Bye Dad

May 13th, 2018

I first discovered the Grand Canyon with my Dad. During my professional years, I travelled regularly to Las Vegas for the Comdex convention, which was, at the time, the largest gathering of computer geeks in the world. I liked to stay in Laughlin, NV, just to get out of the craziness of the Las Vegas Strip. One year I asked my Dad to come along, and he accepted. While I attended the conference, he stayed behind and played at the casino. Then we could have dinner together and do tourist things.

The Grand Canyon is about 3 hours away from Laughlin, and since we’d arrived a day before the conference was to begin, we decided to take a day and drive to the canyon, spend a few hours, and drive back. I don’t think I’ll ever forget looking over that rim for the first time. Have you looked over the rim? Then you understand. If all you’ve seen is pictures, then you don’t.

After my brain settled down a bit from that first look, I noticed an obvious trail some distance below our vantage point (it turned out to be the trail to Plateau Point.) “Someday I’m going to walk down there,” I told myself. I was in my 40s, and had done some backpacking with the Boy Scouts, but had never taken a trip where I was responsible for all the aspects of the journey. With my 40 year old brain, I thought it would be a good idea to do a backpacking trip in the canyon. I asked my Dad if he’d like to go too, and after thinking about it for a while, he said yes.

Dad had been in the military, but had never been bitten by the camping bug. I talked to him about getting some good boots, loaned him a backpack, and suggested he put some weight in it, and do some hiking every day to get in shape. Dad never spent a nickel he didn’t have to. As we were corresponding about the upcoming hike, I asked him if he’d bought his boots. “Yes,” he said. I should have asked him to elaborate.

He’d gotten a deal on some steel toed work boots. I’m not sure how well they fit him either. “Are you hiking with some weight in your pack?” “Yes,” he said. Again, I didn’t ask him to fill in the details.

It turned out that the weight he was putting in his pack was a couple of coffee table sized books. Maybe 10 or 15 pounds. I had something more in mind like 50#, but he was my Dad and I didn’t push it.

The big day finally arrived. He flew from Lansing and I from Houghton. We were to meet in Chicago and take the same flight to Las Vegas. We met up in Chicago with no troubles, and caught our plane to LV, where we picked up our rental car, and made our way to the canyon. I’d booked a room at the Yavapai Lodge in Grand Canyon Village for the night before our hike was to start. When we got there, we spread out all our gear and split things up into our respective backpacks, and set the alarm for early.

The best hiking in the desert is early morning, so we got up very early, loaded up our packs, and drove to the rim. We parked the car near the trailhead of Bright Angel Trail, and started down. Dad did pretty well at first, although we were going a little slower than I would have liked. The Bright Angel Trail is 9 miles long, and our first night was to be at the bottom of the trail. By the time we got to the first rest house, which is 1 ½ miles down the trail, we’d spent over an hour hiking.

Doing the math in my head told me if we kept up this pace, it would take us over 8 hours to get to the bottom, which is a very long day for a beginning hiker. After a 20 minute rest, we pushed on. Dad started complaining about his legs feeling numb as we continued down the switchbacks. Down is the hardest hiking in my experience, because of the jolts your legs get every time you take a step. There was another rest house called 3 Mile just down the trail, so I decided we’d make for that and see how things were going.

I could not get Dad to understand how to drink water while hiking in the arid southwest. All his life his drinks had been in sips, and down in the canyon, you need to guzzle. He told me his mouth was getting dry, so we stopped in the shade and I handed him a liter of water and told him to drink it. He sipped and gave it back to me. I tried but could not get him to understand what I wanted him to do. He was getting dehydrated, but would not drink water. By now we were about 3 hours into the hike and had not made the 3 Mile rest house. I decided we needed to turn back.

I hiked out with my backpack. I left him all the water we had except for what I needed, and all the powerbars. When I made it to the top, I dropped the backpack off in the car and turned around. I got back down to him a couple of hours after I’d left him, and he was in much better shape. He’d walked a short distance until he found a good place to rest, then had some water and a snack, and did it over again. He told me he’d asked a couple of guys that walked by if he could pay them to carry out his backpack, but he didn’t get any takers.

I shouldered his pack and we hiked out without incident. We got a room for the night back at the Yavapai, and left the canyon the next day.

Dad and I made one more trip to the canyon as tourists after that, but never tried another backpacking trip. He was in his 70s and just didn’t have the will for it. I understood. I made several trips into the canyon after our aborted trip together, and I count the times I spent below the rim among the best in my life.

Fast forward to May of 2018. I’m staying in a hotel room in Tusayan, AZ. Dad passed away on April 4, 2018. It was such a busy time for me that I felt I had not grieved properly. Looking at the calendar, I saw a hole in the second week in May. We had the frequent flyer miles, and I had the time, so I booked the trip. I’ve spent my days rim-hiking, which I’ve never done before. My knees preclude me from backpacking, but I can still rim hike, and hike I have done. There have been tears and smiles. I feel as though the cork has come out of a bottle and all the contents have shot out. I can not imagine a better place to say goodbye to a constant force in my life. Thank-you Howard Soldan for bringing me into this world, bringing me up, and sticking with me through my numerous foolish escapades. I miss you more than words can say, but at last, I feel as though I’ve said a proper goodbye.

Picture 1 was taken shortly after I arrived at the canyon and had my first look. Notice that I have my hat on backwards. I was sad but happy, if that makes any sense.

Picture 2 was taken on my last hike on my last day at the canyon.

Peak Experiences

March 23rd, 2018

As I was growing up, I remember coveting Peak Experiences. It was a feeling I got when I figured something out; when something in my brain clicked into place. “Wow,” I’d say to myself. “That was awesome.” These experiences were pretty rare, but I remember finding myself looking forward to the next one.

At age 65, I still feel that tingle in my spine occasionally. It seems as though the high isn’t as high as I remember it though. Maybe the dream I had the other night was based on some nostalgic longings for those peak experience days.

In my dream, I was in a typical social situation when I encountered a person from my past. This woman would have been a teenager at the tine when our son was a teenager. We knew and liked all of our son’s friends, and I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing how many of them have blossomed as they’ve reached middle age.

The young woman in the dream was an amalgamation of several of our son’s friends. I did recognize her immediately in the dream, but when I woke up, I couldn’t place who she was. She smiled in recognition of me, and I smiled back. Then she looked down at her laptop and said, “Name a country.”

I said, “The Dominican Republic.”

She answered by referring back to her laptop, and giving me a person’s name. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what that name was. (Shucks!)

Then I woke up. The fact that this dream snippet has stayed with me these several days seems significant to me, and I’ve spent some time going over it.

Given those two seemingly unrelated pieces of information; a random country and a person’s name, my task was to figure out how they were connected. I’d probably sit down at my computer, and do something I’m pretty good at… search around until I get an interesting hit. And from that hit, I’d generate a peak experience. But how would that work?

Thinking about it, I determined that now more than ever, facts about me are knowable and classifiable. Imagine if someone would have gone to the trouble to determine all the books and articles I’ve read, all the classes I’ve taken, how I did on the tests and quizzes, what I’ve written and said. In this modern world, it would be trivial to store all this data, and search against it.

And that, as near as I determine, was the meaning of the dream. A 3-D matrix of all knowledge would have my name on it, and tendrils corresponding to my experiences would be snaking inside it (you might have to zoom in a lot in order to see my tendrils!) Once this structure is rendered in 3-D, it would be easy to see the deficiencies… places I haven’t visited yet, but are approachable because of my previous experiences. A catalyst is necessary for me to visit those musty corners of knowledge, and that catalyst was provided by the intersection of a country and a person.

It made me wonder what sort of a life we would live if we could tap dance rapidly from one peak experience to the next. Where our knowledge and training could be guided by a process free from human weaknesses. What sort of folks would we develop into? I don’t know the answers, but I have a sense that the technology to accomplish this is either just around the corner or here already.

The Next Big Thing

February 21st, 2018

If you are like me, you’ve noticed your attention towards ™ increasing as the years go by. What started with a couple of orders per year has morphed into over a hundred for us in 2017. Amazon Prime ™ is so darned convenient, prices are good, and the selection is astronomical.

If you share my concern for the environment, and if you see the increasing trend of online ordering as I do, one major flaw in that system becomes glaringly obvious; the waste. Retail packaging is designed to intrigue a customer with some room on the credit card that is strolling down the retail isles. Catchy packaging can make the difference between small and large sales. But if the customer is strolling down e-isles instead, I would argue the flashy packaging is mostly irrelevant.

Once the e-order is placed, your item, securely bundled in it’s irrelevant plastic, will be put inside another box along with some packing material to keep it from wobbling enroute. The ratio of disposable packaging to useful product is surprisingly high.

So here is the next big thing — reusable packaging. Industry will standardize on certain sizes for product containers. These containers will be able to have a label slapped on them, and will ship safely as they are. When the customer receives their item, the empty package will be broken down and placed on the porch. The next time the UPS truck stops by, there will be an off-load and an on-load. The packaging will be returned to the manufacturer for cleaning and reuse.

Then we can go to work cleaning the plastic gunk out of the oceans without us throwing our hands in the air. The rate we are creating and disposing of this useless one-use packaging will go down to zero. And some cleaver entrepreneur will be fortunate enough to design and sell this packaging system to the world, and get very rich in the process.

Wouldn’t have believed it

February 15th, 2018

Our little 2007 Pontiac Vibe is a good car for us. Besides being just the right size for 2 people, the hatchback allows for a versatile array of gear hauling, including the crate for our 90# German Shepherd. We have also modified the Vibe with a front attachment that allows us to tow it behind the RV. This car works out so well for us that I started looking around for a replacement in case the miles pile up to the point we have to retire it.

It turns out that Pontiac no longer exists, but the car this is based on, the Toyota Matrix, is still made. It is getting harder to find manual transmissions however. So I broadened my search to see if we might be able to buy a winter car, and store the Vibe away with the RV each winter. This should cut the miles the Vibe drives each year thereby extending its life.

While I was doing all this research, my elderly parents were reaching the point that they could no longer drive. They happened to have a car they no longer needed. My brother took the car (a 2010 Cadillac CTS) to the local Cadillac dealer, and they determined that since it had 80,000 miles on it, and needed some work, that it wasn’t worth very much money. None of us siblings were interested in the car, and we were a whiskers breath away from accepting their offer. Then my brother mentioned in passing, “…it is all wheel drive.”

“Hmm,” I thought to myself.

As I was growing up, Cadillac made cars that I felt could have doubled as aircraft carriers. They kind of lumbered down the road. They had a lot of room inside, and a huge trunk, but I wouldn’t have characterized them as nimble, or good in the snow. Also, Cadillac’s cost a LOT of money… more than my budget. Perhaps it is snooty of me, but I also felt that people that drove them were trying to make it clear that they were pretty special folks… not the sort of message I try to convey in my life.

All wheel drive though. Hmm. To make a long story short, Alice and I decided to buy this car from our parents and drive it in the winter. And for the umpteenth time in my life, I learned I was wrong. This car is great in the snow. It is low to the ground, so you wouldn’t want to plow through snow drifts with it. But if the snow is not too deep, this car performs nearly as well as any 4-wheel drive I’ve owned.

One plus we discovered on a trip a few weeks ago that was unanticipated, was the excellent brakes. We live in white tail deer country, and on a recent trip to Escanaba, we were driving along after dark when 2 deer sauntered across the road in front of us. I had to stab the brakes. That car stopped right now. We were seriously lucky we had our seat belts on or the G forces would have tossed us forward. We missed the deer by a wide margin, and I accelerated away from the incident with a new respect. This is a well engineered car that is good in the snow, accelerates well, gets surprisingly good gas mileage, and oh yes, it has heated seats.


February 4th, 2018

I watched George Carlin’s routine on “Stuff” the other day. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend doing a youtube search for it. Much of his work makes you laugh, but it also makes you think, and my thought was, “this winter…” during which there is bound to be some down time, “I will go through all my stuff!” If I see stuff I no longer need, I’ll make other arrangements with it. If it is junk, I’ll throw it out. If it is still useful, I’ll take it to St. Vincent’s ™ or the ReStore ™.

“How’s he doing?” You are thinking to yourself.

“Poorly,” is my answer.

I had decided to start with the file cabinet in the basement. For most of our married life, I’ve kept all the bank statements, credit card statements, receipts from purchases, bills, etc. Each category had it’s hanging folder bursting with stuff. My criteria was going to be, if it is older than 7 years, out it goes. Still, I made myself look at it before I tossed it.

It took me an afternoon to get through the top drawer in the file cabinet. I generated a good sized box of paper that no longer fit my 7 year criterium. Why 7 years? I think it has to do with the biblical story of the 7th son of the 7th son, indicating a rare individual. Can you imagine what the mother and grandmother of this rare individual must have looked like? Seven sons in the household, with some assorted daughters sprinkled in for good measure? Those poor women must have been wrecks!

This big box sat in the entry way on the table for some time. These documents had sensitive information in them, like the account numbers from banks that have changed names several times since I closed the accounts out. Still, they couldn’t just go into the recycling, so I determined that I’d burn them in the outside burner barrel. I put this off for a while, for a pretty good reason. The old burner barrel is something I walk past all summer, but in the winter, slogging out there is not something to be taken lightly. Besides getting my body out there, I also had to get the box of papers, something to light them with, and a dry place to put the box. Once I figured all that out, I had to sweep out all the snow from the barrel, drop some paper in the bottom, and then get a fire going.

Once it started to burn (“Are you sure about this,” Jiminy Cricket whispered in my ear) I dropped a few papers at a time into the fire so things would burn completely. It took some number of hours to get the job done. I now have one drawer of my 4-drawer file cabinet mostly empty. And that, my friends, is about the extent of my project to go through my stuff. Except one further project.

The other day I used the last of the bar of soap on the bathroom sink. I started to unwrap a fresh bar, and stopped mid-wrap. You see, for years now, when we finish a bar of soap, we put the left over soap chips in a coffee can under the bathroom sink. There were a lot of soap chips in there. When I queried my brain about a plan for the chips, very little came back to me. So I embarked on a plan to make new bars of soap out of these soap chips, thereby converting some more of my stuff into something useful.

I emptied the contents of the coffee can into the top of a double boiler, put it in it’s water filled mate on the back of the stove, and then did something else for a while. When a project like this is on the back burner (ha!) it is useful to leave the room for a while. Otherwise, your sense of smell might just adapt. As the structure of hundreds of old soap chips were changing due to the heat under them, the house did not smell great. Alice, bless her long suffering heart, wrinkled her nose, but said nothing as the hours slipped by. I added some water and stirred the mess until it started getting kind of sticky, and then spooned the slop into some old soap dishes we’ve accumulated over the years (more stuff!)

The results are interesting. As you can see from the picture, bar one of three is not beautiful. If your nose were nearby, you’d also think the bar smells interesting. The mixture of decades of soap made a bar that looks a lot like congealed puke, and smells like a freshly opened can of locker room disinfectant. The bar is a little too big in my hands, and it surely does not lather like a freshly opened bar of Ivory ™. But it does work, and I feel a little sense of pride every time I use it.

I now understand a little better why we have so much stuff. The pleasure I took from converting some useless stuff into a marginally useful thing was small compared to the pleasure you get when you decide you need something, choose what you want, bring it home, and put it someplace where you’ll find it when you need it. All the trouble of actually putting something to use that has been sitting around for decades provides a smaller amount of pleasure, at least to me. So the stuff piles up. Winter is more than half over, and I haven’t put a dent in my stuff yet. Maybe if I watch George Carlin one more time, I’ll feel better about it.

Mongo Feeder

January 31st, 2018

If you’re gathering statistics on the number of smiles/laughs generated (SLG) by non-humans in the Soldan household, Franco the German Shepherd wins. We did get a smile this morning from an unidentified mouse that moved a lot of Franco’s dog food from his dish to the cupboard where we keep the granulated sugar. The little guy piled it right against the door, so it spilled out when the door was opened. Franco ate it thinking it was some sort of bonus. It was actually his all along, and the potential loss could be considered a punishment for not guarding his food dish effectively.

In terms of SLGs per gram of body weight, I’d have to go with the Chickadees and Nuthatches that populate the little forest just west of our house each winter. They fly up to the feeders strung from the tree branches, seize a sunflower seed, and then fly someplace private where they can open their prize and swallow the insides. A Chickadee’s body weight is such that, it can land on a zip tie (one of natures natural building blocks, right along side of duct tape) sticking out of a bird feeder, and barely bend it. A zip tie is not designed to be sturdy when cantilevered out past a bird feeder, but these little guys do not fear landing on them, grabbing a seed, and then flying off.

Alice and I are not big travelers, but we do enjoy getting away now and then. On a recent trip, we visited Escanaba for an EMS conference, then spent 2 days in Milwaukee visiting my parents, and finished up with 3 days in Chicago visiting the Art Institute and pigging out on Chipotle. During our summer trips in the motorhome, we bring Franco, who is happy as long as the RV is moving down the road. In the winter, it isn’t as practical to bring him, so we usually board him. The Chickadees have to depend on the kindness of our neighbors. I have 3 sunflower seed feeders up, and they last about 1 1/2 days. This means that our little SLG per gram winners run out of food unless our neighbors stop by and fill the feeders. We hate to ask them, and a better solution was needed.

I use mostly tube feeders for my birds. Bigger birds tend to leave them alone because the feed hole is so close to the perch that they have to do gymnastics to get any seeds. Squirrels can get to them, and until we found the good quality plastic globes to protect them, we lost a lot of seeds to the squirrels. So I had this idea to capitalize on the tube feeder concept, but make it big enough to last several days during our winter trips.

I thought about tubes, and found that I had a chunk of (unused) 4″ plastic sewer pipe. It seemed like the tube part of the big feeder was solved, and all I had to do was figure out how to meter the seeds out without them all falling on the ground at once, and how to hang the thing in the tree. Enter Google ™. I appear not to be the only one looking for a squirrel-proof large feeder for small birds. The design I found was on the “instructables ™” site, although I’m sure there are many others out there. I added a couple of windows about 6″ up from the bottom so I could see when the seeds are running low without taking the whole thing down. For perches for the little birds, the author specified tie wraps, Which I have to admit I was skeptical of. His logic was sound, however. A sturdy perch gave a resourceful squirrel an avenue to attack the seed tube. So I used tie wraps.

The resulting feeder was finished, filled, and hung just before our January trip. The results were good, although I do see quite a few unopened seeds on the ground below the feeder. The blue-jays, squirrels, and Juncos seem not to mind cleaning these up. Our little Chickadees flit on and off the feeder all day, generating a smile whenever we see them.


January 12th, 2018

Click here for 25k movie

We humans live most of our lives indoors. If Alice and I wanted to improve our inside experiences, we’d probably not live where we are. A second rate apartment on 5th Avenue in New York contains more luxury that we could ever hope to achieve in our humble home, no matter how hard we worked at it. We understand and acknowledge this. But the outsides…

Our two German Shepherds have done something for me that I can’t imagine anything else doing… they’ve gotten me outside at times of the day that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Tonight, for instance. Franco needed his evening walk, so I dutifully donned boots, jacket, mitts, and hat, and headed out the door. Oh yes, it was 8:00 and long dark this time of year, so I also put on my headlamp.

I would not have known that the perfect snow was falling had it not been for Franco’s bladder. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I were to suggest that I have to be careful about getting too interested in the snowflakes tumbling into the beam of my headlamp. With my head tilted back so I’m looking straight up, I fear that if I let myself go, I could lose my vertical orientation and tumble to the ground. There is nothing in my life experiences that seems even remotely like these snowflakes on a perfect evening. The movie I’ve added to this post gives a small idea what it’s like, but really, I wish I could take you all outside on a night like this, strap on a headlamp, and allow you to behold the wonders of a snow fall.

The Glade

January 11th, 2018

I was waiting in line at Econo Foods the other day. The fellow in front of me put down a $20 and ordered some Powerball and Mega tickets. He got $4 change. It is entirely possible I was reading something into this, but I pretty firmly believe that I saw this fellow smiling with anticipation when the clerk handed him his tickets.

The news lately has had a story each night about how high the powerball and mega-millions jackpots were. One article I saw said the odds of any one ticket being a winner were about 300 million to one. To give you a sense of proportion, the odds of any one of us being killed by a meteorite are estimated to be 1 in 1.6 million. Yet when we read a story about someone buying the winning ticket at a 7-11 ™ somewhere in rural Florida, we can just imagine ourselves in the story. All our troubles would be over!

As I was walking Franco the other day, I snapped the picture at the top of this post. It is a row of trees I planted some decades ago. My idea was to separate the pond from the road with a screen of trees. Each of the little guys I planted came from somewhere on our property. They were dug by me with a shovel, hauled to their new home in the wheelbarrow, planted, and given their first drink of pond water. They were watered regularly during the dry years, but their roots are now deep enough they can go it alone.

The story of me planting these trees is not as interesting as the powerball winner in Florida, but I would suggest it is more true to life. So many of us want to write a best selling novel, a hit song, star in a high grossing movie, or yes, win the powerball. Few of us will be able to enjoy any of these fantasies, but it doesn’t stop us from dreaming.

If I could take a young person aside and get them to listen to me for a sentence or two, I’d suggest to them that it is the good habits that you cultivate, and the little things you do and then regularly reinforce in your life that will pay the best dividends. It is tempting to wish upon a star, but planting and watering a little tree will likely pay off better in the long run.

DCW’s Mantra

December 28th, 2017

DCW’s Mantra

One Day at a Time
Stay in the Moment
Do the Next Right Thing
Never Give Up

Some years ago, I attended an Emergency Medical Support (EMS) conference in Marquette. As an EMT, I am required to attend training sessions and submit proof of them when I recertify with the state every 3 years. The keynote speech of this particular conference was given by EMS advocate and emergency physician Dennis Whitehead. Honestly, I remember very little about his talk, but I do remember the second to the last slide in his presentation. It was titled DCW’s Mantra and had only 4 lines of text. He explained that this short list has helped him in his life.

I am not fast with pen and paper, and Dr. Whitehead very fast with his mouth. Before I was able to copy the whole thing in my notebook, he had moved on to his last slide, which said something like, “Thank-you, Questions?” Doc got a deserved standing ovation for his talk that day, and I was left with an incomplete mantra in my notebook. What to do?

After his talk, Doc was quickly surrounded by well-wishers with questions. His laptop on the podium was unguarded. From my seat front row/center, I walked up to the podium, found the back-arrow button on his computer, punched it, and beheld the second to the last slide up on the screen (sometimes it pays to know how to run PowerPoint.) I sat back down, finished copying the mantra, and then hurried to my next class.

When I got home, I transcribed those powerful words onto my computer, printed them out, and posted them on the bulletin board next to my computer screen. They have been there ever since. Not only has this simple wisdom helped me, but I’ve shared with others too. Over the years as other family and friends needed some encouragement, Alice and I have sent the mantra along and received thanks.

Recently one of our dear friends had a medical issue and Alice sent her an email which included the mantra. Her husband transcribed the text onto a sheet of paper and taped it on the closet door along with some artwork from other well wishers. If I were in a hospital bed, that is the sort of thing I’d like to look out and see. It is sometimes hard to know what to do in situations like these, and those few simple words might provide a clue.

I was so pleased with the good that Alice’s email had done, that I searched and found Dr. Whitehead’s email address, and sent him an email explaining how his words had helped in my life and others’ over the years. Here is his response slightly edited:

Hi Ted:

A great pleasure to hear from you. I’ve given many talks over the years to EMS groups and emergency physicians, and I’m always delighted to hear something I once said had “good legs” and helped others. I’m gratified to learn this was one of them.

You made my day. Maybe we’ll run into one another sometime. Happy New Year to you and yours.


Saying Goodbye

December 15th, 2017

A friend posted a sad one on Facebook the other day. His beloved dog had to be put down. The sadness was just dripping off the few words that went along with the closeup picture of his dog’s face. I felt it in my gut.

I’ve had to say goodbye to 3 pets that way, a dog and two cats. It has been said you can be a dog person or a cat person, but not both. I do like both, but if I had to choose, I’d take the dog every time. I remember the day when I had to day goodbye to our German Shepherd Panzer. The poor old guy couldn’t use his strength to lift up his rear end. The vet and our family decided it was time to end this, so that is what we did. Panzer trusted me to carry him to the table in the clinic, and we looked at each other while the vet was busy finding a vein. I put my hand by his nose, and he sniffed, knew it was me, licked my hand, and was gone.

These are sad thoughts, but important ones. Panzer lived a life that had meaning for his family. We still grieve after 15 years of absence. We’ll all face a day when we can’t get up, and when that next elusive breath will be hard to catch. Did we live a life that meant something to the people around us? The time to think about it is not at the end of your life, but right now. Try to spend every day being a person that will be missed when you are gone.