Just the other day we were returning from our trip up to the family cottage. Having stopped at the Big M for a treat, my daughter asked Jackson if he could wish something for the earth what would it be? Jackson never hesitated in his response, “I would wish that cars and all engines stop using gas. It makes global warming and that is bad for the earth. And someday that will be bad for me.”
Jackson is seven. Think about that. He doesn’t question the science. He doesn’t ignore the obvious and at seven he wants to do something about it. I could only marvel at his response and at the same time wish that some of our leaders could be half as wise as he was in that moment. His generation will inherit the actions we take and at present, we still resist. We balk at the changes required because we think of the effect on jobs and even more so the cost. But I will tell you that our inactivity will cost far more in the future, provided that in the future we even have the option.
We must take responsibility for what we have done. My generation is guilty of ignoring the warnings, of not making the effort to be even a little more responsible with our choices, of electing leaders with our wallets instead of our ethics. We must be far more serious about recycle, reclaim, and reuse practices. We must, simply put, ACT. And we must do it before it is too late.
We owe it to our children, to our grandchildren. I don’t want Jackson asking me ten years from now why I hadn’t done anything when I knew it was my responsibility and not that of a seven year old who doesn’t even have a vote. It is not too late. From the mouths of our children comes a plea to save the earth. We must save it so that they might have a future filled with all the bounty we have enjoyed. Do it for Jackson and all the Jacksons so that their wish may still come true.
We should always look for the silver lining, and when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I started thinking today about all the changes Covid-19 brought about and I started to realize that as bad as the pandemic was, there were things I accomplished. I finally got that Little Library built. During the pandemic, it became my wife’s total focus. We now have neighborhood children putting in book requests to their favorite librarian, Ms. Debi. The treat bags and notes ay have something to do with her popularity.
And there are all the things I learned, useful things. Top on the list would be Zoom. Before Covid-19, I would resist Skype calls, Duo calls, and any other virtual calls. Then came the pandemic and suddenly, virtual meetings, virtual gatherings, even virtual game nights, became the norm. I am proud to say, I am now a Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams wizard. Seems strange to say I am a virtual expert. Does that mean, not really, just imaginary?
Another learned process, making wearing a mask a fashion statement. I admit that when it started, I wasn’t too stylish. But as time went on we all got pretty clever and fashionable. We wore masks sporting our favorite logos, coordinated our masks with our ensemble, and even found ways to make them almost sexy. I for one, sort of miss donning my various masks now that I have been vaccinated. Thanks to Covid-19’s mask wearing mandates, I will be better prepared to rob a bank if I ever decide to go rogue.
And then there is the improvements to my office décor. Pre pandemic, I hadn’t really thought about my shelves. Once I started Zooming (is that a word?), I started seeing it as my backdrop on my zoom calls. Time to clean up my act. Off to storage, went a lot of the memorabilia, unread books, and just piles of paper and files. Thank you Covid-19!, my office is quite impressive these days.
Six feet used to be a rough estimate that was anywhere from way too short to ridiculously long. A couple of months of pandemic rules, and I can now nail six feet to within a couple inches. I feel like a walking ruler. Want to know how long that putt was?, I got it. Need that board cut to six feet?, leave that tape measure in your tool belt. Admit it, how many times during the last year did you find yourself moving that extra three inches to put six feet between you and that other person.
There were a lot of other little lessons learned. I have now mastered the art of separating the wafer section from the wine pod in those little communion cups. I discovered that you can actually party outside in the middle of winter with snow falling as long as you have that fire pit going and the now all important patio heater. I actually drove seventy-five miles to a Lowes to find mine. I am even looking forward to this fall when I can fire it back up and party. I might even invite more than ten people.
I know it wasn’t at all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. I have developed skills that were clearly lacking and as an added bonus, I now know every dog and every dog walker in the neighborhood. Admittedly, I will see if I recognize them without their masks.
And one final observation, it seems that as we learned to stand six feet apart, we somehow all grew a little closer.
I admit this is a travelogue, but I’ll make a point. Long, well long long ago, I was given the dare by a college friend on an all too many libations evening, to drive home for the weekend with him and another friend. No big deal except that we were in Wisconsin and he lived in Connecticut. We would leave late Thursday night and be back in time for our Monday classes. I took the dare and immediately started to worry about how my parents would feel if something happened and they would not have even known I had gone. The morning before we were set to leave, I caved in and called my dad. Totally expecting him to shoot down the idea as crazy, ill formed, and paid for how?, I awaited the big NO! To my utter surprise, my conservative, sensible father said, “I have given up so many things in my life and travel was one, you should travel every time you get the opportunity.”
I took the dare and we were off late that Thursday night, snow bound on the Ohio Turnpike at 2:00 in the morning, stranded in a truck stop till dawn and one whole day of driving, but we made it to Connecticut. Two days later and another all night drive and we were back at UW Oshkosh for my 10:00 am class. To this day, this opportunity remains an incredible memory.
A month or so ago, we were invited to the wedding of my next door neighbor’s son. The catch was that it was in Pittsburgh and I am sure the thought was would they really come? If my Connecticut trip all those years ago taught me anything, it was never pass up an opportunity to visit a city for the first time. I had never been to Pittsburgh so there really never was a hesitation, we were going and we would travel by car. Travel by car, as I have written about in other blogs, is the best way to really experience a trip. We split this trip in half, spent a day in Sandusky, Ohio and arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania early on Thursday afternoon.
My opinion of Pittsburgh, as my title states, was one of steel mills, heavily industrial, and well, likely poor. Granted we stayed in the downtown, but my opinion changed immediately. The city has been working very hard on regentrification and the impact is everywhere in the downtown area. Pittsburgh sits on the confluence of three rivers, the Alleghany, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Their meeting point is marked by a beautiful park surrounded by the bluffs on either side. Just across the river sits the Pittsburgh Steelers football stadium and just down the river the Pittsburgh Pirates ball park. The bike trails run everywhere and food, entertainment, and sports bars dot the area. In short, so much to do and see and in my case not much time to get it done. But I have two more days and I am confident I will leave here with not only new memories, but another city added to my completion list and an opinion changed.
Travel can never be discounted due to what it does for the traveler. If one travels with an open mind and a good dose of curiosity, you will come home with better understanding of how our uniqueness is in our differences and that our common bond is found in our humanity.
I became a father on April 21, 1984. Bailey was born that morning after a long previous day and night of waiting for her. We had to make a decision that morning to continue trying or to consider a C Section delivery. That decision was taken away when it became clear we had to do an emergency surgery to bring Bailey into our world.
At the time, becoming a father was a scary thing. I was worried that I would not be a good father. I thought I might be ill prepared for the role and thus not able to do what was needed to be the father Bailey would need. This was a huge responsibility I was about to take on and was I willing to make the life style changes that it would require. As I look back on that fear, I realize how selfish that was. I was more concerned about me than what I actually needed to be concerned about.
The surgery was successful and within moments of the delivery, Bailey was in my arms and my world and my worries changed. In that moment, as her tiny hand found my finger, my world became her world and I transitioned from worried father to fully engaged dad. It now all made sense. To be a father simply took the act, but being a dad was a gift that was bestowed upon you by that moment you connected with the life you had helped create. Of course my life would change. I had a whole new person to share it with. That fear of responsibility was replaced by the excitement of being part of a whole new journey.
I spent the next several hours bonding with and falling in love with our little baby girl as my wife recovered from the surgery. These were precious moments that shaped the rest of my relationship, moments where I learned the difference between being a father and being a dad. By the time my wife was able to hold our child, her life was all ready being mapped out. She would be given adventures to make her strong. She would be given opportunities to grow in every possible way. She would be given support in whatever choices she made. She would be loved.
Seven years later, my wife and I would welcome the birth of our second child, this time by natural delivery but no less dramatic. I would be given a chance to do it all again and this time to help my older daughter become the big sister. Kathryn was welcomed into our world on April 26, 1991 and just as her sister became part of our plans, so too did Kathryn become part of our family plans. Like her sister before her, she would be encouraged to find her own space, to be part of our adventures, to be loved for who she was and would become. To be honest, I think Kathryn took her role to be the one who would make the adventures bigger.
It is with purpose that I have recounted this story on Father’s Day. It was and will always be my greatest honor to have been a father who understands what it takes to be a dad.
The title refers to a military tactic. If you want the upper hand in a battle, you divide the enemy, militarily or culturally. We have become a nation, thanks to an election and a pandemic, that is ideologically divided. My question is, are we willing to work on a repair or will we accept being divided and conquered?
Over the past decade, our government has become fractured. As of the last several years, it has been reduced to you are a conservative or you are a liberal. The result of this fracturing is a two party system that for the most part does not represent the general population that elected them and at the very least has become an ineffective governing body. Now some may argue that Congress still passes legislation, but the legislation is along party and unfortunately, money lines. The art of compromise for the good of the nation seems absent.
Meanwhile, we as citizens and voters, are becoming polarized. Thanks to social media, we get our news from everywhere and anywhere and we feel free to verbalize our opinions as beliefs we expect others to adopt. We are losing our civility at a time when it is needed more than ever. The pandemic taught us what isolation felt like. Some embraced it while others grew angry, looking for someone to blame. The election embroiled us in a nasty national conversation, further fueling our anger and grief. The end result, is a division that grows wider with each angry social media confrontation and every too hastily shared meme or post. We are divided and ready to be conquered. In this battle, the enemy is not always obvious, not even some other country or ideology. The enemy is us. How wide do we leave this division grow before the distance between is too far to ever cross.
We must get back to spending more time listening TO each other than the amount of time we spend talking AT each other. The vast majority of Americans are not simply one side or the other. We hold some beliefs that are conservative while we hold others that are liberal. The truth is we are moderates caught in a struggle to make us one or the other, leaving us no ground in the middle. But the solution is simple, we begin to listen. We get back to respecting our differences. We stop claiming that everything is political. It is only political when we use arguing our causes as an excuse for not listening. Politicians make issues political, we do not have to. I fear that if we leave party politicians to steer us, we will not be able to get back to any kind of normal.
Let’s put the election behind us. Let’s leave the pandemic to history. Let’s get back to civilized discussions about what comes next and what positive role we can play. We must seek to choose leaders at all levels, who recognize the need for rational discussions on what they as leaders and we as a people can do to solve the litany of problems that face our nation. We must make our decisions based on humanity and not politics. Choose to listen for our commonalities so that we can respect our differences. Let us choose unified and stronger over divided and conquered.
Today’s toys are loaded with technology. They simulate real settings in game modes, they move the puzzle pieces with a click of button, I can even feel like I’m out on the course playing golf. I am far from complaining either for what you have or for what I didn’t. Toys have always been meant to amuse and to inspire imagination. As technology advanced so did the toys and their effect and affect.
But what did I play with when I was young? The truth is there were countless toys and I had my share, but the question is which ones left the biggest impression on my memory? I have decided that the best way to do this is to think of it by types. I have chosen five categories and a toy for each category that I remember better than others.
My first category is Creativity and the toy is my mechanics bay and gas station garage. Besides the fact that it had to be completely assembled metal tab by metal tab, it provided hours of imagination as my miniature cars would enter and exit the gas station and its upper level reached by the cool car elevator. This toy inspired me to learn how to assemble things, to fix things, and I guess, to travel. Unfortunately, it never taught me to stop at a gas station and ask for directions. I do feel obligated to give honorable mention to Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and my Erector Set. Each provided hours of creativity in design, but that darn metal fabricated play gas station just had so many special memories tied to it.
My next category is Finance and the obvious choice here is Monopoly. We would play monopoly and the game would go on for long spells as anyone who has played the game will attest to. The game really was the beginning of my interest in finances. Though I never bought a rental property and certainly never built a hotel, it gave me an appreciation for banking. I would very often agree to be the banker in the game and later in my teaching career I made that banking part of my math curriculum. Honorable mention should be given here to the games of Life and Risk, but I think monopoly is my fondest memory.
For my third category, I am going with Curiosity and the toy, a weather balloon. In high school, my best friend and I decided to follow the invitation on the back of a cereal box and send away for a genuine, US Weather Balloon. I might add, we also sent some hard earned cash because we were pretty sure no parent was intending to finance us. The day the balloon arrived we were raring to go. For some unknown reason, we decided we should inflate it right there in my bedroom. As we filled it and watched the envelope expand, we failed to notice the vast number of sharp furniture corners in the room. Nearing four feet in diameter, the inevitable happened. Who knew the explosion could be that loud and more importantly, that the balloon was lined with talcum powder. Upon the arrival of my worried mother, the sight that greeted her appeared as a small blizzard throughout the room and two young lads who appeared to have spent a day in a bakery. We never did get another weather balloon and thus never sampled the weather above our farm, but certain aspects of our curiosity had certainly been satisfied.
My next category is one of Utility and the toy / weapon was my very own slingshot. Now this was not a store bought slingshot but rather a home grown version. With my dad’s guidance and his keen eye for just the right ash tree branch, my slingshot was crafted and honed to perfection. First target, tin cans. From there I stepped up to moving targets such as gophers, who conveniently carried a ten cent bounty on their tails. Unfortunately, my last target, which I intended only to show how close I could get, was the tail light of my sister’s car and eventual incarceration of my slingshot. As short lived as my slingshot days were, I still value the collaboration with my dad on the project.
My final category and the inspiration for this question will be titled Travel and the toy, my first and until today only, boomerang. Not just any boomerang, but an honest to goodness Australian Outback beauty. I grew up a National Geographic junkie. I would look at the far away lands and dream of one day being a traveling explorer. When I saw Australia and read about the Aborigines and their hunting weapon, the boomerang, I just had to have one. There in the magazine was my chance to own one. I don’t remember how much of my allowance went into the purchase, but it was worth every dime. Hours of throw and fetch eventually gave way to throw and duck and with dedicated practice, one day it not only threw, it returned and I caught it. Success was as sweet as you are imagining. The irony of this last choice of toys, is that life has come full circle. Over the weekend, my wife had bought our grandson, Jackson, a plastic sort of replica boomerang. With little success, compounded by his left handedness, Jackson and my wife were giving up. Insert a little known fact here, who knew a boomerang could be left handed but isn’t generally. This next weekend, Jackson will receive a genuine, signed Australian left handed throwing boomerang. Let the throw and fetch begin but I have faith that with practice, there will come success.
I started off with a comparison of my toys versus the current generation’s toys. What is important to understand is that I am not any worse off for not having the high tech toys nor is Jackson’s ability to enjoy all five categories any less decreased by having them. Toys are toys. They create their own aura and should almost all, one day find their way to their own Hall of Fame. My boomerang is there.
George’s dad on Seinfeld would utter “serenity now” when things around him brought on stress. Borrowing those words as my title feels appropriate this morning after having watched the sunrise on the beach at Kiawah Island. Not that I was being stressed, but rather that I was finding serenity now.
Sunrise is at 6:59 am on the Island and having arisen at 6:30, I had just enough time to throw on some clothes and get out to the beach in time to watch the sun begin to brighten the eastern skyline. Not sure of what I would see, I headed to the beach with a sense of excitement mixed with the fatigue I was feeling from an overactive yesterday, a restless night of sleep, and the early hour.
The first thing one notices when staying at the ocean, is the rhythmic sound of the waves washing up on the shore. With each step closer to the beach, the sound of the waves washing ashore increased a sense of inner quiet within me. As I hiked over the dune and the beach came into view, my fatigue and any stress I had been feeling, vanished. The sun, not yet visible, was casting its dusky light over the scene and there, not 10 yards away, stood four deer poised at the tide’s edge staring back at me. I stood mesmerized watching them as they resumed their stroll down the empty beach, devoid of the hundreds of vacationers that would crowd the beach later in the day. For now, the beach belonged to those four deer and by default, me.
There are places on earth that invoke a sense of peace, maybe it’s a majestic mountain view or an empty beach with its vast ocean backdrop. Where ever that place exists, watching a sunrise bathe that view with all its serene beauty cannot help but bring a sense of peace. This morning, as I watched the sunrise over my beach, I found that sense of peace. Any stress I brought along with me on this vacation, melted in that slowly unfolding light of dawn. The sun’s rays, casting light up through the horizon, created beautiful bands of orange as they began to awaken the morning sky. And then, right on cue, the golden orange ball of the sun began to rise from edge of the ocean.
I wish that I could have had you there on the beach with me this morning to both witness and feel the peacefulness of that scene. I can only hope that my writing and photos will give you some sense of the experience.
We left Madison three days ago after a year and month of COVID isolation. The temp that morning was 20 degrees and a high of 38 degrees was forecast for the day. Our first night was spent in Cincinnati, OH and our second in Asheville, NC. Late this afternoon we reached our destination on Kiawah Island, SC. The temperature, 75 degrees. I am, as I write this, sitting on the screen porch of our VRBO with a local brew in my hand, watching an alligator sunning in the canal below. Warning, before you put two and two together and conclude our house is unoccupied and easy pickings, besides our ever watchful neighbors, did I mention the eight foot python we recently purchased.
It was quite the drive to get here but so scenic and so refreshing after a year of vacationing in my back yard, putting a mere 500 miles on my vehicle in the course of the entire year. I swear I could hear my jeep purring as I turned towards the interstate and began to put the miles behind us. There is a lot to be said for a road trip. A road trip gives you the chance to bond with your fellow traveler or plot where to leave them, just kidding Deb. A road trip gives you the opportunity to experience Americana and to just take in sights on a whim. It is the adventure Jack Kerouac alludes to when he writes, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Never discount the road trip.
For the next week, I will attempt a round of golf on a course light years beyond my ability to play it. I will walk the beach and maybe manage to catch a few sunrises over the Atlantic. I will put as many miles as my legs can handle on my bike. And I will generally put the world of stress and COVID behind me. I will regenerate. For those of you who know me well, know that I have traveled often, sometimes with detailed plans and sometimes by the seat of my pants. This trip feels different. I would be a liar if I said the isolation of this past year hadn’t left me damaged. This trip is the beginning of my repair.
We have arrived. All that is left now is to be: stress free, plan limited, senses alert, and open to the healing that time away can bring.
It was my granddaughter’s birthday recently. She was turning four and according to her, once you are four you can do almost anything. It took me but a minute to know the gift I needed to give her. I would give her an invitation to an adventure.
An adventure is an activity we do with a friend. On adventures we make discoveries, we go places we have not been before, we bond with our friend, and we make memories. Adventures can be as simple as a walk on a new trail, or better yet, taking a turn we had not planned on, not knowing where it will lead. An adventure might be climbing a mountain or just seeing the city from the observation deck of a skyscraper. The important thing is that though you plan the trip, you do not plan the adventure, they just kind of unfold. And therein lies the joy.
I have had many adventures with my daughters over the years. They were often of the simple version, a trip to the zoo or a climb on the bluffs of Devil’s Lake, but appreciated none the less. As they grew older, my daughters would always be looking forward to our next adventure. They began to take on a style of their own. The adventure to them was a planned destination but no agenda once we arrived. The accommodations often left much to be desired, but they would be quick to add that where we would sleep was not important, it was what awaited us the next morning that would define the adventure. As they grew, so too did the adventures. We skied snow covered slopes out West, we climbed Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, hiked the Geyser Trail at dawn in Yellowstone, and actually paraglided off the peaks above Medellin Columbia, in South America. As I write this, I know they are surely busy plotting the next adventure.
For Adela, her adventures are just beginning, but I know this, she will certainly follow in her mother’s footsteps. She already has an adventurous spirit and with a little nurturing from her Opa, she will turn that spirit loose. I can only hope to keep up and continue to be her adventure partner.
So what about your adventures? Do you have them? Do you leave open spaces in your trip plans for that surprise that lies just beyond the path? The surprises in life are what make the journey worthwhile. Never discount the driving vacation and when you pass the sign that says view point ahead, take the time to take it in. The rest of the trip will wait, but that view may never offer itself again.
Go have an adventure. As for Adela and I, we are getting ready for our first and already thinking about the one after that.
Every now and then I just write in this blog for the enjoyment of telling a story. This is the story of a chicken named Jerome.
Jerome came to be as part of an experiment in my high school sophomore biology class. The experiment involved injecting growth hormones into several fertilized chicken eggs. One egg, Jerome’s, hatched out early that spring. What emerged was more or less this super chicken. Within a very short time, Jerome began to strut, crow, and gain weight. He soon surpassed any of the non-injected eggs hatchlings and was becoming a handful for the biology lab. Eventually fearing that he would break out of the lab and terrorize the rest of my high school, the biology teacher suggested that someone needed to take him home or he would have to be dealt with. Being the farm kid in the class and part of the team that had created this problem, I was soon tasked with finding Jerome his new home.
Within a week or so of getting him placed in our hen house on the farm, he was quite literally ruling the roost. His flock of hens cowered in the corner every time he began his strut. It became apparent that he would need his own coop and so he was relegated to an old chicken coop with an outside penned area for him to strut his stuff. This is when he determined that he could fly and soon flew the coop. We found him the next day, firmly re-entrenched in the hen house, ruling his ladies from the roost. This was now time for desperate measures. Jerome’s wings would be clipped.
Our first attempt proved fruitless and he again flew the coop and returned to the hen house. After two more clippings he was finally grounded, or at least flightless. So how was it that we found him the next morning back in the hen house? We would need to become spies. Within minutes of him believing we had left, he made his escape, not by flying but rather by literally using his beak and claws to scale the chicken wire of his coop. It was at this point that my dad threw up his hands and said “we tried, he won.” Jerome was a free bird, truly a range free chicken well before his time.
Jerome soon became infamous. He not only ruled the hen house by night, but he ruled the entire farm by day. Exaggeration at this point would be, well, pointless. Jerome so scared the locals, that the mailman, if he had to drop off a package, would honk the horn for us to come get the mail. There was no way he was going to leave the safety of his vehicle while Jerome strutted back and forth on the hood, stopping occasionally to beat on the windshield with his stubby wings. We would race out, wrangle Jerome off the vehicle and then and only then would the driver step out. At one point, while having a new TV antennae installed on our second story farmhouse, the installer very nearly fell off the roof when to his sheer horror Jerome stood inches away from him beating his wing threateningly on the roof line ridge. It was discovered later, that Jerome had found the installer’s ladder and leveraged himself up to the rooftop. The farm and surrounding buildings were his turf and he would beat back any attempt at a siege by his imagined attackers. If you couldn’t stand up to him, you were at his mercy.
And so it went around our farm that summer. But there was one person not willing to bow to his authority. My grandmother lived with us in the farmhouse and each morning, after breakfast had been cleared, she would take the table scraps out to the barnyard where they would be disposed of. This required a long walk across the front lawn and driveway and then out to the barnyard. What ensued each and every time was a battle royale between my grandma and Jerome. Jerome would meet her at the door and block her way by menacing her with the now famous wing beating technique he had mastered. She would eventually give him a kick and he would swing around and re-engage. Eventually, my grandmother would take her cane, tiring of this constant parrying, and use it like a golf club. Jerome would be knocked sideways rolling across the ground only to get back up and rejoin the fight. This sparring would go on all the way out and all the way back. None of us were sure if either one of them had won, but it was obvious that both persevered. In Jerome’s view, this was a battle to the death. Every day offered a new chance to finally settle this turf dispute.
Fortunately for our family, my grandma outlived Jerome by a great many years. Jerome would meet his end in battle, but not on my grandma’s battlefield. Each evening, Jerome would return to the hen house where unbeknownst to us, he was now standing guard over his ladies. One morning, late that fall, we arrived at the hen house to collect the eggs, only to find a weasel lying in the doorframe. It was clear that he had been in a battle for his life that it had not ended well for him. Alarmed at what destruction we might find inside, we were surprised to see all of our hens alive and well. It was only on closer inspection that we saw him. He had retired to the back of the chicken house where he had apparently succumbed to his injuries, but not before saving his wards. Jerome, the terrorizer of so many, had died a hero.
Before you mourn his passing, understand that as I think back on this tough old bird, I can think of no better way for him to go than in the fight of his life. I can only imagine how into the battle he must have been. He had finally found, other than my grandma, someone who offered him a challenge. Jerome was a fighter, and to go out in a blaze of glory has made his story worth telling, and that story has been told and retold within our family so many times over the years. Had he just withered away of old age, where would be his fame? Jerome was a chicken who was never chicken. Jerome was a fighter, persistent is his right to rule and defiant to anyone who thought he was wrong. When the cause is worth the fight, may we all be so willing to stand our ground. Just be prepared if you take on a Jerome.