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Rumilluminations Dec. 2009
By: Esther Powell
Posted on: Tue, December 01 2009 - 8:46 pm

December 31, 2009                                      Valparaiso, IN

I would like to persuade people to shovel their sidewalks.

If you do it before it piles up too much and before people walk on it, it is pretty easy.

Once the snow is off, the little that remains sublimates, melts, and/or evaporates more quickly, leaving a nice clean surface for the mail deliverer or for me!

You can learn about animal tracks and what wildlife lives near you.  There are some natural dramas to be read about in the marks in the snow.

It's good exercise!  If you take it easy, it is not terribly unsafe.  A lean runner who overdoes it is at much risk.  If you must, shovel the snow off in two or three layers.  I'm told the people most at risk from shoveling snow are males between the ages of 35 and 49.

Over the years a higher and higher percentage of sidewalks around here goes unshoveled.

I'm going to take a walk right now before it gets too cold and dark.  I'll let you know if anyone's sidewalk is cleaner than ours is!

Report:  There might have been two or three residential walks as clean as ours, and I walked two miles, trying not to plow through too much snow.

Some institutional and commercial properties had us beat, but others were irresponsible and pathetic.

A+ for us!

Happy New Year's Eve!

December 30, 2009                                       Valparaiso, IN

I communed with collective nouns early this morning in an online issue of Bosque Watch.  One of the articles (by John Bertrand) listed collective nouns about animal groups (like a caboodle of weasels - I will definitely use that in a story!)

Going on from that prolific listing, though, I went on to fantasize more human collective nouns, like:

A forgetting of memories (presumably these memories are hanging on in some appendix-like lobe of my brain, useless and inaccessible, but still there.)

An isolation of loners.

An individual.  (This is a collective noun for the personalities of a victim of multiple personality disorder.)

Can you think of any funny ones?

How about a grimness of bad jokes?

December 29, 2009                                        Valparaiso, IN

As the old year passes (ye lads and lasses) of course there is a tendency to look back on it.  What did I do right?  What did I do possibly less than ideally?  What surprises did the year hold?

For me, this year?  Plenty!

I think it is a natural tendency to let a number change the way we think, but why?

Why do we make January 1 the day of New Year's resolutions instead of the day that the return of the light really begins a new year - that is, Dec. 21?

Why do nice round-numbered birthdays like 40 and 50 take on so much importance in our minds?  Why do we like to pause and review just because one number yields to another in a count?

2009 has been a year containing some really good stuff and some really bad stuff.  (Like 1999, come to think of it.)  I can't complain, I guess.  What I really tend to fear are the years like 1990 (one of the worst years of my life) and the years like 1971, 1982 and 1991 (ditto.)

Actually, the first few years of a decade tend to scare me to death.  Why?  Because they have burned me in the past.  (Well, not literally, knock on wood!)

Numbers are only numbers.  The sun rises, the sun sets.  So what if the year has a new number?

Oh, well.  I imagine that a society still haunted by the Ides of March (the 13th and the 15th) since the era of the invention of the Julian calendar won't be much shocked by my subjective numerical associations.

And the witching hour of the new year has to be met and blessed, for many people, with a kiss!

Not me!  I'll celebrate the turning of the number from 2009 to 2010 with letters.  zzzzzzzzzzz's!

December 28, 2009                                 Valparaiso, IN

I read a couple years ago (in the AARP Bulletin, I think) that the average credit card debt was $8,000 per person, and in a few years, by mathematical projection of its rate of growth, would be $12,000 per person.

Now I figure that if the average person in the U.S. owes $8,000, there are lots of us who owe a lot less.  (After all, there is much less difference between $8,000 and zero than there is between, say, $40,000 and $8,000.  High numbers really drive up the average.)

So lots of us owe significantly less than $8,000.

We can spend!  We are the ones who will save the economy!

There are lots of us!  We can do it!

Er... just give me a couple more months to get out of debt.

December 27, 2009                                 Valparaiso, IN

Even though I am of the religious persuasion of I Don't Know, I do know one thing.  There is something going on that is bigger than I am.

That is fairly obvious, isn't it?  I mean, maybe someone who doesn't realize that family, government, country, community and suchlike are bigger than he is should go on an African safari and see the elephants.

So why do religious people have such a thing about believing in God?  And what does that really mean, anyway?

I think religion is supposed to unite people, not divide them, so people who reject other people on the basis of their "belief" or lack thereof are rejecting them on false grounds.

The only way I can explain it, is that religious people want you to believe that their God is bigger and better than any other understanding of God.  Their religion is bigger and better than any religion you can follow or come up with on your own.

This doesn't have anything to do with "belief."  It has got to be ego, pure and simple.

Spew!  I spit it out of my mouth.

December 26, 2009                                  Valparaiso, IN

Conan O'Brien should do a Jay Leno-style skit where he proposes knocking on doors and getting people to act out movies with him.

In Conan's skit, though, they close the door in his face when they see who's there.

(Well, I think it would be funny.)

December 25, 2009                                  Valparaiso, IN

When my partner read my Rumillumination for yesterday, he said, "It's a little negative for Christmas, isn't it?"

Well, yes.  But I figure it helps people who also happen to be feeling a little negative at Christmas time to know that others are feeling the same way.  It isn't all that uncommon.

This morning, with the prospect of unwrapping presents and a truly awesome Christmas dinner, my spirits lifted a lot, even though the cloud cover didn't.

For me Christmas is a secular holiday anyway.  No one read the Christmas story last night, beautiful as it is.  It used to be a family tradition, but no longer.

Christmas is just the Christian name for the Roman holiday Saturnalia, and all I know about that holiday is that everyone (except for the slaves?) partied for nine days.  Perhaps it had some deeper spiritual meaning (maybe I'll even look that up someday) but as far as I'm concerned it was a nine day party to console themselves for the darkness.

It lasted until people could imagine they could see light returning.  The twelve days of Christmas extends the holiday by three days.  For me, perhaps another three weeks would seem appropriate.

On the equator, where days stay the same length all year round, people don't celebrate such an extended holiday, do they?

Another thing to look up!  Who could stay dark for long with such illuminating research to look forward to?

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2009                                  Valparaiso, IN

We've had a little trouble getting onto the Internet lately.  In the past week I have had to turn the modem off and on three or four times.

I don't know what the problem is, but I like to blame everything on the weather.

This morning I put more salt on the sidewalks than I have since I came back to Valpo five years ago.  Walking to a local shop today, I noticed that the icy glaze on the lawns was shinier than I have ever seen it.

The visiting nurse is still making his rounds, and so is the postman, but no one else but family has ventured to set foot on our glossy bumpledy walks.

Maybe that explains the strain and difficulty of some of my relationships this holiday.  Awkwardness, lack of rapport or even understanding, and even downright meanness seem to be in the sleety air.

I suppose I am sometimes cold and bumpy myself, but like I said, I'd much rather blame it on the weather!

The weather channel just had Southerners (who seemed like a pretty happy lot) begging for a white Christmas.

Beware, you naive lot, what you might be asking for!

December 22, 2009                                  Valparaiso, IN

Since these are the shortest days of the year and since electrical energy is costing us environmentally, maybe I should do an about-face from yesterday's viewpoint and celebrate darkness.

Yes!  These are the winter months!  Let us celebrate what we can do in the dark!

Let's see.  We can sing carols acappella, preferably in parts.

We can play murder in the dark.

We can make September babies.  (Well, some of us can - not me.  But just the same....)

We can go on promenades in the quiet wee hours (or dream we are walking in the silencing blanket of snow.)

Ah, yes.  We can dream.  In the dark.


Good night!

December 21, 2009                                   Valparaiso, IN

It makes me very happy to announce that the shortest day of the year has arrived (at least in this hemisphere.)

But I can't shake off the knowledge that the accumulated darkness and tilt of the earth has led to a cold time that will build up to nasty winter before it gets better.

Why this huge lag between the return of the light and warmer (and for me, better) times?

A comparison between such weather realities and similar lags begs to be made.  Like spiritual change and visible results in our lives.  Oh, and the long slow slough between hard work and tangible rewards!  Such tough times we face!

Now which is worse, the shortest day which we know will be followed eventually by Spring, or the longest midsummer day which will inevitably lead to decline and Fall?

No apologies for the gloom - it is appropriate to the day.

And Christmas would lift my spirits more if I thought that everyone would have such a solstice holiday.

Well.  Here's to the return of the light!  

December 20, 2009                                    Valparaiso, IN

Last night at a party I heard about another Christmas tree alternative arrangement.  Evidently there is a California entrepreneur who has started renting out trees in pots (some of them huge, I'm told) for three weeks at Christmastime.

The perfect solution for those who do not want to buy a chopped tree or buy a tree that they don't have room to plant.  Sounds like an idea that is worth a start-up in every state.

I suppose people who don't have a tree-rental agency close by could buy a tree and then trespass on someone else's property or a State Park to plant it.  I could imagine a comedy based on that idea:  someone getting arrested for trying to plant a tree.  The opposite of Arbor Day!

So now I am up to v) on yesterday's multiple choice blahg.

Four more days 'til Christmas!


December 19, 2009                                     Valparaiso, IN

Here's a multiple choice test for you:

My Christmas Tree

a)  I own Rockefeller Plaza and someone donates a tree that was lovingly nurtured from pineconehood to 200 feet in a century of good years to mighty splendor to grace New York City.

b)  I have a twenty-four foot Frasier Fir in the clerestory of the entryway cum livingroom of my mountain "cabin".

c)  The halo of our tree-top angel is a fraction of an inch beneath our nine-foot parlor ceiling.

d)  We buy a small but living tree which we will plant outside as soon as the ground thaws in Spring.

e)  The tree is big, bushy, and taller than I am.

f)  Our scotch pine is diminutive but perfect.

g)  Someone from work goes and cuts down trees in the woods and we are last on the recipient list.

h)  We pick up our Christmas tree from the yard of the local college campus every year after the students have gone home.

i)  We decorate a Norfolk Island Pine/ j) Jade Plant/ k) Saguaro Cactus/ l) aloe plant every year.

m)  We have a big artificial tree we use year after year.

n)  We have a four-foot fake tree we have used all my life.

o)  Someone gave me one of those teeny tabletop trees from the dollar store.  What the hell, it's good enough.

p)  I have made a Christmas tree advent calendar quilt, and I hang it on the wall.  Every day I add a handmade stuffed ornament.

q)  Enough trees have died for me.  No room in the yard to plant a live tree, and I don't like fake stuff.

r)  Multiple trees, including one in the entryway, one in the livingroom, and one in the doghouse (Hi, Paris!)

s)  We have a row of trees in our yard, and every year we chop one down and bring it inside for Christmas.  That way we get a bigger tree every year!  For free!

t)  I chop down a tree from somebody else's yard in the neighborhood.

u)  What's a Christmas Tree?

I was going to proceed all the way to z, but....


December 17, 2009                                     Valparaiso, IN

My mom doesn't want to worry about presents this year.

I can't blame her - she has been through a lot.

My children aren't doing the present thing, either.

That's okay.  I'd just as soon concentrate on getting out of debt, myself.

I'm sending out some cards, though.

The Post Office (which is in the red and not for Christmas) says if everyone would send a letter to a loved one once a week their financial well-being would be much improved.

What a bonus for their budget if everyone sent holiday cards, also!  Doesn't the USPS deserve a black Friday?

Do all the young'uns really despise what they call "snail mail?"

There is nothing quite like getting a personal missive (preferably with a commemorative stamp on it) in someone's real handwriting.

A couple of times I gave sheets of commemorative stamps to the family for Christmas.  Now people don't even use the mail to pay their bills.

The idea of a real person delivering mail - will that someday seem as romantic as the pony express?

And if mail delivery dies, what about Santa Claus?

If personal delivery becomes incomprehensible to our young, will Santa Claus stop delivering in his sleigh pulled by reindeer?

Maybe our society has become so rich that gift-giving is meaningless anyway.  Our houses are bursting with too much stuff, and few people have a fireplace anyway.

Maybe a personal greeting - a jovial, happy one! - is the best gift after all.

December 16, 2009                                      Valparaiso, IN

My partner and I have been watching with sinking stomachs the demise of the public health bill.

We both responded to the idea of mandated purchase of health insurance from one of those godawful insurance bloodsuckers with the resolution - we won't do it!  We can't afford it! No way!

Tonight Keith Olbermann said the same thing.  He said, basically, "Refuse to purchase mandated health insurance."  He offered to go to jail in defense of his stance.

Thanks for the support, Keith!  It's nice to have a person talking to millions saying the same stuff we are!

My partner said, "Yeah, throw me in jail for not buying health insurance.  Then I'll get - health insurance!"

When I demonstrated in favor of the public option I got a bright orange XXL T-shirt touting the public option and other stuff we wanted out of health insurance.

Turns out that possibility was as much too big for our legislatures as the T-shirt is for me!

So long, health reform!

Well, hell, at least I have a public option T-shirt that I ought to be able to fit in for the rest of my life.

Unless, of course, I spend it in jail.  Then I'll be wearing a different orange outfit!

December 15, 2009                                       Valparaiso, IN

I learned on Rachel Maddow's show last night that seven states don't allow you to hold public office if you don't believe in the almighty God, even though such laws are unconstitutional.

Are the lawmakers of those states scofflaws or are they hypocrites of the first order?

Or are they merely messy?  There are all sorts of blue laws all over the country that nobody pays any attention to, but for some reason they are allowed to stay on the books.

Why?  Can't the states resolve to have their attorney generals review (perhaps with the help of the ACLU) the statutes and delete the more obviously egregiously unconstitutional of them?

Honestly, this country was based partly on freedom of religion.  I'm beginning to wish it was based more on freedom from religion.

December 14, 2009                                        Valparaiso, IN

"Be neither pedantic nor obtuse."  This comment (his) came up in conversation with my partner.

"Where's that from, Shakespeare?"

"No, I just made that up."

Wow!  I was pretty impressed.  But when I googled it I did get some close matches.

I tried to answer him with some comment or other, and it came out, "Obdantic and peduse."

Well, at that all serious conversation ceased.

Today I tried to say the octopus had a note in every one of his tentacles, and I started to say technicals.  I don't know if those were fouls, or what!  (Oh, well, at least I didn't say testicles.)

I'm beginning to think I have Allheifers, but I'm sure there was a ham in that disease somewhere, I'm quiet sure.  I know I've got the gname wrong somehow.

I'd try to think of a clever way to finish this off, but I've already forgotten I began it...


December 13, 2009                                        Valparaiso, IN

Whew!  How did it happen that the world has gotten so out of phase?

How can the U.S. be close to giving gays their constitutional rights while Uganda is contemplating enacting horribly cruel anti-gay laws?

How can some Muslim nations stone adulterers while the Western world has the right to divorce?

How can the U.S. stay in denial about global warming when European countries make strides towards correcting their output of carbon emissions?

Does the world spinning forward on its axis send up some terrible centrifugal force that sets up a backwards suction into the primitive past?

Why is the world so out of phase with itself?

And why do we all believe so much that it is we ourselves who are in the light?

Some of us must be in the dark phase.

But of course, not I.

December 12, 2009                                        Valparaiso, IN

Well, Mom is home from Rehab and I have to sing the praises of the staff at Whispering Pines Rehab Unit.

They have been unfailingly soft-spoken and patient with my mom, even though she has been called "feisty", "ornery" and "cantankerous" since leaving home on her health care marathon November 3.

These people have been caring for other people's elderly parents with as many as six children of their own at home to care for.

Patients like my mom who insist upon getting up before they are stable are put on pressure-sensitive cushions that start beeping as soon as they leave their beds or chairs.  The staff members, who are used to responding to that sound on the run, do not leave it behind when they go home for the night.  They hear it in their sleep;  they hear it in the shower.

My mom went into that place on a stretcher.  Now, a mere three weeks later, she is home, getting around (with us hovering nervously nearby) on her own two feet.

Those physical therapists and occupational therapists are supermen and superwomen and saints all at once.

I told them they all have haloes!

I wouldn't have their jobs for anything.  One such patient - my mom - is enough for me!

December 11, 2009                                        Valparaiso, IN

Many years ago when I still played oboe, I remember a friend saying, "I imagine a musician as someone so sensitive that he couldn't play an ugly note."

I snickered.  A person who could never play an ugly note could never become a musician at all!  It is only through tolerance for your own imperfection that you can finally approach perfection.

Maybe that is why most musicians start as children!  Their standards mature along with their abilities to meet them.

Maybe that is why we have to become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Not because we have to be uncritically trusting, but because we have to be able to tolerate our own failings and limitations in order to grow.

December 9, 2009                                          Valparaiso, IN

My lives, if I have as many as a cat, may well be running out.

I'm sure that when I lived in Santa Fe, NM, there were at least two times when I would have been killed on the corner of Zia and St. Francis if I had, with blind trust, walked when the "walk" sign came on.

During the same period I got appendicitis, and without medical science would have died.  That makes three lives.

In Corvallis a year or two later, I realized I was walking onto a thoroughfare not from between two cars, but from between two even higher shrubs.  I paused as I was about to step out into the street and a woman with children in a car came tearing around the corner a foot or two in front of me.

Corvallis is an especially perilous place because for the most part, automobile drivers are the most considerate ever!  Do not be lulled into false complacency by the majority.  It only takes one person in a car to kill you.

Today Valparaiso joined the ranks of potentially deadly places.  I was walking across the new state-of-the-art intersection of Cumberland along Calumet, when I paused at the median and looked right.  There was a highly suspicious car, sans turn signal, literally plunging into a fast left turn, again running over the spot where I would have been (with 15 seconds beginning to count down on my walk signal, by the way) had I continued walking.  I saw the young woman's face as she passed by.  She pretended she had not seen me, but I know she did.  (Too late, of course.)

So now I'm up to five lives.  Do close calls count?  Or do I only count incidents that should have killed me (like, the cars actually hit me and for some odd reason I survived.)

It kind of makes me insecure, thinking I might only have four lives left.

But not as insecure as walking through a "walk" sign without checking out the traffic first!

December 8, 2009                                           Valparaiso, IN

This seems to be the week of black birds.  The other day walking down Roosevelt Road, a plethora of starlings floated down from a small tree to the ground like spent spring blossoms.

Today a noisy conference of crows seemed to converge from all directions, intent upon re-leafing some tall trees which Fall has robbed of their canopies.

Do so many of the more social birds wear black because they decry superficially ornamental plumage?  Do they, sounding to us like merely noisy things, prefer intellectual conversation to fancy feathers?

If so, I hope they can come up with a cure for global warming!  Maybe if they all switch to reflective white....

December 7, 2009                                    Valparaiso, IN

Yesterday was a busy day, I guess.  So busy that I turned on my computer and never sat down to work or play at it.

We did have a little time to play with words, though.  We were having a conversation and I commented that I tried not to generalize about gender.  I don't like to make genderalizations, ha ha!

I guess we played around some more with grumble mumble jumble stumble but I guess our memories have some crumblerability because our puns are lost in the funhouse of our minds.

Well, at least we hope they are in the funhouse.  Hope the punhouse is a funhouse!

Or at least a funny punny phony pony chorale!

Don't arrest me!  I'll go to bed peacefully.  Lullabye-bye! 

December 5, 2009                                   Valparaiso, IN

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Evan Bayh congratulating himself and another Indiana politician for an appointment they made - a judge (a circuit court judge, maybe?  I forget.)

Great!  I returned the email with congratulations on the appointment and a comment that now why didn't they work on a public health option for us.

I didn't get a quick message that my email hadn't gone through, so I thought I had just written to Evan Bayh.  Good for me, I thought.  I finally got around to writing him about the health bill!

It wasn't until a week or so later that I got a notice that my email could not be delivered.

Let's see.  Evan Bayh wrote to my personal email address.  I answered.  What could be simpler than that?  If these politicians are able to send millions of emails out, aren't they prepared to receive a few hundred thousand replies? 

Evidently not.

But I thought they wanted to hear from us!  I thought they valued our opinions!

Sure they do.  Most certainly they do.  Right.


December 4, 2009                                   Valparaiso, IN

The word "spat" caught my attention the other day.

Are the spats we used to wear over the bottoms of our pant legs when we donned our band uniforms, I wondered, related to  short arguments?

When I tried to look up the etymology, I got discouraged and tried to let it go.

But when I looked outside today and saw the first spat of snow of the fall, I knew I just had to let it out.

I think spats are called spats because they protect your pantlegs (or, in the case of Scrooge McDuck, his legs) from spats.  Spats of rain, snow, mud, blood, whatever otherwise would have spat upon you.

According to a Cornell website, a spat is the smallest mollusk that has settled down for life.  I have latched on to the "smallest" part of that definition.

When you spatter your clothes, it is with small droplets.  On CIA they call those incriminating little droplets "blood spatter".

When two people have a spat, they get so upset and excited that they spatter each other with saliva for a very short period of time.

Have you ever heard a conflict with no verbal exchange being called a spat?

I rest my case.

All these meanings are related, scattered and spattered around as they might be, to the verb "spit".

Now, are the spat-words related to Jack Sprat?   Hmmmm....

I can think of a fairy-tale or two around that one!

December 3, 2009                                   Valparaiso, IN

Yesterday morning when I went to the Rehab Unit to visit Mom I saw a freshly killed squirrel in the driveway.  Such a mess, and such a pity, I thought.  Why do people drive so fast?  It could just have well been an exhausted employee that got hit.

Last night when we drove back after dark, I saw a raccoon eating the body of the squirrel.  He hated having his dinner interrupted, but although we slowed we did not stop.  He had to abandon his meal.

In the headlights he looked plump and perfect and ready for winter.  His coat shone and every hair of his striped tail seemed highlighted in silver.

Maybe it's just as well that we happened along.  Otherwise some speeder might have served up some squircoon roadkill for us to view this morning.

Maybe the raccoon's family returned later.  Of the squirrel nothing remained.  It kind of makes up for its loss - the thought that the raccoons might have had a belated Thanksgiving dinner!

December 2, 2009                                    Valparaiso, IN

Sometimes I feel like telling people they have more money than I do because I have more debt.  The only trouble is, they usually have more debt than I do, so I often keep my mouth shut.

I saw a film tonight about rich people in which Donald Trump's daughter remembers her father pointing to a homeless person and telling her, "He has six billion more dollars than I have."

So I guess I'll never tell anybody my comparable version of that again.

How disingenuous!  I may have debt, but I also have a warm place to sleep and plenty of food.  And most people similarly situated have more debt than I.

Interesting that now at least some of us gauge our wealth by debt instead of assets.

And I, for one, feel all warm and toasty that I didn't lose half my money in the stock market.  Half of zero is zero!  Too bad that our economic crisis hasn't halved my debt!

Oh, it is all too silly.

I haven't calculated my "share" of the national deficit lately.  Suffice it to say it is more than the $30,000 it was last year.

Tell you what.  I'll pay off some of our national debt when I win the lottery.

(I love making statements like that.  It is so easy!  And it is called an "illusory promise" in the law.  Easy to make, easy not to keep.  No one can hold you to it, because there is no contract there.)

But honest!  If I win the lottery I will pay off one 300 millionth of the national deficit!  Will the IRS make me pay taxes if I do?  Ha, ha, ha, ha!

December 1, 2009                                    Valparaiso, IN

You know you are getting old when you say, "It's December?  Already?"

Time doesn't seem to whoosh by when you are in school or have small children at home.

It certainly doesn't speed by if you spend 8 1/2 hours a day at a not-very-interesting job.

But now, for most of the year largely busying myself with this and that - swoosh!  Eleven months have passed.

I have had this feeling before, kind of.  Twice.  That was when I celebrated New Years Day with a family that increased by one before Christmas.

That was, in a way, a high-speed year.  In another way, though, it was not.

Nine months of pregnancy does not go by fast!

Happy December, everyone!

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