You're Welcome: My Definitive List Of Band Names

Once in a while I’ll say something or hear something that causes me to stop and think “that would make a great name for a band.”

If you’re thinking of taking your garage band public, feel free to use the following:

  • (The) Piss Shivers

  • Toothless Tom & The Teabaggers

  • At-Fault Party

  • (The) Pepperoni Bra Sweats

  • (The) Onion Bits

  • Blueberry Rage Machine

  • Pen15

  • I Believe In Butter

  • Diaper Don & The Constipated Cucks

You’re welcome.

UPDATE: My Trees

In my previous post on this subject I somehow managed to forget the tree that I get the most compliments on each year.

It’s a Japanese Tree Lilac planted by the previous owner that graces the yard with beautiful white blooms each June/July.

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Top 10 Best Leftovers

First off: I rarely reheat leftovers, so the majority of this list involves foods taken straight from the fridge and often consumed right out of the takeout container or to-go box.

  1. Cold pizza: The standard by which we judge every other scrap that’s left in our refrigerators.

  2. Cold pasta: There’s something about the way it turns into a big block that simply floats my boat.

  3. Cold Chinese food: The rarest of all leftovers (who doesn’t force down the rest of their Chinese food?).

  4. Cold fried fish: Freshly fried fish fillets have a tendency to flake apart; not so on the morning after.

  5. Cold fried chicken: See “Cold fried fish”.

  6. Cold hot dish: A delight for the lazy upper Midwesterner.

  7. Sub: Another rare one; pick it up and start chomping.

  8. Reheated pasta: Not quite as good as that delightful block you get from the cold stuff, but it’ll do.

  9. Onion rings: Like Funyuns, but more fun.

  10. French fries: Another rare leftover. They are made edible again via cast iron pan at 450 degrees.

Tips For Responding To Negative Reviews

In case you haven’t noticed, online reviews are kind of a big deal these days. Consumers rely on them to validate their perceptions or steer them in another direction when researching products and services. No matter how good your intentions are, you are bound to receive a negative review at some point. How you choose to respond will go a long way toward shaping consumers’ perceptions of your business.

Responding To Negative Reviews: A Guide

Your organization, product, or service has received a negative review. This presents you with a wonderful opportunity.

“Are you nuts?”

A little, but hear me out. A negative review is an opportunity to respond to client concerns in a constructive way. It’s a chance to show potential clients how you interact with your patients and customers.

Users understand that no organization is perfect and will actually expect to see something other than a perfect string of five-star reviews. They will appreciate the opportunity to see your customer service in action.

Did You Know? Disneyland – “The Happiest Place on Earth – receives one-star reviews despite an overall rating of 4.6 stars. You cannot guarantee that all your customers will be happy. You CAN control how you treat them and how you take advantage of the opportunity a negative review provides.

Tips For Responding To a Negative Review

  • Take a deep breath or even “sleep on it” before responding. NEVER respond while upset.

  • Write a short, non-confrontational reply that directly addresses the issues raised by the review.

  • Sincerely apologize and, if possible, offer to make things right.

  • Thank the customer for their business and for taking the time to provide you with feedback.

  • Provide reassurance by explaining how the issue has been resolved or will be resolved.

  • Avoid including your business name or location in the review (search engines may prioritize such reviews).

Response Template

[Name],

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We are sorry for your experience so far. We have [details on solution] and, if you need further assistance, please contact us directly at [phone number].

We value our relationship with you and welcome any further feedback you have.

Thank you,

[Name and Position]

My Trees

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." — Greek Proverb

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” — Hal Borland

“The most passive aggressive fights you will ever have in your marriage will be over whether you can plant one more tree.” — Me to my sons someday (probably).

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Much has been said over the years about trees. Much has been written on this blog about lawns, yard work and other chores of home ownership. Without a doubt, planting and caring for my trees has been the most rewarding part of it. However, to understand how I wound up being a man who prefers Arbor Day to Thanksgiving, we need to take a step back in time.

The first 10 years of my life were spent in an apartment and in a house that lacked significant foliage, at least of the deciduous variety. The crabapple trees adjacent to the house and the tall fir trees in sight were enough to result in a dreary environment during Seattle’s soggy winters, leaving the thought of adding trees far from my parents’ radar. Here’s a recent Google Maps capture of the property in Auburn, Washington:

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Things on the tree front took a step further back when we moved into a new housing development in Enumclaw, Washington when I was 10 years old. As you can see, things haven’t improved a whole hell of a lot since in the tree department. However, I am detecting a common theme of the current owners saying “Screw shade trees. Let’s plant an awning!” :

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At the age of 15, we moved to Minnesota, settling on the outskirts of Lindstrom in another treeless housing development. Even today, it’s only graced by the presence of some scraggly apple trees and less than majestic volunteers that have sprung up along the swamp out back:

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By now you should realize two things:

  • My father has largely managed to avoid the toil of fall litter cleanup

  • I did not grow up in the shade of trees like many previous generations

Rather than spending life behind bars like so many who grew up treeless, I wound up married with a home of my own, which brings us near the present day.

Upon moving into our residence in Inver Grove Heights, I was happy with the presence of trees, although I didn’t know much about any of them. I was just happy that I had some trees to provide shade and a bit of an escape from the monotony of the American lawn. Here’s a picture taken during our first summer here (note the tree lined lot and the American Elm visible above the roof line:

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Standing in the shade of our American Elm after Adam’s baptism in July 2014, days before its removal in July of 2014. .

Standing in the shade of our American Elm after Adam’s baptism in July 2014, days before its removal in July of 2014. .

Our second full year in our house, 2014, is when the shit hit the…well, let’s just say when the trees hit the chipper. Our backyard American Elm was taken down after a bout with Dutch Elm Disease, the larger of the two Royal Red Norway Maples in the front yard was removed due to a trunk defect that increased the likelihood of it falling on the part of the house where our newborn slept. Then, a city project resulted the removal of a poorly constructed retaining wall on the side of our property, resulting in the loss of numerous Siberian Elms and spruce trees.

The aftermath:

As you can see, no more American Elm peaking over the roof line and no more tree lined property.

As you can see, no more American Elm peaking over the roof line and no more tree lined property.

What happened wasn’t entirely up to me. While I had made the decision to remove the Royal Red Norway Maple and decided going along with the city project at no cost was a better decision than being left to maintain a failing retaining wall on my own in the years to come, there was nothing I could do about the Dutch Elm Disease that took out our property’s most prominent tree.

What I could control is how to shape the future of our lot and I knew trees would be an important aspect of my planning. As you can see in the above photo, a new tree was planted in the front yard. It’s an Accolade Elm, a European/Asian hybrid elm developed at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago. Here’s how it looks today, nearly 5 years later:

My Accolade Elm, circled by stones from my Grandmother’s farm.

My Accolade Elm, circled by stones from my Grandmother’s farm.

Planted at the same time as the Accolade Elm (chosen as part of the city’s project), a Green Mountain Sugar Maple was added to my landscape for the purposes of beautiful fall color. Here’s my sugar maple in the fall of 2018:

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Left: Bradley in 2018, Right: Adam in 2015.

Left: Bradley in 2018, Right: Adam in 2015.

Fast forward to September 2015. I decided to plant a new American Elm a few feet away from where our previous one stood. The variety I chose was “Princeton”, a tree that has proven to be highly resistant to Dutch Elm Disease.

Freshly planted “Princeton” American Elm. .

Freshly planted “Princeton” American Elm. .

Adam and Ike enjoy standing under our elm in July 2019. As you can see, American Elms have an incredible growth rate.

Adam and Ike enjoy standing under our elm in July 2019. As you can see, American Elms have an incredible growth rate.

The following September it was time to add some spring color in the form of a “Spring Snow” flowering crabapple tree.

Shortly after planting.

Shortly after planting.

Adam and “Spring Snow”, both standing in our field of clover (June 2019). .

Adam and “Spring Snow”, both standing in our field of clover (June 2019). .

As 2017 rolled around I decided I wanted to add a tree on the other side of our house to provide an interesting view from our master bedroom window. I went with a “Matador” Maple, a cross between a Silver Maple and Red Maple, two trees that are native to Minnesota.

Matador Maple, October 2017.

Matador Maple, October 2017.

Present day.

Present day.

Last but not least there are two trees in our front yard that have been survivors through all of this change. One, a Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn, provides a beautiful flower show every few years:

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The other is the smaller of the two Royal Red Norway Maple trees that were here when we moved in. A neighbor informed me that this tree was planted by the previous owner and her children in honor of their late husband and father.

Unfortunately, I realized at some point in 2014 that this tree had been planted too deep and had developed numerous girdled roots, a condition that would eventually result in the tree’s premature demise if not addressed. Knowing the tree’s history and purpose, I decided to roll up my sleeves and attempt to save it. I carefully dug out the area around the trunk, cut out the girdling roots that were wrapping around its base, and constructed a tree well around the tree. This allowed the root flare of the tree to breathe and develop while providing protection from increase runoff given that it was technically below grade.

The procedure was a success, as the tree quickly gained size and the root flare properly developed. Today you can hardly tell the tree was planted incorrectly and nearly removed. As I understand it, the family still lives in the area. I hope they take some comfort in seeing this tree still there despite the other changes that have occurred during our 7 years here.

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An Honest Obituary

Whether you’re paging through The New York Times, taking a glance at your hometown paper or catching up with a friend at your favorite breakfast spot, it’s common to see or hear “he/she died peacefully” and “____ was loved by all.”

I’m calling bullshit.

Throughout my 34 years on this earth I’ve met plenty of pricks and tortured souls. It’s long past time to write an honest obituary on behalf of everyone who’s received the whitewash treatment from grieving loved ones in a vain attempt to save face for the living.

Here goes nothing…

Jane Doe

Jane, 83, of Timbuktu, died a physically and emotionally painful death anywhere but home on June 3. Her seizing, hacking, and rattling were matched only by the fear in her eyes as she contemplated the bitter hell that awaited her on the other side.

After spending her youth tormenting parents, teachers, and contemporaries alike, she bedded the first man she was able to fool at the local watering hole. Despite the poor match, they married three years later after realizing the odds of either of them finding true love were minimal at best.

The pitter patter of little feet came two years into their marriage when she gave birth to a little girl. It was a day she would always regret, as little Cecelia cut into her day-drinking, chain-smoking, and crossword puzzle time.

Known by her neighbors and family (she had no real friends) as an ornery old bag, she spent her golden years (more like tarnished silver years if we’re being honest) berating the staff at the local nursing home. Especially the “damned foreigners” who she was fond of spitting on. After her death, the heirs who could be persuaded to show up were scarred for life as they cleaned out her expansive collection of “massagers”.

She was survived by those unfortunate enough to have memories of her. Our gain is Lucifer’s loss.

National Lampoon's Kids In Cages

Hey! With Mother’s Day in the rear view, if any of you are looking for a Father’s Day gift ideas for me, I have one.

I’d like Donald Trump, our supposed leader, right here tonight. I want him snatched from his live-tweeting of Fox News in the White House residence, over there on Pennsylvania Avenue with all the other miscreants and I want him brought right here, with a HUUUUUGE ribbon on that muskrat he calls a head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, gravy-gulping, low-life, Putin-licking, burnt steak-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, charity-robbing, bankrupting, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, coon-eyed, stiff-legged, twat-lipped, combed-over sack of monkey shit he is!

Happy Fathers Day! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?

If you’d like to explore donating to causes that are helping migrants and their children, start here.

So Long, Turkey

My 34 years and 91 days have led me to a sobering conclusion: turkey — no matter how prepared — is still turkey.

No matter how long you soak it in saltwater, no matter what you inject it with, and no matter how you raise it’s internal temp to safety, in the moment your fork brings it to your lips it is still turkey.

Turkey, the foulest of fowl, has a number of characteristics that are troubling for culinary purposes:

  1. It is naturally lean, and lean is “foodie” for dry

  2. It is naturally bland, at least in its modern and industrially-raised form

  3. It is more difficult to prepare than tastier birds such as chicken or duck

Been There, Ate That

Now, before you start peppering my timeline and inbox with “but, have you tried it ____?” the answer is “unfortunately, yes.” I’ve had it wet-brined, dry-brined, injected, patted, salted, water-thawed, fridge-thawed, and even misplaced on the back porch for a half hour before preparing. Once ready for the heat, I’ve had it cooked the following ways:

  • Oven roasted: The classic way to treat your family to a dry meal that reminds them to be thankful for the year’s other 351 dinners

  • Roasted in a turkey roaster: Produces similar results as oven roasting; perfect for those who prefer their turkey to come out with mushy skin as white as a polar bear’s ass

  • Deep fryer: As close to palatable as turkey can get. If eaten shortly after frying, the skin is a real treat and the dark meat is downright edible; quickly reverts to “still turkey” within 45 minutes of carving.

  • Grilled/smoked: Its all there: the apple wood and hickory flavor, the smoke ring on the drumstick, the pleasing hues. Unfortunately, that serves to remind one they’d rather be eating ribs, sausage or brisket.

Bonus photo of the turkey I prepared on my Weber yesterday:

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Turkey Still Has Its Place

Minnesota leads the nation in turkey production and I don’t wish to crash the local economy. The good news is that turkey is still good for one thing: processed meat. Balogna, sausage, turkey bacon, you name it. If it’s made by grinding up meat and mixing it with colors, salt, and a variety of tasty chemicals, use turkey. It makes an otherwise deplorable bird edible and provides affordable sustenance for millions while keeping Minnesota farmers employed.

It’s Time To Change The Locks On Turkey

I leave you with this quote by Josh Ozersky of Esquire, who says it best:

Turkey always, always lets you down and makes you feel bad. It's as if we invited an angry, abusive midget to our home to call out everyone's secret sins and then defecate on the carpet, and then invited him back the next year. It's just a mystery.


Goldilocks & The Caribbean Cruise

If you follow my posts on Facebook and Instagram, you probably figured out that I spent the first part of January on a Caribbean cruise with my family. Needless to say, traveling with a four-year-old and a not-quite-two-year-old presents its fair share of challenges.

The first challenge was getting everyone from our suburban Twin Cities compound to Fort Lauderdale in one piece. We were worried about Bradley — our youngest — as he had never flown before and was still not 100 percent over a viral stomach bug. Bags (and Pedialyte) packed, we pressed forward:

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It turned out that we were worried about the wrong child. Bradley did great on the plane with the exception of some atrocious gas. Unfortunately the bumpier-than-usual flight taught us that Adam suffers from motion sickness. Let’s just say that getting a preschooler to keep all the vomit in a narrow air sickness bag is something I was not 100 percent effective at.

After landing, changing clothes, and getting the rental vehicle squared away, we felt that we still had a chance at a fairy tale vacation. Reality was less like a fairy tale and more like Goldilocks and The Three Bears. But, instead of bowls of porridge that were too hot or too cold, elements of our cruise were too young, too short, and too fat.

Too Young

We knew going in that Bradley was too young to attend any of the kids club/play group/daycare offerings on the ship. This was unfortunate as Bradley is in the midst of a very clingy “Momma, Momma, Momma” phase. On the bright side, Bradley loved partaking in the various dining options on the ship and glared at a hostess who made the mistake of picking up a plate that still had food on it.

Too Short

Adam has been described as “tiny”, “little” and “petite”. He’s the type of kid who can eat unlimited amounts of ice cream (stay tuned) and still need his pants taken in. On this cruise his height was the issue. He was about one inch too short to partake in the water slides on the pool deck. A bummer, but we managed to persevere. Access to the aforementioned ice cream between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. certainly helped.

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Too Fat

Speaking of water slides, there was a 250 pound weight limit on the adult water slides. I clocked in north of 250 so if you see me walking around with an ice cream cone, please slap it out of my hand.

Just Right

Setting aside the too young, too short and too fat of it, we had a wonderful time on the cruise and created some memories that will hopefully last a lifetime for Adam. You could even say it was like that third bowl of porridge Goldilocks swiped from the three bears: just right.

The image is below is how I choose to remember it:

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Blast From The Past: So Long Erik Paulsen

I’ve had enough day job and freelance work to keep me more than busy as of late, so I haven’t really been in the mood to blog in my precious free time. During my blogging drought, the mid-term election results left the Congress without anyone who has met me in person (this demographic was overlooked by the media in favor of covering the large number of females elected to office in the redux of 1992’s Year of the Woman).

I wrote the following in 2008 while covering the Minnesota House of Representatives:

Stepping Down: Seizing an unexpected opportunity

Published (5/2/2008)
By Brian Hogenson

When U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) announced he would not seek reelection in 2008, leaving the race to represent Minnesota’s third congressional district wide open for the first time in nearly two decades, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Eden Prairie) was not chomping at the bit to run for the seat. 

“I had no interest at all the first couple of days,” said Paulsen, a former Ramstad aide. “But the more people talked to me, I realized it was an opportunity I should not pass up.” 

Confident that he would do a good job, Paulsen said that serving in the U.S. House would be an “exciting opportunity to represent my district.” 

Something he hopes take with him to Washington D.C. is an ability to build relationships with members of the opposing party. 

During his four years as House majority leader, Paulsen said it was important to get his caucus moving in the same direction, but also found it important to build relationships across the aisle. 

That is one of the most important things he offers as advice to his successor. 

“Be true to your constituents always. Remember that they were the ones that elected you,” Paulsen said. “Be a good listener to all points of view and build relationships with your colleagues.” He credits his ability to get legislation passed while in the minority to having good ideas and because of the relationships he has forged by reaching across the aisle. 

Paulsen adds that it is also important to maintain balance and stay rooted with your family in order to keep everything in perspective. 

According to Paulsen, the people of Minnesota don’t want legislators to compromise their principles, but they do want them to be pragmatic and solution-oriented to facilitate getting things done. 

Reflecting on his 14 years in the House, Paulsen says that in addition to keeping up with all the new faces, a change he has noticed is the expanding scope and vision of legislation. “When I got here it was about making Minnesota competitive with our neighboring states. Now it has shifted to global competition. 

“Making Minnesota competitive in a global economy is an important issue for me. I’ve tried to have a long-term and international vision.” 

Paulsen said that, unfortunately, with two-year election cycles, members tend to look for short-term solutions and “govern by sound bites.” 

Two of the international initiatives Paulsen is proud of are his work in bringing an India Center to the University of Minnesota and an initiative to introduce the Mandarin Chinese language to Minnesota students. 

Other legislative accomplishments that Paulsen looks to fondly are legislation to give organ donors an income tax exemption to cover the expenses that go along with their life-saving act and bringing more fairness to suburban school funding. 

The latter earned him an award as a “Friend of Public Education,” something Paulsen said typically would not be associated with being a Republican. 

One thing that Paulsen has not been able to completely wind through the legislative process is bringing ballot referendums and initiatives to Minnesota. Paulsen introduced the legislation during his first term and has carried the legislation ever since. It has passed the House several times but never made it any further. 

Paulsen hopes it will someday come to fruition, as it will give “voters more of a say in the democratic process.” 

Federalism: Back To The Future?

Perhaps the only thing everyone can agree on these days is that our nation is irrevocably divided on issues large and small. From Supreme Court nominations and social policy to economic and environmental stewardship, there is little consensus to be found.

The lack of agreement on important issues leads to a sense of despair in many. If we cannot even get along with each other, how will we ever come together in order to take on challenges from around the globe? What can we do to get a durable majority of our 325 million citizens moving in the same direction?

I’ll answer that last question with another question: do we need to get a durable majority of 325 million citizens moving in the same direction? Without claiming to know whether it’s the right or wrong solution, let me propose a return to robust federalism as a possible solution to the cesspool of infighting we find ourselves wallowing in as the calendar approaches 2019.

Federalism?

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m using the term federalism to mean a system in which policy is created and enforced at the lowest level of government at which it can be effectively handled. For example, being arrested for DUI by a local police officer rather than an FBI agent.

Why Federalism?

It is my theory that many are frustrated by their interactions with a government they feel little connection with or have the power to influence. This has been exacerbated as the federal government expands its scope with each passing decade. Features of our Constitution such as the Electoral College (elections in 2000 and 2016 resulted in the popular vote winner not being elected president) and United States Senate leave even more people frustrated as decisions are made by elected officials who represent less than a majority (or even plurality) of voters.

For example, in the vote to confirm Justice Kavanaugh, "the 50 senators voting "yes" represented states covering just 44% of the U.S. population or 143 million Americans. That's less than a majority, less than the 181 million Americans represented by the senators voting no." (Source)

As the legislative branch repeatedly deadlocks, we have seen an increase in government by executive order. While they provide fun photo ops, they do not stand the test of time. An incoming president can quickly reverse the executive orders of a previous occupant of the Oval Office, which is a tenuous place to be for those affected by them (ask your nearest “Dreamer” about DACA).

Returning more governing power to state and local governments would allow decisions to be made by representatives who are more closely tied to their constituents rather than placing so much power in national governing bodies who are more likely to lose touch with the voters who provide their mandate to govern.

In the words of one of my favorite shows and one of my favorite musical artists, maybe it’s time for us all to take a break from each other and live and let die. If Florida wants to live with toxic algae blooms, red tide poisoning, and shrinking shorelines, so be it. If California wants to use the law to toss shade at people drinking through plastic straws, fine. If Minnesota wants universal healthcare, fine. You get the picture.

Horny Toads

I'm not an expert on the life cycle of the toad but, based on what I'm experiencing on my slice of Inver Grove Heights, the toads were in a loving mood at some point after the spring thaw. 

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Since June every couple steps in my yard results in the scattering of infant and juvenile toads. Mowing the lawn has taken an extra 15-20 minutes as I pause to gently nudge toads on their journey away from the mower deck. 

It's great. 

No, really. It's great.

Besides the obvious benefit of delighting the four-year-old, it's a clear sign that my organic approach to lawn care is paying off in spades. I've never had such an influx of toads. Come to think of it, the only places I've noticed toads in the past were my garden boxes, where the toads would hang out and do toad stuff from time to time. Not coincidentally, my garden boxes were previously the only chemical free space on my property. 

Upon further research, it turns out that frogs and toads have very absorbent skin. Unfortunately, that means they can quickly absorb toxins from the environment, making them extremely sensitive to herbicides, pesticides and other sources of pollution. The fact that the neighborhood toads have chosen my organic lawn as their breeding ground is flattering. In fact, I hope they will choose to spend the rest of their lives here. 

Why? In a three month season, a single toad will consume nearly 10,000 insects. Between my toads and the bat(s) that chill out in my bat house, a fair bite is taken out of the mosquito population without me lifting a finger. Speaking of winged insects. I've also noticed an increase in the number of butterflies that choose to stop by for visits; another beautiful sign that I'm on the right track. 

 

 

New Adventures In Turf Management

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Last autumn (the best season by far, and those who think summer is better can suck it) I detailed a new approach to managing my third of an acre. 

I decided to leave the boulevard for the bees, doing nothing but tossing the occasional bushel of clover seeds at it and providing a regular mowing. No more water, chemicals, etc. wasted on an easement that routinely suffers salt damage during harsh Dakota County winters. 

The front yard would be the showcase, the beneficiary of the chemicals and potable water available to the modern homeowner. 

On the other side of the fence, the backyard would be managed with a hybrid approach, manually removing weeds and adding clover to the mix for its nitrogen fixation properties and drought tolerance. 

As most of my other plans do, this one went out the window early on this "spring". As the local readers of this blog know, we went from a 15 inch snowfall in late April to 90 degree weather by the end of May. The extremes were a shock to the yard as much as they were a shock to my system. 

The usual 4-step fertilizer program for the front yard was scrapped, as was my plan to do some additional overseeding in the front and back. It simply got too hot and too dry too quickly for that to be worth the effort. 

At the same time, I was doing additional research into the drawbacks and benefits of organic lawn care. It turned out there are no drawbacks unless you're the type of person who enjoys wasting time and money applying synthetic chemicals in an unwinnable battle. Let's face it: in the battle of man vs. nature, nature is undefeated. 

I decided to leave the Weed B Gon and Roundup in the shed. For weeds that pop up in my rock and mulch beds, I created my own weed killer out of white vinegar, salt, and dish soap. For extra stubborn weeds I can always turn to my trusty propane torch. For the dandelions and others that I choose to remove, I have a variety of manual tools at my disposal including a dandelion fork and a stand-up weed remover. I pulled a bucket full earlier in the "spring" and have let the occasional dandelion be since then. 

Mother Nature has been filling in some of the salt-damaged boulevard edge with a variety of plants, and the clover I seeded out there last autumn has greened up nicely as a companion to the fescue/bluegrass blend that also resides there. 

The clover in the backyard is in bloom and feels wonderful underfoot. I recently fertilized the entire yard with Milorganite, an organic slow-release fertilizer that is made from the heat-dried microbes that feed on wastewater in the Milwaukee sewer system (not kidding). 

My new plans include overseeding the front yard with microclover (a smaller variety of white clover that blooms less often and grows shorter) and adding additional white clover to the backyard and boulevard this fall.

Learn more about the benefits of clover.

The bottom line: Monocultures are unnatural; trying to maintain one is a waste of time and money. My new approach is healthier for my soil and, more importantly, my family. My one-year-old can put anything from my yard in his mouth without risk of ingesting toxic chemicals, and the cats are no longer put on house arrest after a dose of weed-and-feed. With that said, I'd still prefer that Bradley stop eating mulch. 

Sometimes It Is That Simple

In my most recent post, I revealed that my parental leave provided me the opportunity to reflect on what I truly find fulfilling in my professional life. I closed by saying that I've taken some steps in finding a more fulfilling niche in my workplace, and to stay tuned for more details. 

Well, here are the details: I made the decision to transition from a Senior Content Strategist to a Content Strategist.  In an era where everyone strives to overachieve and "have it all", why would I voluntarily take a step down the ladder? To understand why, we need to take a look back in time. 

I started working at FindLaw in July of 2008 as a contractor. As someone who graduated at the dawn of the financial crash and associated great recession, I felt blessed to simply have a job. The fact that I was getting paid to write was extra filling in the pie (cake is overrated). 

As time went by it turned out I was actually pretty damn good at my job, resulting in being hired on staff in April of 2009. By some time in 2010 I had been promoted to Copywriter III, a position that indicates you are proficient in production and a go-to person for mentoring, coaching, and process issues. In 2011 I made the jump to Senior Copywriter, resulting in more of a 50/50 split between writing and administrative tasks (coaching, mentoring, process improvement, quality reviews, etc.) 

I had approached my career with an old school ethic that was more commonplace in generations past when someone would start in the mail room and work their way up to the board room before having a retirement party in the ballroom. I assumed my next step would be Team Lead -a step into the management realm. Alas, it was not to be. 

My role as a senior became increasingly removed from my true strengths. Instead of creating marketing copy, creative taglines, and in-depth blog posts, I was frequently living in spreadsheets, online ticketing systems, and business process management tools. Long story short, it felt like actual work and I simply didn't give a rip about much of what I was doing. I did a good job because it was my job, not because I felt any sense of pride in it. 

I had started giving serious thought to pursuing jobs at other companies. My thought process was "if I've hit my ceiling at FindLaw and am not happy with what I'm doing, maybe it's time to move on." This was a struggle for me, as my job works very well with my family life. I work close to home (literally at home multiple days per week), have good benefits and, most importantly, am able to spend time with my boys each afternoon. I didn't really want to move on, but was feeling like I was running out of options. I simply couldn't see myself in the same senior role until the day of my retirement party. 

Fast forward to my parental leave. I finally had an epiphany while watching an episode of Scrubs. Dr. Cox, my favorite character on the show, found out that a paperwork error meant he was still married to his ex-wife, who he was again in a relationship with. Things began deteriorating until a colleague told him: "If you're not happy, go back to when you were." He responded to this by asking his wife for a divorce, and they continued living together happily ever after. 

It finally hit me: I didn't have to leave the company to be happy again. I just needed to go back to the role that was the best fit for the 2018 version of me. As a Content Strategist the vast majority of my time is spent writing marketing copy and blog posts, and promoting content on social media. I'm once again a round peg in a round hole, doing what I do best on a daily basis. 

Career decisions can be incredibly tricky, but sometimes it really is as simple as deciding what is most important to you and making it happen. 

 

 

A 10 Week Taste of Retirement

All good things must come to an end. My mini-retirement was no exception. 

I returned to work this past Tuesday after a 10-week parental leave that began as the calendar turned the page to 2018. 

"But Bradley is almost a year old. Did you have a third child you neglected to tell us about?" 

No third baby; I was the beneficiary of an update to the Thomson Reuters' parental leave policy combined with some good timing. Secondary caregivers now receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave, and the change was retroactive to the beginning of 2017. This resulted in 10 weeks of additional parental leave despite the fact that my kids are both in daycare five days per week. 

Needless to say, this was an exciting opportunity that I was ready to take full advantage of. 

"Well, what did you do? Write a book? Find the cure for cancer? Summon the intestinal fortitude to clean out the refrigerator?" 

No, no, and hell no. 

What did I actually do? I'll break down my leave into four categories: friends and family, personal, home improvement, and career. 

Friends & Family

Having that kind of time off allowed me to spend some additional time with friends and family. This included: 

  • Going to Philadelphia with Dave for the NFC Championship Game (more on this here)
  • Taking Adam to the zoo with Uncle Steve
  • Checking out Matt's Bar and showing Mom around Minnehaha Falls
  • Weekday lunches with friends
  • Snowshoeing and relaxing with the wife at Bluefin Bay
Snowshoeing. 

Snowshoeing. 

Adam & Uncle Steve on an unseasonably warm day at the Minnesota Zoo. 

Adam & Uncle Steve on an unseasonably warm day at the Minnesota Zoo. 

Personal 

Having what was essentially a 10-week paid vacation came at a perfect time for me personally. Various side effects had driven me to stop taking Fluoxetine in September, but by the time the holidays rolled around it was clear that being med-free was not going to be sustainable unless I could live alone in a basement apartment. 

I started taking Venlafaxine during my leave and it has been able to keep my generalized anxiety disorder and OCD traits at bay with an immense reduction in the troublesome side effects I was experiencing while taking Fluoxetine. 

A sleep study was also on my agenda. After years of feeling drained and zombie-like every morning and being drowsy throughout the day, the time had come to get a handle on my sleep. The study showed that I was having around 7 disruptive episodes per hour, which made it near impossible to get the restful sleep I needed. I've been using a CPAP machine since February and have not felt this rested in years. 

With the prodding of my wife, I decided to switch up my workout regimen. The cornerstone of this is attending TRX/Kettlebell classes at The Grove on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On the other days I stick with my trusty elliptical trainer. It's been a challenge and I've definitely packed on some additional muscle. Now, if I could just sew my mouth shut I might see some fat loss. 

Throughout my leave I also made a conscious decision to do a lot of nothing. This was often in the form of watching TV or reading. I watched seven full seasons of Unsolved Mysteries, tore through GLOW in a couple of days, and watched the entire series of Community. Unsolved Mysteries led me down a serial killer rabbit hole that introduced me to the exploits of the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker. I read two books on his unsolved trail of terror: I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara and Hunting a Psychopath by Richard Shelby. 

Home Improvement

I had lofty goals of completing a long list of DIY projects around the house. Ultimately I scaled it back in order to allow more free time, which I felt was needed to recharge. However, I did get a few minor projects completed. 

First of all, I succeeded in finally refinishing the 1930's hutch/cabinet that had been in our storage room for nearly two years. It was given to us by my father-in-law, who picked it up from an uncle's house. If I recall correctly, it belonged to my father-in-law's grandmother at one point. 

The coolest part of this unit is that there are some stamps on the inside of the front door that date back to the 1930s. I decided to leave them in place for a little taste of history. The stamp-work of the little tykes who defaced this piece of furniture was not in vain. 

The finished product. 

The finished product. 

Career

I had steady flow of freelance work to keep my writing skills sharp during my leave. Having some distance from my day job for the first time in nearly 10 years allowed me to reflect and figure out what I really find fulfilling. Turns out I'm a writer at heart and need to have a hands-on, creative aspect to what I do or I will quickly burn out and lose interest. My freelance work has allowed me to strip away the process, the spreadsheets, and the internal politics, and focus on the nuts-and-bolts of what I truly enjoy. 

Since returning to work last week I've taken some initial steps in finding a more fulfilling niche in my workplace, but you'll just have to stay tuned for more details on that. 

Irredeemable Hellscape: An Amateur Anthropologist's Take on Philadelphia

It's been a couple weeks since my last post. Given that I'm trying to avoid resting on my laurels in 2018, I figured it was time to sit down and write again. Speaking of resting on laurels, I recently visited a city that has been resting on its laurels since the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. 

I've purposely waited to a few days to write this in an attempt to let some of my raw emotions cool down. It was the only way to avoid a post filled with sadistic thoughts such as "Well, if North Korea is determined to use a nuke, it wouldn't be that bad if it landed on..." 

First: The Good

The historical section of Philadelphia - which includes the Liberty Bill, Independence Hall and other sites - was very cool, despite nothing being open as a result of an unfortunately-timed shutdown of the federal government. 

A second positive is that my day in Philadelphia has taught me to appreciate the comforts of home. As I worked to remove over a foot of snow the other day I did so with a smile on my face. Why? Because I wasn't in Philadelphia. 

Now that I've gotten that out of the way...

The Bad 

Disclaimer
It won't seem like it after you read this, but I swear I am an open-minded person who appreciates the opportunity to experience new locations and cultures. Until this trip I've never had a bad thing to say about anywhere I've visited in the world. This includes a diverse array of major cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, Memphis and San Diego, as well as sleepy haunts like Boise, Salt Lake City, Spokane and Helena. My international travel is more limited, but includes Vancouver, B.C., Jamaica, and Belize. 
The night before I left I said the following in jest when my son asked where I was going: "I'm going to Philadelphia to observe a lesser class of people in their own habitat." This was a tongue-in-cheek response to the number of people who had been warning me about my upcoming trip. I thought there was no way it could be THAT bad. I was prepared for the worst (or so I thought) but expecting to have an enjoyable time in a popular east coast city. Unfortunately, my comment to my son turned out to be entirely accurate. 

What The Hell Is In The Water? 

The flight in to Philadelphia concludes with a view of South Philly and the nearby industrial yards along the river. There were large globs of a floating substance that some passengers naively suspected were floating chunks of ice despite temperatures in the 50s. The globs looked more like garbage and/or sewage to me. Little did I know that it was only just the beginning. 

What's That Smell? 

"It's piss. Yes, that's definitely piss."

It wasn't always piss. At other times it was body odor, rotting building materials, strewn garbage, and sewer gas. But, mostly, it was piss. Center City, particularly the subways, reeked of urine. Much of Philadelphia smells as if they've forgotten to change the city-wide urinal freshener since the age of Rocky. 

What's With The Trash? 

No, not the trashy people; I'll cover them later. I'm literally talking about the trash that seemingly covers every sidewalk, tree lawn, park area, step, and lobby in this city. Every step you take is through a scattered field of food scraps, wrappers, papers, and things I decided not to identify in order to preserve my own health. 

I was taught at a young age to pick up after myself and don't consider putting an item in the trash to be heavy-lifting. Apparently this is not part of the parenting handbook in Filthadelphia. Sitting at the city's Irish Memorial, near a literal pile of trash bags, I had a thought: "If this is supposedly the good side of the Delaware River, how awful is New Jersey?" 

Why Is It So Damp In Here? 

Every time we were in the subway, it was a struggle to not face-plant as a result of the slippery floors. My longtime friend and I kept commenting, "Why is it so damp on the stairs in here?" Looking back I have a guess and it rhymes with hiss...

That wasn't the only issue with transportation. The kiosks for purchasing fares were often inoperable, the airport is laid-out like a Rube Goldberg device, and nothing was open in the airport as we awaited our fight back home. Not even a bar was in operation at a time when I wanted nothing more than to drown my post-game sorrows in Yuengling. 

Where Are The Onions? 

I was actually really looking forward to taking in some of the local cuisine, which means a cheesesteak. I ordered mine "one with whiz" which means one cheesesteak with fried onions and cheese whiz. It wasn't until my last couple of bites that I realized they forgot the onions. It was an innocent mistake that became more annoying as the overall trip grew worse. Each subsequent indignity caused me to dwell more on the lack of onions until mid-flight back I told my friend I was going to go home, drink a whiskey, and fry an entire onion before going to bed. Once I arrived back home I thought better of it. 

What Is Wrong With You People?

Philadelphians have an awful inferiority complex, likely driven by the fact they lie halfway between the first class cities of New York and Washington, D.C. As we rode the Broad Street line to Lincoln Financial Field, I couldn't help but think "What happened to you folks? Were you all touched by an uncle?" 

Speaking of the game, I have two young children at home and my friend is getting married this summer. Needless to say we intended to make it home injury-free and were well aware of the reputation Eagles fans carry. We wore Vikings gear, but also had zip-up hoodies so we could go incognito when necessary to avoid being targeted. This came in handy during the gauntlet that is the tailgating lots. 

The AT&T stop is the end of the Broad Street line, dropping you off in the midst of one of the lots. It was immediately clear that we had entered a post-apocalyptic hellscape that was nothing like the parking facilities near U.S. Bank Stadium back home. For those who have seen the videos taken by others before the game, they are indeed an accurate reflection of the pregame scene. 

I understand that a fan base is under no obligation to and should not be expected to welcome opposing fans with open arms. Verbal jousting is one thing, but throwing full beers at opposing fans, beheading the opposing team's quarterback in effigy, threatening to rape women and beat up children, and resorting to violence in the restrooms is a different story entirely. The first-hand accounts we received from fellow fans on our return flight included tales of being told to "fuck off" by an 8-year-old, being physically assaulted in the concourse, and urinated on in the restroom. 

For those saying "it's not all of them", you're wrong. It may be a minority that engages in those acts, but everyone from surrounding fans to the mounted police officers makes a conscious decision to look the other way. Philadelphia's Finest, my ass. 

What Is That Guy Doing In That Bag? 

The finest person we encountered in Philadelphia is most likely homeless. As my friend and I turned a corner near Market & 15th, we witnessed a man shitting in a plastic bag. Clearly, this man has endured immense hardship in his life and things have not worked out to this point. Despite this, he has maintained his dignity as well as respect for his surroundings. That basic human decency and respect for the city was severely lacking elsewhere during our 20 hours in Philadelphia.  

What About The Super Bowl? 

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles football team, who played and coached a tremendous game and deserve to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, Eagles fans do not deserve anything positive, let alone a Lombardi Trophy. Go Pats. 

Good Luck To The Beleaguered Folks In Charge of Philadelphia Tourism

For my final thoughts, I'll leave you with a slightly updated quote from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, one of my favorite shows. It's fitting that the show is about a bunch of drunks with no redeeming qualities.

Eagles fans deserve to rot in jail, though having to spend every day with each other in that vile city is a decidedly greater punishment. That is why I decided not to retaliate, leaving them to live in the hell on earth that they've created for themselves. 

I Married a Handy (Wo)Man

Throughout my life I've frequently been told that I'm my harshest critic and need to cut myself some slack now and then. I prefer to think of myself as acutely self-aware. 

In a time when society at-large seems to be obsessed with the idea that everyone should be able to do and have it all, I have a belief that cuts against the grain: it's okay to admit that you suck at something and move on with the rest of your life. 

This realization came to me recently as the mobility of our youngest child necessitated bringing the baby gates out of storage. We decided to actually attach them to the surfaces of our home via screws this time rather than relying on tension. This required a lot of measuring, leveling, adjusting, and, unfortunately, the reading of instructions. 

As someone who struggles with anxiety I've been making an effort to avoid unnecessary stress. It quickly became apparent that dealing with these gates was stressing me out. Instead of making a dozen extra screw holes, teaching my 3-year-old some new words, and throwing the gates down the stairs, I contributed to this project by purchasing, cutting, and staining the boards we used to provide a stable mounting surface along the banisters. 

This reduced role was possible because my wife truly is my better half. She fills in the gaps and, when it comes to home improvement, my gaps are numerous. I simply lack the patience to deal with many household tasks, but those are what she excels at. You won't find her fingerprints on the lawn mower, snowblower, or much of the garden, but you'll find them everywhere else on our piece of suburban paradise. 

My new approach when presented with a potential project is to step back and ask myself, "will the time, effort, and potential aggravation be justified by the likely result?" Just because I can tile a floor doesn't mean it's worth me spending the next decade fixating on the one tile that is only 95 percent level. Just because I can take a couple days off work to stain a fence doesn't mean I wouldn't be happier to pay a pro and spend the time at the zoo with my kids. 

From my point of view, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is a slippery slope to "I spent most of my life aggravated and wallowing in self-loathing." As long as I'm blessed with a handy-woman of a wife and the financial means to hire some things out, I'm going to focus my time and energy doing what I'm good at and/or what makes me happy. 

If writing happens to be your baby gate, floor tiling, or fence staining, let me handle it so you can take your trip to the zoo. 

Holidays: They're For The Birds

Actually, if I'm going to associate enjoyment of the holidays with an animal name, I'd have to say the holidays are for the kids. In case you didn't spend a good chunk of your childhood reading books about zoology, "kid" is a term for a baby goat. 

Back to my original point. With the four-day Thanksgiving weekend and the trimming of the family Christmas tree in my rear-view, it is clear that the bulk of my personal holiday enjoyment is behind me as well. The truth is, once you have children, it's really not about you anymore at least until you have grandchildren. 

Thursday Was Nice

The wife, the kids and I awoke around 6:45, which is customary in our household. We ate breakfast and spent some time getting the kids cleaned up so they could be presentable. We headed over the river and through the woods - really, it was more like over the Mississippi River and up 35E - to my Grandma's house. There, we were joined by aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like. We enjoyed a 1 p.m. meal of turkey, ham, and all the sides one would expect. 

"Ham?"

Yes. Ham. I'm 32 years old and don't have to eat turkey anymore. Not only is it fowl, it's foul. 

Then Came Black Friday

Since I view Black Friday shopping as an activity reserved for those lacking moral character and self-respect, the day-after-Thanksgiving is actually a pretty relaxing day in my household. At least it used to be prior to the arrival of our two bundles of joy. Speaking of the boys, one of them stayed over at my Mom and Dad's Thursday night so it was the wife, the baby and I for most of Friday. We began the day by grabbing breakfast at the local diner before spending the rest of the day handing the baby back and forth in between his naps. 

The Saturday Slog

By Saturday, keeping up with the needs of an 8-month-old and the whims of a 3-year-old was beginning to take its toll, at least on me. It doesn't help that due to a combination of teething, night terrors and sleep-regression, the little one isn't yet sleeping the night.

I spent some time removing the display of gourds and hay bales from the front steps and wrapped the trunks of some of my younger trees to prevent the possibility of sun-scald this winter. It bought me 20 minutes to myself, although I shared some of that time with the large colony of Boxelder bugs that had set up shop under the bales these past two months. 

Sunday Bloody Sunday

There actually wasn't any blood, although I did get a couple drops of berry pie filling on my sweatshirt after church. 

By Sunday I was completely devoid of emotional reserves, patience, and the ability to complete basic tasks like untangling strands of lights without wanting to scream. As a result, I took frequent breaks from decorating the tree in order to spend some time recharging my introverted batteries. During one of these breaks I once again scrubbed every surface in the downstairs bathroom, trying to remove the persistent smell of urine that has made itself at home there since the 3-year-old decided it's more fun to stand up. Fun? Yes. Accurate? No. 

At some point after dinner, my wife asked me what I thought about the weekend being almost over. It dawned on me that I was actually looking forward to Monday, because going back to work seems like a break compared to being with both kids all-day for nearly four days. I spent a couple hours after that moping about how bad of a person and parent I am for thinking that way. Don't get me wrong. I love my kids and would do anything for them, but sometimes I just need some peace and quiet, or a little time to sit on the couch without immediately being summoned to do something. 

After I helped the 3-year-old brush his teeth and read Fox in Socks, I asked him if he had fun decorating the tree. "Yes. Tree was fun." He said his favorite ornament was his new Spider-Man ornament. I gave him a hug and asked him if he had a nice weekend. "Yes." I asked him if he was ready to play with his friends at daycare on Monday. "Yeah. Daddy, are you going to pick me up tomorrow? I like it when you pick me up." 

There it was. That's why I do it. The diapers, the early wake-ups, the urine scrubbing, the constant picking up of toys, and even the decorating. I do it because at the end of the day the little wieners enjoy it and they even like me for some reason. The Holiday season may be just another list of to-dos for me, but it can still be a magical time for the kids. 

My hope is that sharing this will help other parents realize they're not alone in occasionally losing it or just wanting some time for themselves; that parents who only post the highlights to social media are lying, just curating moments that paint the perfect picture of a happy home life. 

My fear is that I'm wrong and that sharing this is only exposing how ill-equipped I am for parenthood. 

My suspicion is that my hope is accurate and my fear is unfounded. 

What do you think? 

Fun With Band Names

Over the years I've accumulated a list of names that I think would be great for a band, even if only for a local cover band that needs help getting noticed on a flyer. Since the odds of me becoming a rock star at 32 are slim-to-none, I've decided to share these now as a public service. 

Here Goes Nothing (that could actually be one): 

  • (The) Piss Shivers (their music will give you goosebumps)
  • Toothless Tom & The Teabaggers (dedicated to a former Ember's manager)
  • At-Fault Party
  • (The) Pepperoni Bra Sweats
  • (The) Onion Bits (they'll move you to tears)
  • Blueberry Rage Machine
  • Pen15 (those who used to be young boys will understand)
  • I Believe In Butter (inspired by an in-law's butchering of a product name)

Someday I hope to pay a $12 cover at a local bar to watch one of these. Until then, remember to get your pets Spayed and Neutered