Today I turn 40 years old.

40 years before I was born Pearl Harbor hadn’t even happened yet. That’s a fact I can’t unlearn.

I’m one of the luckiest people on earth. I was raised by a fantastic family in an incredible community. I love that I was raised in a town where, to this day, I could knock on any one of a dozen front doors and be invited in for dinner, including just popping into grandma and grandpa’s where I’m guaranteed at least a sandwich. I am grateful for that.

You can pick your nose, and you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family, and I was born into a kind, loud, caring, loud, funny, loud, boisterous, loud, and loving family – immediate and extended. I don’t know what the actual term is for a cousin’s child is, because they’re all just nieces and nephews to me.

I’ve been very fortunate along the way to make some of the best friends I could ever want. Not a lot of people get to spend 14 years going to school with the same group of 20 or so, but I’m one of those lucky ones. I have even been lucky enough to have one particular friend hold a figurative mirror to up to my life and ask me if I like what I see at a time when I needed it. In college, whether through class, the gym, or bands, I made some great friends in the college town that became my second home town. I found the joy of writing, rehearsing and performing music there. I also met my brilliant, lovely, hilarious wife there.

She was adventurous enough to come with me, up-and-leave that college town; her home town, leave her job, sell her house, and move to the big Twin Cities in search of jobs that would provide the kinds of challenges we just couldn’t find in that college town. Together we bought, remodeled, and / or sold four houses, said goodbye to my old dog and her old cat, adopted a dog, fostered a bunch of dogs, adopted a couple of cats, provided hospice care for a couple of dogs, and generally lived a pretty good life.

I made countertops for too long. Then I made fighter jet and satellite and 4-wheeler engine parts. Then I made heart valves, then MRI-Guided Neurosurgical Lasers (and yes, it is as cool as it sounds), and now I make tools for cardiac surgeons. I also learned along the way that my job is just that, a job, and that it doesn’t define me.

I also fancied myself as an athlete. High school sports taught me the best way to compensate for being 5’8”, 145# was to hit the weight room and run extra sprints. Track taught me that there was a direct correlation; the harder I worked the faster I got. I also learned that I can make myself more uncomfortable than most for 2 laps. Marathons and GORUCK taught me that can be uncomfortable for 4-17 hours straight, and that typically you will pass out before you die. Crossfit taught me that life doesn’t get any easier, you just add more weight.

My 30s gave me a scare when I found out I had a congenital heart defect. Then I found out it required open-heart surgery to fix. That sounded uncomfortable, so I asked if we could just wait it out and was told, “If we don’t fix it you’ll be dead by age 50.”

So we fixed it. And it was uncomfortable. And I struggled with cognitive issues for years after. I thought I was going to lose my job because my brain just didn’t work the same.

But I recovered, and this whole process; heart defect-surgery-recovery, was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. It has given me the ability to connect to friends and family struggling with memory issues, stroke recovery, MS, and for some, their own open-heart operations, in a way that I could never have done without the gift that was my heart defect.

But I’m 40 now. Repaired heart-or-no, if I’m lucky, I’m half-way home. I’m excited to see what I can do with the time I’ve been given.

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“Need” is a strong word.

I know language evolves, it has to. It has to find a way to reflect the current condition of the world, the current usage.

But “need” is too strong, its use (or misuse) too pervasive and the impact of that misuse too great to slide by unaddressed.

You need shelter. You need to eat. You need to drink. You need to sleep.

Literally everything else is a choice.

You don’t NEED to go to the gym.

You don’t NEED to start eating better.

You don’t NEED to find a new job.

“Need” means you’re giving up your power to a force outside of yourself, that you’re capitulating to someone else’s will. Need is an external force acting on you and by saying “I need…” you’re allowing it to happen. You’re a spectator in your own life watching other people pull your strings like a marionette.

Instead of saying “I need,” put down the phone, shut your laptop and turn off your TV, stop for a second and ask yourself, “What do I want?”

Not, “What do advertisements tell me I should want?”

Not, “What do others want for me?” Or worse, “from me”?

What do you actually want?

Now write it down and go get it.

Real-talk, this is a TBD.

What I know is that I am committing to journaling daily for the next 5 years.

I’ve set a daily alarm at 9 pm to prompt me to write (which admittedly I snoozed 3 times tonight).

This was prompted at least in part by watching this video. Additionally, it’s a habit that I have admired in others.

I’m nervous and excited about beginning this practice.


This is just the starting point. There is far more to safely operating a motor vehicle than I’m going to cover.


Learning how to drive a manual transmission was a particularly unpleasant experience. My Dad taught me the same way his dad taught him, and before that was horses probably.

Tell me if any of this is familiar:

Dad drove me out to a gravel road, put me in the driver’s seat, showed me the pedals and told me to drive back home.

The car lurched and chugged.

The motor revved and I learned what burning clutch smells like.

I skipped 3rd gear and went straight into 5th.

I forgot that I only had 5 gears (not 6) tried to put it in reverse.

The motor died a lot.

That poor starter.

Dad yelled “Clutch!” a lot.

I said “I quit” and made him drive us home.

Dad tried his best to teach me to find the catch point, to work the clutch and gas together, and eventually, I did learn. In the end, he was successful, and I am grateful. In fact, now I love a manual transmission. It’s the best way to make slow cars feel fast.

Now that my nieces and nephews are of age to drive, it’s my turn to teach.


In the interest of brevity and clarity, I had to make a few assumptions.

  • You have a manual transmission car,
  • a person who wants to learn how to drive one,
  • a quiet place to drive with no traffic, and
  • you want to minimize emotional scarring while maximizing the life of your clutch.


Before you read any further, think of all the steps it takes to drive a manual transmission car. Extra credit: write them down on paper and compare notes at the end.

Here’s the process I used to teach my niece how to drive a manual transmission car. Here are the steps, with a brief description of each.

It’s the best wrong way I know and it’s far from perfect.

  1. Plan

    Before we went out for a driving lesson, I considered all the operating steps necessary to drive a manual transmission car and selected the smallest number that I thought made sense to teach in one sitting without me having to yell “CLUTCH!”;

    Start the car moving, shift from 1st gear to 2nd gear then stop.

    This was a lesson in process decomposition and a human’s ability to automate a task that has become routine. There are SO MANY steps that are automatic to me that I neglected to plan for. I underlined each “forgotten” step below.

    Note the ratio of underlined/forgotten to the rest. Now look the list of steps you wrote down. How many did you miss?

  2. Teach

    Once I had my lesson mentally planned out, it was time to teach.

    Here are the steps I taught her, and how I taught them.

    Again, note the number of underlined steps that I forgot to plan for and had to make up on the fly.

    1. Show “where” neutral is and what it feels like
    2. Show where “in-gear” is and what it feels like
    3. Introduce the “H-shape” of the transmission and show where 1st and 2nd gear are.
    4. Introduce the clutch
    5. Have her push the clutch and put the car in 1st gear, then neutral, then 2nd gear, then neutral, 1st, etc. etc.
    6. Introduce the emergency brake
    7. Set the e-brake
    8. Take the car out of gear
    9. Push the clutch down
    10. Turn the key
    11. Push the clutch in further so the sensor that checks that the clutch is pushed down all the way before the starter starts lets the starter start
    12. Turn the key to start the car
    13. Tell her about that sensor, and explain why the car wants to make sure the clutch is pushed in completely before letting you start the car so the starter doesn’t cause the car to lurch forward
    14. Push the clutch
    15. Put the car in 1st gear
    16. Introduce the “catch point” by letting out the clutch until you feel the car start to move
    17. Kill the car and remember the e-brake is still set
    18. Restart the car
    19. Release the e-brake so the car can move
    20. Push and hold the clutch
    21. Put the car in first gear
    22. Introduce the “catch point” by letting out the clutch until you feel the car start to move then push the clutch again
    23. Repeat 10 times to build a little muscle memory and let her get the “feel” of where that catch point is, and how to move the pedal around and find that catch point
    24. Put the car in neutral
    25. Have her hold the gas pedal at 1,000 RPMs, idle, hold 1500 RPMs, idle, hold 2000 RPMs, idle, back to 1000 RPMs, idle. Etc.
    26. Repeat 10 times to build a little muscle memory and let her get the “feel” feathering the gas pedal and get used to holding steady
    27. Now that she has a feel for the clutch and gas pedals, it’s time to move the car
    28. Push the and hold the clutch
    29. Put the car in 1st gear
    30. Hold the gas at 1,000 RPMs
    31. Let out the clutch until the car starts to move at the “catch point”
    32. Hold the clutch there until the car is moving
    33. Gently release the clutch
    34. Gently push the gas to accelerate
    35. Push the clutch
    36. Let off the gas
    37. Put the car in 2nd gear
    38. Gently release the clutch
    39. Gently push the gas to accelerate
    40. Push the clutch
    41. Let off the gas
    42. Put the car in neutral
    43. Press the brake to stop
    44. Repeat steps 27. through 43. 5 times
    45. On the 6th time, have her shift from 2nd to 3rd gear which in this case results in accidentally going into 5th gear, the car chugging, and me yelling “CLUTCH!”
      (and I swore I was better than that!)
    46. Switch seats and turn the car around so we’re heading toward home
    47. Repeat steps 27. through 43. Another 4 times
    48. Tell her that 1st gear is only ever necessary from a dead stop, and that if she’s rolling at all, there is no need to shift down to 1st gear
    49. Have her start one more time, and turn right back toward’s gramma’s house, keeping the car in 2nd gear
    50. Have her stop the car
    51. Ask her if she’s comfortable driving back to gramma’s and parking
    52. Listen when she says she no, switch seats again, give her a high-five for being an awesome student, and drive back to grammas.

That’s it!

Wrap up

I set out to teach the smallest little starting morsel of how to drive a manual transmission and ended up with a 52 step process and a far greater appreciation for everyone who has ever taught this to anyone else, especially my old man teaching me.

Note that I didn’t even have her turn the wheel until the very end. I realized there was so much that was new to her that I didn’t want her to have to worry about navigating anything other than a straight line at first. That was deliberate. I even turned the car around for her so we could head back home.

Was that overkill? Would she have been able to drive around a country block and get us home? Probably. But I wanted to this to be memorable for how easy it was, so I chose no turning the wheel until the very end, and even then only once.

At the end of the day, my niece learned how to start a manual transmission car and shift from 1st gear into 2nd, and she did great! Emotional scarring was minimal, and I think she may even be open to another driving lesson in the future.

You will end up somewhere.

You can either decide, plan, and act on that plan, or you can see where the world takes you.

The world may take you exactly where you want to go, but the odds of that aren’t very good. And once you got there, how would you know?

If you make a plan and execute it perfectly, you still might not end up exactly where you want to go, but you greatly improve your odds.

How to introduce a new dog into your home



This is the best wrong way I know. Before taking advice from the internet, get help from a professional animal behavior specialist.



It’s the holiday season and my feed is full of people welcoming new dogs into families. Some of these are adopted or rescue animals, which is awesome. Sprinkled throughout these posts and pictures though, are stories of unrest, of new dogs not meshing, not blending in seamlessly, which is not awesome.

Rather than spend another 20 minutes crafting a swype-o-laden post on another group chat somewhere, I thought I’d write this here instead.

I’m not a professional dog trainer. I’m just a guy who likes dogs and happens to have introduced a bunch of them to my animals in my house, so use your judgment. If you’re experiencing behaviors that you don’t feel like reading a blog post will help you fix, then find a dog trainer who specializes in whatever behavior you’re seeing.

There are professionals who can help…seek them out.

Your mileage may vary.

First, here is a little background with some assumptions sprinkled in


My wife and I have been fostering dogs through Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue since 2010. We’ve had about two dozen dogs stay with us anywhere from 2 hours to 2 years. Those dogs have ranged from puppies to elderly, and from stable to reactive. Thankfully we’ve always had support and training available to me from the rescue.


Every situation is different, and a post to cover all the potential variables could fill volumes. For brevity and clarity, I had to make a few assumptions.

  1. You understand that dogs are pack animals and, to be totally clear, they are not humans, so don’t treat them like humans.
  2. I can only speak to what I know, so I’m going to assume there are two adult humans, a single dog permanent dog, two permanent cats and no kids in the home.
  3. I’m also going to assume you’re adopting an adult dog who has a history that you know nothing about. That means that this dog might be rock-solid, good with kids, other dogs, and cats. Or it might not.
  4. What else….Both of those adult humans work full time which means that the dogs will be unattended for up to 10 hours a day.
  5. And finally, to reduce the use of ambiguous pronouns, your new dog’s name is Nelly (New Nelly) and your current dog’s name is Zeke (or Old Zeke) for the purposes of this conversation.

I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting, but like Wooderson says, “We’ll worry about that later.”

OK, Let’s Get Down to Brass Tacks

Here’s the process I use. Again, this works for me with most dogs. When I have an issue, more often than not it’s because I broke my own rules. Here are the steps, with a brief description of each below. It’s the best wrong way I know.

  1. Controlled introductions
  2. The new dog is always tethered to you
  3. Train your dog
  4. All good things in life come from you (but only after they’re earned)
  5. Control Food and Doors
  6. Exercise your dog
  7. Do the 2-Week Shut Down

Let’s expand on those a bit.

  • Controlled introductions

    Look back at those assumptions and remember that you don’t know anything about Nelly, so don’t take any chances. Few things scare me more than people introducing dogs nose-to-nose at the end of two leashes as they charge at each other, followed by one shoving it’s muzzle into the other one’s crotch and taking a good whiff.

    Old Zeke might be OK with that. Nelly might be OK with that. But they might not, and to me, it’s not worth the risk.

    So what do you do instead? Great question.

    A pack walk with one handler per dog is a great place to start for a couple of reasons.

    • First, it’s hard for either dog to obsess about anything when they’re both doing a job like taking a focused walk.
    • Second, they both know the other one is there, and they get to know each other’s smell just fine from a few feet away.

After a brief walk, bring Nelly to your fenced in yard (crap, Assumption number … whatever, “You have a fenced-in yard.”) then the house, but the whole time you are watching body language, both Nelly’s and Old Zeke’s, and she stays tethered to you the whole time, which brings me to point #2.

  • The new dog is always tethered to you

How’s that for a smooth transition?

I can hear the groaning….“Tethered? Like always? What is this, Russia for dogs?”

The short answer is, “Yes, any time Nelly is not crated, it’s literally tied to you at the hip.”
There is a method to the madness.

Left to their own devices, dogs can make terrible decisions. Tethering starts to build Nelly’s trust in you to make all the decisions so she doesn’t have to. And what better way to bond with her than forcing her to follow you literally everywhere?

What time is breakfast? Follow me.

What time do I go outside? Follow me.

You get the idea.

  • Train your dog

Sit. Stay. Release.

Train those three things least 3 times a day. Start with 2-5 minute training sessions and build to 10-15 minutes over time. 

Sit is pretty straightforward.

Stay is a pretty simple concept, but a controversial command, believe it or not. Some say “stay” is implied, until the next command. I use “stay.”

Release is what I use for “go ahead and do what you want to do!” Usually, there’s a pretty clear target like a food bowl, a doorway, or a toy. If you don’t like “release”, then pick a word that means the same thing, but isn’t part of your daily vocabulary.

  • All good things in life come from you (but only after they’re earned)

Of all the mistakes people make with new dogs, this one is the most often missed, and leads to the most unwanted behavior. Conversely, if you have a dog that has behavior issues, this way of correcting most of them.

“Nelly, want this bone?” I will give it to you, but only after you Sit, Stay, Release.

“Nelly, want to get a pat on the head?” I will pet you, but only after you Sit, Stay, Release.

“Nelly, want dinner?” I will let you eat, but only after you Sit, Stay, Release.

“Nelly, want to go outside?” I will let you out the door, but only after you Sit, Stay, Release.

The same goes for Old Zeke.

I can hear more groaning… “Zeke’s fine. It’s Nelly being that’s a pain!”

Yes, even Old Zeke has to follow the new rules. Dogs learn more than you can fathom by just watching. They don’t have words, so body language, facial expressions, and actions are how they get most of their information.

If there is one set of rules for Zeke, and another for Nelly, you will have problems.

No dog gets anything just for drawing breath. Everything must be earned.

  • Control Food and Doors

is is an extension of rule #4 applied to the two most critical areas of control; food and doors (and some high-value toys/treats).

With food, put it into the dog bowl on the counter. Have Nelly Sit and Stay, then set the food bowl down. Only after she gives you good eye contact do you command her to Release.

If she breaks, if she even looks down at the food, pick the food up with one hand and point to your nose with the other. (Remember what I said about dogs learning by actions? Pointing at your nose brings her attention to your face, rather than obsessing over the bowl of food.)

Then reset and try again. And again. And again and again and again, until she gets it. The first time doing this could take 20 minutes. Patience is a virtue.

With doors, have her Sit and Stay, then open the door. Only after you have walked through the door first, and then she gives you good eye contact do you command her to Release (or even better, “Heel” but that’s another post). If she breaks, close the door on her, reset, and try again.

This is an extreme exercise in patience, however, if you control food and doors with this level of discipline, many ancillary behavior issues tend to fix themselves.

  • Exercise your dog

Dogs need jobs. Training is good for their mind, but most breeds need physical work to do to take energy off. A walk is a good place to start, but an old friend put it to me this way.

“If you had to, you could get up at 6 am and walk straight through until 10 pm and never really be physically worn out. Uncomfortable, yes, but not exhausted.

And you only have two legs. Your dog has 4 legs. Do the math.”

A daily walk is a bare minimum for a dog. What constitutes a good walk is a whole other post (“heel” position, loose leash, focus on you, etc.) but in short, every dog needs to walk, and a lot of dogs need more than just a walk. They need to do actual work.

To take energy off of high-energy dogs, I use a doggy backpack with two 8-oz cans of tomato paste, depending on the dog. Start small with short walks and build from there.

Another fantastic tool to take energy off of a dog while enforcing training is a Flirt Pole. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Think Dog-Sized-Cat-Toy. It’s a stick (usually PVC Pipe) with a rope and a toy tied to the end. The one I use is 5 feet of PVC with 5 feet of rope and a toy at the end; You stand in the middle swinging the flirt pole back-and-forth, and the dog has to run 20 feet each time.

The same rules apply as for Food and Doors, use Sit, Stay, Release.

Start small (2-3 minutes tops) to avoid Nelly hurting herself, and build from there.

  • Do the 2-Week Shut Down

Nelly should be crated most of her waking hours. Come with me on this… (and again, tethered to you when not crated).

She doesn’t know you, Old Zeke, the cats, whether this place is safe, whether or not you’re mean.

Everything is new for her and that can be scary. Used properly, a crate can be a safe haven in a sea of brand-new-everything. Much like the partner-walk and the tethering, it gives Nelly a chance to learn about everyone, every animal and everything in the house, but do so in a totally safe place. Remember how I said that dogs tend to make bad decisions? The shut down makes it so they don’t have to make any decisions while they learn how this new place works.

Also, 2-weeks is a rule of thumb. Some dogs acclimate faster. Some have a lot of stress to shake and it takes longer.

Check out this handout from Marshmallow Foundation for more info.

Wrap up

It’s not a cure-all, and it’s not foolproof, but it works for me most of the time.

It is the best wrong way to introduce a new dog to your home.

If you like it, give it a like below. If it would help someone you know, please share it.