The end of an era

My wife  has been working for the same company for longer than we’ve been married. And we’ve been married a long time. That is until last Wednesday when they laid her off. Thirty-nine years at the same company. Thirty-nine years at the same ad agency, no less, where people don’t usually stay for four years, no less forty.

It wasn’t unexpected and it’s not really a bad thing. We’re more than OK financially, although health insurance will suddenly get a lot more expensive. Becky has worked full-time since high school, this will be a nice opportunity for her to kick back and think about what she wants to do with the rest of her life. I should note that I learned a long time ago to never assume to speak for what she’s feeling or thinking. Maybe in a future post I should interview her. But one thing I know for sure, it’s going to be different around here.

I’m out of the house for the better part of four days a  week, I work three days at the newspaper and go to Coco to hang out with my WordPress buds on Wednesdays. But this does mean we’ll be spending considerably more time together. This could be a good thing, or a bad thing. I know I can be a pretty irritating person to be around for long periods of time. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

I get a headache every time I start to think about what we’re going to do about health insurance and how I’m going to figure out the Medicare alphabet puzzle. A B C D it looks kind of impenetrable at first glance. I promise that I won’t write any advice posts about the process, there’s enough confusion out there already, I don’t need to add to it.

Unless of course I come up with some very specific nugget of knowledge that every old duffer should know.



You know when you’re over the hill when your mind makes a promise  that your body can’t fill

Old Folks Boogie, Little Feat

Photo provided by Dabruins07 under a creative commons license.

Today was my first experience with pickleball. It was also Becky’s second day of being unemployed, but more about that later. Pickleball is a racquet sport played with a low net on a badminton court. The ball is similar to a wiffle ball, hollow, plastic and full of holes. If you’ve ever played the great American pastime, wiffle baseball, you know you can hit the snot out of a wiffle ball and it won’t go very far. You also know that they do really weird things when spin is applied.

We played at the local YMCA, they have pickleball on the schedule three times a week. It’s part of their AOA program. Active Older Adults. I’m definitely older. But I’m not very active, and I guess it depends on how you define “adult.”

About 20 players showed up, ranging in age from, hell I don’t know to I’m not sure. As you get older you lose your ability to judge people’s ages. Any way, from old to older. But it was a fit crew and some of them could move around pretty well. There were two courts, so playing doubles we had eight players going at a time and everyone rotated in and out.

I haven’t really tried to play any kind of sport since the year of the knee, so I was a little apprehensive about actually having to move quickly and even more scary, stop quickly. After one of my stumbling forays after a shot, I heard, “Remember the first rule, no point is worth a trip to the emergency room.” No one ever said that when I was playing pickup basketball.

It went pretty well, Becky, of course, picked it up faster than I did. If you’ve played tennis, it takes awhile to get used to the fact that the ball just doesn’t bounce. I swung over the top of it so many times it was insane. And I kept going all the way to the net to volley, which isn’t permitted.

Now I’m suffering for my efforts. I hurt all over. It used to just be my knees now it’s my hips and ankles and back and shoulder. It sucks to get old.

The dreaded Wintry Mix

blizzardVariable precipitation consisting of rain, freezing rain, sleet, or snow.

I can take a nice fluffy snowfall. It’s light and pristine, easy to shovel and get off the roads. It’s not usually hard to drive on.

What I  hate is this. First it rains for an hour and then the rain starts to freeze, and then it turns to sleet, whatever that is, and then heavy, clumpy snow than seems to come down in pellets rather than flakes. If you are driving through this you find that you are getting more miles to the gallon of gas than you are of windshield washing fluid.

And then it turns cold. The layer of sodden slush freezes as hard as a rock. The roads become skating rinks and the commute becomes a destruction derby. If you are unfortunate enough to have left your car outside, it’s covered with heavy snow that, once removed, reveals a layer of ice encasing the entire vehicle. You can’t scrape it, it has to be chipped off. And then if you’re really lucky, your locks are frozen shut, which is a good thing, because now you don’t have to drive in it.

The real fun happens when the temperature drops fast and deep, into single digits or less, before the plows can get all of the muck removed. The surface of the roads are like a skating rink on the surface of the moon. Deep ruts and sharp ridges cause you wheels to spin and your car to bounce like a bizarre carnival ride.

If you’re really lucky, the temperature stays below freezing for a couple of months, just to extend the fun. If you happen to get a dusting of snow on top of that ice, it becomes almost impossible to move. Any Minnesotan is familiar with the scream of spinning wheels as frustrated drivers race their engines while going nowhere.

We haven’t had a really good wintry mix disaster yet this year, but cheer up, there’s lots of winter left.

Rachel to the Rescue.

Yesterday I said that today I would write about the dreaded “wintery mix,” but that will have to wait for another day, because last night I saw one of the greatest displays of basketball wizardry ever last night.

The Gopher Women were playing Illinois, who they’d beaten 106-75 earlier in Champaign. I was looking for another easy victory, but the Illini were fired up and out for revenge. They came out nailing threes and playing great defense, plus they were getting a big contribution from Alex Wittinger, a freshman forward from Delano, MN.

Their point guard, Kylie Simmons, was shooting the lights out as well as doing a great job of frustrating our super-star shooting guard Rachel Banham. Unfortunately for Kylie, she was forced to foul Rachel 3 times in the first half to keep her from blowing by her. But the home team was struggling and the visitors were thriving and that resulted in the Gophers being down by 16 at the half. Banham, who averages 24, had only 2 points at the break.

I really wasn’t particularly worried, I’ve seen this team make a lot of comebacks and when my nephew Scott, who was with me mentioned Banham’s lack of scoring I told him I’d seen her have poor first halves before and still score in the twenties.

They had a 13 run at the end of the third quarter to pull within one. And then Banham absolutely torched them in the fourth. She scored 18 in the quarter going 5 for 6 from the three point line. It was just an unbelievable display of shooting talent. She was hitting off screens, off the step-back move, creating her own opportunities. You could see it in her eyes, she was not going to let them lose. She finished up the game with three consecutive triples, the last of which put them ahead 80-77. The fans were on their feet for the last three minutes of the game.

If you love basketball and you haven’t seen this kid play, you owe it to yourself to get down to the barn for a game this year.

Snow time like the present

snow - 1 (1)
Not much snow

The East Coast got nailed by a huge snow storm this week and the internet is saturated with pictures and stories of white disaster. It’s snowing here, just a few flakes, nothing special. It’s been snowing lightly since late yesterday. I can sympathize with the easterners, nobody likes to be completely buried in it, and they aren’t as prepared as we are to deal with it. It sucks to be snowed in. I just would like to see some balance. Minnesota in the winter without snow is no fun, send some our way.

We have snow, but not much. And it’s come in tiny doses. I’ve only had to use my snow blower once. In the morning I go out and look at the driveway and it’s covered with snow, but only thin coating, less than an inch. I just can’t justify firing up the beast for that. It would be a declaration of weakness that even I couldn’t tolerate. But it takes longer to shovel a dusting that it does to clear off six inches. (I originally wrote “blow six inches,” but I that would make Rache just a little too gleeful.) There are also hazards involved in shovelling, besides the classics like slipped disks and heart attacks, I’ve had fluke accidents with unpleasant consequences.

There are cracks in my driveway that can be invisible after a light snowfall. When the snow is fluffy I use a wide shovel with a long handle that’s designed to push the snow and not really scoop it up and throw it. I get kind of nonchalant when I’m in that shoveling mode, holding the handle low and moving fast. More than once I’ve hit a crack in the concrete, bringing the shovel to a sudden stop while my body keeps going. There have been times when the position of the handle results in it being driven into that most sensitive area of a man’s anatomy.

So really, if it’s going to snow, at least give me enough to fire up the beast.

Fable has it that the Eskimos (that’s probably not the PC term anymore) have fifty, or however many, words for snow. We have “wintery mix.” Tomorrow I’m going to talk about that kind of snowstorm and why it’s the worst.

Dinner and a movie, not in that order.

Yesterday afternoon we went to see The Revenant. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I doubt if you would be surprised to hear that this two and a half hour film builds to a pretty dramatic, tense climax. That’s a lot of footage of Leonardo DiCaprio having a really bad hair day. We went to the newly remodelled Plymouth Theater, which has reclining seats that are like Barcaloungers on steroids. Movies had better be entertaining or the audience will certainly be napping.

Leo’s interminable slog through the wilderness managed to keep me just above the snore zone. I was told by someone that the director claimed that there has never been a movie made like this one. I’m not sure what aspect of it he was referring to, but if that’s true, why did we pretty much know what the outcome was going to be. I’m not necessarily complaining, I enjoy a good survival and revenge flick as much as the next person. And the locations were spectacular.

About a hundred and thirtyfive minutes in, just as the final, final climax was starting, Beck leaned over to whisper in my ear. I know it’s rude, but we try to be fairly quiet. I thought to make some comment about action on the screen.

I leaned toward her and heard, “Weren’t we supposed to be at Becker’s tonight?”

Oh crap. I knew this was somehow my fault, I’m the organizationally challenged one who has a very long record of space outs.

We’d been invited to dinner hosted by the world’s greatest entertainers, along with two other couples that whose company we enjoy. One does not refuse an invitation to the Becker’s.

Although I had put it on the online calendar, I hadn’t put it on the paper calendar taped to the refrigerator.


“Now! Should we just duck out now?”

Hell no! I’m not investing this much time in a movie and not see the end!”

We were in weekend at home mode, looking pretty rough. Not as bad as Leo, but for suburbanites, pretty rough. We would need to go home and change. We usually are underdressed by comparison, but this would be taking slovenliness to the extreme.

We bolted from the theater as soon as the credits started to roll, jumped in the car, called our hosts to beg forgiveness and let them know we’d be late. Rushed home, changed clothes and rushed back out the door, we made it to their house, only about a half hour late.

The movie end of the movie was exciting, dramatic and tense. But the real adrenalin shot came from our dash to dinner.





Wild Noodle Chase

"Spätzle-02" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons -
Spätzle-02” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.
"Gulasch" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gulasch” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week the StarTribune ran a feature in the taste section on cooking with paprika. This made me nostalgic for the Hungarian goulash at the Black Forest Inn. I was a bartender there from 1974-1978 and the goulash was one of my favorite dishes. The article had a recipe so I made up my mind to make a batch. After our car shopping failure on Friday we made a Costco run and I picked up a package of cubed beef. Main ingredient taken care of, my plan was to make a quick sortie to Hy-Vee for the rest of the ingredients.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream. The Iowa based grocery stores are huge and they have an amazing selection of whatever you can think of. They are just moving into Minnesota and built two new stores in the Twin Cities area, one of which is about 4 blocks straight North of us where the dilapidated K-mart and Big Dollar stores previously blighted the neighborhood. We moved to New Hope in 1991 about the time the last grocery store in town closed. There hasn’t been a supermarket in New Hope since. Now there’s a great one within walking distance of us. Possibly the best thing that’s happened since our children were born.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream.

What does one serve their goulash with? The BFI served it on rice if I remember correctly, but the recipe I had suggested spaetzel. Spaetzel are little dumpling like egg noodles which were also a part of the Black’s fair. I decided to go all in on the nostalgia and serve the goulash on spaetzel.

My level of culinary ambition was not high enough to make my own spaetzel, although it doesn’t seem that hard. I just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I set out to locate the spaetzel. At that point, I wasn’t absolutely clear as to what spaetzel was. I thought that it might be made from potatoes, since it seems similar to gnocci. I looked in the German section of the ethnic foods area, no spaetzel. In fact not much of anything considering there are more folks of German ancestry than Scandinavian in Minnesota. The German section was dwarfed by the Mexican section. I checked the pasta section, just in case they lumped it in with Italian starch bombs. I checked the refrigerated section and the frozen section and the health food section and came up empty.

When in doubt ask someone.

When in doubt ask someone. I stopped a young woman in Hy-Vee uniform and when I asked she got that WTF look on her face. I described spaetzel, incorrectly saying it was like a potato dumpling. I mentioned the fact about the prevalence of Germans, and she replied that she was one-hundred percent German and I shook my head over the assimilation of our culture into the mainstream of tacos, chow mein and salsa.

“I’ll ask the grocery manager.”

She came back a few minutes later, “He didn’t know what it was, but we have potato dumplings in the frozen section.”

Now we were really barking up the wrong dumpling.

We asked the young man stocking frozen foods. He looked at us like we’d asked where the thousand year old eggs were. We spent several minutes combing the huge frozen section and couldn’t even find the potato dumplings, which we shouldn’t be looking for in the first place. I applaud the Hy-Vee training program, these folks are obsessive about helping you and are truly shocked when they realize they might not have something you want. It was not easy to  convince her that not going home with spaetzel was not a disaster. I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel. She earnestly made a note for the grocery manager and said they would try to add it to their stock.

I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel

I finished up my shopping and got in the checkout line. They asked the inevitable question, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Oh oh, here we go again, “As a matter of fact, no.”

It happened that the woman who I assumed was the head cashier was helping in that lane. So once again the gauntlet was thrown and she was off in search of the elusive noodle.

Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

I checked out, paid up and was headed out the door when she intercepted me with… a bag of spaetzel. It had been in the Italian section (another insult to my heritage), I’d looked right at it. The problem was that it didn’t look like the spaetzel I was familiar with. I’m used to homemade spaetzel that looks like little bumpy white grubs. This spaetzel was the commercially made, longer, more slender and uniform extrusions which look more like short linguine than spaetzel. I was skeptical. Was this part of some plot to co-opt Tuetonic  culture? Creeping Italianization? Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

Well I sure as hell wasn’t going to admit to my doubts. I had reached my tolerance point for being helped. I’d spent way too much time at the grocery store, Becky was texting me wondering if I’d gotten lost. So I paid for this bag of imposters and got out to there quickly before someone else tried to help me with something.

I must say that the spaetzel cooked up into the rich, fluffy little dumplings that I loved, even though they looked very odd to my Northern European eye. And the goulash was exceptional!

Progress Report: Day Five


typewriter vintage

I’ve been able to maintain my string of 300 words a day. This will be day five. I’m not that excited about what I’ve written, but I have written.

One of the interesting things about this experiment is that writing begets writing. Flexing one’s creative muscles makes them stronger. What do you know? After being blocked for months, if not years, now that I’m forcing myself to write daily, I’m finding it easier to write. While I was blocked, I had no ideas of what to write about. If an idea came to me, I would dismiss it as something no one would want to read about. I was worrying about writing for an audience instead of writing for myself.

That’s kind of crazy, because I don’t have much of an audience anyway and who am I to judge what anyone would find interesting.

I’ve found that the act of writing itself leads to more ideas. In the last five days I’ve had more ideas for things to write about than I have in the last year.

There are, of course, writing mentors that have been preaching this forever. It’s not like this is a big revelation. There’s even a hashtag, #300words. But there’s a difference between getting advice and taking advice. It’s like organization, I know how to organize things, I just never seem to get around to it. Thus the mess that is my desk.

One of the tricks I’ve read is to block out a time and sit down at the keyboard, say fifteen minutes. During this time, you don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. This won’t be easy, especially if you are like me and are easily distracted by shiny objects.

The biggest thing, whatever your creative discipline, is to do it. Don’t judge yourself or your work. There is plenty of time to go back and make improvements, to learn from your mistakes and hone your skills. Over time the quality will come.

Car Shopping

This is not a driverless car. It’s the Brit model, which we aren’t looking for.

I made the claim that I would be banging out 300 words between my second and third cup of coffee in the morning. That didn’t happen today, but here I am at the keyboard to keep my streak alive as twilight approaches.

The reason I didn’t write this morning was that Beck took the day off so we could go look at a car. We’ve been a one car family for years, but now that I have a job in South Minneapolis we’ve been running into some “who gets the car” conflicts. So the morning was spent not buying a car.

We’re not looking for just any car, we’re looking for a car that meets B’s specifications, a 2012-2013 Mazda3 hatchback that has Skyactiv Technology, heated seats, a moonroof, and is a cool color. Very specific. And hard to find. The reason for the tight date range is that Becky likes the body style of the previous version, which was last produced in 2013. We also want the Skyactiv thingy because the 3s equipped with that, whatever it is, get 10 more miles to the gallon than those without. We were operating under the impression that 2013 was the first year it was available. Today we learned that it is available on some 2012s.

Beck found one online Wednesday that almost fit the bill, color was silver, not a cool color. But it did have heated seat and a moonroof and we were beginning to think we weren’t going to find that absolute perfect car. We go up this morning and headed to Morrie’s Brookdale Mazda to check it out. Do you ever wonder why car dealerships cluster together? The stretch of Brooklyn Boulevard that Morrie’s is on is almost all dealerships, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a car salesman. Sorry salesperson.

Crap, the car we had in mind was already sold. We should have called ahead. All was not lost, because Roger, the 22 year old car salesperson was determined to not let us off the property without selling us a car. Which meant we got to ask him all kinds of questions and he even explained to us the virtues of leasing over buying. And leasing would be a good deal if you wanted to have a newer model car and always have a car payment. But that’s not the way we roll. We get a car and drive it into the ground. But he pulled out all of his tricks and when I asked how much we would need to put down on a new car in order to have a $250 monthly payment, he figured he ad us. That’s not the way to figure out if you can afford. But I was just curious and we were going to say no anyway. But that question got a manager out there and almost got us a second explanation of why leasing is the only way to buy a car.

Now I know I could make this more interesting (that’s a low bar, I’d be surprised if anyone has even read this far) by ranting about or parodying the high pressure salespersons. But that wouldn’t really be fair, because they were actually very polite and helpful while trying to, to use sales lingo,  overcome our objections. But when we said no, they didn’t do the “won’t take no for an answer” sales thing.

But I did tell them that Becky was a stubborn Norwegian, and most Minnesotans know what that means.

Big Win

The Gopher Women’s Basketball team upset #20 Northwester 95-92 last night at Williams Arena. Lead by Rachel Banham’s 32 points and 4 steals, they took advantage of the Wildcat’s star Nia Coffey being forced to sit out most of the first half with foul trouble to build an eleven point lead at the half. Northwestern answered with 33 points in the third quarter to get back in the game, but the home team held on in the fourth, beating back the visitor’s charge and makin 7 or 8 free-throws down the stretch.

In the first half the played as well as they have all year, using their quickness, shooting and ball movement to counter a significant size disadvantage. Alina Starr helped the Gophers out-rebound the Cat’s 39-38 with strength and hustle, playing above her height against much taller players. But many in the stands were left unsure of how she pronounces her first name. It sounded like the announcer pronounced it “A-lay-na,” “Al-eye-na”, and “A-leen-a.” However you pronounce it, it means “plays hard” in hoop language. A mid-year transfer from Auburn last year, she just became eligible to play after first semester. She immediately became a starter and what a great addition to the team she’s been.

The crowd got a first look at another transfer, although in street clothes, Bry Fernstrom, a 6’5″ post who was starting at Iowa State when she left the team mid-season. She will be eligible in time for the Big Ten season next year. Coach Marlene Stollings has another transfer in streets on the bench, Kanisha Bell who averaged 14.5 points a game as a starting point guard for Marquette and broke the school’s record for steals by a freshman. She was named to the Big East All-Freshman team. It looks like she’s the top candidate to fill the hole left by graduating senior Shayne Mullaney.

Interestingly all three of the transfers mentioned are Minnesota girls who, for whatever reason, transferred back to the U after Stollings took over the program last year. Kill the fatted calf baby, the prodigal daughters have returned!

This post was an experiment by the author, the point of which was to write a post without using the first person pronoun.