Friday, December 5

Evening Rides

I love riding my bike to and from work - even in the winter. Part of it, I suppose, is the macho joy of being able to say I ride along even in Minnesota's cold and windy winters. But the fact is that keeping warm is not really very hard. It's dark on my ride home, which makes for a slower and more careful ride. But particularly with our newly completed bridge, it's really quite beautiful. I have lots to be thankful for (see my previous posting). One small thing is my ride home.

Lately, the lights aren't always on on the bridge. You would think that that would be a negative, but oddly it isn't. They are on sporadically. And I think I notice and enjoy them more when they aren't guaranteed to be on. I'm sure there is a lesson there somewhere. But I'm often too chilly to figure out what it is.

Tuesday, November 25

A Decade

Ten years ago today was a day I'll never forget. I awoke that day with a mysterious inability to control or support myself with my legs. Ultra-strange and quite scary. By the end of the day I had had an MRI and was admitted to the hospital. A massive dose of steriods had gone a long way towards relieving back pain I had been having for three months or so. The physical relief was offset by the knowledge that my 8th thoracic vertebrae had been eaten away by a tumor which was either a localized tumor called a plasmacytoma or a manifestation of a form of cancer called multiple myeloma which - though very treatable - is not normally curable.

Since that time, as I had been for the 46 years leading up to that time, I've been lucky (or, if you want to look at it that way, blessed). The tumor was a plasmacytoma and not myeloma. Treated with radiation and gone. In the past ten years of testing (other than one testing blip that turned out to be nothing) things have gone well. No reoccurance of cancer.

While I would never recommend flirting with cancer to anyone, in some very real ways being a cancer survivor is a very positive thing. Many of those things I may have believed intellectually I now know in a more fundamental way. The blessing that is each day. The perspective on the magnitude of a given problem. The joys of a happy marriage, children that you like, love and are proud of, great friends to share the experience of life with. In my case, I came to value and hope to emulate "heart-driven" people (though I probably will always remain more "head driven" than "heart driven" - if that makes sense). In so many ways having your "life flash before your eyes" changes your perspective on the world and your place in it. For the better.

I think I even laugh from a different place now. I love the ironic even more. In any event, I am so thankful for the decade since the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1998. 3,652 days, if my count if correct. Each a gift. There is so much for me to give thanks for.


Friday, October 31

The Wrong Questions - A Short "Stanifesto"

Several weeks ago Kate and I were watching Joe Biden being interviewed by Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press. Tom Brokaw inquired of Biden, a practicing Roman Catholic, about the "simple" question of when life begins. Biden's gave, at least to my ears, a perfect answer to a question with no "perfect" answer. He began by saying that as a matter of faith, he accepts and believes the teaching of the Catholic church that life begins at conception. He then acknowledged that there are equally religious people of other faiths who believe differently. He then took the "wrong" question - when does life begin - and transformed it to the "right" question (for a politician, though perhaps not for a minister or a philosopher), which involves the right of a society to impose that view on all of its members. He pointed out that we are a pluralistic society, and at least purport to respect the rights of our citizens to have differing beliefs on matters of this kind.

Brokaw proceeded to again ask the wrong question - asserting that Biden had "voted for abortion rights". Again Biden responded with what for me was the perfect response - that he hadn't voted for abortion rights, he had voted against criminalizing abortion. That he had voted against telling every other American that they had to accept his religiously-based view. You can watch that portion of the interview on youtube.

Biden's answer caused a few things to fall into place for me.

First, I remembered reading Roe v. Wade in law school 32 years ago or so. The majority opinion, written by Harry Blackmun, was and is in my opinion a well-reasoned response to an almost impossibly difficult question, even if we as a society have been arguing about it since 1972. I think many people feel that Roe v. Wade "outlaws" abortion. At least as I read it, the opinion is really a balancing of the interests of the mother and the state. I'm willing to bet that less than 1% of Americans (probably way less) have read the opinion. I went back and reread it and I thought I'd excerpt a few passages. It's a little less lawyerly that most Supreme Court opinions - but it's still a Supreme Court opinion so it doesn't necessarily "flow" like a novel:

Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer. . . .

In view of all this, we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that are at stake. We repeat, however, that the State does have an important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the health of the pregnant woman, whether she be a resident of the State or a nonresident who seeks medical consultation and treatment there, and that it has still another important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. These interests are separate and distinct. Each grows in substantiality as the woman approaches term and, at a point during pregnancy, each becomes "compelling."

Here's the bottom line of the opinion:

(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.

(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother. This holding, we feel, is consistent with the relative weights of the respective interests involved, with the lessons and examples of medical and legal history, with the lenity of the common law, and with the demands of the profound problems of the present day. . .

The various justices used different constitutional analyses in reaching their balance of competing interests. But it set me to thinking about the Bill of Rights. It seems to me that the freedoms enumerated in those ten amendments are the fundamental "point of difference" we have as a country. Our freedoms of speech, religion, due process, assembly. The pluralistic idea that decisions are made after the free exchange of ideas. So we have elected to protect not only the right to salute the flag (easy to protect) but also the right to burn the flag in protest (much harder to protect - but more meaningful in terms of actually protecting the freedom itself). We have chosen constitutionally to protect our citizens from unlawful searches, even if it means that we may leave some criminals who are subjected to unlawful searches unpunished. These are the tradeoffs we have to make in order to protect the freedoms set forth in the Bill of Rights.

At least to me, these constitutional liberties are fundamental safeguards, critically important to what we are (or aspire to be) as a country. Though I'm not a "card carrying member of the ACLU", these are for me the "litmus test" issues.

So when I hear Barack Obama say "when an Arab American family is rounded up without due process, that threatens my civil liberties" I agree wholeheartedly. When I hear of politicians seeking to ban books, I disagree just as wholeheartedly - without regard to what the books say.

On taxes, on health care, even on Iraq, there are for me reasonable grounds for disagreement and we should encourage the free exchange of ideas. That free exchange of ideas is made vital because of the constitutional liberties contained in the Bill of Rights.

There is another side to the principle of pluralism that it seems to me we have lost our way on - the idea of a debate on the issues followed by attempts at solutions which involve compromise. Today politicians who change positions on almost any issue are branded "flip floppers." Rather than encouraging a fresh look at an issue, we discourage it. We are, or at least have been, in an era of politics which reminds me of power football. One party or another trying to ram ideas down the throat of the other. The worry lately has been that if the Democrats get to the point where they have 60 members of the Senate, they will run roughshod over the Republicans. Sadly, that concern appears to me to be legitimate.

Let's hope that all the talk about "reaching across the aisle" is more than just talk. That would be a change to believe in. For lots of reasons (including the way my knee jerks, and my preference for a "wealth spreader" over a "wealth vanisher"), I'll be voting for the Obama/Biden ticket next Tuesday. But for me, the single most important reason is my belief that Obama and Biden are much more interested in protecting our constitutional freedoms than McCain and Palin.

Tuesday, September 23

Back to the Woods

Harry and I made our way to East Pike for our annual fall trip to the woods. And a great trip it was. We've been making our way to the BWCA in the fall since 1993. And since 2002 we've been going to the same lovely campsite on the east end of East Pike.

Lots of happy hours have been spent on this rock, splash cup in hand, watching the sun set in the west.

I have literally hundreds of photos taken from "the rock" - of the lake in all its moods. And in September there are many moods to northern Minnesota lakes. We've sat there wearing every bit of clothes we brought. And on other warmer years we've been able to dive right into the lake. This year was somewhere in between.

The fishing was good - and that is a fun part of our trip. And fishing provided me with an "Einstein" moment - one where relativity is made clear. I had caught the fish on the left, which was well into the "keeper" category. I was happy to have caught a fish which could turn a soup into Bass Stew. Then I caught the fish on the right. The smaller fish is now a believer in relativity as well. In one instant, she went from the main ingredient in Bass Stew to being a smallmouth plying the amazing waters of East Pike.

But mostly it's fun paddling the lake, laughing about things, sometimes talking about life. A tradition that will go on as long as we do, I'm sure.

Friday, August 29

Circles of Friends

Today was the first day of idleness I feel like I’ve had for quite a while. A "did nothing and rested afterwards" day. Our first weekend at the cabin since July 11th. That was a great weekend of fun and friendship at our cabin with the “Gang of Eight” – as Phil walked away with the inaugural Cranberry Cup Presented by Pimms (and Lisa and Ray), edging out Kate and Tom. As has become our norm – Kate was behind amazing meals at every turn. A Salad Nicoise with Tuna Steaks still remains a tasty memory (and is probably still visible around my midsection). Or perhaps it’s the pancakes. Or the tenderloin.

Then it was on to the completion of the basement remodeling and return of things to their rightful place at the house – just in time for Jon and Megan Eddy’s wedding. A Friday paella dinner at our house with the Train Party gang and a brunch the next morning were great fun. Peter had returned home from his summer canning salmon in Alaska, and Madeline was home for a little over a week.

Again, food and fun were everywhere. At the wedding reception we got a chance to don our dancing shoes.

As soon as the Train Party gang left for their respective homes, Kate’s mother Kitty and her buddy Bob arrived for a week. Shockingly, more amazing meals and fun ensued. Kitty needed some work on her fajita folding technique, but had no trouble discerning the quality of the food.

When Kitty and Bob made their way back to Pennsylvania, it was time to load up the trailer and move Peter back to Iowa City and his first apartment. Kate did make a gourmet sandwich to take with us – but otherwise left us to fend for ourselves on the food front. Just as well. The month of consumptive activity had apparently raised the amount of uric acid in my blood – leading to a bout with the “The Gout” – a painful left big toe was the price I had to pay for the joys of July and August. A small price to pay.

When I returned to the Twin Cities, Linda and Wood were only a day behind. A wedding of our good friends Tom and Rosemary’s daughter Allyson on Saturday. And then on the the Great Minnesota Get Together on Sunday.

It’s been a great and busy summer. But I must say a day where starting the fire for the sauna is my most strenuous activity has been a welcome change.

Monday, July 14

Train Party 2008

Another tremendous Train Party is now in the books. For my money, it was a great one (honestly the 37th great one - so perhaps I should say a REALLY great one).

As always, the Bucks, Staniforths and Eddys provided get togethers that were marvelous and memorable. Certainly, one amazing highlight was the presence of two "3rd generation" Plasticvillians - Brynn and Mason.

Those two are beyond cute, and it was just heartwarming to see them continue the TP with a new generation.

Mason already is displaying some of his grandfather's gymnastics skills, and what fun it is to have and beer and talk politics with Brynn and her grandfather.

I suppose no description of a Train Party would be complete without an acknowledgement of the bocce ball champions.

Of course, they were the first champions to be roundly booed during the championship game. There is not a question in anyone's mind who should proudly assume the mantle of


In a move that surprised no one, Hizzoner the mayor skeedaddled for the border - unwilling to face the populous. The biggest thing missing for me was Peter (Oleson). We talked to him on the way home. He sounded great - for the last ten days he's been working 16 hours a day, so sounding great is a bit of an accomplishment. He told us that on one of yesterday's tides they received and processed 800,000 pounds of salmon. Hope that a few pounds comes home in smoked form as a hors de ouvres for the Jon and Megan wedding preparty!! For those who aren't dining at the Lex - plan on a party which we hope will rival those just completed on Friday, August 8th!

Thanks so much to all for a wonderful time. It adds immeasurably to the richness of my life.

Wednesday, June 18

Reece and Andrea's Wedding

Kate, Madeline and I went to the wedding of my nephew Reece and his now wife Andrea. A truly great event, celebrating a great couple. Wood and Linda enjoyed themselves immensely - and why not? The floods, though scary, had little effect on the joy of the event - and what an event it was.

My mom looked cute "as a bug's ear" - between her grandson and granddaughter.

And between her daughter and one of her sons.

The Kingfish and his lieutenants were in fine fettle.

It was great to see Claire, especially since she is off to India today.

And the night was danced away!

A great time was had by all.

Wednesday, May 28


Mssrs. Seymour, Green, Lack and Oleson have just returned from a great canoe trip to East Pike - a Boundary Waters lake that is near and dear to my heart, and to Wein's - it being just a mile or so away from McFarland Lake, where Wein's grandfather built a cabin in the '30's.

As we left Saint Paul for the northland, we thought we were embarking on a bit of a fishing contest. If it was a fishing contest, it was similar to an early season basketball game between a powerhouse and a Division III team.

Curt caught more fish than the rest of the group combined, and not by a narrow margin. Stan won the "Most Impressive Whitefish, All Things Considererd" contest. Seymour came in second in the "Most Impressive Northern Released" contest. Wein won the "Most Impressive Shore Fisherman" contest - with a near catch of a nice northern from a rocky shore. But Curt was king. The man can fish just as good as he wants.

Mr. Green established his bona fides as a woodsman with the most stunning display of firewood location and chopping and splitting that I have seen in my nearly thirty years of trips to the Boundary Waters. He and Mr. Seymour produced what seemed to be cords of finely split wood which allowed us to enjoy evening fires. This was particularly nice, since last year we had been unable to have camp fires due to a fire ban.
This meant that the rest of us were unaware of this amazing Bunyanesque skill. If Barny is the "king of the onion" - and he is - Wein is the Hatchet Man.

The area was, as always, beautiful. This is one of the great places for feeling close to nature.

The weather was more variable than I have ever seen it. Sun would be followed by rain then more sun, and even a little rain/snow/hail mix.

The wood produced by Mr. Green and Mr. Seymour, combined with the patented "Stan Oleson Maxi Pack" technique which allows for massive provisions, allowed us to dine like kings and snack like large men. With a sommolier like J. Thomas Seymour, the libations were beyond unbelievable. A fish stew Curt and I made of three large bass snagged from East Pike, some potatoes, onions, portobello mushrooms, and various other bulky but tasty ingredients stands out in my memory. The steaks were great, Curt's pan fried northern and smallmouth were, if anything, even better. The final breakfast fare was a giant pork chop - again with portobellos and onions. It's a dish that I am still refining. When the Hatchet Man (who likes meat cooked more fully than I do) is along, I have now resolved to grill the chops over the fire he provides and cook the mushroom sauce separately. This will allow for better "a la carte" presentation of the meat.

As this food preparation example illustrates, trips to the BWCA invariably involve some problem solving. This year, Curt helped ensure that was the case. Due to Curt's newly developed bull moose canoe entry method, he and Wein failed to "mount up" properly for an evening fishing junket (while Mr. Seymour and I elected to lounge around camp sipping on a "splash" and taking in the scenery from terra firma). The result - a quick dip in a lake that was covered with ice three days before - went beyond bracing. At least the solution was obvious. Less obvious was the solution to our problem on the "dismount." It was then that the car door locked with the keys on the front seat and in a backpack in the rear of the car (a safety feature that we all agree Acura could dispense with), we found ourselves 17 miles up a gravel road to nowhere (though an amazing chunk of nowhere) and 35 miles from cell phone service. At this point Curt's preternatural skills kicked in. He fired a pheromone (or perhaps it was a Farrah moan) and summoned two nice women who provided transport and phone cards and other necessities in aid of Curt's location of Bud the Locksmith and Storyteller, who arrived on the scene a hour or so later. Like magic, in 46 minutes Bud had the door opened (with liberal amounts of "help" from the assembled laughing masses). At this moment the 2 a.m. return to Saint Paul dampens the humor just a bit, but I think it will be a rich source of humor for years to come.

A great trip. Planning and pondering for next year has already begun.

Friday, April 25

The Great North

Kate and I are back at the cabin, arriving last night – six months after our last visit. It’s always fun to return after the winter, even if it’s raining and cool. But I always wonder as we approach if there will be trouble. A tree across the lane? A burst pipe? When we got here this year the door to the cabin was open. Not a good indicator of things to come. But in this case an inaccurate harbinger of trouble. The cabin was clean as a whistle. Not even the sign of a mouse. I had left a fire prepared in the woodstove. So it was burning away almost immediately. The pump started producing water with a minimum of effort. The water system filled quickly. Within 30 minutes we had running water, clocks with accurate time, music playing quietly. My biggest problem in life was the lack of ice cubes for a cocktail of my choice. So I settled for a really nice glass of wine. It was and is nice to be back.

Today has provided more iffy weather. But without leaving the cabin I’ve seen a bald eagle twice. Once on the tree in front of our cabin - which required a photo. Loons were here to greet us last night. A pileated woodpecker has been making his dinosaur-like call all day. And I saw a little bird called a brown creeper between sauna sessions this afternoon. It’s hard to describe what a pleasure it is to be sitting outside in a light rain and 44 degrees, steaming away from the residual heat of the sauna, watching a tiny little bird that you see only every couple of years climb a tree a few feet away. But at least for me it’s a wonderful thing.

Kate is fighting a cold. She’s reading away. I’ve finished one book today and look forward to starting on the next in a few minutes. Greta has blown out her right rear knee so long walks, a staple of our existence here, are pretty much out of the question (she goes “under the knife” on Monday). It looks like one of those “did nothing and rested afterward” days. I can ask for nothing more. By the way, our supply of ice cubes is now more than adequate. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

Monday, April 7

Ironic Harbinger

I decided two years ago to make the red-winged blackbird my official harbinger of spring. Today as I was biking to work I heard my first call of the red-winged blackbird. At that very moment it was snowing pretty hard and I was biking into a ten mile an hour headwind. It just didn't seem very springlike.

I realize that I choose to live here in Minnesota, and I am usually very reluctant to complain about the length of winter. But I am ready for warmer weather and the advent of spring. With blackbirds and without snow.

Saturday, April 5

Coming Soon . . .

To strip malls everywhere, it's the -

"It's Not Just Good, It's Fu Xing Good!"®

They serve only drinks made with their signature vodka.

(I about drove off the road I was laughing so hard. And, this very establishment is located on Rice Street in Saint Paul - really).

Monday, March 17

The Stars Are In Alabama

Road trips haven't been our family's norm. But this year we decided that logistically it just made sense. So we loaded up the rented van and headed to what is euphemistically referred to as the "Redneck Rivera." Because of our inexperience, we fell prey to the "bring it along - we've got a van" mentality. It did bring back some memories to look back and see the kids in the back of the van.

Our "new" car is a '99 Blazer. So the Chevy Uplander rental van was a nice upgrade. While the drive was a long one - we had the ability to play music from our iPods without those goofy fake radio transmitters that never work. And, though I was unable to figure it out immediately, there is even a DVD player for the kiddies in the back.

We pushed hard the first day, but still didn't get to Memphis until 9:30. It was the picture in my head to get to Memphis (it just sounded more interesting to me than Cape Girardeau, Missouri). I was letting go of the idea, but Kate had the drive to drive on. I was so glad. We went on for a late night dinner at Rendevous Ribs. Made it there just before 11, as the place was winding down. But had some great ribs, and really enjoyed the atmosphere.

We even wandered Beale Street for a while. Amazingly, we were caught in a very short hailstorm. Then it was off for a quick rest (and a lecture to me about snoring) and on through Mississippi.

We were traveling in a loose tandem with our friends the Grays (who were about 90 minutes behind us aiming for the same destination). Kate did one of the funniest cell phone calls I've ever heard from M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I to alert the Gray's of the local driving style - which features, among other quirks, a quick cut in front of a passed car within 5 feet of their bumper.

We picked this destination mostly because it was the closest ocean to Minnesota. But it's really beautiful. And our beach house is really something!

O.K. - that's not our beach house. But ours is really nice. The beach is a beautiful white sand beach. The four of us took a long hike to the end of the spit of land we are on. For the first half mile or so there were beach houses and lots of people (the pictured house is the last one). But for a couple of miles thereafter, there is nothing but beaches and dunes until you come to Fort Morgan. And, as is so often the case, it really just takes a small amount of effort to leave the crowd behind (the crowd isn't that big in the first place - though where we would toss a Frisbee, they toss a football - "Roll Tide" seems to be a good icebreaking opening line).

Such a nice time sharing laughs with our family, as we passed stranded jellyfish

and surfed our way along the beach.

Just a great family time. I'm not even dreading the drive back. . . yet.


There has been a strong wind blowing the last couple of days. Strong enough that we've taken our beach walks headed into the wind first. Today (Tuesday) started cloudy, but turned to a beautiful, bright sunny day. We've just been taking it easy. Reading a book in the sun. Walks. A beer here and there. I've taught Peter to play cribbage - and so we've had several games.

Last night we had dinner at the house being rented by our friends the Grays. It's five miles up the road. A quiet road, but nevertheless I decided to take it easy and limit myself to one glass of wine. I know you are thinking, "Hey, it's a vacation. Loosen up!" But I am strict about those things. Here's a photo of Kay and Reechow pouring my glass of wine.

You have to have principles!

There is a reason I like the ocean so much. Change is so palpable here. The tides go in and out. The wind and water move the sand around with a force that is both constant and inexorable. What yesterday afternoon was this

this morning is this

The water is 200 feet closer to the cabin and there is a storm on its way. I'm looking forward to its arrival.

I like to go to the ocean to remind myself of the constant change that surrounds me. Books like Beak of the Finch and just living have taught me intellectually that change and evolution are always happening. They are more apparent when they are directional over long periods of time (for example, apes to humans - sorry Mike Huckabee). Some changes we label as good, some bad. And some are good and bad. But most just are. I need these reminders.

One of the huge challenges of growing older is that it seems harder to accept change gracefully. Probably it is harder. It's so easy to fall into the pattern of saying "I remember when" romanticizing the "good old days."

It's been suggested to me that I am a "cheerleader" for globalization - lauding the smaller world we now live in. Perhaps that is somewhat true. But I think, or at least hope, that what I've done is accept the change inherent in the communication revolution we have all experienced over the last decade or so. Accept it or not, it's there and it's real. Better to accept it and take advantage of what it offers.

I think my understanding of that particular change happened most powerfully for me when I worked at the expedition. I was writing an electronic newsletter to be sent to the 4,000 or so people who were following the expedition's preparations. I read and reread the email and then hit the "send" button - wondering if anyone would be interested. In five minutes I had a response (several in fact). But the one that hit me was from a woman sitting at the South Pole station. I exchanged several emails with her over the course of the day - she in probably the most remote place in the world from my little office in Minneapolis.

On a different note, we went out to dinner last night. Our skills in restaurant selection need some work. We left one restaurant since we didn't want to sit through a 45 minute wait, only to drive to another restaurant with a less enticing menu 15 miles further away which also had a 45 minute wait. I happened to catch a photo of Kate at just the instant we were finally called to our table.

Now there is a woman who knows how to accept change.


A great trip!

And it's "back to reality."