Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cubs Win Division

Last night the Chicago Cubs clinched a tie for the National League Central Division, then the Milwaukee Brewers' keg finally ran out when they lost to the San Diego Padres. It is the first time since 2003 for the Cubs to make the playoffs and did so in more convincing fashion. So why am I incapable of celebrating?

Part of it has to be that as an experienced Cub fan, I'm used to waiting for the other shoe to drop. So they got in the playoffs, where's the next Bartman waiting to pop up? Which player will go down with a playoff ending injury? Will a meteor strike Wrigley Field just as they are about to clinch game 7 of the National League championship series? Scoff if you like, all of these scenarios are possible with the Cubs.

But I think I may simply be outgrowing sports, it doesn't mean much to me anymore. Over the past several years, my interests have focused more about helping people and doing some good in this decaying society. While I've kept loose track of the team over the season, I just can't get into it anymore -- and I've tried. I suppose I'll watch the playoffs, but my mind will be elsewhere.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Witches of Karres

In the midst of all the gloom I've been posting, I decided to take a break from serious matters for a post. Just before the flooding and amidst the county fair, I'd had a strange flashback to a science fiction story I'd once read as a lad that I'd really adored. I couldn't remember the character names, the author, or even the name of the novella I'd read lo so many years ago. Cue the mayhem of my county becoming a federal disaster area and I didn't bother to search for the story. After all, I didn't have anything but the plot to go by, even if it was a rather unique concept -- that of a space fairing cargo ship captain inadvertently rescuing three young sisters who turned out to be witches.

I was perusing Instapundit and noticed a link to an article about the military's new robotic weapons platform called M.U.L.E. and Glenn Reynolds mentioned it looked like the grandaddy of the Bolos. I scratched my head, why did "bolos" sound familiar? I clicked on the link he had for that and realized that a short story I'd really enjoyed when I was even younger was one of the original entries into what has grown into a series of novels. Basically, Bolos are sentient tanks on a gigantic scale, armed with enough nukes to level a country amongst a dizzying array of weapons. Interesting to run into that, I thought and checked the publisher's site out. Baen Books had those stories in print and apparently other series, but I wasn't interested enough to think about buying anything.

As is my normal routine, I was flipping between different browser windows and inadvertently clicked the scroll bar on the right side, missing the window I was aiming for and hitting the one at Baen Books. Annoyed, I started to scroll back and stopped myself abruptly. There was a title there that jarred my memory. A "click" of a different sort happened then and I exclaimed out loud, "No WAY!" There was the title of that story I'd flashed back upon the week before: The Witches of Karres.

Reading the synopsis, the names came back to me: Captain Pausert, Maleen, Goth, and The Leewit. Yes, this was that 1949 novella I'd read, but unbeknown to me it had been expanded into a novel in 1966 by the author James H. Schmitz. Actually, it was a combinations of novella's, but it forms one clear enough narrative and works as a novel. Better yet, there had been a hardcover edition put out and I set out to hunt down the best deal. Eventually after a very long search (of 20 minutes), I had ordered and paid for a copy on eBay.

When the book came in the mail, I didn't mean to start reading it right away. After all, there are all the other books I'm still reading and haven't finished yet. But it is that old story, you make the mistake of opening the book to break the spine in properly, it slips the dust jacket, you inadvertently catch a glimpse of text, and despite good intentions you give in. So did it live up to my fuzzy, warm memories?

Yep. The Witches of Karres is a great book, a total lark that dares to be a mix of fantasy, science fiction, space opera, and outright silliness. It is family friendly, with only one sentence that might prevent it from being appropriate for even the youngest of children and that's only if you are extremely prudish. The character relationships are the heart of the story and I came away with a grin on my face after reading it. Pure fun in a style that has sadly fallen out of favor in contemporary pop culture.

You might notice I'm not giving any details away at all, that's because those of you reading this blog need to get your own copy and read it before a vatch gets you!


Monday, September 03, 2007

My Friend Ron

I had intended to finish covering the disaster that befell the area I live in, but as so often happens in life other events derailed my plans. In this case, unwelcome but not unexpected events. So I find myself writing about a friend.

Shortly after I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in December of 2003, I was sitting in a priesthood meeting and noticed someone being wheeled in. There were obvious deformities to his face and head, the kind that surgeries cause. It was the first time I'd seen the steps convert to a lift and I wondered about the man who had just joined us. Being a new member, I was still finding my way and didn't approach him after the meeting ended. In retrospect, I regret that because I lost a little more time with a friend.

I slowly got to know him and it began with helping with the lift or pushing him in the wheelchair, I don't remember clearly which. Another friend told me Ron was his name and he'd been through some horrific surgeries in addition to his disabilities. On occasion I would visit him with the full time missionaries. I found that while Ron had trouble seeing and hearing, there was a bright intelligence quietly burning there and it usually manifested itself as a wicked sense of humor.

One Sunday, we were notified by our leadership that Ron needed a ride to appointments at Mayo Clinic, as his wife Colleen had fallen ill and couldn't drive. Being in Rochester, MN, Mayo is at the limits of my driving range due to my disability and so I waited to hear someone volunteer to take him. Long moments passed and nobody volunteered, so I did, feeling a little frustrated that there was no other. But if I hadn't, I wouldn't have really gotten to know him.

Fortunately for me, Ron had a great sense of direction and guided me easily to Mayo, me being a rookie driver on top of everything else. Didn't save us in the elevators, I still managed to get us to the wrong floor much to his amusement. That sense of humor, that wonderful willingness to look on the silly side of life while confronting constant adversity was Ron's defining trait, along with a truly huge, loving heart. We wrapped up that little adventure with a stop at Red Lobster. Oddly enough, it was all you could eat shrimp that day and I suspect Ron knew that all along. It was then I discovered his major addictions in life, Mountain Dew and shrimp. The latter I have in common with him, so we ended up eating ourselves sick, sampling every way the restaurant prepared those delicious crustaceans. To my chagrin, the very cute waitress paid more attention to him than me, but that was the effect Ron always had.

Later on, it was my pleasure to serve alongside him in the Branch clerk's office. People thought we were doing important work back there, but in reality we were goofing off. It wasn't that we didn't take our responsibilities seriously, it was just what would happen if we were left alone together. One thing that some people didn't realize about Ron was his dedication to helping others and carrying out his duties. I remember coming in and finding him going through the software tutorials that I struggled to get anyone else to train with. He always wanted to help, to actually do even when his body kept betraying him.

Above all else, Ron was a good man and never a truer warrior could you meet. His faith was strong and I think that is how he survived so many surgeries, more than anyone should ever have to have. His was a truly Christlike life, filled with love and charity toward others. Ron's obituary covers this well:

Ronald Lee Neinast

Ronald Lee Neinast, 54, of La Crosse passed away Sunday, Aug., 26, 2007,
in La Crosse.

Ronald was born Jan. 22, 1953, to Neil and Phyllis (Peterson) Neinast in Sparta, Wis. He had several birth defects, including an affliction of cerebral palsy.

His parents saw to it that he was involved in play and activities with other children, and stressed education and a strong work ethic. Ronald graduated from Hillsboro (Wis.) High School in 1971 and later graduated from Western Technical College with an associate degree in accounting and business administration.

Ronald worked at Gambles Store in Hillsboro, Hillsboro Equipment Inc. and Holiday Inns in Tomah, Wis., and Madison. In 1983, Ron suffered a brain stem stroke, which forced him to quit working.

During his life, Ron had more than 30 surgeries, including two heart surgeries in one day, suffered several broken bones in his arms and legs, and besides cerebral palsy was diagnosed with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and skin cancer. He also battled tumors.

His doctors have stated that he was a medical wonder with a positive attitude throughout all that he endured. He fought the good fight, and was a hero to many
people and was admired by them.

In spite of many illnesses, Ron worked as a volunteer at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, which he began in 1986, and in April 2006 was awarded his 10,000-hour pin.An advocate for the elderly and the disabled in the Greater La Crosse area, he was president of the City of La Crosse Disabled Parking Enforcement Assistance Council for the La Crosse police department, a position appointed by the mayor and the city council.

He was a member of the MTU-ADA and Mini Bus committees, and was transportation coordinator for the Greater La Crosse area. He was a member of the Oktoberfest Parade Committee, a volunteer for Easter Seals Lily Days, and was very active in his church as a greeter, priest and branch clerk. Ron was a member of the Happy Go Lucky Club since 1987, and currently was its president. He re-wrote the club’s bylaws.

In June 2002, Ron married the love of his life, Colleen (Sullivan) Sowa. Ron was preceded in death by his parents. Surviving him are his wife, Colleen; a daughter, Noel (Sullivan-Sowa) Van Blaricome and her husband, Jeffrey; three grandchildren, Gavin, Genevieve and Ashton; two sisters, Kathy (Archie) Crawford and Sharon (Russell) Daines II; two brothers, Dale (Marybeth) Neinast and Neil (Chris) Neinast; many nieces and nephews; aunts, uncles and cousins; and many friends.

Ron was an inspiration to me, whenever I felt down about my lot in life, I'd think about him and the trials he was going through -- and what tremendous grace he showed in handling them. Especially at the end, when things were getting worse and worse, he still kept fighting on. His spirit shone so brightly and I often think that no mortal body could house a soul that burned so brightly without failing. I wish I could have been there for him more often and been a better friend. When the time comes for me to depart this mortal realm, I'll challenge him to a foot race. I suspect he'll win.

He is missed.