Sunday, December 18


Happy Holidays! Joyful Solstice! Merry Christmas (Bush got some heat from the Christian right for not putting these words in his holiday card - I don't want to mess with those guys)! Happy Hannukah (or should I say Chanukah? I believe there is no significant difference. A Hebrew word that is difficult to translate into English)! Best wishes! Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad! Season's Greetings! Peace!

We wish you all the best this holiday season. It's been another great year for our family. For Kate and me, it feels like a year of transition. Madeline is in her third year at UW-Madison (we don't ever call it her Junior year - though technically she is a Junior). Peter is a senior in high school, busily determining which college is right for him (among those that will accept him - Harvard had to be dropped from the list for academic reasons. And actually the "busily" part is stretching it a bit). Things change, but as of this moment it appears that we will have children at two great land-grant institutions next year.

Both are great schools. If Peter goes anywhere other than Iowa, it will be Wisconsin. Next year Kate and I will have only Greta and ourselves to care for. Of course Greta takes a lot more day-to-day effort than Peter anyway. So maybe it won't seem like such a transition after all.

Since this is a GENUINE HOLIDAY LETTER, I should probably get some things out of the way.

Health - Still excellent for all of us. For details on my health, see the Lucky Seven entry further down the page. Nothing to complain about other than a few odd aches and pains. So far we haven't been victims of the cold and flu season. Things are good on the health front.

Work - We have it. Kate is beginning her 32nd year at the Minnesota Attorney General's Office. She continues to investigate Medicaid Fraud. Woe to Minnesota Medicaid Fraudulators.

I'm working at The Scoular Company as one of the four lawyers for the business. I've been with Scoular for six months now, and I really love it. The people are great to work with. And for me that means so much. I was able to reach agreement on an "80% time" work schedule - which allows me more time to sit around the house doing nothing while Kate works diligently away.

Madeline continues to babysit when time allows. And on January 3rd she will begin a weeklong engagement as a juror in Ramsey County. Don't go on trial that week. She is much meaner than she appears.

Peter has taken a position as a Sales Asso. at the Famous Footwear store in Highland Park. He's a great salesman (and unbelievably handsome), and one who knows a good-looking Navy Pump when he sees one. Our family shoe inventory is on the rise.

Vacations -

No holiday letter would be complete without a section on Vacations. After moving Madeline into her apartment in August we took a short trip to Appleton to visit our friends Dan and Francine Cross, and then headed on to Door County, Wisconsin for a few days.

On Madeline's spring break, Kate and Madeline went to Vegas. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But they didn't. They visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona, before finishing their trip with a couple of Vegas shows.

Peter's spring break a couple of weeks later found us headed to Aruba, where we had a great time snorkelling, sunning, reading and exploring. The constant wind bothered Peter's hair more than mine. Baldness has its advantages.

Throw in a few trips to the cabin, a canoe trip or two, a high school reunion, visits with family and friends, guests at Chez Morton-Peters/Oleson. Socially we've had a great time this year.

Here's wishing you and yours a peaceful and joyous holiday season and a great 2006. We hope to share part of 2006 with you. You are always welcome at our house, and we will operate on the assumption that we are welcome at yours.


Peter, Madeline, Kate and Stan

And Proud We Are Of Every One Of Them

A Thought or Two

Today I picked up the book Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Remen, one of my favorites. And of course I couldn't just reshelve it. I had to read for a while. A couple of thoughts from a very thoughtful woman:

Freedom may come not from being in control of life but rather with the willingness to move with the events of life, to hold on to our memories but let go of the past, to choose, when necessary, the inevitable. We can become free at any time.

Becoming numb to suffering will not make us happy. The part in us that feels suffering is the same as the part that feels joy.

And of course I couldn't reshelve the book without picking up My Grandfather's Blessing, where I found:

Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.


Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Going, Going, Gone

Sunday, December 4


I recently read The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (no, I don't know whether his last name was the genesis of his interest in plants). A really interesting book on the interactions and relationships between plants and humans, with sections on apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes.

The apple section pays particular attention to the role of Johnny Appleseed in the propagation of apples in the northeast United States. Did you know that the seeds of a particular apple, if planted, will result in a tree with fruit that is likely to bear little resemblence to the fruit of the parent? At least in the case of apples - the apple does fall far from the tree. Or that most of the apples planted by Johnny Appleseed were used to make "hard" cider - the only form of booze sanctioned by the church of the day? Or that a primary reason that marijuana today is so much more potent than it was a couple of decades ago is the War on Drugs (which drove the fairly casual dope growers of my childhood indoors to grow more powerful female crosses between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, flowering like mad in search of male spores which have been made unavailable by the enterprising growers - who "just say no" to fertilization)? I didn't. Good thought-provoking reading.

But the section of the book which really got me thinking was the section on potatoes, which reprised a story I first heard told by my good friend Bridget about the monoculture of modern potato growing (growing only the Russet Burbanks that McDonald's likes for its french fries). This juxtaposed with the first culture that excelled in potato growing, the Incas, who grew a wide variety of potatoes which had the genetic diversity to be resistant to the vagaries of weather and pests. Monoculture versus diversity. A story I first heard to memorable results in a Law Department meeting - a monoculture environment if every there was one.

Pollan's discussion of potatoes made me think of a Kahlil Gibran quote - Say not , "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth."

It seems to me that so many of our problems result from the very human tendancy to think that the answer for me must be the answer for you. Some examples are obvious. How much better off would be be if religious fundamentalists would be more tolerant? Would accept the possibility that a Christian and a Muslim and a Buddhist and an atheist might each be right. Or if politicians quit saying they have THE answer (for the Republicans the answer is tax cuts, for the Democrats the answer seems to be that the Republicans are wrong), and start trying to solve problems with AN answer. Or if the group within the Bush administration planning the war in Iraq had been more diverse and less quick to conclude that they had THE answer - raising the forseeable problems in that conflict and planning for them in advance (or maybe not starting this mess in the first place).

And there are lots of examples much closer to home. When I started this blog (something I enjoy immensely), I also started one for my close friends of the Train Party. I was confident that everyone would enjoy it as much as I do, because I had THE answer. The Plasticville Chronicle blog has been lots of fun. But it took me some time to understand that not everyone was as interested in blogging away as I am. I'm only hoping my son Peter and daughter Madeline won't post a comment listing the hundreds of ways I think I have THE answer in my role as a father.

So often what we describe as diversity is not that at all. When I worked at Pillsbury, we had corporate "diversity training." But it always seemed to me that the goal was a monoculture that looked diverse in a photo. We were trained to "celebrate" our differences by never discussing them.

It seems to me that if my starting place is, I have "an" answer, and I discuss my answer with others who have a different answer to the same question, there is a pretty good chance that each of us will improve our answer. And we might have some fun in the process.

Saturday, November 26

Turkey Mountain

I'm sitting at the table on a Saturday night, as Kate is stir frying leftover turkey. We traditionally cook a large turkey on Thanksgiving. This year a 23 pound turkey for the four of us. So there was a mountain of leftover turkey.

See. I wasn't kidding. Well, our next turkey-based meal is ready.

Sunday, November 20

Lucky Seven

November is a special month for me. I was diagnosed with a tumor on my spine on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving seven years ago. Seven years. Madeline and Peter were 13 and 10. Now they are kind of like adults. Just like me. I don't know if I will ever reach full adulthood. I don't know if I want to.

I thought at the time in my steriod-induced way that it would be a good idea to get a little tattoo to remind me of the cancer experience. Nothing big. Just a little mnemonic on my chest where the radiation target was. I am not normally fond of tattoos, but it could have been kind of a cool reminder of the joy it is to be alive. As time passes I have come to realize that such a tattoo is unnecessary. The experiences of that time seven years ago are with me every day. But not in a bad way (for the most part). If you can keep your mortality in your mind just enough, it really helps keep things in perspective.

I had my routine quarterly oncologist appointment this past week. An unusual one, since my oncologist of the past seven years is nearing retirement and no longer comes to the Saint Paul office. I decided that since in all probability my life expectancy exceeds his expected work life, this would be a good time to change oncologists. Last week was the first appointment with my new oncologist. He's great, and I quickly felt a rapport with him. I'm in a new set of good hands. And I always feel blessed that my "regular" doctor is also my neighbor and friend. A good, logical, well thought out decision.

But there is a part of me that is quite superstitious when it comes to cancer. Am I tempting fate to think that I'll be around for a long while? Should I change doctors when things are going well? Odd thoughts pop into my mind. The one bad blood test I had was the one I worried least about. So part of me views worrying about the results of a blood test as the "dues" that need to be paid for a good result. But it all worked out fine. The blood tests came back with perfectly normal results. I feel great. My back feels better than it has at any time in the last seven years (knock on wood - there's that superstition thing again). Some of that I attribute to good regular exercise. And the passage of time.

Seven years. Who needs a tattoo?

Thursday, November 10


Yesterday we had gale force winds here in Minnesota. In the morning there was a steady 25 mile an hour wind from the Northwest. Since my bike ride to work is pretty much Northwest, this is not day-brightening news in the morning. And somehow the tailwind I had on the way home didn't seem nearly as powerful as the morning headwind. Some of that was real. The wind did drop a bit during the day. But most of the difference I experienced was due to the fact that I get much more fixated on the wind when it is impeding my progress. When it's helping me, I tend not to notice.

I think that for me and for many if not most of us, biking in the wind is a good metaphor for life. We notice the headwind. The little problems and issues and difficulties in our life. We forget about, or ignore, or undervalue, life's tailwinds.

And this is my answer to the question "what is good about having had cancer?" For me, and for many others who have been touched by cancer, you do at least a little better at remembering the "tailwinds" in your life. Your family. Your friends. Who you always thought but now know will be there for you in good or bad times. My family and friends are a huge tailwind that blows constantly in my life.

When I was sick I "forgot" how to walk. How to climb stairs. How to control the movements of my legs. To this day, seven years later, it is a joy for me to climb stairs. When I climb up stairs I remember to appreciate the fact that I can do this simple thing I took for granted for so many years. I make it a habit to climb two at a time. Why? Partly because I can. But mostly because it helps me remember how blessed I am (though after a couple of flights sometimes it just reminds me that I need to get in better shape).

I don't want to get too sappy about this. But Thanksgiving is coming up and we have so much to be thankful for. Sometimes we do face headwinds. But the tailwind is blowing too. More than we sometimes notice.

(I realize lots of these entries emanate from things thought about on bike rides. Bike rides make up two quiet half-hours of my work day. Maybe because you never forget how to ride a bike, it's a time where I can let my mind wander. And I haven't figured out how to drink wine or watch television or read while I'm riding. I don't think there is a deeper explanation than that. But I'll think about it.)

(I learned about bike safety from my father - who was, and even after his death continues to be, one of my "tailwinds".)

Tuesday, November 1

Strange Interlude Number 2

I had another strange experience on my bike ride home tonight. I was riding along as dusk was finishing turning into dark when I passed (yes, passed!) another cyclist. The reason I was passing him was pretty clear. He was biking along with his son in a bike trailer. As I passed, the son asked the cycling father - "What does refrain mean?" As I pulled away into the night, I heard him reply that it is "something you sing over and over." But as I rode on I began reflecting that it also is something you avoid doing. Such a confusing language we have.

As I said, I'm a fairly slow biker. A mile or so later the father and son team passed me - singing away. Clearly, the father was teaching his son the first and most important definition of refrain. The child has plenty of time to learn to refrain from doing things. Especially things like singing in public. Sadly, the odds are overwhelming that he'll learn that soon enough.

Sunday, October 30

25 Hour Days

Today, my 53rd birthday, is a 25 hour day. It is a rare honor to have a 25 hour birthday. An honor bestowed on me by politicians, I guess. With the upcoming advent of extended daylight savings time (also bestowed by politicians), this will likely be my last 25 hour birthday. I knew I needed to use it well.

On drizzly Sunday afternoons I am sometimes drawn to watching sports on television. I always wonder why. But the draw is there. So it was clear to me early that I needed to devise a plan to avoid this hideous waste of time on this of all days. Kate has been gone for the past week (in Pennsylvania - ominously, as you will soon see, in Yorktown). So I wanted to spend time with her. Peter was selling shoes this afternoon. So it occured to me as I drank my coffee that a movie might be nice. Kate and I both like romantic comedies, and I am a fan of Mark Ruffalo. So I thought it would be fun to see a matinee of "Just Like Heaven."

Kate quickly agreed to my plan of seeing a movie - adding only that she needed to pick something up in Edina. So as I drank another cup of coffee I scanned the paper and found that the movie I wanted to see was showing at the Yorktown Cinema Grill.

Kate and I arrived at the Yorktown Mall about 25 minutes before the movie. We bought our $2 bargain-priced tickets and then wandered the strip mall, looking at plastic pumpkins drastically reduced by 70% (which we narrowly resisted). It was a strange ticket sales setup at the Cinema Grill, to say the least. A ticket seller behind a glass partition in a narrow blue hall. But I didn't think much of it. Kate, the more observant of the two of us, noted the smell of fried food. As we perused plastic pumpkins we were laughing about the as yet unexplored Yorktown Cinema Grill.

About 10 minutes before showtime, we returned to the Yorktown Cinema Grill. We were about to enter another universe. For the Yorktown Cinema Grill is not just a movie theater. Though I had missed some rather obvious clues, it is in fact a CINEMA GRILL. We entered the theater expecting the standard seating. But no! What we found were dozens of little tables with two chairs each, tiered for easy viewing of the movie screen. Having blundered into the world of "Cinema Grilling" I didn't quite know what to expect. The floor could have used a quick vacuum job. And the place didn't smell great. Kate and I kept looking at each other and laughing. On our table was a menu. Though we knew that South Beach Diet items were not likely to be found, we looked over the menu. How often do you wander into a new world on a 25 hour birthday?

And the menu items didn't look too bad. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale! Nachos! (Kate favored cheese nachos but I, the birthday boy, talked her up to vegetarian nachos). So we decided to order a pitcher (A PITCHER!) of Sierra Nevada and some nachos. We didn't quite know how to order, but we figured it would all work out. About 5 minutes late, the movie started. I thought it would be the normal 10 minutes of previews and ads. But no, it was the feature. As the lights dimmed our waitress came to our little table. I had a little coffee stomach (Dr. Barn's cure to this malady can be found at the Plasticville blog). So I was really looking forward to a Sierra Nevada. Kate was ready and placed our order. The waitress quickly replied that they didn't have cold pitchers of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. They did, however, have room temperature Miller Genuine Draft. Kate and I have standards. So we took a pass.

Throughout the movie the waitress' head could be seen moving back and forth across the bottom of the screen, serving those patrons who didn't have their heart set on Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and nachos. The movie beat televised sports by a wide margin. But honestly, I don't think Cinema Grilling is the wave of the future. Especially if they don't cool the beer.

Wednesday, October 5


Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics is sometimes described, somewhat inaccurately I'm told, as establishing that the precise measurement of the position of a particle necessarily disturbs a particle's momentum. Therefore you cannot measure with precision both a particle's position and momentum. It's a law of nature (though as an interesting aside Einstein didn't like it. This was the source of his famous quote "God does not play dice"). Believe it or not, I don't have a lot of need to precisely measure the position and momentum of particles. Still, I do find this sort of thing fascinating. And I love a good physics joke. Like these two uncertainty principle jokes -

A quantum physicist is stopped on the highway by a police officer who asks "Do you know how fast you were going, sir?", to which the physicist responds, "No, but I know exactly where I am!"

Physics building graffiti - "Heisenberg may have been here."

The characterization of the uncertainty principle that most interests me, whether it is accurate or not in a purely scientific sense, is that "observation of an event changes the event." A true statement if ever there was one. When I have a camera, I sometimes get so lost in recording the moment that I neglect to experience the moment. In some ways, I was so involved with trying to "capture" this sunrise on our recent Boundary Waters trip that I didn't experience it as well as I might. Of course, I can reexperience it in some small way later. And that is part of the charm and joy of canoe trips for me. So I take my camera along. But there is no doubt that the "observation of the event changes the event."

What made me think about the uncertainty principle lately is the speedometer I bought for my bicycle. I've avoided this purchase for years. Not for cost reasons. Just because I was afraid that if I had a speedometer I would be so busy tracking my time and speed that I would forget to enjoy the ride itself. And I was somewhat right. I am now sometimes overcome with a strange compulsion to check my time at particular spots along my ride. To feel good when I'm going 16 miles an hour where I "normally" go 14. Notwithstanding the fact that the reason I am going faster is the tail wind that is pushing me along. For a few days I took the speedometer off my bike. But then I decided that for my personal growth I needed to learn how to ride without paying excessive attention to the speedometer. So if you see some idiot riding between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul who is paying too much attention to his speedometer, it's probably me. I won't know where I am, but I'll know exactly how fast I am going.

Monday, October 3


Lately I've been busy taking photos, potentially for the Scoular web site. This seems like a good place for reflections, so I thought I would post a few:

(You can click on an image to see a larger version)

Thursday, September 29

Seeing My Breath

It was 40 degrees this morning in St. Paul. For the first time this fall I could see my breath while walking Greta. Of course, I was drinking coffee. But I'm pretty sure I could have seen my breath anyway. Greta, with her Weimaraner sensibilities, knows that anything of interest on our morning walk is at ground level. Paper. Garbage. Wrappers. Sticks. Even the occasional rabbit or squirrel. So her breath could be seen as a series of little pools of steam on the ground as she ran.

Each year I enjoy this first seeing of my breath. As I enjoy the mist rising from the Cranberry Lake when the air temperature gets lower than the water temperature. The ritual of change. Seasons changing. In March when it should be turning toward spring but isn't I'll hate to see my breath. Then I'll want to see a crocus, I suppose. But this morning it was great.

Thursday, September 22

A Strange Interlude

I was riding my bike home from work tonight when a strange thing happened. Unlike Aussie Micheal Rogers (who won the individual time trial at the world cycling championships today), I didn't have particularly "good legs." Still I was moving along the bike path at 13 or 14 mph. Not so bad for an old guy. But I kept hearing a strange sound. Soft but insistent. And getting louder. I had set my cell phone to vibrate & ring the other day, so I reached into the back pocket of my genuine cycling jersey for my phone. But it was silent.

Just then a man with longish gray hair cycled past me. Slim. Someone who chose to be uncharitable might say kind of scrawny. Older bike. I really don't worry about being passed on my bike. It happens all the time. But he was sitting up playing a harmonica. A cool moment, even if it was a little emasculating.

(Though it is on my bike route home, this photo really has nothing to do with this entry. I just like it.)

Tuesday, September 20

To the Woods

Last week, for the twelfth time in the last thirteen years, my good buddy Harry and I made our September trip to the Boundary Waters. Like any annual trip, our trip to the woods has taken on a rhythm of its own over the years. Things are added and changed every year. But much stays the same too. It's a rhythm that we both love. This year, one minor addition was our Team Liquigas hats (a nod to this year's Tour de France in addition to the obvious scatalogical reference). I'm fairly sure that the hats will not become an annual constant. Just a fun one-off for this year.

Things do change on our trips, but they do so slowly. Some attempts at evolution succeed, others fail. Just a few seconds after we began our first fishing contest in 1995, I caught a large muskie. To this day it remains the most impressive fish we have ever caught (though a monstrous northern that Harry got on land but that we could never "control" remains for each of us "the one that got away." A monster of a fish. I don't know if either of us could have found the courage to take a rapala from the mouth of that fish). At the moment I caught that muskie ten years ago this month, the annual fishing contest was born. I suppose I should note that Harry won this year's contest with a last-minute walleye that in no way made up for the poverty of the fishing we experienced. It is probably no surprise that I already have a line on a magical lure that will ensure my total domination of next year's contest. I'll break the news to Harry soon. And with that the "preparations" for next year's trip will begin.

Which brings me to the best of this year's innovations. I want to be clear that drinking whiskey is not the sole, or even a major, reason why we head to the woods. Still, Harry and I both love a good Splash (our word for the bourbon with a splash of water that we consume in our days in the woods). No one gets drunk on our trips, though we do get a bit silly. We simply manage our chemical balance carefully and well over the course of our three days or so in the woods. As in the past, we brought three types of bourbon and our trusty "Splash Cups" to the woods. A frequent issue on past trips when it is time for a drink has been finding the whiskey, the water, and two cups in amongst our gear. My brainstorm this year was to bring a soft-sided lunch pail to hold all of these essential elements in one place. And thus was born -


Another problem solved by our intrepid travelers.

A wonderful place, the Boundary Waters. If you are having trouble being "one with the universe" in the real world, a trip to the woods may be in order. It is truly a spirit-charging place. Loaded with magic. Answers to the big questions can be found. And now, with the PORTAPARTY®, so can the whiskey.

Monday, September 19

Every Quarter Century

Two weeks ago tomorrow morning, I was standing at the mirror after a great Labor Day weekend. I guess I had been too busy having fun to shave. Anyway, I made the sudden decision to grow a beard.

Why? I'm not sure I know. Perhaps it was the fact that I hadn't grown a beard for a quarter century.

Or maybe the fact that I had my annual canoe trip to the Boundary Waters coming up.

It may be that my favorite recent photo of me was after a Quetico canoe trip last year, and I had a couple of weeks of beard then.

Admittedly, I am the second best looking person in the photo. But a father never really minds being outshown by his son.

I did trim my neck - in a effort to look like a bum who was trying to grow a beard, rather than just a "Standard J-11 Bum." And proceeded on from my bathroom.

How has it worked? Well, the temperature skyrocketed - making the itchy period for the beard much more pronounced. A couple of days later Kate said,"You're going to keep that, aren't you?" Not exactly a ringing endorsement of this new look. The percentage of gray hair in the beard is high, making me look older, if not more distinguished. But I am not a high school junior trying to grow his first moustache to look older for the girls. I'm not sure that looking older is a goal of mine.

So the jury is still out. Actually, I think the verdict is in. But I'm trying to ignore it.

Thursday, September 8

Your Food and Wine Editor

It's time to introduce the Food and Wine Editor here at SO's What - the lovely Kate Morton-Peters. Kate's expertise in the gastronomical sciences is unequalled. Food is something Kate takes seriously. Her list of friends is always long, but it seems to get even longer at mealtime. And wine is an interest as well. She's pictured below at our cabin analyzing the wine consumed over the weekend - or over the summer - we can't remember for sure. The man at Kate's right is a homeless man that Kate befriended. It is believed that her culinary skills drew him from the woods. He is now trying to find a home of his own in northeastern Wisconsin. Watch this space for recipes, tips and wine recommendations from Kate.

Good luck, oh homeless one. Welcome to the "staff", Kate.

Kitchen Table Wisdom

Two of my favorite books are Kithcen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessing, both by Rachel Remen. Here's a note written a couple of years ago to at least partially explain why:

We've been back from California for over a week. A great trip. One that I recorded assiduously with my little digital camera. When I wasn't gawking at scenery or photographing it, I was reading a book called Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen. The book is really a collection of stories that involve healing or different ways of looking at issues that affect us all. Believe it or not, I had to read it for work. Or at least skim it to find an excerpt that a friend of Ann Bancroft's sent to her before Ann and Liv went to Antarctica. Ann quotes the excerpt in the book she and Liv have written about their expedition. We have to get permission to use the quote from the publisher. So the quote was my needle in a 330 page haystack. It's a wonderful haystack.

Ms. Remen is a doctor who counsels seriously ill patients - mostly those with cancer. It's fair to say that, like most cancer survivors, I am particularly receptive to stories of the grace and pain and joy demonstrated by others who have faced serious illnesses. But the book is much more about wisdom than it is about "fighting" disease. I thought I might share a quote that was much on my mind:

"I accept that I may never know where the truth lies in such matters. The most important questions don't seem to have ready answers. But the questions themselves have a healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places, life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine travelling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road."

So why not write a note about a trip long after it is (at least on the face of it) over? No reason, I suppose. Over the years I've used these little emails to help me to sort out my impressions of whatever trip we are on. This time I used the camera for essentially the same purpose. Imagine my pleasure when I read this passage in Kitchen Table Wisdom:

"In time the camera caused me to see my ordinary surroundings far more clearly, to become aware of the beauty around me in some very unlikely places. It had given me new eyes. A good question is like that Zeiss."

I think the camera (a Canon, not a Zeiss) helped me to look differently at the jellyfish we saw at the Monterey Aquarium.

The camera was a good traveling companion. But not as good as Peter, Madeline and Kate.

Wednesday, September 7


Two years ago, while I was working with polar explorers Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen, I rode across Iowa on RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. If I can, I'll figure out how to add the photos later. This was my report:

Friday, July 18, 2003 Back On The Road

Hi. I'm Stan Oleson (I'm the one on the right). I work at yourexpedition. Last October my friend Harry and I each turned 50. That's us celebrating at our "100th" birthday. Next week we'll be joining thousands of others on RAGBRAI 31 - the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.

My last bike trip across Iowa was 25 years ago (in this photo I'm on the left and have hair). My son Peter rode on RAGBRAI last year, and as I turned 50 it seemed appropriate to give a long bike ride another try. This year's ride is 450 miles (720 km) across southern Iowa. RAGBRAI is different from the Tour de France. It's not a race, it's a ride.

There are lots of reasons why I wanted to ride again. But a big one involves a tumor that was discovered on my spine five years ago. The tumor was treated with radiation, and with the help of a great team of doctors and lots of support from friends and family, I'm fine. But before it was radiated away, the tumor had tightened on my spinal cord. The effect was that I had to relearn how to walk and then how to run. The great thing is, you never forget how to ride a bike! It will be special to attempt something a little more physically challenging than long walks and canoe trips.

Unlike Ann and Liv's crossing of Antarctica, I'll be meeting lots of riders and people who live along the way. As I go, I'll be sending along some observations and images to share the experience.

Saturday, July 19, 2003 Logistics

When I thought about this bike trip my thoughts were of riding through the green Iowa countryside, corn rustling gently in the (tail) wind. It's no different with any journey. When I think of the Bancroft Arnesen Expedition the images are of Ann and Liv sailing or skiing. They aren't of flights, or resupplies, or - in our case - of all the effort necessary to make it possible for 10,000 bikers to pass through towns of 5,358 like Glenwood, Iowa - where we are camped tonight.
As for us, we drove on Friday with four bikes and lots of gear to Fort Madison, the END of our route (our sons are in baseball and soccer tournaments. So they will join us via a more direct route tomorrow night) . Today we took a bus across the state, arriving in a town filled with tents and people. It seems like most of the residents of Glenwood are helping to make our stay pleasant.

Here's a photo of the 20 yard line of the Glenwood football field. It's not easy to make an end run around that line.
So far we've ridden about 10 blocks. But I'm worn out by the bus ride. The dining options are excellent - a root beer float and a rib eye steak sandwich hit the spot. The rugged hardship for me? A lack of yuppie coffee and pale ale.

Tomorrow the logistics will be relatively simple. As for the riding, we'll see.

Sunday, July 20, 2003 Glenwood to Shenandoah - 56 Miles

The key word for today is hot! The morning started as foggy and nice. The visibility was shortened enough that it was impossible to tell whether the hill you were climbing stretched on for 100 yards or for half a mile.

At first the hills were the big challenge. But once the mist burned off and the temperature hit 95, the heat became the obstacle. My legs were fine all day, but my brain was woozy. I knew I was hot when a water tower I thought I saw in the distance turned out to be a white styrofoam bike helmet on a person just over the top of a rise. After lots of water and rest, everything was fine. The women dressed as bees I saw really were women dressed as bees.

The day ended with an incredible lightning show, with little hitting the ground, but fingers of lightning covering the hot northern sky. That should mean cooler temperatures on Monday.

Monday, July 21, 2003 Day 2 Shenandoah to Bedford - 63 Miles

What a difference twenty degrees makes! It goes without saying that the day my son Peter arrives for the ride the weather turns perfect. It was fun to ride together just a bit. I noticed from watching the Tour de France that the perfect size for a cyclist seems to be 6'1" and about 150 pounds. That's Peter's size. I'm a little taller and a LOT heavier. I was riding with Peter late in the day in my highest gear and it was my impression that we were really cruising along. Then Peter said, "Well I'm going to head into town" and increased his speed by about 5 miles per hour and took off. I saw him next at camp. Early in the day we did stop to take a photo at the Team Homunculus "mini-van."

So I cruise along more slowly. The group did wait for me in each town (and they were rested by the time I arrived). It's amazing to see the way that the people of a little town turn out to host the RAGBRAI riders. Early yesterday about 16 miles into our ride we pulled into a nice little town. 10,000 bikes don't ride through town every day, so the local groups who host a food stand are often doing it for the first time. There were two lines at this particular food area, with exactly the same menu posted at the end of each line. The featured items were "biscuits and gravy" and "homemade cinnamon rolls" according to the woman on the road (whose grating voice Peter had been listening to for 10 minutes by the time I arrived, much to his teenage disgust). We got in one line and decided to just have a cinnamon roll and juice. When we reached the head of the line we were told that this was the biscuit and gravy line, the other line was the cinnamon roll line. Undaunted, we moved to the other line and in 5 minutes we had our rolls. However, when we asked for juice we were informed that juice was only available in the biscuit line. Who knew? Like I said, we're all amateurs at this. It's all in good fun. And while the ride wasn't painless, as my rear "keester" will attest, it was really fun and quite pleasant.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003 Osceola to Oskaloosa - 76 miles

Today was as pretty as an Iowa summer day can be. Between 70 and 80 degrees with puffy clouds and a wind that, while not a tail wind, wasn't a head wind either. I had to drive our support vehicle yesterday, so I was relatively rested and fresh, though I was still the slowest rider in our group by far. But I felt great all day as I cruised along. We went through the part of Iowa just south of where I was raised. For some reason - whether it was closeness to my roots or some other, the rhythms of the day were good for me. After riding for a while you come to understand just how much power your legs are producing, and you shift into the gear that requires that amount of power almost without thinking. It is amazing how that rhythm makes hills less of an obstacle. They are just a part of the ride where you traveling more slowly - not the "bad" part.

Tomorrow I may view hills as the "enemy." But not today. So it was a pleasant day. As I was eating my daily "Tender Toms" turkey leg 70 or so miles into the day, a woman who I didn't know walked by and said, "You should have a photo of this. You look like a happy man." And she was right. So I gave her my camera to take a shot of Peter and me.

In a any group of 10,000, people form smaller groups. Here they are called teams. Teams tend to name themselves. One of my favorite teams is named in honor of a fact of Iowa highway life - roadkill. Team Roadkill honors the fallen roadside birds and mammals by placing Mardi Gras beads and a Team Roadkill patch by the fallen bird or mammal (who have lost a battle with a car - not a cyclist). It's a nice touch, as far as I'm concerned (even if it is a bit "tongue in cheek").

There are certain rules of etiquette which are observed when large groups of cyclists occupy a road together. When passing a person, one usually passes on the left and says "On your left." Today I saw an amazing thing, two cyclists got into a fight. Since one of the persons was from Team Fast Hands - the hearing impaired riding team - the fight was conducted in sign language and gestures. A woman passed a Team Fast Hands rider on the right. He informed her of his aggravation with a gesture. She responded that he shouldn't be veering all over the road (from where I rode 30 yards behind, she was right). He gestured that she should have passed on the left. She responded that she would have if he hadn't been veering all over the road. Fortunately, it ended there. An exception to the normally extremely cooperative behavior of RAGBRAI riders, but a fun one to observe.

All in all a great day.

Thursday, July 24, 2003 Oskaloosa to Bloomfield - 67 miles

I Couldn't Find Paris

When I looked at the route for today, I was excited. Among lots of other towns, today we were going through Paris. The Tour de France has nothing on RAGBRAI. The problem was, though the map clearly shows Paris, Iowa, I couldn't find it! There was a tiny town named Bunch with a sign encouraging speeding motorists to slow down about where Paris is supposed to be according to the map. But what town or municipality would change its name from Paris to Bunch? It makes no sense. So if an Iowan says, "We'll always have Paris" to someone, as far as I can tell, he or she is wrong.

As for me, a tougher day. No real physical problems other than tired muscles. A series of very long hills in the middle of the day sort of wore me out. But we've made it to our campground (which, as luck would have it, is on the very far side of Bloomfield). It's not a huge distance from one side of town to the other - unless you have already biked 67 miles. Then the extra miles, ending with a long hill, seem to be quite an imposition. Of course it's not. We have a beautiful site and tomorrow's route is that much shorter. The 3000 people of Bloomfield were great hosts, and after an hour or two the aches of the day were forgotten.

Friday, July 25, 2003 Bloomfield to Fort Madison - 67 miles

Although RAGBRAI is scheduled to run from Sunday through Saturday, we needed to begin traveling early Saturday. So yesterday we traveled with the RAGBRAI riders for the first 33 miles, riding into and out of the Des Moines River valley several times. The trips in were beautiful, cruising down long hills at speeds of around 40 miles per hour. And the towns of Maquokota and Bonaparte are really pretty. Of course, one thing a bicyclist learns quickly is that a long downhill into a river valley is often followed by a long uphill stretch out of the valley. Yesterday was no exception to that rule.

But a pork tenderloin sandwich in Keosauqua and a piece of rhubarb pie a la mode in Bonaparte made the climbs out of each town easy. It's lovely country.

In order to retrieve our car and complete our trip across the state, Peter and I turned east and rode the 33 miles to Fort Madison as a twosome. It's quite a different sensation to travel by bicycle in a group of two rather than a group of 10,000. Cars and trucks which defer to 10,000 are much less solicitous of two lonely cyclists. Still we made it safely to Fort Madison.

It was great to complete our crossing of Iowa. I was really struck by the diversity of the cyclists on the ride. There were bicycles of all kinds. Racing bikes, mountain bikes, recumbents, tandems, tandem recumbents, three person bikes and even double tandems. There were a similarly wide range of body types and ages. There were serious cyclists who could talk for hours about cadence without tiring of the subject (did you know that power efficiency peaks at 90 revolutions per minute and falls off dramatically above and below that number? I didn't. And I'm not sure I really wanted such a long exposition on the subject). There are people who ride for the challenge, for the food, for the parties, for a wide variety of reasons. Like any large group, the circumstances vary. But for most, if not all, it was a great experience. New friendships were formed while slowly climbing a hill side by side. There is a bit of group insanity which makes such an experience hard to explain but easy to enjoy - especially in retrospect, when the pain in the "rear keester" has faded and the circulation has returned to hands that have been on handlebars for too many hours in a day.

Here's Our Family

Here's a fairly recent photo of our family.
Madeline, Kate, Peter and me.

Tuesday, September 6

Shaking Hands

Hi. My name is Stan Oleson. Though it is unlikely that anyone will come to this spot without already knowing that, I suppose I should add a bit about myself. But really any observations I add here are for the purpose of adding a bit about myself.

I'm a husband to one, father to two, lawyer to a couple of hundred, friend to a few more than that. I love puns and jokes and photos (three good reasons to have an outlet like this one). I'm a cancer survivor (for almost seven years now I have been cancer free). I lean a little to the left, both literally (due to scoliosis - an abnormal curvature of the spine) and politically.

Why am I creating this "blog"? I have no designs on bringing down Dan Rather. But I have learned over my 52 years that I write better when I have an audience. With this device I can pretend I have an audience.