Wednesday, December 20

Happy Holidays 2017

Happy Holidays! Joyful Solstice! Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Best Wishes! Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad! Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan! Glædelig Jul! Gajan Kristnaskon! Hyvaa Joulua! Buorrit Juovllat! Gledileg Jol! Nodlaig Mhaith Chugnat! Buone Feste Natalizie! Natale Hilare et Annum Faustum! Pozdrevlyayu s Prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom! God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt! Season's Greetings! Peace!
     I thought about reprising a holiday card I sent during the Reagan era which was titled "THIS IS NOT A HOLIDAY CARD!" My long-ago card pointed out that we had sent Holiday Cards only to our wealthiest friends, secure in the knowledge that our fond wishes for a great holiday and new year would trickle down to all of our friends. It was funny in the 1980's. Somehow it seems equally appropriate but less funny now. So I think I'll just start with a photo of our family.
     If you are paying attention, and you probably still are since we are only two paragraphs into this note, you may notice that our family photos now include five people. About this time last year Peter became engaged to Erin Swietlik - a fellow Denverite who, like Peter, migrated to Denver from the Midwest. We are looking forward to Erin's official entry to the family next June, when she and Peter will be married in Vail, Colorado.
     Kate and I have spent a bit of time this year helping Peter and Erin with wedding planning. It's been fun to do a bit of nuptial planning along with them. We haven't been much help, but then again they don't need much help. We're excited about their wedding, but much more excited about what a wonderful couple they are.
      Kate and I have also enjoyed several fun trips to Madison to see Madeline this year. We've even gotten to help a bit with home improvement projects she is undertaking at her new house. This year Madeline has learned the joys of a pressure washer. I think she enjoys it as much as I do. We also had a great time laying carpet tiles in her basement. Madeline recruited a quality squad of carpet installers, with our friend Dan leading the installation team. I think we did an excellent job and made a great team, although the three oldsters on the squad had a bit of trouble walking the next day.
     For the first time in her many years of teaching in Madison, Madeline is teaching the same grade in the same classroom for the second year in a row. I am constantly amazed by how hard teachers work. The time, energy and even money that teachers like Madeline invest in the kids in her class gives me great hope for a better future. 
     I read recently that Facebook and other forms of social media (including holiday cards!), populated as they are by happy talk and photos of friends and others in rapturous enjoyment of their lives, are causing a phenomenon whereby we all feel a little less good or just plain bad about the fact that our own lives contain some problems and slow spots. Although Kate (like Mary Poppins) measures up as "practically perfect" and I am incredibly witty and urbane (hey, I live in a big city!), our lives are not always a romp in the park. 
     Our retirements have meant that we spend much more time together than we did during our working careers. One thing that helps us is that, like a couple of two year olds, we are really good at parallel play - most often with Kate in the kitchen and me in the family room. We can still communicate with one another if necessary. Often with responses of,"What, I couldn't hear you!" But we still have our moments of conflict. For example, once in a while Kate can get quite aggravated at her one-man "IT staff." And I can guarantee that her IT staff sometimes thinks that his "client' could try a bit harder to solve iPhone issues before staffing them out. For some odd reason in the last year we are both more given to yelling at the TV news than we were between January 20, 2009 and January 20, 2017. At least we don't yell at one another. We try to limit our daily television news intake to the excellent PBS NewsHour. However, the end of the NewsHour often leads to another form of parallel play, as Kate heads to the wine cellar and I to the liquor cabinet.
     One aspect of our lives which is almost always a 'romp in the park' for us is our road trips together.
     Once again this year Kate and I made our way to Florida with our pals Dan and Francine. A wonderful trip it was, including a visit with our friends Don and Phil at their condo in Fort Myers Beach.
 And some great time in Cedar Key. The birds, sunsets, relative warmth, and slow pace of life are just great.

We are planning to return to Cedar Key for the month of February this year. It's a great place to "do nothing and rest afterwards." 
     We spent lots of great time this summer in the north woods, whether at our cabin, on bike rides, or (in my case) on canoe trips. We like the fact that we can plan our trips north to maximize our mid-week time there when it is even more quiet and peaceful.
   Another highlight of our year was a fall trip to Colorado. We watched Peter participate in his first triathlon.
Erin got a kiss after the swimming segment. No time for a kiss for Kate as Peter headed for his bicycle. In addition to lots of time in Denver, we explored Vail, Fort Collins, Crested Butte and the Durango area, where we had a great time getting reacquainted with my cousin Bill and cousin-in-law Diana.
     All in all it's been yet another excellent year for us. All the best to you and yours. Enjoy the holiday season and every season. We'll do the same.
     Here's to a joyful 2018!

Stan (on behalf of Kate, Madeline and Peter - none of whom should be blamed in any way for the contents of this greeting)
(Note: Photos may be enlarged by clicking on them. Photo credits to SSB and OSL.)

Friday, December 23

Happy Holidays - 2016

Happy Holidays! Joyful Solstice! Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Best Wishes! Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad! Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan! Glædelig Jul! Gajan Kristnaskon! Hyvaa Joulua! Buorrit Juovllat! Gledileg Jol! Nodlaig Mhaith Chugnat! Buone Feste Natalizie! Natale Hilare et Annum Faustum! Pozdrevlyayu s Prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom! God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt! År Ruumsaid Juulup! Season's Greetings! Peace!
I hope this holiday greeting finds you well. It does us. And our little family of four will once again be together for the holidays! The house is decorated. The new painting that Kate and I bought for our holiday present to one another has been placed above the fireplace and the stockings are hung as well.
I am glad that I don't have to report on any significant health events this year. 2016 was pleasantly uneventful on that front. The travel report for 2016 is also a good one. Winter in Minnesota is fun but a bit long. A trip to Florida with our friends Dan and Francine was the perfect way to take a few weeks off of winter.
We spent ten days communing with birds and dolphins and manatees and reading novels and eating fish (and perhaps sipping on a few wines) in the sleepy but lovely village of Cedar Key, Florida. Just an amazingly great time.
Then it was on to Fort Myers Beach where we basked in the sun and the amazing hospitality of our friends Don and Phil. More laughs and fun were had in the sun and the sand.
And there were more amazing birds.   
Peter and Erin came to the Midwest to celebrate Peter's birthday. Who can resist the joys of balmy April days in Minnesota and Wisconsin?
In June we headed to France with our friends Tom and Kathy.   
The Dordogne area was just amazingly fun. Ancient cities, meandering rivers, great food, lots of laughs, an amazing VRBO host and just a great time.
Our friend the peacock, looking good in an amazing Dordogne garden.  
And of course, some time in Paris. This was as close as we chose to get to the Mona Lisa. But there was no shortage of great art, great food, and lots and lots of "short walks" - which weren't all that short.
Prior to heading to France I worked hard to improve my French, which has lots of room for improvement. I had so much fun trying to communicate with this lovely woman in the garden of the Rodin Museum. I thought I was doing pretty well. But she gave me an odd look when I told her that "my French wasn't good but my husband spoke French quite well." Fortunately, Kate arrived shortly thereafter and clarified things a bit. Still, it's one of my favorite memories of a great trip.
After Tom and Kathy returned to the USA, we spent a wonderful week in Brittany with our French friends Chris and Val, and got a chance to meet their families and see the part of France they are originally from. Yet another great experience. We stayed in a chateau, a gite that was kind of like a home for hobbits, and a pigeonere (a lovingly modernized pigeon rookery).
On our return to the Minnesota, Kate quickly put the gardens in order.
The Train Party once again marked the halfway point of a wonderful year. It was great to spend time with our immediate family and our Train Party family as well.
We found a way to get some quality time at the cabin. The "Tuna" once again plied the waters of Cranberry Lake. 
An enormous rainstorm and a burst dam 40 miles from the cabin caused what we hope is a "hundred year" flood in July. The water rose at least three feet in a day or so. No real damage (at least for us) and it actually was kind of a fun experience.
The big news for Madeline is her wonderful new house in Madison. She becomes more handy on a daily basis. And I enjoy having a family member who now likes to discuss toggle bolts, lawn mowers, pipe draining and other joys of home ownership and maintenance. She's teaching first graders this year (another new grade level!), so calling Madeline busy is quite an understatement.
Kate and I made a trip west in the fall, starting with a Light Up the Night Walk in Denver with Peter and Erin to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. For me it was quite a moving experience. It's a joy to still be "vertical" eighteen years after my cancer experience.
We followed the LLS walk with some hikes in the mountains near Steamboat Springs. Magical.
We did run into some traffic jams on our way back to Minnesota. But it was more than worth it.
Kate and I get shined up once in a while (in this case for a wedding). But we spend lots of time lounging around Saint Paul. Feel free to visit any time. We leave once in a while, but when we are home we never close! We'd love to see you.
Have a great holiday season and a great 2017!

Stan (on behalf of Kate, Madeline and Peter - none of whom should be blamed in any way for the contents of this greeting)

Friday, December 18

Happy Holidays - 2015

Happy Holidays! Joyful Solstice! Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Best Wishes! Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad! Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan! Glædelig Jul! Gajan Kristnaskon! Hyvaa Joulua! Buorrit Juovllat! Gledileg Jol! Nodlaig Mhaith Chugnat! Buone Feste Natalizie! Natale Hilare et Annum Faustum! Pozdrevlyayu s Prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom! God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt! År Ruumsaid Juulup! Season's Greetings! Peace!
I hope this holiday greeting finds you well. It does us. And our little family of four will once again be together for the holidays!

2015 has been a year and change and adventure for Kate and for me. I retired in mid-January and we left for a planned six week trip shortly thereafter. At the end of our first full day on the road I suddenly began to feel quite strange. Thanks to some quick thinking on the part of Kate, my sister Linda and especially my brother-in-law (now known as "Saint Wood"), an ambulance was called almost immediately. Within a couple hours what had been a sudden blockage of one of the arteries to my heart had been repaired. Although it's in the "black humor" category, I was pleased to discover that my sense of humor, bad though it might be, remains intact under stress. In the ambulance as we sped to the hospital, the EMT reviewed my EKG printout, looked me in the eye and said with great gravity, "You are having a major heart attack!" It was only with great effort that I stopped myself from responding, "I didn't need the damn adjective!" It turns out that in the context "major" simply means that the blockage of one of the arteries was total. But because we reacted so promptly and the stents worked well, the short-term blockage did no long-term damage to my heart. I felt fine the next day, and have felt fine since. However, we delayed our trip and returned home to let me get used to new medicines and do some "medical stuff."

In late March we left again on an abbreviated version of the trip we had originally planned. This time everything went smoothly! Kate's mother's 90th birthday celebration had been postponed for a couple of months, but the event was great when it finally happened. And, because of the delay, Madeline was able to join us for the party. After the party, we visited Baltimore, made our way to the home of Kate's friend Carolyn for a wonderful week in the hills of North Carolina and then wandered back to Minnesota by way of Asheville; Lexington, Kentucky; and the home of our friends Tom and Kathy in Peoria. A little slide show is attached to give you some visual sense of Opus 2 of our post-retirement trip east (the slides may not load well on iPads or phones).

Kate and I are settling well into retired life. It's been great fun, but there are adjustments to make. Fortunately, we enjoy one another's company. Plus, like a couple of two year olds, Kate and I are really good at parallel play. For example, we've learned that it works better for us to play Words with Friends from separate rooms on our iPads rather than at a Scrabble board in one location. I believe this may have something to do with my game playing style. I blame my parents.
Madeline continues to teach in Madison. For the first time in seven years of teaching, she is teaching the same basic course for a second year in a row. Last spring she completed her masters in Experiential Education. We were proud to go to her graduation and were the only non-class members invited to the party the night prior to the graduation ceremony.
There is some small chance that our invitation to this prestigious event was related to the fact that we agreed to cook a paella for the group. But we like to think it was because of our exceptional parenting and personalities. Madeline is pondering yet another step into full adulthood - a home purchase in the Madison area. We are hopeful that in addition to an economic role in the process, she will avail herself of Kate's great skill in interior design and all things culinary and of my home handyman skills. We like Madison and especially like hanging around with our favorite daughter.
Another favored destination is Denver (or any location that includes Peter). He continues to love Denver. His job at Academic Impressions continues to go well. He has taken great advantage of the mountains, hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. In at least one way he is his mother's son. He is definitely the family's most creative chef. It's really fun to watch the man at work in the kitchen. Peter has also been an active wedding attender this year. It seemed to me that he was on his way to a wedding every couple of weeks this spring and summer. One of the weddings was in Chicago and involved our whole family. It also gave us a chance to spend a bit of time with Peter's girlfriend Erin. In at least one way Peter does take after me. He's very good at finding an excellent partner.
Our year has been busy, replete with cabin time (with lots of guests, only one of which was a bear), birthday celebrations, high school reunions (Stan), books (both), food preparation and consumption (Kate, with some assistance in the smoked or grilled arena from Stan), plays and other "cultural" activities, cycling (Stan), exercise classes (Kate - the Queen of Saint Paul's east side Y), soccer and other sport watching (Stan), Hallmark Christmas movies (mostly Kate but truth be told Stan too), wine (both), bike trips, hikes, fairs (state and art) and lots of other fun activities.

In September we began a second driving trip east, which we elected to call the "M" trip, since we spent time sailing in Lake Michigan, on Mackinaw Island, visiting friends in Rockford, Michigan, at Kate's Mother's house, visiting Maddox, Musial, Mantle and Mays at the baseball hall of fame, in Montreal, in Maine, with longtime friends at a Man-Made Ohio lake (ok, it's a stretch, but it was too much fun to leave off the list), seeing Madeline in Madison and returning home to Minnesota. I hope the little slide show of the M trip I've attached will be viewable.
Have a great holiday season. Stop by any time to visit us in Saint Paul. 
Call first though. We might be on our way to your house.
(on behalf of Kate, Madeline and Peter - none of whom should be blamed in any way for the contents of this greeting)

Thursday, October 1


Kate and I have spent lots of time over the last two weeks (and over the last 33 years) driving to and from places. In the beginning, I was most often the driver (I, after all, have a Y chromosome). There were major flaws in this approach for us. First, I have attention span issues. Though I am probably better than Kate at knowing precisely where the car is on the road, my mind wanders. Second, Kate is, by her own admission, a terrible rider. The frequent sharp intakes of breath are distracting and offensive to the driver. I can read in a car. Kate gets nauseated if she reads (even if she reads a map - which, by the way, isn't a great skill of hers even outside a moving car).

So long ago, in an aggravated and less than pleasant state, I stopped the car, handed Kate the keys and said, "All right, you drive!" Though it was intended as a rebuke, it was inadvertently a great decision.

Kate always pays attention. Look at that classic "10 and 2" hand position! Her speed is reasonably rapid, but safe. She's a little shy about passing on two lane roads (the Y chromosome might help out a bit there), but she keeps us safely heading down the road, rain or shine (yesterday, as we were driving to Montreal from Saratoga Springs, NY it was light rain, but quite beautiful). A fact I could observe in detail since I was in the role of rider.
I have done a bit of driving on this trip - most notably a nighttime drive to a restaurant in Somerset, PA. I did OK. Only ran one red light when my mind wandered off to consider the exact location of a Mexican restaurant we had considered but rejected for what turned out to be a surprisingly good Japanese restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

But I do have a role in this operation. I am the Nagavator. As we travel I ponder maps and routes, sights and points of interest. It's not a passive activity. I am excellent at converting the images on a map into real world action. It is with no little pride that I report that in grade school I always was in the 99th percentile in "Work-Study Skills" (much of which involved map reading for some reason) on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.
And with the frequent availability of cell phone service, I have been able to take my nagavation skills to the next level. It's much easier than it used to be to find fun, off the beaten path, restaurants. On our last trip, finding "Thai Smile" in a small town in Kentucky where the alternatives were fast food was a masterstroke. Yesterday, we breakfasted at The Triangle Diner in Sarasota Springs. 

Trust me, if you are in Sarasota Springs this is a better alternative than coffee and a croissant at Starbucks - although to be fair the coffee at Starbucks is much better.

Sometimes too much reliance on the phone has its downsides. Yesterday as we drove into Montreal, I trusted the Google Map's directions without checking the map on my own (our atlas doesn't include Canada - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. But I did have a small map in a Montreal travel book I bought before our trip and I failed to use it). Google had us make a left when we should have gone a few blocks to our right. This led us right into a protest being made by thousands of angry teachers! At least they were teachers. And they were angry about certain teaching issues in Quebec that aren't particularly clear to me. They were able to separate their anger about those issues from any particular anger at two Minnesotans driving a green Toyota. Unfortunately, they seemed to fail to grasp the subtle nuances of not walking across the street like a herd of lemmings against a red light. The result was two stranded, confused and - it must be said - tense and snappish retired persons in a car going nowhere. It gave us some time to determine where we really needed to go. Which we were unable to do until we got the assistance of a nice man who was not a teacher (he was walking in the opposite direction of the swarm of teachers, getting nowhere fast). He was kind enough to help us find our way. I even took the wheel for the last part of the drive. We made it to the wonderful apartment where I sit now without too much further trouble.

I think that many of the divisions of labor Kate and I have settled on are a good examples of what couples can, or should, do. We fill gaps for one another. It's sometimes a little hard to admit that your partner is better at something than you are. On matters of style or party or menu planning, it has always been impossible for me to deny Kate's obvious superiority. And it's probably obvious to Kate that I can do math in my head better than she can. But we have also discovered lots of more subtle ways that we can fill gaps for one another. For, example, in preparing some meals (which Kate has planned beautifully) I can add some value right at the end in helping to ensure that all the food is ready more or less simultaneously.

And now for something completely different, a bit of a trip summary:

Oddly, this trip has seemed to involve lot's of M's. 

Sailing in Lake Michigan with our good friends Dan and Francine. Sometimes Kate was at the wheel.
Other times we had normally crowded bays all to ourselves in the unseasonably warm September days.
And we somehow were also able to find our way to shore for some refreshments.
My nagavation skills enabled us to spend a nice evening at the very north end of Lake Michigan in Manistique. We dined at an odd but good Chinese restaurant instead of the Bob's Big Boy that was our alternative.

We crossed over the Mackinaw Bridge to leave Michigan's Upper Pennisula.
We took the ferry to Mackinaw Island for a lovely day walking there.

Then it was on to Rockford, Michigan for a really fun evening (and an amazing lamb chop dinner) with Kate's long-time friend Barb Stuart and her partner in meal preparation (and life) Sally Klokkert.

Next we headed to Kate's Mother's house in York. Peter and I planned his surprise appearance there - and it went wonderfully. Kitty and Bob wondered who the beardless young man walking into their house on a Thursday at 10 pm was!
While there, we had to make the obligatory trip to the Market.
Then it was off to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY to explore the baseball heroics of Musial, Mantle, Mays, Mathewson, Manush, Maranville, Maddux, Marichal, Matthews, Marquard, Martinez, Murray, Mazeroski, McGraw, Mize, Morgan, McCovey, McGinnity, Medwick, Molitor and Clemente and Stargell.
We are now in Montreal for five days that promise to be glorious. They know food here. The city is beautiful. They speak French here (I'm told in a slightly different way than in Paris, but I'm sure I can butcher both versions of French with equal skill).

Then it's on to Maine and eventually Minnesota. A great trip so far. Two thuMbs up!