We'll see

Once upon a time, there was a farmer in the central region of China. He didn't have a lot of money and, instead of a tractor, he used an old horse to plow his field. 

One afternoon, while working in the field, the horse dropped dead. Everyone in the village said, "Oh, what a horrible thing to happen." The farmer said simply, "We'll see." He was so at peace and so calm, that everyone in the village got together and, admiring his attitude, gave him a new horse as a gift. 

Everyone's reaction now was, "What a lucky man." And the farmer said, "We'll see." 

A couple days later, the new horse jumped a fence and ran away. Everyone in the village shook their heads and said, "What a poor fellow!"

The farmer smiled and said, "We'll see."

Eventually, the horse found his way home, and everyone again said, "What a fortunate man." 

The farmer said, "We'll see."

Later in the year, the farmer's young boy went out riding on the horse and fell and broke his leg. Everyone in the village said, "What a shame for the poor boy."

The farmer said, "We'll see."

Two days later, the army came into the village to draft new recruits. When they saw that the farmer's son had a broken leg, they decided not to recruit him.

Everyone said, "What a fortunate young man."

The farmer smiled again - and said "We'll see."

Requiem for a Podcast

Two years ago I was excited to start a podcast and I really did it. I recorded 44 episodes, each with different guests, and those episodes got downloaded over 2,400 times (average ~54.5 per episode which is not great, tbh). I published my last episode in January of this year and then quietly put the whole project on ice while I considered what to do next.

By now it's safe to say that I won't be making any more (but you can still listen, at least for now!) so I'm writing this post-mortem to remember what I learned from this endeavor. First, the good things: I met interesting people and had fun talking with them! That was my primary goal and I achieved it, so that was great. But my secondary goal, to build an audience by getting people to share it with new listeners, did not go so great.

Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for everyone who listened to the show, and the few who followed up to tell me they enjoyed it. And I'm super grateful to the interviewees who took the time to sit down and talk with me. But otherwise, I got practically no engagement by the metrics needed to make a podcast successful--not a single review, even by my guests (no hard feelings, and it turns out this is pretty typical).

Even that was no problem while I enjoyed the process, but eventually the novelty wore off and it didn't feel worthwhile any more. Each episode took around an hour to record and maybe two hours to edit and post online. Three hours doesn't seem like much, but that turns out to be practically all my free time for a week, and I didn't love it enough for this to be my only hobby. Plus I wasn't just worried about wasting my own time, but my guests'... if nobody was going to listen, what was the point of recording?

Anyway, ultimately it was all too much so I quit. I was conflicted at first but now I'm confident that this was the right decision. In conclusion, it was fun while it lasted (and I stuck it out longer than average: most podcasts don't last more than six months before shutting down). I guess I'll keep on starting new projects forever and never stick with anything long term! (Except for my wife, my kids, my house, my pets, my day job, my craft job... you know what, maybe I do have enough going on already after all.)


We adopted a kitty! Chi is an approximately two-year-old Domestic Shorthair who we met at the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society. She chose me by shaking my hand when I knelt down to pet her, then walking onto my legs and jumping on my shoulders to nuzzle. She's a cuddler.

She is also a crier and this has not endeared her to Jenna, especially at nights. In hindsight it may have been foolish to bring home a needy pet just as we were starting to get a full night's sleep again after eight years of human babies. I still love her though. How can you stay mad at this face?

The best(?) part about cat ownership is that I now have an excuse to make lots of handcrafted toys and pet furniture. I built Chi a feeding puzzle so that she can burn some energy working for her food, and this nice modern scratching bed. My miter saw suffered a critical failure but I hope to fix or replace it soon and get back to work on the next project!

Offspring Update

With both the girls heading back to school, it's a good time to catch up on how they've been doing lately. Natalie is in third grade now, the last year of lower elementary, and Paisley will be starting Kindergarten next fall. It's a big transition for them and even more for Jenna, who suddenly has whole hours to herself each day!

For me, of course, there's practically no difference. Paisley is an early bird like me so we usually eat breakfast together before I go to work on weekdays. Then I come home in the evening and we all play until the dinner-bath-bedtime sequence begins. I guess we can throw "help with homework" in there more as Natalie gets older but that's about it.

What else can I say about my daughters? They're both perfect angels! Paisley's old enough that we can sort of play family board games together and she can mostly follow along, which I've been anticipating for a long time. But playing pretend is still their favorite thing to do with me, whether we're role-playing Chi's Sweet Home, pet store, or Pokemon (almost always Pokemon). Whatever it is, is fine with me; the important thing is that they want to be together and I'm just soaking that up while I can.

Pop-Up Camping

Jenna's family got a small pop-up trailer 25 years ago that they used for family vacations, and now we are using it as our own! Last year we went on several weekend camping trips but I, weirdly, did not write about any of them here. We took four more trips in 2016.

I was raised as a tent camper so the idea of sleeping in a structure with electricity and running water was foreign to me at first. It's starting to grow on me, though, and it's probably easier for the kids. We get a little bit of "roughing it" and a little bit of comfort all in one.

My favorite outing this year was a week-long visit to Door County. I found mushrooms growing in our shaded site, we visited friends, and everybody enjoyed the laid-back island lifestyle. Then again, my criteria for successful camping are simple:
  1. Drink some beers
  2. Make a fire
  3. Enjoy!

Lake Home No More

On the last weekend of May I visited the Krueger ancestral lake home with Jenna, the kids, and my parents. They sold it to new owners and were closing the next week so it was our last chance to visit. The house had been in our family since 1968--my whole life and then some!

It was a bittersweet vacation but I'm very glad we went. We did our best to soak in all the joys of cabin life and visited our favorite Douglas County attractions. Cheese curds & root beer float at A&W on the way up; book, antique, and weirdo nerd stores in downtown Alexandria; ice cream & Ms. Pac-Man at Little Dipper (I destroyed my high score from 2012, while holding a licorice-flavored cone); the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. Of course we made fires and took a boat out on the lake and looked for mushrooms and saw eagles and loons. We also attended an estate sale auction and I held an AK-47.

I'm sad to see the lake home go. But now we can explore new destinations and make new memories on our family excursions. We already have four camping trips on the calendar for this summer and who knows all the places we'll go? “It's opener, out there, in the wide, open air.”

In praise of used clothes

"No holes, no spots, and quite respectable, although a little worn; and a waistcoat to match, quite in the fashion. And its being worn really is an improvement, it's softer, smoother...."
-Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin

2016 St. Paul Craftstravaganza

Or, "the day I didn't sell anything"

Our 11th annual Craftstravaganza was a good event, like usual. The weather cooperated, only one artist out of 90 didn't make it, and several old friends showed up. It's always great to check out our new participants' work and visit with returning artists, and I took home a few goodies for myself (I'm really into ceramics lately). These are the things we love about doing the show. But it was all overshadowed for me personally by the fact that I didn't sell a single piece of embroidery.

Now, this isn't a big deal overall: the booth is free for me so if I make zero dollars I still break even. But it is a bit discouraging, so I'm contemplating some changes for my stitching business, the main one being that I need to open an online shop. Our friend Aisha recommended the Square platform and that's what I used! You can see my new Angleworm Embroidery shop now!!!

By the way, our kids came to the show this year and Natalie selected one of my hoops (Chun-Li) to bring home with her. When it was over we were talking about how nobody bought anything else and she wanted to pay me for it! So I did end up making back $1 of my own money in change from a very cute and generous little customer.

Games about staying home

I grew up playing the Pokemon series of games, and the formula for each is predictable. They are coming-of-age stories where a young boy or girl leaves home on their own, travels the land, and has adventures. It's a common structure for video games and really all fiction. But my kids don't like it.

Pokemon Red/Blue was released in 1998 when I was 17 years old, and I first tried to interest Natalie in Pokemon X/Y when she was 5 or 6. She kind of enjoyed exploring, battling, and collecting pocket monsters, but most of all she wanted to go back to the beginning of the game, to her home. It's counter to the design of the game and there's no in-game reason for you to make this trip back: your mother barely acknowledges your presence. But obviously the desire to return had nothing to do with game mechanics and everything to do with how she felt.

Recently I bought a game called Stardew Valley and the kids are fascinated to watch me play it. As much as I've tried to interest them in other games in the past, this one has grabbed their attention so much that they actually ask me to play it, and watch intently while I do. It seems most of the reason for its appeal is that Stardew Valley is all about living a quiet life on a farm, raising livestock, making friends... not your typical action-packed video game nonsense.

It got me to thinking about other games I love that are basically about staying at home and not doing anything heroic. My good friend Laurie introduced me to Harvest Moon (the series Stardew Valley is based on), and I played a lot of Animal Crossing on the GameCube my senior year of college. I play my share of violent AAA games but I'm sure glad these other games exist. Not to mention my tolerance for stress and frustration, and interest in pretending to shoot people, keeps waning the older I get. When I get tired of murdering bad guys I just need to spend some time in virtual nature and relax with my imaginary friends.

A Day in the Life

6:00 - Alarm wakes me up. Paisley is finally sleeping through the night! Now, for the first time in eight years, I'm finally getting a full night's uninterrupted sleep.

6:45-ish - Paisley might wake up and join me for a breakfast of chocolate (Nutella) toast, or else I'll get ready in the dark and silence.

7:00 - Leave home and drive two miles to the bus stop.

7:11 - Bus leaves the station. I've always got a book or two in my bag to keep me busy. The express library at Carver Station (for drop-offs AND automated pickup) is one of my favorite things.

8:00 - The bus drops me off in downtown Minneapolis right outside the front door of my building, like as unto a veritable KING OF PUBLIC TRANSIT. I climb stairs up to the tenth floor and get straight to work.

8:30 - Coffee break.

11:00? (or as soon as I can reasonably justify it) - Lunch time!!

4:03 - Time to catch the express bus back home. Mostly I read on the bus, sometimes I nap; occasionally I start with the former and segue into the latter. Luckily I ride until the end of the line so there's no worry about missing my stop!

5:00 - Home again, I take over on parenting duty. I change into my soft clothes, put away my phone (ideally), and switch to dad mode. Some days I have a new book from the library and Natalie disappears until she has read the whole thing. Otherwise we all pretend to be animals, or play hide-and-seek, or whatever the girls can agree on that day.

6:00 - Dinner time! Usually Jenna cooks while I play with the kids, so we get a solid hour of bonding time before eating together. Well, we sit down together, anyway. Natalie and Paisley still won't eat anything.

7:00 - The kids go into the tub and we watch Steven Universe on the iPad. Maybe I do a little embroidery. Maybe, just maybe, I even bathe them and wash their hair, but nobody likes doing that so we usually put it off until Jenna forces the issue.

7:45 - We put on pajamas and brush our teeth. I used to skip nighttime brushing until I had the brilliant idea to do it at the same time I was forcing my kids to. New habit achieved!

8:00 - The children disperse for their separate bedtime routines. Natalie reads patiently while I read Paisley a story (often the same one for many nights in a row), tuck her in, pray, sing 'Twinkle Twinkle,' and do shadow puppets. I ask her to try not peeing in her diaper tonight.

8:15 - Paisley is probably not asleep yet and might call for me again, but now it's Natalie's turn for daddy-daughter time. I read her the next chapter of Chi's Sweet Home, which she has already done herself many times, but it's new to me. After I say a prayer out loud she likes to add something in her head, then 'You Are My Sunshine' (just the chorus), and snuggling.

8:?? - On-call for nighttime emergencies, I wait in the master bedroom and amuse myself with some combination of Netflix, podcasts, and embroidery. If I'm very lucky and determined I can do about an hour of stitching per night which is almost enough to halfway finish a teeny street fighter.

9:00 - Once the kids are sound asleep I get to spend some time with my wife. If she's still awake I can find out what she's been up to and maybe even have a real conversation. If she goes to bed early it's time to play videogames!

10:00 - Lights out, good night.

Happy Ash Wednesday!

It's been a few years since I posted this. What time is it? It's...

Capsule Wardrobe

I didn't have a healthy relationship with clothing until relatively late in life. 2013, the year I turned 32, was the first time I felt confident in my selection of grown-up clothes (my wardrobe before then--especially my college years--is a whole other post). In 2014 I congratulated myself for filling my closet with thrift shop finds. Last year I got more picky about what I brought home and purchased a few high-end new items. This year it's time to do some serious editing. 

A few recent developments have inspired me to curate a minimalist wardrobe. Jenna and I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and we began to seriously tackle household clutter together. We've done this before, and clean house regularly, but found fresh inspiration and great results with the patented KonMari method and her enchanted question, "does it spark joy?"

Years of research and experimentation have honed my personal style. I have developed strict, solid guidelines for adding new pieces (or more often, not). New clothes go on a wishlist where I can take my time deciding if they're truly essential, then buy only when they go on sale. I still love thrift shopping but I'm taking home fewer, higher-quality things. I can shop a lot faster now, too!

BNM 2016

"Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill." --St. Augustine

Buy-Nothing Month is a tradition going back now five years, but not observed* consistently. I was inspired to start in 2012, continued in 2013 and quietly abandoned it for no particular reason in 14/15. This year I'm picking it up again and starting with a meditation on what this "holiday" means to me.

To recap, BNM is an arbitrary period of time--traditionally February--when I don't spend anything on myself beyond our regular bills and basic survival (e.g. groceries OK, restaurants no way). The truth is, since Jenna handles our budget and does shopping for the family, there's no reason outside of an emergency that I have to touch any money all month. Because I secretly feel like I could be a monk, this is one of a few ways I practice a small part of their lifestyle for a short while. And you know what? It feels great.

When I give up acquiring stuff as a possibility, the result is deeper contentment with my life. A surprisingly large amount of mental space is freed to concentrate on other thoughts instead of planning my next purchase. I appreciate what I have. Turns out, it's not the physical act of not-buying that produces these results, as much as breaking the hedonic treadmill that drives most of our lives (related to the Buddhist concept of viparinama-dukkha: the anxiety of holding onto desirable things and frustration of not getting what you want).

In the past when I felt compelled to blog frequently I amused myself by posting drawings of stuff I wanted to buy. That practice turned out to be counter-productive so I quit. This year instead I am supplanting the buying habit with meditation practice. Not very exciting to write about, but of course, that's because calm is the entire point. Peace out everyone.

*I originally wrote "celebrated" there, which is by no means incorrect w/r/t the deeper joy that I often sense during this season, although not quite right to express the tone of my daily life as experienced in the thick of it.