A little bit more, a little bit better…

We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. – Pope Francis

He tripped ever so slightly as he climbed the long stairway to the airplane.  Fortunately, he managed to grab onto the hand rail and steady himself before taking what would have most certainly been a bad fall for a man his age. Several of his Cardinals and other members of the Pope’s entourage stood helplessly at the top of the stairs witnessing the Pontiff’s close encounter with gravity. Then, Francis gathered himself and finished his climb, unassisted.  Once he’d made it safely to the top of the stairs but before entering the plane, he turned to the crowd below and smiled sheepishly, waving as if to say, “well, that was a close one!”

Can I just say that I think Pope Francis is a rock star?  He just is.  If, for no other reason than that he just seems so darn human.

Unless you’ve been comatose for the past week, it has been hard to avoid news of the Pope’s visit to the United States. If you ask me, all the coverage has been a refreshing hiatus from the constant news cycle of politicians saying absolutely rotten things about each other.  I believe this is true regardless of how you may personally feel about the Catholic church or even organized religion, in general.

Confession time. The last really good, go-to-Mass-every-single-Sunday- Roman Catholic in my family was my grandfather.  If he was still alive, I think he’d be giving Pope Francis a big old Irish thumbs up for his ability to shake a Church that many feel has needed a good shaking for quite a while.  I believe it was Winston Churchill who was credited for once having defined tact as the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.  As I listened to Francis during several of his televised appearances, I was not only intrigued with his messages on important issues like poverty and protection of the environment, but his delivery, as well.  This is a man who clearly intends to get things done. A man who walks the walk. This gives me hope for those who love the Church as much as my grandfather did.

He’ll go home to Rome this week, this rock star of a Pope.  We’ll all wave goodbye and hope he makes it up the stairs without a fall. Then, we’ll go back to listening to the noise and spin of men and women with expensive haircuts attempting to trip each other up on cable news programs. The politicians will continue their bluster and the news anchors and “experts” will continue their analyses. We will yawn and try to discern between fantasy and reality. As we do, I hope we can also hold on tightly to the words of one old man in white robes who came and spoke simply to us all.

Because it would be awesome if we all tried to do a little bit more, a little bit better, in spite of all the noise.

Finders, keepers….

On Saturday we met up in M -Town bright and early for the Highway 38 sales. Then, we headed north to Bigfork to find all the things we couldn’t live without. If you have never personally experienced this annual traveling junk orgy, I’m here to tell you that it is the one weekend a year that I come home and feel like throwing out everything I own. This is because, while I love looking through the junk of other people on a sunny September day,  doing so always makes me a just a wee bit anxious, too. Maybe it is because the older I get, the lighter I want my own load to be.

This is not to say that I haven’t got some issues. Full disclosure:  I’m guilty of hoarding those nifty, red plastic coffee “cans” with the black lids that snap on so nicely because I never know when I’m going to need one of those bad boys. In fact,  I have one sitting on my kitchen counter right now.  Okay, I use them when I paint, but really?  Do I need ten of them squirreled away at the cabin? Probs not.  Even so, I can’t bear to part with the newest one, because you just never know, do you?  I might need to build a small raft  or stain a bridge or something.

And so, I sort of understand the hundreds (hundreds!) of paperback books, and the tattered Christmas decorations, and the scary ceramic clown collections and jars full of buttons. We’ve all got our own battles to fight in the junk war. The piles of little shoes are the only thing that drive me completely nuts, because there shouldn’t be a child anywhere on the planet going barefoot if we have so many that we can sell a pair for a quarter at a rummage sale here in Itasca County. Uff da.  That said, each year as I walk around in the yards of strangers I’m also struck by just how much STUFF we humans hold onto, firmly believing that we will need it again. Someday.

Our group of dear old friends met up in Bigfork for lunch where we compared notes on our morning finds. They gave me a hard time for still being empty handed at noon.  After lunch, I found a lovely old quilt that made its way home with me.  It is soft and just the right size to toss over myself in the porch on lazy October afternoons.  It is done in browns and tans and rose patchwork that is faded in all the right places. Last night after I got home, I tossed it in the washing machine. By the time I folded it, it had magically become mine.

I’m traveling lighter through life, it’s true.  My general rule? If I don’t love it or need it and it isn’t a red coffee can, it’s history around here.  And so…what did I get yesterday?

I got rare and precious time with my sister and son.

Lunch and laughter with friends I’ve known my whole life. And a quilt.

Such wonderful treasures to keep this traveler warm.

What we leave behind….

I came home to a bunch of over ripe bananas a couple of days ago. They were sweet, squishy,  proof of how few bananas my people eat during apple season.  And so, this morning I baked two large loaves of banana bread using Mrs. Peck’s recipe from the Methodist cookbook. She lived across the street from us the whole time I was growing up. As I stood mixing the batter, I thought about what a lovely lady she’d been to know during my youth.

September is here. My students have survived their first month of college and are beginning to understand that acting like adults is hard work.  In a couple of weeks, many of them will  go back to their respective high schools for Homecoming football games wearing their new college sweatshirts, already changed in important ways.

I remember one of those perfect, crisp, late-September Homecomings on the prairie back when my kids were still in high school. The band had taken the field and marched into formation and the bleachers were full of adoring parents with video cameras poised to record the show. To be honest, I’ve forgotten most of the other details.  If you asked me where the visiting team was from or what the score at half time was, or what song the band was playing, I wouldn’t be able to tell you any of it.  It is all a blur.

Except this: I recall that the trumpets and trombones were raised and that the band began to play. That the girls in the front were waving large flags in time with the music. That I was standing and talking to the mother of one of my daughter’s friends. That there was a boy in a trench coat and sneakers on the sidelines standing in a group of teenagers who were talking and laughing and mostly just oblivious to whatever was about to happen.

When suddenly the boy in the coat donned a large sequined sombrero and a Halloween mask, peeled off his coat and sprinted, naked as the day he was born, from one end of the football field to the other as mothers covered the eyes of their toddlers and teenagers clapped and stout policemen gave chase. The boy in the mask didn’t look back. He made it across the field and scaled the fence, escaping into a slough.  He might have actually made a clean break if he’d planned things out a little better. As it was, his fifteen minutes of fame did not end well.  This wasn’t the 1970’s, for one thing. And it was September, for another. Oh, and did I mention that it was Homecoming? You don’t mess around with Homecoming.

Nope. It wasn’t pretty. But it was pretty memorable.

We all search for ways to leave our mark, to be remembered for something we are good at.  Sometimes it’s a banana bread recipe in a church cookbook.

And sometimes it’s a boy in a Sombrero in September.

Free-Range Kids

I have a friend with a lot of kids.

I’m not talking about the expensive human kind that begs for stuff at the mall and drinks directly out of milk cartons. Nope.  She and her husband are childless by choice which I find foreign and fascinating, primarily because  I would have sold most of my organs (and practically had to) in order to become a mother myself.

They live together in a white turn of the century farmhouse on acres and acres of land in the Red River valley where they raise livestock and vegetables and believe in the importance of sustainability and leaving small footprints on Mother Earth. Most of what they consume they either grow in their own garden or raise.   She makes yogurt and cheese from her goats’ milk and gathers eggs from her chickens.  They raise pigs and have one butchered for themselves each autumn. Her animals live free of the filth and poor living conditions that most livestock today is forced to endure.

Their lifestyle (and the hard work that goes into it) is foreign to me, too.  I do my best to avoid dealing with most things that, um, poop. Especially horses, because I am convinced that horses hate me. Three times in my life I’ve been on a horse. Three. And all three horses decided that I was either too boring or too scared to haul around and they stopped to lay down. I’m sure this must be a record for bad equestrian experiences. So while I remain convinced that dogs are actually just little people in fur coats, and think turtles and hummingbirds are generally pretty awesome, I have to admit that I’m pretty much a person who prefers to hang around creatures that are potty trained.

I’ve told my friend this, but she loves me anyway. She wanted me to visit their farm, and so off to the farm I went. While I was there I even helped her clean out her horse barn. Next, she introduced me to her rooster as well as a  black horse named Fabio who seemed to be sizing me up. Finally, in the goat barn, I got to meet her kids.

Goats are interesting creatures.  She has several who came booking it to the barn as soon as they heard her voice.  She greeted each  one by name and as she started to put them into their pens, one of the boys decided he’d rather hang with the girls for the night.  Apparently, this is frowned upon by my friend.  Maybe they are adolescents.  Time and again, she tried to get him into his pen and he darted away.  Finally, in her best “You’d better knock it off and get over here” Ticked Off Mom-Voice , she strode up to him and looked right into his little goat eyes. He looked at her..looked at the girls, and then, grudgingly did exactly what she’d told him to do.   I was amazed.  I’ve used that same voice hundreds of times with my non-goat son. I wasn’t aware that the Mom-Voice could be used with four legged boys, too! Is this universal??? Then, she knelt down next to her favorite girl goat named “Princess” and gave her a hug and kiss on the cheek and told her goodnight. As we walked toward the house,  she told me about all of their different temperaments..their quirks…their specific needs.   The woman clearly “gets” goats.

Her kids will never go to college, and she’ll never have to pay for a goat wedding.  She’ll never have to attend a parent/goat conference or wait up for them, worrying about what type of goat shenanigans they are getting into uptown.  And she may well end up selling one of them to someone who thinks goat meat is just the ticket.  But for now, she is their nurturing, loving, patient caregiver.  They depend upon her to have their physical needs met, to learn,  and to grow into the best  darn goats they are capable of becoming under her guidance.  And if she’s lucky,  Princess might give her grand kids someday, too.

When my dear friend told me that last part, she beamed.

Maybe she is a mom, after all.