Thursday, June 26, 2014

A fine flock of summertime squirbs

Believe it or not, once in awhile, I think about what I'm going to write about in these pages.
I must have been noodling on the subject in the back of my mind one day as she dictated a shopping list to me.
"Good idea."
So that's what I'm gonna do this week...try and CATCH UP (get it?) with a few squirbs, that infamous combination of squibs and blurbs I occasionally resort to when it seems necessary to complete some of the unfinished tales from prior columns.
Here goes.

Speedy Delivery.
My recent column regarding the supposed effectiveness of Absorbine Jr. on the plague of gnats we've been enduring--along with my inability to find any of the darn stuff--generated a fair amount of sympathetic response. I received copious advice on other bug-chasers I might try. Best of all the alternates was a bottle of stuff from a midwest-based company that a kind friend gave me. It actually smells good and seems to work.
But the most spectacular response came via a college friend named Doc, who lives in Burlington, Iowa. Doc saw a hand-printed sign at a drugstore the day before I posted my column on my blog. When he read of my Absorbine-less plight, he returned to the store, bought a bottle and set about establishing an elaborate hoax. His wife called me, claiming to be from a company called "Speedy Delivery" and wishing to set up a drop-off at my home in Galva. I hadn't ordered anything, so I was feeling a bit skeptical.  I said I wouldn't be there, as my grandsons had ball games, so I was surprised when an insistent Speedy Delivery employee called me from my front porch. I told him he'd have to come out to the Galva Park District if he wanted to make the drop, and figured that would be that.
But it wasn't. He showed up.
And I was totally surprised when the delivery man turned out to be Doc himself, who had ridden his beloved Royal Enfield motorcycle all the way from Iowa to deliver the magic elixir.
Good one, Doc

An unnatural disaster.
Some say the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was the world's greatest disaster, while others claim it was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79, or even Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But as far as I'm concerned, it is--hands down--the Great Sloan Home Improvement Project of 2014.
Imagine this.
-A whole new roof.
-A new garage and driveway.
-A replaced shower.
-8 new windows.
-A major interior painting project.
-Refinished hardwood floors.
Now imagine the utter foolishness of trying to get them all done at approximately the same time.  Luckily the happy pair of painters who helped get a major portion of one project done last week managed to avoid running headlong into the guys who were tearing off a roof dating back, we suspect, to the original structure as built back in the 1860s.
It ain't over yet.

The dog is on vacation, too.
If, by some wild chance, you were paying attention to my story about our recent Minnesota trip, you might recall that a dog was listed among the group of happy family travelers.
Arf. Arf.
She's my older son's family pet, and will be staying with us while Colin and his spouse, the college professor, travel to Norway, where she will be teaching a study abroad class starting next year.
For some reason, the dog wasn't invited, despite the fact that she speaks fluent Dogwegian and likes a spot of lutefisk with her Kibbles and Bits.  I was a trifle concerned about her visit to our house, because she is, above all, an incessant barker, who yelps, moans, snarls, growls and howls at everyone and everything that dares to move a muscle in and around their home in northern Minnesota.
"Oh, joy,"  I thought, as I imagined her loud, adverse reaction to the steady stream of painters, carpenters, plumbers and other helpful folks who have been parading in, around and on top of our abode.
But no.
Apparently she has decided that she's on vacation, and not responsible for providing security services in Galva. In addition, despite the fact that she probably outweighs him by a cool 50 pounds at least, she's afraid of Max the cat, who sends her scrambling with a low, fearsome growl whenever she's not where he thinks she should be.
In any case, all is (mostly) quiet on the dog front. And that most certainly works for me.

Not so fast, Baldy.
And the not-so-great news is that the experimental treatment plan I was looking forward to trying has not yet come to fruition, due, mostly, I guess, to the bales of paperwork needed to make anything happen in the complex world of hospitals, doctors, scientists, pharmaceutical companies and foundations.
Meanwhile, my crazy-cancer has begun to grow and spread while I've been off treatment, so, it's back to the chemo club starting today. This is, of course, nothing I can't handle, and I retain high hopes that the promised clinical trial will eventually become available.
In the meantime, It may affect the timing and outcome of the "What's He Gonna Grow Up There?" contest I've been running recently. Zillions and billions of you have placed your wagers regarding the possibly interesting varieties of color, texture and curl in the fine new crop of hair that had begun to sprout on my fine, smooth dome.
Oh, well. Easy come, easy go.
I will, by the way, be keeping your entry fees.
Stay tuned.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thank heavens it's June

It's been a long, long winter.
And every time we thought it was finally just about over, WHOOSH, back it came, complete with gray skies, cold north winds, and cooler-than-normal temperatures. We struggled through a wintery March, a frigid April and a month of May that flip-flopped between hot and humid, and cold and clammy, and back again. Truth be told, I still haven't gotten up the nerve to put away absolutely all my wintertime wear, though I have finally packed up my long underwear and fur line gloves and pulled my dazzling ensemble of shorts and T-shirts from the bottom drawer.
Because now it's June.
Now it’s summertime.
School is finally out. Baseball and swimming lessons are in full swing. The park is filled with the joyous laughter and excited shouts of families and children. The grass is green, birds are on the wing, flower beds are blazing with color and light, and the soft warm nights sing their sweet summertime song outside bedroom windows.
And, because it finally is summer, my mind is quickly turning towards dreams of places to go and things to do.
"We've gotta start doing some daytrips," I said a few weeks ago.
She knows that my absolute favorite kind of travel is the type that involves an early departure, a long, leisurely drive and something--or a whole list of things--to look at and learn about along the way. Sometimes the objective is more than a little hazy, with the journey itself the real thing. And then other times, there really is a plan of sorts and a real destination in mind.
These trips have been a part of our lives for as long as we've been together, starting back when a long drive to see and experience something new and different was just about all we could afford as entertainment and a break from a week's worth of work. Now, those kinds of trips are a virtual lifesaver for me, as I battle with a crazy kind of cancer that can often leave me mentally exhausted, physically devastated and even kind of discouraged at times.
She does a lot to keep me kicking these days, whether it's by convincing both me and my doctors to press ahead with some of the treatments that that I need to endure, or by simply providing some good reasons for sticking around.
"Let's hit the road," she'll say.
And so, we do.
Often, She drives, while I navigate and doze by turns in the passenger's seat. There are probably things she'd rather be doing, I know. But she, instead, sacrifices her own plans and dreams to spend time doing something she knows I enjoy as I slowly regain strength and a renewed zest for living.
"Where should we go?" she asks.
And then she smiles.
Because there are so many places we want to go. There are so very many things we want to see.
Some are astonishingly beautiful, while some are historic and cultural.
And some, of course, are a little quirky.
And that, my friends, is what makes it all so right.
Because it’s summertime.
Thank heavens.
Because, finally, it’s June.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On fatherhood and cheese curds

Ahhh, Minnesota.
Land of 10,000 lakes, Hubert Humphrey, soaring eagles, giant mosquitoes, the Twins, the Lakers, Harmon Killebrew, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken, Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, Bob Dylan, Sinclair Lewis, Garrison Keillor  and a whole lotta fish of various shapes, sizes and styles.
Oh yeah, and one more thing...
Cheese curds.
For the uniformed and disinterested alike, cheese curds are a tasty bi-product of the cheese-making process. Sometimes known as "squeaky cheese," curds are essentially the solid part of soured milk. They have a firm, kind of rubbery texture and a mild flavor, and are generally served fresh, deep-fried or as part of regional dishes like poutine, a heart-stopping delicacy that combines curds, french fries and gravy.
I always assumed the rubbery little devils were strictly a Wisconsin favorite, but it turns out that eastern Minnesota is pretty darn proud of the wonderful things they can do with sour milk, as well. That's where we were last weekend, off on a quick
northbound jaunt to meet up with older son, Colin and his wife for Fathers' Day weekend. In an effort to spare us both from the 639 mile drive between Galva and Moorhead, Minnesota, we agreed to meet halfway. The challenge was to determine a spot that would split the difference between our two homes, while providing adequate lodging, nourishment and entertainment for five adults, two grandsons and a dog, without driving one of us into the poorhouse or the madhouse.
Especially if it rained.
Which it did.
In buckets.
After determining that Rochester was too dull and Spirit Lake too far out of the way for both of us, I finally discovered a heretofore-unknown-to-me vacation spot called Lake Pepin, which is actually an extra-wide spot on the Mississippi River, and located about 60 miles downstream from Saint Paul. While it really is part of the big river that separates Minnesota and Wisconsin, it has all the beautiful features of a big, big lake, and even boasts a Loch Ness-style monster of its own, with the somewhat unfortunate name of Pepie.  I booked us a cabin called--wait for it--The Lunker Lodge at a lakeside fishing resort, and the die was cast for a wonderful dads' day weekend.
But back to the most important part of the trip.
Back to the cheese curds.
We had our first encounter when the grandma-lady, son Patrick, the two grand-boys and I stopped for a late supper Friday night. I prefer not to hype specific national dining spots, but suffice it to say that the initials of this place were D and Q. While the little boys and I plotted ways to convince the responsible adults in the party that ice cream is a good, nutritious meal all by itself, Paddy scanned the menu.
"Wow," he said.
"Yow," he said.
"Cheese curds," he said.
Thus began the weekend that will go down in family lore as "The Night (and day) of the Living Cheese Curd."  We ate them hot, cold, fresh and deep-fried. They were served to us in upscale lakefront bistros and mom-and-pop bayside bars morning noon and night.
Man, they were tasty.
What's more, it was quickly discovered that high concentrations of ingested cheese products have the ability to literally shut down most normal digestive systems, a handy side effect when sharing close quarters and tiny, fishing-cabin bathroom facilities. By Sunday morning, son Patrick claimed to have his first-ever cheese curd hangover, but nothing stopped us as we clamored for more.
Finally, the weekend was over.
I truly enjoy it when my two sons have a chance to get together. Paddy's life is hectic with his boys and his job at the bank, while Colin manages a busy retail operation that often demands much of his time seven days a week.  It was a wonderful Fathers' Day gift for me as I watched them talk, laugh and re-establish the bonds that make them the best kind of brothers.
Who could ask for anything more?
Our last meal together was at a cool riverside winery and creamery that featured great local wines and cheeses, plus incredible homemade ice cream.
Oh, and one more thing.
Gourmet cheese curds.
Like I said, who could ask for anything more?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

In search of Absorbine Jr.

I'm a pharmacy brat.
My dad owned Galva's most long-lived drug store during my entire childhood and well into my young adult years. During that time, my mother would frequently deposit me at the store in order, Im sure, to briefly escape my whining persona for a little while. Later, it was often my home base after school in order to avoid the dangerous trip across then-busy route 34 in those pre-interstate highway days.
Anyway, here's the thing.
While I had never, ever shown any particular aptitude for anything useful whatsoever, it was discovered at a relatively young age that I was an absolute wunderkind as a pharmacy clerk.  I could count change before I could tie my shoes,  knew the location of everything from lipstick to lamb nipples, and could often be found alertly perched on a little stool behind the cash register near the candy counter.
"May I help you?" I would chirp brightly at the unsuspecting customers who wandered into my domain.
I still remember the surprised reaction by one browsing dowager who laughingly replied to my helpful offer.
"Oh," she said. "Are YOU going to wait on ME?"
"No, lady," I muttered, mostly to myself. "I'm just waiting for the school bus."
Along with the aforementioned lipstick and the nipples used to nurse baby lambs was one product I always hoped someone would buy.
Sloan's Liniment.
It started out as a popular brand of horse liniment, invented by a self-taught veterinarian named Dr. Andrew Sloan. His son, Earl, later re-styled the product as a human medication in the 1870s, stating that it was "good for man and beast."
I don't know if we're related, but I always wished we were, just as I always hoped someone would buy a bottle of the darn stuff.  Fact is, our only regular customer was an elderly farmer who, when questioned by my dad, noted that it was great for loosening stubborn nuts and bolts.
The Sloan medication wasn't the only balm with alternate uses. Absorbine Jr. also started out as a horse product called simply  "Absorbine " until the "Jr." monicker was added when it was also recommended for human benefit.  Absorbine was created in 1892 by Wilbur F. Young and his wife, Mary Ida to relieve the muscle pain of their hardworking horses. Their son, Junior, created the brand for hard-working people and called it Absorbine Jr.
Wait. It gets better.
If you've ventured out-of-doors recently, you've probably noticed that we've been beset by a plague of near-Biblical proportions.
I personally can't remember a year when they've been worse, dive-bombing ears, faces, eyes and noses.  I think my near-bare head is especially tempting, particularly after sunset, when the pesky little critters begin maneuvers akin to night landings on the USS Forrestal.
I tried just about everything, including the various and sundry powerful bug chasers I take along when camping in the deep woods.
Finally, I checked the internet, thinking that surely I wasn't the only poor schmo desperately seeking something that would let me relax on my deck, mow the lawn and sit in relative peace at little league baseball games.   One of the recommendations was vanilla, which smells good, but is pretty pricy to be liberally slathered on as an insect repellant.
The other was--you guessed it--Absorbine Jr.
I toddled on down to my local Galva pharmacy where I received the bad news.
"All out."
"Don't know when we'll get any more."
I ventured into a big box store, then another, only to be greeted with the same sad news.
Absorbine Jr. is just about impossible to find. Anywhere.
Meanwhile, gnats around the world rejoice.
The good news is that folks who seem to know about such things say the plague will disappear on its own pretty soon. I'm glad, as I'm pretty sure that if I smack myself on the head anymore, I'm apt to do some permanent damage.  But before they vanish altogether, I'm tempted to give one more thing a try.
Maybe you've heard of it.
It's called Sloan's Liniment, and they say it's good for man and beast.
Maybe it"s good for gnats, too.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Just counting the dents in my front door

What's that sound?
I know.
It's the noise a regulation hardball makes when an eight-year-old pitches it as fast as he can, sails it over his brother's head, and hits smack-dab in the middle of the storm door in the front of the house.
I've heard that sound before. Many, many times.
Now, I'm hearing it again.
The presence of my two youngest grandsons under my roof has reintroduced me to a whole world of things I didn't know I'd ever get to experience again. And while I admit to being a trifle whiny about some of the changes that have come my way, for the most part, It's been pretty darn cool.
So, now It's baseball season.
Without a doubt, baseball was my favorite game to play back when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was a boy. And it was always the sport I liked to teach and coach the most when my own sons were kids. Like a lot of dads, I was pretty much a year-round volunteer coach, moving from flag football to basketball to soccer and on to baseball as the seasons changed. I liked them all, but baseball was best.  Unlike some dad-coaches, who carefully strategized and cleverly schemed their way through the season,  I thought it was pretty much enough to learn the fundamentals, play hard and have fun. Turns out, I think I was right, as most of the teams I coached were pretty good.
Or at least that's the way I remember it.
About the only other thing that really set me apart from the rest of the kid-coaching fraternity was my attidtude towards post-game snacks. Unlike most of my fellow coaches, who rewarded their teams with lavish, multi-course treats after victories over rival bands of pint-sized sluggers, I figured winning was exciting and rewarding enough. It was only after a hard loss that a guy really needed a Slo-Poke sucker to remove the bitter taste of defeat.
"Are you sure that wasn't just because you were cheap?" queried my spouse when I mentioned the memory. "Seems like you won a lot of games."
Well, maybe so. But I prefer to remember the more altruistic version.  Wouldn't you?
Now, my grandsons are fully involved in the great American game.
Rarely a day goes by when they don't get up a pickup game in the park across the street. They're both on organized town teams, too, with good, dedicated coaches and the able assistance of their dad, who played the game all the way through college.
Fact is, there's not all that much need for an old coot with a rickety arm and limited energy any more. So I was kind of surprised, and pleased, too, when grandson Cyrus unearthed my ancient catcher's mitt the other day and invited me to toss a few in the front yard.  The grandma-lady was happy, too, thinking rightfully enough that it's a good sign anytime I feel like doing anything more active than rolling my eyes.  But for the most part, the grandsons are glad to be just playing the game. And I'm happy for the chance to watch those boys of summer one more season.
Meanwhile, I'll just sit and count the dents in my front door.