This has been quite a week in terms of discovery.
NASA believes it has discovered evidence of water on the planet Mars. Meanwhile, Vatican archeologists have discovered a sarcophagus in Rome that they believe holds the remains of St. Paul. These two news events - one rooted in science, the other rooted in religion - are each interesting to consider.
Water on Mars would be a major discovery that would more closely link our planet Earth with the red planet. The presence of water on Mars would make it more possible that life of some sort sprouted there. The discovery of just one microbe, one fossilized remain, would forever change our view of the heavens. It would mean that we are not unique. It would mean that if life could occur on two worlds in the same solar system, then life must be growing throughout the cosmos.
And then there's St. Paul, who probably had more of an influence on early Christianity than any other apostle or any other contributor to the Bible. Though he never met Jesus in life - (yet he claimed that after Jesus' death he received a visitation on the road to Damascus after which he went blind, converted, regained his sight, and then changed his name from Saul to Paul) - his views shaped the fledgling religion. He was eventually martyred about 30 years after Jesus' crucifixion. The discovery of St. Paul's remains would be a direct link back to the early days of Christianity.
So here we have two significant discoveries - one in the realm of science, one in the realm of religion. What does it all mean?
It means that as human beings we possess a broad spectrum of belief. We believe in tangible items, hard facts, science, yet we also believe in the intangible, faith, religion. We can believe in life on Mars and in saints on Earth. This is a gigantic swathe of belief.
Now here are some things I can't believe. I can't believe it's taken all these years for investigators to announce that Princess Diana's driver was drinking on the night she was killed. I can't believe that Paris Hilton's Christmas "wish list" includes a Lamborghini. I can't believe that seniors on a fixed income have to choose between food and medicine ... while pro athletes routinely make millions of dollars per year just because they can swing a bat or catch a football. I can't believe that the major fossil fuel burning countries around the world won't believe in global warming. I can't believe the Patriots were shut out by the Miami Dolphins. And I can't believe that we're less than two weeks away from Christmas!
Whatever your belief system, just consider this. Some 13 billion years ago the universe was formed, probably out of some sort of Big Bang brought about by a Creator - a Diety of some sort - call him (or her) God. Out of that creation came the stars, and the planets, and eventually creatures like our ancestors that evolved on those planets. Our minds expanded. We crawled out of the oceans. Then we came down from the trees. We walked erect. We built fire, and the wheel, and tools, and weapons, and eventually blue jeans, and plasma TVs, and iPods. And we saw that it was good (especially when these items were on sale).
Today is Monday - the first day of the work week - so we can make money to pay for those blue jeans, and plasma TVs, and iPods. As it turns out, whether or not there's water on Mars matters little to us down here on Earth ... just so long as there is a tall glass of something waiting for us as we settle in front of our plasma TV when Monday Night Football kicks off.
I love the whole Christmas season, which in our household runs from the day the Thanksgiving leftovers are finally consumed to the day the artificial tree comes down (normally during MLK, Jr. weekend). In between those two points on the calendar is a solid month and a half of comfort and joy ... and eggnog.
I also enjoy how Hanukkah fits neatly into this whole season, beginning this year at sunset on December 15. Between the two - Christmas and Hanukkah - I get a kinda New Testament / Old Testament wash upon the holiday canvas, which hearkens back to my childhood. Being Irish-Italian Catholic, I grew up in a mostly Irish-Italian Catholic neighborhood. Yet, right across the street was the sole Jewish family. At Hanukkah their menorah would appear in the front window, which added to the wonder of the holiday season.
But enough of all that warm and fuzzy stuff, let's talk about what the season is really all about. By that I mean gifts, buying gifts, lots of gifts, expensive gifts. It all comes down to spending money -- money you don't currently have. Let's face it, without the holiday buying season our economy would grind to a halt. Holiday spending is a fact of our nation's financial life, perhaps just as important to that national financial well-being as the high cost of medical services. If a cure were ever found for the common cold our economy would crumble!
So, to keep our country strong we all have to be in debt and suffering from some medical ailment. It's the patriotic thing to do! Now, let's all go out there and spend, spend, spend! And if you come down with a cold, just think how spending additional monies on a doctor's visit and medicine will keep our economy chugging away!
In terms of Christmas spending, our household appears to be on LL Bean's "good list" this year. Over the holiday buying season we have received six (6) LL Bean catalogues. Yes, six (6)! First was the "Christmas 2006" catalogue with an idyllic image of folks cross country skiing on the cover. Then came "The Guide to Winter Warmth 2006." Next was "Christmas Favorites 2006," featuring "Hundreds of gifts for everyone on your list." A "Holiday 2006" catalogue arrived with "150 gift ideas for under $30," followed by another "Holiday 2006" catalogue with the teaser "Look inside for over 700 gift ideas." Finally came the "Guide to Christmas Gifts 2006," with the assurance that "there's still time," yet with the disclaimer that "December 21 is your final chance." Well, one of the catalogues must have done the trick, for we've done a fair amount of our shopping via a single telephone call to Freeport, Maine.
Next blog, I'll give a word picture of life north of the border - by that, I mean Maine, a/k/a the LL Bean Way of Life - from 'Winter Walker" snowshoes to "Wicked Good" slippers. Now where did I put my pipe?
I enjoy watching squirrels. They're like the Marx Brothers of the local wildlife scene, scampering about, chasing each other up and down trees, finding new ways to steal bird seed out of feeders, dodging automobiles, and chattering away in their squirrel language like they have something terribly important to say. How dull our human lives would be without squirrels.
One time a squirrel got into our house, down the chimney, and for the next half hour I attempted to capture him. I finally did, with a plastic milk crate, and quickly ushered him outside. The damage that little devil caused. But what fun!
Yes, I am a bit nuts when it comes to squirrels. I guess I think of them as small dogs ... or perhaps I think of dogs as large squirrels. Anyway, I will always stop whatever I'm doing to watch a squirrel for a few moments -- just to see what the heck he's up to. For instance, today I noticed a squirrel on the front lawn munching on an ear of corn. When he saw me he took off across the lawn with the corn in his mouth. All I can figure is he stole it from the stalks that, until yesterday, still graced our front lamp post. He took the ear of corn up a tree, rested there on a limb, and chirped away at me. I wonder what his problem was?
Earlier, this same squirrel had been munching on the large pumpkin that sat on our front step. Over the past week he essentially disemboweled the thing, spitting the seeds out on the brick while feasting on the pumpkin "meat" inside. Yesterday evening came the unhappy ending for the spent orange squash, as the pumpkin was completely hollowed out, dead, deceased, passed on to the great pumpkin patch in the sky. So I picked up the sloppy remains and this afternoon hauled it off to the dump, along with the corn stalks and whatever remaining ears of maize my squirrel friend left behind.
So, to sum up -- a pumpkin is dead, an ear of corn is missing, and the squirrel responsible is nowhere to be seen this evening as I let my Boston Terrier, Lucy, out once more before retiring for the evening. No doubt, my gray, furry rodent friend is fast asleep in his nest high aloft in some tree, with a full moon overhead and a full stomach of pumpkin and corn below, his little squirrel brain dreaming of tomorrow morning's breakfast, whatever and wherever that might be.
My Little Green Notebook
Any sense of order in my life exists upon the pages of a little green notebook I carry around with me. In it are all my notes, instructions, passwords, web addresses, email addresses, and some important and not-so-important phone numbers. Nothing is in any type of order; it's all rather haphazard. Chaotic really. But it's all in there, if I can find it.
Also included in the notebook are to-do lists (see earlier blog entry), records of previous automobile oil changes (see much earlier blog entry), and little notes to myself, such as: the last rest area along Route 90 in Ohio is located exactly 842 miles from our South Dennis home. You never know when that last bit of information might come in handy (no doubt, on my next trip out to Indiana after downing a large cup of coffee).
Yet, perhaps the most interesting bits of information in the notebook are on the four pages entitled "People I Have Met ... or Have Nearly Met." Normally I'm not impressed with so-called "important" people ... although I once approached a fellow at the NBC Studio gift shop at Rockefeller Center in NYC whom I thought was actor John Turturro (Quiz Show, Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) only to find out I was mistaken. How embarrassing! Anyway, here goes:
Edward Gorey - Artist, author. Would see him regularly at Jack's Outback throughout the 1990's. He once nodded at me (see blog entry from July).
Gene Kranz - NASA flight director. Met him at JFK Library in Boston at his talk/booksigning for Failure is not an Option (he signed my copy with the message "Aim High!" or perhaps it reads "Ain Hiqn!" ... I'm not quite sure).
Paul Wiley - Olympic figure skater/medallist. Met him at Pops by the Sea party back in the 1990's. I'm taller.
Bobby Orr - Boston Bruins. Spoke with him at the Improper Bostonian in Dennisport back in the early 80's. Again, I'm taller.
Robert Ballard - WHOI oceanographer. Met him at his WHOI office in the mid-80's just after he discovered the Titanic. He's taller, so I tried to impress him with my knowledge of the Titanic.
Steve Nelson - New England Patriots. He shook my hand at Willowbend golf course after he nearly took my head off with one of his tee shots. He's much taller, larger, more muscular.
Near misses include: actress Julie Harris (I'm taller), author BF Skinner (same height), author David McCullough (hard to tell, I couldn't get close enough), golfer Greg Norman (he's taller ... of course, he was wearing his "shark' hat at the time), and JFK Jr. at the 'Profiles in Courage Award" at JFK Library (he was taller, but I was better looking).
Which leads me to the one person I wish to someday add to my list of "People I Have Met." It is, of course, Kim Jong Il of North Korea. Perhaps one day we could play a game of ping-pong together, or go out for lunch, or visit one of his plutonium enrichment facilities. Anyway, I'm sure I'm taller.
We own three cars: a 2000 Plymouth Voyager, a 1997 Saturn Wagon, and a 1991 Chevy Lumina. They have a combined age of 33 years, and combined mileage of 350,000 miles (or, in celestial terms, collectively they've traveled to the moon and nearly half the way back).
The '91 Lumina is my mail "truck." I call it the Gray Ghost, because: 1) it's gray, and 2) it doesn't seem to be of this world. It's actually a great vehicle and will take me about my rounds tomorrow as I deliver the US mail throughout South Dennis (knock on wood).
We don't have a nickname for the 2000 Voyager, although we should probably call it the Prairie Schooner as it has taken us back and forth to the cornfields of Indiana many times during the past four years. Over this past year it has somehow become my daughter's car - mainly because it's the largest vehicle we own and I want her encircled by the most metal we can possibly muster.
Which brings me to the '97 Saturn Wagon; I sometimes refer to it as Gemini 7, because: 1) it's aerodynamically shaped like a space ship, 2) it has good pick up a/k/a "escape velocity," and 3) on dump day, with bags of trash fermenting inside, it smells as if two unwashed Gemini astronauts have been living in it for a week.
Well, this past Friday night I was driving the Saturn when I noticed the car was pulling to the right in a rather pronounced fashion. Over the next couple of days the pull became worse (I gave it a couple of days, figuring the problem would just go away by itself, which of course, never happens ... if anything, problems tend to go from bad to worse, not vice versa) so I brought the car down to the local tire place. They fixed me up with new front tires and an alignment, and now it's running straight as an arrow as it heads off toward the 100,000-mile mark.
I must admit, I enjoy getting new tires. It's the one thing about car service that makes perfect sense to me. Instead of some obscure, expensive part hidden somewhere under the hood, tires are right out there on the outside of the car for all to see. They're relatively inexpensive as far as auto parts go (I got two of them, and the alignment, for under $150). Their function is simple to understand -- they exist to keep the car's metal frame from scraping along the pavement as you drive down the street. They have no moving parts, or rather, the tire itself is one large "moving part," which simply goes round and round, so it's easy to understand how it actually works. And they're black, which is my second favorite color (right after charcoal gray).
Actually, I'm thinking that tires would make nice Christmas presents. Perhaps that's what I'll give to my family and friends this year - a nice, round, radial tire for each.
The only problem will be wrapping them.
Some random thoughts / observations / musings on this Thanksgiving weekend:
I've been keeping an "occasional" journal since 1992, jotting down my thoughts and ideas. Normally I pick it up two or three times a year and flip through it, reading an entry here and there, and then adding a new entry. For some reason, perhaps it was the grayness of the day, I don't know, but Thanksgiving was one of those days. So I reread some old entries and then began with the following for 11/23/06: "Thanksgiving Day. The year is ticking away and they're already playing Christmas music on the radio." Just three days into the 2006 Christmas season and I'm already sick and tired of "Santa Baby"!
Looking back over my journal, I noticed I made an entry in September 2001, just prior to 9/11: "...Thinking seriously about buying a farm house in Maine...Maine sounds like my speed. I can become a gentleman farmer, like Henry Beston."
My next entry, on 1/1/2002: "A new year arrives as we bid farewell to an historic one that our grandchildren will read about decades from now. My earlier journal entry was written two days before the events that changed the world and began a war that continues today, and that will probably be waged for years into the future." How could I have known then how prophetic my words would become? Five years later and the daily battle in the Middle East wages on.
Spoke with my cousin via telephone on Thanksgiving morning to exchange holiday wishes. Actually he's my third cousin (he's my late grandmother's cousin). During WWII he enlisted in the Navy at the tender age of 17 to serve aboard the USS Arkansas on D-Day. Later, the Arkansas arrived in the Pacific to battle the Japanese, and my cousin was present to witness the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. All these years later and he still doesn't know how to swim. Talk about guts!
Most sports fans associate Thanksgiving with football. Football's great, but hockey's my game ... especially when it involves two "Original Six" teams, like tonight's Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs game. When my daughter was young, she thought the team was called the Toronto Make Believes. She turns 18 tomorrow, and now she knows better. As for the rest of you, can you name the other four "Original Six" NHL teams? Answer below.
We've been feasting on leftovers for the past two days - turkey, squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc. Sadly, we ran out of cranberry sauce early on. And the "good" eggnog is gone. (We had a container of light eggnog, but it was terrible so I poured it down the sink rather than subject my family and myself to its further wickedness.)
The kids are working on a jigsaw puzzle this evening -- such a holiday weekend thing to do. For a few weeks now we've had an ongoing puzzle occupying the surface of a small table in the kitchen. The edge pieces have been in place for some time now, but nobody's had the energy to tackle the interior pieces. I dabbled at it earlier today, completing the red barn. The remaining pieces are all grass and flowers -- that's just too much effort!
Our Boston Terrier, Lucy, has something on her mind this evening. She's staring at me, and occasionally whining. She's had her dinner -- Kibbles & Bits ... & Ravioli -- and she just had a treat, so I can't figure her out. Perhaps she, too, is upset that the eggnog is all gone!
PS: "Original Six" NHL teams: Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks, Detriot Red Wings, New York Rangers.
The day after Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to do a little Christmas shopping, to read a book, to clean the gutters (again), to put up some sheetrock in the basement, or better yet, to test your Thanksgiving knowledge. And what better way to test that vast knowledge than with our...
(Day After) Thanksgiving Trivia Challenge
There are ten questions. Please use a No. 2 pencil. You have one hour ... starting ... now!
To make things easier on the test administrator, all the correct answers are "D." So let's see where you stand:
November finally arrived overnight with temps approaching freezing. Heck, just yesterday I was out doing the mail route in shorts. I was actually thinking of going to the beach (since I didn't get there all summer), but now the weather has turned seasonal and I understand the water temperature is around 49 degrees ... and unfortunately I don't look good in blue.
So this morning, after proofreading the galley proofs of our upcoming new book - Cape Cod Harvest with co-author Jim Coogan (what a shameless plug, huh?), I sat down to balance the checkbook. Nowadays, with online banking, I balance it once a week just to keep on top of things. It's funny, over the years the ol' checking account and I have developed a friendly relationship of sorts. We're like old pals. Oh sure, we've had our bad times in the past, and our good times, but right now I'd say our relationship is rather smooth - few crests and troughs, just steady sailing.
There was a time, years ago, when money was important to me -- back when I was making a good income in direct mail marketing. Then I went through a phase when I despised money -- back when I was either unemployed or when I made a career decision to leave my good paying direct mail marketing position to become a full-time writer (which again rendered me unemployed for a time). Now, my feelings toward money can best be described as complete indifference. It's been a long battle over these past twenty-something years since graduating from college (debt-free, thank God!) - a battle of debits and credits. But now, as long as the bills get paid and I can putter around my garage while listening to classical music, I'm as "sound as a pound" as Austin Powers might say.
Like Thoreau, my goal in life is to simplify, simplify. Hopefully, future years will find me as a "gentleman farmer" up in Maine - no phone, no internet, no cable, no credit card bills, and hopefully no mortgage if we can make it work out that way. I'll probably take up smoking a pipe, wearing lots of plaid shirts, writing in the morning, puttering around the barn in the afternoon, lighting a fire come nightfall, and reading till bedtime. Sounds good to me.
But until then, my wife and I have to put our two children through college and continue to pay the monthly bills. I figure college (most likely a state college) is going to cost circa $15,000 a year, times four years, times two kids = $120,000. Home equity will cover that - that's been the plan all along. But what of the monthly bills? Well, let's break them down:
Cable - I remember way back before cable when television was free. Yes, free! Oh sure, we only got three stations if the atmospheric conditions were just right. But there seemed to be more interesting programming on those three stations than on the hundreds we get now. I say we pull the cable out of the wall! That'll save about $50 per month.
Internet - Who needs it! (Except to read CapeCodToday, of course) Somehow we all survived without the internet before Al Gore invented it, back in the "good ol' days," back on Walton's Mountain with Johnboy and Maryellen and Jimbob and Ike and Corabeth. I say we give it the boot! Savings: $50 per month.
Telephone - Who needs a wall phone today when we have wireless phones. Gone! Savings: $60/month.
Wireless Phone - What, are you kidding me?! Besides causing brain cancer in laboratory mice (who would mice be calling anyway?), these things are the greatest nuisance to driving ever invented. Who are all these people talking to as they attempt to make a left turn with one hand, holding the phone in the other hand, and while holding a cup of coffee in their third hand, joyfully chatting away like they were sitting on the couch rather than in a hurtling piece of metal. I greatly dislike very few things in life - except for perhaps terrorists and those who fund terrorists and those who harbor terrorists - but wireless phones make the list. Gone! $45 savings per month.
Electricity - I don't know about you, but I like candle light. I think we can make some savings here.
Heat - Like they say when out hiking, "Dress in layers!" As long as the pipes don't freeze, we're in good shape. Savings quite possible here as well.
Gasoline - Our gasoline credit card payment is almost as high as our mortgage payment these days. I say, plan your trips better, walk when you can, dress in layers (oh wait, that doesn't apply here), and coast with your foot off the gas pedal as much as you can. If you can make all your trips downhill, that would help as well.
Food - Is it just me or are food prices rising (and no one seems to care)? Where's the outrage? Where's the concern?! Where are the Little Debbies treats located these days?!! I can't seem to find them! Pound for pound, calorie for calorie, you can't do better than Little Debbies. They're cheap, yet they taste like desserts you might find in some of the finest New York restaurants. When I die, I hope to be buried with an assortment of Little Debbies treats, along with my pipe (which I hope to start smoking someday soon), and an extra plaid shirt, in case it gets cold.
In order to keep my life organized I am constantly creating "to do" lists for myself. This past weekend was no different. It all began at the D-Y football game on Friday night. There I was in the bleachers with my little green notebook, jotting away. People nearby probably thought I was writing football poetry, but no, it was just a list of routine entries: clean garage, rake leaves, clean gutters, go to dump, caulk shower, check auto oil, return books to library, get my daughter Melissa going on her next college application.
Let's take each item in order.
- I'm on a first name basis with a number of the employees, and
- I enjoy the routine. I know where everything goes ... plastics over here, glass over there, nuclear waste in the glowing dumpster ... it all makes perfect sense.
I suppose everyone has a "to do" list that they're constantly adding to and crossing off from. For instance,
Britney Spears' list must look like this:
Big Papi's must read:
Kim Jong Il's:
As for my list for this coming weekend: rake more leaves.
PS: "Dancing with the Stars" has ended in a tie. Does that mean it now goes to the Supreme Court to decide a winner?
Well, earlier today my appeal for a recount was dismissed (actually, my appeal was totally ignored), so I had no option but to telephone the Patrick campaign and offer my congratulations. Of course, I never got through. This time the woman on the other end told me to push 1 for Spanish language, 2 for Russian, or 3 for French Canadian ... no English option ... so I hung up and decided to send a postcard instead.
The final count: Patrick (D) 56%, Healey (R) 35%, Mihos (I) 7%, Ross (G-R) 2%, Sheedy (W) less than 1% ... although I think the fourth place slot was really too tough to call if you consider hanging chads and absentee ballots.
But I'd say the big shocker of the night was Kennedy winning the Senate race. Now that one really took me by surprise.
Anyway, I wish to thank all those who voted for me, or who thought about voting for me, or who said, "What, are you nuts!" I also wish to thank all my supporters and volunteers, especially my campaign manager, my press relations director, and of course, Mickey, who was instrumental in finding the golf pencils. Mickey disappeared right after the polls closed and hasn't been seen since, although someone matching his description was seen out along the Mass Pike this afternoon supposedly hunting for trolls.
So, now that the campaign is over people have been asking me, "What's next?" Well, I suppose I'll leave public service behind and get back into my private practice -- US mail carrier. The dream of a Whig Party victory was, alas, just a dream. The Democrats now control the House and Senate. Bush is sinking like the Titanic. Rumsfeld has quit rather than answer questions about the war. Biologists have found a dolphin in the Pacific Ocean that's grown legs. The hole in the ozone layer is getting larger by the minute. While scientists claim that in 50 years the earth's average temperature will be too warm to support human life and 200 pound crickets will take over the planet.
But not to worry, astronomers have discovered a rogue comet heading our way, due to collide with earth on June 6, 2026 just before noontime ... so make your lunch plans early.
Jack Sheedy - Whig Candidate (retired)