The Bird

Thanksgiving 1979 found me in living in on my own in Marshalltown, Iowa and working at KDAO radio. I was going to be working on Thanksgiving, but what was cool was that my friend Rick Hunter was going to be joining me, on his holiday break journey home to Colorado from chefcollege life in Minnesota.

An actual guest! A real opportunity to make a full-fledged Thanksgiving!  A couple of cookbooks supplemented with phone calls home to mom in Denver to help iron out some nuances and I was ready. I was nineteen and knew my way around a kitchen, having worked in a professional one for most of my high school years.

O.K., I was a dishwasher. Still, I picked up more than a few tricks-of-the-trade.

With Rick scheduled to arrive sometime Wednesday, I thought I could get a lot of stuff done on Tuesday. Mom had confirmed my planning, but she also added a key point: thawing the bird. My initial plan was to pick up the turkey on Wednesday and be ready to go, but mom cautioned that thawing was a time-consuming process, that should start on Tuesday at the latest.

The bird.

As a Thanksgiving gift from the radio station, every staff member got a fifteen dollar gift certificate to the local Fareway store, and a gift certificate for a free, ‘up-to- twenty-pound’ frozen turkey.

Perfect.

The gift certificate covered the bulk of the non-poultry essentials: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, and gravy. Marshmallows, a box of instant mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a package of a dozen (big) bakery chocolate chip cookies. Rolls, a jar of olives, a jar of pickles, a bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing and a pound of Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage so I could duplicate my mom’s fabulous sausage stuffing rounded out the grocerieslist.

We also needed appetizers: cheese, sausage and crackers.  Just like mom would do it at home.  I also picked up a bulbous turkey baster, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, and a disposable aluminum turkey roaster. Fifteen bucks went a lot farther in 1979 than it does today. My out-of-pocket was less than three bucks.

Oh yeah. The bird.

Getting a free turkey was a big deal. Small market radio was not lucrative. Plus, popping into a store with a gift certificate from the radio station was a sign of small town prestige and celebrity. The dang things were a full sheet of parchment, like a stock certificate. People at the store knew who you were.

The key phrase here was  ‘up-to-20 lbs.’ This, of course, meant I could have chosen pretty much any turkey, but in my 20-year-old mind, the gift certificate screamed, ‘Free twenty pound turkey’.

Never look a gift bird in the mouth.

I picked out a prime, nineteen pound, ten-ounce bird; the twenty pounders all gone by the time I showed up at the store Tuesday afternoon. Arriving home as pleased hunter-gatherer, my next turkeyraw1order of business was to get that rock-solid bird thawed.

Dilemma one.

My apartment was on the third floor of an old bread factory where the former executive offices had been made into apartments. The rooms were spacious, with high ceilings, funky old moldings, and big water and steam pipes snaking their way through the place. But in redeveloping, they furnished the kitchen like an efficiency apartment; the gas stove was one of those old, narrow jobs with burners so close together, that if you were cooking more than one stove-top item at a time, you could only use small saucepans and angle the handles oddly so they would stay on the stove. The single compartment porcelain-sink-on-legs was so small the plastic dish drainer I got when I first moved in barely fit in it.

Where to thaw a 19-10 bird?

The refrigerator was small and filled with other stuff. I had a cheap, Styrofoam cooler the turkey dwarfed – that left the bathtub. What they had skimped on in the kitchen, they made up for in the bathroom: a Chester-Arthur-sized, cast iron, claw foot tub with single spigot that took roughly 20 minutes to fill to take a bath in. Or to get enough water to cover a twenty pound turkey to thaw.

Dilemma solved, provided I didn’t need to bathe.

The bird bobbed placidly in the filled tub, though I periodically had to refresh the water level. The rubber drain stopper was cracked and not very efficient, and the large, cast iron radiator next to the tub accelerated evaporation.

I called mom to update her on my progress to date, commenting about the hassle of filling the tub to thaw the bird.

“Couldn’t you just put it in the refrigerator or a cooler?” she asked quizzically.

“Nope” I replied, “It wouldn’t fit.” There was a pause.

“Well, how big is the turkey?” I told her about my free, nineteen-pound, ten-ounce bird. There turkeyraw1ewas another pause.

“What the hell are you doing with a twenty pound turkey!?” I knew that tone of exasperation.

“It’s what the station gave me.”

“For two people!? I thought it was a gift certificate. Couldn’t you pick out your own turkey!?”

“Yeah, I did. It was a gift certificate for a twenty pound turkey – so that’s what I got.”

“Oh, Mark!” She was trying to be cross. She was snickering (sort of) as I heard her turn away from the phone and exasperated, tell my father, “Mark has a twenty pound turkey for he and Rick.”

I heard my father reply dryly, “I hope they like turkey sandwiches.”

My mother then calmly tried to explain to me that even for the six guests she was expecting on Thursday, she did not have a twenty-pound bird, and that I had better make sure I had plenty of aluminum foil to wrap leftovers in.

foil(Extra foil had not been on my shopping list. I ended up needing two full large rolls of Reynolds Wrap.)

Wednesday arrived, as did Rick. The bird continued to bob and thaw.

My Thursday plan was to wake up early enough to get the turkey in the oven, prep whatever else I could, get to the station for my 10-to-2 shift, come home, watch some football and hang with Rick, and feast.

Getting the turkey in the oven was the biggest issue.

As noted, my oven was narrow. I plucked the bird from the tub, and began prepping it by cleaning it, taking out the gizzards, buttering it, seasoning it, stuffing it, etcetera, without incident. Rick awoke, joined me in the kitchen, observed the scenario and said, matter-of-factly, “Is that thing going to fit?”

Well, wasn’t that spatial.

The turkey didn’t fit – at least not at first shove. Fortunately, I had a disposable aluminum roaster and the sides were pliable enough to be bent on both sides, plus get scrunched up against the back of the stove. It took some extended shoving and pan bending, but we got the bird into the oven without getting ourselves burned.

That oven was wall-to-wall turkey.

A good turkey needs to get its moisture regularly, and I had devised a plan that would benefit everyone: the ‘KDAO Bird Watch.’

JackLaLanneEvery twenty minutes on-air I would announce “It’s KDAO Bird Watch time!” and remind people that it was time to ‘baste those birds’ – leading them through the process ala Jack LaLane with the mantra, “And baste, one…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…” as I then smoothly segued into the next record. Sometimes we basted on the beat of the music.

(It was a public service and programming success to the extent that, much to the bewilderment of Paul, the guy on after me got phone calls of complaint when he failed to announce the bird watch every twenty minutes, and he was also later blamed by some listeners for dried out birds.)

It was one fine, juicy turkey we indulged in that afternoon….save for the leather-tough burns on the outside of each drumstick, where they had spent their roasting time shoved up against the walls of the oven.

We ate, watched football, called high school friends in Colorado, ate some more. On Friday, Rick hit the road for Colorado with a load of turkey sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and I can’t remember what else. If memory serves, he took the offered sandwiches grudgingly, as he appeared to be turkeyed out. Me? I had no such qualms…until about mid-December.

turkeydoneTo this day, I enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers almost more than the initial meal.

Mom was right about the foil, dad the sandwiches. Every last nook and cranny of my meager freezer was stuffed with turkey (pun intended) and the last frozen pack made its way out for freezer-burned consumption on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 1980.

My best advice for a successful Thanksgiving feast? It’s pretty simple, kids: “Baste! One…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…””

First letter to a new grandson

Eight years later?  The self-rejoinder – coming soon to this space. 

11/17/11

Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. Im sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenaged uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)

(Take a Fall) Saturday Fun

Of also-rans. A pseudo rant.

I hate it when a bartender pours or skims the foam of the top of a fresh mug of beer. The foam is the best way to start off a pleasurable experience.  Beer foam is like the first kiss of a make-out session in the front seat of a car – all about the expectation of the succulent experience to come. Like Carly Simon once sang, ‘an-tic-uh-pay-ay-shun is making me wait…’

Don’t mess with my beer foam. Or the first kiss.

There are a lot of other things in our modern culture that just leave me in perpetual SMH mode. Like restaurant chicken.  The recent kerfuffle about chicken sandwiches is a good place to start that one. Chic-Fil-A! Popeyes! Sold out sandwiches!

Why? 

Restaurant (especially fast food) chicken sandwiches are a complete waste of time in terms of flavor and general yumminess, all for the same, simple reason: the use of chicken breast meet.  ‘All white meat chicken’ is a lousy advertising tag. Why try to entice people to eat something made from the blandest, most un-appetizing, most taste-challenged part of a bird. The white meat? Yuck. You might just as well promote serving the feathers, though they would probably get stuck in your teeth more.  

Know this, America!  You’re only eating those sandwiches because of the breading and/or the seasonings. 

“Hi. Can I take your order?”

“Yes. I’d like the cayenne, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic flour-and-egg wash sandwich, please? Hold the mayo.”   

Yep, that’s how you really need to start seeing those bird-things-on-a-bun. Hey, restaurant gurus! Want to create a fast-food-chicken feeding frenzy of epic proportions? Start making your chicken sandwiches from some really tasty dark meat and they’ll be flying out of there.

Now, America. About your suddenly ubiquitous use of the term ‘sammiches.’ We need to have a serious talk.

For those of us with a sweet tooth, what is the deal nowadays with salted caramel?  Diabetes and heart disease now rolled into one treat?  Nice.  And why caramel to begin with?  Caramel (car-MEL? care-a-mel?) is like the chicken breast white meat of confections.  Boring. Puts most taste buds to sleep.

Caramel is simply the poor man’s butterscotch.

A few years back the folks at (chain name redacted) decided to drop butterscotch as a flavor from their ice-milk concoctions. No more butterscotch malts, no more sundaes, no more cones dipped in the stuff. Egad. 

But the ridiculousness didn’t stop there. Not only were hapless counter people told to suggest caramel instead of butterscotch, they were also instructed to add on a cheery ‘or peanut butter’ to their caramel proclamations as a reasonable alternative.

Umm, yeah. No.

 I spoke with a (chain name redacted) franchisee who simply sighed as I asked her ‘why nix butterscotch?’ as many of her customers had the same question. Fortunately, common sense and subterfuge won the day, as most locales still have butterscotch, they just don’t advertise or list in on their board.

Which frankly makes it taste that much better. It’s like the absinthe of sweets; even more flavorsome when it is illicit.

Food and beverage choices notwithstanding, our culture tends to mislabel and misjudge things. If have you ever been at a wedding, sitting there and looking at the bridal party, and wondering ‘If that guy is the best man, why is the bride marrying the other guy’ you are not alone.  A recent survey pegged that specific comment as the third-most-likely musing to start a brawl at a wedding.

I blame our American English.

Oh, about that first kiss thing I mentioned earlier.  While the first kiss is with little exception the most memorable, it won’t even be remembered at all if there isn’t something special in the rest of the kisses of that particular lip-locking event. If kisses seven, ten, twelve, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-one, thirty-two-thirty-three-thirty-fourtyhirtyfivethirtysix…ahhh….!

But that’s another blog post in it’s own right.

Betrothed, be cool. Because.

Who knew that becoming a wedding officiant would be this cool. I started this little side venture a few years back while still living in New Orleans, where my first get-em-hitched-gig was a destination wedding for a couple from Texas who had met as co-workers at a New Orleans bar. Together for ten years, the bride was very much pregnant with their third child and the groom had recently landed a new job, and they wanted everyone on the same insurance…and it was just the right time.  I married them under the Spanish moss-laden branches of a 200-year-old live oak in New Orleans City Park with a unique knot-tying ceremony incorporating four lengths of rope and both their kids.

Lovely, lively, funny.  We remain Facebook friends.

Since moving back to Minnesota just over a year ago, I have traversed the metro Twin Cities and western Wisconsin with more geographic bounding in the works for next year.

Have credentials, will travel.

As much as a wedding is about the people and their families and situations, place is a big deal to most of the couples I have dealt with – and it usually has little to do with cost, lots to do with the feel of a place, and how it fits the lives of the wedding couple. Venue dive into the world of the modern-day weddings, anything goes.

Yeah, I went there. 

Just in the past twelve months I have ridden herd on wedding parties in a meadow outside a century-old Wisconsin barn (the reception in the barn itself was dazzling) a wildflower-strewn Wisconsin hilltop overlooking the homestead of the family I was blending, and on a patio  next to a fence surrounding the air conditioning unit at a casino. (That one was a plan ‘B’ as the arranged locale in a grove of trees on the side of a lake was underwater due to spring flooding.)

The delightfully off-beat and vivacious wedding party more than compensated for the hum-drum, substitute surroundings. Hey, we still had the water and some boats in the background.

My other ‘plan B’ wedding was the community room of an upscale retirement community taken over when rain washed out a sister’s backyard garden.  A very charming, soft-spoken, go-with-the-flow couple – both my age – who had been together for a few years, threw a planned-for-later wedding together quickly because the bride had been diagnosed with a serious illness and the groom wanted to make sure he could easily access all his FMLA benefits. Life lessons in relying on ‘later’.

A poignant, memorable Sunday afternoon to be sure.

It dawns on me how much water has played such a large role in my officiating. In fact, two of my favorite weddings were held on – not alongside or by, but actually on, in the middle of –  the mighty Mississippi River.  One was on Minneapolis’ historic Stone Arch Bridge, the other on Raspberry Island in the heart of downtown St. Paul.  Interestingly, in both cases, neither the bride or groom had any real historical connection to the locales, they just liked the look and feel of time and place.  In both cases the couples were a bit quirky, and gave me the command to make it fun and memorable.

Aye aye, captains!

The Stone Arch Bridge event was unique in locale and audience, as it was early evening, with sun beginning its descent behind us, and joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by continually as the historic ( It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River)  span that once handled railroad traffic is now a haven for those on feet and wheels of every kind.  Quite a backdrop, and quite a backstory.

Some of the wedding party had yet to arrive, and the bride and the groom were both very apologetic for the delay, and I assured them multiple times everything was fine as I had no other evening plans. Plus, I had a great view of the river and the wedding party was just a fun group of young people I was enjoying interacting with. 

Then the groom stepped aside to take a call. Once he was done, he announced that his parents were just leaving on their way from a small town about an hours drive north of Minneapolis.  I was a bit puzzled, and asked, “So we are waiting for your parents to get here?”  He was quick to assuage my confusion. “Oh, no, no, no. They are coming down for the reception.” Then the bride filed in the blanks. “We called our parents to let them know while we were walking out here.  We just wanted the wedding itself to be us and our friends, out here. We all come here a lot, it’s one of our favorite spots. Besides, the real celebrating will be at the party.” 

Waiting for the last of the wedding party to arrive, the comments I overheard were all of the ‘Oh, your mom and dad are so cool’ and ‘I just love your mom’ with a few ‘I love your mom!’ exclamations plainly complimentary.

Once we got going, it was very cool.  The wedding party facing me, I had my back facing upstream but had a perfect view of all the joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by and those who were stopping to take pictures of the nuptials – as well as the passersby who stopped, then applauded (some tearfully) the self-written vows of bride and groom. Very cool.

Those young people touched a lot of folks that evening.

The wedding on Raspberry Island was held on a glorious spring afternoon, with a bride and groom that while being from here, currently live on the east coast, making it as much a reunion as a wedding. Our planning had been accomplished via Skype and phone and had been a laugh-filled process. They wanted some humor in their ceremony, and I was certainly the guy for the job.  One big thing I learned in our Skyping was their shared affection for a dog they had acquired a year before. So devoted are they to this canine (whom they cook up a weekly batch of chicken for) they had even considered bringing her for the wedding, but eventually decided against it for a variety of reasons – though I could tell it led to some melancholy on their part.

My solution to that was to incorporate a short note (‘love you guys, miss you, wish I could be there, etc.) from their beloved Swedish Vallhund. 

In Swedish.

Ending with a heart-tugging, laughter-inducing salutation: ‘P.S. Vi har nästan slut på kyckling.’ (‘We’re almost out of chicken’.) 

I grew up around a bunch of old Swedes, so getting the cadence and inflection down was no problem, as Google Translate is a wonderful tool. The hardest part of adding that note was getting a hold of the dog’s email to actually get the note. Overall, it was a well-received, highly complimented sermily.

Sidebar: When I officiate a wedding, the message I craft and deliver is not truly a sermon, it is not literally a homily – when you hire me, you get a customized sermily.  

I have also been honored to marry people in the courtyard of an old estate, the ballroom space of a renovated, nineteenth-century warehouse, the bridge over a pond in a Japanese garden, a federal detention center, and at a historic, refurbished (now urban) farm site. 

The only true church I have officiated a wedding in was a beautiful, deconsecrated, 1853 New Orleans edifice that is now a lively performing arts and events scene. 

Go figure.

It is more than just the traditional locales that are not now in vogue; brides and grooms these days seem to want their officiant to be something more than a figurehead with some sort of credentialing. They want someone to be part of the wedding team, as it were.  This is a different time when people do not have traditional relationships with home churches and/or pastors, and this is a generation quick to meet new people and establish relationships. Today when people choose a wedding officiant, it is a very personal and yes, rather intimate thing. The officiant becomes part of a le mariage à trois, so to speak.

I don’t use that concept in my marketing pitch, but…

Many would categorize these events as ‘non-traditional’ marriages – some in a not-so-positive way – and I would have to agree.  While I have been a part of blending a few families, I have yet to preside over the bonding of royal bloodlines, the uniting of strategic alliances, or sealing trade deals – though I did wed a couple who met in their respective roles as a grocery store buyer and a cheesemonger.

The bride and groom thought the cheese puns in my sermily were very gouda.

Now, cold weather time is approaching and I surprisingly have a number of wedding officiant proposals in the pipeline.  Winter weddings are a bigger deal than I would have thought, and certainly more prospects are coming in than last year. Minnesota winter weather can sure change the tone and logistical planning of any wedding discussion – especially for exterior venues.

Have parka, boots, and long johns. Will travel.

To be honest, I am hoping somewhere along the line I can find an ‘anything goes’ couple and land a winter gig like one of those mentioned above; picturesque, outdoorsy, and with a couple who wants something quirky, original, and fun.  Oh, and who will have early access to the site so I can set up a snowman – or maybe I can just officiate dressed as a snowman. Either way, I can get a big, wide-brimmed hat, ala an old-school parson, like in the song Winter Wonderland

In the meadow I can build a snowman
We’ll say I am Parson Mark
I’ll say, “Are you married?”
‘You’ll say, “No man!
But you can do the job since you’re in town…”

Winter is coming.

Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Reverence

Summer Sunday mornings on Horseshoe Lake were quieter than most.  There were no chain saws running, no motorboats save the rare fisherman. The Senness kids were in town, at church with their parents and grandparents.  The Brandt kids next door wouldn’t be coming out from town until after Sunday dinner, and if the Holm kids were around on a given weekend, they just preferred to sleep in until their grandma whipped up one of her extraordinary brunch breakfasts.  Even the loons usually seemed to be taking the day.  The other denizens of the west side of Horseshoe were elderly, and either sleeping in or sitting quietly on their respective porches, sipping coffee.

Summer Sunday mornings on Horseshoe Lake were quieter than most, at least until Lila started playing hymns on her old pump organ. 

As devout and G-d fearing as Lila Andren was, we did not go to church. She and organized religion had had a falling-out, and for the last forty years of her life, save the stray wedding or funeral, she never set in a church. 

But her faith was among the strongest I have ever known.

The brownish-gray pump organ had been found and refurbished by her husband Ivar, a large, gruff exterior/teddy bear interior of a Swedish immigrant. A retired plumber, Ivar had rescued the old organ from a long-defunct church and brought it to a guy in Brainerd who brought the musical innards back to life, while Ivar himself tackled refinishing the wood of the organ and its matching bench. 

The finished product was about the same length as a standard upright piano, and just a tad longer than Ivar and Lila’s couch, and they placed it smack-dab against the back of the couch, facing due east, with a view out the large bank of picture windows.

The morning sun, rising over the jack pines on Huxtable Point and shining through those windows, turned that living room into as pure a chapel as I could have ever sat in.

Though I rarely did, able as I was to hear Lila’s playing and singing quite clearly from my bedroom in the basement just below. 

I reveled in waking up on summer mornings with the sun piercing through open windows, the breeze bringing the scent of pine, the smell of the lake through screened windows I never closed. Sunday mornings brought the added soundtrack of pump-organ music, and classic Christian hymns.   Mostly she played, sometimes she sung – in English, and on rare occasions German, her native tongue.  Lila had left Austria for America shortly after Hitler came to power.  Among her belongings from that trek were an old Bible and a couple of piano books and hymnals.

Ivar and Lila once had a small upright piano, but it didn’t get played much.  Ivar tracking down and revitalizing that pump organ, with all its hand knobs and foot bellows, seemed to awake some dormant part of Lila.  She dove into playing hymns on Sunday mornings with a fervor, and her voice was not the typical higher-pitched woman’s but more of a gravely baritone – though she could hit the high notes when needed. 

I could lay there in bed and her every note played, every word sung drifting in through the window – with the added backbeat of her feet working the foot bellows through the floor just above.  Well into her seventies, she was in great shape – had to be, to work that old organ.

Not only was I able to enjoy those Sunday morning hymn fests, but much of the west side of Horseshoe Lake did as well.  That old pump organ, built to fill an old church with the music of faith, was a bit overpowering for a modest, Minnesota lake home living room. 

On days when Lila was really cranking them out, I could not even come upstairs, as it was too loud even for my pre-teen ears.  If I went out, I simply used the front door of the walkout basement, and would head for the dock.  There I could sit, watch the new day unfurl, hear Lila playing and singing just as clearly as if I had been sitting in church.

It may have been as close to G-d as I could get here on earth, though I was too young to appreciate those moments for what they really were at the time. 

Snippets of hymn lyrics come back to me from time-to-time, in moments logical and odd. To this day, I still prefer a classic set of hymns to contemporary church music.  For my money, any church could flip-flop Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art every Sunday and we’d all be the better for it.

One of the hymns that always strikes a chord with me because Lila almost always played it is Great is Thy Faithfulness, which includes these lyrics:

‘Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me’

‘Morning by morning new mercies I see’ may be the perfect description of how my summers at Horseshoe Lake came to shape who I am today.  When you are eight, ten, fifteen years old and the daily sunrise is your alarm clock, the lapping of lake water on a shore and the call of loons and herons your snooze alarms, you carry that with you, see life in a different way.

My faith today is strong, I believe in large part because I didn’t spend much time in church as a youth, but I lived my summers in an ecclesiastical place, and time, and way.  I was fortunate.

Play on, Lila.

Great is thy faithfulness.  And mine.

Dear Dad

June 16, 2019

Dear Dad

How ya been? So, here we are. Father’s Day again. You must’ve liked Father’s Day because you sure saved a lot of crap I gave you for it.  Found it all after you died. The polished rock cuff links with matching tie bar are just as fashionable as they ever were. Granite was always stylishly classic.  Not so much the figurine of the drunk guy on the cast iron bar stool. There sure was a lot of oddball junk in the cigar boxes in your dresser drawer. You didn’t even smoke cigars!  Good thing I was an only child, right?

You’ve missed thirty-two Fathers Days.  A lot of stuff happened in those thirty-two years, but you know that I’m sure. I think.

I don’t know how much of the mythology and Hollywood see-all-and-watch-over-those-of-us-still-on-earth from your perch in heaven I believe.  I still don’t totally not believe in ghosts thanks to you and mom teaching me to be open minded.  Actually, you never really said that that I can recall, but you did tell me to be skeptical but not dismissive of other ideas and other people’s ways of looking at things.  That’s different from being open minded, I think. So ‘maybe’ on ghosts and signs. Still ‘no’ on sushi.

How in the hell are things in heaven?   That should make you laugh or at least cock a bemused eyebrow. Ha.

Don’t know if you know this, but a part of me is pretty sure you do.  I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on your old turf in Highland Park. No, we don’t live in St. Paul but we are right across the river in south Minneapolis – a brief jaunt (less than a mile) over the Ford Bridge. We moved back home last fall and to be honest I wasn’t even thinking much about the proximity to St.Paul and I sure wasn’t thinking about the fact you used to live there, in that part of it. Even going there to shop a few times a week I didn’t think about it.  Until I started driving through Highland Park every day to get to work.

I spent the last half of the school year substituting at a high school over by the river and I was a few days into my new commute when I realized I was making a turn on Cleveland Avenue, a block from where you used to live. It only looked vaguely familiar to me until I recalled driving down Cleveland some years ago after I found some old correspondence of yours with that address.  Weird but cool. One day on the way home I took a slight detour from Montreal Street and went by your old address on Cleveland. I knew from originally discovering the letters and the neighborhood some years ago that the building you lived in was gone but considering the age of the one that replaced it you were probably one of the last tenants there. There are still enough homes and apartments of a certain vintage that the neighborhood would probably look somewhat familiar to you.

As the school year rolled on it was kind of cool to think about rolling through your old ‘hood every morning. Did a little research too. From the apartment on Cleveland you probably went downtown via Montreal to West Seventh.  Maybe you drove that route and maybe you took the bus down Montreal and transferred to the streetcar on West Seventh.  I drove that route every morning.

Getting this teaching gig for a half a year and driving through Highland Park everyday to get there is not exactly Moses seeing a bush-on-fire level ‘sign’ – more the universe gently tapping my shoulder and clearing it’s throat.  Maybe it’s just my long lack of faith in something as dubious as coincidence.  Which brings me to the lamp.

One day after work I stopped at an old hardware store on Randolph Avenue – the description of the place on Google even says ‘old school neighborhood hardware store’ – as I had an old lamp that belonged to Amy’s grandmother that needed to be rewired and they proudly offer that service.  Some of your old letters that I have were addressed to you on Randolph Avenue and when I double checked I had to smile, figuring that maybe you even hit S & S Hardware to get a key made or something, as your home apartment for a time  was right down the street. No burning bush at the corner of Randolph and Fairview, but S & S does carry a full line of gardening tools. So there’s that. 

Once the weather warmed up and I could drive around with the windows down I took a few afternoon detours through Highland Park on my way home. I’ve driven some of the streets you used to travel and seen some of the places you lived in the years before you met and married mom and before I came along. Even walked the neighborhood extensively one Saturday while waiting for some work to be done on my car.  For all of its contemporary touches and new development the residential sections of Highland Park would still be familiarto you, I think. More colorful paint jobs perhaps, but it mostly retains enough of the 1950s look and vibe that you would probably feel at home.  Cecil’s Deli is still there, dad.  I have been in there just once – the day I walked around waiting for my car – but I haven’t eaten there yet.  I figure that needs to be a time when I can just sit and soak it in. It sits right where it was, five blocks from your place on Cleveland. Still all things Kosher.  With your affinity for corned beef, pastrami, real cheesecake, and (allegedly) speaking Yiddish, it is hard to imagine that you didn’t hit Cecil’s at least once in a while.

As I have driven those Highland Park streets I’ve wondered more about some of the mysteries you left behind that I have spent years trying to unravel – and more importantly why the secrets you kept about your life needed to be secret. Years of digging up clues and piecing together the puzzle have pretty well explained most of it (at least crcumstantially) and at least now I get it. Mostly.  For the record, the story I have pieced together offers me a comforting, ‘ahh-ha’  perspective and some times I find it all laugh-out-loud funny. Figures, as I inherited your rather quirked sense of humor.

But dad, the real kicker came just a few weeks ago.

I had a wedding to officiate on Raspberry Island in downtown St. Paul. I had not been to Raspberry Island for decades and what I didn’t realize until I started driving there that the access point was on the river flats across the Mississippi from downtown St. Paul. Truth is, I didn’t realize exactly where I was until after the wedding, as I was leaving Raspberry Island and saw the sign for the West Side Flats condos. I immediately pulled into the parking lot across from the brand spanking new complex.  Their advertising says they offer ‘style, practicality, and luxury’ – words that I am sure you never heard as a ragamuffin kid running the streets of St. Paul’s old River Flats.  The condos and other new development have rendered the Jewish ghetto that used to flood out every spring to nothing more than wispy memories and photos in historical center archives.  ‘Urban renewal’ in the 1960s started the process, but what it is today…

So while none of these reminders falls into burning bush territory, there aint no urban Smokey Bear gonna shut this escapade down now. So to speak.  You would enjoy certain aspects of modern vernacular.

Gotta close this out, dad.  Heading down to Rochester for the annual seafood boil my son-in-law throws. It is the first year all of us will be together for Father’s Day in a lot of years and I’ll surely be thinking about you.  You would love them all, dad and I know that would be reciprocated. My wife, daughter, sons, son-in-law, grandson all have rich and full lives they are very cool people. Amy, Lindsay, Willi, Sam, Brad, Felix are all something to behold in their own unique ways and even though you only met one of them, they sure miss you and your presence.  But they at least have me which is kind of you, lite – so that’s something.

Thinking about you today dad, even not roaming the streets of St. Paul. Miss you. Happy Father’s Day.

Mazel tov.

Love,

Mark

It’s All the Rage

A few years back, prompted by the writings of my erstwhile high school seniors at the time, I coined a new phrase for a phenomenon I never knew existed. Two-plus years later, the spectacle I envisioned then came back to my classroom (an entirely different locale and temperament than where the original story occurred) via a conversation amongst some of my new crop of students – sophomores. The phrase?

‘Sprite Rage.’

It all started with a simple start of class, ‘Do Now’ writing prompt. When my students come in, there is a prompt up on the classroom smart board that they are to ponder for a moment, and then quietly write on in their journals for ten minutes. Sometimes I post a simple statement or quotation as a brain jump-start, or it could be a multiple-part question, sometimes it is something visual. I sometimes post a visual along with an idea. Usually the prompts relate in some way to whatever we happen to be working on in class, though some days they are just (meant to be) thought-provoking or just a humorous day starter.

This particular day was simply meant to prompt some creativity, a chance to write something whimsical, and a bit of a break from what we had been working on in class.

As we transition from the daily ‘Do Now’ into the meat of the day, I replace the writing prompt on the screen with the daily agenda, which my students are supposed to copy down. While this is going on, I collect the notebooks and invite students to verbally share their responses to the Do Now prompt.

Sharing is a hit-or-miss proposition with my students, truly feast-or-famine. Mostly, we starve, as even my best writers usually eschew sharing their work out loud.

The main reason I chose the picture below with no caption was that we had been in a bit of a sharing dry spell and I thought they could not only have fun writing on the prompt, but also be willing to share verbally – have some fun with it.

I present, just as shown in class, seemingly felonious Ronald:
ronaldmcdonaldstatuearrest
A few more of my students than usual did have some fun writing on the visual, though a significant number of my street-smart, street-life-isn’t-funny, urban teens saw the event portrayed a less than humorous – some to the point where they refused to write at all about what some of their classmates saw as amusing, though not uproarious.

There was precious little whimsy to be found in the day’s writing.

Ronald McDonald getting arrested was apparently not all that funny to my students – even if it is just a statue of him, and he really wasn’t getting arrested.

The ‘why’ to all of this is what got me.

I may have become a bit jaded after six years of teaching in New Orleans, as the visceral vehemence with which some of my students approached this one did not strike me as all that unusual. At least at first.

Who knew?

My rather over-the-top third period group of thirty-three students saw at least six of them tell essentially the same story in different ways. Once one student shared their story, two others wanted to give their take on the situation portrayed. My fourth period group of twenty-five had roughly the same ratio of similar takes on the same theme, though only one felt compelled to share his out loud.

The situation my students saw (with some notable variations) in this picture was that of Ronald McDonald being arrested after either confronting and/or assaulting a restaurant customer for the apparently commonplace-but-much-frowned-upon practice that I have now coined:

Sprite Rage.

Apparently, Sprite Rage occurs when a restaurant customer orders water to drink, but when getting a water cup,subsequently goes to the fountain dispenser and puts Sprite in it, not water.

The first kid who shared his version of Vigilante Ronald told it humorously, but with a fair amount of physical violence. The offender, in this kid’s version of the prompt Screenshot (38)response, was an “old lady who should have known better” and Ronald took care of her after jumping over the counter, leading to his arrest.

His work was cartoonish, but with some serious and very violent overtones. This prompted a girl in the class to share her version of Ronald and a soda scofflaw; hers lacked any humorous subtlety and while there was less physical violence, Ronald apparently can have quite the mouth on him when provoked.

I chuckled warily in response to both versions of the story. “Ohhhhh-kay, anybody else have a take on this one that they want to share?”

Two more students imparted their perspectives on customer’s pilfering of pop, and Ronald’s subsequent arrest-inducing response.

“Seriously? Is ‘Sprite Rage’ really such a big deal?” I was asking only semi-rhetorically, though; I was curious to see how much of a big deal this really was to my students.

“Mr. Lucker! Why you laughing?”

I started picking up notebooks. “Because I think it’s funny.” 

Uh-oh.

“You never seen that?!” The kids eyes showed great surprise, as did his tone of voice.

“Seen people putting Sprite into a water cup? Yeah, I’ve seen that, but I’ve never seen anybody get all bent-out-of-shape about it…”

The resulting tumult was instant and incredulous.

“WHAT??!”

“Mr. Lucker! You serious?!”

“Mr. Lucker, where you been?”

“I work at McDonalds, Mr. Lucker; we got to do that all the time! My manager jumps over Vintage-1970S-4-Tap-Coca-Cola-Diet-Coke-Spritethe counter yelling at people when he sees ‘em doing it!”

“Oh, man, that happens all the time, Mr. Lucker!”

“Mr.Lucker, man, don’t you ever eat at McDonalds?”

“I do, but I have never experienced ‘Sprite Rage.’” I continued picking up notebooks, more slowly.

There was a pause.

“Mr. Lucker – why you call it that?”

“Because that’s what y’all are telling me. If somebody at McDonalds gets a water cup and puts Sprite in it, somebody goes off on ’em. It sounds to me like road rage, only in McDonalds, not in cars.”

A pause. Quizzical looks were exchanged, multiple frowns swept my class.

“It aint funny, man. I seen people get beat up for that s***!”

“I’ve seen other customers beat up people for that!”

“Seriously?” Now it was my turn to be incredulous, though I should know better by now.

Nods of approval came from all corners of my classroom

“Seriously?” I repeated. It was all I could think of. I stopped and stared at them. Had it been April first I would have felt like I was being punked, but there had been no time for coordination, or even jumping on a lets-jerk-Mr.Lucker’s-chain-today bandwagon. This was purely spontaneous, and heartfelt.

Struck a nerve, I did, with one of the most innocuous of intended-to-be-humorous visual writing prompts.

Interestingly, Sprite Rage seems to be a very commonplace shared experience amongst my students, and the circumstances don’t change much: In all but one case, the stories they wrote usually portrayed older women as the pop-for-water perpetrators and resulting recipients of Ronald’s (to me) overzealous response.

Calling Dr. Phil.

As my students completed their agendas and I finished picking up the notebooks, the daily writing coup de grâce was delivered solemnly, with conviction, by a kid who normally writes a fair amount but generally doesn’t say much in class:
burgerkinyoudaman
“I’ve seen it happen at Burger King, too.”

Apparently, I need to get out more often.

When I do, I’ll play it safe…and just order a shake.

In/on the joke

I wrote my last Dad Joke this week.

No, I am not jumping on the Dad Joke wagon, and I have not given up Dad Jokes for Lent graphica few days early. I have not tired of Dad Jokes nor do I think that there is an over-abundance of them contributing to global warming and that I need to reduce my Dad Joke footprint.

No, I simply wrote my last Dad Joke today.

Or, more accurately, I wrote the last Dad Joke that will be attributed to me.

On a brand-new baseball.

For now tucked away in a box with five other brand new, autographed-by-me baseballs.

One of my kids (or grandkids, great grandkids, great-great grandkids, or some combination thereof) will read said joke, off of said baseball, at my memorial service – some (very hopefully) forty, fifty years or more down the road from today.

Because that is the way it is laid out in my dead file; the red file folder with all of the details I want taken care of at my passing. Quotations to use in the program, songs to be played, that sort of thing.  Along with the instructions for distributing the baseballs.

The ones I autographed, including the two with my final Dad Joke. The half-dozen baseball - Rawlingsautographed baseballs (total) with my ashes inside. My family, long aware of this plan, has grudgingly said agreed that they will do their best to adhere to my wishes – though occasional requests for someone to take the lead on this little project of mine has yet to result in any enthusiastic volunteers.

Why baseballs?

The obvious answer is, of course, that I am a huge baseball fan.  Those that know me all know this, and my baseball-cum-urns will serve a two-fold purpose: not only can they displayed like any regular piece of sports memorabilia, but they will still be usable baseballs. Years after I am gone, when my grandkids, great-grandkids, and great-great-grandkids get together someone will always be able to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play catch with grandpa!”

And they will still be able to.

I actually purchased the baseballs about two years ago, along with the hole-saw attachment so whoever handles such things at the funeral place can drill out a hole in each ball, insert the ashes, then put the previously drilled out plug back in with some sort of sealant. (The hole-saw is secured in the box with the autographed balls.) But until recently, I just had not gotten around to getting the autographing done, and packing away the baseballs all nice and neat for storage – in part, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write on the balls, and because I have been busy and just hadn’t gotten around to it.

We relocated back to my hometown of Minneapolis last fall, and this winter, while trying to organize my basement office space, I had the package of balls and decided now was as good a time as any to get them prepped, so I could hand them off to one of my sons for safekeeping.

I had them sitting out next to my desk for a few days, and while I had narrowed down baseball-ed3my phraseology to a select few ideas, I wasn’t totally sold on whether I should say the same thing on each one, or if I should go in a more creative direction.  Then, as these things tend to do, inspiration came from out of the blue.

I was on my laptop, reading about my hometown Minnesota Twins going through spring training down in Florida.  There was a humorous sidebar story about a Twins broadcaster, and then, bingo…there it was!  It just popped into my head; the needed line for two of the six baseballs.  The perfect punchline; short, sweet, on point…definitely me.

I finally had it: my last Dad Joke.

I thought about it for a bit, just to make sure it was THE line. I ran it through my head, then out loud, using different inflections, sticking the emphasis in different places.  Yep, I realized I had nailed it.

Later that evening, I signed the baseballs, adding the LDJ (Last dad Joke) to two of them, then gently secured them back in their tissue paper wrappers, putting each one back in its box, then placed all six baseballs and the hole saw in a larger box, slapping a big sign on the front, and sealed it all securely with packing tape.

Finished.

Bringing the box upstairs, I informed my wife and two sons that the baseballs I had long mentioned were ready to be placed in the safekeeping of one of them.  All three of them looked at me warily, my wife reiterating her long-held position on the topic; “Don’t look at me.”

Fortunately, my twenty-year-old son Sam acquiesced. “Why not? I’ll just put it in my closet and leave it there when I move out.”  His succinct, immediate repsonse seemed to edge toward surrender more than cheerful agreement, but I think when the time comes he will probably take it with him. We’ll see.

It is a nice feeling to finally have that little project done. Something else I can check off  popcornmy bucket (of popcorn) list.

Yeah, that one just came to me as I was typing this.

So, I wrote my last Dad Joke today.

To paraphrase the great comedian and baseball fan Rip Taylor, “They’ll LAAAauugh!”rip

 

 

 

#baseball #dadsashesinabaseball #deadfile #baseballliferanddeather

High-def Resolutions

FACT: A majority of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.
FACT: A majority of those same Americans break, abandon, ignore, postpone, or modify-beyond-reasonable-recognition those same resolves-to-self-betterment pledges within the first two-to-three weeks of the new year.
FACT: Statistics don’t lie, and the figures I quoted above are polygraph certified.

As I type this, we are roughly forty-three percent of the way through the month of January, or about three-point-six-percent of our way through the year. It is way too early january-2019-calendar_lito abandon plans and goals; you have plenty of time to snap out of your ‘I already blew it’ doldrums and get your 2019 (and life in general) on the track you want it to be on.

The basic problem with resolutions (and resolving in general) as I see it is twofold: lack of follow through and support for setting/meeting any goals that may have been set is certainly the main culprit, but just as big an issue is a basic fact: just how grounded in reality and real life are your goals?

The solution to the busted resolution problem also has two key components: realistic expectations… and Post-It notes.

Yeah, those ubiquitous sticky-squares can make your life so much easier by allowing you to post basic, to-the-point reminders in the places where they will be easily visible, posit1.jpgthereby doing you the most good. You can slap those suckers on dang near anything, and the good ones will stay stuck there.

Think of them as pulp-based Jiminy Crickets.

The second part of the keep-the-resolution equation is basic self-improvement book/class/system/TED talk: SMART goals.  That is, your goals/resolutions should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

For this project, the goals should also be simple, so add another S, and the ‘time-bound’ part can be more flexible being as self-improvement of this type is more an ongoing thing, in varying Interludes. So, we’ll go with SSMARTI.

Yep. Set some SSMARTI Goals for yourself.

Today is that day! You still have over fifty-percent of January left to pull off a full reboot – heck, over ninety-five percent of the year still lies in front of you!

But enough with the statistics.  Let’s get real with some genuine, reality based, SMARM goals. Eh, resolutions. I won’t pretend to be some sort of self-improvement guru; I simply present here my personal examples of life-betterment for 2019 as simply a template for you to use and/or modify as you see fit.

Start by printing out my list, then tack it to your refrigerator or at your desk (or any suitable location) as a reference for when you use it as a guide to start making your Post its. (I recommend a darker color version; the pastels are way old school, and the yellow postit2_liones, in particular, remind too many people of legal pads, micromanaging bosses, and work in general.)  Oh, and if you attach a Post-It to a bulletin board, do not also stick a tack in it. That sort of redundancy kills any of the self-improvement-coolness vibe you’ll want to nurture.

Think of this entire exercise as a potential-for-many-paper-cuts-Fitbit. It can be done. You have plenty of time to get on/back on a new year/new you track.  Below is my list to use as your SSMARTI template. You can be a SSMARTI, too.

Here we go:

My Personal Resolves for a Better Me, 2019

(with footnotes)

More gut, less data

Less microwave, more crock pot

Make love, not war

More poetry (reading it, writing it)

chocolateLess chocolate…eh. Who am I kidding?

More hiking

More passion, less whining

More doing, less complaining

More compassion, less condemnation

Less La-Z-Boy, more chaise lounge ***

More peanut butter-and- jelly sandwiches.  With different jellies. Maybe even different nut butters (keeping them ALL chunky, however)

Challenge the status quo

More spirituality

2019-01-13More Bukowski and Kerouac

Write some Bukowski and Kerouac

Sip (not drink) more whiskey

More maraschino cherries

Quote Dylan and Sinatra more often

Camping!

Less salt, more cilantro

Beer

kickball.jpgMore blogging, less graffiti

Play kickball with grown-ups

Play more cards

Fewer emails, more notes and greetings cards

Walk the dogs more frequently ^^^

Honor an urgedrama

Make more whoopee, make less drama

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

More instinct, less planning/second guessing

More podcasts, less TV

More reading

Moderated hedonism °°°

More coffee/beer/lunch/dinner with friends

Make more friends to have coffee/beer/lunch/dinner with

Try different places for friends/coffee/beer/lunch/dinner

dsjjwp6uiae9e8yTry different coffees and beers

Try harder

Try harder more often

Try.

Always try.

Here is to a successful 93.4% of the year 2019 you have remaining.

*** Goes more to locale; deck, backyard, dock, beach, etc.
^^^ Post-it notes should not be stuck to dogs proper
°°° This may possibly conflict with anything related to poetry, chocolate, or whiskey

#resolutionsredux  #reboot2019