Today | One More Thing
by Tyler Sjostrom
My wife and I moved into our house in the weeks after we were married in 2016, and the backhanded praise from early visitors was always the same. “It’s so cute! What a great starter house! You’ll certainly get to know each other!” Each was a roundabout way of expressing the same truth: our house was (and is) small.
What we lacked in floor space, we more than made up for in creativity. For my wife, whose art teacher facade masks an interior decorator’s ambition, our house became her canvas. No nook or wall or corner was neglected. For five years, give or take a few baby swings, we were mostly happy with how things appeared.
But one day last fall, we made the decision to shuffle the entire plan of our first floor. With two young boys and space at a premium, the arrangement wasn’t working anymore. So, we moved our bedroom to the basement, granting our new son the largest room (despite my faint protest that I know way more words than he does). Our kids’ playroom became our central gathering space, pushing all activity-adjacent items into a separate room where our boys could roughhouse and make messes with abandon, and where we could still see them when we were in the kitchen. Once the rearrangement of our home was complete, my wife and I reflected over the revamped layout of our living quarters.
What took us so long to finally rearrange? Why didn’t we do it sooner? There’s so much more room now.
The rearrangement of our house coincided with a similar shuffling of the order in my own life: I finally made the hard call to cut alcohol out of my diet. For lack of a better explanation, the arrangement wasn’t working anymore. And while there were certainly challenges that accompanied the move–any establishments looking for help curating a non-alcoholic drink list, I’m your huckleberry–it didn’t take long to see the parallels between the added space in our home and improved feng shui in my own mind.
Not only could I enjoy the better sightlines when the kids were playing; I also had more energy to throw myself into the fracas when the situation required a monster or grizzly bear. I was happier and more optimistic, and so was everyone else. Our home–not just the physical structure, but each person with a hand in making it such a soft spot to land–was receiving all the attention it deserved. My life, like my house, was making a better use of its space.
Looking over the months since the decision to go alcohol-free, the questions are largely the same as when we redecorated: what took me so long, why didn’t I do it sooner? It’s not uncommon for any of us to drag our feet in this regard, whether it’s leaving a job we hate, removing unhealthy people from our lives, or finally starting a project we’d planned years prior.
In the case of our house, it was realizing that we have limited space, and we’d be silly to see it go to waste. For me personally, it was finding that certain pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit anymore. In either circumstance, whether from my spacious living room or in my own head, the outlook is strangely similar.
There’s just so much more room now.
A Glut of Gizmos
by Tyler Sjostrom
I am going to talk about four kitchen gadgets, two that I made up, and two that you can actually purchase and leave virtually untouched until the oceans swallow us whole.
The Frankformer: Do you love hot dogs, but are repulsed by their appearance? The Frankformer takes the unappealing shape of a hot dog and turns it into a happy little person! Does this prove problematic when the happy little person is covered in ketchup and devoured? Probably!
The Eggsfoliator: With this simple tool, you can peel or zest hard-boiled eggs and remove dead skin from your feet! The only question is whether to keep this next to the sink or the toilet!
The Pickle Picker – You can now thwart the age-old frustration of removing pickles from a jar with this miniature grabber! And for all you weirdos, it might also be of use in an Inspector Gadget miniature diorama!
The Chicken Chunker – Do you miss when your mother used to cut up your chicken? By pressing the Chicken Chunker onto a large piece of bird, you can create many smaller chunks! It’s Chunktastic!
Were you able to separate the kitchen gizmos that do exist (but shouldn’t) from the ones that exist merely in my own crazed daydreams? Is the distance between the Eggsfoliator and Chicken Chunker – both fake, as of this writing – really that far from the actual, real-life product that anthropomorphizes a hot dog?
The simple fact that this would require a process of elimination illustrates a larger truth: we have reached a point of kitchen gadget saturation. Our wedding registries are full of useless trinkets, and our junk drawers are a maddening maze of plastic novelties that do one thing poorly. There is a box in my basement full of items related to cooking and eating corn on the cob, and I have no earthly idea how it got there. I own three different tools for mincing garlic, and they all suck and I’m exhausted.
Exhausted, and a little disappointed. If humanity can redirect rivers and colonize planets, aren’t we also capable of shaping our own hamburger patties? How is it that the same crazy uncle who believes a microchip can fit through the eye of a needle also cooks his bacon on an appliance that does literally nothing else? The fact is, dear friends, that kitchens are microcosms for our entire lives, and the arc of kitchen gadgetry bends toward laziness.
It seems impossible that the same culinary culture that gave rise to the food processor and KitchenAid stand mixer, both multi-functional miracles that transcend generations, would devolve into a parade of one-trick gimmicks and space-sucking contraptions seemingly earmarked for holiday regifting. For every Instant Pot or Air Fryer, a thousand fondue pots are shelved and forgotten.
And that, probably, is for the best. Maybe making fondue or lefse or s’mores is supposed to be messy and shouldn’t necessarily be simplified to the point where we mostly just press a button. A kitchen is a lab, not a magician’s hat.
The line is thin between convenience and laziness, or between an innovation and a gimmick. It’s possible, certainly, for a thing to be both. But if I must decide for the soul of my kitchen, then the gadgets will be kept to a minimum, a good knife will always be preferable to good marketing, and no hot dog will have a face.
Winter in Analog
by Tyler Sjostrom
First socks, then bread bags, then boots.
The various memories of my youth that seem impossible in hindsight, from nonexistent child-safety precautions in cars to the entire Milli Vanilli saga, are too numerous to count. But of all the tales I’ll tell my kids that defy easy explanation, the premise of putting bread bags in my snow boots promises to garner some skepticism from suspicious minds. I’ll likely struggle to come up with anything persuasive.
The summary will go something like this: there was a time, let’s say 30 years ago, when snow boots were constructed of foam-rubber and Velcro, with nothing but dandelion fronds for stuffing. They were so poorly made, in fact, that these boots did next to nothing to keep our socks dry during recess, leading the moms of the world to deduce that bread bags could protect their kids from collective trench foot. Back then, you see, we were cheap and resourceful in equal measure. We also apparently ate a lot of bread.
And so began the recess ritual wherein the noble bread bag was called up to active duty, its lone mission to shield our little piggies from the elements. Did it work? Not really. Would it have been easier to just purchase higher-quality boots? Probably. However, ours was a household that kept a Folgers can under the sink solely for the collection of bacon grease; if bread bags hadn’t made their way to our feet, Mom might’ve fashioned them into a quilt or something.
Once outside, the activities were no less rudimentary:
- Build a large snow hill, and everyone takes turns throwing a temporary overlord from his or her perch atop its peak. Continue in this manner until someone cries or the bell rings, whichever comes first.
- Hand someone a football, then chase that person as a group and tackle them violently. This game is known by multiple names, none of which can be said out loud in any company.
- Bury your younger brother in the snow, go inside where it’s warm, make some cocoa, and forget about him until your mom says, “Where is your brother?”
It might be obvious at this point that, having grown up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the nostalgia for my own youth is unceasing. Yet, it’s during the coldest days of winter when that nostalgic itch is scratched in real time, since so many stimuli are both viscerally felt and so easily shared. You don’t need directions for this one: gather your friends, put on heavy clothes, go outside, and get cold, then come inside and warm up. I’m even nostalgic for my playmates mocking the bread bags in my boots. The only difference now is that my frequent playmates weigh about 50 pounds combined.
There have certainly been advances in the approach to outdoor winter activity – snow boots, thankfully, seem to have figured out insulation during the Clinton administration – but the fundamentals don’t change from year to year, or even generation to generation. What I loved about playing with my dad and siblings still holds true today. Hopefully my kids will fondly remember playing with their dad, just as I fondly recall roughhousing with my own.
If this happens, it will be in part because, all these years later, winter steadfastly resists the urge to change with the times. Snow will always be cold, cocoa will always be warm, there will always be another king of the mountain waiting in the wings. And when it comes to snow-set memories, unlike with bread bags and bacon grease, I plan to hold onto them as long as possible.
Christmas, Don’t Be Late
by Tyler Sjostrom
I think that every Christmas, when you look back on it, has a theme. In my personal history, they certainly do.
There was the Christmas of the Sega Genesis in 1991, when my brothers and I hurled controllers at the TV screen for seven blissful days in a row. There were the twin “Home Alone” Christmases of 1990 and 1992, when every living person learned about the Castle Doctrine from a prepubescent psychopath. And who could forget my own family’s “Home Alone” Christmas in 2004, which had nothing to do with the movies mentioned above. Instead, it was the year my parents were gone for the holidays and my brothers and I put holes in all the walls. Simpler times, every single one.
And then – cue the theme from “Jaws” – we had last Christmas. There’s a lot I’ll remember about Covid Christmas 2020, and like most among us who spend 11 months lying in wait for that first fateful whiff of peppermint, very little of it rings as positive. But, like most of you, I tried to take it with a smile.
I tried to smile when my very favorite event, the Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade, was canceled. I remember saying, “You know, they should just send Santa around town on a flatbed every year!” A creative alternative, sure, but patently dishonest on my part.
I forced a look-on-the-bright-side when my 7-months-pregnant wife came down with COVID on Dec. 21, even as her chin quivered at the knowledge that this meant she wouldn’t see her family as they celebrated two miles away. “It’ll be great, honey,” I lied. “Just us in our pajamas!” And then I snuck away to hide a few chin quivers of my own, knowing no one loves Christmas more than she does.
Through all the various drawbacks we all endured last winter – the cancellation of most parties, the erasure of school and church Christmas programs, the passing of Alex Trebek – we kept a stiff upper lip knowing that this year would be better. And then … well, this year certainly happened, which is about the best thing we can say about it.
As a population, we’re every bit as divided as ever, albeit for more creative reasons. The promise of a COVID-free present and future has gone as-yet unfulfilled. And for anyone who hoped that this would be the year that the Brewers finally broke through in the playoffs, I regret to inform you that your bingo card shall live to fight through another autumn.
But even though 2021 hasn’t vanquished the almost farcical badness of 2020, I’m probably more excited for this Christmas than I can ever remember. Shows are back on at the PAC, schools, churches and elsewhere. The parade is returning this year, thank Santa. And if you’re a fan of Christmas music – which I fully, unabashedly am – a quick perusal of Spotify makes clear that many musicians spent quarantine dreaming of sugar plums just like you and me.
All of these, ultimately, are superficial concerns. Look a little closer, though, and I think we’ll see a populace that is more appreciative of the things we lost or sacrificed in the worst year on record and are all too happy to welcome them back.
I can’t wait to see family for the holidays, and not just through a window. I can’t wait to have my son see Santa, and not just on a lonely street corner for a split second. I can’t wait to see my wife’s chin quiver for what we’ve gained rather than what we’ve missed.
And on this Christmas, even if it’s not perfect, I hope the same for you.
The Tale of the One-Leg Viking
by Tyler Sjostrom
Like a lot of kids my age in our North Dakota region near the Canadian border, I’ll never forget the first time I saw Seth Nieman.
And this is because, even in fifth grade, he was an actual man among boys. When he ran in my direction during a basketball game, it was like dropping a soda machine (or a pop machine, in the parlance of my state) right on top of me. He was huge. Not fat. Not fluffy. Just huge. A North Dakota farm boy at his finest.
This is what I’d tell him every time I saw him over the dozen or so years when we kept in touch. Because his body wasn’t the only thing that was big; this guy went for it, all the time. In high school football, he was an all-stater on a team that made the state championship. After that, he went to West Point and played for the Army football team. And then, after being deployed to Afghanistan, he was the baddest of them all.
Full story: Seth lost his one of his legs in combat. He nonchalantly refers to this as “when I was blown up.” He seriously explains this with all the gravity of telling you about when he watered his hydrangeas. But this isn’t the fullest portion of his story, even by his own telling, so we won’t beat that drum here. But I will say, when I heard, “Seth was blown up and lost a leg,” all I could think was, if he makes it through this, he’s going to be twice the badass because of it.
And he is. Not directly because of his combat, but probably not without what made him such a badass in the first place. He’s got a terrific beard. His two kids were born at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. But much like Seth himself, we’re not here to discuss the past. Seth, the one-legged Viking, has stuff to do.
As an Army Special Forces officer, it wasn’t uncommon for Seth to work to exhaustion in the service of our country. Now, as a representative of fishing outfitters such as Dobyns Rods and Hobie Boats, he pours the same enormous effort into tournament fishing. He’s taken live fire and jumped from airplanes; now he fishes every bit as hard as he once engaged the Taliban.
In time, he would like to get into lure production and create his own fishing app. And, of course, to get his “One-Leg Viking” endeavor in front of as many eyes as possible. In fact, he’s even producing merchandise such as t-shirts and coffee mugs, which can be found on ChummyVet.com. Most recently, he was named rifles project manager for Beretta USA, which he describes as his first corporate job.
Meantime, he continues to seek out Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) tournaments wherever he can, specifically targeting smallmouth bass, which he describes as “the perfect killing machine.” After all he’s experienced – losing a leg in combat, playing football at West Point, supporting the various needs of over 4,400 cadets – he’s happiest when he’s fishing, hunting, or doing otherwise manly things. You’d think his goals would be outrageous, but he really just wants to catch a bass in all 48 continental United States.
If I know the One-Leg Viking like I think I do, those bass don’t stand a chance.
To learn more about Seth, checkout OneLegVikingFishing.com, or visit ChummyVet.com to purchase merchandise.