Monday, December 20, 2010

Aunts and Nephews

Robin meets Aimon for the first time.

Fathers and Sons and Grandsons

A new grandson, Aimon.


It is nearly Winter, officially, but truly it has been with us here in Wisconsin for some time now. I'm tired of it already, unless it snows a lot. The cats have begun their Winter Sojourn. Instead of scampering under the deck, eating grass, hunting voles in the roadside ditches, or chasing rabbits: they sleep, eat, and beg.
Long afternoon naps in the bedroom, or in my easy chair, or for Pippin high up on a box near the ceiling in the basement. This is reached by a complex route across my desk, up onto the cherry storage unit, a leap up onto an upright storage unit, and then slinking up into the space above the concrete footings. You can see his ears peering over the top edge of the box. Nossa's deeply rooted cowardice would never allow her to make such a journey.
Then the evening campaign begins hours in advance, begging for their dinner. They sit near my shoulder on my desk, eyes wide, so sad, so needy. Such liars.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Field Trip

I accompanied the Verona High School Science Club to Ski Hi Orchard and a hike at Devil's Lake on Saturday, giving them a quick tour of the orchard (including hands on apple picking which is always a big thrill no matter what the age). Here's a view of the south end of Devil's Lake from atop the bluffs, just above Balance Rock.

Anke the German Shepherd came along, awash in glorious affectionate petting from everyone she met. And to end a nice climb up and down the bluff with a nice wade in the largest drinking pond she'd ever seen! Glory. She slept all the way home.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Apple Picking

Early October means a quick trip to the Baraboo Hills, to Ski Hi Orchard for our annual picking frenzy. Having worked here years before and having a friend in the owner, Betty Thiessen, I get to go out into the orchard and browse around, picking my own. Ribs and Deb along, we trounced down the old gravel road in search of apples!

Our first stop was in the Golden Delicious aisle, where we loaded up in preparation for the Annual Applesauce Day, a tradition in the fam. Um. A tradition for Dad that is, although I do manage to talk my spouse into helping out. The kids duck out and await the results. Golden Delicious applesauce needs no sweetener, and we make about 30 quarts a year, to freeze and bring out for the eating throughout the long winter.

Next, we moseyed down past the Cortlands and Jonathans and hit up the Honey Crisps, a hybrid the likes of which we didn't know back in the Day, when old Art Bassett roamed the orchard in his War Two vintage jeep, keeping an eagle-- and I mean eagle--eye on those who were privileged to pick his apples for him. That was sort of the arrangement. Honey Crisps are, whoa, sweet and crunchy! Some apple researcher hit paydirt with this apple. Two bushels' worth.

George, the orchard foreman, a grizzled old veteran of Who Knows What--but grizzled nonetheless--came rambling down in the same old Massey Ferguson on which I used to roam the orchard. "I remember you from last year! Thought you were just pickin' Goldens."
"Yeah, we mosey around a bit, pick a few other things as well."
George didn't shoot us, having been warned off by Betty. Last year was a closer call, since Betty forgot to tell him we'd be invading his orchard. You don't get anything past ole George.
George and I chatted about the crop. "Yeah, we gotta color pick those Crisps. Damn things keep fallin' on the ground. Next year I'm just gonna pick 'em clean once!"
Color picking means just that: pick over the best looking apples and leave the rest to redden and ripen a bit more. It isn't a practice pickers enjoy, because it slows the picking, and if you're being paid piecework, that slows the income.
It appears to have been a nice crop of apples. George's parting shot was to tell me that if I wanted to pick apples, to pick Cortlands. "We ain't pickin' any more of 'em. I got a cooler full. You can have as many as you want!"
I'm coming back up in a few weeks with a local high school science club. Every two years I give them a tour of the orchard and the old log cabin homestead. This year I think we'll venture into the orchard, and if those Cortlands haven't frozen, by golly I think we'll send the science club kids home with some pie-making apples.

On the way back up we topped up our bushel boxes with some Jonathans and Red Delicious, as well as the Cortlands with which to make pie filling. I picked a mixed bushel for Ted Gullixson, a local Lutheran pastor, and on the way home we dropped them on his doorstep. We hope he finds them!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Need For Books

Ethan Bartlett, Son of Neil, erstwhile member, and still member-at-large, of the No Inklings Book Club, recently wrote a screed in which he decried these newfangled electronic readers every book merchant is seeming to come out with. One of his points, if I get his point, was that a book-in-the-hand was better than 37,000 on the screen. At our most recent book club--which was actually a Mexican food pigfest followed by a little reading and great discussion followed by an attempt--deftly deflected--to roast Ethan and his baby bro Zeke as they prepare to depart for college (truly a Franzmannian sentence going on here)--a distinguished and much beloved member of the book club (he supplies us with mounds of food each time we meet, nudge nudge, wink wink) presented Ethan with a large dorm-room-suitable poster of part of the screed imposed electronically into a Kindle reader. Or was it a Nook? I forget. Ethan was duly roasted.

In today's Wall Street Journal letters section, someone named Anthony Mirabile of Philadelphia wrote an amusing rant of his own, commenting on a recent article about "the subtle joys of communing with books". To wit:

Sven Birkert's poignant prose evokes the subtle joys of communing with books in the company of fellow book lovers ("Bye-bye Bookstores," op-ed, Aug. 6). No less a public figure than Sir Winston Churchill took comfort in the midst of books when he urged, "If you cannot read them, any rate...fondle them. Peer into them...let them fall open where they will...Set them back on the shelf with your own hands...If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate by your acquaintances." A bookstore browser expects freedom and, despite the public setting, some basic privacy. No Big Broher scrutinizes choices for thought crime, wheile the browser peruses this title or turns away from that. And the browser assumes that the books, unlike their digital substitutes, cannot be edited as they wait to be browsed.
Reaching for a book is a symbolic and literal grasp at freedom, untethered to the whim of some cyber-gate-keeper. It is bearing arms oneself versus surrendering their use to an impersonal authority. It is driving one's own car where the spirit leads, regardless of where and how the elites think you should go. It is the gesture of a citizen, versus that of a slave. It is opening one's mind to the wide field of ideas and information without the risk that one's mind will be shut off at the flick of a switch.

I'm bitterly clinging to my books.

I like that last. The editors titled the letter in part, "A PANEGYRIC ". That's fancy talk for "a letter to the editor. The word, however, seems like it ought to mean something like....


The--completely unrehearsed--Gee Library

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Amazing, Spiral-Turned, Steam-Bent, Woven Back Cherry Rocker

I have the most amazing rocking chair in my shop. You've never seen anything like it.

I also have a request: I have written a very brief survey on a project I'm working on (I wasn't really abducted by aliens, but after I get going on this project you'll wish I had been). Take you two minutes to fill it out. And as a SPECIAL BONUS for taking the time, I've written an essay WITH PICTURES about this amazing (Did I say amazing?) rocking chair. Did I mention the essay comes complete with PICTURES?? Ah, guess I did.

You can take the survey, and grab a link to the essay, by just clicking on this:


Many thanks, and be kind. Be kind.

Oh, and comments. I love comments. In the survey.

I'm Back

Whew, that was weird.

I mean, I was just standing in my shop, spaced, trying to remember what tool I was looking for or why I'd just walked from the staining room to the millshop, and suddenly...

...that's right. I was abducted by aliens. What day is it? Who mowed my lawn? Why are my golf clubs in the garage? And what is all of this strange furniture doing in my shop?

You wake up in the morning, grab your face, say: "My name! What's my name??"

This getting old is serious business.

Meanwhile, a daughter has gotten her temporary driver's permit. I'm just sayin'. A son is talking about coming home from the Mexican wars for a spell. Another son has more schemes and plans than Mr. Obama hisself. Most have to do with glory and fame, but in the meantime, he's waiting tables. You got to keep the money moving.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Benedict, Referred

A good post from Paul McCain on the current worldwide controversy regarding child abuse in the Catholic Church. While I appreciate those who have pointed out the hypocrisy on all sides, I think the angle pastor McCain is pointing to is the best. To quote and summarize:

"Here’s the point: It is precisely the wrong response to go on the attack against the media. The only response that should be made is to express total and complete outrage and complete and very public remorse for the sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests. Period. And keep saying it. Over and over, ad naseum. Back the words up with actions and provide the proof of action. An absolute zero tolerance policy on these behaviors must be adopted everywhere and applied every time."

That doesn't mean I'll take down my earlier post on the controversy. I still think my friends will benefit from reading the post by John Stephenson. Even if what he has done is exactly that: "...go on the attack against the media...". Ah, well.

Nevertheless, read this.

Quote du jour

The psychology of uncertainty really does matter. As long as those in industry and commerce hear that the government is the solution to the problems that they supposedly created, browbeaten individuals will not take risks and begin hiring. All the populist rhetoric, all the sympathetic statistical gymnastics from the liberal pundits, all the euphemisms of “jobs saved,” still won’t change the fact that American business believes Mr. Obama wants to take more of their money to redistribute rather than empowering them to hire and make a profit.
-Victor Davis Hanson

The dialogue between my wife and me, during this past quarter when my gross earnings as a self-employed individual were the lowest they've been in 30 years, has centered around the profound uncertainty injected into not just the business community but the consuming public, as a result of the extensive indecision on healthcare (and its playout, which I think is obviously disastrous), and just about all of the rest of the current admin's agenda. You may like the agenda, but it has played havoc with earning a living. The psychology of uncertainty has to be the prime theme of Obama's first year and a half.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I can remember when I was a teenager, at the height of the cold war between my father and me, both of us suddenly one day standing back in awe, as we simultaneously became cognizant of the glue job my mother was doing of keeping flock and fold together. It was a serious revelation for me of her hard work and dedication to the family, and as unhumblable as I was, it served to humble me.

I'm reading THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA by Philip Roth. Yes, THAT Philip Roth. He's gotten to be a pretty good writer in his old age. Here is an interesting quote that took my by surprise last night. He is describing a late 1930's New Jersey small-town Jewish community, but actually also describing America everywhere at that time:
"The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week; the women worked all the time, with little assistance from labor-saving devices, washing laundry, ironing shirts, mending socks, turning collars, sewing on buttons, mothproofing woolens, polishing furniture, sweeping and washing floors, washing windows, cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets, and stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing the sick, shopping for food, cooking meals, feeding relatives, tidying closets and drawers, overseeing paint jobs and household repairs, arranging for religious observances, paying bills and keeping the family's books while simultaneously attending to their children's health, clothing, cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct, birthdays, discipline, and morale..."

Yeah. I'll take the men's job.

And this, from a Stephen Vincent Benet poem, describing a mistress of a plantation, as a woman able:

To take the burden and have the power
And seem like the well-protected flower

The women in my life--wife and mother and grandmothers all--have shown this multi-talented multitasking skill that men frankly don't regularly notice. Our egos tend to blind us. They hide their talents in plain sight, and shake their heads when we take them for granted. So it has ever been.

One has to wonder which of Solomon's wives he was thinking of when he (ok, purportedly; perhaps) penned these words:
An excellent wife, who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels,
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants
a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hands to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her;
Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty in vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It Must Be Holy Week!

Throughout Christendom, this is the week of weeks, the celebration of the "fullness of time" when Jesus Christ went to Jerusalem, taught (and, you could say, taunted) in the temple courts, instituted his Holy Supper, and then proceeded to be put to death "for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2), to be raised again on a Sunday morning.

However, something about this week seems to bring out the wackos. This year they are specializing in wacking Pope Benedict, for his alleged crimes vis a vis the priest sex abuse scandals. While not wanting to reduce in any way the severity of these crimes, I have read in the past few days a couple of articles that defend Ratzinger/Benedict from the misinformation afloat out there. They are, in fairness worth a read. At least one may also be eyebrow raising for old, settled, staid Lutherans (I've not been one long enough to be staid, but I'm old and settled).

The first, from Logia magazine is entitled
The dictatorship of relativism strikes back—and goes nuclear
by John Stephenson of St. Catherine's seminary in Canada. He does a wonderful job of revisiting the career of Ratzinger, and gives us confessional Lutherans this rather nice quote:
“The Lutherans are to Ratzinger what the Orthodox are to John Paul: the separated brethren he knows best, and for whom he has the greatest natural affinity.” John Allen, Cardinal Ratzinger, 231
Stephenson doesn't mince words, but I find his article a balancing act against what you'll find in what he calls the "quality" press.

The second article is a more direct defense of the NYT article cited above. It is written by Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Again, a balancing read if all you've seen is the Times article and its trickle-downs. He begins:
In our melting pot of peoples, languages and backgrounds, Americans are not noted as examples of “high” culture. But we can take pride as a rule in our passion for fairness. In the Vatican where I currently work, my colleagues – whether fellow cardinals at meetings or officials in my office – come from many different countries, continents and cultures. As I write this response today (March 26, 2010) I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.

May your Maundy Thursday be yeastless, and your Easter full of rediscovered joy at the peculiar, surprising story of God-become-man, and his deeds of redemption for us, for us, for all of us.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pop and Son

Hanging out in Boulder with Jeremy that a CIGARETTE in his hand????

Trippy Pics

Well, southeast Utah. We'd left the utterly forgettable town of Blanding Utah, turned right where the map indicated "picturesque", and had enjoyed a very nice drive through one of the many unknown massive vast valleys in which this part of the country specializes. Then, back to rather bland, flat, high chaparral. Thinking we'd seen what there was to see and on to Monument Valley. Driving the speed limit: 65 m.p.h. on a paved two lane road. Miles and miles of this. Suddenly, a non sequitur: signs warning us the speed ahead was 35; the road itself turning to gravel. Too weird; not possible! Suddenly, we flamed out onto this precipice. It doesn't matter the speed you are going, if you are unprepared for the earth to immediately fall away a thousand feet at your feet, it is hair-raising. Gasps from everyone in the car, including hizzoner the driver.

It is called the Valley of the Gods.
There are these ghostly stone monuments, themselves a thousand feet tall, scattered throughout a 25 mile valley as far as eye can see.

The hairpins were paved; the rest was dirt.

Looking back to where we'd just come.
Monument Valley, which I had come to know about through the novels of Tony Hillerman, was spectacular, but really. How much eye candy can one mere Midwesterner ingest in one day's drive?

The photos, of course, do not do justice to the view.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Childe Abuse

Or is it? You make the call.

This is Colin, 26 plus years ago, on one of those Fall weekends when Deb was off in Milwaukee finishing her nursing degree, and the kid and I would take off on various adventures. This pic was taken at the World Watermelon Festival, in Pardeeville, WI. No, I'm not force-feeding the Houli-Mouli. I'd give him a bite; he'd gobble and gag, and then I'd give him another bite.
This was, of course, the festival where I was a member of the Four Man World Championship Seed Spitting Team. We were all pathetic, but we had one guy who could really get some mileage out of a seed. The secret was picking the right seed. You knew that. I honestly have no recollection of where Colin was while I was competing. He may have been competing in the speed eating contest.

What a cute baby. Where'd I get those glasses?

Heartland Furniture (that's me) New Web Site

I've finally gotten a business web "presence." Is that right? Presence? REAL presence? Ok, anyway. I've slogged together something that is halfway respectable but not too respectable, as is my wont. Please feel free to take a peek. It features lots of photos of past work, in hopes of encouraging future work. I do like to work.

You'll find me here. The site is still being developed, so go easy on it. My guy Scott who has been helping from a distance has already pointed half a dozen things--"nitpicky stuff" he calls it. They don't sound nitpicky to me, but I'm probably hypercritical as is my wont.

Did I mention you could find my new business website here?
Ah. Oh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Old Clem

No commentary on marriage, as that seems to be the topic I'm fixated on at the moment, would be complete without an extended reminisce about my old Grandma McCallum.

Ah. How to describe this woman? Bear in mind the bearer of this tale was still himself en formatif , as the tale's details unfold. Caveat emptor.

My mom's dad died when she was eight. From what I can gather, her mom then went into extended hybernation, leaving mom, the eldest of three, to sort of raise the other two. Eight years old. No doubt the tales are a bit skewed. My grandma couldn't have been THAT out of it.

Well, by the time I got to know her--the third of four children and a little befuddled myself in my early years (no comment, you)--she was truly off the deep end. I remember driving, after church and Sunday dinner, off to the Reedsburg county home where they had a set of really mentally disturbed people. I am young--perhaps eight years old. We would hear the zoo sounds of your usual home for the disturbed of mind. I would occasionally unaccountably find myself holding hands with some strange old lady who would look at me with these googly eyes; I had nightmares about it for years. There we would visit Grandma, who had at some time in the past had a terrible accident, falling down a flight of stairs and hitting her head severely and therefore putting herself at the mercy of the latest and greatest in psychotropic drug treatment. The cure I think was the disease,, because after many years of this a wise and learned doctor took a long look at her, cut all her medications, and told her to enjoy a nice glass of port wine before retiring for the evening. That seemed to work. Grandma returned to the world.
Before departing, however, it seems my Grandma McCallum spent a lot of time with her nose in harlequin romances. She had a really strange romantic streak. During her illness, but when she lived for a time with us, our family got our very first television. Late fifties. While we watched Andy of Maybury, Grandma would stand next to the television with her hands behind her back and answer imaginary questions that she thought were coming from the set. Very personal and titillating questions. Very complete and detailed answers. I got a lot of what I'd call my early sex education listening to Grandma answer these unheard-by-us, imaginary questions . She believed she was being interviewed by some fella on the TV. Truly, another world. I will say however that it made television watching just that much more fascinating for me. So, see. Sickness runs in the family, I guess.

Jumping ahead a number of years: I'm in high school. By now grandma has been put in a nice retirement home in my home town. But that old romantic streak (call it what you will) isn't gone by a long shot. For one thing, she's 82 but is claiming she's 76. And soon enough she is kicked out of the retirement home for having an affair with her new guy, Clem Blanchett. They find lipstick on his pillowcase and trace it back to her. Clem doesn't get ejected; just my grandma. My lib mom seethes that it is retaliation for a recent public act of nonviolent dissent she's committed in our small town, but who knows? Grandma's out on the street.
My mom finds her a nice little apartment near downtown. Clem, who is 92 but still retains a great sense of humor, and a few other things as well, is brought over to granny's pad weekly by my mom for--I dunno--conjugal visits or something. Soon enough, it is announced that Clem and Emma McCallum are getting married!

I am appointed Best Man.

Look. I'm--what?--nineteen? What do I know about being a Best Man to a 92 year old French American? On the day of the wedding, I arrive late, and my grandmother is livid. "You're LATE! For my WEDDING! I had to dress him MYSELF!" I truly had no idea I was expected to help the groom dress. To this day I get the geebies.

Something rather funny happened on the way to the church. I was ushering Clem down the hallway of grandma's apartment to the long, wide staircase leading to the first floor. We got to the head of the stairs, and for some reason I tripped. In what I remember as a long, slow motion fall, I tumbled, rolled, gallooped, and flipped all the way to the bottom,where I lay in an ignominous, embarassed heap. At the top of the stairs, for the first time that day, Clem is cracking up into a coughing, wheezing, bent-over cackle that lasted until I dragged myself back up to him. Ah, so. I guess I did my essential service as Best Man to the Groom after all. He was completely relaxed for the first time that day.
At the wedding, a covey of uninvited old ladies from the community sat in the back, glowering. Jim Weis, the very sweet Methodist pastor who performed the ceremony, smiled and welcomed us in. Being 92, Clem (and I) sat in the front pew while Emma was escorted down the aisle by my sister Janet, the Bridesmaid. Other than my mom, there was no one else there in that big sanctuary. A serious problem developed when I produced the ring and Clem tried to deposit it onto Emma's ring finger. There was an inordinate amount of shaking going on. My sister Jan stifled a giggle. A chain reaction of stifling took place, Jan to me to Jim Weis; back again. I could have killed her. We came THIS CLOSE to just completely falling apart in laughter. I was in enough trouble with Grandma as it was. Finally, I did my second Good Deed of the day, helping to steady Clem's hand and guide the ring onto the steadied hand of his bride. Everyone smiled and Clem looked relieved. I now pronounce you man and wife.

The two-and-a-half-month-long marriage was stormy, if the stories can be believed. Grandma fussed and furied, furied and fussed. Clem pretty much just sat there. I'm not sure what brought it all on, but soon enough Clem Blanchett departed this sad veil of tears. I would have liked to report that the marriage was blissful, but that wasn't in the nature of my scotch Grandmother's personality. Something about being married again gave vent to something, some controlling emotion that had perhaps lain dormant since Bruce, her first husband, died when my mother was eight. All at the expense of poor, sweet, simple Clem. And that is the story of Grandmother McCallum's second wedding.


MY SISTERS WEIGH IN: The "caveat emptor" comment was indeed necessary. My memory does not flourish as it should. Some amendments, which in turn should be caveat-emptored, since heck, they're as old and feeble as I am. To wit:

:Mom may have been six years old when Robert Bruce (not simply "Bruce") died. He was. obviously, named after "Robert The Bruce" of Scots fame.
: Well, the institution was NEAR Reedsburg, but not in it. It may have been a county home, it may have been a state home. Versions differ. Rebecca, being the oldest, remembers the barred doors, the old lady eating dirt from a flower pot, the strait-jacketed souls lying prone on their beds. Very " One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" ish. As with me, the weekly experience of seeing all of this had a profound , disturbing effect.
: Clem may have been 94 not 92; he may have been married to my grandmother for all of seven months, not the 2.5 I've alleged. He had four previous wives. "I buried them all!", remembers a sis.
: Two sisters don't remember the post-wedding furies but do remember the bliss, which somehow I missed. Grandma was thrilled about the freedom to love each other "legally". As Rebecca put it: "She did have some proper notions." Sweet.
: Grandma supported her three children through the years selling Avon.
: All three sisters were present at the wedding, as was my dad. Rebecca, the oldest, even made grandma's wedding dress. Was there a reception afterward? I seem to remember a reception afterward.

Barth On Marriage

No, not THAT Barth. I'm reading John Barth again, after a twenty-five year hiatus. He of CHIMERA and THE FLOATING OPERA. He's gotten older, mellower, less flashy. He's more reflective, more given to thankfulness. Not really too bad for an atheist.

I'm reading ONCE UPON A TIME. No, I'm not necessarily recommending it. But I'm enjoying it a lot. Here is Barth going on about his marriage:

"...What do I know, having lived with the woman for only twenty-plus years and in the world for some forty before that?...

I know that now we're in love and trouble, is about all--the love abiding, the trouble not--and that in this couple's chemistry neither of those precludes the other. Given the closeness of their connection, the differences between them, the amount of time they spend in each other's company, and the very little time they spend apart, these domestic storms used to beset them once or twice per season, interstitched with passionate reconciliation and overarched with indubitable love. In latter years, the love and commitment have, if anything, grown; time, experience, fatigue, and reciprocal understanding have happily decreased the frequency, duration, and damage (if not the occasional intensity) of such in-house blowups. Perhaps for that reason, they have still a way of taking us by surprise: The emotional fuel-air mix builds almost imperceptibly in the house until some spark--typically a thoughtless word of mine, some small thing done or neglected, inconsequential in itself--blows the roof. Our adrenalines surge; each charges the other with initial provocation; we watch and listen appalled as the angry words scarify; we exhaust ourselves in the night (What home-brewed tempest ever didn't rage past bedtime?)...
Thanks be, then, that since this pair's early years together such full-blown storms have come to buffet them ever more rarely. Both of them are abler than once they were at containing and deflecting the inevitable frictions of conjugality. Weather the storm you cannot avoid, goes the old sailors' proverb, and avoid the storm you cannot weather. Every lasting marriage follows those advisements..."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Do People Stay Married?

The Wall Street Journal had an article back on Feb. 9 entitled HAPPY COUPLES KISS AND TELL.

The journalist, Elizabeth Bernstein, asked the very sensible question, "Why do some couples thrive, while others fizzle or flame out, despite their best intentions?"

The article goes into most of the common, practical reasons for these life-long marriages, which seem so archaic, so unusual today. I remember years ago a couple joking with us that we were the only other couple they knew who hadn't gotten a divorce. They are, of course, now divorced.

I say "of course." Interesting.

The article gives a series of tips on how to stay married for a lifetime, including:
Find the middle ground.
Be funny.
Keep (some) secrets.
Never, ever give up.
Stay alive (More on that one in a sec).
The "keep some secrets" one is fascinating. What do you think? The example given is a Las Vegas couple. The husband is a professional gambler. He has never discussed his business with his wife, but is willing to tell the journalist that he's won and lost millions of dollars. The wife has her own bank account. Actually, I think that's the secret there.

My wife and I are closing in on (I'd better get this right...) 32 years of marriage. We were married on Easter Sunday in a Methodist church on South Hill Drive in Madison by a pastor who is now divorced. He gave us pre-marital counselling. He might have taken some of his own advice. I forget his name. Both Deb and I agreed that being married was a lot better than getting married. That was a lot of nervous work.

STAY ALIVE: The article ends with an anecdote about the writer's sister: "...a doctor,
told me about one of her patients, a 92-year-old woman who showed up for her appointment with her husband, who is 94. They said they have been married for almost 70 years.
"My sister, highly impressed, asked the couple the secret of their union's longevity. And they looked at each other for a long moment. Then the wife spoke: "Eh, neither of us died."

That's right, the secret of a long marriage, in the final analysis, is for neither partner to die. As my wife has confessed (for us both) on more than one occasion : "We're just stuck with each other. That's all."

Photos from Life Magazine

Monday, February 15, 2010

Higher Things Youth Retreat

Trinity Lutheran Church, Sheboygan, WI

Ah, Sheboygan. Brats and Lutherans, and the question is: are they interchangeable?
Haha, just kidding. My daughter and I, along with the interminably zesty Zeke Bartlett of Mental Llama blog fame, spent the weekend at a theological retreat sponsored by the Higher Things Lutheran youth organization. This isn't your ordinary happy-clappy Christian youth get together. The topics are decidedly doctrinal and challenging, and the kids,--generally confirmed youth through high school-- carefully listen. The pastors who lead these sessions are engaging and entertaining, but they definitely don't hold back when it comes to going deeply into the chosen topic of the retreat.

The location of the retreat was Trinity Lutheran (one of them, anyway) in Sheboygan,with its beautiful, restored sanctuary. The people of Trinity are to be congratulated for taking such good care of this church they have inherited. Pastors Mech and Berg can be my pastors, any day.

The chosen topic of the retreat was itself a deep one: the doctrine of Confession and Absolution. Try luring 175 teenagers to something like this. Yeah, just try it!
Yet come they did, and the topic was fascinating. While there was ample time for the kids to hang out together--as well as to watch a Hitchcock movie and to see Comedy Sportz at a nearby restored movie house--the bulk of the time was taken up with worship, breakout sessions on various topics, and longer plenary sessions with two pastors. The highlight of the plenary sessions was a great video of Johnny Cash, late in his life, singing an old Nine Inch Nails tune, HURT. It is worth a look, and was a great setup for the topic of the need for confession, the greater need for absolution--and while we're at it for a nice chat about the lost but returning practice of Private Confession and Absolution.

I found myself often sitting at the back of the auditorium, just looking around at these kids. Yes, there was chatting and joking around, but by and large they listened carefully to what the presenters were saying. It helped a lot that the presenters were both interesting, funny, , and also interspersed really great videos into their talks.

Scattered around the auditorium and hallways were quotes from the good Doctor Luther himself, some of them pretty funny; some of them more funny because of where they were placed. And of course, the main speakers were called upon to judge the chocolate chip cookie bakeoff. It sounds like a good gig, but they were pretty sick of cookies by the time the judging ended.

Le Mssrs. Peperkorn and Kuhlmann, Pastors, sitting in Judgment

"Here I stand. I can do no other."

Monday, January 18, 2010

"CLOTTED CALM": Franzmann and Conflict in the Church

The No Inklings Book Club has undertaken to read together Martin Franzmann's fine book FOLLOW ME, a devotion on the book of Matthew. I used this book a decade ago in leading a Bible study at a previous church, and found it poetic and inspiring. A taste:

"Conflict is never pretty and always entails agony; and there are those who hold that in the church all conflict should be avoided at all costs and tranquility should be purchased at any price, and they deem such clotted calm the very peace of God. But the evangelists' account of the contradicted Christ tells us plainly that the church cannot avoid conflict if she be the church of Christ. It tells us that men must take the agony of conflict and bear the brunt of controversy if they are the Christ's. We cluck our disapproval of the bitter controversies of the past and rejoice that such things can no longer happen here. Perhaps our reluctance to face conflict is one of the reasons why we see so puny a Christ and think our God and His kingdom so small."
By "contradicted Christ" Franzmann is referring to a theme he has developed regarding Jesus' powerful responses to men's doubt, rejection, and blasphemy in Chapter 11: his response to the prisoner John the Baptist's questions about him.

This is by no means an easy read. In fact, I find I have to read it in gulps, because it is so densely populated with insights and language that just make me stop and pause. One of my favorite quotes is Franzmann trying to quote Luther, in a way many of us have found ourselves doing:

"'When God begins a thing,' Luther says somewhere, 'it always looks as if nothing will come of it.' He chooses out the least of all nations to be His peculiar people. He makes His Messiah a Servant who goes down in defeat and death. And His kingdom comes as an unspectacular 'stone cut by no human hand,' no match for the bright and splendid and mighty magnitude of the powers of this world. And so His revelation always strikes sparks of contradiction when it comes to man...'"

"Luther says somewhere..." How many times have I heard THAT? I love that Franzmann put it in his book, as if the point he had to make was too intense to stop and actually look up and cite the Luther quote. Not everyone can get away with that. Or, I picture him having looked fruitlessly for the quote, queried his peers about it, been unsuccessful at actually locating it in Luther's works, but still unwilling to give it up. It is such a good quote, and so true.

Compost In Winter

Asparagus stems, orange rinds,
Celery stalks, coffee grinds.
Sleep, my beauties!
The worms come in Springtime.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MEXICO, the pelicans

As we bobbed out in the ocean, very near us pelicans by the dozens were busy attacking the fish feeding just off the beach. This gives you an idea of the dive bombing these crazy birds were into. As soon as one had a fish in its copious beak, a seagull would land on its back and try to steal the fish. I could get within a few feet of these birds as they dove--sometimes from 30 feet in the air--crash landed, speared a fish, gobbled it down while being harassed by seagulls, and then without fail they would wiggle their tail feathers in tingling delight. Or maybe the live fish in the belly just tickled, I'm not sure.

One afternoon, we could look up and down a two mile beach and see this frenetic activity happening along its full length. It reminded me of WWII air battle scenes, wild dogfights in the sky, flying objects diving and swooping. And then wiggling their tails in delight.

MEXICO, the beach

The beach at Lo de Marcos is perhaps two miles long, with a user friendly shark net 200 yds out. This is brown sand, not the white glorious stuff of the playas in the Yucatan. Still, very nice, and with partly cloudy skies and 75 degree weather, it was particularly suited for our northern skins. In the Yuc, we burned.

One day we wandered south, on a rutty dirt road over a ridge, and found a smaller beach around the bend from the main beach. The boys and I played football, sort of: I was Brett Favre on one of his crazier days, and the football was a lime. It was pretty much just an excuse for Colin and Jeremy to beat each other up, but now and then I drew up a sneaky play that involved taking someone's swim suit down. Deb sipped beer and took photos. Don't look at that fat man in the picture. It is just an illusion. The game ended in a tie.

Another day we wandered out to the beach in the early afternoon, found some shade and slept half the aft away. The boys got hungry, and armed with one of my fifty peso notes went wandering away, to return shortly with a stack of fish, shrimp, and beef tacos. Hot beach, cold beer, and tacos? It is better than 72 virgins. At least, as far as I can tell.

Then it was time to body surf. The water was perfect: cool and refreshing. Salt water is just really good for the body, I gotta tell ya. Deb was utterly blissed out. Long after Colin and I--the two old men--had dragged our sorry butts up to our towels and collapsed on the beach, Jeremy and Deb kept going, catching wave after wave, glorying in this throwback to her childhood. Deb spent most Augusts of her early years camping on the beach in California, before it was spoiled by people from Indiana. Well, Wisconsin too. Minnesota for sure.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Taking a break from the cold and the snow, my wife Deb and I travelled down to the Pacific coast of Mexico for a week. Our sons Jeremy and Colin beat us there by about a week, spending a few days in Guadalajara before bussing down to Puerto Vallarta with the task of finding us a decent place to stay for a few nights during the high season of Epiphany. The Mexicans were on vacation.

The boys did a good job. One tossed the other in the ocean, wearing his cell phone. So we couldn't actually reach them. The other left his cash card back home. So they were broke when we did find them. But they did the job. We stayed at the Marlyn, a very Mexican little hotel in old, el centro PV. And they found the best Mexican food in town, ironically cooked by a gay chef named Austin, from Boston. Life can be very strange like that.

Soon enough, we'd had enough of Puerto Vallarta. It was a madhouse, and not our kind of madhouse. We were looking for something else. The boys celebrated our imminent departure by staying out all night, drinking and shooting pool. It was two very silly, sleepy boys we trundled out of town. We'd rented what was supposed to be the smallest little Dodge the Mexican Hertz handled, but got a nice SUV instead. Don't ask.

Breakfast. We drove up coast to Bucerias, which used to be, according to the Lonely Planet, one very cool place, and cheap. Breakfast at the famous Orange Building on the beach was great, but not cheap. The boys continued to celebrate, but soon after breakfast hit their bellies, it was off to the beach chairs with them.

Well, we had to find a place to stay.

I had read about a nice little beach hamlet north of

Bucerias, called San Francisco, so over the mountains and up the coast we went. We found a very crowded, claustrophobic

San Francisco all right, with expensive places to stay. The tourists had found it. Drat.

There was nothing for it but to continue to drive north. The boys were still lost to the world, unaware of the growing discomfort Deb and I were feeling at not really being sure of what wewere doing. Over another mountain, down into a valley we drove. I came to another hamlet, and just decided to turn left. Right away, the vibes were better. This was a quieter, cleaner, less touristy place. Half a mile into town I came to a nice looking bungalow, called Tortuga, The Turtles. It had the most beautfiful VACANTE sign out in front! Better, it had prices that were half what we

were paying in PV! Not a word of English was spoken by the elderly manager, but he showed me a nice two room bungalow with a nice kitchen, back patio, right on the pool. Sold. The room wouldn't be ready for an hour, could we come back? Somehow the idea was conveyed. So off to the beach we went. The boys we depostied under some palms trees, took a swim and a walk, and then headed back to claim our room. And there we stayed for three comfortable, interesting, relaxing days. Aside from the nail I took in a tire, requiring the services of the local nail-in-tire-repair guy (No, really. He knew what he was doing!), it was all good. Colin became the bungalow’s residence translator, and Deb, Colin and Jeremy took part in cooking enormous Mexican breakfasts: refritas, fresh hot corn tortillas from the local tortilla factory, fresh mango and pineapple, eggs with hot peppers, and mucho hot salsa. Camp coffee, Mexican pastries, and guacamole. Feasts, my friends! Feasts.