Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: the other way

I was looking back at my blog posts for the year, giving my memory a jump-start as I tried to focus on all the good things that formed my own personal 2011.. For instance --
Mostly good health...

A new car...

Spending time in my 48th, 49th and, finally, 50th state -- Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon...

Lots of good theater, my favorites of the year being True West at the Torch Theater, Neighbors at Mixed Blood Theater, God of Carnage at the Guthrie... Plus the Broadway touring productions of Les Miz and West Side Story...

Fun trips to Portland and Las Vegas...

Exceptional co-workers...

A great family reunion in New Jersey in August...

A great family, for that matter... I'm starting to realize how unusually close our family, including extended family, is... We are so lucky!...

Oh, and then there was the decision to bring my nephew James into our household to attempt to help him get a headstart in adult life.  That has been mostly a good experience, I think.  It at least helps me remember what it's like to be a naive eighteen-year-old.  And there are some days when it helps me remember what it's like to be  a naive fifteen-year old!

Then there is Jerry, who amazes me more and more as time goes by.  By the way, it's our anniversary:  we met 13 years ago tonight, New Years Eve 1998.

And I can't forget my loyal blog readers.  Cyber-hugs to you as we each welcome 2012, a year that, like any other, will bring us all frustration and reward, tears and joy.

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: one way to look back at it

Sometimes you hear a person say, "I sure am glad to see this year end!"

I am never glad to see a year end.  Life is too precious and too quick.

If a person were to look back at 2011 from that angle, I can understand it, though.  2011 was rough for a lot of people:  economic hardship, illness, loss...

And if I were to think back that way, I could do it too:  People that I care about are hurting... I had health problems -- something I'm not used to! -- that required surgery and landed me in a hospital for a week... And the number one personal trauma for me this year -- the death of my brother Ronnie.  My family is still struggling with that one loss.

It would be easy to say, "Wow, 2011 was a crappy year..."

... But, on the other hand.........

Thursday, December 29, 2011

dancing to tschaikovsky

My friend and co-worker Mary O. hates The Nutcracker ballet, but that's only because she worked for a dance company once and while working there had to listen to the score for six months straight.  Now, when she has to call the IRS and gets put on hold and has to listen to "The Waltz of the Flowers" hold-music over and over again for a half hour straight, she goes nuts.

Me, I haven't had such an experience, so I still love Tschaivosky music and The Nutcracker.  Whether it is serious ballet is a whole 'nother discussion.

The Minnesota Dance Theater every year does a terrific Nutcracker, and it's one of my guilty pleasures, so we are taking Mary (my sister, that is -- not Mary O., who would probably have a mental breakdown!), Becky, and Tom to this afternoon's performance.  This year the show is being held at the newly-restored Cowles Center, the former Shubert Theater, which just opened this fall for dance only.  We attended the theater's grand opening but this will be the first actual program we'll be seeing there.  The board of the Cowles Center is hoping that this venue will do locally for dance what the Guthrie has done for theater.
Added later:  Sometime after I wrote the above, I read my horoscope for today:  "Taking in manmade beauty will be one of the most invigorating things you could do today.  Art stimulates your mind and life in ways you won't be able to explain.  It's one of the wonderful excitements of living."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

young adults at the mall

It's after 9 PM, so if I'm going to blog today, it better be now...  After work this afternoon, I drove down to meet the rest of the gang at the Mall of America, where they had been  shopping and watching James build bears while I was working my butt off in my office... We went to the theater at the mall and watched the new Diablo Cody-written movie Young Adult.  It was okay, a bit unusual -- a mostly unlikeable lead female character.  Then we met Jon for dinner at Kokomo's.  I was just telling Mary that I sure do like it when she and Becky visit us, but I think I always gain weight while they're here... Hmmm, I wonder what my New Year's resolution will be in four days.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

one more week in the cornfields

I've been browsing the news sites this afternoon, and I keep seeing headlines about there only being one more week until the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, and I'm thinking, "Who the heck cares? -- It's only the Iowa caucuses!"  The Iowa caucus is only important because the news media have made it important.  Somebody will win, everybody else will lose, somebody will drop out for under-performing, and there will be a momentary "front-runner", all of which in the real world means nothing because it's only a bunch of very-much-in-the-national-minority, usually-bigoted right-wingers who happen to show up for their caucus.

What I would like to see is for Ron Paul to win the Iowa caucus, only because it would throw the Republican mainstream into a temporary tizzy, trying to figure out how to reconcile his way-out-there political positions with the possibility of him having even a remote shot of ending up as their nominee.

Monday, December 26, 2011

a cushion between holiday and ordinary stuff

It's sort of cool when Christmas falls on a Sunday, then Monday becomes for most people another day off... You can recover (especially if you had 13 people for Christmas dinner) or you can continue the experience...

or you can shop, which is something you do when my niece Becky visits...

Tonight I took my sister Mary to the Timberwolves season opener... a very fun game. I've become a big fan of point guard Ricky Rubio, who is new to the Wolves this year.  I've never seen a basketball player who can pass like he does.  Should be a fun season if that guy can stay uninjured.

... and now it's late evening and I'm trying to prepare myself for being back in the office at eight tomorrow morning...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

christmas 2011: minneapolis, minnesota

Left to right:  Joan, Becky, me, James, Jerry, Tom, Mary, Jon, Ryan (holding Corey), Ruthie (holding Kylie).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

christmas 1963: the u.s.a.

It's December 24th, and I'm up north, but it's a brown Christmas -- unusual in Minnesota, but I'm okay with that.

This "White Christmas", sung by Darlene Love, is from the album A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector. I was a major fan of music-producer Phil Spector's girl groups (the Ronettes, the Crystals) back in the early '60s, but I didn't even know about this recording until some years later. That's because, at least I think it's because, it was released on November 22, 1963, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, and that holiday season became one of the most subdued Christmases ever in this country. This is a very upbeat album, and people weren't in the mood for upbeat.

Things changed over the years, and the songs from this album eventually became some of the most-heard every Christmas season. In my house, we always have it (now the CD version) playing as we open gifts. Phil Spector, meanwhile, sits in prison as we speak and probably doesn't care whether this Christmas is white or sky-blue pink.

Whatever music you are listening to, I wish my blog readers a Merry Christmas. I hope this is one that creates good memories for you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

christmas 1968: wildflecken, west germany

It was my first Christmas away from home, away from family and friends.  I was stationed at a fairly remote Army post about nine kilometers from what was then the barbed-wired East German border.  The post was on a mountain overlooking snowy valleys and was a training base originally in Hitler's era and then after the war for American and West German troops.

This was before I had been appointed company clerk so I was just an infantry grunt, which meant that I was still occasionally subject to being on KP ("Kitchen Patrol").  It was my misfortune to be on KP all day on that particular Christmas in 1968.  Talk about adding insult to injury -- peeling potatoes and washing dishes instead of having a day off!  It was a rude awakening after always having had wonderful Christmases at home with my family (My mom, I think, was the best, most efficient Christmas shopper of all time).

Fast-forward to Christmas Day 2011, when I still might be peeling potatoes and washing dishes but doing it for family instead of for sad draftees.  Jerry and I will be hosting quite a crowd this year:  My sister Joan and my two sons, Jon and Tom; my sister Mary and my niece Becky, visiting us from New Jersey; my nephew James and his friend Tim; and my niece Ruthie and her family.  I hope they know how much I appreciate having Christmas with them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

another turning point

It's Winter Solstice, or at least I thought it was, but now I see that in the Central Time Zone, Winter Solstice actually hit us last night at 11:30.  Whatever!  It's a day that, if you live north of the Arctic Circle, you will see zero daylight today.  For all of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it's the shortest day of the year, sun-wise, the good part of which is that it only gets better after today until Summer Solstice arrives in June, and June is too fine a month for us to be worrying about the days starting to get shorter again.

A definition of the word solstice:  "a furthest or culminating point; a turning point."  Turning for the better, I hope.  Think of that in the bleak winter months to come.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

love & war & the sea in between

I haven't traveled in evangelical circles in a long time, but I do know that the magazine Christianity Today (founded in 1956 by Billy Graham) is a big deal in that community.  A big deal in our family is that my niece Michelle's husband, Josh Garrels, has just had his latest CD, Love & War & The Sea In Between, named Album of the Year by that influential magazine.

Here is a link to the article about Josh and Michelle:  and here is a link to Josh's website:

Michelle is my sister Nancy's daughter. During our Oregon trip in October, we got to spend some quality time in Portland with Michelle and Josh and their two beautiful little kids, and I also got time to chat with Josh about his career and his creative direction.  I wish him well in his musical journey... and congratulations.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

iraq war hangover

The past few days, there has been somewhat subdued news coverage about the final withdrawal of military personnel from Iraq -- the so-called end of the war -- the focus of reporting being on the troops being home for Christmas (which always makes me wonder -- If they want to be home for Christmas, why did they enlist?, but that's another topic).

To me, there has been in the recent reporting a notable lack of analysis of what an incredible mistake that war was -- or is that by now such an obvious conclusion that it never needs to be discussed again?

My thoughts remain on the families and friends of the 4,484 American troops who died there unnecessarily, not to mention the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians who were killed.  Then there are those who were horribly wounded, some permanently -- the psychological scars, the resulting suicides, you name it.  Meanwhile, the monsters who insisted on this war to benefit their corporate pals (hello, Halliburton!, hello, Exxon!) still walk the streets without conscience.  Now they have turned Iraq into a potential ally of Iran, the country that will be the next source of corporate profits in that war to come.

Monday, December 19, 2011

'les miz' hangover

Okay, okay.... Over the years, I had seen the Broadway musical Les Miserables twice before and have liked it, but this "re-imagined, re-invented" version that we saw yesterday is ten times better. J. Mark McVey as Jean Valjean is amazing, especially his rendition of "Bring Him Home". If this touring company comes to your city, don't miss it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

do you hear the people sing?

Way back sometime (mid '90s?), I was staying at my brother Ronnie's house in New Jersey for a couple days, and his daughter, my niece Ruthie, was going through a Les Miserables obsession. "Les Miz", that is, the Broadway hit.  Her high school choir was doing selections from the show, and she, an excellent singer by the way, was going through the house singing Les Miz songs, and that was the first time I had heard any of them.

I went on to buy the CD and eventually to see the show twice over the years -- road versions of the Broadway production when they came to the Twin Cities.

But Ruthie, who moved here to Minnesota several years ago, has still never seen it.  Until today.  We're taking her to today's performance.  After all, I owe her.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

basketball is back, among other things

Gosh, a week from tonight it will be Christmas Eve, and two weeks from tonight we'll be seeing another year end.  For me, it's going to be a busy couple weeks prior to the beginning of 2012, work-wise and otherwise, and I'm trying to stay on top of it.

Tonight, Saturday evening, I'm doing some office work at home, while I admit to having the Timberwolves-Bucks basketball preseason game on the TV off in the background.  Jerry and Tom are at the game.

Some good things coming:  My sister Mary and my niece Becky will be visiting us for Christmas, staying for a week, and we are very anxious to see them.  Tomorrow:  Jerry and I are taking my niece Ruthie to Les Miz at the Orpheum Theater.  The Minnesota Timberwolves:  They will be more fun to watch this season, maybe evcn avoiding last place.  For now, though, I gotta finish this work.

Friday, December 16, 2011

more reasons to hate walmart

Yesterday, a news story came out -- the U.S. Census Bureau has found nearly half of Americans to be "poor"...  This is shameful, as the United States deteriorates into becoming a third-world country.

Yesterday there was also a report listing the Forbes magazine wealthiest Americans.  Six members of the Walton family, the family that originally owned Walmart (descendents of Sam Walton, the founder), have a combined net worth equaling the total net worth of the least affluent 30% of the whole country.  A company that produces huge profits by stomping on its employees, its vendors, its country, and its communities deserves destruction, not this kind of obscene wealth.

Last night on the Evening News, Brian Williams gave the story about half of Americans being poor, but there was no mention of the Walton/30% thing.  Toward the end of the newscast, there was a Walmart commercial.  Big surprise.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

car story 3

... and this is the final sequel to the car melodrama.

We just couldn't do it -- buy cars on the same day, that is.  I mean, we didn't want to give people the impression that we can afford any of this when the opposite is true, so I got my VW last night, after a tearful farewell to the old one, and Jerry picked up his car this morning.

Today my buyer's remorse has been minimal.  This car should last me until sometime after I'm dead -- or too senile to be allowed on the road.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

car story 2

You know I love my car, my 2006 Volkswagen GTI.  It's the best car I've ever had. Hence, my dilemma.

This is the deal.  My car was in the shop last week, and I ended up spending a bunch for routine maintenance as well as a few problem fixes.  It made me realize that my car is no spring chicken anymore, even though it is in great shape and has relatively low mileage. It's also in high demand, so the trade-in value is good.

So, while I was at the dealership, I looked at the new GTI, the 2012.  I test drove it.  It has all these high-tech features that the 2006 didn't have. 

They found one for me, red of course, and I can go pick it up tonight if I want it.  It's basically the same car I have now, except six years newer, with cool features, and four doors instead of two.  It feels really self-indulgent to buy a new car, but my friend Mary O. convinced me that, even though I will have guilt, it's actually a sacrifice I'm making for my back-seat passengers who are sick of climbing back there.  And you know how self-sacrificing I am.  :-)

Then, a few minutes ago, Jerry called, the BMW dealership called this afternoon:  His car is ready.  It looks like both of us might of us might be buying new cars tonight, doing our little bit to stimulate the economy.

Tomorrow's post might be about buyers' remorse.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

car story 1

If you memorize my blog posts, then you undoubtedly recall my November 27 post, "goodbye to the subaru", in which I tell you about Jerry handing back his leased Subaru and buying a BMW, in this case a used BMW, a 2011.

He dropped off the Subaru on the last day of November but still doesn't have the BMW; in fact, he hasn't even seen it.  See, the car he's buying was a loaner at the BMW dealership, and the car was still on loan to a customer.  The customer, however, as it turned out, was out of town for an extended time, and the car was sitting in his garage.

So the dealership loaned Jerry another car -- a Toyota Corolla!  He drove that un-BMW for a couple weeks (and liked it a lot), then they finally gave him a loaner BMW, which he's now driving.

In the meantime, he has signed no papers and evidently can walk away from the deal if he chooses to (which he won't), so what's the hurry?

Monday, December 12, 2011

knee deep in the hoopla

I had the '80s channel going on Sirius Radio, and they were doing the Top Ten songs from this week in 1985, which included this song, and it's been going through my head ever since.

It was one of the biggest hits of the '80s, actually. But then again, I recently saw another "Top Ten" that named "We Built This City" as the worst song of the '80s. Take your pick.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

driving like a bat outta hell

Jerry has a weird, mildly annoying habit of telling guests when they leave our place, "Drive like a bat outta hell, and leave your seatbelts off!", and last night was no exception.

It was card night:  three teams -- Jerry & I, Tom & Ruthie, Ruthie's husband Ryan & Ruthie's mom Vickie (visiting from North Carolina); the game -- Hand &; Foot.  Tom and Ruthie killed us, but let's not dwell on that.

While playing, we were indulging in red wine, Ruthie and Ryan to the point where they knew they shouldn't drive, so Vickie, who does zero indulging, offered to drive.

It was after midnight when they left, and we got a text from Ruthie about a half hour later.  Vickie, who is generally a pretty conservative driver, had been pulled over by the cops for speeding.  Somehow she talked herself out of getting a speeding ticket, but Ryan got a ticket for not wearing his seat belt.

I hope they weren't really listening to Jerry.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

but at least he can sing

It's a James holiday music weekend for us.

First, there was James's college choir concert last night, which was actually quite nice for a small choir.  Then tonight and tomorrow there are the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus holiday concerts -- 150 guys in the chorus, with James being the youngest ("Jailbait James", they call him).  We'll be there in force to see him in tomorrow afternoon's performance -- eight of us --  his uncles, aunts, grandmother, cousins.... Let us hear you, boy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

at eighteen

I wonder how clueless I was at 18.  Was I as clueless, for instance, as our 18-year-old houseguest appears to be?

Was being 18 in 1965 really all that much different than being 18 in 2011?

Thinking back, I'm pretty sure my two sons, Jon and Tom, had a better grip on life at that age than either the houseguest does or I did.  Could it be partly that they grew up in the city and that James and I grew up in a small town?

Patience, Howard, patience.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


"I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test"
    from that old David Bowie song, "Changes"....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

site of infamy

It's Pearl Harbor Day, you know. Or maybe you don't know. Seventy years ago today, the Japan bombed the heck out of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, killing a couple thousand men and crippling the U.S. Pacific Fleet, an event that led to the United States immediately getting into World War II.

Pearl Harbor is just west of Honolulu, and we visited in 2007 when we were in Hawaii that first time.

Sorry about all the wind noise in this video, but at least you get to hear Jerry's voice at the end.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

february 1968: newark, new jersey

It's partly because it's a year of protest against an untrustworthy government, and it's mostly because I'm reading the book Hell No, We Won't Go: Vietnam Draft Resisters in Canada, that's causing that day to be on my mind.

It was an early morning during the winter of '68, the Selective Service Office, Bridgeton, N.J., the county seat.  I didn't have any legal choice about being there:  Show up for your military induction physical or risk arrest.  They loaded a few dozen of us guys onto busses for the three-hour ride to the federal building in downtown Newark, a trip of total dread for most of us potential draftees.  The choices were not good.  Either you are just about to get snatched from your life to go fight an obscene war in Vietnam or these Army doctors are going to find something so physically wrong with you that you are unfit for service.

The process was, as intended, degrading -- people yelling at you, treating you with scorn, giving you a preview of military life -- but I came through it, much to my distress, with flying colors.

On the bus trip home, I sat next to a Vineland guy who turned out to be one of the most interesting guys I had ever met.  He too had passed the physical and was ready to move on -- to Canada.  He knew all his reasons for being against the war and for emigrating, and he had his escape all planned out.  I knew a lot of guys were considering the Canada option, but he was the first one I knew who was actually going.  He gave me a lot to think about and consider, including the possibility of moving to Canada.  I came close to doing it.  I've always wished I had kept in touch with him to know what happened, and I've always wondered what life would have been like if I would have had the courage to follow my conscience.

My parents met me when the bus arrived back in Bridgeton and -- I know this is weird, looking back -- were disappointed that I hadn't somehow failed the physical.

Two months later, I received my draft notice.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

tastes like high-tech pizza

Maybe that Herman Cain moment got me in the mood for pizza or maybe anything gets me in the mood for pizza, but, whatever, Tom, James and I just ordered some pizza while we watch the Vikings game.

Having pizza delivered is not what it used to be, at least at the big-name chains.  They have elaborate ordering systems on line, so I sit here trying to figure it all out when it probably would have been much easier to just pick up the phone and call.

On the Domino's site, you can actually track your pizza -- the name of the person making your pizza, the name of the person who put your pizza in the oven, who takes it out, and then the name of the guy just about to knock on your front door with your pizza.

But the last pizza we got at Domino's was pretty bland, even after all that personal attention, so today we ordered from Pizza Hut -- their "big box dinner" special that we just saw advertised during the Vikings game (Corporate manipulation at its best).

The Pizza Hut site doesn't track the preparation, but it does tell us that our pizza will be delivered at 1:08.  We'll see.
Actual delivery time:  1:03 PM.   With 9:32 left in the 2nd quarter, the Vikings are losing to the Denver Broncos, 7-5.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

herman and the other munsters

The Republican presidential-candidate comic reality show continues.

The candidates that have zero chance of ever being elected are the ones who are the most entertaining to us on the other side, and that's why it's kind of a shame that Herman Cain, a pizza man with roaming hands, is dropping out of the race.  He was good for laughs, at least.

And then there's Ron Paul, who is scary but in a non-threatening, senile-grandfatherly sort of way.  I have to give him a lot of credit today though.  He is refusing to participate in a debate on 27 December that will be moderated by none other than hairstyle-gone-amuk self-proclaimed genius, Donald Trump.  Rep. Paul says that such a spectacle would be "beneath the office of the presidency".

(All of these debates have been beneath the office of the presidency, but that's beside the point, I guess).

If Mitt Romney refuses the Donald Trump Show, I'll be impressed.

Friday, December 2, 2011

spending an evening with 'charley's aunt'

Guthrie photo by T. Charles Erickson
Another blogger night at the Guthrie Theater last night, the play this time being Charley's Aunt, a comedy by Brandon Thomas that first premiered in London in 1892.  This was the first time the Guthrie has staged this often-produced play (which I hadn't seen before), and they of course do it in superb Guthrie style:  exceptional sets, costumes and actors, led by the cross-dressing John Skelley as the pretend Charley's aunt.

Sally Wingert, a local favorite and an actress that we have seen in quite a few plays, played the real Charley's aunt and was good as always, but I noticed this time in her Playbill biography that she had had a bit part in Fargo, one of my favorite films.  Needless to say, this morning I had to figure out what her Fargo role was, and here it is, per next scene is in Gustafson's Motors showroom (the Oldsmobile auto chain is owned by his father-in-law), where lowly, sad-faced, and sleazy Minnesota executive car sales manager Jerry browbeats and scams a customer (Gary Houston) and his wife (Sally Wingert) in his glass-enclosed cubicle (decorated with golf statues) to purchase TruCoat, and threatens that they will experience "oxidation problems" if they don't pay the extra $500 for the factory-installed finish.

Remember that scene?

Anyway, thanks again to Guthrie for the tickets and an enjoyable evening of entertainment.