Monthly Archives: December 2010

Happy New Year!…


Although I’ve shifted to a Monday-Thursday posting schedule, I couldn’t let 2010 go out the door without a little kick in the butt for good measure.  Not that I reference bad tidings very often, but the kids have seen me give thanks that an old year is past.

——————–

January 2, 2007

EB/Reid: Good riddance, ’06.  See you later.  Goodbye.  Ta-ta.  Cheerio.  Adios.  Adieu.  I don’t wanna see that year no mo’.  As Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce sang for Cream, ‘it it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all’.  Amen, brother.

So now, tell me precisely when the two of you can come to Charlotte.  February 1-4 perchance?  You need to knock heads on schedules, although you don’t need to arrive on the same days or the same planes.  Just let me know and I’ll get the tickets (or EB, make your plans and I’ll write you a check).  I’ve got some restaurant plans (Cakes, does the name Il Porto ring a bell?) as well as some live music venues for us to hit.  Your rooms will be waiting and the sheets will be clean.

Had a bang-up New Year with Betsy and Bob.  Started out with wine at Dean & DeLucas Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Ruth’s Chris (a great steakhouse) followed by a funky live music bar called the Comet Grill.  The band literally is squeezed into an 8”x8” space right at the front door so you’re bumping shoulders with the bassist as you walk in.  Clanged in the New Year with a small glass ‘o bubbly.  The Comet supposedly also has the finest burgers in town but haven’t tried those yet.  New Year’s day was a long one.  On top of that, the Big Red fumbled away yet another bowl game.  Drat.  I don’t want to know if I want to know what you guys did on New Years, especially you, Reid.  Chicago on New Year’s eve?  Sounds dangerous, but in a good way.  Wanted to get the Harley out yesterday but just ran out of time.  It’ll be in the upper 60’s this weekend, so watch out South Carolina!  Here I come!

The Christmas tree came tumbling down yesterday.  The one thing about a small, fake tree is that it dismantles quickly and is stuffed into the same box that shows it was made in Indonesia.  So much for all the South Pole talk.  Same for the ornaments.  Stuffed in a Renovation Hardware box relabeled ‘Christmas’.  It was a pretty tree, though.  The photograph of you two – what a couple of absolute hams – was just delightful.  It is SO YOU.  It’s the best possible gift that a dad, and mom, could receive.  Plus it saves me a few bucks because I was going to plop you in front of a professional photographer when you both are down here.

Sounds like you and Tim are making some progress, Ellen.  As you’ve seen all too well, most relationships hit potholes.  And that’s a good thing because it can’t be peaches and cream and lovey dovey all the time.  It’s how you choose to fill the potholes that matters.  Woe causes people to – hopefully – talk through issues and concerns, and your mom and I know that as well as anyone.  So it may be a bit of the maturation process for your relationship.  It makes you introspective about what you want and what you expect.  Just keep working at it, kid.  As your grandmother told me repeatedly and often: there are plenty of fish in the sea.  If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times.

Well, who says you can’t freeze a turkey carcass and resurrect it as turkey soup?  I tossed ‘dem bones in the freezer and pulled ‘em out yesterday and make several gallons of turkey soup in a 5 gallon kettle Betsy gave me.  It’s easy: throw in the carcass, some cheap noodles, a chopped up onion, some salt and pepper and simmer for a couple of hours and presto – lots and lots of turkey soup.  I mean 6 half gallon Tupperware containers full of soup.  Bon appetit!

That’s enough rattling on for now.  I’m outta here.  The salt mines beckon.  Will give blood today at 11:30.  It’s a good thing for both of you to do.  Just remember what I said about ’06: Goodbye.

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A grammarian’s grammarian…


A brash Carolina Wren feeds at the trough just outside the kitchen window. Woe to other birds that dare to venture onto this feisty little bird's turf.

Once in a blue moon I get an itch to get back in touch with long-lost friends.  Among them is my friend Norm.

He is a great man.  He was my editor at the Associated Press and has a storied journalistic past, notably, he was the long-time shepherd of the AP Stylebook.  The stylebook, which is the arbiter of dangling participles and split infinitives (whatever those are) and everything in between that involves words, is the bible of the sport for all writers all over the world.

Who decided the word Internet should be capitalized?  Norm.  Who decreed the term e-mail should have a hyphen?  Norm.  Who introduced us to Quran and not Koran?  Norm.  Look up the definition of dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker and this is who you will find: Norm.

Norm can go toe-to-toe with anyone, anywhere on the elements of style.  He is a grammarian’s grammarian.  When I sent him my national housing columns, he could have (and perhaps should have) taken a meat cleaver to each and every one, but he didn’t.  He was civil and supportive.  And a good friend.

But as has happened with so many folks in my past, I utterly dropped the communication ball with him.  So, hoping to atone for missteps of the past, I sent him a letter.  And in true Norm fashion, he has already responded.

—————–

December 21, 2010

Norm: I’ve often thought about sending you a regular letter but I was always afraid to dangle too many participles or other writing nasty’s that you’d pick up on in a heartbeat.  That’s the problem with associating oneself with someone of your caliber.   I worried that you’d send them back all marked up.

I’m still down here in Charlotte, although my eye is opening a bit wider to retirement.  In that regard, you need to bring me up to speed on what you and Jeanette are up to and how things are going.  Of all things, they’ve given me a chunk of responsibility over correspondence that floods into the mortgage side of the business.  They put me in charge of revamping what passes for a ‘style guide’ although that is like putting a 6th grade graduate in charge of a nuclear facility.  You won’t believe this, but my first recommendation was to make the strong suggestion to bag our own style guide and buy an institutional subscription to your handiwork at AP.  

Incredibly, they never warmed to my theory of media relations which is to be relatively truthful and candid and plainspoken.  That didn’t work out so well.  They gave me a pink slip back in July after which they allowed (sic: me) to stay tethered to my cube to look for other jobs inside or outside the bank until the end of September.  One of those was to become the senior housing columnist for the Charlotte Observer (I think my first column is still online, tepid as the subject is) and I was primed for a once-per-month piece.  But I’m scaling back on it to focus on the task at hand.  The Observer did set a new threshold for freelance pay: $25 for 750 words.  Their Saturday home section is riddled with writers just like me.  I wish I was still penning for the AP since that was the most fun I’ve ever had.

This is a tough spot for the AP.  Their business writer bolted a few months ago for a PR firm in D.C.  She’s not been replaced, and honestly, to my knowledge, AP has two or three people in a rather large office just south of what passes for a downtown.  It’s a real skeleton staff.  Same at the Observer.  If it wasn’t for pick up from the Raleigh News & Observer, the local paper here would literally be a single sheet 8.5”x11”.  I don’t hear much about AP up in NYC these days but they can’t be faring as well as they could.  We’ll just rely on Fox News for our balanced coverage.

But on the whole things are going along okay.  The two kids are on their own, physically and fiscally, and that is a good thing as you know.  Hope you’re getting down to Maryland (isn’t that where your son is?) on a frequent basis.  If you don’t watch out, I may follow through on the veiled threat to visit NYC.  They say the trip up from Charlotte via train isn’t too onerous, so once your weather – not ours – clears, I may slip up north for a quick visit.  Hope your holidays are good.

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God’s Country…


The better part of a week in central Nebraska without access to a PC meant no new posts prior to the Christmas weekend.  In some ways that was good; it spared you from more holiday e-mail and it let me walk through the Nebraska countryside.  The locals call it God’s Country.  That it is.

It was relaxing to traipse the gravel roads west of Grand Island for four to six miles at a time.  GI is smack in the middle of the Platte River fly-way, a major north-south thoroughfare for waterfowl even though the river flows west to east.  Wild geese made long snaking Vees in the sky as they looked for some farmer’s field at which to dine.  My quiet daily treks (when I wasn’t visiting mom) allowed me to sneak up on unsuspecting mega-flocks of turkeys (100 or more less than 20 yards from me in one field of cut corn) and deer.

It is a good place and a good place to reflect on what happened the week before, and the chance to see mom was worth every ounce of effort to get there.  The kids will read all about it in today’s letter.

—————-

December 20, 2010

Ellen/Reid: Last week capped off what has been an up-and-down year.  Slowly, the word of the re-hire has seeped out to people I know and I’ve heard from a few.

I’m still a little bit numb.  Rather than jump and down, I just sort of sat in a daze for a little while to think about what has gone by the boards this past year.  Friday night I was very tired, exhausted, and that might be the residue of just holding things back, or holding them in.  For whatever reason I just melted into the couch and zoned out with the TV on.  It was that way most of the weekend, just exhaling a stadium-sized sigh of relief.

But I got up all perky this morning and rarin’ to go.  I’ve taken the work laptop home (Working From Home they call it) although I’m not one to work from home per se.  It just doesn’t seem like real work to me.  Gotta have a real desk for that to happen.

As of yet I don’t know all the details about what it is I will do.  I know who I report to and the general parameters of the job and that’s about it.  The details will have to suffice.  Most of this came down after I sent a personal note to the guy I reported to at the moment, along with another note to the woman in HR, the gist of which was I would like to stay at the bank and the idea of correspondence to customers was sort of in my wheelhouse.  They took things from there and the vibe wasn’t too bad on their end although was with most things you never really feel 100% sure.  This all comes at a time when others aren’t as fortunate as me in that the bank is letting go quite a few people, so I’m fortunate in that regard.  As a practical matter this new gig will fit me a fair amount better than what I’d been doing before.

I suppose this is something of a testament to attitude.  Mine was good and what went on in the past stayed in the past.  I just focused on the moment and the task at hand.  That’s the only way to move ahead with things.  As you both heard some time back there is no earthly use to being sour about the hand you’ve been dealt.  Maybe as you get older you learn to even things out over time.  Perhaps that is what occurred.  But once things were behind me that is where they stayed.  Even if it had not panned out as it had it was the only way to get on with it.

What I have thought about is what I would, or will, do differently in this new situation.  I was already a team player to the nth degree.  I think what I need to do is have the expectations nailed down to the floorboards.  That’s the only way you can know for certain what you will do and how you are supposed to do it.  I do know for sure that the idea of talking to the boss once a quarter on a formal basis isn’t nearly enough.  I’ve got to shelve some of my own issues for the betterment of the cause but you can’t be milquetoast about things, either.  In some ways you have to be appropriately vocal or you’ll get steamrolled.  Reid, that probably applies in a lot of ways to your thoughts about media, etc., that you tell us.  You have to figure out a way to make sure the higher-ups and influencers at the agency get to see your thought patterns.  If I knew how to make that happen I wouldn’t have been in the situation I was but there has to be a way to create a strong voice within the organization.  You have cards to play, that’s for sure.

I’m still hopeful of heading west to see your grandmother.  She’s battling every day and sounds 750% better than she did just a few weeks ago.  You guys have a great Christmas in all aspects; eat, sleep, and be Merry.

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The call…


Ellen and Henry attempt to play in a few feet of snow in the backyard. I'm glad it's their backyard and not mine.

The call came about 2:15 local time Thursday afternoon.

The caller asked a few questions which seemed rhetorical to me at the moment.  To paraphrase the two most important; “Would you like to stay on full-time” and “are you willing to start right away?”  The only possible answers: yes and yes.

So I am back among the working.  This really has been one hell of a year.  They don’t make roller coasters with mega-sized ups-and-downs to rival 2010.

To be honest about it, my response once we hung up the phone from the 3 or 4 minute one-sided conversation was a lot more muted than I thought it might be.  Pretty much quiet and reflective.  But I am beyond thankful.

So you can guess how next Monday’s letter might read.  As it is, here is last Monday’s.

The call moved me from Scrooge-mode to put up the tree. Not many presents beneath it, but I've already opened the big one, so to speak.

——————–

December 13, 2010

Ellen/Reid: I feel your pain about the mounds of snow and icebox cold up in those parts but I’m glad the feeling is from a distance.  That’s why planes do a brisk business to shuttle folks south out of the MSP and O’Hare airports to far warmer climes.  People pay good money for the privilege to escape the sensation of shivering.

I guess that makes my decision to stay down here all that much easier.  The longer I’m down here the more it feels like home, and while I will purposefully head to the Midwest to see friends I miss very much, this appears to be where my line in the sand is drawn.  My circle of friends is widening bit by bit so the long stretches of isolation I felt early on are fading away.  My singles golf group was and is a big help, and so is my domestic situation.  I think had I elected to stay purposefully alone in the near and intermediate future then the Midwest certainly was an option.  But as things changed it’s changed me, too.

In some ways I am afraid of another move, another uprooting which literally had me in a state of shock for the first couple of years.  The thought occurred to me yesterday that the four and a half years here really feels like 20.  It really does.  It’s just hard to recall all that has occurred because so much has occurred.  It’s been not dissimilar from what both of you have had, you in Indy and St. Paul, Ellen, and Reid, you at a couple of addresses in Chicago.  I guess it’s just getting on with things and moving ahead.  I don’t think I was ever in a real funk down here, beyond wondering what my role and function was at the bank, so – knock on wood – my heads been on relatively straight.  Most days.

There are still things I’m not terribly comfortable with down here, the politics and attitudes and such, but then again you can insulate yourself from most of that as you carve out your own little world.  That’s what I seem to have done so far.

If there’s been anything I’ve learned, however, it’s ‘never assume anything.’  I had a J-school teacher years ago who mentioned that truism over and over and over again until it almost became predictable.  But it was true then and it’s still true now.  The best laid plans can go awry in a heartbeat.  Planning itself isn’t overrated but assuming that plans never change sure is.  So where any of us will be in five years is far from assured.  I guess life is about rolling with the punches.

But I do like my little house.  It has become so familiar and is pretty cozy, the lousy way they insulate homes down here notwithstanding.  As you know I’m not nuts about trudging up three floors but so far the legs have held up.  I’m nesting a little bit more in that after three tries and great expense I finally constructed a workable bird feeder, actually a tray with a screened bottom and metal roof, that brings nature to the window sill outside the kitchen.  No birds have yet to feed at the table, but hopefully they will get the drift soon enough.  It’s those little touches, however rudimentary, that make me feel better about the place.  Now, if I can just get it paid off…

I will keep you updated on the doings here at the bank.  There is a sliver of hope but as you saw in the fifth paragraph, it doesn’t pay to ever assume anything.  But if something does shake loose watch your phones for an urgent text message, or two.  I’m glad you liked, or at least professed to like, what passed for Christmas presents this year.  At least it wasn’t a couple of lumps of coal.  Come to think of it perhaps you could have used some anthracite for heat.

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One last letter to mom…


Given that most letters to my mother are pretty much the same – weather, kids, bad golf – I’ll spare you from any more Friday pages.  Not that I won’t send her a letter every week, but there’s no need to expose you to further boredom.  My friend Betsy wondered aloud where the letters to my folks, and now my widowed mother, fit into a blog about letters to children.  She has a point.

In that sense, as of next week I’ll scale back to twice a week posts.  Most likely I’ll target Tuesday and Fridays.  I’ve made the idle threat before but this time I mean it.

But for old time’s sake, here’s your last look at one last letter to mom.

—————-

December 17, 2010

Mom: You really sounded good on the phone last night and I’m glad you’re feeling better.  Seems like they have pretty good doctors out that way.  Now if they could just do something about hospital food then you’d really be doing well.

The big news down here in Charlotte is that I got another job at the bank.  There may be a little bit more travel involved but that’s okay as long as it’s not too much.  I had my fill of travel a few years back and there’s no way I’ll be gone for weeks at a time like I used to be.  Ellen and Reid are excited about the new situation.  For me it’s a nice Christmas present.

I hope I can still make it out there in time for Christmas.  This new situation has me a little up in the air in terms of travel plans but I’d love to be out there to see you and Ralph and Gayle.  We’ll just have to see how things pan out in the next few days.  In theory I’m supposed to drive up the road to Greensboro, North Carolina early in the week and that may throw a kink into the plans.  But we’ll see.

We’ve really been cold down here.  The chill comes through my windows as if they are wide open.  The fireplace on the middle floor has seen plenty of activity since the heater only seems to heat the top of my three floors.  So I’ve taken to bundling up inside while I’m here.  I know I’ve whined about the lack of insulation and the like in the houses here but honestly, whoever builds these stuff might as well be making straw houses.  I can’t wait to open my next gas bill.

A few birds have made trips to my newly-installed bird feeders outside the kitchen windows.  They’ll get used to it I suppose.  When the evil cats are around they tend to scare the birds away.  This is when I wish I had a pellet gun to remind them with a little sting to stay away.  But then I’d get in trouble for that, too.  The feeders aren’t built with the same care dad might have used but hey, they still hold bird seed.

My friends Betsy and Bob, who you met down here, are having us over for dinner on Saturday night.  It will be good.  My contribution will be homemade bread and a bottle of wine or two (I’ll have a glass in your honor).  Betsy has this habit of making more than one dessert and I’ve told her to make no more than one.  My waistline seems to be puffing up a little more these days and her yummy desserts are more than I can resist.

Well, I’m gonna have one more cup of coffee and get dressed for work.  Keep your warm coats on and your slippers, too, and I hope to see you all at the end of the week.

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Pull out all the stops…


Henry stands guard over Ellen and Tim's Christmas tree. He's just a big - emphasis on big - loveable dog.

The front page photo the web folks foist on me is getting old fast.  It’s hardly symbolic of writing and it doesn’t denote the two inspirations for all the infernal letters.  So I’ll try to dredge up a relatively recent shot of Ellen and Reid – although Ellen’s beloved dog Henry seems to appear in most of what passes for visual art on these pages – to plant their mugs the front page.  Reid has some other ideas to spiff the appearance up, too, and he has carte blanche to pull out all the stops.

The kids have already opened their Christmas presents and put the items to use.  Since they both live in the frigid north, what packages they did get dealt with issues of warmth.

Here’s a letter from my first Christmas season in Charlotte.

—————–

December 25, 2006

You two: The one thing about your grandparents is that they are nothing if not adaptive and flexible.  We haven’t done a whole heck of a lot other than drive around (EB, we did go over to South Park Mall for a stroll) and we have seen all the sights and watched our share of TV.  And we have eaten.  Oh yes, man have we put the food away.  Ham, turkey, beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes and gravy (twice), cheese sandwiches, leftovers, ice cream, pancakes, scrambled eggs, more ice cream, chocolates, more leftovers.  I haven’t let grandma near the kitchen; heck for 45 years she’s done all the cooking and cleaning.  It’s her turn to sit tight for a while and let someone else do the heavy lifting.  That’s the least she deserves.  Be sure to ask them about the top quality paper napkins we’ve been using.  You’re better off wiping your mouth with toilet paper.  It’d be a whole lot sturdier.

Let’s be honest, I can’t wait for ’06 to go by the boards.  It’s been a long, rough year for everyone and my head is still spinning.  Is this all real?  Sometimes I wake up at night wondering where I am and how the hell did I get here.  I do like Charlotte a lot, but as I’ve told Betsy (Reid, you will absolutely love Betsy) I live here but it’s not my home.  Yet.  I am still in such a state of shock.  You two need to make sure you’re talking to your mom and your friends about all of this because it’s important to get it all out on the table rather than hold it in.  Don’t’ wear a red badge of courage.  Let it out.  This will be a tough time for a little while longer.

Hope you guys liked the presents your mom and I got you.  The quantity was sure down this year.  It seems to be you’re in a transition phase present-wise.  No longer do you get kids stuff; now you’re in the realm of adults because that’s what you are.  EB, I know it seems I’m fixated on cookware but hey, there was a bird in the hand and I grabbed it while the getting was good.  And Reid, if the shirts don’t fit or the ties seem funky, haul ‘em back to Joseph Bank.  There’s a store at 8487 Union Chapel Road in Indy and another in Carmel.  It won’t hurt my feelings.  I’ll pile on some stuff when you both get your sorry carcasses down here.  Why don’t you two conspire on some Thursday-through-Sunday dates that work for you.

After this last few days, there aren’t enough hours in the gym to get all this weight off.  I’ve worked out religiously while the folks were here but it isn’t enough.  I mean we have eaten like condemned men.  Went out for an hour walk yesterday and there’s something about going out for a jaunty stroll that clears your head.  It was raining a little bit and that made it all that much more mysterious.

I’ve been thinking about a dog.  Why is it that all single people have dogs?  Really, it would give me something to talk aloud to other than myself which I seem to be doing a lot of these days.  The one thing about having a mutt is that it would be a shut in virtually all day and I can’t let that happen to him/her.  That’s cruelty to animals.  But the girl next door hires a dog walker and maybe that’s the solution.  It’s either that or some fish.  Hey, why not goldfish?  I could always let ‘em go in the creek behind the house.

Also, I’m perilously close to talking dancing lessons.  Not that my dance partners would need steel toed shoes but it’s just something I want to take, like cooking classes.  Betsy is angling to get Bob and me to another round of cooking classes and that’s okay with me.  I feel particularly weak when it comes to sauces and the like; I can do meat and potatoes all day long but it’s the subtleties of finer cooking that escape me.  Trust me, when you guys come down we’ll let someone else do the cooking, such as at Il Porto; remember that place you and Tim and I ate at Cakes?  We’ll do that again.  That was fine dining at its finest.  And we won’t worry about fricking leftovers.

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Still a merry Christmas…


"I'm telling you Prancer, I'm tired of Rudolph getting all the ink while we carry most of the weight. I told the old man to get a new publicist and while he's at it, trade the red schnoz for a GPS."

Last week’s letter to Ellen and Reid dealt with the dreaded “R” word.

It will be a cold day in hell when I’m ready to pack it in and park my substantial rear on some damned rocker.

But given that this year in some ways went to hell a while back, I can’t succumb to the temptation to use events to manufacture some feeble excuse to be down-in-the-mouth about things.  That’s not how I feel or what the kids should see.

We will still make the best of things, we will still look ahead and hope for better times in 2011, and we will still have a merry Christmas.

——————-

December 7, 2010

Ellen/Reid: It was 17F this morning which is not quite what I signed up for weather-wise when I shipped down to these parts.  It’ll last a few more days then hopefully return to more normal conditions which I guess would be the 40s for highs.  I can live with that.

I played golf on Sunday at the behest of my friend Mike at the bank.  Somewhere in mid-round he asked me point blank if I would ever consider retirement if there didn’t appear to be any longer-term job answer.  He brought to the surface something I’d thought about but kept shoving toward the background.

Henry and Ellen play in St. Paul's 19 inches of snow.

I guess it is a several part answer.  The first being financial in that John is finagling things more toward a bond income portfolio but that takes a few months to get in the swing of things (i.e. checks in the mail).  As you’ve heard before that will cover some, but not all, of the monthly nut.  So there is some consolation in that.  Mike perceived aloud that I live pretty simply, which is true for the most part, without a ton of costly extravagance.  My only frills would be trying to see the two of you, riding the bike, and playing some golf.  That’s about it.  I’m not saddled with a ton of debt and heaven forbid that some calamity like a health malfunction would arise, things should mostly stay that way.  My final check from the bank is December 15.

The other half of the question is what value can still be brought to society.  I still believe I have something to bring to the table at the bank (or somewhere else) and the notion of simply pulling the plug and sitting back is anathema to me.  That’s when people become old.  I just don’t see myself that way.  No way am I ready to watch for Social Security checks automatically deposited into my account.  This morning I’ll send a note to my manager, with a cc to the HR department, to outline or suggest what it is that I might do, even on a contract or part time basis, to stay on here.  Nirvana might be to land a part time situation with health benefits.  That might buy me some time as I slide closer to a retirement situation that is doable and sustainable.  The “R” word just doesn’t seem real to me at this point.

However it’s not that there has been a ton of looking for jobs on my part.  I don’t have much faith, or seen much reason for hope, in the online job boards or resume services.  It really boils down to who you know and asking those folks to keep their ears to the ground.  That’s where the Mikes and Betsys of the world are a huge factor.  Yet there really appears to be nothing shaking at the bank once my extension expires on December 31.  I probably should’ve been looking around more than I have but the situation here was such that it kept me more than busy.

In some ways, Reid, your pursuit of graduate school makes some sense.  An advanced degree is usually worth the effort although I’d caution you again to make the move for the right reasons and not because you want to escape the drollness of an agency or because the grass might appear greener on the graduate school side of the fence.  Still, it will help you down the line even if you don’t know precisely what the path will be.  It’s a little too late for me to follow that same route.

Your grandmother has had a series of bad breaks the last couple of weeks but she seems to be regaining her footing.  It’s hard to understand what she says on the phone although in a few weeks time I’ll be out there so she can tell me in person.  While I’m on the road I’ll transport some of your belongings from Omaha to Des Moines and will probably deposit them at Nancy’s house until your mom can retrieve them and take the goods to South Shore.  I don’t precisely know your Christmas schedules but maybe we can rendezvous if you’re still in DSM on December 28 or 29.

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