Saturday, December 20

Happy Holidays - 2014

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 once again together for the holidays. Traditionally I've used this holiday post as a bit of a retrospective on the year just completed. And I'll do some of that this time as well. But with Kate's mid-year and my impending retirement, I may be a bit more forward looking than is traditional. The possibilities opening to us are too much on my mind these days to ignore.

But first the facts. We are all healthy and well. Madeline continues to enjoy teaching in Madison. She is working on her masters in Experiential Education - which seems to me could be loosely translated as "having fun in the great out of doors." The program has included spelunking, canoeing, and the "experiential" part culminated in a backpacking trip in the Big Horn mountains this summer. It's been fun to vicariously enjoy her advanced education (though to be fair I should add that the program has turned a bit more traditionally academic during the fall semester).
Peter continues to love Denver. In addition to his job at Academic Impressions, he seems to find time to hike and snowboard and refine his beer sensibilities. He definitely is following in his mother's footsteps as a chef. "Food porn" is an important medium of communication between St. Paul and Denver. He and Kate both know how to prepare and present food. And it makes me happy that he hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for friends in Denver (traditionally a meal that I play a larger role in than normal - and one that he has sous cheffed with me since he was young). We miss having him around St. Paul - especially when he informs us that it is 62 degrees in Denver on days where it is 13 in St. Paul, but love his joy and enthusiasm about his life in Denver. 
Kate has had the most dramatic changes this year. She retired in June after 39 (and a half) years at the Minnesota Attorney General's office. We promptly headed to California and wine country with the kids.
What a wonderful trip it was. It gave us much pleasure!
Kate has become a regular at a wide variety of exercise classes at the Y. If she isn't body shredding she is core conditioning or Tabataing or combining aerobics and style in her line-dancing class. I joined her at that class one recent Friday and it is clear that she is the leader of that particular pack. She is looking and feeling great.
As for me, I'm feeling great and looking as good as my facial and physiological structure will allow. I've enjoyed what will be my final year of work at Scoular, many pleasant hours riding my trusty Bridgestone MB-5 mountain bike and paddling my Old Town canoe, much laughter, trips and time with family and friends.
The future excites me as well. I retire from Scoular on January 15th after nine years working with a wonderful group of lawyers and clients. Kate and I will have a level of freedom we have never enjoyed. We'll exercise that freedom first by heading to Madison to celebrate Madeline's 30th birthday. Then home to pack for a sojourn east to help Kate's mother Kitty celebrate her 90th birthday. From there it's a bit further east, then south, then west, then north. We have a few general plans, but are trying to remain unstructured - taking each day as it comes and letting things lead us wherever they do. Watch this space for updates on our progress. 

All the best to you and yours!  Enjoy the holiday season, and every season. We'll do the same.

Stan, Kate, Madeline and Peter

Friday, November 21

Perfect Imperfection

Sometimes perfection isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Kate and I went to a cooking class hosted by our financial advisors last Wednesday. Forty people or so - most acquainted only with our advisors and the person we each came with. A little wine, some conversation, a French Provençale-themed meal prepared and eaten by the attendees (with lots of supervision from the chef and several sous chefs).

The chef asked the group to gather round the main preparation table and then asked us to number off into six groups. Since most were standing next to their partner, the result was six groups of six who didn't know each other.

Kate was in the potato group - teaming with our friend Ann and with a former president of the University of Minnesota to prepare French potatoes with Dijon mustard and Kalamata olives.

Her group seemed to be having a great time, with lots of laughter.

and the resulting dish was just beautiful.

Our group of six was perhaps a bit less cohesive. We were charged with preparing the main course - Salmon Provençale. Two of our group seemed to be natural, if self-appointed, leaders. Take charge guys! Perhaps it was an odd mood on my part but one, a high-energy surgeon with one tear-drop earring and a "large" personality to complement his small frame, just wasn't a guy I wanted to share my Wednesday evening with. So I adopted a reduced role as a red pepper dicer, garlic peeler and basil preparer, all of which would go into the sauce which would cover individual pieces of salmon, sealed in parchment paper and oven baked to a moist and tasty perfection.  Meanwhile, I carried on a pleasant conversation with Susan, another team member.

When the sauce was prepared it was time to put the salmon in the parchment paper, add the sauce, fold, seal and bake.  To facilitate preparation, we put the sauce in a metal container about 12" high, filling it with sauce to a depth of about three or four inches.

A little background here. As anyone who knows me will attest, I am fond of puns. Though it is often reviled by the unwashed masses, the art of punning requires cleverness and quickness. A pun uttered feebly a minute late is no pun at all. I know I should have devoted my life to curing cancer or stopping thermonuclear war. Instead, I've spent it refining my quick-response verbal skills to better enable me to make all manner of puns, double entendres and quips. Add to this the fact that I spent last "weekend" with the boys in yet another five-day, no holds barred verbal jousting session. So my verbal reaction time was fast. Very fast.

As our team was putting salmon and sauce into parchment paper, I had the aforementioned sauce container, which was making its way around the group. The take-charge surgeon, urging the team to complete our mission, had inserted himself on my right. I was passing the container to the right, holding it by the top, where the metal was warm but certainly not hot. As he prepared to grab the container from me the surgeon asked me, "Is this hot?" I replied no, though admittedly a more complete answer might have been appropriate. Whereupon he grabbed it by the bottom, which was of course quite hot since the heat from the sauce was transmitted directly to that part of the container.

A couple of yelps later he exclaimed "You said that wasn't hot?!?!!" I responded that it wasn't, if held in a logical manner. He responded, "Are you saying that lawyers are smarter than doctors?"

It was here that a measured response would have been in order. Perhaps it was the wine, or the previous weekend with the boys, or just that I love a verbal joust, or the fact that I didn't view this as a confrontation between two professions. Whatever the case, I responded, "No, I am saying that I am smarter than you."

This was exactly the perfect response, at least it was if my goal was to express clearly what I was thinking. With two weeks to ponder and consider, I couldn't have improved on either the response or the timing or the inflection. Still, the momentary hush that "fell over the crowd" made it clear to me that a bit of verbal restraint had been called for and I had failed to employ it. The moment passed quickly. To his credit the surgeon let it go. And I still can't quite decide whether to be proud or ashamed of my response. I'm probably both, if I'm honest about it.

Saturday, September 6

Done Right

I've felt really good about three things in particular lately. They aren't really connected, but perhaps I can "tie the room together." Perhaps not.

First is our kids. We apparently raised them right.  They both came home for the Minnesota State Fair this year, and they both took time out of their busy lives to spend Labor Day with us at the cabin. Because they wanted to, not due to any begging or pleading on our parts. Though we would have been perfectly willing to cajole, if not beg.

I acknowledge that the primary draw may have been the joy of a Donna's pork rib sandwich.

But it really felt good to have them make the trips. The fair has been an annual tradition for our family for their entire lives - as it has been for many Minnesotans. And it's a great event.  People from all parts of society, getting together for a cornucopia of varied treats. Food. Animals. Art. Trinkets and gadgets. People watching.

And family time at the cabin, another lifelong tradition. As it always has, the "family" expands and contracts depending upon the weekend. But it's so good to spend time with them and enjoy the wonderful people they have always been and continue to be.

Second, Kate and I spent a quiet but practically perfect day yesterday. Yuppie coffee and the paper. Followed by a trip to the Y for Body Shred and Core Conditioning classes (the aches in my arms, shoulders and butt this morning make it likely that it will be harder to have a practically perfect day today). Then a rousing game of PickleBall - a court game we had never heard of played with a Whiffle Ball and low net with Ping Pong rules, more or less. A Costco and Cub run to pick up some food needs. In a probably doomed attempt to help me look better, Kate went with me to the "Hurtburger's" black dot sale - where we bought nine or ten shirts (with a commitment that I will turn into rags or give to Goodwill a similar number of my current shirt inventory). Then a movie (more on that in a minute). Walking through a garden store.  Discussing the movie and life. A quiet dinner. Then another movie at home (partly to watch an earlier movie of the female lead in our afternoon movie). Conversation. Laughs. Tears (from the movie). Exercise. Just a nice quiet day spent together.

Thirdly, Kate and I have started going to movies lately, and we've seen some good ones. I found "Boyhood" just amazing. Such a fresh and original approach. Really a collection of moments from the life of a boy as he grows to be young man. The choice to film it over a long period of time created possibilities that most films don't have. At at least for me it really resonated. No grand, cataclysmic epiphanies.  Just a long string of moments which had a nice progression and growth but without too much effort to "tie the room together."  The whole "present moment, only moment" philosophy has always made sense to me.  I have a little sheet of paper in my office which says only "E I +".  It's a reminder to myself to try to make every interaction positive.  Not happy or laughing, necessarily. Just an attempt to remind myself to pile up positive moments - the stuff life is made of.

Then yesterday, we went to "The Fault in Our Stars" - based on a "teen novel", I guess.  One I will have to read.  About two teenagers with cancer, their developing relationship, their world views, and more. There is nothing much more sad than young people with cancer, I suppose.  But there is also much to be learned from thinking about in what direction a potentially terminal illness leads you. Obviously, having experienced cancer at the "young" age of 48, this is subject I've thought about quite a bit. And I thought the filmmakers (and I'm guessing the author of the book) did a wonderful job. At least, their approach really resonated with me and my cancer experience. There was one line about how Gus (the male lead) was made up of both his tumor and his heart. It's probably lost on most viewers. But it was something I thought about a lot when I was sick. The tumor is you - or part of you. The whole "battle with cancer" metaphor, used so often, is for me missing the point a bit. [Note: please do NOT put it in my obituary. I'd be happy to have the phrase "he lived with cancer for ___ years" in my obituary (hopefully with the blank filled in with a 68).] For me at least, I dislike the idea that the only successful approach to cancer is to "beat" it by not dying from it. I thought then and think now that there is great value in living well with cancer. Or, more accurately, in living well. With love and laughter. Treating every moment like the precious thing it is. Surprisingly hard to do. Even if you've had a potentially fatal illness and should know better. And the movie does a good job making the point that we all have a limited time to live, but doing so quietly and with humor. So where does that take you? In the end, at least for me, the movie says it takes you to love. To making the most of your "small infinity" - in the parlance of the book. 

And in a futile attempt to tie this disparate room together, maybe we didn't raise Madeline right. She recommended the book to Kate but not to me. Maybe she knew that in my own way I had already read it.

Wednesday, June 18

Changes - With Wine

It's a time of transition for our family.  Kate retired two weeks ago in her usual graceful way.  Working hard to the end (she was the last to leave the office on her last day - sliding her keys under her boss's door).

She hosted her own retirement party, which was really fun.  And almost all of the food has now been eaten.  I'm a few months from joining her.  It's fun and exciting to think about how to approach the freedom that we hope retirement will bring.  Especially fun since I'm sitting on a lovely early-morning deck in Napa Valley watching an Acorn Woodpecker fly around eating bugs, drinking a nice cup of coffee.  Watching the sun make its way down the mountain in the distance.  With a trip to Dehlinger (probably my favorite winery) just a few hours away.

Kate thought that planning a trip shortly after retirement would be a good transition for her.  The kids agreed to join us (it took them under a minute to ponder the "go, no go" question and come up with the right answer.  It appears we didn't raise idiots).  She was certainly right about the trip.  It's been really fun to visit (and to share with them) the sources of much of the really nice wine we and they have had over the years.  I think the magnums of Brown zinfandel at Christmas dinner will taste all the better for it (if that is possible).

I spent 1980 and part of 1981 bumming around (I called it a sabbatical on my resume, just for looks). One of the realizations I had on that trip was that the big variable was how you spent your time.  Not your money.  I met so many fellow travelers with a Eurrail pass who spent their two Eurrail months on trains, physically placing themselves in lots of countries but not seeing much of any of them.  I decided then that I wouldn't fall into that trap.  It was a great decision, and a great experience.  Sadly, the observation about the primacy of time was a lesson learned for the trip but not one which I generalized very well.  I think that the biggest variable in all of life is choices about how to use the time you have.  My brush with cancer (now almost 16 years ago!) really helped me to internalize and generalize that lesson.   Even in my "work life" I've tried hard to focus on what I believe is important.  Relationships.  People.  Making interactions, whatever they may be, positive ones (which for me doesn't necessarily mean happy and funny ones - though that is a subject for another missive).

So what will I do with the extra time I will have post-retirement?  What will Kate do?  What will we do?  I think I can say confidently that wine will be involved.  Hopefully even more time with our many great friends (warning to you - the founder of Suckfish Tours will be on the loose).

One of the things that I hope to do more effectively in my post-retirement time is writing.  I often "think" better when I try to write down observations.  And I write better when I imagine I have an audience.  Hence this blog.  Over the past few years I've drifted to emails and Facebook postings of photos - both of which are great.  I've used this blog mostly as a vehicle for holiday greetings.  It seemed like a good morning to start writing again.  Hopefully, in this or some other format, I'll be sitting with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, writing more.


Yin and Yang


Yesterday we went to two wineries - Dehlinger and Christopher Creek. It was our third trip to Dehlinger, our first to Christopher Creek. Carmen, our host at Dehlinger, is wonderfully nice. She's knowledgeable and informative in a lovely, quiet way.

Liam, our host at Christopher Creek, is flamboyant, a storyteller. Mention a wine and he's off to grab it. Liam spent ten years playing guitar in a rock band. I'm guessing that Carmen did not.

The first four Chrisopher Creek wines we tasted were tasted from the barrel - they won't be bottled for a year or so. They tasted great at the time. In the end will they be great? You can't really be sure at this point. Dehlinger makes consistently amazing wines. Not only have I never had a bad bottle of wine from there, I've never had a Dehlinger wine that wasn't remarkably good. The quality range at Christopher Creek is wider (this observation is based on less experience, and they are newer. So I'm definitely comparing apples and oranges).

So which one did I like best? The answer is resoundingly "both of them." The contrasts were wonderful, obvious and amazing.  Both experiences were gratifying individually. But putting them together was for me the thing that made the day great.  Wine making through two lenses. Dehlinger more scientific and consistently excellent. Christopher Creek with the approach of four guys sitting around blending things together until they get what they think is right.

Oddly, the joy of difference has been a theme running around in my head this week. Katelyn, our host at Biale earlier this week, jokingly was talking about "not putting yourself in a box." She was referring to Biale visitors saying "I only drink white (or red) wine", though we jokingly took the concept quite a bit further. David Brown, the winemaker at Brown, has said that the worst thing he can do as a winemaker can do is "know" how he makes a particular wine from year to year. He tries to remind himself to start with the grapes and conditions and find his way to the wine.

Since this is a retirement celebration, the question of how to be a retired guy has been much on my mind. There is an appropriate degree of routine in life (have I mentioned I've really missed the New York Times crossword this week?). But it seems to me that one of the "rocky shoals" in the sea of retirement is becoming too routinized. Too sure that either Liam or Carmen is right. They are both right. Easy to see yesterday. Much harder to see and experience in the million more subtle ways the need for routines and "right" answers closes me off and puts me "in a box." I thought it was an interesting coincidence that I was telling Madeline about a Kahlil Gibran quote I've always loved ("Say not I have found THE answer.  Say I have found AN answer.").  I don't think it was a coincidence at all. Maybe I really do have a subconscious mind!

It was great yesterday when Kate said how much she enjoyed the Syrah wine yesterday. She and I will need to continually be open to experience. I'll also have the "boys" to help. Nine guys who definitely can look at the same thing and see it through nine (or at least four or five) different lenses. AND who are willing to discuss it vigorously without confusing disagreement on an issue with a lack of personal affection. In this my good friend Barny is a role model as well. He's a wonderful example of a person who is always trying a new approach, a new way of looking at something. When I do something for the 105th time, it's highly likely I'll do it the way I did it the 104th time (read - "a near certainty"). Not so for Barny. I can learn from his example (though I must admit it's a little scary calling Barny a role model in this regard).

Unrelated side note:  We've been checking on pronunciations this week. We had for three years pronounced Salvestrin as "sal VEST trin."  Tom Green said it was "SAL vestrin" - and he was right (or at least closer). All of us have pronounced Dehlinger as "DELL ing er". But the actual correct pronunciation is "DAY ling er."  Thought some of you would like to know. But I'm sure if you have the need to pronounce either one through a different pronunciation lens, it will be OK. Unless you are making a documenTARY.