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.


Column: A big hug is good for the soul

My late good friend Bob used to talk about “skin hunger.” Bob was an educator, and he maintained that kids need to have physical skin-to-skin contact with other people on a regular basis in order to be pyschologically sound. He thought it was one of the reasons that kids often punched each other or wrestled around with other kids. Maybe they weren’t getting enough “touches” at home.

You know what? I think skin hunger is a condition that applies to later life, too. It’s not just kids that need touches. Lots of adults may have received adequate contact as babies, but, for various reasons, no longer receive that same level of touch. I’m not a doctor, but I think sometimes these adults become isolated and defensive, or suffer intense feelings of loneliness.

There’s a lot of hugging and kissing in our family, even among the older kids — a 20-year-old and several teenagers. We like to hold each other, hug each other, kiss each other. We’re lucky, I guess.


Column: To all the moms out there, with love

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. Sunday, May 12, is Mother’s Day in the United State.

The holiday of Mother’s Day began in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Her campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”


Column: Dad’s second jobs taught this farmer’s kid

Ten years or so ago, I read a poem called “The Poem Where I Say Thank You” by Jack Wiler. I don’t recall the entire poem, but one line the speaker says has stuck with me all these years. The speaker mentions “a farmer who has a second job so he can afford to bring in the hay each summer.”

My dad had a number of “second jobs,” most of them full-time jobs, which he worked in addition to doing his regular full-time job on the farm. Some were seasonal, like working the night shift at the canning factory, or unloading pulp cars at the paper mill. Hard, physical jobs. He worked at the Sankey Dairy, and he worked in the quality control lab at the paper mill.


Column: There actually was some science to mood rings

Remember mood rings?

Back when our late daughter Jill was in middle school and high school, mood rings were a fad among young girls – and maybe some adult women, too? The mood ring was created in 1975 by two New York inventors, Josh Reynolds and Maris Ambats, who bonded liquid crystals with quartz stones set into rings. They initially retailed for $45 for a “silvery setting” and $250 for gold, and were first sold by New York jewelers Bonwit Teller. They rapidly became a fad in the 1970s.

The mood rings that junior high and high school girls were wearing were nowhere near that expensive, or for sure our daughter wouldn’t have had one!

Did you ever wear one of those groovy mood rings in your youth?


VanHaren: The Bazooka-like power of olfactory memory

Marilyn and I volunteered to be part of the Beaver Dam Eye Study over 30 years ago. Since that time we have participated in several follow-up tests, as have many other city and town of Beaver Dam people in our age bracket. And in the last several years, our sons have also been included in the study. Interestingly, the study, which started out to study eyes, has evolved into considerably more than just an eye study. In the last several follow-ups, we have had our carotid arteries checked by ultrasound and have been tested for our senses of hearing and smell as well.

This is not going to be a commentary about the eye study – although that could make an interesting story because the Eye Study has gotten a lot of national recognition. A granddaughter of some good friends is a pre-med student at Emory University in Atlanta, and she was recently introduced to this now world-famous study.

No, this is about bubble gum. How do they connect? Well, I’ll tell you.


VanHaren: Picking wild berries was great country experience

Growing up on the farm provided me with lots of experiences which my “town” cousins and friends seldom had.

Picking wild berries was one such experience. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and gooseberries grew wild in the woods and swamps around our area of Oconto County, and we picked a lot of them for fresh berries and jams and jellies which my mom cooked and canned.

Our farm was on the Oconto River just a couple of miles from the Machickanee Forest, just down river from our farm. The Machickanee Forest was a “managed” stand of pines that had been planted in the depression years by make-work projects of the government, and each year workers would go through and cut the lower branches and just let them lie on the forest bed. These “slashings” became fertile ground for lots of wild berries, especially the wild blackberries, and we made seasonal forays into the woods to pick them.


VanHaren: Goiter pills, cod liver and castor oil were once part of daily life

It’s funny how our memories work, isn’t it? Some of the goofy stuff that gets stored in our brains comes galloping back to us at weird times. And it’s hard to figure out why we remember them in the first place, not to mention why they come back to us when they do.

I recently had one of those goofy recollections. If you’re around my age, you probably remember goiter pills. At least that’s what we called them when I was a kid.


VanHaren: The nostalgia of Dick and Jane

Does the simple phrase “See Spot Run” push your nostalgia button?

It pushed mine. In a novel I was reading recently, the narrator used that phrase, and I was immediately transported back to 1945 at St. Anthony’s School in Oconto Falls – Sister Dominic’s first-grade classroom.

Our first “readers” were the “Dick and Jane” series. Dick and Jane, their mom and dad, their little sister Sally, Spot (the dog) and Puff (the cat) were characters in the series. I sure remember them, and I’m reasonably sure that anyone my age would, too. There was no diversity in Dick and Jane’s world. It wasn’t until the early ’60s (I was already out of college by then) that the series included some African-American characters.

As I am often wont to do, I went to the web to see what I could find out about the series. Well, I learned that Zerna Sharp was the woman who invented the characters Dick and Jane to help teach people my age how to read.


VanHaren: From six-on-six to the full-court press

I live in Beaver Dam, and the real buzz around here is the third consecutive state championship won by our high school girls basketball team. These girls have lost only five games in the last four years, and only one of those losses was to a team from Wisconsin. This year, for example, their only loss was to Miami Country Day, the No. 1-ranked high school team in the nation.

The Beaver Dam girls play a fast-paced, full-court, trapping defense that would be the envy of many boys teams. They routinely beat their opponents by 20 or 30 points while playing all 15 of their players. They don’t attempt to “pour it on” against anyone. The starters play very few second-half minutes.


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