Column: This week's weather stirs warm memories

Boy, it’s been cold lately. I mean, really cold! As I’m writing this, my phone is telling me it’s below zero outside, and the TV weather girl is saying the wind chill factor is 25 below.

This is the kind of cold that is downright traumatic. This is the kind of cold that drives our snowbirds south for the winter. I haven’t ventured farther than the mailbox today, and I’m ignoring the snow that’s falling outside. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

While it is not typically the most beloved season, there are plenty of wintery things and activities that make the season bearable — sometimes even enjoyable. Even when we are frustrated with having to shovel the driveway, or deal with our perpetual cold, if we take the time to slow down and look around, it is easy to find plenty of beautiful things about winter that make these frigid months quite charming.


Column: A few reflections as a new year looms

As I reflect on a year when Marilyn and I have both faced some very serious health issues, it seems more important than ever to maintain an outlook of faith and hope. This season, beginning with Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas, reminds us that our problems are not insurmountable, and we are not alone.

At this time of year, we often contemplate wishes and resolutions for the coming year. At my age, I’m not much for resolutions anymore, but I do have wishes for us and for my readers. My first wish is that those of you who suffer with disease and distress will have your health restored. I realize that for some of you, this is a realistic possibility, but for others it might be just a distant dream.

It’s not easy to travel a middle path between being proactive about our health (always trying to improve it) but at the same time accepting our situations as they are so that we can be positive and make the best of each new day.


Midnight Mass was highlight of altar boy service

When I was a kid at St. Anthony’s in Oconto Falls, one of the positions that many of us aspired to was to become an altar boy. It was not an easy goal to attain because in those pre-Vatican II days, the Mass was in Latin. To become an altar boy, we had to memorize the prayer responses. We “answered” the prayers which the priest was saying, as though we were the stand-ins for the congregation.

We memorized the prayers phonetically – totally rote – because none of us knew any Latin when we were in fourth grade. So we were basically unaware of the meanings of any of the prayers we were regurgitating at the Mass.


Column: Families have special Christmas traditions

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote a wonderful radio play in 1955 called “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” which began like this: “One Christmas was so much like another … that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was 12, or whether it snowed for 12 days and 12 nights when I was 6.”

Sometimes I think my memory works like that – my memory is dyslexic. But there are certain memories of Christmas of which I’m sure.

Most families have their own traditions, their special ways of observing this wonderful, joyous time of year. I grew up poor in financial terms only. We lived in a log cabin without electricity or running water. Our central heating was a big old cast-iron cookstove fueled by logs cut from our own woods.


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.


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