29 December 2009

Christmas Gifts

The Saturday after Christmas we drove 14 hours from Little Rock to Minneapolis. Snow on the ground from Alma, Arkansas northward. Off and on we discussed the snow that was awaiting us back home, 12+ inches, and the snowblowing/shoveling chore that awaited us when we arrived.

At 6pm we pulled into the driveway and found the problem had been solved by a neighbor with a heart for Christmas. A neighbor who had been out on Christmas morning clearing our path. A neighbor with two boys who had every reason to stay inside but instead decided to teach his kids a lesson on Christmas morning about what being a neighbor is all about.

I won't remember some of the gifts I got this year, but I won't forget this one, nor will my family.

21 December 2009

South Carolina, Christmas and Family

The last weekend was a quick trip to South Carolina. I won't be with my Mom and brothers for Christmas but I had a couple of days free for a flight to their home.

I can put on five pounds just by walking into my Mom's kitchen. It's the only place in the world where the much-maligned Christmas fruitcake tastes good enough for seconds. The worlds best fudge. Grits and eggs for breakfast. Soup beans on the supper table.

A lot of the trappings of Christmas when I was a child have long gone. Ornaments broken or lost. Decorations that could not withstand the wear of three boys and four grandkids. A few remain. Green candleholders that spell NOEL. Knit Santa faces on doorknobs. Moravian star over above the porch steps. A christmas cactus that refuses to die and insists on blooming right around this time each year.

We went to Christmas services together, just mom and me. Spring Valley Baptist Church. My brothers, the smart one and the chosen one, had other commitments. How many Christmas services have we been to together? I have no doubt that when I was three months old she hauled me to my first one. Over the years they grew in importance and somewhere along the line I finally got it, at least part of it. Every Christmas service helps me understand this thing a little bit better. The incomprehensible. The puzzle. The Lord of the Universe coming to earth in the form of the creature created most like him. God become flesh. The wonderful mystery surrounding his blessed mother.

I confess that I dozed off during the service. We left shaking a few hands, meeting a few of her friends, exchanging Christmas greetings. It was nice to be there, repeating a ritual that goes back to my childhood, my parents childhood, my grandparents childhood, the Sunday Christmas service.

When I was a child and we had Christmas at my grandmother's in East Tennessee, the Sunday service was at First Freewill Baptist of Elizabethton. The deacons passed a bag filled with fruit and candy to everyone afterwards. Every Christmas I think about that and the kick we would get from the very simplest of gifts. There was a message in that bag. The best gifts are often the humblest. I got it then, I get it now.

The last person I spoke to before leaving the state was the TSA agent at the gate. "I have a question for you". She surprised me, not sure what was next. "Can you name Santa's reindeer?"she asked with the warmest of smiles. Not only could I answer that,  I can also describe the sound of reindeer walking on my grandmother's roof.

16 December 2009

It's Winter in Minnesota

And that means........
  • The squeegy at the gas station is frozen in the bucket of windshield cleaner
  • The half cup of coffee you left in the car in the morning is a cup of black ice in the evening
  • Your overcoat crackles as you walk outside
  • You feel the cold through the soles of your shoes
  • That unopened coke can in your car becomes a soda bomb sometime during the day
  • The ice chunks on your wheel wells start looking nice
  • All the cars are the same shade of road salt grey
  • Wind chill factor is meaningless
  • Snowblower envy
  • You stroll to the mailbox in shirtsleeves if the temp warms up to the twenties
  • Global warming seems to be taking way too long
  • The stars are out at 5pm and 7pm seems way past bedtime.
  • A "great" weekend is any time the temp is in the 30's. 
  • Any flight you're on is to someplace warmer. 
  • You love it 

08 December 2009

Wheels

Youngest daughter got her driver's license today. Beat us all in having the best driver's test success story, as it was taken during the first big snowfall of the season. Nothing like driving in snow for the first time during your driving test! Good work.

Big winter finally moving in. Snow blower comes out tomorrow morning around 5am. First time of the season, a little later than normal.

The forecast for tonite: Snow and areas of blowing snow. Low around 10. Blustery, with a north northeast wind between 20 and 28 mph, with gusts as high as 39 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total nighttime snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.

02 December 2009

Cheated

In business, I'm all for people making as much money as they honestly can. But I don't like it when I feel like I've been tricked, even when I deserved it. Two nights ago I stayed at the Hilton on O'Farrell St. in San Francisco. Not the best of hotels, but reliable, predictable, within walking distance of the financial district, and adjacent to a great Indian restaurant.
The M&M's I took from the mini-bar were great. My favourite candy. I dozed off with a half-empty regular sized bag next to me. What did they cost me upon checkout? $8.35.

I asked for it. I'm sure there was a sign in the room with the prices posted. I knew they would cost double or triple the price at Wal-Mart. But ten times more? Still bugging me.

So they got a few extra bucks, perhaps $5 more than most hotels. But rather my leaving as a satisfied customer planning to come back, I left thinking about the type of attitude that would charge so much for so little and wondering where else had they stuck it to me.

Shortsightedness is a bad habit. I suspect this is a problem elsewhere at this Hilton. No doubt, they'll get by without me, and the other late-night candy cravers. I stay there about twice a year. But loyal customers are hard to come by, and they just lost one......

Then again, they were pretty good M&M's.

27 November 2009

Eating Bird

The annual turkey has been smoked, eaten and the carcass carried out to the trash. It turned out well despite my sense that I had messed it up and would never be ready on time. When it comes to smoking you can often have too much info, which is what happened in this case.

Put the 13 lb turkey on the smoker at 6am for a planned 1pm feast. Although I had the basic recipe in my head, I killed an hour browsing the internet looking at various comments on turkey smoking. Bad move, as it only made me second guess every step I'd taken in preperation. Most websites said the internal temp should be 165, but a couple said 180, a huge difference. Most indicated that it should take about six hours for a bird this size, but one site said it would take ten. Just enough difference of opinion for me to second guess my plans.

Around 11am I announced to the family that the bird would probably not be done until 3pm. The internal temp was 154 and seemed to be move higher at a crawl. Further, I was having the biggest problem keeping the temp in the smoker at a consistently high level. I wanted it at 250, but could not get it too stay long above 225. Being under the gun to finish the project by 1pm, I started messing with the charcoal and hickory chips too much.

Smoking does not work at all under time pressure. Smoking is for long summer days that stretch on and on. Give a smoke master a clock and a deadline and you may just ruin the finished product, the day, his life.

My wife, accustomed to my wild claims and extreme views on a variety of topics, refused to let my announcement mess up thanksgiving in any way. She simply said we would work around it and everything would be fine, basically ignoring the announcement. Smart move. I moved out of the house and sat by the smoker carefully tending the fire. Another smart move. By 1130 the internal was up to 160. By noon it was 165. I'm not accustomed to bird smoking and the fact that temperature changes are not linear was something I did not consider.

The finished product was ok. Tender, moist, full of that special smoky taste. The wing and back was worthless, which is disappointing not always the case with an oven roasted bird. This was my thrid or fourth smoked turkey and about as good as i've done. The real key to success was due to my wife, who mixed the brine and soaked the bird for 48 hours before cooking began, and ignored my completion forecasts. In retrospect, I think at least 90% of the success is due to her handling that right.

The day was filled with other big holiday stuff. We trimmed the Christmas tree, complete with 30 years worth of ornaments, many hand-made by the kids in Sunday School. We lamented the absence of our son. While it put a big hole in our celebration, it was replaced our knowledge that he had a great family to spend it with in St. Louis. We joined our fellow Americans in the annual tradition of watch the Detroit Lions lose a game and the Dallas Cowboys win one. For a second year in a row we watched with pleasure as Texas racked up 49 points over A&M. This time complete with a real Texas fan in the form of my oldest daughter's boyfriend. She finished knitting him a UT scarf, in the official team colours, with about 5 minutes left to go in the game. A good end to Thanksgiving Day.

22 November 2009

Singapore/Kuala Lumpur

Began the day running laps around a mosque in KL. Later climbed the 300 steps to the hindu shrine at the Batu Cave outside the city. Second time here. Food here was ok but lacks the distinctive dishes and flavour of the Thais and Chinese. I love this place but understand why "let's go eat Malaysian" is never heard in the US. The Manadin Oriental is amazing in its service and one of the best places I've stayed.

Singapore, first time here. Another monster that just grows and grows. Capitalism is so explosive here. I wish more people could see what it does when unconstrained. Both for well and ill, and that the "well" overwhelms the "ill".

Christmas, as a secular holiday, is more apparent in Singapore and KL than back home. At least the word "Christmas" is everywhere. Christmas trees, complete with the star of Bethlehem on top, are in every mall and along every major street. Granted, the sense of commercialism around the holiday is extreme, even from the viewpoint of a resident of the United States. But nice to see that star, which has been all but banned from public places in the United States. As a religious holiday I would give the United States an edge, but just a slight one.

Nice trip, more thoughts later, dozing off at the terminal........

Wrapping up this entry from the Delta Crown Room at Narita Airport and enjoying the last few hours of a six hour layover. It is noon Monday and 9pm Sunday back home.  The trip has been good but unfortunately leaves me with multiple examples of how far customer service has fallen in the US. Example.... I'm on Malaysian Air flight from KL to Tokyo, standing by the bathroom in the middle of the night, waiting for it to become available. A flight attendant across the way sees me, picks up the phone and calls another flight attendant to notify me that there is an open restroom close by in another section of the plane. That would never happen in the United States. Simply impossible. Example 2.... I get off the elevator at one of my hotels, heading with bags to my room. Somehow one of the staff knows who I am and where I am going. As soon as I get off and head the wrong way direction a voice calls out, "Sir, room 1705 is this way". How did they know who I was, where I was heading? Someone at checkin called and told them I was coming up. I'm no one special, just another guest, but certainly treated special in Asia, as anyone would want.

We've still got a lot to learn.

15 November 2009

Christmas Lights

The lights are up on the house. They were first turned on last night. I may be the first in the neighborhood but only by a few days. Once one of us turns on the lights the rest are soon to follow.

The big Christmas wreath is hanging from the window above the front door, swamping the influence of the humbler Thanksgiving wreath that hangs on the door. As it should.

Every little sign of Christmas crowds out all around it.

A world is cast in a season of cold and death.

The Blessed Virgin awaits a trip to Bethlehem.

The Lord of the Universe will soon step on to the stage that is His creation.

In the hearts of children, Father Christmas is on the move. 

Opening doors

The weekend began with the first college visits of my youngest child. Friday morning at the University of Chicago followed by the afternoon at the University of Wisconsin. At Chicago we listened to a description of a haven for scholars and the value of knowledge, as though it were almost tangible or something one could taste. At Wisconsin we listened to a weary administrator tell us that majors and subjects don't matter, but that college is really about being, and growing and other squishy stuff. Unfornate that such a fine institution presents itself so poorly. To my daughter's credit the morning presentation resonated with her and the afternoon did not. Much too early to tell where all this will end but it was clearly the start of something big. 

Her siblings went through this same process to varying degrees. Paths for all three have gone through Chicago surprisingly, either on a visit or final selection. Both her sister and brother ended up going to a school they did not initially consider. Both started out on a detour from the college dreams of junior high. Both overcame big obstacles that are part of college and both made us so proud. She will also, I am sure.

It was time for this trip. Time for her to ponder this big project in a big city where it may happen. And think more about life away from home. About the person she is, the person she is becoming, the person she wants to be. About how these places can make you all you want to be or rip apart all you hold dear and push you in places you should not go. This is the time in life when the need to be on your own is both fearsome and thrilling, when life at home is both maddening and comforting. Walking across the seesaw.

She spent the day thinking ahead. I spent the day contrasting her wishes with that of our other children and the mission ahead of her. I thought of the long drives to Washington and Lee and the beauty of Lexington, Virginia. Giving my oldest daughter a hug goodbye under a huge oak tree as we both held back a few tears  (hers of joy).  Loading the UHaul for a drive to DePaul and navigating the alleyways of Chicago with my son. Giving him a sendoff as guys do, with a handshake and a firm look in the eye. I told him I was proud of him. He replied "wait until I accomplish something, then be proud of me". Four years later I was, for both of them, and have been many times over.

The day came to a close with a return to the Twin Cities on a rainy Friday night. She spent the day dreaming and planning. I spent it opening doors, which is one of the very best things parents do.

23 October 2009

Frankfurt

Germany has not felt like a foreign country, but more like home than some places in the United States. First visit here. I shouldn't have taken this long to get here but looking forward to going back. Saw almost nothing of the city. Attending a conference, mainly in a convention center and hotel. Went for a stroll to the train station today and walked by this sculpture.

20 October 2009

Kiev

24 hours in Kiev, Ukraine. Wonderful people, not enough time. A place I never expected to be. That I would be drinking a coke and watching CNN in the Hotel Opera is clearly not what Stalin had in mind.

Shown here the caves of St. Anthony and St. Theodosius. Monks have been living here since the 11th century and many entombed in these glass cases. More later.

Also shown, the statue of the Motherland.




.................

10 October 2009

96 hours in London


Day 1 Heathrow, Hyde Park, Oxford Street shopping, Piccadilly Circus, Trocadero, St. James Church. Day 2: London Eye, Strolls around Big Ben-Parliament-Westminster Abbey, "Billy Elliott". Day 3: Tower of London, More shopping on Oxford Street, Jack the Ripper Tour. Day 4 Buckingham Palace, Walk around Globe Theatre, services at St. Paul's Cathedral, Brick Lane, Bangladesh Restaurant, Spittelfields Market, Trafalgar Square, National Portrait Gallery, Dinner in Shepards Market. Day 5 Shopping, Hyde Park, Heathrow.

04 October 2009

She Conquers, one more time.......


My oldest daughter ran her first marathon today. 26 miles, 385 yards. The Twin Cities Marathon. We followed her around and cheered her on, at the 12, 20, and finish line. The achievements of my children leave me scratching my head at times, a combination of pride and wonder and thanksgiving. This was one of those times. A remarkable accomplishment that I cannot adequately describe. We were proud that she tried and even prouder than she succeeded. I will leave it to her to fill in the blanks of what this final day was like.

I dropped her off this morning, around 7am. I don't know when I was proudest. Was it from watching her step out at dawn and face the fear of failing so publicly, in one of the biggest physical challenges of her life.... or was it from watching her stride to the finish line as the conquerer of 26 miles of Minnesota pavement.

She has faced so many obstacles, things that would have knocked out a weaker one. Some of it is normal stuff that comes with adulthood, like college admission disappointments or early career struggles. Then there are the other things, Katrina evacuation, Peace Corps evacuation, a stint teaching tough kids in the tough side of Kansas City, epilepsy, weight. Other things I don't know about.

There is a verse in the Bible that on this day reminds me of her....2 Corinthians 12:9 ....My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

There are those who allow disappointments to rule them. She never does. She has built on things that others would think are weaknesses and made herself strong. For things like a 26 mile run, and much more.

29 September 2009

San Francisco 1982

I am wandering the blocks around the TransAmerica building, searching for an old hangout, Paoli's. As a young broker trainee in SF in the early 80's, this is where you would find me occasionally. Unwinding with friends. Talking about the market like we were old veterans. Watching the 49ers march through the playoffs on their way to the Superbowl. Missing my wife and new baby girl. Apart from the TA pyramid, nothing looks familiar.
.................

21 September 2009

Lemmings

Atlanta airport, 7pm.... B concourse.
The line for the Delta service desk (a wall of phones) is 129 weary travel zombies long.
.................

20 September 2009

Burning Brisket

Brisket is hard to mess up, but I learned how this weekend.

I had the smoker going for one of the last times this fall, I suppose. A pork roast, ribs, a brisket filled the top rack of my smoker. Apple and cherry wood chunks providing the smoke and Brother Kingsford, the heat. For some reason I didn't want to go through all the trouble of setting up multiple layers, which was my one big mistake.

This meant one cut of meat would be real close to the firebox. A pork roast can handle this but a brisket can't. The picture is me on Saturday morning, in all my barbecueing glory, burning a brisket and not realizing it. When I finally pulled it out, after about ten hours, I found myself scraping the thick black burnt animal flesh off one side, the way Mom used to scrape a piece of burnt toast. It didn't work. Most of it was dry and tough. A few sections were ok and what was salvagable was quickly consumed by oldest daughter and self, with the balance making it's way to her boyfriend's house, last I heard. If a cop stopped her on the way she could have been arrested for transporting a toxic substance without the required permits. I've been smoking for about ten years and this is the first time i've ever messed up a brisket. Didn't know it was possible.

On the up side the ribs were great and the pork roast as well. I guess in a way the brisket gave itself up for the benefit of its brethren in the smoker.

17 September 2009

Philadelphia at the break of fall

This week I spent three days in one of my favorite cities. I had some free time and used it mainly just to be there, in the heart of the city. Took a long run in Fairmount Park along the Schuykill River. Strolled through Reading Station. Watched two groups of protestors, liberals and conservatives, yell at each from opposite side of a street. Wasn't quite sure what the issue was. Cheesesteak sandwich. City Hall lit up at night. A great city on hard times. Pulling through.

13 September 2009

A small thought on the changing value of things

When I was in college I worked one summer at a gas station. The 11pm to 7am shift at Drakes Shell Station in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a long time ago and in an era when all night gas stations were fairly rare. In the suburbs of St. Pete, near the Snell Isle and Pinellas Park areas, this was the only place to get gas after midnight.

It was quite an adventure, a big part of growing up. From midnight to dawn I was one of the lords of the strip, 4th street. I knew the regular lineup of night people, cops, liquor store owners, motorcycle gang members, dj's, newspaper delivery people. I also served a regular string of folks who found themselves low on gas and low on cash after a late night adventure in Tampa. I handled a lot of requests for small sales of a gallon or two, enough to get them home.
One night a guy pulled up and begged for gas. He was broke. He promised to pay me back if I would just give him a couple of dollars worth. I'd learned the hard way not to do that and told him no. So he opened his trunk, which was full of tools. He offered me any tool in his trunk in exchange for $2 worth of gas. The deal was sealed.
I pointed to the lug wrench you see here. I could tell he was hoping I wouldn't see it, but he reluctantly handed it over. It was worth ten or fifteen dollars at the time, perhaps a little more today.

I realized then, and now, how emotion and circumstances can change our view of the value of things. Put a guy in desperate circumstances and he'll let possessions go for a fraction of their worth. Had he stopped and thought for a few minutes there might have been a better way out of his situation. When I saw the look on his face I knew that I never wanted to be in his situation. Here he was, a grown man face to face with a teenage kid at 3am, humiliated and knowing the kid holds all the cards. Of course I only have my side of the story and in fairness I don't know what difference that gas made in his life. He didn't dicker. He needed it bad. If it kept him from getting fired, or missing some important meeting, maybe he had the better end of the deal.

I have kept the lug wrench and carried it with me from city to city. At least once a month I see it as I piddle around the garage. It reminds me in a little way of the mistakes that come from panic and the opportunities that can come to those on the flip side of the trade. Over the past year during the market meltdown, I thought about this episode often. Particularly as people who bought GE at 30 a couple of years ago dumped it when it fell below 10. Same thing with US Steel, which fell from 190 to 19, and so on with almost every publicly traded US company. Happens all the time, almost every day, to someone, somewhere. Common stocks, homes, a racehorse, a rare coin, a fine tool. One day we are thinking clearly and rationally. The next we are making decisions any normal teenager would know to avoid. I remembered the lug wrench as markets collapsed earlier this year and determined I would again be the kid with 2 bucks, not the man who was scared and desperate for cash.

One of these days I suppose I'll pass the lug wrench on to one of my kids, or grandkids, along with more details on this story. The man who traded for the lugwrench has been on my mind a fair amount over the years. He's in his 70's or 80's now, if still alive. He taught me an important lesson, I hope I taught him one.

08 September 2009

Roan Mountain I

 Every year I travel to Roan Mountain, in present-day Tennessee, in the former State of Franklin.

I have blood here that flows throughout the valleys and hills, around the creeks and hollows. Like the reliable Doe River that gathers hundreds of tiny streams, it emerges in present life from thousands and thousands of days past.

They gather names known and unknown from the cities like Elizabethton, Johnson City and Bristol to the hamlets of Sinking Creek, Stony Creek, Banner Elk, and Hampton to place names like Sycamore Shoals, Powder Branch and Whitehead Hill; they collect the blood and toil of generations. Each year around this time, the land calls our family back.

Here our ancestors first came, for free land and independence. Before there was a Tennessee, we were here. Proud and independent subjects of Kings George II and III.

You will find us buried both in places still marked and in places forgotten. The strongest of us, who made it to age five, had a good shot at living to adulthood. The weak and sickly but a few days. Our mothers often joined the children in the grave as death hovered over childbirth and snatched the weakest whether the one delivered or delivering.

We gather and think about those we recently lost. Grandfathers and great-grandmothers, aunts and uncles, the ones we knew. The ones whose accent and mannerisms and smell we still hold vividly in our memories. But we also think a bit about those we never knew, but whose names still trickle down through time, such as Hans Michael Hyder, the original settler from Germany via Pennsylvania.

Rueben Brooks, the ardent supporter of the Confederacy and slaveowner, whose homestead still stands. Six years after the end of the Civil War, his daughter Margaret married LF Hyder, a former Sergeant, Fourth Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, Union Army. This story was no doubt repeated in countless weddings in the border states of the conflict, eventually bringing a tiny bit of healing to a torn land.

Floyd Blevins, the uncle we miss but never knew, and whose violent death is still a mystery.

We also do the things that bring families together in the best way. We play with the new arrivals, those most recently landed on this earth. There are no infant deaths to mourn, only births to celebrate. We also stare at those who have recently joined us in marriage, or are thinking about it, and judge whether they will make it as one of us.

We eat, too much. Our ancestors could survive for weeks on an array of dishes based on bacon grease, corn meal, buttermilk and beans. If they could sit at our tables they would still recognize the food as theirs. Cornbread, sliced tomatoes, blueberries, gravy, soup beans, grits, baloney, cole slaw, and steak, all adorn our weekend feast.

They climbed the top of mountains and forded streams to get to this place. We repeat these acts because we are drawn to walk where they did. We stand at the High Bald at Carver's Gap and on top of Roan Mountain. We wade the Doe River in the shadow of Elizabethton's Covered Bridge, grateful for every one of them, for what they did, what they dreamed, what they passed on to us.

Passed on are bits and pieces of stories. Tales of success and also of plans that were surrendered to death and hardship. We honor them for both. We have a treasure of stories of cunning and luck and pluck that we pass on and that bring laughter and wonder still. Most of all, we are thankful for the faith in Christ that was handed to us and the "thousand tongues" of our people and our people's people that in this valley have sung "our great Redeemer's praise" for centuries.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, they looked up in a night sky undimmed and dreamed. Those dreams were about us.

27 August 2009

Who is this?


Every afternoon at the parking garage, I see this car and wonder about the person who drives it. This happens almost every day.
What is the story? Why the mountain of poptarts, baby diapers, magazines, cereal and junk mail. Why is there so much trash in the car that the driver (I'm almost certain it is a woman) can barely see out the windows?


Is the person homeless, mentally disturbed, both? Perhaps just a slob? I'm drawn to the car. I want to stand there and stare at the contents, put together the puzzle of the life of the occupant.

23 August 2009

It's a ball building, not a ball park


This weekend we drove downtown in search of the new Twins ballpark, Target Field. It's hard to find. You can tell where it is by the big Twins sign that occasionally peaks at you when you are at just the right angle on just the right street. But, it is not a downtown landmark that immediately grabs your attention.
The baseball purist in me applauds the movement of the Twins field out of doors. With the mild summers here this could one of the best places in the country to watch a ball game in July and August, that is, if you can get over the fact that with the DH it is a counterfeit version of baseball that you are watching. Recognize, however, that this is not a baseball town, it's a hockey town. While you have a handful of diehards here, filling a stadium requires a commitment from the casual fan as well. The casual fan is not going to pack this place when the weather calls for stadium blankets, schnapps, and mittens.
As I search downtown for Target Field, I realize it is not a ball PARK, in the conventional sense, it is a roofless building where they play baseball. Wrigley is a ball park, you can get there early, walk around it, grab lunch, haggle with a scalper, etc. Same with the center of the universe (Busch Stadium) and every other ball park I've ever been to. A baseball stadium should be a place that invites fans to get to know the feel of the place, hang around, talk to the locals, get a sense of what the field means to those who live it. Even out of season, it should be a place where people want to get close to, a place where in the dead of winter you can stand and dream of summer. It should be a place that a baseball fan would gladly detour to if passing through the city late at night. That happens in Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Boston, New York, all the time. I once was in Chicago with my oldest daughter in November. We went to Wrigley just to see it. All ball parks should be that welcoming to fans, have that special feel, even when the lights are out.
You cannot walk around the new Target Field. You can drive by it, have a wreck on the interstate while looking for it, take the light rail to it, but you cannot walk around it. It butts up against an array of other buildings, including the Target Center, where the timberwolves play their special version of basketball. You can't get a peak inside and see the field. There is no baseball feel to it.
Were it not for the Twins signage, you could drive by this building and not know you were passing a baseball stadium. Maybe things will change by opening day, and there's something i'm missing. I hope so.

22 August 2009

My one and only post on fashion

What Not to Buy: An open letter to the PR flaks out there#links

I lament the decline in appropriate dress for church over the 80's and 90's. The Christian community has tried to reach out to non-attenders and make it clear that it's ok to come to church right from work or school, regardless of how you are dressed or your clothes budget. That is the right attitude. When I was a kid poor people felt unwelcome in church because they didn't have nice clothes. We made them feel that way, God didn't.

Unfortunately some regular church goers at my church have taken this as a signal that coming to the house of the Lord is similar to going to Wal-Mart. I can dress however I want based on what is convenient for me. Coming into this building is about me, not about Him. Even at Easter and Christmas. I'm sure tomorrow my church will have its share of Vikings fans wearing Brett Favre jerseys. Sigh. Or old men in shorts showing their respect for the house of the Lord in all their grungy summer finery.

Two weeks ago I saw a man at church wearing a t-shirt with the caption, "My rod and my reel they comfort me". That's not even humorous outside of church, but what was this guy thinking. I'm going to corrupt scripture, put it on my clothes, and wear it into the house of the Lord... so people will know I like to fish??!? That's a great reason to take the Eucharist. Anyway, I'm being judgemental, I know.

But I found a great post along a much funnier line, see link above. I stumbled across the blog recently and while i'm not focused, at all, on fashion or decorating, the writing style is excellent. The series of blogs are addictive.

19 August 2009

Woman

A few months ago I found myself watching a dance scene from one of the teenage beach movies of the 60's. The Frankie and Annette genre. The girls in the bikinis all had one thing in common. Today they would be considered fat. They had hips, a tummy, and legs that looked like they were meant to transport this healthy torso around for many years. They would not make it on a beach movie today, or any episode of the old "Baywatch".

So, this post has been brewing in the brain for a while and finally composed as I sit and watch my daughter and wife take in the latest episode of "Project Runway".

Before anorexia became a trait of beauty, there were women on television and in the movies.


Maureen O'Hara


Real, normal, female humans. Not fat, not skinny, somewhere inbetween, give or take.




Donna Reed



When I was a kid and mad at my parents I wanted a mom like Donna Reed and a dad like Fred McMurray. Perfect folk who never got mad at their kids, never spanked them, never sent them to their room. I digress.






Ann Rutherford

These women were beautiful but not unbelievably so. Not perfect. Look at them a while and you'll find something you don't like. A nose too big, lips too thin, crooked smile... you know, humans. Healthy, tough, well fed. Like our grandmothers or great grandmothers these were the type that, if they had to.... could survive wartime or famine or pestilence. At least they look like they could. Or make it a few days without food. Carry a weapon, hoe a field, raise a roof. Illness hits and they've got the constitution to fight off the normal physical calamites and assure that the family survives.
Elizabeth Montgomery

When God created the first woman, I know she probably didn't look like Elizabeth Montgomery.







Woman

But, perhaps something like this Somali woman. In any event all of these are closer to what a woman looks like than the sacks of bones stumbling down Project Runway.

16 August 2009

Golden Eagle

We moved here in 2003. One of the things we miss the most are the peaches from Calhoun County, Illinois, just over the Mississippi River and about 30 miles north of our old neighborhood. From downtown St. Louis it's about the quickest way to get real rural real quick. If I was ever running from the law, I've always thought Calhoun County would be a good place to lay low. It's a maze of cornfields, peach orchards, hills, gullies, farm roads and thickets. (Of course, I can't do that now, its the first place you'd look for me. )

Nearly every August we would take the Golden Eagle Ferry from St. Charles, MO to Golden Eagle Illinois and load up on peaches. Like you, I've eaten a lot of peaches in my life, many from Georgia and South Carolina. They're good but cannot match these.

Since leaving Missouri, every summer the topic of peaches comes up, in particular these peaches from this one county in Illinois.... how good they are, how much we miss them, how juicy they were. The taste of a fresh peach is the taste of summer. And every August when the peach harvest was at its fullest, I'd say "let's drive down there some weekend". The response from the family was always, "that's crazy". Drive all the way to St. Louis for peaches!?

That's what they said but it's not what they mean. What they meant was. wouldn't it be great if one summer someone in our family was that wacko and would do the crazy, the weird, the bizarre, and actually make the 1000+ mile round trip for peaches.

The house was empty this week and a Saturday was approaching with nothing on the schedule. 4 am Saturday morning, i'm on the treadmill, getting in my run. 5am I'm in the car, heading south on I-35. Just over the Iowa border, I picked up the Avenue of the Saints and headed for Calhoun County.

The drive down was perfect, but rainy on the Minnesota section coming back. Most of it was through Iowa. Every American should drive across Iowa in the summer. It won't help you understand the country any better, but its a part of America that gets this special beauty when the crops are nearing their peak. The winter drive is not so nice. But in the summer.... Cornfields that make the term "amber waves of grain" come to life. Silos, farms, farmers in every direction. And there were many other little things that wove through the day. On the way down, doughnuts at the BP station in Floyd, IA. On the way back, a meatloaf sandwich for supper from the same place. Thoughts of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens while driving through Clear Lake, IA. Nice, medium size places like Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City. The town square in Quincy, IL, where Lincoln and Douglas debated the fate of a nation. A stop in Missouri at the "largest fireworks store in the world", which I had all to myself.

By 1pm I had finished the mission and headed back. I returned with a bushel of the worlds finest peaches. Also, the triumvirate of fireworks, firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets, unfortunately banned by the Minnesota politburo. 10:30 pm I'm back at home. Sunday was spent on a 12 mile run from Mall of America to the house. This was followed by an afternoon of blanching, peeling and freezing peaches, and watching the PGA, which was just down the street a dozen miles or so. I had a much better day than Tiger Woods, though I did not make near as much money.
Great trip and great to do another one of those "why don't we's" that we all have on our mind. I should do more of them, and I will.

12 August 2009

I still miss 'em

In the fall of 1968, just after I turned 12, I had my first cigarette. Behind the gym at Everitt Junior High School in Panama City Florida. Actually it was my second if you count the lit butt I found on the sidewalk outside our house in Chicago in 1962, I was six and took one puff. I guess that doesn't really count.

Anyway, the junior high event started me on this love/hate relationship with cigarettes that continued off and on through high school. In college it was more off than on as I took up running and would quit for months at a time while I took in the new passion for pounding the streets. I started again with the onset of my first real job after college, management trainee with JCPenney in Little Rock, Arkansas and continued through engagement to my wife, marriage, the birth of our first child. All of these were major life events that caused me to swear off cigarettes, but that only lasted a day or two.

October 15, 1983 was the day of the Texas/Arkansas football game. In the days of the old Southwest Conference this was one of the most important events of the year for Arkansans, whether one was a big sports fan or not. We lived in a place the locals referred to as Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a bedroom community of Little Rock. Although I grew up with my dad's affinity for Texas football it didn't run very deep and the passion of my adopted state for the Razorbacks was infectious.
On the morning of the game I thought again about the need to quit the habit and wondered how I could make it through the weekend without lighting up. I thought through the weekend as a series of time compartments. I got this sense that if I could just make it past the game I could probably make it through the whole day. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense but it did at the time. My oldest daughter was almost three and I asked her if she would go running with me before the game started. This would get me through the first time slot. We went outside and for about 30 minutes chased each other around a long block that circled a nearby church. The trot was enough to remind me of how much I loved running and how the tobacco was wearing on my lungs.

When we got back to our little apartment I was determined to at least make it to halftime. Made it. Third quarter, made it. Fourth quarter, game over. Razorbacks badly beaten, 30 something to 3. I had made it and on through the rest of the day. Sunday morning, once I made it past the church service, the rest of the day was not quite as hard. Monday, Tuesday, easier. That was over 25 years ago.

I still miss 'em. While giving up the habit has saved me over $66,000 (2 packs a day @ 3.50 average per pack for 26 years) there are still times when I would love to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee, the newspaper, a pack of Salems, and a couple of fellow smokers. If I thought I could get away with it and not start the habit again, I would. I'm not that strong. That physical sensation that came from quenching the nicotine craving with a freshly lit cigarette was really something. Especially after a good meal. You know what I mean.

Occasionally I will pass the smokers outside my office and remember my old habit. When I quit, smoking was still common in office buildings. I never had to go outside. Never had to take a break from work to light up. I smoked on buses and on airplanes. In my house, in my car, with my little girl on my lap.

I now pass these folk as they huddle outside my office building and sometimes remember that I was one of them, though the memory is fading. When I am traveling out of the country and can pick up a carton of cheap cigarettes, I do, and then give them away. Can't pass up that bargain. In the winter I will shake my head and quickly walk by them, thinking about how weak they are, not strong like me to kick the habit. But i'm not as strong as I think. I have other habits that have taken the place of that one.

Every once in a while I will see them chatting, laughing, sharing some joke, or a problem, getting acquainted, sharing a light, cursing their habit in the bitter cold, cursing the political correctness that forces them outside, and I will envy them. I will forget all the bad things about smoking, all the money I wasted and how smokers are forced to plan their days, friends, work and life in general around the habit. I see them and ponder if I would be tough enough to be in their ranks today, especially when the temp outside is double digits below zero. I am glad that they are still there and I hope they continue to thumb their noses, or ashes, at those who force them into alleys and corridors. There are a lot of bad habits in this world that lead to a hoard of pain and suffering. Gluttony, drunkedness, greed, and the like. In the big scheme of things this one is hardly worth noticing.

Hey man, I can still slap open a zippo with the snap of my fingers and light a match with a nick of the thumbnail. I miss 'em.

11 August 2009

Thank you Kim

Didn't get her last name (something Polish) but she was the gate agent for United at B5 at O'hare today. Got me on an earlier flight home just as the gate was closing, after a morning of meetings in Chicago.
Everyone has a bad O'hare story. Now I've got a good one. Actually a lot more good ones than bad thanks to folks like Kim. In a way this is payback for the experience in the blog entry titled "Nooooooo" below.
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08 August 2009

One year

This blog started a year ago with a brief tribute to one of my earliest known ancestors. Originally intended as a commentary on my development as a barbecue chef, but I quickly realized there is only so much you can write about how you prepare one cut of meat. Go to any food website and you'll see what I mean.


Coincidentally, last night I went with my daughters to see "Julie and Julia", a movie inspired by the lives of Julia Child and a blogger, Julie, who wrote about a year of cooking her way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". If I judged movies by whether they kept me from falling asleep, this one would rate an A. But I don't.


My blog was inspired by the efforts of my brother and oldest daughter. After reading every entry on each blog I was overwhelmed by how much they wrote and the quality of their postings. But, here I am, a year later with a nice little collection of my own, the closest Ive ever come to some sort of diary.

The movie was preceded by dinner at Fasika, a restaurant I should go to more often. Simply one of the very best restaurants in the Twin Cities and a place that makes me happy just to walk through the doors. There are few restaurants that have this effect on me, or anyone for that matter I suppose. But if I had to name a few that just the thought of brings good memories the list would include Gene and Georgetti in Chicago, Fasika and Edina Grille in the Twin Cities, The Dry Dock in Mullins, SC, Hunan Peking in Ballwin, Missouri, and any Cracker Barrell.

Our original plan was to go to a ball game afterwards, but rain got in the way and we took in a movie. A great evening. No drama, no arguments, no tension. Just one of those perfect evenings that you can only imagine when you're changing a diaper, putting out a backseat fist fight between siblings, or helping with the struggles of fourth grade math.

05 August 2009

The streak

5:50 am, another day of running completed. Five miles. Not a day missed since Jan 1, 1998. 27,884 miles. Average of 6+ miles a day. One of my fellow runners noted the hardest thing about a running streak is not the starting, its stopping. Here's the list, from the US Running Streak Association. There are better ways to use my time, but I would have about 150 lbs more to carry around.

04 August 2009

Noooooo !!!!!

How does a platinum level frequent flyer end up in the middle seat in coach on a four hour flight from MSP to ANA? ( We are, of course, the biggest bunch of whiners and crybabies among the traveling public. Welltodo fat guys with a sense of self-importance.)
Fortunately this travel injustice was offset by a great meal with an old friend at The Cannery restaurant in Newport Beach. First time to eat there, doubtful I'll be back, but would be nice.
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02 August 2009

A summer without Churchill

My family and friends know this image. The Onyx Churchill cigar. Linked to me and my summers for the past ten years or so. Not this year. Of the physical things that bring pleasure to life... food, clothing, and other comforts, I would put this cigar at or near the very top.

In order to get back on the non-smoker rate for my company life insurance I am enduring a year without this old friend. There is no middle ground with my company's insurance provider, Minnesota Life. You are either a smoker or you aren't. Any use of tobacco of any kind during the year and you are a smoker. A few more months to go.

I haven't been a habitual cigar smoker but have been a long standing one of some twenty years or so. I never had a problem setting it aside when the weather turned cold and it was impolite to bring the use indoors. Generally something for the summer months. A good cigar is a great pleasure and must have been what God had in mind when he invested tobacco. Not a constant habitual use, but the occasional hours long indulgence that clears the mind, brings friends together, seals important life events. Similar to how the indians used it.
Most notably this year it has been absent from my yardwork. I used to joke about how the lawnmower wouldn't start unless I had a good cigar going. It will also be absent from our family gathering in September in Tennessee. At least one neighbor has noticed and commented that it doesn't seem the same for me to be mowing the yard sans cigar. Tell me about it.

25 July 2009

Odd travel, odd governments, odd people

On road trips, a meal is often a Little Debbie oatmeal creme cookie, cheese crackers and a Coke. Not so last night when I ate at Obrigado Restaurant in Louisa, Virginia, a town 60 miles or so west of Richmond. Service was slow and the locals were more welcome than strangers, but in a small town that's as it should be. The food was so good I didn't care. My order of noodles and vegetables, aka pasta primavera, was superior to any dish i'd ever had by that name.

The week began with a meeting in NY on issues facing the finance industry. Some worry that acts of the United States to stem the panic of the fall and winter may become policy and erode capitalism in my native country. Not impossible, but difficult, as capitalism is so closely aligned with human nature. Governments will always impair the flourishing of capitalist systems. It is their nature to meddle and overestimate their ability to influence outcomes. It's not the death of capitalism, but certainly a nasty case of the flu. A free market winter. It looks dead, but deep under the snow there is a flurry of activity, an invisible hand waiting for the moment.

The day also included lunch with a friend who blames me for his current career troubles, as does his wife. He is wrong and knows it, she does not. We discussed it, dealt with it, and now move on.

The next few days included a nice long train ride from Penn station to other meetings, other folk.
The weekend brought me back to the Cities and a cookout, featuring a different friend on an intense rant. He could not understand how those of his religion support a different political party than he does. His religion and his political party are linked in a way that gets more difficult for me to grasp, the older I get. I soon left the "guy table" and sat with the women and their discussion of husbands, high school events, summer plans. A buddy from Canada soon joined me.

19 July 2009

The weekend

Where I was: Willmar, Minnesota High School.
Mascot: The Cardinals.
What I did: Attended the last day of Sonshine Festival, a festival of christian music.
The Expected: Corn dogs, t-shirt sales, funnel cakes, prayer groups, mosh pits, headbangers, tents, RV's
The Unexpected: A wedding/christening combo. Bride in white dress with baby in tow, harmonica-playing priest. (How someone can make such a mockery of virginity and all the other symbolism of the marriage ceremony is lost on me. But I am being judgemental. I don't have all the facts.) Middle aged people hesitantly jumping up and down during the concerts, imitating their children/grandchildren.
The drive: A couple of peaceful hours past miles of corn, wheat and soybean fields.
Lunch: Classic road food, cup of coffee, potato chips and a doughnut.
Why I went: To catch the last day of an event that has become a big part of the summer for my teenage daughter.
The drive back: There is no place to stop for coffee after midnight between Willmar and Minneapolis.

16 July 2009

Listen to the pig

Oink.

It's been a long time coming, but things are getting better when it comes to my pork ribs. After pondering this problem for a while, and trying to think like the pig, I'm slowing navigating the maze of rib cookery. I'm ashamed to admit it, but one of my mistakes was a sense of entitlement, that somehow the ribs deserved as much use of the smoker as a brisket or a pork shoulder. This comes from watching too much cspan.

A big cut of meat can handle error. If you start out too hot or too cold you can adjust for it. Ribs are a little piece of meat on a big bone and you must not overcook. 6-8 hours is plenty, not the 12 or so for a shoulder. I've cut way back on the rub. Before, I was using a lot of brown sugar, which would only carmelize and blacken if left in the smoker too long. The result was a few nice specimens but mainly hard blackened sticks of bone that only a dog would tackle. I've found a light rub of salt, pepper, paprika, a little garlic powder, works fine. Heck, just salt and pepper works alright.

Listen to the pig, brother, listen to the pig. The pig has been talkin to me this year and oinkin that less is more when it comes to a dry rub. My stimulus package, well meaning as it was, was too much. I went overboard! I was thinkin about what looked good at the beginning, going into the smoker, rather than what worked coming out. This made sense to me, but not the pig. It took a while, but I finally got it. There's an analogy here to real life but this is more important.

Last weekend I kept them ribs in the smoker about 6 hours at 200-225. I laid a sheet of tin foil over them, not sealed, just a gentle blanket. Like the way you set a newspaper on your head when crossing the street in the rain. I thought this would help capture the smoke flavor without a lot of smoke buildup on the meat. It worked well.

When I took them off I wrapped them in foil with a light mix of apple juice, mustard, a little ketchup. Just enough to get a little nice steam going later. Let them set for a couple of hours, then put them back in the smoker, still wrapped in the foil for two more hours. Not perfect but a lot better than what I was turning out in the past. One of the toughest things about smokin ribs is the multiple pieces to the puzzle. There can be loads of unintended consequences. When I've messed up a batch I know it right away, but usually spend a half day trying to convince myself that "this isn't that bad". Once I come to my senses, figuring our why it's bad can take a while.

14 July 2009

Baseball at the break

The All-Star break is here. As much as it is maligned, it is the only allstar game in any sport that gets any attention. And since it determines home field for the World Series, actually means something.

This year it's in St. Louis, the very center, the true nexus of the baseball universe. It should be there every year.

The United States' President will be at the game. The United States would be well served if Presidents spent every day of the season in a ball park. Spring training too.

Also worth noting, the astros are the team that every year bedevils the Cardinals. They can be 15 games back during the early season but no matter how bad or injury plagued they happen to be, in any given year they always manage to give the Cards a good scare. This is another such year. Ask me on any given day the team I worry about the most, the answer is always the same, the astros.

At the break....

NL Central
Cardinals
Brewers -2 1/2
Astros -3 1/2
another team -3 1/2
Reds -5
Pirates -9 1/2

12 July 2009

A welcome visit

My mother was here this week. A special time. 81 years old and still teaching her son so many lessons about life and living out the passing of time.

She refuses to let aging get in the way of enjoying every day as much as she can. Her mind is so sharp. She will recall an old story from years past, engage in debate on a political issue, quote a poem from childhood, defend the faith, and on and on. She is frustrated by the things she forgets but this is more than offset by the spirit and purpose she brings to all her days.

In the past few days we've been on walks, drives through the country, a picnic at Lake Minnetonka, a trip to The General Store in Minnetonka, and an excursion to the city for dinner at Amore Victoria. Today we'll go to church, where some of my earliest and best memories of her were formed. She'll ask me questions throughout the morning about our services and little differences between the way yankees worship versus normal people back home. Our church is bigger than hers but we all know this doesn't always translate to better.

We will discuss church a lot today and I'll refrain from cuttiing the grass, though it needs it, and honor the Lord's Day like I should and as she wishes. She is rock solid in her faith and a firm anchor for her children and her grandchildren. The storms of life have never swayed her and never will.

Our drive yesterday left the Twin Cities around 9 and drove through Hastings, MN and down 35 Highway to Stockholm, Wisconsin. It was a beautiful day and the scenes along Lake Pepin were the high point of the drive. Why Stockholm? A few little shops with a mixture of local crafts and salvaged wares from sales at Target or Walmart. It has the Bogus Creek Cafe and Bakery, which is a great bakery but a lousy cafe. In the fall it is our destination to pick apples and see the changing leaves.

Then across the Mississippi back into Minnesota and the town of Red Wing. Had a great lunch at Marie's Casual Dining & Lounge, in the basement of a building at 217 Plum Street. The tab for four of us was 25.55 plus a healthy five bucks to the waitress from Mom. From there we headed home and got back around 2pm.

Today we will have another nice lunch, watch a movie, play a board game. When the Cardinals game comes on this evening she'll watch a few inning with me. They play another national league team, one from Chicago. But the day will be waning by then and hard to say how much she'll stay up for. A day like this is boring fare for some, but for a guy who sees his Mom only a few times a year, a great way to spend a day.

11 July 2009

Addresses

Roan Mointain, Tennessee, 1956-1958
208 Willow Road, Savannah Georgia 1958 to 1962
7754 Massasoit, Oak Lawn, Ill, 1962-1963
5805 Annette, Pensacola Florida 1963-68
627 Barton Ave, Panama City, Florida 1968-1971
910 Everitt Avenue, Panama City, Florida 1971-1974
1835 Oklahoma Ave, NE, St. Petersburg, Florida 1974-1975
228 New Mens Dorm, SBU, Bolivar, Missouri 1975-1977
309 West Jefferson, Bolivar, Missouri 1977-1978
3200 Mary Street, Little Rock, Arkansas 1978-1979
301 West 33rd, Apts 209C and 221F, Pine Bluff, Arkansas 1979-1984
1803 Elm, Pine Bluff, Arkansas 1984-1985
5805 Old Pine Road, Little Rock, Arkansas 1985-1991
109 Orchard Village Court, Manchester, Missouri 1991-1993
738 Spring Hill Farm Drive, Ballwin, Missouri 1993-2004
11061 Bluestem Lane, Eden Prairie, Minnesota 2004-2013
Victoria, Minnesota. 2013-









07 July 2009

Overshadowed


In college, this was on my dorm room wall, though I was never one to hang pictures like this. More likely it was something about stopping a war, fighting the system, rock and roll, bringing down Nixon (long after he had fallen), or a political candidate who had caught my attention. Years later this is the only famous woman I can remember honoring with a spot on my wall.

There was something about her at that age and this picture. Perfect hair, teeth, eyes, everything. Even the name, Farrah Fawcett. Not before or since have I known a Farrah. It must have been hard to be a teenage girl in the 70's knowing you had to compete with this image and with the magical name that rolled off the tongue so easily.

Over the years whenever dinner conversation turned to movies or famous people, this poster was always mentioned when her name came up. There was Charlie's Angels and the poster. She continued to act into the eighties and nineties, but despite great performances, such as in "The Apostle", it always came back to the poster and "Angels". In a way very similar to the Betty Grable picture of WWII, this was the image of her burned into our minds. I can not name anything Betty Grable ever did or said or any movie she was in, but I know she showed off those legs for the troops in that famous picture of the 40's.

Farrah was overshadowed this week by the funeral of the guy who was not Billie Jean's lover. It happens often. Denied that final spotlight. Perhaps it is fitting. Her passing was more common, more normal. The painful agony of a long illness. We've all had loved ones go through it. Her death was the type most adults can relate to and pray they do not experience themselves. His was a little out of the ordinary.

When I think about college, I always think of my dorm room. Accounting textbooks, ragged jeans, coffee urn, overflowing ashtrays, can of tennis balls, Uriah Heep and Pink Floyd albums, a few quarters for laundry..... and that smile.

21 June 2009

A couple of observations in Amsterdam

Touring the Anne Frank house on Saturday. A sign posted outside welcomes visitors and explains the hours, admission price, and rules of entry. It is in French, Dutch, English, Spanish, but not in German.

Walking back from the Anne Frank house to Central Station I cross Dam Square around 10am. A trumpeter is playing a decent rendition of the theme from "The Godfather".

More thoughts on Greece

Athens is about the past, our past, all of us. Were it not for the antiquities there would be little reason for anyone to go there, unless for a business deal or something government related. Along with Mexico City, it's one of the ugliest places I have been. Graffitti is everywhere. Not surprising in a big city, but there's no sign that any effort has been made to hide it, no paintovers, etc. It's as though the city ran out of paper and pens and communicates with spraypaint. No evidence the city cares or is even aware. What an eyesore.


So, the city thrives on the packaging and marketing of the past. A lot could be written about how the constructors of the Parthenon were creating a structure that would feed and employ Greeks for centuries, from the tourguides to the little shops that sell Parthenon kitchen magnets. If a city today wants to thrive in the future all it has to do is hire great architects, stay intact for a thousand years, and the tourists of the future will keep your distant offspring employed for the following thousand.
The antiquities are everywhere. So many that I saw a junkpile behind a museum with random rubble, ancient pedestals, arms, legs, with no place to go. The refuse of ancient Greece has yet to be cleaned up.
Athens does give one a different view of time. In my country any building older than 200 years is deserving of museum status. But, it's not really old, just older than most of the other stuff around us. We have no buildings that predate the printing press, gunpowder, eyeglasses, or even the microscope.

Athens reminded me that despite all our claims of progress, we are still the same as this ancient folk in many ways. We trade with other peoples. We marry. We pass on what we've learned to our children. We try and leave marks in the world that people will remember us by. We worship many gods, all false, save one. We build large buildings as monuments to our society. We like to think that we'll be remembered here, but eventually all of us are forgotten. What matters is not if we are known in this world, but whether we are known in the next, and by the architect of both.

19 June 2009

Cruise the Greek Isles


Where do I start? On the one hand I should not complain one bit since I am in Greece with my wife of 30 years, its a very special trip for us and I am lucky she's stuck with me all this time.

On the other hand, if you ever get the idea that €98 for a day trip to 3 islands is a great deal, here are some questions to ask. If the tour company is ChatTours, the answer to each will be yes.

1. Do you make each announcement in at least six languages?
2. Do you play the soundtrack from "saturday night fever" and tony bennett tunes to make the americans feel at home?
3. Is the bottled water served at room temp?
4. Is there a "no wake" rule in the middle of the sea that forces you to go especially slow?
5. Do members of your crew dress like a rastafarian and chase passengers with a water gun?
6. Do you close the tour with a live saxophone seranade of "Auld Lang Syne"?
These weird things and more happened on our "three island" cruise, with at time seemed like we were stuck in an episode of the twilight zone. Best part of the trip was our stay at the island of Hydra, a truly beautiful spot with waters unbelievably clear.This would be a wonderful place to spend a summer or two, or even a life.

Packing my bags, another half day here then heading home. Much to write about this trip but limits to what I can type out on a blackberry.

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05 June 2009

Leaving Mumbai


A world emerging. Hard not to be optimistic about the human condition when you walk the streets of this city. It is full of misery and full of determination and willing itself out of the mud and out of the mire. Even the servants, who seemed to always surround me, had this look in their eye. "The tables are turning my friend", they seemed to say.

01 June 2009

Add this to the list of things I never expected to see....

Teenager - Hong Kong airport - t shirt with the slogan, " A watched pot never boils"
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Hong Kong 11pm

Good flight, hit tokyo just right for a 90 min layover. Slept too much though, will be up all night. Service at the Mandarin Oriental is amazing, as though they've been waiting all day for my arrival.

25 May 2009

72 hours in St. Louis

Memorial Day Weekend. Drove the "Avenue of the Saints". Packed quite a bit into a stay of less than 72 hours to visit Rob and old neighborhood friends. Noon Friday to Monday morning....
  1. Thurs evening, landed at 6pm on flight from sfo, picked up the girls, on the road by 7pm. Night at the Best Western Cantebury Inn, Coralville, IA. Our balcony on the second floor overlooks the vending machines in the hallway on the first floor. Hard to describe, so i'll leave it to the proprietor... "Surrounded by beautiful Old World elegance, guests are sure to enjoy the hotel's extraordinary Old English inspired architecture and decor."
  2. Friday. On the road 7am. Traffic good enough to work in a lunch at Maggie O'Brien's in downtown St. Louis near Rob's office. Us, Rob, his girlfriend Laura, her parents.
  3. Quick walk through Union Station finds it has fallen on hard times once again.
  4. Hotel checkin. Marriott in Fenton
  5. Off to the old neighborhood and visits with very dear friends.
  6. Rob and Laura meet us at a park. Killing time while waiting for dinner. A real gem, hidden away in Ballwin off Big Bend.
  7. Dinner at Hunan and Peking Garden in Manchester. Best Chinese in metro St. Louis.
  8. Shopping for Rob at Walmart, Cardinals stuff for me.
  9. Sat am run at Fenton Business Park
  10. Arrive Busch Stadium 90 mins before game time. We miss the old stadium but the new one is nice enough to make the passing of the old one tolerable.
  11. 1210 first pitch. Cards beat Royals 4-0
  12. Ted Drewe's
  13. Hanging out at Rob's apartment, played cards, Ten Little Indians
  14. Dinner at the Hill. Cunetto's was packed so detoured to Favazza's. Same difference. It seems that the Italian food here peaked ten years ago, but is still better than anything in the Twin Cities, or any city for that matter.
  15. 10 am mass at Cathedral Basilica. 8 year old girl in front of me is practicing arm farts and the toddler two rows up tosses a cell phone at her father. Families in church. Not church without them.
  16. Lunch at the Boathouse in Forest Park followed by an hour or so at the Art Museum, back to Rob's apartment.
  17. Quick trip to the old neighborhood elementary school
  18. Great afternoon cookout with old neighbors. Played catch with Rob in the field behind our old house, just like we did countless afternoons. Probably set our record for most throws without a miss.
  19. Cookout ends around ten. Goodbyes to Rob.
  20. Monday 5am, coffee at Moto Mart in Valley Park, back to the Twin Cities

21 May 2009

Sfo to msp

How many times have I taken this flight? Lost count. Listening to "Stone walls and steel bars" on the ipod while flying somewhere over Iowa.
Thankful for small things, such as the dad two rows in front of me who is traveling with baby and working overtime to keep the cries to a minimum.
I love the city I just left and understand why so many people want to live there. For all its problems it is continually creating opportunities. It fights all the government efforts to stifle the soul of the entrepreneur. You can almost feel jobs being created and destroyed. Even here, capitalism will find a way.
... And the climate and scenery are hard to beat.
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20 May 2009

Another day in San Francisco

10 am - its a long day already that started at 5am. I'm two hours into my third meeting of the day.
4pm - a productive day but still in same meeting and dozing. Dinner ahead at 630. Only 6 more hours until I hit the sack.
7pm - Dinner at the Olympic Club. Food was very fine, service even better.
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13 May 2009

A little symbol

We spent Mothers day in Stillwater, MN, browsing the numerous shops of clothes, trinkets, books. Every visit here includes a stop at the Midtown Antique Mall, a great place to spend a few hours or a day.

I passed a collection of ashtrays and it brought back memories of when these things were commonplace in the home and office. Today they are rare and their absence is a reminder of how much personal freedom matters. I don't want or need total freedom, no one does. But I need a lot of it. Some liberties we collectively decide to give up, such as the freedom to drive a car while tipsy. Often we ask the government to enforce the things we give up for the benefit of others.

There are things that are not the business of government, such as the pay structure I have negotiated with my company, or whether I visit a doctor regularly.
Little losses of little freedoms add up and are reflected in little things, such as the ashtray that I purchased and is now in my office. I'm not a smoker. This is a reminder that I no longer have the freedom to be one.

08 May 2009

A few things don't change.....



A hundred miles north of here, they'll make a baloney sandwich for you at Duquette General Store, as I found out yesterday around 7pm. White bread. And if you overpay, the girls at the counter catch it right away and hand that dollar back. I love Minnesota.

06 May 2009

Say Uncle

There are a dozen or so people who honor me by calling me Uncle. I don't know any of them really well, but some better than others. Unless you live around a niece or nephew you never really know them. You always see them at their very best, Christmas, funerals, weddings, family vacation. It's easy to get the impression that they are the perfect children of the family. Your own children you see at their very best and very worst. Not so with nieces and nephews. The reverse is true as well. When I was a kid, mad at my parents, I thought how great it would be to live with my favorite aunt and uncle.

For the subject of this entry I'm an in-law uncle, not the sibling of her mom or dad. Give us a dna test and there's no evidence we're related. That's not all bad. I can pick on her mom and dad or grandmother in my synical, sarcastic, wry manner and no one takes it seriously. After all, i'm not really one of them, what would i know.

Kristin is my niece. Unlike the others, I vividly remember the day she and her sister Lauren were born. Can't tell you a thing about any of the others, barely get names and families straight. It was the same day as a major plane crash in Dallas. I was flying through Dallas that day and took off a few minutes before the crash. It was the big news when I landed in Little Rock, except in her household where this arrival was the hot topic. No one had time for tales of death and tragedy. This was new life, in a double dose.
Fast forward 20something years later and we are spending an afternoon together. In Philadelphia. In the rain. It is the very first time in all these years that we have spent uninterrupted time together. Not unusual I suppose. Uncles can be intimidating and a bit bizarre. I grew up with three Uncle Waynes. I get it.

We dodged from building to building trying to find some way to fill up the time while awaiting dinner. Had the weather been nice a long stroll would have been perfect. When it's raining and you have no car your mind fills up with strategies around dryness.

We went to the Art Museum, spot of the famous step running scene in Rocky. Closed on Monday.

We had both done the Liberty Bell.

We went to another Museum nearby. Closed on Monday.

We finally found the Science Museum. Open on Monday.

We wandered, past the Franklin Statue, the big Heart, the World of Machines, "the oldest thing you will ever touch".... It didn't take long to dispense with the normal chit chat, family catch up and all of my normal questions an uncle would ask a niece. Over Christmas you can stretch the idle chatter out for days. When you are face to face and no one else around, they take a max of two minutes.

From the museum we moved to Starbucks, where her purse was stolen. I'll leave that story to her. I hate that it happened.

That incident threw our plans and conversation into an unexpected detour. My plan was to treat her to a nice dinner at a place that might have been too stuffy. We were running short on time and ended up having dinner in a normal restaurant. After retracing the theft minute by minute several times, we moved to other topics. Two adults, bound by family ties, engaged in conversation on various topics and family events past and present. About as normal as you can get but a first for this pair. Fortunately, we don't have the baggage for one of those deep soul searching dialogues, although given the rain and circumstances, it would have been the perfect setting. Still, a bit uncomfortable but as it should have been. Not forced, just a bit out of place for both of us.

As we talked my mind was elsewhere, thinking about how one of the little girls that I could always count on to play with my little girl at Thanksgiving had become a fascinating adult with a life and path of her own. Just like my oldest daughter and son and soon, my youngest daughter. The wheel turns, the snow melts, the flowers bloom, life grows on.

We were in the Philly area for two completely different reasons. I was meeting a client in one of buildings nearby, talking investment talk with investment folk battered by falling markets. She was there healing hurts from people battered by things much worse than falling stock prices. A metaphor too deep for me. I was one of the thousands of Dads in identical suits, taking care of business, supporting the family. She was providing support to those who have no Dad. Both noble work. Both very different.

She has wonderful siblings and the offspring of Bob and Betty is an interesting casserole of family peculiarities, personalities and fundamentalist religion all covered in a thick layer of Southern culture, with 2 for 1 coupons sprinkled on top. It's much better up close than when viewed from a distance. In a strong family, there's always time and opportunity for days like this. Four hours well invested. Long overdue. Thanks K.

02 May 2009

One machine that puts a smile on my face.

Noon. May 2nd. First lawn mowing of 2009. Pack away the snowblower, gas up the John Deere lawnmower. Purchased for $25 from previous owner of this house in 2003. Three pumps on the primer button, one pull of the rope. Bbbbrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmm

30 April 2009

Por favor manténganse se alejado de las puertas

"Please stand clear of the doors", por favor manténganse se alejado de las puertas.

After four days of riding the Disney monorail at a conference I've got this memorized. Never made it to the park but did have the honor of being stopped by a Disney cop for running outside the normal people area. I found a road that was mainly traveled by maintenance vehicles and the like and someone reported me as a suspicious character. I guess I looked Goofy.

18 April 2009

Smoking ribs 2009 1.0

I don't smoke ribs well. Very inconsistent. I never get the rave reviews that I do with a pork shoulder or brisket. This week's batch was better that some. Temp was mainly in the 180 to 225 range for about ten hours.

One of the mistakes I may be making is too much rub. I use the same rub that I use for a pork roast which is about three parts brown sugar, one part white sugar and about one part a combination of black pepper, salt, paprika, garlic powder. It works great on a roast, creating a nice sweet crust that is a great compliment to the meat inside.

However, on ribs this rub is like a hard shell over a smaller piece of meat. The meat tastes good but the crust can be overwhelming. What I think I should do is try the next batch with a very light rub or mop. Perhaps one batch with a little salt and pepper and another batch that gets a regular coating in a light sweet/sour mop of vinegar, sugar, mustard.

The ribs this weekend were not bad, but I think could have been much better. They were better than what you normally get at a restaurant but not the quality that I think it possible.

All in, it was a great day for smoking. Buds on the trees, spring is on the move. On the negative side most of the family is turning vegetarian and i'm left to eat this stuff myself or share with a few others.

11 April 2009

Smokin

April 11, 5am, the first pork shoulder and brisket of the year are on the smoker.

The rub is something I throw together that seems to work out well. Mainly it's brown sugar, perhaps two thirds. The rest is white sugar, paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper. Lots of rub on the meat and then allowed to set in the fridge overnight.

The fire is the basic Kingsford charcoal along with some soaked wood chips or chunks. Usually hickory or a fruit wood like apple or cherry. I cut down a maple tree in the yard last year and have been drying some of that in the garage for use later in the year.

I'll keep the temp around 220 for the next 12 hours.
Verdict: Some amazing stuff. I thought the brisket was better than the pork but most of the eaters thought the reverse.

07 April 2009

How an Avenger saved my life

Baseball season has started. The Cardinals lost their opener. Rob and I talked about it today and I was reminded how much baseball means to both of us.

Team: The Avengers
Year: 1996
City: St. Louis
Situation: Job turmoil, my new "boss" is nuts....and I may be next.

One of the strangest job situations i've ever had was one where my so called boss was someone I had kept from getting a job early in his career. His dream was to work for our firm, I and others realized the was out of his league and blocked him from being hired by the company. Ten years later, at another firm, he's my boss. The lack of understanding of our business had grown expotentially and he proceeded down a path that dismantled the company.

The stress of this was something. I won't go into the details but it still bugs me more than ten years later that I didn't do more to stop this. But it wasn't all bad and there were opportunities to impact bad decisions and make them less bad, or in some cases actually good ones. But there were days in 96, 97, 98 when I just couldn't stand the thought of going into work one more day.

It was in these days that a kid, a glove, a bat and a ball kept my life in focus. During these years Rob lived for baseball. Glory days as Springsteen would call it. There are great things in life and being a really good ball player on a really good team when you're ten years old is near the top of the list. He made some mistakes but had more than his share of game winning hits and magical plays at the plate. In the spring, fall and summer our days often came to a close out in the expansive field in our back yard, playing pitch. Sometimes for only twenty minutes, other times for an hour.

On particularly tough days at work I eased my mind by thinking about what I had to look forward to when I got home. "In just six hours I'll be in the back yard hitting flies to Rob", or "in just 2 hours and 27 minutes, we'll be playing catch". Crazy mind game, but a little trick that help me get past the next conference call, the next meaningless report submission, the next lost client account.

It wasn't always planned. Sometimes I'd come home, change clothes, plop down on the couch, grab the remote and get ready for a snooze. Not a thought of going outside. Then came, "Hey, Dad, you wanna play catch", and I'd be out of the house, down the hill and in the common ground shared with our neighbors.

There was something about those hours playing with my son that helped me put everything into perspective. Sure things were tough, but so was I. My son, a few yards away, is not worried about the markets. He's waiting for the next toss from his dad and is oblivious to all the grownup stuff swirling around in my life. This is how it should be.

While tossing the ball I'd look up the hill to our house and know that inside was a mom fixing supper and two daughters. Often they joined us, altogther or individually, glove or bat in tow. Rachel held the family record of 200+ tosses without a miss. She was every bit as beautiful and glorious on the field as he was. Caroline toddled around and did her best to catch a ball when not distracted by something much more imporant, such as a butterly or lightning bug.

As the sun set we climbed the hill to head back inside. The climb meant a return to responsibility and each step seemed a reminder as your pulled yourself up, with armfuls of bats and balls. Inside that house there was homework to be finished, spelling tests to drill for, baths and stories before bedtime. In the field there was escape and a few precious moments when nothing else in the world mattered.

To my son, it was the end of another day and a few hours playing with Dad. To Dad, it was much needed relief and the knowledge that no matter what the next day brings, I can count on a kid and a glove waiting for me when the working day draws to a close. I've always said our children each came into our lives when we needed them most. In 1996 I needed a ten year old.

05 April 2009

Thinking Easter

Why do Christians make more of Christmas than Easter? In part because we are more comfortable sharing the holiday with non believers. You don't have to be a Christian to enjoy the religious aspect of Christmas, heck you can be an atheist or a muslim and celebrate the birth of a "good teacher" from antiquity.


People don't talk about Easter. They don't say "Happy Easter" at Target, the way they do at Christmas. Easter is resurrection. Easter is the Lord of creation stepping into this world and into my place and suffering on my behalf. Easter is the thing you can't shake, you can't get out of your head when you really think about it. I can't understand it, but I can accept it, and thank Him for it. I can live like I am grateful.