Blogging Has Been Fun, But It’s Time To Wrap It Up

Blogging Has Been Fun, But It’s Time To Wrap It Up

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One year ago, I shared the first post for this blog. The idea for writing it had been percolating for several years, and after retiring in May 2020, and being home a lot due to Covid, I started seriously working on it.

Learning the tech side of blogging was fun but there was a lot of trial and error. You need a domain name, web host, and blogging platform, in that order. Also a logo, tag line and a professional photo. I took a class from a local blogger which helped a lot, but as you know technology changes rapidly, and if the sites had changed since my class ( and most of them had), it increased the learning curve. The actual writing of the blog was the easiest part!

Speaking of writing, I started with some tales of my antics as a kid, and then on a list of ideas I had been jotting down for a year. I still have the list and haven’t posted all of the ideas. Sometimes life presented good material too, such as our recent trip to Denver where we used concert tickets on our phone and Lyft for the first time. Thank goodness I didn’t rent those scooters by mistake.

Here are some fun statistics- all from Word Press, and anonymous. In other words, no names attached, just the numbers. I have had readers from 25 countries, primarily the United States, but also England, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico and others. One of the most curious numbers is four from China. My content is so American I think it would lose something in translation, but four Chinese readers show up most weeks. Again, no names, but I think it must be the same four. Quite interesting! Regular readers can also follow the blog and automatically get posts each week. I have 77 followers, and other regular readers who find the post themselves. Facebook and Linkedin are the only social media sites where I share the posts each week, and they are very helpful.

The most read blog post was the one pictured above, about my brother, Bill Brown, and his friend Arthur Ashe. It had hundreds of readers, and was picked up by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and was also published in St. Louis, where Arthur lived when the photo was taken. He was playing in a tournament in Omaha, and my mom baked him a cake. The Omaha World Herald, which published the photo when it was taken, contacted me and ran the photo again during Black History Month in 2021. Dirk Chatelain, the reporter who wrote the updated story, is a gifted writer who captured the essence of that moment from a historical and personal perspective. I am sure my mom was smiling down from heaven at being remembered for her act of kindness so many years ago. She knew 18 year old Arthur had lost his mother at an early age, and was living far from his home in Virginia to be able to play tennis on non segregated courts. His accomplishments were many before dying in his forties. As my brother says, what a guy.

The next most read posts were about Paul Simon playing a concert in my aunt’s living room in small town Iowa, several posts I titled Adventures in Weight Loss, some technology posts about using cell phones, and memories about landlines. Those were all fun to write. Some of my high school classmates are regular readers, and they shared some great memories after my posts about our senior trip to New Orleans, and a cranky teacher named Sr. Evelyn Barbara. Law school classmates have commented on our antics during those three stressful but sometimes fun years . And my extended family have been loyal readers too.

Writing a blog puts your site on the web, so there are occasionally some fun contacts. Last spring, I received an email from a casting agency for a new NBC streaming show that will be produced by Amy Poehler. She currently has one called Making It, where contestants do craft projects and compete for prizes. I was contacted about Baking It, which will have amateur cooks making holiday baked goods. The hosts will be Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg. Judges will be “four opinionated, real life grandmas who are excellent bakers”. I was contacted about the grandma judging, and honestly replied I wasn’t at the level of baking expertise they were looking for. But how fun to be asked to audition. And I really would have enjoyed meeting Maya and Andy. It premiers on the Peacock streaming platform on December 2, 2021.

One of the things I studied about blogging was how to cover the costs of running one. It’s not overly expensive, but there are some monthly and annual costs. Running ads on posts in a limited way is what I chose to do. It was free for me, which was nice. And since I hate having too many pop up ads when I am reading content online, I went the minimalist route with them. You can only get very basic ads unless you have thousands of readers, and the most profitable ads require a minimum of 10,000 readers a month. Yikes!

Blogs that started long ago, like Huffington Post and Mashable, have millions of readers. But start up blogs today aren’t going to reach such lofty heights, and struggle to be noticed in a crowded space. Without a lot readers sharing your posts or being noticed on search engines, growth is very hard. And with a generic topic like humor, the search engine optimization software I use can only produce so much.

Podcasting is the newest way to reach an audience, and it probably offers more revenue opportunities, but I doubt that is something I will do. WordPress offers a way to have weekly posts read on a podcast but I don’t think my blog lends itself to that format.

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So it’s time to sign off, and I want to thank all of you who have been regular readers. It’s fun to hear from you when you like a post. I plan to keep the site up and running until 2022 since many of the posts still get noticed, but I don’t plan to add weekly content. If something really funny happens I may pop back up with a post, but who knows? There’s also a chance I will rebrand the site and graphics and do something new next spring or summer. Too hard to predict at the moment.

In closing, I hope the blog has brightened your day and made you laugh. Your support has been a bright spot the past year, and I appreciate every one of you!

I Survived A Continuing Ed Seminar, Also Known As Death By Power Point

I Survived A Continuing Ed Seminar, Also Known As Death By Power Point

Continuing Ed Seminars are required in many professions, and lawyers have to attend them according to their state’s requirements. Although I retired in 2020, I am keeping my license active for a couple of reasons- one, it took a lot of time and effort to get it, and two, I still do some work for my family or as a community service. In Nebraska, the requirement is 10 hours per year. That really isn’t much in terms of the time required, but frequently the seminars feel much longer than they are advertised to be, so it feels like 110 hours. One way to get a lot of hours in a short time is to attend the annual state bar convention, held every October.

Last week I decided to start chipping away at my requirement and signed up for two seminars at the convention- one about real estate and estate planning, and the other about the Lawyers Assistance Project, which helps legal professionals with substance abuse problems. The real estate/probate seminar started off with an interesting case- a man in Minnesota wanted to leave his house to his niece when he died, and his attorney prepared a delivery on death deed as part of his estate plan. That somewhat gruesomely named deed transfers ownership of the property after the death of the current owner, without probate court involvement. So the uncle died, but before the niece knew she was the new owner, the uncle’s disgruntled ex-wife burned the house down. When the niece made a claim under the homeowner’s insurance policy her uncle had on the home, State Farm denied her claim.

The niece sued the company, and said she didn’t know she owned the property, and couldn’t have insured it. State Farm ( Jake from the commercials is meaner than he looks) said it didn’t matter, the insurance contract expired when the uncle died. And several courts agreed with them. From a contract law perspective, this is accurate. But from a fairness and justice perspective, it stinks. How can you insure a property that you don’t know you own? What are estate planning attorneys supposed to do when recommending them to a client- ask if there are any disgruntled exes around who like to start fires? All of the attorneys in the room were concerned about this problem, and a discussion about a remedy (consensus was state law will have to be changed) ensued. We had one Power Point slide up, with the name and citation of the case. The discussion was lively and to a bunch of lawyers, also fairly interesting.

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Why is Power Point involved in our seminars? Before Power Point, there were slide projectors like the one pictured above. Small slides with pictures from cameras were put into projectors for group viewing on a portable screen. A few teachers used them, but mostly they were individual users- lots of jokes back in the day of going to someone’s house to see the slide show of their vacation. It was a simpler time! And Baby Boomers will remember View Master toys, which allowed you to have your own personal slide shows. High tech for the 1960’s. So Power Point isn’t really that different- it is a way to present slides that you create using a computer. As a college teacher, I learned to use the software and included it in my classes to a certain extent for most of the time I taught, but with a lot of enhancements.

While it can be a good instructional tool, using Power Point also has some significant drawbacks. Chief among them is inducing mind numbing boredom in the class or audience viewing the slides. This of course depends on many things- the material being presented, the person preparing the slides, the speaker, the length of the presentation, and the time of day.

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So our one slide in the beginning of the seminar was fine, but then an additional speaker was Zoomed into the meeting with more slides. A lot more slides. Slides that were too long, repetitive, and oh so dull. Some of them were read to us. I looked around and started to see other attendees shared my thoughts. Cell phones were out, and a few people nodded off. Others were on their laptops, happily billing clients for the work they were doing. This session did, however, resurrect itself a bit with some audience discussion. But then the final speakers came forth for the second hour with more slides. And a new topic- settling an estate with insufficient assets. Such fun.

In defense of the speakers, they aren’t educators and don’t use Power Point regularly. They are talking about inherently arcane topics, and they know their fellow attorneys are used to this type of content. But they also knew they were speaking right after lunch, so strike one. They have attended their share of seminars, so they have probably been bored to death in the past and should know better, so strike two. And the bar association never asks for evaluations of these presentations, which would improve them, so strike three. So on it goes, year after year.

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Luckily, day two went a lot better, with a larger audience and different topic. It was about the Lawyers Assistant Project, which confidentially assists members of the legal profession with substance abuse problems. Several things made this two hour seminar go much faster. First, there were speakers who shared their personal stories of substance abuse. These brave lawyers shed light on a significant problem in the profession, and their personal journeys to sobriety. They also spoke frankly about how a competitive, high stress profession like the law can create the “perfect storm” of using alcohol and drugs to excess.

Were there Power Point slides? Yes, but they were kept to a minimum and enhanced what the speakers were saying, rather than being read to the group. And they included some embedded videos, graphics and photos. Kudos to those presenters.

And so my journey to completing my hours by the end of December is underway. I think I’ll do the rest of the time based on the titles of the presentations. I found two seminars that might work- Messy and Ugly Issues in Employment Law, and Hot Issues in Foreclosure Compliance. Wish me luck!

Adventures In Cooking: Occasional Miscues, And My $200 Sheperd’s Pie

Adventures In Cooking: Occasional Miscues, And My $200 Sheperd’s Pie

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I have always had an interest in cooking, and it started at a young age. I remember watching my mother cook dinner, and assisting a bit as well as well as getting tastes of what she was making. For some reason I had a fondness for slices of raw white potatoes, and those were on the menu a lot. Strange, but it worked for me!

She was an excellent home style cook- this was probably due to growing up on a farm, where her mom was responsible for feeding lots of family and hired workers on a regular basis. We still make a lot of my grandmother’s dishes, and I have several of her recipes written in her handwriting. They are more nostalgic than practical because she wrote things like “cook till done”, and listed ingredients in no particular order. Luckily, we deciphered them. My mom also cooked a lot from memory, but she also liked trying new recipes. At family gatherings, she and her extended family exchanged them. I still have my mom’s recipe box, with several of these- with names like Ag’s Beans, Sue’s Economy Casserole ( so named because the ingredients were expensive), and Leatrice’s Sheet Cake. I know exactly where these tried and true dishes came from since I knew the original cooks. It is a treasure to have them.

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My personal cooking adventure started with a Betty Crocker Cookbook For Boys And Girls that I received as a gift in fourth grade. I still have it! It was a fun way to make some dishes everyone might eat, and I tried most of them. I also got some credit for a Girl Scout badge along the way, so definitely a win/win. And I kept doing assistant duty for dinner.

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Cooking took a back seat as I got older and busier with sports and activities, but it kicked back in during law school. Fast food was expensive, so I learned a few basic dishes could make quickly. Not exactly gourmet standards, but edible and enough to get me through the semester. When I lived with three other law students my last year, cooking got a bit more complicated due to our small kitchen. That is when we discovered Domino’s Pizza, the only food you could get delivered in those days. We pooled our money and ate them way too often. I can say without exaggeration I haven’t eaten a Domino’s Pizza since graduating in the 1980’s.

Cooking took on a new life when I stayed home with my kids. Learning to cook healthy food that little ones and adults would eat was one of my major jobs in those days. Luckily, I still liked to cook, and started collecting cookbooks too. Every vacation, I would pick one up in a gift shop. This lead to a way too large collection, but I tried to use them all at some point.

I was always game to try a new recipe and had some funny moments along the way. One day, I decided to make home made runza’s. For those not familiar with them, they are a meat sandwich in a baked bun, about the size of a billfold, popular throughout the Midwest. My recipe called for using pre-made bread dough, and then putting the meat filling inside. I didn’t do something right, because when I checked on them, my runza’s were each the size of a large purse, and totally misshapen. I let them finish baking, and that didn’t help. Into the trash they went, never to be attempted again. Another misadventure was a ginger bread house one December. My daughter and I used a mold and made our own gingerbread. That seemed to go ok, until I took the last batch of gingerbread out of the oven and we started assembling the house. Our walls were so heavy, they barely stood up. The only rescue was to put pins into the walls to hold them together. Decorating was minimal because the house weighed so much we couldn’t touch it without almost causing a collapse.

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Unlike my maternal ancestors, I still use a recipe for most things, but I have mastered a few “go to” recipes of my own over the years. Many of them have “jiffy” in the title. So when Covid hit, and we were in the stay at home phase, I decided to do a combination of carry out from our local restaurants and cooking. Once the regular recipes were exhausted, it was time to try some new ones. A recipe that caught my eye was shepherd’s pie, a meat and vegetable dish topped with mashed potatoes. It served four, so we’d have leftovers for another day.

I got the ingredients I didn’t have an hand and started making the dish. Total cost: $10.00. You can use instant mashed potatoes, which have improved greatly over the years, but since I had time I made my own. The filling was made, and I put the dish together and popped it in the oven. Then I started the clean up process, including the pile of potato peels in the sink. Bad idea! The disposal made a strange grinding noise, and then quit working. The sink was full of backed up water, and the dishwasher was out of commission since it drains through the sink.

A call to a plumber, who was able to come relatively quickly, lead to an easy (for him) fix. He was at the house for less than an hour. So the total cost of my shepherd’s pie was $200.00- $10 for the ingredients, and $190 to the plumber, who charged more due to the weekend.

Luckily, the pie itself turned out pretty well, and we got more than one meal out of it. If I ever make it again, instant potatoes may be the route to take. I can’t afford to call the plumber whenever real potatoes are involved!

Teaching Is A Work Of Art

Teaching Is A Work Of Art

One of the things I like about social media is keeping up with friends and family, near and far. From first day of school photos to graduations, new babies to 90th birthdays, it makes people seem closer than they are, especially as we emerge from the pandemic. As a retired educator, I am very attuned to what my fellow teachers are doing, and my Facebook friends list includes teachers at every level. From Pre-K to graduate school, the school year is humming along. And this seems like an appropriate time to share some thoughts on teaching students of any age. So I share the five things I think every teachers knows.

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  1. The “Aha” Moment- when you present new material to students, you are trying to make sure that everyone in your class understands the concepts. There are a multitude of ways to do this, and they vary based on the grade level and content. Class presentations and discussions, written work, exams, role plays, small groups- the list goes on. No matter what method you are using, you are continually scanning the class to see how things are going- and you become an expert at gauging understanding. One of the best moments you can experience in class is seeing students begin to understand the content- and it is usually something you can see in their expressions. Teachers know this as the “aha moment”. It is like watching a light go in when the room has been dark. And it is one of the things I miss about teaching.
  2. Teachers Are Always Thinking Of New Ideas For Their Classes- I have been retired for over a year, and I still think of court cases or other current events in terms of how interesting it would be to share them with students. My office was located next to one of the teacher education classrooms for several years, and I enjoyed hearing the ways future teachers were learning how to work with students in creative and innovative ways. Their methods are based on research and curriculum decisions are made at administrative levels, but there is still a lot of creativity and spontaneity that occurs.
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3. Teachers Take A Lot Of Work Home- college professors have a more time outside the classroom than our K-12 colleagues, but we all work in the evening and on weekends. Grading was the primary work I did during those times, but administrative work, answering emails, and supervising part time faculty all took time and effort. K-12 teachers may also be working on advanced degrees. College faculty are expected to do research and contribute to their chosen field of study. The list goes on. Suffice it to say that teachers at any level are almost always working on something related to their jobs.

4. Teacher Tired Is A Thing-the beginning and end of every school year are very busy, but that isn’t the only time teachers are tired. Being in charge of a classroom is very intense work, and the younger the students, the more intense it can be. Lesson plans change in a matter of minutes, and there aren’t any breaks. Getting to the restroom is a challenge, and lunch time for K-12 teachers isn’t just fast, it’s usually less than 30 minutes. Keeping a schedule like this leads to fatigue of major proportions, aka Teacher Tired. When politicians complain about the amount of time teachers have off in the summer, or the size of their classes, I always think they would change their views if they spent a week in a grade school classroom. Better yet, that they take the students on a field trip, prepare them for standardized tests, and then analyze that data.

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5. Being A Teacher Is Who We Were Meant To Be-I used to teach a first year seminar class for our new students. On the first day of class, after I went over the syllabus, and did an ice breaker so that we could all get acquainted, I gave them some generic advice about the transition to college learning. One of my messages was about their professors. I told them that all of the professors I knew, myself included, loved the subject we taught. We could talk at length about obscure concepts with enthusiasm and energy they might find strange. But the take away was that while they may not love our subject, I hoped they would appreciate the breadth and depth of their instructor’s knowledge.

If you get a chance, thank a teacher you know this week. Their work is frequently undervalued, but it is one of the most important careers around. And I will close with a funny post pandemic bumper sticker I saw on a car recently. It said “You were wrong- my child isn’t a joy to have in the classroom”.

Where, Oh Where, Has Customer Service Gone?

Where, Oh Where, Has Customer Service Gone?

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Look at the happy row of customer service professionals in the photo- ready, willing and able to assist if you need help with their company’s products or services. They should be able to solve any problem, in a reasonable amount of time, to your satisfaction. In fact, there was a time when companies trained their staff with the following in mind: the customer is always right. Those were the days!

Customer service has changed quite a bit during my lifetime. A good example is at gas stations. In the 1985 movie Back to the Future, Michael J Fox’s character is sent back to the mid 1950’s. One of the best scenes when he is back in that decade is of a gas station, where the car pulls in and several guys in matching uniforms come out to help- one fills the tank, another washes the windows, and the third one checks the oil. The only thing they charged you for was the gas. I remember laughing out loud at the scene for two reasons- one, being amazed that type of service ever existed, and two, how far gone it was by the mid 1980’s. Little did we know gas stations were just the beginning.

Let’s start with the difficulty of reaching a human on the phone. You rarely can get to them without several screening questions- are you calling about a,b,c, d, e or f? Please enter your account number, first and last name, date of birth, blood type, address and phone number where you can be reached. Ok, I made up blood type, but you get the picture. Please also briefly state what your problem is- I have learned to just continually say “speak to a representative” until they send me to one. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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And of course some humor is in order. This true story has been shared on my Facebook page in the past, but most blog readers didn’t see it there. It is the story of me trying to mail a birthday card to my daughter who lives in London. It goes like this- I have mailed lots of cards and packages to her over the time she has lived there. The cards usually cost about the same. So I went to the post office at my neighborhood grocery store a week before her birthday. The young man helping me weighed it and told me a price that didn’t seem right. So I asked him to check it again- he said yes, that’s the price to mail it to the Isle of Jersey. One of the channel islands between England and France. I said this card is going to London, but he said the postal code ( similar to a US zip code) that I wrote was for Jersey. I suggested he look at the list of postal codes in his machine. He said London wasn’t there.

I told him it had to be. It’s the capitol of England. No response. The Queen lives there. No glimmer of recognition. My last attempt was to mention the large ferris wheel, the London Eye, pictured above with Big Ben in the background. Still nothing. I politely asked him if someone else could help. He cheerfully said, no, I’m the only one. I gave up and let him charge me for sending it to the Isle of Jersey. It arrived in London, but not as quickly as it should have. Good grief.

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My next adventure in customer service is more recent, and it happened at the same store. I shop at this particular location because their product selection is excellent, and it’s close to my house. They were very helpful during the worst of the pandemic. The prices are a bit higher, but the quality is usually worth it, as well as the customer service. But recently, there has been a change in leadership at the store that hasn’t gone very well.

I noticed about six months ago that the usual managers weren’t there any more. This was part of a restructuring process mentioned in the news that seemed designed to eliminate assistant managers. Understandable, especially since Covid has converted many shoppers to totally online. But there are still plenty of people who like to shop in person, myself included.

Two incidents come to mind. The first was early on a Saturday night. Only four checkers were open, and they were all high school age. As several customers waited in line, all of the checkers had customers buying alcohol they were too young to ring up. So they all turned on their flashing lights. It took a long time but the lone manager went to the first checker, and helped her out. Then she walked away, ignoring the other three blinking lights. A man in front of me literally yelled “we still need help in these other lines”. The manager appeared startled, and came back and helped the other three. Bizarre at best.

And last but not least, the case of the disappearing bagger. The same store, about two weeks after the underage checker incident. I was waiting for my fairly large grocery order to be rung up, and the bagger was putting things in my cart. About half way through, I heard him ask the manager if he could go on break. It was indeed the same one from the underage checker evening. She told him yes, and he disappeared. In the middle of bagging my order. And she did too. So the checker and I got the rest of my order taken care of and put in my cart. Unbelievable.

This was enough for me to send an email to their corporate headquarters. I was polite but to the point. I received a reply that the store manager would contact me by phone. It has been over a week and no one has called. I am not optimistic that anyone ever will.

I can’t decide if I should admit defeat on this one or try to contact them again. Since I’m retired and not that busy I will probably try one more time. If I ever connect with the local manager I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I should probably look for a new place to shop, but hope springs eternal that things will improve at my formerly favorite store.

Traveling With Technology, Baby Boomer Edition

Traveling With Technology, Baby Boomer Edition

After several delays, we were able to travel to Denver this past weekend and see the Eagles, the quintessential Baby Boomer band, on their Hotel California tour. They play the entire album, and then two more hours of their greatest hits. This was our first trip in the age of Covid, but we decided the safety protocols on the airline and at the concert venue were in place, so off we went. I also decided to use as much technology as possible on this one. This had some comical results.

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Let’s start with all of the uses for your smart phone. I actually decided mine wasn’t so smart on this trip. It started with trying to download our boarding passes for the airline. They sent QR codes, not regular passes on the airline app. This didn’t work. So I went back to paper copies, which always work. Paper is reliable and doesn’t have internet disruptions, or user errors. Hooray that we can still use it!

We also needed our phones to check into the hotel, which went fine. But the room keys didn’t work as stated. They said we needed to use them to access our floor. I tried waving mine, swiping it, waving it again, and finally gave up. We sat in the elevator on the lobby floor until another older couple showed us you had to hold the key next to a round thing. No instructions for that! I paid this forward and rescued two other couples later in the day. They were very grateful. It’s one thing to stand in front of a sink where the water won’t turn on, or the paper towels won’t come out, waving your wrinkly old hands. Much more embarrassing on an elevator.

Next we had a question for the front desk. I picked up the landline and looked for the Front Desk button. Nowhere to be found. There were buttons for the closed restaurant, housekeeping, an outline, and gallery host. Tried them all, and none worked. Went to the lobby and they told me they are the gallery hosts. Not a gallery in site, but alrighty. But when a Boomer can’t figure out your landline, there is something really wrong with your phones.

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Next, we encountered the QR code problem. We found lots of outdoor seating options, but the restaurants in downtown Denver all use QR codes for you to access their menus. Most don’t even own paper copies. Our lovely server at the first restaurant tried to help us, but we have androids and she has always had Apple phones. Their website menu was out of date. We finally ordered burgers and they were fine. And we had to handle the check by ourselves with a small computer. Doesn’t anyone over 60 go out to eat there? This whole process took way too long.

Undeterred, we next decided to use a ride app to practice using one before the Saturday concert. Why have I just started using them? Well, we usually rent a car when we travel. But they are so over priced at the moment, we didn’t. So enter our use of the apps.

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We found a place to go, and I accessed the Lyft app to find a driver. It was easy to enter our hotel address, and our destination. Then I saw the name Scooter pop up, with a low price, and thought I was choosing our driver. I also thought that was the perfect name for a driver, and started clicking buttons. Luckily I soon figured out the Scooter option was for actual scooters- the electric ones you see all over. They are cheap because you rent them and drive them by yourself. Good grief, no. But I found a real driver and we made our first trip. Easy, peasy.

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When it came time for the concert, I felt like a pro. We had used both Uber and Lyft, and knew to check each for the best deal. So we got our ride to the concert arena, and had to use my hubby’s phone where the tickets were stored to get in. No way we could split them up, so he scanned the first one, and then the second. The turnstyle would only let him through, so I was told to hurry through at the same time. My skirt got got on the rod, and let’s just say it was weird and a bit of a show for the people behind me. Good grief.

After the concert ( it was fabulous by the way- go see them if you can), we knew to wait awhile before ordering our ride to the hotel so that prices would come down. And we did get a better deal by waiting. They even had a designated area for Uber and Lyft pick ups. At the end of the night, I felt downright Millenial in my ability to use the apps. No more scooter mistakes for me!

As we made our way home through the Denver airport, I was struck by the long lines and size of the place. It is under construction, and they are adding a lot more automation- not only will you tag your own bags, they will be weighed and sent to the plane without a human touching them for quite awhile. Gate agents will only be checking id’s and boarding passes. This is opening in November, so be aware if you fly there. And don’t pack anything too valuable in your checked luggage!

As we were riding an escalator to the terminal train, I noticed an advertisement for bitcoin. I looked up a definition and it mentioned “vitual” and “crypto” currency. It is the subject of numerous court cases, which have ruled it is a currency and subject to regulation by the SEC. But it seems a bit like the wild, wild west in the way it is being used. So I plan to stick with my old fashioned dollars and cents, and sincerely hope we can can use them without interruption for the foreseeable future. I need to figure out QR codes before I learn more about this mysterious money!

You’ve Heard Of “Karen”? Let’s Add “Kurt” To The List Of Obnoxious People

You’ve Heard Of “Karen”? Let’s Add “Kurt” To The List Of Obnoxious People

One of the most puzzling derogatory nicknames of recent memory is the use of the name Karen and the numerous stories about her in the internet. A common definition of its current use is as follows: a pejorative term for women who feel entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal. (Wikipedia- a source I never allowed my college students to use, but this is a blog, so why not?). I think Karen needs a male counterpart, and I am naming him Kurt. More about him later.

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First, I must mention that I have friends and family members named Karen, and they are delightful people and nothing like the common use of the name now. I was curious about how this all got started and there isn’t a definitive answer. One suggestion was that the 2004 movie Mean Girls had a character named Karen. But that was long before this use became common. One of the most plausible answers I found was that a meme showed up in 2016 after Nintendo ran an add that mentioned “Antisocial Karen” who always brought her Nintendo Switch to parties. This seems more likely to me, so we will go with it for this post. As someone who had to do precise research and writing with academic/legal sources, I find the ability to use whatever definition I like on my blog a wonderful thing. But I digress.

Over time, Antisocial Karen got shortened to just Karen. The best photo depicting her I could find on my free Pexels account is above- she is older than the original Karen, but it has no age limit. She is the type of person who demands instant service wherever she goes, and asks to see the manager if anything is not up to her standards. In the photo above, Karen does not like the look of those birthday brownies one bit. In fact, she hates them. And she doesn’t want her picture taken. Even if she made the brownies, they are not up to her standards.

My research also found Karens referred to as entitled forty something soccer moms with short blonde hair, and a white woman walking her dog in New York who called the police because a Black man was sitting on a bench near her. Sitting for pete’s sake. She didn’t just want to speak to a manager. She wanted to speak to the police manager. For Karens of any age, if something shocks them they are referred to as “clutching their pearls”. If they are from the South, they could also be saying ” I do declare”. You get the idea.

While there is some humor in all of this, I think it is very unfair to limit the meme to women. Haven’t we all had some interactions with less than pleasant guys? So I think Karen needs a male counterpart, and I am calling him Kurt.

Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava on

Let’s use the photo above as our prototypical Kurt. He is a guy who doesn’t just mow his lawn, he sculpts it. He has multiple lawn mowers, edgers, leaf blowers, spreaders, and the biggest garage he can afford to hold all of his equipment. No riding mowers for Kurt- he likes the old fashioned push type. He mows at least twice a week, especially if one of his next door neighbors has done so. He uses an edger and cuticle scizzors for the small spots the edger can’t reach. His driveway is regularly cleaned, and he caulks it annually. He is outside all the time when he is home.

Kurt is the type of guy who takes up way too much room on public transportation, even when others are left standing. Mansplaining is also a problem. This happens when a man explains something in a patronizing manner to a woman. When author Janay Kingsberry asked her Instagram followers to send her examples of this, she got over 200 responses. Two of my favorites- a male client telling his experienced female trial attorney how a trial worked, and a man telling a woman that childbirth doesn’t hurt. You can’t make this stuff up.

Kurt may not ask to see the manager as much because he spends so much time in his yard, but he likes to lurk on neighborhood apps and post replies to every topic. He is an expert on several. He also doesn’t have any pearls to clutch, but he is grouchy. He spends a lot of time in his front yard pulling weeds and lets out loud sighs and groans with regularity. If you walk by with a dog on a leash but without a bag to pick up their waste, you will get a loud double groan, followed by a sigh. If you live in a neighborhood with covenants that govern property appearance and upkeep, Kurt is the guy you want on that committee. You might as well have him there because he is going to report all of the violations anyway.

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I think we also need a subgroup of Kurts for older guys. Retired Kurt likes to do yoga in his backyard and needs silence to do it. He also loves to keep his lawn in tip top shape, but hires some of it out. This gives him a chance to supervise the lawn staff with great gusto, which he misses from his managerial working days. He plans to take up Tai Chi in the near future, and will require even more quiet time from his neighbors to do so. He has insomnia and tends to be up very late at night, monitoring his new security cameras, especially the one in his doorbell. Have a break in or property destruction at your house? Retired Kurt just might have a video you can give to the authorities.

So there you have it- my take on the state of entitled people that walk among us. Maybe we can get Kurt to trend along with Karen if we encounter obnoxious guys. Or not. Either way, I had a lot of fun writing this and trying to get some equality going in the world of memes.

Playing Competitive Sports- The Good, The Bad, And The Funny

Playing Competitive Sports- The Good, The Bad, And The Funny

The summer of 2021 provided a lot of sports to follow for those who are so inclined, from the Tokyo Olympics to local baseball and swimming. As someone who has played competitive sports most of my life, I think this is a good time to reflect on the good, not so good, and funny aspects of these endeavors.

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I learned to play tennis at the ripe old age of five, and participated in my first tournament at age six. Although the equipment was very different ( racquets were made of wood), I remember being about the same height as the net. So the above photo from Pexels media fits.

Everything was fun- I liked the sport, you only played in the summer, and lots of kids my age learned to play at the same time. Tournaments were very low key, and we were all fairly evenly matched. This continued until middle school, when you moved on to more practicing and tournaments if you were progressing in the sport. Eventually, it included travelling around the Midwest to more competitive play, but remained a good experience.

There were occasional glimpses into the less desirable aspects of kids sports- over zealous parents, kids who broke rackets on the court, and some cheating. But overall, it was a good activity from my point of view. Especially since Title IX hadn’t come around, so school sponsored competitive sports for girls were non-existent.

The funniest thing that happened to me was the time I was playing in a tournament out of town and I got a fly stuck in my ear during a singles match. You can’t take breaks other than to switch sides on the court, so my “fly in the ear” issue could have made me default and lose the match. Luckily, the tournament director took pity on me, and let me get it out. This involved lots of jumping around, shaking my head, and some tweezers. And I managed to finish, and win, the match.

My next phase of competitive sports was as a parent, and this started with micro soccer for my kids. Micro is for 4-6 year olds, and is played on a short field, without goalies. The kids can run, kick the ball, and shoot at will. No score is kept, and all of the players get a chance to play.

The above photos sum it up pretty well- varying levels of participation is the norm. Some kids run all over, some never move. If you have a very reluctant player, parents can take the child on the field and swing them like a pendulum so that their feet connect with the ball. And some kids sit out the entire time, or decide to play goalie even though there aren’t supposed to be any.

If you want to pursue soccer and play in high school or beyond, you have to switch to try out teams and year round playing by about fifth grade. This is true of other team sports, but I am most familiar with soccer.

The select teams and year round play weren’t my favorite thing, and it has only gotten more serious and competitive since my kids were young. I think playing a variety of sports is better than hyper focusing at such a young age. But if you want the best coaching, it tends to be on the select teams. And keeping kids physically active, and away from electronics, has some merit.

There were fun and funny aspects to some of the soccer games and tournaments. At one game, when my daughter was about 12, we were playing in a nearby city on a cloudy afternoon. Sitting with our team’s parents, I noticed the opposing parents arriving late, and several of them had large coolers on wheels. I thought they really went all out and brought food and drinks for their team.

Au contraire, naive soccer mom. The coolers were full of beer- tall boys to be exact- and by the end of the match many of the other team’s parents were well lubricated. And as the match ended, it started to rain. Two of the more colorful dads on the other team decided to start wrestling in the middle of the field, which quickly turned to mud. A teachable moment for ourgirls.

The other most memorable time was at a tournament in Kansas City. Our coach was in charge of two teams- ours and a group of younger girls, so we all stayed at the same hotel. They offered free breakfast and cocktails each evening, so what’s not to love? At the first night’s free cocktails, some of the moms on the second team decided to do cartwheels in the bar. The girls were there, and thought this was embarrassing but funny.

Some of the moms on our team, yours truly included, weren’t drinking, but decided to try some cartwheels too. But we went to our floor, and tried this in the hallway. It didn’t go too well. Let’s just say the center of gravity had shifted for all of us, who were in our 40’s at the time. So partial cartwheels were all we could muster, and I am being generous calling them partial. As luck would have it, our daughters came upon us trying to do this. They all thought we were inebriated when we really were just old and a bit pudgy. Thankfully, this was before smart phones and videos.

My adult years in sports started with some women’s tennis teams that were part of a program throughout the country sponsored by the USTA. This offered great competition, and if you won at the local level, you could play regionally and nationally. I enjoyed the first few years, but eventually the competition really got out of hand.

Cheating was rampant the closer you got to qualifying for the regional event. This was done through bad line calls- yelling “out” when a ball was clearly in. It topped anything I ever encountered in my younger days, including playing in college. Something about getting those crystal paper weights shaped like tennis balls as prizes turned several women into nasty opponents. So between that and several injuries, I gave up the game and switched to golf. I know better than to play golf for anything other than fun, so no stories about competition gone awry there.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

My current competitive sport is pickleball. It is a recent sport, developed by older folks, who still want to play a racket sport but need some adaptations. So it is played on a smaller, modified version of a tennis court, with large plastic balls, and a small racket that resembles a ping pong paddle. Games are usually doubles, and the first team to 11 points wins. It is great exercise and easy to learn.

But like all sports there are some interesting things that happen, especially if Baby Boomers are involved. Outside of cities that have lots of retired folks (like Phoenix), games are co-ed. This creates some awkward moments when some of the older guys assume they are better players than all of the older women. This leads to lots of unsolicited advice about strokes and strategy.

I can usually hold my own with the guys since it is very similar to tennis, but the advice still rears its head occasionally. I used to ignore it, but have now developed the perfect comeback- “That’s interesting. I’ll let you know if I need any help”. The other way to nip it in the bud is to win a few points by myself.

I avoided learning to play pickleball for quite awhile because I thought the name was so strange. But once I took it up, I found it to be great exercise and one of the most inexpensive hobbies around. It’s also way more fun than a treadmill or exercise class, so I usually play several times a week.

I plan to play golf and pickleball for as long possible. Even with the occasional three putt at golf or missed shots on the pickleball court, these are great hobbies that keep me out of trouble in my retired years. But I’ve only been retired for 15 months, so there’s still time for some strange things to happen. I’ll save those for a future post!

2021 Technology And Other Things Our Elders Would Find Amusing

2021 Technology And Other Things Our Elders Would Find Amusing

Being raised in the agricultural part of the Midwest gives you an appreciation for wide open spaces, stewardship of resources, and farmers who work very hard to produce crops and livestock to feed the world. Regular blog readers will know that my parents were raised on farms in western Iowa, and three of my four grandparents were as well. Our roots here are deep, dating from the 1850’s. I was raised in a large city close to the farms, but I have relatives who still live there or in the small towns nearby.

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My grandparents lived on their farms until they were in their later years. As is the custom, they “moved to town” and relatives did the farm work. I saw them frequently, and other than my maternal grandfather, they lived long lives. I don’t think their generation ever had a name. Their children, however, were part of the Greatest Generation that came of age during the Depression and World War II. My parents lived and worked in the city, but remained very connected to their rural roots. Both generations were used to limited resources and periods of hardship, being very attuned to the weather, and limited modern conveniences. I frequently think that they would find things we experience regularly in 2021 as strange, funny, or both. So here’s my list.

Photo by Simon Berger on

Weather– this is great place to start, because farmers follow the weather closely since their livelihood depends on it. Our local tv stations still focus on the weather a lot because of our location. But most of their forecasts are wrong, and would probably get a chuckle from the elders.

Let’s start with naming weather events and winter storms. This has happened a lot in recent years. I have learned what derecho is (basically a bad wind storm). We have also had winter storm names for about 10 years, courtesy of The Weather Channel. Anybody remember Snowstorms Abigail, Billy or Constance from 2020? Me neither.

I think my elders would have found all of this strange, and a little silly. In the Midwest, we have winter storms. Lots of them. They can occur anytime from October to April. Sometimes we get a lot of snow, and wind that creates large snow drifts. We don’t name these events, but we do occasionally remember a really bad storm by its year- The Blizzard of ’52. That could be 1852 or 1952- these tend to live in infamy. To get a year of remembrance, it has to be really, really bad- several feet of snow, huge drifts that close roads, and being home bound for days.

The other thing they might have found amusing is the “wind chill factor”. My elders would have layered up or down depending on what the weather was like, and it really didn’t matter how cold it was. The work had to be done regardless. Cold is cold, and in January and February this isn’t much a surprise. Bundle up and head out the door.

What did they rely on? They had rain gauges, outdoor thermometers, and windmills. Radio stations gave a lot of weather information. And don’t forget the Farmer’s Almanac-still in print and probably as accurate as some of our local tv forecasts, which are notoriously wrong. This in spite of super duper 4d doppler radar. They do well with severe weather as it is occurring- but forecasts? Not so much.

All of this has created a strange mix of skepticism and panic among the locals in the winter. If you live in a city, it’s pretty rare to be home bound by the weather in 2021, but there is something in the dna of most of us that creates a rush to the grocery store if any snow is predicted. Add in Covid shortages and it was survival of the fittest getting bread, milk and the holy grail of toilet paper last winter.

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Technology- fancy watches that are basically a computer on your arm would have been a true wonder for the elders. Their telephones didn’t arrive until the 1930’s, and were party lines since they lived in the country. No need for social media when you can just pick up the phone and eavesdrop! They found radio broadcasts and eventually television entertaining, but anything beyond that was a bridge too far.

The first technology I tried to introduce to my parents was a VCR in the 1990’s. They had grandkids visiting who wanted to watch videos, and I thought they would find it helpful. It didn’t quite work out that way- even with step by step written directions, they couldn’t get it to work unless one of said grandchildren was there to help. When we sold their house in the mid 2000’s the VCR was still there, flashing “12:00”, connected to an ancient tv in the basement. But they did try.

In fairness I should mention that my mom learned to use email in her later years. She never mastered initiating one, but she was able to reply and that was useful to stay in touch with far flung children and grandkids as they went off to college. The speed of her computer was a challenge since a dial up modem was her preferred connection to the internet for many years. But we got that changed at some point, and it worked pretty well.

The things we do with all of our technology would have been a surprise as well. I think endless selfies and pictures of food that is about to be eaten would rank as the two of the most curious photos that are shared on social media. I also find these amusing, so that is probably an indication that I am in the elder years now too. But I do have Twitter and Snapchat accounts, and I even know what Tik Tok is, although I doubt I will ever post a video unless Geriatric Tik Tok becomes a thing.

Other Stuff-The immediacy of everything would also have been a surprise. There wasn’t any fast food or meal prep delivery, so meals took time to prepare and were almost always eaten at home. Farm wives also knew how to cook for a crowd since it was expected when hired help was around.

Newspapers were powerful vehicles for communicating, and fortunes were built from their ownership. The idea that someday they wouldn’t be mailed or delivered to your door wouldn’t have occurred to them.

I think the lack of civility and being a good neighbor that seems prevalent today wouldn’t just surprise them, it would probably make them sad too. In order to survive in our harsh weather, farming communities have always been among the most helpful and friendly. Long before Go Fund Me and Meal Train websites, my elders helped anyone in need that they knew about.

This continued when we moved to the city where I still live. There were only 300,000 people in Omaha when I was born the 1950’s. According to the most recent census, we are nearing 1million. That is getting too large for me, but I like the fact that there are still a lot of small town traditions that carry on.

On the local news recently, there was a story about 10,000 donated backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need. When the pandemic closed city swimming pools last summer, a local donor paid to open them. Food banks and local churches have been doing heroic work as families continue to struggle with the effects of the Covid pandemic. This sense of community and generosity is so common here I think we take it a bit for granted. I hope it never goes away.

So how will technology affect us in the future? What will happen when the drone delivers dinner to our front doors, and we can’t find the family robot to retrieve it? I think it’s safe to say there are inventions on the horizon that we will find curious and amusing. Hopefully our children and grandchildren will keep their Boomer elders up to speed as we learn the new fangled things that become essential to everyday life. And as a Facebook post I once saw said, they should always have patience and keep in mind that we once taught them all how to use a spoon!

Interesting Coworkers

Interesting Coworkers

As people head back to the office after working at home, I thought this would be a good time to reminisce about interesting coworkers I have encountered over the years. From the early days working during high school and college, to the really interesting years as a college professor, I give you a veritable who’s who of my working colleagues.

Photo by Gary Barnes on

My first paid position was working as a waitress at a local restaurant called King’s Food Host. It was an early fast food chain in the Midwest known for its burgers and malts. In addition to waitress work, I also made some of the food on the weekends. My coworkers were primarily teenagers, and we had a good time working together. Our manager, who had just started dating his future wife, wasn’t around much. So we had free reign as long as the customers were taken care of and we cleaned up at the end of the day. We also wore lovely teal polyester pantsuits as our uniform. Ugly, but sturdy.

When things were slow, we had time to chat and make ourselves food. One favorite activity was putting candy bars in the malt machine and making new flavors. There was a boyfriend/girlfriend pair of workers who ducked into the cooler periodically for some private time. Occasional water fights between the dishwashers. But overall a fun place to work.

Other part time jobs followed: more waitressing, a photography studio, and teaching tennis lessons. The photo studio and tennis lessons were fun and pretty stress free. The waitressing was at a Pizza Hut, and it was the low point of my part time jobs- low pay, low tips and low morale among the workers. But one group always seemed to be smiling, and that was the cooks. The only perk of the job was taking home a free pizza at the end of the night. I found out later the cooks laced their pizzas with marijuana every night. No wonder they were very protective of their food, and ever so mellow on the job.

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None of this prepared me for the workplace after law school. My first job was at bank, and it included a lot time crunching numbers, drafting documents and reviewing regulations. There weren’t a lot of women in professional level jobs, and all of the senior executives were men old enough to be my dad. You could smoke at your desk, and there were a lot of smokers in my department. Really kind of a Mad Men atmosphere, but in the 80’s. The only fun part of the day was going to lunch, and that hour went by way too quickly. I kept a jar of jelly beans on my desk, along with a recipe card. Combine a coconut, with a pineapple and it was a pina colada. Other than that, it was a keep your head down, don’t ask too many questions kind of place.

None of these experiences prepared me for my years working at a college. Academia has a well earned reputation for having shall we say “quirky” folks working there. It is well earned. Here are a few of my favorites. No names are mentioned, but work friends will recognize some of them.

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Let’s start with adminsitrative assistants. My first week at the college, with only two weeks until classes started, was very hectic. The admin assistant I shared with other faculty split her time between two buildings. She left me some office supplies, and then went to the other building. I rarely saw her after that. She somehow managed to always be en route to the other building when you needed her. She also had a knack for snagging things she needed, like the window air conditioner in my office, and installing it in hers. I couldn’t prove it, but I knew it was her. She had some foot issues, so she used a cane. This didn’t stop her from being amazingly shifty and hard to find.

She was supposed to work from 8 am- 5 pm, but frequently claimed to be coming in at 6 am, which no one could verify, and then leaving by 3. She had a great affinity for two older science professors who never really learned to use their computers. She liked to do their typing, and make them coffee, and they were happy to monopolize her time.

One day, she was asked to go into a messy office left by another professor who was gone for the summer, and clean out his file cabinet. Offices were being renovated, and it had to be done. When she opened the middle file drawer, she found a long deceased mouse family. After a loud scream, she somehow pulled the cabinet over, and it landed on her good foot. This unfortunate accident lead to a worker’s compensation claim, months of rehab, and ultimately her early retirement.

Two other interesting assistants- one unique character who wore blue rubber gloves every day. This was long before Covid. Her reason? She claimed to be allergic to paper. I did a google search and can’t find any indication this is a legitimate allergy, but if it is, working as an admin assistant doesn’t make much sense. The other was a long time assistant who was being let go for what appeared to be legitimate reasons, and decided to yell about it on her way out of the building. And I mean yell. Years later I heard that she may have been working under an assumed name due to some type of legal problems in her family.

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But I am saving my all time favorites for last- the IT department, and accounts payable. I have a photo of an empty room above because that was a common occurrence when trying to teach. Somehow, access to the Internet, and having everything function properly in our classrooms, was an ongoing challenge. As a small school one would think this would be avoidable. A typical problem- I remember one day trying to play a dvd on the new desktop computer in class. I also had the monitor displayed on the screen in the room. I had used this DVD numerous times, and nothing seemed to be working. I tried calling the “emergency” IT number, and no one answered. No surprise there. Mercifully, a student came in late who said another professor had the same issue, and she knew what to do- press the icon on the screen that looked like an orange traffic cone. I did, and voila! The dvd popped up. Because nothing says “click here to play a DVD” like an orange traffic cone!

And last but not least, getting a bill paid or reimbursement for a work expense. The long time occupant of this job was so unpleasant, I nicknamed her Ms. Congeniality. My first skirmish with her was after attending a conference out of town. I turned in my bill for four days of breakfast at the hotel. The bill just said “breakfast”. She refused to pay it because it wasn’t itemized, and there could have been alcohol on the bill. Alrighty. Duly noted. She once threw a check at a colleague. Several staff members refused to deal with her. There was also a huge lead time for any check to be written, and holidays (campus and her vacation days) really added to it. So if you needed any checks written between October 1st and January 15th, you needed to get your request and detailed documentation in by about the first week of September. I am not making this up.

Luckily, I had the good fortune to work with some excellent admin assistants during my last few years, and the college started using credit cards for conference payments and most expenses. Admin assistants could make the charges for faculty, and help with the documentation. It was a wonderful way to avoid the previous unnecessary stress.

If you are working from home, heading back to school or the office, or are happily retired, I hope you have enjoyed this trip down coworker memory lane, and had a few laughs along the way.