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Articles written by Tom Palen


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  • Pie Chips

    Tom Palen|Jul 13, 2024

    "I could eat five tons of these," my granddaughter Addison boasted. "They are so good." I challenged her claim. "Five tons is a lot. Are you sure you could eat that many?" She grabbed a few more. "Over twenty-one days," Addison said nonchalantly. Then she smiled and walked away, returning to the container a few minutes later. What could be so delicious? Pie chips. Now, you may not remember them as pie chips, which is a name I gave them, but I'll bet you've had them before. Maybe your mom or... Full story

  • The Steps of Justice

    Tom Palen|Jul 6, 2024

    My wife and I take a trip each year on our anniversary, but we don't call it an anniversary trip; we call it another honeymoon; this year's trip will be a doozy, but there will be more on that in another story. When traveling like this, we prefer historic accommodations over modern motels. One of the flats Melissa rented for this trip is in a historic building overlooking beautiful sites around the city. She showed me the photos online. "Beautiful," I agreed. "But there is one thing I have to...

  • Rainbows

    Tom Palen|Jun 29, 2024

    It doesn’t matter if it’s your kid or not; nothing will get your attention faster than a young child who screams, especially if it sounds like they are hurt or in danger. My daughter Delaney and I share adjacent birthdays; hers is November 14th, and mine is the 15th. When she was about four, I took her to a Denver Broncos football game to celebrate our birthdays together, just the two of us. I’m not a huge fan of stadium food; however, I’ll admit that I like their overly salty hotdogs on a pl...

  • The Top Shelf

    Tom Palen|Jun 22, 2024

    My dad was a tad over six feet tall, while Mom barely hit five feet. Most of my sisters have Mom's short gene, and none of the boys hit six feet, but in my family, the brothers are taller than my sisters. At 5' 8", I'm not really short, but I'm not tall either. I guess I'm just right. In our house, it was common to hear Mom ask, "Can you get that down for me?" She was referring to something too high to reach in a cabinet. The boys were always happy to help; the girls had the same issue Mom did....

  • Doubting Thomas

    Tom Palen|Jun 15, 2024

    A school teacher, Carole Olsen, was in charge of religious education at Saint Mary’s church in Ottumwa. “You should be teaching a CCD class,” she told me. I was in my early twenties; I was not a teacher and knew nothing about teaching, so I told her no, but Carole didn’t give up. “You don’t need a degree in education to be a teacher,” she said. “A teacher is someone from whom others learn. A degree just lets you get paid for teaching in the public schools.” “I wouldn’t know how to go about...

  • The Suit

    Tom Palen|Jun 8, 2024

    Back in my radio days, our station had the best DJ service around. We played all types of events: school dances, class reunions, company parties, birthday parties, and anniversaries. The most common gigs we played were wedding receptions. Before the wedding, I always met with the couple to discuss what songs they wanted played for special dances, such as the bride and groom, father and bride, and groom and his mother's dance, and maybe a few requests they would like played throughout the...

  • Fueling Memories

    Tom Palen|Jun 1, 2024

    As my wife and I travel about the country, we notice the annual jacking up of gasoline prices coincides with the coming of Memorial Day weekend, the kick-off to the summer travel season. Every year, the big oil companies have another excuse for raising gasoline prices: a natural disaster somewhere in the world, foreign issues, government problems, OPEC raising the barrel price of crude oil, OPEC lowering the price of crude oil, causing a rise in gasoline prices, or fewer swallows returning to...

  • Jell-O Salad

    Tom Palen|May 25, 2024

    People get excited for Memorial Day weekend. In just a few days, the schools will be out for the summer, traditionally kickstarting the summer vacation, camping, and picnic seasons. I love a picnic. I remember picnics with my family when I was a small child. Mom was a great cook who could make something out of nothing when there was "nothing to eat in this house." She also packed a delicious picnic. Sometimes, our picnics featured hotdogs and hamburgers on a park grill-an old-fashioned grill...

  • Mississippi Squirrel

    Tom Palen|May 18, 2024

    In the early 1970s, young people across America, mostly college students, took a liking to streaking, the act of running naked in public wearing only sneakers and a smile. They thought they'd started something new, butt not so! (Pun intended.) After some research, I learned that George William Crump, a senior at Washington College, was arrested in 1804 for running naked through Lexington, Virginia, where the college was located. In 1799, a man was arrested for streaking through the Mansion...

  • Widowmakers Original 12-11-2017

    Tom Palen|May 11, 2024

    I have wonderful neighbors. One is a retired machinist, which comes in handy for me. Being able to tap into his expertise has often times helped me. He is talented in many ways, including having the best garden along the north shore - maybe all of Minnesota! He’s a giving man, Melissa and I benefit from his bountiful harvest every summer and fall. Gene is a Finlander, through and through, and mighty proud of it; he’s also a great storyteller with a charming accent. I love listening to him share...

  • National Library Week

    Tom Palen|May 4, 2024

    Libraries are much more than books. I use our library fairly often to research things online because it doesn't have the distractions I have at home. For example, at the library, I've never had a cat (Edgar Allan) walk across my keyboard, typing random gibberish while I went for a drink of water. The ladies at the Silver Bay Public Library are great! Shannon, Eileen, Julia, and Tracy have helped me a lot over the years, especially with printing and technical issues. (I'm not the kind of guy who...

  • Butterfingers

    Tom Palen|Apr 27, 2024

    With a wife and three daughters, I have been asked occasionally to go to the store to pick up some items that may not be - well, obviously are not, for me. Some manly men friends tell me they would never pick these items up at the store for anybody, for any reason. I don't believe them. These are the same guys who embellish the size of the fish that got away, the gas mileage of their pickup with the monstrous mud tires and big V-8 motor, the deal they got on their riding lawn mower, and claim th...

  • Asking Questions

    Tom Palen|Apr 20, 2024

    We bought our house in Minnesota almost 10 years ago. Planning to do a complete remodel, I gutted every room in the house. Naturally, while they were open, I tried to think of everything that should go inside the walls. I ran new plumbing, wiring, and ducts for the heat, air conditioning, and exhaust fans. We ran cable for TV and USB ports in nearly every room. I even remembered running a cable to hardwire the smoke detectors and a waterline for the ice maker in the refrigerator. I thought I’d t...

  • Flat Tires

    Tom Palen|Apr 13, 2024

    The first flat tire I changed was on my sister Barbara's car. We worked at the Runway Café in Ottumwa, Iowa; Barb was the manager, and I worked for her. Barb was going to run into the bank to get change. It was cold outside, so she started her car and let it warm up. She came back inside with a frustrated look on her face. "My car has a flat tire," she said. "Can you go change it for me?" I was only 15 years old at the time. "I've never changed a flat tire, but I've seen it done before," I said....

  • All Your Eggs in One Basket

    Tom Palen|Apr 6, 2024

    Just the other day, while walking through Walmart, I noticed their Easter supplies were marked way down. I stopped to glance at the selection. I noticed the PAAS egg coloring kits. Wow, I remember those from when I was a kid. I wondered how long they've been making those. As I kid, I thought PAAS egg coloring dye tablets were made from Crayola Crayons. As an adult I know the tablets are not chunks of crayons, but I wondered if they were made by the same company; it seems logical since both produ... Full story

  • Car Notes

    Tom Palen|Mar 30, 2024

    My daughter drove a small Chevy Cobalt during high school. One day, she drove my full-size Ford pickup southbound on Church Street. She felt crowded by a car in the center lane, so naturally, she moved to the right to avoid any contact. Unfortunately, she was not accustomed to driving the larger vehicle and moved a little too far to the right; the mirror of my truck connected with a parked vehicle's mirror. Since my truck was moving forward, it simply collapsed my mirror, folding it closed. The...

  • Better than Before

    Tom Palen|Mar 23, 2024

    Dad often said, "If you borrow something or use something that doesn't belong to you, always leave it in better condition than you got it." I try to follow this rule, even when I rent equipment. I have never paid a cleaning fee when I return equipment. One time, I returned a paint sprayer to Voss Equipment Rental, and asked, “Did I get it clean enough?” Craig looked at the sprayer, "This is cleaner than when you took it. Do you want a job?" "No," I replied, "but I would take a discount on the...

  • Acclimation

    Tom Palen|Mar 16, 2024

    As a kid living in Madison, Wisconsin, I was naturally a Green Bay Packers fan. During neighborhood football games, I dreamed of someday replacing Bart Starr as the Packers quarterback, but that was a short-lived dream. I wanted to play football. "You're too scrawny," said Coach Scents, the junior high coach. "You should go out for track." "You're too small," said coach Clement in high school. "You should try wrestling. You'd do well in the light weights." Admittedly, I was small, but light...

  • Don't Kick the Car

    Tom Palen|Mar 9, 2024

    I still remember the name of the color, Glencoe Green, from Chrysler. It was beautiful, deep metallic green, so dark that most people thought the car was black, but in the sun, oh, did that car sparkle and show its true color. The day I picked up my car from Colorgraphics body shop in Blakesburg, Iowa, still stands out as if it was yesterday. The shop floor had that wet, chalky look that all body shops seem to have; it was probably dust from sanding. The smell of paints and thinners lingered in...

  • Brownies

    Tom Palen|Mar 9, 2024

    The topic has been debated since shortly after the discovery of chocolate; should brownies and chocolate chip cookies have nuts or no nuts? I think they should have nuts – but walnuts, pecans, or almonds? Today, let's focus on brownies. I haven't met many people who do not like brownies, and there is a good reason for this: brownies represent love, friendship, happiness, and unity. I've never known anyone to become angry while eating a brownie. But, just as there are various kinds of love, frien...

  • Chicory Coffee

    Tom Palen|Feb 23, 2024

    Just the other day I was going through the cabinets in our kitchen and came across a can of chicory coffee that Melissa and I picked up on a trip to New Orleans. I was going to throw it away as the coffee was a few years old. Melissa walked into the kitchen, “Look at this,” I said holding up the can. “Where did you find that,” she asked. “Is there anything in it?” “It was buried in the cabinet,” I answered. “It's about two-thirds full, but I’m going to throw it away. It’s a few years old, I ca...

  • Hospital Corners

    Tom Palen|Feb 9, 2024

    Someone had to do it. "I don't have opposable thumbs; I can't do it," said Edgar Allan, the black cat. "Make the dog tell her, she's the one who did it." Good grief! I had just finished my shower. I dried off and had the towel wrapped around my waist, tucked into itself. The towel doesn't fit as well as when I was younger, but I'm working on it. I took a second bath towel from the cabinet, bent over, and draped the towel over the back of my head. I twisted the front of the towel together, then s... Full story

  • White Out

    Tom Palen|Feb 3, 2024

    I've heard and read stories from people about traveling in the recent snowstorms that hit the Midwest. Still, I feel like I've driven in worse. The year was 2014. It was just a little before 3 p.m. I planned to go to Cedar Falls to have dinner with my daughter Delaney and spend time together. I checked the weather, and northern Iowa had a blizzard warning. The report called for conditions to be at their worst starting around 9 p.m. and lasting until midnight. If I got on the road right away, I... Full story

  • Double Dipping

    Tom Palen|Jan 27, 2024

    For my northern friends, the Canteen in the Alley is a very small restaurant in Ottumwa, Iowa. It seats 16 people on stools around the horseshoe counter. A canteen sandwich is a loose meat hamburger. (Scrambled.) You can get a Canteen with, or without cheese, and that’s about it. Oh, they also offer egg sandwiches, and hotdogs. No fries, but they have great pie. People will stand in line waiting for a seat, but a lot of folks get their food to go. It’s a cozy place. The focal point of the res... Full story

  • Lab Experiments

    Tom Palen|Jan 20, 2024

    It was in seventh-grade science class at Schenk Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin. Our teacher, Mr. Anderson, looked like a scientist. His hair was combed back with Brylcreem, and he wore black horn-rimmed glasses. He always wore a black suit, white shirt, a tie, and polished black shoes when monitoring the halls, but during class, he traded the suit jacket and donned a white lab coat. Mr. Anderson was a little...rigid, shall we say; way too serious - all the time. I thought he needed to...

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