JOHANNA WILL TALK TO HER GRANDPARENTS only if she can spend the conversation in a laundry basket. She’ll also ask me to carry the basket around the house while she chats, though this I decline to do. Peculiar demands are popping up daily as her Negotiator Gene manifests. I remember wearing my mom out with outlandish requests until she made concessions—things I surely didn’t desire beyond winning her permission—like mixing milk with orange juice or sleeping on the hallway floor.

I admire Jo’s pluck, though my life really needs fewer hoops to jump, not more. Aside from the usual, I’m dogged at the moment by IRS deadlines, mortgage lenders in need of data, and an unholy health care triad that turns every medical transaction into three-dimensional chess. Something as simple as switching to a credit union snarled my routine for weeks. Is this maturity? Entropy? Social decline?

No wonder we end up sick and tired. I awoke last Tuesday with strep throat. With no time or patience to seek treatment, I took some old antibiotics and worked from bed for a day. Just as I was rallying, I got a mysterious case of head-to-toe hives. They didn’t impair me physically or mentally but I looked like a leper (clients I met with were startled and concerned, not reactions I’m going for). I had narrowed the list of causes to synthetic shirts, green peppers or stress before my sister—who spends a large share of her waking hours catering to her own health issues, real and invented—diagnosed it as photosensitivity due to antibiotics.

Those hours spent in my backyard working in the unseasonable March warmth, so peaceful at the time, were inducing a massive auto-immune backlash. It’s mostly cleared up now. But which innocent action will vex me next?

As an enthusiast of obsolete technology, the fake-vintage Instagram photography thing was something I was ready to hate, like neo-antique furniture or retro Ts at Urban Outfitters. But given the lack of settings built into the iPhone camera, the ability to add some filters and flavor to your image is welcome, no matter how faux. Extra irony in these shots I took in Guttenberg, Iowa last weekend with Jo and my grandfather—the site of many childhood memories I know from faded Kodaks.

Scenes from a farm house outside Albert Lea, Minnesota. My pal Lucas’s grandparents, one recently deceased and the other in a nursing home, have left their home on the prairie. But every detail of their existence since 1970 has been immaculately preserved by their descendents down to the glass knickknacks and old-school tool calendars. We wandered the grounds and numerous out-buildings looking for treasure.

Like his grandpa’s vast trove of beer signage, full of bygone logos I drew while Jo embellished.

The Make Sh!t confab is doing paintings with projections in an abandoned gallery space. We clean the squat up at the end of each session and it’s workable for now. As our crew grows and the projects get more ambitious, it’s clear we need permanent space. Fortunately summer’s come a few months early and we can take the party outdoors for a while.

Craig Phillips never lifts a brush yet stays right up in this thing, dispensing sage praise over mugs of bourbon.

I made this poker cheat sheet years ago. Now it’s back for more laughs. In T we trust.

>> P.R.O.; The Identicals – Blacky Joe
>> Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Ballad of the Sin Eater 

RECENT MORNINGS I’M UP before sunrise for international conference calls, interviewing the people behind India’s Sesame Street. I’m 11 1/2 hours behind Delhi, so their day is as good as over when we start talking.

I struggle to understand it all (unfamiliar accents and Development-speak), but I grasp enough for the website I’m writing. Their stories are so far outside my frame, it’s startling. I talked to the country’s leading female puppeteer who performed at last year’s Cricket World Cup, like our Super Bowl with 10 times the audience. In her spare time, she teaches puppetry to war orphans in Kashmir. Another woman explained that the kids she helps are much more likely to reach their 5th birthdays if they just learn hand-washing. Many have never seen a radio or TV.

The calls end and I rush off with Johanna to school. We see people shuffling above downtown in heated tubes. Cyclists careening through the river valley in full-cover face masks. Buses disgorging a riot of puffy coats and colossal backpacks.

How weird and unknowable is my own enclave?

We’re spending Saturday mornings at the magnificent M.I.A. Jo takes a class while I wander the galleries alone (my fondest wish).

What appeal does my filthy beater VW hold that I don’t see? This is the second unsolicited offer this year.

Now that Jo can read, we aren’t wasting any time learning word games. They are her birthright.

She’s a ways off from joining my poker crowd.

All class.

Toy versions of full-sized things drawn back into the real world. There’s an idea here somewhere.

Thursday Nights at Craig’s security door; a common sight.

Jo and Lo model funky Chinese swag from Uncle Kirk.

My sister once set a leaf fire under this bridge and the D.M.F.D. had to come put it out. TRUE STORY.

Was I actually someplace this beautiful recently? Man, vacations fade fast.

Oh right, we were with Sarah’s folks. Some memorable quotes for the visit:

> “George Soros was Hitler’s understudy.”
> “Canada has the worst food in the world.”
> “How DO you spell Duluth?”
> “I made the processor that allowed them to broadcast the Sarajevo Olympics.” (this claim has been verified)
> “You know, Walgreens has the NICEST bathrooms.”

We snuck away to do a loop of the Superior Hiking Trail too strenuous for septuagenarians.

There’s a taco place we now love 10x more than our old standby. Three words: HOMEMADE SALSA BAR.

A touching moment with stay-at-home-dad Witt and soon-to-be-dad Paul, hanging out while they can.

Used to think wild turkey sightings were a special thing, but lately Minneapolis is lousy with them.


Sass and style to spare.

>> Ronnie Dawson – Action Packed
>> Desmond Dekker – Honour Your Mother and Father

They always butter you up at Jardin Magico, confiding how your kid had “a very good day” and “played well” with just enough detail to make this commitment of attention believable in a room full of rowdy toddlers shrieking in two languages.

But today’s report was far from pat. Refusing help from her teachers (imagine that), Johanna painted over a drawing of el panadero with extraordinary skill for her age, mostly staying within the lines and using color to clearly delineate the baker from his table. Voila:

Sarah tried to record some of the teacher’s praise at the bottom based on my lame recollection. Fortunately, Johanna’s work speaks for itself.

Short on time, though not stuff to write about. So I’ve created a holding tank for future (imminent?) posts.

>> China Quake: I’m headed to Southwest China in October. And I’m getting my first real glimpse of the place in the midst of an incomprehensible catastrophe. One of my travelmates is following the story a bit more closely. Austin was on the NewsHour Monday night reporting on the quake, which he felt a thousand miles away in Beijing (click “streaming video” to see the broadcast and Austin’s looming head).

>> Weaselhawks: As of last night, softball season is ON and the W’Hawks are looking strong. Though we won by forfeit, we played like we had to earn it. Another season, another neglected website, though this time we’re all on the hook to document our progress.

>> Adel Bike Odyssey: Kirk and Alex and I mounted up in Des Moines last weekend and headed out to Adel, the site of Kirk’s beehives and, we hoped, some good morels (some pics from my last visit here). It rained most of the 30 miles, fiercely for the last five. No mushrooms found. We woke up on the cold ground and Alex called his friend to come give us a lift back. Good times!

>> Kansas City: March—seems like a long time ago, right? Can’t I still post some pics and thoughts on our visit? Yes? Good.