Fall Is Falling Quickly

All of a sudden the leaves on our trees are changing color and the air intake in front of my car’s windshield is gathering leaves that have fallen. We know what’s coming: a good Wisconsin Winter. I love the way the sun’s angle sets in Fall and the way it filters through the leaves. Once we get a freeze, mosquitos are gone and it’s more pleasant to work outdoors. More log cutting and splitting of the trees downed by the tornado of two years ago awaits me; meanwhile, most of my gardening here consists of digging out or cutting volunteer trees and weeds. That, and mowing the grass around the house and down at the lake.

Marina and I went down to the lake earlier this morning. Due to showers early last night and a heavy dew, things were damp and I wasn’t bright enough to bring along a towel to dry places for us to sit, either on the pontoon or the dock. I found a cleaning rag in one of the boat’s compartments and was able to wipe off enough space for the two of us. In our time there, only one fisher-person was on the lake and that boat was headed for the north landing. Things were calm and skies were a Fall Blue. It was perfect! Later on, the lake will be surrounded by Fall-colored trees, but that is yet to come; it’s early.

I can’t share which story WPCA-FM broadcast Tuesday night because the station inserts my stories into the pre-programmed music they feature. Once in a great while someone forgets to do the insertion (I think they call it a “drop in”) and, what with the Labor Day holiday, it probably just got missed. I can’t complain; I’m not buying the air time and, as I’ve said often, having my stories broadcast is a privilege afforded very few writers and I am grateful.

It’s almost mid-September and those of you who follow these notes know that I’ve been working since the last week of December, 2020, to rehab a small house in Luck that we hope to rent. Finally, I feel comfortable showing it. Two good prospective renters applied. One would like to move out of his present situation; the other must move out, as his landlord has re-purposed where he lives. So it’s a choice: a want, versus a need. I asked myself, given two almost equal choices, what would Jesus do? Jesus, I feel, would go with the potentially homeless. In regards to that, I need to say that finding any rentals at all is very difficult now. One landlord I know advertised a two bedroom apartment and got 13 calls. In Luck, there are no others available or coming on the market. I feel badly not to be able to accommodate both applicants and I dislike having to make the kind of choice I’m making. I do pray I’ve made the right decision.

The church? We continue to meet, but with masks optional since virus cases in Polk County have been rising rapidly. Everyone in our small congregation has been vaccinated, there are not many of us to begin with, and we don’t have a choir up front spewing droplets at us as they warble their anthems, so we should not be very vulnerable. We will be talking about what we can do to help the Afghan and other refugees now in Wisconsin. I suspect one or more of the larger churches in our area will sponsor a family. We might be able to help that effort. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Conference has an in-gathering of clothing and other items that will be sent down to Camp McCoy, where the refugees are being housed initially. Wolf Creek UMC also is on You Tube each week (Wolf Creek United Methodist Church services) so you can see us in action, complete with the pastor’s mess-ups and all on record for the world to share. We are getting some views; I have no idea who those viewers might be, but I’m guessing that at least one of them is a person who just can’t quite make it to our in-person 8:15 a.m. service. We do have coffee before service time and I suspect it’s an effort by the congregation to help people stay awake during the sermon.

Taking The Knee

Nope, it’s not the political knee but the washing-the-floors knee and that only because the sponge mops I have don’t fit into the bucket I have and so we do things the old fashioned way. That’s at the Luck house, which is rapidly approaching the time when I can advertise for potential tenants. I have one more floor to wash and then it’s on to ridding the attic of its mouse and bat poop. I can replace the front storm door while prospects are looking over the place and very soon I should be able to begin scraping and painting outdoor wood trim .

All this takes place as I “garden” at home, which consists mostly of digging out unwanted volunteer plants and trees and pulling out invasive vines. There’s a buckthorn waiting to get the axe, too. And there’s the weekly grass to mow, both in the yard and down at the lake, so summer’s outside work keeps the calendar full. Maybe I’ll be able to begin cutting and splitting some of those trees downed by the tornado two years ago. I always seem to need firewood.

Lest you think it’s all work and no play–which is too close to the truth–we did get the pontoon out on the lake for the second time last week. The first time was July 3rd. That seems to be consistent with my pattern over half a century: when we had the cruiser berthed in Hudson, we always seemed to be the last boat launched in Spring. Spring?It was early July, mostly because I couldn’t come up with the money soon enough. On the other hand, we were among the last boats to come out in late Fall and I remember clearly  the beauty of being the only boat out cruising the river with falling white snow gracing the dark river water.

Wolf Creek continues to meet on Sundays at 8:15 a.m. We record the services on You Tube (Wolf Creek United Methodist Church services) so every time I mess up something it’s on record for everyone in the world to see. Look for a Zoom Bible study this coming Fall, the subject to be decided upon.

My “Some Mangled Fairy Tales” book now is being sold at the Polk County Information Center and at the Gift Shop of St.Croix Regional Medical Center. I’ve proposed to the Century College Foundation a reading to help raise scholarship money for their students. Marina went from housewife to MSW/CAPSW and began her academic journey at Century College (it was Lakewood Community College back then); son Aaron took his final year of high school there and earlier had been part of the school’s pre-school class; and when I served as president of the White Bear Lake Area Arts Council we had our juried Northern Lights art show there, so my family has some attachment to the school. In addition, the College always had something going that our family could enjoy, including orchestra concerts, plays, recitals and art shows. We shall see what, if anything, develops. Meanwhile, St.Croix Festival Theater has expressed interest in my doing a third fundraising story evening for them. For me, doing that produces far more money for them than any check I could write.

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

At least that was the old saying. But around here we were wondering if it ever might come true. Until today’s rain, it has been dry, very dry, too dry, and hot as well and we all thought we might well join the parts of the country that are in a drought situation. But today came the rain, not a great downpour, but steady and gentle. It was just what we needed.

Last week I had a conversation with St.Croix Festival Theater’s prexy, Meg Luhrs, who expressed the theater’s interest in having me read my stories again as a fund raiser for the theater. When that gets scheduled, and it will be when we can get more people into the building without social distanced spacing (a full house = more money raised), it will be my third such venture with them. I’m anticipating that LaMoine MacLaughlin and his poetry will join me to offer a different voice than mine for the evening.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, so to speak, Wolf Creek United Methodist Church meets now without masks and spaced as people feel comfortable. We’re not a huge crowd in any event but we do pick up another 5-17 people on YouTube views and perhaps at some time we will see some of those viewers in person at our beautiful downtown Wolf Creek location.

It has been hot and –finally–the pontoon left the dock last weekend for the first time on July 3rd. Back when we had the Dilly, it always seemed that we got the boat in the water around July 4th. But, then, we were almost the last boat to be pulled at the end of the season, so we could be out when the St.Croix River was much less crowded. I remember cruising once in a snow storm. White snow flakes drifting down on the river’s dark water was beautiful; we were inside Dilly’s roomy cabin and cozy. We’ve also been swimming in the lake. Talk about refreshing after a hot day of physical work!

My books now are available at the St.Croix Regional Medical Center Gift Shop and at the Polk County Information Center. Last night’s WPCA-FM monthly broadcast of my stories featured “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”. It’s probably my favorite of the mangled fairy tales, mostly because it has lots of gag lines and laugh opportunities. When I read it at Osceola a few months ago, one lady apologized for “giggling all the way through the story” because she thought her giggling was disruptive. Truth was, she wasn’t giggling alone. “Little Red Hoodie” is another fairy tale filled with many laugh opportunities. WPCA’s broadcasts are streamed online (WPCAradio.org).

In The Good Old Summertime

So it’s still Spring but this week is beginning to feel like Summer. All of a sudden, it’s short sleeve weather. Today saw an Osceola Seniors picnic at the Oakey Park shelter. We talked about the beginnings of what may be congregate dining at the Osceola Senior Center in what has been called up until now The Discovery Center. As we move to put this together, we will be finding out how things will work as we go.

Speaking of short sleeves, tomorrow is an outdoor wedding I’m doing for Bjorn and Maisey, Bjorn being one of my grandsons. It’s outdoors at Bavaria Downs, which is way over in Chaska, Minnesota, which is a bit like being on the other side of the world from where I live. And I think I’ve finally found a solution to keeping the wedding rings from rolling off my hymnal as I bless them: I’ll have the Best Man hold them in his cupped hands. Blessing rings that way has GOT to be as valid as having them placed on my hymnal. After having the Groom’s ring roll off into the rose bushes during my daughter Hannah’s wedding, I have been nervous about that part of the ceremony.

Last week was my last Sunday service at Taylors Falls United Methodist Church. I was able to do their worship service following our service at Wolf Creek. Their new pastor comes this weekend. We–the Taylors Falls congregation and I– like each other and I’ve been there often enough that I’m a known quantity. At the end of last Sunday’s service, people offered me profuse thanks for our month together and several people were in tears. I found their response very moving and I am grateful to the Lord for that ratification as I try to bring to people an understanding of God and of the relationship God says God wants with all of us. We need the assurance of that possible relationship in these difficult and angry times.

The WPCA-FM story this week was “Annika’s Angel”. As I listened, I think the story reads better in print than hearing it. That’s because the story is told in segments, separated by days and even a few weeks. It’s also very conversational in the early going and that back-and-forth talk may be difficult to follow when one listens, rather than reads. Still, the story has a punch at the end and some cute moments prior to that. (“I think,” I said, “that when someone buys one of your pieces of art, you giggle all the way to the bank.”)

Always on Sunday

“Never On Sunday” just doesn’t apply. During the month of May I’m helping out Taylors Falls United Methodist Church. Services there are at 10 a.m. so I can zip out of Wolf Creek after the service there and get to Taylors Falls in time. Good old “Doctor Bill” is of great help; he gets the earpiece of the mike to fit my ear, which always seems to be a struggle. Taylors Falls always treats me well and I enjoy the congregation in that historic church building.

Tonight’s WPCA-FM’s “Adult Story Time” reading was “I Loved That Bike!”. Since we recorded that story, it has been published as one of four e-book stories available through Amazon Kindle. That book is called  “Another Four Break Time Stories” and, as with the rest of the books I’ve published, the final and fourth story is a mangled fairy tale: “Snow Job And The Four Dwarfs”.

This is a medical month. Marina gets her second COVID vaccine (I had my second jab last month), I have hernia surgery next week and that puts significant lifting on hold for about six weeks, Marina has her new cochlear implant adjusted and an ultrasound for something else, and. . . . What else? Meanwhile, I’m feeling pressured by the work still needed at the Luck house before we can bring in a tenant, downed trees still awaiting cutting and splitting so the wood can dry for next Winter’s wood stove season, shaping up the front yard after having septic tank work done, an interment of a very nice guy, an appointment with a dermatologist because this California kid got lots of sun there growing up–you get the idea. I need to chill a bit and just let life happen this month. Maybe it would be good to listen to some of the counsel I give in my sermons.

And so. . . .

Today I enjoyed a lunch with LaMoine MacLaughlin, Amery’s first poet laureate, a friend of mine and one of the first people to read and hear each of my short stories. I always appreciate his insight, comments and encouragement. He, his wife Mary Ellen, and my wife, Marina, and I had a rigorous discussion ranging from the gift of faith to the Hemingway broadcast this week. It was good to have some demanding discourse after being isolated for so long by the pandemic. We had a brief interruption–but a good one– by Jane Smith, whose husband Kirby just died and whose celebration of life will be held next week. My kids thought Kirby, who taught Literature at Unity High School, was their best teacher. And so it was a literary lunch in some ways.

Yesterday, I read my short story, “The Great Experiment” to the Osceola Senior Citizens Club. It was well received and I was asked if there might be a sequel. I think not. Getting to hear one of my short stories is what happens when that group has no program planned. (Small voice: “Serves them right!”) The night before I listened to my reading of “Green Card” on WPCA-FM. I still cringe at my poor diction; it’s a long way from when I did radio years ago. “Green Card” is a good story, made better on the broadcast by my tagging the story with a recording of “Pajaro Campana”, done by the Trio Los Paraguayos back in, probably, 1953. The Paraguayan Indian harp is superbly played on that album and I wish it could somehow be included in the print version of the story so people could catch its enchantment, rather than the best I can do in print and by voice: “ping, pong, ping, pong” as I try to imitate the plucking of the harp.

Wolf Creek United Methodist Church is back in the church building, masked and socially distanced, beginning with our Easter service. A good number of the people who attended have had both injections of the vaccine (I’ve had my first shot and have the second Moderna scheduled for next week) so we may not be all that many weeks away from being able to sit closer and perhaps even forego masks in a few months. We continue recording services to be broadcast on YouTube and Facebook but we can’t do simultaneous Zoom because the building has no phone nor Broadband connections. That’s a subject sure to come up in our next Administrative Council meetings. Taylors Falls United Methodist Church has asked me to be their interim pastor for the month of May and since they have a 10 a.m. service I can do that. They are a fine group of people and always have been very good to me. I’m looking forward to our time together and they tell me they are excited about it. I can tell you that being liked feels better than being disliked and I’m sure you would agree.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on the Luck house, where staining and varnishing are finished, so now it’s on to fresh paint, some electrical upgrades, and a re-do of the bathroom medicine cabinet, electric plugs, lighting and flooring. There has been much to do to help this old house recuperate but I can see light at the end of the tunnel and maybe even renters in the house by July. That’s on top of the usual work here, where I am way behind on cutting and splitting firewood from the trees downed by the tornado and the usual Spring tasks of raking, dock installation, and general cleanup, especially windows that somehow get very dirty, even with rain falling on them. Daffodils and crocuses are up and are making nice colorful displays in their arched and circular planting beds.

No March Madness Here

Mad. who me? Nope. Not a bit. I just finished listening to the WPCA-FM broadcast of my shortest story, “The Duo”. It clocks in at just under ten minutes. I think you know that my stories were written to be able to be read by someone on his/her coffee or lunch break. A person could take a break, read a complete story and get back to work on time. “The Duo” fits that structure perfectly. It’s probably the most autobiographical of all my tales.

One of the things the January 6th protest in Washington conjured up for me was when I had dinner with a former student advisee of mine, Felix Awantang, and his wife. Wherever it was that we dined–and I don’t remember–the place had floor to ceiling windows. There were protestors lining up on the street outside and police on motorcycles were keeping them in a single line on the far side of the street. There was a low, constant murmur, an undercurrent that betrayed the tension that could build and turn a peaceful protest into something ugly. I just remember the feeling. As for the police presence, I suspect protests are common in Washington, D.C. It really is a remarkable place, though. Spend time in the White House and the place reeks of being the center of world power. It used to be an easy cab town, too, unlike New York, and I remember riding in a taxi one day when a motorcade, sirens screaming, roared up behind us and whipped into the White House driveway. It was Menachem Begin, coming to visit the President of the United States. I remember thinking, what a remarkable world we live in; here is a former terrorist, who hid from the British under the stairs of his house, now a head of state coming to visit the most powerful head of state on the planet.

Another thing that struck me, aside from the difference in taxi cabs, was the price of things. The same breakfast in New York that I had in Washington, D.C., cost twice as much. The same breakfast in the Twin Cities cost half what I paid in D.C. and the same meal in Exeland, Wisconsin, where I served the United Methodist Church, was half the price of the same meal in the Twin Cities.

So how did I get off on all that? Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Wolf Creek church intends to resume in-person, masked and distanced services on Easter Sunday. Those services in our church building will go out to YouTube and Facebook, but we will not be able to go live with Zoom, as there is no phone or internet access at the building. While other congregations have been able to film segments ahead of time and edit the results, our Zoom services have been real time, warts and all. That means if I screw up something, it’s there for all to see for as long and often as people want to see it. (Kinda like the time I mis-introduced my daughter and son-in-law when I did their wedding and the wedding ring rolled off my Bible and into the rose bushes–captured on film forever. Ah, well. . . . )

As I’m writing this I’m interrupted by a phone call asking if I might do some reading the Saturday night before Daylight Savings time begins. I turned down the opportunity: our church service is early the next morning and even earlier when Daylight Savings begins. I need to be lucid that morning (not that I am always on Sunday mornings, but I need to make the attempt). So it’s flattering to be asked but this time, no.

Back at you all later!

“I’ll Cook For You”

I just finished listening to a radio reading of “I’ll Cook For You”, one of the longer short stories in the paperback “The First Gathering Of The Break Time Stories” and in the Kindle collection, “Yet More Break Time Stories”. I recall when reading it at the Milltown Library a couple of years ago there was an audible “whew!” at the story’s finish and it is a story with some suspense set in Korean War era southern California with Old Hollywood glitter that is long gone. Like a number of my stories, it is “layered”, with multiple impulses,  motives and reactions.

Wolf Creek church services continue on Zoom, shared from there on Facebook and You Tube. I spent several hours today in a workshop about how to include everyone when we do return to Sunday services in the church building. We are a small congregation and do not have “the horses” for fancy stuff, but there are some things we can do so that we don’t lose anyone, whether it’s people attending in person or joining us virtually or even later on their own schedule via YouTube. I’m limited in how much I can do, as I’m just quarter-time as pastor, but I expect that we will be modifying things in order to include as many people as possible.

I’ve spent many hours–and will spend many more–cleaning, scrubbing, and repairing a small house in downtown Luck that Marina and I acquired the last week of 2020. We plan to use it as a rental. The place was the victim of poor land lording and there has been plenty of neglect. One symbol of “neglect” was that I had to evict Harold, “Harold” being Harold W. McCarthy, who had been quietly down in the basement since 2016. I discovered Harold while sorting through things to throw out. I was able to look him up on the internet and found he was born in 1938 in Minneapolis and that he had a sister three years older. The box with Harold’s ashes came from a funeral home in Portland, Oregon, so either he was shipped here or brought here–and then left behind. What is the story behind that? Did someone hate his father’s guts so much that he just left him behind when he/she moved? Or was it just too painful to cart around the remains of a person loved so much? You should have seen the size of the eyes above the masks of the asbestos removal crew when I advised them to ignore Harold as they worked. In any event, we will give Harold a Christian burial in the Spring in the woods behind our house. Meanwhile, he’s in our shed, where it’s cold, so yeah, he’s pretty stiff, in all respects. I may even get a short story out of this someday.

Thoughts Amid Today’s Chaos

As I write this, Washington D.C. police and the National Guard are clearing violent protestors from the national Capitol. This has been the result of those of our elected officials, including the Congressman who represents where I live and a Wisconsin Senator,  who have chosen to try to subvert our Constitutional electoral process by claiming the recent elections have been fraudulent. I feel their actions amount to sedition and those who act that way ought to be treated the same way our nation has dealt with traitors in the past.

Having gotten that off my chest, in my county of some 46,000 people we sit tonight with 3,169 documented cases of the Covid virus and 23 dead from it. People are wearing masks inside the businesses I visit, but I’m not part of the bar crowd and Marina and I have not eaten inside restaurants lately, even as I wish I could support them. We have ordered take-out from some and I lament those businesspeople who could not find or imagine a way to try something like takeout in order to stay in business and keep people employed. Service people coming to our home, including our favorite heating/a.c. guy and the electricians, all have worn masks and don’t grouse about it. Wolf Creek United Methodist Church has been meeting via Zoom, with the exception of Christmas Eve, when we had a service in the church building with social distancing and masks. I’m guessing that we will continue to Zoom services through at least mid-January to late January, depending on the reality of the anticipated Christmas/New Years spike in the virus count. Whether we originate our service on Zoom or we do it in the church building, our services are spread abroad on YouTube and Facebook. (On Zoom, it’s Wolf Creek United Methodist Church-services.) Just yesterday I received an email from a former student advisee that suggested I join him and his classmates (fellow former foreign students at Macalester College) on their next Zoom session. I’m honored. I was their advisor half a century ago and I’m grateful to be remembered, much less to be in contact with them. But the truth is, they were (are) a remarkable group of people, even as young people obviously destined for success in life, and I was able to help them along with the scholarship money they needed.Then, my job was to do what I could to help them succeed in another culture in a rigorous academic setting. In other words, I had a door I could open but they had to walk through that door. And they did.

Marina and I have acquired a small rental property in the Village of Luck. The key to this being a good move or a giant mistake will be to find good renters. The house has been neglected and is in tremendous need of cleaning. Oh, and it came with a dead body. I’ll talk more about that in a future blog. Heck, I’ll tell you now: Harold W. McCarthy’s ashes were left in a box in the basement. He died in 2016 in Portland, Oregon. I do write fiction but I’m not sure I want to invent a good story around this.But then, I just might. . . .

As I’m able to get to it, I’m still logging and splitting the trees downed by last year’s tornado. I have a nice supply of firewood. And now there has been a good amount of snow, so I’ve pulled snow off the roofs of both houses. I plow paths through our property so Marina can walk through the various areas. We have had frost on everything the past several days and it is awesomely beautiful. I’m grateful for eyes to see God’s creation.

It’s A Marathon

So, here we are, months into the pandemic, and some people still don’t believe it’s real. At this writing, I know 11 people who’ve contracted the virus. One of them died and three have been very, very sick, with one of those complaining last week that she has been trying to recuperate for almost 6 weeks now. So, the Wolf Creek United Methodist Church has been back to Zoom services that anyone can access via YouTube or Facebook. Since our customary service is Sunday mornings at 8:15 a.m., people who prefer to sleep in can join us virtually at any time.

Last night I took a break and listened to the story broadcast on WPCA-FM. The story (I never know ahead of time which one they will broadcast) turned out to be “A Cabbie’s Sunday Morning Soap Opera” and I have to say that it’s an effective tale, with three stories packaged inside one story. Fellow writers who’ve read it thought that was more than clever. And speaking of writing, I am enjoying Lois Joy Hofmann’s table-top books of the world circumnavigation she and her husband, Gunter, did several years ago. The three volumes each have won the top prize in the travel category in the San Diego writers competition, and deservedly so. Her photography is very good, her writing more than nicely descriptive, and she’s not afraid to be candid about her crew’s personal relationships and about God and the awesomeness of God’s creation. I’m enjoying my breaks with these books very much. Hofmanns have a cabin on White Ash Lake near here where they spend their summers.

Our Thanksgiving was quiet–just the two of us–but with the customary Thanksgiving fare, which has meant plenty of leftovers. I don’t mind that one bit!

Just got an email with the next series of national newspaper ads for a client I’ve had for more than 30 years. Maybe that says something about something; what do you think?