Image courtesy of Old Design Shop

I like this little guy. Quite dapper with the bow tie and hat, plus the broom to sweep away the last vestiges of 2017.

We spent New Year’s weekend watching the “Downton Abbey” marathon on our local PBS station. Few other options for amusement  existed. We had a small storm on Friday that dropped enough snow to make the roads challenging. As in what usually is a 30-minute round trip to pick Oakley up from day care morphing into two hours. On its heels came a brutally cold Saturday. Sunday wasn’t bad. We left the Crawleys and their staff to their own devices as we went for a New Year’s lunch and a new to us bookstore. Hubby found several books on woodworking and reproducing antique furniture. I found several history related books. A good time was had by both.

Monday sent the temperatures back into the deep freeze. If someone saw the two inch snow cover glittering beneath last night’s full moon, they might have thought that the midwest isn’t that bad in winter. Unfortunately, it can be. There are two options: a grey slushy day with temperatures in the high 20s or low 30s, or a picture perfect day of blue skies and sparkling snow with air temps that will shatter your lungs when you inhale.

Despite the cold, the earth spins on. We move onward into 2018. I will refrain from making any statements about it not being worse that 2017 for fear that 2018 will ask it to hold its beverage before spinning out of control.

Will we ever get back on center, though? I am heartened by  the current wave of political activism. One of my personal resolutions was to get involved at least through making phone calls to express my support or displeasure to Senators Duckworth and Durbin. I also resolve to do what can to get the local Congressional rep, Randy Hultgren, out of office in November.  He has been unresponsive and his staffers have been even worse. I’ll put my energy into getting in one of the candidates running against him, thank you very much.

We all have our work cut out for us. Let us continue. Let us begin.




The Second Day of Christmas

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

We didn’t have a partridge in a pear tree. Nor turtle doves, unless you want to count their two mourning cousins who crashed into the back door while Hubby and I had lunch.

The last couple of weeks have been busy with a graduation (nephew launching into the great wide open); the family holiday gathering piggybacked on that to spare the Michigan relatives a second drive down in a week; a wonderful Yule party thrown by a couple of friends, one of whom is a culinary school grad; and yesterday came the season finale with dinner at another couple of friends’.

Today is the big deep sigh of letting go, of making space for the new year. It’s up to a whopping two above as I write, making it a good day to dream, to reflect. We’ll be back in double digits by Thursday, sort of, anyway. One of the almanacs predicted that we’d be cycling in and out of the deep freeze this winter. All OK as long as we don’t get the huge snows to go with it, or stay stuck there for protracted periods.

And that’s good. Several occasions warrant leaving the house whether I want to or not. We have a couple of vet visits coming up. The 10,000 mile annual check up and three year rabies shot needs to be scheduled with the regular vet before the 11th.  Oakley goes to Dr. V for a recheck of his eyes on the 8th. We’ll be discussing what longterm management of his uvulitis [sp?], the autoimmune condition triggering the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eyeballs. In the handout that she gave me, Dr. V said that humans who have it described the pain of this process as severe cramping. I’m not thrilled about Oakley being on Prednisone long term, but if it’s a choice between side effects from a maintenance dose of it or a 100% chance of him going blind in a lot of pain, I think you know which risk I’ll take.

So far, Oakley has had minimal side effects from the Pred and the anti-rejection drug  taken with it. The former necessitates a couple more potty runs during the day and makes him hungrier and thirstier. The latter caused him to emit sulphuric gas clouds–no cramping or discomfort, just gas–the first couple of days. Since dogs have different standards for what constitutes a pleasing odor than humans, I’m sure he’s enjoying it. I swear I’ve seen him smile a couple of times after he’s cut one. His eyes are clearing up and he’s much more comfortable.

For now that’s what counts.

And even with the generosity of family and friends, there’s nothing else I could ask for.


Riding the Shark into the New Normal

I can’t find a picture to post without possible copyright infringement issues, but if you do a search for “bear with machine gun riding a shark” it should tell you about this week.

A little over a week ago, I noticed that Oakley’s right eye was drifting off to the right for no good reason. Consulted Dr. Google; likely age related. OK…and then there was the discharge and showing of teeth when I tried to clean the corners of his eyes. Infection? Yes. Vet time. Make appointment with usual vet.

She, with the help of a couple of techs, examined his eyes. Not an infection, but something was amiss with the blood vessels in his right eye. Not sure what it was. Pretty sure not cancer. Referred to veterinary ophthalmologist.

Doctor V. looks like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her exam room sports purple walls and eye charts for dogs and cats (consisting of species appropriate words arranged as one would find on a chart intended for humans). As if that wasn’t cool enough, she assured Oakley that she didn’t have a thermometer or nail clippers. We both liked her immediately.

Ear rubs, pokes, peeks, prods.  Not an infection.

Then what?

Autoimmune. Inflammation in his right eye probably feels like a charley horse. The abnormal new vascular formation resembled a curtain dropping from the top of Oakley’s right eye. It’s how the immune system prepares to send T-cells to fight the perceived enemy.

(insert silent f-bomb)

OK, what do we do?

Eye drops to “slap the immune system in the face.” Do blood panel to see if the illness back in May was tick born–that might have triggered it. Showed me how to put the drops and ointment in his eyes.

Get him home. My efforts to instill the drops and ointment lead to snarls, snapping, and me on the floor in tears. Tried treats. Tried everything. No matter what, he went into defensive posturing.

Damn whoever mishandled Oakley between his biological mother’s side and the day I adopted him.

What to do? I don’t want him to go blind or be in pain.  However, I don’t want to be bitten or to lose his trust in me.

The medicines can be administered orally.  Yes, there is a researched and acknowledged risk of side effects. Yes, blood work for monitoring  may become part of our routine. I understand that.

I called Dr. V’s office. Oh, no–sorry that he’s not cooperating. No, don’t apologize. We understand. CBC and blood chemistry (due for that anyway). What’s the number for the pharmacy? Will call back with that.

So we leave in an hour for the blood draw, then go to day care.

Except for the blood draw, it’s a normal day. Isn’t it?



The PICAN Having Not So Much To Do With Pies But Much With The Fairness Doctrine And Bruce Springsteen






PICAN. That was the intended purpose of broadcasting back in the dawn of the radio and TV era. That everyone would have equal access and opportunity to watch news, sports, and entertainment. And coupled with the Fairness Doctrine, news would be as unbiased as possible, showing different sides to an issue.

That’s what I was told in my first broadcasting classes back in the early ’80s. Later in the decade, the cable companies, Wall Street, and Reagan’s cronies decided otherwise. The Fairness Doctrine was repealed. And somewhere along the line, the rules about how many outlets per market could be owned by a given company (back at the dawn of time in my freshman year, it was any combination of papers, radio and TV stations totaling up to seven) were blurred or obliterated. So much for balance and diversity.

And now we have Fifty Seven Channels and Nothing’s On thanks to cable and dish providers. Well, more like a couple of hundred in some localities. How many of these channels serve the PICAN is beyond me. Some of the channels I wouldn’t mind, such as Starz for their adaptations of Philippa Gregory’s novels about the Plantagent dynasty, or HBO for “Game of Thrones.” But pay for programming with no redeeming value like “Honey Boo Boo” or propaganda like certain news outlets? No. That was never supposed to be part of the plan.

There are times when cable is needed. My paternal grandmother lived in western Massachusetts in a pretty small town about six miles south of the Vermont border. Between the remoteness and the mighty shielding power of the granite mountains, any kind of decent  over the air TV signal was an impossibility. With the help of (very) basic cable, she could get the stations from Albany (40 miles south), Boston (three hours east) and New York (about three and a half hours southeast). It provided her with news, entertainment, and her Red Sox games. I think we had a choice of twelve channels. Gram mostly filled her days by reading the paper, visiting her friends and relatives within walking distance. TV was limited to her quiz shows and a handful of series. That’s all she needed.

That was back in the ’70s. The ’80s opened up a wild west of commercial broadcasting options, and not all for the better. Not unless you’re an ad agency or a retailer looking to brainwash consumers. Convenient, yes, but at a high price to one’s purse from the pressure to buy, psyche, and the environment.

We–Hubby and I–don’t need much more ourselves than what Gram had. With just our converter box and antenna, we get PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, WGN, and a slew of indie outlets and substations. There are two classic movie channels we enjoy. One of the substations runs “Star Trek” six nights a week. We invest in DVDs of our favorite programs. We both have channels we like on YouTube. Sometimes when nothing appeals to me, I do this really crazy thing called READING A BOOK.

In this post-PICAN and Fairness Doctrine world, making deliberate, conscious choices takes on new importance. Do your research on broadcasting options in your area, and choose wisely.

I know I’ve posted this before, but I feel like it’s time to revisit John Denver’s cover of “Spanish Pipedream (Blow Up Your TV)” again.  Somehow, it just seems to fit.




Food Insecurity 101

From Quoteaddicts.com.



(note: If I could go in the quote and put brackets around “childhood,” I would…because no one should go hungry.  Period. End of quotation.)

Let’s start with a definition of food insecurity here.  According to the USDA, 11% of US households along with as many as 20% of children struggle to meet the basic need of nutritious food. 8% of senior citizen households struggle to keep themselves fed as well.

It’s not just people on the ends of the life spectrum. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that 1.7 million US veterans made use of SNAP and local food pantries. Thanks to disability and a lack of truly decent jobs on their return, they end up in that hellish place where they have to decide between food, medicine, and bills. (The VA doesn’t do as much as you might think. One of my close friends is in a running battle with them on behalf of her husband, but that’s a long story for another entry.)

However, you can help. Yes, you, Gentle Reader, and I will be beside you. Beyond tossing stats and facts around–important for educating yourself and others–and beyond making contributions–vitally important for providing resources–the most important step you can take is reminding your congress rep about these issues in a phone call or email. If you have the misfortune to live in a district (like WI-01 or IL-14) with a rep who thinks the new tax bill that favors the extremely rich is just fine and dandy or is apathetic to the needs of the constituents, then work on getting them out of office.

No one should make a sacrifice for their country and have to choose between bills and food.

No one at the end of their life should have to, either.

And the parents of the people at the beginning of their lives shouldn’t have to, either.

No one, under no circumstances. Ever.




Life. Death. Rebirth. Reconnect. Rinse. Repeat.

Despite the spitting rain, yesterday was a fine day, indeed. Through the magic of social media, I reconnected with one of my close friends from grad school. Over tacos, we spent about ten minutes discussing where we had been and what we’d been doing since the last time we’d seen each other, about 20 years ago. And then we just picked up where we’d left off as if no time had elapsed, discussing more contemporary subjects such as Oakley, her cats, the next generation of relatives, current events and so on. We will do lunch again very soon.

Counter to that, also through the auspices of social media, I was able to get back in touch with another friend of ours from grad school. A few PMs on FaceBook brought us up to speed with one another a few months ago. The bad news is that tomorrow she lays her wife of five years to rest. I never had the privilege of meeting my friend’s wife, but she leaves a legacy of love,  service to children, and a deep commitment to social justice. The card that inadequately expresses my thoughts goes out this afternoon. Somehow, writing F*** CANCER in red ink next to “thinking of you–wishing you peace and strength now and in the days to come ” seems a bit jarring. But were I to share with her with the level of honesty that we shared in the heady days fueled by idealism and bad coffee from the  student center, that’s what I would write.

With age come a few nods to social convention, so I will err on the side of refinement.

Good manners aside, in this season of preparation for winter repose when everything turns brown and the greens that cling to plants seem dull, there’s some sense of rebirth. At least I’m sensing it. The political wreckage of the last year revealed that some 60% (depending on the poll you believe) thinks the White House freak show needs to come to an end yesterday. I take heart from the stories about marches, people using their voices, and small acts of kindness and beauty.

I’ve found myself getting back into the groove of calling officials and choosing to work to get the current congress critter out–he has done less than nothing for anyone who is not a contributor to his campaign. I will do the same for next year’s gubernatorial election. Some feel that we need to ride out this cycle and not let our hearts be too troubled by it. It troubles my heart to sit and do nothing. If a few phone calls and reposts can speed up the cycle, it’s not a bad thing.

The trick is to see dormancy as a phase, but not to stay there.



Soup Weather



Image courtesy Old Design Shop


We had the first snow this past Sunday. Huge half-formed flakes escorted by grey rain fell from the sky the better part of the morning.

Most Sundays or Saturdays, Oakley and I walk with a friend, but the cold damp weather vetoed it. I did a short yoga practice and made a pot of refrigerator soup.

No need to immerse appliances in boiling water to make stock. There is no real recipe for it. If you want to be fancy, call it soupe bonne femme, the good wife’s soup. Go through your fridge. The half serving of peas, celery that’s gone limp, half an onion from a salad made a few days ago can go in the pot. You found a couple of carrots that have seen better days? Peel, trim, chop, and introduce them to their colleagues in the pot. Cabbage? Chop it finally and add that. Of course you can add potatoes, pasta, rice, whatever suits your fancy.

For stock, I used a generous tablespoon of bouillon paste and water to cover. I also poured in a can of crushed tomatoes. Salt. Pepper. Garlic, either fresh or powdered.  If you want to make it a whole meal, canned white beans or chickpeas will round it out as will leftover bits of roast meat or chicken if you need to use those up.

Simmer until everything is done. The longer, the better in order to blend the flavors. Serve with some good bread or crackers, perhaps some cheese, and enjoy at a table with an outside view. Accompany with gratitude for being inside and having a full belly, and follow up with fruit for dessert.

Garden Report: Final Edition for 2017

We had the first real frost yesterday morning. Even as Oakley made our bed time potty run the night before, the grass glistened and crunched. Well, it is November, and this is to be expected on the heels of protracted warm weather.

Yesterday, I pulled the last of the carrots and some greens. I don’t know what they were. I’d planted a packet of seeds labeled as French salad blend. Beyond being kind of tasty, their identity remains a mystery. The basil hung like flags on windless days. It had slowed down, so no great loss there. The remaining green tomatoes may go into a batch of salsa. I sampled one–the recent rains made them really watery and the lack of sun impeded their ripening. They were just being tomatoes and didn’t know that November is not a good time to set new blossoms.

Weather wise, we open today on a not too unpleasant note, but the wind from a system originating in Canada will be sweeping through this afternoon. The temps are expected to drop rapidly. We’ll be inside, and warm. And we will let the seasons keep turning.


“Tell Me, What Is It You Plan To Do With Your One Wild and Precious Life?”


Today’s title from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.” Today’s image courtesy Old Design Shop.

The last week or so here in the soybean field unfolded fairly uneventfully. November arrived yesterday clad in grey with touches of orange and yellow. The contrast of the leaves and the sky made me gasp a couple of times for the sheer beauty of it as I drove home from the suburb within shouting distance of the big city.

Let me back up. I went to a funeral yesterday. The stepmother and -in-law of two of my close friends took advantage of the veil between the worlds thinning to slip into her next life over the weekend. No preventable disease; no tragic end. Just the sadness that comes when it’s time to let go of a loved one. She was a well-lived 94, and until she became unsteady on her feet a few years ago, she volunteered at the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton, IL (providing food, clothes, and job skills training to residents of the county since sometime in the ’60’s).

As funerals go, it wasn’t bad at all. The pastor had spoken extensively with the family members who arranged it. He used the stories they told to paint a portrait of a woman who lived well, loved her family, and served others. At the points where prayers and blessings were inserted, he acknowledged that not everyone walked his path, and it was OK if you didn’t say the words with the rest of the gathered. The service lasted a scant half an hour. At its conclusion, we made one last walk past the urn containing her ashes. I placed my hand on it, wished her a safe journey.

Afterwards, another of our mutual friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while invited me out for coffee. We invested in an hour of laughs and news, then parted with hugs and a promise of lunch soon.

I picked my way through midday traffic. The quote from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” began running through my mind. So did the question of where have I been relative to my own life the last five years or so.

I know the answer, but out of respect for the privacy of others, I can’t go into it, but I will tell you that it has drained my psyche rather than filling my soul. I thank you for your understanding.

Even in the fading light of the year,  it’s time to get back to my own life, to the things that keep my heart beating: writing, activism when I can, the environment as best I can, and history. And my friends. It’s tough when they live an hour and upwards away. I will just have to make more of an effort, though, for my own good.

So, as the leaves fall in the swirling wind, I begin again.

Dragon Tastes Like Chicken


Image courtesy The Graphics Fairy


The good news: Hubby aced his midterms. His hard work paid off in aces and spades.

The bad: After the last month (as you may recall, we have two relatives in ongoing life-altering situations that have to play out on their terms), we needed to climb up into our happy place. Bristol Ren Faire closed for the season Labor Day weekend. We missed out on Stronghold Olde English Faire. We also missed Quad Cities Ren Faire. Of course they both fell the weekend just before midterms week.

The constant playing of appropriate music and burning rose and sandalwood incense by the package provided some respite, but we needed something more. So we went to Medieval Times .

And did we have a blast. OK, except for the part where we blew past the entrance and drove a few miles north when we exited the tollway. (If you’re in the Chicago area, the castle’s address is on Roselle Road in Schaumburg, and that’s the exit you’ll take off of I-90. It’s actually on Central. You’ll have to turn east into the office park just north of the tollway.  The combination of fog and the high berm between the tollway and the property made the building fade out. Very Halloween-esque.)

Digression over. On to the show.

We lined up, had our tickets checked, and collected our color coded seating assignments. On the way in, we met one of the stars of the show, Liberty the falcon, as she calmly perched on her trainer’s gloved hand. Once in the lobby and past stands with mementos and adult beverages, murals and maps illustrating Spain’s reach at that time gave guests a very brief history lesson, just enough to entice into maybe reading up on it a little more.

Finally, one of the lords of the realm called to the crowd to start the seating section by section. Easily done, since paintings of the knights’ coats of arms decorated the areas just above the doors. The sections encircle the arena where the jousting and combat take place. I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house.

Once seated, the servers (either a serf or a wench) began bringing food and drink. Water or pop? Water, please. Dragons’ blood soup? Yes. It resembled tomato basil, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

And then it grew dark. The spotlight came up by the arena’s entrance where mist floated up from the floor as the show’s narrator spoke to the relationship between humans and horses throughout time, the mist parted. There stood an Andalusian, bold and big, gleaming silver.

If we’d had to leave then, I would have been fine with it.

Obviously, we didn’t.

As the story unfolded (a joust arranged by the king for our entertainment interrupted by a representative of a foreign power attempting to trade a horse for the princess of the realm), the servers made their way as unobtrusively as possible with the pans of roasted young dragon (tasted and looked a lot like chicken), dragon eggs (resembled spiced potatoes), and corn (that looked and tasted like, well, corn). Add in the coffee and the lemon poundcake and we were both very satisfied.

Most importantly, for the first time since the last Ren Faire, we had fun. I came away inspired to learn more about horses, and more about Spain–as with many Ren fans, I’ve been slanted towards the British/Celtic side, but there’s so much more out there to read.

Between that and the “Tudors” DVDs, we should be occupied until the first weekend after July 4 when the call “Open wide the gates!” rings through the air at Bristol again.