Getting the mail can be such fun

I discovered the other day just how fun it can be to get the mail.

That may seem like an oxymoron, with the recent delivery of property tax bills, but getting the mail brought me so much delight because I knew my Bride was waiting for an important letter.

It was driver license renewal time for my Bride and, being the excellent driver that she is, she was invited to renew by mail without having to visit a Secretary of State facility.

She bragged about receiving the royal treatment, having no tickets on her record resulting in by-mail renewal. I, on the other hand, will likely have to give a week’s notice to the DMV so they can schedule me with the strictest instructor.

The Queen certainly deserves the privilege. I’ve never seen a driver who cruises with so much caution. She’ll creep up to a stop sign, wave any other motorists through, make certain her turn signal is on and crawl through the intersection.

She’s like that little old lady on her way to church, only worse. In fact that little old lady honks at my Bride for driving too slow.

But that’s okay, that’s why I love her because she does her best to do things right.

So I was surprised when her driver’s license had not arrived in the mail by her birth date. The Queen is not the type to procrastinate when obeying the law.

“What am I going to do? I can’t drive without my license,” she said with frustration.

I assured her that the state likely received her payment and if she got pulled over by a police officer she could explain her dilemma. That wasn’t good enough for her so she insisted that I give her a ride to work.

“Oh, come on,” I reasoned, “the state has more important things than worrying if you received your license on time. Go ahead and drive to work.”

So she headed out the door that morning with anxiety in her step. Deep down I think she wanted to blame me if she got caught without her license.

I’m sure it became the last thing on her mind once she got to the office, a newspaper office can do that to you. Unless your the publisher’s wife who got arrested for driving without a license and your name ends up in the police report. Boy, I would never hear the end of that if it happened. Now I was worried.

We survived another Monday at the office and headed for home. I beat her there because I take the faster route while she travels the slower side streets.

No sooner had I parked in the driveway and got out, I could see her coming down the street. I waved her off as she steered for the mailbox.

“I’ve got the mail,” I hollered as she approached, and I reached to open the box. Sure enough, there was her letter from the Secretary of State’s office.

I beckoned its arrival by swinging it into the air. The Queen grinned with relief that her license had arrived. As I walked up the driveway I opened the letter intending to reward her the license.

Instead, concern flashed across my face as I read the letter aloud.

“’Dear Mrs. Fisher,

We regret to inform you that your license is not being renewed at this time…,’” I said.

“’Even though we have taken into consideration your excellent driving record, we have concluded that your license must be revoked…”

She stopped in her tracks and said, “WHAT? I can’t believe this. What reason did they give for not renewing my license?” she demanded.

I held up a finger indicating that I was still reading. I hesitated long enough to cue her impatience.

“It says here they are not renewing it because you lied,” I declared.

“That’s crazy, lied about what?” she asked.

“It says you lied about your weight,” I said as serious as I could.

“I upped it by…” she started, then realized she was being fooled.

That’s when I held up her license. She slugged me on the shoulder saying that wasn’t funny. And I’ve kind of been in the dog house ever since. To stay out of trouble I’ve been letting her get the mail ever since.

He loved being a butcher

  When I moved from Iowa to Wilmington nearly 37 years ago, the best piece of advice I was given was to always be on good terms with the local butcher.
   Naive as I was, I asked my father why the meat man?
     “Because when you’re friends with the meat man he’ll see that you get the better cuts of beef,” George Fisher said with a smile.
        It was sage advice I came to appreciate when I met a butcher named Barney who worked the meat counter at what was then Hickory Creek Supermarket. Barney, with his friendly demeanor, was easy to like because he did more than sell meat. He built relationships.
      Sadly, those relationships came to an end with the sudden news that Barney Faletti, owner of Faletti Meats, had died in his sleep.
      A phone call from a friend Monday morning ended in near tears. Barney was that likeable, the type of store owner who would ask you about kids and grandkids, and then ask if the hunting or fishing was any good.
       He’d admit to sneaking away from the store on opening day to hunt with his son and grandkids. Or leaving early to watch his granddaughter play ball, or perform at school. But more often than not you could find him back at the store carving what would become someone’s dinner that night.
  Barney left Hickory Creek to start his own meat market, and he made it a success despite strong competition. His became the unique shop where you could buy a wedge of quality blue cheese for sprinkling over tender ribeyes, or order a pound or two of homemade Italian sausage, apple-smoked bacon or get extra thick pork chops perfect for grilling.
      But it wasn’t the quality meat that kept customers coming back. It was the friendship and trust.
        Some of my best stops there were first thing in the morning, before the store officially opened for the day, when Barney would be in back room shooting the bull with buddies. They would sip coffee and share doughnuts while debating worldly issues.
If you walked in you weren’t an interruption, just part of the discussion. Friendly fellas like Red, Merle, Hank, Mike and Junior would razz Barney and each other in good fun. If you stayed long enough you’d weed out bits of local history from tales told about some of the best characters in town.
       The discussions were entertaining and I only wish I had taken more time to sit in on them. Because now, Barney won’t be there with his friendly smile and short laugh. Instead he’s up working the meat counter in the heavens and the Good Lord is about to place his first order with Barney.
My advice to the Almighty is to stay on good terms with the meat man.

Join the 17 Club during 2017

A new year brings opportunity for new beginnings, but if you’re like me, personal resolutions don’t last.
Instead, I present 17 things that might help you accomplish something during 2017. On Dec. 31, 2017, if you feel no different, don’t blame me, at least your community and its people will benefit.
1. Start by giving $17 to your local food pantry. It’s an amount that won’t break the bank and cheaper than two beers with tip at Wrigley Field. Braidwood, Coal City, Gardner and Wilmington each have a food pantry stocked with more volunteers this time of year than items on their shelves. If you don’t know where it’s located in your community, shame shame. In Wilmington the easiest way to give is to stuff dollar bills into a Christmas Elf box that are in stores until Saturday.
2. Write 17 letters. Is it work? It sure is because the task of letter writing is a dying art. Your recipients know that and will appreciate the time you spent putting your thoughts on paper.
Start by sending one addressed to Illinois leaders Governor Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate leader John Cullerton. Tell them to stop acting like a bunch of school children and pass a state budget. Wait, don’t call them a bunch of school children because that’s not fair to school children.
Then each month write a letter to a former teacher, coach or someone who was a positive influence in your life. That’s 13 letters so far. The final four should be addressed to a man and a woman serving in the military, also to a firefighter and lastly to a police officer, all individuals willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to serve. Tell them you wish you were as brave as them.
3. Donate 17 hours to charity. If you adopt the philosophy that you’ll never feel good about yourself until you do something good for someone else, then volunteering comes easy. Get involved with an organization, be it a church group, food pantry, community service group or other, even if it requires contacting a church in an area hit by natural disaster in another state. Volunteer a day or two of labor because that’s exactly what one group did when Coal City was hit by a tornado. We should learn from that generosity and build upon it.
4. Attend 17 community dinners. They aren’t hard to find, just follow this newspaper. There are spaghetti dinners, roast beef suppers, pancake breakfasts, soup and salad events and more. Most are inexpensive and serve up a better meal than I could ever cook. You’ll support a community group and walk out with a full belly.
5. Talk to a 17-year-old, if you can get one to put down their smart phone. They’re pretty bright kids, so talk to them. Tell them, hell yes, when we were their age we were confused about what was going to happen after graduation. Then tell them, hell no, there isn’t a bit of good worrying about it.
6. Collect 17 of something. It doesn’t matter what you collect, it’s the adventure that motivates you. Collect rocks, coins, stamps, leaves, sea shells, beer cans, Star Wars characters, bottle caps, wildflowers or even insects. Just collect something to get you outdoors looking.
7. Take 17 photos of wildlife. Drive a country road or drive through one of the area’s state parks, or recreation clubs, with the best camera available. Be on the lookout for wildflowers and wildlife, including raptors, waterfowl, songbirds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, pheasant, even a skunk. Set a goal of 17 different subjects because it might take that long before you capture one worthy of framing. That’s the fun of it, getting that one photo you can hang in your living room knowing that you shot it in 2017.
8. Spend 17 seconds next to a speeding train. That’s about how short it took for an Amtrak to blow through Braidwood the other day. Better yet, get 16 other friends to join you standing at the crossing at Main and wave to passengers on the train. They’ll really think Braidwood is a friendly town.
9. Spend 17 minutes a day walking. Get serious about it. This is your time, away from kids, your spouse, the office. Pump your fists in front and breathe hard through your nose. Do it first thing in the morning or after work. It will clear your mind, relieve stress and get your heart rate going.
10. Devote 17 minutes to reading. Turn off the TV, ignore social media and read a book. Make it a habit before you go to bed and you’ll sleep more soundly. Thankfully, the staff at your local library can recommend a good book.
11. Give up 17 food items. Eliminate one item each month from January through July to build the willpower to make it two items each month from August through December. This is about sacrifice like giving up soda, French fries, fresh pizza, homemade dinner rolls, steak, hamburgers….wait a minute, these are all the things your publisher likes. Let’s just skip this one.
12. Talk to a 17-month-old. Toddlers at this special age are innocent and delightful. If you’re lucky enough to be a parent or grandparent of an infant at 17 months, I envy you. Spend as much time as possible coddling them because when they turn about 25 years old they want to move back home and have you cook their meals when you get home from work while they watch the Kardashians.
13. Mentor a child. Every one of us has the ability to do it. You don’t have to be wise or rich to be a mentor, just be honest and give good advice.
14. Run with the bulls. You don’t have to travel to Pamplona, Spain. Instead, run with the bison at the Midewin National Tallgrass Park near Wilmington. The trailhead that loops around the bison pasture is located east of Route 53, north of the Iron Bridge. The ideal time to run the trail, at least for 17 steps, is late April to mid May when they are calving. I can’t tell you how many locals who have admitted they have yet to visit this local attraction.
15. Enjoy the little things. I bet there are 17 simple things in life worth enjoying: Gazing at the stars, walking barefoot on a beach, sitting around a campfire, petting a pooch and more. Living life to the fullest doesn’t require major expense or travel. See out the little things in life that are practically free and repeat them often.
16. Work less hours. I can hardly believe I’m typing this, but in 2017 I’d like to work fewer hours per week. As a business owner I feel the need to go to the office seven days a week. Sadly, I see other local business owners who work more hours than I. Maybe it’s time to stop the madness and let others do the work. That’s why I’m leaving number 17 up to you. Fill in the blanks.
17.

Things I’d change in the doctor’s room

I’m getting tired of pulling  down my pants.

No, I’m not a perv, just a overworked newspaper man who’s had two surgeries in the past three weeks for kidney stones. I suspect the first time they didn’t get all the stones the first time because they didn’t see them through all the ink in my system.

So my twice-a-week routine the past four weeks has been to walk into the doctor’s office, unzip and drop my pants.

It became so habit-forming that during my last visit, after being escorted to an exam room, I walked in and did it automatically.

“What are you doing?” the nurse asked as I stripped down to my boxer briefs.

“I’m in a hurry today so I’m getting ready for the doctor,” I replied.

She informed me that they were needing just my blood pressure and temperature. “So you can pull your pants up,” the nurse chuckled, “unless you want me to use an old thermometer to take your temperature somewhere else.”

In a flash my pants and belt were up and buckled tight.

I’ll never forget when and where I was when kidney stones first interrupted my life. I was on assignment in Champaign, IL covering Wilmington’s football team during the Class 3A state championship.

Like most Wildcat fans, I was on a natural high that day when Wilmington ran out of the tunnel onto Memorial Field. The ‘Cats had reached the pinnacle newspaper men live for and the discomfort building in my abdomen wasn’t about to get in the way.

At half-time I headed for the men’s room for a potty break. Standing there, in the warmth, felt good until something didn’t feel right. Suddenly I felt a piercing pain, flow was interrupted and then a burning sensation.

Damn, I’m catching a fever, I thought as my back and legs were suddenly riddled with aches and pains. After a cold sweat, I gathered up my photo equipment, regained my composure, and shot the rest of the game. Thankfully, I witnessed the game-winning kick that gave the Wildcats their first football state title in school history.

My little incident in the boys room was history too, I thought, as later that night, after covering the 10 p.m. pep rally back at the school, I felt fine.

The Monday after Christmas, pain was back with a vengeance. If I could have bottled it up and inflicted it on some terrorist group I would have. Instead, I went to the doctor’s office for an MRI and was told two stones in my kidney were too big to pass without surgery.

That began a four-week run of more doctors visits. I’ve been spending oodles of time in waiting rooms often thinking about how I would improve things. Here are some suggestions:

• Install a barber’s chair. I would gladly pay to have a haircut while waiting for the doc. Imagine scheduling your appointment and showing up early knowing you can get a haircut too. A corner in the waiting room for a pedicure and nail job might would be nice too.

• Get rid of the magazines. My belief is they just harbor disease. Sick people read them and picking them up only means they’re spreading illness.

• Turn the TV channel. On three occassions while waiting, the station was turned to the Maury Show. I don’t need to know who is the father of someone’s baby is and how many other kids are confused who is their real daddy.

• Put a label on the gown for patients. I slipped mine on wrong, with the front open like a robe, rationalizing that they were going to be working on my front side so that’s the way it should be worn. It was a slight embarrassment for a guy who seldom goes to the doctor’s office.

• Stop asking so many questions. It feels like interrogation. By the time I answered all the non essential questions, I’d forgotten the questions I meant to ask.

• And then there’s that question they hate to ask but do, “Do you feel threatened by anyone?” I wanted to respond with, “Just my wallet, with the amount of spending my wife and daughters do.” Or better yet my wallet threatened by how much this surgery is going to cost.

• Pay nurses and assistants well. They are caring, kind people who front questions and concerns of often scared patients. I was impressed with their professionalism and organization. While it sometimes seemed they were in short supply, I saw how busy they are accommodating so many people.

Here are a few tips in general

• If you’re offered a pain killer, take it. Thinking you can just tough it out isn’t the smartest decision. I found that out between my first and second procedures. The tough guy attitude on pain didn’t stick around the second time.

• Don’t always follow other people’s advice. I had someone suggest what he did for his kidney stone. He bought a 6-pack of beer, drank it and flushed it out on his own. While it may have saved him medical expenses, I got drunk on beer #3 and went straight to bed. Woke up with a headache too.

• My last tip is take someone bossy with you. My lovely bride gets pushy with me at times so I was eager to let her loose at the hospital. She insisted on answers, from the doctor and staff, and got them. She knows more about my medicines than I do, researching them online. She discovered that a daily prescription I take, written by a different doctor months ago, has side effects of causing kidney stones. After explaining her finding to the urologist we now have some place to start preventing this from happening again. Got to love her for that.

Judges award photo first place in state contest

A MOMENT TO REMEMBER - Aaron Romberg of Plainfield finds a moment of solitude to visit his father’s grave at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, IL on Memorial Day. I took this photo while on assignment for Memorial Day ceremony.  I snapped the photo feeling maybe I was violating a moment of privacy in a public place but Romberg  was cool with it and gave me his name. It was published in the paper that week and I almost forgot about it until the Illinois Press Association's annual editorial contest. Submitted in photog contest and judges awarded it first place among general news photo entries. A lesson learned that sometimes the best photos can be found away from the main event as people show their emotions when they feel they're somewhere private.

A MOMENT TO REMEMBER – Aaron Romberg of Plainfield finds a moment of solitude to visit his father’s grave at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, IL on Memorial Day. I took this photo while on assignment for Memorial Day ceremony. I snapped the photo feeling maybe I was violating a moment of privacy in a public place but Romberg was cool with it and gave me his name. It was published in the paper that week and I almost forgot about it until the Illinois Press Association’s annual editorial contest. Submitted in photog contest and judges awarded it first place among general news photo entries. A lesson learned that sometimes the best photos can be found away from the main event as people show their emotions when they feel they’re somewhere private.

When the meaning of Christmas took center stage

It was 19 years ago when terror nearly seized the Fisher household just before Christmas.

Our youngest daughter Kelly came home from school one day in tears, announcing that she had been chosen to be the Littlest Christmas Tree in the upcoming school play. She was scared of her unexpected role.

A sympathetic mother tried to reason with the first grader that she must have been chosen for a reason.

Kelly’s response was that she was picked because she foolishly raised her hand because all the other girls in her class had done the same. She cried even louder as she alleged that the teacher had picked her only because, “She doesn’t like me. What am I going to do?” Kelly blubbered between crocodile tears, “I don’t want to be the Littlest Christmas Tree.”

It seemed the Fisher household was about to get out control so I did what any concerned dad would do. I told Kelly that since she volunteered she had better toughen up and live up to the role.

My logic only made matters worse, the Queen scolded,  so for the next week I was advised to keep my mouth shut until the Christmas play was over.

It didn’t help that a couple of days later Kelly’s cousins, who were also in the pageant, and her Uncle Jeff, stopped at our house. Her cousins began rehearsing their parts by breaking out in song.

“You’re puny! You’re small. You’re not even tall!

You could never be a Christmas tree at all! 

You’re tiny! It’s true! You’ll just never do! Santa Claus would never pick a tree like you! 

Oh, no, no, no, no! No way at all! Oh, no, no, no. You’re just too small! “

Kelly didn’t participate, but instead headed off to her room to sulk away the pain of hearing that song. It was a reminder that she would be taking center stage in front of hundreds of students, parents and grandparents at St. Rose Church.

Every night for the rest of that week tears were shed and  the Queen consoled as Kelly tried to memorized her lines in the play. And every time she heard her cousins sing, “You’re puny! You’re small. You’re not even tall!….” her fears would escalate.

For those unfamiliar with the musical skit it goes like this.

It begins with elves dancing and singing while decorating a dozen kids dressed as Christmas trees. The trees are singing, too. But no one is decorating the Littlest Christmas tree, but she is smiling and singing along anyway.

The elves pick up some hand mirrors and hold them in front of the trees so they can look at themselves.

The trees boast at how beautiful they have been decorated. One brags that he will be picked by Santa, while another claims she will be his favorite.

An elf reminds them that they are all beautiful trees but only one can be Santa’s very own Christmas tree. Soon all the elves are singing 

I’m gonna be Santa’s tree. Lookie, lookie, lookie at me!

When that Santa looks at me, I am all he’ll need to see!

I’ve got what it takes to be Santa’s tree.

The Littlest Tree then pipes up, “Gee, I sure wish Santa would pick me to be his Christmas tree.”

Kelly said her first lines right on cue, holding back her fears in front of the St. Rose student body. Her drab Littlest Christmas tree costume made her look all alone.

One of the decorated trees said to her: “You?! You’ve got to be kidding!”

All the trees and elves pointed at my daughter, the Littlest Tree, and laughed.

Littlest Tree: “What’s wrong with me?”

An elf answered: “What’s wrong with you?! You’re puny, that’s what!”

Another elf added, “Yeah, you’re the tiniest tree we’ve ever had in this lot! You could never be a good Christmas tree!”

All the decorated trees then said: “No way! Never!”. Then came that dreaded moment, the singing of the Tiny Tree Rap which resulted in tons of tears at home. I held my breath.

“You’re puny! You’re small. You’re not even tall!….

She blushed and squirmed in her costume as they sang and pointed at her. The song took forever to end but she made it through it without shedding a tear.

Santa, played by Pat Sweeney, and Mrs. Claus (Jordan Rink) arrived on stage and all the trees fidgeted around trying to strike the perfect pose. Mr. and Mrs. Claus carefully looked over the trees but couldn’t decide, announcing that every tree was beautiful.

Santa was then bombarded with requests from the decorated trees to, “Pick me, pick me, I’m the best decorated tree.”

As the requests crescendoed, Santa covered his ears and yelled, “Stop! Stop! These trees don’t care about Christmas. All they care about is themselves!”

One tree asked, “What’s wrong with that?”

Santa’s response was, “Is that what you think Christmas is about?”

Looking at each other they all nod and said, “Yeah. Of course.”

Santa, shaking his head, declared that it was terrible and asked, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is?

Little Kelly walked up to Santa and said, “I do, Santa.”

It was at that moment this proud father nearly teared up when his little girl let out a perfect solo. My Littlest Christmas Tree sang, “Christmas is Love. Christmas is caring. Christmas is friends together sharing.”

Then all the other kids on stage sang the chorus too. In the end Kelly finished with a  “But more than anything, Christmas is love.”

Santa walked up to my Little Kelly and announced, “This is my Christmas Tree!” and everyone applauded.

Yes, Christmas is love and this proud father felt it grow that night when a brave little soul underneath that Littlest Christmas Tree costume turned out to be the perfect pick.

The one mistake I made was not getting a video of the Christmas play. My advice to parents as you attend your child’s Christmas events is to take video of them. Because 19 years later you’ll wish you did.

Help find this missing poodle

Help find this missing poodle

An urgent plea is being made to find this missing poodle. Signs posted in the Wilmington business district about the missing dog reads: “Missing (sick) small poodle, hair on head, ?????, Needs meds. Pls any info call (two phone numbers given). The P.S. says: Was wearing T-shirt”

I was tempted to call the owner and say:
“Man, your dog needs more than just meds”
or how about:
“Wearing a T-shirt? What did it say?”
or
“I think I saw your dog at a Grateful Dead concert”

Feeling creative? What would you say? I’d like to hear your comments