So I grabbed my laptop the other day, settled into the recliner and tried to figure out what to write about...

    • It only took one backyard bonfire years ago for my wife and I - OK, probably just me - to realize that I had miscalculated when purchasing our metal above-ground fire pit. It was too small. Not only that, it had two removal screen-type doors on the sides, for you to open up, put your wood in, and then close up. Already, the very first logs and branches I shoved in were hilariously too big, so I not only opened the two screened protectors, I removed them, permanently. I haven't seen them for years.

    Have we ever abused that fire pit over the years. The wire mesh on the top and sides has essentially disappeared, slowly melted away by many of my epic blazes. The support legs themselves - the very definition of solid, dead weight - have even started to sag to one side.

    It's slow denigration has actually opened up some possibilities, allowing me to enhance my fire-building skills. As branches and small limbs blow down in the yard or we trim various bushes and trees, we've overstuffed that pit to comical proportions before lighting fires that, in their opening flourish, have produced flames tall enough to convince any woman that I’m a particularly manly, macho but also accomplished pyromaniac.

    But the pit’s come to the end of its life. I bought a big metal fire ring that I assembled and put into place last week, in the center of the backyard where the old pit sat over the years, in the center of a dirt and ash circle that years ago was home to grass. I've since trimmed some dead branches on some of our big bushes, and we had a large dead limb blow down. I've been effortlessly piling and pyramiding some of that wood in the middle of this bombastic, glorious ring, and it's like Christmas in July for me as I anticipate lighting that very first fire.

    • My wife had some things going on at work recently that required on a couple occasions the purchase of some groceries. Pressed for time, she gave Hugo's online ordering and car-side delivery service a try. She seriously dug it. She even said she might never again by groceries using the more traditional practice of grabbing a cart and going up and down the store aisles.

    Sorry, but I'm going to have to play my old curmudgeon card on this one. I love grabbing a cart and tooling up and down the store aisles. I mean, who wants to stay true to a grocery list? What fun is forming a list with $50 in groceries and then actually leaving the store with $50 in groceries? The fun is going to the grocery store when you need just a few things and then somehow cramming $120 worth of items in one of those hand-held baskets. The fun of going to the grocery store is needing around $60 worth of items, straying from your list because you're hungry, and getting rung up for $130 in items, or, even better, needing around $130 worth of groceries and leaving the store with $220 worth of stuff. Or more, when you’re especially famished.

    If we had a half-dozen hyper offspring running around the house demanding a delicious, nutritious supper in the next five minutes, I might have a different opinion on this subject. But, even then, I think I’d fret too much about the good people at the grocery store grabbing me the wrong salsa, or, worse yet, a brand and variety of ranch dressing that I despise.

    • You’ve got to hand it to Stephen King. Or maybe I’m the only one who wants hand it to Stephen King. A prolific author of countless books and short stories, ranging from the spooky to the surreal and supernatural, to beautiful, heart-wrenching tales of triumph and tragedy, King is also a proud and outspoken liberal and resident of and lover of all things Maine.

    King is kind of a hero of mine and I’m proud to say I’ve read many of his books, some more than once. 

    He’s a cranky old guy in some respects, but King has also embraced the digital age, especially when it comes to books. While countless audio books are narrated by the blandest of bland voices, King narrates many of his own books via media like the Kindle E-Reader. I’m currently wrapping up his latest book, “The Outsider,” on my Kindle app, and the fun King has as he changes his tone and inflection to fit the many characters, even female characters, is palpable. And impressive.

    • What a pleasure it was to spend a Sunday afternoon with the 12 university faculty members from China who are wrapping up their two-week stay at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

    In a major understatement, these people are highly intelligent. Their fields include mathematics, physics, multiple engineering disciplines, transportation, energy...and I’m sure I’m missing some. And yet they’re so gracious and humble and eager to ask questions and hear what you have to say, even if you’re rambling about what seem to be the most mundane things, that in their disarming way they make you feel like whatever it is that you have to contribute to the conversation is profound.

    Some of them are more confident in their abilities to speak English than others, but they get their point across or are able to articulate their intentions. Even if you have no idea what they’re saying, hearing several of them discussing this topic or that with tremendous enthusiasm, in Chinese, is something to marvel at. Sitting around a table at the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing that Sunday afternoon, they went on and on in their native tongue while sitting around the table, then stopped. Then one of them, to Dr. Debra Bell (who specializes in integrative medicine), said, in English, “We’re talking about how you know so much about Chinese medicine.”

    Hope you had a great trip, everyone.