Ping-Pong and Playboys


During my lifetime, I have had hundreds of haircuts. Probably one haircut every 2-3 months (less during my mullet years in college) since I was at least one.

A haircut is just that, a haircut. Really nothing momentous about them. I have had haircuts in salons as well as barber-shops. I have had women and men both cut my hair. I don’t have a regular stylist at this time – no need as my hairline recedes a little more each year.

Years ago though, I did have a regular barber. His name was Mr. Schroeder (I never knew his first name). He cut mine and my brother’s hair…in the basement of his house.

We would all pile into the station wagon and my mom would drive us to our appointments. Downstairs we would go, entering from the side door of his house. I never saw the upstairs of where he and his wife lived – but we explored the entire basement many times.

Down the stairs, and to the left, he had a barbershop set up – just like any barbershop anywhere. There were mirrors and scissors. He had a girly calendar and manly smelling liquids. Combs sat in blue liquid and cans of “I don’t know what” sat on the counter. He had an old manual cash register, which clicked when you punched the buttons.

In the middle of his “barbershop” stood his actual barber chair. It was perfect. Red leather and chrome. Not fancy, but functional. Well used and well cared for.

We – my brothers and I – would climb on the chair one at a time. Early on, we would use the booster chair so that he could reach us. Eventually, we would outgrow that. We would be wrapped in a black cape to protect our clothes and skin from the cut hair. I can still feel his steady hands tucking the piece of white tissue paper between the cape and my collar. To this day, I think of him every time someone else does this.

Mr. Schroeder did not talk much during the haircut. He had a job to do – and probably little to discuss with young boys. He went about his work, taking care of business. If we had conversations, I don’t recall any. Likely, my lack of recall is due to the fact that my attention would constantly be pulled into another room of his basement where my brothers would be – the family room.

Ping pong and Playboys – that was the entertainment set up in the family room of Mr. Schroeder’s barber shop. That was where we spent the downtime during our two-hour haircut appointments.

No cell phones, no Xbox or Nintendo systems, not even cable television. Ping pong was the primary distraction – since we could do that without getting into trouble. Playboys were the challenge…you had to look at them surreptitiously…like a thief stealing precious jewels. He had other magazines (including Reader’s Digest) but they held little interest, other than to cover up the Playboys.

We played a lot of ping-pong. You would have thought that we would have gotten good at it. Truth is that we sucked. Rarely could we keep a volley going for more than three hits. The majority of the time we spent playing the game was spent digging under the couch chasing the lost balls. Luckily the balls could do little damage to the ceramic decorations that Mrs. Schroeder had in the family room.

I’ve never been to a barbershop quite the same since. Many have girly magazines, but none had a ping-pong table or crocheted doilies. It was unusual and different. It was fun (as much fun as three boys can have getting haircuts) and memorable.

I mentioned this memory to my brothers. They both had their own strong memories of this experience. Chris still remembers the smell of the place. Joel actually came up with the title of this post. They both, along with Mr. Schroeder, helped me make this memory.

Hold hands….


Turn out the light


Attention all Kmart shoppers. I grew up shopping at in Kmart. I grew up seeing the Blue Light Special.  I rode the mini mechanical rides out front and placed things on lay-away. My Kmart had a cafeteria and a deli. We would occasionally get food from the cafeteria, although more commonly getting sandwiches to go from the deli.


Dagwood sandwiches from Kmart

They usually would be a bologna dagwood sandwich, which consisted of bologna, cheese, a little shredded lettuce and tomato, and sliced onion. I learned the value of mustard while eating these childhood sandwiches.


Kmart sold everything .They had toys and comic books. Many G.I. Joe’s were bought from them. They had bikes, fishing gear, and soccer balls. They had school supplies and televisions, and eventually video games. I got most of my new clothes from Kmart, from jeans to socks.

Now they are closing the final Kmart in Sioux Falls. Although the Kmart of my childhood is still open in Rapid City, I will not have one in my current home town. The brand has not been able to keep up with the changes in society. I have worked for their largest competitor and Kmart could not compete. Their brand and their name has not fared well over the years. Their buildings are old and so are their customers. I will always fondly remember the brand and the memories that I have. Unfortunately, it is time to turn out the blue light…the party is over.


Blue Light Special. Photo credit:

Robots and Agility


firsttech_iconhorz_rgbThis past weekend, my son Carter had his first, and possibly final, First Tech Challenge competition of the year. It was in Lincoln, NE where his team (the Fellowship of the Loose Screws) has always been welcome and they have always had a good time. There are no tournaments in South Dakota, so our team has to travel out-of-state to compete in the hopes that they will qualify to go to the next Regional rounds.

Carter is a senior this year, and as such, he will be graduating high school this year and moving on from the Fellowship. This chapter for him is closing and he is moving onto another one. This is the natural order for young people. As they move through their world, they try things. Some they stay with…some they don’t. Some have a finite timeline for them to participate in.

Carter has competed for five years. He has learned so much during this time. He can program robots. He can drive robots. He can code robots. He can build robots. More recently, he can discuss them, promote them, and educate others about them.

He fell in love with robots and early on, he wanted to become an engineer and eventually work with robots. Somewhere along the way, as his role with the robots and the Fellowship changed, he found other passions with FTC and with life in general.

Although Carter may no longer want to become an engineer and work with robots, he has benefited from all the other lessons that his robot and team has taught him, which include some of the following:

  • How to solve problems
  • How to work with a team
  • How to collaborate with others
  • How to communicate on different levels with different audiences
  • How to teach others to do what they need to do
  • How to make friends and how to be a friend

Legoless (the Fellowship’s robot) has transformed many times during the past five years. He has morphed into whatever the team needed him to become. At first, he was simple and little. He was new and was learning what he was supposed to be. Eventually, he was stronger and dominating. He was growing. This year, he is agile and nimble. Not weak and he can handle his own. He is able to move into a better position to make more happen.

The Fellowship, and Carter, has transformed right along with Legoless. They started off simple and new. They grew and became more confident. The became a force on the field as well as in their community. Now they are agile and nimble. They need to position themselves for the future. Carter and four other founding members of the Fellowship are moving on. Both them and the Fellowship need to move into a better position to make more happen in the future.

The team did not win this weekend, so they did not qualify to go the Regional competitions. They have another tournament in North Dakota coming up, and hopefully they will qualify at that one. Carter won’t be attending this tournament. His new interests and his job do not allow him to go this weekend. If they don’t qualify at this tournament, Carter’s time with Fellowship will come to an end. The Fellowship will continue without Carter and the others that are moving on. The newer kids have been taught by the older kids. They have the knowledge and the skill to move forward — to be nimble.

It’s all relative


New Underwood – 31 miles. Rapid City – 50 miles. Hot Springs – 100 miles.

These are mile markers found along Interstate 90 heading west. They are all towns in South Dakota. Towns that I have been to. Towns that are part of my history. Towns that my family have lived in.

Growing up in western South Dakota, I had family throughout the area. Most of the family were distant to me, not only in location, but also in relation. Second and third cousins, great aunts and uncles. Older than my parents and my grandparents. I know of them, but I don’t know them.

My grandmother was the wheel in the cog of keeping all of them together. She knew them all, was related to most, and kept them all in contact with each other. Ans she kept them informed of me and what I was involved in.

When my grandmother passed away, I tried to keep in touch with these distant relatives. I would send out a Christmas letter or card to them, for as long as I had a working address. As time moved on, I lost track of most of them. Many passed away and some moved without an address for me to track them with. Eventually, my habit of the Christmas card faded into a pleasant memory of something that I used to do.

My effort to keep in touch with my family was in an effort to not lose them. I moved to the other side of the state and moved on with my life. As it happened, my life overtook my time, and ultimately I did lose most of my family. Nearly all the distant family for certain, and some very close family as well.

I have attempted to rekindle my relations with my family. I have tried to “find” my family again. I find that as my life has a new focus, and my immediate family has changes somewhat, I am having some success in finding family. I have gained new family from my new Tiffany, I keep some family from my ex-wife Kelli, and I rediscover my biological family from a renewed effort to reach out to them.

I hope to continue to nurture my family and grow the relationships that I have. Time will tell, although I certainly hope that it’s tale is full of renewal.

Natural glitter


I’m riding in the backseat of a car, writing another story, when I look out the window at the passing landscape and I am amazed at the beauty of South Dakota.

The prairie is snow-covered and wind-swept. The snow glistens like glitter-speckled glass. The wind has made it so smooth that the sun reflects effortless from it.

Parts of the snow is not deep enough to cover the sagebrush, and it pokes out from its white cover. It cases snow to drift slightly behind it, making it appear rough and bubbly. Where the snow is deeper, it covers all, making a smooth white blanket that continues on until the distant end.

I see hay bales left by the ranchers. They are buffeted by the snow and wind. They are iced on one side with the white snow, like they were dipped in frosting. The cattle they are left to feed are also frosted with the snow and ice as they meander along the countryside looking for feed.

Soon enough, the plains give way to the Badlands and ultimately to the Black Hills on the western most side of the state. These natural landscapes only increase the beauty of South Dakota.

I have seen all of these areas many times during my lifetime. I have experienced them in all weather and at all times of day and night. They still amaze me and take my breath away each new time that I look upon them. I especially love the winter season. The snow makes everything so clean and pretty. It shimmer in the moonlight. The cold makes you long for a warm fire and hot cocoa. It reminds us of winter wonderlands and harkens memories that we may never have really had, but long for.

Photo credit:


Picture perfect!


Tropical flower taken at Como Park Zoo in St. Paul

Earlier this week, I submitted a number of photos to the Arts Exhibit at the Sioux Empire Fair (Minnehaha’s county fair). I am not a professional photographer, and I don’t intend to become one. I have never submitted photos before, so I was not sure what they would be looking for. I just take pictures for the fun of it, and so that I have a photographic reference of my life and history for myself and my family.


Sunset taken from my front porch in Sioux Falls

It was fun taking the time looking at the photos and trying to choose which ones I would submit. I decided that I was only going to choose photos from the past year, nothing older (the fair requires that they be taken within the past two years). They have a variety of categories that you can submit your photos in, but you can only submit two per category. I had plenty of pictures to choose from, but had to narrow them down to a select few and place them in a category.


Ainsley ballet dance at the Patrick Henry Middle School talent show

I chose my photos, get them printed and mounted, dropped them off at the fair office, and then I had to wait. I was surprised that I was a little more nervous and anxious than I thought I would be. Would they enjoy them? Would other people enjoy looking at them? Would they speak to anyone?


Stream running through Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum in Sioux Falls

The fair opened two days later, and finally I get to see my photos on display in the Arts Center. We chose to go to the fair on one of the busiest days of the week, and traffic was a nightmare. It took us over an hour to park and walk into the fair. By the time we made it to the Arts Center, it was right at closing time (they actually had closed about 5 minutes earlier than when we got there). Sadly, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to see my pictures this night.


Tiffany enjoying the lily pond in Chicago

Tiffany did not have the same thoughts though. She was going to see the pictures tonight. So, we went to the door and as others were leaving the building, we “snuck” in to see the pictures.


Ainsley downtown Sioux Falls

Although the lights had been turned down, we were able to find the pictures and sneak a quick look at the results that I had garnered. I had been awarded 2 blue ribbons, 3 red ribbons, and many white (participation) ribbons. Happily, we looked at the pictures, and quickly celebrated my small victory. It was nice to win a couple of ribbons to show that some of my photos had quality to them. I learned later that the judges had written critiques on the back of the entry forms, which I actually really enjoyed reading (although I may not fully agree with them all).


My cat Mishka exploring the Christmas tree

At the end of it all, I was happy that I submitted the photos. Not because I won ribbons, but because I participated in the fair. It was fun reliving the memories that the pictures brought back. It was fun getting the photos printed and mounting them. It was fun dropping them off and picking them up. I hope that my children see what I did and realize that they can do something similar. Hopefully they will have a hobby that they enjoy and share that with others. Tiffany was proud that I chose to share my photos with the rest of the Sioux Empire.


Tropical bird at Como Park Zoo in St. Paul

That was also fun!

Can you tell which of the photos were the two that won the blue ribbon? Comment your vote.


Corner of 12th and Phillips on New Years Eve in Sioux Falls


Cat in the Hat hat at Suessical the musical in Sioux Falls at the Orpheum Theater


Japanese flower at the Japanese Garden at Como Park Zoo in St. Paul


Church outside Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls


Honoring fallen heroes at the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial


Frozen Sioux River at Falls Park in Sioux Falls


Sunrise taken on the road to Omaha


Grapes taken at the Wilde Prairie Vineyard in Brandon, SD


Fleur de lis globe taken at home in Sioux Falls


Everything is beautiful

(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.” – Prince

Yesterday an icon passed away. 57 years young. A shock to the world. A shame to say the least and a sad realization that even demigods are mortal.
I enjoyed listening to Prince. I found his music entertaining and provocative. His album Purple Rain came out in 1984, when I was just 13. Wow…”Darling Nikki”…hmmm…. not to mention “Let’s Go Crazy” as well as “Purple Rain.” Such powerful songs. Such strong memories.
He was a poet to be sure. As well as a musician and a story-teller. All that wrapped up in an entertainer that was sexual and mysterious. When I knew Prince, MTV still played music videos. The Revolution were added sex appeal to his videos. We waited to watch him and record his videos on VHS.
My family took a trip to Minneapolis around 1985. Prince was on top of the world at this time. My mother bought his cassette tape while we were there. We listened to it over and over again on the way home. Just like now, we can not get enough of his music.
More hits came along (although to me they did not arrive in chronological order). “1999” was a party anthem. “Little Red Corvette” was iconic. “Raspberry Beret” was just fun to me. “Sign O The Time” signaled a change in him to me.
He changed his name to a symbol…which I thought was very strange. He lived in Minneapolis…which I thought was cool. He was Purple…which I enjoy.
I know very little of this man. What I know today mostly I learned yesterday or today. He was reclusive. He was religious, although not in a traditional way. He was sincere and honest. He did not do drugs. He did not like technology and the internet. Honestly, I just learned his real name is Prince Rogers Nelson.
He has no real bearing on my life. He was not a friend or acquaintance. I have never met him. He did not participate in my day-to-day life. I have not followed his music career since the early 90’s.
However, maybe he did have a bearing. His music will forever ring strong in my mind. When I hear his songs, I will remember moments that I have experienced. I will remember the Minneapolis trip with my family. I will remember the fraternity house where I first got his Pearl album on CD. I will remember celebrating the 1999 new year.
Yesterday we lost a musician. We lost an entertainer. We lost a person who was just like everyone else. Someone who lived and loved. He had dreams and hopes. He had beliefs.
Today he experienced a new beginning and received a blessing from God.
Yeah, everything is beautiful!