STILL GOT IT!

Once we made it to Minneapolis, we began the task of, what I would loosely call: Senior Citizen Debauchery.

St. Croix Kayaking

We were with college friends, with whom we had committed “Real” debauchery those many years ago. I remember evenings that began with enormous Mexican Food Feeds, followed by enormous Ice Cream Sundays and then perhaps beer and music.

Any one of those three could kill us today.

Yet, we still managed nearly a full week of (far more reserved) fun and reminiscing. This included: Asian Fusion dining Al Fresco, BBQ Brats at the bus, Kayaking on the St. Croix River, Street Tacos in Northeast Minneapolis and a visit to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on a GLORIOUS afternoon.

If you Miss a Spot…

Our Kayaking trip featured an important lesson in application of sunscreen. I had a can of the spray, and for most of us it was applied quite successfully. College friend Keith exposed a potential and very dangerous flaw in the technology, however… The clear spray must be THOROUGHLY applied. If you miss a spot (which is easy since it is a clear, non-greasy liquid that you spray more than you spread), you can be VERY BADLY BURNED.

Which is what happened to the south side of one of Keith’s legs, the northside having been adequately covered. YIKES!!!

Scotch Lineup (with a stray Rye and Bourbon included)

We also added some ENTIRELY new things to our resume. For example, Friend Betsy (whom I really have not seen much of SINCE college) turns out to have developed an affection for (infection by?) Spirits. In addition to travelling the world in appreciation of these, she has QUITE a collection.

One evening we had a flight of Scotches, selected from MANY in her Townhome. Many were exquisite.  One seemed a bit like I had just put the entire contents of an ashtray in my mouth – not quite ready to enjoy THAT, I guess, but glad for the experience.

Another evening it was Rye. And then there was the selection of Irish Whiskey she waxed philosophic about.

Thinking back,  I had only one unusual Scotch recently, which I showed to Betsy. I told her this one was selected off the Top Shelf in a liquor store on The UP of Michigan.  It was not necessarily “Top Shelf” just because that was where it had been residing (and the proprietor seemed very grateful he had finally unloaded it).

Together with the Bourbon Education I had begun with Laurie Wilner a year or so ago, I feel my world is now much broader and more interesting (and certainly more alcoholic) than it was only a short time ago. Thank goodness Bob White helped us build out more storage space including ENHANCED liquor accommodations onboard RV WHERE YET!

Also in Minneapolis, I had a chance to visit and revisit with my family. Part of this contributed to the Senior Debauchery, and other parts exposed some of the difficulties we face as a country and civilization these days. That latter gets into a little bit of politics, which I seldom address on these pages – I’ll save that for last so as to keep as many readers for as long as possible…

One of my nieces, Claire, helped to make our little College Reunion MOST MEMORABLE. By way of explanation, Claire is soon to be a Junior in College. She is interested in Health Sciences and Public Affairs. Alternately studying genetics, pre-med courses and preparing herself for a legal education and an MBA. Bright, personable and a bit unfocused (as we all were in college, by my recollection, and some of us still!).

Somewhere along the way, Claire developed an interest in and a REAL talent for BAKING.

And I don’t mean like store-bought brownie mixes (not that there is anything wrong with store-bought brownies). Claire INVENTS things to bake. And experiments on her family, who seem FAR less than reluctant to sample the daily wares that appear as if by magic from Claire’s kitchen.

We were speaking a few weeks ago, Claire and I, about our pending College Mini-reunion, and about Claire’s appreciation of as many guinea pigs as possible (I am sure she was think only of Liz and me) to help her hone her baking skills. All of a sudden, I had an epiphany: perhaps Claire would appreciate a much more expansive group of “victims” — My college buddies! She could create for us several (it turned out to be NINE!!!) experimental desserts, and we would commit to a thorough analysis and detailed comments and suggestions.

The Degustation Aftermath!

Seemed like a win-win.

And, she actually agreed to (relished) the opportunity! WANTED our comments and criticism. Claire asked me what she should bake, and if there were any food allergies or sensitivities… We discussed several concepts; for example a flight of 6 variations of Crème Brûlée. Finally, we just agreed that she’d figure it out and we’d deal with the results!

And deal we did! Here was the menu:

 

She should plan some intermezzo courses — of insulin!!

 

♦ Orange Whiskey Baklava
♦ Almond Puffs
♦ Apple Crisp with Granola Crust
♦ Crème Brûlée (yep,  there WAS one…)
♦ Mille Feuille
♦ Merengue puffs with fresh strawberries
♦ Gluten-free Honeycrisp
♦ Milk Dud Cookies

….And finally,

♦ a SPECTACULAR Chocolate Cake

And, as if that wasn’t enuf, the next day when I dropped over to complete a tech project I had undertaken (more on that, below), Claire added Heath Bar Cookies and Orange Shortbreads. So, that was 11 desserts imagined, created and executed by Claire in less than 24 hours.  If you want to follow Claire and her career,  Instagram here—>  “clairebycakes”

One of my suggestions, if she EVER considers such a degustation again for senior citizens: she should plan some intermezzo courses — of insulin!!

While in Minneapolis, we also had a chance to visit with my Dad, who has been hunkered down for the past 6 months in his Apartment at an assisted living community. Touch wood, there has been no COVID in that facility; KUDOS to the staff. Anyway, Dad is allowed visitors by appointment out on a patio, so we met him a couple of times.

His latest “project” is to write a Blog (even though he does not really know what a BLOG is) about all he things he has seen or done to “create” the Minneapolis we see today. He showed me a list of about 100 one-line subjects…he said that did not even include the “major” projects he worked on or created.

For example, How DID the Republican Governor and the Democratic City Government get Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall built? A lot of backstory there, and NOT of the sordid kind…Dad was instrumental in making it happen. Many civic changes have been either been witnessed or instigated by him in his 92 years – we are toying with the idea of calling it “RayWasThereWhen.com.” I think it will be fascinating and more than a little instructive to read about how people of differing opinions can WORK TOGETHER to make constructive things happen.

Cecily’s Driveway Cum-Camping Spot

And ALSO while in the Twin Cities,  we had a chance to spend a couple of nights in my cousin Cecily’s driveway.  She lives in peaceful, idyllic Marine on St. Croix,  and RV WHERE YET JUST fit there.   

Dante and Verona enjoying life and the new sound system

While ensconced,  I had time to help Cecily with some tech issues (stereo, TV, etc.). Dante and Verona seemed to appreciate the results!!!

I mentioned above that I also undertook a tech project for my sister. Years ago, I had set up the Wifi network and internet connection in their new home. This network was apparently being CRUSHED by the world of distance learning and working. What could be done to improve the situation?

I told Sarah my IT guy retired, but I would see if I could get a hold of him. We rubbed the bottle (of scotch?) for awhile, and eventually the Genie emerged. I revamped and updated their entire environment, producing very dramatic improvements for all the virtual learners and workers in the house.

Good to know I STILL GOT IT. (But I needed a nap – and a Scotch — after finishing).

Which all got me thinking about how the world is changing, and how PEOPLE, our country, society and our civilization are NOT changing or at least not changing sufficiently as a result.

Full Disclosure: The rest of this post touches on politics a little, and our (ALL of our) self-centered, selfish and ultimately self-destructive behaviors over the past many years, which have been exacerbated by the condition of the world today.

It’s been awhile since I have had a rant here; Read on if you want, or stop here if you don’t. But without these kinds of discussions, things will not (CANNOT) improve. Make wise choices …YOU are the change we need!

So, my sister’s WiFi network struck me as paradigm for the world. Her internet connection was FULLY adequate as recently as last Thanksgiving. Suddenly, she was working at home – running a company (one she only just joined, so faced with running a company she did not know at all) fully by MS Teams and Zoom. Meanwhile, her three kids were trying to continue their education online. The pipe wasn’t big enuf – what had been adequate – even excessive – was now crippling! What to do?

Sarah had the resources to update things by spending money to buy stuff (on the order of several hundred dollars). She has a formerly retired Brother/IT Geek to help at the cost of 11 desserts and a place to nap. So she spent the money and I spent the time and ate the desserts and the problem is solved.

For my sister and her family. For one small unit in a sea of inadequacy. For MANY if not MOST of Americans, these are unresolvable problems.

Live in rural America? Try to get high-speed broadband no matter the price. Live in a city below the poverty line? Try to AFFORD high speed broadband and a laptop for each child. For many, even if sufficient broadband is available for purchase, the $$$$ and expertise to make it work in every home just doesn’t exist. Never mind the for the need of EACH KID to have their own access (i.e. laptop/tablet) and for every teacher to have the access/systems/knowledge/time to create online curriculum.

For probably a majority of Americans, the inability to measure up (which means SPEND UP) to what is needed to be fully online may well CRIPPLE the economy and the next generation.

And,  MANY students NEED what cannot be done online. For example, one of my nephews is studying to become a Welder. How do you do THAT online? In his case, As trustee for my Mother’s education trust, I (she) bought him a welding machine and upgraded the electrical connections in his garage, so he could work on school project on his own. Another Nephew is a highly-recruited high school basketball player (offers in hand from Gonzaga, North Carolina, Georgetown, both Michigans, etc.). He cannot play or improve his skills competitively no matter how his family has invested in broadband or electrical infrastructure. But, he does have a weight set in the house, and he does have access to practice facilities and coaching within the constraints of safety and social distancing. He will get his academic ride and all the opportunities that will bring.

My nephews are fortunate to have opportunities simply not available to many if not most students in their situations.

Many will say, “Open the Schools.” But that is a problem – my family has been touched by COVID in that specific way. Most Schools in most places cannot be safely and completely opened at the moment, so the concept and execution has to change. But change HOW?

Bringing us back to: HOW do most students access this even if it was available?

In fact, the pandemic situation has immediately and completely exposed not only our society’s lack of leadership but our unwillingness to do what it takes to prepare. We HAD a playbook in 2015 for dealing with pandemics; yet we abandoned this. Instead we exhibited and are exhibiting still a total lack of preparedness and leadership as each state, municipality and even family unit was basically abandoned to deal with the situation on their own islands. Our lack of societal focus on the common good has left us underserved by critical infrastructure while we waste time, energy and resolve in sniping and backbiting about how looking after the global good infringes on our individual rights.

Somewhere we LOST OUR WAY. This is the country that melted down our kitchen pans for the war effort not too long ago. We have work to do, yet today we can’t even all agree to the minor inconvenience of wearing masks to save the economy and ourselves.

And the result will be more than just economic catastrophe: the Achievement Gap between those at the top end of the economic scale and the bottom is widening.

My Basketball-phenom nephew was recruited and will play despite the pandemic, while my other nephew continues to learn to weld. My sister and her kids move forward on the enhanced broadband my expertise and their economic resources have enabled for them. Meanwhile, MANY kids and families without my family’s resources fall further and further behind because they do not have the public support to overcome these challenges:

♦ They don’t have daycare so parents can work (if they had jobs to work at)

♦ They don’t have laptops or tablets for each kid and for the parents, who maybe could remote work if they had them…

♦ They don’t have adequate (or even ANY) broadband

♦ Their teachers in under-supported urban schools have no infrastructure, ability or support for creating online curriculum that most of their students don’t have the ability to access anyway.

♦ MANY people have lost their access to affordable healthcare (while politicians continue to argue about WHETHER people have a right to affordable healthcare). LIZ AND I may soon be in this category, so don’t think its only at the bottom of the economic ladder where these problems may be felt.

♦ Many may not even have a HOME, once evictions that are inevitable begin. We are landlords on a small scale, so we are acutely aware of both sides of THIS issue.

I can say only this about all of that: As a nation, we have retreated into ourselves as INDIVIDUALS and what we can create and provide for ourselves. Eat what you kill; “Just Let me do ME,” we exclaim and let everyone else sink or swim based on what opportunities they have. Just don’t interfere with my rights or tax me for the benefit of someone else. Many think about and cater for their own success almost to the total exclusion of ANY effort or even recognition of the need to improve SOCIETY and its poorest and most disadvantaged members, many of whom (but not all) are people of color.

It is CLEAR TO ME that we cannot be successful going forward until we are ALL successful, and we can only be successful if we ELIMINATE the achievement gap that exists already and is widened every day by our self-centered and divisive politics.

This is NOT addressed by improving our INDIVIDUAL situation while complaining that others are poor because they work less hard than we do. Many of the poor are poor now because they started poor. Others are newly poor as the pandemic has shrunk the economy right out of their jobs. And, People of Color are vastly over-represented in the ranks of the disadvantaged.

Being poor allows access to NONE of the advantages our economic power gives us as advantaged individuals. And that gap is widening.

Let me put it another way: I AM NOT A SOCIALIST, but I actually don’t resent being called one!  That’s just a dog whistle meant to aggravate, just like saying “Defund the Police” is meant to aggravate in a completely unconstructive way.

Calling me a “socialist,” as though it somehow ends the necessary conversation, is to completely ignore the very real challenges we face as a society. Having run a small business for 25+ years I resented the government’s hand in my pocket as much as anyone. But, until there are affordable healthcare options, day care options, housing options, broadband options FOR EVERYONE, no one can rise above the current unrest.

Which is about, at its root, unequal opportunity.

I get kinda tired of people saying (after they have called me a “socialist”), “If people would only work harder…” Please tell me HOW someone can work harder at a minimum wage job (or, more likely, multiple minimum wage jobs), without access to affordable healthcare, daycare, technology, education and – the list goes on!

The pandemic proves this: Even if the way out WAS to “work Harder,” it is Hard to work harder when your work is unable to even be open, your day care options are closed, etc.. And yet, everyone still needs broadband, a place to live, healthcare, etc., which the poor do not have; without a doubt even more than under “normal” circumstances.

Many of the disadvantaged START that way, but newly-disadvantaged are being created every day. And then the system is stacked against them improving that for themselves or their children, which perpetuates the problem into the next generation.

We will NEVER be successful as a society until our poorest members (and their children) are successful. It cannot be argued otherwise, no matter what words are used.

That means we with advantage need to lift up those around us; those without advantage. That is not a Liberal Left or Libertarian Right issue. Those are just the facts. Vote for whomever you think can lift us ALL up by lifting up the disadvantaged. DO what you can to help EVERYONE be better.

If you worry only about yourself and your freedom, you’ll soon have none of the latter while society crumbles around you and your own and beautiful castle is surrounded by the crumbling remains of your city/county/state/nation.

Rant over. Blog post Over and out.

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