A Semi-Annual Tradition: Halloween Shirts

Walmart tends to have racks at the front of the clothing sections with seasonal merchandise tied to upcoming holidays, probably including Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day/Independence Day (flags and whatnot can apply to both), Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and probably a bit of New Year’s Eve.

Starting when the boys were just coming into school age, I’ve often picked them up a Halloween shirt. None of the other holidays; only Halloween.

For many years, I bought them matching shirts–that is, shirts with the exact same design. Generally a pumpkin-themed shirt and not one of the more daring designs with zombies or anything. I didn’t want to frighten them or their classmates–later, the younger kids at their Lutheran school.

When younger, they often delighted in having matching clothes and would sometimes wear the same thing to school, including their Halloween shirts.

The penultimate purchase or two, I bought different designs for them as they’ve gotten older and have their own independent styles and want to be differentiated from their sibling.

However, this year, when I was at the Walmart for more practical needs, I saw that the Halloween shirts were out, so I again bought them the same design.

As is the wont, I picked these up when they were in school, and I put them in their shirt drawers without commenting on it. They discovered them, and although they no longer squee with delight when they find these things, they have both worn the shirts several times in the first week. The youngest will wear the shirt year-round and not just during Halloween if the past is any guide. Maybe the older one will, too; he didn’t like the last design, two skeletons where one is holding the other’s spine with the caption, “I’ve Got Your Back.”

You know, when they were younger, I could delight them with surprises like this. New shirts, new socks, new Spider-Man sheets on their bed. Now, they’re more sophisticated. They still enjoy these things, but they can’t squee any more as they’re young men.

Or so I tell myself as I still like to get them little gifts from time to time as a sign of affection.

In Generations Past, We Had A Different Worry

Editorial: West on fire, Great Lakes on the rise, and other climate perils:

The Midwest doesn’t generally have to cope with wildfires, but here, too, climate change is altering our environment in ways that are powerful and dangerous to people as well as property. The most obvious effect is the rising waters in the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan, Erie and Huron set all-time records for high levels this year, and Superior broke its February record. Recent years have been the wettest for the Great Lakes in more than 120 years.

I am so old that I remember a couple years ago when the very opposite worry was true:

Lake Michigan has officially sunk to an all-time low.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported Tuesday that in January the lake plunged below its previous record low level, set in March 1964.

The water is now more than 6 feet below the record high, set in October 1986. The water level is tracked by gauges placed around Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are actually one body of water connected by the Straits of Mackinac. Daily measurements are then averaged at the end of each month for record-keeping purposes.

Remember, gentle reader, when anyone talks about climate measurements being the mostest and the worstest in history, they do not mean like since Ur and the flood that appears in many historical mythologies (the current amount of fresh water, a scarce commodity in many parts of the world, is a CIVILIZATION ENDING EVENT!). History in this case means a hundred years or so when measurement began, and where the measurement in the early part of “history” was not standardized or as precise as it is now.

But the countdown is on to the next set of stories talking about how low lake levels are not going to provide enough water for the cities and the fish. I think it’s got about six years of sand in that particular glass.

I Missed It

I’ve been to Wisconsin Dells a couple of times in the last couple of years–and intended to go again this summer, but. So that plan was deferred until next year, hopefully.

Although I had an inclination to, I did not attend the Tommy Bartlett water-skiing show because it was always there.

Not any more:

After nearly seven decades, the Tommy Bartlett Show in Wisconsin Dells announced Wednesday it will close permanently due to business losses during the pandemic.

In April, the owners of the water-ski, sky and stage show made the decision to close its attraction this summer due to restrictions on large gatherings.

By “No more,” I mean, maybe.

After all, the company owns a lot of attractions and property in the area. It’s possible that they’ll change their minds next year if the property doesn’t sell and tourism comes roaring back. But who knows.

Full disclosure: Although I never saw the full show in the Dells, I am pretty sure I caught parts of the group performing on Milwaukee’s lake front during Summerfest.

(Linked link seen on Instapundit, but I did see the story on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Web site first.)

The Winningest

Tam K. asks:

What kind of loser still writes a blog in 2020, anyway?

Basically, people who took Hugh Hewitt’s 2005 book Blog too much to heart or someone who has heard a business coach in 2020 say You’ve got to have a blog! You’ve got to have a brand! that, with diligent work and a proven track record over decades of fresh content will enable you to sell a hundred or so copies of your novel, one copy of your play (not a typo; it was to Charles Hill, PBUH), and a handful of copies of your poetry collection even though each is only $.99 on Kindle. Well, okay, the business coaches say the first part; the latter part of it comes from my own experience (and the thousands of words on this blog could probably have been better developed into a habit of writing actual books instead so maybe I could have eventually sold maybe five hundred books total.

All daily for the three or four regular readers and to keep my site fresh for search engines so I’m still a relevant hit for reports on obscure books.

Maybe Ms. K’s question was rhetorical, but I certainly explained one of the kinds of loser still blogging.

(Also, note, although I say decades of experience, this blog with its Blogger origin story are only seventeen and a half years old, so clearly I am using hyperbole.)

Book Report: Lord of Janissaries by Jerry Pournell and Roland J. Green (2015)

Book coverI miss Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor blog. I used to read it all the time, and I corresponded with Dr. Pournelle from time to time–he cited me on the blog a couple of times, and he bought my poem for There Might Be War: Volume X. In the months leading up to his death, he mentioned he was working on another Janissaries novel. This year, that book, Mamelukes became available. I ordered it; as I hadn’t actually read the first novels in the series, I ordered an omnibus edition of them as well. Which is how I came to possess this book. When I finished Sixth Column (in August!), I picked this volume up. It helped that it was on the top of the stack.

At any rate, this book collects three books: Janissaries, Clan and Crown, and Storms of Victory. Basically, the story is based on the question of whether a company of Marines could conquer the Roman empire. A squad of mercenaries on a CIA contract are surrounded on an African hilltop in the late 1970s. As they’re about to be overrun by hostiles, a flying saucer appears and makes them an offer: Come act as their agents on a distant planet. Or die.

So the mercs are whisked to a planet where they’re supposed to farm a drug for the aliens. They’ll have to get the locals, humans, to help by any means necessary–it turns out that there are humans throughout the galaxy. On this particular planet, they’re kind of representatives of different eras of human history–barbarians, Romans, and so on. The mercs discover that the aliens end the drug’s multi-year growing opportunity–which is made possible when the most distant star in a trinary system makes its approach by bombarding the planet back to the stone age–not that it gets that far from it.

When they land, the former leader of the group is deposed and ‘exiled’ by his second-in-command. The exiled man is given a gun and sent away, and he encounters the daughter of a barbarian chieftain. He falls for the girl and befriends her priest, and he proves to be an effective war leader as he has studied military history–which comes in handy when he leads the barbarians–now pikemen and cavalry–against a Roman legion effectively.

So that’s the three books, really. The first is the best as it lays the conceits and the world. The characters are developed and the basics of the long arcs and subplots appear. But the second and third books in the omnibus deal a lot more with the intrigues of medieval leadership and military engagements. They’re about making the military alliances and then fighting battles with them. So it gets a little less engaging and a bit repetitive in the last 500 pages.

At the end of the third book, some of the subplots involve interstellar intrigue which are not resolved and the main arc, whether the earthmen fulfill their obligation to provide the drug and perhaps save the planet from the skyfire that falls every couple of hundred years. I guess it’s good that the fourth novel will probably answer these questions.

But I have spent the better part of a month in this world, and as I found the last two thirds of this volume a bit less than the first, I have not picked up the fourth book of the yet and might not for a while. But it’s on the top of a stack, so who knows?

The Less Than Triumphant Return to the YMCA

So I made my first trip to the YMCA since February.

In February, my oldest son and I were taking the triathlon prep class ahead of a projected April Y Not Tri indoor triathlon, so every Monday and Wednesday we ate far too much sushi before going to the Y. The lad would shoot some hoops before class whilst I would do some weightlifting. This was back in February. The before time. We skipped the last week of the classes before everything got cancelled because the early signs were that the Pandemic would be something like the beginning of The Stand.

But it wasn’t, and the YMCA remained closed for a while. Then they opened it up without locker rooms and with some onerous restrictions. So I stayed away.

This week, I realized that I had not really been for a run or a bike ride on a weekday since the boys restarted school, so I have been thinking about a return. My beautiful wife mentioned that Planet Fitness, of which she is a member, asks you to wear a mask when you come in and go out, but when on the machines and whatnot, you don’t. I hoped the Y would be the same. First, though, I had to get some new weightlifting gloves as I used my most recent pair as biking gloves for the Olympic duathlon last spring, and the garage is a black hole.

So I stopped at the sporting goods store that has no guns left and three dumbbells (no barbells or weights) left).

As I explained on Facebook:

I stopped in the sporting goods store today and tried on several pairs of weightlifting gloves before I made my selection.

I am more fastidious about weightlifting gloves than 95% of the clothes I buy (if they’re on the top of the stack and have the right basic size, plus or minus a size, take it!).

I am much more fussy in a hat store, however.

Today I went back to the YMCA. It was early in the morning; I went before sun up, and I would rather wake up before I gym-go, but the current schedule is not conducive to a later visit. It was, as it is purportedly at Planet Fitness, just mask in and mask out; only employees and volunteers were wearing masks on the workout floor. I did my normal interval warm-up without sprints and did a couple of weightlifting exercises–biceps and triceps–followed by a mile on the treadmill. I was going to joke on Facebook that it’s been so long that I had trouble opening the heavy door to the facility, but the amount of engagement I get on Facebook (or that I give on Facebook) these days doesn’t make my quips worthwhile. So I will share them with you.

It’s true, though: I only did about 60% of the weight that I could at the beginning of the year. Maybe not quite that low; my arms have generally been slower to progress than my other muscle groups. But still, a bit humbling. But it is very important to start low when coming back as the corner muscles–the stabilizers in the elbows, shoulders, knees, ankle, hips, and so on–atrophy faster than the big topline muscles, and if you try to do too much too soon, you can hurt the small muscles which will put you out of action longer.

I am looking forward to getting back to the weightlifting. It’s been seven months since I lifted weights. I have run and biked a bit, and I have done a couple of martial arts classes, but the running and biking builds endurance, not the explosive bursts that Mark Rippletoe thinks are important and that one needs for martial arts classes.

Check back with me next week, though, to see if I’ve made it back.

I Know That Feeling

Kim du Toit had a drawing (for a rifle, natch), and in announcing the winners, he says:

Like the last time, I was terrified that someone I know very well would win. Happily, I’ve never met the man in person, so it’s all good.

A while back, I was a tester for a consumer-facing Web site that ran a couple of contests to drum up interest. The prizes were good: early comic books with values in the thousands of dollars. And although the company bought some banner ads and whatnot to promote it, the contests were both won by friends of mine–actually, a married couple who bore my godson. Well, they had me sponsor their fourth child. But they won both of the contests, partly because the number of entries was kind of low, but still.

I recused myself from participating in judging the contests because I knew the entrants, but the boss man still wondered if I was somehow rigging the game. Aside from getting my friends to enter, not at all.

I wonder what they did with their comic books. They didn’t loan them to me for sure.

The Wall Street Journal Follows Brian J.’s Lead Again

Want to instantly upgrade your home? Give it a name

As you know, gentle reader, I refer to my current spread as Nogglestead because I planned to be more successful at gardening and orcharding than I have proven to be. And as the archives of this very blog attest, I named the home we had in Casinoport Honormoor. Strangely enough, we did not name the house during our brief interlude in Old Trees. Perhaps because it would have been pretentious to name a little ranch house in that town of very old manses indeed (probably the presumption of pretentiousness did not stop me–it never has before), or maybe because it would have had to be in ALL CAPS because we lived right on the Interstate.

But I’ve not wanted to upgrade my home.

I just read enough English literature that it seemed the right thing to do.

National Coin Shortage, Explained

  1. Bank branches/lobbies are closed.
  2. Depositors cannot deposit coins through the drive-thru.

The end.

I don’t know if that’s completely the case, but I don’t see businesses who would normally deposit coins putting their money in the Coinstar machines.

The people with piles of coins at home or charities that generally accumulate a bunch of quarters, dimes, and nickels, though, also don’t have a way to deposit those coins.

Could it be as simple as that?

Is Our Headline Writers Liking Dope And Wishing They Could Get It Easier?

The headline is Missouri burns through $1.3 million in veterans’ money in effort to limit marijuana businesses.

But the story is:

Seven months after state officials finished awarding medical marijuana business licenses, regulators have spent $1.3 million in court to defend themselves against a wave of lawsuits filed by businesses whose applications the state denied.

* * * *

The money spent on legal fees to private law firms — $1.29 million so far — comes from fees medical marijuana cardholders and business applicants have paid the department. Those fees, after covering the cost of running the program, are supposed to be deposited into a new Veterans’ Health and Care Fund.

It is not clear what programs the “journalist” would prefer to cut to pay for the increased costs that the appeals and lawsuits cause. Education? Tax abatements for developers or film producers? Health care for the poor?

Missouri doesn’t have the magic beans that can grow the unlimited red ink trees that the federal government has. Maybe that’s the key: more money with puppetmaster strings from Washington!

It’s almost like some people have never learned basic balance sheets or budgeting.

A Very Wisconsin Funeral

I went to my sister-in-law’s funeral on Thursday in the southeastern part of Missouri. My sister-in-law came from a large family–she was one of nine–and a number of them made the trip down from Wisconsin and various parts of Missouri to attend.

Apparently, the family agreed beforehand to wear Packers apparel to honor my sister-in-law’s love of the team. I kid you not. We had jerseys at the service representing:

  • 12 Aaron Rodgers (2).
  • 80 Donald Driver.
  • 52 Clay Matthews.
  • 87 Jordy Nelson.

Along with assorted other Packers apparel amongst the children and whatnot.

I was the only one in a suit, which prompted one of her sisters to ask “Where’s Jake?” when I arrived in my fedora and sunglasses. I’ll be honest, I’m almost fifty, and I’m still a bit gobsmacked when a stranger makes a joke about how I’m dressed. Don’t get me wrong; I will make jokes about how I am dressed–I told someone that I sat down during the viewing period before the service because I didn’t want to be mistaken for a funeral home employee, especially as I would ask for tips, and that would be gauche at a time like this (and I was actually mistaken for an employee by a member of my sister-in-law’s family). Eesh, I got a bunch of jokes to put me down in my school years decades ago, and they still put me in a bit of a mental defensive crouch when I get them now.

My brother is doing all right; he’s talking about the future and has gotten another dog, which his wife opposed, so he’s looking past his grief. My nephew has been hit a little harder; this was his mother and quite possibly the first death of someone close to him, so he didn’t have any warm-ups.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for all of us, them more than me, of course. I would say I’m looking forward to getting back to normal, but deaths close to home have a way of making one look at normal and wondering if it’s really the normal one wants.

As I Have Been Saying

We’ve had occasion to drive through the area south of downtown a couple of times recently; once, with the boys, we had a little extra time before church, so we went for a ride. The second was after a dinner with my wife downtown. Both times, as we went through the area near the university, I reviewed all the new construction–for years, developers have been in the news seeking blight designations for older but still viable properties so they could get tax abatements to construct dazzling new apartment buildings for students. “You know who’s hurting? These guys who have just taken huge mortgages for what are now empty buildings.”

I said it last week; the Wall Street Journal gets there this week: Covid-19 Outbreaks Spell Trouble for Student-Housing Owners.

One might think that you might be able to pick up those new apartment buildings relatively inexpensively in a year or so. I’m not sure if you’d want to, though, as the whole university thing is going to change in the next couple of years as well and might not have the large resident populations that they have in the past.

If I Didn’t Show You, You Wouldn’t Know It Was Clean

A little over a week ago, our washing machine gave out, again. Prior to failure, it had made a strange noise whilst spinning; then, it stopped spinning and then intermittently spun. I ordered a new washing machine on the Internet because I wanted it delivered sooner rather than later and didn’t know when I could make it to shop for a new washer. The delivery still took a week, but it was scheduled for yesterday.

So I moved the old washing machine to the garage where I can repair it at my leisure and have a back-up washing machine or I can store it for a number of years until I–or my heirs–get someone to haul it away.

I took the opportunity to move the dryer out as well and to wash the floor beneath them. So the floor is clean-clean (or is it clean/clean) for the first time since we moved into Nogglestead eleven years ago.

Forgive me while I immortalize it here. You, gentle reader, undoubtedly know the feeling of pride when you clean something that nobody will ever see, and you try to think about how to steer conversation in that direction or to draw attention to the normally unseen area when you have visitors. At least, I hope you do. I certainly do, but not that often (see also eleven years between floor washings).

And, as a bonus, I can knock an item off of my whiteboard.

I organized my whiteboard with those categories sometime around 2014. A couple of times, I’ve gotten in and vacuumed lint and whatnot, but I’ve never completely washed the floors since I wrote the task on the whiteboard.

Somewhere early in the century, I had a whiteboard in a cubicle that I used a lot for tracking work tasks, so I got one for the home office, too. However, in the intervening years, that whiteboard has not been in reach of my mammoth desk, so I’ve ended up not using it much. Nor, apparently, knocking off the tasks on it.

But I will eventually remove the one about cleaning the laundry floor. Or just leave it on the whiteboard for a while, until I need to do it again.

Book Report: Westminster Abbey by Trevor Beeson (1987)

Book coverThis book report is likely to look a lot like the book report for Windsor Castle.

I bought this book at Calvin’s Books in June; I don’t know if I will watch a lot of football these days, so I have decided to flip through these travel books as a brief interlude while I read longer works. And my response to this book is much like that to Windsor Castle: Wow.

The book has text describing the history of Westminster Abbey along with its various renovations throughout the centuries. The pictures depict the rooms, the effigies, the tombs, and the artifacts you can find on site. And as with Windsor Castle, I’m almost moved to go see it. I suppose I should sooner rather than later, although that’s not necessarily possible in the short term. The pessimist side of me suspects before long it will be a mosque. Although when one factors in historical scope, “before long” could be a hundred years.

The Dying Time Continues

I predicted last November that I was entering a dying time much like my family experienced in the late 1980s, where a number of family members (my grandfather, my grandmother, my step-grandfather, my step great grandmother, my cousin, and assorted great aunts) died in a short period of time. My aunt and stepmother had cancer, and I pointed out that the generation above mine was entering that sixties through eighties age group and might be coming to the end of their retirements (which is what the Wall Street Journal’s Complete Guide To Money called death, although much of my extended family, even in that age bracket, are not actually retired yet).

My aunt died at the end of November. Although treatments seemed to put her into remission, my stepmother passed this summer. The best man from my wedding died this spring.

And my sister-in-law has passed away unexpectedly.

She had had what should have been routine surgery last week and might have been discharged too soon. After a weekend of illness, she collapsed on Tuesday morning. My brother performed CPR on her, and although they restarted her heart at the hospital, she was nonresponsive and unlikely to recover. So after her daughter and sister arrived from different parts of the state, my brother decided to discontinue the life-preserving means–she had no brain function–and she passed. I spent most of the week across the state, supporting my brother as he tended to the immediate after.

My manager at work just lost her mother to cancer, and I said it was the hardest thing. Throughout the week, I reassessed what actually was the hardest thing. When my mother was sick and in the ICU, I had the power of deciding if and when to discontinue life support. I thought that was the hardest thing. Then I watched my brother actually have to make the decision, and I thought that was the hardest thing. Then I watched him tell her children that it was time, and that was the hardest thing. Then I watched them tell her nine-year-old grandson that Grandma was in Heaven. So it’s all the hardest thing, one hardest thing after another.

I was not especially close to my sister-in-law, so I was not acutely grieving. At times I felt like an intruder while her family group huddled together, but I think it helped my brother to have someone of his generation there for support. I hope so, anyway. I could only play the role of the wise old (too soon) man who stoically understood grieving and could warn the others of what they would experience. I told them that the grieving would come and go; that my brother made no mistakes and was not negligent leading to his wife’s passing; that to watch someone you love grieve is almost worse than your own grief, as the fear of pain is worse than actual pain; that little things would set them off; that at some point, you will start to go on with life, and might think you’ve forgotten her because you’re no longer actively in pain, and you might feel guilty about it, but don’t; and that the first year will be filled with milestones such as her first birthday without her, the first Christmas without her, and so on, which will make it all real again. I think I helped; but they are only words, but hopefully sympathetic ones. I never know if I’m helping or not.

Like so many things this year, it makes one confront one’s own mortality and reflect on what one has done and what one has left undone. Unfortunately, every marker of mortality this year has not made me act much better.

Eesh, and don’t I feel a little sompy making it all about me.