Opinions

Wed
18
Apr

VanHaren column: Words taken to heart - 'A teacher affects eternity'

I was a teacher for 37 years. I’ve read that teaching is the noblest profession. I’m not so sure about that. But I do know that, for me, it was very rewarding.

I sometimes get the impression that for many people, their work is a means to an end. They work for a paycheck in order to live their lives. There’s no real joy in their work. But those who are called to teach have a true vocation. To those with whom teachers interact most during their workdays – the students – a teacher is not an employee but a friend, a mentor and a guide to the world.

A few years ago, I got to play the part of Morrie Schwartz in the very touching play “Tuesdays with Morrie,” by Mitch Albom. In preparing to play the role, I read Albom’s book upon which the play was based. In the interviews Albom recorded, Schwartz often spoke of his role as a teacher. He thought that teaching and loving are kind of the same; both can make students better people.

Wed
11
Apr

Column: An open letter to my grandkids

I’m 79 years old, and I don’t get to see my grandkids anywhere near as often as I want to. None of my grandkids has ever asked me for advice, but here a few comments for their edification — an open letter to the 10 wonderful kids in my life:

Dear kids,

Each of you is a beautiful gift of God both to our family and to all the world. Don’t ever forget that, especially if and when doubt and discouragement enter into your lives.

Always tell the truth.

Never tell anyone you love them when you don’t. Mean it when you say it! Hug people you love. Tell them how much they mean to you now; don’t wait until it’s too late.

Don’t yell at people. It never works, and it hurts both you and the people you yell at.

Take Ellen DeGeneres’ advice and “be kind to each other.” Go out of your way to help other people — especially those who are in most need of your help: children, the frightened and those who are weak. Compassion is a marvelous trait.

Wed
04
Apr

VanHaren: More than a place to store the hay

Is hay mow (haymow) one word or two? If you type either into Google, you’ll get basically the same results. I did that recently because I’d had an idea to write about adventures in the haymow (I prefer one word!) during my kidhood.

One of the results I found was an Airbnb listing for a rental barn loft ($52 a night) near Helenville, Wisconsin, in Jefferson County. It’s a guest room in the haymow of a restored mid-1800s barn allegedly owned by the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother. There’s no heat or air conditioning, but there’s a large fan for summer, and they’re closed in the cold weather. The bathroom in the milkhouse is shared with other guests potentially staying in The Silo. The website had glamorous pictures of the haymow suite but none of The Silo room. Interesting.

Wed
28
Mar

Spring is sprung in many variations

“Spring is sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the flowers is.”

My mom used to recite that silly little rhyme, and I suppose I’ve repeated it every spring since I was a kid, one of the many ways I have of keeping Mom alive in my memory.

I’ve heard some variations on the rhyme over the years, most often this one: “Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is.” But until I recently did a little searching on the ‘net, I’d never heard the whole poem. According to WikiAnswers (and what better source is there?), the poem is often attributed to a British-Irish comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright and actor named Spike Milligan (1918-2003).

Milligan’s version goes like this:

“Spring is sprung.

The grass is riz.

I wonder where the birdies is?

The bird is on the wing.

Now isn’t that absurd?

I always thought the wing was on the bird!

Spring has sprung, the buds all break;

Wed
21
Mar

Column - Solitaire: Time-waster or healthy break?

When I was a kid growing up on the VanHaren homestead on Konitzer Road, south of Oconto Falls, my Grandpa VanHaren lived with us. My dad had bought the farm from Grandpa with the provision that Grandpa could live there as long as he wished. So, Grandpa was a daily part of my life until I went away to college at age 18.

I have lots of memories of Grandpa, but one of the most enduring one is of Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, smoking his corncob pipe and playing endless games of solitaire. He played only one form of solitaire. He didn’t know what it was called, but I have since learned that it is called “Klondike.”

I often wondered, as I sat and watched him play, why he played it over and over because he seldom “won” the game. I think I would have become frustrated with the game if I lost as often as he did, but not Grandpa; he just kept playing – over and over.

Wed
14
Mar

Column: A memorable visit to Montserrat

The book I’m currently reading is “Origin” by Dan Brown, the author of “The DaVinci Code.” The opening scenes of “Origin” are set in Montserrat, about an hour’s train ride from Barcelona.

Those first few pages of the book took me back to a wonderful month’s stay in Barcelona with our youngest son and his family in the spring of 2013. Mark and his family lived there for three years. On that first weekend, Mark and Nerissa had planned a trip for all of us to go to visit the Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey and basilica located in the Montserrat mountain, 38 kilometers from Barcelona.

Public transportation in and around Barcelona is wonderful. We took the train from Barcelona’s Placa d’Espanya station and rode through the city and into the countryside on a very pleasant trip to Montserrat.

Wed
07
Mar

Columnist's words are hard to swallow

I don’t often venture into areas of controversy in this space, but every so often I’m really tempted to stick in my two cents’ worth. Perhaps no one cares what I think, anyway, but something I read after the horrific school shooting in Florida really made me question the way some people think.

Michael Reagan, the son of former president Ronald Reagan, in an editorial piece the week after the Florida tragedy, said this:

“Eighteen. In 45 days. That sounds terrible. That sounds like a huge American crisis that needs to be addressed immediately by our great leaders in Washington.

“But that number, which the anti-gun lobby in the media has emphasized without going into the details of the individual incidents, is highly misleading.

“None of those previous shootings was anything like the horrible one on Wednesday that left 17 students and teachers dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Wed
28
Feb

Column: A couple of names from the past

If you’re about my age, you may remember Vic Damone. Damone died a little earlier this month at age 89. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, he became very popular as a pop and big band singer. My favorite song from “My Fair Lady” is “On the Street Where You Live,” and Damone had a terrific recording of it. He also had great renditions of “My Heart Cries for You” and “You’re Breaking My Heart.” I thought he was a terrific singer.

Damone got his big break when he entered the talent search on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Search in April 1947 and won the competition. This led to him becoming a regular on Godfrey’s show. He met Milton Berle at the studio, and Berle got him work at two night clubs. By mid-1947, Damone had signed a recording contract with Mercury Records.

Wed
21
Feb

Column: Baby animals - AW! Aren’t they cute?

A little over a year ago, I saw an item on Channel 4 news in which the Milwaukee County Zoo introduced three Amur tiger cubs to the public. The cubs, one male and two females, had been born a few months before. It was big news because Amur tigers are endangered. The news lady who was doing the story was ooh-ing and aah-ing about how cute they were. And she was right; they were cute.

That’s one of the neat things about animals — the babies are usually cute. Everybody loves kittens and puppies because they’re so cute. They may not like cats and dogs, however, because often the animals lose their cuteness factor when they get older.

Farm kids are no different. The kittens, puppies, chicks, ducklings, goat kids, lambs, colts, piglets and calves are all cute and fun to play with. But their cuteness wears off after a while. Cute little calves grow up to be clumsy cows. Cute little pink piglets grow up to be cumbersome sows.

Wed
14
Feb

Tangy taste of Tang was a household favorite

While we were shopping at the grocery store last week, we noticed a “special” on a popular brand of orange-colored drink. There were two kinds, “the original tangy” and the “sweet and smooth.” We bought one of each.

Later, at home, I opened the “tangy original” bottle and poured a glass. The first taste reminded me of the chewable baby aspirins we gave our kids when they were little or maybe — more closely — the taste of Tang, the powdered soft drink mix that gained so much publicity when NASA sent it along on Mercury astronaut John Glenn’s first space mission. Was that why it was “tangy?”

Do you remember Tang? We haven’t had it at our house since our kids were little. We used it because it was so much cheaper than buying oranges or orange juice.

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