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.

Update on future readings

The two proposed February story readings have been finalized. February starts off with a “mangled” fairy tale reading for the Osceola Seniors at Noon on Wednesday, February 7th in the Osceola Senior Center. The group has asked me back several times and enjoys laughter, so the fairy tales always are a hit. One woman apologized for giggling throughout Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs; “I just couldn’t help it,” she said. Naturally, I loved that comment.

I’m at the Amery Area Public Library on Thursday, February 22nd at 6 p.m. This will be my first time reading there, although my story readings have been featured monthly on Amery’s WPCA-FM for several years now and I’ve read my stories often at Amery’s former Northern Lakes Center for the Arts. The Library’s Trevor Richards strikes me as a man who knows how to put events like mine together, so I anticipate good things.

Last Sunday, following our usual Wolf Creek service, I filled in at Taylors Falls United Methodist Church. The church building is the oldest Methodist building of worship still in use with a congregation and I am warmly received, as has always been the case. I am grateful to the congregation for asking me to conduct its service yet again.

What’s Cooking?

Tonight’s WPCA-FM broadcast of my stories repeated a tale from November, I’ll Cook For You. It’s one of my favorite stories and when read aloud to a group produced an audible “Whew!” as I finished. The cook in question is a young woman who, in the Korean era 1950’s, worked as a personal chef for an old time motion picture couple but also bought and delivered groceries for an elderly woman who remembered and cherished her memories of the romantic film duo. Is all as it seems? Therein lies the tale, inside of which are the lives of some of our rich and famous. The story is one of my longest stories; someone reading it during a lunch break would have to move things along. You’ll find I’ll Cook For You in The First Gathering of The Break Time Stories and in the ebook Yet More Break Time Stories.

Probable coming readings include the Osceola Senior Citizens Club on Wednesday, February 7th and a date to be arranged at the Amery Area Public Library. This blog site will give you the details, so check in a few days from now.

Christmas has come and gone, as has New Years. To finish off 2023, last week’s Gospel told of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus coming to the Temple for both Mary’s purification ceremony and the baby’s circumcision. A prophet, Anna, and a devout regular in the Temple, Simeon, both attest to the Messiaship of Jesus. I couldn’t resist following the Gospel with Michael Card’s song about Simeon. I try not to inflict my guitar and voice in song on helpless congregations, but this fit so well that I couldn’t resist. My old Mexican guitar (made by an old Mexican) and I got through the song quite well–or at least everyone was polite. Last Sunday, the last day of 2023, saw me at Wolf Creek and Turtle Lake’s Parkview United Methodist Churches. Next week I’m guest preaching in Taylors Falls at the historic United Methodist Church on the hill.

Wolf Creek’s Christmas Eve candlelight service was cozy and family-friendly nice. It was probably the last Christmas service I’ll ever do. The “Wolf Creek Pack”, as they dub themselves, found a cap as a present for me. The cap says, “Pastor Warning: anything you do or say may be used in a sermon.” I’ll wear it when Marina, a retired mental health counselor, wears the sweatshirt I got her: “Keep talking; I’m diagnosing you.”

We have snow at last. It hit the night before New Years Eve and was pretty icy before a small amount of snow landed atop the ice. It was slow going driving to church Sunday morning.  I’d managed to cut and split a good deal of the large elm we had taken down, so now only huge cuts remain. They are large enough so I’ll have to figure out some sort of ramp to get them onto the splitter. If that doesn’t work, then I anticipate burying many wedges in those large elm logs. Elm has fibers that are laced together and all of them must be severed in order to split or separate the pieces.

Where are my kids tonight? One is in Georgia (the EurAsian Georgia, not our State) where he’s played a festival; another is in Upper Michigan for skiing; another is on Roatan, Honduras enjoying the beach; and the other two are within an hour of me and keeping the snow shovels close at hand.

Look For An Amery Library Reading In February

The Amery Area Public Library’s Trevor Richards is working to arrange a February date for me to share two of my short stories. Stay tuned; I’ll let you know when we have a date set. The time probably will be 6:30 p.m.–not too late and not too early.

Also, rumor has it that I’ll be reading at the Osceola Senior Citizens February meeting. That’s the first Wednesday of the month, February 7th, 2024. It’s a 12 Noon potluck and the food at these events is good. We’ll see how well I read on a full stomach!

We had a dead elm tree taken down a few weeks ago. I had the pros at New Richmond Tree do the job. That way there was no way for the tree to hit the house. It had to go into a restricted space and doing that was beyond my capabilities. However, I can cut up the logs and split them, which is what I’ve spent some of this week doing. Fortunately for that kind of work, it has been dry and warm. I’m hoping to complete that job before snow really decides to descend. What a different Winter this has been! Here we are at the end of December and Bone Lake isn’t frozen over.

Here’s a Great–and cheap–Christmas gift!

Whenever I’ve read stories in public from Some Mangled Fairy Tales, the reactions range from giggles to belly laughs. Perhaps someone you know could use even a smile in these stressful times. Some Mangled Fairy Tales is available through Amazon.com and Barnes  & Noble Booksellers for just $10. If you’re within shooting distance or in Polk County, Wisconsin, you’ll find copies at the Polk County Information Center, the pharmacy/gift shops of St.Croix Health (formerly St.Croix Regional Medical Center) and at Pure & Simple on Highway 8. Or if you mug me on the street, I usually carry a copy with me; I’ll even sign it for you! And that’s no fairy tale.

A Bit Of Snow To Shovel? Hardly Enough!

For most of this year I’ve dealt with extreme pain from–we think and can’t prove it–shoveling the extra snow that fell last winter. So thus far this winter we’ve had a couple of light dustings of snow. It has been just enough to shove aside. I think that’s fine but if I were in the ski business most likely I’d think differently. Little snow makes it easier for me to see the logs and scraps that need cutting and splitting from a large elm tree I had the professionals at New Richmond Tree take down for me. Some of the trunk slices are very large and I’ll see how the splitter handles pieces that size.

For several years now WPCA-FM has broadcast my stories the first Tuesday evening of each month. Once in awhile the station forgets to drop in my story and the computerized programming grinds along without it. Tonight was one of those rare times. I’d love it if listeners called the station to complain but if they ever have, I’m not aware of it. Again, I affirm my gratitude to WPCA for sharing my stories. It’s a privilege few writers ever enjoy.

Son Aaron did hit town from Portugal and was with us for three weeks. He was the instigator–and excuse–for a rare family get-together last weekend. Our son-in-law, Steve, did his usual job of producing gourmet and abundant fare, helped out by contributions from some of the family, so there was more than enough food to make the groaning board really groan. Stuffed? For sure! Time goes by so quickly that it was startling to find great-grandson Carter now is a fifth grader. Aaron is an excellent musician and he and I enjoyed jamming with our guitars. He showed me some new flamenco progressions that I’ll practice–if I can remember them. He was here for Thanksgiving, which was small for us: just Marina, me, Aaron, and Britta and her husband Mark. Our gathering was small but loud and turkey got subbed by pork tenderloin and some vegan fare.

Alice’s husband, Hugh, sent along a video of his seven week trek by canoe into the Arctic. The six man group, all in their 60’s and former Kooch-i-ching campers as kids, produced a gorgeous video and their adventure made the Minneapolis Star & Tribune. Not to be outdone, just returned from a brief West Coast tour daughter Alice forwarded me a link to an interview done by Fox News in Cincinnati at the soccer championships that featured herself and Samantha, our effervescent granddaughter. Sam’s and her brother Jack’s soccer club were special guests of the Cincinnati team and, in addition to accompanying team members onto the field, were given extra special attention, even by Fox News that broadcast the game. For our family, it was a month for media attention.

We are into the Advent season. I remember Advent primarily as preparation for the birth of Jesus, but this year’s cycle of lectionary readings focuses a great deal on Jesus’ second coming. The circumstances prompting that are dark, as dark as our world seems to be in these moments. Yet, there is hope for better. Each year, celebrating that birth so long ago brings the opportunity to renew hope for the future. For Christians, that future includes the eternal, as well as hoping and looking for peace on earth and goodwill toward each other in the present. As an old Bishop told me once, “Always give God the last word.” So we don’t give up hope. This will be my last Christmas with the Wolf Creek congregation and if I can, I want to convey to them my gift that they can enter the future with optimism, building on their successes and by living out what we say we believe, make the world in which Wolf Creek exists a better place. May it be so!

What’s Cooking

Last night’s story broadcast on WPCA-FM was I’ll Cook For You. It’s one of my favorite stories, a little longer than most at almost 30 minutes, and whenever I’ve read it in public it has produced a strong emotional response. When I read it in the Milltown Library a few years ago, as I finished there was an audible “Whew!” As a writer, you want to stir something in the reader and this story does just that. You can find it online in Yet More Break Time Stories and in the paperback, The First Gathering Of The Break Time Stories. The paperback is available through Amazon.com. The story is set in Korean War era southern California, a time when there still were a few pre-war cars with running boards on the road and milkmen delivered milk and eggs to your door.

I have been working on helping Marina with Gretel The Gift, a recounting of Marina’s first Seeing Eye dog and Andy, her second, told in the dogs’ own words. It’s cute as all get-out. When it’s ready, we are not sure where to try to park it but I think there will be interest in it and many potential readers.

Son Aaron hits town in a few weeks, so we should have some good family gatherings while he’s here from Portugal. Daughter Alice has a couple of shows at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, California. She’s been there before. I think she also has shows in Ohio and Michigan sometime between now and Spring. You can check those out on her website. Meanwhile, the snow is holding off and the lake seems to be later than usual in its freeze. I have everything in, courtesy of help from Grandson Hans and son-in-law Mark. That’s a definite concession to age on my part but I truly appreciate the help. My brother, Guy, continues on life support in California two months now into his second year following a horrific car accident. My prayer is that God would do for him what’s best for him. Last week Marina hosted a birthday lunch in memory of our departed daughter, Heide. Daughters Britta and Hannah met us at The Watershed in Osceola.

Too many funerals lately. I did a large one honoring Rick Davidsavor, a treasured First Responder, Fireman, EMT, firearms instructor and who knows what else. He was honored last year by the State of Wisconsin as one of our heroes. After two hours of greeting family, the line waiting outside the Cushing Community Center was as long as the line inside the building. I’ve never presided over a Firefighter’s funeral, but with all of those volunteers lined up at attention around the perimeter of the building and the Life Link helicopter giving its salute by hovering overhead, it was most impressive. Too many other people we care about have passed on in the last several weeks. Live long enough and I suppose one experiences that.

I’ve informed our Wolf Creek congregation and the Conference that I’ll be packing it in as of the end of June, 2024. What will I do after that? Plenty! I may even have some new stories emerge, as they have in the past, between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. From the time I was dredged from retirement to pastor Wolf Creek again, creative preoccupation has gone into weekly sermons instead of stories and there have been no new tales working in my brain. So, we shall see. I might even be able to catch up on the dusting our place needs!

WPCA-FM story broadcast time change

Well, the great Mountain Stage-Kids broadcast has run its course, so WPCA-FM has moved my story broadcast time back to its original slot at 7:00 p.m. on the first Tuesday evening of each month. That change begins on November 7th. I’ve been grateful to WPCA for broadcasting my stories. It’s a privilege few writers get and my words cannot express my gratitude enough. I do listen myself, mostly to see which story they will broadcast but also to cringe about my poor diction; it has been lost over the sixty years since I did radio on a regular basis.