Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Father, The Myth and Legend: The Twelve Labors of Dad

by Minnie Apolis
(previously published on 6-13-2012 on site) 

I recently finished reading Big Fish, by Daniel Wallace. It is a humorous and warm look at the author's father, but with a twist. It is almost as if the father were a mythological being. He outlines the Three Labors which his father accomplished, one of which was saving a three-year-old girl from a wild dog.

I can be proud because my father also accomplished several labors in his life, twelve in all like the immortal Hercules. So there.
 * * * * * * * * * * * *

ONE- He finished the upstairs. The house my parents originally built was a simple one-story salt box Colonial, with a living room, kitchen, bath, master bedroom, and children's bedroom for the two toddlers. This was a huge improvement over what was basically a small apartment in the city-run housing development after the war. But when a third child was on its way, the one-story had to be exploded into a two-story. I doubt this is ever done nowadays, but basically the roof was cut off and lifted up so a second floor could be inserted under it. You could still the line if you looked closely at the stairway walls.

So anyway, he paid for someone to raise the roof, for plumbers to put in the second bath, for electricians to put in the wiring. Then he went to work plastering and painting the walls, laying rubber tiles on the floors of four rooms, and moving the older children's furniture up there so each would have his and her own bedroom. He threw sand into the plaster so that it would have some texture. He mixed the paint colors himself, always adding a touch of blue no matter what the final color was.

And then he put his foot thru the floor of the unfinished storage room. At that point, there were just the joists and ceiling plaster between the storage room and the master bedroom below it. Well, somehow dad's foot slipped off a board and his leg up to the knee protruded from the bedroom ceiling. Cussing up a storm, he managed to extract himself and go about mixing a batch of plaster to patch the hole. If you looked at the ceiling in the right light, you could barely make out the outlines of where the hole had been.

TWO- He built the garage. It was a beauty. While he forever kidded that the next big storm would tear off the top of the house, no such thing would ever happen to this solidly-built garage. A two-car garage with room for a line of cabinets along the left for large and small tools and supplies, it was roomy in a way that no room of the house ever was.

He went to the library to find a book on how to build a garage. When the inspector came, he thought it looked like an old-time carpenter had done the job. When the outlines of the walls were constructed, us kids and mom all came out to hold an old-fashioned barn raising. It was fun, even without the big feed that was supposed to go along with barn-raisings in the movies.

Anyway, he had some help from a brother to put up the big ceiling beams; those were massive and even my dad's muscle was not enough to control such long beams while trying to nail them, too.

THREE, FOUR and FIVE- Raising a son and two daughters. Doting on them is more accurate. No one grew up to be a doctor or lawyer, but at least we all stayed out of prison.

SIX- He managed to stay married for fifty years to the same lady. Never sent flowers to her, just kept coming home every night for supper, and handed over his paycheck to the bookkeeper of the family.

SEVEN- He worked on the bubble chamber project for the Argonne Lab. His company got the contract to build the magnet for the bubble chamber (the University of Michigan received the contract to build the main unit). This was a huge job, the magnet when complete was about the size of a city block. And precision up the wazoo – the tolerances for each piece were measured in ten-thousandths of an inch.

EIGHT- Fought the good war, you know, that WWII thing. Fixed the fighter planes so that they stayed up in the air and gave the pilots a chance to get their licks in. Got four bronze stars. Never told us kids what those bronze stars were for – oh no, that might seem to be bragging, and anyway the real heroes didn't come back home. I do know that one time he had to hang out the plane and manually crank down the landing gear, which refused to budge otherwise.

NINE- Spoke two languages, he said. Polish and broken English. He was only kidding, his English was pretty good – he rarely had to point at stuff to get what he wanted.

TEN- Teaching all of us kids how to drive. Sure, we had the Drivers' Ed classes. But someone still had to put a family car at risk of scratches and dents and let us practice the parallel parking and Y-turns. And he had to teach Mom, too, ages ago. Now that was a good one. How they managed to stay married thru that, I don't know. He told her to put on the gas, and she did. In reverse, right into some shrubbery.

ELEVEN- He told me he loved me. Telling a family member that you love them often falls into the category of stuff-you-wish-you-had-done-and-now-it's-too-late. Well, he did this one years ahead of the point of imminent death.

TWELVE- He died without complaining to everyone within earshot of every ache and pain. After a lifetime proclaiming that dying was easy, it's living that's hard, now he had to prove it. Dang, don't you hate it when you have to live up to one of your personal mottoes. Went in the hospital on a Thursday, died on Saturday, my that was quick n easy.

Some forgotten book I read described a father's death like this: You know there is that mountain over yonder, looking like it will be there forever. Then one day you look and the mountain is gone.

That's what it is like when a good father dies – the mountain vanishes, it's like it was never there, and only you and your memories are evidence that at one time, there was a beautiful mountain in that spot.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lemonade or Ice Cubes? How are you keeping cool?

By Minnie Apolis
(previously ran on August 2, 2012 on Newsvine site)

Here we are, the first of June already, heading into the dog days of summer, and if you do not have some strategies for keeping cool by now, you're a goner. Especially with the extreme heat and dryness of this summer.

I will start off by sharing some of my personal “favorite tricks” of warding off the heat – broken down into categories – and let you readers chime in with your own.

DRINKS – Nothing like a tall iced tea or lemonade to help you stay hydrated in hot weather. Southern-style sweet tea is optional. Mint is also a key ingredient, having a curious cooling quality. In early America, from colonial times through the 1800's, one treat was sugared mint leaves. Most people grew mint or knew where they could gather the wild variety. Individual leaves were coated in a sugar solution which helped preserve them and turned them into a sweet snack with the afternoon tea. I was presented with a sample at an herbal-themed event some years ago, sponsored by the county parks, and it was a very refreshing treat indeed.

So try adding a touch of mint to drinks or even some vegetable dishes this summer: mint tea is probably the easiest option, but mint can also be added to peas or other veggies. Mint is also an essential ingredient in the mint julep, and trust me, the julep is a very nice refresher during the mid-afternoon break when it is too hot to do anything.

FOODS: A lot of people just stop cooking hot meals, you notice that? More takeout from the groceries or fast-food joints, for one thing. But there are lots of meals that do not require standing by a hot stove. Cold dishes may require only cooking some pasta to mix in with tuna, chicken breast, salad greens, mixed Chinese veggies, etc. And you can make your own version of chef salad, of course, preferably with fresh greens from your own garden.

Food preparation is more comfortable if you ditch the oven and stovetop for the microwave and the slow cooker. A slow cooker doesn't emit nearly so much heat into the kitchen like the stove does. And a slow cooker is pretty much a one-dish meal, just toss everything into the pot -- chicken, veggies, rice, whatever spices you want, and whatever sauce you want or none, and that's it. Throw it in and forget about it.

This brings up the other popular method of food preparation in summer which is cooking out on a grill. Why anyone voluntarily stands by a heat-emitting device for a couple hours in the dead of summer is a bit of a mystery, but there ya go. At least the heat is not trapped inside a room, broasting you while the meat grills. And whoever mans the grills usually gets some perks, usually involving the ingestion of hop-flavored liquids.

THE CAR: Boy do I hate getting into a hot car after work. You're lucky if you can park in a parking structure, where your auto is out of the direct sun. But doing any kind of errand will mean parking in a parking lot or on the street. I have already shared my tip about tossing an old towel over the steering wheel while it is parked. This keeps the sun from heating up your steering wheel to about the temperature of that grill mentioned above. I already have a wheel cover that wraps around it, but even the cover gets pretty warm. Ergo, the towel. Just toss it onto the passenger seat and you're good to go.

I also open the window for at least the first five minutes or so of driving, to get the hot air out of the car. When I feel the AC kicking in, then I can close them again.

BODY HEAT: No not the movie, tho it was a classic, hey? Try holding an ice pack on hot spots when you get home from work or play. Hot spots vary with individuals, but usually that triangle at the base of the neck is a good one to chill. (Drug stores sell reusable ice packs which give years of service; just wash them after use and stick them back in the freezer.) 

I have read of people putting an ice cube in the armpits, and tho it sounds funny it does help. The back of the neck, the forehead, the wrists, the belly are all good targets for cooling. In fact, the plains Indians would dip strips of leather in a cold stream and tie them around the wrists. The reason for that is the pulse points in the wrists are readily cooled this way. On the same logic, avoid wearing most metal bracelets in hot weather.

NO A/C AT HOME? There are places you can go for free where you can cool off. Some cities have cooling centers, but there are other places that one can go where one is cooled as a side benefit. One is the mall, of course, and many of them have places where you can sit near a mini-waterfall or other decorative feature. Going to a movie will get you in an AC-cooled environment for a couple hours at least. Bookstores and other shops may have lectures or readings, free to the public, by authors and authorities in their fields.

Another technique involves fooling the brain. You mentally place yourself in a cold environment. I enjoyed talking to a friend who just returned from a trip to Alaska, and it was very pleasant to gaze on pictures of glaciers and ice floes and the like. So rent a movie about Alaska, or about that disastrous Shackleton expedition, or anything set in winter or Christmas-time. Groundhog Day is a good one.

Flip ahead in the calendar to December and see what that picture is – probably evergreens in snow – or back to January and February. This is where I think the calendar makers have it all backwards. In summer we do not want to look at hot beaches and stuff like that. And in winter when we are freezing our buns off we do not need pictures of more snow and ice and cold stuff. In February is when I would like to look at a tropical beach, thank you.

Hope this brief article holds at least one new tip that you can use.