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I am a Minnesota boy but after college and a divorce, I found myself in Nebraska. There I met and married a wonderful local woman and went on living for the next twelve years or so. I still considered Minnesota home, but hadn’t been back in over twenty years. Therefore Nebraska became home.

Five years ago we relocated to St Louis for a job opportunity. We love it here and now think of this as home. However, last weekend we returned to small-town Nebraska to attend a wedding. The youngest daughter of one of her oldest friends was getting married. We jumped at the chance to get all of her friends together; most of whom we hadn’t seen in years.

We drove my little VW Beetle the seven hours it took to get there. We don’t mind long drives and enjoy seeing the country. However, as we crossed into Nebraska we sensed a change in the atmosphere. It felt as if a dark cloud was materializing above us. We could feel the oppression building. Our mood deteriorated the closer we got to ‘home’. There was a Children of the Corn vibe going on with a little Cujo skin-prickle added.

Subconsciously, we were both dreading going back there. The old hometown had turned dark and depressing while we were gong. One of us finally mentioned the change in mood and we immediately agreed that there was something to it. Our exciting and enjoyable occasion was instead full of dread and foreboding.

We realized that we had too much baggage in that town. We had each lived there for years before meeting, so it was littered with old relationships and old memories that had nothing at all to do with our new life. The whole trip felt like wading into murky bath water. We felt dirty afterward. There are too many things there that we don’t want to remember or relive. It is much easier to forget those things if we never revisit them.

We had a great time seeing old friends and will not be returning any time soon. We may have left friends but we didn’t leave home. Home is where the heart is and wants to be.

I am over the craft beer craze. I mean seriously OVER IT!

I want to go into a restaurant and order a beer I’ve had before and have it taste the same as it always has. I am tired of needing to do a sampler to find a beer I think I can stomach for this one time. Because I may never see it again and will never ever ever order it again.

My wife and I have started to look at beer lists online before going to a restaurant. The food alone will no longer get us in the door. If they don’t have a beer we recognize, we will not be patronizing that establishment. We like beer. We don’t drink often, but when we go out, there will usually be a couple of beers with dinner or after. But if the restaurant doesn’t have a beer I want, the food loses its appeal. I no longer care how good their BBQ is.

I also don’t understand IPAs. ‘Bitter beer face’ was not a sought-after experience when I grew up. Now I find that there are people that believe that bitter is better. I don’t get it at all. This is fine; they can keep those beers and all the other witches’ brew concoctions that people are labeling as ‘beer’.

Such as these potions that I call ‘gag-beers’, like Habanero Stout or Peanut Butter and Jelly Ale, or even breakfast cereal beer with marshmallows. Those are beers you buy just for the novelty. You will never drink them more than once. But hey, you can now brag that you drank an entire can of HellFire IPA and kept it down. You are that kind of ‘man’! (Yes the quotes are needed.)

Sigh…

After all the forced exploration of the craft beer fad, I have realized that all I really want is a tall Guinness or a Stella or even a good old Miller Lite. I no longer care what your cousin is brewing in his basement. Please stop forcing us to drink it.

Thank you!

Ellis Island should be a required pilgrimage for anyone with immigrant ancestors. Or really anyone that wants to truly understand what makes America America.

We are ‘the’ melting pot, a stew of every race and language and religion and superstition on Earth. Whether we know it or are willing to admit it, our culture and beliefs are a patchwork of every immigrant family that has made their way here.

My own immigrant story is not recent. My Irish ancestors came to America around 1670. So, I haven’t been Irish in 300 years but still identify as being of Irish descent. I think that deserves some discussion.

How long before your family is ‘American’? If you’re white and American-English speaking, it can be almost instantaneous. But if you happen to be non-white or non-European or have a second language, you can assume that it will never happen. You will always be hyphenated-American.

Some Chinese-American families have been here for generations – since before the Civil War – and still speak Chinese but are not considered American by many of their more recently immigrated fellow Americans.

I don’t know if I have any ancestors that came through Ellis Island. Still, I felt the impact of the immigrant experience all the same. The pain, suffering, and desperation that traveled through that place is both tragic and heartening. I believe it is that suffering that created the fortitude that immigrants contributed to our country’s fabric. People came here with nothing but hope, leaving behind family, friends, and everything they had ever known. They did this knowing that it would be forever. Many had nothing waiting for them here, nothing but the pie-in-the-sky hope that was and is America.

Today America is still that pie-in-the-sky hope for many people. But we seem to have forgotten the humble origins that made us. My ancestors were German and Irish immigrants that came here for a better future. I don’t feel that I or anyone has the right to deny someone else the ability to pursue the same hope that our grandparents and great-grandparents were given. Were they any more desirable than a poor family from south of the border? I don’t believe that your country of origin determines your moral fabric or the strength of your character.  

Cages for the undesirables.

Our visit to Ellis Island distilled the immigrant experience down to its essence. It was clear that immigrating is not a holiday or a vacation visit. It’s never short-term. There is no trial basis that can be reversed if it doesn’t work out. It is forever for most. Immigrants almost never go back to visit the old village or those long-lost cousins. The families and friends and homes left behind were gone forever, never to be seen again.

One of the most tragic things we learned was that some families were separated upon reaching America. People were not allowed in willie-nillie. They were inspected for diseases, sometimes even political affiliation. If grandma was suspected of being sickly, she was sent back to their port of origin, often never to be heard from again. Those are the tragic stories that we don’t hear about. But those are the experiences that made America.

“Whatever happened to great-grandma?”

“No one knows…”

Liberty from Ellis Island

Walking on Bones

Moving through our day to day

Walking on bones of dreams tossed away

Books left unwritten, houses unbuilt

Far lands unexplored, and blood spilt

We know not our path or destination

Yet, dream them up to pass the time

Till our real dream is shown

Our destination revealed

And our selves complete

A W Kearney 2022

Growing up is not only about getting older. In fact, age does not automatically translate to ‘grown up’. It’s also about finding yourself. The problem is, you’re a moving target. The real you is not always who you thought you were. It can change from one day to the next.

In truth: Who are today is not who will be tomorrow.

So, how can you achieve your dreams or even find them if you can’t even find yourself.

Our goals and dreams and aspirations change as we change. Our dreams are tossed away or lost and forgotten like sweatshirts. We can get new ones. Once in a while an old one happens to turn up in the back of the closet and can become a focus again. But most are left behind with our promises, intentions, and acquaintances.

Our life is a trail of debris.

The Christmas season has come again, and I’m not feeling the cheer you’d expect. This holiday hasn’t felt right to me for many years. It is one of my least favorite holidays. In contrast, my wife loves the decorations, the gifts, and the baking, the whole package. I do my best to play along, but Christmas just doesn’t hold the magic that I remember as a child.

We no longer have any children in the house and no family nearby, even before Covid Christmas was usually just the two of us. And I am fine with that. I prefer to stay home and cozy on Christmas. But there is no magic for me.

I grew up in Northern Minnesota with cold, snowy winters. We could expect to get snowed into our house at least once every year. Our neighbors had snowmobiles and would ferry us to the paved road to meet the school bus. Then once the snowplows finally got to our little dirt road, they would pile the snow up taller than the bus.

My best memories of Christmas are from this time.

Our little house was heated by a wood-burning stove in the basement, and the heat would rise up through a cast iron grate in the floor above the stove and up the staircase to the second floor. Many mornings we would wake to a house cold enough to see our breath. We would then crouch on the grate to warm up while we ate our cereal.

This was the 1980s! Not that long ago.

I grew up poor, much like a hillbilly living in the woods. We had an outhouse, no television, and wolves howling in the night. Most people can’t relate, but what a great way to grow up. I didn’t experience the over-commercialized Christmas that many think is the norm. There were no electronic toys, no designer clothes, nothing more expensive than a hardware store bicycle. And we could always count on getting good warm clothes or boots for Christmas.

We cut our Christmas tree fresh from the woods and dragged it home through the snow. Mom would make homemade bread and a tea ring for Christmas breakfast. I remember a big pot of chili boiling on the stove and the whole house smelling of bread and wood smoke. The smells of home.

There were seven of us; my parents and five boys. We had no television for many of those years, so we entertained ourselves with table games most Saturday nights, and Christmas was no different. We would make a pan of mulled cider and a giant bucket of popcorn and play games for hours, often until 2am. We had no other family around, and no one ever came to visit, making it a very isolated life. Winters were spent locked inside, cozy and warm.

But it is the snow and the cold and the darkness of those Minnesota winter months that I think about most. Often the nights would drop to below zero temperatures. The air would be so cold and dry it almost hurt to breathe. In the night we would hear trees splitting in the cold, like gunshots in the darkness. And if you felt brave enough to wander outside, you would find a sky alive with stars, sparkling as if on fire, the northern lights flickering and hissing above.

It is those things that I miss the most about this season.

In the years since, I have gotten an education, raised children, and moved far away from Minnesota. Yet every year, I get nostalgic about this time. Not for Christmas, not for the gifting, not for any religious significance, but for the frozen desolation and silence of the deep winter. That is what I miss the most, what holds the most emotion for me.

We purchased a house with a fireplace for the sole purpose of curling up in front of a fire on cold winter nights. That is what I look forward to more than any other aspect of this season. However, Christmas day was almost 60F with no snow in sight. Which doesn’t evoke memories of Christmas past in any way, shape, or form. It doesn’t feel right.

I haven’t been back to Minnesota in twenty years. I no longer have family there. However, I will always yearn for the bone-shattering cold of a Minnesota Christmas night.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

While writing my previous post, I wanted to remember the little café we had stopped at on our first day in upstate New York.

What was the name of that place? Oh, I can find it on google maps. I’m good at maps.

I assumed I would be tracing our route on a map and locating the café that way. But once I got to the Maps page, I remembered Google Timeline. I had used the app before but had forgotten about it.  It was hidden in the drop-down options menu.

There was more than a decade of my travel history displayed on the world map. It showed my travels from 2009 onward. Almost every place I had been was there. All the restaurants, stores, places I’d worked and just driven by! I spent an hour reliving my trips and recalling wonderful places I had forgotten about.

It wasn’t until later that the creepiness started to hit me. Who else was seeing this? Could someone hack into my Google Timeline page and know where I had been, when, and for how long? And, if so, what could they do with that information?

It was at this point that my writer-imagination clicked on.

What could be done with this information? Hmmm…

– A killer could predict my daily route to work and set up an ambush or an ‘accident’.

– Someone could research my travel itinerary and pose as someone I might have met on the trip as a means of getting closer to me.

– A door-to-door salesman could predict when I would be home and available!

– An employer could check to see what I was really doing on the day I called in sick.

– A sexy foreign spy would know what coffee shop I go to alone on Saturdays and make sure to be there sitting next to me. (All foreign lady-spies are sexy by default. Foreignness plus spyiness equals sexy – period.)

I am not one to see hidden conspiracies in every shadow, nor do I have a knee-jerk distrust of new technology or BigTech. So, I actually don’t mind being tracked or filmed or recorded or whatever my Alexa is doing. But then, I am also not involved in any illegal or seditious activities. So track away. I’ve got nothing to hide.

In truth, I have an appreciation for Google Timeline. Rather than just having a file of pictures from my trips that will require me to remember where they were taken and who is in the view, I now have mapped moment-to-moment tracking of the route we took. In addition, my pictures have embedded date and time data that I can then match to the map. So, if I wanted to, I could create a minute-by-minute itinerary of my trip with pictures of that moment. How’s that for a vacation slide show?

 Google maps tracks me every day, and I am very cool with that. I find it both extremely handy and kind of creepy. However, unless I become a target for spies or start thinking about trading in contraband, my life is much too dull for this detailed information to be useful to anyone.  

“How odd… I stopped at the guitar store on the way home. And now look, Marge, here is an ad for a deal on strings at Amazon. How do those online algorithms know so much?!”

Hmmm…

Spotify is a wonderful thing. I enjoy exploring new music, but the biggest thrill comes when I rediscover music I had forgotten. That is what happen the other day when I ran across  Robbie Dupree’s Steal Away, and I was mentally tossed back to 1980. It was like a gut punch or the first drop at the top of a roller coaster; it took the breath out of me. I was suddenly standing in my grandmother’s darkened pantry, singing silently to myself.

The little space was an escape for me. I was miserable while living in Podunk, Iowa. To cope, I needed to find some form of mental escape, away from the 70’s pro-wrestling and terrible television that my grandparents considered ‘family time.’ I was eleven or twelve, I think, and I clung to my little radio like a life raft. The songs that I remember best were Shadow Dancing by Andy Gibb and, of course, YMCA by the Village People. We sang it in Chorus at school, we learned the dance moves and everything.I would stand in the dark and silently mouth the words as a mantra, a spell to take me away for that moment. Outside, the trains rolled past, the vibrations making the floor tremble under me, an additional element of the magical moment.

The Village People's YMCA is preserved for posterity - BBC News

The rediscovery of Steal Away led me to an entire vein of golden oldies that yanked on my heartstrings. Like emotional cheesecake, I couldn’t get enough. I was pulling up memories and feelings that had slipped into the cracks of my mind, seemingly lost forever. But the magic of music brought it all pouring back, and it was a rush.

Music has power. I know that. I feel it every time I go to a rock show and feel the rush of energy from the screaming guitars and thumping drums. But I had forgotten the power of music memory. Songs have a way of wrapping themselves around a moment in time and organically becoming part of that memory. Our brains attach all the tiny sensations we feel, the emotions, the smells, the environment, along with the sights and sounds of that immediate moment in time to create a multi-dimensional ball of synapses that we call memory. Later, when we experience a smell or sound or emotion that relates directly to that memory, it can come rushing back to our consciousness, fully born and alive. That’s magic.

Like most teenagers, my parents and I disagreed about music. We were children of different times. At my house, Saturday night was Game Night. The whole family would sit at the dining room table and play games until after midnight. An Oldies station would be playing on the radio. Back then, the Oldies were the 50’s and 60’s. I grew up listening to Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker, and the Everly Brothers. Little Suzie and At The Hop were still hits in our house. For me, this was ancient music, never something I would listen to by choice. However, it was catchy, and eventually, I learned all the words. But it wasn’t music I could relate to. However, my parents would get excited when a particular song came on and would crank the volume and sing along like it was the greatest thing ever. I didn’t get it.

The Oldies stations now play the ‘80s and ‘90s, with a smattering of the 2000s thrown in. I know the music and enjoy it, but even these songs rarely have much of an effect on me. I’ve heard them all a million times.

My musical memories seem to be more attuned to the late ‘70s and very early ‘80s. Music that rarely gets played on the radio anymore. Those are the songs that evoke the most vivid emotions, such as the darkened pantry or first heartbreak. Even memories of high school aren’t as powerful as those.

I just wonder if this was the feeling that my parents got from certain songs? Were they re-experiencing a moment in their youth similar to my memory? I now feel a new connection with my parents that I never had before: a clarification and understanding. I’ve realized that it’s only with age and a little time in their shoes that you can really understand your parents. I have now stepped into my father’s place, and I’m feeling his feelings. I finally get it!

What’s next on the playlist?

Lady by the Little River Band.

Lady - Little River Band.jpg

We now have a DOG. It is a CAPITAL LETTER DOG. In fact, a heavy breathing, barge through your day, take your spot, steam-powered DOG.

My wife and I have wanted a dog for a few years. Anytime we saw someone walking their companion in the park or saw a head sticking out a car window with ears flapping, we would turn to each other and in unison say:  “We need a dog!” We even purchased a home after years of renting – and liking it – with the intention of getting a dog. I didn’t want to limit a dog to an apartment or a tiny little postage stamp yard. So, we set the goal of having a big backyard before we got a dog. We now have a half-acre of dog-ready yard. And a couple of weeks ago, we finally got a dog.

My wife and I differed on our preferred model of dog. We both wanted a larger dog because we hate little barky dogs and wanted something our cats couldn’t beat up on. We wanted one that was smart and not a puppy. We don’t have the energy for a puppy and wanted them mostly trained already. Neither of us is well-versed at being dog parents and didn’t want to ruin the poor thing.

My wife fell in love with pitbulls a few years ago and was dead set on getting one. I’m more of a German shepherd or hound kind of guy. But, of course, she won. The dog was meant for her anyway. I’m solidly a cat person and could go through the rest of my life without a dog. Yet, we now have one.

ARLO is a pit-bull-lab mix and, again, is CAPITAL letter-worthy. He is intelligent and stubborn, and very well-behaved. He is only aggressive in his friendliness; he will lick your face off! He is only a year and a half old and still partly in the puppy stage, which is exhausting.

And now, several weeks into our dog years, we are exhausted. I can honestly say that there have been some fleeting second thoughts, not quite adopters’ remorse, but… thoughts. I knew that dogs were high maintenance and high attention. I even warned my wife of this. Up till this point, we have always had cats and could basically ignore them most of the time. Cats are self-sufficient and self-entertained. That is why I like them so much. Whereas dogs need your attention, need to go outside, need to be exercised, need your attention, need to be noticed, need to go outside, and need your attention. We were NOT ready for the level of attention ARLO required. It is much like bringing a baby home. Suddenly, your life revolves around this being. ALL OF YOUR LIFE!!

We were also surprised to find that they still make steam-powered dogs. Who knew? Arlo breathes like a steam engine. All…the…time! Chugga Chugga Chugga Toot Toot! Here comes Arlo! We’ve tried having him sleep in our room, but we couldn’t sleep with the chugging. Once he calms down, it gets better, but he fidgets all night. He now has a prime kennel in the dining room. I believe he will eventually be more a part of the family and be able to crash with us. Until then, he gets a private room.

We are adapting and aren’t going to return Arlo or dump him off or anything silly like that. We will modify our life and make it work, just like you would with a new child. I am now in charge of the 5AM walk. I’m not at all sure how that happened; I am NOT a morning person – at all. 5AM is not a waking time. That is a going fishing time or maybe even coming home time after a great Friday night, but NOT a wake-up time. Yet, here I am dressed and vertical, walking the dog every morning. This is not how I imagined my life.

Overall, Arlo is a really good dog with some really poorly trained parents. It will get better; I have faith. We love our steam-powered dog and will build our future around him. But now I’m tired and need to get up in – like – five hours to walk the dog. These are the Dog-years.

We have lived in the Century House for about three months now and have settled in very comfortably. However, we have been living without a cookstove. We sold the ancient one that came with the house because we knew we had one on the way – soon.  We wanted all new matching appliances and ordered them in January for a March delivery. Two and half months ought to be enough time to get them shipped from ‘wherever’, right?

This proved true for the most part. Everything was fine and in place by the first of April. However, I made the mistake of ordering a super special order stove with an oven that could be split into two, with dual controls. Along with this, my wife ordered a microwave with all the bells and whistles. You clearly see our cooking styles.

The Empty Spot in my Kitchen

The last two items, the stove and the microwave, did not show up on time. However, to add to the story, we were contacted several times to schedule deliveries that never materialized. The supplier both called and emailed us to schedule the delivery of our products but then didn’t show up at all. They were phantom deliveries. It was very frustrating.

Then the Suez canal blockage happened. The container ship Ever Given had run aground in the middle of the canal and blocked delivery of our stove. At least that was the story we were telling.  We don’t know the exact reason for the delay, but it worked well for laughs.

In the meantime, we have been getting by with a $75 microwave and a $25 electric griddle. We tried using our slow cooker to prepare meals ahead, but you know “SLOW COOKER” is not something we wanted to use daily. Instead, we got very comfortable with our griddle and had lots of eggs, salmon burgers, and fish fillets. All of which was fine and tasty, but I really missed a good fried egg or a stir fry or even mac-n-cheese.

$25 worth of saddness!!

Soon after we moved in, we had a technician in the house installing our security system. The control panel is in the kitchen opposite the stove – or where the stove is supposed to be. He had been at it for about thirty minutes before he finally looked up and asked: “Where’s your stove?” It took him that long to notice the odd empty spot in our kitchen.

I found it difficult to adjust to cooking on an electric griddle. I love to cook, and cutting a bunch of vegetables into a stew or a stirfry is very relaxing for me. But cooking on a griddle doesn’t require much for cutting. It was all fish fillets, chicken breasts, and patties with lots of salads. The ‘cooking’ part of cooking was a sad shadow of what I liked to do. I’m sure I could have gotten used to the griddle and eventually felt creative enough to do something interesting with it, but thankfully that time was avoided.

We have a stove! It’s a Samsung gas range with an oven that can be split into two and controlled separately. It also includes an air fryer option that I am particularly excited about. My wife wants me to make wings in the worst way, but I guess there is a chicken wing shortage or something. She was unwilling to trade an arm and a leg for wings. So, that will have to wait.

I am excited about the high-powered burner on the cooktop. It is meant for cooking with a wok. My wok is my favorite pan to use. I make a lot of stir fry and curries and similar recipes.

This is the first cookstove I’ve purchased new, and there is a huge big technology jump in this range compared to what I’m used to.  I can control the oven from my phone! Which is ridiculous! I have never once thought: Damn… if only I could turn the oven on from the mall. I personally can’t see the use of this feature. My wife has offered different scenarios to justify it. Still, none of them ring true or reasonable or an event that would happen more than once in a lifetime. However, my phone is now synced with my stove, and I’m going to dream up some weirdly unlikely situation where I will just have to use it.

Frickin’ WIFI!!!

What is the first thing I cooked on my new stove, you ask? Was it chicken marsala? Or a stir fry or a nice spicy curry (YUM!!) or some other fancy or difficult or iconic meal that would inaugurate my new stove in style. No… That is definitely not my style. Simple cooking is the best cooking. I made fried eggs, sausage, and toast. And it was glorious. I never got the hang of cooking eggs on the griddle. They were never quite right.