A Stairway to The Past

If you have ever taken an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) off road, where there is little to no markings, you may already know; it can be more than just a bumpy ride. You can discover a lot of interesting artifacts. Thanks to a friend of mine and neighboring landowners, I experienced quite a journey.

Yesterday, I was invited to join a small group on an adventure. When the ATVs turned off the well-traveled road onto a worn-out path, I stepped into the past, to a time when horse and buggies ruled this land. The tracks were once a country road in Iowa. In some places, erosion cut deep into the path.

Each of the vehicles rolled slowly over the boulders and small ravines. As we meandered through the woods, I was tossed about, and my seatbelt pulled at my waist. Looking at the scenery, it became obvious why this road had been abandoned. On one side lay a steep hill and on the other a babbling trout stream.

A few miles into the woods, we stopped to take a closer look. At my right, stood a cement stair leading nowhere. But in my mind’s eye, it led into a tall rectangular room with a potbelly stove on the far end. This schoolhouse had been built in 1910. Listening carefully, I could almost hear these cement steps telling me their story:

I watched as a young girl grabbed the shovel leaning against the stoop. She began pushing the snow that had drifted and blocked the door to the schoolhouse. Mary was a young girl, not much older than the oldest students that attended this school.

Arriving an hour earlier than her students was part of Mary’s job as teacher. It took quite a few trips out to the wood pile, to fetch enough firewood to keep the children warm throughout the school day. Under her breath, she thanked the old farmer that lived down the road. He had stacked a pile of firewood for the school just up the hill. Entering the school carrying a heavy load of wood, her breath became more noticeable in the stillness of the room.

Mary tried to blow lightly and evenly on the tiny flame that licked at the twigs in the potbelly stove. As a first-year teacher, patience with building a fire, was something she had not yet learned. She began stacking the firebox until it was nearly full. Shutting the door, she peeked through its isinglass window at the flame. Noticing its glow was dying out, she quickly opened the door to the potbelly stove and smoke billowed into the schoolhouse. It took perseverance, but she finally got the fire roaring. After the better part of an hour she removed her hat, mittens, and coat.

When her students arrived, the little dusting of snow that had blown in through the cracks in the walls had begun to melt. Mary led all eighteen of her students in saying “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”.  Reading was the first subject of the day. Divided into eight small groups, one child for each, began to read aloud. Soon the room was filled with voices.

The thick, rough dimensional timbers that spanned overhead, creaked from the warmth. A tiny red area began to grow on the glossy black stovepipe flue at the joint that turned to exit the schoolhouse. A loud rumbling sound like that of a freight train came barreling down the pipe. But no one hears it coming. Within seconds, the wall around the flue caught fire.

As smoke began filling the room, Mary yelled for the children to get out. Stooping to take a breath of fresh air, she began crawling across the floor. But her long dress kept getting in the way. Gathering the material around her waist, she managed to scoot over to the door. Reaching up, she unlatched the door and ushered her students outside.

After making sure no one was left inside; she ran to join the other children on the hill. Standing in the snow, they looked back to see the old schoolhouse burn to the ground.

Staring at the old, blackened cement stairs, I murmured to myself, “Could that be what happened to the old schoolhouse?”. Just then, one of the ATVs started up. As we rolled out of the woods and onto a farm field the sun glistened its last rays on the treetops.

The trinket I found in this experience that may help in my creative writing was knowing that it’s important to stay on well-marked roads and byways when I want to get to where I am going, but when offered an opportunity to get off the beaten path, take it! For that’s where life becomes interesting.

Trail Ride Video

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You Do WHAT to Make a Cup of Coffee?

Across the bedroom the clock glared at me with a bright red 6:08 as I peeked out from under the covers. It was Saturday. However, that really didn’t matter. Sleeping late had never been my thing. The best part of the day for me has always been watching the sunrise. I heard my husband’s soft greeting, “Good morning” as I shuffled to the kitchen in my fluffy slippers. Opening the jar of coffee beans, I breathed in the rich, intoxicating aroma of freshly roasted beans. And with my eyes closed, I smiled.

It was hard to believe that only yesterday, those dark, supple coffee beans were green seeds. You see, coffee is not really a bean at all. It is a seed that comes from a fruit that looks very much like a cranberry. Opening the sack to grab a handful of these green seeds, I could smell the earthy rich soil from the family plantation in Nicaragua where they were grown.

You would never consider eating these green seed. They are so hard you would break a tooth trying to bite one open. It is amazing how anyone ever figured out that the seed from this inedible red fruit, when roasted, was quite delicious. I have also wondered the same thing about tapioca. The root is poisonous. Yet, someone discovered if you spit out the root and eat only the little beads found inside, called tapioca, it is rather tasty. And there is the pufferfish that is extremely dangerous to eat if not cooked exactly right. Fortunately, I have never been so hungry that I would eat or drink ANYTHING distasteful, especially if there was a chance it would make me sick. I have also had the luxury of dabbling in the kitchen and experimenting with new ways to prepare food and drink just the way I like it.

Within days of roasting these little coffee gems, they are ground and infused into the water to make espresso. Adding a soft swirl of frothed milk on top of my cup, it becomes Latté. After all that, I finally get a chance to sit down beside the fireplace and enjoy this rich, bittersweet, creamy cup of coffee. And as I gaze through the windows the sun begins to rise over the valley. It sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, all that goodness does not come without a price. Not only does it take a lot of fiddling around to get to that first sip of coffee, but cleanup is rather time-consuming. The messy roasting process is not something you would ever do in your kitchen. There is a great deal of smoke that billows out of the roaster. The skin of the seed flakes off and the hot air blows chaff around the roasting area. But roasting is only half of the mess. It is amazing how those coffee grounds manage to get in every single kitchen cabinet.

You might ask, “Why don’t you just make a cup of coffee with a Keurig Machine? It takes only a few seconds to go from an empty cup to a full flavored hot delicious cup of coffee and there is NO mess!”. I guess, it is the same reason my husband and I grind organic wheat berries to make our own bread. It is the reason my husband cuts firewood out of the woods and I split, haul, and stack it to heat our home. It is the reason we cook most of our meals at home. It’s because even when our projects don’t work out the way we planned, if we learned something, it was never a waste of time.

I discovered there was more treasure in not just reading about these things. Taking the time to create them makes life more meaningful and enjoyable.

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Unintentional Wrecking Ball

Do you ever feel like you are on the wrong path but changing is too scary? You continue walking deeper and deeper into a foreign place.  You are not quite sure where you are or where you will come out in the end. The path starts feeling more like a treadmill and before you can stop it, you are racing through life. Not able to get off or stop the busyness of it all. Unexpectedly, things begin to come together for you and life is looking good! And so, you run faster and produce more. Then suddenly, in the middle of your life, the path ends, and you are left standing on the side of the road with no way home.

This poem is about staying positive when a wrecking ball destroys all that you have built and worked for in life.

The trinket I found in this little poem, is to take life slowly and lay one brick at a time.  Think of our actions as paving stones. And if we are lucky, a few of our bricks might be part of that road to help the next generation.

 

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Give Your Head a Holiday

One way I have found to chase away the blahs when things seem a bit too political, and catastrophic, is to give my head a holiday.

We have all heard, it’s healthy to take a rest once in a while, from the stress of everyday life. However, with so many places closed lately, it is difficult to just jump in the car and get away. And so, little vacations in our minds are more important than ever. Here is a new way I have found to give myself a break.

For the last few days, instead of stewing over bad news, I have begun to fill my head with silly sounding words. And then using those words, I created a new twist to an old well-known tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. It was super fun and it got me out of my slump. Try it sometime….

A Twist to The Emperor’s New Clothes

This is a tongue twister of a tale for those that like to whittle words.

Once upon a time there lived a deceitful fella. His name was Tom Campanella. He had no talent. He had no thingamajigs. And he seldom had any gigs.

 He finagled funds from hardworking folk that really were quite broke! But it was the wealthy he preferred to bamboozle. Leaving their bank accounts with a little less moola. 

Arriving in town before a rooster’s crow, Tom waisted no time, getting to the ruler’s chateau. While driving along, he made plans of tomfoolery, to lift some loot and the magistrate’s jewelry. 

He introduced himself to the royal Highness, “I’m Tom the tailor.” And “Yes, I am the finest!” The King was impressed to be told, “I’ve got the finest silk and satin fabrics to behold.” 

Tom boasted to the king, “My nifty machine will make a pair of pantaloons, before the strike of noon.” When in fact those basting stitches, were really sewing bogus britches. 

The Emperor would squint and groan– but saw nothing being sewn. “Where are the wears that you weave?” The Emperor said, “I do not even see a sleeve.” 

Tom then sputtered more malarkey to the doubting monarchy, “Only a nincompoop or a numbskull cannot see this robe is AWFULLY BEAUTIFUL!” 

Pretending the outfit was adorned with royal studs. Tom hoodwinked the Highness to doff the old duds. The King thought to himself, “I won’t be a fuddy-dud. My royal blood be laud.”  

Holding a thing of nothing, the tailor announced loudly, “It’s Done!” And the emperor put it on proudly.” Changing his clothes, the king stood and posed. Unaware, his hind-end was exposed.  

The Emperor concealed his dismay, as the seamstress began to say. “I dare anyone to dispute how dapper you look in your new suit.”  

“Do I really look that great?” The King began to contemplate. But he soon took Tom’s bait. “Let us not lollygag, for your kingdom doth await.”  

The parade route was packed with excited folks waiting to see their Emperor’s new suit and cloak. But instead of delight they were dumbfounded to see the Emperor’s bare buttocks and belly. 

“What in tarnation has become of our leader?” The ladies and lads began to get weepy. Then a brave little ragamuffin stopped the whole farse, by giving his blanket to cover the royal’s ars.  

The Emperor stood proud, until he knew that there was no satin shroud. But he did not go berserk nor have a hissy-fit. Instead he hailed a taxicab and went home lickety-split.   

No one ever knew what happened to the fella, who called himself Tom Campanella. I guess, with the threat of a battle he decided to quickly skedaddle.  

The message in this story is not simply to be wary of all the untrustworthy Tom, Dick or Harry’s. But rather to see what depicts royalty, is the way they handle adversity.

A story by Hans Christian Andersen. Rewritten by Leanne M Benson.

The trinket I found was laughter. This piece reminded me not to take myself too seriously and I was able to truly laugh.  Laughing out loud is good for us.  Laughing until it hurts is a great workout for our stomachs and it creates lots of little endorphins that flood our bodies and help us feel happier. So, find things that make you laugh. And laugh!

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OMGarlic!

This is turning out to be a fantastic year for most gardens! Is it because most of us have more time to spend pulling weeds, pruning small plants, and watering parched soil? Is it because of the weather? Whatever the reason, garlic was lush and plentiful in my garden.

It took me two hours of digging, pulling, and gathering to harvest all the bulbs. While carrying the last three of nine baskets up the hill and into the shed, the thought hit me, “Maybe waiting for one of the hottest most humid days of the summer to collect these bulbs was not such a good idea.”

The funny part of this story is that for three years I had been planting garlic in my garden. But never saw any scapes, seedpods, or even as much as a blade of garlic. This garden patch alongside the woodlands had become more like a test site for attracting wildlife than a habitat for growing vegetables.

We strung an electric fence. But the mice, gophers, and baby rabbits ran under it. Often, a deer would break the wire, leaving the garden open for other deer and raccoons. The life of tender seedlings on this plot of land is often cut short. The few mature plants that manage to weather the storms, hang on to fruit riddled with teeth marks. By late summer there is easier pickings at the grocery store and overgrown weeds are allowed to choke off the remaining harvest. Due mainly to neglect, this garden had never amounted to anything.

While trying to find ways to stop the wildlife from taking all the crops, I ran across an article professing that garlic deters animals. But that’s not all! Did you know, this herb has antibacterial qualities, helps relieve flu symptoms, and gives us more stamina? It’s also good brain food and helps control weight. Garlic is good for our hearts, lungs, muscles, and gums. It helps lower cholesterol, reduces bone loss, and may aid in preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s. I guess you could say, garlic helps us live longer, healthier lives. And it is delicious! Well, I did not need any more convincing for these potent little bulbs to become one of the most important plants in my garden.

It is hard to know what finally kept the animals out. But after years of a garden full of nothing, this summer everything seems to be growing better. Did the garlic keep the animals from robbing the garden of her fruit and vegetables? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, “Oh my, this garden had a bumper crop of garlic!”

There were over a thousand garlic bulbs that needed to be dried, smoked, pickled, or re-planted. Pondering what to do with my plethora of garlic, a Garrison Keillor story about an overabundance of zucchini, came to mind. His narrative tells about the people on Lake Woebegone and how they left zucchini on the front seat of every car that was not locked. And so, I decided to do the same thing with my extra bulbs. I figured, if zucchini can endure the hot sun on the front seat of a car, so can garlic.

Here is a trinket to stash in your back pocket: When times are good and things are abundant, enjoy sharing what you have with others. Always put some of your profits away for hard times. And it takes a long time to get the smell of garlic out of a vehicle!

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Was It Anybody’s Fault?

I learned the hard way there are many stressful times and minor incidents that can happen while building a house. It’s hard on a marriage. If we had kept track of our mishaps and offenses, it would have looked like a basketball game scoreboard.

For years, my husband Eric and I worked to keep our company in business while we built our house. We had little time for eating, sleeping, and even less time for socializing or relaxation. Fortunately, we never encountered any major accidents, stitches, or emergency medical situations. At one point we finally decided to “divide and conquer”. We felt it would be safer and more efficient if he would keep our company in business and I would work on the house.

Had I known just how physically difficult and mentally challenging it was going to be, I could not have done it! However, there were many lessons I learned from building our house: like how to use a drill, a sander, a chop saw, a square, a level, and the difference between a crescent wrench and pliers. I learned how much there is behind a wall that we often take for granted. At one point, I worked alongside an old stonemason picking barn rock half my weight. It was an intense workout. Thank goodness there was no need to go to the gym—there was no time.

Most days Eric returned home after working tired yet always found energy to work on the house. It was a hot summer evening when he decided to hang a ceiling fan. A small groove on the ridge beam was needed for the electrical cord before the fan would sit level on the beam. He shimmied up twenty feet to the top of the scaffolding. Listening to the router buzz madly above me, I heard a thud and my husband squirm. I knew something was wrong. The router had fallen out of its holder and into his lap. This sharp powerful tool flailed madly just inches from his leg as the blade bit at the air. I froze trying to think of how I was going to get him down and to the emergency room with a  gaping, bloody hole in his leg. But he managed to turn the router off before it did any damage. Later I realized, it would have been much more helpful had I simply run over and unplugged the router from the wall.

It was getting dark, and there was just one more piece of lumber Eric wanted to scab into a wall before we stopped for the night. I had no more than stated the nail gun was pointed at his hand and the gun went off. He turned around and held up his finger. I seldom swear. But when I saw the nail through his finger, just one choice word came out of my mouth — three times! Quietly, I removed the nail with a pliers, soaked his finger, bandaged it, and we went to bed. –Nothing more was said.

I learned not to say things that sounded judgmental. Because those same words could come back to haunt me. For instance, when I was working alone cutting sheetrock, the knife jumped over the straightedge and across my thumb. Even though it was obvious, I had been going too fast and was not being deliberate, when my husband returned home, he didn’t say that. He only asked, “Are you all right?” and “Does it need stitches?”

After my thumb healed, I began the job of sanding and finishing two hundred and twenty roughhewn logs each sixteen feet long. When they were dry, each would be cut to a precise length and angle, brought inside, and nailed into place. Standing on the scaffolding, my husband ran the tape measure across the wall. “One hundred twenty-eight and seven eighths inches.” He called out. I cut the log and hauled it inside, only to hear, “It’s still a sliver too long.” Sometimes after numerous cuts, we would hold a log into place only to find, it was too short!

Whose fault was it? It’s easy enough to find out who made each one of these mistakes.

I learned a lot from building this house but the most important thing I learned was how to build strong relationships. I have also gained a better understanding for stamina and perseverance. So, when I find myself, stuck in the muck of regret and mire of blame, I have learned to never stop trying! When I felt like throwing the sander across the floor, I would close my eyes, take a deep breath, and then drop regret and blame right there on the floor! –When I learned to stop negative thoughts from smothering me, it gave me more energy to figure out where to go from here.

Here is the trinket I found from building this house. There are two games in life. One is called “Pride and Ego” where we can win by pointing out the most faults and flaws of others. The other game is called “Sharing,” where problems are just steppingstones for everyone. However, we cannot win at both games!

Looking through the lens of experience, Harley saw that there are always going to be those times when you get a hard knock. However, this hit didn’t keep him down, it made him stronger and wiser.

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A Miracle on a Gravel Road

We have all seen those interesting cell phone videos capturing those remarkable times when a child gets out of bed in the middle of the night to snuggle up with their puppy. Maybe you have seen the photo of a bear trying to climb into a home or the photo of an alligator standing in the middle of a living room. Thanks to personal cameras we are seeing things we have never seen before. Yet I seldom feel the need to carry a phone when taking a walk. A phone is not extremely useful on our country gravel road where cell coverage is weak. However, during a recent early morning walk, I learned a new way to think about cameras.

The last few days had been hot. I decided to walk while the sun’s rays were cool and inviting. My footsteps were purposeful, but my mind wandered. Sparkling dewdrops that faded from the corn stocks almost went unnoticed as a tiny spotted fawn appeared on the crest of the hill in front of me. Trying not to frighten this little fella, I slowed my stride down to a stop. But it seemed the fawn’s curiosity won over any feelings of apprehension. Leaping through the corn stocks, he stopped a few feet in front of me.

Slowly turning my head, I scanned the scenery for an angry doe. It did not take but a moment to become captivated by this adorable little fawn. He had sleek legs, enormous eyes, and lashes that would put Maybelline out of business. That is when I wished that I had brought my camera. This would have been an awesome picture to share with others. We stood together for quite some time before he seemed to lose interest. Tilting his head, he looked up at me, then slowly began to walk into the long grass on the other side of the road.

The rest of the way home, I had an extra bounce in my step as I sang the words to a Sarah McLachlan’s song. “It’s just another ordinary miracle today.” This fawn was not ordinary nor was it something any of us would have missed. But how often had I pass right by ordinary miracles without giving them a second thought?

The trinket I found that morning is that sometimes it is best not to have a camera or a phone. Realizing those times I spent behind the camera lens had filtered out details and emotions that will never be mine. But on that morning, I was able to soak up every facet and feeling. I learned sometimes trivial real-life occurrences can far outweigh any grandiose virtual reality. After all, –it’s the mundane everyday routines that bring “ordinary” miracles.

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A Bit Like Herding Cats

Watching YouTube videos had begun to wear on me. And reading about health issues was depressing. I set my phone down, looked out the window, and began to reminisce about all the places I had traveled. Smiling, I thought back a few years to one of the shortest trips I have ever taken. It was a long weekend cruise in the Bahamas with our four adult children. This trip turned out to be one of my favorites.

The idea for this family time all started when my stepdaughter asked what we were going to do to celebrate our company’s 30th anniversary. We thought of many ideas, but nothing seemed to work. A friend suggested the idea of taking a trip with all our children to celebrate. I was not sold on the idea.

Travel is hard!  And realistically, things do not always run smoothly with siblings and especially in a blended family. But I soon put aside worries of sibling issues and began to embrace thoughts of a family trip when I realized this opportunity to get just the six of us together would never happen again. Later that year, we would eagerly welcome a daughter-in-law into the family and a year later a son-in-law. And just recently we have been blessed with a granddaughter.

Ideas of traveling for a week or more to extravagant places with all our children began to excite me more and more before we started to work on rearranging six adult’s schedules. Merging our free times together became a bit like herding cats. Emails flew back and forth as my husband and I worked on booking the cruise, hotel accommodations, airline tickets, and shuttles for all the different schedules. This flurry of emails continued for weeks. As much as I tried to shake negative thoughts away, chills of uncertainty crept through me. I remember telling myself several times, “This trip’s never going to happen.”

But somehow, we managed to find a long weekend where everyone was available. The cruise was wonderful. We spent every minute together! We all went to dinner together, we listened to each other’s stories, laughed at each other’s jokes, and saw a late show. We spent an entire day at the beach, shopped the markets, and enjoyed showing each other our purchases. During this long weekend trip to the Bahamas, none of them ever excluded anyone. It seemed, that for the first time, the “his” and the “mine”, had blended into OUR family.

Our children made this trip incredibly special. My husband and I had received the biggest gift they could have ever given us. I am so grateful for that time we had with them. This trip taught me to treasure every moment with loved ones–no matter how short the celebration or how insignificant the day may seem at the time!

The trinket I discovered that may help me when writing for children, is that when we flood our minds with thoughts of how something could have been better, we drown out precious moments.

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