01 July, 2017

MN Mondays #20 - Semisonic

So, then.  Here we are.

Today's the day.

20 years ago this morning, I took up residence in a state so very different from the one where I grew up, but where it was immediately clear that I belonged.

I've wondered many times about the seeming ease with which I acclimated to MN.  This state is amazing and wonderful, but it has a deserved reputation for being chilly (yuck yuck) to transplants.  It's a hard place to break in to if you don't have some support network to take advantage of.  How lucky then, that I landed when and where I did.  I had friends and colleagues in grad school, the Oak Grove Hotel was full of people and dogs living in community, the choir at Westminster gave me an anchor, softball gave me a family.  These chance meetings and preexisting communities welcomed me.  They gave me roots as well as a jumping off point for my future here.  My luck runneth over.

Twenty years is a long time.  Not quite half of my life.  About three-and-a-half years from today, I'll reach the tipping point where I will have lived in MN for more than more than half of my time on-planet.  I hope and expect to have written new chapters of memories here by then and that they will include times with many of you.  And MN Mondays will probably continue to be an occasional series (no, Mark, no weekly) as a way of not just looking back but looking forward.  Who knows what's next?

On that note, and on this most liminal of days, new change has rolled across our threshold.  Meet Sully.  He was one of the dogs we met last weekend in Hastings at the rescue.  His foster dropped him off last night and today of all days is his first with us.  The universe does have a sense of humor, huh.  :)  We'll all be adjusting to each other for a while.  He's so different from any of our previous kids and there's no one around to interpret us to him.  So we have to learn how to communicate from scratch.  But he's a very good boy and you can look forward to more pics and vids of him to be sure.

With that, I'll leave you with the words of the great MN band Semisonic, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

30 June, 2017

MN Mondays #19 - Up yours, Gustafson.

When it became clear that, amazing and lovely as it was, Wheelock Woods needed owners with access to substantially more resources than we could bring to bear, We started looking for a smaller house in St. Paul.  There was this one place on the East Side that looked cute and was actually pretty similar to Blair House.  But it was a little more than we wanted to spend and then it got snapped up before we could even go look at it, anyway.  So it was back to the drawing board.

We kept looking throughout the summer of 2013 as we continued to fix up bits of the house to make a better impression when we put it on the market.  We finally got everything the way we wanted it and put Wheelock on the market.  And got 3 offers the first weekend, if I remember correctly.

Needless to say we weren't ready for things to move quite that fast.  We hadn't seriously looked at many houses as prospects but now we had to get it in gear.  The sale of Wheelock was not going to take the 6 months to a year that we had figured on.  Here's where Jacob's recreational MLS scouring played in our favor.  Between him and our agent Genevieve we were able to see loads of places in a fairly short amount of time.
Grumpy Old Manor - May 2014

But none of those houses was the right one.

Then in the summer, that lovely little house we liked came back up on the MLS.  Apparently the sale had fallen through.  And the sellers had dropped the price a bit too, to boot.  So we jumped on it and scheduled a viewing.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  Early 1900s with a porch and lots of decorative wood touches.  It had many of the positive things that we both loved about Blair House and fewer of the negatives.
Grumpy Old Manor - June 30, 2107
It was also at this point that we learned about the house's particular claim to fame - it's staring role as the home of Jack Lemmon's character in the Grumpy Old Men movies.

We're coming up on 4 years in the Grumpy Old Manor and busily making our mark on it.  I've finished part of the basement as an office.  Jacob has the walls hung with art and the built-ins adorned with weirdness and objet d'art as is his want.  The gardens, flower and veg, see progress every year.  We have plans for things we want to accomplish here and continue to seek opportunities to share our home with friends and loved ones.

A fitting way to look back at memories and look forward to making new ones.

MN Mondays #18 - The Singers

In the spring of 2005, my friend Dave invited everyone in church choir to come hear a concert that he was singing in with a relatively new choral group.  I knew that the core of the group was people who had sung with Dale Warland until he retired and disbanded his choir.  That's pretty much all I knew.

So Jacob and I and some other folks from St. Christopher's attended the last concert of the season for a group named The Singers at the Basilica of St. Mary.  And I was blown away by the quality of the ensemble.  I left there knowing that I was going to audition as soon as there was an opportunity.  Turns out there was a pretty immediate opportunity and I joined their ranks that fall at the beginning of season 3.  This fall we'll start season 14 and it will be my twelfth with the amazing group of people.

There have been many mountain top experiences with The Singers: Martin's Mass, Rachmaninoff's Vespers, Talbot's Path of Miracles, Carnahan's Ghost Camp, and too many others to list.  More recently, you've all been bombarded by links to YouTube videos of the music we've been making in recent years, but there have been many moments over that weren't captured.  And a recording never really matches the in-person experience.

So if you're a choral music lover living near the Twin Cities, you owe it to yourself to check us out.  It will be worth your time and money, even if I do say so myself.  For example...

29 June, 2017

MN Mondays #17 - Best Friends

We had a few dogs when I was growing up, but the four dogs that have meant the most to me found me here in MN over the last 20 years.  There's been a fair amount of loving on these dogs since last winter, but just like all living dogs they deserve every little bit of love and attention there is to give.

 Diana Elizabeth, here on her 5th birthday.  A princess in all ways. Even in her tie dye t-shirt.
(7/1993 - 11/2008)

 Dixie the runner.  Beautiful and dumb.  (?/1999 - 10/2009)
My son, Brutus.  Still breaks my heart, but I have his photo by both of my desks, so he isn't ever very far away. (12/2002 - 01/2017)

Lily, all wiggle and wag. Knucklehead.  (?/2009 - 12/2016)

28 June, 2017

MN Mondays #16 - The Other St. Pauls

Birch and cardinal decorating the
chancel during Advent. 
In 2010, Jacob switched parishes from St. Christophers in Roseville to the St. Paul's parish in Minneapolis beside Lake of the Isles and I went with him.  So if you've been paying attention to dates, you might be asking yourself, "Wait, does that mean that he was working for St. Paul's on the Hill and St. Paul's Lake of the Isles at the same time?"  Yes, yes it does.  In order to keep everything straight, we had to call one SPOTH and the other SPW (St. Paul's West).

St. Paul's (West) has a hundred year history or more of good music programs.  There was even a choir school at one point.  So Jacob didn't have to focus immediately on choir development.  Instead he could spend time bringing his own ideas in and exposing this choir to music and techniques that they may not have seen before.  It's always amazing to watch him work with a choir.  He's very good, that one.  💚  Even when I don't agree with what he does, he achieves results that you can't argue with.  And they never know what hit them. :) 

The choir family at St. Paul's is just that - a family.  We always manage to make friends in the choirs we've worked with, but I dare say that not being the spring chicken's we were at St. Christopher's has allowed us to make stronger connections with folks our own age in the parish.  And for a parish that has been written off for dead more than a few times, the music program under Jacob's direction has contributed to another resurgence.  Combined with (generally) liberal politics and real care for each other, this is a parish that is growing again.

First choir rehearsal of Fall 2016.

MN Monday #15 - The Gregs

Back in 2000, after getting my masters and while I was thinking that music was my next path, I happened upon an audition call for a group named The Gregorian Singers.  Thus started my education in Anglican church music, past and present.

The first thing everyone says when they hear the name of the group is "Oh, I _love_ Gregorian Chant!"  Which is, I suppose, reasonable.  But the repertoire of the group is so much more than chant.  Ancient music in many forms, English church music from the medieval through today, German works of the Reformation, music of Latin America, even stupid little pieces like Little Potato are among the vast array of music I have been exposed to singing with this group.  Monte, the founder and director, brings his vast knowledge and whimsical nature to bear and programs music that many people don't even know exists much less perform.  An accomplished composer in his own right, he knows how to pair modern music with ancient in a way that plays to the strengths of both.

I ended up singing with "The Gregs" for 8 seasons, which is longer than I've sung with any other group save one.  Monte is still a dear friend and I have darkened the pews on occasion when he has need of a ringer or two.  Go hear them if you get the chance.

Gods above we had fun in that group.  I don't remember exactly what year that picture up there was taken but it was a photo shoot after the group had moved into SPOTH.  The photographer just wanted us to pile in so she could start taking pictures.  And this is what happened, without any prompting or staging -- henceforth known as the Adams Family Portrait and, apparently, I'm Gomez.  lol  This kind of spontaneous weirdness is something I miss about those people and that group.

26 June, 2017

MN Mondays #14 - On the Hill

St. Paul's on the Hill Episcopal Church (affectionately known as SPOTH), is a fine old church.  The parish folded a few  years ago and the building needs serious repairs, but she is a grand and glorious space.  Designed by Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, the same architect that designed the Cathedral of St. Paul (St. Paul) and the Basilica of St. Mary (Minneapolis), the acoustics in this intimate space still are some of the best in the Twin Cities.

Over the years, I have spent many (_many_) hours singing in that space for several different reasons.  The Gregorian Singers started rehearsing and performing there in the mid 'aughts.  I was a paid singer there for several summers over the years.

But the biggest part of my time there started in 2008 or so.  Jacob became the organist for evening and holy day services there and had to put together quartets and a rotation of solo cantors.  SPOTH was one of the few parishes that did a service for every holiday and saint's day on the church calendar.  And I mean _every_ one.  So he or I or both would be at SPOTH at least once or twice a week.  It was not uncommon to get a text or email at work asking if I could pinch hit for a service that very evening.  This is why I have my "traveling cassock" in my car to this day.

Frankly, when you're in the middle of such a workhorse-like treadmill, it's difficult to see the good things that are going on as well.  It could be a challenging place to care about sometimes, as it had it's own rhythm and way of doing things.  But when we did the final service there, I found myself moved in a way that I hadn't quite expected to be.

The music that was made there was special.  And the space absorbed it all; would ring with it for a while after each service.

26 May, 2017

MN Mondays #13: St. Christophers

We were unloading from the bus at one church or
another and one of the basses snapped this.
In 2000, Jacob became the music director at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Roseville, his first gig in MN though he had years of experience in WI.

We had agree that it was absolutely not a good idea for me to sing in his choir.  Too many opportunities for things to get uncomfortable and dysfunctional.  So I was going to look for a section leader position someplace and he'd run his choir.

Then he came home from his first choir rehearsal.  "I have one man.  I need you to sing."  And so I have been ever since.  :)

St. Christopher's was the first community we joined "together."  And it was a special place for us.  We met some folks who have been our close friends ever since.  We made some great music and did some really fun things.  Like singing monthly Compline services at the (haunted) mausoleum in Northeast Minneapolis.  Or doing Halloween Organ Crawls around to churches in the Twin Cities as fundraisers.  Or doing creepy Good Friday Tenebrae services.

But the biggest and most special thing we did together was to take the choir to England in 2008.  The whole group planned and fundraised for over a year.  We recorded audition materials were accepted to sing in several places.

We landed in London and went straight to Coventry where we sang a joint evensong with the parish church choir right next to the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral.
We were supposed to sing evensong at Yorkminster but there was the unfortunate event of a tourist dying whilst climbing the tower... So we ended up offering up some songs including Beautiful Savior by F. Melius Christiansen (of course) after a said Evening Prayer service.  (We were mobbed after that by some weeping Minnesotans who went to St. Olaf College and just happened to be there on vacation...  Of course...)
We sang in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral right below the "diving Barbie" statue of Mary.
We sand in Durham Cathedral after having to walk up from the bottom of the hill because the bus couldn't navigate the tiny streets.
Ripon Cathedral...
Touring Windsor Castle...
All Saints Margaret Street...
Seeing Westminster and Kings College Cambridge...
And on and on.

It was a wonderful trip and I know Jacob and I are dying to go back.  So, hopefully this is a case of a memory to be revisited.

08 May, 2017

MN Monday #12: Wheelock Woods

When we left Blair House in 2009, it was to go to Wheelock Woods.  It is a wonderful 1962 mid-century modern gem of a place.  We worked on it from 4 years and I think we stayed really true to its roots and its bones. But it is a lot of house and, at the time, all the major house systems were reaching the end of their original life expectancy.  In many ways, it had been a stretch to own, but it was a dreamy house.  An "up north cabin" in the heart of the Twin Cities, a tree house firmly attached to the ground.  We were lucky to have it for a time but the time came to let it go.

So our friend Roberta came and took some wonderful pictures of the place for us and I stitched together a little video when we put it on the market.  Enjoy!  (And blow it up to full screen, for crying out loud...)

02 May, 2017

MN Monday #11: A Carleton Knight

After only few years working at the Y, I knew I needed to get back into academia.  It really is the only thing I'm good for.  How to do that was another question entirely.

With a masters degree, it is absolutely possible to teach at a two-year college and that was my first route.  I've loved teaching ever since I was a undergrad TA and tutor in the Physics department back at NCSU and given their emphasis on teaching (as opposed to research) I thought that a 2YC would be perfect.  Turns out I'm not the only one.

Even in a region with a bunch of two-year public schools, there aren't that many full-time geoscience positions.  Go figure.  Most institutions have 1 FT geo faculty if they have any at all.  The big flagship 2YC nearest me had three (!!!).  And people who land those positions stay in them until they die, which I can't blame them for one little bit.  On top of that, the number of faculty positions at four-year institutions has been dropping as these universities turn more and more toward (slave-wage) adjuncts.  So a big portion of the shiny new PhDs entering the market are also looking for a position and many of them are choosing (?) the 2YC route as well.  2YCs with a pool fool of PhDs and MSs would be crazy not to pick the PhDs, all things being equal.

So I stayed longer at the Y that I would have otherwise.

I'd been concentrating my search in the seven-county metro area of the Twin Cities.  We weren't going to be moving anywhere.  We had a house and Jacob had a job of his own.

But one weekend in the spring of 2003, I was doing a run-out concert with the Gregorian Singers at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, MN.  It's a private, Episcopal prep school in rural MN where the scions of diplomats and foreign dignitaries have taken their prep schooling.  It's also a fair New World imitation of Hogwarts.  No lie.  It's all lovely and charming and I get to thinking on the hour+ drive down and back that driving from one side of the Metro to the other would take longer in rush hour than driving to some spot out here in the countryside.

When I got back to my computer that night I broadened my search parameters for institutions a little further out.  Turns out there are some.  Gustavus Adolphus, Winona State, St. Olaf, Carleton...  Hold on, what's this?  On the Carleton website, there was a job posting for someone with a geoscience degree (only a BS required!), an interest in education, strong office and communication skills, website building experience.  This was awesome!  A position almost tailor-made for me.  I got my application materials put together and sent them in as fast as I could.

I was thrilled when I got a call to come interview with this little office named the Science Education Resource Center (SERC).  I showed up in my best (only) suit and was greeted by one person in shorts and t-shirt and two others in casual summer academic clothes.  I knew that this was going to be a good place to work.  And really it has been.

This fall I hit 14 years at SERC.  It's hard to believe, really.  I've met so many amazing people doing wonderful things in their classrooms to connect with their students.  I've learned so much.  As of the end of last year, I've supported or run 50 faculty professional development workshops, presented 26 talks or posters at professional meetings, developed a score of websites for projects, and so many other things that have shaped me as much as or more than they shaped anyone else.  I work with great people who really, deep down, hope to change the world.  Save the world, with our work.  On the best days, it's truly inspiring to do this work.  On the bad days, it's just as crappy as anyone else's job, have no fear.  :)  But the average happiness is very high.

27 April, 2017

MN Monday #10: Blair House

Jacob and I moved into our first house in 2001 on Blair Ave in St. Paul.  There are way to many stories and memories from that house to recount in a single post.  But here's a smattering.
  • In the process of buying the house, we made a wonderful friend in our real estate agent, Genevieve.  She has been with us ever since and has handled every house transition with wit and humor and great insight.
  • The garage burned down the night after we took ownership.  It was a long and colorful story that many of you have probably heard at some point.  If you haven't, ask me over a beer sometime.
  • Our next door neighbors (Bob and Gladys) smoked "a bit."  If Gladys baked anything and brought it over, it had to go directly into the trash.  You could smell and taste the smoke.  It was so bad that if she picked raspberries off their vines and took them inside to rinse them off, they were inedible because of the smell of smoke.
  • I made my first "from scratch" garden spots at Blair House.  Learned a lot about gardening in an urban environment.  
  • We installed a gas fireplace in the living room in a house previously without a fireplace of any kind.  They came out and framed in a fake chimney and then faced it with stone and tile.  It was lovely and we had some amazing built in shelves installed beside it to match others in the house.
  • I rehabbed the front porch.  Took down the old crappy bead board ceiling and installed new with ceiling mounted electrical outlets.  Fresh paint.  Nice ceiling fan.  Installed a laminate cork floor.  It made a wonderful retreat even on a hot summer day.
  • As we were getting ready to sell, I gutted and rebuilt the kitchen with the help of several friends.  We had lived with a hell-hole of a kitchen for almost a decade and then over the course of 7 weeks we made it into a little gem.  
We made so many memories there.  Family and friends.  Parties and dinners.  Dixie lived most of her life there and Brutus came into our lives there.  I started to learn all the things that homeowners come to know - for much of that time I still had my Dad to call if I had a question about something.  Even after he passed away I've continued to learn all the stuff that he had to teach me.

When we left in 2009, I was truly sorry to leave.  We were both excited for the next chapter, but I had poured so much time, energy, and effort into that little house it was special to me.  It's true that you never get over your first.

17 April, 2017

MN Monday #9: Sunrise

Sorry about last week.  Rest assured I've been badgered about it.  We'll see if I can do an extra post this week to catch up.

Looking East from our bedroom on the sixth floor of the Oak Grove Hotel on one of the first mornings after arriving in Minneapolis in July 1997.  It was the highest I've ever lived and some mornings you could pick out the dome of the Cathedral in St. Paul against the sunrise.  Every morning, the sun flooded in.  As a morning person, it was an amazing way to wake up.  

03 April, 2017

MN Monday #8 - The Bells of Westminster

I grew up in a Small Country Church (SCC) of the Presbyterian persuasion.  And even though SCCs are more similar to each other than any national denomination, I've ended up darkening the doors of more than a few Presbyterian churches over the years.  One of my last summers in NC, I even subbed in as the choir director of a tiny little parish in Knightdale, NC, not too far outside of Raleigh.  My friend Wanda was (and is) the regular director and had other plans for that summer.  (It was a fun bunch of folks and they weathered the experience with aplomb and seemingly none the worse for wear.)

So when I moved to Minneapolis and learned that there was a great big Presbyterian church right downtown in close walking distance from Oak Grove, I figured it would be as good a place as any to start in a new town.

Westminster Presbyterian on Nicollet Mall is an incredibly grand old dame of a building.  Stunning outside and in.  Tons of history and a social justice reputation that is one of the first things you learn about it.  They also sponsor the nationally syndicated Westminster Town Hall Forum which brings great people (not just famous ones) in to talk about issues of the day from an ethical perspective.  It's a pretty special place.

So I wandered in there on a Sunday in July, 1997, when most self-respecting church choirs are on hiatus, but it happened that they were in the house that day.  And they were _good_.  Better than most church choirs I had heard at that point in my life, for sure.  And the piece they did that day for the anthem was "How Lovely is thy Dwelling Place" from the Brahms Requiem, which was a piece I had done several times in the choirs at NCSU and simply adored.  I was ready to sign up!

I managed to track down the email address of the choir director somehow (the web existed then, right?) and emailed him that afternoon.  I just introduced myself and told him my story - looking for someplace to sing and this choir sounded like something I'd like to try out, and the church was CLOSE since I was on Oak Grove and all.  Stephen wrote back straight away and through a short series of cues we figured out that he also lived in the Grand Oak Grove Hotel.  What are the chances?!  So we made an appointment to meet and have dinner or something with him.

I'm very happy that we did.  Stephen became a very good friend in short order.  He had moved up from Greensboro of all places only a handful of years earlier and had all sorts of advice and wisdom from his adjustment to share.  He also had friends who played in this softball league that sounded like a lot of fun.  But most of all, he was (and is) a warm, caring person who made us both feel welcome in our new home.

The choir at Westminster was just as good as I had hoped too.  I met some folks there that I still get to enjoy singing with today in other contexts.  And we made some amazing music that I didn't know you could do with a parish choir.  I definitely learned a lot.  I sang there until 1999 when Stephen left for Indiana.  I hated that his path was leading him elsewhere, but Jacob and I ended up in his old apartment together, so I think I still came out ahead.

28 March, 2017

MN Monday #7 - "Goodtime" Softball

I was _never_ good at baseball.  I played T-Ball and Little League for years as a kid and it was just not ever going to work out.  I never swung at the ball when I was up to bat because it was going so fast (!) and I was convinced that if I did swing, the ball would hit me.  And I always played in a boring part of the outfield, so I was more likely to be looking down at a dandelion or bee than looking up to see the infrequent, random pop fly headed my way.  Not a good fit.

But long about middle school, I forget precisely when, softball became an option.  A larger, slower that wasn't nearly so threatening?  Sign me up!  :)  So I played several years of that league and then when I was in high school, I started playing in the church league on my parish team.  Well "playing" is probably a strong word.  I would be at the games and _maybe_ see some field time in Right Field where not much ever happened.  But it was still fun to be on the team and I learned a lot.

Fast forward several years and I arrive in MN in the summer of 1997.  By way of a very random and happy coincidence (another story for another time), I connected with a friend of a friend who played in a softball league here - The Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League (TCGSL) - and joined up for some informal fall-ball which was a lot of fun.  Minneapolis is home to one of the nation's oldest and largest gay softball leagues.  The story is that a team of firefighters and cops challenged a team of the gays to a softball game, only the those wonderful homos won.  So some of them figured, why not start our own league and so they did.  It started in 1979 with just a handful of teams.  Now there are almost 40 teams spread across multiple divisions.  And more than just an athletic outlet.  For all of us it has been the source of support, friendship, love, chosen family, activism, pride and many other intangibles.

I played my first full summer season in 1998.  I put my name on the league's list of players looking for teams and got "picked up" by the Lonestars, but since there were only 3 returning players on that team it was more like reconstitution than anything.  I played on the Lonestars for 10 seasons.  I specialized in Left Field and learned how to be a good one.  I coached the team for a season and didn't enjoy it much so I was happy to let someone else do it.  I put a lot of time into that team and made a few really great friends, but then it dissolved out from under me.

When the Lonestars went under, one of those great friends who had moved on to another team threw me a lifeline.  Larry introduced me to the Slammers and they became more than a new team - a new family.  Because that's the team's specialty - family.  It's a team that's been around for a long time and the motto is "Once a Slammer, Always a Slammer."  Folks all over the league have been part of the team at some point and everyone has a special place in their heart for the team and the love.  Coach TiTi and all the people associated with that team set a high bar for being good to each other.  I adore everyone that I played with.  They come to play fun ball.  And don't let the wigs or heels fool you, they place serious ball.  Dirt in the Skirt.

A couple years ago, the Slammers family had grown to the point that some dividing was necessary.  So one large team and extended family became three - The Slammers, The Flight, and my new team Scorgasm.  Many of the same people plus new friends.  We're having fun and doing our best to play better and harder.  But now I have to get used to being one of if not the oldest person on the team...  :\

So as I get ready to start my 20th season as a member of this league, I can't help but think how much emptier my life would be without the people and experiences I've had as a part of this wonder group of people.  Gay, straight, bi, trans - everyone is represented and welcomed and has a place.  Rank novice to seasoned veteran, teenager still living at home to retired person wanting to be active - there's a spot for you on a team.  The Sunshine Fund to help those going through difficult places in their lives.  And so much much more.

I've been enriched by the efforts of generations of dedicated people who worked to build the rich organization that exists today and I'm proud to be counted a part of it.

21 March, 2017

MN "Monday" #6 - The Rose

(Aside: So maybe starting something that I have to remember to do every Monday wasn't the brightest idea, knowing my brain as well as I do...  Oh well.  Onward we go.)

As I said, the reason I started working at the Y after grad school was so that I could turn all of my attention toward music.  I was good, had a vocal performance minor and lots of experience and I thought that I'd be able to find a combination of opportunities for singing that would allow that to be my life. (i.e. I was young and stupid and still had TONS to learn...)

So as I was finishing up my Masters degree, I started auditioning for groups around town.

  • Minnesota Chorale - Led by the wonderful Kathy Romey who I had sung with in the Men's Choir at the U of MN while in grad school.  I made it into the volunteer chorus, but not into the ranks of the paid singers who got the best gigs.
  • The Dale Warland Singers - This was few years before Dale retired and I don't remember if we knew he was going to.  I was really nervous because DALE WARLAND!  Totally bungled the sight reading part of the audition. (I know now that he liked to choose particularly obtuse things for those exercises as a weed out.)  When I finished making a hash out of it, he said "You haven't had much music theory, have you."  So 1) I knew the audition was over and 2) his condescension ensured that I never had any interest in auditioning for him again.
  • Cantus - I was really excited to audition for Cantus.  Listening to them made me long for my days at NCSU with the Grains of Time a capella group.  And they were changing their model so that the singers would be salaried as half-time employees or some such so there would be a lot of travel but also a lot of stability.  I think I acquitted myself well during the audition, but I didn't make the cut and I was inconsolably bummed.
Finally I hit on one group that was willing to take a chance on me - The Rose Ensemble. Rose had only been around since 1996 but they were already making big waves in the early music world.  I auditioned for Jordan and he was very sweet and down to Earth.  When I heard back, they could only guarantee needing me for the first show of the next season, but it was something.

So I worked my butt off getting ready over the summer.  They had recorded a CD that included much of the music I needed to learn (Slavic Holiday - go get it!) and I listened to it on repeat at my desk at the Y.  By the time the first rehearsal rolled around that fall, I knew everything on that CD by heart.  So as we were milling about before rehearsal (in the robing room "backstage" at the Basilica of St. Mary where we rehearsed in those days), Jordan walks in and spouts off the opening cantor line of Svaty Vaclave, the Pavlovian response took over and I sang back the response.  I wasn't alone, mind you, but the new guy wasn't supposed to know what to do.  This was commented on approvingly.  :)

Thus began two seasons of making music with the most talented and dedicated collection of musicians I have ever had the honor to be a part of.  I learned many things about my voice because I had to step up my game so that I wasn't always the weakest link.  I made dear friends and continue to see in my musical endeavors around town, always to my pleasure.  The Road to Compostella show and CD are still the highlight of my musical life (I hear Eric's clear countertenor opening to Beata Viscera in my head often).  Those two seasons weren't all positive, but in terms of learning and growing I couldn't have asked for more supportive or magical company than I received.

I sing with amazing people today and I've done many things since then, but that time with Rose is still the bar against which every other musical experience is measured.   

13 March, 2017

MN Monday #5 - The Y Way

When I left grad school, I was completely burned out on academics.  I'd been in school for 21 years straight and, combined with my frustrating experience getting my masters degree, I was well and truly DONE.

So done, in fact, that I decided that my brain had gotten too much of my attention so far and I needed to switch directions completely and go whole hog into music (more on the implications of that some other time...).   But I knew that I'd need to be able to pay bills and such while I made a go of music. So I started looking around for something to do as a "day job."

Thus began my 3+ years at the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis.  I applied for an landed a job as an administrative assistant at the Downtown Minneapolis branch supporting the Executive Director.  It was a decent job that paid a decent salary.  We were still living in Loring Park at the time and it was only a 15 minute walk to work (gods above and below, I miss that commute...). And best of all, when I left work I left everything at work.  It wasn't particularly difficult work but learning new things about the non-profit sector made it interesting.

Only a few months into my position, the Director of Administrative Services (DAS), moved away.  And she wasn't replaced right away.  So, the relatively cushy admin asst. job I'd been in suddenly expanded to include all of the other administrative functions that needed to continue at the branch.  I learned how to do all the things that needed doing and, though not the DAS, functioned as one for the better part of a year.

When Robin came on board as DAS, it was almost immediately clear to me that she was going to be one of my favorite people in the world.  I still call her BossLady because 1) she's awesome and 2) she knows what she's doing.  :)  Since she and I both came from "outside" the Y, we had perspectives on how to get stuff done that no one there had given much thought to.  Together we made big strides at dragging the Downtown branch into the 21st century kicking and screaming.  Since I knew how to do everything we were able to redistribute the administrative work between the two of us so that it happened better, faster, and more efficiently.  I had a lot of fun working with her.

Robin is the reason I stayed at the Y as long as I did.  I had many friends who passed through the organization but people tended to burn brightly and the burn out around that place.  It's the nature of "mission driven" work as far as I'm concerned.  I had started realizing about a two years in that I wasn't going to be happy at the Y long-term.  With time and distance, I knew that I belonged in academia.  How to get back in was the question.

I eventually made it and have been happily ensconced ever since.  But I value all the things I learned and so many of the people that I met working at the Y.  It was a good thing and I'm grateful for the it.  But I'm so happy not to have to answer the phone like this anymore.

"Thanks for calling the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA, where we build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities.  This is John, how can I help you."

07 March, 2017

MN Monday #4 - The Grand Oak Grove

When I came up to visit the University of MN campus, it was really the only option I had for grad school at that time.  So we had scheduled time with an apartment hunter to show me some places quickly while I was in town.  I looked at several places, the correct choice was pretty obvious as soon as I walked into the lobby.  230 Oak Grove St. - The Grand Oak Grove Hotel - just a few blocks off of Loring Park south of Downtown Minneapolis.

With it's history as an actual hotel, it has this very impressive marble clad lobby with a long entryway.  It was reasonably well-managed and the rooms were quite nice, by-and-large.  Plus it was right in the heart of an exciting (but not _too_ exciting) city that I was eager to go exploring.

But more importantly, when I lived in that building there developed a community of people who cared about each other.  Many of us were dog owners (at the high point there were 40 dogs in a building with just over 100 units).  So many of us got to know each other through them on the dog lot across the street from the building.  At the time it was a grassy area beside the parking lot and sometimes we would just sit out there for a could hours with the dogs and socializing.  The big lobby also became a place where we could build a community.  At one point, Jacob started rolling his upright piano down to the lobby during the holiday and people would carol beside the gigantic Christmas tree we convinced the manager to spring for.

It was only a few years -- Jonathon and I moved in July 1, 1997 and Jacob and I moved out when we bought our first house in October 2001.  But it was a good chosen family with lots and lots of good memories.  (Plenty of bad ones too, but this is supposed to be a fun retrospective.)  We've all split to the four winds now but I'm really grateful that my first home in this new place was one that gave me the support I needed to thrive here.

27 February, 2017

MN Monday #3 - I went to see the doctor of philosophy.

The whole reason for coming to Minnesota was to go to grad school and I have to say that it was nice to feel academically desirable again for the first time since high school.

About to head home from a
class trip to the Badlands
of SD.  May 1999
At NCSU, as a physics major, I left a lot to be desired.  I spent most of my time in the music department and was average at best amongst my peers in coursework.  I had better luck in Math all the way up to when math ceased to be about numbers.

But when I applied to the University of Minnesota, it felt like I sent in my application on Friday and got a call on Monday to find out when I wanted to come check out the campus.  Turns out, the Geosciences were (and still are to some degree) hungry for people who aren't scared of math and technology.  So I was heavily recruited even though my GPA wasn't all that stellar.

When I finally got here, it was like getting to be successful again.  The coursework was accessible and I did pretty well across material science, geology, and computer science.  The faculty were interesting and  the subjects seemed to make sense again.  Maybe I'd just found a second wind.  I also made some good friends that I'm still in touch with today.  And even though I was working on laboratory research, I did get the chance to go out into the field some and rediscover why I had considered geophysics as a degree right after high school.  If those two NCSU faculty hadn't left before I got there, things might have turned out very different.
Ted, Nate, and Me in the lab at Kohltoff

But the research....  uffda.  My project ended up being a year of chemistry, a year of auto mechanic, and a year of experiments to get one (1!) data point.  I had pretty much had it by that point and decided a Masters degree was just fine, thank you very much. So I hit the eject button. My advisor and I also never really came to an understanding about a lot of things which didn't help matters.  Looking back, I can see that I didn't have the attention span or the focus necessary to have gone all the way to a PhD.  At the time, there was some feeling of failure mixed in with disappointment at how things ended up.

But as frustrating as those three years were, they set the stage for what I do now.  I am a geoscientist. I have taught at the college level.  I understand some of what faculty members go through.  These have all been invaluable tools in working with those same faculty now to help them teach more effectively.  Many of those people that I met during that time (both fellow students and faculty) have become colleagues in various ways over the intervening years.  I am proud to associate myself with some of the most innovative and amazing college educators in the field and those years getting my Masters made it possible to be where I am.

Group picture on the class trip to the Badlands of SD.  Photo
taken at Dinosaur P.ark

20 February, 2017

MN Monday #2: Burn the Ships

We pulled out of Raleigh, NC on June 25th, 1997. Jonathan and I were in my car and mom and dad in his truck.  They were pulling the U-haul trailers I had rented.  There was stuff piled in my car, in the trailer, and in the bed of the truck.  We were good to go.  The plan was to take 3 days to drive the ~21 hours to Minneapolis.  Mom and dad would drive back the 29th and we'd spend a few nights in a hotel before moving into our new place on the 1st. Simple.

Yeah, right.  Remember the story of how the vikings would burn their ships when they landed someplace? Conquer or perish, with no chance for retreat.

I'm pretty sure we were somewhere in West Virginia, going up and down mountains in Appalachia, when my car's head gasket blew.  We were lucky that the engine kept running long enough to reach the top of that hill where there was a gas station.  We pulled off and realized there was nothing for it.  We offloaded everything out of the car into the trailer or the truck.  Dad talked to the owner of the station and arranged to leave the car there and he'd come back to pick it up and tow it back home to sell.  Fine.  All taken care of.

Except that dad's truck was a two-seater...  So what choice did we have?  Jonathan and I joined the remainder of our belongings in the back of the truck.  It's like the south was getting one last dig in before I escaped, forcing me to enter Yankee territory like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies.  We spent the rest of the day riding in the back of the truck, all the way to Indiana.

At which point we were saved from our predicament by my dad's truck deciding to drop its transmission on the highway, south of Indianapolis.  We managed to get a tow truck to drag us to a shop and hotel.  In the dark of late evening, we rolled into Seymore, IN where we would be marooned for 2-and-a-half days.

The next morning, dad set about pulling some kind of success out of the wreckage of this trip.  He knew a guy in NC who agreed to drive to IN and pick up his truck to tow back.  We set to looking for a U-haul truck to pull the U-haul trailer the rest of the way to MN.  We finally found one, seems like it was the only one in town - a 15' truck to pull a 10' trailer.  At least we'd have plenty of space.

Dad's friend arrived on our second day in Seymore.  He and his some had driven straight through from Asheville and they were going to hook up dad's truck, turn right around and head back.  And mom was going with this so she could make it back in time for something she had going on.  (She wouldn't actually set foot in Minnesota until 2007 when she visited Jacob and me with my Uncle Bruce.)  Once they left it took another day to get the truck squared away and then dad, Jonathan, and I set out for MN.

We made the entire rest of the way from south of Indianapolis, past Chicago, all the way to St. Paul in one very long day. I think we arrived at the hotel about 2 in the morning on July 1st. We checked in, slept, and got dad in a taxi to the airport to fly home bright and early (later) that morning.

Driving an enormous truck and trailer combo into downtown Minneapolis, right to Loring Park where we have to try and find a way to unload was not the way I envisioned things happening.  We ended up driving around until we found a grocery store with a large enough parking lot where we could take everything out of the trailer and put it all into the truck.  That meant we could go drop off the trailer and only have to maneuver the giant truck behind the apartment building where we could access the freight elevator.  No problem.

Of course, the afternoon of July 1, 1997 saw tornado sirens and one of the year's most serious thunderstorms.  But then, what could have been more appropriate?

Yep, all the boats got burned.  Even before we got to shore.  So it's a good thing that what I found here was My Place (tm).  Nothing more, nothing less.

14 February, 2017

Can't Get Over Her

My nephew is distressed that he's still
in love with the girl who went back to her boyfriend—
the one who's not good enough for her.

When he ran into her again, she had that same bright laugh,
like the shine on an apple, and the wind rose
reaching up into the limbs and fluttering
the leaves in the whole apple tree.

But when she left, it hit him all over.
She was headed for her boyfriend's house, she'd walk
quickly in the brittle March night.
He'd have a fire going. She'd unlace her boots
and offer him her mouth, her lips still cold,
velvet tongue warm in that satin cape.

He didn't tell me all this,
of course, but who hasn't longed
for that girl? that boy? He's mad
at himself that he can't get over her.

He's young and he's got goals, quit
smoking, gave up weekend drunks. Now he tackles
model airplane kits, one small piece at a time.
He wants to learn mastery. Sweet man.
Should we tell him the truth?

That he'll never get over her. Love
is a rock in the surf off the Pacific. Life
batters it. No matter how small it gets
it will always be there—grain of sand
chafing the heart. I still love

the boy who jockeyed cars, expertly
in the lots on New York Avenue,
parking them so close, he had to lift his lithe body
out the window those sultry August afternoons.

He smelled of something musky and rich—distinctive
as redwoods in heat.

I still long for him
like a patriot exiled from the motherland,
a newborn switched in the hospital, raised
in the wrong family. Each year that passes
is one more I miss out on. His children
are not mine. Even their new
step-mother is not me. When she complains

how hard she tries, how little they appreciate it,
I think how much better off he'd be with me.
And when he has grandchildren
they won't be mine either. And when he's dying—
even if I go to him—I'll be little more
than a dumb bouquet, spilling my scent.

We don't get over any of it. The heart
is stubborn and indefatigable. And limitless.
That's how I can turn to my beloved, now,

with the awe the early rabbis must have felt
opening the Torah. And when she pulls me to her,
still, after all these years, I feel like I did
the first time I stood in front of Starry Night.

I had never known, never imagined
its life beyond the flat, smooth surface
of the textbook. Had never conceived
there could be these thick swirls of paint,
the rough-edged cobalt sky, the deep 
spiraling valleys of starlight.

Ellen Bass

13 February, 2017

MN Monday #1

Twenty years....
I came to Minnesota July 1st, 1997 which means that this July 1st I will have lived here for 20 years.  So over the next 20 weeks, I'm going to publish a picture and/or a memory of my time becoming a Minnesotan.  These aren't necessarily going to be the biggest, most important things that happened in a particular year (although some of them will be).  They are just a way for me to celebrate my adopted home and the life that I've built here.

The left image is May 1997.  I had graduated and was working the first part of the summer at the Physics prop shop creating digital images of a bunch of laboratory instrumentation.  Presented with a digital camera opportunity, even in the stone age, naturally a selfie emerged...  The right one is the end of January 2017, just a few weeks ago.  Random Tuesday morning video conference call.  So... yeah selfie opportunity...  
Looking at them side by side... wow.  Separated by a dozen or more lifetimes but some things really do persist.