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You Don’t Have to Know Your History to Celebrate July Fourth -but it’s interesting

Flag Fireworks

Sparklers are typically the “gateway drug” to children’s fascination with fireworks. Diamond Sparklers in Ohio is the sole manufacturer of sparklers remaining in the United States. Every year we celebrate our nation’s birthday with both public and private fireworks celebrations that feature displays that primarily are manufactured in China.

When I was in elementary school I recall that often our lessen plans followed the calendar, which meant that we annually learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln around their birthdays, near Valentine’s day. The classroom bulletin boards would reflect this trifecta with profiles of the presidents stapled to white doilies onto the corrugated paper and surrounded by hearts. To an inattentive student like me this left me with the idea that George Washington (despite chopping down the cherry tree) maybe had a big heart and maybe Abe Lincoln (though honest) appearing pretty dour was a great lover?

My point being, we were not in school over July 4th and therefore Independence Day was never part of the school curriculum. Sure, I grew up knowing it was our nation’s birthday and fondly recall the Bicentennial in 1976. The Bicentennial coincided with a presidential election and the summer Olympiad. Everything from pancake mix to ketchup bottles were emblazoned with some sort of Red White and Blue label or commemorative design. Commercialism being as patriotic as a John Philip Sousa march!

The thing about being a kid is that time is a difficult concept. By the time I got out of elementary school, if you had asked me for a history of the United States, I may have told you that the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, George Washington got off and after planting a plantation at Mount Vernon invited some Indians (yep, didn’t start using the term Native American until I was in high school) over for some corn on the cob and turkey with mashed potatoes after the harvest. Everyone loved him, so he became our first president. This is likely no reflection on my teachers, more of my own mind that tended to wander and as noted earlier a lack of concept of time.

If any others have this warped sense of history, let me share with you that the Mayflower set sail in September of 1620, it was the autumn of 1621 that is denoted as the origin of Thanksgiving to celebrate the first  harvest. George Washington’s great grandfather was not born until ten years later and it was 1656 before he crossed the ocean and settled in Colonial Virginia, he had a son Lawrence, who had a son Augustine who sired George. This makes George third generation living in what would be known as the United States of America, on my mother’s side I myself am just second generation, my grandfather having arrived from Ireland ninety years ago this year. My daughter is currently deciphering a small leather bound calendar he carried as a journal that year. He has noted dancing as a popular activity and when he wrote letters to a particular young lady (not my grandmother) a family he dined with regularly and then hopeful thoughts that another young lady would be at dancing (my eventual grandmother). Not much of his crossing is documented and one gap is explained with his good fortune at having found his diary along the roadside. Police raids and other notations remind us that teenagers around the world aren’t always doing what they are supposed to be up to. So my own maternal side of the family arrived over 300 years after the Mayflower and more than 250 years after Washington’s descendants. To a child, that seems like around perhaps dinosaurs and Moses era which were close, right?

So July Fourth, a time for social gatherings, boating, picnics, parades and mattress sales commemorates what? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. July 2nd of that year Congress voted to declare our independence. It was not signed until August 2nd of that year. It was delivered to Great Britain in November of 1776. You may have noticed that none of these events occurred on the fourth day of the seventh month. Well politicians then, much like now, did not always agree on everything. As the result, it took a couple of days for the Continental Congress to approve the final wording. July 4th commemorates the day that the changes and edits were finally approved.

You may be imagining that this led immediately to annual celebrations, backyard badminton and pool parties. It wasn’t until 1870 that July 4th was commemorated as a National Holiday. You also might be thinking that George Washington was president when all of this occurred. George Washington was not elected president until February 4th of 1789. He was twice unanimously elected by the electoral college to serve four years. If you wonder what his wife Martha wore to the inauguration that took place in New York, you might be surprised to know she did not attend but stayed home to manage Mount Vernon. George was reluctant to accept this newly created position because of how the young nation was divided among partisan lines. A lot has changed, yet much remains the same.

Whether you fly the flag, light fireworks or simply take the day to relax, it’s important to remember that since its inception this country has been a nation of people that come from different places, different belief systems and differing opinions. Yet we all can contribute and it’s a relatively safe place to share ones opinion, even when you don’t agree with your neighbor or perhaps the actions of your government. When hosting an immigrant family for Thanksgiving a number of years ago, the father commented how much he enjoyed our table conversation, as even in a private home gathering with family in his homeland, one could not speak freely for fear of government retribution. He makes his home here now with his wife and son and when his parents come to visit their government holds all of their assets as an assurance they will return. A former employee who went through the naturalization process after graduating from college and whose parents remain as college professors in his native land told me “Despite other countries criticism of the United States, most parents around the world wish that their children could live here.”.

I heard a young man the other day comment “I’m an American but I’m not proud of it.” and I thought about all of the people who had made sacrifices, simply so he could say that. I thought about what might result if he were to publicly utter such a thought in another country. While no place on earth will ever be perfect, the vision of those who took a risk and came and the others who shouldered the work of trying to lay out a plan for how to incorporate and tolerate the desires of such a wide array of opinions is something worth celebrating.

So raise a Coke or grab a beer and celebrate our nations birthday! Make a new tradition with family and friends. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the United States remains in the growing pains of a young country. A tradition for many is a pound cake and Cool Whip  cake decorated with blueberries and strawberries to look like an American Flag. To the young, that’s ALWAYS been a part of July 4th. You can wait until July 5th to let them know that Cool Whip was not invented until 1966. Why spoil a good party?

Cousins July 4th

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Almond Joys (Trick or Treat?) and Other Random Thoughts About Halloween

ninja batman

Candy with coconut in it is not a treat to me. I hate the texture and dislike the taste. “Peter Paul’s Almond Joys got nuts, Peter Paul Mounds don’t.” were the words to their catchy jingle when I was growing up but that didn’t make them taste any better. Those were the candy bars that languished in my bag until it was time to throw them away. Not since the raisin had a less appealing food been dipped in chocolate pretending to be a treat. They are among the most horrifying memories I have of Halloween.

Halloween is the one holiday that holds great memories for me from childhood, college, early married life and right on thru parenthood. While other holidays hold fabulous memories from different eras, there would at times be pressure, disappointment or unrealistic expectations. Even now, with “the kids” grown up, Halloween is the  holiday that best exemplifies the “It’s more fun to give than it is to receive.” mentality that has me slip a glow-stick in my beer bottle and welcome the toddling Disney Princesses and ghoulish tween crowd with distributions from my black cauldron.

I love the crunching of leaves under feet and even enjoy the slightly burnt pumpkin smell when real candles are used in outdoor jack-o-lanterns. I loved the well planned costumes of my youth; a witch, a skeleton, a tree, a cowgirl, an old man. My brother Robert painted eyes on my eyelids for my “trick” when I was a witch and camouflaged my face when I was a tree. My best friend Melanie made an adorable old lady the year I was an old man, though despite her being a few months older than me, her diminutive size had one actual old lady scowl at me with “Aren’t you a little old for this?” and refused to give me any candy. It was my first exposure to ageism, I was probably nine.

I recall that on my eighth grade Halloween I arrived home from the family cabin on a Sunday night after trick or treating time was over. For whatever reason, my brother who was a senior in high school had drove us home and my parents stayed on in Wisconsin until Monday. A neighbor’s friend, a year older than me, was just heading down the street toward home dressed in a Devil costume. She asked if I wanted to go out. I confirmed with my brother it was okay to go out on a rainy Halloween night at 9 pm (a “school night”). Permission granted. That is the wisdom of a 17-year-old, authorizing a 13-year-old to go raise a little hell with a 14-year-old. That was the first of many TP’ing adventures with my friend Heidi, the Devil who is now attending seminary. Next year will be the 40th anniversary of that epic Halloween that launched an amazing friendship. I believe that it was ninth grade that while on our way to a party my lifelong friend Melanie and I took a toy head that was designed for hair styling and makeup applications. We stopped at a house and Melanie pulled her jacket over her head and I pulled the collar up around the neck of the makeup head. When the homeowner arrived at the door with their bowl of candy I said “trick or treat” and then turned and angrily commanded “say something” and smacked the head off into the shrubs next to the front steps. We ran off thinking we had pulled off a spectacular stunt.

I remember going to a radio-station sponsored haunted house in elementary school and not being scared, because I knew that Camp Fire Girls wouldn’t take you someplace you could get hurt. It was my sophomore year in high school that the movie Halloween came out and some of the classmates I went with were so frightened by it that I walked them to their doors that night. Over the years while working with college students I attended Poe readings at the James J. Hill House, took “Haunted bus tours” and attended various haunted houses and barns. I love not so much the “scariness” associated with the holiday but rather the playfulness and childlike fun that it conjures. Perhaps my love for it comes from my brother Bob who let me do his makeup the year he was Alice Cooper. During college he went as Pete Townsend from The Who and even bought a used guitar to smash. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of “Rambob” a prize-winning likeness of Sly Stalone. It’s a holiday where adults can be kids and kids can be whatever they want!

Freshman year in college I was Winnie the Pooh, no there is no “slutty Pooh Bear” costume, it was a gold hoodie sweatshirt with pony tail holders making the ears out of the hood fabric, gold sweatpants and an inside out red T-shirt with “Pooh” in white paint on it. The next year I went as an electrician (my father’s trade) with a pillow in my shirt for a beer belly, a tool belt, hard hat and work boots. I wore Brut aftershave and used an old mascara wand to make a uni-brow and give myself a 5 o’clock shadow. Again, I had missed the memo on slutty costumes. The next year I attended a party wearing tag board camouflaged with markers and covered in leaves, a few additional leaves clipped in my hair. I wore a “Hello My Name is____” adhesive name tag with “George” penned in. Clearly I was George Bush, it was the Reagan years and my political costume was too cerebral for most. Yes, many of the party goers had no idea who our vice president was.

Halloween '87

After college I remember a friend showing up in the college town where I worked, Halloween again fell on a weekend. Twins were in the World Series and my friend (despite being a Wisconsin native) wore my Twins sweatshirt and loads of my grandmother’s sparkly costume jewelry. She was a “Twins Wife”. I wore a ton of makeup, and a black coat dress and carried a basket. When people asked who or what I was, I squirted them with perfume and told them I worked in fragrances at the mall. Horrible costumes but a fun night! My friend went on to have some fabulous Halloween parties of her own! Early in my marriage, arriving from out of town with no costumes my husband ended up wearing my Martha Washington night-cap (that my eldest brother had brought home from his sophomore DC trip) some furry slippers of my mothers and a woman’s house coat. I can still picture his hairy calves walking beneath the glow of the street lights, almost a masculine version of Carol Burnett with the mop. Another year he went with a child’s Bart Simpson costume (one of those one piece step-in type with a tie at the back) attached over coordinating shirt and shorts and a smashed Bart mask worn cock-eyed, so as not to obstruct his actual vision or prevent him from having a beverage. He carried a plastic pumpkin to collect treats in. I kept explaining to people that he was “big for his age”.  Our first Halloween party with Betsy she was 13 months old and a Red Crayon, Jeff went as a Shriner in a meticulously made miniature car that he wore with suspenders over his white shirt and black bow tie. My grandfather’s fez completed the costume and he “motored” about like the Shriners do in parades in their mini cars. It was perfection and sadly I have no photographs of it, just good memories.

Halloween Wizard of Oz

Letting the kids pick what they wanted to be was fun, sometimes costumes were purchased (Harry Potter, a magician, a ninja) but more often than not either Jeff or I made them. Eddie’s first Halloween, he was the Tin Man, while Betsy was Scarecrow to their cousin’s Cowardly Lion and Dorothy. During our years living near campus, the kids typically trick-or-treated among the college students on the 30th. During our years in St. Paul the streets were full of packs of kids, inspiring Eddie to give away the candy he’d received one year when our supply ran out. At our house in Bloomington, we receive few kids because of our street being only an unlit single block. We had three houses in a row of kids who with additional friends went out together, the tradition being to start at former Twin’s player Kent Hrbek’s house, where in addition to Kent being in costume at his fire pit, distributing full-sized candy bars, autographed baseball cards also found their way into treat bags. Eddie got an extra treat one year when Kent asked him to sing when he was dressed as Alfalfa from Our Gang.

When Eddie got invited to a high school party with Betsy while still in middle school we whipped together a Kevin Federline costume quickly, adhering a huge rhinestone to his ear with Super-glue (which seemed like a good idea at the time) he carried a “Bitty Baby” around and referred to it as Jaden James all night. My favorite costume ever for the kids was the year they went as King Arthur and Patsy from Spamalot. It was a family effort and perhaps the last time they trick-or-treated together with a whole band of neighborhood kids, followed by swapping treats in our basement.

Spamalot

Spamalot

The kids eventually went off to college and Betsy spent the final three years there outfitting her room to look like Hogwarts and distributing candy to community kids with her roommate, dressed in the robes of their respective houses. So far this year Instagram tells me that Eddie has been costumed as both a kitty and a puppy. Betsy is back at home this fall and just carved a pumpkin tonight. I look forward to the kids who will stop by on Saturday night and am hopeful that the weather cooperates.

Pumpkin '15

Best wishes for a safe and happy Halloween and may none of your treats contain coconut!

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Common Sense Appears Uncommon – Pedal Pub Edition

Pedal Pub

I will acknowledge that I have never been on a Pedal Pub, the relatively new to Minneapolis group activity that allows for a circle of friends to drink aboard a moving bar that is steered by the bartender. I feel like it was a couple of years ago when licensing was originally granted, about the time that food trucks had a renaissance and micro-breweries became more prevalent. All ideas intended to bring business and fun to the city. I would not object to an evening pedaling about and drinking beer with friends as the scenery changes but honestly the last month or so the activity has taken some weird turns.

Two recent situations with Pedal Pubs have brought to light a big problem in Minnesota. The problem has nothing to do with alcohol, nothing actually to do with Pedal Pubs at all, it has to do with the lack of common sense that exists among the people who choose to comment on these highly publicized stories. Being contrary is apparently the current cool factor. People have experienced so many “gotcha” moments when simply expressing their personal views regarding issues and current events that it seems apparent many people have developed a boomerang mentality of offering a comeback that is in fact the opposite of what one might anticipate. Opposition to what is simply civil behavior or what I knew growing up as “common sense”.

The first Pedal Pub scenario involved a group of grown men ambushing a Pedal Pub with squirt guns while on bicycles. While this might have been amusing for a group of guys in a bachelor party to do to the bachelorette party from the same wedding, this actually was a group of strangers. Some reports indicated there may have been other situations involving this group of overgrown boy pranksters but this one made the news because the Pedal Pub patrons included some off-duty suburban police officers who were unamused and subdued the perpetrators until the Minneapolis Police Department was able to respond. While charges were dropped this week the part I failed to grasp was the squirt gun wielding bandits were wanting to charge those that held them until police arrived. In essence, they wanted to have someone else punished for them being caught while committing their prank. They had a ton of supporters because in this boomerang thinking it’s hip right now to be anti-police, despite most news stories never mentioning the jobs of civilians who are just out with a circle of friends and I’m not certain if they ever told us if the guys with the squirt guns were pizza delivery drivers, bike couriers gone rogue or perhaps a cadre of lawyers. It’s unclear what the reaction might have been if it were a group of plumbers or a gathering of old frat brothers that brought these guys to their knees.

The real irony came from the people responding to the news stories in the online media. People saying “it’s only water” or feeling like police officers were heavy-handed. At the time the passengers were squirted they had no idea if it was acid, urine, water or bleach that had gotten on them. Personally, if I am paying for an evening activity downtown I think that it is fair to make the assumption that I don’t need to bring a change of clothing or be wet and chilled or have to cut my experience short to return home. Would people have commented differently if these were patrons of Orchestra Hall or ticket holders to an evening performance at a theater that had their evening ruined when a group of strangers super-soaked them? Is this a new norm that we should expect when coming out of a church after a wedding or a funeral? What about Twins fans? Can they be sprayed without their consent simply because they are in the city? Are there age restrictions in this new “open-minded” approach? Perhaps squirting babies in strollers or getting the reactions from senior citizens surprised by an unexpected dousing would be a real hoot! Is this what convention attendees should anticipate when visiting Minneapolis? This likely does not help the tourism industry or encourage shopping and dining downtown.

The incident last night involving a Pedal Pub was more serious, it was rear-ended by a vehicle.  All passengers but the driver were sent to the hospital and as of this morning there are three that the news indicated are seriously injured. When the car struck it tipped the Pedal Pub over, initially pinning some of the patrons. The situation is still under investigation, with the driver being tested for impairments and likely evaluated regarding distractions. This morning posters on local sites have been relentless in blaming the Pedal Pub patrons. There are accusations of public intoxication and that they had likely planned to drive home after the event and that the act of pedaling (while somebody not drinking steers) is somehow drunk driving. What? It’s a classic blame the victim situation but people are clamoring to be on the Monte Carlo drivers side. Seriously? I feel like the people offering that sort of response are the cringe-worthy drivers who think I can’t tell they are texting while driving, despite their stuttering speeds, line-straddling and averted eyes. Perhaps a token act of not wanting to throw the first stone because if something that size and that speed were to be in their own path while playing Candy Crush on their phone they may have tipped it over too.

Basically what I got out of today’s posts were a call to get Pedal Pubs off the road, leading me to think maybe farm implements too and for sure the Amish who make it necessary to actually look through your windshield while in the driver seat. So few are willing to take responsibility for their own actions anymore and somehow feel redemption by not holding others accountable for their own poor decisions.

Two different evenings, with two different sets of friends who ventured out to enjoy each others company, pump some money into the economy and relax with a novel activity. One evening intentionally ruined by a group of grown men without the capacity to pull off a prank without being caught and another evening unexpectedly resulting in bodily harm, time out of work, panic and fear for the injured and those concerned about them.

I don’t like this new paradigm where people want to defend the “rights” of people to “express themselves” with squirt guns, it’s wasteful of time and resources and lacks any semblance of Minnesota Nice. I shake my head in sadness at the thought that rather than feel for the victims or acknowledge at least that what happened on a Minneapolis bridge last night was a tragic accident that some would rather place blame on those hurt and set low expectations for drivers because it somehow makes them feel better.  Eyes on the road and your rear-view mirror too, it’s apparently a free for all out there and when you are on the receiving end of someone’s intended or unintended harm, it’s somehow going to be your fault because common sense is no longer common.

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