Category Archives: Recreation

I’m that guy.

bkgrnd color fill (linear burn) background copy (darken)Recently, Becky and I were out for a walk around the neighborhood when we got into a conversation with one of the neighbors who was out in his yard. They have one of those Dutch Colonial houses that are reminiscent of a barn and were in the midst of putting on new red siding. Becky had given the color selection a minor eye-roll, but I thought it was a big improvement over the faded blue that came before. We stopped to introduce ourselves and I complimented him on the new look. I mentioned that someone had told me he was a musician and we talked about that a bit, it turns out he plays the vibraphone and teaches a McPhail, so he’s got some serious cred.

He asked where we lived and I gave him my standard answer, if you are driving north on Zealand and cross 40th you will hit my house. It didn’t seem like that painted a crystal clear picture for him so he asked, “Is that by the guy with the weird rocks?”

“Do you mean the people who did the stonework on their exterior?”

“Yeah some kind of weird rocks, he turned half his yard into a garden.”

“Oh… That’s us.” I said with a chuckle, not wanting him to think I was offended. But he didn’t even seem to notice, and after a few more comments about the strange guy with the rocks the subject changed.

When we got back to the house I looked at my garden and it is indeed unconventional, at least for the burbs. The border is limestone slabs that I scavenged (with permission of course) from a neighbors collapsing retaining wall. The slabs next to the curb have been pulverized by cars and snowplow blades. I’ve used a random selection of rocks and bricks and concrete border thingys to landscape, well really mark plantings. The plants look a bit like they’ve been planted by random chance rather than design. A couple of falls ago I spread some cone flower seeds in the front garden. Now there’s a very healthy stand of cone flowers that look great, except that they’re right in front of the fancy day lilies that I planted, crowding them out and blocking them from view. Whether it’s laziness, ADD, or lack of care the weeds are threatening to overpower the plants. Another factor is that things come up in the spring and I can’t remember if I planted them or they’re just some new weed.

And then you get to the lawn. To paraphrase the old blues tune, if it wasn’t for crabgrass, I wouldn’t have no grass at all. I think the U of M Horticulture Department should tour my yard so they can identify every noxious weed known in the state. I did Chemlawn for awhile and it worked but I didn’t like the environmental problems, it was expensive, and I didn’t trust their applicators to not spray my plants. I was going to do it myself (no help for the environment there) but that requires remembering to do it on a regular schedule, which has never been one of my skills.

I try to rationalize that the garden style is informal, that the style I’m going for is “eccentric old folks next door.” And as far as the lawn goes I tell myself it’s because Americans obsession with lawns is crazy and that mine isn’t so bad, it’s just that the next door neighbor’s looks like a velvet carpet.

Yup, I’m that guy. The guy who’s yard is dragging down property values, who’s inept at the basic skills of home ownership. The guy that folks shake their heads when they walk by and wonder what form of mental illness leads to such degradation. About the guy down the street that called my rocks weird, cripes, he makes his living playing the xylophone!

A Brief Encounter with Grandpa Sports


On Sunday, Reb and I attended the Golden Gophers Women’s Basketball game against ninth ranked Ohio State. The Gophers were coming off a disappointing loss to Wisconsin in which they played terribly. The girls put forth a tremendous team effort and pulled off a huge upset. On the way home from the game we stopped at the grocery store and ran into Sid Hartman, the StarTribune’s ancient sports columnist.  I couldn’t resist asking him if he was going to write about the Gopher Women’s victory over Ohio State.

“I doubt it,” he replied, “there going to get crushed.”

“No, the game’s over they won.”

“My readers don’t care about women’s basketball. That’s why they only get 2000 fans.”

“There had to be 5000 there today.”

“Are you a big fan of women’s basketball.”

“I’ve had season tickets since the Whalen days.”

He shrugs and walks away.

Sid is notoriously dismissive of women’s sports. So are a lot of folks, I have a hard time finding people to go to the games with me. I have two season tickets and very good seats. I think it’s the best sports entertainment value in town. Season tickets for $200 each. I couldn’t afford season tickets to the Wolves or the Gopher men, but I know that I’ll get my money’s worth watching a season of college women’s hoops.

Why do I like women’s basketball? Well, first of all, I’m a basketball junkie. I watch pickup games at the Y, or games between rec league fourth graders. Although I never played much organized hoops (I was cut from the seventh grade team) I kept playing and in my 20s and 30s, I was a dedicated gym rat and playground baller. Maybe it’s because the women’s game is more like the game I played. I rarely played at the level where dunking was common and at 6’1″ I was big enough to be a forward, a position suited to my skill set.

Most folks are awed by the slam dunk. It is impressive how high players can jump these days and the power with which they jam. But hell, if you’re six-ten, you ought to be able to stuff it. What’s more impressive to me is the passing that leads up to a dunk. Also, when the option of  leaving the floor fifteen feet from the basket and flying to the rim isn’t open to you, you need to come up with some creative ways of beating the defenders between you and the bucket. Anyone who’s seen Lindsay Whalen go to the hoop with her incredible array of ways to get a shot off inside and her unparalleled touch off the glass knows what I’m talking about. Plus if you enjoy watching the game played with teamwork and hustle, the women’s game is where it’s at.

I got into women’s basketball because my daughters played and I coached them. I’ve been a fan of the Gophers since the glory years of Whalen and McCarville. I follow the new recruits and watch them progress. This might be just a perception, but I think the women show their emotions a little more on the court, and that’s really fun to watch. Maybe that’s just because I’ve become a fan. The best experiences in sports fandom are the ones that come from getting behind one team and really rooting. Lately I’ve had a hard time watching any sport that I wasn’t emotionally invested in one of the teams, and the Minnesota sports scene hasn’t given me much opportunity for that lately.

Who’s in the Super Bowl again?

Road Trip Randomness

1300 miles on the car in 10 days. From Minneapolis to Chicago to Traverse City Michigan on the way up, with an overnight stay at Lucia’s on the way up and then straight through via Chicago on the way back, thirteen and a half hours in the car. About an hour in the car had a nice mixture of fragrance, B.O. and ripe melon, which only intensified as the hours passed.

We stayed in a mid-nineteenth century farm house on Old Mission Peninsula courtesy of our friends Charlie and Barb. It’s a big house, still much the same as it was when it was built, with added conveniences like a fairly modern kitchen and indoor plumbing, it’s an incredibly charming place. In front is a stand of giant white pines and then the orchard, first cherries and closer to the lake, apples. And then there’s Lake Michigan and an incredible stretch of beach which we had to ourselves.

Any trip to the Traverse City area turns out to be all about food. Here’s a few highlights.

Ribs at the farmhouse, we improvised an amazing sauce from the braising liquid and some plum jam that had just been cooked up. Barb whipped up a couple of pies, cherry (what else, it is after all the cherry capitol of the world) and cherry raspberry.

Dr. Mary Clemens, my friend and client came out to the farmhouse and made us a great vegetarian meal, shredded beet and parsnip salad, and whole wheat pasta with fresh tomato soup. And Barb came through with another pie.

Dinner with David and Lucia at Blu in Glen Arbor. Amazing space, with floor to ceiling glass looking out over the lake, and on this night five foot waves rolling onto the shore. We had braised pork belly for an appetizer and I had the duck confit.

Lunch at Cook’s House, a tiny place in downtown Traverse City that seats twenty people at most. I had a ham sandwich with fig compote. Remember on my last trip I had the world’s greatest ham sandwich at Frenchie’s? This was the world’s greatest ham sandwich.

Then back to the other side of the Leelanau Peninsula to Burdickville (you won’t find it on the map) and La Becasse, a restaurant specializing in French country cuisine. Another amazing meal, we split a plate of amazing risotto and I had the rack of lamb, maybe the best I’ve ever had.

On our last day Reb and I drove out to Onema to visit the Tamarack Gallery a wonderful little gallery with an eclectic collection of work by artists all over the country.

Adventures involving landscape materials

As you may know, I’m working on a garden renovation. It’s a work in progress. My vision is of a fairly primitive look, old rocks and bricks and the proper amount of kitschy gee gaws around. I’ve found that rocks are fairly expensive. So I’ve been making an effort to find free rocks. Those of you with a rural background might be saying, “Rocks? Aren’t those what farmers dig out of their fields and deposit in piles on the roadside? You pay for rocks?” But I’ve found  that in a more urban setting the free market has put a rather high price on rocks.

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny, cool day so I decided I’d start my day with an endorphin blast, I grabbed my trekking poles and set off for a brisk walk. As I wound my way through the neighborhood, I came upon a pile of rocks stacked up  near the street at the side of a corner lot. At a passing glance it looked like mostly useless rubble with a few good rocks. I rounded the corner and saw the owner out front working in her yard and talking to a neighbor. Not wanting to interrupt, I poled past with a neighborly hello, she returned my greeting with a bit of a smirk, I suppose that, in my flat cap, cruising along with the aid of ski poles, she found me an amusing character.

I proceeded up the Boone Avenue hill to 36th Street and then headed East to the first left turn, several blocks down, that put me on a road that wound back down hill to meet up with Boone again. The route took me past the rock pile neighbor once again, she was still out in the yard working so I stopped to exchange pleasantries. After the usual talk about the endless work of home ownership, I popped the question, “Are you planning on doing anything with those rocks piled over there?” She answered, in a defensive tone, that they were going to get rid of them soon, she must have thought I was going to complain about the eyesore. This being Minnesota it wouldn’t actually be a complaint, but a passive aggressive sideways hint that they’d been sitting out there for a long time. I assuaged her fears, “Can I take some of them?”

“Sure, take them all.”

“Well I probably won’t take them all.” I had no use for the broken concrete and other rubble.

“Help yourself, you can take all of it.”

“Thanks, I probably won’t take all of them though.”

“Yah, go ahead and take whatever you want.”

So I went home, showered, had lunch, got some work done and then jumped in the car to pick up what I thought was a few rocks. When I backed up to the pile and examined it more closely I realized it was a treasure hoard. There were nice sized field stones, flat limestone steppers, and old bricks, all the perfect accessories for the eccentric old couple garden. Since I was thinking that there were only a few rocks to move, I hadn’t really come prepared to work, I was wearing loafers, no socks and clothing that I didn’t really want to get filthy. I piled the back of the car with as many rocks as I thought it could haul and headed home. I changed clothes, donned appropriate footwear, grabbed my wheelbarrow and, in four trips unloaded the rocks in the back of the garden.

As I was working on the first load I got the feeling I’d just fleeced the rubes. I’m sure that if they had advertised on Craig’s List with the stipulation that the purchaser would have to take the bad with the good, they could have had it hauled away for free, or even made a few bucks on it. I started to worry about her husband coming home and pitching a fit that she’d given all the good stuff away. I decided that if anything was said I’d tell them they could certainly have them back, but they’d have to come get them. I started imagining all sorts of scenarios in which my rocky windfall would evaporate. For all I knew I was dealing with an insanely jealous husband who would come home and beat me to death with a paver for playing in his rock bed. I remembered that she had mentioned that hubby was in the Naval Reserve, so I thought that I could build some rapport by wearing an old ARMY t-shirt I had. Not that I was ever in the Army, but I have relatives. I could almost say I come from a military family.

Mrs. Rock House came out to the pile as I was loading up my second trip. She was probably even more convinced that I was a goof ball, since I had exchanged my cap for my Panama hat. So here’s this skinny, sweaty old guy hefting rocks into his station wagon wearing a very practical, but not exactly fashionable hat. She still seemed perfectly happy to get rid of whatever I wanted to take. She asked if I was interested in bricks, “We’ve got tons of bricks in the garage.” It seems as if she and hubby were recently married and that he is a retired Navy lifer who’s never owned a home. She said she told him now that he owned a home there would be no more trips and vacations, just working on the house. I knew then that I had nothing to fear concerning him wanting to keep the rocks. I realized she was completely in charge, she’d found someone who was used to having a commanding officer and was more than willing to fill that role.

So I got free rocks, met a neighbor and got way more endorphins than I had bargained for at the start of my walk. Rebecca informed my that I had enough rocks now and I wouldn’t be going back to get the bricks in the garage.

He’s Back

Well, it’s been quite awhile since my last post. I could make all kinds of excuses for not keeping this up, but I’m not one for excuses. Except I’ve been really busy, and I’ve been working on editing and producing a blog for someone else, and I’ve had writers cramp and maybe I’ve been a little depressed and I’ve been working on my garden and, well you know, no excuses.

I’m not going to dwell on the past so I’m just going to touch on a few things that have been going on this summer and then move on. It’s not like nothing’s been happening, it’s been a great summer with a couple of trips to Chicago, one to Traverse City and another one planned for Labor Day.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m working, with the help of the Quinn’s bf Dave and the neighbor boys, on a major garden expansion. I’ve added about 600 sq. ft. at the back of our yard. That’s 600 sq. ft. that I don’t have to mow.

Here’s a little gallery of some of the summers event.

Road Trip

That's just a guideline, not a rule.

Tuesday evening I returned home from a great solo road trip, that combined business and pleasure. My route took me from the Twin Cities to Chicago, with a detour for some scenic back roads in Wisconsin, and then to Traverse City, Michigan,  back through East Lansing and Chicago again . I stayed with my daughter Lucia in Chicago, slept at an incredible nineteenth century farm house on Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City and visited college friends in East Lansing. It was ten days of fun roads, great food and great friends. Too much to really relate in a single post, but I will be posting my road stories throughout the week.

Also today marks the 25th anniversary of abstinence from alcohol. I quit drinking the year Lucia was born, although it wasn’t a conscious decision to not raise my kids as a practicing alcoholic. I just woke up after a May Day party at my Wife’s office and felt so shitty that I decided I never wanted to experience that again. I’d been having black outs and nasty hangovers way too often in the prior five years or so, and I just didn’t want to feel that shitty again, or walk around wondering what the hell I’d done the night before. I made my decision in the shower, Beck was in the room getting ready for work when I got out and I told her, “That’s it, I’m done.”

I made some calls and was talking to a counsellor that day. I started going to outpatient treatment and attending AA meetings right away, but over the years I’ve drifted away and no longer go to meetings. I just kind of take it for granted now, just like I know I can’t eat shrimp since I suddenly developed an allergy. I don’t like to make a big deal about it, I kind of get embarrassed when people start talking about it. But Beck and I went out to a bar last night to celebrate.

I’m back

Wow, it’s been almost 2 months since my last post. I might as well start over. I’ve been very busy lately, helping a client with her new website . Dr. Mary Clifton is promoting her programs to help people adopt healthier lifestyles. I’m happy with the way it turned out and I hope a lot of people are motivated to get healthy.

Daffodil Crop Circle

Lot’s of things have gone on in the last couple of months, like the snow melted and the garden came up. How about a March with no snow. My garden is farther ahead than it’s ever been at this time of year. Last fall I planted something like eighty daffodils, I put them in late in the fall on a cold day when it was getting dark and I wasn’t exactly at my highest energy level. Dr. Mary would probably tell me I’d consumed too much fat, which could certainly be the case. I had all these bulbs and not much time. Most of them are coming up pretty well, but there’s one patch where I think I buried them too deep and then packed the soil down on top of them when I was prepping the rose bush for the winter. So now I have a circle of daffodils around a big empty area. Maybe if it keeps raining and we get a couple of hot days, they’ll poke through. I may have daffodils in July at this rate.

Mystery Plant

There’s another spot in the corner of the yard in which I put in a plant that I’d gotten on sale late in the season last year. It’s coming up like crazy. I can’t for the life of me remember what it is. But it’s doing so well, it might just take over the yard.

Some Randomness

On Saturday night we attended the annual Mardi Gras Party at the Beckers. Any party at the Beckers is a great party and the Mardi Gras Party is the greatest of the great. I could have gotten the award for the lamest costume, Becky found me a sport coat that had a pattern of target logos all over it. The novelty of the fabric was one thing, but I wasn’t actually costumed as anything. Multi-targeted warhead? The host’s two older daughters pulled an good prank. They’re not twins, but they do look somewhat alike. One was dressed in a ball gown and the other had a wedding dress on, one was wearing flats and the other really tall heels. I noticed that they had done their hair exactly the same, but thought nothing of it. Midway through the party they switched costumes and I’m not sure anyone noticed.  The youngest daughter’s husband entertained on the piano, including accompanying her on some of  her songs that she’s preparing for her role in Guys and Dolls.

I’ve been obsessing about painting in Photoshop. I’m trying to upgrade my skill level with the Wacom, I’ve been drawing heads and figures and trying to color them, without much success. I’ve had some success scanning some of my pencil drawings and giving them simple color treatments, which is what I was most interested in doing with the tablet, so I can use them to get a little more visual interest here at HA. After all, as long as I have an published editorial illustrator in the office I might as well throw him some work. That, along with the drawing at left segues nicely into the next random topic.

I’ve been working out at the gym pretty consistently since I bolted the 9 to 5. I worked my way to the point that I think I’m in better condition than before the knee disaster. Motivation is a challenge for most of us who try to keep to a workout schedule and we have to find it where we can. One the things that brings me back to the gym is the people watching. I know it’s mean spirited to make fun of people, and God knows that I probably look as goofy as the next, but there are some folks who’s appearance is so odd that I just have to share it. If you recognize yourself here, I apologize. On the other hand if you don’t want people to make fun of you, try not to be so frickin’ weird.

I’ll start with the guy pictured. Older gent, probably around my age. Long stringy hair that doesn’t look like it’s been washed this century, held in place by a headband that probably was white in the Twentieth Century. He looks trim and fit, it seems like he’s there working out most times I am. Other than the hair, from the knees up he looks pretty normal, in an 80′s kind of way. But the thing that puts him over the top in the weirdness category is the fact that he always wears knee high brown dress socks and brown street shoes. I have to look away every time I see him to keep from laughing out loud.

Another guy, much younger, isn’t so much weird as he is scary. He’s always there, working the free weights. His arms are bigger than my thighs. I guess that’s not saying much, so much bigger is a better description. Yesterday while I was pumping some paltry weight on a machine, I watched as he strapped what had to be 50 pounds to his waste and knocked off about 20 pull-ups. I don’t think I can do one pull-up, even if I was in moon gravity.

Then there’s a guy who looks a little bit like John Belushi. He has shoulder length hair that he usually has tied up on top of his head some way. But this week I saw him with it down. He had it in a classic flip, like every girl in my ’67 high school year book. Think pretty hair on a jowly, pasty complected, five o’clock shadowed, scowling, hairy man. Another case where I have to practice smirk avoidance.

There is another man who it would be cruel to make fun of since he’s obviously overcoming some real challenges. But, being the mean bastard that I am… He has a hugely developed upper body, just massive. This barrel is supported by extremely short legs for it’s size. And one of those legs doesn’t work very well, he walks with a cane and it looks painful. He was wearing one of those wrestling style sleeveless t-shirts. One of his very hairy breasts had popped out, which was a disturbing sight. He passed me in the weight room as I was climbing into the crunch machine for my final set for the day. He sat down on the Cybex arm press machine and as he began to lift he let out a sound that I can only compare to the roar of  lions and tigers at the zoo, moaning at their captivity. Or maybe it was like the sounds I made while trying to take my first dump after surgery and a week of powerful narcotics. Whatever you compare it to, it was really loud and really frightening.

I don’t feel bad at all about ridiculing this last victim, because frankly he’s one of those guys that makes you dislike them almost at first glance. He’s about my age, very fit, very trim and has a silvery brush cut, like a sergeant in a comic book. When he’s in the weight room he speeds from machine to machine, lifting heavy weights too fast, looking gruff and impatient with anyone who gets in the way of his routine. He might as well have a sign that says “compulsive narcissistic asshole.” That’s opposed to me, I’m a compulsive narcissistic nice guy. He always wears one of those jerseys that you used to see in the eighties, the sleeves cut off and the jersey itself cut off, exposing his belly. And maybe I’d do the same thing if I had a six-pack at sixty. But I noticed last week that protruding from the front and back of his shorts are the edges of what looks like some kind of absorbent pad. I’m sorry but please don’t share things like that with the public. When I look away from him, it’s not to keep from laughing.


Big sports day today. Starting off with a trip down to Williams Arena to watch the women’s basketball team take on Michigan State. I’ve subleasing one season ticket for a few years now, great seat, eight row just past mid-court opposite the benches on the same side as the Gopher bench. The raised floor at Williams arena gives those seats a fabulous angle on the action. Pretty close to player eye level. It’s a great place to be sitting when the Gophers are playing a sideline trap as well.  I really enjoy watching teams that play good aggressive defense and that’s the signature of a Pam Borton coached team. I love to see it when they turn up the pressure and the other team gets those rattled looks on their faces as the shot clock runs down. Or start trying to run there offense too fast and throw it out of bounds. They like to create turnovers and score off them, they do a really nice job in transition with Kiara Buford, China Antoine and Brittany McCoy leading the way, blazingly fast, excellent ball handlers and passers. Half court offense, another story. It’s always an adventure, but it helps if the other team makes the mistake of not double teaming Ashley Ellis-Milan, which rhymes with Ashley’s always smilin’.

And then the Vikings game.

Note to self… Start a hoops category