Saturday, January 31, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009

TNSTAAFL and Blago's free rides

Blago is gone. Good riddance. Now the question is not who will pick up the pieces, but what pieces should be picked up. Which of the disgraced former Illinois governor's monomaniacal actions should be undone immediately?

My choice is the year-old Free Rides for Seniors plan, in which those over 65, as well as people with disabilities, who live in the six Chicago collar counties can ride Chicago Transit Authority buses, L trains and Metra commuter trains for nothing but the effort to obtain an official free pass.

In January of '08, Blagojevich plucked this puzzling entitlement out of the blue even though nobody was advocating it, nor had a need for it been demonstrated. It was Blago's political pound of flesh for allowing Chicago to increase its tax bite.

The then spaghetti-spined Illinois legislature went along with the scheme just to avoid gridlock with the governor. It didn't matter that the long financially beleaguered Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees the CTA and Metra, would have to find $30 million somewhere to pay for the plan. Regular fares would have to be raised -- again and again.

Most of us seniors didn't -- and don't -- need free rides. We already were enjoying a reduced-fare plan, at least those of us needy enough -- or thrifty enough -- to go down and apply for the senior-citizens transit card. The poorest could already ride free, thanks to the "Circuit Breaker" program for low-income citizens.

I will confess that I hold a free-ride card, being a cheap (but not quite needy) geezer. Like a libertarian who rails against a liberal entitlement but wallows in it anyway because he can, I saw the opportunity and took it. In fact, as an unreconstructed rail buff I dreamed of seeing if I could ride every single Metra commuter line and L route within a week for free just to say I had done it. Never did -- the idea was just not that exciting -- and in the last year I've used my free pass maybe three times.

If the Illinois Legislature decides to get rid of the Seniors Ride Free plan -- and it should -- I'll happily burn my card. It is absolutely unnecessary, and its existence is a painful reminder of the former governor's profligate political weirdness.

By the way, if the "TNSTAAFL" reference in this blogpost's headline puzzles you, that was the conservative economist Milton Friedman's shorthand for "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Those free-marketers weren't always wrong.

(With thanks to Gilbert B. Norman.)

JAN. 31: I have learned that "TNSTAAFL" was coined by the science fiction novelist Robert A. Heinlein. Friedman freely credited Heinlein when he used the term.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Booking Blago

It is my firm and considered belief that Blagojevich is angling for a fat book contract.

Why else would he flap jaws with Diane Sawyer and Larry King and a host of other television luminaries? Testifying before what other egomaniacs call "the court of public opinion" is not going to help him withstand the Illinois Senate's impeachment proceedings, nor will it prevent Patrick Fitzgerald from bringing an indictment from a federal grand jury.

What Blagojevic is doing is banking celebrity bucks, making himself enough of a household word so that some desperate New York publisher (they're all desperate these days) will offer a nice advance for a memoir, an advance large enough to keep him and Patti afloat while they appeal the inevitable.

The man is a lunatic, but a lunatic with a plan.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Green is back on the map

Last September 18 this blog told how a bump in the road on the southern shore of Lake Superior was coming up in the world: little unincorporated Green, pop. 350 or so, was being restored to its former glory on the official state road map of Michigan.

This is important because Steve Martinez, whom you might know as the sheriff of Porcupine County in my mystery novels, lives in Green. The Lady Friend and I summer in a cabin on the lake shore there, and we often invite Steve and his squeeze, Ginny, over for drinks, munchies, cop talk and salacious gossip about county officials.

Yesterday the Green Hermit, a native of the place and a habitue of this blog, e-mailed the graphic results of his thumpingly successful campaign to elevate Green to its rightful place -- a small corner of the official 2009 Michigan Highway Map, fresh off the press:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Letter from the snowy North

Steve Sundberg's dog Ruby "breaking trail" through deep snow in Ontonagon, Michigan.

Steve Sundberg, a friend away up in Ontonagon on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan -- the place where my mystery novels are set -- writes:

"Winter is well along and shaping up to be one that the kids will brag about to their grandchildren. We passed 200 inches of snow for the season on Monday and we still have at least six weeks of winter to go. It has snowed virtually every day since Thanksgiving, some days a dusting, some days a foot of the lightest, fluffiest powder snow.

"It has made for tremendous conditions for the ski hill, cross country trails and snowshoeing in the woods. The snowmobile traffic in the area is way down, probably due to the poor economic conditions, so their trails are in excellent condition.

"The economy of the area haa been hit hard. The paper mill in town started a partial layoff the second week of December. About two-thirds of the employees were laid off with the expectation that they would be called back the beginning of January. The layoff has now been extended to at least the beginning of February and that timetable may be optimistic.

"The two enormous paper machines at the mill are kept running at an idle speed. If the machines were stopped for any length of time the bearings on the huge rollers would develop flat spots and be ruined, so power plant and maintenance personnel and a millwright and oiler were kept on for each shift.

"Last week Smurfit-Stone, owner of the mill, indicated it is investigating filing for bankruptcy. That may actually be a positive. Smurfit-Stone is highly leveraged and may need to divest some assets to make its interest payments. The Ontonagon mill has a reputation for making first quality corrugation used for cardboard boxes and other manufacturers may be interested in buying it.

"The layoffs, of course, cascade through the businesses in the community. January and February are normally slow months and that is especially true this year. Even the bars, restaurants and motels are hurting due to the lack of snowmobilers this year. Things are slow at the hardware store but we can hold on until spring. The only boom business right now is roof shoveling."

This reminds me that none of the action in the Steve Martinez mystery novels takes place during a hard winter, and I had better get up there and research a chapter or three set during that time for Hang Fire, the novel in progress. I might even have to rent a snowmobile and go haring off into the woods.

The news about the layoff at the mill, however, is disturbing. It is the largest employer in Ontonagon County, and as Steve says, when it shuts down, many more than its own employees are hurt -- for example, the many scores of independent loggers who fell and truck pulpwood to the mill as well as those who provide other goods and services.

Economic hardships are bound to affect an already overextended rural county sheriff's department such as the one in my novels. Petty crime will rise, as will alcohol and drug offenses and domestic disturbances. And it's the deputies who have to carry out the increasing number of eviction notices.

All this, of course, is grist for a novelist's mill. But I deeply wish it weren't.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One for the nonbelievers

There were many things to praise in Obama's inauguration speech today, but the one that struck me the most was his open-armed welcome to "Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."

In recent years, acknowledging that good people do not necessarily worship a deity used to be political suicide -- even though many of the founding fathers, including Jefferson, were either agnostics or atheists. (They were, after all, children of the Enlightenment.)

In recent years American politicians have been so terrorized by the Christian right that they often pretended to be believers, faux Sunday-morning churchgoers, in order not to needlessly offend that important voting bloc.

Perhaps no more. It now looks certain that Obama means business when he says he wants government to be all-inclusive. Having Rick Warren deliver the invocation at his inauguration and also, on the same day, recognizing the moral legitimacy of those who do not believe in a higher power is nothing short of revolutionary.

It's about time.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Good stuff . . . and bad

Ten items of bright writing that captured my attention in the last few weeks (along with a front page that both amused and appalled me):

Gasoline marched toward $5 a gallon, turning Hummers into white elephants with running boards . . .

James G. Cobb, New York Times, Dec. 31, 2008

. . . Rumors began flying last Tuesday morning that Blagojevich was preparing to stick a potato in the exhaust pipe of those demanding his resignation by appointing Burris.

Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 6, 2009

The happy StairMaster president is on his way to a mansionette in Dallas, to be the decider of where to put the sofa. His successor, Mister Mambo, has cast his lot with Harvard and Yale and old Clinton hands, and soon enough, Lord knows, they will get the first of many comeuppances, and their shining faces will be chopfallen.

Garrison Keillor,, Jan. 7, 2009

The prefix for trillion, as we know from super-computer lingo, is “tera.” I propose a neologism for our times: terafy. (V. tr.: To instill fear by mentioning the US deficit.)

Christopher Buckley, The Daily Beast, Jan. 14, 2009

. . . As we hurry through the streets, like dog-paddling through a liquid hydrogen slushie, we might remember the tranquility with which the explorers of a century ago went to their frigid deaths.

Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 16, 2009

Political thrillers are like fish fingers: squarish, stodgy, reliable.

The Economist, in a review of Leonard Downie's The Rules of the Game, Jan. 17th-23rd, 2009

A couple of nights ago, dusk brought a different illusion. The clouds had been hammered flat. But in the last few moments of afternoon, the sun slid below the overcast, coming out strong and red along the rim of the horizon.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times, Jan. 18, 2009

. . . the Fox News building . . . is the only refuge New York Republicans have. Walking into Fox is like slipping into a warm bath.

S.E. Cupp, Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2009

The chattering class saw Dubya as a walking style crime in a cowboy suit.

Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 18, 2009

Scrabble is both mindless and cerebral, which may account for its appeal to writers -- it gives you a chance to push words around without having to make them mean something.

Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, Jan. 19, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

R.I.P. Sir John Mortimer

Let us now gather before the polished oaken slab at Pommeroy's Wine Bar and hoist a glass of vintage Chateau Thames Embankment to Sir John Mortimer, who died today in London, aged 85.

Sir John, devotees of comic crime fiction know, was the creator of Horace Rumpole, the Shakespeare-loving barrister who happily defended crooks of all kinds, especially colorful types devoted to relieving rich people of their expensive baubles, in the courtrooms of the Old Bailey. Rumpole found good in every baddie, at least enough so that he never regretted winning a scoundrel's case.

Breathes there a mystery reader who did not watch the British television series with the inimitable Leo McKern (right) in the title role, singing grapey praises of "honest plonk" after hours before going home to She Who Must Be Obeyed?

There was quite a bit of Rumpolish shin-kicking in Sir John (left), who as a Queen's Counsel was traditionally obligated to take whatever brief might come his way and do his best for his client, innocent or guilty. Fortunately for posterity, Sir John realized that he much preferred doing the right thing for deserving clients, taking on a great many controversial free speech and human rights cases -- and winning them.

“Doing these cases,” he once wrote, “I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended.”

Helen T. Verongos approvingly quotes this passage in her New York Times obituary today. Read it, and let us link elbows for another sweet sip of the claret of truth and hilarity.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Home again

The eastbound California Zephyr stops at Glenwood Springs, Colorado, last Tuesday with a grimy but still colorful Union Pacific freight locomotive on the point, subbing for a sick Amtrak engine.

The Lady Friend and I have returned, a bit weary but happy and rested, from Glenwood Springs. Hang Fire, the fourth Steve Martinez novel, is now 20 pages longer and I'm feeling good about it.

Our train trip back on the eastbound California Zephyr was as pleasant as the westbound one, albeit a lot longer. One of the train's two locomotives took sick, and a freight engine had to be borrowed from the Union Pacific to haul the train over the steep Rockies to Denver. There that engine was replaced by another freight locomotive from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

All to the good, but freight engines are geared for running no faster than 70 miles per hour, while passenger locomotives can go as fast as 79 and often do. This means the train lost more time while in 79-mph territory. By the time we got to Denver, the Zephyr was 4.5 hours behind schedule.

Worse was to come. Yesterday, on the last day of the trip, a westbound Southwest Chief derailed just after departure in the yard at Chicago Union Station, throwing the entire BNSF and Metra commuter line from Chicago to Aurora into gridlock for hours during bone-chilling cold. When our train finally crawled in shortly before 10 p.m., it was nearly six hours late.

That was nothing compared to what the Metra commuters had to endure. That very morning all inbound trains were held up for two hours while black-clad cops converged upon a Metra train believed to be carrying a man with a gun. It was, but he was a Secret Service agent.

Bad luck both coming and going for the poor straphangers. But the Lady Friend and I were snug, warm and well-fed all the way, except for the 20 minutes of waiting for a taxi in arctic weather outside Union Station.

And that is all I shall be writing about my rail-riding enthusiasm for the next few weeks, if we are lucky.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Glenwood Springs comes up in the world

Glenwood Hot Springs last night, when the air temperature was 25 degrees F and the rising mist thinner than usual.

When I began research for Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America in 1990, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, was trying to shake off its reputation as the town of residence for "the help" that worked at the ski resorts of Vail and Aspen. One old friend, who had risen teeteringly high on the status ladder from our boyhood and owned a condo in Vail, sneered at my idea of stopping in Glenwood Springs and making it part of my book.

But in my three years of research for the book on the train that calls at Glenwood Springs, I encountered more young ski bums than elderly cleaning ladies. It seemed as if almost every waiter or waitress in the town's restaurants was just making a living to be able to ski, the way servers in Manhattan restaurants tend to be up-and-coming actors.

I liked the town because it was so unpretentious, yet free of those awful downmarket Jellystone Park attractions that mar so many Western tourist towns. The only concession to Declasse Road Culture I could see was the huge water slide at one end of the Hot Springs thermal pool. (There are two slides now.) That was smart of the pool operators -- the slides keep rumbustious youngsters well away from the adults devoted to Taking the Waters.

In the early '90s Lady Friend heard so many languages in the pool -- German, French, Spanish and dozens she couldn't identify -- that we deduced Glenwood Springs is a favorite stop for foreign tourists. It still seems to be, she said yesterday, as we parboiled ourselves in the 103-degree therapy pool.

Glenwood Springs has expanded a great deal since the 1990s. New motels have gone up all over, as have chichi (and excellent) new restaurants, some of them with Manhattan prices. The town's grand old hotels have been refurbished and even rebuilt, and are also commanding decidedly non-downmarket rates. A soaring tourist tramway has gone up the mountainside north of the town. New homes, both small and palatial, have been built everywhere. A huge new mall is in the planning stages.

What's more, townspeople tell me with a touch of schadenfreude, the moneyed residents of Vail and Aspen now are self-consciously mingling with "the help," buying necessities at Glenwood Springs' Walmart and Target stores. Sic transit gloria . . .

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What I'm doing on my vacation

Combat report from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, by a happy tourist who is probably on his last vacation for the duration of Great Depression II:

Friday the Lady Friend and I departed via our favorite train, the California Zephyr, for Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It was my 22nd or 23rd trip -- I've lost count -- on that train.

The journey began in Chicago Union Station, where Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounge for sleeper passengers had been refurbished with new carpeting and furniture since I had last been there a year ago -- and Amtrak has at last laid on Internet wireless. A year ago the shabbiness was almost embarrassing.

The customer service reps at the desk (who got a national public drubbing a couple of weeks ago when another train was delayed almost 24 hours without respite for the passengers) were pleasant and polite, but I have never known them to be otherwise.

The Zephyr departed bang on time at 2 p.m. Our sleeper, one of the original double-decker Superliners of the late 1970s, had been completely rebuilt, and by the look of the appointments quite recently. I didn't need to use the roll of duct tape every smart Amtrak traveler brings along to snub down wayward and misfitting curtains and rattling panels. I'd give the car 4 stars, and I'd also give Donald, its attendant, 4 stars. He was quiet, polite and attentive, though hardly colorful.

The diner and lounge car also rated 4 stars, looking as if they'd been through recent refurbishment at Beech Grove, Amtrak's Indiana maintenance facility. Not the coaches -- they were as shabby-rattly as any I've seen in a decade. One star for those.

At dinner, the Lady Friend and I both gave the flatiron steak 3 stars (it was tasty, albeit slightly tough and rubbery); the boiled veggies 4 stars (to my surprise, they were moist and tender); the baked potato 4 stars, and the creme-de-brulee cheesecake 4 stars and the Haagen-Dazs ice cream 5 stars.

Our waiter, E.B., was an interesting case. Clearly a veteran, he was both jovial and efficient, but he was also officious, sternly rebuking the Lady Friend and several other diners for handing him their empty plates instead of allowing him to pick them up from the table. Three stars for him, but four for the over-all dining experience.

The sleeping experience: Three stars. Donald arrived not five minutes after we put in the call to make up our room for the night, and I got in a solid six hours of slumber, but sharp jolts somewhere in Nebraska awakened me at 3 a.m. and I couldn't get back to sleep. The beds are comfortable enough, but I'd swear Amtrak's minuscule pillows grow smaller with each passing year. And those heavy coal trains seem to be beating Burlington Northern Santa Fe's Chicago-Denver main line into rough-riding spaghetti. Not Amtrak's fault.

Breakfast: Four stars. E. B. helpfully suggested that we not sample the scrambled eggs but was upbeat about the rest of the menu. My three-egg cheese omelette deserved 4 stars, as did the hash browns, biscuit and coffee -- but the bacon was a tad dry, rating just 3. My wife gave the hot oatmeal 5 stars and called it the best she'd ever had -- I'll have to try that on the return trip.

Jolly-officious waiter would have rated 4 stars this time, but we heard him put down another diner for handing him her plate. If he'd explained why, perhaps in a pleasant fashion, that would have saved her a little embarrassment. There's probably a good reason to allow the waiters to do the picking-up -- I suspect it's to avoid spills -- but this fellow could use a bit of a personality adjustment. He might even earn a fifth star.

He was much improved at lunch, 4 stars' worth. The steakburger with cheese and bacon rated a full 5 stars, even though it wasn't good for my arteries. Amtrak's burgers have always been top-drawer, and I just cannot resist them.

Likewise, the Colorado Rockies scenery, the Front Range and the canyons -- Byers, Gore, Little Gore and Glenwood -- has always been a 5-star show.

And we arrived in Glenwood Springs right on the advertised, at 1:53 p.m. An hour later we were in the Hot Springs pools, soaking up the dissolved chemical bennies.

So far, a 4-star trip, maybe 4 1/2.

More in the next couple of days.

LATER: We had dinner at Juicy Lucy's Steak House across from the Amtrak station. Superb pork chop, superb salmon fillet, both 5 stars. Slightly pricey, but we still escaped with a bill-plus-tip well south of a C-note, and that included a half bottle of an excellent Napa Valley merlot and a shared slab of creme de brulee cheesecake. This bistro was recommended by someone on and I enthusiastically pass it along.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Off ve go to Take der Vaters

The Romans had the right idea about hot springs: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadena's "A Favourite Custom," 1909, oil on panel, at the Tate Gallery, London.

Tomorrow the Lady Friend and I don our engineer's caps and metamorphose into the unreconstructed rail buffs we are at heart. As promised last December 2, we are heading for Glenwood Springs, Colorado, aboard Amtrak's California Zephyr.

Among other things, at the Glenwood Hot Springs we will Take the Waters, as members of the upper crust used to say a century ago when they were going to such nobby spas as Saratoga Springs, Salsomaggiore in Italy or Baden-Baden in Germany. Here's part of the reason why, in a passage cribbed from my 1994 book Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America:

"Much of the attraction of thermal pools lies in simply letting one's imagination float upon the passing scene. Sitting on a ledge in the shallows of the larger tank during our visit was a quartet of stout matrons in their seventies, chattering animatedly in age-old fashion. Throughout history women have gathered to exchange gossip at watering places, and these ladies, despite their floppy straw hats and voluminous skirted bathing costumes -- "swimsuits" is inadequate -- wouldn't have looked out of place in linen robes, amphorae on their shoulders.

"Next to them four men of similar vintage -- their husbands? -- sat in silent line abreast like basilisks brooding on a cornice. Four leathery bald heads remained rigid as four pairs of reptilian eyes slowly trailed into the pool a thong-clad beauty who brought to life Raymond Chandler's line about 'a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.'"

We'll be back in a week, but until then I'll try to post combat reports from the front.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More words

At last, a honest columnist: Jim Stingl of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out the truth behind Lake Superior State's annual list of banished words: Far from dropping out of memory, those words (and phrases) tend to stay with us. Why? They're useful.

What's more, the nation's newspapers wouldn't take much notice of the list if it weren't cannily issued around New Year's, when news is slow and we need something light to assuage the pain of our hangovers.

Assuage! Now there's a good old underused word to revive. Maybe the guys at Wayne State University will put it on their list.

LATER: A noted environmentalist takes a swipe at the Lake Superior State list.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Lake Superior State University gets a lot of ink around New Year's every year when it releases its annual List of Banished Words, those it unilaterally deems to have been overused during the previous year.

This normally would be all to the good, but the banishers never seem to offer decent replacements for the banished. So "green" is overused? Very well, what shall we employ in its stead? "Carbon footprint," too? Let's face it, those are useful terms with particular meanings, and it is not their fault people write and say them a lot. After all, those words stand for important -- even vital -- concepts.

You could say the same for "a," "and" and "the." Shall we banish them, too?

Bunch of nattering negativists, those guys at Lake Superior State, but at least their campaign gets that obscure third-level school in remote and frozen Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, into the public eye for a while.

Let us now praise Wayne State University farther south in Detroit, which takes a positive attitude toward words. It wants to bring good words back from oblivion.

Its "glorious variety" of words gives English "an unparalleled capacity for nuance and precise expression," say the Wayne Staters. Reviving certain words that have fallen into obscurity "would make the speaking and writing of English a livelier, snappier pastime and more satisfying for us all." Bravo!

And here are the first three words on the Wayne State list:

"Cahoots . . . Questionable collaboration, secret partnerships. I think my senator is in cahoots with fundamentalists.

"Charlatan . . . Quack, Imposter. This guy claims his anti-aging cream really works, but I think he's just a charlatan.

"Defenestrate . . . To throw out of a window. Bob threatened to defenestrate his laptop if it didn't stop eating his data."

Followed by farrago, galoshes, higgledy-piggledy, mendacious, mercurial, nonplussed, obsequious, quixotic, resplendent, sagacity, skullduggery, sublime, supercilious and sycophant.

All excellent words, words with precise meanings, words with lilt and zest. But I would argue that they are not obscure, that they are all in common use in publications aimed at readers with more than two brain cells to rub together.

Come on, Wayne Staters, you can do better. How about reviving "impecunious," meaning "having little or no money," as in a titled but impecunious family?

These days we all could overuse that word.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Back at work on the novel

Posting yesterday's entry on New Year's resolutions seems to have pushed me off the dime, at least a little, on Resolution No. 1 -- to resume work on that fourth Steve Martinez novel.

One of the problems I was having was shaping a convincing character to be my killer. None of those I'd created really seemed to possess a plausible motive to deprive another human being of his life and to be the kind who would develop sufficient skill with a weapon highly unusual in the commission of serial murder.

So yesterday morning, a few minutes after putting up that blogpost, right out of the blue I hit upon a new character to insert into Chapter One of Hang Fire, and now maybe at last I've come unstuck.

My task is not just to give a person enough physical description to allow the reader to see that person, but also to build a history that lets the reader know him or her. (I am deliberately being vague about the gender. Think I'm going to telegraph everything?)

Right this moment a telling detail to dab into my developing portrait has just occurred to me. It's a detail that carries an important clue to the plot but also one that won't immediately cause the reader to say "Aha! Here's the killer!" At least I hope so.

Now to go insert that detail . . .

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Resolutions revisited

Last November 7 I decided to post my New Year's resolutions early, partly to be contrary (who wants to read all those New Year's resolutions blogs on January 1, when one is recovering from the night before?) and partly because I needed something to blog about.

Seven weeks have passed since then. How have I made out with the resolutions?

"1. Work harder on the new novel instead of dipping into it desultorily."

Not terribly well. The news that publishers have cut back on their acceptances of new manuscripts -- and some are not accepting any at all -- means that it may be another year or two before my publisher even deigns to take a look at the fourth Steve Martinez novel. So this has become an occasional project, but the Lady Friend and I are taking a writing trip to Colorado next week, and that ought to be good for another 50 to 75 pages.

"2. See the grandchildren frequently and regularly."

Since 2 3/4-year-old Emmet and four-month-old Alice live in the vicinity, that's an easy one so far as they are concerned, but I needs must get to Washington more often to visit 6-year-old Will and 2 1/2-year-old Ellie. Piled-up airline miles will help with that.

"3. Boost my Macbook's RAM from 1 GB to 2 GB. That way I won't have to buy a new computer in order to go faster, even if I could afford a new one, which I can't, not in this economic climate. Two GB of RAM costs less than $50, shipped."

Did. That was the easiest resolution to keep. And everything does run a bit faster on the Macbook.

"4. Get off my ass and go out and take more photographs to feed the other blog. The exercise will be good for me."

Needs work, as you can see from the photo blog -- the last photo I posted was on Dec. 18. The weather around here has been intense, but that's really no excuse.

"5. Walk the dog longer each day. It'll be good for him and it'll be good for me."

Needs work, too. I can legitimately blame the weather, which has made the sidewalks slippery, not good for a senior citizen with a dicey sense of balance.

"6. Resume my daily hour-long workouts at the Geezer Club, starting today. (Catching a cold two weeks ago made me backslide.)"

Did, and I've lost a few pounds, too.

"7. Fly my airplane at least an hour a week as long as I can afford it, which might not be much longer."

Almost impossible, because southern Wisconsin had a lot of snow and the hangar aprons couldn't be plowed owing to soft ground around them. But there's been a thaw, and there's a good chance I can get old N5859E back into the air tomorrow.

"8. Smile and say hello to the sour neighbor up the street every time I pass by. Maybe she'll smile back sometime."

Haven't seen her at all, but my pearly whites remain ready to flash when the occasion arises.

"9. Read two books a week instead of just one, exercising that dusty library card."

Needs work, too. I've become a slow and careful reader in my advanced age, going through P.D. James' newest novel one chapter a day. One retains more that way, doesn't one? (Meantime, in two weeks the Lady Friend has nearly plowed through the entirety of Doris Kearns Goodwin's 916-page Team of Rivals for her monthly book group. She shames me.)

"10. Finish that Windsor armchair kit I bought last summer. It's not that difficult -- it's the careful sanding that's so time-consuming."

It's finished! But I screwed up the staining -- one should apply wood filler after staining, not before -- so I'll probably paint it later in the year.

"11. Take a course in advanced photography or American Sign Language somewhere, just to mix with other people and forestall reclusiveness."


"12. Stop blogging about politics, and encourage other bloggers to follow suit."

It's hard, it's hard. Losing weight is easier, and better for you anyway.