With Old Settlers

So yesterday I read Snow Job And The Four Dwarfs at the Old Settlers annual picnic in Cushing. It’s an event that has been going on since 1939. I prefaced the reading with a reminder that I’d spoken there a few years ago and warned that we had time here to plan for our future and what the places we love here should look like. That was before a proposed hog factory blindsided our vulnerable and unprepared townships. How do you say “I told you so!” in a nice way?

The program had been billed as a talk by me about my years in ministry, followed by a story reading. I’m reluctant to focus on myself and ministry, so I briefly talked about how I didn’t want to do the work and was “dragged” into it. But there were unexpected positives. I talked briefly about those. I am grateful to God for the entire  experience of ministry on God’s behalf.

The story reading went over well and I sold books and personalized my autographing of them. That was in contrast to the Chisago  Lakes Library reading, where good weather counter-acted good publicity and attendance was sparse. It doesn’t help that I’m an unknown author. I enjoyed book signing and story talking at Amery’s Bowman Collective two weeks ago. It’s an interesting store and I was able to admire Rene Tebdrup’s (Shiloh Arts) fine pottery and stained glass. She had a pop-up store next to my book table.

So next Sunday is it: final retirement (my third). The Wolf Creek rascals have ads in the local papers inviting people to my last service and cake and coffee following. It’s an 8:15 a.m. service, so we’ll see if anyone shows. The way things have been going lately, it’s bound to rain. Yesterday I got soaked just a I uncovered the lawn tractor to mow grass that’s encroaching on “as high as an elephant’s eye”. If one is going to have a good final appointment in ministry, it could not have been better than these past six years at Wolf Creek United Methodist Church. I will miss the people very much.

June Is Bustin’ Out

June has several things that turn my crank. First, daughter Alice and granddaughter Samantha blow into town enroute to Kooch, the camp up on Rainy Lake. While here, Alice will be doing some recording with her friend John Gorka over in Minneapolis. The camp dates from 1924 and is on Grass Island on Rainy Lake. There is a girls’ camp there now, too and Alice finds she really enjoys serving as staff there and shepherding groups of eight twelve-year old girls out for two weeks of wilderness canoe camping. They also do music together. One year each girl left camp with a CD with music the girls had composed and performed.

Second, I’m returning this coming Sunday, June 9th, as guest preacher at St.Luke’s United Methodist Church in Frederic, Wisconsin. Service time there is 10:30 a.m. It’s a very beautiful building with exceptional stained  glass windows. I’ve preached there a number of times over the past 30 years.

Third is my coming reading at the Chisago Lakes Area Library. I’ll do two stories, one of which will be a “mangled” fairy tale. Cross the river? I don’t mind it a bit! I’m hoping to return soon to the White Bear Lake Library. It has been a few years since I read stories there. The Chisago Library date is Thursday, June 13th at 6:30 p.m.

Fourth, I’m doing a book signing and a bit of discussing storytelling on Saturday, June 15th from 2 to 4 p.m. at Bowman Collective in downtown Amery, Wisconsin.  And fifth, as I noted on this site previously, I’ve been invited to read a story at the Old Settlers Picnic on Sunday, June 23rd in Cushing, Wisconsin. The program begins at 1:30 following a potluck lunch for the large group that usually attends. I’ll read one of my “mangled” fairy tales.

And sixth, I’ve been asked to return to the Polk County Information Center to autograph copies of my four books that they carry now. Years ago I was secretary of the Polk County Tourism Council when we built the building housing the Information Center and the offices of St.Croix Falls and its police department. The Information Center works to direct people to the locations in Polk County that carry my books, but it’s nice that they have some for people in search of cabin-time reading. (The St.Paul Pioneer Press’ Mary Ann Grossman said my Six Short Stories are good summer reading. She has not seen the other three books.)

And, finally, June 30th marks my third retirement. That means I’m finished as pastor of the Wolf Creek United Methodist congregation. I will miss the people; they are some of our world’s very good people. I will not miss things like statistical reports, charge conferences, finding musicians, selecting hymns, the Christian year, and the weekly grind of working to have something to say on the coming Sunday that might be worth a listen. I don’t have a file of old sermons that I can dig into to find a old message I can update and I don’t work from a written sermon or even, sometimes, notes to myself. That makes each week a challenge. I use the Lectionary, which forces me to grapple with things other than my favorite topics, but that also saves the congregation I serve from hearing the same-old, same-old thing week after week. (The late Charlie Zeigler suggested once that I could use the sermon I preached the week before because “We don’t remember what you said anyway.” I thought that was pretty funny.)

A final note: Marina’s book, Gretel and Andy, God’s Gift, is about ready for purchase. I have a proof coming. The next thing will be to insert photos of the dogs and of Marina working with them. The story about what it’s like to be a Seeing Eye Dog is told in Gretel and Andy’s voices. It’s very cute!

Old Settlers

I have been asked to return to read at the annual Old Settlers Picnic that is held nowadays at the Cushing Activity Center in Cushing, Wisconsin. This time they’ve asked me to read one of my stories, which, given the commemorative aspect of the area’s history and of people long gone, to me calls for some lightening up. That means a “mangled” fairy tale.

I spoke at this event several years ago. Describing myself as “a recovering city slicker”, I told the group that when I left southern California fifty years ago the municipalities were buying up vacant lots in the San Fernando Valley to create parks. They would be small parks but at least they could be green. Development had pushed so quickly–a phenomenon of greed and money–that parks has been passed over. They were an afterthought. I said that we had the comparative luxury of planning how we wanted our area to grow and develop as the Twin Cities pushed eastward. We needed to think about the legacy we wanted to leave and to plan for it. Since then, of course, we’ve had the proposed hog factory fight that still has to be resolved. At any rate, as I teeter on the edge of my third retirement, it’s nice to be asked. When I asked which story the group wanted me to read, the response was: “You pick; they’re all good!” Well now, how nice and flattering! I’d like every reader to feel the same way.

Freddie Strikes Again!

Tonight’s WPCA-FM story broadcast was a story for fourth grade boys called Freddie And The Giant’s Blocks,  a tale about a misplaced geometry assignment that spawned three distinctly different additions to a family’s lakeside cabin. Thinking about the origins of what is a very fanciful tale prompted me to remember my first reactions to large rolls of hay dotting fields of green. They reminded me of game pieces a giant may have left behind in some farmer’s field. Back when we had Molly, our Shetland pony, I did not have the machinery to handle such massive gatherings of hay and the traditional rectangular hay bales were becoming hard to find. But those large rolls of hay have made life easier for any farmer with livestock in the field and I see them used regularly at a horse farm just up the road from us. Freddie is one of my shortest stories and clocks in at just over 12 minutes, which met my goal of writing a story that could be read completely during one’s break. A reader could take a break, read, and still get back to work on time.

This past weekend saw a large funeral for Rick Stage, a multi-talented man of God who shed life as a rock musician to become a much-loved family man and a sincere, determined Christian. The family had planned the service; it featured recorded music by Rick and his son, Ben, which prompted someone to remark that Rick was one of the few guys who was able to sing at his own funeral. In addition to Wolf Creek’s usual Sunday service, I did the eulogy at Naomi McLean’s memorial service that was held on her birthday. She was a remarkable woman, warm, welcoming and smart, as well as a crack shot with a rifle. Naomi was one of those women who made sure that when you visited you didn’t leave hungry. Marina and Naomi really enjoyed each other. Wolf Creek also celebrated the 90th and 95th birthdays of two of its members.

My successor (for the next year at least) at Wolf Creek will be Jack Starr, pastor of the Osceola United Methodist Church. Jack all share the pulpit with two (probably) other volunteer lay people from around the Northwest District. Jack is fortunate in that Wolf Creek is not a needy congregation and has no negative undercurrents. They have more money in the checking account that they’ve ever had (since 1882), people work together easily on projects, there are no fights about who controls the kitchen (it’s everybody’s) and there is a new quilting/walking ministry that has drawn together some of the women in the church. Several new “friends” have been attending regularly and some of them have been so involved they are as good as “official” members. For a church in the middle of nowhere and with an 8:15 a.m. service, they are doing very well! I will miss the people very much. I will not miss Statistical Reports, the relentless push each week to come up with something that might be worth listening to each Sunday(I don’t use notes so I have no file of old sermons I can dip into and pull out something to update and use), the ever-spinning church year (didn’t we just DO Christmas?), and the too-often platitudes of church leaders.

Our weather has been chilly at night still and rainy (still) but the dock will go in this Saturday with the help of my son-in-law, Mark and my grandson, Hans. Help with the dock is a new concession to age for me. Hans graduates this year and will head off to train with Youth With A Mission this Fall. He gave his pitch for financial help to Wolf Creek last week and pulled it off well. (One woman called him”Adorable and admirable”)–not a bad impression to make.

Today featured replacing a light switch in the Luck house and noting the level of water in the basement. Luck is built on a swamp and very few houses have dry basements. I picked up some waders for Saturday’s dock work because the water still will be COLD. My last waders featured interesting holes gnawed in them by chipmunks enjoying the comforts of the large shed in our yard. I didn’t enjoy the results of their feasting.

Meet Kenneth Larson

Kenneth Larson, “Purveyors of Fine Merchandise” now handles my books. Kenneth is a superb craftsman, so good that I hesitate to call him by his first name but feel compelled out of respect to call him “Mr. Larson”. His shop in downtown Luck is a feast for the eyeballs. Look up and you find ancient tapestries. Look around and you find wood and leather goods, unusual knives of high quality, hats, jewelry, and apparel. He has bags made from various materials and interesting collections of coins. There are books in addition to my own and of special note are STEM toys and puzzles, perfect for those who want to stimulate a kid’s brain. Pay special attention to Mr. Larson’s signature furniture, including a custom crafted boat table topped by a massive slab of glass. That item won’t be in the shop for long; the owner will pick it up when we’ve thawed out enough for him to flee his warm Winter lair.

I am honored to have Kenneth Larson feature my books. In Polk County he joins Amery’s Bowman Collective, the Polk County Information Center, Pure & Simple, and the pharmacy/gift shops of St.Croix Health as places you can find my four paperbacks–or you can mug me on the street.

A Coming Reading and Other News

Please mark your calendar for Thursday, June 13th at 6:30 p.m. when I’ll be reading from Six Short Stories.  St.Paul Pioneer Press/Mary Ann Grossman, the paper’s book critic/editor, recommended it as well written good summer reading. The place? The Chisago Lakes Public Library. Kerstin Finsness,  Chisago’s Librarian, is handling the arrangements and has been making things easy.

Also, all four books now are available through your favorite bookstore, as well as the “big guys”, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. I find it interesting that foreign outlets are advertising my books, too.

Snow, Snow, Snow–Finally!

After a near-snowless Winter, we’ve had snow the past couple of weeks. It has been warm, wet stuff that has fallen to enough depth that the trash truck got stuck in our driveway. Freeing the truck caused some nice pavement and driveway damage. Last year the LP gas truck got stuck with the same result. Winter weather prompts steady use of the wood stove  that takes off the chill in the lower level of the house where I have my office. I find I need the exercise involved in cutting, hauling and splitting wood for the stove. It beats a gym.

About two weeks ago a loud crash from outside at 3:15 a.m. got me out of bed. The outside lights were on, the chest holding our outdoor chair cushions was tipped over, a heavy large cement planter urn had been skidded across the patio pavers so the chest could be dumped down onto the pavers, and the garbage bin was on its side close to the car, instead of its usual place. Only a bear could be strong enough to move the cement urn, I thought, and sure enough, there he was! I grabbed a frying pan from the kitchen rack and fumbled in a drawer for a spoon, coming up with the ice cream scoop instead. However, the loud clanging I was able to make as I chased out the door in my underwear and slippers was enough to send the bear to the street. He paused to look back and more loud clanging sent him up the road. As I put the chest back in place I saw the reason for the bear’s visit: a bird feeder had been put inside to keep it safe from any bear that might want to dine on birdseeds. I’m astonished at how sensitive a bear’s nose must be to be able to smell something like birdseed inside a closed chest that’s also inside an enclosed feeder.

The next night: the same scenario, but this time our bear was fussing with the steel trash can outside our bedroom window. Marina keeps bags of birdseed in the can. I grabbed the same frying pan and ended up with the same ice cream scoop and as I headed out the front door the bear rumbled down the ramp. The thing was huge! He was almost as wide as the ramp. This time he took off toward the back of the property and I could hear brush and leaves crunching as he crossed near a small pond at the back of the property.

We’ve not seen our bear since. Marina was rattled by this since she cannot see a bear if she were to encounter one while walking Andy, her Seeing Eye Dog. For several days she played her harmonica as she walked. My imagination: music might prompt a dancing bear.

The other excitement this month was a “fun” wedding. The bride, Katie, had grown up in the St.Croix Falls United Methodist Church but lives with the groom, Marius, in Mexico City. Marius is Austrian so the two decided to reside on”neutral” turf so neither one would have a geographical or language advantage. What intelligence and consideration! Both Katie and Marius travel extensively as part of their careers and the wedding party here featured people who, for example, are involved in defusing land mines in Africa and helping women in India get an education and start businesses. It was an impressive group of young people. People who are not used to public speaking spoke at the reception held at the Dalles House and I had the suspicion that speech writers just had to be hiding in the next room, the talks were that good. I was honored to be asked to perform the ceremony.

Easter service at Wolf Creek was low-key compared to churches with large choirs and fancy approaches. A succession of readers took us through the Palm Sunday service and the Passion narrative. We do the Holy Week gospel account on Palm Sunday because we do not have observances during the week like Good Friday or marking the Last Supper Passover meal. I am gratified that Wolf Creek has a bevy of good readers to help bring the scriptures alive.

I have revised the innards of The First Gathering Of The Break Time Stories so the odd spacings are gone and book now looks professional. That book was my first and there is a learning curve. Also, this was an opportunity to catch things like a quote missing a close-quote or finding the need for a paragraph to clean up how one thought leads to the next. The price for the book is the same ($15) and for now it’s available through Amazon.com. I am working on getting wider distribution. I’ve also gone through The Second Gathering Of The Break Time Stories to clean it up. It is available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. You can find all four of my paperbacks at Bowman Collective in Amery, Wisconsin.

I should have a date set soon for a coming reading at the Chisago Lakes Public Library the end of May or early June.

On a final note, Wolf Creek had a nice miracle today. I received the call at 5:15 a.m that one of our people was at Regions Hospital in St.Paul, Minnesota. He’d gone to our local hospital because he’d been coughing up blood. That turned out to be from pneumonia. He had called me yesterday to tell me he had been diagnosed with very advanced leukemia. The caller this morning was his wife, who was at the hospital with members of his very large family that had been called in after he suffered a couple of very severe heart attacks.  The end seemed near. He was intubated and barely conscious. I activated the church prayer chain and Marina and I did some praying ourselves. I checked with the wife later in the morning and she said he was breathing on his own so they had removed the breathing tube. While on the road at around 2:30 p.m. his son called me to tell me that now he was sitting in a chair talking a mile a minute. They had been told he was too weak to undergo chemotherapy for leukemia, even though a port had been put in. Now, he was calling for chemo to begin and to begin immediately. The son said it was a miracle. I’ll take miracles like that any day!

No Snow For “Snow Job”

Here we sit with our near-snowless Winter sliding to an end and it’s cool enough to be comfortable with the wood stove going and just listening to the radio. WPCA’s story broadcast tonight was my Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs, one of the “mangled” fairy tales. Whenever I’ve read this tale in public the response has ranged from giggles all the way through to belly laughs. As my brother Greg said, “Who are you going to insult next?” You’ll find Snow Job in the Some Mangled Fairy Tales paperback that’s available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. Locally, you can find it in the Polk County Information Center, St.Croix Health’s Pharmacies, Pure & Simple out on Highway 8, and at Bowman Collective in downtown Amery. Bowman stocks all four of my paperbacks.

Speaking of readings, watch for a coming story reading at the Chisago, Minnesota, Public Library sometime in May or early June.

Several weeks ago my younger brother, Guy, passed into the next chapter of his life after a year-and-a-half of “living” on life support out in California following a horrific auto accident. Guy was a hard and reliable worker, always on time to work, and willing to work more days than required. On my way to Minnesota years ago I stopped by the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel, an upscale place long noted for elegance, discretion and high quality. I visited with Guy’s boss, the head chef, who told me Guy was the best sous chef he’d ever had. Guy worked at a lot of jobs over the years and was not afraid to get his hands dirty. I think his world fell apart when his wife, Lucy, died a few years ago. He leaves a daughter and son.

It has been a year of family loss for my youngest brother, Greg, too. He lost his wife, Dr. Bunny Vreeland just a few weeks ago and this while amid everything demanded of making sure NASA’s around the moon effort next year would be able to communicate from the other side of the moon. (The moon effectively gets in the way of signals attempting to reach the earth. Greg knows how to solve that issue.) Greg said he just couldn’t take another death in the family; I told him I’d try to take my time.

Just in: an email schedule of daughter Alice’s coming concert appearances. Also, an announcement from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls of a new play, Ten Out Of Twelve, whose small cast includes my granddaughter Klara Fansler. Both of these women have very good performance instincts–something that cannot be taught–you have it or you don’t.

Last Sunday the Wolf Creek congregation enjoyed a robust turnout. We always enjoy that. And we have had an enjoyable Lenten study using Adam Hamilton’s focus on the Gospel of Luke in Hamilton’s book, Jesus and the Outsiders, Outcasts and Outlaws. I like, especially, that everyone around our long tables chimes in with relevant comments and valuable insights. The study follows a meeting of our quilting group, whose last products went to the assisted living facility in Osceola. Many of the quilting group members also are part of a walking group, so what about a bunch of shaped-up people creating warm-up gifts for others? (Now you understand why such a pathetic attempt at humor signals it’s time for me to retire for good.) But next Sunday brings Daylight Savings Time and it will be fun to see who wanders into church just after the sermon. I do have a suspicion that a few people kinda wish they always could wander into church just after the sermon. And if you ever wonder why we take the collection before the sermon time, maybe now you understand.

Enough of this seriousness! We are sliding toward Easter. Easter is the last Sunday of this month and Wolf Creek’s people will celebrate along with the many millions of their brothers and sisters around the world. Without Easter, there is no meaning to Christianity.  And as we slide toward Easter, the world seems to be rocketing away from the values brought to the world by Christianity. When we lose our souls, we lose it all. How tragic!

It Was Amery Week

Last week was fun! First, I read two stories at the Amery Area Public Library. As at the St.Croix Falls Public Library, I read Lost Wax, the story about the sculptor, and a “mangled” fairy tale, Snow Job And The Four Dwarfs. And, just as at St.Croix Falls, listeners responded to Lost Wax with tears and to Snow Job with belly laughs and giggles. The gathering was not large but everyone had an enjoyable evening. My thanks to Librarian Trevor Richards for setting up the session!

Second, I met Catherine Olsen, whose shop The Bowman Collective, now will be carrying all four of my paperbacks. I am delighted! Catherine’s shop is new and it’s easy to spend lots of time browsing around. She has everything from the oddest small plants–they look like some sort of fictional forest creature with spiked hair–to books by local authors to humorous items to, well, opportunities like the special area in back for anyone to come in to work on a group creative project. You can rent the space, also–it’s cheap!–for a pop-up sale. Catherine plans to include a coffee bar in that space as well. When I arrived, she was weaving small white yarn holders for those odd plants I mentioned and just beyond her work table was a bin of the special light dirt that’s best for those plants and some of the other greenery available. The woman has a green thumb and I suspect she could help green up your thumb, too. You’ll smell the leather the moment you enter the door. Bowman’s features their own leather creations, from purses and totes to leather bracelets and more. My description has not done Catherine’s shop justice; you need to poke in to appreciate this new addition to the City of Amery. The Bowman Collective is on the west side of Keller just south of the north stop light in downtown Amery.

Green Card

Green Card was the story tonight on WPCA-FM. It’s a tale of Alberto, a Paraguayan foreign student majoring in Economics and his girl friend, whose business internship portends a dazzlingly successful future. Their issue: stay in the United States while she rises in the corporate world or go to Paraguay, where he can work in a prestigious banking position. Alberto has a friendly professor in the Ethnic Music Department and the Paraguayan harp the professor learned to play conjures memories of home for Alberto. Alberto’s roommate, Lightfoot, is Native American with issues of his own on where he can fit into society after graduation. When we recorded the story, I had the inspiration to bring to the radio station an album recorded by Trio Los Paraguayos on the Epic label back in the early 1950’s. Hearing the playing of the Paraguayan harp is far more satisfying than my “bing-bong” reading of the harp’s sound. It made for a perfect finish to the story time. You can find Green Card in the ebook Yet More Break Time Stories and it is included in The First Gathering Of The Break Time Stories paperback. The paperback is available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

Since we visited last I actually took a Sunday off. Wolf Creek UMC has a very capable Administrative Council president, Mike Mishler, who took the service. He’s done it before and handles things well. Per usual, he managed to slip in a Marine Corps story to illustrate an incident in the Gospel for the day. My “baby” brother, Greg, lost his wife since my last monthly post. Dr. Bunny Vreeland was an interesting and capable person and a good match for Greg. Words intended to comfort never seem sufficient when dealing with death and grief. They have a home in Oxnard, California, which is being gloriously flooded as I write this.

Tomorrow I’m reading a “mangled” fairy tale, Jack and The Bean Sprouts, for the Osceola Senior Citizens Club. After I read the story, I’ll be running out of “mangled” fairy tales; I have just one left (The Many Trials) that this group has not heard. “Jack” grew out of the time I served as a chaplain at what was then Good Samaritan Care Center in St.Croix Falls. I had a chat group every Monday afternoon and one day I asked the group to share what was their favorite childhood fairy tale. Jack and The Bean Stalk was the winner. Of course it just HAD to become Jack and the Bean Sprouts! In Amery’s Public Library on the 22nd of this month I’ll go serious with one story, Lost Wax and then lift things with Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs. Both stories can be found in the Six Short Stories paperback. I read both stories at the St.Croix Falls Library last Fall. One woman commented, “You brought us full circle, from tears to belly laughs! It was wonderful.”  I’ll take a comment like that anytime!

I spent some time last week and yesterday scraping deteriorating decals from our pontoon boat. It was slow going with a heat gun that melted every plastic windshield ice scraper I used. Finally, I wised up and used a steel paint scraper. I kept telling myself that the exercise was good for me.