Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Unstirred 2011 De Young Christmas Pudding Letter

Volume XXXVIII                                                                                                                                                December, 2011

                   Christmas 2011

This is year number 38 of Jim and Jan’s Christmas letter.  I can’t believe I am still writing this thing.   Retired should mean retired and I believe that someone who enjoys work so much that he refuses to retire must be just plain nuts.  In spite of that I am going to make an exception for Christmas and carve out some time from the typical retired person’s week of six Saturdays and one Sunday to compose this note.  I am even going to dress formally while writing, which for a retired person means wearing shoes with laces.  Given the economy it’s always good these days to begin with a prayer,  so  “Oh, Lord, Please give me a thin body and a bigger fatter bank account for 2012.  You got it reversed last year, and  I am getting tired of being defined as an adult who has stopped growing at both ends and is now growing in the middle.  Amen.”  

Now the family : Our daughter and her family still live in Iowa.

  Our oldest Grandson is a sophomore in high school.  There is now a drivers license in his wallet and a strange little jeep like vehicle in the driveway.   Need I say more!  He is taking an interest in aquaculture and environmental management.  With his love of the outdoors, this may turn into an important career direction. Unfortunately his foray into baseball was stopped cold this summer by a hamstring injury.  

Our youngest Grandson at nine shows no sign of being tamed by the 4th grade, but we do have hope.  He still loves Lego projects and is participating this year in something called Lego League.  We enjoyed having him stay with us this summer while he attended College for Kids at Monmouth College.   He studied Physics, Art, and Clowning.

Son- in- law Todd has been busy rebuilding the interior of a mobile home at the campground near the Mississippi where the Brown family spends many a summer weekend.   He will also be starting a new job come the first of the year and we wish him well. 

Then there is Amy.  She is teaching, mothering, doctoring, and going to the gym while also taking classes for her Master of Arts in Teaching at Coe College.  There seems to be no end to her energy, devotion, and love for her family and her students.  No one could look at her and still believe that  teachers work only for short days, long vacations, big salaries, and bountiful retirement packages.   

Now a short break for seniors joining the “Texting Revolution.”  Here are the latest abbreviations you need to know:   OMG: Ouch, My Groin!   IMHO: Is My Hearing-Aid On?  BYOT: Bring Your Own Teeth.  LOL: Living On Lipitor.  DWI: Driving While Incontinent.  And LWO: Lawrence Welk’s On.  

Jim and Jan continue attempts to balance home town activities with their love of travel. Jan still works on her beloved AAUW  Art Presenter program and serves on the Warren County Library Board. 

I have moved off the Buchanan Center for the Arts board,  but both of us have found a new interest in working at the Warren County Historical Museum, where I am now 2nd Vice President.  

Travel  this year was a January trip to Cancun with a college classmate and a chance to explore the  famous Chichen Itza archaeological site. 
Later in the winter we hit Arizona for visits with a friend and two of Jim’s cousins.  High points on that trip were driving the Apache Trail outside of Phoenix and experiencing an unexpected snowfall in Tucson.

   In July a Road Scholar trip took us for our first visit to  Alaska.

We spent a week on the ground from Fairbanks to Denali and then a week cruising the inside passage complete with whale watching.

  It also completed our goal to visit all fifty states.  Lots more  pictures and full details can be found by looking at the blog archive on the left of the screen.  Why not sign up to get all of my posts? Occasionally they will be interesting or intriguing. Occasionally they will set your hair on fire and occasionally they will be just plain silly.  But what the heck, they are always free.     
Our son David gets the position of honor this year as the person who has engineered the largest and most significant change.  Readers of last year’s letter (and who would have the nerve to deny that they didn’t read last year’s letter) will recall that we mentioned that David, aged 46,  had met a young Finnish woman and that we were going to get a chance to meet her at Christmas.  Well, we did meet her in December, 2010.  She is delightful and we are pleased to announce that David married her this past summer and will be moving to Finland sometime in the next year. For us it not only means a chance to visit Helsinki this coming summer,  but to meet a whole new family.  Congratulations to David and Lotta!    

And that’s the way it is here in  Illinois in December, 2011.  To you and yours this holiday season may the following three blessings accrue. We wish you good health, a loving family, and OOPS . . .  doggone it!  What was that third thing?  Oh yah.  


Jim and Jan De Young

P.S.  No wiener dogs were hurt while composing this message!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Moving on to Christmas

Our son visited from Minneapolis for the holiday and we enjoyed our three days with him immensely.


Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas Season is now formally underway.   The outdoor lights are up and plugged into the timer.  A trip to the local tree farm looms as the next holiday task. We continue to resist the plastic temptaion.  There is something about the smell of a real tree that is hard to give up.
The decorating process itself is also an integral part of the enterprise. We haul the tubs of lights and ornaments down from the attic and then dig the box of Xmas CD's out of the back of the closet. On goes the music and we are off to the races.  

With the tree up it is time to survey the gift list and to begin work on our annual Christmas letter.  I know it is easy to poke fun at Christmas letters, but when you look back at a long series of them over the years, you realize that they represent one of the few recorded histories of your family's ups and downs.  If the truth be known it may be more fun for us to read our old letters than for you to real each year's new ones.  So be it.  I have always tried to avoid the over achieving Lake Wobegone Syndrome  by sprinkling our letters with some humor as well as the events of the year.  Given the challenge of finding something to laugh about in this year's economic turmoil, I may have to schedule some special consultation with my elves.  See you soon.      


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011

Critic John Lahr in a New Yorker piece on actress Nina Arianda quotes her as saying, "You leave a part of yourself on every stage you're on." Maybe that's why theatre folk wear out so fast. On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful that there is still enough left to wish all of you a plump turkey and gobs of gravy on your dressing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day 2011

I am not a veteran by luck of time and geography.  My draft board was located in a working class area of Milwaukee that had plenty of volunteers, I drew a high number in the lottery, and educational deferments were easy to get.   I was also too young for Korea and had a wife and family by the time that Viet Nam was heating up.  The result is that I missed the military experience in somewhat the same way that my father missed it.  He was too young for WWI, had a wife and me,  and a job in agriculture (a critical home front industry) as WWII began.  He did note in later years that had the war gone on much longer he would still have been drafted even though he was in his late thirties in 1943.  

My conversations over the years with friends and relatives who were vets have given me a sense of an experience lost.  Although many of their stories about life in the service centered on laughable and frustrating moments, the sense of cameraderie they speak of is almost always positive. 

So today my hat is off to those who did serve and especially to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of service like Waterloo, Iowa's now famous Sullivan Brothers.  We visited the veteran's museum dedicated to them this past summeer.  We learned about their story and also prayed that fewer and fewer of our fine young men and women will be faced with a world that requires the particular and peculiar  rite of passage called war.

Below my grandson practices his salute.


May God bless all those who labor in the cause of peace whether in uniform or out.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Minneapolis Bound

Lotta, David, and my wife Jan at Lake Harriet

My wife and I visited our son and his new wife in Minneapolis this past week.  The occasion was to get better acquainted with our new daughter in law.  Lotta is from Finland and a resident of Helsinki.  Here she is on the outdoor observation deck of the Foshay tower.

We were proud to show her a bit of downtown Minneapolis and we had a beautifully crisp and sunny late fall day for our touristy travels.  Lotta admires tall buildings and said she particularly liked to go up in them to see the view of a city.  The tallest of the tall in the central city didn't have public observation spaces, but  the venerable Foshay Tower (which can be seen in the reflection on the picture below) does have one.

The tower was completed in 1929 and at 447 feet remained the tallest building in the city for many years.  There is a nice little museum on the floor below the observation deck and it reveals the fascinating and checkered history of the builder.  A major rehabilitation of the structure was completed in 2008 and it now houses a 229 room upscale hotel.  

From its open air viewing area you can get a good look at the IDS center, which is now Minneapolis'  tallest building.

From the Foshay Tower we drove over to the Guthrie Theatre. The stages were dark but the building is a star all by itself and we enjoyed the great views of the Mississippi riverfront from its funky mirrored and colored glass windows as well as the outdoor candilevered porch. 

Above is a view through a strange reflected window and below St. Anthony Falls through the tinted yellow lobby glass

Jan took this picture of Lotta and me on the outdoor cantilevered porch area.

Later in the afteroon we rejoined our son David (who had been at work)  for a stroll around Lake Harriet.  It was late afternoon and the sun was basting all the remaining leaves in shining gold.  

Dining was at Christos, our favorite Greek restaurant and at a Himalayan restaurant near the theatre we attended on Friday night. The play was titled Ajax in Iraq and directed by a Grinnell College grad, Wendy Knox.  I'll put a link up shortly to a review.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Musing on the Altar of Misguided Absolutism

Picked up a book called  "Despite the System: Orson Welles versus the Holywood Studios" by Clinton Heylin at a recent library leftover sale.  Ran across this idea in a letter from Mr. Welles to the RKO studio head while he was in the process of trying to sell the screenplay of CITIZEN KANE to him.

Welles called John Foster Kane a man who had the "enraged conviction that noone exists but himself . . . . "  This stance means he refuses to admit the existence of other people with whom he must compromise, that they may have feelings that should be considered, and that those people may have an ability to do damage to both you and your ideas.

Might this be a problem for many of our political figures on the far right and far left who find it impossible to accept anything less than 100% of their goals?

Sometimes even part of a loaf can keep you from starving until the opportunity for another meal comes along.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Monmouth College Homecoming 2011

What more could you ask for? It was a gorgeous October day.

The parade sparkled.  Big Red marched with pride.

Our band was right in tune

The pipers, as always, added their own brand of haunting sound.

On the sidelines vintage alums like Ralph Whiteman chatted with Ira and Marge Smolensky.   My wife and I were able to retouch base with students from as far back as the seventies.

Did I mention it? The football team won too.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Smell Test for Better Communications

In reviewing a newly published book on newspaper columnists this morning on MSNBC,  the conversation turned to  the disintegration of real writing and commentary in the past twenty years.  As one participant put it, we tend to write today about “what we think” rather than  “what we see.”  The  insatiable twenty-four hour news cycle pushes writers  and/or media personalities to cough up new opinions every quarter hour in order to stay current.  There is no time to tell a story and then reflect on what it means;  there it only that “X” happened and I do or don’t like it.  
 Under the pressure of producing clicks or eyeballs for advertisers  all comments must be extreme and strident.   The commentator must be positioned  on the outer edge of any argument  and then illustrate it with booming denunciations that echo like a drum in a canyon of tall buildings.  Each new proposal or idea from someone else is automatically  “dead on arrival”  or “idiotically stupid.”  Fellow citizens whose only crimes are a different view are immediately  compared to  Hitler.  Is there no such thing anymore as an opponent on another team who is simply trying to win the game for his side rather than attempting to strip you naked and herd you into a gas  chamber.   Think  musician and Monday Night Football.   
 Verbal  vomit  projects wildly in all directions and does not care who or what it bespatters.   All I know is it stinks and our atmosphere and our country would be better off with less of it.          

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Shopping For Porcupine: A Life in the Arctic by Seth Kantner


Just when you think your Alaska vacation is over and done with, along comes Seth Kantner and his remarkable elegiac book, Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska.   You can't pigeon-hole this series of vignettes because some are autobiographical, some historical, some sociological, and some almost religious. His musings begin with "My memory started under snow . . . " and proceed through childhood and adult experiences that always seem to focus on the land and the people who survived on it. The text is accompanied by exquisite color photos mostly taken by the author.  

All the animals are there. You meet (and see in the photos) the caribou, the musk ox, the seal, the salmon, the bear, and of course the porcupine. The quirky title essay doesn't arrive until midway through the book, but it demonstrates the overreaching theme.  A porcupine has been killed, skinned, butchered, and the meat saved in a nice plastic bag.  Kantner reflects,  "I stand back and look at the brown plastic bag laid gently closed, the shiny jetboat, the red gas cans and heap of guns. The cooler full of Pepsi and turkey spreadables. . . I feel the the sheer weight of this technology that has come to carry our lives." At the end the porcupine's skin is burned in an age old ritual of respect for the animal that gave its life to nourish other life. 

But there lies the rub.  Those rituals are going. The arrival of the new pushes out the old. As Kantner says, "There's a war going on up here on the last frontier." It is a "bitter range war" between the subsistence life of the past and the life brought by the oil and mineral companies, the government, the trophy hunters, and the tourist conglomerates. There is still subsistence of a sort in the rural areas, but even there it has been overrun by technology, snowmobiles, repeating rifles, electric generators, the internet, frozen pizzas, and Wal Mart. The world is out there,  but somehow not the same and definitely not as pure or as holy as it once was.

Throughout there are Kantner's detailed descriptions of arctic life both before and after the arrival of statehood. You get telling accounts of his early life in the sod igloo built by his parents on the bank of the remote Kobruk River. When he fixes on the weather you can feel each new blast of freezing wind and swirling snow. When he hunts you feel with both the predator and the prey. Several chapters serve up bitter winter battles against the sea, the ice, and the snow,  then in a nice balancing act, others take you on flower scented walks over the summer tundra under semingly endless arctic sun.

The world Kantner paints is so distant from the plush cruise ship ethos that surrounds the tourist that I found myself feeling a bit ashamed for daring to tread so comfortably on his holy ground. Ultimately it was a picture of an Alaska that we did not see or feel on our recent trip, except perhaps at isolated moments. It is definitely a side of that gigantic and remote land that needs to be added to every traveler's experience.  This is a book you might wish to read even if you have not just traveled to Alaska.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Wallace Challenge Cup Remains in Monmouth

This past pleasantly cool and sunny weekend (9\24\11)  the Columbia Golf Club,  just outside of St. Louis, hosted the world famous Wallace Cup Challenge.  

And once again the squad from Monmouth, IL managed to give the St. Louis contingent a good case of   the blues.

Monmouth Captain Bill Wallace and the St. Louis team of Mike Flood and John Holtschlag  look ready to go on Saturday morning just before the opening round tee time. (photo by Jim De Young)

If you are among the uninitiated in regard to this stellar event,  a capsule history might help. Three years ago Bill Wallace and Mike Flood, two old St. Louis high school buddies, started a friendly inter-city golf match. Each man chose a friend with Wallace picking Jim De Young for the Monmouth side and Flood choosing John Holtschlag for the St. Louis contingent. The matches are then played alternately in the Monmouth or St. Louis area.

It's a spirited but also fun-filled rivalry. Each new meeting is preceded by extensive re-working of the plethora of special rules. There are always intense discussions about strokes, putts, mulligans, and relief from nasty trees or the ferocious wild bears that might be lurking in them.

Currently the competition is played out in two 18 hole matches on succeeding days. Day One features a best ball competition between the two squads and Day Two is match play with each participant going against someone from the opposing team. The winner receives custody of the famed WC cup (no poddy jokes please; this is serious business), which was designed and built by Mike Flood.

This year, fighting hard to keep the honor of Illinois intact in spite of the dismal record of the Bears and the Cubs, the Monmouth crew took a best ball victory on day one and followed it with a split in the match play on day two to retain the cup for another winter.   Below you see Columbia Club Pro, Jon Charpentier, presenting the trophy to the Monmouth team of Bill Wallace and Jim De Young.

The first two competitions in 2009 were won by the St. Louis team, but since then the Monmouth team has dominated.  They took the cup for the first time in 2010 and now have defended it successfully through four meetings.  

Here are all four of the competitors at this year's Victor's Lunch.

And here the valiant warriors are meeting a screaming mob of adoring fans in De Young's driveway upon returning home to Monmouth.  

The cup will be defended again in the spring of 2012 at Gibson Woods in Monmouth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vancouver Arrival

Bright and early on sunny Sunday, July 24th we entered Vancouver Harbor.

and passed to and  then under the Lions Gate Bridge. 

Once inside the harbor,

we could see more of the city. Surprizingly we ended up docking right in the center of  town. The photo below shows the Zaandam at its berth later in the day.  I presume it departed for Alaska that evening with a new group of travelers aboard.

Because we were not to leave for Chicago until Monday,  we booked a Holland-America tour of Vancouver. They put our baggage on the tour coach and at the end took us right to the airport where some of our folks caught a late flight out and where we caught a free shuttle to our motel for the night.

The Vancouver tour took us first through several downtown streets.

Then it was on to Chinatown.

Stanley Park has a gorgeous seaside path for cycling, jogging, and just plain walking with family and friends.

It was there, for a moment,  we thought we had been mistakenly teleported to Copenhagen.

Finally we were deposited at the gates of the Capilano Suspension Bridge park.

The bridge, first built in 1889,  was crowded, wobbly,  and frankly  pretty scary. 

It was a long way down to the Capilano River.

More intriguing to us and a lot steadier, even though still way up there in the trees, was the so called Treetops Adventure. 

The park also had quite a collection of Totem Poles.

And a large collection of silly people to stand in front of them

On the way to the airport we drove back over the Lion's Gate Bridge and I was able to snap one final shot of Vancouver.

The following morning we shuttled back to the airport and were shortly on our back to Chicago where our car was waiting at the Four Points Sheraton. We were back in Monmouth by early evening.

It's always great when a plan comes together and this one did.  We were happy to be home, but also exhilerated by two weeks in the presence of arguably some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.  Thanks to our Road Scholar companions and programs, we also learned a great deal about the fauna, flora, and cultures of the north.