Thursday, January 30, 2014

Union Park, Manitowoc, Wis. (Postcard Series)

Union Park

On This Date in 1999 (January 30)

We stayed out until 11:30. JoAnna and I came out even playing cards. She won $10; I lost $10, $4 in one hand. Double on the bump, as they say in sheepshead lingo, which I’m not about to explain to you. Just let me say that the great hand I thought I had wasn’t good enough.

The boys were still up when we returned home, still handling the controls of the Playstation game. They are really into this electronic toy. I probably should have paid it for babysitting.

Andy’s basketball game (the real, live version) went into overtime. The first quarter didn’t seem to promise this kind of excitement, Middleton scoring only one basket and trailing 8-2 after the first 7 minutes of play. They showed a little bit of improvement in the second quarter, outscoring their opponents 9-8, but still behind 16-11. Our guys kept chipping away at the lead so by the fourth quarter each of the team’s best guns, Johnny Strnad for Middleton, and no. 21 for Madison West, scored baskets at will. Middleton was down 34-32 with a 9 seconds left when Andy Frasier drove in for a lay-up to tie the score. In the 3-minute overtime period, Middleton nailed down a victory by holding their opponents scoreless. Final score 40-34. The fans on both sides of the bleachers were on their feet at the end of the game. It was a well-played and well-coached game, a gratifying win for Middleton, a tough loss for Madison.

Super Bowl Sunday, and I’m sitting in the family room, alone, in front of the computer, with the TV off. Shouldn’t I be arrested or something? Eddie’s in the kitchen watching the Sylvester and Tweety Bowl on the Cartoon Network. Now there’s an inspired example of counter-programming. JoAnna’s taking a nap, the TV in the bedroom tuned to American Movie Classics. Andy’s the only member of the family who’s getting into the spirit of this special day in sports. He and some other friends were invited to watch the game at Tim’s house, Tim’s weekend house, that is, where he lives with the mom and stepdad in Verona, about a 15-minute drive from here. The group gathered there will watch the game on a big-screen TV.

We’ve enjoyed an almost spring-like weekend with lots of sunshine and temperature approaching the 40-degree mark. In spite of this thaw, we still have at least a 4-inch cover of snow on the ground, as I look out the sliding-glass doors to my left and inspect the back yard. JoAnna and I never did complete the task of organizing the garage that was on our to-do list yesterday. I couldn’t think of a compelling reason to jump the gun on spring cleaning. I preferred to stretch out on the couch and get back into the book I’m currently reading. Saving Grace, by Lee Smith, tells the story of a charismatic backwoods preachers in North Carolina who specializes in serpent-handling during his “performances”. The story is told from the point of view of his daughter. I think you might enjoy this book, Mom. The author very effectively recreates the crackling atmosphere of a rural revival service, as well as the struggles of an itinerant family living on the cusp of poverty. Smith has written about 8 novels. The only other one of hers I’ve read is The Devil’s Dream, somewhat of a fictionalized biography of the country singer Patsy Cline, at least that’s how it impressed me.

Andy’s team won another nail-biter this afternoon against Mount Horeb, 45-41. Middleton is turning into quite a scrappy team. Today they were down 12-5 after the first quarter but fought their way back to take a 1-point lead at the half. They have become a never-say-die team.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (January 29)

Another Friday night. They seem to come around so quickly. Andy’s at basketball practice, of course. JoAnna went to the health club, Eddie reneging on his promise to accompany Mom, much to her disappointment. In fact, she was ready to ground him, but I told her that was a little severe. Right now, Eddie’s in the kitchen watching TV and playing with the little plastic infantry and cannon pieces from our Risk board game. He has them set up in neat rows. Who knows what goes on in his head sometimes!

I left work early today as I had put in long hours on Monday and Tuesday. Since the weather was on the mild side, I decided to begin a clean-up of the garage. My first task was to put the captain’s chairs back in the van, which freed up some much needed space to park the van. I cleared off the counter along the west wall of the garage and then checked the contents of some of the boxes in which we have stored various odds and ends. JoAnna said she’d help me complete the task tomorrow. She told me late this afternoon, “I need to do something where I don’t have to think.” This week’s campaign activities have kept her very busy. She worked 15 hours on Wednesday and could have easily put in the same amount of time yesterday, but she ran out of gas after a visit to the health club.

Andy’s looking forward to the rest of the evening after basketball practice. JoAnna and I are going to the Erpenbach’s to play cards so he’ll be able to earn some money babysitting.

“How late are you going to stay out?” he asked me as soon as he learned about the card party. 

“Oh, we’ll probably be home around ten,” I replied, trying to keep a straight face.

“You can stay out later than that,” he said as he practiced his multiplication. 2 (hours) x3 ($/hr.) =$6. 3x3=$9. 3x4=$12. 3x5=$15.

Andy and I experienced a moment of role reversal. Son gives Mom and Dad permission to stay out late.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (January 27)

Those two obituaries put me in a reflective mood. That tends to happen when I read the Warren paper and come upon a familiar name. This letter may turn into more of a reminiscence than a report on what happening in Middleton.

Midweek already! Where are the brakes on this 1999 vehicle? I’m on the freeway when I’d rather be taking the scenic back roads. JoAnna is feeling the same way. Her schedule has become very full over the past three weeks while she has been coordinating Shirley Abrahamson’s campaign. She’s in Milwaukee attending a fundraiser this evening. The event was scheduled from 5 until 7, so maybe she’ll be home before 10. Andy just returned home from basketball practice and is into a hockey game on his Playstation, which is now back in his possession after a week in storage. Since his intransigence a week ago yesterday, he’s been very good about getting up in the morning, especially on band days. His “I can live without Playstation” statement during a fit of pique last week turned out to be nothing more than false bravado.

Eddie’s at his art table, drawing dinosaurs, which is one of the units his class is studying this week. While Andy was at practice, I drilled Eddie on his vocabulary words for this week, and then he read to me for 15 minutes.

I received a belated Christmas card and note from Tina (Werlin) Branstad, who now lives in Chicago. I enclosed a note in the card I sent to her and her husband. She sent a picture of her “family”, which includes a huge black Standard poodle. Tina looks great, as well-coifed and well-dressed as ever. She extended an invitation to JoAnna and me to visit them sometime. We actually need an excuse for a trip to Chicago, but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen anytime soon. Tina mentioned that both her parents died in 1997, so she really doesn’t have any reason to visit Warren anymore, outside of our high-school reunions, I suppose.

We received another interesting piece of mail today. A wedding invitation. Sandra Kay Richardson and Charles John Stark. When I saw the return address, I thought it was an invitation to another of his occasional concerts that he plays in the Madison area. The wedding is at Bethel Lutheran Church, located just a block from the capital square. You attended services there with us a few times in the late 1980s. I would guess that the ceremony will be in the chapel, since the sanctuary of this church is so large. I can’t imagine that Sandra (whom I don’t know) and Charles would have invited that many people. Unless Andy’s basketball tournament interferes, both JoAnna and I should be able to attend.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Overlooking the Spa Beach and Recreation Pier, St. Petersburg, Fla. (Postcard Series)

The history of the pier.  (a.k.a Million Dollar Pier)

The building pictured in the postcard opened in 1926 and was demolished in 1967.

An inverted pyramid-shaped building was constructed in its place in 1973.

Empty pier looms over St. Pete.  (St. Petersburg Tribune, 9/22/2013)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (January 25)

We got your letter today and were surprised to get another one so soon. Or maybe that’s just an indication of how quickly this month is passing. Today was so hectic that I almost forgot to order flowers from Ekey’s for your anniversary. I called around 3:30, our time, and after the woman who took my order asked me when I wanted them delivered, I could almost hear her breath a sigh of relief when I said “Tomorrow is fine.” I hope you are still enjoying them by the time you receive this serial letter. I’ll probably finish page one this evening, and then add little tidbits throughout the week, if I stick to my plan.

I saw the obituary for Glenn Greene. His son, Craig, was in my class, but he’s not someone that I knew that well. He never went out for sports in junior high, and in high school, I never remember seeing him at any of the dances or sports events. In my six years at Beaty and WAHS, we were never in the same class. Of course, back then, most of the courses were tracked, i.e., A for the achievers, B for the indifferent, C for the slow learners, although, for the purposes of this letter, I’m making up the terminology as we go along. Craig probably fit into the B category. I didn’t realize he was Bob O’Connor’s cousin, but I vaguely remember Bob and Craig hanging out with the same group of guys I think John Erickson, from church, was also part of that group.

The obituary mentioned that Mr. Greene was a member of the Conewango Club, but not the Conewango Valley Country Club. When I was growing up, I thought they were one and the same. Not having an inside track about Warren society, I don’t know if being a member of one and not the other has any significance. From the looks of their estate-like property – the long, winding driveway; the dense vegetation that obscured a view of the large house set back palatially from the street – I always figured the Greene’s were well-off. Craig, however, never exuded a rich kid’s aura of privilege, like a Matt Voigt or Robbie Loranger, for example. Despite the family business, Craig always struck me as a workingclass kid – unassuming, affected – at heart. Maybe a lot of it had to do with the decidedly unglamorous business his family owned.

Another classmate of mine lost a parent. Dorothea Hahn’s obituary appeared in the paper the same day at Mr. Greene’s. Walking through my memory banks, I’m trying to remember if Gloria Hahn was in the same group of classes as me in 7th grade: 1st and 5th period History and Geography, 2nd and 6th period English, 4th period Science, and 7th period Math. I clearly remember that we were both in Miss Bernhard’s 7th-period 8th grade history class. Gloria was a tall, plain, unexpectedly assertive girl who always got good grades, her name regularly appearing on the merit honor roll, but was somewhat lacking in the social graces. I don’t think she ever dated in high school and didn’t participate in many extracurricular and social school functions. It’s funny now when I think about how we used to stereotype kids that we didn’t know that well in high school, that weren’t part of our amorphous, sometimes shifting circle of friends. If we had sat around and catalogued our uninformed opinions, Gloria would have been selected for the old maids’ club. According to the 30th class reunion booklet, though, Gloria now has 3 children and 3 step-grandchildren. She probably got married right out of college, thereby confounding some of her classmates’ drab expectations for her future.

I met Gloria’s sister, Nan, when I worked at the Warren Public Library for a couple months in early 1976, just before moving to Springfield. She must have been a page, probably still in high school at the time. I can remember thinking to myself at the time, How can two sisters be so different. Nan was cute, outgoing, and very poised. “If only I were a few years younger” might have been another thought that crossed my mind. Let’s see, JoAnna had just turned 13 around this time.

Friday, January 24, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (January 24)

Well, I didn’t get much of a start yesterday. Having to get ready for Andy’s basketball game interrupted my progress.

Our weekend has completely revolved around basketball. Friday evening I dropped him off at his 6 o’clock practice, then returned home to keep Eddie company until JoAnna returned home from the health club. By then, it was time for me to make the rounds for dinner – McDonald’s for Eddie, Grand China for JoAnna, Pasqual’s for Andy and me – before picking up Andy, his cheeks full of color after an invigorating 90 minutes of drills, running, and a scrimmage.

One of the reasons yesterday was such a lazy day is that our primary focus was Andy’s basketball game, a later start than usual. 4:15 p.m. Plus we had a half-hour drive to Stoughton in less than ideal conditions. When we left the house, a crusty frosting of snow covered the streets and sidewalks in our neighborhood, but the main roads were more passable, fortunately.

Andy’s team got off to a sluggish start, scoring only 4 points in the first quarter, and trailing by a score of 17-11 at the half. They kept themselves in the second half of the game with some aggressive defense and improved shooting. The final score was 31-30, an absolute thriller of a game, with Middleton able to hold onto a one-point lead for the final 30 seconds of the game. They held Stoughton to a single point in the 4th quarter. Andy played well, grabbing his usual numbers of rebounds but he didn’t score any points.

Once we returned home, we ordered pizza and sat in the front of the TV for the Wisconsin-Iowa game. The Big Ten is very competitive this year, with seven teams in the Top 25 rankings, though none of them in the top ten. Iowa and Wisconsin are ranked 14th and 15th, respectively this week, so this game was built up as a major showdown, as well as being a battle for sole possession of second place in the conference standings. An additional element of drama was the presence of Sam Okey, former Badger who now plays for the Hawkeyes. Okey was the most highly-regarded and sought-after Wisconsin high-school basketball player three-four years ago, and the fact that he chose Wisconsin made a lot of people think that our years of basketball mediocrity were over. A funny thing happened on the way to the NCAA Final Four. It turned out that coach Dick Bennett and his highly regarded recruit didn’t get along. Most of the blame has to be placed on Okey, a prima-donna type of player who craved the attention that came his way but didn’t know how to effectively deal with it. He left the team in the middle of last season, a disastrous one from start to finish for the Badgers. This year, without Okey, the team is playing as good if not better than the expectations that were pinned on them three years ago.

Last night, Okey got the crowd fired up with an early slam-dunk, but otherwise the game was all Badgers, who rolled to a very impressive 72-52 victory. They might finds themselves in the top ten in next week’s poll.

More basketball today. But first we went to church, 11 o’clock mass at St. Bernards and attended their spaghetti dinner afterwards. We had about an hour and a half of “free time” before traveling to Andy’s game. I stretched out on the coach and continued reading the book of short stories I started last week, The Summer Before the Summer of Love, by Marly Swick, a very observant writer. She creates some wonderfully interesting characters in these stories. I must admit that I dozed off for about 20 minutes, which left me just enough time to complete one story.

Another exciting game today. This was a rematch with Verona, whom Middleton beat handily (40-17, I think) in their first game of the season. Verona looked much improved, although Middleton did built a ten-point lead by half-time. Verona chipped away determinedly, but either a turnover by them or a key basket by Middleton allowed us to maintain at least a 5-point cushion. In fact, that was the margin of victory, 37-32. Andy played a lot of minutes, the entire first quarter, in fact. He grabbed 8 or 9 rebounds and scored 4 points on the boards. Only his defense in the last minute of the game looked a little suspect. He let his guy drive by him and score a basket both times. Overall, though, it was the best game he’s played this season so far.

I guess I started supper too soon. Everything was ready 15 minutes ago, but JoAnna and Andy haven’t returned from the health club yet. I baked boneless chicken breasts, brushing two of them with soy sauce, since the two side dishes I’ve prepared are rice and a Birds-Eye stir-fry vegetable medley, an item that a newspaper coupon encouraged me to buy. Everything’s on warm, so I’m sure it’ll taste all right. The boys will probably eat just the chicken, although I think Andy has tried rice before without grimacing.

We’ve had more snow today, close to an inch, enough so that I’m going to have to shovel off the sidewalk and driveway later this evening. The dirty gray snow that made everything look so ugly has now been covered by a thin blanket of white.

It’s Monday morning, with no time to add anything substantial to this letter. I want to get your belated card in the mail before I go to work, but before I do that I still need to take a shower, get dressed, and rouse the boys out of bed.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (January 23, part 2)

Except for Andy, it’s basically a lazy afternoon. JoAnna is stretched out on the couch channel-surfing, Eddie is watching TV in the kitchen. I just completed a letter to JoAnna’s folks and thought I’d get one started to the other side of the family. Andy and Meaghan have been playing together for the past three hours. The board game Risk. Hide and seek. And now they might be over at Meaghan’s house or ice-skating at Meadows Park, for all I know, although I don’t think conditions today are ideal for skating.

Before I forget. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!! 54 years! I know things over the past few years have been tough for you, Mom, but I’m sure you have lots of wonderful memories of a great relationship.

On This Date in 1999 (January 23, part 1)

JoAnna just got out of the shower, where I need to go next, and the boys are watching TV. It’s another gray day in Wisconsin, and, as a result of last night’s freezing drizzle, everything outdoors is covered with a sheet of ice. I wanted to walk to Walgreen’s since we’re low on paper products, but I’m not sure I’d make there unscathed.

Andy has a late basketball game today – 4:45 starting time – and we have no particular plans, outside of little housecleaning, between now and then. I’d should write a letter to my parents, and, believe it or not, I still have three Christmas card notes to write. I should be embarrassed to send the cards, but I will anyway, since I know that the three couples who receive them will understand my procrastination. Andy’s team is playing quite well. They have a 4-1 won-lost record at this point in the season. They play 16 games altogether. The team is very well-balanced. Everyone contributes. They don’t have a ball hog; neither do they have a player who seemed to make the team because his parents were friends of the coach. Andy hasn’t scored a lot of points so far this season, but he’s an excellent rebounder. He’s probably close to the team lead in that category. 

Today was the last day of the second quarter. Report cards are distributed next Friday. We’ve had some concerns about Andy’s academic performance. He never seems to have any homework. The other day, though, he brought home a colorful half-sheet of paper that said, “Andy Nelson is one great student. Mid-year reading test – 96%!” I think he received a 90%+ on one of his other mid-year exams. That’s the kind of news we like to find in Andy’s school take-home folder. 

Eddie’s reading skills seem to be improving. We work with him every night, and the special classes at school certainly make a difference. Eddie is probably going to require close attention in this area for at least another couple years. JoAnna and I are just thankful that the school district offers this type of program. Otherwise, Eddie would be one of those kids who fall through the cracks. We enjoyed your letter and hope that everything is going well for you in Arizona. It’s nice that you have some transportation; that should help you feel less isolated. 

We send you our love.

Marinette Public Library, Wisconsin (Postcard Series)

Stephenson Public Library

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (January 22)

It 5:15 on a Friday afternoon, what a great time of the week, especially when I can look over the past five days and feel that I accomplished everything I wanted to do. At least at work, that is. The house is in a state of disarray, a situation JoAnna and I will probably address tomorrow. Now that both boys come home right after school, they have more time to trash the place, legos here, toy soldiers there, the signs of their presence everywhere. “Clean up this mess!” is an order that JoAnna and I frequently bark.

The house was quiet when I returned home from the library, which struck me as odd since both boys were supposed to be here. They didn’t run off somewhere, to Meaghan’s house, I wondered. 

Walking through the living room, I noticed that the bathroom door was closed. As I knocked, I announced my presence,

“Hello, I’m home. Who’s in there?”

“It’s me, Dad,” Andy replied.

“Where’s Eddie?” I asked.

“In the bathroom,” I thought he said.

“What Eddie doing in there?” I demanded, my hand about to reach for the door handle.

“In the back room,” he said, carefully enunciating the last two words.

“I didn’t see him there.”

“Well, maybe he’s in the other bathroom.”

That’s where he was.

Eddie called out to me as I walked back into the kitchen. Then he started to describe the details of a picture of an airplane in a book that he was browsing through. His voice was muffled so I couldn’t hear every word he spoke, so I resorted to standard responses like “That’s interesting” or “Cool!”

JoAnna’s had a busy day. In fact, she’s had a busy week. In fact, she’s been very busy ever since she agreed to plan Shirley Abrahamson’s re-election campaign to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. You should be very proud of your daughter. Her name is always at the top of the list of progressive candidates when a campaign manager position needs to be filled. Both Russ Feingold and Rick Phelps wanted her to take on that responsibility in their respective campaigns, i.e. Senate re-election and 2nd Congressional election. She declined both times because she knew she’d have no family life. It was the right decision – both times. In this case, though, JoAnna is freelancing, signing on for three weeks, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Shirley extends her contract for a week or two. So far, JoAnna hasn’t heard anything from the Department of Justice regarding the Legislative Liaison position, which has her name written all over it. Jim Doyle told her that the position wouldn’t be filled until sometime in March.

I just returned from dropping off Andy at his basketball practice. Eddie’s in the bathroom again. I hope everything’s OK. JoAnna and I came down with colds last weekend. Both of us had scratchy throats Saturday morning and from there it progressed to an achy body and runny nose. Neither of us missed any work this week, although I was definitely still on the mend on Monday. Since Tuesday, I’ve just been waiting for my head to clear. I think I have another day or two to reach that goal. Andy stayed home from school Wednesday morning. He was in an ornery mood on Tuesday, probably due to his feeling out of sorts. He wouldn’t get out of bed for band practice, which starts at 7:20 at Kromrey Middle School. We may have been a little harsh with him considering the circumstances, at least from the vantage point of the end of the week, but JoAnna and I told him – no band, no Playstation for a week. We also had an argument over bringing his trumpet home from school, which he routinely refused to do.

“I don’t like carrying it,” he regularly complains.

We talk to him about responsibility, following through on commitments he has made, which probably sounds like so much blah blah blah to him. Maybe not, though. During a Tuesday afternoon outburst, while I was home during a late afternoon break from a long day at the library, Andy was sent to his room and ended up tidying up the bookcase headboard of his captain’s bed. 

He’s still reachable, I told myself. He’s not a teenager yet, in mind or spirit.

Eddie participated in his second annual Pinewood Derby last night. Once again our model couldn’t sprint to the finish line. We were one ounce above the five-ounce legal limit, and it showed in the home stretch. We always got off to a good start on the slope but ran out of gas on the flat homestretch. Once again, Eddie won “Best Overall Design, which I think should go to Dad. I admit that Eddie created his design on paper, but I sawed and sanded the block, and then reminded Eddie every day for ten days, “You need to put the primer coat of paint on your car,” “You need to paint your car,” “You need to put the decals on your car.” “You need to put the wheels on your car.” 

“Dad, you’re taking this too serious,” was his usual response.

Not as serious as many other dads, it appeared to me as I saw the line-up of cars on weigh-in day. Our entry was the result of two to three hours of work. Some of the cars, though, looked as though they had been designed by professionals, untold hours of planning, design, and development.

I’m sure you’re eager to hear about the weather in Wisconsin. Earlier this week, we had close to a foot of snow on the ground, which since Wednesday has dissolved to half that depth due to a couple days of rain. Everything looks so ugly now. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d actually prefer another foot of snow. It’s Wisconsin. It’s January. I can live with it. For this weekend, the weather sounds like it can’t make up its mind, a mixture of rain and snow in the forecast.

News flash. I just realized that my parents’ anniversary – their 54th – is on the 26th, just four days away. I haven’t bought them a card, so any greeting from us won’t arrive on time, so I’ll have to make sure I order flowers tomorrow. This anniversary offers an interesting perspective. Four years ago, on my parents’ golden anniversary, the celebration was kept lowkey, since by that time, the Parkinson’s had kept my dad pretty much housebound. I know the members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, my dad’s parish for 24 years, would have loved to honor my parents with a reception, but Dad was already past the point of dealing with crowds of people.

I did a little research on Parkinson’s after we returned from our recent trip to Warren. It said that those who suffer from this disease can only focus on one activity at a time. For example, this morning, while I was brushing my teeth, I noticed some hairs of JoAnna’s in the sink, so without stopping the movement of my right arm, I grabbed a kleenex with my left hand and wiped the sink clean. Someone with Parkinson’s can’t do that. I suppose it’s the same with conversations and room noise. If there is numerous conversations going on at one time or people talking with the TV droning in the background, nothing makes sense. This, of course, is a layman’s interpretation of a disease I don’t know that much about. A few weeks ago, I kept asking myself, “What really goes on inside the mind of a Parkinson’s sufferer?”, as I observed Dad in his pitifully debilitated state. So far I haven’t been able to find much about someone who is an advanced stage of the disease, which is definitely where my dad is.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Interstate Bridge Across Menominee River Marinette, Wis. to Menomoniee, MIch. (Postcard Series)

 (Marinette County Libraries)

The library was constructed when the City of Marinette was at its population peak.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Interstate Bridge Looking from Menominee, Mich. Towards Marinette, Wis. (Postcard Series)

The bridge opened to traffic in 1929, replacing a series of bridges constructed at this point since 1865.   The bridge pictured in this postcard was replaced in 2004-05.

Michigan Department of Transportation.  US-41 / Menominee River.  The 1929 bridge.

Michigan Department of Transportation. Replacement of interstate bridge between Menominee, Mich., and Marinette, Wis., to begin.

Interstate bridge project (U.S. 41).  Nov. 2004 to Dec. 2005.

On This Date in 1999 (January 17)

Both JoAnna and I came down with colds yesterday. I woke up feeling a scratchiness in my throat. When I mentioned this symptom to here, she said, “I have the same thing.” The achy, lethargic symptoms kicked in during the late afternoon. We decided to just to with the flow, so to speak, and tuned the TV to the USA network, which broadcast The Godfather and Working Girl.

“I can remember the first time I saw The Godfather like it was yesterday,” I told JoAnna. And in my mind was a clear picture of that day. A new multiplex in Cheektowaga, New York. The usual group of movie-going friends during what was supposed to be my final semester of college, winter-spring 1972: Tony Szczygiel, Dennis Drescher, Donna Krasnow, Harvey Lipman, Michael Kanter, and probably Al Marmulstein, who, through some weird breakfast moment during our junior year in college – he was one of my roommates on Tonawanda Creek Drive – was nicknamed Dr. Ono Marmalade. Ono, for short.

Even though JoAnna and I weren’t feeling up to par, we didn’t become complete vegetables. JoAnna made a delicious beef vegetable soup, and I did a few loads of laundry, one of which I left in the washer overnight and is just now drying. I also organized a series of insurance inventory photographs that I took last weekend. I should put the name, and, where appropriate, the serial or model numbers, on the back side of each print.

Andy went sledding last night with two of his basketball teammates (Ross and Johnny) and two of his 5th grade classmates (Matt and Wesley). He was gone for at least four hours, from 3 to 7, and had a great time. Earlier in the day, he wanted me to buy him a new pair of snowpants, but both JoAnna and I agreed that his current pair fit him just fine. This decision didn’t irritate him as much as I thought it would.

I woke up this morning with a voice that could only croak. Both JoAnna and I had a terrible night’s sleep. We were both very restless. My usual problem is that I always try too hard to fall back asleep. This time I felt as though I had to open two computer files in order to attain my goal, but every time I clicked on them, nothing happened. Consequently, I lay in bed, shifting from lying on my back to my stomach to my right side to my left side – never finding the ideal location. As Chester A. Riley would say, “What a revoltin’ development this is!”

I need to shape up and ship out since Eddie has a birthday party at 11:30, and we haven’t bought a present yet, and Andy has a basketball game at 12:00. Fortunately, he’s playing at the Kromrey School gym, which is only a 2-minute drive from here. After this early afternoon activity, JoAnna and I will probably be content to veg out, shifting between a football game and a movie. I just hope I’m feeling back to normal tomorrow. I have too much to do to miss a day of work. No matter how I feel, I’ll probably go to the library and do what I can until I run out of gas.

Right now I’m going to do my usual 20 minutes on the Walkfit, and see if I can sweat this cold out of my system.

Fortunately the boys haven’t caught our bug. Andy hardly ever gets sick. In six years of grade school, he’s missed less than 5 days due to sickness. I think that’s quite a great attendance record. Whenever Andy complains about being sick, I always suspect that he’s trying to avoid something at school, e.g., a test he didn’t study for. Eddie has a strange record, too. The last time he complained about not feeling well, he looked (and acted) to be in perfect health by 10 o’clock.

Our two wonderful guys certainly keep us on our toes.

JoAnna and Eddie are at the health club. I’m still feeling a little out of it. In fact, I took a three-hour nap this afternoon, falling asleep during the fourth quarter of the Falcons-Vikings game. I was very surprised to learn that the Vikings lost. I’m still convinced that if the Packers had gotten the right call in the 49ers game, Jerry Rice’s obviously fumble that the refs somehow missed, they’d be in the Super Bowl. I was glad to see the Broncos win for two reasons. I’m sick and tired of hearing about Bill Parcells being the second coming of God. And I’m just naturally prejudiced against any New York team, a state of mind I entered during the 1960 World Series when the under-rated Pittsburgh Pirates spanked the New York Yankees butts in what has to be one of the best World Series ever.

Andy’s team won their basketball game today, 43-24. I told Andy that if his team scored 40 points each game, they’d be assured of a win. I guess I was right.

All for now. We send you our love.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

General Hospital, Marinette, Wis. (Postcard Series)

From Bay Area Medical Center history. Marinette General Hospital opened its doors on Sept. 3, 1940. Located at the current BAMC site, Marinette General had an 80-bed capacity and cost $315,000.

On This Date in 1999 (January 16)

Back on the computer. Andy and Meaghan are working the controls of Playstation. JoAnna just concluded a “kitchen cabinet” meeting here with Shirley Abrahamson and two other women on her campaign staff.

Andy’s basketball game was scheduled to start at 9:00 this morning at Glacier Creek Middle School in Cross Plains. The person responsibility for opening the school either overslept or forgot. The teams are supposed to have a half hour to warm up, but the doors weren’t unlocked until a few minutes before nine. Luckily, Andy’s coach knew who to call. Otherwise the game would have probably been postponed.

Middleton rocketed to a 19-0 lead over Waunakee in the first quarter. Their opponents didn’t score a point until almost ten minutes into the game. (They play 7-minute quarters.) Middleton seemed to lose its focus in the second quarter, scoring only 4 points, while Waunakee scored 7. The final score was 45-17, Andy’s team scoring 11 points in each of the last two quarters, getting into a consistent groove. Andy looked a little tentative in the first half. He said he hurt his right hand during gym class this week, and he did look like he had some trouble holding onto the ball, especially when rebounding. He looked more aggressive in the second half. I thought he scored 2 points, but he says he scored 4. Maybe I missed something, but I thought I was watching the game pretty closely.

The weather today is great. When I went outside to warm up the car this morning – the windows having been turned into frosted glass – I was surprised at how springlike the air seemed. Of course, we’ve been suffering through some intense cold, so anything above 30 degrees is going to feel almost tropical.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Main Street, Millinocket, Maine (Postcard Series)

On This Date in 1999 (January 15)

I have the house to myself right now. Andy is at a basketball practice from 6:00 until 7:30. JoAnna and Eddie are at the health club. Until I sat down at the computer, Boxer was following me around the house, uttering a mournful meow every now and then. He’s been acting peculiar lately, especially during the past few days. Last night I thought I heard him cut loose with a howl. Was I dreaming? I asked myself, lifting my head off the pillow and waiting for an instant replay. Kitty Meowsers jumped onto the top of our armoire, then pawed at the blinds as if trying to get a better view of something outside. Did he see a rabbit hopping across the snow? Boxer seems bored and lethargic. I’ve never seen him so hungry for attention. When I was home for lunch today, he let me rub his tummy and neck and the top of his head without giving me the slightest indication that he was gettin tired of this attention.

“Sorry, Boxer, I have to get back to work,” I told him.

At breakfast, JoAnna had offered a possible solution.

 “I think Boxer needs a playmate.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if we become a two-cat household within the few months. Maybe Boxer’s birthday present will be a buddy to play with while the rest of us are gone during the day.

I got a little annoyed at Andy right before I drove him to his practice. He couldn’t find his basketball shorts. He pawed through the hamper in the bathroom, the one in Eddie’s room, and the laundry basket in the utility room and came up empty.

“Maybe the Maids put them somewhere,” he said, referring to the cleaning service that JoAnna neglected to cancel before Christmas. They were here on Wednesday. I’m not sure what they did since the house looked to be in major disarray when I returned home from work. But now that both Andy and Eddie come home right after school, they have a lot more time to trash the place.

“I had them right here,” he said, pointing to the top of the futon.

“No, Andy, your jersey was there but not your shorts,” I countered.

He disagreed.

Losing patience with yet another search for the missing whatever, I gave the boys an ultimatum, since both Andy and Eddie were guilty of the offense that was on my mind. “There will be no Playstation, no TV, none of your favorite recreational activities until you clean up your rooms each day.” What parent hasn’t had to put up with dirty clothes serving as throw rugs, beds unmade, toys abandoned. Last weekend I did a photo inventory of the interior of the house, bypassing the boys’ rooms because of the clutter. In a way, it would be nice if we had a bigger house, specifically, walk-in closets for each bedroom. Most of my clothes are in Eddie’s closet, since JoAnna completely took over our closet four or five years ago. I can just hear Eddie when he starts high school.

“Hey, Dad, can’t you find another place for your stuff?” 

But back to Andy’s basketball shorts.

Andy directed his comment at Mom.

“Dad’s not going to like it when I tell him where my shorts are.”

He was absolutely right. He brought them to school on Wednesday so he could wear them in gym class and left them in his locker at school.

I launched into a mild tirade, words that have been said, in various forms by many parents, many times before. “Andy, you know you’re not supposed to do that.” (Take his sports stuff to school, that is.) “How many times do you have to be told?”

Blah blah blah.

During this rant, a part of me was still able to act as an observer, and I had to laugh at myself. I wouldn’t want someone to talk to me like that. I was acting too much like a parent who can’t deal with childhood’s shortcomings. Lighten up, I told myself. Don’t let this get out of hand.

Andy reminded me that Elm Lawn school was still open. Even though it was closing time (5:45) for the After School program by the time we got there, a few kids were still waiting for their parents to pick them up. Andy was able to retrieve his shorts and get to his practice in plenty of time. After his practice, he had planned to stop at Blockbuster Video to rent a couple Playstation games, but I told him that was no longer on the evening’s schedule.

“I know, I know,” he said impatiently, as we pulled away from the school. He tested me just before he exited the car at the Kromrey gym. The answer was still no.

JoAnna has visited the health club now for seven evenings in a row, Eddie accompanying her the last three times. At first, she didn’t Eddie would be interested, that he would only be a bother. To her great surprise, Eddie has really taken to the various pieces of equipment that the health club offers. He going to become not only the pancake king, but the exercise king.

I just heard another mournful meowr from Boxer.

“Why are you ignoring me?” he asked piteously.

Kitty Meowsers will get his strokes later tonight. I just can’t be bothered right now. I’m in the mood to write a letter, at least for the next 15 minutes, when I have to pick up Andy.

I had an interesting day at work. I moved my office into the conference room, a space twice as large as what I used to occupy. The conference room will now be referred to as the director’s office/staff conference room. To accommodate a credenza, desk, and computer table, one section of the conference table was removed. The remaining two sections will easily accommodate eight people, enough for both board and staff meetings. My old office will become the reference and circulation office, the two staff members responsible for those library activities sharing this space. This rearrangement of staff workspace became necessary when the city approved the library’s budget request for two additional staff members (a Young Adult Services Librarian and a Library Assistant II) as part of our package to open the library on Sundays. I don’t know if I mentioned this during our recent visit but this is the first time in my 13 years as director that the library received everything we requested in our budget proposal. It amounts to a 12% increase. In the library world, Warren is the flip side of Middleton. I was so fortunate to get this job. It fits me like a glove, to try on a well-worn cliché.

For the past couple years, the library board has been trying to raise my salary. Based on what happened during a closed session with the mayor and city administrator at last Tuesday’s meeting, they have finally succeeded. The city personnel committee will recommend an increase of between 5% and 10% next Monday evening. (The board pushed for 10%, but I think fiscal realities made them have to compromise.) I didn’t get all the specifics since I don’t participate in the board’s closed sessions. This will be over and above the 3.5% cost-of-living increase that all city employees will receive this year. 

Well, it’s about time for me to pick up Andy. I still haven’t told you about JoAnna’s latest free-lancing and job-hunting adventures. She’s doing as well as I expected. It’s not amazing to me how well-regarded she is. After all, she is my wife, my partner for the past 15 years, which include our pre-nuptial era. I’m so proud of her. Sometimes I wonder if the boys realize just how special their mom is.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Great Northern Hotel, Millinocket, Maine (Postcard Series)

Built by the Great Northern Paper Company for use by upper management, their families and other important guests and business contacts of the company.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (January 10)

I didn’t get much done yesterday as far as continuing this letter is concerned. And I almost didn’t get much done this afternoon. I couldn’t get the tab key to work, so I exited the Word program and started over again. Still no luck. Then I shut down the computer, but when I booted it up again I got a fatal error message. Nothing serious, as it turned out. I simply turned off the computer again and rebooted and the tab key is now working as it should be. I tried using the appropriate “Help” screens but they, of course, are written by geeks who have no idea how even a marginally computer savvy person thinks. For them, it’s all or nothing; you either understand my geekspeak or you’re on your own.

Andy’s basketball team split their weekend series. They won yesterday’s game against Mount Horeb 30-23 but lost today a thriller to Sauk Prairie, 24-23. Their offense seems to be going on a vacation. 40 points in game one. Then 30. Then 23. They missed a lot of scoring opportunities today. In fact, considering the talent they have – it’s a team with a lot of depth -- they should have won the game easily, but the boys just didn’t click. A lot of bad passes, missed free throws, easy shots in the paint off the mark. Although he scored no points in either games, Andy is probably the best rebounder on the team and had at least one steal in each game.

Andy’s basketball schedule seems to put our weekend free time at a premium. Today, for example, I got up, exercised on the Walkfit, and after taking a shower, Andy and I went grocery shopping. That took up most of the morning. At 11:30, we left for Sauk City/Prairie du Sac (the school district is combined, therefore the Sauk Prairie designation) to eat lunch at a restaurant near the Wisconsin River, where the eagles soar this time of year. The communities have a number of special events, none of which we had time for, of course. We did spent about 5 minutes in a parking lot along the river scanning the clear blue sky for signs of life. We spotted only two eagles, both of them at quite a distance from our vantage point. Andy’s basketball game started at 1:40.

It was 3:30 by the time we returned home, and then JoAnna needed to make a delivery to the east side of Madison, which took a 45-minute chunk out of her day. Now she’s in the kitchen preparing supper: pork chops, red mashed potatoes with the skins on, corn, applesauce. I’ve been on the computer for the past hour, the Wisconsin-Purdue basketball successfully competing for my attention. What an exciting game. The Badgers are leading by 4 points with about 6 minutes left. After losing their first two Big Ten game, Wisconsin came back earlier this week with a big win against Michigan State, ranked 12th, and now is on the verge of beating the 7th ranked team.

I think I’ll concentrate on the game and leave you with this rambling, but hopefully not incoherent, letter.

The Badgers won!

JoAnna and Andy went to the health club for the second evening in a row. The membership was my birthday gift to my wife and, after this weekend, I know she is going to get a lot of use out of it. I should probably go myself, but then I get my exercise each morning on the Walkfit. After that, I figure I’m done my time. Initially, Eddie was quite peeved that he wasn’t invited along. But I have to agree with JoAnna. He’d be too much of a handful. I think he’d quickly get bored, and JoAnna would have to spend all her time keeping an eye on him. He’s in a much better mood now. I told him he could help me make chocolate chip cookies as soon as the two sticks of butter soften. That helped to perk him up.

It’s been very cold this weekend. Daytime temperatures have not been able to get out of the single digits, and we experienced especially frigid wind-chill conditions today. Our only outdoor activity has been walking from the house to the van, from the van to the restaurant, from the restaurant…. We have excellent conditions for sledding but haven’t had the time to take advantage of it, with two basketball games in the middle of the day this weekend. Now that I have a warm lining for my Goretex jacket, I’d’ve probably been ready for an Elver Park excursion. That’s the location of the best hill in our area.

If JoAnna and I didn’t set some limits, the boys would become complete vidiots. The Playstation game system is a big hit with both Andy and Eddie. The hockey game and castle, unfortunately, have not received much attention. I don’t see much realism in the sports games that Andy plays. How’s this for a final score?: Arizona 82, Washington 81. On the other hand, the baseball game that Andy was playing earlier today did have a very close resemblence to the real thing. I have yet to try the system out myself.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Statue of Andrew Jackson, Capitol Grounds, Nashville, Tenn. (Postcard Series)

"Four Salutes to the Nation: The Equestrian Statues of General Andrew Jackson", by James M. Goode.

Photo credit:  Presidents USA

On This Date in 1999 (January 9)

And indeed it was.

JoAnna has been hired by Shirley Abrahamson to plan her re-election campaign. What was going to be a volunteer effort became a 3-week consulting job. Her meeting with Jim Doyle went very well. Because of civil service requirements, she can’t be officially hired until late February, so it looks like she will have some additional time off after all.

I spent an hour this morning helping Eddie with his Pinewood Derby race car. Eddie prepared the design, and I transferred the outline onto a block of wood (7” long and 2¼” wide), then used a small hacksaw to complete the first step of “manufacture”. Then Eddie helped me smooth away the rough edges with some sandpaper. That’s all we accomplished today. Tomorrow Eddie can start to paint his car.

The Pinewood Derby is a very popular Cub Scout event. The scouts race their cars, 3 at a time, on a 20-foot track that is set up like a slide. Eddie’s car didn’t do too well last year since it was too light. During the construction, it’s allowable to add weight to the vehicle, as long as it doesn’t exceed 5 ounces.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Mt. Rushmore Memorial from Tunnel on Iron Mountain Road (Postcard Series)

On This Date in 1999

Since our return to Wisconsin, we've been treated to snow and cold and wind. Eleven inches of the white stuff fell on Saturday, the high winds blowing it into huge drifts. The temperature plunged to minus 20 degrees Tuesday morning. Although the weather was relatively moderate today -- a high in the low 20s -- below zero temperatures are predicted for tonight and through the weekend. 

Except for Monday, which marked the beginning of the 1999-2001 legislative biennium, JoAnna has been in a serious domestic mood this week. Yesterday she applied contact paper to the shelves in the utility room, which, of course, gave her an opportunity to reorganize the contents of those shelves. She also changed the location of the kitty litter box, putting it next to the sink. Previously, we had kept it between the window and the door, where it always seemed to be in the way when unloading the dryer. Today she reorganized Eddie's art corner in the family room, providing more surface storage space for all his supplies. She bought a gliding kitchen organizer for underneath the sink; two lazy Susans for our canned goods cupboard; a shade for one of our living room lamps, replacing one that had unsightly stains on it (from exactly what, we're not sure); and a small, clear plastic CD holder to put next to the boombox we keep in the utility room.

JoAnna has a meeting with Wisconsin Attorney General Jim Doyle on Friday afternoon. His office has an opening for a legislative liaison person and, not surprisingly, JoAnna's name was at the top of a list of potential candidates. Shirley Abrahamson, the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, would like JoAnna to work on her re-election campaign, something she'll do in a volunteer capacity. Even her former boss called her this week, asking if she'd return to the caucus staff for a few weeks. JoAnna declined his offer, and I agree with her decision. To go back now, even temporarily, would make her look wishy-washy. I think he's is just starting to realize what he has lost. 

As a result of these contacts since our return to Middleton, I would guess that JoAnna's stay-at-home Mom phase is going to be a brief one.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bird's-eye View, Northeast from Union Depot, Milwaukee, Wis. (Postcard Series)

Better known as the Everett Street Depot.  (Photo credit:  Wikipedia)

Opening in 1888.  Closed in 1965.  Razed the following year.

When heaven was down at the corner of Clyborn and North 2nd:  A visit to Milwaukee's downtown depot.  (Railroad Model Craftsman)

On This Date in 1999 (January 2, Part 2)

We’ve been home almost 24 hours and still don’t have all of our suitcases unpacked. At least the van has been emptied and cleaned out. Our focus last night was the Rose Bowl game. Plus JoAnna was eager to get our kitchen cupboards and drawers reorganized as a result of our Christmas bonanza: new dishes, silverware, glasses, plasticware, etc. This morning Andy played his first basketball game of the season, giving us another reason to postpone putting our clothes away. This afternoon, JoAnna cleaned out and rearranged the rest of the kitchen cupboards, and I wrote a letter to my parents after going grocery shopping, something -- the shopping -- I wanted to do last night, but none of the local grocery stores were opened after 5:00. Since I didn’t want to make sandwiches out of a two-and-a-half-week-old loaf of bread (no mold in evidence), I ended up calling Pizza Hut. They could have doubled their prices last night and still done a land-office business. I was surprised they were able to deliver in less than 40 minutes.

Right now Andy and Eddie are with the Johnson boys, Alex and Rex. Both Meaghan and Matt were busy, a situation that Andy didn’t seem to mind as soon as I hooked up his Playstation unit to the family room TV. In a way, I was surprised he accepted Rex’s invitation to play. Real people, real activity are still an important part of his life. I would have been concerned if the video game had caused him to tune everything else out all afternoon.

During his basketball game, Andy didn’t look like he spent most of his Christmas vacation in a reclining position watching TV. He scored 2 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, contributing to a convincing 40-19 victory over a smaller Verona team. His team plays again tomorrow at 3:30. Isn’t that during the Packer game?

We had a wonderful visit in Pennsylvania, even though my dad really wasn’t a part of it. As a cousin of mine who visited my parents in October wrote on her Christmas card, “Parkinson’s is a cruel disease.” Not so much for the victim but for the family that has to watch this inexorably slow physical and mental deterioration. It breaks my heart to see my dad slumped in a chair, unconscious (I’m not sure if I can call it sleep), all day long, as he was this past Wednesday. Thursday he was more alert, which meant that he stayed awake for most of the day and even seemed to be following the storyline of The Glenn Miller Story, the movie JoAnna and I were watching on TV. At least his eyes were open and his face looked as though he was aware of his surroundings. After dinner, he spent an hour studying a pair of Andy’s wind pants that he had found on the living room carpet. Maybe the smooth, cool feel of the fabric fascinated him. He even attempted to put them on. JoAnna, Kim, Larry, Dale, Mom, and I were sitting around the dining room table and couldn’t help but laugh. Not out of cruelty. More to mask the pain of what has happened to this once vital and intelligent man. When we left the house Thursday night, our final departure, I had the sense that Dad didn’t know who I was as I bent down to kiss his cheek and squeeze his shoulder. Mom does her best to take care of him. Her biggest frustration and loss is not being able to communicate with her husband anymore. I wish I could remember just how she phrased it to me one day during our visit. His contributions to a conversation are surreal. One night he seemed to be counseling someone about the appropriateness of a home funeral. It had nothing to do with the lively chatter that the rest of us made It’s very likely he was repeating the exact words he spoke 30 or 40 years ago. During the week we spent in Warren, I made a note to myself to investigate the effects of the advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease. I want to get a better understanding of what is happening to Dad. At the same time, I hope to find some information that will make things easier for Mom. God forbid if anything happened to her, because I don’t think that Larry, Barb, and Dale, not individually, but all three of them together, are willing to provide the kind of care and attention that Dad requires. Mom look like she’s lost at least ten pounds since the summer. Both JoAnna and I couldn’t help but notice now baggy her slacks were when we arrived in Warren late Saturday afternoon. Fortunately, her energy level remains as high as ever. In that regard, she doesn’t skip a beat. She’s a very youthful 78 year old. 

Tara returned Boxer last night. You should have seen that cat when she opened the grapefruit box in which he was transported. He raced through the kitchen and bounded across the living room as if celebrating a major event in his life. He was obviously so happy to be home. The boys felt likewise, practically smothering him with affection. He joined JoAnna and me in bed during the Sugar Bowl game and padded up my right leg to my sternum at five o’clock this morning, tapping his right paw three times on my chest as if to say, “Time to get up, Daddy. I need my strokes.” I, too, missed Boxer, but not that much. I rolled over onto my stomach and slept until 7:00, when I returned to the Walkfit for the first time in two weeks.

I suppose you’re getting organized for your Arizona departure. When I look out the window right now, I can’t help but think, “They probably wish they left yesterday.” We are getting dumped on big time. And the wind is blowing the snow into tsunami drifts, which we haven’t bothered to shovel yet. Why bother? It’s still snowing. Watching the Weather Channel earlier today, I noted that the only warm places is the U.S. are southern Florida and a southwest arc of Arizona that looks like it includes Buckeye.

By the way, we have your address, don’t we? Otherwise I won’t know where to mail all the letters I plan to write to you. And I’m sure you want to stay up-to-date on all the events taking place in our lives, especially those of your grandchildren.

Stay tuned for Tri-County Basketball League updates, new artistic endeavors, the big job hunt, and expanded services at the Middleton Public Library. Thanks again for sharing such a wonderful Christmas with us.

We enjoyed our stay in Two Rivers and just the opportunity to do nothing if we were so inclined. Our busy family schedule requires putting life on hold every once in awhile.

On This Date in 1999 (January 2, Part 1)

I woke up Friday morning at 3 o’clock, after falling asleep sometime before midnight. We let the boys watch TV once we returned to the cabin, and I can remember JoAnna calling out, “Time to go to bed!”, which caused me to lift my head from the pillow and scan my surroundings so I could answer the question, “Where the hell am I?” I’m not sure if I gave a correct answer before drifting off to sleep again.

Once I was awake, I wanted to leave right away, but I repressed this impulse and tried to go back to sleep. After a half hour of staring into space, I whispered to JoAnna, “Hon! Hon! Let’s leave now.” She wasn’t ready to get out of bed yet.

“Let’s rest for awhile.”

She couldn’t sleep either, but even in her groggy state, she had the good sense to keep us in bed. It would have been foolish to start our trip four hours before daylight. I’m such a road warrior!

After dozing off a few times, I got up at 5:15 and washed my greasy hair. It seems no matter how short I wear it, I always have to wash it every day, unless I want to look like a derelict. While JoAnna roused the boys out of bed, I stuffed our two duffel bags into the back of the van, not caring about rear-mirror visibility. I wasn’t pleased to find a fresh cover of four inches of snow on the ground, with more falling from the sky at a pretty good pace. It’s going to be some tough sledding during the first part of our trip, I thought.

And I was right. Once we made the left turn onto U.S. 62, I strained my eyes to see the road. It wasn’t so much the snow than our defective, or perhaps just frozen, windshield wipers. I kept our speed at 30 mph and steeled myself for the stress of slippery roads and wind-blown snow. We encountered very little traffic so I took advantage of the opportunity to straddle the center line while driving. During the stretch of NY17 between Jamestown and Bemus Point, numerous ghosts swirled in front of the windshield, their brief reducing visibility to zero for a few disconcerting seconds. For awhile, I thought we were a supporting cast members of a snowbound sequel of Casper.

Curious about what we were driving into (or, hopefully, out of), I tuned in a radio station from Jamestown hoping to hear a weather forecast. The disc jockey talked about 3 feet of fresh snow on the ground in Sheridan, New York, which JoAnna was unable to find in our Rand McNally Road Atlas. Knowing where New York’s snow belt is located, I figured (hoped and prayed) that it was north of us. We also heard that the New York Thruway between the New York state line and Lackawanna was closed. What about the Pennsylvania stretch of I-90, I wondered. How bad can things get?

Not too bad, fortunately. The interstate was open, but snow-covered and probably slippery, but I didn’t go fast enough to find out. Road conditions didn’t improve until we reached the west side of Cleveland. Through the western two-thirds of Ohio and Indiana, we were able to make up for some lost time. We encountered some lake-effect snow driving through the western suburbs of Chicago, which we hoped wasn’t the leading edge of a storm blowing out of the Great Plains. It wasn’t. We returned home at 5:30 p.m. CST, 12½ hours on the road and five minutes into the second quarter of the Rose Bowl.

We turned on the TV as soon as we entered the house. I did get the van unpacked but this morning most of the suitcases remained filled. During halftime, I drove to the grocery store to pick up some basics – milk and bread – but I found the door locked, even though all the lights were on. They had closed at 5:00. JoAnna’s top priority was reorganizing the kitchen cabinets, which she was able to accomplish by the end of Wisconsin’s extremely satisfying 38-31 victory over UCLA. I should have bet some big bucks on this game. A simpleton could have looked at the scores of the games that UCLA played this season and predicted a Rose Bowl loss for them. They have no defense. Wisconsin may not have a quarterback – Mike Samuel has been an object of constant abuse during his collegiate career – but they do have Ron Dayne and one of the best defense units in NCAA division I football. The Big 10 had a great bowl season, going 5-and-0. Most sports dorks, partial to southern schools, will consider it a fluke.

Right now we’re in the middle of our first major winter storm of the year. Snowing, blowing, stay-at-home conditions. We’ll probably end up with 6-8 inches on the ground before the end of the day, and more is predicted for Sunday. If we had left Warren today, we’d probably be looking for a motel right about now (2 p.m.).

In spite of the treacherous weather conditions, Andy still played his first basketball game of the season. His team beat Verona 40-19, and Andy didn’t look as though he had spent the last two weeks in front of a TV set. He only scored 2 points but pulled down 5 rebounds. Middleton played very well together and look like they’ll be a contender for the league championship.

The boys are out sledding at Elm Lawn right now. We made sure they were well protected against the elements. JoAnna’s in the kitchen baking and watching the Bills get beat by the Dolphins. (It looks like Doug Flutie’s magic season is about to come to an end.) The card party we’re invited to is still on for this evening. In fact, that’s one of the reasons JoAnna’s in the kitchen. She took a page out of Kim’s cookbook and is making stromboli.

We had a wonderful vacation, probably one of the best Christmas holidays in memory, but it certainly is nice to be home. I thought the house had a strange feel to it when we returned yesterday, as if it had been standing vacant for months instead of two weeks, but that’s probably just an indication of how special our getaway was.