‘Tis The Season

“You Say Tomaatoes”


As the days grow shorter, colder and the winter solstice looms, I look out at the frozen landscape that is our backyard and begin to dream, of tomatoes.

Boy, could I go for a juicy, vine ripened Big Boy right about now. Just sliced with a little salt and pepper and I’m good to go.

This past summer we had both new varieties and a heritage brand which could not be beat for texture and flavor. We also tried a “Sun Gold” variety of cherry tomato that was to die for.

The combination of sweet and tangy flavors was almost better than….chocolate.

Those I would pick and eat right from the vine while on a detour to the mailbox.

With respect to full disclosure, it’s my wife’s garden. She is the one who does the tilling, planting and hoeing much like the little red hen  in the children’s bedtime story.

Unlike the lazy dog however, I show up just in time to feign helping with the harvest. That way I can justify “pigging” out on the fruits and vegetables of her labor.

A killing frost occurred almost two months ago now and the taste of those tangy red globes and other vegetables we couldn’t give away in September, is now a distant memory.

The ever bearing raspberries hung on a little while longer but those too have passed into winter slumber.

The last cucumbers were brought in from the worn out vines and tasted just as good as the first. Peeled and sliced with salt and pepper or made into a salad with brine and onions, they now follow that annual exodus of seasons.

It’s a long time between raking leaves and a really good radish sandwich.

I’m sorry but there is just no comparison between vegetables grown in the back yard and those imitations propagated in a greenhouse or ripened in a truck rolling up from somewhere in the south.

Those folks try hard but the effort comes up a little short and a lot expensive. Paying a dollar for a waxed, watery tasting cucumber just doesn’t cut the mustard.

A simple seed grown with care for 70 days or so in Wisconsin sun and soil, with a little cow manure thrown in for good measure, becomes a collage of produce that would make an artist proud.

An old farmer that I worked for many years ago, while slicing into a vine ripened melon stated with satisfaction, “Eat up boys you can’t get these in January.”

At the time he was right of course but with modern genetics and better shipping techniques you now can get them in January but the problem is- they still taste like January.

After the Christmas Holidays it’s only a few short weeks until the seed catalogs start to arrive, complete with glossy colored photos of perfect fruit and vegetables.

Then, just a couple of months later it’s planting time once again and I can’t wait.

I just hope her new knee is up to the task.

       ‘Today’s Take’ Green Bay Press Gazette, December 2009

The Rites of Autumn


There was no mistaking that sound.

First, the laboring drone of turbine engines coming lower and closer. Then the ear-splitting crescendo of reverse thrusters struggling to halt the momentum of 50 tons of people and aircraft.

The windows began to rattle.

Wait. We’re not that close to the airport.

It was just my neighbor cranking up his leaf blower.

From the first stray leaf that hits the ground in September, he’s out there raising heck with nature. That thing could produce hurricane-force winds and with one pass, blow all his leaves from the backyard, to the street.

The only time he works up a sweat is while struggling to don the four-point backpack harness.

“The only downside” he said, “is a slight case of hearing loss” and the occasional threat from the guy next door who works nights.

Being a leaf raking purist, I make the annual trek to the yard, first with the ash leaves, then the maples and finally, sometimes lost to the first snow-the red oaks will shed their plumage.

That’s what you get with a small forest in the backyard.

I like the solitude, the crisp fall air and  the exercise. Sometimes I even get a little sympathy and a back rub for the aching muscles.

Truth be told, my wife bought one of those obnoxious carbon belching things a couple  years ago. She uses it around the flower gardens, pond and patio while I continue to maintain the notion that  leaves should be raked.

Until the other day.

I went outside to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather and noticed that the city crews had winnowed all the neighbors’ leaves up and down the street, ready to be baled and picked up.

It was noon so while the workers were on lunch I took up the challenge to clean up our leaves before they  returned.

Yup, I fired up the blower. This one, not even close to the horsepower of the neighbor’s, more like the Piper Cub of leaf blowers. But it worked, and worked well.

In the time it takes to write 400 words (including spellcheck) I had chased half the leaves from a crimson maple into the street to join all the others.

When the rest fall, I’ll blow those out to the curb as well. Probably get it done during halftime.

Like Will Smith in ‘Independence Day’ I had decided, “I gotta get me one of these.”

Next year, it’s the turbo model. A 58.2cc 215 mph, 510 cfm backpack gas blower with hip throttle.

I’ll commune with nature-from the hammock.

The Green Bay Press Gazette ‘Today’s Take’, 11/28/2015 http://greenbaypressgzette.com


Honesty is The Best Policy-Maybe


When I was 9 or 10 years old I stole a bag of licorice from the local grocery store.  The clerk had left the checkout to go the back of the store and I grabbed the candy from behind the counter.

She returned and confronted me as I was heading out the door.  I insisted  I had bought the goods elsewhere and of course, she knew I was lying.  She let me go, and while I was off the hook, the guilt I felt wouldn’t allow me to enjoy it.

It was black licorice. I hate black licorice. To this day I can’t eat the stuff and I’m often reminded of that experience.

My over active conscience has more than once created interesting times for me and more importantly, for my children. I would always return too much change, inform the clerk when I wasn’t charged enough and would even take the $20 found on the sidewalk back into the store or gas station and give it to the attendant, in case someone was looking for it.

What happens to it after that, is on someone else’s conscience.

Today, as adults one of the kids will occasionally call and exclaim, “Honest dad just cost me $10.  Yeah, I took the money back.”

Recently I went shopping for some dress clothes, buying a pair of pants and an overcoat.  The store was busy and a manager opened another checkout to accommodate me and the many others standing in line. She became distracted and I, in a hurry, simply signed the credit card receipt and left.  It wasn’t until I reached the car that I realized I had not been charged for the coat.

I knew that the time spent to straighten this out would put me way behind schedule and could even get me accused of shoplifting, but being me I had no choice but to return and pay for the garment.

Afterwards, the customer service manager professed her renewed sense of faith in humanity and I walked out with a clear conscience, and a 15% discount.

Not that I have never been in the wrong mind you, but when confronted I will fess up and fold like an old tent.

Like the time I was in front of an IRS auditor and could only offer; “Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.”

In today’s world it seems that honesty quickly gives way to greed, power and the need to win at all costs.

When confronted, politicians, sports figures and business leaders alike, will try to cover up, spin and create that infamous tangled web in order to absolve themselves of wrongdoing.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear one say, “I made a mistake, it was my fault and I accept all responsibility for my actions.”

This deceptive attitude presented by our leaders does in fact trickle down to the general public.  We tend to have ready made excuses for our own lapses in judgment and bad behavior.

Just ask anyone who is incarcerated and they will loudly proclaim their innocence.

About a month ago, I received a shipment of books that were ordered online. The order was complete-exactly what I requested.

Ten days later I received another shipment, the same two books.  Obviously I hadn’t ordered duplicates and my credit card statement confirmed the fact.

Now I am faced with the task of spending $10 in shipping charges and a couple hours of my time to return two books worth $22.00 total, while someone sitting at a call center will be completely lost trying to figure out the transaction.

Forget it, I’m not sending them back. Maybe put ’em on EBAY.

How’s that for being honest?

(Revised from NPR, ‘This I Believe’ Nov. 2009)






What to do with my Powerball Winnings


Hey, I won! I  won! I won the power ball jackpot!





Oh, but did I really?

Now I have to find an attorney, an accountant and a financial advisor that I can trust.



Financial planners say to wait at least six months to claim winnings so as to have a specific plan in place for handling that kind of money-over a billion dollars. I need to keep a low profile and stay anonymous.

How on earth can I be expected to wait? I haven’t slept in four days as it is.

Two questions will have to be answered first. Whether to take the 1.5 billion (dollars) in a lump sum or settle for an annuity paid out over the next twenty nine years.

The lump sum amounts to about $900 million minus state and federal taxes leaving us-yeah I’ll tell my wife about it-with about $435,214,127.32, give or take.

Then we would have to invest that at least in a bond market to get a little more than the .5% the banks are paying in interest,  providing us with an income of $25 million a year minus more taxes.

The annuity on the other hand would give us an annual income of some 40 million (dollars) which again rewards us with a perpetual tax liability.

This assumes that we can actually trust the government to hang on to our money for twenty-nine years.

Not living in Illinois is a plus.

Then there are the relatives. OMG there must be about fifty-six blood relatives and, I expect to hear from about seven hundred very distant cousins.

Some, the most deserving, those with whom I grew up, shared life experiences with, stood up at their weddings, god parents to their babies.

Hmm, nah!

Our close friend who has played the Australian Lottery for over twenty years, always professed to share with us if he ever won.

Forget it!

I doubt now that I will ever see that five thousand I loaned to cousin Fred for his daughter’s kidney operation.

So now we need to set up a trust fund to handle the requests and listen to sob stories from all those freeloaders looking for yet another kidney, pancreas, heart or some other body part that they just can’t live without.

Business ventures with others, especially relatives-definitely out.

Of course, we would have to move.

No way are the neighbors ever going to believe that our lives have not changed and that the snow blower they borrowed was really not a generous gift.

I can hear them now, “Yeah but they don’t really  need the money.”

Our children, their children and the successive generations of offspring will be thinking they never have to work a day in their lives. My progeny I’m afraid,  will eventually evolve into nothing more than glasses wearing slugs.

Giving them nothing will build character.

Giving to the poor is another option, but they’ll just spend it on things, like food.

Maybe we’ll  just blow it all on booze and cruises.

Let’s see, if we had  four hundred million (dollars) to spend that would mean we could take about 40,000 all inclusive trips to the Mediterranean. Six or seven trips a year would mean that we might spend it all in, 5000 years. Umbrella drinks are extra.

Then again, we could just give it all to the government, you know, help reduce the national debt. You would think that $400 million would make a big dent in what we owe and they, the government, would be eternally grateful.

Not quite. With a $10 Billion (dollars) a day spending habit our “Greatest Jackpot in History” would last those in Washington just about three hours. I doubt they would even notice.

I think we should just give it all away. All of it. I can’t speak for my wife of course. Maybe we should split it 50-50 and I’ll give my half away. She can do what she wants with the rest.

That’s it. I’ll give all of mine away. Set up a web site or an 800 number for anyone to call who wants a piece of the pie.

As of the last drawing, my share of the winnings before taxes came to… $2. Now maybe I can get some sleep.

‘Today’s Take’, Green Bay Press Gazette.  http://greenbaypressgazette.com




Father’s Day

Father’s Day 2014
Of all the animal kingdom, with few exceptions, only the human species requires that the male stick around and take an active role throughout the life of the offspring.
It begins at birth when you hold that squirming, cone headed bundle of joy and realize that it recognizes you, the father. Everyone else, Mom, the nursing staff and all others who have been there know that the grimace you see as recognition is just gas but you continue on in the belief that you have become special in this little something’s life.
Your participation is limited during the first months, to feigning empathy during 2 AM breast feedings and trying without success to stay awake. You understand that the infant’s only interest at this stage of life is food, warmth and regular pooping and your involvement consists mainly of helping to clean up after each.
As a sidebar: These biological needs re-gain significance from time to time during the offspring’s life, particularly in that of a male. They become a priority during the teenage years and then again after college when hopefully he is living somewhere else.
You start to take the little one with you in your travels; to Fleet Farm, meetings or on a roofing job. Like a trophy or prize catch you matter-of-factly have him or her around just to show off, being careful not to go too far from home in case the child starts to smell or spits up in the truck.
It’s those times that involve dirt and sweat along with the possibility of injury or damage that your role begins to gain prominence in the child’s life. Soccer Moms notwithstanding, it’s the soccer, T-ball, Pop Warner, hook baiting, camping and learning to drive dads that take center stage. If anything, anything at all results in some liability, that’s all on you.
Tools, your favorite fishing pole, your recliner; all become fair game to these offspring who seem intent on destroying everything you hold dear. You cringe and soon understand that they are only six and trying to be you. Your perspective changes constantly.
It’s about this time in their lives that pride (yours) begins to swell as even the manliest left tackle in the audience sheds a joyful tear watching his child score an actual two-pointer in a game or play ‘Fur Elise’ with both hands on a baby grand piano.
Patience becomes not only a virtue but necessary for survival as you teach the young to drive a car. You hear your mouth calmly saying, “Always look first to the left, then to the right and back again to the left before pulling out into traffic,” while your brain is screaming, “Look out! Watch that car! You’re going to get us both killed! Pay attention!”
Then you beam just a little as they return from their road test and walk away with a probationary driver’s license having successfully reached another milestone. Ten minutes after being scared to death of driving, they now want to use your car by themselves-and of course, need some money for gas.
If you have done your job well or even just survived, there are soon to be more moments that make it all worthwhile. Those mostly involve walking; to the podium to accept their diploma whether high school, college or grad school, or walking down the aisle with a daughter on her wedding day. There’s a reason why dads get to do this. It allows you more tears.
Then one day while your son sits holding a bundle of wrinkled joy and exclaims to you, his dad, “see that, he recognizes me.” You just smile.
Happy Father’s Day.

‘Today’s Take’, Green Bay Press Gazette 6-24-2014