Monthly Archives: March 2010

Writer, heal thyself…

For all my pontification about the plus side of letters for recipients (notably Ellen and Reid), there is another element to the single pages – a benefit, perhaps? – that has penetrated my thick skull over the weeks and months and years of words-on-paper effort.

To wit, each letter is as much for me as it is for the reader.  I get as much out of the creation and sending as others get out of the receiving.  Maybe more.  For however long it takes to bang out 500 – 700 words (surely no more than 15 minutes) it is a period of enforced clarity.  Some day I’ll strap on a blood pressure gauge and it is my uneducated guess that it will sink like a stone.  That is how relaxing it is to me.  The hubbub, stress, crushing frustration and pressure of a corporate day dissolves away.

More than anything, the process is cathartic.  It causes me to personally validate what I am about to espouse; it causes me to seek the truth because that is the one thing my readers should expect; and it grants me the privacy to vent, rage, opine and otherwise display the full range of emotions.  None of those are likely to surface to any degree in daily conversations or shortish phone calls and rampant text messages.  I can look at the page – and at myself in the mirror if there were one nearby – and feel good in that what I have said and how I have felt about saying it indeed reflects my true being at the instant of creation.  Letters have done a U-turn over the years from entertaining and distracting the kids from their own daily pressures to a regular this-is-where-your-dad-is-at-this-moment.

As is the Wednesday habit, here is a letter from yesteryear, i.e. Ellen’s time in college.

June 7


Well, summer is here.  Just last week it was cool, now it’s near 90 with more to come.  We’ll take it, however, as winter will come soon enough.

Reid has surprised us by literally bouncing out of bed at 6:30 every morning to head off to work in grubby jeans, inside out (?) t-shirts, and dusty work boots.  He sure likes the cash, and by gosh he’s been saving a fair portion of it, too.  One of the good sides is that he doesn’t stay out during the week nearly as late.  Most nights, he’s here by midnight, although he crashes after work and snoozes pretty hard.

We’re catching ourselves with post-Scooter moments.  When I get up, I think ‘oh, better let the dog out.’  Or, ‘better feed the dog’.  We’ve got his picture and collar (with tags) prominently displayed.  People have been sad to hear of his passing.  Your mom says we see him up in the puffy white clouds.

Grandma and Grandpa headed for Sundance, Wyoming this morning.  They’ll go through the old route via the Sand Hills of Nebraska.  Grandpa wants to take a pilgrimage of sorts.  He probably won’t get up there again.

Actually, they’re taking the same highway Bob F. and I took last Friday up to Ft. Robinson.  It was a wet trip but still fun.  We both just love the Sand Hills.  No better ride on a beautiful day as far as we were concerned.  We had one ticklish moment Saturday morning in the rain.  Bob’s BMW bike almost didn’t start, and we were literally hundreds of miles from the nearest BMW dealership.  I’m not sure what we would’ve done.  Saw antelopes and deer and a few turtles.  Saturday morning was 170 miles of solid rain.  My face felt exfoliated from the stinging raindrops.  We stayed with Ralph and Gayle Saturday night.  Ralph was the same as usual: talk and tell jokes.  He’s glad you’re doing well.

The countdown is on to your grandmother’s move.  She’s just paralyzed with fear and angst.  That drives Nancy and your mom nuts.  Lots of TLC needed on this one.  You can guess who will do the heavy lifting.

Knock on wood for me.  Hope to hear relatively soon about ______________ or other significant work.  I need to start pulling in a better income.  Either that or get my new renovation column off the floor and up and running.

So, the mushroom goes into the bar and says ‘bar keeper, give me a beer.’  To which the bar keep says ‘we don’t serve your kind here.’  ‘Why not?’ replied the mushroom.  ‘I’m a fun-gi.’  Get it?

That’s the best I can do.  Let me know how things are going and what your schedule is.  Toodle-ooh.


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Advice not worth two cents most days…

If I ever approach you with unsolicited advice on stocks, winning lottery numbers, sure-fire shot savers for golf, or how to correct flaws I’ve seen in your personal life, politely excuse yourself and turn the other way.  And run.  Fast.   I live in a glass house and the panes are paper thin, if you get my drift.

As a rule, I am loathe to give advice.  Few seek it; even fewer get it.  My two cents aren’t worth that much.  Except when it comes to letters.  I am a fountain of suggestions.  The Fort Knox of (limited) knowledge.  If you haven’t perceived that I am a shill when comes to the written page, then I haven’t been nearly loud enough.  If you ask, the answer might be: ‘how much time do you have?’

As trite, over-hyped and way-way-way overused as it sounds, Nike’s admonition to ‘Just do it’ rings true on the subject of letters.  If you never start a page, you will never do it.  But as with most things, small steps are a good solution.  Find that one person where re-connection is overdue, dormant or the relationship is not entirely severed.  Start with them.  Have a list of what you want to say or what you perceive they want to hear.  Commit to 200-300 words (roughly three to four medium length paragraphs).  Surprise yourself by how quickly you find your creative frame of mind and how smoothly it comes together.  And trust me, my counsel is that you will be amazed at how fast you adapt to this mode of expression.  People have asked ‘how do you keep going?’ on letters.  After a near decade of practice, it just does.  Thus, my advice will rain on these pages with some frequency.

Enough pandering.  Here is last week’s letter to Ellen and Reid (minus a few very personal paragraphs).

March 22, 2010

Ellen/Reid: The past week has been a mixed bag as far as events and emotions are concerned.  We had a very nice Saturday in the mid 70s which hopefully is a harbinger of better weather ahead.  We won’t delve into my golf game both days.  Let’s just say my swing has collapsed like a house of cards and leave it at that.

There was a very sad story about a young guy from Atlanta who was jogging on the beach at Hilton Head while listening to his iPod.  Tragically, he didn’t hear a light plane making an emergency landing on the shoreline.  He was struck from behind and killed instantly.  He never heard the plane, which was gliding without engine power.  Ironically, it was the very stretch of beach near the timeshare where you strolled and rode bikes.

The moulding is not yet finished in the bath.  The trees which provide the wood are apparently still in sapling stage.  Heaven forbid we would move forward and get the job actually done.  The blame lays entirely on me.  The scale did make the move to the new bath, and its first order of business was to bark at me when I stepped on it.  I could feel it compress when the first heavy steps were made.  It is a sign of a dietary apocalypse.

In further proof that your dad’s light is dimming a bit, I’ve taken it upon myself to remove nails and screws from the roadway that I espy on my weekend walks.  It makes me think I am saving some poor soul the travail and utter inconvenience of a flat tire.  Who knows how many punctures have been averted.  None, probably.  But I do look out for the thin hazards.  I am losing it.

EP, you will be aghast that the local county has decided to close half of the 24 branch libraries in town for budget reasons.  A few hundred people will be shown the door, too.  How is it that we reach this stage whereby the bastions of literacy are to close their doors?  We can fund all manner of other niceties but the one place where people go to read and research in peace is no longer worthy of our tax dollars.  I don’t get it.  I’ve gone to my nearby branch repeatedly and it’s always full of people who need books or Internet access or just a place of solitude.

My class in pleasure writing has been accepted at the local community college.  It doesn’t kick off until the fall semester but I am really excited, and a tad nervous, about it.  The guise of writing is cloaked under the heading of Writing for Blogs but much of it will be how to write and organize your writing.  It’s very much an elective for people who are largely out of school; adults who want to expand their creative sides, seniors, and others.  Of course, the blog about you two bumpkins will be the main focus of whatever it is I teach for two hours a night for six weeks.  Considering how you two never listened to me preach at you, how can I expect students to put up with me, too?


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Paper hugs…

Some days are tougher than others when it comes to missing the kids.  We just don’t get to see each other very much.

This reality relates to what psychologist John Rosemond has counseled generations of parents all along: raising children is all about getting your fledglings ready to leave the nest and be on their own.  In Ellen and Reid’s case, that is precisely what has happened.  They have flown the coop.  In no way are they dependent on their mother or me.  They are forging their own way in life, and in subtly doing so, they have left their father behind.  I say that in a highly positive sense.  But don’t construe that it makes our enforced absence easier to stomach.  I miss them terribly.  Not that I tear up about it, but it’s crossed my mind now and again.

None of us can afford to jet around the country.  Reid will get down here soon enough – June, most probably – but Ellen follows her own drummer and in a show of where her priorities are, her new hubby, Tim, and new home take precedence.  That is wholly as it should be.

As has been noted here before, we chat weekly and text with some frequency.  But the calls don’t drone on with long periods given to idle chatter and hardly feature ‘I miss you’ mushiness.  Letters, then, fill that void at least for me.  I need to maintain the contact, keep up the connection, and hopefully, their ability to read between the lines is continuing evidence to them on a weekly basis that they are missed.  Letters, I think, are paper hugs.

But enough waxing poetic.  Another letter went to my parents this morning.  About 10 minutes worth of joyful effort.

March 26, 2010

Mom and Dad: The kids sent me joyous text messages last night after Butler made a late charge to upset Syracuse.  Of course, I was snoozing on the couch when all this came to pass so I had to depend on the late sport news at midnight after I couldn’t get back to sleep.  This is the best of all sports seasons with March Madness, the Masters and the start of baseball.  I think this year I will get to more games of the local team, the Knights.  They play their games just over the border in South Carolina which is sort of weird.  The stadium here in the downtown has been blocked by some nutcase lawyer – that’s not an oxymoron is it? – who contends we’re a big league town.  Uh huh.

I am anchored in last place in your other son’s NCAA pool.  I mean, my teams have all been blasted into submission.  I picked all the wrong ones: Kansas, Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia.  They’ve all been sent packing with their tails firmly between their legs.  My misguided effort to pick teams causes no end of glee for your other son who rubs it in, deeply, at every opportunity.  He reminds me of my ineptitude as often as possible.

The weather here continues to brighten a little bit although the mornings remain on the cool side of the ledger.  There won’t be much golf for me this weekend as I will likely go hiking tomorrow in what passes for the “mountains” although I may tee it up Sunday with my friend Mike at his course in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  It’s supposed to rain and he’s served notice that he won’t play in the drizzle.  Wimp.

My lettuce is making substantial progress.  The seedlings actually look like little lettuce plants now.  I am religiously applying Miracle Gro once a week.  Looks like next weekend will be devoted to herbs and such if the weather looks like it will maintain sustainable warmth.

The bank made a good move this week on principal forgiveness of some shady home loans made by Countrywide.  We were kind of bullied into it by attorney’s general who took Countrywide to task.   I don’t know why we didn’t finger those guys throughout the process because that’s where the fault rested in almost all instances.  But that’s not how it’s done but this latest move has been greeted with universal acceptance.

Ellen continues to outfit her new home with accessories.  I need to correct a misstatement in that she informed me the other day that it would be the second weekend in May when she, Tim and Reid will pay you both a visit.  They are excited about seeing you two.  This reminds me to get out the wedding CD and make you a couple of pictures of the wedding day.  To my chagrin, there aren’t any photos of the event in my own house, so I’ll make enough copies for the both of us.  Word is that Reid is playing it cool with his squeeze, but that’s as much as I’m allowed to know.

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Facebook, Twitter and beyond…

When it comes to technology, I am a late adopter.  No, let me amend that.  I am a seldom, if ever, adopter.  Just now I’m beginning to ramp up for Windows 3, and it debuted in 1990 (but no one answers the 800-number on the box and the W-3 support site must be temporarily offline). That is how behind the times I am.

So when the rest of the world is lock-step with Facebook and Twitter, I muddle behind in last place.  Give me a good word processing program and I’m golden.

The silver lining for us laggards, it seems, is that we don’t need to learn the latest e-gizmos all over again.  We don’t reach a comfort level with the new fangled, only to see it stripped away as a new and jizzy successor  invariably comes along to triumphantly claim the #1 spot.  Our learning curve with a printed page is pretty flat.  We don’t need to learn the ABC’s of the latest and greatest all over again.  Granted, the bells and whistles of tomorrow’s e-darling are likely to be mind-blowing and very cool.  But it will be a temptress without legs.

I believe there is a dull side to elements of the social media.  Rather than concentrate on the quality of message, we focus – wrongly, in my view – on the messenger.  Not that the Facebooks and the Twitters and whatever else comes along do not have their place.  Absolutely they do.  But we are fixated on the bulb and not the flower.  Speed and pizzazz is not everything.  My penchant is to move along at a snail’s pace and worry more about what goes in rather than the pace and bluster of what comes out.

Stepping again into the Wednesday Wayback machine, here is an early letter to the kiddos.

November 9

EB and Reid:

More news on the no-food-at-home front.  This just in: cereal for dinner the last couple of nights.  Finished a box of Wheaties and moved on to – heaven forbid – Kashi.  Please, make it stop.  Old Mother Hubbard didn’t have anything on us.  I mean, Butler food would be an upgrade right about now.  We don’t need a full size refrigerator anymore, just something about the size for a dorm room would work.  Scooter is eating better – and more – than we are.  I have to shoulder much of the blame.  I can buy cereal, too.

Gordie and I went to C___ Lake Sunday and yesterday to take room measurements.  An architect is going to redesign the kitchen and – yea! – bathroom.  But he needed accurate dimensions so we had to go room-by-room and measure literally everything.  We’ll add a new bedroom, too.  Saw the coolest northern lights on the way up Sunday night.  I mean unbelievably bright.  So bright it made the Weather Channel.  It was deer season up there, and the north woods were alive with hunters wearing blaze orange.   It seems they were all named Mort or Dirk.

Reid, this is a tough deal with Drew and all his friends.  Mom said he had plenty of support from your buddies at the funeral, so it will be great for you to pick up that ball when you return home for T-Day.  That will be a good time to kick back and talk without the pressure of classes or other events.  You did all the right things just after Bonnie’s passing and leading up to the funeral.  It’s just hard for everyone.

We’ll have T-Day at our house with C______’s and Nonnie.  You guys ought to help us cook.  It would be fun.

Boy, it was a hard week all the way around last week.  I couldn’t believe Kerry got rolled, plus Nebraska got shucked by Iowa State.  I’ll never hear the end of that one from my friends up in Ames.

Reid, I’m driving your car today because the BMW is in the shop.  I must say, in all candor, that your Honda is an abomination to the car world.  It would cost $1,000 for a detail shop to work on your car – and that would just be the front seat.  It is, without question, the sloppiest, dirtiest, grungiest, stinkiest car in existence.  It should really go on tour.  People would pay to view it.

Hey, I’m listening on the web to  This is one of the best radio stations I have ever listened to.  Really eclectic (e-́klek-tik / adj – to gather 1: selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles 2: composed of elements drawn from various sources Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).

Enough schooling for now.  You guys work hard, rest up, and we’ll see you in a few days.  Maybe we’ll have more food in the bin by the time you get here.

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My bad…

In one of my first posts a few weeks back, I allowed that there were significant paperwork errors (a.k.a. ‘failure to archive past letters’) that have haunted me over the years.

It was a series of stunning oversights that would curdle the blood of tech-heads everywhere.  They could, and should, hurtle “I told you so” missiles at my easily penetrated skin.  The first two years of letters to Ellen while she was in college were rarely backed up.  The hard disks that did contain the messages along with hundreds of other newspaper columns and other documents were subsequently lost/misplaced and the PCs used for the creations have long since been recycled or traded in or outright discarded.  In my defense, feeble as it might be, it never once dawned on me that the enterprise of writing letters would someday lead me to this doorstep of a blog and potentially a book (which is written but has yet to pass muster with friends who’ve peeked at early manuscripts).  To say I am chagrined at the weeks and months of AWOL letters is a massive understatement.  Ellen professes to have kept the letters – somewhere – but in her helter skelter last year of a wedding and move into her first home, the issue of “can I see the letters, please?” has never been pressed.  Perhaps that time is now.  If I had a nickle for every time I’ve rued my malfeasance…  Well, you know where I’m going with that.  Hopefully, CD storage of recent years of letters will help me atone for past sins.

Here is last week’s note to the kids.

March 15, 2010

Ellen/Reid: There have been better weekends than the one that just passed.  Was on the fritz, nasal-wise, with some sort of pollen-induced allergy, although it may just be the common cold.  I perfected my couch potato act yesterday and didn’t do much of anything.  When I can’t take a slow two and half mile walk around my block, then you know there is a problem.  So, I just stayed on the couch and watched the golf tournament between lengthy naps.  I did summon the strength to get to the grocery store for some bananas and ginger ale – and ice cream.

Bought the final remnants of moulding for the bathroom project.  My neighbor Mike, armed with all the right tools, started the project late last week but in an error of measurement on my part, we were short about three feet of baseboard moulding.  His payment was food at a biker bar called McCoy’s.  They had the best mac & cheese I’ve ever had.  Hopefully the project will be done by next weekend and it will be a real, honest-to-God finished bathroom.  Still love the shower.

Planted more lettuce seeds Saturday morning, and it occurred to me to wish that I wish we had soil as good as the black earth in Iowa and Minnesota.  One has to wonder what plant really likes the red clay down here.  Apparently a fair number of them do; you’ve never seen such undergrowth.  The trees are suddenly all in bloom and the weekend temps and a touch of rain seemed to make everything jump out.  In a week or two, my place will be curtained off from the apartments behind me.

Steve A. is getting re-married.  We talked last week before he and Jane were to head to NYC where his plan was to pop the question to her on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  That sounded pretty cool, and he was excited.  They’ve been going together so long that it would hardly be a surprise.  They used to be neighbors separated by a few houses.  Now they’ll be live-ins.  I didn’t talk to Steve this weekend but I’m sure his plan came to fruition.  Both his girls were very much in support of it.

When you guys get to Omaha to see your grandparents, just a reminder to be on your toes.  Patience pills everyone.  Your grandmother is having a rough go of it, and she’s given to spells of anger late in the day.  This is termed ‘sundowner’ syndrome or something to that affect.  She directs virtually all of her frustration and rage toward your grandfather.  I remind him that it is a symptom of the ailment, not a representation of the mother/wife we have all known for years.  It’s hard for him to accept that.  They have waffled on moving/staying, and your uncle and I are pushing the envelope a little harder in that regard.  They need a different living situation where she can get care and he gets an iota of relief.  He is literally at his wit’s end.  But it is wonderful for you guys to be getting down there.  They keep asking about you, and who knows how many more opportunities you’ll have.

As for me, I need to make my own flight plans to the Midwest for the end of April.  I will keep you apprised of the air arrangements.  Not certain if I’ll go into Des Moines or Omaha.  EP, if you can make it down from the Twin Cities for a visit, great, if not that’s okay, too.  Reid, I’d expect you’ll stay in Chicago.

My singles golf group continues to be an exercise in herding cats.  I remember Lynn G. used to have a sign in her kitchen that said ‘Cork the whine.’  I may call her to see if I can borrow it.  Be good you two.  Call when you can.  EP, send photos of your new furnishings.

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In a civil tone…

My dear friend Betsy, to whom I owe much of my mostly-successful assimilation into these parts, told me – and I am paraphrasing here – that she was impressed my former wife would read the missives posted here.  It must mean, thought Betsy, that things remain civil between the two of us.  That they have, and hopefully our exchanges will remain that way.

During the whole painful legal ordeal that called a halt to 24 years, letters took a back seat to verbal means – much better suited as the bearer (and explainer) of bad news – to apprise the kids of events as the process tumbled forward.  But here and there was a paragraph that, rather that chip at the soon-to-be-ex spouse, reminded the kids that we were still a family, that we would stay in some respects a family, that they played no role in the dissolution and that rather than try to pin fault or fling mud, it was time to heal and time to simply move on.  Hence, the civil tone.  It seemed to me then, and does now, that to use the pages to rail and state my case would force the kids to pit one parent against the other.  Why put children in such a position?  That is hardly a position at all.  It was just time to deal with it, hopefully learn from it and get on with whatever lies ahead.  Which we continue to do as we speak.

In all the years of writing letters, there has only been one that was never mailed.  It dealt on this very topic.  It sits idly in a folder, and someday it may be posted here when I’m up to it.  But not yet.

Here are two of many paragraphs that tried to soften the blow for Ellen and Reid.

Your mother and I continue to talk and try to work through the situation.  I’ve had my first session with a counselor and she’s already had a couple.  We’ll continue to plug away at it.  You never know.  Conversation is a good thing.  Holding things in is not…

Your mom and I are to have all the legal work finalized today.  A tough end to a good 24 years.  I think we will stay in touch with each other, I would hope, and you never know what the future might hold.  If you guys have any questions or thoughts about it, be sure to pipe up with those.  Ask us anything.  It is been a long, hard, uphill battle with emotions and legalities and such.  If there are any lessons out of this, it is communicate-communicate-communicate.  Do not hold anything in…

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A great invention…

There was a tragically sad story in this morning’s Charlotte Observer about a young father, while grooving to tunes on his iPod during a relaxing jog on the beach in Hilton Head, was struck from behind and killed by a disabled, powerless light plane that was silently gliding to an emergency wheels-up landing on the shoreline.  He never heard his fate coming.

It is worthy of news to the kids because it occurred on the very stretch of sandy expanse Reid and Ellen and her then-fiancee Tim rode bikes and strolled upon.

It was noted moments ago on the sticky note faithfully kept on my office wall.  I am not too ashamed to say that if the ideas aren’t written down, there is every likelihood that I will forget by the time Monday rolls around.  The note adheres to the newspaper articles (“23-mile jump aimed at breaking sound barrier” reads one headline) stowed away for inclusion in the next letter.

Sticky notes have been part and parcel of the letters for as long as I can remember.  Those little yellow gummed-up sheets are a great invention for the memory-impaired.  No doubt any shred of paper would do, but the yellow notes are habitual for me.  Jotted on the note right now are notations about the ill-fated flight, their mom’s news, whining in my golf group, and progress with the bath moulding.  Those scratchings will jump start my Monday morning next week.

But, time to reach back into the archives.  Here is a letter from Ellen’s college years (Sweet Cakes is one of my pet names for her).

June 21, 2004


You have your possums, I have my squintys.  Your mom reported that a squinty was in the east window well and she was scared that somehow, against all odds, it would chew its way through solid metal and wood and end up in the house.   But there wasn’t just one of the little critters, there were five, and needless to say, in moments they were ‘liquidated’ with a few pumps of the pellet gun.  Harsh, yes, but they are in the same rodent class as bunnies.  And o’possums.

Reid got his 15 minutes of fame yesterday.  On a lark I turned the story in to the Register, and viola!, they ran it big time.  He got a kick out of it along with a fair amount of ink.  He and Drew did a nice job in describing their feelings.  Now, we just have to hold Reid to his word and make sure he dumps most of the cash into an account.  The Register wanted to run the photo larger, but my camera settings won’t allow bigger images.  Instead of a two column photo, it could have been 4.  Your  mom had fun with it.  I’ll send a copy on to Grandma and Grandpa.  It clears the national wire Thursday night, so it should get decent U.S. play this weekend.  If they Indy Star had any guts, they’d run it, too.

Man, you’re in line for a boatload of furniture and trappings from Nonnie.  The old girl is getting rid of most everything.  As you know, your mom has taken a few things in to be re-finished or painted.  We’ll caravan to Indy in two vehicles next month, so your new digs will have at least some furnishings.

Mike _____ was over here yesterday for golf, and he’s distressed that Cinderella Man is not having a big box office.  He’s not sure why.  Set up an interview with the Register while he was here, and when it’s published, I’ll send you a copy.  He’s on to London in two weeks to begin work on The Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks.

Your mom is hosting Karen _____ and LeAnn _____ plus a couple of other Omaha girls for the big art show this weekend downtown.  They’re staying up in Perry at Hotel Pattee one night and a B&B near the Art Center the second night.  They are all geeked up about it.  It’s kind of like the State Fair with corn dogs and wieners, but it just happens to have art on the side.  Don’t tell her I said that.

Geez, I just was startled when I stood up from my desk and noticed a white object curled up on the floor near my chair in the office.  For a moment I thought it was Scooter.  I don’t dwell on him being gone, but there sure are a lot of good memories.  It was the right thing to do.

Uncle Ralph got a clean bill of health on his latest melanoma check up.  He’s pretty pumped about it.  Andy and Steph have moved to NYC and Ralph and Gayle go in this weekend for a visit.  Ralph peppered me for restaurant suggestions, and I hope he doesn’t go into sticker shock when he sees menu prices.  It will be a far cry from the Saddle Club in Grand Island.

Well, gotta go.  See you soon, and have a safe drive back.  Ta-ta and adieu.

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