Category Archives: Life

Our House

ourhouse

On August 23rd, Colleen and I bought our first house. It’s an incredibly exciting, eustress-inducing, budget-scrutinizing, life-changing decision. We’ve been living in various apartments for 4 years and are overjoyed to start tackling home ownership.

That first night, before even moving in, it was a really weird feeling, walking around the empty rooms of the house. This sense of completion, of actually taking an ownership stake in something tangible and huge and expensive. Apartment living has always given me this subconscious safety net where I know in the back of my mind that if something major goes wrong with the place (barring damage to my own stuff), it’s ultimately somebody else’s problem. AC going out, water not running correctly, an outlet not having power, while I might have been affected by these things, they ultimately fell onto somebody’s lap to take care of. As I walk around the halls of our new house, I can sense that safety net has been thrown out the window.

In a weird way, I think feelings of nervousness or melancholy as I walk the halls are a direct result of mourning the loss of that safety net. Yet with any mourning process, with time I’ll feel more confident letting go of that safety net feeling and fully embrace the stresses and pressures of owning this house.

What’s fantastic is that while I lose the safety net, I’ve gained a new foundational sense of freedom I haven’t had before. Don’t like the color of a room? I can paint it. Do I want a fire pit in the backyard? I can go put one in. I get to have a real, living evergreen tree in my house in December (which reminds me, I need to buy a saw).

I think the freedom is just simply a feeling of ownership. Sure, I’ve owned loads of things in my life. Cars, guitars, TVs, wedding rings, pots and pans, clothes, etc. But nothing like our house, the place that we call home and cook and eat and sleep and raise kids and play music and celebrate holidays. It’s been an entirely fresh and invigorating feeling, and while I guarantee it will wear off (probably much quicker than I’m hoping), it feels damn good right now.

And after all’s said and done, the best part about this place is that I get to share it with my wife. We get to make this house our home. We get to make this house feel any way we want to. We choose the atmosphere. The house itself is great, but at my very core, I’m excited about creating a home with Colleen. I’m excited for this house to function as an extension of the happy life we’ve created for ourselves. This house won’t make our dreams come true, because we’ve spent the last 4 years already working to make them come true. The house, rather than being The Answer, is rather like a tool that helps us do what we’ve been doing, just a little better. We now get to work together to turn our house into our home, where we welcome friends and watch shows and play music together. Our house will become our home, which I hope is very reminiscent of “Our House“…

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Digital Identity in a Relational World

I grew up at 326 19th St. NW Cedar Rapids, IA. The house was a fine little four bedroom place, it just seemed smaller than it was with two parents and six kids. On top of that, one of those four bedrooms was appropriated for what we called The Study. This was Dad’s Space, his work area. It was not huge so it worked well for this purpose. Each wall was lined floor to ceiling with books, save for one of the short walls where Mom kept her sewing machine and the other short wall which was divided into thirds; the outer segments were closet-type areas where Dad kept some suit coats (if I recall correctly) and the middle segment fit an old ’70s rocking chair and a half height bookshelf from top of the chair to the ceiling. The other anchor to this room was Dad’s Desk. It was constructed (I’m assuming by him, I have no idea where else he would’ve gotten that behemoth from) by laying a giant rectangular piece of wood over two metal filing cabinets about three or four feet in height. On the desk was the computer. This is where Dad worked.

This is all very vivid in my head for many reasons. I spent a lot of time in The Study, doing writing assignments on the computer, occasionally getting a theology book down from one of the shelves and feigning intellectual prowess, etc. There are still landmarks in that room that stick out in my head. The old globe on Dad’s Desk. The mustard yellow plastic waste basket. The Chronicles of Narnia box set that was missing Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The window curtains that featured a Ferdinand Magellan-era, high seas motif. These things all made a long-lasting impression on me.

Colleen and I have had iPhones now for about nine months. We’d held out for what now seems like an eternity, using old flip phones that had served very little purpose, only texting and calling (“what more do you need” was our logic). Turns out, it has already had a drastic effect on certain parts of our lives. It’s a killer little machine. It’s also given me a new perspective on how I want technology to relate to and fit into my life.

I recently finished a book entitled “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” by Douglas Rushkoff. The first half of the book was fascinating and absolutely worth reading. The last half was kind of lost me, went over my head. But what I took from the book overall was how drastic of an effect technology has had on humankind. And not just generic technology, like airplanes or refrigerators or TVs. But rather the tech that gives us the illusion of being able to always live as present as we can. Tech like smartphones (and the infrastructure needed to make them work, the Internet, fiberoptic cables, cloud servers, etc.).

What’s interesting is that we use smartphones as a way to try and be present. What a beautiful sunset I’m watching right now, I’m going to Instagram this and immediately cross-post it to Facebook and Twitter so all of my friends/family/followers can see this. Or hey family, here is a picture of me holding my half-hour old baby daughter. Look, lots of my FourSquare friends have checked into the party across town that I’m not at, so I’m going to leave the party I’m at now and join the one that’s more fun, right now.

You get the point. Our technology has given us an illusion of being ever present, in the moment. The inherent problem with this is that the concept of “now” is fleeting, and we actually cannot hold onto it. A beautiful quote from the book:

“And like the diminishing beauty returns for a facially paralyzed Botox addict, the more forcefully we attempt to stop the passage of time, the less available we are to the very moment we seek to preserve.”

I love this quote because it unmasks the paradox we’ve created for ourselves by viewing so much of life through the viewfinder of technology.

And this is what I fear about technology. Inadvertantly taking myself so much out of the present solely because I’m trying to preserve the present moment. I want to figure out how best to use my technology to enhance the present moment, rather than just having a distraction brick in my pocket at all times.

The same goes for larger tech too, not just my phone. My phone is great and very handy, but when I think about how I viewed technology as a kid, I remember always connecting it to some useful purpose my parents gave it. For example, we didn’t have cable growing up, so our TV was basically for watching PBS, TGIF and World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, every evening at 5:30 while Mom cooked dinner and I waited for Dad to get home from work. That was how Mom got her national and global news back then, this early evening broadcast news show. And that’s what Mom wanted the TV used for. Mom and Dad never wanted to get cable and bother with having hundreds of channels to watch and, most likely, censor.

The TV could’ve been a gigantic time suck for us, but Mom pretty much ruled when and what we watched, and so it didn’t become that (she might argue differently). And honestly, I’m fine that I don’t have memories of Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Salute Your Shorts or any of those other shows lots of kids grew up on (not to disparage those shows at all. Every time Colleen talks about Salute Your Shorts, it sounds like an awesome show). I feel like I got great value out of the technology we had, mainly because my parents made sure it factored into our lives on their terms, rather than letting our lives mold around how the technology worked.

Same with Dad’s computer. He used his Study to study. He read, he worked on his computer, he was nonverbally communicating a part of himself to me through his physical space and the tech that lived there. He gave his tech a purpose there.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest utility I want out of any future tech I acquire is helping me to relate a certain part of my identity to the outside world. If I had been born in any pre-computer era, I don’t think I would’ve been able to express as much as I do in writing. I can’t imagine getting the volume of my thoughts out with a pen and paper, let alone organize and edit them. My writing is contingent on me having a digital medium.

It’s this digital facet of my identity that I want my technology to help elucidate. I want my tech to be the way I intake new information: news, music, TV/movies, etc., and I want it to be the way I output how I’ve processed this internalized information.

This is certainly going to be a learning process though, because I catch myself letting my tech take over sometimes. If I’m not careful, it’s easy to let my life revolve around my tech rather than my tech enhance my life. And that’s the biggest danger with it. But used correctly, tech is a great way to communicate my digital identity in a world where our personal relationships define who we are.

So to tie this all up nicely, I want in my new home what Dad had in our home growing up. Basically, a room dedicated to things that help me express myself digitally. I’d like a solid wooden desk with a comfortable office chair. On the desk I’d like an iMac with wireless speakers, keyboard, and mouse. My record player will live in this room, along with my guitars and amp. Maybe a picture of Clapton or D’Angelo on the wall, or some hip album art framed up. I want this room to be called The Den, and I want any kids I might have to know it’s my space, and that they’re welcome in it. I want to create this space as much for them as for me. The memories I have in my Dad’s Study are deeply ingrained, and I’d like my kids to have those same sorts of memories about a physical space I’ve created to house the digital aspect of my identity.

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A Close Shave

I’m one step closer to becoming a real badass. Unfortunately, stating that takes me like four steps back, but whatever. Let me start with some context before the exposition.

Mens-safety-razorThis week, I attempted my first shave with a safety razor. There has seemed to be an increasingly popular trend in old school shaving in the last few months/years, and I’m more than OK with jumping on a bandwagon, as long as the bandwagon is actually worth jumping upon. In this case, I think it is.

I’ve been shaving my face for probably around 13 years, and I’ve tried both electric and blade. I’ve never gone super high end with the electric razors, I’d say $50 was my max spend on a standard Norelco. Even after weeks of use, the electrics never did get as close as I was hoping (especially on the neck) and it didn’t lessen razor burn on the neck at all.

With blades, I’d tried both super cheap Bic plastics and various permutations of Gillette’s Mach Insert Number of Blades Here. The Bics were terrible, used them like twice and after my recovery from so much facial blood loss, went back to the Gillette. The Gillette is easily the shaver I’ve used most often over the years, and I never had any real reason to switch. Sure, they were insanely expensive (4 refill blades for $20? Ludicrous), but they gave me a baby soft face every time, at least for the first two weeks of using a new blade until it dulled. Plus, aside from the multiple blades used to cut whiskers super close, the razors usually had a gel strip on either side of the blades, making the whole process quick, painless, and seemingly as close as one could ever want.

So why did I change? Let’s go back to the badassness of the safety razor. It is a chunky piece of metal, onto which you screw a very thin piece of metal that is so sharp it cuts hair off of your face. That is all. There is no gel strip to make the whiskers disconnect from your face easier. It’s just your skin and a metal blade. Badass. It’s what men shaved with in the “olden days.” It is the first technological improvement over a straight up hunting knife.

Along with this razor, I’ve purchased a shaving brush and some fancy shaving cream to lather my mug up. The brush is awesome; I’ve been using it for about a month and I can’t believe I used my hands to smear Barbasol on my face for so many years. The brush transforms me into Don Draper, minus the alcoholism and mommy issues.

Many years ago I wrote about my connection with Old Spice deodorant. Using this safety razor gives me the same feeling. I didn’t grow up watching my dad shave with one of these things, but it’s more the idea that this is actually what men used to use to shave.

Sure, it doesn’t take off whiskers from half my face in one swoop like with the Gillette. I’ve only shaved twice with it, and both have resulted in cuts. My third attempt is this afternoon. Probably won’t go great. It’ll be a while before I’m any good at it. But I’m reclaiming a skill that is lost on most males of my generation. Give me a month or two, and I’ll be shaving quickly, closely, and I’m nearly positive I’ll have zero neck razor burn (or so the Internet says).

That’s what feels great about using this thing. Shaving with this razor is a small declaration that men had some cool skills 60 years ago, and I’d like to learn one.

-Jon

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The Roots of Racism: Nature/Nurture

Fascinating story behind this picture, taken at a KKK rally in Georgia in 1992.

kkktoddrobertsonphoto

Nature or nurture? Is hate something we’re born with or something we develop due to the external environment in which we’re raised? This picture makes me really sad. But there’s a lot to be read here, so what does it make you feel?

-Jon

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Thoughts on Newtown

fredrogers

This picture brings tears to my eyes every time I look at it. When you’ve finished the last paragraph of this blog, please look again at this picture.

I want to share a video that I saw a few weeks ago. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to share it, write something about it. It couldn’t seem more timely and important in light of the heartbreaking event in Connecticut a few weeks back.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

-Fred Rogers

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS, almost every day. I enjoyed the show a lot; feeding the fish, seeing what Mr. McFeely would deliver, the trolley to the Land of Make Believe, Picture Picture. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was an immensely soothing show. Nothing over-stimulating, nothing too loud. Mr. Rogers spoke softly and slowly and allowed childhood Jon to listen and really digest what he was saying. He was constantly encouraging our imagination and creativity, and the expression of our feelings, whatever they might be.

I had no idea at the time, and I’ve only just realized it recently, but Mr. Rogers was an incredibly strong proponent of mental healthcare. He cared deeply about caring for children and helping them understand that they were loved, cared for, and understood. He was constantly teaching us to express our feelings, to communicate with others in our worlds, and to not fear being unique. I can’t stress enough how deeply I’m touched by this mission.

I have lived through only a few heavy events in American history: 9/11, Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and others not mentioned. My heart was heavier than all of these when I first heard the news of the Newtown massacre. That’s certainly not to diminish the tragedy of those other events, rather only to say that I felt this one differently than the others. The thought of what transpired in Newtown absolutely breaks my heart. To think of such innocent lives snuffed out in such a vicious manner truly makes me weep. There are several things about this tragedy that make me sad:

1. Twenty children, between the ages of 5-10, were inexplicably murdered. In their elementary school. This is senseless violence. Pure evil. Forty parents learned that Friday that their children had been killed. I don’t have kids and I cannot truly feel the unimaginable horror that these parents and families felt and still are feeling, and it breaks my heart.

2. This could’ve been prevented. With smarter gun control policies and affordable mental healthcare in place, that day might have gone much differently at that elementary school.

3. Even such a heartbreaking catastrophe as the Newtown massacre can’t seem to push this nation past throttling each other’s necks over political issues. I fault people on both sides of the spectrum for this. I find it inappropriate for anyone to talk about needing to arm our children with guns, and equally inappropriate to lambast somebody over being “insensitive” by discussing about political issues at a time like this. If a true discussion can’t be had now, when are we ever supposed to talk about this with openness and a desire to not win the argument, but to solve deeply-rooted societal problems?

My heart breaks for the parents of those children and the families of all the victims of this event. They have been in my sincere prayers over these days and weeks. And yet I firmly believe that the country and the officials in government have to start discussing and coming to a solution on the two root issues that caused this, gun control and mental healthcare. For anyone who says it’s inappropriate to talk politics, I want to quote (of all people) a comedian who, the day of the massacre, tweeted, “Now is not the time to talk about gun control. Yesterday was.” People on all sides of the political spectrum have to be willing to talk about these difficult issues and make compromises to truly find solutions to the immense problems facing our society. The fact that a deranged person can get access to multiple weapons and then walk into a school and murder many innocent people is chilling. It doesn’t matter who you voted for in November, we must figure out how to curb this behavior.

This is where the second issue comes into play. I think it’s overwhelmingly important we start to discuss the mental well being of our children. Kids have to be taught how to express their feelings, how to deal with anger, how to communicate well with their peers and those younger and older. I’m tremendously proud of the work that my wife does with young kids, teaching them “simple” behavioral skills that many people think are second nature but are being taught less and less in homes. I could’ve used behavioral health when I was a kid. I couldn’t communicate well. Or at least I couldn’t express my feelings well. I was a pretty fearful kid and I don’t think that really came out, or at least I didn’t have much chance to get that out and deal with it, from what I remember. And so many children could use these services, to learn how to express emotion, that it’s ok to be angry, or sad, or super happy. That what’s really important is learning how to appropriately give voice to those feelings. So thank you to Colleen, and every parent, social worker, behavioral health specialist, paraeducator/associate, and teacher that understands this and works to educate and raise young children with these skills.

Finally, the Mr. Rogers video. A bit of background: this was in 1969, before Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a popular show on Public Television. President Nixon had proposed scaling back a $20 million grant to PBS to half the amount, due to spending on the Vietnam War. Fred Rogers went before the US Senate Subcommittee on Communications to argue for the full amount. He spoke in front of the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator John Pastore, generally known as kind of a hardass. He comes off as almost patronizing in the clip. Please watch the entire video. It’s only about seven minutes long, and it is truly moving. Fred Rogers had a heart for children, and had a way of coming across calm and reassuring, in this video and when he was on his show. He understood how incredibly vital it is for a child to feel as though they are heard, that they are able to express their feelings, whether it’s anger or happiness or fear. He communicated Love in a world lacking it. I hope I can raise my kids this way, and I hope our country and our world begins to understand that only Love is where the solution to these horrific societal problems lie.

-Jon

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Graduate degree…accomplished!

As I get older and go through fairly common or average life experiences (e.g. marriage, graduating, watching TV shows, etc.), I find it is harder and harder not to write in outright clichés. Yet here I am, saying goodnight to the weekend of my graduation from the University of Iowa with a Master of Arts degree in Library and Information Science, and I am dumbfounded by how fast the last two years of my life flew.

This weekend has brought some noteworthy realizations to the surface for me. While I have enjoyed the chance to be in school again and learn new skills and new ways to think about information in a society that is unwittingly ruled by information, I’m more vividly aware of the support system I have in my life. There is a network of humans that care for me very strongly, are proud of me and love me, and true awareness of this is tremendously overwhelming. If I had the inclination, I could expound on the grand theories of the field of librarianship, but I think as I put the final touches on my institutional education, I want to use this space to say thank you to some of the heavy hitters. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you’ve contributed even the slightest bit to my education and even more so to my life in the last two years, know that I am grateful.

I want to start by thanking my parents and my grandparents. You have been mentally and financially supportive during my time in school, and without your support, I would be in a far worse position than I currently find myself. But even more so, your care and admiration towards me is enormous. It means a lot to make you four proud, and I was overjoyed to share in this celebration with you. Thank you.

I’d like to thank my in-laws. You both have been an emotional support system to both Colleen and me for a long time now, and it’s been a pleasure and a comfort to be able to get to know you both better and hang out with you. Living this close has been a blessing for Colleen and me, and it will be a tough adjustment to be farther away. A patio date at Red’s is on us before we go. Thank you.

To a few specific classmates who most likely won’t stumble upon this post, you helped me through some fairly harrowing class assignments and experiences. I appreciated your help then and I certainly appreciate it now that I’m done. This degree was not all fun and games and your input and advise on homework and projects helped a great deal. Thank you.

To those not mentioned, I apologize for not mentioning you by name, but I garnered so much emotional and mental support from many people I wasn’t expecting these last two years. Thank you.

Finally, to my beautiful, caring, and eternally-understanding wife Colleen. There is no way I could have accomplished this without you. You have this uncanny ability to be exactly what I need, exactly when I need it. Whether it’s a chance to vent about a frustrating assignment or day at work, or a drive out to Kent or a walk to Red’s, or simply a night in watching Conan, you constantly know what I need and how to provide it. It has been, and continues to be, my goal to do the same for you. You’ve also kept a wonderfully clean and comforting home for us these last two years and it has been an immense blessing to me. I’m excited to be more available to help with the general upkeep of our life together, aside from just balancing the checkbook. Dibs on cleaning the fishbowl from here on out. I love you so much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The minute you decide school is your next step is when I get the cookbook out and start learnin’. You won’t cook another meal until you graduate…probably.

I am very happy and very proud to be finished with this phase of my life. On to the next, and thank you again to all who supported me in one way or another. You have blessed me beyond what you know, and I am forever appreciative of it. Now go and support your local library.

-Jon

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Old clothes.

EDITED 10/19/11: I have to give recognition to one of my best friends Luke Glasoe for giving the Cards shirt to me. I’m not sure what possessed him to pick it out for me but I still have it and I am forever grateful for it. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received, bud. Thanks a million.

A few weeks ago I raided my dresser and got rid of lots of old stuff that didn’t fit. It’s a mildly depressing thing that some of my absolute favorite t-shirts didn’t fit anymore, (1) because it means I’m gaining more mass than I burn off and (2) because it means I had to part with some of the most character-defining articles of clothing I’ve ever worn. Before I dropped everything off at Goodwill, I took a few pictures of the most important shirts. Here they are.

Iowa Soccer Baseball Tee:

Not that significant of a shirt other than it was one of the first where I could tell Colleen really loved how I looked in it. I had never really noticed that before with any of my clothes, and I remember walking into youth group wearing this shirt (the first baseball tee I’d ever worn where the arms are a different color than the torso, makes your shoulders look huge) and seeing Colleen raise her eyebrows like “Hmm!” It was a special thing. On the other hand, one time I got called out on wearing this shirt and I started to talk about how I liked the Iowa men’s soccer team. It’s only club. So that was embarrassing.

Rhea Central Super Jacket’s Tee:

This one was a bummer to dump. I found this scrunched tight in a rack of crappy old t-shirts at a thrift store in Dayton, Tennessee. It was a local thrift store, not a Goodwill or Salvation Army, so the opportunity to find cool vintage clothes is upped quite a bit. This is the only really great thing I found that day, and I didn’t immediately think it was great but thought I’d get it since I hadn’t found anything else. It fit perfectly and was super comfortable, enough to wear to run or to play frisbee in or go to youth group or hang out or whatever. Versatility can make a pretty good piece of clothing absolutely essential in a wardrobe. The shirt was plain white, with a weird dragonfly/insect/man on it with flitting wings and a pretty phallic stinger right between his legs. What I found funny is that he’s saying “Feel the sting!” with gritted teeth and he’s finger wagging at you. Framing the insect-man were the words Rhea Central Super Jackets. Pretty simple, but I ended up wearing that shirt possibly more than any other in my wardrobe over the course of the next four to five years. Yikes. It was getting pretty gross by the end. But there are loads of cool pictures from high school with me in this shirt. More on why that’s important to me later.

The Benes #41 Cardinals Jersey Tee:

This was definitely the hardest to even think about parting with, so I didn’t. This one is the only one I kept, tucked away in an obscure corner of my dresser. I’m not sure exactly why I got so attached to this shirt. I purchased it years and years ago at a thrift store with Luke; I think it was the Salvation Army in Marion. This was the first jersey t-shirt I’d ever found and I immediately fell in love with it.

I was probably 15 years old, and the silliness and irony of a t-shirt made to look like a jersey suited the style I was looking for perfectly. I didn’t know who Benes was, as I was a Cardinals fan in name only and not in practice, but my oh my was I the biggest name-only Cardinal fan you’d ever meet. Around this same time I purchased my first Cardinals ball cap which was permanently attached to my head for the next few years. So just the mere fact that I had found a cheap Cardinals shirt endeared it to me. That it was a jersey tee made it a must-have. I wore this shirt probably not as much as the Rhea County tee, but this one was worn during some of the most indelible memories of my teenage years. Two of my absolutely favorite pictures of Colleen and me feature the Cardinals tee.

I love these pictures. These, and the Cardinals shirt, bring me back to the super fun first years of our relationship, and at an even more basic level, they bring me back to the fun years of being young. As uncomfortable, awkward, depressing, zitty, drama-filled, “whatever other miserable adjective you can think of” as teenage years are for everyone, they are so much fun. Those are the years you really begin to figure out who you are, what your identity is. You start learning how you relate to the opposite sex, what sorts of things you find funny, what things you really enjoy doing, what kinds of music you like to listen to. I really enjoyed my teenage years, and occasionally being reminded of them is fun.

The Cardinals shirt was with me through some of the most important days of those years, and I just didn’t want to get rid of that one. So I kept it. It’s odd, maybe this is just me trying to wax philisophical about getting a little older, our culture, or whatever, but I feel like my generation (and even less so the ones coming after us) have fewer and fewer relics or mementos from their childhood. I think we all have toys we played with or books we read, but it’s so rare to actually still have the items that define our realities as young kids. Every time Colleen and I visit my family in Kansas City, I love looking through the bookshelf down in the basement that has the huge collection of completely random books that Mom and Dad had collected over the years. For some reason, those flimsy paperback books about Sesame Street characters still resonate with me and bring to me this overwhelming nostalgia. And I feel like the older I get, the less I have keepsakes like that. Fifty years from now, no grandparent is going to show their Facebook account to their grandkid and say “When I was your age this is what we spent our time on, look how many friends I’ve amassed over the years!” How lame is that? It’s an old-fashioned ideal, but I want tangible items I can give my kids to touch and feel and smell and read and play with and wear.

So while it certainly doesn’t fit anymore though, I am saving the Cardinals shirt for my kids. Who knows whether or not we’ll raise Cardinals fans or if they will like dumb clothes like jersey shirts, but I would like it to be kept in a basement closet of some kind to be discovered by my child. It managed to catch the eye of a pretty young blonde girl a long time ago, who says it couldn’t happen again?

-Jon

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