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Squirrels Can Drive You Nuts

Jun 7, 2018

Squirrels are fun to watch as they frolic in the back yard.

But they can also be a nuisance. They eat tulip bulbs and dig up newly planted annuals, leaving the small roots dying in the sun.

And while we imagine that squirrels live happily in the backyard, well aware that they don’t belong inside, I think they see the house as an extension of their territory. The yard may be loaded with nuts, plants and yes, tulip bulbs, but the house is bound to be full of really exciting goodies. Which, to be fair, is actually true.

An Atheist Asks A Question

Jun 6, 2018

I’m a lifelong atheist, but I mean no disrespect when I ask, “What would Jesus do?”

In the 1990s, conservative Christians -- often pointing fingers at Bill Clinton -- made a thing of asking this question in the name of Family Values. Funny, I haven’t heard that question asked lately.

I’m certainly no biblical scholar, but my understanding is that Jesus led poor people to believe they are worthy of lives of dignity, and that injustice must be challenged. It was a philosophy not of tribalism, but of Evangelicalism – live a moral life and spread the Good Word.

Avoiding Those Trojan Horses

Jun 5, 2018

Last week my daughter studied the story of the Trojan Horse, where the Greeks trick the Trojans into accepting a gift of a huge wooden horse only to find it’s filled with Greek soldiers. That horse was amazing – a grand gesture the Greeks made after 10 years of grueling war.

Yet Julia questioned why anyone would accept this horse. How could the Trojans be so short sighted?

Different versions of the myth portray some Trojans questioning the Greeks’ intent. But no one listens. Why don’t we listen to reason?

A Victim Of Farm Transformation

Jun 4, 2018

As a kid, one of my chores was delivering water to livestock in the field. I would drive a tractor pulling the water wagon out to a distant pasture. While the water slowly emptied into the field tank in the stillness of the setting sun, I would listen for the distant bobwhite quail in the hedgerows.

At one time, most of the Midwestern fields were surrounded with Osage Orange hedgerows. The bramble provided a natural fence as well as an ecosystem that included quail that were drawn to the cover.

How Do You Consider Charity?

Jun 1, 2018

Say a friend you haven’t seen in years texts you for money. You may wonder if she’s gambling or using, right? What if it’s a stranger asking for food money? You want to avoid callousness, but don’t want to be a sucker either. Personal desires to feel good about giving can be exploited.

Vacation Is Very Good For You

May 31, 2018

When it’s this close to summer, you’re probably thinking about how you’d like to spend your “summer vacation.”

People who work in education tend to measure time a little differently than the rest of the world. Our new year begins when autumn draws near and the arrival of summer heralds the end of another year on the job.

A Simple Offering Of Help

May 30, 2018

My desk was on the second floor of a downtown building. My window looked out at a tavern that had two dumpsters behind it. Homeless came to those dumpsters every day, pulling out aluminum cans they sold to get money to buy some food.

One day I saw one of them take a Styrofoam container from the dumpster, pull something out of it and eat it. I thought then, “Enough of this crap.”

Some Things Matter More

May 29, 2018

“You suck. You suck. You suck,” hammered my thoughts as I stood in front of a class that did not want to talk. We were talking about Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

I appreciated that Rubin talked about how money contributes to happiness, a common-sense slant that people often forget. While they sat, silent, I remembered a missionary talk I’d heard back in the 70s. Tom Little was a local optometrist called to work in Afghanistan.

A Unique Day Of Honor

May 28, 2018

Today is Memorial Day, an almost unique holiday for us. We do not celebrate with joy; rather, we honor fallen soldiers with wistful sadness in our hearts. Part of that sadness stems from the fact that so many of us know, or knew, some of those we honor.

We honor those brave men and women who gave what Lincoln termed "the last full measure of devotion." We honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country -- or rather, for us. Given what they did‎, mere words seem inadequate.

I'm Looking For That Word ...

May 25, 2018

My wife and I talk about moving someday, but I wonder if I can.

This would be like no other move. Likely several states away, to be closer to our boys. Maybe grandkids.

Still … I feel grounded here. Like my feet are anchored with some kind of natural connection.

Roots. After nearly 70 years their grip has grown deep. I feel a tug, like a leash, reminding me where I came from. I have a kinship with this territory.

Could I give it a label? Maybe. The Midwest? Or better, the prairie … but that stretches over many states. I need a better word.

Wishes For Memorial Day

May 24, 2018

“Oh, beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain…” I love that song; it can always make we weepy.

I’m a veteran. I served in the Army in the midst of the TET Offensive. I wish I could tell you I was as politically aware as I am now, however I was 18, and the world was all about me.

A Real Advantage To Postal Job

May 23, 2018

During the late 1950s I was a summer mailman in Rockford.  The job changed my life forever -- for the better -- but there was a challenge: the dogs.

Once a man on a porch saw me coming down the public sidewalk, and – pointing to the hound at his feet – called out, “Don’t worry.  He won’t bite.”

“Already did,” I said. Moments before, the creature had raced down, bit me on the leg, and trotted back to assume an innocent pose.

Another time, I felt an electric shock running up my leg before realizing that I had been bitten hard from behind. 

How The Ivories Tickle Imagination

May 22, 2018

I recently started taking piano lessons – again. The first time, I was around 10 years old.

We didn’t have a piano so I practiced on my cardboard keyboard. I guess my parents thought that demonstrated commitment, so eventually they surprised me with a big, old converted player piano. When puberty set in, I became less motivated and started fibbing in my practice log.

We Must Address The Context

May 21, 2018

True story.

The afternoon of May 10, an African-American gentleman was walking down the street when he heard someone yell “nigger” from an upper floor of a parking structure. That word was hurled three times, followed by an object which barely missed the gentleman’s head.

The Real Reason For Shame

May 18, 2018

I am not a betting person, but I would be willing to wager that no one has ever seen an opinion piece titled "Heterosexual Teacher Shames First-Graders."

Yes, that would be ludicrous, but no less ludicrous than the headline I did see recently: "Homosexual Teacher Shames First-Graders." The author of this screed was Laurie Higgins, cultural analyst for the Illinois Family Institute, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Here's A Way To Change Lives

May 17, 2018

Teachers are the backbone of our democratic society. They prepare children to read, write, think critically, innovate, collaborate, lead, and take on the challenges of the world. Unfortunately, teaching has gotten a bad rap lately and, as a result, fewer young people and career-changers are pursuing teaching as a vocation.

A New Language Opens A World

May 16, 2018

Language, I believe, is the driving force in interpersonal communication and life as most of us know it.

And, while just about every language is flawed in its incapacity to address falls short in addressing the breadth of human emotion, these languages are more than capable of guiding masses of people around the world as they go about their lives.

The Best Reason To Love May

May 15, 2018

Of course you know the dozen reasons why May is the sweetest month.

But put aside for now May’s eye candy—the orioles and buntings and tulips. And May’s nosegays—hyacinths and lilacs and lilies of the valley. You must put aside even crappie fishing, for now, to focus on May’s rarest gift: morel mushrooms.

You’ve waited 50 weeks for their arrival. But now, somewhere on the edge of a forest, it’s beginning; morels are pushing themselves through the duff. You’d rather hunt for mushrooms than anything else, admit it.

The Press Have A Role To Play

May 14, 2018

James Madison once said, “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

And mistrust of those wielding the levers of power in government goes back to the days of the American Revolution, closely followed by intellectual brawls in creating the U.S. Constitution, and soon followed by the party wars of the 1790s.

That mistrust is still with us, and it is a healthy thing.

The Benefits Of Manual Labor

May 11, 2018

At a young age, I vividly recall announcing to my dad that I could never be a garbage man. He asked why, and I said the job was dirty, gross, and exhausting.

His eyes widened and he proceeded to laugh. I felt bewildered, since I didn’t find this observation funny.

He said that, as a kid, he worked from dusk ’til dawn, removing rocks from corn fields and loading hay. My dad thoroughly believed this experience transformed him into a hard-working man. His motto became: “Work every day, or the opportunity might not come tomorrow.”

Success Comes Through Hard Work

May 10, 2018

The media surround us, planting images and ideals in our minds of what our bodies should look and feel like. The media rarely acknowledge that “healthy” can vary between individuals.

You don’t need to be a size zero to feel healthy. You don’t need to look like the magazine model who has undergone three rounds of Photoshop, or the guy with massive muscles who swallows steroids daily but claims a “healthy lifestyle.” Healthy should be feeling good in your own skin.

Stick To Those Tough Decisions

May 9, 2018

I increased the volume of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. I puffed hard. The little red-headed cigarette burnt impatiently. I could feel it reach the bottom of my lungs. I flew to cloud nine. I rolled my eyes and let my mind float with the music. Then, I penned this promise:

“I’m done. I have enjoyed this. I have suffered enough from this.

“Now, I vow to stop smoking.

“One day, I will regret this, but it is my choice. This is my last cigarette.”

Kids Need To Get Outside

May 8, 2018

As a child, I spent most of my time outdoors. Whether I jumped rope, drew with chalk, or rode my bike, I practically lived outside. March through October constituted prime playtime, so I reveled in the warm weather. Those eight months were filled with growth, both in the trees and in my mind.

A Lesson From Diversity

May 7, 2018

I grew up in a diverse family.  My father is of German descent, and my mother has Polish and Yugoslavian blood.  But my mother was born in Venezuela in 1960 and moved to America four years later.

Ever since she came to Chicago at a young age, she assimilated into American culture that consequently makes her different from her family.  I believe that my mother living in America for so long has helped her escape any form of criticism that we see nowadays.

Job Success For The Future

May 4, 2018

Today’s university graduates face increasing competition for employment.

This competition comes not just from other qualified graduates across the globe but from algorithms, artificial intelligence and robots. And, in the face of this machinic incursion, I have just one piece of advice: Give up.

For data-intensive occupations that rely on pattern recognition and repetitive operations, machines are simply better, stronger and faster.

A Lesson In The Lambing

May 3, 2018

My husband and I have been keen fans of the BBC series, “Call the Midwife.”

Set in post-war, poverty-stricken East London, the midwives – both religious and lay – face complicated birthing challenges in each episode. In each situation they show courage and grace, blended with their own human emotions and shortcomings. At the end of each episode, the narrator, Vanessa Redgrave, reflects on what was learned and celebrated.

A Different View Of Generations

May 2, 2018

A recent Perspective on WNIJ expounded on the supposed differences between Millennials and Gen Z. It took me by surprise how that it described a fissure between the two generations.

Millennials were painted as a failed generation who, after running their wallets dry, ungratefully retreat to their parents’ basements to live as self-important recluses. Meanwhile, Generation Z -- composed of those no older than 21, according to the Pew Research Center -- are idyllic, capable, and more mature than their predecessors.

Battered Roads Need Attention

May 1, 2018

Years of neglect have done incredible harm to highways and municipal streets in northern Illinois. The four highways that go into and out of Dixon, and the streets that weave among those highways, paint a dreary picture of the condition of roadways throughout northern Illinois.

The Strength Of Knowledge

Apr 30, 2018

I admire the leadership of Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, the co-founders of The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, in Oakland, California. The organization was started in 1966 to bring awareness to -- and protect Black people from -- police brutality in their communities.

Huey Newton, who earned his PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz, studied the gun laws of California and educated other Panthers about how to arm themselves legally to protect their families and friends from the illegal actions of Oakland police.

Not long ago, rummaging in the basement for a sledgehammer, I ran across one of my old high school yearbooks. I hadn’t liked high school, and so I decided to peruse the yearbook -- in effect, giving high school a second chance.

Well, it was just as bad the second time. The most handsome boy and most beautiful girl didn’t seem all that handsome or beautiful to me — just average looking. The most popular boy and girl were never especially nice to me.