a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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Through a combined series of misfortunes, distractions, and sheer stupidity on my part, I managed to burn two gallons of homemade chili in the pot on the stove. The putrid burnt flavor made its way through the whole pot, so I threw away the chili. I scraped an inch of burned beans, meat, and tomatoes from the bottom of the pan, exposing that really hard, burned black stuff. Charcoal had nothing on this pan. I put some soap and water in the pan and left it to soak overnight.
I went back the following day, looked into the pan assessing the damages, and decided to just throw it away. That's when it happened.
I heard my mother's voice saying, "Don't you dare! You get over to that sink and clean that pan right now."
I sassed back, "You can't tell me what to do. I am an adult now!"
I could feel Mom’s presence as I scrubbed on the charred bottom of the pan, I tried to reason with her, "Look at this mess – let's just throw the pan away and get another one."
It was an expensive pan, a nice stainless steel ten-quart pot with sturdy side handles, and a vented glass lid. My wife bought it for me as a gift. I was sure it was ruined. "Keep scrubbing." I heard the voice say.
"It's not coming out," was my plea of defense.
"Use Comet," she replied.
I argued, "but it's…"
I scrubbed and scrubbed that pan with Comet and a green scratchy pad, then rinsed the pan. Then, feeling it was good enough, I started to put it in the strainer when the voice clarified, "It’s not clean. There's still more in the pan." Admittedly, there were still a few black spots.
Again, considering throwing the pot away, I looked over both shoulders. I couldn’t see her, but still I was sure Mom was watching from somewhere around the corner to see that this didn't happen.
After the final scrubbing, I rinsed the pan. Finally, I looked into the bottom of a once again shiny stainless-steel pan. I felt a warm pat on my shoulder, and heard a softer voice asking, "Now, aren't you glad you didn't throw away that perfectly good pan?"
I took another glance over my shoulder. No one was there. I examined my fingertips; they were pink and tender from scrubbing with the abrasives. My wrist ached a bit from the odd angle used reaching into the deep pot. I quipped to myself, "People should not be able to talk from the grave."
The voice replied, "I heard that too."
As I dried the pan, I thought about how much I miss those days in the kitchen with my mom and the lessons she taught me. They were lessons about cooking and cleaning, right from wrong, living, loving, and believing. Lessons about not wasting anything – food, or pans.
It's been over 20 years now since she passed away. From time to time, Mom still stops into my kitchen, offering me some remedial training. You know, people like mom, who've passed before us, don't talk from the grave – they continue to speak through the heart.
Melissa walked into the kitchen. I smiled, showing her the pan, and proudly said, "Look, I got it clean."
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I tried something different a couple of weeks ago, leaving home about ten minutes earlier to go to mass. Doing so allowed me to hear something which I'd not heard for a while.
The morning air was mild, with freshness coming in off Lake Superior. I arrived in Two Harbors at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in time to hear the church bells ringing before mass.
The bell tower stood tall against the sky; a few white clouds accented the beautiful shade of morning blue. I paused on my way and watched as the bells in the open tower rang out their call for the morning gathering. It was spiritually moving.
A younger girl wearing a pretty blue dress was kneeling on the sidewalk several feet in front of the large wooden front doors of the historic brick church. I wasn't sure what she was doing. Finally, she stood up, revealing a cat at her left side, which she had been petting.
The cat was a lovely grey tortoiseshell, speckled with yellow and orange on her soft fur coat. She seemed to be clean and well cared for.
The cat wore a red collar and was well-mannered and friendly. When the little girl stood up, then it moved on, looking for someone else who would give her some attention; a simple rub on the head would do.
Although it was the first time I had ever seen this cat, I heard someone say it was a neighbor's cat who often showed up on Sunday mornings. Like a mass greeter, the feline welcomed parishioners as they arrived.
I walked in through the front doors and climbed the flight of stairs. On this occasion of being early for mass, I met Father Steve standing in the vestibule. Usually, when I arrive, he is already on the altar.
"Good morning," I said to him, "There's a cat outside the front doors greeting the people." Father Steve looked down the steps and out the open doors. He didn't seem surprised by the cat's presence, but unlike me, Father Steve is always there before mass starts, so he's probably seen the cat before.
I couldn't restrain myself, "He must be Catholic, wouldn't you think?"
Like the response one would expect after telling a corny 'Dad Jake,' Father Steve gave a soft, groaning chuckle. "That's a good one," he said. With a few more minutes until the opening hymn, I went into the church and found a seat.
I appreciate a priest who can draw the attention of his parishioners by talking about something in current times. And then ties it together with biblical events that happened two thousand years ago. Father Steve got the congregation's attention when he talked about an early scene in Saving Private Ryan, the movie. He then related what happened in that scene to the Gospel, when Jesus restored a deaf man's hearing and removed his speech impediment.
Jesus and Private Miller, from the movie scene Father Steve spoke of, both distanced themselves from the crowd and the noise. They each sought some time alone or one-on-one time with another person. We all need that sometimes. But, there was much more to his sermon.
It was an excellent sermon, straightforward and easy enough for anyone to relate to. I wished everyone could have heard it. Father Steve's message would be beneficial in helping people deal with the crazy events of the world today - even that cat that hung out in front of the church, seeking attention.
The following week, I had intended to get to church a little early again. But, for all my good intentions, it didn't happen. I was late – again.
Many cars were parked on the street; I had to park a couple of blocks away from the church. Walking down the sidewalk alone, I reflected on last Sunday morning; how peaceful it was on that beautiful day even with people all around, and how good it was to be a little early.
On this day, the sky was just as blue when I looked up to the bell tower, but the bells were done ringing; still, I could hear them in my mind.
No people were gathered visiting on the front walk, and the little girl in the blue dress wasn't there. So I said to myself, "I wonder where everyone is?" I suppose they were already inside.
I could hear the pipe organ playing and the people singing the opening hymn through the open front doors as I got closer to the church building. Although I was alone on the walk, I felt the presence of another. "Is that you Lord," I asked softly.
It was about then that I noticed the grey cat with the yellow and orange speckles, wearing a red collar. She was walking on the sidewalk, coming toward me. "No, it's me," she said, "and you're late, sir."
The cat and I shared a good laugh about that. I took a moment, reaching down to give her a rub on the head. She paused to accept my attention and pushed her face into my hand for a good scratch on the cheek. "All the other people went inside already," she told me, "You better get going."
I enjoyed arriving early for mass the week before, but being a few minutes late gave me a little quiet time alone. I also had a moment alone with the church cat on the sidewalk. I recalled Father Steve's sermon from the week before; sometimes, we all need a little alone time or one-on-one time with another. Today, I got both.
Next week, I think I'll arrive a little early for mass. Maybe there will be time to tell Father Steve another corny little joke before mass. But, in case I don't make it early, I think I'll take one of our cats, Edgar Allan's, treats with me – on the chance I might meet the church cat on the sidewalk again.
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About ten years ago, or so, my brother Danny planted a variety of fruit trees. The peach trees seemed to fair well with the climate at his southern Iowa home. Occasionally, we get to reap the benefits of his harvest.
Dan brought a large bag of fresh peaches with him when he came up to Minnesota. He arrived at our house around ten-thirty at night, and I ate two peaches before bed.
A couple of days later, I took a road trip to southern Minnesota with my granddaughters. We packed a lunch and some snacks for the ride. Dan prepared a peach for each girl, putting the pieces in two small plastic containers. When we stopped to eat, the girls were thrilled with the surprise. Addison ate about half her fruit. Evelyn ate all her's, then asked Addie if she could have the rest of her peaches; Addison gave them to her. Good, ripe peaches are magical; they put people in a happy, loving mood, and these were good peaches.
A short time later, four-year-old Evelyn struck up a conversation in the car, "Hey Papa, guess what."
Sensing a possibility of being pranked, I answered cautiously, "What."
Evelyn said, "Your daughter Sydney (her mom), Aunt Delaney, and Aunt Annie are pretty."
I smiled while looking at her in the rearview mirror, "What about Nana Mac?"
Ev quickly responded, "Oh yes, she is very pretty, and June Bug is very pretty too."
Addison piped in, "And Edgar is cute."
I quizzed Addie, "Edgar's not pretty?"
"No, he's a boy," Addison answered as if I should already know this. "Boys aren't pretty; they're cute. Edgar is a cute cat." I agreed.
"Wait a minute," I muttered under my breath, "they addressed everyone in the family except me, even the dog and cat. What am I, chopped liver?" Maybe it was the sweetness of the peaches, and extra peaches at that, which inspired Evelyn's nice compliments. We finished our travels, then headed home.
I thought more about Danny and his peach trees; I don't know their variety, but I wouldn't mind having a couple of peach trees in my yard. Although I'm not sure they would survive the harsh winters of northern Minnesota, it couldn't hurt to try growing them indoors to start.
A few weeks earlier, I had purchased some Colorado peaches at a fundraiser for the Encounter Youth Center in downtown Duluth. After eating the peaches, which were terrific, I dried the pits, cracked them open, and retrieved the seeds from the center; I was surprised how small they were compared to the pit. But that wasn't the first time a small seed baffled me.
A few years ago, I met my friend Tony when I delivered a trailer to him on the west coast of northern California. Tony gave me a tour around his yard. Living in the Redwood Forest, he had sequoias in his yard, over one hundred feet tall! I was amazed at how tiny the pinecones were lying on the ground beneath the trees. I mean, these came from trees that are of the largest in the world. So I asked Tony if I could take a couple of pinecones for the seeds.
Tony said the seeds in those cones had already been eaten by squirrels and birds and such, but when the new pinecones fell, he would harvest some seeds for me. He did and sent them to me, but I failed to plant them and doubted they would germinate after two years in an envelope. I thought about trying to grow them anyway.
Planting new trees from seeds would be a good idea right now, especially with the wildfires that continue to burn through Minnesota's north woods. Fire is nature's way of cleaning the forest, making way for new growth; I understand that - still, it's scary! Some of those fires are only about twenty-five miles north of our house. We've been in a drought all summer, and the winds have been brisk, so we've been monitoring the fire's movement daily.
It's very cool, almost poetic, that amid all these trees burning near us, I got an envelope/postcard from Tony in the mail. Inside were more sequoia seeds; on the outside of the package were directions on how to plant them. And, so the process begins.
I'm planting sequoias to start my career as a tree farmer. I know these trees will not withstand Minnesota winters. And peach trees that most likely will not either. With this in mind, it would seem futile to even try, but…
If the seeds germinate, I will transplant the redwood trees into pots, and when they grow a foot or so tall, I'll give most of them away as gifts, keeping a couple of them in the house for myself. Maybe when they get big enough, I'll decorate them with colorful lights, ornaments, and shiny tinsel every year around Christmas time. Then, when they get as tall as the ceiling, I'll have to give them to someone in a suitable climate that could plant them outdoors.
I had a funny vision that I was away from home for a while, and when I returned, the sequoias had grown, pushing their way through the ceiling and rooftop. Like in the story, Jack and the Beanstalk. They were growing taller than the pine trees in our yard. Maybe one day I could climb them through the clouds, all the way to the sky where I'd find a hen that laid golden eggs.
The peach trees could present a problem. Protected from the outside elements, I could imagine them growing in pots and producing fruit in our three-seasons room. June would be in paradise. Thinking she had her own grove of tennis ball trees, she'd jump up and pull soft fuzzy peaches from the branches, then look for someone to throw them for her. Well, I'm getting way ahead of myself here. First, I'll have to see if the seeds will germinate.
I decided to keep some pits from Danny's peaches to plant along with the Colorado peaches. I'll keep you posted on how this all turns out.
I don't know anyone who doesn't like peaches. They make people happy and happy people are more friendly. That's why they call a nice person "a real peach."
My granddaughter is a peach. It was fun to hear Evelyn's compliments after eating a peach. I'll bet Tony likes peaches too.
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Last Thursday, a person commented on one of my stories: "These are all stories. Nice stories, but totally made up. Urban legends in a way." Totally made up? Ouch! I've literally spent my life living these stories – all true stories that really happened.
I'll often quote things said by my dog June and cat Edgar Allan. Doubters will say dogs and cats don't talk; I'll openly confess that I take the liberty of translating what they say into English for people to understand. Then I quote John Denver's song, Boy from the Country: "He tried to tell us that the animals could speak. Who knows, perhaps they do, I know they do. How do you know they don't, just because they've never spoken to you?"
My stories are true, and I'm sorry this person felt they're made up. But, all the same, I shouldn't worry about it. I know the truth; and, they're entitled to their thoughts and to express them. But admittedly, I was letting it bother me, and I need to focus on what I was doing.
I talked with a man about buying his camper that was for sale, and I needed to get ready for my trip, leaving early Friday morning to go look at it. Although I'd rather avoid Chicago traffic, finding a Scamp with the floor plan I wanted made it worth driving through the Windy City.
The journey would give me ten hours of windshield time, also known as thinking time – of which I spent way too much stewing over that person's comment. Finally, I arrived at the man's house Friday evening. Everything was just as he had described it. (I love honest people!) We finished our business deal, hitched the trailer to my van, and I started for home.
My home was another ten hours of driving away. Obviously, I wouldn't make it all the way, but I wanted to get north of Chicago to avoid the morning traffic. I was still wide awake, feeling so good about finding this camper. I drove through the big city, all the way past Madison, and finally stopped near the Wisconsin Dells, at a rest area where I got a good night's sleep. The following morning, I decided to treat myself to a nice breakfast.
I pulled into a Denny's Restaurant, which was attached to a large truck stop. There was a single black ankle sock in the driveway between the gas pump islands and the store. It was laid out perfectly as if someone was going to press it with a hot iron. It must have been run over by dozens of cars as it had tire tracks and was mashed as flat as could be. It just looked odd laying there; I stopped briefly to study it, then went inside.
I asked the waitress for a seat at the counter, then ordered a big breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, toast, hash browns, and pancakes. Remember, I was treating myself. After placing my order, I got another treat when the man next to me struck up a conversation. Meet Dave.
Contently satisfied, Dave wiped his mouth with his napkin, then laid it on his plate. As the waitress gathered his dishes, he said, "You tell the cook that was the best sirloin I've had in years, and I've had a lot of steaks. It was perfect." Then he addresses me, "I don't know what you're having, but you can't go wrong with the steak." I told him I'd already ordered cakes and eggs. He shook his head as if I should reconsider, "You're missing out."
Dave was older than me. As he drank his coffee, he told me he drove a school bus. "It gives me something to do. I retired after forty years as a salesman with the National Cash Register company." Dave had lived in Ohio, Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago, Arkansas, and more during his career. Since both of us traveled extensively around the country, we had many tales to share. But, no matter whose turn it was to tell a story, they all seemed to start the same; "Have you ever been to…"
"You ever been to Detroit," Dave asked?
"I went to a Lion's game a long time ago, but I usually just drive through. I love Michigan, especially the UP, but Detroit isn't my favorite place."
Dave jumped in, "Well, you're not missing much. That city has always had a problem with crime. The interstates and major roads are in a hole, low spots. When it rains heavily, the roads flood. At least they did when I was there in '75. If you hit the water going too fast, your engine could stall out. Anyway, you didn't want to stop on those roads for anything. Raining or not, there were always thieves and thugs around.
"Well, I was late for a meeting at the office one morning, and I'm never late; we had too many meetings, but that's not the point here.
"When I finally got there, the meeting was almost over. I'd left my jacket in the car. I was hot and sweaty, and my hair was a mess. My white shirt was partially untucked; I had dirt and grease all over it and my suit pants; we all wore suits back then.
"Everyone asked, 'Where've you been?' and 'What happened to you?' They all assumed I had trouble because it was raining and figured the roads were flooded.
"So, I told them I had a flat on the highway; it was the front tire on the driver's side. Anyway, I got my jack and tire iron and loosened all the lug nuts before I jacked the car up, then I went back to the trunk to get my spare tire. When I was rolling the tire around to the front of the car, my hood was up. I said to myself, 'What the heck? I didn't put the hood up.' So I went to close the hood, and there was a punk up there bent over my engine.' What do you think you're doing,' I asked him.
"He looked surprised by my question. He stood up and said, 'Since you're taking the wheels, I thought I'd take the battery.'" Dave and I shared a real hardy laugh about that; I could tell he'd laughed a million times telling that story – it was a good one!
I asked Dave if he'd watched the movie Smokey and the Bandit, "Many times. It's a great movie."
"Your story reminds me of the bride who stopped her car on the side of the road, then hopped into the Trans Am with the Bandit. As soon as they sped away, the Dodge van pulled up, and the guys jumped out to start stripping the car."
"Yeah! It was just like that!" Dave recalled as we shared another good laugh.
Dave looked at his watch, drank the last swallow of coffee, set the cup on the counter, and picked up his ticket. He spun around on his stool and stood up, "Well, I've got to get going. It was fun chatting with you."
We said our farewells, and he walked toward the door. I looked over my shoulder to see him at the front counter. It looked like he was telling the cashier a story. I laughed, wondering if maybe he was telling her that he'd sold Denny's the cash register she was using?
Another man came in and sat at the counter on the second stool to my right. I was just finishing my last bite of pancakes when he asked me, "Did you have the steak? I wonder how it is today."
"Nope, cakes and eggs. But I heard the sirloin steak was really good." I picked up my ticket, "Have a good day." I said to the man, then headed for the register.
When I walked outside, a quite round, elderly gentleman with a cane was bent over at the waist trying to pick something up from the ground, but he couldn't reach it. The walk was a ramp sloping downhill toward the driveway, and he was leaning way forward. Then, finally, he stood up, kicked at it, then bent over to try again. "Dang it. Just forget it, I can't pick it up," he said disappointed, talking to himself while slowly standing up again.
I leaned down, picked up the shiny dime in front of his left foot, and handed it to him. "Sure you can," I said, "we all need a little help sometimes." We shared a laugh about that.
He was offering me the coin, "You picked it up; you may as well keep it." Then added, "I just can't stand to walk by a coin laying on the ground."
"Me neither, but you saw it first, so rightfully, it's your dime."
He slipped the dime into his pocket, smiling, "Well, thanks, I'll keep it."
Feeling like I had just made his day, I walked to my van with a spirited step.
Because I was pulling a trailer, the van was parked on the far side of the lot. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to buy a bottle of water for the trip home, so I walked back to the convenience store.
A guy was standing in the middle of the driveway looking at the black sock. I stopped and looked at the abandoned garment with him, then broke the silence. "I hope the dude wasn't wearing it when this happened." We shared a laugh about that.
With a somber tone, as if to offer a memorial service, he asked, "Do you suppose we should say a few words, then put it in the trash can?"
"What? And spoil the fun for everyone else coming by wondering what happened? No way, man." We shared another laugh. I got my bottle of water, then hit the road.
A couple of hours up the highway, I heard a clanking metallic noise. It sounded like my trailer's safety chains were dragging on the pavement. I turned down the radio and looked in the side mirror. That's when I noticed the car passing me in the left lane, pulling a rental trailer. His chains were dragging, and one of them had actually worn in two.
I accelerated to catch up to them. I tapped the horn to get the passenger's attention. When she looked at me, with exaggerated mouth movement, I said, "Your safety chains are loose," while pointing to the back of their car. I wasn't sure she understood what I was saying, so I waved my hand, motioning them to follow me. There was an off-ramp right there, so I pulled off, and they followed – the car behind them did too.
We stopped on the shoulder and examined the broken chains. The man explained the people at the rental shop connected the chains. "They shouldn't have let you leave with the chains that loose." I told them I'd rented a lot of trailers, and knew how to fix the problem and get them back safely on the road, then asked, "Do you have a pair of pliers?"
He told his son, the younger man in the second car, to bring me the tool. But, unfortunately, his pliers were too small. So I went to my van a grabbed a couple of tools. We shortened the chains to a proper length and reattached them to the car.
The lady thanked me, "I'm so glad you took time to wave us over. That would have ruined our vacation if that trailer came loose. I hate to think what could have happened." Then, with the chains securely attached, we were all on our way. I drove away first.
On the highway, the car with the trailer was passing me again in the left lane. The lady looked at me, patted her chest, then, with an exaggerated movement of her mouth, said, "Thank you. Thank you." I smiled and waved as they went by. Crisis averted.
As I drove home, I reflected on the events of the day and all the friendly people I had come across. I had to put this into a story. Then I started thinking about the person who said my stories were all "totally made up." I began to feel bitter about the comment.
What about Dave and his adventure with the flat tire and the battery. I'm sure some would say he made it up – but I believed his story; every word because it came from his heart.
My emotions became thankful instead of feeling offended; because I have truly been blessed to live these stories my whole life.
I swear, it's true – all these things, and more, really happened in one day, and I couldn't wait to get home to tell June all about it. I already knew what she would say, "Gee, Dad, I sure wish I would have been with you."
Oh, and to the skeptics who don't believe my dog June talks: how do you know she doesn't, just because she's never spoken to you?
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Being the second youngest of eleven children, you could say my father-in-law comes from a rather large family. He and his siblings take turns organizing and hosting the Carlo Family Reunion. With his brothers and sisters, their children, spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, it's a lot of people. To keep one person or family from bearing the duty of all the cooking, everyone brings a dish, side, dessert, or something for the dinner. It turns out to be an annual celebration where everyone eats very well.
I was making rolls for the Carlo Family reunion and having so much fun, I got carried away and made way too many! Eventually, I ran out of pans to bake them. I could have frozen the rest, but I prefer rolls to be made fresh for every meal. After filling my last two round cake pans, I still had a lot more dough. I needed to give some of these away.
I went to a couple of friends' houses to borrow a pan and a clean dish towel from each, then returned a short time later with a pan of rolls and baking instructions. I still had more dough at home.
I went to my neighbor's house. Francisco speaks very little English, and I speak even less Spanish. Still, we communicate well enough for our occasional meetings/bull sessions in the back alley. I knocked on his door to explain that I wanted to give them some rolls. He didn't understand.
His wife came to the door to see if she could help, but I think she speaks less English than Francisco. I asked if they had a nine by thirteen-inch cake pan. They didn't understand. He leaned on the banister and called up the open stairwell for his daughter.
His daughter, probably ten or eleven years old, came down the stairs with a youthful spring in her step. "Si Papa." He explained what he wanted, and she attempted to translate for us, but she didn't know what I meant either. "A nine by thirteen-inch baking pan? Do you mean a cookie sheet," she asked?
"Kind of, but it's deeper," I answered, holding my fingers to indicate two-inch sides. Her mom came from the kitchen with various cookie sheets, cake pans, muffin tins, and bakeware.
I nodded my head and took the rectangular pan she was holding. I told them I would bring it right back. "You want to borrow," Francisco asked?
"No," I replied, "I'm going to bring it right back with rolls in it."
He still didn't know what I meant but graciously offered to let me keep the pan, "Okay. You have it."
Then I asked if they had a clean dish towel that I could use to cover the rolls. Again, I didn't know the Spanish word for towel, and Francisco didn't know what I was asking for. His daughter had already returned upstairs, so I smiled, "I'll be right back."
I filled the pan with fifteen rolls and covered them with one of our clean dish towels. When I returned to Francisco's door with the pan covered with a green checked towel, he smiled, "Oh, Toalla." I assumed that to be Spanish for a towel. I lifted the corner of the checked cloth to show him the rolls inside. His eyes lit up, "Aah!" With this new visual, he understood what I had been trying to tell them. His wife waved for me to bring the pan to the kitchen.
I pointed to their wall clock to help communicate times. Using hand gestures, I said, "The rolls needed to raise for about 30 minutes under the towel," while running my finger from the twelve to the six. "Then bake them at 400 degrees (I pointed to the oven temperature setting, held up four fingers, then made two zero signs) for twelve to fifteen minutes" (pointing again to the clock). His wife nodded as I spoke. Finally, we all seemed to understand.
I went back to my kitchen, formed the remaining dough into rolls filling a pie pan. I covered them with another towel. They just needed to rise, then I could bake them and be off to the family reunion.
The next afternoon I went to Francisco's house to retrieve my towel. He was working in his shed. When he saw me coming, he walked out to cheerfully greet me in the driveway. I asked him how the rolls turned out. He nodded and said, "Very, very good." He smiled and continued, "They no more. They all gone." Waving his hands like an umpire making a safe call at home plate, he repeated, "All gone, right away. My wife bake, and they all gone. We eat them all." That made me smile.
A sparkle came over his soft brown eyes. He patted his chest over his heart and said, "My mom in Mexico make very the same. Just like my Mama." A tear welled up in his eyes. Although we spoke different languages, I could see in his eyes and hear in his voice – very fond memories had been rekindled.
Francisco took my hand with his right hand and affectionately covering it with his left. Then, while shaking my hand, still with that look in his eye, he said, "Gracias. Mucho gracias mi amigo." I understood that very clearly. Then he gave me a hug.
Feeling the depth of sentiment within his embrace, I fought back a tear of my own. Who knew one extra pan of rolls could bring another man such joy? When he let me go, I said, "You're welcome. I will make more for you sometime." Francisco smiled. They say the smile is a universal language. His hug and smile said it all.
When we allow communications to come earnestly from the heart, in both talking and listening, in giving and receiving – speaking different languages cannot stand as a barrier.
On that day, everyone was understood; love was felt. We said our farewells, and I left, forgetting all about the green checkered dish towel I went to retrieve. My heart was so full I thought it could burst. Grinning all the way home, I walked up the alley feeling lighter than air.
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While looking at photos from a trip to New Orleans (N’awlins, as the locals say), I began craving some good Cajun gumbo. I had it at a restaurant in the French Quarter, and it was delicious. So, I pulled a recipe from the internet and made it. Unfortunately, eating it left me with an even stronger craving for some good Cajun gumbo (the keyword being good). Needless to say, it didn't go well.
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If a man is lucky, he may go through his entire life never being put to the test. But for many men, it has been and remains to this day, a moment that can negatively impact him for years, if not the rest of his life. It's that moment when she asks, "Honey, do these jeans make my butt look big?" Lord help you, my friend!
Many young men have been permanently scorn for incorrectly answering the question. Unfortunately, I'm still not sure there is a correct answer. My best advice, if you see her standing in front of a mirror, twisting from left to right trying to catch her backside, leave the room immediately. Nay, run from the room. Go scoop the cat little, dust off the old partial cans of paint in the garage, rearrange the condiments in the refrigerator door. Go find something to do and fast before she asks because this quiz weaves a treacherous web from which you cannot escape.
I heard a tale about one ole boy who answered, "I don't think it's the jeans, honey; it's your big behind making the britches look that way." Legend had it; he never showed up for work on Monday. As a matter of fact, he was never seen or heard from again – and they never found his body. So be vigilant to never get caught in such a situation where you could be asked.
If you innocently roam into a situation, and the question is asked, do not look her in the eye. Instead, act as if you didn't hear her. (Selective hearing; we'll cover that another time) For example, pick up a newspaper and say, "Honey, there's a big sale at the mall, would you like to go? I can hold your purse for you while you shop."
Wait, don't ask that! She could take that to mean you're saying the pants don't look good on her, and she should go find some jeans that fit. I just don't know what to tell you, friend, other than, there is no correct answer. If you say the jeans look great on her, she'll assume you're patronizing – and woe to the man who answers honestly. You're in danger at this point. It's like walking on thin ice and hearing a cracking noise. Not even running away will help.
Personally, I am very fortunate to have never been asked this question – at least not by my wife, but not long ago, I asked myself.
I was standing on the scale in the bathroom – the scale gave me an unflattering number I didn't particularly like. I caught myself looking in the mirror, twisting left to right, then finally concluded, "It must be these jeans."
It's hard to maintain a healthy weight, especially for someone who likes to bake as much as I do. With only two of us in the house, a whole pie or a cake is a lot of desserts. I usually share these desserts with friends and neighbors, lest I eat the entire thing myself, and my jeans end up fitting too tight.
I wondered if there was a way to make a smaller cake without messing up the proportions.
Doing a little research, I discovered a six-inch, round cake pan holds precisely one-half the volume as a nine-inch. Since I make my cakes from scratch, not a boxed mix, I could easily cut the recipe in half. So, my search for these more practical pans was underway. I had no idea there were so many choices.
I found cheap pans that were only a few dollars each – cheap being the operative word. Others were up to thirty dollars each; I wasn’t spending sixty bucks for a pair of cake pans. I could get good quality pans for five dollars each, but had to buy them in quantities of fifty. I finally found a good set of two for twenty-five dollars, including shipping. It was more than I wanted t spend, but it was an excellent set, and besides, they came in a really cool box.
When the pans arrived, I opened them; they were so shiny and new; I set the sturdy, cool box with its hinged lid to the side for storing and protecting my new bakeware. Now I had to decide what flavor I would bake first. I stacked the two pans imagining what size the cake would be, "That's exactly the size of the top from our wedding cake."
Our wedding cake was awesome; Jan from Vanilla Bean in Two Harbors made it. It was beautifully decorated in fall colors with real orchids from Anderson Floral – and talk about delicious! Rather than the usual white or chocolate cake, ours was a spice cake with maple frosting – perfect for an autumn wedding. "That's it! I'll make a spice cake with maple frosting."
The cake turned out so well that I made another; the next one was dark chocolate, then a third chocolate cake! Yum. We (I) ate the whole spice cake (Melissa got one piece) and gave the chocolate cakes away – well, I kept a couple of slices and gave the rest away. I was having a blast making these little cakes.
A couple of days later, I stood in the kitchen admiring my new little pans while getting ready to bake another cake. I held them up. Laughing, I asked, "Do these pans make my butt look big."
From the bathroom, I heard the scale yell back in reply, "Not yet, but they're going to if you don't stop putting cakes in them." I was aghast!
I marched to the bathroom and picked up the mouthy scale, "That was not the right answer, little mister!" I scolded, then tossed the weighing device into the dark cabinet under the sink. "You can just sit in there and think about what you've said." I closed the doors and returned to the kitchen.
On my way out, I overheard the scale asking some ole boy, "What'd you get locked up for?"
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Always read and follow directions; that’s what we’re told. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve also been told that men[TP1] don’t follow directions - and why would we, when we’re constantly told we don’t.
Lately, I’ve found myself reading them more often, mostly for the entertainment value. For example, shampoo instructions say: apply a liberal amount, lather, rinse, repeat. Do we keep repeating until the bottle is empty? It doesn’t say when to stop. On the carton it says to avoid bacteria, cook eggs until the yolks are firm. Firm? How am I supposed to enjoy my eggs over-easy? Apparently, some people read that label because I’ve been to restaurants where the cook had no idea what over-easy meant.
Last night my brother Dan watched while I prepared chicken kabobs for the grill. I randomly skewed meat and various vegetables. “You don’t have a system, or an order in which you put meat or veggies on the skewer do you?” He asked.
“No, I don’t, I just keep adding things until the stick is full.” I explained. “I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do it. Just be careful with the mushrooms because if you split them, they’ll fall off the skewer on the grill” Maybe there is a right and wrong way.
With my curiosity roused, I pulled out the package of skewers to read the directions. There were none at all! “Wow,” I thought to myself, “without directions, someone could stab their finger or skew their hand.” Sometimes I don’t read directions because the idiocy is too much for me to handle.
Yesterday, I decided to read the directions on a pail of drywall finishing compound. It says to let the mud dry completely before applying another coat. Really? Who knew? Sometimes the directions are so obvious that reading them seems to be a waste of my time. But there have been times when failing to read the directions, left me in a bad situation.
After a long day of strenuous physical labor, I was tired. I took a shower and went right to bed. My muscles ached so badly I couldn’t get to sleep. I got up, went to the bathroom and took a tube of Icy Hot from the cabinet. I slathered my biceps, shoulders, neck, lower back, thighs and calves with the gooey cream. I set the tube on the vanity, put my pajamas back on and returned to bed. I laid out a hand towel to keep the Icy Hot from getting on my pillow.
The smell was so strong, I thought someone had shoved an entire jar of Vick’s Vapo Rub into my nostrils. The product began to work its magic as the heat was penetrating into my body – more and more. Pretty soon I felt like it was two hundred degrees. With concerns of spontaneous combustion, I thought about taking a shower to wash it off but that stuff could end up running to parts of my body where I really didn’t want it. “I wonder if it’s possibly to apply too much of this stuff? Maybe, I should have read the directions.” I kicked off the covers and turned on the ceiling fan then laughed myself to sleep thinking, “Fanning flames only makes the fire hotter.” I didn’t sleep very well.
In the morning, I was very groggy when I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I put the toothpaste on the brush and brought it too my mouth, but the smell of the menthol was still very strong. I set my toothbrush on the counter, put on my glasses and picked up the Icy Hot to read the label and see how long the smell would last, but I inadvertently grabbed up the toothpaste. I picked up my toothbrush and sniffed the paste, “Holy smokes! I just put Icy Hot on my tooth brush!” Try as you may, you can’t get the smell of that stuff out of the bristles. I threw it away and got a new brush.
I started reading the label: Do not apply to eyes, nose, mouth or… Avoid taking a bath or shower within 1 hour after you apply to your skin. Warm water can increase the burning sensation caused by capsaicin. “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t shower last night.”
I read on: After applying the medication, wash your hands unless you are using this medication to treat the hands. “Good point Captain Obvious. Geesh.” Do not take internally. “Well, I wasn’t going to on purpose.” The tubes were lying next to each other, front side down, and looked very similar, how was I to know I grabbed the wrong one? This was not my fault. I determined these directions were too simple for me to read.
Maybe I didn’t heed the advice, always read and follow directions, because nobody told me. Or, maybe they did but I didn’t hear them. But that falls under the category of men with selective hearing, and that’s another story for another time.
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Surely, you've heard the old saying: build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. The other night while surfing the internet, I came upon a really cool one. It was a five-gallon bucket with a trap door in the lid. Mice would scurry up a ramp to get the bait placed on top of the pail, step on the trap door, and WOOP! Into the bucket, they fell. The guy caught sixteen mice in one night!
How cool would that be to catch that many mice alive? Especially if you had snakes or other pets that feed on mice. Or, you could go release them in the front yard of your nemesis. I'm sorry, I digress. This story is not about mice nor plotting against anyone. It's about flying pests.
Since the creation of the world, man has not stopped looking for a better way to keep mosquitoes at bay, metaphorically building a better mousetrap.
We have lotions and sprays, but people have become less thrilled about putting chemicals on their skin. My grandfather kept vanilla extract in his tackle box. I applied that, and it only made me want to lick my own arm, and the bugs seemed to like it as well.
We've designed screen houses, but the skeeters crawl under the edge, through the grass to come in and join the people. Another device produces a high pitch frequency that humans can't hear and mosquitos don't like. If we can't hear it, how do we know it's working? There are citronella candles, smoldering coils, and gadgets that produce offensive scents to the little bloodsuckers!
My wife inherited a classic Bug Zapper from her grandfather. It looks like a two-foot-tall carriage house light with small, blue fluorescent tubes inside. There's a wire mesh around it to keep curious people from touching the pretty colors. The openings in the mesh are big enough for a good-sized bug to enter. Once they come in contact with the blue tubes, ZAPPO! There's a quick electrical shock noise, and they're goners. When the occasional June bug or a moth gets inside, it sounds like fireworks on the fourth of July!
The Bug Zapper has provided many hours of summer entertainment at campsites, in back yards, and on decks and patios worldwide; it's a spectator's sport. Family and friends would gather to enjoy a beverage and watch bugs get zapped. Over time, people wanted and demanded more from this sport. They wanted something interactive; thus, some genius invented the mosquito racket.
Having the appearance of a racket-ball racket, the mosquito racket is electrically charged and more dangerous. When swung through the flight path of a wayward skeeter, the lethal contraption will bring the zap to them; the bug no longer has to fly to the stationary zapper to die.
Originally designed to offer relief from mosquitos and gnats, the zapper racket has become a full-contact sport for many. We were first introduced to the device when my brother-in-law Jeff came to visit.
Northern Minnesota is well known for its honorary state bird of jest – the mosquito. Tall tales about how the size of Minnesota's mosquitoes are told. But honestly, they aren't any larger than those from any other state; we just have more of them – a lot more of them.
Sitting on our deck one summer night, the mosquitos started to come out. Jeff was well prepared; he pulled out his racket and began swinging from his deck chair. Pow, pop, zap, zap. "What the heck is that," I asked, and he explained. "That's really cool. Can I see it?" I began waving the device, and the skeeters started dropping.
Melissa came out to the deck and saw me waving the racket. Z-zap, zap. (I got two at once) "What is that?" she queried, and Jeff explained. "That's really neat. Let me see that," she said as she took the racket against my will. I told her I wasn't done with it yet, "I'll be just a minute," she said. "be patient."
She began moving as gracefully as a ballerina lightly dancing across the stage. A few zaps later, she was going at the mosquitos like a ninja warrior in a severe battle. Zap, Zap, pow, pow, pow, BANG. "Weegee! Woohoo!" she hollered in full action. I don't believe Jeff, nor I held the racket again until his visit came to an end. "We've got to get a couple of these," she said while reluctantly surrendering the weapon to its rightful owner at his departure.
On Monday, we drove to Duluth and purchased a pair of the rackets at a discount store. We got two of them for less than seven dollars each. Mosquito rackets are not all created equal, and these were junk. The mosquitos were winning. Melissa went online and ordered a good one. "Twenty bucks?" I questioned.
"I researched them. You won't get a good mosquito racket for less." She justified.
When the package arrived with only one racket, I questioned, "What about me. Where's mine?"
"You have those two over there," she said, pointing to the dysfunctional rackets, "one for each hand." She began swinging her new toy; zap, zap. "YeeHaw!"
Last weekend we were in Mason City camping along the Winnebago River. Our daughter, Annie Jo, joined us at the campsite. I'm sure you've heard the old saying: build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. Well, I'm not sure if it's better, but it definitely had more options. Annie pulled out her brand-new rig; Melissa was in awe.
"How much was that?" I asked, looking at the fancy gadget.
"Twenty bucks," Annie replied, "I researched them; you can't get a good one for less than twenty bucks."
Annie showed off her Inteleable Bug Zapper, Mosquito Killer. This USB rechargeable bad boy packs a 4000V grid with Safe to Touch 3-layer safety mesh. (I sure would have appreciated that the day Melissa popped me with her racket, but that's another story.)
Annie's racket has a detachable flashlight built into the handle and another LED light near the head, giving the user an upper hand during nighttime battles. It had more buttons, toggles, and switches than a '62 Buick Roadmaster (also known for killing masses of bugs). Why just its black and blue, sleek design alone is enough to scare a mosquito to death!
Annie switched the unit to the ON position and went to battle, but no sounds were made. Seeking the advice of a well-seasoned mosquito racket operator, she told Melissa, "I don't think this thing is working."
Melissa looked over the high-tech device, "Even with the switch turned on, you still have to hold the little button to charge the grid." She explained. Without supplying a charge to the grid, Annie had basically been beating and bludgeoning bugs to death.
Annie depressed the button and swung the racket: zap, pow, pop, zap. "Now, this is camping!" She declared. Soon the two were in full action. A person passing by, unfamiliar with this tool, seeing two women swinging wildly through the air at apparently nothing, would have to assume they were on something – or just crazy.
After zapping all the bugs, the girls turned on one another. Each with their left hand on their hip, presenting a racket in their right hand, commenced fencing. They would charge one another, then retreat as the opponent advanced. This went on back and forth like a choreographed dance.
With my trusty dog, June, at my side, I sat in a camp chair, spectating. The dual continued. I drank the last swallow of my beverage, then stood up, "June, do you want to go for a walk?"
We weren't fifty feet down the road when I slapped at the back of my neck. In my palm was a squished, bloody mosquito. "Darn it! He got me," I complained. Meanwhile, June was biting at a black fly on her side. "Maybe we should get a couple of those rackets," I suggested to my dog.
"Dad, I don't have opposable thumbs. How would I hold a racket?"
"Trust me, June, someone will come along and build a better mousetrap. It's just a matter of time." We shared a good laugh about that and kept walking through the campground.
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What an exciting time of year. Young men and women all across the country have completed a task that seemed to have taken an eternity – nearly three-quarters of their lifetime. Family and friends will gather as festivities are held across the land, acknowledging the accomplishment of these students graduating from high school. One such celebration led us across the state to celebrate with our niece, Libby.
We traveled to Hutchinson, with our Scamp in tow, accompanied by our dog June and our cat, Edgar Allan. Arriving around sunset, we set up camp in the city campground along the south fork of the Crow River. The picturesque park was stereotypical of the Midwest.
Hot temperatures of the day were subsiding, making way for cooler air moving in for the evening. A young man on the center bench seat of a small boat was rowing as a young lady sat in the bow. She seemed to be enjoying the effort he put into courting her. I wanted to holler out to her, "If you'd sit on the back seat, you'd see the googly eyes he's making at you." But it was probably best I left these two love birds alone.
Geese, ducks, and swans moved gracefully over the water. Cutting a gentle V-shaped ripple in the smooth water, they created a path for their young chicks trailing behind. Flowering blossoms on the trees and bushes released a sweet fragrance adding to the romantic ambiance and feeling of love in the late springtime air. Of course, it also adds to the suffering of those with pollen allergies.
Just before we went to bed, I let June out to potty. I dipped a scoop from her food container in the van and poured it into her bowl, taking it into the camper. I didn't want to have to get out of the Scamp around six a.m. when she woke up and wanted breakfast. I set the bowl up on the counter so that she wouldn't help herself to it in the middle of the night.
We settled into the Scamp with the vents and windows open; a cool breeze flowed through the camper. Eventually, it got cool enough that we pulled up the covers. Normally, I would consider these ideal sleeping conditions, but several factors contributed to me not sleeping well.
I was beyond chilly, feeling cold. My wife struggled to breathe due to the heavy pollen, and June and Edgar were constantly moving about the camper. I could hear Edgar eating his cat food while June kept coming to the side of the bed, putting her paws up on me and giving me kisses. Without success, I rubbed her head, trying to get her to lay down.
I finally sat up and looked at the time. "Four-thirty in the morning," I turned off the ceiling vent fan, closed a couple of the windows, and said, "Will you two knock it off and go to sleep - it's going to start getting light in a half hour. Enough already!"
I laid down and pulled the fleece blanket up snuggly under my chin. Every time I started to doze off again, I swear there was Edgar, lapping up another chunk of cat food, crunch, crunch, crunch. Then, I would hear the food rattle in the stainless-steel bowl as he pushed the nuggets around with his nose, deciding which piece to eat next.
I no more than got to sleep when my alarm went off at six-thirty; I hit the snooze. I planned to get up and go to church early because we had a graduation party to attend just afternoon. Ten minutes later, the alarm sounded again. I hit the snooze again, and ten minutes later, the alarm was going off. "Are you kidding me? What are you doing?" My wife sat up, not a happy camper. "Either get up or shut off your alarm! Enough already!" She punched her pillow a couple of times to adjust it and laid back down. Ten minutes later, my alarm went off again. "Grrr. Tom!"
June was finally lying quietly next to the bed. Edgar curled up between my arm and chest and was purring contently. I conceded I was not getting up for the early mass. I would go to the eleven-o-clock service. I shut the alarm off and tried to go back to sleep, but it was light outside. I laid awake until seven-thirty and decided to just get up. Edgar was not happy with me moving him. "Hey! What's going on? Can't a cat get a nap around here without people rudely moving around and bothering him? Enough already. Go to sleep!"
Edgar relocated himself, snuggling up next to my wife, who was once again sleeping soundly. "Creep," I muttered - to the cat, not to my wife. I got dressed, "Come on, June. Let's go potty."
Outside I took a deep breath of fresh air. It was a beautiful, cool morning; the daytime highs were forecast to reach the mid to upper nineties. "June, let's go for a walk before it gets hot."
Usually, June would be thrilled to go for a walk, but she was confused, "Um, isn't the routine, potty and then June food? You know, the morning meal? Am I missing breakfast?"
Initially, I planned to walk for about a half-mile, but it was so gorgeous, we kept going. June was enjoying sniffing about, finding the scent of new animals. I noticed all the homes in Hutchinson had perfectly manicured lawns; June used a couple of them. Being an advocate of responsible pet ownership, I had "dooty bags" with me and cleaned up after my dog.
We walked all the way to Saint Anastasia Church, where their sign said the mass was at ten-thirty, not eleven like as I'd read on the internet. We continued our quick pace back to the campground, walking about three miles total.
After the forty-five-minute walk, June enjoyed a healthy drink of water. My wife was just getting up; I told her of the time change, then picked up the dog food bowl from the counter and looked inside. I was puzzled, "Did you already feed June?" Melissa said she did not. "There are only five or six pieces for food left."
"Are you sure you filled the bowl last night?" She asked.
"I'm positive!" I replied. My wife said she assumed I fed June and that June didn't eat all of her food. That's not very likely. There was clearly a thief among us.
As the investigation began, Edgar slithered under the bed. "I heard Edgar eating all through the night. Do you suppose he would have been eating June's food?" My wife didn't think that would have happened.
"June kept putting her front paws up on the bed through the night – do you think she was reaching up and taking bites from her bowl." My wife reasoned the bowl was all the way to the back of the counter, and our dog couldn't reach it there.
I looked under the bed, "Edgar," I accused, "did you eat June's food?"
"No." He replied adamantly, "I'm a cat, and cats do not eat dog food. Gross! Besides, you can tell by my trim figure, there's no way I could eat that much food. That dog is a glutton!"
I interrogated June, "Did you sneak into your food in the night?"
"No, I did not. There's no way I could reach it up there, but Edgar was on the counter last night. I'm sure it was the cat who ate my food." June replied with hungry, pitiful eyes.
"Well, a full bowl of dog food doesn't just vanish into thin air!" I ranted before going to the van to get another scoop of dog food, "June's breakfast is missing, and I am going to get to the bottom of this if it takes all day."
When I returned, June approached the bowl sheepishly the way she does if Melissa feeds her a second breakfast, not knowing I'd already fed the dog. "Do you swear you didn't eat the missing dog food?" June assured me she did not. Edgar was now sitting on the bed, "Do you swear you didn't eat the dog's food." Edgar rolled his eyes and reconfirmed, he's far too refined to eat dog food.
Running out of potential suspects, I looked at my wife with suspicion. I was going to demand to smell her breath. She'd already had a cup of coffee and was now eating a bowl of Cheerios. The combination of the two would have masked the scent of Iam's Mini Chunks. Besides, to even ask would be taking reckless chances with my safety and wellbeing.
The investigation was turning cold. Perhaps years from now, we would see the case featured on television's Unsolved Mysteries. In the meantime, I needed to shower and get ready for the graduation party.
The party was a huge success! Libby was on cloud nine as she bounced around the room, from guest to guest, visiting with family and friends who came to join in the celebration.
Her older brother Andy and I settled in at a table near the pasta bar. Elbows Allowed, Distinct Catering provided the meal, and the food was fantastic. Andy and I each had the fettuccini with chicken alfredo sauce. We both agreed it was delicious but wanted to confirm we'd made the right choice – the only way to know for sure was to go back and get a plate of the penne with meat sauce, which we both did. It was a definite tie.
I met Mary, the owner of the catering service. Her breadsticks were much better than mine. I immediately began fishing without seeming too obvious; I tried to get her to talk about her recipe and technique. She was on me and not giving up any info other than to say they make them from scratch.
Andy and I made our way to the desserts. He picked the white cake, where I opted for a dark chocolate cupcake. We discussed which was better and mutually agreed; there was no way we could know without each of us trying the other flavor – so we did. We may have returned for a third and fourth opinion before concluding – it was another tie. Dangerously close to a food coma, we retired our forks. We visited with other guests as they came by our table since we basically could not move.
The party was a smashing success. When it was over, plenty of people stayed around to help clear out and clean up the venue. Afterward, we went to Melissa's brother's house and continued our visit.
When we finally made our way back to the campsite, I let June out and fed her dinner. Before bedtime, I went back to the van to dip a scoop from her food container so that I wouldn't have to get out of the Scamp around six a.m. when she woke up and wanted breakfast. I looked at June and Edgar, both sitting by, watching so innocently – and my wife doing the same. I began trying to figure out what or who happened to that bowl of dog food.
I returned to the van and poured the food back into the big container, "I'm not falling for that trick again." But you can bet your bottom dollar; the next time we go out in the Scamp, I'll be better prepared. I'll put another bowl of dog food on the counter to lure the perpetrator. The trail cam with night vision, will provide hard evidence in the morning as to what happened to the missing breakfast.