Tuesday, December 30, 2008 1 comments

Today I ran across this note from my sister-in-law. She wrote it before she was my sister-in-law, which makes it more than 20 years old. I'm not really sure where it has been all these years. I opened up the drawer of an end table to get a coaster for my coffee this morning, and there it was. It made my day, just like it did 20 years ago. Thanks Anne!

Baby's 1st Bath

, Monday, December 8, 2008 2 comments

I'm not sure who looks worse here, Perry or me:

Perry at 16 weeks

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 1 comments

It's hard to photograph a jet black Flat-coated Retriever puppy while they are awake, at least on a compact digital camera. So here are a couple of sleeping puppy pictures. Perry loves Marco's old bed, which we put in the kitchen most of the time. We close the 2 pocket doors and share the room like a big crate sized for the whole family. He can sleep contentedly for hours this way. I love how long his legs are.

Talking Dogs

, Tuesday, December 2, 2008 3 comments

A few years ago I read a novel called Dogs of Babel. It's about a linguistics professor who tries to teach his dog to speak so he can hear an eyewitness account of his wife's death which only the dog witnessed. We kind of did the same thing with Marco, but instead of trying to get him to actually say things, we said the things he might want to say using a voice he might have used if he could talk. In this way we gave him a personality that evolved over time. Sometimes he'd be sassy, sometimes sweet. We found it advantageous at times to say things we ourselves wanted to say, but using the "dog's" voice as if it was actually the dog talking. In particular, this came in handy for mild insults. Insults like, "You stink." But Marco had a bit of a speech impediment, so the insult would come out sounding more like, "You steent." Hurling insults using the dog's voice allowed the human who actually muttered the sounds to remain blameless.

Marco liked to tell us stories about his life. At times these stories seemed hardly credible, but how can you argue with a talking dog? After Marco finished up his puppy kindergarten class, he became an instructor of puppy kindergarten himself. Or so he told us. He'd tell stories about his day and about which puppies were successfully learning their lessons. There were Spree and Oreo, who were average students. There was Alexandra, who was a Golden Retriever like Marco and therefore extremely intelligent. Byron was a wealthy black Standard Poodle who lived on a farm. When Marco was unable to go to work he hired a substitute teacher named Casey, also a Golden Retriever.

After teaching puppy kindergarten for 2 sessions, Marco decided to move on and get more education himself. You may find this hard to believe, I did too at times, but Marco's rich friend Byron actually financed an education for Marco at Harvard University. It sounds like an unreasonable commute from Winona, but Marco always managed to beat me home from work thanks to his pink flying suit. Byron bought that for him. Apparently he was a brilliant student at Harvard, taking classes like water aerobics, film appreciation, keyboarding, and pottery. He had an active extracurricular life playing the upright bass and the triangle in a jazz band.

In the beginning I was reluctant to use a voice for Marco. It seemed degrading that a human personality should be attributed to a dog. I was reluctant to misread the actual dog personality by substituting a human personification. But I had grown up doing this with our dog Missy and gave in to the temptation. I lagged behind with the impediments and inflections of his speech that would develop around the breakfast table while I was at work, but I caught on to that, too.

Marco understood the connection between himself and the voice that we claimed to be his, and would often come into the room if we were talking in "his" voice. "What am I saying," we'd speak in his voice when he came around to listen. Things got even more confusing when Marco would actually argue with himself, one person speaking one side of the argument and another taking the other side in his same voice.

It's hard to break the habit of Marco's voice now that he's gone. When he was still alive, though, he could speak to us even if he wasn't with us. So his death doesn't stop him either. His topics have changed though. Now he does the talking for Perry. He seems to have the inside connection to Perry's soul and offers us Perry's thoughts like, "Perry feents (read thinks) you steent."

I'm sure we'll continue to hear from Marco, but over time I bet Perry will develop his own voice. His personality will surely be different. It is obvious that he is a different dog in many ways. Perry's actual voice, the one he really uses himself, is quite expressive. When he's waking up in the mornings he grunts and sighs. When he yawns he sounds like Fozzie Bear. It may turn out that he won't need our human voices speaking for him at all. This morning when I was getting him out of his crate he yawned and the sound that came out of his mouth was, no lie, "Tom."


, Sunday, November 30, 2008 1 comments

I took my first whipper today.

There were two inches of fresh, slippery snow on the ground and the temperature was 32 degrees, but the wind was whipping around Sugarloaf which made it feel colder. Tony and I thought we'd give our new ice tools a run by dry tooling up a sport route. The route is easy enough in the summer, but winter conditions make it much tougher. We yo-yoed up and down, making it a little further each time. I had a run at the top section and made it past the last bolt when my tools lost their purchase. I fell about 15 feet and got caught with my head level to my waist, which bent me backwards a bit. "Falling," I whimpered, then I grunted as I came to a stop unharmed. The sensation was different than going down a roller coaster; none of that stomach in your throught queasiness while I waited for the rope to catch. Surprisingly I held on to both of my leasheless ice tools. Cool.

Thanks for the belay, Tony!

Meet Hans, errr Remy, errr Manny, errr...

, , Thursday, November 27, 2008 1 comments

...Perry! Yeah, we settled on Perry. But around our house a given name is only a jumping off point for all of the nicknames that come later. The real names hardly get used at all.

Perry is our beautiful new Flatcoated Retriever friend. We adopted him on Sunday from Shannara Kennels in St. Michael. He came from a litter of 12, and at age 15 weeks there were 2 or 3 puppies left who had not been adopted yet. We drove up and met the breeders and the dogs, and got to watch them all tumble around in the back yard (the dogs, not the breeders). Our little guy had a purple collar and was know simply as Purple Boy until we finally setted on a name Wednesday.

His breath was not so puppy fresh when we brought him home, and we quickly discovered that he as a penchant for the fine art of coprophagia. He paid for this love of his homemade "sushi" on Wednesday when the stress of a new home caused parasytic coccidiae to sprout like fleas in his intestines. This gave him a super bad day of vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and finally a trip to Companion Care Animal Clinic still under construction. The wonderful Dr. Ken Chaffin and his excellent staff were unfazed by our visit to their new facility, and gladly worked around construction crews and dust to give us a diagnosis. After a couple of doses of antibiotic, which Perry thankfully adores, he is healthy again for Turkey Day. But instead of turkey our little guy is eating rice sprinkled with fairy dust. He still needs his bland diet so his poo doesn't come out like Jello Pudding.

My Review of Seirus Hyperlite Stormsocks

, Friday, November 14, 2008 0 comments

Originally submitted at REI

These moisture-wicking, breathable, weatherproof socks are specifically designed for low-bulk warmth.

Great for winter running

By sleepytom from Winona, MN on 11/14/2008


5out of 5

Gift: No

Pros: Durable, Regulates Temperature Well, Good Design, Comfortable

Best Uses: Running

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

These socks are great for layering over another pair of midweight socks for winter running. They are thin enough to still fit into your normal size running shoe and have lasted me several seasons without signs of wear. They help my feet stay warm even when the temperature dips below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and keep my feet dry enough when sloshing through sloppy puddles. It's like a pair of softshell trail shoes at a fraction of the cost.


Maru the cat

Saturday, November 8, 2008 1 comments

Pictures From Our Week

Monday, November 3, 2008 1 comments


, Tuesday, October 28, 2008 2 comments

When I was in high school kids would walk from the swimming pool to the 7-eleven convenience store and come back with pop in huge cups called Big Gulp. They cost $0.25, or something. At the time the luxury of a pop (or soda, as we called it in St. Louis) so huge seemed extravagant and unreasonable. Looking back, though, it seemed to build a new expectation regarding food portions in people my age and younger. Now you can fit nearly a whole pot of coffee in some refillable convenience store mugs. When I get a pop at Kwik Trip I feel sheepish to only fill up a Little Buddy when they have Big Buddy, Best Buddy and Mega Buddy (52 oz!) sizes for increments of $.010 more each. That the US is serving larger portion sizes today is no surprise to anybody. Buyer beware.

I may not be tempted by the Mega Buddy, but I'm not totally immune to larger portions.  I do have my weaknesses, especially with cookies. When normal Oreos weren't enough for people, Nabisco started selling Double Stuf Oreos (or Dubs as I like to call them). I wouldn't even think of buying the normal Oreos anymore, they're just so bland. The trouble is, though, that Dubs sometimes need a little sprucing up too, now that I'm used to them.

They don't sell Oreos bigger than Double Stuf, no Best Stuf or Mega Stuf, but that doesn't stop me from customizing. When I really need a cookie fix, I disassemble 3 Double Stufs and splice them together into a Hex Stuf. Now that's what I call a cookie!

Tom's Big Day At The Mall

, Tuesday, October 21, 2008 1 comments

We were in La Crosse today to buy a new battery for the Mac notebook, but the store was out of them so we had some extra time. Margaret suggested that we go to The Gap because she thinks my jeans are looking worn out. The idea made me squirm and I started thinking up excuses like, "I doubt I'll find anything there."

"I know that most of your clothes are purchased online" she said, "but I think you can find something." She's right, I do buy most of my clothes online. It's not that easy to buy online because, obviously, you can't try anything on. But you do benefit from a nearly endless selection. Not that a large selection automatically make things easier; there's always the carrot-on-a-stick, that enticing promise of a deal that you just haven't found yet. So I'll look for weeks to find, say, a new winter hat. But then when it comes I obsess about how the color isn't exactly what I wanted. In this manner I can stretch a shopping trip into eternity. A simple trip to the mall should be much more straightforward, so I don't know what made me panic about going to the Gap. Maybe it's something about jeans in particular.

As we stood in front of the men's jeans selection I glanced down at the jeans I was wearing and honestly, I couldn't see the difference between mine and the ones on the shelf. How do the "distressed" jeans on the shelf look different than my "worn out" ones? "It's the knees," Margaret said as she pinched the fabric on my jeans. "Yours are kinda baggy." If it's the knees that make a pair of jeans worn out, I wondered why Elizabeth had deliberately ripped holes in the knees of one of her pair. I left the store without a new pair of jeans, but with 3 new t-shirts tucked under my arm in a manly fashion. Those weren't so hard to pick out, but I did worry about how much sweat shop labor had gone into my purchase. 

When I got home I wondered what else was out there. I had seen some nice street pants made by Mountain Khaki in a couple of outdoors shops. I like the burly canvas material and the rugged construction, so I checked to see if they sell jeans. They do, and they look pretty nice online. Plus they are made of organic cotton by a company located in Jackson, Wyoming. That meets my sensibilities about buying clothes. The only trouble is the $95 price tag.

I'll just have to think about it awhile.

Pictures without faces

Monday, October 13, 2008 0 comments

It's been one of those bad stretches lately, one of those bad times that come around only every few years. In times like these I can hardly grapple with my emotions. After a brief explosion of outward grief, I turn inward. I turn contemplative. Eventually words may come, but for now I have only pictures. Pictures without faces.

I Need a Good Read

Sunday, September 28, 2008 2 comments

I'm in a bit of a panic because I need something good to read. I'm leaving on a bus trip to Kansas City in a week, and a week after that I'm taking the train to Kalamazoo. My Shuffle will only get me so far, so I need to have something with substance that I'm eager to dig into and pass the time.

When I went to New York recently I brought along The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. On the flight out I noticed that a woman in the seat in front of me was reading the same book. When I commented, she stated that she hoped I was enjoying it as much as she was. I had only just begun reading it, but Margaret loved it and recommended it to her friends. The book got me through the trip, but when I passed the half-way mark I gave up. I found it too sappy with romance and too plodding with the story line.

I picked up another book called Merle's Door that doesn't hold much promise either. I loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and thought this would be a good followup. But the first few pages put me off. I found it condescending and self-important that the author described how he and his companions smelled when a stray dog wandered into their lives (garlic, onions, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, and anchovies from the pizza they ate), and then pointed out that he was describing their smells because that's what a dog would notice. Anybody that observes dogs knows that they are good at smelling things. He goes on to mention the dogs brow, and corrects himself by saying that dogs don't have brows because they don't need them. He says they only sweat through their paws and therefor don't need a brow to keep sweat out of their eyes. Humans, on the other hand, need brows he says because their foreheads sweat. This seems like a  really far fetched idea to me. A quick search tells me I'm not the only one to think so. I closed the book and closed my mind to the treasures it might offer.

I need to start looking at books by authors I've liked in the past. I've read everything by Anne Patchett, and loved it all. Actually, I haven't read her latest novel called Run. I saw it in an airport a year or so ago and didn't buy it. I already had something to read and besides, I didn't want to ruin a good streak if the novel didn't live up to her others. I guess I can put it on my list now though.

I liked The Secret History and The Little Friend by Donna Tart, but she hasn't written anything else, so I guess her work is out.

I was on a good streak with stories by Mark Jenkins. He writes great pieces for Outside Magazine, and has compiled some of his stories into books. I got a couple of them from the library, but had to request them via interlibrary loan. I didn't have time to finish the last one before returning it. Unfortunately I can't request it again because I returned it without the little pink slip they tape to the cover to mark its library of origin. The tape they use isn't secure enough to withstand daily use, and it had fallen off before I returned the book and it turns out that the pink slip is critical. Now they think I never returned the book at all and it is lost forever.

Annie Proulx is a great author. I love her Shipping News and thought Close Range: Wyoming Stories was a perfect collection of short stories. Either of those would be worth a second read. But she's got others I haven't touched yet, including a new one called Fine Just The Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3

OK, I'll stop panicking. Surely I can find one of these at the library or the bookstore in the next week. Feel free to send me more ideas though, you never know in a small town.

Pictures From Our Week


Backcountry clinic

Saturday, September 20, 2008 1 comments

Cool link

Friday, September 12, 2008 0 comments

Check out these cool portraits:
Tim Kolin Photography

Summer Camp

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 0 comments

“Are you scared,” I asked?

“No,” came the shouted reply from behind a granite bulge at the far end of my rope.

“I am,” I admitted. “Belay On.” When you’re feeling breathless at nearly 14,000 feet, economy of speech is easy to master.

I had just improvised an anchor by jamming wedges of aluminum into cracks in the rock while trying too keep my grip on the wet, slippery, lichen-covered surface. I tied myself into the anchor and wondered if I was still on route. The small patch of western sky that I could see over my left shoulder looked menacing and we had nearly 1000 feet of climbing left to reach the summit of Longs Peak. Much of it would be easy, unroped scrambling, but a thunderstorm could make things much more dangerous and slow. It looked like we were in for some more suffering.

For the past few years I’ve indulged my passion for climbing mountains. Each summer my daughters go to their respective camps – acting camp, music camp, dance camp – and I take a trip I consider my own camp, a climbing camp.

I prepare for my camp all year, just like my daughters do, with long hours of practice. And there are a lot of skills to practice for traveling over steep mountain terrain. I’ve learned through guided instruction how to traverse glaciers, how to arrest a slide down a snow slope and how to use a rope to protect steep terrain on rock, snow and ice.

Day trips and weekend outings to Devil’s Lake, Taylors Falls, Luverne, Sandstone, St. Paul and The North Shore help me prepare for the bigger trips. But when the climbs get longer, so does the list of required skills. Decisions that are unimportant at home can make the difference between success and failure on a bigger climb. Judgement becomes paramount for safety. And when you aren’t yet adjusted to the altitude, it becomes hard to move skillfully with good judgement. So that’s what summer camp is all about, practice.

Practice and suffering.

Before the engine cooled from our long road trip to Colorado in August, we already felt nauseated and lightheaded from the 5000 foot gain in altitude. The first day we pushed up the 1000-foot east face of the Third Flatiron in Boulder, surprised at our lack of stamina. On the summit we felt sun-baked and exhausted, but victorious. We easily managed the rappels, hiked back to the car and completed our first day, by driving further up the mountains, finding a place to camp, setting up the tent, cooking dinner which we choked down against our continuing nausea, and finally collapsing into our sleeping bags for a fitful night of sleep. It was a good day!

The rest of the week was more of the same with victories, failures and more suffering. Each day we’d call home with our report: “Today we couldn’t finish the last pitch of The Owl because it was too hard and we got too dehydrated and we had to escape off the route.” “Today we carried our climbing gear 15 miles along the continental divide and never got to rope up because we got hit by a lightning storm and had to bail out by hiking across a broken train trestle.”

There are lessons to be learned through suffering, though. Especially when the suffering comes voluntarily. Suffering unlocks the secrets of your soul. Suffering unlocks the secrets of the world. Suffer, and you learn you can run a marathon. Suffer, and you can master a violin passage or make a pirouette look graceful. Suffer in small, regular doses and you begin to accept it, to embrace it, to need it. Eventually you realize you haven’t been suffering at all and your mind is transformed to see beauty where you once felt pain. You begin to see opportunity where you once were blinded by fear. Accept a small amount of suffering and your mind will open and allow your creativity to flourish.

When my partner reached my belay 6 pitches up the Keyhole Ridge on Longs Peak, we decided to go down instead of up. For the next hour and-a-half we escaped the route by a combination of lowering, downclimbing and rapelling. When we unroped, still high on the Keyhole Route, the sky opened, pelting us with sleet. We finally reached the trailhead with open minds and happy hearts, despite our failed summit attempt, at 7pm. We had climbed for 16 hours. We had suffered, but more importantly we had discovered; we discovered new abilities and new emotions. For the small price of some voluntary physical suffering, we discovered that the soul can grow larger than the body. We had discovered another great day in the mountains.

Pictures From Our Week

, Sunday, September 7, 2008 3 comments

Time Capsule

, Friday, September 5, 2008 0 comments

We have a couple of big rubbermaid bins under our bed for collecting artwork and other papers that the girls bring home. They act as time capsules, of sorts. I'm sure we're not alone in storing memories this way. In fact, my mom had something like this, too.

When Margaret and I visited Mom in St. Louis 15 years ago she got out one of these time capsules, which included a vocabulary assignment that Dave completed. He had to create a sentence for each word, and for the word "slow" he wrote: "Why am I so slow?"

Well, I personally believe that people should slow down a little more. Here's a case in point. On Sunday we drove to Minneapolis to pick Claire up from her trip to China. On the way out of town we stopped to get some gas, and we were being efficient with our little stop. While I pumped the gas, Margaret and Elizabeth put up the rear seat in our van so the Sorvaags could ride with us. The seat was up before the tank was full, so they went inside to pick up drinks. When I came inside to serve myself some decaf, they were already in line to pay. "Are you just getting a coffee," Margaret shouted to me from the line? "Yes," I replied, "but the creamer is empty." The gal running the cash register was nice enough to come right over to refill the creamer dispenser, allowing me to make my coffee all sweet and fru-fru the way I like it.

I was surprised that Margaret was already done in the line when I finished with my creamer because I didn't take that long to fill it up. But she thought I was taking too long and prodded me by saying, "Come on Juan Valdez, what's taking so long? Are you harvesting the beans? Get your donkey and let's go!" With that she shooed me out of the store, ran ahead of me, climbed into the van and closed the door.

As I approached the van, a Kwik Trip employee came running out yelling, "Sir! Sir! We rang you out, but you never paid!" It seams Mrs. Valdez was in too much of a hurry to ever finish paying for our gas and food.

I think she could take a lesson from Dave.

Chat with Claire

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 4 comments

Occasionally when I'm a on the computer in the family room and Claire is on the laptop we'll connect via gmail and have a small chat. Well, that happened last night with Margaret and Claire, only Margaret was on the laptop and Claire was... in China! Sounds like she really likes where they are staying, but she doesn't like the stinky, primitive toilets :)

Gus's Proud Achievement

Thursday, August 14, 2008 2 comments

Notice the difference? No, no I don't mean the dorky guy in the foreground of the second image. Look at the background. The parks service cleared out the brush in front of the new bench. Grumpy Gus's blog must really have some clout to inspire that kind of change in 24 hours, huh?

Grumpy Gus Tours Winona

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2 comments


New benches have been springing up around Lake Winona. It seems anybody who cares to donate some money can have a bench honoring a Loved One. They're running out of good room for benches, though. Here's one they started putting in last fall and finally got around to finishing this week.

I bet I'll be able to count on one hand the number of times that bench gets used in a year. Oh, it's nice and all, but it looks directly at a bunch of weeds.

Here's another that they started and finished in the same week. They built a 5-foot mound for its base, at an angle that's too steep for the mower to ever keep the grass trimmed. They tried to trim the weeds in front of this one, but there's still a lot of foliage to look through.

Apparently it's not important to keep the benches consistent in appearance. Maybe the benefactor gets to choose what type of bench goes in. There are wooden benches, plastic ones, wrought iron, concrete, red, black, blue, stationary benches and swings.

Before the personalized benches became so popular it was service groups that donated the money. Here's one donated by the Exchange Club.

There's no mistaking who donated the benches near the newly remodeled Visitor's Center on Huff Street.

The folks of Winona apparently can't walk very far without a rest. Can you count all 5 benches in this picture?

You can tell the age of the bench by the nature of the graffiti.

It's not just benches that get donated; garbage cans are fair game, too.

I'm going to make a donation in Marco's name to put in some more Dogi Pots. Two of these stations went up this week. They are a great idea if you happen to be near one, but two is not enough for the 2-mile perimeter of West Lake.

The stations actually have pictoral instructions on them in case you don't know how to use a plastic bag for picking up dog litter.

Unfinished Business
About thirteen months ago I witnessed the delivery of a playground rock climbing wall to the city parks department. It has never been installed, though. It sits near the parking lot with piles of dirt and mulch that need to be distributed to various locations in the park. The weeds around it have shot up, and the fence has fallen down.

Whenever we walk Marco on the loop we nickname Short Lake Loop we are forced into Huff Street along a section that doesn't have a sidewalk. I make empty complaints every time, wondering aloud why they didn't put a sidewalk in when they renovated the street a few years ago. Instead they left a useless shoulder that's too small to keep pedestrians safe. Well, last fall I was thrilled to see them begin work on a new sidewalk there; I figured somebody must be listening in on my complaints. Unfortunately things never progressed and now it's just a weed strip.

I guess now it matches the weeds that grow along the curb.

Wilkie Remnants
The city finally decided to demolish the Wilkie, once-and-for-all. Well, not really once-and-for-all; the majority of the city council voted to keep the concrete foundation which is as pretty as a poo hole but not as useful.

Good Stuff
I'm not usually such a Grumpy Gus about my beloved town. To prove I can see the beauty too, here's a nice garden that I pass on the way to work every day.

And here's a cute group of youngsters learning what to do if you tip over the canoe you're paddling.

If you need any more proof of my affections, just read this post (and be sure to watch the cute video).