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Greatest April Fool’s Prank

Although I’m not much of an idiot when it comes to attempting April Fool’s pranks that are lame or go unnoticed, I do believe the greatest April Fool’s prank I ever pulled off was on my father. When you read the story, you’ll understand why I don’t attempt many any more.

Here’s the background: My parents had two large shakers for salt and pepper that were always available for meals. They had a white ceramic base or storage compartment that would easily fill the palm of your hand. Yes, they were that large! The tops were metal and screwed onto the ceramic base. Getting a hint where this is going?

Dad, having grown up on a farm, loved eggs for breakfast every morning. He was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. When we lived in Tulsa and he came from Wisconsin to visit, we took him to a fancy restaurant for brunch. They served quiche and other delicacies on the buffet but Dad’s comment was: “Where’s the meat?”

Back to the story. Long before breakfast was served that April 1st morning, I slipped into the kitchen and surreptitiously loosened the cap on the pepper shaker. Then I resumed normal activities and played the innocent son as breakfast was served.

When my father grabbed the pepper shaker to season his eggs, my heart raced a bit but I tried to remain calm and not give away my secret. The lid came off and pepper doused Dad’s eggs in the black condiment to his visible astonishment. I recall his comment starting with something like, “What the?” but I had to bite my lip and remain as stunned as everyone else.

I didn’t have the nerve to exclaim: “April Fool’s!”

Dad likely went to his grave assuming it was a freak accident while I consider it my greatest April Fool’s prank…and don’t do those any more.

Day 7 of Self-Isolation

It’s Sunday, the 29th of March. Day seven of Corona (Chinese) virus self-isolation (quarantine). I have not been in a public place since last Sunday when I ventured out for some basic groceries. Fortunately my spouse and I had a decent stockpile of necessities before entering this period of insulation from other human beings.

We have communicated with our children and grandchildren via electronic channels, but this scary pandemic and self-isolation strip us of being able to hug family members or share a meal with them. Distance also separates us.

We have gone for walks, taking care to avoid close contact with other people. I have visited with my neighbor briefly in his driveway, keeping the requisite six feet of social distancing between us. We’ve had basic groceries delivered, thanks to our daughters.

So…here I am at day 7 of self-isolation. Closets have been cleaned out. Papers have been filed or recycled. All the laundry has been done, including outside clothng several times now. Trying to follow the guidelines. Washing hands according to the CDC. Drinking lots of spring water. Resting.

The bad part is there are no sports to watch on television. Odds are that high school spring sports programs are likely to be cancelled since school’s are closed indefinitely. That eliminates my soccer official’s contracts if it happens…and the accompanying compensation. In my mind, soccer is one of those sports that enables athletes to keep a distance from most of the other players on the pitch and the fans…most parents…able to socially distance themselves as well. But, with no school, there’s no athletics.

I am thankful for my faith, my ability to write, the family tree I’m trying to build online, and my therapy pet, Charley. He’s a rescue cat that I’ve trained fairly well. He enjoys chasing a toy mouse that I throw and he retrieves. He follows me to the basement to do laundry and comes back up when I call him…or when he gets out in the garage. Besides my wife, Charley’s a good companion.

So far we’ve avoided any viral infection. We’ll see what day 8 brings.

Stay well and practice safe distancing.

Corona Quarantine Activities

Most Americans are self-imposing themselves in a Corona quarantine, and I don’t mean drinking a lot of that beer brand. Here are three Corona quarantine activities to while away the time stuck in your place of residence.

  1. Read. Find the books you’ve been wanting to read, turn off the television, find a comfortable place, and read. Most libraries will still let you come in, browse the aisles and choose some reading material if you’ve read every book on your shelves. Check first to make sure your library is still open to the public. Ours are closed! Read magazines if nothing else strikes your fancy.
  2. Write. Sit down with some paper and a pen. Write a letter to a loved one, a lost relative, or a pen pal (remember what those were? I had one who lived in France and I had to have every letter translated). Work on the family memoirs or write the novel you’ve always wanted to write. Take a break every now and then to enjoy the weather and get some exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
  3. Catch up. Clean out the basement or garage you’ve been meaning to de-clutter. Nap or get some extra sleep you’ve been denying yourself. Call a friend and see how they’re doing, especially if you haven’t talked to them in a few months…or years. Make use of this bonus time…and leave the television off. This too shall pass, but remember to wash your hands and get tested if you have any symptoms.

Solitude

There is no better way to experience solitude than in the forest, especially if it is in near wilderness. That’s one of the side benefits of deer hunting in Wisconsin. Solitude.

Enjoying the solitude of hunting.

Where I hunt is known specifically only to those who also hunt the property. That gives every hunter the solitude of their won “territory” where being able to harvest a deer can be done safely. High-powered deer rifles are designed to be deadly. Extreme caution is required to avoid accidents.

Being safe is critical to feeling a sense of solitude.

Sitting in a collapsible blind still requires a minimum of movement to avoid spooking deer that may come near during hunting hours. It also isolates the hunter from the elements and observation by other humans. Solitude.

Solitude is precious. It takes a being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the pressure of city living, and the stress of whatever curves life throws your way. Solitude gives you time to think, time to reflect, time to consider options. It is peaceful. It is quiet. It is energizing. It is refreshing.

The camaraderie of deer camp is special. Shared meals. Hunting stories. Work projects. Cards. Alcohol. Friendship. That’s rifle season; 9 days in late November in Wisconsin.

I also bow hunt and that gives me even more opportunities to enjoy the solitude of the forest…by myself. Whether I harvest an animal is less important than being able to rejuvenate my spirit and deepen my faith.

Solitude.

Penalty Kicks

Soccer officials generally like to avoid having penalty kicks decide the outcome of a soccer match. For the uninitiated, a penalty kick is warranted when a defending player denies a goal scoring opportunity to the attacking team within the penalty area.

Soccer Penalty Area
Soccer penalty area extends to 18 yards into pitch from goal line. Penalty kicks are taken from the penalty mark and players must stay 10 yards from the mark defined by penalty arc.

When teams have played the regular time allotted for a match and remain tied, the match goes to overtime periods for most high school competition. If no winner is decided but a winner must be determined for one team to advance, a penalty kick shoot-out is in order. In the shoot-out, each team has five players take penalty kicks against the opposing goalkeeper.

Referee signals for penalty kick.

Whichever team scores the most wins. If it’s still tied after the first five, the shoot-out continues with single players from each team until there’s a winner.

From this explanation you can hopefully understand why officials prefer to avoid penalty kicks to determine a winner…but that does not mean referees give an unfair advantage to one team or another to avoid a shoot-out.

During a recent tournament for high school varsity teams, it was imperative that a winner be chosen to advance to the championship bracket or be relegated to the consolation bracket. Two of the three matches we officiated required a shoot-out to determine a winner. They were tied after regulation and went direct to penalty kicks as the rules didn’t allow overtime periods.

It is rather common for officials to award a direct free kick from just outside the penalty area instead of signalling a penalty kick to influence the outcome of a close match.

In three successive matches–two junior varsity and one varsity game–I awarded five penalty kicks. In both sub-varsity matches the penalty kicks (PKs) influenced the final result because the kickers scored goals against their opponent. In the varsity competition, the keeper stopped both shots but the opponent still won the match by making other shots on goal.

Standard Transmissions

First, allow a definition. Standard transmissions enable a driver to shift gears in a vehicle by depressing a clutch before changing from one gear to the next. This is in opposition to the standard in most vehicles on the road today: Automatic transmissions. Avoid confusing “standard issue” automatic transmissions with standard or manual transmissions. I know, we can’t call it a manual transmission because it implies only males can operate them. Malarkey!

It is my firm belief that driver education vehicles should only be equipped with manually shifted standard transmissions. Anyone learning with a manual transmission should be able to drive anything.

The tricky part was going from low to high range. You had to coordinate pulling up the low/high lever on the gear shift correctly as you changed during clutch depression. Many times, double clutching was required to properly engage gears. Going down from sixth to fifth was also a slowing down challenge.

Gear Shift Pattern
N is neutral with R signifying reverse.

I learned to drive a farm tractor when I was 12 years old. Knowing how to drive a standard enabled me to get a job driving flat bed trucks for a lumber yard when I earned my driver’s license at 16. The trucks were 10-speeds (not counting reverse or neutral) requiring you to start in first gear, low range, and work your way up to fifth gear, then shift to high range and work your way up from 6th to 10th gear to increase speed.

Technical stuff, I know, but learning to drive with a standard transmission teaches you how to keep proper distances from vehicles in front of you, especially on hills, and how to ensure you have enough room to slow down and avoid collisions. The coordination to stop involves clutch, shifting to neutral to disengage gears, and braking; all requiring conscious thought. Most passenger vehicles with standard transmissions only have five speeds and the shift pattern is tight compared to a larger truck’s gear shift. There’s also a reverse gear set slightly apart from the shift pattern to avoid accidentally shifting into reverse; that’s hard on the transmission.

Learning to drive with a standard transmission usually involves the grinding of a few gears as you get the hang of the pattern, clutch smoothness, and shift requirements. Try it sometime; some place safe.

Space

Originally published in 1981 on page 207 of The World’s Great Contemporary Poems, edited by Eddie-Lou Cole

A frontier

to explore strange atmospheres

and probe the depths of

uncertainty,

broadening horizons

and yielding room to grow.

A vision

of touching divinity’s aura

and opening the mind to life,

expanding dimensions

and dispelling myths of time.

A dream

of survival.

Impatient Drivers

Far too many of us are impatient drivers when we’re on the highway. Fact of life because we’re usually in a hurry to get somewhere to do something…or we’re already late for an event for some reason. Never mind that the other drivers have no clue why you’re so impatient.

If you’re like me, when some impatient driver comes up fast behind me and rides my back bumper, I hit the brakes or slow down to teach them a lesson. I want them to be courteous and respect my right to be on the road as much as I respect theirs. This usually makes them irate and more impatient.

It has that effect on me. But then I stop and think for a second, cool down, and back off a few car lengths. That shows concern for avoiding accidents and often leads to a perfect opportunity to pass them safely.

Granted, an impatient driver is quite likely to be considered a fast driver, as opposed to a slowpoke. From my perspective, I’d rather deal with some driver who understands the perils of speed. Better than one who is oblivious to how much their snail’s pace endangers other motorists. There have been occasions when a burst of speed has saved a collision from happening by clearing the situation. Being alert and braking is a good option, too.

  • Technology Perils
Oops! I’m driving!

What I fear more than impatient drivers is inattentive drivers. With today’s technology, far too many drivers are yakking away on their smart phones, trying to text or read messages popping up on their devices. They need to pay attention to the highway! It only takes a second for an obstacle like a deer crossing the road to result in an accident.

In the same boat are drunk drivers, who generally have no clue what they’re doing. The solution: Pay attention and obey the law!

Addicted America

I take a lot of pills every day; some are prescription, others are natural supplements. All are intended to keep me healthy, but I often question whether they do keep me well or serve as addictive placebos. Are we addicted, America?

I take natural supplements after careful personal study, but I often wonder if the medical profession as we know it in the United States is missing the boat when it comes to offering natural alternatives to what they prescribe. For instance, Valerian root has properties akin to Valium since its the root plant for the prescribed medication. Some will dispute the natural alternative’s value but it works for me and I can stop using it any time.

America, we are a nation of addicts. Forget about the cartels and illegal drugs flowing into our country. Think about our health care system instead. What typically happens when you visit a doctor in our Western society?

First, you are weighed, have your vitals checked (blood pressure, pulse, etc.), and answer questions about how you’re feeling. Then you wait.

Second, the doctor comes in, reviews the notes, and does a cursory check of your eyes, ears, nose, chest, lungs, reflexes, and probably asks you to bend over and cough. Then some advice about losing weight.

Third, the doctor may ask if you need any refills or…depending on what they have observed, will write you a prescription with little explanation of what the benefits or side effects might be. Out you go to pay the bill if you haven’t already coughed up the co-pay.

Some of us remember the old wives’ remedies that worked as effectively as the pills prescribed today. Cures like apple cider vinegar or castor oil. Nope! Can’t have that today; we trust what the doctor says we need, which is often an addictive medication like the crisis we face today over opioids. If you read the prescription label carefully, you may often find it tells you NOT to stop taking it without talking to your physician. Interesting.

Perhaps the cartel we need to worry about most is that linking the medical profession with the manufacturers of “legal” drugs and the insurance companies which support the writing of prescriptions with endorsements and television commercials encouraging us to “check with your doctor.”

The manufacturers make bundles of money, so they can afford to lobby politicians and get legislation enacted that favors their continued addiction of America’s citizens. Seems like rather shady business, but we have succumbed to it because it is legal and we are unsure of the consequences if we quit taking the prescribed medication.’

Is there a solution? Perhaps a widely-read expose on the problem, or transparency on the part of the cartel members but neither are likely. The media like their advertising revenues.

How many prescriptions do you take daily? Do you really need them?

Defining Success

Success is being recognized as an expert in your chosen field of endeavor. At least that’s one of my responses for defining success.

Another is that success is an intangible feeling that accompanies a sense of accomplishment…a job well done whether anyone else notices or just you.

A third definition of success is the ability to live comfortably within one’s means. How many million-dollar-plus lottery winners have lost it all because they couldn’t live within their means? They splurged or over-spent without thinking about stashing half the cash off the bat in retirement savings or some safe investment.

How do you define success?

A person can strive all their life pursuing an ideal that is unattainable but yet they believe it can be achieved. Is that person successful because they are passionate about their objective?

Consider a destitute person with an addiction to alcohol whose daily goal is to find enough cash to scrounge up a cheap bottle of wine and drink themselves into a state of oblivion. Is that person successful if they get the money and the bottle? Deep down, yes…if you believe success is achieving a goal. Some, however, would consider this person a failure for other reasons even though they succeed on a daily basis.

Let’s put it this way: If you are passionate about what you do–professionally or personally–and pursue that passion with purpose, you will be successful. You know what you want and how to get it. Those are important elements in defining success. Let’s leave it at that.