Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cruising Along

Dear George,
Katja and I both celebrated big birthdays this year, and, in honor of the occasion, our son J and daughter-in-law K invited us on a Caribbean cruise.  That definitely was the highlight of our year.  We haven't been out of the country together for ages, and we've never been on a cruise before.  We flew down to New Orleans for Thanksgiving and then set off down the Mississippi to the Gulf and the high seas.

Our cruise ship was truly astonishing.  15 decks high and longer than the Titanic or the Queen Elizabeth.  We were still discovering new places on the ship after a full week on the ocean.

It's very mysterious and mind-altering to travel for days and see nothing but water (and perhaps an occasional ship) as far as you can see in all directions.     

Our stateroom (deck 1, #1319) was comfy as could be.  Our ship carried 3500 passengers and about 1500 crew.  Every morning the staff left an animal on our bed which had been sculpted from a folded towel. 

With a waterpark and multiple swimming pools, cruises are ideal for families.  There was also a basketball court, a gym, a spa, a jogging track, hot tubs, a miniature golf course, a library, continuous gatherings and games, and an "ocean camp" for kids that stayed open until 1 a.m.

The adults-only "Serenity Retreat" featured a well-stocked bar.  There were lots of happy-looking parents there.   

Our ship had a dozen or so restaurants -- Italian, French, Mongolian, Indian, sushi, tacos, pizza, burgers, steak, etc. -- all of them serving delicious food.  We had our fancy dinner every evening at 6 in the Scarlet Room.  Our grandson L pointed out that you can eat as much as you want and it's all free.  His dad explained that it wasn't exactly free, but you get the idea.  

Every night we went to a Broadway-caliber music revue in the main auditorium.  Then we’d follow up with a standup comedian in the Burgundy Room.  J and I are wearing our new headbands at the "America Rocks" show.  

We spent Day 4 at a beach resort at Montego Bay in Jamaica.  Perfect white sand beaches and crystal-clear blue-green water.  K participated in the music/dance contest, and she won first prize (a fancy cap which she gave to me).    

On Day 5 we docked at Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island.  Our grandkids and their parents went snorkeling with  stingrays (actually kissing them), while Katja and I browsed in the historic business district.  Along with fancy shops where Katja bought a new watch, the downtown streets were also home to well-fed chickens. 

On Day 6 we landed at Cozumel, Mexico.  Our family went to the beach while Katja and I toured the ancient Mayan ruins at San Gervasio, then traveled along the Caribbean shore.  

On the last day V and L and all the other children at camp received stuffed animal souvenirs of the trip.  

Then, before we knew it, we were back home in New Orleans.  Katja said it was the best trip we've ever taken and that she'd like to spend her entire life on a cruise ship.  That sounds good to me.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Being Thankful in a Rocky World

Dear George,
Because of the disgusting political climate in Washington (and many other places including Ohio), I seem to be in a less thankful mood this holiday season than in the past.  However, I’m doing my best to break free from the deplorables and keep them from wrecking my life.  Compiling a list of reasons to be thankful is definitely helpful.  

First of all, I’m thankful for my parents and the family they created.  Not flawless, but our mother and father provided their kids with a rich and stimulating environment, fostered good values, and created foundations for happy lives.  Then I think of falling in love with Katja at first sight and, miracle of miracles, winding up being married.  I can’t imagine what my life would be like if this hadn’t happened.  Parenting was a great joy, and our son and daughter-in-law, J and K, and grandkids, V and L, are what make the future bright.  I owe a lot to Antioch College and the University of Michigan.  We’ve made good use of the many resources of Cincinnati and our Clifton neighborhood. 

I’m thankful, too, for still being around and in a good state of health.  Hikes, walks, and expeditions with long-time friends give me much of my current life satisfaction.  Line dancing too, even working out at the fitness center.  We enjoy local music, theater, art museums, and indie movies at the Esquire Theater.  I thrive on my OLLI poetry class.  And I’m surprisingly appreciative of having the Internet available. 

Now I’m in a better mood than when I started out thinking about this.  It’s a good challenge to keep one’s equilibrium in the face of grungy national events.  At the moment my thoughts are centered on Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie.  This makes me salivate.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Trees of River House

Dear George,
We’ve lived in our Cincinnati home on Ludlow Avenue for over forty years.  We just have a very small yard on the front and east sides of the house.  The other day I counted the trees on our lawn.  There were twelve.  It dawned on me that I’ve been unaware of most of these trees for all the time we’ve lived here.  Still more revealing, I don’t know the species name of a single tree on our property.  

That’s the complete opposite of my childhood experience.  We had a large lawn at our house on the Menominee River with a lot of trees.  Even today I could draw a map which would locate virtually every one of those trees.  And I knew the name of every one as well (oak, cedar, spruce, etc.).  One reason for this is that we spent so much time playing out in the yard, and the trees were a significant part of our environment.  In addition, our parents were nature lovers, and they taught us the names of all the trees, as well as birds, flowers, animals, and insects.  Trees were not just part of the surroundings, but most of them had significant meaning, emotion, and memories connected with them.  Here are some of my father’s family photos  that include images of trees in our yard, along with a story or two for each species.     

Norway pine

There were three pairs of Norway pines that stood on our lawn: one pair toward the west border, outside our parents’ bedroom; one pair visible from our dining room window in the center of the lawn; and a third pair toward the eastern edge, closer to the river bank.  The Norway pines, tall and straight with their lowest branches perhaps twenty feet above the ground, were the most stately trees on our property.  Our house was built from Norway pine planks, so we had a special connection to these trees.  My father always said we had many wonderful trees, but it was the Norways that best symbolized our property and lives.  We played most frequently around the two Norways outside the dining room window, tying a rope between them to serve as a goalpost in our touch football games.  The Norways produced large pine cones which I’d use in arts and crafts projects, constructing little people by adding acorns and pipe cleaners.  On one memorable occasion, when we were playing cowboys and Indians, my brother Steve tied me to one of the Norways, then pummeled me with his fists till I broke free and chased him into the house where he hid behind our mother.  When my sister Vicki reached school age, our dad erected a swing between the easternmost pair of Norways, and we all enjoyed it for years.   

Oaks (right side of photo) 

There were three oaks, growing in a cluster together outside our dining room door, and another tall oak was in the center of our driveway.  Providing a plentiful supply of acorns, the oaks attracted the squirrel families that we saw in the yard every day.  The acorns also attracted little kids.  Steven and I (and later Peter and Vicki) used them as ammunition in daily acorn fights.  Our one rule was to throw only at the body, not at the head (to prevent putting out an eye).  On one horrifying occasion, Steve started climbing up one of the oaks as I was throwing acorns at him, and a branch broke.  He plummeted to the ground and broke his arm, winding up at St. Joseph-Lloyd Hospital. A year or two later my father built a tree house in the three-oak cluster which we accessed with our bunkbed ladder.  Steve, Frankie St. Peter, and I formed our clubhouse there, requiring a secret password for admission (perhaps “Shazam”).  

Two maples on a mound (left side of photo) 

We had maples in the front of the house (just outside the dining room door) and also in the back of the house near the driveway (between Vicki’s bedroom and the garage).  The maples’ leaves turned bright red in autumn, and I’d gather up a bunch and press and dry them for months inside an encyclopedia volume.  The maples’ fruit, called samara, are in the form of little wings, and we liked to drop them and watching them flutter to the ground like tiny helicopters.  The two maples in the back yard grew on a mound that was roughly five feet by eight feet.  My Uncle Karl took me aside one day and explained that the Menominee Indians had lived along the river, including where our property was now located.  Karl said it was very likely that the mound on which the maples were growing was an Indian burial mound.  He said if I dug deep enough I could recover the treasures that were buried in the graves.  Perhaps even gold.  He told me not to tell my parents beforehand because they would forbid me from digging it up.  My uncle Karl had a perverse sense of humor, so I didn’t take him at his word.  I considered digging a smallish hole to find the treasure, but I never got around to it. 

Blue Spruce

The blue spruce was another of our most handsome trees.  Each year we chopped down our own Christmas tree from our family property across the road, but the spruce in our front yard was the most majestic Christmas tree of all.  Because its branches were too dense and too close to the ground, it was one of the few trees that we didn’t use for climbing or other play activities.  Instead, we admired the spruce’s beauty from a distance.      


The willow tree, on the west end of the lawn close to the riverbank, was the best tree on our property for climbing.  The lowest branches were just a few feet off the ground, and there were plenty of subsequent branches which allowed us to climb all the way up near the top of the tree.  My associations with the willow tree aren’t entirely pleasurable.  Sometimes, when I’d get in trouble for torturing Steven, my mother would send me out to cut a branch off the willow tree to be used in my spanking.

Young cedar trees (under the righthand window)

A pair of small cedar trees grew outside my parents’ bedroom window on the west side of our house.  They smelled good and produced little pine cones that we used in craft projects.  Deer fed on cedar foliage in the winter, and, because we’d see them in the nextdoor field from time to time, it’s likely that they visited our cedar trees in the night as well.    

Box Elder (branches at the right edge of photo) 

The box elder, near our outdoor stone fireplace, was the other tree on our property that was excellent for climbing, though we’d have to bring our bunk bed ladder out to reach the lowest branch.  One summer we put my sister Vicki’s pet chameleon on the trunk of the tree, but got distracted and then couldn’t find it.  We looked for that chameleon all summer long but with no luck.  I fantasized for years that its descendants lived on the elder, but we never found one. 

Birch on the river bank 

There was a large stand of birch trees on the unmowed property just to the east of our lawn, as well as a small cluster of birches on the riverbank in front of our house.  The birches were handsome and romantic – romantic because we associated them with birchbark canoes of Native Americans who occupied the river hundreds of years before Europeans’ arrival.  We used the white birch bark for writing notes and for doing various craft projects, e.g., making miniature canoes.  We weren’t allowed by our parents to strip bark off of the live birch trees, so we’d row across the river to Pig Island and cut big strips of bark from fallen birch tree trunks.

Vicki and Peter at my tag alder camp table

There were a hundred yards or so of undeveloped, overgrown property between our house and Riverside Boulevard, and it was swampy land, largely populated by tag alder.  Miserable and lonely in my mid-teens, I decided to build a secret camp there to get away from my family and the rest of the world.  Tag alder, in my father’s view, was an inferior species of tree, and I was allowed to cut down as much of it as I wanted.  I used tag alder to build a lean-to hut, a table, a rack for holding cooking utensils, a pot holder over the fire pit, and other accessories.  The photo shows my sister Vicki and my brother Peter on a rare visit to my camp.  If I remember correctly, I blindfolded them so they could never find the way by themselves. 

My parents sold our house on the river in the early nineteen seventies and moved into their newly renovated Farm at Birch Creek.  My dad had the Birch Creek property incorporated as a tree farm.  Over the next several years, he planted many hundreds of evergreens and hardwoods in the open fields.  We’d go for hikes in the forest there, and my dad would hug his favorite trees.  I may have inherited some of that tree-hugging inclination.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hallows' Eve, 2017

Dear George, 
Halloween was a huge event in our childhood and, then again, as parents to our son J.  Nowadays we sneak out to Skyline Chili and the movies to dodge the trick or treaters, but the holiday still bring back a lot of memories.  Here is some quirky Halloween trivia, along with a poem commemorating the occasion.
  • The ancient Celts believed that spirits roamed the countryside on Halloween night, and they wore costumes to avoid being recognized as human beings.
  • Halloween is the third biggest party day in the U.S. after New Year’s and Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Last year Americans spent over $300 million on pet costumes for Halloween.  
  • The first city-wide Halloween celebration in the U.S. was in Anoka, Minnesota, in 1921.
  • About 99% of all pumpkins sold in the U.S. are used as Jack O’ Lanterns for Halloween.     
  • Snickers is the most popular candy for trick-or-treaters.
  • 90% of parents admit to sneaking candy from their kids’ Halloween trick-or-treat bags.    
  • Children are twice as likely to die from being hit by a car on Halloween than any other night of the year. 
  • While less common today, U.S. animal shelters have banned the adoption of black cats before Halloween out of fear that they will be sacrificed. 
  • By the end of the evening a typical child’s trick or treat bag contains about 11,000 calories. 
  • There are only two known cases of poisoning involving Halloween candy.  In one a boy died of a heroin overdose, but it turned out that he had consumed some of his uncle’s stash and the family sprinkled it on his candy to cover up the incident.  In the second incident a father laced his son’s candy with cyanide in order to collect $20,000 in insurance money.  
  • Full moons are rare on Halloween.  The two most recent were in 2001 and in 1955.  The next one will be in 2020. 
  • Candy manufacturers reportedly lobbied congress to extend daylight savings time into early November to get an extra hour of daylight for trick-or-treating (and candy sales). 
  • Because John Carpenter’s 1978 movie, “Halloween”, was on such a tight budget they used a $2 William Shatner Star Trek mask for serial killer Michael Meyers’ character.  
  • With over 2 million spectators and 50,000 participants, New York City holds the largest Halloween parade in the U.S.  It began as a walk with children and family friends in Greenwich Village by puppeteer Ralph Lee. 
  • The record for the fastest pumpkin carving (with eyes, nose, ears, and mouth) is held by Stephen Clarke (24.03 seconds).  
  • Scottish girls believed they could see images of their future husbands to be if they hung wet sheets in front of the fireplace on Halloween. 
  • The fear of Halloween is known as Samhainophobia.  

All Hallows Eve

On Halloween we shed our normal selves 
We dress as ghosts or pirate kings and queens 
Then frolic with the goblins and the elves
And fill our sacks with purple jelly beans

But Halloween is more than fun and games
This is the night the dead return to life
The witches’ brew is bubbling over flames
And Dracula is seeking a new wife

The children ring the bell in search of treats
They’re clueless about what awaits their fate
Ten snarling werewolves prowl the city streets
A ghoul digests the bulbous flesh he ate

I think I’d just as soon stay home tonight
The zombies have me in a state of fright

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Square Talk

Dear George,
This past week the task for my poetry workshop was to write a "concrete poem".  A concrete poem is one in which the typeface creates a visual image of the poem's topic (e.g., a poem about a tree shaped like a tree).  Here is my effort.

                               Square Talk

Today we revisit the secret of happiness in life
It’s plagued our thinkers since the dawn of time
We seek beauty and harmony, an end to all strife
And whatever the answer we’ll record it in rhyme
The true key to happiness in one’s life is ORDER
And the most orderly object on earth is a square
To make a square you first start with its border
Draw four straight lines, first here, then there
It also is dandy                to insert a hole
Next to the core                or at the center
A squareish hole                is a proper goal
If you get stuck                contact a mentor
Unwashed critics                sometimes assert
That order’s not                wholly essential 
These vipers are                mentally unalert
We consider them                sadly tangential
There are ample ways to add squares to our lives
Carpets, tables, and quilts, just to offer a few
Some chappies take square walks with their wives
I met a ruffian at Graeters with a square tattoo
Know-it-alls may argue that circles are the best
But poets are inevitably smitten with the square
If you worry that I sound like a weirdo obsessed
Add a square to your life, say goodby to despair

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Archive: Vic's Photos (#14)


Dear George,
Here is another batch of the family photos that my dad, Vic L., took in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Earlier postings can be viewed by searching “archive” in the box at the upper left.  I much appreciate my dad’s long-time efforts to keep track of our family history.

This is Steve (maybe age 6) and myself (maybe age 10) on a summer day at our house on the river.  There were no other kids who lived within a mile of our house, so Steve and I necessarily spent a lot of time together as playmates -- swimming, outings to the forest, basketball and football, cops and robbers, bicycling, etc. 

This is my dad Vic in his boyhood, probably around the time that World War I was beginning.  He certainly looks Swedish.  

My mom and I are sitting on the living room couch at our second-floor Ogden Avenue apartment, probably about 1941, the year that Steve was born.  My dad's photos are on the wall.  Even though I was 4, I have no memories of our home's interior.  

I and my brothers Steve and Peter are gathered around a campfire.  I’d say I'm 11, Steve 7, and Peter 3.  I started camping in the Cub Scouts and by eleven would go on overnight expeditions with Steve and friends to Mason Park and other spots near our Menominee River home.  

I look about four in this picture, which would make it 1941.  I don't know whether my parents knew it yet, but my dad was to be sent off to officer training school at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center outside Chicago a year or two after this photo was taken, then was shipped off to the Pacific for the latte years of World War II.  

One of our family’s summer highlights in Menominee was going to Escanaba for the U.P. State Fair.  Here is my brother Steve at the Sultan's Harem.  

I'm with my mother on an outing, somewhere in Menominee County.  This was taken in 1940 or 41, and Doris is looking stylish. 

My brother Steve and I are checking out my tenth birthday cake.  We certainly are serious-looking. 

Here's my sister Vicki, our mom, and my brother Peter.  Vicki looks about 3 which would have made Peter 5 and me 13.  I suspect this was taken at the YMCA camp outside Green Bay where I would have gone for two weeks when I was that age. 

This is my twelfth birthday party at our house on the river on July 21, 1949.  The back row from the left includes Tom Caley, Bill Caley, Skipper Burke, Frank St. Peter, Jim Jorgenson, and Darl Schmidt.  Seated are my sister Vicki, myself, and my brother Peter.  My brother Steve's whereabouts are a mystery.    


This is our grandfather, V.A. Sr., with his granddaughter, Vicki, probably about two and half years old.  I think they were sitting in our rowboat at the bank of the Menominee River.  V.A. was a good granddad, gentle, kind, and loving.   

This was taken on my tenth birthday, July 21, 1947.  My sister Vicki was just five months old, Steve was 6, Peter 2.  Fifth grade that year wasn’t memorable.  All I can remember is that the students made the teacher cry a lot, and she quit in the middle of the year, to be replaced by a substitute.  Probably our learning was impaired as a consequence.  

We did various arts and crafts at grade school, and my parents encouraged such projects at home too.  Here is my finished pirate ship.  

When I was 16 I built a hidden camp in the woods on our back lot on Riverside Boulevard.  After I finished it, I did allow a few visitors, bring them blindfolded along my secret trail.  Here are Vicki and Peter admiring my primitive kitchenware rack.  

Here’s my dad and me in the front yard at our house on the river.  We moved there shortly after my dad came back from the Pacific after the end of the war.  I was very proud of his service in the navy.  

This is my brother Steve in a couple of the oak trees that grew outside our front door at river house.  Some years later my dad built a treehouse in the oaks, and it became our clubhouse and secret hideout (well, not entirely secret).  

This is my mom and myself at our outdoor fireplace on the front lawn near the riverbank.  We’d grill hamburgers and hotdogs here, as well as roasting marshmallows.  Fireplace fires were an important part of our family life.  

Steve (the catcher) and I are playing baseball in our front yard at river house in about 1949.  My grandfather V.A.’s cabin in the lot next door is visible in the background.  The front lawn was our sports arena for baseball, football, golf, archery, running races, and myriad other activities.  

The U.P. State Fair at Escanaba was one of our major annual family outings.  From the left: Doris L., Skipper Burke, myself, Jackie and Martie Burke, and an unknown couple.  Fairs on those days had strip tease shows and freak shows, along with many other attractions.  

I think my dad took this photo at Little River.  Little River is a tributary that feeds into the Menominee River about a mile west of our house on Riverside Boulevard.  We’d take the rowboat up there, and it was always a scenic expedition.  Mason Park, a county park, was located on the shore of Little River, and it was our favorite place for camping with friends when we became of age.  

Here’s my mom with my younger brother Steve and I, probably at a friend’s house on Green Bay.  I don’t remember the wonderful toboggan, and my guess it that it belonged to another family.  It doesn’t look very hilly for toboganning in the scene, but I’m sure we had fun nonetheless.  

Traveling carnivals and circuses came to Menominee every summer, and they almost always included a carousel.  I certainly picked out a gallant steed for this ride.  

I think this is Tom Caley (middle), along with my brother Steve (left) and myself, probably at the Caley’s house at Northwood Cove.  I remember being thrilled by the igloos that our family friends built.  Many winters Steven and I tried to replicate that feat by building an igloo in the front yard at our house on the river, but we never could keep the roof from caving in.  

I’m guessing that this was taken at our second floor apartment on Ogden Avenue about 1942.  If so, I would have been five.  I have no recollection of the black cat, though it might well have been our family pet.  It does seem pretty relaxed and at home.  

I’m on the right, Bill Caley’s on the left, and an unknown kid is in the middle.  The Caley’s lived at Northwood Cove along Green Bay, and this photo might have been taken on their lawn and perhaps on the Fourth of July.