Wednesday, October 31, 2012

a witch in the skyway

Maybe I've been a little distracted -- storm news, too much work -- but, until I saw a person in costume (a great costume, actually) in the skyway, I had forgotten what the date was.  This isn't high on my list of favorite holidays.  I'm hoping I don't get home tonight and find out that we were invited to a Halloween party.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

hello from dry land

I think that I've been watching too many online videos and photos of flooding the past three days -- When I look out my window I find myself surprised to see that it's dry out there.

But it appears that my family and friends on the East Coast have come through the storm safely without much problem, so I'm thankful for that.  The Jersey Shore didn't fare as well.

If I were Pollyanna desperately looking for a reason to be "glad" about this superstorm, it would be that it temporarily replaced the election as the #1 news story.  A storm like this seems to bring out the best in people:  our election process brings out the worst.

Monday, October 29, 2012

march 1962: sea isle city, new jersey

Sea Isle City, March 1962
Today's the day when people are nervously waiting for Hurricane Sandy to hit the Mid-Atlantic East Coast -- it's predicted to directly strike New Jersey, my home state.  Already, southern New Jersey resort towns are mostly underwater, even before the storm officially arrives there.

As I hear the forecasts of "Frankenstorm", I am reminded of the "Ash Wednesday" storm of March 1962 (it began on Ash Wednesday), which caused the most damage to the Jersey shore of anything I have ever witnessed anywhere, especially in the little resort town of Sea Isle City.

You see, Sea Isle is the town my folks used to take us for a week every summer, up, that is, until 1961.  It had a small but very kid-friendly boardwalk, the kind of place where my parents could just turn us loose and know that we'd have fun and be safe.  We usually stayed in an apartment over a Boardwalk shop a few feet from the beach.  I will always have good memories of those vacations.

Then the freak storm of Winter 1962 happened and wreaked havoc on the South Jersey shore, especially Sea Isle City, which was mostly washed away.  The boardwalk was totally destroyed (as you can see in the photo above).  Our dad took us down there several days after the storm, and we saw the scant remains of buildings that we once knew well.  The city over the next few years rebuilt as something unrecognizable from what it used to be.

And now Frankenstorm is ready to strike.  We wait and see.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

our patio nature study

It's become one of our October traditions, I guess.  Jerry brings home a couple pumpkins, puts them out on the patio..... and then slowly, day by day, bite by bite, the pumpkins start to disappear.  Eventually, all that's left will be the stems.

It's the squirrels that are the culprits, and, believe me, we don't love squirrels (a/k/a "tree rats"), but at least this gives us a daily laugh -- and we don't have to do any pumpkin carving.

Also -- note in the background that the daisies are still alive, even though we have had overnight freezing temperatures.  Sturdy little suckers, aren't they?  Maybe next year we do only daisies!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

sandy is going to new jersey and i'm not

I was just thinking the other day, 2012 is the first year in a long time that I haven't been back to my home state of New Jersey.  Not sure why. Some dynamic has changed.

And now Hurricane Sandy, "Frankenstorm" they are calling it, is heading up the Atlantic, and the weather guys are saying there's a good chance it will veer off to the west, potentially making a direct strike on my beloved South Jersey shore.  They're saying it could be the storm of the century.

'Am hoping that Sandy quiets down and becomes in retrospect one of those super storms that never happened.  For my family and friends in NJ -- hang in there.  Stay dry and warm and safe.

Friday, October 26, 2012

b.s. spoken here

President Obama, while being interviewed for Rolling Stone magazine, reportedly referred to Romney, indirectly, as a "bullshitter", which of course he is, but never mind that right now.  Certain people, none of whom would vote for Obama anyway, are now appalled by the use of such language.  What's funny is watching them being appalled without actually saying the theoretically offensive word.  Even flipping past MSNBC on TV last night, I saw Laurence O'Donnell having trouble telling the story without getting an opinion from the network's legal department that, since it was in a direct quote from the President, it was okay to say the word.  What??  If people don't want their ears potentially shocked by words they don't want to hear, they shouldn't even own a TV.... or ever leave their house.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

the story of ten years ago today

25 October 2002, ten years ago today, one of the saddest days of my life.

Jerry and I were driving to have lunch when we heard on the car radio that a small plane carrying Senator Paul Wellstone and others had crashed in northern Minnesota.  We freaked out.  We immediately skipped any ideas of lunch and headed right for Wellstone re-election headquarters, a place we knew well.  As we drove, we heard the further news:  that Paul, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and several unnamed others were confirmed dead.  Besides wanting to be with like-minded people in those terrible minutes, we needed to make sure our friend Fawn and other Wellstone staff members that we knew were safe.

I'll never forget the scene at the Wellstone office that day.  Everyone was panicked and crying, grief counselors were already available, CNN and the other news networks were setting up outside and broadcasting nonstop about this national story, the death of a U.S. Senator.  We stayed well into the evening in this surreal place.  I remember that Senator Ted Kennedy happened to be in town that day and stopped in at some point to try to comfort all of us.  As he shook my hand, I looked into his eyes and saw his own grief, an emotion that he knew well from his own life, but I couldn't speak.

Paul Wellstone was the voice of my political conscience, but for me personally there was more to him and his family than that.  They were always happy to see Jerry and me at various events, and they would find little human memories that would give us all laughs:  the time when Paul, at a fundraiser at our home, realized to his horror that his zipper was down ("That's the first time that ever happened to me!" he told me later); the time Jerry crashed a wedding party being held in the same building as a Wellstone fundraiser just to get Sheila a glass of red wine; Marcia telling us that our "drama-red" living room walls had inspired her to paint one of the rooms of her house the same color (and, as she would tell us this, her husband would roll his eyes).

My political world has been empty without Paul Wellstone, but what still brings tears to my eyes is the memory of how wonderful these people were.  I considered them to be friends, but, in reality, they were friends to all five million residents of the state of Minnesota.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

AMS to MSP: 31 hours of birthday

When you start a day in Amsterdam and fly to a destination seven earlier time zones away, it makes for one long day.  When it's your birthday, it's an extra seven hours of celebration, if you're a person who tends to celebrate birthdays, which Jerry is.  I think he's  having a fine birthday so far, but who's to say?  There are still a few hours left, and the onset of jet lag is a concern.

Standby today was painless, business class was priceless, and we are back home.  I'm very glad we went on this trip, short though it was.  Being back in Germany and the Netherlands somehow made me feel momentarily a little younger, and that's not an easy feat these days.  I'll try to make that feeling last.  I'm already planning the next trip back.

the thumb photo

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

sorry about the thumb

Darn.  I was going to post a photo of Jerry and me standing on a bridge over the Amstel River, with the houseboat where we are staying in the background, but the iPad doesn't seem willing to let me post it.  It isn't a bad picture.  We asked a passerby to take it, and his thumb unfortunately shows up in the left hand corner, but, hey, beggars can't be choosers.

If the standby gods are kind, we fly home tomorrow, on Jerry's birthday.  You might say, Aw, that's a shame that he has to make that long flight on his birthday, but if you say that you apparently don't know Jerry very well.  He'd rather travel than anything, even if it's just to go home.

I'll post the photo when I get home.  Maybe as a thumbnail.

Monday, October 22, 2012

far away, in south dakota

As I look over today's news, I am saddened to read of the death of George McGovern, former senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate.  He was a man I had great admiration for and is the first political candidate that I ever actively campaigned for (stuffing envelopes, making phone calls).  Even though he lost to Nixon in a landslide, McGovern stood by his liberal principles and against the Vietnam War and world hunger.  He inspired a lot of people, and maybe that's even more important than being a President.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Saying goodbye to good friends, catching the 14:46 train to Amsterdam...(I love the trains here).  Not sure if I will have more Internet access today... If I do, I will check in.  Will come back to Germany soon, I hope.
Arrived in Amsterdam, staying in a great little hotel on a side street next to the Dam (the palace)... Tomorrow we move onto a houseboat for a couple nights.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

after the night of drinking Weizen bier

I am generally not a big fan of weddings and the parties afterward, but this one, for Jana and Tanya, was a special one.  The ceremony itself was in German, of course -- without English subtitles, and the party was fun -- well planned with nice guests, many of whom tried to use their best English on us, generally with good results.  Whenever I am in this country, I think I'm going to go home and learn German so that I can communicate better next time I'm here...  Then it doesn't happen.

Another beautiful day here today.... Will make the most of it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

in the shadow of the cathedral

It's good to be back in Germany.  I missed it more than I would have guessed.

The good friends that we are staying with live just outside Cologne, near Bonn actually.  Such nice people -- they make us feel very welcome.  Jana gets married this afternoon, the ceremony and the later reception both within a block or so from the famous Cologne Cathedral.  It's a beautiful day, the weather could not be more perfect.  We might stay in Germany an extra day or two.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

going dutch

It feels like a typical Amsterdam morning... Cloudy, occasional rain.  We just had our continental hotel breakfast downstairs.  Our room is small, cozy, feels quite Dutch... You just need to be careful in the compact shower that you don't accidentally hit the knob wrong and either scald or freeze yourself.  We leave shortly for the train station and the trip to Germany, where our friends will meet us at the Cologne bahnhof.  Back to our familiar Amsterdam in a couple days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

overlooking our houseboat

Well, it wasn't our houseboat.  It was a houseboat that we rented a week at a time for several years in a row.  The rent got too high at some point and now we haven't been here in Amsterdam in four or five years.  It's good to be back. This one night we are staying at the Eureka Hotel, which happens to be right next to our houseboat.  The neighborhood brings back good memories.  Tomorrow we take the train to Cologne, Germany, where we will spend two nights before heading back here to Amsterdam for about four days of rest and recreation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MSP to AMS, i think

Well, the chances are good that we will make it onto one of the Amsterdam flights today.  Maybe standby won't be too stressful after all, and business class might make me forget my prior anxieties.

Whether my blog streak can continue through this European trip will depend on my access to Wifi and internet and also that I can remember what day and time zone I'm in.  If I miss a day, try to carry on without me.

Off to the airport with fingers crossed......

Monday, October 15, 2012

hobbling jack flash

I'm quite aware that rock 'n roll, when compared to the age of the earth, is still a young phenomenon, but I'm amused that the Rolling Stones are celebrating their 50th year as a band:  rock is older than it feels.  In fact, the guys just announced today that they are doing concerts in December in London and New York.

As much as I have always loved the Stones, I've never gone to one of their concerts.  If I ever have wanted to go, it was in the late '60s, when they were in their prime, but I've always much preferred their studio sound to their live concerts.  Still, I guess it would have been fun to see Mick and Keith sometime, just to say you had seen them.  Maybe seeing them in person isn't really about the music. Every time they announce a new concert tour, everybody assumes it will be their last.  They're almost in their 70s now, which, let's face it, isn't nearly as old as it used to be.  Let's see how long they can go.  I'm still telling people to read Keith Richards's autobiography, Life.  It's one of my favorite books.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

who is christopher hampton?, part 2

OK.  I promise this will be my last theater post for a little while.

As I might have mentioned before, the Guthrie Theater is currently doing three Christopher Hampton plays on its three stages, and I saw the second and third of those this week.  Three plays, three subjects.  What these plays had in common for me was that I came out of each thinking, "So what?"  What motivated Christopher Hampton to write any of these, and what did he want to say?  I don't know.

The first, Tales From Hollywood, I covered in a previous post.  The second, Appomattox, has two distinct acts, one taking place in the last days of the U.S. Civil War, 1865 (Lincoln, Grant, Lee, etc.), and the second in 1965, at the height of the civil rights era (LBJ, Lady Bird, MLK, etc.).  This was a world premiere.  It seems to me to be unstructured and pointless.  My suggestion to Mr. Hampton, if he wants to save this play, is to drop the whole first act and focus on Lyndon Johnson, a crudely effective president who comes across in this production as a terrific stage character.

The third is a small play, Embers, a three-person play that is mostly a monologue by one of the characters.  I at least liked it better than Appomattox.  It may be talky, but at least it's not hard to figure out what it is.

The Hampton plays, as well as the playwright himself of course, are very British, even though two of them take place in America and one in Hungary.  They all have highly intelligent dialogue.  They just need to give the audience a reason to care.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

'billy elliot' the musical

Since the musical version of Billy Elliot opened in London in 2005 and on Broadway in 2008, I'm a bit late in weighing in on what I think of it, but this is when I saw it, so be it.  The touring version is playing at the Ordway Theater for the Performing Arts, one of my favorite venues.

The show is flashy, and the music is good -- hey, it's Elton John, how could it not be?  But Jerry and I both decided that we liked the non-musical movie (from the year 2000) a lot better.  The problem with both movie and even more so on stage is the heavy northern-England dialect.  It's a great story but much can get "lost in translation".  I think we would have been kind of confused by the play if we hadn't seen the film first.

One of the best characters in the film is Billy's dad, and on stage the character is less interesting, without focus.  There are four young actors that alternate the lead as Billy, and the one that we saw was a very a talented dancer.  Even if you don't get all the nuances of the plot, it's an entertaining evening overall, and the show might make you want to see Swan Lake.

Friday, October 12, 2012

musical evenings

I could have watched the vice-presidential debate last night.  No, I take that back.  I couldn't have.  Mentally, I'm done with this election.  It will be good to be out of the country for eight or nine of the remaining days before 6 November.

And there are other ways of escaping besides fleeing the country.  How about theater and more theater?  Maybe a movie or two squeezed in there somewhere?

I've been seeing the Christopher Hampton plays currently being staged at the Guthrie Theater, and I will say more about them after I see the third one tomorrow.

Last night and tonight, however, are musical-theater escapes.  The Mixed Blood, a local Minneapolis theater company, is doing Next to Normal, and James, Emma and I went last night and loved it.  Good music and voices with a gripping story about a family dealing with mental illness.  The Mixed Blood does good stuff: check it out sometime.

Tonight, Jerry and I are going to the Broadway-touring production of Billy Elliot over in St. Paul at the Ordway.  Looking forward to that.  We saw the non-musical movie Billy Elliot and thought it was great (see my post from 7.19.12).  Now we'll get that story with Elton John music.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

wedding plans out of a bottle

This is a follow-up to yesterday's blog post about our reason for going to Germany next week.  It would be a long story to repeat, and, rather than re-hash all of it from the beginning, let me direct you to my old post, "the note-in-the-bottle story" from June 17, 2008... Then, after you read that, please come back here.  The link:  the note-in-the-bottle story.  It's a cool story.

And the follow-up to that story?  Jana, now 22, is getting married next week, on the 19th, and she wants us to be there.  I'm not a big fan of weddings, especially one all in German, but I do celebrate our friendship with Jana and her family.
Today's date?...It's 10.11.12, in case you hadn't noticed.  This afternoon at 1:14, military time, it will be  Fifteen seconds into that minute it will be  Thanks, Mary O. and Todd N., for this important newsflash.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

if only i were a 20-year-old backpacker...

It looks like, yes, Jerry and I are going to Europe next week... and until now I've never been apprehensive about a trip to Europe -- except maybe when I was in the Army getting stationed in Germany in 1968 -- not even when we flew to Amsterdam in 2001 a week after 9/11.  But it's these damned standby tickets again that Jerry got from his friend who used to work for the airline.  That's why I'm uneasy.  I'm too old for uncertainty.

So, assuming that we get on a plane, we will probably be put in business class, so that's the potential upside -- plus, these tickets are super cheap.  The nervousness comes from not knowing if there is room for us or not.  I'm just not a kid anymore, I'm not good at sleeping on airport floors waiting for a seat on a future flight.

The plan, if it works out --  We leave here next Tuesday, the 16th, flying to Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  A night in Amsterdam (My favorite city).  Taking a train to Cologne, Germany and staying there for two nights, then back for three nights in Amsterdam, trying to fly back home on the 24th.

And why go to Cologne?  Because we are going to a wedding.  Why?  Who is getting married? Well, telling you about that will take another post.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

his favorite number

Somewhere along the way, a few years ago, 31 became my son Tom's favorite number, and I forget the particulars of why that is.

Thirty-one years ago this very minute, Tom was born.  And now he gets to spend a whole year being his lucky number.  I hope it's his luckiest year yet.

Tom has a bit of a photographic mind, so he will probably remember that this photo is the same one I posted on my blog a year ago today.  What can I say?  It's a picture that makes me smile, so here it is again, and I'm smiling.

Happy Birthday, Tom.... :-)

Monday, October 8, 2012

christopher columbus!

If you don't work in a bank or at the post office, you probably don't know that it's Columbus Day today.  Well, it is, so Happy Columbus Day to you as you ponder Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492 and theoretically discovering America. For instance:
--  Why get on a ship, leave Queen Isabella, and risk falling off the end of the earth?  Was he 100% sure that the earth was round?  Was it hard to talk other people into sailing with him?
--  He apparently never accepted the fact that he had discovered a New World, convincing himself that he had just really found a different way to the East Indies, his original destination.
--  Why stubbornly continue to call the natives of this new land Indians?  Didn't he have anybody standing next to him saying, "Hey, dude, you're not in India, get some reality -- Can't you come up with a different name for these people?"
--  If he hadn't discovered America, would we all be squeezed into Europe?
--  Was it just dumb luck?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

a place you wouldn't mind having mechanical problems

Today for Jon should have been a "VIE to AMS to MSP" day.  His two week vacation in Austria is over, and he and Chris made the flight from Vienna to Amsterdam, where they had to change planes, but then, due to "mechanical problems" (which is always an intimidating phrase when thinking about air travel), their flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was cancelled, and they need to spend a day and an overnight in Amsterdam.  Ah, what a nice problem to have -- being stuck in Amsterdam, my favorite city.
Jon & Chris unexpectedly in Amsterdam today

Saturday, October 6, 2012

emma goes normal

James's best friend Emma has started a new "normal" blog, which she credits to me, even though I'm pretty sure I never would have recommended anything TOO normal.. :-)  She had another blog, but I think she decided to outgrow it or keep it for those less cerebral moments.  You see, she is a Journalism major over at the University at Minnesota -- or might she major in Cultural Studies or German Studies??  She is 19, which probably means she thinks she can do it all.

Here is her blogsite -- the normal one:  Give her some encouragement!

Ah, 19.  When I was that age, if I would have flunked my Army physical, my plan was either to move to New York City and write or major in Journalism at the University of Missouri at Columbia, but my healthy body let me down, so here I sit writing a questionably normal blog.

A quote from Gore Vidal, one of my favorite writers, recently deceased:  "Write something, even if it's only a suicide note."

On the lighter side, here is a joke from my friend Elke, who could teach German Studies if she wanted to:

Q: What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic?

A: Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.

Friday, October 5, 2012

bring on the swimsuit competition

The presidential debate a couple nights ago solidified my own opinion that these debates are a waste of everybody's time.  Mitt Romney -- or maybe it was his evil twin -- showed up spouting non-specific nonsense that basically contradicted everything he had been saying in two years of campaigning.  Suddenly he was rejecting a lot of the stands he had made when selling his soul to get the blessing of the radical right wing of his party.  It's no wonder Obama looked dumbfounded at times.  He must have been thinking, How do you debate a guy who has no core policy convictions?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

what not to put down a garbage disposal

The condo maintenance man and Jerry have the plumbing under the kitchen sink taken apart.  The garbage disposal was making wacky noises and was backing up into the sink, and now all seems well, I hope.  Something was stuck in there:  eggs shells, maybe, although that sounds odd to me.

One thing to never put down a garbage disposal:  potato peelings.  I found this out the hard way a few years ago when I had my apartment in downtown St. Paul.  My brother Ronnie and Vickie were visiting and Vickie was making mashed potatoes, and she put the peelings down the garbage disposal. It wasn't long before my next-door neighbor was pounding on the door.  Ground-up potato peelings were coming up into his bathtub.  As I recall, we needed a plumber to fix that problem.

You have to admit that this blog site is a wealth of useful information.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

an idea that's subject to debate

One of the dumber parts of modern-day presidential elections would definitely be the candidate debates.  Why must a potential president be a good debater?  Very few candidates were on their college debate team, I bet.  I would be happy if there were an honest discussion of the issues, but there never is.  These people running for office know how to ignore questions and veer off into their canned campaign speech (And why must a president show poise and be a good speaker?  It's not the Miss America Pageant!).

Anyway, the first Obama-Romney debate is tonight, and I'd just as soon not watch but will -- well, sort of.  We are going to watch it on big-screen TV over at the Graves 601 Hotel with a bunch of like-minded people (I hope).  Jim Graves, who owns that high-end hotel here in downtown Minneapolis (across the street from Target Center) is running for Congress against that nutcase Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, the Congressperson from a neighboring district.  He will probably lose (it's a bit of a redneck district), but the polls are close and he is at least giving her a scare.  So it's a debate-watching fundraiser for Jim Graves.  Food and drinks provided.  Depending on how the debate goes, the drinks might be very much appreciated.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

looking over Tom's shoulder

As one son, Jon, hangs out in Bratislava, Slovakia today, Tom, son #2, sits in front me as I type this, playing a game on his iPhone.  He and Jerry are leaving for the Lynx playoff game any minute now.  If the Lynx lose tonight, they are out of the playoffs; if they win, they go on to the next round.

Hey, how do you like our new bookcase over in that corner there?  It has kind of a sleek, understated look, don't you think?  Looking from this view, I see more than ever how that ceiling light over the entryway needs to be replaced -- boring!  How about something with some color and pizzazz?

Monday, October 1, 2012

siri enters my life

When I opened my iPad the other day, there was a notice that I could download iOS 6, which is, I guess, a new Apple operating system -- at least new for iPads.  So I did the download, and, guess what, one of the changes to my iPad world is that I now have "Siri", the Apple answer lady.  You verbalize a question and she answers with a computer-woman voice tinged with annoyance.  People with iPhones already have this, and now I do.  You can ask questions like, "Where is the nearest restaurant?" and she comes up with a list for you.  She doesn't do as well with "Where is the nearest public toilet?" (she refers you to a website that is dedicated to that question) or "What is the meaning of life?"  Maybe they are saving those answers for iOS 7.