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(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

Ship off Galveston Island, Texas

11/1/01-Thurs.-Oops! That was not a blue moon after all. Turns out the last full moon occurred about 5 AM this morning, not yesterday, and so technically not the second full moon, or blue moon, in October. Oh well, teach me to listen to NPR and my local news! It was just an almost blue moon. This month apparently will have a true blue moon.

This evening has been terribly frustrating. Not only must we wait almost twenty years till there really will be a blue moon on Halloween, but Pepper and I got into a fracas with a couple huge canine beasts and their owners, none of them on leashes, when I took her (correctly leashed) for a short walk tonight. And I batted considerably less than 1000 in my third attempt to change the contribution to my tax-deferred 457 plan effective when I retire instead of afterward. Regarding the last issue, the catch is, I must go through my personnel office; but, "catch twenty-two," they have turned over all authority for such changes to the third party administrator of the plan, and they cannot guarantee when their implementation of the change will be passed back to my agency's payroll dept. or when that worthy will actually put it into effect. To make matters even more thrillingly bizarre, last month they told me I could not submit the change till this month. This month they tell me it is too late, that I should have done it last month. Meanwhile, no one will take responsibility for actually effecting the change in the right way at the proper time, or for the IRS penalties if the change is not made before I am no longer eligible for the 457 plan catch-up provisions. Bugger!

Of course, our difficulties are nothing compared with the horrors terrorists have caused and plan to in future. Today the word came in that the Union of Concerned Scientists think there is a not tiny threat to our nation's nuclear facilities. And the governor of CA said that credible intentions have been discovered to blow up several western U.S. bridges, during rush-hour, one day soon. Ain't it wonderful! Coincidentally, Fran and I were talking recently about the Golden Gate being a symbol on the West Coast as stunning as the Twin Towers was on the East, and therefore that it may be now seriously in jeopardy.

There is some good news in our life, however. Pepper is perking up again, though she is still pretty easily exhausted, coughs and feels like she must upchuck a lot (perhaps because her throat is still raw from tubes they had down it during surgery), and, of course, she remains sore around the hole where her tooth had been.

11/2/01-Fri.-Fortunately for me, one day follows another; and the stresses of each usually do not significantly carry over into the next, though lately it seems the fatigue just keeps building up, so that, by Friday evenings, I can barely stay upright, yet remain keyed up, feeling much the way a cross-country slow bus traveler does after as many days on the road with bad food, too little sleep, and ongoing mental and emotional deterioration from the uncomfortable, disorienting circumstances, all the while trying to stay alert to assure the right connections are made and that none of the questionable characters along for the ride rip him an her off in one way or another.

It is now essential that I get more genuine rest this weekend.

Considering our country's plight in its "war on terrorism," I think that, in spite of the horrors of seven or eight weeks ago, it has not yet sunk in that things are now quite different than before 9/11. We seem to be still largely in denial, figuring that once we "get" the terrorists who were behind the Pentagon and Twin Towers disasters, the worst will be over, that then business as usual can resume and our economy and lives, etc., return to normal.

But perhaps the issues are far more complicated, the enemy too entrenched and intent, our systems of democracy and finance too vulnerable, our grasp of the means to assure the terrorists' defeat too lacking in insight, and the change in our situation too all-encompassing, for there to be ready, short-term solutions that can quickly restore our national security.

It strikes me that, as a state and a people, we must so come to grips with what has happened, and what still may occur, not simply as an adjustment to the hideous multiple incidents of September, but rather as a truly transforming challenge to ourselves and our way of life, one that will be world-changing in its implications, before the outcome becomes clear, that we become as steadfast and courageous to carry on, in spite of all the killing and mayhem, as the proud British were when their island country stood mostly alone against the might arrayed against them early in World War II.

I think this cannot occur overnight or in response to just one terrible day in our recent history. But, after many such days, and perhaps even much worse ones down the road, it may come, if we are lucky.

We must be as implacable as our foes. As in those dark times in Europe, and equally bleak ones for shipping on the Atlantic or for allied forces in the Pacific theatre of that world war, whether we can readily accept it or not, we may need to become extremely serious about a war-footing, one that may call upon us all for sacrifices we now can barely imagine. Just as folks then had to get used to a husbanding of fewer, more curtailed freedoms, rations, personal time, wealth, safety, independence, and individual endeavors apart from the public, sanctioned greater need and good, so now, before this new phase of humankind's struggle is spent, much may be expected of us, and much that we had come to expect in those so recent, halcyon 1990s and before may now be coming to an end. I hope I am mistaken. Yet, the terrorists, both domestic and international, have an intense desire to destroy what is best and brightest about our form of civilization. They have abundant opportunities to violently express that passion, and, with a will so strong that they are ready to die in their cause, they may often accomplish their aims in the months and years ahead.

On a walk tonight with Fran and Pepper, now her usual, spunky self again, we saw a beautiful pair of white-tailed deer, a large, antlered buck with a doe.

11/5/01-Mon.-Fran is into all sorts of things. One of them is letter writing. Lacking sufficient response from existing friends and relatives, and needing a kind of correspondent who is, like her, quite intelligent and well-rounded, she has cultivated e-mail pen pals who have either responded to our mutual web site, with its many satellite garden, photography, clip art, pet, and other pages, or whom she has found through a formal service, PenPals.Com.

She has written to quite a number of folks before getting two rather prolific, regular respondents, both very smart women, roughly her same age (43). One is Chinese but living in West Australia. She also travels extensively. Her partner works in the general Far East theatre of operations. Lately he's been in Jakarta, Indonesia, which boasts the largest number of followers of Islam of any nation. Apparently, many of their militants hate all things western, including this lady's intimate friend, which makes life now particularly interesting for the couple. While she was visiting Jakarta, trying to give him support in this trying time, their home back in Australia was broken into and robbed, with many thousands of dollars worth of valuables (including her car) taken. Needless to say, the situation is rather upsetting, though the lady seems to be dealing with it well.

Another of Frances' pen pals lives in the Silicon Valley area. Both her husband and son work for one of the high tech companies there, and her daughter is newly in college in Sacramento. They are fairly well off but far from independently wealthy. Lately a combination of factors, including apparently having a newly diagnosed, though mild, form of diabetes plus all of the terrorist business and the various real acts and threats of violence, have badly gotten her down, so that she has resorted to counseling and medication therapy to help both calm and lift her spirits.

I suspect there is a lot of angst out there right now. This is a particularly difficult age! When my brother, Ralph, was dying and I was going through much extra stress and grief over it, someone suggested I check out The Center for Attitudinal Healing, which had a location in Austin but also has many other sites in the USA and abroad. I did not at the time, though I might well have benefited had I done so. It seems tailor-made for the pervasive anxiety and sense of imminent harm that many are experiencing around the world. Am now thinking that, after my retirement, I may look into this valuable resource.

Tonight, Fran and I went over to Black-Eyed Pea for supper (and a glass of wine for me). I also replaced my auto. air filter. The Pep Boys' parts dept. is next door to the restaurant.

Fran turned in early.

An intriguing idea: analysis of some likely repercussions in the 21st Century of an essentially 19th Century energy policy.

Inspired by an article in the Nov., 2001 "Smithsonian" Magazine, on Alberto Giacometti, brought to my attention by Fran, I checked for this artist on the web and found several very interesting sites and images.

11/6/01-Tues.-The last several years have taken their toll, what with the job being increasingly stressful plus the cumulative effects of aging, with its concomitant list of ailments. So, when folks ask me what I'm going to do after I retire, I am tempted to say: "First, check into a health spa for about three months, then, only what I need to, in order to stay fit and relaxed, and, finally, just what I find is for me the most meaningful and enriching. Life is far too short to waste any more than absolutely essential on things one doesn't enjoy." In truth (except that the three months in a "health spa" will be, as was the case for a week when I was terribly sick in early 2000, simply created at my place and pace, using resources available cheaply and easily, with my own daily agenda, dietary choices, exercise options, meditation, etc.), this is exactly what I intend doing in the early stages of the time beyond required work. After that, we'll see.

Fran and I are, for a short while, in one of those phases when we see little of each other. She is intensely involved now (through next Sunday or Monday), after her private teaching duties (about 70 music students seen each week at schools in Pflugerville) with rehearsals and then performances with the Austin Lyric Opera of "Faust," generally not getting back to our house till about 11 or 12 at night. Since we must rise at 5:50 AM and it takes about an hour, after she returns, before she can go to bed, this is also a test of our stamina. At least, thanks to our having a somewhat more relaxed morning schedule once I've ceased working, this is the last foreseeable so arduous ordeal we are likely to need to go through, for the dual priorities of money and art.

Despite going on one early this morning with Frances, Pepper kept pestering me this evening for a walk. We went over to the Barnes and Noble shopping center that is 2-3 miles from our home. The temperature was comfortably brisk and the dog (in spite of her so recent anesthesia and surgery) and I were both feeling frisky. Our alertness was rewarded too, for we spied a couple adult, white-tailed does only 20-25 feet away, resting in the grass, perfectly still but given away by their large ears. As I raised Pepper to get a better look, they got up and dashed away, at which the dog let out a moan of excitement or frustration. She was really prancing after that! Several people commented, as we rushed by, on what a cute doggy she is. One young lady, reading near a window inside the book store, glanced up, smiled, and waved. Fran has trimmed the beast to best of "show" advantage; and Pepper's continued vigor, at over a dozen years, is a great, infectious delight!

11/7/01-Wed.-It's again "The West Wing" night here, which means that I'll be as devotional as I ever get, sitting as quietly as if I were in church, come 8 PM, when my favorite TV program airs here. I was happy to see the show picked up a few more Emmy Awards recently, including for "Best Dramatic Series."

A year ago 11/7 fell on a Tuesday. It was election night. While all that seems a distant memory of "a dream within a dream" (Edgar Allen Poe) after 9/11/01, at the time, and at least until the September tragedies, the closeness, bitterness, and manner of resolution of that contest, eventually perhaps tainting even the Supreme Court, was, in many people's view, one of the worst things to happen in our country in recent years. That is perhaps true regardless of one's political convictions.

Today I turned in my final leave papers. If I have calculated correctly, 12/10 will be my last shift for the state, and a partial one at that, as I'll be gone before lunchtime. Yes!

11/8/01-Thurs.-On the radio ("Nightly Business Report"), during a long commute home this evening, I heard an author (name unfortunately missed), of a book on weapons of mass destruction, giving seemingly well-reasoned arguments why we may soon be attacked by Islamic militants using either (one or more) atomic bomb(s) or widely dispersed, but highly lethal radioactive material (easier than a nuclear device to obtain, get into the country, and distribute undetected). The nation's apparent lack of preparedness for this, the 9/11/01 events, or other similar, severe attacks by terrorists, using means relatively low-tech and inexpensive, calls to mind the closing thinking of Ernest R. May, in Strange Victory, an excellent and provocative work on how Hitler's Germany, though in many ways weaker than France at the time, was able to defeat the latter country in short order. He concludes, among other things, that the circumstances may have parallels for us. Hope he is wrong! But it seems we in the West are again somewhat at the mercy of a "frail" fanatical movement which has already seized the initiative and may have more surprises waiting in the wings, before we can get our act together.

Tonight Fran is off from her opera performing duties. Though I'm fairly exhausted, I want Frances to enjoy her respite. So, we're heading over in a few minutes to Golden Corral for a buffet supper. This is one of her favorite places to "get stuffed." Since it's cool, Pepper will be along for the ride too. With luck, we'll all be able to turn in early.

11/11/01-Sun.-(Veterans' Day) I called my mom the other evening. She is leaving today for a week-long cruise and will even be going down in a submarine, off Cozumel. Wow!

Yesterday, Fran, Pepper, and I took a nice walk, saw an antlered, white-tailed buck bounding away, and had a great breakfast at Trudy's South. Frances performed in another production of "Faust." I mowed the front.

I figured out our financial situation and balanced assets. In December of 1999 I had projected us to have $600,000 by the end of this year. But I had not foreseen the bear market that began just three months later or the terrorist attacks of this past September.

In "Forbes," the latest issue, there is a major article on what to do now instead of retiring early, giving examples from many readers who have lost forty, sixty, or even eighty percent since March of 2000, and who now will need to set their sights much lower and/or keep working for many more years. I suppose we are relatively fortunate that this is not our fate. Our living standard has never been (and may never be) worthy of the rich and famous. But we'll be able to take 5% out of our net liquid portfolio each year, indefinitely, while also receiving over $21,000 annually, my retirement annuity. With luck, the assets will still keep going modestly up, staying a little ahead of inflation. For next year, this gives us a gross budget, before deductions, taxes, etc., of about $46,000, even if we did not work at all. But, since she enjoys it, Frances will still be performing part-time as a musician, while we stay in Austin. She also plans to finish out this last school term, through early May, giving private music lessons.

Today, we are being more lazy. I slept late. Fran had gotten up a little after 6 AM. She and Pepper went for a walk. Then the dog waited in the car while Fran did some shopping. It's so great to now have 24-hour discount department stores and supermarkets within easy driving distance. One can get staples at any time, particularly in the wee hours when there is little risk of encountering "the madding crowd." Later we went for a breakfast buffet, followed, of course, by a long nap. Frances has another opera performance this afternoon.

Meanwhile, I'll finally finish up my voluminous packet of retirement forms and get a small start on early Christmas shopping.

While surfing the web recently, still seeking ways to broaden our outlook on current events and efforts against terrorists, I came across "Dawn," reportedly the largest English-language newspaper in Pakistan. It has a new, free online issue weekly, and is updated daily. For the scholarly investigator, there is a well recommended online paper, "Palestinian Report," also available in English, though this source has a subscription fee.

While there is no excuse for the attacks of September 11, it is arguably true that, over the last few generations, a lack of understanding of the Islamic world, which makes up over 1/4 of earth's human population, may have paved the way for our present predicament. We cannot afford to still be so ignorant of this vital and rapidly growing part of our world.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy set this country a goal, to land a man on the moon and bring him home within the decade. Seemingly against the odds, and with technology that now seems quite primitive, this goal was achieved. However, the endeavor in which we are now engaged under George W. Bush's leadership, to successfully hold together a coalition of highly disparate peoples, united for the stamping out of global terrorism, without significant, negative, unforeseen consequences, while preserving the essential liberties and economic stability the terrorists seek to destroy, is one far more complex and difficult, and will likely require a sustained will and focus, for far longer than that inspiring, 20th Century, space achievement.

If we are to succeed, it surely will not be by bombs and bullets alone (if at all). If we fail, the repercussions will be far greater than was true of our loss in Vietnam. One way or another, in the 21st Century, we must come to terms with the huge gap that exists between the developed world, on the one hand, and the developing or undeveloped nations and citizens of this globe, on the other.

On this Veterans' Day, I honor those who have been willing to put their lives on the line for our nation's ideals. But I also mourn those, military and civilian, who have fallen, or whose lives have been permanently diminished, as a result of nationalistic policies which, in retrospect, have turned out to have been not the best or were even completely in error.

Recently revealed White House tapes have shown that Lyndon Baines Johnson, as early as 1965, did not believe the Vietnam War could be won. He kept our country involved, and indeed vastly escalated that involvement, for political rather than strategic reasons. Over 50,000 U.S. veterans died in that war, with millions more killed among the populations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, as a direct or indirect result of our continuing that awful war. As indicated in The Guns of August, World War I was also a war that should never have occurred and the consequences of which were far worse than any catalyst conditions for which it seemed at the time the "only" option.

May those who are in power truly show respect for our veterans by taking young men and women into battle only after an enlightened foreign policy has completely failed and we have done everything possible to avoid it.

11/12/01-Mon.-Another day down, at my best of all possible workplaces. Just seven remain for incoming cases, just 17 full shifts in all. Despite all the eager anticipation, the prospect of being completely retired, at barely 58 and in less than a month, seems rather surreal as yet.

Over the weekend, another counterculture hero has died, Ken Kesey, of liver cancer, just like Carlos Castaneda did, a few years ago at about the same age. Both men seemed particularly relevant to me, not only for their interesting, experimental lifestyles, but also, particularly, for their mastery of the writing craft.

As mentioned earlier, I was very briefly on Kesey's bus, Further. I was more affected by his books (and movies, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion," which latter one had been a favorite of my brother, Ralph, as well). Never as much a rebel as Ken, I admired his willingness to stick his neck out for his beliefs and lifestyle choices, even if I regretted some of their consequences, like going to jail for possession of pot, etc., when it seemed to me there were more worthwhile causes out there. But he was like everyone else. Twixt birth and death, we all just get through the journey as well as we can. And he left a greater mark than most.

Pepper and I went for a walk by the Barnes and Noble shopping center tonight. While we did not see interesting wildlife, there had been a lot of rain in that area, which made the evergreens planted along the back drive very aromatic. I love their piney smell!

11/13/01-Tues.-There was a very interesting interview today with "Newsweek" journalist, Christopher Dickey, on NPR's "Fresh Air," about Saudi Arabia, the Islamic world generally vis a vis the 9/11 attacks, and the current situation after those horrific events. He explained how things are much more complicated than one might intuitively suppose in the Arab and Muslin nations and that the Bush administration had been closing in on a means to permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians just prior to the terror of that date, which, however, unfortunately set things back once again and destroyed not just the Twin Towers, but most all hope of imminent resolution of the Middle East turmoil.

Frances and I both had relatively good workdays and commutes. This eve we went to Bombay Grill for their Indian food buffet, and also a glass of white wine for me. The conversation centered around, first, entertaining students of Fran's, including one who speaks only in a monotone (even when cracking jokes), and in this way is reminiscent of the modern "Star Trek" character, Seven of Nine, but who "loses it" too easily, simply because she does not understand most ordinary social interactions, and then becomes extremely emotional, as if a small incident were the end of the world.

Our second main issue was one I brought up, about whether or not to get about $250,000 or so of life insurance, against the possibility I might kick the bucket before our retirement portfolio becomes very substantial. Of course, it would be far cheaper if we get insurance now, when I am at least relatively healthy (I think), though, based on my age, it could still be moderately expensive. Fran has, for now, elected that we not do so, preferring to focus all our extra financial wherewithal on building up the nest egg, hoping that thereby it may grow faster, though recognizing there is some risk in this approach. I suggested the insurance option was still there and to just let me know if she changes her mind, but preferably before I come down with some serious illness.

Under the circumstances, I feel a special motivation to stay as healthy as I can, more than I might just on my own! But there are some things, like bone or brain cancer or being hit in a head-on collision with an out-of-control truck (which happened to a friend of mine), for which a good lifestyle is not enough.

11/20/01-Tues.-Whew! Time flies. The countdown is continuing toward my retirement. I've gotten final clearance for 12/10 being my last workday for the state. Tomorrow is my last shift to receive new cases.

Last Thursday, we had quite a bit of excitement around here, with flooding, including a creek through our yard, over a foot of water, some backing up and threatening one side of our house, branches down, etc. However, for all the drama and at least half a foot of rain in one day, nothing major happened at our place, except that my car exhaust system was hurt by having to drive in water-filled roads to get home. This was fixed, though for a large amount, over the weekend.

Unfortunately, several people's businesses were much more badly damaged and a few folks were swept away and drowned in Thursday's storms and high water. Other establishments had losses due to tornadoes. There were seven twisters in and around Austin that day, including one each near where Fran and I work.

Over the weekend, we put out our monthly online family-and-investment newsletter.

Yesterday, the weather has turned much cooler; and we got a little more precipitation.

Throughout the week, we've kept up at least modest amounts of exercise. And we've had a few spats, but also several hugs.

Sunday, I gave Fran a long massage, while watching part of the movie, "Being John Malkovich." What a funny, weird film!

My mom (age 79) has just gotten back from a week-long cruise, including to Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, and Key West. At Cozumel, she even went down in a submarine, to see the beautiful coral reefs and sea life. Wow!

Meanwhile, there has been much interesting action in Afghanistan as well. Certainly phase one of the war against terrorism is going George W.'s way. I continue to think the cost of this conflict too high so far in our lost civil liberties, but realize that the average citizen of our country may figure this a necessary sacrifice, to make for greater security generally. Hmm. I could also go on about the nation's foreign policy precursors to the 9/11/01 violence, and how we may not so easily turn around the view of many "have nots" and small states that we deserve their hatred. But, this might be too much just a rant.

Better, perhaps, if I leave politics and religion alone, except as I am here sincerely wrestling with such issues myself.

Fran and I have had several further, short talks about the option of my getting term life insurance, showing her as beneficiary, to replace the benefits of my retirement annuity, which would cease upon my death. I have found a way of doing so for a reasonable amount, if I qualify after the underwriting stage. She now feels we should use up to about $800-900 a year for this, for up to the next decade. I'm relieved she has agreed with me. It would be a shame if I were to die in that period without her being left about as well off financially as if I were still alive. It would also, in a sense, be as if the work years had been just wasted, with little to show for them. Of course, that might be accurate if I were to think of it just in terms of myself alone. But this way, we are exercising the option to receive the largest annuity amount (amounts being much lower if, instead, one chooses the annuity option providing for one's spouse after the retiree dies) while also protecting her in the event that large annuity cannot continue. $250,000 should do the trick.

11/24/01-Sat.-Got back this afternoon from a trip to Waco and visiting with my mom, as well as about half my extended family, for the Thanksgiving get-together and ritual self-stuffings. We had an OK time. It was somewhat more relaxing than sometimes at such reunions, since we had a motel to which to retreat for naps and sound sleep each night. Nonetheless, we were tired enough that we both too easily launched into one another over a trivial matter soon after our return.

During low-key moments during the trips and visit, I did a little values clarification on the subject of priorities after retiring, drafting possible agendas and the main foci for structuring and occupying time, deciding on meditation as having the highest emphasis.

We had a late afternoon Tex-Mex meal at Trudy's. I brought quite a bulk of leftovers back. I am now on my "health spa" diet, intending to lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides significantly over the next several weeks, hoping then to keep them in check with a combination of selective eating plus exercise.

While Pete and I are not on the friendliest of terms, at least things seem to be about returned to the level of polite, mutual tolerance we had before the fiasco of his breakdown and phone plus e-mail attacks on me last winter and spring, which coincided with his going through about his fourth and fifth jobs of the past two or three years. He now seems more stable, with the help of our brother, Ernie, who partnered with him for a construction business. They have been frustrated in attempts to have a residential real estate fixer-upper endeavor get off the ground. However, it now appears they'll soon be successfully launching a new steel-frame houses framing-and-related-building venture, besides the greenhouse-making contracts that have provided most of their living expenses for awhile. So, while getting rich quickly is probably not in their cards, they should be able to profitably continue in this overall type work for quite some time. Pete is also applying for part-time computer graphics consulting work. There seems to be a lucrative demand for this in connection with court cases. While Pete has not kept up his graphics skills in recent years, since he earlier had his own computer enterprise, he is quite capable of marketing himself as if he had. Fran is probably better now at this type thing than he, but not as into self-promotion.

Meanwhile, Fran's sister, Trudy, and her husband, our brother-in-law, Scott, have been socking away a lot of their extra funds over the years and report now having passed the half-million mark for their retirement assets. She works essentially full-time; and he puts in long hours as a successful veterinarian. So, they should continue to do quite well. We are retiring a little sooner than they can, but only by virtue of our keeping our expenses and standard of living lower.

My nephew, Joel, was in Waco yesterday and today. He brought his girlfriend of about three months, Sheila. Like him, she is both hearing-impaired and very smart. She is also quite pretty. They make quite a "handsome couple" and seem passionately engaged with one another.

Tonight we went for a brisk walk, with Pepper, and saw a deer, even though it was late and generally pretty dark, except right near the Barnes and Noble shopping center. We were both pleasantly invigorated by the exercise and cool temperatures. Pepper, of course, was enthusiastic about it from start to finish.

11/25/01-Sun.-Woke up this AM about 4. Did not get back to sleep, and so got up around 5, my mind obsessing over a quandary: what to do about my duties as estate executor/administrator for my sister-in-law, Mary.

Quite a few years ago, awhile after my brother, her husband, Ralph, had succumbed to brain cancer, Mary asked me if I would accept this potential role, as well as those of being Jim's, her only child's, guardian, handling the disposal of the body, taking care of a memorial and/or funeral service, etc., in the event of her death.

At the time, Jim was only about eleven. She said she had just gone to a weekend workshop that an attorney had put on for a lot of folks (at some expense to them) there in Houston, in which he supposedly gave them all notebook binders full of organizers and headings, pages with answers to common queries, and sheets with questions to be filled in with detailed, specific responses, for easy reference by one's chosen executor/administrator.

She said the workshop helped a lot with things like selecting legal guardians, estate administrators, executors, funeral arrangements, getting assistance of an attorney, and so on, and so forth. Indicating that she intended to complete these forms and give a notebook like this to her designated executor and Jim's guardian, etc., she asked if I were willing to accept appointment to these duties. I readily agreed. I told her I would be eager to receive the info. she mentioned, partly because I could also use it in organizing what I needed to do, in a similar capacity, for my mom.

However, though she said she was going to tell her lawyer to show me as her designee in such capacities, and even after I have reminded her several times, she has never followed through and given me a copy of her will, any related documents, or the organizer to which she had originally referred or, indeed, any specifics about arrangements she wants, her estate, how she wished me to serve as Jim's guardian, etc. From my point of view, she has been completely irresponsible about it.

While I readily agree that it is unlikely I shall ever actually be the executor of her estate, as she is several years younger than I and apparently in good health, the fact remains that, should she, against the odds, die first, I am totally unprepared to carry out any of my functions, solely because she has procrastinated, year after year, in her part of the arrangement.

So, I must now be more confrontational. I either need my duties and the proper documentation spelled out and available or I shall have to resign. Jim is now 19 1/2. I figure if she cannot get me the info. I need before he turns 21, then I'll suggest he no longer needs a guardian and that I defer to him for the rest of the duties we had originally discussed.

The trouble is, unlike Ralph, who went in a wheelchair to a funeral home and arranged his own cremation while he was slowly dying (with her participation limited to driving him there, witnessing what he did, and affirming that he was of sound mind at the time), she seems very unwilling to simply deal with the practicalities of her own possible demise, notwithstanding her initial intentions and impulsive enthusiasm, just after completing the workshop. I do not even know if her will has ever been finished!

Getting any information out of her on the subject is difficult. Her personality is not the easiest with which to work. There are significant areas of resistance. In old psychoanalytical terminology, "neurosis" might come up as an appropriate term. Of course, everyone is a little neurotic. Too bad, that, in this instance, the result is the exact opposite of the way the situation was portrayed. Not only is the relevant information not organized and ready to hand for easy reference. Getting any info. at all is like pulling teeth!

11/28/01-Wed.-Last night Fran's period began. As the saying goes, when it pours, it rains. Sure enough, we had another storm of major proportions, this one lasting through most of the night, with repeated episodes of heavy wetness, the machine-gun rattle of small hail, plus bright, close, and very loud thunder and lightning, one blast of which knocked out our electricity for four hours. But this eventful combination was but the Greek chorus to what seemed for us a rather compelling crisis: Pepper, starting about seven last evening, was making alarmingly unsuccessful efforts to hack or throw something up. She appeared then, throughout our virtually sleepless night, to have something caught in her throat. From her behavior we assumed it may have been a bone lodged there after she had chowed down on the carcass of some dead bird or rodent left by one of many cats that forage through our yard. Whatever it was gave her fits for at least ten hours. Considering our lack of slumber (and other conditions), as well as the absence of house utilities at crucial times, we all successfully, if exhaustively, passed the night. Pepper at length, around 5:30 AM, upchucked a mass of matter, though not before we had called two emergency, all-night, animal hospitals for advice. I got ready for the new shift in the dark (except for a couple long-burning candles), starting soon after Pepper's hurl, and the ensuing cleanup by flashlight. Fran had gone back to bed while I went through the bathroom ablutions. Just as I was departing for my commute, the lights and heat came back on. Fran reset her clock and snoozed a bit more, not having to report to work till about Noon today. When I got home after work the dog was back to her normal, frenetic, playful self. All's well that ends well. Now just have to get more shuteye tonight!

11/29/01-Thurs.-Austin had its first sticking white stuff of the season last night. It was a mere dusting, though, fortunately nothing like the 1-4 inches of snow, sleet, or freezing rain that had been forecast. Areas to our west and north suffered much more from yesterday's whims of Old Man Winter. In the cooler months, Austin's weather is really hard to beat.

I am writing this from Trudy's near the "Drag" (Guadalupe), where I've gone for a tasty breakfast snack after getting my annual flu shot this morning.

Just six full shifts remain for me at my best of all possible workplaces. The folks who are preparing and publicizing my retirement party (12/3) seem to be outdoing themselves. Dozens or scores of my colleagues are now daily commenting on my upcoming departure and adding their congratulations. It is moving to see how many, besides my personal friends, seem excited and enthusiastic at my good fortune. I suppose it is heartening to most others, even if their own waiting may be far from over, to see that one of us every now and then successfully completes the course, wins the prize, and makes his/her escape!

I'm a little behind my usual end-of-year routine for Christmas gifts and cards preparations. But there's no big time crunch this year. It's great to be free as a bird, for this and other chores and special projects, starting about Noon on 12/10.

11/30/01-Fri.-Tonight Pepper and I went for a walk under a clear, cool sky glowing with the bright, true blue moon (not the false blue moon that appeared to have occurred last month). Frances spent the evening in rehearsal at Matt's with the Baltic Buzzards.

At work things remain a bit chaotic and outrageous down to the wire. This afternoon upper management, for the third time, bumped us from the room my friends had "reserved" for my retirement party. It's a long story, but one typical of that best of all possible places of employ. After another round of frantic, last minute changes, the celebration organizers now hope it will occur on the morning of 12/10, the very last opportunity before I am out of there.

Yesterday George Harrison died of cancer. He was my age. This reduces the former Beatles survivors to only fifty percent. He was the least flamboyant of the four. Yet arguably he was single-handedly responsible for a strong recent influence of the mystic East on the young people of the West. My brother, Ralph, himself dedicated to the Lifestream Way philosophy, which derives from an Indian tradition of meditation and practical mysticism, liked best Harrison's song "Here Comes the Sun." My own favorite was "Norwegian Wood," which features his guitar playing in a style reminiscent of the sitar. Harrison was perhaps the most spiritually inclined of the famous quartet, and thus higher in my esteem.

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