It’s been a rich couple of months here on the Trail, esp. with the return of some lapsed or very occasional babooners – Krista, mig (for madeline island girl, if memory serves), Crow Girl (where did that “handle” come from?), Occasional Caroline recently, and Lisa of Mpls. popped in Tuesday… did I miss anyone?
There have been a lot of changes here in the past few years, and there are no doubt major life events that we have missed in each other’s lives. There has also been much sadness following the deaths of two of our tribe – Edith, aka ljb/little jailbird in 2019, and our Minnesota Storyteller Steve this past Thanksgiving.
It occurred to me that perhaps we should have a catch-up day, where we tell the bare bones of what’s happened to/for us in the past few years. We could have a gossip/catch-up day – tell us if you’ve moved, changed jobs, where the kids are now..
For instance, Husband and I moved from Robbinsdale to Winona in 2016. By calling myself Barbara in Rivertown I was able to keep my BiR acronym… I’ll reveal more in comments below.
Last week I was the recipient of the fabulous Baboon support that others in our little community have experienced over the years. After hearing me talk (whine?) about my front porch project, tim sent me a message. If I rented the sandblaster that he linked me to, would I like it if he came over to help? I didn’t have to think about that very hard. After two+ years of scraping layers of paint off by hand, making some real headway seemed like a good choice.
The first hiccup was when I went to pick up the equipment. While the sandblaster and the hoses fit into my little car, the air compressor that makes the sandblaster go did not. I called tim from the rental lot and he volunteered to pick it up before coming to my house that day. And, of course, this meant that at the end of the project, he got to return all the equipment as well.
The second hiccup was finding out that we couldn’t just scrape up the sand on the floor and re-use it. Paint chips clogged the nozzle. We ended up straining the sand through my metal sieve into a big bucket, then re-using it. I’m sure the manufacturer didn’t want to hear that.
We pretty quickly settled into a routine. I swept and sieved while tim blasted. We had to improvise a few times; we used the kitty tower to get the sandblaster high enough to reach to top parts of the walls and we used my Mickey Mouse cake tester to unclog the nozzle a few times. The cake tester and the sieve survived the ordeal, the kitty tower did not. (The new one arrives next week).
Let me tell you that sandblasting in a small, enclosed porch (even with the windows and front door open) is like working in h-e-double hockey sticks. We didn’t get finished the first afternoon and on the second afternoon, we both had upgraded our headgear and eyewear. In fact, we both had shiny goggles the second day and I’m sure we looked like large bugs. Both days, we hosed off in the backyard. I can’t speak for tim, but the showers after each day for me were epic. The first day I wasn’t sure I would ever get the sand and grit out of my scalp.
We also re-visited our personality differences. While working, tim, being a big picture person, could not stop thinking of the next steps after the sandblasting was done. Some new plaster/mud, plywood on the floor. I could see his point but I, being a non-big picture person, didn’t want to think about it right then. I just wanted the h-e-double hockey sticks to be finished. And, of course, tim is correct – there is plenty more to do. In fact YA has added to the chore list by doing some wood fill on the window panes. And I broke two windows doing some clean up so now there will be some new glass and glazing. And most of the other windows need re-glazing as well.
But even with all the work left, I feel completely renewed by how much we got done in two afternoons with a sandblaster. And even if you don’t think I need to tell you, I will anyway. There is no way on the planet that I could have accomplished this by myself.
So my hat is off to tim. He is a miracle-worker and a life-saver.
Early in this blog’s history, we had a contributor who wrote exceedingly well and who was excited about life and his role in the world. His name is Aaron. Aaron was a reader and regular commentator in those early years.
This week, Dale Connelly, the founder of this blog, contacted me and Sherrilee about posting some writing by Aaron’s sister, Jessica. Dale commented:
“Aaron has multiple disabilities and gets around primarily in a powered wheelchair. You may have seen him at some of the State Fair shows back in the day. His family is organizing a Zoom event next Saturday, (August 7) to premiere a short (55 minute) documentary about Aaron and the difficult decisions his family faced when he was born. The event is also a fundraiser to gather money to replace Aaron’s accessible van, his primary form of transportation.”
We thought this was a great topic for a post. I have communicated with both Aaron and his sister, and this is how Aaron describes himself:
Aaron Westendorp is a musician, online variety music show host, and a self-advocate in Hopkins, Minnesota, who uses a communication device. Aaron has a brain stem lesion which causes spastic quadriparesis, a partial paralysis from the eyes down. He still has a independent life and a fun personality.
The following is a heartfelt statement from his sister, Jessica Westendorp:
I could have written a different speech every day this year, that’s how many different feelings I have about Aaron and growing up with Aaron. I have humorous, light, jovial speeches, and dark, scary, cynical speeches that underscore Aaron’s evil side. Just kidding. Aaron doesn’t really have an evil side. That Aaron is a bright light, most of you already know. He has always been a calm being, open and waiting for whatever the next step might be. The only time I can remember Aaron loosing his cool was for a brief period in the 5th grade when math and after school studies pushed him to desperation and low lows. He got angry. In that time there was a moment when Aaron looked at me and sighed and it was if he said to me, “so…this is how it is”. And then, he was fine again, calm, collected, open and ready to keep going.
Aaron is disabled. I know this is news to you. It’s hard to see the disability when there is so much AARON to see. But, in case you didn’t get the memo, he is special, differently abled, challenged, a short bus super kid. Other words that were used on him were Duke, Duker, King of Kids, and because there is only so much wonder and excitement I can allow to follow him around, he is also a bratty kid brother.
Aaron’s disability was large. It was another person in the family always taking all of the resources and lightness out of anything. Trips to anywhere were filled with, “but are there curb cutouts? Can he fit through the door? Are there steps inside? Will we need to ask for special help maneuvering or accessing the bathroom?” And then, the weight of carrying all emergency equipment and healthcare needs with him. The backpack needed to be packed and repacked. He needed help with shoes and jacket. He needed to be loaded into the van and tied down. Then Jill and i would translate his finger spelling, “why don’t we go on more family outings?”
I feel heavy and angry re-living that. It was not glamorous. but, the humor helps. One time, when we were all tired and in a long stint of hard times, Mom and Aaron, and Jill went to Burlington Coat Factory. They got out of the van after parking in the handicapped spot. As my mom walked away from the van someone snarked about her use of the handicapped parking spot. Used to public perception often being askew there would usually be a kind reference to my brother or ignoring the problem. On this day my mom said, in her voice we all know as the “mom is not in a great place voice”, “WE ARE HANDICAPPED!”. “we”. “are”. “handicapped”. We are not, and yet, we are and the clashing perceptions combined with the fatigue of it all was the hilarity. And then, there were the helpers. The nurses and PCAs were there ALL THE TIME. Whether they wanted to be or not, they became part of the fabric of our family. They may remember us as a job. I remember them being in my home, sharing a space, and I remember processing my life in front of them. Like any family members some were super duper cool and others, we’ll say, clashed with our brand of special. But, they were there. They helped support the constant needs. Food prep. treatments, mobility, translation. My favorite of these people were those that understood the need to keep the light, the humor, and the irony alive, even and especially when I could not find these.
This all must have been so different for my parents. They had a childhood, a million years before and now they had the weight of this adulthood that they finessed and juggled and braved with faces of intensity and love. But for Jill, Aaron, and I this was our childhood. The pieces of it leave deep impressions. The shiny medical equipment, the smells of medicine, the short quick pace of a nurse who is tasked all become your normal. I will always be a force of quiet, deep love, forever broken by the immensity of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly struggles that are inexplicable in this speech. I am full of gratitude and am privileged to have learned so much, but due to broken perceptions and realities faced and viewed often, I will also carry a force of anger, always, a deep understanding of disparity and injustice.
Thank you for showing up. Thank you for loving the little brother i worked hard to push and challenge. Thank you for loving this guy who I prayed for, who was surrounded by the light of many prayers. Thank you for knowing that there is no clear narrative here, only people with real needs, hopes, and aspirations all in real time.
Here is the hyperlink to the video regarding Aaron.
Who do you know who has overcome adversity? How did they do it? How have you overcome adversity?
I feel like a horse that has been let out of the barn after a long winter.
I had my first dinner party last night. Not really a dinner party but my bff and her husband came over to grill. (The small gathering that YA let me hold for her MBA graduation didn’t count as a real party since she placed so many restrictions on me.) For this dinner, all the stops were let out; even by my standards, I got a little carried away.
You’re asking – how could she get carried away with grilling? We had decided on Boca Burgers and corn. Then YA said she didn’t really like Boca Burgers, could I get her Grillers (another veggie burger)? And could we please have potato salad and coleslaw. Then at the last minute I decided I really wanted veggie brats. My girlfriend showed up with bread salad. As we sat down for dinner, this is what else we had on the table:
To say this was on the table is a little misleading. We actually pulled up the garden table for some of the overflow. We had dessert as well: blender lemon pie with blueberry compote and whipped cream.
It was wonderful but as we were cleaning up, we had A LOT of leftovers. I just couldn’t help myself – after 18 months of only cooking for YA and myself, I just couldn’t stop. I had actually thought about sauerkraut and Mexican corn as well, but ran out of time. And we had initially thought we would have chips and salsa as an appetizer, but as I was chopping and prepping I realized we didn’t need to fill up on chips before dinner with everything I was preparing. Just as well, as everybody was stuffed by the end of the evening!
(Sorry picture is fuzzy – I don’t have the original….)
In the past ten days our yard has gone from the scourge of the neighborhood to the envy of everyone. I don’t chop too much down in the fall on the theory that the old stalks and leaves hold onto water and protect the spring buds. (I don’t know if this is actually true, but I cling to it… especially since I have trouble getting motivated for autumn gardening.) YA and I have gotten everything cleaned up, spread about a ton of mulch (well, it feels that way, anyway) and turned our eyesore into a lovely garden. The fact that the daffodils and tulips are in bloom on the boulevard doesn’t hurt!
As we’ve been working, I been looking at some of the plants that I’ve been lucky to receive from baboons on the trail. Lovely hostas in the backyard from PJ, raspberry canes from Linda, a massive hosta display on the front boulevard from our tim and, of course, my lovely Prairie Smoke from LJB. It’s made me think that although our baboon troop was initially brought together by music, we’ve also bonded over gardening. Helping out PJ with her garden after the accident, the great chainsaw gathering at Steve’s, filling in Anna’s spot with various plants, Ben bringing us bales and poo, Jim providing seeds and loads of gardening talk over the years.
As always, I’m grateful for all the fabulous friendship over music, books and gardening!
Last week, Husband sent, via overnight UPS transport, four bratwurst buns that he had baked, to his brother-in-law, John, in Omro, Wisconsin. This was expensive.
Husband and John both grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, which touts itself as “The Bratwurst Capital of the World “. Bratwurst is certainly a staple in Sheboygan, and there are competing opinions regarding which butcher shop makes the best and what is the best way to prepare them. It is a sacred food there.. There is a flourishing industry in shipping Sheboygan brats to far flung Sheboygan expats.
True Sheboyganites are as concerned about the buns as they are about the sausages. Buns don’t ship as well as sausages. Husband likens the search for the perfect brat bun to finding the best bagel. The perfect brat bun is light and crusty with a moist interior and a slightly malty flavor, traditionally baked on a bed of cornmeal.
Husband and John have a mutually supportive rivalry in attempting to bake the best brat buns at home. They have found recipes on-line from defunct Wisconsin bakeries, and try to adapt them for home use. Husband is an accomplished baker. John not so much. My sister-in-law has had her fill of bakery experiments. (Note: In Sheboygan, baked goods are referred to as “bakery”).
The quest continues. . .
What are you trying to perfect? What is your favorite culinary accomplishment?
About twenty years ago I signed up to be an election judge. I had switched from a full time schedule to working just three days a week, so I regularly had Tuesdays off. It seemed like a good time to step forward and help my community make its voice heard.
You meet all kinds of people in the polling place. I think the most memorable voter I ever met was a woman who called me over to discuss her voting dilemma, I think in 2004. She said she was having trouble deciding who to cast her presidential vote for, because she didn’t really like any of the candidates. They all fell short of the standards she felt candidates should meet. “The people I would really like to see on the ballot are Paul Wellstone, Jesus, and Princess Diana,” she explained. I gently advised her that while those were not going to be realistic possibilities, since all three of them were dead, and only one of them had even been a U.S. citizen, she was quite free to write in any name she chose.
The other memorable thing about the woman was that she had large plastic bags on both hands, secured at the wrists by rubber bands. She was ahead of her time.
I will be staying home this election day, trying to keep myself safe, after voting early. I’ll miss watching this exercise of political power by ordinary citizens. Of all the unsettling changes that COVID-19 has brought, this may be the most unsettling for me. So far.
Any disruptions, major or minor, that have arisen for you lately due to COVID-19? (Or for any other reason, for that matter?)
I am chagrind to report that my state is number one in the country for per capita Covid cases. I remember how important it was in high school and college for our teams and ensembles to be “number one.” I don’t want to be number one any more.
I want to be last right now. Didn’t someone a long time ago say that “the first will be last and the last will be first?”
What are you the best at? What are you the worst at?
Last week Chris mentioned that we were closing in on 10,000 followers. If the rate that someone new clicks on Follow keeps up, we will hit that number this weekend. As I’m typing this on Friday night, we are at 9,996. This is for just the Trail – if you look at our WordPress account, it also adds in Blevins and Kitchen Congress, so the number looks a little higher than 10K.
I’m not big on social media optics, so I’m not sure what this really says about us. Obviously from looking at the stats, we don’t have thousands of folks looking at the Trail every day; we average between 150 and 200 views most days. And of course, I find it fascinating that not everybody is always looking at the same post as we are. For example, yesterday 2 people viewed Why I Don’t Eat the Coleslaw from August 2015 and The Magnolia Steakhouse from November 2010, among other pages.
Although the overwhelming number of readers hale from the U.S., we have a worldwide viewership. Yesterday we also had folks from Canada, Australia, Finland, Kenya, Cameroon, Germany, Nigeria, France, India, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Georgia and Benin visit.
We are all over the board in terms of comments… some days we are chattier than others. I used to worry that we didn’t have more folks commenting, but then I think about all the other blogs that I read on a regular basis. They have way more followers than we do, but fewer comments. I also don’t see the kind of community that we have in the comment section of most blogs. And I can’t speak for anybody else, but I almost never comment on any blog except ours (unless there is a possible prize in it for me).
So all in all, as we’ve hit our decade anniversary and 10K followers, I’m still feeling like we’re just a small fish in a big pond and I like it that way. Hope the Trail is meeting your needs these days.
Not sure about a question for this data – did you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams, that we’d come this far?
I’ve been picking raspberries every afternoon for the past week. About a cup each time; the first day they hardly made it into the house. Now I have a few in the freezer and few in the fridge. Whipped some cream yesterday. Yum-O! Picking raspberries always makes me think about my baboon community. I’ve told the story before of how Linda brought me two raspberry canes on the day we gathered at PJs to help out with her spring gardening while she was recuperating. I had always thought having raspberries would be fun, but left on my own, I doubt I would have ever done anything about it without Linda’s encouragement. The canes have now taken over the south garden with vigor and we really enjoy the berries.
As much as I’m grateful for the raspberries, I’m more grateful for this community. Spring gardening at PJs, Museum of Russian Art, Rock Bend, Liberty Custard, spring bales and chicken poo, Swedish American Institute, Jim Ed’s memorial service, St. Agnes Bakery, chainsaw party at Steve’s, LJB’s memorial and, of course, Blevin’s book Club. I’m sure I’m missing some. I love that we’ve built friendships and support systems in our ten+ years together.
Last week when I ran Dale’s initial Trail offering, I ran his question… but the question I really wanted to ask was:
What fond memories to you have of our ten years on the Trail?