Mary Beth Writes

12/28/2021 - Written yesterday:

This morning, before we even ate a proper breakfast (already we are sounding like Wind in the Willows fellows) we drove away from home in our little car to a park so that we could hike.  We may have been in less than tiptop moods. I don’t know why. I was silently irritated that Len won’t take a walking stick and he was silently ruing forgetting crampon cleats for his boots.

The first park we got to had paths where yesterday’s well-trod slush had turned into this morning’s frozen ankle biters.  I did not say – aloud – that if all of the people in our hiking party (that would be only Len and I) had walking sticks, we could have negotiated the quarter mile of crumpled ice to get to the dirt paths.

Anyways, we gave up on that path, got in the car and drove to a different parking lot where the ice was worse. So we went to a different park and moseyed around for a half hour and found some places that were amenable to walking and then we came home. The sun never came out and we never said unforgiveable things out loud - though we may have held cynicism in our hearts here and there.

Len made fried eggs on black bean soup when we got home and that was a positive moment in this grim recounting of my morning.  After that I decided to make bread using the oatmeal bread recipe the kids used to love. After I poured the boiling water over the oatmeal and other flours, I realized I stopped making this recipe because I now had to wait for the hot mixture to cool down enough to be able to add the yeast and, well, it was more than an hour later before I finally left the kitchen.

I then tried to help Len with an actually valuable thing he is doing for the Waukesha Democrats, but it involves measuring carefully WITH A RULER HELD UP TO THE MONITOR to calculate where yesses would be in a column of yesses and blanks and I cannot do this. I don’t have as much patience as Len in case you hadn’t already figured that out.

It’s snowing outside. It’s pretty but it means outside exercise will be more of a challenge. I thought this year we could go to the Y in the winter, but with omicron, nah. Most patrons there don’t wear masks; not a place to hang out right now. 

I can see that while I wrote the above, Len figured out a way to do the Dem-supporting project. Boy, if this isn’t us in a nutshell. He solves a problem while I describe the ignominy of life.

If you are waiting for a heartfelt point to arise from this, well, so am I.  I think today it wouldn’t hurt to mention that 655 days of quarantine with another person, even if that person is the one you love best in the entire world, is a bit much.

I wrote that yesterday. Then we shoveled, ate too much bread, and read all evening. 


12/29/2021  #656

 I just walked to the library and back which is about two (icy) miles.. May the universe bless people who sprinkle salt on their sidewalks. 

The book I’m reading is “The Day the World Stopped Shopping / How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves” by J.B. MacKinnon. 

This is nonfiction that is as compelling as a whodunit. MacKinnon researched different ways to look at the global climate crisis we are in. This isn’t just a polemic against buying too much stuff, it’s different paths into the way the world we live in now operates - and what would happen if we consumed less.

Here are some of points and quotes I’ve read so far:

On any average day half the humans on earth are wearing jeans. (pg. 22)

How complicated is the assembly of a smartphone? The chain from beginning to product passes through designers in California, software developers in the Netherlands, camera-tech companies in Japan, and manufacturing in China. Nearly 800 businesses in 25 countries are involved and this doesn’t include raw materials including 19 chemical elements from gold, lead, and copper to yttrium and praseodymium. (Pages 26 & 27)

In chapter 5 he talks about our energy-consuming dependance on light. He mentions that the illumination associated with fracking oil in North Dakota is as visible from space as major American cities.

Like this:


In that same chapter he describes light that is available at night without electricity. Including this tidbit – the planet Venus actually casts enough light so that a person away from all other sources of light would be able to see by its light alone. The scientist who explains this to MacKinnon says that on his bucket list is the desire to see his Venus shadow.

After two centuries of the industrial revolution from which our consumer culture arose – “there are as many deeply poor people on the earth today as there were people, period, when the 19th century began.” (Page 87)

“Spread evenly, the wealth produced by the global economy each year could pay everyone on earth about $12,000.” 

This quotes scares me the most. “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” (Page 83)


Greetings from Chicago! Joe and I are fortunate enough to live 1/2 block from the Chicago ribbon of parklands that hug the shores of Lake Michigan for more than 20 miles. When it came to affordability, we traded proximity to the lakefront for square footage. Our one bedroom vintage condo apartment, which we bought 26 years ago, is only 850 square feet. We live next to a particularly handsome stretch of park and lakeshore. Each day unless it is raining, I walk for 2.5-3 miles roundtrip. After 90 some years, some of the trees in the lakeshore parkland groves have grown quite large. When storms blow through with their high winds, all manner of sticks and branches tumble to the ground. I usually pick them up and place them at the base of a nearby tree trunk to that when the city mowers come through they don't wreck the blades. One day, I found a branch that is a perfect walking stick! It even has a small notch in the top where my thumb fits perfectly giving me an even more secure and comfortable grip. After my walk, I hide it among some fallen leaves near a retaining wall of the pedestrian underpass under Lake Shore Drive (recently renamed DuSable Lake Shore Drive after Chicago's first settler, who was Afro-descendant). I use it every day. It serves several purposes. Beside stabilizing my walks, I use it to fish out plastic and paper litter that has blown or been tossed under the low branches of bushes, willows and evergreens. I also use my walking stick to chase the Canadian geese from parkland lawns into the waters of Lake Michigan. Why? Over the last decade, Canadian geese have totally overpopulated the park since they have no natural predators, and unlike their Canadian brethren, refuse to fly south for the winter. On one recent walk, I counted over 200 of them in the half mile stretch of shoreline between Belmont (where we live) and Diversey. And these geese are relentless poop machines, leaving their deposits every 12 inches of the park. It is nearly impossible to walk in the grassy shoreline without stepping in goose poop. Plus, for some reason, some of the dogs eat it, which makes them sick. My response? I chase the geese into the water to dissuade the geese from taking up residence on this shoreline. Usually, toss a nearby fallen stick or small branch in their direction. Geese behave as a flock - in the water, on the shore, and in the air. So usually, when 2 or 3 fly off after my third toss of stick, all others will follow. However, if there are 50 or 60 geese hanging out together on the shore (pooping away), then they will divide into small groups and head in different directions as I approach (though normally indifferent to passing human beings, I think they are beginning to recognize me). So they will fly away in groups, uniting again in the water 50-100 feet offshore. If I find myself in one of the park fields where there are no trees - and hence no fallen branches - my walking stick comes in hand to toss at them so that they fy into the lake. One day, a jogger was going by yelling at me, "Old man, to stop chasing the geese. This is their natural habitat, not yours." He pointed to Lake Shore Drive and the highrises that border it, yelling that human have destroyed the natural world. He yelled that boomer like me are the ones that have caused global warming and are destroying the planet. Very disconcerting. A lot to unpack. He was in no mood for a conversation about it. Worse, he might become violent. It felt like he was comparing me to Senator Joe Manchin. I think about calling the Alderman's office to see if they can do something about the goose proliferation. Could the city trap them up and ship them off to Florida or Canada? No. The geese would just fly back since I am pretty certain after seeing little flocks of baby ducks following their mom on my springtime walks. Introduce a predator, like coyotes? No. Coyotes would probably just wander off into the neighborhoods and feed out of garbage cans. Have Paulina Meat Market, one of Chicago's premier butcher shops, hunt them and offer Canadian Goose as a holiday specialty? David, a 16 year old from El Salvador to whom I was tutoring English, was shocked that all those great meals were running around when he saw them in the park. He asked me if it was legal to catch them to take home for dinner. I told him I did not think so. So, I have enjoyed ambling along the shoreline my park walking stick. One of these days, a park maintenance crew will probably find and dispose of it as just another fallen branch. But until then, I will use it to help stabilize my walks, pick up litter, and encourage the Canadian geese to spend more time in the water than the shore.
Mary Beth's picture

I love all of this! In Racine there were also geese everywhere, including on the soccer field of the ever so posh Prairie School. I was amused to learn they call it goose grease. I am also shaking my head at the Naïve Young One who blamed Global Warming on you. If that dear child only knew the places you've been and risked your neck, I have a $20 Amazon (yes, sigh) telescoping stick. I'm actually on my second one; I walked through the rubber tip of the first one, so now that one is for ice and the newer one is for the better weather. As anyone who appears frail or older or female intuitively knows - our sticks couldn't do much in a fracas, but we look a tad more defended. I wouldn't creep up on an old lady with a stick...


Loved your writing! Laughed out loud at the reply from Gary!

Adding the book to my list! Wishing you and Len the very best in the coming year. Thank you for the life line you have provided in the past years. I am so grateful. Patricia

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Be a (bit of a) Scientist This Summer!


This is an updated rerun of a story I posted last spring.

This is about Stream Monitoring and How to Do It. You don’t have to be a man to do this, but many are and that’s as close to the obvious joke as I’m going to go.

Len and his volunteer pal Tom enjoy this volunteer gig a lot. Once each month in the summer they go to the same stretch of the same stream to check water quality and to discover what creatures are lurking in the water and muck.  

A-Z Ice Cream & Marco Polo

DQ will never look the same. This photo is of a patio where one eats their gelato, somewhere in Italy. 



What is the thing most people spend a great deal of time, energy, and money keeping off our necks and out of our homes?

Chilly air

What is ice cream?

Chilly air with sugar.



We are working our way through an Alphabet of Topics and we are currently considering the letter I. Two days ago, I wrote about Idiosyncrasies. Today is Igloo. Next up is Ice Cream.

So here we are again with nervous banks and a jumpy stock market and we “commoners” quietly peruse how many bags of beans we have in the pantry. I hope by the time I finish and post this the news is more stable, but I doubt it. “May you live in interesting times.” Right?

You know what I learned while researching igloos?

I is for Idiosyncrasy - "I'm not goofy. You are..."

3/14/2023  (Happy Pi Day)

Idiosyncrasies are like cave drawings; enigmatic clues that say once upon a time something happened here. A story unfolded. Someone tried to solve a problem. The solution worked, or at least it kept the person comfortable or comforted long enough for the idiosyncratic habit to form.

A-Z Humor Me

Humor 3/8/2023

I heard this joke in a sermon in 1974. I heard that highly revered minister preach at least a hundred sermons and this is the ONLY thing I remember him saying.  

A guy loses his job and is desperate for a new one with which to support his precious family. Nothing turns up until one day the newspaper Help Wanted Ads (so now you know how old this jokes really is) says the zoo has an opening. Guy applies. The HR person looks worried and then says the zoo changed its mind, the job is too demeaning. Guy says he’s desperate, will take anything.

A-Z Heaven ...


First of all, you should realize that tomorrow is March 4th which is the only date of the year which tells you what to do. Hah.

This week I was amazed by this map/representation of the process of the creation of a new star. A year ago, there were no visuals of this process. What you are looking at is cutting-edge stuff observed and collaborated by 90 astronomers worldwide.

That + in the middle is the new star that right now is bigger than our sun. We know it’s young and new because it’s growing.

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