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.