Good vibrations

While many aspects of daily life (clothes and dish washing, transportation, communication and food acquisition, etc.) in First World countries are, arguably, easier than ever before, one thing is more difficult now than at any other point in human history: unplugging.

Charging cords litter our floors, headphones sprout from the ears of passersby, outlets are cluttered with plugs, TVs light up the walls of every McDonald’s, sports bar, laundromat and service station, and cell phones bulge in the pockets of teenaged girls and buttoned-down businessmen alike.

It takes a rare storm, or an even rarer burst of willpower, to walk away from the 24/7 surge of connectedness that permeates every facet of our society.

These days, a modern-day Thoreau would need to locate a retreat much further afield than Walden Pond to find solitude and contemplation, it probably goes without saying.

Being a decidedly low-tech person already (I’m not necessarily proud of that; I’m scheming to have my daughter teach me everything she knows before she departs for college next fall, lest I lag in the 20th century for the rest of my natural life), it seemed reasonable to leave the cell phone behind when heading for an extended trip to Italy and Croatia this past summer.

After all, we’d be traveling with a group, whose leader had an international cell phone and ready computer access for emergencies, and wasn’t the point to absorb local culture and relax rather than stay in the loop on everyday stressors?


So, upon arriving at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport that July morning, my husband and I scanned our respective cell phones one last time for any urgent communication that might have rolled our way before turning off the phones and stashing them in the glove compartment.

Strangely, I felt somewhat naked, even as I hauled a suitcase, oversized carry-on, purse and jacket through the parking garage toward the terminal.

The habit of patting my pocket or outer purse compartment to verify the phone’s presence was rendered obsolete, and I tried to focus on the whereabouts of e-tickets and passports rather than worry about the absence of a silly cell phone.

Hadn’t I made it all the way to my 40s without a ready-made communication device on my person? I’m of the generation that waited in long lines at pizza joints to use a phone to ask for rides home on cold Saturday nights (somehow, someone usually answered), acted nonchalant while having deep conversations on the lone hall phone in college residence halls as 30 other students passed by at unexpected intervals and watched from my hospital bed as my husband called our parents on a hallway payphone to announce the birth of our first child.

Spending 12 days in Europe without a cell phone? Not a challenge.

But I hadn’t counted on psychological dependency.

After a smooth and uneventful flight to Rome, the sightseeing immediately began. There we were, walking ancient cobblestoned streets en route to the Trevi Fountain, immersed in the steamy heat of that remarkable Italian city with bobbleheads of Julius Caesar nodding to me from every souvenir shop window, when I felt it.

A vibration near my right hip, just at the spot where my phone usually rested in my pocket, demanded my attention.

I slapped my leg, reached for my phone and came up with….nothing.

“Ha, ha,” I laughed nervously to myself, remembering the phone was safely locked in a Dodge Caravan halfway around the world from where I stood.

But later, unmistakably, I felt it again–that familiar tremor, even as we neared the Pantheon in all its historic wonder.

Strolling through the marvels of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, even the Sistine Chapel, I was haunted not only by the ghosts of long-dead Roman emperors, popes and slaves but also by the phantom vibrations of my Samsung cell phone.

Feeling like an idiot, but relaxed with a plate of pasta and a glass of house red at dinner, I confided to my companions about being stalked by my cell.

Sheepishly, my husband and at least two other adults admitted to having experienced the same sensation.

Taylor Swift’s advice to shake it off is harder than it sounds. Unplug? Go ahead and try.


The further adventures of Darwin

The chirps of wayward, rebel crickets have mercifully died down, but the bearded dragon my youngest son introduced to our household a few weeks ago lives on.

That’s due to a daily diet monitored and measured more carefully by the resident 14-year-old than those of many human infants.

“He [the dragon dubbed ‘Darwin’] needs to have the proper nutritional balance,” insists this vigilant “father,” who nevertheless is personally more inclined to grab a package of “fruit” snacks from the cupboard than one of the healthier bananas or apples readily available to him.

Darwin’s faithful master had earlier perfected the art of bathing him in the utility sink, with a “basking rock” provided in the hot water to offer a respite spot, so the critter at least is somewhat clean most of the time (not that I’ve checked the folds around the scaly being’s eyes to confirm that).

But vigilant “parenting” became greatly relaxed when this busy high school freshman, pressed with classes, homework, athletic practices, social activities and other obligations, sought time for tank-cleaning.

An evening football game and pep band call-time loomed, thus hastening the lad’s efforts and methods.

Blissfully unaware of the corner-cutting, I continued preparing a nutritionally balanced supper for the family’s humans, glancing at the clock and listening for sounds from above that would indicate the project’s conclusion.

Instead, the youth crept into the kitchen with a worried look on his face and this ominous declaration: “Mom, something really bad happened.”

My adrenaline and imagination immediately launched into overdrive. The tank collapsed? Reptile feces was smeared on the carpet? How bad could it be?

“What?” I nervously inquired.

“I can’t find Darwin anywhere,” he replied.

With Darwin curled up on the floor near a bookcase, Son #2 had left his room to deposit some of the tank’s gunk.

Frantically we searched the space, looking under papers, shorts, socks and cords and scanning the undersides of bed, dresser and desk.

The clock was ticking, and Darwin was nowhere to be seen.

“I’m pretty sure the door was closed,” the teen asserted, with a detectable note of uncertainty in his voice.

Well, the door WAS shut now, and a towel was jammed under it to prevent Darwin from deciding to explore the rest of the house.

With food gulped down, the two teens departed for pep band, and their dad was met at the door after a taxing work day with an urgent order: “Find Darwin!”

Clad in slippers (I had no desire to squash the thing), I joined him in entering our son’s room, tiptoeing about and lifting up everything possible.

“I Googled, ‘Where do bearded dragons hide in houses?’ and it said they try to find warm places,” I helpfully reported.

Ten minutes of searching, flashlights and yardsticks in hand, passed–no bearded dragon. Could he have exited the room?

Finally, my now-impatient spouse began hunting among our son’s musical equipment.

The skinny tip of a scaly tail, barely perceptible, hung just over the edge of a guitar amplifier’s cord storage area.

“He’ll stay there,” said my husband, sounding an awful lot like his son. “We can go to the football game and get him out later.”

Not a snowball’s chance in the Australian Outback. Quickly, I obtained a box and insisted he shake Darwin from the confines of the guitar amp into it, and from there into the tank.

Reluctant clinging got Darwin nowhere; soon he was securely in his tank, warily tilting his bearded head at me.

“Tough to be you, Darwin,” I retorted aloud, to my husband’s amusement, before finally departing for the football game.

The next day, escape nearly forgotten, Darwin’s diet was again on my son’s mind.

“Mom, I NEED to start a roach colony,” he cajoled. “It’s really important. In a lot of ways, roaches would be less annoying than the crickets, and they can’t climb over flat surfaces that are more than a half-inch high.

“Darwin has specific dietary needs.”

Hey, what about MY needs?

Kids these days.

Hoppy Wednesday

Our three children have brought great joy into our home and lives over the past two decades…not to mention piles of homework, multiple musical instruments, dozens of friends, hundreds of graphic t-shirts, numerous collections of rocks, dolls and baseball cards and several pets.

But our youngest son’s most recent acquisition is notable: A six-month-old bearded dragon (a lizard species originating in central Australia known for its “hardy nature” and “easy care in comparison to other exotic reptiles,” according to Wikipedia).

Unfortunately for our animal-loving brood, my affinity for non-humans is scant, but that hasn’t prevented the kids from treasuring four cats and three rabbits (mostly in serial fashion) over the years.

Whether it was summer’s doldrums, a genuine desire to have a unique pet of his very own or a deep-seated interest in reptiles, our 14-year-old son’s insistence that a bearded dragon was the creature for him only intensified throughout August.

“If I can’t have a dog, how about a bearded dragon?” it had begun, months ago.

Subtle hints were dropped, brochures about reptiles appeared on my placemat and cost estimates penciled on notepads were mysteriously pinned to bulletin boards.

When the kid presented a typed three-page, single-spaced document he’d prepared detailing the pros, cons, expenses and intricacies of bearded dragon ownership, my cold heart began melting–not due to a sudden love for reptiles, but from the realization that if he was willing to put in hours of research to advocate for his cause, maybe he would be a highly responsible pet owner.

Somehow, the phrase “eats live crickets” had escaped my notice.

First came the 40-gallon tank, then the heat lamp (to mimic the dragon’s native desert habitat), followed by a spray bottle for daily misting (“like the morning dew,”) and finally the bearded dragon himself. Ugh.

At least it all landed squarely in HIS room; I thought I was safe.

A baggie bursting with 100 live crickets lasted for the pet’s first four days of residency. Unbeknownst to me, husband and son collaborated in ordering ten times that many to keep feeding the beast.

I found the delivery at the door one afternoon last week; only a fragile screen separated me from 1,000 active, chirping crickets. The box practically moved by itself. I’m not sure what children’s author Eric Carle intended by titling one of his best-sellers, “The Very Quiet Cricket;” did he ever really meet one?

Our new ninth-grader hurriedly fed his dragon the next morning, dashing out the door with backpack in hand as he called, “Can you check the box? I’m not sure I shut it tightly enough.”

“Yeah, I’ll check it,” I replied absentmindedly, then ran out the door myself soon after.

Returning home a few hours later, reptile and crickets forgotten, I climbed the stairs to the second floor and….CRICKET BREACH!!!

A horror movie had sprung to life before my eyes. Dozens of hopping, chirping crickets dotted the beige carpet, lining the hallway and preparing to hit the steps. The unruly insects’ instant reaction to my extended scream alerted me to the fact that crickets have excellent hearing.

After my shrieks and initial shock subsided, I backed down the stairs, desperately devising a strategy. I grabbed an ice cream bucket and box from the garage, stripped paper towels from the kitchen roll and determinedly re-entered the battle zone.

Trying not to squash any crickets with my bare feet, I shut the doors to the upstairs rooms that so far had escaped the insect invasion before carefully removing the primary cricket container, doing my best to keep as many inside it as possible.

Then, smothering my yelps and cringes, I caught crickets one by one and shoved them into the bucket, slamming down the lid with each tiny victory. When the hallway was clear, I began throwing the crickets directly into the dragon’s lair, totally making HIS day.

Wild-eyed and harried, I pinched up every last one of those escapees, although an occasional Jiminy Cricket has turned up every day since.

Anyone seeking to insult me might need to consult Little Jimmy Dickens’ 1965 country hit “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” for new ideas because after this, it’s going to take a whole lot more than 1,000 live crickets to scare me.


Me, myself and I

Nobody thinks much about me anymore.

Let me rephrase that: Nobody thinks much about “me” anymore. Maybe “me” just isn’t long enough, fancy enough, trendy enough–but at some juncture, “myself” became sexier than “me,” even though “me” is correct far more often than “myself.”

But when did being right ever take precedence over being popular? Exactly never, that’s when.

So “me” has been dumped in favor of “myself,” and not just by uneducated bumpkins or by those who never paid attention in an English or communications class.

Forgive the English major in me (Note: “myself” would NOT be the correct word in the preceding phrase!) jumping straight out of my skin, but “myself” has become the go-to pronoun these days, rather than waiting for the relatively few times it should be used in its true, reflexive form.

Maybe this problem evolved because there wasn’t a  “Me, Myself and I” number on the Schoolhouse Rock! shows back in the ’70s (who can forget “Conjunction, Junction?”), but slowly, over time, “myself” has gradually been taking over “me” until “me” is hardly ever used.

Here’s the dirty secret, folks: “Me” and “I” are pronouns you should be using much more frequently, while “myself” should be reserved, and sprinkled into speech or script, on rarer occasions. Honestly, if you’re uncertain about which pronoun to use, you’re better off guessing “me” or “I” about 90 percent of the time rather than choosing “myself.”

Using “myself” doesn’t make you sound smarter or fancier; it makes you sound WRONG.

For instance: “Tom and myself looked over the annual report and found it adequately reflected the progress our company has made in the past fiscal year.”

No, no, no! “Tom and I looked over the annual report!” I silently scream as I have heard everyone from CEOs, principals, doctors, presidents, ministers, scientists, conductors, stylists and custodians utter or write phrases similar to the above on countless occasions.

“The staff and myself found Susie to be best suited to the position.”

Not on your life!

But this: “I wrote the letter myself.”

Yes, indeed. That’ll do. That’s the reflexive “myself” in its role of lending extra emphasis to the noun already mentioned in the sentence or clause.

“Myself” is a pronoun that must receive an action or refer to a previous noun or pronoun; contrary to its common usage of late, it’s too weak to stand on its own two feet.

So a person should never say, “Myself and the gang are going to the amusement park,” because NOTHING CAME BEFORE “myself!”

“Myself,” get over yourself. You’re not too good for us, but you’re suffering from overexposure. You need to be sprinkled (sparingly) and not poured into the soup pot of our language, and you definitely need to quit hogging the pronoun front.

If all this grammar mumbo-jumbo has you shaking your head, muttering to yourself (yes, sir), “I’ll just keep talking and writing however myself pleases,” hold on a second–maybe considering some common quotes or song lyrics will help clarify this matter more simply.

Did Joshua say, “As for myself and my house, we will serve the Lord?”

Ah, no–that would be, “me,” and I’m confident you all knew that. Get thee behind me, “myself.”

Composer Neil Diamond and The Monkees wouldn’t have made it too far with “It’s a Little Bit Myself, A Little Bit You,” but by using the proper pronoun (“me,” of course), they took it ALL THE WAY to #2 on the Billboard charts in 1967.

Or how about that cliched breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me?” C’mon, if you haven’t heard or uttered that at least once in your life…well, I just don’t believe you. But no one will ever tell you, “It’s not you, it’s myself” (at least not after reading this column!).

Finally, consider that 1985 #1 hit from the band Simple Minds, forever associated with John Hughes’ movie “The Breakfast Club,” with its pointed directive built into the title: “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Go ahead, sub in the inappropriate “myself” and you see the issue with which I’m struggling.

My advice: Don’t YOU forget about “me.”


Finally, 50!

It was a long time coming, but August marks the month in which the last of my (local) Class of ’83 female friends turns 50.

Since September 2014, the specter of 50 has descended upon one friend and acquaintance after another. Each one has met the milestone with grace, a touch of humor, celebratory moments–and maybe a few creaks and groans.

Locally, my “youngest” 50ish friend Julie marked her “special” day on Tuesday.

“You’re finally 50, young lady,” I teased her.

Maybe the many years of commemorating solitary summer birthdays (while chums were regularly feted at school) and always being “too little” for things (a first job, the 15-year-old dating bar set by dad, that all-important driver’s license–received nearly a year after most of one’s peers) were worth something after all:  Julie and other “young-for-their class” people like her manage to cling to 49 (or 29, or 39) seemingly longer than the bulk of their peers.

And there’s also the advantage (real or imagined?) of graduating from high school at “only” age 17, or from college at “only” 21.

Julie had good-naturedly smiled her way through several other 50th birthday gatherings as 2014 flipped to 2015, all the while secure in the knowledge that her own 50th wouldn’t officially occur for several months.

At lunch this week, we informed the server (a restaurant employee known as a  “waitress” when we were decades younger–that’s how old we are) that we were there because…Julie was finally 50.

The 20-something server stepped back, mouth agape, to take a closer look at the youthful Julie.

“FIFTY?” she queried, blessedly incredulous. “Are you sure?”

So what’s the big deal with 50? Women who, to my eight-year-old self, seemed fairly aged  were later revealed to have been only about 53 then. Sipping coffee from Corelle cups, pinning laundry to clotheslines, complaining about arthritic hips and fingers, wearing hair curlers under scarves in public and chatting over picnic tables while engaged in card or Scrabble games–THAT’s what “older people” did, and their reality seemed so distant from my youth that it was virtually impossible to picture myself in that place, however far in the future it might be.

Here are a few topics that circulated at Julie’s 50th birthday lunch this week: upcoming medical appointments, how much free rein to grant high school and college-aged offspring, recipes, the recent wedding of a child, why certain food did or didn’t agree with us and whether or not (and by which method) to color our hair.

In reviewing that list, I know the conversation would have bored me to tears as a 14-year-old. But at 50? It seemed about right. And who doesn’t need hair advice?

As I recently dug through 2005 Daily Globes for my weekly “Looking Back” column, I uncovered an item about a quintet of female centenarians–Esther, Fran, Julia, Viola and Mabel–who resided then at The Meadows in Worthington. Their ages ranged from 101 to 107, though in the accompanying photo, not one of them looked a day over 85.

Their advice for enjoying a similarly long life was simple: Avoid pills, get enough sleep, eat well, maintain a positive attitude and stay active.

Although my Mankato West High School Class of ’83 has already seen far more than its share of members leave this earth, whether due to illness, accident or suicide, the rest of us are not even halfway to the mark the aforementioned centenarians achieved.

Potentially, five additional decades could lie ahead for at least a few of us–doubling the life span we’ve already notched. That’s a lot of birthday cake.

Here’s to the next half century!

(And happy birthday, Julie! You’re finally 50.)

Feeding frenzy

July 23 was National Hot Dog Day.

I know this only because “Todd,” my tubular meat-loving friend, alerted me to the date.

While I’m not sure how many hot dogs “Todd” has recently consumed, I regret to share that Joey Chestnut, the national hot dog-eating champion for eight consecutive years, was dethroned in the annual July 4 contest at Coney Island. His successor: Matt Stonie, who placed second to Chestnut in 2014, but took the title this time around by downing 62 hot dogs and buns.

Doesn’t the simple thought of that make your intestines rebel in unpleasant ways?

But eating massive quantities of one type of food and/or engaging in competitive eating are neither rare nor recent phenomena.

A few months ago while researching antiquated Daily Globes for my weekly “Looking Back” column, I uncovered the gem of Jim Vogelaar.

Fifty years ago, Vogelaar was a 22-year-old father and husband from George, Iowa, who happened to love bananas. He made the mistake of boasting to a friend that bananas were, in fact, his favorite fruit and that he could “probably eat a whole box of them in 10 hours.”

Is it surprising that when Vogelaar’s friend bet he couldn’t do so, Vogelaar accepted the dare? Vogelaar proceeded to begin stuffing himself with his “favorite fruit,” ultimately eating 41 pounds and 10 ounces of bananas over 10 hours.

When Vogelaar returned home, his slyly humorous wife asked him if he’d like a banana.

Vogelaar apparently declined that offer, but otherwise seemed to suffer no ill effects from his banana binge–and continued to contend that bananas were among his favorite foods.

Last year we attended a firemen’s pancake breakfast following church one fall Sunday and were happy to tuck into our hotcakes aside our friends and fellow parishioners Steve and Anita Leach.

It’s important to know that Steve and Anita are an incredibly fit, trim, active couple–indeed, they each won titles in their respective age categories at the Tri For Health in Jackson late last month–but they also enjoy eating.

Steve (a 6’2 male who works hard and additionally excels at hunting, fishing and storytelling) kept loading up on pancakes that forenoon, so conversation naturally turned to “how much.”

It became clear that Steve could be as dominant in a pancake-eating contest as he is in a triathlon, and I began asking him what other foods he could pack away en masse.

The list was mouth-watering and savory: onion rings, mashed potatoes (“with gravy, and only REAL potatoes,” Steve specified), chili–and skim milk and coffee (if beverages count).

And although Steve didn’t win any awards with these meals, he revealed he had once chowed down 50 mango-habenera buffalo wings at a sitting, and on another occasion he chewed through nine eight-ounce sirloin steaks.

“I leave the bones so clean the dogs would be mad at me,” Steve declared. “Fat seems to be where all the flavor is, man.”

Whether or not dogs are aware Steve is depriving them of good lickings, other humans might be jealous that he can polish off so much good food without wearing the physical evidence of excess calories.

But it’s all in a day’s eating for certain lucky people, like banana man Vogelaar or hot dogger Chestnut.

And if you happened to miss celebrating National Hot Dog Day, never fear–National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (Aug. 4) is right around the corner.

Roads to relaxation

Interstate 90, which stretches across these great United States of America from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Wash., passes Worthington roughly three-fourths of a mile north of my house.

Even from that distance, the I-90 “road roar” resulting from speeding trucks, buses, campers, SUVs and motorcycles can reach our windows, rudely forcing its way into interior spaces, when the wind blows just right.

That roar has always been, to my ears, a rather lonely, wistful noise, telling tales of travelers unknown to me–some perhaps weary, others anticipatory, a few (maybe newlyweds embarking on their honeymoon?) possibly delighted or giddy–and of journeys not yet at their ends.

It’s also a sound that can invite engagement, especially during the summer months when thoughts of heading out on a wide open blacktop to explore, relax or reconnect are especially appealing.

Almost all summer vacations, whether people are bound for points north, south, east or west, begin with a road stint of some length.

In my girlhood, summer commonly meant a trip to northern Colorado, where my paternal grandparents lived. From our home in North Mankato, the distance always felt (at least to this kid) to last half as long as summer itself.

Travel was, naturally, different in the 1970s than it is today. First of all, air conditioning was much more “optional” in vehicles then, and it wasn’t an option our family always enjoyed.

Memories of wet washcloths kept cold in ice-filled plastic bags roll my way. We’d drape them across our necks or mop our faces with them when the hot, dusty wind of the Great Plains sweeping into our car was unbearable.

As night fell and the air cooled somewhat, we all quieted down and could actually hear the radio playing haunting, plaintive ’70s tunes like “Me and You and  a Dog Named Boo” or Paul Simon’s “If I Could” (“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail….”).

With no cell phones, a flat tire or overheating radiator warranted a more panicked feeling than it might now, and when kids grew bored on a 14+-hour drive, there were no DVD movies, iPods, iPads or even Game Boys to provide distraction.

There was, however, my older brother, who seemed invariably to sprawl across the full length of the back seat (seat belts were not mandatory!), propping his size 13, malodorous feet atop a pillow that, inconveniently enough, happened to rest upon my lap.

He seemed to be constantly chewing grape-flavored bubble gum, and the combination of smelly feet with that artificial fruit scent was almost enough to make me lose my cookies and carrot sticks.

As fate would have it, I was also very prone to motion sickness, so the need to fight nausea (sadly, a battle I didn’t always win) was ever present.

Both of us were voracious readers (with extremely divergent tastes–one year, he read Peter Benchley’s “Jaws” cover-to-cover at least three times while en route), although that’s not to say we were always wrapped up in books. I know we complained about the heat, the travel time and the boredom as much as any other kids, and it’s a certainty we engaged in more than our fair share of bickering.

“Mom! Make him get over on his side,” I can practically hear myself yelling even now. Or, “He’s popping his gum in my face!” or, worse, “He stuck his feet up my nose!”

Crossing endless Nebraska one hot July day, I had to use the bathroom so badly I was nearly crying. (Whining? Definitely.) We were off the interstate, and only undulating ribbons of road presented themselves in the shimmering heat for dozens of miles–no service station or town in sight.

My brother capitalized on my tormented state, teasing me by telling me there’d be no place to stop until we reached Colorado.

Finally, with all my will power spent and my bladder threatening to burst, we crested a hill and saw a small gas station not far off. We were going to stop or bust, I asserted.

Relieved at last, I emerged from the grimy little bathroom to see my family laughing.

“Wee Town, U.S.A.” read the station’s sign.

Some road trips are unforgettable.


Wednesday in the park with Mike

During the fleeting days of a Minnesota summer, residents take their pleasures whenever they can, and wherever they choose. For some people this means long, lazy days at a lake; others retreat to campgrounds, whether wooded or by water, and certain families spend dozens of hours at baseball diamonds.

Me? I spend Wednesday evenings throughout June and July at Chautauqua Park, playing in the “Amazing” Worthington City Band’s clarinet section. (And every Monday night is set aside for band rehearsals.)

What’s really amazing: My musical summertime tradition has been maintained for nearly two decades now, and as my three kids have grown and also learned instruments, they’ve joined the band’s ranks as well. My tolerant husband is left to sit among the spectators, after having patiently taken child watch duty during the kids’ younger years–and he, too, occasionally gets into the act as a concert emcee.

My family is only one of many with numerous participants in the local city band; there are multiple examples of instrumentalists with various family connections–parent/child, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and grandkids–you name it.

And two decades of involvement pale in comparison to that of at least a dozen band members, some of whom have been in the band for 40 or more years. The “Amazing” Worthington City Band itself has been serving up summer concerts since 1893, due to the ongoing support of the City of Worthington and loyal audiences.

Since joining the band in 1996, I’ve enjoyed playing under the baton of several directors. Galen Benton was the first, and although he’s largely retired from his directing days, he continues to frequent the band’s tuba section–and will be playing his accordion for the concert’s intermission entertainment tomorrow night.

With Jon Loy’s able direction, the band’s ranks swelled with Worthington High School students, and in July 2011 he led a 55-member contingent to Worthington’s sister city of Crailsheim, Germany, where the band (along with the Great Plains String Quartet) was met with terrific hospitality and appreciation everywhere they performed.

This summer marks the second season with Mike Peterson at the city band’s helm. Peterson retired not long ago from a lengthy career as director of the Fulda High School band, and he brings experience, earnestness and discipline to the job. Like the preceding directors, he’s also been careful not to fiddle with most of the band’s traditions–like the kiddie march that immediately follows intermission, for instance.

As Peterson has said, “When something is working, you don’t want to mess it up.” So children frolicking in the park pause in their antics to follow two teenage band mates (bearing buckets of candy, the children’s ultimate reward) on a meandering course among trees and lawn chairs while the band plays a sprightly tune. And Peterson has followed in Loy’s footsteps, and in those of the directors before them, in starting each concert with “Say It With Music” and closing with “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Having played in the Mankato Municipal Band as a high schooler, what I love about being in the Worthington city band is the feeling of being transported back to my 16-year-old self, when band nights were a break from my summer waitressing shifts and a chance to reconnect with some musical friends and my instrument.

It was also a time to experience the same sort of multi-generational fun I relish here. Never will I forget the first rehearsal at which I sat next to the legendary Leas Schwickert, wondering how I’d ever be able to play “The Stars & Stripes Forever” with the same accuracy and aplomb he displayed.

And there was nothing quite like performing in Mankato’s Sibley Park, with the scent of roses and snapdragons wafting one’s way during concerts.

In Worthington, it’s Lake Okabena and its cooling breezes that beckon on concert evenings. Old-timers tell us the popcorn wagon’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the proceedings, but traditions and music otherwise prevail, allowing the hour to unfold in a comfortably predictable manner.

Let the band play on.

An accidental tourist

Tuesday: my draw as the “carpool mom” for four 14-year-old hockey players.

The round trip to Sioux Falls, S.D., for the boys’ full-throttle day camp meant the intervening hours were mine alone, and I hoped to make the most of them.

With two articles to write, a book to read and an errand to run, there was little doubt seven hours would pass quickly; certainly it was smarter to remain in South Dakota rather than drive over and back twice.

But reality often intrudes, and schedules have a way of magically rearranging themselves as if under the spell of Samantha’s twitching nose in an episode of “Bewitched.”

After scurrying out of the house with my son shortly past 7 a.m. and collecting the other three boys, all seemed to be on course. Once I’d dropped off the largely silent, sore (it was Camp Day 2) foursome at the Scheels IcePlex, I gassed up at a forgettable “C” store along Cliff Avenue before heading to Falls Park, a site I’d briefly visited only once before during a driving rainstorm on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

On Tuesday morning, though, conditions featured a gentle breeze, 68 degrees and a picture-perfect blue sky dotted with cotton candy clouds. Rushing water gushed appealingly over the quartzite cliffs; suddenly I didn’t feel so much like working.

In fact, I was surprised to discover that, despite the idyllic weather, I didn’t feel very good at all. What I felt was sleepy and lightheaded–was it the previous night’s late bedtime? Too much (or too little?) coffee? Never minding the reason, I chose a shady spot in a still sparsely filled lot with a direct view of the falls and, feeling like a vagrant, began reading days-old newspapers I’d brought along before lying back even farther to close my eyes in an effort to recover and get back on my self-imposed track.

Maybe an hour later, I emerged from the vehicle to stroll the grounds, first visiting the well-tended restrooms before walking closer to marvel at the falls.

I perused a few historical markers (relieved at not having been among the Dakota Penitentiary inmates of the 1880s and ’90s who were required to quarry and haul the very stone that was then used to secure them within the prison’s borders–and, hey, wasn’t Frederick Manfred a MINNESOTA writer, not a South Dakota one? Oh, he considered himself a Dakota territory author, the sign helpfully explained) and then climbed the stairs of the observation tower.

What a vista! I could totally see every grouping of Falls Park guests taking selfies!

Upon returning to my van, I noticed a family piling out of another sporting a Louisiana license plate. Dad was first, ball cap, sunglasses and smartphone all in place, followed by two energetic brown-haired daughters, about 8 and 11 years old. Mom brought up the rear, first releasing a three-year-old girl from a car seat before grabbing her own smartphone and trying to catch up.

“This is so cool,” shrieked the 8-year-old, clambering precariously over a quartzite outcropping.

Both she and her older sister gripped smartphones in their hands, not viewing the falls with their naked eyes but rather through their phones’ camera feature as they madly snapped pictures, paying little attention to their rugged path.

“Girls, look out,” urged Louisiana Dad. “There’s a lot of vacation ahead.”

Having my fill of the falls, I drove downtown and, on a whim, walked to the Old Courthouse Museum (“Free!” proclaims an I-90 billboard of the attraction) and immersed myself in Sioux Falls’ origins.

An exhibit addressing pioneer prairie trail hardships (making my trip from Worthington seem like a dream) was eye-opening, and it was terrific to see the extensive exhibit about the “architectural godfather of Sioux Falls,” Wallace L. Dow, who also designed Worthington’s own Historic Dayton House in 1890.

After a delicious lunch (“Try the Number One!”) at Sanaa’s Gourmet Restaurant a few blocks away, I paged through a Sioux Falls visitors’ guide while watching the end of the boys’ ice time.

Four tired teens trooped into the van, all energy melted on the ice. My work still lay ahead, but spending the day as an unintended tourist was so revitalizing I barely noticed the hockey odor filling my contemporary prairie schooner.


Bagging it

Summertime, and the living is easy.

Says who? The living is downright complicated, at least with three active kids who seem to be constantly on the go, whether that’s a trip down the street or to a destination halfway around the world.

This season, our comings and goings are fast and furious, and seldom will all five of our immediate family members be in the same place for very long–or be headed the same direction at any given time.

1. Make a packing list

First up: Sending our 14-year-old eighth grader on a trip to Washington, D.C., with 18 classmates and a few long-suffering adult chaperones. This should be a no-brainer, right? His two older siblings had done this tour in previous years–no challenge.

But wedge in the start of band camp and afternoons filled with driver’s training classes and the time available to plan quickly dwindled.

Add to this our daughter’s two days of section track meet competition within three days and the need to dispatch our college boy to Germany for two months and the fun was just beginning.

2. Roll, don’t fold.

Thank heaven for little girls–or at least teenage girls like my daughter who have already perfected the art of jamming as much clothing as possible into suitcases.

Patiently she sat on the floor of her elder brother’s room, neatly rolling his shirts and pants and arranging them with geometric precision as he tolerated her assertive comments about what he should or shouldn’t include with much more courtesy than he did his mother’s.

3. Know your airline’s baggage fee policy

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” wise people often remind us. But after putting my kid on a bus to the Twin Cities with his battered blue carry-on, only to return home to (finally!) read the fine print in his travel packet, I realized his bag measured at least a full three inches larger than what this particular airline claimed it would accommodate.

Or…could it? We’d used that bag as a carry-on for previous flights without incident, but those flights had been with different airlines. Would he be the one to hold up the entire group, with an oversized piece of luggage that couldn’t be crammed or stuffed into the overhead compartment? Did he have enough money (I doubted it!) to pay a “checked bag” fee on the spot?

My brain worked overtime, landing consistently on worst-case scenarios, until I sent a frantic text message to one of the aforementioned long-suffering chaperones, informing him of the potential dilemma.

“No worries,” he blithely responded. “Now get some sleep.”

Easier said than done. Of course, my fears (and four hours of lost sleep) were all for naught, as his bag passed muster both coming and going without so much as a batted eyelash on the part of a well-groomed flight attendant.

4. Use your personal item wisely.

Planning for two months in Germany, with various weather conditions and clothing needs to anticipate, was trickier than preparing for three days in D.C. And the technological advancements of 2015 make a guy’s backpack take on an entirely different life–not to mention value–than the one I carried with me for a similar journey in 1985.

Camera? Check. Cell phone? Check. Laptop? Check. Charging cords for every possible gadget under the sun? Check, check, check. Whatever happened to Dentyne, a few good paperbacks and a splashy new magazine, huh?

4. Follow the 3-1-1 rule.

The 3-1-1 rule: could this also be loosely interpreted as three kids going multiple places in one summer equals one enormous parental headache?

It was a relief to know the eldest smoothly navigated security and customs (the latter in Amsterdam; “The Dutch were kind to me,” he obligingly shared), was quickly collected at the airport and is underway with his German adventure.

Meanwhile, the youngest survived the whirlwind D.C. trip, safely arrived home and is now alternating between running like the wind and complaining that “there’s nothing to do.” Ah, normalcy.

Still to come: At least four more weeklong camps of different sorts for various kids, one family vacation for four, one 30th college reunion, one college junior to prep for the dorms, one wedding and an ongoing college search for the rising high school senior.

Eh, by the end of the summer, I’ll be a packing pro–or I’ll simply be ready to pack it in.