Codependent no more on winter



This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on February 11, 2016.

Winter and I are in a harmonious relationship this year. This is because winter has actually respected boundaries. It did not barge into the fall months with blasts of arctic cold. It was even kind enough to wait until at least a couple of weeks after the start of winter before giving us snow and cold temperatures.

As much as I appreciate not having to codependently accommodate dysfunctional winterly behavior, I’m starting to wonder if winter needs assertiveness training or something.

For example, remember that storm last Tuesday? Like anxious helicopter parents hovering over a child’s every move, we started worrying about that storm a week before it arrived. We stalked the storm on radar via the weather forecasts. There were discussions in every school and workplace about the possibilities of closing on that day. Finally, this would be the winter misery we would all endure and post Facebook status updates about together.

But in the day or two leading up to the storm, the forecasters suddenly became vague in their predictions and refused to commit to the storm. Then, sure enough, the storm played hard to get and made a passive aggressive shift to the north, and off to school and work we all went.

I guess the worst part is that winter hasn’t give us much to complain about. Complaining about the weather is a fundamental right of a Wisconsinite. “How about that snow we didn’t get?” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Small talk has become even smaller, because there isn’t weather or the Packers to talk about. If this keeps up, people outside our state will no longer be impressed that we endure Wisconsin winters. In an ironic twist, several Southern states have faced more winter drama than we have in the Madison area. What does winter see in them that it doesn’t see in us?

It’s to the point where I’m reduced to scrounging around in the fine print of the forecast to find something, anything, to complain about. Oh, look, 84 percent humidity! I hope winter humidity gives me a bad hair day the way summer humidity does. That will give me something to gripe about.


Who’s the biggest loser in the checkout lines?


This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on February 4, 2016.

I heard on the radio the other day that the average 50-year-old has spent five years of their life waiting in line, so it’s time I come clean and offer you an apology.

The reason that number seems so high is my fault. I fail 100 percent of the time in choosing the right checkout line at the grocery store and it throws off the average.

I blame those self-checkout lines. I can’t resist them because the lines are shorter, but I get burned every time no matter how meticulous I am in performing my analysis.

A recent scenario: An older woman has a lot of produce she’ll have to manually key in codes for, whereas the young guy in the other aisle has all scannable items in his cart. His line will be quicker, right?


He has trouble with his debit card and has to go find his father. By that time the woman at the other checkout has left the building and has probably already started preheating her oven by the time I finally get to take my turn.

The biggest difficulty is gauging how long it will take the person to bag their own groceries. If the person is alone with no one to help him bag, and has more than 20 items, beware of his line.

Once I chose a line where the young man was bagging and all the other lines still had full carts. I did an internal fist pump celebrating my good fortune in getting the best line. Then it was as if time stopped. He moved at a glacial speed as he loaded his produce into his two cloth bags. In one of my lowest moments ever at the grocery store I finally started checking out and sailed my items down the belt. They crashed into his bags. That was almost as satisfying as if I had chosen the fastest line.

Sometimes it goes down to the wire and I get caught up in watching if the person in my line will finish faster than the person in the line I rejected. Of course, my line always loses, sometimes by seconds. Oh well. At least all this checkout line analysis and people-watching has kept me from spending that entire five years reading the tabloid headlines in the checkout line magazine racks.



Photo: Kaleb Fulgham

Reading Glasses are for the Birds

This column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on January 28, 2016.

You know you’ve reached a certain age when you start to experience the effects of trying to read something without your reading glasses.

For example, I recently glanced at the Town Planner wall calendar in our kitchen, which has local activities helpfully printed on it. I wondered if there was anything interesting happening around here.

An upcoming Friday night entry said, “Cockatiels in the Conservatory, 7:00 – 11:00 p.m.”

We have three pet cockatiel birds so my mind thrilled at the possibilities of this event.

Was Olbrich planning to add cockatiels as permanent bird residents in the conservatory to join the quail, waxbills and canaries? How fun to imagine cockatiels flying about the palm trees and orchids of the conservatory as they wolf whistled at the guests.

Or would various owners of cockatiels bring their birds in for a sort of show and tell? I wasn’t sure how the logistics of this would work, and would be hesitant to bring in our own birds, but had fun imagining how much they would enjoy that tropical environment.

Perhaps the humane society would bring in any cockatiels and other birds in need of adoption.

Maybe even local artists would be there painting pictures of the birds and flora.

And local ornithology experts would give talks and answer questions about exotic birds and the birds of the conservatory.

Leaving the house on a Friday evening in the middle of winter is normally something I’m deeply opposed to, but I knew I couldn’t miss this event. Just as I was going to run off and check the Olbrich website for more details, I put on my reading glasses and looked more closely.

It said “Cocktails at the Conservatory.”

My heart sank.

True, these Freudian slips when misreading can lead to some interesting creative thoughts. One could make a party game out of it, where you are required to read something out loud without your reading glasses. Even better, compose and send a text without reading glasses on, and the recipient reads it out loud to the group. That could generate more laughs than Cards Against Humanity.

But I’m not sure what’s worse.

Being old enough to have to be a slave to wearing reading glasses to read anything.

Or knowing that cockatiels are far more exciting to me than cocktails.

The side effects of the post-binge watching blues




This Humor Me column originally appeared in The Herald-Independent on January 21, 2016. Why do I also write humor columns? This explains it.

I hope someday they make the Post-Binge Watching Blues an official diagnosis.

I get an acute case of this every winter, when I do most of my binge watching, because it’s too cold to do anything else. The letdown after finishing a binge, with nothing on the immediate horizon to watch, leaves me bereft and disoriented.

I haven’t seen anything yet that describes the side effects of binge-watching each show, so I’ll get the conversation started by listing them for a few of the shows I’ve binged:

“House, M.D.” — Side effects are the fear of suddenly having a violent seizure or coughing up blood, because you’ve seen that happen in each of the 150-plus episodes. You diagnose every ailment of your family members and friends as sarcoidosis. At work, you have an overwhelming urge to bounce a tennis ball against the wall while thinking and interrupt brainstorming sessions with withering sarcastic remarks. Tendency to say “everybody lies” as often as possible.

“House of Cards” — This was my gateway show that introduced me to binge watching. You always remember your first, and it remains my favorite. I can hardly wait for the next season on March 4. Side effects: silently crying inside because you don’t have Claire’s cheekbones or wardrobe and compensating for this by buying Oxford shirts like hers. Tendency to say, “You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment,” at every opportunity.

“Monk” — It’s a tradition in my house to do mini-binges on a season or two of this every summer. We’ve seen every episode multiple times. The garbage strike episode with Alice Cooper is our favorite. Side effects: the urge to touch every fence and lamppost when walking outdoors. Saying “You’ll thank me later,” “Here’s what happened” and “He’s the guy,” at every opportunity. Regularly stirring up “Who is better, Natalie or Sharona?” debates during car trips. Frequent attempts to imitate Monk’s maniacal laugh in the garbage strike episode.

One could also do a cocktail approach to binge-watching. For example, one episode of season 1 “House,” followed by a chaser of two “Monks” from season three, then a shot of “Breaking Bad” to really get the party started. Well, I could go on, but I just found a new show to binge-watch. Whew.

Gym offers an exercise in community

This column appeared originally in the Herald-Independent on January 14, 2016.

A recent article said some people turn to CrossFit gyms the way others seek out church because of the supportive community.

I found that amusing, because, for me, the presence of other people at the gym is the worst part about going to the gym.

My greatest achievements at the gym aren’t those times I managed to jog on the treadmill for 30 minutes straight without stopping (or dying). They are the two times in five years I managed to have the entire gym all to myself. One of these was during a snowstorm a few years ago. The other time was at 10 a.m. this past Mother’s Day.

The next best thing to an empty gym is when I get a treadmill that has an empty treadmill on either side of me, creating the illusion of privacy. Unfortunately I’m not always so lucky.

The way I endure treadmill claustrophobia is to occasionally glance at my neighbor’s treadmill screen and see their stats. What are those new large treadmill screens for if not for snooping? It’s a lot more interesting than looking at my own stats and makes the time go faster.

Speaking of church, it’s a good thing there isn’t a “Don’t covet thy neighbor’s stats” commandment at my gym, because my neighbor’s speed is usually 10 mph or more, whereas I’m barely galumphing along. They aren’t hanging on to the treadmill handles for dear life like me, so I often don’t get to see their pulse, but when I do, it’s usually only 120. A peek at their timer shows they have been on the treadmill for at least 30 minutes without any signs of fatigue. To ward off despair, I mentally review my justifications about my poor running performance, and before I know it, my workout is over.

Things get trickier when I step off the treadmill and venture over to the section with the kettlebells and weights. In this area, it’s harder to have privacy. Occasionally, someone will even smile at me, which always makes me wonder what exercise I did that looked foolish.

We almost never talk to each other, yet these are people that see me at my worst, contorting and exerting, and wearing attire I wouldn’t wear in public. A few times, I’ve noticed after leaving that my yoga pants were inside out the entire time, and no one laughed at me or said anything. On second thought, if this is what community is, I’ll take it.

My humor column returns

Today marks the return of my humor column to the Community Herald Independent.

Please click here to read it.



Sunday Morning Sermon



This morning’s sermon
Nuthatch Chickadee duet
“Yank Yank Yank.” “Phoebe.”



Photo: Ian Lee

Thanksgiving Thursday Therapy: family love allows family pathology


“Going home, at whatever age, offers going back, regression. And the fight against family during these return trips is therefore a displacement of the fight against regression. We don’t want to admit the weaknesses in our characters and the hungers in our desires. We don’t want to admit that we have not ‘grown up,’ and so blame the family both for bringing out the worst and then for not indulging it enough…

The debilitating energy loss strikes everyone alike as if a communal power outage. Everyone caught in repeating, and resisting, old patterns. Nothing changed, after all these years! … These moments attest to the capacity of family for sharing – in a common soul or psychic state, and for containing the regressive needs of the soul.

No one is at fault, no one is kicked out, and no one can be helped. In the paralysis lies the profound source of acceptance. Grandpa can go on grumbling, brother attacking the administration, sister introvertedly attending her exacerbating eczema, and mother go on covering up with solicitous busyness. Everyone goes down the drain because family love allows family pathology, an immense tolerance for the hopeless shadow in each, the shadow that we each carry as a permanent part of our baggage and that we unpack when we go back home.”

–James Hillman in A Blue Fire

Photo: Josh Wedin

Autumn Molting

A pile of gray feathers on the living room floor

Makes you look at the cockatiels in the cage,

the one you resuced in particular. He is not ill, just


Is your conclusion, much to your relief.

It’s late fall, which requires new feathers in subdued

colors, because the upcoming winter requires hiding in


Not brightness, and focus on gathering the harvest from the

recent autumn. The new growth causes pain and lack of

appetite because the stillness requires many inner


You sweep up the feathers to cast them outside.

Maybe a bird or animal will use them as winter nest

Insulation. Then you realize the one who is molting is


West Broadway: 3:36 a.m.

Here we go again with the 3:15 wake up call,

because his car, which was supposed to be fixed by now,

is not. Very soon this will be over, but today, not


Yet, so I rummage through my little gray cells to recall a

Stoic philosophy mantra about obstacles. “What

stands in the way becomes the way.” Or


At least this rumination succeeds in keeping

Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” song

From running on auto-repeat in my head. So there’s


Then on West Broadway at 3:36 a.m. I see it,

The same shade of orange as the blinking caution

lights, and my mood finally brightens. Good Morning


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