As I write this piece, Christmas music is playing in the background. For those of you who are now questioning my authority to be playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving has even arrived, will be quite upset to know that I started it this year on November 1st, literally the first day I could find a station putting it out there. And…..I am not ashamed!
There is no better season than Christmas in my book. We have just come off a very mean spirited election season, plenty of blame on both sides. I for one am desperate for some cheer and Christmas brings that to me each and every year. It is a chance to be reminded that people matter more than things. It is a season for giving and for receiving and the best gift one can give or get is the sense that we can all, for at least a couple of months, take the time to care for each other and to spread a bit of joy even where there is little to be found. It is a season of hope buoyed by the Spirit that lives more generously in its traditions. Christmas is a chance for a reset.
During Christmas, the memories of my childhood come floating back. The first Christmas I have memories of happened when I was maybe six or seven years old, and yet all these years later, lots of years later, they are still vivid. I can recall getting my Christmas bag of peanuts and carrots as we left church Christmas Eve, a simple reward for the Christmas pageant we had just pulled off in angelic perfection despite a year of less than angelic behavior. Of getting dad to hurry us all home to open the presents beneath the tree. Of finding that tin tab garage set complete with its lever for the car elevator. I am sure the five Christmases that came before were also full of traditions, but memories of them unfortunately weren’t recorded in my childhood brain. When I think about my first Christmas memories, I also recall the first Christmas celebrated with my wife in our tiny little house on Ring Street. That first Christmas it was just Deb and I and Huckleby, our cat. Then I think of the first Christmas for each of my daughters. I know it’s just a fact of life that they too will have no memories of that first one or much of any before they were old enough to start the act of remembering. I will promise myself to ask them to share their first memory of Christmas and I suspect it won’t match mine. But then it is their memory to recall in the way it comes back to them. We all have memories of our Christmases, and at this time of year we should take time to recall the best of them and then let them inspire us to spread the good cheer of Christmas wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Christmas music sets the tone for me. It lifts my spirits, renews my faith in mankind’s ability to care for each other, and rekindles those traditions my family share, the ones we have created, and the ones we will create. This Friday, in the rain, snow, sleet, or I hope, sunshine, you will find my family cutting our traditional tree(s). I will string indoor and outdoor lights that will cut out shortly after I plug in the last strand. My wife and I will set aside enough time to watch as many Christmas movies as possible. Christmas eve, I will sing my favorite Christmas carols and then return home to wait for the arrival of my two grandchildren. I will wait till they are fast asleep and then creep down the hall to place the Santa gifts beneath the tree. And then, Christmas morning I will sit back and watch the chaos erupt as the presents are exchanged and opened with wrapping paper discarded and covering the room like a blanket of Christmas morning snow. I will soak in each and everyone of these traditions throughout the season, and if I am lucky, maybe another great story will emerge,
This Christmas season take a pledge to make it the best one yet. Reach out to family and friends and even, and maybe especially, to a stranger. The season of Christmas is a reminder to share; share joy and peace and self. My Christmas music has been playing since November 1st and will continue until someone convinces me the season is over. But I will tell you, I won’t be convinced easily.
So if you haven’t yet turned on the music, stop being the grinch, find a Christmas station, and go Rock Around the Christmas Tree. Brenda Lee is waiting to get you started.
Before I was one, I couldn’t wait to be a grandpa. My belief was that it would be a piece of cake. You spend some time with them with your entire goal being to spoil them, feed them full of sugar, my grandmother actually created sugar sandwiches, (see Being Loved: Sugar Sandwich) and then send them back home with their parents. No sweat, right? Turns out there are a few more requirements in the fine print of that grandparent contract.
The other day we got our two adorable, sweetest, smartest grandkids in the whole world, consigned to us for the weekend. Seems mom and dad needed mom and dad time. Saturday morning they appeared magically at our doorstep, backpacks full of clothes, toothbrushes, toys, games, and projects. Wait, what, they’re staying overnight? I thought we were just being given a few hours to spoil them with hugs and kisses, a few pieces of candy of their choice, maybe a few extra TV minutes and that would be it. Hugs all around and off you go. As mom and dad got goodbye kisses and I heard my daughter say “Now you guys behave this weekend, brush your teeth and go to bed when Mimi and Opa (our loving grandparent handles) say it’s time.” My blood began to run cold! My first thought, we haven’t got enough candy in the house to last the weekend. Dear God, what will we use to bribe them after the candy supply runs out?
Major mistake number one, there were plenty of minor ones, “What would you like for lunch?” Never ask your grandkids that unless you know where the nearest McDonalds or Culvers, or for that matter, both of them are since after lunch comes dinner and then eventually there’s breakfast. And now that creative and fun activity of washing dishes I was planning on is gone. Guess the little amount of TV time will need to be renegotiated and lengthened.
Major mistake number two, wrestling with your grandkids inevitably ends up in injury. It was just a simple dive off the coach, how bad could it wind up? Hint, when wrestling in the living room, remove the coffee table. At least the time spent rocking and cuddling used up some of the 36 hours we were facing. Of course TV time got renegotiated and extended again. “Remember Jackson, mom and dad don’t need to know how LONG you watched TV, just that we watched a couple shows, short shows, really short shows.” At this rate of teaching him to spin the truth, I may have prepared him for a political career (see Being a Citizen: What Happened to Truth in Advertising).
Major misunderstanding number three, their notion of bedtime and sleeping arrangements and our wishful thinking of that would go down didn’t seem to quite align. Actually, they bore no resemblance at all. Yes, Jackson was content to sleep in his designated bed, but not without the perfect combination and illumination levels of the lights, plural. After several trips out to the living room with a request for a tweak to the systems, we got him to sleep at an appropriate time, plus or minus and hour or two, okay, just the plus. Meanwhile, Adela, our youngest and closest relative to story of the Three Bears, tried three different beds and bedrooms before settling on the one she was most likely to possible stay in for the whole night….our bed! Fortunately, that left open two other bedrooms, that upon finding my side of our marital bed occupied by our very own Goldilocks, I could spend the night in instead.
Being a grandparent takes skill. It takes a combination of patience, wisdom and love. And I won’t pretend that we haven’t closed the front door after they have gone without at least once or twice taking that deep relaxing breath as we picked up the toys and pillows and reclaimed our space. Being a grandparent requires all the wisdom you have to answer the many questions; the difficult ones, the deep thinking ones, and sometimes the awkward ones, like “How does the baby get in there?” Don’t forget the ingenuity required to think up the activities that will keep them busy. I have produced a wealth of scavenger hunts in that category. And finally, hone those negotiation skills required to handle yourself in the countless off the books wheeling and dealing you will be led into, example, McDonalds for breakfast! Here’s a tip, if all else fails, use my wife’s strategy, cards with $5 bills in them. A sure rise the to the top of the popularity poll guaranteed. Being a grandparent really isn’t piece of cake, though it might involve cake….. and ice cream….. with sprinkles…. lots of sprinkles.
Those of you know me, know that I tend to exaggerate. This story may just have some of that. Our grandkids truly are the delight of our lives and we have gone through versions of the story I laid out above and have not only survived them all, but have cherished the moments, the stories, and the memories.
For Jackson and Adela, the pride of my life and welcome to spend the weekend anytime.
Disclaimer, I intend no offense to Catholics or the many saints that exist, but did you realize that there is a saint for almost every purpose. Did you know that Saint Alexander of Comana is the patron saint of charcoal burners. That will come in handy next time I am forced to grill. Meanwhile Amand would be the patron saint of bartenders, another one of my many occupations. Anthony the Abbot would be the patron saint of gravediggers. And let us not forget the patron saint of women seeking husbands, Anthony of Padua. Shouldn’t that one have been a female? And those are just the patron saints that start with the letter A. If you want to check out the complete list for yourself, go to: https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/24191/documents/2019/11/Patron%20Saints%202.pdf
This morning our church was celebrating All Saints weekend and the conversation about saints came up. We were asked to consider the people in our lives that have passed on and though too many came to mind, I found myself thinking of my brother. He was only seven when he died. I was only eight. We were thick as thieves in our short lives to that point but we had already survived a lifetime of hijinks. There was no dare that he wouldn’t throw down and there was no challenge I didn’t accept. “I bet you can’t jump from that rock to this one.” I bet you’re too scared to jump off the hay loft.” And then there was the “I dare you to jump from that fence post to this one.” Though most of them resulted in various injuries, that last one was way too close to serious, not that mom or dad ever found out thanks to the unwritten code that we just didn’t tell on each other, ever! We clearly needed a patron saint of our own, like maybe Cajetan, the patron saint of gamblers.
Looking back and thinking about the impact on my life, I am nominating my brother for the patron saint of risk takers and I am thanking him for impressing on me the value of taking a risk. Without his encouragement, er goading, would I have grown up to accept and deal with the risks in life that gave me the opportunities to succeed, or the ability to take chances when they took me to the next level? Or for that matter, to have and have benefited from the experiences of my life? Without the willingness to take acceptable risks, would I have ever climbed a mountain or jumped from a plane? That last one definitely traces back to the leaps we took from the top of the hay mow. In short, life might have been far less exciting without the occasional walk on the edge.
Don’t get me wrong. There are risks we should never take, especially when they might impact others. But if it’s an acceptable risk, if we understand what we control and that within that element of control, we can build in the safety net we need, maybe then we might be willing to take the leap. One of the strongest traits of a leader is the willingness to take the risk that is necessary to advance the cause. Without risk takers imagine all the inventions, all the historic events, businesses, and all of the discoveries never made. Would we have ever walked on the moon or would we just be earthbound wondering what was out there? What would the world be like without risk takers?
Today I thought about my brother who all those years ago dared me to take the chance. For that he is MY patron saint.
Sharing our childhood home with my grandparents created so many endearing memories, most of them the sights and scents of my mom and dad, and my grandmother canning in our tiny farmhouse kitchen. There was the hundreds of mason jars lined up on the table, the big blue canning kettle and the steam rising off the boiling water ready to seal the fruits and vegetables into those mason jars where they would slowly disappear from our fruit cellar as the long winter gave way to spring and our garden thawed out, readying itself for the next growing season. Every once in awhile something brings that memory flooding back. In those moments, I can still remember the smells wafting from the kitchen all the way to my upstairs bedroom, that aromatic mixture of pickled corn and beets, dill pickles and relish, fruits and ah yes, the apple sauce. Oh that glorious mixture of apples and cinnamon. That recipe so perfected by my dad.
When canning came to an end each fall, and all the canning equipment had been stowed away, we would stack the shelves of our basement fruit cellar with enough canned vegetables and fruit to last us through the winter. We were self sufficient and I always remember mom and dad’s pride as they recorded the inventory. Nothing in our garden had gone to waste. As the winter wore on, each meal would be augmented with something from the cellar, fresh, aromatic, and delicious. But my favorite was always the apple sauce. We would have it on ice cream. We would warm it up and put it in a bowl with a little splash of cream, or as my grandfather liked it, spread across a warm slice of grandmas’ homemade bread. There just wasn’t anything it didn’t go well with.
Recently, after trips to every apple orchard pumpkin patch in the area, with grandchildren in tow, my daughter handed me a pint of the golden nectar. She has been working on it for the past several years and she just might have perfected it. Somehow, through experimentation, old recipes scratched out on weathered notecards, and of course hours of shared applesauce sessions at her grandfather’s side, Bailey has come as close as humanly possible to my dad’s apple sauce recipe. It now sits proudly on my counter awaiting the moment I crack the seal and carefully ration out my first serving.
Where my wife and I have never seemed to successfully carry on the tradition, my daughters have prevailed. They have become the gardeners, the chefs, and yes the canners I never was. The art had skipped a generation but thanks to my daughter, I now have a pint of homemade, ready to savor, dad’s special recipe, apple sauce, and along with it, a chance to bask in the memories it has evoked. Memories of being that eight year old kid, sneaking down the stairs , and sneaking a peak of my dad as he worked side by side with my mom as they canned more than just food for the winter, but memories for a life time.
You’ll have to excuse me now, I have a bowl of warm applesauce and cream waiting on my evaluation.
I don’t know about you, but I for one can’t wait for November 9th. Before you correct me, I know that November 8th is election day. I can’t wait for the day after for two reasons. One, I will hopefully realize that my prayers have been answered, well maybe some of them. And two, that these horrible campaign ads will finally stop invading my spaces; my TV, my phone, my email, my streaming services, and even my game apps. I am tired of being bombarded with fear mongering commercials that play to the darkest regions of my soul where lies my primordial fears and urges. I am worn out trying to stay optimistic in the face of these hateful negative ads. What ever happened to decency when it comes to these attacks on the opponent’s character and for that matter what has happened to campaign promises? I’d actually welcome a few of those promises even if they are unlikely to be kept. Anything is better than the hate messages.
When I was still in my working career as a financial planner, I had to be extremely careful about anything I stated or committed to in writing when it came to describing the delivery of my services. In fact, even if I was careful to be entirely honest, everything still went through compliance where any and all statements were scrutinized for any distortions or false promises. It was common practice and fully expected and respected. My question is, why are these campaign ads not subjected to at least a semblance of compliance? Do the candidates and their third party pacts have no time to check the validity of their statements? Or is it, that truth doesn’t sell when it comes to politics? These ads splice in sound bites that have nothing to do with the issue or are at the very least distorted into half truths. They leave it up to the voter to do the research, case in point, I did a recent lookup on “cash bail” and the reasons behind changing that system. Please take the time to look that one up for yourself. It is enlightening when you choose a neutral site. Here’s the problem with the belief that the voter will do the research, its highly unlikely that they will and the candidate or the supporting pact hopes they don’t. If they did, the scare tactic would lose its impact and the voter might actually stop believing anything the candidate is saying.
So integrity compliance is one issue, but the shear volumes of money thrown at these ads is, in my opinion, a moral crisis. Ask any nonprofit how hard it is for them to raise funds to provide the services that the government can’t afford and they will tell you it is in many cases heartbreaking at best and in some cases the direct cause of their demise. A school system begs for a million dollars in aid so that they can deliver the education the public demands all too often forced to deliver it in aging buildings. Meanwhile, federal and state legislators vote no to the very programs and referendums that would help to level the playing field between the haves and have nots. And all of this, while we the public and all too often the biggest corporations adorn them with campaign war chests that could fund hundreds if not thousands of worthy causes. They then turn around and pour those dollars into the very campaign ads I just railed against.
Here’s my parting thought. What if the requirement that the ads had to be complied by an outside research service actually resulted in the ads never being allowed. The money wouldn’t need to be spent on airing them and maybe we would give our hard earned dollars to better causes. And if the ad was to pass compliance, it might just be forced to rely on information about the candidate and their beliefs rather than the current practice of relying on your ability to paint the other candidate as evil incarnate leaving you, by default, as the only choice I have as a voter. You don’t need to agree with me, but think about it.
As the tropical storm brewed in the south Atlantic Ocean and eventually strengthened into Hurricane Ian, it somehow created this excitement as one watched nature show its hand. It created almost a sense of awe as you watched the storm strengthen and slowly pick its path. That all turned to shock when it eventually made its decision to come on land and the world began to witness its fury.
Just this last April, my family and I spent three weeks on Fort Myer’s Beach and we were so taken with the beautiful shoreline, the busy streets and businesses that lined them, and of course the people, tourists and locals, who showed us what a great travel destination it was. As I now see the pictures of the devastation scroll across my TV screen, It strikes home that this hurricane and its aftermath is somehow a bit more personal. Every now and then, one of the pictures will have just enough structure left for me to identify an establishment we ate or shopped at. The photo above is just one of those establishments I fear is no longer there.
My heart goes out to the City of Fort Myer’s, Fort Myer’s Beach, and Sanibel Island. You didn’t deserve this storm or its wrath, but it has now left its mark. In the coming days, weeks, months, and even years to come, this area will clean up the wreckage and rebuild. Whatever we can do to assist, I am sure will be well received. If you are reading this and have an inkling to help out, choose a way to be part of their recovery. I have included links below for Lutheran Services and for Red Cross, both who are already on site and helping to provide needed services to any and all they can assist.
I need to preface this piece. Today marks the 21st anniversary of 9/11 and it must be recognized that the loss on that tragic day can never come close to the loss I am writing about in this piece. The courage and bravery of those involved in any and all aspects of that day must never be forgotten.
Last week Deb and I, along with another couple, Larry and Annette, had decided to ride the Sugar River Bike Trail from Albany to New Glarus. Not wanting to ride down and then ride back on the same trail, we had been clever and agreed on a way to leave my car at the end of the trail in New Glarus and Larry’s car at the trailhead in Albany. We would drop off our spouses and the bikes in Albany, drive both cars down to New Glarus and then return to Albany in Larry’s car. Once we completed the ride, I would drive Larry back to Albany to get his car. Perfect plan. What could go wrong? Maybe a disclaimer here: Neither Larry nor I felt particularly proud of our respect for the environment demonstrated in this plan, but hey, we at least rode bikes at some point.
If you have been a faithful reader of my blog or for that matter, patient enough to sit through any of my many stories, you will know that my keys and I sometimes part ways. As we finished our ride and were locking up the bikes, I looked across the parking lot at my waiting car. It took me all of a second for the painful reality to hit me. No, my keys weren’t lost, not this time. In fact, I knew exactly where they were and let me add, they were safe and secure. The problem was that they were safe and secure in Larry’s car, the car that was now 16 miles away in a parking lot in Albany. Facing me now, was the hierarchy of who do I confess to first, my spouse, who would immediately lecture me, rightfully so, on the virtues of making sure I kept track of things, or Larry and Annette, enjoying their well deserved ice cream while anticipating Larry’s ride back to Albany and his parked car, and blissfully ignorant to the events now unfolding just a few feet away..
I opted for neither and headed straight for Kennedy’s Ice Cream stand where I shamelessly asked the owner if she knew how I might actually get back to Albany other than by riding my bike back up the trail…. alone! Even as my loving wife was figuring out what was going on, the owner tells me she will call her husband and he and his truck can take me there. Now all I had to do was break the bad (embarrassing) news to Larry and Annette. Their response was both expected and priceless. The expected; “You’re kidding, right?”, the priceless part; in that exact same moment of shameful confession, the owner calls out to me and says. “He’s on his way.” Praise the Lord, I’m saved! An hour later, Larry and I have returned with Larry’s car, my keys, and a new best friend. In that half hour trip back up, we have heard my hero’s life story, identified at least three intersections in our lives and have considered buying his restored wooden Criss Craft boat, or at least ready to ask him for a ride in it.
Here is my point. We all experience losses in life. Some of those losses are catastrophic; the loss of health, the loss of life, or even the loss of a loved one. Others are far less critical such as the loss of some item or, in my case, the loss of pride. As hard as it was to admit the mistake to my friends, the amazing result was the forgiveness I received and the incredible acts of kindness I experienced at the hands of strangers. The agony of my shame was overshadowed by the reward of renewed faith in the community of strangers. Going forward, I may just make it a practice to lose things so that others can have the chance to rescue me. On second thought, probably not the best of plans.
The time is just a few minutes after 3:00 am. John is already up and carbo loading on a breakfast of pancakes and syrup. In a little more than an hour he will be starting off on what will be a 240-mile trek by bike across Wisconsin. The ride will start here in Lacrosse, Wisconsin and work its way southeast across the state eventually ending on the waterfront in downtown Milwaukee. He will be accompanied by 700 fellow bike riders, some as lone riders like John while others will ride for teams of several riders. The trek will take them through nearly 70 miles of gravel trail and tunnels, with another 170 miles on backroads as they rise and fall over 6500 feet of total elevation. While the ride starts with hundreds of riders, only about 160 will cover the entire 240 miles in a single day. John has trained all year for this ride, but today will be his distance record as he joins the group to cover it in a single day.
I will be driving the sag wagon for John’s trip, accompanied by my daughter Bailey who is John’s spouse. Our job will be to meet him at the designated checkpoints along the way where we will refresh his water bottles and provide him with the snacks and food he has planned out for each stop. This honor had fallen to my younger daughter, Kathryn, last year, but is mine to experience this year. I am honored to be on his sag crew and a part of his journey.
It is now 4:30 am and we are with John as he awaits the start and continues to check and recheck everything on his bike. The start is only minutes away now and bikers are coming from every direction to find their starting positions. The start area is marked off in intervals that closely mimic the starting paces the riders intend to keep. The faster pace riders are placed near the beginning, while slower starters will take up positions further back in line. The last thing any rider wants is to be involved in a collision within the first mile of the ride due to an uneven start. John will take a position in the top third of the riders with a chosen pace around 15 mph. My first impression is of how focused John is. If he is to be successful, he must maintain a sustainable pace, pay attention to his times as he has planned them out, and be able to break the ride into segments. He will likely be on the bike for up to 17 hours and he has to find ways of avoiding thinking about how much he still has left, as opposed to focusing on the segments as he finishes one and begins the next. Only if he thinks of them as a bunch of shorter trips, will the totality of the trip not take its toll on his emotional energy.
It’s 5:00 am, the start! John gives us a cursory glance and a wave, and he is off into the dark. By the time Bailey and I have made our way back to the hotel, the app on her phone shows John already 6 miles out. Sparta is our first check point some 30 miles away. We decide we better forego breakfast and get on the road to meet him. It’s amazing how this feels like a sacrifice for us and then we remember, John’s on the bike, we are in a car. Way too easy to lose perspective. We vow to toughen up, but not without a cup of coffee to go.
The weather last night was dotted with torrential downpours. We are worried as John approaches the Sparta Elroy trail, as to the condition of the gravel bed. How messed up will the tunnel surfaces be. One of those tunnels is nearly a mile in length and there are no lights. The riders will depend on the collective light cast by their bike lights. As John prepares to leave this first pit stop, he expresses concerns about switching from pavement to the gravel trails but grabs fresh water and a couple bananas and heads back out. He will repeat this action up to ten more times throughout the day. At least the rain, forecast to be off and on all day, has so far held off. We pick John up as the trail crosses through the next three villages. He does not stop at any of these, but I can feel the relief in Bailey as she waves him through. Each crossing shows he is riding strong and has chopped off another ten miles here and another fifteen miles there. His next planned stop will be Elroy.
We are there waiting in Elroy. It is amazingly only 9:45 in the morning. It seems so much later but then we remind ourselves that John has now been riding for almost five hours. Again, with the perspective! This is the point where he will switch from the Sparta Elroy trail to the 400 Trail as it winds its way down to Reedsburg. As it turns out, we were able to pass John a slice of pizza and pudding cup at the old train depot in Kendall. He warned us that he may not stop at Elroy and as he approaches us on the trail, he gives a thumbs up and rides straight through. I guess we catch him at Reedsburg.
We wait at the depot in Reedsburg and eventually we start seeing riders we know have been coming through the previous checkpoints around the same time as John. Bailey’s app says that he is about 2 miles out and so we wait. Then suddenly we see him making the corner leading into town and the end of the 400 Trail. He reaches the depot covered in mud, gravel, and grease. His black bike is barely recognizable, but John just wants a quick refuel on some snacks and heads back out. We will meet him in Wisconsin Dells where he will take ten minutes to wolf down a burger and fries that we are to pick up while we wait. The good news, he is off the gravel trails for the next few hours and the sun is out. The bad news, the Baraboo Ridge lies dead ahead and that means the hills have begun.
The stop in Wisconsin Dells goes well and Bailey and I hide our shame as we finish off our McDonalds burger, fries, and a shake, oh the humanity! John wants to get right back out so his hamburger will wait. Fries and a pudding cup are all he takes time for, and he is off for the climb over the ridge. Once he clears the ridge, it will be mostly downhill to the ferry crossing at Merrimac. As Wisconsin Dells was designated as the halfway point, over 400 riders have now disappeared from the ride. But John and about 160 others will trek on. As we wait for the ferry to complete its trip across and back on the river, John gets a well-deserved half hour rest. But time can become his enemy if he is to finish by 10:00 pm in Milwaukee. The ferry barely drops the gate and John and about 30 riders are headed down the road.
As nice as the sunshine was at the ferry crossing, the blackening skies on the other side of the river bode nothing but bad news. John had barely reached the next village at Lodi when the skies let loose. The rain came in torrents. Bailey and I are on the road when the storm hit and are barely able to keep driving. We catch ourselves complaining about the rain when the reality hits us that John is somehow continuing to ride in this. We know that because we are tracking his progress on the app. He has slowed considerably but he is still moving south. We stop complaining and once again regain the perspective. We say a silent prayer and wish him God speed.
We reach the next checkpoint at Bristol where a group of friends and family will await John’s pass through at the Sassy Cow Creamery. John is looking forward to seeing his children at this stop. Jackson and Adela have made posters and will be there to cheer him on to the finish some 90 miles ahead. This will be his encouragement for the final push. The problem is the rain. It is coming down so hard that we can barely see across the street. But then we all catch a break. The rain lets up just long enough for us to spot John’s light blinking through the gloom. It is around 3:30 as he crests the hill and we all clang bells and rush out to welcome him to this briefest of stops. Hugs from Jackson and Adela, encouragement from the friends and family that are there, and John gets back on the bike and heads on down the road. As the rain starts back up, we can just catch a glimpse of the red light on the back of his bike fading into the distance. I will forever hold that image of that solitary rider disappearing into the gloom.
This is where I left the sag wagon. I needed to drive my wife and our grandkids to the hotel in Milwaukee where we would wait for John to finish the ride. Bailey would see him through the next two stops at Waterloo and Lake Mills. At Lake Mills she would wave John through as he had to enter gravel trails once more for 25 more miles on the Glacial Drumlin trail to Milwaukee. The next time she would see him would be the finish line in Milwaukee. As we found out later, this was one of the worst legs of the trip if not thee worst. The trail was littered with tree branches and water running in the ruts. This leg alone would do in the casual rider, but John must push through this ever mindful of the distance remaining and the approaching darkness.
The call came in from Bailey at 9:30. She was at the finish line and John was 9 miles out. The goal of finishing before 10:00 was in jeopardy but he was pushing as hard as he could. As the minutes ticked down, we waited at the finish line, Jackson and Adela with their posters, and the rest of us with fingers crossed. At 10:00 the app said 1 mile out. At 10:05 we saw bike lights crossing the avenue three blocks down and at 10:06, to the screams of “you made it”, and 17 hours after leaving Lacrosse, John finished the ride. I should add this note. At that 1 mile out mark, John had called Bailey and said I need a hamburger when I come in. My wife immediately headed to the restaurant only to find out the grill had been shut down for the night. Upon hearing the story and seeing John’s children waiting, the chef said I am going to fire up the grill and make him the perfect hamburger, which in John’s case is plain, no condiments just the meat. The least we can do after 240 miles.
I would never have fully understood this ride or my sons-in-law’s obsession had I not been able to be even a small part of it on his sag crew. My deep respect for what he accomplished goes without saying. You are the toughest guy I know. Now get on that bike and start training for next year.
Sometimes things just work out. I had driven downtown to meet my wife and daughter. My daughter had just finished her first yoga class as an instructor and we decided we should celebrate with a dinner and a drink. The first eating establishment we tried offered too small a menu. The next, closed for the evening. The third try offered no parking and no outside dining. Ready to give up, we found ourselves at The Madison Tap at the Robinia Courtyard, a place none of us had been before but had heard enough good things said about them, to give it a try.
As we were shown to a small table in the courtyard, a band began to set up. As the instruments and the musicians started filing in, it became clear we just might have stumbled into one of those happy accidents. Who doesn’t appreciate a chance for live music. As we finished our meal and contemplated a second drink, someone in the band started hanging up their banner. Much to my surprise, the band turned out to be Mama Dig Down’s Band. In my preretirement career, I had become indirectly associated with the band and knew the band’s organizer and lead singer as well as several of the band members. Tonight was going to be a reunion of sorts and I just had to hang out and listen to them play.
If you are unfamiliar with the band or may have never heard them play, they are a multipiece brass band offering a wide range of music but specializing in the New Orleans Jazz style. Oh yeah, and they are great! As Mama Dig Down opened their set, the courtyard literally began to vibrate with the resonate sounds of their lively brass music. Soon patrons began spilling out of the bar and into the courtyard and in no time at all, the crowd was rocking to the sound. In fact, it was nearly impossible to not begin moving to the rhythm of the band as the horns wailed out their jazz beat and the drums drove it home. For a moment, if you closed your eyes, you could imagine yourself standing in the middle of Bourbon Street in the center of the French Quarter. The effect was magical.
I had not started the evening in the best of moods, but I certainly ended it in a great mood. Nothing raises one’s spirits like live music shared with the people you love in a setting you wound up at completely by accident. Thank you Roc and Darin and Mama Dig Down’s Band for a perfect evening. So perfect, not even the parking ticket under the wiper blade of my car could wipe the smile from my face.
I will start with a disclaimer and a “survey says” question. First the question, just so you are at least a little curious; On a scale of one to five, with one meaning I am living but barely to five representing you’re living the high life, how would you describe your financial situation? It’s a rhetorical question so don’t send me emails with your pick but do answer the question for yourself. Second is the disclaimer. I am a math geek and this blog will have a fair amount of math in it.
With that made clear, here goes. As a math geek; 1. I love solving math problems, just ask my kids. Every where and anywhere we went there was a potential math problem looming. Their favorite, okay my favorite, was the semi on the highway problem. It goes like this. Most semis will have the length of their trailer posted somewhere on the back of the truck but the standard is 53 feet. The tractor is another 12 feet for a total average length of 65 feet. If I am traveling 60 mph, my wife would say if only, and I have them start counting the seconds from when my front bumper passes the trucks rear bumper up to the moment my front bumper passes the tractors front bumper, the question posed is “How fast is the truck going?” Someone out there will say can’t you just shadow the truck and check your speedometer? Bet your kid is still asking you to tell them the answers to their homework. By the way, this will keep your child busy and less likely to ask the proverbial how much longer till we get there question and possibly even avoid the worst case scenario of “She’s invading my space.” Enough said on loving math problems as you can simply speculate on the living math hell my daughters grew up in. 2. I love statistics. I have never seen any game, especially games of chance, or demographic that can’t be expressed with statistics. As a teacher, my students would be tasked to make up survey questions and then go out to find the real data. In yet another project, they would use statistical math to calculate the number of theoretical license plates printed in the sequence leading up to my personal vehicle license plate. And again, I know what you are thinking, “He gave them his license plate number?!” What were you thinking? Of course I didn’t give them my license plate. I was a middle school math teacher? The very first survey question would have been, on a scale of one to five, what is the damage risk level to my car of a 7th grade student seeking revenge? Obviously it was the principal’s license plate. And 3. I firmly believe that statistics in the wrong hands can be grossly misleading if not just plain false. Have you seen the latest poll numbers of your favorite politician as put out by their own party? One that always bothers me is that two out every three dentists recommend, fill in the blank here, toothpaste. I suspect that company’s product was filled in that blank. There, you now have my manifesto, and for that matter, most of the math you will need to contemplate.
Those who know me well, as I hope my followers do, know that I finished my career in the finance world. Loving statistics, see above, I came across this tidbit, okay, I deliberately looked it up. It would seem that the total asset value of households in the U.S. is estimated at $113 trillion. The total U.S. debt of those same households was $15 trillion resulting in a net wealth of $98 trillion That’s trillion with a T and twelve zeroes behind it. I mean look at it, $98,000,000,000,000. But, that begged the question, here comes the math problem, how much is that per individual U.S. citizen? There are, at last count, 329 million folks living here in this great country. I’ll save you reaching for your calculators, but I bet my grandson can do the math in his head, that’s $297,000 per person, and that would include individuals like my five year old granddaughter. Factor out those under the age of 21 and the population drops to 197 million changing that wealth number to roughly $497,000 per individual. Wait, what? Feeling short changed? Remember, you still need to subtract your total amount of debt before you arrive at your personal total. I am betting that many of you might be willing to trade positions and settle for that national average.
So what’s my point? Well the obvious one is whose got all the money? If your household, all the adults in the house times the $497,000 per person exceeds the average, well I sure hope you answered that survey question I opened with, at 4 or better. If your household doesn’t exceed the number and you still gave yourself a 3 or better, maybe you already see my point. It’s not what everyone else has that I don’t, but what I have and what I am able to do. I could go further into the weeds and tell you that the top 1% of US households hold 20% of the total wealth, or roughly $20 trillion. ($20,000,000,000,000) Their average wealth then jumps to $6,000,000 per individual! But now I’ve put the spotlight on what I don’t have and that is the complete opposite of the point I am trying to make.
We are a consumer nation and that fact tends to cause us to view the glass as half empty. That in turn leaves us with the feeling that we don’t have enough, or that we deserve more, or just that we might never be satisfied. I asked my opening question before I gave you the statistics for a reason. How did you answer it? Glass half empty or glass half full? Had I posed the statistics first, would it have changed your answer? Don’t let statistics overwhelm you. They are averages at best and you are better than average. Of that I am sure.
If you were waiting for me to go all, no offense, Bernie Sanders on you, I just wouldn’t. I may share his belief that wealth could be spread a little fairer and maybe accomplish more if we got over our political war on taxes, but at the end of the day, what truly counts is your attitude on what you have, not what you want. Heck, what would I do if I had the wealth up there in that 1% bunch. Oh yeah, I’d likely give to those with less. But that’s just me, because I already have enough.