An odd couple and keeping up with the Times …


What goes together better than diamonds and container gardens? Truly an odd couple but such disparate topics and more are all in play for the weekly letters.

As it is, the kids read all the news that’s fit to print (with apologies to the New York Times). Speaking of the Times, it is all it’s cracked up to be. I can hardly get through the weekend editions. In fact, I’m not. Sections yet to be perused are stacked up like cordwood next to the couch. I wish the kids would subscribe to the paper versions of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune. It would do them good. 


March 27, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Our collective karma didn’t seem to work too well for the Bulldogs last week. North Carolina rolled them and I thought Butler would be the one team that might be peaky enough to give them a go. But for a small school to reach that far says something about the basketball culture in Indianapolis. I watched the games yesterday on ESPN which had a link to the CBS broadcast. It’s really the one time of year I wish I had a TV. Otherwise, I’m good without it. In secret, I am a Carolina fan among all the teams down in these parts so here’s hoping the Tar Heels can go all the way.

The container garden is already going great guns. The romaine and arugula are already sprouted and growing nicely. The cilantro has yet to emerge. If the temps hold true (and warm) later this week the basil and maybe a small tomato plant will go in the ground. While golfing this weekend, there was a stand of bamboo adjacent to one of the tee boxes and I plucked a bunch of dried stalks and stuck them in next to my golf bag. Those will make good guides for the tomato.

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A couple of years ago, the HOA ‘Garden Nazis’ called me out about the evil of veggie plants on the front porch. This year the container garden next to the back driveway got an upgrade.

It took me most of the day yesterday to wade through the New York Times. It really is one hell of a newspaper. The conservative side rags on it as a ‘liberal’ paper, but it’s not liberal, it’s just straight forward, honest reportage. I don’t see much of a reportage bias in it at all. The editorials thump Trump but that’s the role of the Times and other papers; play the devil’s advocate and be a counterweight to the BS that’s spewing out of this White House – or any White House for that matter. What people don’t associate with it is the arts coverage, the food, the culture and other national reporting. They had a great, great piece on Mt. Rushmore from a tangent I’d never seen before. Ellen, I should send you the book review section. It’s stellar.

It’s pretty early in the day right now, and the coffee is strong. I’ve been getting up a bit later, perhaps as my body clock adjusts to the retirement regimen. It doesn’t mean I’m sleeping solidly through the night but it is what it is.

There shall be no mention of the Continue reading

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We were all Irish for one day in Asheville … and the hunt is on for a PT job


An old saying has it that we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

That was true in Asheville, a town that didn’t invent fun but has perfected it. What went on in Asheville will stay in Asheville except to say Jamison and Irish Car Bombs were the order of the day. Mercifully, it was an early night.

And, like Reid, I’m prowling around for a part time job, if nothing else than to fill 6 – 8  idle hours each week.

One final note: next week’s 697 word letter to Ellen and Reid was written in 9 minutes. That is likely a personal record, but who’s keeping track?


March 20, 2017

Ellen/Reid: It’s really been colder than it ought to be down here. Our morning lows (20s and low 30s) and yours aren’t that far apart. Maybe it’s the higher humidity in these parts, but it’s just bone chilling. Windier than normal, too. I made a new platform for my container garden alongside the driveway and fully intended to sow the first seeds of romaine and spinach over the weekend but shelved that to stay inside. I won’t wimp out today and will get it done. The planting is at least two weeks overdue. This time last year the seeds had sprouted.

Had an extraordinarily fun St. Patrick’s weekend with my friends Sondra and Jody and Sue in Asheville. It’s just one helluva town. Lots going on and lots of fun people. Sondra and Jody wanted authentic corned beef and cabbage (the boiled variety, mind you) so we started with that and then wandered over to a jam-packed Irish Bar where Jody somehow snagged four primo corner seats at the bar. We proceeded to idle the next five or so hours there listening to locals play Irish music

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It’s not often Irish music gets jam session treatment, but that’s how they do it in Asheville. And these folks did a pretty damn good job at Jack of the Wood.

until we finally called it a night although it wasn’t that late. It was great fun. We left my car downtown overnight and wisely Ubered it back to the motel. The next morning Sondra and I were up around 6:30 to go retrieve my car. I made a side trip to Starbucks and camped there for an hour or so to read the local paper and enjoy the strong black eye-opener. We played golf at the posh Grove Park Inn. It’s a mountain course, tight and really a challenge for being a so-called short course. Jody shot lights out while the rest of us kind of muddled around on a nice day. We pledged to do the ‘Celtic Open’ again next year. St. Patrick’s Day will be on a Saturday. Yikes.

The Medicare thing is getting really old really fast. Just cannot get any straight answers no matter how many people I talk to on the phone. I mean, it’s been hours of conversation and questions. Very frustrating. In fact, one of the Social Security people said it could be up to another 60 days before a resolution is determined. Fortunately, the hernia isn’t worsening as of this writing but you never know. But if it drags on much longer it’s going to make a mess of my Wyoming plans and perhaps the Spain trek in the fall. There’s been a physical toll taken, too, in that I haven’t visited the Y in a month and walking 4 – 8 miles per day just doesn’t cut it. I can feel my conditioning slip away. The scales don’t lie, either. This predicament is all consuming for me right now.

Applied for a couple of part time editing jobs on LinkedIn. We’ll see if anyone bites. Reid, have you plied those online waters very much? I was surprised Continue reading

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It’s Monday, meaning another Monday letter is nearly out the door …


True to form, it’s another Monday which means another letter to Ellen and Reid is about to be stuffed into #10 envelopes and posted at my development’s mailbox. 

The writing (about 15 minutes) was polished off over a cup of coffee. There’s no real formula to how the letters come together; at one time I kept a cheat sheet of notes but now I sit down and write whatever comes to mind in whatever order. That’s pretty much it.

(Here’s the letter sent last week. I wait one week before posting each letter so Ellen and Reid see the single pages first.)


March 13, 2017

Ellen/Reid: The tepid stream of prospective buyers will no longer be trouping through the house. I took it off the market at mid-week and my W Group Realtor, Scott, took the news like a champion. Really a good guy. He did confide that he thought my asking price – the one he and I agreed to at his suggestion – was a shade too high since other homes he’s represented have been selling very quickly. But in the end that didn’t matter. He’s sent me a few more smaller townhouses to take a look at since he thinks I’m still in a tad too much space; he’s probably right. The taxes and such might be less elsewhere, particularly if I relocate to the suburbs in South Carolina but I sure like the SouthPark location. As you’ve seen, it’s right in the thick of things and I can – for the time being – still navigate three sets of stairs. But after months of keeping the joint clean (let’s hope that trend continues) it’ll be nice to just live in it for a change.

So now the garage has to be cleared out of the two twin beds and cardboard boxes that will no longer be of use. In one sense the purge of stuff was a wholly good thing, plus I got some free decorating and rearranging advice. I really do like how the first floor dramatically opened up. It just looks so much better and is more livable.

I’m not sure how a move might have gone physically if this hernia operation goes on as scheduled. There’d of been no packing or lifting for a month or so. Still no word or update from the Social Security/Medicare folks. Somewhat perturbing in that if the letter doesn’t arrive today then I will pull the plug on Thursday’s surgery and delay it until the situation is clarified. The condition hasn’t deteriorated so a rescheduling might not be bad. What’s lurking on the radar is Wyoming; I want to be in good shape entering the mountains and need several months of solid workouts to deal with the climbing and walking. We shall see.

Since it looks like the knife will be staved off later this week, I’ll proceed to Asheville with Sondra and Jody to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and enjoy golf with them on Saturday. Since my dating life has per usual ground to a halt/is non-existent, it’s an easy solo trip to make.

My Irish friend Luke and his daughter Kate came over for dinner last night (she’s in the states for another 10 days or so before heading back to Dublin) and I asked if they’d like to come to Asheville too, and it looks like they might take up the invitation.

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My friends Jane and Luke and his daughter Kate show that the English and Irish can indeed get along.

He’s really a great guy (Reid, he said he wanted to talk to you again) and a good stick. He can be the jovial life of the party and jazzes up any room in an instant, such is his pleasant, outgoing personality. So that pair will be a good addition to the soiree. My English friend Jane was here, too, and she and Luke dispelled any notion the English and Irish can’t get along. After my unfortunate faux pas linked Ireland and England, I was told in pointed terms that Ireland is not part of the U.K. Learn something new every day.

Sunday’s snow event totally fizzled. It never ceases to amaze me how people here launch into a tizzy at the mere mention/hint Continue reading

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Eating like kings … playing golf like a dog


The long-awaited trip to Florida with my Iowa buddies – Bob and the two other Daves – came and went too quickly. Ellen and Reid have read regularly about these annual golf/foodie extravaganzas with my friends they know well.

The high point was in the kitchen and the table. Meal after meal, we ate like nobody’s business. Golf was another issue. I ate like a king but played like a dog. Some weeks that’s the best you’ve got.


March 8, 2017

Ellen/Reid: If you gauge the trek to Florida only on the fishing experience, it was a complete and total bust. The offshore winds were so high that no boats – not even the 50+ footers – left their berths. All the rods that made the trip never saw the deeper open ocean waters. I’m glad Miss Emma didn’t make the trip. She would never have left the roof of the Camry. But that’s not how you ought to look at such a trip. It was really fun and relaxing. Dave H. is such a good host to share his nice home with us and it appears we may be repeat visitors because the Deerfield Beach locale offers just about everything we need; fishing (when the wind lays down), golf (across the street) and plenty of good food. We ate like literal kings.

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Mike LaValle can flat-out bring it to the kitchen. He is a chef’s chef. He turned everyday ingredients into gourmet meals. (Left to right: Bob Furstenau, Dave Dahlquist, Mike and Dave Hemminger.)

A new addition to our group, Mike LaValle, is a chef extraordinaire. He has a sterling reputation in Des Moines and has had a number of solid, successful restaurants. He honestly can whip up an incredible meal with ingredients on hand. He raided Dave’s cupboards for available spices and I’m telling you, give the guy a stick of butter, some heavy cream, olive oil, some garlic and any sort of vegetable and you will get a five star meal. He cooked some whole red snapper like no fish I’ve ever had. He allowed me to observe as his sous chef (I was an awestruck bystander for the most part) and once he does his magic, viola, you have one helluva culinary experience.

The golf was another matter entirely. I just ran out of oomph through our second round. Just can’t keep things together. Dave Dahlquist was my partner and I completely let him down. Dave H. and Bob Furstenau just took us to the cleaners.

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The Champions Course at PGA National ate my lunch – and put my head on the platter.

The courses were great but somewhat over my head. I’ll give it to Florida; the state has some nice golf and a lot of it. It’s wonderful to be around those guys for a few days. They’re all creative in their own sense.

The drive down was something else. It was 10 hours of pedal-to-the-metal stress each way down and back. If you’re not gunning it at 75-80 MPH you might as well be in the right hand lane with your flashers on. And the traffic was so heavy. Luckily, there were no notable accidents that brought the lines of cars to a stop. If that had happened, I’d still be on the road. The driving is cathartic in a way, however, in that you just get a big cup of coffee, turn on the tunes and hit the road. Not a bad recipe and beats a plane in some respects.

The big task today is to break the news to my Realtor, Scott, that the home will be taken off the market. He’s sure to be Continue reading

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A spiffy space for my girls … and the specter of the knife


One week it’s St. Paul, the next week it’s Florida. By my standards, this is a fairly active travel schedule. Ellen has a completely made-over home and my granddaughters are enamored with it – as is their grandfather.

But the travel is about to grind to a halt, at least temporarily. What’s a month on the shelf?


February 27, 2017

Ellen/Reid: It was great to be up in St. Paul to assist – at least partially – with your move, Ellen. You and Tim did a ‘wow’ of a total makeover to that house. Don’t sweat the stone-topped coffee table. Of all the things that are wonderful about the home, that is a blip on the design radar.

The girls sure seem to love it. What a pair of total goofs; Emma ever the Drama Queen and showperson, Georgia and her angelic little presence. There’s more space for them to roam (and spread toys) but they each get their own rooms.

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Bedhead or not, sweet little Georgia loves her room with a view.

The upstairs windows are to die for; such light is magnificent. It seems highly unusual that an older home would have such spacious wraparound windows but that is a real plus for you guys. And you seem to have a nice amount of storage vs. the other house.

The kitchen is the real star of the show. It is a real cook’s kitchen. I could’ve been content to spend all my time in there to whip things up. You’ll love cooking and baking with gas. There is absolutely no comparison to that hard-to-clean glass cooktop that was tough to control temperature-wise. Gas is so much more efficient and manageable. And again, all that storage. Then again, you might jettison some things that aren’t needed; i.e. tupperware up the wazoo. That is hilarious. A whole drawer devoted to the stuff. On a more serious note, I’m already shaking from the DTs after going without Tim’s smoked pork shoulder. To call it incredible is to sell it short. It was unbelievable. 11 hours on a smoker will do that to hunk of meat.

The move didn’t really bother the hernia thing. But it was a mild downer to find out today the March 16 surgery would be a double hernia affair. The doctor said 4-6 weeks of recovery before full activity. There can be very limited movement after a couple of weeks. But I suppose the good news is it’s not very invasive in the sense of not being sliced open. Three small holes on each side of the abdomen. A week of feeling pain and then it should subside. The operation has caused me to cancel a golf/St. Patrick’s day trip to Asheville but it will be a good tradeoff to be able to do my floor exercise and full daily YMCA regimen. I miss the pilates and other floor exercises. Already, I’ve added a few pounds and can feel the lack of hard work in the gym. But he said there were no restrictions on the trip to Florida which will begin early tomorrow morning. That’s a relief. With me will go four rods, associated fishing gear and my golf clubs. We plan to fish offshore a couple of times and golf a couple of times. My guess is I’ll see significant kitchen duty which is okay with me. If I’m feeling up to it, I’ll probably make a stopover in Charleston to fish. If I’m up to it. In some ways I’m anxious for the surgery to be over and done with. Still have a few Medicare issues to work out and if those don’t pan out I’ll dip into my own pocket. It’s gotta be done.

Pretty good response to the non-move. People here are accepting of it although there’s been almost no contact with friends in Des Moines. One thing that was noticeable in St. Paul was how cold the wind can really be. It was bitingly cold on the walks to the hardware store and around the block with Henry. Those temperatures are something that won’t be missed by any stretch.

Reid, I do want to plot a trip to Chicago. Let me know what dates in April or May work for you. I’ll be totally on the mend by then. I’ll drive as far as southern Indiana then head due north up your way. Probably a Thursday – Sunday excursion if that’s okay with you.

The next big decision is do I keep the house on the market and find smaller digs in most likely an outlying part of Charlotte. My tilt right now is to take it off the market and stay put since it’s an incredible location and one I like – a lot. Not as nice as your spiffy new space, Ellen, but good enough for me.

Love, Dad

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Should I stay or should I go? … a final answer


Call the old rock group The Clash clairvoyant or prescient, but 35 years ago they sang the very question that tormented me since late last summer: Should I stay or should I go?

The context of the question for the rockers was love; for me it was relocation. And the final answer for me: stay in Charlotte. My roots had worked themselves deep into the red clay soil after nearly 11 years.

All the agonizing, yo-yoing and back-and-forth is done. Ellen and Reid were first told in phone calls. Last week’s letter expanded on a thought process behind what was by far the toughest decision I’ve had to make in more than a decade. I will disappoint some people but make a few others happy. Still, a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.


February 20, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Last week was one I’ve worried about for the last few months. Yes, I’d gone back and forth and back and forth. It looked as if I wasn’t capable of making a decision – and that’s right. I wasn’t. That’s not how it appeared. It’s how it was. There’s nothing in recent memory in my nearly 11 years here that applied such a tight mental tourniquet. There there was no clear-cut answer, no internal directive that firmly, and with finality, declared ‘Here is what you should do.’ Every day was consumed, in part, with what to do. Partial credit has to go to your mom since I sought out her advice. We went back and forth about it, not at great length, but in her usual sense of clarity she was able to define the issues and ultimately cut to the chase: ‘Why move?’ That really helped. Locally I talked with my good friends Sondra and Andrea and their distilled counsel – Do what makes you happy – figured into the decision, too. The thing that is troubling is the near-continual public pronouncements about ‘I’m moving’ and now I wear the badge of a turncoat. I do wonder what people think or will think.

So here I’ll stay. The snail’s pace of the house sale figured into this, too. If it had sold immediately in October, as I assumed it would, then I would’ve been up to Des Moines in a flash and that would have been that. But the longer the sale took, the longer it plodded along, the more the doubts came into question.

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Even if I’d moved to the Midwest, it still meant a four hour drive to see sweet little Georgia and her big sister Emma in the Twin Cities. As for Reid, he would have been five hours away in Chicago.

I wondered about reinventing the wheel in all respects; housing, social life, golf, etc. It would have been almost exactly what happened when I moved to Charlotte although not quite as dire. Could I have been happy to lean on Val and Bob, Jane and Dave, Cheryl and Dave and Holly and Dana? Absolutely. But when I stepped back from that ledge I couldn’t get away from the fact that Charlotte feels like, and has felt like, home. Sure, I can get along anywhere I live, but the reinvention part was troubling. The ocean did come into play. I simply love toting Miss Emma to the salt water. Yeah, the weather here is glorious but that was no overriding factor.

I really appreciate how you guys took it. Ellen, I truly sweated over breaking the news to you. I had no idea how you’d take it other than that you might have a very strong opinion. Reid, I knew you’d defer to the same advice as Sondra and Andrea. Part of the final answer is a commitment to get to Chicago and St. Paul more regularly. That feels right. I do want to be part of Emma and Georgia’s lives and that can, and will, happen. I worried, too, about how friends in Des Moines Continue reading

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Patience is running out – I mean the patience of Ellen and Reid


It’s been a total, complete, patience-testing grind as far as the house sale and move to the Midwest are concerned. The kids have to be on the margins of fatigue; they’ve seen me whine and moan about it in the weekly letters for months on end. They’ve got to be as tired of reading about it as I am writing about it.

But all the stewing and fretting is about to come to an abrupt end. More on that next week.


February 13, 2017

Ellen/Reid: I dunno, this house thing is taking on a personality of the macabre. A flurry of visitors last week after the new listing but now nothing. There was a low ball bid from an investor looking for easy pickings but the offer was rejected out of hand. I have faith in the new Realtor. He thinks when a townhouse across the way closes sometime soon at $400,000 it will change the landscape entirely and will be the comp we need.

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It’s very old keeping the house spic & span for the few lookers who’ve paid a visit. But that’s all about to come to a screeching halt.

We’ll see. I was sitting out on the front steps yesterday wondering how this has come to this point. But my chin is still up. I keep my fingers crossed but they’ve been crossed for so long we can only hope they don’t freeze in that position.

Saw six deer foraging out back yesterday morning including one large doe that had some sort of bad rear leg injury. It was everything the poor thing could do to hobble along with the rest of the herd. Probably got dinged by a car over on Sharon View. With the coyotes around she probably will enter the food chain in fairly short order.

It was nearly 80F here yesterday. Some sort of record high. Could’ve played golf but the stinging rebuke from the sad round the day before was still with me. My skills are eroding and fast. It’s not the loss of distance that bugs me. It’s not hitting the ball solid.

Really had to work hard at Charleston last week. When a full moon tide is in effect, it’s like paddling against the current of a major river. At one point we reached the confluence of tidal current from two different branches of King Flats Creek and we literally paddled in place. Plus there was a harsh in-our-face wind that exacerbated things. It was really a grind. But I suppose that’s what makes the sport what it is. You have a paddle and you use it. My mindset on the drive down – knowing the conditions would be this way – was just to hang in there and get through it. I was also comfortable with the idea there might not be anything caught. But Miss Emma (I love that little boat) stuck with me and we landed a bunch of nice reds. What’s really fun is to see the expressions of the black oystermen when you ask them “Hey, how about a fish?” They work so hard for their share of oyster clusters. Nice to share the bounty. It truly is.

We head down again this Wednesday. I’ll cook for 20 on Friday and have got to make sure there’s enough redfish and black drum in the freezer. People have their pick of fish or steak. The menu will be slightly blackened fish with a fresh salsa topping that’s a spin off of Cowboy Caviar. Or, I’ll marinade several flank steaks for about 72 hours for the grill. I’m hoping to run into Mr. Richard during our voyage and if we catch enough of anything, we can swap a red or two for 40-50 pounds of oysters which would make for a fabulous grilled appetizer Friday night. People have been instructed to bring a side dish. I’ll bake some bread and whip up roasted brussels sprouts with garlic and pine nuts and keep that in reserve as needed. There’ll be sautéed shrimp, too.

Reid, watch for a call from my golf friend Luke. He’s an Irishman who founded a very successful IT company with 100+ employees that does business in the States and the UK. He’s got a strong entrepreneurial side that you might find interesting and he knows the ins-and-outs of the industry you’re trying to break into. He’s a great thinker/doer with a high energy threshold. And make sure you call Tom and Gene since it’s a little embarrassing for them to keep asking me when you’ll be in contact. They’re all good businessmen who have so much more to offer than the tepid ideas and encouragement you keep hearing from your mother and your old man.

Alright, enough. Ellen, I’ll see you and the girls and Tim next week. I’ll work the weight machines this week so I can have the strength to help you move. Can’t wait to see your new place.

Love, Dad

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