Saturday, September 03, 2011


Last week, an old Asian man had a display of bonsai trees set up in an unused parking lot along Calumet Avenue in Manitowoc. He had three rows of various sizes on display for the passing cars to see, and a red sign with white letters that said, "Bonsai Trees" tied to the pole near the curb.

And as there was very little business, he sat in his van and waited for curious folks to come along and buy his baby trees.

The first day I saw him, I drove past, but took note. And the second day, I became one of those curious folks. Maybe the only one during the four days he was parked there.

I immediately found when I walked up to his display that bonsai trees are...expensive. He had several small three-year-old trees about the size of my fist for about $25 each, and the older and bigger they were, naturally the more expensive they were. Ten-year-old trees were between $70 and $80, and he had a few 25-year-old trees for about $250. All were untrimmed, unshaped...ready to be artistically developed.

I had my eye on a three-year-old tree, nothing older. With my barely green thumb, I wasn't going to chance an $80 purchase. I pictured the "Karate Kid" scene where Mr. Miagi is teaching Daniel how to trim and shape the trees (and how to pronounce the name: bone-sai, not bahhn-sai).

I walked away that day without a tree, pondering my possible purchase. For two days after, I'd announce to Jessica when I got home, "The bonsai tree dude is still there." And then...he wasn't.

I still want a bone-sai tree, though, someday.
And a tiny pair of scissors with which to trim it.

"The Japanese think of bonsai as representing
or evoking a larger tree."
—Tim Shea

Friday, September 02, 2011

An Engaging Sunday Morning

[This is a few weeks old, but I thought it was worth posting to the blog, anyway. It's a column I wrote the day after asking a very important question.]

— • — • —

I didn't leap out of a plane last weekend, and pull the rip cord to reveal letters sewn on the underside of an open parachute as I floated toward the ground.

I didn't flash a message on the scoreboard at a Detroit Lions game.

I didn't spell out words with organic vegetables as we strolled around the farmers' market, or arrange an assortment of fresh herbs in the form of a question.

I didn't pen a Shakespearean sonnet, or record a mix tape in which the fourth word of every song was part of a puzzle.

And I didn't bury a surprise in a cheesecake or a vegetable quiche, or drop anything sparkly into a glass of Mawby sparkling wine.

I didn't rent a Learjet and fly to France to strategically unscrew the light bulbs on the Eiffel Tower so that a question was visible when it lit up at night.

I didn't grab a pail of blueberries and shoot them through a blow dart gun against a freshly painted white barn wall, meticulously aiming to create legible letters.

And I didn't...I did it to the Facebooks, or the Twitters, or send it as a txt msg.

No, on Sunday morning I woke up unusually early to answer nature's call, and on my way back to bed, I detoured into the living I often look out our wall of windows at Lake Michigan several blocks away, and saw a few sparse clouds sitting just above the horizon, waiting for the sun to rise.

As I lay back down in bed, Jessica stirred next to me, and when she rolled over, I whispered, "Wanna go and see the sun rise?"

She whispered back, almost immediately, "Sure."

"Really?!?" I said, louder than a whisper this time. I didn't expect her to be awake enough to hear the question, much less mutter an answer.

Another minute or two of groggy discussion, and soon we were grabbing cameras and flip flops and car keys, and heading for the beach.

We pulled into the parking lot and the eastern sky was getting brighter, but there was still no sun to be seen. The clouds waited eagerly inches above the horizon to greet it.

Before we reached the sand, a sliver of pink peeked over the horizon, and a glowing ball with sharply defined edges rose to greet us. It began to disappear behind the small cloud before it completely separated itself from the horizon.

I waded into the comfortable Lake Michigan water and snapped a few photos, while Jessica sat on a big rock on the beach and did the same.

After we saw the sun rise "all hot pink and golden," as Jessica would later describe it, I put my camera in its bag, and led Jessica down to the water that connects my hometown and her hometown, the water that we see every day from our living room, the water that we’ve traveled across by boat and around by car.

Yes, on Sunday, I knelt on one knee in the water, soaking half of my shorts as I pulled a ring out of my pocket and held it up to sparkle in the sun we’d just watched wake up.

And after I let Jessica stare at the ring for several seconds, to alert her that this was more than a sunrise morning, I asked what I didn't ask in vegetables or parachutes or Parisian lights.

And she said yes.

"My mother says I didn't open my eyes for eight days
after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw
was an engagement ring. I was hooked."
—Elizabeth Taylor

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Lions In, or Lions Out?

I've been an optimistic Lions fan for the past 20-plus years. And I've been a pessimistic Lions fan for the past 20-plus years. Always both during the same season, and often during the same game.

Every year, the team on paper gives me hope, and then the regular season begins and soon thereafter all hope is lost, as they win only a handful of games, or fewer. Or...none.

This year, their defensive line should be the best in the league (if they can ever get their No. 1 draft pick Nick Fairley on the field), and their quarterback is showing some moxie, but it remains to be seen how his shoulder will hold up when he, um...well, when he falls down on the ground. It's been glass-like thus far in his young career.

They're coming off a four-game winning streak to finish last season, and tonight they completed an undefeated pre-season. Although, the last time they went 4-0 in the pre-season, they followed that by becoming the NFL's first winless regular-season team. Ahh, optimism. Ahh...pessimism.

This is the perfect year to pick them to make the jump to the playoffs, and many analysts are. Having suffered through so many seasons of big potential, I'm leery. I want to pick them, too, and I think they've got a great shot at a post-season berth. Which is why I'm leaving them out of my playoff picture. If they live up to the hype and play past Week 17, that will be reward enough. And if Stafford goes down in Week 3, and Suh gets suspended for a few games for...wait, what is it he's doing wrong?...oh yeah, for playing football!...then I can be glad I didn't waste a playoff spot on a team that never quite delivers.

Here's how my 2011-12 playoff picture shakes out:

AFC Division Winners
East — New England Patriots
North — Baltimore Ravens
South — Indianapolis Colts
West — San Diego Chargers

AFC Wild Cards
NY Jets; Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC Division Winners
East — Philadelphia Eagles
North — Green Bay Packers
South — New Orleans Saints
West — Arizona Cardinals

NFC Wild Cards
Atlanta Falcons; St. Louis Rams

AFC Championship Game
Baltimore over San Diego

NFC Championship Game
New Orleans over Philadelphia

Super Bowl XLVI
Baltimore over New Orleans

Let the criticizing commence!
And go Lions!

"But when you lose a Super Bowl, it's twice as bad.
It's like the further you go, the harder you fall."
—Bill Cowher