Where Have You Been the Most, Dad? (states edition)

One thing I would like to accomplish is to step foot in all 50 US states. I even have a map I keep in a 3-ring binder in which I color in the states as I visit them. Back in 1998, I stepped foot in Texas for the first time. When I got home, I colored in Texas…and that was the last time I touched the map for over 17 years.

Thankfully, 2015 has been most fruitful in attaining my goal. Here, here’s what the map looked like back in March of this year…

US Map 1998-2015

Like an idiot, I just took a picture of my map instead of scanning it in.

See? The same 19 states colored in since before this millennium even began.

But here’s what it looks like now…

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.30.18 AM

Oh, look! I scanned this one in. Bravo, James, bravo.

In case you can’t quite tell, there are now a whopping five more states colored. In April, I stepped foot in Washington, Idaho, and Utah. In June, I visited Rhode Island for the first time. And, just back in September, my wife and I spent a few days in Oregon.

When I showed this to my son Owen, his second question (following “How many have you been to?) was: “Which states have you been to the most?”

Ah…now there’s an interesting question. And not one I had given much thought to. The amount of time I’ve spent in each of these 24 states varies tremendously…from mere minutes in Tennessee, to a single night in Rhode Island, to several days in Illinois, to years in Minnesota. But which ones have taken the lion’s share of my time? The answer surprised me. Here are the top five…

1. Minnesota
Okay, so this one didn’t surprise me. I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life, so it’s my default place of existence. If I say I’ve spent 95% of my time in Minnesota, that might be a low exaggeration. It’s almost certainly somewhere between 98 and 99%.

2. Wisconsin.
Okay, so this was another no-brainer. I’ve never lived more than 90 minutes away from Minnesota’s border with Wisconsin. Besides Minnesota, it’s the only state that I’ve been to most of the years I’ve been alive. When I was three, I spent five days in Milwaukee when my parents attended a religious convention. I spent another week there on a work trip when I was 20. Jennifer and I honeymooned there, and then went back for our 8- and 10-year anniversaries. We’ve stayed at the family cabin there a half dozen times, for several days each time. When I was a teen, I drove with my friends Jeremy and Tim for a weekend trip to a grad party. In 2002, my wife and I went on vacation there with her brother and his wife. In 2012, I was in Jaynesville for a work trip. I’ve also driven out there for the day to visit with friends lots of times. All told, I’ve easily spent 75 days of my life in the Badger State.

3. Florida
Unlike Wisconsin, I know exactly how many times I’ve visited Florida: five.

The first was when I was 12 – my parents, sister, and I spent two weeks there. Four years later, I was back for my cousin’s wedding. That added another six days. I wasn’t there again until I was 27, when Jennifer and I traveled there for my uncle’s wedding. We stayed there for seven nights. A year-and-a-half later, we were there again, and we went on a cruise. Obviously, the cruise ship didn’t stay in Florida, but Jennifer and I spent three days in Florida before and three more after the cruise. Plus, the ship visited Key West one day, so this trip added another seven days to the Florida column. Another year-and-a-half passed, and this time Jennifer and I went down to Florida with Owen. This added another nine days to my time in Florida.

All told, I’ve spent 43 days in the Sunshine State, barely edging out…

4. New York

By sheer coincidence, I have also been to New York five times.

When I was just a few weeks old, I took a week-long trip there with my parents. The very next year, we went again, only that time we drove instead of flew. Just before I turned four, my mom and I went there again. That vacation lasted ten days, though part of that vacation was in nearby Massachusetts. Then over fourteen years went by, until I took a bus trip there. The trip itself was nine days, but much of that was travel, and we stopped in Ontario, too. But we did spend a day in Niagara Falls, another near Wallkill, and then a couple in New York City. But on those days in the city, we actually stayed in a hotel in New Jersey. Regardless, by that point in my life I had spent about 21 days in the State of New York.

But then I nearly doubled that the very next year, spending 20 days in New York City during October and November of 1994, for a grand total of 41 days in the Empire State.

5. Massachusetts
So this was the most surprising state on this for me. The other four, I was able to immediately guess (though I had pegged New York at #3). But after some reflection, I guess this makes sense. Of the other 19 states I’ve been to, many have consisted of only one visit. Some I’ve been to more than once, such as Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois, but all of those have been shorter visits.

This leaves me with Massachusetts. As mentioned above, my mom and I spent a few days there when I was three years old. Back in 2013, I went there for a work trip, where I spent three days there. Then, earlier this year, I spent another four days there, bringing my total in the Bay State to approximately 14 days.

My top five.

My top five.

If I extended this list further, I believe Michigan would lie at #6.

How about you? In which five states have you spent the biggest chunks of you life?

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I Achieved Two Things I’ve Long Wanted to Do…Simultaneously

I have a list of things I want to do in my life. I’ve kept the list, in one form or another, for over twenty years. Some are really big things, like getting a Bachelor’s Degree. Some are really small things, like touring the Alexander Ramsey House. Occasionally, I add to the list. On rare occasions, I remove things from it. And sometimes – every once in a great while – I get to move an item from the list of things I want to do, to the list of things I’m glad I’ve done.

Today, I moved two things from the former list to the latter list. More significantly, I completed the two goals at the exact same time.

But in order to explain how I did that, I first have to give you some background…

Way back in 1990, Walt Disney Studios released their film Fantasia on big screen once again. It was the 50th anniversary of their beloved flick, and though the movie had been brought back to theaters several times in that half century, they billed this run as “In Theaters for the Last Time!”Untitled
I was a big fan of early Disney films (Snow White, Bambi, Dumbo, Pinocchio), yet Fantasia was the one Disney film from that early era that I had never seen. I decided I would just have to see it in theaters! This was a film, more than any other Disney film, that had to be seen on the big screen. I asked my Dad – an avowed movie buff – if he would take me to see it, but he didn’t have much interest. About a month later, I was talking to two of my cousins who had recently spent the weekend at our grandparents’ home. They told me that Grandma had taken them to see Fantasia. What! Why didn’t I get invited! “We didn’t think you’d want to see it,” they said, explaining that it’s not really a movie that boys usually care about.

A few weeks passed, and while out in the door-to-door work with a friend from my congregation, I whined to him that I hadn’t yet had a chance to see Fantasia. He – being old enough to have a driver’s license – offered to take me to the theater that evening. And he did. The problem is…Fantasia had just left the theater the day before.

In the years that passed, I never saw the film, even though it’s probably just a Netflix click away. To my list of Things I Want To Do, I added “See Fantasia in Big Screen.”

Fast-forward to 1998. Early in that year, the American Film Institute announced it photowould be coming out with their list of the 100 Greatest American Films. This intrigued me, as I had spent my teens watching loads of films, and I was curious as to how many of these I had seen. I was also recently married, and Jennifer and I were in the process of watching all the movies that had scored the Oscar for Best Picture. Getting near the completion of that set of films, I was eager to find another “best of” list to tackle.

When the list was finally announced on TV in June of that year, Jennifer and I watched the entire telecast. I wrote down each film as it was announced. They went in reverse order – starting with Yankee Doodle Dandy at #100 and proceeding,

Have you seen Yankee Doodle Dandy? It's a pretty good flick.

Have you seen Yankee Doodle Dandy? It’s a pretty good flick.

over the course of two hours and way too many commercials – to Citizen Kane at #1. At that time, I had seen just over 60% of the films on the list. Of course, I had seen the big blockbusters, like Jaws (#48) and Star Wars (#15). I had also seen most of the Best Picture winners, such as All Quiet on the Western Front (#54) and Annie Hall (#31). And I had seen a decent amount of the old classics, such as King Kong (#43) and Modern Times (#81).

Have you seen Citizen Kane? It's a really good flick.

Have you seen Citizen Kane? It’s a really good flick.






I didn’t pay much attention to the list after that. I didn’t have to. I knew I would eventually see all the films on the list. And, indeed, I nearly did. As Jennifer and I watched the rest of the Best Picture winners, and as more films became easily available to view online, I slowly chipped away at the list without even really thinking about it. For instance, about two years ago, a coworker was talking with me about Easy Rider (#88), and I confessed I’d never seen it. The next day, he brought his DVD copy into work, and I watched it that evening.

Have you seen Star Wars? You haven't? What! For god's sake, get off this blog right now and go watch it so you can join the rest of us here in civilization.

Have you seen Star Wars? You haven’t? What! For god’s sake, get off this blog right now and go watch it so you can join the rest of us here in civilization.

Of course, I didn’t see all the films on the list, because Fantasia was on the list at #58, and I couldn’t just go and rent it, could I?

A few years ago, Jennifer and I went to the St. Anthony Main theater to see Religulous. The theater heavily promoted the Minneapolis Film Society (MFS). I took their brochure. Noticing that they frequently bring old classics back to the big screen, I signed up for their emails. Every time an email from them came in my inbox, I scrolled through it, looking to see if they were showing anything of interest. Of course, finding Fantasia on their calendar was a futile endeavor, as Disney had already said they would never release it on the Big Screen ever again. Still…Disney is nothing if not money hungry, and surely at some point they would deem it financially beneficial to re-release their classic.

Last month, I was going through my emails, unsubscribing to all the companies and organizations that send me emails every day. When I go to the latest MFS email, I scrolled down looking for the “unsubscribe” button. But then I saw it…Fantasia was coming to the St. Anthony Main theater for three showings in celebration of its 75th anniversary! Had it really been a quarter-century since its 50th anniversary release? Indeed, it had. I selected the Saturday showing and snatched up two tickets for the November 14th showing.

A few days later, I though to myself, “Hey, I wonder how many of the AFI’s Top 100 films I’ve seen?” I mean, I knew I hadn’t seen Fantasia, but how many others were missing?

The answer: one.

Besides Fantasia, the only other flick on the list I hadn’t seen was the one at #92: A Place in the Sun.

Despite the presence of Elizabeth Taylor, this was an unexpectedly enjoyable flick.

Despite the presence of Elizabeth Taylor, this was an unexpectedly enjoyable flick.

I quickly reserved it from the library. By Wednesday, November 4th, I had watched it and, with that, I’d seen 99% of the films on AFI’s list. I remained 1% of the way from the finish line for the next ten days.IMG_0288Today, with pop-corn, candy, a soft drink, and my daughter, we saw Fantasia in big screen. And I’ve now seen all of AFI’s Top 100 films.

Have you seen Fantasia? I have.

Have you seen Fantasia? I have.


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Cat Toy

Last month, we got a new cat. She’s six months old, and she was born at my sister-in-law’s house. We took her in mostly because we had mice this past summer, and Jennifer pointed out that this was our first summer in quite some time that we didn’t own a cat. So…I guess we gotta have a cat.

Like most kittens, she likes to play. So I went to the pet store to buy a couple of those toys-on-a-stick. Jennifer said to make sure I got one without feathers, but it turns out they’ve all got feathers on them. And they’re expensive: the cheapest one at this particular store was over $11.

So, instead, I purchased two cat toys that were not on strings.
Cat 5

These guys were just over $4 each. After tax, I spend right around $9 for the two of them.

As an aside, notice the small print:
Cat 14

That’s right: “it is recommended that pets be supervised when playing with toys.” Yeah, that’s no gonna happen. Also, notice these were made in Portland, Oregon? I was just in Portland! I should have picked them up there; they probably would’ve been cheaper.

Then I walked over to the hardware store, and purchased two long dowels (for 88 cents):
Cat 2

and a short segment of Tygon tubing (for 29 cents):
Cat 3

…which I then took home and cut into two two-inch segments:
Cat 4

Then I grabbed my roll of fishing line:
Cat 6

And tied a length of the line to each of the Tygon segments:
Cat 10

Then I grabbed the cat toys and noticed they each had tags on them.
Cat 7

Since tags are evil, I removed them using that tool from Home Ec class:
Cat 8

Then I attached the other ends of the fishing line to the toys. For the octopus-looking thing, I tied the fishing line in a knot around its body. For the mouse-looking thing, I threaded the line through its body.
CAt 11

Then I slid the Tygon segments over the two dowels, respectively. The ends of the dowels had daubs of super glue to help keep the Tygon in place.
Cat 12

Cat toys are done! Two for $11! And no feathers!
Cat 13

Juvenile human plays with juvenile feline to much success:
Cat 15

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I’m on an Airplane…Again

Later today, I will take an airplane trip. This trip will (ideally) consist of leaving Portland, Oregon and arriving in the Twin Cities.

It’s the 43rd – 43rd! – airplane trip of my life.

And here’s the real kicker: I don’t even like flying. I used to be quite terrified of it, and the only way I could get through a couple of flights (such as my 1995 trip home from Germany and my 2001 trip home from Nova Scotia) was by drinking heavily.

It would be a stretch to say I have aviophobia anymore, but I still really detest the activity. In my defense, I haven’t instigated the majority of my flights, and I haven’t paid for many of them, so it’s not like I’m inflicting this unpleasantness on myself. Usually.


This is what I imagine is taking place in the cockpit of every flight I’ve ever been on.

Nevertheless, in celebration of my 43rd trip into the upper troposphere, I thought I’d do what I do best: Provide excruciatingly detailed trivia about my history of flying…

*My first flight was at the wee age of 7 weeks old. I flew with my parents to New York.

*I’ve flown to 17 different destinations. This includes layovers and return trips.

*The place I’ve flown to most often is, obviously, the Twin Cities. Excluding home base, my most common destination has been Orlando, Florida, which I’ve flown to four times.

*The biggest gap between flights was 8 years and 7 months (I had flown home from New York at the age of 3½, and didn’t fly again until I was 12).

*The smallest gap between flights has been mere minutes (when catching a connecting flight). Excluding those, the smallest gap was 2 days, when I returned home from Texas after being there a mere 48 hours. Excluding return trips, the smallest gap was earlier this year: I flew home from Salt Lake City in April, and was back on an airplane on my way to Massachusetts just over two months later, in June.

*I’d never been on more than 4 airplane flights in a single year…until now. I’ve already been on 6 flights this year, and in a few hours, I’ll be on my 7th.

*The most frequent month of the year for plane trips has been June, with ten separate plane trips. I’ve never been on an airplane in February or July.

*The biggest group I’ve ever flown with was that trip in April, when about 40 faculty and students from Hamline University all boarded a flight together.

*The smallest group I’ve ever flown with is one: Just me. I’ve been all by myself on 18 airplane trips.

*My most frequent traveling companion is Jennifer: We’ve been on 14 plane rides together. Fifteen as of tonight.

*Despite being my youngest child, Emmett has accompanied me on more airplane trips than any of my other kids. We’ve been together 3 times, and that number is bumping up to 4 by day’s end. Owen has been with me on two plane rides and Isla, one.

*The longest plane ride I’ve been on was over 6 hours, returning from Frankfurt, Germany and landing in Detroit. The shortest ride was about 40 minutes from Dallas to Amarillo.

*I took one plane ride on my birthday: The day I turned 24, I flew to Dallas. Since I was born at 11:03 at night, I was still 23 during the plane right, though. (This was not the same trip when I went to Amarillo.)

*As noted above, I haven’t paid for most of my plane tickets. In fact, I’ve only paid for 8 of them – less than 20 percent. Well, I suppose I technically paid for 12 of them, because I did pay for my trips to and from Germany (which included layovers in Detroit). However, my Dad used his frequent flyer miles for me, which meant I merely paid the tax ($20), so as far as I’m concerned, he “paid” for the majority of the cost of those tickets. And really, I’ve paid for several of Jennifer’s flights, too (including the one later today), so I’ve paid for a lot more than 8 tickets, even though they weren’t always mine. My children – who have collectively been on 7 flights (soon-to-be 8) – have always flown free.

*The remaining 31 airplane tickets have been paid for by my employer, my university, my parents, my grandparents, the American Board of Opticianry, and Oprah Winfrey.


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4 Years in Our Home

As of this week, we’ve lived in our home for 4 years. As I’ve done semi-annually since we moved in, I will hereby provide an update on improvements we made to our home in the past six months.

By the way, if you’re interested, here’s the blog post detailing what we did during the six months prior to these most recent six months.


-Installed a window cling on the north window.

This is a full-size window cling; it takes up the whole window. We wanted to put a cling on it so that the light still comes in the room, but so that we still have privacy. The window looks out onto our neighbor’s home, and from our bathroom you can look right into Owen’s room and out that window. So, this is some nice privacy.


-Installed a window cling on the window.

Similar story as above. This window is right above our Jacuzzi, so it’s great to have all the natural light.


-Installed door sweep.

There’s a rather large gap (~3/4″) under our front door that leads out to the porch. A couple of years ago, I installed a weather strip on the bottom of the door, but for some reason, some of it didn’t stick. About one-third of it – the part farthest from the hinges – kept falling off. So I cut that part off, but that then allowed cold air to come pouring in all winter. I wasn’t too keen on a door sweep, as it’s not the prettiest thing and I had to screw into a really cool door that’s probably older than my Dad. But what can you do?


-Installed padding underneath a portion of the carpet.

So, underneath the desk in our office, there’s a square of carpet that’s not attached to the rest of the carpet. I’m not sure why. It’s been that way since we moved in. It’s like the previous owner must’ve carpeted the room, but accidentally shorted the piece by 12 inches in both directions. So then he just cut a square and set it there. There wasn’t even any carpet pad underneath it, either, so he must’ve made the same mistake with the padding. One day this summer, as I was vacuuming that area, it dawned on me that we have some spare carpet padding. So I cut a piece. Much better.


-New thermostat.

We now have one of these models. Very sleek looking, and we can operate it from our phones.


-New microwave

-Installed window cling on north window.


-Removed some sheetrock


-Planted more seed

-Added front steps to deck.

Ever since we sold our gazebo and the decking it sat on, we haven’t had sufficient stairs coming off our deck. I set our one remaining step in front of the deck, but it was still a big drop-off, especially for the little legs living in our home. So, a few months ago, I removed that step and replaced it with two new steps.

Here’s the deck without any stairs:

Deck 2

Oh – I also added in a row of bricks at the foot of the stairs. Here, this picture shows them better:

Deck 1

…And here are the finished stairs:

Deck steps 2

-Installed bat house.

-Installed bird house.

-Installed bird feeder.


-Installed some hooks for hanging shovels, rakes.

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