Beatrix, not throwing away her shot…

Beatrix, age 13, has a deathly fear of needles. When the vaccine was made available for her age group, I made her a promise: Get the vaccine (both shots) and I’ll take you out to dinner anywhere you’d like.

Beatrix, because she is wise, chose the most expensive and fanciest place in town. The problem of raising a young lady of taste. Tonight, we delivered on that promise.

Beatrix chose to split their signature dish with me, Steak Diane. With some whipped potatoes on the side.

That left enough room for their four layer devil’s food cake with caramel sauce for dessert.

Asked if it was worth getting two shots for, Beatrix said, “Definitely!”

Our wallet is happy we don’t live in Yountville.

Art Always Does It’s Job (Part 2)

We arrived at the restaurant with the best of hopes. The end to a lovely weekend getaway. A good lunch before having to return to our regular lives. We had just heard good things about the place, and the menu options looked promising.

It was a chilly and cloudy day. Though they had a nice patio we’d decided on the ride there to eat inside, due to the weather. it’d be only the second time we’ve eaten inside a restaurant since being fully vaccinated. The previous time being the night before.

When we got there and checked in with the hostess, we were told they were only seating outside. We decided we’d live with it. We were hungry. Looking forward to a good meal. A singer-guitarist was setting up for some live music. We rolled with it.

We sat down, waters were delivered. The server came over and took our order in good time. Then we waited. And waited….

Wow, it’s been a while, we thought. Almost an hour, we figured out. Other patrons were waiting too, we noticed. The mood was… low. Even the musician was playing sad songs.

I’d overheard the hostess mention to others checking in that the kitchen was backed up and there’d be a long wait for food. Why hadn’t we been told? No matter now. What more can we do but wait?

Our server checked in on us. Apologized for the delay. I asked about it. She explained that they are short handed in the kitchen. Having a hard time finding cooks these days considering the circumstances. Hey, I get it. Just wish we’d been told. It’s OK. My wife and daughter went to walk around. I’ll text them when the food arrives.

About ten minutes later, our food came out. About the same time as the hostess was seating a party of eight. Food was OK, not great. My wife’s was warm, not hot. My veggie burger passable. Beatrix’s was fine.

As we sat there eating, our server was bringing out water to the party of eight. A tray full of full glasses. As she rested it on the corner of their table to serve them, the glasses all tumbled off.Soaking a few of the people in the party and splashing a few more. The whole restaurant was turning and looking. They server was clearly embarrassed and apologetic. The people in the party were gracious and understanding. Clearly in a better mood than the rest of us.

Then as things were being picked up and the musician had finished his song, one of the people in the party yelled, “Hey, play something happy!”

The musician, barely being listened to before and sensing the unique opportunity before him, launched into a raucous rendition of Bamboleo. Soon the crowd was smiling, laughing, clapping, dancing in their seats. Many of us who knew the song sang along. The whole mood of the restaurant changed. Suddenly, the wait didn’t matter. We had music and community and fun. The musician even invited one of the people in the party of eight up to sing the next song. It was amazing.

How do you take a bad situation and make it better? How do you turn a restaurant full of hangry and wet customers into a party? Art. Art always does its job.

The Fight You Don’t See

May is Mental Health Month. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a Mental Illness Survivor. That I fight The Piggyback Guy every day.

But, what does that mean? How does that look, in practice? How does that play out? Can anyone tell?

Well, in my case at least, the only one who really knows — who can see the fight — is me. Here are just a few examples:

  • It’s when I’m doing something mundane like driving or the dishes and, suddenly, with no prompting, a memory pops into my mind of a specific time when I said something embarrassing or mean or feel like I did something that made someone uncomfortable. It plays in my head like a movie. Every detail as if it just happened moments ago (when, in fact, it was many years ago). It’s like an involuntary reflex where I re-live every part of the experience and embarrassment. Like someone has grabbed the back of my head and forced me to look at a screen of just one example out of many of what a horrible person I am. A deep shame grows inside and I silently start judging and convicting myself. I utter silent curses. Sometimes, if no one is around, I may pound a fist into my thigh or slap my own face. A punishment for long forgiven bygones. The Piggyback Guy has convinced me I deserve this.

  • There are times I wake up in the middle of the night. Mind racing. Can’t fall back asleep. Determined I’m going to forget something important or that I’ve let someone down but not sure what or who. I’m terrified. My heart is racing and I’m having trouble catching my breath. It takes me a while to figure out, despite the fact I’ve been living with this for pretty much all of my life, that I’m having a full-blown panic attack. And I know from experience that if I just wait, it will stop — just as suddenly as it came. But, in the moment I’m pretty sure the only way it will is if I kill myself. This is what The Piggyback Guy tells me and, at the time, I believe him.

  • I can’t drive by myself over any bridge without imagining what it might be like to suddenly wrench the steering wheel to the left, jump the barrier, and send my car falling with me inside. A movie in my mind plays every frame. I imagine what I’d be thinking, how I’d be feeling, what people might think or say when I’m gone. Never happens when I have other people in the car with me. Only when I’m alone. Or, when The Piggyback Guy is there. And he’s always there when I’m alone.

All of these happen. Daily. Often, many times a day. I’m pretty sure no one around me can tell. Most of the time no one is around when they occur.

And, I know I’m not alone. I know from speaking about it to other mental illness survivors that it happens to them too. Maybe not exactly the same things or thoughts but similar enough to let me know I’m not alone. These are the types of things we deal with while getting through every single day of our lives. A battle so many wage. A fight no one sees.

So, this month especially, take some time to simply be more aware of this. Just based on the numbers we know, you have someone in your life who, like me, is living with this. Living like this. Maybe that is you. Every single task, choice, decision, effort, and breath is happening with things like I described above also going on.

See them.

The Affordable Game

Here in Saint Paul, MN, and in major metropolitan areas across the United States, the demand for affordable housing is very high. The City needs it. The Citizens are demanding it. The Developers… Well, they are in business to make money.

Developers are building at a record pace all over the city. They will tell you they just can’t build a fully affordable new apartment complex economically — it’s too expensive they’ll say (i.e. They won’t make the profit they were hoping for). But the City knows the high demand is there and needs to look like it is doing something about the affordable housing crisis so they’ll hold the Developer’s feet to the fire and only green light a project if a certain number of the units are affordable.

OK, but what is “affordable”. When you hear this phrase, do you stop to ask? Do you do the math? No? Let me help. Because, you should never trust numbers without data behind them.

In Saint Paul, the City and Developer may explain that “affordable” is 60% or less of average median income (AMI). The chart they use to calculate this is one that encompasses Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Bloomington (see this chart). As you can see, AMI for 2020 is $72,350 for one person. It’s $93,050 for a family of three.

So, to meet the city requirements of 60% of AMI for a 1 bedroom apartment, it would have to be affordable to someone who makes at least $43,410 (which is a little under $22 an hour).

So, what does that mean rent wise? Well, the figure Saint Paul uses is that 30% of a person’s gross income goes towards rent. Therefore, rent for that one bedroom would be $1085.25 a month.

Does that seem affordable to you?

Is it affordable for someone making a $15 an hour “livable” wage (don’t get me started on that term)? A person making $15 an hour would make about $31,200. So, in order for that person to be able to afford it, the rent would have to be around $780 a month.

So, whenever you hear Cities and Developers talking about affordable housing, especially here in Saint Paul, know how they are defining “affordable” and know that the people who really, REALLY, need it are not getting it. The Developers will tell you they can’t afford to build it and the City does not force them to.

What they are building — and what we as Citizens keep accepting — is luxury apartments meant for those at 100% of AMI.

What little affordable housing is being built, by the definition they are using, won’t solve the housing crisis. Won’t solve homelessness. Wont solve housing for low wage earners. Won’t even solve it for those making a $15 an hour wage. Won’t solve it for those making an $18 an hour wage.

So, I hope the next time you hear the word “affordable” this will help.

So Much Art!

We have the benefit of having lots of friends who are artists, so we have a bunch of work from them, but we’ve also collected much in our travels through the years. Therefore, everything we have has a deeply personal connection to us.

One of the things people notice most the first time they come into our home is how much art fills our walls (generally, right before noting how many books we have). Here’s just a couple of examples:

What many don’t know is how much art we have in our basement waiting to be displayed. It’s… a lot:

Basement Art Pile

Since we’re in the middle of our basement cleanup project and last spring we painted the stairwell area, we now have plenty of empty space to fill with much of the art not yet hung. The side benefit of which is to also get a big chunk of it out of the basement.

First, it was such a mess of stuff we needed figure out what was what. So, that started with staging what we had and figuring out what we wanted to hang for sure and was ready to be hung as is, what stuff we had no real attachment to and wish to pass along, what needed frames or other work to hang, etc.

Staging the art (before)
Staging the art (before)
Staging the art (after)
Staging the art (after)

This is more work than it sounds and, perhaps, the most time consuming part of the process. Especially finding and matching frames with things we’d like to hang.

We are far from done but have made a good start. Here’s a before and after with what’s been hung so far:

Stair bottom (before)
Stair bottom (before)
Stair bottom (after)
Stair bottom (after)
Second Landing (before)
Second Landing (before)
Second Landing (after)
Second Landing (after)

I think it’s off to a good start. But we have quite a bit left to do. We have much space left to fill. I’ll post some final pics once it’s finished.

Fools’s Spring

Up until about 20 years ago, March in Minnesota was brutally cold. It was generally the coldest month of the year. Winter reminding us it was not quite done with us; it would spend February winding up so that it could spend the month of March delivering its final blow. Temperatures would struggle to rise out of the negative digits. Snow so frozen it would squeak under your boots as you walked. When Spring did come in mid-April, one could truly appreciate it and know that the worst of our winter suffering was over.

Thanks to a changing climate, March is much different now. Now we get what we’ve come to call “Fool’s Spring”. Temps in the high 50’s to low 60’s for the past couple of weeks pretty consistently. The occasional nighttime dip below freezing but rare. We even got Thunderstorms and rain all day on Wednesday of last week. It’s enough to cause one to consider packing away the winter clothes. Putting the puffers, and mittens, and scarves back the closet until next year.

It’s been this way for several years now. But, those who’ve been paying attention know, it’s just a trick. It’s temporary. You’d be a fool to believe, based on the past few years, that spring has sprung. Therefore, you put nothing away. You enjoy the warmth of the moment and wait. The cold will return. The snow will come. The past few years that has meant a massive snowstorm near the end of April. Someone should wake Prince and let him know that we’ve gone from sometimes to always since he wrote about it.

Here we are today, after a weekend that saw temps near 60F, parts of the state will see 5-8 inches of snow today. Like Ali ducking and dodging every punch, Old Man Winter is just having a bit of fun with us.

The Couple and The Gander

The family of geese who lived on the beach were once again taking a walk (as they did daily). On this day they came across a couple who were obviously engaged in an argument. The geese, being curious as geese are despite the pains they take at appearing aloof, paused to observe and listen. The couple, being engaged in an increasingly heated conversation did not notice the geese. The moments passed as the couple’s disagreement became more angry. Finally, hearing enough, the father gander yelled, “STOP!” Not only did this startle the couple and provoke immediate silence for all within earshot, after a beat or two the couple realized this command came from a goose and they stood, dumbfounded.

“Follow us”, commanded the gander once he felt the couple’s attention was held. The couple, figuring that if geese felt it important enough to speak it should also be important enough to listen to, obeyed and followed.

The family of geese led them away from the beach. Past the boardwalk, past the kitschy gift shops that lined the boulevard just beyond. Through the town. Up a winding road to the top of a hill. There overlooking town below and the beach and the sea, the family of geese and the couple came to a stop. After a few moments of surveying the scene below the father gander looked at the ground and muttered, “Here.”

The couple, silent and confused, looked quizzingly at the gander.

“Here,” the gander repeated. Realizing it was still not clear to the couple and somewhat annoyed by their inability to comprehend, the gander made it more clear.

“This is the hill you’re going to die on.”

With that, the family of geese walked away leaving the couple to continue what was started.

Journal Without Journaling (Using Day One)

It only occurred to me at the beginning of the year, when I casually mentioned that I was printing a book of my Day One yearly journal ( Day One allows for multiple journals and I organize my journals by year), that I don’t really use Day One for journalling in the traditional sense. I prefer to do that by hand in a paper notebook. That’s where I may capture thoughts and feelings about the day or, in the case of my Daily Log, what I did and when I did it. I use Day One to capture all of those other things that are not journalling in the more traditional sense but, in a way, are as much journalling as anything else.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that this may be helpful to others — especially those that have struggled with traditional journalling, have desires to do so, but can’t seem get into the rhythm or make the time. Here’s what goes into my Day One:

  • Instagram — Do you use it to post photos of what you eat? Vacations? Pets? Selfies? Any or all of the above? Maybe you add a short caption. Well, these are snapshots in time. These are “here I am and what I’m doing”. This is journalling. And, instead of just leaving it on the doorstep of some Facebook owned silo where you are unlikely to go back and reflect on your days, you can hook up Instagram to Day One and have those photos automatically imported in. Now, instead of your snapshots being blasted into the ether, they can become part of a meaningful record of your life.

  • Twitter — I use IFTTT (If This Then That) to pipe every Tweet I post on Twitter into Day One. Once again, if you are using Twitter beyond posting links to news sites to own your perceived enemies and, instead, are posting what you are doing and thinking — that is journalling. Why not make it less ephemeral and more lasting, intentional, and meaningful by sending those Tweets to Day One?

  • Blog Posts — Everything I post to my blog, Rhoneisms, gets routed to Day One via IFTTT as well. Since I often use my blog in a way many people may use Twitter and Instagram, it makes sense in the context of what I’ve said above.

  • Tweet Without Tweeting, ‘Gram without ‘Graming — Maybe there’s a thought you have or å photo you take but you don’t, for whatever reason, want to post it to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, your blog, etc. Maybe it’s too personal or not completely formed. Maybe you’re afraid it might get taken the wrong way or you just simply want to keep it to yourself. Well, why not “post” it into Day One? Not everything has to be out there for the world to see. Some things can be just for you.

Also, here’s another thing to think about while setting all of this up: How might it change what you post to Twitter if you know those things are going into a personal journal? One that you plan to print and maybe pass down to those you leave behind. How about what you post to Instagram or Facebook? Would it become more personal? More a reflection of what you did and how you feel about things? More like the old days of Twitter where the post box asked, “What are you doing?” and posting “Eating lunch” or “Stuck in a boring meeting” was not only OK but was what everyone did? Just some thoughts….

So, for the most part, my Day One journals are populated automatically. They capture those things that would otherwise be forgotten in a corporate silo. But, here’s another thing I do to make sure they are a lasting a permanent record…

Because I organize my journals by year (my current journal is titled 2021, for example), on January 1st I order a printed book of the previous years entries directly within Day One. Because, as many know, I’m a firm believer that if you really want something to last for generations, it should be on paper. Plus, I find it nice to randomly and occasionally pick up a journal from a previous year, flip through, and dwell in those memories.

My Reading Plan for 2021

As has been the case for the past few years, I develop a reading plan for the year. Having a plan helps provide some gentle guidance in my reading choices and helps ensure I don’t get stuck in reading ruts. For example, in the past these have included such things as reading more recognized classics that I’ve never read or more mass market paperbacks that are easy to take with me and occupy my attention instead of a screen.

This coming year will be no different. Here’s the plan…

Read big books that scare me.

That’s it. That’s the plan. What does it mean and why? Well, there are a number of big books (500+ pages) that I have always wanted to read but I avoid them when it actually comes time to choose from my to-read pile. Here’s why…

  • I’ve always been a slow reader. So I see them and think to myself that I could read two or three books in the time it would take me to read those.

  • I tell myself that I don’t know if I could spend what for me would be a whole month or two in a single book.

  • I tell myself I can’t finish it.

  • I tell myself I’ll get bored.

  • I tell myself I should be the sort of person who reads at least 20 books in a year (my wife averages 75+) and choosing the big ones will make that impossible.

Bottom line, I need to stop this. After all, looking back over my reading list there are several big books on it. There were years when I read The Mueller Report, Hamilton, or the Steve Jobs biography and still managed to feel like I read “enough” books for the year. If I only read big books and only read 10 for the year, does it really matter? No; not in the grand scheme of things.

So, I’m going to use this year to tackle some of those big ones I’ve been putting off for far too long. I’m going to let go of any numbers-based reading goals I have. I’m going to acclimate myself to getting lost in a single book for a month or more. I’m going to show those pages who’s boss.