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December, 2008: 5 13 20 21 22 23 25 26 27 28 29 30

12/5/08-Fri.-Up about 7 A.M. Got ready and then took Fran's car in for its annual inspection. It does not run well but has new tires and, as of yesterday, a new catalytic converter, so it may pass.

While waiting, I went down to Kerbey Lane South for a light breakfast.

Frances and I have decided on dates for a trip/vacation to see her mom in FL, 12/19-12/30. We both have much to do before then, including the whole Yuletide (cards, shopping, etc.) thing.

After Thanksgiving festivities at my mom's, Fran and I were invited to join our nephew, Jim, and his mom, Mary, at Angela's (Jim's roommate, dance partner, and girlfriend of a year or two now) family's house for a dessert snack and visit the next afternoon. Angela's folks live only a couple miles from us in Austin, but we had not met them or her brother, who lives there too, before. This was kind of neat, and we had a good time. Angela and Jim's other NYC roommate, Constance, had also joined Jim and Mary, with my several other relations, Thanksgiving Day at my mom's, and we all had a great time together. The three of them, Jim, Angela, and Constance, are all interesting, smart, talented, fun, and quite amusing people, and they get along amazingly well as friends and roommates. Fran and I hope to see more of them in the years ahead.

12/13/08-Sat.-This past week, we have finally gotten a significant amount of rain. In fact, it was rain mixed with sleet and even snow. The total amounted to only about half an inch of precipitation, but this was the most we had experienced in some weeks. The icy conditions did not last long, and the next morning's traffic appeared to be unaffected. This was enough of a downpour, however, that I feel OK, finally, in ceasing my almost daily watering of portions of the yard, which I had begun late last spring and which, after all this time and moisture added, was not enough to keep much of the lawn from being severely stressed or else dying completely. The heat and drought were just too much for it.

On a walk last night, I saw the nearly full Moon, a magnificently brilliant Venus at one of its closest to the Earth's orbit locations in years, and the planet Jupiter near it in the night sky too. Then, I saw a quite bright meteor streak across the heavens, clearly visible despite all the other luminous body's to be viewed there. It turns out, we are in the midst of the annual Leonid Meteor Shower. While walking tonight, I again saw a dramatically bright shooting star.

Another surprising, almost magical thing happened last night during my walk. A class-size group of kids, elementary school aged I would guess, passed by waving and shouting "Merry Christmas!" and then continued their caroling, singing "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer," evidently for my benefit, as they continued on down the sidewalk. It was an experience right out of a 1940s or 1950s black and white movie! I could not help smiling and being gladdened by this remarkable happening and shouted back a hearty "Merry Christmas!" of my own, just as if I were the redeemed old man Scrooge!

It is now less than a week before Fran and I leave for a couple-week long Christmas vacation to see her mom in FL.

I went to my meditation group meeting today, as usual for Saturdays when I am in town.

Meanwhile, Fran is quite busy with both nature surveys and the usual music performances associated with this Yuletide season. For instance, she is presently a sub in the orchestra playing for "The Nutcracker" ballet.

On a not so happy note, my mom has been having over the years occasional episodes of palpitations or other cardiac arrhythmias which are alarming - she is never sure they will stop vs. progressing to a real myocardial infarction - and extremely fatiguing, leaving her feeling she must be in bed for a long while afterward. Unfortunately, in the last several weeks they have been occurring with greater frequency. I think they are related to how tired or overstressed she gets during our large family gatherings or similar big events with her many friends and with the colleagues where she teaches aerobics. She just does not normally pace herself but gets quite engaged, feeling she must be in charge or at least have "a hand in all the pies," etc.

Besides that, her tendencies to overly stimulate herself with caffeine and alcohol may finally be coming home to roost. My family wants to help her take things more easily when we are visiting her, but it is hard, with so many there and when kids are involved, to keep things restful. She had two of these episodes in the 7-10 days or so that culminated in Thanksgiving weekend. Then today she had another one.

There were no visitors involved this time, unless one counts the grandson who is now staying with her and has been there a couple months now. He is nearly deaf and meets Social Security guidelines for disability. He plans to go to school next semester and proceed toward a technical degree in computer operations, after having essentially failed and been forced to resign as a special ed. teacher due to his profound hearing loss. He expects to keep staying with Mom while working toward the credential, though I think when she offered him a place her idea had been just to temporarily bail him out till he could hopefully get his feet on the ground with a new job in a short time.

Mom has not been used to having anyone living with her semi-permanently since my dad died, in 1995. Previously when I suggested a roommate for her, she was emphatically against it, saying she likes her independence. I wonder if the stress of now having this grandson there indefinitely, added to her alcohol consumption in the evenings and all the holiday visiting, may turn out to be too much for her, so that the palpitation episodes are just a symptom of all that. If so, I do not know a ready solution.

In continuing efforts to reduce weight by about 10 pounds or so, I am now most of the time limiting myself to 1400 calories of food consumption daily.

12/20/08-Sat.-We drove from Austin, TX, to Gulfport, MS, yesterday. The trip went well except for an over two-hour stop-and-go traffic jam in and around Baton Rouge, LA. Gggrr!

Today, we had a continental breakfast at our motel (America's True Value, in Gulfport - a good choice) and then set off about 9 A.M. We reached the first rest stop (on I-10) in FL about 11 this morning. There had been a very neat area of fog over water and marsh or swamp land, and a "bridge to nowhere" that disappeared into the thick fog bank while the bright sunlight was diffused in the cloud yet still so intense it hurt to look at it. Our perception and perspective were distorted by the whiteout conditions, so for one stretch Fran thought it looked as if the road was going higher, to me it seemed to be going lower, and in reality it was likely staying level.

This afternoon, about 30 miles or so from Tallahassee, we hit another huge traffic jam. It took an hour or two to get clear of it. Then we ran into confusing, frustrating construction areas when we had wanted to stop for a late lunch. Finally, after more delays, we just gave up on that meal. The trip hassles today also seemed to assure we would be getting into Linda's town, Ocala, FL, rather late.

Despite the above troubles, we arrived at Linda's place about 7 P.M., then spent a relaxed evening at her place.

12/21/08-Sun.-Linda, Fran, Puff, and I went to Silver River State Park, hiked a lot, and took many pictures.

12/22/08-Mon.-Today, the four of us (including Puff) went to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. Besides the amazing assortment of plants, we saw about 30 sandhill cranes flying in, others already at the adjoining Lake Kanapaha, and snake that looked like a water moccasin. There was a breeze and temperatures never got very warm, so I remained cold almost all during our garden visit. Still, it was a pleasant enough time and plenty of photos were taken.

Yet more sandhill cranes, at least fifty, were seen today in a field near the highway we had used, going and coming.

12/23/08-Tues.-We (without Puff, this time) drove over an hour (to/from each way) and went today to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

Saw more cranes on today's trips.

12/24/08-Wed.-Christmas Eve.-I recall many splendid Christmas Eves as I was growing up and later when I was still an idealistic youth and quite involved in my church and while appreciating the special joys and celebrations of the Yuletide season in more northerly states, when it was cold and often snowy.

Now things are rather different. Fran, Puff, and I are visiting my mother-in-law, Linda. She likes things even warmer than they already are outside here in FL, and so the thermostat now shows the temperature here in the house at 80° (F).

And though I am no longer an innocent and faithful Christian, yet I am also not really into rampant rightwing propaganda and commercialism, which is what is on the TV here tonight.

This ironic situation is due to another irony: my dancing nephew, Jim, and his friend, partner, and roommate, Angela, are on this ultra-rightwing and religious show for about half a minute doing one of their dance routines, but I do not know if their few seconds of fame come near the beginning, middle, or end of the show. Their irony is that Jim and Angela are both vocally Obama supporters, most anti everything this network appears to stand for, and Jim is even an atheist. But of course when someone is willing to hire you and give you national coverage for your special talent, you not only say "YES!" but ask all your friends and relatives to watch, and maybe to even record it for you to use on YouTube. Anyway, at least I did get them successfully recorded.

Last night, I had symptoms of prostatitis, including pain on urination and needing to go 2-3 times more often than my usual several score times daily. This had been particularly problematic during the usual sleep period. So, yesterday I stayed home with Puff while Linda and Frances went to Gainesville's butterfly house, spending several hours there before returning a little after 5 P.M.

Meanwhile, I drank lots of water, got some extra rest, meditated about four hours, played with the dog, enjoyed chess matches and checked our nest egg online, cleaned some of my car windows, drove the car about 20 miles (so it would not be just sitting in Linda's carport for about 10 days), filled its tank with gasoline, etc. The overall regimen seems to have worked, as I am back to needing to pee only a few score times per 24-hours.

12/25/08-Thurs.-Christmas Day.-Up about 7:30. Had just needed to get up once during the night to go to the bathroom. Yea!

Today, we drove to and visited Homosassa Springs, with its zoo and opportunities to see manatees and fish.

I meditated during much of the to and from driving, but it was hard not to also be curious about and interested in the cute GPS system Linda was using to plan and direct the trips. It worked well in this instance.

This evening, we called relatives. I called Mom, and Linda called Trudy and family, speaking briefly to Scott, longer to Jay, and for a little while with Trudy. We also opened Christmas cards or gifts. Fran and I enjoyed watching most of a Humphrey Bogart and Loren Bacall detective movie, based I believe on a Dashiell Hammett story.

12/26/08-Fri.-Puff's 5th birthday anniversary.

I had another bad night due to apparent prostatitis, resulting again in numerous lengthy bathroom breaks before I could attempt to resume my snoozing.

I joined Linda, Fran, and Puff this morning on about a five-mile Swamp Park hike. Unfortunately, I was so tired I reformatted my camera before remembering I had not yet gotten last night's gift opening photos onto the computer.

We returned to Linda's house in time for lunch. I felt like "crashing" and just hanging out at home the rest of the day, but Linda intends us to go on another nearby park hike this afternoon, besides lengthy, strenuous activities again over the weekend.

Linda gave us a GPS system for our car for Christmas. Feelers had been put out about whether we would like to have one. I do not think either Fran or I had expressed more than lukewarm interest in it. If it involves any significant programming or installation hassles or might substantially drain the car battery, I shall not want to use it. If in fact neither Fran nor I would find it convenient enough to mess with, maybe we might see if Trudy and Scott, Frances's sister and our brother-in-law, would like to have it. I doubt they got anything comparable for Christmas from Linda, and she had given us not just that but many other big or little gifts.

Meanwhile, the communications between either Linda or Fran and Trudy plus her family have in recent months been quite minimal, despite Trudy's and Scott's son, Jay, having bone cancer. Such alienation between households and family members is surprising even for me, with my highly dysfunctional family background.

Later. Besides the usual ways I may be in less than perfect mental, emotional, or physical health, am now experiencing a constellation of ills or deficits at once: acid-reflux larynx symptoms, vision abnormalities, substantial prostate difficulties, earache, problems with weight increase (or at least with no weight reduction), memory and perceptual problems, etc. Hopefully, most of these are due to poor dietary and sleep habits associated with the current vacation. If they persist once back on a fairly normal schedule and intake of calories, home in Austin, there may be something seriously wrong.

12/27/08-Sat.-Last night I was exhausted and hardly thinking right till taking a late nap.

Linda and Fran decorated cookies with creative, fun insect or spider designs to offer to people who go to Fran's talk this evening on bugs, at a state park near Linda's place. Linda volunteers at the park, knows several of its rangers, and so was able to tell them about and interest them in her oldest daughter's credentials as a speaker on insects and such.

This morning, we are off to another botanical garden park (Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, which includes 425 acres and extends from a Gulf beach, famous for its sandstone formation "coquina rock," to formal gardens and the intercoastal waterway) and then later a beach on the western (Gulf of Mexico) side of FL. This long day's activities are not, at least in prospect, one's in which I am particularly interested, especially as the highs today are expected to be in the 80s and the sky is sunny and cloudless, making the beach not safe, given my tendencies toward skin cancer without inconvenient extra precautions and/or for but a short exposure. The dog is also not happy being left at home again most all day.

Later. This morning's and afternoon's outings turned out to be really pleasant, especially because, in contrast to the original plan, we went to the beach first, before it became so intensely sunny, hot, and crowded.

My prostate difficulties were acting up today, though, and the ride back to Ocala, only about an hour and a half, thus became quite uncomfortable during the final two-thirds of the trip.

Still later. The program tonight at the state park went very well. Fran did a great job, and the audience was impressed, showing their interest with questions and taking a number of Fran's (site and e-mail) cards.

12/28/08-Sun.-Our last full day in FL this vacation. We are getting a late, leisurely start.

Have now seen the GPS system in action several times and am reluctantly becoming impressed. Maybe it can be not just a diversion but a useful tool.

Today, we went on several little outings of interest mostly to Linda, including a stop at a model trains exhibit and another hiking visit to the Silver River State Park. There were, in any case, abundant new opportunities for good point-and-shoot camera photography.

This evening, Fran and I treated Linda (for a change), taking her out to eat. Later, I started packing up, in hope of an early start back toward Austin tomorrow.

12/29/08-Mon.-Homeward bound. We reached Tallahassee about 10:30 this morning.

Got to the AL border a little before 2 P.M. (Central Time).

Reached LA about 4:30 P.M.

The junction of I-12 and I-10 was not a big traffic problem. We passed through with no difficulty.

We arrived at Lafayette, LA, and had checked into a reasonable Motel 6 room by 7 P.M.

I went out for vittles and brought back Subway heated chicken sandwiches, cookies, and apple juice for our supper.

We got to bed fairly early.

12/30/08-Tues.-We entered TX today around mid-morning and crossed Houston during the noon hour.

In western LA, we had seen hundreds of migratory water fowl apparently flying from where they had settled the previous night toward their preferred morning feeding areas. These were mostly large geese (Canada or snow geese) and impressive to see in such numbers across the expanse of sky.

We got home about 3:30 this afternoon after picking up the held mail. The severe drought continues. Almost no rain at our place while we were away. At least no damage occurred to our home during our absence.

We celebrated the end of the long return trip with pizza for supper.

Whether due to missing Linda or just fatigue from the stress of the return journey, unfamiliar environments, and being cooped up much of the time, Puff has been moping about since we got back.

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