Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deer Head Collection?

If you drive by the Game & Fish Department building where I work you will see a sign that says, "Deer Head Collection Site." You might also see this sign at certain other places within North Dakota. And without any additional information a reasonable question might be. "Why on earth would someone want to collect deer heads?"

Allow me to enlighten you. For the past several years now during the deer hunting season the ND Game & Fish Department has been collecting deer heads to obtain tissue samples to be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease. If that name sounds bad it's because it is. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of white-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk. It is essentially the "deer" version of Mad Cow Disease. It causes the animal to not want to eat and the body starts to waste away, hence the name. It has become a concern in recent years because cases of it have been found in almost every state surrounding North Dakota. Fortunately, we have not yet discovered any instances of CWD within North Dakota.

To help prevent this disease from coming into North Dakota certain regulations have been established pertaining to the transportation of deer across state boundaries. In addition for the last several years we have been sampling roughly 1,000 or so deer heads from selected areas throughout North Dakota to check for any occurrences of CWD and to help us learn more about this disease.

Getting samples from over 1,000 deer heads takes some time so the Game & Fish Department encourages employees to help out when they can. I've tried to participate for the last few years now. It's definitely not for everyone. It involves digging into the back of a deer head and taking out the lymph nodes which get sent to Wyoming for testing. It's bloody, messy, and a bit smelly from the piles of deer heads that have been sitting around for various lengths of time. But for reasons unknown even to me, I do find it interesting. You get used to the smell after awhile and it feels good to be helping out. It certainly is a drastic change from my normal line of work with computers.

In addition to collecting lymph nodes, certain information about each deer is recorded. The hunting unit where it was harvested, the type and sex of the deer, as well as the age. If you're wondering how you find out the age of a deer, you check it's teeth. Biologists can tell by the size and wear of the the teeth roughly how old the deer is. The lymph nodes get packed in little bags, labeled, frozen and then sent off for testing.

Another question you might ask is why in the world am I bothering to write about this? The answer is, "I don't know". Possibly because it's something I'm interested in, or maybe just to give you a little more insight into the place where I work and one of the extra-curricular activities I participate in. I think it does fall outside the realm of, shall we say, "ordinary" job duties. At any rate, whether you're interested in this topic or not, hopefully you can find some comfort in knowing the state game & fish department is doing what it can to help make sure CWD stays out of North Dakota. And if you are a deer hunter, consider donating your harvested deer head to the department for testing. For more information, please visit the Game & Fish website at

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Very Meissner Christmas

"Honey, are you ready to set up the Christmas trees?" My wife asks in the sweetest voice she can muster. An audible groan escapes my lips. No I am not ready, and it doesn't appear I ever will be ready. I would be more ready to take a serious beating, maybe two beatings.

Christmas for us starts on Veteran's Day, a bit earlier than most people. My wife Deanna absolutely loves Christmas and her philosophy is that you can only enjoy the decorations for a short time each year so you might as well stretch it out as long as you can. I don't mind the decorations at all. The kids enjoy it and if it is something that makes my family happy I'm all for it.

What I don't like is setting up the trees and what I REALLY don't like is stringing the lights. Deanna and I are perfectionists and this means there is a minimum requirement of lights per square footage of tree that must be upheld. If there's not enough lights scattered proportionally throughout it's not worth having a tree up at all. This was not a problem in our "shoebox" apartment at North Dakota State University. Our tree was only 3 feet tall. Now we have this 9 foot monstrosity that I like to call the bane of my existence.

It looks so small in this picture. Every time I try to add up the number of lights on this beast I lose count but I know for a fact there are at least 1,000. Over the years we've found that it just doesn't look right if you just circle the tree hanging lights on the outside edges of the branches. You get a much better effect if you weave in and out and get the lights further inside the tree as well. As I said, not a problem with a 3 foot tree. But when I throw a 150 bulb string and barely cover the bottom row of branches I start to weep.

It further adds to my consternation that no matter how hard I try to hook up and tear down and store all these lights as carefully as possible it never fails that there are 3-4 strings that refuse to light the following year. I don't appreciate having to keep buying all these lights every Christmas. Last year one string waited until it was on the tree for a week before deciding to go out and I refused to replace it because it was all tangled up with the other lights and ornaments and it would have been a real mess. I heard about the "bare section" all season long and need I remind you this started before Thanksgiving? So now every time I hit the switch I say a little prayer, "Lord, let there be light......" And there is, whew! "Thank you Lord!"

Still in spite of all my "Scrooginess" I do enjoy it once everything is up. The kids really like it and this year we were blessed by them both getting along, usually there's fighting over who gets to hang up what ornament and so on. We had the Charlie Brown Christmas video going and had a great time. We all have our favorite ornaments. Mine are the vintage airplanes. I've got the Wright Brothers flyer and Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and a "Gee Bee" which was popular during the airplane races in the early 30's and a very treacherous aircraft to fly.

We've also got some smaller trees in the kid's rooms. I always do the monster tree first because putting the kid's trees up seems like a cake walk after that. Here is Brian's. Please excuse the blurry image. Deanna is the digital camera master. I can't seem to take very good pictures and she was working when I took these. Note the Coors Field sign on the wall. Courtesy of Grandpa and Grandma Meissner who used to live in the Denver area.

And of course, those of you with children know you can't give something to one child without giving to the other so Brianna has her own tree as well. I like the signs we've got in her room. "Dream" and "Relax", some things I need to do when I'm struggling with the 10th string of lights.

Still, I really can't complain. It's done now for another year. I don't mind the tear down half as much as the setting up and we've got all the pesky little green shrapnel that you get every time you set up a fake tree vacuumed up. I also noticed the other day the neighbor behind us tramping over his roof setting up the outside lights which is something I've so far avoided. When I see someone struggling with their lights outside I don't mind my predicament quite as much.

I know I'm a little early since it's not even Thanksgiving. But I do hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas! And may all your decorating be stress-free!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Be a good sport!

Good grief, yet another excuse as to why I don't post as often as I should. Let's see what should I say this time.......I know, I've been so busy responding to other people's blogs that I haven't had time to write any of my own. And it's actually a true statement. I think responding and commenting on other people's blogs is quite a bit more entertaining than trying to come up with something that anyone out there in cyberspace considers worthy reading material. Try it sometime by commenting on one of my worthless pieces of drivel. Especially if you've yet to take the plunge and create your own blog you can post comments on my anonymously so I won't even have the pleasure of knowing who are.

But I digress, if you've read any of my other posts you know this is one of my shortcomings. I start off on one topic which leads to another and another and goodness, there I go again. Back to topic. My daughter's volleyball season has just gotten over and my son's basketball season has just started and I felt driven to post something on sportsmanship.

I absolutely love watching team sports. The reason I love watching is because I am notoriously inept at any kind of athletic activity. I have been since 3rd grade. I have experienced the humiliation of being among the last children picked to be on someones team. I have experienced the stress of having every kickball, every baseball, softball, and volleyball sent my direction by the opposing team because they knew there was a better than even (actually much better) chance I was going to screw things up. It's a great thing, actually I would say a great God-given thing that I discovered a talent in music or I probably would have been developing all sorts of inferiority issues before the 7th grade. But I'll save that for a future blog.

I do love to watch sporting events of most any type. I've been to my brother's and sister's soccer and hockey games, and now have the pleasure of watching my son and daughter try their skills at various activities. I've seen good and not-so-good players, coaches, and referees, but the group I need to pick on continues to be the parents. Please don't misunderstand, most parents are great! They cheer on their kids, their team, they even go so far as to appreciate when the opposing team has made a good play. But it is the small handful of shall we say, "over exuberant" parents that really ruin the game for all spectators within ear shot.

Thankfully I've never had to witness any violence like that which has been reported in other states, but I've had to listen to more than my fair share of verbal abuse, not directed at me, necessarily, but having to listen to it directed at others is abuse in my book as well. I've listened to parents yell at coaches, referees, and what hurts the most is listening to them put down their own kids as well as the children of others.

First, please remember these are children, not paid professionals, the whole point of grade school sporting activities is to learn the skills, improve their skills, and HAVE FUN! Being shouted at by the "armchair" quarterbacks in the stands is not my idea of having fun. It's always frustrating when your team is not doing well, but there is absolutely no excuse for chewing out your kids in that manner, in front of their friends, teammates, and everyone else who is watching. It's ONLY A GAME!

Second, I think it takes real nerve for some parents to have scathing criticisms when they aren't the ones out on the field, arena, or court. When I hear some parent shooting off their mouth I'd like to throw them on the volleyball court and see how good they are at returning a spike from the opposite side. Just like at home, we like to sit in our easy chairs yelling at the TV about athletes or officials who for whatever reason don't live up to the standards we impose on them. I really enjoy an old native American proverb, "never judge someone until you have walked a mile in their moccasins." I first heard this in 7th grade during my first experience at bible camp. What right have we to criticize anyone until we have actually been in their shoes for a time? I would argue even then we really still do not have the right to judge anyone....ever.

Mandan parks and recreation had a poster on display last year. I haven't seen it yet this year but I wish they'd bring it back. I'm sure it was targeted at these "over-exuberant" parents I'm talking about. I can't remember it word for word but it goes something like this. Parks and recreation activities are designed to teach children skills and encourage and promote good sportsmanship. Please let the children play, let the coaches coach, let the referees officiate, & above all, have fun. Sounds like pretty good advice.

We can practice good sportsmanship outside of athletic competitions as well. Letting someone into a busy traffic lane. Holding the door open. Saying please and thank you. Being kind and considerate to others. All of these are ways we can be good sports even outside the arena.

Come on, be a good sport!