Monthly Archives: February 2011

Unsavory items under the rug…

Now is when I know the kids are old enough to handle unwelcome news that, a few years ago, would have been veiled in terms meant to soften the blow or downgrade the reality of events.  But they’re adults now and plenty old enough to handle these things, even if it might make them squirm a bit.  Nothing is gained by sweeping unsavory items under the rug.

They don’t gain anything either by reading a ton of woe-is-me rhetoric.  Give them the facts and put the chips on the table.  I’m all in.  This isn’t a gamble; in fact, I’m pretty confident in the outcome when it comes to them being able to handle the cards they’ve been dealt  the past two weeks.


February 22, 2011

Ellen/Reid: I’m back at my desk this morning, and there’s nothing that says ‘welcome back to the office’ more than wading through (and deleting) more than several dozen e-mails.  And that’s just a day and a half backlog of the stuff.  I’m lucky, though.  Many people get many, many more.  It’s clear now that managing e-mail is a highly valued job survival skill.  No wonder I don’t spend more nights camped in front of my laptop.

Actually, I’m feeling pretty chipper yet am wondering how long it will take me to truly get back into A) the swing of things or B) the grind.  Take your pick.  Over the weekend it occurred to me to wonder where would I be if not for the insurance that came with being allowed to stay on board full time?  Yeesh.

One of the beauties of being back in the shop is being rid of the lesser thoughts that you have when you’re home alone and wondering about all the consequences of this episode.  How did I get to that point?  What signs did I conveniently overlook?  What happens now?  Not that either of you should worry about such things on this end.  I guess the notion that ‘time marches on’ does provide food for thought.  This aging thing isn’t overly bothersome to me, but it’s all in how you manage what comes your way.

I go back in the final full week in March so the doctor can kick the tires yet again.  The basis of the check up is to do an ultrasound of the bladder to make sure it’s draining properly and not retaining any excess fluid.  Not to be coarse about it, but I haven’t gone this well in quite some time.  Became inured over time to it, so Reid, make sure you pay attention since there’s the chance down the road that this could be a generational thing on our side of the family.  The doc and I haven’t talked about things from that angle, but just pay attention.  The next time you have your physical – you should do that at least once a year – make a point to ask about it.  You’re years away from any potential problem so I’m at least urging you to stow this away in the memory banks.

I haven’t been scared, really, of any of this.  Alarmed, yes.  Overly frightened, no.  Maybe my lid isn’t screwed on right but I’ve been pretty level headed about it.  I suppose there are worse things that could happen.  Such are the wages of age, I guess.  Various parts begin to lose their warranties and replacements are hard to come by.  When I was sequestered on the urology floor at Carolina’s Medical Center, I could hear people far worse off than me; kidney transplant patients and others in sheer agony from whatever it was they suffered from.  This may sound sort of odd, but knowing that you two are out and on your way is very satisfying to me, and no doubt to your mother, too.  Our jobs are done in some respects.  Believe me, it could be a far different picture.  That crossed my mind more than once up on the 10th floor.  Maybe I would’ve been better suited to the psych ward.  That was down on 6.

But I’m on the road to recovery and thinking of other things.  We put up a bluebird house over the weekend after a random bluebird sighting, but the only birds scoping out the cedar box have been some chickadees and they seem to have taken a pass on it.  Lettuce seeds went in the ground on Saturday along with some spinach and arugula.  So things are slowly returning to a degree of normalcy.  My time on the shelf is down to four weeks, and I’m rarin’ to get back on the course and on the bike, plus resume my walks around the extended block.  But it’s all one step at a time.



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The good earth…

Ellen's garden will have to wait until the snow pack melts away. More than a foot hit the Twin Cities last weekend - on top of a few feet already on the ground. Her quote with this pic: "Why do we live here again?"

My only real complaint after buying a home in Charlotte – beyond it being three goddamn floors – is the lack of a patch of ground for a garden.  I make do with “container gardening” which was invented by some manufacturing cartel hell-bent on selling oversized pots and dirt by the bag at a handsome profit.

Ellen is leaning toward a small plot (good luck with Henry-proofing it) because her back yard is the finest jet-black, alluvial soil in North America.  The good earth is just down the steps from her back door.  Chicago won’t do a whole lot for Reid’s green thumb.  I vividly recall them both when they were peanuts, standing in our raspberry patch, stripping the plants bear of those little rubies.  Then they’d mosey over to the snow peas, few of which ever made it inside.  Nothing made me happier.

Beyond the idea of getting your hands dirty by poking around in the soil, there is something correct about small scale gardening.  Not just the fruits of your labor, but it teaches you to be respectful of the ground, and, by extension, the rest of your natural world.  I can’t pass along wisdom about stocks and bonds or other lofty academic ideals, but I sure as hell can tell them the difference between romaine and iceberg lettuce and what variety of snow pea or raspberries to plant (Heritage).  Sounds like the makings of a letter to me.

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Invincibility takes a hit…

This has nothing to do with today's post, but I'll keep reminding Ellen and Reid they need to take an interest in the natural world. My new blue bird house - unoccupied as of yet - is one such reminder.

There must come a point in everyone’s life when the notion of invincibility takes a hit, when mortality takes on personal meaning.  For me, that point is right now.  Not to be morbid about it, but it does give one pause.

Someone suggested if now was the time to let Ellen and Reid in on the the reality of being a post-middle age dad.  It is a fair assumption that kids tend to see their parents as forever beings.  I did, but as we all know the outcome is not a matter of if, but when.

So today’s letter you will see next week might be something of an intro to a larger conversation between the three of us.  We can’t run from the future but only toward it, and we might as well recognize there are indisputable facts of life in motion for all of us.  I don’t see this, however, as some omnipresent dark cloud over the letters; in fact it will be far from it.  It is just simple recognition that it is just the way things are.


February 14, 2011

Ellen/Reid: They say every day above ground is a good one and I am now a true believer.  What a hell of a birthday.  One moment I’m working out in the gym and feeling good and three hours later I’m in a hospital gown with a catheter shoved up my you-know-what.

I’m not sore at all but am really just out of gas. Haven’t dipped into the pain meds they gave me. Tried to work at the kitchen table but ran out of steam.  I’ll get back to it in pretty short order.

All things considered, I’m really lucky.  By sheer luck, I was the only patient in the normally packed urologist’s office because he was doing surgery.  So I got instantly into a room, and again by sheer luck, he was just returning to the office.  Once he saw my urine sample, he and his staff pulled out all the stops.  They quickly put in the catheter and in an incredible sign of how urgent this was, he personally drove me the few blocks to the hospital.  He described the possibilities for the source(s) of the bleeding, and the outcomes if it went unchecked, in terms that just stunned me.  I wasn’t so much scared as just wondering ‘what the hell is going on here?’  His staff had already admitted me on an emergency basis and I went straight to the urology floor where they started to irrigate my bladder with what’s called a Murphy drip.  They were trying to flush the blood or clots out, and that was what they did for the next 54 hours or so.  It was sheer torture.  If the path of exit was impeded by clots, which it was frequently, the saline solution would accumulate in my bladder and make my stomach puff up.  The nurses couldn’t respond quick enough to my pleas for relief, so it was up to me to relieve myself as best I could.  You’ll be spared those details but it was awful.  It was really good to have Felicia there because she understood the medical lingo (she’s a nurse) and was able to goad the nurses into action.  She was there almost every minute.  I was really glad to get your persistent text messages.

The surgery depended on the doctor’s schedule.  That was the worst part, waiting for him to go inside to explore the source of the bleeding, given his blunt predictions of the source.  There was one good bit of news in that the CT scan didn’t show any overt tumors or cancers.  In a nutshell, my bladder had worked overtime for some time to unsuccessfully, and fully, drain itself, in part impeded by an uncooperative prostate.  This in turn put pressure on the bladder walls and adjoining kidneys.  But it was the bleeding that had to be stopped and since the bladder was filled with blood it obstructed the view of the source which could have been anything.

The surgery was supposed to be Thursday mid-morning but it didn’t go down until the afternoon.  He went into the bladder, removed the clots, and then he proceeded to “roto root,” or resection, my prostate to create an easier path for the urethra to drain the bladder.  He said he talked to me in recovery but I don’t remember a thing after telling the anesthesiologist “I can feel it working…”  In the space of his 120 second visit Friday morning, he said he reserved the right to go back in to the bladder if things didn’t clear up to the degree he liked.

But I’m home now and still feeling okay.  Felicia played nursemaid the entire weekend.  I’m up and around a little bit, checking in on e-mails at work, trying to be marginally productive.  It’s weird in that I can go from a workout to being told no exertion for six to eight weeks.  No golf (no biggie) and no bike riding (biggie).  But I’m damned lucky in a lot of ways, and like they say about soldiers in the midst of war, even atheists find God in a foxhole.  He and I had our share of short conversations.  No doubt there will be a few more to come.

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Henry and his buddy Tucker, the black Lab, cool their heels in Ellen's living room. No doubt once the picture was over, it was off to the races - again.

As I see it, connectivity has multiple meanings.  The popular sense as used by Ellen and Reid involves wires and tech gadgetry.  Then there’s my way.  What you see below is a recent note to three of my dearest friends – Diana, Jim and Pam – back in the old stomping grounds.  We used to play cards together.  I miss them a lot but I don’t want our continental drift to widen the gap any more than it is now.


December 15, 2010

Pam/Diana/Jim: Why I’ve not done a better job of staying in touch is just beyond me.  I was trudging around at noon today wondering why that is so and then it hit me that I could get off my butt and send you guys at least a short note.

I really miss you guys.  I miss Des Moines.  Stumbling upon friends has been a hit-and-miss proposition at best down here, and most of those that I do have are golfers.  Jim, as you saw it’s just a different way of living down in these parts.  If you’re not from here, well, you are insulated from the rest of the genteel society. 

But I suppose I’m here to stay unless something really whack happens.  The arbiter in the move or stay equation is real estate and the weather.  No way could I possibly hope to recoup what I’ve got in my little townhome.  Prices have fallen like a stone and there’s not much hope on the horizon.  Time on market figures to be about 200 days if, as the mini-Allen Daltons down here say, the house is priced right.  It’s just the Home Marketing System, Southern style.  Stuff just isn’t moving.  It’s really tough on those that over-bought when prices were at the tip top.  If I was certain it would sell for even in the ballpark of what I paid for it things would be that much easier to simply pull up and go.  As for the weather, it just seems hard for me to deal with severe cold any more.  It’s been in the lower teens here the past few mornings and it’s been excruciating to get in the car and drive the half hour into the office.  Maybe it’s that it is a damp cold.  I don’t know, but it does cut to the bone.  But enough whining about that junk.

Jim, I need to know how you’re doing.  Diana, how are the girls and where are they?  And Pam, what are Nick and Sam up to?  Every once in a while I pick up some hearsay about various folks from Meredith and RES, but it’s pretty slim pickings.  I don’t know what Ray is doing or the Prengers or anybody else for that matter.  Since I’m so lousy at spending time on Facebook I guess I’ll just perpetually be on the outside looking in.

Don’t do a whole hell of a lot for fun other than try to golf now and then or ride the Harley.  I’m dating a woman now after nearly five years and it’s nice to have a companion.  Dating down here is a whole different world, and that could be construed to not being too good.  But I found a nice one.

Part of my world is going to be decided in the next few weeks and if and when that does happen I will spread the word to the three of you.  I hope you guys are still playing cards now and again, and if you are, deal me in.

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The week that was…

As birthdays go, mine could have been a damn side better.

Birthday cake and candles were replaced by four days in a hospital gown, a “Murphy” drip and CT scan.   The kids got the details today.   All things considered, however, I am still here after the week that was.

Last week’s letter foreshadowed the more recent turn of events.


February 7, 2011

Ellen/Reid: The Super Bowl was pretty good as Super Bowls go, although that didn’t stop me from snoozing during the final half.  I saw the highlights and post-game breakdown after my extended nap.  Why they don’t play the game on a Saturday when people can really get down is beyond me, given that people have to get up and go to work the next day.  You can tell the commish that.

So Reid, your statement for the New School looks pretty good.  What is the ETA for their decision?  You’ll be on pins and needles until that time.  Here’s hoping they give you the green light.  I still have a hard time envisioning you as a New Yorker.  Then again, I never fathomed you as a Chicagoan, either.

I wish there were better news about your grandmother.  To hear your aunt and uncle describe things, she is fighting to make a recovery from the persistent infections that have ailed her.  My guess is that at her age it’s difficult to rebound from the near-continual setbacks that she’s had.  Her strength is sapped and her mobility very limited.  It looks as if she will need a higher level of care than she gets now, so the decision has been made to move her to another facility in Wood River, about a 15 minute drive from Grand Island.  I’m not sure how that particular spot was located but Ralph and Gayle seem to think it is the best option for her and I’m not one to argue from all these miles away.  I’m just glad your grandmother is not in Omaha.  It would really be tough on everyone.  I think back to this time last year when she was zipping around her neighborhood with her walker, and now she can hardly stand on her own.  That is how fast things can crumble when it comes to health.

I suppose all of this makes one think of their own future.  If it doesn’t, it should.  With your uncle and me quietly surpassing yet another dreary birthday in terms of years, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the planning for eventualities had better be well down the road.  One of the things that I have to accomplish in the very near future is to get a will down on paper.  In a nutshell you guys will split my meager belongings down here and those that are in the care of John, and when it comes to health, there will be no over-the-top end-of-life efforts to keep me around just to keep me around.  Things have gone pretty well for me on the whole up to this point.  I’m fulfilled enough.  You have my permission to pull the plug to save me suffering and you suffering.  Your uncle has a term to describe such legalisms and he’s lectured me no end about how states like North Carolina treat estates in the absence of a will and testament.  That’s code for ‘the state will take most everything you own’.  But this will-thing is something I’ve mulled over in the last several months and I’ll need to get it done quite soon.  As they say, all of us are only a heartbeat away.

As you’ve heard, Charlotte gets the Democratic National Convention next year.  How the city will cope with it is anyone’s guess although this state is becoming redder all the time.  No doubt the anti-Democratic forces will hold multiple Tea Parties with all the drivel they spout.  One in five of us lives in poverty and tens of millions are without insurance, and yet they’ll whine about ‘values’ issues and the like that do nothing to add jobs, make us more secure, and really help us move ahead with real issues.  I guess I whine, too.

Okay, Ellen, I’ll consider a trip in April to help you with your garden (lettuce and peas can go in the ground probably the final week in March and while April is too early for tomatoes, at least we can get the rest of your good black soil ready to go.  We’ll plant some Heritage raspberries, too.  Those were just the variety you and Reid used to eat by the handful when you were little kids.  None of those little rubies ever made it inside the house, but that was okay with us.

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The guy in the mirror…

My brother gives me the evil eye at an after-Christmas lunch. We share similar hairlines, political outlooks and other traits although the past year has tested our ability to cope with stress.

My twin and I have passed the tender age of 61.  That’s 427 in dog years.  It is utterly unfathomable to me that in theory, in one more year, I could dip into the Social Security fund you have contributed to for so long.  (My thanks to FICA contributors who make more money than me and the Ellens and Reids of the world who will continue to support my age group into the foreseeable future and beyond.)

Deep down, I don’t feel 61 although I’m not sure who the guy is in the mirror every morning.  My recollection of me and reality are not in snyc.  But I can tell I’ve lost a step in the gym, have developed an intolerance for uncalibrated bathroom scales, have come to rely on a grocery list as a must-have memory aid and know the ability to stay awake for the 11 o’clock news is a pipe dream.  The jury is out on whether I’m older but better.

Discussion of their old man’s age by Ellen, Reid has never been forbidden.  I could care less if they talk about it as long as they don’t rub it in.  There really have been no overt references to this birthday, hence no specific letter dealing with it; that would just rub salt into the gaping wound.


It’s not an official week on this site without a photo of Ellen’s loveable dog, Henry.

Henry is an early riser. I don't know the caffiene equivalent for dogs, but he doesn't need it.


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The Social Network…

In keeping with my status as a habitual late adopter on most everything in life, including the last adult to see most of the trendy movies, The Social Network finally made it to my 42″ LCD screen.  It earned two thumbs up from us.

Far be it for me, though, to cast the first stone toward the film’s main, but questionable, guy.  Yet I would hope by this time both Ellen and Reid would have a clue as to how their mother and I would want them to go about their lives in terms of how they treat other people along with a sense of fairness and  right-and-wrong social balance.  It was never, however, a matter of do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do.  They would have turned out far differently if they had patterned themselves on that credo.


January 31, 2011

Ellen/Reid: My vote on the Oscars won’t be worth a hoot, but The King’s Speech and True Grit get my two thumbs up.  Of course, those are the only two films I’ve seen as of late so my vote is a little short on all the facts.

I’m still in a state of shock about Jane Hemminger’s book about our September golf trip to Coeur d’Alene.  It is absolutely fabulous.  A short run printing disguised as a hard cover coffee table book.  This really is my first exposure to on-demand printing on this small scale and it just floored me.  It was that good.  I am just so awestruck of Jane and her force of will when it comes to sheer creativity.  She ought to be in this business.  She wrote a cookbook a few years back, it was sort of a nutrition guide for young athletes (I think), so she knows here way around the genre.  If I can ever crank up my tome about you two, I can think of no one better suited as an advisor (Bob F. would be on that short list, too).

I guess you wouldn’t be in the South if the specter of race didn’t rear its head now and again.  A couple of weeks ago when our most recent “snow storm” occurred, the few inches of snow closed the schools for a few days.  The superintendent and the board, along with a committee that had spent months talking about how to schedule make up days, thought that Monday, January 17 – Martin Luther King day – would be a good substitute since there were no other holidays in the foreseeable future and weekends weren’t so hot.  But the backlash was incredible from the black community.  The NAACP leader called Charlotte a “racist bastion” plus other harsh words.  How dare the school board disrespect (disrespect is not a real word, I don’t think) the black community but scheduling – heaven forbid – education on that holiday?  I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now.  If Dr. King were alive, I suspect he would think that might be the best way to honor him: keep kids in class to give them an education.  But people went bonkers.  Absenteeism for the day topped 28,000.  Ellen, I know you wrestle with getting parents involved in the classroom, but wouldn’t children have been better served if these parents would have volunteered to help in classes to educate kids about honoring Dr. King?  I just don’t get it.  It’s basically a lot of B.S. since so many people across the race spectrum at least have a sense of civility and respect for Dr. King’s cause, and now it’s out the window.  The race card should’ve been put back in the deck.

So in the February issue of my church newsletter, I convinced my pastor, John, to have a couple of our members write about their take on the controversy, from a Christian perspective of course.  We have a pretty diverse little church congregation: black/white, gay/straight, homeless/well-to-do.  I’ll be interested in seeing what my two volunteer writers come up with.  It’s going to be a good issue.  You can see the back issues online at  The newsletter is a lot of fun for me, creatively speaking, and is a measure of atonement for sins past, present and future.

Betsy just pinged me that she got a new job at the bank, with more bucks, no less.  She is really good at what she does and knows the people and knows how to get things done.  She is the poster child for going about it the right way.  If only I were in such demand.  Some day.

I wish there were a better update on your grandmother.  It appears to be a matter of time now, although I hope to be wrong on that score.  Not much is going right for her but she’s a pretty strong woman and perhaps she can bounce back one step at a time.  I’ll keep you up to speed.  But in the spirit of Betsy doing the right things, time for me to get back at it and do the right things, too.  Be good, and hope to see you both sooner than later.

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