Friday, December 18

Happy Holidays - 2015

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 our little family of four will once again be together for the holidays!

2015 has been a year and change and adventure for Kate and for me. I retired in mid-January and we left for a planned six week trip shortly thereafter. At the end of our first full day on the road I suddenly began to feel quite strange. Thanks to some quick thinking on the part of Kate, my sister Linda and especially my brother-in-law (now known as "Saint Wood"), an ambulance was called almost immediately. Within a couple hours what had been a sudden blockage of one of the arteries to my heart had been repaired. Although it's in the "black humor" category, I was pleased to discover that my sense of humor, bad though it might be, remains intact under stress. In the ambulance as we sped to the hospital, the EMT reviewed my EKG printout, looked me in the eye and said with great gravity, "You are having a major heart attack!" It was only with great effort that I stopped myself from responding, "I didn't need the damn adjective!" It turns out that in the context "major" simply means that the blockage of one of the arteries was total. But because we reacted so promptly and the stents worked well, the short-term blockage did no long-term damage to my heart. I felt fine the next day, and have felt fine since. However, we delayed our trip and returned home to let me get used to new medicines and do some "medical stuff."

In late March we left again on an abbreviated version of the trip we had originally planned. This time everything went smoothly! Kate's mother's 90th birthday celebration had been postponed for a couple of months, but the event was great when it finally happened. And, because of the delay, Madeline was able to join us for the party. After the party, we visited Baltimore, made our way to the home of Kate's friend Carolyn for a wonderful week in the hills of North Carolina and then wandered back to Minnesota by way of Asheville; Lexington, Kentucky; and the home of our friends Tom and Kathy in Peoria. A little slide show is attached to give you some visual sense of Opus 2 of our post-retirement trip east (the slides may not load well on iPads or phones).

Kate and I are settling well into retired life. It's been great fun, but there are adjustments to make. Fortunately, we enjoy one another's company. Plus, like a couple of two year olds, Kate and I are really good at parallel play. For example, we've learned that it works better for us to play Words with Friends from separate rooms on our iPads rather than at a Scrabble board in one location. I believe this may have something to do with my game playing style. I blame my parents.
Madeline continues to teach in Madison. For the first time in seven years of teaching, she is teaching the same basic course for a second year in a row. Last spring she completed her masters in Experiential Education. We were proud to go to her graduation and were the only non-class members invited to the party the night prior to the graduation ceremony.
There is some small chance that our invitation to this prestigious event was related to the fact that we agreed to cook a paella for the group. But we like to think it was because of our exceptional parenting and personalities. Madeline is pondering yet another step into full adulthood - a home purchase in the Madison area. We are hopeful that in addition to an economic role in the process, she will avail herself of Kate's great skill in interior design and all things culinary and of my home handyman skills. We like Madison and especially like hanging around with our favorite daughter.
Another favored destination is Denver (or any location that includes Peter). He continues to love Denver. His job at Academic Impressions continues to go well. He has taken great advantage of the mountains, hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. In at least one way he is his mother's son. He is definitely the family's most creative chef. It's really fun to watch the man at work in the kitchen. Peter has also been an active wedding attender this year. It seemed to me that he was on his way to a wedding every couple of weeks this spring and summer. One of the weddings was in Chicago and involved our whole family. It also gave us a chance to spend a bit of time with Peter's girlfriend Erin. In at least one way Peter does take after me. He's very good at finding an excellent partner.
Our year has been busy, replete with cabin time (with lots of guests, only one of which was a bear), birthday celebrations, high school reunions (Stan), books (both), food preparation and consumption (Kate, with some assistance in the smoked or grilled arena from Stan), plays and other "cultural" activities, cycling (Stan), exercise classes (Kate - the Queen of Saint Paul's east side Y), soccer and other sport watching (Stan), Hallmark Christmas movies (mostly Kate but truth be told Stan too), wine (both), bike trips, hikes, fairs (state and art) and lots of other fun activities.

In September we began a second driving trip east, which we elected to call the "M" trip, since we spent time sailing in Lake Michigan, on Mackinaw Island, visiting friends in Rockford, Michigan, at Kate's Mother's house, visiting Maddox, Musial, Mantle and Mays at the baseball hall of fame, in Montreal, in Maine, with longtime friends at a Man-Made Ohio lake (ok, it's a stretch, but it was too much fun to leave off the list), seeing Madeline in Madison and returning home to Minnesota. I hope the little slide show of the M trip I've attached will be viewable.
Have a great holiday season. Stop by any time to visit us in Saint Paul. 
Call first though. We might be on our way to your house.
(on behalf of Kate, Madeline and Peter - none of whom should be blamed in any way for the contents of this greeting)

Thursday, October 1


Kate and I have spent lots of time over the last two weeks (and over the last 33 years) driving to and from places. In the beginning, I was most often the driver (I, after all, have a Y chromosome). There were major flaws in this approach for us. First, I have attention span issues. Though I am probably better than Kate at knowing precisely where the car is on the road, my mind wanders. Second, Kate is, by her own admission, a terrible rider. The frequent sharp intakes of breath are distracting and offensive to the driver. I can read in a car. Kate gets nauseated if she reads (even if she reads a map - which, by the way, isn't a great skill of hers even outside a moving car).

So long ago, in an aggravated and less than pleasant state, I stopped the car, handed Kate the keys and said, "All right, you drive!" Though it was intended as a rebuke, it was inadvertently a great decision.

Kate always pays attention. Look at that classic "10 and 2" hand position! Her speed is reasonably rapid, but safe. She's a little shy about passing on two lane roads (the Y chromosome might help out a bit there), but she keeps us safely heading down the road, rain or shine (yesterday, as we were driving to Montreal from Saratoga Springs, NY it was light rain, but quite beautiful). A fact I could observe in detail since I was in the role of rider.
I have done a bit of driving on this trip - most notably a nighttime drive to a restaurant in Somerset, PA. I did OK. Only ran one red light when my mind wandered off to consider the exact location of a Mexican restaurant we had considered but rejected for what turned out to be a surprisingly good Japanese restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

But I do have a role in this operation. I am the Nagavator. As we travel I ponder maps and routes, sights and points of interest. It's not a passive activity. I am excellent at converting the images on a map into real world action. It is with no little pride that I report that in grade school I always was in the 99th percentile in "Work-Study Skills" (much of which involved map reading for some reason) on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.
And with the frequent availability of cell phone service, I have been able to take my nagavation skills to the next level. It's much easier than it used to be to find fun, off the beaten path, restaurants. On our last trip, finding "Thai Smile" in a small town in Kentucky where the alternatives were fast food was a masterstroke. Yesterday, we breakfasted at The Triangle Diner in Sarasota Springs. 

Trust me, if you are in Sarasota Springs this is a better alternative than coffee and a croissant at Starbucks - although to be fair the coffee at Starbucks is much better.

Sometimes too much reliance on the phone has its downsides. Yesterday as we drove into Montreal, I trusted the Google Map's directions without checking the map on my own (our atlas doesn't include Canada - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. But I did have a small map in a Montreal travel book I bought before our trip and I failed to use it). Google had us make a left when we should have gone a few blocks to our right. This led us right into a protest being made by thousands of angry teachers! At least they were teachers. And they were angry about certain teaching issues in Quebec that aren't particularly clear to me. They were able to separate their anger about those issues from any particular anger at two Minnesotans driving a green Toyota. Unfortunately, they seemed to fail to grasp the subtle nuances of not walking across the street like a herd of lemmings against a red light. The result was two stranded, confused and - it must be said - tense and snappish retired persons in a car going nowhere. It gave us some time to determine where we really needed to go. Which we were unable to do until we got the assistance of a nice man who was not a teacher (he was walking in the opposite direction of the swarm of teachers, getting nowhere fast). He was kind enough to help us find our way. I even took the wheel for the last part of the drive. We made it to the wonderful apartment where I sit now without too much further trouble.

I think that many of the divisions of labor Kate and I have settled on are a good examples of what couples can, or should, do. We fill gaps for one another. It's sometimes a little hard to admit that your partner is better at something than you are. On matters of style or party or menu planning, it has always been impossible for me to deny Kate's obvious superiority. And it's probably obvious to Kate that I can do math in my head better than she can. But we have also discovered lots of more subtle ways that we can fill gaps for one another. For, example, in preparing some meals (which Kate has planned beautifully) I can add some value right at the end in helping to ensure that all the food is ready more or less simultaneously.

And now for something completely different, a bit of a trip summary:

Oddly, this trip has seemed to involve lot's of M's. 

Sailing in Lake Michigan with our good friends Dan and Francine. Sometimes Kate was at the wheel.
Other times we had normally crowded bays all to ourselves in the unseasonably warm September days.
And we somehow were also able to find our way to shore for some refreshments.
My nagavation skills enabled us to spend a nice evening at the very north end of Lake Michigan in Manistique. We dined at an odd but good Chinese restaurant instead of the Bob's Big Boy that was our alternative.

We crossed over the Mackinaw Bridge to leave Michigan's Upper Pennisula.
We took the ferry to Mackinaw Island for a lovely day walking there.

Then it was on to Rockford, Michigan for a really fun evening (and an amazing lamb chop dinner) with Kate's long-time friend Barb Stuart and her partner in meal preparation (and life) Sally Klokkert.

Next we headed to Kate's Mother's house in York. Peter and I planned his surprise appearance there - and it went wonderfully. Kitty and Bob wondered who the beardless young man walking into their house on a Thursday at 10 pm was!
While there, we had to make the obligatory trip to the Market.
Then it was off to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY to explore the baseball heroics of Musial, Mantle, Mays, Mathewson, Manush, Maranville, Maddux, Marichal, Matthews, Marquard, Martinez, Murray, Mazeroski, McGraw, Mize, Morgan, McCovey, McGinnity, Medwick, Molitor and Clemente and Stargell.
We are now in Montreal for five days that promise to be glorious. They know food here. The city is beautiful. They speak French here (I'm told in a slightly different way than in Paris, but I'm sure I can butcher both versions of French with equal skill).

Then it's on to Maine and eventually Minnesota. A great trip so far. Two thuMbs up!

Thursday, June 11

Limits of Enjoyment

How does our enjoyment or approach to experiencing something affect others? Kate and I went to a Weepies concert recently. If you don't know the Weepies (or I suppose even if you do know them), they are a married couple who make what Spotify calls "folk-pop" music. Probably "The World Spins Madly On" is their best known song. I'm pretty sure it was a background song on Gray's Anatomy ( "Painting by Chagall" is one of my favorites. Six players at this concert, including a drummer. So the music was slightly upbeat, once in a while what you might call light rock and roll. They are not AC-DC or the Grateful Dead. They aren't the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra either.

We saw them at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, where the Prairie Home Companion is often performed. Seated right behind us was a middle-aged guy named Fred (his pre-show monologue enabled me to know his name and much more information about him, and about the Weepies, singers like the Weepies, early albums by Deb Tannen [aka Mrs. Weepie], and a variety of other topics). He was completely jazzed to see the Weepies in person. Probably his favorite group, or at least it appeared that way. He was just excited. When his date went to the rest room after the opening act I whispered to Kate, "He'll find someone else to talk to while she is gone." And so he did, bubbling over with information and opinions. When a song started he could hardly contain himself. He had to yell "Whooo!!!!!!" or "Yesssssssssss!!" at the start of each song. At least for me, these were not "Whooo!!!!" songs. He was so excited that he took a photo from our balcony seats during an early song. He had already informed his date that he didn't take very good photos with his iPhone. I could see the truth of that statement when a minute into the second song a flash went off, startling both Kate and me and confirming at least one reason his photos weren't much good - since the flash ensured that he had a photo consisting of mostly a flare which was my bald spot and perhaps some definition on the others in my row. None of the flash reached the stage until it was too late. Just a guy enjoying the concert in his own way. And the concert clearly meant more to him than it did to me.

In the row in front of us at the same concert were a couple that had a Jack Spratt quality. She was short and sort of squat. He was rangy. But his most remarkable quality was his hair, which rose in a tufted mountain over his scalp what must conservatively been six inches. For the warmup act Ms. Spratt sat in front of me, and Jack sat in front of the woman to my right. After the break they rightfully changed seats, in deference to the shorter woman on my right. Ms. Spratt was careful to inquire of both of us if we could see (I could with a small adjustment of my seating position - my neighbor really couldn't). Ms. Spratt even said that they considered bringing a swimming cap to deal with the problem. But I really appreciated her effort to minimize Mr. Spratt's impact on his fellow concert goers.

Life is full of examples like these. Two of our neighbors at the cabin are "motor" guys. They are happiest on a mower or an ATV or driving a backhoe or revving up the Jet-Ski. I'm happiest watching birds or reading or staring into space - and their enjoyment affects mine.

And it goes both ways. My cabin habits are quieter (and therefore to my eye less intrusive). But I don't hesitate to wander onto their property when watching a bird or throwing a bocce ball. I don't think that's offensive but they might just be too nice to say anything.

Also, I humbly admit that I like to think of jokes in the run of a conversation. And I also must admit that once they are floating around my brain I have a nearly compulsive need to "share" them. I know I have interrupted and deflected many a serious conversation and not a few business meetings to share something I thought was funny, often when someone was making a serious point. I'm just another excited guy enjoying myself and doing what I love. Reacting to a situation in a way that feels natural and right. But it does affect other's ability to make their point. To say what they want to say. To accomplish what needs to be accomplished. To enjoy the conversation.

So what is "the answer"? Like most things, there isn't "an answer." People get enjoyment in different ways. Some have fun in a noisy way, others quietly. Some love a little controversy and argument to spice things up. Others hate that. I know I should do better at respecting the situation and the needs of others. Perhaps next time I will apologize after making a joke at an inappropriate time. But I will probably still make the joke.

Monday, April 20

Structured Spontenaeity

The first goal of our just completed trip to points east, my mother-in-law Kitty's celebration of her 90th birthday, can be put in the "mission accomplished" category. It went really well. Great food. An interesting and fun crowd at the party. A great week with Madeline leading up to the party (completed with an exciting Badger game right after the party where Madeline and I led the Badgers to victory with clever celebratory clinks of our drink glasses after positive plays by the Badgers). 

There was lots of laughter and fun. At least from my perspective, a success in every way.

But, like many of the trips we have been on, the initial part of our trip had a clear direction and endpoint - in this case the party itself and getting Madeline to the airport for her flight back to Madison. 

Then Kate and I set out on a somewhat different type of journey. One with a much less defined structure. It reminded me in some ways of 1980 - a year I spent being "a bum", wandering from place to place in an almost completely random way. And particularly of the time spent in Europe with a Eurail pass and later a bicycle. At that time I would go places and change directions on a whim with no particular destination or time parameters built into the equation. 

We are once again free to choose at any time to speed up or slow down. Turn right or turn left. But we aren't kids in our twenties anymore. We have some need, at least at this point, for structure. A plan made with at least a little forethought. So there was some learning and adjustment to make.

Sometimes on the second part of our trip we began in a fog, unsure if we were even going in the intended direction, to the extent we had an intended direction.

But in almost every case the fog quickly cleared to allow us to see our way more or less clearly - even if the fog and clouds were still in the area.

It was really fun to make choices and change directions, especially since we had at least a modicum of structure - plans to visit Kate's friend Carolyn and her husband Gary in Ashe County, North Carolina (now "our" friends Carolyn and Gary) and at some point after that to visit our friends Tom and Kathy Seymour in Washington, Illinois.

Our newfound freedom, with its lack of time constraints, let us have a great little side trip lunch with Kate's long-time friend Barbara.

 To scale the heights of Whitetop Mountain (in Carolyn's car).

To go on a "goat hike" around Carolyn and Gary's farm. And when the rains came, the planning we had done enabled us to find shelter.

We could spend a Friday night at Phipp's Store near Lansing, NC.

 And go on nice long hikes.

 We even got to stop by Kate's childhood home -

 and find the mark she had made in the sidewalk in the late 1950's.

And we found time for some horse racing at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.

Where we more than broke even on the day thanks in part to this horse's run to the wire (fortunately he chose to speed up and not to slow down).

We were even able to share a glass of wine (well, several glasses of wine) with great friends.

What a deal!

I'm sure we will continue to improve on our newfound ability to "stop and smell the flowers" on future trips. There are definitely lots of flowers out there.

Tuesday, March 31

Adjustments - An Extrovert on the Tundra

I always knew that the first few months of retirement would involve adjustments. The trip that Kate and I had planned was planned in part as a segue into that new era. A fun time to adjust to a new life stage for me and for us. Then that trip was derailed by my heart attack, creating a new set of adjustments that "trumped" the retirement changes, at least for a while. 

The fact is that the physical challenges of my heart attack were quite short term. I felt fine except for one hour or so and was only a little bit uncomfortable afterwards - and what little discomfort I had was due to a few tubes and ports that remained in my arms for a day or two. I didn't really feel any different than the days before. No worse and also no better. Just about the same. There were some physical adjustments to new medicines, and there are certainly mental adjustments to make as well. "How hard can I exercise?" "Is that pain or discomfort or feeling anything to worry about?" And oddly, my experiences with cancer 16 years ago prepared me quite well for the process of answering those questions.

One adjustment that I hadn't really anticipated was the effect on me of the relatively quieter life of a retired person. If the many Myers Briggs tests I have taken during my corporate lives at Pillsbury and Scoular are accurate (and at least on this metric I believe they are), I am an extrovert. I'm not always bubbly and outgoing, but I get energy from interactions with others. At least in part, I had apparently long been being "energized" by diverting serious discussions with my work colleagues down mostly useless but entertaining side roads by means of jokes and puns and silliness. And in retirement there was less opportunity for finding that energy. Kate can only accommodate so much of my silliness. So I need to find ways to replace that energy source. And during the winter in Minnesota idle conversations over the back fence are few and far between. It's been fun and energizing to get together with my buddy Harry - also recently retired - to watch soccer matches and hang out more than we used to have the chance to. 

Another "energy source" was the annual get-together with friends to watch basketball for twelve hours a day during the first weekend on the NCAA basketball tourney. Great fun, and lots and lots of silliness.

It also gave me a chance to work on my cooking skills with my new smoker.

Believe it or not, this is a staged photo. The actual cooking results have been excellent. 

My retirement adjustment process is going well. But it is a process, and not always in the ways I had anticipated.

Kate and I are now off on Opus 2 of our trip east (the short version). We picked up Madeline in Madison for her spring break week, and went on a lovely walk in the Madison arboretum as she taught on Friday. This spring-fed stream had sprung madly to life way earlier than its surroundings, covered with green aquatic plants that looked to us like they would make a lovely salad. Amazing.

We are now in Pennsylvania seeing childhood friends of Kate's and preparing for Kate's mother's 90th birthday party - which was delayed for a few weeks due my health issues when we first tried to head east. I'm looking forward to the party and to exploring the city with my camera in hand. York is an old city, and a fun one to look around in. And we'll be joining friends here in York to watch the Badgers and Spartans march on in the basketball tourney. Then it's on to Baltimore, North Carolina and who knows where? This part of retirement is easy to adjust to.