Author Archives: Ken Hopperstad

Colorfully resplendent

Spring is a fascinating time of the year, even if winter unpleasantly returns for this week. Besides sharp changes in the weather, the color palette undergoes dramatic changes. White, gray, and black snowdrifts give way to brown and yellow grass, which gives way to verdant yards speckled with an occasional white clover or yellow dandelion. Flowering shrubs, early blooming flowers, and brightly plumed songbirds are colorfully resplendent. Seeing plants poke up through the ground and mature is always awe-inspiring.

The seasonal change is not just a feast for the eyes. There are treats for the other four senses, too. Seasonal sounds also change dramatically. Red winged blackbirds arrived early this year and in melodious droves. House finches and cardinal songs start just before dawn. The owls are quiet because they are most likely feeding their young. The wind rustling through trees with small leaves sounds so much nicer than icy branches clattering together in a gale force howling blast from the northwest.

Taste gets a smaller workout than the other senses. It is warm enough to barbecue outside without worrying about igniting several layers of clothing or dropping food because one cannot feel the tools in a gloved hand. Gas grills are very hard to light at temperatures under -20°F. It is true that catching snowflakes on one’s tongue is a treat, but only until frostbite sets in, which is usually about 90 seconds or six snowflakes. Taste’s season is summer, when fresh home-grown vegetables, fruits and berries are abundant. Frozen raspberries from last summer still taste sweet, even if they turn to mush when thawed.

Touch is the least affected sense, but it has a very special treat: the weather is no longer numbing cold. The sunshine is warm rather than biting. Green grass feels better on bare feet than jagged chucks of ice. Everything feels softer when it is not frozen solid.

One cannot understate how important smell is during springtime. There are few smells available during the winter because the nose freezes rather quickly. Once the snow melts and the sun warms the soil sufficiently, the fun begins. Daffodils are an early spring arrival and have a nice fresh smell. Crocuses have a very faint and delicate smell. Magnolias, rhododendrons, lilacs, and azaleas release delicate perfumes in the warmer air. A few weeks later, fruit trees bloom and their fragrance attracts pollinators and the occasional human admiring the scent.

Along with the sensory treats, there are a few, um, “gotchas” which become prevalent with the warmer weather. For example, I picked my buddy up from the airport last Friday. It was a very warm day, so I had the air conditioner running in the car. Once we got back to the drop off point, I shut off the air conditioner and rolled down the window. The pungent odor of recently thawed and now decomposing dog excrement stunned both of us. Of course, both of us remember the Cheech and Chong “Cheborneck” routine off the “Los Cochinos” album, so I said “Good thing we no step in it!”. At the end of “Cheborneck”, the dialog is “Let’s go eat!” and “Yeah, eat!” We had a good laugh because of it before grabbing the burger, fries and chocolate milk shake topped with whipped cream special at the Uptown Diner. Taste did get a little workout that evening.

Enjoy these seasonal treats with a loved one, especially a treat of touch. Hugging your special someone is easier without seven extra layers of clothing, holding hands is easier without mittens or gloves, and one does not have to scream sweet nothings past ear muffs. Touch seems to get shortchanged in the treat department, so do your part to correct that oversight.

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Three years

Today marks three years since Lucy passed away. Please take a moment to remember her and the joy she brought to our lives. She was an exceptional person and she is deeply missed but lovingly remembered. Her courage and determination during her cancer battle was inspiring, and yet she remained compassionate and generous to those she loved. I have always gravitated towards strong, intelligent women. Lucy was the strongest person I have ever known, and her intelligence made her an ideal partner. I am so grateful to have spent nearly 28 years with her, including 24 years as her husband. Cancer may have stolen her life, but it never stole her spirit, her strength, or her love. That is why I can never say she lost her cancer battle, but rather that her battle ended.

Lucy and I had discussed our respective mortalities over a decade before her cancer battle began. Lucy wanted the best for me, but most of all she wanted me to be happy. That is what I wanted for her, too. We put each other’s feelings first, we optimized our time together despite hectic and demanding careers, we took care to not smother each other, but most importantly, we loved and respected each other. I always felt our marriage was a fairy tale come true compared to so many other relationships, and I referred to our time together as our happily ever after.

“Time heals all wounds” is an old saying, but it is not at all true. The wound of losing a loved one never totally heals. It does get easier to keep moving forward, but there are still some extremely hard days, like today. I am fortunate to have a great support network because I could not have made it this far alone.

I am so lucky to have the love and support of Lucy’s sisters, especially during the first eight months after her passing. They suffered losing their mother, their oldest sister (Lucy), and their father in under a year, but yet they were there for me, and for that I am grateful. Their goodness is because of how well Bob and Betty raised them. I miss Bob and Betty because they accepted me into the family without hesitation and because they were such warm and genuine people.

My family has provided a huge amount of support, love, and guidance. They listened to my heartache and sorrow while I tried to make sense of the inconceivable, to accept the fact Lucy was no longer physically here. I am so lucky to have both of my parents still alive and in good health. Even though I am over 230 miles away from my nearest family member, I know they are close to my heart.

My close friends rallied around me and are a huge help, too. I may not have many close friends, but I am so lucky to have some truly outstanding ones. All of them have been in my life for over twenty years, except for one, and all of them have bettered my life. Lucy met each of them, except for one, and she enjoyed their company.

I am most grateful to my buddy. After we reconnected slightly over two years ago, we went from being friendly, to being acquaintances, to being friends, to being close friends, and now we are best friends. A friendship like that is very curative for a wounded soul, and we will remain friends for the rest of our lives. Career demands conspired to keep Lucy from meeting my buddy, but I know Lucy would have gained another dear friend.

My friends have asked if I would consider dating or remarrying. My honest answer is I do not think either will happen, but that I am keeping my mind open. Dating in my teens and twenties was a humiliating and arduous time, and Lucy entered my life as I accepting life long solitude. I’m still a misanthrope, still quite introverted, and really need very little interaction with other people. Trying to make new friends since Lucy’s passing has shown me that unattached women in my age group are either vengeful and bitter divorcees, or have badly broken souls. The really good ones are in relationships, or remain focused on their careers, or are busy with their children or grandchildren, or are not at all interested in me. Perhaps that will change in time, but for the immediate to middle future it is more likely that Earth gets overrun by purple unicorns than me finding someone to date. I may remain solitary for the remainder of my life, but that would not be a terrible fate because solitary does not mean lonely. I have my family, my sisters-in-law, my friends, and my buddy. Lucy set an extremely high bar, and I will not settle for anything less.

Be thankful that you have a best friend in your life. That person is there for you in good times and in bad times, to help you mourn or celebrate, but most importantly, to be someone you trust and with whom you enjoy spending time. Those of you who have a special someone in your life are very blessed! Do not miss an opportunity to let that person know what she or he means to you. When giving that meaningful hug to your special someone (who may also your best friend) today, let it linger a few extra seconds for those of us who had our happily ever afters end many years too soon.

Three year bouquet

Three year bouquet

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Cool, cool rain

“April showers bring May flowers”, or so the old expression goes. A winter with very few major snow events left the Twin Cities area dry. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued burning bans and restrictions covering over 80% of the state. Grass fires along roadways courtesy of cigarette butts burned in the southwest corner of the state. Help is on the way with the latest round of cooler and wetter weather through the middle of next week. Some cool, cool rain has already kick started spring bulbs, greened up yellow and brown lawns, and opened leaf buds on trees. Hennepin County is finally in the low fire danger category; last Thursday the fire danger was extreme.

April Fool’s day saw the first thunderstorm of the season. It dropped needed rain but came with unwelcome high winds. Cool, dry weather persisted until yesterday. Today’s rain is enough to ensure back yard firepits get a workout when the rain finally ends. Having friends sitting around a fire, talking and joking, and enjoying some barbecued food is a wonderful change from being trapped indoors for several months.

I created a new bulb garden around the Autumn Blaze maple in the front yard and planted the bulbs last week. The twenty hyacinth and twenty tulip bulbs will take a while to poke through because of their planting depth. The fifty grape hyacinths (muscari armeniacum) should pop up quickly since the planting depth is shallower. It took three trunk loads of rocks to complete the border. Lucy would be pleased with the result. She absolutely loved spring and fall.

One treat I had over Easter weekend was watching a pair of falcons build a nest in a large cottonwood tree. Southwestern Minnesota has a surprising variety of raptor species. There are a couple of breeding pairs in the area and the mourning dove and rock pigeon population in Luverne, MN is manageable again. Turkey vultures also soared in large lazy circles overhead. The prairie is still mostly brown, but there are signs of spring and new life. Prickly pear cactus plants are less shriveled and the trees are sporting small leaves or very fat leaf buds.

While the forecast for the next couple of days is cool, wet, breezy, and windy, nicer weather soon follows. Please take the time to enjoy a nice spring day with family and friends (or a nice autumn day for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere). Having a connection to the special people in your life helps get one though the dreary and dismal days.

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Winds of change

Yesterday was a day that started with thunder and rain and ended with strong winds. The effects of the wind were apparent in numerous yards: downed twigs and branches, animal and bird nests from the previous season scattered and strewn, and poorly stored recycling and garbage bouncing down the street. Yesterday was a winds of change sort of day, where winter’s domination is dwindling and spring’s influence is rising.

Nature’s winds of change may seem destructive to us. Trees can lose large limbs, be split like a Thanksgiving wishbone, or be torn from the ground. Healthy trees are occasionally damaged by the detritus from a nearby unhealthy tree. Tall plants get broken or flattened. There is a hidden benefit for the perceived destruction. The tree pruning gets rid of dead and diseased branches. Healthy trees suffering damage may eventually die off, but perhaps the trees were too crowded from the start. Seeds that ordinarily travel a few yards fly for miles, sometimes ending up in a new area with ideal growing conditions. Gaps in the tree canopy allow sunlight to hit the ground and giving new plant species a survival chance. A small fire string with a lightning strike could spread for thousands of square miles because of wind. Even though the blackened are is seemingly damaged and dead, new life starts forming. It has been a natural cycle for hundreds of millions of years.

The natural cycle occurs on a time line many times longer than a human’s life expectancy. Our species has figured out ways to terraform areas in decades rather than in geological ages. We have selectively bred trees for quick growth and maximum shade. Nursery companies breed flowers to grow larger, be disease resistant, and present colors and scents that would unlikely have occurred through natural evolution. Years of grafting and cross-breeding create fruits that have longer shelf life, bear more heavily, and are more aesthetically pleasing.

We are impatient, we want instant gratification, we want to master and dominate. As much as we try to control our lives, change occurs. For most part, these changes are small, happen gradually, and are barely perceptible, like the miniscule breeze created by a butterfly’s wings. Occasionally, drastic changes occur in a short period of time, where the winds of change seem like a swirling vortex bent on destroying one’s entire world. That is when you learn how strong your family ties are and who your true friends are. They will be the ones hanging on to you for dear life, risking that vortex to keep you from being blown away. They will also be the first ones to offer love, help, and support during the painful rebuilding process. Most importantly of all, they will be the ones who will tell you that things will be all right and they will believe in you even when you do not believe in yourself. Yet for everything they will do, they expect nothing in return, because they value you and what you add to their lives.

People who are the giving type are often reluctant to ask for help because they are not used to taking. Keep those special people in mind and be there for them just as they are there for you. Be thankful for that support team because they will provide the boost needed to get through a difficult time. I know I would not have made it through the past three years without the support and inspiration of my loving family and my incredible friends, especially my best friend. Count on me to be there for you like you were there for me.

Because the topic of this post is about the winds of change, a famous Irish blessing will serve as the closing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Springing ahead

Daylight Saving Time occurred nearly two weeks ago. Springing ahead caused the usual increase in traffic accidents, longer lines at coffee shops, and an increase in the number of creatures confused by the earlier arrival of the strange speeding metal capsules resulting in unfortunate outcomes. Even the weather in the Twin Cities took a cue and sprang ahead from a colder than normal February to a more seasonal March.

Yesterday was the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Twin Cities, the vernal equinox occurred at approximately 5:45 pm CDT, which my buddy and I toasted with a strawberry daiquiri. The forecast high of 60°F fell short a few degrees, and a breeze and moderate overcast ensured we would not be having dinner at the restaurant’s outdoor patio. There was no snow on the ground, no need for a jacket heavier than a windbreaker, and convertibles outnumbered rusty winter beaters by a wide margin in the parking lot. It was still a great day, made even better with enjoyable company, intelligent conversation, and a lot of laughter.

Springing ahead was not just limited to Daylight Saving Time. A few people are springing ahead with new jobs, new cars, and new places to live. Good news is always appreciated and I wish them the best of luck! There are rumors of my 40 year high school reunion happening this year, confirming significant springing ahead of the calendar. Orange cone and blue language season is under way with several major highways experiencing confused drivers and delays, though it beats road salt and snowplow season.

This year, winter took a vacation early, though it might come back for an unwelcome visit Sunday evening. Even if the 2″ – 6″ of snow predicted for Sunday afternoon and evening occurs, it will melt quickly. There is no sharp cool down following the storm. The moisture from the snow melt might get the bulbs springing ahead. Looking at the positive signs, lawns are looking more green than brown, people are tapping their silver and sugar maple trees for sap, trees and shrubs have leaf buds that are getting bigger by the day, birds have started their mating rituals, and the ground temperature is almost warm enough to plant bulbs. In a seven-day period, the temperature difference between the coldest night and warmest day was almost 80°F, swinging from -7°F to 70°F. The Minnesota River is mostly clear of ice as it runs through Bloomington. I have even managed several long walks and a couple of short bicycle rides. Last year and the year before, those activities could not occur before May.

We all wish we could spring ahead through the tough times. The forty years since I have graduated form high school have gone by quickly, yet the three years since Lucy died have seemed endless. Both time periods overlap, yet there are two different perceptions of the overlapping interval. Having a wonderfully supportive group of close friends whom I love dearly is so important. They have helped me keep moving forward. If you know someone going though tough times, reach out to them and offer moral support. It is a wonderful feeling being on both the giving and receiving side of that kind of compassion.

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Disposable people

One of the laments about modern living is “we live in a disposable society”. Disposable fast food containers that take centuries to break down. Electronic gadgets that cost more to repair than replace. Diapers and baby wipes delivered en masse to the landfill. But there is something even more insidious in modern culture: disposable people.

There are many good and sound business reasons to hire a temporary worker or contractor for short-term help. The problem is that many corporations have bought into the concept of “permatemping”, keeping those positions as temporary permanently. For publicly traded corporation, the biggest advantage of permatemps is hiding headcount in financial reports. Full time employee (FTE) and part-time employee (PTE) counts are listed in quarterly (Form 10-Q) and annual (Form 10-K) financial reports. Layoffs are reported on Form 8-K when they are part of a press release. Contractors, temporary workers and permatemps are considered operating expenses assigned to cost centers. Most companies do not allow permatemps to attend staff meetings. Other companies allow permatemps to attend for part of the meeting but dismiss them for the remainder. Permatemps do not get severance or paid time off and are often tasked with the work no one else wants to do. As such, a permatemp is oftentimes thought of as a commodity or an object rather than as a person. When a CEO makes a multi-billion dollar set of blunders and receives tens of millions of dollars to “go away”, we hear about the thousands of FTE and PTE layoffs. We do not hear about the disposal of a greater number of permatemps, contractors or temporary workers.

Businesses are not the only entities guilty of creating disposable people. Some people are serial daters who are merely looking for their latest sexual conquest, or think it is humorous to ditch a person on a date, since there are so many fish in the sea. We have all seen movies where a clique of cool kids allows a nerd into the group solely because they have a need for that person; once the need is satisfied, dumping the nerd happens. Other people make a game out of harrying a waitperson or clerk for sport in order to feel superior. Each of the acts dehumanizes the victim by making the victim feel like she or he is disposable and unwanted.

I am not against temporary workers or contractors. I have many friends working as contractors, some on long-term contracts, and they greatly enjoy working for themselves. But in a way, employment is like a relationship with a significant other: if the parties are in it for the long haul, they should make a commitment. They must pledge to treat each other with dignity and respect, and look out for each other’s’ best interests. Much of the blame for shoddy products is that workers lose pride in their work. They are making quotas and not recognized for their work. A pervasive atmosphere of everyone for one’s self stymies innovation because ideas are no longer shared.

Be kind to one another. If we could embrace that simple piece of advice, our society would be better off. If you have a special friend who is there for you through thick and thin and asks nothing in return, do something special for her or him. I am lucky to have friends who let me know how much I am appreciated and wanted, and I let them know how much they brighten my life. If you are lucky enough to be in a committed relationship, do not take it for granted. Never miss an opportunity for a hug or to tell that person how much he or she means to you. Every person has a story to tell and every person deserves to be treated humanely, even if they are temporarily in your life. No one should ever feel like a disposable person.

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In like a lion, out like a lamb?

March is a fickle month for weather. The saying that March comes “in like a lion, out like a lamb” is not necessarily true according to Farmer’s Almanac. The Old Farmer’s Almanac mentions an astrological spin by saying that Leo is rising in the east early in the month while Aries is setting in the west later in the month. February went out with a cold snap and March may begin with a measurable snow event for the Twin Cities. Maybe this storm will spare Boston? They are getting the large snowfalls this winter that we received last winter.

Since last Thursday, there has been several forecast revisions. Each revision lowered the amount of snowfall, but the last two revisions increased the amount to 1″ – 3″ for the metro with some out-state areas getting closer to 6″. On the chance that the forecast could woefully underestimate the total snowfall, which is what my aching left knee is telling me, I picked up a few grocery items tonight. Unfortunately, Lund’s no longer carries pasties, so another pot of chili is in order. I am happy I do not need to leave the house tomorrow. My still-working friends have telecommuting as an option, and they will no doubt take advantage of the technology. Most of them live outside the clutches of Comcast, so they have reliable broadband.

Anticipated sustained winds in excess of 25 mph and wind gusts to nearly 45 mph promise a miserable commute tomorrow. Even a nuisance snowfall causes traffic snarls mostly because drivers are rushed, over caffeinated, rude and distracted. At times, I wonder if driver’s licenses are consolation prizes for buying a losing scratch-off lottery ticket. A verse from “Synchronicity II” by The Police is apt for the commuters stuck in traffic:

Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race

My hope is that they make it home safely.

March is coming in like a lion. The long-range forecasts think March may go out like a lion, too, with a disappointing number of snow icons on the calendar at AccuWeather for the last week of March. April has had some surprising snowstorms, including one in 1983 that collapsed the Metrodome roof for the third time. There are promising signs of spring, of course. The days are getting noticeably longer, even without screwing with the clocks on March 8 for Daylight Saving Time. There is more solar energy hitting the ground as evidenced by my solar lights staying on longer than a few moments. My forsythia cuttings started blooming in about two weeks. This tells me that (1) the forsythia bush survived the winter and (2) it is loaded with flower buds this year. Once the weather warms up to around 50°F for a couple of weeks, the blooming begins in earnest. The cold snaps are shorter in duration even if they are not less frigid. Many of the longer-range forecasts hint that perhaps some liquid precipitation will fall this next week.

Stay safe if you are on the roads tomorrow, even if the weather is nice. Getting home to loved ones is the best way to end a day. Those of you lucky enough to have a special someone should give that person an extra hug from those of us who do not.

forsythis cuttings in bloom

Two weeks in a vase and these forsythia cuttings are blooming.

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