Category Archives: writing

A Year of Upside Down

So this is the somewhat cheesy but seemingly mandatory reflection on the year that was. Hey 2011, you got me good. Nice one.

It was a year of upside down in many ways for me. A few, I’ll share. Most, I won’t. You’ll just have to trust me.

The Big Job. To start things off right, I took a real job after pledging I’d never do that again. It was a compelling recruitment, and seemed like an interesting idea at the time. One of those that would later cause Grandma to ask why I always try to do the impossible stuff. A question I’m not sure I can answer. I went from my two years of staying home at night with my family and doing meaningful work that got me jacked up every day to 70+ hours a week of hard, grinding, over my head kind of work. I worked harder and gave more of myself to that project than I ever knew I could. And we opened the shiny new Maroney Commons in August–a super green conference and training center, hotel, restaurant and bar on Main Street in a tiny rural town. Meant to be a beacon of hope and possibility for rural communities and a training ground for people intent on turning their own small towns around, it’s far fetched, too expensive, and amazing. You can watch the grand opening here if you want to, including some tears from me. It’s over an hour long, so skip to the good parts (especially Linda Parry at the end of the event).

I must have accomplished something important, since I am now able to add “communist” and “fascist” to the list of adjectives associated with my name in South Dakota publications over the years. (My favorite is still “that rat from over east.”)

The short of what happened after that is: one day along the way, on the day after Halloween, the other leaders of the organization and I parted ways. I’ll leave the other details out, and just say that I still believe from deep in my heart in the true mission of the Rural Learning Center. It’s an organization and a place that have my handprints as part of its being, along with so many others. I wish I could have seen it through. And so many awesome things are cracking open since it ended for me. I cannot explain my gratitude in the humbling experience of so many friends pouring out support, encouragement and love in the wake of November 1. More to come on the present and future of my work in another post.

Blessings. Some things that turned upside down were really wonderful. I’m so proud of my wife for becoming a full time Mommy this past Summer. It means budgets are tighter and our house is a thousand times happier. And by full time I mean caring for kids, husband and house (and Grandparents) while starting two home businesses. Jaimie has taken to selling fun stuff, so check out Just Jewelry and take the Body by Vi Challenge. Start today; Jaim is one hot mamma thanks at least in part to this stuff.

Those four little monsters running around our house at high decibel levels are major blessings too. They remind me of it every day. Even when I want to say bad words or throw things. I’m still training to be an amazing Dad, and I think I got out of the blocks pretty slow. But I feel a major kick coming in the stretch run of raising our girls. I can’t begin to describe their amazingness. They become the source of every emotion in a colorful spectrum, and that’s just on Tuesdays. I love them to the moon. And back.

It’s upside down how old they are getting, which means how old I am getting. I guess that’s what we’re supposed to do, get old. And we’ve hit one major milestone in becoming old parents–Hope had her first nighttime, longer than 15 minutes, real babysitting gig at our house in the last few hours of 2011 (yes, we ended an 8 year retirement from going out on New Years Eve). As Braveheart and thousands of Dave Ramsey disciples have yelled, “Freeeedoooommmmm!”

A Tiny Smattering of 2011 Poems. I don’t know why I share these sometimes. But I do. A peek through the window at how I talk to god.


(inspired by the Black Keys, and bourbon)

sun where there is none
moving stillness under night
everlasting light

Walk About

I walk, with slow wonder.
A sacred prayer of movement in silence.
Quiet the mind and body to awaken.

I walk, not to see or find
or take. No summit or destination.
No seeking, only opening. 

I walk to listen. To tune
this instrument of self. To melt
into oneness with even
the mosquitos.  

I walk to be awake. To lose
communication, and be in communion.
I walk alone, and with all humanity and life.

Clarity of focus,
but always in the way.
A smudge, a spec, a reflection
distorts the clear view of reality.
Helpful perspective,
and so nice to take them off.

The Black Keys – Everlasting Light Official Music Video

Football. By the way, all you Tebow worshipers out there (yes you Josh): there really is no need to remind me how upside down a year it was to be a Minnesota Vikings fan, ok?


Posted by on January 11, 2012 in activism, business, etc., Family, poetry, rural, writing


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Hello again

Count Your Blessings
from azitaloves on

I’ve missed you. Almost a year ago I took on the biggest work challenge of my life, and the 70 hour weeks didn’t leave me much time for sharing unfiltered stories from our lives here in the village. More truthfully, working that hard and stressing that much squeezed all the creativeness right out of me most days. And the few days it didn’t, my creative outlet was secret poems and advice in my “give-to-my-kids-some-day-when-they’ll-think-it’s-neat” journals.

I haven’t had that job now for two months (more on that later). I’ve been throwing everything into creating new work (more on that later too). But hey, here I am now.

Please forgive me. I hope you’ll start reading again. What have you been up to since I started my bartblog sabbatical?

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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in writing


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Pain and a Pen, Part 5: the wake

This is the fifth and final part in a series of writings from my Grandmother’s recent death. Today I share portions of the talk I gave at her Wake service. I felt very prepared, and emotionally out of gas, going into the service. I was expecting to have no trouble whatever reading what I had prepared–I had shed all the tears that where in me. Following a great eulogy given by my uncle Dan, I headed to the podium. And then, as my cousin Carey says, I got “leaky.” I couldn’t even get out the first word. This totally surprised me, and I ended up reading it in between lip biting and tears, and ad libbing much of it. Here are some of the things I had written down:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 16, 2009 in Family, writing


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Pain and a Pen, Part 4: Barbed-wire Sunset

This is the fourth in a series of poems written at my Grandma’s dying bedside. Barbed Wire lives in frustration and, almost, resentment toward the universe for what seemed like an unnecessary dragging on of my Grandmother’s suffering. It was written late at night, just a couple hours before she died. She appeared to be totally unconscious by now, but still responded with a squeeze of the hand when people would talk to her or a new hand would hold hers.

She was on regular doses of morphine to control her pain, but the almost constant quiet, agonizing moans and clinching of her entire body told us it wasn’t doing the trick. Her blood oxygen saturation had dipped below 65%, and her breaths had fallen to 4 or 5 per minute for several hours. I was sad, helpless and begging her tired body to let go. We had all said our final goodbyes, prayed together around her, and had a good hard cry together as a family. And the agony drug on for her, though we knew th end was very near.

Barbed-wire Sunset

soft darkness,
warm chills,
a bead runs down my face
love will wipe my brow.

parched lips and sunken eyes
no voice left of mine,
turn me here to there
this stubborn stregnth of ox.

another dose
to dull the pain,
to find for me some rest.

each breath, a thousand pounds
upon my chest,
weight of this mortal life
I will to drop behind.

furrowed brow
determined to break the armor
of this resilient vessel,
death prevail in time.

who hears my cry
and opens now the gate?
who holds my hand
hour upon hour?

I go into the next
foggy and unknown
and beautiful.

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Posted by on October 15, 2009 in Family, Love, poetry, writing


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Pain and a Pen, Part 3: Home

This is part 3 in a series of poems written at my Grandma’s dying bedside. Home was written on the third evening after the stroke, when Grandma could make brief eye contact with us, and was in obvious agony. She’d told my Mom earlier in the day she wanted to go home, and we knew what she meant. By this time, she could no longer find the energy to speak, and breathing took every ounce of energy and concentration from her. She would only open her eyes occasionally. These verses came to me while contemplating her suffering, and were inspired by things I heard others in the room say and ask about what might be going through her mind now. Home is written from Grandma’s perspective.


eyes gaze deep
my love’s embrace,
words are no more found

look into my journey long
ending as it was born
presence dwells within

let resilient spirit rest
take me home
where peace lives now,
take me home

every breath
a mountain climb
every hour
eternity forelorn

sent off by love,
love waiting still
on the other side

take me home
so ready now
take me home.

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Posted by on October 14, 2009 in Family, poetry, writing


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Pain and a Pen, Part 2: Onward

This is the second installment in a series of poems written at my Grandma’s dying bedside. Onward was written shortly after Love Note, when I was alone with Grandma. It came from a place of really surrendering to true presence of being there with her, and felt as though she was writing it through me, for the family she loves so much. Her children (my aunts, uncles and mom)  later found it in the journal and selected it as the verse to print on the memorial program for her wake and funeral.


gone, not lost,
for she lives on
in me, in you,
in the spirit of life.

every end
is a new beginning
we mourn, not for her
but for our own loss,
our love, our emptiness.

celebrate beloved memories
and tears.
death is life, another step
along a miraculous journey
find joy in letting go.

cherish and keep
each moment we shared
and hug the now,
love never ends.

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Posted by on October 13, 2009 in Family, Love, poetry, writing


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Pain and a Pen: Love Note

Sometime on the morning of October 3, my grandmother had a stroke. Grandma Knox had been in poor health for a while, and the stroke was more than even her resilient, stubborn body could take. She went home early Tuesday morning, surrounded by sons and daughters and grand kids. I know it’s hard for most everyone to loose a grandparent, even when they’ve lived a long life and we know the end is right around the corner.

I love Grandma very much. And this was a pretty difficult ordeal for me, just as it was for the rest of the family. Difficult because I love her, difficult because I watched her suffer through her final days–days where every breath was a painful marathon for her, and difficult because I promised my Grandpa just before his own death that I’d care for her when he was gone. Mostly, though, it was tough because I didn’t want to let go.

During the three days where so many were gathered at her bedside, day and night, to comfort her as she walked into the next journey, I found myself tuned in with a pen. It was an outlet for the myriad of emotions I was experiencing, and it gave Grandma one final voice–at least through my perspective. So, I committed to opening up and being an instrument for the words that seemed to want to be born through me. I captured most of them in the back of Grandma’s last journal, a spiral notebook with a blue and brown floral pattern hardcover. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 12, 2009 in Family, poetry, writing


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