All I want for Christmas….

A heart attack throws a monkey wrench into the morass of gearworks linking tasks, business, and agendas, within a busy life. It all spins along in some semblance of efficiency—messy as it is—interconnected with other busy lives. Without warning, everything grinds to a halt.

And, you wait.

What once seemed vital—tumbled over obsessively in the mind—becomes trite.

We all happened to be down in the Twin Cities, three hours from home, complicating matters considerably. Shawna stayed there with her father, mother, and brother (the old gang back together) to see him through the woods. I’m contributing to the effort by tending the home fires, getting the kids off to school, etc.

Three days into this, I’m wondering how single parents get by. This is well outside my usual skill set, and I get virtually nothing done while the kids are in school. It’s not the individual tasks that do me in, but the mental exhaustion that takes a toll.

We really do need each other to keep all these gears grinding and humming along like a well-oiled machine.

Shawna’s dad, walking around helping people while enduring a heart attack for an entire week (misdiagnosed as seasonal illnesses by not one, but two doctors!), has become essential to our survival.

For the first time in my life, I have extended family living nearby, regularly dropping by, helping to carry to the load. How did we ever function without the in-laws living a mile away???? It truly boggles the mind. We would have broken under the weight of stress and anxiety if they hadn’t moved to Duluth a couple years ago (about a year after I lost my job, and as clueless as can be about what to do next).

Do not take such support for granted! The difference between this and four visits a year (spent sitting around catching up) is palpable. Our family—me, Shawna, and our twin children—have come to depend on them to a degree I never imagined.

With zero help or compensation, at a time when I was maxed out, he built me a walk-in cooler from these materials:


He loaned me his regular car for a time, after ours blew up right at the start of farmer’s market season, and thus used his classic 1949 Mercury for hauling various construction materials and other daily trips. Obviously, most car folk would jealously confine such a treasure to the garage:

Fred at the moment of the no-strings-attached vehicle handoff.

Fred knows approximately jack diddly squat about farming, but is constantly lending a hand, such as assembling the two giant compost tumblers I ordered for my endless stream of organic leftovers (sealed up from rodents).

The help has been vital. I simply didn’t have time to build the cooler on my own, one example of many, while setting up the farm and building a business from scratch. All at a time when we needed immediate profits to eat, pay the mortgage, etc.

And it doesn’t stop there. Each of these pieces of art hang on the wall via hooks and wire installed by Shawna’s parents. Simple work, indeed, but it’s a fair amount of work when 20 pieces are involved. Time was in short supply. Shawna needed to focus on cranking out a couple more masterpieces just in time for the opening.

I shot this video the evening before the big scare involving the ambulance, hospital, and threat of unimaginable loss….

Shawna’s show, nearly impossible to have pulled off without her parents assisting in ways big and small, will be on display through the end of the year. It’s a visual reminder that our best work—what we bring to the world—does not emanate from a vacuum. Those who help behind the scenes, who have gone before us, who have helped mold us, are instrumental.

All we want for Christmas is Fred, wrapped in a bus—a massive bus fit for a rock star with a queen sized bed in the back that he’ll lay in for the long drive, driven by his son, who just bought the thing for his upcoming musical tour—whereupon he’ll slowly walk with assistance back into the house he only recently moved into after a decade of waiting and hoping himself.

Our kids are anxious. My hope is that the experience will be, on balance, positive for them. That they’ll take their grandparents for granted less, reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, etc.

Rearing a family while cruising along the edge of poverty, building businesses in notoriously unprofitable fields (farming, art, and writing), and the stresses that come along with all that, raises interesting questions and predicaments.

Our kids don’t have a lot of stuff that their peers take for granted as normal and basic. We also haven’t taken them on any significant trips in years, and never out of the region. I wrestle with this continually. Furthermore, what they do have is sometimes taken away.

This basketball hoop, a gift from somebody’s curb, has been a source of continual enjoyment.



Well, a plow driver, attempting to be helpful by pushing it further back in the boulevard and out of the way, wrecked it. This happened in a moment, five minutes before the kids rushed to the bus stop on the morning after the big scare, when I wasn’t able to really make sound decisions about trivial matters. This stuff seems to happen all the time, and I can’t easily fix it for them. It’s another traumatic moment, but one which pales in comparison to the other…

I hope the words of Jesus can ring through to my kids at a most impressionable moment:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Shawna’s pa would say, “It’s just stuff.” He’s always saying this, and backing it up with actions that mystify me.

There’s so much more to say, and more importantly, more to process and learn, but this is ongoing. Shawna just arrived home after three long days. Together again…




3 thoughts on “All I want for Christmas….

  1. I’ve missed your blog posts. I’m sorry to hear about your father-in-law, but glad to see you writing again. Praying for you and your family

    1. Thanks so much, Davey! Been meaning to send you note since July 29th, the day I finished that bag of Swedish Fish you sent me. Oh man, that Red 40 went out in blaze of glory. Thanks again!

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