Holiday Season 2009

on Saturday, December 5, 2009

And so the Holiday season is upon us and for me, not being a Black Friday shopper, it begins today. The George Maurer Trio is heading for Crosby, MN tonight for a gig entertaining the local hospital staff, we stay overnight and then head for Roseau, MN in the morning for a nearly identical gig entertaining the staff of their hospital. If you didn't look at the map, Roseau is a mere 9 miles from Canada in mid-western Minnesota and the route from Crosby to Roseau takes around 6-1/2 hours. The drive back to St. Cloud on Monday morning will take around 7-8 hours. There goes working on Monday.

Tuesday (12/8) sees me playing holiday music with Andrew Walesch, a talented young singer who is out pimping his new holiday CD. We play two shows, one at 2 PM and one at 7:30 PM.

Thursday (12/10) is a private party for General Mills at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.

Saturday (12/13) is a concert at St. Edwards Catholic Church (I'd link to their site, but it's a piece of crap) in Princeton, MN.

Monday the 14th is our annual Holiday Concert on our "home stage" at the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud. This is always a great time and we tend to pull out all the stops with an 18-piece big band, dancers, tons of singing and, of course, the annual coffee toss where I throw 2 oz. sample bags of coffee into the audience.

On Sunday the 20th we play our annual gig at Faith Lutheran Church in Spicer, MN. This one tends to be fun, too, although since we use the church's sound system, with the speakers in the ceiling and no monitors, it's a little hard for us to hear. The audience does just fine.

Christmas eve eve (12/23) brings us back to the Dakota for another holiday tradition, another coffee toss and an cramped, but intimate stage (we bring the big band onto a stage more suited to small combos).

And we wrap up the holiday season with on New Years Eve at the Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, MN.

All in all it will be a very busy holiday season playing my guitar and I wouldn't have it any other way. Personally I'm glad that, apart from this weekend, we don't have to do any long-haul traveling.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

New Vehicle!!

on Thursday, October 22, 2009

Well, I was able to do it, I got a new car for the business. It's a 2006 Chevy HHR, it has plenty of cargo space and it drives like a dream. My landlord and friend, Randy, was able to get me a screaming good deal, the bank was able to swing it through my existing loan without changing what we're already paying ($8 more per month) and it all took less time than I thought it would.

Special thanks go out to Kate for allowing me to use her car to get around while we worked everything out! Kate rocks!

This is by far the newest vehicle I've ever owned and I plan on driving it until it doesn't go anymore.

Gosh! How exciting!

The Demise of the 92 Ford Tempo

on Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My car's transmission has started slipping in and out of consciousness. The other day it suddenly shifted into second while I was going 30 mph. I was only two blocks from my destination so I babied it into the parking lot and turned it off. When I got back it drove and shifted just fine. I added a couple of quarts of transmission fluid because it has had a slow leak since I got it in December of 2007 and I haven't had the time or money to fix it. That usually does the trick.

Today I got to work just fine. When I went to run an errand the speedometer read "0" and the car wouldn't shift out of second. Again, I babied it to my destination hoping that maybe things would clear up when the engine got warm. Nope. First gear all the way back to my shop.

I decided the best thing to do would be to baby it all the way home and park it in the driveway. It shifted just fine for the first six blocks until I got to a red light, once it turned green I was stuck back in first. I drove home slowly on every back street I know, borrowed Kate's car and was able to do my coffee deliveries.

So now it's time for a new car. I am hoping I will be able to funnel this one through the business, because it has more money and a better credit rating than I do as an individual -- plus it's tax deductible! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for now and I hope that soon I can get the Tempo and all of it's quirks out of my life.

Holy Soap!

on Friday, October 2, 2009

The date was Sunday, July 9, 2006, the trio had a gig at a festival held at Phelps Mill near Fergus Falls, MN. It was a great day! We played well and we got to jump off the old bridge and swim in the river. At some point during the day I bought a three-pack of oatmeal soap from one of the vendors, expecting to use it in the shower.

Unfortunately, it contained perfume and I don't like using perfumed soaps, so the three balls of soap about the size of billiard balls got relegated to hand soap. I've used it daily since and -- I just used the last of it this morning. That's practically 3-1/4 years!

My hat is off to the lady who made that soap!

It's All Gonna Burn!

on Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kate & I were sitting in the living room talking, commenting on how much noise there is in the neighborhood since the college kids moved back into town, when we heard a guy a little too close for comfort yelling, "It's all gonna burn!" We both stood up when we realized that the dude was in my yard, we got to the kitchen when we realized that he was mounting the steps to the back door. Kate got behind me as he started pounding on the screen door, the main door was open, since it was a nice night and I went to close and lock it when dude opened the screen door and started to come into my house! I headed him off and asked him what his problem was.

"It's all gonna fuckin' burn," he repeated as he pointed vaguely in the direction of my yard, or the alley, or the garage -- it was hard to tell. I looked out to make sure nothing was on fire.

"Why don't you just get out of here?" I suggested.

"It's gonna burn, it's all gonna burn!"

"Well, let's not burn it tonight, okay?"

He started mumbling something else, so I added, "This is my home and you're not welcome, get out of here now because I'm calling 911."

I closed and double-locked the door and went back to the living room to find Kate standing there with my iPhone ready to call. I dialed 911 and calmly told them what had happened, what the guy looked like (he was way over 30 and definitely not a college kid), and asked them to send a prowler around the neighborhood.

Like after a car accident I was able to replay every second in my mind and freaked out about it. Fucker tried to get INTO MY HOUSE!!! I've never had anything like that happen before!

Here's my theory: he was actually a concerned citizen -- concerned about the fact that we have a lot of dry wood piled up next to the garage from when we trimmed some dead branches off the black walnut tree in the backyard this spring. He was worried that if it somehow caught fire it would take the garage with it. So, yes, it would all burn. Unfortunately, he wasn't very tactful at voicing his concern.

And that's the plan after all, it is all gonna burn, but we're going to do it in a controlled series of small burns in the fire pit this fall.

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Stress in My Workplace

on Monday, August 31, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I was cooling a batch of Nicaraguan Organic when I heard a loud CLUNK! come from my coffee roaster (the Probat L12 pictured above), I ran into the roasting room from my office to discover that the main drive wheel in the back of the machine, also known as the "idler wheel," had snapped off at its shaft where it connects to the machine's body. I knew what had happened before I looked because it had happened before back when we first moved into our current location about three years ago.

A call to Probat down in Tennessee, an overnight package, $180 and a few hours of tricky labor and we were back up and running. 

The machine was making a particular rhythmic throbbing sound just before the part snapped, and after the repair it is still making a similar sound. I am waiting -- half-expecting it to snap off again at any second. I am under a kind of stress that I've never been under in over 15 years of coffee roasting, and it's taking a physical toll.

My knees hurt, especially the left one that I injured an unfortunate butterfly accident*, and my left arm is sore from the shoulder to the elbow, I keep noticing that the back of my neck is sweating when the temperature in my office is cool and comfortable. No, I am not having a heart attack, I know exactly what those feel like, having had a mild one back in 2003. I can't continue like this, but I am very busy and can't afford another day of tearing the roaster apart again. But that is what I must do.

The machine was built back in 1994 and has thousands of hours of roasting time on it (a very conservative estimate is around 25,000 hours), but I worked on another Probat once that was over 75 years old at the time and it is still in operating condition. I can only assume that when we did the repair we didn't do it right. If that shaft is out of alignment by just a tiny amount it could cause another failure.

I can't live with this stress and I have to do something about it. I only hope that when I'm done re-repairing her, she'll be back in top shape and ready to carry me through the next 15 years. She has to, a new machine would run me somewhere around $20,000. She is the heart of my business and I need her!

* the unfortunate butterfly accident: was running out of my office to rescue a batch that was about to get too dark, when my left foot was planted I caught flying movement out of the corner of my left eye -- something that shouldn't happen inside -- I shifted my weight to quickly go the opposite direction and wound up straining it a bit. I thought initially that it might be a bird or a bat. Nope, it was a butterfly.

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Playing for Lawyers

on Thursday, August 20, 2009

We were supposed to leave St. Joe at 3:15 PM, that would have gotten us to the Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, MN and set up with plenty of time to spare. George took the Tahoe full of sound gear and offered Jeff and I the chance to drive his Camero -- and who would pass up a chance like that?

It took some doing, but we got our gear into the tiny, little trunk and practically non-existent back seat area -- we had to put the top down to get Jeff's bass amp in the the back, but everything fit snugly and we were ready to go. Jeff ran into the coffee shop to get an iced latte for the road, when he got back to the car he was on the phone.

"Take everything out of the Camero and put it in my car," he said, "we have to go back to St. Cloud to pick up the lights."

So down came the top again, and out came our gear which we quickly loaded into Jeff's mini-station wagon. We drove to the roastery in St. Cloud, where we store most of our gear, picked up the lights and were ready to leave. We stopped at a gas station to fuel up and Jeff noticed his son's overnight bag that was supposed to be left at the roastery for a overnight trip to grandma & grandpa's and that's where everybody was going to meet. So we turned back again, dropped off the bag, said goodbye and were finally on the road at 4:25 PM, a full hour and ten minutes later than we'd originally planned.

Our contract said we were supposed to be set up by 5:30 as the patrons, a group of lawyers, would be showing up between then and 6:00. Jeff and I got there at 5:35. George had already set up most of the sound system and we were able to move our gear in and get the system checked and ready to go. We walked out just as the first lawyers started to arrive. Perfect!

We were scheduled to start at 8:30, but these things rarely go as planned. Speakers make speeches, one of them goes on a little long, so does the next, etc. After waiting in the hallway and goofing around we were finally on stage at 9:15. Our contract called for four 45-minute sets, but I find that usually if the speechifying goes on longer than it's supposed to the event ends earlier than scheduled. That wasn't the case.

We are very accustomed to 3-set gigs. 4-setters get long and we get tired. This one seemed like it was never going to end. Some people danced, others sat at their tables and drank and talked, the one person in the room who was having a really good time was one of the bartenders, a woman somewhere in her 60s. She danced and sang along, she thanked us and complimented us at set-break. If everyone in the room would have been having as good a time as she was the place would have been on fire!

Finally we finished. We were tired and we were thirsty. It was 1:00 AM. Jeff quickly ran to the bar and asked our biggest fan if she could set the band up with a round of beers.

"I can't," she said, "we're closed."

Now, I don't blame her, she had probably counted out her till and inventoried what she had left and was ready to break the bar down and go home, but it still sucked. A beer, that's all we wanted.

No dice.

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Why The Hell Do I Care What Some Idiot From Florida Thinks?

on Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I post frequently at a couple of online forums. Most of the talk is about Macintosh computers, at least that's the major reason the sites exist, but there are sections that talk about politics, society and other decidedly non-computer related subjects.

There is a guy who lives in Florida who first came to my attention when, at age 20 he claimed that the 21 year old drinking age was nothing short of discrimination and that as a legally under-aged person he was being subjected to Draconian laws specifically designed to keep him and other under-aged people under the thumb of The Man. He went so far as to say that he knew what "real oppression" was all about.

I found that statement to be patently offensive. I can't see how any logical thinking person could equate drinking laws with the Nazi persecution of Jews or the Jim Crow laws of the United States. You can't drink a beer, boo hoo. That changes as soon as you're 21. Jews couldn't own property or businesses, black people couldn't drink at the same fountain as white people regardless of their age.

Personally, I don't agree with the 21 drinking laws, but I don't really see any pressing reason to change them. People who do should work to get the laws changed. Bitching about them and claiming that they are some part of an organized "War on Children" accomplishes nothing.

The "War on Children" statement (his actual words) came to light again in the story of a high school senior who was denied his diploma on graduation night because he did some showboating, blowing kisses, showing off his track medal and waving when both he and his mother had signed a Code of Conduct written by the school promising not to do anything of the sort.

At the same ceremony a graduate tossing a beach ball through the crowd was taken aside by a sheriff's deputy, was calmly asked to stop throwing the ball around several times. He became agitated and upset, started yelling and finally removed his gown, threw it at the deputy and stormed out.

Florida boy's take on the situation was that the school district was being oppressive and dictatorial and that the sheriff's department had no business being there at all. Yes, it was all part of the War on Children.

My take was that kid #1 signed an agreement saying he would be quiet and respectful, but wasn't. The school administrators were perfectly within their rights to refuse him his diploma that night. Now, if they refused to graduate him at all I would strongly disagree, he did the work, he earned the right to be graduated and he should be allowed to. He was guilty of nothing more that disrupting a ceremony (a needless ceremony in my opinion). The long and the short of it is that it was the school administrator's choice to interpret their own rules as they saw fit and that the kid should bite his lip and accept his punishment.

As for the beach ball thrower, he shouldn't have done it in the first place, but he was perfectly within his rights to walk out on the ceremony.

The fact that the sheriff's department was there is simple, they were providing security just like they would at the 4th of July parade or at a concert in the town square. There was nothing discriminatory about their presence at a high school graduation.

That's not how he saw any of it. The cops were there to oppress free expression and the school administrators were waging the War on Children.

A discussion about radar detectors and internet sites that list speed traps turned ugly when I suggested that it would be easier to just go the speed limit rather than wasting time, energy and money to try to thwart the law.

He has pretty much admitted that he would rather shoot and kill a person than have them steal his TV. I find that kind of thinking nothing short of repugnant.

And finally, a 20 year old who killed himself and his two passengers in an illegal street race (the passengers weren't wearing sear belts) got me labeled "sanctimonious" when I said that I didn't really feel sorry for the idiots involved. If you're doing something stupid and illegal and you're killed as a result you will receive no sympathy from me.

He seems to have no concept of self-responsibility. Traffic laws are there to personally inconvenience him, drinking laws and curfews are "an atrocity and a travesty and an egregious abuse of human rights." But does he work for change? No. He goes apoplectic and spouts hyperbole as fact.

He is an idiot. A very young, very immature, very angry idiot. So why does he make me so angry? Why do I give a shit what some immature, unworldly, naive hothead thinks? Why does my blood pressure rise every time I read one of his tirades?

I try to think rationally and ignore him. I realize that he is young and inexperienced and has no idea how things work, which battles to fight and which to ignore, but then he says something that is just so outrageous and preposterous that it demands a response. Teen curfew laws an "egregious abuse of human rights?!" What the fuck?!

I guess it all boils down my outright hate of stupid people, those who see their own opinion as Absolutely Right and see everything and everyone who doesn't agree with them 100% as Wrong -- and not just wrong but evil, oppressive, dictatorial, tyrannical... He refuses to see reason, he refuses to even see reasons he disagrees with and that makes him one of the most impossible people I've ever been exposed to.

I realize I don't have to go to those sites, but I've been a participating member of one since 2002 and I find most of discussion to be informative and entertaining. Sadly, the "ignore" button that would prevent me from reading any of his posts was removed several years ago.

So I guess I will go on reading his posts, laughing when he says something ridiculous and trying to ignore him when he says something outrageous. Fuck him, he'll learn (or at least I hope he will). And if he doesn't he'll probably die doing something stupid and I won't have to feel sorry for him.

How I Learned to Drink Tequila

on Saturday, June 20, 2009

My friend Chuck loves tequila. During trivia one year, he drank one shot per hour for the whole 50 hours, he said after a while he didn't get any more drunk, he just leveled off. I, on the other hand, don't like tequilla so much, I find the taste to be somewhat unpalatable, but I think the same thing about J├Ągermeister and drink it anyway.

Only once did I ever have a truly exceptional tequila. My friend Jeff had been in the wedding party of a college friend who married a Mexican girl whose family business was making the stuff and each of the groomsmen received a silver hip flask filled with the family's private reserve. That stuff tasted like ambrosia! It was smooth and delicious, there was no need to pollute the taste with salt and lime. If I could get a hold of some of that again I would do so gladly.

Back to Chuck. For several years in a row he would show up at my birthday party with his bottle of tequila in hand and would insist that I do a shot with him. I hated it and avoided it for as long as I could, but he would insist and he would persist until finally I would do a shot just to shut him up. Finally, after the third or fourth year of this I had had enough and when he walked through the door the next year I grabbed a shot glass and said, "Let's get this over with right now so we can both enjoy the party."

I think he marked that day as a success because he hasn't had to badger me since.

This training paid off one day at a gig at the Mendakota Golf Club, which remains my least favorite place to play. The place is full of egotistical rich bastards and their trophy wives...

I got rid of that bitch and married me a young one," said one, speaking on relationships.

They've got money, they want to show off to their friends and they treat the "hired help" like non-people. For the most part.

One guy, who was avoiding the speech section of the evening's whatever ceremony (the grand prize was a set of golf clubs, I remember that) engaged us in conversation -- in fact, I think he was the one who said that lovely thing about his ex-wife -- and finally offered to buy the band a shot. We learned long ago to accept such offers.

We all head off to the bar and he orders a bunch of shots of Cuervo 1800, the bartender pours the shots and starts gathering limes and salt shakers. I grabbed my shot, downed it, said, "Thank you," and started to walk away.

"Wait!" he says, "You have to do the salt and lime!"

"Thanks, but that won't be necessary," I replied.

Inside I was thanking Chuck for getting me out of that situation.

I still don't really like tequila, I will never order a shot for myself. Once in a great while I'll take a pull off a bottle if one happens to be near, it is, after all, the social thing to do. I'll stick with beer, if you don't mind, but at least now, thanks to Chuck, I know I can drink with the big kids.

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The Bob Hope Story

on Monday, June 15, 2009

This has to have been almost 20 years ago now, it was a whole career ago for me and I was still driving a delivery van for the St. Cloud Times so I'd have to put it in the early 90s, I got a call from a friend of mine asking if I wanted to play a "pick up" gig in Montevideo, MN backing up Bob Hope. Who wouldn't say yes to that?

A whole bunch of us from St. Cloud piled into a van and drove there for an afternoon rehearsal led by Mr. Hope's musical director named Jeff. We only saw Mr. hope for a few moments at the end of the rehearsal to run a gag he'd do during the song Buttons and Bows.

As Music Director Jeff explained it, the gag went like this: the band would kick into Buttons & Bows and vamp the first four measures while Bob would talk to the audience, Bob would then cut off the band, tell a joke and count the band off again. This would happen as many times as Bob saw fit, and then he'd continue with the song. Near the end of the song there was another vamp which Bob would cut off, he'd tell one last joke and we'd finish out the song.

As I explained before, this was almost 20 years ago which would put Mr. Hope one side or the other of 90 years old, and he'd recently gone through some health problems that kept him off stage for a while. The Montevideo show was his first in quite a while, which would explain what happened that night.

The show is going along just fine, Mr. Hope is charming, Delores Hope, his very lovely wife, sang beautifully and the audience was thrilled -- as was most of the band -- to spend an evening with a true comic legend. It comes time for Buttons & Bows, the band starts playing, Bob talks to the audience about where the song came from (the movie The Pale Face) and comes to the point when it's time to cut off the band and tell a joke. He cuts off the band and -- he goes blank.

He looks over at the Music Director and says, "Jeff, give me a joke."

Jeff suggests, "The one about the [insert joke subject]."

Bob tells the joke, the audience laughs uproariously, the band starts again, Bob talks some more. He cuts off the band a second time and -- he goes blank.

"Jeff, give me a joke."

"The one about the [insert joke subject]."

And it happens again. And again! He must have stopped the band six times or more with the same result. I was on stage as a true comic legend was "going up on two wheels!"

Finally he sings the song until the moment when the last gag is coming up. He cuts off the band, looks at Jeff, Jeff shrugs -- he's out of jokes! But Mr. Hope, the consummate professional just continues the song to the end.

[Joke subject:]

A guy goes to the doctor for a checkup, the doctor says, "You've got to stop having sex. In your condition, if you have sex again you'll die."

So the guy goes home and explains the situation to his wife, "Just to be on the safe side, I'd better sleep downstairs on the couch."

Halfway through the night he's getting so hot and frustrated thinking about how much he'd like to be making love to his wife. Finally, he can't stand it anymore and starts to climb the stairs to the bedroom, halfway up he's met by his wife.

"I was just coming upstairs to commit suicide." He said.

"Really?" she replied, "I was just coming downstairs to kill you."

And so it went... each joke had a similar theme, a guy going to a doctor and the result having some impact on his marriage, but that's the only one I remember. I'm sure Mr. Hope told it much better than I wrote it.

The rest of the show went just fine, the audience was thrilled, I got to add a line to my resume and apart from getting a speeding ticket, we made it home safely that night -- just before I went to work. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Itasca State Park - June 2009

on Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Itasca State Park trip didn't start the way I wanted it to. I got up and cleaned the house as planned, took care of the cat box, recycling, got the garbage out to the alley and just needed to run a few errands in order to be out of town by 1 or 1:30.

I gassed up my car, took it in for an oil change, ran to the roastery to pick up a few essentials and then headed to the grocery store and liquor store to provision up for the trip. The last thing I bought was a 20 lb. bag of ice which I put it in my trunk, all ready to go home and pack up the cooler. I got into my car, turned the key and was met with a click.

"What the fuck?!" I wondered, and turned the key again. Click. "No fucking way!" My car wouldn't start.

I'd had a recent bout of forgetting to turn off my headlights and draining my battery -- twice in one week, so that was the first thing I checked. There was no way I could have been in the grocery store long enough to drain the battery, and sure enough it seemed just fine.

It was in the ensuing moment of panic that I was almost reduced to tears. This was supposed to be my vacation! I was going to see Kate and wanted to get there as soon as I could. Car trouble was not part of the plan!!

I ran down the list in my iPhone and tried calling several people to see if they might be able to help me, which wasn't easy because it was 1 pm on a Thursday afternoon and I had to think of people who probably wouldn't be at work. I talked to several answering machines and a couple of people who just couldn't get away to help. Finally I thought, "I have to at least get my perishables home and into suitable storage, then I can figure this out."

For some reason, my friend Bobbie popped into mind, she's retired and she doesn't live too far from the grocery store, maybe she could help me get my stuff home, so I called her. It turns out she was at the very same grocery store at a different entrance. She came around and helped me get my ice, butter, milk and beer home and asked if I'd like her to call AAA for help.

So it was back to the grocery store and she called the AAA number to get some help. Unfortunately, the people there assumed we were having battery trouble and sent out the "battery truck," a small-sized pickup truck that's ready to either give you a jump or sell you a battery out of the back. We needed a tow, not a jump. He ran a battery check and as suspected it was just fine, but he also noticed a wire hanging from where the starter attaches to the engine.

"That's probably your problem right there." he said.

He called a tow truck and we were soon at R&L repair. Sure enough, the only problem was that the ground wire that runs from the starter to the ground had fallen off.

"Did we do this job?" asked Matt, the mechanic, "Because if we did, someone is in trouble."

I assured him that R&L hadn't done the job and he stated that he'd never seen such a shoddy job in his life. Rather than using a wire connector to run the ground wire, the previous owner had used electrical tape, the engine's oil had eaten through the tape's adhesive and when I got the oil changed it got bumped and disconnected.

R&L properly reconnected the wire, and while they had the car on the lift quickly rotated my tires. The whole thing ran me $20 and I after stopping at home to pack the cooler and my things, I was finally on the road by 4:00 pm.

I arrived at Itasca several hours later than I had planned, but Kate and I got to take the wilderness drive and climb to the top of the 100 foot fire tower on the park's western end in time for sun set. What a view! And the music of the woods was quite a thing to hear with frogs croaking everywhere, loons calling in the distance and birds of all types singing their evening songs.

The next morning we headed to the U of M research station where Kate is doing her internship and grabbed a canoe. We took a trip around Schoolcraft Island, the far side of which Kate informed me had a loon's nest that was easily seen from a small bay on the far side. When we got there the wind caught the canoe and we wound up rowing into the bay backwards, because I couldn't see exactly where we were we suddenly found ourselves within only a few feet of the nest! The nesting mother was instantly in front of the canoe taking on a very aggressive posture and shrieking excitedly!!

"Let's get the hell out of here!" Kate yelled.

"I'm working on it," I replied, but briefly looked to see where the nest was and spied two leathery brown eggs about the size of a hand ball. We booked it out of there and apologized to Mama Loon, but I mark it as one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

We continued our canoe trip to the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi River. I've seen it before, but that doesn't diminish the wonder of the spot. Every drop of water that falls over the rocks that children clamor over at that point travels over 2300 miles, and takes approximately 90 days to get to the Gulf of Mexico. Cool!

We canoed back, had lunch at camp and then hiked a couple of miles through the woods, saw the pioneer cemetery and returned to camp as the sky in the west grew darker and darker. There was an afternoon squall that took the heat out of the air and made for perfect napping weather. After dinner we drove down to Peace Pipe Vista and watched as the sun sank toward the western horizon. We had a nice evening watching flames dance in the fire pit, drinking tequila and laughing about the simplest things. We went to bed early and set an alarm for 4:30 AM in hopes of traveling to the fire tower again in time for sun rise.

Unfortunately, we were about 5 minutes late, but we enjoyed the view regardless (the photo above was taken at that time). We headed back to camp and slept for a couple more hours while an intermittent light rain pelted the tent, and the campgrounds awakened.

The on and off rain, coupled with our sore bodies made today a low key day. I broke my coffee maker brewing up some Camping Blend, but was able to salvage a couple of good cups and we stuck close to the "tourist-y" areas of the park, the swimming beach and the museum. Finally, it came time to say goodbye and Kate headed back to her life up there and I drove the three hours back to St. Cloud.

I really wish I could have gotten there as early as originally planned, but my car had other ideas. It's hard to pack a weekend into 1-1/2 days, but I think we did pretty well.

And I can't wait to see Kate again. Just a couple more weeks.

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Garden 2009

on Sunday, April 26, 2009

Inspired by Cari's blog I thought I'd show what's growing in my yard.

The 30 year-old Bleeding Heart is about ready to bloom.

The Raspberries will be back again this year, no doubt with the same vengeance as last year.

Gas Plant anyone?

This is sedum which I stole from someone's overgrown garden.

The Daffodils I planted last year are ready to bloom!

My most successful plant, commonly known as Cheddar Pinks. Soon they will have pretty five-petal flowers that smell faintly of cloves.

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Driving: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Percentage of adults who said they had done these things in the previous 30 days:

Sped up to beat a yellow light: 58%

Exceeded the speed limit by 15 mph on major highways: 45%

Exceeded the speed limit by 15 mph on neighborhood streets: 15%

Deliberately ran red lights: 6%

Source: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Oct. 25-Jan. 10 survey of 2,509 adults.

Amanda Cooke, 21, a computer teacher in Running Springs, Calif., says she used to drive so aggressively that her boyfriend was afraid to ride with her. "I'd cut people off to get into the lane I wanted to get in," she says. "I'd tailgate them if they were going too slow or blink my lights if it was night." Cooke says she stopped driving that way after crashing into another driver. "I didn't think it was as risky as it was," she says.


I spend a lot of time on the road and I see shitty drivers everywhere.  I will never understand why people feel that speed limits do not apply to them, in fact yesterday I got passed by some idiot going at least 60 in a 40 mph zone. They speed, they don't seem to notice that traffic is going slower than they are, they slam on their brakes when they get to a slower moving car, get mad and exchange hand gestures with the person who was not breaking the law.  Don't even get me started on people who speed through residential areas -- killing or injuring a child would not be a good addition your day.

I see people weave in and out of traffic without signaling their turns, people who think that stop signs don't apply to them (one jerk went around me on a two-lane residential street and crossed oncoming traffic while I waited at a stop sign to to turn right -- the oncoming cars had to slam on their brakes to avoid hitting the stupid bastard).

I see people paying more attention to their cell phones than the fact that they are controlling a ton of glass and steel (like the woman who almost rear-ended me this morning as I turned onto the street my business is on). I see people who think that creeping up on a stop light will make it change green faster, and then when it does they sit there in some sort of daze.

And I'd bet that most of them are like the Ms. Cooke mentioned above who honestly don't think that their driving habits are dangerous.

I was taught to never take the other driver's skill as a given, I treat every car like it's a potential threat to my vehicle and try to never make a move without making eye contact when possible, when I know I am seen I am more secure. I've had too many close calls with people who think they're the only driver on the road to give anyone the benefit of a doubt.

Traffic laws are not there to inconvenience anyone.  Speed limits, turn lanes, yield signs, stop signs and traffic lights are there to make the roads safer for everyone. When someone ignores the speed limit because they were too distracted (or just plain stupid) to leave enough time to get where they are going, they are endangering not only themselves, but everyone on the road.  Being late is better than being injured or getting killed.

People get behind the wheel and turn into selfish monsters who think that everything and everyone is in their way and that needs to stop.  Start driving safer today. Slow down if you speed. Pay attention to your own vehicle and those around you. Above all remember that you're not alone on the road.  If we all do it, the roads will be safer.

Meatloaf avec Left-overs

on Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I had the feeling that my oven runs a little hot and subsequently cooks everything a bit too fast, dishes that should take an hour were done in about 45 minutes, etc. I mentioned this to Kate, so for my birthday she bought me an "outside the oven" meat thermometer. It's funny how a little thing like that could make me so excited! "What to cook? What to cook?" I kept asking myself, and I finally decided to start simple and make that prince of comfort food, meatloaf (tater tot hotdish is the king of comfort food).

I don't have a standard recipe for meatloaf, in fact I don't really have a standard recipe for anything, so I threw one together using a few leftovers, set the oven at 350° F, inserted the thermometer's probe, set the alarm to go off when the inside had reached 160° F, opened a beer and waited.

I didn't time it, but it sure felt like it took less time than times when I'd used a timer (nice sentence!), and it came out perfect! I'd never tasted a better one of my creations, it was so juicy and tender! What a treat!

My thrown together meatloaf:

1 lb. extra lean hamburger
1/4 lb. left-over uncooked stew meat cut into smaller pieces (it helps if its slightly frozen)
Several left-over slices of turkey pepperoni (not enough to make a pizza) cut into smaller pieces
One slightly beaten egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs (left-over from a recipe I was going to try, but never did)
1/4 cup left-over shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded Asiago-parmesean blend cheese
2-3 tbsp ketchup
1-2 tbsp spicy mustard
approx 1 tsp garlic salt
approx 1 tsp ground pepper

The stew meat adds a texture you don't find in meatloaf, all of the sudden you're eating a small piece of steak. The turkey pepperoni adds a little taste surprise, and it was good to get it out of the fridge.

Now, what's next? A chicken? A pork loin? The possibilities are endless!

Losing My Religion

on Monday, March 16, 2009

I gave up Catholicism for Lent. The last time I went into a church for religious reasons was probably around 1980, and even then it was because it was how I was raised, not how I felt or what I believed. I began questioning my own beliefs when I was a freshman in high school, and ultimately decided to leave the church. And I am not alone.

The recent American Religious Identification Survey by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut found that more and more people are moving away from organized religion, some moving towards a more "spiritual" view, while others are giving it up entirely. Similarly, the Christian Science Monitor recently printed an article entitled The Coming Evangelical Collapse which suggests that Evangelical Christianity will all but disappear within the next 10 years. Good riddance, I say.

Personally, I think Karl Marx hit the nail on the head when he said that religion was the opiate of the masses. I believe a person's spirituality should be a personal journey and that when one person tries to convince another that, basically, they pray wrong they are committing a very wrong act. I think that groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, who protest at soldier's funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs should be outlawed, and I have nothing but utter contempt for Christian Missionaries, who carry the "you pray wrong" message to the most remotest corners of the globe.

I do not understand people who adhere to a religion that spurns or condemns them, Gay Catholics top my list (Gay Republicans are next on my list, but that's not a religion per se). Why would anyone want to belong to a group that wants to limit or remove their personal rights and freedoms? I understand that there are more "liberal" Catholic congregations, and that the Catholic Church in here in the U.S. is not like the one you'd find in Vatican City, but to me that's like choosing to drink bleach instead of drain cleaner.

Ultimately, I understand that it is an individual's choice and if they choose to be Catholic or a member of the Westboro Baptists, that's entirely up to them. But there are so many who don't think they have a choice, they were raised in the church and they stay there because that's all they know, and I reserve the right to question their decision in my own mind.

All that being said, an acquaintance of mine recently wrote a list of 10 simple things that religion, especially Evangelical religion could do to keep from losing any more members, and perhaps even attract others. I reprint them here because for the most part I agree with him (my apologies for not de-Internetting his spelling, punctuation or grammar):

1. The Ten Commandments are history; not words to live by.

2. Matter of fact, TTC were used as bait to try and stumble Jesus. He showed up these morons by saying there's only two commandments; and they easily summarize and give purpose rather than be a set of arbitrary rules.

3. Put up or shut up about the so-called Gay Agenda. Give us something other than "because the Bible says so". Especially since the loudest dissenters can't even tell you where. Matter of fact...

4. Stop calling NIV and or KJV the infalliable, irrefutable word of God. I get that it's a Living Word, I do, but it sucks the power out of YHWH when you commit idolatry within the pages. Especially when...

5. They consider Paul to be canon. Really? Guy who writes letters to churches telling them to shut their womenfolks yaps and to cut their goddamn hair and you say he's God's mouthpiece? I've got more stock in Balaam's donkey having some residual holiness as compared to the greatest con artist of the era.

6. Dump the culture war. Puppets simulating oral sex didn't destroy society, Tinky-Winky didn't turn your kids gay and giant blue cock will fall short of generating mass sexual immorality, too. Telling people to not go see movies that you yourself haven't watched because you heard a rumor won't stop Hollywood from generating tripe. Letting themselves burrow into the ground and YOU show us how it's done. But not with the reasoning of "like {something} but with less violence"; use The Greatest Story Ever Told as a template and prove to people that you love smart stories and are willing to make sacrifices for it. "Joshua" was a step towards the right direction. Anything with Kirk Cameron in it thus far is not. Speaking of violence:

7. Stop giving society mixed signals. You cry for ass blood when society nabs a child molester, and lament for the days when the Old Testament God would rain fire on nations, but cry foul when entertainment is packaged up for your blood lust and sold to you. Jack Thompson is in the fight for the money; he uses your beliefs as a podium and you let him. Then he goes on to wish death and rape on people who disagree with him, and you turn a blind eye. You freak out over fiction and allow reality. Matter of fact...

8. Darfur should not be an issue. The second we hear the word "genocide", prayers, money and manpower should be poured into stopping it, instead of this pansy-assed missionaries to places where you're comfortable bait and switching resources for converts.

9. Placate the people that can't be ignored and ignore those that can't be placated. Celebrities that "found Jesus" need to be roped in when they publicly say it and discipled in some meaningful way. Mr. T and M.C. Hammer of all people are exceptional examples. Mel Gibson is not. This goes for spiritual leaders turned celebrities, too. The second someone says that God hates anything other than sin? Cut them off. Don't seriously devour another word until they are cleansed. Are they not adhering to the laws of the land? Jesus said give to Caesar what is his. If they so much as give the vibe that they are unashamed at accumulating massive amounts of wealth and saying that they report to a higher power in regards to it, lose them. They love money more than you or your Lord.

10. Dump Evangelism entirely. No leaflets, no Chick tracts, no "enjoy the meal/concert/clothes? Let me tell you about my friend Jesus...". No. Live your life. If you're truly interested in saving people, live your life like Jesus did. With a fucking smile. People will know if it's real or not. And if it is? They'll ask you. They want to know what separates you from the pack. What your secret is. The fear is that evangelical Churchianity knows the world will not because they aren't happy and don't truly know love and salvation as they writhe at mentions of homosexuality, and gently caress the flag.
When you mix religion and politics, you get religion.

And Jesus wept...


on Monday, March 9, 2009

Last week I came face to face with another bout of mortality. I found out that my old friend Nina is dying of lung and brain cancer, and another friend's mother, for whom I had great respect, died of breast cancer.

I met Nina through some guys I had played with in college and through the years we did a whole slew of small "noise in the corner" gigs, played in a whole crap load of pit bands for musicals from Jesus Christ Superstar, Nunsense and Little Shop of Horrors to a little known show called Baby. In fact, it was on a trip to Mankato for a gig at a convent that I bought my Stratocaster. I learned a lot of music and a lot about being a professional musician from Nina.

She had a weekly gig at the piano bar at a place called Charlie's until Karaoke took her job away. To this day I hate Karaoke because of that, and I'm sure it wasn't just Nina, but piano players across the country who lost some gigs because of it.

She told me stories of her early years, playing rock-n-roll, folk, jazz... whatever would pay the bills. There were stories of whiskey and cocaine, of bad love affairs and a few good ones. I watched her get divorced and fall in love again, I met her mother, her sister and brother and was treated like part of the family for a long time.

Unfortunately, we had a falling out when I took a Music Director job for a show that she really wanted to do. I didn't feel like I was going behind her back, but she did and our friendship suffered. But some friendships are stronger than petty things like jobs and we eventually made up, although we never worked together again. Her moving to Hackensack, MN didn't help matters there.

As I think back I am inundated with a cornocopia of memories...

I remember sitting in a practice room when we were both in the SCSU jazz band going over the tricky unison part of Chick Corea's Spain over and over again until we nailed it.

She told me that her father had been a POW in a Japanese camp in WWII and how he refused to have anything in his house that had been manufactured in Japan. But since he had been, she was able to get her mother a ride in the POW/MIA balloon for her birthday.

There was her admission that piano tuners (of which she was one) got "cranky" from hearing the same notes over and over, which became the butt of many of our jokes to each other.

She was in the balcony of the Paramount Theatre tuning the piano one afternoon as my friend Steve and I worked on painting a set, after about a half hour of hearing first one note repeated over and over and then the next she yelled down to the two of us, "Are you guys hypnotized yet?" Without missing a beat, or stopping what we were doing we droned in unison, "Yes, master."

And the memories keep coming.

She commissioned a mutual friend of ours to make the urn for her ashes. I can't even imagine that, but it is totally Nina.

The result is that I have come to think of my own mortality again. I think of Kate and my age difference and I realize that, barring some tragic turn of events, I will make a widow of her. I wonder if I could face my own imminent death with the same composure that Nina seems to be and my admiration of her has doubled in just the past few days.

I don't know how much time she has left, and I will cry when I hear the news.

A Story of Incredible Stupidity

on Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The following is a true story related to me over the Internet. I have attempted to calm the style down a bit and provide a more coherent time line, giving the original something of an "OMG-ectomy." The setting is a small business in St. Louis, what kind doesn’t matter.

The cast of characters:
  • Boss 1, not the brightest bulb in the pack, as will become apparent.
  • Boss 2, much smarter than Boss 1.
  • Client X, someone who has a very substantial and overdue bill.
  • Kelly, from Accounts Receivable.

It has become apparent to Kelly that Client X is a deadbeat and that the company will never see the money he owes, he has changed his cellphone number numerous times and his mailing address doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, Boss 1 doesn’t see it that way and one Friday decides to call Client X yet again to try to get him to pay his bill.

Client X apologizes profusely and says that he can pay by the 28th of the month. Then he makes a suggestion, “I was thinking it would just be faster if I did a wire transfer from my bank to yours. I’ll have my bank fax you over the form now.”

A few minutes later a fax arrives and Boss 1 brings it to Kelly to have her fill it out. The first thing Kelly notices is that the fax came from Client X’s office, not from the bank. The form requests not only the business account number, but also the beneficiary account number and the name and social security number on the account. Kelly smells a big, fat rat and calls the bank.

“First of all,” asked the bank, “how well do you know this guy who's initiating this request? If you don't fully trust him you shouldn't allow this to happen. Second, the only thing you need to share with him is the account number and routing number if he's only depositing, he can't withdraw anything if you only give him that much.”

Kelly brings this information to Boss 1 telling him, “The only numbers he needs are the ones you’d find on a deposit slip.”

Boss 1 gets angry and loud and tells Kelly just to do what she’s told!

Boss 2 overhears this heated exchange and goes to investigate. When he is told he can’t believe what he’s hearing.

“Boss 1, are you fucking insane?! You seriously think this guy is not just some scammer?! Well this is your proof that he is! This is NOT a bank form you moron! THIS IS A REALLY BAD IDEA!”

Boss 1 storms out of the room and Boss 2 hopes that’s the end of it.

Not much later Boss 2 had to go to a meeting somewhere in town. He hadn’t driven that day and Kelly gave him a ride. Along the way a still fuming Boss 2 says to Kelly, “Ten bucks says Boss 1 does it anyway and we're out all the money in the bank by Monday.”

When they return they find that Boss 1 did indeed fax the information to Client X. Boss 1 then proceeds to go ballistic on Kelly about not obeying his order and how dare she not respect his authority! Boss 2 jumps to Kelly’s defense and the two of them proceed to scream at each other for a half hour about how Boss 1 is hiding things from Boss 2, etc.

In the meantime, someone at the company has done some searching on Casenet, the online database for the state criminal courts, and it turns out Client X has a four page record that includes breach of contract, embezzlement, corporate theft and other charges. And Boss 1 gave him their banking information.

Kelly is left to go home and wonder over the weekend how she could work for someone so pig-headed, egotistical and stupid.

Boss 2 apparently called the bank because on Monday Kelly overheard another argument between the two, Boss 1 was wondering why the account was frozen.

I apologize for the lack of declining action in this story. Unfortunately, the person it came from is only an employee at the small business in this story and doesn’t hold a position important enough to know how the story ended. The company is still in business, so one can assume that cooler, smarter heads prevailed. It’s amazing what can happen due to one man’s greed and another one’s stupidity.

Membership Dues

on Friday, January 16, 2009

When I became a Certified Fair Trade™ coffee roaster things were different, there was an easy online way of reporting how many pounds of FTO beans I had bought from my supplier and I was required to pay about 10¢ per -- and most importantly, membership was free.

Now the reporting method involves filling out a spreadsheet and emailing it to them, which is a bit more confusing. C'est la vie, I can adjust. What I don't like is the sudden annual fee to simply be a member of the club, the dues are $700 per year, and that's on top of the 10¢ per pound fee. Last year my per pound fee was over $1000.

So these days I find myself in a dilemma, I can't really afford to pay $700 a year to belong to a club right now. I am required to put a Certified Fair Trade™ logo on any bag of CFT coffee that goes out my door, they supply them for a limited time, then it's up to me to incorporate it into my own labels, which they have to approve. I can get stickers, posters, door signs, etc. from them for free which is great.

What it all boils down to is marketing and product recognition, if you see the little black logo you know instantly that it is a Certified Fair Trade™ product. And whereas that is an important consideration I know that I could still label my coffee as "Fair Trade," note the omission of the word "Certified." Would that be enough? Is a single word worth $58.33 per month?

It's nickles and dimes and that's pretty much all we have around here. If money weren't tight, it wouldn't be an issue.