Winter be gone!

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Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sure, traces of snow lined my path this morning. Winter is reluctant to leave.

But the paved trail through Foster Park was clear. Neighborhood streets were clear, as well.

So the morning jog was about as safe as it could be. Despite my balance problems at 77, I felt stable as a 20-year-old. I didn’t trip or stumble once. Now keep in mind that my trail is about four miles, counting the few blocks from my house to the park.

My daily outings must be as cost-effective as anything. No gym membership fee. No hundreds of dollars for a treadmill to place in my study. Then, after the jog through the park, I perform push-ups and sit-ups. No cost there, either.

Of course, I’ve got the expense of a pair of running shoes. A hundred or so bucks. But that’s only an outlay of dollars every few months. I don’t think I’ve spent a dollar on a jogging outfit in years.

In winter, I just put on sweatpants, a jacket and stocking cap. If everybody followed my exercise habits, it would put gyms and sporting
goods stores out of business.

I don’t know if my exercise regimen is keeping me healthy and alive. Dad was physically active throughout his life. He played golf every day in warmer weather after work, walking and not riding a cart.

In high school, he played sports year-round. But he died at age 60. I’ve always assumed that his many years smoking had something to do with his relatively early death.

Mom, meantime, got her exercise playing bridge and gardening. She was ranked a “Master” bridge player and I gather from that classification she was pretty good. Like Dad, she also was a life-long smoker. Unlike him, she lived a long life. She died at 91.

If I reflect on my own habits, I can’t say jog or do push-ups to live longer. Or that I decline red meat at dinner to avoid dying of colon cancer as Dad did.

My jogs and my eating habits just make sense. Most days I feel good. I rarely develop a cold or flu. I’m reasonably active. Besides, the jogging and push-ups, I do the family shopping every few days. And I read. A lot.

One of these days, I might even tackle writing another book. So far, I haven’t thought of a topic or theme that excites me. Lots of authors have written books at age 77 or even older.

I don’t have any advice for people in my age group. I’m lucky that it seems everybody on both sides of our family is doing well. So I don’t worry about them. (I can guarantee that jogging and other exercise takes the edge off worrying.)

I do wish people would do more research about candidates during this election year. Listen to both sides. And listen with an open mind. Electing a new president, Congress and state offices is too important to base a person’s vote on whim or prejudice.

I don’t think I’d like living in a part of the country that’s warm year-round. I’m addicted to the change in seasons. Especially now, as we’re about to mark the unofficial end of winter, I’m ready to celebrate. And get moving.

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An evening with George

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FORT WAYNE PHILHARMONIC: AN EVENING WITH GEORGE GERSHWIN
Jodie DeSalvo: FORT WAYNE PHILHARMONIC: AN EVENING WITH GEORGE GERSHWIN

Face it, everybody loves Gershwin.

For one instance, the lyrics from “Porgy and Bess.”

A reminder you need? How about, “Bess you is my woman”?

Or what about “Rhapsody in Blue”? Yes, we’ve all heard that from our childhood. Surely, I’m right.

Or “An American in Paris”? I recall that melody from the early 1950s movie of the same title. My favorite dancer Gene Kelly starred that movie.

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s performance Saturday at the historic Embassy in Fort Wayne virtually sold out. Fortunately, we ordered our tickets early. Our seats were on the main floor and not that far back from the stage.

Gershwin. As American as apple pie, of course. But almost patriotic without the smaltz. Saturday’s performance was doubly special. Sometimes Fort Wayne resident Jodie DeSalvo performed “Rhapsody in Blue” at the piano.

So without apology, we claim this incredible talent as our own.
The program not only tells of her national and international tours. But it also mentions her brilliance as a conductor.
So of course, we claim her as our own.

The program mentions that she gives tribute concerts in honor of the genius of pianist/comedian Victor Borge. Well, reading about that connection to DeSalvo sure took me back to the days of black and white TV when Borge had a weekly show.

As I sat in my aisle seat, cranking my neck to get a better view, I kept wondering how DeSalvo manages to get remember every note of the lengthy and very complicated “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Her performance was so strong, so confident and so seemingly perfect, it’s no surprise that she’s so in demand internationally.

After the concert, I found this genius where she had positioned herself at a desk to sell CDs of her performances. What I noticed was how gracious she was as she chatted with the concert-goers.

I should mention the conductor for Saturday’s concert. Her name was Chia-Hsuan Lin. She’s originally from Taiwan, educated in the States – including the University of Cincinnati where a friend of mine taught musicology.

This young woman was another star of the show. She moves with the command and energy of soccer star. Like DeSalvo, Chia-Hsuan has performed to international audiences. If she weighs 90 pounds I’d be surprised.

As I reflect on the concert, I’m reminded once more of the seemingly infinite range of talent human beings can deploy. A big part of it with artists like DeSalvo and Chia-Hsuan is inherited.

A gift from parents and past generations. When you read the biographies you often find fathers and mothers who also performed and even were renowned during their careers.

Once, on a fellowship, I spent a couple of weeks visiting classes and tutors at Indiana University’s famous School of Music. The students in violin and cello only got admitted to the school because they had demonstrated a gift.

But as I recall, every professor reported that the most important thing wasn’t the student’s gift. It was practice.

The practice is what people like DeSalvo do for themselves and their careers. Their endless hours of practice is also the gift they give to the rest of us.

No wonder for days, maybe weeks, the Gershwin tunes will be running through my mind. What a gift!

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Return of the Black Panthers

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I had lost track of the Black Panthers after they disbanded in the early 1980s.

But this week’s PBS special about the black nationalist movement brought it all back. During much of the group’s history, I was writing editorials for The Journal Gazette.

I championed school desegregation. That was the last thing the Panthers called for. For my part, I don’t recall writing much of anything about the Panthers or other black nationalist groups.

Yet the TV special reminded me that the struggle for black rights didn’t begin and end with the sermons of Martin Luther King Jr., the marches he led or the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

But for a time, the Panthers were another part of the story. And the special brought to mind that group’s call for full employment, decent housing and free health care.

But their founders like Huey Newton and Bobby Seales had no patience with advocates of school desegregation. They demanded that police officers stop abusing black citizens. At the time, police brutality was even more common than it is today.

I imagine one thing that’s changed is that departments that serve minority communities recruit minorities. That has meant a revolution in policing. In Oakland, California, during the era of the PBS special, the department had nearly 700 officers. Only a dozen or so were black.

One disturbing part of the story I thought the TV special skipped over were the tactics of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Abuse by his agents and local police, in fact, was so common that in Oakland and other cities, the Panthers started monitoring police patrols.

What the special did remind me of was how the Panthers performed social services in black communities. For example, the PBS program showed members serving free breakfast to mostly black children.

At their peak in 1970, you could find a chapter of the Black Panthers in 68 cities with thousands of members. They gave voice to a population in our country that’s often silent. Or that population is represented by a minority – the gang-bangers, the jobless and the drug dealers.

One review I read of the PBS special called it a whitewash. I didn’t think so. I didn’t think that the special glamorized the Panthers or was silent about the crimes of a few of their leaders.

Not unlike today, the Panthers’ era was one of great division in the country. Not unlike today, it was a time of great hardship for so many people.

Did the Panthers make a difference? I think it’s fair to say that they did. Their story belongs to any fair account of the historic struggle of black people for justice and equality.

So thanks PBS for the reminder.

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Presidents I’ve known, sort of

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George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

When I was growing up in Defiance, Ohio, we celebrated Lincoln’s birthday one week and Washington’s a bit more than a week later.

I recall we got a day vacation for each holiday. In my Dayton, Ky., classroom I taught in, the metal cabinet in the back of the room housed two huge portraits, one of Abe Lincoln, the other of George Washington.

I assumed that in years’ past the teacher would bring out those portraits in February. Or maybe they hung on the classroom wall year around.

In my two years teaching in that room I didn’t resurrect the portraits. The old frames were in bad shape.

Now those celebrations have been combined into Presidents’ Day. I can’t imagine how a teacher handles this. Of course, the kids have the day off as a holiday.

Tackling a lesson on the roll of either president in the nation’s life the day before or after would feel oddly out of place in the school calendar. Somehow, my teachers managed to cram the memorials into the curriculum.

The Washington and Lincoln birthdays give us all a chance to reflect on the history of our country and on the transformations in our democracy through the years.

Just think. The father of our country owned slaves. Lincoln freed them. We had one national leader who presided over the Great Depression. Another who got us into an endless war in Southeast Asia. Another was forced to resign. Another sent troops to Little Rock to enforce the racial integration of the schools.

I’ve met several presidents. When I was writing editorials for the morning paper in Fort Wayne, we lived a year in Washington, D.C. There, I met George H.W. Bush at some event. After another conference, then Arkansas Gov.Bill Clinton invited me to join him for a drink in his hotel suite.

At a Chicago meeting of writers, I got acquainted with then Sen. Barak Obama. A professor friend who joined me at the luncheon told me he was going to vote for this man for president. I was also impressed and figured I’d vote for him, too.

I’ve been disappointed in some presidents I voted for. I thought Richard Nixon was too smart to order the break-in of the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel.

I assumed LBJ would continue John F. Kennedy’s cautious foreign policy and not get the country bogged down in the Vietnam war. I’m still puzzled. As a senator, Johnson had proven such an brilliant majority leader.

So here it is, Presidents’ Day. With presidential debates going on lately Americans are starting to think about the candidates and who might succeed President Obama. What’s changed is how deeply divided the country has become.

George W. Bush wanted to be a “uniter and not a divider.” That didn’t work out. I hoped Obama could play such a constructive role. That hasn’t worked out, either.

Maybe honoring Washington and Lincoln today can help us bridge a few differences, bind up the nation’s wounds in Lincoln’s words and point the way to a brighter future.

We sure have known worse days. Most of us, I’m sure, know we can do better.

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The Jesse Owens I knew

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There’s a new TV documentary out that features the great black American runner, Jesse Owens.

Most people today probably don’t remember Owens. But I do. No, I wasn’t even born when he ran the 100-meter dash in a record 10.3 seconds in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

I saw Owens in my home town of Defiance, Ohio, at the ball field on the east side of town.

This would have been in the latter half of the 1940s. My grandfather Tom had taken me to witness Owens race a motorcycle at the field. I didn’t realize then that after Owens had embarrassed Adolf Hitler at the Olympics.

At the time Hitler was promoting Aryan supremacy. Hosting the Olympics was supposed to showcase that racist ideology. But here was this young black man who clearly was the superior athlete leaving the white German runners in the dust. The supremacy belonged to a black kid from Cleveland.

So maybe 10 years later, here he was in my undistinguished mid-size town in northwestern Ohio racing a motorcycle.

Thank goodness, my grandfather, who took care of me while Dad and Mom worked, knew a rare opportunity when he heard about it. Dad’s family closely followed sports – especially the Reds and Tigers all summer on the radio.

In high school, Dad played guard on the Paulding, Ohio, basketball team. Later, he beat my best friend’s Dad in a sudden death playoff for the Kettening club championship. Meantime, Dad never missed the Friday night fights on the nearby Elks club TV. So sports were a big deal for him.

And here was this legend Jesse Owens showing up at the baseball field of Kingsbury Park where I pitched Little League ball for Schatz Motors. My grandfather Tom and I sat on the front row to witness this seconds-long event. I’m sure Dad was jealous.

Today, if you look up this Olympic runner’s name you won’t find that he went on to more great things. After the Berlin games, he worked at various jobs when he wasn’t racing motorcycles in towns around the country to pay the bills. He’s mentioned in the record books for the Olympics. Or you might catch him on a TV documentary.

Oh yes. The great 1940s race in Defiance? Jesse Owens won. I recall that it wasn’t even close.

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Valentines I’ve never forgotten

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defiance defiance slocum
Slocum Elementary, Defiance (OH)

It was Mrs. Zeskey.

For some reason, I knew her first name, Roberta.

Every Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of this kind lady. She was my fifth-grade teacher at Slocum Elementary in Defiance, Ohio.

I’m sure she wasn’t the only teacher at that school or in any other community who encouraged their students to bring enough Valentine’s Day cards so every student would receive one in the card exchange.

I suppose Slocum was a typical school in that day, the late 1940s. That means we had about 25 or 30 kids to buy a Valentine’s Day card for. So maybe we had to ask Dad or Mom for a quarter to invest in this classroom event. In my case, I might have taken change out of my miniature house bank from First Federal.

Of course, you signed each card. Mrs. Zeskey gave us class time for that. Then you passed out your cards to the other students.
So everybody got a card from everybody else in the class.

If you didn’t happen to like one or two of the other students, you didn’t have to take the card home. You simply could discard that Valentine in the trash on the way out the school door.

What I liked about the card exchange was that it included everyone in the class. In that 5th grade room, a few students weren’t popular. But on that day they didn’t have to feel excluded or unloved.

That’s the way it had been just before the Christmas vacation. Mrs.
Zeskey invited us to draw a name for the gift exchange. Everybody drew a name. But I drew the name of a girl who wasn’t popular. Somehow Mrs. Zeskey saw my distress. She took the slip of paper with the girl’s name and gave me a slip of paper with her name. How special that must have made the girl feel, to have received her gift from our teacher!

And I got to give the teacher a Christmas gift.

Today, I’m ashamed of my prejudice toward the girl. But at the time, I was so grateful that Mrs. Zeskey came to my rescue. At class reunions, that girl never fails to greet me warmly. I’m reminded of one teacher’s kindness. I’m ashamed all over again.

I have no idea whether Mrs. Zeskey’s lessons in math and reading were average or outstanding. I recall she often read stories about animals to the class. One character was Reddy Fox. I believe that character and his animal friends talked.

I loved such stories. And being read to. Most of all, I remember Mrs. Zeskey as one of my favorite teachers. So as this Valentine’s Day draws near, I send a greeting to the teachers whose lesson in kindness and inclusion is the greatest lesson of all.

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Primarily New Hampshire

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If I were still writing editorials for the morning paper, I’d probably be staying late at the office tonight to follow the returns in the New Hampshire primary.

Of course I’m interested. Of course I care. But I followed and wrote about elections for many years. So I know probably better than most people that the outcome in this nearly all white state won’t determine who gets to be our next president.

Here’s the likely story. Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic race in New Hampshire. Donald Trump will win the Republican. There’s only a slim chance either one will go on to become president.

Here’s why I’m pretty confident of my prediction. In this country,
national elections are fought and won in the political middle. When a party nominates a candidate who is seen as extreme, the result is a huge loss for that party.

Two modern examples come to mind. In 1964, the Republican Party was taken over by its very conservative wing. It nominated Barry Goldwater, at that time seen as reflecting that wing of the party’s views.

The election that followed was a debacle for the GOP. Democrat Lyndon Johnson was elected to his own four-year term. A similar fate befell the Democrats in 1972 when the party nominated a leftist, Sen. George McGovern. Republican Richard Nixon won his second term that year.

I don’t think that these two cases prove that a Bernie Sanders or a Donald Trump would lose in a general election. It’s just that it’s hard to see how either could prevail when their appeal has mainly been to a fraction of the electorate.

And not to the mainstream.

Still, I applaud New Hampshire voters. No group of people in any other state takes their responsibility more seriously. And if these voters don’t determine the outcome of the election in November, they probably will settle the fate of several Republican candidates who haven’t yet polled well.

Moreover, by its huge turnout, the New Hampshire primary sets an example for the rest of the country. These voters offer a role model of what it means to be an American.

I’ll be watching the returns today on TV well into the evening.

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A night in the hospital

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Lutheran_Hospital, Ft. Wayne

You can’t beat the hospital when you get really sick.

When your bodily functions won’t cooperate, you recruit somebody or, in my case, your spouse to drive you to the hospital.

In my 77 years, I’ve made a few trips to the hospital as a patient. Once, to Cincinnati’s Good Samaritan to get my tonsils taken out. Another, here in Fort Wayne, to Lutheran Hospital at its old campus to have my gall bladder removed.

That’s two body parts you don’t need anyway.

When I was a student minister I visited church members in the hospital. I showed up at the hospital when my daughter Robyn and son John were born.

I probably shouldn’t boast, but I believe I have a nice bedside manner. The most important job of any visitor is to be there and to listen. Political opinions usually aren’t welcome. I learned that early.

My stay this time at the modern Lutheran Hospital at the edge of the city put me in a private room. We got checked in fairly late Tuesday evening so Toni didn’t stay long. Just as well, I had taken my novel to read. The nurses in the ER had already started my treatment.

By Wednesday evening, I was almost feeling like myself. Daughter Robyn had stopped by after her teaching to see how I was doing. Toni’s sister Patti, another teacher in the family, and 6-year-old granddaughter Mayzi showed up. For me there’s nothing like the appearance of a bright, charming child to cure about whatever ails.

Son John called to wish me well. Such a time when both sides of our family show up, one way or another, to remind you they care. Our Unitarian minister called, too.

Late in the day Wednesday, one of the nurses who had taken care of me said she thought they’d send me home. Indeed, somebody showed up with a paper for me to sign. I admit I failed to read it closely.

I was just relieved not to spend another night. I won’t complain about the food, only to say that a city hospital is a big institution, where they don’t claim to serve gourmet dinners.

Today, I felt well enough to head to Kroger’s for some grocery shopping. At the store, I picked up a prescription for pain that the doctor’s office had called in.

When I got home, I took an early afternoon phone call. It was the hospital. The woman wanted to know about my visit. It was a perfect chance to tell her what I could only say to a couple of nurses as we left the night before.

I told the woman how really moved I was by how well the nurses and other staff treated me during my short stay. It was true. People not only asked what they could do for me. They asked in a tone and manner that said, “You’re a special person and we’re honored to help you.”

I doubt if any of the half dozen or so who took care of me knew anything about me, what kind of work I had done, whether I had “connections.” Just nice people. I felt lucky to be in their care.

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The real debate story

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Nobody wins the presidential debates.

I watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates. Pundits thought Nixon won. So did I. Of course, in 1960, I was a Republican, hardly an objective
viewer.

By 1964, I was a Democrat. Not just somebody who was for the Democratic nominee. In those days, the characterization of my kind of party loyalist was “Yellow Dog Democrat.”

I was for LBJ; Dad was for Goldwater. So was my wife.

I suppose I would have voted for a Yellow Dog against a Republican. That was then. Of course, Vietnam ruined LBJ for me. I became a fan of George McGovern, the anti-war candidate. By this time, so was my wife.

This time around, I’ve pretty much skipped the presidential debates. It’s not that I know I’m probably voting for Hillary no matter who the GOP nominates and so I’ve a closed mind.

I follow the debates this election year by reading the accounts of the debates in the news stories and columns of the major papers. Meantime, I know if the Republicans were going to nominate somebody of the stature of Nelson Rockefeller or Bill Scranton, I might vote for one of these prominent Republicans.

When I wrote editorial endorsements for The Journal Gazette, I could have easily been endorsing a Republican as a Democrat. (Under an earlier editor, my paper went from being a “Democratic” organ to one listed in industry publications as “Independent.”)

But a couple of words about presidential debates. I think they help acquaint viewers with important issues. I think they help the candidates learn whether they can muster the support they need to keep up their campaign.

Meantime, they help winnow out the weaker candidates, a process that says nothing about their ability or their political smarts. Remember that Richard Nixon rebounded from his loss to JFK and won election as president.

Like Nixon, Hillary Clinton probably is the most well-qualified. Who knows politics better? Who knows the job of being president better?
Who knows foreign policy better?

Yet it’s unfortunate that during all the years in the public eye, she cut ethical corners. Maybe not any more corners than other nominees. Many adults will remember “I am not a crook” Nixon, who in fact did unleash aides against political enemies. Yes, “Tricky Dick” was a crook.

Yet he did withdraw troops from Vietnam. He launched good social programs. He launched better relations with the Soviet Union. When he had lost most all of his support in Congress, he resigned with what I thought showed a lot of dignity and grace.

The debates made Kennedy. With wit, style and a command of issues, he proved himself equal to the formidable and experienced Vice President. (Nixon, in college, had been a star debater.)

I won’t be surprised if the best Republican debater becomes the party’s nominee. In my judgment that person who will have the best chance of beating Mrs. Clinton likely will be seen by the majority of voters as the most moderate.

I do love this season when the presidential campaign gets into full swing. I recall the vigorous debates we had on the editorial board about the candidates. I enjoyed interviewing a few, including Bill Clinton. (What a charmer!)

To be sure, few enjoy the access I did or follow the campaigns as avidly as I did as an editorial writer. But I think lots more people perk up as the campaigns get started with TV debates and big local events.

We do care about the presidential election. We do care who gets to become president. I think if you ask them, they’ll say “Of course, it matters.”

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Get moving!

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Heavy snowfall in Ft. Wayne (2014)
Heavy snowfall in Ft. Wayne (2014)

It’s gone.

By noon the snow on our yard was gone. Well, 99 percent gone.

I imagine the melting happened faster in our back yard, which is a huge hill. Not a trace of snow on the roof of the garden house at the top of the hill.

Unless it rains this evening and then scatters ice on the street to the park, I plan to be headed to the park early tomorrow morning.

I may even attempt jogging a block or so, just to see whether the stress fracture on my left foot has healed.

But I’m realistic. This still is January. It’s northern Indiana. There’s bound to be a return of snow. That means I’ll be forced to get my walking at Glenbrook mall, on the other side of the city.

I don’t mind driving a few miles to get exercise. For some reason, though, I do find walking through the mall in the early morning boring.
At least it’s boring until I’ve walked an hour and head for the bookstore.

On my way home, I stopped at Kroger’s to pick up a few items. And just as I’m was about to join the line at the checkout, I saw Tom, a former neighbor, retired as the head of the city’s Credit Counseling agency.

Tom and I have always been friends. Moreover, we share the same birthday year, 1938, and the same birthday month, August.

Somehow our visit turned to the topic of exercise. He confessed that he’s not as faithful at a good, brisk walk as he’d like to be. I supposed I encouraged him. But I didn’t scold or preach.

Every person, I’ve known for years, has to find his or her own reason to exercise. Every person has to find his or her own motivation to make it a daily habit.

Earlier at the bookstore, and later at Kroger’s, I thumbed through a couple of magazines that features articles on muscle building and exercise. I didn’t buy any magazines. I don’t need more advice.

In fact, I probably could write the articles myself. I suppose that’s true for a lot of people. It might well be the case for my friend and former neighbor Tom.

In the meantime, I am missing the daily jog in the park. I asked my physical therapist when I could try jogging again. He advised I give my foot a few more weeks to heal fully. I’ll definitely follow his advice. I’ve always had a healthy respect for experts.

I should consider myself lucky. In know that. In case it gets icy, I can get to the mall to walk. In Washington and New York these days I’d be stuck shoveling snow or pushing cars out of snowbanks. Photographs on the front pages and film on the TV newscasts tell the story.

To be sure, shoveling and pushing cars constitute exercise. But there’s a reason the health magazines don’t feature the benefits. Of course, even where I live, with only traces of snow on the ground, the winter of 2016 isn’t close to giving us the final chapter.

Who knows? Next week, we might have enough snow to tempt me to get out my cross-country skis.

Winter in my part of the world is just a barrel of surprises.

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