You’re drinking ice cream wrong

I’m a fairly simple boy from rural Michigan. As you’d expect from that declaration, I’m mediocre in most ways. But you may be stunned to learn of the horrible gap that has prevailed in my realm of experiences. A failing that existed until recently.

Michigan food specialties likely have been well-covered elsewhere. Hit up the internet with a search for Vernors or Royal Crown Cola, fried smelt and Gerber’s baby food. Of course, there’s the Ford Pinto and Chrysler K-Cars, but those are rarely considered edible.

One food item that I never thought was special to Michigan or the Midwest was Malted Milk.

Dairy of all kinds, including ice cream, is exceedingly popular in Michigan. Any ice cream outlet is going to offer patrons a “malt.” This ice cream beverage is ice cream, whole milk and malted milk blended up thick. You have to give a strong pull on the straw to get the elixir to play music on your taste buds. But you are truly rewarded when that band hits that first note of flavor.

Malt for this recipe can be in powdered or liquid form. You can order a simple, I’ve-given-up-on-living “shake,” but where I’m from, you order a “malt.”

Malt takes mediocre, low-quality ice-milk and kicks it up to being something you actually want to invite into your tasting room. Use it with good-quality ice cream and you’ve elevated the experience beyond measure. Any person who has yet to experience a vanilla malt has my sympathy – and my sympathy comes at high cost.

One year my family ventured to St. Paul, Minnesota where my dad’s sister lived. My uncle had just purchased a police scanner and he, my cousins and I were sitting on the living room floor, listening to the calls and pinning the locations on a map. We were focused on the action when my aunt came in with bowls of ice cream with powdered malt sprinkled on top.

At that point I had amassed 13 years of heartbeats on this orb and considered malt a given, like air, the blue sky or Doritos. But when I scooped into that Rocky Road with malt powder, my eyelids peeled back, the official mayhem blasting from the scanner speaker was no longer heard. Rather, my brain was overcome by signals of astounding flavor and palate joy.

It was unclear as to whether my family in Michigan was to blame for not knowing this serving method or my aunt Iris was simply a culinary genius yet to be appreciated on the world stage. Either way, I became a pest for the rest of the visit, suggesting that every meal should include some malted ice cream.

I’m a little older now and have lived in Virginia, Utah and North Carolina. It wasn’t until my move to North Carolina that it occurred to me that malt is not, indeed, universal!

I know, I know. You wouldn’t think so, but after spending several years in this verdant state, it’s true: malt is nearly unknown.

I started to be wary when I visited ice cream shops. I would instinctively order a “vanilla malt.” A couple of times the transaction was completed and I left the establishment thinking “Ah, they forgot the malt – this is ‘meh’.”

Other interactions with ice cream staff resulted in quizzical looks or the blatant: “What’s that?” query.

“What’s that?”


You’re an ice cream service professional and you don’t know what malt is?

How are you allowed behind that counter? Hand in your cow-image name tag at once until you are properly trained!

But no, it isn’t entirely their fault. You see, this region is unaware of malt. For hundreds of years they have consumed their ice cream bowls and beverages sans malt. And they know no better!

I did some research and learned that North Carolina has microwave ovens, the internet, cellular telephones and even sliced bread. But no malt!

There likely will be a couple of members of my audience who might think themselves wise to suggest that I use Whoppers candy as a substitute.

Ummm, I’ll be nice and presume you tripped on a crack in the sidewalk while trying to think. That or an infarct are the only explanations for such wayward imaginings.

I took my studies deeper. If I could not procure a professionally-prepared ice cream malt, then I would simply make it myself. As a child we did this all the time. I had been trained. I had the skills. I knew the tricks, the foibles. I’d simply buy the malt and fashion up the delight on demand.

Not a single store had malt on offer.

Not. A. One.

I went to the internet and my friends who sell goods from their rainforest website. Because there is no time and space warp, I was able to find Carnation Malt without much trouble. But because it is used in such quantities by those living in normal malt-loving states, the packages were enormous. Far too much in price, placing too large a demand on my meagre storage options, to be practical.

I was depressed. The more time went by without a malt, the more I craved it. Carnation tried to trick me numerous times as they sell their instant coffee creamer in a package that is nearly identical to that used for malt. The sleepy part of an eyeball would perceive one of those containers on a shelf and I’d knock over a hippie buying hemp powder to get to that shelf only to find a creamer – not a malt. Fortunately for me, a knocked-over hippy is generally a very forgiving sort.

Then one day I was shopping at a Publix. We have very few of them and as you may know, they are a Florida-based grocery store chain. Definitely nothing about them hints at Michigan or the Midwest or the North. I had all but given up my search for malt and when I saw part of the right-looking container, I was prepared to be duped by creamer. But this was the real deal – it was legit! Behind the pickles, and a little beside the fava beans, there was one lone container of malt.

The store’s public-address system switched from touting their sale on melons (which actually was quite enticing) to a choir of angels singing praises to grass-fed dairy cows the land over.

For some months now I’ll have my personal supply of malt. I’ll survive. Purpose and hope have returned to my outlook. But I am saddened for the rest. I feel hopeless for the professional ice cream operations that remain ignorant of the proper way to prepare an ice cream beverage. Still more traumatized by the masses of humanity who are deprived of this flavor treat.

I never would have thought such an important staple of life would be a rarity. But isn’t that how it so often is? We make assumptions. We don’t know what we had until it’s gone and other such clichés.

As for now, I’m going to blend some Ben & Jerry’s vanilla, a couple of tablespoons of malt and some milk.

That is until when winter returns and I’ll be popping some Vernors into the microwave.

You know about that, right…?

An appreciation of teachers

This year’s Teacher Appreciation Week had me thinking about the teachers in my life.

First is my mom, who taught for 30 years. The first 15 years she worked for the county school system as a teacher of the homebound and hospitalized. In that role, if a student could not attend school due to illness or injury, she would teach them at home. Each week she would meet with that student’s teachers to gather information and assignments and then work with the student so that they could stay current.

For each student she’d have to take the week’s lessons and understand them, formulate how she would teach them, drive to the student’s home and spend a couple of hours teaching (amidst all of the normal chaos of a home). Then the cycle would repeat, with progress being reported to the teachers at school.

Mom, leaving a student’s home.

She had to carry in the trunk of the car all of the necessary books, handouts, and such that all of her students would need.

She loved that job. Ask almost any teacher and one of the major barriers to their success is classroom size. She always had a classroom of one. She really got to know each student and their families.

Her own disability (she lost both of her arms in a farming accident when she was five) provided hope and encouragement. Students suffering with pain, disability and fear would see a woman with no arms driving a regular car (sometimes even with a manual transmission), carrying heavy cases of books and materials, writing, drawing – doing everything anyone else would do. Beyond teaching she was proof that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

She sure went through a lot of cars driving all over Michigan’s rural Van Buren County!

Then the state eliminated funding for that program and made it the responsibility of the individual schools. If a student needed at-home teaching, each principal had to find someone to fill the role.

Mom stayed with the county intermediate school district and worked for the vocational school. This was where high school juniors and seniors would go to learn a trade or job skill. The programs included courses such as commercial photography, printing, data processing, construction, nursing, etc. Students could graduate high school and immediately move into a job.

That role gave my mom another 15 years of different teaching experience: helping students who lacked a particular skill to be successful in their chosen field. For example, if a student had trouble with reading comprehension, my mom would develop a one-on-one curriculum to help them so that they could be successful with their skills training. And because she also had degrees in counseling and personnel management, she helped students to identify jobs that would suit them after graduation and coordinated on-the-job internships.

I mention all of this to say that I saw teaching from the teacher’s point of view. All of the stories you hear about the amount of time and preparation that it takes to teach are true. Hours were spent each week to prepare, grade papers, and plan. Teaching, and doing it well, takes so many hard and soft skills that are subtly needed, but little appreciated.

I saw the rewards of teaching, too. From seeing a struggling student finally “get it” to running into a former student as a successful adult, I can tell you that having summers off was not the motivation to teach.

I then think about my own experiences as a student. Several of my mom’s students came from my own school. This meant that she got to know the teachers at my school while she worked with those students which lead to me getting “inside” information on my teachers. It was sort of like listening at the door of the teacher’s lounge, without all of the second-hand smoke!

It wasn’t until several years ago that I realized how fortunate I was with my teachers. I had been talking with friends who shared stories about their worst teachers. I had no stories to share. I had classes that I was not good at and teachers that I liked more than others, but I had good teachers.

I went to school in the very small town of Gobles, Michigan. It was rural and poor. But the teachers were first-rate. Many spent their entire careers at that small school system. They could have gone to other schools and certainly earned more money, had more and better supplies. But they stayed. Many driving quite a distance to teach there.

But they were good. I suppose it’s natural to not remember a lesson on multiplication tables, or U.S. history or pig dissection. But I remember the kindness and interest they showed toward me. I wasn’t scared of teachers. I didn’t have mean teachers. I had fair teachers who knew their subjects, who taught them well, who cared about us as and our minds, so that we’d be ready for whatever was to follow.

I was so fortunate! And I know that a student sitting next to me in the same class may have experienced it differently. But for me, I was blessed with some great teachers. Teachers I think about, and whose lessons I remember to this day.

For example, my English teacher, Mrs. Brill, who always believed in me, left encouraging and constructive comments in my journal, pushed me to read books that didn’t at first appeal. Who during regular oral book reports, which scared the living daylights out of me, always kept eye contact with me and made encouraging gestures and stayed awake and attentive during 30+ monotone, dull and repetitive reports. More than anyone else in my life, Mrs. Brill made me feel like I had potential, that I could become someone other than a fat, shy, awkward teen. She treated me like an adult, someone who had value.

Mr. Grossa, my shop teacher, who helped me with math by showing me that I could learn it better if I found purpose in it: measuring wood for a project. That algebra, which was a terribly difficult concept for me, was useful when I needed to determine the missing length of a board. That a mistake on a project was not a failure that must be abandoned but rather was a prototype to learn from for the next try. But the biggest thing Mr. Grossa left me with was an ability to plan. Until that year I was easily overwhelmed by large tasks. Mr. Grossa taught me how to lay out a plan: break things down into small steps that could be understood. Then start to attack the plan, learn, adjust the rest of the plan, and so on. This is a skill I think everyone needs in order to be successful. Mr. Grossa taught me this lesson probably sooner and in a more concrete way than I otherwise would have.

Mrs. Hibbard, who I had for sixth grade in a combined fifth and sixth grade classroom. She loved word humor which has always amused me. She used Mad Libs to teach language rules in a fun and memorable way. She also read to us. I have fond memories of sitting on a large, round rug and Mrs. Hibbard reading The Chronicle of Narnia to us. But she was teaching me how to read. She’d ask us questions about the story: what we remembered from last time, what we thought might happen, why a character did something or what they may have been thinking.

Mr. Mayer was my high school physics teacher. He was never afraid of questions. I found myself surprisingly interested in physics and electricity. I was fascinated by series and parallel circuits and based on my many questions he changed up lessons to allow the class to pursue our questions and interests. I remember asking some question about electricity and the following week he had built a doll house all wired up with lights so that we could experiment – all to answer my question. He could have given a statement to answer my question or drawn a picture on the chalk board. Instead he spent his weekend building an experiment so that we could learn based on our interests.

Mr. Amrstrong, my high school biology teacher, helped me to better understand how percentages work. I always sat next to his desk and while we were doing assignments, he’d be grading papers. I’d watch him punch numbers into his calculator and record grades. I had math classes, but watching him so frequently just “use” math made it practical for me.

These are just a few of many examples and impressions great educators have had on my life.

Teachers of course must know their material, that is a given. But it’s the connection with students, the world the students live in, the student’s interests and skills, that lead to success. A good teacher is a combination of years of education, ongoing training, and a heart that knows how to meld all of that into an experience that truly educates.

Gobles High School.

You gonna mow that?

Friends of mine recently announced that they are buying their first house.

Now all of the problems they encounter with a home will be their own!


My third question to them was: “Are you going to do your own mowing and stuff or are you going to farm it out?”

“Well, I’ve given it some thought and I reckon I’ll give it a try. It’s not a very big spot of land, shouldn’t be too hard.”

A couple of years ago we gave up the lawn-care racket. When we bought our current house, I went pro.

I got rid of all the tools, implements and equipment – just gave it all away at the curb. Gone! Poof! A huge load off, I tell you that! For sure.

Unless you’ve got a large acreage or get some cosmic joy and overwhelming satisfaction from making mower-wheel lanes in the grass, I recommend that you not do your own mowing.

Your unknowing neighbors and kin may think your putting on Grand Poobah airs, but I differ. There are many facts to be considered that often go overlooked.

Let’s look at how costly this endeavor is. You’re of course going to need a lawn mowing contraption. Let’s say a decent lawn mower is going to nick your wallet for $500. That’s quite a few Dominos. Pies with extra cheese I might add.

You’re going to have to get that heavy and cumbersome beast home. And assemble it. And not hurt yourself, your spouse or your dignity. If you do end up purchasing said machine, I suggest that you keep the garage door closed during assembly – the neighbors don’t need to know what’s goin’ on. They’ll still be able to hear your pained utterances while you try to get Bolt A into Slot Q while keeping Cog M angled at exactly 37 degrees.

You’re not done yet, my Bermuda friend. You’re going to need a gas can. That’s another $20 pop to your cruise fund.

That can isn’t going to fill itself. At regular intervals you’ll need to take it on a road trip to your filling station of choice. One could argue that the cost of the fuel is minor, but it’s the schlepping that is so costly here. A gas can is a messy, dirty, filthy, dangerous and unstable thing. After a month in the garage it will be dusty, dearly held by a community of spiders and covered with grass particles. Those grass particles will be strongly adhered to the gas that you spill onto the can. And your feet. And your trousers. You’re going to smell just great tonight at the Red Lobster.

Yes, you WILL spill…trust me. Even if you stop the fill inches from the top, the nozzle is going to burp, spit and drip. There will be spillage.

That spillage will get into your vehicle. On your hands. On your steering wheel. On your phone. On your wallet. On your itchy nose.

Try not to spill it or tip it over on the drive home. That grandma with the big hair who stops short in front of you easily could lead to a gallon of 87-octane spritzing around the cabin.

Gasoline isn’t the only dead-dinosaur product you’ll be messing with. You’ll need to change the oil every year as well. Buying those cute little three-dollar bottles of oil is only going to impact your chewing-gum budget, but the changing of the oil, now there’s a job only Goober is truly suited for.

You’ll need to run the machine enough to warm it up, but not so much that the oil is hot enough to cook your Thanksgiving bird.

Then you need to Rube Goldberg yourself a way to catch the oil that you’re going to release from that machine.

You will be wearing oil. You will spill oil. You will make a mess of the entire situation. And make sure no furry creatures come about and start to wear and ingest the oil. That’s a bad thing. If you care about furry creatures. And I know you do – you’re not a cretin.

Once you’re done with the oil-change procedure you’ll have a jar of nasty old oil that you need to transport to a recycle center. And you thought that driving with a can of gasoline was a treat – try a Mason jar of 10W30 and 45 mph. And no, it isn’t going to fit in your cup holder. It’s going to be more tricky than that, especially when you realize that holding the jar between your legs is a no-go.

Next up in your misery is sharpening the blade. That first mow is going to give you such a sense of joy and satisfaction! The grass will look crisp and clean and so handsome! But after about six iterations, the blade is going to be dull and you’ll be frustrated and distracted by grasses that have been pummeled, but not cut, beaten but not sliced, berated but not trimmed.

Routinely you’ll need to tip over the mower, use a wrench and block of wood to remove the blade so you can sharpen it.

You’ve got a bench grinder, right? Because that’s the only way to do this job properly. Those gizmos you attach to your drill are toys, meant to extract funds from well-meaning new mowing people. If you escape without metal flakes in your eyes and knuckles intact, you still won’t have a sharp blade. You will have spent a half hour fighting and struggling for no result.

After each mowing expedition you really should clean out the machine. Grass and dust and muck will accumulate under there. It will. But you know what? You won’t clean the machine. You’ll take a glance in the blade chamber and think it’s not too bad, so you’ll just roll the machine into its garage home.

But it’s going to build up. And it will lead to poor cutting. Hard starts. Blockages to the exit chute. You don’t want that. You’ll have to, at least sometimes, clean the deck.

That will involve using a flat-head screwdriver in a way for which it was not designed, to scrape gunk. That will lead to a pile of allergy-inducing deceased vegetable matter scattered on the driveway.

Next, you’ll be brooming that crap up and putting it in the trash can. Try not to breathe whilst doing this else your intake chute becomes clogged.

Mowers cut the big main grass, but what about the small auxiliary grass? The stuff around the sidewalk, driveway, mailbox and moat? For that you’ll need a line trimmer (don’t call it a Weed Whacker or Weed Eater!). That means more gasoline and more oil.

If you get a four-cycle machine, you’re buying more gas and oil just like you do for the mower. But if you get a two-cycle system, you’ll need yet another gas can to keep separate gas for the line trimmer…to which you will carefully measure and add unique two-cycle oil.

This is getting to be so much fun isn’t it? I know, you’re doing a penguin-esque happy-dance right now!

You’ve put it off long enough, the grass is too high and regardless of how much you don’t feel like doing it, nor how high the heat and humidity, nor how tired you are nor how you’d much rather be organizing your spice rack instead, you must do your duty and mow.

For this you’ll have to change clothes into, well, an outfit that was flashy and swell in the ‘70s, but now is only fit for sweaty, dusty, dirty and grimy yard work.

The mowing will be hard. Even if we assume your machine start easily on the first tug of the cord, you’ll be walking back and forth in monotonous and unfulfilling transits about the property. Your mind will wander all over tarnation. What else can it do? It’s not truly mindless work – you need to stay awake, but the mind will go off to ponder topics that ought not to be pondered. (What does happen to astronaut’s tears?).

Are you overlapping enough or not enough? Are you throwing clippings in Beuregard’s yard (he gets decidedly miffed when you spray clippings on his Camaro)? Are you pitching stones into the road and cracking windshields?

Your feet, ankles and knees will hurt. You’ll step “funny” and it won’t be hilarious. (Unless you go full-on ballet mode and make a body-on-turf impact that amuses the neighbors).

When that eternal moment arrives when you feel assured that you can cut the engine, you’ll next be on to firing up the trimming machine.

If you weren’t wearing protective gear for your eyes and ears before, you’ll need them now (that’ll be $23.95).

That trimmer doesn’t have an exit chute you know – the WORLD is its chute. And that means you, my friend, will be wearing those clippings on your person. The clippings mostly will cling to your pants (you weren’t wearing shorts, were you?). You’ll need to take a broom to yourself before you step into the house…you just will. But you’ll only succeed in removing the clippings on your frontside…the anterior is where all of the clippings that will litter your living room, bedroom and bathroom will persist.

This is so much an adventure, eh? You begin to see why people procreate so that they can make their offspring tend to the task!

Line trimmers can look like some level of fun to operate. But they are tough on the arms, shoulders and back.

Line trimmers constantly beg for your attention. The line needs to be replaced nearly constantly and I don’t care what system you’ve got, it’s a pain. It’s dirty. It’s challenging, and never is successful until at least five attempts have been made. Oh yeah, and that’s about $10 per spool of line…don’t forget that.

You realize of course, that you’re going to be experiencing this joy at least every other week, assuming you have a slow-grow field of weeds…every week if you have a Type-A plot.

Just think of everything else of more value or interest that you want and need to do instead of mowing.

The basic mowing chores may take an hour per week…likely more. Certainly more when you need to get gas, sharpen a blade, add line, diagnose a failure, etc. and etc.

While you’re at work you’ll fall under the demands the lawn puts on you. You’ll envision the tall grasses, swaying in the wind, guiding your mind to say “I should mow tonight.” You won’t be able to focus on the conspiracy theory being spouted in the adjacent cube because you’ll be justifying in your head the putting off of mowing for “just one more day.”

You’ll end up putting it off until Saturday. In your wisdom you’ll figure you’ll get up early, before it’s too hot, and just get it done.

Until Saturday morning when you’re having the best dream about bunnies, coffee cake and massages.

It will be that same Saturday that your spouse has an idea for something amazing, fun and enlightening to do almost anywhere else than home.

You’ll either do the mow and be hot and nasty and tired or you’ll put it off and feel guilty. Don’t forget to avoid eye-contact with the neighbors when you leave – you know 14-inches is too tall for grass in your neighborhood, right?

Do you have an HOA?

That nice vacation you’re on right now? The grass is still growing you know, even while you’re sipping fancy island beverages. When you come home, the grass is probably going to be tickling your elbows – do you really want to come home to that?

Ah, ah, ah! Do not talk to me about electric cutting gear. That’s only going to save you on the petrochemical side of the equation. You’re still going to break a hip and burn hours of personal time doing the dirty work. A rechargeable mowing machine is false economy.

The other hazard of doing your own mowing is snakes. They’re out there. They lurk. They want you. They will get you. They just will, it’s what they do.

You realize now that you should hire a professional mowing organization. You clearly understand the wisdom of my points. I am right.

Yes, it costs money. But you’re spending a lot by doing it yourself. Just consider these costs for your first year:

Gas Can$20
Safety Gear$23.95
Time$1,040 (1 hour/week x $20/hour x 52 weeks)

That’s dang near $2,000.

You’re going to say “But uncle Earl, I’m not going to buy machines every year. After the first year it won’t be that much.”

That’s sort of true, but you’ll have to be budgeting for the replacement of those machines. They don’t last. Fastidious maintenance will extend the life, but that’s costing you in deprived leisure hours along the way.

You’re thinking maybe you’ll compromise and hire Teddy, the 14-year-old down the street. Well, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. Teddy is going to stick his hand in the machine to unclog it and you’ll find yourself paying for his missing phalanges, not to mention the dent in that BMW Z4 that was driving by at the exact moment ole Teddy hit that pebble.

Hire a pro. They have insurance. They’re more responsible. They’ll mow while you’re at work so it will be like you’ve hired your own little magic show! You leave a mildly fuzzy lawn in the morning and return to robins singing with glee!

Now, there are many benefits for you, not the least of which is the furthering of your leisure time and opportunities thereto. But you’ll also be stimulating the economy, providing an income to people and maintain a consistently manicured appearance and high value to your home.

Mowing is a trap. Heck, the American lawn is a trap. But we’re stuck with the second part, the first part can be fixed.

Step up. Make some calls, get them hired and scheduled. And live!

Now let’s talk about plowing that snow….

Starbucks Via Instant – a failing-to-read-the-label odyssey

I generally make a pot of coffee in the morning. I am not particularly loyal to a roast, but tend towards Starbucks or Seattle’s Best brands. Sometimes, if the package is pretty and the price low, I’ll try something else.

I also keep a box of Starbucks Via Instant packs in inventory. Sometimes I don’t want a full pot, don’t feel like doing the work or it’s a busy morning and I won’t have time to leisure over the entire pot, so a Starbucks instant steps up to the cup for me.

This past weekend the shopping list contained the word coffee. I needed to resupply both the ground beans for dripping and the Starbucks Via Instant.

Me, being the antisocial type, and not particularly joyful over the time spent in a grocery store, was rushing.

I had just come from the pickle aisle, where my frustration had been piqued over the lack of Claussen dills, and was speeding down the caffeine-bean aisle.

Starbucks Columbian roast ground? Yep, in the cart, moving on.

Next, the Starbucks instant section with the three usual boxes of instant coffee on display. Ah, but this one is like three times thicker than usual! It must contain many more cute little packets inside. What a deal. In the cart it goes!

Now we move to the current morning. Wednesday, not that it matters. This household was not tack sharp this morning, following a full-moon sleepless night. One might assume I’d be making a full pot of coffee to get things restarted. But no, for reasons I cannot explain, I wanted instant. Perhaps I didn’t want to wait for the preparations and dripping to conclude? I don’t know, we’d need a study to know the darkest answer to this query.

But upon retrieving the new box of Starbucks instant that I had procured on this most-recent shopping extravaganza, I actually read the label: Starbucks Via Instant CAFÉ MOCHA!

It’s fancy hot chocolate!

The ingredients list shows, far down the list, after dried milk, sugar, caribou hoof and unicorn dander, coffee. What I’ve purchased is simply an overly-froufrou instant chocolate milk.

Frustration soon opened the door to curiosity. I have in fact been known to order a café mocha from a Starbucks barista. Sometimes I’m in that mood and I like the bev, so I didn’t open the window preparatory to a hasty jump, but proceeded instead to craft this new-found treat.

From the start, disaster loomed. I found the slit in the foilette package where I was instructed to tear. It tore easily — and with vigor. Such vigor in fact that a tiny powder explosion greeted my face. Fortunately, I was beside my sink, so that debacle was easily put at bay.

Being still un-awake, I failed to use the requisite amount of intelligence and dumped the entire packet into a mug. Dumped. I didn’t pour, I didn’t use any kind of gentle maneuvering whatsoever. I dumped.

Another cloud of dust to the face.

Another damp paper towel.

Another oath quietly uttered.

Okay now, the worst was over. I just needed to add the water.

To the fridge I went where cold, filtered water was on offer. The water slowly filled the mug while the magical Starbuckian recipe floated on top. The powder created a dense life raft atop, sealing off the top of the mug like a sarcophagus. Mr. Science could do an entire episode on the physics and hydrodynamics at play, but I was not amused. It was far too early for any kind of heavy thinking here.

For you see, I hadn’t yet HAD MY COFFEE!

I fetched a spoon and began to stir. Now, I’m no genius by far, but I have stirred a few things in my life. I’ve even used a whisk and a mandolin (that’s another story). And I’m a former trombonist. So while no expert, I am an experienced stirrer.

However, my experience in that area was not evident as I tried to incorporate the powders into the water. Or vice-versa. I stirred. I folded. I swished. I sloshed. I cursed.

After many minutes, and several escaped blobs of wet powder had created dark hut-looking blobs on the counter, I decided that some time in the microwave would get things mixed up.

My normal procedure for Starbucks instant calls for two minutes and thirty seconds of zapping in the ‘wave. So those numerals were touched into the machine and the start button was pressed.

I did some other morning chore while the machine did its business. When it became silent, I opened the door.

I am used to being greeted with steam and some evidence of hotness coming from within. But on this occasion, it appeared that nothing had happened.

I retrieved the cup and found it to be slightly warm. Not hot. And the mix certainly had not become a drinkable potion.

So I put the cup back in and beeped it for another thirty seconds. And another. And yet more. After some weeks a steamy condition existed and I was able to move forward. Or so I thought.

Back to the stirring. And cajoling. And begging. And mixing. And agitating.

Improvements were made in the consistency of the drink, but alas, the powder stuck like mortar to the sides of the cup, the spoon and angrily clung to the bottom like an Exxon sludge.

Evening was approaching so it was long past time to sit down and take a sip.


I cannot describe it as either bad coffee nor bad hot chocolate. It’s just awful. I’ve not personally tasted acrid chemicals, paint strippers or atomic waste since I believe such testing is better left to folks with the proper apparel and training.

But now, I believe I have.


Now, how to get this black cocoa plaster out of my mustache.

I need a drink.

Mr. Grossa: a shop, and life, teacher

Today I am thinking of one of my teachers. Jim Grossa was my high school shop teacher. I don’t know what brought him to mind today in particular, but he left some marks on my squishy and aimless 14-year-old-noggin that are with me to this day.

Mr. Grossa had a degree in Industrial Arts and in my general shop class taught woodworking and metalworking. I of course took the class because I was interested in woodworking. Though I ended up enjoying the metalworking as well, very much to my surprise. For a while I thought a career operating a spot welder would be just the ticket!

The This Old House TV show had just started, but our 30-foot TV aerial rarely was able to pull it in. I had seen a couple of episodes in other people’s houses and was fascinated to see “how” woodworking was done.

The only real exposure I had to seeing woodworking done was the occasional Shopsmith demonstration held at the local mall.

The opportunity to get into an actual woodshop and learn how to make things with wood was really exciting. And in the tiny, poor rural school in Gobles, Michigan, we actually had an excellent shop with good tools.

And a great teacher in Mr. Grossa.

Years temper the memories and my recollection may not be 100%. But I remember the lessons that have stuck with me all of the intervening years.

I remember on the first day of class, comprised almost totally of boys, rowdiness was the order of the day. Grossa (for some reason we rarely used the title Mister – he was just “Grossa”) shouted “Settle down!” over the commotion. He was a tall, thin man, probably not a whole lot older than us, with what would later be known as a Magnum P.I. mustache. The girls thought him handsome and often would stop to watch him walk away down the halls.

He went on to say that he knew some were in the class for an “easy-A” and others were there because they wanted to learn something. “Those of you who want to coast can do that, but be quiet and stay out of the way so those who want to learn can learn and so you don’t get hurt.”

I was in the “I want to learn something” camp.

One of our first lessons, before we were ever turned loose in the shop, was on how to measure.

It may sound way too fundamental, but it’s really important, and Grossa built upon this throughout the semester. But it’s where I had a real problem. Okay, I continue to have a real problem. To this day I have a devil of a time reading a ruler or tape measure.

I pretty easily understood that inches were broken down into quarters, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds and so on. I got that. But seeing and counting those tick marks is a real challenge for me. I have to close one eye, squint with the other, and somehow point to and count the ticks to get a measurement. It sometimes helps if I lift my right foot off the ground and hum the theme to Gilligan’s Island.

Working in my own shop as an adult, I can take my time, do it three, four or eighteen times. But in class, under pressure, I sweated.

My completed checkerboard from shop class.

We had prescribed objects and projects that we had to make. One was a checkerboard. I remember Grossa showing us a sample of what we were going to make and I was terrified. I couldn’t imagine how even to start such a project and was afraid I’d flounder and fail.

But I likewise remember as the lightbulbs began to light up when he showed us the process. It all made sense!

One of the things Grossa taught me on that project was the value of a plan. To this day when I plan a project, it’s sketchy at best. I once took a drawing class at D’Art Center in Norfolk, VA to try to learn a thing or two so I could make better drawings for myself. I had fun and a helpful teacher, but it didn’t stick. My plans continue to be things only I can understand.

At any rate, Grossa said that any project we might want to tackle came down to a plan. Whether it was someone else’s plan or one of our own, the largest, most complex of projects came down to one cut at a time. True with woodworking or any other project or task in life.

Break it down he said, on paper and in your head, into steps small enough to understand and complete. You don’t build the entire project, you build it piece-by-piece.

At my age, that really was profound. And prior to woodshop someone could have used those same words to describe a process, but because it was something I was interested in, and making things with wood was something I truly wanted to master, it made sense, made an impression. It was a lesson made practical.

Having watched several of those Shopsmith demos in the mall, I was the most fascinated by the lathe. I have never been interested in carving, but turning something on the lathe is magical.

My completed bowl from shop class.

There wasn’t time in the class to get very good at the lathe, but I did learn the basics of how the machine worked, how to mount my work (this was before four-jawed chucks came to the world of woodworking – greatly simplifying and speeding up the process of turning wood). I learned about the major lathe chisels and types of cuts.

My lathe was positioned such that I looked out a large west-facing window. I had a view of the woods beyond and truly enjoyed spinning poor dead tree pieces to dust. I ended up making a really awful bowl.

Part of the problem was that my choice of wood was bad. It had lots of open end-grain so no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it smooth. While I wasn’t proud of the project, like I was the chessboard, I cherished it.

The final project for woodshop was a project of our choice. We had to submit the idea and a sketch and get approval from Grossa before beginning work.

Students submitted proposals for toolboxes, bird feeders and bird houses, cutting boards – the types of beginner projects you’d expect.

This is sort of what the loop would have looked like, hanging from a central post.

But my idea was wildly different. I had seen a towel rack that I wanted to make in a store. This rack was intended to hold hand towels in a bathroom. It had a central square post of about 1-1/2” square. On each of the four sides there was a smooth circle with an “arm” that was let into the main post. Hard to imagine what I’m talking about, eh? Well, it is hard to describe. And I drew crude drawings on paper and on the chalkboard to try and explain what the “thing” I wanted to make was.

Grossa was clearly lost – he didn’t understand what I wanted to build. But everything I described sounded like too challenging a project for my skill level. I was insistent that I wanted to make it and Grossa was honest with me: he didn’t fully understand it, he wouldn’t have enough time to really help me refine it; and I needed to “complete” my project in order to complete the class and be graded.

But bit-by-bit, the project evolved. He let me use some really excellent cherry wood from the inventory. Every time I work with cherry, I think of that towel rack. Cherry is beautiful wood, changes color over time and is great to work with.

Grossa regularly consulted with me. And as he’d taught, I had broken the project down into steps. And while he didn’t understand what I saw in my head, he could understand each of my small steps and thus help me to do them.

My project required four mortices to be cut into that main post. A mortice is a fairly advanced cut and, except for identifying it, was not covered in the class. But Grossa spent time with me to show me how to attach morticing chisels to the drill press, how to mark out the cuts, make and refine them with hand chisels.

It was a lot of hard work but in the end my mortices were actually pretty good.

The central post needed some kind of legs to hold it upright. We came up with simple legs with two 45-degree angles cut on them. One angle would sit against the post, the other against the floor. For the sake of time, Grossa suggested I screw them to the post, create counter-sinks and make my own plugs to fill the counter-sinks.

What was he thinking? Heck, what was he saying?! Countersink? Plugs? But he showed me each new process, often doing one and then setting me free to do the rest.

I suppose the fact that he’d show or tell me something and then “leave me to it” was a necessity of helping as many students as possible. But at the time I saw it as his confidence in me. He didn’t need to stand over me. He believed I could do a process, so he could move on to someone else. As a shy kid lacking in anything that looked like confidence, that meant a lot to me.

I’m sure my parents were sick and tired of my regular praise of Mr. Grossa and all of things he knew!

The next challenge was to make the rings that would actually hold the towels. It required a single piece of wood with a round outside, a hole cut from the center and a “tail” that would fit into the mortice cut in the main post.

Again, a lot of sophisticated cuts to make. And again, Grossa helped me with each step. I probably used every tool in the shop to get those things cut. And it took forever. I got right down to the wire and never did the proper finishing. But Grossa encouraged me to finish – do what was required for the class. I could make it prettier on my own at home – he said he was confident I had learned enough to continue.

His confidence in me meant so much! He knew it was important to me and he just assumed I’d keep going on my own, during the summer and in years to come. It wasn’t just about him doing his job for a semester – he was coaching and encouraging me to use and develop a skill and hobby for the rest of my life. He surely was a great success with that.

I completed the project, though it wasn’t finished. I sheepishly took it home on the school bus at the end of the semester. I was embarrassed by it, but proud at the same time. I knew that people looked at that weird contraption and tried to say nice things, or teased me or whatever they would do. But when I looked at it I was proud of what I’d learned.

I had learned how to measure something, rough out raw stock, cut multiple items to the same dimensions, cut mortices, use the jigsaw, tablesaw, sanders, drill press, morticing chisels, hand chisels. So many skills and tools were now real world experiences for me – not dreams or magazine articles. A few months before it had all been unknown and mysterious. But Grossa led me to pursue my passion, and learn things without knowing I was learning them!

I made a lot of mistakes on that towel rack. I got frustrated. Pieces had to be discarded. I had to stop and start. I used some fancy language. But this is where Gross taught me perhaps the most-important thing. I have used this lesson throughout my life for so many things – most of which have nothing to do with woodworking.

When I’d make a mistake and get frustrated he’d tell me that it wasn’t a failure, it was a prototype. A failure was just a lesson, evidence of something you learned. You’d try again, taking what you’d learned from the “prototype”, make changes, maybe make more “prototypes”, but get better each time.

I still got frustrated and upset over my mistakes, but I quickly saw how true his words were! I tried to look at what went wrong, figure out why it went wrong and what I could do to start again. He was always so calm, friendly and positive. He didn’t hover or mother in any way, but I knew he supported me and had confidence in me…which helped me to build a little bit in myself.

Over the years I’ve taken classes and gone to specialty schools for a variety of woodworking skills. I’ve learned about cabinetmaking, woodturning, hand-cut joints, router techniques, finishing. And I’ve built out my own workshop and made hundreds of projects with wood. Without the skills and confidence gained from Mr. Grossa, there is no doubt: I wouldn’t have taken even the first step.

I always want to make nicer projects, more complicated work, items with fewer flaws and errors. But I enjoy the process, I enjoy what I learn from each project. And I have used the lessons and example of Mr. Grossa, my shop teacher, who taught me so much more than measure twice, cut once.


Some examples of the many things I’ve made with wood, thanks to a start from Mr. Grossa. No pictures of prototypes here, just evidence of lessons-learned.

The corner table

The sounds of the city are still here, but the straight-down steady rainfall muted, cleanses them. The buses, the horns, the squealing brakes less annoying through the hum of water hitting the sidewalk, the trash bins, the newsstand, the coffee shop canopy.

Rain now, but stormy weather is predicted to start soon and continue through the night. The thunder will come and as this Saturday morning moves to nighttime, street life will quiet its concert and even the commotion of the city will subside behind the weather.

I’m in my customary spot for a Saturday morning. Hah, but the day doesn’t matter. Since I’ve retired you may find me here any morning. Or afternoon or evening. Before I left my job counseling high school kids for college, this corner table and eclectic, hard and uncomfortable chair, was my vantage point on Saturdays. Now I can, and do, park myself here any time I wish.

I like this place, the owners, Meg and Bea. I like the coffee, the people, the atmosphere. It all agrees with me. And I like to people-watch. I’d say most of the people here are regulars, but Meg and Bea see a lot of new and passerby custom.

Meg and Bea are masters at instantly remembering patrons names. They just as quickly learn their usual orders. I’ve picked up a few names from my corner eavesdropping post. But even without names, I observe, craft make-believe life stories for those passing through. Stories based on the facts I overhear, mixed with my own whimsy.

My interest is piqued when former students come through M&B’s Bean House doors. In many ways my career was filled with the frustration of unfinished business. Around the 10th grade I’d start to get to know students and two years later they’d be on their way. They’d follow or not a plan and path that we’d put together. But more often than not I felt like a parent, but not quite so, sending a young adult into the world, without knowing how it turned out. Did they get that degree in electrical engineering and find a job in San Francisco? Did trade school and apprenticeship work out and lead to a plumbing business of their own? Did they marry, have kids? Did they leave the city? I rarely know.

But here, when I see a former student, even if I don’t remember their name or particulars, the loop is closed. I hear their idle conversation, their coffee order and I get some closure. They’ve made it this far at least. They’re succeeding, or trying.

Sometimes one of us will strike up conversation and I get the real details. We catch up on the intervening years. I’m proud.

It’s coming up on noon and my first cup of coffee has been nursed away. Road traffic is settling down and more people are making their way on foot. The bell over the door is dinging more frequently as folks take the impulse to warm up and dry off inside.

I think I hear the first distant thunder.

Raj catches my eye from behind the counter, mimes pouring coffee. I nod. He brings the pot out front and refills my cup, says he’s got a break coming and will be right back.

Raj is a kid from the neighborhood and has been working here a couple of years. He started in high school and now I guess he’s about 20. He has moved out of his parents and with a roommate rents a place a few blocks off this street. We talk often about his plans for the future.

“Hey, Mister-A, nice day out there, huh?” Raj jokes while pulling out his chair on the other side of my corner table.

“I actually like rainy and stormy weather. As long as I don’t have to be out in it, ha, ha.”

Raj grins and looks outside, takes a draw on his chai.

“I went by the Dev Studio last night.” Raj says, still looking out the window.

“And?” I ask.

“It’s, you know, it’s a lot to learn. The people there are so smart.”

“Did you talk to someone about the financing or classes?” I ask.

“Yes, they gave me a tour and I saw some classes. It’s very intense. They tell me I can do it, but I don’t know. They want my money after all.” Raj says, ever doubting himself, lacking confidence.

“That’s true.” I say. “They’re wanting to make a profit. But remember, we did some research, read stories in the paper and checked reviews online. Students say good things – the training is good and they get jobs. Reputable. I think we can say they’re reputable. The rest would be you – your study.”

“Yeah. Yeah. It’s a lot of money.” Raj says.

“It is. But it’s less than a college degree and for web design, it looks like having specific skills for a job is what gets you in the door. And without that foot in the door, you won’t be able to do what you want.” I try to encourage him.

I want to tell him what to do. It’s the urge I always had to suppress. My job, when I was working, was to, if not make a decision their idea alone, help them walk up to and shake hands with it on their own. So often I think I see the obvious way ahead for a student, but for it to be a success, it has to come from them.

“I think I’m going to sign up for the session-after-next. I’ll sign up. I’ll be in the class. But this will give me a couple of months to get my mind behind it.” He says.

I think he should start right away. I think the very next session starts in a week. But this is progress, so I leave it.

“That’s great, Raj! Do it – you’re moving forward!” I say with real enthusiasm. I raise my cup in toast. His smile is bigger now.

A customer has come in and has asked Raj about an order of ground beans. Raj says goodbye and returns to the counter.

There are usually more people about with their dogs. Especially on a Saturday. Stretching for the humans and the pups. The weather discourages that this day. Never having had a dog I wonder about all of those dogs and their “business.” Do they hold it for good weather or must their owners rush out into the flood and beg and cajole until the dog has relieved itself beside a muddied puddle? I enjoy the dogs, miss them today, but glad they’re not my worry.

The thunder is bigger now. I think thunder is made by lightning, I’m not sure of this. But I see no sparks in the sky. Dark clouds have given the sense that the clock is more advanced than it is. More thunder rattles dishes behind the counter, but no flashes. The intensity of rain has let up…still coming down, a little bit of wind, but not so much water.

Meg and Bea keep the place pretty simple and basic to coffee, tea and some baked things. They do sell beans, mugs, artwork. Bea said they don’t make any money on those other things, but they want to support local artists and give folks something to keep them busy if they’re waiting in line or for their order.

I fear the only time the artwork, and there are some very interesting paintings on display now, get no viewing except when the place is busy. And then the views are harried and impatient. When it’s slow I appreciate them. I should buy something.

It’s starting to feel a little hot in here. Close. The place has filled up. I get up and prop open the door. The substantial awning, normally offering shade to those who use the few sidewalk tables, keeps the rain from menacing us inside.

The cool rush of air is welcome.

As I kick into place the stone used to prop open the door I feel a tiny bit the proprietor. Several appreciative looks angle in my direction.

I re-take my seat, consider another cup of coffee.

The seat is uncomfortable. I wiggle around often to give my slight and bony frame fresh points to rest upon. Very few furnishings in here match. Some chairs are quite comfortable, but they aren’t at my table. I’ll take it upon myself to open a door, but don’t feel the authority to mess with the décor.

I will straighten a piece of artwork, however. I’ve been known to rearrange the mugs display after someone has made a purchase. Perhaps I’m too much busy-body for my friends Meg and Bea.

Two sweetheart teens come in now. They’re holding hands and talking to each other. At the same time. They stand just inside the door and shake like dogs to get the water off. I’ve not seen them before.

They study the chalkboard wall. They point, talk, shake their heads. Shortly, consensus reached, they head over to make their order: two mochas and they’ll share a peanut butter cookie.

I’ve suggested to Meg and Bea on several occasions that they need live music. Strings, maybe.

In the back there’s a corner that would work. They’d lose two tables, but a small platform could be put in.

Room for a guitarist or two. Or maybe someone playing keyboard.

The piped-in music is fine. It varies from okay to good. But live music would be a draw. There are many music students around who would crave the exposure.

Meg suggests the idea could work, but can they afford it: the lost tables and the fee?

Bea thinks perhaps they don’t need to pay, but just offer a tip jar.

I bite my tongue. Artists should be appreciated and respected. Even with a small stipend.

In moments they come to the same idea. I’m pleased.

But they’re not yet convinced. They’d have to audition people. Come up with rules for the style of music that would suit. And they don’t want it to prevent conversation in the shop. It can’t be too loud.

For not the first time, the idea has been discussed, but tabled. I hold out hope.

It’s become late afternoon and the rain has all but stopped. The clouds continue to be angry and thunder booms.

I watch through the front window to see a squirrel scamper from the leaves of a tree to snatch some dropped morsel of food. He quickly inspects what looks like popcorn in his long-clawed fingers before darting back to the tree and his home.

Taking advantage of the lull, in persons and rain, I stand, place my cup and plate in the collection area, give a goodbye nod to those working behind the counter, and take myself home.

The Business Drawers

Whether it be a set of china, a delicate spoon, a cookie jar, a hutch or dresser, the things that occupy the space with us become a part of our memories. Sometimes they’re just always there, a constant backdrop to the birthday party, graduation or marriage. Others are so used and integral that they are the actual bricks and mortar of a recollection.

Go to an estate sale or listen to someone reminisce about “grandma’s house” and you’re likely to hear stories about the objects that attach themselves to memories.

A recent move focused my thoughts on a piece of furniture in my life that doesn’t necessarily have specific memories attached to it, but it’s always been there. I’ve never seen another piece like it and it has a pretentiously formal name: the Business Drawers.

The Business Drawers got their start as a doll’s clothes dresser. It’s not uncommon to see antique miniaturized furniture items that were used as display models for furniture companies to sell full-size copies. They’re cute and fully functional and gave buyers a sense of the details and proportions for the dresser, buffet or table they might order. In the days before printed photographs, when line-drawn illustrations were the best way to convey a visual to a consumer, these dwarf samples did the selling.

At first glance, this little dresser may appear to be one of those samples. But it’s not. I’ve found many pieces similar to it, but no exact matches. It’s clear that for a period of time, these small pieces of real furniture were common accessories for children’s dolls.

This one belonged to my great-great-grandmother. My mother adored it as a child and at some point it was given to her.

Judging by the information I’ve found online, originally it likely had a mirror on the back or some other adornment. It’s in quite good condition, with repairs through the years evident, including a more modern back, sans a mirror or towel rack.

The Business Drawers have been a part of my life since the beginning. Named by my mom long before I came on the scene, why that name?

The adorable little dresser, measuring 24” wide by 12” deep by 15-1/2” tall held the household correspondence supplies.

The top left drawer overflowed with pens, pencils and erasers – anything you’d use to leave your mark.

On the right side, the drawer held calculators, dad’s slide-rule, a deck of playing cards, S&H Green Stamps books and postage stamps.

The bottom drawer, which spans the full width of the piece, stored envelopes, stationary, writing tablets and a ruler.

Throughout my life, people see the Business Drawers for the first time comment and wonder. When its purpose is explained they directly see the wisdom of its purpose. It’s just big enough, not too so. It’s attractive and seems to work with any other furnishing. Its top provides a place for a desktop phone (not of much use these days, I suspect) or any other small décor one might want to display.

When my dad refinished it, he re-glued joints, but left earlier repairs made with visible nails, in place. My foggy memory tells me that when he did his work on it, there was no back at all – he crafted a replacement from plywood. It’s certainly not “historically accurate”, but is not seen and keeps the case sturdy.

At some point my mom gave the Business Drawers to me and I cherish it. In the new house it again holds pens, a few USB charging cables and pads of paper. Most “business” these days doesn’t rely on the kinds of things you’d store in a drawer, but the Business Drawers live on.

Likely more than 150 years after it kept a doll’s dress, blouse and stockings tidy, the form still of course would work for doll’s clothes, writing implements, sewing supplies or the hundreds of fine pieces and parts we dare not lose under foot.

Or even supplies for those, like my wife, who still send the occasional tactile thank-you, cheer-up or hand-written note.

It has lasted far longer than the original maker probably ever imagined, but this little chest of drawers remains useful, decorative and is sized just right.

The sides, each made from a single board, has shapely detail.

The simple detail of the apron.

Another view of the leg detail.


An old repair is visible on the top.

An example I found online that may reflect what a mirrored back may have looked like. The apron detail looks very similar to mine.

Aaron and Alina to Leave Utah

Aaron and Alina are leaving the state of Utah.

This is a decision that has been brewing for several months. Ever since Alina’s open-heart surgery and the long road to recovery that followed, we’ve been contemplating a move closer to sea level and cleaner air.

While our house being at an elevation of 4,000 feet, and popular places like Sundance Resort or Park City being thousands of feet higher, may not surprise, the poor air quality may. Utah, known for having The Greatest Snow On Earth and wide-ranging geographies from rugged and snowy mountain peaks, to amazing lakes, to the desolation of her deserts, is a hard place to take a breath. We have two cities in the top seven in the nation for poor air quality ( There are too many days when we cannot even see the mountains through the smog. Our eyes tear up and we cough. There’s the taste of metal in the air. Every other oil change reveals air filters clogged with particulate pollution.

Aaron and Alina made several trips to sea level in 2017 and Alina’s energy level and general sense of well-being were dramatically improved. Her heart worked more easily and her breathing was better.

There are other reasons as well. One is certainly the culture.

Aaron has been here for eight years (but has been travelling here on business since 1999) and Alina for seven. In that time  we have not been successful at integrating as well as we’d like. Friendships and social interactions are very limited here for those not a part of the LDS faith. Aaron was warned about this before coming, but at the time had so many built-in professional friendships that he didn’t fully appreciate the challenge.

Many of the friends we did have here came about through the people we knew and worked with in the newspaper industry. Many of those friends have been leaving the state as well for their own reasons, dwindling our associations further.

Another reason is the actual location of our home. Aaron moved here in 2009 and bought a new home that was only seven minutes from his software job at Digital Technology International (DTI). But the area has developed by leaps and bounds. About the time Aaron moved in, a new high school down the road opened. Our house is at the corner of a community and the main road to that high school — and now many other housing communities. Traffic noise has grown and grown. There are only a few hours on a Sunday that we can sit in the backyard and hear ourselves think. The noise and commotion has cut into our ability to enjoy our home.

And while our home was convenient to the job at DTI and the charming town of Provo, distances to our current/most recent jobs have meant nearly one-hour commutes each way. And for nights out (plays, concerts, festivals, etc.) we have to drive to Salt Lake City — and after our week of commuting we’re so weary of driving, it’s a chore we often don’t undertake.

With all of that, and other minor motivations driving us, we started to think about where we wanted to live. Alina’s job allows her to work anywhere, so that gave us a luxury. We considered many areas around the country. We want to be at a low altitude. We want good air. While we absolutely love our mountain views, we want more “green” in our lives. We want to be near a major airport because our family is spread around the globe. We want to be close to excellent healthcare.

We settled on the Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina area as the first place to investigate. With that in mind, several months ago we made plans to go and look around over the Labor Day holiday. We were going to investigate several towns and housing communities, just to get a feel for the area. It was to be a research trip. We had no intention to do anything concrete until the spring of 2018.

Alina lived in Greensboro, North Carolina for 12 years and Aaron lived in Norfolk, Virginia for 10, so the general area is familiar to us. And we have many friends in the area — friends who have stayed in touch during our years in Utah.

So our plane tickets were bought, hotel reservation made, car rented and plans made quite some time ago.

Then on August 22nd Aaron was laid off. Again. For the second time in a year-and-a-half.

When Aaron called Alina after getting the news, we almost both said at the same time: “Let’s pull up and move now.”

We immediately got  more serious about our research. With Aaron unemployed he had time to prepare for a move and do much of the legwork and research. And his generous severance package from Dealertrack gave financial cushion for the move.

The more research we did, the more excited we got about the Raleigh/Durham area. Quality of life, access to medical care, a huge job market, a growing economy, housing prices, potential outlets for Aaron’s woodworking, green landscapes: so many things argued in its favor.

Aaron of course is never going to be a fan of the humidity. But he also decided in the middle of this winter that he is done with snow. Other options may have avoided humidity, but too many other things would have been compromised.

About the same time we took note of houses in our neighborhood going on the market on Monday and being sold on Tuesday. The market here was looking really good. So we retained a local Realtor who confirmed that the market in our area is hot, and that we’re in a seller’s market. We went out on a limb and decided to list the house for sale. While we didn’t put the house on the MLS until the week after Labor Day, we’d met with the Realtor and made up our minds to sell — even before our research trip to North Carolina.

Now that we were going down the road to sell our Utah house, we needed to be more serious about our research trip. So we engaged a Realtor there to help us.

Over the long Labor Day weekend we saw literally dozens of homes and our agent drove us hundreds of miles around the area. She showed us homes and communities we’d found online, she showed us things we hadn’t discovered, and she educated us about the towns, areas and jobs. It was an intense weekend of learning.

Our decision to resettle in the Raleigh/Durham area was cemented. By the time we left we’d settled on the town of Pittsboro. It is a reasonable distance from Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. It is seeing major development with the construction of an enormous community of housing, shops and businesses called Chatham Park. The community has a strong artist and craftsperson feel — hopefully Aaron will be able to sell some of the woodwork that collects dust around the house.

Utah has been good to us. The mountains and deserts and amazing sights have strengthened and awed us. Through the jobs we’ve held we’ve learned and grown beyond belief. We’ve gotten to know some amazing people and our jobs have afforded us the opportunity to travel.

But now is the time to make a change. Aaron for years planned to retire at age 50. Maybe he will do that, and be the best house-husband he can be. Maybe he’ll find a great professional job. Maybe he’ll find a satisfying job as a shop assistant at the woodworking school in Pittsboro. There are so many possibilities and we are truly blessed to have the options to make this change.

Our house in Utah is under contract to a local couple. We have found a new home in Pittsboro that we’re purchasing. So we’re on our way.

Alina, Aaron and Gypsy will drive cross-country with the RV, staying at KOAs along the way each night. We’ll take with us the necessities we’ll need for the first few days in our new home. It will take us six days to get there. Aaron will drive the truck pulling the RV with Alina driving along in the Corolla…a pair of FM walkies keeping us in touch along the way.

We don’t know what lies ahead. But so many doors have been opened for us in the past couple of months, we are confident that this change is the right thing for us: for our health, for our quality of life and for the next phase of our lives.

Remembering dad on his 110th birthday

My dad in 1977.

My dad in 1977.

My old man was an old man.

January 30, 2017 marks my dad’s 110th birthday.

My dad was sixty years old when I was born.

Sixty years.

He feared that he wouldn’t live long enough to see me graduate from high school.

It’s common for people to have their last child before they were half my dad’s age.

My dad was older than many grandparents.

I knew my dad was older than my classmates’ parents. It was normal for me, though I knew we, and I, were different.

Shortly before I was born, my dad was laid off and decided to retire. My mom, 35 years younger than dad, was teaching fourth grade and finishing graduate school, so they decided that he would stay home and be a house-husband and mom would finish school and have her career.

That meant that dad got me up and ready for school and was there waiting for me when I got home (often with something fresh out of the oven for me to “test”).

We were close. We did chores together. We tinkered in the workshop together. We cut wood together. We worked in the kitchen together. We were together all the time.

During all of that togetherness, he told me story upon story about his life and experiences. It was just normal conversation for us — but was a history lesson and perspective to which most kids aren’t exposed.

Many children with attentive parents or grandparents learn from them, but having an older parent brought with it a deeper and richer view on history. Not to mention the ability to understand many lessons learned.

My dad was a quiet, caring, thoughtful man with a big laugh who was born to a German immigrant family. He used to joke that he was “born on the boat.” He was actually born in Wisconsin.

He only spoke German and after trying to get by in school, gave up at the fourth grade.

One day, at around age 13, my dad went home to find his mom with a man who was not his dad. His mom threw a kitchen knife, stabbing my dad in the arm. He ran out of the house into the street.

Afraid to return home, and his parents in turmoil after his mom being found out, dad went to live with a nearby aunt and uncle.

But dad was restless, not in school and disconnected. He felt like no place was his own. When his aunt asked him to go to the bakery for a loaf of bread, he decided to pass the bakery and keep going. And going.

A fresh teenager, he struck out on his own, running away from whatever stood for home at the time.

It was 1920, the start of the Roaring 20s and he was a 13 year old boy out on his own. He became a hobo, riding the rails. He traveled around the Midwest and East by hitching rides on trains, taking up odd jobs in towns along the way.

He and the other men huddled around fires burning trash and found items to stay warm during the winters. They also would drink stove fuel (Sterno), for warmth, from cans discarded by the workers on the trains.

Kalamazoo Asylum Water Tower (

Kalamazoo Asylum Water Tower. (

After a few years of such travel, one of the trains he was riding pulled in to Kalamazoo, Michigan. He looked out the door of the train and saw the most interesting water tower and decided that he’d stay in Kalamazoo.

That water tower belonged to the Kalamazoo Asylum — a hospital for the mentally ill. The tower, built in the late 1800s, stands today and is a unique landmark in Kalamazoo.

An example of the style of plates and cups my dad made prior to his retirement.

An example of the style of plates and cups my dad made prior to his retirement.

He eventually ended up working in the paper mill and worked his way up to management. When he “retired” he was working in a plant that made plastic cups and paper plates.

Dad worked from age 13 to 60. That’s 47 years. So not only did I grow up with a stay-at-home dad, who was born before electricity, airplanes or cars were commonplace, but one who had a lifetime of work experience to pass along.

By the time I entered the workforce I had earned a degree in business from the lessons dad taught me.

One of dad’s stories was about when they brought time-and-motion engineers into the plant. The engineers were brought in to record everyone’s work processes and to make recommendations to make them more efficient. What a joke dad thought all of it was.

The workers had to fill out cards for every task they did so that it could be tracked. Months were spent making changes in order to remove steps in the work. Management was very excited about the efficiency and savings that would result. But over time, that same management undid many of the changes that they spent a lot of money to make.

How many times I’ve seen similar situations in my working life. Big “new” ideas unleashed on the workforce, only to be abandoned for the next great idea. There’s often little follow-through and little consideration for what has already been tried. Well before the K.I.S.S. principle, dad taught me about the tendancy for people to make things more complicated than necessary and that the simplest way probably is the best.

I also learned from my dad’s many years of work experience to think about why people do things. I can’t remember how many stories he had about what people were going through, particularly during the Great Depression. Time and time again he would talk about people being difficult at work, but that they were struggling at home, trying to feed their family, trying to pay rent, supporting elderly or sick family, etc. He’d seen some really hard times personally and saw it in others and appreciated their struggles.

Another instance I remember was when we were camping and ran into a man my dad had once worked with. He was covered in scars and walked in a strange manner. I asked dad if the man had been in a car accident. Dad explained that that’s how the man came back from the war. He’d been a POW of the Nazis and they’d tortured and done “experiments” on him.

You never know what story or pain — seen or unseen — the people around you are dealing with.

Dad never lost his job during the Great Depression. Many around him lost their jobs, and unfortunately it was his job to let some of those people go. One evening in the mid-1970s, we were at the mall when a man and his wife approached us. The man said “Leonard, do you remember me?” Dad did remember him. Then the man said “Why did you let me go? I was a good worker, I’ve always wondered, why you let ME go.”

It was a very uncomfortable conversation and dad explained that he was given a list of names and if he didn’t let go the people on the list, someone else would do it — and his own name would be added to the list.

I don’t know how many people my dad let go during the Depression, but I know the pain of that era never left him.

I also learned from the things my dad wished he’d done better. I mentioned that he was laid off shortly before his 60th birthday. Dad was a company man and supported his employer (KVP Sutherland and later The Brown Company). But in the mid-’60s, the company was having financial troubles and began to systematically let go people so they wouldn’t have to pay them their full pension. Dad was one of many who were let go that way — getting a small fraction of the pension they had planned for. There were no laws to prevent it.

My dad was not a saver nor an investor. He trusted that one day a “good pension” would be waiting for him. That wasn’t unusual for those of his generation. Not only had they seen banks go under, taking people’s money with them, privately saving for retirement was not common. It wasn’t until 1974 that options like Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) became available.

So I grew up learning from dad that you work with pride — pride in your own reputation and work. You have to do everything in your power to be responsible for yourself. Take advantage of whatever benefits the employer offers, but understand that anything can happen. Even being a good saver and investor was no guarantee, but do your best to look out for yourself.

From my very first job, my goal was to put a minimum of 10% in savings. My first job was part time, I was going to college and I had very little. But he, rightly, encouraged me to start the habit because it would never be easier to start.

I’ve seen my own employers reduce benefits, eliminate pension plans, cut pay, put people on furloughs, or lay them off. Some of these things have impacted me directly, others impacted the friends I worked with. The lessons I learned from dad did not make the hard knocks easier, but they didn’t surprise me and I was as prepared as I could be.

While not directly related to my dad’s age, the fact that he was the child of immigrants and for all intents and purposes had no formal education, also had an impact on me. Especially when contrasted with my mom’s education.

Dad learned everything — language, very basic writing ability, mathematics — on the street and on the job. This has instilled in me both a hearty respect for immigrants who have so many hurdles to conquer, and an understanding that learning is life-long and everywhere.

In my book, despite a very hard life, dad was a success. He raised three great, intelligent and independent children from his first marriage, and me from his second. He was independent, kind, had friends, was liked and respected. He achieved all of that in the most non-traditional ways.

By contrast, my mother had extensive, formal education. She holds a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees plus many additional credits beyond her master’s. Her degrees cover K-12 education, special education, counseling, personnel management and communications. Formal education was a major part of my mom’s life.

Between the two of them, I learned from my parents the importance of a formal education: it can open doors, builds a foundation, and is more efficient than the school of hard knocks. That was balanced with an understanding that learning and training never end and that if I don’t know something or possess a skill today, tomorrow is a fresh opportunity to succeed.

Everyone’s childhood and upbringing is unique. We all have different things that have shaped us. Parents, teachers, relatives, friends, illness, injury, handicap, geography: all imprint and create the future us. I’m no different. But as I approach the midlife-crisis phase of my life, I’ve given even more consideration to how having an older parent gave me a perspective very different from my peers. From my view of history, to my interest in the music of the 1920s-1940s, to a sense that there really isn’t much new under the sun, an older parent is due the credit.

Not only was my dad old, and had seen a lot of history first-hand, we had time to talk about it. Almost any event or news story or “old” movie would give my dad an opportunity to tell me about things he’d seen.


For perspective, here are some things to consider about my dad and his time. Which in a way became my time as well.

When my dad was born in 1907 the average life expectancy was 45.6 years. Imagine that. Today people routinely live into their 90s. As I write this I’m five years older than the life expectancy of my dad’s birth year!

There were only 45 states in the union in 1907. Dad was 52 years old by the time we got to our current count of 50 states.

Think about the things that were invented, discovered or occurred after my dad was born. Keep in mind that in many cases they did not become commonplace nor widely known for years after they’d been invented or discovered. Consider the things that are so fixed in our daily lives — they simply didn’t exist!

The list is long, but I encourage you to read it slowly and consider life without any one of these things — not to mention ANY of them!

  • Indoor plumbing
  • Essentially any electric appliance (washing machine, blender, mixer, toaster, electric lighting, vacuum cleaner)
  • Helicopter
  • Cellophane
  • Neon lighting
  • Parachute
  • Radio
  • X-Ray
  • Sound film (talkies)
  • Refrigeration
  • Television
  • Paper cup
  • Crossword puzzle
  • Adhesive tape
  • Ballpoint pen
  • Transistor
  • Supermarket
  • Adhesive bandage
  • The recliner
  • Chocolate chip cookie
  • Phillips-head screw
  • Fiberglass
  • Xerography (photocopying)
  • Nylon
  • Twist tie
  • Coffee filter
  • The zipper
  • Antibiotics
  • Tape recording
  • Ford Model-T
  • Assembly line
  • Aerosol spray
  • Bakelite
  • Tungsten
  • Vacuum tube
  • Color photography
  • Jet engine
  • Fluorescent light
  • Air conditioning
  • Mother’s and Father’s Days
  • Prohibition
  • The sinking of the Titanic
  • Women got the right to vote
  • Income tax
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • Korean War
  • The National Park Service
  • Daylight Savings Time
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • Discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb
  • Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight
  • The Great Depression
  • The Empire State Building
  • Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
  • The Hindenburg disaster
  • The Golden Gate Bridge
  • Teflon
  • The draft
  • McDonalds
  • Bugs Bunny
  • The Pentagon
  • The Panama Canal

That’s quite a long list isn’t it? And dad saw all of those things become a part of life and history.

The Wright Brothers flew just four years before he was born, but airplanes were a rarity until WWI. It wasn’t until the barnstorming era of the 1920s that many people had even seen one in person.

Dad would later see men walking on the moon, and the Space Shuttle go to space and return.

Interestingly, dad never flew in a plane.

Another way to look at dad’s place in history is to consider the famous people who were born after my dad.

  • President Lyndon Johnson
  • Journalist Edward R. Murrow
  • Actor Jimmy Stewart
  • Actress Bette Davis
  • Actor Errol Flynn
  • Car designer Ferdinand Porsche
  • Writer Eudora Welty
  • Actress Jessica Tandy
  • Songwriter Benny Goodman
  • Adventurer Jacques Cousteau
  • Actress Lucille Ball
  • President Ronald Reagan
  • Actor Roy Rogers
  • Actor Vincent Price
  • Actor Hume Cronyn
  • Mathematician Alan Turing
  • Chef Julia Child
  • Olympian Jesse Owens
  • President Gerald Ford
  • Actor Lloyd Bridges
  • Actor Jim Backus
  • Jimmy Hoffa
  • Coach Vince Lombardi
  • President Richard Nixon
  • Boxer Joe Louis
  • Baseball player Joe DiMaggio
  • Actor George Reeves (Superman)
  • Actor Clayton More (The Lone Ranger)
  • Playwright Arthur Miller
  • Actor Frank Sinatra
  • Actor Gregory Peck
  • Actor Kirk Douglas
  • Journalist Walter Cronkite
  • President John F. Kennedy
  • Writer Arthur C. Clarke
  • Actor Raymond Burr
  • Columnists Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren
  • Baseball player Ted Williams
  • Writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • Broadcaster Paul Harvey
  • Broadcaster Howard Cosell
  • Baseball player Jackie Robinson
  • Musician Liberace
  • Singer Nat King Cole
  • Author J.D. Salinger
  • Actress Maureen O’Hara
  • Actor Mickey Rooney
  • Writer Ray Bradbury
  • Actor Walter Matthau
  • Author Arthur Hailey
  • Writer Isaac Asimov
  • First lady Nancy Reagan
  • Actor Abe Vigoda
  • Comedian Rodney Dangerfield
  • Actress Betty White
  • Author Jack Kerouac
  • Comedian Redd Foxx
  • Actor Charlton Heston
  • Boxer Rocky Marciano

Dad’s life and experiences seemed normal to me. He grew up without electricity. Even gas lighting in homes was reserved for the wealthy. Almost nobody had ever seen an automobile when he was a child, but nearly everyone had a horse and buggy.

Homes were heated by coal or wood fires.

Ice came from central ice houses and was delivered by horse-drawn cart.

There was no radio nor TV — information came, slowly, from newspapers and magazines. For those who could afford them. Or were able to read.

Some other random facts from life around 1907.

  • 14% of U.S. homes had a bath tub.
  • 8% of U.S. homes had telephone (and most of those were in big cities on the East coast).
  • A three-minute “long-distance” telephone call cost $11 (nearly $300 in 2017 dollars).
  • There were only 144 miles of paved roads in the U.S. (I remember dad telling me how hard it was to travel in the early days. Roads, signs, rules were haphazard and you needed maps from various sources to make basic trips. I recently read an excellent book that methodically retells many of the things I already knew from my dad: — I recommend it).
  • The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
  • The average wage (average, not minimum) was 22¢ an hour (slightly more than $5 in 2017 dollars).
  • The average U.S. worker made $300 a year ($7,370 in 2017 dollars).
  • Over 95% of births occurred at home (in fact my dad delivered his first child, daughter Iris, at home in 1930).
  • The leading cause of death was pneumonia and the flu.
  • 20% of the U.S. adult population could not read nor write.
  • Only 6% of U.S. adults had graduated from high school.
  • Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local drugstore.
  • There was fewer than 230 murders reported in the entire country.

Everyone is unique. We all have a different way of growing up. This was mine and I’m grateful for it. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of my dad.

In his early 20s, dad returned to visit his aunt and uncle — with that loaf of bread they’d sent him for a decade prior.

Dad got to see me graduate. From high school and college. He passed away in 1994 at 87 years of age.


Baby Leonard Kuehn.

Baby Leonard Kuehn.


Dad in his new jacket.

Dad in his new jacket.


Dad with his puppy.

Dad with his puppy.


Dad with his beloved sister Iris.

Dad with his sister Iris.


Dad and his sister Iris in Kalamazoo around 1929.



Dad in 1957. He was 50 years old.

Dad in 1957. He was 50 years old.


Dad, in his element, the kitchen. His sister Iris had hid around the corner and just jumped out and scared him -- thus the look on his face.

Dad, in his element, the kitchen. This was taken by his sister Iris at our house in Gobles, MI, in 1978. Iris had hid around the corner and jumped out and scared him — thus the look on his face.


Dad, with Iris' husband Cecil during a tour of the St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw, MI in 1978.

Dad, with Iris’ husband Cecil during a tour of the St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw, MI in 1978.


Dad signing a petition against the Gun Control Act of 1968. The Grand Rapids Press photographer didn't believe he was my father and insisted and crediting me as his grandson.

Dad signing a petition against the Gun Control Act of 1968. The Grand Rapids Press didn’t believe he was my father and insisted and crediting me as his “grandson.”


Dad and me getting ready to do some serious work.


Dad and his seven-foot-tall sweet corn in 1979.


Mom and dad at my high school graduation. 

My 30-year newspaper career has ended

I have blood in my veins, not ink. But after working for 30 years in the newspaper industry, some ink surely has mingled with the red stuff.

Newspapers have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. So many memories, experiences, adventures and friends have been my bounty because of newspapers.

A newspaper always has been there in one way or another. As a child it was the comics for me, the obituaries and recipes for my dad. He kept up on who had passed and on the recipes he might try to improve, by using the newspaper.

As an adult I worked at, visited and consulted with newspapers and helped to craft software solutions for newspapers.

On January 20th of this year the Chief Information Officer of my company asked me into his office. He informed me that my position, along with those of dozens of others, was being eliminated. I was offered a severance package and asked to stay until March 31st to help with my transition out of the business.

Today is March 31st and after 30 years my employment has come to an end.

It’s certainly not my choice. I had hoped to retire from the industry that I love. I’ve lasted longer than literally hundreds of my colleagues at three companies. They have been young, middle-aged and senior. They were bright, friendly, driven, focused and principled. In many instances they have been my extended family. They, like me now, have found their contributions no longer supportable. They’ve had to start anew, find a different way. They have faced the fear and unknown that is now my turn to shoulder.

Childhood experiences

I remember, even as a little boy, going into the front yard to retrieve the newspaper. It was one of my chores and one that I looked forward to.

We lived on M-40 highway in a rural area of Michigan, just south of a small town called Gobles. A driver for The Kalamazoo Gazette, our local newspaper, on his way between bulk drop-off locations, would drive down the highway and throw rolled-and-wrapped copies of the paper into subscriber’s yards.

Sometimes I’d be waiting for him with a little-kid wave. He’d give me a nod as our own bundle of stories and pictures came bounding across the weeds and sand that was our front yard.

The Sunday paper was of course the best. Filled with far more advertisements and inserts, it gave me hours of fun on a Sunday afternoon. Particularly when Christmas or a birthday approached, I crafted many fantasies about the BB gun, radio or flashlight that might go from a newspaper ad to my greedy little paws.

My grandparents, who lived about 90 minutes north of us in Rockford, Michigan, subscribed to the Gazette’s sister paper, the much larger Grand Rapids Press. When we’d visit I’d have stacks and stacks of papers to explore. The Press was exotic to me: it was a newspaper, but it smelled different, yet the same. It used different typography, more color and was many pages longer. I also enjoyed the better quality produced by the Press’ superior printing hardware.

My neighbor, Carl Gilbert, was a senior manager at the Kalamazoo Gazette. I rode the school bus with his kids. I didn’t have a clue of what working at a newspaper was like, but I envied neighbor Carl for his luck. He had several kids, a big house, acreage, a few cars and a barn — he had a life!

My first look behind the curtain came in the sixth grade when Mr. Gilbert came to my class. He talked about the workflow of the newspaper: how stories, photos and ads were created and became the newspaper. He brought with him the prior days’ newspaper (which I’d digested the night before), along with a few grids of pasted-up pages, some page negatives and printing plates! That day I felt like I floated amongst the clouds! A fixture in our home, the first thing I looked at when I’d get home from school and ditch my backpack, was the newspaper. Thanks to Mr. Gilbert, the magical had started to become reality.

Another Kalamazoo Gazette figure who was important to my newspaper habit was columnist Tom Haroldson. He was also known as “TV Tom” since he wrote a column about television. This was important to my pre- and early-teen self. We only received three television channels with any regularity or quality: The NBC affiliate WOTV channel 8, CBS came via WKZO on channel 3 and ABC by way of WUHQ on channel 41. When the weather was just right we could get the ABC broadcast from Grand Rapids, WZZM on channel 13. But TV was very important to me. I was challenged trying to balance my love of reading with wanting to stay up to date with what Andy Rooney was wondering about, the latest difficulty encountered by the Ingalls family, the criminals being tracked down by Detective Ironside and the drama unfolding at Moonbase Alpha on Space 1999. I also may have watched, and mimicked, the Swedish Chef. Once.

I loved reading Tom’s columns as well as a syndicated columnist the Gazette carried, Dick Kleiner. Dick’s column was of the reader-sends-in-question-Dick-answers-it format. Dick was snarky, short, almost rude at times. But he was answering the questions I cared about.

I still remember one reader writing in about one of my TV addictions: CHiPs. The reader wanted to know what kind of motorcycles were used on the show. Dick’s curt reply was “The boys ride Kawasaki 1,000 bikes.”

By the time I was in junior high school I encountered the woman who would become my favorite teacher and a huge influence on my future: my English teacher, Carol Brill.

Mrs. Brill was a firm teacher, in command of her subject. But she also was fun, friendly and most-importantly: a believer in her students. I know in retrospect that she, as much as possible, gave each student as much attention as she could. But to my seventh-grade mind, she taught the class only for me, only wrote lengthy comments on my work and encouraged only me. Of course that wasn’t true, but that’s how it felt to me.

Gobles Public Schools was a small, poor, rural school. The facilities, textbooks and supplies were old, tired and in short supply. But I had amazing teachers. For the most part I did not like school. I was an overweight, introverted, only child which certainly did not help. Surprisingly most of the educators stayed at Gobles for their entire careers, not “moving up” to larger, better-funded districts in nearby Kalamazoo. With rare exception I would say that the students who wanted to learn were well-tended to at Gobles Schools.

Seventh grade is when I started to write. We had to write in journals every day for Mrs. Brill. Many hated that assignment, but I loved it! In most cases we were free to write about anything we chose. As an only child who felt isolated from other people, the dialog I developed first with myself through my journal, and over time with Mrs. Brill through her comments, was critical. She fostered a love of reading and writing, and encouraged me to believe in myself. Nobody else gave me both a push to do more and a sense of promise and hope for a future.

Regularly I reflect on my days in Mrs. Brill’s classroom, the walls covered with posters of puppies, kittens and stuffed animals. She was an adult who treated me like a real person, with a voice and with possibilities. She taught me subject-verb agreement, how to diagram a sentence, how to tighten my writing and how to communicate more clearly. But she set an example and encouraged and strengthened me with her feedback and interest. I owe her a great deal for providing that foundation.

That self-confidence — both in myself and my writing — gave me the pluck to one day pull out my mom’s typewriter and send off a letter to the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette, Mr. James Mosby.

I told Mr. Mosby how much I enjoyed the Gazette and the work of Tom Haroldson. I offered to him my services if he should ever need them. I told him that I was interested in government and current affairs and that Mrs. Brill could attest that I had a fine career ahead of me.

Lost to many moves over the years is Jim’s written reply, but the gist of it was a thanks for my letter, though he had no openings at the time. He encouraged me to pursue my interest in writing, to write every day, read all I could and get an advanced education. He was so respectful and “proper” to that naïve teenager. He made me feel like I was his peer and, oh well, they just didn’t have any openings. His affirming response encouraged me and only increased my esteem for newspapers and newspaper people.

When I was sixteen I transferred to a private school that allowed students to pursue a self-paced and self-directed education. Once a student had completed the requirements set forth by the state of Michigan for a high school diploma, you would be graduated. If you could complete those requirements and pass the tests, you were done — your age didn’t matter.

As it turns out my move to that school was very fortunate. The school was several miles beyond the school where my mom taught, so I would drive, drop mom off at her office, and then I’d go on to school. Shortly after the school term started my mom and I were involved in a serious car accident. A 1960s-era station wagon turned in front of us and I t-boned the behemoth. My mom, in the front passenger seat and not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown through the windshield. I was wearing a seatbelt but still suffered a bad back injury that later would put me in the hospital for surgery and stuck at home for months of recovery. Fortunately, due to the unique nature of the school I was attending, I was able to do my schoolwork at home.

During my recovery, I put all of my efforts into schoolwork. I was scared of my injury, didn’t feel well, my activities were limited and I just wanted to be done with school. I ended up finishing my state requirements in the spring, shortly after I turned 17.

I was free!

The college years

My focus then moved to college. I was active in our church, president of the youth group, and unsure of my college direction. We didn’t have much money and how to pay for college was a serious question. Unfortunate though that was, my parents had always told me they were not going to be able to “send me to college” – I’d have to work for it or find some other way. So I was not surprised nor let down as the time for college approached, but I still was not sure what I was going to do or how I would do it.

Through my church I took overnight trips to a couple of private Christian colleges: Cedarville College in Cedarville, Ohio, and Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary (now Cornerstone University) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Cedarville did not impress me at all. I was still recovering from back surgery and was miserable during most of the visit, but I knew it wasn’t for me.

My visit to Grand Rapid Baptist was different. For starters, I really liked the beautiful campus and the people were far more inviting and seemed more serious than those I encountered at Cedarville. While on my visit I learned about a media conference that was being held on campus. It was led by Tim Detwiler, a professor of communication and speech at the college. It was to be a multi-day conference covering communication, writing, radio, TV, newspapers, etc. As I recall, I signed up on the spot and begged my parents for the fee later.

I was impressed by a presentation from WZZM TV’s meteorologist Craig James. Craig didn’t talk about TV or weather, but about communication, journalism and mass media. One of the exercises of the conference was to write a radio spot and go to the college’s radio station, WCSG, to record it in the studio. Craig did a read-through with me and made some suggestions. I should have been nervous about the recording part, but I was more nervous about writing the script to time!

At the radio station I recorded my spot, which was for the Grand Valley Blood Bank. I had rehearsed enough so that I hit my mark almost perfectly. The station manager, Lee Geysbeek, said it was good enough to put on the air. For a brief time my spot was live on the air. I was 17 and had written and recorded a radio ad. Yeah, I was pretty pumped!

The next important thing to come out of the conference was when Detwiler approached me about attending school there and working on The Campus Herald, the school’s newspaper. He had someone lined up to be editor, but needed an assistant editor who would oversee the production and layout work. There would also be reporting and editing work involved – a jack of all trades position. There was a stipend that would go along with it – enough to be a major help toward tuition.

Throughout the summer I talked about going to school at GRBC&S and devised many schemes to pay for it. I sent away for numerous scholarship opportunities and even wasted money on a scam that would give me a test and return to me a list of organizations that would give me free money based upon my interests and aptitudes. What I got in return was a generic printout on green-bar tractor-fed paper of places around the country that had scholarship programs – some offering tiny sums, others with requirements that came not within a country mile of my situation (Daughters of the American Revolution had a $100 scholarship, for example).

Then my parents dropped a bombshell on me. They’d pay for my first year of college. Since they had prepared me for having to go it solo, this was a huge and happy surprise.

So that fall I packed off to college an hour away from home. An only child, spoiled, horribly introverted and shy, I thrust myself into dorm life (sharing a room with two other guys and a bathroom and shower with 60).

Apart from classes and a taste of independence, this was where I first got my hands on a waxer, border tape and layout grids. I knew nothing, but learned quickly from more senior students. I wrote for the paper as well. Our small staff did everything: we covered the sports, campus activities, faculty news, photography, design and layout. I learned and learned and learned!

The one thing we didn’t do ourselves was the typesetting and printing. Both services were donated by the printing department at Spartan Stores. We would type our copy and hand-deliver it to the Spartan Stores printing plant. We would return and pick up the cold-type galleys. After pasting up our pages we’d return to the printing plant with the flats. Yet another trip would see the editor and me loading the trunk of his Nova (which had only a vague idea of a suspension) with the printed copies.

The work was not yet done as we had to distribute the papers on campus. Granted, GRBC&S was a small school (around 2,500 students in my day), but that allowed me to get my hands in so many aspects of newspapering.

The first semester of my sophomore year found me out of funds and therefore unable to continue at GRBC&S. I moved back home with the intention of finding a job and continuing my education at Western Michigan University.

WMU being far less expensive than GRBC&S I took out a student loan in order to get back in school.

The Kalamazoo Gazette

And I applied for jobs.

One of the jobs I applied for had a simple headline: “TYPIST.” The job was at the Kalamazoo Gazette. I had taken typing in high school and earned extra money in college by typing papers for other students. I was fast and very comfortable behind an IBM Selectric.

Not too long after applying I got a call from Dave Anderson at the Gazette. Dave didn’t talk much but in short said if I was interested I’d have to go to the Michigan Employment Security Commission and take a typing test. If my numbers were good, I’d be called in for an interview. He told me to just stop by the MESC office and tell them I was there to take a typing test for the Gazette.

(Dave ended up being very pivotal in my life – read more about him here:

That seemed odd to me. The MESC was where people went for unemployment assistance. And why wouldn’t the Gazette do their own typing test? But I went ahead and got myself to the MESC office.

It was a daunting process. Still afraid of my own shadow, I stood in line with a lot of people applying for, fighting for and otherwise trying to get help because they had no job. When my turn came I was nervous and the clerk was plenty harried and ready for her weekend to begin.

I told her that I was there to take a typing test for the Gazette. She handed me some papers and told me to fill them out and then get back in line.

The papers were the same ones everyone else applying for benefits was completing. They wanted all kinds of information – I had some answers, other questions tested my powers of invention.

After handing over my paperwork I was directed to an IBM Selectric. At least I think that’s what it was. The letters were worn off the keys, it sounded like a hay bailer and appeared to have been used for gunnery practice. It was a rough piece of equipment to say the least.

I did my test and felt like I did okay, but certainly not up to my potential. I couldn’t wait to get out of that place. It reeked of bureaucracy, despair and cigarette smoke.

Another call from Dave Anderson came several days later where he asked me to come in for an interview. I was nervous, scared, held no illusion that I’d get the job, but I’d get INSIDE the Kalamazoo Gazette for the first time!

The day of my interview didn’t get off to a great start. I thought I knew the best way to get to the Gazette building – I started at the Sears building and headed north. I misjudged the one-way streets, though. I had driven about four blocks before realizing I was headed the wrong way on a one-way street. Those other drivers, and the cop walking a beat, weren’t being neighborly with their frantic gestures, but I was too distracted to care.

I checked in with the receptionist and soon Dave came down to fetch me. He was a short, somewhat portly man in his 50s who used few words. He took me to his messy and cluttered office. He said the publisher wanted to see me, so he got on the phone to speak with the man. I was trying to take in all that I could while processing the idea that the publisher wanted to see me. For a typist job? Had there been a misunderstanding?

For the few minutes that I sat in Dave’s office, two people stopped by to exchange a few words with him. I immediately picked up on the fact that Dave was well-liked and respected. He laughed and joked easily.

Down to publisher Dan Ryan’s office we went. Dan was a major figure in Kalamazoo. I’m going to guess he was six-foot-six and in his late 60s. He was imposing but very friendly.

Dan almost ignored me – he had a matter to discuss with Dave first. Dan held a page from the paper and said “Do we know who is putting in upside down ads?”

Dave replied that he knew who it was and that it was a mistake – he’d spoken to the person responsible.

Dan replied “Okay.” Turning to me he said “A lot of advertisers would pay us a lot of money to run their ad upside down or sideways – but we don’t do that.”

I still remember so much of that interview. Dave and I sat in a gorgeous wood-paneled office, across from Dan at his desk. Dan asked me if I was related to some famous baseball player. I figured it was an ice-breaker and I was going to be stuck on that frozen lake because I knew absolutely nothing about sports nor about an athlete with my name.

Next he asked me what my dad did.

Next he commented on my typing speed. He implied that men usually didn’t type as fast as I did. I would soon learn that that was not really the case. The vast majority of typesetters and newsroom reporters were men – and they were fast. One male copyeditor in particular primarily used two fingers and he could set a keyboard on fire (or maybe it was from the cigarette he always had at hand).

I started part time in the composing room. I learned that the union “printers” had been bought out and were slowly leaving the company. The Gazette was hiring young punks such as myself to fill the void. It was an interesting time to say the least.

The union area was a separate room and non-union workers weren’t supposed to go in, use their waxers, scissors or other equipment. Some of the old timers were friendly and eager to share their trade. Others were at best cold, at times hostile and intimidating.

Dave started me on advertising paste-up. I got almost no real training – just what I’d learned at the Campus Herald. I was not prepared for the volume and complexity of work at the Gazette. Not to mention deadline pressure. I can’t tell you how many times my supervisor, Bob, would yell “Aaron! Can you catch this daily?” And yell he did! A daily was an ad for the current-day’s paper which meant you had to get on it fast because it was going on the press right away.

I did okay at paste-up, but I wasn’t great. Fortunately they’d hired me as a “typist” so it wasn’t long before they put me in front of an Atex terminal and started to teach me how to set type.

I learned from co-workers and from Dave. The Atex keyboard was an enormous, heavy mass of plastic and row upon row of keys. Many of those keys had no labels, or the labels they did have did not correctly predict that key’s function. It was overwhelming. I saw so many people plop down at one of those enormous keyboards and just go to work making it do things. I just knew I’d never make it. Years later I would be able to carry on a conversation, read an ad mockup and set type without any trouble whatsoever.

For some reason, I caught on quickly. And loved setting type. To this day I can’t explain why I had such an affinity for the Atex system. I felt at home at that keyboard and wanted to learn everything I could about Atex and the typesetting trade.

Within months Dave offered me a move to full time, which meant more money and full benefits – including tuition reimbursement.

At about that time the Gazette celebrated its 150th anniversary. We busted our asses putting out an enormous special commemorative edition, we hosted a public open-house and tours, Dave was interviewed by the local CBS station which did a story about the paper. I find it difficult to convey the sense of community, purpose and excitement during my first year at the Gazette.

I worked through many different roles and levels of responsibility. I learned how to operate almost all of the prepress equipment and perform most job functions: Autokon and ECRM scanners, video setters, laser imagers, plate makers, page cameras, Atex, and more.

One day one of the techs from the Booth Newspapers Computer Division, Pat Curtis (a character of the highest order) pulled me aside. He said “You may want to brush up on your Unix skills.”

He was often cryptic and everything was told with an evil or mischievous look in his eye. I asked him why.

He told me that we were getting the new Camex Breeze Display Ad system and that my name was being discussed for the role of system administrator.

This was encouraging and exciting, but Pat was a curmudgeon, storyteller and wasn’t afraid to get a detail or ten wrong. I wasn’t counting any chickens.

Since my only exposure to Unix had been at WMU on their DEC VAX system for an obligatory BASIC programming course, I was a little nervous if I’d be up to the task. That programming class was in a huge lecture hall with about 400 students. So between trying to follow in that large venue and having to do all of my work in one of the computer labs, I had a hard time grasping it. I did fine, but any successful navigation of the shell prompt I achieved was purely by the grace of my notes and helpful computer lab assistants.

But it wasn’t long before Pat’s prediction came true and Dave told me that I’d been selected and would be going to Boston for training. The training was to take place in October so I dropped out of that semester of college so as to not miss the opportunity. I lost all of that semester’s tuition and had to start those classes over during future semesters.

My decision to drop out during that semester was a risk and gamble that has paid off many times over.

The trip to Boston with Dave was my first airplane flight. It helped that Dave was a huge aviation buff, his older brother had been a flyer in WWII and he absolutely made that first flight a pleasure. I was still scared, but his enthusiasm and explanations of how the plane worked absolutely got me through it without an embarrassing incident.

That trip to Boston was huge for me. We met up with Larry from the corporate I.T. division in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The three of us worked hard all day in our training. I learned Unix very quickly, as well as Operating System Real Time (OSRT) – the proprietary operating system that Camex had developed. It was the beginning of my “tech” career.

I loved working on the Camex system. I developed several pieces of custom code shared with the other seven newspapers in the Booth Newspaper group.

My biggest accomplishment was a tape backup management system. Camex had assumed ads would run and be purged and new ads would be built from scratch. Perhaps if the Camex company had survived they would have crafted a better solution for backups, but at the time, we were limited by our meager disk space.

In the newspaper business it is typical for ads to be recycled each year. Bob’s Tailoring Shop is going to run a special on suit alterations for prom season. He’ll probably run almost the same ad next year, maybe with a price change. In most cases the advertiser gets a rate reduction if they run a “pick-up” ad – one that is picked up from an earlier run and reused. Of course for us, it saved a lot of labor and materials if we didn’t have to re-set all of the type, rescan the artwork, etc.

The code I wrote collected a batch of the oldest ads, archived them to tape, created a searchable index of the ads that had just been archived, and then purged those ads from the main database. In addition, we were one of the pioneers in the country to hide a tiny I.D. right in the ad – usually in the border. So if you had that code number, you could look it up in the index and then extract that ad from the tape.

That solution saved countless hours and dollars over more than a decade that the Camex Breeze system was in use.

I’d written macros and formats and other enhancements on Atex, and those were very satisfying to me. But the tape backup system was my first bit of real coding and the fact that my colleagues at other papers wanted it was a major boost for me.

Information Technology

Several years went by where I was both the system administrator for the Camex system and the team leader for the ad design operation at The Gazette. Then the next big opportunity came.

I had just finished earning my degree at WMU, a bachelor of science in Political Science with a minor in English/professional writing. All in all it took eight years to earn my degree since I was working full time and squeezing in a class or two when I could.

I forever will be grateful for the tuition reimbursement plan at the Gazette. When all was said and done, they paid for the tuition, I covered the books and parking. Not long after earning my degree, my friend and mentor Dave announced that he would retire. That’s when I received a major promotion to work in Systems (that being what Information Technology, or I.T., was called back in the day). In my new role I was responsible for the support and maintenance duties of Camex, Atex, the PBS circulation system, our accounting system, Macintosh desktops, backups, disaster recovery – the whole gamut of I.T. work.

There was a long period of training on all of the technology. I got my first pager. I worked crazy long hours, was on-call, was sent to some great remote training on great technologies: two rounds of Novell Netware schools, Macintosh OS training. I went to Bell Labs in Minnesota for advanced Solaris/Unix system administration training, went to California to Autologic’s Laser Imager school and more. I learned so much – formally and informally. I worked with an amazing group of people and learned so much.

When management decided to create its first remote bureau, in the adjacent city of Portage, I was assigned to the transition team. I helped to set up the office, computers, networking and other things required to make our storefront at Southland Mall a go. Later when the office moved farther south on Westnedge Avenue, I again was called on to pull off the move and configuration of the new and larger space.

Working with area funeral homes was another big project I got to work on. I visited numerous funeral homes to install and configure software and modems so that they could transmit obituaries directly into our Atex system. Obituaries are of course very important to families, they need to be accurate and meeting deadline is always a challenge. In addition, they are very profitable for the newspaper. By allowing funeral homes the ability to send directly to our database saved considerable time, prevented errors that occurred during dictation over the phone and gave them a better chance of hitting deadline.

The Kalamazoo Gazette was a special place. I am fortunate enough to have realized it at the time. Too often we fail to appreciate the good things until we have the clarity of hindsight. Not so with the Gazette and its people. We were small enough that everyone knew everyone. And working in a small I.T. department, I got to do everything (admittedly when working a 12-hour shift due to a head-crash on a washtub drive, I didn’t feel so blessed). But we were just big enough, and part of a large enough chain, to get in on new technology. It was a great time to be in the industry and with a great group of people. It was family. It was cozy comfortable. I was paid well, had benefits that today would make your eyes pop in disbelief and fully intended to retire from the Gazette (hopefully by age 50).

Then one day I got a call from a colleague at the computer division in Ann Arbor, Ralph Butler. Ralph told me about a paper in Virginia that was looking for a person with Atex experience. Y2K was looming and was everyone’s nightmare. This Virginia newspaper needed help to support Atex while the more experienced staffers worked on Y2K readiness. Also, they had signed a deal with a software company from Utah called Digital Technology International to replace all of their front-end editorial and advertising systems. DTI was the first newspaper vendor to partner with Adobe on its upcoming page design tool that was nicknamed “The Quark Killer” as it was expected to put the leader in page composition, Quark Xpress, out of business. The code-name for Adobe’s product was K2. I’d seen previews of what was to become InDesign and was very excited about its prospects.

The newspaper was The Virginian-Pilot. It was well-respected to say the least. I had heard our page designers reference it often as it regularly won awards for the best-designed newspaper and was famous for its use of photos – it was a photographer’s newspaper.

I hadn’t thought of leaving the Gazette. I was happy, more or less. There were some things I didn’t like about my job: being on-call, working rotating shifts that included nights and weekends, changes in management (and philosophy) that I didn’t agree with, etc. But overall, I wasn’t on the hunt.

Ralph strongly urged me to send a resume – just for kicks. Maybe I’d get a free trip out of it!

I sent off a resume and was promptly contacted. Lo and behold, The Virginian-Pilot did in fact fly me to Norfolk, Virginia for a few days.

It changed my life.

The Virginian-Pilot

The Virginian-Pilot was a very large newspaper. But it had that same family feel to which I’d grown accustomed at the Gazette. When my future boss and a colleague met me at my hotel it only took minutes to feel like we’d known each other forever. Randy Jessee would be the manager and John Stackpole the other Atex specialist. They swept me off my feet like the prettiest girl at the dance.

I spent a couple of days touring the paper, meeting people, talking about the job and spent one evening with the A1 design team, observing their workflow, their POD collaboration methodology and just getting a sense for the place.

Near the end of my visit I was thinking “I don’t care if they pay me half of my current salary – I want to work here.”

At the end of my visit deputy managing editor, Nelson Brown, pulled me into a private office in the Sports department. Brown was Randy’s manager. Nelson said (paraphrasing from the best of my memory) “You’ve got a good thing up there in Kalamazoo, but we want you here with us. You’ll find the best people here and I guarantee you you’ll learn – you’ll have opportunities here. Randy, John and Mark, well, there aren’t any better people. And I see you fit in. As you go home I want you to think about one thing: five years from now, what will have made you a better person? Where will you learn the most?”

I was shaken. He was so confident about his paper and his people. He focused on the PEOPLE and the WORK. It wasn’t about money, benefits, perks, etc. None of that was mentioned. It was about quality of life and personal and professional growth. It wasn’t the first time Nelson would impress the hell out of me. He remains one of the highest quality people I’ve known.

Not long after my return to Kalamazoo I got a formal offer. I’ll admit we negotiated a little bit on salary, but they guaranteed me no nights, no weekends, no rotating shifts. I’d have a pager and be on-call but because they had such a large staff the likelihood of being called during my off hours would be slim. They’d pay for my relocation, put me up in an apartment while I house-hunted, give me generous time off right out of the gate, and had a pension AND a 401(k) like the Gazette. I’d leave a cube farm and have an office with a door.

I was ready to sign up but I spent a couple of weeks pondering. I’m a Pisces and am fishy just like my sign. It often takes me forever to make big decisions. And the decision to move was huge. I was still introverted and shy, but my time in Systems, having to interact with a variety of users, present at cross-paper meetings, etc. had given me more confidence. But I was still unsure of giving up the Gazette and moving. But to be honest – the quality of life is what hooked me. Having a regular schedule, no rotating shifts and no weekends. After 13 years I’d have a “normal” life.

I accepted the job and started another great association with great people.

And Nelson could not have been more right. At the Pilot I grew and grew and grew. Almost no opportunity was denied me. I was in on the ground floor of the DTI implementation and saw K2 become InDesign.

I saw numerous major shifts in technology. When I joined the Pilot we used an ancient Atex system for all but section fronts, where we used Quark Xpress running on Macintosh computers. We used Novell Netware for storage. The number of Windows computers could be counted on one hand. Some critical processes at the printing plant still relied on a Radio Shack TRS80 computer. Furniture in the newsroom was embarrassing: it was falling apart, taped together – a danger to life and limb and the occasional puppy that one designer brought with her on the night shift.

I got to travel as well.

The Pilot pioneered the use of digital cameras for news coverage. We covered the Sugar Bowl 100% digitally – the first news organization to do so. I was sent to New Orleans in advance of the Bowl to set up a Macintosh network in the press pool under the bleachers. When photographers arrived to cover the game I was in real-time communication with the newsroom back in Norfolk, Virginia. Photographers would run in, edit their images on Mac laptops using Photoshop and then I’d transmit them via FTP. We’d practiced back home but everything was new and had not seen the real world. But it worked. It worked with nary a flaw. And it was exhilarating.

I also attended, later became a presenter and ultimately vice president of the international DTI User’s Group. Each year I’d travel to Utah to teach other newspapers how we’d exploited our DTI system and to learn about new features coming. I also did my fair share of complaining about bugs and tried to influence future development.

I also experienced hurricanes (my house construction had to be restarted after a hurricane destroyed the framing, took down some of my best trees and left me living in an extended-stay hotel for months). Those same hurricanes had me staffing disaster locations or huddling in the safety of the Pilot’s bunker-like building to do my part to make sure we were able to keep the community informed during the crisis.

I was able to help launch new products and interesting new businesses. I learned. I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with some flat-out amazing people. People who were my friends and who were passionate about the mission of newspapers. I was proud to tell people where I worked. And I was proud of what I did.

My ten-year mark at the Pilot loomed and things had started to change dramatically. For a long time newspapers had struggled against other media. The Pilot had finally come to the point of layoffs, reductions and reorganizations. They did buyouts, offered early retirements, let people go, cut products and implemented extreme cost-cutting measures.

My boss quit. The CIO was let go. It got depressing and sad very fast.

That’s when I realized I needed to make a change.

Digital Technology International, Utah and Newscycle Solutions

To me the obvious option was to see if our vendor, DTI, could use me. I knew so many of the people at DTI through my involvement with the user group that I felt I had a good relationship with them already. So I sent a resume and an email asking if they had a need I could fill.

They did. It would be in the Quality Assurance department where I would work with Adobe products to write scripts to automate their installation and implement automated testing – something that as yet didn’t exist.

The benefits were not as good as the Pilot, but the Pilot was reducing those as well, having already dropped the pension plan. But my thinking was I’d get to focus more on technology that would be portable and meaningful within and outside the newspaper industry.

Plus I loved the mountains of Utah. Just loved them.

So after 10 fantastic years with the Pilot, I accepted a job with DTI. I loaded my Dodge Ram pickup, hitched a U-Haul trailer to the back and had my Virginia house listed for sale. Cross-country I went.

It was a good move. Things at the Pilot got even more challenging after I left. There were more layoffs, more reductions. I don’t know if I would have lasted – maybe, maybe not. Today, seven years later, there are few familiar faces left there.

Just weeks after I started working at DTI, there was a layoff. Talk about frightened! I was living in a tiny temporary apartment, my house in Virginia was for sale, I felt in limbo. Many good, senior people were let go. But I was spared.

I caught my breath and pushed on. Again, I got to learn. Automated testing wasn’t to become reality for more than five years, but I was able to go on sales calls and do demos, the biggest and most important to the Chicago Sun-Times. I continued to teach at user’s group. I was able to influence the software, test it, see features first, be the voice for customers and developers alike. By gaining greater exposure to our international customers, I got a more broad world view. My belief in the importance of newspapers was only made deeper by learning of the struggles our customers faced in less than open and fully democratic societies.

In 2013 DTI was purchased by an equity fund and merged with several of our former competitors to become Newscycle Solutions. Again, there were multiple rounds of layoffs and products were shelved.

I keep thinking back to Nelson’s advice, to consider where I’d grow. Excellent advice for anyone. But he was so sincere and so persuasive. His words have stuck with and guided me all of these years. He could not have been more spot-on.

And I say it to those reading this. No matter where you are in life, which fork in the road do you believe will give you the most growth, most opportunity, best chance be better? Better can be defined however you like. But I encourage you to not consider money. Quality of life, that’s the measure for me. It always has been.

And now, with seven years behind me at what is now Newscycle Solutions, the needle on the layoff wheel has landed at my name.

After having been witness to, and dodged, many layoffs in the past, I think I have already largely processed the likelihood of this day. I have felt shocked, but there were no tears, no explosive anger. Just matter-of-fact “it’s-my-turn” acceptance. So many people so much better than me, older than me, with far more challenging personal lives, have lost their jobs before me, that I truly feel lucky to have lasted as long as I have.

Newspapers have been a part of me all the way back to those first newspapers thrown into my front yard. Working in the industry was a dream. A dream that came true and was in so many ways better than I could have imagined. I met so many great people along the way and learned so much. I got to travel, explore and become a different person than that shy and reserved teenager who didn’t know what to do with his life.

I’ve been in the ink now for 30 years. I have loved most of it, had some pain and frustration along the way, and now it’s my time to bow out.

As of this writing I don’t have a job, but am looking. I am looking for something where I can use all of the skills that I’ve gathered from this incredible industry. And from the amazing people who gave me opportunities, took me under their wing, gave of their time and taught me over these many years.

Stop the presses.

Some photos from the journey


The front yard of my boyhood home from which I would fetch each day's Kalamazoo Gazette.

The front yard of my boyhood home from which I would fetch each day’s Kalamazoo Gazette.

The front of the Kalamazoo Gazette building during my tenure.

The front of the Kalamazoo Gazette building during my tenure.

The Kalamazoo Gazette's loading dock. This is where drivers would pick up freshly-printed newspapers to deliver.

The Kalamazoo Gazette’s loading dock. This is where drivers would pick up freshly-printed newspapers to deliver.

An Atex keyboard. If you read a Kalamazoo Valley Community College class schedule, Stewart Clarke furniture ad or a Libin's menswear, I probably set the type with a keyboard like this.

An Atex keyboard. If you read a Kalamazoo Valley Community College class schedule, Stewart Clarke furniture ad or a Libin’s menswear ad, I probably set the type for it with a keyboard like this.

A pair of Compugraphic videosetters. One of my jobs at The Kalamazoo Gazette had me arriving in the dark hours of the morning to operate these machines to produce the cold type that would be pasted up for that day's newspaper.

A pair of Compugraphic Videosetters. One of my jobs at the Kalamazoo Gazette had me arriving in the dark hours of the morning to operate these machines that produced the cold type that would be pasted up for that day’s newspaper.

The platemaking department at The Kalamazoo Gazette. Another one of my jobs was as a platemaking technician. It was one of my favorite jobs.

The platemaking department at the Kalamazoo Gazette. Another one of my jobs was as a platemaking technician. It was one of my favorite jobs.

This is me at one of The Kalamazoo Gazette's new Camex Breeze ad design terminals.

This is me at one of the Kalamazoo Gazette’s new Camex Breeze ad design terminals. On the screen is a full-color ad for JCPenney.

This is me at the Camex Breeze scanning station (left) and ECRM/Autokon laser scanner (right).

This is me at the Camex Breeze scanning station (left) and ECRM/Autokon laser scanner (right).

This is from an older Camex ad design terminal known as the Model 1351. It was an enormous, loud, tempermental monster.

This is from an older Camex ad design terminal known as the Model 1351. It was an enormous, loud, temperamental monster.

A pair of the Gazette's Camex 1351 ad design systems.

A pair of the Gazette’s Camex 1351 ad design systems.

In the Gazette's ad design area, an Atex terminal (left) sits adjacent to a Camex 1351 system (right).

In the Gazette’s ad design area, an Atex terminal (left) sits adjacent to a Camex 1351 system (right).

The computer room at The Kalamazoo Gazette. My friend, the late Ron Laugeman, keeps his eyes on things.

The computer room at the Kalamazoo Gazette. My friend, the late Ron Laugeman, keeps his eyes on things.

Racks containing the Gazette's Atex system which ran on the DEC PDP/11 minicomputer system.

Racks containing the Gazette’s Atex system which ran on DEC PDP/11 minicomputers .

300 megabyte washtub drives in the Gazette's computer room.

300 megabyte washtub drives in the Gazette’s computer room.

Racks containing the Gazette's Texas Instruments minicomputer accounting system.

Racks containing the Gazette’s Texas Instruments minicomputer accounting system.

This scary mess was the result of the Gazette's computer room being woefully too small. It housed a pair of Novell servers for the photo and text archive, the PBS circulation system, the Associated Press hardware and much more. Yes, I did know how to work with all of those systems. Phew!

This scary mess was the result of the Gazette’s computer room being woefully too small. It housed a pair of Novell servers for the photo and text archive, the PBS circulation system, the Associated Press hardware and much more. Yes, I did know how to work with all of those systems. Phew!

The Gazette replaced the Compugraphic Videosetters with Autologic 3850 laser imagers. These systems would eventually move the Gazette to direct-to-negative processes.

The Gazette replaced the Compugraphic Videosetters with Autologic 3850 laser imagers. These systems would eventually move the Gazette to direct-to-negative processes.

At the Gazette one of my Systems jobs was to print miles miles of reports in the printer room. This room, adjacent to the accounting department, housed numerous heavy-duty line printers. On Saturday nights, printing bundle tops for the Sunday paper, these printers would all be humming, turning the room into a furnace.

At the Gazette one of my Systems jobs was to print miles of reports in the printer room. This room, adjacent to the accounting department, housed numerous heavy-duty line printers. On Saturday nights, printing bundle tops for the Sunday paper, these printers would all be humming, turning the room into a furnace.

My desk at the Gazette just before I left for The Virginian-Pilot.

My desk at the Gazette just before I left for The Virginian-Pilot.

The Gazette's Goss printing presses.

The Gazette’s Goss printing presses.

The Gazette's underground newsprint supply.

The Gazette’s underground newsprint supply.

The reels of newsprint on the base of one of the Gazette's press units.

The reels of newsprint on the base of one of the Gazette’s press units.

During my time at the Gazette we added on to the building in order to add more press units. This allowed us greater printing flexibility and more color positions.

During my time at the Gazette we added on to the building in order to add more press units. This allowed us greater printing flexibility and more color positions.

A view from the top of the Gazette's presses, down into the reel room.

A view from the top of the Gazette’s presses, down into the reel room (during the press expansion construction).

The Gazette's mailroom where printed papers would be married up with inserts and bundled into zones for delivery.

The Gazette’s mailroom where printed papers would be married up with inserts and bundled into zones for delivery.

The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.

The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.

My new office at The Virginian-Pilot.

My new office at The Virginian-Pilot.

The Virginian-Pilot POD: editors, reporters, photographers and designers huddle to make the major decisions about that day’s front page. (Photo by Julie Elman).

The Virginian-Pilot newsroom. Atex terminals everywhere! (Photo by Randy Jessee).

More of the Virginian-Pilot newsroom (I’m the balding one in the center). (Photo by Randy Jessee).

Section fronts and color pages at The Virginian-Pilot were designed using Macintosh computers with Quark XPress (this was before all publishing systems were replaced by DTI). (Photo by Randy Jessee).

The Virginian-Pilot was a partner with local TV station WVEC. Nightly newscasts originated from the Pilot’s newsroom. (Photo by Randy Jessee).

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune where I spent some time with the DTI sales team to present our latest software offerings.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune where I spent some time with the DTI sales team to present our latest software offerings.

Me, making some important point, at one of the DTI User Group meetings. (Photo by Carl Davaz).

Newspaper professionals gather from around the world at the DTI User Group meeting. (Photo by Carl Davaz).

Another sales demo, this time at The Chicago Sun-Times.

Another sales demo, this time at The Chicago Sun-Times.

The view from the room where we did our demos at The Chicago Sun-Times.

The view from the room where we did our demos at The Chicago Sun-Times.

A party at DTI to celebrate our new logo design.

A party at DTI to celebrate our new logo design.

A bowling outing with my team from DTI.

A bowling outing with my team from DTI.

My cubicle at my new office at Newscycle Solutions.

My cubicle at Newscycle Solutions.

A grill-out last summer at our Newscycle Solutions office.

A grill-out last summer at our Newscycle Solutions office.

A grill-out last summer at our Newscycle Solutions office.

A grill-out last summer at our Newscycle Solutions office.

One of the amazing Utah views from my office.

One of the amazing Utah views from my office.

I am a believer in the mantra “everything for a purpose.” Ahead is the trail, what lies around that curve is anyone’s guess!