I was standing in the middle of the junior’s dresses section at Macy’s last night as my daughter determinedly searched for a dress to wear to her school’s Homecoming Dance, I couldn’t help but think of how this is not what 26 year old me would have imagined that age 56 would look like. I certainly couldn’t have imagined being dismissively waved off by a strong-willed teen girl (my teen girl) every time I tried to chime in. She, at 15, has a clearer idea of who she is and what she wants than I did at 15. Even, for that matter, at 26.

On the drive to dinner earlier that evening, we passed the building that used to house the place I was employed at 26. I reminisced briefly about those days. I thought to myself that if I could go back in time from age 56, I’d let that 26 year old know not to do one single thing differently. Not to make a single different choice and take every same diversion. That in that period there will be the darkest days you’ve ever been through. They. Will. Suck! But it will all be worth every heartbreak and triumph. It will be worth every second.

Because, in 30 years you will have an incredible life. One filled with friends you love, an incredible wife, a home you adore, and of course a wonderful strong-willed daughter who you love to serve and knows the damn dress she’s looking for and doesn’t need your help anymore. And you’ll be so happy and content with it all.

Here, at age 56, I know who I am (and I’m happy with him) and I know what I want (and I have it). It’s not lost on me what a blessing and privilege that is or what it took to get here.

Selfie of Me at Nina and Summit

Electric Skeptic (On EVs as a “solution” to climate change)

I’m skeptical of electric vehicles as a climate friendly solution as I see them as replacing one extractive finite earth-destroying fuel (oil) for another (mined minerals) while big-auto and big-energy make trillions by trying to convince us to replace the cars we have and throwing our current vehicles into landfills. All the while telling us that it is more “green” when, in fact, the only “green” is more money for big-auto and big-energy.

An answer I hear often to this is, “We here in [insert car friendly US city] need to be more like [insert bike friendly EU city].” And while I can appreciate the utopian dream behind that idea, I’m a realist. It’ll never happen…

One problem here is history (from an urban planning standpoint). Most cities and towns in Europe were built at a time when most people had no mode of personal transportation beyond their feet. Horses were expensive and carriages even more so. Bicycles are the natural progression from that mode and designed to “fit” where foot traffic does.

While most of the oldest cities and towns in the US were designed and built for horse and carriage. Especially the newer ones west of the original thirteen. Cars (horseless carriages) are the natural progression from that mode of transportation.

This is to say that, the US will likely never be like [insert bike friendly EU city here]. US cities are not designed to be and never intended to be.

Just from a pure cultural standpoint it’s just not how most of us really live. Those who have two jobs, or have kids to pick up from one place at one time and get to another by a different time so that they can get to a third place on time and they barely have time for that. Or those that have many places to be at throughout the day for their work. Or those that have two (or sometimes three) jobs to make ends meet. Or they have shopping to do for a family of three, or four, or five or six. Or those that are disabled. Or those that are elderly. Or those that, because they are not male and white, will never feel safe on a bike through a neighborhood in which it is felt they don’t belong. Or women who would never be in any vehicle alone where they could not lock a door. Or those that can’t ride a bike (yes, Virginia, some never learn for a variety or reasons).

The solution must progress from the problem (like foot to bike, carriage to car) not regress from it (car to carriage, bike to foot). Nor can we culturally swap who/where we are (car to bike) unless you can convince an entire country’s populous to change its culture.

I don’t have any magic solution to the problem. I think folks are being sold a bag of green by big corporations (with the help of big government) with everything to gain by doing so. The companies get to sell tens of millions of new vehicles and both they and buyers get to pretend they are doing something good for the planet when, really, they are likely doing even more harm than good. Especially because it further pushes off investment/drive towards actual clean/renewable/non-finite solutions.

It’s not about the land…

I mean, it is and it isn’t. Owning the land is the “what”. But it’s really about the “why”. It’s about what property ownership allows you to do. Not just for you but for your descendants.

As an example, my great-great-grandfather and grandmother were able to purchase 40 acres of land immediately following emancipation. Because of that land, the ability to farm it and derive other revenue streams from the land, free and clear of any debt or interest payment, they were able to send all eleven of their children to either college or trade school.

Before they passed, they set up a deed that made sure that land, which they also eventually grew to 116 acres, remained in the family and passed down to their heirs.

But what they passed down was not just the land — the “what”. They also passed down a living example and set of values – the “why”. They passed down the example of stewardship to further advancement.

One could use such a resource to fuel education. In a society that could find a way to take anything away from you if they wanted for no reason other than the color of your skin, education was the one thing they could never take or deny.

The result of this lesson is that our family is fourth generation college-educated because of this example. Ownership of the land is what allowed that.

People think of inheritance as stuff – money, furniture, property. And, while these things are important, they are simply things. Real inheritance is the freedom owning such things allows.

Our daughter will never have to pay rent or mortgage in her life if she does not want to. She will will get one of our houses when she’s of age and inherit our property when we pass, free and clear of any encumbrances. But, it’s not about the what, it’s about the why…

What could any of us do if we never had to worry about a roof over our head? If we never had to think about a mortgage payment or debt? For example (and this is our daughter’s plan), if you are in college and own a whole house, maybe you could rent out rooms and use the income to pay for school loan free. Perhaps, when you graduate and get a job, you get to net the whole amount without having to pay rent, or a car payment, or college loan debt. How would life be different if this is the “what” all of us had and the “why” we learned and put into action?

That’s what she’s really inheriting. And, if she’s learned anything from us, I hope it is the lessons we’ve learned from our ancestors; that we are simply stewards of this stuff that we’ve been fortunate enough to have passed down to us and her job is to do the same. To take it, grow it, make her life and those of her children better with it and leave it to the next generation better than she found it. But, most importantly, pass down the same set of values to keep the chain going. That’s what a legacy is.

Mental illness can be an explanation but not an excuse…

It’s a very fine line between the two. My own mental illness has made me say, react, or act in ways that are not appropriate to the situation. I find the easiest way for myself to skirt that line is to simply apologize and not try to explain, because it’s too difficult for it not sound like an excuse. If an apology with explanation is warranted or expected, I try to follow these guidelines when I do.

It can be too easy, as a mental illness survivor, to use it as a crutch. A get out of jail free card. But, we still live in a world of cause and effect — actions and reactions and consequences. While including our illness as part of an explanation may help with understanding and open an easier path to forgiveness, we should also not be surprised when it doesn’t. When we are called to account just like anyone else would be. We should accept such a fate as a learning experience. Give ourselves some grace and embrace the opportunity to continue our path toward healing.

The Hard Truth About Home (and Car) Ownership

Do you own a house?

Is there a mortgage on the house?

Are there any loans, lines or credit, leans, or other financial instruments secured on that house?

Then you don’t really own that house. The bank (or mortgage company) does.

Do you own a car?

Do you make payments on a loan for that car?

Then you don’t really own the car. The bank (or lending company) does.

If you don’t believe me, then stop making payments and see just how quickly that thing you “own” is taken away.

In fact, banks, mortgage lenders, and other financial institutions own the vast majority of property in this country. Because they provide the means with which people are able to “purchase” such property but one is not really purchasing the property at all. One is essentially making payments that they hope and work really hard to ensure most people never actually pay off.

And, when it comes time to pay off that house or (insert any large ticket item for which one might secure a loan to purchase here), how many offers to your get to take out a home improvement loan or reverse mortgage or line of credit or trade in that vehicle do you get. How many mailings or emails or calls? Dozens? Hundreds? They work hard to get people to simply trade one mortgage or car payment for another.

The reason: Banks and lenders do not want you to own things. They want you to continually pay for things. To be forever indebted to them for having those things.

Why? The first reason is obvious — they want the cashflow from those payments and the interest they bear upon them. This is one of the ways they make money. Simple. Everyone understands that.

The other less obvious way is that they also create investment products based on these holdings (i.e. the value of house and lands that they, not you, own with the mortgage contracts to prove that they do).

It is such practices that led to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis and, ultimately, caused the whole economy to crash when one very large bank decided that the mortgages owned by another very large bank were not as valuable as that bank thought. It is what is driving, what I believe to be a current crisis in the making, of Real estate investment trusts (REITs). Ever wonder about all of those 5-over-1 buildings that are popping up all over the country and why? Largely to fund REITs.

But all of this is getting away from the point. That being that we’ve all been sold this dream of home ownership, using home ownership as a term, believe ourselves be be owners of homes. Home owners. Which is exactly what they want us to do to obscure the fact that most of us, in fact, are not owners of these things at all. We are borrowers.

So, here’s the point where you’re hoping I have an answer. Some magic solution to give you to stop this cycle of mass delusion and greed.

I have some ideas but not for this post. This post is mainly to help you get your head wrapped around how we use words like Home Owner and Car Owner, heck, “Owner” in general, and that they do not mean what we’ve been told they mean. To help you see who really owns things and why. In the hopes that by freeing our minds our collective ass will follow and we can start seeing and speaking the truth.

How to make the world better…

Be good to people.

Put good out there. Into motion.

If you have a chance to help, help.

If a smile or compliment will make someone’s day a little better, give it.

If you have a shoulder to lend to someone in tears or an ear to someone unheard, do so.

If your silence is more helpful than anything you might say, remain so.

Do this as much as possible.

Good scales. It has exponential power. Those who receive good are more likely to do good for others.

Every little bit of good makes the whole world better because there will be that much more good in it.

An Ode to Lawless

The first time we visited Lawless Distilling Company was in 2016. It was my birthday, but I was hardly in a celebratory mood. I had received some really bad family news just a couple of days before and it was still weighing very heavily on me. My dear wife was trying to give me the best time she could under the circumstances so she found this recently opened, speakeasy-esqe, cocktail room to take me to in an effort to cheer me up.

We saddled up on some stools at the end of the bar. The bartender on duty at the time, Adam, came over, welcomed us, and started us off with a shot of their signature “Pink Gin”. We sipped on it as we looked at the menu, yet remained deep in solemn conversation over the matters at hand. Honestly, even making a choice in that state of mind seemed an insurmountable task.

Adam sauntered over to take our order but could tell something was off. “You guys seem like the whole world is crushing down on you,” he said.

I quickly explained what was going on. I mean, if you can’t tell your troubles to the bartender…

Adam listened with compassion, took the menus out of our hands, and told us to just sit back and relax and let him take care of us. From that moment on, he took us on a cocktail journey I’ll never forget. Every single thing he made was amazing and each different from the next — yet all of it working together like a concerto of mixology. Treating us to expert hospitality with a delicate grace. Checking in on us and delivering new things at exactly the right time.

When we knew we’d reached our limit, we said so and requested the bill.

“Nope. Not tonight. This one’s on me… You’ll be back.”

We tried to pay anyway and he’d have none of it. We left him a healthy tip and come back we certainly did.

And, the thing is that our experience with Adam was not a fluke. Every single time we walked into Lawless after that we somehow were always treated like VIPs no matter if he was there or not. The hospitality experienced, especially if you were sitting at the bar, was like nowhere I’ve ever been.

We rarely visited more than every other month or so. Yet, we were always treated like regulars by everyone and thus formed genuine relationships with many of the folks working there. Adam, of course, but also Jeff and Dustin and Marco and Ethan and Olivia and too many others to list.

When they left Lawless for other bars, restaurants, and lounges, we followed them and patronized any of the new places they went. For example, we’ve followed Adam from Lawless to Alma to Martina to Mara. Dustin to Can Can Wonderland. Marco to Colita. Ethan to Stilheart.

Even though we were nobody, they treated everybody as if they were somebody. That’s the best service one could ask for and we were happy to go anywhere they were to experience it.

The last couple of times we’ve gone to Lawless, the vibe was a bit different. It had become very popular, which was good for them, but the service seemed very transactional. We no longer felt like somebody when we walked in. We felt like we could be anybody. Perhaps that was a sign of an experience coming to an end and therefore thier closing does not come as a huge shock.

It’ll be missed for sure. But in many ways I’ve already mourned it’s passing and continue to hold the memory of the good times we’ve had there with special reverence.

My wife also wrote a goodbye post to Lawless.

Some Things I’ve Learned in 2022

  1. You can’t fight faith with facts.
  2. The world is made up of maps or traps.
  3. Changing where you are does not change where you’ve been.
  4. If you have a problem with them, and them, and them, and them, the problem is probably you.
  5. Failure is the tuition you pay for success.
  6. The main thing that keeps one from learning a new skill or ability is fear of failure.
  7. So many of us are just trying to make the best choices we can in constantly changing conditions with limited and conflicting information in the midst of fear and uncertainty. Most of us are doing our best. It’s not the best that can be done, but it’s the best we can do.
  8. Minimalism is a destination. Enough is a journey. It may lead you to Minimalism but it may not. The only place I expect it to lead is contentment.
  9. Do you know why history repeats? Because humans do.
  10. Task yourself with a huge must-do project that has a deadline far out enough that you can safely procrastinate on it for a day or two. Watch your productivity on every other possible thing go way up to avoid that one.
  11. The less technology involved, the better the tool. The tool with the least moving parts will last the longest. Digital bits are moving parts. Electricity is a moving part.
  12. Not all dependencies are moving parts, but every moving part creates a dependency. Dependencies introduce potential points of failure where none otherwise exist.
  13. A new way I’m thinking about mental health stuff is: “Do my feelings fit?” In other words, is how I’m feeling appropriate for the situation. Am I more sad or happy than I normally should be?
  14. We are never in the middle of nowhere. Every place is somebody’s somewhere.
  15. Once we can divorce profit and passion, only then can we find passion in any profit and truly profit from our passion.
  16. I personally believe, at the core, all faiths arise from the same place and hold the same core values.
  17. One day, I hope not to measure my days in minutes or hours, but in miles walked and pages read.
  18. New skills learned: Table saw safety, repairing rope and sash windows, installing laminate floors and ceramic tile.
  19. Most people will never notice if you use the good stuff when you could have used the cheap stuff. But, people in the know will always notice when you use the cheap stuff when you should have used the good stuff.
  20. Though honesty, even without malice, is not always pleasant, it is kind.

The Return of All Is Calm

Back in 2018, we held the first of what we’d hope would become a new annual holiday tradition, All Is Calm. Being that we do all of our Christmas festivities on Christmas Eve (as is the tradition of my wife’s Norwegian heritage), Christmas Day was largely a day of reset and relaxation for us. Here’s what I wrote about it back then:

My wife and I have settled on the following idea; about mid morning we’ll start up the fire, light some nice smelling candles, lounge around in comfy clothes, put on some quiet music, and read books all day. But we’re going to make a “thing” out of it and invite any of our friends in town who wish to join us to stop on by with a book of their own. We’ll have some drinks and snacks around for people to enjoy as well. All we ask is that you come prepared to keep things library style and enjoy a bit of peace with us this day.

The idea became reality and was a tremendous success. We had friends stop by with books, craft projects, quiet conversation, and just a general spirit of community.

Like I said, we’d hoped to make it an annual tradition… Then a pandemic got in the way.

But now that things are back to some semblance of normal, we’ve decided to start things back up again this year. So, if you’re in the Twin Cities on Christmas Day, stop on by. We’d love to see you.

Profit and Passion

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (via Annie Mueller)

Once we can divorce profit and passion, only then can we find passion in any profit and truly profit from our passion. The idea being that it is not the thing that is the passion, but something deeper. That the thing is simply a clear path to a feeling… A place.

I’ve had a lot of disparate jobs in my life. Bagging groceries, working front desk at a hotel, managing video rental stores, writing customer service letters — the list goes on. A common thread I found in all of my jobs and roles, both past and present , is “helping people”. Every job I’ve had or volunteer opportunity, this is not only the common thread but what “filled me up” about it. And, if I can simply identify the way in which whatever I choose to do helps people, I then can be filled up doing just about anything.

Once I discovered that my real passion wasn’t the various jobs/titles/work I’ve done in my life but, instead, was the common thread that ran through all of them, I found that I didn’t need to do a particular job or a thing to experience the joy of my passion. I found those roles were simply a catalyst and that I could find my passion doing just about any job or thing.

If I were paid to dig ditches, I would discover that the ditch is for a water line to a new house that means someone gets clean water. Once I think it through, I can find my passion in the ditch digging.

My friend, the storyteller Kevin Kling once said to me, “A story is always about two things; What it’s about and what it’s really about.”

I think this is the really behind “pursuing your passion”.

Now I am a Writer, Technical Consultant, Circus Rigger, Home Restorer, and Mental Health Advocate (Not to mention a Husband, Father, Son, and Friend). The title field on my business cards reads, Master Generalist. If you ask me what I do for a living, I’ll answer “I help people. Sometimes, money is involved.”

I discovered that I don’t need a specific career, job, hobby, etc. to be able to “do what I love” or get “paid for my passion”, I could stop chasing it and start realizing that I already have it (or could choose to). Not only have it in one specific thing, but could have it in just about anything.