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I reached into the shower to turn on the water. Next, I removed my pajama pants, dropped them on the bathroom floor, and stepped into the shower. Usually, I would put the pajamas in the clothes hamper, but it was in the laundry room. The hot water felt good, but I was in a bit of a hurry, so the shower was quick.
After drying off, I wrapped the towel around my waist and stepped out of the shower. Without looking where I was going, I stepped on my pajama pants. I felt and heard a very uncomfortable crunch under my foot. I had an idea what it was, which gave me an uneasy feeling, so I picked up my PJs. I’ve always said, “Any situation can only become hopeless if I give up hope.”
So, hoping for the best (but expecting the worst), I reached into the pocket. I began pulling out pieces of my broken and shattered reading glasses. “Darn it,” I cursed.
The situation would not have been so bad, except Melissa just bought these readers for me about a week before. She bought them because I had lost my other pair(s). Since I was going into town, I decided there was no need to share the incident with my wife. So instead, I would buy another pair of basic black frame glasses, and she would be none the wiser to my boneheaded move.
I grabbed a few things from the grocery store in town, then went to Zup’s Dollar Store to replace my reading glasses. They had plenty of basic black frames but they didn’t catch my eye. What did get my attention was a pair of bright green, I mean to say, really bright, loud, fluorescent green reading glasses. I put the glasses on, looked in the mirror, and laughed. “You look like an idiot,” I said to myself. Then, remembering that I had lost several pairs of readers, “However, on a positive note, it will be impossible to misplace a pair of glasses that shine like a beacon at night.”
I went back and forth about whether to buy the glasses or not. Then, I thought about my six-year-old granddaughter; she wears equally bright, purple-framed glasses. “Evelyn will love these,” I said. “Besides, they’re only a buck-fifty.” So, I took the glasses to the counter to pay for them, then headed home.
I put the glasses on when I got home to show my wife. She rolled her eyes. “You’re not seriously going to wear those, are you?”
“Of course, I’m going to,” I replied. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because you look like a dork,” she said. Then she asked, “Where are the glasses I bought for you last week?” Oops. I forgot that was the reason I was going to get basic black frames. So I avoided answering her question.
“Well,” I said, “when Evelyn sees these, she will say she has the coolest Papa in the world. Now whose opinion do you think I’m going to listen to, yours or Evelyn’s?”
Melissa asked again, “What happened to the glasses I bought for you last week?” This time she had me pinned down, waiting for an answer. Finally, I had to fess up and tell her about the incident in the bathroom.
My wife shook her head in disbelief. “Well, at least you won’t lose these. And, if you wear them in the yard at night, we won’t lose you either.” We shared a good laugh about that.
Occasionally I enjoy going to mass at Cathedral in Superior, Wisconsin. After mass, it is my custom to stop and visit with the priest; no matter where I attend mass, I frequently take him treats I’ve baked.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I was driving to the 7:30 am mass at Cathedral. Unfortunately, a car hit me in the side in an intersection two blocks away from the church. To make a long story short, my car was totaled in the crash. I boogered up my knee a bit, but other than that, no one was hurt in the crash.
The accident caused me to miss mass, but I hobbled to the church and caught Father Andrew Ricci at the end of mass. “Why are you limping,” he asked. I showed him a picture of my car and told him what had just happened. (My car was hit hard, very mangled, and looked terrible. One would have guessed there would have been severe injury – or worse!) “Thank God no one was seriously injured,” he said.
Then I handed Father Andy a bag of Snickerdoodle cookies. I smiled and said, “It takes one heck of a cookie to survive a crash like that!” We shared a good laugh about that.
Last Wednesday, Father Ricci posted a couple of photos on social media. While he was driving, he was struck from behind. His car was hit hard, very mangled, and looked terrible. Based on the photos, I would have guessed there would have been severe injury – or worse! However, it sounded like everyone walked away from the accident without serious injuries. “Thank God,” I said, looking at the photos again.
Last Sunday, I got up early to attend the 7:30 mass at Cathedral. Naturally, I grabbed my reading glasses on my way out the door. After mass, I stopped to talk with Father Andy. I told him about breaking my glasses and that I had replaced them.
Then, I pulled my glasses from my shirt pocket and put them on. “What do you think,” I asked. “My wife says I look like a dork,” I told him. “But my six-year-old granddaughter says she has the coolest Papa in the world.” We shared a good laugh about that. Then I got a bit more serious.
“These glasses are pretty visible,” I told the good padre. “As a matter of fact, I have not had another car run into me since I got these. So you should think about getting a pair for yourself.” We shared another good laugh about that, then it was time for me to go. It is my custom to go out for breakfast after church.
I drove to a favorite breakfast spot, Julie’s Family Restaurant on Belknap Street. I sat in a booth, and the hostess, Ashley, was walking my way with a menu. “Good morning,” she said as she laid the menu on the table. “What can I start you out with to drink?”
I put on my glasses to read the menu, then looked at her. “A glass of water and decaf coffee, please,” I said. Although she kept a very straight face (as did I), I could tell she wanted to laugh at my green glasses. It was one of those awkward moments; I felt like she was trying hard not to look at me, so it didn’t appear she was staring.
When she returned with my coffee and water, Ashley was grinning. “My wife says I look like a dork,” I told her. “But my six-year-old granddaughter thinks I’m the coolest Papa in the world.”
“Oh, I like them,” she said.
“You like what,” I questioned.
“Your glasses,” she replied. “I like your glasses.”
“Ah ha!” I exclaimed, “So you were staring at my glasses.”
“Well, they do draw attention, sir,” she said. “But I really do like them.” So we shared a good laugh about that.
While waiting to place my order, I read a highlighted note at the top of the menu. The message basically asked customers to avoid substitutions to help keep service more proficient. I took note.
Next, the waitress, Tammy, came to my table. “What can I get for you today,” she asked.
“I’d like the Everything Omelet, please,” I said. “But don’t write anything down yet. Can you hold the onion and give me mushrooms instead? Also, can I get salsa in place of green peppers and substitute the cheese with sour cream?”
Tammy said, “How am I supposed to keep that straight without writing it down?”
So, I told her, “I don’t really want any of that stuff; I just had to ask after reading the top of your menu.” (I’m the kind of guy who asks if I can write a check after seeing a sign that says ‘No Checks.’)
“Oh, you…,” Tammy said while giving me a well-deserved, friendly nudge on the shoulder. “What kind of toast do you want? Potatoes on the side?”
After a good breakfast, I went to the store to buy some peat moss and manure compost for the yard.
I stacked four bags of manure on my flat cart, and the salesman helped me find rooting hormone. First, I put my glasses on to read the instruction label. Then I cut a deal with the salesman on three damaged bags of peat moss. He must have felt sorry for me, wearing these glasses, because I bought the lightly damaged bags for about thirty cents on the dollar.
I paid for my goods and headed out the door. Unfortunately, I forgot to remove my reading glasses, so the world seemed blurry. But I was pulling a heavy cart and didn’t care then.
Then a younger man walked around me. He looked at me, wearing my green glasses, and said, “Dude, you’re losing your S***.” Admittedly, the glasses are a bit obnoxious, but his comment was rude.
About fifty feet later, a lady waiting on the sidewalk looked at me and said, “Young man, you need to get your S*** together.” Wow, people! My glasses were loud but certainly not offensive. At least not enough to draw such harsh comments.
I got to my truck and placed the three damaged bags of peat moss in the back. Next, I loaded one bag of manure, then another. “Wait a minute,” I said. “I thought I bought four bags of manure. I checked my receipt. Indeed, I did pay for four sacks. I hurried back to the store to tell the cashier.
On the way, I noticed two white bags on the sidewalk. The lady was still standing there, waiting for her ride. She smiled, “It’s good to see you’ve turned your life around and are now getting your S*** together.” We shared a real hearty laugh about that. I put the two bags in my truck and started for home.
Melissa texted me, “Will you see if you can find any more of that Leinenkigel’s Peach Beer?” It was a tasty brew we had at our daughter’s house the week before. I was almost to Hammond Liquor, so I turned into the parking lot.
Hammond’s is a Liquor store with a lounge in the back and a steakhouse upstairs. I found the beer and asked the cashier, “Are you the bartender, too.”
“Until tonight, I am,” she said. “Did you need something?”
Through the window, I noticed a man sitting alone at the bar. I could tell he was a veteran, and I wanted to go talk to him. “Do you have the Leinie’s Peach on tap?” She said she did not and ran through the list of beers on tap. I stopped her, “Moon Man. Perfect, I’ll have a Moon Man.”
In a joking way, I said to the man, “It’s a little early to be drinking, don’t ya think?”
He laughed, “Not for me. I’ve been out fishing on Lake Superior since five am. After eight hours, that’s a day.”
“Well,” I said to the bartender, “Since he says it’s not too early for a drink, can I get a beer?” The bartender winked at me and handed me the beer she had already poured. “I’d like to buy him a drink, too.”
I introduced myself and learned his name was Bud. Bud and I enjoyed a conversation talking about almost everything. At one point, Bud pulled something from his pocket he wanted me to read. When I put my glasses on to read it, Bud snickered. “What,” I asked.
“Nothing,” Bud said, “I’d just like you to look at that.” I could tell he found my glasses quite bizarre but was too polite to say anything.
Bud went on to tell me he’d served in Viet Nam. He talked bout his time there and friends who didn’t come home. I did more listening than talking; I felt like that was what he needed. Eventually, the conversation became lighter and returned to laughter. Finally, Bud stood up. “Well, I’ve got things to do,” Bud said. “Thank you for the drink. Maybe I’ll see you here again sometime.”
I shook Bud’s hand. “I want to thank you for your service, Bud, and I will say a prayer for your lost friends.”
“Thank you,” Bud said, then he paused. “Do you mean that, or are you just being nice because I was the only one in the bar who would sit next to you, wearing those glasses?”
“Bud,” I replied with a question in my voice. “You were the only other person in the bar.”
“See what I mean?” Bud laughed, “People were afraid to even come here with you wearing those things.” We shared a good laugh about that, then said our farewells.
Driving north on Highway 61, I saw a State Trooper sitting on the side of the four-lane road. Once I was passed, he turned his lights on and pulled off the side of the road. I was wearing my seatbelt, doing seventy in a sixty-five mile per hour zone – but I doubted he would stop me for that. I had a good breakfast and nursed one beer in over an hour’s time, so that was no issue.
I pulled over to the shoulder and put my glasses on to look for my driver’s license. I looked out the window and watched the trooper speed by. We made brief eye contact for just a moment. Then I looked in the rearview mirror, nodding my head and laughing. “Even the Trooper wants nothing to do with these bad boys.” I like my new green glasses, and my six-year-old granddaughter thinks I’m the coolest Papa in the world. I’m good with that.
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The Smelt Fry
My neighbor Penne sent me a message: "Hey! Asking a favor: would you check if there are still tickets for the Green Door smelt fry on May 20; and, if there are, buy two for us? Obviously, we'll reimburse…."
Her message struck me as odd, not for asking a favor but for looking for tickets to a smelt fry a month before the event. I told her I would check. I called the Green Door, and the man on the phone said there were plenty of tickets. Of course, there were; the event was still a month away.
Beaver Bay is a small town (population 122 people) on Highway 61 along the north shore of Lake Superior. I seriously doubted their tickets would sell out. However, Penne seemed to think they would, so I was happy to help by getting the tickets. Two days later I stopped at the Green Door in Beaver Bay while on my way to Duluth.
The Green Door is a small pub built inside an old schoolhouse. The front door is painted green, thus the name. People meet there for a drink and to socialize. They can play a game of pool, toss bags or throw darts. It's also a gathering place for community events – like the smelt fry.
I walked to the bar. "Can I get two tickets for the smelt fry?" Then, I clarified, "I need tickets for the May 20th smelt fry."
The bartender smiled at me. "We only have one date for the smelt fry," he said as he handed me a pair of tickets. "They'll be twenty dollars, please." I gave him a twenty.
Then I asked more about the event. "Do your tickets usually sell out?"
"We sold out last year," he said. Then he explained the smelt fry was a long-running annual event. "It was an old Scandinavian tradition to have a fry when the smelt were running," Clayton said. "I'm a die-hard Scandinavian, born and raised here. We need to keep these traditions alive and pass them on to future generations. The last smelt fry was in 1991. My friend Dan and I wanted to restart the annual smelt fry.
"Thirty-one years had passed, so we had to ask some folks who were around back then about the event, and we started planning. Then, finally, in 2022, we had the first smelt fry in Beaver Bay since the early nineties." Clayton told quite a story. He seemed passionate about the event.
He also told me there would be vendors, a silent auction, live entertainment on the stage, and more. I hadn't been to a smelt fry for fifty years, but Clayton made it sound fun. "Why don't you give me one more ticket," I said.
"Just one," he asked? "Do you need one for your wife?"
I laughed, "I don't think I could get my wife to eat smelt if I dipped it in dark chocolate and served it with red wine." We shared a good laugh about that. I took my three tickets and left.
I sent Penne a picture of her tickets, teasing that I had to buy them from a ticket scalper. Although I only paid ten dollars each (face value), I figured I could turn a quick and substantial profit on these tickets, especially if the Green Door did sell out again this year.
Finally, May 20th came. I have a friend who lives alone, and I thought about asking him to join me. So, I called the Green Door to see if more tickets were available. "No, sir, we sold out over a week ago." Wow! That's okay; I would just go by myself. I wasn't sure what to expect. The last smelt fry I went to was fifty years ago.
As I got closer to the Green Door, I found both shoulders of Highway 61 were lined with diagonally parked cars, their noses in the grass. Finally, I found a spot a block or so away. A cart drove up and down the road, shuttling people to and from the event. The driver offered a ride, but it was a beautiful day, so I opted to walk.
A line of people stretched about halfway to the road in the parking lot. Then, the line turned right across the parking lot and back to the left in front of the stage, where a man was singing. I suddenly felt like I was at that smelt fry fifty years ago.
My dad took me to the American Legion in Port Washington, Wisconsin, a small town north of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan. Dad owned a radio station in Port. The line at the Legion was long, zig-zagging through the parking lot, almost to the street. I realized we would be in line for a while, and I was hungry.
I remember my dad talking to a lot of different people to pass the time. I was impressed by the number of people he spoke to. "Do you know all those people, Dad? Are they all your friends?"
"You don't have to know people to talk to them," Dad said. "That's how you make new friends." That brief conversation turned out to be a meaningful life lesson, one that I still practice today.
Finally, we reached the head of the line. Dad handed our tickets to a man. The man said, "Hello, Dan. How's the radio business?" He obviously knew my dad.
"It's a new adventure every day," Dad answered. Then said, "You have a real good crowd tonight, Bill."
"We sure do," Bill replied. "It must be all that advertising we do on WGLB." Dad smiled.
Then Dad introduced me, "This is one of my sons, Tommy. This is his first smelt fry."
Bill shook my hand, "It's nice to meet you, Tommy. You're in for a real treat tonight." I was looking forward to it. I'd never eaten smelt, but I liked fish and was hungry. The line moved along.
Dad picked up a tray and handed me another; we each took a plate, silverware, and a napkin. A man behind the counter used tongs to put several smelt on Dad's plate. I tugged on Dad's shirt. "Dad, your fish still has the head on it," I said with concern. "Did they forget to clean it?" Dad assured me it would be okay.
Next, the man put two fish on my plate, he grabbed a couple more from the big stainless steel serving pan and reached for my tray, but I stopped him. "Thank you, but I think this is enough. I'm not very hungry."
"Suit yourself," the man said. "You can always come back for more." Then he greeted the next customer. "How ya doin' Larry?"
The next person behind the counter was serving French fries. He noticed I only had two of the small fish on my plate. He was very perceptive. "Would you like a few extra fries," he said, adding another half serving to my plate. Another man gave me a scoop of coleslaw, and finally, a lady put a dinner roll on my plate. "Enjoy your dinner," she said. "There's tarter sauce on the table over there."
I followed Dad as he made his way to a table. He paused to greet several people, introducing me to each of them, but the whole time I was distracted, staring at those two fish on my plate. I wondered, "Why did they even keep these fish? I would have thrown them back; they're too small."
When we finally sat down, Dad noticed I was eating fries and slaw but hadn't touched the fish. "What's the matter?"
"I don't think they cleaned these fish," I whispered. Although young at the time, I enjoyed fishing. I had cleaned enough fish to know what was inside them.
"This is the way smelt is eaten," Dad assured. "Here," He reached over to my plate. Then, using his knife and fork, he removed the heads from my fish and put them on his plate.
I was still concerned (if not grossed out). "What about the bones?"
"Smelt bones are so soft and small, you can eat them." Dad took another bite of his fish to show me. "Didn't you get a dinner roll?" Dad was changing the subject.
"Mine fell on the floor when we walked to the table." I didn't want to admit that I accidentally knocked it off my tray while poking my fish to make sure it was not still alive.
Dad broke his dinner roll in two, giving me half. I managed to eat one of the two fish. It tasted good, but the thought of eating a whole fish – all of it – left me a bit queasy. So Dad took my other smelt and ate it.
As we were leaving, Dad stopped to talk to yet more people. The smelt fry seemed like more than just dinner; it was a gathering where you joined friends and neighbors and made new friends.
Despite my churning tummy, I was very happy. I felt like Dad was proud of me, introducing me to each of his friends. Finally, one person said, "It's nice to meet you, Tommy. How was your dinner?"
I froze like a deer in headlights. How do I answer that? Should I lie to them or tell the truth, saying, "Y'all are pretty gross people eating whole fish like that." Dad knew I didn't care so much for the smelt. I could feel him looking at me and hear him thinking, 'If you can't say something nice….'
I had already learned much from my dad about manners and being polite. Still, I wasn't going to lie to these people. And so, I answered them honestly, "That coleslaw was delicious. Not nearly as good as Mom's, but I'm sure they tried their best." Dad was pleased with my answer; it drew a hearty laugh from him and his friends.
I knew Dad was proud of me when he gave me a pat on the back and rubbed my shoulder while boasting, "Beverly's coleslaw is the best."
In hindsight, that was probably one of the best meals I'd ever experienced: The man who sensed my disdain for the fish and offered me more fries so that I wouldn't go hungry; Dad proudly introduced me to his friends, then split his role with me when I dropped mine; Making Dad proud by using the diplomacy I'd learned from him, and making his friends laugh. I felt warm inside as I reminisced.
"Have you been to these smelt fries before," a man asked while we stood in line at the Green Door? I told him I had not. "They had one last year," he said. "But it was the first in a long time." As he told his story, the man seemed to drift off in time: "When I was a kid, my dad volunteered with the Beaver Bay fire department. They put on the smelt fries back then. My brothers and I went to the firehouse every day after school to clean the smelt they'd caught that day…." I enjoyed conversations with him and many people I'd never met before. Then I recalled my dad teaching me, 'You don't have to know someone to talk to them – that's how you make new friends.'
As I got closer to the ticket taker, I started to worry. What if they serve the smelt whole without cleaning them. I began feeling the same anxiety fifty years ago in Port Washington. "Relax, Tom," I told myself. "It can't be that bad." After all, I've read a lot of stories in the bible about people eating fish. Yet, I don't recall any stories about them cleaning fish.
A few days earlier, I researched Port Washington's smelt fry to see if they were still being held. They were not, but I learned they started offering chicken strips to customers who didn't like smelt. This was most likely to appease people like me who were traumatized as children watching adults eating a whole fish – the entire fish, bones and all.
Maybe the Green Door would also offer an alternative. Just then, something distracted me. I glanced over to the tent filled with people at picnic tables. My friend Lana waved at me to sit with her and her husband.
I finally reached the food line. There were no chicken strips, but they cleaned their smelt and removed the heads before breading and frying them. That relieved me somewhat as I carried my food to join Lana and Don.
I took a bite from my first piece of smelt, then another. It tasted good. The next smelt I picked up was larger. I carefully split it into two pieces, then pinched the end of the spine between my finger and thumb and removed the bones – an instant filet. The smelt was tasty. Along with the smelt, they served potato chips and coleslaw on the side – not nearly as good as Mom's coleslaw, but I'm sure they tried their best.
By now, it was around two in the afternoon. Don and I enjoyed a second cold draught of Hamm's beer. (Now, there's a blast from the past.) Lana, who plays the piano and organ at church, warned me: "You're singing at mass at seven tonight. You better be sober!" We shared a good laugh about that.
After we finished our beer, I walked to my car several times, stopping to talk to people. First, I thought about what a festive day it had been. Then, I recalled my first and only other smelt fry in Wisconsin.
I found it ironic: the American Legion in Port Washington hasn't done a smelt fry for a few years. Meanwhile, Clayton and Don have rekindled the tradition in Beaver Bay.
Whether in Port Washington, or Beaver Bay, a smelt fry is not just a bunch of people coming to eat fish – it's a social event, a time to make memories.
I hope Port Washington gets their smelt fry going again. Meanwhile, I will attend and support the Beaver Bay smelt fry as long as they have them. Maybe they'll add chicken strips next year, and my wife will accompany me.
When I got home, I found my neighbor Penne had stopped by, leaving a twenty-dollar bill in our mailbox. "Darn it," I laughed. "I forgot to add my scalper's fee." But, not to worry; it's not too late.
You see, Penne and John shave the best rhubarb patch in northern Minnesota. Delicious rhubarb, which they've been very generous in sharing. Maybe I'll collect my scalper's fee in rhubarb. Then, I can make a rhubarb pie and invite them to join us, not just for the pie; it will be a social event.
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While living in Iowa, my girlfriend and I visited the north shore a few times yearly. Finally, I proposed marriage to her on the shore of Lake Superior. As a result, our wedding and honeymoon were on the north shore.
A year after we were married, my wife and I traveled to Alaska to help my Uncle John and Aunt Di move from Fairbanks to Silver Bay, Minnesota. After that, our trips north became even more frequent. We made sixteen trips to the north shore during our final year in Ottumwa. We had already been looking at houses in northern Minnesota; the time was right to pack up and move north.
After we bought our house in the north woods, Uncle John and Aunt Di gave us the coolest little housewarming gift; a hand-made bird feeder that looked like a miniature Northwoods cabin. It was made by a local crafter near Two Harbors. We immediately filled it with black-oil sunflower seeds and set the feeder on the railing of the old wooden steps at the back door. That birdfeeder has provided countless hours of entertainment watching our feathered friend's feed. But the birds aren't the only ones scoring a snack at the little cabin.
After I removed the old staircase from the house, I built a larger deck. During construction, the bird feeder was placed on top of a barrel in the yard. Soon, the deer discovered the feeder, helping themselves to the bounty at every opportunity.
Although the new deck was framed, I did not install the top planking. I wanted to wait until all the work inside the house was done before finishing the deck. (Drywall dust stains everything it touches, especially on a walking path.) For construction to continue I laid down a plywood walkway across the stringers. The birdfeed sat across the framework on the edge.
The birds enjoyed the seed. Soon chipmunks and squirrels joined the feast. The birdfeeder was becoming quite the gathering spot for various flying and small, four-footed wildlife. But more animals came, and they were bigger.
Many seeds fell to the ground below. However, nothing goes to waste in the woods. First, the deer came along throughout the day to clean up after the birds. Next, the raccoons wanted in on the deal and would come at night to finish the daily offerings. So much activity could not go on unnoticed. One morning I went out to restock the bird feeder, but it was gone!
I walked the top edges of the two-by-ten stringers with the same caution and skill as an ariel tight-rope walker. Then, from the edge of the framework, I saw the feeder laying upside-down on the ground below. "Darn, raccoons must have knocked it off," I complained. I climbed down a ladder to retrieve the little cabin and noticed paw prints in the muddy dirt. BIG paw prints.
I took my 25’ Stanley PowerLock tape measure from my belt. "Seven inches across," I said to my Dog, June Bug, standing on the plywood walkway above. "That's a darn big raccoon!"
"Um, Dad," June said in reply. "It might have been a big bad wolf, but I don't think that was a raccoon."
I smiled, "I know, Buggy. I'm just messing with ya. This was definitely a bear!" I pulled out the yellow metal tape, locked it into place, set it by a paw print, and took several pictures. I picked up the bird feeder and the broken hinged roof when the photo shoot was done. "Crazy bear," I complained. "I don't mind you taking the seeds, but did you have to break the roof off?"
I asked June, "Do you remember the story I told you about the big bad wolf that huffed and puffed and blew down the little pig's houses?" June remembered. "Maybe I should build a bird feeder with bricks!" June and I shared a good laugh about that as I carried the pieces up the ladder, onto the walkway to repair the little cabin.
Being from Iowa, I had no experience with bears. However, I showed the photos to my uncle, a friend who works for the DNR, and a few experienced bear hunters. Based on a seven-inch paw print, their guesses ranged from a bear that would weigh around three-fifty to four to even five-hundred pounds. However, there was one thing upon which they all agreed: "Get that bird feeder away from your house! You don't want that bear coming up on your deck."
I justified that the deck is five feet in the air and doesn't even have steps yet. They all told me the same thing, "Five feet is nothing, not even for a small bear, and a large bear has a substantially higher reach. Get rid of the bird feeder," they advised. But their advice fell on deaf ears. The deck was completed that fall, and we've kept the bird feeder on the top ever since.
The rare visit from a bear doesn't compare to the days, weeks, months, and years we've enjoyed sitting on our deck watching the activity at the feeder. Animals gather around that feeder like people around the well in ancient times, fetching water in the center of the town.
Sometimes the chickadees will drop a seed between the feeder and the pine tree branch, where they'll break the shell and eat the kernel. This results in a few random sunflowers sprouting around the house's foundation. One year a seed got dropped in an old pot of dirt on the deck. It grew and bloomed in the summer. We enjoyed its bright color and beauty so much that I make sure a couple of seeds find their way to the pot each year. Still, for all this magic, there is one thing I'm not crazy about with our view from the deck.
Our septic tank is just twenty-five feet from the deck in the backyard. The tank has two large black lids. Two six-inch white plastic pipes with caps stand about eighteen inches above the ground, and there is also a gray exterior electrical box with wiring for the pump inside the system. Frankly, they look like…well, a septic system. Although it is indispensable for our home, there is nothing attractive about the service points of a septic tank.
My wife planted some daylilies in the area, but they don't hide anything.
I came up with some creative ideas: paint the white pipes like mushrooms. Maybe paint signs on the big black lids: "Swim At Your Own Risk" on one and "No Diving" on the other. Unfortunately, clever paintings would only draw more attention to the presence of these eye sores. But, then, I got an idea from the birds; plant flowers, and lots of them.
Last fall I tried transplanting several species of flowers and ferns from our property. Not a single flower plant popped up this spring. However, several of the little ferns seem to have taken hold. I also scattered some lupin seeds. Five small lupin clusters are coming up, but that's not enough. I got another idea from the chickadees – sunflowers!
The plants that grew from the 'bird feed' sunflower seeds only got about three feet tall; they bloomed but did not produce seeds. What if I planted regular sunflower seeds intended for growing sunflowers in the garden? I should get an excellent crop of plants.
I ordered two variations of seeds, then staked out an oval area about eight feet wide and twenty feet long. Finally, the seeds arrived, and I set Mother's Day as my day for planting. I probably should have planted them sooner, but there was still snow on the ground.
Mother’s Day was beautiful. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the sixties, and I was pumped about planting my garden. I could not till the soil over the tank, nor did I want to. I didn't want to disturb the perennial daylilies or the new lupin plants. So instead, I turned the soil in numerous small circular areas, planting two seeds in each space. In all, I sowed about seventy-five seeds. Assuming they all germinate; I will need to thin them out and should end up with about thirty-five sunflower plants.
The traditional yellow sunflowers plants in the middle will grow to over ten feet high. Then, finally, I'll have a perimeter of tiger-eye sunflowers that grow to be about three to four feet tall. Both should produce a healthy crop of seeds to harvest, and the birds will eat well next winter. But not only the birds will benefit from these plants; the bees will also love them!
Speaking of the bees, I have a bunch of wildflower seeds a friend gave me. This week, I will plant my entire septic mound, about a sixty-foot oval, with all kinds of flowers to create a pollinator field for the bees – not to mention the flowers will make the yard more beautiful! Before I can seed the mound, I need to do a little preparation, adding peat moss and spreading manure to fertilize the plants. Who better to spread manure than an old radio guy, right? I'm excited to see how this will all turn out.
I can imagine thirty-five or forty sunflowers opening each summer day to the rising sun in the east. Then, follow the sun until it's setting in the west. West where they will be facing a giant bouquet of wildflowers on the mound. But there is always a chance none of my seeds in the new gardens will grow. Fortunately, I am optimistic the latter will not happen, but just in case, I'm following the lead of our feathered friends. (I dropped a few seeds in the pot of soil on the deck, but this year, I added a second pot.)
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In our quest to find the perfect couch, Melissa and I stopped by a furniture store just off I-35W while on our way home from Minneapolis.
When we first walked in the door, we were greeted by a lady sitting behind a desk on an elevated platform. She was dressed in black and looked like a judge in a courtroom. "Hello, welcome to our store," she said. "Feel free to look around; if there is anything you need, a sales associate will be along shortly."
Another lady off to our left shuffled through her papers, then appeared to gather her belongings. She seemed to perk up a bit as she looked our way. Melissa and I headed to the right, where a brown couch caught our attention.
The lady with her possessions in hand said, "Hello, is there anything I can help you find?"
"No, thank you, we're just looking," I replied.
She asked, "What are you looking for?"
I wanted to tell her sometimes people are just looking, now go away! But before I could say it, Melissa asked, "Is this couch available with full-length arms?" So now you've done it; you've engaged The Sales Lady.
Her name was Rosie, and she had more information about that one couch than anyone should be allowed - clearly, she intended to share it all with us. "Well," she began, "Those are tea cushions and...."
I wandered off a few feet, intending to show no interest. After a few minutes, Rosie finished her spiel. Melissa thanked her for the information, telling her we would just keep looking around.
Rosie said, "You just feel free to look around; I have some things to do, but if you have any questions," she glared my way and finished, "I won't be far behind you."
This woman, who appeared to be in her sixties, was carrying a clipboard, literature, notepads, a pencil, and a stack of business cards. What's more, she was packing a tape measure. I could tell by the black and yellow lettering on the side of the shiny chrome casing; this was a Stanley PowerLock tape measure. A sixteen-footer, to be precise. I could immediately tell she was not just a sales rep - she was a sales sniper!
I assessed the situation. She was packing a full complement of sales weaponry - I was unarmed, except for a concealed credit card or two tucked deeply inside my pocket. If I wasn't careful, Rosie would sell us something. I needed to ditch this lady, but it wouldn't be easy. Not only was she fully armed, she knew the store's layout. I had never been here before, and she knew it. I was about to become one of the hunted.
As we walked away, it seemed we lost Rosie. Then Melissa said, "I wonder if they have any of that log furniture?"
Rosie popped up from behind an ugly floral pattern high back wing chair, "Why yes, we do. It's on the landing," She said.
Melissa asked, "Where is the landing?"
NO, NO, NO! Don't talk to her, and whatever you do, don't look into her eyes!
We walked quickly to the recliner area. From behind a blooming floor lamp, with long black stems sprouting toward the ceiling, each supporting a lampshade, came a voice; "Did you have any questions yet?" Run, Melissa, run!
Another customer, sitting in a contraption that appeared to have more moving parts than a space shuttle, was making noises - at first, I didn't know if she was in pleasure or pain. "Is that a massage chair?" Melissa asked.
"Oh, yes!!" the lady moaned, "And it massages everything!" Her husband stood by, looking abandoned. I felt sorry for him. If she buys that chair, buddy, your life will never be the same! I wanted to help him, but we had no time for this; a sales warrior was hot on our trail.
Beyond the over-stuffed leather couches, I could see Rosie hiding behind a six-foot-tall plastic fern plant, watching us. We headed in the other direction, taking shelter in an oasis, a small break area for customers. Sort of a food court. There were cookies, coffee, and a fountain pop dispenser. Tables and chairs provided a place to rest. A sign read, "Please do not take food or drink into the floor display area." I grabbed a sugar cookie and poured myself a lemonade.
Behind me, I heard a noise; Click, click. Click, click. Click, click. It was Rosie, patiently sitting back, waiting for us. She was setting and releasing the tape measure's yellow lock button on and off, on and off, on and off.
It was as if we were in a protected area, and she was just waiting for us to come out. Outside the sanctuary, we would once again be fair game. Rosie remained poised, prepared to pounce. We went out from where Rosie stood to the opposite end of the break area. Once again, it seemed we had lost her.
Melissa found a hideous chair and ottoman. It was orange, green, burgundy, brown, yellow, and blue. It had symmetrical and round shapes and stuff. This is most likely why it was marked down three or four times on the red clearance sale tag.
I was on the lookout for Rosie when Melissa said, "I like it."
"You like what," I queried.
"This chair, I really like it," she said,
"You can't be serious," I said in disbelief.
"It's on sale," a voice announced out of nowhere. Just then, Rosie appeared from behind a decorative tri-fold dressing screen. I nearly screamed. "It's an excellent value, a discontinued floor model." It was time for Rosie to apply some pressure, "We only have that one left if you want it." I was prepared to tell Rosie it was discontinued because it was ugly as sin on a Sunday morning. However, I still wasn't sure if Melissa liked it or if she was kidding me.
I needed to get away from Rosie before that fabric-covered disaster ended up in the back of my Subaru. But then, I thought about the loons on the lakes in Minnesota. I had an idea:
If we were to dive below the backs of the couches, like a loon diving below the water's surface, get down on our hands and knees, and rapidly crawl six or seven couches away, we could pop up like a loon surfacing to reassess the dangers within our environment. But, unfortunately, Melissa wouldn't let me.
Instead, we made our way to the landing. Climbing the steps to where the limited selection of over-priced log furniture was displayed. I could see Rosie over the railing, still watching us above like a cat watching a bird in a tree. But Rosie didn't follow. The steps seemed to form a barrier she would not cross, like a cattle crossing in the road. So we were safe...for the moment.
We looked around the upper levels. Melissa still did not find the style couch she wanted. The coast appeared to be clear. We made our way quietly down the steps toward the front door. The pleasant lady (judge) behind the desk on the platform asked if we found everything okay and did we need a sales associate. "No, We're not from around here." I said, "We were just looking, but thank you!"
As we headed toward the front door, a shadow emerged from nowhere, transfiguring into Ninja Rosie. She jumped into our path, took one of the fifty calling cards from her clipboard, and handed it to Melissa, saying to look her up if we get back this way.
I walked more briskly toward the front door, pulling Melissa with my hand. The automatic doors closed behind us.
Cold raindrops fell on us as we ran forty feet to the car. Once inside the vehicle, with the doors closed and locked, I glanced over my shoulder to the back seat to ensure Rosie wasn't there.
I looked back toward the building. I saw Rosie standing on the other side of the tall glass doors. She watched us through the rain. I think she was saying, "You got away this time. But next time, I'll get you my little pretty...and your little dog too." I'll bet our dog June Bug, would have growled at her.
Knowing I had narrowly slipped the grip of Rosie, I started the engine and sped away, laughing, "So long, Rosie! You didn't get me, did you?"
Anyway, to make a long story short, Rosie some way got our phone number and the chair has been in our living room for several years. To this very day, whenever traveling through the twin cities, I take I-35 E, staying well clear of I-35 W.