Four Brothers

Truly, a most random post, but I warned there would be some… Mom actually suggested it and I am glad to comply.

First,

A picture of her four brothers, singing together. John, Ervin, Don, and Wendell

And next,

A picture of my four brothers (her sons), singing together. Ron, Gary, Bob, and Dennis

Just kind of fun that we have this singing thing going on from one generation to the next.

What interesting characteristics do you see in your family photos that you might not notice any other way?

Another Pandemic Wedding!

She traveled farther than I did to get there. She had been decked out in some pretty fine cloth. She was due to arrive just in time for the event, for which she planned to be a prominent player. She started out the week of the wedding and all would have been well had it not been for the tire that exploded on the first day of the journey.

It was pretty bad – actually blew a huge hole in the wheel well. But four new tires later, and a quick clean up after the trip was finished, she was in place and no one was the wiser. She wasn’t the bride. She was the bride’s Airstream and this was not her first adventure, although it may have been her first wedding. We don’t know.

The venue was the Seattle Arboretum, Wisteria Hall. The day was July 24th, 2021 and it couldn’t have been nicer weather. Esther and Ryan had been planning their celebration of marriage since the summer before, when it was twice cancelled because of the pandemic. For the second time since COVID19 became a household word, I was mother of the bride.

The plan was to keep things simple and meaningful, and to share it with as many of their friends and family as were able to come. The husband and I traveled five days by car to get there. We were determined to be present and didn’t have near as much trouble as the Airstream did.

There were many things about this wedding that were non-traditional, and yet it had the important features:

The beautiful bride
The handsome groom
The vows and promises
The rapt audience
The laughter and happy tears

The whole wedding script was unique to my daughter Esther and her Ryan. Never mind that there was no bevy of women wearing matching dresses that they would never wear again. Never mind that pizza and pie took the place of wedding cake.

Yeah, it’s pizza (good pizza).

Never mind that instead of musicians and soloists there were mothers, reading poetry especially chosen for this occasion.

Mom (me) reading Mary Oliver

At the end we were all invited to pronounce them husband and wife, and we did. Bubbles floated everywhere around us as they walked, arm in arm, back to the Airstream to sign official documents.

Tables set for a feast
I didn’t say it was only pizza.

The happiness continued during the pizza party reception and the dancing. Yes, the dancing. It was pretty wild and joyous at times. We are just that kind of people.

Wild girl.

To love, to commit, to live together, to help each other grow and thrive. Marriage. Esther Armstrong and Ryan Bruels. July 24, 2021

Caught!

I think I have mentioned before that I’ve been online with Noom, learning about the psychology of eating, weight loss, and healthy lifestyle. Yesterday evening as I was finishing the day’s lesson, this came up and I knew immediately what it meant for me. I was caught.

Yeah, how did they know?

I have wondered quite a bit in the last three months “Why isn’t Shirley writing and staying in touch with the world of readers?” I guess she just didn’t feel like it. She is retired now and doesn’t do things she doesn’t feel like doing.

No, wait. That is so “not true”, on several levels. Does anyone ever get to stop doing anything they don’t feel like doing? I’m still doing some of those things, and I realize there are benefits involved. And it isn’t really that I don’t feel like writing – it’s more that it takes time to write well and to say something worth putting down. And strangely, for me, there is something sad and serious about introspective writing. I just haven’t wanted to add “sad and serious” to my life. I’m ignoring that. It’s difficult and challenging to write consistently.

But I am a writer, and writers need to make writing a habit. Noom has caught me and made me commit to a blog post this morning, knowing that I would feel better in the long run if I faced the challenge. There is science behind that, and more. Facing challenges is a matter of the spirit. Realizing that something is difficult, and then doing it anyway makes me more able to do it again in the future. Another good thing about Noom is that it asks me to find some affirmations and repeat them to myself regularly. Here are mine:

I will be blogging in August about a lot of random things, about Noom, about the end of summer, and about facing challenges. Would love to hear your comments.

Summer Excess

Yesterday evening I was tired. I didn’t want to exercise. I wanted to wind down and go to bed early. But, my exercise conscience was not quite dead yet and there were still two hours of daylight left.

It was a week ago today that I gave blood at the blood mobile, and my first time giving double reds. I had a couple days of feeling slightly oxygen deprived with activity, and then forgot about it. I felt fine going for a 9 mile bike ride over the weekend, and was really excited about joining the LCO Boys and Girls club for a canoe outing on Monday. After all, summer is short. Pour it on!

Yes, good question. Are you ready for the river? That’s what it asks on that sign.

The canoe outing was interesting, which is the word I use most of the time instead of “fun but hard”. There was wind, a helpful 9 year old with a paddle, and a middle rider who was afraid of spiders. I spent a lot of time going backwards down the river, when I wasn’t trying to steer out of the bushes on either side. It was a challenging paddle and my arms are a little sore, still. And I will probably go again. Summer is short here. I think I said that already.

On this tired evening I decided that I could probably go biking again, since I could then balance my tired arms with equally tired legs. You know, balance in life is important.

I live wonderfully close to some trails specifically made for biking through the woods. They are part of an extensive network of trails, making our area a destination for this kind of sport. I rode my bike there and got on the trail. I’m not an expert at this yet, and I suspect that CAMBA (Cable Area Mountain Bike Association) is kindly trying to discourage the inept, for their own good of course. The entrances to the trail always have two posts that seem awfully close together to me. My first rush of adrenaline comes with trying not to hit them. It’s a mind thing – the more you think about it, the more likely it is to happen.

The trails are built and maintained so bikers can go whizzing through the forest without looking at it. Sometimes that doesn’t make sense to me because I go to the forest for exactly that reason, to look at it. The trails are also designed to be as long as possible without really going anywhere far. My GPS gets so confused and keeps thinking I’m pausing when really I’m just going around tight turns and doubling back all the time. There’s sand, rocks, hills, creeks, grouse that explode out of the bushes, and scared deer that jump out in front of me. The forest is not flat here and there is a definite roller coaster ambience to the whole ride. My advice is, do this if you want a fun challenge. Maybe don’t do this if you want to relax. It’s not relaxing to me. I’m always thinking “thank you God that I didn’t wipe out on that corner”, and “thank you God that I was going slow when I hit that rock”.

Yeah, just shut your eyes and ride up the hill between those poles. Don’t think about it.

Last night’s ride was only six miles, but as I said, my GPS was confused so it may have been more. I did some street riding at the end just so I could relax and feel the breeze, and go straight, no bumps.

Do you see what I mean about summer excess? There are so many good opportunities to do active things, and quite a few more hours in which to do them. I love the north woods summer, even when it wears me out. I haven’t gone swimming in Round Lake yet, but that will be next. I have a plan, just sayin’…

It’s June

It’s June, only 20 days away from the longest day of the year. The sun was still quite a way above the horizon at 7:30 pm when I took the picture above. In spite of this, last week we had a couple nights below freezing. The night it got down to 28 degrees, my new potato plants froze. They had just gotten above ground and were looking so healthy and strong. Everything else in the garden got covered with tarps and sheets and survived. It is light now at 5:15 am so maybe everything will grow fast and produce before the short summer is over.

I took several walks this week. It is scary how fast the trees went from bare to fully leafed out. It’s like they know they have to hurry. The wooded trails are SO BEAUTIFUL! My walks go slow because I am always stopping to take pictures, or identify bird calls. It all looks lovely to me and is like medicine for my soul.

Even things that are nearly spent can be lovely (and that should be comforting to those of us who are nearly spent…)
Birch trees are so unique. White trunks just aren’t the norm.
The streams and marshes are full of water, flowers, reflections.
Who could refuse a path like this?
Looking a fern in the eye is kind of amazing.
Black water reflections captivate my camera (and me).
Canadian mayflowers are even a little late here. A natural garden in the pine forest.
Such a contrast from my winter trail. And to think that all this was just waiting in the cold ground and appears in its season without any help from us.

Yesterday’s walk was past a beaver pond and a large marsh. I pushed through the bushes to get a view of the water and watched a family of ducks swimming. The cattails started rustling and moving and out of them came the largest raccoon I have ever seen. It had a grizzled white head and was prowling through the marsh, probably looking for nests with eggs. Later I saw a pretty box turtle digging a hole in the dirt for her eggs

It was a good walk. I am still counting steps – 13,000 yesterday and 10,000 today. The last two weeks I have been working on getting the garden going instead of walking, but even then it was easy to get 5,000 to 7,000 steps tilling, carrying mulch and fixing fence.

Suddenly, it is summer in this crazy, wild, northern place.

It’s a good thing it doesn’t have to be a very big hole.

“Full of Feelings” Month: Bread

This month is quickly drawing to a close and I’m aware that is has been full of feelings, and not full of writing. But we all rest from things, and I am not into letting my writing (or not writing) be a guilt producing activity. The summer garden is nearly planted. I bought a new car. I had a visit from a Florida friend. We got caught up on doctor appointments. It has been a full month.

And for some reason my thoughts and feelings have turned to bread. I’m not sure how that happened. I used to make all the bread for our family when the children were small. I ground wheat to make my flour and baked up four loaves at a time, memorized my recipe, and thought I would do it forever. But I haven’t for a long time now.

We have a European Firehouse Bakery in Hayward and Mom has been a long time customer, buying their sourdough rye and SanFrancisco Sourdough loaves. It is bread with a consistency different from American bakeries. It’s not the bread you find on the shelves in the grocery stores. It’s a small, round loaf and it comes at a price. I have wondered if I could make bread like that and I mean to find out.

My feelings about bread have been shaken a bit by my explorations into keto eating, where bread gets a bad name. I think that has to be a mistake. If bread was really bad for us, we would have phrases like “the bread of death”. But no, it’s the “bread of life”, if you make it correctly and eat it in moderation. I love bread. There is no better way to eat butter than with bread, and I also love butter. I have a lot of feelings about bread, butter, and food in general.

So, I bought sourdough starter and put the flour, yeast and water to bubbling in a warm place on the counter. This starter turned out to be kind of like a baby. I had to watch it, feed it, make sure it smelled good and didn’t get too hot or cold while it was getting just the right degree of “sour”. Having starter was not sufficient either. The recipe also called for “old dough” from the previous loaf. Since I had no previous loaf I had to make new “old dough” from a recipe. Bread is so weird and complicated and you can see why I have developed some emotional angst over it, plus a whole lot of flour mess. A whole lot.

Breaking in a new cookbook…

After making the starter and the old dough, the bread itself also took a lot of watching, like a baby, because it had to rise until double in size. Unlike a baby it had to be punched down, proofed and baked all to precise directions and timing. I realized that I could not leave home on bread making day or the bread would certainly be ruined. We can’t have that.

It was all a bit much the first time around, but I think I will get faster and less confused as I practice. Today I have stayed in the house, working on a second loaf. I should have started earlier in the morning, because now it is after 10 p.m. and I am still waiting for the bread to get the right size so I can put it in the oven (where it will still have to bake for another hour…). Keeping one up at night – another thing bread and babies have in common. Just sayin’…

“Full of Feelings” Month: Mother’s Day

Well, it’s probably no surprise that there would be a lot of “feelings” floating around on Mother’s Day, another one of those days of expectations that are hard to realize. Harder even than birthdays, in my opinion. This year I didn’t even wait till the weekend to get emotionally riled up, so yeah, I’ve cried pretty much all day, mostly inside my head, but outwardly as well.

Earlier in the week I met several young mothers and got reminded of how exhausting and plain old “hard” it is to have young ones. Add in various degrees of dysfunction and things become heartbreaking, overwhelming, difficult to share with others who could possibly help. I also feel bad for family and friends who don’t have the children they want and generally feel left out of motherhood in one way or another. I accept these stories, and kind of embrace them because the women telling them feel like my people. They are my people. I pray for them and wait for the healing I know God wants to give.

And then there is the husband (mine). He has not been feeling as perky as before and is definitely not moving around well. He needs a lot of help from me to do basic activities of daily living – ADLs. When we have visitors as we do this Mother’s Day weekend, I become aware of the things that are hard for me to enjoy because I am coupled with him. It’s vastly different from being a nurse and having to help elderly patients. I had no trouble with that. The husband, who looks SO OLD, is my contemporary, my covenant partner. His life is largely my life for the foreseeable future. It is not a happy picture when I look at it from that angle.

And always on Mother’s Day, I miss my own kids. We can’t help that we live so far apart and can’t be together. Most days we manage not to think about that at all, but on Mother’s Day it’s a 24 hour reminder that people are missing from my life. This is also the first Mother’s Day that my sister-in-law is missing from our family. She died last August and there was an act of closure today, as we buried her ashes in a small memorial garden overlooking the pond behind the barn. That was a hard one, not because we have no hope, but because we believe in grieving well.

But, emotional exercise includes happiness and gratitude as well as sadness. How wonderful it is that I don’t have to miss having my own mother with me! I had time to talk with her and share all these feelings, knowing that she cares. I had phone calls and texts from my girls. And I had three of my brothers and a niece and nephew here as well to share the weekend and be family to me.

I am thinking deeply about all these events, all these people and trying (imperfectly) to lay the care on God, like he said I could. He wants me to know, to care, and to love – but then to hand it over and let him do any heavy lifting.

I have a regular job cleaning my brother’s business place on the weekends. I didn’t really want to do it today because … those expectations again. But as I emptied garbage and straightened things up, I got in the rhythm of work and started to forget sadness. Seriously, if you ever want to change the way you’re feeling, go find a mess and clean it up, focus on getting rid of some dirt, make a difference. What a gift work can be. God meant it that way and I am thankful for work, even on Mother’s Day. Or perhaps, especially on Mother’s Day.

A special rest spot on the hiking trail – my three brothers and my niece. What are they looking at?
They are looking out over the beautiful Namekagon River valley, one of the National Wild and Scenic River areas.

“Full of Feelings” Month: Fear and Frustration

Nothing makes me fearful like a letter from the IRS. It’s a different kind of fear. In my mind the IRS is a big office somewhere with a few tired people sitting at desks with large piles of paper. They are staring at the walls in a trance because there is no way for them to look at more than one paper each day, and they may not even get that far. I feel sorry for them.

At the same time, they have computers that randomly spit out scary letters to unsuspecting folks – none of whom are really trying to defraud the government by not paying their taxes.

This morning I opened that scary letter from the IRS.

It was a fearful time because I knew it would be like trying to reason with a big, lumbering giant who couldn’t read or hear me screaming. Once the giant thinks he is owed money he is deaf to evidence and arguments because my paperwork will be on the bottom of the pile on a desk in the big room with all the comatose workers. It may take two years before it gets read – two years of increasing penalties and interest on the money I never owed in the first place. I know all this from previous experience.

Supposedly I owe roughly (because I left the letter with my tax preparer and can’t remember the exact amount) $7,400, plus a $1,500 penalty for not paying this “substantial” amount, plus the interest on it for the last two years. It was from the 2019 tax year, which they are just getting to now. So, almost $10,000!

My tax preparer says not to worry. She already knows what the problem is. I hope she is right, but I’ve heard that from an accountant before – one who ended up as frustrated as I was after months of lost communications, numerous phone calls, and the hiring of a special representative to “walk” my paperwork through the big office and put it on top of someone’s pile. Before that whole thing got settled, the giant had withheld that year’s tax return and was garnishing my social security income.

It’s one thing to fear a system that works, but worse to fear a system that is pretty much broken. It’s like talking to a wall.

Bottom line: God is my provider and he knows what I need. Even if it were true, and I had to pay $10,000, I would probably survive. But it’s stressful fighting giants and I was hoping for a quiet year… just sayin’.

“Full of Feelings” Month: Social Awkwardness

Today I am basking in my role as Queen of Social Awkwardness. There are others who you might say look and act the part more than I do, but in my mind, I am it.

It’s not that I lack a proper degree of self respect, self confidence. For the most part I am comfortable with myself, and have grace for my shortcomings. It’s when I get around other people and want to feel comfortable with them that the awkwardness hits. I’m aware that I’m often the one standing by myself somewhere, looking for another person like myself, someone not engaged in a conversation, someone who’s not quiet sure what to do next. It’s always a relief to find this person because if they are ready to engage, I’m helping myself and them. Both of us can feel a little more comfortable.

I love people. Very much. I want them to know that. Truth, is I am also a people pleaser. I don’t have a lot of strong opinions, or dictates and the ones I do have – well, I’m okay with putting them second in importance to someone else’s once in a while. I think of it as flexibility. To me the question is, if they are the right people, why not please them? It gives me pleasure to do so.

But social awkwardness comes when I don’t know if I am doing that. I tell myself to stop wondering about it and just do the best I can, in those uncomfortable places that I might find myself. Because, maybe comfort is overrated. Maybe it’s more real and more “normal” to feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a good thing?

The last thing I should allow that awkward feeling to do, is to be an excuse to avoid people. What if everyone has some degree of discomfort, at times, in some places? I kind of suspect that is the case. Maybe I should be uncomfortable and make the first move, even if I can’t remember the person’s name, even if they look hard to engage, even if my own discomfort is overwhelming me.

Ultimately I know that for me, God is the person I want most to please. I have to trust that he’s going to help me love other people as they should be loved. Even in my social awkwardness, and stumbling around with words, God can help them know that I care and cover over the mistakes I make. Maybe it’s part of being brave and letting God be my social director. Yeah, that might be it. Just sayin’…

Queen of Awkwardness and oh, so comfortable.

A to Z Challenge: Zeal of the Pioneers

Zeal, “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective”.

Alzina, or Alzie as we have come to know her, was passionate about her faith and her family. But she had zeal toward another objective as well, one that took up a great deal of time later in her life after she retired from teaching. The cause was prohibition of alcohol. She learned from a young age to work for the cause and although “Prohibition” never became a federal law, it was adopted in some states, Kansas being one of them. It happened largely through the efforts of hard working pioneer women. Here is how it went for Alzie.

The Peach Crop Story

By Emma Pomeroy Brandt, Alzie’s younger sister.

A few years after the Civil War, in 1867, my father took a homestead in Kansas. On it he planted both shade and fruit trees, including a peach orchard. He could not go to a store and buy everything as we do now. Indeed he and Mother saw very hard times trying to get a home started and raise food for a growing family. They had gotten deeply in debt and placed a mortgage on the homestead.

One year when most crops were burning up, they had a bountiful crop of peaches, but no market to sell them. One day two well-dressed men came driving in behind a fine team of livery horses and offered Father one dollar a bushel for the whole crop.

That seemed a wonderful offer and Father started to tell them he would bring the first load the next day. He said he would pick them carefully so as not to bruise them. “Oh”, they said, “you need not be too careful. Just shake them off and scrape them up. If you get a few rotten ones, it won’t make any difference.” Then Father asked, “What are you going to do with them, that you will take rotten ones?” They answered, “We are going to make peach brandy.”

That was a big shock to Father. He thought of his debt and his family needs, and then “me, a Christian man, sell my peaches to make brandy???” They told him he would be a fool to turn down their offer when he could not sell them elsewhere. But he said, “I am raising children. They shall never be tempted to drink brandy made from MY peaches.”

So the deal was called off. He struggled on for years, and had to sell his farm to pay the mortgage, but he kept a clear conscience. He moved his family across the road onto the “timber claim” and made there the home where we five younger children were born, and which was named “Prairie Home”. I can’t remember that we ever had to go hungry for lack of food.

Later, around 1907, Alzie’s mother Philena wrote to Alzie describing her “mother’s club” which she had started for local women. These women were wives of men who were working on the railroad. The husband’s wages were often spent in the bars, leaving the women to find a way to support the family. Seeing situations like this as she was growing up, and attending local Temperance Meetings with her family, made Alzie a staunch supporter of the temperance movement. Partially retired from teaching she took work as a field secretary for the National Prohibition Party. She traveled around the United States securing pledges and support for her Party’s candidates for general elections. There were many disappointments in her work, but her zeal was undaunted, as this paragraph in a letter explains.

“I gave much time in 1941 and 1942 to work for an initiative amendment, but failed to get enough signatures in time. But I learned many lessons, and more than ever came to the feeling that the Prohibition Party is the only force that God can use to overthrow the liquor traffic. It is the “Joshua and Caleb” of the dry movement. But, as the majority kept the people of Israel out of the Promised Land forty years, so the “old party drys” may keep from having prohibition that long, too. But the Prohibition Party will be victorious in the end as Joshua and Caleb were.”

There was no lasting success, although Kansas was a state that wrote a prohibition amendment in its constitution, and upheld it longer than any other state. Follow this link to read about some amazing women activists of the Temperance movement. Kansas and Prohibition

My grandfather John, sister Esther (seated), mother Alzina and sister Ethel. There were many more stories of their pioneer life but there are only 30 days in April. #April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Thank you for reading.