“Green and Gold our colors bold we honor faithfully, here’s to you Old Franklin, Elementary”. The lines from one of the many songs I learned singing from the back row of the Ben Franklin Elementary Choir. The highlight of the beginning of my choir career was being part of a “living Christmas Tree”, which was filled with about five tiers of kids singing their hearts out. I loved to sing especially when part of a group. In 8th and 9th grade I had the best choir teacher ever—Mike Stefanic— who filled us with stories about growing up in Crested Butte, Colorado, where they would often ski off the second story on their snow bound home. I can still sing a number of the Rogers and Hammerstein songs we learned for the all school talent show. I am not sure why but when I hit high school I dropped choir, probably because I thought I was too cool. I did not pick up singing in a choir until 1987 when we formed a choir at First Christian in Alamosa. I even took voice lessons from the choir director where I learned “Caro Mio Bene” by Mozart. Singing in Italian was a challenge but it was fun. From 94-97 we combined choirs from the Alamosa and Monte Vista churches— which was double the fun. The choirs would join about twice a month sharing in worship 19 miles apart. When I got to South Broadway CC in Denver in 1997, we were able to grow the choir from about 10 to 25. One Christmas we combined with three other churches and pulled off a mighty fine cantata. When I retired in 2015 my choir days went on the shelf. All of this background leads me to a tribute I want to make today, to a man we had a memorial service for, at First Christian Church in Greeley. I went to Greeley FCC in early 2017 to help them transition. Five years later we are still transitioning. Soon I joined their choir. I found myself sitting next to Gary D, who I soon realized was the best bass with whom I had ever sang. It turns out he had degrees in choral music and had been singing longer than I had been alive. One night I said to Gary, “Feel free to coach or critique me as I have never sang next to somebody who was so accomplished”. We slowly became a part of the best men’s section with whomI have ever sung.
I have heard it said, “When you sing you pray twice”. Today I was part of a combined choir that sang one of Gary’s favorite anthems. There is no more beautiful instrument than the combination of human voices. Something happens when they are joined together and life and love fills the space. Thanks Gary, for your patience and making me a much better baritone. Onward and Upward, Mark
I will do about anything to avoid dealing with calling toll-free help lines. First comes my default— procrastination. Almost always hoping that magically things will fix themselves, just raises my frustration. Somehow I still suffer under the fantasy that the little Elves who make the shoes will come in and fix whatever is not working. I think it worked once… perhaps it was operator error. Recently my iPhone was on the fritz. This afternoon I braced myself for the 30 min music concert which came after telling the robot “I WANT TO SPEAK TO A PERSON”.
First I was asked what kind of music I would like to listen to while waiting. I procrastinated and missed my opportunity to listen to Classical, so I had ‘white noise’ for my wait. After about 20 minutes I began to imagine trying to explain why I felt totally at the mercy of whoever I got as my “assistant”. My low grade anxiety raised.
I was met by a very friendly guy with a southern accent. He started the ‘screen share’ which, allows the technical assistant to see exactly what the customer sees. This becomes really helpful when I don’t understand or go freelance. Within five minutes we had a diagnosis which first required me to get a new password. Soon we found out that I needed a new IOS update. Sure enough, it worked. What I really want to talk about was the kindness and patience of the tech support guy. Turns out, he is in South Carolina going to flight school. He is about a third of the way through and is doing great. Soon he will be filling the gap of the pilot shortage. But today, he was my hero.
He closed the conversation by saying “thanks for my best call of the day”. I was able to say ‘thanks for such a great spirit and fantastic help”. He made my day—and my phone works great. Onward and Upward, Mark
There are many signs of my slow decent into the word I HATE— Senior Citizen. My first wake-up call came when AARP sent me a notice that I was able to achieve Membership Status… Oh boy. Yep, I am a member. Next was my willingness to order off the Senior Menu, which was soon followed by asking for Senior Discounts. Soon I hit 65 and of course the Medicare was gleefully welcomed, as was the monthly Social Security payment. All the while, I was mostly in denial that I was among the millions of aging Americans. One of the blessings and curses of spending 47 years in pastoral ministry, is that I have been able to participate with humans in every phase of the life-cycle. If I am honest with myself there are no surprises about where I am and what is coming. As a result of my Covid Delta Variant 18 day stay in the hospital last fall, I now have been visited with “post-covid” or “long- haulers” syndrome. The results are that my joints and soft tissues have sustained a hit and I need more rest. The good news is that as best I can tell, my heart, lungs and brain have been spared (of course there is a debate among some that this is not true). When we moved to the far reaches of NW Arvada, just a stone’s throw from the foothills, 4 1/2 years ago, we were blessed with both a front south facing porch, and a back north facing patio. Our dining room looks out into a verdant open space which is mostly occupied by bunnies. We decided we needed not one but three bird feeders. Each feeder has its particular function and attraction to certain birds. In 1986 my dad gave us “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Bird—Western Addition”. It has been more than useful, as I had no idea there were so many kinds of sparrows. It has been fun to identify dozens of kinds of “dining birds” who visit our home by the hundreds. Bird seed is now bought in bulk. Last week I spotted my first Yellow Finch of the season. We have Pigeons, Grackles, Chickadees and Mourning Doves—when they show up together there is often a bit of a ruckus. We have a suet feeder which attracts a variety of birds with long beaks. I am not a birder, but I certainly can see why people enjoy the adventure of observing and celebrating these amazing little creatures. Two years ago, a
family of barn swallows found a home over our front door. Two things— they build their homes from mud, and they poop a lot. They raised not one but two families before heading south. In Colorado it is illegal to disturb these amazing messy bug eating flyers. So, when they left, MK researched what we could do legally to keep them from coming back. Her answer was four inch metal spikes which come in strips you put above the door. The birds showed up and did their best to work around the spikes. They gave up. They came back this year and gave it another try—the spikes won. Whoever came up with the phrase “it’s for the birds” was an “old buzzard’. Onward and Upwards, Mark
I have a ritual that feeds my soul most every Friday. It begins with coffee with some peeps, then a drive to Cherry Creek State Park. There I get to watch and experience the very subtle changes that seasons and weather bring. I keep track of the huge variety of wildlife found right in the middle of the urban complex. Once a four point Mule deer walked right up to my parked car. Various birds of prey put on an aerial demonstration as they catch mice, snakes, rabbits and prairie dogs. I listen for the return of the Meadow Larks and Red Winged Black birds—their songs still thrill me. One of my favorite scenes recently was three coyotes hunting voles together in a big field. Bald Eagles and White Pelicans are often there. Yes, nature connects me with life and its source. When I head home, I like to avoid the highways by working my way through town. Yesterday the flowering trees and tulips were putting on a show. As I was heading north on Logan St. I saw an entire gaggle of most likely, 2nd graders, with trash bags and gloves. They were not getting leftover Easter Eggs. Rather, they were picking up trash. Their bags were full and smiles were everywhere. It hit me—today is Earth Day. My dad was an ecological advocate before there was ever a day dedicated to the earth. He recycled because it was the right thing to do and I never remember him walking through a parking lot with out stopping to pick up somebody else’s trash. Caring for creation is not political—it’s sanity. I had a friend in my Alamosa days who would talk about people who would “poop in their own nest”. One could say “Shoot themselves in the foot”—however you want to phrase it. I will close with a gift from my brother Don. He entered a contest sponsored by the Department of the Interior and Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. Don was 11. The contest was simple—complete the phrase “This Land is Your Land________________________. His winning answer was, “Give it all you have got, it is all we have”. He took me as his chaperon/ guest on an all expenses paid trip, for a week to Washington DC. We had a most amazing time. Don’s life was a shooting star that ended at age 20 —that week still fills my heart with memories and hope. Don was right—be kind to your Mother.
Tomorrow at the First Christian Church of Greeley we have our annual Easter Egg Hunt. We will have a few dozen “hunters” who will show up with their baskets, sacks etc. There will be a few kids in their Easter Best but the rest come dressed for combat. The whole event takes about four minutes. I always find myself trying to coach the less aggressive kids to the eggs that I have spotted, yet to be grabbed. Invariably, witnessing this event takes me back to the “Egg Hunts” of my childhood. There were two Pumphrey families in Pueblo. There were the four Paul Pumphrey kids (my dad’s brother and lifetime business partner). They were ‘North Siders’ and Country Club people. Then there was the Bill Pumphrey kids—we were from the East Side and members of that not nearly so prestigious Belmont Club. I could never get my dad to explain how we ended up on the left side of the Pueblo Social Status Bell Curve. They were “co-equal” partners in the business, but this 11–year—old knew the difference between a golf course and an elegant restaurant, and a basic swimming pool and a snack bar. One year, my cousin Jailee found the “Golden Egg” at the Country Club egg hunt. Her reward, if I remember correctly, was a real duckling and a giant chocolate egg. Our egg hunting was relegated to the giant community egg hunt at Belmont Park. This event brought in 100’s of kids to a park which was part park, and park flood drainage—replete with Goat Heads and Sand Burrs. The local merchants peppered the park with lots of eggs, which included those horrible marshmallow eggs covered with hard candy coating. As much as I loved to eat—those eggs covered your mouth with red, blue, yellow or green dye and they were pure sugar. I would gladly give mine to my sister Rita Jo. We did have a few prize eggs at our blue-collar eggstravaganza. These eggs could be redeemed at the “Shopping Center” at places like Duckwalls and The Belmont Bakery When I was in about 6th grade, I gathered with my buddies for the right of passage. I was there with Jim and Bob, and am not sure how we did it, but we spotted a winning egg by a tree in the center of the park. We cooked up a plan. I was not fast but I could block. Jim and I were to get as close to the tree as we could, and then throw a ‘downfield’ block on an approaching egg grabber. Bob, who was plenty fast, was to grab the prize
egg and we would split the prize. The kids lined up everywhere waiting for the horn to blast and start the chaos. It went off right at 10am and our plan went into action. I took out not one, but two kids, with a well executed “clip” and Jim nailed a very fast girl. Bob scooped up the egg and sure enough, it was a winner. We went on to pick up a few remaining eggs. All this was done in faster than a long stop—light. Our prize was a giant Easter Egg Cake from The Bakery. We took it our homes to show it off to our parents and then we gave it a proper consumption… which took about as long as the ‘egg hunt’. Ah Teamwork!!! Onward and Upward, Mark
When I was not quite four years old, my parents bought one of those great swing sets that have two swings, a teter-totter, a slide, and a ladder. My parents decided that the ladder was “too dangerous” so it was put in the garage. On my own I decided to retrieve the ladder and place it on the side of the house, on the back patio. Long story short— I climbed up the ladder only to have it slide down the wall of the house with my wrists under a rung. Yes, I broke both of my arms. So much for protecting me from the ladder. This began a life-long series of pratt-falls.
The next significant crash was a fall down the basement stairs which broke my ankle. I suspect that in today’s world of reporting these kinds of injuries, my parents might have gotten a visit from Child Protective Services. My next crash of memory happened in 8th grade, when I was run over by an AV cart which half severed my Achilles. I do remember the ice storms of Oklahoma which put me on the sidewalk more times than I can count.
My next fall of record happened during the Cleveland Browns vs. Broncos game that included “The Drive”. With the Rich Karlis kick for our win in overtime, I jumped up into the air in our family room. My toe caught the fireplace and I fell right through our glass coffee table. The only kids who were at home to witness the 10,000 pieces of safety glass on our floor, were Steph and Matt. After they saw no blood, Steph burst into laughter as I lay looking up through the frame of the table from the floor—Go Broncos.
My ‘all time best’ fall took place about 20 years ago when we lived at the top of Capitol Hill. I would often walk to work at South Broadway Christian Church, which was exactly two miles away. I was headed out the door and down the five flights of stairs to get to the street. Just before I got out the door I hear from upstairs “Honey could you carry that box out to my car in the garage”. That box contained a damaged and very expensive shadow box that MK had bought at the Cherry Creek Mall. I was frustrated for more reasons than I can enumerate. She was exchanging it and wove me into her scheme. I muttered and then took it to her car in the garage. As I was coming back in the the house through the kitchen I picked up a banana off the counter. I peeled it and shoved it in my mouth.
Then I hit the first landing I flung the peel into the street, about 30ft. below. As I stepped off the curb to the street, my right heel hit the peel and yes, it launched me onto Downing Street. I face planted well into the middle of the street. I looked south down the street to see a bus heading right at me. The irony of slipping on my own banana peel only to be run over by a bus stung. I got up and got back to the curb. The next question was “do I share this story”? It was too good not to tell on myself. My reward was this T-Shirt from my daughter Amy, which is featured here—I DO ALL MY OWN STUNTS.
My most recent crash was not of my own making. Last week I was coming out of the Men’s room after choir practice at FCC in Greeley. We had just installed new carpeting. The threshold cover had been accidentally left loose. My toe hit it and I went down like a ‘old growth’ tree. I hit the floor so hard that my Apple Watch wanted to call the Emergency Help line. In five minutes it asked again. “I see you are still on the ground, are you OK”? 12 days later I am healing and grateful that my worst fall was my first fall—some 69 years ago. Onward and Upward, Mark
The other day as I was driving by the park in my neighborhood, I watched three kids about 10 years old or so launch a kite. In my growing up life, the month of March was ‘kite month’. For .25 you could buy a High Flyer kite which featured a variety of figures on it, and a paper skin that was stretched over the wooden support sticks. The “Man in the Moon” kite came in three colors if I remember—red, yellow, and blue. My preference was blue. A walk to Duckwalls “Five n’ Dime” could supply you with a kite, and a couple of balls of cotton string. The instructions for assembly were printed right on the kite. The trick was getting just the right bow in the cross bar, and then getting your mom to give you an old sheet from which you tore pieces to make the tail. Once it was ready for flying, I would head off to the Ben Franklin Elementary giant play yard, to meet 10-15 other kids with their variety of kites. On a perfect kite flying day you would have a great breeze that would lift your kite to dot the sky. One of my most distinct memories was the year we got a kite up there with a couple of balls of string. In my kid mind it almost touched the clouds. I had an extra quarter in my pocket and Duckwalls was maybe three blocks away. I thought I would send my brother Charley there, to buy some more string—if two balls were good, four would be better. Well, Charley did his job and we began to add ball number three. Buy this time we were sure that this kite could be seen from miles away. So we added number four to its line. Each ball was 250 ft, so I was pretty decent at math and we reached 1,000 ft. We were so proud of ourselves. There she was—our beautiful blue Man in the Moon kite sailing peacefully near heaven. Then the laws of engineering stepped in. POP!!!—the string broke as a result of too much pull I guess. The kite took off towards the Fountain River. We hopped on our bikes and headed for a kite rescue. Oh we found it all right, stuck in the Cottonwood trees that line the river bank. There my kite was and my .50 investment. It was truly twisting in the wind. That afternoon when my dad got home, we talked him into a possible kite rescue. We took him to the sight of our renegade kite. He said, “Boys,
that kite is a lost cause, but I will go to Duckwalls with you to get another one. This time we got a RED “Little Boy” and stuck to two balls of thread. On the all the Hi-Flier kites there was a print banner saying “Playmates of the Clouds”. I have a kite in the garage, I think Sunday afternoon I will see what she can do. Onward and Upward, Mark `
So I took a week off as last weekend involved a three day round-trip to Oklahoma. I am here to report that the world is flat. Well at least it is for hundreds of miles east of here. I am a big fan of the road trip. This was a solo journey. Just me and my Sirius Radio. I had a lot to think about in those 10 hours of wind turbines, wide open space, and rest areas. We had just spent a week with our daughter Steph, and almost-three-year old Sofia, who I wrote about last week. Here is a summary of two Sundays ago and our counter clockwise, unplanned trip to the Nederland Carousel. Sofia had her first experience being a PGK (preacher’s grandkid). We walked in the church an hour early—the bane of being my relative on a Sunday. Sofia had only been in a church building once at age six months, so this was a brand new experience for her. We enter through doors that take us right by a large “fellowship hall”. The crew who prepares the after church coffee was hard at work. We walked in this big space where she clung tightly to Grandma’s hand. I said, “Sofia, this is the snack room”. Bingo!!!—she was ready. The next stop was the sanctuary, where Sandi the organist was practicing the organ. Sofia loves music—she already has over 100 songs on her daddy’s phone which she calls her ‘playlist’. This list very eclectic. It has everything from Devo, the “Bunny Song”, “Purple People Eater” to the Best Hits of the Three Stooges. However, her live music up until this time, was limited to Jordan the Banjo player who plays every Saturday at the Rancho Palos Verdes Farmer’s Market. She was totally taken in by the organ. Her church experience went well but she was baffled that 80 people knew who she was. Mind you, 75% of her life has been spent living on lock down with Mommy and Daddy. After working the snack room following church, all three ‘girls’ wanted some real food. By the time we finished pizza, Sofia had been pushing for six hours without a nap. We loaded her in her car seat facing backwards, and by the time we hit Highway 34, Sofia went on a total meltdown. We are talking epic tantrum. Stephanie asked how long we had to drive until we got home. We told her 45 minutes. “This is going to be a real mess. She will fall asleep and then we will have to wake her up and trust me this will continue. Can you go home the the long way?” Sure, we can keep heading straight to Estes Park. So it went.
Sofia conked out soon and the three adults had an unplanned Sunday drive. It was beautiful and the time of relative peace was special. We got to Estes Park and I said to MK, “Make a left here and we will go home the back way through Nederland”. That was another hour of lazy mountain driving. As we were pulling into Nederland you could hear Sofia waking up. Our plan was to be there on Monday. Steph said, “Hey let’s just stop here today”. MK pulled into the carousel parking lot. We asked Sofia if she knew where we were. “Yep, at the carousel”. “Do you want to go”? “Yes. So in we went. We rode it four times with Sofia picking a fish, a camel, a swan, and a frog. We then headed back home towards Coal Creek Canyon, our direct route home. As we were driving down HWY 7, I had the strange feeling that MK had missed the turn home. Sure enough, it was time for a U-turn. We came back a few miles and turned up Coal Creek. We were working our way up the canyon and I spotted Bulwinkle tracks in the willows. I told Steph about how Colorado did not have a moose until 35 years ago, as the Wildlife Department attempted to transplant a few captured moose from Wyoming and Utah. The hope was that we might get a sustainable population of 300. We now have 3000. They like Colorado—(Wyoming still has only 800). No sooner had I finished my moose lesson, than right there on the side of the road was a female dining on willow. We watched her for at least 10 minutes. This car pulled up going the other way and kindly asked if we needed help. We pointed out the moose and they flipped a U-turn and took up moose gazing with us. This day defined serendipity!!! The next morning we were sitting at the dining room table all eating breakfast and out of Sofia’s mouth came, “I love Colorado”. So now Sofia and the moose have something in common. Onward and Upward, Mark
I have been blessed with ‘book-end’ grand kids. Zach, who was born on “Leap Day” 30 years ago, will celebrate his birthday with us Monday. His actual birthday will take place in that nano second on Midnight of Feb 28th. He was followed by seven other grandkids, the last of whom is Sofia who will be three this May. Sofia came today from California to spend a week in Colorado. Just a few minutes ago she put on her snow suit and went out to her first encounter with snow. Grandma packed her in the snow suit and she reminded me of Ralphie from ‘A Christmas Story’. It was like watching a puppy in the park where she did everything from sticking her nose in it to throwing it in the air. She even made her first ‘snow angel’. This past week I spent three days with grandson Miko in Taos, and had great visits on the phone with grandkids Michaela, Mattias and Zoe. I remember having a conversation with Dr. Jim Strain, RIP, a mentor, friend, Elder who walked with me for nearly18 years at South Broadway CC. He once served as the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We talked of the joy of grandkids. He said, “Well, we have an alliance with our grandkids, a common enemy—their parents”. We had a good laugh and then went on to brag with each other about those grandkids. I call Sofia, “The Bonus Round” as none of us saw her coming. Our daughter Stephanie give birth to her just short of age 46. Tonight our home is full of joy as Sofia is currently ending her day with a bath, which for a two year old is an event, not a task. Tomorrow she is going to church with us in Greeley. I asked her if she would sit with me. She said “For a little while, but I want to sit on my own seat”. “You have a deal”!!! She smiled as she ate her pumpkin muffin. Earlier in the week I got to spend three days with grandson Miko. We met in Taos, where by his invitation, we talked about possible screen plays he wants to write. Without giving anything away, we spent three hours cracking open a survival story that involves a 12 year old and his grandpa. Once we got on a roll the story almost told itself. For this narrative theologian/preacher it was as ‘good as it gets’. If I have bored you with my “Tales of a grateful Grandfather” too bad!!! In my world, in this week marked by human depravity and sycophants who excuse the inexcusable, my grandkid fix is on overload. Monday we drive up to the town of
Nederland to ride the most amazing carousel. And maybe just maybe we will see a moose on our way. Onward and Upward, Mark
Well, we have zipped through February with relative ease. Perhaps it was the Olympics or the Super Bowl planted nearly halfway through, but it seems that this month has an economy of time that appeals to me. I love the fact that it is most often only four exact weeks long. When we hit March its like a giant do-over with three extra days. I was pondering what it would be like to have all 28 day months. They would each start on Monday and that, way for this preacher, the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th would always be on Sunday. My problem is, what do you do with 29 left over days? I spent some time trying to figure out what we could do with an extra odd month. I know some cultures actually have a Lunar calendar. As best I can figure, the Earth and its 365 and a quarter day rotation could care less how we keep score. I actually thought if we had an extra month, we could sort of use it like a “study hall” in our way too busy schedule. It would be a ‘freebie’ where the whole planet took a collective breath. It did not take my scheming long until I gave up on the idea, on the month of Festivus (thanks Seinfeld). I will just enjoy this February where paydays come three days early. Today on the news, some politician was making his case to do away with Daylight Savings time. I was never quite clear whether he wanted darkness in the morning or evening, but he was passionate about his case. I did catch that ski areas were on one side of the lobby and golf courses on the other. The time change that is coming, “Spring Forward”, is always a shock to my system. I tend to wake up with the morning light and when my sleeping goal posts are moved, I miss that hour for at least a couple of weeks. I remember when DST first came to Colorado, a woman wrote the Denver Post that this time change was opposed to God and it was going to kill her flowers. It’s like she believed there was someone who threw the dawn and dusk light switch, and they had decided to ignore God. On the campus of Denver U. there is a giant sundial. I suspect we would all do better if we just let the sun set the pace. Farmers have understood this forever. When the sun comes up you get busy, and when it goes down you slow down and hit the sack.
Time has taken on a bit of a different meaning during the last two years. Covid has disrupted nearly everything. The word normal hardly means anything. We have been playing “crack the whip” with the constantly changing variants, political winds, scientific interventions and the outbreak of stupidity. As best I know, the sun keeps coming up and going down. I woke this morning to a moonlit early morning. Light was glistening on the snow and both the sun and the moon said hello. I was reminded again that I am happiest when I just enjoy the day. Onward and Upward, Mark