31 December 2013

Surprise Yourself

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself."

– Neil Gaiman

I hope all my blogger buddies are looking forward to a fine year. I know I am.

I suppose there are people who would say they wouldn't want to live the way I do. There might even have been a time when I would've said the same thing myself. But here I am, looking forward to another year.

I guess I think about it the same way I used to think about playing music in public. Since I was never very good at it, I tried to assuage my performance guilt by thinking that even if most people in the audience wished I would go back to playing in my basement, there was probably someone out there thinking, "God, I wish I could do that!"

There are people better off than I am, but there are also people who face challenges greater than mine. The year I just had was better than no year at all. Way better.

I'm looking forward to some good madness and fine books. I'm looking forward to books that challenge me, and some that don't. I don't know about making art, but I might finally finish that post about Harry Spevak on Out on a Limb. It could happen.

I could surprise myself.

I'm looking forward to it.

09 December 2013

Face Time

Yesterday, Scarecrow went into the office. Physically. In person. To meet with his boss, both in the same room, at the same time. I don't remember when he last had to do that, but it's been a while.
As usual, I went along. Since it was Sunday, I wasn't really needed in my usual role of Enabler to Use the HOV Lane, but staying home would've required hiring a babysitter and I still haven't really come to terms with that.
Every time we make that commute, I'm glad we don't have to make it more often. If you're not from around here, Lake Washington is a long, skinny lake gouged out by a careless glacier, stretching much of the length of the greater Seattle area. We live just above the very top of this long, skinny lake, and Scarecrow's workplace is just past the very bottom. A route down either side of the long, skinny lake takes you through some of the ugliest traffic the Seattle area has to offer, and Seattle can offer you some very ugly traffic indeed. Once every couple of months is plenty for me, thanks.
The whippets don't like it much, either. They've become accustomed to having our pack together all the time, and they like it that way. If they found something inadvisable to do to entertain themselves while we were gone, they managed to hide their tracks.

30 November 2013


Facebook seems to think I recently turned 103. I never expected to make it to 103. Honestly, I don't feel a day over 97.

I've been getting birthday wishes, out of the blue, for about the past month. I don't remember this happening in years past. It makes me wonder if they were afraid I wouldn't make it.

I got a real, hard-copy birthday card from Tin Man. I get one from their family every year. It always arrives exactly on my birthday, which I find incredibly irritating because I've never sent one to any of them. I'm sure they don't do it to make me feel inadequate; at least, I don't think they do. Scarecrow thinks I'm projecting my motivations onto people who are really a lot nicer than I am. He's probably right.

Scarecrow came back from the store last weekend with two turkeys; a small (ish) one to roast on the grill, and a large (ish) frozen one that was free with a ridiculously huge grocery purchase. Good thing we like turkey, because between that and all the other stuff, we sat down to a truly embarrassing amount of food. Last year we had Arkman, our six-foot-plus nephew, to help us out. I can tell you a turkey looks a whole lot bigger without him on the other side of the table! I told Robin not to make a big deal out of it. Really, a roast chicken – a roast game hen! – would be plenty, but he says he finds it entertaining. And he doesn't have to cook again for a month, so there's that.

28 October 2013

Giving up on Summer

I know summer has officially been over for a month or more, but I've been telling myself that as long as there's still a little green on the leaves outside, it's not really over. They've been yellow — maybe even predominantly yellow — for a while now. By tomorrow, I think I'll have to admit that the last faint tinge of green is finally gone.

The trees outside my window are mostly big leaf maples and vine maples. They're very pretty when the leaves turn gold in the fall. They really are. It's just that, even after 18 years in the Pacific northwest, I can't help comparing them to fall in Michigan.

Of course, fall in Michigan was invariably followed by winter in Michigan, which kept me from enjoying the fall spectacle when I lived there as much as I might have done. Since I no longer live there, and know I won't have to endure the beautiful but interminable Michigan winter, I find I'm quite nostalgic about this time of year.

In central Michigan we never got the jaw-droppingly spectacular color you get further north, but compared to the polite yellow that's outside my window right now, it was spectacular enough. This wasn't any place special, just the street in front of our house:

Of course, if you were willing to travel, the trees in the park at the end of our block were a little more colorful:

Since I didn't grow up in Michigan, I can only imagine how much fun it would have been to jump into a deep pile of crisp fall leaves. I didn't grow up in Seattle, either, which is probably just as well. Jumping into a soggy, wet, slug-infested pile of leaf slime is an experience I'm just as glad I missed.

05 October 2013

Branching Out

Can't do it. My relatively-recently-developed obsession with family history feels like a different thing, and leaving it here, tossed in with everything else, just seems wrong, somehow. Besides, it offends my compulsion to have things neatly organized. This blog is already messy enough.

Mostly I'm learning to recognize the glazed look people get when I start off on a family-related tear.

So, henceforth, I'll be Stalking Dead People in a place I've set aside for the purpose. I call it Out on a Limb, and there's a link to it above. You can check it out if you're interested, or skip it if you're not. If you find it as engaging and fascinating as a textbook on advanced particle physics, well, you've been warned.

Everything else will go here. Dogs and books and living relatives and MS and whingeing about anything that strikes me as worthy of complaint. It will be as engaging and fascinating as it's ever been.

Well, you've been warned.

30 September 2013

It's Been a Long Afternoon

The mailman, come to kill us all! (And to drop off a package.) The ever-vigilant whippet, barking fiercely, frightens him away! (The mailman left the package at the door, and went back to his truck.)

The whippet is really quite pleased with himself.

The package is sitting on my desk.

I can't open it until Scarecrow quits work for the day, but I know what's in it, at least approximately. It's stuff my brother found when he was cleaning 65 years of accumulated detritus out of my mom and dad's house. It's stuff he didn't know what to do with, so he put it in a box and sent it to me.

It's been a long afternoon.

22 September 2013

But It's Not Fall Yet!

It sure looks like fall. It's blustery and blowy and fall-colored leaves are sailing past my window. But the autumnal equinox isn't until 1:44 PM. We should get another four hours and 10 minutes of summer!

It's not like we didn't have a summer this summer. We did. We had more than our usual share of beautiful warm sunshine.

I'm just not ready for it to end.

21 September 2013

Surname Saturday

This should probably be filed under 'When we get bored, bad things happen.' If it crashes your browser –– or your machine — apologies. Really. Sackcloth and ashes.

But if it doesn't, is this fun, or what?
You put some words into this Web app, kill much of a perfectly good Saturday afternoon messing with colors and sizes and shapes and all, and get something to take home for your mom to stick on the refrigerator door.

Cool, no?

Starting with my family surnames, I came up with a graphic that reflects the superior fecundity of the French-Canadian habitant over, well, pretty much everybody. There is one non-French-sounding name you don't need a magnifying glass to read (Baltes), but the rest are pretty hard to find.

OK, it doesn't really reflect any such thing. What it really means is that the Catholic Church in Québec kept voluminous records, a lot of them are online, and I'm lazy.

And that when we get bored, bad things happen.

14 September 2013

Searching Cemeteries

There’s one nice thing about dead people. They’re not going anywhere.

Several of my mother's forbears are buried in the St. Philip Neri cemetery in Empire, Michigan. The parish still exists; they even have a website. The website even has a history page.
"The history of St. Philip Neri Church begins in the middle of the 19th century when the first Catholic settlers came to the Glen Lake/Empire area. Over 30 priests have served as regular pastors here, while the descendants of the first settlers have stayed to help build the parish.

"In the year 1855 Fr. Mrack traveled from Peshawbestown to attend to the settlers' spiritual needs.… Fr. Mrack continued to serve the people of this area until his appointment as Bishop of Marquette in 1869 to succeed Bishop Baraga. Following Fr. Mrack's appointment as Bishop. Fr. Herbstrit was assigned to Suttons Bay. Upon his departure, he was followed by Fr. Zom. Fr. Shackeltown succeeded Fr. Zom, and was then himself succeeded by Fr. Zussa. Fr. Zorn then returned and remained until 1877."
This list of pastors is starting to have the same effect on my attention as the lists of begats in the Bible.
"During this time the area was becoming more populated. Frank Payment sailed the Great Lakes and landed in Glen Haven."
Wait! Frank Payment? I know Frank Payment! (I'm using 'know', here, in the genealogical sense. Frank Payment is my mother's great granduncle.)
"Impressed with the area, he encouraged several people from his hometown of Ogdensburg, N.Y., to emigrate after the Civil War, and about the year 1867 they settled in East Empire."
Or something like that. For one thing, Ogdensburg, New York wasn't Frank Payment's hometown. Frank was baptized François Xavier Payment in 1842 in Ste-Geneviève-de-Pierrefonds, near Montréal. His three older siblings, and three (maybe four) of his six (maybe seven) younger sisters were also born there. Ogdensburg is on the St. Lawrence River, immediately across from Prescott, Ontario, and guessing from census records and where the youngest three girls were born it seems the family lived in this general area for some years, sometimes on one side of the river, sometimes the other. It's still a puzzle.

I know Frank was in Michigan when he registered for military service in 1863, but then he enlisted with the 76th New York Regiment and served with New York units for the duration of the war. After the war it's clear that somebody must have rounded up the in-laws and outlaws and herded them to Michigan, but I didn't know Frank was the instigator. I still don't know why they all left Canada, or why they left New York, or how Frank came to be in Michigan in the first place. But somehow, between 1865 and 1875, nine of Frank's 10 (maybe 11) siblings, and his parents, settled within a couple of miles of each other, east of Empire, Michigan.
"Soon Masses were being held in the homes of Pat Kams and Tom Deering."
(Tom Deering was Frank's brother-in-law.)
"During this time the only road of any sort was the Benzonia Trail. To arrive at the farms where Mass was being celebrated the early settlers blazed a trail through the forest. Often they remained overnight, returning home the next day so they would have the advantage of daylight to find their way.… In 1906 parishioners built a horse barn on the northeast comer of the property to keep the horses dry and warm. It could accommodate more than 20 teams. This was a necessity because Mass frequently would start two hours late because of the number of confessions."
Who knew a parish church website could be so darned entertaining?

Anyway, the reference to Ogdensburg as Frank Payment's home town sent me off to see if I could find anything more about the time the family spent in that area. No luck with birth or marriage or death or cemetery records, and no census records I didn't already know about. Then I stumbled onto an online archive of historical newspapers from northern New York State.

Newspapers were the Facebook of their day, full of items like:
"Alexander Poirier has returned to his home in DeKalb Junction from the Ogdensburg city hospital.

"Ms. Ella O'Leary of Ogdensburg is a guest of her mother, Mrs. Julia O'Leary, in Potsdam.

"A number of venturesome people have crossed the river between Brockville and Morristown on foot during the past few days, but they are taking long chances as the channel is very unsafe and the ferrymen frequently break through the thin ice covering where the current is strongest.

"John Hazen of Canton, a student at St. Lawrence University, is spending a few days with Harold Leonard.

"An unusual accident happened recently to one of Edwin Sweet's cows on his Massina farm…"
I don't usually think to check newspapers. What fun are they, if you can't read? Most of Frank's forbears, including his parents and several of his siblings, were illiterate. Frank could read, though, so maybe it was worth a look. In the St. Lawrence Republican, Wednesday, 5 January 1915, page 3, column 3, I found this:
"Mr. and Mrs. Frank Payment and Mrs. Matilda Scott of Empire Michigan, are visiting their sister, Miss Teresa Beau."
Virtual happy dance! Frank's wife was Louisa Bow, and her hometown was Ogdensburg, New York. Since Frank also had a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law in the Bow family (long story for another post), I've been trying to track these guys down for the best part of forever. Bow can be a tricky name. It can be Bow, or Beau. Or Bean. Or Boe, or Baye or Boh, or Boie, or Boye, or Bothe, or LeBeau, or Debow, or Vanderbow… They can come from France, via Canada or not, or Scotland, or Ireland, or Germany, or China… They might have changed the way they spelled it. In fact, they did.

"Miss Teresa Beau."

I'll find them. No rush. They're not going anywhere.

08 September 2013

It's Not That Big a Deal

I've been keeping a blog for a while now, but I'm still trying to figure out this whole blogging thing.

I started it because it was a cool techie thing. I wanted to try it out; mess around with it a bit, you know, just for grins. The mechanics of entering some words on my computer, then uploading them to some mysterious place, where they're magically available to anyone on the Interwebz. Look at that, will ya? OK, that was fun. Now what?

Some years later, when I had to give up my day job, I thought I'd use the blog to document my adventures applying for Social Security disability. Since I anticipated this lengthy drama would generate a potentially overwhelming number of notes, forms, phone conversations, office visits, appeals, and possibly litigation, a write-as-you-go blog would be a good way to keep track of everything that happened. My expectations (some, in retrospect, inaccurate) were formed from reading other people's accounts of this process, so putting my experience online for whoever might stumble across it seemed like a way to pay it forward. Or back. Whatever. Besides, it would give me something to do. Then, three weeks later, it was a done deal. A great relief; also, a bit of an anti-climax. Now what?

Since then, I've been nattering on, off and on, to no particular purpose. Does a blog need to have a purpose? There are blogs that do; people who have something to say, or something to sell. I don't. Unlike the paper journal I used to keep, I know blogs aren't private. This is the Internet, after all. Seriously. Thinking you're anonymous on the 'net is like thinking you're invisible because you've got your eyes shut. Still, most of the visits to this site are from web crawlers, and that's probably just as well. I've made the acquaintance of a few truly fine Blogger Buddies who tolerate my Internet ADHD. Speaking of which, there's a lovely Steller's jay on the fence outside my window. I like reading about what my Blogger Buddies have been up to, and I don't mind if they read what I put up here. If I thought I had a significant number of real Readers, well, I just don't think I could stand the pressure.

So why is it, I wonder, that I feel like I should always have something to blog about? A blog post should have a topic. It should be like an essay, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well thought out. There should be some point to it. Looking back over random previous posts I see these elements may not always be discernible – in fact, they may not always exist – but I always feel like they should.

Can't I just scribble down some random observations about the weather, or about the annoying guy who lives next door, and call it good? That's what I did in my old paper journal. I wrote every day. Sometimes it was two lines, sometimes two pages. Whatever. Why does it have to be such a big deal?

Maybe it's a blog thing. I'm still trying to figure it out.

04 September 2013

It Must Be That Time

A few leaves on one of the bigleaf maples outside my window have gone yellow, and the black cottonwoods are starting to look tattered and worn. Scarecrow is starting to whine about having to sweep the leaves off the deck. We've had an amazing summer, but it won't last forever. It must be that time. Fall is on the way.

Juvenile dispersal is a big deal to biologists. Where juveniles go affects population growth, resource utilization, the genetic structure of the population, all kinds of stuff.

It must be that time. Tuffy went off to Japan. One of her friends is in the military, stationed in Hawaii (that should count as dispersal, since she's from Seattle, and in the service there's no telling where she'll wind up.) A friend's son just left for a year in France. In a few days my oldest nephew, Arkman, is leaving for 18 months in Bahrain. They'll all be doing interesting things, in interesting places. I'm looking forward to sharing their adventures; it's one of the advantages of belonging to a relentlessly verbal family.

I recently discovered that Tuffy's relentless verbosity is all Scarecrow's doing. A couple of weeks ago, pretty much by accident, I stumbled across a couple of things written by Scarecrow's fourth great-granduncle, Walter Bates. One was a narrative concerning, among other things, the early days of the revolution, "with some account of the sufferings of the loyalists." I knew that Walter's brother, William (Scarecrow's fourth great-grandfather), was a sergeant in the Queen's Rangers during the Revolutionary war. After the war, being less than welcome in the newly United States, William went to Nova Scotia, and eventually settled in Ontario. I didn't know anything about Walter, who apparently became High Sheriff of Kingston, Nova Scotia, in which capacity he wrote the concisely titled The mysterious stranger; or, Memoirs of Henry More Smith, alias Henry Frederick Moon, alias William Newman, who is now confined in Simsbury mines, in Connecticut, for the crime of of burglary: containing an acount of his confinement in the gaol of King's county, province of New-Brunswick, where he was under sentence of death : with a statement of his succeeding conduct before and since his confinement in Newgate. He also wrote some really bad poetry. Who knew? Judging from his narrative, he was a man of strongly-held opinions; another trait he seems to have bequeathed to his descendants.

Family history explains so much.

28 July 2013

A Year in Japan

One year ago today we were up early in the morning to take Tuffy to the airport, where she met up with other Seattle JETs, and boarded a flight to Tokyo.

Doesn't seem like it's been that long.

Seems like it's been forever.

She loves Japan. She loves her job (teaching English to Japanese high school students). She took part in some Japanese festivals, attended a couple of k-pop concerts, and did a little traveling around Japan. She had an ATM machine eat her bank book, and managed to do what was required to get it back. She had her bicycle stolen, found, turned in to the police, and eventually returned. Instead of MMA, which absorbed pretty much all her free time when she was here, she's doing judo. She found a dojo where she feels accepted and welcome, even though she's gaijin, and a girl.

Her sensei speaks no English, so she says they communicate using a patchwork of rudimentary Japanese, their common understanding of wrestling, and, when necessary, 'point and grunt'.

She extended her contract for a second year.

I had hoped her blog posts would motivate me to post here more often. That didn't happen. Apparently I can enjoy reading about her life in Japan, without feeling obliged to find something interesting enough about my very ordinary routine to reciprocate. If something exciting happens, I'll blog about it. Or if I feel like it. Whatever.

I'm looking forward to reading about another year in Japan.

21 June 2013

Summer Solstice in Seattle

Daughter in Japan celebrated the summer solstice at a potluck picnic sol-a-bration in the park (removed to somebody's apartment because of rain), starting off with some yoga (Tuffy says she doesn't do yoga – wrestling and judo and MMA, but no yoga), soccer (presumably deferred), and dinner, then watching the late sunset and fireworks (this part presumably still outside) on the shores of beautiful Biwako in Nagahama. They do serious fireworks in Japan.

We celebrated the summer solstice by going to Costco for dog food.

In previous years we took in the Fremont Solstice Parade, a very Seattle kind of artsy, hippie-dippy affair led off by several hundred cyclists wearing body paint and not much else. (The naked cyclists got started in the mid-90s with a handful of naked bicyclists taunting the police by streaking the parade. Now the butts on bikes have come to symbolize the festival. Who knows how these things happen?) It's tomorrow, but I think we'll take a pass. It's hard to find a place to watch where I can see anything besides a wall of fully-clothed butts.

I don't know why I don't make a bigger deal out of celebrating the summer solstice. I love the long days, even if they're often kind of gray and gloomy in this part of the world. Maybe it's because, from here on out, the days are getting shorter and darker. Can't like that. At the winter solstice, the days starting to get longer really seems like something to celebrate. Maybe that's it.

Still, it's been a nice long day. And we've got plenty of dog food.

17 June 2013

Adventures in Adaptive Technology

One thing I miss about my old day job is that my employer provided bleeding edge techie toys, and expected me to play with them. Indeed, it was part of my job description; how cool is that? They were mobile devices, mostly – laptops, smartphones, and the like. It’s coming up on four years now, but I’m still suffering withdrawal. When the pangs of deprivation get particularly intense, I’m likely to wind up on the ‘net, looking for new software. This frequently turns out to be a bad idea.

 Most recently, I found myself looking for a workable voice-recognition solution for Linux. I torture myself with this from time to time. If I could use voice recognition with Linux, I could ditch Windows, and I’d do it in a heartbeat.

 I didn’t find anything this time, either.

 Found this, though:
Enable Viacam (eViacam) is a mouse replacement software that moves the pointer as you move your head.
It works on standard PC equipped with a webcam. No additional hardware is required.
It's completely free, open source and easy to use!” 
 Too good to be true? One sure way to find out…

Well, no, apparently it’s not. I’ve been using ViVo Mouse, a commercial ($$$) head tracking software, for several years, so I’m familiar with the concept. I installed eViacam, just for grins, just to see how a free, open-source product would stack up against my $$$ ViVo Mouse. I was dubious; it didn’t have nearly as many settings and configuration options. You didn’t have to tell it how to find your WebCam, you didn’t have to do anything to get it to work with Dragon NaturallySpeaking, none of that. You just install it, and it’s supposed to work. Too good to be true, I’m thinkin’.

 Except it’s not.

 You just install it, and it works, pretty much. While I did tweak a couple of settings, it was more like adjusting preferences than making functional changes. One thing I could do in ViVo Mouse that was awkward in eViacam could be managed easily enough with a macro. And I will happily write a lot of macros for $$$.

So I’ve been using it ever since. It works at least as well as ViVo Mouse which, by the bye, hasn't released a software update in almost three years. If anything, I’d say it works a little better. So there you go.

If it seems like I failed to get myself into enough trouble this time, fear not. Those macros? I’ve been using AutoHotkey for a while and have largely come to terms with it, but I just found NatLink, and Vocola, and Unimacro… extensions to Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and extensions to the extensions. Beta versions! Life at the bleeding edge! This will probably turn out to be a bad idea.

 Fun though.

15 June 2013

Father's Day

Dad with his 1949 Hudson.
It still seems weird not to call and wish him happy Father's Day.

He was not always an easy guy to get along with, but he was who he was, and if you didn't like it, it was your loss. It was a lesson I'm still trying to learn.

Scarecrow is planning to spend Father's Day preparing burnt offerings on the grill. He started a couple of batches of beer a few weeks ago, which should be about ready to drink. I expect a good time will be had by all.

For all the fathers out there, it's a tough job; thanks for doing it.

04 May 2013

Omelette Weather

It looks like the weatherman is predicting egg yolks. Enough for an omelette. A couple of omelettes, even. We don't get that here in May, very often. I'm not complaining, mind. Just sayin'.

It happened in 1995. I came to Seattle from Michigan for a job interview, and had three days of weather… well… like this. I don't know how much the weather had to do with it, but they offered me the job, and I took it.

In June, I came back with Scarecrow and Tuffy to find a place to live for ourselves and five English setters. That was an adventure in itself, but it took place in weather pretty much like this.

Having been here ever since, I've found that egg yolks are real rarity in a weather forecast for May, and not much more likely for June.

That's OK. I don't feel like I'd been misled. I figured the stereotype of the gray, rainy Pacific Northwest had to be based on something. I remembered the gray, rainy year I spent in Portland, before my time in Michigan. It didn't come as a surprise.

The drippy gray weather wears on you after a while, and I whine about it, like everybody here does, but I don't really mind. It's just the price you pay for being able to truly appreciate omelette weather. After a long, gray, drippy winter, it's hard to overestimate the effect a bright sunny day can have on one's outlook on life.

01 May 2013

Dancing the Sun Up

Obligatory May Day post, because it's May Day.

Or maybe because it's Beltaine. Or maybe because it's halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Or maybe just because it's not raining today. At least it's not raining here. Right now.


Somebody must've danced the sun up, and done a fine job of it, because there it is.

26 April 2013

Location, Location, Location

It worked. If Tuffy can come up with a blog post, so can I. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

A friend of mine is currently selling one house and buying another. This friend (call her Dorothy – ”There’s no place like home… there’s no place like home…”) put her place up for sale on a Friday. By Sunday, she had three offers, and had accepted one of them. The following Saturday, she found the house she wanted – a really cute little 1920s craftsman in North Tacoma. Offer made, and accepted. Sold one house and bought another in less than two weeks. Both transactions, knock wood, are proceeding smoothly. I’m still shaking my head.

My own experiences in the real estate market have always been considerably more painful than that, but I still like looking at the places people live. When I’m gawking at houses that I’m not going to buy, I don’t have to be practical. I won't have to scrub the bathrooms, or keep up the yard, or pay for heat, or deal with hundred-year-old plumbing, or make scary big house payments. I don’t care if the schools are terrible, and if it would mean the commute from hell, I won’t have to make it. I won’t have to deal with snow up to here in the winter, or black flies in the spring, or mosquitoes in the summer. Heck, I look at houses all the time that aren't anywhere close to being wheelchair accessible, but it's still fun to look.

People shape the places they live. Looking at a house, especially an old house, and speculating about the lives of the people who lived there is kind of like finding a seashell and wondering about the creature that created it.

In trying to find out about the people in my family, I find myself stalking places as well as people. After my mother’s forbears made the big leap across the ocean, they had apparently done about as much moving around as they were inclined to do for the next couple of centuries. They were farmers, mostly, and tended to put down roots. I spend a lot of time (virtually speaking) in 17th and 18th century Yamaska and St-François-du-Lac (Québec), in 19th century Provement/Lake Leelanau and Centerville and Kasson (Michigan), and in Toledo from 1870 to 1949. I can’t go there in person, but there are all kinds of resources on the ’net; local government websites, and libraries and historical societies, churches and cemeteries. And maps. So many maps. And maps are magic.

For example: How did my paternal grandfather in Racine, Wisconsin meet my grandmother in Chicago? It seemed like quite a stumper until my cousin (Tinker) suggested I look at a map. They’re right across the state line from each other. Duh. I’m not from around there, so I didn’t know that. I still don’t know the details, romance-wise, but location-wise, it’s not as unlikely as I thought it sounded.

Another example: In 1860, my gggreat-grandfather Maxime Payment, and his sister, my gggreat grandaunt Merceline, appear with their respective families in the U.S. Census of Ogdensburg, New York. Now, I knew they eventually wound up in Michigan, and I still don’t know why they left Canada, but New York? Turns out Ogdensburg is right across the river from the ancestral stomping ground in Québec. And getting from there to Michigan? Water all the way.

Over the course of the next decade or so, at least six of the siblings in this family, and their parents, claimed homesteads in Leelanau County, Michigan. They were spread over two townships, so it wasn’t until I looked at the whole map that I realized the Payments on the eastern edge of one Township were really close to the Payments on the western edge of the adjacent Township. Duh.

The 1851 plat (I love maps!) includes the surveyor’s description of the terrain, and the type of tree cover. It is a “township of rich farming lands – surface generally rolling – soil varies from sand to sandy loam; bottomed on clay and mixed with lime and coarse pebbles – soft and spongy – Principal timber sugar [maple] and beech with elm, ash, lynn (?), and on the ridges, hemlock. No waste land in the township.”

Maxime Payment took out a homestead patent on a 160 acre section in Township 28N 13W. His father, François Xavior, patriarch of this Payment clan, claimed an adjoining 40 acres.

Merceline and her husband, Julius Bow, settled on 120 acres in the next Township to the west, in “a valley of superior land.”

François Xavior (Frank) Payment took an L-shaped 160 acres nearby, including a “high hill giving a fine view of Bear Lake.”

Anastasie Payment and her husband John Deering claimed a 160 acre section of “level rich first-rate land.”

Mary Payment and her husband Thomas Deering (brother of Anastasie’s husband John), settled an adjacent 160 acre section.

Jules (Joseph) Payment established his homestead on the 160 acre section adjacent to that.

Superimposing the 1881 plat map on a contemporary satellite view of the same place (God I love technology!) and (roughly, because I don’t feel like messing with it at the moment) pasting the two township maps next to each other, you can still see the section lines marking the original land patents. Rose Hill Cemetery, where Merceline and Frank and their spouses are buried, is right across the road from Maxime Payment’s homestead. (Maxime, now called Michael, and Jules, now called Joseph, and their wives, are buried in the Saint Philip Neri Cemetery in Empire, a few miles away.) There’s still a clearing where the farmhouse is marked on the plat of Jules Payment’s homestead.

There’s no home there now.

29 March 2013

Sunny-Side-Up in Seattle

Looks like we get eggs this weekend.

The "sunshine" icon on my desktop always makes me think of a sunny-side-up egg.

Crazy. On Monday morning, when I started this post, it was snowing.


It was just the occasional flake and it didn't last long, but still, wtf? No snow all winter, and we get snow on the third day of spring? Does that seem right to you? OK, an hour later there was even a little blue sky and you could almost call it sunshine, like, oh wait, spring, yeah, sorry, my mistake, I'm with the program now…

Who knew that whining could exercise that much control over the weather? I'll have to remember that.

When it's supposed to be sunny the "sunshine" weather icon still looks to me like somebody's trying to fry an egg on my desktop. I think the association is left over from life in rural Michigan, long ago and far away. We had a big garden, and when we canned tomatoes we'd throw the tomato skins to the chickens, who seemed to enjoy them very much. A few days later, the hens, juiced to the gills on carotenoids, began laying eggs with the most amazing florescent orange yolks. Kind of like the sunshine icon, only maybe sunnier. It took some getting used to, but even now, dog's years later, I still think grocery store eggs look hopelessly pallid and a little sad.

Tuffy has been posting pictures on Facebook (even some videos, because even though she forgot her camera, she had her iPhone and holy crap I love modern technology!) of a sumo tournament in Osaka. Another case where it would be nice to have some words to go along with the pictures.

Last week, in the course of stalking Scarecrow's grandfather, I found out he was an inventor. His Abrasive Mounting for Grinding Devices was patented on August 30, 1932.
Scarecrow didn't know anything about it, and thought it was pretty cool. And I got to send the patent to Scarecrow's brother, Tinman, the engineer, who, as it happens, makes grinding devices himself. So that was fun. And technical drawings are all done on computer these days, but back then it was paper and ink and a straight edge, and the result was a work of art. So that was fun, too.

You never know what's going to turn up. I was just trying to find out when PD Bates died. Which, by the way, I still don't know.

20 March 2013

Spring in Seattle

The first day of spring in Seattle. Gloomy, gray, drippy, chilly — pretty much like the last day of winter. I was about to give up on getting any snow at all this year (Scarecrow said we got a little, once, but I didn't see it), and now they're talking about snow tonight, maybe. wtf? It's even supposed to be windy, which we don't get much around here. I'm listening for the Thump that means a black cottonwood branch has landed on the roof, probably made a hole, which will probably leak. We really need to do something about the roof.

I can see a little bit of green on the trees in the park across the street. I know it's just moss.

But it's light enough to see it in the morning, so that's something.

Browsing around the news, I found this, which has nothing much to do with the first day of spring:

Biogen Idec advances blockbuster MS franchise on two key fronts

Now, I know nobody would be developing new drugs if there weren't money to be made. But holy crap. This is all so clearly about the buckets of money Biogen Idec is going to make in this incredibly lucrative market, and it's so great that a higher dosage works better, because they'll sell more of the drug and make even more money! In the final line they finally get around to mentioning the effect this might have on the lucky people who have the disease the drugs are meant to treat. This really makes me cranky.

But hey. It's the first day of spring, so that's something.

17 March 2013

0% Irish

I'm reasonably certain that, even on St. Patrick's Day, my ancestry is about 0% Irish. Scarecrow has a little, but it's a ways back, and pretty thin. He plays some Irish tunes, but I don't think that counts. The whole idea of green beer has always struck me as a little odd.

I'm fond of corned beef and cabbage, though, and Scarecrow just boiled up a mess of it. (Is it still considered boiled if he does it in the pressure cooker?) Anyway, corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, the whole nine yards. With horseradish, which may or may not be traditional, but since I'm not Irish I don't figure it matters. And a Black Butte Porter.

Life is good.

11 March 2013

Bareit Is Ready for His Close-Up

I dithered about posting a link to the video the King County Library System made about how people (being, specifically, Scarecrow and me) use their library. However illusory the veil of Internet anonymity might be, I still find myself clinging to it. KCLS will probably make the video available from their website at some point anyway, but that’s OK because, really, how many people will find it there? Then I figured, what the heck? How many people will find it here?

The whippets, who have never been to the library and can’t even read, pretty much stole the show anyway. As you can imagine, there’s no living with them now.

Edited 12 March 2013, to remove the link to the video on Scarecrow's Facebook page, which was apparently protected by Facebook's privacy controls. (Facebook has privacy controls? Who knew?) Anyway, I'll post a functional link if/when KCLS makes it available from their website. If you'd like a preview, it's here, in PC and Mac format:


Edited some more on 17 March 2013, because I noticed the above link wasn't actually a link. Duh. I know you know how to get there anyway, but I try to be considerate about things like that.

06 March 2013

Too Many Choices

My usual problem with blogging is coming up with something to write about. Recently, however, my problem has been quite the opposite. I have a list of a dozen or so topics that I thought might be fun. I even scratched together some notes for a couple of them. Since I can't decide which one to do first, I haven't done any at all.

No, it doesn't make sense to me, either, but there it is.

Tuffy just added a couple of posts to her blog, too, so I feel like I need to get off my sorry butt. Not that we're competitive, or anything. In fact, the competition, such as it is, is totally one-sided. I don't think Tuffy is even aware of it. But still.

So I'm going to make up my mind. I'm just going to pick one, and do it. This doesn't count.

23 February 2013

Brothers in Arms

Brothers in Arms. Literally. Or at least as literally as you're likely to get with something like that. During World War II, my dad and his brother, my uncle Willie, were both in the Army.

On July 14, 1944, Willie was someplace in the Pacific. He was 25 years old, and had been in the Army for a year and a half. My dad was 23. He had just finished basic training at Camp McCain, Mississippi, and would shortly be deployed to Germany.

This is the v-mail, complete with censor's stamp, that Willie sent to my dad. My brother found it 67 years later, when he was cleaning my dad's office after he died.

Dear Ez,
As I sit here, with my pen in one hand and the other busily engaged in warding off all manner of insect life, I wonder: If you and I will ever do any of those many things we planned to do. If our interests and desires will still be as similar as they always were. If you will be able to wear my clothes and I yours. If I will still remain in the category of the "wolf of all wolves." If Gordon will still be as cynical and disgusted with mankind. If Red will continue to collect the classics and make music his heart's ease in life. If that girl from the flower shop will be as appealing as ever. If the Trianon will still be a hangout on Wednesday night for the Spevaks'. If this damned war will cease and I can give up letter writing and my thoughts see their answers. As all bad things, so this – it ceases.
Your brud,

14 February 2013

It's Working

If a picture is worth 1000 words, Tuffy’s latest photo essay put her 17,000 words ahead of me, blog-wise, so I guess I’d better get cracking. Not that we’re competitive or anything.

Nothing much going on around here lately, as far as I know. Not that anyone would tell me if there was.

I’ve been using some really cool online utilities to tidy up my family history database, a long-term project which is both extremely tedious, and very satisfying, in an OCD kind of way. And last weekend Scarecrow helped me scan some of the documents my brother unearthed in my mom and dad’s house, so I finally get to look at them. A few answers, and a lot of new questions.

I saw the video the library put together from the stuff they recorded the other day. It’s not as horrible as I had feared. Scarecrow looks presentable, and the whippets are pretty darned cute.

03 February 2013

A Marmot Moment

Talk about What I Should've Said… I stewed for ridiculous length of time, trying to think of a title for my groundhog's day post. I didn't come up with what I was after until this morning, a day late and a dollar short, as usual. I guess I could've gone back and changed it, but that seems like cheating, somehow.

I do that a lot. I don't mean cheating; I mean not being able to find a word when I want to use it. Long before I had any other symptoms that were clearly MS-related, I had trouble coming up with words. I'd mentally construct a sentence intending to use a particular word, but when I got there, the word was nowhere to be found. It was the weirdest thing.

When I mentioned it to various neurologists, they'd look at me like I'd grown two heads. I've since learned that it's a fairly common cognitive problem among people with MS. So it's not just me.

You'd think it would've really cramped my style as a writer, but fortunately technical documentation for network software uses a pretty limited vocabulary. For anything else, I could usually come up with the word I was after eventually. It just may not happen until the next day. You skip that bit and come back to it later. It could be a bit awkward in conversation, but manageable otherwise. Not a huge problem, as problems go.

But it still pisses me off.

02 February 2013

Marmot Madness

Meat's in the cupboard and butter's in the churn,
Meat's in the cupboard and butter's in the churn,
If that ain't groundhog, I'll be durned.
Old groundhog
As a result of the ADHD I seem to have acquired upon my retirement from my day job, a casual interest in Candlemas took me off on an investigation of, among other really interesting things, wildlife weather prediction, the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, activity patterns of Marmota monax, purification of the Virgin Mary, the meaning of  'Imbolc', the relative advantages of beeswax vs. tallow candles, and old-timey music. I don't know how this always happens.

Marmots are really cool little creatures, though. I don't know why they're called woodchucks, but whistle-pig or land-beaver conjures up quite a picture, doesn't it? Back in my biologist days, I remember being (fleetingly) envious of people whose research subject was diurnal, and active right out in the open. You could just sit there and watch them. Would that be cool, or what? Of course, taking a blood sample from a nocturnal, secretive, 1 ounce deer mouse was a lot easier than wrestling with an unhappy 13 pound ground squirrel with incisors like, well, like a rodent. I'm doing it again, aren't I?

Anyway, here we are. Halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Forty-five days, 5 hours, 30 minutes, and 30 seconds (and counting) till spring. As much as I like marmots, their take on today's weather won't get it here any quicker. It'll get here when it gets here. In 45 days, and change.
Little piece of cornbread layin' on the shelf,
Little piece of cornbread layin' on the shelf,
If you want to hear more you can sing it yourself,
Old groundhog.

28 January 2013

Rogue's Gallery


This was one of those projects that just took forever. OK, not forever, maybe, but 13 years. At least. Depending on when you start counting. Getting things hung on the wall doesn’t sound like a big project, but we just never seemed to get it together.

It’s not art, really. Photos, mostly. Family photos, although neither my family nor Scarecrow’s is what you’d consider particularly decorative. Some of them are just snapshots, and not particularly good snapshots, at that. Still, coming up with stuff to hang was the easy part.

You think, just by chance, that the occasional image would be a standard size 4 x 6, 5 x 7, or 8 x 10, but no. Custom mats and frames can be expensive. In fact, standard size mats and frames can add up pretty quickly. And there are so many choices! Too many.

But what the heck. This is not art. It’s not a museum. Let’s just do it.

I scavenged eBay for frames unloaded at estate sales, and got about what you'd expect. Nothing matches anything else. Well, a couple do, but that was purely by accident. Scarecrow loaded the frames with our stuff (in some cases replacing pictures of people who are far more decorative than our relatives, but hanging pictures of people we don't know just wouldn’t be the same, would it?) and hung them on the wall.

My dad's family, mostly.

My mom's family.

Products of the Milburn Wagon Works in Toledo Ohio, where my gggrandfather, ggrandfather, and ggrand uncle worked.

Scarecrow's family. The empty frame is a placeholder for a picture of Scarecrow's mom in her wedding dress. He keeps promising to ask his brother, Tin Man, about it

It’s been 13 years, but it’s finally starting to look like we’ve moved in.

24 January 2013

What I Should've Said

I can never think of the thing I should’ve said when I should’ve said it. Only when the moment is long past – when the conversation has moved on to other things, or when I wake up at 3 AM – do I finally come up with what I really should’ve said. Sometimes it’s days or weeks later. Years, sometimes. Decades, even.

I’m not after the clever comeback, here; I’ve never been a master of Quick Wit and Retort, and my expectations are not unreasonable. I just mean what I would like to have said if I could think a little faster and was a little better at putting thoughts into words. Pathetic, really, for someone who has always made a living, one way or another, with words, but there it is.

Just now, for example, I’m finally coming up with what I should’ve said last Friday. Like I said, quick wit is not one of my strengths.

What happened was this: Scarecrow reconnected on Facebook with a woman who went to the same high school in Florida. Turns out she’s now in the Seattle area, and works in Community Relations and Marketing for our local library. Scarecrow pipes up with how great a resource the library is for me/us. Turns out they’re putting together a series of videos about the library, and she wondered if they might talk to us about it.

There are many reasons for me not to do this:
  • I generally don’t like to make a deal of being disabled
  • I definitely don’t do “courageous” or “inspirational”
  • I don’t much like having my picture taken
  • I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention
And most importantly:
  • When you’re talking, it’s always a first draft
On the other hand, this is the library we’re talking about. If there’s something I can do to help, I’m in. So OK.

So. Last Friday the library lady (I’ll call her Spike) comes to our house with a director, a tech/camera/sound guy, an assistant tech/camera/sound guy, and a whole bunch of equipment. Everybody was very nice, and fortunately they were all dog people, because the whippets were going ballistic. (We always say they normally have better manners, but I don’t think anyone ever believes us. Which is just as well, because they don’t.) The tech guys fixed us up with cool wireless mics, pointed the cameras our way, and we talked about the library and stuff. Although I felt like a total moron, I thought Scarecrow actually sounded pretty good, and overall it was not as agonizing as I had feared. Part of the reason was that they probably spent as much time taking pictures of the dogs as they did of us, and the dogs expressed themselves more coherently.

I’ve had a week to cringe at some of the stupider things I said. Although I don’t get to do the editing myself, I can only hope that the worst bits vanish forever into pixel never-never-land.

I can spend the next decade working out What I Should’ve Said.

14 January 2013

I Shouldn't Be Enjoying This so Much

In June 2009, I finally conceded that MS had kicked my butt, and retired from my day job. I’d heard the stories about people who, when suddenly confronted with so much unstructured time, acquired bad habits. Chewing slippers, recreational barking, peeing in the house, and similar. Having known for several months that the inevitable was not far off, but determined not to succumb to such vices, I’d been preparing a list of things I could do after I retired. Some were things I needed to get done, but had just never managed to finish. Others were things I enjoyed doing, but that my day job didn’t seem to leave time for. All were things I could do from my power chair, no hands required, with no (or minimal) assistance. The list was longer than you’d think, although I can’t tell you what was on it. I didn’t ever refer to it much. I just went looking for it, just now, just for grins, but couldn’t find it (although I got sidetracked, and then got sidetracked from the sidetrack, and so just spent several hours doing things that were totally unrelated to whatever it was I set out to do. This happens a lot.). In the 3 1/2 years since I retired, I’m pretty sure I haven’t checked anything off of that list.

The shameful truth is that I rather enjoy having absolutely nothing to do. Total indolence really suits me.

My mother always said, “You expect to be waited on hand and foot.” Now I am, literally, waited on hand and foot, and although I hate it, I’m afraid I don’t hate it is much as I ought to. I suspect this makes me a bad person, but I’m not sure what I can do about it.

A whole day with no commitments, nothing I have to do, far from inducing apprehension or anxiety, is something I look forward to. A good thing, because most days are like that.

What do I do all day? Good question. I’m not sure. A little of this, a little of that. Whatever I start, it doesn’t take long before I get sidetracked, and then get sidetracked from the sidetrack. Then I look up, and it’s getting dark. Yeah, I know it’s January, and this is Seattle, so that could be right after lunch. But still. What can I say? I’m easily entertained.

Looking at my almost entirely empty calendar, I see nothing until… let's see… Friday.


08 January 2013


The other morning I was chatting with Tuffy online. It's not like we've never done that before. When she was still living at home, it wasn't unusual to get an IM from the next room down the hall. And I know when we're on the phone or on Skype we're doing the same thing at the same time. But for some reason it just struck me as extremely cool that I'm in Seattle and she's in Japan and we're typing back-and-forth. I don't know why. It just did. The wonders of technology. PFM.

Anyway, she said her birthday/solstice present was on her desk when she got to work on Monday. As I may have confessed before, on festive occasions, my family is resigned to receiving gifts that I want myself. Tuffy tumbled to this early. She must've been four the year Stellaluna was published. I read it to her several times when we were in the library or at a bookstore. It's a charming story, the illustrations are wonderful, and I really like bats. So, come solstice, I got her a copy. "Mom!" she said, when she opened it. "Stellaluna! Your favorite!"


I've still got it, too. Right there on the bookshelf, next to Sheep in a Jeep. And Sheep in a Shop. And Sheep on a Ship.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Using holidays as an excuse to inflict stuff I want on members of my family. Like the year Scarecrow got a grill for Father's Day. And the time he got an espresso machine for his birthday, even though he doesn't really drink coffee. (Hey, he's a guy, right? It plugs in, and it's got buttons and knobs, and it makes noise. What's not to like?) So Tuffy probably wasn't particularly surprised to find that I got her a camera. It's true that she'd been whining about the crummy picture quality from her iPhone, but the real reason for the camera is that I want to see pictures of Japan.

I haven't seen any output from the new camera yet. What's the holdup, I wonder? Anyway, she took this with her phone; I stole it off her Facebook page. We haven't had any snow in Seattle yet this year, but apparently it has snowed a couple of times in Nagahama. Tuffy is still enough of a Seattle kid to run outside with her camera (or, apparently, her phone) every time it snows. We left Michigan when she was five, so I guess she doesn't remember what it's like for snow to be a regular deal.