Vaccinated


In three days I will have been on the Covid 19 patrol for one year. Today I am 14 days beyond my second shot, and according to great science I am less than 1% vulnerable to any severe consequences.
For 10 years I have been giving the introductory lecture to two sections of the Comparative Religions class at Denver East High. My topic is “What is Religion and how do I understand my faith”. Invariably, I am asked about the conflict between science and religion. My answer is— “I have no conflict with great science and honest theology/faith”. I would often say, “Good science is great evidence that we are created in the image of God. There is no greater evidence of God’s participation in creation than evolution”.
I first want to be clear about my thoughts about this pandemic—as of today there have been 524,164 deaths (probably grossly undercounted) as a result of Covid 19. A large majority of these deaths were avoidable because we were lead by the worst President in American history. He was helped by the sycophant Republicans that turned this plague into a political circus. They all are 100% responsible for lies about the virus, fake cures, denial, anti science/medicine and the outright politicization of the pandemic. History will reveal that the lies, blame, denial, and conspiracies cost countless lives.
Now, I want to give thanks for those in science and medicine who have dedicated their lives so that I, and many like me, can most likely dodge the horrific possibilities of contracting Covid. I have tried very hard to follow the science on this issue. For months it seems I lived at home, always wearing a mask in public and events while sanitizing my hands after filling up with gas. I have lost two friends to Covid and know many others who have battled hard or coasted with this most unpredictable
microbe 🦠 .
I was eight when we went through the Polio epidemic. I remember standing in line at my grade school twice to be vaccinated, the second time with a pink sugar cube. Polio went away. I have NO respect for those anti-vaccine folk who push conspiracies for whatever purpose, I

don’t know. There are truly people who believe that Bill Gates has inserted micro chips into the vaccine—the earth is flat—the moon is made of green cheese.
Yes, I am venting a bit, here is why: the truth matters, good science is our friend, and nerds rule!!! I have tried to stay very informed around this virus for multiple reasons. The one thing that stayed on my bucket list this year was “Don’t kick the bucket”—otherwise all my hopes and dreams leave when the ventilator is turned off. Number two is I have this amazing congregation in Greeley who has thrived through all of this and we hope to come back stronger than ever. Lastly, I love my family and friends and I hope to continue to share life with you.
I am NOT a Democrat but the Republican Party has sold out to fear, lies, denial, money, conspiracy, power, fantasy, and you can add what you like. I will wear a mask until the scientist and doctors agree it is safe. I can’t say thank you enough to all those in the health care field who have laid their lives and careers on the line, that I might go to King Soopers and get vaccinated and then go on my way into a world I still love and have hope for.
Onward and Upward, Mark

The Mask Monitor

I confess I have taken it upon myself to remind, ask, challenge, confront, and even harass folks who ignore the responsibility of wearing masks for all of our benefit during this Covid pandemic. Early, on this nearly year— long journey, there were honest debates and opinions about the efficacy of mask wearing for Covid mitigation. The facts are in—masks work at slowing and even stopping the spread of the virus. I go with science every time and the science is clear—wear a mask—always in any social or public situation.
About a month ago I went to MK’s credit union to make a deposit for her. The signs and directions were very clear—line up outside 6 ft. apart, wear a mask and wait for the security guard to check you inside. About 8 ft. in front of me was a 30–something man not wearing a mask. I asked, “I would appreciate it if you would put a mask on”. He shot back “Health reasons”. I came back, “Oh, mental health reasons— you think you are special”. He started elevating the repartee and the guy right behind me said to him “This man is right, show some respect”. About that time I could tell this guy, maybe 10 years younger than me, was ready for a boxing match. I said, “Just ignore him, it’s not worth it”. The security guard was about ready to call in reinforcements. When non—mask guy went inside I said to the security guard, “You really aren’t doing your job”. He actually said, “You are right sir, I should have asked him to leave”. When the non mask guy came out we were still standing in line. He went and got into a huge pickup with loser bumper stickers on the tailgate which revealed why he thought he was special. I love feeling vindicated.
Now to this week. I go swimming five days a week at a huge recreation center. They have been very careful to establish Covid protocols that seem to really work. “Wear masks at all times when you are out of the water” signs are everywhere. You have to line up six feet apart in the locker room while waiting for the next session to open. I love being first in line as it lets me get my favorite lap swim lane. It means I have to wait about 10 minutes as people line up behind me.
This father of two showed up and yes, he was not wearing his mask. I said, “Sir please put on your mask”. He asked “Are you staff”? I said, “No I am a human being who can read”—then I pointed to the sign right in front of us. He fumbled around looking for his mask and put it on.

I stood there staring out the door window knowing we had an eight minute wait. The little voice in me said, “Mark, lighten up”. I turned around and said, “I am sorry I was a jerk, you did not deserve that”. “It’s ok I really get it. My mom is in health care and I had Covid last March”. We began to talk. “My uncle is on a ventilator as we speak”. I again said, “You did not deserve the way I talked to you”. Again, he said, “Really I get it. I have donated 12 units of blood for my antibodies”. Now I know he is not only not a jerk, he is a hero. We continued the conversation behind our masks. “This is the first time I have been able to take my kids swimming, are you going to swim laps”? “Yep, and today I am going to give thanks that we took time to listen to each other”.
I have decided to give up my job as the Mask Monitor. Onward and Upward,
Mark

Blizzards, Ice Storms and Interruptions

Blizzards, Ice Storms and Interruptions

The following is a list of frozen water events that I have experienced since 1958.   I’ll briefly describe each one, as I have been experiencing the recent Texas winter events through the lenses of my daughter Amy and family, who live in the middle of the recent Texas winter storms.

Pueblo Blizzard of 1958 April 1 & 2—19” of record setting snow:

In 1958 I was in the 3rd grade that Spring.  I remember very distinctly going to bed in what was a complete white-out.  It was exciting.  The next morning I awoke to my parents telling me that our electricity was out, and that school had been canceled.  The snow kept coming all day.  We had two fireplaces which my folks stoked up and we set up camp in the living room.  The following day there was snow up to the top of our fence and the sun was shining. Game on—for sledding, snow men, and a free for all with a plethora of kids that inhabited Belmont.  My friend Wayne’s genius brother Tom, even built a real igloo.  That blizzard was a memory maker!!!

Labor Day Weekend Snow of 1966 —11” of snow on Sept. 5 & 6:

We only had one more snow day for my entire growing up life.  It dumped on Labor Day weekend 1966—yes, the first week of September.  The only reason we did not have school was that all the broken tree limbs caused a massive power outage.  The snow was too slushy for sledding but great for snowball fights.

The February Oklahoma Blizzard of 1971– 23” of snow in 24 hours:

The massive Oklahoma blizzard took place when I worked as an ambulance driver along with seven other college guys.  I happened to be working when that big snow hit.  24” of Oklahoma slush is the equivalent of about 40” of Colorado powder.  I spent the entire week working at the ambulance service.  Sliding into a snow bank, we buried an ambulance up to its roof out in the country.  I delivered a baby all by myself, we pulled together with everyone to care for a paralyzed community.  It was noble and fun work—which a 22 year old loved and thrived in.

The Colorado Blizzard of Christmas 1983:

In 1983 I put Matt and Amy on a plane to go back to spend Christmas with their mom in Texas.  It started snowing…and did not stop.  I had just started dating this lady named Mary Kay.  We spent the next two weeks playing Fox and Geese, baking things, and getting to know each other. Thanks snow!!!

The Greenbay Packers/ Bronco Blizzard of October 1984:

I got my Bronco season tickets in 1984.  My brother in law Joe, and I drove my little Toyota Tercel up to Mile High.  The weather forecast was for 2-3 inches maybe.  By the 4th quarter it had snowed 18”.  Somehow we got on I-25 before they closed it.  Four hours later we buried the car in a snow bank on the north end of Colorado Springs.  We walked to a hotel and called home to tell them we were alive (before cell phones).  The next morning Chanel 5 drove by as we were digging my car out.  We got home to Pueblo just in time to see ourselves on the 5 o’clock news.  The Broncos did beat the Packers. 

The Colorado Blizzard of 1997 2-3” expected, 19” actually:

In October of 1997 I did my first big wedding at the historic South Broadway Christian Church.  I normally save all the music in totality for just the wedding and only give snippets at the rehearsal.  This night we did the whole music banana.  We then headed down to Pearl Street for a nice dinner.  We noticed it started snowing but there was nothing in the forecast.  So much for those prognosticators—19” and no wedding at the church.  We did it all at the Brown Palace, where they were staying.  They thanked me for the rehearsal that gave them the whole picture.  

The Denver Winter of 2006–worst since 1913:

In December of 2006, a front page story appeared in the Denver Post— “CSU climatologist says ‘Expect a dry winter’.”  A few days later we got a blizzard every 3-5 days for two months.  Cars were packed in ice everywhere and they did not move forever.  That same Denver Post ran a story the following February “This is the worst winter since 1913”, then they showed old photos of a 43” snowfall.  We had well over that, it just took two months to get there.  

What happened this week in Texas has caused untold difficulties and sadness. It has also done what only weather events can do—it brought people together.  That is of course, unless you would rather catch a plane to Cancun.  

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Alzheimer’s


Today I shared in a funeral for an 81 year old woman who died exactly 21 years to the day, of my dad’s death. Over 10 years ago she was diagnosed with the signs of early dementia. I met her and her husband soon after I started my pastorate with FCC Greeley. They were not members at FCC, but as it was explained to me she loved music and the church where they were attending did not offer much. They would come and sit near the back on my left side. She was always pleasant but right away I noticed the vacant look in her eyes. Soon her husband asked for some time with me and explained what was going on. In my first year there, her condition declined and she went to a memory care facility.
In my 48 years of pastoral ministry this was a familiar story. Each journey is unique but there is a common thread—there are two deaths with this horrid disease: the death of the person followed by the death of the body. To watch a person slip into the abyss of no longer being present, aware, able to engage, remember, recognize and finally to connect, is a slow dive into grief. When the death of the body comes it is usually a gift, and often seen as the final healing.
I was able on a regular basis, to bring this woman communion, to sing songs, and just be present up until Covid. I shared today at her funeral on particular moment with her. It was Christmas time 2019–I was to meet her husband at the memory care center where we would sing some Christmas songs, with the help of my IPad and share the story of Baby Jesus. He was not able to be there, so I went into a room where I got NO response from her as she lay there staring at the ceiling. I thought “I want to hear the whole John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album”. I fired it up on my IPad and began, from memory, singing along with the ridiculous and the sublime. There I was— a 70 year old singing to her with no body listening. Somewhere near the end of the time there, her face lit up with a huge smile, her eyes cleared and for just a moment we were connected.
When I walked into the room where the service was to be held today, there was art work everywhere. There were still lifes, landscapes, lots of paintings of cats, dogs, and kids. They were clearly done by an accomplished artist. She was a musician, teacher, mom of 4 and a singer. The video and tributes filled in a lot of spaces for me.

I need to remember that we were all kids once. Not one of us knows how our lives will roll out before they end. Hopefully when we can we paint, sing, cook, write, build, joke, play, ski, fish, travel, and whatever else as we share our life.
Alzheimer’s might steal our memory but it can’t take away our memories.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Todd—Survives


I write this today with the permission of its subject. In my four years of serving at First Christian in Greeley, I have both inherited and discovered a remarkable team of “part time” staff. It is rare that a new pastor, even one who started as pastoral-duct-tape, finds that all of the existing staff are pretty much exactly who I would have helped to select. Well, whether they were in place before I arrived, or whether I found them in our midst, my staff at FCC Greeley is a great team.
Todd did not fit the mold of how I envisioned a ‘Youth Pastor’. He is middle aged and wears cargo shorts all year long. It did not take me long to recognize his gifts. The obligatory “Youth Sunday” blew me away. It was without a doubt, the best I had ever seen, all put together with Todd’s leadership. Earlier I made a duct tape reference. Todd is better than duct tape. He is like that super goo stuff that patches boat holes, hangs pictures, and fixes flats. Todd quietly goes about his business, not only caring for our youth, but also many many of our older members. Whatever you need, Todd is willing.
On January 15th, I got a text from his wife Alicia, “Todd was admitted to the hospital with worsening Covid symptoms.” What?! I Not Todd, he is always so careful. The battle of Todd vs. Covid began. His symptoms worsened. Ten liters of O2 just to keep him going. The next step was a ventilator. I asked for permission to put this out on FaceBook. Everyday there would 150+ folks who sent their love and more. Todd has worked in our Disciples of Christ’s camps for at least 20 years. Every year Todd was there.
I want to tell the story of just one of those campers. Her family was our neighbor 30 years ago when we lived in the country outside of Alamosa. The youngest girl, Alex Rae, was born when we were in the midst of ministry there. I called the three sisters of which Alex was the youngest, “The Who Sisters”. They would always have their hair in the “Who Like” (Dr. Seuss) stubby little tufts. They were adorable. When we moved to Denver 24 years ago, the girls ended up moving to Breckenridge. Their mom wanted them to continue to attend DOC camps at LaForet, and so we would smuggle them in as members of South Broadway in Denver. It was there that Todd became a constant in their growth.

Another youth pastor started a Go Fund Me page so we could be there for Todd and his family. Help like dropping off food is not possible, because we are all quarantined and spread all over the Region. I began to see that much of the support was coming from the many many young people whose lives were touched by Todd’s warm caring spirit at camp. One of them was Alex. I began to put a bunch of pieces together of the way that our faith communities care for each other beyond our safe perches. There were well over 200 folk who carried Todd in their hearts.
Two days ago Todd was able to go home, O2 and all. Yesterday, I got a great surprise— it was Todd calling me. On the other end of the call, was a man filled with gratitude. What he went through, the pain, fear, struggling to breath and the worst (Todd hates needles) was that he became a human pin cushion.
Here is just one story from his 12 days in the hospital Todd said, “They asked me if I could try to eat something. They suggested a banana. It tasted like cardboard. I said, ‘what I could really use is some green chili and French Fries’. They told me that was not possible. I asked again. They got them. I could actually taste the green chili.” Every year since, I have been at Greeley, I bring Todd a bushel of roasted green chili from DiSanti farms in Pueblo. The man will put green chili on his French toast. Todd is beating Covid, and he wants you to know how grateful he is.
I just got my first Covid vaccination this afternoon. Earlier in the day, I was talking with a molecular biologist who is also a swimming coach. He has coached me on my back stroke. He said, “The only reason we were able to have a vaccine so quickly is because of 20 some years of dedicated science.”
I give thanks to all those who spend their lives in the trenches of research, development, nursing, respiratory therapy, and the dozens of other efforts that saved Todd’s life and maybe even mine.
Onward and Upward, Mark
PS—keep praying

Clean Shaven


In the spring of 1968 I was called into the Dean’s office at Phillips University. Dean Eulla Belle McNiff—no kidding— said this to me, “It has been noticed that you are growing a beard, why are you doing this”? I came up with what I thought was one of my best smart a__ answers. “Well, Dean McNiff, I have been shaving for about a year and I want to see if I really had hair on my face”? “It’s not some form of protest is it”? “Nope, just curiosity”.
Sometime in late 1969 I grew a mustache and for the last 52 years I have had facial hair.
Back in August I offered this to the fates, “If on January 20, 2021, I feel hope for the country, I will shave”. This was my bribe to the universe. I know people who will only wear certain things when the Broncos play, baseball players who jump over lines, and people who actually follow horoscopes. For me it was the opposite of my 1968 gambit— I wanted to see how I might look with a shiny face.
Sue, our wonderful “assistant production manager” at FCC Greeley, peeked her head in the office and after pondering a bit said, “You look a little less honest”. I said, “Sort of a like politician who keeps changing their position” “Yep, that will do”.
I FaceTimed my daughter Amy in Texas, whose whole family were saying “We have never seen this face before”. “What do you think?”… dead silence. “Well, grandpa what do you think”? They have mastered the art of answering a question with a question. “I will tell you in a year”. My New Mexico daughter in law said, “You look 15 years younger”. Whether she was just being kind or honest, that is the right thing to say to someone who is considering double knee replacements soon.
The problem with being clean shaven is that you have to shave everyday. I have had added seven minutes to my morning time line. Beards throughout history have been in and out of fashion. The gnarly “Charley Blackmon” full facial Grizzly Adams beards creep me out. The now fashionable four-day shadow look makes me want to say, “Take a stand, either grow the thing or shave”.

I have been in four Zoom meetings since the day I revealed my hairless face. In the first one not a word was said, the same in the second. Yesterday I got a text message, “You shaved”, and today in a meeting one person said, “Something is different about you”.
Well, Eulla Belle, once again my face hair curiosity got the best of me— we will see how it grows.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Muriel Jean McCown


I had just finished swimming my mile at the Apex Center. There are three pools there that have been able to reopen at Covid capacity. I swim at the lap pool, which has become a true gift. The two other pools are family recreation pools complete with water slides, fountains and all kinds of fun stuff. It is amazing to me that a limited number of kids can make so much noise. Today while I was swimming my laps I could hear a universal sound. A cacophony of screams, yips, laughter, squeals, and general kid mayhem. This is a universal noise that is the same in Mexico, China, Europe, or Wash Park. There are no discernible words— just joy expressed.
As I was driving home I thought about that sound and the word “cacophony”—a harsh discordant collection of sounds. I learned that word in my Vocabulary Building class taught by Jean Mccown. I was asked a month or so ago who my favorite high school teacher was. For me it was easy. Mrs. Mccown. I had her for English literature, Advanced Composition and Vocabulary Building, all of which have stayed with me these many years.
I got home and ate my dinner. It was January 6, and I was trying not to watch the tragedy of the coup d’eta inspired by The Liar In Chief. I got a notice on my Face Book app that Muriel Jean Mccown had died New Years Day. The irony of having just a few moments before, finding myself reminiscing how much I learned from her and now acknowledging her passing on a day of betrayal was not lost on me.
Jean Mccown was grace incorporated. A very classy lady with a South Carolina accent, which at Pueblo East High was something to behold. She was the kind of teacher that made you want to learn. She even made Silas Marner fun. My brother in law Dave Marquez said, “She was the first teacher that made me believe I was smart”.
We read McBeth where I memorized, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day. To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The Way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

I repeated every line of it and could see Jean Mccown with her slight and warm smile knowing that the truth of such a moment is timeless. It was an appropriate response to the tragedy of a pathological narcissist and his cult followers attacking the the heart of our democracy. It was a night I will never forget. I found my moorings in my memories of knowing my favorite high school teacher was one of my anchors.
Jean Mccown was an honest optimist. We learned that literature could help us look life straight in the eye with to totality of the good, the bad, the ugly and know grace is in our midst.
Onward and Upward, Mark

The San Luis Valley

At 6:05a Christmas morning, I took off on a drive to my son Mateo’s home outside of Espanola, NM. The sun was just beginning to show itself as I headed south. I think early Christmas morning might be my favorite time to drive, ever. I had the world almost to myself. When I got to I-25 South there were about four cars that followed me all the way through the metro area. I was listening to classical Christmas music, and the scene was serene and comforting. I remember thinking, “This reminds me of the Colorado of my childhood”.
I stopped in Pueblo to say hi to my sister Rita and take a break. I soon headed south on an interstate route that I have driven 100’s of times. I can feel the stress flake off me as I see the Spanish Peaks on the horizon. In no time I was headed up La Veta Pass which empties into the San Luis Valley. 35 years ago in 1986, we moved to Alamosa which lies in the heart of the largest alpine valley in the world. It is a giant terrarium. It’s 60 miles wide by 120 miles long. It is totally surrounded by 14,000 ft peaks, with the Sangre do Christos on the east and the San Juans on the west.
We moved there with four kids, two cats and our best dog ever, Smiley the Australian Cattle dog. For the next 11 years I served as the pastor of First Christian Church in Alamosa. From 1993-97 I also served as the pastor of First Christian in Monte Vista. They were 19 miles apart and we lived out in the country placed nicely between them. The “Valley” as we came to know, it, is truly a mystical place. It is where Colorado history began. It is home to multiple cultures and peoples. The indigenous Americans would often spend the winter there as it had ample food and water everywhere. There are amazing farms and ranches there. It is full of artists, free spirits, and people whose line was “our car broke down here on our way to California and we never left”.
Let me tell you about the winter of 1991-92. On Halloween we got two feet of snow on the Valley floor, which is 7500 ft in elevation. What that did was to create a cold vacuum in the whole valley. There are thousands of artesian wells there which pour out warm water. This made a fog which covered the entire valley day and night. It was like a cloud lid. Every day got colder than the day before. For 91 days in a row it NEVER got above 0’ day or night. The coldest it got at our house that we knew of, was -44’.

For many days it got down to -63’ in La Jara, a town to the south of Alamosa.
I was at a minister’s meeting in Colorado Springs, where the pastor there was talking about being an Air Force Chaplain in Fairbanks, Alaska. “Do you know Mark, if it gets to minus 38’ you can do this amazing trick. Get water boiling and put it in a big thermal mug. Throw the water in the air and it will implode”. I headed home where I could not wait to try it. That night it was -41’ and I got the kids to join me. Sure enough, you throw the water up in the air and you hear a soft “whoooompffff” only to see a huge cloud go into the sky, and ice crystals sparkling in the night’s light. Soon word spread and for about three weeks this scene was repeated all over this frozen Dr. Zhivago tundra.
This Christmas Day the Valley did not disappoint. The winter scene was breathtaking. I turned south at Ft. Garland to head to Taos, NM, which was 70 miles away. My heart was filled with memories of Christmas time when my kids were all in our home. Of life in a small town where the best and worst of life together was shared (the best far outweighs the worst). As I was coming down the pass I was greeted by two Golden Eagles who were dining on the most recent road kill. I slowed down to come within just a few yards of these majestic birds. South of San Luis there are many wild horses and they did not disappoint. The almost yearling colts had grown since I saw them last summer.
I have had four homes in Colorado— Pueblo, Alamosa, Denver and now Arvada. Each of them have shaped me. The Valley, was the place where I found recovery, beauty, rich history, a love of the land, and a place where you lived in 360 degrees of sunrise and sunsets.
This Christmas morning I was alone but never lonely. Onward and Upward,
Mark

Rita Jo

1951


My earliest memory took place a few days after December 26, 1950. My parents introduced me to my brand new sister, Rita Jo. I can see myself looking over the classic crib which had multicolored balls at the end, which were there not for just decoration, but to spin as soon as the enclosed baby learned to pull itself up. I was totally taken in with a sense of amazement. There was a certain smell of the infant that calmed me. Today my sister Rita Jo turns 70. Happy Birthday~sis you are a gift not only to me but to our family and the world.
When I turned 30 it did not bother me, but 18 months later when we had Rita’s 30th birthday, it made me realize that the sands of my hour glass were speeding up. Growing up with me as the “big brother” was not all fun. I could be a jerk, a tease, and I confess that I still regret the day I aimed a BB gun at a 45’ angle and about 100 yards away, and the BB landed right on her rear. Today Rita has her own story about why she is so committed to MOMs Demand Action for responsible gun laws. Rita is a warrior for sane gun laws, environmental justice, racial inclusion, and recovery. She is also a commissioned minister in the Disciples of Christ. Rita Jo is my hero!!!
Let’s back up to 1953. Soon after the birth of my brother Charley, my mom Pat sunk into a severe postpartum psychosis. She was institutionalized on and off for a year. Rita and I were put in the care of friends and relatives. At one point we spent a month or so going to a place Rita affectionately renamed—PUEBLO Day Penitentiary—It was not pretty. I would not leave her sight. As a result I have a very clear memory of a “care giver” in a white uniform taking me into a stair well and kicking and punching me. I would not stop yelling until they let me stay with Rita. I only share this because I know these kinds of things happen to kids.
In 9th grade I tolerated Rita showing up as a 7th grader at Heaton Jr. High with her “cat eye glasses” and ponytail. However, when she showed up as a sophomore at Pueblo East High, I figured out really quickly that she had a covey of very cute friends. We began a much more mature friendship that goes on to this day.
I was privileged 22 years ago to perform the wedding for Rita and Dave. Together they have built a remarkable partnership that is blending a son

apiece, and four grandkids. To be either Rita’s grandkid or nephew or niece is to blessed. Rita cares, Rita listens, Rita is fun. She was a master teacher, and if you were fortunate enough to have her as a kid or the parent of kid, you know what a fantastic educator she is.
One final story— I was in the 6th grade and Rita the 4th. We were both taking piano lessons and we were playing a duet at a Christmas recital at the old Central Christian Church. I don’t know if it was stage fright or what, but Rita froze. I, being the jerk that I could be, elbowed my sister ever so slightly in the ribs. She started crying. We limped through the song.
I could not ask for a more special sister. She has an amazing sense of humor, a pastor’s heart, and was smart enough to survive me.
Onward and Upward, Mark

The Sweet Spot


The metaphor “Sweet Spot”, I first heard in reference to that place on a baseball bat where the ball pops off the bat with the greatest velocity. It is the place on a golf club where the ball does what you want it to. It is that time on a vacation or trip where everything comes together. Today I am talking Swedish Tea Rings.
My grandpa Joe Anderson, was a full blooded Swede whose parents immigrated to the US and settled in SW Iowa. My mom Pat, who would have turned 100 in three weeks, loved her Swedish heritage. She could say the Lord’s Prayer in Swedish. She was a great story teller and had many tales of her Nordic heritage. What I remember best, is that this time every year she would make four Swedish Tea Rings. This was no simple task. It took her all day. There was the dough prep, the rising, prepping the filling that consisted of walnuts, currents, cinnamon, honey, and who knows what else. She would bake them two at a time. When they were cooled they would get just the right amount of frosting.
“Don’t you dare touch these Mark, they are for Christmas morning breakfast”. They sat there for a couple of days talking to me. Then after the joy of “unbridled materialistic avarice” (to quote Ralph from A Christmas Story), we headed to breakfast. My mom was a world champion homemaker. Christmas at our house was a combination of chaos and grace.
Well, the Swedish Tea Rings were warmed up to perfection. Now something I had learned in my yearly consumption, is that, as much as my mom achieved perfection, there was always about a three inch section where the juicy best found its home. So believe it or not, I became an expert at spotting that “sweet spot”. I would carefully plot my selection where I aimed for that most amazing concoction of Swedish perfection, oozing with extra moist goo. In my well honed proclivity for “tasty” this was a grand slam over the center field fence.
Sweet spots are harder to come by this year, but all the more joyful when discovered. I will share two with you. One, my wonderful daughter Amy and family, sent me the most amazing slippers, along with the best homemade Christmas card. If you want a peek just connect with me and I

will send you a picture. Two, my grandson Miko made his second short film. He has the gift of both heart and mind.
So enjoy your ‘sweet spots’ whatever they might be. I would love to hear from you as to where you found, tasted, heard or observed your 281 yard drive, which rocketed right out of the perfect place on your club.
Onward and Upward, Mark