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Friday, July 29, 2022

 I get so much more from my tomato plant than tomatoes.

Solace, memories, vitamin C.

When I was a kid, one of my earliest memories was my dad's gardens. He grew up in Boyd, Wisconsin, during the Great Depression and gardens were vital, particularly for my grandparents who had five boys.

I was three when I can first remember a memory with an age. (Brain science tells us we can't have a memory of something unless we have language to go along with it. You can't remember a tree if you don't know the word "tree.")

There were two patches, one for an array of vegetables that failed season after season. Critters supped before we could get them. The second patch was solely for tomatoes, which we ate at every lunch and every dinner this time of year.

Both mom and dad usually preferred their tomatoes sliced as an accompaniment, with just a little salt and pepper. Every night so long as it lasted.

For lunch during this time of summer, it was often just tomato sandwiches. Mom toasted bread, layered tomato slices on the bread, sprinkled salt on them and then slathered the other slice of bread with mayo. (My mom used Miracle Whip -- which is not mayo. I use mayo, in fact I go online and order Duke's, something I found in my time in North Carolina. I also add freshly ground pepper to the tomatoes.) When I was in Burlington, NC, the newspaper had a yearly tomato sandwich day, with the tomatoes grown by the father of our features editor, Charity Apple. Best name ever.

In my teens, my dad asked me to be the one to water the tomato patch. He had been warming the water in old times because wisdom was cold water shocked the plants. As he aged, he became more relaxed about gardening efforts -- as we all do. But he asked me to water at dusk so the fluid would have less evaporation. And he told me to "soak the shit out of them." So at 6 p.m. every night, I'd take the hose out and water the entire patch for 45 minutes. Those were good tomatoes.

Some nights in the summer, we had tomato sandwiches and sweet corn.

Saturday, I plan on that for dinner and I'm adding locally grown cantaloupe for dessert.

Ah, the bounty of summer.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and corn and tomatoes and cantaloupe unto you my brothers and sisters. Also radishes. And Daikon. And new potatoes. And ...

Friday, July 22, 2022

The technological challenges during the work professionally and privately have not passed.

But that's a first-world problem, a phrase my daughter taught me when she was about 15.

I'm happy, healthy. I have enough money to get Friday fish fry tonight. Better, Kid is killing it in Hollywood. The weather in northern Wisconsin in July is utterly beautiful. Hot but low humidity. I have a fan for sleeping. I write my weekly columns on a place -- Powell's on the Lake -- where huge windows look west as the sun sets. My colleagues work their butts off to make the best newspapers we can.

So I can't send out emails? I can't access photos when I need them? Mere trivialities.

Those are still stressful when readers expect their newspapers regardless of our problems and the resiliency of my staff confirms to me I'm in the right place at the right time.

Still, I'm allowed to be exhausted.

And that I am.

But I write from a decent restaurant where I know I'll get a righteous fish. I'm having a couple drinks before dinner and then bed awaits. It's more a mattress on the floor still.

Some might view it as nothing more than a dog bed. But it will be mine.

And I shall sleep full and well.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and deep sleep unto you my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

On my list of problems -- it's a long list folks -- is I'm too flexible

Not physically flexible. I'm 56 years old. Don't exercise. And the only time my muscles get stretched is when I'm being dragged out of some classy joint.

But my unpacking has slowed to a point of not happening at all. In part because I'm working too much. And because I can get along with just a couple of pots and pans, a wardrobe of five work shirts and a mixture of multi-colored undershirts from Walmart.

I once spilled something on a shirt and I noted to the waitress if I couldn't get the stain out, I'd be out a $5 investment.

I have learned all too well to get along with little of my stuff and that needs to change.

It makes we wonder what a normal life would be like. Correct that. Will be like.

One of the first steps to getting better is admitting to a problem.

Except I'm going to wait until it cools off. I have a fan in the apartment that's struggling to keep up with the combination of 92 degrees and a fat man.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and central air unto you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, July 15, 2022

No job is easy -- otherwise we wouldn't get paid and instead call it a hobby.

When I was younger, I ran from job to job because I thought the places I worked were bad. I finally realized the places and jobs weren't bad but my own reaction.

Instead of changing jobs, I changed perspective.

Regardless, there will be bad days and good days, bad week and good weeks. I keep moving through them all understanding the long run will overall be good, great, wonderful.

Tough week this week.

And then two wonderful things happened today.

A coincidence even.

This morning Mrs. Stoppelkamp called and left a message. She's a reader from my time in Burlington, North Carolina and one of the sweetest people I've met in my travels. She called me regularly to talk about columns. She wrote and submitted her own. One day she stopped at the newspaper because during her morning prayers, Mrs. Stoppelkamp heard a message to hug me. It turned out to be my birthday. So I received a nice hug from Mrs. Stoppelkamp.

I called her back today. We caught up and both cried a little bit. We promised to do a better job of staying in touch and even talked about writing poetry together. She's a poet, I am not. My poems stink like someone spilling Limburger cheese on a car manifold and then driving 600 miles. Not uncommon in Wisconsin.

It was a pretty and delicate conversation after a number of brutal unpleasantries.

Within a couple of hours, I received an email from a local reader who has been buying a copy of my local newspaper for the last year on behalf of Mrs. Stoppelkamp. The email asked to continue her subscription so long as she was still with us.

Certainly people like to hate. For some it's their pasttime.

But today, at the end of a long, unpleasant week, I was reminded of the wonderful nature of my fellow humans.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and dear distant friends unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, July 8, 2022


This is the easiest thing I've ever cooked.

I call it Orange Crush cake but it could be called anything.

Per instructions from the ever-wise internet, I took a box of vanilla cake mix and poured it into a bowl. Then I added one can of Orange Crush. No eggs, no oil, no water. I followed baking instructions and voila -- Orange Crush cake.

I didn't eat much myself as sugar kills my gout. But it was fun to make and I enjoyed cooking for others so friends received decent portions.

My mom was the kind of mother who cooked to please and given she had four boys, that wasn't difficult. It was like cooking for pigs at the trough. The dinner bell went out (literally a dinner bell) and we sloughed to the trough.

And it was wonderful. I spent decades trying to coerce recipes from her but there were none. A handful of this, a pound of that, a quick pour and then a touch of herbs. (In our house, because of dad's touchy stomach, herbs were sparse. Mom didn't even use salt or pepper. When I discovered such exotic spices, my world opened up.)

Cooking is homage to my mother, who fed four boys on little money and full guts. I didn't understand the phrase "Jewish mama," but that's who she was.

That's why I try to cook, not just for me but others. It's a warming feeling to feed other people who appreciate what I've wrought.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and full stomachs unto my brothers and sisters.

Friday, July 1, 2022

I had a day off today where I tried to be a normal person.

One, I went into work three times on my day off. Note: In the future, when I take time off, I will leave the city. Even if I just go to The Prime in Trego, a small crossroads town where The Prime has great food.

Two, I'm not normal. I never will be. Doing what others do will never be.

This morning I woke up and went to a coffee shop where I ordered a regular coffee with a muffin. Backroads Coffee serves legit excellent coffee. They have all the flavors but I remain intimidated so I ordered a regular coffee. I don't know if they do their own baking but the glazed lemon poppy seed muffin was about the most tender breakfast pastry I've had.

I brought my computer to do some personal work, and fit in a little bit with others who suck off free WiFi as though it were mother's teet.

Great coffee, wonderful muffin -- although given the poppy seeds I can't pass a drug test -- but it turns out I'm not a hep cat. Which is what the kids are calling it nowadays.

I don't need to live what others live and of course I never have. 

Late in the day, in between one of my stops at work, I shopped at a grocery store as Thursday was payday.

Such naivete.

It's a Friday on the July Fourth weekend in a tourist area and a day when people get their Social Security checks.

Shopping was like the parade scene from "Animal House." I'm pretty sure Kevin Bacon was there, exhorting everyone to remain calm and I think I stepped on his face.

Entire sections were wiped out. Weird ones. I bought the last jar of queen-size Spanish olives. Someone took out the entire tonic section. Like mustard? You're out of luck.

One item that remained on the shelf: Cream of eel soup,

Today was a good day -- not Ice Cube kind of good day -- but a day where I could catch up on personal stuff. And now Saturday, I'll work a couple hours and clean what needs cleaning and then settle in to a homemade meal of chicken powdered with Penzey's lemon pepper season. Highly recommended. Some tomatoes and cukes from a local Mennonite farm and a glass of wine from a highly rated cardboard box.

Not such a bad life.

Peace unto Ukraine and peace and sustenance unto you my dear sisters and brothers.