All posts by mnpete1101

Having kids later in life. A therapy session

If you all haven’t noticed, I perhaps am having a bit of a mid-life crisis. My red Corvette or Motorcycle is in fact a 5-year-old and a trip back to college at 53. So much of what this article says is true. It has been easier financially, I have more time and I really appreciate being a parent more than ever. Don’t tell that to my 30 and 25-year-olds.

What this article does not cover is fear. That is right, fear. It scares me to death just how much that kid loves me, needs me, and depends on me. I am squeezing every bit out of it but in the back of my head, I know this… When she is 30, I, if I’m lucky, will be 78. That is the help I need and the concept I need to wrap my head around. My condensed opportunity to raise this kid.

Really though it is a rich and wonderful thing. I feel so lucky and actually have been inspired to go back and in retrospect, try to be a better and more connected Dad to my adult children.

The best time to plant an apple tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today.

Slow down and enjoy every second of what you do next… especially if it is family.

Big White Guy visits the Hmong Village

All of our workings with ESABA got me thinking about a journal entry I did for a previous class regarding the Hmong Village Mall. So… full transparency, this is an excerpt from something that I had already written for another reason previous to this class. I just wanted to share it with you all.

Get out of your comfort zone

I was quite aware that St Paul has a rich Hmong community and according to Wikipedia at least, the largest concentration of Hmong in the world.  I went to public schools in Minneapolis in the 1970s and 80s and remember quite well the introduction of Southeast Asian children into the system I have worked in St Paul alongside Hmong, Thai, and Vietnamese co-workers.  However, from that point of view, I was always interacting with them in my space.  The areas where they felt like outsiders. This was clearly the other side of the equation.   

The Hmong Village Mall is located in an industrial park on Phalen Blvd in northeast St Paul.  You would not know where it was, let alone what it was unless you had a purpose to visit.  It is nondescript.  The parking lot however was full.  I parked and ventured in. 

Upon entering, it was a little overwhelming as the booths and shops are located very close together and all of the merchandise is packed from floor to ceiling.  The end of the building where the main entrance is is mostly shops.  Many of the shops sell traditional dress outfits.  Others sold what appeared to be health and beauty products that are from Vietnam and Thailand.  Case after case of small dusty boxes and jars of ointments and other mysterious products.  I stopped at one of these shops and tried to get the attention of the shopkeeper.  A middle-aged woman was staring at her phone.  I picked up one of the jars and asked her to help me and if she could tell me what it was for?  I did not fully understand her response and asked her if she could repeat it.  She said it was for sore muscles. 

I crisscrossed back and forth and up and down each aisle and marveled at the variety that was found.  Shoes, cell phones, tailors selling expertly fitted suits, toys, jewelry… and more traditional garments and headwear.  I overheard one family who was shopping for an outfit for a child.  They went back and forth from English to their native language and they were deliberating between outfits for a child.  I asked them if it was for a special occasion and they smiled, nodded, and walked away.  I realized at that moment that I was the anomaly, the oddity.  Looking around I realized some 20 minutes into my visit that I was the ONLY European American person in a building containing hundreds of people.  I started paying attention at this point I noted that there was one young Spanish-speaking couple and a family that appeared to be Somali, and myself.  Everyone else in this expansive building was what I can only assume were Hmong, Thai, and Vietnamese.   

I was a little self-conscious about my need for chit-chat and fawning customer service.  Shopkeepers were generally deep in the center of their crowded shops that were not made for casual browsing, and they were not interested in getting my attention or answering a lot of questions.  People would go in with a purpose, pick something up, exchange a few words and be on their way.  I was not sure what else I was going to get out of this until I reached the back of the building where at that point the world opened. 

Exiting the back of the rows of shops you cross from what appeared to be one old factory or warehouse space into another and find yourself in the market.  Rows of fresh produce and from my perspective, “exotic” fruits.  These shops appeared to be run by multigenerational families.  Perhaps they are more accustomed to Caucasian shoppers as this is a poorly kept secret and a popular destination for savvy St. Paul residents I am told.  After my visit, I reached out to a couple of my friends who live in St Paul and was told that the market is a favorite destination.  Here I was greeted as I walked down the aisle.  Stopping at the booth selling what looked like golf ball-sized, reddish brown, spiky or hairy fruits.  I asked the woman running the shop what they were and she said “Rambutan”.  “No, what are they?  do you eat them, cook with them?”  She pointed to a bucket full of them and told me to “try”.  I picked it up and she pantomimed breaking it open with her hands and thumbs like you would a small tangerine.  As I tore back the hairy brown skin, I exposed a milky white ball on the inside.  She again motioned to her mouth telling me that that was the part I was supposed to eat.  It was delicious.  It tasted like a very mild green grape with a large almond-sized pit in the center.  I bought a large tray of rambutans to bring home to the family.  She asked me if it was my “first time here?”  I explained that it was and thanked her for letting me try something new before I bought it.  I went from booth to booth and asked about a few other odd-looking fruits and vegetables.  In general, it was quite a struggle, especially speaking with the older folks.  One nice gentleman spoke at length about how to cook something that I was interested in, and I honestly have no idea what he was saying other than I heard him say “beef.”  I smiled and bought a bag of sweet potatoes.   


Thinking again that perhaps I had seen it all, I found another pass-through to the right that contained more stores and led back to the food court.  The food area contained maybe 30 shops.  All were stocked full and full of life.  There were no chains or cookie-cutter-looking establishments.  Instead, there were shops selling sweets buns and rice cakes, soups, noodles, Pho, whole fish, fresh spring rolls, and bubble tea.  There were many people congregating here eating and talking.  Shopping for dinner and buying lots of fresh food.  I sat down and watched as one elderly woman walked from shop to shop and picked up the individually wrapped trays of whole fish.  She would smell them from the back and put them back down. She went on and on and then finally at one lucky shop, she put bought the fish.  I really wish I knew the criteria and what she was smelling for?  The right spice, smoke? Was she trying to determine freshness?  I did not have the guts to try and talk to her.  I got up and walked back to the storefront that had what I thought were the best-looking spring rolls and bought a tray to bring home.  My 4-year-old loves spring rolls and peanut sauce so I was definitely in the right place.   

I moved on and worked my way around the corner and came across a small shop that was set up more like a café.  There was a lunch counter with 5 or 6 chairs (all full) and people eating bowls of noodles and soup.  I stopped and looked at the to-go food and the shop owner came over and asked me if I was hungry.  She then said the words that I had heard already a few times that day.  “Your first time here?”.  “Is it that obvious?” I asked.  She laughed.  “Sit down and eat” she said pointing to a vacated chair.  I showed her the bags of produce and spring rolls that I had just bought and informed her that it was Friday, and I was taking the special food home for family night.  She told me that she had the best food there and that I needed to bring my family back to see the mall again and to have dinner at her shop.  “Come back and spend more money, Honey”  I for sure will. 

As I wrapped up my visit, I realized that many of the people I encountered were young enough that it could be assumed that they were born here.  Certainly, they were born after the Vietnam war.  Yet everyone that I encountered I heard speaking in their language.  I was amazed at how truly it felt as though I was in a foreign country.  I think what really made that hit home and feel authentic was that the place WAS full of young people.  I am curious to learn more about how that community has so successfully maintained its own culture within the constraints of the United States.  It was an amazing experience. 

The case against autotune (pitch correction and pro tools)

I often jokingly use my age as a crutch or a backdrop of context as to why I feel a certain way. With that in mind, I want to make a few things clear upfront. Every generation feels that they are doing things in a way that is new and unique. Every generation also seems to feel that the previous ones are a little pretentious in how much that value and romanticize their own experiences.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s. The 80s were my timeframe of musical experience. I remember acutely feeling that the Boomer generation was so annoying and pretentious in their assertion that the only good music ever to exist came out of the 60s. I appreciated classic rock and the warm and fuzzy feel of a mid-70s Steely Dan vinyl but at the same time, I had my own thing. U2, REM, The Replacements, Prince. Music that was scoffed at by our parents. What I learned though was that every generation goes through this change and pushes away from the previous. Elvis and the Beatles were feared because they were different…. but they meant just as much and evoked the same feelings for kids in the 50s and 60s as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra did for kids in the 40s. I try really hard to extend that benefit of the doubt to the current trend in music.

There is some current music that I like and appreciate. Taylor Swift’s new album is really good. Charlie Puth is a musical genius. He is a natural on the piano and has a deep understanding of music. Watch these videos of him on Howard Stern if you had any doubts. He is 29.

Here is where I need to make an argument. Charlie talks about the “science” of music and how music makes you feel by leading you along a push and pull of tension and release. You hear a note and you want it to go somewhere logical. A song and draw that out and then pay it off. But, it’s not just about notes. It is also about purposeful imperfections. Funk uses drummers’ feel and how he or she finds the pocket or uses blank spaces or the off-beat to create that tension. It’s the slowing down, speeding up, and sometimes off-key scream of punk. It is the slight singing behind the note or scooping up into the next note in the swing. Also, it is simply the kooky offbeat but strangely poetic sounds of voices that are not perfect you did not expect.

Why then does his music on the recorded versions of things sound like this?

Autotune is clear in this one and I would argue that it is part of the plan of the song. Not trying to hide anything. Additionally, with all the music done on computers, you have perfect time, perfect drums, perfect simulations of “feel” and perfect pitch.

Pitch correction is not always this noticeable. As technology improves, it is more and more commonly being used to “clean up” a recording and make it sound like your favorite pop star is hitting all the notes. It literally still sounds like them but pitch perfect.

Imagine a ubiquitous pop song from the 80s and run it through Pro tools to even all the drum hits and Pitch correction to “fix” singing. it would be a completely different song… and a boring one at that. We have been seduced to think that pop music has to be perfect.

Back to me not sounding like an old guy. I am not here to say that good music cant be made on a computer or that 100% synthesized music is bad simply because of the way it is made.

My point is this. Stop pretending that it IS human. Perfection is not human. If Bon Jovi cant make it through a TV performance, what good does it do anyone to run it through the machine and pretend? Just make AI music. Who cares if it is realy Taylor Swift? Might as well be a Roomba Vacuum. People still buy music from certain artists because they think they are buying something real. A real expression of a person. If music is not authentic then it is disingenuous, or even misleading to sell Michael Buble as an artist when you are getting the computer-aided perfect version of it. That is why we still don’t allow steroids in sports. Computer-produced music has a place and can be an art form. Just give us some transparency. Let us know that we are not buying someone’s actual voice and the drummer is not that talented, because many people think they still are.

Is college a waste of time?

This seems to be a common theme these days. Perhaps it is due to the fact that we live in a society that increasingly values the under-informed as it vilifies the educated crowd as “elitist” or out of touch. This strangely “American” ideal of pulling one’s self up by your bootstraps coupled with a mistrust of educational institutions as biased has led to this notion of going it alone. At the same time, Scholars do themselves no favors by publishing the following and saying things like “When higher education is for everyone, it loses its “higher” qualities”…. Hmmm that does sound a little elitist. College isn’t for everyone and we shouldn’t try to make it more accessible for fear of watering it down. Tell this to the Scandinavians.

National Association of Scholars: Ten Reasons not to go to College

But is it a waste of time? No. Every one of these points makes assumptions that lean toward excuses. You can make it without college but doing so requires certain entrepreneurial skills or boatloads of privilege in your corner.

  1. You are smart but focused on other things, and you want specific training, therefore Liberal Arts are a waste of time.
  2. You are not academically prepared
  3. You probably won’t finish
  4. You’ll be in debt
  5. College is a flawed bestowal of jargon and therapy that is not worth the money.
  6. You can work right away and make money instead of going to school
  7. You can get a real job without college
  8. If you want training, there are alternatives
  9. College culture is bad for you
  10. Keep college elite

I thought about all of these things at one point or another in my life, but in the end, they all are just excuses. Granted there is truth to some of it if you have the capacity to go against the grain and work your way up through alternative means or then the emotional maturity to realize that you need to take a different path. An example is my oldest daughter who went to college but was not “ready” after 2 years she made the choice to go into the military. In the end, however, that was not the endgame, it was her realizing that she needed to learn some structure and maturity before going back to school.

I have lived with a lot of privilege in my life. White, male, middle class, etc… I skated through and found a bit of success. Still, though, It has taken me decades to earn some career capital to get to a point I could even imagine more. Truth be told, in traditional corporate America, there really is a ceiling that cannot be crossed without that piece of paper and a couple letters after the name.

“Free To Be You and Me”. Advocacy harnessing the power of social media and influencers… circa 1972. Were things really that different?

Free to be You and Me. A 1972 album followed by a 1974 TV special that teaches gender-neutral themes, self-care, self-esteem, and dealing with the anxiety of growing up in a world that pushes you to conform to societal norms regardless of your true self. In the lens of the early 70s, this was quite radical but at the same time surprisingly mainstream. With the 1970s version of “influencers” on board, the likes of Michael Jackson, Alan Alda, Marlo Thomas, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Mel Brooks, Carol Channing, Football star Roosevelt “Rosie” Greer, Shel Silverstein and others participated in the Album and Tv special. Worldwide stars of the day with truckloads of social capital and gravitas presented us with songs and vignettes that taught us that it was alright to cry, that boys don’t have to do “boy” things, and that we are human beings with feelings and needs long before we fulfill any gender roles. Is any of it un PC now? Maybe a tad but that is only because of the social norms and framework from which it took as its starting point. All in all, it is remarkably prescient today.

When I say that it was surprisingly mainstream, I mean that it was required viewing in grade school. Everyone knew of it, and about it. We sang the songs, albeit a little tongue in cheek, but they got us talking about it and they stuck in our heads. Perhaps we thought it was a bit Hippie-ish and yet even if we did not accept it with it in all its earnestness, we took it in. The school of thought that the “old days” were 100% backward and we are so much more progressive today is kind of upended if you imagine if this PSA were played regularly in a particularly conservative school district today.

I think in 50 years the most important thing we have gained is some acceptance and empowerment for people to be their true selves with less fear of repercussions. However, the sad thing is that we knew this was a lesson that needed to be taught in what many of you I’m sure feel is the dark ages of the early 70s… and it has taken this long to take tiny incremental steps.

Too Much?/Old Man Yelling at the Clouds

As a man of a certain age, I am finding myself more and more overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what we are expected to sort through as we consume media, filter news, keep in contact with friends and family or simply look for a place to grab a cup of coffee. I will be the first to admit that I have no idea what someone means with they say that they take advice from “influencers” when making decisions.

I have included a link to a documentary about a man and a project that was influential to me when I was a young man. In this case, it was a minimalist approach to an artistic endeavor that I believe holds up to this day. In 1998 Jm Brandenburg, rebelling not against iPhones or Tik Tok overload but simply the reams of actual old-fashioned film that his contemporaries would use to capture the perfect image, released the results of an amazing journey. From the first day of fall, until the winter solstice, from his home base in the Boundary Waters, he allowed himself to take only 1 single photo per day. He literally only pressed the button one time per 24 hours.

The resulting book is extraordinary when you weigh the results alongside the knowledge of the amount of patience and commitment it took to plan and execute 90 shareable images that tell the story of a season of change, all with one choice per day. This may sound silly in this day and age, and I’m not saying the current forms/trends of expression are shallow or poorly thought out, but I do feel that undertakings such as this cannot be forgotten.

Brandenburg, J. (). Chased by the light : a 90-day journey. Minnetonka, Minn.: NorthWord Press.