No organized baseball? That wasn’t a problem back then

Last week was the annual All-Star game, a showcase for today’s millionaire baseball heroes. Our newspapers are full of stories about local American Legion and girls’ fast-pitch tournaments.

If you drive by the local diamonds in the afternoon or evening, you can see Little League baseball or girls’ softball games, adult softball games — all kinds of organized activity. Another event I observed about a week ago really took me back to my days as a kid.

When we were out for a ride one day, we went past one our city parks and there were five kids, maybe 10 or 11 years old, playing a pick-up game of baseball. I haven’t seen that for years. There were no adults around, no umpires, no fans, no bases, just five kids playing ball.


Museum plan would enhance city’s heritage

The Oconto Falls Heritage Center hopes to build a replica of the old Jefferson School as its new museum. (Contributed photo)

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Well, thanks to my blunder, the Oconto Falls Heritage Center may have lost that chance. Be mad at me, not them. Let’s fix something I wrote about them that just isn’t true.

As you may have read in the June 26 Times Herald, the historical group has embarked on an effort to replicate the old, two-room, wooden Jefferson School, which burned down in 1924, on the site of the 10-room school that replaced it and was razed more than a decade ago.

In rewriting and editing their press release for publication, I noticed there was no mention of exactly where that site is along Green Bay Avenue. I called Dale Seeling, the president of the Heritage Center, and he told me the site is in a fenced-in area not far from some playground equipment erected by the city some years back.


Shine little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer

I’m writing this essay on July 4, a day which is traditionally celebrated with gigantic fireworks displays and neighborhood kids with their bottle rockets and firecrackers. I’ve just come in from sitting on the porch watching a “natural” fireworks display in the backyard. There’s a flurry of firefly activity out there.

Maybe you prefer to call them lightning bugs? Some people in some areas of the country call them glow worms. Remember the Mills Brothers’ hit from 1957: “Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer! Lead us lest too far we wander. Love’s sweet voice is calling yonder! Shine, little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer. Shine …”

Wow, senior year in high school. We had some great music back then, but I digress.

Fireflies. What great little pieces of engineering. They’re not bugs or flies or worms; they’re actually beetles, but whatever they are, they’re fascinating creatures.


VanHaren: Turns out rocking chairs are good for your health

If you’ve ever walked through the main terminal at Charlotte International Airport, you were probably struck by surprise to see about a hundred rocking chairs lined up along the windows.

I looked it up, and I found out that Charlotte International’s iconic rocking chairs originally evolved from “Porchsitting, A Charlotte Regional Family Album,” a 1997 exhibit of digital monoprints by an artist named Jamie Franki. There were large photos of front porches, with rocking chairs, and in front of the photos, as props, actual rocking chairs. When the exhibit’s time was up they took the chairs away, and people got upset.

Haley Gentry, who manages amenities at Charlotte Douglas, said: “We didn’t realize how popular they were ’til we went to remove the exhibit. We got such a public outcry that we said, ‘Wow, we need to keep these here,’ and we expanded them.”


VanHaren: Finding documents written in longhand becoming very rare

I got a note from an old friend recently. It was written in longhand and sent through the mail. How unique is that? In this day when so much of our communication is by way of the printed word or by the magic of email, it’s becoming more and more unusual to read such personal notes.

I can remember when people told us that it was “impolite” or “socially unacceptable” to send typewritten or electronic notes, especially for very personal things like thank you notes.

Typewritten? Wow! There’s a word which is gradually going out of use. Who uses a typewriter anymore? I saw a story recently about Tom Hanks and his collection of typewriters. He has many of them, all in good repair. Mostly, typewriters are relics of a different age.

The computer keyboard helped kill shorthand, and now it’s threatening to finish off longhand.


VanHaren: Robins provide fascination and curiosity to the backyard

I spend a lot of time sitting on my porch watching the birds. One of the most curious of them is the robin. They hop along the ground, cocking their heads from side to side, and then they’ll suddenly stab at the ground and come up with a worm. How do they do that?

So you know what, I decided to do a little research and find out. I found out that robins have exceptional vision (I guess most birds do) and that they can spot the tiny end of a worm as it pokes through the soil. They can also see small changes in soil and grass as worms move about just below the surface, movements that indicate where a worm is located.

Robins are also known to use visual, auditory, and possibly vibrations or tactile cues to find prey, but vision is predominant. The way the robins turn their heads when searching for food suggests they could be using visual or auditory cues, but it wasn’t until scientists tested robins in the lab that we really knew for sure how they find worms.


Column: Father sometimes stares back from the mirror

Sometimes — not always — but sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I see my dad’s face where my face used to be. Mind you, I’m not complaining when I see my dad’s face there; after all, I am my father’s son.

There’s a line from a rock song (but I’ll be darned if I can remember who it’s by) that says, “Though my friends mostly don’t see it, I see my father in my own face.” When I was a kid I used to look at my dad, and I’d think,“I don’t resemble him at all.” I always thought I looked more like my mom. To be honest, I sometimes still look at myself and see a little resemblance to Mom. I think that the older I get, the more I’m reminded of my dad.

My dad had beautiful white hair; mine is greying and not very distinguished-looking like his. We have the same dark eyes. There are a few physical resemblances, but I don’t think that’s exactly what I see when I look at my face in the mirror and see in its place my dad’s face.


The Eclectic Mind: Four-plus years living with the Big C

Many of my readers are aware that I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic prostate cancer 4½ years ago. The cancer had made its way via the bloodstream to the fourth vertebrae in my neck.

After many different treatment regimens, including radiation, several different kinds of chemotherapy (both infused and oral), and three different clinical trial studies at the Carbone Cancer Center at University of Wisconsin Hospitals, I am happy to report that I am, as a friend once said, “still vertical and able to take nourishment.”

I am not telling you about my ordeal as an appeal for your sympathy; rather I want to share some of my observations since I was diagnosed. Some people would say there is no upside to having a life-threatening illness, and, for sure, I would never have voluntarily chosen to go down this path. But life is unpredictable, and we don’t always get to choose what direction it will lead.


Column: It’s fun to know what’s in a name

I recently read a strange little book called “The Department of Sensitive Crimes.” The author, Alexander McCall Smith, is from Scotland, but the book is set in Sweden. The protagonist is a detective named Ulf Varg and he works to solve “sensitive” crimes. For example, his first case is one in which a man is stabbed in the back of his knee. Another involves the disappearance of a non-existent boyfriend. Weird little book, but kind of funny.

At one point, Ulf is questioning a man named Ahlberg. Ahlberg says: “Of course. I noticed that when I saw your name. Both (Ulf and Varg) mean wolf in old Norse, don’t they?”

Ulf nodded. “Some people find my name repetitive,” he said.

Ahlberg laughed. “Names are odd, aren’t they? Some people talk about nominal determination, but I find it a bit of an odd idea, frankly. Do you think one’s name can be one’s destiny.”


Column: Spring is for the birds

I don’t qualify as a “bird watcher” in the strictest sense. I don’t go out with binoculars searching for rare appearances of birds (or appearances of rare birds), and I don’t know all the calls and habits of native species. I have several good friends who do. But I love to watch the birds who come to the feeders we have in our yard.

I feed the birds year-round because I like having them in the yard, but the “winter birds” are not as varied as the “spring birds” I attract. Two pairs of cardinals, a couple of pairs of goldfinches, a few house finches, and a variety of sparrows visit every day in the winter. There must be at least eight or nine different kinds of sparrows that live in Shirley’s cedar windbreak next door. My favorite is the chipping sparrow, a pretty little bird with a reddish brown cap. They sing very loudly.

So I always look forward to spring because I like the bigger variety of visitors who frequent our feeders. This has been a wonderful spring.


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