Friday, April 27, 2012

Our Travellin' Jones

As I get set for another long trek to the Minnesota Northland, I think about how mobile our family has become.  Because we have family in two different states, we've always had to travel to get home for the holidays and life events. Minnesota is about a 5 hour trip and New York is about 12. We can't always afford to fly, so more often than not, we drive. It's not always the preferred method of travel, but with the way flying has changed in the past 20 years, driving holds more appeal than ever. Getting on a plane is a bit of a cattle call, and now with all the body scanning, disrobing and everything short of a full friskdown, driving is still all us.

When I mentioned to my boss yesterday that we were headed 9 hours northwest of here, his jaw kind of dropped. He's not quite sure how we manage it. Donna gets this all the time from her friends. She mentioned a friend yesterday who said that she feared her kids would get too bored on a 4-5 hour trip. As my boss said yesterday, 4-5 hours for us is just "settling in." 

So, what do we do to make the miles pass faster? In the past with the kids, there were things like Leap-Pads, DVD players and Nintendo DS's. The Leap Pad was a crazy, fun toy that actually stimulated learning in the kids, IMHO. Of course after an hour of playing with it, the kids would start goofing around with it and clicking the same thing over and over to make the voice say something like "The femur is connected to the..the femur...the femur...the fe...the fe...the..the..." This usually got them to laughing as well as us.

As the kids have grown, they've graduated to ipods, drawing, napping and texting. The latest gadget we've added is cigarette lighter AC adapter for laptops. This allows for watching movies on DVD and/or playing games. The thing is noisy, but it keeps the peace, if that makes any sense. 

Donna and I are usually in front, Donna reading and me driving and, I admit, listening to my iPod. (Yes, I know, it's illegal. What isn't these days?) I usually drive 80% of the trip with Donna spelling me when I get drowsy. I don't mind driving. To me it is therapeutic think time. I love the road, always have. I credit my friend Pat Judd for instilling that love in me. We frequently took "road trips" to St. Cloud on a moments notice. We wrecked a car or two of his along the way, but that's a different story for another time.

Food staples for our trips have evolved over the years. When we first started travelling, it was Mountain Dew, sunflower seeds, and Twizzlers licorice. The only thing that remains today is the Twizzlers. We rarely drink soda anymore, opting instead for water or seltzer. Staples for the kids include Tootsie Pops, chex mix, chips and soda. 

This is a topic that begs for more, so I'll try and post about it again soon. 

For now, I'm blogging off...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Bench, Some Vinyl, and a Busted TV


Lots going on around here lately. We head north to St. Paul on Friday then on to Park Rapids, MN on Saturday. My sister in-law and her family are dedicating a bench in memory of Rob at Courage North, a camp for disabled in the middle of the state. As part of our weekend there, we are helping with the annual Courage North cleanup weekend. From what I remember Rob telling me, this involves everything from putting in the dock to clearing brush and getting stuff out of storage. Most of the family is going to make it up there, so it should be a good time. We don't get the whole family together very often anymore, but when 4 or 5 of us and our respective kids get together, it's always good times.

I got Ben a bike last weekend. Got quite a deal on it. So far, he's liking his freedom. When I was a kid we took our bikes everywhere, near and far. I'm working on a chapter of the Portland Ave. House book specifically about bike trips we took, as well as some other antics. When I think back to some of the distant places we took trips to, (Mississippi River, Como Zoo, Minnehaha Falls, etc) it makes me shiver a bit. I know I wouldn't be too keen on my kids going that far. 

Times are different though, and its been a struggle to let Ben stretch his leash a bit on his bike and on foot. I think you need to let your kids experience some of what's out there for themselves. It helps them make better decisions and they are better able to filter and process what they see. The big difference is he has a phone, something that was not an option when I was a kid.

My USB Turntable gadget came today. It allows me to convert all of my old 33 1/3 albums into .MP3's using their software and a small little turntable. So far I've only tried it out on one LP, and after a couple of false starts, it worked like a charm. Near as I can tell, the sound quality is pretty decent. Not as good as the albums, I'm sure, no digital format is. But given the ease with which this is done, it's not a bad investment. I got the thing for $35 on Woot, so I figure it will pay for itself after 4 albums. 

Our "basic" Cable TV has been out for two weeks and no one really noticed. I booted everything up last night and got a Red X of Death. I worked through the "ATT Troubleshooter" and it did not resurrect the TV. This is a bit of a statement about the role of television in this house. Basically it has no role. Donna and I have never had much interest in TV. This goes back to when we were just married in the early 90's and the only TV we owned was a used one we bought for $25 at a used TV shop (I don't think they even have these places anymore. Everything is disposable.) 

Our friends used to joke about us and our decrepit TV. It was a statement as to the value of it in our lives at the time. I've never been much for TV, though there were some periods where we watched more than usual. Around here we spend more time reading or working on our laptops. Lately I just don't have time for TV at all. If any of us do watch, we tend to watch from Netflix or renting movies or TV series by the season on DVD. That way we can skip all the ads, something I have no patience for anymore. None of this is intended to come off sounding self-righteous, to each his/her own. It's just a personal choice of mine (and most of my family, subsequently)

Lots of other stuff going on, but I need to get back to my class writing for the week, so I'm blogging off...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Art In All Of Us

Last night was the start of a new AllWriters' Wednesday Semester. I call them semesters, but they're really 10 week sessions. It was a night of new personalities. There were four new students in this particular class. It looks like there's all levels of expertise as well. There are brand new writers who are taking their first formal class, established writers who have been published, a memoirist who is doing journalling in the hopes of turning it into a book, and a poet who's just looking to get involved in a new group.

As much as I am an introvert, I find it fascinating to meet people who share interests that I do. My wife says I'm scaring her as I get older, the way I engage people who I don't know very well. It's very unlike me, actually, and frankly it's scaring me as well. I just have a hard time not talking to people about the whole writing process, their experiences, my experiences, etc. I think it's just a phase and I'll fall back into full introvert retreat when the novelty wears off. Or maybe not. Maybe I need people more than I give myself credit for.

It seems I'm going through an artistic appreciation stage right now. Everything from my daughter and son's art talents, to the oversized art-covered guitars and artistic bike racks they are going to place in downtown Waukesha, to hanging with fledgling writers, to just having a great respect for musicians both at the amateur and professional level. There's something so cool about the creative mind and all that comes of it. Beautiful sonnets, frightening horror novels, brilliant poems, heart stopping lyrics, stunning artwork - painting/sketching/sculpture, photography, and to a lesser extent the video medium.

Each of these requires its own skill set yet at the same time, shares the same part of the brain. I've always said I'm not an artist, or that I suck at drawing and painting. Could I learn it? Perhaps. But maybe not. I do believe that there are people that have an innate ability to visualize and depict things much better than others. So, while I might be able to teach myself to draw, I would never be able to be as good as those born with that gift. I could practice it for 60 hours a week and it would still look like the man in my drawing had one eye that was bigger than the other. Or that his hand had a pinky that was bent at an odd angle.

This is not a knock against me or my ability, just a realization that it's not my gift. Nor do I have a passion for it. That's not to say that there's no place for the practice of art in a non-artist. Art as an outlet is a healthy thing, in my opinion. It's a bit like a person who's "not athletic" trying to make a point of working out, not because they enjoy it, but because they know it's good for them. We all can benefit from stretching ourselves. Along these lines, I think my next venture may be guitar lessons, as I favor music over graphic arts. I could have a passion for learning music.

So look for my new CD in record stores near you soon. Because now I'm...blogging off.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Someday's Disguise

Most people spend their lives looking forward to "someday." A nebulous place to be sure, but one that evidently has more going for it than today, since that's what most people are gunning for; someday.

Someday I'll retire to Florida and golf a lot.
Someday I'll work less and spend more time with the kids.
Someday I'll travel more.
Someday I'll get a better job.
Someday I'll go on a diet and exercise more.
Someday I'll go back to school or take that class.
Someday I'll get back to church/my faith.
Someday I'll forgive my Mom/Dad/Brother/Relative/Friend.
Someday I'll win the lottery.

I'm as guilty as anyone of being a Somedayist. I used to think that someday I'll have a laptop and I'll be set. Of course now that I have one I look forward to someday when I have an iPad.

Before that it was someday I'll have a phone that has texting and a camera on it, then I'll be set. Again, now that I have that I look forward to having a "smartphone" because God knows I need to be surfing the web or running an app, when I'm not on my laptop, or at work, or on my iPad when I get that...someday.

Before that it was someday I'll have an HDTV like my relatives. Of course now that I have one (a very large tube based set), I need an upgrade to a flat screen...someday.

Long before the HDTV, it was someday I'll have cable TV. Now that I have that, I've discovered how much it cost for how little we watch, so we cancelled it. Someday though, we'll be able to justify getting it back.

Someday we'll move to Portland, OR.
Someday I'll take guitar lessons.
Someday I'll get back to finishing my Old Testament journal.
Someday I'll get the BWCA book published.
Someday I'll do a 100 mile bike ride.
Someday I'll catch a bigger musky.
Someday I'll get 4G.

You see, it never ends. Someday is really disguised as today. It is so well disguised that we don't even realize it, let alone appreciate it. While some of us may claim to not have a problem living in "today," we probably would have to admit that there's still a longing in us for something greater in "someday." Something better in tomorrow, something shinier in next week, next month, next year.

The challenge is, what are we sacrificing today because of the energy wasted in thinking about how much better tomorrow might (but probably won't) be? If someday only means the accumulation of more, newer, better, (as many of my thoughts seem to point to), then that too is a sorry state.

None of this is to say we shouldn't have goals and accomplishments to strive for, but rather that we spend a little more time looking back at past days and a little more appreciating our todays.

And that's what I plan to do, because I'm blogging off...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

How Deep is the Gene Pool?


This is a picture of my dad's side to the family. It is a classic old photo, one that tells a hundred stories just at  first glance. I'd seen it at my brother Tom's house and asked if I could get a copy. It is one that is far too precious to let slip away.

Like much of my dad's side of the family, I don't know all the details behind the photo. I'll tell what I do know and let the family correct the errors as they read it.

I believe the picture was taken in my grandparents' house on Pine St.? in St. Cloud, MN. In trying to judge the age of my dad (Far Left) I'm guessing he was about 13 years old, which would put the date of the photo to about 1938. The names of the aunts and uncles in the picture as best I can recall from the faces are:

(Left to Right: Roy (Dad),  Tom (Dad's twin), Harry, Dan, Mariette, Jim, Magdalena (Grandma), Will, Jack

It's interesting that my grandfather is not in the picture. I don't know if that was by choice, or if he was taking the picture, or what. The other interesting story about this picture is Jim's haircut. The rumor is that grandma always wanted a second girl and never got one, so she let him grow his hair long to get the little girl she always wanted. Don't know if that's the real story or not, but that's what I heard.

Looking at the grown and in many cases now, passed on, uncles it was pretty easy for me to associate each of me an my brothers with one of the uncles. My brother Tom, somewhat ironically, would have to be matched up to Uncle Tom. They both love to fish and hunt and both are strongly stoic.

Rob was most like Uncle Dan. Stunning good looks and a socialite that just attracted people to him. Million dollar smiles and strong personalities.

Paul is most like my father I guess. Both have similar share some personalities and are rugged individualists. Paul has a flair for art and music that I don't think my dad had, but I may be wrong about that.

I always thought that I would be closest in personality to Uncle Jack. I understand he was a fledgling writer in his own day too. He was even-keeled and even went into the priesthood at one point in his life. While I never knew any of my uncles very well, I wish I knew more about Jack. (All of them really, but Jack in particular.)

My assertions were all confirmed as correct by my sister Jane, with the exception of me. She thought the one I would be associated with was Uncle Harry. I'm curious why she thinks that, but at the same time people are entitled to their own opinions. It would be interesting to see what the rest of the family thinks.

The picture is one that evokes innocence, simpleness and old-fashioned family values. It was before the days of Internet, cable TV, cell phones and all the busyness that goes with it. You can almost smell the bread in the oven from looking at it. While it makes me feel good, very good, I did notice that grandma isn't smiling. With 8 kids to get ready for a photo like this, I totally understand why.

Blogging off...