Plate Boundaries

Like many others (whom I’m grateful for) one of our friends out east texted to ask if we’re ok

Help!, I replied, “We fell into a hole in the earth and can’t get out!”

I should have known not to be cavalier about it. Sometimes humor is all you got.

Lately, even the sky appears uncommitted to the season. Opaque, gray, foreboding, rendering rain and sleet instead of its usual cheer of fluffy white snow. On top of that everywhere you go it seems people are a little off. Like the ground, the collective mood in the community has shifted, from its normal festive optimism to a guarded wariness. Only the folks jingling bells by the red kettle appear unmoved, unshaken as it were. Yet you know they must be. We all are. Every time there’s an aftershock people freeze. Nevermind the statistical unlikeliness of another Whopper occuring, this is the reality we’re all living with lately

Anymore, all it takes is the washing machine upstairs to go out of balance to move me to the edge of my chair. The whole floor shakes until it rights itself. I’ve felt it a hundred times or more the past nine years. It’s big sheets or rugs in the spin cycle. I know what it is. But lately? Or I come back to bed after a pee in the middle of the night and HW wakes, her hand darts out to touch me, “Was that you?!” Even the phantoms are more scary at night. And there are plenty of those, the false positives, they’re almost as bad as the real ones. It’s like we’ve all been reduced to human seismometers now, and fidgety ones at that.

Wait… what’s that. Just now, another one? I think so.

Or was it?

Hour+

Just returned from the biannual visit to my Pain Provider. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. How about, Deliverer of Discomfort. And she wants to change bi-annual to quad-annual – “I think I need to see you every three months.” Followed by (as always), “You need to floss more often.”

Okay, that’s it, if I hear her say this one more time…

Slowly, I remove my sunglasses. A courtesy protection to prevent being blinded by the obnoxious lamp she needs to illuminate my buccal cavity throughout the entire hour+ (!) cleaning procedure. I’m still flat on my back, my fingers and toes tingling from blood loss because I’m tilted so far back in the damn chair while my teeth are terrorized. I turn my head and look up at her, straight in the eye. Her nose and mouth are still covered by a mask, now splattered with peppermint tooth polish. My terry cloth bib is soaked with my own spittle and the over-spray from her little squirt gun rinser. I feel like the Gerber Baby. “So,” I say, “how often do you suggest I floss? Five times a day? Six?” Surely, I think, she’ll find the hyperbole amusing, touch my arm consolingly, chuckle a bit and say, Oh no, Mr. Nibbe, that would be ridiculous of me. Instead, she pauses, looks toward the ceiling, as if to ponder if five to six times a day just might in fact be the right frequency for me. Woman, I’m thinking, I was kidding!

Alright, maybe pain is an exaggeration. Some people say they rather enjoy getting their teeth cleaned. Some people are masochists. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Holding my mouth agape for one hour+ while my dentition is poked, picked, chiseled and ground ain’t my idea of enjoyment. And then to be told it’s my fault because I don’t floss enough, or I’m not doing it right, or not using the right floss, or the correct circular motion, etc etc.

I can’t fault her for not being thorough though. Even so, an hour+, seriously? Used to be I was in and out of the chair in half that time, then patted on the back with an attaboy and sent home with a new brush and paste of my favorite flavor (Cherry). Copy/paste, every six months.

I dunno, maybe this is just another lament on the list of It’s-Hell-Getting-Old. More likely it’s a sad reminder that plaque removal hasn’t progressed since medieval times; it’s the equivalent of bloodletting to cure bad humors.

How To Become More Equanimous

I‘m intrigued by meditation. I say that having never done it. But I’m eager to get started.

There are different kinds of meditation but the one I’m most interested in, having recently “read” about it, is mindful meditation. The goal of this form – though you ought to listen to the book yourself – is to become more mindful of the thing you’re doing right now. Everything – tying your shoe, preparing breakfast, talking with a friend, walking the dog, driving a car, enjoying music, swimming, falling asleep, crafting a blog post! The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, which, if left unchecked, at least for many people, leads to a kind of noisy experience of reality, one that reflexively reacts to the onslaught of raw sensory inputs (e.g., Facebook likes) instead of pausing to interact with your atomic experiences in thoughtful way, with full clarity of mind. At least that’s how I understand it. Regular, mindful meditation isn’t the only way of reducing mindlessness in our lives, in turn making us measurably happier with ourselves and others, but it is one proven way of doing so (there’s some decent emerging science around this).

Mindful meditation (performed daily) is an exercise for the brain that produces wellness benefits analogous to those that exercise has on our muscles. Different tissues, same approach. And like physical exercise, the wellness benefit is roughly proportional to the amount of time spent doing it (although, not unlike drugs, there’s probably an upper limit). Benefits include increased calmness of temper, clarity and rationality, greater feelings of fulfillment, less arguing with your spouse, heightened feelings of gratefulness, and, yes, that ultimate goal of so many self help books du jour – increased Happiness.

The author, Dan Harris, whose previous book is ten percent happier, is wryly self-deprecating in the way he dispels the cynical reaction many firstcomers to meditation have – that it’s something for Hare Krishna types who enjoy humbling themselves in fleece shawls while seated cross-legged gazing at their navels for hours on end. It’s not that at all. The approach is super practical, and the book is a kind of manual for beginning meditators, infused with too few (if you ask me) hilarious anecdotes from Dan’s personal experience with meditation and his interactions with fidgety skeptics. Nevertheless, there’s enough practical seriousness here to keep you from thinking you’re being seduced by the latest self-help gimmickry. In fact, mindful meditation, unlike, say, Mantra meditation (as practiced by real Hare Krishna types) is a purely secular exercise of the mind. It’s not an escape from reality; the practice is a deep dive embrace of the voices in our head, identifying them, accepting them, welcoming them to the party, diminishing their control over usand in doing so diluting (not eliminating) their interference of a life-improving mindful experience. As one of Dan’s close friends and coauthors emphasizes (himself a mindful meditation expert) – a committed practice of mindful meditation will make you more equanimous. No drug I’m aware of is going to do that for you. And there’s no prescription required.

Cat 1

Our tour leader, Chris, quite the accomplished bike racer in his day, said this was a category one maybe two, pro series rated climb. This year or last, I forget now, he said it was included in the Tour de France. Knock one off my bucket list

WI Travelogue – Part II

October, is that you at the door? I ask because it’s sixty-one and sunny today (9/29). So Black Dog and I ventured into the low mountains to enjoy an invigorating hike together

It’s only us this weekend because HW is at a conference in Phoenix, where, she reports, it’s still over 90° at 10:00 PM. Poor thing. I texted her this picture and you could almost hear her heels click three times, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like…” Anyway, Black Dog is usually out front like that, sniffing for any morsel of food or what have you that may have fallen from another hiker’s pack. Dogs generally, but Labrador breeds especially, it seems to me are fixated on food opportunities 24/7. HW won’t even let him off leash anymore on the beach in Seward during summer for fear he’ll be combing campgrounds for discarded chicken bones, or running uninvited into people’s RVs looking for an open bag of chips. This actually happened to me one time, and by the time I caught up with him he was inside a Winnebago, his nose so far into a family-size bag of Lays you couldn’t see his ears. Fortunately, in this case, the campers found it amusing. Doesn’t always go that way though, and when it doesn’t, well, I always have at the ready a battery of sappy apologies and excuses for his misbehavior, even if some of them aren’t true – “Sorry, he’s not our dog, we’re watching him for a friend who rescued him from a puppy mill.” Often enough this gets the waterworks going and I’m off the hook.

Admit it, you could hardly wait for Wisconsin Travelogue Part II!

That’s my our mom in full harvest mode. A big shout out to Cuff Farms, where, shortly after our arrival there, we were conveyed by the quaintest of all tractor rides to the killing fields (which we might easily have walked to from checkin, but you know what they say, when in Hortonville….). Once in the field, we disembarked the trailer with empty wood crates in hand and were instantly scurried away by a perky young lady to our row, handed a flag which we were instructed to stab in the ground at the end of our row (to mark our victory?), cautioned to not pick strawberries outside our row, and then we dropped to our knees and crawled our way along the straw-strewn field pickin’ and pitchin’ as we went.

You had to move slowly and look carefully so as not to miss the best ones

Back at home in Appleton we hulled and rinsed over the kitchen sink til our hands and fingers seemed irreversibly red.

Were they sweet you ask? Take a look

The entire week we were there it was hot, so while some in the family were at work we helped ourselves to poolside activities at the new home of our niece and nephew-in-law (you two rock!), some of which involved day drinking and play with pneumatic dolphins (complete with expert instruction from yours truly, even if it went unheeded)

It wasn’t all fun games over there though, we had the challenging responsibility of letting the two dogs out and keeping them happy. Brinkley (aka Brinkley Bear) would spend hours (seriously) pawing at shadows in the kiddie pool while ol’ Gus, after he got over his standoffishness with us, eventually chilled on the cool grass

And so it continued throughout the week, we’d awake mid-morning to enjoy coffee with Mom and Dad, catch up with the goings-on in their lives and ours, step outside into the rising heat of the day to feel the moist (Kelly!) lawn between our toes, stroll among the “twindos” marveling at the gardenry neatly maintained in every direction, and then back into the house for a late breakfast and a coffee refill to ponder the plan for the rest of the day. Regardless of how that played out, it was poolside where we all eventually gathered. Once to witness a demo by our grand (great?) nephew of his newest invention, which, if nothing else was, well, loud. I told him if he ever gets around to connecting the four-stroke beast to the drivetrain to give me a call, I wouldn’t mind takin’ that bad boy for a spin

Brother Steve dropped by one day with two of his delightful daughters, both of whom, like their dad, are pretty dang good at cornhole (aka “Bags” in Wisconsin), making me suspicious of their claim they’ve never played before. Sadly, I’ve no photos of them to share, although you can find a dandy here.

By night we prowled the hoods of Appleton, one night under the escort of sister Gail who showed us where the Pelicans play on the Fox River

Overall, a grand time (I hope) was had by all. We certainly enjoyed it. The week flew by – you leave thinking you didn’t spend enough time with the people you love, family. And to think our touch-base with them began here just a week earlier, inside a bar on Milwaukee’s east side, my ol’ stompin’ grounds while a grad student at UW-M. If these walls could speak, oy vey, the stories they may tell

Thursday we leave for Europe with two other couples, to France and Spain and places between. WiFi permitting, I’ll share some photos. Be well.

WI Travelogue – Part 1

It was 98º outside the day we left Milwaukee to return home to The Great Land. We’d looked forward to our visit, to see family of course, but also to experience some summer. But 98º? It was like stepping into a blast furnace to relieve a chill.

Needing to pass a couple hours before heading to the airport, we (Sister Gail, HW and I) drove to Milwaukee’s Third Ward to seek relief inside the Uber Tap Room, where upscale beers and gourmet cheese plates are served. Amid the hipsters and up-and-comers at the bar I felt a bit out of my element. Things sure have changed since the days I used to carouse here while in grad school at the U of W. Back then is was Pabst, pool, and darts. Cheese plates? The only thing we topped with cheese was beef, which few of us could afford being we’d spent all our money on beer and other treatments.

A big Wisconsin thank you to sister Gail for schlepping us to Milwaukee, in the luxury of her new wheels no less, which at night when you open the car door casts an affluent emblem of excellence on the ground

You’ve made it Girl! You can buy an aftermarket kit for this at Amazon, $112. Such a deal. Remove all identifying features from your Ford or Chevy and install it. Impress your date. S/he will never know you’re a poser.

Earlier in the week, before tripping north to visit family, I treated Happy Wife to two nights in Milwaukee at the Kinn Guesthouse in Bayview. A big shoutout to this place. It was the first glamtel I’ve ever stayed at. As with the Third Ward, Bayview has changed some in 30+ years. Not the safest area of town back then as I recall, but during our visit it felt quaint and friendly, with pocket parks, bike lanes, and boutiques filled with vintage knick-knackery that women purchase to place here and there in the home where it is meant to be simply, enjoyed.

Favorite likes in our room at the Kinn – the high ceiling and cream city brick walls. And free wine in the communal kitchen!

The next morning we walked, and walked (and walked) all the way down Kinnickinnic avenue to the lakefront (~7 miles). We were just strolling along the sidewalk, the heat of the day coming on full bore, when all of a sudden we hear the bum bum bum of rap music get louder and louder until…wait, what’s this

If you think you’ve come up with a novel activity that’s never before been done while drinking beer, fuggedaboutit. Trust me, somebody in Milwaukee has already done it.

Finally we reached the lakefront, strolled along a path enjoying a mercifully cool breeze coming off the lake, then trudged up the bluff and slogged a few more blocks to my favorite east side watering hole, Hooligans. The streets were cordoned off for a street fair, complete with (of course) beer tents, but also food and a bandstand with a surprisingly good local band bangin’ out some good jams, just outside a Whole Foods market. I’m tellin’ ya, all the gentrification made me feel a tad melancholic, my old haunts were nearly unrecognizable.

A notable exception was Ma Fischer’s, good to see it’s still open. Back in the day it was the only place a pickled night crawler could get a satisfying plateful of grease at 2 am

Eventually the heat of the day was too much for us doughy Alaskans, so we Uber’d back to the glamtel.

Two refreshingly cool showers later, we Uber’d to dinner at the Sandford restaurant. Very good food and service, and a notably unpretentious atmosphere. Recommend.

The next day Sister Gail arrived to pick us up and we were off to Appleton! Stay tuned for Part 2.

The Natural Order of Things

A curious fella

HW rescued him from our deck where he’d fallen after crashing, apparently face first, into the window glass. This was at our Nest in Seward, specifically, Lowell Point, a known hangout popular with migratory hummingbirds (“hummers”) in Spring. I’m no expert, but supposedly the males are more colorful. Although identifying the winky on a humming bird to confirm gender is, as you might imagine, challenging. HW makes her own nectar to fill the feeder that hangs above the deck. It’s nothing more than sugar water, aka simple syrup, a common ingredient in cocktails. I postulated that perhaps a bit of gin may have made it into this batch, leading our bitsy hummer to Fly Under the Influence? More likely the window glass had just been cleaned. Poor guy, high on a sugar rush he probably mistook our living room for open air.

Limp and motionless on the deck I figured him for dead, but sure enough HW succored him back to health. In the cradle of her hands his tiny wings eventually began buzzing a hundred times a second. She took him back outside and put him on the feeder, where he was able to hold on. Back inside we both watched, fingers crossed. It wasn’t long before another hummer showed up and perched on the feeder, not to feed, evidently, but if you’ll permit me to anthropomorphize, to show concern for what HW believed was her mate. After a half minute or so both hummers suddenly lifted off their perches, swooped down below the window, and were gone. Was he going to make it after all!? Did we perturb the natural order of things, violate the ethos that says we, qua humans, may observe nature but ought never to interfere with it? As I finished my martini I wondered, watched one hummer after another drain the nectar from the feeder, eventually gaining confidence that HW had done the right thing. So what if we altered the state of the universe. Have you never killed a mosquito? Besides, who will ever know?

The next day we hiked with Black Dog to Tonsina Point, a favorite of ours, an oft-photographed destination I’ve shared with you too many times I’m afraid (e.g. here, here, and here). And yet, would you have a look at this not-too-frequent sighting along the trail

A clearly vital specimen of Western Skunk Cabbage, aka Swamp Lantern, aka Lysichiton americanus. The thing I find most interesting about this plant is how sparse it is. We spot two, maybe three specimens along the entire two to three mile trail, where you’d expect many more given the ideal conditions supporting its growth. Supposedly, after hibernating, bears eat the roots for its laxative properties. Makes sense. I can imagine myself after sleeping five months straight wanting to take a good dump first thing after getting up.

We’re tripping back down to the Nest this weekend with friends. Weather is predicted to be fair! Alas, I will face a Honey-Do list that includes the installation of a new countertop/sink and replacement of a water valve on one of our (three) tankless — I call ’em thank-less — water heaters.

Catch up with you later…