Saturday, March 23, 2019

The snow is about gone - time for tomaters

It's that time of the year again. Actually, it's a week later than that time of the year.

Usually, I plant my tomato seeds on St. Patrick's Day, but this year made the executive decision to delay planting by a week.

Why, Haugen? Why?

Because it's good to be king - of my garden anyway. And my bones, and AccuWeather, tell me it's going to be a cool spring. That's not a very good excuse though, as I usually plant on Memorial Day weekend. Also, the plants seem to get a little leggy by that time, so figured another week won't matter.

Also, my daughter was visiting last weekend, so thought I better not take time off to go play with my dirt.

I went with the usual TomatoFest seeds. They've always done me well, even left-over seeds that are two years old. Will still probably get 90 percent germination out of them.

So there are about 100 seeds in the greenhouse. Heat mats deployed. Grow-lights on standby.

Let's just hope I still won't need those heat mats at the end of May.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Some green to beat the winter blues

Nothing like some 10-below weather to make a person get spring fever. As such, I recently assembled the greenhouse in my conservatory and started some perennials.

I bought some really cheap seeds from the aptly named website, They came fast and there's more than I'll use in my lifetime. I've been thinking about planting way more than I need and selling some seedlings, but that sounds like work. So I'll probably plant way more than I need and give them away to anyone who wants some.

This week I started purple coneflowers, blanket flowers (aka gaillardia) and foxglove.

I also ordered some black-eyed Susan seeds without realizing they are seeds you need to cold propagate. I always screw that up and don't have the patience or memory for it. I've tried it a couple times with other seeds, put them in a freezer bag of soil, throw them in the crisper of my refrigerator in the garage and forget about them until about July when I open the drawer and find a mushy mess. According to what I've read, the BES seeds need propagated for five months before planting! So if anyone would like 26,000 BES seeds, hit me up.

In that order, I received 23,000 foxglove seeds, 2,000 blanketflower seeds and 1,200 coneflower seeds for $17 and free shipping. Pretty good deal.

I really like purple coneflowers and want more of them. One of my favorite plants gets about 2 1/2 feet tall and is awesome. I'd like to move it, because a nearby bush is putting the squeeze on it, but don't want to mess it up. We'll see.

The blanketflowers (which I've always called gaillardia until now) I've had for a few years basically resemble small sunflower heads, which makes sense since they are a genus of the sunflower family. But, unlike sunflowers, they only get about 2 feet high with 3-inch blossoms.

Foxglove are new to me, but they looked good on the website. However, it seems they get pretty tall which is often a limiting factor in my area as Mr. Wind likes to howl through our little canyon and wreak havoc.. We shall see.

I also planted some basil a couple weeks ago, but I tend to grow that year round anyway. Wifey is a pesto-making machine, so I always try to keep a couple plants going for her. Happy wife, happy life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Hump day link-o-rama

I was going to provide some commentary and links to the the big push by a couple states to further legalize killing babies, but I doubt I'm going to change any minds on abortion and that's not what you came here for anyway.

I'll just say one thing, make one prediction: 200 years from now, hopefully sooner, historians are going to look back on our abortion culture with the same kind of horror we now look back upon the days of slavery and, before that, human sacrifice. They'll be asking: "What the hell were they thinking?"

On that somber note, here's some book burning going on in our neighboring state, presumably to stay warm, but more likely just because they're a bunch of PC dolts.

*** Literary outrages in Minnesota, with pushback from the sane
Rampant political correctness has pretty much overridden quaint notions of academic freedom in America’s educational institutions. We see the consequences all around us. But it is good to see that here and there, denizens of the academic swamp, who may be liberal but are not completely crazy, are fighting back.
And I wasn't aware of this in one of our other neighboring states:

*** When the U.S. Interned Italians in Montana, They Rioted Over Olive Oil
Nevertheless, food was serious business for the Italians at Fort Missoula, who often complained about the provisions. Unused to canned food, they claimed it was making them sick. Envious of the supposedly superior food eaten by their diabetic counterparts, internees fell victim to a “diabetes epidemic”—until the camp doctor warned them that true diabetics had to undergo uncomfortable treatment. For prisoners far from their homes and families, food mattered.
All the action seems to be going on around SD:

*** Runner kills mountain lion in self-defense after attack in Horsetooth Mountain Park west of Fort Collins
While defending himself, he told investigators that he killed the lion by suffocating it. The account was confirmed by investigators after examining the lion and upon further investigation. The man sustained serious but non-life threatening injuries.
I'm guessing a rear naked choke hold. Not to take anything away from the dude, but this was an 80-pound juvenile lion (adults get 120-180), which is slightly smaller than my Labrador retriever, Stanley. We have some pretty good wrestling matches, and I'm pretty sure I could take him if I wanted.

*** Wifey and I just finished binge watching The Punisher series. I thought it was great. Lots of killing but deep characters. I almost shed a tear at the ending.

*** I also finished a couple books that I haven't blogged about: Dean Koontz's The Crooked Staircase and Tim Dorsey's Clownfish Blues, two authors on the opposite end of the seriousness spectrum.

*** Here's some good news from the man in black.

And then there's this to maybe read about (you'll see what I did here):

*** Three Writing Rules to Disregard

It takes this guy a long time to get to them, so I'll cut to the chase. He says these rules are okay to violate:
1. Never Begin a Sentence with “And” or “But.”
2. Never Split an Infinitive.
3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Link-o-rama playoff edition

I'm assuming you've all heard the hullabaloo about Gillette and its anti-toxic masculinity commercial.

They do realize they are the name on the New England Patriots football field, Gillette Stadium, correct? Big supporters. So, even though it's a road game Sunday, will they be asking these guys to curb their toxic masculinity too? Or do they want them to wait until after the playoffs?

I was going to shave my toxicity this weekend but figure I'll give it another month since it seems we're heading into another cold snap.

Some other links for your consideration:

*** Have you been following the El Chapo. It's pretty fascinating stuff, but seems to have gotten lost in the all-Trump all-the-time media scrum.

Keegan Hamilton is covering the trial for Vice and hosts a Chapo podcast. For trial updates I follow him on twitter at: @keegan_hamilton ‏

*** ‘They Own the System’: Amazon Rewrites Book Industry by Marching Into Publishing
The retail giant, the world’s largest public company, commands an unrivaled customer base for the books, e-books and audiobooks it publishes

*** In case you miss the media coverage of this huge event, read this: This Fordham professor has no tolerance for ‘throwaway culture’ and is trying to do something about it.

*** Horsing Around No More: The historian’s impressive book, Farewell to the Horse: A Cultural History, which covers several centuries of human and horses in concert, was published in Germany to wide acclaim in 2015 and released in the U.S. earlier this year.

*** It's never too late to start.

*** How Edgar Allan Poe Became Our Era’s Premier Storyteller

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My year in Portugal

In a quirk of fate as whimsical as Mark Twain being born and dying with the appearances of Halley's Comet, I started out 2018 by reading a book set in Portugal and finished 2018 with another that began in Portugal. Well dip me in honey and call me sticky.

The first book was Yann Martel's The High Mountains of Portugal. It was also my favorite book of the year coming in at a Beamonesque 9 on the 10-point Haugenometer.

The final book of 2018 (my 28th of the year) was: A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century
Even as historians credit Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II with hastening the end of the Cold War, they have failed to recognize the depth or significance of the bond that developed between the two leaders. Acclaimed scholar and bestselling author Paul Kengor changes that. 
I felt like I needed a respite from the blood and guns of my usual mystery thrillers for the Christmas season, so delved into this one. The fact that it included two assassination attempts, two world wars and armed invasions made the transition easier.

The Portugal reference comes because the book starts in Fatima, Portugal. The author, Paul Kengor, delved into the apparitions quite a bit (too much in some places) because he explains that the Pope was obviously intrigued and affected by them, but so too was the Protestant Reagan. That shared interest helped forge their friendship, as did surviving assassination attempts and a desire to defeat Communism.

The parallels he draws between the two men are quite fascinating and I learned a lot. I really enjoyed the book and it piqued my interest more in the Fatima apparitions and others. I'll be doing some follow up on the those and report back to you.

Barnes & Schnable readers give it a 3.7 of 5 and Goodreaders a 4.4 of 5. I don't give ratings to nonfiction books. As I've explained before, I consider historical books to be just glorified term papers. Oh, I see you can research, organize and footnote. So can a monkey! Just kidding (about the monkey part). I kid because I love you history nerds.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Haugen Christmas/New Years letter

It’s one hour before Christmas Eve day and I don’t have my Christmas cards out yet. FYI, that line could have been written at this time each of the previous 53 years.

So I’m going to write my Christmas letter on my blog. Pardon the laziness, but this way is much cheaper and much more timely and the postal service is broke anyway and I needed something for the blog because I haven’t posted in a while. And I’m going to do it in a stream of consciousness way that will annoy you or entertain you. We shall see.

And it’s not going to be one of those Christmas letters where I just tell you about all the great things that happened to my family this year. I’m going to tell you about the sucky things that happened too. Because that’s life and sometimes God deals us deuces when we want aces. I’m guessing most people’s lives are like that too, but they don’t put that stuff in Christmas letters because it is the season of joy. Maybe we could call this the New Year’s letter, which is the same thing but not as joyous.

Speaking of cards, for starters, at the blackjack tables this year, God dealt me sixes when I wanted face cards way too often. Bad year at the tables. Sometimes it’s not good that I live 45 minutes from Deadwood. But mostly it is good, because my best friend comes to Deadwood a couple of times a year and I get to horse around with Ulm and his family. Not quite the same way we used to horse around, but fun none-the-less and fewer sirens.

About four months ago I popped the knuckle on my ring finger while changing a flat tire. Hurt like heck, but I figured that too shall pass. It hasn’t. The knuckle is still swollen and hurts all the time. Should go to the doctor, but she’ll tell me I should’ve come four months ago and there’s not much she can do about it now. No big deal but it does affect my toping once in a while.

Seems the years of running took a toll on the lowest disc in my back, so I get shooting pains down my legs after a couple days of running. So I retired from the road racing scene. I don’t think anyone noticed. I jog shorter and slower now to get the dogs out of the house and exercised and we go on hikes. So I took up weightlifting. Never really done that before. Got to the point where I’m not embarrassed to be curling in front of the mirror with the muscle men at Planet Fitness. But a couple weeks ago I think I tore something in my shoulder. Hurts when I lift my left arm. Should’ve mentioned it when I went to the doctor for my sixth-month checkup last week, but didn’t. We ran out of time discussing all my other maladies.

I’ve been on a heart pill the last couple years because my heart was skipping a beat and then double-beating to make up for it. Made it tough to sleep. So I drank more coffee in the mornings and Red Bull in the afternoons. A vicious cycle. “Don’t do that,” the doctor said. So I quit doing that. Now I don’t drink coffee, energy drinks or alcohol. Over 20 years on that no-alcohol thing. If you need a donor to cheat on your court-mandated urinalysis test, give me a call. I’m your man.

Good news is the doc said I could go off the pill, since maybe my life-style changes where accomplishing what the pill was supposed to be doing anyway. Been three days now, so far so goo … d. Health is good enough where I don’t have to come back for a year now. Cholesterol, BP and all the stuff they measure was in the good zone. Famous last words, right?

Good news is, as far as health goes, a guy who really should be complaining but who doesn’t, is my friend and brother-in-law. He was diagnosed a couple years ago with a rare cancer and given like a 15 percent chance of living. That’s my chances of ever getting a face card on my ace. I wrote a blog post about how I was sure he would beat it, but didn’t want to jinx him so didn’t post it. As Michael Scott says, I'm not superstitious, but I'm a little stitious. He went through hell and back and got a bone marrow transplant and is in remission and he’s got 100 percent of the bone marrow from his donor, which is great I’m told. He and wifey came out to visit a few weeks ago for the first time in that period and it was awesome to have them here. God delivered in the affirmative there, that’s for sure.

My wifey got canned from her job of ten years, with a half dozen other employees, because the church she worked at decided to “go in another direction” with the youth and young adult programs. I wrote the priest a letter about said “other direction” and expect I’ll probably be going there in the after-life now. But all ended well there too. Wifey got a new job working for four doctors in town, no nights, no weekends, and a boss she likes. She’s happy, as usual. And why wouldn’t she be; she gets to spend more time with me now.

Oldest daughter’s divorce became final about a year ago. She got out of a bad thing at the right time. She’s back in Rapid City, has a new friend, a great new job and is as happy as I’ve seen her in years. God works in mysterious ways.

Middle child is teaching seventh graders in Champagne, Illinois, for the second year. She and hubby, who is working on his PhD at the U of I, are doing great despite being Packers fans. They got a cat, which they seem to like but which I don’t understand.

Junior is a junior at Minnesota State – Mankato. He’s been Dean’s Listing it, which goes to show the value in dating a girl who works at the library. He barely sniffed an honor roll in high school but has really hit his stride at college. He’s a law enforcement major with minors in international relations and sociology. He worked last summer at Quantico, Virginia, for the Defense Security Service, a branch of the DOD, and really enjoyed it. He’s a “theft prevention specialist” (catches shop-lifters at Scheels) when not on campus. It’s amazing the number of morons they catch shop-lifting.

I got a new rabbit last spring. He was a good rabbit before some coyotes or neighborhood dogs got hold of him. Now he's dead. I’m out of the rabbit business until I build a new rabbit hutch, one with a great big beautiful slatted wall around it.

Stanley the lab has cancer. About a year ago the vet suggested amputating the leg, but of course could not guarantee the cancer wouldn’t pop up again two weeks later. After much ruminating, I decided not to put the old guy through it. He’s nine and still doing great a year later. He’s my best pal and is seldom more than ten feet away from me. Stan is super spoiled now, showing no ill effects except the lump has grown a little bit. It’s going to be tough when the Big C prevails there, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

Huckleberry the basset hound continues to be the orneriest dog I’ve ever owned. But he’s so danged cute and loveable it’s hard to stay mad at him. He’s not one of those fat bassets you see. He’s lean and runs with Stanley and me. He’s about sixty pounds of muscle and 1 ounce of brain.

My work is going well. I got a promotion, which is nice. Fourteen years there now, far surpassing my previous longevity record of five years at the same job. Helps to have a great boss and coworkers.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a book that’s been a long time in the writing. Good Lord willing it should be out this spring, perhaps summer. Buy it, you’ll like it. It has hookers in it!

I still haven’t fixed the garage door or the dishwasher. But did fix the sink downstairs and built a little deck on the front of the house. Jeesh, I’m only one man!

I had a fight with the homeowners association regarding political signs on the lawn a couple months ago. I won. I didn’t fight the HOA on the lawn, we fought over signs placed on the lawn. Might not have been clear. But I would’ve won that fight on the lawn too, because did I mention I’ve been lifting weights? And this was before my shoulder injury.

Wifey and I even fit in a trip to Key Largo and Clearwater, caught some Twins preseason. That’s about the best they played all year. Don’t get me started on the Vikings, my heart can only take so much. We hadn’t been on a vacation, just the two of us, for a long time. It was fun. I only got seasick once. Then again, we only went on the boat once.

So that’s the life of the Haugens in 2018, more or less, warts and all. It was good. God’s been good to us.

Just hoping for more aces in 2019.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

My Euphorbia pulcherrima, a Christmas story

A few years ago at the end of Christmas season after Mass, the priest said if anybody wanted one of the dozens of poinsettias decorating the alter we could take one home. Never one to turn down a free plant I did just that.

I thought it'd be cool to see how long I could keep one alive. It lived through the summer but lost all it's color and turned into just a boring little green plant that took up room. But I'm also never one to throw away a plant.

If you Google "How to get a poinsettia to turn red" (like really big nerds are apt to do), you will find detailed instructions that hardly seem worth it.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) need total darkness, for 14 hours each day, starting about eight weeks before you want to display them.
During the day, the plants need bright light, along with the other routine care. However, starting in the evening, the plants must get complete darkness. Even a nightlight can disrupt this process! Depending on where you have the plant (planted outside, or in a pot indoors), will determine how you approach this process. I’ll let you decide that.
The bracts will start to turn color in about four weeks, and continue if you carefully keep up the process. Poinsettias need a humid environment during this time, but be careful not to spray the foliage directly, as you may invite leaf spot, not a desired feature on such a showy leaf! In about eight weeks, the bracts should all be red, if you’ve followed the above guidelines. They’ll stay this way for several weeks, at least until after Christmas. 
Eventually the leaves will start to drop off. Once this occurs, cut the stems back to four to six inches. Keep the soil fairly dry, and the plant warm until new growth occurs. You can then replant in the garden in a sunny spot. Add a light amount of fertilizer in the spring and summer. Come next October, start the whole process over again! 
So you could just go to Walmart and pay 10 bucks for a new perfectly shaped red plant.

Or you could do what I do.

Every spring, I dig a hole in a bare spot along a path of perennials I have by the bird feeder and bird bath, plop it in there and don't touch it again. It gets hit by the mower, stomped on by dogs and deer and pooped on by birds. Stems break off. It just exists, drawing no attention, as the daisies and coneflowers attract all the attention from bees, butterflies and me.

Then just before frost, I dig it up again. Throw the clod of dirt in a pot, stuff some potting soil around it, set it in my office/library/conservatory/greenhouse room and water it once in a while.

Amazingly, it turns red just in time for Christmas.

It's like me. It's tall and spindly, kind of scraggly, but when it feels like it, can clean up halfway decent.

This was a good year for both of us.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Hump day link-oh-rama

Some odds and ends you may have missed during your holiday shopping:

*** Bill Gates recommends 5 books for the holidays. Spoiler alert:

“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou
“Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War,” by Paul Scharre
“21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” by Yuval Noah Harari
“Educated: A Memoir,” by Tara Westover
“The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness,” by Andy Puddicombe

*** Why I deleted my Twitter account

*** ‘A kind of dark realism’: Why the climate change problem is starting to look too big to solve.

*** Also in the WaPo: A Rapid City priest gets a sympathetic woe-is-me story done on him. If he were an NFL coach he'd be fired by now.
He did not bristle with anger or speak in disgust. There were no echoes of the new calls to end the vow of celibacy or grant women more power. He did not apologize, on behalf of the Catholic Church or on behalf of himself, even if the abuse allegedly had happened on his watch, because he didn’t know what to apologize for.
Just a thought, maybe it's time for some anger and disgust. (I've got plenty if the Church wants to borrow some.) But I suppose that would hamper his efforts of being promoted to bishop.

*** Cigars: A love story or two

*** On the topic of smoking, I've read a couple pro-vaping stories lately, here's one.

*** Camille Paglia is always interesting.
I contend that every educated person should be conversant with the sacred texts, rituals, and symbol systems of the great world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam — and that true global understanding is impossible without such knowledge.
Too many young people raised in affluent liberal homes are arriving at elite colleges and universities with skittish, unformed personalities and shockingly narrow views of human existence, confined to inflammatory and divisive identity politics.
I have yet to see a single profile of (Jordan) Peterson, even from sympathetic journalists, that accurately portrays the vast scope, tenor, and importance of his work.
Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.
*** An example of said assassination.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Finished: Block's 'A Dance at the Slaughterhouse'

Lawrence Block's "A Dance at the Slaughterhouse" is one of those rare books where the title tells you exactly what to expect.

I mean, "Moby Dick" - what the heck is that going to be about?

"The Divine Comedy" - hardly a comedy.

"The Catcher in the Rye" - not a baseball book.

But "A Dance at the Slaughterhouse" - you don't go into it expecting Mary Poppens and it wasn't.

From Goodreads:
In Matt Scudder's mind, money, power, and position elevate nobody above morality and the law. Now the ex-cop and unlicensed p.i. has been hired to prove that socialite Richard Thurman orchestrated the brutal murder of his beautiful, pregnant wife. During Scudder's hard drinking years, he left a piece of his soul on every seedy corner of the Big Apple. But this case is more depraved and more potentially devastating than anything he experienced while floundering in the urban depths. Because this investigation is leading Scudder on a frightening grand tour of New York's sex-for-sale underworld -- where an innocent young life is simply a commodity to be bought and perverted ... and then destroyed.
It was bars, hookers, a snuff film, torture, threesomes, graphic sex and lots of murder. In other words, a great Thanksgiving read.

But Block, in all his brilliance, weaves an interesting narrative throughout all those torrid events. The main character is Matthew Scudder, a former cop, recovering alcoholic. Many proffer that Scudder's struggles with sobriety (he attends many AA meetings throughout the novel) is biographical of the author's, though Block has never admitted such. (This is the ninth book in the Scudder series.)

A friend once told me that when Jamey Johnson sings his songs you can tell he's walked the walk. The way Block writes about Scudder's emotions certainly suggests he knows more about alcoholism than a Google search would provide.

The book is best described as raw - not blood and sex just for the shock. The emotions, the scenes, the relationships - none of them are cookie-cutter character descriptions. They're deep. That's what makes Block one of my favorite all-time authors. (I wish he would write an autobiographical novel about his times with my other favorite author and his best friend, the late Donald Westlake.)

Thankfully, Block is a prolific writer and still writing. He's fun to follow on Facebook and his monthly email is an enjoyable read. Check out any of Block's novels for a great read, but maybe don't start with this one until you're tough enough.

I gave it an 8 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Goodreaders a 4.2 and Amazonians a 4.4 of 5. Pretty stellar stuff.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Birdhouse remodel complete

It didn't take me as long as expected, but I got the ol' Haugen homestead birdhouse cleaned up, repaired, repainted and remodeled. Below are the after and before pics.

This 1-square foot, two-bed, one-bath cottage-style home is now available for rent. It's set in a beautiful (most years) garden surrounded by lots of tasty bugs and two nearby bird feeders for dining out. The deck features a spectacular view of the foothills of the Black Hills and with your eagle eyes can see the backside of Mount Rushmore.

My grandpa had the advantage of painting the interior pieces before he installed them. But I had the advantage of slender delicate hands to be able to get most of the spots painted, though not with Van Gogh precision. The lesson I learned from this project is that wood glue is my friend.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Post ThanksgivingBlackFridaySmallBusinessSaturdayCyberMonday link-o-rama

Here's some interesting stuff to read you might have missed while arguing politics with your relaticks.

*** America’s Multimillion-Dollar Bounty Program Just for Drug Lords

 *** This is an interesting ruling from the Supremes on endangered species. And it was unanimous.

If you're into Supreme Court stuff, there's a new book out on John Marshall.

*** Sky Gilbert is a bit of a rabble-rouser and wrote quite a thinker for Quillette: If That's What It Means to Be a Writer, I Quit
My job as a poet is not to improve you morally, or to present a clear, kind, socially approved message.
*** Quit apologizing for speaking your mind! Zimmern apologizes for comments about Chinese restaurants

*** A 656-page biography on The Babe (not JLH) came out last month.

*** If you aren't familiar with Dennis Mukwege, you should be. He was recently named co-winner of the Noble Peace Prize for his work with rape victims in the rape capital of the world, Congo.

** Jim O'Neil at Nature has a review, Swansong of Hans Rosling, data visionary, of one of my fave books of the year: Factfulness. Everyone should read it, especially journalists, who apparently need it most. (Read the book and you'll understand.)
It throws down a gauntlet to doom-and-gloomers in global health by challenging preconceptions and misconceptions.
*** Here's the Christmas list I sent my kids. I hope they communicate and don't all buy me the same book:
Red War by Vince Flynn
The Other Woman by Daniel Silva
Target Alex Cross by James Patterson
Holy Ghost by John Sandford
Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz
Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz

Monday, November 12, 2018

Finished the new Jack Reacher & 2 others

Lee Child's "Past Tense" is the 23rd book in his Jack Reacher series. It's one of the best. You'd think Child would start pooping out on this character but he hasn't yet.

According to Goodreads:
Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour. 
At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is. 
The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place? 
As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.
The most unique thing about this book in the series was how the suspense built. I was well over halfway through the book before the two plot lines began to intersect. On one hand you had the two Canucks in the forest and the young men planning to do something to them (I did correctly predict what they had up their sleeve). On the other hand was Reacher in a small town doing his version of The ancestory thing is interesting in the whole scheme of the Reacher family tree. His visit to town also sparks a romantic interest between two people he interacts with. Their fate at the end of the book is one I didn't see coming.

Soon enough the bullets and broadheads started to fly. This was also one of the rare Reacher books were he doesn't have his own romantic interest or at least a one-night fling. Bummer for him.

Goodreaders gave it a 4.3 out of 5. Amazonians a 4 out of 5. I gave it a 8+ on the 10-point Haugenometer. I really enjoyed it but it just fell shy of a 9, which is reserved for books that cause me to lose sleep thinking about them.

** Previously, I finished "The Burning Room" by Michael Connelly. This is the 17th in the Harry Bosch series. It's one series where I'm not reading them in order and it tears me up inside.
In the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die almost a decade after the crime. So when a man succumbs to complications from being shot by a stray bullet nine years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other evidence is virtually nonexistent. 
Now Bosch and his new partner, rookie Detective Lucia Soto, are tasked with solving what turns out to be a highly charged, politically sensitive case. Starting with the bullet that's been lodged for years in the victim's spine, they must pull new leads from years-old information, which soon reveals that this shooting may have been anything but random.
Goodreaders gave it a 4.1 of 5. I gave it a 7 of 10.

** Previously to that, I finished The Canceled Czech by Lawrence Block. This is the second in the Evan Tanner series. I am reading them in order and sleep much better at night for doing so.

Tanner is a unique character. He doesn't sleep and knows several languages. He goes places where even the CIA doesn't want to go.
"The Canceled Czech" finds the sleepless adventurer on a mission to Czechoslovakia to liberate a dying man, who turns out to be a Nazi. For his troubles, he finds himself leaping from a moving train, tangling with an amorous blonde, and playing the role of a neo-Nazi propagandist. Just another typical work day in the life of "the thief who couldn't sleep".
Goodreaders gave it a 3.6 of 5. I gave it a 6 of 10.

All in all, a month with Lee Child, Michael Connelly and Lawrence Block is a great month.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Alexa throws life into turmoil

Admittedly, I enjoy a good argument. It gets the blood flowing, heart pumping and neurons snapping. It's been said I'm pretty good at it.

But there's one "person" who frustrates me to no end and refuses to listen to reason. It's that dang Alexa.

When we discussed purchasing her a year ago or so, I threw cold water on the idea. "The last thing we need is another gadget around the house," were I believe the words I used. But, as is often the case, rather than arguing about it, wifey wins said arguments by just going out and doing what she wants anyway. She bought Alexa.

And I actually enjoy it and use it a lot. I like the corny jokes she replies with when I say "good morning." I like that she will play whatever music I'm in the mood for, gives me scores of games, times of upcoming events, answers to trivia questions. She's like an easy Google.

On my lunch hours I have four songs I rattle off for her to play while I sing along chewing my peanut butter sandwich. Same songs, same meal, every day. It's how I roll.

The songs are:
"Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning" by Willie
"High Cost of Living" by Jamey Johnson
"Blues Man" by Hank
"Do Ya" by KT Oslin

Alexa plays them, I sing them loudly, the dogs howl along, the neighbors call the cops, and I go back to work a happy man. Five days a week for the past year. No questions asked.

Until this past Friday.

For some reason, Alexa decided to play KT Oslin's "You Can't Do That" instead. Does that sound like "Do Ya" to you? Doesn't to me either. It's not like I developed a lisp overnight. I didn't acquire a southern twang or a Boston accent she can't understand. Even without peanut butter in my mouth and with distinct innunciation Alexa refuses to play "Do Ya." I've asked in a several different ways, even had wifey ask. Alexa refuses. What happened? Did the song disappear? Did Alexa developing a hearing problem?

This bothers me to no end and has thrown my OCD life out of whack. It's now three songs, not four like it's supposed to be in a sane world. I'm a man without purpose, a lost soul stumbling back to work (which isn't helped by the usual off ramp I take being closed to construction). My concentration is off, focus is gone. I don't pay attention to speed limits (at least now I have a reason). I'm more susceptible to road rage. I'm grumpier than usual. And it's all because of this Alexa person's overnight refusal to listen to me.

I've taken to swearing at her. Hollering at her. Insulting her mother. Even tried saying "Please." But all to no avail.

All I want is my KT Oslin to sing in one of the sexiest voices in country music history: "Do ya still get a thrill when you see me coming up the hill, honey now do ya? Do you whisper my name just to bring a little bit of comfort to ya? Or do you lie awake thinkin' I'm the biggest mistake you ever made? Do you miss me when I'm gone, but sometimes wish I'd stay gone just a little bit longer? Honey, now do ya?"

The thrill is gone now. Come back KT, before I do something Alexa is gonna regret.

It's looking like a version of "Bubba Shot the Jukebox" is going to play out in this house unless she comes around. I'm sure it'll be in all the papers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My ghost story

I'll go to my grave believing I saw a ghost.

On the farm I grew up on southwest of Canton, our newer house and my grandparents homestead were separated by a grove a spruce trees. In my high school years I moved from a bedroom upstairs to one of the coolest rooms in the basement a kid could ever have. Dad built it. One wall was peg board. Another wall was cork board. All walls were covered with sports photos I'd cut out of Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Viking Report, etc. Only a poster of Farrah Fawcett in a swimsuit indicated I might have an interest in something other than sports.

My room sat at the far end of the basement from the stairs. Lying in bed, if my door was open, I could see down the hall to the stairs. On the other side of the basement was a family room with a fireplace, a small library and another room with a pool/ping pong table.

This has nothing to do with the ghost story, but Dad made the ceiling of my room out of sheets of styrofoam to cover up the floor joists (is that what they're called?). That was all well and good until the mice started running around up there. The tick, tick, tick of little feet above me while trying to go to sleep added to the ambiance. Even better was when they started chewing and clawing at it and through it. Scratch, scratch, scratch. One day I came home from school and there was a hole in my ceiling and a pile of styrofoam crumbs on my bed. You think you have trouble sleeping? Try doing it waiting for mice to fall on your face.

So one night, guessing freshman or sophomore year, I finally fell asleep with visions of Farrah or Tommy Kramer in my head. My faithful cocker spaniel, Buffy, was curled up beside me. I was awakened about 3 a.m. by my dog's growling. That'd never happened before. I sat straight up in bed, wide awake, and watched this white shadowy figure flow from the bottom of the stairs, down the hall toward me, before stopping at the foot of my bed.

Buffy stopped growling but was tight against me watching the show. I rubbed my eyes a couple times like you'd see Scooby and Shaggy do when they saw a ghost.

The figure was female, old, but not frightening. If anything, she was calming, friendly, protective. Oddly enough, I wasn't frightened. I felt like somebody was checking on me. She stood there for a few seconds looking at me, then calmly turned and floated away.

The next day I asked my parents if they'd come downstairs for some reason. They hadn't. And if they had, there would be no reason for the dog to growl.

The image kind of reminded me of my grandmother, Lydia, but she was still alive and unlikely to be wandering through the evergreen trees and into our house at 3 a.m. So I'm kind of left to believe that maybe it was her mother, or my grandpa's mother.

I don't think it's crazy to think there are spirits or ghosts among us. (But then again, crazy people don't general recognize they are crazy. Maybe I am.) But, heck, if you're a Christian you pretty much have to believe in that stuff. Don't you? So a friendly ghost it was, and I'd pass that lie detector test.

I have other stories, but this one makes me seem less crazy, so I'll stick with just it for now.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A home for the birds and the Haugens

My grandpa, Edwin Haugen, grew up on a farm by Menno. We called him Pa.

Pa and Ma moved to Sioux Falls when my dad was a senior in high school (Washington). Pa worked at Old Home Bread until retirement, where he then worked as the maintenance man for three apartment buildings on Spring Ave.

During retirement Pa had a workshop where he was always working on projects. I never paid too much attention to them as a kid because he was one of the first people I knew who had cable television, which interested me more. I'd stay over at his house and watch all-star wrestling late at night and eat sardines.

One of the things Pa built was birdhouses. This one in particular was a replica of the house he grew up in. He must have built it 40-45 years ago. My dad then had it on a post by his garden on the farm by Canton.

When Dad died, it was one of the few things I took, in retrospect not even really sure why. It's been in my garden for fourteen years as the home to more wasps than birds. It started looking pretty rough a couple years ago, but just now decided to bring it in the garage with hopes of making it my winter project to fix up.

Trouble is, I'm not much of a fixer-upper, don't have the tools or the aptitude. My grandpa did, my dad did, but I don't. Somehow that gene got lost on a gravel road between Menno and Canton.

As I took the roof off and looked inside, I was surprised at the detail. There are working doors on hinges, with doorknobs. There's trim around the windows and doors, inside and out. There were even curtains on the windows, but they've since rotted away. There's also a small porch with a roof you can see on the bottom photo.

My goal is to mostly just clean it up and repaint it. But it's going to need a new roof and that will definitely test my abilities and patience.

Stay tuned. If you never see a post on the finished project, you'll know how the story ended.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

New Prince CD eases the pain

Picked up the new Prince CD last weekend and listened to it on the way home from Champaign last weekend.

Other than listening to Prince when a song came on the radio, my heart just hasn't been ready to listening to his CDs. This was a good segue to getting back into it.

Online reviews have been mixed, but I enjoyed it. It's pretty mellow, just his voice and awesome piano playing. It's a little rough, not mixed. So it's kind of an intimate CD. Was kind of hard to listen to on the interstate, with all the outside noise and all, but it is much better with headphones.

People are always going to get upset about which songs his estate chooses to release, but I was fine with this. Someone suggested letting Wendy and Lisa pick the songs and mix them to Prince's standards, and I like that idea.

Either way, I'll listen to whatever they put out from Prince even though I'll always listen with the thought of what might have been.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A visit to Jane Addams Book Store raises questions

Our annual trip to Champaign, IL, to visit the middle child and her hubby always includes an Illini football game and a trip to the Jane Addams Book Store.

It's become my favorite used book store. I don't know its history but my guess is it is a former apartment building or old home. It is three-stories tall and has numerous small rooms and nooks and crannies with books stacked to the ceiling. There are some pretty cool photos if you Google it.

We were fresh off a visit to a corn maze, and the bookstore was actually more of a challenge to navigate.

So son-in-law and I went to browse while wifey and my daughter went to Walgreens (code name for margaritas).

When we later met up with them at the rooftop bar, I unveiled my purchases to them. It raised some eyebrows as the family grew a little concerned about the titles. There may have even been a suggestion that I could use some professional help (not the first time that's been suggested) or it would surely be a topic of discussion at my Supreme Court hearing (as if I'd ever make it past my high school and college days).

But Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake are two of my favorite authors and if that sinks my nomination, so be it.

Friday, September 14, 2018

TGIF link-o-rama

*** I bought the book Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War on pre-order for my politico daughter's birthday. It arrived yesterday. At first glance of the cover, it gives the impression it might be some light-hearted anecdote-filled book of funny tussles, but it's not.

From WSJ:
Yet to those involved, the fighting was serious business. Reputations for courage and honor had to be acquired and defended; in the infancy of American democracy, voters rewarded men who stood up for themselves — and, by extension, for their constituents. This was especially true in sections of the country where violence or its threat was part of daily life. As Ms. Freeman points out, white rule in the South continually depended on violence, actual or potential, against slaves. In the West, violence drove Indian tribes off their land and made it available to settlers. Andrew Jackson, an offstage figure in Ms. Freeman’s tale, was a hard-scrabble Carolina kid who first made his reputation in Tennessee as an Indian fighter. He became a national hero by defeating the British at New Orleans in 1815. When he ran for president in the 1820s, many Easterners were appalled to learn he had killed a man in a duel. Westerners and Southerners took the opposite view, praising Jackson for avenging an insult to his wife.

The author is a serious writer. Joanne Freeman.

From Wiki: Joanne B. Freeman is an American historian and tenured Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. Having researched Alexander Hamilton both independently and collaboratively with mentors and peers for more than forty years, she is regarded as "a leading expert" on his life and legacy. In 2005 she was rated one of the nation's "Top Young Historians."

*** South Dakota writer Joseph Bottum emailed that: The second installment of my twice-a-month column in the London Spectator, noodling about life and politics on the prairie, is now available online. And I thought I would send it along for your amusement, if only because it opens with a scene in the Sundog coffee shop here in the town of Madison.

*** My 7th grade niece was at my house this summer before going on a trip through Yellowstone and back to the east side of the state. She's a big reader, so I picked out a handful of books she might be interested in and borrowed them to her. She also had the privilege of sleeping in my office/library/greenhouse/conservatory. So all that knowledge could seep into her brain by osmosis.

One of the books was Huckleberry Finn. We had a little talk about the language in the book. I told her that's how they talked back in that day and that's why those words are used but that they are hurtful words and she should never use them. (On a related note, if you get the chance watch the PBS documentary on Mark Twain, where several African-American historians make similar arguments).

Anyway, she texted me the other day that she'd finished it and loved it. Take that you foolish censoring librarians and schools.

*** Was talking to a friend about The Handmaid's Tale the other day. She's a history and political science major, very well read. We were laughing about these goobers who dress up like red penguins to protest at events and I told her I got the gist of what they are trying to say but never read the book nor saw the television show.

She said she read the book and it was the absolute worst book she's read in her life. She said she seldom, if ever, throws a book away; is kind of a hoarder of them, like me. But she threw it in the garbage.

So I'll probably pass on it, even though Barnes and Shnable keeps pimping it to me in their emails.

*** has chosen this as its book of the week: “Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life” organizes a cluster of men’s problems — unemployment and underemployment, divorce, social isolation, addictions to porn, drugs, and video games, criminality, misogyny, and general irresponsibility — under the rubric of alienation. Men increasingly feel as if the job market, politics, and culture have no place for them. Their response has been, in various ways, to effectively drop out of society.

*** Seems Lee Enterprises is really good at running closing newspapers. Lee Enterprises shuttered the Missoula Independent, 17 months after buying it and five months after the paper unionized.

*** And finally, the author of 'How to Murder Your Husband' is arrested for allegedly killing her husband.

She should have written: 'How to Murder Your Husband and Get Away With It'

Monday, September 3, 2018

Finished 2: 'McNally's Chance' and 'Jimmy The Kid'

For those who think you have to read popular contemporary authors to be cool, you're wrong. Some of the best, like Donald Westlake and Larry Sanders, are no longer with us in body but alive and well in spirit and on the written page.

Westlake is a Grand Master mystery writer who is one of my favorites. He weaves plot twists and humor like none other. I recently finished his very clever "Jimmy The Kid."

Westlake also wrote under several other names, including Richard Stark. In JTK, his famous Dortmunder Gang bases their crime on a book one of the Gang read, which was written by Stark. It worked so well for one of his former protagonists, Parker, that they figure it will work for them if they follow it to the tee.

But nothing goes as planned for the Dortmunder Gang, ever. It left me chuckling up until the final line. I gave it an 8 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians gave it a stellar 4.4 of 5.
Kelp has a plan, and John Dortmunder knows that means trouble. His friend Kelp is a jinx, and his schemes, no matter how well intentioned, tend to spiral quickly out of control. But this one, Kelp swears, is airtight. He read it in a book.

In county lock-up for a traffic charge, Kelp came across a library of trashy novels by an author named Richard Stark. The hero is a thief named Parker whose plans, unlike Kelp and Dortmunder’s, always work out. In one, Parker orchestrates a kidnapping so brilliant that, Kelp thinks, it would have to work in real life. Though offended that his usual role as planner has been usurped, Dortmunder agrees to try using the novel as a blueprint. Unfortunately, what’s simple on the page turns complex in real life, and there is no book to guide him through the madness he’s signed on for.
Among the great lines, that are best in context with the story:

"Beer drinkers got a low center of gravity."

"Money paid to a kidnapper is not deductible on your income tax."

As for Larry Sanders, "McNally's Chance" was actually written by Vincent Lardo, as he carries on the Archie McNally series upon Sanders' death. He does a good job of it.

When bestselling romance author Sabrina Wright asks for Archy McNally's help in finding her missing husband, Archy is quick to write it off as a simple domestic case. But this one's a page-turner of the first order: Sabrina's daughter ran off, she sent her husband to find her, and now they're both missing in action.
If only Sabrina hadn't told her adopted daughter that she really is her natural mother. That sent daughter looking for father, a Palm Beach blueblood who paid Sabrina handsomely for his anonymity. So it's up to Archy to find the fugitive family members before local gossips get wind of the story-and start pointing fingers at some of Palm Beach's most prestigious names.
It was entertaining, as all McNally books are, but wasn't riveting like JTK. I gave it a 6. Amazonians gave it a little better 4 of 5.

Among the best lines:

"It was 110 in the shade and very drunk out."

"Oh Lord, make her a good girl ... but not immediately."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Finished: Rosling's 'Factfulness'

Just when you think you know it all, along comes a book like "Factfulness" to set you straight.

A guy in our office liked this book so much he bought a copy for everyone a couple months ago. I knocked off a chapter here and there and finally finished it. Oddly enough, the author, Hans Rosling, suggests later in the book that is the way to read it. So information is absorbed and considered.

Keep in mind, this wasn't written by some goofy cable talk show host. This guy has cred: Hans Rosling was a medical doctor, professor of international health and renowned public educator. He was an adviser to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, and co-founded Médecins sans Frontières in Sweden and the Gapminder Foundation. His TED talks have been viewed more than 35 million times, and he was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Hans died in 2017, having devoted the last years of his life to writing Factfulness.

The full title of the book is: "Factfullness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are". He starts with a short multiple choice quiz that most likely will prove how uninformed you are. Coincidentally, of the subgroups of people he gave the test to over the years, journalists did the worst. It might behoove them to fork over the 15 bucks.

It's a book I think everybody would benefit from, but especially journalists. It's not overly optimistic, but shows that things are not as bad as usually presented by the media. Things aren't perfect, but they are getting better. From poverty to disease to women's rights, they are all going in the right direction, many with remarkable improvement in a short time.

I was stunned at the end to learn the Rosling was terminally ill while writing most of the book. So if a guy had reason to be negative, he had it, but wasn't. So he wasn't around to do the media tour and cash in like Jordan B. Peterson and his "12 Rules for Life". But it's received raved reviews. According to Bill Gates, it's "one of the most important books I've ever read - an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world."

Yet it doesn't read like a textbook. It's interesting, woven with humor, sadness and reality.

Amazonians gave it a 4.6 out of 5. The Haugenometer doesn't work on nonfiction books, but if it did would tell you to read it. You'll be smarter and look at things a bit differently. Or don't. Your call.

It's one of the more heavily marked-up books I've read, but here's just some tidbits to whet your appetite:

- Today, most people, 75 percent, live in middle-income countries.
- Most people have enough to eat, most people have access to improved water, most children are vaccinated, and most girls finish primary school.
- Over the last 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved.
- There are three things going on here (regarding our negativity instinct): the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling that as long as things are bad it's heartless to say they are getting better.
- Critical thinking is always difficult, but it's almost impossible when we are scared. There's no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.
- If we are not extremely careful, we come to believe that the unusual is usual: that this is what the world looks like.
- Everyone automatically categorizes and generalizes. He says it's a "necessary and useful instinct to generalize. One again, (though) the media is the instinct's friend. Misleading generalizations and stereotypes act as a kind of shorthand for the media, providing quick and easy ways to communicate.
- Almost every activist I have ever met, whether deliberately, or, more likely, unknowingly, exaggerates the problem to which they have dedicated themselves.
- We have to seek to understand why journalists have a distorted worldview (answer: because they are human beings, with dramatic instincts) and what systemic factors encourage them to produce skewed and overdramatic news (at least part of the answer: they must compete for their consumers' attention or lose their jobs).
- He suggests: Be less stressed by the imaginary problems of an overdramatic world, and more alert to the real problems and how to solve them.
- When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems - and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.

I think there's probably something for everyone to dislike in this book. He gores some sacred cows here, from both sides of the political aisle. His personal ideology is liberal but, again, seems very thoughtful, provides examples, and most importantly provides facts. Argue with him if you want. My guess is you'll lose.