5 top tips to ace your exam


So a friend of mine at work just realized her driver's license is set to expire…and she's about three states behind with getting it updated. That means she's going to need to go in and take some kind of Minnesota driver's license exam.

I don't even know how that works. When you're just renewing a valid license from another state, what kind of test do they make you take? Obviously an eye test. How about a written test? They don't make you get behind the wheel and test, do they?

At any rate, as a welcoming ambassador of Minnesota etiquette and culture, I felt it my duty to help. So this morning I offered her these five tips to help make passing any Minnesota driver's exam a snap.

  1. It is legal to make a right turn on red in Minnesota. Unless, of course, Red happens to be the name of the half-aware wino vagrant attempting to stumble through the crosswalk.

  2. Operating a cell phone while driving in Minnesota is legal but discouraged.
    Text messaging while driving in Minnesota is illegal.
    Irish step dancing while driving in Minnesota is impossible.

  3. In order to pass and become an officially licensed Minnesota driver, it’s essential that you abandon all ability to execute an effective merge. (The ability to merge is a dead giveaway that you’re an outsider. We don’t warm quickly to outsiders.)

  4. Snow emergency regulations in Minnesota vary widely by municipality, but can be essentially distilled down to a simple rule of thumb: If you’re not in your garage, you’re getting towed.

  5. The stop signs with the white borders are NOT optional. (I almost died riding with a gullible friend who believed this prank.)

Unshakable Certainty

I’m stretching the tenuous threads of my wobbly memory, trying to reach back and recall a sensation of unshakable certainty.

I’m not talking about unwavering faith or about quiet confidence. Those are both fantastic feelings and I’m pretty sure (irony intended) I’ve felt both of those within the scope of recent memory.

I’m talking about the kind of unshakable certainty that comes at the expense of all other perspectives. I mean the kind of unshakable certainty that, when clung to, can taint and sour an entire personality. I mean, of course, the kind of unshakable certainty that generally only a 16-year-old brain is capable of generating.

I’m not being (totally) facetious here. I really do wish I could remember what it feels like to be unshakably certain that I am right. And, just as important in reaching this particular mindset, I need to remember the feeling of unshakable certainty that you are wrong.

Think about it. If I could recall a time when I held that mindset, maybe I could recall the time when that unshakable certainty shook. Maybe I could remember just what it took to break that frame of mind, open up to other perspectives and empathize with other viewpoints.

As it stands, I’m not managing to find it.

So I’m left to wonder. I know that being yelled at, glared at and hung up on are environmental hazards of sharing space with a teenager (not acceptable, but not unexpected). What I want to know is, What’s lurking under that unshakable certainty? What’s really wrong? Without knowing that, I really agonize about how to help make it better.

Without knowing that, I can’t address whatever shortcomings it is in me that fuel such staunch confidence in my wrongness. I can’t comfort and calm the shaking, adolescent insecurities that share space in that mind with the certainty.

And all that leaves me is addressing the surface behavior – which isn’t pretty…for either of us.

Any tips? Anyone?

Portrait of a middle-aged addict

Diet_coke_2_23 Tell me, what's the best way to make the most of your last one?

Should you draw it out and savor each extended moment? Does that work? Can you spread the effects out and extend the impact? Or is it better to hit it hard, hammer it down and bank on the most intense rush?

Which way? What should I do? It's my last one.

"For fun" at work, a bunch of us have been playing a little healthy-living game. Each week brings a new challenge. Drink water? No problem. Exercise each day? I'm on it. Five fruits and vegetables per day? What, you think I can't?

But this week is the big one. No caffeinated or carbonated beverages for the whole week. (gulp) My head hurts just thinking about it.

I've gone a day without Diet Coke within recent memory. (I can't remember exactly when, but I know I have. I do it every now and again just to prove I can.) But a whole week? I don't know. I guess back in the Army I'd come close sometimes. My reserve unit would go to the field for Annual Training, packed for battle.

During my years in a Field Service Company, "packed for battle" generally included a full-sized refrigerator in the company command tent, running off one of our generators. But during my years in a Combat Engineer Battalion, access was a little tougher. Still, I was an officer and a logistician. There was usually some errand or excuse at some point most days that could take me close enough to civilization to score myself a fix. So, even on my worst Field Training Exercise, I never went a week without caffeine.

Other than that, I don't know… I'll bet sometime as a kid I must have given it up for lent. (Although my family always practiced Lent Lite. You know; where on Sundays you could have whatever it was you gave up. So it wasn't like you had to go a full, cold-turkey 40 days.)


So I just finished drinking my last can of Diet Coke until next Monday morning. (FYI: I decided to stretch it out and drink it slowly.) I'm not sure about this one. I'm going to have a crushing headache by noon tomorrow. I'm actually a little bit scared.

I'll keep you posted though.

PS: Oh and here's one from the insult-to-injury file – In case it didn't sink in for you from that description of the challenge (I know it didn't for me), beer is carbonated. Nooooooo!

Tubular trauma

DSC_0063 I just set a personal record for most flat tires in a season – three.

The most recent wasn’t technically on my bike. It was Corinne’s (or, to be even more accurate, Josie’s). But since we were riding together and chivalry demanded that I hop off and walk back to the trailhead with her, I’m claiming it. All in all though, I’ve been pretty darned lucky on each one.

Flat #1: During this year’s Apple Duathlon
Yes, it truly sucks to get a flat in a race. I’ve always told myself that if it happens I’m just going to smile, relax and wait for the sag wagon. (I’m so dreadfully slow at changing a tube that I don’t even bother to weigh myself down with patches, tubes, pumps…) But this one hit me just about a mile from transition. I figured, what the heck, I was just going to run when I got to transition. I might as well start running now. Three miles or four miles? Big deal. So I took off my shoes and ran the Stealth Bomber back to the middle school. Flat tire and a pesky case of whooping cough – I was proud just to come in under two hours.

Flat #2: Last week, when a little 15-miler turned into a little 14-miler
I’d been wandering around out on some empty, rural, county roads, but my tire had the decency to hang on till about a mile from home. This time I wasn’t even racing, so I didn’t have to run back. Turned into a lovely little walk on a beautiful late-summer morning. I just had to do it in stocking feet, pushing a bike, and wearing an especially awkward display of spandex.

Flat #3: Jail break
Corinne and I went out this afternoon to celebrate Labor Day by indulging her new passion – mountain biking. We were trying out the Jail Trail in St. Cloud for the first time. Fun little trail, without nearly as much climbing, dropping and risk of personal injury as the one we rode last week. But halfway in, Corinne’s back tire gave out. Oh well. We’re taking the day off work on Tuesday to celebrate our anniversary. Soon as we get some kids off on their first day of school, I’ll run pick up a new tube and we’ll try it again (Sounds like a fantastic anniversary celebration to me!)

Young love sucks

You remember it, don’t you? Of course you do. Everyone does. No one forgets the first time love sucker punches him (or, I suppose, her) in the groin.

Note #1: I’m not going to veer off into which member of our brood is undergoing the incident that’s sparking this post. That’s not mine to share. Speculate at your own peril. For all I know, they’ll be “back together” before I get this typed. (Yep, I was right. They are.)

Note #2: This is young love I’m talking about here – and the pain associated with it. I’ve lived through divorce and that’s a full-on story for a different day. That’s a degree of pain, of sadness, of guilt, and of anger on a whole different plane. I can’t minimize that. But there’s something singularly tragic about the demise of a first love. It has something to do with naivety and unfamiliarity with what to expect. So basically, I’m not sure Rod Stewart had it exactly right. I don’t know that the first cut is the actually deepest. But (as evidenced by the fact that we all remember ours), it’s the one that never quite heals.

I still laugh looking back because I fell for the girl with the greatest first-love name since Princess Buttercup: Jennie Devine. She was a gymnast without confidence. A cheerleader without enthusiasm. And a pretty girl with questionable tastes. She was perfect (as far as I was concerned).

And I did love her…as much as my 16-17-18-year-old psyche was capable of loving.

So when she let me down as gently as she could early in my freshman year of college, I was a complete train wreck. Seriously pathetic. Oh God, I’m talking about depths of mopey, pitiful, puppy-love crap that would have made the producers of Dawson’s Creek demand a rewrite. It was bad.

I mean, when you reach the point where a pretty boy like Dave Rademacher is telling you to man up and take her picture off your desk, that should absolutely be your rock-bottom moment. Not for this guy. I still remember calling to beg her to go to the St. John’s ROTC Ball with me sophomore year. That’s a year and a half after the brush off, for those of you scoring at home. (Yes, if you’re curious, she graciously agreed to come up from Minneapolis and save me from going stag. No, if you’re voyeuristic, I did not get sympathy sex.)

My point (and I’ll get to it here, because otherwise I’ll just ramble on with Jennie stories for much, much longer than you want to scroll) is that it’s a great thing that Jen dumped me. (And it’s an even better thing that she stuck to her guns and didn’t take me back just to make the incessant weeping stop.)

You see, I have no idea what’s become of Jennie Devine. (Note #3: I did see her name come up on Classmates.com at one point with a married name after it. I momentarily toyed with the idea of checking in with her, just out of curiosity – purely platonic at this point, of course. But I was too cheap to pay the premium fee to actually send a message to her. Plus, after all she endured from me, I just couldn’t subject her to the undeniably creepy vibe that would have produced.) Did she ever become a nurse? Did she stay in Minnesota? Did she follow her family to Colorado? Did she find some other place all her own? Did she marry? Does she have kids? Is she happier? I hope so. (There was always a subtle-but-tragic, almost Shakespearean thread of melancholy in Jennie.)

But if Jen hadn’t scraped me off her shoe like so much abandoned gum, I don’t know that I would have learned some important lessons. I don’t know that I would have seen the profound depths of wussyness which my soul is capable of plumbing. And without that knowledge, and the experience of finally escaping it, I would forever live at risk of finding myself in those depths.

Looking back at that pathetic, needy state I was in, I can clearly see life lessons waiting to be learned – lessons I hope my kids all learn much less painfully than I did. For example, a relationship should be supportive…but not to the point where it becomes a crutch. (I was terrible about this one in a couple of different ways.)

If Jen hadn’t let me know she needed more. I would have gone on thinking I was a pretty great boyfriend and an all-around good guy. And this little facet of self-awareness has gone on to become a recurring theme in my life. If I’m not constantly vigilant (and I’m not), I’m in real danger of slipping into lazy, disrespectful, self-absorbed habits while continuing to pat myself on the back for how much I care.

If I were to take that painful experience away, it would alter the course of my life. I may not have met and married Beth and had three amazingly wonderful kids. I may not have found Corinne and the love, support and happiness that I have in my life right now.

There are people who spend their whole lives with their high-school sweethearts. It happens. I’ve seen it. I’m not sure how it works though. My best guess is that the people who are able to pull that off are quick learners whose minds are open and receptive to important life lessons through direct channels. The rest of us? (Or at least idiots like me?) Apparently the access port for downloading those lessons to the brain is tucked in behind the heart. And the only way to get at it is to tear open a hole.

Traumatic post stress disorder

That's my new affliction du jour. Okay, swine flu it's not. (It's probably more the equivalent of a mild guinea pig flu.) But it's still bugging me.

Not sure if it's a common thing for bloggers since I've only really been one for a short while (and, to be honest, I don't read very many others). But the need to add new posts is kind of stressing me out.

Yes, I acknowledge I haven't posted in a week or so. Yes, I understand that in order for my blog to sweep the Internet like a video of a guy getting pelted in the crotch with a hamster, I need to add more posts to make it more searchable and substantial. (And is that really my goal anyway? Could I really compete with a guy getting pelted in the crotch with a hamster? I think not.)

I'm just busy. I've got work work to do and freelance work to do and kids to interact with and bikes to clean/maintain… Okay, that's a crock. More to the point, I'm lazy. (And I'm mostly okay with that.) I could've posted last night, but chose instead to sit on the couch and Netflix three episodes of Weeds on my laptop. (I'm deciding I really like that show.)

I guess my homeopathic remedy (Hey, who're you calling a homeo?) for traumatic post stress disorder is going to be taking a deep breath and realizing that sooner or later I'll have something to say. And I'll post it when I'm darned well good and ready.

Hope you're around to read it when I do!