Thursday, November 29, 2012

Overheard at Work: Fortress of Solitude

Cartoon image of Superman at the Fortress of SolitudeSuperman in his Fortress of Solitude
Photo source: Bill Christensen. “Superman’s Fortress of Solitude Found.”
Him: You can’t just stay there in your Fortress of Solitude all by yourself!
Her: Why else would you have a Fortress of Solitude?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hate Is Not a Family Value

I wish more churches preached this message. It is more in line with the actual teachings of Jesus than the hateful rhetoric spewed from many pulpits.
Apparently, Cabela's is the place to go for plastic kayaks.

Dad wanted to eat lunch at Sonic, so we drove to Cuero. I parked facing the sign on the Calvary Baptist Church, which featured a message I wholeheartedly endorse: “Hate is not a family value.” Since I didn’t hear the service, I hope they actually meant it and weren't just trying to co-opt a liberal message.

Since Dad is doing OK, I came on home. I took the “scenic route” which lead me to Cabela’s big store in Buda. It failed to live up to my memory of the Nebraska store, but that could be the fault of memory. It did have many, many kayacks. Wandering around the store for what seemed like hours left be with this impression: The people of Cabela’s are not that different from the People of WalMart, just better armed.

I eventually made it home after a nice meander through south Austin.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

One More Year

The drive down to see Dad was uneventful. We had lunch at Edgar and Glady’s in Nordheim. The food was not very good, but Dad loved it and that’s what matters.

On returning to the farm, we sat down to chat in the living room. I eventually dozed off in the chair closest by the air conditioner, the only spot in the room cool enough for water to remain liquid—Dad likes it hot. When I awoke, he had gone out to plow. I stretched out on the floor to finish waking up and get my legs working again. That old chair is not meant for long sitting spells.

Dad plowed under a small section of fence. While he didn’t want to fix it today, he did need help blocking it so the cattle don’t get loose. We used baling wire to secure a gate and a cattle panel across the gap, proving once again that you can fix almost anything with bailing wire and bubble gum.

That bit of exertion tuckered him out so much he wouldn’t eat anything for dinner except a small bowl of ice cream. Even so, his general condition is good, and his attitude is better. He is planning crops for next year, and he was genuinely put off when a neighbor asked, “So you’re gonna farm one more year?” I reminded him the guy was only parroting what Dad had been saying for more than twenty years.

“I know,” Dad said. “But it sounds so final when he says it.”

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Overheard at Work

This does’t actually have anything to do with anything, but it’s cool. Source: Stan Winston School of Character Art
Male coworker: “Can we start having these meetings in the shower?”
Female coworker: “What?!”
Male coworker: “Well, that’s the only place I have time to be creative.”

Made me think of that series of ads where business people loved their new bathtubs so much, they never wanted to leave—even holding meeting in the bathroom while they luxuriated in lather.

Monday, August 06, 2012


Curiosity descends to the Martian surface Photo source: GSV Films

This morning we have a new robot wandering around on Mars. More than 79 systems had to function in perfect harmony to accomplish this technological miracle.

I still hope we can one day bring back manned exploration.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Writers Unaware

Card, Orson Scott, and Aaron Johnson. Earth Unaware: The First Formic War. New York: Tor, 2012.Cover courtesy of Library Thing

As a long-standing fan of both Orson Scott Card and the Ender series, Earth Unaware was a heartbreaking disappointment. Delegating a beloved series seldom works unless the primary author's goal is to kill off that series. If that was the goal, Earth Unaware is a resounding success. If I were not already aware of Card's brilliance, I would never attempt another book in the series. In deed, if not for the misguided belief that “the whole thing can’t be this bad,” I would never have finished this….

Aaron Johnson states Earth Unaware evolved from a comic book project to provide backstory for Ender’s Game. Unfortunately, the book does not make it past the comic book level. In fact, it is not so much a novel as an extended slice of life that rambles form the Kuiper Belt to Earth’s moon with only a vague sense of direction. There is a saying among writers: “Novels are never completed, only abandoned.” EU was not abandoned; it was amputated.

Worse, the two collaborators never achieve a common voice. They do not even seem to be telling the same story. One (I assume Card) paints detailed technical panoramas in smooth technical prose. The other vainly attempts sophomoric character interactions that are as shallow and moving as a mosquito bite using descriptions dictated by a Flesch-Kincaid algorithm. Perhaps this level of character development is appropriate to a comic book. It is too banal for a novel. I frequently found myself skimming/skipping any number of pages until I found another section where I would be drawn back into the story rather than bludgeoned with sixth grade sentimentality.

The collaborators compensate for this failure somewhat by switching character perspective, but the stylistic dissonance continuously knocked me out of the story. When writers force the reader to think about style, they fail to create the illusion of the universe they are trying to build. Few writers are stylistically brilliant enough that linguistic excellence is its own end. Neither collaborator achieves such stratospheric writing in this book.

Further, I could not believe in any of the characters, except Concepcíon, the free minor ship captain. She was the only character in the novel capable of demonstrating character. For all the others, we were simply told they had character, what I call the Republican approach to character development.

I can say this much positive about First Formic War:

  • Card’s explanation of the technology underlaying the characters' lifestyle was clear, intriguing, and unobtrusive.
  • The book inspired me to take Suna shopping for bath towels—I think primarily as the escapist activity I had hoped the book would provide.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Home Again

Dad watches TV from his favorite lawn chair.Dad is home again.

The new calf was not with its mama at the water trough this morning. Its absence is concerning because calves born this time of year often do not survive the heat. Chris and I searched for it in the grazer. We finally found it hidden among the tall stalks. It didn’t take a lot of herding to get it back with mama.

When we got to the hospital, Dr. W had already released Dad to go home. Two bits of really good news: The abdominal scan revealed no metastasis, and Dr. W. says dad has “a long time.” Combined with the medical news, the news about having a new calf made it a great day for Dad.

Shortly before lunch time, we were ready to roll. On the way home, we passed a Victoria county sherif trolling for tickets. He was driving a dirty pickup truck with a tool box and a headache rack—not lights on the roof. Only the logo on the door identified him as a cop. Sneaky bear! I wonder if he has trouble getting people to pull over because of the lack of identification. These are paranoid times, but paranoia has survival value.

Dad was almost himself by the time we got back to the farm, and the calf was still with mama at the water trough—very shady and cool there. I went into Yorktown to get prescriptions filled while Dad napped and Chris got ready to drive to Tildon for work. As I was pulling into town, Chris called to let me know Dad has a second calf. There was a new white faced calf to go with the brindle calf we found yesterday.

The white faced calfAnother new calf to brave the August sun

Back at the house, Dad was feeling good enough to go through several of his standard rants: business, lawyers, politicians, and the decline and fall of the US at the hands of greedy Republicans out to destroy the middle class. I let him rant. It is good to see him with that much energy.

He is stronger today, able to move around enough to take care of himself. He still doesn’t have much appetite, but he is eating about as much as before the procedure.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Little Better

A brindle calf resting against its black mama.
The newest calf in Dad’s herd

Chris and I arrived at the hospital after Dr. W. had come in to talk to Dad. We were running late because a bad mama cow had come up for water without her baby, and we took a while to find it in the grazer patch and drive it back up to the shady water trough where the cattle like to hang out during the heat of the day. The last thing we wanted to have to tell Dad this morning was that we had lost his new calf.

Dr. W. had told Dad he had to stay another night in the hospital. Dad took this news with surprising aplomb. The he told us the CT scan had revealed no metastasis. Dr. W. says Dad has “a long time,” whatever that means. While I know he can’t predict the future, I’m much happier with “a long time” than I would be with “a few months.” Or less.

Some of the 23 bales of hay that awaited our return to the farm

By late afternoon, I was glad that they were keeping Dad another night. He woke up from his afternoon siesta in a very crotchety mood. He was down on everything. Yesterday’s surgery and a lack of deep sleep had caught up with him. He was too weak to get out of bed without help (never mind that he is 89, and many his age have trouble like this without the excuse of surgery—or cancer). He went through a litany of all things the medical profession had done to ruin his life. Then he got started on lawyers.

I hate it when he is unhappy like this. His pain pains me, too. So, I try to find something positive to say, but he wasn’t having anything to do with that. All I could do was sit quietly and listen without comment until he wore himself down. When he returned from a long phone call, Chris finally got Dad turned onto happier subjects.

We left shortly after dinner because Dad was tired and wanted to turn in early. We got back to the farm to find 23 round bales of hay had been baled in our absence—not bad for a 20 acre paddock being grazed by nine head.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

…Just Not Today

Chris and Jim
Chris and Jim wait with me for Dad to wake up. This is very stressful for all of us, but Jim wears the strain more publicly.

I am at Citizens Hospital—now called Citizens Medical Center because it has expanded so much—in Victoria, Texas because Dad is having another probing session with Dr. W. It has been scheduled for months, but I don’t like taking chances by not being here.

I drove Chris and Dad in for the 06:00 appointment, which is an hour earlier than usual. (All that meant was we had more time to wait before the actual procedure would start.) Jim and Waynette drove in from Angleton. I came in last night, which meant I missed Suna’s return from North Carolina, where she went to help Kynan drive back from a summer internship with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Once they finally got started about 8:30, the procedure went a little longer than the expected hour. Dr. W. gave us the news in a small office off the waiting room. The tumors have continued to grow and now take up almost the entire volume of the bladder. He was able to resect much of the tumor on the left lateral wall, but the one on the right was too hard to cut. He had spent the extra time trying to clear as much of the tumors as he could.

He said Dad needs more radiation, but the radiologist says Dad has already had all the radiation he can take. Dad has already reacted badly to the milder form of chemotherapy available for this type of aggressive cancer. The remaining chemotherapy option probably won’t extend his life but would be seriously detrimental to his quality of life. Dr. W. wants to perform a CT scan tomorrow morning to see if any metastasis has occurred.

We all agree that whatever happens next is Dad’s call. Our only concern is to make the remainder of his long life as happy and comfortable as humanly possible.

It took longer for Dad to come out of recovery than we expected, too. Waynette and I began to worry that the delay might be caused by a recurrence of the painful bladder spasms that he experience on a previous procedure. Turns out we were right. That level of pain takes a lot out of Dad. We got him up to his room and went to lunch to allow him to sleep off the anesthesia in peace.

After lunch, we stayed in the waiting room until he woke up. Jim and Waynette went back to Angleton. Chris and I stayed with Dad to wait for Dr. W. to come by. When he did, he was more optimistic than he had been immediately after surgery, just not much. I can’t imagine what Dad is going through right now.

We stayed with Dad until his normal 21:00 bed time. We didn’t talk much on the way back to the farm. What is there to say?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thrall School

Street sign pointing to the Thrall School.I’ve always wondered what they teach
at the Thrall School.

While I’m sure the kids who have to attend take more than their fair share of abuse over the name of their high school, you just can’t help but wonder, “What were they thinking?”

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Quick Trip to See Dad

Dad thinks deep thoughts after a nap.
After the rains, the corn looks really good and stands more than six feet tall.
Many of the stalks have two ears. Some have three, but no more than two will make.
Roughnecks dismantle the rig in Betty Ann’s field.
The coastal is green and lush.
The recent rains helped the small patch of jigs take off. The grazer beside it is doing well, too.

While Suna did her thing, I went to visit Dad. He’s looking much better than he has for more than a year now, even though he celebrated his 89th birthday this week.

When I got to the farm, he was out fixing fence. Yesterday a neighbor’s bull had wanted to come visit the cows enough to break four strands of barbed wire and challenge a mature Brahma bull. Dad chased the intruder out with the mule. After Dad ran into him a couple of times, he hit another stretch of fence at full bore,

Dad fixed that stretch of fence and another break yesterday. When he went outside this morning, something just didn’t look right with another stretch. Closer investigation revealed a gap there, too. Luckily, the Dad’s rented bull and his harem were laying under a shade tree looking at the gap and taking bets on how long it would take Dad to notice it and fix it.

After working up an appetite fixing fence, I took Dad into Yorktown for lunch. The local pizza parlor wasn’t too busy, so that’s where we settled. We ordered “The Monster,” which consists of everything they have to offer except jalapeños. Dad finished off two good-sized slices.

On the way back, we visited with the neighbor who bought Uncle Carol’s have of the old homestead. We talked about innocuous things and watched the roughnecks dismantle the drilling rig across the road on Betty Ann’s place. They’re moving it one piece at a time around the corner to another neighbor’s spread.

Soon it was nap time. Dad and I each dozed and then philosophized before wandering around the farm.

I sure am glad I still get to visit with him.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Photo Blog

I have no idea who created this Facebook meme…or even why I chose it for this post.

I have started a new photo blog, Hermitage Photos. While this blog and Lumbering Along with Ursula have quite a few pictures, Hermitage Photos centers on the photos. Each post features a single photo with pertinent information about the photograph and its backstory.

I was inspired to this new blog by my work friend Kara’s photo blog Lights and Flashes. I always start these things with the best of intentions. Lets see how I do with this one.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Corn

New corn popping out of the groundThe corn Dad planted just in time for the rains is popping out of the ground.

We went to visit Dad this weekend. Suna did a great job documenting much of the trip in the Ursula blog. So, I’ll just hit on a couple of the high points.

  • Dad now has his doctor’s blessing to take himself off all his medications. He is completely done with his radiation, and no more chemo. Yay!
  • Dad is getting his strength and appetite back. He basically (not quite) cleaned his plate at both Aunt Di’s and Don Bravo’s. (To be fair, I could’t clean my plate at DB’s.
  • Between Dad, Chris, and the rain, the farm is looking better than I can remember seeing it. It is good to hear Dad talking about doing things for the future of the farm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It Was My Birthday

Once Dad would have been on his feet, pacing around the fire. I’m just glad he’s feeling good enough to be out watching it. Photo by: Chris

This will be my third attempt to post a birthday blog. Blogger ate the first attempt for an improperly closed HTML—which X2 used to pronounce “hate mail”— tag. The Blogger editor used to a little more forgiving than that, but I guess they’ve made it so easy to use that it’s extremely destructive.

Other than disgruntlement with Blogger, this has been one of the best birthdays I can remember. Unfortunately, since it’s taken so many times to get this post done, I don’t remember all of the things I was going to list. Here are some of them:

  • Quality time spent with loved ones
  • Good health
  • Word that Dad’s radiation is done with and he’s starting to get his health back
  • Enough rain for burning the brush pile at the farm to be thinkable

Monday, January 23, 2012

Everything Is Kinda Alright

Dad continues to survive.Dad at Christmas
Everything is kinda all right
We gonna make it through the long night
And everything’s gonna work out all right
Long as we keep a-movin’ on

—Charlie Daniels

I should have posted about this a while back, but I’ve never been that good at keeping up with my journals, even though I keep starting them.

I chose the title of this post from the Charlie Daniels song quoted above because that is how I feel after talking to Dad on the phone this evening. It’s not great, but some times all right is all you get…or need.

The picture of Dad is from our trip to see him at Christmas. This picture and many of the recent ones bring a different song to mind.

Well, to me he’s one of the heroes of this country
So why’s he all dress up like them old men?

—Guy Clark

That’s not how he sounded when we talked. And that’s not how I feel tonight.

Dad is now almost through with his radiation therapy. Because they’re irradiating the same general area as when he had colon cancer, he can only take half of what the radiologist said he would normally do for bladder cancer. Dad seems to be tolerating the therapy very well. Today was the first time he complained of any side effects, and those are not beyond the pale of his normal range of symptoms.

So, I’m reasonably optimistic. Dad is in good spirits and has some goals set. They aren’t as long-term as he once set, but they are very reasonable for someone pushing 89. I am very pleased that one of them is to reach 90. When he accomplishes that, he can set some more. As he noted today, “You have to have goals.”

On a completely different note, Suna and I had dinner tonight with Tubaboy and his girlfriend, who has a vaguely Princess Di-ish look to her. (She is a very sweet girl from Montana.) She used Tubaboy’s kitchen to prepare an eggplant primavera. I was really surprised at how delicious it was—not that I had any doubts about her culinary capabilities; it was the eggplant part that bothered me.

After dinner, we walked around campus and visited Tubaboy’s roommate at work. On the way home, I saw a huge gray fox run across the street. Now I know why the dogs have been in an uproar the past several nights.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Birthday

A big group of happy people. The big motley crew celebrated Kynan’s birthday last night
Happy birthday, dear Kynan
Happy birthday to you

Last night, a bunch of Kynan’s friends came over to help him celebrate his birthday. I love all these “kids.” They give me hope for the future and a confidence that they’ll do a better job than did my generation. They are so smart, and they seem genuinely committed to building a better world.


Friday, January 06, 2012

No, People Toast Bullets

A pile of toast with various pictures of Hitler's face.Toasters Toasting People Photo by: This Blog Rules

From the "Overheard at Work" files:

So if “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Does that mean that “toasters don’t toast toast; toast toasts people?”

I think he got his tang toungled.