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A Merry COVID19 Christmas Letter

Ah the annual Christmas letter. Some love them, some hate them. Personally, I like reading them and writing them. Beth and I will include one in Christmas cards this year.

WGN had a radio team named Kathy and Judy who featured a Christmas segment that they called Merry Medical Malady Christmas cards. Listeners were encouraged to call in and share medical maladies that friends and relatives included in Christmas cards.

It’s been a while since writing a Christmas letter and I sure didn’t want our letter ending up as a funny anecdote on someone’s radio show…so a consultation on the World Wide Web for Christmas letter etiquette suggestions ensued. There is a plethora of Christmas letter writing advice, but most articles on the subject were similar.

I jotted down etiquette notes, combined our collective calendars from 2020 and reviewed my FaceBook page for significant events and made a chronological list to refer to and began typing our first draft on the laptop.

Upon completion of a rough draft Christmas letter, internet suggestions were used to see how well I did. You will not be tortured with the actual letter but here’s the etiquette advice with my results:

Be Positive: Well…it is 2020 after all and as much as there is plenty of positivity, there are some lamentations too.

Shorter is better, keep it under one page: Not even close…over 2 pages…OPE!

Don’t Brag: Nailed it! (oh wait, that’s a brag…)

Be Mindful of the Audience: The letter is for family and friends and written as such. OK, 2 for 4. Things are looking up.

Keep Achievements to a Minimum: Alright, 3 for 5 now.

List Interests and Hobbies: We listed travel and shows as actives, I think that counts. 4 for 6.

Include Photos: Bingo! 5 for 7.

Be You: I don’t know how to be anyone else! 6 for 8.

Be Personal: Conversational writing is my thing, 7 for 9 that’s 78%, not too bad.

COVID19 has changed so much of our lives and the current Holiday Season that stretches from Thanksgiving to the New Year is filled with pressures from healthcare professionals, authorities and society to isolate and curtail celebrations. Our Christmas letter reflects much of these pressures and our efforts to be responsible, safe and healthy citizens.

What’s in our letter? The year is divided into Pre COVID, Post COVID and Despite COVID activities. Beth and I do not have the luxury of working from home, she is in the healthcare industry and worked in an Emergi-Care clinic and a Wound Care clinic from day one until today. I manage a crew of essential workers at a factory that has not shut down at all except for weekends and Holidays from day one of COVID until today. We never truly became “Safer At Home” citizens, but we did venture out less than normal.

Our letter honors loved ones who we lost this year. There is a section devoted to our activities from January through March; like attending live performances, going to movies and dining inside. Activates that we no longer take for granted and long to do again. There is a large section devoted to activities that were cancelled due to COVID. We wonder if these activities will ever be rescheduled.

Most importantly our letter lists successful adaption of life. Enjoying shared cooking activities instead of eating out as often. Helping each other with continuing professional education that would’ve been done individually at a remote location instead of in our home virtually. Spending more time in our backyard with a bonfire or in our pool.

2020 has had its challenges and our Christmas letter reflects that. However, the human spirit is stronger than this virus or any gathering restrictions. As Aristotle once wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Humanity will find a safe way to be social again.

Despite the difficulty of 2020, we think we succeeded in making the very best of the year, and we wanted to share it with those we love. We look forward to hearing about their successes too!

College Education On A Dime…Some One Else’s Dime!

In 2018 Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs and Returning The Favor was quoted saying “…We’re lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back so they can pursue jobs that no longer exist…”.

Mike continues to promote skilled labor education; where tuition is more affordable plus the time between enrollment, graduation and full-time employment is shorter than the traditional 4-year College or University. The conjecture is that not everyone should go to college. Which, of course, is true.

However, it is also true that not everyone is cut out for skilled labor. The word skilled worker means a craft, trade, or job requiring manual dexterity, special training or a gift for mechanics in which a person has competence and experience.

Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for that either. We need skilled tradesmen, but we also need people that can crunch the numbers, read market trends, handle the human resource and design the products and services that we all need.

So… how do we educate people for non-skilled labor without putting them into $70,000 worth of debt for a $35,000 per year starting wage? It’s anecdotal evidence, but I’ll tell you how I earned my Associates of Arts degree, my Bachelor of Science degree and recently a Master of Science degree while spending a meager $10,000 of my own money.

In the summer of 1980, I enrolled at a local community college to study for an associate degree. My parents co-signed with me for a $10,000 student loan and off to trade school I went. Two years later I have an Associates of Art Degree, but alas no job offers of greater than $10,000 per year. So, I go back to my parents’ home to regroup.

Thankfully, mom had a friend at the Nebraska Job Service who helped me to parlay my technical degree and the experience of a summer job as a grain inspector into my first full time real job. 3M hired me into their Quality Control department as a Quality Inspector.

3M invested in my formal education in the fall of 1993 when I was approached by my boss about finishing my bachelor’s degree. 3M supported 100% of the tuition and books.

In December of 1994 I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Upon delivering proof of graduation to my boss, within days I was given a healthy raise in pay. That was a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

The bachelor’s degree has gotten my foot in the door for many job interviews, which in turn has become several well-paying and satisfying jobs over the years.

One year after being hired by Hubbell Incorporated, my boss informed me that we have a tuition reimbursement program in the company. She encouraged me to utilize the program for continuing education in Quality. I told her that I’d always wanted to study for a master’s degree and she enthusiastically supported the idea.

In the fall of 2017 Hubbell Incorporated, approved my master’s degree program. In November of 2020 I finished a Master of Science in Management degree. That’s 3 college degrees, plus three Professional Certifications that were paid for by employers for a grand total of $10,000 out of pocket expenses.

The bottom line is: You don’t have to go into great debt or obtain a full ride scholarship to get a degree at reasonable cost to you. It can be on a dime…well, on someone else’s dime if you keep your eyes open and make the right moves as opportunity presents itself.

Lowest Legal Prices?!

If you grew up in Wisconsin this picture declaring proudly that beer can be purchased at the ‘lowest legal price’ is common place. However, as a transplant to the great state of Wisconsin, this sign always draws my attention and my disdain. In Wisconsin there is a law dating back to 1939 called the Unfair Sales Act or commonly referred to as the Minimum Markup Law and it includes much more than beer sales. The law applies to all products, but not services.

In a nutshell, this law prohibits merchandisers from selling anything below the total cost incurred by the retailer or wholesaler for buying, transporting, taxes and any other cost incurred to bring the product to market. In other words, a business is not allowed to sell below cost to attract customers or most and other reason like dumping slow moving inventory.

The state claims that doing so “is a form of deceptive advertising and an unfair method of competition in commerce.” Really?!

There have been a few unsuccessful attempts to eliminate the act. Most recently in late 2019. However, the attempt was to mask a plan to raise the state gasoline tax by an additional $.08 per gallon. I’m guessing they were hoping that consumers would not notice the increased tax if the price before taxes went down. Talk about deceptive and unfair methods…

I’m not a fan of big brother, so I don’t want to see a maximum markup law either. Letting the free market of supply and demand set pricing is good by me, but I digress.

This law is overdue to go away. Let’s hope it happens sooner, not later.

Here is the actual law as posted on the state of Wisconsin web site:

  • For all merchandise except alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and motor vehicle fuel, cost to either wholesalers or retailers is defined as invoice cost or replacement cost, whichever is lower, less all trade discounts, plus any excise taxes and any cost incurred for transportation and any other charges not otherwise included in the invoice cost or replacement cost of the merchandise.
  • For alcohol and tobacco products the definition of cost also includes a 3% cost of doing business markup for wholesalers and a 6% cost of doing business markup for retailers. Cost for wholesalers who operate retail outlets or retailers who purchase directly from the manufacturer includes a 9.18% markup (3% plus 6% compounded).
  • For motor vehicle fuel, the definition of “cost” relies on either the “average posted terminal price” or invoice cost (whichever is greater) plus a cost of doing business markup. Use our Motor Vehicle Fuel Cost Calculator.
  • Penalties for violating the Unfair Sales Act may include a civil forfeiture of $50 to $500 for the first violation and $200 to $2500 for each subsequent violation. Sellers of motor vehicle fuel and/or tobacco products may file a private cause of action to seek damages if they are injured by a competitor’s price.
  • Exceptions to the law are made to allow for matching a competitor’s price, clearance and final liquidation sales, sales of damaged merchandise and perishables, contracted governmental institution sales and for merchandise sold to charitable or relief agencies.

Chilly Outside? Chili Inside!

When temperatures begin to drop under the freezing mark my appetite begins to long for a nice hot soup. Chili is my very favorite soup. Bright red broth chocked full of ground meat and beans and a variety of spices prominently featuring chili peppers. The mouth waters just thinking about it!

Like most, my first taste of chili came from my mom’s kitchen. For mom the recipe included ground beef, kidney beans, pureed tomatoes, salt ground black pepper and a healthy dose of ground chili powder. Simple, straight forward, comfortable and tasty. Saltine crackers on the side for those who needed to take the edge off the chili powder.

The definition of what is and what is not chili is relative. Relative to where you live or who your family or close friends are. With most foods I tire of those who believe that some foods are not authentic unless they adhere to a rigid recipe and ingredients. Where I came from the debate was with or without beans. Here in Wisconsin the question is with or without noodles.

My opinion? I believe that chili is a soup that features the taste of chili pepper, period. Spare me the discussions concerning noodles and beans. I will eat chili with or without either.

Variations of chili can be found at most any eatery or fine diner that serves it.

The Ohio based chain of Skyline features chili in three configurations:

  • 3 Way with spaghetti, chili meat sauce and grated cheese.
  • 4 Way with spaghetti, chili meat sauce, grated cheese plus onion OR beans.
  • 5 Way with spaghetti, chili meat sauce, grated cheese plus onion AND beans.

Milwaukee based Real Chili gives you more configuration options:

  • Mild, Medium or hot pepper spice.
  • Single, 1 ½ or double helping size.
  • Beans Only, Meat Only or Spaghetti only with chili meat sauce or any combination of the three.
  • Extras include: Cheese, jalapeno peppers, onion and sour cream for a nominal upcharge.

The Beaver Dam based business Chili John’s owned by third generation owner Chris Stavropolus:

  • One option: What is in his crock.

There are many more places and varieties, of course, but these are my 3 favorite places to go for chili…EXCEPT MINE, OF COURSE.

What’s my chili recipe? I thought you’d never ask. This recipe has changed drastically over the years until about 10 years ago. The following recipe has been a favorite of my children and close friends, and it is rarely altered…much.

Here it is, try it and tell me what you think.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Ground Pork Sausage
  • 1.5 pounds Ground Beef or Ground Poultry
  • 46 ounces V8 Original Vegetable Juice
  • 15.5 ounces Black Beans in mild chili sauce (undrained)
  • 15.5 ounces Great Northern Beans in mild chili sauce (undrained)
  • 4.5 ounces of diced chili peppers or 1 teaspoon ground chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Seasoned Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Dry Rub Seasoning
  • 14.5 ounces diced or sliced carrots (drained)
  • 14.5 ounces whole kernel sweet corn (drained)

Directions:

  • Brown ground meats on medium heat and season with salt and half of the dry rub
  • in a large soup pot (12 to 16 quart).
  • Reduce heat to simmer.
  • Add the V8 vegetable juice and stir.
  • Stir in the chili peppers, beans, carrots and corn.
  • Stir in the remainder of the dry rub seasoning.
  • Reduce heat to low and let stew for one hour.

Eat!

The V8 and the dry rub are the key to my unique and awesome flavors. My secret ingredients are Grandpa Rechek’s ground pork sausage and I’m specific with Bad Byron’s Butt Rub.

I know, I know, the chili purists will say that there is no place for carrots or corn in chili…I do not care. This soup is fabulous.

What about noodles? I cook them on the side for those who wish.

2018 Beaver Dam Pepper Fest Chili Cook Off!

Being Thankful In This Crazy Ass World

2020 is down to its final 5 plus weeks, seems like it can’t end soon enough. Here are some things we should have been more thankful for in the past, but didn’t know we would need to be…Dining at a restaurant or frequenting our favorite bar, shaking hands, hugging, walking around with your face exposed… and entertaining the family for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I know, I know…some of you are still doing all these things. However, there was a time not so long ago that none of these things would be controversial in any way. I miss the days when the worst thing that the media was trying frighten us about was tainted Romaine lettuce…

Differing authoritative reactions to the COVID19 pandemic has resulted in all of these topics and more splitting families, friends and workplaces across the world. To mask or not to mask, open up or shut down business, which businesses stay open, which close, which are open but with restrictions. Every nation is handling this differently, states within our union are handling this differently, counties and towns within states are handling things differently. Where we live there is currently a large spike of infections. People are at odds with each other.

What’s my opinion? Doesn’t matter what my thoughts are. I’m no expert. What do we do? We wear our masks when inside with people we do not live with, we do social distancing and stay home much more than we used to. Plus, we take a daily regimen of vitamins and supplements to strengthen our immune systems.

Daily we take vitamins D, C and B, we take zinc with a zinc ionophore called quercetin and one baby aspirin. SARS CO-V 2 is a blood attacking virus, Pulmonary Embolisms and other blood related problems are a huge risk. The aspirin thins the blood a little to help if you do get the virus. Getting zinc into the cells will deter the virus from entering your cells and if you are infected zinc will stop the virus from reproducing its RNA into our cells. However, our cells do not want to absorb zinc easily, that’s where the ionophore comes in, it carries the zinc into your cells.

How does this work for us? So far, so good. The moment we heard about this odd virus in China near the end of January, Beth went to work investigating the virus. There is a wealth of information out there. Her favorite is MedCram.com who issue daily updates on the virus. I’m thankful that a very bright medical professional loves me. We are thankful for good health and continue to try to protect it.

Seldom do we visit our favorite restaurants and bars, plus our beloved Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre Fine Arts Center (That’s a mouthful!). We have not seen an indoor live performance of any kind in person since March 7, 2020 just before Governor Evers locked down the state of Wisconsin. I do remember the show; Beth and I went with our buddy Trevor to see Charlie Berens (the Manitowoc Minute guy) at the Waterloo Firemen’s Hall for a fund-raising show. Afterward we went to Ooga Brewery and have only occasionally been back since.

 One thing to be thankful for; the lockdowns are saving us a great deal of discretionary funds because we dine, imbibe and entertain mostly at home now. We feel bad for our favorite local entertainment business owners. Now the home bar is stocked to the gills and we burn much more firewood than we did in past years because bonfires and our fireplace brings us joy.

There has been no shortage of death for us since last Thanksgiving. The Must-ski waterski team lost two valuable and loved members Andy Parbs and Tom Stebbins; Andy to cancer and Tom to a tragic accident. BDACT lost a beloved volunteer and show producer Sheri Born to cancer. My writing idol, BDACT founding member and all around awesome human being Roger VanHaren was lost to cancer. One of my favorite former business partners whom I shared the 9/11/01 tragedy day with died of a heart attack. My father passed suddenly on October 18, two days before his sister Verna lost her battle with dementia. Beth recently lost one of her cousins just a few days ago. While we grieve the loss, we also are thankful to have known them.

It would be easy to say there was little to be thankful for in 2020, but that’s not true. Beth and I are quite thankful that we frequently made the 500 mile, 8 hour one way trip to see my parents the last few years. Dad was always a storyteller and Beth was great at asking him questions that drew out some stories that I’d never heard before. Like my grandfather hauling a cabin 20 miles with one horse and building it up to a home for the family’s first real home in southwest Iowa. Like dad wanting my grandmother’s home to have electricity, so he bought a DIY book and wired her home after he returned home from Okinawa Japan after his tour of duty for the Army Air Force. That’s something to be thankful for.

Mom and Beth and I walked through the process of saying goodbye to dad from the mortuary to the service and all of the administrative items that need to be taken care of when someone dies. The three of us were in concert during the entire process and that made the saddest task something to be thankful for. There is still much to do, and Thanksgiving weekend will give us another opportunity to share more post dad work around mom’s home.

Having Beth’s mom and dad live with us this year and getting to know each other and learning from each other is something to be thankful for. Due to COVID19 fears we learned how to protect each other from the virus. Allen is a reader and frequently reads aloud. I enjoy that. During lent, we couldn’t attend mass, he would handle our homebound masses every day during Holy week. That’s something to be truly grateful for.

I’m also thankful for finishing a Master of Science in Management degree from my alma mater Bellevue University. Graduation ceremonies will be the weekend of January 29 and 30, 2021 in Omaha. I’m considering continuing my education for a PhD. Yes, you can call me Dr. Ron.

We are both thankful for our jobs, we know that we are lucky.

We feel blessed regardless of what is going on out there or in our home. It seems every year that Beth and I knock off one or two bucket list items. To be fair, my bucket list is not extravagant. We managed to knock one of mine off the list this year. There would have been two items, but the Eagles with Vince Gill had to be moved out to 2021 thanks to COVID19. The item I was able to check off was visiting Yellowstone National Park. Three days in the park, two of them with a wonderful tour guide named Mike at Yellowstone Wonders. We highly recommend Mike.

Be thankful for those in your life. I’m so thankful that we have spent more time with our parents.

Treat each day as it is…The Precious Present. Every day is a gift, at any moment it can end for any one of us. Make the most of it…and be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

About Me

Ron’s Ramblings is a conversation, a one sided conversation mind you, but a conversation all the same about things that I find fascinating or interesting or unusual or just something noticed during this wonderful journey of life that I want to share with you.

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