Category Archives: 2017

A Little Merry

Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, the expectation is that we’re all to be jolly and merry and joyful.  Some of that probably stems from the religious foundations of the holidays, but much of it comes from the giving and singing and the family traditions we observe.

I found that my sense of Christmas changed the year my dad died.  He passed away on the 15th of December after a very brief illness.  Consequently, his illness, death, and funeral bumped up against Christmas and New Years without much time to absorb what had happened.

To be honest, it could have been the loss of any of our family members.  The fact was that what had always been the same (albeit, growing) cast of characters had now been reduced by one very important player.  Even though I was in my 30s, it was one of my first confrontation with the truth of life’s changes.

Come to find out, the absence of change is the oddity.  To go for years with things being fine is a gift, and I know I didn’t appreciate it, or my father, enough.

A few years later I submitted my first column to the Cambridge News.  It addressed the idea of how life can change quickly, and how Christmas, in particular, is a time when you really feel the changes.

I talked about the song, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and how I hadn’t ever really listened to it before my dad died, and about how the line that goes: “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow…” really gets right to the point of valuing our time together.

More than 20 years have passed since that column.  We’ve lost family members and added some, and while Christmas will never be the same as it was before that December of 1990, it is better in some ways.  The tenuous nature of life has been exposed, and my gratitude for those special days with my family are like gold now.  I’m grateful for each minute.

For what it’s worth, the joy I feel at Christmas has become bittersweet over the years, and there is some pain with the happiness. I don’t think it could be any other way.  It isn’t even a bad thing, really.

It is my hope that your holiday celebrations are joyful, and that the memories you have about the people who are no longer with you are happy ones.  Maybe even a little merry.

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Personal Dictionary

When we’re very little there are a lot of things we can’t do.  As much as we’d like to drive a car or fly a rocket ship or be a cow-person, if you’re five years old, you can only pretend to do those things.  They aren’t age-appropriate.

As life speeds along, there comes a time when we, as individuals, start to realize that there are some activities and things we can probably take off our lists of likely activities.  Not because we’re not old enough, but because we’re too old, feel too old, or are not adventurous enough.

In that vein, here are a few words and phrases that I have eliminated from my personal dictionary of things I’ll ever again need to say:

1.      Bungee jump

2.      Speedo

3.      Rappel

4.      Double Axel

5.      Parachute

6.      Maserati

7.      Tri-athalon

8.      Nobel Prize

9.      Fist fight

10.   Helmet

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that people at any age can’t say the above words, or do the things they imply.  I’ve heard of 90-somethings running marathons, and President Bush 41 did a parachute jump when he was in his 80s, I think 

I’m saying that for me, figure skating or parachute jumping or driving a car 150 miles-per-hour isn’t something that’s likely to happen, and I’m okay with it.  And any activity that requires a helmet is, by definition, not for someone who values their head.

My last fist fight was in 8th grade, and was really more of a shoving match.  We were both hoping for an authority figure to stop us, which they did.

And wearing a Speedo… I don’t think any of us want to see that.

Have I given up?  Not at all.  Walking, bicycling, moderate running – these are all activities I hope I’ll enjoy for years to come.  Part of it is that as time goes on I think we redefine what “adventure” means to us.  It’s an adventure to keep up with a one-year-old grandchild, just as it is an adventure to clean the gutters this time of year.  It doesn’t compare to rappelling off of a cliff or bungee jumping, but there’s just enough potential of danger to give a tiny thrill.

Actually, aging itself takes a little courage.  Boldly facing the future with a smile – okay, and maybe a Speedo – is what separates the courageous from the cowardly.

I’m up to the challenge.  I’ll keep a helmet handy, just in case.

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50 Years Ago

Hey, remember 50 years ago?  You may remember, you may have read about it, or you may be delightfully unaware of what happened in 1967.  I was there, and unlike some survivors of the late 1960s, I wasn’t chemically impaired, so I remember a lot of it.

Thanks to the internet, we can all take a look back.

Guess who released their first record albums in 1967?  Nobody special; just The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and The Grateful Dead.  They were all destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Less notable, but with the best name, the Electric Prunes also released their first album, featuring a great song called, “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night.”  Very psychedelic. 

Little Billy Gates enrolled in the Lakeside School in Seattle at age 13.  It’s still there, and in fact a friend of mine worked there a few years ago.  He’s thrown a few dollars their way.

Ronald Reagan became governor of California in 1967, starting the transition from actor to politician.

Another famous American, Muhammad Ali, refused induction into the Army as a conscientious objector.  

It was also the year of racially charged riots in Detroit, and a protest in Washington D.C. by 100,000 anti-war activists.

Speaking of race, President Johnson successfully nominated Thurgood Marshall as the first black Supreme Court justice.

The Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations happened in 1967.  Who knew a war could take less than a week?

And, sadly, the Apollo One spacecraft caught fire, and three astronauts were killed.

South African Dr. Christiaan Barnard completed the first human to human heart transplant.  The recipient didn’t survive for very long, but his work was groundbreaking for today’s successful transplants.

Happily, the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the very first Super Bowl.

The Beatles released the iconic “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band” in 1967.  Back then the song “When I’m Sixty-Four” seemed unrelatable.  This month it becomes all too relatable to me.

Actually, things may not be so different now.  There may not be the same wave of great music, but there is good music.  And, we have civil and un-civil protests, medical breakthroughs, wars, racial tension, and a non-politician loudly in office.

Fifty years ago seems like forever, but looking backwards too much gives us stiff necks.  So, we move forward, “With a Little Help From Our Friends.”

 

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It Takes All Kinds…

My father had about a dozen phrases that he used often, to the point that it was easy not to hear them anymore.  One of those phrases is, “It takes all kinds to make a world.”

I don’t think my dad knew he was quoting Miguel de Cervantes’ 1615 story “Don Quixote.”  Translated from Spanish, Miguel wrote, “In the world there must surely be of all sorts.”

The modern world of social media proves Miguel and my dad’s point.  Take Facebook.  Please.  Some kinds of people are open to “friending” anyone, while others are more private.  Some people post things every day, and others nearly never.  Some people have photos mostly of themselves, while others focus on pictures of friends, family, and scenic views.

Tinder is an app that isn’t about dating so much as “hooking-up.”  A rise in STD’s has been associated with that app.  Not every kind of person would find Tinder to be appealing.

Snapchat allows people to send photographs that instantly disappear – except that they don’t.  (Snapchat was taken to court over that.)  The appeal, to some kinds of people, was to send a photo of naked body parts to someone else, without the risk if it “going viral.”

For other kinds, that isn’t an issue, so all sorts of pictures of body parts are sent via cell phones, and then, (despite pleas to “not share them with anyone!”) shared with everyone.

The “Tweeter in Chief” has made Twitter front and center in the news.  I have been told that Twitter has many valid uses, and I’m sure it does.  It also allows various kinds of people a vehicle to weigh in on everything, whether they know anything about the topic or not.

With Twitter, and also any blog or web site that accepts reader comments, the kinds of people who are hateful and hurtful and horrible can comment to their hearts’ delight – without having the courage to use their names.  Letters to the editor in newspapers aren’t tolerated if they use such language.

So, there you have it.  All kinds of people, exposed (literally or figuratively) by how they use social media.  Most people are the kinds that are caring, reasonable, and appropriate.  Somehow, though, those other kinds of people stand out.

The final kind of people that help us make a world are those who have no interest in social media, and instead value their privacy and the odd sensation that comes from talking with people directly.

I guess it really does take all kinds to make a world.

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Shopping Time

(November 2017)

Like it or not, the shopping season has officially begun.  For some, of course, it never ends, but this time of year even reluctant shoppers hear the retail muses calling.

Local stores and artists help keep your money in the area; keeping friends and neighbors employed.  You’re probably not going to find that 95-inch television in a small town, but I’ll bet you can find plenty of nice gifts.

Where to shop?  Many shop on-line these days, myself included, but I try to shop at actual stores too, if only because I’d like them to still be there in five years.

Wisconsin is home to a surprising number of major retailers and manufacturers.  Farm and Fleet, Kohls, Shopko, and Lands’ End are among them, along with Trek, Pacific Cycles, Jockey, Harley Davidson, Ashley Furniture, and Kohler, in case Santa is bringing you a toilet.

Just because a company is headquartered in our state doesn’t mean that all, or any of the merchandise is made here.  There are companies that do make all or most of their products in the USA, if you’re willing to pay a little more.  Sometimes I am.

For example, visit www.allamericanclothing.com for a full line of clothing and shoes that are made in our country.  Their jeans cost about the same as Levi’s, which I don’t believe are manufactured north of the Rio Grande anymore.

There is another web site called www.usalovelist.com which provides information on lots of American-made items.  For example, they have lists of men’s shoes made in the USA, led by Wisconsin’s own Allen Edmunds shoes. 

Women’s and men’s winter boots and other shoes are made in Ely, Minnesota (Stegers), Maine (L.L. Bean), Portland, OR (Danner) and Chippewa Falls, WI (www.bamason.com), which is where my dad bought most of his shoes via mail order.  They still employee 450 Wisconsinites.

New Balance makes some shoes in the USA, but not most.  That applies to some other shoe companies as well.

This week is mostly about saving money, what with all the big sales, and I understand that.  I like saving money too.  Shopping locally or focusing on Wisconsin or American-made products isn’t often the cheapest avenue to take, but chances are that those products will be well made by people who are reasonably well paid in factories that are supposed to meet basic safety and health standards.  That can’t be said for the rest of the world.

 Wherever you shop, please enjoy the good feelings that come from getting the right gifts, and more importantly, being done for another year.

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Life Is A Matryoshka Doll

(From November 2017)

 

I’m sure you’ve seen those amazing Russian nesting dolls.  They’re called matryoshka dolls, and I’m beginning to think they are an example of art imitating life.

It seems like everywhere I look I see a task that needs to be done, which could easily be done if another task were done, which can’t be accomplished until yet a third task is completed.

Take my office (“please,” as Henny Youngman would say), for example.  There is a box of things to go to Goodwill, but it needs to be gone through to make sure there is nothing I might need.  To do that I’ll need to make space on my table.  To do that I’ll have to go through a pile of papers, since there might be receipts or other information I’ll miss if it’s thrown away.

A task, within a task, within a task.

Getting healthier can be a matryoshka doll too.  Running?  Not until I lose some weight so my knees and ankles don’t give out.  Lose weight?  Not without vigorous exercise.

Of course, these are all mostly just excuses.  If I or anyone else thinks that getting from point A to point B will not include numerous stops along the way, we haven’t been paying attention.

I’ve always been someone who wants to take some grand action and then sit back and enjoy the splendor of what I’ve accomplished.  I like playing the piano, but not enough to take lessons.  I like writing, but avoid taking classes to improve.  I like having a nice garden, and I don’t mind weeding it thoroughly, but when the weeds come back in two weeks my enthusiasm has waned.

I’m not lazy per se, but for some reason I resist opening up those nesting dolls to get at the grand finale in the middle – the creamy center of the Cadbury egg.

In the past, I’ve burst through these mental logjams by managing to put forth a spasm of energy to get through all the projects within projects within projects in one part of my life or another.

Honestly, I think the answer is probably to shut off my phone, computer, and television for a few days.  And maybe I should start drinking coffee.

With shorter days and longer nights, it is especially important for me to dredge up some enthusiasm, so to assure that I’m successful in my efforts to make progress, I think it’s time to buy some Superman underpants.  If that doesn’t do it, nothing will.

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Interesting Times

(From November 2017)

It seems that there is a never-ending flood of interesting news these days.  “Interesting” doesn’t mean good or bad or odd, though some of all three have come our way.

The skimpy curtain on Hollywood’s power brokers has been pulled back.  I don’t know anyone who has been surprised by the revelations of sexual predation.  The “casting couch” has been part of show business history as long as there have been movies.  And, men behaving badly predates that by, oh, ten thousand years or so.

I always assumed that the producers and directors used coercion to tempt lovely young starlets onto that couch.  Come to find out, it isn’t always a couch, it goes way beyond coercion and is sometimes rape, and the victims aren’t always women.

The most interesting part of the recent disclosures may be both the courage of those who have come forward and the cowardice of the people who knew, and said nothing.  That, and the hypocrisy of the women-centric political stands of some of the worst offenders.

In other news: the Russians.  Real news, fake news, Republicans, Democrats… you name it.  It’s interesting that the key ingredients are power, influence, and money.  Some of it is, undoubtedly, innocent entrepreneurship, but some of it doesn’t sound like it is on the up-and-up.  Time will tell.

The National Football League is having a problem.  It’s odd to see empty seats in stadiums so early in the season for teams that are pretty good.  I’m not as upset by players kneeling during the National Anthem as some people are. However, I think there are other ways for the players to be active in working on societal issues, and many of them do a lot of good work in their communities.  That’s why their actions are so, what’s the word… dumb.  I hope things resolve soon.

There have been more shootings, acid attacks, knock-out punches at strangers, and cars running into people.  Chicagoans are killing each other at a rapid pace, despite tough gun laws.  Maybe things would be worse without those laws.  It’s hard to say.

Finally, it’s dark out.  Without kids at home and their multiple school and work activities, it’s getting harder every year at this time to stay awake long enough to have dinner.  I can’t imagine living in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Yes, there is much going on in the world, and I’ve touched on only a bit of it.  I think it is becoming harder to focus on the most important things in our lives.  Only you know what those things are, but they probably don’t involve Hollywood, Russia, or the NFL. 

                          

                                       

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