Category Archives: Family


(This is an e-mail I sent:)

Hello and Happy Day!

I splurged a bit back in 2002 or 2003 when I bought a neato WhirlyPop Popcorn Popcorn Popper at the World Market in Omaha, NE. Being newly married my wife and I didn’t really have any spare money back then, but just looking at the picture on the box of the popper brought back sooo many memories of my Grandmother that I just had to have it!

My grandmother was a very gentle, upright person. A few times a year if it seemed to be a special occasion of some sort she’d send one of us grandkids up to the attic to find the box with the Whirlypop Popcorn Popper, knowing full well the popper was actually in the basement. But she also knew full well that sending a horde of children up into the attic would entertain us for at least an hour as we found little treasures hidden in the dusty corners, maybe a postcard from someone with old-timey handwriting with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on it, or one of my uncle’s old books on Ancient History with pictures of camels and pyramids… We’d dust off the treasures and put them back in their spot and search for something new. In due time, by the time we’d tromp back downstairs, smiley and happy and full of stories of the wonders we’d found in the attic to find Grandmother at the stove patiently stirring the popcorn. “I’m sorry, it was in the basement the whole time,” she’d say.

(It just now occurred to me – sending us into the attic to search for the popper was her way of dusting and reorganizing the area. Smart lady!)

Smart as she was, though, my grandmother wan’t much of a cook… She’d dump half a pound of lard and what must have been a full cup of table salt into the popper along with forty or forty-five meager kernels of popcorn. The treat was never quite a treat for us – Gramma’s popcorn pretty much sucked. (She could quote any Bible verse you requested, she could do multiplication in her head like a whiz, she could recite poetry, but for pete’s sake don’t eat her chicken!)

All this came back to me in a flood that day in 2002 or 2003 as I stood in the World Market staring at the box. I had to have it, and indeed, I did make the purchase. “Cheap food,” I explained to my wife. “It’ll save us money in the long run.”

Little did I know that I would make at least one batch of popcorn every single night from then on. Sometimes two batches. Every single night without fail.

I would estimate the popper has made over five-thousand five-hundred batches of popcorn over the years.

Sadly, it is now showing signs of age… The nylon (or plastic) gears are slipping, popcorn is burning (much to the delight of our two dogs who get to snack on the singed kernels), the top is starting to fall off at inconvenient times…My old friend is getting older now, and that makes me sad.

After analyzing my continuing popcorn habits, my wife and I are planning to replace Old Beloved with a new stainless steel model with metal gears. Sadly, money is even tighter for us now than it was 15 years ago when I bought Old Beloved. My blushing bride from fifteen years ago has developed serious health issues and is now disabled, homebound. While the numbers on the medical bills are very startlingly high, my wife is still insisting that we purchase a new popper, and that we get it from your company. “They make a good product,” she said from her bed. “You’ve had that popper for forever… And every night when you make popcorn you smile so nicely.” (I’m thinking of my grandmother and how exciting it was to play in her attic.) “And the pups sit and watch so they can get their treats. You need a new popper. Don’t worry about money. Go buy one. A nice one.”

And that led me to your website. I’ve bookmarked it so I can purchase the nifty new Stainless Steel Whirley Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper with Metal Gears in a week or two when Old Beloved finally gives up the ghost. I saw your e-mail address and thought I’d share my happy little story with you. Yay!

Chris & Dagmar Radloff


It takes a special woman to say “Yes” to a man who proposes to her just moments after wearing falsies, a dress, and combat boots. But I’m glad she did!

How I Proposed

How I Proposed

I’d been rehearsing a production of “A Tuna Christmas” lo those many years ago when I decided the time was right. The play had just two actors, myself and friend Ross Janes, who had to cover some fourteen characters, half of which were women. Each actor played seven different characters throughout the play, which meant when one actor was onstage delivering a soliloquy the other was backstage changing from Bubba to Bobby Sue. The quick costume changes (some of them had to be completed in less than seven seconds) meant that we had to have someone backstage helping us.

I conned Dagmar into it. She had a rack of costumes right offstage and would help me change characters every night. After a week of rehearsals it felt normal to be wearing a wig, falsies, and a dress overtop a man’s western shirt and combat boots.

The play opened on a Friday night and everything went well. Saturday night everything went off without a hitch as well – except Dagmar asked me several times, “Did you notice how many of our family and friends are here?” When we got to the final scene (for which I was, thankfully, dressed as a man), Ross (the other actor) slipped the ring to me. Moments later when we went out for our curtain call, we went out as planned, then motioned for our dressers who came out for their bow as planned. Then the spotlight narrowed down on me and Dagmar. Very awkwardly I stammered out a proposal… I thought she was going to pass out! All our friends and family cheered. (Two elderly ladies who had been sitting in the front row asked me later if that last scene was some sort of a segue into a sequel. “No,” I replied, “I actually just proposed to my girlfriend. We’re really getting married!” The ladies hugged me.)

But it all turned out well! Nearly a decade and a half later we’re still happily plugging our way through life…

Photo by HippieBoy Design

The Day’s Ruminations

There Are Good Things…

The past few days have been pretty good, all things considered. Beloved Wifey is still ill and is having a lot of trouble getting around, but we truly feel there may be an end in sight. The thought of having a healthy Dagmar next spring makes me all happy!

And there have been other little blessings. Pops came over with his tractor and helped get some of the junk metal out of my grove, and I was able to get out there with the chainsaw and clear some deadwood out (it’s a never-ending project, that). My back isn’t nearly as hurty as it was last week. I’m very nearly finished with my last large photo project of the season. Things are good.

So THIS is why statistics are important…

Random SEO Cogitations

I often get asked about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – the technique behind getting your web site boosted higher in the search engine rankings. Here’s what I told a friend of mine earlier today: 

Here are two articles that explain SEO fairly well. The first one is very detailed and explains how it all works, what you can do, and what you can expect.

The second article explains why you don’t need to do any of it.

In my experience, there are just a few things you can do to increase traffic, but websites like ours will never be getting 3,000 hits a day – it’s just not going to happen. There’s not a market that large for big numbers. (I remember back in the beginning of time when “hit counters” first started coming out. People were amazed that their sites were getting 10,000 hits a day – fantastic! The problem is that those weren’t real people – they were getting five hits a day. Four from themselves looking at the silly hit counter and giggling in glee, one from their mom, and 9,995 hits from search engine robots.)

The best ways, in my opinion, to get good results are pretty simple.

Have a good, solid site with engaging content. That gives a visitor impetus to remember your site and come back again.

Make sure your “keywords” are in your site somewhere. If you don’t say “I do graphic design in Sioux City, Iowa,” in the text somewhere, Google won’t have any way of knowing that you do graphic design in Sioux City. That sounds simple, but it’s the one thing most people forget.

The third thing is to give it time. The search engines all send out little “spiders” that crawl the web, looking for new sites, categorizing, indexing, and combing through the text. It sometimes takes a month for Yahoo or Bing to trip over your brand-new site. And when it does, the search engine won’t give the new site a whole lot of credence – the longer a site is up and active the higher your ranking will be. (Active is a key word there – you need to update the site occasionally or the search engines assume the site is dead and it will start to drop in the rankings again.)

It also helps if you can build links. The more people who link to your site, the more important the search engines will think your site must be. Mention your site in a blog, or on FaceBook. That helps.

But the best way to get people to your site is to market the heck out of it – make sure it’s on your business cards, start a business page on Facebook and G+, make sure you tell prospective customers to check out your site. I still get most of my customers from the phone book. “I saw your name in the Yellow Pages, checked out your website, and I’d like to hire you to take our family photos…”

If you’re interested in getting a website designed, please check out HippieBoy Design – it’s what I do! 


Random Happiness


Happiness and Joy

I saw a TED Talk yesterday that’s still bouncing around in my head a bit.

The clip points out that we have put happiness on the far side of success, that we believe that if we work harder, longer, faster we will be successful – and THEN we’ll be happy. But our definition of “success” changes as soon as we get near it (“I will be successful when I earn twenty thousand dollars a year,” lasts precisely until two days after you hit that goal, at which point you change your definition of success – “I will be successful when I earn THIRTY thousand dollars a year,”) which means we never achieve “happy” – it’s on the far side of success. What we need to do is find “happy” now and let success follow.

The presenter gave some concrete methods of how to rewire our brains a bit to achieve a happier state – including writing down three things you’re grateful for each day, journaling about one positive experience each day, and committing random acts of kindness. While I’m not a miserable wretch of gloominess, I very much tend to live in the Dark Side – and I’d like to change that a bit. So, throughout the day – and hopefully every day – I’ll list a few things I’m grateful for and will scribe a paragraph or three about happy happy things.

But first, here’s a link to the TED Talk itself:

I’m Grateful For…

…having a relatively stress-free relationship with my wife. While we sometimes disagree and have occasional spats (about once a year we need a good, old-fashioned, stomping off into the night kind of fight), we’re both strive to be as supportive and understanding as possible. I know without a doubt she has my back, and I hope she knows I’ve got hers. We’re on the same team.

…having a job that allows me to be home to help Beloved Wifey through her illnesses.

…having a warm, snug house for my family.

And off we go!

I have much more to say today, but it’s time to run Beloved Wifey to a doctor’s appointment. Sadly, she’s not doing real well lately

Busy Busy Busy Weekend!


Memorial Day 2007, Le Mars, IA

Memorial Day 2007

Memorial Day weekend started out on a rather somber (but productive) note for us this year, actually. Plymouth County (where I grew up, just north of Sioux City a ways) still does the “Avenue of Flags” at the Courthouse every year. The local American Legion keeps one flag for every deceased veteran, you see. On Memorial Day they go put up all 1,060+ flags around the Courthouse.

This year the Legion made dogtags for each veteran’s flag with the veteran’s name embossed to replace the old, rather weathered plastic name tags on the flags. So, on Saturday, Dagmar and I tootled our way to LeMars to help put all the new dogtags on their strings and tie them up.

It was an interesting process, really… The people at one table measured out lengths of weather-proof string, trimmed them to size, “cauterized” the ends with a candle to prevent the strings from fraying, and tied a knot. Our table (the “hookers”) took the string in one hand and a dogtag in the other, poked a paperclip through the hole in the dogtag, hooked the string on the paperclip and threaded it back through. Then we’d put a nifty little knot to keep the tag in place. A lady at the next table counted all the finished dogtags and checked the number against her list to make sure all were accounted for. (“I’m missing one E, then I’m ready for all the F’s – who still has an E?”) The final table alphabetized all the tags.

I think we all had a moment, sometime during the afternoon, when it hit us that there are an awful lot of deceased veterans in the area… The town of LeMars has, give or take, about 8,000 people. We had well over 1,000 tags. It seemed that every time I’d take a minute to read the dogtag in my hand I’d be thinking, “hey, I went to school with his son,” or “I wonder if they’re related to so-and-so,” and, once, “this is my grandfather’s tag.” I also saw my cousin’s tag come through the line.

Some of our fellow American Legion Riders had recorded a poem written by a local veteran, remembering bits and pieces of their experiences in Vietnam, to be played at the ceremony at the Courthouse on Memorial day. We listened to that while we worked. The guy across from me, himself a Vietnam veteran, quietly wiped tears from his cheeks as he strung dogtag after dogtag on the strings. “I don’t remember the heat being so bad in Vietnam,” he said when the poem was over, referring to one of the stanzas, “but one time when we were on a bombing run just south of…” He told his war story in a cheerful voice, unconsciously clutching a veteran’s dogtag in his hand so hard his knuckles were white.

When we were done with the tags, we went to the room next door which happened to be a bar, complete with beer and everything. We sat and had a few tasty beverages, then we all went off on our various ways to start the weekend.

Two Yaris'

Two Toyota Yaris’

After leaving the Legion, Dagmar and I zipped ten miles west to the family farm. My aunt and uncle were there visiting, freshly returned from the Peace Corps where they’d spent two years in the Ukraine, so they had plenty of stories to tell. My cousin was there with her twin girls. My other aunt was there, all the way from Des Moines. My brother was there with his family (including our Beloved Goddaughter) and his brand-new car, a 2007 Grayish-Green Toyota Yaris. We parked our car, a brand-new 2007 Grayish-Green Toyota Yaris, right next to his. We all laughed and pointed. (Honestly, we did.)

We enjoyed the evening, playing with the nephew and nieces and the twins, eating hamburgers, and listening to stories of life in Ukraine. My aunt had brought a bunch of scarves along, so my mother and aunts took great delight in pretending to be old Russian babushka ladies.

Kind of funny – one aunt is a retired Master Sergeant who joined the Peace Corps, the other is a retired Colonel who joined a circus band. My mother is a belly-dancer. I can’t wait to find out what I’m going to be when I retire…

“Are you going to be in the parade?” I asked my nephew who’s in Cub Scouts now.

“I dunno,” he answered. “Why are we having a parade anyway?”

“Well, every year we have a parade and a ceremony on Memorial Day to help us remember all the soldiers.”

“I don’t know any soldiers,” he said, looking up at me through his glasses. “They’re all off fighting, aren’t they?”

“Well,” I said, “you probably know more soldiers than you think. Three people here at the farm today used to be soldiers. I was, sort of, for a little while, too.”

“So we have a parade to remember you guys?”

“No, not really. We have a parade mostly to remember the soldiers who died. Some died in a war, some died after they got back. Some volunteered but never had to go to war. We want to remember them, and think of how brave they all were.”

The nephew thought for a moment. Then, “Do you know any soldiers who died?”

“Well, on Memorial Day I often think of my grandpa. He fought in a war a long time ago and did some very difficult things. So I like to think of him. I think of other people, too.”

“Did your grandpa die in the war?”

“No, he died later, just of being old. He was a soldier for a long time after the war was over.”

A moment of silence. “When Dad takes me home I think I’m going to draw a picture of this,” said the boy.

We wandered around the corner. Dagmar was on the swing with the Beloved Goddaughter and one of the twins. She’s a good aunt, patient, kind, gentle, and genuinely happy. She makes my heart do funny tickly things.

Later that night, after the family festivities wound down, Dagmar and I stopped back at the Legion Club to see if any of our friends were there having a nightcap. Sure enough, there was a table full of friendly faces. I ordered a beer, Dagmar a Diet Coke, and we sat and chatted for a few minutes. Another couple joined us – new people in town. The shaven-headed young man (he seemed more like a boy to me) was covered in tattoos and sneered at us a lot. He proudly showed us his tattoo of a swastika. I thought about my grandfather, who was a POW in Germany during WWII, and my mother-in-law who grew up in refugee camps in Austria. We left shortly thereafter.


Sunday was not quite so productive. I was supposed to ride to a place in Nebraska called “Bob’s” for lunch with some friends, but it didn’t happen. Here’s an e-mail I wrote to my friends, explaining my absence.

“Hey everyone – sorry about missing out on the Bob’s run! I feel terrible about it.

“I awoke that Sunday morning, eager to take a quick ride through the hills, then head to Bob’s to meet everyone… Laying in bed I ran through the day in my mind, making sure I had the agenda right. I could picture myself gliding gently along the road to Ponca, the trees waving hello to me in the gentle breeze… I decided exactly what I was going to order when I got to Bob’s, and made up my mind I wasn’t gonna get any fries ’cause I was gonna mooch off Kioti when he wasn’t looking. It was gonna be a GOOD day! I stretched and yawned, pried the eyes open, one at a time, and began to face the world.

“Slightly foggy yet, my brain made it’s way through the morning routine of making coffee (instant with sugar, lukewarm so I can gulp it), checked my e-mail, scratched my vaguely flabby and increasingly hairy carcass, and made my way to the water closet to perform the daily ablutions that happen there. By the time the morning coffee kicked in I was happily brushing teeth, humming a merry song to myself. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that the merry song I was humming was keeping perfect tempo to the pounding in my head. At that point I realized I’d had a headache all morning… Kind of like standing up and realizing all of a sudden that not only do you have to pee NOW, but that you’ve had to pee for quite some time. That was how the headache was.

“I rummaged around in the mystery cabinet behind the mirror for some nice aspirin to take. (I call it the “mystery cabinet” simply because other than my toothbrush I really can’t identify any of the items therein – Mrs. Hippie seems to have made it her hobby to collect various exotic-looking bottles and keep them there.) Finding a bottle that looked pretty much like an aspirin bottle should look, I decided that maybe two might not be enough, and three might be better, seeing as how I really didn’t want to ride with a headache.

“At this point it should be stated that I’m not technically an idiot, I just bear a strong resemblance to one.

“Ten minutes after gulping the three aspirin I was sitting on the couch, pulling my left boot onto what I hoped was the correct foot. Seven hours later I woke up on the couch, one boot on, one boot off…

“I guess there really IS a difference between “Tylenol” and “Tylenol PM.” I slept until four that afternoon.

“The lessons I learned? Read the damned label. And that Tylenol PM really does work.”

The rest of the day was spent in in a mild daze in front of the computer, doing not much, really.


By 6:30 or 7 Monday morning I was on the bike on my way from Sioux City to LeMars to join the American Legion Riders (ALR) in the parade. I was kinda halfway hoping to make it to town in time to help put the flags up at the Courthouse, but I was pretty sure I was about two hours late.

I was right. The last flag was going up just as I pulled up to the curb. After all the Boy Scouts who had been putting the flags up left I took the opportunity to wander around the Courthouse lawn for a while. The wind was still for a change; all 1,031 flags hung quietly on their masts as if in deep thought. I found my uncle’s flag and thought about him for a while. Then I found my cousin’s flag and thought about him for a while too. Some voices brought me out of my reverie. My riding buddy Jerry, the First Sergeant over at the local Army National Guard unit, was quietly going over details of the ceremony with a handful of soldiers on the Courthouse steps. I decided it was time to head to the Legion – they’d served breakfast for all the people who helped put the flags up, I figured they’d probably need help by now getting things cleaned up and ready for the lunch they were planning to serve to volunteers later that day after the parade.

By the time I got to the Legion there were just a few bikes there already. I grabbed a cup of coffee and helped rearrange the tables and get enough chairs out for the luncheon. When that happy task was over, I peeked outside to see that about 25 more bikes were just pulling in, including my buddy whose pooch, Bob, rides with him.

We milled around outside for a few minutes, taking pictures of Bob-Dog ’cause he’s so cute, then got the five-minute warning that it’s time to get ready for the parade. I pulled my swell 3’x5′ American flag out of my saddlebag and mounted it to the back of my bike. “Hey, I’ve got a couple extra kids here if anyone needs one,” yelled our Chaplain. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll take one.” I nodded to the lad Chappy indicated and we headed for the bike. It seemed that about half of our group had kids on the back of our bikes. We’re big bad bikers, I tell ya.

Just as I was about to turn the key to start the bike, Dagmar wandered past me, camera in hand. “Lots of bikes here,” she said, kissing the very tip of my nose. “It should be a goot parade! Who’s the kid?”

“Good Morning, Snookums!” I said. “The kid belongs to the Chaplain. He had an extra. When did you get here?”

“Hi Chaplain’s kid. I got here just a few minutes ago,” she said in that cute Viennese accent of hers. “Vhere are you goink?”

“Just around the corner. We’re going to line up there for the parade. It should start in about fifteen minutes.”

“Okay,” she replied. “I’m going to go up to de Main Street und take pictures as you zoom by.”

That said, we all roared off in a thundering herd to find our way to the start of the parade route.

Fifteen minutes later we were, yes indeed, headed down the parade route. I have to admit, it didn’t really seem like there were many people there to see us, but that’s okay – we’re not here for US, we’re here to remember the veterans.

The parade went through the downtown section of LeMars (about four blocks, maybe), then hung a left a couple blocks to the Courthouse. Not the biggest parade in the world, but again, it’s not about us. I was just happy that there weren’t any horses in front of us like there were a few weeks ago in the last parade…

Around the corner to the Courthouse… Ahhhh! So THAT’S where all the people are! Way cool. We parked our bikes, Chaplain gathered his kids, I found Dagmar, and we all wandered up the Courthouse lawn to hear the speaker.

It was an impressive ceremony, as usual. The Municipal Band played. I snuck up towards the front to get a peek. Yup! My aunt, the one who joined the circus band, was right there, tooting her horn. She must have made arrangements with the conductor, as she lives in Des Moines and could hardly have made any of the rehearsals…

After the band there were a few speeches. I found myself daydreaming a little, to be honest. When I was a boy, I always marched in the parade with the Boy Scouts and helped put the flags up. My grandfather always marched in the parade, too, with the American Legion. At least once he was chosen to represent all World War II veterans by carrying a wreath to the Courthouse steps. I remember watching him from the side – he wore a short-sleeved white shirt and his special Legion hat. He walked solemnly up the sidewalk past all the silent people, stopped in front of the steps, did a snappy right-face, placed the wreath on its stand, saluted, then went to sit with the other veterans – one from each war – at the front. Grandpa often carried the American flag in the parade, too, with the Legionnaires.

Kind of funny. When we’re kids, we’re in parades and carry flags because we’re told to by someone else. It never really occurred to me when I was a kid that people march in parades and carry flags, not because they’re told to and it’s expected of them, but rather because it’s an honor to do so. I’m proud that I own an American flag, and that I use it often.

The band started playing again, softly, waking me from my memories. A man was now standing on the Courthouse steps, microphone in hand. He started reading. Names. A list of names. A long list. He read the name of every deceased veteran from the town – all 1,031 of them. They do this every year, and every year the crowd is absolutely silent until the very last name is read.

Once the last name echoed away into the distance, the speaker started reading again. Slowly. More names. These are the new flags. Over thirty veterans passed away in LeMars this year. Each one had a flag dedicated – as the speaker read the veteran’s name, an honor guard escorted the veteran’s family, following behind their flag as it’s carried down the central sidewalk to it’s appointed spot and placed in it’s stand.

It’s hard not to cry when you see the families huddled around their loved one’s flag, hugging each other, sniffling, trying to look brave.

When the ceremony was over, I gathered my family together (both those I’m related to and those that are simply family somehow) and we headed to my cousin’s flag. Cousin Caleb had just gotten out of the Air Force and was starting to find a life-after-military when he died in a motorcycle accident just over five years ago. Last week I’d asked our Chaplain if he’d be willing to do a quick ceremony in memory of my cousin, then I found out the next day that my cousin’s parents were coming to LeMars. Serendipity? Yep.

So we gathered, bikers, veterans and family for a short memorial. It felt good.

If you’d like to see more photos of the Memorial Day ceremony, just CLICK HERE. The link will take you to a magical place where you can see all the photos, and even see them as a slideshow if you want. If you’d like to see more about my cousin Caleb, you can CLICK HERE. My aunt and uncle have also set up the CALEB Library Project, they collect and donate books to be sent to Africa. You can learn about it HERE.

(Hey, I just found out I can embed a Picasa album in my blog. Neat, huh? If you wiggle your cursor over the picture below, you should see some nifty little slideshow controls pop up. If you push the little “next” button, it’ll take you to the beginning of the album. Then you can push the little “play” button and see all the photos of the day. (The only reason you have to push those buttons is because the slideshow was merrily playing itself through whilst you were reading your way down this far. By the time you got here, the show was over. That’s why you gotta restart it…) The photos were taken by Barb Hansen, Dagmar, and a few by me.

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you can see the original blog at, click on “Blog.”

Future Tense, Past Perfect

Why am I doing this?

I found a couple cardboard boxes of old photos a few weeks ago (mostly of me – not ’cause I’m egotistical or anything, but my mother gave all my baby pictures to my wife a while back). Since then I’ve been pecking away at scanning them all into the computer to join the 15,000+ digital photos I’ve taken. I kinda figger it’d be nice to have them all in one place…

Here’s a nice picture of me and my mother. I’m the younger one.

I’ve been enjoying the photos and memories, seeing my brother and sister when they were little. And it’s fun to see my parents when they were young and wonder what they were like before they had kids.

But today I had a bad thought. I hate those. But they happen occasionally. “Why am I doing this?” I thought to myself. “I don’t have kids. In 30 years, who’s going to care that I carefully saved all of my baby photos?” The thought depressed me so much I skipped my daily Esperanto lesson. Will anyone look back at my photos and think, “Hmmm… Great uncle Chris looked silly with short hair,” or will my archives slowly molder away, gradually becoming as obsolete as all those college papers I saved on a 5.25″ floppy?

I’m going to keep scanning, though. There must be a purpose to this.

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you can see the original blog at, click on “Blog.”

A few odd stories…

The Great Garbage Saga

“We can only fit three garbage bags in our can,” I told my beloved Austrian Snickerdoodle. “What do you think we should do with the other twenty-seven bags?” We stood, looking at the thirty bags of trash on our porch.

“I don’t know,” came the reply. “I called the garbage people. Dey von’t take it, even if we put those little yellow tags on the bags. Dey said ve have to take them to the dump ourselves. Dat costs twenty-eight dollars.” In unison we looked at our poor little car. “Ve could get it done in, oh, fifteen trips or so…”

Spring cleaning shouldn’t be so difficult, even if you delay it until December… Dagmar had gone through our house from top to bottom, taking the week between Christmas and New Years off work. Our motto was “if we forgot we had it, we don’t need it,” coupled with the mantra of “if we haven’t used it, worn it, played it, or seen it in a year, toss it out.” She hauled bags of clothes to the Gospel Mission (I’m not getting any smaller, you know — I’m never gonna get into those pants again). We took stuff to the Goodwill. She emptied closets. But what to do with those thirty bags of trash?

“Ve could call the dumpster people, maybe, and have them bring a dumpster over like they did for dat house up the street,” suggested the lovely Dagmar with a sigh. “I don’t know how much dat costs. That way we could just put our garbage in it und be done.”

I pondered that thought for a minute. “I have an idea,” I said. “Instead of giving the money to some big nameless company, why don’t we keep it in the neighborhood?” My wife cocked an eyebrow at me. I continued, “The neighbor guy over there has a big truck, and doesn’t seem to have a job… Maybe we could just give him some money to haul our stuff to the dump?”

“Dat’s a vunderful idea!” my wife cried, hugging me fiercely. “You’re a vunderful man to think of such an idea!” I glowed with pleasure.

About that time, whilst still glowing, we saw a couple homeless guys heading up the street towards the can redemption center, a bag of cans hanging on the back of the one guy’s wheelchair. “One bag down,” cried my wife. She ran into the house, reappearing seconds later with a large bag of empty soda cans. “Five years I’ve been saving our cans in the back porch,” she said, handing the bag to me. “Let’s give them to those guys.” Without waiting for an answer she ran up the street to stop the two can collectors. I grabbed the bag and followed. By the time I caught up with them Dagmar had explained to the guys that since it was the day after Christmas we were giving our cans away and that they could have them all. “Man, we really appreciate it,” said one guy. “Thank you! We can really use this money!” The guy in the wheelchair started reciting poetry to my wife for some reason. It looked like it was going to be a rather longish poem, so I went over to knock on “truck neighbor’s” door to see if he’d be interested.

Sadly enough, they didn’t even have a doorknob on their door – the door was tied shut with twine.

No one answered, and it looked like the poem in the street was winding down, so I rejoined my wife. We watched the guys carry the cans up the street to the redemption center, a rosy glow settling over us. “Did you talk to truck man?” asked my vife. I shook my head. “No one answered.” We started walking back to our house. “I have to go to work now,” I said. “I’m late already…”

“Oh, okay,” said Dagmar. “You go to verk. I’ll talk to the neighbor about the truck. It costs nearly thirty dollars to take the stuff to the dump. Do you think ve should give him forty dollars for himself? That’s seventy, total.” I nodded agreeably. It seemed like a lot of money just to get rid of garbage, but it’s for a good cause. I’m sure the neighbor needed the money.

Twenty minutes later I was at work pecking morosely at my keyboard wondering just when my job started sucking audibly when my cell phone rang. “De guy says he can do it,” said my vife. “He’ll pick all the bags up tomorrow at eight in the morning and take them to the dump.” (My buddy Drew at work [see photo] looked up when my cell rang. When I was done talking to Dagmar, he asked, “Why’s she calling at this time of day?” I explained that she had the entire week off work and was staying home. “Oh,” he said. “So you’ll be in and out all week, then, too.” He was right.)

At seven-fifty the next morning, Dagmar and I were up and scrubbed and clothed and ready to face the day. “I vant you to follow him to the dump,” said my Austrian Snowflake. “I have a bad feeling that he might just dump our garbage under the bridge or something.”

“That’s silly,” I said. “We have to trust the man. We’re giving him money to take our stuff to the dump, he’ll take our stuff to the dump. We can’t go through life mistrusting people all the time… Besides, I have to be at work.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” my wife repeated. About that time we saw the guy with the truck pull up in front of our house. Within ten minutes we had his truck loaded with garbage bags, he had his seventy dollars, and Dagmar had repeated the instructions to the man several times.

“Well,” I said, watching the man in the truck drive away, “I’m off to work.” I kissed my beloved on the nose and scuttled off to face the pain of hourly wage-earning. By eight-thirty I was once again pecking morosely at my keyboard, wondering when I made this particular career choice and why.

At nine my cell phone tweedled. Dagmar. “Hello, Honey-Bee,” I said. “What’s up.”

“I VANT YOU TO FIX THIS MESS!” hissed my normally sane wife.

“What mess?” I asked, irritated to be bothered at work.

“That MAN you hired took OUR garbage und dumped it in the dumpster up the street!”

“Okayyyy…” I said. “So, he didn’t go to the dump?”

“NO HE DID NOT GO TO THE DUMP! I told you this morning I had a bad feeling about this, but NOOOO, you said ‘we have to trust people.’ Und so now OUR garbage is out there where just anyone can see it, und this is YOUR FAULT! That man took our money and dumped our garbage illegally.”

“How do you know it’s our garbage in the dumpster?” I mumbled into the phone, trying to avoid eye contact with my boss, who was peeking curiously through the door at me. “After all, black plastic garbage bags all look the same, pretty much, more or less.”

“I drove by that dumpster this morning und it vas empty,” my wife wailed. “But now there are about thirty black garbage bags in there. It’s our garbage, I know it is! Now, COME HOME UND FIX THIS MESS!”

“But Snickerdoodle,” I whined. “I’m at work.”


I clicked my phone shut, looked at my buddy Drew, and said, “It was my wife. I have to go home now.” He gave me a knowing look. “Good luck, man.”

On the way out the door, I paused to look up the phone number of the dumpster people. I called ’em. “Hi,” I said. “My name is Chris, and I have a problem…”

The nice lady at the dumpster company said, “I’m sorry to hear that you have a problem. You do know that we’re garbage people, not doctors…?”

“I know,” I said. “I have a garbage problem. We gave our neighbor guy seventy bucks to haul our garbage to the dump, but he dumped it in our other neighbor’s dumpster instead. Is that legal?”

“No,” the nice lady said. “Someone’s gonna have to get the garbage out of the dumpster…” By that time I was pulling into my driveway (I live a whole five blocks from work). I thanked the nice lady and hung up. My wife had her heavy coat on and was busily stomping her way up the sidewalk towards the neighbor’s house. I got out of the car and fell in line behind her.

“What are we going to do?” I wheezed, struggling to keep up with her.

We are going to do nothing,” she replied. “YOU are going to fix this mess. I vant you to get that man to get our garbage out of that dumpster and take it to the dump, und I vant you to follow him this time like I said before!” She grabbed my arm and dragged me up the street. As we approached Truck Man’s house, the door opened and his wife and daughter came out.

“Vhere is your husband?” asked my wife. “Ve gave him good money to take our stuff to the dump and all he did was throw it in this other guy’s dumpster. Vhere is he?”

“I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it,” the lady said. “He’s at the bar.”

My wife turned and made a beeline for the bar (see photo), two houses down the street, steam coming out her nostrils. “I’ll get him,” she growled.

My beloved, gentle wife then proceeded to go into the bar (at nine-thirty in the morning), holler at this guy in front of everyone, then pretty much grabbed him by the ear and dragged him out into the street, hollering at him the whole way. “Ve gave you good money to do this job,” she said, “und you threw all our garbage right here where all sorts of people can paw through it und you kept the thirty dollars for the man at the dump — you should be ashamed!” She cast me a venomous glance, fire shooting out of her eyes. “Und YOU — quit giggling!” I quit.

Within fifteen seconds, Truck Man had his truck backed up to the dumpster and was climbing around in the garbage, pulling our bags out and tossing them into the truck. Dagmar was headed back to our house to get our car so we could follow him to the dump. I was standing there, feeling kind of silly… I wanted to help the guy, but I didn’t want to get hollered at. Dagmar pulled up with the car, so I got in. I could see in the rear-view mirror that the guy was almost done.

“Okay, I think that’s it,” said Truck Man, leaning over so he could talk through my wife’s window. “I’ve got all the garbage back in my truck. You guys can go now.”

“Oh, no,” said my wife. “We’re going to watch you take it to the dump!”

Truck Man sighed, then went back to his truck and started fumbling around with a tarp. Once he got the tarp on, he gave us a cheerful wave and started walking towards his house.

“Vhat are you doing?” my wife yelled out the car window. “You have to go to the dump!”

“Oh,” the man replied. “You wanted to follow me to the dump NOW? I see…” He got into his truck, and off we went. Half an hour later, Dagmar and I peered through the windshield as Truck Man disappeared off into the City Dump with our garbage.

So… My brilliant idea of “keeping the money in the neighborhood” cost me seventy bucks AND three hours of lost work. Go figger. But the garbage is now gone and my wife is again happy. I am sad, though, that Sioux City’s garbage collectors will only take one single garbage can’s worth of garbage, and there’s no alternative way of getting trash out of your house other than hiring someone to take it to the dump, which is, I thought, what we were paying the garbage collectors to do in the first place… Seems there ought to be a way you can pay the city ten bucks or something to have them haul away a few more bags of trash.

New Years Eve

When did I get old? We were going to go to the Legion Club in LeMars for their steak fry on New Years Eve, but the weather was kinda icky, so we stayed pretty close to home. We had a good time at our friend’s house, then we had a good time watching a band play at the local bowling alley, then we went home. New Years Eve, I was home by 11:30.

How sad.

So, to celebrate the new year, I fried up a couple small steaks. Dagmar danced barefoot in the snow at midnight while her mother sang The Viennese Waltz to her over the phone. Really, she did. I took a picture. You can click on it and see a larger version.

We ate our steaks, watched a re-run of Hee-Haw, and went to bed.

You know, I kinda liked it that way… For the last ten or fifteen years I’ve always been IN the band that’s playing on New Years Eve. It’s rare that I get to be on the other side of things – able to leave when I want to leave, go where I want to go.

Too bad I wanted to leave soon and go home. Oh well.

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Christmas ‘n Stuff

Yes, but what is it? Christmas, I mean…

Everyone talks about their holiday traditions. And every family has them. And they’re all different. But what are mine? Do I have any traditions?

I think most people’s definition of “True Christmas” comes mainly from childhood memories. We want Christmas to be like they were back in the good old days when we were kids, with just a touch of our parent’s version of what Christmas should be thrown in the mix because things always sounded so simple and joyous when our parents talk about THEIR childhood Christmas. This almost always means that we’re disappointed by Christmas Present because the memory of Christmas Past is always lurking over us, saying things like, “In MY day we used to sit around the fireplace and hand-carve our very own ornaments every Christmas Eve.” Well, this year we’re sitting around the X-Box instead…

On my parent’s tree every year there lives a few ornaments that Pa made out of styrofoam, fishing line, and a few shiny beads back when he was a boy. I always pictured him sitting at Gramp’s feet as a child, happily whittling delicate ornaments out of a styrofoam block, watching the snow fall gracefully outside the window, Bible open to the story of Christ’s birth… Oddly enough, when I see this in my head, it’s always in black and white, and everyone has halos. I imagine in reality the day those ornaments were made was probably as loud and confused and squabbly as any other day on the farm. And it was probably in color.

I never made a Christmas ornament, and you know, I don’t think my childhood was any less rich due to that oversight.

My parents talk about how much they enjoyed singing and going to church when they were children at Christmas. That’s what they remember. That’s the measuring stick they use to judge Christmas Present. Me, I remember things different.

We moved to the farm the summer after I turned four years old. The first Christmas season I actually remember was at the farm… I remember the linoleum that used to be in the living room. I used to lay on the floor (there was carpet later) on winter days and watch the sunbeams come through the fancy window, glorying in the discovery of how the cut glass created a rainbow of color when the sun hit it a certain way. I’d watch the prism of color on the floor, noticing how it moved over time… It only happened in winter – during the summer the tree outside the window blocked the sun from that particular window – and that made it magic. When Christmas got close, the tree went up in front of the magic window, but sometimes you could still see the rainbow prism as the light cut through the colored glass…

I remember acres and acres and acres of snow with no muddy footprints. I remember making snow caves.

When I got a few years older and had to go to school, I remember being mildly confused by the darkness. I had to ride the school bus; it was often dark when I struggled through the snow up the lane to meet the bus, and it was usually dark by the time I got home after school and finished my chores. The world seemed like a dark, cold place, full of frozen pipes and worries about livestock. I remember thinking that they put Christmas at the end of December just to give people something to look forward to in the darkness.

It was about that time that I noticed that my parents always put the tree up in the same place every year. A tradition! The fake fireplace with it’s single light bulb illuminating strings of tin foil, however, was in a different place every year. Gramma and Grampa Radloff moved to town and always put their tree in the “other room.” Gramma and Grampa Jeys moved their tree around – some years it was in a corner, other years in front of the big window. Grampa Jeys always made a production of putting the tree up, and always made it a point to include us poor grandkids whether we wanted to be included or not. (Grampa enjoyed playing with us kids, and truly wanted to let us help, but it always ended being grumpy Grampa putting the tree up with nervous grandkids trying to find the right branches to hand him. It was always a little tense. But it was a tradition! And I miss it.)

As a child Christmas started December 1st. That’s when the “Christmas Countdown Calendar” was hung on the door so we’d always know how many days left until the big day. Pops would get the wooden Santa out of storage (he kept it in the garage) and would put it on the roof of our house, strapped to the chimney. It was also about that time that the big Sears catalog would come in the mail, too, with it’s ten or twelve pages of toys somewhere about three-quarters the way to the back. Every day I’d stare at that catalog and dream of how I’d be so happy if I could play with those toys… I’d helpfully put a mark by the toys I wanted, and I’d be sure to leave the catalog open to that page so the parents would see. The next day I’d go find the catalog again and thoughtfully mark a few more toys…

I remember one year I strayed from the Sears catalog and got suckered by a television commercial (I don’t even remember if this was a Christmas gift or a birthday, to be honest). It was a lesson well learned in any case, but rather painful… Dick Van Dyke, from “Mary Poppins” fame, the guy in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” hero to small children everywhere, came on TV one day in a commercial and said that he had a lot of fun playing Chutes Away – a game where you peered through a little viewfinder at a rolling landscape and tried to drop little plastic bombs into little plastic bomb craters. I wanted that game! I wanted it, I wanted it, I wanted it. And I wanted it loudly. For weeks and weeks I loudly wanted that game. I actually went to sleep dreaming of that game, picturing myself flying through the clouds like Superman (just take three steps, hold your arms just so, and jump), zipping here and there, diving playfully at the cows in the field, and at the very proper precise moment dropping my little plastic bomb just exactly right so it would land RIGHT where I wanted… I dreamt of being a pilot of a very small, very agile airplane, soaring. I dreamt of piloting a very large airplane. For weeks and weeks I flew.

The big day came. Presents were opened with glee! But, you know, I didn’t see any presents there that were big enough to contain my dream. Presents were opened with desperation now. With each shred of wrapping paper I saw my chances of being a pilot dwindle… When the last very small gift was presented to me, WAY too small to hold a Chutes Away game, I was actually sullen. After the gifts were done I sulked. A child who just opened a whole passel of gifts, sulking. Head hung low, kicking at the floor, feeling sorry for myself, I sulked my way into the kitchen. My dad quietly pointed to the corner by the refrigerator. There was THE PACKAGE! I knew it had to be the game – it was the right size!

And, by golly gee whiz, it WAS the game!

I tore the box open, grabbed the batteries and ran into the other room to set it all up. This game, this one toy, of all the toys in the world, was endorsed by Dick Van Dyke! The man who held tea parties whilst floating in mid-air. The man who built a flying car. That man likes to play THIS game! Oh boy oh boy oh boy…

Stupid game was done in forty-five seconds. It was the most miserable chunk of plastic I’d ever played. For one thing, I thought it was going to be made of metal and wood like toys USED to be, not cheap plastic and cardboard. And all it did was repeat itself over and over, making a noise that scared the dog. The little bombs got stuck in the little fakey airplane. In less than half an hour the game was back in its box and I spent the rest of the day in quiet reflection.

I’ve never quite trusted Dick Van Dyke since then.

But I’ll never forget that Ma & Pa went out and spent twenty bucks (or whatever) on a game for their ingrate son even though money was tight.

Anyway, back to the main point of this post… When I think of Christmas as a child, I think of visits to the grandparents’ houses, Christmas trees with lots of presents under ’em, darkness (it seems like it was always dark) and cold lit by fancy street lights in the bigger towns. It was always snowy when I was a kid.

Once I got into my twenties, Christmas changed a bit. I couldn’t very well spend days and days laying on my stomach, peering under the Christmas tree, dreaming of toys… I always managed to make my way to the family farm on Christmas day, though. I think I put up a Christmas tree of my own once or twice, but it just didn’t seem right, being single with no kids. Christmas was, for a time, simply a month off of college where I had to work instead of study. My National Guard unit would have a Christmas drill every year where we could invite our families to come and sit with us for a few hours. I always had to play my trombone in at least two Christmas concerts – one for the college wind ensemble, and it seemed I always got conned into playing for some brass quartet or another. I remember thinking one year that it sure seemed like I had to dress pretty all the time in December.

I remember being amazed when I got my first “real” job that we only got one day off for Christmas. For some reason I was expecting to get the whole week off between Christmas and New Years. I was crushed. Welcome to adulthood. (In fact, if I remember right, I actually had to work a few hours on Christmas day the first year or two at my present job.)

Christmas had turned into something other people do. Not me. I’d see Christmas on TV, starting sometime in September, then it’d snow a day or two before Christmas, and I’d go to the farm on the one day off I got, hand out my gifts of beer and M&M’s and fall asleep on the couch. I was always happy that Ma would put the Christmas tree up, the magic window still created a prism, the old ornaments always made an appearance… Tradition.

At the grand old age of 32 I met Dagmar and bought a house. Our first Christmas we talked quite a bit about starting new traditions, and talked of what our families found important to do on the holidays. We bought a few Christmas knick-knacks and finagled a plastic Christmas tree from someone. We thought happy thoughts.

Sometime in that first December we moved the couch over a bit and put the recliner on the porch to make room for our first Christmas tree. I really wanted Dagmar to help, but it ended up being a grumpy hippie putting the tree up with a nervous wife trying to find the right branches… (Just when did I become Grampa?) But we got the tree put together, and I sat and watched my elegant and graceful wife wrap the tree in garland and lights, then carefully, so carefully putting up our very own ornaments! In addition to the very few ornaments we’d both collected over the years, we had a box of red silk Christmas apples that we hung amongst the garland and lights (I guess in Austria apples are a Christmas thing). We sat for a moment, reflecting that we’d started our own traditions. The tree goes HERE. And THESE are OUR ornaments, and it’s good. “Um,” I said. “Where’s Fruitloop, anyway?” We both glanced quickly around the living room, trying to spot the kitten. “Oh NO!” shouted my elegant and graceful wife, diving for the falling tree. “Your stupid cat is in the tree!” We pulled the cat out of the tree and got it standing upright again.

Turns out that cats are fascinated by little red silk Christmas apple ornaments. The whole night we sat guard on the tree, swatting the poor kitten on the nose with a newspaper every time he so much as looked at the tree.

The next day I came home from work only to find the tree on the ground, broken ornaments in the rug, and a sobbing wife. “I tried SO HARD to make a nice tree, und dis dumbo cat broke everything!” I consoled the wife, righted the tree, swatted the cat… By the end of the day the cat had knocked the tree over two more times. No matter how I propped the tree the cat found a way to make it fall.

My wife cried a lot that year.

The next year we had a real live dead tree! That was exciting. I wrote a fairly entertaining post about it last year that you can read HERE. Suffice it to say, that was the last year we had a tree. (I still have a mental picture of my wife, dressed entirely in black, dragging a Christmas tree up the street on the Fourth of July… You really gotta read the post.)

We haven’t decorated for Christmas since then. It’s just not worth the tears.

The past few years we have settled into traditions – they’re just not our own, that’s all. On Christmas Eve we always went to Dagmar’s mother’s house. We drank warm “grog” (some concoction of fruit juice and rum), read from the Bible, sang songs (some in English, most in German) whilst Mama K played the accordion, and exchanged gifts. Some time during the day, Dagmar and Mama K always called their family in Austria, where the phone would be passed from person to person, each wanting to share some little piece of holiday cheer. The holiday meal took a while for me to get used to – fondue! Ma and Pa used to dig the fondue kettle out once in a while when I was a lad, but I guess I never thought of it as a holiday tradition… Mama K always makes up five or six specialty sauces and cuts up some fillet Mignon and some chicken for us to cook. It’s good! A rare treat indeed.

On Christmas Day we always go to the family farm, where we watch my brother’s kids go through the same routines we did as children. It’s fun to watch small children on Christmas! Especially as the children in question aren’t mine…

I wonder if they’ve ever noticed the magic window… I hope so.

The kids enjoy the presents, we enjoy watching the kids and looking at Ma’s Christmas stuff, then we all go eat too much, and it’s all good.

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