Iowa 2019

Julie and I just returned from our annual trip to Iowa—a rare October visit. And a dandy visit it was.

We always snap a pic of the Mississippi as we cross, and text it to Julie’s mom and sisters. Not only does it tell them where we are, it’s the halfway mark of our trip.

Next comes the requisite “Welcome to Iowa.” While it feels good to be on the homestate turf, recall what I wrote, above. Because we enter the state in the southeast, and they live in the northwest, we still have many miles to go.

With three stops, we always plan on the trip taking eleven hours. We made it in 11:03 to the Leckband’s bit of paradise.

With the wide shot, I wanted to capture the grandeur of it.

Not. Even. Close.

Between the soybeans and the house is a huge pond, which they spent years digging, creating it from a creek, before they built the house (rear left in the pic below).

From a previous visit, the next two pics better show the pond and house.

Julie is the dutiful daughter. She spends a good chunk of her week doing things with and for her folks, such as this:

Most of my time is spent reading, eating, and jogging. I love running wherever I visit, including here. But, man oh man, the terrain is one hill after another.

While I’ve adjusted to the city life in Indianapolis, give me the country anytime. I never tire of looking at the farm fields. I don’t mind running on gravel—there’s usually a track of hard ground created by vehicles. If I don’t use the gravel roads, I am stuck running the same two routes—north or south—on the pavement.

Sunny days brought farmers into the fields to harvest corn. Below, there was a combine working near where these trucks were parked. I stopped my run to snap this pic because the thought occurred to me: the old is still respected as the new is appreciated.

In the background, above, the buildings sticking up from the treeline are in Ocheyedan. Down the road from this spot, work is ongoing at a culvert, taking one lane away. Note the yield sign’s admonition.

I was amused. For vehicles to have to take turns would mean at least three would have to arrive at the same time. The odds of this happening are about the same as my never making a smart-aleck remark to my mother-in-law during my week’s stay in her house.

Family time is always the best part of our visit. Sunday morning breakfast was one of many meals we enjoyed together.

The week flew by, then we flew the coop. Julie and I split the driving. I was glad I thought to download some shows on Netflix, to occupy me when Julie was behind the wheel. I was pleased to be able to prop my phone in the dashboard nook. With earbuds in place, I sat back and enjoyed.

Photo jogging journal

Jogging provides me with way more than great exercise. I see lots of interesting things. Some are funny. Others odd. Several intriguing, At times, after passing by, the sight propels me to create a story about it.

I don’t like to interrupt my running to take photos, so when I see something about which I later found a fun angle, I plan my next run to return to that spot to capture it.

Sometimes, I miss my chance, as with the brick tied up in a bow, that was in the middle of the entrance of a driveway, which was gone the next day.

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The photos that follow all come from this month—October, 2019—except for this one from 2016. I include this older picture because I can’t imagine the scenario in which an intact frozen pizza wound up on the side of a busy, 45 mph speed limit road.

Actually, I can imagine …

I see a car in which there are two occupants. These two are screaming at each other. It goes awry:

“I swear, Terry, I’ll throw these groceries out the window!”

“No, Tracy!”

“Oh, yea, Terry. Here goes the pizza—“

“For the love of Mike! If you have to toss something, why can’t it be the rutabagas?!”

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At first glance, I thought this monster was preparing to kick a soccer ball. When I saw that ball was a skull, the soccer game stuck in my mind:

“Great game, Slayer!”

“Yargh! We really cracked some skulls!”

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A half mile later, I came across the following, which was the only one of these things I stopped the first time to photograph.

Yes, I thought about picking it up and taking it to place next to the skull at the monster’s feet. Alas, satisfied with the photo, I resumed running.

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I run across a lot of roadkill. Never had I ever seen a perfectly preserved skeleton before I saw this (which was mere feet from where that Digiorno pizza had been):

It’s as if someone placed the bones on top of the skin. Crazy.

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Proving the old saying: records were made to be broken.

In case you were wondering, the group that made this album was Skip And The Vinyls.

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I’ve mowed over plenty of acorns and pine cones, even my neighbor’s crabble apples. I suspect the owner of this house has to pick up these hedge apples before hitting the lawn.

If Newton had been sitting under a hedge apple tree, history might have been written far differently … probably by his assistant … after he laid Newton to rest.

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I simply think this next thing is cool. Nowadays, it sits in the yard of condominiums. I would love to see the original house by which it stood, and know the reason it was built.

The easy answer is that it was used as a root cellar. The fun answer would be that it was a hiding place for bootleggers during Prohibition. The best answer is that it was a prison … for disobedient children.

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Here’s my favorite, a situation with three parts to it.

Part 1: How fast did this guy have to be driving, and how hard were those brakes working, to rip into the ground like this?

Part 2: At what point did he realize he was about to come to a stop on top of a No Parking sign? Perhaps, that’s why he kept going, you know, so as not to break the law.

Part 3: The sign didn’t stop him, but this tree—or, the tree that used to be here—sure did.

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I was running through this WALK sign as I took this picture.

Did I break the law? Should I have kept going until I plowed into a tree?

Whatever the case, the cops will have to catch me, because I’m on the run and I’m not stopping!

To be ten again!

When you were ten years old, what did you love doing? At what did you excel? Did you follow through with it as an adult? If not, is it too late to do so?

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The October issue of Reader’s Digest includes this thought-provoking article, “Here’s Why Living Out Your Dreams from When You Were 10 Is the Key to Happiness.” It is available on their website:

The article centers on this question: “What if what we really loved doing between ages 9 and 11 is what most of us ought to be doing, somehow, for our actual job as adults?”

It was enlightening to learn that age ten (plus or minus a year or so for all of us; as with autos, your mileage will vary) is a growth turning point. According to the author, “At age 10, kids graduate from being biologists, searching for a theory of life, to being philosophers, grappling with the truth that no one escapes death. The surge in bandwidth helps 10-year-old kids reconcile what they think with how they feel.”

Bill Nye—you know, the Science Guy—was quoted: ““Everyone who works at NASA or Google or SpaceX got excited about science before he or she was 10 years old. This is well documented. If it isn’t 10, it’s 11 or 12. But it ain’t 17, I’ll tell you that much.”

I paused as I read to consider myself at these ages. What I recall about my ten-year-old self is my love of sports coming together. I’d been catching bits of baseball and football games on television for a couple of years. By 1968, I was sitting still and watching entire games, and I was playing them with such interest that I would even play by myself. (How many times did my mom come outside to instruct me to stop throwing the baseball on the roof—as I allowed it to roll back to me so that I could catch it—because the noise was driving her nuts?)

Absolutely, my love of sports came into focus at this age. As with so many kids, I had desires to play professionally. I was good at baseball and football, but I wasn’t great. And, to get anywhere, you have to be great. Yet, I certainly continued to play in adulthood. For years, I was in two softball leagues at a time, and usually led my team in batting average and runs batted in. I played tennis several times a week. And I watched so much on television that my first wife dubbed ESPN: Every Sane Person’s Nightmare.

Besides the skill aspects of the sports, I loved to run. Man, I ran all the time. When others walked between plays, I ran. When I was in high school, I ran home from school. We lived exactly one mile away, and when I ran I could beat the school bus to the corner of Cook St. and Wilcox, where I turned for the final block to home. I guess it should surprise no one, least of all me, that at age twenty-three I took up jogging. And never stopped. I am rounding the corner to completing my fortieth year.

I loved sports so much that I studied it. I would have loved to work in the business end of it. I have the aptitude for it and believe I would have succeeded, even excelled.

But, at age ten or so, I recall nothing of what really grabbed me, my twin loves of writing and performing. Reading Nye’s dissing of age seventeen, I was miffed. It wasn’t until age seventeen that writing grabbed me. It was in Creative Writing class. I have a distinct recollection of sitting in class and thinking, “I’d love to do this for a living. I want to be a newspaper journalist.”

As for performing, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I did that and learned that nervousness would not be an obstacle too difficult for me to conquer. At the same time, I was becoming interested in being a minister. That I was now standing in front of people, succeeding in reciting my memorized lines, informed me that I could speak from a pulpit to people in pews.

And, regarding writing, well, pastors write a lot—sermons, articles for church newsletters, even columns for local newspapers. I loved writing sermons, and I grew as a writer. Now, in retirement from the ministry, I have written more than ever.

So, that’s me. While I can see a lot of my long-term self at age ten, it is only one of the tent poles of my life.

How about you? What grabbed you at age ten or so? Did it follow you into adulthood?

Is there something from your youth that you’d love to recoup? Is the time ripe for you to do so?

Ain’t that just impeachy

I uncovered the whistleblower’s Facebook profile:

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Vice President Mike Pence is a devoted Christian. His holiness meter must be jumping all over the place these days.

At one moment, he finds himself praying for President Trump, because that’s the right thing to do. In the next moment, visions of himself in the oval office dance in his head and he finds himself praying for Nancy Pelosi.

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In September, President Trump set a personal record for tweets in a month, tweeting or retweeting nearly 800 times.

It’s the hardest he’s worked since he was inaugurated.

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With this Ukrainian thing, we’ve been hearing a lot of comparisons to Watergate. I don’t see the connection.

In 1973, at my house we only had three TV channels. Watergate was on all of them, all day long.

In 2019, I have Netflix.

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Democrat: from the Greek: one who sees everything, including some things that do not exist.

Republican: from the Latin: one who sees nothing, including some things that do exist.

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It’s time for me to come clean. I, too, was in on the call.

I can prove it. Just ask Colin Kaepernick and Rosie O’Donnell. I was sitting between them.

Gina popped up when least expected

Julie and I sat across from the rep. He needed some info from us that we didn’t have in hand. We could get it online. So that Julie could use his computer, he stood and Julie took his chair.

She logged into our account. When she saw the wrong name, she naturally reacted, “Shoot. They still have you as Gina.”

“Gina???” the rep asked in a what on earth are you talking about way.

My elbows on his desk, I dropped my face into my hands. My mind raced. How should I respond?

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I am now one and two/thirds years into feeling exclusively male. Things continue to go smoothly.

In April, I got my name legally returned to Greg. Between Julie and me, we undid everything we changed to Gina in 2016—drivers license, Social Security, credit cards, doctors and dentist, and the like.

The only visibly out-of-place thing about me remains my too-large breasts. I hide them as much as I can. I am hoping to have them removed in the near future … or not. That’s a ball that could come down soon or remain in the air for awhile.

I’ve tired of juggling it.

I now carry in my wallet forms of ID that are exclusively GREGORY. Though it’s been this way since May, I still find myself hesitating to use a credit card or show my drivers license, remembering the long months when I was presenting myself as a guy yet those things read GINA.

I can only figure that I had been so uncomfortable that it’s taken this long to subside. When I remember that the item in question now reads GREGORY, I sigh with relief.

Many places I go, they knew me as Gina. The places I go, where they didn’t know me as Gina, there’s no need for it to come up.

There was no need for it to come up last week. And it never would have, if not for the glitch online, with the business where Julie had gotten my name changed but their online info didn’t reflect it.

So, there I was. My face in my hands. With one confused rep.

I needed to address it.

Thankfully, both Julie and I had found the man likeable. Friendly. Professional. Helpful. Shoot, he even enjoyed my silly sense of humor—and I was in one of those moods where goofy things come easily to me and then they spew from my lips.

But at Julie’s, “They still have you as Gina,” his reaction grabbed me hard. This was the first time my being transgender was exposed without my deciding when it would be brought up.

That the rep was taken aback, and expressed it with the laugh of a person who couldn’t believe his ears, was, unquestionably, the to-be-expected reaction.

Always expect the unexpected, we were taught back in the 1970s by those TV commercials, so that we would be defensive drivers. But I wasn’t expecting this particular unexpected, and I was blindsided.

I removed my face from my hands and looked at the man. My silly goofiness was erased. Soberly, I said, “Yes, my name was Gina. I used to be transgender.”

Though clearly surprised, he received my news with grace. The rest of our time with him, I filled in a few of the blanks. Though he didn’t say, it seemed he had no experience with a trans person.

I told him I had published my memoir. On my phone, I brought up my book page on Amazon. He said he would enjoy reading it, and he would gladly pass it on for others to read. Julie beat me to the punch, offering to drop off a book. Our gift.

As our business with him worked toward its conclusion, the gray clouds parted and my sunny disposition returned. I was back to zinging wacky one-liners. He reacted and treated me exactly as before the revelation.

A few minutes earlier, I was telling him of some of the challenges of being transgender, the common hurdles and hardships. He said, “My parents always told me to treat others the way I want to be treated.”

Amen, friend. And you did exactly that for me. Thank you.

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I look forward to seeing him this week, when I drop off my book.

I don’t look forward to being caught off guard like that again.

Though it has now happened, I don’t know if I would be able to react any differently.

The days after

Photo from the Federal Highway Administration

The day after 9/11, we were numb. Grief-stricken. Overwhelmingly sad and tremendously angry.

The days after, we were glued to our TVs, until they finally broke twenty-four-hour coverage four days later, on Friday evening.

Immediately, we were patriotic. United. Filled with the spirit of the Great Seal of the United States, e pluribus unum: out of many, one.

This was our seminal moment. We waved our flags in our front yards and even affixed them to our automobiles. We plastered “Never Forget” and “United We Stand” bumper stickers to our cars and on our t-shirts.

We were so determined to be and remain united that it was even heard across the land that partisan politics would finally be a thing of the past. This was reflected in the Patriot Act, which was signed into law on October 26, in a now mind-numbingly-quick forty-five days after 9/11.

Eighteen years later, the spirit we Americans displayed seems like the good old days.

We forgot every important thing and went back to business as usual.

Oh, we remember a lot. We remember the dead, just as we should. And we remember the families of the dead, and the survivors. And we have built monuments—important places which will serve us for generations.

And we have almost constant reminders that we are still at war—the longest war in our history.

But we forgot the most important thing. We forgot to continue to give a damn about people who are different from us.

Far too many Americans now only care about those who are like them. Who share the same political party. The same skin color. The same religion. The same sexual orientation or gender identity. The same language. The same culture. The same …

We are like the drunken, abusive husband, whose wife gives him the ultimatum—Stop drinking or I’m gone!—who swears he will stop, that he will get help. But the next chance he has to party with the boys he’s right back at it, and right back at abusing her.

It was only the moment for him. A reaction. He didn’t take it seriously.

9/11 was only the moment for us. A reaction. We thought we would take it seriously.

We did not.

If the collective citizenry of the USA is going to change, the impetus will not come from without—from 9/11, or another attack, or the worst natural disasters—because the excitement always wears off.

If we are to change, it has to begin within. In the hearts of each of us. With every American vowing, “It begins with me.”

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Either united we stand, or divided we fall.

We’ve done a lot of falling since 9/11.

Today is the day for us to reclaim e pluribus unum. Today is the day to reclaim the spirit of the days after 9/11, for the good of us all.

What I love about Julie

December 2018, celebrating our 17th anniversary.

I’ve noticed that lately I have been pondering my Julie more than usual. I’ve noticed what so many say is true: I love her more now than when we got married.

I decided that I needed to put into words some of what causes me to love her, and for my love to have deepened. It’s important for me to fully appreciate who she is, and who she is for me.

And I want the world to know. I hope her qualities impress others so that they imitate them.

Julie is kind to everyone

This comes first, because I find when a person is kind it allows others to see everything else about that person, but when a person is not kind others can’t get past it to see other good things. Julie is completely and constantly kind.

Julie is humble

I’ve never heard her brag. Not once. Her work speaks for itself. Her life speaks for itself. When she talks about herself, or something she has accomplished, she does so in a matter-of-fact way, never to feed her ego or make herself look better than someone else.

She can show some sass when it’s called for.

Julie is smart and wise

I’ve often said that she’s the smartest person I’ve ever known. Smarts aside, that she’s also wise is what makes the difference. She uses her smarts in ways that benefit everyone in her life.

Julie is a hard worker

I can’t think of a single time when she was lazy. She rests and relaxes—which is wise to do—but never to excess. She always has a list of things to be accomplishing, and she’s always working on the list.

Julie is a team player

Since we’ve been married, Julie has worked four places. In each place, without hesitation she’s learned everything about each job, each place, and used her knowledge to improve things and to help her coworkers. Where there is a need, she learns new things so that a job can be done.

Circa 2004. My kids became our kids because of Julie.

Julie doesn’t gossip or run down people

When Julie talks about others, she’s either sharing something important or interesting, or seeking to help or improve a situation, and always from a positive perspective toward those about whom she is speaking.

Julie has a can-do spirit

Julie lets nothing defeat her. Before calling a plumber or taking a car to a mechanic, she investigates the situation, often figuring out the problem, and frequently fixing it on her own. That spirit is seen in her in every aspect of her life.

She loves being behind the wheel of a tractor.

Julie is patient

I experienced this one the most beginning in 2013 when gender dysphoria crushed me, and all the years since because of the roller coaster my life has been. Rather than push and prod and pester, Julie has hung in there with me.

Julie is reliable

If you are expecting her, she’s there. When you need her, she’s there. And she will be pleasant, and kind, and friendly, and helpful. Reliable. Faithful. Constant.

Us, in 2002.

Julie is thoughtful

It’s never a surprise when the answer to my question, “Honey, what’s that for?” is, “It’s for so-and-so, because …” and it’s because she learned the person liked this thing, or it’s a coworker’s birthday, or she knew one of the grandkids would enjoy it, or because I had mentioned my need or desire for it, or …

Julie is selfless

After ten items on this list, selfless naturally follows. Self-centered people neither possess nor display more than a few of the ten.

Julie is fun and funny

Julie laughs easily and is not afraid to laugh loudly. And crack a joke? She can do it with the best. She’s not afraid to get down on the floor and play with the grandkids, or go you-name-the-place for a good time, or dance herself weary at a wedding reception or in our living room.

A few years ago. Holding granddaughter Maggie, with granddaughter Margot looking on. Who’s having the most fun?

Julie has helped me become a better person

Julie has not shied from showing me where I could have expressed something more helpfully, or handled a situation in a better way. Because she has talked gently with me, I could trust her when she brought up challenging things. The result is that I have grown more patient, more careful with my words, less apt to make foolish jokes and, I hope, an all-around better person.

Julie loves me

I’ve said many times that I love Julie because she loves me. That’s too simplistic, of course, but it sums things up. Everything I love about Julie, she applies to me.

I will always strive to give to her what she gives to me. With joy!

Us, in 2014.