I canned tomatoes for over thirty years. Six years ago, I didn’t have enough for a canner (seven quarts), but more than I could use fresh. We had freezer space, so I went that route. I’ve not canned a tomato since.
If you have freezer space, consider these advantages:
No need to sterilize jars.
No quantity requirements filling a canner.
No salt or lemon needed.
No canner to watch.
No running stove to heat up the kitchen.
Use lids over and over.
The process is far quicker.
I eyeball my tomatoes to get an idea how many quarts I will need. Before I head downstairs to get jars, I get a pot of water heating. I wash my jars. Because they will go in the freezer, I don’t bother sterilizing them.
IMPORTANT: because they go in the freezer, only use canning jars (e.g., Mason, Ball). Other jars will break once frozen. Canning jars might break, but over the years I’ve had only one or two do so.
As you wait for your pot of water to come to a boil, get a bowl of ice water ready.
Place tomatoes in the boiling water for thirty seconds. This loosens the peel for easy removal.
Use a slotted spoon to remove them. Place them in the cold water.
If tomatoes float in the hot water, hold them down. You want all sides to sizzle.
I leave tomatoes in the ice water until the next batch is ready to come out of the boiling water. I then place them in the kitchen sink. If, during the process, all of your ice melts and the water is no longer cold, add ice. The fruits need to cool fast so they don’t cook.
When you’ve heated and cooled all of your tomatoes, it’s time to peel ’em and jar ’em . . . after you make good use of the hot water!
During corn season, the water used for cooking the cobs went onto the weeds in the cracks of our driveway. I cleared them up! It cost me nothing extra and is environmentally safe. Now, I’m working on our patio.
Onto the tomatoes! Core them and remove any bad spots.
Then use your fingers to slide off the skin. There might be spots you need to free with your knife.
Of course, all of the peels and cores go into the compost bucket, to go onto the compost pile. Eventually, they will wind up back in the garden to help more tomatoes grow!
I quarter medium-sized fruits. Larger ones get cut into as many as eight pieces.
As the jar fills, use a wooden spoon to compact them and remove all air pockets.
Leave 3/4″ to 1″ head space. Put lids in place and screw on rings. Since lids don’t need to seal, reuse lids year to year.
I estimated that I had enough ripe tomatoes for five quarts. I needed to retrieve one more jar.
This jar went into the freezer with only one tomato. Next time, I will begin with it and fill it up.
Not counting picking the tomatoes, the process took me almost exactly an hour. If I had canned them, I’d still be waiting on the canner.
Canning has one advantage: you don’t have to thaw them. When I know I’m going to use tomatoes the next day, I put a jar in the fridge. They are thawed enough the next day to remove them. When I forget or don’t have time, I put the jars in warmish water, changing the water as it gets cold from the thawing jars. A couple of hours of that and you can free them from the jars.
My mom was the oldest. Grandma was 22 when she had Mom, then had the twins at 39—what a surprise that must have been. My mom was 17 when Uncle Bob was born. He was almost 17 when I was born. Until researching to write this, I hadn’t realized he was exactly midway in age between Mom and me.
The first memories I have of Uncle Bob were at Grandma’s house. He was in his early twenties, tall, with an athletic build, and thick brown hair always combed back. Man, I was envious of that hair.
Grandma had photos of him in high school, playing sports for Muskegon Catholic High. He cut an impressive figure. “Grandma, was he good?” And off she went telling stories.
It wasn’t until years after it happened that his twin told us of the time, when they were teenagers, he pulled a nasty prank on her. It was after church, Aunt Barb said, and her brother came up behind her. He pretended to sneeze. Well, he had gone into the kitchen and broken an egg into his hand. When he “sneezed,” he flung the egg into her hair.
Uncle Bob was standing there as she recounted the event. He swore up and down he didn’t do it. She swore up and down that he did. She couldn’t see the face he made to the rest of us—mouth and eyes wide open, giving us an I sure did do it! look. I’m not one for practical jokes, but I always thought this would be a fun one to pull (so watch your backs).
Now, pay close attention to this: there were the twins, Bob and Barb. Barb married a man named Bob. And Bob married a woman named Barb. And, as if that were not enough, their sister, my Godmother Aunt Ginger, named her oldest Barb, who proceeded to marry a man named . . . yup, she sure did.
So, basically, when introducing the couples on my mom’s side of the family, I just told people, “It’s Barb and Bob, and Bob and Barb, and Barb and Bob, and Bob and Barb, and Barb and Bob . . .”
When he got married in 1971, Uncle Bob was a bit older for those days, getting married at age 31. I’m glad they got to mark their fiftieth anniversary. Aunt Barb sure earned it.
We used to kid him that he’d never get hitched. When Aunt Barb said yes, it was almost unbelievable. She was very pretty and so nice! What was the deal? Did she commit some crime, and this is how she got paroled? If it weren’t that, maybe it was that she wasn’t fully in control of her faculties: she grew up at a place where the barn’s sign read The Nutt Farm (her maiden name).
Uncle Bob married a Nutt, but Aunt Barb married the nut. Ain’t life grand?
I remember one thing about Uncle Bob and Aunt Barb’s wedding day. Well, two things, both at their reception. There were a couple of empty tables at the back of the hall. They were set up for guests. Each table had bowls of ice with butter patties in them. I think my younger brother Dave joined me in walking around eating the butter.
Until Mom caught us.
That meant moving onto the cake, which was on a small, round table. There was loads of frosting around the base of it. What’s a boy to do but walk around it, tracing his finger at that frosting, keeping it smooth so no one could tell any was missing?
Until Mom caught us.
Sheesh. Didn’t she pay any attention to the couple that just got married?
It turned out that Bob and Barb were a great match and enjoyed the kind of marriage all couples should. They were blessed with two dandy daughters, Rosemary and Maria, and three splendid granddaughters.
I found Grandma, Mom, and Uncle Bob shared strong attributes (which, I suspect, my cousins of their two sisters would argue so did their mothers). Each had a great sense of humor and were easily riled. (Yup, that describes the whole lot of them.) When a person is easy to get to, they are prime picking for bedeviling.
We were at a party, at my brother Tom’s. Uncle Bob sat down next to me in the living room, with a piece of cake on his plate. I spied it and said, “That looks good,” and proceeded to grab it and cram the entire piece into my mouth. As I chewed and swallowed, Uncle Bob was somehow simultaneously shocked and not surprised.
Because of deer hunting, and the family deer camp we established in 1981, I got to know Uncle Bob well. Indeed, I was thankful he continued to come to deer camp, and did so right up through last season (though COVID-19 kept me home).
Eventually, I no longer lived in the area. He was the only one on Mom’s side of the family I saw for many years. Before the days of social media, he was my source for news about the extended family.
When times were tough in the USA after the financial crash of 2008, we were discussing things at deer camp. Someone made a comment—something like wanting to buy a house—and Uncle Bob said, “In this economy?” He said it as if the person were nuts for even thinking about it.
Naturally, I used that against him the rest of the week. “Greg, could you pass the salt?” “Uncle Bob, in this economy?” You know, stuff like that. Comedy gold. And you who knew Uncle Bob can easily guess what he said in response. Since this is a family show, I don’t dare repeat it.
Uncle Bob had bad knees. He wobbled and hobbled as he cobbled his way over the uneven ground at deer camp. Of course, we made fun of him, even as we were impressed that he kept coming to hunt.
For a time, four of us slept in Tom’s tiny trailer—two large men each in beds that were barely big enough for one average-sized guy. The snoring was so loud, it was reported by NASA that astronauts could hear it.
We all pitched in with the food for camp. Uncle Bob often brought a pot of vegetable soup. He made it with ground beef. I love veggie soup, but had never made it with burger. Did I love it? Indeed, so much that it’s how I came to make veggie soup. From now on, I’ll remember Uncle Bob when I prepare a batch.
He always came to deer camp equipped with one item: hot sauce. He put it on everything. He slathered his eggs with it. I made fun of him. Until I tried it on my eggs. And was made a believer.
Speaking of being a believer, this is the best way to conclude my remembrance of this beloved guy. Our deer camp sits fifteen minutes from Montague. Uncle Bob lived in Muskegon. He was a faithful Roman Catholic.
How many people, when on vacation—and at deer camp!—take the time to go to church, and at a place that’s not their congregation?
Uncle Bob did. He never missed a mass. Each Saturday afternoon at camp, wearing his cleanest plaid shirt and jeans he drove into Montague, to St. James Catholic, and did what the faithful do: he worshiped the Lord and received the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection.
And it’s for this reason we, who mourn his death, enjoy the sure and certain hope that we are not saying goodbye, but see you later.
See you later, Bob Vogel. You were a splendid uncle and a great friend.
In 1996, I got to play on the Field of Dreams. It was as magical as I could have hoped.
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Tonight (August 12, 2021), Major League Baseball will play a game on the site of the movie. It’s in Dyersville, Iowa. This will be the first major league game ever played in the state.
When I received my call from seminary to be pastor in Guttenberg and McGregor, Iowa, I had no idea I would be living twenty-five miles from the Field of Dreams. It was only when we were moving and neared Dyersville that we saw a sign for the field.
We soon visited on a Sunday afternoon. The place was busy. No organized game was being played, but only people shuffling in and out every several minutes.
No one was catching. Pitched balls were being retrieved and tossed back to the pitcher. Though I had no glove, I stepped into the catcher’s spot. The pitcher was lobbing the ball, so when the batter missed or let a pitch go through, I was able to catch it.
After a couple of batters, I asked the next person in line if I could have my turn. I could have batted the rest of the afternoon. To be polite, I took perhaps six or seven pitches. I grounded some to infielders. I think I hit one good one to the outfield. I was 39; I wasn’t yet too over the hill.
I didn’t want to leave the field, but there were others waiting their turn.
I’ve been a baseball fan since I can remember. I played organized ball from the youngest we could in the 1960s. All the way through high school I played pick-up games, many of them in the field of one of my good friends, Brian Cribbs. As an adult, I played softball for years, often in two leagues at a time, usually leading my team in hitting. I used to have a huge baseball card collection. I’m a student of baseball history. I’ve watched thousands of games on TV.
Oh, and I’ve enjoyed watching Field of Dreams a few times. I always experience a deep sense of nostalgia.
Hearing about tonight’s game found me reflecting on that Sunday in 1996 when I played on the Field of Dreams, and wondering what it is that gives us the magical feeling I experienced. It got me thinking about other things that take us back in time, send us off to other places, mentally and emotionally place us in beloved times in our lives (or even in tragic and terrible moments).
Smells do it. Turkey roasting takes me to my grandmother’s house. A certain cologne (the name of which I do not recall) brings to mind my mom. The time I drove into a metro Chicago manufacturing district and smelled Cocoa Puffs permeating the neighborhood set me back at our kitchen table at 4931 Wilcox Street in Montague.
Songs do it. My long-time favorite pop song, 10cc’s 1975 hit “I’m Not In Love,” transports me to our Wilcox Street basement, where I played that song over and over and over to the frustration of everyone else in the house. Countless other songs invoke strong feelings. You could surely name a dozen of them that do quick and deep work on you.
Photos do it. I was recently searching for a photo. I didn’t find it. I spent an hour on the task because I kept getting tripped up on what pictures were doing to me. Photos from when I was a clown in a parade in McGregor, Iowa found me mentally walking that route, even longing to do it again. Photos from a Tigers’ game in the ’70s put me right back in that seat on the third base side, and I could see everything as if it were being played in that moment.
Dates do it. Birthdays do it. Anniversaries of weddings, or deaths, or accidents, or the day you moved in to your new house, and many more do it.
Places do it. It happened to me last month, as it always does when I go home to Montague. It’s one reason I love to go jogging when I’m home as I can cover most of the town and the slow pace allows time for memories to blossom and bloom, and good feelings to flow from my head to my heart.
And that’s what happened when I played on the Field of Dreams.
After my turn at bat, I grabbed Kim and our four kids. We walked along the edge of the field, out to the outfield, so we could enter the corn and walk into the field as the players did in the movie. It was July and the corn was pretty tall, so we got the full effect.
Typing this piece did its good work on me: it took me back, doing what places and smells and songs do in us. The memories engaged my head and sent them to my heart.
Julie and I had plans to go home to Montague, Michigan, for the July 4th weekend. That meant getting a hotel. Fearing rooms would be booked solid quickly with so many of us experiencing post-lockdown ants in our pants, I began calling hotels in April.
I was finding them to cost way more than the last time I used one in the area, and the one known to be older and with not the finest of furnishings told me they have a marijuana odor problem. “But, you’re non-smoking,” I said. “The pot smokers don’t seem to care.” She informed me they were in the process of purchasing a cleaning system that would take care of the problem, but it would be too late for us.
I told Julie of the prices I was getting. They all felt too steep.
A few hours later, she told me about a place she found by searching Airbnb. It’s an old motel in Whitehall, which is Montague’s sister city—only a causeway over the White River, which immediately turns into White Lake, separates the towns. The motel had been recently renovated.
And the price was right, fully one half the cost of one of the chain hotels that are out by the freeway (except for the pot-smell-infected one). And those in Muskegon. And up in Hart.
I clicked the link, selected a room—number one of the ten—and completed the process. All communication was done via text and email. Indeed, every time I received a text, I got the same info via email. I appreciated the back-up system.
What’s a boutique motel?
Googing the quest, I found no entries for boutique motels. Only hotels. But, this place had never been a hotel, so I’m sticking with calling it a motel. Besides, Whitehall Cottages uses the term for themselves. Take that, internet!
According to the internet, “a boutique hotel is a small hotel which typically has between 10 and 100 rooms in settings with upscale accommodations and individualized unique selling points.”
Whitehall Cottages isn’t exactly upscale, but because it’s newly remodeled everything feels upscale compared to what one might otherwise expect. And each room is uniquely decorated. Plus, they’ve styled the rooms so that one feels he’s stepped back in time to when the motel was in its heyday. So, yeah, it fits the boutique term.
From the outside, you’d not expect the fresh look inside. And, there’s no sign. Perhaps, that’s on purpose, since no staff persons are on site, and all transactions are handled via the internet.
My opinion? Get a sign, friends. Advertise this place to those using Whitehall’s main drag. It’s a great addition to the White Lake area. (Unless you don’t need to advertise because you’re always booked. It appeared to be full during our stay, but, hey, it was the 4th.)
So far, the reasons to stay at Whitehall Cottages are the attractive price, nice rooms, and convenient communication. But wait, there’s more: location, location, location.
Whitehall Cottages is one block from downtown, but restaurants and shopping continue for two miles out past the freeway. And it’s only a five minute walk to White Lake. And a two minute drive to Montague. And fifteen minutes to Lake Michigan. This place has the location thing nailed.
On the following map, you’ll see Whitehall Cottages almost dead center. Oh, and check out the photo Google is using: it’s mine! I’m dutiful about posting reviews and photos of you name it. Immediately after posting my review, Google featured my photo—and in less than a week it’s already been viewed over 2,000 times!
The next time we’re planning a trip to the White Lake area, Whitehall Cottages can count on my looking to be booking with them.
Thanks, folks, for reclaiming this old motel and creating an un-hidden gem—not to mention the No Smoking or Marijuana Use sign that’s prominent on the door.
I’m a mostly happy person these days. My children and grandchildren are well and thriving. I am healthy, and at age sixty-four can continue to do the physical things I enjoy, namely jogging, gardening, and yardwork. I am pleased to have become a writer, have published two books that have been received well, and have two more in the editing process, including my first novel. Oh, and I can’t forget that I’ve learned how to cook, and love, love, love it.
Best of all, I enjoy the faithful love of the Lord Jesus and the abiding love of my wife Julie.
I have a full, splendid, blessed life. So, no complaining here.
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June 23, 2021 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my entrance into the holy ministry, when I was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Guttenberg, Iowa, and then installed at St. Paul Lutheran Church in McGregor.
It was a sweet day. Lots of family and friends were able to be there. The congregations packed the churches. The folks extended the warmest of greetings. My little family and I immediately felt that we belonged.
Three years into my pastorate, I received calls to be pastor at other congregations. First, the Lutherans in Readlyn, Iowa, called me. My first wife Kim and I visited. We could easily have fit in there and loved it. Yet, I sensed I was to remain in place.
A few weeks later, the Lutherans in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, called me. We didn’t visit. It didn’t take long to realize that I was to remain in place. The very day I informed my two congregations I had returned that call, I received the third one, this to Hemlock, Michigan.
Because Hemlock is only two hours from my hometown of Montague, the members thought I was a goner. But, nope. After serious consideration, I was certain I was to remain in place.
That was 1999. In 2001, before I even had the call from St. John, Port Hope, Michigan, by the time I hung up the phone with the pastor who phoned to ask if I were available for a call I had the confident sense I would receive the call and take it.
I did and I did.
It’s wasn’t that I was ready to leave McGregor and Guttenberg, or that I was not happy there. It was purely the strong sense that I was to go.
I was pastor at St. John, Port Hope, for thirteen years, until my premature retirement in 2014. Until my health, due to the gender dysphoria that was crushing me, forced me to retire from the work I loved so that I could figure out how to get healthy. The gender dysphoria that forced me to leave the work I didn’t want to leave. And the people I didn’t want to leave. And the village and county I didn’t want to leave. Even the house and yard and garden I didn’t want to leave.
It was a health situation, as with more common things such as cancer and Parkinson’s, that happened to me—that no matter how hard I tried, how deep into talk therapy I plunged myself, and the medical means I used to ease my burden, I couldn’t lessen my pain so as to abide in my condition and remain in Port Hope—that forced the terrible decision upon me: I had to retire.
At the age of fifty-seven. When I was still going strong. When I still possessed the attitude I adopted soon after becoming a pastor at the age of thirty-nine: I wanted to be a full time minister for at least thirty years. And, thankfully, at a time, after thirteen years together, when the good people in Port Hope still wanted me there.
I set a retirement date. When asked if I would push it back two months, I easily agreed. And then I took a month’s sick leave, hoping to regain some sense of health, and upon return announced that I was trying to remain as pastor, to rescind my retirement. Ultimately, I should have known better. A few weeks later, I announced a third retirement date. This one stuck.
Today, June 23, 2021, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination, I am one week away from the seventh anniversary of my retirement. And it still hurts. At times, the wound is as fresh as it was the first year Julie and I were in Indianapolis. I continue to feel my work was unfairly taken away from me.
That last sentence might sound as if I am bitter about it. Really, I’m not. I’m sad. It hurts. And, yes, I find it unfair. But, hey, loads of things in life are unfair. I’m not unrealistic. I’m human.
Where would I be without the Lord’s and Julie’s love? And my family? And my renewed good health? And the writing, jogging, gardening and yardwork, and cooking, all which provide me with fulfilling work? And the numerous transgender persons I’ve gotten to know, many to whom I’ve been blessed to minister?
During the weeks preceding my retirement, I assured the folks in Port Hope I was not retiring to nothing, that I was confident the Lord had more work for me to do. “I know I will have a third career,” I said, “I just don’t know what it is going to be.” And, a third career I have cobbled together. I am pleased about the ministering I’ve been able to do and thankful to have been, and continue to be a useful person.
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We all have things in life we wish we could have kept from happening. Paths on which we longed to continue to walk. I’m not unique in where I am, wishing I were still a pastor and not being able to be one.
So, no complaining. A heart filled with gratitude. Thankful for the eighteen years I was blessed to be a parish pastor. And, at the same time, sad that it ended so soon.
My Julie’s mother died July 3, 2020. On June 5, 2021, nearly 200 family and friends gathered in the Ocheyedan, Iowa, town park to remember this woman of whom I wrote last year in this piece: Vonna Leckband: an extraordinary person. With that profile written, this piece will focus on Mom’s Celebration of Life.
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As the festivities begin at 11:00, Dad catches a bit of the pictorial history of his beloved wife of 58 years. I just happened to snap this when a photo was onscreen from Julie’s and my wedding.
As the event was winding down, I asked Dad if there were some nice surprises, folks he didn’t expect to see. “Yes,” he said, “but I don’t remember who!”
Larry and Vonna’s daughters—Laurie, Sheri, Julie, and Amber—labored with love in hosting a marvelous party. Here’s Laurie (white pants), who was the creative mind behind many of the celebration’s features, with Mom’s friend, Becky.
In the next pic, I caught second daughter Sheri in a way that perfectly captures her gettin’ things done personality!
Julie next came into the world, then whirled into mine.
Though Amber came last, if you know her, you know she’s always in the middle of everything!
Besides great food, a video photo album, and more, we enjoyed a host of songs and jokes, poetry and storytelling. In this video, Dad tells us how he met Mom.
Laurie had wristbands made, with a twist on the familiar WWJD. These bands remind us What Would Vonna Do? Not one to stay put, or do the same old same old, one often heard her say, “Change it up, kiddo.”
From the 100+ photos I took, here are a few more to demonstrate the grand day we enjoyed. Though we miss Mom terribly, we are grateful for all she was for us, all she modeled to us, and all she taught us. The large turnout of family and friends—from nearby towns in Iowa and Minnesota, to states as far away as Texas and Florida—demonstrated why I titled my tribute to her Vonna Leckband: an extraordinary person.
Last week, I accompanied my son, Alex, and his fiancé, Chelsea, for a week’s visit with my son’s daughter, Violet!
Alex did his remote-work job during the day, while Chelsea took her online nursing-school classes. That meant Violet and I found good stuff to do together. Our first stop? Naturally, it was to the cemetery that’s behind our Airbnb!
Violet liked the crosses. Thus, when we found these three large ones it necessitated a photo.
I’m a jogger/walker, and I was hot to explore the town. Charles Town is not as large as I thought it would be—the population is around 6,000, and the newer chunk of it doesn’t have very hospitable conditions to be on foot. Thus, most of my miles were spend in the old part of town. I covered every inch, with some nice discoveries.
Charles Town was settled by Colonel Charles Washington. Yes, of those Washingtons. He was George’s youngest brother.
If you know American history, you might recall John Brown, who is noted on the sign, above. Brown led an insurrection in Harper’s Ferry, which is a few miles from Charles Town, in 1859, seeking to free slaves. Found guilty of treason, he was hanged in Charles Town.
When your granddaughter is six, and a pandemic isn’t quite eradicated, you stick with outdoor (and free!) activities. Besides, our entire week gave us mostly sunny skies and highs in the 80s.
We drove to nearby Harper’s Ferry, in search of a playground. We found it, and some Civil War history.
On my first day’s walk, I went by another cemetery. It was only two blocks from our Airbnb, and Violet was game, so to it we went.
I was hoping to find the grave of someone born before the revolution. I did better!
As we walked about the grounds, Violet said, “We’re walking all over people.” “Yup, we sure are.”
I thought it would be neat to find the grave of someone born 200 years before Violet. 1812 and 1817 were the closest. I snapped this pic of her next to a person born 100 years before her.
I’d never seen a monument such as this one:
Alex knew of a huge park in the town where he had lived. It was only a twenty-five minute drive to Martinsburg, so off we went.
After proper stops at each of the six playgrounds, we found a creek. Violet loved it the best. Here, she literally went on a wild goose chase!
The woman living above our Airbnb told me of a homemade ice cream parlor in Sharpsburg, Maryland. She noted that the Civil War battlefield, Antietam, was on the outskirts of town. Violet liked the sound of the ice cream, but where was this place? “How far is it, Gigi?” “The same as yesterday, when we went to Martinsburg.” “Okay.”
It was midafternoon and hot. We got our ice cream and went across the street, to sit under a tree. Sharpsburg is a town of 700, so I had no qualms with Violet and I plopping our behinds on the curb.
Our sweet tooths satisfied, we headed to Antietam, a full two minutes away.
The battle took place over hundreds of acres, which have been preserved. You can drive the entire thing. It is littered with sign boards, memorials, and statues. This monument is for President McKinley, who served as a sergeant for the North and fought here.
We saw this bridge, where a battle occurred, so we got out of our car.
This memorial tells of the battle on the bridge and the number lost and injured.
The following sign recites the events of the bridge battle. On the tour, sign after sign details the fighting. In all, nearly 23,000 were either killed, injured, or went missing on September 17, 1862. It remains the deadliest one-day battle in American military history.
Back in Charles Town for another jaunt about town. I decided that I love colonial architecture. The first word that comes to mind when viewing it is stately.
Several sections of sidewalk remain in their original state.
The town was established in the final decade of the 1700s. It should come as no surprise that a number of side streets are wide enough to accommodate people on horses, but not two cars encountering each other!
On one of these alley-like streets, I saw these neat telegraph boxes.
I was not aware that Charles and Mildred Washington’s home remained. I was pleased when I ran across it.
On our final day, Violet and I returned to the first cemetery. I was hoping to find the grave of a person born 200 years before her. Eureka!
That nicely sums up my week in Charles Town. I loved it for spending lots of time with my granddaughter and the historic sites I saw and things I learned.
I remember my marriage vows so vividly: For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, as long as we are able to grow together as a couple.
When I made my marriage vow, I recall thinking this statement, “as long as we are able to grow together as a couple,” contradicted “for better or for worse.” I mean, what could be worse than no longer growing together as a couple? Certainly none of these:
you learn that your spouse has had a second family since before you were married to each other
your spouse is diagnosed with cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, all at the same time
your spouse announces he or she is transgender
No, certainly none of those rises to the level of a couple’s no longer being able to grow together. This realization finally allows me to grasp why Bill and Melinda Gates need to end their marriage.
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For a long time, Bill Gates was nothing more to me than a curiosity—what he accomplished with software, how he was one of the world’s most successful businessmen. Wow! He came off as a geek, with his always-tousled hair and a voice that sounded as if he were stuck in the final months of puberty. When he married, I thought Melinda must be an amazing woman to take him on.
Then, I began listening to him. And two years ago watched the Netflix series, Inside Bill’s Brain, where I also got to know Melinda. And I heard another extensive interview with her. And both of them impressed me as smart and wise, kind and generous, thoughtful and nice.
I liked them. I thought it would be splendid to live next door to them, to hang with them, to work with them. I thought that we need to listen to them, to emulate them, to have a lot more rich Americans follow their lead in working on causes that affect the entire world, and to put their money where their concerns are.
I admired Bill and Melinda Gates. I do not admire this—this reason they’ve given for ending their marriage.
I do not understand this: “We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives.” What on earth might either of them have in store for the next phase of her or his life that they cannot grow together in it? Is Bill intending to chuck everything he’s ever done and focus on his model train collection? Does Melinda have in mind to spend all of her time trying to find where pi finally begins repeating itself?
Is this it—that neither respects the life move the other is going to take, so they simply must part?
This reason for their ending a marriage that appeared to we Americans—okay, to this American—to be a union that was built on love and respect, sounds like two people who are not trying very hard. And these are people who’ve always shown me they try very hard.
Hey, Bill, if I’m not getting it, please explain. Melinda, I don’t mean to offend, but could you please provide some insight? I need more. So much more. Did you do a lousy job of explaining, so that I don’t get it? Or am I simply being dull about it?
I’m hurting over this. I am surprised at how deeply I am hurting over the end of the Gates’s marriage. If, after twenty-seven years, and a mountain range of success, this couple cannot make it till death parts them, what hope does the average American couple have?
If Bill and Melinda Gates can’t make it—this couple, who has every resource at their disposal, and a thousand times could purchase everything they need so that they might succeed and still have money left to buy ice cream for everyone—if they can’t make it, if they can’t find the strength, the savvy, the caring—the love—to stick it out, to show the rest of us what it means to vow for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and then to actually live the vow . . .
There are a lot of concerning things going on in our nation. For me, they all begin with people hunkering down and giving their all to each other—whether its fighting the pandemic, or making equitable laws, or respecting people of every color and creed and culture. If a rich and powerful couple cannot hunker down and give their all to each other . . .
Since we can’t give up, I guess we just have to show them. Let’s live the spirit of Todd Beamer on 9/11, who encouraged the others on the jet over Pennsylvania with “Let’s roll!” because it was better to die fighting than simply to die.
In 2013, when I presented my Julie with as big a thing as a couple will face, her reaction was to say, “Let’s roll!” Her actual words were, “We’ll figure this out.”
And we did. Together.
Together, Bill and Melinda, because that’s what “for better or for worse” means.
You know you should eat more vegetables. You want to eat more vegetables. Why don’t you eat more vegetables?
Is it because your veggie dishes are mundane? Some steamed broccoli here. A can of corn tossed into the microwave there. When you have time to fuss, a green bean casserole.
Two years ago, I found myself scratching my head over how to use all of the green beans from my garden that I’d labored to clean and cut and freeze. I don’t want to wear out Julie and me with vegetable soup—and we love vegetable soup! While we enjoy steamed veggies—broccoli and cauliflower are our go-to’s—fresh-frozen green beans aren’t well served this way. And Julie isn’t much for green bean casserole.
I also roast vegetables—I add carrots to the ubiquitous broccoli and cauliflower—but wasn’t sure how frozen green beans would perform that way.
Finally, I did what we do in this house. I googed the quest. I found a recipe for sautéed green beans and corn, seasoned with basil. I was intrigued by the recipe calling for them to be cooked in a combination of equal parts butter and oil.
I already knew that it is problematic to fry only in butter, because it burns easily. I liked the idea of combining oil and butter. I was curious how this would go.
I use a non-stick pan, so I start and remain on low heat. We like veggies that will caramelize—think onions and carrots—and others to brown. That first time I made the beans and corn, it took an hour to get a good portion of them browned.
We loved the green beans and corn. The next time I made them, I added shaved onions and carrots. Another hit! Soon, I was sautéing whatever we had on hand. The following photos are from my most recent pan-fry: onions, asparagus, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.
We have a chipped dinner plate that we no longer use for eating, so I make use of it in when cooking. Covering it with veggies, I happened onto determining how many neatly fit our pan. It’s not exactly on the level of how super glue was created, but it sure stuck for me.
Before getting that far, I get started with the items that will caramelize:
I give those about ten minutes, then toss on the rest of the vegetables. Because they heap in the pan, with many not touching the surface, I place a lid until the veggies soften.
Season them how you like. Sometimes, I use only basil. Often, I add salt and pepper. Occasionally, I’ll give a good sprinkling of garlic powder.
It takes perhaps fifteen minutes to soften the vegetables. I then remove the lid and stir everything. I continue stirring every five to ten minutes, striving to get most of the veggies onto the pan surface so they can brown.
The total time—from when I turn on the heat until the vegetables are done—takes at least an hour, and as much as ninety minutes.
Here’s the finished product of my latest batch:
If you look closely, some of the carrots and asparagus are extra crispy. I didn’t turn over the veggies quickly enough early on. Thankfully, they were still delicious!
With steaming vegetables, there is a narrow window of time when they are done just right. Leave them too long, and they turn to mush. Not so with sautéing them. There’s loads of leeway, so you can get them where you like them—from cooked but not brown, to nicely browned, to browned and caramelized and crunchy!
April 18, 2015: I was ten months into my retirement from the ministry. Itching to find my way to a new career, I began this blog. I loved writing and had lots of stories to tell. Before the blog was two weeks old, I would be telling my biggest story https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/who-am-i/, which opened the door to my being published in Indianapolis Monthly magazine (https://www.indianapolismonthly.com/longform/therealme) and then to my publishing my first two books: A Roller Coaster Through a Hurricane and Ministering to Transgender Christians.
Here’s the post that started it all. It’s a favorite story from my youth, and the rare one where I wasn’t the kid causing the trouble.
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Burning down the dump
It was the mid-70s, probably the summer that my youngest brother, Mark, was twelve. One evening, he and his same-aged friend, Bruce Bellinger, headed to a preferred place for play: the dump.
The dump was one block over and one block down, in a field, at the end of a short two-track path. It was loaded with items that were dream-finds for any young boy—not to mention a good place for some deeply desired devilry.
Upon arriving as tandem riders on Bruce’s one-person bike, that evening’s mischief came in the form of a full pack of matches that someone left behind. With some dry leaves conveniently collected against the junk, the boys lit the entire pack at once in the leaves. Up into huge flames went the leaves, fulfilling their dream . . . then up went the dump, igniting their nightmare.
Scared, um, witless, they leaped onto Bruce’s bike and high-tailed it out of there. To their chagrin, Mr. Flahive, who lived across the street from the dump, was in his front lawn. He put the scenario together in a flash and headed inside to call the fire department, then to his car.
Mark and Bruce sped one block up and one block over, past our house and on to Bruce’s, which was one more block over. Stopping in the yard, they didn’t have time to hatch a plan before two things happened: Montague’s fire siren screamed and Mr. Flahive came driving by.
“You boys set the dump on fire!” he blared, and kept on driving. Mr. Flahive was a wise man, who knew our parents, and he likely figured that since the boys knew that he knew, they would confess to their folks. Mark and Bruce were not total nitwits; they headed out to do just that.
When Mark arrived home, Mom was across the street at her frequent haunt, Kathy Sobers. Dad was in his own frequent haunt, our garage. This arrangement of our parents might have saved Mark’s life.
Still scared, um, witless, Mark entered the garage. He mustered his confession: “Dad, those sirens going off? Bruce and I just burned down the dump.”
Who knows if it were the sincerity of his confession, or if Dad just wanted to get on with whatever project he was into, or the hand of God working a modern-day miracle, but Dad’s reaction was the answer to a frightened kid’s contrite cry: “Just don’t do it again.”
Just don’t do it again? Are you kidding, Dad? If Mom were home, it would have been, “You did what?” Whack! “What were you thinking?” Whack! “Didn’t I teach you not to play with matches?” Whack! Whack! “When are you going to start using your head, the way I taught you?” Whack! Whack! WHACK!
Mom was the one who meted out the punishment, who often said that Dad was too easy on us. Still, Mark heard Dad’s words and waited for more. No more was to come. He had avoided the noose. He quickly agreed with Dad’s summation, “Okay,” and ran for freedom.
What of Mom finding out? For the sake of Mark’s hide, she would not hear his confession until the statute of limitations on burning down dumps had expired, a decade later.
What of Bruce’s fate? The poor kid’s guardian angel must have still been at the dump, observing the dowsing of the fire fiasco, because Bruce received the more expected result: one month’s grounding.
Finally, what came of the dump? That land had the best ending of all. As city manager, Dad worked with his lifelong friend, Henry Roesler, who was the administrator for Lutheran Homes of Michigan, to get senior apartments for Montague. The dump was cleaned up and turned into the perfect spot for folks like our grandmother, Dad’s mom, to spend their latter years. As Dad would frequently make the walk, one block over and one block down, to see his mom, that piece of land wound up being a loved location for three generations of Eilers.