Column: Arithmomania – it's the numbers that count

You never know when you might learn something useful on “Jeopardy!” A few weeks ago, one of the clues (in a category called “manias”) said something like “a compulsive disorder to count actions or objects.” The answer — and one of the contestants knew it — was “What is Arithmomania?”

I guess I must be an arithmomaniac. I count things. I don’t know why, but I count things as I’m doing jobs, driving, or exercising, whatever. Do you do that?

This probably started when I was a kid on the farm. I wasn’t what you’d call an intrepid hero back in those days. (I’m still not an intrepid sort, I guess.) There were lots of things that I was a little afraid of, but I didn’t like to let anyone know that I was afraid, so in order to take my mind off some things, I’d “count.”


Column: Fruitcake season is upon us

It’s the time of year when fruitcakes start to show up on store shelves. Unfortunately, fruitcakes are much maligned. David Letterman once joked, “They’re now screening fruitcakes at security checks in airports. Even the screeners can’t tell what those little red things are!”

Well, I know that those “little red things” could be candied pineapple (dyed red) or candied cherries, but what about the other stuff? What else is in fruitcake? What’s the yellow stuff? Could be candied citron – made from the thick peel of the citrus fruit of the same name, or other diced candied citrus rinds. The “green things” could be green candied cherries or green-dyed candied pineapple. Besides the candied fruit pieces, you might have golden and black raisins, chopped dates, almond slices or chopped walnuts.


Column: I said never again, and then …

A little over a year ago, we moved from a fairly big house to pretty small house, and in doing so, we had to get rid of a lot of stuff that we’d accumulated over the first 54 years of our marriage.

I’m not talking just about furniture; we had to get rid of more than two-thirds of the furniture from our big house. But there was also a whole lot of stuff stored in boxes on many shelves in the basement and a lot of other stuff in the garage.

There were pictures and mirrors on walls that would never fit in the new house. There were lots of “collectibles,” too – things we’d picked up at auctions over the years. We bought other people’s stuff to add to our stuff. Holiday and seasonal decorations for every occasion. Stuff.


Column: But what will we use for "Doot-de-doots"?

A couple of years ago, there was a very interesting commercial on TV that made use of some amazing computer-generated art. The commercial was for toilet paper (or do you prefer “bathroom tissue”?), except the ad didn’t do anything to extol the virtues of the product. Instead, it was about the fact that the tissue was not wrapped around a cardboard tube.

The Scott Naturals Tube-Free toilet paper ad showed a cardboard toilet paper tube springing free from the holder in a bathroom, rolling down the stairs and out the door into the street, where it joined millions of other tubes and became part of a giant Empire State Building facsimile made up of 8½ billion tubes. Spectacular!


Column: Friends' passing reminds us of mortality

Nothing shakes your sense of mortality like the death of a good friend. In the last couple of weeks, I have lost two good friends, both of them high school classmates.

Wayne Kussow was my best friend in high school, and stood with me in our wedding. We had never met before our freshman year, but we immediately struck up a friendship that was to last 64 years. We were both farm kids with a lot of responsibilities at home, but we also both possessed a desire to break away from the farm, go to college and find careers in education. Wayne became a highly respected professor at the University of Wisconsin, and I had a very satisfying career as a high school English teacher.


Column: On adjusting to sudden baldness

I was told when I began my chemotherapy regimen that I would “probably” lose my hair. Two weeks to the day after my first treatment, I lost all my hair in about one hour! It’s been a month or so now, and I’m still surprised every time I see myself in a mirror or store window.

For my age, 78, I still had a a lot of hair – no indication of any receding hairline or bald spot. Silver colored, wavy. Lots of hair. Then, all of a sudden, Kojak or Daddy Warbucks! And because my pate has not been exposed to the sun, it’s shiny white.

I went to the Wayland Academy Alumni Reunion weekend festivities, and many of my former students didn’t recognize me. It’s such a remarkable difference in my appearance.


Cereal the meal of choice in Battle Creek

At a recent Alumni Weekend at Wayland Academy where I taught for 24 years, I talked to a former student whose hometown was Battle Creek, Michigan. When you think of Battle Creek, what comes to mind? Kellogg’s cereals, right?

Yeah, well, me, too. But Battle Creek conjures up a much bigger picture than just breakfast cereal. For me, it causes me to recollect a camping trip which our family took when our kids were little – ages approximately 7 to 2, I suppose.


Column: Readers read, whether or not they want to

Reading is both a blessing and a curse – once you learn to read, you can’t not read. Yeah, I know, that’s a double negative, but it’s a deliberate one!

Cereal boxes, roadside billboards, graffiti, wherever the printed words are, we read them. They might not totally register, but somehow the message becomes embedded.

For instance, 15 years or so ago, there was a great Chinese restaurant in Beaver Dam called China Palace. They had great place mats revealing the Chinese zodiac, and every time we went there, I’d read the place mat again.

It wasn’t because I was particularly interested in the Chinese zodiac, but because the words were there. And besides, why wouldn’t I want to reinforce the idea that my sign, the rabbit, represents? “Luckiest of all signs, you are also talented and articulate. Affectionate, yet shy, you seek peace throughout your life.”


Letter: Motion is ‘opposite of open and transparent democracy’

To the editor:

The story in the Sept. 28 Press-Gazette headlined “State eases housing rules” adds another chapter of shame on the current Wisconsin Legislature.

Obviously an ordinance enacted by the village of Ashwaubenon to address a local issue “gored the bull” of some unknown deep-pocketed interests. The result is what we have come to expect from the party that currently controls the Legislature — a last-minute, middle-of-the-night provision slipped into the must-pass budget bill through what is called a 999 motion.

Citizens can’t even hold the sponsoring legislators accountable because they don’t have to have the intestinal fortitude to attach their names to the provision. That, plus its inclusion in a budget bill inserted too late for public hearings or constituent reaction, is the opposite of open and transparent democracy.


Column: Bad news for pickle lovers

I recently read an article about how pickles might be a cancer-causing food. Pickled cucumbers, pickled beets, pickled cabbage. I like those things.

The article said “Chinese studies have shown that populations which suffer a certain esophageal cancer also depend on fermented veggies for long periods each year. Scientists have linked the cancer to a fungi used in the fermentation process, and a 2009 review of such studies found that the regular consumption of pickled veggies doubles the risk for this form of cancer.”

When I go in for my chemo infusions, the nurses put on what look like bio-hazard suits when they’re dealing with the chemicals they’re running into my arm. Do I have to put on such a suit when I open a jar of my favorite pickles?


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