Sunday, November 30, 2008


I sent an email to everyone we spent Thanksgiving with, and Ann suggested I kill two blogs with one stone and turn it into an entry here.

Hey Everybody,

Yeah, I don't know how it happened but everything's covered in snow here this morning, so I'm glad not to be driving anywhere today. Ann's fighting that darn cold again, so send healing thoughts. I'm about to walk another warm drink her way.

We had a great time at Thanksgiving. It was lovely seeing everyone. It took me back to my first Thanksgiving at Homewood, when everyone was so sweet and silly and sometimes outright loony, and I remember having an image of Steve and the rest of you going to a weekend retreat at Clown College, and at the end all the clowns gathering around your car, shaking your hands, and saying "Thank you, we learned so much!" I think of this now in part because of the trick of how many Helms Teri can feed and house.

So here are the links to the bootleg Whitley tapes (let me know if there are any union or copyright issues here, Shaun), the Thanksgiving photos, and a couple of pictures from our last Sterling visit. Most of this is on facebook too, but I realize not everyone visits that particular land of make believe.

Love to all,


That'll Be The Day

Words of Love

Thanksgiving Album

Weekend in Sterling

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Moose and Squirrel

We have friends who travel to Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming each year to camp, hike and paddle whitewater; this year we joined them. We hadn't spent much time in Wyoming before and we really enjoyed it.

It's a long two-day drive from Minneapolis, which we stretched to three days each way so we could see more during daylight. Not knowing what the rivers would be like we took four canoes, including an inflatable, on our trailer; the Subaru ran hot and slow through the mountains, but we got there and back fine.

There was very little traffic on the mountain roads, for which we were grateful. We thought of the high cost of gas as a surcharge that kept more RVs parked at home, and while it made our trip expensive it otherwise served us pretty well. Even the campgrounds had vacancies over Fourth of July weekend.

As soon as we arrived at the campground Ann saw a moose wade across the creek towards camp, and we had moose (and evidence thereof) in and about the campground throughout our stay. We also saw a pair of golden eagles, two scrawny foxes (scrawny despite dining on ground squirrels), a pine marten feasting on a red squirrel, and various deer and antelope playing. Coincidentally or not, we didn't hear any discouraging words. We were at the end of a ten mile dirt road along Granite Creek and it was blissful. The area had 600 inches of snowfall - half again more than usual - so there was snow on the mountain tops, a profusion of wildflowers, and much more water than usual in the rivers. We slept late, paddled most afternoons on the creek or the river it flows into, hiked, ate, and sat in the evening overlooking the creek and mountains watching wildlife and telling tales. It was a nice group we'd vacation with anytime; in fact we may join the every-year club. We'll see. I'm at some risk of being employed, and thus less flexible, by the time the next opportunity arises.

On our drive home we detoured through the Black Hills of South Dakota to see the Crazy Horse monument, which Ann and I had both seen about 20 years ago. The face has been completed during the interim but there's a whole lot of warrior and horse left to do. We were caught in two hailstorms and greeted by a good old-fashioned Midwestern thunderstorm when we arrived in Minneapolis.

I have never been in South Dakota without experiencing car trouble; this year as we stopped for gas on the way home we noticed one wheel of our trailer hanging on by the grace of God alone. The mechanic next door had the right size bearings and time to help us, so we were on our way in another two hours.

Pictures have been posted at our Picasa site, here; we may add more as we get them from the other campers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dog Heaven

For five days at the end of May I paddled a Canadian river (the Dog River) to Lake Superior with friends Alan, Dave and Dan. We carried our camping gear and so rode a little lower than normal for whitewater, and we had to portage around the odd waterfall, but it was a great trip. I haven't blogged about it because there's too much to say and I can't get started, but this picture from Alan says it pretty well. I'm the one in the purple boat. I was in dog heaven.

Additional pictures are here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Urban Wild Life

I checked on Alex this morning and found him in the back yard with a wild turkey the size of Big Bird. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune we share the metro area with a couple thousand of them, but this was our (and Alex's) first encounter. Please notice the fierce cat in the bottom photo, all puffed out yet somehow backed as far away from the bird as he can get.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The older I get, the better I was.

In an effort to reanimate myself after a long, gray winter (not that it's over yet) I've been watching whitewater video and uploading some of our Grand Canyon snippets from 2003 and 2004 to YouTube.

209 Mile Rapid with Ann in 2003 (with one prominent profanity):

Lava Falls solo in 2004:

Granite with Ann in 2003:

Monday, April 7, 2008

feeding the iguanas

Overnight our youngest cat Emmie knocked a few blooms off the pinkish-purple azalia Robbie and Jeff gave us. Ann put what she could in a tiny vase and gathered the rest to throw into the yard. She stood in front of me with a fist full of purple and said "I'm going to give these to the iguanas. They love the purple ones."

I didn't remember the name of the tree whose blooms the iguanas preferred (wygelia?), but I assumed I had told Ann the story of the iguanas that wouldn't go back to eating lettuce when winter came. At least once. And, unlike me, she had remembered it well enough to make the comparison. And that became today's post.

Then Ann read it and said "I wasn't feeding iguanas in Ohio! I was feeding iguanas in Costa Rica!" Evidently she was remembering more recent (and more distant) iguanas who liked purple blossoms.

The moral being that profundity and reality may intersect but don't necessarily.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lovely Meta

Our friend Meta died yesterday. She fought it out with ovarian cancer for three years, winning battles but never quite vanquishing the cancer; and she realized a few weeks ago her body couldn't win the war. Hospice, in her room overlooking the farm in Red Wing, eased her final days. Her husband Mark has been with her every step of the way.

We last saw them when we took lunch down two months ago. Ann made chili and cornbread. Meta was fighting tumors, had a cold, was recovering from chemo a week prior and an infection that had sent her back to Mayo, but she was an extremely gracious host. She didn't waste any effort, but was funny and very present. When I have just a cold - forget the rest - I'm lousy company. Her presence was a great gift.

Meta didn't suffer fools gladly even when they were doctors, and she kept on top of the art, science and technology of ovarian cancer treatment with an extremely keen mind. She posted the results of her research and her personal experience on her CaringBridge pages here and here. I find it lovely just to read her voice.

Ann and I taught whitewater tandem canoe with Meta and Mark for several years and we rocked at it. We had two women and two couples teaching a sometimes macho sport in what is generally referred to as "the divorce boat," and showed how it could be done well and still love your sweetie at the end of the day. It was repeatedly the high point of my year. Outside the class they have been our favorite boating partners in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the southeast, and just great friends.

Sitting here writing, I would love to talk about Meta's incisive - wicked - sense of humor, her never-ending love of the outdoors and all God's creatures (except box elder bugs), and the potency of her friendship; but I imagine Meta at my shoulder saying "cut the crap," so I'll try to keep this short. Meta decreed a no-nonsense rule on memorials, and love her as I do, I fear her a little in this. During the first successful go-round leading to her remission two years ago, Meta as Warrior Woman unleashed a potent force of "you are not wanted here" on her cancer and it backed right down. I saw how just merciless she could be; and if Meta is possibly in a position to open up a celestial can of whoop-ass on someone in the earthly realm, I don't want it to be me.

We love you, Meta. We love you, Mark.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Choo Choo Bob's

Our chance to have an Antonio-only play date came last Friday. We went to Choo Choo Bob's just across the river in St Paul, which has a couple of nice electric train setups and several play tables in the back with the wooden trains we grew up with. I can attest that Antonio was the best behaved kid I've seen there (they tend not to want to leave). His only request was to go back sometime and bring Crystel.

First, though, we had a rousing game of Candyland at our house. Ann won first, I won second, and Antonio won third.

Choo Choo Bob's has books in the same series as one my dad has a picture published in (but not the same book). We already have an autographed copy, but I wanted to show the proprietor I come from good train stock and know which end of a train goes first (it's a trick question).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Welcome Visitors

As I was rummaging about at noon I kept hearing little outdoor voices but couldn't find the sources (Sarah and Johanna), like in The Wizard of Oz when you hear Munchkin voices but can't see them yet. Finally they appeared at the back door, all snowsuited and smiling. Johanna showed off her vocabulary - notably "kitty cat" - stacked boxes, charmed, and generally stomped around owning the place. Sarah and I, having heard the same public radio piece yesterday extolling the virtue of communal child-rearing, patted ourselves on the back.

Johanna is turning out to be an outdoors girl, hard to separate from her snowsuit. She and her family spent the weekend in the snowy Far North. I wish I had taken pictures today because she's growing so fast any picture more than a week old is obsolete. Visit her dad's blog for shots from the weekend. The one above is about 10 days old.

Johanna and Emmie (the youngest kitty) are peers of sorts, each delighting in the attention of the other. I'm reminded of my niece Chris growing up with the family dalmatian as her nearest sibling. A girl could do worse.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cold Weather

I won't say it's really cold, but the fleece I put in the dryer to tumble without heat froze solid once it stopped. Our vent is a mere 6" to the outdoors, and the louvers may be frozen open for all I know. I'm not going outside to look.

On the way back from the neighbors’ house, having traded borrowed corn meal and a misdelivered tax notice for thirty minutes of good company and a six pack of freshly baked cookies, a jet flew low overhead and the sky seemed to CRACK open. I had forgotten, but once you're well below zero there's less humidity to absorb sound waves - or what's there is too solid - and the sound of an aircraft is enough to make you duck.

We've had a 50 degree temperature swing in 24 hours, from over 40 degrees yesterday to about ten below zero now at 9pm. Ann found the drive home from work harrowing, though at least we've been spared the true blizzard in southern Minnesota. No new snow here, but things like oil and transmission fluid forget they're supposed to be fluid when it gets this cold.

On Sunday we drove to Red Wing and visited Meta and Mark. This is a hard period for Meta due to a convergence of health problems, from cancer and chemo to an uncommonly bad cold, but she spent what energy she had being very present and funny. Mark led Ann and me on a snowshoe hike up to their eastern ridge, which gives a wonderful view. There was a blue sky and the temps were around 30, and we saw many deer tracks in a field below (whose owner plants grain for the deer and harvests shed antlers in return), as well as coyote tracks, vole tracks and tunnels, and, I believe, dog scat.

Meta has a new CaringBridge journal address. We get an email whenever they update it. link

Ann and I took Crystel to the St Paul Winter Carnival's ice sculpture exhibit yesterday, in the 40 degree weather I mentioned. The tooth fairy had lost a wing but we caught most of the sculptures before serious melting occurred. We then visited the Landmark Center across the street and watched a dramatic demonstration of cryogenics, thanks to a scientist from the Science Museum and a bucket of liquid nitrogen. On a night like tonight you can throw hot water into the air and it freezes and blows away dramatically, which I just went out to test. It's safer than liquid nitrogen as long as you don't lock yourself out or touch the doorknob with a wet hand.

Our friends Ethan and Sherry are stranded in China during the worst winter storm in 50 years, which has pretty well shut their part of the country down (link). They have two daughters from China, Rui Rui, who's four and a friend of ours, and Ava LiXing, age one. They have custody of Ava in China but she doesn't have a US visa yet - and the weather has shut them down mid-process. If they're not out by Chinese New Year they'll be there until after the celebrations. Their travel blog, which is a lot more interesting than this one, is here. We're glad they're based in a hotel rather than a train station at this point.

Ann went to school today and found the Vulcans outside the Principal's office (link here, complicated but worth it). They're essentially a terrorist organization sanctioned by the city of St Paul, known for scaring children and groping non-consenting women during the Winter Carnival (although the groping got them into legal trouble three years ago and they're supposedly now Vulcans, Reformed).

Monday, January 14, 2008

Julie Taymor

Tonight Ann and I walked two blocks and spent three bucks to see Across the Universe, a Mobius strip of a film that creates characters from Beatles songs who express their lives in part through Beatles songs. I was skeptical of the whole thing, except for the popcorn, but I ended up being very impressed. I'll tell you up front I would have enjoyed it under any circumstance just for the glimpse of Joe Cocker as a bum and a pimp singing Come Together - he hasn't lost the body English - but I was impressed with everything - casting, editing, choreography, everything having to do with the music (which took some getting used to, ironically enough), and the psychedelic effects, which went beyond Warhol and Kesey references to succeed nicely. The production of Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite alone was worth the price of admission.

As the credits began to run I wondered who had managed to bring the movie together so well and promptly saw Julie Taymor's name as director.

I am slow, I am generally culturally illiterate, and I don't pay attention very well, but third time's the charm and this is the third of Ms. Taymor's many-more-than-three great accomplishments I am now familiar with. She directed The Lion King (the world premier of which was in Minneapolis - did I mention that, Robin?) and she directed the film Frida. Frida Kahlo's visage has gradually replaced Kirby Puckett's in the Twin Cities thanks to the exhibit of her work at the Walker Art Center and their lavish advertising budget (think bus stop posters).

We thoroughly enjoyed the Walker show, which included previously undisplayed photographs, and like most people we were floored by The Lion King.

We enjoyed Frida, the film, before the Walker show began but had some questions as to where reality ended and magical realism began; but the PBS special The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo, with its wealth of archival video, demonstrated the movie's magic was in how well it portrayed the reality of Frida's life and vision rather than in the application of artistic license.

On the "other features" disk of Frida there's a Bill Moyer interview with Julie Taymor, and I suspect someone will be making a film of her life one day (and good luck at doing it justice). She's an upstanding Oberlin grad, by the way. She also has directed more Shakespeare plays than you can shake a skull at, but that's a bit over my head.