Monday, September 23, 2013

The last time

I love dead authors because they rarely disappoint you. For instance, you will never turn on your television to the morning news and find, for instance, Ernest Hemingway was arrested last night for walking around in women's clothing while being drunk in public. Frankly, he hasn't been arrested for that in over 50 years. I also love dead authors because you can quote them all you want without any fear of legal retribution. For instance, if I just retyped the first five pages of Following the Equator by Mark Twain, nobody would even notice, except for the fact that it would be much better written than anything I've ever penned.
But instead of stealing the first five pages, I am just going to steal the very first line in my copy which is found under a picture of a Twain looking out on the ocean from the poop deck of a steamer (I honestly have no idea if it is really the "poop deck" - I just really wanted to use that term).
The line, in Twain's own handwriting, is, "Be good and you will be lonesome."
For the past seven years, we have been anything but good here at Neu's Ramblings, and we never felt lonesome. We have avoided writing about subjects that had to do with good taste. Instead we discussed used underwear. We spent time at horse races and cattle sales, walking home from broken down pickups, removing gallbladders, standing in Polish firing squads, angering the executives at the IRS and Blue Cross Blue Shield, chasing cows, buying minivans, selling minivans, trapping mice, cutting holes in floors and walls, running used diapers through a snow blower, and in a hospital delivery room.
When this column started, Nicole and I were basically newlyweds who had just moved to Washburn hoping to build a farmstead and enjoy country life. Now we are a battle-hardened married couple with two kids, a bunch of cows, goats, horses, and a Belarus tractor. Times have really changed.
Which leads me to this: This is my last column.
It seems that after seven years I have run low on ideas and theories and strange ramblings. For the last six months this column has been really difficult to write, and life has been busier and busier. So instead of fighting it, trying to carve out a few minutes to write what I used to be able to dedicate hours to, I've decided to hang it up. I hope the four of you still reading are not too disappointed.
For the record, I did not get fired. Surprisingly. I would like to thank BHG owners Mike and Jill Gackle and editor Michael Johnson for letting me write utter nonsense for all this time and never even once saying "You do that again, and you're outta here!" And also for paying me, which was nice. Unless you are reading this from an IRS office, in which case they never, ever paid me, but I sure had a lot of expenses that were all completely legitimate.
I also want to thank Nancy Hillerud for proofing this column from the very beginning, making me look smarter than I really am. And for only occasionally complaining about how many sentences I end prepositions with.
To end this last column, I went back to some of my earliest work and found six random quotes that I still found funny. I truly hope you enjoy them.
6. By “We” I am not referring to us Germans because I know that people of other nationalities, such as Norwegians, also make their homes here, bringing their dead, smelly fish to town to try to convince us Germans that it is real food.
5. If you have frozen pipes and you decide to cut a hole in your floor to access the pipes, you end up with frozen pipes AND a hole in your floor.
4. I would be very disappointed if I stopped by a local mechanic and he lopped the head off a chicken because I had bad plug wires.
3. I am not all that sure what Lamaze is but from flipping through the brochure it looks like a beautiful weekend of sitting in a boat fishing for Canada’s largest northern pike while…wait, wrong brochure.
2. I think it was mostly because while the women were inside sharing deep, personal feelings on the shade of paint Nicole used on a living room wall, us guys were outside saying, “What if you used 4 shot instead of 6 shot? Would zucchini pieces fly further? How about a .30-06? I bet a .30-06 would really explode one.”
And the final out-of-context quotes from Neu’s Ramblings is:
1. Since it was our anniversary, I felt compelled to point out any used underwear for sale in strange people’s garages.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

End of summer

All the signs point to fall. The Twins have completely fallen out of the playoff race, students are about to start complaining about teachers, teachers are about to start complaining about students, and sheep riding is all but finished.
Now before you start thinking about Montana jokes, let me clarify that is not what I am writing about. I’m writing about the sport of sheep riding.
Summer meant boredom on the farm unless we came up with something to do, and that something turned frequently to sheep riding.
I competed heavily in the amateur circuit, mostly at my own private arena, known to the rest of my family as the “corral.” I also drafted my little brother Casey into the proud ranks of the ASRA (the Amateur Sheep Riding Association), where I wasn’t just the president, but also a member. Casey was vice-president, and was the first and only member to break his leg during the brief run of the ASRA. The club consisted of all two of us, and an occasional friend from town who usually only rode once and then demanded his dues back.
Our sheep ridings were always held on days when our parents weren’t around. Once the folks would leave the yard, we would lure the sheep into the corral with a bucket of feed and then proceed to rope our stock for the first go-round.
We had two different events: bareback and saddle. Bareback was more convenient because we didn’t have to mess around with pulling our cinches tight on the sheep, which can be pretty tricky. Our “saddle” consisted of a pad that mom had sewn stirrups and a cinch on for riding horses in the winter. One of us would hold the rope, while the other put the saddle down on the sheep and tried to jerk the cinch tight.
The next step was probably the trickiest: You had to persuade the other competitor to crawl onto the sheep. I repeatedly had to tell of fame and glory to get my little brother on top of the woolly. When that didn’t work, I threatened bodily harm, which always worked.
When the rider was in place, the rope was loosened and the ride would begin. Unlike most rodeo events, in sheep riding you don’t use spurs for fear of them becoming permanently affixed to the wool, dragging you along after you fell off (our equivalent of being “hung up”).
Only once did I compete professionally, and it was at the tender age of eight. At the big rodeos they called my event “mutton bust’n,” but nothing could be further from the truth. They should have called it “kid bust’n.” I don’t ever recall seeing one of the sheep’s mothers running out there to pick up her bawling kid. Nevertheless, parents thought this was great fun, and mine paid my entry fee. I drew a bad one, whose name alone still propels fear through me to this day.
“Son,” my dad said with a sound of panic in his voice. “You drew Wilma. Now watch her coming out of the chute. They say she spins hard to the left and after she gets the rider off, she comes back to eat him. The last kid that tried her had to be rescued by his mom.”
This kind of speech was not one that adds to a young man’s confidence, but regardless, I got on that sheep. Actually, somebody put me on the sheep. The rest is history.
“Are you ready kid?” the chute boss asked.
“Get me out of here!”
“Whatever you say kid,” and he jerked the gate. I think something was lost in the translation.
I tried to remember what dad had said about the sheep. Something about it going hard to the left, or was it to the right? It didn’t really matter. I found out later that sheep don’t spin. As a matter of fact, most sheep have taken a geometry class in their high school days and know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Wilma was an honor student. She took off for the opposite end of the arena at a sprint.
I had heard all of the stories about famous eight second rides and how the old timers stayed on even after the whistle sounded, but I considered myself an innovator, so I tested out my theory of a two-second ride. I bailed off the sheep, some would dare to say fell off, breaking the fall with my head, which is probably why I am how I am today.
As I tried to get my directions straight, Wilma turned in the arena, pawed dirt, and came back for me. Some in the crowd claimed my second ride was longer than my first, but the judges deducted points for style. Something about holding on to the sheep’s ears and my legs wrapped around her belly seemed to take away some of the elegance and grace of my ride.
Just a short week later I was back in school, the Twins were two and a half games behind the White Sox, and summer was but a memory, at least what little I could remember with the concussion and all.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time flies

This past week has been an eye opener for me. It seems the past five years have slipped by, mostly while waiting for the Dell Computer Repair Man who says he will be there tomorrow, but actually means "three years from Tuesday but you need to sit in your house and wait just in case" (but that's another story).
My first realization that time has flown in the past five years came when Nicole and Elizabeth the Lizard came home from school shopping. As I dug through the recipes, I inquired if all this money spent covered the Lizard's first year of college tuition. It didn't. Apparently it only covered the very basic supplies a school kid needs, even though MacGyver built flyable aircraft with fewer provisions.
The second realization came on Monday when Elizabeth was officially signed up for Kindergarten.
That went fast.
Our little girl is moving on to the next stage of her life, which I predict will be held mostly in the principal's office because she loves to talk. And talk. And talk. And then talk some more.
So forgive me if I dig into some old material this week, but three years back when she was just two I wrote a column about all the crazy things she said, and I want to reuse some of that material so the teachers, administrators, lunch ladies, custodians, coaches, and random delivery people at the school know what to expect.
Here it is:
About four months ago I started jotting down things our daughter, Elizabeth the Lizard, said out of the blue. Each one of the following nine quotes she honestly, truly, 100 percent said to us.
Number 9: One day we were driving down Highway 83 and a lady in a big station wagon passed us. Lizard asked me what was in the lady’s car and I felt like saying something stupid:
“17 bowling balls and a banana,” I told her.
“No Dad, she’s not having a picnic.”
Number 8: Lizard always helps me feed her goat, Floppy, but Floppy gets a little excited when we bring the feed bucket and tries to eat it out of the bucket before Lizard can pour it. One day Floppy was being particularly aggressive and almost knocked Elizabeth over as she tried to get the feed from the bucket to the trough. Lizard got very mad and yelled this at Floppy:
“The feed is for pouring, not eating Floppy!”
Number 7: I’m not going to set this one up any, but she told me this a couple weeks ago:
“Your feet are smelly because I haven’t combed them yet.”
Number 6: Nicole strapped Lizard into her car seat and then Nicole and I jumped in the front seats, started the car, and heard this from the back:
“When I get big I’ll drive the wheel and you and mommy will sit in the back seat.”
Number 5: The last Sunday morning of deer season:
“God doesn’t go deer hunting, Dad.”
I think her mother put her up to that one.
Number 4: I was so proud this week when Lizard said this. I could tell that she is not only my daughter, but thinks just like me.
We were in the house and I looked out the window and saw a nice big rooster walking past. I called Lizard over and showed her.
“A chicken!” she said.
“No sweetie, that is a pheasant.”
“You better shoot it Dad.”
Number 3: Lizard explained to Nicole’s mom the truth about the fertilizer on our garden.
“Is that manure on your mommy’s garden?”
“That is not manure. It is cow poop.”
Number 2: Elizabeth is running around the house with a paper cutout of Jesus on a stick that she made in Sunday school, when she sprints up to me sitting at my desk and says:
“Jesus wants to see you Dad.”
Number 1: Really, there is no explanation needed for this one, but let’s just say it was the end of cartoon watching for the day:
“I can’t hear the TV when you’re talking Dad.”
Anyway, I have got to run. I have pheasant in the frying pan and I think it is burning.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The year of Ewing

Some birthdays are big milestones. Every youth knows turning 18 means the courts can officially try them as adults. Turning 21 gives people the right to enter a bar and spend $7 on a drink that is worth about 85 cents. The 29th birthday is always a big one, and I have been told my grandma celebrated that birthday at least 25 consecutive years. Of course turning 40 means two things: First, you are now officially old and second, your kids, who are probably teenagers, think you are not only officially old, but officially lame, officially embarrassing, and officially dumber than they are. That is a lousy birthday.
But this past week I had a great birthday. I turned 33, which we officially deemed "The Year of Patrick Ewing" as the legendary Knicks big man wore number 33. Next year will be "The Year of Charles Oakley," but the following year I'm going to ignore my birthday altogether because I refuse to live through "The Year of Clarence Weatherspoon" considering at least 98 percent of his shot attempts were blocked and his teams always, well, sucked. He would have been better suited playing for the Milwaukee Brewers where sucking is expected and nobody attempts to block your at-bats, but if they do, you can simply take drugs like a dirty, dirty cheater (Ryan Braun) to make yourself better.
(That last sentence was in response to a column written in the Leader-News a couple weeks back by a Brewers fan that discussed Baron Davis, a former Knicks point guard who claimed to have seen an alien while in Las Vegas. I would simply counter anybody poking fun at that claim by saying if you have been to Las Vegas and NOT ran into an alien, you never left your hotel room.)
Anyway, to celebrate The Year of Ewing, we needed to do something big, something grand, something exciting, something we had never done before. So we loaded up the family in the Jeep and headed to Wing for a movie night.
You may not have realized it, but Wing has a movie theater. And it is awesome. Tickets are $5 for adults (our kids were free), popcorn is 75 cents (you read that right - 75 cents!) and  pop is 50 cents or a buck, depending on how big of a cup you want. We wanted the big cups. It was the Year of Ewing after all.
If you have not been to the Wing Theatre, it can best be described as a simple little building with crumbling steps out front and plain padded chairs lined up in front of old church pews on a hardwood floor. There is a chance the big screen at the Grand Theatre in Bismarck is bigger than the entire Wing Theatre, but then again you have to mortgage your house if you want popcorn while you watch the feature there.
On Sunday night they were playing Monsters University, which seemed like a great idea for a family film. At least until you consider the movie is all about monsters learning how to scare small children, which is why Dan the Broken Leg Man quickly moved from his seat onto my lap about 27 seconds into the movie. But the movie wasn't really that scary for the little guy, and I expect he will start sleeping again by the end of the week.
This was the first movie theater experience for both Elizabeth and Dan. Elizabeth was pretty confused by what was going to happen, especially since in the Wing Theatre the screen sits on a stage. She kept asking "When are the people dressed like monsters going to come out?" She was expected a full-blown Broadway theatric stage experience, but since most Broadway shows have a cast bigger than the population of Wing, that seemed unlikely to happen.
But when the lights went down and the movie came on (which Elizabeth realized once she got back from the first of many trips to the bathroom), the kids' eyes were locked in. I don't think Elizabeth blinked for an hour and a half. Dan snuggled into my lap while clutching his popcorn box. He basically forgot to eat popcorn for 90 minutes, but he never put it down.
When the movie ended a woman came out of the ticket booth and announced the winning ticket numbers for the evening. I checked out movie stubs and our numbers were not the winners, which is probably good because I have no idea what the prize was. There is at least a 50 percent chance the winner had to sweep the floor and stack the chairs.
On the drive home everybody agreed it was a great start to the Year of Ewing. And as we tucked the kids into bed, both of them still talking about the movie, I did what any good 33-year-old father would do. I told them I loved them and then, without hesitation, promised them the Knicks would win the title this coming year. It's what Patrick would have done.

By George

It was not very fair of me in last week's column to use the new royal baby to take a shot a the British peoples' poor dental practices. If I wanted to pick on those cheeky folks, it would have been better to have simply pointed out they eat foods horrible foods like "Tripe" and "Haggis" which are basically the parts of the cow and sheep that hotdog companies reject, their royal guards wear giant q-tips on their heads, or that they produce sitcoms so boring they get canceled by PBS.
I know this first hand from a month Nicole and I spent there during college studying Shakespeare. Yeah, we were nerds. No doubt about it. And my digestive system is still trying to heal itself 11 years later.
Regardless, I'm not here to pick on our British brethren (the same guys whose tea and crumpet butts we kicked back in 1776). I am writing today in an attempt to bring us closer. In a move that could only further strengthen the United States and England's relations, today Neu's Ramblings is presenting tips to Prince William and Princess Kate on raising their new baby boy. Mostly we will focus on what they should not do because it is easier not to do something than to actually do something. And I like easier.
Don't name the kid George. Every single headline in the British tabloids is going to say "By George!" whenever he accomplishes something or "Buy George" if he ever takes a bribe or "Bye George!" whenever he goes somewhere or "Bi-George" if, um, never mind.
Don't let the baby hang out at all hours of the night with Parliament. Those guys in the wigs get CRAZY.
Don't set expectations too high for the baby. For instance, tell the little one that he can grow up to be anything he wants, from a garbage man all the way up to and including (but only if he wants) the king of England. Pretend like you would prefer he be a garbage man.
Don't hock the crown jewels for anything less than genuine Pampers. 
Don't expose the baby to sunlight, don't get the baby wet, and don't feed the baby after midnight or he will turn into an evil monster. Wait, that might be the plot of Gremlins.
Don't let him drive around with James Bond. Even if 007 straps him into a government approved car seat, chances are it will not be a safe ride.
Don't tell him Jack the Ripper is dead. That way, when it comes time to potty train, you can tell him Jack the Ripper is looking for little kids who wet their pants. Problem solved.
Don't let the kid watch British sitcoms. It will depress him something terrible if (and this is a big IF) he is able to understand what the actors are saying. I don't care what anybody says: What they are speaking is not English.
 Don't tell little Baby George that you are going to a "Football game" and then make him sit through a soccer match. That's just cruel. He is going to want to see the Patriots play the 49ers.
Don't feed the kid British food. Ever.
Don't spend money on one of those baby monitors for the nursery. Instead, ask Scotland Yard to bug the room.
Don't just assume you can drop the little one off at Great-grandma's house whenever you need a night out. She is a little busy.
Don't tell him bedtime stories about his Great-great-great-great Aunt Mary Queen of Scotts. The beheading thing at the end might give him nightmares.
Don't use the Tower of London as the kid's Time-Out punishment spot. Even though that would be really, really sweet.
Finally, do buy the kid a toothbrush. Right away. Even before he has teeth. It can't hurt.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

73rd annual plagiarism column

We are in the dog days of summer. It seems the recent heat wave has the world slowed to a stop, and the only excitement revolves around the fact that two non-related people with good teeth in England are having a baby. That hasn't happened in better than 30 years.
In these days, my ideas for columns also slows down. I could write about the new royal baby, but the lame teeth joke in the previous paragraph was the only one I could come up with, so that would make a short column.
Instead, I'm falling back on an old gag: the comedy quotes column. This is something like the 73rd annual comedy quotes column I have plagiarized. So without further ado (I think we can all agree these has been enough ado in this column already), here we go.
When you enter a room, you have to kiss his ring. I don't mind, but he has it in his back pocket (Don Rickles).
My wife said to me, "I want to be cremated." I said, "How about Tuesday?" (Buddy Hackett).
There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? (Woody Allen)
They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days (Garrison Keillor).
I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day (Frank Sinatra).
I distrust camels and anyone else who can go a week without a drink (Joe Lewis).
I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, women, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself (Johnny Carson).
Why do people in ship mutinies always ask for "better treatment?" I'd ask for a pinball machine, because with all that rocking back and forth you'd probably be able to get a lot of free games (Jack Handy).
My parents didn't want to move to Florida, but they turned sixty and that's the law (Jerry Seinfeld).
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for (Will Rogers).
All people are born alike except Republicans and Democrats (Groucho Marx).
I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again (Joan Rivers).
Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it's open to anybody who owns hideous clothing (Dave Barry).
When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick (George Burns).
I don't need you to remind me of my age. I have a bladder to do that for me (Stephen Fry).
What I find most disturbing about Valentine's Day is, look, I get that you have to have a holiday of love, but in the height of flu season, it makes no sense (Lewis Black).
My daughter wants to throw a stone at a bad man. I stop her from throwing, shaking my head and giving her a little slap. My disapproval is complete. You think: 'That's right, she shouldn't throw a stone even at a villain.' Then I hand her a brick to throw (W.C. Fields).
Women now have choices. They can be married, not married, have a job, not have a job, be married with children, unmarried with children. Men have the same choice we've always had: work or prison (Tim Allen).
I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, 'denigrate' means 'put down' (Bob Newhart).
My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said "Okay, you're ugly too" (Rodney Dangerfield).
My wife's gotten really lazy, or as she calls it, 'pregnant.' (Jim Gaffigan).
He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher. Or, as his wife would have it, an idiot (Douglas Adams).
And finally, just to tie it all together like a good writer who hasn't run out of ideas would do:
When you look at Prince Charles, don't you think that someone in the Royal family knew someone in the Royal family? (Robin Williams).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer: A Retrospect

Now that the 4th of July is done and gone and your eyebrows are just beginning to grow back after that Roman Candle incident, summer is pretty much over. Retail stores are setting up Christmas displays (the Back-to-School Sales ended back in March) and the Miami Dolphins have already been mathematically eliminated from the NFL Playoffs. About the only thing that has not taken place yet this summer is the Game and Fish running the deer lottery and giving out tags. Apparently they are not planning on getting around to that until mid November.
 It seems like a good time to look back at the summer that almost was here before it was gone with a brief multiple choice quiz to see how your season went.
1) For a vacation after the long winter, you went:
A) On a relaxing family vacation to the mountains.
B) To the islands on a cruise with your significant other.
C) To the emergency room. Several times.
2) The best book you picked up this summer was about:
A)  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
B) Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson.
C) Parole Handbook for the Newly Released by the State of North Dakota.
3) You took your boat out on the lake or river:
A) Five times.
B) Ten times.
C) Just once, and it is still out there somewhere.
4) This summer, you fired up your grill to:
A) Cook dozens of steaks to perfection for friends and family.
B) Mostly heat up hotdogs for the kids.
C) Attempt to collect on your homeowner's fire insurance.
 5) If neighbors were to describe your lawn, they would say:
A) It is neatly manicured.
B) There are a few dandelions growing, but nothing too bad.
C) I think there is a house in there somewhere.
6) After your best round of golf this summer, you:
A) Bought a round of drinks for everybody in the clubhouse.
B) Framed your scorecard.
C) Only had to pay to replace two broken windows and one guy's eyeglasses.
7) With the abundant rain and warm weather, your garden produced:
A) Some of the best lettuce and tomatoes ever.
B) Corn on the cob so sweet you would swear it was covered in sugar.
C) A couple funny looking plants that caused the local authorities to secure a search warrant.
8) The best movie you watched this summer was:
A) The Lone Ranger - A remake of the classic television show about a masked hero and his Native American sidekick set in the old west.
B) Despicable Me 2 - The sequel to animated hit Despicable Me where a charming villain adopts children and turns into a good guy.
C) Sharknado - A movie about a tornado filled with sharks. Seriously.
9) Your favorite sports team:
A) Spent the summer cutting guys who are in jail (Patriots).
B)  Spent the summer trying to convince MLB that its best player didn't take performance enhancing drugs (Yankees).
C) Spent the summer losing (Twins).
(Yeah, none of those options  were really very good. Just pretend you didn't answer that question.)
10) To stay in Baywatch type summer swimwear shape, you:
A) Spent time swimming laps at the pool.
B) Ran in several 5K races around the state.
C) Often, but not always, got your own drink out of the fridge instead of sending your kid for it.
Now, to score this quiz, if you answered A or B for most of these 10 questions, you had a spectacular summer. If you answered C to these questions, you are a completely normal human being, and, with good behavior, may be out of jail in time for summer 2014.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fine things from Eastern Europe

This may come as a surprise to you, but it is possible country music superstar Kenny Chesney and I live very different lives. For instance, while he is mostly bald and covers his bare skull with a cowboy hat, I have all my hair. Not to pick on the poor guy or anything, but that is just a fact.
Another difference is his girl thinks his tractor is sexy. He sang a whole song about it. "She thinks my tractor's sexy," he repeats about a hundred times in the chorus. She even brings him fried chicken and sweet tea during the song to try to convince him to take her for a ride.
My wife, on the other hand, hasn't made fried chicken since we were dating and finds very little romantic about tractors. I have found this repeatedly over the last seven years we've lived here on the ranch. Take for instance last week when I called her from an auction sale.
"Hey Honey!"
"Wow, you sound particularly charming this morning. I wish I was there to stare into your beautiful eyes."
"What did you buy?"
"Why do you think I bought something?"
"Quit stalling. What is it?"
"A tractor."
There was more to the conversation, but this is a family show, so we will end right there before things get rough. Let's just say that she did not start frying chicken and brewing sweet tea when she hung up the phone.
Yes, I did buy another tractor. In the last seven years, this is the fifth one I have drug home (notice I did not say "drove" home. A vast majority have been drug home). But I had a good reason to purchase this one, which I explained to Nicole. You see, I have a Polish wife (maiden name is Jastrzebski) and a Russian rifle (a Mosin Nagant), so it seemed a good idea to buy a Belarus tractor to bridge the gap as Belarus is the only thing standing between Poland and Moscow.
That explanation sounded better in my head, which is where I should have left it. Especially since my Polish wife starting eyeing my Russian rifle after I brought home the Belarus tractor.
This new tractor has many features my Oliver 1555 tractor doesn't. For instance it has a cab, which for the past few years doubled as an apartment for a small but growing family of mice. It has a heater that has kept me nothing but warm this past week while loading bales, even though the 90 degree sunny days have probably helped with that too. And it has brakes. I have never, not even once, owned a tractor with working two brakes. I probably won't use them anyway, but it is nice to know they are there.
A while back I wrote about the Russian rifle I bought and how when you need ammunition for it, you simply send a bottle of vodka to a fellow named Ivan over in Chernogolovka and he would dig around in the ground for old military ammo, and when he found some, if he sobered up, he would send it to America. With the Belarus, there is no such reliable system for finding parts. As a matter of fact, it is downright difficult to find new replacement parts.
Since the Belarus tractors are factory made out of the finest recycled beer cans available, you pretty much have to custom fabricate your own parts. I even came up with a simple three step program for building parts.
Step 1: Buy a case of Budweiser.
Step 2: Pour it out. No sense drinking anything as awful as Budweiser. Seriously.
Step 3: With a hammer, roughly form the part you need. That is how they do it at the plant, so it should work for you.
 As you can tell, parts just take a little work and a little imagination, but cost less than John Deere parts, which you cannot buy for $18.99 a case at any gas station in town.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, my new tractor has an AM/FM radio. I have spent several days in the tractor searching the stations for old Kenny Chesney songs, which none of the stations play, because none of the radio stations in this world have played a decent song since I graduated high school. I bet that has happened to you too. But that's another story for another day.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The end of a journey

If you think this four part series on our trip to South Dakota is long, you should have been in the Jeep for the return trip with Dan the I'm Very, Very Mad Baby Man. But we better talk about the wedding first since that was the whole reason we went.
My good buddy Dave got married Saturday night in Custer State Park at Sylvan Lake. We did not get there until a couple hours before the ceremony so we missed the morning's activities (Mostly on purpose. You will understand by the end of the next paragraph).
You see Dave is a runner and an adventurer, so for his wedding day, he planned a triathlon right there in the park with a several mile bike ride, three miles of running, and a swim across Sylvan Lake. In my book, that is the definition of insanity. But in Dave's world, that is a pretty regular Saturday. He told me he was going to seat the wedding guests according to what place they finished the race. I told him I have no problem sitting in the back.
So yeah, we missed that. But we got there a couple hours early and Elizabeth and I were able to go rock climbing in a place her mother definitely would not have approved of while Nicole watched Dan throw most of the rocks in Custer State Park into the lake. Unless, of course, South Dakota State Parks prohibit the throwing of rocks into the lake, in which case Nicole and Dan did something else more legal that I will think of later at the court date.
The ceremony was very nice, and had everything. For those of you scoring at home, a good wedding ceremony needs A) a groom, B) a bride,  C) a short-winded preacher, and D) a ring boy who has to go the bathroom during the ceremony. This wedding hit on all categories.
After the wedding there was a big supper and dance. Every place setting had a little bag with graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey bars. Mix that with the candles on the table, and we were all chowing down on s'mores before the meal. This is by far the greatest idea in the history of wedding receptions and should be made a wedding law. I for one will now refuse to RSVP until I find out if s'mores ingredients will be provided.
Then the dance started. The last time I danced gracefully was, um, never. I can't even remember the last time I danced awkwardly. But Elizabeth had the moves. She danced slow songs. She danced fast songs. And she danced them all the exact same way.
Elizabeth danced until she shoved a piece of glass up her foot, which slowed her down until I dug it out, and then she was dancing again. She showed toughness and endurance on that dance floor. I'm fearful that she is the kind of kid who will grow up to be in triathlons or something crazy like that.
Anyway, all good things must come to an end, so we packed up and headed to our hotel for the night, and then took off early the next morning for home. This is where it all went downhill.
First, I decided to take a short-cut from Custer to Deadwood, which has 7,000 short little corners and a very reduced speed limit, if you pay attention to things like reduced speed limits, which I don't. Since Dan doesn't talk very much yet, he did not notify us of the fact that the 7,000 short little corners were making him car sick. Until he threw up. That was our notification.
After that, he was mad. Very, very mad. And he cried and cried and cried and cried. Sometimes he yelled. For a brief while he fell asleep, but that was just so he would have the energy to cry harder once he woke up. I'd estimate that of the eight hour trip home, he cried about 137 hours. It felt that way.
Then we got to Washburn and turned east towards our place. At Washburn he stopped crying. On Highway 22 he started smiling. When we turned onto gravel he laughed. As we rolled to a stop in our yard, he was on cloud nine. I opened his door, unbuckled him and set him on the ground.
"Happy! Happy! Happy!" he yelled as he ran around the yard. He was just like the old father from Duck Dynasty, except with much less facial hair.

And I agreed it was good to be home. Based on the success of our family vacation, we are already planning another trip. In the year 2028.

Seeing the four faces

You may be thinking, "Oh great, Neumiller is STILL writing about his lousy family vacation. Can't he find something else to lie about this week?"
The answer is, sadly, no I cannot. You see it all comes down to accounting and the IRS. Since I did not vote for President Obama in the last election, the IRS has been directed to make sure I write at least three to four thousand words about a topic before I can deduct any of the expenses I accrued researching that column. However, any writer who voted for Obama only needs to write a small paragraph to qualify for deductions, and every sentence in that paragraph can end in a preposition. You don't even want to know what you have to do to qualify for a deduction if you write articles for the American Tea Party Against Illegal Immigration, Recording of Phone Records, and High Taxes (But Loves Guns) magazine.
Anyway, last week we ended this column by leaving Cabela's in Rapid City. From there we headed to Mount Rushmore because, as those of you who have been to South Dakota know, it is the law. If a South Dakotan finds out you were in their state and didn't go to Rushmore, he is allowed to drive to your home, abduct you, and take you back to his home and force you to watch reruns of Tom Brokaw newscasts (South Dakota's only famous person) from the 80's as punishment. They take their Mount Rushmore seriously.
Flashback alert: The last time I was at Rushmore I was almost arrested, but this time went better. Back in 2002 when Nicole and I were dating, we went down there for a weekend of camping in the Black Hills over spring break. Some people go where it is warm. Others of us go to where the black bears are just coming out of hibernation. Since we were camping in a little tent (the smaller the tent, the better when you are dating) I took with a .44 magnum handgun just in case a bear decided we looked delicious.
After camping for a night, we went to Mount Rushmore where we were met by a Highway Patrol who asked if we had anything dangerous in our car (this was a few months after 9/11). I said there was a gun in the trunk. He was not impressed. At that point he asked if he needed to bring in a drug dog. I made the mistake of saying, "I don't think so."
Apparently the only correct answer was "No, sir!" Pretty soon he was digging through the trunk of the car and calling for backup. The next officer brought this big mirror thing to inspect the underside of the car. When it was all said and done, he gave me a good lecture about firearms (even though I was 100 percent legal) and made me take the air freshener off the rearview mirror because apparently that was against state law. I was relieved he didn't take me to the state penitentiary to watch Tom Brokaw for three to eight years.
Fast-forward alert: This time the only person who talked to us before we entered Rushmore was the lady who needed $12 before we were allowed to park our car. She never once asked about guns or drugs. Since it was the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, there were approximately 73,000 other people there (72,950 of whom were from east Asia) so she must have decided to cut out the friendly chit-chat we received last time.
Both Elizabeth the Lizard and Dan the Broken Leg Man were pretty impressed with the stone faces. Lizard wanted to get as close as we could to the base of the monument so she could look up the presidents' noses and see if there were any boogers. That's my daughter.
We did the "Strenuous Trail Loop" which was only strenuous if you get winded walking to the refrigerator from the dining room table and did the touristy thing of taking lots and lots of pictures where it looks like one of us is picking the nose of Abraham Lincoln (And you wonder where my daughter gets it from).
From there we headed to the final destination of our trip, which was my buddy Dave's wedding. But we'll save that for next week. Take that IRS.

The Mecca of S.D.

When I last left you (that sounded like the opening to a country song) we were on a family vacation and had just arrived in Spearfish, South Dakota. This is the first town our daughter Elizabeth the Lizard made a friend, mostly because it was the first town we let her out of the Jeep.
We stopped at a restaurant to eat where she quickly explained to the lady running the till that we were from North Dakota, we lived in the country, we have a horse named Hot Dog, one of her goats just had babies, we were going to a wedding, she was going to dance, she brought a pretty dress with, she hoped to see a boy named Gentry, her little brother Dan is still one year old even though she is five, her mom teaches Spanish and her dad coaches basketball. The lady at the till simply wanted to know if we wanted medium or large fries. And if you think that was a run-on sentence, you should hear Elizabeth talk.
It was like that everywhere we stopped. If anybody simply looked her direction, she gave that individual a quick rundown of her life story. At one point during the trip she asked a waitress, "Do you know my grandma?" Surprisingly, the waitress did not. But about five minutes later she had a pretty good idea about grandma.
On the other hand, Dan the Broken Leg Man just smiled. That is pretty much what he did for four days, except on the way home, but we'll get to that later. As a matter of fact, he was often so quiet in the Jeep I would ask, "Is Dan in the Jeep?" just in case we forgot him somewhere. I'd look in the rear view mirror and he'd smile back at me and still not make a peep. It was wonderful.
We didn't do much in Spearfish other than sleep, but bright and early I got the family up the next morning because we were only an hour away from what I consider the Mecca of South Dakota. That's right: Cabela's.
(You maybe thought I would say Mount Rushmore. It is a nice place, some would say historic, but just try to buy a trolling motor there.)
I had been selling Cabela's pretty hard to Elizabeth for the past couple months. If you use an excited voice and act like something is the coolest thing in the world, pretty soon your kid believes you. Except Brussels sprouts. That trick doesn't work on any vegetable that nasty. But Cabela's has chocolate and stuffed animals, so it was a pretty easy sell.
When we drove into the parking lot, Elizabeth was almost foaming at the mouth with excitement. I was for sure foaming at the mouth thinking of guns and fishing rods and knives and cast iron fry pans and thermal underwear (It was a cold spring).
Lizard and I were immediately off, leaving Nicole and Dan in the dust. We went to the mountain, we went to the fish tank, then we circled the store six or seven times. But here is where it got weird: While we were checking out the sites and Elizabeth was telling family secrets to any Cabela's employee who happened to ask if we were looking for anything in particular, Nicole was filling up a cart. She was doing some serious shopping.
I've been on the outs with the Man Card committee ever since I bought and quickly sold that minivan, and just when I was about to get my Man Card back, I was outspent by my wife at Cabela's. Now I have three more years probation before I can reapply from this little incident. But it was worth it because if Nicole likes Cabela's, there is a chance I get to go back there again. At least once the credit card quits setting off smoke alarms.
From there, we headed deeper into the Black Hills to find the one place Nicole really wanted to go. But that was boring and we're about out of space, so never mind about that.
Anyway, next week we will continue on with day three of this rambling vacation story. Just be glad I can't somehow fit a slide machine in this newpaper.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On the road again (finally)

Just like famed explorers Clark, Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey Griswold, we decided it was time to load up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster ("You think you hate it now, but just wait until you drive it.") and head out on a vacation. The only two differences between our vacation and the Griswold's family vacation are that 1) at no point did we have to strap a dead aunt to the top of our vehicle and 2) our vacation isn't rerun on cable television 47 times a month.
So about a week ago we packed up and headed to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The purpose was two-fold. First and foremost, we were heading to a wedding for my good buddy Dave. I'm all about a free supper, even if I have to drive 400 miles and stay in hotels for three nights to get it. Second, we wanted to take our very first family vacation for the same reason everybody takes family vacations: we are apparently insane. There is no other rational explanation and since we've returned I have been considering both therapy and prescription drugs.
We drove out of our yard at the crack of dawn Thursday morning with my old friend Sarah leading the way. Sarah is the name I gave our GPS a few years back because it has a woman's voice that tells me repeatedly, "Perform a legal U-turn at the next available opportunity." Nicole says the same thing, but not in as gentle of phrasing. After a couple days on the road it is nice to hear a friendly woman's voice, and the only way a married man can have that is if he buys a GPS.
Digression alert: When you get to the destination Sarah was programmed to get you to, she says "You have arrived," which is fairly boring. Actually, everything Sarah says is boring. It didn't take long for us to come up with the idea that celebrities should lend their voices to the GPS companies. For instance, whenever you cross a state border, Judy Garland should say, "I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." Or when you disregard what the GPS tells you and turn the other direction Jack Nicholson could yell, "You can't handle the truth!" or Strother Martin could snarl "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." If at one point you zig instead of zag on a bridge, Roy Schneider would say, "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Or if you decide to take a road that's not in the GPS, Clint Eastwood could demand, "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?" Of course, when you get back home Judy Garland would speak again saying, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."
Digression complete: Sarah led us past Hensler, through Center and Hanover, south to New Salem, and then west to Dickinson. This is farther from home than I have been in three solid years. The kids were both still happy, thinking we must almost be there. Nicole was still happy, mostly because the kids were still happy. I was worried wondering about how many years it took for those old warrants in South Dakota to expire.
From Dickinson we headed straight south into a land where, as one person who took the same route told me at the wedding, there are still wagon trains lost. It is some desolate country. Once we got five miles out of Dickinson, we didn't see any cars for miles. For a while we didn't even see cows.
But then we hit the mostly metropolitan state of South Dakota, and, much to our surprise for a long while didn't see people, cars, or cows there either. There was an occasional stray sheep wandering about, which is hardly a sign of civilization.
But finally, after hearing "Are we there yet?" nearly 6,000 times (To tell the truth, I was the one who kept asking. The kids were content with the trip. On the way down. Not so much on the way back. More on that later) we arrived in Spearfish. Compared to the two hundred miles north of Spearfish, the city looked like New York or Paris. Then again, Hensler would look like New York or Paris compared to the desert north of Spearfish.
Anyway, that's all the room I've got for this week, so we will continue this trek in next week's paper. As my Arnold Schwarzenegger GPS would say, "I'll be back."