My Brother’s Machine

Have you ever found  yourself  (even when you know better) comparing your life to someone else, say one of your siblings, a cousin or a high school classmate?

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I am not chasing after the Almighty Dollar.  I’m not motivated by materialism or greed.

(At least I don’t think I am.)

When it comes to money and wealth my mantra could best be summed up by this verse:

“Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have…”

I know better than to go down that path in my head, but it happened again this  morning anyway.  I needed to drop some scaffolding off at my brothers construction site.  As I pulled up to the building, there  sat my brothers $25,000 Bobcat skid loader and my uncles $35,000 material lift.  (I own nothing like either one of these machines.  If I need a skid loader (or a lift,) I will call the rental store and get one for the week to the tune of $850.00. (Honestly, I need those pieces of equipment  three or four times a year, and it doesn’t make sense for me to have my own.  By the time I would tack on  maintenance, repairs,  a trailer to haul them, and a truck large enough to tow said trailer, it is a no- brainer.

In spite of what I just told you,  When I looked at those two pieces of equipment,  a dark, heavy, oppressive  cloud of sadness passed through my mind.

It wasn’t just a fleeting thing so I stopped and tried to identify what I was thinking (feeling)

It took me a minute to put into words the “what and why”  behind the sad, dark, negative emotions.”

Here is what I discovered:

I secretly  equate having my own personal $25,000 Bobcat with being a successful business man.  And the fact I don’t own either stirs up thoughts of failure and shame.

I am not the only person who secretly wrestles with this comparison “war.}

(Initially, I was going to call it the “comparison game” but it doesn’t feel like a game/ it’s more like hand to hand mental combat… hence  the word “war”)

I know a young man, who battles the same issues ( different specifics) because he has a younger brother who makes more money than him… a lot more.  Waves of inferiority periodically washed over his soul as well, but he would never, ever, admit it.

I suspect, this inner poverty fuels many of his life choices.

The main purpose I’m writing about this one today is  for little old me. 🙂

I want to bring the little thoughts into the open….

and kill them. 🙂

Dark, negative, things tend to loose  their power over me when they are exposed and named.

The Man In The Lawnchair

Fall of 2014 I installed a metal roof for a retired farmer named Joe. (I hate roofs by the way/ keep that in mind).

I got the job because a friend of mine gave him my name.  Joe was having a hard time finding anyone to work for him because everyone in our area was busy. (or so I was told)  (I decided later, another reason he was having a hard time finding  someone was because he is a micro-manager.  He loves to park his lawn chair at the bottom of the roof, watch, and critique your every move.)

Joe kept telling me I was on probation, and if he liked my work, he had a lot more of it. (He did)  (3 more house roofs/ two that were  easy, and one that was a killer.)

I would say to the friend that recommended me,  ” Joe may think I am on probation, but the truth is, Joe is one on probation.  I will put up with just so much of his nonsense…. I don’t need the work.” 

Well, we finished that roof last fall for Joe and I was a hero. He loved me, love my crew, loved our work,  recommended me to his banker, and ordered the material for the killer 2 story farm house roof  with a leak.  He did get on my nerves, but at the same time, he was kind of endearing, in his own way.  I was able to handle him, when he started giving me guff, because I would give it right back. 🙂

Last Winter, my numero uno co-worker, who was my main climber, got a new job with his local water department.   Benefits, and long-term job security, couldn’t blame him.  The only other guy on my crew is an excellent finish carpenter/ sider, etc. but he would be the first to tell you, at a rock hard 280 pounds, he is not a climber.

I have been trying to find help since  March. I can’t find anyone that will come to work every day, so in the back of my mind, I am thinking there is no way I am going to be able to roof this two-story, tear off,  farm-house with an 8/12 roof pitch,  multiple valley/s an old chimney that had to be dismantled.

No way.

I don’t like roofing in the first place.

Just me and my non-climbing co-worker, it would be next to impossible.   So I stopped by Joe’s shop last month and tried to beg off on the job.

“Nobody else wanted to do the job either…. so you are stuck with it”  were his exact words.

I could have just told him “circumstances had changed”,” hate to do this to you”…”sorry”, and walked away, but that is not my style.   It was also an integrity issue, and so I thought, I will do what I can, and when I can’t go any further, then I will just have to stop, but not until…

So, I came up with a plan.  I  asked my son, and my former climbing employee (who is now a friend of mine) to help me with the higher, most difficult portion of the roof, on the weekend,  and the lower section, I thought I could manage (however slowly) with the help I did have.)

So I set last Friday/ Saturday as the days to tackle the high portion.  Just so happened we suddenly got a burst of hot humid weather, perfect for roofing in Iowa..(especially when you are on a metal roof/).  I can still handle the heat, and I am still pretty nimble on a roof,but this day pushed me to my limit…..and Joe was parked in the shade watching our every move.

My makeshift crew was only able to complete 1/2 of the upper roof that Friday and Saturday, which left me with just me, myself and I, and a ground man to tear off and replace the other half of the upper roof.

I told Joe, and his son, that either they find me someone who could also climb, or I was done.  (They have a renter who is in construction, who owes them money, who can climb, living just a mile up the road, it was probably time to give him a call, as much as they didn’t want to.)   I reminded them again for the umpteenth time, I had lost my crew from last year, and  wasn’t really in a position to be doing this job in the first place.

Tuesday of this week, their renter did show up.  We were able to finish the 2nd half of the higher portion of the roof….(although I did have to put up with the renter’s 14 yr old son who talked like a magpie, all day, who started calling me “Amish man” because I was wearing a straw hat) (The thought of duck taping his mouth shut did cross my mind a time or two) 🙂

Wednesday  through Friday, I worked on the lower 5/ 12 portion of the roof with a skeleton crew and as of this morning, I still have 2 more days left on the job…a relatively easy front porch roof, and then tidy up a few misc. details.

Between the heat, the height, the roof pitch, the lack of help, the wasps, the bats,  and Joe sitting in his lawn chair, I have been coming home mentally and physically exhausted every night.

Joe’s daughter in law (who lives in this house, sees her father in law, sitting in the lawn chair, under the shade tree, micro-managing)  said to me Thursday morning…

“So, tell me why in the world did you ever take on this job in the first place????” 

“Now that is a great question! ” I said with a smile.

God’s Little Creatures

Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?

      Got together for home made pizza tonight with  a former co-worker and his wife.   We were catching up on each other’s lives, sipping on hard apple cider, munching on chips and sweet mango salsa as our conversation went from one  subject to another.
     I’ve been looking forward to tonight ever since we wrote it down on our calendar six weeks ago.
     At one point, I mentioned picking wild black raspberries behind the barn, and spotting a small white moth  trapped in a spider web. It had caught my eye because  it was still thrashing around. I told Chris that on a lark, I decided to intervene and free the moth with a  small stick. Next thing I knew, the moth got away, and flew onto my shirt, as if to say, “Oh thank you!” before taking off.
       I mentioned I had posted that silly little story on Facebook, the day it happened and was surprised at the number or people who “liked” or commented on the incident.
     Chris then told us about a cricket he’d rescued recently at work on the shop floor. Instead of killing it, he scooped it up, walked over to the door and let him go.  He said the two guys he was working with both looked at him like he was nuts.
       There is a whole undercurrent of life happening all around us, all the time.
     Yesterday as I was looking out the window to our front porch, I noticed the bird bath water was empty. We’d been gone for three days to a family reunion, and the heat index in our area was over 100 degrees.  I noticed a little sparrow standing on our porch floor with his wings slightly spread, his beak open, panting.
    I happened to be on the phone with our daughter Rebekah, whom we only get to see a few times a year, so I didn’t want to stop mid conversation and fill up the  bird bath, but at the same time, having just finished working outside myself in the killer heat,  my heart went out to the little sparrow.  I figured, he was not the only bird on our property who was in need of water….so just as soon as I hung up with Rebekah, I went outside, and filled the bird bath.
     I am not a tree hugger.
     I love my steak cooked rare, thank you very much.
      I do not believe animals are on the same plane as we humans…
      I do not believe in reincarnation.  (ie. you and I may come back as a bug, animal etc. depending on how we behaved  this time around.  )
    But I do believe life is precious.
After we ate tonight Chris brought out a book of poetry by Shel Silverstein.  I asked him if he wouldn’t mind reading a few of his poems, since I was not familiar with him as a writer.  One of the poems he read was called Forgotten Language.  Seemed to segue into the conversation around the dinner table…
Well,  it has been as lovely evening, think I will call it a wrap. DM

Mary’s Question

There is a fine line between  a healthy sense  of my personal strengths and abilities and bragging…

That is the territory I am venturing into tonight,  so wish me luck. 😉


I saw her sitting by herself, waiting for her parents to say their good by’s.

I was in the same boat….waiting for my wife to say her good by’s to the seventy  aunts and uncles, cousins, spouses, siblings,  children, and children’s children…

We were at my wife’s family reunion this past weekend in Nebraska.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this group of people I have been grafted into.

The “good byes” can take quite a while,   so I  grabbed myself another cup of coffee and sat down on a couch.

Her name was Mary.

I told her she’d done an awesome job in the talent show the night before.

Takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of seventy people, you barely know and sing a solo.

Mary singing in the talent show - Copy

Mary singing  in the talent show.

“Thanks.” she said.  “What’s your talent?”

Took me totally off guard.

She looked at me with the most intense, matter of fact expression.

 “Did you perform  in the talent show?” 


“Why not?”

I mumbled something lame about being good in the audience.

Thirty six hours later, I am still mulling over her question.

What is my talent?

Although I have a musical bent, my first impulse is not to take the stage.

But I do have talents.

So do you.

Most of my talents don’t seem to lend themselves to being shared on the stage…at least not without a little more planning.

I am a wood worker.

If I took the time to prepare, maybe I could take some of my harvest table project pictures and put them on a power point.

I could talk about the process of acquiring reclaimed barn boards, the process of debugging it and the various styles of tables I’ve been asked to build.


I am a teacher.

I love to teach.

Friend of mine with a degree in teaching told me once she wished she had my ability to teach.

Quoting now….“I have spent tens of thousands of dollars to become a teacher….I wish I had what you have.”    (That comment totally took me off guard, but to this day, it still gives me the warm fuzzies..)

I am a local historian.

I love local history.

I am passionate about it.

I am a walking story book when it comes to local history.  Just got the rough draft of my next book back from my editors.

Maybe by the time the next reunion comes around, the book will be done and I could read an excerpt.????

I can sing.

Come to think about it, a couple of years ago, I surprised myself at a friend’s birthday party.

I got up on a dare and sang My Maria to Karaoke..and I nailed it…

So Mary….thank you for your question.

At the next Family reunion I will share a talent.

I promise.

I’ll probably start by talking about you.


Short Conversation In The Paint Aisle

Do not be too often in your neighbors house, or he will hate you….”  Proverbs


I still get a tightening in my stomach when I think about you stopping by our house Sunday afternoons to visit.  You were in town visiting your mom at the care facility, so it only made sense to stop by our place once in a while…Once in a while…not every three or four weeks.

This morning when I encountered you in the paint aisle at True Value, I hadn’t seen or talked with you in  three  years.

Just last week I mentioned to my wife I am still thankful you no longer stop…

I know that probably sounds harsh and unloving, but I always felt like you’d sucked the life force out of me after you left.

One of the last times you stopped, we were  getting ready to leave for a wedding reception.  I still had to get cleaned up and dress with less than 30 minutes to spare.   Not wanting to hurt your feelings I mentioned now was not a good time to talk.

You just stood there and said, “Go ahead and get ready…”  No indication you were going to leave. That was probably the tipping point in my mind when I decided I’d had enough.

I told you, you had to go…

So this morning when I spotted you in the paint aisle and called out your name you  definitely did not seem happy to see me.

Me, well, I felt a little conflicted.

There is a real part of me that enjoyed our visits over the years when we talked about current events, history, whatever…  The fact that you do not see the world as I see it, made the visits all the more refreshing and engaging for me.

I love having my sense of perspective challenged.

But like I said,  our  encounter in the paint aisle  left me feeling conflicted

Perplexed at my own reaction.

A part of me misses our bantering and a bigger part of me is thankful that chapter in my life is over.

Wild Black Raspberry Moon Tea And Other Revolutionary Ideas

Don’t you just love that name? 🙂

Wild Black Raspberry Moon Tea.

The way it rolls off the tongue…

Two years ago we picked a bumper crop of wild black raspberries .

Had so many of them I even experimented with dehydrating a few.

 picking berries

Picking berries behind the barn

Wife likes to put them in her smoothie.

In the winter when work slows down, I will often get an impulse to putter in the kitchen.  (It’s a form of aroma therapy.)

I asked my mom to teach me how she makes salsa couple of winters ago.

Last year I got on a jam making kick.

The way I look at it, following a new recipe is really not much different than working off a blueprint.

Back when my Oma (grandmother) was still alive, I asked her to teach me how to make her home made rye bread.  That memory of her and I in the kitchen is still one of my favorites.  She was one of those old school cooks that did everything by feel.

I love the aroma of rising bread.  The smell of the yeast doing whatever yeast does.

I really love the feel of kneading bread.

Two winters ago, I decided to experiment with making some wild black raspberry tea.

I took some of the dehydrated berries and  ground them in my coffee grinder.  I ordered some new  tea bags off the Internet and bingo.

Wild black raspberry tea.

It completely exceeded my expectations.

And the dehydrated berries keep for ever.

Last month, when the weather started to warm up, I  decided to mix the wild black raspberry tea  with some red rose tea we had in the pantry.

This new brew is too good to keep to myself, so here are my proportions:

General directions:

(1) gallon of cold  water

(4) bags of  red rose black tea

(1) large bag of wild black raspberry tea bag (one heaping teaspoon of dehydrated/ ground berries)

Combine  ingredients and let steep overnight, preferably outside under the moon. 😉

There is enough natural sugar in the wild black raspberries, you really do not need to add a sweeter (although you sure can).


Side note-

I did not grow up helping out in the kitchen. nor did I see it modeled. This will probably sound harsh, and I don’t mean it to be, but I’ve never seen my dad, do anything in the kitchen, except maybe pour himself a cup of coffee. 🙂

Once I started living my life more intentionally, and paying attention to my interests and passions, that enabled me to push past the negative self talk ...

“What in the heck are you doing baking a pie..that’s for girls.????.”

Once I was able to short circuit the nay-saying thoughts,  whole new areas of life opened up to me.

A few years ago, a cross stitch sampler pattern caught my eye.   I asked my friend Hannah if she would consider making it for me,…I offered to pay her…. but when she explained the hours and hours involved, I decided that wasn’t going to work, so I taught myself.

I remember calling in to a local radio station a few years ago and having a conversation about me cross stitching (at the time).  The lady DJ half jokingly, half seriously questioned my masculinity…She could not quite picture a man cross stitching.

 I reminded her of  Rosey Greir. Not only was he a professional football player, he was also  famous for publishing a book on needle point for men.

I told her I also loved pouring concrete, shooting guns, was able to butcher a pig, rode a motorcycle (at the time) and  there was no doubt in my mind I can hold my own in the world of men.

She reluctantly conceeded, and well, I don’t care 🙂   DM

Here’s a sampler I built 😉 as I was learning to cross stitch:

Doug's Sampler - Copy

I Have Nothing To Prove (Either)

The following thoughts seem to be bubbling to the surface of my mind tonight like the little spring on the West end of my dad’s timber…..

Thursday morning on the way to work, I spotted a young Amish man three stories up, installing two by four’s on a steep house roof.  Parked on the side street sat their work trailer loaded with metal.  I could tell by where he was on the roof, he must have started working at least an hour and one half, possibly two hours before.

I also noticed there was no scaffolding  at the bottom of the roof, just an extension ladder on one corner .  That concerned me for several reasons,  mostly because of safety.

amish roofers 2

(It’s also highly illegal to be that high off the ground without some kind of safety measures in place, but that’s another topic for another day)

I described this scenario to another carpenter Saturday night at our grandson’s birthday party.  We talked about the long hours and unsafe working conditions the Amish roofing crews in our area practice.  (It makes me look slow and lazy in comparison)

“I don’t care anymore.  He said.   I have nothing to prove.  I used to work all day, then turn around and work on something else after I got off work….but not any more.  Like I said, I have nothing to prove.”

That makes me feel good hearing you say that,” I told him!

My family is not Amish per say, but I am  a 4th generation German immigrant.  My Great Grandfather, Grandfather and father also farmed, spoke low German and worked from sun up till sun down.

I don’t “sprekenze Deutsche” but but growing up, I did tend a small  dairy herd.  When I turned 14 I  started working on my dad’s construction crew.   My day started at 5:30, milked 18 to 20 cows, then worked from 7 till 5:30 pouring concrete, go home, milk again, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.   In all of my years growing up, I remember just one 2 day vacation to the Wisconsin Dells.

Hard to find someone to cover for you when you are a dairy farmer.

When I graduated high school I packed my bags and moved out a month later.

It took me almost 10 years after that before I was able to finally stick a cork in the voice in my head that accused me of being lazy when I tried to take a nap on a Sunday Afternoon….

So driving by  the job site and observing those young Amish men putting in long days like that stirred up two distinct thoughts…

#1.  I felt sorry for them….especially the young ones.  They don’t know any different, and unfortunately for them, it would be 100 times harder to break away than it was for me.

#2.  Secondly, it made me thankful.  Thankful that I have been set free from that driven lifestyle.

“It is vain that you rise up early, and go late to bed, eating the bread of anxious toil….for the Lord gives to his beloved rest (or he gives to his beloved, even while they rest”)

(It’s one of my favorite Psalms…I wrote it down on an index card and repeated it every time I started to feel guilty about not working hard enough back in the day.)

You don’t have to be Amish to be driven.

How about you?  Have you figured out that magical blend of  work and rest, work and leisure, Work and family?

What does the word leisure  conjure up when you hear it?

How do you recharge your batteries emotionally and every which way?