I’m not the retiring sort

With the buzz of Christmas past, I decided to get some things accomplished. So I sent out some overdue Christmas cards with actual messages written in them, paid some bills, and balanced my checking account.

OK, it didn’t balance. But I actually did addition and subtraction and arrived in the neighborhood of the figure the bank says I have, so I’ll settle for that.

And then I did something I’ve been putting off for eight years– I joined AARP.

Yep, I figure since I actually am retired, I may as well join the rank and file of the retired folks. For the first time as an adult, I’ve actually joined a political group. They may not bill themselves that way, but that’s what they are. With all of us Baby Boomers demanding our Social Security checks, reasonable health care and everything else old folks want, I figure AARP is where all the action is nowadays. We’re old and we’re bold and we’re not going to shut up until we get what we want.

I guess I’ll find out what we want when the first newsletter arrives. Until then, I’ll just keep trying to reconcile my check book. I’ll probably actually be eligible for a Social Security check before that happens.



(Not) Shopping at the Mall

I went to the mall again.

For someone who had not been there in years, this is a pretty big deal. But since I was making another trip to Barnes and Noble, I decided I would take the advice of a friend and venture out into the mall proper and do a mall walk. Three times around, she said, and I would log a mile and a half.

So having no luck in the stacks, I took to the tiles and started my circuit, stopping almost immediately to drop coins in the Salvation Army bucket in front of Penney’s. Because I had promised myself to always contribute when passing a red kettle, I was glad I’d loaded my pockets with coins.

My first mistake was going in the afternoon the week before Christmas. There were too many people, which likely pleased the store owners but was annoying to someone trying to dodge the slow-moving traffic. And to the couple who standing in front of a store, saw me coming and stepped out in front of me and stopped, what were you thinking? I wanted to just mow you over but because I was filled with the Christmas spirit, I merely scowled and walked around you.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear but Santa and his elf, walking at such a fast clip that I couldn’t catch him before he made it back to Santa’s Village to pose for photos.

That brought me around a second time to the red kettle and I dug out more coins before continuing my mall walk. And then it truly was a Christmas miracle because I saw an Amish woman with baby standing in front of Payless Shoes and I wondered, did she take advantage of the buy one, get one for half price? And were both pairs black?

I rounded past Penney’s and assured the bell ringer this was my last time contributing before dashing around the mall for one more circuit and back out to the parking lot.

But the Christmas miracles kept happening because I ran into another Amish woman at Woodman’s and she had Honeycomb cereal in her cart. For the rest of my shopping trip, all I could think about were little girls in bonnets chowing down on Honeycombs instead of oatmeal.

I think it will be a while but for a venture to the mall again. Without Santa and the Amish, what’s the point?


The good old days

Pearl Porath died this last week.

Many younger readers of the La Crosse Tribune probably have no idea who that is. But if you’re over the age of 50, you likely remember Pearl as the correspondent who filed stories from Black River Falls.

One of many correspondents, Pearl was one of the most dependable. She would call in late at night to the Tribune’s Recorder  after sitting through a four-hour council meeting. Then whoever was working the regional desk — sometimes it was me — would clear stories left by Pearl and other correspondents.

It’s been decades since we used the Recorder and almost as long since the Tribune had a fleet of correspondents that included Pearl.

When I think of Pearl and the other correspondents, I groan and remember typing up 60 inches of Black River Falls council and school board meetings, cutting it to 40 inches, and then having the copy desk lop it to 20 inches. Those were the days when we had correspondents in every corner of the Coulee Region and we covered the area like a giant quilt.

Not so much these days. Maybe the powers that be figured it cost too much for the few subscribers who wanted to read about Prairie du Chien and Tomah and Black River Falls.

Reading Pearl’s obituary reminded me of the days when I first worked at the Tribune. In 1977, fresh out of UW-Eau Claire, I was current with the technology the Tribune was using. The  paper had only recently converted from hot lead to cold type but  had only one unsteady foot in the new technology.

The copy desk still had a hed sked that told copy editors who many spaces each type face took up. And if you were a lazy copy editor who didn’t want to work too hard to boil down your words to a succinct type face, you likely chose a light face in 36 point. I know because I started out on the copy desk. And still my favorite type face was Bodoni Bold.

We still banged out headlines on typewriters in 1977. And wire stories came to us on rolls of tape with punch marks which we then fed into machines which would translate them back into words. If you day dreamed while at the task, the tape would run askew and you’d end up with gibberish in your computer.

In those days, we didn’t have quite enough computers for everyone in the newsroom. So if you happened to vacate your terminal to visit the restroom, you might find someone else typing furiously away at your computer upon your return.

Those were the best years at the Tribune. That was the last time I was exactly current with technology and all my energy was focused on reporting and writing. In all the intervening years, I struggled to learn formatting and new operating systems which always seemed to block my thinking process.

When email arrived at the Tribune, I scoffed. We had one terminal and one email address for the newsroom and we had to wait in line to use it.

“That will never work,” I said, content to stick with snail mail.

Now, I don’t know how we ever put out a paper without color band photos that arrived at my computer minutes after making a quick call to a promoter.

Thank God I never had to tweet or anything related to it. As editors asked us to tweet, add online content, chat on facebook, and take our own pictures, it was hard to squeeze in time to interview people.

Back in Pearl’s heyday, the interview was everything.

I think it still should be.

All I Want for Christmas

I don’t know that I have a favorite Christmas memory, but I do have a vivid one.

It was when I was small — 5, 6. That particular year, Dad and Mom went crazy with gifts. Dad had been working two jobs to save up enough money for a down payment on a house. They finally got a house and we moved in when I was 3. My brother Tom was born on the day we moved in.

Even after we got the house, Dad kept that second job. That meant he didn’t see a lot of us, so I guess he was making up for that with gifts.

On this particular Christmas, I got a little toy piano. Everyone else wanted to play with my piano but I wasn’t into sharing so there was a lot of yelling of, “It’s mine.”

Evidently, nobody else wanted to share their toys that year either. Dad announced he was quitting that second job because it wasn’t worth it if we were going to behave that way.

I don’t think that piano lasted into the new year, which is maybe one reason I became a music lover and not a music maker. But what did last long after the crying and refusal to share was that this isn’t the way I want Christmas to be.

Much happier memories, which have all blended into one big childhood blur, are the Christmas Eve ride to see the lights and the Christmas evening tradition of playing games and making puzzles.

So whatever you’re wishing for this Christmas, I hope you get that and also happy memories of spending time with the people you love most. I’d sure trade that little piano for another Christmas with Dad. I’d even let him play it.


Slow down

By anyone’s definition, except the calendar which insists on Dec. 21, it is winter here in the Coulee Region. We’ve got snow, we’ve got cold, we’ve got wind.

But we don’t have our winter driving habits in place.

Like everyone else around here, I’m used to barreling down the road about 5 mph above the speed limit. But it’s time to dial it back to a slow crawl. Most of us have forgotten how long it takes to brake on snow-slick streets and we’ve left the skid marks to prove it. This is something we evidently have to re-learn every year.

If there were no signal lights or stop signs and no other drivers, we could probably get by with this kind of reckless driving. But since we’re not alone on the streets, we need to stop driving as if we are. We live in Wisconsin, not Alabama, so let’s drive accordingly.

Heck, drive less is my motto. The car never left the garage yesterday, even though I cleared the driveway. After shoveling again today, I’ve decided the car can stay right where it is. My only errand will take me six blocks from my house, which can double as my walk for the day.

So bring it on, Winter, we’re almost ready for you.



Frosty the Snowgal


And that is not a complaint.

Having whined incessantly about the heat all summer, I promised I would take whatever winter dished out. Actually, here in the Coulee Region where winter winds can howl unmercifully and snowfalls can be wickedly large, we’ve been lucky.

Just 167 miles away at my sister’s in the Twin Cities — yes, I’ve driven it often enough to know the exact mileage door to door — she was battling 6  inches of snow last night as she tried to back her van into the garage.

All we got here was some cold drizzly rain, a reminder that I need to turn off the water tap to the outside faucets.

One thing we did get, though were windchills, which I kept in mind as I bundled up like Frosty to go for a walk today. If you dress warmly enough, you can walk in almost any kind of winter weather, even the kind where they tell you windchills are so dangerous you should stay inside. What’s that weather guy knowing standing in his 68 degree studio? I am walker, watch me stride.

The only thing I really fear in winter is ice. The most intrepid and savvy walker knows there is little that can withstand a sheet-of-glass ice that was created by a rain-sleet mix the night before.

So I will walk in snow. I will walk in cold. I will walk in wind. But please, Santa, save the ice for the North Pole.