Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Sunday Morning at Spadoville

Spadoman's back yard on a late November morning, 2009.

What a beautiful morning. The early light seemed to stay gray and muted for hours. I said to myself, “Hey, you idiot, why don’t you look out the window?” When I finally did, I saw a this thin blanket of white covering the grass. Then I went to the NOAA weather site and it told me that there were to be some flurries and mostly cloudy skies today. Well, the flurries were heavy enough to cover the grassy areas, the bird feeders, the trampoline and the swing set with snow.

That’s okay I guess. I’ve been having a lot of luck with the prospect of not determining if the weather is good or bad. Weather just “Is”, and I accept that. I think about the plans I have for today and wonder if I can still do what I wanted to do despite the weather. Thing is, I had no plans for today, at least nothing that I was gonna get done or wanted to do. It’s a lazy relaxing Sunday, the last day of a long weekend.

You may question my ability to have a long weekend since I am retired, or at least haven’t worked for wages for quite some time. I live on a fixed income. But it is still a long weekend. Store hours change, my spousal unit is home and doesn’t work on weekends or holidays, friends call, mail service has some days off, banks and post offices are closed and since this particular long weekend included Thanksgiving, that meant an overload of advertising flyers in the “free” shopper papers that get hung on the little hook at the front of my street side mail box.

I didn’t do any shopping for Christmas gifts, which is what the Black Friday hype is all about. But I did make a couple of decisions over this long weekend. Pretty big decisions I might add. You see, I haven’t put up Christmas decorations or a Christmas tree in eighteen years. I decided to put up a tree this year. And to add to that, since my daughter and her boyfriend came over for Thanksgiving dinner and brought the back pack mounted leaf blower and got up on the roof and cleaned out my rain gutters, I decided I would put a string of lights up along the whole front of the house, about 64 feet worth. One continuous string of colored lights. The C-9’s, the big ones. Not digital, not mini, not icicle strands, not anything but one long string of lights.

Besides, isn't the tree part of Christmas the part the Pagans started? I guess when they "lit them up" it was by burning them for heat and not to decorate. Who knows anyway? I certainly don't believe everything I read whether it is in a bible or a newspaper.

The tree will be a fresh one. The local American Legion is selling trees this year from a local grower. With all I said in the last post about buying from local farmers and growers, it seems to make sense to get a Christmas tree that way as well. Instead of going out and buying one that I cut myself from a local grower, I’ll buy one that is already cut. That will raise some money for the Legion which does some good stuff with their donations. Of course when I mentioned to my friend that I was going to put up a tree, he told me not to buy one because he has a guy that will get me one. That’s funny. I used to live in Chicago. There was always someone that could get you something one way or the other.

Since I haven’t put up a tree in eighteen years, I don’t have ornaments of decorations of any kind. So, I decided to ask the Grandkids to help me string popcorn and cranberries, an old time honored tradition somewhere I am told, and make construction paper chains of red, green and ivory colored paper glued into connecting circles. If we come across, or make, some ornaments, we’ll use them and start collecting from scratch.

Construction paper chains like this will be festooned over our Christmas tree.

Of course we’ll have Harold, the angel, sitting on top when all is said and done. I’ll be reposting the Harold story again this year later in December. I’ll also repost the story about a Christmas past in our lives here at Spadoville.

This all sounded so good. People were pretty happy. Until I slipped and fell down the stairs of the deck yesterday morning when I attempted to fill the bird feeder with a fine cardinal mix of seeds. There was frost and I didn’t pay attention to it. I slipped and my legs went out from under me. For some reason, a lucky reason, I turned on my side and when I fell, I hit my right elbow and shoulder and jammed them pretty good. If I had allowed my legs to fly up and my fat arse to go down, I’m sure I would have injured my back and maybe even my head!

Ibuprofen and Tylenol are doing the trick right now. But it hurts and has slowed down any creativity with regards to Christmas trees, Christmas lights or anything else that requires the use of my right arm. I had planned on working on some craft projects since it was this long weekend.

For those that may not know the story, we lost our oldest daughter in a car wreck in 1991. Ever since then, we have muddled through any holidays, birthdays, anniversary days and celebrations in our household. So, this decision to put up a tree and lights again is epic. I can’t tell why I want to do it now, but I satisfy myself by saying that it is just the right time to try it again.

So, that’s part of what’s going on here at my place. Hows things witchoo?

Peace to all.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Only the Good Friday, November 27, 2009

Maple Leaf Orchard, Spring Valley, Wisconsin

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that man does lives after them, the "Good" is oft interred with their bones.....

Marc Antony, From his famous speech at Caesar’s funeral.

I think that’s right. Over at the coffee shop, in the mornings, some of the guys might be talking about someone. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Sometimes they talk about that “evil that men do”. Not too often do I hear, or speak for that matter, about some ”Good” that someone has done. Mostly because when people do “Good”, they are humble and silent about their deeds. Most people that serve others don’t do it for the accolades, they do it because their heart tells them to act on a matter.

This is the case with the Maple Leaf Orchard in nearby Spring Valley, WI. Mark and Sue Christopher bought this beautiful piece of land in the mid 1980’s and started planting trees, apple trees, pear trees, maple trees. By the mid 1990’s, the fruit was coming full force. The rolling hills and wooded landscape among farm fields of corn make a pretty site in any time of the year, but Fall, and harvest time is the best. The sunlight on the apples, the ones not yet picked, and the colors of pumpkins, squash, yellows and reds of the fruit, amber glow of the honey and maple syrup just blend together and make a pallet unlike any artist could create.

A long row of boxed apples. Many varieties to choose from.

What’s really “Good” about Maple Leaf Orchard is the fact that the Christophers’ choose to share their harvest with the local food shelf. Every week, on Wednesday, I go out to the orchard with a friend. His name is Nick. Nick drives, I go along for the ride and help where I can. We pick up 150 pounds, that’s 30 five pound bags, of first quality apples, and take them to River Falls to be added to the food shelf. Mark tells us that he will do this until he closes down for the Winter in January. The orchard also sponsors school field trips. Students are shown how honey and maple sap for making syrup is harvested. They have a great pumpkin patch, and are generally "Good" neighbors.

A display of squash and potatoes along with cookbooks.

Other places donate to the food shelf as well. Individuals, large stores, small stores, and people give of their time. People use their vehicles and gas to bring donations. It is a “Good” thing. When I mentioned to Sue that I was going to write a story about the Orchard and how they unselfishly give the food away, her first reaction was, “No”. She didn’t want publicity about it because to her and Mark, it was the right thing to do.

Maple Syrup, Honey, Jams and Jellies.

Since we started picking up the apples, over a month ago, I started buying apples and pears. At first, it was just a few. I had to try them out. I tell you, there is nothing like a fresh picked piece of fruit grown in the valley, cooled by nature and flavored by the sun, rain and soil. Now when I go, I am getting bags full of Honeycrisp variety apples and Parker variety pears. I’ve also tried other types of apples. Greening, Jonathan, Sweet 16, Connel and Cortland. Every morning at breakfast, a few apples are cut up and the wedges served along with cold cereal, oatmeal and toast. Everyday, the little dishes are empty. Mrs. Spadoman and eldest daughter take some fruit to work for lunch and snacks. I tell you I can’t keep that stuff in the house!

Apples ready to pick, late in the season.

Heavily laden with apples.

Now, I bought some Yukon Gold potatoes, and I served them for the Thanksgiving dinner I prepared. I’ve made soups with them and just sliced and fried them. The red spuds are “Good” too! And nothing compares to the slices of freshly cut apple dipped in caramel sauce warmed up in a hot water bath on the stove. We even hand chop some peanuts and dip the apple slice oozing with caramel into them. YUM!

A sign right for the time.

The sign above has "Good" meaning. Buying fresh from local farmers and growers benefits the community and provides healthy alternatives to processed canned foods. The Land Stewardship Project that The Christophers' are a part of has more information about how supporting local farms helps the economy and has many ecological benefits. All "Good".

Maple Leaf Orchard also harvests Maple sap and hence Pure Maple Syrup. They have bee hives and produce Top Quality Honey. Mark presses Apple Cider as well and it is delicious. They have home made jellies and jams, berries to pick when they are in season and a large pumpkin patch. They produce the sweet pie pumpkins for making fresh pumpkin pie. (I made two for Thanksgiving).

Some of the Grandkids with Na and Papa, oh, and the scarecrow!

All in all, it was quite a find to get out into the countryside and buy from a local farm instead of buying produce that has been in storage for months after being shipped from thousands of miles away. And it is a “Great” thing, rather than just “Good”, that Mark and Sue Christopher give away some of their profit to the food shelf. They set an example that I am now more aware of.

The front part of this large shed is the store. Sorting, bagging of apples and other tasks are done in the rest of the building.

This is the “Good” I find today. And the practice of looking for “Good” has made me see more “Good” amidst a world that can be most terrible at times. Look for the "Good" around you. See it, notice it, learn from it and above all, practice it. It seems to be worth the effort. Posting Only the Good on Friday is a brainstorm of Shelly's at This Eclectic Life. And we appreciate her great ideas!

Peace to all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Top Quality Wooden Heirloom Snowshoes

A pair of wooden heirloom quality snowshoes.

Over the years I have been making Native American Influenced Folk Art in the way of Dream Catchers, Gourd Rattles and Hand Drums. I also make a traditional wooden snowshoe using an old woodland Indian weaving pattern. This post is about the snowshoes I make.

These snowshoes are made of traditional Canadian white ash wooden frames and woven with a tubular nylon material that looks like rawhide when varnished, but is stronger, lighter and less susceptible to sunlight, rodents and moisture than rawhide. I do art work on these frames sometimes. Wood burning of Wolf, Bear or Bobcat and Mountain Lion tracks, woven beads into the webbing, paint schemes and inlaid stones are some of the ways I’ve made each pair of snowshoes unique. The pictures will show some examples of the decoration.

I’ve been making snowshoes for over twenty years. At first, I had jigs set up to bend the wood into the shape I needed. The ash would come in long one inch square sticks. I’d soak them in the lake by attaching a couple of large stones at each end and submersing them. I’d steam the wet wood in a long box made out of plywood. When pliable, I’d attach the frames to the jig and slowly bend the wood into shape and fasten the ends with rivets or nuts and bolts. This painstaking process was made much simpler when a couple of Canadian snowshoe frame manufacturers sold the assembled frames for far less than I could buy the raw wood.

So, this post is my one and only Etsy page, so to speak. If a pair of authentic heirloom quality snowshoes is of interest to you, or if you have any questions, let me know via e-mail. You can find the contact information on my profile. A pair of these fine showshoes make a very special gift to someone you admire. Each pair is one of a kind. Now you know what I do with some of my spare time. I don’t consider myself an artist. That’s for you to decide.

This is the text of the flyer I use:

Genuine Ojibway Style Snowshoes
Strong, Durable, Long Lasting
Beautiful Heirloom Quality

These are woodland snowshoes. Perfect for use in the woods or out in open country. The pointed toe moves brush and twigs to the side so you don’t get hung up. With the narrow front end, the wide part of the snowshoes “nest” together to allow you to take a more natural step. No more walking with your feet wide apart.

The Canadian ash wooden frames are durable and long lasting. The nylon webbing is also durable and has excellent breaking strength. Unlike rawhide, the nylon material doesn’t absorb moisture, so the webbing won’t stretch when you use the snowshoes in wet damp snow. The nylon is also impervious to the UV rays of the sun and the rodents don’t like nibbling on nylon like they tend to do with rawhide. When varnished, the snowshoes take on an amber glow and look just like rawhide lacing.

They come in three sizes. They are used according to your weight, not your shoe size. Bindings, sold separately, can adjust to any shoe or boot size. E-mail or call about sizes and prices.

Each pair of snowshoes comes varnished with 4-5 coats of exterior top quality spar varnish and can stand up to the extremes of cold and wetness. Maintenance might include a coat of varnish once every other year, depending on use.

Snowshoes can be decorated with paint, wood burned with wolf, bear or Bobcat and Mountain Lion tracks, for example. I can also weave beads into the webbing or inlay stones or gems into the wood. Wood burning can also include initials. All decorating is slightly extra. Some people buy snowshoes for decorating in a cabin or rustic theme in their home, or to personalize them in such a way as to make them a unique one-of-a-kind pair.


E-mail or call and tell me what you want. Plain pair of snowshoes without decoration art work or bindings start at $195.00. If they need to be shipped, remember, they are oversize and shipping via UPS or USPS is around $35.00 a pair to anywhere in the lower 48 United States. No Shipping or Handling charges for local pickup.

Bindings I sell are $40.00 per pair. I have to order them. They sell some cheaper ones at Cabella’s, Gander Mountain, Dick’s or Joe’s Sporting Goods. They also sell some that are more expensive. The kind I have are black neoprene straps and stay limp in very cold weather. The snow does not stick to neoprene like it does with leather bindings.

Any questions, Call me at (715) 209-0241 or E-mail

And here are some pictures:

Snow Camo. This pair made for a wintertime deer hunter in Minnesota.

One of my little helpers.

A set of frames painted and ready for webbing. The webbing was dipped in colors to match the paint and came out with a random pattern. This pair was given away as a silent auction item at a fund raiser.

Raw wooden frames partially laced.

Lacing complete and ready for varnish.

Wolf Tracks wood burned into the frames.

The varnishing process.

One coat of varnish applied. The snowshoes will darken and take on an amber glow a few weeks after the last coat of varnish is put on. I usually do five coats of varnish. This pair features Bear Tracks.

Done in Green Bay Packer colors for the ultimate football fan. I can do pretty much any team color combo.

Can't forget the Packer's logo.

Completed pair on display. Inlaid stone at the tip on this pair.

Another completed pair with bindings attached. The latest bindings are the same Neoprene material, but black in color like in the photo above, not red as shown.

Snowshoes I made for the Grand kids hung on the wall in my old shop in Ashland, WI, along with other craft work.

Hung and waiting for the varnish to dry between coats.

So there you have it. My sales pitch and humble bragging for this year. Well, I will do another post and feature some of the drums, rattles and dream catchers I make. I'll mention the coffee again too.

Joe Spado
(715) 209-0241

Friday, November 20, 2009

Only the Good Friday, November 20, 2009

Just a nice picture to get us started.

The weather sure has been comfortable these past couple of weeks. At least for the climate I live in, not to have snow and cold winds by now makes it comfortable. Comfortable for the pocketbook. I’ve kept the thermostat down as daytime highs are up near fifty degrees Fahrenheit, (I mention that it is Fahrenheit for my British friends, they can do their own calculations to Celsius), and that is saving my money on the monthly power bill. Comfortable clothing. I haven’t had to bundle up with heavy boots and layers of clothing. And comfortable driving. No ice and/or snow on the roads means fewer accidents, better fuel mileage and safer driving overall.

These are all “Good” things about the weather. But that doesn’t mean to say that if it were the opposite it would be bad. The weather is what we get. It can be predicted to an extent, so you might know or have an idea of what to expect, but it is what it is. To some life form, some part of the natural world, weather is helpful and the conditions are needed. Like the saying goes if it’s blustery and raining, “Nice day if you’re a duck.”

The ducks like that wet gloomy windy weather. I don’t know why. I don’t like it so much if I had planned on riding my motorcycle, but I like it plenty if I had planned on being at home cooking or baking. Maybe it’s what you have planned for any particular day that makes the weather “Good” or bad.

Life is like that as well. The best laid plans are to have a job and earn enough money to feed, clothe and shelter yourself and the members of the family. Like the weather, conditions sometimes become unpredictable and the climate at work might change abruptly sending the family budget into a tailspin. The non ducks have a much harder time keeping the mouths fed. Others do okay.

Speaking of “Good”, this is Friday, and it is then Only the Good Friday. The day to post only about something “Good”. This brainstorm from Shelly at This Eclectic Life is a “Good” idea. It keeps people seeking out and writing stories about “Good” things that are happening in our world. On Facebook, the sometimes hated, sometimes loved daily social internet site, many have adopted this idea of posting something you are thankful for every day. It started a while ago. People who do it are to keep it up until Thanksgiving.

I’m sure there are other places and other sites where people are trying to stay upbeat. Especially with the economy slow to recover hitting hard on many people. Not that they want to be rich, but they want basic human needs, and without work to earn money, these basic needs vanish. In the words of a song done by The Blues Brothers called Shotgun Blues, the lines read:

Hard to gamble, when you lose every bet

Hard to save money when you’re twenty years in debt

That last one says a lot. Most people who are low to middle on the food chain of life have a time payment for something, or many things. The car, appliances, credit cards. And the house payment mortgage or rent is monthly. The money is accounted for when it is made and everyone seems to be one paycheck away from the possibility of starvation.

So far, this post sure hasn’t said much that could be construed as “Good”. I’m getting to that. I’ve been hanging out at the local food shelf. I’ve seen a lot of really “Good” things happening. Volunteers hauling donated groceries into the building and helping elderly and infirmed people cart the grocery bags to their ride back home. “Good” people giving these rides to and from the food shelf.

I’ve been seeing local merchants giving food donations. Corporate giants like Walmart makes regular donations. There is a local orchard that has been giving over 150 pounds of apples in five pound bags regularly every week. Plain folks drop off donations all the time. I cannot even imagine how much courage it must take for a proud Mother or Father to go to the food shelf to shop for groceries. To bare their soul on a form just to eat. But the food shelf is available.

In some countries, and I’m sure in some places right here in our own country, there is no food shelf. And for some, the pride within keeps people from asking for food, especially within the ranks of the elderly who have a different frame of mind about a helping hand. They may not accept what they call handouts. You may have heard of elderly people who eat dog food. Myth? I don’t know. Pride can make us do crazy things.

It is a very “Good” thing that we have food shelves. It’s not so good that there might be a few people who take advantage of it and get more than they need or cheat the system altogether. But since I am not the police, I don’t judge those that are there getting groceries. Everyone has their reason for asking for food and none of their reasons are my business. I don’t expect people who are wearing Nike shoes to sell their shoes and buy a cheaper brand to buy groceries.

I am suggesting here today to do some “Good” for your local food shelf and for yourself. If you are able, donate food or money. If your community doesn’t have a specific food shelf, find out if any of the churches help people out and donate there. Donate some time. Donate at the homeless shelters, the battered women shelters, any place that shows a need. It does help those in need and it helps you to feel “Good”.

And that’s my “Good” story today. Do “Good”, be “Good”. Become a “Good” member of your own community by helping others. We can’t feed everyone who is starving all over the world, but we can do what we can and it starts at home.

Peace to all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Frozen Tundra

The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Lambeau Field, the stadium where the Green Bay Packers professional NFL Football team plays their home games is considered Hallowed Ground for most Wisconsinites, and for Packer fans all over. I've driven by the place a few times in my life on trips passing through or heading over to the city of Green Bay, WI, but I have never been inside. I had an opportunity to attend a game there this past weekend, courtesy of my Brother-in-Law, Nick.

Nick was a season ticket holder since way back when the Packers played a few "home" games in the old County Stadium at Milwaukee. They started playing the entire season of home games in Green Bay in 1995. The ticket holders for the Milwaukee games had the option of attending a couple of games per year in Green Bay as season ticket holders. Nick still has his tickets, and he invited us to meet him in Green Bay and see the Packers play the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.

The Dallas Cowboys doing their pre game stretching on the field.

The odd thing about the Green bay NFL Franchise is that they are from a small town as compared to most teams being from a larger metropolitan area. They are also a publicly owned team and don't have a wealthy business person at the helm of the team. This day and age, with an NFL franchise being sold for about a Billion dollars, this scenario of ownership is rare indeed.

Goal line close up action when the Packers scored.

The stadium itself seats 72,601 fans. The day we went, attendance was announced at around 70,000. The seating is a traditional bowl shape and the seats are benches. Everyone, except those in the sky boxes, high above the general seating area, sits in this symmetrical bowl. It looked to me as if every fan has a good view of the field. Nick's seats were only eleven rows up and right near the end zone. You couldn't see all the details without binoculars, but generally speaking, we could see every play. What you didn't see was shown on large TV screens at each end of the stadium. These behemoth screens are called Jumbotrons and I believe developed by Sony.

Cowboys Quarterback, Tony Romo, being sacked for a loss by the formidable Green Bat defense.

I like football. Green Bay is not my favorite team, but to be able to see a game in this venue made me a fan for the day. Besides, I dislike the Dallas Cowboys enough to cheer for the team playing them, even if it is the Packers. I've only attended four other professional football games in my life prior to Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Three in Chicago watching the Bears many years ago, and one in Minneapolis when the Vikings played the Bears in more recent times of my life.

Statue of Vince Lombardi, a former championship winning coach of the Packers stands at the entry to Lambeau Field.
I took a few pictures and I've posted them here. It was a thrill to be at this historic stadium at least once in my life. I appreciate Nick for inviting us. A good time was had by all as the Green bay Packers beat the Cowboys with a very good defensive showing. The final score was 17-7, with Dallas's seven points coming with only 38 seconds of time remaining on the clock.

Hope everyone has a great day, today and everyday.

Peace to all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Only the Good Friday, November 13, 2009

Nothing like the photo of a cute Grandkid to start off a "Good" post.

I've been fortunate over the years to still be upright. That's "Good" in and of itself. But I have struggled a lot with my attempt to corral my diabetes. I've had periods of time when I've done well as well as periods of time when there has been no control at all. Today, I'm feeling motivated and inspired and that's "Good". It won't help me live forever, but it will make me feel better emotionally and physically while I'm still here. You see, my goal is to live until I die, not just be alive until I die.

So today, for a Only the Good Friday post, a theme started by Shelly Tucker at This Eclectic Life, I'm going to post a recipe for an easy to fix dish that is healthy and "Good". The recipe is in a narrative style, no ingredient lists, baking time etc. Hope that doesn't rattle anyone. If you need a regular Better Homes and Gardens type recipe, let me know, I'll provide one.

Have a great day and find some "Good" in your life today.

Crustless Quiche

Okay, I've eaten myself into a sugar based high that'll have me crashing down to a tired mass laying on the sofa. I'm looking down and can't see my toes. It's time to stop this nonsense and make something good and healthy for myself.

Today, I will make a nice light Crustless Quiche. I say crustless, because I don't need any more pie shell pastry, and a good quiche, made this way, without crust, holds together just as well. For the Diabetic, no crust means no sugared larded flour and therefore less of those dangerous type of carbohydrates.

It's very easy. I use a glass or ceramic deep dish pie pan. I spray it with Pam or wipe it down with Olive Oil and set it aside.

I take eggs, I use between nine and a dozen eggs. I break six of them into a blender. I take the other three to six and separate the yolks from the whites. There are many methods of doing this. I use the shell to shell method because if I miss a bit of yolk, it's no big deal with this recipe. I put the whites and the whole eggs in a blender. I do this to just cut down on some of the calories and the cholesterol.

I also take some cheese. I like to use Swiss, but I also use Muenster. Use any kind you want. Use about an ounce, maybe two ounces tops. Put that in the blender with the eggs. I use soy milk. You can use regular skim, 1%, 2% or Whole milk if you want. If your counting calories, Skim is best. If you are counting carbs, use the soy milk. I like the West Soy brand of Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk. I use about a Cup or Cup and 1/2 of the Milk and pour it into the blender. I find that using soy milk over cows milk is not any different in taste, especially in baking, and gives me health benefits. I also use soy milk on my morning bowl of cereal.

This is the product I use.

I mix on high for a few minutes. It chops up all the cheese and fluffs up the egg and milk mixture. I set this aside and go back to my pie pan.

I use a lot of different concoctions, but with the Swiss or Muenster cheese, my favorite is to use fresh spinach, thinly sliced onions and fresh mushrooms, sliced. I like Portobello mushrooms, but use any kind you want. Simply cover the bottom with sliced mushrooms and put the sliced onions on top of them. Take the spinach and pile it on top of the onions and 'shrooms. This is all fresh, not sautéed or steamed, but raw fresh veggies.

Now, pour the mixture from the blender over the stuff in the pie pan. Try to make sure everything is covered. Push the spinach down into the liquid as you pour it into the pie pan.

In a preheated oven set at 325 degrees, place the pie pan in and watch it. Go check it every ten minutes or so to see if the the center is still liquid. Check with a toothpick in the center, and when it come out clean, the quiche is done.

Take it out of the oven, put it on a rack to cool down a bit. Slice into pie slices and serve. Great with fresh fruit. In Winter, apples and pears slices, maybe a few berries and banana. If you want, sprinkle a little grated cheese on top just before you take it out of the oven.

This is low carb, very low carb. Also low fat. You only used a little cheese and a negligible amount of soy milk. You can eat mushrooms, onions and spinach all day without harm and you only use six whole eggs. That's 1 egg per serving when you slice it into six pieces. No crust, no fat.

Use your imagination and make one with a can of black beans, onions and garlic. (I use those green chiles chopped up in this one) Try the Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese with that. Serve it with salsa and a dollop of low fat sour cream. Or go with other veggies and combinations. Make them up, just use the same procedure for making it crustless and you'll use less calories and be more healthful. Broccoli/Cauliflower, or green pepper and onion. Roasted Red Peppers. If you use a root veggie like carrots or potatoes, you may want to par boil them a little to take the crunch off of them.

This dish is a meal when served with fruit and/or a small salad. It is very low in calories and low in carbohydrates and fat.

Here is some information about the Soy Milk I use and Regular Milk. Regular milk has a minimum of 11.3 grams of Carbohydrates per Cup for whole milk. Skim is higher, with 11.9 grams per Cup. Soy milk is much lower, west Soy Organic unsweetened, like the kind in the picture, has only 5 grams Per Cup, four of which are fiber. Much of the carbs in regular milk is from sugars. Once again, a big difference on how the different types of carbohydrates affect your blood sugar. This is great information for the diabetic who is trying to lower overall blood sugar.

So, to recap, use eggs, but make some of them yolk less. Use Soy Milk instead of regular milk. Use fresh vegetables and a little cheese instead of a box of Velveeta, and bake this without a crust in a glass or ceramic pie pan. You’ll make a great breakfast, lunch or dinner meal, low in fat and calories and good from the standpoint of glycemic control.

This will get you started on that after focus of eating better overall and losing a few pounds before the holidays. Add a bit of exercise and a few meals per week like this and you have the start of a few pounds slipping away from your body and plenty of energy as the weeks go by.

What’s “Good” about this , at least for me, is that I am thinking about doing something to help myself out health-wise. It also tastes “Good”, and is “Good” for you in many ways. I’ve had a terrible stomach flu all week since last Saturday. I went to the doctor yesterday to find out I have some kind of bug that must run its course. This morning, (and most of last evening), I have felt great, finally. Having lost my appetite while being sick, I have a “Good” start on losing a few pounds and working on my own health, the most pressing problem for me has been my blood sugar control as I am a diabetic. So, this feels “Good”, and it’s exceptionally “Good” that I am doing something about my health.

Sorry I didn't take pictures. I know I need to get better about this as a picture of the bubbly quiche would say a thousand words. Let me know if you try it, and for sure let me know if you liked it. If you have questions, e-mail me or ask in comments.

Peace to All.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009

And those that are serving their Family, their Community and their Country today.

In remembrance of Veterans day 2009, I came across this speech delivered at the Truman Library by retired Major General Robert Scales. I’m not sure what the event was that he was speaking at, but I read his speech and much of what he says has answered many questions for me that I have struggled with over the years trying to figure out my emotions pertaining to being a Veteran.

I have highlighted the phrases and paragraphs that have important meaning to me personally. Many of the Veterans I have talked with feel much like this after serving in Vietnam.

Today, I will attend a small presentation at the Meyer Middle School in River Falls, WI where my 6th grade Granddaughter attends. It is at her invitation that I go there. I am honored to be asked by anyone to attend a Veterans event and especially honored to be asked by one of my Grandchildren.

Peace to all. And the best of days to all Veterans who have served, and to all active duty personnel serving their family, community and country.

Truman Library - 12 September 2009

Speech by Major General Robert Scales USA (Ret) at Truman Library

Mr. Skelton, Mr Cleaver, distinguished guests and, most importantly, fellow veterans. What a great thrill it is see my comrades in arms assembled here so many years after we shared our experiences in war.

Let me give you the bottom line up front: I'm proud I served in Vietnam
Like you I didn't kill innocents, I killed the enemy; I didn't fight for big oil or for some lame conspiracy. I fought for a country I believed in and for the buddies who kept me alive. Like you I was troubled that, unlike my father, I didn't come back to a grateful nation. It took a generation and another war, Desert Storm, for the nation to come back to me.

Also like you I remember the war being 99 percent boredom and one percent pure abject terror. But not all my memories of Vietnam are terrible. There were times when I enjoyed my service in combat. Such sentiment must seem strange to a society today that has, thanks to our superb volunteer military, been completely insulated from war. If they thought about Vietnam at all our fellow citizens would imagine that fifty years would have been sufficient to erase this unpleasant war from our conscientiousness. Looking over this assembly it's obvious that the memory lingers, and those of us who fought in that war remember.

The question is why? If this war was so terrible why are we here? It's my privilege today to try to answer that question not only for you, brother veterans, but maybe for a wider audience for whom, fifty years on, Vietnam is as strangely distant as World War One was to our generation.

Vietnam is seared in our memory for the same reason that wars have lingered in the minds of soldiers for as long as wars have been fought. From Marathon to Mosul young men and now women have marched off to war to learn that the cold fear of violent death and the prospects of killing another human being heighten the senses and sear these experiences deeply and irrevocably into our souls and linger in the back recesses of our minds.

After Vietnam we may have gone on to thrilling lives or dull; we might have found love or loneliness, success or failure. But our experiences have stayed with us in brilliant Technicolor and with a clarity undiminished by time. For what ever primal reason war heightens the senses. When in combat we see sharper, hear more clearly and develop a sixth sense about everything around us.

Remember the sights? I recall sitting in the jungle one bright moonlit night marveling on the beauty of Vietnam . How lush and green it was; how attractive and gentle the people, how stoic and unmoved they were amid the chaos that surrounded them.
Do you remember the sounds? Where else could you stand outside a bunker and listen to the cacophonous mix of Jimmy Hendrix, Merle Haggard and Jefferson Airplane? Or how about the sounds of incoming? Remember it wasn't a boom like in the movies but a horrifying noise like a passing train followed by a crack and the whistle of flying fragments.

Remember the smells? The sharpness of cordite, the choking stench of rotting jungle and the tragic sweet smell of enemy dead.

I remember the touch, the wet, sticky sensation when I touched one of my wounded soldiers one last time before the medevac rushed him forever from our presence but not from my memory, and the guilt I felt realizing that his pain was caused by my inattention and my lack of experience. Even taste is a sense that brings back memories.

Remember the end of the day after the log bird flew away leaving mail, C rations and warm beer? Only the first sergeant had sufficient gravitas to be allowed to turn the C ration cases over so that all of us could reach in and pull out a box on the unlabeled side hoping that it wasn't going to be ham and lima beans again.

Look, forty years on I can forgive the guy who put powder in our ammunition so foul that it caused our M-16s to jam. I'm OK with helicopters that arrived late. I'm over artillery landing too close and the occasional canceled air strike. But I will never forgive the Pentagon bureaucrat who in an incredibly lame moment thought that a soldier would open a can of that green, greasy, gelatinous goo called ham and lima beans and actually eat it.
But to paraphrase that iconic war hero of our generation, Forrest Gump, life is like a case of C Rations, you never know what you're going to get because for every box of ham and lima beans there was that rapturous moment when you would turn over the box and discover the bacchanalian joy of peaches and pound cake. It's all a metaphor for the surreal nature of that war and its small pleasures... ..those who have never known war cannot believe that anyone can find joy in hot beer and cold pound cake. But we can.

Another reason why Vietnam remains in our consciousness is that the experience has made us better. Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing for war as a self improvement course. And I realize that war's trauma has damaged many of our fellow veterans physically, psychologically and morally. But recent research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by behavioral scientists has unearthed a phenomenon familiar to most veterans: that the trauma of war strengthens rather than weakens us (They call it Post Traumatic Growth).

We know that a near death experience makes us better leaders by increasing our self reliance, resilience, self image, confidence and ability to deal with adversity. Combat veterans tend to approach the future wiser, more spiritual and content with an amplified appreciation for life. We know this is true. It's nice to see that the human scientists now agree.

I'm proud that our service left a legacy that has made today's military better. Sadly Americans too often prefer to fight wars with technology. Our experience in Vietnam taught the nation the lesson that war is inherently a human not a technological endeavor. Our experience is a distant whisper in the ear of today's technology wizards that firepower is not sufficient to win, that the enemy has a vote, that the object of war should not be to kill the enemy but to win the trust and allegiance of the people and that the ultimate weapon in this kind or war is a superbly trained, motivated, and equipped soldier who is tightly bonded to his buddies and who trusts his leaders.

I've visited our young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan several times. On each visit I've seen first hand the strong connection between our war and theirs. These are worthy warriors who operate in a manner remarkably reminiscent of the way we fought so many years ago. The similarities are surreal. Close your eyes for a moment and it all comes rushing back. In Afghanistan I watched soldiers from my old unit, the 101st Airborne Division, as they conducted daily patrols from firebases constructed and manned in a manner virtually the same as those we occupied and fought from so many years ago. Every day these sky soldiers trudge outside the wire and climb across impossible terrain with the purpose as one sergeant put it - to kill the bad guys, protect the good guys and bring home as many of my soldiers as I can. Your legacy is alive and well.
You should be proud.

The timeless connection between our generation and theirs can be seen in the unity and fighting spirit of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan . Again and again, I get asked the same old question from folks who watch soldiers in action on television: why is their morale so high?

Don't they know the American people are getting fed up with these wars?
Don't they know Afghanistan is going badly? Often they come to me incredulous about what they perceive as a misspent sense of patriotism and loyalty.

I tell them time and again what every one of you sitting here today, those of you who have seen the face of war, understand: it's not really about loyalty. It's not about a belief in some abstract notion concerning war aims or national strategy. It's not even about winning or losing. On those lonely firebases as we dug through C ration boxes and drank hot beer we didn't argue the righteousness of our cause or ponder the latest pronouncements from McNamara or Nixon or Ho Chi Minh for that matter.

Some of us might have trusted our leaders or maybe not. We might have been well informed and passionate about the protests at home or maybe not. We might have groused about the rich and privileged who found a way to avoid service but we probably didn't. We might have volunteered for the war to stop the spread of global communism or maybe we just had a failing semester and got swept up in the draft.

In war young soldiers think about their buddies. They talk about families, wives and girlfriends and relate to each other through very personal confessions. For the most part the military we served with in Vietnam did not come from the social elite. We didn't have Harvard degrees or the pedigree of political bluebloods. We were in large measure volunteers and draftees from middle and lower class America. Just as in Iraq today we came from every corner of our country to meet in a beautiful yet harsh and forbidding place, a place that we've seen and experienced but can never explain adequately to those who were never there.

Soldiers suffer, fight and occasionally die for each other. It's as simple as that. What brought us to fight in the jungle was no different than the motive force that compels young soldiers today to kick open a door in Ramadi with the expectation that what lies on the other side is either an innocent huddling with a child in her arms or a fanatic insurgent yearning to buy his ticket to eternity by killing the infidel. No difference. Patriotism and a paycheck may get a soldier into the military but fear of letting his buddies down gets a soldier to do something that might just as well get him killed.

What makes a person successful in America today is a far cry from what would have made him a success in the minds of those assembled here today. Big bucks gained in law or real estate, or big deals closed on the stock market made some of our countrymen rich. But as they have grown older they now realize that they have no buddies. There is no one who they are willing to die for or who is willing to die for them. William Manchester served as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II and put the sentiment precisely right when he wrote: "Any man in combat who lacks comrades who will die for him, or for whom he is willing to die is not a man at all. He is truly damned."

The Anglo Saxon heritage of buddy loyalty is long and frightfully won. Almost six hundred years ago the English king, Henry V, waited on a cold and muddy battlefield to face a French army many times his size. Shakespeare captured the ethos of that moment in his play Henry V. To be sure Shakespeare wasn't there but he was there in spirit because he understood the emotions that gripped and the bonds that brought together both king and soldier. Henry didn't talk about national strategy. He didn't try to justify faulty intelligence or ill formed command decisions that put his soldiers at such a terrible disadvantage. Instead, he talked about what made English soldiers fight and what in all probably would allow them to prevail the next day against terrible odds. Remember this is a monarch talking to his men:

"This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

You all here assembled inherit the spirit of St Crispin's day. You know and understand the strength of comfort that those whom you protect, those in America now abed, will never know.. You have lived a life of self awareness and personal satisfaction that those who watched you from afar in this country who hold their manhood cheap can only envy.
I don't care whether America honors or even remembers the good service we performed in Vietnam . It doesn't bother me that war is an image that America would rather ignore. It's enough for me to have the privilege to be among you. It's sufficient to talk to each of you about things we have seen and kinships we have shared in the tough and heartless crucible of war.

Some day we will all join those who are serving so gallantly now and have preceded us on battlefields from Gettysburg to Wanat. We will gather inside a firebase to open a case of C rations with every box, peaches and pound cake. We will join with a band of brothers to recount the experience of serving something greater than ourselves. I believe in my very soul that the almighty reserves a corner of heaven, probably around a perpetual campfire where some day we can meet and embrace all of the band of brothers throughout the ages to tell our stories while envious standers-by watch and wonder how horrific and incendiary the crucible of violence must have been to bring such a disparate assemblage so close to the hand of God."

Peace to all in the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Memory of the Edmund Fitzgerald, November 10, 1975

An artists rendition of the Edmund Fitzgerald.Artist unknown

Thirty four years ago today, 29 men went to work and died on the job. They were the crew of the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald. A rogue storm hit the Great Lake Superior and wrought havoc to “The Fitz”, as she was called. Among the dead was Allen Kalmon. I know Amy, his daughter. She is a friend of mine and lives in Ashland, WI, along the shores of The Great Lake Superior. A small model replica of The Fitz sat out on our Ofrenda for Days of the Dead. It has always amazed me that working people got up, went to work and died there that day. It has happened to other workers in other circumstances, but this tragedy always has touched me as significant on some other level that I cannot quite explain.

A few years ago, I think it was 2005, the thirty year anniversary of that fateful day, I went to a ceremony held at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on the North shore of Superior, near Silver Bay, MN. The Autumn daylight had ended with the ringing of the ship’s bell 30 times. Twenty nine for the crewmen aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald and one more ring for all that have died at the mercy of the sea. As I left the parking lot and headed back West towards Duluth along what used to be US Highway 61, the radio played Gordon Lightfoot’s masterpiece, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” That night, the sound echoed, even within the confines of the car. The eeriness of the song, haunting as it is about tragic death, made me feel these men and their presence along the shore as I drove with the water close at my side along that stretch of highway.

This is a short piece of words from the son of Allen Kalmon, Bruce, in 2005. Amy came to one of our Days of the Dead celebrations years ago, the first year I had met her. She saw the replica of the Fitz and wondered how we knew her Father was on that ship. I had to tell the truth, and that being that I always honored all working class people through that shipwreck at each celebration for Los Dios. It was a connection, a coincidence, and as I remember November 10, 1975 and the gales of November, I think of Amy and others who lost loved ones and friends on the seas.

Funny to think of a day with 100 mile per hour winds, snow and sleet heavily weighing on guy lines, hatch covers blown off their moorings on a beautiful day such as what I am experiencing here at home today with temps in the 50’s, bright sun, calm wind and a freshness in the air, a sweetness. And a boat, a 730 foot long boat, loaded with 26 thousand long tonnes of taconite bound for Detroit bobbing and dipping into the Greatest of all lakes, Superior, like a dried Autumn leaf in the ocean.

Living somewhere around the Great Lakes all my life has been overall a wonderful experience for me. I have such a respect and reverence for the energy filled water. I’ve gone out in storms and tried to watch, but nature doesn’t let me focus, it blurs my vision of the waves. One night, when we lived in Duluth in the Winter of 1994-95, we heard that the Arthur M. Anderson, the other ore boat on the same track as The Fitz that fateful night, was coming into harbor. These comings and going were posted in the newspaper and on a simple chalkboard near the harbor entrance at the Coast Guard station located there.

We went to watch the big ship come in. We stood there, seeing it’s lights from a long distance, then watching as it slowly crept between the markers into the harbor and under the famous Duluth Lift Bridge. Knowing this was the ship that followed the Fitz and received it’s last radio transmission, “We are holding our own.” delivered by Captain Ernest McSorely, skipper of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

I leave you with some photos of The Fitz and other ore boats, the Phillip Clarke, and the Gordon Leetch The Leetch nearing the entry to Duluth Harbor, the Clarke, that frequently comes to Chequamegon Bay to deliver coal to the generating plant in Ashland, making one of its summer runs. Also are some pictures of a May 2006 storm moving in at Saxon Harbor, WI, about 20 miles Northeast of Ashland on Lake Superior’s South shore.

The Phillip Clarke, ore boat delivering coal to Ashland, WI.

The Gordon Leetch coming into Duluth, MN.

The Fitz, on a bright sunny day.

Crashing waves during a Spring storm at Saxon Harbor, WI.

Again at Saxon Harbor.

The following YouTube is a Sound Stage recording done by Gordon Lightfoot in 1979, four years after the great ship sunk, with some great collage of the early days of Great Lakes shipping and underwater shots of the hulk of the tomb of the twenty nine who died in November aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Peace to all.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Only the Good Friday, November 6, 2009

Always a Good day when you see an Eagle.

Friday today. I slept all night for a change, that’s really Good. Good to wake up naturally in the morning, even if it is earlier than most people. I look outside and down the street. I don’t see many lights, but many kitchens are in the rear of the houses on Johnson Street. They could have their lights on and having the morning cuppa and I wouldn’t even know it.

I don’t get up and go right for the coffee. My habit has me walking once around the palace, sitting at the computer a while and waiting until all hell breaks loose. That happens when daughter drops off the kids at 6:15. The other day, all the lights were off and I saw her peeking in the window. She didn’t want to disturb us. That was nice of her, but we’re suppose to be up because we need to get the kids ready for school. I flipped on the light switch and the place came alive with human activity.

That’s the good I have in my life right now, at least what I’m thinking about. Years ago, as I struggled with the feelings and symptoms associated with PTSD, I couldn’t have been alone with the Grandkids. I could be here, but not be the only adult. I don’t want to explain why in detail, it was something they called hypervigilance.

Through healing, I have overcome this to a degree and can function more normally even though the symptom still exists in my mind.

Mrs. Spadoman leaves for work along with the oldest of the children. She starts earlier as she is in another higher middle school grade. I am home alone with the Kindergardener and the Fourth grader until they leave at 7:57 a.m. I walk them to the bus stop, some 200 yards away from my front door. I feed them breakfast, I make sure their back packs are organized. I look up the weather and suggest their jacket or sweatshirt or what is needed for the day to be comfortable.

We have some time, so we play the match game, Odie Maid. The little one kicks my rear end just about every time. If I do get a win, big deal. Ever try to brag about a triumph over a five year old? You don’t get very far. But what a wonderful "Good" thing to be able to do. Spend time playing with the Grandkids every morning. Knowing you love them and they love you. It is the best of the Good on any day, and on Friday.

It's a match game with Odie, one of the Garfield characters, and she is Good at it!

Today, Mrs. Spadoman has the day off. Her schedule is every Friday off. I get to finish my post here while she takes over the reigns as high priestess and gets the kids off to school. I’ll still take that walk to the bus stop along with Grandma. All Good.

Right now, today, and for many todays, life is Good and that’s the Good I see on this particular Friday. This is the Good I see right now. One Day at a Time.

I apologize for not posting an Only the Good Friday post for the past couple of weeks. Shelly, over at This Eclectic Life started this theme a year or so ago. I caught on at first, but then time gets away some Fridays. By the way, her blog is sensational and I’m not just kidding. She has so many interesting places she takes the readers to through pictures and words. I cannot believe she has the time, but she does and makes for a great place to stop to spend a little time reading. It’s a Good blog!

Have a great day. For those struggling with something today, I send peaceful thoughts and positive energy your way. My best spirit angels will be on the lookout to help if they can and give you peace in your hearts in hopes you have a Good day today and everyday. I know life is not a rose for many.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Life as a Teamster

Let's begin.

I was thinking about something and came across an error on one of my previous posts. I wrote about how many jobs I have had over the years and even though the list I posted was up to 81, I remembered another place I worked. It slips right in between numbers 5 and 6. I drove truck for a cartage company in Chicago. It was called TH Ryan Cartage and it was a local union cartage job. My Dad worked for Ryan with a steady house at Production Steel Company. He retired in 1982 after twenty years there. Basically, a cartage company was used by businesses. They would call to get a trailer hauled and either loaded and unloaded at a location or use cartage drivers to drive their own trucks for daily deliveries.

Many mornings I would report to work and be told to get into tractor number 241, an old B Model Mack, and head on over to the railroad yards to haul trailers around town all day. Drop one here, pick one up there. Load, unload. Then there was always the Revere Electric Company. They had a bunch of trucks and were a big electrical supply distributer in Chicagoland. They’d need drivers to take one of their trucks and do a route around the city.

A picture from the T.H. Ryan web site.

I drove dry vans, refrigerated vans, dry bulk, liquid bulk, (which was usually hazardous stuff like chemicals and solvents), flat beds, goosenecks, straight trucks, (both single and tandem axel), and even a small cargo van for a company called Emery Air Freight who was the forerunner to FedEX, DHL and all air freight carriers in existence today.

So many of the trucking companies that existed in the 1970's and 80's are gone. They tried mergers at first, but then died the slow death of bankruptcy until they just closed their doors. I remember along MN Highway 280 North of I-94 there being no less than seven freight hauling trucking companies. They are all gone, and some were the biggest names in the business. Admiral Merchants, Consolidated Freightways, Smith, Murphy. All gone. The old multi doored freight terminals with for lease and for sale signs that have disintegrated from being there for so long.

Getting back to my job at TH Ryan, since it was a union job, that meant I had to put in some time before I got the union wages. I think, if I remember back then to 1970, I had to work thirty days at below the current union contract pay scale. After that thirty days, I got bumped up to union scale. They took union dues out of my paycheck. I don’t remember what the union dues were back then either.

For my payment of union dues, I was given the pay of union scale. I was also put on a list of drivers that was based on seniority. I couldn’t work if someone higher up on the list wasn’t working. It was all done by seniority. There was quite a bit of posturing and negotiating for what we called a Steady House.

The Steady House jobs were companies that had trucks and used union TH Ryan Company drivers to operate those trucks. They would actually go to that company and it would be like they drove for them and not TH Ryan. In Minnesota, I worked for LaSalle Cartage and it was the same way. I never got a Steady House job in Chicago, but I did after a time at LaSalle. I drove industrial solvents for Worum Chemical. They did a lot of business with 3M who was headquartered in St. Paul, MN.

I drove a rig like this B Model Mack in the late 1970's in St. Paul, MN for LaSalle Cartage Co.

At Ryan, being low on the seniority list gave me a wide variety of work. Almost daily I’d get a different kind of truck and a different place to go. I loved truck driving. Where else could you get to work and then leave and be out on your own? I made it a point to try to get to at least one different coffee house or cafe each day. I found some real gems, and a few dumps too. Chicago is a big city.

Typical sign for what was called a coffee shop before the Starbucks era.

Of course coffee shops back in the early 1970’s were not like the coffee shops of today. No espresso and lattes. Just a diner counter where you could get just a cup of strong black coffee and maybe a doughnut or a sweet roll to go along. Breakfast or lunch. Quick food, called short orders, burgers, BLT’s, patty melts. Soup for lunch, the usual bacon, ham or sausage and eggs for breakfast, along with the coffee. The waitress would always ask, “Coffee?”, when you walked in and sat down.

And the interior of said Coffee Shop would look something like this.

I wasn’t rich, but I did make a real good wage as a union driver. More than most non union guys were making, and I had job security in the form of that seniority list. I knew I was protected from someone getting hired after me and taking my job. But I also knew that in economic hard times I could be laid off before those higher on the list.

Other benefits back in those days was complete health care, paid for by the employer, for you and all members of your family, and a deposit into a union run pension account. Paid holidays and certain rules regarding overtime. I remember when I worked in the motion picture business that some days I’d come in and start at double time the wages because of union rules.

In 1970, I was making right around five bucks per hour. That was great money back in those days and other than social security, income taxes and union dues, there were no other deductions, as I mentioned, because health and welfare was part of the compensation package.

At Ryan’s, we’d be milling around, loading trucks and checking oil on trucks and the big black Cadillac would pull up. A cigar smoking guy in a black suit would get out and the roach coach would pull in right behind him. He was the union business agent and he’d buy coffee from that roach coach for anyone who wanted one. He’d shake a few hands of the guys he knew personally, and that was just about every one of them, and he’d ask. “How’re things going?”

If there were any complaints, they were mentioned and a plan of action would be set up. Usually, a visit from him was because someone called his office and had a problem or a question about some part of the job that had something to do with the union. Maybe someone had worked an hour longer than someone beneath him in seniority, and didn’t get paid for it, or someone had broken the seniority barrier in some other way. It was usually management’s fault. The business agent would come, buy coffee, glad hand the guys and set management straight about the situation.

All the time the business agent stood around with all the drivers drinking coffee and talking, old man Ryan was on the dock, arms folded, waiting for the guys to get back to work. After all, time was money, but he didn’t dare say anything while the union boss was there.

That was then. This is now.

Times have changed. Unions are taking it in the shorts. Concessions are being made to wage structures and they started a long time ago changing around the benefit packages. Many union employees are paying part or even all of their health care costs. Some with larger households pay more than a worker with no kids. The business agents I have seen lately are driving Toyotas, not black Cadillacs, and they don’t smoke at all let alone cigars. The pension funds, always a point of controversy and the reason behind many a revolt to the union hierarchy in the early days, is, in my mind, still a big problem.

You see, you have to get vested to receive a pension. So, if you work your 30 days or whatever and pay the initiation fee to be a member of the Teamsters, then they would start putting so much into an account for you for your retirement pension. If you got laid off, you had to keep putting money into that pension fund, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t get any of it back when you quit or retire. It was not a 401(k).

A case in point is my older brother. He worked as a Teamster in Chicago for a local furniture movers union. Eleven years I think. He got another Teamster Union job and held that for fourteen years, but it was under the guidance of an International Teamster Union. Even though these two unions are Teamsters and part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, he got no pension because their pension funds did not recognize the time and money paid to each account. Tricky, eh? Work 20 plus years as a Teamster, but retire and get nothing. Now he is fighting, with an attorney, to get something.

The Teamster Union Withdrawal Card

This excerpt, taken from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters website and an article written by current Teamster Union President James P. Hoffa states this:

Multi-employer plans such as the Teamsters Central States Fund are not well understood. They are set up as trusts and operated by joint management-labor boards of trustees. They are not controlled by unions and are required by law to be completely independent of the contributing employers and the unions representing their participants. Their trustees are legally required to act solely in the interest of the plan participants.

Many current and retired Teamsters are covered by the Central States Fund. The Fund was severely weakened after 1980 by deregulation of the trucking industry. Deregulation drove 700 trucking companies out of business. Many employees who had earned pensions were left high and dry. The workers of the defunct companies became the obligation of the fund and the surviving businesses. Meanwhile, the bankrupt companies paid little or nothing to cover the benefits earned by their employees.

Now, the surviving trucking companies may have to close their doors because they can’t afford their legal obligations to contribute to the fund. Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost, something this country–and Michigan–can ill afford.

Read HERE for more about the Central States Fund.

This plan gave the Teamsters loads of money to invest. Think of how many people who got into the union, paid their dues, initiation fees and got their retirement money paid into an account, then were laid off and never called back up and never had enough money to continue to pay into their retirement? Lots of cash for them to use to line their own pockets. Some say, and history mentions, the senior Jimmy Hoffa and his trials related to the Teamster pension fund money and loans to "The Mob".

In California, in the 1990’s. I was asked to work a show out in Hollywood. I wasn’t a union member in California. But I did have a withdrawal card from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters when I worked in Minnesota. I put in my 30 days and was asked to pay the initiation. I had the withdrawal card and they had to honor that I was already a member, just not working lately. That pained them to lose out on the initiation money. I found out that in L.A., and the entire West Coast that the Teamsters control with their blanket by local 399, there were over 2000 workers that paid to be in the union and never called again. Then, I was called, from Minnesota, to work. The transportation coordinator that called me knew me and wanted me to work. He didn’t call the union hall and ask for drivers. I refused to transfer into the 399 and returned to Minnesota and went back to work there, eventually. I should have refused to go to California in the first place, but that’s how I learned about the illegal and fraudulent methods they were using to gather up millions in fees and give nothing except false security hopes to workers.

The back of the withdrawal card.

In the beginning, the union brought us the eight hour work week and stopped the abuse of children and other workers in the workplace. It was a great idea, stand together as a union work force. One strikes, we all strike for mistreatment. Make the corporations treat workers a certain respectful way and evenly across the board. Make wages enough for a member to make a decent living. People wanted to be union members because of the benefits and the pay scale. Non union jobs paid less, had less benefits and offered no security for the worker.

Now, unions are less than half of what they were. Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers in the eighties and it hasn’t stopped. Now, the unions, like the Teamsters, are fighting for their own lives and because of the instability of the economy, wage and benefit concessions are being cut wholesale. Michael Moore’s movie about capitalism tells of an airline pilot that must work a second job as a coffee house barista to attempt to make ends meet. And that’s a union pilot. The disparity that once existed between union workers and non union workers has disintegrated, and probably rightfully so to a degree. It was such a wide chasm at one point. That was when unions were strong and membership flourished. When the corporations in America found ways to change that union landscape and get their products out into the markets without union labor, unions started to crumble. Less members meant less health and welfare payments and less money overall which led to failing pension programs and even more stinginess for benefits.

Even the eight hour workday is gone. Companies like WalMart hire a plethora of part time non union workers. None of them working enough hours in any one week to be eligible for company paid or subsidized benefits. In the trucking industry, there aren’t many drivers that still come in at eight a.m. and punch the clock. They are called in at random times and only work the hours needed. The Teamsters have fallen to their knees.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe as corporations go, the Teamsters might be as bad as any other corporation that is trying to make the bottom line as big as it can for stockholders. Some lower on the food chain will suffer, but some will prosper. After all, the twenty plus years my brother worked and paid into a pension fund gave them a lot of money that he’ll never get. It’s there somewhere. Someone is getting it.

One joke is that the Teamster Logo uses the twin horses because the horse is the only animal that can sleep standing up.

I must admit and confess. When I worked under the auspices of the Teamsters, I took every morsel they gave me. We prided ourselves as a code of honor to get paid for the least amount of work that we were asked to perform. The joke was our motto, which was, "Show concern, but take no action." By the way, they have all the money I paid in too. All together, about 14 years as a teamster in seven different Teamster locals. The St. Paul 120, Minneapolis 544, Minneapolis 638, California 399, Chicago Local 11, Chicago CTDU Local 1 and Chicago Local 705 IBT. I have no chance whatsoever to see any of the pension deposits paid into the fund in my name from any of these jobs.

My point? The times, they are a changin’ and have been for a long time. When this country stopped producing products and sent millions of jobs overseas by ending tariffs and opening up free trade, we, as Americans, lost jobs. The unions we thought would protect us from this failed to protect, and in fact, fell to the standards of the very industries they told us they were saving us from.

If the unions had remained strong, I’m not sure how it would be. If Ronald Reagan had not stepped in to crush the air traffic controllers and show the unions that they had no choice but to stop escalating wages and benefits, things might be different, but I’m not sure if the difference would put America back to work. This article about India’s Labor unions is interesting. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before things start coming back home. But that’s India.

China is a very different animal. The government is making foreign interests set up trade unions in China. This guarantees the flow of money into China. The American corporations have forsaken our own people to make more money now with no idea what the future will hold. It’s a wait and see chess game and so far, it looks like America and the Teamsters are in a checkmate. Who knows, maybe some day it won't be cheaper to operate a complete manufacturing facility in China for a fraction of what it would cost to do it here in the United States. Imagine the prosperity to American business and labor to rebuild infrastructure and operate factories that actually make something right here on our own soil.

There are many more sides to any story. The earlier part of this article tells of my own experiences as Teamster union member. The latter is some opinion based on the news as reported. The real issue is very much more complicated. But it does have to do with money, a lot of money. Seems that history has shown us that In America, when large quantities of money are involved, the existence of foul play goes up. This has been the case with the Teamsters in the past.