Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I wish I could get myself a lasso and a little pinto pony.

If I had a rope and a pony, I’d round up all the people I am worried about right now—including old people in nursing homes, tiny little people the size of a raspberry with a spinal cord, people looking for jobs, people thinking of changing jobs, people with health problems, people with bank statements that don’t balance, people with too much to do and too little time to do it, students who have too few points and too little semester left . . .

I’d round them all up and put them in my little corral and worry about them all together in one big herd instead of one at a time at all hours of the day and night.

That’s what I’d do if I had a lasso and a little pinto pony.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I don’t know much about basketball, but I know that coach named Phil Harmeson once said about coaching the game, “You can’t teach tall.” I guess he meant you can teach dribbling and ball handling and free-throw shooting and jump shots and surreptitious elbowing. But tall is tall—and no amount of teaching makes a 5’8” kid into a 7’6” NBA superstar.

Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to “teach tall.” I am currently in the middle of grading 18 gazillion technical writing proposals, the major writing assignment of the semester. The paper requires a combination of initiative, creative thinking, problem solving, writing skills, and formatting within business document parameters.

I have corrected some proposals that are absolutely outstanding; I am bursting with pride that the students can perform and produce at such a level. I have also graded some proposals that are humbling and humiliating (me and them). Could they possibly have spent the past 15 weeks in my Technical Writing classes and learned such a tiny little infinitesimal amount about writing?

Is it that I’m a failure as a teacher—or am I just up against the “teaching tall” syndrome? I can have 26 students in a classroom, and some of them just get it and others look at me like I’m from the planet Dorkfreak, speaking in tongues about a concept that they neither know nor want to understand. Hmmm . . . maybe too close to retirement to ever find out the real answer.

Friday, April 25, 2008


In a hospital in the Twin Cities are my two twin baby boy great-nephews, born on Tuesday—last name HEXUM. In a hospital on the other side of the state is my father, celebrating his 91st birthday having a colonoscopy to diagnose a GI bleed—last name HEXUM.

In a photograph on the mantle of a fireplace in Phoenix, Arizona, is the hand of my 32-year-old son being held by my then-90-year-old father, almost like they’re shaking on the deal: “When I’m gone, you help carry the legacy on.” Deal sealed. Circle of Life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Old people get a bad rap—maybe deservedly—for being overly protective of their yards and flowers and property in general. Old people don’t have jobs or kids to worry about any more, so they transfer all of that mother-hen/father-rooster protectiveness to the flora and the foliage in their yards.

I once read a book called Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens who made an observation about people whose lives are so problem free that they get upset when the neighbor kids step on their flowers or the neighbor’s dog chases a squirrel across their grass. Her implication was that if that’s the worst thing that’s happening to you in your life—well, your life is pretty blessed.

I guess we can tell how small or how large our lives are by what we choose to get angry about. One morning after I had read that book, I was sitting at the computer when I heard a rustling and crunching outside the window. I peeked out the blinds. A bird? An animal? A peeping Tom? No, just our kindergarten-aged neighbor boy peeing behind a bush on my decorative rocks.

Luckily, I had just read the book because it reminded me that if the very worst thing happening in my life was a kindergartner who couldn’t make it home to the bathroom, I must have a small life. So I just quietly closed the blinds again.

Stephen Colbert (I Am America—And So Can You) said that the answer to the illegal immigrant problem in the U.S. is to build a 2,000 mile front porch along the U.S.-Mexican border, line it with rocking chairs, and offer geezers free trips to Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico if they’re willing to take a shift on that porch, shaking their fists and yelling profanities at the illegals, warning them to stay off our property. I think Colbert meant it tongue in cheek—but I actually know one or two geezers who would be really good at that job.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I have a bad habit of dog-earring pages in books that have a line or a passage that strikes me as deep (i.e., I have to remember this thought because it’s going to change me for life or until five minutes from now when I forgot I read it). I can tell that the book I just finished was a really, really good book because it resembles an animal shelter when I get done—dog ears all over the place.

When I finished reading Expecting Adam by Martha Beck, I remember thinking that it was the best book I’d ever read (an honor that would probably be more meaningful if I didn’t think that every book I’ve just finished or every movie I’ve just watched or every sunset I’ve just witnessed was the best, the most moving, the most beautiful . . . short memory).

On one dog-eared page of Expecting Adam, I discovered what the major difference was between Harvard and Alex Tech. For those of you who are disillusioned that there even is a difference, I apologize.

Martha Beck explains what it was like for her and her husband to attend Harvard and get a Harvard education: “You might assume from all this that John and I found Harvard pleasant. Oh, how wrong you would be. . . It was like having lunch with a brilliant, learned, witty celebrity who liked to lean across the table at unpredictable intervals and slap me in the mouth—hard. Was it interesting? Very. Was it stimulating? In more ways than one. Pleasant? I don’t think so.”

So how is Alex Tech different? Here’s my take on it: “Going to Alex Tech is like having lunch with your dumpy-looking aunt who smells like gingerbread and who likes to lean across the table at unpredictable intervals and give you a big hug—hard. Was it interesting? Rarely. Was it stimulating? Only when she accidently tipped my water glass while hugging me. Pleasant? Yes, if you liked to get hugged by people who smell like gingerbread and walk around in damp pants the rest of the day.” (4/22/08)

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I read somewhere that when you ask a truly happy person if he or she is happy, the answer is a look of puzzlement—they just don’t spend any time thinking about whether or not they’re happy. However, an unhappy person can tell you chapter and verse all the most minute things that are wrong with their lives because they think a lot about it.

So the secret to happiness, according to what I read?

First, happiness comes from NOT pursuing happiness directly—just losing yourself in meaningful activity or service outside yourself. (So I already screwed up. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that spending time writing blogs doesn’t qualify as altruistic service to mankind?)

Second, happiness comes from finding who we are and doing worthwhile things—of living life the way we know life should be lived. (Hmm . . I’m sure I left that moral compass around here somewhere. Check the couch cushions?? Under the front seat of the car?)

Third, happiness is being in harmony with those around you. (Yea, but I get to sing alto or I’m quitting the choir.)

But most importantly, happiness is achieved through living simply and being satisfied with what we have got. (What?!? And give up my favorite hobby of coveting? Coveting my neighbor’s husband and her children and her slaves and her goats and her sheep and her cattle and her ass and her lake home and her Toyota Prius? You mean I was supposed to take that 10th Commandment seriously?? I thought Moses was just trying to come up with an even number of commandments.)

In old age, happiness is an accumulation of good memories when we don’t have the strength to do the meaningful activities any more. (Yeah, but I have some really outstanding grudges that I’d like to hang onto so I can mull them over a little more thoroughly in the nursing home. Nothing tastes better than a well-aged grudge with a slightly oaky flavor.)

This happiness business sounds like a lot of work.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reasons to Get Out of Bed

I look forward to getting up in the morning. It’s not that my bed isn’t comfortable or that Tom’s old feet aren’t warm and bony. It’s that I have so much to get out of bed for! So what actually goes through my head when I eagerly flip back the covers and leap to my feet (okay, the flipping and leaping are an exaggeration), even on the weekends?

Simply, I have the following incentives:

1) Two cats who depend on me for life itself—or at least their frantic meowing would lead a neighbor with the ASPCA on speed dial to believe so.

2) A cup of International Coffee’s Hazelnut Belgian CafĂ© (the poor man’s Starbucks) in one of the perfectly-sized-and-shaped snowman cups we got from Casey’s mother for Christmas one year (and yes, it’s okay to use a snowman cup in July—we’ve had this discussion before, thank you very much).

3) The crossword and jumble puzzles in the Fargo Forum, completed using a Micro 207 Uniball Signo pen.

4) The anticipation of my two-to-four-a-day (miles, not cigars) habit.

5) Fear of failure.

6) That edgy feeling that this just might be the day ( don’t ask me what it’s the day of and don’t ask me if it’s dread or anticipation . . . it’s just the edgy feeling).

So don’t scoff at what you don’t understand. If your biological innards don’t catapult you out of bed at 5 or 6 a.m. every day, you will never know what you’re missing. It’s a beautiful, quiet (after the cats are fed), reflective time of the day, when things haven’t started to go wrong yet. The promise is still there, and the people who love to get in your face are still fast asleep, storing up energy to sabotage your day. By beating them up by an hour or two doing the things you love, you start out the day at least a touchdown ahead. (4/19/08)