Merry Christmas, if you can call a green one merry. OK, I admit that I don’t really mind Duluth warming up a bit. If their predictions are correct, we’ll eventually own some of the most valuable real estate in the world.
This is the time of year we look back a bit and maybe ponder the recent changes in our lives. However, last March 14, Ann and I went out on the 40th anniversary of our first date. In this case, we pondered forty years! It was great fun. We discussed things we had never talked about before. It was especially fun sharing our first impressions of each other, and how those panned out.
Let’s just say that 2023 has been an “interesting” year. I’m still unemployed, looking for My New Frontier, whatever that is. I’m taking cues from 80-year-old Mick Jaguar, who just released a new album. He once couldn’t imagine turning 45! Interestingly, his peers, including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Eric Clapton—artists I appreciate—also appear to have missed that memo.
ChatGPT says that here is where I tell you what I’ve learned and where I’m going. But I really don’t have an answer to those $64,000 questions. Maybe next year’s Christmas letter.
While I was wondering what I do, Ann spent months as the portable nanny caring for two grandchildren. It started later in 2022 and ended this August, with some time off for good behavior. She had a wonderful time getting to know our grandchildren. She especially enjoyed spending extended time with our daughter-in-laws—and with our sons, too.
We also got in a couple of trips. We spent nearly two weeks this spring in the French Quarters of New Orleans. That was an adventure into a substrata of American society, a place steeped in history that never shuts down. One of our favorite stops was Café du Monde, a large cash-only outdoor doughnut shop where we stopped after our morning walks.
More correctly, it’s a coffee and beignet shop, which is about all that you can get there. A beignet is a fried fritter covered with powdered sugar, an item brought to New Orleans from French who had settled loosely in New Brunswick (Acadians) and then made their way to New Orleans. They are only served in orders of three. Did I mention that New Orleans is its own land?
We also did our 2nd annual vacation in Seattle. Again, Ben rented an Airbnb (his employer) near Mt. Rainier. We hiked and hung out at a wonderful place, complete with half-tamed elk walking down our street. It was fun just to throw Azzie into her stroller and take a walk through the very small town we were staying in.
We continue to run Celebrate Recovery, just completing our 15th year. Ann leads several women’s groups, including some at area group homes. I still run the band. I also oversee basic administration, whether scheduling activities, balancing our money or chasing down outreach materials, such as the great new banner we have up at our church.
We’re still rebuilding since the COVID debacle. Just recently, we restarted our program for teenagers. We’re tracking at least as well as the rest of the country.
Ann and I also work one lunch a week at Union Gospel Mission. Ann works with food prep and serving. I run the dishwasher. It’s mostly several of our friends from church working alongside a small group of young people employed by Union Gospel. It is a nice and physical break to our week.
I’ve resurrected a couple of old interests of mine. The first is working on cars. I did my first oil change in over twenty years. I’ve vowed that I’ll never run another truck into the ground, but my current one is into its thirteenth year.
I replaced the cracked rear taillights, got fluid levels adjusted and put in a new battery. Once I found the replacement part, it took a friend of mine ten minutes to repair my heater fan. The truck’s like brand-new!
My surprise this year was getting back into camping. I went four times, all in the Superior National Forest, twice into the Boundary Waters with David and his dog Freyja. We used the same canoe I bought in college.
The highlight of the year came very early one morning in June at a forest service campground. I crawled out of the tent to a gorgeous blue sky. I turned on the propane grill to brew my coffee and then got a fire going.
Soon I was sitting in this wonderland of peace with a hot drink and a crackling fire, a sort of transcendental moment. Oh, and it was 35 degrees out. We eventually packed up, drove into town and got a local breakfast.
I also resurrected my interest in birding, a hobby I started in college. How things have changed! There are now amazing online tools to help with finding and identifying birds. I dusted off my old life list and got myself e-listed into the birding world.
I’ve been to Hawk Ridge several times to watch the spectacular fall migration of hawks and other raptors. I saw dozens of eagles, including a couple of goldens. I’ve gone to Sax-Zim Bog, a famous birding place an hour west. The birding is incredible. Let’s be clear—this is two tiny ghost towns set within 300 square miles of bog that is good for little but boreal birding. In the worst of winter, there will be huge Great Gray Owls sitting in trees, bothered little by your presence.
Ann’s always been an amazing cook but she’s gone into overdrive since returning home. All three of our sons enjoy cooking, trying new foods. Ann is following suit. She is now making more artisan breads, plus Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisine. They are all fun, but Indian may be her favorite. We both like spicy foods and this has been wonderful!
David hosted the Midwest Anderson Thanksgiving dinner at his house in St. Paul. He served smoked beef ribs, potato salad, homemade baked beans and blackberry cobbler. It was all good but the beans and the cobbler were to die for.
Another of our routines is connecting up with the kids. About once a month, either we’re in St. Paul or one of them is in Duluth. Jason et al. came up the weekend before Christmas, David is coming here for Christmas, and after the holidays, Ben is coming here with Azzie to introduce her to a real winter.
It’s a challenge to teach Azzie everything she needs to learn about life in the Northland—OK, let’s say real life—in just a week but we’re up to the task! Jyri’s an easier sell—we see him a lot.
The kids are all good with their jobs. Only one of the three ever goes into an office. Five years ago, one was in Texas and two were in San Francisco. Since then, two own homes in St. Paul along the Mississippi River an hour walk from each other, and Ben owns a home outside of Seattle.
We’re wishing all a Safe, Healthy and Blessed Christmas.
Ann and Jon