Sunday, December 20

Happy Holidays - 2009

As 2009 draws to a close, we wish you the best.

2009 has been a great year for our family. Eventful. Fun. Busy. With a bit of trauma (but no really bad news - just a couple of bumps in the road).

I thought I'd try to illustrate with a few bests and worsts.

Best Wild Party:

Note: Peter and Madeline are not included in this best/worst category. They are supposed to go to wild parties. But for the wheezers it had to be a great dinner party at Don and Phil's downtown Minneapolis condominium. Wonderful food. Great company. Way too much wine. 2 a.m. found us in the rooftop hot tub (which closed at 10 p.m.), surrounded by snow drifts, looking over downtown.

Home at 3:30 A.M.!!! A Saturday party worth the sacrifice of a Sunday.

Best Joke:

Stan is excluded from this category (his jokes are all incredibly funny - to him). Honorable mention: While hard at work for the University of Iowa catering service, Peter made a truly excellent double entrendre on the phrase "roll (role) reversal." It was a great moment for me when he called almost immediately to relate the joke. I get a much greater sense of parental pride from the jokes of my children than I do from grades or other more traditional accomplishments.

Honorable mention 2: On our spring break trip to Moab, Peter named this lunchtime lounge spot:

"The Barkless Lounger."

Shortly thereafter we started making puns using variations on the "Navajo Arch." I thought we had almost exhausted the possibilities when Madeline asked, "What do you call Native American Junk Food? The Nava HoHo®." I call that a winner.

Most Unusual Lunch Spot:

Also on our Moab trip, we dined at one of the most scenic spots ever.

A great trip in every way.

Worst Moment:

A 6 a.m. call on a February Saturday morning from Madeline asking advice on how to deal with being in Wausau, Wisconsin with two severely damaged front teeth caused by breaking the fall from a slip on the ice with her teeth (Madeline's worst moment of the year had come 4 or 5 hours earlier).

This photo has been gently edited to protect the sensitive. If you are a person who loves a good horror movie, you can see the unretouched photo by clicking here. The entire process took until November to complete. Madeline got very skilled at eating without using the cosmetic front teeth that her dentist installed.

Most Dangerous Moment:

On a cold windy day as four of us began our May canoe trip, the Lack and Seymour canoe tipped in 41 degree water. It was a bit too exciting for four guys in their fifties. No photos are available of the actual dumping or its immediate aftermath (we were a little busy at the time). Suffice it to say that "big boy" clothes were in very high demand for the next couple of days.

Two days later we experienced a daylong snow and ice storm. But we refined our cribbage game, had enough spirit (and spirits) to make it through, and remain the best of friends.

And from now on we'll bore anyone who is willing listen with stories of the great canoe dumping of 2009.

The weather on my September trip to the woods with Harry was as nice as it was challenging in May.

A little instant karma for me.

Best Move:

Our best move had to be moving Stan's mom Carol to a new facility in Des Moines.

She's a sweetie, and doing really well, notwithstanding the memory issues that are a part of her life. She and her new buddy Lila are more or less inseparable.

Linda and I are so happy this move has worked so well.

Best Birthday Party:

Bob Bower's 80th. We drove to Pennsylvania to celebrate with Bob, Kitty and family. A great time, and we survived a long drive in the 2001 Oldsmobile Intrigue which my mom used to drive.

This led to . . .

Best (and Only) Car Purchase of the Entire Decade:

Doesn't Kate look at home behind the wheel of our new Toyota? I got to drive the other night. Bumped into Congressman Keith Ellison. I'm back in the rider's seat now, where I belong.

Best Nature Experience:

Shakespeare, the barred owl who spent ten days or so around our house this summer.

We still search the trees for his return.

Best Weekend and Wedding:

It had to be Labor Day in Chicago for Sarah and Sam Blatnick's wedding. Great times with great friends.

And another chance to get all shined up.

Most Surprising Development:

Kate and I have become Costcoholics.

I would have bet we were "born to buy retail" when it came to food (and much, much more!!). I was wrong.

Best Weekend at the Cabin:

Each weekend was a winner. Time spent at the cabin is great (and we did better at getting there this year).

Best Wishes:

A sincere wish of joy to you and yours this holiday and every day.

Peter, Madeline, Kate and Stan

Sunday, October 18

The Dirty Greek

Kate and I are at the cabin – closing it up for the season. It’s been a cool but great Saturday. Lovely drive up here yesterday in our new Venza. Perhaps because we had a canoe on top of the car, I got to drive – an experience I enjoyed immensely.

Kate slept in this morning, so Greta and I took a nice walk to the corner where we turn down Bartlett Road to our cabin. A woods of constancy or gentle change for the two decades we’ve owned the cabin. This spring Barny and I saw a big flock of crossbills there. But in the past week or so radical change has ensued, as the company that owned the woods now owns a big pile of wood and a field with lots of tree branches strewn about in it.

The web of ATV trails that I knew like the back of my hand and have used so many times for bird watching and dog walking is no more. Barn and I will have to find other woods to search for crossbills and scarlet tanagers and “indago” buntings. So it goes. Things do change, after all. Sad to see this particular habitat go. Then again, our best warbler area was similarly cut four or five years ago.

After another walk this afternoon we took out the last section of the dock. I had a nice sauna to warm my feet after spending a little time in the water. Took the last outdoor shower of the season, and was ready for an adult beverage. One of my favorites in this situation is a dirty martini, with blue cheese stuffed Sicilian green olives. We’re winding down the cabin for the year and I didn’t bring any green olives. But there were some pitted Kalamata olives. In this case desire, if not necessity, was the mother of invention (I believe Frank Zappa was the father or the Mothers of Invention – but that’s another matter). So I invented “The Dirty Greek”! It suffices quite well, and the pinkish cast is a nice touch.

All these changes. New car. No woods. New drink. At least they came in threes. Cause change is hard. Though with each sip I’m becoming more and more accustomed to The Dirty Greek.

Wednesday, October 7

The End of the Dome

I've always been a baseball fan. It's a great game. No time clock. Lots of strategy and subtlety. And our local team the Twins are just the sort of team I've grown to like best - though since I live here I'm sure I'd be a Twins fan in any case. Next year the Twins move outside to a new stadium - which will be great. I'm looking forward to summer nights at the stadium.

One of the consequences is that the dome won't be hosting any more baseball games. For a regular season game in mid-season, that won't be much of a loss. It's a football stadium where they play baseball. But when it's packed and the crowd is roaring, there is no place where I've had more fun watching a baseball game. The first game of the 1987 World Series was one of my great sports memories. And though I didn't go in person, the best 3 games I remember were all played at the Dome.

The 6th game of the 1991 World Series between the Twins and the Braves - the Kirby Puckett game - was amazing.

Kirby made an amazing hit-robbing catch, and followed it up with a home run to win the game. The next night Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings and the Twins won the series. Two great games.

But last night the Twins beat the Tigers in a one game play-in game for this year's playoffs that was even better. The Twins had been chasing the Tigers since May - but really only started making any progress in early September. It was just a great, great game. For Twins fans things had been building to this game for a while. And it was just a thrill ride.

If the other two games were movies they would have been tense thrillers like "Rear Window." Last night's game was "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark". In a way it was too bad that either team had to lose. But if one did, I was glad that it was the Tigers.

Monday, August 24

Urban Bird Watching II

In the spring we were visited at our house in the geographic middle of the Twin Cities by a wild turkey. On our return from the cabin last evening we had another interesting avian visitor.

A beautiful barred owl. I watched him (and he watched me with much better vision) until it was too dark for me to see him or his shadow any more. I'm sure he had the capability if not the interest to continue watching me if he so chose. Doubt if he did though. I'm not as stunning an example of the human family as he is of the avian family.

He (or she - though to me the bird seems like a he) was still in our yard this morning - though I only saw him in flight. I hope he takes up residence. And I hope he's a "mouser" and not a "birder." But if he kills and eats another bird I won't blame him. As Peter told me years ago after some life and death animal event (and after he had seen The Lion King), "It's the circle of life dad." I guess he thought Disney was a better philosophical source than his dad. Who am I to argue with that?

An afternote - Since our barred owl is still around after two days, Kate and I named him Shakespeare (though if he is in fact a she I will promptly rename her "Kate." Warning - this is a fairly abstract bit of bird humor. A hearty handshake to anyone who gets it).

Tuesday, August 4

Stimulous Response in Pennsylvania

I guess we stay pretty much the same. Kate, the kids and I made the long drive to Pennsylvania to see Kitty and Bob about 10 years ago. This week we did it again. On the way Kate got an urge to go back in time and stop at a Howard Johnson's restaurant for a plate of the fabulous (at least in our memory) HoJo Fried Clams. Just before we made our way on to the Pennsylvania Turnpike for the final leg of our long journey, we stopped for lunch and as we headed down the ramp there appeared the distinctive HoJo establishment. As it had 10 years earlier, it proved to be a mirage - a hotel and not a restaurant. But it reminded us that last time we had stopped at the adjacent Eat 'n Park restaurant for what proved to be an odd but memorable lunch. The Eat 'n Park was a mess. We needed to clean our booth before sitting down. Then one of the people in the booth behind ours complained loudly that the bun of his sandwich was moldy. Not an inspiring thing to hear when awaiting food. When an employee passed by with a silent vacuum trying to clean the floor Kate commented, "They must be making Crumb Cake." An instant later when a bug flew by she added, "and ShooFly Pie." That started a laugh-a-thon that made the rest of the trip shorter. So did we return to the Eat 'n Park? NO! When we discovered the HoJo mirage we went to the relatively unexciting Subway and Wendy's. We may respond similarly to the stimulous of the road in a similar fashion - but we are capable of learning.

On the trip out we (Kate, Peter and I) spent a wonderful evening with Nate and Katharine in Iowa City. We worked on evolving what I for me is an alternative approach to paella, using the Weber and a few secrets. Since Nate is a professional magician - I will not reveal the secrets we discovered.

Humans are way too interested in reasons. Sometimes it's best to just let magic be magic.

Our time in York has been great. The big event was Bob's 80th Birthday celebration. We had a wonderful Saturday evening with Bob and Kitty and the Bobby and Linda Bowers family.

The major celebration was a Sunday Brunch at the historic Accomac Inn on the Susquahanna River. It was kind of a formal affair, so I got to wear the Coveted Maroon Jacket in a social setting.

The kids (and Kate and I) got a chance to get reacquainted with their cousins.

After many years of hearing stories of the Bowers clan, it was great to get a chance to meet most of them.

And they us.

And after the party we got some informal time with Kate's sister Liza and her son Chris.

The big question is, on the long drive back on Wednesday, do we give the Eat 'n Park a try? I'd bet against it.

Part 2

We did have a great tour of Gettysburg. Though we had been there in the past, it was always sans guide. This time, with the help of our guide Gary, we got a much richer sense of the battle.

We also got a storehouse of facts, important in some cases, like the fact that the group with the highest percentage of casualties was the Minnesota First.

As you might imagine, we were more taken with the odd facts. The last Civil War widow died fairly recently. She was 18 when she married her 81 year old spouse. When he died, she married his grandson (from a previous marriage). As Gary said, "Odd, but not illegal."

We got a chance to see Kitty and Kate's long-time friend Ruth Craley (who now lives in Gettysburg). Ruth had just had her carport ceiling painted, hence the unusual angle of this photo.

We think Bob enjoyed the Gargoyle we took him as an 80th birthday present (Kate's friend Michel's dislike of it notwithstanding).

And I think he enjoyed the presence of the junior gargoyles as well. We sure did.

We also got to see our friends Max and Laura in Dayton, Ohio - after too many years of not seeing them. Lots of laughs with them.

And it's always a pleasure to spend time with the Seymours in Peoria. Kathy is a great chef,

and Tom a great somollier/bartender. But the food and drink are not nearly as good or as important as the company.

Kate and I celebrated our 27th anniversary as Tom and Kathy prepared for their 37th anniversary.

I got to experiment with Bower's style formal dress - though I didn't carry through and wear this dignified look out to dinner.

So, to sum up, 2700 miles is too much driving. But we survived and had fun on every step of the way. Lots of time together as a family - which is of great value. Lots of laughs. No tears. One broken camera (oops, it slipped - but a replacement was ordered this morning).

And no, we didn't stop at the Eat 'n Park on the way back.