Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fatherhood: Memories of all these years on the lake

The Beebe family is on our way to Minnesota, for an annual fishing trip. Of all my fatherhood mistakes -- and I've made plenty, no doubt -- this, I feel, is one of my shining moments. I managed to succeed in continuing a tradition that my dad started with me and my siblings. Every summer, for one week or two (and one glorious summer for THREE weeks), the Beebes drive 16-18 hours to northern Minnesota. We fish. We play family games. We fish. We enjoy nature. We fish. We spend quality time together. We fish.

And for most of the years that I have taken my family, the trip has coincided with Father's Day. No place I would rather be on Father's Day, than with my kids on Boy Lake, a little corner of the Earth that my dad taught me to love.

And on this Father's Day weekend, here are a few random moments about our Boy Lake trips, remembering my dad, as well as the more recent memories I've created with my own kids, and with my father-in-law. I have a dream to write a book about this tradition, so this is a very small piece of everything I could say about my love for Boy Lake.

Note: This writing is not meant to overlook the awesomeness of my mom, my wife and my mother-in-law, who all totally bought into these trips and love them as much as the dads; it's just that, well, this is a Father's Day piece. But it's worth mentioning that Dawn grew up taking vacations to Florida beaches, so I'm especially appreciative that she has learned to love this tradition with all her heart.

-- Studying the clouds. My dad never really showed me a lot of silly, or imaginative, sides of him. But when sitting in the boat on a sunny day, he would look up in the clouds and ask me what I see. We would find all varieties of animals in the cloud shapes, each challenging the other to see the same things. In the coming days, I know that I'll be sitting in the boat one day and Natalie or Drew will say, "Hey dad. See that? It looks like a dolphin chasing a poodle." And I'll see it too, of course.

-- Teaching fishing skills. I'm forever thankful that my dad taught me how to fish. He taught me how to absolutely love days on the boat even when we weren't catching, but he taught me some great skills to
actually catch them, too. And I've passed on at least a little bit of that. Several years ago both kids wanted to try their hand at fishing for bass with plastic worms. I really wasn't sure they were old enough yet to grasp that method, but we ventured out to a location where the bass frequently are, and I explained the requirement to be patient and fish it slow, and to let them get the worm in their mouth, to WAIT before setting the hook. The joy on their faces when they hooked one and fought it to the boat was priceless.

-- Watching wildlife. This is a fishing trip. But it's so much more. It's watching the bald eagles fly overhead and remembering the freedom that they represent. It's listening to the eerie call of the loons off in the distance, and the up close viewing of them as they swim near the boat. It's the working of the beaver, him swimming along the shore and then out away from it so that he can slap his tail on the water's surface to let us know we're a little too close for his comfort. And one year, while in the boat fishing 40 feet from shore with Natalie, we saw a young muskrat. Natalie started imitating its sound, and he started swimming toward us. I'm not sure if he thought Nat's sound was his momma or what, but he swam all the way to us, swimming literally right beside the boat, along one side before realizing his mistake and turning away.

-- The small-town life. The nearest town is Longville, which hangs its hat on being the "Turtle Racing Capital of the World." Seriously. Turtle racing. Every Wednesday, the main street is closed to traffic so hundreds of vacationers can race turtles, 10 at a time, with the winner of each heat being the turtle that is the first to get from a small inner circle painted on the street to a larger outer circle. Dads -- my dad when I was a kid, and me and my father-in-law for my own kids -- sacrifice an afternoon of fishing to watch the children race turtles.

-- The sunrises, and sunsets. When you're that far north in the summer, the days are long. There's nothing as
breathtaking as watching the sun come up over the lake at 5:30 a.m., unless it's seeing the more vibrant colors of a sunset after 9 p.m., reflecting forever on the water. As a child, I took endless pictures of ducks, especially baby ducks, on these vacations. As an adult, I can't get enough photos of the sun over the lake at various stages of the day. And I fondly remember those early mornings in the boat with dad, struggling to stay awake while fishing, him drinking coffee from the thermos he took out with him, both of us snacking on a Snickerdoodle cookie.

-- The weather. There's something about weather when you're at the lake. I guess it's because you can see so much more of the sky. Watching the storm clouds roll in, and ideally veer away from you so that you can enjoy their appearance without being forced off the water, is a treat. Laying in bed listening to the rain hit the cabin roof. Seeing rainbows arch overhead, with a much more real chance of seeing the pot of gold at the end. One of the best weather memories? Being in the boat with father-in-law Bob one evening and both us looking at each other wondering, "What is that sound?" We quickly realized it was the rain line marching through the woods, getting closer every second, and soon enough dumping buckets on us.

-- Those special catches. Like my dad, I enjoy all varieties of fishing, and catching all kinds of fish. We're bass fishermen first and foremost. But I distinctly remember the smile on my dad's face when we would catch bluegill so big our outstretched hands could barely handle them. The northern pike are rarely as big now as they were when my family fished this same lake in the 1960s and 70s. But no matter the size, one thing is for sure: Bob will not allow his skin to touch a pike. He'll shake it off the hook if he can, or grab it with a rag if he can't get a companion in the boat to give him an assist. I grew up fishing this lake believing it did not have smallmouth bass in it. A few years ago, a guy more familiar with the lake than me assured me that there were some, and then the next year, Natalie made her dad super proud by catching one. And the largemouth bass. The moment a bass breaks the surface of the water and explodes on a topwater lure is a fishing moment that never gets old. I'm convinced my dad didn't fish plastic worms not because he didn't think they were effective, but because he loved the thrill of topwater fishing. And to this day, I think of dad when twitching a popper across the water, waiting for the explosion.

Happy Father's Day, ya'll. I'm going fishing with my kids.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Morning coffee? Yes, please!

I've had stretches in my life where I enjoyed an occasional cup of coffee in the morning. I also have several boxes of different flavors of tea bags in the pantry, since I like a nice mug of hot tea some days. For a couple different periods in my life I habitually stopped for 32 ounces of Dr. Pepper on my way to work.

But my current routine is more than a little different. I wake up and pretty quickly ask myself, "Phil, do you want to brew a pot of coffee before you leave home? Or do you want to stop at Panera or another coffee shop for a special brew? Or do you want to drop a K-cup in the Keurig machine in the office lounge?"

Decisions, decisions. One thing that's certain, though. My mornings don't very often get far into the day without coffee of some type. Now, I'm not so hardcore that I drink it black; give me cream AND sugar, thank you very much. 

But this is a big change for a 46-year-old who has consumed coffee very casually and sporadically for much of his adult life. Now, there is nothing casual -- or sporadic -- about it.

It's a good thing Panera isn't right on my way to work. If it was, their employees would know me by name and would know to have the hazelnut canister full as soon as I walked in. In my still-amateur opinion, the Panera hazelnut is the best offering out there, outclasses anything I've had from Starbucks. So that's more of a special treat. Most days it's using a K-cup to fill up one of two office mugs: my oversized, bright yellow smiley face mug, or my SL,UT mug, courtesy of a friend in Utah. I've dedicated most of one desk drawer to storing K-cups. (Note to self: As of this morning, the drawer is in need of replenishing pretty soon)

When McDonald's recently ran a special where they were giving away small coffees (no purchase necessary) for a two-week period, I took advantage of that freebie for 6 or 7 of those days, most of the time happily walking in and asking for my free coffee without taking the bait and buying food to go with it. And the first few times I just ordered it black and then doctored it up in the office. One morning when they asked if I wanted cream and sugar, I said, "Yes please." They asked how many of each, and I had no clue how to answer that question. At home and work, I just pour the additives out of the containers, never thinking of it as a number of sugars, or a number of creams. I think I said a couple of each, but whatever my answer, the number clearly wasn't big enough for my taste buds. It was not drinkable until my cup received some extra attention once I got to work.

As a child I remember my dad, a black coffee drinker for as long as I ever knew, saying that he started drinking coffee with cream and sugar and backed off over the years until he developed a taste for it black. Honestly, I don't think I'll get to that point.

But he had a big head start on me. Remember, I just started this coffee train rolling at age 46.

Tell me: How do you drink your coffee? And where is your favorite coffee brewed?