Breakthrough Story


I made spaghetti today. When I finished, it looked like a bomb had exploded on the stove. Sauce sprayed in a blood splatter pattern, noodles and bits of hamburger like scenes from a horror movie. Unfortunately, it often looks like this when I cook. I think of children in countries where they don’t have enough to eat and feel guilty writing about my food exploits. But I do it anyway. We do a lot of things we shouldn’t, and justify them in various ways to feel better about ourselves. Just another day in the life.

What if being human is a mental illness? What if all of us so called “normal” people who go to our jobs, raise families, and cook our dinners are mentally ill? Maybe we were shipped here from some distant planet, some place where they decided to rid their society of their less than desirable people. Like the British did when they sent boat loads of people to Australia. Maybe we are the descendants of the worst of an alien society that now enjoys life without people who routinely blow up their stoves at mealtime. Are they watching us, do you suppose? Are they wondering how long it will be before they have to intervene to keep their refuse from infecting the universe?

I scanned the radio dial this morning. I heard conservatives screaming about liberals. I heard Nirvana songs. Lots of talk about the environment and children in cages. I heard Hip-Hop music. I turned the radio off and went out and stood in the rain. But the radio still played. Lots of sounds and voices and screams. And music. Country and Rock and Rap. And more voices telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I longed for the sweet sounds of water lapping at a shore and the calls of loons across the lake. Life is like a radio that never shuts off. And half the time there’s too much static to discern what I’m hearing.

So I cleaned up the stove, and ate my spaghetti. I used fresh Basil from my little herb garden. Turned out pretty good. As all these words started swirling around in my mind I knew I was on the edge of a breakthrough book or at least a prize winning article. I sat down at the keyboard, electricity tingling my fingertips. I felt like Edward R. Murrow about to break an earth shattering story and then what came out was this. A story about exploding my stove and the guilt of writing about eating. Who are we, anyway?

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Heat


It is the end of May. At this time of year in my part of the world, outside air temperatures should be in the low to mid seventies Fahrenheit. For the last several days we have been in the low to mid nineties. It is hot. Attributable to climate change, no doubt, but that doesn’t help how it feels. We have actually been blessed with low humidity during this period which has made it more bearable, but still. A couple days ago I turned on the air conditioning because I was going to be gone for four to five hours and my dog, Sophie, who is half Malamute, half Husky, suffers from the heat. I set it for seventy four degrees and came back several hours later to find it was eighty degrees in the house. The air didn’t work. With that comes the possibility of spending a lot of money getting the unit fixed or replaced. Although, if the temperature goes back to normal, I can get by without it.

At the end of April I bought a small greenhouse. I have it set up in my back yard and have been growing herbs and tomato’s so far. I’ve actually started a new blog to document my adventures called, conveniently enough, Greenhouse Adventure. You can find it by typing “Greenhouse Adventure.com” into the search bar on your computer. It’s only just begun so don’t expect a lot just yet.

As some of you may know, my wife died of cancer last July. It’s been a rough period for me but I seem to be coming out of it slowly. I want to do more writing, but I just haven’t felt up to it for quite some time. I think now I’m turning a corner, as it’s said, And you may be able to expect to hear from me more often. I hope so. Thanks for the help and support I’ve received during this time. It means a lot. See you soon!

Distraction

The cat, in the field, concentrating ever so diligently on the small mouse hiding under leaves and dry grass, is annoyed by my footsteps in gravel on the side of the road. As I stop to watch this Scottish version of the common house pet, her ears pitched forward toward the mouse, I notice that she doesn’t look Scottish at all. Not that I would know what a Scottish cat is supposed to look like, but when you’re in Scotland well, everything is Scottish. Her right ear, the one closest to me, suddenly pivots toward me as I take a step and the sparse gravel beneath my foot crunches loudly in the still, evening air. I stand still, and just as suddenly, the ear twitches again and returns to it’s former attentive position. Her body tenses, her head lowers and, I take another step. This time her head turns, she focuses on my face and I am the recipient of an evil glare that seems to say, “I know where your hotel is. Later I will find you there, and I will kill you in your sleep.”

The Process Of Writing

I probably should have titled this, “My” process of writing because I’m sure that for as many writers as there are in the world, there are as many processes. My process is unique to me although many may be similar. Today, I am inspired to write. That’s how it begins. As with a musician, (something I also claim to be,) some days you are inspired to pick up that guitar and play. Or flute, or drums, or whatever. You just feel like now is the time. What you play depends on the mood you’re in. That’s how it works with writing for me. I am inspired to write, but what shall I write? What kind of mood am I in? Happy or sad, frustrated, angry, joyful, what? Some days, I am so inspired that I sit down at the keyboard and it just flows out like a raging river. The words come fast and furious, filling the screen of my computer. Some days it’s so good I hardly have to do any editing at all.

Not today. Today, I am inspired to write. But what, you ask? Good question, that. I don’t have a clue. Today is one of those days when the words aren’t flowing. They have to be dragged out kicking and screaming their reluctance like a newborn being forcefully shoved into a cold, bright world. So here I sit at the keyboard, ready and willing to fill the page with brilliance and, what? Nothing. (I just spent the last five minutes staring at the word “nothing” on the screen.) Where is my mojo? My muse, if you will? Mojo and Muse are off somewhere sharing a drink and a cigar and laughing hysterically at how they left me behind.

“Look at him,” Mojo says. “Trying to write something without us!” They clink their glasses together and toast my utter inability to come up with anything even remotely interesting to say. They puff their cigars in the sunshine, dig their toes in the sand of some South Seas island, as happy as if they were normal. And I sit here in the midst of a Minnesota Winter trying to force out words, trying to force those word into something you might want to read. Ugh! I am disgusted. (I just spent another five minutes staring at the word “disgusted.”)

So that’s it then, they left me. Fine! I don’t need them! I’ll forge ahead on my own. Let them bask in the sunshine of their imagined brilliance. Who are these two, anyway, Mojo and Muse? A couple of over rated hacks, that’s who. Okay, okay, so now what? So now I write! I write words. And I form sentences with those words. And the sentences make sense. And they are interesting to read. Yeah, that’s it! I’m good. I’m doing this on my own! And, and, hey look! I actually wrote something.

Northfield, Minnesota

From 1998 until 2017 my wife Ann and I lived in the Faribault, Minnesota area, the last six years of which were spent in an old farm house on a lake surrounded by corn fields. In November 2016, Ann got sick and in December we found out she had Endometrial Metastatic Cancer. She died in July, 2017 after a heroic battle. To me she is an example of a very strong and brave woman. Born and raised on a farm near Kilkenny, Minnesota, she had red hair, blue eyes, and she was Irish and German. There were times when she felt hopeless fighting cancer, but for the most part she was brave throughout. She didn’t let it get in the way of family and friends. I think about her every day.

In May of 2017 we bought my mom’s house in Northfield, Minnesota. Only about 18 miles from our lake house, Northfield is a different world. This is the house I grew up in. Built in 1940, my folks bought the house on the G.I. Bill, or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, in 1956, just two weeks before I was born. It has been added on to and remodeled several times over the years, most of the work being done by my dad. We bought the house in May, Ann went into the hospital in June and never came home. We only had a month to enjoy the house together before she became to0 sick to be home.

The months since Ann died have been kind of foggy but I think I’m finally starting to come out of it. In December I applied for a position on the Northfield Human Rights Commission. The mayor appointed me to the commission but after one meeting I realized that it was too much, too soon. So with the mayors blessing I turned down the appointment and am now concentrating on living one day at a time. It seems to be working. I spend quite a bit of time alone and it’s said that when you’re grieving that’s not a good thing. But for me, it’s alright. I get along with myself just fine. As a kid I was just as happy playing by myself as I was with friends. I spend time with my children and grand children. It’s good for us all to be together, to do things as a family. So that’s the back story. You are now caught up with me.

In 1956 the population of Northfield was about 8000. Today its over 20,000 so there has been steady growth over the years. The town is only about 30 or so miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. There are two world class colleges in Northfield. St. Olaf and Carleton. Each September Northfield celebrates the Defeat of Jesse James days. On September 7th, 1876, Jesse James and his gang were prevented from robbing the bank in Northfield, effectively ending their career as outlaws. It’s a huge celebration that attracts thousand to the town. (I hope this isn’t sounding like a tourism site!) Even though the population is over 20,000, Northfield is still a rural community. The entire city is surrounded by farms and fields. The downtown area has been maintained with 1800’s building fronts whenever possible. There are lots of unique shops and every Saturday there is a Riverwalk arts fair and farmers market downtown. Northfield is a community where people get out and do things. I love it here.

So now I’m spending time learning the bass guitar. I’ve been a drummer all my life and for the last twenty years have concentrated on hand percussion. But I’ve recently bought an electronic drum kit so I’m getting my chops back with that. For those of you who’ve read my blog over the years, I still have my insane dog, Sophie. Sophie is half Malamute, half Husky. And as I said, she’s insane. She’s six years old and still as frisky as a puppy. One hundred and ten pounds of frisky! We take a walk everyday along the beautiful pathways of Riverside park in Northfield. There is a lot of noise compared to living on a lake in the country but we’re getting used to it. The thing I miss most about living in the country is the quiet and the stars in the sky. It is such a mystical experience to stand outside at night with the Milky Way shining brightly in the sky and not hear a single sound. Just thinking about that gives me shivers. I want to give a big thanks to my long time readers. Thanks for sticking with me, And maybe I’ll gain some new readers along the way. More to come!

Surreal World

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So here I am in the surreal world of cancer. My earlier post let you know that my wife has cancer. When she started having symptoms and we got the diagnosis, everything changed. And I mean everything. It is amazing how this happened. She started having breathing problems. Suddenly cold air makes her cough uncontrollably. Which means if she goes outside she has to have a scarf over her mouth. Even opening the door to let the dog out means a coughing fit if she doesn’t hold her breath. And holding her breath is hard to do since she has breathing problems. She can’t work. So our income has been slashed in half. And the bills are starting to roll in. We have insurance but everything we have done so far and will do in the near future costs thousands of dollars. Chemo is expensive.

Ann has hundreds of nodules in her lungs. They impede her breathing. So basically doing anything is now a lot harder than it was. Ann has always been in pretty good shape. She had a physical job. Running up and down stairs, lift heavy stuff, monitoring a boiler, driving forklift, etc, etc. Now, talking too much can leave her winded. It’s devastating. Everything about her life has become different. She’s taking loads of medicine for coughing and pain. She is using a nebulizer. She has to write down everything she takes, every time to makes sure she doesn’t overdo any med. She can’t vacuum the carpet with getting winded. Fifty years ago she’d probably be dead in a couple months.

We have a great cancer center at our local hospital. The Virginia Piper cancer center is known around the nation for it’s top notch care. Our local affiliate is excellent with great people working there. So chemo starts next week. In the mean time we are getting used to our new life. And getting used to the idea that my wife will lose her hair. That’s a tough one. A woman’s hair is important to her. It’s part of her identity. My wife has beautiful red hair and it’s going to be awful for her to lose it. But we are at the mercy of this horrible disease. It is now running our lives. We’re grabbing hold of whatever we can control but control is an illusion. You never really have control of anything. You just never really notice until something like this happens.

But we’re doing okay. We’re in pretty good spirits and dealing with this the best we can. Ann is amazing for the resilience’s she has. Her ability to accept what’s happened and deal with it is a lesson for anyone. She makes me stronger. And I love her.

The “C” Word

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About a month ago my wife starting having some health problems. After many rounds of tests and biopsies we now know that my lovely wife Annie has cancer. The “C” word. It started in her uterus and has moved into her lungs. She will start on chemotherapy next week. This is devastating to us both and for our family and friends. But we have positive thoughts about it and we’ll see it through no matter what. I have started a Go Fund Me page. Here is the link. There is also a Caring Bridge page for those that want to keep up with her progress through this ordeal. Here is the link for that. Please consider donating if you can because our medical bills will be huge and our income has been cut in half with her not working. Thank you for following my blog these past four years and thanks in advance for your positive thoughts and prayers. Please feel free to reblog this so others will see it. Thank you!

The Tarot

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In my last post I mentioned that I was learning to read tarot cards. The older I get the more I want to do and learn new things. My spiritual side seems to be awakening more all the time and maybe that is in response to the current political farce we find ourselves in these days, and maybe for other yet to be revealed reasons. Whatever the reasons are, I’m sure I’ll come to know them eventually. So I’ve taken an interest in tarot reading. Now you may think, fortune telling? That does seem to be what a lot of people think when they hear, “tarot cards.” But after a few weeks of investigation and a lot of reading I have come to a different conclusion. Tarot has been used in fortune telling and whether or not it’s real is left up to you, but what I have found is different. Tarot has been portrayed in popular media; books and movies as being done by psychics, gypsies and witches for divination. Today’s modern tarot readers run the gamut from that, to people who use it to help others see their lives more clearly, to understand the hidden meaning of thoughts and feelings so they can better their lives. I would fall into the latter group.

So what are tarot cards? They are a deck of 78 cards with images on them. The modern idea of the tarot came about during the Renaissance period in Europe. Today’s most popular deck was developed by A.E. Waite and the images painted by Pamela Colman Smith in England and published in 1909. The history of how the images came to be chosen and the names of each card is long and I won’t go into it here. There are five suits including: Wands (Clubs), Cups (Hearts), Swords (Spades), and Pentacles or Coins (Diamonds), and Trumps. You notice the names in parentheses are the names of the four suits of everyday playing cards. Now you know where Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds got their names. Each of these four suits has Aces through Kings with an added Court card called the “Page” which comes before the Knight (Jack) and are called the Minor Arcana. The “Trump” suit has 22 cards called the Major Arcana. The images on the cards are all Renaissance style art with not a few of them having Christian symbolism. Each of the four suits, not including Trumps, coincides with one of the natural elements, Fire, Earth, Air and Water. A very simplified explanation which I hope sums it up.
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The tarot reader learns the images on the cards and what they mean. Intuition plays a big part in deciphering the meanings of the cards and what they mean for the Querant or questioner, the person who the reading is being done for. The Querant asks a question or asks for a “general reading” that they want answered. The cards are shuffled and spread out and the questioner picks the cards for the reading. The idea is that while concentrating on the question to be answered you will be drawn to the cards that have meaning for you. It is then the job of the reader to explain the meaning of the drawn cards to see if they make sense to you, answer the question you have or relate to your life. In a general reading the reader will help you better understand your past, the present and help you “divine” ways to make your future better. So, not so much fortune telling as it is a way for you to make your life a better place through your own efforts. The tarot reader helps you do that.
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Learning the cards has been fun so far. There is a lot of hidden symbolism in the images and with 78 cards there is a lot to learn. On some decks the artwork is beautiful. I have a few friends who may shudder when they read this post and that’s alright. I have heard of far stranger beliefs. And it’s not a belief. It’s just symbolism that’s deciphered into meaning. Astrology is another thing that has been used for divination and fortune telling. While I’ve not given that much thought, it is amazing to me how my much I am like the explanation of my Zodiac sign. I don’t have all the aspects of a Virgo but I do have many of them. So I’m having fun with this and if I lose interest well, no harm done. But I do think I’m going to collect tarot decks. There are many with beautiful artwork as I said. And many that have similar images and some different. I think this is going to be fun.

On Turning Sixty

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I’ve never given much thought to birthdays, but as I turned sixty on Wednesday, I feel compelled to write about it. Birthdays, like the calendar and the clock, are man made measurements of time. I’ve never felt that time, specifically the measurement of it, was all that important. Except maybe when you’re wondering what time the party starts. It may be fashionable for some to be late, but I like to be there when things get going. And of course you have to know what time to be at work, and what day. It won’t do to show up for work when you’re not supposed to be there or to show up several hours late. So in our society, time is important, whether I think so or not. Which is fine because it helps get things done.

Say you have a toothache and your dentist doesn’t care much about time. This could be problematic. Instead of showing up to do your extraction he’s on the golf course spending your fees on drinks. But birthdays specifically have never held much interest for me. I’ve never had a big party with invitations and guests. Never announced it in the papers. I was only a day younger the day before my birthday so what’s the big deal? When we celebrate our birthday, we’re celebrating something we can’t remember. Of course I was there for it, but being newly born, there are not a lot of memories from it. None, in fact. So why do we celebrate something we have no memory of? Wedding anniversaries are a great example of celebrating something we remember. Unless of course you had too much to drink and the whole day’s gone blank. Most of us who have gotten married remember it and celebrate the event but I think by and large that most of us don’t remember our birthday.

Turning sixty however seems to be some kind of milestone for me. When I was young, I never imagined being sixty. I thought it was terribly old. Gray hair and wrinkles in places you never had hair or wrinkles didn’t seem all that appealing. And yet here I am, sixty years old and thinking, I don’t feel sixty. When I was young I thought being sixty would feel old. I don’t feel old. Sure I’ve got arthritis, but that’s pain. I had pain when I was young. At sixteen I broke my back in a car accident so I know about pain. In my case, I don’t equate pain to being old. I’ve lived six decades, another measurement of time. I’ve learned a few things during that time as I expect I would. Don’t spit into the wind, don’t tug on Superman’s cape, that sort of thing. But really, this doesn’t feel anything like I thought it would when I was younger. Which is a good thing, I guess. I imagined it would be awful. So I’m happy to be surprised.

And so in celebration of my sixtieth birthday I’ve decided to get a tattoo. I’ve never done it before. Getting a tattoo that is. So this should be fun. I’ve been trying to decide for weeks now, what kind of tattoo I should have. A naked island girl is probably out, as well as dragons or Pokémon’s. I feel that I should get a tattoo that has some meaning for who I am. The prominent things that I am are a drummer and a writer. How to combine the two into one tattoo has not come to me yet. But it will, and I’ll show you the result in my next post.

Independence Day

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Ah yes, the 4th of July. Here we are once again celebrating our Independence Day, our freedom from the tyranny of the British Monarchy. Taxation without representation and all the other reasons our Founding Fathers had for becoming treasonous led us to our freedom. I’m sure the British King did not see himself as tyrannical and our founders did not see themselves as treasonous. Each had what they believed to be good reasons for fighting. And if it wasn’t for the French and the Native Americans, we probably would have lost the war. But we won, and here we are 240 years later celebrating that glorious past.

The tourists have come to my little slice of paradise. The lake cabins are full, the fireworks are in hand. The grills are smoking and the boats, jet skis, paddle boards, knee boards and water skis are all in use. There will be sunscreen and bug spray, hamburgers and hot dogs and American flags. There will be music and celebrating all across the country. For awhile we will forget our troubles as we gather with family and friends to eat, drink and be merry. Christmas in July. And why shouldn’t we? We need a break from the regular toils of our lives, a time to feel that our regular daily lives are worth something.

It is interesting to look at what we have accomplished in 240 years. We have become what some would call, the greatest nation on Earth. Are there problems? Why, yes there are. Many things need to be changed and fixed. To be the greatest nation on Earth we need to be the shining example of freedom. Of course many would say that we are much better off here than dozens of other countries, and they would be right. There are many who are oppressed by their governments or rebel groups trying to take over. There is much poverty, starvation and disease. Religious groups or those masquerading as religious are trying to control others. They seek power and wealth. And come to think of it, those things are happening here as well.

So by all means, celebrate the day if you choose. And in the coming months leading up to the election in November, remember what freedom means. Oppressing others is not freedom. If you have the right to marry, others should enjoy that same right. If you have the right to be safe in your communities, others must have the same right. If you have the right to make choices about your personal healthcare then others should have that too. If your skin color has never represented something negative in your life then others deserve the same. If you have the right to worship a God in the manor of your choosing then others must have the same right. This is freedom. Our founding fathers fought for the freedom of our country while denying that same freedom to the slaves that they owned, denying that freedom to the Native Americans who were here first. In 240 years we should have been able to improve on those things but it seems that a lot of people are still fighting for their freedom. Remember those people when you vote. If you love your freedom, they love freedom too.

Pain

power to the people
I’m sitting here at my computer today with my foot resting on a bottle of frozen water. I have Plantars Fasciitis in my right foot. I’ve been hobbling along for several weeks now, the pain coming and going, but yesterday was really tough. And this morning it was so sore and swollen that I couldn’t go to work. I hate to let down my boss and co-workers so I don’t miss much work but today, well it had to be. I need to stay off it and get the swelling down. Maybe I’ll mow my lawn this afternoon. A couple hours on the riding lawn mower won’t hurt my foot. But it’s supposed to be 90 degrees today so we’ll see. 80’s and 90’s are too hot for May. We should be having 60’s and 70’s for highs in May in Minnesota. Oh well.

Thinking about my foot and how the pain shoots up my leg while the rest of me feels pretty good is reminding me of how things are going in the U.S. today. Our country is in flux, no doubt about it. Having Fasciitis causes me to walk different. I’m favoring my right foot, trying not to put too much pressure on it. This in turn is causing me to use muscles differently than I normally do. So now I have leg and hip pain. I suppose you’re wondering how this relates to the country? Well, there are a lot of things going on that are causing people to think and act differently than they have, and it’s causing some pain.

The coming presidential election is defiantly causing pain throughout the country. People are arguing about the candidates, about who’s best and worst. About the political parties, how they have changed, and what they will accomplish. Should we get rid of them, should we have a three party system, Should we even have democracy, or do we still have democracy? We have so many things on our plates these days. Politicians, the NRA, Monsanto, GMO’s, the Koch brothers, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Syria, ISIS, LGBT people, Transgender people, pipelines, Native rights, Black Lives Matter, etc., etc. The list goes on and on. All of this is causing us pain in many forms and causing us to act in different ways than we normally do. We are dividing ourselves with all these issues.

Our constitution allows us many freedoms. But with over three hundred million people you are bound to have differing opinions about what those freedoms mean. It’s always been that way, right from the start. And it causes pain. Maybe past generations thought that things were getting to be too much. In the Sixties, when we were fighting for civil rights did people wonder how things could get much worse? I’m sure some thought it couldn’t. When white people first came here did the Native people wonder how things could get worse? Each generation has had its pain and some fought hard for change while others sat on the sidelines. Change is the thing that causes the most pain. People are reluctant to change.

So here we are in 2016. Change is called for from many different factions. Tolerance and acceptance vs intolerance and rejection. The battle lines are being drawn in the news headlines every day. Gun control, Transgender rights, the environment, climate change, refugees and more. We’re all taking sides on these arguments; even if you’re sitting on the sidelines, you’re still taking a side. The pain is growing and forcing us to act differently than we would like to. And it’s causing other pains. Where do we find our answers? People used to find comfort in their religious beliefs but statistics show that church membership is losing ground and more people are leaving religion behind than ever before. So now where do we look to find answers? Our government? Well I think most people know the answer to that question.

I’m getting control of the pain in my foot by staying off of it and using ice to reduce the inflammation, which makes my leg and hip feel better. So how do we reduce the inflammation in our country? How do we feel better? By accepting change? By informing ourselves about the issues and deciding which ones are really important and which ones we should not be so worried about? Understanding that we are all given the same freedoms from the constitution even though some have had to fight for these rights a lot harder than others because some people are so reluctant to change and so reluctant to give up control helps us to know what we’re fighting for. So what are we fighting for? Hopefully we are fighting for a better, more just America. Hopefully we are fighting for acceptance and freedom. Hopefully, we are fighting for our lives.

Music

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Music is important. Yesterday, me, my wife and our friend Bill played music at my mother in law’s 90th birthday party. Several people there told us how nice it was to have music at the party, even though most of it was in the background. If pressed, most people could not put their finger on why it was important. Some might say, it added something. I agree. It does add something. Try imagining watching a movie or a TV show without the music. Music sets a mood. Today’s modern cars all have radios and CD players. They used to have cassette and 8 track players before that. Smart phones all have music capability. The Sony Walkman was one of the best selling music players of all time. I would be willing to bet that there are few households in the U.S. that don’t have some kind of music playing device. The invention of the affordable household radio was one of the most important things that happened to modern society. Before the radio, music in the home came from people playing instruments and singing right there in the house. With the advent of the electric radio you could now hear music from across the country and across the globe. It brought the entire world into your living room.
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So the question is, why is music important? Music is emotional. It brings out our feelings in ways that we enjoy. Have you ever watched a couple dancing to a waltz? Or people dancing to Rock and Roll? They are thoroughly enjoying themselves. Watch a guitar players face as he or she cranks out a tune. Emotion pours out like water. Music is movement. Rhythm. Place your fingertips on your pulse. There is your rhythm. Everyone has music flowing through them.

We associate music with important events in our lives. Whenever I hear a Hank Williams song I remember my dad and how he loved the old country music. We remember the song that was played at our wedding. My mom plays the piano. Rock and Roll was an important part of my growing up. I loved music so much that I had to learn how to play it. My wife played trumpet in high school and she also plays piano and guitar and sings. Many of our friends are musicians. We are not content with just listening to music. We need to play. We need to feel the vibration of the instrument in our hands, against our bodies. We need to create. Music is important.
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When I was a teen I spent my money on records. The vinyl kind. The record sleeve usually had information about the band, called liner notes. I would read every word. I wanted to know who the musicians were, who wrote the music, who the recording engineer was, where it was recorded, everything. When biographies were written about my favorite musicians, I read the books. I spent my youth concentrating on Rock music but as I grew older I started listening to blues and jazz and classical music as well. Today I’m interested in what is called “World Music,” which is just about any ethnic music from other countries. I play hand percussion with drums of African, Arabic, and Irish origins.
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Everyone has a favorite type of music. Most of the time, emotions associated with music are good ones that people feel safe expressing. Today’s Rap and Hip Hop appeal to a great swath of young people just as Rock music appealed to the youth of the 60’s. My dad was a country music fan and my mom enjoyed people like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Music is important because it brings out emotions that we enjoy. It’s safe. And it’s a distraction from the hardships of life. Put a good record on, crank up the volume and you can forget about your troubles for a while. So get to it! Brighten up your life with some tunes.

Religious Freedom Laws

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The great state of Mississippi, with the Confederate flag as a part of its state flag is the latest state to try to pass a “Religious Freedom Law.” Here is a link to a Washington Post article about it. We have been hearing a lot about these kind of laws lately and since this one from ‘Ole Miss’ has been getting quite a bit of press, I thought I would put down some thoughts about it. First off, no one needs a “Religious Freedom Law.” No you don’t. Your religious freedom is written right into the Constitution. You know, that founding document that people are always harping about but never really reading. The very first amendment, ratified on December 15, 1791 says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…(sic).” There it is, big and bold for everyone to see. Nothing more is needed to say that you can have your religious faith. So what is it with these religious freedom laws? Well, I’m going to tell you.

Christians have for the most part, historically believed that homosexuality is forbidden by God. Leviticus 20:13 says that it is. Okay, great. You can have that belief. What does that mean for the Christian? It means don’t do it. Right? Makes sense to me. If I’m a Christian trying to live my life by the Bible then homosexuality is right out. Got it. Now, since our country has progressed into the 21st century and we are slowly leaving ancient beliefs and traditions behind our Supreme Court has seen fit to say that gay marriage is legal. If you read the Constitution you will find that it says that all people have equal protection under the law. This means that if you let some people get married you have to let all people get married. There is no Constitutional reason not to. The Supreme Court is wise. (Remember folks, these are my opinions) Well as you can imagine, and as most of us know, this pissed off a lot of Christians. Because, it seems that many of them are just not happy living their lives the way they want to, they want to make you live that way too. There, I said it!

Marriage is between “one man and one woman.” Genesis 2:24 proves it. Unfortunately it has been my experience that a lot of Christians will quote Bible verses at you because they believe that since you’re an Atheist or Agnostic or whatever you are you won’t know what they are talking about because you’ve never read the Bible. Believe me, I’ve read it. Cover to cover. Twice. And studied it for years. How do you think most Atheists become Atheist? They read to Bible. The unfortunate thing about quoting Bible verses to prove a point is that there are probably ten other verses that say just the opposite. The verse that says that marriage is between one man and one woman is proof of that. There are many other verses that talk about marriage and some of them tell about people having many wives (King David, Jesus’ ancestor) and many concubines. Many Christians I have known believe that it’s okay to do and say anything as long as it’s for the glory of God and you tell him you’re sorry afterward.

And now, about religious freedom laws. Okay they say, let the queers get married. We’ll just keep right on treating them like they’re less than human as we always have but we’ll make it legal. We’ll pass laws that say that our “deeply held religious beliefs” prevent us from treating them like they’re human. Deeply held religious beliefs. Let me tell you about that. Statistics show that the divorce rate in the U.S. is at roughly 50%. Also when asked, Americans claim to be roughly 70% Christians. Now I’m not a genius, but that translates into a lot of Christians getting divorced. And if memory serves, (that is getting sketchier by the day) Jesus never said one word about homosexuality but he had quite a bit to say about divorce. Marital unfaithfulness was the only reason Jesus gave for getting a divorce. And if we are really trying to live our lives by the Bible, adultery is rewarded by being stoned to death. So divorce is really unnecessary. So my “deeply held religious belief” is whatever I say it is at the moment to get me what I want. Not only that but if they really want to live by the Bible, Christians should be trying to pass laws to have gay people killed. Read Leviticus 20:13. It says that for homosexuality you must be put to death. Not “should” but “must.” So why are they fooling around with laws that say they can treat gay people less than human? Why not claim that their deeply held religious beliefs say that they can just kill them?

I’m trying to treat a serious situation with a little humor. I don’t advocate killing anyone. But this is how ridiculous these laws are. As Christians, Jesus told them to love their enemies. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is what they are called to do by their savior. I think they’re failing.

I Believe

american flag
Now that our country (U.S.A.) is embroiled in politics once again with this year’s presidential election, I thought I would make a political statement for my own purposes as well as to share with others. I know that their are many more things I could add to this list but I think these are the most prominent things I believe.

I believe that all people should be free from tyranny and oppression.

I believe that all people should be treated equally, to have equal rights in all matters.

I believe that all people should have equal access to education without the burden of crushing debt.

I believe that all people should have equal access to health care without the burden of crushing debt.

I believe that all people should be able to make their own decisions about their own health care.

I believe that all corporations and churches should be taxed in a fair and equal manor.

I believe that all people should be taxed in a fair and equal manor.

I believe that all working people should be able to make a living wage.

I believe that all people should be able to love and marry whomever they choose.

I believe that politicians should truly represent the people.

I believe that wars should be fought only for the protection of countries and people.

I believe that compassion and empathy should be nurtured in every child.

Big Blue Trains

When I was young I remember going to sleep with my bedroom window open during the summer months and listening to the sound of trains in the train yard of my town. The yard was only a few blocks from my house and it was easy to hear the whistles, the big diesel engines roaring and the cars moving and banging into one another. I was fascinated by trains. While I was supposed to be going to sleep I would think about them. I would wonder where they came from as they thundered into town and where they might go from there. Who was on those trains? The conductor, the engineer. Did they like trains as much as I did? Were they away from home a lot, seeing the wonders of the country? What did those trains carry? Who were they taking it to?

All these thoughts meandered through my head as I drifted off to sleep. I thought if I was thinking about trains when I fell asleep, maybe I would dream about them. Maybe I could be an engineer one day, putting the power to the wheels and having that train carry me away to some exotic place. I could learn about the places I went and tell folks about where I came from. I would give kids a ride on my train because after all, kids love trains.
Centercab MNS 1

What was really cool about the town I grew up in was that we had our own railroad. The Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway. The cars and engines were bright blue with a red diamond insignia emblazoned with the name. Northfield was a small town in those days, compared with Minneapolis and to have your own railroad was pretty special. At least I thought so. One of the really unique things about our railroad was some of the engines were called “center cab” engines. Most big train engines had a cab at one end and a big diesel engine. Ours had two diesels with a cab in the middle. These were made by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, (my mother’s maiden name) and they were somewhat rare. And they were massive, and powerful. The loudest thing you ever heard.
Caboose MNS2

So what brought on this bit of nostalgia? I was at my mom’s house last week shoveling out her driveway and I heard a train whistle. I stopped with a shovel full of snow and listened. That sound! A flood of memories came back all at once. I love trains! Now I know they throw millions of tons of crap into the air burning diesel fuel but I love them anyway. Whenever I went somewhere in the car with my folks I always hoped we had to wait for a train so I could watch it go by. I would try to read everything on the cars so I could figure out what was inside. Everything in the world would just stop while the train went by. Those big blue engines were the greatest thing man ever made.

In the near future my wife and I are going to buy my mom’s house. The house I grew up in. The house near the train yard. I can’t wait.