Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Dream Catcher

The Lee A. Tregurtha
The grey ghost of a harbor town like Duluth has always held tight to a corner of my imagination. Growing up landlocked it was the closest I’d ever gotten to a real ocean. After college, it was an exotic weekend destination with an assortment of friends. Susan and I made the pilgrimage a number of times to sit on some granite bluff and wax philosophically about our lives and destiny. Later in life the ‘dream catcher’ became my weekend nest when it wasn’t being rented out.

Canal Park | Duluth, MN
The North Shore was the setting for one of my first screenplays and a lot of subsequent treatments; some of which came to fruition and others that never quite materialized into novels or plays. It was training ground for Melanie and me while building up mileage for the Twin Cities Marathon. It was a wonderful place for Sharon and me to get lost wandering the rocky shoreline and surrounding woods.

This summer Sharon and I journeyed back up north for the first time in a long time. It was a welcome retreat to the land of scented pine trees and sea-salt breezes. Lake Superior hasn’t changed nor has the blanket of green hugging its shoreline. The feelings came tumbling back in wonderful memories of the North Shore and that great inland ocean.

Memories have a funny way of embellishing the good times and diminishing the bad ones. Time and progress keep moving forward and the North Shore is no exception. Duluth has been steadily improving its downtown core but along the way commercialism has crept closer to my old haunts.

A ghost returns
For example, Canal Park has unfortunately gotten more crowded and commercial. Parking meters blanket the area and the loose casual hippie atmosphere has been replaced by a land rush to corral as much of the tourist dollar as possible. Never-the-less it still it provides a fun place to watch those ocean-going behemoth ships trailed by minnow sailboats ply the harbor waters.

It’s still a place to imagine what it would be like crewing on one of those ocean-going vessels. That fantasy was first ignited in my imagination back in high school (blog: Old Man and the Sea). It hasn’t left since. Too little, too late, too long ago but still it keeps poking its curious head up every once in a while.

The next morning a bone-chilling fog has snuck into town with the morning dew. It was enveloping and blinding and provided just the right atmosphere for my noir movie if only the script was complete. Fog is a constant reminder of that inland ocean on top of the city. It only adds to the mystery and intrigue that makes Duluth the perfect spot for story ideas.

Our involvement with Duluth and the North Shore deepened about fifteen years ago with ‘the Dream Catcher;’ one of only fourteen octagonal units clustered near the main chalet on Spirit Mountain just outside of Duluth.

For Sharon and me, ‘Dream Catcher’ was the perfect retreat from the commercial storm below. It, along with the other Mountain Villas, are rental units each individually owned. They provide income to their owners as well as a welcome retreat on select weekends when they’re not being used.

We owned our unit for over ten years and it provided an ideal place to camp out and enjoy all that the North Shore had to offer. We both felt a tingle of sadness when it was time to sell and move on.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of sitting on our deck overlooking St. Louis Bay and watching the ships pass under the lift bridge. It fueled a plethora of storylines meant for sharing. Some were written while others remain sequestered in a file folder. Maybe they’ll be unlocked sometime in the future under the desert sun.

Isn’t it strange how that works out sometimes?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Unicorn in the Pool

Our two adult children and their families alternately spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas with us in the desert. Like any large gathering of divergent personalities and ages there is usually one major meltdown per visit. Certainly not unexpected when the quiet lives of two people are catapulted into the fast-paced, high octane energy of our respective families.

But I’m getting much better now.

This year our Thanksgiving rendezvous entailed the now familiar daily trips to Ralphs for more milk, reverberating children’s screams across the fairway and as always enough trash to fill a Brooklyn landfill. New this year were art classes, shooting off rockets on the golf course at night (don’t tell anyone) and learning the fine art of poker. Like an Emo band of the Eighties, our ten days together corralled the divergent personalities of five grandchildren and funneled their atomic energy into exciting memories for all of us.

First day, first thing, the kids had to pick lemons for making lemonade. It’s become a tradition much like ‘Morning Coffee with Papa; one kid per morning.’

This year’s addition to the multitude of pool toys was a unicorn curtsey of the McMahons.

It was a tremendous hit and actually lasted the entire week without succumbing to the brutal onslaught on five over-eager pirates. Pool time lasted the better part of most days and included diving for torpedoes, tumbling down the slide, balancing on boggy boards and doing laps for the mystery treat Nana always provided each afternoon.

Calm before the storm

Walking on water again

Afternoon snack time

Maya would rather work on her book

Exhausted after swimming all day

Our annual family photo session was taken up by the Chino Cone; a spectacular gateway point to the city.

Another tradition for our family meals is the power of the crystal bell. Each meal one child is allowed to ring the crystal bell before the meal and saying grace. With it comes the power to seat people for that particular meal. With the exception of Papa who is always seated at the end of the table, the kids got to choose who sat where.

Afternoon and evening activities included art classes, chess, reading and new this year, learning the fine art of poker. The kids picked up the game and the excitement of their nickel bets like Vegas backroom pros. Nana could not have been prouder. It brought back many wonderful memories of her own family playing the game.

Art Classes



Playing poker like pros

Brian and Scott took me to the newest attraction in town, 'the High Bar' at the Rowen Hotel downtown. The views were spectacular, the ambiance pure plastic and the prices not to be believed. But, wait! I’m dating myself.

The High Bar | Rowen Hotel | Palm Springs
Melanie took me to Starbuck’s newest reconfiguration of a coffee shop called ‘The Reserve.’ Great coffee, slow service and holiday tourists eager to be part of the hipster scene. Once again, my age betrays me; call it learned experience.

The recurring question that week, as in years past, was always ‘How is Papa holding up?’

Early morning respite

I did manage to steal away some quiet moments amid the storm of activities. I spent a week with my kids and grandchildren. It was close, intimate times with the ones I love. It was creating memories for those young expanding minds that I hope will last a lifetime.

I am exhausted but yeah, I did OK.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Secrets to Any Relationship

Sharon and I
One of the joys of being married to a very smart person is the wonderful abundance of advice, suggestions, comments, and snide remarks made in an effort to make me a better person. Most long term couples do that to one another. Some more than others. The trick, I believe, is to listen intently, assess the advice given and then make up my own mind as to its validity. Unfortunately (for me) my wife is usually right about 90% of the time. So I have to listen…I’m not stupid;  just slow at times. Sharon insists her record stands at 110% of the time but that’s yet another discussion.

For years Sharon has preached that most men are clueless because they ‘just don’t get it.’ The secret, she insists, is NOT in giving big presents, hosting elaborate events or making expense gestures. Instead it is in those little ‘everyday things’ that go right to the heart of any woman. A kind act with no reciprocation expected, helping around the house, a single rose given for no reason or any one of a million or more little signs that you care.

I would extend that ‘caring state of mind’ to anyone you’d like to be closer to; a friend, a colleague, an associate or someone more intimate than that. It’s really quite simple. If you want to make a good impression on someone, make an honest gesture. Anything less can be seen for what it immediately is. It really is ‘the little things that count.’

I’m reminded of that almost daily and I’m not talking about my other half whispering it in my ear. Palm Springs as well as the other desert communities down Valley has its own set of rules for hosting and entertaining. It’s a gathering of desert folks that enjoy informality and casual dining along with evening entertainment, usually cards or games. It’s informal and yet appreciation of their guests is built into the behavior patterns of the hosts.

The same is true for the guests invited. It’s the little gestures that show true appreciation and acknowledgment of what their hosts are offering. Common curtsey dictates bringing a gift, a bottle of wine or something to snack on. It’s acknowledging the effort your host has made for a pleasant evening. It never hurts to pitch in and help set up, serve, or clean up afterwards.

A couple of years ago, I had an interesting conversation with Rosie who was the manager of our fitness club here in town.

She commented that this has been an unusually busy season for her members to have surprise visitors coming in from cold weather parts of the county. Not surprisingly, these new-found friends are quite interested in partaking of our unseasonably warm weather during the heart of winter elsewhere.

One member even commented: “I just heard from my brother whom I haven’t spoken to in years. He wants to visit with his new bride and I haven’t even met her yet. What am I going to do with them for a week in my small two-bedroom condo?” She’s decided to spend appreciably more time at the gym while her self-invited company lounges by her pool.

Living in a warm weather locale during the winter months makes one attractive for visitors and occasional guests who love to drop in and savor the warm weather, blue skies and gorgeous mountain views. The same thing is happening to our friends who now live here year-round. They too have seen a steady influx of guests from back home.

Unfortunately every once in a while some of these newly implanted house guests have an attitude that your home has become their resort away from home. They’ve drunk from the carafe called “A Palm Springs Lifestyle” and swallowed it entirely. It’s an interesting paradigm and yet nothing could be further from reality.

What seems to be missing for these occasional house guests is the simple realization that it’s your ‘home’ they’re staying in. It’s not a Motel Six or some cute B&B they read about in Vanity Fair. Some of them don’t seem to understand that it’s not rental property or a vacation home. It’s your home…period…and as such should be treated that way.

While all of us here are incredibly fortunate to have a place to stay during the winter months, most of us have worked darn hard to earn the right to be here. It’s not something we take lightly or for granted and as such we’re very protective of it.

I’ve stumbled upon a simple test that is a pretty good indicator of how our guests are going to perceive their stay in town. It occurred over a couple of years with three different couples.

After picking up our guests at the airport, I drove to the exit gate to pay for parking.

1.      Without saying a word, the first couple whipped out some money to pay for parking.
2.      Once past the gate, the second couple spoke up in the back seating about offering to pay for parking but went no further than that.
3.      The third couple just kept talking in the backseat and didn’t even notice that I had paid for parking.

It turned out to be the perfect metaphor for how these three couples saw their week in Palm Springs as our guests. The first couple saw it as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy all that Palm Springs had to offer and a willingness to show their appreciation for opening up our home to them. They didn’t hesitate to pay for their fair share of our expenses that week.

The second couple appreciated their week in Palm Springs and wanted to reciprocate by taking us to dinner a couple of times.

The third couple enjoyed their week in Palm Springs.

Comparing house guests with a marriage partner may be a bit of a stretch. But the power of those simple gestures can’t be underestimated. I keep hearing that all the time. Some of it has sunk in while more work is probably needed for a complete reformation.

“I keep trying.” I argue. 

“Yes, you are,” Sharon responds.

It’s the little things that count. I have to remember that the next time we’re invited over for dinner or I think to make ‘that simple gesture’ to my better half.

So goes the game of life, hospitality and friendship.

And true love.