Sunday, December 29, 2019

An Even Dozen

As I close out 2019 with my final blog post, I looked to see how long I've been blogging. The history feature of Blogger tells me that I've been doing it since 2007. Twelve years! I started sporadically, but since 2010 I've been doing two posts a week.

I guess it doesn't seem that long, but lately time passes so quickly that nothing really surprises me anymore.

I started this blog by a different name, "MrMomForAWeek" in 2007 when my wife went on a mission trip to Guatemala for church. I wanted to track the events of the week as a single parent. I did it partly as a writing exercise, partly as a documentation of events and partly to entertain my friends and family.

And if I think about it, those three precepts still hold true today. I still use this space to keep my creative writing muscles limber and to hold me accountable to write at least twice a week. I haven't wavered too far from it, though have missed a post nearly a dozen times this year. For example this post is #94 and if I was doing it twice a week, it should be #104. So it goes.

There have been several occasions where I've considered stopping, but the disciplined me won't seem to let me. I am committed to doing it, and as a writer, one should really have a blog as part of their entire platform.

So I keep at it, keep mining my thoughts and my days for material, with the hopes that I'm keeping it fresh and interesting. I've had more than a few readers of my books say that they first started following me on my blog. Encouraging to know this, as sometimes it seems I'm shouting down a hole.

It is my hope that 2020 holds for me even a shadow of the success I experienced in 2019. I doubt there will be two books released in 2020, but if I continue to get published in magazines and journals and press hard on my memoir in progress, well, that would be sufficient to hold my interest.

I hope you all have goals and interests of great pursuit in 2020 as well.

Happy New Year!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Keepin' It Real

The Christmas tree I got this year looked bigger on the lot. It was a phenomenon similar to how fish look bigger in the water than when you get them in the boat. Or, it looked bigger in your imagination this year than it did in your boat six years ago when you caught it.

In any case we got a tree and after we decorated it and put the lights on, it looks fabulous. Sometimes smaller is a nice change. I know I'll thank myself when it is time to haul it out to the curb, so I have that going for me.

We have always had a real tree in this house, and even in the apartments we had before we became homeowners. We both grew up with real trees and never saw the reason to change. This year we gave a passing thought to an artificial tree, but passed on the idea. It has always been my job to pick out the tree and I don't really mind the task, so we can't use the excuse that it's too much work. The family used to come along with me to choose it, but that stopped about 6 years ago, so I go to Steins and try and get one in 15 minutes or less.

Shopping for them always brings back to mind the trees of my past. Mom always took one or more of us to get a tree. Usually it was at the YMCA on University Avenue in St. Paul, where they had a lot called "Y's Men's Trees." Because we didn't have a van, it usually meant tying it on top of the car. I do remember at least one trip home where we had to stop and re-tie one of the ropes because we nearly lost the tree. At least I think that's what happened. Maybe it was just a fear and I ended up making it real in my head.

There were many years we 'd catch the cat trying to scale the tree. One year it actually brought ol' Tannenbaum down when it was climbing. Mom walked into house one year after picking my brother Rob up from the airport to find it laying on its side. She was mortified. Of course we propped it back up, but no good Christmas tree ever looks the same after it's fallen. This was no different.

It did lead to a trend every year afterward of tying the top of the tree to the stair banister spindles using fishing line to keep the thing from toppling over. This is a tradition I've used on more than one occasion myself. No one ever sees it!

Back in the early 70's Mom used the big bulbs that clipped onto the branches and proceeded to get real hot. We never started a fire, but there was a carpet burn or two in there somewhere. Thankfully they went out of fashion before we managed to burn the whole house down.

The whole idea of bringing a tree into your house is pretty weird anyway, if you think about it. It is part of our tradition though, so as long as I can put up with the needles, the watering, and the tree-lot shopping, I plan to keep having a real one.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Panic Shopping In The '80s

There was a time when my brothers and I were all single and in college and living with all the irresponsibilities that come with those parameters. Paul and I lived at home and commuted to college at the University of Minnesota, while Rob was in New York at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

And I'm not sure when it started, but there were times when two or three of us banded together on Christmas Eve to do our Christmas shopping. It sort of defies any rational thought, waiting until the 11th hour to embark on getting presents for everyone, but as I said, we were young and untethered to conventional rules.

Our trips to Daytons or Rosedale Mall were usually launched on the downside of a couple of beers to get us in the mood to brave the insanity. When we arrived, we were usually in the company of other wide-eyed men looking frantically for a good sale or a size for something that sold out two weeks prior. It was a fraternity of futility, but we always made it happen, one way or another.

The best part about it though was spending time with one or both of them, laughing at the position we'd put ourselves in again. The three of us must have been a sight, twenty-somethings, all over 6'2" wandering the aisles laughing and price checking everything. It was an inexact science but reflected how much we really hated shopping and the whole mall scene - so much that we'd prolong doing it until nearly the final buzzer. We may have even capped off the spree with a beer somewhere on the way home, or maybe back at home during the wrapping frenzy.

My mom always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. For many years we had her sister and families over, but it just got too big, so she retrenched it back into a family-only affair. With six of us kids and our eventual spouses and kids, that too grew into a mob scene, one that continues today, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Those trips to the mall or a department store and all the camaraderie that goes with it have given away to online shopping via Amazon, which is sort of a travesty when I think about it. It's been reduced to a point and click thoughtlessness for myself and an entire generation. It might be a better, more efficient way of shopping, but it certainly won't be as memorable as those days in the aisles with the brothers.

Blogging off...


Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Day Unlike Other Days

I celebrated my 58th birthday a few days ago. As one gets older, birthdays are more and more just another day at work, albeit with a little special edge to it. This one was no different. It was one of those days where work was one meeting after another with a holiday party thrown in at the noon hour to make it just a little more upside down. The nice thing about the busyness was it made the day go by quickly.

But as I said, there were some things that made it special, like:


  • Cupcakes from my wife for both the GIS staff and the County Christmas party. Everyone deserves cake (or pie) on their birthday. 
  • A text from my daughter wishing me a happy birthday.
  • A call from Ben in Madison, wishing me the same.
  • When I got home a gift from Sarah awaited; a much-needed pair of slippers!
  • Over 100 Facebook birthday wishes. There is much to hate about social media and Facebook in particular, but it does serve this purpose very well. I very much appreciate my Facebook friends and love scrolling through the many wishes.
Perhaps the best part of the day though was joining some good friends at a nearby Irish pub for a couple of beers. It was a spontaneous sort of thing, in celebration of both Donna and my birthdays and one I'm glad we followed through with. 

When we arrived, it turned out we walked into something called "Whiskey Club" where a group of whiskey aficionados was taste-testing multiple brands of Whiskey. They brought us about four half-shots before we could tell them that we were not part of the club!

Outside of the whiskey club interruption the rest of the couple hours we spent were good. We talked and laughed and speculated on what we were all going to do in retirement. It was really good to close out an otherwise average birthday with good friends. 

As every year passes, I appreciate the people in my life more and more. They keep me laughing and young at heart as we struggle to figure out this thing called life together. I hope to spend many more with them!

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Radio Shift

I took a county vehicle from work to a meeting downtown today. It was a Chrysler Pacifica. The vehicle has some interesting quirks for sure, some of which I found confounding and borderline ridiculous.

Now, I know it's highly un-American, but I've been a fan of foreign cars for years. To me they are better engineered, run longer and need less maintenance. The two American cars I've owned as an adult were fairly disappointing machines. The first, an 83 Escort that was ready for the junk heap at 90,000 miles (Head Gasket + a myriad of other less major issues.) The second a Plymouth Voyager, a slightly less disappointing machine that was ready for the junk heap at 112,000 mi. (Too many issues to list. Am happy they gave me anything for it.)

Because I've driven largely Japanese and Korean I've become accustomed to the layout and functions of the cars - not to mention they work well for a long time.

But I digress. I am talking about the Pacifica here and thought the layout of the thing was so bizarre it deserved mention.
Shifter on left, radio on right.

Starting with the shifter, which is a big knob on the dash. Nice concept, but for me it is precariously close to the radio and heating control KNOBS. The last thing I want when I'm looking for a better station is to shift into Low gear and blow my engine up. Now, I trust they have controls in place to prevent drivers from doing this; Maybe an electrical shock if you touch the big dial while moving or something of the sort. I wasn't about to test it.

But my point is, why put it there in the first place? Was it ever a good idea?

Then there is the heater. The thing is driven by another knob with "Mode" printed on it. A bit unintuitive perhaps. It only took me about 5 miles of driving to figure out how the thing worked.

When I got going I realized there were two speedometers, one analog, one digital. I don't know if it they are covering the bases between the digital and analog ages, but I thought it was sorta stupid. Why not two tachometer readouts too? Heck, I'd settle for one good heater readout over the second speedometer.

The seat didn't go back far enough for a guy my height - thanks Chrysler. Add to that my knee hits the console in front, so my options to stretch my leg are limited. Thanks again.

The light switch is yet another knob on the dashboard. I thought they did away with those about 15 years ago. I'm so used to it being on the blinker stick that it took me 3 minutes of looking to find it on the dash.

The county also gets their vehicles installed with back-up beepers for liability reasons. It's safe, but adds another level of annoying to an annoying vehicle.

There was one nice feature about the car. It has a little light that comes on in the side mirrors when another car is in your blind spot. It's ingenious. They need to pay that engineer more and have him redesign the entire dash.

So that's my review for the day. But don't let it sway you!

Blogging off...

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Art and Appreciation

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. It was also a really, really good day.

It started, as most every Saturday does, with our weekly coffee date at a local coffee shop. This time together is where we talk through what has transpired during the week, we look to the future, talk about our kids and our friends, and ruminate about politics, culture and our world. It has become sacred time to both of us. We both miss it on those weeks we have other commitments or are traveling. It grounds us and sets the stage for the coming week.

From there, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. We have a membership that we bought last May and haven't used, so we thought we'd squeak a visit in. The nice thing about a membership is you can see the special exhibits any time they come. We strolled through three of them, taking our time and admiring the art. Then we moved into the Portrait of Milwaukee portion and stepped back in time through the black and white photos of the city we both love and call home now. These trips to the Museum are always cathartic; a chance to slow down, appreciate the gifts of a multitude of artists.

After the Museum we went to IKEA to look for window treatments. We're not really shoppers, but still we go in with a target item in mind and almost always come away with a couple extra items.

When we got home, I went off to write, while she watched a movie. After that we moved a heavy dresser into our newly painted bedroom and got that situated. We closed out the evening watching the Badger football game together with the pets on the the couch.

The day sort of signifies what our marriage is all about. We enjoy each others' company over coffee, while taking in art, culture, sports and even shopping on occasion. We also recognize that we need time apart pursuing our own interests - too much time together is never good, and I say that with great respect, not to be cutting. And with regards to the dresser, we recognize the importance of working together to make our home what it is - as humble as ours is. And, trust me, we have a humble little house.

I don't proclaim to have a perfect marriage - I don't know of anyone who does. I do think it takes work and sacrifice and patience. We need to recognize the rhythms of each other and roll with them. It isn't always easy, but when you have a good day, it can be really, really good.

Blogging off...

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Eagles, Gophers and Badgers, Oh My

We had a great Thanksgiving weekend in Minnesota, despite a snowfall that went on and on and on. It was never debilitating, but certainly could be categorized as annoying.

After a nice dinner on Thursday, we hung out at the hotel most of the day Friday. I took a brief walk at a local regional park and had the privilege of seeing four eagles roosting in the same tree. One had flown off only seconds before I got there otherwise there would have been 5 in a picture I took. It was as majestic as it sounds; an almost spiritual experience.

That night we had our traditional chocolate fondue with Christmas gift opening at our daughter's apartment. When we were younger, Donna's parents often came to town for "Thanksmas" where we celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday and Christmas on Friday. Now that we have kids in other states, we are doing the same thing, it seems. The important thing has always been that we are together, not so much the date, so this is a great compromise.

On Saturday afternoon we watched the Gopher/Badger football game. As a gopher alum, I hoped for the best, but sort of had a feeling that they'd struggle with the Badgers, as they often do. It was an exciting first half, but true to form, the wheels came off in the second half as the Badgers rolled on to win it very decisively.

Much like the Packers, I've become a Badger fan due to proximity over the years, but I was really pulling for my Gophers this year. They've been so mediocre for so long, I thought this year might be different. Alas. Nonetheless, it was a great year and maybe they'll get some good recruits for next year. (Though I"m sorta sick of saying, wait till next year.) In any case, I'll now root for the Badgers to beat Ohio State and go to the Rose Bowl and for the Gophers to win whatever bowl they end up in. It's nice to have options.

In any case, Thanksgiving was a good warm up and I am looking forward to the Christmas season.

Blogging off...