Tag Archives: Featured

Decisions, decisions

Son and Daughter in Law successfully bid on a new home last month. They close in early September. They matched an existing bid on the home, and the home owners picked Son and Dil. We are all most grateful.

I asked Son why he thought the owner picked them. He said he thought it was because they liked the bank they were working with better than the bank the other bidders were working with. I thought that was reasonable.

A couple of weeks ago Son and his wife took another look through the house, and ran into one of the owners. The owner, a very religious person, told him that they chose Son’s and his wife’s bid after concerted and serious prayer because they both had Old Testament names. How random, but again, we are grateful!

It is said that William Lyon Mackenzie King, an early 1900’s Prime Minister of Canada, used to make important government decisions by flipping open the Bible with his eyes closed and taking as an omen whatever verse his finger landed on. I find that alarming. I tend to use my head and my heart to make decisions, but mostly I decide using my heart. Sometimes, though, following my heart and instinct has led to disaster. It is only through a timely intervention by my head that I can proceed.

How do you make decisions? Tell of important decisions you or others have made that worked out or didn’t work out? Why or why not?

Overcoming Adversity

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?

Lending a Hand

On Saturday morning, Husband and I were in the garden preparing to remove our spent peas plants and the wooden frames we had erected for the peas to grow on, when the 5 year old plant scientist from next door asked if he could help us pull weeds. We said of course he could, so over he came, and began pulling pea vines out of the ground and manfully carrying armloads of them to the garbage bag Husband held open. Of course, any time we spied a viable pod we shelled it and gave him the peas to eat.

Our young friend loves to help us in the garden, and wants to know everything about the plants. He has shown an intense interest in gardening since we met him when he was 3. I explained that the white dust accumulating on our clothes was powdery mildew from the pea vines. He alerted me to the presence of flea beetles in the kohlrabi. He took great delight in the small green caterpillars he found where the pea roots had been. We then searched for butterflies in the Cone Flowers, and I reminded him that he and his sister were welcome to come over and pick the red currants from our bushes. We predict he will become a horticulturist at a major university.

Later in the day, his mother decided it was time to clean the small storage shed in their back yard, and his father had him pick up small twigs and branches from the front lawn. He was far less happy doing that than helping us. Husband commented that it is always more fun helping adults who aren’t your parents.

Who were the adults you liked to help when you were a child? What were your most disliked chores at home?

Food Opportunism

The peach man arrived in town last week. He is also the cherry man, and comes to town a couple of times a week in the summer selling Washington and Montana cherries and Washington peaches in the mall parking lot. His wares are hard to resist, and we bought a crate of lovely organic Washington peaches from him. We can’t find Washington peaches in the stores here.

Our vegetable garden is starting to produce a lot now, and we are scrambling to use up all that we harvest, either by eating now or freezing. Buying a crate of peaches was rather impulsive. The peaches ripened fast, so this weekend we had an additional scramble to use them up. I used 9 pounds in peach pie filling, which I froze. Husband looked up beet and peach salads. He has yet to make one, but the recipe he chose has champagne in it. I found a peach and pasta salad with arugula and goat cheese. I also made a peach quick bread. There is no rest for us in late July.

What do you find hard to resist buying? What is your favorite peach recipe? Made any impulse purchases lately?

Marizy Doats

The Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

It started out so well– no rain in the forecast and, while the swather always makes me nervous because I know I am on borrowed time, we were making good progress.

Me, and the dragonflies, and the barn swallows, and the butterflies, just being out in the fields. It wasn’t that hot Saturday morning and I got three fields, or about 9 1/2 acres cut out of my 25 acres of oats. Back out on Sunday afternoon and a good breeze and cut another field of about 5 acres and moved into the last field, about 10 acres. I made one round, and there was a clunk and forward momentum stopped. It stopped on the right wheel anyway, the left wheel kept going. The machine makes a lot of noises and most of them make me nervous. This machine, a John Deere model 800 swather is from the 70s. They’re built like a tank, have a Chrysler ‘Slant 6’ engine (with a reputation of being bullet-proof), and they run forever except when they don’t.

It’s a machine I use only for cutting oats. It cuts the standing oats and lays it in a row; a ‘Windrow’. It gets used a day or two per year. But there’s no one in the area with a swather, so I had to find my own about 6 years ago.

Took a while to diagnose what was going wrong and it turned out to be just a chain off. Well I’ve fixed that before and it’s kind of a process but it’s not bad. Except this one was jammed in there and it was bad. Kelly came to help when I called her for a ride home. I was hoping to be all done cutting by 8:00PM, it was 8 o’clock when we gave up and went home. A few things to do the next day so it was about 4 o’clock when I went back out to work on it again.

I was down to plan “G” or “H” by this point. And that also revealed a wheel bearing going bad. Well, that would explain why the chain had come off. We did finally get the chain out and installed again and we felt pretty good about ourselves.

I had to decide: can I finish cutting on this bad bearing or do I need to attempt another major repair out in the field and replace the bearing. I decided to take my chances, because that’s what farmers do. Except this time, I only went about 10 feet and the chain was off again. And again, it was 8 o’clock at night. We went home and I was back the next day with some more tools. I don’t know how many trips I made back home to get ‘Yet One More Tool’ for this repair. I even took the Oxy-acetylene torch up there to heat up the wheel hub. I’m a little nervous using a torch in the middle of a dry field of oats, but I wasn’t really cutting anything or making sparks, I was just heating up the wheel hub to try to get that off the axle so that the bearing can come off the axle. Nothing has been apart for 50 years I presume. I worked for a few hours and gave up and called the John Deere dealer. It felt as though a huge weight was lifted off my chest because now this isn’t my problem anymore.

The plan was to start combining that oats that was already cut on Tuesday afternoon, however, the guy with the truck needed his trucks to haul corn so he couldn’t make it. He said he would have a truck out here Wednesday morning. With no rain in the forecast for weeks, it didn’t seem like a problem. And then it sprinkled Monday morning, not enough to hurt anything, and it sprinkle Tuesday morning but not really enough to hurt anything and then we had a thunderstorm warning Tuesday night– where the heck did that come from? And I got about 2/10 of an inch of rain. So now we’re not combining on Wednesday either. Could have been worse, it was a pretty bad storm with some pretty gusty winds and heavy rains, but we just got the edge of it and then it built up south of us and I saw some hail damage and some corn flat on the ground from that.

It’s not ideal for oats to get rained on when it’s cut, but it’s not the end of the world, depending. I leave 4 to 6 inches of stubble for the oats to lay on so that it gets some air underneath. And that works pretty well. Light rains like this followed by some sunny days with a breeze and it will dry out again and can be combined with minimal loss. The heavier the rain, the more grain is shelled out on the ground. There have been a few years I had to go out with the hay rake and tip the windrows over. That knocks off a lot of grain. However, the people who take the straw like it because there’s less grain left in the straw if I have to handle it before they get it. Everyone has their own silver lining, don’t they?

So that’s where we are at the moment, hoping the mechanic will get the swather fixed, hoping it holds together for another 10 acres, well really, I want it to hold together for the next number of years.

I’m just about ready to open the one show in town and I’m just starting to work on another show. Remember the song about home improvement from the LGMS and at the end he says, “Now I can go out and mow the lawn!”? That’s kind of what I feel like.

But the beans are looking really good, they’re almost waist high, lots of flowers, lots of pods. 316 GDU’s above normal. The corn ears have already determined their length and girth and now they just need to fill out. If they’re stressed by weather, the tips won’t fill. Be interesting to see how it does this fall.

Often corn will have two ears on them, but only the one really develops completely.

The baby ducks arrived from California after a 2000 trip. These are some well-travelled ducks! I was worried about them making a trip but there were two little Dixie cups taped inside each box that presumably had some kind of food nutrient in it. Lost two of the 40. They were busy little ducks! The first day pretty much all they did was eat and drink.

 What’s your most critical tool that you use the least?


Unlike my mother, whose best friend is someone she has known since kindergarten, I don’t have any friends from childhood.  We moved many times before I was in high school, never in one place long enough to make any relationships last.  I had friends in high school but going away to college in Minnesota and basically never coming back stretched and broke those ties.  

I left college after two years and started my life (as I used to say) in Northfield, so I could be near my boyfriend.  My second job in Northfield was at the brand new Ole Piper Inn and that’s where I met Dee (names changed to protect the innocent).  Although the job only lasted about 10 months before the Inn closed down, it was long enough to cement our friendship.  When Dee moved to the Ole Store, I went with her: she was the manager and short-order cook, I was the baker and occasional waitress. 

Dee is originally from the southern part of the country and hates the cold weather.  Most mornings I would pick her up on the way to the store (I had a car by then) and even with a short ride, she would come out of her house bundled up as if she was expecting to trek across Antarctica.  She always said she was waiting for her youngest two kids (she has five) to graduate so she could flee the frozen tundra.  Of course she is still here 45 years later.

We had a great time at the Ole Store.  The Ole Store was part of a grocery store/butcher shop and sometimes we’d come in to find various chunks of meat in the restaurant fridge that needed to be used up.  Once the owner left moose meat.  We were joking around, trying to figure out what to do with it and I said (without thinking), “what about spaghetti and moose balls?”  Dee laughed so hard that her side hurt and she had to sit down.  Do this day, I can reduce her to a puddle just by saying “moose balls”.

When I married my wasband and moved to Milwaukee, Dee used to be startled into silence whenever he answered the phone, since he had never picked up the phone in my Northfield apartment.  Once he answered the phone, said nothing for a minute and then handed me the phone…. “It’s Dee.”   It was indeed, although she hadn’t identified herself.  He told me later than whenever there was silence, he knew it was her.  When we were first friends, she referred to wasband as the Greg-Person.  Later she shortened that to GP.

For many years Dee and her youngest son worked at the Renaissance Festival every fall and it was always fun to see them.  She did a wonderful costume for Child with lots of petticoats and ribbons.  And or course, she knew everybody so we always got good food at a great discount.  I made the wedding cake for this son when he got married.

Her family has a timeshare in Florida that they visit every summer and Dee’s favorite way to travel is to fill up the van with kids and grandkids and drive straight through.  When YA was younger, she was included a couple of times. 

Dee reminds me a lot of my mother.  She is extraordinarily caring and she “collects” people.  Once you fall into her orbit, her gravity holds you there.  For example, one of her daughters was married for a few years and had a step-daughter.  When the daughter split up with the husband, the step-daughter came to live with Dee.  Now that step-daughter has kids of her own and they all happily refer to Dee as Grandma.  Dee’s life is filled with stories like this.  I am one of her collect-tees and she has always been there for me.

She’s going through a very rough time right now with a diagnosis that will most likely shorten her life so I’ve been thinking about our long friendship and how much I treasure her.

Who is the friend you’ve had the longest?


I love having “aha” moments and I’ve had three recently, all from reading.

#1.  99% Invisible City by Roman Mars details a lot of the infrastructure that surrounds us in the urban environment, much of which we don’t notice and definitely take for granted.  In discussing wireless towers, he writes: “As commercial cellular towers began to sprout up in the 1970s, diagrams depicting their coverage areas looked like blobby plant or animal cells pressed up against one another – hence the name ‘cell phones’.”   I had never stopped to think about why we say “cell phones” so this was an amazing discovery for me.  I stopped reading for a moment and reveled in the fun of it.

#2.  This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan.  This is the second book of Pollan’s that features discussion of hallucinogenics.  In writing about mescaline, he alludes to the song Mellow Yellow by Donavan and that the meaning of the song is about smoking banana skins, believed in the 60s to be hallucinogenic.  I can sing along to Mellow Yellow but never ever thought about the lyrics and what they might mean.  (Turns out Pollan was actually wrong – Donavan was writing about an electric vibrator that he had seen an ad for – the equipment was called the “mellow yellow”.)

#3.  A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor.  This is an older travel book; the author walked from England to Constantinople in the days before WWII.  After completely overdoing it in Munich at the Hofbrauhaus, he woke up with a “katzenjammer”.  Now I remember the old comic the Katzenjammer Kids, but had no idea that katzenjammer actually means hangover.  I’m not sure how “cat” and “distress” came to mean hangover, but it’s fascinating to know this tidbit!

Can’t wait to see what the next few books reveal!

Any “aha” moments for you recently?

Buy Me Some Peanuts & Cracker Jacks

You all know I am not a big sports fan.  In fact, I think I’ve probably only been to 10 baseball games in my life.  Maybe 15.  I do enjoy the games when I’m there, but like Monday night, I come away with more questions than answers.

    • Why so many huddles? Visiting team did this six times.  Six!
    • Why don’t the outfielders get to huddle?  Don’t they feel left out?
    • Why is Hansel Robles called Caballo Blanco?
    • How many times can you actually hit a foul before you’re out? Seems like way more for some than others.
    • What’s with all the fidgeting on the pitcher’s mound and on the plate?
    • Why don’t relief pitchers get much of a chance? Four relief pitchers for home team, each only pitched 1 inning each.  Visiting team sent in one relief – but at least he didn’t mess around on the pitcher’s mound and just threw the ball!
    • Why do much spitting?
    • Why do they need to replace the bases halfway through the game?
    • If the game is tied at the bottom of the 9th and the bases are full when you come to bat, why do you keep swinging? Why not just hunker down and let the pitcher walk you?  Especially if you’re not all that tall?
    • Why do people go wild when they see themselves on the big screen?
    • Why, after paying so much to get in and then paying a boatload more for food, drink and merchandise galore, do so many people depart before the game is over?

Obviously none of these are burning, social-issue kinds of questions (well, maybe the spitting), but clearly not everything makes sense to me.  However, questions aside YA and I had a great time even when it went into overtime.

What is the meaning of life?


Overheard at the Grocery Store

Standing in the canned vegetable aisle (wondering why nobody has turnips right now, either fresh or canned).

Woman #1:  Just feeling blah all the time.

Woman #2:  Are you drinking enough?

Woman #1:  Water?

Woman #2:  Liquor.

I couldn’t help myself; I laughed out loud.  Then they laughed too.

Any good belly laughs lately?

Summer Camps

Today’s post comes to us from Steve, who is at the extreme left above, petting the dog.

The pattern of sending kids off to summer camp is much stronger in the East than in the Midwest, but summer camps seem increasingly popular here. Kids from cities like New York or Boston might be shipped out to spend the whole summer in one or more camps. The Midwestern pattern is more likely to let kids live at home, perhaps attending one or more camps in the summer.

Camps used to be very traditional and outdoorsy, much like Boy Scout camps everywhere. Kids would play outdoors, swim, do crafts and have bonfire picnics. Modern summer camps are increasingly educational, perhaps teaching computer skills or a foreign language. My daughter has fond memories of Artward Bound, a camp that encouraged kids to engage with the visual arts. Alas, it no longer exists.

My first camp was Camp Matigwa, a Boy Scout operation. I was at an awkward age, shy and reclusive. They taught me to make a lanyard, which later made the Billy Collins poem all the funnier. We were supposed to swim once a day, but the water was cold and I was delighted to learn I could spend that hour at the camp’s “canteen” eating Baby Ruth bars instead.

I wore shorts on the day we took our first hike. I contacted some stinging nettle, which hurt like liquid fire until one of the counselors found some jewel weed, a plant whose sap canceled the nettle’s poison. The obvious lesson was that we should learn all about plants. I now suspect that our counselors staged the whole thing. They obviously knew where the nettle and the jewel weed grew, so I was the dupe they maneuvered to blunder into the nettles so they could showcase their expertise.

My favorite camp experience came in the summer of 1956 when I spent two delightful weeks riding horses at the Larry-Jo Dude Ranch near Boone, Iowa. We camped out, sang around a bonfire, groomed horses and took two trail rides each day. On my faithful horse, Margarita, I twice won the water relay event at our end-of-camp rodeo.

But the big event from that summer was when we played hide-and-seek on horseback. Pardon me for telling a story I’ve told before. We rode south of the ranch to a patch of woods. I had been assigned to ride Diablo, a large white mare that was the fastest horse in camp. But Diablo was lame that afternoon. When we divided up to go hide ourselves, I was stuck riding the largest, whitest, slowest horse in camp. I dismounted and led Diablo into a little gully where we could hide under some overhanging shrubs.

It was so exciting my heart still races when I remember it. Horses thundered all over the woods, kids screaming and tagging each other. I knew enough about psychology to know that time passes slowly when you are hiding like that, so I kept squelching the impulse to come out. Then the noises stopped. After what seemed an eternity, I ventured out of the gully. The woods were empty. Everyone had gone back to the ranch house, obviously unaware they were one buckaroo short.

As a courtesy to my lame horse, I held Diablo’s reins and walked her for half an hour back to the ranch. When I got to a hill overlooking camp, I saw three cop cars near the corral, their red and blue gumball lights madly spinning. And I understood: the town’s cops had been called in to find me.

The camp’s managers were delighted to find me perfectly alive and unharmed, but they infuriated me over and over. They kept calling me “the lost camper.” That was outlandish. I knew exactly where I was every minute of that day. They saw me as the lost camper although I saw myself as the hide-and-seek champion of all time.

Do you have any summer camp memories to share?