Saturday, December 29, 2018

My year in Portugal

In a quirk of fate as whimsical as Mark Twain being born and dying with the appearances of Halley's Comet, I started out 2018 by reading a book set in Portugal and finished 2018 with another that began in Portugal. Well dip me in honey and call me sticky.

The first book was Yann Martel's The High Mountains of Portugal. It was also my favorite book of the year coming in at a Beamonesque 9 on the 10-point Haugenometer.

The final book of 2018 (my 28th of the year) was: A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century
Even as historians credit Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II with hastening the end of the Cold War, they have failed to recognize the depth or significance of the bond that developed between the two leaders. Acclaimed scholar and bestselling author Paul Kengor changes that. 
I felt like I needed a respite from the blood and guns of my usual mystery thrillers for the Christmas season, so delved into this one. The fact that it included two assassination attempts, two world wars and armed invasions made the transition easier.

The Portugal reference comes because the book starts in Fatima, Portugal. The author, Paul Kengor, delved into the apparitions quite a bit (too much in some places) because he explains that the Pope was obviously intrigued and affected by them, but so too was the Protestant Reagan. That shared interest helped forge their friendship, as did surviving assassination attempts and a desire to defeat Communism.

The parallels he draws between the two men are quite fascinating and I learned a lot. I really enjoyed the book and it piqued my interest more in the Fatima apparitions and others. I'll be doing some follow up on the those and report back to you.

Barnes & Schnable readers give it a 3.7 of 5 and Goodreaders a 4.4 of 5. I don't give ratings to nonfiction books. As I've explained before, I consider historical books to be just glorified term papers. Oh, I see you can research, organize and footnote. So can a monkey! Just kidding (about the monkey part). I kid because I love you history nerds.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Haugen Christmas/New Years letter

It’s one hour before Christmas Eve day and I don’t have my Christmas cards out yet. FYI, that line could have been written at this time each of the previous 53 years.

So I’m going to write my Christmas letter on my blog. Pardon the laziness, but this way is much cheaper and much more timely and the postal service is broke anyway and I needed something for the blog because I haven’t posted in a while. And I’m going to do it in a stream of consciousness way that will annoy you or entertain you. We shall see.

And it’s not going to be one of those Christmas letters where I just tell you about all the great things that happened to my family this year. I’m going to tell you about the sucky things that happened too. Because that’s life and sometimes God deals us deuces when we want aces. I’m guessing most people’s lives are like that too, but they don’t put that stuff in Christmas letters because it is the season of joy. Maybe we could call this the New Year’s letter, which is the same thing but not as joyous.

Speaking of cards, for starters, at the blackjack tables this year, God dealt me sixes when I wanted face cards way too often. Bad year at the tables. Sometimes it’s not good that I live 45 minutes from Deadwood. But mostly it is good, because my best friend comes to Deadwood a couple of times a year and I get to horse around with Ulm and his family. Not quite the same way we used to horse around, but fun none-the-less and fewer sirens.

About four months ago I popped the knuckle on my ring finger while changing a flat tire. Hurt like heck, but I figured that too shall pass. It hasn’t. The knuckle is still swollen and hurts all the time. Should go to the doctor, but she’ll tell me I should’ve come four months ago and there’s not much she can do about it now. No big deal but it does affect my toping once in a while.

Seems the years of running took a toll on the lowest disc in my back, so I get shooting pains down my legs after a couple days of running. So I retired from the road racing scene. I don’t think anyone noticed. I jog shorter and slower now to get the dogs out of the house and exercised and we go on hikes. So I took up weightlifting. Never really done that before. Got to the point where I’m not embarrassed to be curling in front of the mirror with the muscle men at Planet Fitness. But a couple weeks ago I think I tore something in my shoulder. Hurts when I lift my left arm. Should’ve mentioned it when I went to the doctor for my sixth-month checkup last week, but didn’t. We ran out of time discussing all my other maladies.

I’ve been on a heart pill the last couple years because my heart was skipping a beat and then double-beating to make up for it. Made it tough to sleep. So I drank more coffee in the mornings and Red Bull in the afternoons. A vicious cycle. “Don’t do that,” the doctor said. So I quit doing that. Now I don’t drink coffee, energy drinks or alcohol. Over 20 years on that no-alcohol thing. If you need a donor to cheat on your court-mandated urinalysis test, give me a call. I’m your man.

Good news is the doc said I could go off the pill, since maybe my life-style changes where accomplishing what the pill was supposed to be doing anyway. Been three days now, so far so goo … d. Health is good enough where I don’t have to come back for a year now. Cholesterol, BP and all the stuff they measure was in the good zone. Famous last words, right?

Good news is, as far as health goes, a guy who really should be complaining but who doesn’t, is my friend and brother-in-law. He was diagnosed a couple years ago with a rare cancer and given like a 15 percent chance of living. That’s my chances of ever getting a face card on my ace. I wrote a blog post about how I was sure he would beat it, but didn’t want to jinx him so didn’t post it. As Michael Scott says, I'm not superstitious, but I'm a little stitious. He went through hell and back and got a bone marrow transplant and is in remission and he’s got 100 percent of the bone marrow from his donor, which is great I’m told. He and wifey came out to visit a few weeks ago for the first time in that period and it was awesome to have them here. God delivered in the affirmative there, that’s for sure.

My wifey got canned from her job of ten years, with a half dozen other employees, because the church she worked at decided to “go in another direction” with the youth and young adult programs. I wrote the priest a letter about said “other direction” and expect I’ll probably be going there in the after-life now. But all ended well there too. Wifey got a new job working for four doctors in town, no nights, no weekends, and a boss she likes. She’s happy, as usual. And why wouldn’t she be; she gets to spend more time with me now.

Oldest daughter’s divorce became final about a year ago. She got out of a bad thing at the right time. She’s back in Rapid City, has a new friend, a great new job and is as happy as I’ve seen her in years. God works in mysterious ways.

Middle child is teaching seventh graders in Champagne, Illinois, for the second year. She and hubby, who is working on his PhD at the U of I, are doing great despite being Packers fans. They got a cat, which they seem to like but which I don’t understand.

Junior is a junior at Minnesota State – Mankato. He’s been Dean’s Listing it, which goes to show the value in dating a girl who works at the library. He barely sniffed an honor roll in high school but has really hit his stride at college. He’s a law enforcement major with minors in international relations and sociology. He worked last summer at Quantico, Virginia, for the Defense Security Service, a branch of the DOD, and really enjoyed it. He’s a “theft prevention specialist” (catches shop-lifters at Scheels) when not on campus. It’s amazing the number of morons they catch shop-lifting.

I got a new rabbit last spring. He was a good rabbit before some coyotes or neighborhood dogs got hold of him. Now he's dead. I’m out of the rabbit business until I build a new rabbit hutch, one with a great big beautiful slatted wall around it.

Stanley the lab has cancer. About a year ago the vet suggested amputating the leg, but of course could not guarantee the cancer wouldn’t pop up again two weeks later. After much ruminating, I decided not to put the old guy through it. He’s nine and still doing great a year later. He’s my best pal and is seldom more than ten feet away from me. Stan is super spoiled now, showing no ill effects except the lump has grown a little bit. It’s going to be tough when the Big C prevails there, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

Huckleberry the basset hound continues to be the orneriest dog I’ve ever owned. But he’s so danged cute and loveable it’s hard to stay mad at him. He’s not one of those fat bassets you see. He’s lean and runs with Stanley and me. He’s about sixty pounds of muscle and 1 ounce of brain.

My work is going well. I got a promotion, which is nice. Fourteen years there now, far surpassing my previous longevity record of five years at the same job. Helps to have a great boss and coworkers.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a book that’s been a long time in the writing. Good Lord willing it should be out this spring, perhaps summer. Buy it, you’ll like it. It has hookers in it!

I still haven’t fixed the garage door or the dishwasher. But did fix the sink downstairs and built a little deck on the front of the house. Jeesh, I’m only one man!

I had a fight with the homeowners association regarding political signs on the lawn a couple months ago. I won. I didn’t fight the HOA on the lawn, we fought over signs placed on the lawn. Might not have been clear. But I would’ve won that fight on the lawn too, because did I mention I’ve been lifting weights? And this was before my shoulder injury.

Wifey and I even fit in a trip to Key Largo and Clearwater, caught some Twins preseason. That’s about the best they played all year. Don’t get me started on the Vikings, my heart can only take so much. We hadn’t been on a vacation, just the two of us, for a long time. It was fun. I only got seasick once. Then again, we only went on the boat once.

So that’s the life of the Haugens in 2018, more or less, warts and all. It was good. God’s been good to us.

Just hoping for more aces in 2019.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

My Euphorbia pulcherrima, a Christmas story

A few years ago at the end of Christmas season after Mass, the priest said if anybody wanted one of the dozens of poinsettias decorating the alter we could take one home. Never one to turn down a free plant I did just that.

I thought it'd be cool to see how long I could keep one alive. It lived through the summer but lost all it's color and turned into just a boring little green plant that took up room. But I'm also never one to throw away a plant.

If you Google "How to get a poinsettia to turn red" (like really big nerds are apt to do), you will find detailed instructions that hardly seem worth it.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) need total darkness, for 14 hours each day, starting about eight weeks before you want to display them.
During the day, the plants need bright light, along with the other routine care. However, starting in the evening, the plants must get complete darkness. Even a nightlight can disrupt this process! Depending on where you have the plant (planted outside, or in a pot indoors), will determine how you approach this process. I’ll let you decide that.
The bracts will start to turn color in about four weeks, and continue if you carefully keep up the process. Poinsettias need a humid environment during this time, but be careful not to spray the foliage directly, as you may invite leaf spot, not a desired feature on such a showy leaf! In about eight weeks, the bracts should all be red, if you’ve followed the above guidelines. They’ll stay this way for several weeks, at least until after Christmas. 
Eventually the leaves will start to drop off. Once this occurs, cut the stems back to four to six inches. Keep the soil fairly dry, and the plant warm until new growth occurs. You can then replant in the garden in a sunny spot. Add a light amount of fertilizer in the spring and summer. Come next October, start the whole process over again! 
So you could just go to Walmart and pay 10 bucks for a new perfectly shaped red plant.

Or you could do what I do.

Every spring, I dig a hole in a bare spot along a path of perennials I have by the bird feeder and bird bath, plop it in there and don't touch it again. It gets hit by the mower, stomped on by dogs and deer and pooped on by birds. Stems break off. It just exists, drawing no attention, as the daisies and coneflowers attract all the attention from bees, butterflies and me.

Then just before frost, I dig it up again. Throw the clod of dirt in a pot, stuff some potting soil around it, set it in my office/library/conservatory/greenhouse room and water it once in a while.

Amazingly, it turns red just in time for Christmas.

It's like me. It's tall and spindly, kind of scraggly, but when it feels like it, can clean up halfway decent.

This was a good year for both of us.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Hump day link-oh-rama

Some odds and ends you may have missed during your holiday shopping:

*** Bill Gates recommends 5 books for the holidays. Spoiler alert:

“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou
“Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War,” by Paul Scharre
“21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” by Yuval Noah Harari
“Educated: A Memoir,” by Tara Westover
“The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness,” by Andy Puddicombe

*** Why I deleted my Twitter account

*** ‘A kind of dark realism’: Why the climate change problem is starting to look too big to solve.

*** Also in the WaPo: A Rapid City priest gets a sympathetic woe-is-me story done on him. If he were an NFL coach he'd be fired by now.
He did not bristle with anger or speak in disgust. There were no echoes of the new calls to end the vow of celibacy or grant women more power. He did not apologize, on behalf of the Catholic Church or on behalf of himself, even if the abuse allegedly had happened on his watch, because he didn’t know what to apologize for.
Just a thought, maybe it's time for some anger and disgust. (I've got plenty if the Church wants to borrow some.) But I suppose that would hamper his efforts of being promoted to bishop.

*** Cigars: A love story or two

*** On the topic of smoking, I've read a couple pro-vaping stories lately, here's one.

*** Camille Paglia is always interesting.
I contend that every educated person should be conversant with the sacred texts, rituals, and symbol systems of the great world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam — and that true global understanding is impossible without such knowledge.
Too many young people raised in affluent liberal homes are arriving at elite colleges and universities with skittish, unformed personalities and shockingly narrow views of human existence, confined to inflammatory and divisive identity politics.
I have yet to see a single profile of (Jordan) Peterson, even from sympathetic journalists, that accurately portrays the vast scope, tenor, and importance of his work.
Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.
*** An example of said assassination.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Finished: Block's 'A Dance at the Slaughterhouse'

Lawrence Block's "A Dance at the Slaughterhouse" is one of those rare books where the title tells you exactly what to expect.

I mean, "Moby Dick" - what the heck is that going to be about?

"The Divine Comedy" - hardly a comedy.

"The Catcher in the Rye" - not a baseball book.

But "A Dance at the Slaughterhouse" - you don't go into it expecting Mary Poppens and it wasn't.

From Goodreads:
In Matt Scudder's mind, money, power, and position elevate nobody above morality and the law. Now the ex-cop and unlicensed p.i. has been hired to prove that socialite Richard Thurman orchestrated the brutal murder of his beautiful, pregnant wife. During Scudder's hard drinking years, he left a piece of his soul on every seedy corner of the Big Apple. But this case is more depraved and more potentially devastating than anything he experienced while floundering in the urban depths. Because this investigation is leading Scudder on a frightening grand tour of New York's sex-for-sale underworld -- where an innocent young life is simply a commodity to be bought and perverted ... and then destroyed.
It was bars, hookers, a snuff film, torture, threesomes, graphic sex and lots of murder. In other words, a great Thanksgiving read.

But Block, in all his brilliance, weaves an interesting narrative throughout all those torrid events. The main character is Matthew Scudder, a former cop, recovering alcoholic. Many proffer that Scudder's struggles with sobriety (he attends many AA meetings throughout the novel) is biographical of the author's, though Block has never admitted such. (This is the ninth book in the Scudder series.)

A friend once told me that when Jamey Johnson sings his songs you can tell he's walked the walk. The way Block writes about Scudder's emotions certainly suggests he knows more about alcoholism than a Google search would provide.

The book is best described as raw - not blood and sex just for the shock. The emotions, the scenes, the relationships - none of them are cookie-cutter character descriptions. They're deep. That's what makes Block one of my favorite all-time authors. (I wish he would write an autobiographical novel about his times with my other favorite author and his best friend, the late Donald Westlake.)

Thankfully, Block is a prolific writer and still writing. He's fun to follow on Facebook and his monthly email is an enjoyable read. Check out any of Block's novels for a great read, but maybe don't start with this one until you're tough enough.

I gave it an 8 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Goodreaders a 4.2 and Amazonians a 4.4 of 5. Pretty stellar stuff.