How My Elementary School Education Molded Me into the Man I Am Today

I don’t have a great number of memories from elementary school. This doesn’t surprise me — if my report cards are any indication of the way things were, I wasn’t paying attention. But there are some moments that stick out.


My teacher’s name was Mrs. Martini. She was in her final year before retirement after a long career. I don’t remember much about her, but my parents have told me that she taught like she was ready to leave. I do remember one seminal moment. I informed a girl in my class that Santa Claus is not real. She began crying. Mrs. Martini sent me up front to sit against the wall behind the piano, and then promptly forgot all about me. I was there for about half an hour when she took the class out to recess, leaving me alone in the empty room. Only when she returned did she notice me. She was properly horrified at what she had done.

I’ve always had something of a fatalistic streak. It may have been birthed during those 50 minutes behind the piano. I wasn’t sad or angry or scared. I just sat there and thought, “This is weird. There IS no Santa Claus.”

First Grade

Ah. Miss French. My first crush. My memories of her are interlaced with the smell of ink on fresh-printed Ditto machine copies. She seemed to take a particular interest in me, although I’m not sure why. She wrote a note to my parents in my report card, “Roger must learn to differentiate between time for work and time for play.” And she gave me a grade of “Needs Improvement” in the category of “Avoids Disturbing Others.” But I can distinctly remember a couple of occasions when I was in fifth and sixth grade when Miss French came by my classroom and asked my teacher if she could borrow me for a couple minutes to help her move boxes. If that isn’t romance, I don’t know what is.

That’s me on the left with the nifty sweater over the white shirt.


Second Grade

I have no memories whatsoever of second grade. The class picture, if there was one, has disappeared. I do have my report card, signed by a Miss Mackley, but even that name rings no bells. For one quarter, she gave me an “Unsatisfactory Achievement” in “Avoids Disturbing Others,” but by the end of the year I’d managed to get that up to a lofty “Satisfactory Achievement.” She alone, of all my teachers, gave me poor grades for language and vocabulary.

Third Grade

I have just one distinct memory of Mrs. Eckert. A boy in my class was refusing to settle down, and she began chasing him around the room, climbing over desks and running down the aisles. As he was a 10-year-old boy and she was a woman in her 50s, she never got close. I recall sitting at my desk thinking, “This can’t be the best way to handle this.” I think she finally gave up and went and got a male teacher to deal with it.

I’m standing second from the right in the third row next to the girl with the bow.


Fourth Grade

I have a vague tendril of memory of Miss Mussar being a strict, no-nonsense woman. She gave me quite a few “D”s, including one in reading. I loved reading. Reading was pretty much all I did with my life when I wasn’t in school or outside playing. I was reading at an adult level already and won the church reading contest that year. For me to have earned a “D,” in reading was, I think, more a testament of her teaching methods than of my abilities. She must have made it no fun at all. She also gave me “D”s in conduct. That may explain both the look on my face and the reason why I was standing right next to her. There can be no rational explanation for my white pants.


Fifth Grade

I remember Mrs. Olson as being fair. She wrote a note on my report card that said, “Roger is an exceptional student in many ways. He has a general enthusiasm for learning. I would like to see him participate in class discussions more frequently.”

Then there was the segment on prepositions. Mrs. Olson explained what they were and how they were used and as if someone had turned on a switch, I understood immediately and completely. Eight minutes into the lesson and I had it. I could list them, I could identify them in a sentence, I could use them correctly. I had to sit there bored for the next six weeks while my classmates struggled to understand. The teacher explained that a preposition was “anything you could do with a table.”

Mrs. Olson: Robbie, can you find the preposition in the sentence, “My mother put the walnut bowl into the cabinet?”

Robbie: Walnut?

Mrs. Olson: No, Robbie.

Robbie: But my parents have a walnut table.

Mrs. Olson: Can anyone help Robbie? Anyone? Isn’t there anyone who knows which word is the preposition? Anyone? Roger, do you know which word is the preposition?

Roger: Into

Mrs. Olson: That’s right. Why didn’t you raise your hand and answer me?

She didn’t teach Science. She would switch with the other fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hough (“As in rough and tough”), and teach her class English while Mrs. Hough taught us Science.

As a sidebar, this was the year that the gym teacher, Mr. Lodding, had a major impact on my life.

First a little background. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, my family would go to the International Livestock Exposition and Rodeo at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, next to the old stock yards. We’d wander up and down the aisles, looking at the back end of cows, attend the rodeo and eat a Hickory Farm Beef Stick. This delicacy looked like summer sausage but tasted much, much better. Dad would buy a chunk about a foot long and as big around as a baseball bat. He’d pull out his pen knife and cut off slices and hand them around as we wandered past pigs and sheep and horses and whatnot. I couldn’t get enough.

Back to my story. One year we had some Beef Stick left over. I went home for lunch one day (kids could do that then) and, on my way back to school grabbed the last couple inches to eat as I walked. There was still quite a bit left when I stepped on school grounds. Mr. Lodding saw me with it and confiscated it. There was a rule that we couldn’t bring food out of the lunchroom. I tried to explain that I had brought it from home, but he called me a liar.

Later that afternoon I walked past his office and saw him leading back in his chair, feet on the desk, eating MY BEEF STICK. I gave forth with a silent scream for justice. I may have been scarred for life.

I’m in the top left corner.


Sixth Grade

Mr. Marecek probably saved me from a life of crime. He may have been warned about me, because from the first day he took me on as a special project. He often kept me after school, not as punishment, but to help him decorate the bulletin boards and tape up the best class homework assignments on the wall. (Teachers could do things like this in those days without being accused of anything.)

He gave us a lot of assignments in history and science that involved maps. “Here’s a map of North America. Draw in the major weather patterns.” That sort of thing. I would go far beyond the assignment. I’d pull out my colored pencils and color the whole thing. When Mr. Marecek noticed my interest, he encouraged it. This got me more interested in homework in general and before you knew it, my conduct grade reached its all-time high, a “B—.” He sent news of this notable achievement home to my parents in the form of several notes that all include variations of “There has been a marked improvement in Roger’s conduct and attitude toward school.”

This qualified me to be a patrol boy. I got to wear and orange belt and leave class 15-minutes early to take my station on some neighborhood corner and usher younger kids across the street.

I joke, but things got pretty rocky for me academically again in junior high. Being able to look back at one fleeting year of success may well have kept me from giving up entirely. In retrospect, I’m sure growing up had something to do with it. But the biggest factor was probably that I’d finally found a teacher who cared.

I’m in the second row from the top, third from the left.

My second major crush was in my class. I’ll let you guess who she was. I never summoned the courage to talk to her, but there was this one time when I was by my hall locker and she walked by and said “Hi, Roger.” I lived on that moment for months.


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My Study

My comfort zone where I work and relax and, sometimes, sleep.






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The Chicago Experience

Our good friends Wayne and Holly are gifted at finding interesting things to do in unexpected places. That’s how Sally and I found ourselves on a Saturday night sitting in a tent in the parking lot of a Catholic church listening to a Chicago cover band called The Chicago Experience.


Chicago was THE band to listen to when I was at college. I know all their hits from the 70’s and early 80’s by heart. The Chicago Experience did all the classics and some less well known songs from the very early albums. There were times when I could tell I wasn’t listening to the original band, but these guys were very good and many times I couldn’t detect much difference at all.

These aren’t necessarily my favorite songs (those would be “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4”),  although I like all three of them. They were just the songs with the fewest number of people who need to develop some inhibitions dancing between us and the stage.

Fancy Colors


Old Days


Just You and Me


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Life with Kittens

Lucy and Millie make a friend.


Lucy helps clean the windows.


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The Night My Faith Became Fact

My dad died in the fall of 1999.

For good (mostly) and bad (occasionally), my dad was the dominant personality in my life. When he was in a room, the room was alive, and as his son, I had to keep up. I always knew I had his love, but sometimes I wasn’t sure if I had his approval. He came from a hard childhood with little encouragement and conquered that and legal blindness to become a well-known pastor, counselor, author and conference speaker. He figured I could make the same determinations and achieve the same heights. But I took after my mom and was more comfortable in a quieter role. There were a lot of great moments between us, but there was also tension.

The days between his death and his memorial service were busy with notifying people and making arrangements and preparing the service. The family gathered at his home in the woods of northern Wisconsin and mourned and laughed and distracted each other.

Finally, after supper on the day before the service, we were pretty much ready. I walked outside alone and headed off through the woods to a rocky, pine-covered peninsula that jutted out into Spider Lake.

It was early evening when I arrived. I sat on a rock along the shore, my feet inches from the water. My mind raced, thinking of everything and nothing — remembering my dad, wondering what life would be like without him, going over my talk at his memorial service the next day.

As the sun sank behind the trees I noticed a movement between my feet. A tiny shrew, about two inches long, was foraging in the leaves along the shore. It must have felt secure in the foot-and-a-half space between my shoes because for the next twenty minutes, it stayed right there. But it was active. It scurried and darted, disappearing at times under the leaves then reappearing in its mad hunt for insects. Shrews have the fastest metabolism of any animal. To survive at that pace, they have to eat their own body-weight in food each day. I never saw this one stop.

I didn’t move. I simply sat with my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands, watching. Finally, as dusk drifted into darkness, it disappeared.

I got up, being careful not to step anywhere the shrew might be, and headed back through the woods to the house. I got about halfway there when the tears finally came. I stood in the dark and cried into the night. After a couple minutes I realized that my grief all came down to one question.

Did I really believe what I said I believed? If I did, then I knew Dad was with the Lord and I would see him again one day. That was a reason to be sad, but it was a sweet sadness. But if I didn’t …?

I spoke out loud as I asked myself. “Well? Do you?” In that moment, I realized a great sense of peace. This was the first time in my life I had lost somebody on whom I was emotionally dependent. It was the first time I had really faced this question. It was the Holy Spirit, I believed, who answered my question. I was certain Dad was with Jesus Christ. It was no longer “goodbye.” It was now “See you later.”

Since that moment, heaven has been much more real to me and my priorities on earth have entirely changed. Material things are just that — fun and sometimes necessary, but not important. My hope for my own future is real and sustaining when times are rough.

I walked back to the house and met my sister who was out looking for me. We wandered down to the end of dad’s dock and talked and laughed and cried for a long time. But it was a different sort of crying, a good sort of crying.

I’ve often thought back on that night. I’ve tried to make that tiny shrew into a symbol of something. How our busyness ultimately doesn’t matter; how life goes on no matter what; how sometimes you see great things when you just stop and reflect. None of the symbols really work. I don’t think it meant anything. It was just a shrew hunting for insects between the shoes of a grieving man. But somehow, for some reason, it has always been an inextricable part of my memories of that night.

A shrew ran across the path in front of me when I was walking recently. Five minutes later, another one dashed by. It got me thinking again of that night and Dad and heaven and hope.

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This Tree, Those Deer

I pass this tree almost every time I take a walk. I always expect this to happen.


Here’s another shot from a recent walk. My phone camera wasn’t up to capturing the sunset and the deer. I wasn’t going to use it, but then I saw the glowing eyeballs and posted it on facebook with the notice: “Alien deer have landed. You have been warned.”


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Some Deep and Meaningful Thoughts on Stadium Names

The White Sox recently announced that the name of their ballpark will soon change to Guaranteed Rate Field. That just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? The fact that the logo consists of a giant arrow pointing straight down is unfortunate. I mentioned this to a friend who is a White Sox fan. I said it didn’t bode well for the team. He replied, “Bode nothing … It’s belaboring the obvious.”

If I have to find something good to say about the name it is this: A generation of baseball fans will know how to spell “guaranteed.” If there are any fans …

U.S Cellular Field wasn’t great either, although it was generally referred to as “The Cell,” which wasn’t awful.

Some other current Major League parks have names that are lacking that certain something.

  • AT&T Park in San Francisco sound like a place for playing golf and sipping beverages out of china cups.
  • Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies play, just goes “clunk.”
  • Globe Life Park in Arlington, the Rangers’ stadium, is vying with the White Sox for worst name of all.
  • Minute Maid Park in Houston would be a great name for a track and field stadium. Baseball, not so much.
  • PNC Park in Pittsburgh is bland.

There are a few corporate-name fields that aren’t bad – Target Field, Chase Field. The best has to be Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.


A few years ago, there was talk of the Cubs selling naming rights to Wrigley Field. The “purists” rose up in revolt, protesting the commercialization of the classic ballpark. Really? Do you actually think William Wrigley, Jr. didn’t have his product in mind when he chose to change the name from Cubs Park?

I’ve always been a bit surprised that the Wrigley company didn’t do more with the Cubs. I know they don’t own the team or park anymore. But why not put a little electronic sign somewhere in the stands that flashes advertisements for the various gum brands when certain things happen on the field.

  • Spearmint — when a Cub player makes a great defensive play
  • Big Red — when a Cub pitcher strikes out a batter
  • Doublemint — when a Cub hits a double
  • Juicy Fruit — when a Cub hits a home run
  • Orbit — when a home run leaves the park
  • Freedent — when a home run hits the video board (get it?)
  • Extra — when a Cub steals a base
  • Hubba Bubba — when … I’ve got nothing for this one.

If this ever actually happens, I want royalties.

But all this got me thinking. What other businesses should, or shouldn’t, buy naming rights to Major League parks?

  • There are a few that are so obvious it surprises me that the deals haven’t been made already — Ball Park Frank’s Ballpark or Cracker Jack Stadium.
  • I’ve already mentioned that Cincinnati has a good name with Great American Ballpark. But if they partnered with either of the local Cincinnati Chili franchises and ended up with Skyline Stadium or Gold Star Park, those would be pretty good too.
  • A.1. (Steak Sauce) Ballpark would be good. Worcestershire Stadium not so much.
  • Piggly Wiggly Park? Might be fun.
  • Parkay Park is memorable. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Field isn’t.
  • Captain Crunch Park would be great. Fruit Loops Field would not be great.
  • Smashburger Stadium seems like a no-brainer. But Five Guys Field would just confound all the younger fans and destroy any math aptitude they might be developing.
  • Whether Gap Park works depends on whether it’s the home team or the visiting team that’s hitting the gaps.
  • Who wouldn’t want to play in Starkist Stadium?
  • Green Giant Field is a natural for the Oakland A’s.
  • Goodyear Park seems like a good fit.
  • Dirt Devil Stadium works on a couple of levels, as does NoDoz Park.

Marvel Comics should partner with a team. The players could wear spandex and capes. There could be comic book/baseball crossovers like “The Fantastic Four vs. The Minnesota Nine.” And maybe they could come up with a way to turn video board replays into comics.

Some teams change their park name fairly frequently. So why not sign a deal with a movie studio and change the stadium name every month to promote new movies? This could result in …

  • (500) Days of Summer Field
  • A Few Good Men Ballpark
  • Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti western could give us The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Ballpark.
  • You could have Gone with the Wind Field. But you could also end up with Failure to Launch Field or A Series of Unfortunate Events Stadium.
  • I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With Stadium?
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Park?
  • Some great ones — The Thin Man Goes Home Field; True Grit Stadium; Unstoppable Park; Die Hard Field.

Snickers Stadium or Chuckles Field seem appropriate for say … Milwaukee.

You’d think Baby Ruth would have connected with some team. Yes, the candy company claims that the candy bar was named after the daughter of President Grover Cleveland. But since it came out in 1921 when Babe Ruth was becoming a superstar and when Ruth Cleveland would have been 30 if she hadn’t, in fact, been dead for 17 years, I’m skeptical.

And while we’re on candy names, I’ll end with what I’ve decided would be the worst possible name for a ballpark — Butterfinger Field.

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Brewers vs. Cubs — Miller Park

When the 2016 baseball season began and it became immediately apparent that the Cubs were very, very good, I decided I couldn’t let the year go by without seeing at least one game. Miller Park, in Milwaukee is almost twice as far from my house was Wrigley Field (74 miles vs. 40 miles) but the time it takes to get to both of them is almost identical. Brewers’ tickets are also cheaper. I picked a Tuesday in September because … I don’t remember.

As it turned out, I managed to get to Wrigley twice during the year but I didn’t mind a third game. Sally came along. We drove up and arrived about an hour and a half before game time.

The game on Monday (Memorial Day) had been sold out — 42,200. I expected the same this night but it wasn’t nearly as crowded. There were 32,888 in the park (probably 60% Cubs fans).

Statues of Robin Yount and Hank Aaron outside the park.


We strolled all the way around the park on the main level.

Looking in from center field at Cubs batting practice.

Our seats were in the upper deck above third base. We were on the aisle and our view of much of the field was blocked by the railing around a stairwell.

I heard an announcement about a statue of Bob Uecker, Brewers’ broadcaster. It’s a take-off on a famous commercial. I headed up to get a photo and found myself in a short line. The young woman in front of me apologized for taking so many photos of her family and then volunteered to take one of me.

While I was up there, I took a photo down the line toward where Sally was sitting in our seats. I’ll let you play “Where’s Waldo” to find her.

It was very humid and we were dripping wet. As game time approached, nobody sat in the row in front of us. We moved down, expecting to have to move back up soon, but nobody ever came to sit in those seats so instead of a blocked view, we had this.

First pitch — Wily Peralta to Dexter Fowler

The game started out well. Anthony Rizzo hit a solo home run. I happened to take a picture of the very swing.

From there on, it was all downhill. Jason Hammel pitched for the Cubs and he did not have his good stuff. His first pitch in the bottom of the first was hit for a home run by Jonathan Villar. Tommy LaStella at third fumbled a ground ball that should have been a double play (although it was scored a hit). In the photo below,  the bases are loaded with Domingo Santana at the plate. He singled to drive in two. Five Brewers scored before the inning was over as the Brewers sent 10 batters to the plate.

In the top of the second, Miguel Montero hit a solo home run to make it 5-2 and the Cubs fans in the stands were given a little hope. Here he is rounding third.

Milwaukee scored again in the fourth to go up 6-2, but I still felt like the Cubs could make a game of it. Until the sixth when Ryan Braun hit a three-run home run off Hammel who was still, inexplicably, in the game. But not for long.

The Sausage Race took place after the sixth. The hot dog won going away.


Rizzo homered again in the eighth — hitting the right-field foul pole. Here he is being congratulated by Ben Zobrist who had doubled in front of him. That made it 10-4, Brewers.

The Brewers scored two more in the bottom of the eighth to make it 12-4 and most of the Cub fans left. We stuck it out to the very end. We got to see Albert Almora Jr. bat.

We also saw journeyman Munenori Kawasaki, just called up from the minors. He knows very little English but somehow manages to be one of the funniest guys in baseball. He managed to slap a double to left to score Montero who had doubled.

Here’s Kawasaki on second talking with Brewers’ shortstop Orlando Arcia who also speaks very little English. That must have been a fun conversation.

That was it. Brewers won 12-5. Cubs were sloppy, with a couple wild pitches and two (should be three) errors.

As we were walking through the parking lot, several Cub fans were singing “Go, Cubs, Go.” The man walking next to us with his wife said, “Do you think we’re the only four sober people in the lot?” I agreed that there was a good chance.

I had the red chair along but didn’t feel like taking it inside with me because it was so damp and miserable out. I settled for a pre- and post-game shot on the roof of our car.

We got home at 11:30. It would have been nice if the Cubs had won, but we saw Rizzo hit two home runs and had a good time.

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Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

Today was the 100th birthday of the National Park System. We celebrated by visiting Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. Of course, they had cake.


There are several sites scattered around Dayton. We visited the Wright Cycle Company, which consists of an old store used by the Wright Brothers for their bicycle shop from 1895 to 1897, and a second store next door called the Hoover Block.

The visitor center displays in the Hoover Block took us about 45 minutes. There were several exhibits on various aspects of the brothers’ lives. Almost every bit of information appeared on at least two signs and it didn’t take me long to realize there just wasn’t much to the place.

The building was once used as a grocery store, so one room was done up something like it would have looked then.


There were a lot of reproductions of planes and equipment and parts.




On the second floor, there was a parachute museum …


and a reproduction of a print shop the brothers operated in the building between 1890 and 1895. Some of the equipment, including the typesetter’s table, actually belonged to the Wrights.


We’d been told the bicycle shop would remain open until 5:00, but when we wandered over at 4:35, it was locked and the sign on the door said closed. I spotted a young woman in a ranger uniform striding across the plaza and flagged her down. She agreed to open it back up for a couple minutes.


There wasn’t much inside that we couldn’t have seen by looking in the windows.


The Hoover Block as seen from inside the Cycle Shop.


I’ve read a couple biographies of the Wright Brothers and so I didn’t discover much that was new. But while Sally read the displays, I entertained myself by taking silly photos.





This is an ejection seat from a military airplane.



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Cubs vs. Brewers — Wrigley Field


My sister called me on Wednesday evening and said friends of hers had given her a couple free tickets to the Cubs-Brewers game on Thursday afternoon and did I want to go? I had to rearrange my schedule a little. (Fortunately, I have a mother who understands when her son cancels a lunch date to go see the Cubs.)

I took the Metra train downtown, then walked to State Street and caught the Red Line subway/el to Addison Street, a block from the park. It took two hours and 45 minutes to get from my house to Wrigley. I waited by the Harry Carey statue outside the bleacher gate and ate one of the Blue Bunny ice cream bars that a pleasant young lady was handing out for free.


When Linda and her friends arrived, we headed to our seats.  We were one section over — maybe 40 feet — from where I sat for the first game of this home stand. It was a hot day — the temperature/humidity index sat at 90º — and there wasn’t much breeze where we were, but I was very glad we were out of the sun.


I purchased a hot dog, fries and a Diet Pepsi. I expect to pay more at the park, but this was ridiculous.


The Air and Water Show was taking place on the lake front a couple miles away. A Navy team parachuted into the park during the National Anthem.



The Cubs, who had won the first three games in the series, got off to a good start in this one, with two runs in the first. Kris Bryant singled and scored.

In the third, Bryant hit a long home run to left, driving in Matt Szczur. Here he is approaching third.


A walk and a couple hits resulted in another run. Cubs were up 5-0 and it looked like a cake walk.

The couple in the seats next to me sat down in the third inning and left about six minutes later, never to return.

Jake Arrieta had a no-hitter two outs into the fourth, but he walked two batters and then gave up a home run to Kirk Nieuwenhuis and suddenly it was a game again.

Not to worry. The Cubs came back with two in the bottom of the inning on back-to-back-to-back doubles by Szczur, Bryant and Rizzo. Here’s Bryant’s.


Arrieta walked two in the fifth but escaped without giving up any runs thanks to a pick off at first by catcher Willson Contreras. Arrieta then gave up a lead off homer to Hernan Perez to begin the sixth, walked two more Brewers and was out of the game after 5²⁄³ innings. (He walked seven in the game.)


Spencer Patton entered and walked two more to score a run. It was now 7-5 and the Cubs lead didn’t seem very secure. Never fear. Bryant came up again and hit a homer to dead center. Here he is nearing home.


Both teams scored a single run in the eighth. Bryant drove in Baez with a single. It was his fifth hit in five at-bats, including two home-runs. This was historic. He had a three homer, two double game against the Reds earlier in the year. He is the first National Leaguer and only the second player ever to have two five-hit, two-homer games in a season. Only 17 players have two in their career. Here’s his final hit.


Aroldis Chapman came in for the save in the ninth. Here’s Nieuwenhuis grounding out to Rizzo on a 101 mph fastball to end the game followed by the post-game celebration and the raising of the “W” flag.


My sister and her friends in our seats.


The game ended at 4:40, an hour and 21 minutes after it began. I headed off into the crush of people jamming onto the el. I detrained north of the river and walked along the new Riverwalk back to the station where I just had time to buy a bottle of pop and catch the express. I walked in the door of my house at 7:30, about as sweaty and sticky as a man can be.

2016-08-19 (1)_stitch

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