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Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Rather than being "unheralded," you might call Nancy Edmonds Hanson "reforumed." The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead hired her at 17, “launching the shyest teenager in all of darkest North Dakota on nearly 50 years of writing adventures.” She covered news and features there and wrote columns for most of the next 10 years. Since then, she's written, edited, advised, marketed and taught all over the place. Her work has turned up in North Dakota Horizons and many other magazines over the years, along with bookstores, where her guide to freelance writing was a long-term best-seller (among the fraction of bookbuyers who want to write); the regional book publishing and distribution business; public television; countless anonymous advertising and public relations venues, and — for nearly 25 years — in the classrooms of Minnesota State University Moorhead's School of Communications and Journalism. She's also a bona fide Photoshop wizard, has a photographer husband and chef daughter and is crazy about cats.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Grilling Nothing Burgers

If you have an appetite for news, you know what’s on the menu this month: Nothing burgers.

They’re sizzling hot this summer. Cooked up in the realm of casual excuses, the nothing burger has been on the lips of Republican apologists ever since journalists began salivating over tantalizing whiffs of the meatiest political scandal since Richard “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon.

Hungry newshounds have been doggedly sniffing out the juicy evidence for more than a year now. They’re drooling over hints, and now much more, that the current occupants of the White House have a distinctly Russian flavor. As they turn up the heat, the evidence that started out rare is headed for well-done.

“Nothing burger” — that’s how the president’s defenders are dismissing growing evidence the Family Trump and their sycophants welcomed covert digital assistance from Russia to score their jaw-dropping victory. When Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was grilled about what Donald Trump Jr. had been cooking up with the Russians, he proclaimed it “a big nothing burger.”

Shades of “where’s the beef”! Not since Fritz Mondale’s run back in 1984 have we heard ground meat (or the absence thereof) served up so often in prime-time news. Back then, a classic Wendy’s TV commercial supplied what became the catchphrase of the campaign when a tiny female curmudgeon stared at an oversized but barren bun, demanding to know where the meaty part of her lunch had gone.

The phrase “nothing burger,” though — oddly girlish and coy — required some tracking down. Was it Valley Girl dialect from the 1980s? A remnant of stylish jabber from the TV comedy “Sex and the City”? It sounds familiar … but where did it come from?

Nothing burgers, it turns out, had lurked on the back burner for 65 years when Kellyanne and Reince and their troop of defenders served it up in its current context. Hollywood’s pioneering movie critic and gossip columnist Louella Parsons tossed it off in 1952, describing a minor performance in the sense of “much ado about nothing.” She was inspired, perhaps, by one of the hot trends of her day. California was falling in love with beef on a bun as the fabled McDonald brothers launched their burger chain with golden arches right in her backyard.

Helen Gurley Brown, though, deserves co-credit. You remember her, don’t you … the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, flagship voice of the female sexual revolution? Helen made the catchphrase her own. It first appeared in her book “Sex and the Single Girl,” a tome that shook the civilized world, just a little, back in the swingin’ Sixties. She tossed it in into her sassy magazine columns, too, along with the other term she coined, “mouseburger.” Both were handy to disparage all that was bland and unremarkable, be it too-innocuous accessories or a too-submissive outlook.

Like other terms that explode as sassy slang, then inch toward respectability, nothing burgers have crept into the English language’s chaotic, messy cupboard. They’ve even breached the ramparts of the sober, noble Oxford Dictionary with an official definition: “something that is or turns out to be insignificant or lacking in substance.”

Proper English or not, Reince may still rue the day he added nothing burgers to the menu, as grilling over the Russian scandal drags his team over the coals. But then again, they sound like just the thing when you’re going to have to eat your words.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Entering The Age Of the Nonsumer

There was a day when an afternoon of window-shopping sounded like fun. But the attraction of retail therapy has dimmed for me across the years — and what killed it dead was actually shopping for windows.

Back when I marched with the “shop ’til you drop” brigade, prowling through stores to select choice wares was deemed to be a pleasure. I was raised on the prairie, after all, where serious shopping was mostly a matter of settling on the meager choices in the mercantile aisle of the local Fairway.

Exposed to serious merchandising along the urban byways of Fargo-Moorhead, I fell in love. The selection made me dizzy with delight, among the tempting splendor of shelves plump with every appealing brand. And sidewalk sales! The adolescent urges long fed by Seventeen magazine but channeled through Montgomery Ward blossomed into a serious mission. The plastic in my purse still had plenty of freeboard then, and my fit young feet could manage long safaris, stalking the wily bargain.

No more. Somewhere along the line, my idea of a good time has evolved far beyond the ethos of accumulation. I have enough … and, actually, quite a bit more.

My primitive passion has cooled. I’ve become a nonsumer. Rather than “just looking” in hopes of spotting the perfect something — somehow lovelier, cuter, prettier, more clever or superior in some way to whatever I already own — my first choice is to stay at home.

This remarkable transformation began with subtle signs. Trips to West Acres stretched out to semiannual events; after raising a teenage daughter, it was a glorious relief. When we were on vacation, a day of cruising charming shops became dropping into one or two, then pleading to stop for coffee. The Mall of America’s appeal shifted to people-watching at Caribou.

But a recent stop at Albertville, Minn., threw it all into the spotlight. Russ settled in for the long haul with a thick book on World War II spycraft in a cafés that poured plenty of refills, while I set out to seek treasure in the Eldorado of off-price retail.

I was back in exactly as many minutes as it took to stroll from one end to the other, repulsed by too much of what, honestly, I already have. When I returned to the car with one tiny sack — a teensy T-shirt sporting a pink roller-skating dinosaur (hint: not for me) — I recognized what I’ve become. A nonsumer.

The metamorphosis from “want” to “have” to “please, no more” has been gradual. When a loved one asked what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday, I began to recite the curmudgeon’s motto: If I can’t use it up, wear it out, eat it or accidentally break it without regret after a decent interval, I don’t want it.

Reality has dawned, and it isn’t pretty. Shopping for new, at this stage, has metamorphosed into exchanging our nickels and dimes in a futile race to keep what we already own operational.

As Russ and I now relax at home amid the overly ample piles of what we’ve already collected … we listen for hints around the house of what’s next on the agenda. No matter how serene the evening, something must be on the brink of breaking down, wearing out, being pummeled by bad vibes or possibly leaking onto the carpet. As all aging homeowners understand, this is our mantra: What next?

At some unrecognized point along the way, the pleasurable act of exchanging money for … stuff … evolves into merely matching the pace of what’s regressing. We neither need nor want to take on more precious cargo — be it stylish, charming, whimsical or gorgeous. We’ve got enough to do keeping up with what’s already decaying behind our backs.

Window-shopping? Ha! Instead, welcome to the brutal reality of actually being forced to buy some.

Who knew windows could rot? I had no clue. Russ, on the other hand, saw the possibilities in a few seconds. After decades as a nonsumer himself, ossifying while I browsed the thickets of retail America, he suddenly understood. Shopping, ahoy!

A monster emerged from the depths of the dedicated nonshopper I thought I knew so well, a man who — given a choice — would buy a favorite shirt in every color so he’d never have to enter a store again.

Suddenly, he glimpsed revenge for all the hours he’d dawdled while I pawed through the racks of mark-downs. Our rotten windows had finally provided him with a totally legitimate excuse to satisfy all those pent-up consumer longings.

He spent days studying the research, then hours more prowling home-improvement-store displays with the crafty prowess of a hunter stalking game. He haunted window display with laser focus, reveling in casements and double-glazing, weighing energy efficiency and aspiring to baked-on finishes that meant never painting trim again.

Money was no object. Wherever could he have learned that?

Most wives, I think, have grappled with how best to tell their honey about some unexpected plunder they’ve hauled home in the back seat of the car. Men don’t. I found out about the half-dozen windows he’d contracted for installation when the crew arrived to unload the truck … the ultimate impulse purchase, roughly equal to a week on Waikiki.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Driving Ambition

I was born certain I knew how to drive. All I really needed to do, I figured, was wait for my legs to grow long enough so I could reach the footfeet.

I mean the gas pedal, children. “Footfeet” was what our parents called it, back when learning to drive was almost as basic a part of early childhood as mastering how to feed yourself with a spoon.

Or it was, at least, in rural North Dakota and Minnesota. City kids — those raised in metropoli like Moorhead and Fargo and Grand Forks — had to handle the universal lust to drive in a slightly more civilized fashion, awaiting high school drivers ed and formal instruction on paved streets complete with curbs. But out on the farm and in the tiny towns where I grew up, the experience was rather different. The fine points of civil society’s prescription for turning out educated drivers took a back seat to the natural need for more hands on the wheel.

We started young.

I didn’t cut my teeth on a tractor, as so many of my farmbred peers report. Instead, my proving ground was the municipal dump. There, sitting on my father’s lap, I could “drive” our old Hudson to my heart’s content while, unbeknownst, he forestalled disaster with his knees firmly pinning the steering wheel.

I was 4. My legs were still at least a foot shy of reaching the gas pedal and the brake, while the clutch was a mystery far beyond me. But I could steer, by george, guiding the lumbering sedan among smoking piles of refuse and taking meandering turns at famous landmarks — the mountain of old tires, the broken wringer washing machine, the pile of wind-tossed tree limbs too big to burn in the barrel behind the house. Flocks of seagulls flapped and swooped, cawing loudly as they competed for choice morsels; feral cats slipped among the bounty, stalking the fat, sassy rats that called the post-apocalyptic landscape home.

Driving! It wasn’t just the cool rite of passage that my urban peers anticipated. Instead, it was both natural and necessary where the distances were long, the roads empty and, too often, the combine sitting idle in the field until someone could speed into town to pick up the critical part.

My brother had the advantage, back in our ’50s household. Despite my early dump-driving skills, he was the one Dad tapped to steer our old Allis Chalmers out in the field, while I was relegated to the dish rags and ironing board that kept the domestic world turning. He was 9 or 10 by that time — compared to some of my friends, a bit of a late starter.

Working on motors became the kind of father-and-son bonding experience that he and his buddies — grandfathers now — treasured when they were boys. For him and Dad, that meant keeping the farm machinery and the rattletraps my family drove in what passed for peak condition. Or moving, at least. It seemed (still seems) to me that they had a genius for fixing big, greasy engines with baling wire, chewing-gum wrappers and bits and pieces scavenged from the rusty old implements and ghostmobiles permanently parked back in the shelterbelt. It’s a love that has never left him. He hates computers with a passion.

City kids did have some early advantages back in those days when children first nursed their need for speed. They could start out on two wheels, learning to balance their bikes on sidewalks and paved streets — and mastering that little rodeo move to jump the concrete curbs. We lacked that maneuver. No paving and no curbs. We just learned to fight loose gravel.

But we had an edge when came when it came to cars. We could master automotive motion out of town. In our earliest lessons, deep dusty ruts across farm fields held the tires nice and steady. By the time we graduated to county roads, there were two lanes but literally no traffic. Collisions were no risk at all. We could spot the occasional neighbor headed toward us by the cloud of dust visible from miles away — and get ready to practice the stoic two-fingered farmer’s salute that bound us as members of the tribe.

As our drivers tests approached, though, a bit of book learning was essential. By the time I showed up at the local sheriff’s office to apply for my full license, I’d never so much as navigated an entrance ramp onto the brand-new interstate highway. In fact, I’m not sure I’d ever had to stop at a stoplight. But I was already a pro at some peripheral skills they never tested: Watching for suicidal deer leaping onto the road late at night, say, or dodging hay bales tipped from a carelessly stacked wagon.

I polled some Facebook friends the other day about their own experiences. Setting aside those law-abiding folk who waited until drivers ed class in their teens, they shared a bunch of memories that made me smile. Several confessed, like me, to being dumpground drivers. Others cited cemeteries, where anyone who witnessed their early blunders was guaranteed to stay forever silent. Some practiced with a parent in barren parking lots on Sunday afternoons. And then there was the apparent majority: tractors, tractors and more tractors.

Ellen, a farm girl, recalled, “It was out in the field with a truck that would get progressively fuller. How many farm kids fell into a daze between hopper loads … only to be startled into total concentration by the loud whistling, yelling and waving of arms from the other end of the field by the dad driving the combine?”

Robin: “I learned out in the pasture. ‘Use the brake and don’t touch the accelerator and don’t break an axle on the prairie dog holes.’”

Kent: “Field and pasture road driving — learning courtesy of wheel ruts has its advantages. I learned a lot about acceleration, shifting and braking without the stress of total steering control.”

Cher: “My uncle, 8 years older than I, taught me to drive on the little-used airport runway in Bowman. In a Volkswagen bug. I was about 10.”

Ellyn: “I drove farm machinery when I was so light they tied me in the seat. The few times I had to stop, I’d jump on the pair of brakes on either side of the gear box so they took. John Deere A and B, combine, windrow, baler, etc. The car was easy!”

Nancy: “Dad took me to the Capitol grounds on Sundays with our 900-foot Chrysler station wagon, with fake wood side panels, of course!”

But Larry — an import — topped us all with his hair-raising tale from a very different childhood: “In Southern California, we learned to drive on the Ventura Freeway. During rush hour. In a torrential rain. All of us.”

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Social Security … Now It’s Personal

Almost exactly 50 years ago this week, I got the first big shock of my more-or-less adult life. I was handed my very first paycheck … and it wasn’t all there.

I’ll bet you remember that moment, too. You’d put in your time for some agreed-upon sum — for me, a buck-something an hour — and multiplied your reward out in your head, planning exactly how many record albums, gallons of gas and boring necessities you’d spend it on.

But rather than the expected amount in the high double digits, the prize finally in your hands fell considerably short of what you’d expected.

Welcome to the world of payroll deductions. Back then, Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance — Social Security — was the furthest thing from my mind. I was more interested in acquiring “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” than squirreling away one single penny for some theoretical “golden years.”

The missing money didn’t really amount to much, looking back — 3.9 percent for OASDI and 0.5 percent for Medicare (introduced just the year before) — but still, it stung. I mourned my missing $3.20, just a quarter shy of covering the vinyl LP I so coveted.

Now, at last, the circle has closed. A few days ago, I found myself in the windowless, rather grim Social Security office on the third floor of the Federal Building in downtown Fargo, signing up to start the flow of the benefits I’d once pigeonholed to think about in the unimaginably distant future.

Until last week, Congress’s perennial bitter debates over benefits seemed pretty abstract. Of course, I did have an opinion (as I do about most everything): All those long-laboring, exhausted old folks had earned their monthly pittance with a lifetime of labor, plus a lifetime of taxes to pay for it. Social Security certainly sounded like a good thing … for someone else in that crowd of old folks I vaguely knew must be out there somewhere.

But now that I’m a new recruit myself in that elder army, I see the proposition far more plainly. It’s my money. Give it back.

I’m still pretty new at this “old” stuff. Enter AARP, the fearsome force that’s been tracking me for years and years, ever since my far more senior husband (by 26 months) turned 50. When I showed up for its pleasant May workshop in Fargo, I was amazed: first, at how simple they made the big step sound, and second, how my hundreds of peers who filled the room could all look so much older than me.

Fantasy aside, I gleaned insight into the crucial next step: Enroll online at mysocialsecurity.gov.

Easy enough — until I realized how much more the government knows about me than I do myself. Registration required proving who I was by answering several deceptively simple questions. Could I pick out the lender for whom I co-signed my daughter’s college loan in 2003? Nope. The issuer of our mortgage, which had bounced like a ping pong ball between corporate mergers until we paid it off nine years? Huh uh. The blighted address where I’d lived on for two months as a college sophomore? Are you kidding?

I flunked a quiz on my own life. That barred me from moving on to the next step. I needed to consult someone who knew more about me than I did. And where might I find such an all-knowing, all-seeing guru? Big Brother!

Which is how I found myself tapping a touchscreen kiosk in the Social Security suite and taking a number. Eventually I stood in front of a patient, helpful young woman as I explained my dilemma, which sounded suspicious even to me. She spoke very slowly to make sure Grandma understood, reviewing my IDs and ultimately concluding that I was indeed the ancient human whose name they bore. She gave me a printed code to bypass the online test that had proven too tough for me — then shooed me home to my computer to finish.

But that wasn’t all. Just to make sure I’d been listening, I received no fewer than five letters from Washington, D.C., over the course of the next seven days — each addressing one, and only one, point. One confirmed I’d visited the office. Another instructed me, as she had, to go online to wrap up my registration. A third — same date, a few minutes later — confirmed that I’d done exactly that. But the most interesting of the five was the one I opened last, a dire announcement that I’d been ruled ineligible for one particular type of payment to low-income people who’ve never worked. The reason, listed two lines farther down: “You told us you do not want to file a claim for SSI.” Yes, that would do it.

Now, duly enrolled as an official old person, I could examine the meticulous records the feds have kept on every penny I’ve earned through the past half-century. I could also see, with blinding clarity, the payroll taxes squirreled away for this day when I’d finally be deemed — um — mature. Humbling … all those years of getting up early and working late, reduced to a pretty short list of brazen figures! I could also see, bite by bite, the six-figure sum Social Security and Medicare have chomped out of my earnings. (Since I’m mostly self-employed, I’ve had the honor of paying twice as much as you wage slaves, thanks to rendering both the personal and employer’s shares of what’s due unto Caesar.)

Yes, I may have griped about those deductions — oh, a gazillion times or so since the first time in June 1967. But suddenly — now that I’ve achieved that perfect degree of personal ripeness — it doesn’t seem so bad. For many of those years while I was younger, haler and heartier, my dollars were not only funding benefits for the good retired folk in line ahead of me … but piling up the nice surplus my generation helped amass.

Mingled deep in the national budget, my paltry contribution was being used, as intended, to maintain generations of grandmas and grandpas before me. That its excess was also squandered on pointless wars and other national schemes along the way does nothing to negate the promise that’s undergirded our expectations for our future.

Now, when Congress is panting for budget cuts, the “old age, survivors and disability insurance” in which we’ve invested has mysteriously morphed into someone’s idea of a government handout. Entitlements? I beg your pardon. Those benefits are mine, and yours as well — regardless of whether lax caretakers have frittered away the principal!

Now that I’m officially inducted into America’s elder army, watch out. Thanks to the feds, I’ve reconnected with every Hanson dollar piled up along the journey from my first paycheck to demi-retirement, and I’ll be happy to take on anyone who dares consider my imminent checks — and yours — a “handout.”

When the fearsome AARP army marches on Washington to take on our sleazy foes, look for me in the first battalion. Keep your grubby budget-slashing fingers off of my Social Security, you sniveling hounds! Now it’s personal.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — It’s Not Cool To Be Hot

Some (don’t) like it hot.

When the North Country hits the 90s, something peculiar happens to the delirious glee with which many of us anticipated summer: Our ardor cools overnight.

It’s part of our Minnesota and North Dakota heritage — at least if your forebears, like mine, consumed way too much cod, favored fur-lined hats and were bred to survive in the Arctic.

Winter is normal. This season? Too much sweat.

Oddly, we do dread the endless dark that Scandihoovians are perfectly adapted to endure. We spend those long, frigid months dreaming of the fabled Mediterranean clime … and sneaking to Arizona to sample it. But when our own summer finally brings the Northland to a simmer, we revert to that other ancient ancestral tradition: We complain ceaselessly about the heat.

I’ve been singing the song of my people since the Fargo-Moorhead broke the all-time record high last week, inflating to 95 obscenely early in the season.

“Is it hot enough for you?” TV meteorologists rejoice. Hallelujahs are heard from tender transplants from toastier locales. We natives? We utter pitiful sighs, seek deep shade and shift into neutral.

My personal reaction to this weather is coded in my genes. I come from a long line of stalwarts who slept with the windows wide open in January … who divorced from down coats when the temps top 32 … who tossed a light jacket into the back seat, just in case, on April Fool’s Day, then noticed it again in November.

I’m programmed to perspire when the mercury oozes above 70. Ninety degrees? That’s toaster territory. When you can’t touch the steering wheel without potholders, enough is just enough. Sleeping on a hot night is a nightmare. So is figuring out what to wear, especially when America hasn’t witnessed your bare upper arms for decades.

Add high humidity — something everyone raised on the prairie absolutely loathes — and you have the perfect prescription for ick. Everything feels sticky, from doorknobs and leather upholstery to your own underwear. Even walking from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office is enough to work up a nasty film of sweat.

And I hate sweat. Avoiding it has shaped my whole life. I blame this odd phobia on the trauma of growing up before anyone had even dreamed of the wonders of air conditioning. It has left a permanent mark, not only on me, but on most of our corps of pre-1960s pioneers.

We were raised back when the admonition to “be cool” really meant something. Do you recall those hot times, too? The days took on a rhythm in the stifling ovens we called “home.” Up early, Mother opened all the windows to catch the fresh morning breeze. By noon, she was making her rounds shutting them again and drawing the shades to repel the sun. Midafternoon, she plugged in the noisy Sunbeam fan to move the hot, humid air around, accomplishing little more than ruffle our feathers.

In the evening, we’d pile into the car, crank down the windows, open the vents, and cruise around to cool off. On the best nights, we’d end up in Mayville, N.D., at the A&W, where a root beer float offset the tropical misery like nothing else could do.

And there was the rock-lined cellar. I read “Gone With the Wind” and the entire Encyclopedia Britannica down there between the water heater and the coal bin, perched on a rickety old wooden kitchen chair under a single bare lightbulb. That damp, earthy scent and delicious chill were heaven … until I was busted. Like all parents of the ’50s, Mom was deathly afraid of letting her offspring get overcooled, suspected of inducing polio in those frightening days of the epidemic.

Then a miracle on Main Street showed there was a better way. Businesses began adding central air conditioning as the economy boomed. Suddenly grocery shopping wasn’t nearly the chore it had been, back when the best you could do was linger by the meat case.

I remember the envy neighbors felt — but wouldn’t admit — as new houses popped up with venting to accommodate air conditioning, the ultimate status symbol. Frugal homeowners poo-pooed it. Who’d spend so much for so little, given (they said) the few truly hot days our locale afforded?

My mother-in-law was one of them. She held off her husband, who spent years trying to convince her to add it to their brick home on the prairie, which retained summer heat like a pizza oven. When he finally prevailed, she continued to grumble a bit — “I hate those holes in my ceilings” — until she fell in love with the thermostat. From that point on, theirs was a house where you always wore a sweater.

As for her son, Russ — like me — would give up hot water if it meant he could keep the air conditioning. In summer, even here in Minnesota, it’s just not cool to be hot.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Tick Talk

One of the best things about Minnesota is the stuff that we don’t need to worry about — volcanoes and earthquakes, say, or cold-blooded predators anxious to eat us — alligators, pythons, sharks.

We can usually count on our snug midcontinent home to keep us relatively safe from the Hysteria of the Day. We can afford to take a good many popular panics in stride. But as we don flip flops and head for the lakes or parklands, here’s one cold-blooded interloper that’s worth more than a second thought.

Do you feel a tickly … something … crawling up your leg?

Picture an almost alien life form — an otherworldly eight-legged faceless invader whose only goal in life is to drink your blood. And not only is it searching for a tasty donor to dine on — it could leave behind a couple of lingering tips your grandmother never heard of: Lyme disease, first identified in 1976 in Connecticut, and this year’s brand-new cause for panic; the less common but deadlier Powassan virus, named for a town in Ontario.

We’re heading into the biggest year yet for the black-legged deer tick, and it has Minnesota and eastern North Dakota squarely in its sights — or would, if only it had eyes. Though newly hatched tick toddlers are no bigger than a poppy seed right now, the growing Class of 2017 presents outsize threat has the state departments of health on red alert.

The tiny invaders have been making their way west from the Great Lakes since about 2000, when they were first identified in Minnesota. Here on the west margin of the state, Clay and Wilkin counties (as well as Cass in North Dakota) are still considered at moderate risk. To our east, including all of lakes country, the threat is at red alert.

The Minnesota Department of Health estimates some 1,500 children and adults will be diagnosed with Lyme disease this year. The website tickchek.com — operated by a lab that tests ticks — reports 72 confirmed cases in Clay County from 2000 to 2015 but cautions: “Due to the fact that the CDC’s data only represent confirmed cases, the actual quantity of Lyme disease may be far greater. We estimate a total of 720 true cases in Clay County.”

The North Dakota Department of Health is also sounding the alarm. It counted 32 cases statewide last year. The national site tickchek.com reports 90 confirmed cases in Cass since 2000, amid an estimated total of 900.

Are you sure you don’t feel eight miniscule black legs crawling up your thigh?

Because that’s about the limit of what the tick can do — crawl. It doesn’t fly, or hop, or float or chase you. Instead, it lingers on long blades of grass or branches in the brush until you invite it aboard. From that point, it takes its time sitting down to dinner. Once it’s fastened its mouth-thingie to your haunches and begins to feed, its bacteria- or virus-laden spit starts to seep into your plasma.

Scientists studying deer ticks estimate the chances at one in four that the little fellow who’s taken a shine to you is carrying Lyme. If yours happens to be the lucky winner, you can still thwart his mission by carefully inspecting your own hide. A little tick nip won’t do it; the ravenous little fellow needs 36 to 48 hours of slurping to give you the full benefit of his injection. (The less common but deadlier Powasson virus, though, can be transmitted with far shorter contact.)

The evil black-legged nemesis comes in three sizes. Newly hatched deer tick larvae — the poppy-seed size — pick up their load of germs from their first hosts, four-legged creatures that range from deer (of course) to skittering rodents. Now’s their time to shine. Their tiny size makes them hardest to spot; beware any new dot the size of a speck of ground pepper.

Starting now, the most common summer suckers are nymphs. They’re about the size of the letter D on a dime — pretty puny. By August or September, when they’re full grown, even our fabled winter won’t faze them. The tough little buggers survive the cold to lay the eggs destined to become 2018’s headache.

Headache, in fact, is one of the symptoms that you’ve been kissed. First, though, comes a rash, often eerily resembling the Target logo. You may feel achy, tired or feverish — or not. Lyme’s vague effects can elude diagnosis by mimicking all kinds of complaints, or seem barely worth bringing up at all. Do. Caught early, the slate can be wiped clean with a dose of doxycycline.

The long-term consequences can be far worse if the early signs are missed, among them severe joint pain, nerve damage, Bell’s palsy and even meningitis. Lingering Lyme can evolve over time; 25 percent of untreated cases lead to bouts of arthritis, memory loss or even cognitive impairment.

Don’t you feel like something is moseying along the back of your arm?

The good news? The ticks can’t tag you if you spot them first. Stick to well-maintained areas outdoors. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and closed shoes. If you see a peculiar rash of fashion violations this summer — pants cuffs tucked into the tops of socks, say, or socks with sandals — blame the ticks this time, not Minnesota’s lack of chic.

Dowse your extremities with DEET insect repellent and your clothes with a product containing permethrin. Hikers and other serious outdoors types can outfit themselves with clothing treated with permethrin; the repellent lasts through 70 wash cycles.

Check yourself and the kids when you come inside … especially those moist, dark places that offer intimate dining. If you spot a spot, so to speak, forget Mother’s coaching or much you’ve read on the internet: No Vaseline, no peppermint oil, no nail polish, no touching its rump with the tip of an extinguished match. Find those pointy-nosed tweezers in the back of the medicine chest; grasp the nasty thing as close to its head as you can get and pull straight up.

I know, I know — who wants to think about icky ticks as we dive deliriously into summer? It’s hard to find an upside to our accelerating tick boom.

But there’s one good thing to be said for them: If you flush them down the toilet, they stay gone.

Hey! What’s that crawling on your neck?

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Commencing

It’s one of life’s funny little ironies: Graduation season brings on a nearly irresistible urge to give advice … at the very moment when impending graduates are least likely to think they need to listen.

Exactly 50 years ago, I was in those bright young mortar-boarded and begowned whippersnappers’ shoes. Fresh from the hallowed halls of ivy in a tiny outer North Dakota town, I — along with the other 15 luminaries of the Class of 1967 — was convinced I was ready to take on the world.

Our tiny procession stepped into the superheated gymnasium with hearts full and hopes high. This was our moment! As the band played a ragged rendition of our school song — “cheer, cheer for old Streeter High” — a heavily perspiring crowd of parents, grandparents and antsy younger siblings rose to their feet and applauded us. We knew this, at last, must be the start of something big … a conviction symbolized by finally being permitted to walk across the gleaming basketball floor in street shoes.

That was the first — and last — time I was tapped to share my august thoughts with those on the verge of being launched into the world. My deep grasp of the human condition — honed by 17 years in ZIP codes of no renown whatsoever — was summed up by the fact that, within seconds of returning to a folding chair on the edge of the stage, neither I nor anyone else could recall a single word I’d uttered.

After that inauspicious debut as an inspirational speaker, it comes as no surprise that this spring marks the 49th consecutive year in which no one has asked me to headline their commencement ceremony. Such a shame! Not only do I still possess that yellowed Streeter (N.D.) High School diploma certifying that I knew absolutely everything my teachers could imbue … life has taught me a critical thing or two that Mr. Lund and Mrs. Nenow somehow missed back in the classroom.

Naturally, like pretty much every adult who sees seniors strolling across the stage, I feel an almost cosmic compulsion to give advice to the tender young sprouts of 2017 … even knowing full well they’re no more inclined to listen now than I was.

1. Your parents know a lot. Yes, really. Though you doubt it now, someday you’ll utter the most beautiful words in the English language: “Mom (or Dad), you were right.”

2. Your parents don’t know everything. Try not to rub it in too much. Try especially hard when you go home on break as a college freshman. This is traditionally the moment when offspring are at the absolute peak of obnoxiousness, drunk on a semester’s worth of higher education. If you can’t resist the urge to show off your new smarts out of respect and consideration of their feelings, do it for self-preservation. Research proves these are the moments when even patient parents are likeliest to contemplate sacrificing their young.

3. If high school social life has left you feeling dark and tattered, don’t give up! College is bound to offer many more opportunities for despair. (Oh, not really. It gets much better.)

4. Ninety percent of success, in college as in life, consists of showing up. In 26 years of working with college students, I’ve noticed something almost mystical: Attendance is an almost foolproof way of predicting grades.

5. Don’t just sit there. Speak up! Whether what you say is brilliant or confused, you’ll get more out of the experience if you actively engage. Don’t worry so much about whether your peers will think you’re showing off or cozying up to the professor. If you want the answer, ask the question.

6. Boredom is optional. It’s up to you. Dig a little deeper. You may be surprised.

7. Stop apologizing for your work. When you’re asked to share, don’t start out by declaring, “This isn’t very good ….” Chances are, you’ll be so persuasive that listeners will agree with you. Say it loud and proud, and hope for the best.

8. Your teachers have already heard every excuse in the book. Moreover, they probably tried the same bogus tales themselves — and told them better. In particular, be cautious about ginning up a grandparent’s funeral again to explain missing a due date. Some of us keep count.

9. When you fall asleep in class, everyone else can still see you … even if you slide way down in your seat. There’s no better way to make an impression.

10. And your teachers have a pretty good idea what you’re doing with that iPhone. When a student stares intently at their crotch and smiles, it’s the better explanation.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Hitting Below The Belt

I miss Mister Whipple.

The prim TV grocer’s pursed lips and disapproving glare were apparently all it took to move toilet paper off those shelves back when the Earth was young. Remember the giggling gaggle of housewives who’d give his display a surreptitious squish? Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!

Those were the days — when prime-time television dared to push the envelope only with innuendo. The ladies’ giddy glee hinted, but barely, at the delight a certain brand of toilet paper would deliver in your bathroom. It seems unbearably quaint today that Charmin’s ads were considered a bit risqué when the first debuted 1964. By the 1970s, a national survey revealed George Whipple was the third best-known figure in American life, right after Richard Nixon and Billy Graham.

Good times! Network TV made his obsession a household word without ever pronouncing the word t-o-i-l-e-t. We deemed some things unmentionable — though hinting was OK.

Russ and I were reminiscing about the Whipple era as we half-watched “Sixty Minutes” and “Madame Secretary” on a lazy Sunday night. We’d just absorbed the gazillionth consecutive ad extolling diarrhea when it struck us: The grittiest, most gut-wrenching drama we witness is packed into commercials.

We’d mostly spent the past two hours being indoctrinated about the frailty of our bowels. Whether the next ad extolled a panacea for constipation or the most exhilarating roll of tissue to perfect the bathroom experience, nearly every commercial message focused on matters once considered unmentionable.

When, exactly, did television advertising come to focus below the belt? In the days when racy Mister Whipple pushed the limits, our parents were — at first — aghast: Why would you even advertise toilet paper? Doesn’t everyone already buy it?

History has taught us their bathroom horizons were sadly stunted. Ol’ George (who, we learned, would sneak in a squeeze or two himself when the customers weren’t looking) has been long replaced by a host of cagey characters who butt into our TV time, desperately battling to win this particular game of thrones.

Charmin’s bear family settles, once and for all, that old question about whether a bear does its business in the woods. Nope. Mama Bear confesses, again and again, that she pampers her little poopers, along with bumbling Papa, with cushiony ultra-soft rolls of luxury.

In the land of Cottonelle, the most annoying Brit ever to cross the pond confronts strangers with queries how they “clean their bums.” Really. Then, after finding Nirvana, she advises them to ditch their now-redundant underwear: “Go commando!”

How can you top that, you ask? Leave it to Northern, with its poignant observations from Sir Froggy — an amphibious toilet-paper holder imbued with a poet’s sensitive soul. Northern tissue users can forget the whole experience, he laments … but he can never look away.

And it doesn’t stop with what Sir Froggy can’t forget. Speaking for most of Minnesota, I think we’d survived just fine not knowing the Mankato neighborhood includes a town named Kiester. Now, our happy innocence is gone … thanks to the TV pitchwoman who tours it on her bicycle, then says: “If you can get comfortable talking about this Kiester, then you can get comfortable using Preparation H for any sort of discomfort in yours.” Talk about being the butt of a joke!

My father-in-law, a polite and gentle man, spent his career behind the counter of his drugstore, where he handled customers’ health questions and hygiene needs with the utmost degree of confidential respect. They conferred in quiet voices across the high counter that separated the pharmacy from commercial nostrums and other essentials not fit for polite conversation. Discretion was planted deep in the genes of his profession. Even his stock of certain frank necessities like Kotex was modestly wrapped in blank butcher paper.

Toilet paper commercials and their hush-hush absorbent cousins — pantyliners, disposable briefs and, frankly, adult diapers — are, of course, only part of the focus below the belt. What would that discreet pharmacist have thought of living room chatter about irritable bowel syndrome — starring an actress costumed as abdominal pain and diarrhea? Or dancing diabetics and bladder-leakage victims? Or the hearty construction worker laughing over his doc’s cheery reaction to opioid-induced constipation – “How long have you been holding this in?”

And never forget the most notorious of the TMI invasion: that come-hither siren dressed in slinky blue, longing for her Prince Charming with his little blue pill.

The American Medical Association has called for a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and medical products, saying it drives demand for the highest-priced pharmaceuticals even when less expensive alternatives may work better. A 2016 poll by the Harvard School of Public Health found nearly two-thirds of the public agrees.

But it’s not likely to happen … not anytime soon. It works, and works well. Network television viewers are older than ever before — one trade group estimates their average age today at 54 — delivering the perfect demographic for viewers concerned with advancing age, both their parents’ and their own. Accumulating birthdays come with more aches and pains than candles, of aches and pains than candles, making the nightly news and “NCIS” near-perfect platforms for hawking everything from Milk of Magnesia to hip replacements.

And the toilet tissue industry, with Mister Whipple at the head, was the very first to seize it. Why else do you suppose broadcast TV was built around those convenient commercial breaks? They’re the perfect time to get another cup of coffee … then head for the plumbing.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Your Photos? They’re History, Unless …

If a photograph is worth 1,000 words … well, then, we need to talk.

Those digital photos you’ve been happily snapping? They’ll soon be history.

Not the good kind of history, mind you — the kind that’s treasured for generations, the kind you’d run back into a burning house to rescue for posterity.

They will be history … as in “toast.”

Never have so many people taken so many pictures so quickly. One industry source, Infostream, estimates that 2017’s total will be 1.2 trillion — up 100 billion or so from the year just past. If every pixel were the size of an egg, our world would already be buried beneath an epic omelette.

Instead, of course, the total volume of all those digital pix is more fleeting than a notion. That’s true right now, when they reside, lighter than air, on iPhones and tablets, on computer drives and memory cards, on CDs and USBs and your long-sidelined first Mac that you’ve stashed away down in the basement.

On a day that’s coming sooner than you think, 99 percent of our digital memories are almost certain to be gone. The ease of catching those memorable moments right now will be more than matched by their quiet stealth as they slip permanently out of sight.

Unless we do something now!

Back in the day when cameras just sat there until you fed them film, family photos hung around to nag you. I always admired the folks — almost always supermoms — who dealt with them in a timely manner, filing them in albums with dutiful notes of who, what, where and when. Most of us, truth be told, stowed the little packets of fresh prints in a drawer or cupboard or shoebox, along with our good intentions. Someday we’d organize and label them. Someday we’d take the time to select the best and discard the duds. Someday … we’d get around to it when we had time.

I happen to have a box like that right here on a shelf in my office. It’s been making me feel guilty for decades. Someday, I swear, I’ll organize those precious memories. In the meantime, I’m well aware of where they lurk and admonish me.

Not so, the virtual mountain of digital family photos you and I’ve been snapping for the last 10 years. In technology we trust — far too much, as it turns out. They’re so convenient to show off on screens — scrolling through that smartphone in your purse, emailing images to distant relatives, sharing droll views on Facebook and Instagram. Some of us faithfully save them to flash drives or DVDs or, more recently, the mysterious online cloud.

There’s a chance — albeit slim — you’re a left-brained type who dutifully sorts and labels digital files. More likely, you keep taking pictures until the memory card is full, then buy a new and bigger one.

Either way, it’s high time to take a longer look … before it’s too late. Technology relentlessly marches on. (Remember slide projectors, home movies and videotapes?) Don’t entrust your memories alone to pixels.

My photographer husband and I discovered this in our usual manner — the hard way. Russ went digital very early in the game. That means we’ve lived through nearly two decades of clever high-tech strategies to preserve images in the post-film era — none of which has lived up to its confident promise.

We’ve backed up files to floppies. Hard drives have multiplied. We’ve embraced dead ends like Zip drives. We’ve invested in mammoth RAID systems with capacities soon too small for the next generation of photo files. We’ve written literally thousands of CDs and DVDs — sometimes labeling them with precision, often not so much. We’ve added externals to our network. We’ve archived thumb drives. We subscribe to Google Drive, Carbonite, Dropbox and more.

And I can say one thing with absolute certainty. Not one of them can be trusted. If it’s electronic, it’s not a question of whether it will fail. It’s just a matter of when … not to mention the ghostly hulls of obsolete technologies that wash up on the shore.

Beware the march of progress. We were initially assured that writable CDs and DVDs would survive forever. Nope. In practice, we’ve found a not-insignificant failure rate for disks no more than three to five years old; for older ones, it’s dramatically higher. Unlike commercially manufactured music and movie disks, the home-brewed variety has turned out to be vulnerable to all kinds of woes, from an off-kilter laser whose quirks turned files into Sanskrit to so-called “CD rot,” deterioration of the mysterious layer of goop on which data is inscribed. Meanwhile, computer manufacturers have decided to doom onboard CD drives to the same boneyard where all those floppy drives moulder.

So how about that much-ballyhooed cloud? It sounds so heavenly — so cumulus. Behind every invisible Internet storage service lies a corporation launched in delirious optimism. Try googling “cloud storage” and “bankrupt” to see how that can turn out.

Depressing, isn’t it? But true. The same Grim Reaper that doomed your folks’ home movies and your own videotapes is coming for your photos.

There is a practical alternative, though, to hang onto your memories despite whatever imaging technology has in store. Keep on making those digital backups, of course. (Cross your fingers!) But take a side trip, too, down Memory Lane to the tried-and-true strategy your parents would approve:

Print those pictures. Right now.

It doesn’t really matter how you do it. Upload them to an online photo service, drive them to Target, or organize real photo books on Shutterfly or Snapfish. It’s all good. Despite the dazzle of the digital revolution, it turns out that a tangible, touchable image is still your most secure option. You know you’ll have it safe, no matter what high-tech burps and giggles lie in store.

Real photographs, after all, are nice to have around. You can display them to impress friends with your children’s adorability. You can win points with Grandma by helping her decorate her refrigerator door. You can stockpile them for that traditional photo display when your baby someday graduates from high school.

And, failing even that, you can stash them in that shoebox in your closet. They’ll give you something fun to do someday. Maybe after you retire.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Blowin’ In The Wind

When my fellow Fish opinionator Tom Davies looks out at his backyard, he sees bald eagles, turkey vultures and courting bunnies. When I look out at ours, I see … plastic sacks.

Yes, empty sacks — caught up near the tippy tops of the crabapple tree beside the deck and the maple in the corner. From ground level, one appears to be a Walmart bag; the other, from Hornbacher’s. They’re snagged on distant branches by their handles, snapping and crackling merrily whenever the wind comes up. They’re far too high with your feet on the ground, and we’re far too old to climb after them. Our only hope of relief is a prairie gust fierce enough to tear their flimsy plastic free. Then what? They’ll sail away, only to land in your own yard … or maybe the park where Judge Davies watches his wildlife.

Ophaned plastic sacks show up everywhere at this time of year. They bloom — white, yellow, pink, blue, beige -— from leafless bushes. They flatten themselves on chain-link fences around apartments and parking lots and playing fields and parkways. They weave in among the weeds in ditches and clutter the brush in country windbreaks. As light and flighty as hummingbirds, they waft their way into every urban and rural landscape, from perching on rooftops to clogging culverts.

And they’re almost literally immortal. Each single-use plastic bag is said to have an average useful life of just 12 minutes — from store to car, then car to cupboard. Once you’ve dragged whatever you’ve purchased into the house, you’re bound to eventually use it up or wear it out or jam it into the back of the closet or pass it on as rummage … but the sacks in which the clerk packed them are going to outlive them by an eon — lingering as a thousand-year blemish caught somewhere in Mother Nature’s hair.

While not quite as big a sore spot as gamma rays from Fukushima or an exploding oil pipeline, those flimsy containers are an especially irritating blot on our eternal landscape. When they first stormed into the world of retail in 1977, merchants recognized their advantages — feather-light yet strong, easy to tote and — best of all — only a fraction of a cent each, compared to 4 or 5 cents for paper. Along with the classic ding of the cash register, another universal note merged into the familiar soundtrack of the check-out lane: “Paper or plastic?”

Have you noticed how that’s evolved since the 1980s and 1990s? “Paper or plastic” has morphed into “is plastic OK?” — or no choice at all. Plastic now occupies at least 80 percent of the bagging market. Fifteen years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags were consumed every year around the world, 80 percent of them in North America.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, the average American family now takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year. So what do you do with yours? At the House of Hanson, we warehouse them in a bathroom cupboard, then attempt to reuse them in random ways. We line trash cans, gather noxious kitchen leavings and collect the World’s Greatest Granddaughter’s diapers for the garbage. We pack snacks and fold up donations for charity resale shops. At the height of garden season, we squeeze them full of zucchinis and abandon them in neighbors’ unlocked cars. Best of all, the orange sleeves in which our morning newspaper arrives are precisely the right shape and size for picking up doo when marching the dog down the sidewalk.

We’ve also made a habit of filling them with whatever we plan to recycle — newspapers, cans, plastic bottles. Little did we know until now that our tidiness is a recipe for disaster. For — irony of ironies — those thin plastic bags gum up the works at recycling plants. Yes, they can be recycled … but only separately in identified bins. When you fill them with cans and bottles, tie a neat top knot and toss them into  regular recycling bins, they’ll eventually wind themselves into the recycler’s mechanical hardware and bring the machine to a halt.

After years of hearing, “Give a hoot — don’t pollute,” it’s easy to damn careless litterbugs for the baggies blowing in the wind. But careless tossing out the car window accounts for only part of the problem. When plastic-bag-encased garbage arrives at the landfill, no matter how faithfully it’s been collected, the load is sure to be shoved about with heavy equipment, buried beneath layers of dirt and repeatedly squashed down by earthmovers. The bags may be entombed at first, intact or shredded, but that’s never the end of them. They have a nasty way of working themselves to the top and escaping what’s intended to be their grave.

The solution? Not clear. California led the way in banning them last November, but enforcement is a perplexing issue. At any rate, “ban” is a four-letter word in many quarters. (Well, three, to be precise, but you know what I mean.) Nor is a retreat back to paper necessarily the best environmental choice. Timber may be renewable, unlike petroleum that’s used to manufacture plastic, but the whole paper-making process, from lumberjack to paper mill to delivery to the loading dock, may actually gobble more energy and resources than entire one-use bagging cycle.

Nor will our much-anticipated single-source recycling eliminate the problem. Come July, when Moorhead and Fargo residents begin to toss all their recyclables into their new blue bins, those store sacks are one variety of trash that’s specifically verboten.

For now, two alternatives seem to make the most sense. We can sidestep the whole dilemma by bringing our own durable, reusable bags to the store. Toward this end, Russ and I have stockpiled colorful fabric totes in the back seats of both cars. So far, however, we have learned this method works best when you remember to bring them inside with you — a step we haven’t quite mastered.

Or go the other route — far simpler for the attention-challenged. Collect bags from your last trip and return them on your next visit. Yes, there are bins toward the front of most every supermarket and big-box store. You just haven’t noticed them until now.

There, nestled among their own kind, the annoying yet useful bags can live happily ever after. This is not a euphemism. Collected separately and remanufactured, they’re destined for reincarnation as — you guessed it! — more plastic bags. Forever and ever, amen.