Column: Farmers’ luck is wrapped up in IFs

Most of my readers know that I grew up on a farm on Konitzer Road south of Oconto Falls. Because of that, I have great respect for farmers and their philosophical approach to life. I have always felt that farmers are the world’s biggest gamblers. It’s a crap shoot every year for them. Luck plays a major role in their lives. They have to be willing to gamble that the work and expense they put into their farms will pay off. And if it doesn’t … there’s always next year.

In John 12:2, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”


Amazing feeding costs for the birds

Last week, I wrote about my fascination with watching the birds at our feeder in the backyard. In the week since I wrote that, we have had the good fortune of having some beautiful new visitors come in to chow down and entertain us. The most spectacular was an indigo bunting. Gorgeous!

While I was at Fleet Farm this week buying another 40 pounds of feed, I bumped into a former student from 50 years ago who was also stocking up on supplies for her feeders. She told me that she had read an article that talked about the astronomical amount of money which is spent annually on this activity, now second only to gardening as a hobby in the U.S. She couldn’t remember the specifics, so I went home and did a little research on the internet.

In 2015, the last year for which I could find figures, 52.5 million American households (almost half) were feeding the birds. Those 52.5 million households averaged $59.73 per year for bird food. That’s over $3 billion.


Bird feeders bring endless entertainment

Because of some health problems, I’m considerably less active than I used to be a few years ago. I used to spend a lot of time outdoors, walking 18 holes of golf several days a week, biking, hiking, doing yardwork, etc.

Now that I can no longer do all those “active” things, I take pleasure in less strenuous activities. I read a lot, I write, I carve, I play some cards with friends. One of my favorite activities is watching the birds in our backyard.

A couple of years ago, we moved to a new home in a neighborhood completely across the city from where we’d lived for the previous 18 years. At our old house, I fed the birds on a bunch of feeders suspended from the branches of the trees in our enclosed patio. I think the birds liked it there because it was protected from the cold north and west winds. We had many birds who visited the feeders every day. (Not to mention the squirrels and chipmunks who fed there every day, as well.)


Roger VanHaren: Dogs play an important part in our lives

Just in time for football season last fall, State Farm kicked off a new ad featuring Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers and LB Clay Matthews, but as it turned out the real star of the ad was Rigsbee (supposedly Aaron’s dog, but not really).

The ad featured Aaron and Rigsbee recalling the memories they’ve shared together after Clay has a mishap with a drone and Aaron’s truck over the seven years that he had it. They play Frisbee, sleep on the beach, ride with their heads out windows, tongues flapping. Rodgers and Matthews are stars on the field, but Rigsbee stole the show in this commercial!

Dogs play a crucial role in our culture. Some dogs are used to rescue those in need; others are used to assist people who may need a little extra help with everyday tasks; some are used in the war on drugs; others lead the blind or act as service dogs for disabled people.


Mother Nature must be colluding with Russians

As I’m writing this, it’s April 16, and I’ve just come in from snowblowing 10 inches of heavy, wet snow from my driveway. When I was finished, there was still a 2-inch-thick crust of ice clinging tenaciously to the concrete. It’s just not right to have to be doing that kind of work in mid-April. And I heard there will be more snow coming in the next two days! Whatever happened to April showers that bring May flowers?

I’m beginning to think that maybe Mother Nature (or maybe that stupid groundhog!) are in collusion with Russia. The Russians seem to be to blame for everything else that’s gone wrong in the world; why not the weather?


VanHaren column: Words taken to heart - 'A teacher affects eternity'

I was a teacher for 37 years. I’ve read that teaching is the noblest profession. I’m not so sure about that. But I do know that, for me, it was very rewarding.

I sometimes get the impression that for many people, their work is a means to an end. They work for a paycheck in order to live their lives. There’s no real joy in their work. But those who are called to teach have a true vocation. To those with whom teachers interact most during their workdays – the students – a teacher is not an employee but a friend, a mentor and a guide to the world.

A few years ago, I got to play the part of Morrie Schwartz in the very touching play “Tuesdays with Morrie,” by Mitch Albom. In preparing to play the role, I read Albom’s book upon which the play was based. In the interviews Albom recorded, Schwartz often spoke of his role as a teacher. He thought that teaching and loving are kind of the same; both can make students better people.


Column: An open letter to my grandkids

I’m 79 years old, and I don’t get to see my grandkids anywhere near as often as I want to. None of my grandkids has ever asked me for advice, but here a few comments for their edification — an open letter to the 10 wonderful kids in my life:

Dear kids,

Each of you is a beautiful gift of God both to our family and to all the world. Don’t ever forget that, especially if and when doubt and discouragement enter into your lives.

Always tell the truth.

Never tell anyone you love them when you don’t. Mean it when you say it! Hug people you love. Tell them how much they mean to you now; don’t wait until it’s too late.

Don’t yell at people. It never works, and it hurts both you and the people you yell at.

Take Ellen DeGeneres’ advice and “be kind to each other.” Go out of your way to help other people — especially those who are in most need of your help: children, the frightened and those who are weak. Compassion is a marvelous trait.


VanHaren: More than a place to store the hay

Is hay mow (haymow) one word or two? If you type either into Google, you’ll get basically the same results. I did that recently because I’d had an idea to write about adventures in the haymow (I prefer one word!) during my kidhood.

One of the results I found was an Airbnb listing for a rental barn loft ($52 a night) near Helenville, Wisconsin, in Jefferson County. It’s a guest room in the haymow of a restored mid-1800s barn allegedly owned by the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother. There’s no heat or air conditioning, but there’s a large fan for summer, and they’re closed in the cold weather. The bathroom in the milkhouse is shared with other guests potentially staying in The Silo. The website had glamorous pictures of the haymow suite but none of The Silo room. Interesting.


Spring is sprung in many variations

“Spring is sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the flowers is.”

My mom used to recite that silly little rhyme, and I suppose I’ve repeated it every spring since I was a kid, one of the many ways I have of keeping Mom alive in my memory.

I’ve heard some variations on the rhyme over the years, most often this one: “Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is.” But until I recently did a little searching on the ‘net, I’d never heard the whole poem. According to WikiAnswers (and what better source is there?), the poem is often attributed to a British-Irish comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright and actor named Spike Milligan (1918-2003).

Milligan’s version goes like this:

“Spring is sprung.

The grass is riz.

I wonder where the birdies is?

The bird is on the wing.

Now isn’t that absurd?

I always thought the wing was on the bird!

Spring has sprung, the buds all break;


Column - Solitaire: Time-waster or healthy break?

When I was a kid growing up on the VanHaren homestead on Konitzer Road, south of Oconto Falls, my Grandpa VanHaren lived with us. My dad had bought the farm from Grandpa with the provision that Grandpa could live there as long as he wished. So, Grandpa was a daily part of my life until I went away to college at age 18.

I have lots of memories of Grandpa, but one of the most enduring one is of Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, smoking his corncob pipe and playing endless games of solitaire. He played only one form of solitaire. He didn’t know what it was called, but I have since learned that it is called “Klondike.”

I often wondered, as I sat and watched him play, why he played it over and over because he seldom “won” the game. I think I would have become frustrated with the game if I lost as often as he did, but not Grandpa; he just kept playing – over and over.


Subscribe to RSS - Opinions