Formula for an Awkward Conversation

  1. While checking out a customer, laugh at his email address because it is
  2. Notice too late that the domain is .edu
  3. Realize in horror that .edu addresses usually involve real names!
  4. Glance through customer profile and see that indeed “schmuck” is the nice man’s name.
  5. Change subject to the color of the customer’s shirt, while you pray that the ceiling caves in so you can stop thinking about what a SCHMUCK you are!

Nascar Carpool Mom

Drawing of Nikole in old time driving gogglesDear Mrs. Hale,

Can you explain the following quote to me?

“Wow, Dad. Your speed is a lot different than Mom’s.” Your daughter Claire uttered this quote as I drove down sleepy Farnam Street. Another of your daughters stuck up for me, saying, “Lighten up, Claire! He’s going the speed limit.”

Here is another quote I enjoyed: “Dad, why are you driving so slow? Mom would floor it and then screech to a stop in front of Isaac’s house.” Note to my readers: this exciting depiction describes the first forward motion of the car, and it takes place in a 50-foot trip down our gravel alley.

Finally, as I rolled serenely to a stop in front of the high school, Claire said, “Dad, that took you six minutes! Mom gets us here in four.”

Why do I share this story?

I think you should know there is a menace on the road. He drives the speed limit. Be careful you don’t rear-end him as he placidly drives down West Avenue.

I have the best wife ever… she bakes, she sews, she teaches. I just think a woman that amazing needs to be teased now and then.

Why I Am The Best Dad Ever

12 Reasons I am the best dad.

  1. I was not angry when three little girls woke me up way too early and invited me to breakfast with them. (Mother and teenagers are gone for the day.)
  2. painted-eggsI helped the little girls blow out eggs, so that later we might paint them for Easter decorations. Poking holes and blowing out the contents of an egg takes much more time than cracking the shell on the side of the pan. But I endured. After all, I am the best dad.
  3. I let the girls pour syrup on their scrambled eggs.
  4. I let the girls bring another girl child into my house for the day, because “it has been so long since we have had a play date.”
  5. I made cheese quesadillas. (Even though an evil doctor has prohibited me from eating cheese, I will make you cheese filled delicacies and watch you eat them.)
  6. After lunch, I taught a session on drawing the human face in profile.

    Four pencil drawings of a girl's profiles

    A spectrum or illustration stretching from youngest to oldest student (except for the instructor’s example on the left). Claire wants me to tell you that the drawing on the right is by 10-year-old Ruthie.

  7. Later, I let my Bethany realize her dream of teaching me how to make marbled paper using shaving cream and food coloring. Because there were four students in her class, I was obliged to donate my last can of shaving cream. I don’t mind growing a beard. Many good dads have beards.
    Girls making marbled paper

    Four girls wasting one man’s shaving cream

    Marbled Paper

    The fruits of our labor

  8. I could have started my homework. I could have worked out. But instead, I took the girls to the library. We checked out picture books.
  9. When we got home, I vowed I would get to my homework. But we had new books. I just had to try a few out to see if they were any good. We sat on the couch and read books.
  10. In the evening, Bethany and Lydia made “mailboxes.” A mailbox is a handmade envelope, taped to the wall. (I envision a 24 inch circle of plaster falling off the wall when those mailboxes are pulled down someday.) Into this mailbox a sibling might tuck little notes of appreciation. As soon as the mailboxes were hung, I was waylaid by Lydia. “Dad, how do you spell ‘best’?”
    “How to you spell ‘sister’?”
    “How do you spell ‘ever’?”
    “Thanks, Dad, now I’m going to draw a picture on this side.”
  11. When they had finally gone to bed, I had my chance to get to work. But, I was drawn to the mailboxes. I found scrap paper and made little cards. Of course a card needs a hand-drawn illustration on the cover. I wrote notes thanking my two youngest for the fun day. (I left out the part about keeping from my work and fitness goals.)
  12. It was 11pm. The day was done, but I set up my indoor bike trainer and readied some reading material. As I was about to mount my bike, my son came down the stairs and said, “Dad, did you forget you were going to come up and read to me?” No. Of course not. The book was very exciting. We had to read two chapters.

So here I am at midnight. I should give up and climb in bed. But, in stubbornness, I insist on doing one thing for me. I will write a blog post so that all my selfless acts today may be turned selfish and scream, check me out! Best dad ever.

I Forgive You

Portrait of Jack the Dog
A post by guest author, Jacko Nagurski

Reflections of a beautiful dog

Drawing of an angry dog

I know you don’t hate me because you are evil. You hate me because you have no other way of coping with my great beauty. You look at your reflection in the water dish and see a dogface. Then you look out the front window and see me walking by, and you feel rage. You see a dog whose lips hang down and cover his teeth, as is the fashion these days. You see hair that has the decency to grow around, rather than over, my eyes. Every morning, I climb out of bed ready for the cover of Field and Stream Magazine. While you… even after hours of expensive grooming, you could elude the dogcatcher indefinitely by laying next to a mop bucket. But your scrub brush appearance is not your fault any more than my super model body is my own doing. So, I will not judge you. I will not return your scorn, for I know it comes from a broken heart. But take heart, my friend. Someday in Dog Heaven, you will live for eternity with a perfect body — one like mine.

A Saturday With Wet Feet

The YMCA Frostbite Swim Meet

Drawing of ed on the edge of the pool with a stopwatch

Drawing of a nervous man. Is he holding a bucket and a piece of cake? Or a stopwatch and a clipboard? It depends on which of my kids you ask.

I volunteered to do timing at my kids’ swim meet this weekend. It was -2° outside. But after entering the Y in my Inuit costume, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt to brave the tropical pool room. I wish the kids could learn to swim without splashing. I’m like, “Hey kid. I’m giving up my Saturday to help out at your race and you thank me by launching eight ounces of pool water onto my foot? You’re lucky I brought a change of socks.”

Timing for the prestigious Frostbite Swim Meet is tense. I kept saying in my head things like, “Okay, this is a 200 meter race. That’s eight lengths. Okay, he’s on his sixth length, I think. Oh crud, my lane is in the lead! I can’t look at the other timers to see if they are getting ready to hit the stop button. Okay, okay, I will try to discern if he is setting up for a flip turn or a reach for the wall. I HOPE THIS TWERP DOES FLIP TURNS!” I needed muscle relaxants by the time my morning shift was over.

The Hale Family Christmas Letter 2015

Six Annoying Children, A Good Looking Man, and A Woman on the Edge

This summer, we drove to Colorado for a Hale family reunion. We picked up some old guy hitch-hiking just outside La Crosse, and he turned out to be my dad. He enjoyed a long, loud ride out west with his grandkids. After we got back home, we didn’t see him for a month.

The Hale family in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign

The Hales in Colorado, in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign.

Hale Family in front of Rocky Mountain National Park sign

There were a lot of Hales in Colorado this summer. And some Maedkes, Haases, Henrys and Wardens

Chicken Man

I realized a lifelong goal this summer, when I raised chickens from eggs. I told the kids the chickens would like us, if we were the first thing they saw after they hatched. They are grown now. They hate us…  and run when we approach.

Nikole holding a yellow chick

Nikole with one of my homegrown baby chicks before said chick understood he should hate humans.

Helen with several teen-aged chicks in her hands

Teen-aged chicks are not pretty. This was about the last time they thought we were okay.

The end of home school (for the big ones)

Home school was so lame, we decided to send our kids to a brick and mortar school. The kids were so distressed to leave home (except for sane Helen) that we feared they might have a cumulative nervous breakdown. But after three months at Aquinas Catholic Schools, they find they enjoy being socialized.

Four kids on the first day of school. Claire looks grumpy

Some members of the family were less than enthusiastic about going to school this year.


Lydia (5) is cute. She mostly lays on the dog and sucks her thumb. She will play the piano, when forced. She is home schooled. This year, Lydia learned to swim – like really swim with her face in the water and turning her head to the side to breathe. She also learned to ride a bike, which you can do anywhere, unlike swimming which requires a pool.

Lydia laying on Jack the dog

This is the scene every day, at least once a day.


Bethany dressed as a witch

My photo curator, Claire, promises this is the best photo of Bethany from 2015

Bethany (7) is cute. She mostly does crafts and lays on the dog. She likes Barbies. She is home schooled. Bethany enjoys crying on the piano bench, just like her older siblings did. Bethany likes swimming on the swim team, and looks forward to the competitive meets.


Ruthie holding pumpkins

Ruthie purchasing two Halloween pumpkins when most kids are satisfied with one.

Ruthie (9) is cute. She mostly likes to read books. It is all she does. She mostly reads when she should be doing something else like clearing the table. She is in 4th grade at Blessed Sacrament School where she has fooled the teachers into thinking she is a good kid. We regularly get reports of her angelic behavior, hard work and attention to detail. At home, the mask comes off. Her countenance glazes over when we give her a directive. I am convinced that when she is told to do anything, her soul leaves her body and reads on the couch. If I say, “Ruthie, clear the table.” She looks off into the distance, moves toward the table as if to obey, then turns and joins her soul on the couch.


Edward in a cowboy hat looking serious

I told Edward, “Look serious off into the distance.” Nailed it.

Edward (12) is not cute. He mostly dribbles basketballs — in the house — when we have decent folks over. He also does tricks on his scooter (outside) and rides his bike. He can only do homework between the hours of 10pm and midnight. Edward is in the 7th grade at Aquinas Middle School. He also has fooled his teachers into thinking he is a good kid, to the point that he was named student of the month in November. Edward was recruited onto the middle school basketball team by a coach with very poor judgment. He dominates the floor the way Michael Phelps might dominate Kobe Bryant. Yeah, he plays like his dad. Marble runs and Legos are still big with Edward. In nice weather, he rides with the middle school all-city mountain bike team. I would say he rides for the mountain bike team, but that would require his father to fill out forms, make deadlines and leave the house and drive places.


Claire at Riverside Park

One of the many trials Claire was forced to endure at her “real” school was the Homecoming dance.

Claire is 14 years old. She mostly swims. I mean she is really into it. She would miss parties, meals and family fun time, to go swim back and forth in a cold pool. She is sort of fast. She was the big holdout on going to an out-of-home school. Now she is the one rushing the others out the door to get to school on time. (For Claire, “on time” means 30 minutes early.) She enjoys gym class games that involve throwing balls at other kids’ heads. She nails the other kids in the head and looks innocent to avoid doing punitive push-ups. She shows no signs of success in high school. Claire gets good grades, but is only on the lame honor roll. She is not on the high honor roll, which vexes her greatly. She is on the all-academic team. Claire was also named Rookie of the Year on the high school swim team, and, she lettered in swimming. (We’re praying she adjusts to school.)

The Eldest Child

Helen at La Crosse Community Theater

The famous actress, Helen Hale, back when she was a nobody in the Missoula Children’s Theater.

Helen is 16 years old. She mostly does social. She acted in the Missoula Children’s Theater play this fall. She attended Christian camps this summer. She joined the Art Club and the Journalism Club at school. When she is not social, she is doing homework. She loves to read and draw. Helen is also a swimmer who won all her events at the prestigious Winona Invitational International Swimming Championships Preseason Opener. This summer, Helen water skied to please her mother. To the astonishment of everyone, she dropped a ski and slalom skied, just like her mom at 16.

The Matriarch

Nikole is beautiful. She mostly does family maintenance. She teaches elementary home school. She is constantly (no exaggeration) driving one of the kids somewhere. She somehow finds time to cook gourmet meals, because no one else in the family can cook, as they are too busy swimming and reading books. This summer, the formerly broken Nikole chose to tempt fate by water skiing again. Fate lost and Nikole won, returning to shore every time with nothing broken and all her joints in-place. Nikole just keeps getting fitter and fitter. She gets up early and goes to the Y to exercise with the other Catholic school parents. We all laugh at Nikole, because if any of us say, “I met a kid named such-n-such today.” She will say brightly, “Oh, I workout with his/her mom!” She works out with everyone’s mom. Nikole continues to be the glue that holds us all together.

Zellmanns, Rouxs and Hales by the Zellmann cabin

Some of the Zellmann clan at West MacDonald Lake. The lake that tried to break Nikole, but failed.


I am a pile of worthless. I mostly avoid work. Not when I go to work… then I work fairly steadily. But at all other times I try to stay far away from anything that might make me think, struggle or sweat. If not for dog walks and an occasional kid-taxi mission, I might never get out of bed. I help kids with homework. I would enjoy doing other things, like working-out with Catholic cyclists, but I am up too late doing my children’s homework. While my wife gets more chiseled, I get softer. My artist muscles are weakening too. I can barely draw a stick figure anymore.

The Dog

Jack running and looking crazy

I searched to find the most flattering photo of Jack.

Jack the dog is dopey. If Nikole is the glue that holds the family together, Jack is the Valium that holds my sanity together. Every morning when I want to roll over and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there to tell me how much he loves me and that I am the best thing that ever happened to him. He insists I take him on a long, morning walk. As we walk he goes on and on about how beautiful are the leaves, the trees and the sky. His favorite verse is “The heavens declare the glory of God.” He repeats it over and over again as we walk. Outside, I am forced to say positive things like “Good morning” to neighbors, and soon I may begin to think it is good. When I leave for work, my dog pretends to be sad. When I come home from work and am about to curl up on the floor and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there, telling me that his day was a black pit of despair without me there. He reminds me again, that I am the light that makes life worth living. He insists I take him on another long walk, during which he barks at children, little old ladies and anyone else who appears to be completely innocent. And when I go to bed, he tells me, “Dad, I love you, and I promise I will not go upstairs and sleep on one of the human kid’s beds.” He is a liar.

Jack the dog in the yard

Jack the dog looking fairly normal for a change.

As I proofread this, I thought, “All my friends are going to wonder why he hates everything and gets joy only from his dog.” Rest easy, my friends. My kids also do a fairly good “Welcome to the Morning” and “Welcome home from Work” greeting. And a kid who wants me to read a book can get me out of the fetal position. The Hope of Heaven also gives me great peace, as do Christmas movies, bicycles and my supermodel wife.

We hope you have a good year with kids less weird than ours, a house cleaner than ours, and a dog who sleeps in the dog-bed you bought him. Merry Christmas.

People Illustration

Many kids hugging a dog and each other with a bike in the background

My rushed, unaltered sketch of “people”

It was Thursday night at 11:58pm and I was about to scan and upload my “People” themed illustration to the web site, when my daughter came to me and said, “I have to do these math problems before tomorrow.” I turned away from my goals and my dreams and helped my daughter with her geometry. Someone was asleep at, because the word of the week was still “people” after mid-night, and I was able to rush my drawing into the ether.

Today, I did some of the shading I didn’t have time to do before uploading yesterday. Which do you think is better, the one above, or the one below?

Little kids with a dog. The figures are shaded with cross hatching

My people illustration with a little shading.

I Realized a Dream This Week

Me and Lydia and Jack paddling

I realized a tiny dream this past weekend…
I have a dog who will go paddling with me.

It all started many years ago when I saw this guy peacefully paddling his cedar strip canoe past my in-law’s cabin with his trusty golden retriever sitting calmly amidships. I thought, “I want that someday!”

I tried coaxing my father-in-law’s dog, Maddie, into a canoe, but she wasn’t into the whole paddling thing. She sort of blew it on the “sitting calmly” part of the dream.

I will never have the “cedar strip canoe” part of the dream, because I gave my stalled out wood strip canoe project away to my nephew, Josh. But I do own a pretty, baby blue, 17-foot Core Craft canoe. And I own a pretty, 75-pound, almost white, yellow lab. And on the first day of July, the two came together to fulfill my tiny dream on West MacDonald Lake.

How the Dream Took Shape

Lydia and I coaxed Jack into the canoe and cast off before he could change his mind. The ride was pretty exciting at first, as Jack walked from one side of the canoe to the other, threatening to tip us at any moment. Every half a minute paddling stopped and white knuckles grabbed the gunwales. (Be sure that even though I spell out “gunwales,” I pronounce it “gunnels” like any good sea captain would. This along with my use of, and correct spelling of, “amidships” must convince you that I am the real deal in the world of expert paddlers.) When we asked Jack to sit, he would flop all his weight against the side of the canoe as if it was a backrest, and we would travel along tipped at a scary angle.

After quite a while, he laid down right in the middle of the bottom of the canoe and we had smooth sailing. Toward the end he got a little whiny, I think because he missed his loving grandfather. Or he just longed to run and jump again with firm ground under his feet.

So, yippee for me! I have a dog who will go paddling with me when nobody else wants to. And who knows, maybe the sight of Jack and me exploring the lake together will inspire some other kid to buy a 50-year-old, used canoe and a two-year-old used dog and live out the dream.


At 9:30pm, Jack and I went for a moonlight paddle. We got to try out my new LED running lights and we marveled at how bright the world was under the almost full moon. And Jack laid still most of the time.

Very blurry photo of a man in a canoe with running lights and a full moon in the background

Photo by Marilyn Zellmann

jack watching from the dock as Nikole and me paddle away

“Hey, I thought I was your paddling buddy!”


Mary Kratzer Hale — A Eulogy

Mary was born in La Crosse at Saint Mary’s Hospital, which is mildly interesting because Saint Mary’s would later become Franciscan Skemp Medical Center.

Old photo of Jo Ann, Hazel and Mary Kratzer

Mary is on the right, with sister, Jo Ann and mother, Hazel.

Catholic School Girl

Mary Hale yearbook photo

Mary Kratzer’s Aquinas yearbook photo. This is probably a copyrighted image and I am going to be in deep trouble. But isn’t my mom cute?

Mary went to Catholic school, first Saint Mary’s elementary and then Aquinas High School. Mary remained lifelong friends with her classmates, Kathy Flanagan, Mick Wilder and Sally Renstrom.

At Aquinas High School, Mary roamed the halls with, but did not notice the good looking Edward Hale. During her senior year, she went to a dance with her friends Mick (Wilder) Klein and Joe Wilder. Joe’s best friend, Ed, asked Mary to dance and the rest was history. Shortly after they became an item, Ed joined the Air Force and was deployed to Larson Air Force Base in Moses Lake, Washington.

When Mary graduated from Aquinas, Ed came home on leave to see her. Mary must have been irresistible, because, shortly after Ed went back to Larson Air Force Base, Mary received a letter containing a marriage proposal. Mary sent back a letter accepting his proposal.

Mary, JoAnn, John Pintz, Hazel Franzen

Who wouldn’t try to marry that cute chick? I understand why my dad was afraid to approach her in-person, but had to propose by way of the U.S. Postal Service.

The next Christmas, Ed came home on leave and married her. A week later, she and Ed were on a train headed for Washington State.

Mary and Ed Hale wedding photo

Mary and Ed Hale wedding, 1952 at Saint Mary’s Church.

A Family is Born

In hot, dusty Ephrata, Washington, Mom gave birth to my sister, Joie and then my sister, Ruthie. They liked to tell us that Joie’s hospital bill was $7 and Ruthie’s birth cost $4 — so Ruthie was on sale. When our father was done with his service, they moved back to La‌Crosse. Mom gave birth to two more girls, Laurie and Mary. Finally, Mom gave birth to a boy, and the family was complete.

Mary Hale, in Ephrata, Washington, with baby Joie

Mary Hale with baby Joie… her favorite.

Our family life was characterized by togetherness. We didn’t have a lot of money, so togetherness was our only option. We piled on the couch to watch movies on T.V. We went on camping trips to Goose Island or Hatfield, Wisconsin. Sundays meant crowding in the T.V. room for a Packer game. And when the ref made a bad call, Mom was as loud as any man in the room as she registered her complaint.

When mom and dad threw a birthday party for one of us kids, there were no themes or party favors. Mom made spaghetti or goulash and had cake and ice cream. The guest list consisted of me and my sisters, my grandmother and whichever kid we were hanging out with that day. Now, that was a party. My family carries on the same tradition — on birthdays, we have cake and ice cream and Mom and Dad come over.

Laurie, Mom, Ruth, Heidi and Dad

Members of the typical Hale birthday party guest list: Laurie, Mom, Ruthie, Heidi the dog and Dad.


When we were growing up, Mom and Dad showed us that God was important to them. They took us to church every Sunday. Are any of you old enough to remember Saint Wenceslaus church? Our family attended St. Wence, then later The Cathedral. Even later, Mom and Dad attended right here at Holy Trinity. We kids are thankful for our Christian upbringing and we teach our kids about our faith too.

Mom was our dad’s straight man. She would often encourage Dad to tell stories about the funny things they had done together. Then she would laugh and laugh at his stories. Mom was Dad’s biggest fan.

Mom Supported Her Kids

I remember one night staying up late working on homework for an art class. Mom had to get up early the next morning to work at the bank, but she stayed up past midnight with me applying paper maché to some silly sculpture I was working on.

Later, I took up bike racing. I think My parents came to every bike race I did. I remember them cheering for me all over the race course. I have VHS tapes of me racing. But they only show half of me, because while Mom was filming me with a huge VHS camera, she was watching me with the other eye and yelling at me to go faster.

Mary Ed and son, Eddie at a bike race

My supportive mother at a bike race. Are not my parents beautiful, especially in contrast to their strange looking son?

The Golden Years

When Mom and Dad got rid of all us kids, they realized their lifelong dream of retiring in the south. Mom and dad would live the winter months in Brownsville, Texas and the summer months in La Crosse. During the winter, I would call Mom (not often enough) and she would regale me with stories of her and Dad’s social exploits. They were always going out to lunch with another couple, or visiting a museum, or going to an air force base, or touring into Mexico. They often went to South Padre Island and sat on the beach in good weather and bad. (I’ve seen photos of them sitting in lawn chairs on the beach bundled up in hooded sweatshirts.)

Mom and Dad in sweatshirts on South Padre Island

Mary and Ed on the beach on South Padre Island. Dad looks like a tourist. Mom looks like a secret agent scanning the surf for smugglers.

They liked to try different Catholic churches and would even attend services in Spanish, though neither of them spoke Spanish. (I remember my mother telling me once “We went to a restaurant called Casa Blānca.” I told her, “Mom, you gotta call it Casa Blanca when you are that close to Mexico.”)

When my sister Laurie and I took up country western line dancing, my mother was right there with us at the dances. I remember practicing dances with Mom and Laurie in Mom and Dad’s basement. After retirement, Mom began teaching line dancing to other retirees at their trailer park in Texas. And my Dad would dance too, so the little old ladies could follow his steps.

Mary and Ed Hale in matching line western shirts.

The most dedicated line dancing couples would buy matching shirts.

When Dad lost his hearing, Mom became his ears. And somehow she was also his interpreter. I could ask Dad something and he might look at me quizzically, not sure of what I said. Then Mom, without raising her voice, would repeat what I said, and Dad would catch every word and respond to the question. I guess after 60 years together, his ears were trained to hear her voice.

Mom and Dad arm in arm

Later, Mom always had hold of Dad’s arm to keep steady. He could not hear well and she could not walk well.

Mom and Dad were almost inseparable, especially after their kids were out of the house. They did everything together, from checking the post office box to going to the laundromat. Toward the end of her life, my mom’s body became unsteady. Then my parents were not just together, but they were hand-in-hand. It reminded me of how, when we were little kids, Mom and Dad would hug in the kitchen when Dad came home from work. I remember that consistent, reassuring image of Mom and Dad embracing — telling us kids that some things were solid and unchanging.

very young Hale kids

The very young Hale children who owe their existence to Mary Kratzer Hale

Thank you, Mom, for being a supportive, loving, steady part of our lives. From all of us kids, we love you.

The End

Except For Two More Pictures

Mary Hale and Helen Hale

My mother with my first daughter, Helen. That’s a cool grandma!

Mary and Ed Hale

I love how young and happy my mother looks in this photo (and that ‘stache on my dad is deserving of awe too.)

family photo circa 1975

My mother looking very cute in spite of the efforts of my four older sisters to drive her crazy.

Me and my mother

The author and his mother at Winona Lake Park in the summer of 2014