The Top Hats Cometh

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February 2 is Groundhog Day each year. Why?

Most people know that we track seasons by tracking four dates by the earth’s position or tilt while orbiting the sun. These days mark the beginning of the four seasons. Summer solstice is June 21st, fall equinox is September 23rd, winter solstice is December 21st and spring equinox is March 21st.

Very nice Ramblin’ Ron, but what is your point? Oh! Yes, Groundhog Day on February 2nd.

Groundhog Day is equal distant between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. This day marks the midpoint of winter. Celebrating this day goes back to a Celtic pagan celebration called Imbolc. Celts were more optimistic than we are and marked this day as the begging of spring.

Later the Christians borrowed the pagan celebration for their own, renamed it Candlemas and marked the day to commemorate the day that Jesus was introduced to the Jerusalem temple. A sunny Candlemas was believed to indicate an additional 40 days of winter.

The German’s took this sunny Candlemas tradition and defined the term sunny as a day when the badgers and other animals could see their shadow. When Pennsylvania became inhabited by a large number of German immigrants, the tradition was extended to the United States. Groundhogs are native to Pennsylvania and quickly became the official Candlemas rodent in the US.

How’s that for bringing an odd tradition around to our seasonal science?

The first official celebration of Groundhog Day was on February 2, 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and continues to this day. Upon watching a YouTube replay of the ceremony today, it was clear by the roar of the crowd after six more weeks of winter was pronounced that a live crowd was indeed present. However, the large crowd was virtual. Mark one more tradition as altered by the virus….sigh.

This is the 106th time that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter during his 133-year prognostication run. How often is he accurate? Roughly 50%, no different than any other weather forecaster…

Other bizarre methods have been used to predict the weather through the years. Some geriatrics claim to sense changes in weather by pain in their joints or muscles. To measure temperature the Farmer’s Almanac says that on a hot day to count the number of cricket chirps in 14 seconds and add 40. Low flying birds are an indicator of impending rain.

This may not count, but it is said that animals will act oddly by scurrying around and ‘freak out’ right before an earthquake. The USGA prefers to use electronic methods, but China and Japan give animals much more street credit as early warning systems by setting up zoos as early indicator stations. China was able to safely evacuate Wuhan in 1975 before an earthquake thanks to zoo animals banging their heads against doors.

It’s been a pretty mild winter temperature wise so far, at least in Wisconsin. We are a hearty bunch and should have no problem surviving the next 6 weeks. This is the most snow we’ve received since 2001 and if the prediction for Thursday is accurate, we will receive another 4” to 6” of snow to relocate. Our mailbox has somewhere between 6” and 12” to spare before it is buried.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicted what I just described in the last paragraph. As an old farm boy from Nebraska I will continue to heed what this periodical tells us each year. Winter enthusiast, enjoy.

Those of you hoping for an early spring. One thing I’ve noticed about living in Wisconsin, you don’t really have spring anyway. It may as well be a winter playland until summer.


Ruined By The Bell?

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The lovable geeky TV and movie high school character.

We do love the funny underdog. Like Steve Urkel the neighbor in Family Matters, Arnold Jackson in Diff’rent Strokes, Webster Long from Webster, James Evans Jr. in Good Times, Danny Partridge from The Partridge Family, Carlton Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and characters played by Anthony Michael Hall in National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Sixteen Candles.

The quintessential Saturday morning TV geeky guy was Screech played by Dustin Diamond who recently and quickly succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 44. Dustin’s untimely death is the final of many bad blows dealt to the actor since the series ended when he was just 23 years old.

It was difficult, well, nearly impossible for Diamond to live down and move on professionally and personally from a character whose voice literally screeched like an adolescent boy for 12 years. Listening to some interviews that Dustin conducted later in life, the man had a low-pitched voice. Being Screech after his adult voice developed could not have been easy.

Diamond’s follies were difficult to escape living in Wisconsin after the show ended. Diamond lived in Port Washington, Wisconsin for much of his adult life. His troubles include making an unsuccessful sex tape after seeing how much money that Paris Hilton made on her video. He had a Go Fund Me account in a failed effort to save his home from bankruptcy. Until learning of his illness a few weeks ago, the most infamous was a story about a Christmas day bar fight. A fight that ended with Diamond stabbing a man that he was arguing with. That stabbing earned him some jail time.

Diamond’s plight isn’t a new one. Many child stars have had trouble adjusting to life after fame. Danny Bonaduce struggled for years before finding his way in radio, same for J. J. Walker who dabbled in radio and stand up comedy after Good Times ended. Emmanuel Lewis and Gary Coleman never escaped their original TV characters. Type casting can harm many, but it seems to be hardest on young actors playing quirky roles.

There are exceptions, Anthony Michael Hall grew out of his geeky youth to become Dexter. Jaleel White has left Urkel in the dust for a successful acting career. It doesn’t hurt that both of these actors became very handsome as adult men, but they could’ve easily given up when others tried to typecast them into roles similar to the shallow roles they played to become famous.

While many of the original cast of Saved By The Bell prepared for a reboot of the show, Diamond learned of his cancer death sentence. Art does not always imitate life…

Rest in peace Dustin. From the interviews I saw today, it looks like you found peace with yourself after all of the bad dust finally settled. I pray that is true.

Reuben, Meet Rachel

Omaha claims fame to bringing the culinary delight known as the Reuben sandwich to the world. If you are not familiar with this sandwich it consists of a healthy heaping of shaved corned beef meat, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing on rye bread. Typically, it is a grilled sandwich served hot.

As a young man growing up in the Omaha area, this was one of my favorite sandwiches. As a Man of A Certain Age, this is still one of my favorite sandwiches. As a guy who also loves to tweak recipes, see my chili post, altering ingredient contents has become a common practice in our kitchen. We say that you should eat the food you like, prepared the way you like it. If it brings you joy, do not worry what a food traditionalist may say.

In my last post, it is stated that everything I know, was learned from TV and movies. Taking this statement one step further, YouTube videos have become essential viewing to learn how to fix broken things around the house, catch up quickly upon current events and sporting results and frequently how to cook great food. YouTube is the ultimate source of DIY living for both of us.

I’m a huge fan of Alton Brown. Alton shares the science of culinary arts to his viewers and, for the most part makes, as his mantra states…shares Good Eats! Recently we discovered a more entertaining, slightly profane, no science YouTube cook from San Diego named Sam The Cooking Guy.

Sam prepares foods that are easy to cook and altered from what is considered traditional. Most episodes feature cooking recorded live, and in sequence from start to first bite. Most recipe times are in the neighborhood of 20 minutes long. Cooking a nice snack in 20 minutes suits us just fine.

Recently Sam featured an altered version of the Reuben Sandwich. Sam’s Reuben replaces the corned beef with pastrami, sauerkraut with coleslaw, rye with multigrain bread and adds two types of onion. Calling Sam’s sandwich “Reuben” is at best is a stretch and most likely not really what it should be called at all. Here in Wisconsin I’ve seen this type of sandwich referred to as a Rachel. I like that name and we will go with that.

However, Sam has yet to let us down for tasty food tweaks and we needed to try Sam’s “Reuben.” The first thing that Sam does is make his own Thousand Island dressing. Seven pictured ingredients and well worth the small effort to make. The sandwich, while not really a Ruben is very tasty and worth the 20 minutes to prepare and cook.

Blend 1 cup Japanese Mayonnaise with

2 tbs ketchup

1 tsp Creole Mustard

½ tsp Sriracha Sauce

½ tsp Horse Radish

I pinch salt

1 tsp pepper

2 splashes Worcestershire sauce

Sam also makes his own tasty coleslaw blending the following pictured ingredients:

3 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup Japanese Mayonnaise

1 tbs Rice Vinegar

2 tbs Celery Seed

1 pinch salt

1tbs pepper

Rachel Ingredients

2 slices multigrain bread

Thousand Island Dressing

¼ lb shaved pastrami

2 slices Swiss cheese

½ cup coleslaw

2 slices sauteed onion

½ cup fried onion

2 pads butter


Coat two slices of multigrain bread with the thousand island spread.

Place one slice of Swiss cheese on each slice of bread. The cheese is very important, it is not only tasty, it is the glue that holds the sandwich together to add cold ingredients after the sandwich is grilled.

Grill the pastrami on a flat iron. It can be microwaved but will not taste as good due to some nice caramelizing that the flat iron will give the shaved meat. Place the grilled pastrami on one side.

Place the grilled onion on top of the pastrami and close the bread together. Butter the outside of both slices of bread and grill.

When the sandwich is golden brown on both sides and the cheese is melting, remove from heat, separate the sandwich, add the coleslaw and fried onion, put back together. Eat!

R Dub’s Reuben Ingredients

2 slices Pumpernickel Rye

¼ pound shaved corned beef

Thousand Island Dressing

½ cup sauerkraut

2 slices Swiss cheese

2 pads butter


Coat the rye bread with thousand island dressing. Place Swiss cheese on each side of bread. Heat both the shaved meat and sauerkraut. Split corned beef with half on top of each slice of cheese. Pile sauerkraut on one side and add more thousand island dressing to kraut. Put sandwich together, butter outside of each slice of rye and grill until both slices of cheese begin to melt. Eat!

What are my thoughts on the two sandwiches? I’m glad you asked. They are both good, but in different ways. The Reuben is easier to prepare and just as tasty in my humble opinion.

Man Of A Certain Age

Man of a certain age. According to the Oxford English Dictionary this term describes a person who is no longer young, yet not quite old. An in-between time of life, if you will.

The term has been around for over 300 years. The first known use of the expression in the English language was 1709. At the time this term was used in a positive way to describe mature men who had gained a certain amount of dignity and respect.

Today the term is used as a humorous way to describe men that are beginning to lose their youthful qualities. The hairline has moved back, if not completely disappeared. Those 6 pack abs have morphed into a Buda belly. If your eyesight was 20/20, you now have readers stashed in several tactical locations. Simple tasks liking sitting and standing require a groan. I can take that insight one step further. Bending over to put on and tie shoelaces has become an effort. I need a grab bar every 3 feet in the bathroom. Getting up off the ground without having something to pull myself up is nearly impossible.

I find that the older I get the more obsessed I am with turning lights off and locking doors. Saving money and staying safe has become a priority.

My text messages are written in full sentences, mostly because I do not know what most text abbreviations are. But also because written communication is difficult in the first place, communicating primarily with abbreviations and emoji’s does not advance the effort. If you don’t agree you can STFU. If you like it, you may be of a certain age and ROFL. I think LOL stands for Little Old Ladies.

We can have a party and not need to apologize to the neighbors for making too much noise. Why? Because they probably didn’t even notice that we were having a party.

People of a certain age tend to use the word ‘the’ inappropriately. Like The Google, The FaceBook.

Elevator music is sing along music for me, and I do not care what you think about me while I’m singing in the elevator.

I frequently enter a room not knowing why I went there or shoot past the room I’m planning to go to, then forget what I was after in the first place.

Anyone under the age of 40 is a kid to me.

When did all of this happen?!

I was once a young man, now I’m a man of a certain age. Soon enough I will be an old man. The question is how does one know when they are officially old and no longer a person of a certain age? I missed the sign indicating my metamorphosis from a young man to a man of a certain age.

Missing the signs for my next stage of life should not happen. As a man of a certain age, everything I know in life, I’ve learned from TV shows and movies. Here’s how I will know when I’m officially an old man.

Jack Nicholson’s character in The Bucket List states it best. “Three things to remember when you get older: never pass up a bathroom, never waste a hard-on, and never trust a fart.”

So, there you have it. That’s when I will know. Thankfully 2 of those 3 bits of advice are rarely on my mind. Proof that I’m not old yet, thank goodness.

Disturbance In The Force: Chapter 2 – Shock and Awe

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Chapter Two – Shock and Awe

“…and why am I asking you Gunner?

Shocked, and in awe, Kirk scans the small bathroom looking for damage. Outside of a little dust he sees nothing to be alarmed about. However, stepping into the main Mother-In-Law addition there is a significant crack in the ceiling. The placement of the crack below two can lights makes Kirk think that it is staring back at him like the mouth of some nondescript emoji. A quick inspection of the rest of the home reveals no other obvious structural changes. Kirk goes outside to inspect the perimeter of their home and is relieved to see no exterior damage. Looking around he sees several of the neighbors outside, more than on a usual day, but usual has been anything but usual for a long time.

“Did you feel that?!” The question comes from Kay Long who lives next door to the west. Of all the neighbors, Kay has been the closest to them since the Gage’s moved into the neighborhood three years ago. Each household loves to cook and frequently makes food in abundance to what is needed. Sharing of food formally or food dropped off at each other’s door is also frequent.

Enjoying Friday evening Old Fashioned drinks are the norm for both households too, but then again, this is Wisconsin. Friday night is Old Fashioned night. There is great trust between them; they look after each other’s property and get the mail for each other when anyone is traveling. They know each other’s security codes.

“Yes, I did feel that. Gunner is going nuts. Let’s check the news quick. I’m going back inside; we will talk later.” The two exchange goodbyes as they quickly retreat inside. Kay didn’t have to ask Kirk if Gwen was still up north, she knows their weekly work schedules.

Rushing back into the house, Kirk commands; “Alexa, tell me the news.” Alexa gives a dispassionate response: “Here’s your news. The United States Geological Survey is reporting massive damage in the St. Louis area from an apparent 8.0 earthquake along the New Madrid Faultline. Effects of the quake have been reported as far north as Duluth, Minnesota and as far south as New Orleans, Louisiana. There are bridge failures over the Mississippi River, caution is advised when crossing the Mississippi river anywhere…” Kirk’s focus quickly fades the news out as his mind is now racing. The gravity of the event suddenly takes shape in his mind.

“Oh, man!” Grabbing the phone from his right sweats pocket Kirk calls Gwen’s mobile number. The phone call fails to connect, or ring and he hangs up to attempt a FaceTime call. After 3 failed voice communication attempts, he remembers that an electronic message can be delivered even when carrier service signal strength is weak. The following text message is typed and sent. “Voice communications are down. Massive earthquake near St. Louis, it rattled our house. Get home as soon as you safely can. I need you.”

Thinking back to 9/11/2001, Kirk is reminded that gasoline may be difficult to purchase soon. “Gunner, kennel!” The dog, who is still at his left heel reluctantly obeys and enters a portable kennel by the deck door. The gate is quickly latched. “Good boy.” Kirk grabs his wallet and car keys and heads to the garage to see if others in the community have had the same thoughts about purchasing gasoline. A second text is quickly sent to Gwen reminding her to fill up with gasoline ASAP.

Kay is outside again as he backs out of the garage and yells. “Did you hear? It was an earthquake! In St. Louis of all places?” Kirk, whose driver side window is down; “I heard, there’s a Faultline along the Mississippi river near there. Coast to Coast AM had a segment on the New Madrid Faultline a few months ago. I heard it on the drive home from work. One can never know which of their guests are cooks and which ones are legitimate. But they are almost always entertaining, the show keeps me awake at 1:00 am for the trip home.”

Kay smiles and gives him a sideways look. Kirk; “I’m going to top off my gas tank. Is your car full?” Kay replies. “Yes, I filled it earlier this morning. Some of us don’t sleep half the morning.” Kirk smiling; “That’s me, slacker. Glad you filled up. I’m over ¾ full, but if there isn’t a rush, I will fill up.” The car backs out and pulls away for a 10-block drive to the nearest filling station.

On the way to Kwik Trip, he makes more unsuccessful attempts to reach Gwen. Traffic is no busier than any other midweek midday for the moment. As Kirk pulls up to a gas pump, most of the pumps are available for use. In a few minutes the tank is full, and he begins the drive to the local grocer that for the moment has the normal number of vehicles in the parking lot.

Fresh produce, dairy, and meat are the main commodities on his impromptu and unwritten shopping list. Kirk grabs as many items as he estimates that he and Gwen will consume legitimately before the food spoils. Most of their favorite fresh foods are available and placed in the cart. Time to head for the self-checkout isle.

The store has a liquor department which is visited next. A handle of Ever Clear is chosen, plus 6 bottles of low-end high proof bourbon and then check out. For obvious reasons there is no self-checkout at the liquor department. The checker looks at the large bottle of Ever Clear and asks with a smile if he’s having a “trash bash”. “No” says Kirk with an equal smile; “It is for medicinal purposes.” Which, in reality, it is.

Once arriving back at home, Gunner is let out of the portable kennel. The dog stays close to his master while Kirk puts away the groceries and checks out social media, radio and television for news updates. Estimates on the aftermath of the quake are widely varied. It is difficult to ferret out what is factual, what is speculation and what is propaganda. Worst case estimates include the potential destruction of over 35,000 buildings, an additional 84,000 more buildings are damaged. Kirk looks up at their cracked ceiling and realizes that many of those 84,000 buildings may only be as damaged as their cracked ceiling. The real numbers will not be discovered for weeks or months.

An estimated 15,000 people are missing, and 150,000 additional people are displaced with little safe public shelter in the St. Louis area to house them. Death tolls are small but preliminary. The National Guard, Red Cross and FEMA have all been deployed to the area to set up temporary shelters and provide emergency necessities and security to the affected.

Emergency and medical facilities in the damage zone are decimated; 100 fire stations, 37 hospitals and 67 law enforcement buildings all destroyed. Tending to the injured and protecting the displaced and their properties will be a daunting task.

Nearly 200 mostly empty schools have been damaged. This may be the one of few, if any bright sides to the quake, tens of thousands of students who would have been in school buildings were with their families at the time of the quake. The chaos that may have occurred for education professionals to care for and keep order during this catastrophe would have been overwhelming.

Wisconsin Public Radio is broadcasting recent history of the New Madrid Faultline. There was a massive series of quakes in 1811 and 1812. The first, a 7.8 magnitude shock, was at 2:15 am on December 16, 1811 with two more main shocks of over 6.5 magnitude on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. There were ten shocks of over 6.0 magnitude. In total the New Madrid Fault experienced over 200 shocks from December of 1811 to March of 1812. If this quake acts like the quakes of 1811 and 1812 the Mississippi river valley may be in for a long series of disturbances.

During all of this excitement, Kirk realizes that he completely blew off work. Calling in was not an option with the phone lines down, however, he didn’t even think about calling in. Neglecting to call in when an emergency pops up is out of character for him. He chooses to use the cracked ceiling as an excuse for not coming in and sends a text to the boss explaining the situation.

Updates continue to trickle in on the smart speaker news feed. While most of the damaged bridges are nearer to St. Louis, the US Department of Transportation is cautioning against attempting to cross any river bridges along the Mississippi river. State and local authorities are scrambling to barricade bridges on both sides of the Mississippi river. Eight gasoline refineries have shut down either due to damage or for an unscheduled turnaround due to fears of damage.

“Hello gasoline shortages and exorbitant prices! I hope Gwen has enough gasoline to get home…I hope there is a safe route home.” Kirk scrolls through this week’s text history with Gwen and is relieved to find an entry confirming that she filled up her first day of working up north.

His attention now turns to preparing for what might happen from a utility and infrastructure standpoint. The whirlpool tub drain is plugged, and 50 gallons of cold tap water begins to flow from the faucet. While the tub is filling, Kirk backs his car into the garage, then heads down to the basement to retrieve several rolls of window security film and begins applying it while occasionally checking on the tub’s water level. The film is applied to the front of house windows and entry door first, then the windows facing the deck, the bedroom windows and finally the windows in the fireplace room. Lucky timing resulted in the tub filling completely when he got to the master bedroom window.

Kirk is smoothing out security film on the final window when Gunner trots quickly through the kitchen to the garage door, tail wagging. This time Gunner’s letting out a happy whine letting Kirk know that Gwen must be home!

Kirk races to the garage as Gwen exits her backed in car and gives her a big hug and kiss. “Welcome home beautiful! I’ve never been this glad to see you! How was the drive? Did you get my texts? How much gas do you have left? Were the gas stations packed? Never mind, I’m just so happy to see you. Let me grab your bags!” He hugs and kisses her again, while Gwen hugs and kisses him back. The couple finally break free and head to the back of the car to get Gwen’s luggage.

“No” responds Gwen, “I have not been able to receive or send messages nor make any calls since we felt the clinic shake. Traffic was not bad on the interstate. I avoided going through towns by taking Interstate 90/94 to the US 151 exit between Madison and Sun Prairie. The gas stations in Chippewa were not too busy so I topped of the tank before heading home. The Kwik Trip in town on Madison Avenue was a zoo when I drove by, stopping looked pointless. The tank is a little over half full.”

Kirk interrupts; “I didn’t attempt to contact any of our family until we made contact, or you made it home. Of course, the attempt would have been futile anyway.” Adding. “We are the closest relatives to the fault line, so I’m hoping that everyone else is safer than we are. Both of our mothers have certainly been trying to call; they are probably having no more luck getting through to us as we had trying to call each other.”

“You would’ve been proud of me baby. The radio was on all the way home. I’m up to date on current events for a change!” Gwen says playfully, she normally relies upon Kirk to keep her up to speed on topics like politics, the weather, social media trends etc. Kirk smiles back. “Yes baby.” Leading her into the house. “I’m very proud of you. St. Louis is a disaster, we are lucky.” He walks her into the reading room and points at the ceiling crack. “Just one ceiling crack where the original house meets the addition. I filled the tub with water and applied security film to all of the windows while waiting for you to get home.”

Gwen looks puzzled. “We’ve talked about filling up the tub with water if there is a possible loss of utilities, but why did you put security film on all of the windows?”

“We bought several rolls of window security film three years ago after the inspector we hired prior to buying the house pointed out that it would be difficult to protect the home from invaders because of too many large windows near the front and deck doors. He prompted us to think more about home security, so several rolls were purchased online. I used the time it took to fill the tub to put up security film. The film keeps glass from completely breaking out. It will still shatter, but the glass will stay in the frame.”

Kirk’s focus changes. “Oh! I stopped at the Food Pride and bought some fresh produce, dairy and meats. They will only last a couple of weeks, so let’s pray that if people raid the stores that we only need a couple of weeks’ worth of fresh food before things settle down. Heck, let’s pray that there are no raids on the stores.”

The couple’s phones begin pinging nonstop. Looking at each other, then turning to their phones.  “Finally, something has come through the service.” Says Gwen. “Looks like I missed two from you. Thanks baby, I need you too.” Kirk smiles and says. “Wow! That is more messages than I’ve ever received in a day let alone one minute.” The two begin to roll through the messages trying to prioritize those who are most likely to be worrying about them.

Parents, children and siblings are the messages to be responded to first, then close friends scattered across the world and finally coworkers and acquaintances begin to learn that the couple are safe and together. Thankfully, none of the messages contain bad news. The Gage network is fortunate to have experienced no injury or loss of property after the first shock wave.

Gunner runs to the front door barking, tail wagging. It’s Kay. Kirk commands the dog to sit and stay, while Gwen unlocks the front door. Kay enters, Gunner greets her by rubbing up against her and whimpering joyfully. Turning to Gwen while petting the exuberant Gunner.

“Thank goodness, you’re home. I’ve been worried.” Gwen greets Kay with a near hug, then backs off remembering distancing is still needed. “We just received a full days’ worth of text and instant messages; everyone is OK on our side. Have you checked your phone lately?” Kay looks at her phone. “It’s muted. Wow! Yes, my phone is blowing up with messages. I’d better go home and let everyone know that I’m safe. I’ll be back later.” Kay exits.

Gwen turns to Kirk. “Tub full of water, fresh food in the refrigerator, one full tank of gasoline, another tank half full, and security film on the windows. What else do we need to do? Will we be able fill my tank anytime soon?”

Kirk responds. “It might be a little late, but we should walk through the house and do some gap analysis. What do we have? What do we need? Can we do without what we do not have?” Gwen rolls her eyes and smiles at a blatant corporate management term like gap analysis, but she also knows that decades of this type of planning will suit them well if all hell breaks loose. Kirk smiles knowingly. “I’ve been thinking about your gas tank baby.” Gwen smiles. “That’s my man, always thinking. What are your thoughts about gasoline baby?”

“The only tragedy I can use as a frame of reference is 9/11. That day I had to wait until after midnight and fill up at an after hours filling station. By that time the price of gas went up from $1.50 per gallon to over $5.00 per gallon. I was willing to pay the gouged price then and I will gladly pay it now. If it is available. After everyone goes to bed, we will drive around and find a 24-hour pump somewhere.”

“Great!” Gwen replies. “I feel safe knowing that you think about these things and are looking out for me…for us.”

“Alexa, turn up the volume.” News items can suddenly be heard more clearly. As feared, loss of life is mounting up, buildings and infrastructure in the quake zone are devastated. Crossing bridges up and down the Mississippi river will be a risk if it is allowed at all. In the best of cases it may be weeks away and worst-case months to a year away before crossing the Mississippi by automobile is safe. Mobile services are down due to the surge in usage with family and friends attempting to check in on each other.

Additions to the news now confirms Kirk’s suspicions about panic buying. Grocery, hardware and gasoline businesses have seen a rush of frightened customers emptying their shelves. Gas stations quickly reacted by raising their prices in attempt to slow down the rush of panicked motorists.

Gwen turns to Kirk. “How late do you think we should wait to look for gasoline?”

Kirk responds. “I still think we can find some after midnight. I’m guessing the BP station downtown is the most likely to have some gasoline. I’m not sure why, it’s just a hunch. The Kwik Trip will be the first to run out.”

The couple are good shoppers and make a habit of buying plenty of essential items whenever they are out shopping. Even with dog food. Gunner’s dog food has at times been hard to find, so there is always a 2 to 3 month supply of his food in the garage. Their nests have been empty for over 5 years, so they do not consume large amounts of much of anything. After an inventory of items in the pantry, cleaning closets and bathrooms the Gage’s are happy that they will be able to ride out empty store shelves for quite some time.

“I know what we should do while waiting to get some gasoline” Suggests Gwen. “Get out the spreadsheet.”

Dog’s Best Friend

A popular joke is that the 19 in COVID19 is the number of pounds most people will gain while spending more time isolating at home or if they must quarantine. While we are concentrating on healthier food choices and smaller helpings with regular exercise, we still love a guilty edible pleasure from time to time.

This week it is chili dogs! A few weeks ago I shared my award-winning chili recipe, this week I’m sharing our secret to delicious chili dogs.

Some may say; “Big deal, you poured your chili over a hot dog…so what?!”

Not so fast my friend. There’s chili, and then there’s HOT DOG CHILI!!

What’s the difference? I’m so glad you asked. Chili is chocked full of beans and meat and chili peppers and onions and for some noodles, and for us diced carrots and sweet corn. However, hot dog chili is wonderful chili pepper infused meat and tomato-based sauce plus some tasty spices and some extras that will turn a boring hotdog into a culinary treat.

This is how we make hot dog chili. As stated in the past, feel free to experiment in a way that brings you joy. There are many ways to make this recipe tasty. Use this one as is, tweak this one to your preference or make up your own using this one as inspiration for a junk food masterpiece.

We think this ‘chili’ is great, as pictured, on a hot dog with some diced onion and shredded cheese, but I must admit that it is equally as great by itself on a bun with the same diced onion and shredded cheese. Enjoy!

The Ingredients:

1/3 lb finely chopped bacon

½ lb ground turkey

½ lb ground pork

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tbs chili powder

1 tbs dry rub

1 pinch salt

8 oz tomato sauce

2 tbs ketchup

1 tbs mustard

1 splash Worcestershire Sauce

1/4 cup beer


Fry bacon in a medium sized sauté pan on medium heat until crispy.

Add ground meat and brown.

Stir in all dry ingredients.

Stir in all wet ingredients.

Cook on medium to low heat until all wet ingredients have reduced to a paste.

Turn off heat and let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.

Disturbance In The Force: Chapter 1 – A Dog Day Morning

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Chapter 1 – A Dog Day Morning

Kirk Gage is jolted from a light slumber by the sound of his German shepherd dog Gunner barking. He reaches to his right to shut off the C pap machine, slides out of bed, quickly dons a pair of well-worn sweatpants from the top of his dresser and heads out of the bedroom to see what Gunner is barking at. Realizing that Gunner is at the front room window, Kirk addresses Gunner. “Thank you, Gunner, I’ve got this.” Gunner suddenly stops barking; the changing sound of Gunner’s tags tells him the dog has turned away from the window in obedience to his master.

As Kirk turns the corner and enters the front room, Gunner meets him, tail wagging. Continuing toward the window to see what Gunner is barking at while rewarding the dog, he scratches behind Gunner’s ear and says; “Good boy Gunner! That’s a very good boy.” Peering out the picture window wearing his faded sweats and nothing else, Kirk sees a UPS driver delivering a package to the Steele home directly across the street. As the driver hops back in his truck and zooms away; the sight of Bill Steele emerges holding the new delivery.

Bill notices Kirk is standing in the window watching; a wry grin emerges on Kirk’s face, Bill returns the grin, they exchange a quick wave and each of them turns to go about the business of the day. Kirk also noticed that the trash and recycle bins at the bottom of the driveway are open indicating that they are both emptied and ready to be wheeled back up the drive and onto their concrete pad. He will get to them later in the morning.

Waking up mid-morning is typical for Kirk; he manages a small but hard working second shift metal fabrication crew. Their core hours are 3:00 pm to 1:00 am. On a good night, Kirk will turn in at around 2:00 or 3:00 am. It is common for Gunner to wake him up while on guard duty from any form of passersby like delivery trucks, postal workers and neighbors walking by on the street.

Bill and his wife Betty are the youngest couple in the neighborhood. The Steele’s have the only children who are young enough to need to live at home in the neighborhood. Three of them; two girls and one boy. For now, all the children are in the house more than they are away from home due to being educated on-line in virtual classrooms. The oldest daughter is a college Sophomore, the middle daughter is a Junior in High School and the youngest, a boy is in Middle School.

Avid outdoor enthusiasts they have a very well mannered field trained Labrador dog named Aaron that rarely barks and never leaves the yard unless commanded by a family member. Kirk is jealous of how well-behaved Aaron is. Aaron is named after Aaron Rodgers. The Steele’s, like most Wisconsinites are diehard Packer fans.

Knowing that he has Kirk’s attention, Gunner trots to the pantry door, looks up at Kirk and gives an optimistic bark. “Sorry big dog, it’s too early for that. Or is it?” Kirk glances at the microwave oven and sees the time is 9:05 am. “Nine o’clock Gunner, see me in an hour.” Kirk turns and walks away from the pantry with Gunner trailing close behind.

The man wanders into the bedroom, but Gunner stops at the threshold and watches. The dog has been trained to never enter any of the Gage bedrooms. Kirk picks up his phone that is still charging on his nightstand disconnects the cord and texts Gwen before sliding the phone into his right front pocket; “Good morning beautiful! Hope you slept well. I love you!”

Kirk makes his bed and fills the C pap water chamber from the jug of distilled water in his closet while Gunner sits and watches from the door. Kirk finds an equally well-worn sweatshirt to match his bottoms and dons the top then slides the closet doors shut. Gunner stands up, backs up, spins around and leads Kirk into the kitchen. A room that they both are quite fond of.

Kirk hears the familiar ping of his phone which also vibrates to indicate the receipt of a text message. He eagerly takes the phone from his pocket and looks down at the display to see the message that Gwen has sent back. “Good morning stud! I love you. How did you sleep?” Kirk answers back; “The usual…I need you back in our bed.” Gwen shoots back, “I’ll be home tonight baby. Headed in to see a patient now, radio silence for a while.” Heart emoji.

Kirk shuts off the display and places the phone in the right front pocket of his sweats thinking about a conversation that he and Gwen had a little over one year ago concerning her medical practice. Gwen: “Hey baby I got a call from Emily at the Eau Claire hospital today, we had a nice long chat.” Kirk: “Oh? What’s Emily up to?” Gwen: “She’s up to her neck in wound care patients. Stewart announced his retirement 6 months ago and has significantly reduced his workload during his final month of work. On top of that one PA was fired while her newest PA just took a job at the Mayo Clinic next door. The nursing staff is solid, but she needs a Dr. and at least one more mid-level to run the clinic efficiently.” Kirk: “Wow. What’s her plan?”

Gwen: “Emily’s plan is why she wanted to talk to me. As we’ve discussed, I want to make the switch to wound care from Emergency Medicine, this may be the time, and Emily wants me. Their patients react positively to me when I fill in up there, she’s floated my name to the board.” Kirk: “I know baby and there is great beauty up north, but that drive…that’s a 3-hour drive one way.” Gwen: “I’m driving over 1 hour per day each way to Madison or Milwaukee now, this will actually reduce my drive time by 4 hours per week. Plus, the patients are not ill, just in need of care. It’s safe and I will get to know my patients. Let’s sit down and figure out if this will work for us.”

Kirk and Gwen consider themselves lucky to have gotten love right the second time around. Both divorced, yet neither thought they would ever be divorced. But they both married young without knowing how they or their first partners preferred to give and receive love. After time the energy needed to show love that is not natural to their love languages became too hard. That’s when they found each other, they saved each other from failed love.

Gwen a tall blonde with more energy and drive than most, was born with more leg than torso. Long fit legs that became so early in life as a competitive swimmer and downhill skier. Kirk who descends from a Scottish bloodline was born with more torso than leg and is muscular without really working at it very hard. Kirk’s energy levels are not as high as Gwen’s, but he can work hard in spurts, and likes to take frequent breaks from his grind.

Gunner releases another hopeful bark by the pantry that snaps Kirk’s mind back to the present. Looking at the clock that now reads 9:42, Kirk announces; “Not yet big dog, 20 more minutes.” Coffee beans are ground, 6 cups of water and fresh grounds are added to the Mr. Coffee and 5 minutes later there is brown nectar of the gods ready for consumption.

Kirk wanders around the house checking to see what needs to be straightened up or cleaned before Gwen gets home tonight. The pact is easy, when either gets home from work the home will be welcoming. A pact that they both live up to every week. This promise is a great way to make sure that things never get too messy. While the home is definitely ‘lived in’ there is a place for most everything and most everything is in its place.

The home is a modest early 1980s ranch style with 1800 square feet on the main floor and a matching footprint in the basement with a large 2 car attached garage. Gwen and Kirk have spent much of the last 3 years modifying, improving and remodeling the abode to fit their personalities and needs.

As was popular in the early 80s the floor plan was not one of open spaces; a living room in the front, 3 bedrooms west of the living rooms with two bathrooms. One bathroom for the master bedroom and one bathroom shared by two smaller bedrooms. A small dining room and modest kitchen directly south of the living room. In the mid-80s the original owner added what they call the Mother-In-Law addition that boasts a reading room, a small bedroom and a half bath with a den and fireplace to the far south of the structure.

Kirk quickly and efficiently tidied up the house, unloaded clean dishes from the dishwasher and transferred the small collection of dishes from the sink to the now empty dishwasher. A hot cup of coffee was poured into his favorite mug, and while sitting down at the breakfast bar Kirk gives a voice command to the smart speaker in the Mother-In-Law reading room. “Alexa, please play Motown Radio.” Alexa: “Playing Motown Radio, free on Amazon Prime.”

The room is now rocking to the sound of Tina Turner singing Proud Mary. A broad smile appears on Kirk’s face as his mind thinks about the music video of this song with Tina and her backup singers and the frenetic dance that accompanies the song. Once again, Kirk is jolted back to the present by a hopeful Gunner bark. Looking up at the microwave clock now reading 10:32, Kirk looks at Gunner. “I know, I know…I’m late!”

The pantry door is opened, dog food is poured out of a Tupperware container into Gunner’s metal bowl. Gunner sits and now waits patiently for the bowl to be set in front of him. Upon setting the bowl down, Gunner looks up intently to Kirk and waits. Kirk smiles and says; “Take it!” Gunner eagerly enjoys his breakfast and Kirk moves to the garage door to exit the house and retrieve the empty trash and recycle bins.

Kirk is greeted by Delia Brooks while returning the empty bins to their normal location near the garage overhead door. Delia is a widow that lives next door to the east of the Gage home. Widowed early in life, Delia raised her now grown children as a single mother. A wisp of a woman and much stronger than her thin frame would suggest. Delia mows her own lawn during summer months and clears the frequent Wisconsin snow from her driveway each winter. One exception to her independent work ethic is collecting the multitude of leaves that fall from a 100-year-old maple tree in her back yard each autumn. Most of the leaves are collected by a lawn care service, the others fall into the Gage backyard who do the rest. Delia is proud of her farm girl upbringing and takes pride in her independence.  Kirk and Gwen are quite fond of Delia, who never has a negative word to say to or about anyone.

Delia; “Hi Kirk! Beautiful day isn’t it? I think I’ll take a nice long walk this morning.” Kirk; “Hi Delia. Beautiful indeed. It is a great day to do anything outside. It’s a little warm, however so make sure you drink plenty of water.” Delia; “Good idea. Is Gwen still at work up north?” Kirk; “Yes she is. Today is her last day for the week. She should be home early this evening.” Delia; “Good, I worry about her. Maybe I’ll invite her over for a little white wine in the 3-season room this evening.” Kirk; “I’m sure she’d love that. Gunner should be done with his breakfast now; I need to let him out. See you later.” Delia and Kirk exchange a quick wave, Kirk reenters his home as Delia heads west to begin her walk.

Kirk quickly gets his phone out and sends a text to Gwen letting her know that Delia may be calling her over for conversation and wine later in the day. Gunner is at the door to greet Kirk who leads the dog to a sliding glass door and the back yard. When Gunner is safely in the back for his morning constitutional, Kirk grabs his coffee mug, pulls up a patio chair and sips on coffee while enjoying the views in the backyard.

The lot is no more than ¼ acre total and slopes downhill with a slow grade down to meet the backyard neighbor’s yard that slopes gently back up towards their ranch style home. The symmetry pleases Kirk’s mind. Symmetric disorder bothers Kirk, he’s not sure why, he just knows that it does. Ever mindful of this reality, Gwen is careful to set up the home as symmetric as possible.

The timing of Kirk’s coffee mug running dry and Gunner’s return to the deck work out perfectly. A man and his dog reenter the house where the dog curls up on his favorite rug and Kirk check’s out the fridge for late morning breakfast options. Once the refrigerator door opens, Gunner jumps up to assist with meal preparation, hoping for scraps to accidentally land on the floor. Cleaning up is important to Gunner too, who takes this task quite seriously.

There is a little over a dozen organic eggs, some organic potatoes and some left-over chicken meat from last Sunday’s afternoon barbecue feast. Meat, fried potatoes and egg for breakfast. That is just the kind of comfort food Kirk needs while missing Gwen the last three days.

Half of the meal was eaten, and the other half then put into a glass storage container that would make a nice snack at work later in the day. After cleaning up, Kirk remembered to take his blood pressure medications, vitamins and supplements. Losartan keeps the BP level in control.  Since the virus pandemic broke out daily vitamins and supplements were added to their regimen helping the Gage’s to rarely feel ill and eliminate serious sickness from any viruses that are being spread.

Looking up at the clock, Kirk sees that it is time to think about getting ready for work. He looks down at Gunner. “Shower time big dog.” As a creature of habit, Gunner knows Kirk and Gwen’s routines. Hearing Kirk turn on the shower Gunner heads to his rug to once again curl up for a nap while his master takes a shower before dressing for work.

When the shower water is shut off Kirk hears Gunner whining as he grabs a towel and steps out of the shower while drying off. Kirk is surprised to see Gunner in the bathroom with him. The dog is panting and begins to howl. “What’s the matter big dog? Do you need to go out?”

Kirk quickly exits to the bedroom to get dressed and send Gunner outside. Gunner enters the bedroom with Kirk, who immediately stops and gives Gunner a command. “Gunner, out.” Gunner refuses to exit the bedroom, a room that he knows that he is never allowed in. This time the command is given a little more forceful; “Gunner out!” No success as more howling comes from an unusually needy Gunner.

Kirk gets dressed quickly and leads Gunner to the back door to let him outside. Gunner is in no mood to exit the home either and continues to howl while staying on a tight heel to Kirk’s left leg. “What’s wrong big dog? This behavior is not like you at all. Gunner! Your timing is bad, I’ve got to get to work soon and Gwen will not be home for a few more hours. Maybe I should call the vet and get you an appointment.”

The panting and whining and howling and neediness gets to Kirk who is now looking for the vet’s phone number on speed dial. The call is placed. “Hello Stephanie? This is Kirk Gage, Gunner’s owner. Hey, he’s acting really odd, howling and whining and very needy. He never does that, I’m worried. Can I bring him over and leave him with you before I go to work? The doctor can look at him when she gets a chance.” Stephanie; “Wow! You are the fifth owner that has just called with the same symptoms about their dog. Cat owners are calling too.” Hesitating. “Um OK, sure Mr. Gage bring Gunner over, doc will look at Gunner as soon as she can “.

Kirk hangs up the phone and turns to continue getting ready for work as Gunner stays on heel. Suddenly Kirk is stopped in his tracks as the house seems to shift and fine dust falls from the ceiling. Gunner yelps while Kirk is left wondering what just happened. Looking down, Kirk realizes that Gunner is no longer clinging to his left leg. He looks around; “Gunner? Where are you boy?” The whining begins again, and Kirk realizes that Gunner is in the Mother-In Law addition bathroom, a room that is the only interior room in the house.

Approaching a curled up and shivering Gunner, Kirk is dumbfounded and asks rhetorically. “What the heck was that big dog?!”

2020 Musings From Down Under

Guest Blogger – Russell Clark a former workmate from Adelaide, SA, Australia.

Corona, blah blah blah.

Politics and elections, blah blah blah.

Weather, blah blah blah.

All the insanity in the world and you people are still a massive bunch of wankers.

If this past year has done anything, it’s taught us how fragile life is, how fleeting it is and how things we thought were once important are not so important any longer.

So drink that beer, have that last piece of pizza, lay on the couch for a day and enjoy your life.

Stop living every minute of every day by a fucking piece of electronics strapped to your wrist or an app on your phone.

Spend time with your family, read a book (for once in your life), watch a great movie, cook a gourmet meal and appreciate what you have instead of what you don’t.

Eh. Enough preaching.

Do what I said, don’t do it, whatever. It’s time for a bourbon and a cigar.

Never Look A Gift Horse…

Photo by Irina Iriser on

Clichés; athletes are allegedly trained to use them. We gave 110% effort today. I kept my eye on the ball. We took our swings. You can’t win them all. We brought our A-game today… In the movie Bull Durham, the grizzled old catcher played by Kevin Costner taught Tim Robbins character several clichés before he headed up to the major league team. “We’ve got to play them one day at a time.”

A few clichés came to mind when we recently freed up some clutter in the house to hopefully make someone’s Christmas a little brighter. We offered up a few ‘free to you’ items to anyone in need of gifts. Three people took us up on the offer. All strangers: one for a local men’s halfway house, and two needed gifts for youngsters in their lives.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. All three were quite happy and thankful for items we no longer needed or wanted in the house.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. None of them acted as if the items we gave them were subpar and not worth accepting.

No good deed goes unpunished. We found our people of need by listing the items on Market Place. While perusing Market Place this week, we found several of the free items up for sale by one of the recipients… See “One man’s trash…”. It probably should not matter, and more power to them if they can sell the item’s that their “kids” didn’t want or need. We will not share the name or expose the items…but seeing those free items for sale rubbed us the wrong way. Like perhaps we were duped by a grifter…

There are also famous speeches and quotes and poems: Like the beginning of the Gettysburg Address; “Four score and seven years ago…” Like the beginning of Dickens Tale of Two Cities; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Like many of William Shakespeare writings; “To be or not to be? That is the question…”

Perhaps it would’ve been easier to give them all to The Good Will or St. Vinny’s where those in need would have to pay a small sum to obtain the items. That would reduce the chance of a deceptive person misrepresenting the need. However, we are no worse off for the endeavor and we will continue to be charitable in the future.

The experience reminds me of a famous poem that is frequently credited to Mother Teresa. She, however, borrowed it from a Harvard student named Kent M. Keith from the late 1960s.

“The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student council”, Harvard Student Agencies, 1968.

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.