Coldest Minnesota Weather in Decades

I am hit in the face by a blast of cold air as I step out of the elevator and into the fifth level of the parking ramp. The weatherman has predicted temperatures of -15 to -20 degrees for this evening with 30 mile per hour winds. I am hoping to make it home from work without a problem. My 2016 Subaru Forester protests as I turn the key but pops right off. The dashboard thermometer shines out a chilly -14. Every part of my trusty chariot creaks and cracks with stiffness but soon we are rolling homeward. The air is saturated with tiny particles of blowing snow making for a hazy backdrop for the street lights.

            As I approach the stop sign at the top of the hill behind the hospital, I step on the brake as is considered appropriate to do at a stop sign. The brake pedal is stiff and refuses to be depressed. The car keeps creeping forward. Oh no! I press harder on the pedal as a sense of helplessness washes over me. I then let up and press again. This time the brake pedal responds. What was that all about? I ask myself. A memory from this past Sunday comes back to me. My hubby was driving on the way to church. As he braked for a stop sign, he had declared that the brakes didn’t work.

            “Well, I haven’t had any problem with them,” I had declared brushing off his concerns. He must have been mistaken, I had thought. Now, I understood what had happened to him.

            I pump the brakes a few times. They seem to be working again. This is not a night that I want to be stranded beside the road requiring walking but then moving forward is not the problem, it is only the stopping. At least, there are not many people on the road, so I make the decision to continue my journey towards home. The wind driven snow hurtles across the road making for whiteout conditions in spots. This makes travel slow and tedious. The brakes seem to now be working properly. Soon I am making a left turn onto main street in Elgin and then a right to stop at the post office. Well, maybe, I will stop at the post office as it is happening again. I apply the brakes. They are stiff and do not respond. Is this just because it is so cold outside? I have no idea but this is getting scary. I need my car tomorrow, but I am going to have to call the garage.  I can’t drive like this. It is a lot like playing Russian roulette, never being sure which stop will become the deadly one.

            We are greeted the next morning by frost coating the windows and creeping around the edges of the doors of the house. The little snowman on the wall is bundled up and declares that it is -28 degrees. Hugh beautiful sun dogs grace the sky. I have no desire to leave the house, but I have a tax appointment at 10 a.m. and I need to drop my car off at the garage afterward. My hubby has decided to not even try to go to work so he can at least pick me up.

            That little Subaru groans as it does a slow turn of the engine but then sputters to life. She always starts. I test the brakes gingerly a few times as I drive away but all seems well. My trip to town for the completion of taxes is without incident and I continue on from there to the repair shop in our little town that sports our address. As I roll up to the garage, it happens again. My foot firmly stomped on the brake is having no effect. Horrified, I have visions of crashing through the closed garage door right into the service bay. Hello. I’m here. Now wouldn’t that be embarrassing. Thankfully, my anticipation of the possibility of such an event has caused me to come in slower than I normally would, and we roll to a stop just shy of the door.

            “Just drive it in,” instructs the repairman, “and we will check it out quick.”

            We turn off the car while he tears off the engine cover and peers at the various contraptions under there. He then steps around and drops into the car. A turn of the key producing a cranking of the engine, but it refuses to start. After several tries, the battery has given up and a turn of the key produces only a clicking sound. OK, we are going from bad to worse. I wasn’t having any problem starting it.

            “All I did was take the cover off the engine,” he insists.

            “Your hubby is here,” adds his brother.

            Yes, it is time for me to walk away. There is not going to be a car for me to drive by tomorrow.

            “Should we drive to the shop while we are out and moving and try to start your other pickup, so I have a vehicle to drive to work tomorrow?” I question Hubby.

            “It hasn’t been run for a week,” he counters, “but now is probably better than at 5 o’clock this evening.

            My hubby’s shop is not heated and the cold seeps into our clothes and bites our fingers and toes. The truck does not think it should have to wake up today in the cold either. It makes a gallant effort at cranking sluggishly five or six times and then it is done. Jumping it is not an option due to its forward position in the shop parking bay. The charger and the portable LP heater are at home, five miles away but there is nothing to do but go get them. At least we have one vehicle that has not been defeated by the bone chilling cold.

            Soon we have the heater pouring its warmth into the truck engine and the charger putting new life back into the battery. We hole up in the running work truck while we wait. Thirty minutes later, hubby decides to give it a try again. Vrrrmm!! What a delightful sound.

            “Hurrah!” I shout. My hubby who doesn’t realize I have followed him back into the shop half collapses to the floor in fright. Oh dear! “I didn’t mean to scare you,” I laugh. “I was just so happy it started.”

            “Hello, this is Gary from the garage. Your car is ready.” Begins the phone call at 5 p.m. “I couldn’t find anything wrong except the battery is weak.”

            “Really! How is it possible that the brakes don’t work because the battery is bad?”

            “I couldn’t find anything else and so many things are electronic these days, the ABS system could be being affected because of it.”

            As I drive home from the shop, the thermometer on the car still reads -18 degrees. Who would have guessed that a stressed and weak battery from the cold could cause the car brakes to fail? Could we just turn the heat up now, please?

Traveling By Amtrak

017Friday, July 21, 2017 is the happily anticipated day for the beginning of our trip to Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is the chosen destination for my annual anesthesia conference this year. The plan is to combine my husband’s love of trains with our need to travel there by boarding the only long-distance passenger train service left in the US, Amtrak. Since Amtrak goes right through Whitefish, this will work splendidly for us.020

Hubby and I arrive at our daughter’s house in Chatfield by 5:45pm. She will deliver us to the depot so that our car does not sit there unattended for nine days. We are on the road and headed towards Winona by 6pm. The heavy rain from the day has stopped and the sun is peaking out. The train is to arrive by 7:47pm. We hear the whistle in the distance and it comes chugging around the corner right on time. Hugs are shared and we turn to search for our assigned train car. Car number 730 is midway along the towering berths awaiting us. We board and trudge up the narrow staircase to the upper floor of a sleeper car. In the small space, two seats face each other. It is a very compact space with little extra room for storage. One suitcase fits nicely under the seat but our big suitcase begs to be stored downstairs in the main luggage area.024

We are told that our supper is at 8:30pm and will be announced when they are ready to seat us. An announcement is made around that time but the speaker does not seem to work in our room and we cannot understand what is being said.  By 8:40, we decide to check out the dining car which conveniently is located right next to our sleeping berth. We have almost missed supper as we are the last ones to be seated. I am not very hungry anyway as I was not expecting to get food this late on the train. Because of this, we ate before we left home. It is just as well as it takes forever to have our order taken and then another forever until the food comes. I look at my order of tortillas and say, “That is not what I ordered.”

“I’m sorry,” the waitress responds, “I will get you the right order.” By now it is 9:30pm and I am not much interested in food any more. I am more concerned about the effect of trying to sleep with a full stomach. Just to be polite, we wait until the food comes, take a few bites, and head back to our small home. While we wait for our car attendant to come and make up our beds, our attention is drawn towards the fireworks exploding above the skyline just outside our window at our St. Paul stop.

Making up our beds involves pulling down the upper bunk which is two feet wide and six feet long. Hubby gets the bottom bunk which is just a little longer and three feet wide. There is little room for anything once this is done except going to sleep. I climb the little steps to the top bunk and shimmy onto the bunk. There is no room for sitting up and I am cold. Thankfully, we have both been provided with two pillows and two blankets. This is not like my bed at home but is quite comfortable compared to the sleeping in the seat option. We have been told to sleep with our heads toward the back of the train in case of an emergency stop so our feet take the brunt and not our all-important heads. It is a little like trying to sleep in a hammock – gentle swaying and rocking. If I was a child, it would rock me to sleep but I am an old woman who needs everything quiet and still to sleep. At one point, I hear rain pounding against the side of the train as we travel through MN and I wonder if we are in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. We both get up to the bathroom around 2 am and then I lose some time in my brain so I must sleep some. This is the ideal way to travel. It is quite relaxing – no paying attention to driving-  eating in a restaurant, sleeping in a bed, and reading while all the while hurtling towards our destination.

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Grain Elevator in Montana

The sun is shining when I open my eyes again. I peer at my watch and conclude that it is 7:30 am. As we both are getting our shoes on, the 6:30am announcement for breakfast comes over the intercom. Oh dear, I guess I looked at my watch wrong. Well, we are up so we might as well head for breakfast. I pull the call button before we head for the dining room to have the car attendant take down our bunks. My order of hot chocolate turns out to be orange juice but once that is straightened out, the French toast is quite tasty. This waitress needs a different system for keeping track of orders but overall the food is scrumptious.

We return to our room an hour later to find our bunks still not taken care of. “Would you mind doing ours next?” I ask the attendant.

“I turned off the call button because you said you were not ready to have me do it yet,” is her response.

That’s strange. I don’t remember even seeing the attendant this morning. “We never talked to you this morning,” we respond.

“I thought sure it was you. You must think I am terribly confused,” is her comeback.

Confused yes, but not a big deal. After all, this is an adventure.

Our next trek is back through the dining car and three more coaches to the observation car while our room is being prepared for the day. The North Dakota landscape speckled with herds of beef cattle flashes by. When we return, our room is ready for us to spend a relaxing morning reading and watching the landscape streak by, with occasionally interspersed walks through the train and outside at the 30-minute stop at Minot, ND.

Before we know it, lunch is being served. We are paired with a couple from Iowa who is taking 21 young people on a mission trip to an Indian reservation near Glacier National Park. One meets lots of people with interesting lives at meal time. And this time, lunch orders go off without a hitch.

The rest of the afternoon drags as miles and miles of flat Big Sky Montana wheat fields and barren lands fly by. I take a nap which kills a little time. Soon it is time for supper. We choose the 5:30 pm time slot due to fear of not getting done in time to get off the train at 8:47pm when we are due in. This meal, we are paired with another couple from our sleeper car who reside in Florida. They have many travel adventures to share.

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Piled wheat at an elevator

Before long, we start to notice the mountains rising on the horizon to the west. Then there are stops at East Glacier, Essex, and West Glacier. The sun is casting long shadows over the mountains as we crawl along the mountain side. At times, one can look out and straight down into the valley and the river below. We finally approach Whitefish and grind to a halt. “We are waiting for a train that is in the way to pass through before we can pull into the station,” the train engineer informs us. We have collected our baggage and impatiently wait by the door as the opposing train clatters by going the opposite direction. And then we slowly roll into the station. My body moves in rhythmic swaying as I stand on the curb waiting for the hotel van to pick us up. 26 hours of swaying back and forth has left its mark and that sweet soft bed in the hotel room looks so inviting.

Our week in Montana exploring Glacier passes far too quickly and before I know it, it is time to think about heading home. I keep waking up during the night because I am afraid the alarm won’t go off. I finally roll out of bed at 5:50 am. The air is crisply cool as we walk to our rental car. The valet man tells us that the train is only five minutes late. The first order of business is to top off our rental car gas tank and drop off the car at the train station.

We settle in the waiting room but soon notice a long BSNF train is parked on the main track at the Whitefish station. He, obviously, needs to move before we can board a passenger train. Restlessness sets in as the minutes stretch endlessly into time and we move outdoors to the platform. Maybe, we think that standing outside will make the situation unfold faster. It is a beautiful, though cool morning to stand on the platform and wait. The posted arrival time comes and goes and still the freight train does not move. Eventually, a train employee walks back along the train and jumps up between each car to adjust something. Finally, forty minutes late, the freight train releases the brakes and slowly pulls away. I hear my cell phone chime. Who would be texting me? Ah, it is Amtrak letting us know the train is behind schedule and will be arriving at 8:03. I think I already figured out it is late and it had better hurry if it is going to be here in three minutes as it is already 8 am. Pretty soon, we see the headlight come around the curve. Maybe there is still hope.858

Figuring out which car is ours becomes the problem. We finally find a conductor who says,” Car 830 is the last one on the train.” We trudge through the mass of humanity going in the opposite direction. No one is at the door. Do we enter? Do we not? We finally get on. “Go immediately to the dining car if you would like breakfast.” We walk and we walk. Since we truly are in the last car of the train, it is quite a long journey to the dining car. Time to walk off some calories.

After breakfast, it is time to go back to our sleeper car. No one has scanned our ticket. We could be getting a free ride for all they know or so I think. They never do scan our ticket but when we mention this to the car attendant, he says, “You are in the system so I know you are here.” Ah, big brother is always watching.

We continue to be an hour behind throughout the day.  We spend the day enjoying the scenery. There are endless fields of wheat being harvested. I read until I finish my book, then catch up on my writing, and finally, I go searching for my computer cord in the suitcase downstairs so that I can read a kindle book from the computer. Of course, the computer locks up for a couple of hours as it thinks it needs to download and update systems which it cannot do without an internet access. In frustration, I finally am able to break its cycle by turning it off several times in a row.

We do not cross the border into North Dakota until supper time. This creates a quandary as the time zone also changes at the border. Do we go to supper on Mountain Time or Central time? We have a 6:45 pm supper reservation. Finally, we ask the car attendant. “Go to supper on Mountain Time,” he says. That means we are really eating at 7:45 pm central time. That is a little later than I would like but there is not much we can do about it. Both of us decide to have the steak topped off with a desert.

I know that this is a mistake as soon as we get back to our car. I am hoping for a few hours after supper before bedding down for the night but it is already going towards 9 pm and the attendant has a goal of all the beds being made up by ten. I have delusions that I can sit and read in the top bunk but there is no space for such an endeavor. Getting into the bunk almost causes me to have a panic attack as the car is reversed from the trip out. This means I need to try to slide my feet in from the head end and scoot down. That wouldn’t be so bad except that there is no head room.  I finally master this feat of gymnastics and decide now that I am in, I should just stay put. I wonder how the really old people manage on a top bunk. I am slightly nauseated from needing to lay down so soon after eating, but I do drift into a lullaby sleep, being rocked back and forth by the motion of the train. I had decided that I would not even try to get up during the night to go to the bathroom but by 3 am, that resolution needs to go out the window. I have realized that if I take down the strapping that keeps one from rolling out, I can actually get my legs out. The trick is to hit the steps without crashing first as there are no grab bars or any surfaces to grab onto for support. Considering the circumstances, the sleeper at night does offer better sleep than a coach seat would have.

 

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Lake Pepin – along the Mississippi

Sunday morning greets us with bright sun at 6 am. We decide to roll out at 7. The thought of traipsing the length of the train to the dining car to make reservations, then traipsing back to wait for our call (which we can’t hear in our car anyway), then making a third trip to actually get our breakfast is overwhelming this morning. Instead, we opt to go downstairs in the dome car for some yogurt, donut holes, and orange juice. We have some nuts and a granola bar in our sleeper. That will have to do until we get off. The train pulls into St Paul right on time so it looks like we will make our 10:11 scheduled arrival time in Winona in spite of being an hour late all day yesterday. We are more than ready to step onto the little step that leads to the sidewalk to be greeted by our daughter. Ah, there is no place like home.

 

 

 

A Puppy Named Willow

WillowA tri-colored, 16-pound 10-week old collie puppy tries to get her feet organized to make it up our two front steps. I laugh at her. She has no steps at her own home and has no idea how to push up with her back feet to propel herself upward. Her presence at my house is in response to “Will you watch our puppy while we go to LARP this weekend?” from our daughter. What is a mother to say? I am always happy to help my daughter.

Since Bella died, I have been asked numerous times if we are going to get another dog. The answer is always “no, I am going to wait until my daughter gets one, has it trained, and then can’t keep it when she gets into the University of MN Veterinarian school. Then I will have a dog.” I have no desire to ever have a puppy again. “It is just like having a 2-year-old in the house,” I warn my offspring.

The puppy, named Willow, bounces around the dining/living area getting acquainted with, of all things, Snowflake, one of the cats. It puffs up like a marshmallow and hisses and swats from under the lamp end table. Willow is delighted and encouraged by this behavior. A moving toy to play with. After all, the cat has no front claws to do any real damage.PetsFamilyJan2013 093

Soon Willow collapses on the carpet for a nap. I decide to get some paperwork done while I don’t have to figure out where she is every five seconds. Her hour naptime is far too short for me and soon she is grabbing every piece of thread that hangs out, whether it be on the rug, the afghan, or the doll’s foot. My daughter had told me that she goes about two hours before needing to pee but I forgot to pay attention to the part about “being taken out after she wakes up from a nap.” It isn’t two hours yet so I am startled to realize the squatting puppy is peeing on my carpet. “No,” I holler, scoop her up, and rush out the door. Sigh. This is starting out well! Note to self – take her out RIGHT after she wakes up.

A well exercised puppy is a well behaved puppy is my mantra so in the mid-afternoon, we head out for a walk. I decide to use my retractable leash instead of the short 4-foot one that our children use. Willow is soon lagging off in the grass or the weeds on one side or the other of the driveway – stopping constantly to smell and inspect. Willow getting wrapped around a tree encourages me to tighten up on the length of freedom. Then she just lays down. “Come on, puppy.” I tug gently until she reluctantly gets up and swaggers after me. There is something intrinsically wrong with an old lady that can run faster than a puppy. Our walk does produce poop so the walk can be marked up as a success in the puppy sitting business – outdoors where it belongs.

018It is time to head upstairs again when we get back which is where our family tends to hang out. Willow sits at the bottom of the stairs and watches me go up. “Rrrff, Rrrff, Rrrff” She looks pathetically up at me. “OK, it is time for you to learn to go up stairs. I am not going to carry you every time we go up and down.” I clip the leash back into her harness and gently tug. I give her a boost every time she puts her front feet up onto the next step. Soon, she has traversed the 14th step. Upstairs, she kills the toy pheasant, attacks Hubby’s toes that swing so temptingly, and chews on the chair. I can feel the stress level rising. It is impossible to get anything done when my head has to spin every 30 seconds. At one point, she starts gagging like she is going to throw up. I guess those strings of floss she found to chew on are not too palatable. I can’t run fast enough to get down the stairs and out the door in time so I guide her over to the plastic chair runner. That turns out to be a smart move. Another time, I notice that she has one of my soft ear plugs in her mouth. Where she found that I will never know. Around and around we go as she thinks this is a game. I will never be forgiven when she chokes on that expanding thing. Then she keels over for a nap. I think I need another one too.WillowSleeping2

During one of our trips out doors to go potty in the afternoon, I make a rather rash decision to take her out without a leash. She doesn’t seem like a puppy that would run away. I am right about that part but I soon discover that Willow has no interest in coming back in. She plunks down in the middle of the yard and gazes at me. Such a cute, innocent puppy. She cocks her head and looks at me when I call, clap my hands, whistle, and do a chicken dance but she does not move. When I approach her, she dashes just a few more feet away and sits down again. Finally, I capture the sly puppy and haul her back indoors. I think I have learned my lesson. There obviously is a reason why the kids leave the puppy run around with the leash still attached and dragging.

By 8:30 pm, my stress level has hit about an 8 out of 10. Maybe, one more walk will wear her out enough so that everyone’s night is restful. It is a beautiful evening as we set out around the pasture while the sun slides toward the horizon. Walking, however, is not what Willow is interested in doing. I half drag, half encourage her to stay on the path and keep up with me. She stops to chew on the bottom fence wire. Try that on the next one up and you will never do that again. Even a relaxing evening walk is not relaxing. And then, Willow sees a calf. She begins a terrified dance and streaks off in the other direction. Finally, she gets brave enough to turn and courageously bark at the enemy. She trembles all over and refuses to go past those aliens. Finally, I resort to picking her up, talk calmly to her, and hold her securely while we walk the rest of the way home. Her little head keeps whipping around to calculate at what moment we will be pulverized by the thundering hooves behind us.

072I am only too thankful that bedtime has arrived. I tuck Willow into her kennel for the night. Our kennel is the same as hers at home. Our daughter assured me that she is able to get through the night without going out to go potty. I am doubtful but hopeful. I have no more reached the top of the stairs than the high pitched howling/barking begins. I take my newspaper and seclude myself in the bedroom where I am hoping the sound cannot penetrate. Again, I am wrong. After twenty minutes, I am about to lose my mind. My earplugs are downstairs in the cupboard. Do I want to get up and go get them? And then, just like that, peaceful silence reigns. I finally fall into a fitful sleep.

A little after 6 a.m., I crawl out of bed and escort the excited puppy outdoors where she successfully empties her bladder. We walk around for a few more minutes as in the back of my mind, I am thinking she should soon need to poop again. When nothing happens, we traipse back into the house. I scoop breakfast into her bowl. She is busy eating. She looks so innocent and I need to get ready for church. I head back upstairs to the bathroom. I don’t think I have spent more than five minutes freshening up when I decide to check on Willow. I do not put my glasses on so my world is blurry. As I head down the stairs, I notice brown sticks all over the living room carpet. What in the world has she gotten into in five minutes? As I get closer, I am horrified to realize the brown sticks are poop rolls everywhere. How could such a small animal poop so much in such a short time? If in the declining memory of old age, I have forgotten why I never want a puppy, I have starkly been reminded.

When our daughter and son-in-law come to pick up the puppy later in the day, Willow jumps up and down with joy, then without a bit of difficulty, proudly shows off her stair climbing skills as she disappears out of sight to the upper level. Funny, she couldn’t do that an hour ago. So the weekend did have one success. Willow can now climb stairs all by herself.

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Part 4

11-16-2016 Wednesday

 

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Sunset over the desert

Clouds darken the sky today for the first time since we have arrived here. The temperature is chilly and I surrender my belief that it is still summer by putting on a sweater. We are on the bus by 8 am and headed for Masada.

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Bedouin sheep

The drive south along the Dead Sea is beautiful in its own way. We pass areas of what they call “desert farming.” They drip irrigate using the sewage water from Jerusalem to save water.

As we go further south, the land becomes more barren with huge hills of wasteland to the west. Masada is the ruins of an ancient city built upon the top of a 1000-foot-high flat top hill. King Herod, the Great, first built one of his fortresses high on this hill. Later, it became a place for the Jews to flee for refuge around 70 AD when they were defeated by the Romans in a crushed uprising. After 3 years of refuge, the Romans are able to breach the hill and all the rebels there die. It is an awesome sight to look up at this hill high above our heads as we drive into the parking lot. If one were young and ambitious, he could hike up the Snake Trail to the top of Masada. None of us are either of these, so we board a cable car/Tram to be hoisted to the top. We are told it holds 80 people and they are serious about this as they jam pack us into the car. I am starting to feel the rising panic of claustrophobia when I find I can’t move.

It is a beautiful day here – not too hot and not too cold. We spend about an hour and a half at Masada exploring the ruins and viewing some of the great inventions of Herold the Great. Probably the most remarkable invention is the water collection and storage system.

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Israeli flag over Masada

The one or two huge rains per year are the only source of water. As we stand listening to the tour guide, I hear a clatter of something on the stone. It is Hubby’s glasses lens. He has lost the screw to hold the frame together. We brainstorm as to how to fix this but can do nothing about it at the moment.

Around 12 noon, we head back down on the cable car and board the bus for the Qumran Caves Museum. This is where we will eat lunch. It is the usual chaotic scene getting through the lunch line. We see a group of Mennonites who instantly make contact with Brother and his wife. That is how it is with Mennonites. They recognize each other anywhere and feel a bond. We exit through the gift shop to wait for our tour guide. I notice a bunch of sunglasses and we decide to buy a pair in the hopes that we can use one of the screws to repair Hubby’s glasses. Getting through the checkout line is a bit of a challenge as people are everywhere and buying the skin care products manufactured from the Dead Sea. I finally am able to get outside into the crush of people there. Our guide today, Bruce, finally is able to get us away from the masses to explain the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We make a short tour of the Essene ruins and then head back to the bus.

Our last stop is the beach of the Dead Sea.

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Dead Sea

I do not plan to float but simply to wade. The Dead Sea is 33% salt so the water is toxic if taken orally or gotten in the eyes. We receive our towels and make our way gingerly down the steep hill that once was the banks of the Dead Sea. The use of the minerals and water from the lake for commercial purposes has caused the shores of the Dead Sea to recede several hundred feet over the last 40 years. The mud is a dark gray color. I step gingerly into the water. As I move one foot ahead of the other, it drops over the edge into a hole. After several attempts, I decide to move to a different location and am able to enter the water. As I stand there watching others smear black mud all over themselves, a man holding a cell phone steps into the water in the place I formerly tried.

His leg disappears into a hole and down he goes, cell phone and all. Now why would someone take their cell phone along into a salt bath? Is my question. After wading about for approximately 15 minutes and getting splashed by others falling down, I decide it is time to get out before I end up totally wet. After washing off my feet, Hubby and I find some ice cream to enjoy at a small picnic table under a spreading tree. Hundreds of chirping birds seem to be perched in its branches. I am just about done when I feel a wet drop on my forehead from above. Gross! A bird has just pooped on my head. It is time to move on back to the bus.1226

We are back at the hotel by 5:45pm and catch up with Daughter and Son-in-law who did not accompany us today but decided to wander around by themselves and relax. I spy the pipe cleaner on our suitcase and use it for the repair so badly needed on Hubby’s glasses after we can’t get the screw out of the new sunglasses we bought. It works. Only one more day before it is time to head home again.

Bull Riding

110It is a strange sport that only the hearty young wrangler tries – exclusively a farming sport. I often wonder what draws a young man to attempt to sit upon a bucking, jumping bull with the strategy of staying there for 8 seconds. Flying through the air and landing with a thud on the ground cannot possibly feel that good. After all, there is no other way to get off whether the rider makes the 8 seconds or not. And then, he has to get up and run for his life in case the bull wishes to finish him off with his head. I don’t think I have ever seen a young lady try this so it must have something to do with the daring, impulsivity of young men.104

I have never been to a live bull riding event before so when I saw the recent event in Rochester advertised in the paper, my hubby and I decided to do something different and put ourselves in the bleachers. There must be something wrong with me too as I can really get into watching these dare devils attempt their rides. I cheer for them when they make it and I cringe when they land on their heads. After all, it’s kind of bad for their spines. I can understand why the first responders have a backboard ready for use.

158The stands are already almost full when we arrive an hour before start time so apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys watching the challenge. A little entertainment by the clown, a cowboy with ropes, and some Mexican poker add to the entertainment of the evening. I had never heard of Mexican poker before. What a strange concept. Four people are seated at a card table in the middle of the arena. Interestingly, they are fitted with protective vests. I don’t think they got much card playing done before a bull was released. The object is to be the last one seated when the bull comes visiting. OK. That is not something that you would ever get me to do. The bull was turning the table upside down before the last man took off running. He leaped over the side gate like a pole vaulter as the bull snorted behind him.

160That whole scene brought back my own escape from a bull a long time ago. My father had always run a bull with the lower producing group of cows for clean-up purposes. Most of our cows were bred by artificial insemination, but there were always some cows that were very difficult to get pregnant. They eventually ended up in this group with the bull, in the hope that he could do naturally what we could not seem to accomplish the artificial way.

I had glanced around the barn to determine the bull’s whereabouts before I swung open the center gate to allow cows into the holding area. I did not want to meet him face to face. He was at the far end of the barn, so I thought that I should be safe. The center gate that divided the groups was a steel, twenty-four-foot telescoping structure. Because of its heavy weight, it was suspended by a cable from a roof truss of the barn. I pushed the gate all the way open against the end wall. Then I turned to walk back through the group of cows that were making their way into the holding area. Suddenly, I stopped and stepped back. Mr. Bull was making his way around as well. But instead of going on by, he advanced toward me. Frantically, I tried to decide what to do. I was pretty sure I couldn’t outrun him. Behind me was the wall. There was nowhere to go. Then it came to me. Climb the gate. I scrambled up, grabbing the supporting cable with my hands just in time to realize that my feet were being knocked out from under me by his huge, swinging head.

“Help! Help! Help!” I screamed over and over. I knew no one was going to hear me. What was I going to do? I couldn’t dangle from this cable forever. My screams did attract the attention of the meandering cows, though. Curious creatures that they were and are, they all gathered around to see what the commotion was all about. Sixty sets of shining eyes looked up at me. And by their response, they distracted Mr. Bull. He wandered away to sniff for a more interesting scent. I didn’t think I had ever been so thankful for a bunch of cows before.

So I don’t think that I will ever sign up to play Mexican poker.

The Short Prequel to My Published Books “If You Leave This Farm” & “No Longer a Child of Promise”

Mary Ellen's Life 001I was born in Pennsylvania in the 1950s to parents who belonged to the conservative Mennonite church. My mother was a nurse, an extremely unusual pursuit for a Mennonite woman in those days, and my father was a wanna-be farmer. I do not remember the house in which I was born as we soon moved to a small farm in York County. There my father began our family’s farming career. We attended a Mennonite church located about 20 miles from the farm.

My earliest memories are of gathering around the supper table in the evening and my father reading a passage of the Bible to us. However, I do not remember discussing it. Sometimes, we passed around a small box with scripture cards and we all chose one to read. Sunday morning was a time of frantic hurrying as we rushed to get to church on time. In spite of that, I remember always being late. I loved Sunday school and there I learned the stories in the Bible and about God’s unconditional love for us. During the summer, there was Vacation Bible School. In the early years, Mama always took us to VBS though not at the church we regularly attended. I am not sure why. Once a year, our church held “revival meetings.” These meetings consisted of nightly services that lasted for a week. Different speakers were brought in and the way of salvation was proclaimed. Even as a young child I was moved by these services and they highly influenced me. Even today, when I hear the song, Just As I Am, that goes like this, “just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidd’st me come to Thee, Oh Lamb of God, I come!” I am deeply moved and the stirrings of those days come back to me.

Me about 6 or 7 years old

Me about 6 or 7 years old

One day, when I was 9 years old, I came upon by oldest brother and my father kneeling by a hay bale in the manger of the dairy barn. My brother was crying as he said the sinner’s prayer with my father’s help. “I want to do that too,” I said. And so, that day, I officially accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I wish I could say that now that I had made my profession of faith, my life would be simple and carefree.

I continued to grow physically and in my faith. I wanted to follow Jesus and serve Him. I was baptized and joined the Mennonite church at the age of 10 years. My parents, though, in spite of their verbal adherence to the Mennonite faith, in many ways did not subscribe to the faith that we belonged to and I came to realize many years later, placed huge stumbling blocks in the path of our assimilation into Mennonite culture. I think this was the beginning of the sense of shame in who I am that I have carried most of my life. We only went to church on Sunday morning or for special meetings. Dedicated members were expected to attend Wednesday night prayer meetings and Sunday evening services as well. But we were busy farmers and my father did not have time for that. I remember well about this time also being refused my request to attend VBS in the summer. I loved VBS but we were now becoming old enough that we could help around the farm. My father’s priority of work over every other activity was beginning to express itself. I, of course, did not recognize that tendency for as a child, he was my father and I simply repressed those few things that I did not understand. I loved my father and loved being with him and working with him.Mary Ellen's Life 007

We were all eager to follow his lead when he made the decision to remove us from school to work on the farm. My brothers were removed from school at the age of 14 and me at the age of 15. Around this time is when my father started looking at buying land “out west” and moving all of us there to farm together. I had no objections. It sounded like a wonderful adventure to me. Here is where I want to say to parents, your job as a parent is to teach and prepare your child to follow the bent that God has given your child. It is not to determine their course in life that fits with what you want to happen. My father came from what is called a patriarchal family in which the children are simply extensions of the father. This sets the family up for huge tensions and heartache later when the young person wants to follow his or her own path in life.

The Price of Farming

180The dust swirls behind as the combines crawl across the fields gathering the abundant harvest in Minnesota. Those who are in the know say that the yields this year are the greatest that they have ever been. But what is the problem? Just a few years ago, corn sold for over $6 per bushel. Now it rides at just half of that. More bushels make up for the lower price but farming is always a difficult business to make a profit at.fry wed and elgin coop high 5-25-14 026

As I think back to farming in the 1970s and 80s when we first moved to Minnesota, all the farming sources that I have consulted indicated that the 1970s were a time of soaring farm income and commodity prices. It was a time of prosperity for farmers. My father sold our farm in Pennsylvania in 1973 and moved us to Minnesota in 1974. I, as a 16 year old, was totally oblivious to the politics and financial dynamics of farming though looking back now, I can see how my father was lured by the booming economy to put his finances on the line in this huge family venture. And of course, about the time that I finally made my escape from the farm in 1986 coincided with the falling land prices, rock bottom crop prices, and high interest rates that led to a nationwide crisis in agriculture in the 80s. From a historical standpoint, my book “If You Leave This Farm” is a story of farming in Minnesota during these turbulent times. Maybe, that was part of the pressure that shaped my father into the controlling patriarch that he became.103

The Failure of the Country Garden

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The sun is shining brightly, the temperatures are warm, and the smell of fresh soil is in the air. If you are a farmer, you know that it is time to plant the crops that are your living. If you are a couple with a farm background and living in the country, there is a little voice in one’s head that says country people plant gardens. This country lady really wants nothing to do with the work of a garden but her country husband does. So he diligently plants rows of sweet corn, peas, tomatoes, carrots, and kohlrabi as he does every year. The patch of freshly planted earth looks full of promise.

Weeks go by and life is full of busyness. The garden is forgotten. The vegetables grow, I think, but so do the weeds – tall and obliterating to the plants we are hoping will grow. Today, I stand and gaze at the waving patch of weeds. It rained last night – about an inch – so it should be easy to pull those weeds. I cover myself with bug repellent and pull on my most dilapidated pair of shoes. I decide to start where the peas should be. As I bend over pulling weed after weed, I find a few stalks of peas. Some of them come out with the weeks. Others droop over sadly from the removal of their climbing supports. As I move along the row, the mud collects on my shoes until they look like mud moon boots and the water runs down my forehead into my eyes. Is this really worth it? I finally ask myself. An hour later, I have only removed the weeds from one row of peas and the remaining tomato that I didn’t kill earlier. I am done here. I think that is why they make stores for people to buy food from.

I like this garden better!

I like this garden better!

Getting Ready for Calves

069“I’ll be bringing the calves on Friday,” said my neighbor towards the end of April. The grass was getting green and the days were warming but the pasture was covered with old dried grass from the prior fall. I decided to fire up the new John Deere lawn mower and mow off that dried grass before the arrival of our charges. I was soon zooming around the pasture on cruise. Oh yes, this tractor has cruise and power steering. I can actually turn the wheel at high speed without crashing into things. Then I discovered that the deer had torn off several poles worth of wire holding spools over the winter. Well, I will just stop and reach over and snap that first one back in the spool without getting off the tractor. As I lean over, the tractor engine gurgles to a stop. What just happened? Oh yes, this tractor has that special stop mechanism that kills the engine when one’s butt isn’t in the seat. It also stops when trying to counterbalance on a hillside. This works great – not! Every time I lean over just a little, the engine stops. No wonder everyone unhooks the safety mechanism. In due time, I do get the pasture mowed and ready.

Friday morning, the calves are dropped off into the middle pasture. By Saturday afternoon, my husband muses, “I wonder if they have found the water yet.” They do look pitiful huddled in that one corner of the pasture. I fill my bucket with grain and slowly approach the animals. The brown one in the group, Aaron – I am told his name is, is curious. He slowly takes one step after another until his nose is touching my bucket. He stands there and stares at me but he won’t eat. I turn and begin to slowly walk away. I hear pounding running feet behind me. I am not sure I should turn my back on this bucking critter. He slows and stops at a small drop off that leads into the narrowed area the ends in the water fountain. He paws the ground, gets down on his knees, and turns his head upside down in the dirt. For a small 300 pound calf, he is displaying very bullish behavior and I am not sure I trust him. Happy that everything is fine, he trots down the alley to the water. The other 3 all follow. They drink and drink and drink. It is obvious Aaron is the leader of this herd.

Looking forward to #Spring in Minnesota

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The wind blows over the snow at 20 miles per hour and the temperature hovers around 10 degrees F and I shiver. It is hard to think about spring in such conditions. I am so glad I don’t have any cattle or horses that need taking care of when it is so cold. When our daughter was at home, I gave in to those pleading words of, “Please, Mom, can I have a horse?” We had 2 horses for 5 years. I loved them in the summer when they grazed lazily in the pasture and I could basically ignore their ever present needs. But then came winter. I would ask myself, Why am I the one out here every morning feeding the horses and shoveling the snow away from the barn door? Oh yes,the child has to go to school. Then the child went off to college. The now young lady still pleads for Mom to own a horse. Oh no, this old lady has gotten smart. She sold the horses and now just has some of those little black fascinating calves in the pasture during the summer.

Black Angus calves

I made this change last year. My first idea was to buy the Black Angus calves in the spring, put them on pasture through the summer, and sell them in the fall. When I mentioned my plans to my kind neighbor who I was hoping would supply me with these animals, he told me what each of those fine critters would cost me and I said, “How about you just own them and I will feed them?” So we made an agreement. Four little calves kicked up their heels, pushed each other around, and grew fat over the summer. Apparently, they also learned how to open gates. One day just a week before we were to sell them, my husband came home from work to find the pasture gate wide open and no animals in sight. Oh dear. The price of beef had been running sky high and we had just lost 4 nuggets of black gold. Doing some sleuthing, my husband was able to follow little footprints through the grass outside the gate, around the barn, and headed down the driveway. At the end of the driveway, they turned right and headed up the hill to the main road. This is a farmers worst nightmare – having his cattle on the road. A call was made to the neighbor for help in finding our lost darlings. A little more tracking led the searchers to the neighbors feedlot across the road. There stood all 4 wanderers getting acquainted with the neighbor’s cattle. Soon, they were loaded onto a cattle trailer and hauled back home. This year, says my husband, we must secure our gates so that twisting curling curious tongues cannot flop those chains around.