Establishing a silent summer: An epilogue

Way back at the beginning of June, I wrote about my intention to “go silent” for the summer.

No, I didn’t mean that I was undertaking a vow of silence. (Although I’m sure there are some that would appreciate if I did.) I meant that I was logging off of social media for the entirety of summer — from June 2 (one day after I got the idea by reading a brilliant piece by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt) until Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day.

My goal in all of this was to stop spending so much of my free time on Twitter and Facebook in order to use that time for more fulfilling tasks. What exactly that meant, at the time I wasn’t entirely sure. (Frankly, I’m not sure if I do now.)

For me, the jury is still out on how successful of an undertaking this really was. For the first few days — maybe a week — it was a little bit of a challenge. I found myself tempted to take a quick peek at Facebook, or just glance at what people were talking about on Twitter. But, I managed to stay away and it didn’t take long before these things never really crossed my mind.

The reason I say the jury is still out is because I still feel like I could have found better ways to spend my time. Sure, maybe went out in the yard and played with Homer a little more than I otherwise might have. I probably paid closer attention to a few movies and TV shows that I watched and I didn’t have my nose buried in my phone while I was with family or friends. In those aspects, I suppose it was a success.

Still, I’m sure there is a lot more I could have done. Without Facebook and Twitter to turn to, I found myself spending more time on news sites and things like that. However, I probably ended up still reading all the same articles and watching the same videos that I would have stumbled upon through social media. In other words, I didn’t exactly break my bad habit of attempting to read the entire internet every night before falling asleep.

All in all, however, I’m glad I did it. Even now that I have rejoined the social world, I am not checking it nearly as often and when I do, I’m not spending as much time on it.

I’ll chalk that up as a win.

Politics go to the dogs

Earlier this month, the political story of the summer broke right here in the great state of Minnesota.
Even stranger was the fact this particular event happened in Cormorant, a tiny village located in northwest Minnesota between Detroit Lakes and Pelican Rapids. The folks of Cormorant elected a new mayor in a landslide.
The name of the winning candidate is Duke (and no, he’s not Prince’s son.) He is a 7-year-old Great Pyrenees. Yes, a dog. A total of 12 people paid $1 each to vote in the monumental election, and Duke won fair and square. He won’t be paid a typical mayor’s salary. Instead, a nearby pet store has agreed to compensate him for his service to the community with a year’s supply of dog food.
Unfortunately when I first heard about Duke’s victory in Cormorant, I was at home and saw it on the six o’clock news. Sitting right next to me was Homer, who seemed a little too excited over the news. Before I knew it, what I feared would happen was already coming to be. Homer was drawing up a campaign strategy with his sights set on becoming mayor of Worthington.
I tried hard to talk him out of it but, as most great politicians are, I suppose, he can be kind of stubborn sometimes. He has decided wholeheartedly that politics are his calling in life and, at 7 years old, there’s no time better than the present to get his career started.
With all of that in mind, Homer called in a favor. It’s with some reluctance I make good and print his announcement of candidacy. Here it is, exactly as he dictated it to me:
“I, Homer Robert Hacker, do hereby announce my candidacy for the elected position of mayor in the city of Worthington, Minnesota.
People throughout the nation are seeing the benefits of a canine holding public office. From Bosco, who was elected mayor of Sunol, Calif., in the 1980s to the recent victory for Duke in Cormorant, dogs have proven time after time their ability to be effective, fair and loyal leaders.
“If I am elected mayor, I will personally see to it that some of the biggest problems facing Worthington are addressed immediately.
“My first order of business would be to — along with my canine brothers and sisters — rid the community of all small vermin. The days of squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and our greatest enemies of all, cats, infiltrating our yards would be behind us. Imagine going outside without being taunted by the playful squeaking of a squirrel, high up in a tree where it can’t be dealt with. That day is coming. If need be, I will personally chase them all out of town. (What I would do if I ever caught one, I’m not sure.)
“Another issue I would get to work on right away would be the length of work days for the humans of the community. Personally, I dislike when my human goes to work and I’m left alone at the house. As such, I will encourage all businesses to keep employees at four or fewer hours per day. That allows at least four extra hours of playtime per day, while maintaining a normal 16 hours of sleep.
“Finally, I will gather up all the top scientists in the community to find a way to solve one of our greatest problems of all. Together, we will work to try and find a way to silence that terrifying booming noise the sky makes when it rains. Imagine not having to hide in the bedroom closet whenever it storms. If I’m elected mayor, I will do all I can to make that dream a reality.
“It is with these thoughts in mind that I humbly ask for your support.”
If Homer is to follow in the footsteps of greats like Bosco and Duke, I’m not sure what he might do next. I can only imagine, however, that if he’s victorious in Worthington, he will immediately place his sights on St. Paul — perhaps even Washington.
As you can see, he put quite a bit of thought into this. (As you can also see, his human has an overactive imagination sometimes.)

Learning from a tragedy

Like so many people around the world, I was saddened by the news that actor and comedian Robin Williams had taken his own life early this week.

I’m usually not one to get bent out of shape by celebrity deaths. After all, I didn’t actually KNOW him. But once I started thinking about it, I realized Williams was a pretty big part of my childhood. Aladdin, Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire and Jumanji came out in a four-year span when I was between the ages of 5 and 9. They were all movies I watched over and over again at the time and still love today.

What struck me most about Williams’ death, however, wasn’t the fact that it happened, but how it happened. As many have said, it’s terribly sad that a man who spent the better part of four decades bringing joy, happiness and laughter to millions was unable to do so for himself.

Unfortunately, the disease that caused Williams so much suffering that he eventually decided the only way to relieve the pain was through death isn’t an uncommon one at all. According to the National Institutes of Health, in 2012, an estimated 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This represented 6.9 percent of all U.S. adults.

I’m far from being an expert on mental health and a psychologist I am not, but it’s something that has always interested me. What is perhaps the most troubling part of depression is how much it goes unreported. I’ve read before that it’s believed only 1 in 3 people affected seek help or even tell anyone there’s something wrong.

The problem with depression, anxiety, etc., is that they are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, thus have no outward warning signs. Many people who suffer are able to put on a “happy face” when they’re around others, never giving anyone reason for concern.

What bothers me is the fact people feel the need to hide it. As I said in the last paragraph, these types of diseases are physical and those who get them are unable to control it any more than someone with cancer or diabetes. Most people wouldn’t feel shame in having the latter two forms of illness, but that isn’t the case with problems affecting the brain.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 54 percent of people believe depression is a personal weakness. So many people believe that when they’re experiencing depression that they “just need to get over it” or “think positively.” Unfortunately it isn’t that easy. It’s these unreported and untreated cases that can so often end in tragedy.

There is a stigma surrounding those who suffer from clinical depression, et al., that they’re “crazy” or that they have some sort of control over their illness. It’s that lack of understanding that causes so many people to hide their pain for fear of what others might think.

It’s my hope that some good may come from Williams’ death. As the numbers of those affected grows, my hope is that the struggle of such a prominent figure will open up some dialogue and lead to a better understanding of what it means to have depression.

See you at the diamond

If you saw Friday’s sports section of the Daily Globe — which I assume you all did (or will if you’re reading this on Thursday evening right after I posted it) — you already know the Division II American Legion baseball tournament is going on in Luverne this weekend.

All of the 11 games of the state tournament will be played on Redbird Field, a beautiful ballpark that was severely damaged by the June flooding and is now fixed up with new sod and ready for action. Legion games will run from 9:30 a.m. until approximately 9 p.m. Friday, from 9 a.m. until about 9:30 p.m. Saturday and from 11:30 a.m. until about 4 p.m. Sunday — the last of those games being the Division II state championship game, which is slated to begin at 2 p.m. Sunday. If all that doesn’t quench your thirst for hardball, the Luverne Redbirds are scheduled to play the Wilmont Cardinals in a Region 13C Tournament amateur baseball game late Friday night following the final legion game.

When I was growing up in New Richland — population 1,200 — there was not very much to do on a typical summer night without traveling 25-30 miles. I always told people that if they needed to find me in the summer, first check St. Olaf Lake. If I wasn’t there, check the baseball field in town. If I was nowhere to be found at either of those places, it might be best to send out a search party.

Between playing baseball — whether it be youth, VFW, legion or amateur ball — coaching Little League, watching games from the levels in which I couldn’t play and covering games, a great deal of my summers have been spent on or near a baseball field since I was 5 years old. After 23 years of this, one might think it’d be easy to be a little burnt out on baseball. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. With (maybe) the lone exception of being out on the lake, there really is nothing better in my mind on a warm summer night than taking in a baseball game.

This weekend, the eight best American Legion baseball teams in the state will be playing right in our backyard. (Not to mention a couple pretty darn good amateur teams). According to my meteorology sources (see: weather.com), it looks like the weather will be great with highs in the lower-80s and lows in the lower-60s. In other words, picture perfect baseball weather.

What I’m saying is, if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, why not go catch a ballgame or two in Luverne? All signs point to it being a fun weekend with tons of great baseball. What could be better?

A quest for air

I’m not afraid to admit, heat has never been my thing.

Perhaps it’s the fact I grew up on a lake and could go jump in the water whenever summer temperature’s started to scorch. Or it could be the fact I’ve been spoiled by living in a home with air conditioning for several years now. Either way, I have to say I’m a bit of a pansy when it comes to warm temperatures.

I’m one of those people most Minnesotans probably hate, because I’d much rather be cold than too hot. (Seriously, as inconvenient as it may be, you can always layer up to the point you’re warm no matter the temp. Trying to make that work the other way will probably get you arrested.)

As someone who begins to sweat at about 75 degrees, I nearly panicked last Sunday when I returned home from a friend’s wedding to hear my window air conditioning unit making a terrible sound. It was still blowing cold air and the house was still comfortable, but the unit itself was making a loud banging sound and little droplets of water were flying out onto my couch.

Obviously I turned the unit off right away. Luckily, temperatures stayed low enough early this past week that I didn’t really need A/C anyway. But, looking at the extended forecast and seeing temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s and even low 90s had me dreading what inside of the house might feel like with no A/C. The place is pretty well protected from the wind and seems to hold heat pretty well (fingers crossed that holds true in January), so it’s normally about 5-6 degrees warmer inside than it is out.

Upon both myself and my dad doing some looking around online, it seemed fairly obvious there was water inside the unit. Apparently the particular model I have doesn’t have a drain hole (there’s probably a technical term for that, but I don’t know it) so there’s nowhere for any potential rainwater or condensation to escape.

On a whim Thursday morning I decided to turn the unit on to see what happened. Much to my relief, it sounded fine. I thought my worries of melting in the coming days had ended.

Not so much.

After running the A/C most of the day Thursday (it got warm in the house), I woke up at about 2 a.m. to hear that same awful noise. I turned it off and figured I would deal with it in the morning. Friday morning, the noise and the spraying continued, so I watched a video on YouTube posted by a guy in Florida who had the same issue. He was able to fix it by simply rolling up a paper towel length-wise and sticking it inside the unit, causing the towel to soak up the pooled water.

I thought it seemed worth a shot and, although the towel did suck up some of the water, eventually it must not have been able to reach what was left and the fan kept splashing when I turned it on.

Now, from the beginning, the obvious solution seemed to be to drill a hole in the bottom of the A/C unit. I didn’t do that for a couple reasons. The first was that I don’t have a cordless drill and hate asking people to borrow things. The second is that I didn’t even know if I could get a hole drilled into the bottom without removing the entire unit.

Finally, it got warm enough in the house Saturday afternoon that I got desperate. I thought even a tiny hole would be better than nothing. So, I went into my junk drawer, found the widest nail I could find and my hammer and decided I’d put a hole in there the old-fashioned way. Honestly, I didn’t really think it would work, but I knew as long as I didn’t hammer the nail in too far it shouldn’t do any damage.

Somehow, it worked! A little hole, the size of a small boxing nail, punched in the back of the unit near the bottom provided just enough room for the excess water to escape.

So far I’ve been lucky and, as of Sunday afternoon, the A/C was still working. With a heat advisory in effect until 9 p.m. tonight, I just hope it stays that way.

Homer takes a vacation

I have yet to take any vacation days this summer, but Homer is on one right now. And it’s weird.

My parents live on St. Olaf Lake, just outside of New Richland. Pretty much since I moved back to Minnesota, my parents have been asking (see: begging) if Homer, their “granddog”, could come spend a week at the lake at some point this summer. If there was one, I figured this week would be the perfect time to do so.

I had gone back over the weekend to spend the Fourth of July on the lake and plan to head back this Saturday for a friend’s wedding. Neither of my parents are working this week either, so it seemed the stars had aligned for Homer to get a week off from the rigors of life in Worthington (playing with his empty ice cream pale in the backyard, sleeping on the couch underneath the window air condition, etc.) and spend some time at the lake.

The couple other times I’ve left him somewhere for a week, it was because I was taking some sort of trip myself, so admittedly, just being at home without him seems really weird.

It’s strange how much of my daily routine really does depend on having Homer around.

On a normal day, Homer wakes me up sometime between 8:30 and 9 a.m. (Remember, us sports guys live a quasi-vampiric life in terms of working hours, so that isn’t as late as it might sound.) I let him out right away, start my coffee and go grab the Daily Globe from the front porch. He comes in, sits on my lap and gets some pats while I drink a cup of coffee and read the paper. By then, he’s usually ready to go back outside.

This game of in and out goes on for a couple hours. He begs to go outside, I oblige, he wants back in five minutes later, grabs a toy and gets bored with it after 10 minutes or so before making a return trip to the back door in hopes of being let out. After lunch, we usually go for a walk. When we get back from there, it’s nap time for him while I get ready for work.

Usually breaks in the workday take on a somewhat similar routine.

The last couple mornings, I’ve woke up to see it’s later than I’m used to sleeping (Tuesday I didn’t get up until 11!) When I sit down to drink my coffee and read the paper, I feel like I’m forgetting something. Sunday night, I got home from work, sat down and watched a couple episodes of “Friday Night Lights” (which I’m currently addicted to) on Netflix and had a brief moment of panic thinking, “How long has it been since I let Homer out!”

About the time not having him around starts to feel normal, that’s when I’ll be bringing him back on Sunday. Either way, I can’t wait for him to come home. Life just seems a little dull without him. But, multiple photos a day of him lounging on the pontoon let me know he’s enjoying his vacation.

Wild draw a crowd

I pulled up to Worthington Arena at about 11:45 a.m. Thursday, fashionably late, of course. (That’s what I’m telling people, anyway. Obviously it couldn’t be because I had a hard time getting myself going. Couldn’t be.)
Anyway, as soon as I pulled up, I could tell there was a solid crowd on hand for the Minnesota Wild Summer Road Tour. Wild winger Matt Cooke, former team captain and current member of the FSN broadcast team Wes Walz, and TV analyst Mike Greenlay were in Worthington for an hour Thursday as part of the three-day tour around the state. Worthington and the surrounding area showed up to prove that the borders of the “State of Hockey” extend far beyond the Twin Cities metro and upper reaches of the state like Warroad and Eveleth.
The Wild representatives were set up at a table inside of the arena that would have been somewhat near center ice if the arena was frozen. Even halfway through the hour-long event, the line stretched to the south entrance of the building and, at one point, it looked as though there may be a few people standing outside. I’d guess that by the time I showed up, the line had probably dwindled down a little from what it was when the players arrived at 11:30. Although I don’t know what the turnout has been (Walz estimated they’ve had anywhere from 200-600 attendants throughout their stops), I’m guessing the show of people in Worthington was as good as anywhere else.
During these stops, fans have an opportunity to get autographs, have photos taken and, of course, have a chat (brief as it may be) with one of their Wild heroes. It’s much like the Twins Caravan that goes through the state every winter, just to give a frame of reference. Anyway, I think what these two teams (the Wild and the Twins) do for their fans is pretty special. After the autograph session, I had a chance for quick interviews with Walz and Cooke. Prior to joining the Wild, Cooke played for the Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. He told me Minnesota is the first place he’s played that had such a thing. When I lived in Kansas, the Kansas City Royals did make a few trips to outstate Kansas and Missouri, but it didn’t seem to me like it was nearly as big as what the Wild and Twins do.
I was glad to see so many fans of all ages taking advantage of the opportunity. Getting to meet professional athletes isn’t an everyday occurrence and, although they’re really just normal people like you or I, even 28-year-old sports reporters can’t help but get a bit starstruck. I also couldn’t help but overhear the number of people thanking the players for coming to town (Minnesota Nice is a real thing, you guys). It was nice to see. Knowing what a busy schedule most of those guys have to live by, I always think taking time out for fans — without whom they wouldn’t be able to play hockey for a living — should be appreciated.
Hopefully the excellent show of support in Worthington will compel the Wild (and maybe the Twins?) to come back soon.

So much to see

Perhaps the social media hiatus I’m currently taking (which I described at length in my last blog) has given my mind a little bit too much free time to roam.
Lately I’ve been stricken with a pretty severe case of wanderlust. It’s even gotten to the point where I’ve just pulled up my Google Maps app and punched in random destinations that I’d like to one day visit, as if I’m just going to take off and go on a whim. (Trust me, this will probably never happen. Even if I had the means and time to do so, spontaneity has never been one of my defining qualities.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that I’m dying to get out of Worthington or anything like that. Things are going great so far, and I don’t see myself making any permanent changes any time soon. It’s honestly just a case of being “bitten by the travel bug.”
I’ve always enjoyed traveling. One of the top items on my “bucket list” is to visit all 50 states. Right now I’m sitting at 21, which could be worse. After all, I’m only 28 years old so, if all goes as planned, I have plenty of time to get out and see the other 29. Still, every so often I get the itch to get out and see someplace new.
I’d be foolish, however, to not recognize the fact that this current case coincides with my moving back to Minnesota. Until the middle of April, I lived in Emporia, Kansas, roughly 475 miles from my hometown of New Richland. Prior to moving to Kansas in March 2012, I’d only been there twice; and those two times were when I went to interview and when I went searching for a place to live. As such, practically everywhere I went was a new experience for the first year or so that I lived there. While I admit not being as familiar with southwest Minnesota as I am other parts of the state, it’s not quite the task of exploration when I get out and about.
During my time in Kansas, I tried to make it home every three months or so. I think the fact that I was living somewhere that was pretty much foreign to me and that I went for a 950-mile round-trip drive every few months satiated my hunger for travel. It’s been nearly two months since I made that trip, and my brain is telling me that now’s the time to start getting hungry.
I’ve been looking more and more into places nearby and don’t require a long weekend. I’ve already found a few places I’m planning to go spend an afternoon as soon as I have a chance. Christopher Columbus or Ferdinand Magellan I am not, but I am ready to get out and explore.

Establishing a silent summer

Monday, I officially started out on what I plan to be a summer-long journey of sorts.

Inspired by a Facebook post by actor/really smart dude Patton Oswalt, I have decided to go “radio silent” with social media for the entire summer. (Yes, I see the irony in the fact a Facebook post is what made me decide to do this.) Until after Labor Day, I’m taking a break from Twitter and Facebook, which I’ve known for a long time I waste entirely too much of my free time on.

(A quick side note: I’m making an exception for the Daily Globe accounts as I feel social media is an important part of reporting in the information age.)

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Facebook or Twitter. (Although, constant bickering over things like politics and religion — to name a couple — on my “newsfeed” have made me grow less and less enchanted by Facebook lately.) Instead, my decision to do something like this, which I believe is actually a pretty big undertaking, is more of an indictment on myself than anything else.

In Oswalt’s brilliant post, he outlines the reasons he is going “radio silent” for the summer. Needless to say, it really struck a chord with me. I’ll try to just quote him on a couple of the highlights that made me want to follow his lead, though if you really want the full impact, I urge you to visit his Facebook page. If nothing else, it’s a thought-provoking read.

One thing he said that particularly got me was this: “I’ve aggressively re-wired my own brain to live and die in a 140 character jungle.”

As I went through my first day without using social media, this one really sunk in. I felt out of the loop all day. What in the world could all of my friends be doing? What major, breaking news events could I be missing out on? What snarky comments am I denying myself from making?

I suspect many people are like me. Twitter is where I first hear about a lot of major events. Instantly, I have to throw my hat into the ring with a comment and/or opinion about it. It may be kind of sick, but almost any time I watch the news or Sportscenter, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is, “What can I tweet about this?” When I stepped back and thought about it after reading Oswalt’s post, I thought, “What do my opinions or sarcastic thoughts add to the conversation?” Usually nothing. To think otherwise would be a bit egotistical, not to mention wrong. That’s not to say mine or anyone else’s opinion isn’t valid, but wouldn’t I be better served by waiting and having an actual conversation about it rather than spewing my first thought onto the interwebs?

Once I came to that realization, I couldn’t help but wonder, what’s the point in spending so much time on social media? Am I really gaining anything by it? Again, usually not.

That’s where another part of Oswalt’s post comes into play, the one that really compelled me to take a step back.

He wrote: “I want to de-atrophy the muscles I once had. The ones I used to charge through books, sprint through films, amble pleasantly through a new music album or a human conversation. I’ve lost them — willingly, mind you. My fault. Got addicted to the empty endorphins of being online.
So I need to dry out, and remind myself of the deeper tides I used to be able to swim in — in pages, and celluloid, and sounds, and people.”

I decided that I felt like these things had taken a huge step back in my life as well. It may sound like a waste of time to some, but things like reading a book or even just watching an old movie I’ve always wanted to see comes with a certain amount of gratification. It also can spark some good conversation, much better than that of re-hashing a run-of-the-mill Twitter or Facebook post.

In the end, my goal in this is to stop wasting so much time on social media and fill up those spaces with more fulfilling tasks. To borrow one of Oswalt’s thoughts, I want to see the world in more than just 140 characters again.

Quit playing games with my heart

I’m Zach, and I’m a Minnesota Twins fan.

During the past couple years, a phrase like that might garner some fairly justified heckling. Not that the Twins are a bad franchise or one someone should be ashamed of liking (I mean, we’re not talking about the Yankees here), but the truth is, they just haven’t been very good. (OK, lets be honest. They’ve stunk.)

During the 2000s, when the Twins were regularly competitive and won six division titles, I had high expectations for them coming into each season. If they would have been 22-21 entering play on May 21 during one of those seasons, I probably would have been writing a blog or column asking what is wrong with them. But things have changed and three years of hanging around the cellar has brought my cynicism out. As such, I can’t help but thinking this is just too good to be true.

Admittedly, as I type this right now, I still don’t have very high expectations for the Twins this season. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them or won’t cheer for them with all I have for the remainder of the season, but I just don’t want to get my hopes up only to be let down. (As a Minnesota sports fan you’d think I would have grown used to that by now. I have not.) Still, I almost like the position I’m in as a fan right now less than when the team was just undeniably bad.

Like I said, cynicism has set in.

It’s that cynic in me that is expecting the Twins to do nothing less than toy with my emotions at some point this summer. If they are able to stay within a stone’s throw of the division and/or wild card race for much longer, (and the way things look right now, .500 seems to be the pace that is being set) I fear the hopeless romantic side of my fandom will come out and I’ll begin to have dangerous thoughts like, “Could they really do this?”

The second I begin to have thoughts like that is when they’ll tank. A pitching staff that has been strong for the past few weeks will start getting lit up like Christmas trees and hitters like Brian Dozier and Kurt Suzuki will start to come back to Earth after what have been surprisingly excellent starts to the season. In a nutshell, the team will start looking like I expected it to this year and I’ll be left feeling like I have a face covered in egg.

As I said, I hope I’m wrong. I hope the Twins continue to play well throughout the season and at least provide some baseball that’s worth watching in September. But, if that’s not going to happen, I just hope the fall comes sooner rather than later. After all, I’ve got my sanity at stake here.