Honest Work

When my husband Matt was about ten years old, his grandfather started taking him to the family cherry orchards on Saturday afternoons.  Matt would work alongside the farm hands, whistling as he went, to let his grandfather know he wasn’t eating any of the cherries intended for the bushel. a full day’s work netted Matt 50 cents.  If his grandfather bought him a hot dog and soda, they called it even.

As a teenager,  his dad would call up from the breakfast table, “Two minutes!”  Matt knew better than to challenge – he was dressed, fed and out raking leaves or tilling soil before the sun had risen over the ridge.

I was horrified by these stories during our first years together.  I mourned for his lost childhood, thinking gratefully of my  Saturday mornings in front of the cartoons, slurping cereal.  After we were married, though, I noticed quickly he’d be done with his chores while I was still cursing over the dishes.  His focus was intense but cheerful.  He got the job done well and quickly because he put himself completely into the task – because he’d learned to enjoy honest work.

No matter if he’s cleaning the gutters or finishing a report, Matt embraces each project as an opportunity for expression.  His lovingly stirred spaghetti sauce says, “I feed and nourish our family.”  His well- weeded garden says, “I savor my connection to the earth.”  Through example after example, he demonstrates the key to happiness in whatever we do.  Matt’s lesson: All work – on the field, in the factory, or on the computer – can be honest and fulfilling, if we approach it from a place of devotion.

As Matt has shown me, honest work is our contribution to the community and to the world, the outward manifestation of our soul’s purpose.   Just as the trees keep the air clean, give us shade, and shower us with fruits and nuts, so too we are we each charged with our task, creating the future, one brick – or compost pile or database or cherry pie – at a time.

By Mariska Van Aalst from the book 50 Things that really matter

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My wife read this to me  this week, said it reminded her of me.

I’m sure our kids have stories to tell.

 

Daughter  pouring concrete with the Papa.

 

Never too young to start. (Grandson and I at his first pour)

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I was thinking about this essay on work again this morning.  We had an early Saturday morning cement pour at my daughters house.  It was a small pour, as far as pours go…just 12 yards of concrete. (See photo @ beginning of this post.)

12 yards = 2 truck loads

Lots of friends and family showed up to get-er-done as they say. Cement truck got there at 7:15 and I was back on the road heading home by 8:30.     I love that my 60-year-old body  enables me to still do this sort of thing.    I did break a sweat, but the rush of endorphins kicked in 3 minutes after I started moving concrete.  I know there will come a day, if I live long enough, that I will leave the concrete work to younger men..but until then…

I’ll round this out with a couple of crew pictures…one taken when I was 19 and the second, this past week.

I love my job.

That’s me holding a can of Old Milwaukee back in the day

Crew photo from earlier this week, just after we finished hand setting (20)  30 ft long by 8 ft high garage trusses.

Later! DM

 

 

 

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Anarchy

I was just getting settled into my seat on the plane.  We were part of a large group traveling to an out of state wedding when from the back of the plane some little kid (turned out to be from our group) started screaming  “Fu@k you!,  Fu#k you!!!”

On and on…(at his mother, who was trying to get him strapped in.)

Mother was aghast.  She did the best she could to shush him, but he didn’t stop.  He finally quit screaming, out of exhaustion.

Flash forward to last week.

Same branch of the  family…..

Next generation.

They now have a Little Boy.

Last week his Grandpa from Germany flew in town for the week.   He was having a conversation  with the grandpa from Amerika. (This would be the father of the little boy on the plane from 20 years ago.)

Little Boy has been running around the living room in a large circle, saw visiting grandpa standing in his way, screamed at him to move, proceeded to spit at him.  Grandpa from Germany didn’t hesitate, grabbed grandson,  said “you will NOT spit on me,” picked him up, gave him a well placed swat on the backside.  Little Boy having never (as far as I know) ever experienced anything like this in his life, began to cry.  Father of Little Boy, heard the commotion came up from the basement, took Little Boy away…few minutes later, took his dad off to the side and informed him, they do not believe in physical punishment in their home/ ever.

Grandpa from Germany, did not apologize, did not back down.  For the rest of his visit, there is an under current of tension.

Unbeknownst to him, he (the grandpa) is now on the naughty list.

(I got this story 2nd hand last night from a first hand witness,)

 

I know this stuff shouldn’t vex me (but it does.)

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We’ve raised 4 children into adulthood, that all still love to come home and hang out.  I’ve taught in multiple settings, (mostly Jr High, and one year of high school).  I learned early on, if the respect (and fear of consequences) is not there, you are in for a ride.

Talk to me.

I’m trying to process and shake this off.

DM

 

 

 

 

Aspirations

Got a call this morning from a guy named Dave.   Dave sells post and beam construction houses and is looking for a local crew to sub out part of a project.  Before coming to Iowa, he was in the military jumping out of air planes.  After that he worked  for a spell building million dollar log homes in Colorado.  Spent some time living off the grid out west.  Finally settled down and started a family.  Now he’s in Iowa.  His body is shot.  Got my name from the guy I’d gotten honey bees from last year.

I was telling my crew about the conversation at break.

Jason made the comment he’d love to start general contracting  larger projects.

I told him my aspiration, is to learn the art of consistently growing large onions. (I still haven’t figured it out.)

Learn how to consistently grow large onions and get a few laying hens. (again) 😉

Ones that lay large brown eggs.

Nothing like stepping outside in the morning before heading to work, heading over to the chicken house for breakfast.   Eggs that are still warm.  Chop up a large onion,  saute in butter.  Maybe  cook up a little bacon or ham,  Couple of eggs over easy....and coffee….dark roast.

Now that is a thing of beauty. 🙂

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Fell into my life calling quite by accident. Been doing it for 40 plus years.  Intended to go to college after a working for a year for my dad.  At the end of that first year, I realized I loved construction. I loved what I was doing, and if I stayed with it long enough, it held out the possibility of making a decent income.  I love working with my hands.  Love using applied math to calculate roof pitches, stairs stringers,  estimates, etc.   I stick framed a  high-end  house roof  back in the 1990’s that had 27 hips and valley’s.  Two story, 12/ 12 pitch.  Yep.  Been there done that.  General contracted enough houses (5) to get that out of my system too.  I can give you several reasons why I would never/ ever general contract a house again. Sub out parts of it, absolutely. General the whole thing.  Nada.

I’m all about stress management.

Love it when the phone doesn’t ring.

 

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Came across the following  30 years ago and it continues to inform my choices:

“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 sleep (or gives to his beloved in his sleep”)

(A Jewish scripture.  Psalm 127:2)

I’ve written on this topic multiple times. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

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If you were having coffee with me today,  how would you  answer that question on goals and aspirations (currently)?

I’m genuinely interested. DM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speak Life

Quick story from this morning….

Number one son and I were in Muscatine the last couple of days doing repairs on a turn of the century house.  Place had been converted into a group home and was in need of some TLC.   First thing that struck me when we got to the job was the  neighborhood.  Lots of large older homes, that in their day would have been something to see.  Second thing that struck me was the couple next door. The two of them, ( I’m guessing, mid 70’s) were hard at it.  She had a dew-rag on her head, and he had one of those floppy safari hats.   Their house sat back further from the street than the rest of the houses on the block and it  (the house) looked like it could be on the cover of a magazine.  A part of me wanted to tell them how nice their place looked, but I didn’t want to come across as some nut-case, so I kept my thoughts to myself.

This morning on the way back to Muscatine, the guy on the radio was talking about the power of our words.  Our words have the power to  build up, and tear down, and to look for opportunities to encourage.

So, that little thought was rolling around in my head  as I was finishing up.  I spotted the neighbor lady bringing a garbage can out to the street, so I thought, what the heck. I told her good morning.   Then I told her  how much I had admired the way they kept their place up.  She in turn complimented me on how nice the newly painted front and back porch looked on the house we were working on.  We  talked for 30 seconds, but that’s all it took.

That little ditty they taught you when you were a kid about “sticks and stones can break your bones, but word can never harm you.”

That’s a bunch of BS.  (BS stands for Bad Stuff in German.)

I have a  friend who will occasionally say to me “Speak life.” 

I like it.

I think it’s a spin off from the phrase “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

Do I do this perfectly?  Nada.

Especially at home.

Well, I better call it a day. Later! DM

 

 

Funeral Day

I should be in bed.

Can’t sleep.

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Went to a funeral visitation today.

Buried one of our pet cats yesterday.    Two tangible reminders in one week  to the  fragility of life.

I will miss her. (The cat)

She was feral.

We called her “Miss Kitty”.

Pretty sure she was abused before  she showed up at our door.  Never, really trusted us.
But she did have a special relationship with Libby. The two of them would snuggle together in the winter.

 

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Funerals, funeral visitations, receiving lines, that whole flurry of activity that comes with a death.   Mom and I were talking about all that stuff again recently.  She agreed with me when I said the less you say the better.  Hugs, warm handshakes, look the family in the eye…but no empty cliches!

That approach has served me well the last several times.

The month my father-in-law died, my favorite grandma also died, then a few weeks later, a third person.  We were emotionally numb.  I can still remember our friends Leslie and Mel, Chris and Kelly,  sitting in the foyer of the funeral home just hanging around.  They knew this was our 3rd trip to the funeral home in a month.  Just their presence there was enough.

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Few years ago, when we were more  involved hosting concerts, Beth Wood a singer/ songwriter stayed with us one weekend.  She had just released her album  Beachcombers Daughter.   One of my favorite songs on that album was called Funeral Day.

It goes  like this:

We were laughing, it was funeral day
I guess it might seem strange that we’d behave that way
It was just our bodies craving levity,
My grief a heavy blanket weighing down on me
So we laughed until the sun went down
Trading stories, passing the bottle around
Recalling all the good times we had
It didn’t seem so sad

It all started at the parlor doors
Cousin Henry’s kid tripped on an extension chord
We busted out, what else could we do?
Hell, I knew that you were up there crackin’ up, too
So we laughed until the preacher came in
Then we settled down and we listened to him
Staring at your photograph

It didn’t seem so sad

Well we got some dirty looks from the old blue-hair crowd
But with all due respect, I think we did you proud
By laughing out loud

…it’s just a simple story, we’re here and then we’re gone

So I laugh remembering that day
How we carried on and how it washed our tears away
I’m smiling and I’m looking back
It doesn’t seem so sad.

Sending this one out to all of you that are missing someone.

Whether it’s been just a few weeks or 20 years.

DM

 

Parenting Cliff Notes

Parenting.

Just about the time you finally have some sense of how to do it, you’re done.

My thoughts turned toward the art of parenting again last night as I was on the phone with my wife. She is helping out our daughter who has a new baby.  As we were talking, I could hear the other grandchild in the back ground throwing a temper tantrum.  Since she isn’t my child, it isn’t my place to tell them how to parent,  and yet…

“What makes you think I have anything credible to say?”  You ask.

Now that is a great question! 😉

Especially since I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants most of the time.   Those last years  I was in  survival mode.

And yet,  I have  watched our four kids enter adulthood, start families of their own.  They love to come home to their mama and papa and, they get along with each other.  That’s the end game.  Work yourself out of a job.

I refuse to take credit for how our children turned out,  which in itself is instructive.

Children are remarkably resilient.

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I have been reading gardening comment threads on the Internet the past month.  Spring is in the air.  I was reminded again, just how many and varied are the approaches to gardening, and just how full of themselves are some of the “experts.”  It is such a turnoff listening to someone tell a Newby how to “do it correctly.” (Especially when I come from a completely different school of thought.)

So that is the last thing on my mind when I talk about parenting.  I do NOT have it “all figured out.”

The whole parenting experience (for me)  came to a head when our oldest two hit their teen years.

One of the girls (age 14) decided to run away.  If I remember correctly, she told us  she was thinking about running away because we were too strict.  She wanted to spend more time with another girl whose family  wasn’t like ours.   I told her to think twice, because if, on the outside chance DHS  (State agency that works with families) got involved, you never know..they could even removed her younger brother and sister  from the home.

Well,  those words fell on deaf ears, and the next thing I knew, she did  runaway.  She was still in town, but thumbing her nose at us as a family.  She was going to do just what she wanted to do, and that was that.

Well, this was all new, uncharted territory for me. I’d never run away myself although I had thought about leaving home when I was 16.  I’d read the book My Side of the Mountain, and magazine articles by  Euell Gibbons.   I remember  having a craving to eat cat tail root, catch crawdads, find a big old tree and live in the trunk.  I had a hunting knife and a hatchet, a sleeping bag, and a pup tent (in case I couldn’t find a big enough tree.)  I’d been in cub scouts when I was younger, so I was pretty sure I had what it took to survive….but that was about as far as it got.

We gave her two days, then decided it was time to reel her in.  It was Summer.  Baseball season.  My sources told me she was at a little league game down by the fairgrounds.

I called our pastor at the time and asked him if he wouldn’t mind riding along with me to pick her up.

I went to the game.  Saw her sitting on the end of the bleachers.  She glared at me when she saw me. I  told her it was time to go and to get in the van.  She could see I meant business.   We headed to our pastor’s house  and sat down at the kitchen table.  I told her she had two choices.  Boarding school or two weeks at my cousins who lived several hours away.  He  was married, had a  young family.   He had a reputation for being VERY strict  and the last place our kids would have chosen to spend the summer….

I told her (with tears) that I would not sit by and watch her or anyone destroy our family.  I reminded her again about the very real possibility of DHS coming in and pulling her younger brother and sister out of the house, and that hadn’t mattered to her.

It was a watershed moment in our relationship.

She decided to go to my cousins, for two weeks.

When she came back, there was a  change in our relationship, (for the better.)

You’ve heard about strong-willed children?  Yep, she is one and I love her to pieces.  The stories she brings to our lives now, well, I could write a book.

The challenge is to break that defiant, in your face, bad attitude without, breaking their spirit.

If you’ve bought into that siren song of being your child’s friend first and everything will all work out, then I wish you the best…I will have to admit, I bought into some of that, which in hindsight was a big part of the confusion.  When they start telling YOU how it’s going to be, maybe you will think back to this post and drop me a note and we can talk.

I’ve taught  Jr high, high school and college classes, as well as managed a construction crew, all of which has helped me tremendously on the road  to be a wiser parent…it’s funny, many of the same principles apply.

Without respect (and it goes both ways) it’s only a matter of time before things  get crazy (Home, school and work.)

There is absolutely a place  to have  “fear of consequences” in the back of a person’s mind, then being willing to deliver on them when you are tested.

When love, respect, clear expectations, and real consequences are in place, then you are at a good place.

 

 

Why I Write

Got a call this morning from a friend.  Their family was in the middle of one of those situations where you are grasping for straws.

Just so happened, I’d walked through something very similar 10 years ago.

We talked for 5 minutes,  I mostly listened…

When it seemed appropriate, I shared just enough of my story to let her know I  got it….I put into words some of the confusion she was feeling.  By the end of our conversation, I heard  just a glimmer of hope in her voice.

I called her tonight just to check on her.   Still not out of the woods, but at a better place than this morning.

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Dawned on me tonight, that is the main reason I keep this blog.

CS Lewis wrote: ...”I read to know I am not alone.” 

Well, I write to let you know you are not alone.

Real life is full of ups and downs, highlights and low lights….if I am to believe social media,  then many people’s lives are one big success story….and we both know that is not true. Life is a mixed bag.   Currently things in my life are on an even keel…and I like it that way.  If a person dropped into my life for the first time right now, they’d never guess some of the stuff I’ve wrestled with and won.

Friend of mine joined a grief support group a few years ago after loosing one of her children.  One of the older women in the group had buried a husband and two children.   When she spoke, (the older woman) she spoke with insight forged on the anvil of life.  She said she had credentials.  She wasn’t just spouting theory.

That pretty much sums up where I am coming from.

If you dig a little deeper on this blog, there is some darker stuff as well, and I’ve put it there intentionally.

Yes, I’ve been known to write about refinishing  a claw foot tub,  tending an apple orchard, or dealing with a testy neighbor…. At the end of the day, my main intention is to share my ordinary life with anyone who cares to follow along.  I work real hard at not spouting trite platitudes…

I hate them.

Two days ago, a friend shared with me in confidence  something he had been thinking.  I told him, I’d had similar things go through my head before..

“No way!   Really?”

Oh yea. 🙂

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That is the long and short of it.

Gonna leave you with a song…make sure you turn up the volume. 😉

DM