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Welcome to 2017 … FLA drivers, an error in judgment and time for a mentor

Not a whole lot to say here. Another week, another letter.

January 2, 2017

Ellen/Reid: 2016 seemed like a bad dream/nightmare, and then I woke up this morning wondering if 2017 will be even worse. You know what I’m talking about. I didn’t bother to concoct any resolutions, other than keep-on-keeping-on since none of the others seem to stick anyway.

Reid, it was really great to join you and the Kigin’s and Betty for Christmas. Please relay that to Liz. Their generosity was over the top. I’m sending notes to Donna and Tom and Betty today. I went online last night to send them some wine (pinot noir) through Vivino as a ‘thank you’ but since there was no facility to mix and match bottles before the checkout phase was reached, I can only hope they like the six of the same vintage that will be on their doorstep in short order.

The drive from Marco Island to Hilton Head can only be described as onerous. Never, ever, have I experienced so much heavy traffic. Not that there was anything more than spotty slow downs here and there. It was just bumper to bumper and staying alert and on your toes for that long is just a drain. Floridians seem to drive by a different set of road rules which could be likened to a mixed martial arts match: anything goes. No use of turn signals, lane changes on a whim, and ‘The posted speed limit does not apply to me.’ Hilton Head, however, was great. It was cooler than normal but still great fun. The timeshare was one of the best in recent years in terms of style and newness. My friends Luke and Lynn stayed with me while Sondra and Jody got another unit at the last minute since there would have been too many men in a single location.


Hilton Head the week after Christmas was great fun with friends (from left to right) Lynn, me, Luke, Jody and Sondra. I had one (okay, more than one) error in judgment but a box of chocolates (two for Sondra) for each helped me atone.

Jody also had a family obligation on the island so we didn’t get to see a whole lot of them but it still worked out pretty well. It didn’t take long to realize, yet again, there’s not a helluva lot to do unless you like golf or tennis or stroll the beaches. We did play golf several times and the courses were great. Too bad my sorry game was all-too-easily exported from Charlotte to the island. The low point was a very poor decision by me (after some extended revelry) to walk back from a night spot to the timeshare at a very late hour. I thought I told them I was leaving but since they had no clue where (or why) I split they sent a literal search party by car and bike to find me. What was estimated as a 20 minute walk was really an hour. Most of the next day or two was spent in atonement for causing them so much unnecessary worry and angst. New Year’s Eve was fairly mundane. For the record, Miss Emma and I caught Continue reading


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A father’s moralism in two pages …

In all the years of writing weekly letters, this is the first two pager in memory. It flies in the face of my one-page-is-plenty approach.

And it’s not often I overly moralize – and not usually on a single topic – since Ellen and Reid are old enough to make up their own minds and form their own decisions and adopt their own beliefs. Yet I have my beliefs, too, and they both need to know where and why I stand on certain issues.

So what went on in Charlotte in recent days deserved two pages – and maybe three.

September 25, 2016

Ellen/Reid: I scribbled some notes earlier last week about thoughts for today’s letter, and then the police shooting and subsequent unrest in Charlotte went down and my earlier ideas went out the window.

The rest of the nation saw and condemned the violence, yet to me it speaks to something much larger, and far darker, about how we tend to grapple – but not really – with racism and bigotry and economics and guns and public education as underlying factors. I think to view this only in the context of a shooting is very short sighted and disingenuous to the black community, and in some ways, to law enforcement, too.

I know, the victim here likely had a gun and yes, the police are in a predicament with only seconds to pass judgment and take action. I get that. But that judgment tends to fall against the black person in virtually 100 percent of cases. Obviously I’m no authority on how to disarm/disable someone, but part of me wonders if the kill shot is always a necessity of first resort. Our military in the Middle East has rules of engagement in equally, if not far more dangerous, in circumstances where the foe is trying to kill our forces. Still, the mandate is not always shoot to kill first. I don’t know what the answer is but we have to find it. I do feel the black community is seen with a different set of eyes than whites. I do.

What bothers me much more is what I perceive as a greater undercurrent of racism that still exists. I know because I brought some with me to the South. I wrestle with my own sense of racism and bigotry. Anyone who tells you we’ve mostly got it licked is just not dealing in reality. It exists and it is real here and I see it and I feel it inside and outside of Charlotte. The other night I went to a post-shooting discussion at Caldwell (I’m telling you, John is just one hell of a reverend/leader because that man and that little church and its mixed race congregation forced me to face my own very real prejudices) and as people spoke it occurred to me that any perceived national racial gains trumpeted in the past 50 years really haven’t been because the hearts and minds of the people have been swayed, but largely because we’ve legislated and regulated – rightly so, I think – removal of overt race situations as best we could. Still, the war for the hearts and minds has yet to be won and may not be even close to being won. I told the group of my pessimism on that score.

Sure, there’s no way to rationally condone violence yet it seems to me the first reaction of the white community is to condemn the violence as a way regain a peaceful status quo that reflects what whites so desire. We – whites, that is – don’t follow up, however, with real solutions, plausible solutions, that underlie racism in the first place. We tell blacks to calm down but we don’t get at, let alone identify with or talk about for however long it takes, what can make us a truly integrated nation. We have not won over the hearts and minds of the people. It’s not just a faith based answer, it’s not a legislative or regulatory answer, it is some other societal and cultural answer whereby people accept all others – blacks, hispanics, Middle Easterners – on equal footing. Victory is not ours and likely won’t be in my lifetime until the hearts and minds of people change at a basel level. Instead, we blast or label people as niggers or Mexis or lazy bastards or takers or entitled or dirty immigrants. Or worse. Enough with the labels already. What about the good people we haughtily tell to ‘just try harder’ when the playing field isn’t just not level, it’s tilted beyond repair?

The three of us can’t really put ourselves in the life that blacks endure. I do believe that America has quietly and perpetually instituted a permanent black Continue reading

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Political coverage and ads have taken a back seat…

October 29, 2012

Ellen/Reid: We have a little bit of Hurricane Sandy’s tail nipping at us this morning.  The winds are pretty stiff but not bad.  I can only imagine what the folks further east and north are experiencing.  It was fairly calm along the coast at Myrtle Beach over the weekend but the storm was offshore a few hundred miles.  All they had was some mild surf and a little rain.  But they really got tagged along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Just a couple of weeks ago residents there were complaining that insurance companies were about to raise their insurance rates by double digits because they felt the impact of storms was unjustified.  I guess they’ve found out differently the last 48 hours or so.  You live along the coast and this is what you get and you should expect to pay for the privilege.  Why people build homes, even on stilts, so close to the water’s edge is beyond me.  That just tempts fate.  I suppose it’s nice when you’re having a gin and tonic on the ocean-facing deck when the weather’s balmy.  For the first time in a long, long time the TV was on this morning as I tried to keep updated on events and the latest storm news.  They showed a map of compiled reports indicating that every state east of the Mississippi was going to feel the impact of Sandy.  One of the unintended, but welcomed, side effects is that political coverage and ads have taken a back seat.

We had a good time on the beach.  Not quite beach weather but still good enough.  We didn’t do much other than lounge around.  We donned our rain gear and walked the beach on Saturday.  Hardly anyone else out.  Just a handful of people on a beach normally crawling with them.  People pretty much hunkered down. 

Felicia on the beach with Sandy at her back. Minimal waves, some flying sand and a storm parallel to us but several hundred miles offshore.

We stayed at the home of Felicia’s sister.  It’s about 500-600 yards inland and you take a golf cart down to the beach itself.  Myrtle Beach is redneck central but it was just fine.  My guess is the greater Myrtle Beach area must easily stretch up and down at least 35-40 miles of 3-for-$10 t-shirt shops and water parks and every imaginable eatery and store and tourist come-on.  It is overrun with people in the summer and if it’s not South Carolina’s largest tourist destination then I don’t know what would be.  It’s just bizarre in its scope.  For some odd reason, people sometimes refer to South Carolina as ‘South Cackalacky’ although I’m not sure where that came from or why they use it.  You could Google it.

But it’s back to reality this morning.  Bob Hall had one of his hips replaced last week and I’ve been in touch with Betsy so see how he’s doing.  Everything sounds okay.  Mobility had been an issue for him, not that he was in a wheelchair, but you could see over the last year of so that it was just hell for him to get around.  Hopefully most of that pain will subside now that the surgery is done. 

I’ve been summoned for jury duty at the end of November and it will be an interesting process.  One of our citizen obligations it would seem.  No sense trying to duck out or shirk the responsibility.  It just goes with living here.  I don’t recall either one of you having to serve.  Is that right?

Well, not much else to share this morning.  I’m writing during an early morning lull in my preparation of a morning item sent out for employees to see.  Lucky them.  Right.

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The line is drawn, however, on environmental issues…

Rarely is anything ever written on these pages with an overt political bend.  How the kids ultimately vote or who they side with is their business.

For the record, I am a centrist Democrat who does think Obama has gotten the wrong end of credit for the current economic lethargy.  My preference is to pay attention to Warren Buffett‘s economic opinions given that his brain power is considerably more than my own.  Considerably more as in light-years more.  (I’d love for him to answer the question “For each year in the economic doldrums, how many years does it take to recover?”  If he wants to, he can figure in the prior eight years of economic malfeasance of the then-in-power party.)

The line is drawn, however, on environmental issues.  The climate deniers and coal junkies and those who look the other way at environmental indiscretions (for the sake of “jobs”, don’t you know) are selling out the long term for no assurance of short term gains on any front – jobs, energy independence, etc.  When you have a spare moment, Google Pinedale, Wyoming and smog.  Case in point.

So it is that every so often I will remind Ellen and Reid that it is our collective responsibility to the Emma’s and the generations to come to be, to quote the venerable Successful Farming magazine from a couple of decades ago,  good “stewards of the land.”

While I care much about those things that have people out of work or fetter businesses, when it comes to preserving our chunk of space, there can be no compromise.  Protect it now or lose it.  Sure, I have only one vote, but those who run afoul of securing our earthly future won’t get it.

Here is last week’s letter to my two.


August 13, 2012

Ellen/Reid: Reid, it’s great having you home on this side of the pond.  Not that your British hosts were not ever so gracious, but it’s always nice to be back in the friendly confines.  Now London can get back to its normal drab self with the Olympics gone and foreigners heading to the airports.  Their rain can return too.  You came back just in time for a mean-spirited and divisive political campaign.  Politics as usual.

The Observer ran a small editorial from me last week about while I agree with the GOP on certain issues there is steadfast reluctance to vote Republican as long as the polarizing nitwits continue backsliding on environmental issues, but so far there have been no rebuttals.  That means everyone agreed or they thought it was too mundane and inconsequential.  Probably the latter.  Mundane and inconsequential are my specialties.  Jeez, if we can’t protect what we have for the Emma’s and subsequent other grandchildren out there, what will we protect?  It only figures that since so many GOPers are science deniers as well as public school doubters, we’ll have to school ‘em all over again.  Oh, to be the teacher with a ruler in his/her hands to whack ‘em on the knuckles, or, better yet, upside the head.

Reid, I am okay with you and Liz cohabitating.  Some time ago there was an article about how the vast majority of couples test those waters, and that seems fine enough.  I can’t think of any particular doctrines you are violating.  Just be sure you keep up your end of the bathroom and kitchen cleaning and you’ll be all right.  Those are lines that can’t be crossed.  Liz’ standards will become your new standards.  It will be a wholly new experience but that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

My ribs are well on the road to recovery.  Sleeping is easier now.  Sitting for extended periods is a bit of an issue but my guess is another 10 days and things will be back to normal.  I walked 18 holes yesterday pushing my cart and am no worse for wear.  I milked the woe-is-me rib malady to the hilt with Felicia but she’s wising up to that ruse now.  It was good there for a little while when it came to fetching another cup of coffee or retrieving a beer.

I laughed out loud at the shot of Emma sacked out on your laps on the plane home from Michigan.  You have to hand it to the girl, she can sleep anywhere at any time.  It’s a gift.  We should all be so lucky.  Can’t wait to see her again.  On that point, what are holiday plans for you guys?  The door is always open here in NC – hint, hint – but will understand if you have other plans since there are forces other than me tugging at your shirttails, too.

If you do venture down here, it would give me enough time to replace the air conditioner.  It went down for the count on Friday, and there has been no call from the repair company.  I’m afraid a whole new unit is in order.  The old beast was a contractor grade unit, meaning it was not top-of-the-line, and it had likely reached the end of its useful life.  So the fans in the condo are on full trying to circulate the warm air.  Knock on wood, but to this point the temperatures haven’t been totally unbearable.  The units on either side of my place have some insulating value and I’ve keep the shades down.  Ellen, you and Tim added a bathroom, kitchen and master suite, and I’ll keep pace with a new air conditioner.  When it’s on, it will be cranked down all the way to mark its debut.

Okay, I’m outta time and outta here.  Glad you’re back Reid, and Ellen, keep the videos and photos of Emma coming this way.  Adds spice to my otherwise drab existence.

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I used to love to run…

I haven’t thought about running for a long, long time.  My cousin Tom jogged my memory about it in a comment last week.  Literally, I rarely ever talked about running to Ellen and Reid, and certainly never in a letter.  But Reid broke a little bit of ice last week when he called to say he hit the bricks for an 8K (about 5 miles) in Chicago.

There was a time when I used to love to run; now I can hardly imagine lacing up the shoes again.  Where I once wondered how to run a race, now I wonder why I did it at all.  This month marks the 30th anniversary of my last competitive marathon (2:25).  The next day I went cold-turkey and haven’t run, nor missed it,  since.  Bad ankles – even to this day – serve as a reminder of too many miles too fast.  The trophies – Grandma’s, White Rock, Oktoberfest, Drake, Omaha, Lincoln, etc.  – and such went into a box and stayed there until they made a final trip to the dumpster when I moved to Charlotte.

And here’s how last week’s letter went down:


March 26, 2012

Ellen/Reid: Reid, it’s pretty impressive to be able to run an 8K as fast as you clipped it off yesterday, especially with very little training.  You ought to keep at it.  You ought to Google a running coach – now deceased – named Arthur Lydiard.  He coached a lot of good New Zealand runners back in the day.  His shtick was that runners ought to concentrate on long, slow aerobic distance running rather than anything fast and anaerobic.  I wish I would have paid attention to that.  It might have saved my ankles, but his larger point was you only have so much energy in terms of energy stores and when that is used up, it’s gone.  I would think you would be good at it.  It’s in your genes.  Your cousins were pretty good, your uncle pushed 9:45 in the two mile and I was 2:24 in the marathon and 1:02 in the 20K.  I just wouldn’t push it to the max.  That’s a recipe for disaster down the road.

I’ll follow your advice, Ellen, and buy a ticket now for around May 1 to head north to see your new daughter.  You make a good point that for a change fee the ticket can always be amended.  Nothing like being gouged by the airlines.  The CEO of US Airways said last week the fee is here to stay.  We get Southwest Airlines down here relatively soon, and that should turn the screws on the other airlines somewhat.  My preference would be to stay at a local hotel.  That would suit you all better.  I’ll find something in downtown St. Paul.  I’ll stick around for a couple of days and leave before Ben Franklin’s truism, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,” comes to pass.  There’s probably a lot to be said for that.  I’m glad you will take me up on the cleaning service for a few months.  That should make your life somewhat easier.  Just let me know who you have picked so I can chat with them about payment options.

Speaking of which, the cleaning service came in today and for the life of me I have to wonder why they haven’t been here all along.  It is just better in all respects; neatness, aromatically, etc.  They are pros and I am a non-pro.  It’s worth the money.

It was kind of a blah weekend in these parts.  With Felicia’s son’s situation, there wasn’t a lot of levity so we just sort of hunkered down for the duration.  Felicia is very strong.  I’ll keep you posted.  We did go out for a bite Friday night but that sort of dissolved and we made burgers Saturday night and watched the basketball tournament.  The first week of the tourney is more fun than the latter stages.  Without being able to pinpoint why, I’m sort of a Carolina fan although they got rolled last night by KU.  That they stayed in the game longer than they had any right to is testament to their personnel.  They had a couple of key folks out and they paid the expected price.

Saw my first copperhead of the season last week down at a course in South Carolina.  Trust me, when you’re poking around in the weeds for golf balls, the visage of a snake gets your attention real quick like.  It proves that white men can jump.  It wasn’t a monster, a couple of feet long, but length is of no issue once the venom starts to work.  At least I’m rustling around with a club rather than my feet.  Still, all it takes is one lightning strike and you’re done for the day if not far longer.  The dogwoods and azaleas are out right now, and it made for a nice drive to the course which was in the boonies.  My guess is the spring blooms will mostly be gone once the Masters rolls around.  The nesting box we put up last year is now the residence of the Eastern Blue Birds.  They apparently have won the scrap with Chickadees over nesting rights.

Well, you two keep your heads up.  Reid, let’s kibitz about when the two of us will get up to see your niece.  I’ll wager that the day she says “Hello, world” will be Sunday, April 29.  Any takers?

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Trouble in the social space…

Henry slowed down enough for Ellen to snap this picture...moments before he probably made the neighboring pile of leaves his own.

The news in New Jersey of the suicide of a Rutgers’ student has cast social media in a untirely unwanted light.  It’s hard to keep up with all that’s been said about the situation.  Suffice to say none of it has been good.  There is trouble in the social space.

But it doesn’t take a trained eye to say that elements of social media are out of kilter.  To its legion of addicts ever in search of the next titillating post or video, it has become all about staggering speed, it has become about the impersonality of nothing private and it has become about volume of viewers.   And yes, it can become about cruelty.

The discussion has little to do with the how or the what of what I write about.  Later this morning I will write to Ellen and Reid, and at least for a few days, they will have the letters to themselves.

But the discussion has much to do with how we go about, or perhaps condone, accountable communication.  A mob mentality is at work that exposes something none of use should be entirely comfortable with.  It may as well scream ‘Look at me’.  Behind that scream, with the potential to grow exponentially, are the voices of dozens, then thousands and then millions of bystanders who want nothing more than to be entertained.

Unfortunately in New Jersey, no one was listening to the victim.  The pack has pulled up stakes and moved on to the next social media phenomenon.


Here is last Monday’s letter to the kids.

September 27, 2010

Ellen/Reid: It’s been raining off and on since yesterday but that is a good thing after months of roasting in the hot sun.  You guys have had rain in spades, we’ve had it by thimblefuls.  It’s a little late for some of the dry spots down here but we’ll take what we can get.  This morning was one of the first truly cool-ish mornings we’ve had in some time.  The leaves have to be turning where you live.

This weekend’s party sounded like a hoot.  Nonnie would have been in all her glory what with her old pals.  To have been a fly on the wall watching the old girls drink free wine and jabber.  No doubt you guys were on your best behavior.  Ellen, it was a riot to hear about Tim stuck in the receiving line with the ladies.  Talk about a fish out of water.  Your mom called last night to apprize me of the goings-on.

I turn in my first column to the Charlotte Observer this week.  Hopefully they will like it.  My beat is the senior housing market.  Man, what a testament to my age.  But it is a humongous portion of the paper’s readership.  It was interesting to hear from my editor that they’ve had a spate of ethical breeches by freelancers in recent months so – knock on wood – I should be a breath of fresh air for them.  If and when it’s accepted, let alone run, I’ll send you a tear-sheet.

Reid, I’ve fine-tuned my web site even more and will get you the latest update in a day or so after it has gestated even a little bit more.  Your push for a new mega-powered desk top sounds like the right move although building it yourself sounds like something of a task.  Hope you’re up to it because it would be all Greek to me.

I was out for the morning installment of my daily walk yesterday when I breezed by a homeless man sleeping in an alcove along my route.  Cars were roaring by not 10 yards away.  I took a snapshot on my phone and posted the picture.  His plight put mine in perspective.  There is always someone worse off than you.  Either their living situation, their health, their income, you name it.  There but for the grace of God go I.

In a way, I’m kind of enthused about REI.  Even if it is temporary, it is an outdoor space I know and identify with.  Of course, if something else comes up I’d add that to my work itinerary, but at least they are giving me a shot.  I’ve got to juggle the trip to Nebraska around the ‘group interview’ process but at least I’ve cleared the first hurdle.

On a sad note, my parsley plant on the front porch looked denuded, and sure enough, it was being devoured by black and yellow striped caterpillars.  One by one, I squashed them flat.  Only then did I think to do a Google search for North Carolina caterpillars, and, to my anguish, found out they were Swallowtail butterflies in training.  And here I’d annihilated the entire squadron.  What an ogre.  I feel terrible.  Next year I’ll replant the parsley, and they can have their way with it.

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The meaning of good friends…

My friend Dave from Des Moines. His wife, Jane, made the whole Coeur d'Alene trip possible. (See all the trip photos at http://gallery.me.com/bob.furstenau#100164)

If you ever want to see how the greats wrote letters, Google the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few.  Of course, they were forced to write in the absence of other means.  But could they build a phrase.

Many of their missives were to business associates and other influencers (oops, bank terminology.   Slap my hands.).  But they wrote page after page to friends, too.

On the plane ride home from Coeur d’Alene, I wondered what could possibly be said to Jane and Dave to even remotely begin to thank them for their generosity.  Now and again it’s good to regain perspective on the meaning of good friends in our lives.  So it was with Jane and Dave.  Even so, whatever I managed to scrape together would be relatively paltry.

In particular, Jane needed to know the lay of the land.  Here’s what she got from me sometime late last week.  Far from what Jefferson, Dickinson or Poe might have penned, but even us lesser-lights have our moments.


Bob posted all the Coeur d’Alene photos at http://gallery.me.com/bob.furstenau#100164


September 22, 2010

Jane: By the time you get this we will be more than a week removed from what was an unbelievable trip.  Dave sent a post-trip e-mail that tended to put things in the proper perspective in terms of friends mattering most.  There was an article in this morning’s Observer to the effect that the older we get, the more worldly perspective we seem to gain.

There is no way I can properly thank you for including me and for your overwhelming generosity.  Before the trip it was hard for me to set aside, let alone contemplate stepping away from, all the things going on here in Charlotte.  That is, until we hit the ground.  All that melted away, and that’s a credit to the other three for bearing with me.  They’ve all been very successful in their own rights, and that was very heartening.  Dave seemed very relaxed to me, which was entirely the point, I suppose.  Hell, we were all relaxed.  Your hubbie’s mild snoring aside, he was a good roommate.

Literally, you left no stone unturned on this little adventure.  The travel arrangements, the food, the lodging, the golf, the spa treatment, the timetable.  By the time we got to whatever the next installment of our journey was, you’d already talked to the staff.  The skids were literally greased wherever we showed up.  In your next life you will come back as some high-ranking travel advisor to presidents and kings.  Even Furstenau, who is used to this sort of thing, was effusive.

This was literally the first time I’d been around cronies from Des Moines in quite some time.  It’s mildly upsetting to have you guys there and me here.  Your Dave was correct.  To paraphrase him, when you cut all of it away, what you are left with is your friends.  You both should know that I have an open door policy down here: the door is open and you walk in for however long it is you want to be here.  It would be great to have you visit Charlotte so you can see how those of us live on the other side of the tracks.  A stone’s throw away are the mountains and the beach.  (Somehow we got on the topic of Davidson and your Will’s college plans, and it is one hell of a little school just up the road from Charlotte.  Consider this your college search headquarters at least for the South.)

In a couple of weeks time I’ll blow through Des Moines (arrive Oct. 11, I think) and hope to at least see you guys for a few moments as I continue east and south.  I’ve got a book project in mind that I’d like to run by you (since you are already a published author and I’m still a wannabe.)  I’ve got both of your phones plugged away in my phone, so watch for a call.

But thanks again for including me in a trip that was beyond special.  I owe you in some significant way.  I may not have been the most deserving but I had the most fun.  Now if we could just get F____________ to toss his iPhone out the window…

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