Let It Snow-And Forget About Trying To Stop It

Yesterday, it took several hours to get home in whiteout conditions. Frankly, it was the worst travel challenge I’ve had in my 54 years in the Midwest. The windshield wipers just couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t see the road. Things got easier just after we hit Milltown, when the snow slowed down some. Plows had gone through the other direction and I was able to keep the drivers side wheels in part of what had been plowed so at least I could track some of where the road should be, but when headlights came from the opposite direction, the game changed and I could only pray to avoid heading into the ditch. I don’t mind challenges, but this one was a bit much. So today will be spent doing lots of snow shoveling.

Last night’s WPCA-FM story broadcast was a new story, “We Gotta Help Bomber!”, which tells of a high school football hero trapped” in town by his reputation and how, when he hits retirement age, his friends feel they need to help him when his years of piddling jobs leave him with a too-small retirement income. It’s a small town story of people struggling when larger outside forces leave them at a disadvantage. I’ve read the story a couple of times now and listeners have found it to be powerful. I plan to add it to the latest ebook stories and make it part of the next paperback, which probably will be titled Some Short Stories or Five Short Stories. And did I tell you that I’ve discovered that Barnes & Noble is selling the Some Mangled Fairy Tales book? An outfit in Ghana also is selling it for about $6 more than you can buy it through Amazon or B&N. For now, you order the book through Barnes & Noble online, but I am hoping to get paperback copies to the stores in Maplewood and other stores in the Twin Cities and perhaps Duluth.

Christmas Eve with Wolf Creek was a very nice evening candlelight service. We began at 4 p.m. and, of course it was dark by the time our service ended, so the candlelight ending was just right. We had a good attendance, with many people I’ve never seen before. How they found out about us I was unable to discover. Wolf Creek people put up a gorgeous Christmas tree and all the additional Christmas decorations make things look very festive. Wolf Creek has added some very good scripture readers and that enhances our worship services. Attendance has been up, too.

My brother, Guy, still is on life support out in California after a horrific auto accident back on September 6th.


So shovel some more snow!

In past posts I’ve mentioned a story that has been stalled for some time. I’ve had the beginning and the ending but my characters have had to tell me what happens in the middle. Maybe it’s inspiration from shoveling about 8 inches of new snow last week but the next thing happening in this story is the protagonist will be plowing snow and doing it for free, which his morning coffee buddies think is pretty stupid on his part. We shall see how I dig myself out of this development.

Meanwhile, it’s Tuesday night, the first such Tuesday of the month, and the regularly scheduled story reading on WPCA-FM has been missed again. This happens a couple of times a year: someone forgets to “drop in” the story time. I never know which story they will broadcast and while I rationalize that I can’t complain because I’m not paying for the airtime, I can’t describe how disappointed I feel. I hear often enough that people think my stories are good–some people say they are very good–but I wish there were some way to give them wider distribution. The COVID saga put the kibosh on public readings for two years and only now are those opportunities resurfacing, with a reading scheduled for December 17th in Amery, Wisconsin and more discussions with St.Croix Festival Theater about doing a third fundraising reading for them. When there is some momentum, it’s easier to program more readings.

My next younger brother, Guy, has been in a “state of unconsciousness”, which is not technically a coma, since September 6th. This is the result of a horrific auto accident in California. Now, however, he is showing signs of reawakening and can respond to questions and even talk a little with the aid of a voice box. Many prayers have been offered for Guy, who remains in an ICU specialty hospital.

Didn’t we just do Christmas? The season is full upon us and Wolf Creek United Methodist Church has its gorgeous Christmas tree installed while we progress through the Advent season by lighting an Advent candle each week. We will have a Christmas Eve service and next week the Council will decide if we will have a Christmas Day service the next morning. I preach most of the time without notes, so I don’t have a file of old sermons that I can pull out and update. That means that each week I grapple with the Lectionary readings to try to pull out something of value for the people who take the time to show up to listen to what I have to share. I try to go beyond the easy approaches and the trite, always with a “so what?” people can take home. We are on You Tube (Wolf Creek United Methodist Church services) and have a following that seems to range from four people to fourteen and more. I don’t know who they are. However, the church has not been receiving angry letters from those watching; they haven’t been sending cash either. (When I was in college I remember TV’s Soupy Sales getting suspended for telling little kids to go over to where Dad is snoozing on the couch, find his wallet, take out the money and send it along to good old Soupy. I don’t think I’ll copy that idea.)

The wood stove needs another log just now, so this will end. If you read this before Christmas and New Years, thanks for doing so and I wish you the very best that Christmas can bring and a very, very fine 2023!

Who ARE These People?

Who are these people? That’s the question asked by the passe actor in tonight’s WPCA-FM broadcast of my short story, Eleven Oakridge Lane. He was talking about the latest crop of actors who’d arrived without the backing of the old studio system. Over the years he had done it all: action films, romantic comedies, multiple wives, lavish get-togethers at his mansion, bevy upon bevy of starlets riding in his yellow Jaguar XKE and lounging by his tennis court while his photographer friend from childhood watched it all. It’s a story with a nice “build” and an ironic ending. You can find it online or in The Second Gathering Of The Break Time Stories paperback.

Meanwhile, there are some family happenings of note since I posted last. First, my younger brother, Guy, has been in what they are calling a “state of unconsciousness”, which is not a coma, since October 6th, the result of a horrific car crash in California. In the last few days he has shown signs of possibly waking up. If he can wake up, it will be because bleeding has stopped at the base of his brain stem. Meanwhile, he is in a special ICU hospital in the Costa Mesa area. In early October our kids had a sibling get-together at our place here on Bone Lake. It was a greatly enjoyable and noisy time together. Aaron had come from Portugal and Alice flew up from Ohio for the occasion. October 14th Marina and I had to let Gretel, Marina’s first Seeing Eye Dog, move into the next chapter of her life. She’d had a stroke, which took her sight and some bladder control. The vet told us that Gretel also had a mass on her spleen and her heartbeat was very erratic. At age 14 1/2, it was time; keeping her with us for a few more days or weeks would have been selfishness on our part. The vet had Andy, Marina’s second Seeing Eye Dog, come into the room so he might understand where Gretel had gone and what happened to her. Marina has had a hard time with this; Gretel had been her eyes and constant companion since 2010. Gretel was highly intelligent, very intuitive, and had a lovely personality. I miss her, too. Her ashes are in the back area of our property not far from the pond she liked to visit.

Wolf Creek United Methodist Church has been picking up more people at its Sunday services. We also have viewers of our services on You Tube, where every time I mess up something it’s there for the world to see–forever. I just don’t know who those followers are or where they are located. The congregation fed oodles of people who stopped by during the annual River Road Ramble. The congregation’s next community event coming up is the annual Chili Supper, held for hunters and anyone else the opening night of Wisconsin’s deer season. That happens the first Saturday night of Thanksgiving week, known around here as “Holy Week”. Blaze orange is the uniform for the week and we pray each year for safe hunting. Right now our weather has been warm–into the low 70’s is forecast for tomorrow and not freezing at night. That stretches my firewood supply. I may be able to get out and cut and split some more firewood tomorrow.

If you are a praying person, I and my family would appreciate your prayers for my brother, Guy. Thanks so much–and bless you for that!


Falling for it

The leaves on my trees take the seasonal word “Fall” as a command, and today they are drifting groundward and swirling as the cool breeze gives them incentive. I’ve started the wood stove; we’ve hit today’s high temperature already and it’s not eleven a.m. The pontoon and dock get hauled in on Monday and I have some things to do with them before the crew comes. Meanwhile, two of our adult children still are here following yesterday’s family reunion (which was a fine and fun occasion) and I have airport runs to make.

A few years ago, when I was serving as a nursing home chaplain, I ran a chat group for the nursing home residents. One day I asked the group which fairy tale was their favorite when growing up. The answer: Jack and the Bean Stalk. Of course, that had to become Jack and the Bean Sprouts as a “mangled” fairy tale and that was the reading this month on WPCA-FM’s broadcast of my story readings. Two of my kids listened to the broadcast and their laughs came at the appropriate times. As you know, that tale can be found in the Some Mangled Fairy Tales paperback and in The First Gathering Of The Break Time Stories paperback. As an ebook, you’ll find it in Four More Break Time Stories.

Officially, as I write this, I’m on a two week “vacation” from duties at Wolf Creek United Methodist Church. Two of our capable members are taking Sunday services, which I think makes our congregation stronger than if I were to invite in a guest preacher. One of the challenges for a pastor is to entice people into a deeper walk with our Lord, and one of the ways that can be done is to have people deal seriously with our scriptures and their messages. Conducting services and preaching will do that. Meanwhile, we still have many prayer concerns, most of which deal with the need for physical and mental healing. Marina and I attended a memorial last weekend for a good friend who died following a stroke at age 90. Her husband, my favorite Renaissance Man, at age 94 continues to reside in his historical home with the aid of his children. Another new friend of the congregation is in his last week at Mayo Clinic, where they are optimistic about being able to knock back his cancer.

My story writing has been stalled these past few weeks. I have a story begun, with the beginning and the end in mind and partially written, but the characters will have to tell me what happens to them in between. We shall see. Meanwhile, the busy-ness of daily life sidelines being able to sit and complete this story. That may be just as well, since, sometimes, a story just needs to “jell” awhile until it comes together.

Fall Has Fallen–Maybe

So, yes, some leaves are turning, kids are back to school, the mornings are darker and the evenings come earlier, and the cabin people tell me they expect to be up here a few more times before they pack up everything for the Winter season. Docks will come in, boats will be pulled, and the mowers will be put to sleep until Spring.

Tonight’s WPCA-FM story reading was The Driveway, a tale about a young woman who tries to overcome the fear of isolation in the country that is enhanced by her icy, tricky to navigate, quarter mile long, and steep driveway that is a potential obstacle to reaching the County road and civilization. On top of it, she’s pregnant, a condition that worries her mother. The story reads well. There is tension as to the outcome and one finds himself/herself rooting for the young woman to succeed. Does she? And if she does, how does she? (Gotta read the story to find out!)  You can find The Driveway  in The First Gathering of the Breaktime Stories and in Four Break Time Stories (a Kindle ebook).

On other fronts, I’ve been asked to fill in for Pastor Adam Woods at Parkview United Methodist Church in Turtle Lake as he takes paternal leave for several Sundays in early 2023. I was privileged to be with that congregation for 4 1/2 months in 2020. We were able to meet in person for several Sundays but then reverted to Zoom services. Wolf Creek has seen an increase in in-person attendance and has received two new members, as well as 5 new “friends” this year so far. That may seem small to you, but considering that Wolf Creek has no town surrounding it–the high point of its population was back in logging days when there were 1,500 residents–we are holding our own and doing even a bit better. This is in a time when people who went to church out of habit got out of the habit during two years of COVID and didn’t return. Every congregation seems to be experiencing the same thing On top of it for Wolf Creek UMC, for several reasons, our 8:15 a.m. service time makes it difficult for some people to be able to come to church.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been insulating the exposed concrete blocks in The Mexican Room. On top of the insulation, I’ve been using tongue-in-groove oak flooring I’ve had in my shed for two years after I was able to “liberate” it from Luck Lumber before that business closed. The job looks great, if I don’t say so myself, and I’m a guy whose carpentry work always looks like I did it, so this is a notch above. Marina and I did get the pontoon out on the lake over the Labor Day weekend. We headed down the coast to visit some of our neighbors when we lived on the other side of the lake. Sadly, Kay, their family matriarch, died last month. She was an unusual person who knew nature: which birds were making that call, what that plant was, who that animal was and why it acted the way it did. She enjoyed chipmunks and called them her “chippies”. She moved into Senior living from the custom house she and her husband had built in Roseville and things went downhill from there. Out of all the people we knew, when Marina had surgery some years ago, Kay was the only person to visit her in the hospital. We miss Kay already.

Son Aaron comes from Portugal the end of this month and he has a ready list of projects he expects me to tackle. He has gotten proficient at flamenco guitar in the past couple of years, so I’d better develop some callouses again quickly because he’ll  want to “jam”. Ole!

One grandson is off to his freshman year at St.Olaf College while another is traveling in Germany and to Prague with his wife as I write this. Britta, Daughter #1 heads to Montana this week to visit a long-time friend. Alice, Kid #3, who is the subject of a Voice of America Beyond Borders interview the Osceola Seniors will view tomorrow, will hit town to visit while her brother is here. Son John and his family finally got tired of getting soaked while tent camping and bought a trailer. I’m assuming this will supplant the boat on the St.Croix River.

Shall We Dance?

Last night’s story broadcast on WPCA-FM was “Shall We Dance?” an inside look at the dynamics of a flamenco dance troupe performing at Los Angeles’ Wilshire Ebell Theater. I think the story reads better than hearing it. Reading the words on paper seems to capture better the “duende”, the deep anguish of the gypsy soul that’s expressed through flamenco music and dance. Reading the written word makes it easier to understand the translated Spanish (found in parentheses in print) that are more difficult to catch when hearing a reader read. As always, though, I am grateful to WPCA-FM for broadcasting my story readings. It’s a privilege few writers enjoy.

I do have another story rolling around in my head but I’m not able to put it onto a page yet. I have the beginning and the ending but I have no inkling of what will happen in the middle. Usually, how I solve that is to begin and my characters will tell me where to go next. Meanwhile, doing something akin to a writer sharpening pencils instead of writing, I have been putting down my early years on paper.  This is at the urging of Britta, my eldest daughter, and Marina, my wife. I found my younger kids had no idea I used to sing in coffee houses back when there were coffee houses and I had more of a voice. There are many things they just don’t know and eventually I won’t be here to answer their and their childrens’ questions.

Wolf Creek United Methodist Church is recovering nicely after we lost Debra Rush to an untimely heart attack. She was the person who got us on You Tube and Facebook and was able to use our electronic resources well. Her brother Mike has stepped in and between Mike, Barb Davidsavor and Tracy Mattson we not only have been able to continue on You Tube, but now our Sunday service is available in a single viewing, rather than being split into two segments. There used to be a falling off of viewership between segment one and segment two and since that happened during my sermon, I figured it was the equivalent of nodding off in church during the sermon. As it is, we serve coffee prior to our service and I’ve wondered if that is some kind of insurance against falling asleep during the sermon. Tomatoes are in season now and by the time some are beyond ripe I may have a better sense of this.

Both the rabbits and our local doe have been bold this season, enjoying our yard to the fullest. I do wish they could help my gardening, though; most of what I do as “gardening” is digging out volunteer plants and trees. Our wild raspberries have been prolific this year but the recent heat dried out most of them and the doe took her share, too. Now, if only I could coax some of the eagles that circle overhead to feast on some of our chipmunks. . . .

Bearing Up

Since our last visit, I’ve been involved with changing the terrain down on the beach we share with several other homeowners. Two guys, Roger and Mike, have shouldered most of the responsibility while I’ve provided what little muscle I still have for shoveling dirt, hauling downed trees, and hefting docks, including mine. And amid all this excitement, a bear, one they say probably is young and unafraid of people, has been upsetting garbage bins at lakeside cabins and wandering onto porches and decks up here on street level. So the DNR has a bear trap rigged down near where trash bins used to be before the bin owners wised up and moved them away. The trap looks like a series of barrels welded together with a steel gate at one end. The DNR gives our bear 10 days to be trapped; after that, the trap goes to another location with a nuisance bear.

I finished the first draft of my early years, written for my children and grandchildren, and now I find more and more stuff to add. It’s a depiction of what life was like for a boy in the Mount Hollywood area during the 1940’s, 1950’s and early 1960’s. In my case, my theater reviews are interspersed in the narrative.

Last night’s WPCA-FM story reading was Curtain!, a tale of an aging actor and his former mentee. It’s a story of a man who lives his life in comparison to more famous performers, whom he uses as teaching examples for the young woman who struggles to get her career started. While he chafes at his comfortable local celebrity status, he knows he has it easy being a “big frog in a small pond”. His mentee, whose career went nowhere despite his tutoring, resurfaces to raise a major question. I always appreciate WPCA sharing my story readings; it’s a privilege few writers enjoy.

About The Wait

“The waiting is longer than the wait itself,” said the narrator of Conversations In Absentia, last night’s story read on WPCA-FM. It’s a good story, if I don’t say so myself. Absentia was the first short story I wrote after I retired and no longer wrote articles for publications like the St.Paul Pioneer Press. And today, after waiting for Spring to arrive before Summer heat hits us, Marina and I took the pontoon out on the lake for the first time. This year I put in the dock and platform myself. This, after yielding to age last year and hiring it done. And having lost our lawsuit appeal down at the beach and the resulting loss of about 1/3 of the property we had previously, several of the owners joined together and we removed the berm, flattened the land, and planted grass. This will make it easier for people to put in their docks, as well as opening up the view of the lake.

Wolf Creek United Methodist Church celebrated its 135th birthday on Memorial Day. We tossed a free lunch for anyone attending the Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery next door and in the process hosted the Historical Society’s celebration of the 100th birthday of a neighbor and Veteran. Since our last conversation, though, the Wolf Creek congregation lost one of our key people, a younger woman who died too soon. Deb had handled our technical stuff, getting us on You Tube each week and helping us use the new internet connection we never had in the past. Her brother, Mike, has stepped up and continues what Deb was doing. The result: Ascension Sunday and I’m doing the Benediction at the end of the service when a fight breaks out in the back. It had me at a loss for words for several moments. Let’s hear it for great Christianity! Since we are on You Tube, it’s on record for people everywhere to see–forever, I guess.

I have my next story rolling around in my head and will start getting it down when I feel I can take a break in telling the story of my early years. At this point I have more than 50 pages done and I’m just finishing high school, with some college thrown in. It’s a first draft but I think I’ll print it out for my kids in case something happens to me and it ends up being trapped in my computer. Jill, Luck’s Librarian, has talked with me about doing story reading in the near future. I’ve suggested doing it as a fund raiser, so if Friends of the Library can drum up an audience it will provide the Library more money than any check I might write them. We shall see how it unfolds. St.Croix Festival Theater and I have had three conversations now about a third fund raising reading and a date for that has yet to be set. In the past, we’ve done those on nights the theater would be dark. No money comes in when the stage is dark. In the past, reading with LaMoine MacLaughlin, we’ve had audiences of about 3/4 capacity+.

Spring Is Springing, But Slowly

Yes, there are buds on some trees and a few bushes. And, yes, some birds I’ve not seen in ages have returned. And, yes, the ice on Bone Lake withdrew just a couple of days ago. And yes, Amen! the grass is turning green, except for where Marina’s retired female Seeing Eye dog deposited her pee. Soon I’ll have the mower going. But, there’s a fire in the woodstove–still–because it’s cool in the lower level where I have my office and also because the temperature is due to drop down to 34 above tonight. I’ll get out the rain gauge when it will stay above freezing at night.

Tomorrow I hand over the gavel to the next president of the Osceola Senior Citizens Club. I think I’ve served two terms plus part of another and it has been a honor and a privilege. It’s a great group of good people and the organization and its quarters have great potential. Signs are up inside–finally! Signs are due to go up on the outside of the building so the Senior Center will be identified. It has not been easy to “show the flag” by being present often when I live 45 minutes from town; the president should be someone who lives close by and who can be in and out of the Center often.

Tonight’s WPCA-FM radio broadcast was Number Eleven Oakwood Lane, a story about an aging actor who’s seen better days and part of whose issues is that life came easy to him because of his looks and athletic ability. The story also raises the same issue for women, especially beautiful young women whose pushy mothers bring them to Hollywood in the hopes that they can be “discovered”.  When things come too easily in life, how does a person develop character? In the February-March issue of the AARP Magazine, Halle Berry has some insightful things to say about that very thing. I find I admire women who have overcome beauty with brains, courage and perseverance. Growing up in Hollywood, I saw plenty of that as a young person and, obviously, it stuck with me.

If I wrote this previously, please forgive me; I can’t see what has gone before until I shut all this down, but I’ve been writing an account of my growing up after being encouraged to do that by my wife and eldest daughter, Britta. There’s plenty my kids just don’t know. I’ve said that when it came to theater and voice work, I was good and that I have the reviews to prove it, so now the reviews are being reproduced in print and anyone can make his/her own judgment. I can say that I learned a great deal by working with some of the best and most honored people in the business. For a kid with no studio contract and no TV series, I got quite a bit of attention in a highly competitive market, as Hollywood always has been known to be. These days, however, I hear myself reading on the radio and I deplore the poor diction I hear. It’s almost as bad as when I review the weekly YouTube recording of our Wolf Creek Sunday services. Still some work to do, I guess! (Small voice: what do you mean, “guess”? Get on it, man!)

I spent several hours last night fussing with my printer/scanner/copier that was not working. I’d wanted to scan an interview with John Mellencamp and send it to my daughter, Alice, because she toured with him and opened for him for many months. The scanner didn’t work and both the HP Tech and I were plenty frustrated. (I’ve been there before with this machine.) Anyhow, I ended up copying the page and sending it to Alice by snail mail. Now, tonight, the scanner works, so it’s either someone’s prayers or the Tech’s dreams after he quit for the night or just because the thing decided to be cooperative; who knows? I’m wanting it to keep working as intended.

And on that note, I’m ending this. May you all be well!

Into Each Life

It’s raining as I write this, but in early April we’ve had worse weather, at least in the 50+ years I’ve been in Minnesota and Wisconsin. No buds are evident yet on our trees and the woodstove still gets a workout. WPCA-FM has been broadcasting my story readings the first Tuesday night of each month, but it’s a “drop-in” so the “drop” gets missed every once in awhile. Tonight was one of those “once in awhiles”. I can’t complain; I’m not paying for the airtime and I am very grateful for the privilege of having my stories heard. It’s a privilege few authors enjoy.

As I’m about to end my stint as president of the Osceola Senior Citizens Club, what we had hoped would not happen has happened: our Senior Citizen space now has a sign on it advertising it as the Polaris Community Room. Eventually, there will be a larger sign above the door that reads “Senior Citizens” and I suppose a dual-purpose room is what is intended, but the building policy is that Seniors get priority over the use of that space. I figure if we fill the room(s) with activity, in peoples’ minds it will be the Senior Center that people are coming to know and use. During my tenure I’d hoped to have nipped that encroachment on our space. Obviously, I was unsuccessful.

Family has prevailed on me to start writing down my growing up experiences, especially the theater and performance years. I’d avoided it because it seemed to me to be just a recitation of famous names, but now, several thousand words into the writing, I find it’s more than that. It is true, though, that you can Google almost every person with whom I co-starred and performed with. They were Academy Award nominees, Emmy Award winners, Grammy Award winners, Tony Award winners and others who made their living in the performing arts. I learned from some of the best and I was good enough to more than  hold my own. I have the reviews to prove it. This was in southern California and Hollywood, where the competition back then was as ferocious as it is now.

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. Our pianist is away that day, so I’ll be leading our service with the guitar. I’ve been working up some callouses on my fingers; it has been a long time since I’ve used my trusty old guitar in public. I’ve had it since 1957, when I bought it for $10 from a kid who’d had it at the beach and cracked it. My mother found a violin repairman in downtown L.A. and he fixed it so well that you could barely see the former crack. Since then I’ve had it repaired twice more, once a “butcher job” and more recently a very well done job. Of course I’d like to tell our You Tube audience that our massive choir and full orchestra will be missing, but I figure that it’s not polite to lie about things, especially when in church.

Marina had a major birthday yesterday and Grandson Erik had the elegant solution for her celebration, since she has trouble handling large groups of people: people would bring/send elements of the birthday dinner separately and at different times, so Mom/Grandma could focus on each person and give each person individual time. It worked very well. My benefit? The food was very good and all I had to do was the dishes.

Easter reminds us that Spring does come and so do new beginnings. God is a God of second, third, fourth chances–and many more–so our lives can have many “Springs”; we never are beyond repair, forgiveness and God’s grace. Repent and be forgiven. It’s easy. The only tough part is seeing that we have things to be repentant about. And not to forgive ourselves is a form of blasphemy. So, here’s to Spring–finally!