Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thinking out loud

Last month you might remember that I wrote a horror story and submitted it to a local contest. Since the public reading for the winners is scheduled for November 3rd, I'd realistically decided I'd lost. No biggee - try and try again.

But I just called and asked for the lineup for the event and was told it wasn't public knowledge, that the winners would be notified at the ceremony itself and asked to read their work. No entrant has been invited, it's just hoped they'll attend.

That's nuts.

First of all, the events capacity is capped at 80 people, and there's already a waiting list. Second, theres a minimum age limit, which means none of my kids could attend. Third, what if I win but I'm not there (since I'm on the wait list)? Heck, what if Jane Doe wins and she's not present? Do we just not have a reading and a program and slowly leave the room? And do I want to sit through two hours of mush just to hear my name not called?

Goofy. Anyhow, I was about to post the entry here, but I'll hold the story pending the official announcement of a winner.

The Great Pope/Halloween Hoax of 2009

Note: Religious and Cultural Commentary

I couldn't possibly imagine, just a few days ago, writing a serious commentary about the Halloween holiday. It is what it is, is it not? Kids dressing up in tacky costumes, begging candy from their neighbors while adults decorate their house like carnival scare houses.

But Friday there was quite the barrage of misleading, anti-Catholic articles that hit the front (online) pages of major news services. All reported on an alleged announcement from the Vatican that Halloween was evil and to be avoided.

USA Today: Vatican warns parents that Halloween is 'anti-Christian'

UK Telegraph: Vatican condemns Halloween as 'anti-Christian'

Daily Mail: Halloween is 'dangerous' says the Pope as he slams 'anti-Christian' festival

London Times: Hallowe’en is the devil’s work, Catholic church warns parents

Each of these articles is followed by public comments that are clearly anti-Catholic, although as I follow the links again much of the early, bigoted rhetoric seems to have been removed or pushed aside.

So are the reports true? In shorthand: Bull - and not the papal kind either.

First of all, the Pope has diddly-squat to do with the issue, and including his title in the headline would appear to be a cheap stab at generating hits (and so it did).

Second, the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano may or may not have a stand on the issue, but in fact, as noted FOUR paragraphs into the Telegraph story, it was actually an article discussing European opposition to the American holiday. It was not a grand and official announcement of anything.

Specifically, the article quoted a Spanish priest; not a Bishop, as reported, but a priest present at a conference of Bishops. Disturbed by the new popularity of an American custom, he offered the opinion that if such a holiday was to be honored it should be done as an affirmation of life rather than a celebration of death. Good luck pulling that off, but hey, he has the right to dream.

So, to summarize: a priest in Spain talks to a reporter about his opposition to an American custom crossing the pond. The Vatican's newspaper quotes him in an article about European opposition to Halloween (which, lets face it, is probably a cultural objection, ala Euro Disney). This is then reported by English newspapers as an official Vatican announcement. It is embellished to get as much value out of anti-Catholic feeling as possible, which is when American papers catch the scent of blood and latch on.

Think I'm exaggerating? Then check out the opening paragraphs of the Daily Mail's wonderfully even keel report:

When Victoria Romero, 6, dressed up as a witch for a Hallowe’en party this week she could hardly have imagined that she was provoking the wrath of God by attending a celebration akin to a Black Mass — at least in the eyes of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in Spain.

Wearing skeleton suits, dressing up as vampires, witches or goblins or slapping on fake blood is not far removed from communing with the Devil, according to the country’s bishops.

However, the bishops, with Vatican backing, have reserved their venom for the millions of parents who allowed their children to celebrate this “pagan” festival

For the record, I'm Catholic, and decently serious about it. Yet in 35 years of Catholic school, church, youth groups, PTA, Scouting, etc, I've never once heard of an official Catholic objection to Halloween. Even if you want to argue it promotes the occult, I'd counter by saying it marginalizes and weakens it, doing to that belief what Santa does to Christmas.

It is quite possible that from a distance, European eyes see the practice as a morbid and decadent holiday. It is possible the Vatican will, someday, make an official announcement about the practice. I can't speak for what it will say - but I'm pretty sure it won't come via a Spanish priest quoted secondhand in a British newspaper.

It is stunning to discover that 49 years after JFK lost votes because of his religion, and half a millennium after Luther, institutional anti-Catholic bias is still entrenched. Disgusting - would Judaism or Islam be treated the same in the press, or would there be a damning outcry?

h/t The Catholic Key Blog

Happy Halloween!

Good spooking and safe trick or treating to all!

Many posts about this holiday will follow in the weeks to come, but for now I thought I'd write about the snack Lisa made for each of the kids classrooms (and the Daisy Scouts meeting too!). Just in case you need a last minute treat, this is simple, quick, and relatively cheap (~$13 for fifty or so handmade ghosts)

Just take some Nutter-Butters cookies, dip them in white chocolate, and add mini-chocolate chips for eyes. Oila! Cookie Ghosts.

On the first go-round the store was out of Nutter-Butters, so we substituted a different cookie (seen in these pictures). I'd say it didn't hold the chocolate half as well as the NB, nor look (or taste!) as appealing, but you get the drift. Either way, the kids loved them.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Locke and Key

Locke and Key is a graphic novel written by Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King and a fine author in his own right.

The Locke family relocates across the country after the murder of the husband/father, taking up residence in his childhood home on Lovecraft Island.

(Lovecraft Island? How's that for a glaring "GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!").

The family is in tatters, with the Mom turning to alcohol, the oldest son wracked with guilt, and the youngest striking up a conversation with a mysterious voice in a well.

Soon it becomes obvious that now all is what it seems, and that the evil that took their loved one might have began the game, years ago, in that very home.
Worse yet, the same killers who struck down the Dad have the answered evil's call again, and are about to pay the Locke family a very special visit.

I liked it. The characters had depth and their grieving felt real, and the story was well told. I think the material would have been much better off as straight prose, as I don't think the graphic aspect of it does anything of consequence to further the readers enjoyment.

But frankly, aside from the ending that screamed "Sequel!" I have very little to complain about.

3.0 out of 4

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Grandma Tepher

The baby in the picture is my YaYa. She's in the arms of Mildred "Grandma" Tepher (Tepfer?), a resident of Lisa's hometown of Sturgis, MI. She doubled as a surrogate grandmother to my wife while Lisa's family lived there in the 1970's.

Lisa took me to meet her prior to our wedding, and I found her a friendly soul who still kept momentos from Lisa's early childhood. Before Mildred's death in the middle part of this decade, Lisa and her Mom took YaYa to meet her too. Whereas on my trip we dined at the local Big Boy's, YaYa got the special treatment: they journed across the border to Indiana to eat at a restaurant she liked.

Mildred, RIP - you're still missed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Quiet Flame

A Quiet Flame is the fifth in Phillip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, a set of 'noir' mysteries set in and around Hitler's Berlin. But now the war is over and Gunther, a long-time adversary of Nazism, has been misidentified as a war criminal. He escapes to Peron's Argentina, where he joins a large contingent of exiled Nazi's living under assumed names.

Gunther's investigative skills pique the interest of an Argentinian officer who offers him a deal: find the missing daughter of a prominent man, and in exchange Peron's own doctor will cure Gunther of his early stage cancer.

Along the way Gunther also takes the case of a beautiful Jewish woman who is looking for her missing relatives, and as the cases become intertwined it becomes obvious that Argentina hides a secret as dark as anything in Europe.

Noir often becomes boring to me, with its endless obsession with darkness and tragedy. Kerr is an acknowledged master of the form, and so I managed to avoid that fate. Instead Kerr failed in setting up and then resolving the mystery at hand. In the end it is resolved in a single, off-hand conversation, as if the facts were off-stage the whole time. He obviously wished our attention to be focused on the social and historical crimes of the era, and not the wanderings of a single young woman, but so what? He could have - he should have - done both.

2.5 out of 4.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why we call him Smiley

Here's my son with his cousin Caitlin, who he calls "Kay-Kay"






Naw, the nickname doesn't fit at all. :)


Friday, October 23, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ken Follett once wrote a wonderful piece in The Writer on how he believes 'high' and 'popular' literature differ. He says 'popular' literature is built around an idea or action, while 'High' literature is often concerned with the internal dilemmas of the character at the expense of plot or story.

Well, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button certainly has a neat idea behind it, that of a man who is born 'old' and slowly grows 'younger' as years pass. And it does carry Fitzgerald's name, so you'd expect some artistic merit. Is this the rare combination of both style and substance?

Eh, not so much. Keep in mind two things. One, the movie took the germ of the story from Fitzgerald and concocted a very liberal adaptation. And two, somehow they managed to take a movie that should hinge largely on an original, intiguing storyline and made it a strictly character driven film.

I liked the movie. No, I did, I swear. But I liked it in the same way I enjoy sitting down with an old man and listening to him tell the tale of his life. That, in a nutshell, is what this film offers: the rather mundane but well told memories of an average joe.
Is he born 'old'? Yes. Does he grow 'younger'? Yes. Does it miraculously seem to have no bearing on the plot or the shape of his life? Yes. You could remove the age gimmick from the movie and sell it, as is, as a bittersweet lifelong romance. He grows up in a nursing home, but it appears to be no different of an upbringing than that of any other child whose parent is a live-in nurse. He un-ages while serving on the high seas, but it's brushed away with a two sentence exchange with his captain. He spends a large amount of time onscreen as standard-age Brad Pitt. And so on.

To repeat, I liked the movie and don't regret a minute I spent watching it. But a masterpiece or high art it was not.

3.0 out of 4

Happy Birthday YaYa!

There's not much time to post today, but I wanted to make sure to stop by and wish my oldest a Happy 8th Birthday! Everyday with her has been a blessing, even the lousy ones, and I hope she has a blast today!

We love you YaYa!

Books Read 2002 - some spoilers

1.The ten thousand : a novel of ancient Greece by Michael Curtis Ford. (a yawner when compared to Gates of Fire)

2.Bums by Peter Glockenbock

3 Lost Soldiers by James Webb

4 The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan (as seen by the next 8 entries, I’m hooked!)

5 The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

6 The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

7 The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan (best of the bunch)

8 The Fires of Heaven: by Robert Jordan

9 Lord of Chaos: by Robert Jordan

10 A Crown of Swords: by Robert Jordan

11 The Path of Daggers: by Robert Jordan

12 Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan

13 Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden (excellent!)

14 Gallow’s Thief by Bernard Cornwell

15 Little Grandpa by Dan Slapczynski

16 Old Polish Legends by F.C. Anstruther

17 City of Bones by Michael Connelly

18Warning of War by James Brady (so-so. pretty weak and predictable)

19 The Marines of Autumn by James Brady (poetic and tragic, yet horribly pro-Marine, anti-GI; yet another reminder that an author sometimes intrudes on his own work)

20 American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold by Harry Turtledove

21 Jolie Blon’s Bounce by James Lee Burke (scary. What a great bad guy!)

22 Sharpe’s Company by Bernard Cornwell

23 The Moment She was Gone by Evan Hunter (excellent. It really hit home and I’ve passed the book along to others)

24 Bad Boy Brawly Brown by Walter Mosley

25 Sharpe’s Sword by Bernard Cornwell

26 Acid Row by Minette Walters (very good book. I may have found a female author worth reading)

27 To Catch a Spy by Stuart Kaminsky (Cary Grant vs the Nazis. Fun book)

28 Mortal Prey by John Sandford (where’s the terror that made the series so powerful?)

29 Code Sixty-One by Donald Harstad (a nice, quirky change of pace)

30 The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters (yup, a female author worth reading)

31 Twice Dying Neil Mchmahon (ok)

32 The Echo by Minette Walters

33 Eleven Days by Donald Harstad (his first, and so far the best, book)

34.American Gods by Neil Gaiman (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for best novel of 2001; a fine read, even if I lost interest in the home stretch)

35 The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb (plain jane style, decent story. Enjoyable)

36 Known Dead by Donald Harstad (the 2nd of the series; much more relaxed and readable than the first in the series or the newest one. Wonder if deadline pressure caused him to slip backwards with Code-Sixty-One?)

37 Blood Double by Neil McMahon (goofy plot about DNA and evil corporations. I can’t really see a genuine reason for the protagonist to get involved, but heck, what do I know? Still a decent read.)

38 Hardfreeze by Dan Simmons (deliciously violent and unrepentant. Much better than the first in the series! It also features a discussion dissing the recent Spenser novels. A blast.)

39 Street Boys by Lorenzo Carcaterra (awful. What a fall from grace from his last work. Not only is the plot predictable and amateurish [the German soldier has the hero at his mercy, yet chooses to brag about it before the kill – and suddenly, the hero is saved from a shot out of nowhere! – about a dozen times]. Italy is also given a free pass in WWII [ah, sure we sided with Hitler at first. But, uh, now we don’t], and every German is a Nazi. Geesh. If it wasn’t the only book I had over Labor Day, I’d have dropped it like a block of cement.)

40 Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism by William J. Bennett (a solid and well written thesis arguing for continued American action in response to 911. I agreed with most of his thoughts, but felt many to be too obvious to deserve a detailed discussion. Because of that, some parts failed to catch my interest).

41.Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support your Daughter when she’s growing up so fast by Joe Kelly (a pretty good book dealing with a variety of issues in a girls life. Some of it is gobbldy-gook, but most of it is very valuable)

42. Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew who Fought Back by Jere Longman (the heroic and inspiring story of the only American’s who struck back on 9-11)

43 The Walkaway by Scott Phillips (a funny and effective mystery. A joy to read.)
44 The Collection by Bentley Little

45 The Revelation by Bentley Little

46 Shrink Rap by Robert B. Parker (good read, as expected, but Parker needs to see a shrink of his own to get over his obsession with both psychiatriy and homosexuality. Everyone in his latest books is either gay, screwy, or both)

47 From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (may be wrong, but didn’t see much of a plot here)
48 The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (every bit as terrifying – if not more so- than the movie. And I very much like Blatty’s style).

49 BFI Modern Classics: The Exorcist by Mark Kermode (a British critique of the film)

50 The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty (not a very good book, and short to boot)

51 Legion by William Peter Blatty (a sequel of sorts to the Exorcist. Mainly a mystery with long discussions of philosophy thrown in. Still a good read though.)

52 The Stand by Stephen King (very good – very long – book)

53 The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (I suppose its deeply metaphorical. Or boring. Depends on your outlook).

54 The Shining by Stephen King (deeply unsettling. Not a book to read while working night audit at a hotel)

55 Gerald’s Game by Stephen King (very good. An excellent example of how to say ‘no’ to your characters)

56 The Green Mile by Stephen King (a very enjoyable, very good book)

57 Bag of Bones by Stephen King (ok – it started out very strong and then took a crap. King was a child of the sixties, and sometimes the sensibilities of the time overwhelm his work. Aside from turning the departed wife into a saint (when you were at first made to believe she was having an affair) he makes the whole thing into a statement on race. Which is fine, but having read several of his books in a short time, I see a pattern. He paints every African-American as someone put-upon and abused at the hands of the redneck majority. This is certainly true in some cases, and it was pertinent in The Green Mile, but here???? What happened to Sara Tidwell was atrocious and disgusting. That said, I REFUSE to justify a century of child murder OR see her as anything but a damned soul - both the opposite of what King seems to portray. Children are innocent. For her to take her revenge on them is as wrong as the crime that killed her. In whole, a mediocre work)

58 Vagabond by Bernard Cornwell. (A sequel to Archer’s Tale. A very engaging novel of the Hundred Years War)

59 Fat Ollie’s Book by Ed McBain (wonderful! As expected a sharp, witty book that dances with the grace of Astaire. Full of snide little jibes at his own legacy, his fictional creation – and even his world famous disclaimer! Plus Fat Ollie finally gets a shot at center stage. What a joy!)

60 Under the Eagle by Steve Scarrow (a Sharpe-like adventure of the Roman invasion of Britain. The author has potential, but he’s still rough around the edges. And lay off the British slang, eh? How many times did a centurian yell “Bloody Bastards!”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pulling teeth, wiping up poo, and gas

For all of you too weak to walk to the corner paper box, or too cheap to shell out three bits, here's a link to my column "Blessings amid Recession".

* * *

Yesterday was a pip. Immediately after dropping the girls off at school I headed off to the dentist for an extraction.

Once I was in the chair, the dentist took a look and said the tooth was badly infected. He launched into a long explanation as to why this meant pulling the tooth was a no-go, something about acid and base and the anesthetic being rendered weak. Blah-blah. I asked him what he wanted me to do.

"You should go home, take antibiotics for a week to ten days, and then come back for an extraction," he said.

"But?" I said.

"But . . . you have a good tolerance for tooth pain. I would forgo ten days of constant pain, deal with pulling the tooth now, and take a few minutes of bad pain in exchange for feeling nothing at all in a half hour. But you will feel some of the extraction."

So we went for it.

The extraction was one-two-three, but the tooth did break, costing us a few minutes.
"It boke?" I said, after he quietly cursed.

"Of course it did. Why should my day be easy?" the dentist said, lacking a wee bit of perspective.

Yeah, the extraction hurt more than normal, but it wasn't anything compared to living with the thing. I'm A-OK now, and was fine within minutes of the pull.

Afterwards, I filled a prescription at Walgreens, where I sat and talked to an old man named Zimmerman visiting from Whitewater. He was named after his uncle, the former sports editor of the L.A. Times, and had volunteered to sit with his ill son-in-law while his daughter was at work. The in-law in question was a Vietnam vet, but he also mentioned having a son-in-law who fought in Korea.

"Korea?" I said. "That's almost sixty years ago. Was he much older than your daughter?"

He had to be; a Korean vet, even one that caught the tail end in '53, would be at least seventy-six. Mr. Zimmerman was in his mid to late eighties, but not much older.

"Oh yes, he was. But he's passed away now."

Huh. There are great stories to be found everywhere, if you just keep one ear open.

When I got home, a (bad) surprise. The gas company, which has been tearing the hell out of my lawn for weeks laying pipe, needed access to the house. They were turning the gas off, and once it was back on they wanted to verify all the pilots were re-lit. That meant they needed to go on all three levels of the house (we have two furnaces), which meant . . well, it meant I had a couple hours to get three floors of a house whipped into passable shape. That . . . wasn't fun.

Worse yet, just before the guy showed up Ginger shat her pants, then scooped it out and rubbed it into her hands, face, blanket, and bedroom furniture. I'm talking 'mud bath'/Al Jolson coverage here.

Disgusting little kid.

Then, a complete reversal of the days weather. The sun came out, temperatures were in the sixties, and it was a pleasant reminder of summer. I took the opportunity to cut the grass, which might have been overdoing it for the day, as it wiped me out. The rest of the day was grocery shopping, dinner, baths for the kids, a bit of the Phillies clinching the NLCS, and of course, Glee.

And after that: the first uninterrupted nights sleep in weeks. Heaven!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lisa's Birthday, and another column in the Journal-Sentinel

Lisa's birthday was low key but went well. She went with Smiley on his class trip to the pumpkin farm, and then we just chilled out at home. No one offered to take the kids off our hands, killing our plans for a dinner out, so I popped a roast and potatoes in the oven. It *should* have been ready by six, but finally finished around nine. Oopsies, Chef. Because of this, the kids wound up eating frozen corn dogs and chocolate cake. In the end, not so bad an outcome, because it left the roast to be enjoyed by grown-ups later in the night.

Happy Birthday Lis!

* * *

Seven and a half hours until the dentist pulls this piece o' pain out of my jaw. Hot dog!

* * * *

A column of mine appears in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel today. The editor wrote me the following after she read my submission:

Dan, what a wonderful column! I read it start to finish in seconds because I kept wanting to read the next line and find out where you were going. It just brought a little light to my day.

As you can imagine, I was very touched by her words. Go on, buy a copy dangnabbit!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hannah Montana The Movie

There wasn't much chance of avoiding Hannah Montana: The Movie, not with two (well, three) girls under age eight.

If you don't know the premise of the show, kindly go back in your time machine and return to 1997. Miley Cyrus stars as Miley Stewart, an everyday teen who just happens to don a wig and perform, unbeknownst to anyone but her best friend and family, as the world's biggest pop star, Hannah Montana.

In the movie version Miley has gotten a big head, preferring her Hannah persona to her 'real' self. She's certainly not looking forward to a visit to her family in Tennessee, but when she gets there things start to change. Her father (played by real life Dad Billy Ray Cyrus) falls in love, she develops a crush on a farmhand, and she begins to see the value in a 'normal' life.

Will she continue as Hannah, or are the days of "the best of both worlds" coming to a close?

I like the movie. Oh, I wouldn't have taken a date to see it, thank you very much. But for what it is, it's pretty decent. There's adequate emotional turmoil, beautiful scenery, some zany action, and a few good songs.

[The song that she sings in the finale, The Climb, is occasionally played on the radio, and my girls sing along at full volume]

The ending is absolute HOKUM, but whadaya want? I also missed the subplots and running gags involving Hannah's brother and Rico, the stingy child entrepreneur. Both appeared in the film, but only briefly.

I'm going to grade this for what it is, a pleasant family film aimed at girls ages 5-10.

3.0 out of 4

Happy Birthday Lisa! Happy Birthday Pop!

Today is the start of the busiest week of the year in my household. Today is my lovely wife's birthday, and my father's. In a few day it's YaYa's turn, then our wedding anniversary. Mix in the various birthday celebrations and Halloween activites and it'll be a doozy of a week - but a happy one :)

Happy Birthday! (x 2)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Paradise Landing

With the bulk of her First Communion money YaYa decided to splurge and enjoy a night at a local waterpark called Paradise Landing. It's inside the downtown Hilton and once upon a time Lisa and I took our niece and nephew there, many moons ago. I'm not sure if YaYa had been there for a party or just seen the pictures, but she was very adament about the destination.

Lisa and her Mom accompanied her overnight, and YaYa invited her friend Meadow too. The dates on the camera phone were obviously well off on that day.

I know she enjoyed spending the night in a hotel with her friend.

She had a great time and wants to return for another visit. Fine with me - as long as she pays again ;)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Because I've heard it every single day of my working life . . .

If there's a cashier that's having trouble finding the barcode on an item. . .

If there's a salesman who needs to step away and ask a manager what discount he can authorize . . .

If there's a sales clerk who isn't sure of a price because the tag is ripped off or you grabbed it out of the wrong bin . .

If there's a cashier whose scanner isn't working quickly enough, or who stops to correct an obvious error . . .

If any of these things are going on, and your brain tells your mouth to spit out some variation of:

"Huh chortle chortle. I guess it must be free then eh?"

Then . . .







Family Update

Howdy. My self imposed 'intermission' continues as I try to get my world clicking again, but here's an update.

* * * *

On the 12th LuLu woke up at 6 a.m. with shortness of breath and pain in her chest. I don't know how I heard her ragged cries of "Daddy, Daddy" from our room, but I give Ginger all the credit. The two share a room and once Lu woke her up, Ginger mimicked Lu's cries at an impressive volume. In the end my girl spent three hours in the E.R., getting breathing treatments and steroids to finish off her asthma attack. She spent the day home from school, but went back the next day as if nothing ever happened. Oh, btw, she also lost a front (baby) tooth yesterday (Thursday).

* * * *

Dorky quote of the day: YaYa called me into her room at bedtime and asked me to read a page from an old edition of an Encyclopedia Brown book. "Look at this. Just look at this!" I read the passage:

"Do you think it was him?" she said?

"There's no need for the second question mark Dad! It's bad editing!"

* ** *

YaYa has developed a big crush on the stepson of one of Lisa's friends. The boy is good looking and quite sweet, and its all quite innocent, but I was worried there were going to be fireworks between YaYa and LuLu. For a minute there her younger sister seemed to worm her way into the mix, quite unconsciously I think. She has a natural and easygoing way with people (especially boys), and even YaYa admits she'll ride her LuLu's coattails at times.

* * * *

Smiley's just a good boy. Plain and simple, a good and kind boy that warms your heart. He talks constantly, and only 5% of it is understandable, but there's no mistaking the love he exudes.

* * *

Ginger . . .well, she's Ginger. Twice this week she's woken up at night and smeared her poop on the walls, once so bad we actually had to scrub the paint off to remove the revolting mess. Ugh.

* ** *

Meanwhile, I am plagued by a bad tooth that needs to be pulled. If you've been with me awhile you know I'm as familiar with dental pain as Michelle Duggar is with childbirth, but this one's kicking my ass. It's not bad during the day, but the minute my head hits the pillow it's on. I get a half hour sleep here, an hour there, and then wake up in agony. It's starting to affect my day. I went to work Thursday a mixed up jumble of pain and exhaustion. At least I looked good, as always.

And yes, I have a dentist appointment scheduled, but the wait is (as always) long. But by 8:30 next Wednesday morning I should have this bugger out.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Holy Hill

I suppose, since the 2009/2010 school year is here, that I should finish up posts about field trips from last year. Late in the spring I accompanied YaYa and her class to a visit to Holy Hill, a minor basilica located near Hubertus, Wisconsin.

Founded in the mid 19th century and topping out at 1,350 feet (400 meters) above sea level, it's a popular destination for area Catholics, and hosts more than 300,000 visitors each year.

YaYa, like the other kids, was originally assigned two eighth grade 'handlers' to keep her in sight.

As they soon became more interested in eighth grade boys than their charge, she spent most of the trip with me.

This cross, carried (!) up the hill by the shrine's founders before the Civil War, is often the first sight you're introduced to as you work your way up inside the structure. The inscription is in German, with an English translation, reflecting the ethnic makeup of the area at the time.

We then gathered outside, in front of the church itself. At that height the wind is fierce, even on nice spring days, and you're soon impressed with both the scope of the place, and the engineering behind its construction.

After a few moments we were seated inside, but a religious group needed to use the church for prayer, so we were moved to a side chapel.

In the side chapel the priest, who is connected with our school, gave us a history of Holy Hill. The statue of the Madonna above the altar in the chapel has historic significance, but I'm sorry - I've plumb forgot what it is, although I recall the journey to the shrine was complicated.

Directly outside the chapel is something I vividly recall from my many trips to the church in my own childhood. There is a wall of canes and crutches, left behind by people who claim to have been cured at the site.

Here the priest told a story about his youth. As a seminarian in the '50's he was working in the church when a man began screaming inside the chapel. The priests all assumed it was a drunk causing trouble, and sent our priest in to deal with the man. He was the youngest and toughest of the bunch, you see, and had been assigned to deal with rouges before. But this time it was not a drunk, but a man from Chicago who claimed to have regained his lost sight in the chapel; he wept and ran out the door, never to be heard from again.

You can take from that what you will, and believe or disbelieve at your leisure. But aside from issues of faith, it encapsulates something I truly do love about my Church. At times I think the Catholic Church is like Hollywood's version of an Irish priest: full of faith, devotion, charity and love; but if you want to brawl, and can't be talked out of it, more than happy to oblige your request.

We stepped outside again for a few moments, where we snapped some portraits. Have I mentioned that wind?

From there it was down to another chapel, where we had Mass with a private school set to close its doors forever.

And then ventured out for a bag lunch. Our picnic spot was at the end of the Stations of the Cross, a good third of a mile/half a mile through hilly but beautiful terrain.

Lunch was fine, and so was The Dan.

The kids posed for group shots

and YaYa climbed a tree.

Then, seeking to get ahead of the group, we set out at a brisk pace for the church tower. We had half an hour to get back to the church, get up the hill, climb the tower, hit the gift shop, and make the bus back home. Oh boy.

Have I mentioned that whole hilly terrain tidbit? It was also hot, and by the time we reached the hill I was bushed. Totaled. But we pushed on to the tower. There is, if memory serves, 178 narrow winding stairs to the top of that spire. For the first time ever I couldn't complete the climb. It was, in retrospect, a grievous error to maintain that quick pace back to the hill. In the end I cleared triple digits on the stairs and surrendered. I sent YaYa on without me. :(

I was embarrassed, ashamed, and knew I'd let YaYa down. I apologized for failing her; she replied that she was happy I came and was grateful for my company. She was sincere, but it won't happen again - ever. I'll make that climb next year, and the year after that. Count on it.

After that we hit the gift shop, met the bus, and drove back to school. A very nice day, with a very nice girl at my side.