On the occasion of my 42nd birthday, I thought I might reflect slightly on the last 40 years. Specifically, what I was doing on my birthday at 42, 32, and 22, 12, and 2.  Those years have been transition years.  At two, it was waiting for the arrival of Mark (due in September).  At 12, it was the transition from kid to teenager, the end of grade school, the beginning middle school, and somewhere in the near future puberty.  At 22 it was dealing with mononucleosis, senioritis, and deciding on life trajectories (job? Grad school? Med School?).  At 32, I was once again contemplating life changes as I was deciding if I should quit my job and go back to school.  At 42, I also find myself at the transitional crossroads.  It seems that every 10 years major transitional events occur.  Or maybe it is incidental, and that those events occur all the time and it is just that having a birthday makes me think about it.

Me as a toddler.

I don’t remember much about being two.  I assume from stories I was an active, rambunctious child.  I’m pretty sure I did many terrible two things that are being returned to me through karmic transference in the form of Katie.  I certainly don’t mind, as I’m sure my parents didn’t, because of how much I love her.  While not on my birthday, two was also the year Mark was born and I transitioned from only child, most beloved, to a big brother, sharing equally in my parents love.  I’m betting I struggled.  Without the introspective tools or perspective of an adult, that kind of life change was certain to be difficult and disruptive.

At 12, I remember more.  I remember reading competitions and creative writing.  I remember being challenged and pushed in my ACCESS (advanced language arts) class (Mrs. Cummings class – she was the best).  I also remember being bored and unchallenged by the rest of school.  I remember not caring about being organized.  I also remember paying the price for that disorganization, with the public humiliation of having my desk dumped on the floor in front of the whole class.  I remember that girls were on the horizon, in both literal and figurative sense.  Figuratively, as puberty was just initiating and changing my preteen brain into a hormone factory teenage brain.  Literally, as Beth was about be born (in October) rounding out our family at six.  It was a year in which I would transition from grade school to junior high (complete with 9th graders who could grow mustaches and drive).  Twelve was the year I learned I could hit the snot out of baseball (even the curve).  Twelve was when I discovered that sunglasses make you cool.  (it would take me much longer to realize that I was not cool, and even longer to be OK with that).

This is me at 12. And I am cool. You can tell because of the sunglasses. Sunglasses with a tie, sunglasses as one of the three wisemen, sunglasses in an outfit I got on my 12th birthday. I loved everything about those pants. Jamz were my jams.

Me at 22

Twenty two was tumultuous.  The highest highs, tempered by lowest lows.  I had decided that I want to go to grad school and pursue my MS in biology.  I’d applied all over the country, thinking about places that I wanted to go and fish that I wanted to study.  A growing spirit of wanderlust had taken hold of my soul.  I was ready to see the world, to seek my fortune.  Twenty-two was also when I learned that sometimes life and your own body will conspire against you.  I got senioritis first.  The paralysis and lack of motivation that comes from knowing that you have to push hard to reach the next life transition, but not wanting to leave the fun, safety, and limited consequences of college life.  Then I got mono, and a philosophical malaise turned into a physiological one.  Then I really had to push hard to catch up with my classes.  Then just as I was back on my game and life returned to the baseline awesomeness of college senior year, graduation loomed.  Then in the looming graduation, my dad got sick.  He was in the hospital for my graduation.  I thought for a while I was going to lose my dad.  He recovered, but slowly.  That window to revel the unfettered of no classes, no responsibility, and graduation money never opened.  I went home and threw myself at the transition.  I started classes, looking for apartments.  Then life delivered another abrupt fastball to the head.  My brain revolted, deciding that rather than function its normal high level, it would bleed and seize and render me incapacitated for some period of time.  It required brain surgery to fix.  While not new to brain surgery, it was worse at 22 than 14.  At 22 you understand more things, the world has become larger and possibilities abound.  At 22, I was a freshly minted scientist.  I’d also spent 3 summers working with doctors in the department of neurosurgery.  So the outcomes and consequences real and I knew them.  But I survived; in fact, I had very little in the way of lingering effects.  Which was good, because a few months later I started grad school.  Twenty two would seem like a bad year, but ultimately it wasn’t.  I did graduate.  I survived brain surgery. My dad survived and recovered.  I went to grad school, which led to my trips to the Amazon and set me on my career trajectory.  All in all, it is part of me.  Things occurred that I could have done without (Dad’s illness, mono, brain surgery), but the end result put me where I am.  A replay might send my universe in a different direction.

Advance another 10 years.  I am now 32.  I finished my MS degree a few years ago and am working in a job I really like and that is in my field.  However, I felt stifled.  I get to work on a lot of different projects, but they are not my own.  My opinion is valued, but I can do little to advance.  Those effort I did make to advance did not bear fruit. So I’m going to make a big change. I’m going to go back to school. To get a PhD.  I am 32.  This was the year of the Great Berninger diaspora.  I had decided to take a graduate appointment at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  Mark, feeling many of the same limitations, decided to move on to a job in Chicago.  Beth was away for her second year of college in Louisville.  That year we went to the beach as a family, had a great vacation, and when we returned we departed.  We moved Mark to Chicago, then I loaded Beth up and took her to college, then I loaded up and moved to Waco.  There wasn’t much traumatic about 32. It was time to make a move and I did.

Yep, I am a 32 year old “adult” in these picture.

Cut to 10 years later, a wife, a child, a PhD, a career type job.  But no real roots.  I am a science nomad, going where the career path lead – St. Louis, Oxford, Houston, Cincinnati, Waco, Duluth, and now Columbia.  Every 3-4 years I’ve moved.  Now moving is much more complicated and consequential, as I uproot three lives instead of just one.  But yet that transitional urge is strong and growing.  I don’t think Columbia is my forever home, and as such I’m loathe to put down real roots.  It might happen despite my contrarian thinking, but for now I seek the next transition.

Me at 42 (well night quite, these were taken before my birthday this year)

For now I can just set goals and work towards them, and thus progress.  I wrote down a number of things I wanted to accomplish before 42 and for the most part, I’ve completed or made good progress on most of them.  The birthday is also a time to look beyond the short-term, toward what the long-term goals are.  I’m written most of them down in GOGOBEAR.  In the next few weeks, my goal is to start going through that planning and make sure it is up-to-date with my accomplishments and current thinking.  It doesn’t track to seek a goal you’ve already accomplished or one that your know already is foolhardy or impossible.  Many of those goals have changed with the political climate, as has my level of engagement.

At the end, my 42nd birthday will pass like so many other days, quietly and without fanfare.  I’ll eat a steak, tuck my daughter in to bed, kiss my wife goodnight, and wake up another day older.  But I will progress and find the point of transition for this year. It may not come on this day but it will arrive, like the slow steady march of time, I will proceed – progressing ever forward.


Posted in catharsis, Do Good., Fatherhood, Mission Statement, Writing | 2 Comments

Phone Home

A little more than a month ago, Sara lost her phone.  We were on a plane to Houston, on our way to San Diego to celebrate the wedding of Mark and Taylor.  We didn’t know where we had lost it.  It was lost in the hubbub of travel with a toddler and a car seat and all the various other electronic devices (phones, kindles, cameras, extra phones that can play movies).  We had gotten up at 330 AM to make our 520 flight.  Somewhere in the process of going through security, waiting to board, boarding, deplaning, finding some snacks in Houston, getting back in line for boarding, and re-boarding we phone was missing.  It could have been many places.   When we finally figured it out, we were already seat-belted in and ready to take off for San Diego.  Our previous plane was being re-routed to another location.  We called our flight attendant, who informed us there was nothing she could do.  When we landed, we talked to the baggage people on the ground and they were more helpful.  They said you could call the local Southwest folks (in Houston) to see if anything had been turned in.  I also called the 800 number and the very nice person there directed me to an online form I could fill out on Southwest’s website.  We called the number for Houston and it was, of course not working.  I filled out the form.  Then we gave up hope and had a great time at the wedding.  I also called and filled out the online form for Houston airport lost and found.  The reports went through and we got responses, but both were negative, our phone was still missing.

The missing phone with unique case and weird pink marble dingledongle thing (that helps you hold the wider iPhone 7plus).


On the way home, we stopped at the lost baggage office in St. Louis to check there just in case it had been found.  They were very helpful and explained the process to us.  They said if you phone is found it first is held locally, and then sent to a warehouse of lost items (I imagine something from Raiders of the Lost Ark – only with phones instead of archaeological treasures).  They suggested that we send in a second lost item report, just in case.  So we did.  And we went home.  We were lucky in that we still had Sara’s old phone so that we could turn it on and Sara would have a phone.  Eventually both reports sent replies saying it had been 7 days and the item was not found, they would keep the report on file, but we shouldn’t expect much (that last part was added by me).  This sucked.  We were out the cost of the phone, which of course according to Verizon we would have to keep paying for despite the fact that it was, in fact, gone.  We looked into an insurance claim, but our deductible was high enough that if they gave us depreciated value replacement it was better to not even report it.  So it was a loss.  And lessons learned. Make sure you pay for the insurance on your phone and don’t put things in the seat-back pockets of airplanes (or maybe avoid traveling with a toddler).

Then, last Monday (3/13), out of the blue, an email.  They had found my lost item.  If I would follow this link to verify the item and pay for shipping, they would send it back.  I was so ecstatic I followed the directions immediately and payed the $25 for overnight shipping.  I told Sara the good news and got a confirmation email back about my shipping payment.

Then nothing.

I was waiting for the shipping information and it didn’t arrive.  I checked my inbox, my spam, everyplace.  No additional information.  I woke up in the middle of the night, convinced I had been scammed.  I had been so excited about the potential recover I hadn’t taken the time to match up the report number or verify that this was a real thing.  So I checked.  My bank account was charged the $25 for shipping but no other charges (and who goes to that much effort to steal $25).  I looked at the code, at first it didn’t match, and I got worried.  Then I realized it was the second report, not the first that had linked to the phones recovery.  So less worried, I went to bed, assuming that the shipping notification would arrive forthwith.  But it didn’t.

A week passed.

And nothing.

Then yesterday – a shipping notification.  Lost item (our phone) would arrive tomorrow before 10AM.  Now came a bit more fretting.  What if it isn’t Sara’s phone, what if it is broken.

But it arrived.  And once it was charged it turned on.  And was unharmed by the journey.  Now we just have to get the phone turned back on.  What a relief.  Playing monthly for an iPhone 7Plus that you don’t have would have sucked.  Paying for a new one would have also sucked.  Losing the countless pictures of Katie and other memories and personal information stored on the phone would have also sucked.  But now, it is all good.

Find my phone finally finds Sara’s missing phone at our house after it was returned from Southwest and shipped back, plugged in, and connected to wifi.

Take Home Lessons.

Fly Southwest – everyone we talked to was empathetic and did their best to help us, plus they actually found and returned our lost phone.

Don’t put things in the seat-back pocket on an airplane

Probably should get insurance on your phone

A unique case (otterbox synchrony navy blue with gold polka dots) that doesn’t come off easily is likely what helped our phone be found among the sea of iPhone7pluses in Black otterbox cases.


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Mark – the best man

A few weeks ago now my younger brother, Mark, got married to a wonderful woman.  I was lucky enough to be co-best man (with my brother Brian).  It was a terrific wedding and a beautiful setting along the coastal bluffs of San Diego.  I was tasked with giving a speech (as is common best-man practice).  To avoid the rambling idiot approach to best-men’s speeches, I wrote it down.  It was still a bit stilted, mostly because I couldn’t read my own hand writing (and I didn’t really practice it), but I think it got the message across.  I publish it here because this is my space, and I want a public record of how I feel about my brother.  Anyway… this is the speech as I wrote it down, with some light edits for clarity.  If you just want to see pictures of Mark, go to the end.  There are some fun ones of us growing up.  The pictures that look professional were all taken by Mark and Taylor’s wedding photographer (who was FANTASTIC!! https://hollyireland.smugmug.com/Weddings/Taylor-and-Mark/)

I’m going to tell a story that is a little bit against the code.  It is a story from Mark’s bachelor party.  During the trip we went kayaking in the bay near Key Largo.  So first I have to give you a bit of information.  Mark and I both love the outdoors and fishing.  We both have fishing kayaks and comparable amounts of gear.  However, where we differ is the amount of experience and level of expertise.  As in Mark is an expert and I am a novice.  So we went on this expedition which required a two mile paddle through an open bay (with waves) to Rodriguez Key (an uninhabited island on the Atlantic side that Mark thought might contain some good fishing).  We had rented some fantastic Hobie fishing kayaks with pedal drives (that don’t need to be paddled), but are very heavy.  Needless to say we had different experiences.  Mark caught fish, road waves, peddled easy, guiding our group.  I was initially miserable.  The pedals were too short, requiring me to put my leg to my chest while in an awkward seated position.  Mark eventually came over and showed me, again, how to adjust the pedals so that someone of my height an girth could use them with ease (I had initially ignored his instructions on the set up, thinking I knew what I was doing – which was not correct).  Fixing that problem I started to have a better time.  I got my fishing stuff out, I made the two mile trek across open water without incident.  Then of course, I fell out of the kayak trying to answer natures call, sinking my sandals into two feet of sandy muck.  But I recovered.  I fished to little avail. Then it was time to return.  The wind had picked up and the return trip was in a following sea.  Which for me meant that about a mile into my return trip I got unceremoniously dumped out of the kayak and into the open water of the bay.  So there I am.  In the water.  Floating.  Surrounded by all my stuff.  Kayak upside down.  No idea if other people saw me.  No idea how to get myself back into the boat.  In short order Brian and Matt had come over and were helping me retrieve my stuff.  But I was still floating and no one knew how to fix that problem.  Luckily Mark was soon there to help.  He helped us flip the kayak back over.  He then propped the back of my kayak onto his kayak and told me to pull myself onto the front, then move into the seating area.  With some verbal encouragement  and a steady hand on the back of the kayak, Mark helped me self-rescue. (an event described as medium sized walrus returning to a very narrow beach).

That is a long story to make a very short statement: Mark is there when you need him.

He was/is/will be there to lend a hand or an ear.  He flew to Houston to help me drive a u-haul with all my worldly possessions back 1200 miles back to Ohio.  We talked about those major life decisions.  Large leaps of faith, made easier knowing that Mark would be there.  My brother, my friend.  But that wasn’t always the case.  I have literally known Mark his entire life. I held him as a baby in my toddler arms.  I took pictures of him in his crib with a surreptitiously procured polaroid camera.  I cheered him and challenged him from near and far.  When we were younger, we shared many things, but mostly punches.  I would annoy him, he would annoy me, I would aggravate him, he would punch me, I would punch him back, harder.  It is the strange cycle of brotherhood.  Then one day that all changed.  In my parents front yard.  I was maybe 21 and Mark 19, both home from school for the summer.  We were killing time playing some basketball, which devolved into gorilla dunk basketball, which further devolved into us just throwing the ball at each other with tremendous force.  Which turned into a fistfight.  (one where hard and dangerous punches were thrown but few connected, and where my Dad, smartly unwilling to wade into the heavyweight bout contemplated turning the hose on us).  The fight was over almost as quickly as it had begun.  But that fight sparked an (r)evolution in our relationship.  Fighting was no longer an option, as it would result in massive physical damage to both of us without bringing us any resolution.  In that moment we went from boys to brothers.  A brother is the person who is always on your side, even when you disagree.  A brother is the one you want to share adventures with (like to the Amazon).  A brother is the one you call when the chips are down and decisions need to be made.  To every end, Mark is my brother.  The one I can count on, the one I can confide in.  This is, I’m sure the same man that Taylor sees, the man she has chosen for her spouse.  I wanted to tell this tale, to let those of you who don’t know Mark as well as I do, see a little insight into who he is.

He is the one I want with me when the wind picks up and the waves start to rise.


Posted in Family, kayak fishing, semi-aquatic, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ali Fresco – artist bear

Al Fresco is an artist bear
whose colors stain her bright white hair
She doesn’t mind the flecks of paint
Each fleck a thought however faint
She makes her art upon the walls
ideas made real with brushstroke falls
She paints all day, she paints all night
She wants to make it look just right
Each painting is unique it seems
and yet her paintings follow themes
Her art sometimes has rigid lines
While other work, chaos defines
An artist’s work reflects their life
And where they live, degree of strife
Ali does not like talking much
She likes to speaks through brushes touch
Sometimes the words are hard to find
But through the art she speaks her mind.

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Smokey and Snowball, my forty year friends

Another silly story about stuffed animals, who happen to be my oldest friends in the world, Smokey and Snowball

A mismatched pair
of grizzled old bears
Tell stories, tall and long
Of days gone by
Where adventure was nigh
With occasional breaks for a song

Smokey came first
Those days were the worst
Before old Snowball got here
But once he arrived
It wasn’t contrived
That both let out a huge cheer

From that moment hence
And every point since
They were an inseparable pair
Through 40 odd years
And laughter and tears
They were Smokey and Snowball the bears

Now they spin yarns
In homes and in barns
To anyone willing to listen
They tell of the past
And how it comes fast
As their eyes start to glisten

Of loss and of friends
And scars that won’t mend
Their stories roll out like a river
They meander and bend
But by the end
The moral will always deliver.

Seek love and not money
Adventure not fame
Be kind and be caring
And you won’t be the same
The journey and time
Will change you, it’s true
But known in your heart
Just what makes you you.

Smokey and Snowball are my oldest friends.  I have had them since I was a little boy.  They helped me through surgeries and the random crises of youth.  They were there when I was teen and a twenty something.  They were there as I went back to school and advanced my career in my thirties.  They were there for all the moves, thousands of miles.  They were there for heartbreak and misery.  They were there for moments of joyous exuberance.  A steady presence, reminding me that I was never alone.  Now they are old.  They are dusty from years on a shelf.  But that dust is magical.  Pull them off the shelf and give them a snuggle.  Poof.  A rush of positive neurochemicals immediately course through me.  It is more than nostalgia, for by-gone youth.  They are family.  They are the family that I can’t hug because they are too far away.  They remind me that the world is full of good things and full of good people who love me, even on the darkest days.  Through the years they have absorbed all manner of tears.  Tears that have crystalized into hope, and joy, and happiness, and love.  Absorbed for the days when I have none.  If there was a fire, they are the only objects I would save.  I have a cabinet full of trinkets, mementos, and nostalgic do-dads, the history of my life and travels.  It could all turn to dust.  My lego collection could melt to a single acrid pool of plastic.  As long as Smokey and Snowball are safe.  They are my personal talisman.  My connection to the world far away.  Connection to far-flung family and friends.  To emotions I can’t (or won’t) emote.  To words I cannot say. 

Grinny Frog, Brownie Bear, Baa’, Bob Beaver

This is something I want to pass on to Katie.  Her first gift from me, months before she was born, was a teddy bear (Brownie).  Before she was born I would find myself giving Brownie hugs, just to imbue him with some innate level of love.  I also recognize that this is ridiculous.  This isn’t Toy Story, inanimate objects do not have feelings or memories.  I also know that Kate will choose her own way to connect and remember.  It might be Brownie or it could be Toothpick or BlueBear, or even Grinny Frog.  Or it could be none of those things.  She will be her own person.  But just in case… she has Brownie.

Posted in Creativity, Fatherhood, nostalgia, Poetry on the Blog, Stuffy Stories, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Problems of a Rambling Mind

I find myself overwhelmed with problems.  Large and small.  In and out of my control. Manageable and unmanageable.  Simple and complex.  It overwhelms my traditional to-do list approach to problem solving.  Actually, that is not entirely true.  What happens is that the to-do lists get made and then large problems/issue loom and make the small problems seem insignificant and make accomplishing even small tasks seem frivolous without working to resolve the larger problems.  The larger problems/issues are so large that there is no way to resolve them as an individual.  Thus inaction.

Thus, I feel I have written and erased these very thoughts perhaps twenty or more times.  Like a cycle of events occur that overwhelm me, then I fret about it, then I think of ways to write myself out of it, then I write some things down, I re-read those things, realize how supercilious those things were, go back to trying to accomplish small things, realize small things sum to larger things, realize that my large changes don’t actually have any effect outside of my small sphere of influence, go back to being overwhelmed.

However, the nice thing about being introspective is that I am aware of the cycle, even as it is occurring.  I can break out.  Even my own activity-anxiety-inactivity cycles can be broken.  Moreover, introspection brings perspective.  These cycles do not really reoccur, they are just new cycles born of new events.  Sure, there is carry-over from unresolved things.  Sure, some things are beyond my direct control.  Nevertheless, I ride through it.  Roll the cycle forward, ever forward.  Progress.

Today I list.  List the problems big and small, short and tall.  List them so that I can see them.  List them so that they are out of my head.  List them so they no longer swirl, intermixed.  List them so that I can visualize the steps to complete/conquer them.  List them so I that I can prioritize.  List them so that I can plan further.  List them so that I can help articulate my issues to others without dumping on them a complex word salad of thoughts, emotions, ideas.  List them so that I can look back and laugh or cry or bemusedly smile at the thing that I thought in the past were hard to handle.

I’ve kept a notebook of lists forever.  I have them all.  I look back and see.  They are the progression of maturity and adulthood.  Of wonderful ideas, crazy thoughts.  Of childlike dreams. And sometimes lists of things I should pack for a trip.  But even that reminds me of the trip. Of the places I’ve been and the people.  That the world is a big place and I’ve much to explore.  That I have much that I want to share with those closest to me, especially Sara and Katie.

So thus, end the period of being overwhelmed.  Thus begins the period of making lists and finding ways to bring those lists to fruition.  Soon I will march on.  Some will be tiny victories won: at my work desk, others against the raging horde of wild onions growing in my yard.  Others will seem small but build into a momentum that can change the course of history (ok maybe a bit of hyperbole, but I can hope).

Also I noted that this is a ramble, conceived in the Rambler while drinking from a Rambler, and posted on The Ramble.  That is a lot of rambling.  Plus Sara’s high school mascot was the Rambler.  Which is an additional, but unconnected layer of rambling.  The end.before-42

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Christmas Early, Christmas Late, Christmas Right on Time

Christmas Early, Christmas Late, Christmas Right on Time
Our families are important things
and visit them we must.
Christmas early, Christmas late
Christmas thrice for us!

We arrange our schedules as best we can
between thanksgiving and the new year
Making time to travel and to gather
all whom we hold dear.

And when that time arrives each year
it’s time to prep the car.
For I know the time has come
to travel near and far.

Over the rivers and through the woods
is ever quaint in song.
To reach loved ones we must traverse
a road that over long

We pack and prep and wrap and fret,
the weather ever changing.
All the stuff we want to bring
requires rearranging.

These last few years our Christmas trek
have been an L of sorts
One leg we travel North to South
then East to West we cavort.

And even though we travel far,
the trip is always joyous.
For we know at journeys end
families love will buoy us

First travel north to Wisconsin
With snow cold, and white
Hand knit stockings hung and filled
All merry and bright

We dine with our families
And chat with old friends
And Bentleyville lights
That never seem to end.img_9497

Then we travel south to home
arrive at midnights chime
Only to head out eastbound
in a few weeks time

At home it’s Christmas early
For Sara, Kate, and me
We share our family presents
Piled under our own tree.

Then Cincinnati and my parent’s house
For our Christmas Day
With babies, parents, siblings, and spousesimg_9587
Aunts, uncles, cousins join the fray

We celebrate in joyful chaos,
that is loving and is kind
We stay up late to celebrate
Santa sure won’t mind.

Then comes Christmas morning
the wrapping paper flies
as jolly toddlers unwrap the things
that no money buys.

A few short days later
Our car packed to the gills
We are traveling home again
With our holiday fill

Long hours in the car
But we travel well
Happy to be home once more
with Christmas tales to tell

The next day Sara’s folks arrive
For our Christmas late
A few more terffic presents
And fun dinners on the plate

We had Christmas early
And late and on time.
With many joyous miles behind us
We end this rhyme.

Katie lines up her new toys – lots of wheels!

Opening presents is a fast moving operation!

Sara, Katie, Betsy, and Julie going into Christmas Mass



Posted in Christmas, Fatherhood, nostalgia, Poetry on the Blog, Writing | Leave a comment