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?

Who Elected To Listen?

So how does it feel to be outgunned by the biggest story of the year? The first Tuesday of each month is the occasion of WPCA-FM’s broadcast of my short story readings, and last night was the first Tuesday of the month. Also, it was election night. And the election had most likely the highest interest and participation of any election in decades. So who took the time to listen to little ole me? Well, I did. Per usual, I’m critical of my diction, which I think has become pretty sloppy in the half century since I did most of my professional theatre work. I read “Holding The Fort”, a story about the past and prejudice in Apache country in the State of Arizona. It’s a good story. When I read it last month in Amery at the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts, one audience member told me afterwards that she wanted to hear a sequel to find out what happened to the characters. Whether it’s turning pages or something like that comment, any author would take that as a positive, a sign of successfully telling a story. On the radio, I’m introduced as a pastor, as well as an author and perhaps people expect some kind of a sermon; but I tell stories. Some have morals, such as the question of whether suicide is brave or cowardly or how to erase poverty or, perhaps it’s the issue of immigration or a May-December relationship or even if angels really exist. In any event, they are simply stories. One story comes to mind that foretold the “#me too” movement; I wrote it several years before that was in the public’s discussion. Another deals with racial discrimination; I wrote it years prior to the time when today’s racial issues are dealt with so openly. How so? Stories come to me, usually in the wee hours of the morning, with the dialogue complete and the basic story scenario set. During the writing, characters can change things, even the direction of the story, as the characters become themselves. Because of that process, I couldn’t ever teach a course in writing.

Wolf Creek United Methodist Church now is on You Tube and Facebook. We have been meeting face-to-face for some weeks now, socially distancing and wearing masks. However, with the rapidly rising case numbers of the virus in Wisconsin and Polk County, we’ve decided to revert to meeting via Zoom for the rest of November. We will decide the last week in November how to handle December. Our plan is to Zoom meet our Sunday service and then broadcast it via Facebook and You Tube, We’ll see how it goes. I Zoom from my office here at the house. Meanwhile, the weather this week is unusually warm, following an unusually cold spell, so I’ve been able to get outside and finish raking the leaves that were covered by an early 5 inch snowfall, as well as cut up and split some more downed trees for Winter firewood. The wood stove made things cozy last night while I tracked the election results.

Coupla Things

On the church front, we now are on YouTube and shared on Facebook, so people who can’t quite make it to an 8:15 a.m. Sunday morning service can catch us anytime. We have been meeting at Wolf Creek United Methodist Church face to face ( er, mask to mask) for five or six weeks lately and things are going well. Some people are not comfortable yet with going out among people, so we don’t see them in person. As I write this, Polk County sits at 319 confirmed cases and two dead. We don’t know how many of those 319 cases are in the hospital, but the number has been climbing. And yes, we are better at keeping people alive than at the beginning of the pandemic, so that helps keep the number of deceased low. Last month Marina and I had the first person die that we knew, a good friend of some thirty years. Yes, she had many health conditions, but so did her husband, who got the virus, along with one of their daughters, both of whom are still alive and functioning well.

On the writing front, after some publicity about the release of the “mangled” fairy tales in paperback and e-book formats, sales have risen, as has readership via Kindle’s library option and some promoting by me on Amazon. I’ve also sold books in-person to people who heard some of the stories read. And speaking of that, I’ve had an initial discussion about possibly reading some stories as a fund raiser for the Milltown Library. The Library is looking for help to pay for its recent expansion. You may know that twice now I’ve read stories as a fund raiser for St.Croix Festival Theater. They’ve said they hope I’ll return to do more. Also, I was one of several authors that read as a fund raiser for Amery’s Classic Theater. I read “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”, which columnist Peter Kwong called “hilarious” and “the highlight of the evening”. Kwong is pretty funny himself, so I really appreciate his evaluation. (Beats the review I mentioned last month in this space!)

 

As I write this, my chainsaw is in the shop, hopefully learning how to keep going when I tackle the logs that are down in the back of our property. The beach property line dispute is going to an appeal; the many property owners involved feel that the airline pilot to our south got not only more than he expected, but what he wasn’t entitled to in the first place. Attention to that matter, as our newest spokesperson, and my duties as president of the Osceola Senior Citizens Club keep me more than busy. Then there are the routine things of life as it goes on. And then there is the challenge of weekly sermons: to find something that speaks to what people deal with today, something that is meaningful, something worth listening to. Some weeks, that ain’t easy!

Egads!

Well, whaddya know, the first review is in for “Some Mangled Fairy Tales” and, to my dismay, the book is being reviewed as a book for kids. It never was intended for children. When I was asked which age groups in school might find the stories of interest, I said kids aged fifth grade to 12th could understand it. But the stories are for adults. I’m not sure how to correct things now, but what is, is (to echo the words of one of our political leaders). At any rate, the review itself gave the book three stars out of a possible four. I should be grateful.

Reading Tonight

Hola! Tonight I’m reading “Holding The Fort”, a story from the paperback “The Second Gathering of the Break Time Stories”, which includes it from the ebook titled “Four More Break Time Stories”. The story takes place in Fort Thomas, Arizona and was written long before Black Lives Matter and Every Life Matters became common phraseology. Last Tuesday night WPCA-FM broadcast my reading of “Number Eleven Oakwood Lane”, a story also included in the two books mentioned above. Listening to the broadcast, even if I were not the author, I’d still say that Oakwood is a  damn good story. I think “Holding” is, too, and tonight should verify that. What with the Virus, we’ll see if we have much of an audience at the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts. On the other hand, our news releases said there is plenty of room for social distancing.

Also, I have some copies of the newest paperback, “Some Mangled Fairy Tales”. I’m pleased; technically, it is the best of the three paperbacks, in terms of mistakes caught, formatting and appearance. I’ve sent out some copies to be reviewed and I’m hoping that the reviews match the giggles and guffaws those stories have received wherever I’ve read them. Today, with all that is going on and the stress people are feeling, we can use some laughter and I’m hoping that those stories can offer some relief and a bit of light-heartedness.