Door County Photo

door county  Just now I’m visiting with Susan and George at their rental house  on the Door Peninsula shore of Green Bay.

This evening, George caught this brilliant sunset between the silhouetted trees in front of the house.           Thanks George.

From this viewpoint we see cormorants fishing.  Like loons and anhingas, cormorants have adapted for swimming underwater. Often we see only neck and head.

These birds are often seen standing in a sunny spot with their wings spread, drying them.  They don’t have the oil glands  that ducks and geese have to provide a water repellant in their feathers.  Susan says she hasn’t seen a loon this year but has heard their eerie  “wail call“.

In a Florida state park we saw and alligator and an anhinga at opposite ends of an oval pond, looking at each other..  We could see only the alligator’s eyes above water and only the head and neck of the bird.  It did appear that something was going to happen!

One of our black cats is “Annie”  for the black anhinga.

When Susan and her sibs were young we camped in Peninsula State Park in this same area.

Pit Stop !


Slammed, Hurled and Pummeled: The Life Of A Pit Crew

Crew chief Donny Stewart, far right, throws his air gun back towards the wall at the end of a pit stop at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Crew chief Donny Stewart, far right, throws his air gun back towards the wall at the end of a pit stop at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla.  Luis M. Alvarez/AP

Pit lane on race day is an adrenaline rush. Especially on Sunday at the 100th run of the Indianapolis 500, where the seats are sold out and the stakes are high.

IndyCar pit crews have just seconds to change four tires and refuel their driver’s car, all while other cars fly past. In this line of work, members of pit crews expect to get pretty banged up.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of the big races in California that leads up to Sunday’s Indy 500. That’s where I met Graham Rahal’s pit crew — one of the top crews in pit lane.

These six guys live and breath racing. Adam Kolesar, Heath Kosik, Kyle Sagan and crew chief Donny Stewart change the tires. Mark Mason mans the airjack and Mark Bruce is the team’s fueler.

They’re packed tight in the pits. It’s close quarters down here. Heath Kosik says that one misstep can cost a race — or worse. He once had a driver nearly run him over.

“He ran right through our box, ran over our equipment and I had to basically jump on top of the car,” Kosik says.

Over the years, cars have swerved, slammed and pummeled crews.

There was an incident in 1999 where driver Michael Andretti accidentally ran over his own crew member who was standing in front of his back wheel. Then, three years ago in Sonoma, Scott Dixon, who was in the lead with 15 laps to go, was penalized after he clipped another driver’s crew member. (Dixon lost the race and maintains that the rival team’s pit crew purposely got in the way.)

Last year on a rainy day at NOLA Motorsports Park, Francesco Dracone lost control and slammed into his own crew chief. And at the 2015 Indy 500, a collision in pit lane sent a car fish-tailing into two guys changing tires.

Everyone in pit lane has a story of their own.

On Rahal’s team, Mark Mason is the veteran down here. He’s been in the pits for decades and he’s got the scars to prove it. He tells me his favorite story took place on race day back in the ’90s.

“We’re all out on pit lane,” Mason says. “And the cars are coming in at massive speed.”

Whoever changed the tire on the other team’s car didn’t fasten the wheel nut tight enough.

“By the time their car got to us, it spat the wheel nut off and hit me clean on the shin,” he says. “It was like a bullet.”

For pit crews, these high-speed injuries are just part of the job. They’re here to win — even if that means almost catching on fire.

Mark Bruce is the team’s fueler. The hose he plugs into the side of Rahal’s race car pumps in three gallons of fuel per second. One time, he says, his fuel line broke open.

“So it was just pouring fuel out of the side of the car,” Bruce says. “I was soaked, my legs were soaked.”

When it hit the exhaust, the car ignited. He escaped the flames, but it was close.

“Knock on wood, I’ve never been on fire,” he says.

That’s why IndyCar has fire teams stationed at each pit box, like Edward Ross and Pit Fire co-chief Cathy Shumaker.

“Last year I was at a race where somebody broke his leg,” Shumaker says. “Remember that? We were at Fontana. Somebody broke his leg in the pit — where he got hit by his own car.”

“Yes, it’s the part of racing you never want to see,” Ross says. “People know the risks. This is a dangerous sport.”

Back in Graham Rahal’s pit box, team manager Ricardo Nault jumps on the radio:

“Box, box, box, Graham! Box, box, box!”

That’s the call to pit. The crew throws off their headsets and puts on their racing helmets. This is their moment in the spotlight.

Mark Mason crouches against the wall with the airjack, Mark Bruce clutches the fuel line and the wheel guys fire up the air guns.

Mark Bruce, left, looks on as others examine the car. Bruce is Graham Rahal's fueler, and he's had his share of close calls, like the time his fuel line broke open and ignited. "Knock on wood, I've never been on fire," he says.

Mark Bruce, left, looks on as others examine the car. Bruce is Graham Rahal’s fueler, and he’s had his share of close calls, like the time his fuel line broke open and ignited. “Knock on wood, I’ve never been on fire,” he says.  Danny Hajek/NPR

Graham Rahal’s pit crew is ready and waiting.

Ricardo Nault radios to his team as the car flies into the pit box: “Nice and smooth, gentlemen.”

There’s a burst of activity. The car is jacked up and the red-hot, chewed-up tires come off. Meanwhile, the fuel hose goes in and fills the tank. New tires go on, the fueler unplugs and the air jack is released.

The moment Rahal’s wheels hit the ground, he hits the throttle. The pit stop lasts just 6.7 seconds.

“Alright, clear out,” Nault says over the radio.

Sunday’s Indy 500 is a total sellout event. The 500-mile race will last hours — but those heated moments in a pit stop could very well determine the race.

For Mark Mason, that’s exactly how he likes it.

“We all complain about the job, that’s human nature,” he says. “But the thing is, to do this for as long as I’ve done it, there has to be something there. A driven passion that you have. That’s my role. That’s my role in life. That I do this.”

To Cracker Barrel


I like to tease AIice about eating at Cracker Barrel Restaurants, and I ran across this piece, printed as a customer review,  while looking for ammunition.

At first I noticed it is nicely written, then that it is touching, then that it is a poem. I’ve only adjusted the length of lines and applied the italic font.  rjn


I visit Cracker Barrel at least once a week.

 This is one place that they will let Seniors

order off the kids menu and get the free drink too.


You can get a complete meal with drink and

either a biscuit or cornbread for under $5.00.

It’s cheaper than cooking at home for one or two people.


In the winter, I go up there a lot and ask for a table

by the fireplace. Cheaper than getting a duralog

for my fireplace and sitting alone.


  Gloriousglo,  Indiana


A Surgeon


As I work with the doctors I have now, people I like and trust, I remember a surgeon who was good to me a long time ago.

When I was maybe 35 years old, a neglected skin cancer, basal cell, had grown to the size of a half dollar on my left temple. My internist referred me to a surgeon who removed the tumor and grafted skin from behind my right hear to cover the wound.  Later I wrote this poem.                         {Ever see a half dollar? 1.2 inches across.}


Levin, you bound my head too tight about

a knot of gauze that gnawed my scalp as I

emerged from anesthetic murk. When I

complained you blamed it on the fight I gave you

coming through to conscious wrath.  When you,

who’d snipped, and patched and finely stitched,

finally spun off the swath, you called in all

the floor staff, other cutters, cops and cleaners

to my bed to look and wonder, shake your hand, allowed

in friends and neighbors, local merchants and a TV crew

to praise your nifty work. You were proud,

but at the first, when a friend had come to speak

of dread and anger, you could hear,

and in the legal instance you could bend.

Levin, I bitched, I didn’t pay you,

but I loved you and I didn’t want you dead.


Levin died a year later of a brain tumor.





Planning Last Things


Chicago Tribune  5.23.16

Beginning to discuss end of life

Medicare pays bill for planning final care

Herbert Diamond, 88, left, of Fort Lee, N.J., goes over his end-of-life preferences with Dr. Manisha Parulekar recently. ( Julio Cortez/AP )

By Matt Sedensky      Associated Press

HACKENSACK, N.J. — The doctor got right down to business after Herbert Diamond bounded in. A single green form before her, she had some questions for the agile 88-year-old: about comas and ventilators, about feeding tubes and CPR, about intense and irreversible suffering.

“You want treatments as long as you are going to have good quality of life?” Dr. Manisha Parulekar asked.

The retired accountant nodded.

“And at that point,” she continued, “you would like to focus more on comfort, right?”

There was no hesitation before his soft-spoken reply: “Right.”

Scenes like this have been spreading across the U.S. in the months since Medicare started paying for conversations on end-of-life planning. Seven years after that very idea spurred fears of “death panels,” supporters hope lingering doubts will fade.

“The more and more that that happens, the more patients, families and doctors will become comfortable with it,” said Dr. Joe Rotella, chief medical officer of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. “Any distrust people have about, ‘What is this?’ really disappears when patients sit down and find out this is about empowering them.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services quietly tucked the change allowing for payment for end-of-life counseling into a massive package of regulations last summer, with billing permissible as of Jan. 1. To date, CMS has not released any data on how many people have taken part in the sessions, but a survey released last month suggests it may be off to a slow start.

Three nonprofits — the California Health Care Foundation, Cambia Health Foundation and John A. Hartford Foundation — fielded a poll of 736 doctors who see patients 65 and older. Only 14 percent said they had already billed Medicare for the new counseling, though the survey was conducted Feb. 18 through March 7, meaning the earliest participants only had about six weeks from the start of the benefit.

Altogether, 95 percent of doctors in the poll expressed support for the Medicare benefit and a big majority considered such conversations important.

Some doctors had already incorporated end-of-life planning into regular visits, and certain private insurers began offering reimbursement for it before Medicare announced its change.

But because Medicare is the single largest payer of health care in the U.S., this could stand to be one of the most significant developments in end-of-life care ever seen in the country.

It also gives Americans a glimpse into something many only knew through the lens of controversy.

For years before the Affordable Care Act was written, there was bipartisan consensus on the value in helping people understand their desires at the end of their lives and make those wishes known.

A 1991 law passed under President George H.W. Bush requires hospitals and nursing homes to help patients who want to prepare living wills and advance directives, and similar efforts gained particular resonance after the 2005 death of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose family fought for years over whether she’d want to be kept alive in a vegetative state.

In 2008, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation requiring doctors to discuss issues like living wills with new Medicare enrollees. And just months before being tapped as Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signed a proclamation recognizing Healthcare Decisions Day to spread word of a statewide campaign about the importance of advance directives.

That history dissipated in an instant in 2009 as President Barack Obama’s health care proposal spurred angry protests. Early drafts of the bill included a provision to pay for voluntary end-of-life conversations. Palin claimed it amounted to creating “death panels” and said it would allow government officials to decide whether sick people get to live.

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care,” she wrote in a Facebook post at the time.

Palin hammered the “death panel” idea. Her staff made clear she was specifically addressing advance-care planning. And the controversy led to the proposal being dropped from the bill.

With the Medicare change in sight, at the close of 2015 Politico penned an obituary for “death panels.” But fears stoked by the idea — which PolitiFact named the “Lie of the Year” in 2009 — still remain. Obama even made light of the lingering impact in addressing the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last month, noting his own impending retirement and joking: “Eight years ago, I was a young man, full of idealism and vigor. And look at me now: I am gray, grizzled, just counting down the days till my death panel.”

A March 2016 poll by Public Policy Polling, commissioned by Ari Rabin-Havt for his book “Lies, Incorporated,” found 29 percent of respondents believed the health overhaul law established “death panels,” with an additional 31 percent unsure. Among Republicans, 45 percent said they believed the law established “death panels.”

Requests for comment from Palin via her political action committee went unanswered.

“Lies are very sticky,” Rabin-Havt said, “and this is yet another example of how sticky lies are and the damage they can do.”

Hackensack University Medical Center, where Diamond had his session, is taking part in an advance-care planning campaign to educate and encourage people to put their preferences in writing. Linda Farber Post, the hospital’s director of bioethics, said the goal was to have all doctors, not just those treating the elderly or dying, to have such discussions with patients.

“This is not something where doctors should be saying, ‘Let’s just leave it to the geriatricians and the palliative care folks,’ ” she said.

Diamond said all the men on both sides of his family died before they reached 65, and so he never expected to live as long as he has.

But years ago, when his wife was hospitalized, dying with lymphoma, he recalled an old man in a bed next to her hooked up to all kinds of paraphernalia, in seeming misery. It was a lesson to him to make sure he never found himself in the same place.

“It just seemed quite apparent to this layman that he was suffering and yet his family couldn’t let go,” he said. “I would never want that for me.”

– See more at:

More Ducklings


Under sun-blasted footbridge,

A defeated street sign,

message secret unto mud,

and side-long wire cart,

caught with cans and cartons

from algae-streaming flow,

but from cool shadows,

there emerge the duck

and, working tightly in her wake,

fourteen palm-size young,

knowing only her blue-banded beauty,

trim and strong, serene.

Drug Co. Drops States’ Death Business

 The death chamber of the lethal-injection center at San Quentin State Prison in California.CreditEric Risberg/Associated Press

May 13, 2016

The New York Times »

Pfizer has blocked its drugs from being used in lethal injections, cutting off the last open-market source of such drugs

Friday, May 13, 2016 4:02 PM EDT  source

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Friday that it has imposed sweeping controls on the distribution of its products to ensure that none are used in lethal injections, a step that closes off the last remaining open-market source of drugs used in executions.
More than 20 American and European drug companies have already adopted such restrictions, citing either moral or business reasons. Nonetheless, the decision from one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers is seen as a milestone.
Read more »

Visit Ducklings


Ducklings can bring out your inner stalker

They’re adaptable, smart, determined and … photogenic

Mallards like these at Diversey Harbor show that “we’re in this huge ecosystem,” said the bird expert at Lincoln Park Zoo. ( Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune )

Mary Schmich

A crazy woman was chasing the baby ducks along the boardwalk.

“Just hold on a minute,” the woman muttered. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

The ducklings scurried on, then veered into a recessed area off the boardwalk and straight into a fence.

Trapped, they stopped. They turned around, lined up and faced the mother duck with looks that said “What now?”

The woman shot.

Not a great photo, but good enough.

The ducklings scurried off, and I went home to post my small photographic victory on Facebook, aware of how eccentric I must have looked to anyone who was watching.

I’m not the only duckling stalker out there in this ardently blooming Chicago spring, however. I know this because in the past few days I’ve seen other visitors to Lincoln Park Zoo equally enthralled by duckling parades and equally determined to record the miraculous encounter.

“Careful,” one woman warned her human children as they trailed the duck babies through the zoo and she pointed her iPhone. “Don’t step on them.”

One of the kids began to cry, as if the very thought of such cruelty was too much to bear.

There’s something about a bunch of ducklings on parade, especially in the city, that could tenderize the toughest heart. Maybe it’s the contrast between their tiny, soft bodies and the hard, tall buildings. Maybe it’s how organized and determined they seem as they march along, the kind of merry yet obedient band of siblings my father hoped in vain to breed. Maybe they make us think about the nature of family, of community, of cohesion.

Whatever exactly it is, a duckling parade is one of the few good reasons to use the otherwise dreadful word “cute.”

“We’re all evolutionarily charged to love it,” said Mason Fidino, who’s the bird expert at Lincoln Park Zoo, as he walked the boardwalk Thursday afternoon. After my duckling chase, I’d recruited him to supply some duck data.

“Even in the heart of Chicago,” he said, “we’re in this huge ecosystem. Mallards remind us of that.”

Fidino, whose official title is ecological analyst, stipulated mallards because even though other kinds of ducks live at the zoo — including wood ducks and the blue-billed ruddy ducks — mallards are the most abundant. They’re not part of the zoo’s official collection, but they flock there to take advantage of the amenities.

Lots of food. No predators. Relatively clean water.

“We probably have the most well-protected ducks you’ll ever see,” Fidino said. “They’re very pampered.”

So the mallards are basically moochers?

“A better way to it put it,” he said, “is that they’re adaptable and smart.”

At the zoo and all over the Chicago area, breeding season has come a little early this year, Fidino said, the consequence of a mild winter. Baby ducks are popping up at parks, golf courses, rivers, canals, almost anywhere there’s water and sometimes where there’s not.

“You see ducks nest everywhere,” Fidino said. “We get calls: ‘There’s a duck nesting in my flower box.’ ”

Fidino calls ducks “an astounding species.”

“When they’re born,” he said, “they know how to forage, how to swim.”

A baby wood duck can drop straight out of a tree and head straight for a pond, no parental guidance needed.

Occasionally, a zoo official is notified of a duckling who has strayed from its group or gotten stuck alone on the wrong side of a fence, but for the most part the zoo’s baby ducks live a safe life, despite the stalkers and gawkers.

Ducks aren’t the only waterfowl propagating this time of year either. At the zoo and elsewhere, geese are also multiplying, and there are no doubt people who find a baby goose as adorable as a baby duck. The rest of us, however, look at a gosling and see the giant pooping machine it will grow into.

But even the geese help us feel part of the big systems and cycles of nature, and in any season those of us who live in a concrete world need to find ways to maintain that connection.

Go see some baby ducks while the season lasts. I promise they’ll make you feel better.

Image result for ducklings photos

Twitter @MarySchmich

How to Deal with Digitals after Death (or Before)

Help Squad: Even in death, a person’s digital footprint lives on

This column grew from a request for help I received from a reader named Angie. Angie’s husband died in October, and she has struggled with the various government agencies and financial institutions she has had to contact since his death. I am still working with Angie on an issue involving the retrieval of survivor benefits from her husband’s health reimbursement account, which will be featured in an upcoming Help Squad.

Angie’s situation made me realize that, in general, people are not prepared for all the logistics that follow a family member’s death. So for guidance on what can be done to make this process easier, I spoke with Harrison, Va.-based elder law attorney, Sally Balch Hurme, author of the best-selling “Checklist for My Family: A Guide to My History, Financial Plans, and Final Wishes.” Hurme had a wealth of information to share. Below are some of her recommendations.

Do now

Everyone should make a secure list of their digital assets, e.g., smartphone, computer, email, social media accounts, then record the associated user IDs and passwords someplace retrievable by a family member. Hurme warned: “It’s a nightmare if you don’t have these passwords. Without them, you will most likely not be given access (to the deceased’s accounts).” She then added this interesting side note: “iTunes will be a problem if it is not your account. You could potentially lose all your music if it was purchased using the deceased’s account.”

If anyone is a veteran, he/she should acquire his/her DD-214 (certificate of discharge) and keep it with his/her important papers.

“This is your key to the kingdom,” Hurme said. “You’ll get nothing from the VA without the DD-214. And there are both burial and survivor benefits to be had.”

Be sure all pension plans, annuities and retirement plans have named beneficiaries. Without this they become a part of the deceased’s estate.

Do post-death

The following items should be attended to as soon as possible following an individual’s death. And Hurme counsels: “It’s advisable to have a good dozen copies of the death certificate as you will need them for (everything below).

Contact Social Security (800-772-1213) if the individual received social security payments. The last check will have to be returned as it is paid in advance.

Cancel health insurance. If it is Medicare, this will also be done through Social Security.

If the deceased was a veteran, contact the Veteran’s Administration.

“Most funeral home directors know what specific VA benefits are and what you have to do to get them,” Hurme adds.

Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license, and be sure the DMV knows the individual has died.

“This is identity theft protection because you don’t want a fake driver’s license being created,” Hurme said.

Notify the three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – to flag the individual’s file as deceased. “Thieves read obituaries and you don’t want anyone using the deceased’s credit history or personal information to get credit using their record,” Hurme warned.

Notify the banks where the individual had checking and/or savings accounts. Be aware if any are joint accounts; they will be temporarily frozen. As necessary, change the names on bank accounts, utility bills, homeowners insurance, auto loans and auto insurance.

If there is life insurance, contact the provider.

Says Hurme: “Many companies require a physical copy of the life insurance policy before they will pay it out, so survivors will need to know where this is and who to contact to claim the proceeds.”

Contact pension plan, annuity and retirement savings plan companies.

“IRAs will need to be rolled over to the named beneficiary’s IRA,” Hurme explains. “This can get complicated, so working with a financial adviser is essential. Do not attempt this on your own. There are very significant tax penalties if you do it incorrectly.”

Need help?

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Cathy Cunningham is a freelance columnist for Pioneer Press.

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