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Lisa, our Senior Pastor, is taking a three month sabbatical this summer to spend time with her young family, to finish the editing of a book about women’s struggles as clergy, and to begin another book on the same topic. Our congregation is paying her salary during this time. We appreciate our pastors and we want to nurture them. Local pastors and members of the congregation are going to give sermons and help out.

I always thought the concept of a sabbatical was wonderful. To spend time studying, resting, and getting ready for the next phase of life seems so positive. Husband says if he could have had a year sabbatical, he would gone to Halifax, Nova Scotia to study psychology at Dalhousie University, live in residence, and hang out with colleagues. I would spend time in Germany to learn the language in my maternal grandfather’s village in northern Germany, and study my family history. (I could justify that as a study of the intergenerational transmission of family mental health issues as influenced by economics, politics, and immigration.)

If you could have a paid for sabbatical year, where would you go and what would you study? How would you rest and rejuvenate? 

Food Pantry

I wrote this post with the help of Husband, who is devoted volunteer at our local food pantry. He works mainly on Thursday afternoons selecting meat for various sizes of families. He tries to “mix it up” so people get a nice variety of the frozen ground and whole pieces of meat. He also goes once a month to help unload the big truck with the large quantities of food that comes from a regional food distribution site in Fargo.

He mentioned the other day that they received a large shipment of of smoked turkey necks. He also stated they currently have vast quantities of smoked Chinese oysters, various dried beans, frozen pork knuckles, hocks, and necks, overgrown winter squashes, Mac and Cheese, eggs (including blue eggs), hot Jimmie Dean sausage, frozen haddock and pollock, Chinese noodles, canned tomato sauce, canned vegetables, soup, canned fruit, half and half, cereals, snacks, dried lentils and garbanzos, Lil’ Smokies, pancakes mix, Mexican and Chinese condiments, surplus diet soda, etc.

The volunteers load up the carts. Patrons can’t order what they want. This made me wonder what a person who has very few resources would do with a can of Chinese oysters , frozen pork necks, and a pound of dried garbanzo beans. Husband got the go ahead from the Pantry Board to talk to our local County Extension Home Economist about nutrition information for patrons. I also asked him if the needy folks even know how to cook dried beans or even have the right cookware to prepare a meal from scratch. He and another volunteer are going to come up with tasty recipes using the Food Pantry provisions to help make this food go farther and be palatable.

What would you do with smoked turkey necks and canned Chinese oysters ? What are the essential cooking pots that are necessary for basic cooking? What are the basic recipes that people should know to prepare?

I Just Slew a Dragon

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

A friend and I used to discuss troublesome issues in our lives. We called them our “dragons.” Dragons are problems can only be dispatched with exceptional effort and resolve.

Few problems qualify as dragons, which is good. Most of us handle routine problems with routine efficiency.  Alas, some problems are a lot nastier or complicated than others.  Some of us have anxieties that prevent us from addressing certain issues forthrightly. Sometimes problems become entangled with side issues. Throw some procrastination into the mix, and what could have been a baby problem might grow up and begin belching enough fire to qualify as a dragon.

Examples? You don’t gain street cred as a dragon killer for beating a head cold, but beating cancer will earn you respect with anyone. Overcoming any addiction would surely count. The friend referenced in my opening paragraph slew a dangerous dragon when she escaped a marriage that was destroying her soul. From what I’ve read, the nastiest dragon Barack Obama faced down in his two terms as president might have been nicotine.

My most recent dragon should have been no big deal. Last September my computer emitted an electronic scream, seized and died. I had expected that. Computers typically remain healthy and functional for five to ten years. My fifteen-year-old computer was clearly living on borrowed time. I had prepared by backing my data files, although I could not back my applications.

I bought a replacement computer loaded with Microsoft’s Office, a choice forced on me because that is the only way I could get Word, the word processing app I’ve used for thirty-four years. Office costs $70. That is probably reasonable, although it irked me to pay for a suite of ten programs just to get the one program I use. But Microsoft enjoys something like a total monopoly on basic Windows business software.

Microsoft inserts a feature in the Office software that causes it to shut down unless users can prove that they have paid for it. To validate my purchase, I peeled back a piece of tape that covered the confirmation code. The tape ripped the cardboard beneath it, destroying the middle six numbers of a code of about twenty numbers. As it was designed to do, my software soon froze rock solid. I could not create new documents nor could I edit the many files already on my hard drive. Every time I turned on my computer, a niggling message from Microsoft reminded me I had not validated the purchase. As if I could forget!

Worse, there was no way I could contact Microsoft. The company recently eliminated its customer service office. Microsoft now directs customers with problems to some internet data banks that supposedly answer all questions. Of course, the data banks say nothing about what to do when the company’s own security tape destroys a validation number. I learned there are many businesses claiming they can help customers struggling with Microsoft apps. Those businesses didn’t want to talk to me until I shared my contact information or subscribed to their services. Then I’d learn again that my particular problem could not be resolved by anyone outside Microsoft. And nobody inside Microsoft would speak to me.

Over a span of seven months I spent many wretched hours dialing numbers and writing email pleas for help. The shop that sold the computer to me clucked sympathetically but told me to take my complaints to Microsoft. Members of a group called “the Microsoft community” kept telling me it would be easy to fix this issue, but none of them could provide a phone number that worked. While I could have purchased the software again for another $70, the rank injustice of that was more than I could bear.

I finally learned about a set of business applications called LibreOffice, the top-rated free alternative to Office. It is open source software, free to everyone. But people who put their faith in free software often get burned, for “free” often just means that the true price is hidden. I worried that this software would not allow me to edit all the documents I’ve created over thirty-four years of writing with Word. And—silly, silly me—I kept hoping I could find one friendly person in Microsoft who would thaw my frozen software. So I dithered for weeks.

Last week I took a deep breath and downloaded LibreOffice. It loaded like a dream. LibreOffice’s word processor, “Writer,” is friendly and intuitive. Ironically, I like it quite a bit better than Word. With it I can edit all my old Word documents, and I used the new software to write this post.

That particular dragon is dead, kaput and forever out of my life. Other dragons await my attention, malodorous tendrils of smoke curling up out their nostrils. I did not triumph over Microsoft, as that smug firm never even knew it had a conflict with me. Still, I celebrate the way this all ended. When we slay a dragon, the most significant accomplishment might be that we, however briefly, have triumphed over our personal limitations.

Any dragons in your past that you wouldn’t mind mentioning?

Lost and found

Steve’s lost skillet put in mind the losing and finding of things. Husband and I often wonder where our cat has got to inside the house. She never goes outside, and we are always careful about not leaving the doors open, but we both have this irrational fear of her being lost outside when she isn’t immediately visible. All I have to do to get her to come is to roll up a piece of paper into a ball. The minute she hears that crinkle of paper, no matter where she is, she comes running, expecting me to toss it for an exciting game of fetch and chase.

I don’t remember much of this, but when I was about four, I left my security blanket draped on a post on the side of the road on Minnesota’s North Shore. I must have been ready to give it up, as I reportedly shrugged off its loss. Prior to this, my mother could only wash it when I was asleep, because I wouldn’t be parted with it.

These days, the things we lose are most often things that are right in front of us as we look for them. We also have so many accumulated recipes compiled in cook books and ring binders that it is hard to find the exact ones we want at times.

What is your strategy for finding lost objects? What have you lost lately? Did you find it?

Signs of stress

I can always tell my level of work stress. All I have to do is look at my fingernails and cuticles. The more stress, the more chewed up are my nails and nail beds.

I have been an inveterate nail chewer since early childhood. I decided when I was very young that I hated my mother clipping my nails, and I started chewing them off. It is sort of like our cats, who hate nail trims (Don’t squeeze my paws!) I think it might have been a sensory issue for me, too, because I am only comfortable with the shortest of fingernails and toe nails.

I was appaled last week to read about the woman with the world’s longest nails. She finally got them cut when their collective length was something like 28 feet. I can’t imagine how a person could even function.

I haven’t bought nail polish for decades. I have no interest in stopping my nail chewing, but I am interested in stress reduction. I have three more years to get through for my job, and I need to be a good role model for positive coping.

How can you tell you are under stress. What is stressing you these days? What do you do to de-stress and relax?

Farming Day 1 Part 1

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Well not exactly day one. But the first day in the field doing spring work so it’s day one from that point of view. 

Spent the morning doing my usual stuff on the computer: emails, newspaper, moms banking, our banking. A few phone calls, etc. before I’m finally out the door mid-morning. 

I needed to take a couple of tires to get fixed and the one on the grain drill I already had loose. Also had a tire on the four wheeler with a slow leak and that’s easy to put a floor jack under the back end and use the impact wrench and four nuts and that comes right off.

Got both tires in the back of the truck, loaded up all three dogs, and headed for Millville Minnesota. We’ve been taking tires to Appel service in Millville for as long as I can remember. It’s about half an hour away and you won’t find a nicer, family owned business, anywhere. Millville is a town of about 180 people and so far down in the valley you can’t get any cell phone reception. There are a couple of bars, couple of restaurants, one Church, a cemetery where I have several relatives, a gun shop, and in a better year I would’ve dropped off the tires and then gone to get lunch at the Lucky Seven Café. 

When I got to Appels, most of the crew was at lunch so I said I’d come back. They are really good at fixing your tires while you wait but I may as well keep moving. Back up the road a few miles to pick up my Oat seed. It was such a nice day, pretty amazing weather for this time of the year, and we worry that it’s so dry; all the farmers are going hard. mostly applying anhydrous ammonia- Those white tanks you see in the fields. I probably saw a dozen farmers doing that. There was a couple guys ahead of me at Meyer’s Seeds and we stood outside and talked while Meyer’s rounded up seed and bring it out on the forklift. I petted some cats (The camera snap on the phone scared them away) and I got a nice metal ‘stick’ used for checking seed depth. Always wanted one of those.

After I got my 54 bags of oats, I strapped that down in the truck, and then back to Millville. As I pulled up, they were just taking the four-wheeler tire in and the drill tire was done. There’s something pretty interesting about watching a guy change tires. The machinery involved and just the whole process is really pretty fascinating. The guy ahead of me was watching his tires get fixed, I watched them fix my tire, while at the same time trying not to get in the way or look TOO interested. (It’s kinda loud and hard to talk or ask questions).

Just a tube needed in the four-wheeler tire. The grain drill tire is kind of special. It’s about 3 feet tall, and completely smooth except it has two heavy ridges on each edge. That way, going through the field, it makes a real clear mark that’s easy to follow on the next round of the field. I had ordered two tires: they had one in stock, the second hasn’t shown up yet. And that’s OK, this one was worse than the other. $262 for the tire. $13 labor to mount both. The only thing missing was the bottle of grape pop from the café. 

The dogs love riding in the truck. And they don’t miss a chance if they can help it. Although Humphrey lays in the back and looks completely uninterested but he does spend a little time looking out the windows. Bailey bounces back-and-forth between the front seat and the backseat and she spends half the trip with her nose in my face. Allie, the queen of them all will eventually setting in some place where the others don’t walk all over her at least for the moment.

Once we are back on our driveway, I let them all out to run home. About halfway down the driveway there was a squirrel about 75 yards away from the trees and making a beeline back to the trees. The dogs were a good 200 yards away. Missed it by “that“ much. 

Do you like car rides?

Got any stories about tires? 

Birthday Bash

Our 5 year old gardening buddy has a birthday next week, and asked his parents for a Gunsmoke themed party. He likes dressing up like a cowboy, and I assume his parents let him watch Gunsmoke reruns. His parents agreed, and his dad found a bunch of wooden pallets he is transforming into a boardwalk. There is a large sign the says Long Branch Saloon. I can hardly wait to see if anyone dresses up like Miss Kitty.

Our daughter also has a birthday in a couple of weeks. She always has anxiety over birthdays, I think stemming from anticipation over childhood parties. We never went so far as to recreate a film set, but she had some nice parties. She stated she has a number of birthday events scheduled by friends in the next two weeks. She is celebrating personally by having a different kind of hot dog a day for her birthday week. We never knew she even liked hot dogs.

My childhood parties were pretty tame, but I will never forget my heartbreak on my 8th birthday when my parents told me that we were moving to a new house in a different part of town, meaning I wouldn’t be next door to my best friend anymore.

What are some of your more memorable birthday parties? What events or celebrations do you dread? What would you wear to a Gunsmoke themed party? Plan your next birthday bash.


YA and I went to Easter dinner at a neighbor/friend’s home.  Everybody had their Fauci ouchie and three of the other 4 folks could be said to be “in our bubble”.  The fourth person was a close friend of the friend/neighbor.  I liked her right away and was interested in the mosaic art that she does.

The topic of my Ukrainian eggs came up and she asked a lot of questions about how they are made.  At one point she said “oh, that would be a fun thing to learn to do”.  So I offered to teach her; she was so excited I thought she might fall off her chair.  She asked if I could teach her twin sister as well – they apparently like to do these kinds of things together.  In for a penny, in for a pound – I agreed.

Since I’m actually putting the egg table up this weekend to start my Solstice eggs (yea, I know, just a tad early), I thought this would be a good time for lessons.  Instead of a traditionally colored pysanky (white, yellow, green, red, black) I’m going to design a beginner egg that will have various shades of blue.  The reason is simple. My Solstice egg this year will be using the blues and I don’t want to mix a bunch of different non-blue colors just for this lesson.  The process is exactly the same so I won’t be short-changing them.

I’ve taught Ukrainian eggs before – to two different friends and to YA when she was little  – all of these lessons were a long time ago.  Even though I’ve taught before, I find myself a little more nervous about this time.  Maybe because I will teaching two at a time?  Maybe because I know she is an artist herself?  I expect my jitters will fade away quickly once we get going.  At least I hope so… jitters and hot wax on eggs don’t go together well!

Have you ever taught anything?  What do you think you’d be good at teaching?

Scandal-No Place to Hide

We live in a predominantly Roman Catholic community. We are a town of only 23,000 people, yet we have four Catholic churches, two Catholic elementary schools, a Catholic Middle School, and a Catholic High School.

You can imagine the gasps when, last week, the Catholic School Board announced that Father H, the principal of the Middle School and High School had been permanently relieved of his duties, along with an unmarried, female Elementary Principal and athletic director. They had apparently been consuming alcohol in a school vehicle on their way to a basketball tournament in Minot in March, and then tried to hide what they had done. There is also much scuttlebutt about other misbehavior, but that didn’t make the newspaper. Oh, the scandal!

This is no place to misbehave, because everyone knows everybody else, people notice things, and there really is nowhere to hide. The two Principals should just have worn shirts that said “Shoot me now” instead of trying to be sneaky. Moreover, if you get drunk and disorderly in Minot, 230 miles away, even that news will make it back here. This is a small State despite the vast distances between towns.

What are some scandals you remember from your home town or where you live now? 


I have been frustrated the past several months over the unavailability of Italian Parmesan cheese in our town. Wisconsin Parmesan is readily available, but the authentic stuff from Italy is nowhere to be found. (Isn’t that the most pathetic and self-absorbed sentence you have read lately?) I confess a sort of snobbery about cheese, but I blame it on living with someone from Wisconsin. Even he admits true Italian Parmesan is the best.

I got sort of impulsive a week ago and found this fancy-shmancy source for real Parmesan, and I ordered a 10 lb. slab. It arrived last week. I was surprised at just how much cheese this was. I warned our children and our daughter’s best friend that they would be receiving large chunks of Parmesan. It is truly wonderful, and nothing like the stuff from Wisconsin. I cut the slab into wedges, sealed them in our food sealer, and figured out the most expedient way to ship it. I have freezer packs and insulated wrappers for it, and will send it off on Friday.

I am an only child, and I always resented it when people said I must be spoiled. Well, I suppose that getting this cheese is pretty self-indulgent, but at least I am sharing it.

When have you been spoiled? How do you spoil yourself?  Who do you like to spoil?  What is your favorite cheese?