The Calm Before. . . .

While I don’t begin at Turtle Lake United Methodist Church officially until next Saturday, February 15th, I’ll sit in on the church’s Ad Council meeting on Wednesday. Almost a full month is a long time until its next meeting to pull things together in the way we need to do in our short contracted time together. I have the sense that my task with them will be to hold up a mirror to help them see how good they really are and, while they might be discouraged now, they have every reason for hope and optimism for the future. All they will need, then, is the appropriate pastor. We will see if I’m right and if first impressions turn out to be the reality.

On another subject, as noted in “Coming Readings”, I will read at least one story for the Osceola Seniors at Noon on the first Wednesday in March. I’m the president of that organization (and, obviously, they are hard up for a program) but we can use the occasion to pull in new people and perhaps enlist some new members. Accordingly, I’m taking out an ad in the Osceola Sun to advertise the event. I know some writers who intend to attend and I just may be able to sell some books to those interested in the stories themselves.

WPCA-FM’s broadcasts/streaming of my stories continues. Last week it was “The Many Trials”, so the March reading most likely will be “Curtain!”, a story of an actor and his protege. I’m never sure which story will get broadcast each month. When we hit the month of June, the station wants to begin the story cycle anew.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working to finish my office here at the house. I have about half the sheetrock up, taped and painted, so now it’s on to the rest of the walls and then moving the electric from its beefy extension cord to the plugs I’ve installed. And then what? Cutting and splitting firewood, I guess, maybe the piano practice I should have been doing, some guitar playing, perhaps, and probably doing some trim around doors etc. that didn’t get done by the previous owner of this place. Marina wanted to know if I planned to plant an apple tree. I hadn’t considered it and I’m not sure where to put it, but I’m sure that if it’s like my previous experience with apple trees in my yard, the deer will love my planting of an apple tree. Yesterday I bought another large bag of bird food, which gives great pleasure to the many squirrels we host.

A Plate That’s More Full

I did John Larson’s funeral yesterday in Taylors Falls. Larson was an author, an involved Taylors Falls community member, a historian and one of those people that attract other interesting people to them like moths to a flame. I’d gotten to know his late wife, Ingrid, a bit when she was at Good Samaritan for rehabilitation. She was said to be Danish but her gravestone says she was born in Germany. That’s understandable; just after WWII being German was not something to be desired and even dangerous. My German wife landed in a Polish East Chicago neighborhood in the early 1950’s and her clotheslines were cut. John was buried in his WWII Army uniform, a feat not many of us could achieve. (I mean, being able to fit into something we wore 3/4 century ago!)

WPCA had some technical difficulties this week so the story broadcast is re-scheduled for next Tuesday, January 14th. In February, things revert to the usual schedule of the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m.

Speaking of February, mid-February I begin a 41/2 month stint as pastor of Turtle Lake United Methodist Church. They are discouraged right now, between pastors and in need of a lift so the Conference hopes I can provide them that lift. I sense great potential at Turtle Lake UMC and hope that I can hold up a mirror of themselves so they can the truth: they can have a very good future, given an effective pastoral appointment.

Our family prayers this week are with my brother, Guy, whose wife, Lucy is struggling with life threatening health issues.

My Sixth Short Story Collection Has Been Published

The latest short story collection, “Another Four Break Time Stories”, was published this last weekend on Amazon Kindle. The “mangled” fairy tale in this bunch is called “Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs”. Joining it are “Lost Wax”, a tale about an American sculptor; “At Midnight’s Stroke”, a story about Hollywood, casting couches and their consequences; and “I Loved That Bike!” a story about one man’s obsession with a motorcycle and what happens when he finally gets one.

I’m hoping to be able to read these before groups, libraries, and in arts centers, as I’ve been able to do in the past. All of these stories have been recorded for broadcast by WPCA-FM. The station also streams my stories online so that anyone with a computer and internet can listen. The fairy tale already has won praise, with Peter Kwong saying in his weekly column that my reading of it at a fund raising event for Amery’s Classic Theatre was “hilarious” and “the highlight of the evening”. Very gracious of him, I’d say!

Back to being a kid

So I’m doing something unusual, watching some guy’s blog about hiking up to Lake Hollywood. He passes along Beechwood Drive and I see houses I knew more than half a century ago. There is a small market now and a shop or two, along with the real estate building (Hollywoodland) whose sign, truncated, became the famous Hollywood letters. Eventually, he finds a dirt path that will lead him down to the lake. When he gets there, he talks about walking across the bridge. No, I want to shout at him, that’s not a bridge; you’re walking along the top of the dam holding back the water in the reservoir!

I don’t know how many tons of dirt it took to “hide” the dam from being seen from down below, but from anywhere else it’s clear there is a dam holding back the water. The dam is named after William Mulholland, who oversaw its construction in the early 1920’s (1923, I think). You can walk around the lake–it’s 3 1/2 miles–and now cars can drive along the northeast side to a housing tract that went in a couple of years before I left California. It’s more built-up now and the rest of the road around the lake is gated, accessible only to Los Angeles Water and Power vehicles. Marina and I walked part of it a few years ago.

When I was in junior high and my brothers and I got home from school, we’d go with our mother for a brisk ride around the lake. We’d walk the bikes the block and a half up the hill and then whiz down to the lake. Mom and I had the fancy bikes, the “hot” bikes, three speed JC Higgins bikes with fenders and hand brakes. My little brothers had single speed bikes with coaster brakes. We took the two dogs and did our three and half miles without stopping. Later, we would stop because there were depressions that became ponds after a rain and most of the time we could find pollywogs. There were no cars to consider because at that time all cars were kept out by the gates. Down by the dam there was a large spotlight a caretaker told me once had been ready to use in the event of attempted sabotage during the Second World War.

There were two parts to the reservoir.The upper part was smaller and had the water intake from places like the Owens River or the Colorado. There was a large funnel near the earthen dam holding the upper portion of the lake. Water cascaded down the funnel and emerged on the other side, aerated by splashing down rocks. A wall and high fence kept people from the water itself and there were periodic patrols by Water and Power staff to keep an eye on things. There were fish in the lake, too but I don’t remember anyone fishing.

One house in particular always intrigued me and the guy’s blog didn’t focus on it. It was on the east shore of the lake, up high, with a gravel driveway leading to a sweeping white concrete walled drive to the large Mediterranean style house itself. The house had a stupendous view of not only the lake but a good chunk of Los Angeles. About the time I left California (1968) rumor had it that Madonna had bought the place. I’ve used elements of that house in at least one of my stories.

After rounding the lake, we’d either ride or push our bikes back up the hill and coast down Lake Hollywood Drive to home, with its sweeping view of the entire San Fernando Valley. It was great exercise and we did it regularly. Before I could drive and I had to be in Hollywood, say at church, I would ride my bike: up the hill, down to the lake, around the lake, down through the gate and along Beechwood and then a few streets east to Gower. It was safe. The only other way would have been the freeway.

My elder son, Aaron, left yesterday for Portugal where he lives. The French workers strike saw him stranded at the Paris airport for 5 hours and sitting 2 hours on the tarmac because air traffic controllers were striking, too. He did yeoman service while he was here, chainsawing trees downed by the recent tornado and splitting the wood for our stove. He also installed a small solar system for us. He’s off the grid in Portugal and gets his power from the sun and wind. Water comes from springs near the property and a well. Our solar unit is generating power that I’m using for lighting right now and I can see its potential for more. I appreciate Aaron’s efforts and generosity.

Next week I record the last of my short stories for WPCA-FM. That gives us enough fodder to take us to July, 2020. The stories air the first Tuesday night of each month at 7:00 p.m. Central Time. The station tells me they’d like to re-broadcast all of the stories. It’s a great privilege that not many writers get.

just a bit

Our elder son, Aaron, is in town for the coming month. He lives abroad off the grid, with his power coming from the sun and the wind and his water from a well on the property and a nearby spring. He lost everything two years ago when forest fires swept through his area but he’s rebuilt with concrete and, after teaching himself how to weld, with steel. Living that way is something he has wanted to do since he was a kid.

There was great irony in that I was talking with him by phone (the week following high winds that knocked out our power for many hours) about what we might be able to do for power with solar in the event we were without power again. It was 6:30 that Sunday night and I saw things outside my window turn from rainy grey to black and green with stuff blowing wildly our way. “This doesn’t look good,” I said and then the phone line went dead. Tornado debris from a nearby farm had blown into the power lines and cut off everything. Interesting to have had that conversation with Aaron just as we got hit with the tornado. Pieces of silo and barn roofing/siding still hang from trees around our area and are scattered through the woods, in ponds and by the side of the road. I’ve been working the chainsaw and splitting maul. Aaron did some wood splitting and stacking today while we were in Osceola; I appreciate his help.

No story spinning lately and just a couple of story readings still in the discussion stage. Soon enough a story line will keep me awake between 2 and 5 a.m. and I’ll be putting words on paper again.

Moving Along

At last the fourth story of my next short story collection is finished. It’s called “Lost Wax” and deals with a sculptor and his wife. I want to be able to read it aloud prior to publishing it online but it should be available in early November. It joins “At Midnight’s Stroke”, “I Loved That Bike!”, and “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”, the latter being the latest mangled fairy tale. I think I’ll call that coming book “Another Four Break Time Stories”.

I’m waiting for the next short story to appear. They tend to come partly formed and then get fleshed out over a series of nights between 2 to 5 a.m. when I can’t go back to sleep. Lately, sawing and hand splitting tornado-downed logs, sermon preparation and all the getting ready one does for the coming Winter around here have pretty much shoved aside any short story creating.

I just finished listening to the monthly broadcast of my short story reading–I hear it as it is streamed online on WPCA-FM–and I have to admit that I found myself chuckling over several of the lines in “Hansel and Gertie”, another mangled fairy tale. When we record these, the audio engineer gets to laughing, too; fortunately, the mike doesn’t pick it up or at least I’ve never detected it when I listen. I listen and get irritated at my occasional stumbles or “mushy” pronunciation. But if you’re not critical of yourself, how do you get better? Years ago I hosted Tuesday night for KUSC-FM radio in Los Angeles and I’ve got to say that my diction back then was better than it is now. So was my voice: these days I sound like a geezer!

No Pun This Time

Since we met last I’ve managed to get down the first go-round of my next short story. My stories tend to come out pretty well complete in the first draft, but early-morning mulling and inner conversations the characters might have themselves work to fill in what more might be needed. If that didn’t make sense, let me give an example: in the story in progress now, it was clear once the story was set down that the ending came up too quickly and the main character needed more development. So she got more development. Simple.

The rest of my time has been spent in doing much of what I said last time needed to be done. The TV antenna was fixed; tree experts came yesterday to salvage the split old oak in our front yard and an elm next to it, leaving me with plenty of branches to haul to the back of the property and lots of wood to cut, split and store for the woodstove; the broken leg on the dock platform got a new leg but will stay onshore until next season; and the pontoon even got a run up the lake on Sunday afternoon this week!

Today I chaired our monthly Osceola Senior Citizens Club meeting. We met Benjamin, the new Village Administrator, who even brought something to share for our potluck. (Class act, I’d say.) Sunday is the Village parade and I’ll be on our float, which–to salute retirement–appropriately is a fishing boat. I figure my usual fishing luck will hold up during the parade.

logging in–bad pun

The pun: my chainsaw has been busy, a result of the recent tornado that topped and downed trees, including some in our yard. That means cutting and splitting wood, which is fine because I need firewood anyhow. Winter is coming, whether I’m ready for it or not. I split logs by hand with a maul I’ve had for perhaps 20 years–at least.

So today was a day without a schedule. I began–when I finally got to the outdoors–with more digging up mostly sumac that ‘s out of place in lily beds. Marina wants me to leave the raspberry bushes that bear fruit, so I try to do that and dig out those that are not working at it or just are in the wrong place. My digging and pulling has brought me all along the western boundary of the property. In the afternoon I changed pants and went about more logging. The chainsaw didn’t work much today but the maul did, splitting and stacking the wood, some of it fresher than other logs. I don’t like working beneath a “widow-maker” that dangles from a tall tree high above where I need to cut several downed trees. Out front we have an oak that’s split, with a portion hanging up in another tree that also is split. That requires a pro, someone who can figure out how to take it down so it doesn’t twist and hit the house or the LP tank. The task is complicated by the drainfield that will keep lifting equipment at a distance or make it impossible to use mechanical tree equipment at all. I put in five calls today, trying yet again to find someone who could do that work. Thus far, no one has called back, only the County Forester, who gave me some names and was most helpful. At about 4:30 we (Marina and I and Andy and Gretel, her two Seeing Eye dogs) went down to the lake and sat on the pontoon boat. The wind has been strong for a couple of days now and the pontoon has pushed the last portion of the dock about 6 inches to the south. I have two anchors out but the smaller bow anchor really isn’t holding, which means there is nothing to buffer the boat’s slamming against the dock but some inflatable bumpers–hence, the dock movement. I’ll have to figure something better. While we were sitting in the boat, two guys came along that have engaged a nearby cabin for the Labor Day weekend. They turned out to be part of a contingent of Sheriff’s deputies from the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. I figure catching some fish is a good way to decompress from the stress of dealing with the underside of life on a day to day basis. I feel for them.

I did get that story down, the one that had been working in my head for weeks. It needs some “fill-in” work to develop the heroine’s character more fully but the guts of it are written down now. When it’s ready, it will be the fourth story in the next Kindle book. I need to title this story, also. The other stories in this collection are “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”, “I Loved That Bike!”, and “At Midnight’s Stroke”.


As it turned out, I ended up doing services at three churches two weeks in a row. The first week–to help out the Upper St.Croix Parish until their pastor can get into place–turned out to be a repeat for another week.The first week I did Wolf Creek, the congregation I pastor, and the Atlas UMC and St.Croix Falls. Last weekend it was Wolf Creek, Grantsburg Central UMC, and Atlas. Things will get back to normal, or at least I think they will.

A tour of neighboring areas close by shows me how fortunate we were with the high winds and tornado damage. We lost trees and still have some that need attention. My chainsaw can handle most of it. Down at the lake the dock needs help but Bernizer is supposed to come this week to give me the helping hand I need to heft dock sections that need repair.

And there are projects: a box to help a chimney sweep access the chimney; another box to protect the batteries that will live outside in Winter; a signal booster to install so I can use my cellphone in the office; an outdoor light for the downstairs door; mounting the outdoors thermometer; moving Marina’s rhubarb; replacing the TV antenna broker by the wind blast; and ongoing tree cutting and stacking and splitting the resulting logs. I need to gather the hazardous chemicals I need to take to recycling next week and that means I’ll be sorting through and cleaning out/organizing the small shed that’s jammed full. I’ve not written a thing in weeks but there is a story begun in my head that begs to get itself on paper.

Some logging

So we are settling into our new home, the cabin we’ve expanded, and things have been finding their places and other stuff has been tossed or donated or given away. Amid all this, we had a tornado a block away. Trees are fallen, twisted, uprooted, barn roofs hang from trees and the Calderwood sign is nowhere to be found. South of us high winds demolished cabins all along the coast. We have trees down and topped. The large old oak in front that gives such nice shade is split and will need professional help. I think I can handle the other tree that is split. In back, there are many downed trees. I have cleared almost all the fallen trees from our neighbor’s property and now it is a matter of nibbling away at what’s down, a couple of hours here and couple of hours there. That’s in addition to trying to rectify the damage down at the lake. The first windstorm broke a wheel off a dock section. I got help to pull that section and was able to replace the bracket that holds the leg. That dock section is ready to go. HOWEVER, in re-aligning the dock (by myself, of course) I managed to break off a leg on the platform, so I’ve got some young guys coming–probably today–to heft the platform out of the water so I can see what needs fixing. It’s an awkward thing to move in any event, even when it’s “healthy”. Right now the pontoon is tethered to the dock and anchored from the north so it doesn’t keep smashing against the dock, shoving it as before. The storm and its effects, with the pontoon pushing the dock, moved it south about six feet. There was one good sized tree down at the lake and I hacked up most of it. Someone else finished the job.¬†Even the new clothesline was demolished by a flying tree branch. The TV antenna mast was bent in two. All in all, though, considering the rest of the neighborhood, we got off easy. We believe the Lord protects us.

So that has been my major excitement, slowing down what other plans I might have had. Today the woodstove gets its chimney installed. The guys are working now to bore a hold through the cement block wall in order to run the chimney outside.I would have preferred to have the chimney be a straight shot–less creosote–but there is no room inside the house to run a chimney.

I still have a new story on the tip of my brain. I have the beginning and a general direction but I’m not sure where it will go from there. Characters have a way of doing their own thing, so I’ll find out when I can put aside the time to sit and begin to write it down.

Daughter Alice–known to me as “Kid Number Three”–is doing a charity show August 10th. I got tickets yesterday, making fewer than 30 seats left.