Monthly Archives: January 2012

Just stuff going on…


We’re on February’s doorstep and it’s going to be a pretty big month.  No real fireworks (knock on wood), just stuff going on.

Reid shoves off for India (he says he’s ready except he has yet to apply for his Visa. Dad and sister to son/brother: ‘kid, you better hurry’), my twin and me become eligible for Social Security (no checks yet, thanks), we head to Santa Fe, Dave comes down from Des Moines to golf at Pinehurst, and the group I’ll guide for another July backpacking trip into the Bridger Wilderness will get together to make plans and no doubt strategize their ‘anti-bear’ measures.   That’s plenty enough on the docket.  (If anyone wants to climb aboard that trek train to Wyoming, let me know.  The more the merrier.)

More than a couple of folks – including Ellen – inquired about last week’s snit.   It’s just that bad news for my friends put a face on largely impersonal economic numbers.  The situation was alluded to, but in no great detail.  The snit has been snuffed, overwhelmed by just stuff going on.

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January 23, 2012

Ellen/Reid: Summer has its dog days and winter has what can only be described as its blahs.  That’s what we are in right now.  Overcast, damp, wet.  Awful.  It didn’t keep me from playing golf this weekend.  We got rained on hard at a course just over the border in South Carolina so we could only finish 9 holes and walked off like drowned rats, and yesterday was cold but still comfortable enough to walk a local muny.  There was one light moment when a foursome in the fairway signaled me to tee off, and I promptly snap-hooked my drive into the middle of them.  They scattered like so many bowling pins.  They fled for their lives.

Ellen, thanks for tipping me off to Tim’s 29th.  29.  Yowser.  I was completely daft on it but now it’s archived in my calendar.  It just does not seem possible.  And you’re next.  You’re gaining on it too, Reid.  So no sniveling on your part.  My 62nd is fast on the horizon.  No gifts, please, other than perhaps some music CDs.  Those are a real hit.  How many times have you heard that?

You guys had/have some nice trips.  We’re not ones to be left out.  We’re going to head to Santa Fe in February for a long weekend.  Felicia has never been to the high desert, and while it could be winterish out there it will still be good to get completely away.  Why we didn’t head toward a warmer clime is beyond me.  I just wasn’t thinking right.  We’ll drive into the desert west of Albuquerque and then up toward Taos.  I’m half tempted to take my fly rod for the streams north of town but my guess is the gear will stay here.  I wouldn’t know what to dunk in the water anyway (Tim, thoughts?) but that’s for another time.  Speaking of travels, Reid, make sure your mom and I have your complete India itinerary and maybe a contact phone/email so we can keep in touch if need be.  That is so exciting that Liz will join you for a portion of it.  Ellen, your photos of Cabo were incredible.  That looked so relaxing, and I noticed the temps were close to 0ºF while you were away.  All the better.  You didn’t want it to be 70ºF at home while you were away.

Steve Allen called this morning to say he put his 90 year old mother in hospice in Missouri over the weekend.  It won’t be long now, he says.  She had much of the same situation that affected your grandmother, so it is a blessing in many ways.  She has been slipping steadily for a couple of years – we know that song, don’t we? – and he will call when things are done.  His daughter Margaret spun her SUV on I-80 on an icy patch on the way to Des Moines and slammed into a guard rail.  $5,000 in damage but she was lucky a semi wasn’t on her tail.  No other cars were involved and she came out unhurt other than being rattled.

Some distressing news continues to pour out at work.  A couple of friends are on their way out, and that does not sit well with me.  They were top shelf workers and good people.  It’s just disheartening to see this happen to people that put their hearts and best efforts into it.   Their attitudes are good and they have oars in the waters and already they have feelers if not outright interviews set up.  That’s more than a lot of displaced workers can say.  Been there, done that.

I’m gonna skedaddle and get back to it so I won’t be among those numbers.  Reid, it’s too bad I couldn’t make it up there before you ditch the states for the Far East (is India the Far East) but there’s always March-April, and you know where we’ll be when the Springtime Baby arrives.

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The streak is broken


There have been times when, for one reason or another – our travel schedules, family issues, etc. – that I haven’t written the usual Monday letter to the kids.  In 10 years I could count the total missed weeks on my two hands, and maybe a couple of toes.  Sometimes if I missed a Monday then the letter was posted on Tuesday, and if Tuesday got by me there was still a Wednesday drop off at the post box.  They almost always got something.

Last week, however, the decade-plus string of weekly letters was intentionally broken.  Monday came and went.  Nothing was mailed.  The streak, such as it was, is done.  I don’t feel very good about it.

That’s because I harbored residual anger that welled up and most assuredly would have spilled over in writing.  That’s nothing the kids need to read about.  Rest assured, what made my blood boil had nothing to do with them.  In lieu of anger, a civil person might call it ‘deep-seated frustration.’  I am still worked up about things today.

It had to do with good people getting bad news.  People I care about, here and elsewhere, who are good if not spectacular at what they do.   And for their years, and in one case, decades, of loyal efforts?  They have been summarily kicked to the curb.

Of course anger is a legitimate emotion worth sharing with Ellen and Reid.  Heaven knows they’ve read about everything else.  But they know at least two of these wonderful people, and anger for anger’s sake isn’t worth the effort.  To be sure, I have vented before and no doubt will again, but not to the volcanic extent that would’ve erupted last week.

Already, today’s letter to my duo is out the door.  Along for the trip to the post box are separate envelopes addressed to my friends on the receiving end of the kicking.

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A lesson in the amateur naturalist world…


A boreal chickadee is a new, but now regular visitor, to the feeder just outside my kitchen window.

Birds have nothing to do with today’s post.

Our feathered friends were not mentioned or alluded to in last week’s letter nor any letter in recent months.  I’d have to search (highly unlikely this morning) to find the last time a cardinal, common flicker or rufous-sided towhee or any other species – other than the Thanksgiving turkey – made a cameo appearance on any of the single pages.

Instead, last week’s letter lauds Reid for his pending trip to India and is hopeful for Ellen‘s current trip to Baja, Mexico, and other normalcies.

But I have a relationship of long-standing with birds.  The actual genesis of it rests with Ellen and Reid’s grandfathers, both of whom fed birds.   My dad, for most of the second half of his life, put out a daily spread year-round and enjoyed their visual company.  Heaven forbid a marauding squirrel would raid his feeders.  If dad’s aim was true (which it frequently wasn’t) the tailed robber would feel the sting of his aging BB gun.  Not powerful enough to inflict lasting damage (not what dad intended), but enough to teach a lesson.  Until the next raid.

My father never really shared with my brother or me how he came to adopt these friends or why he so warmed to keeping his feeders stocked.  As with many things you notice with your parents, you pick up the non-verbal lesson here and there.  One of the things my dad evidenced to me – and once I stopped shooting at game birds – is that there is something to tending to birds.  He was a back yard naturalist, he with his garden and his birds.

So now I have picked up on his practice.  And the kids know it.  They read short discussions about birds often enough.  Maybe they’ll pick up the unspoken lesson, too.  As I think about it, dumping a jar of black sunflower seed into the trough is one more lesson in their dad’s amateur naturalist world.  They need to see there is value to strap on a backpack, recycle plastic instead of pitching it, plant a garden and walk the golf course.  Just as their grandfather taught me.

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January 9, 2012

Ellen/Reid: It is highly doubtful, Ellen, that this letter will make it to you before you and Tim depart for Baja.  In some ways it’s too bad that your Minnesota winter hasn’t totally sucked (i.e. unbearable cold and mountains of snow) before you shove off.  That way you could say you’ve left the worst of it behind for at least a few days of warmth and fun.  Still, it will be a good respite to get away and finally use sunscreen with plenty of SPF protection.  Both of you yahoos have nice trips coming up while your poor old man languishes in North Carolina, home to muddy, dormant Bermuda fairways and…  Wait, I can’t think of anything else bad (other than our politics).

Reid, I was wondering about immunizations before you shove off for India.  What’s the scene there?  What do you need to have, and what meds do you need to take with you in the event the local water or some strange food takes you down?  You should call up episodes of ‘Bizarre Foods’ with Andrew Zimmern that might deal with exotic foods in that part of the world.  It could be enlightening.  That would be half the fun to try local delicacies such as bugs and stuff like that as long as it looks cooked.  Your friend over there will be a good guide on that score.  And what’s the tourist dress code?  My guess is jeans and stuff won’t cut it.  Anything that you can rinse-and-wear is probably what will work best and travels well.  Patagonia will have some good nylon stuff that would do just the trick.  Minimal packed goods, one would think.  I just cannot wait to see the photos and hear the stories.  You really ought to try some Tweets or a blog if you can muster that while you’re over there.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall while you’re mashing about in the countryside or milling among the local street vendors.  I’m afraid as close as I’ll ever get to the reality that is India is “Slumdog Millionaire.”  That was a great flick.  Just make sure we know your total itinerary.

It’s cloudy and gray here today, with the threat of showers.  This is my sixth January in these parts, and knock on wood, this is by far the mildest of those six Januarys even though by Midwest standards this part of the Southeast is mild all of the time.  I bought an ice chopper in December just in case we get any of that damned black ice we are so famed for.  I hope to keep the chopper in reserve and unused.  The weather really has been sterling here and for more than just a few weeks, too.  That is probably the kiss of death to say that.  Now watch it really turn nasty.  Blame it on me.

Reid, some tragic news about Chicago with Charlotte ties.  The daughter of my golf buddy here, Tom, was not at home on North Michigan when a fire broke out on the 12th floor of her building.  The woman directly across the hallway stepped out of her unit to use the elevator, and when the elevator doors open, a blast of 1,500F heat and flame immolated her.  She was the only death from the fire.  That could’ve just as well been Tom’s daughter.  As it was, hook and ladder units had to fight the blaze, and to do so went through her apartment.  All her belongs and possessions were destroyed or damaged too badly to salvage.  As I told Tom, all that other stuff can be replaced, it’s his daughter that cannot.  Tom and his wife are trying to figure out where their daughter will sleep, where she will live, etc.  You ought to look into some cheap renter’s insurance.  It can’t be very much per month, but even with your meager belongings, it would still be a good deal and worth some peace of mind.

I have to slave on my church newsletter the next couple of nights.  12 pages of monthly penance.  Since my actions are still devious, I’ll have to hope the newsletter can atone for my missteps.  Beyond writing you two, it’s about my only creative outlet.  I guess the blog is too.  I’ll send you each a copy once it’s hot off the presses.  At least I’m thinking about atonement although, granted, I’m not very close to it.

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What about Reid?


Reid, sans beard. He heads to India next month. The kid is a digital whiz and a free spirit.

If you follow these weekly posts, you’d think it was all about Ellen and her faithful Golden Doodle, Henry.

But Ellen has a brother, too.  What about Reid?

He’s a good kid.  His man-bio reads ad agency up-and-comer in Chicago (to listen to him explain his digital agency world in even simple terms by his standards is to still have this knowledge sail over your head), scruffy beard, nice girlfriend, sneaky good photographer, biker (pedal variety) and an all-around guy with lots of interests.  He’s soon bound for a solo trip to India.  Just because he can.  Just to go.

I don’t hear directly from Reid very much.  He’s not like his sis who routinely sends along photos of Henry lounging around or otherwise looking faithful to she and her hubby Tim.  The temptation is to dismiss Reid’s lack of contact as a guy thing (as others have advised).  People have on occasion asked ‘when do we get to see Reid?’.  He granted me permission to dip into photos on his Facebook page.  Images from Reid’s world may become a regular feature on these pages.  (Note to Reid: post more photos.)

That he contacts his mom or me at his own discretion is hardly worth losing precious sleep over.  It was like this in college, like this after he graduated and first on his own, and like this now.  It was no big deal then and no big deal now.  That’s what makes him so interesting.  He’s not a momma’s or daddy’s boy, which makes his contact with us all that more pleasing.

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January 2, 2012

Ellen/Reid: Since most of my banking is done online, I’ve yet to err by writing ‘2011’ on a check written in the new year, which I have done more than several times over the decades.  Some habits die hard.  My guess on how we all rang in the ‘rousing New Year’ is that yours was a 9 on the scale of 1-to10 Reid, while Ellen and I were more in the 6-ish category.  But that’s just an estimate.  10:45 p.m. came and I was in the sack for the night.   That’s how it goes for older men.  We went out and split a burger and had a few cocktails, than it was home for the bowl games until I persistently nodded off on the couch before ultimately being sternly instructed to go to bed.

Ellen, the CDs you and Tim concocted are unbelievable.  I told Tim to expand my horizons, and that he did.  If “Jolene, Jolene, don’t take my man just because you can” or “lots of good people have had a lot of bad news, how’s about you?” doesn’t rattle your timbers, than nothing will.  You guys went from “Neck Music” to Wilco.  Incredible.  Thanks so much for that.  It makes the trips in the car that much more enjoyable.  And it’s not every day you receive CDs slipped into a sandwich baggie.  That was a hoot and they did survive UPS, but now they are in much more protective wrapping.  You guys can cut CDs for me anytime.  Remember, I have a B-Day coming up.

The weather more than cooperated this past weekend, so I’ve had my fill of golf.  It was a mixed bag of results but it felt good to get out in the pleasant weather.  I like to play with friends down here and we had a great time.  A few birdies now and then with a few mindless doubles tossed in.  My granddaughter will learn the game.  Guaranteed.  That’s what grandpas are for.

Reid, what is this about a ticket already purchased to India?  Good show, old man.  That will be incredibly exciting.  I like that you have a little spirit of adventure about you.  Just be sure to get all your shots and don’t drink the local water.  I would put India on my bucket list.  You’ve been sparse on the details, so be sure to fill your old man in on the schedule and itinerary.  I think it has the makings of an incredible trip and I am so proud of your independence.  Why not go while you have all your faculties and a little cash jingling in your pocket.  Is it correct to assume that you could set up some Skype deal or Twitter account to keep us posted on your location and adventures?  You’d better drag that Nikon along and take plenty of good shots.  Can’t wait to hear about the pre-planning, let along the post-trip display of photos.

The new master bath gets a bit of an upgrade very soon.  Because I was incredibly short sighted (not to mention miserly) I erred mightily in not installing a hand-held shower to go with the big sunflower on the ceiling.  Now, it will cost me a tidy $1,500 extra just to have the hand-held installed.  The plumber has to drill through the travertine and break out some drywall to make the installation.  But it will make it a complete shower.  Reid, I’m almost, but not quite, resembling you in the long shower department.  I love that big sunflower on the ceiling but my water heater is a few gallons shy of a full load, if you know what I mean.  An on-demand water heater might be the next step.

Dave Hemminger is coming back down for golf in mid-February.  Jane gave it to him as a Christmas present.  She’s quite the wife.  Then he heads to Argentina for a few weeks (maybe a month or so) to check on hundreds of acres of cherry trees he’s planted down there.  He is the silent entrepreneur.  They are checking into colleges down here (Elon, etc.) for Will and Ellie and I’ve encourage Butler, too, but it doesn’t appear to be on the top half of the list.

Okay, guys, over and out.  Be good, have a great 2012.  Hope to see you both soon.  Reid, shoot me January dates so I can see you in Chi-town before you board the jet for the Far East.

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Gonna be a grandpa…


Ellen shows her pregnancy progress. At first she didn't want this photo posted, but I asked and she granted permission. She looks great.

So I’m gonna be a grandpa.

This will be entirely new turf for Ellen‘s mother and I.  Perhaps it’s time to go to ‘Grandpa school’ so as to brush up on all the nuances of spoiling the child (a little girl), how to insist on an unannounced last-minute visit without seeming invasive, or what’s new in Caldecott Medal-winning children’s books.

I had a couple hours of advanced warning before the blessed announcement a few months ago.   Ellen texted me in the afternoon to see if I had Skype (no) but could I download it pretty fast (yes).  She and Tim would Skype me later that evening.  All mental systems were immediately on high alert.  The kids would never arrange a live webcast for something as mundane as a new car or bathroom makeover.  No, this had to be big.

And it was.  We have marveled at ultrasound images and news of the baby rolling around and moving.

Since there was no letter last week due to my laziness and Ellen and Reid being on the road for the holidays, I dug into the archives for a letter that celebrated some of Ellen’s earlier good news.

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June 15, 2009

Ellen: I must admit that when you were a peanut I never once imagined walking you down the aisle.  Now that time has come and you will be a beautiful, exuberant and composed (okay, let’s reserve judgment on the composed part for a little while longer) bride.

In the grand scheme of things, what all of this says is that you are mature, you are ready, and you have everything it takes to begin a loving family.  For a long time, you have been incredibly responsible in just about every aspect of your life; work, play, finances, and more.  If anything, that entitles you to the day you are about to enjoy and treasure.  That you took your sweet time on this deal says a lot about who you are and how you approach things.

My all-time fav pic of Ellen on her wedding day. Who knew a few years later that she'd be on a mommy track? We are very proud of her and Tim.

Your mom and I, and Reid and your grandparents and Nancy and Gordie and Kristin and Jeff and Ralph and Gayle, Joe and Andy, are incredibly proud of you.  As you take that longest walk that will be over so quickly, be sure to soak in the admiring views and stares because what it means is that people love and respect you.  And that is both friends and family alike.  Just look at the “response rate” on your invitations; if that isn’t some sort of record, I don’t know what is.  That is the sure sign of how people ultimately view you and Tim.  They want to be with you both on your day of triumph.  Not all couples can say that.

In no way shape or form do I view this as losing a daughter, but rather, it is gaining a family that includes a still-wonderful daughter and a great, great son-in-law.  That is probably the best any dad and mom can ever hope for.  Your mom and I could not be happier for you and your new life.  Nothing I will ever experience will make me smile any more or make me any happier than walking you down the center line and then answering Angie: “Her mother and I.”

Way to go, kid.  We love you.

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