at least potentially open to things new, awesome, and wonderful.

  • The means to this kind of connection is largely through first become myself more expressive of such qualities.

  • The ways, in turn, to enhance these traits are now apparent: additional (and more in-depth) meditation; a greater completion of the grieving process (over what was lost or that I never had); and staying with the dream group, hopefully imbibing some of its insights.

Who knows what, if any, of the above is accurate? It is approximately so. But at another time I might well interpret the memory patterns differently. Then that assessment might be roughly true as well.

We had a great time at the museums and left to drive back to Linda's a bit after 4:00, stopping for a fresh supply of groceries on the way, before finally rescuing Puff from her individual container after 5 PM. An hour later, following a pee and poop break, a delayed meal, and a vigorous period of exercise, she was again in great spirits.

Once the pooch's needs had been satisfied, I fixed my supper of leftovers, took a shower, meditated in the guest bedroom awhile, and then shared watching a movie, "The Great Race," with the ladies, while on their laptops they were processing the latest of their digital photos. (My own photo manipulations and selections would largely await our return to Austin.)

12/31/06-Sun.-I'm not much into New Year's resolutions anymore. But perhaps this one will be alright: beginning in 2007, and as long as I'm able, I shall follow a 25-year program of in-depth meditation practice. (If I make it through to the end of that time, I'll create a fresh project for my remaining days or years!)

I'm inspired by the suggestion in Anne Rudloe's book (Butterflies on a Sea Wind), that what we have in life, simply and literally, are all our moments 'twixt birth and death. With meditation training, these may include many remarkable experiences indeed. To which I would add that, if that is all there is, it is also probably enough.

In the literature on meditation, there is, however, this caution to the idealist: frequent reference, beyond the "satori" peak experiences, to the realization that, after all, taken together the revelations and insights are actually nothing special. The paradox is that, once one has seen the enlightening wonders, things are still fundamentally the same: when hungry, one eats; when tired, one sleeps; when at the end of life, one merely dies.

Today we hiked around the Silver River State Park. I saw and photographed a couple snakes. We fed fish. Puff tried to get the bits of bread too, and her reactions when the fish would get them first or they nibbled at her were hilarious. The women took plenty of pictures.

Later, we went to a greenbelt walking area. Fran and her mom took many more fauna and flora photos (mainly bugs), and I finished my daily walking ration.

Tonight after supper we watched the Alfred Hitchcock film, "Foreign Correspondent," one of the best movies I've seen in awhile.

Unfortunately, Puff was traumatized by all the end-of-year fireworks in Linda's neighborhood this evening. She trembled and could not be adequately reassured for several hours, retreating at times to what little sanctuary she may have felt she had in one of the bathrooms, preferring, in fact, to cower at the bottom of the empty bathtub. I did what I could to make the ordeal more bearable for her, but really she just had to endure the experience as best she could.

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