Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bee Gone

My buddy Bob from Virginia e-mailed me that he feels like life has him caught in a loop right now.

I can sympathize.

It seems like I do the same things over and over, from changing the light bulbs that burn out, to fixing the loose floor tiles in the bathroom, to dealing with clogged drains in the basement, to putting air in my bike tires, etc., etc., etc.

Here's a recent story to illustrate . . .

Our mailman left our mail tied in a bundle at our front door with a note one day. Either get rid of the bees that were nesting hear our mail slot, he wrote, or else no mail delivery. We had never noticed them before but we checked and, sure enough, there were these tiny bees merrily flitting in and out of our evergreen bush next to the house.

Time to get medieval on the insect world. I emptied two cans of that foamy hornet and wasp killer on that bush. The next day the bees were still merrily flitting in and out of the bush as before. Not only didn't my spraying not kill them, it didn't even seem to p!#s them off.

Mess with Big Dave, will ya? I browsed hardware stores, home and garden centers and the outdoors section of big department stores. Read the labels on a dozen insecticides. Ironically, not one stated that it killed bees. The label might say that it killed 180 other insects includings wasps, hornets, aphids, mites, and mealy worms. But nothing about bees.

So I settled on a bottle that attached to my garden hose. It said it killed scorpions. Certainly, it would do a number on my bees. I sprayed and sprayed, soaking everything within 15 feet of my mail slot. The bee activity subsided. Success, I thought.

But soon our mail was tied in a bundle again and placed next to the door. They were back. This time I sprayed directly into a small opening among the evergreen branches which the bees used as some kind of open air highway. Next day I was peering into the opening, checking for activity, when a couple bees circled around my head and disappeared into the opening as if saying, "Excuse me, neighbor."

Now there seemed to be more bees than ever before in my bush. It's like there was a party in there. Maybe they all were getting high on the insecticide fumes. Heck, I want to kill them, not get them dangerously addicted.

Oddly, they don't seem to harbor any grudge against me. I've known some nasty bees. Like those mafia hit bees that chase you out of your garden with, "Whatcha think yer doin'? Get otta here." Or even worse, those wasps that seem to come after you if you just switch to country music on your portable radio outside.

My bees haven't bothered me or my wife. Why they're terrorizing the mailman I don't know. Maybe they're like your territorial house dog in that regard. Hmmmmmmmm. Maybe I could say they were pet bees. Think the mailman would buy it?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Prophets And Politics

“Do you believe there are prophets living in the world today?”

Excuse me? I begged the pardon of the two well dressed young gentlemen who so greeted me when I answered the front doorbell.

“Do you believe there are prophets living in the world today?” the young man in long-sleeved white shirt and tie asked again unflinching.

Again, I asked for clarification. I did know already where these young men came from. There is a Church of the Latter Day Saints near where we live and the church requires that its young members do missionary work for two years. Why they have to do it just a few streets over from their place of worship is beyond me. Missionary work to me conjures up images of Africa, India or some island in the Pacific.

So the young man referred to the prophets in the Bible, like Moses. Had I heard of him? Well, yes, of course. Then did I believe there were prophets like him living in the world today?

Now I could have become irreverent here. My blogging buddy Hoss speaks often of reincarnation and seems to have inside knowledge on the ways of the world. I thought about mentioning him, but said instead, “I don’t know.”

That was the opening the young man wanted, so he could preach to me a moment about The Church of the Latter Day Saints and its living prophet, Gordon Hinckley, the modern day leader of the church. I listened politely, then I thought, being a brave one, I would change the subject from religion to politics.

“Are you guys rooting for Mitt Romney?” I asked. Romney, who is a front-runner to become the Republican nominee for President, is also a Mormon.

“The Church of the Latter Day Saints does not support any political party or candidate,” the young man replied, as if anticipating my question.

Okay, okay—I should have seen that coming. But I pushed him, asking whether he was personally supporting him, maybe even campaigning for him when he wasn’t doing missionary work.

“Our only work right now is for the kingdom of God,” he responded.

All right, he had his message and he wasn’t going to be pulled off topic. He gave me a card and invited me and my family to worship services. I did explain to him that I had my own faith, but asked if the local church had a website that I could check out if I wished. They didn’t.

They were very polite and courteous. I did not feel uncomfortable talking to them. Still, I think it’s my wife Wendy’s turn to answer the door next time a pair of well dressed gentlemen come calling. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been by before too, and they’re due back any time.

P.S. Upon proofreading this, Wendy said she will not answer the door if the Jehovah’s Witnesses return. Oh, well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Life Interrupted

When my wife and I were at Hubbard Lake two weekends ago visiting with my brother's family at my parents' cottage (Party on the Beach), my nephew witnessed a bike-riding accident on the paved road that descends to the beachfront. A middle-aged man and his wife were riding down the hill towards a curve when the woman lost control.

My nephew saw it coming, comparing it to watching a YouTube video where you know a fall is going to occur, but in this age of "Funniest Home Videos" where you’re supposed to laugh when someone takes a sudden spill, this one wasn’t funny. The woman went over the handlebars and landed face first on the road.

Wendy and I were returning from a deer-watching expedition when we passed the ambulance, warning lights running, coming out of our subdivision. Later that night, I was sleeping in the tent when I heard a helicopter flying low overhead, which we speculated could be a med-evac copter transporting the woman to a better equipped trauma center in downstate Michigan.

Still, I would never have expected the outcome that occurred. Bike accidents often result in trips to the emergency room, sometimes even broken bones. In this case, it was worse. The woman died. Right away, I tried to Google the news for more information. What happened? I’d ridden my own bike down that same hill dozens of times over the years, never overly concerned for my safety.

But I found nothing. We didn’t know the woman. She wasn’t from our subdivision but we heard she was in her 40s and from Clarkston, Michigan, northwest of Detroit.

Eventually, I located her death notice among the on-line obituaries of the major area newspaper. It was a tersely written notice of less than 150 words. She was 48, a registered nurse in labor and delivery, and the mother of four daughters. "She enjoyed traveling, sailing, boating and mostly being a mother" was how her life was simply described there.

I tried to find out a little more, a bit haunted by the death of a woman which occurred only a block from our cabin, a spot I’ve always associated with fun and relaxation ever since childhood.

Again, I couldn’t find out much. Checking the blogosphere, I did find a journal written by one girl, a friend of the daughters, who described going to the funeral. She wrote: "The funeral today was really rough . . . listening to the words Mr. K. wrote for his late wife at the funeral today was so moving. He really loved her. (about the daughters) I can't really imagine what losing your mom when you're 21 or less feels like. C. was supposed to go to college for the first time in a few weeks. Now she has to go without her mother to help her move, wish her luck. A. will be the only one to graduate high school without her mother being there. It's all too bad."

The funeral home offered an on-line condolence book and I browsed the 50 or so messages there from family, work colleagues, classmates . . . They offered expressions of grief, sadness and comfort to the family. Not much of a glimpse though into who the woman was. All I could glean from my internet research were bits and fragments of a life interrupted.

Reading through the messages, I did sympathize for the surviving daughters. It is a terrible loss to not have someone there to nurture them as they pursue relationships, marriage, child-bearing and motherhood themselves. Like life itself, having a mother there is something we take for granted. But sisterhood is an especially strong bond. They'll survive and eventually move on.

It certainly makes you re-think the journey of life. What's important. What really matters. How you would like to be remembered yourself. And that it can be over with just that quickly.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Taste Of The World

The above picture is a street in St. Petersburg, Russia, my son’s first stop on his seven-week semester studying abroad this past spring and summer. Notice the signs for American fast food chains (there are two—see them?) But for most of his time in Russia he stayed with a host family in Volgograd, where there are over one million people and only one McDonalds.

So Scott experienced food the way Russians experience it. Lots of bleenies, tiny Russian pancakes. Lots of cabbage, which Scott didn’t mind since “Russians know how to cook it.” Not everything he liked. Leftover fried fish for breakfast? Hmmmmm, that was a bit hard to swallow.

But Scott says only once did he secretly dispose of his meal when his Russian mother’s back was turned. He tried to sample everything. Eventually, he did buy a bottle of American catsup, so he could flavor some of the blander elements of home-cooked Russian food.

Then something strange happened. Scott’s catsup began disappearing very quickly. It was as if someone in his Russian family was liberally using it themselves with their own meal (his Russian family ate at a different time than he, so he wouldn’t know). Possibly they were even drinking it. Either way, within four days his catsup was gone. Empty.

So Scott found another way to get a more familiar meal. He volunteered to cook some American hamburgers for his Russian hosts. Hamburgers were something they had never had.

Scott himself bought the ingredients. Then he cooked up old-fashioned American hamburgers with all the toppings, fried potatoes on the side. And unlike Russians who tend to overcook meat, Scott grilled his hamburgers only medium well, just like I barbecue them at home here. When his Russian sister protested that the meat needed to be cooked “ten more minutes”, Scott assured her that’s the way hamburgers are cooked back home.

I asked Scott if perhaps Russians cook their meat longer to kill all the germs, knowing the butchering, meat packing and meat inspection in Russia has a long way to go. He pondered that for a second, then admitted, “Possibly.” Well, no worries. His Russian host family were all alive and well when he left them.

Next stop after Volgograd was Prague in the Czech Republic where Scott bypassed the restaurants in favor of a local pub (his Michigan State University influence kicking in here). Taking a seat by the bar, he used hand signals as he slowly pronounced “Men-U.” The waiter casually tossed him one, saying “Here ya go, buddy.” Prague being an international destination was more likely to have customer service in English than Volgograd.

He ordered the “fried onions”, figuring that a basket of onion rings would hit the spot. But onion rings wasn’t what he got. He got exactly what was on the menu—fried onions. He wasn’t home yet.

Back at home, Scott changed chef’s hats and prepared the classic Russian cold soup okroshka for me, Wendy and my parents. For this, he chopped up boiled eggs, potatoes, cucumbers, sausage, and sauteed onion, flavored it with dill, and served it with Kvass, usually a Russian beverage but which serves here as the soup broth.

Scott bought a bottle of Kvass to bring to the USA, but his Russian mother made it herself. There's a jar of it fermenting in her kitchen window in the picture below. The recipe for it includes rye bread, water, lots of sugar and a little yeast.

The commercial Kvass is carbonated and tasted to me like Coke heavily flavored with rye bread. If anyone would like a taste, we still have half a bottle in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Party On The Beach

My youngest brother Tim and his three sons traveled this past week from his home state of South Dakota to Hubbard Lake in upper Michigan for their annual vacation. My mother then called to invite my wife Wendy and I to join them for a weekend. My parents would be there as would be my sister and her husband.

But when I found out my sleeping quarters would be inside a tent pitched on their property (they had an extra single bed for Wendy in my sister's adjacent cabin), I balked. My parents' cabin sits a stone's throw away from the beach, owned by a collective of property owners. Weekends always finds parties on the beach, often going late into the night.

And since this was the weekend of the annual property owners' association meeting, there would be an especially big alcohol-fueled affair. It would be like pitching your tent and trying to turn in for the night on the 50-yard-line during the Super Bowl.

"Your dad says he will stay out in the tent with you," my mother offered. It would be a good father-son bonding experience, she said. Oh, well. Guess we would be joining the crush of Michiganders on the road driving north this weekend. A four-hour one-way trip for us, but a rare chance to visit with my brother and his family.

And so we did. We played a nice family volleyball game, geezers versus the goobers, where the older generation with no one younger than 47 swept three games from my brother's teenaged boys and some teenaged friends from the area. My father at 77 still can hit some nifty volleyball shots. My brother thanked us more than once for coming up and joining in the fun.

The property owners association met, elected officers, discussed the beach, then gathered for a potluck at the waterfront picnic area. As Wendy and I left for a drive around the lake to scout for deer, they were passing around shots of Jaegermeister. We returned after seeing five deer including a fawn.

Meanwhile, the party on the beach continued on, growing in volume. After chatting and toasting marshmallows in front of our own campfire, I was ready to turn in. Tim said he would go down to the beach to tell the revelers to "keep it down." Then he would join me and two of his sons in the tent--dad had dropped out and was now sleeping inside the cabin. So much for father-son bonding.

But inside the tent, it still sounded like those on the beach were trying to talk to someone on the other side of the lake rather than the person standing right front of them. After a while, one of the voices sounded familiar. It was my brother Tim. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Oh, well. I was so tired I fell asleep anyway.

Some time later I woke up to voices sounding more excited than usual. Somebody's boat was floating off into the lake. Fell back asleep. Later, woke up again. This time it sounded like I was at a county fair tractor pull; some car engine was gunning full throttle. Looked out the tent and saw that somebody had failed to successfully navigate out of the beachfront parking lot and had backed into a ditch.

They tried rocking the car, pushing it--somebody even sprawled himself over the hood to put more weight on the wheels. The spinning tires just carved a bigger divot into the sod. Finally, they located a chain in my father's shed, hooked it to a bigger vehicle, and pulled it free. I heard it all happen. My brother Tim came into the tent afterwards, his shirt speckled with mud from when he gallantly tried to push the errant vehicle free.

Inside my parents' cabin, my mother thought she heard other noises. Small noises, like a critter might make. She wondered whether one of her grandsons had left an outside door open letting a racoon inside. (Perhaps to take cover from all the racket outside.) My dad checked however and found nothing.

Next morning I wondered whether the property owner's association might take action to curb some of the excesses of these celebratory gatherings. Maybe show some moral leadership. Then again, maybe not. The guy who backed his car into the ditch? He's the new president.

P.S. I always have my wife Wendy preview my blogs before I publish them. Here was her comment on this one . . .

"Good story. And I slept thru it all. Snug as a bug in a rug."