My cell phone rang Wednesday night.

 “Why didn’t you stop by our table to at least say hi? ” Jerry said in a slightly accusatory tone.

This past Wednesday, our  family got together to celebrate  mom’s 82nd birthday.  We went to the local Chinese restaurant and  had the place to ourselves.  My sister told me Ling closed the restaurant  for everything except take out orders so she could give my mom her full attention.  (She (Ling) adores my mom.)

A couple we knew not with our party did come in and grabbed a booth.  I really haven’t seen much of them for several years.  Last time I did a little work for him, (Jerry) I sensed some tension.   I probably should have asked him about it, but we don’t run in the same circles anymore and I blew it off.

I had reached out to Jerry via a Facebook message to his wife last Fall, just to tell him “hi”  (Jerry is not on line, but she is occasionally.)  I got a snarky response from her, which just added to my suspicion that something had happened.

When I saw them come into the restaurant I waved and say “hi” but I’ve never been good at “schmoozing” when it comes time to leave somewhere.  (My preference is to slip out quietly.)

Wednesday night was no exception.

I was surprised when I saw Jerry’s name come up on my screen Wednesday evening.  I did apologize for not taking the time to stop @ their table however.

Friday afternoon, Jerry called again.   He asked if I had any plans and  wondered if I would be interested in tagging along visit his brother (whom I know) in a nursing home, a good hour from here.  From there, he planned to stop by a High School wrestling tournament.

It would be late by the time we got home….

I hesitated.

First I am behind on work in my shop.

Secondly, I am not a night owl. (remember..I am a finch).

But at the same time, I sensed this relationship was at a crossroads.

What the heck, I told him I’d go.

I’m glad I did.

Seeing his brother Mark hunkered over in a wheel chair from Parkinson’s disease,  was a shock. Mark’s disease has progressed since I last saw him.  He can no longer live at home with his wife because she is unable to safely take care of him.

I could only understand a fraction of what he said.  I didn’t realize Parkinson’s could do things like that. I just figured it caused  tremors that  can be controlled somewhat with medicine. Boy was I wrong.

We stuck around for an hour.

I pushed Mark through the food line @ the nursing home before we left.  In the past I would have been self conscious.  I think I’m getting older because it didn’t bother me in the least.  I came away from that visit, sobered and thankful.

We just never know.

After we left we drove to the wrestling tournament (about 1/2 hour away)  I wrestled my 8th grade year in school. Brought back memories of  “cotton mouth.”

You’ve never lived until you are one on one with someone intent on putting you on your back in front of a gymnasium full of your peers.

Would love to hear your thoughts on crossroads in your relationships.


Well, time to call it a wrap.  DM


Sara’s Reader

Or     “Why I love local  history “


Pretend  for a moment,  you were a crew foreman for 10 years.

Then  a new job  takes you out-of-state.

25 years later  you  step back into your old  position  at the same company and  realize things have really gone down hill  in the time  you ‘ve been  gone.

There are new faces on the crew. People  are padding their time cards, leaving work early to go  road drinking…and worse,  most of the crew think this is normal.

What do you have that the rest of them don’t have?



Hang on to that word…perspective.  I’ll come back to it in a minute.


Last weekend  I  grabbed a Mcguffey Reader  off  my shelf published in 1833.


Not a reprint but an original addition. Back in 2007 I was doing some research on a local history project and bought several old books on E-bay on a lark. This was one of those old books.  I noticed for the first time, the name  Sarah Ann Strawn dated 1838 in the inside cover.

Just for fun, I did some checking on the Internet to see if she was mentioned anywhere at all.

I hit a gold mine.

I found her mentioned several times.

I’m not going to give you too many details of her life just yet.. 🙂 but I will tell you  this…Between Sarah Ann, her husband Will and her mother-in-law, there is enough raw material  to write a whole new  Little House on the Prairie series….anyone want to help me????

Getting back to Sarah…

Sarah Ann marries when she is  just 17.    Her and her husband  Will   owned a hotel that entertained this young man  on several occasions:

I wondered what it was about their story that stirred me so?

Was it just the thrill of discovery?

A lust for knowledge?

It wasn’t until yesterday that I was finally able to connect the dots and put a name to my inner angst.

Their story gives me Perspective.

When I read about Sarah’s mother in law  with 7 sons carving out a livelihood in 1831, dealing with Indians  on the rampage murdering neighbors it gives me perspective on how good I have it.

When I read about harsh midwest Winter storms dumping 2 feet of snow and ice  and  young families  trying to keep warm in a 24 by 16 ft log cabin and all they had to eat was corn dodgers, salted pork and coffee  it gives perspective on how comfortable I have it.

When I read about how a  families meager salt  supply  runs low so a mom  is forced to let her 15 yr old son and his  7-year-old brother travel 90 miles with 3 yoke of ox to get salt in the dead of winter, it gives perspective on  worry and anxiety.

When I read  about an economic bubble popping   in our nation in 1837 which plunges our country into 5 years of  extreme deprivation, it brings perspective in these uncertain economic times.

    Found a quote on history that  also speaks to me:

     “The writers of history seldom give more than the rise and fall of nations, biographies of great men, kings and princes, and but little or nothing of the common people – a matter of far more importance, and more interesting.

To know the intelligence, opinions, tastes, amusements, method and means of living, routine of every day life, the hopes and fears, which swayed and controlled a people, would be far more interesting than the life of a prince socially far removed from and having no feelings in common with the masses”

So what do you think?

What would you do if  the electrical grid were to go down for a month?

What if  we experienced the popping of another economic bubble and all the wage earners in your home were suddenly out of work…long term?

It really does come down to our perspective.  (attitude)

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my stuff.  (I originally wrote this on my original heart to heart blog that is currently off line.  A  couple of you may remember it.) DM

Thoughts While Scrolling Through Pictures On Facebook

I was scrolling through pictures last night on Face book.  High school classmate of mine has a son who recently returned from India.  Didn’t take me too long before I had a pretty good handle on where the son is at in his life journey.

Spiritual Seeker.

Willing to fly to India, just to try and get “it” figured out.

Woke up this morning, still thinking about that young man.  My mind went to a story by one of my favorite story tellers, Robert Fulghum….


Like many westerners in the late sixties, I wanted to be somewhere else in my religious journey.  Confusion reigned in the kingdom of my mind, and I yearned to construct a framework of understanding that seemed beyond my present cultural tools.  I couldn’t seem to get “there” from “here.”

Zen and its idea of enlightenment appealed to me.  That one might sit very still and empty one’s mind and suddenly be hit by a mighty wave of comprehension beyond words – well that would do. Hit me with the big news and let me walk away with a sense of “I got it!”

Took a leave of absence from my dailiness and went off to Japan to get Zenned properly.  Got connected to a temple and a master.  Shaved my head and face, put on the drab grey robe of the novitiate, and stood in line to get enlightened.  Figured to become a  pretty holy man in pretty short order, like in about six weeks, which was when my return ticket home expired.  Right.

But of course it was not to be.  Sitting still gave me hallucinations and cramps, but not enlightenment.  The food gave me diarrhea.  Sleeping on a board gave me a backache.  And my fellow monks treated me like a Western fool, laughing at me behind my back.  It was one of those times when you know enough to realize there’s something everybody but you knows,s but you don’t know enough to know exactly what it is you don’t know.

But I did know it was time to leave.

To my surprise, an invitation was extended for an interview with the master of the temple.  Which was like a stock-boy being asked to have lunch with the president of thee company.

Since it was largely because of his reputation that I had chosen this particular temple, and since he rarely spent time with tourists like me, the master’s invitation seemed a special honor.

Mabu Kohara, Ph.D. in economics from Tokyo University, solver of all the Zen koans (mind puzzles), adviser to captain of industry, writer of books, speaker of seven foreign languages, a paradigm of the great teacher.  Wise, good, respected, accomplished.  If he didn’t have “it” all figured out, then nobody did.

After I was ushered into his private study, we knelt on cushions and bowed our mutual respect.  He out of courtesy and I out of awe.  For  along time he looked at me and into me.

Very deliberately he shifted his weight to one knee and just as deliberately reached for his backside and scratched himself in that way and in that place your mother told you was a no-no- in public.
“I have hemorrhoids.  They hurt and itch.”

There was nothing in my mental manual as to how to reply to such an opening remark.  I kept my mouth shut and pretended to be thoughtful.

 “The hemorrhoids come from stress, you know.  From worrying about tourists burning down this firetrap of a temple.  From worrying about trying to get enough funding from businessmen to keep it in repair.  From arguing with my wife and children, who are not as “holy” – he smiled- “as I am.”  And from despairing over the quality of the lazy young fools who want to be priests  nowadays.  Sometimes I think I would like to get a little place in Hawaii and just play golf for the rest of my life.”

He leaned to one side and scratched himself again.

It was this way before I was “enlightened,” you know.  And now it is the same after enlightenment.”

A long pause while he silently gave me time to consider his words and actions.

Rising he motioned me to follow him to the entrance alcove of the temple, and we stood before an ancient scroll I had often passed.  He said it was time for me to go home, where he felt I had been a “thirsty man looking for a drink and all the while standing knee-deep in a flowing stream.”  Yes….

With a wink, he turned and walked away.

Carefully scratching his backside.



Morning Song

“You are just like your dad! “ someone recently told my youngest.

(It sounded like this may have been said with a hint of sarcasm.) 😉

Sarcasm: the  use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

“What did he mean?”  I asked.


    “Well, some girl friends were wanting to go out  on the town, and all I wanted to do was stay home, wrap myself in a blanket, have some hot chocolate, maybe watch a good movie then go to bed.  I hadn’t had a nap…  I would much rather get up at the butt crack of dawn.   I have always been that way…  I am an early bird.”


The following flows from that conversation….


Morning song of  a house finch

I go to bed early.

Most nights

my sleep will be sweet.

 5 AM

I am ready to go.

I   head to the  kitchen,

grab two cups of coffee,

 bring them back to bed.

I like to  ease into the day.

Quiet conversation.

A psalm.

Check in with the Divine.

Help for the day….

Then I’m off.

My mate is not an early bird.

But neither is she a grumpy starling.

She is ….



But slower to stir

I am a finch.


Male House Finch


If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be and why?

Silence In The Presence Of The Opposite Sex

pride and prejudice

Last night, wife and I finished watching Pride and Prejudice  by Jane Austen  (again.)

Even though we’ve seen the series before, enough time has passed that I forgot most of it. 🙂

There was so much about Darcey I could relate to, especially his silence in the presence of Lizzy.

He would become tongue tied around her.

Early on, some of it may have been due to his pride, but at the same time, you find out later, his brain would freeze and nothing came out.

That is a struggle I am all to familiar with.


Crippling Shyness.

Rather than rewrite that whole chapter of my life again, here’ s a link to my story that I wrote a few years ago, for a blog called The Shyness Project.


Well, time to get to work.   I’m burning daylight. DM




Ode to the blue collar man

Yesterday I told Bee ” I really liked a  poem  she’d written because of how “accessible” it was to my blue color workers brain.”

She replied :“I am wondering what a “blue color workers brain” looks like.” 😉

Her words got me to thinking all sorts of ways to unpack that question….

Rather than get all philosophical on you, extolling the virtues of having the opportunity to make a living working with my hands,  I decided to write  this little ditty about my dad.


Back story:

Dad graduated high school   in the early  50’s. I’ve been told  a local attorney offered to pick up the tab on his college tuition because  while he had a knack for math, my grandparents were not rich.  I’m sure this was before student loan money was readily available.  Dad opted not to go to college, instead went to work at a packing house. From there he started  driving a cement truck for a cement company.   At some point, he was asked to come into the office and help behind the counter in the lumber yard portion of the business….eventually rising through the ranks to manage both the lumberyard and the concrete plant.

(Remember what I told you about math.) 🙂

In the early 1970’s dad went into business with his brother  as a general contractors. They built up a multi-million dollar construction company, employed one  hundred eighty men over the course of a 30 year span, one of which was me.

This is an ode to the  blue collar man that shaped my life..


Ode To The Blue Collar Man





of a


The heart of

a musician,

the mind of

an engineer.

But somehow..

between raising a family,

paying the bills and farming the land,

his steel guitar  got misplaced in the mix.

Life is a pendulum.Sometimes we learn

by example, and sometimes we choose

a different path.


And on a completely different note.  I changed the picture in my blog header today.  I took that picture of the sun dogs this past Tuesday on the way to work. When we see the sun-dogs in Iowa it usually means  it is cold.

Very cold.  DM

How I Wound Up Going To A Counselor For The First Time…


Read the following when I logged onto Facebook this morning:

“I have a counseling appointment this afternoon. Three members of my family are currently in counseling with more to come.

May I send a bit of love and encouragement to everyone who steps into counseling or therapeutic space for your own soul, marriage, family, or healing? Ditto to those of you sending your hurt kids? Whether you go for preventative maintenance or because you are hanging on by a thread…

There is NOTHING weak about being in the care of a counselor. That is STRONG. That tells me that you are not passively waiting for your strength, your healing. You are DOING THE WORK, poking the bear…..

Bravo, I say! May we grab onto any tool possible as we pursue healthy marriages, healthy kids, and healthy souls….”


I never know who may  stumble across something I post here in this little corner of the Internet, nor what frame of mind you’re in when you’re here.  My thoughts today go out to the hurting, the struggling, the wounded, the deeply confused and  befuddled,  the broken hearted.  (if you’re on your game, then good for you.  I know that’s where I would live all the time if I had my druthers..unfortunately, life doesn’t always allow that to happen. Sometime, life has a way of broadsiding me, even when I’ve been a good boy and have been playing by the rules….

I need to tell you a  story.

The first year of marriage,  wife and I were going through some  crazy, painful, interpersonal stress.  Nothing in all my years of growing up had prepared me for it. Nothing.

And I didn’t have a clue as to what to do about it.

I went to a men’s conference with my dad during this time , and struck up a conversation with a Pastor at coffee break.  (He was probably  10 to 15 years older than I.)    He casually mentioned part of his job was helping the families in his church  work through issues. (One of the things I liked about this guy was he did not strike me as a nerd.  Too many times, the guys who wind up in pastoral rolls,  seem to be effeminate and bookish, and to meet someone with a spiritual perspective on life, and yet also possess a masculinity that our politically correct culture disdains…..well, it was refreshing….

In the back of my mind, I really wanted to know how this man would approach the issues that were vexing my wife and  I… I got in touch with him a few weeks later, asked if we could meet even though we didn’t go to their church, and asked if his wife would also join us.  He agreed to both (meeting and having his wife present).

As I recall, she started by saying, she was not a trained counselor, and wondered if there was anything she could add to our time together?  I assured her there was….because I wanted to pick their brains as a couple…

…Had they ever battled with the presenting issues we brought with us?

How would they respond?

We ended up spending less than an hour with them.  It was a watershed, life changing meeting.  It was empowering.

Came away with some practical wisdom that enabled us to get “unstuck”…

Flash forward from there on out…


From that point on, whether we were dealing with money issues, parenting issues,  anxiety and panic attack issues, depression issues, PTSD, addiction issues, grief, If something cropped up that had the potential to derail (one or several of us) we began the habit of proactively addressing the issue(s)

Call it life coaching if you want….The end result is to not suffer in silence. Take a risk, open your life to someone you trust.

If you’re not sure where to start, maybe you know someone who has been in for counseling.. ask them…if not, feel free to leave me a message or shoot me an e-mail and I would be more than happy to give you some tips, share resources, etc.

side note-  there have been several times in my life now where I didn’t have to spend a dime…resources like a good  book written on the issue at  hand, a trusted  wiser friend,  was all that  it took.



The Note

I was thumbing through the class listings at our  local community College this morning.    Took me back in time to a class I attended   just after we moved back to Iowa from the East Coast.

I’d done some trim work for a young stewardess shortly before we moved and she owed me about $200. I’d called her a couple of times asking if she would send me a check before we relocated…

The check never came…

Shortly after we moved back,  a course on assertive communication caught my eye.

The inability to collect that bill  was one small example of a problem that touched multiple areas of my life.

Complicating my inability to be assertive were some  erroneous ideas on how the faith component of my life applied in certain situations….

“Turn the other cheek,  if someone asks for your shirt, give him your coat as well.”

And then there were verses about “dying to yourself” etc. etc.

If you’ve never run in Christian circles this stuff will probably sound far out there….but if you have, you know what I’m talking about.

Running around with half cocked ideas on what the Almighty expected of me, compounded by a people pleasing bent, and a serious case of low self esteem…

I was  a walking door mat.

And I was tired of it.


There were 13 or  14 of us at the workshop. All but two  were women. We covered  “The Assertiveness Bill Of Rights“, we roll played, worked on handouts, we laughed. (Did lots of laughing as I recall) 😉

You’re talking about reprogramming some very deeply ingrained negative  thought patterns when you  address issues like this, and those changes do not happen over night.

I came home  with several seeds planted in my soul knowing this stuff might take time to take root and get established .

To be assertive is not to be obnoxious nor aggressive.  It is living your life with new  (and more) options.

We talked about how to deal with  customer service, how to recognizing when someone is  manipulating you  through intimidation, fear, etc.

I learned I have the right to say “No. No thank you. Thanks but no thanks.”

I have the right to change my mind.

I learned the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness which are two totally different behaviors.

They are totally different behaviors.

I had a light bulb moment when I realized someone in my life had been using aggressive, manipulative, shaming behavior for years to control me (and others) at work.   And once I realized it for what it was, I was free to say “Enough!”

It took multiple confrontations before they realized their mind games no longer worked on me.

You already probably know this but just in case you need a gentle reminder…

Living in situations where you are bullied and controlled by an aggressive person can  result in depression, and a host of medical issues.

A local Doctor told someone I know that the long term  stress  of their job was definitely aggravating their  diabetes.

Another family member was told by his Dr. that their diagnosis of colon cancer was very probably connected to the stress in his life from years of dealing with an out of control teen.

Came home from that workshop, wrote a nice but firm note along with another invoice to my client in New Jersey. I thanked her for the work, but wanted her to know  that from here on out, I was going to be charging her 18% interest on the unpaid balance..

I got a check the next week.




Some of my best employee’s over the years, have been men who had the “opportunity” to spend a little time in the pokey.

Dave was one of those men. He and I were talking about life behind bars one afternoon. He’d been in the Cook County Jail more than once.

We got onto the topic of making jail house  hooch.

I love learning about stuff like that.

It’s not about getting a buzz  for me as much as discovering  how something works.

As Dave put it, “When you’re behind bars, you have a lot of time on your hands   This is just one more thing to do to break up  your  day.”


Making home made hooch runs in my family.  Can’t say anyone is  currently is doing it, as far as I know, but when my grandpa was a young man during the prohibition, it was a family affair.

Before my grandpa passed away,   My son John and I stopped by his  house  with a  tape recorder.  I  wanted to record him  retelling the stories I’d heard  growing up.

One of  my favorite stories was about he and his brother making moonshine.  (Found out later their dad (my great grandfather) was also in on the operation.)  There were 8 boys in the family, and apparently the still was  hidden in a hog feeder.  I asked grandpa to tell me the story again..for the first time ever, he gave me the recipe 😉

You take a hundred pounds of sugar,  a bushel of Rye.  let it soak for a week.  Put it on the stove, bring it to a boil.  In  the lid you have a hole to let the steam out.  Attach  a coil of  tube to the hole .  Put the end of the tube in the jug.  That’s all there is to it.


When I think about  alcohol  (now) the first  thing  that comes to my mind  is “ Who is in Control?”

The booze or me?

There is nothing innately evil about alcohol  in itself.

It is what it is.

I probably have 3 or 4  servings of  alcohol   a years.

My struggles are  in other areas.

I don’t believe you have to completely abstain to be in good standing with The Almighty.

You live long enough and you discover,  alcohol has a mind of it’s own.

Just ask someone who’s addicted .

That’s why  early in our marriage my wife and I  decided we would not drink unless we were in the company of each other.

(Or immediate family).

Stopping @ the bar after work for a couple of beers is a great way to undermine your marriage.

If you really want to  be  radical,  next time you’re out with your friends   order  ice water with lemon…

…or coffee (black) :-)

It messes with people’s minds.

Besides,  alcohol makes me sleepy.

On Self Control and My Health

Ran to  the  Urgent Care  New Years morning.  I have been sounding like a frog for 5 weeks. Figured it was probably viral and was willing to let it run it’s course.  This weekend, however, it felt like the crud was starting to  migrate into my lungs (before it was all in my head- literally), and I didn’t want it to morph into walking pneumonia.

My baby sister is an RN, so I called her the night before just to bounce my concerns off her…

Just to be clear-  I don’t abuse my relationship with her…I pay her lavishly for her medical advice with apples.  Last fall, she was the first person I let into the orchard to pick  the Honey-crisp when they were ready. Baby sister thought 5 weeks was long enough and concurred with me.

Had a very delightful conversation with the nurse that took my story and my vitals when I got to the urgent care.  Blood pressure was off the chart- in spite of the fact I had only had 1 small cup of my Starbucks french roast (freshly ground) brew.

Rechecked the blood pressure 3 minutes later – it had dropped 20 points but was still not good.  I contended that I was still under the effects of the “White coat” syndrome.

When the nurse checked my weight, it too was off the chart 😦

Granted I still had my hooded sweat shirt on, shoes, etc. so I expected to be a few pounds over my normal .  Wrong.   Seems this holiday pause has agreed with me quite well, I am packing an additional 5 pounds just within the past 2 weeks.

Came home with 3 specific health related targets…

Get back to a weight I feel healthy at (the weight the chart says is my ideal weight is totally nonsensical.)    It says I should be 170 to 185.

I have no desire to be a stick.  Last time I got below 190, the cheeks in my rear hurt from the lack of padding when I sat down.

190 is as low as I will go. Thank you very much. I don’t care if I don’t qualify for a discount on my health coverage because I’m consider slightly overweight.

Second thing I did was order a blood pressure testing machine so I can check myself @ home, before I’m all jazzed on coffee etc.

I want to have a handle on my real blood pressure from here on out.

Not currently on any meds for anything, (except Starbucks french roast (beans freshly ground) and want to keep it that way.

Third thing I did was grab my wife’s little cloth measuring tape and measured my true waist size-  not my pants waist number.  Got a third wake up call 🙂

That baby has got to come back down a few notches…for sure for sure.

Diabetes also runs in my genetic pool..and I do have a sweet tooth. Been known to inhale a bar of Marzipan  in one setting and not think twice.


The common denominator for several of my life  health issues is (and has been)  gulp, a lack of self control.    I am so thankful I am not controlled by  alcohol, smut or anger… but put a bag of salty chips, some french onion dip in front of me when I’m hungry and  it’s not pretty..

So currently trying to reprogram my brain with this little Jewish proverb…it stirs something good in me:

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

I am not on a diet.  I am on a lifestyle reboot.