Monthly Archives: April 2011

Pulling the plug on a workaday world…

It’s that time.

Not for breakfast or coffee or my daily walk.  It’s time to think about pulling the plug on the workaday world.  Events (health, desire to write, et al) have conspired to bring me to this threshold.  But those events make me think about it, not actually do it.  The gold watch ceremony (hey, I work at a bank so that’s a figure of speech) is still a gleam in my eye and the market will need to continue a rebound in order to forestall social security as long as is possible.

But as the financial planners say, at least I’m thinking about it (albeit late) and the idea of riding into the sunset has some appeal, and if I do so, at least it will be on an old man’s Harley.


April 18, 2011

Ellen/Reid: Nothing much earthshaking to report from this past week; heavy rain, work pressures, bad golf, early snoozing on the couch Saturday night.  Pretty much routine.

I’ve been giving some extra thought to retirement.  For some odd reason, the age of 64 has jumped into my thinking.  No particular rhyme or reason, it’s just there.  It is almost unfathomable that there is light at the end of the tunnel on this work thing.  It wouldn’t be so much a train light but more like sunshine.

I’ve been looking at the Social Security Administration updates it mails out every so often and even though I’m far, far, far from a math wizard, I could get by on some of the paltry sum that would come in the mail box.  Your uncle is counseling me to ride things out until 70 and before February that might have been the best path.  But I want to live now while the living is good.  A few more years and the house will be paid off along with the small home equity loan (don’t use your house as a piggy bank) and the Toyota.  Not that I’ll spend my time playing checkers and rocking on the front porch, but I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities around here.  I look at the retired people at church who say they’ve never been busier.  Even the word “retire” makes my blood curdle a little bit but I suppose it would only be in the corporate sense.  Maybe I could be a greeter at Wal-Mart or some other part-time stint.  I’d love to be a senior housing columnist for the Observer as they keep reminding me to turn in columns.  I suppose if I wore the label of ‘retiree’ that would give things a little more credence.  I look at the things that ostensibly would keep me busy and there would appear to be a fair amount; church newsletter, golf (if I haven’t already quit by then and donated the sticks to some good cause or thrown them in the irretrievable bottom of some lake) and riding the bike (if I still have the rig, which I think I will).

One of these days John and I have to have the “talk.”  He keeps telling me things aren’t half bad, it’s just the other half that I worry about.  As your uncle keeps repeating to me, retirement isn’t all about trips to Italy or a month in Bali.  When the job situation was in the balance last year, John had worked on some approach to bonds that would have yielded a passable monthly income but thankfully that was pulled off the table.  It might be time to resurrect that approach, or at least get him thinking about it.  He’s sort of gravitated in that direction already.  I guess he doesn’t think someone in my age category should take unmitigated risks.  Jeez, I don’t feel that old.  One of the factors behind all of this, I suppose, is that I will never achieve the bank’s formula that combines years of service and age that allows you some degree of benefits once you’re out the door (alas, no gold watch either).  That would only kick in if I worked here until I was about 80.  But I thought it might be time to at least fill you in on what’s circulating in my dense noggin.

Got up pretty early yesterday and planted the year’s first, and only, tomato plant in a huge pot just outside on the front entry way.  A Better Boy.  As it grows, it will be anchored in place by some bamboo rods I salvaged from a nearby bamboo grove and some of Felicia’s worn pantyhose.  Last year was okay in terms of harvestable fruit, and this year the larger pot should let the roots roam free without constriction.  Ellen, I paid handsomely for black dirt you take for granted in your backyard.  The lettuce is really producing right now and the arugula is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the lettuce pot.  We’d better eat while the eating is good because it’s going to be brutally hot here soon enough, then the lettuce will go kaput for sure.  But that’s just when the sweet basil charges full steam ahead.  Oh, but for a little patch of red raspberries.


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Bridger update…

Things are moving ahead on the July trip to the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming.  A group of eight of us from Charlotte are on board (there is room for plenty more hikers).  Most will fly into Jackson Hole, about 75 miles from our spot in the Wind River Range.  We assemble in Pinedale on Saturday, July 23 and after all the gear is straightened away and the food is packed into ‘bear barrels’ we head into the high country on Sunday the 24th for three to five nights.

The locals met for an update a couple of weeks ago and I’m relieved a die-hard and experienced hiker has decided to join our little band of outdoors people.  He knows his stuff.  I told the group this will be far from a forced march; rather, it will be the original pleasure cruise of backpacking.  Three or four miles by foot per day, frequent stops, lots of fishing. If this holds a smidgen of interest for you, climb aboard.  No experience necessary.

Alas, Ellen and Reid likely won’t make it.  Reid is talking about walking the Oregon coast with a buddy, and Ellen will likely opt to spend her time in northern Minnesota.

If there’s a high point for the trip, beyond the peaks themselves, it’s that my friend John’s two daughters, ages 11 and 14, both Carolinians to the core, will get their first taste of the truly wild-and-wooly outdoors.

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The law of the jungle…

My son-in-law Tim sent this surveillance photo of Henry and Ellen snoozing away a big chunk of a nice St. Paul Sunday morning.

Back in the day when I was Ellen and Reid’s age, workplace stress seemed somewhat different than what I perceive it is now.  It was… softer.  Your job was cut-and-dried.  You knew your role, your task(s) and you either liked your job or you didn’t.  People seemed to get along.  Perhaps we wore blinders back then or maybe it was just the places I worked (a TV newsroom and a school system) but things weren’t as hurried.  Maybe it is that the workplace is now so hyper-computerized that it makes it easier for us to keep up – or keep an eye – on each other and what someone is doing and how they’re doing it.  Something has changed and I have trouble putting my finger on the precise change and its root cause.

Ellen is teaching.  If her Minnesota district is like those down this way, teaching to tests, and I don’t mean the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, is sort of a side-door assault on teacher creativity.  Reid has been downsized once and is scratching his way up the ladder.  Both are on-the-job pressures I thought would take them years to experience, but here they are.


April 11, 2011

Ellen/Reid: My little lettuce pot on the front porch is producing more romaine and arugula than can possibly be consumed by the average adult.  I douse it with homemade dressing based on balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and olive oil.  If this were Iowa the rabbits would mow it down to the dirt but down here they don’t even give it a second look.  The spinach has been wonderful but it will run its course soon enough.  Now, it’s on to tomatoes.  One plant will be plunked in a pot this weekend.

Whew, last week was a rough one at work.  I will spare you the gory details other than to describe them as gory, but a meat cleaver would do a more humane job of slicing and dicing when compared to some folks downtown.  I mentioned to my boss that my faith in workplace humanity had taken a hit but he reminded me the “law of the jungle” prevails and he’s right.  I have discovered a new pragmatism whereby the bad or iffy things roll off my shoulders and down my back and away.  It is all about survival and just like the animal kingdom, it is usually reserved for the fittest.  We all have our burdens to shoulder whether it’s in schools or digital agencies or banks.  It’s just that the names of the protagonists that change along with the circumstances.  On the way in this morning I was wondering what I would write to you about surviving in your jungles but you guys probably have a better handle on that than me.

No doubt it would require some mixture of pragmatism, patience, knowing what battles to fight, turning a blind eye, an honest work ethic, and perhaps a thickened skin.  Improving one’s skills would fit in there somewhere but survivability is as much pluck and grit as much as anything else.  When I master all those traits I’ll let you know.  But I’m nowhere close to that right now so don’t bother holding your breaths.  Sometimes the notion of achieving for the common good gets misplaced or forgotten altogether as the engine of commerce grinds forward.

As long as I’m whining I might as well move on to another sore subject.  Mike and Mort were in town this weekend, and we played Friday afternoon at a nice course in Fort Mill, SC.  Not terribly penal but it can bite.  Sure enough, after a few holes my swing collapsed like a house of cards and those two took infinite joy in reminding me of my abundant hitches and stops/starts every time I try to hit the ball.  I think what I will do is just live with the demon rather than try to overcome it for the umpteenth time.  Nothing seems to work and it’s a flaw I’ll just have to coexist with.  I did walk the course pushing a cart and emerged none the worse for wear.  No repercussions to report.  Mike is about to start a series of Stephen King films and that appears to be his swan song.  He’ll exit film editing, he says, when the series is complete.  I think the total is three to five films, something like that.  Mort is doing pretty well and I encouraged him to give his stalled Western book another jump start.  He’s a good writer but has a case of writer’s block, the same as the rest of us get more often than not.  We ate more than we should and just basically hung out most of the time.  They treated Felicia and me to a fun dinner Friday night at a local bistro over at that mall you like, Ellen.  We traded lies and old stories but it was great fun.  Saturday night we had bad storms and heavy rain, so heavy it was like, to cite an indelicate quote from Pat Drickey, “a cow pissing on a flat rock.”  It really came down.

Late next week it’s on to Grand Island to see your grandmother.  She did not sound very good on Saturday and I can’t wait to get out there.  I am very apprehensive about it.  Your uncle says she is gaining weight which is good, but when she sounds like she does it scares me.  Keep your phones on that weekend and I’ll let you say a few words to her in her room.  That should perk her up a little bit.  She could certainly use it.

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The seeds of life…

The bounty of lettuce on my front porch. I hope Ellen can replicate it in Minnesota.

Every now and then I spin out a fast one-off letter on some minor or inane topic.  Yesterday, one such note went to Ellen (or Cakes as I often call her).

She and her hubby Tim have a sunny spot at the top of their back concrete entry way.  It is the ideal spot for a middling pot of fresh lettuce.  It would be safe from ultra-ravenous neighborhood herbivores (aka bunnies) that would mow down anything at ground level.  I’ve planted lettuce varietals in just such an arrangement for the past couple of years, and the yield has been more than one person can consume.  Of course, Felicia’s appetite for greenery has stressed my lettuce/spinach production.  The note below was hand written on legal paper.  The seeds will likely break ground before Ellen can decipher all my scratchings.


April 14, 2011


Here are the seeds of life (or at least salads).  Plus a tiny bit for a pot.

Get a wide pot.  Plastic is fine.  Doesn’t need to be real deep.  Dirt from your garden is fine, mixed with a little potting soil.

Use your finger as a dibble (the thing to create shallow holes for the seed).  Put 3-4 seeds in every hole.  The entire pot should be filled with seed holes.  Roughly 1/3 of the space should be allotted for each seed packet.  Holes should be about this far apart:

(I attempted to draw circles about 3 inches apart in all directions in the pot.  An artist I am definitely not.)

That way you fill the whole thing.  In about 40 days: bon apetit!

Love, Dad

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Some good and some bad…

Felicia. She stood by me through thick and thin when she could have bolted just as quickly for the door.

All along the kids have seen virtually everything that has gone on in my new life in North Carolina.  As they’ve seen and been told, and in many cases you, too, my nearly five years here have had roughly equal shares of some good and some bad, although I think the good has nosed ahead of the bad as of late by a comfortable margin.

Last week’s letter is a recent example of how the good has extended its lead.  It is all part of simply picking up the pieces and moving on.  It is as we all do.  We all have a past but hopefully a future, too.  Ellen and Reid have had bits and pieces of the new situation sent their way but this is their first inside look at the larger picture.  As I have fumbled my way down this road, it’s been quite a path of trial and much error to reach this juncture, but here I am.


April 4, 2011

Ellen/Reid: By the time you have opened this letter, we will know of Butler’s Monday night fate.  I’ve wondered, aloud sometimes, how they’ve managed to get this far, but they have slain their share of Goliaths along the way, and what’s one more in UConn?  I may be AWOL on the telecast because I’m just too nervous to watch.

Well, it’s about time you guys got to know a little more about Felicia.  You’ve been on the periphery about this for some time – an allusion here, another allusion there.

She’s a North Carolina girl, from Shelby, which is about 50 miles west of Charlotte just north of I-85.  About the size of Ames, I would guess.  But she’s lived in CLT for quite some time, and has two kids just about your ages (Suefan, 26) and Kenneth (23).  Felicia is a nurse by training (RN) and she works in the specialized psych unit of the big local hospital system.  I don’t see how she does it, working with people who just stepped out of an alien spacecraft or see themselves as Napoleon incarnate.  And those are just the easy-to-handle cases.  In some ways it’s fitting that she works with nut cases because that makes it a little easier for her to deal with the likes of me.

We’ve been together on and off for almost three years, and virtually all of the past 20 months.  I’ve got 10 years on her, and whenever she mentions how hard it is to grow old, she gets the evil eye.  She’s very fit and health conscious, none of which has rubbed off on me, and we spend a lot of time together, at least on the weekends.  To her credit, she’s not a golfer, yet, and the thing that she really enjoys is just sitting on the back of the bike.  I wouldn’t be riding nearly as much if she wasn’t taking up the back seat.  We’ve been all over the place on jaunts of 150 – 500 miles at a crack.  Last year I’d guess we put 7,500 miles on the rig.

I have to hand it to her in that she’s quite low maintenance (knock on wood), and although she’s been known to have a short fuse, she rarely exercises her right to complain about my bone headedness or other guy faults.  Thank goodness she doesn’t pay per text message because if she did, she’d be bankrupt.  I’ve never seen anyway who texts more than she does.  If she could text me during dinner, she would.  She’s very attractive, and I am amazed at her staying power when it comes to sticking around.  In the past nine months, she’s had every reason to jump ship but has been with me every step of your grandfather’s situation, my job hurdles last summer, and most recently this bladder thing.  She could’ve bolted for greener male pastures but didn’t, and for that I am very grateful.

Even more amazing is how she has done all that in the face of what she has going on in her own life.  Her daughter lives in Baltimore with her boyfriend and that’s all well and good, but it is her son, Kenneth, who is in Asheville fighting his own set of demons which have afflicted him since he was a teenager.  It causes Felicia no end of worry and heartache, and keeps her on high alert almost every day.  Since I’ve known her, it’s almost like clockwork for him: four good months then wham, some period of time when he’s fallen off the ledge.  He’s been hospitalized and has frequented institutions, and she still has the motherly support for him.  Neither of us is certain how it ultimately will play out, but it absorbs a lot of her waking time and mental stores.  I worry for her, and for him, but it is just how life continues to unfold.

But I wanted you to know at least some of the details because it would be accurate to call her my significant other.  She’s stuck with me through thick and thin, and the least I can do is return the favor.  You’ll have your chance to meet her soon enough.

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Under the influence…

Last Friday night while relaxing in front of the tube with a cold beer and minding my own business, I took a rapid-fire series of text messages from my friends Dave and Jane (she of Coeur d’ Alene planning fame).  Obviously, both were under the influence of their own Friday night libations which had elevated their inquisitiveness to new heights.  I’m not entirely sure what the hell we texted about beyond pulling each other’s chains.

But they’ve been on the short list to receive regular letters, and their texting escapade moved me to write something to them on Tuesday.


April 5, 2011

Jane/Dave: Your flurry of Friday night text messages, done under duress or under the influence, has not fallen entirely on disbelieving eyes or deaf ears.  Jane, since you are the Maven with the Most-est, I will leave the planning for Friday night, April 6 up to you if you guys are game for such things.  I have wedding festivities most of that day and the next, but should be able to recover in time for the ceremony.  For the record, it’s not me getting hitched.  Yet.  You would be the first to know, or closely thereafter.

You’ll need to refresh my memory about the date and other particulars for the DDD&B reunion tour later this fall.  I know it involves golf and probably boats, although my ship has yet to come in.  You wine stewards will have to lead the way.  This will be a fun situation.  The lies, accusations, unfounded rumors, etc., will really be flying.  It seems to me to be as good time as any to pile on Bob for general purposes.  He is defenseless against our relentless onslaught.  He becomes an increasingly easy target as his wine consumption mounts during the evening.

I get into town on Thursday and head over to the old house to box up some things for shipment down to Charlotte.  That will likely consume most of Thursday night and Friday morning.  Kathy is selling the house as we speak and I need to get some of my parent’s stuff out of there that she was nice enough to let me stow things there.  My Ellen has already made off with some of her items although Reid will no doubt be content to wait until the last minute to claim his stuff, if not later than that.

Dave (and Jane), I can confirm that the Bridger wilderness trip is indeed on; we head into the high country on Sunday, July 23 and come out probably the following Wednesday or Thursday.  3-4 nights, max.  Our jumping off point is Pinedale, WY.  I have eight people in tow from Charlotte, including Felicia and me.  So you are all more than welcome.  It is a good, low key group, and it’s basically a pleasure cruise and an opportunity to fish and sightsee.  Alas, the fishing won’t be South America quality, but we will eat some of what we catch.  We won’t work very hard and it will be as far from a forced march as you can get.  It is highly doubtful that my Ellen and Reid will be able to join us.

There was an article in this morning’s paper that the copperheads are now out in full force, and that North Carolina is the leader in copperhead snake bites which number in the many hundreds per year.  At least we lead in something.  This means I can’t forage as much for stray golf balls on the local golf courses, and in all my time down here I can attest to have seen less than five such snakes.  Since I won’t give up walking and carrying my sticks, I’ll keep my 5 iron out and handy in order to defend myself.  We won’t see snakes up in the Bridger but the park service says wolves have migrated out of Yellowstone (about 150 miles north) toward the Bridger if not into the wilderness area itself.  That would be cool to hear their howls as the pack hauls down some hapless prey, as long as it’s not us.

Feeling pretty good these days.  Not many potholes on the road to recovery.

Well, I’m back at it this morning.  The work is unceasing and the conference calls never ending.  I’ll see you guys in pretty short order and since you’ve already broken the texting ice, I will respond in kind as the trip draws closer.

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A mixed bag…

I needed a jolt of goodness today, something to lift my spirits. And here it is. One of my all-time fav pics - Ellen on her wedding day as she jettisons the church for her reception.

Today is your lucky day.

No real moralisms this past week.  I stepped down off my lofty, left-wing soapbox to simply provide updates on the typical and mundane.  I’ll get back to waxing poetic next week with full force. Next Monday’s note will be a completely new tangent the kids have never, ever before seen from me.  I’m not sure what they’ll make of what they read.  Probably ‘life goes on’ and that will be sufficient enough.  Both have seen and heard bits and pieces here and there of the topic.

What you’ll read next week has nothing to do with medical procedures or jobs or lovable dogs named Henry or sunny Southern weather or terrible-lousy-awful-shitty golf swings.

But for now, it’s back to a mixed bag of routine news.  My friend Betsy will chew on me for not being more fatherly in my advice or counsel, but it’s Monday and I ran out of energizing coffee.


March 28, 2011

Ellen/Reid: See last week’s note about Butler playing the role of the little school that could.  How many brackets have Butler and VCU blown to smithereens (mine included)?  I will be on pins and needles (i.e. I won’t be able to watch) the action on Saturday night.  Call me a scaredie cat.  It’s all true.  I had Butler making it to the Sweet 16 – but no further.  And VCU?  First round losers.

Things at the doctor’s office were something of a mixed bag.  On one hand the recovery has gone smoothly; I’m all healed and ready to go.  No problems there.  But they do this crazy ultrasound of my bladder and I’m back to square one in terms of drainage.  Not sure what we’re going to do about that.  The gist is not everything is leaving me which just amazes me because I feel bone dry. Their concern is this could lead to bladder infections if the situation doesn’t improve.  They want me to try some methods to train the bladder so I am trying to practice those before they resort to other remedies.  There are no drugs or surgery options available right now, so they will give me a 90 day reprieve to see how things continue to progress and then they’ll make a judgment from there.  I feel really good in all other respects.

In fact, I played golf yesterday for the first time since February 6.  Walked 18 holes, slowly, on a cold and damp day and felt just great.  There was virtually no one else on the course so I could take my sweet time.  If nothing else it showed me how much I missed just getting out on the course.  This morning my muscles were a little fatigued but nothing like I thought they might be.  The round was a shake-down cruise in that I didn’t try to hit for the fences but instead just swing easily and enjoy the cloudy day.  There were some good shots and some forgettable shots but I had a good time.  Reid, you ought to dust off your sticks now and then.  It would be good exercise for you.

Your grandmother continues her slide.  The other day your uncle called from her room at the nursing home and put his phone to her ear.  The best part of the conversation is the first :30 seconds because that’s when she is most lucid.  There’s no real back-and-forth per se.  She says she feels fine and then in the next sentence she asks me “Is Patty dead?”  That was her sister who passed away in 1970.  Yes, mom, she is.  I think that’s when she knows that something is amiss with her.  I’m sure she feels some maddening frustration about what has occurred to her although it’s all probably just a blur.  I’ve yet to hear her ask about your grandfather; perhaps she has shoved that way down in her subconscious.  That’s okay.  She has a lot on her plate as she rides out her days.  I am so glad to be going there for Easter.  I’ve ramped up the schedule for my church newsletter to accommodate my travel.  I am very anxious to see her.

It’s good you got to see your other grandmother, Ellen, when you were in Des Moines.  No matter how things have gone down, it’s still the right thing to do.  People are who they are and there’s no sense trying to make the situation seem otherwise.  I’m not sure I would have the same degree of patience.  Life is too short to get all stirred up about things that are beyond your control.  I wish I’d of come to grips with that philosophy a little bit sooner.  Good for you, too, to pick up the china and some other items.  Your mom was anxious to get some of the stuff out of the house.

Reid, it is so good to hear you like things at Razorfish.  This sounds like a solid outfit and a very good fit for your skills and intellect.  It will be interesting to get you take on where this all fits in with the New School.  Ellen and I both think you can’t go wrong either way.  Nice to have choices.

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