Tuesday, December 27, 2022

In the Deep Midwinter

 As the year of 2022 comes to a close, I feel a wisp of melancholy seeping into me.  Nothing in the world is any better than it was last year.  In fact, things are just continuing to get worse.

I know it's partly the effect of the short days, long nights, and gloomy weather.  I admit I do have SAD ( seasonal Affective Disorder) so I try to sit under my full spectrum light as much as I can.

But some things are not like they used to be.  Just as an example, our winter this year arrived on November 1, which is technically the middle of fall.  The ancient festival of Samhain, which we celebrate as Halloween, marks the midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox.  Odds are that our winter here will last until nearly May 1, which some still celebrate as May Day.  It's the outgrowth of an ancient festival, Beltane, which marks the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.  The result is our winters up here in northern Montana can last 6 months, from Samhain to Beltane.  Not complaining, just telling the truth as I see it here.  I think the Celtic peoples had it right.  They called Samhain the last day of autumn, and Beltane the first say of spring. Sure fits here.

 Sometimes friends tease me and say, "What happened to Global Warming?  I remember when Climate Change used to be called Global Warming.  A lot of people in the southeastern US this year are probably wondering why they have broken all kinds of cold temperature records. We have actually broken cold temperature records here in Montana, too.  At least half the US has been crippled by what is being called "The Blizzard of the Century."  I hate to say this, but more extremes in weather patterns are one of the effects of Climate Change.  Some places will receive extreme cold or heat.  The "usual" storms like blizzards and hurricanes will become more intense as our earth's atmosphere tries to adjust to the changes in temperatures of our bodies of water, especially the oceans.  Sorry to say this, but the next "Blizzard of the Century" may happen well before we reach the 22nd century.

Many people claim there is no such thing as Climate Change because they don't want the status quo of our energy systems or their pocketbooks and stock market investments to change.  But no matter whether people believe it or not, these storms, droughts, and potential famines are going to continue.  Maybe all this isn't caused by human activities, but change is coming one way or another.  And there's nothing we can do about it, except perhaps try to control our carbon dioxide emissions, and be more prepared for extreme and unusual weather.  For example, I think the South needs to take this as a wakeup call. 

I often wonder if becoming a snowbird would help me with these long winter blues I tend to get. My hubby and I have investigated various possible places to go, but none of them feel right so far. (Last March we went to southern Utah and northern Arizona, only to encounter cold weather and snow there, too.) And after this huge Christmas storm, I think I'd rather stay here up north, where we are prepared for this type of weather.

At any rate, I'm considering joining my cat.  With the record cold, she started spending her days sequestered in my stuffed closet, hiding under my overhanging clothes, and other piles of stuff I've accumulated in there.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Wishing You All a Most Blessed Christmas!

This fall has left me behind.  When we got home from Britain the end of September, I had a cold (or something) which set me back.  October slipped by and winter arrived early on November 1.  Yikes.  So I haven't been writing much as I try to get all my ducks in a row.  I have good ideas for blogs but they never seem to make it to my computer.  Sorry.  Here's a joint project by Paul, me, and our cat, Josie.

Greetings from Montana!                                                                               Christmas 2022

I (Paul) just returned from a hike with a Thursday group called Over the Hill Gang.  It was a lovely sunny day and a cold start at 8 degrees.  It was a good time to think about this year’s Christmas letter as we hiked to a fire lookout overlooking Glacier National Park, The thought hit me on the way down after sharing the trip Frances and I took in September. We traveled to the British Isles after two years being postponed due to Covid restrictions. We flew to London and were met outside the terminal and led by hand to our hotel. It was so nice to let the tour director take it from there.  Twenty two days on land tour, 17 hotels and 3600 miles covered throughout England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Okay, so what has this to do with our annual Christmas message? Well, as part of the tour we were entitled to having a porter bring our baggage to our room and upon leaving pick it up outside our door in the morning.  Our pastor recently preached a series talking about the baggage we all carry around with us.  What did he mean about baggage?  The baggage of past mistakes, failures, fighting, revenge, gossip, just everyday mean thoughts or dislikes we carry with us.  In other words, our sinful nature.  Okay it’s another one of Paul’s sermons but please hang on.  You see Christ Jesus came to earth to carry our baggage of sin. He carried it to the cross for us.  We could do nothing on our own, as this baggage is much too heavy and bulky to carry ourselves. That’s it, all I have to say! Christ is the reason for our Christmas season. His birth and resurrection is for all who believe. We pray you recognize his love and grace for you.  Thank Him for carrying the load.  Merry Christmas, and God’s blessings in the New Year!

Okay, it’s my turn now.  Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Josie, the Erler’s cat for the past 4 years.  I came from the Humane Society as a very well-fed stray, over 20 pounds.  I want to make clear that Paul and Frances aren’t my owners. They’re my staff, being sure I’m fed twice a day, petted & cuddled often, and cleaned up after. My main activities are eating and sleeping. I also like it when Frances’ piano students come to pet me and say hello. I think there are 9 students right now. Most of the time I recline beside my scratching pole in the sunshine by the sliding door. I don’t like to go outside, and don’t catch any mice.  When they travel, I have to go to Emilie’s house on the other side of town. I hate riding in the car, and spend most of my time there hiding under Emilie’s bed. Mike, her boyfriend, pets me and calls me “Fat Cat.” I spent ten days there last spring during Spring Break, another two weeks in July when they went camping with dear friends the Sundbergs and Hazelbakers in Idaho, and a whole month when they went on that trip to the British Isles. And they never brought me any presents! () Emilie got some, though. By the way, they did see that pile of ancient rocks called Stonehenge. I also enjoyed getting acquainted with Frances’ brother Dan when he came in August.

As Paul already told you, he still hikes about once a week, Frances tries to get walks and Tai Chi classes in at the health club.  Both are singing in choirs again. They’re happy Covid restrictions are over—for now. Frances still writes books.  Her next one, “Lauren’s Dark Passage” is coming out in April 2023, and one more is in the publisher’s hands, too, probably for 2024. She’s kept busy with her Christian Women’s Club and a new Christian Writers’ Group called Footprints. Oh yeah, she’s also started acrylic painting, and even sold a couple of pictures. Paul still creates wall d├ęcor with upcycled piano parts. He is running out of parts, though, so if anyone has an old piano to take apart, he would love to have the keys. This year they were accepted for a juried arts and crafts show at the Kalispell Fairgrounds over Thanksgiving weekend. Frances puts photos of the products on her Facebook page: “Frances Erler” or you can email mferler@peaksandbeyond.com

Emilie and Jon are still teaching, though that job gets more challenging every year. I’m told Emilie is in her 16th year of teaching kindergarten here in Montana. Jon teaches Middle School Social Studies in Washington State. I never go to school, since I’m just a cat. But I’d rather sleep in the sun, anyway. Emilie goes hiking a lot, once or twice a week. Jon likes to camp and hike in the Washington Cascades, too. He and his roommate, Adam, have started gardening—flowers and vegetables—in pots on their patio. Emilie also gardens in pots on her deck. I don’t think Paul and Frances are much into gardening anymore. Visitors are always welcome here at my house. I may even jump on your bed.



Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Some Thoughts on Economics and Equality

         Some people think I'm a Socialist because I tend to point out problems I see with Capitalism.  But that's not the case.  It's just that I do see some things about our current economic system that are problematic.  I remember asking my dad about this years ago, when I was only 14 years old.  (Guess I've always been a deep thinker.)  

    Dad's response was, "Well, it works better than anything else that's been tried, like Socialism or Communism."  He was right, of course.  But in all the 66 years of my life since then, I still haven't found an answer to my question.

        The first problem I see with Capitalism is that in many ways it's still a class-based system like the one that has dominated Western Civilization almost since its inception.  We still have an elite group even though it's now not royalty or feudal property owners.  Now we have CEO's and well-paid lobbyists and lawyers, who keep the wealth concentrated in the hands of a powerful few.

        And in order for these people on the top to have the "capital" to invest in industrial growth, that money needs to be concentrated with them, or so the system assumes.  This means Capitalism needs a large supply of cheap labor in order to amass these funds for the top.  

        By the way, the word "Capo" in Latin, and the Romance languages descended from it, means literally "the Top" or "the Head".  It's where we get the words Cap, Capital, and Capitalism.  (Ask any musician what D.C. means in a piece of music, and they'll tell you it means go back to the beginning, or the "Top" of the piece.)

        The history of our American Economy illustrates this idea of cheap labor well.  In  the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, there was a surplus of cheap labor--immigrants, even slaves, children and women.  After Child Labor Laws were established and slavery was abolished, there were still floods of poor immigrants coming in from around the world.  They were looking for a better life for themselves and their families, and so they were willing to accept menial and even dangerous jobs for low wages, in hopes of improving things for their descendants.

        Yes, there were a few large companies who took better care of their workers than most did.  But it was mainly churches and other non-profit organizations who tried to help the desperate poor.  It's no wonder that the idea of Labor Unions and Collective Bargaining found fertile soil with many of the poorly-treated laborers.  Most people seem to forget that is what Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is observing.  Now it's become nothing more than another long weekend, a celebration of the end of summer, and another chance for businesses large and small to promote and advertise themselves through "Labor Day Sales."

        Now that the flow of cheap labor has dropped drastically because of labor laws and curbs on immigration, it's really no surprise that most large companies have outsourced their manufacturing to Third World countries where they can still find cheap labor.  But what will happen when that source dries up?

        I admit that I don't have any answers, but I think we need to mull over some of these things.  How can we have an economy that gives dignity to everyone?  How can America really fulfill its promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to every citizen, not just an elite few?  I hesitate to point this out, but the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were landed gentry, part of "The Top" of society at that time.  They said, "All men are created equal", but many of them owned slaves.  Were they thinking of them as "equal"?  I'm not sure.  Even after over 200 years of existence, our country hasn't really reached this ideal of equality.

        No, I'm not a Communist or a Socialist.  Those systems haven't worked either.  Human greed and government corruption eroded them.  In fact, that seems to be what is happening to our country, too.  No one wants the parties to sit down and submit to arbitration.  No one seems to be looking for what is fair, for "Liberty and Justice for All" as we say in our Pledge of Allegiance.   Instead, we're divided into camps that shout at each other rather than talking to each other.  Each side vilifying the other as wrong, and claiming their side to be right. This is a dangerous road.  At this point, all I feel I can do is pray to God in Heaven to heal and help us learn to be more like Him--for He is the one who truly wants liberty, justice, and hope for every one of us.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

In the World, But Not Of It

Jesus told his disciples to be "In the world, but not of the world."

                That's a tricky balancing act, I've found.  Some Christians move too far out of the world, isolating themselves from all other things, even living off the grid.  Some climb into ivory towers where they can look down on everything else.  To me this is a way of proclaiming they're the only ones who are right, and everyone else is wrong. 

                Now, I'm not saying to conform to every view the present world is throwing at us, or turn our backs on God or His Word in the Bible.  But lording it over others, and trying to force them into our views is not the way Jesus spread the Gospel.  And it's not the way he told his followers to do this, either.   Jesus met people where they were.  He asked them what their needs were, and then he gave them those things and proclaimed that God loved them.  He didn't say they had to obey all the legalistic laws the current religious establishment was requiring.   There were no hoops to jump through to earn God's love.

                At the center of everything Jesus did when he walked this earth was love--overwhelming love that went so far as to lay down his life for us.  St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (italics mine)

                So what does this mean in daily life, where the rubber hits the road?  St. Peter put it this way in his first letter: I Peter 3:15-16 "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect,  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

                The best visual example I can think of is that Jesus wants us to be Lighthouses.  Not dark, angry defensive Fortresses.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Lo, How a Rose...

 "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
  is a well-known Christmas carol to many.  It is centuries old, as one can tell if they read the original words.  It may have been a Old English Madrigal, sung on the streets of city, town, and village.  I like it so much that I chose it as part of the music for our wedding in 1975.

In the interest of translating hymns into modern English, however, the title has changed to "Lo, How a Rose Is Growing."  Sounds nice enough, right?  But something is lost in "translation", unfortunately.  The hyphenated word "E're" literally means ever, or even better: FOREVER.  Not just growing, but never dying.  Why is this important?  Because that rose represents Jesus, who was born as a baby, became a man, died, and rose from the grave--conquering death.  His Rose will Never Die!

Besides that, he cried, hungered, grew tired, felt pain, and all the other things human bodies experience.  To think the the Lord of the Universe would stoop down so low, to be like us weak, fallible humans is beyond comprehension.

So what does all this have to do with my son's rose bush?  When he bought his house almost 2 years ago, there was this bare stump in one of the flower beds.  He did nothing to it, no watering, no pruning, but fortunately he didn't dig it up.  And lo and behold, it began to bloom this year!

What a perfect picture of Jesus' resurrection!  Lo, How a Rose Forever Blooming! 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

A Farewell to Words

It appears that blogs are becoming a things of the past. In fact, my son told me that over 6 years ago when I first started blogging at the urging of my publisher.  Now the women writers group I've belonged to for several years has ended their blogsite, too.   Nobody cares what someone else thinks anymore.  Our world is turning to visuals--pops of color, silly videos, photos.  If you can't say what you need to say in 10 words of less, no one listens.  Our world of instant everything has shortened our attention spans to almost nothing.  Just go into any kindergarten class in the nation and you will see where the future of our world is heading.

It's ironic that my first book, "The Peaks at the Edge of the World" depicted a future where the written word is obsolete and no one reads "old fashioned" books anymore.  Books are frowned on and eventually banned altogether.  Everything is on a household terminal in the form of pictures and the spoken word.  This opens the door for anyone in power who says something to go back and deny it was said.  There is no written record, and digital records are easy to change. Thus, it's simple to change history to meet any slant or bias that has moved into the limelight.  Sound familiar?

Yes, the scary part is that many of us see it happening in our world already.  The words of Simon and Garfunkel in "The Sounds of Silence" have become prophetic:  "People talking without speaking" is happening all around us, as everyone is tied to their smart phones, texting.  I know.  I do it, too.  If I want to get hold of any person under 40, the only way is to text them.  Hardly anyone answers voicemails anymore.

Today is my 70th birthday.  Looking back on my life, I think the years between 40 and 60 were the best.  It's been downhill ever since.  And the way our world is going, I fervently hope that I don't live past 80.  I don't want to end up a vegetable with Alzheimer's like my mother did. 

In my first book, there were a few rebels who held out and collected and read books, but the were always in danger of being discovered and punished.  If I am forced to live into an age like that, I know I will be one of those "Rebel Readers."

Monday, May 23, 2022

When God Calls, He Also Provides

 My Erler's Musical Expressions music party (not a recital) yesterday was well received. Five of my seven families were able to be there.  Parents and grandparents of my students came to me afterwards and thanked me for my work, and especially for focusing on the joys of music.  I think it all goes back to my early training in Environmental Education, Kindermusik, and Musikgarten:  "Process, not product is the key."  and "Follow the Child."  In other words, I try to focus on each one's interests and learning style.

At the party, I let each student volunteer to play a piece of their choice, and every one did, even though I didn't require it.  I also focused on the community that was present, briefly introducing the families to each other.  Because we're all in this together--teacher, student, and home.  It's not my accomplishment; it's all of us combined.  As the saying goes, "It takes a village."

My dear hubby, Paul, was such a big help!  Setting up, cleaning up, and just giving moral support. I'm so blessed to be married to him.  It was a lot of work, but it was well invested.  

When my mentor in Michigan, Kaye Phelps, guided me into teaching, I felt unqualified.  But God has given me what I needed, because this is a ministry He has called me to.  I'm reminded of the passages in Exodus where God called Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt.  He kept telling God, "I'm not a good speaker.  I can't do this."  But God told Moses, he would provide what he needed.  And He did.

After 30 years of teaching music, I see even more clearly how God has used me--not only for the sake of music, but for the sake of my many students and families over those years.

I don't have the energy I did 30 years ago, but I'm thankful the Lord continues to give me the strength to serve him in this way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Core Motivation for My Writing


Although we see evidence of God, Providence, Nature—or whatever you choose to call it—he /she/it is still unknowable to our limited perspective. I’ve read that a relationship with this entity is like a dance.  The lead partner must step back so the follower partner knows to step forward.  In the same way, God—our partner—may seem to be withdrawing or stepping away from us in times of confusion, doubt, or suffering.  However, this is really an invitation for us to draw closer to him.  It’s as though he is saying, “I have more to show you.  Come closer to me.”  This reminds me of what Aslan kept telling those he was taking into paradise in the seventh Narnia book, The Last Battle:  “Come higher up, come deeper in.”

          In the end, it all stems from Love—not a coddling or clinging sort of love.  It’s a love that transcends and remains unknowable to our finite minds.  Once we move “deeper in” as Aslan said, we begin to see what St. John wrote in the Bible, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on.”   Or St. Paul who said, “Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.”  (Quotes from The Living Bible Paraphrase)

          This love and the dance it creates is the common thread that runs through all my works, and through all my life, for that matter.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

A Meaningful Life

 Like many of my peers in the 1960s, I wanted to change our world for the better.  I wanted to leave my mark and do great things.  But it didn't turn out the way I expected.  Instead of making me a leader and famous author, God morphed me into a music teacher.

Teachers in general, and especially teachers in the arts fields, are often seen as superfluous in our culture.  Something nice to have, if the school can afford it, but usually the first thing cut when budgets are tight.  The result for me has been a marginal income and very few "benefits" as the world describes them.

But for me personally, the benefits have been awesome, even though in our culture they aren't often recognized.  I am not a greatly talented musician.  My dad said I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  I taught myself to play guitar so I could sing on key and not stray off from the correct tune.  I worked hard to gain the skills that came naturally to many of my friends and relatives.  All my life I'd wanted to learn to play piano, and I finally got to take formal lessons after age 30. 

I was completely surprised when my piano teacher, Kaye, urged me to teach some beginning piano students she couldn't fit into her schedule.  She told me I didn't have to be a virtuoso to teach, that it was a different set of skills, and she saw them in me.  What a wonderful door she opened for me!

Here I am 30 years later, still teaching and enjoying the interaction with each and every student.  I love the opportunity to focus on each one's particular interests and learning styles.  They are all unique.  I also enjoy the relationships that are built as I share my love of music with them. 

I have been blessed to have touched so many young lives--I lost count at 300.  But the biggest blessing has been to be touched by them.  I am still in touch with some of my former students via social media (It's not all bad.)  They knew me when they were children, and now some of them are married and having children of their own.  Some of them are even music teachers who can now play much better than I do. 

I'm touched and humbled to have been given this opportunity to teach.  Now I see that it was a calling from God, a ministry he had planned for me.  What natural talents I lacked, he provided, in order that he might have the glory, not me.

A meaningful life?  Perhaps not in the eyes of the world.  But it has been precious, indeed!

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Memoir or Fiction? This Is the Question


The Truth Behind the Fictionalized Memoir


For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to understand the difference between autobiographical fiction and fictionalized memoir.  It seems to me that it’s mostly a matter of how much the author reveals of his or her personal life.  With this is mind, I’ve been laboring on a memoir for the past few years, but to “protect the innocent” I have changed names, settings, and sequences of events.  I guess that means it is a fictionalized memoir.

However, in the interest of being an advocate for mental health, I have realized I need to share my true story, so here it is.

Yes, according to the calendar it’s spring, but all of us in Northwest Montana know that real spring is still a month or more away.  Winter is often a difficult time for people who suffer from depression.  I’m no exception.  For most of my life I tried to hide this behind a shield of pretense, but that took a heavy toll on my physical and mental health.  I was afraid of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Things really took a nosedive in 2003 with menopause, as anxiety and chronic migraines were added to the mix.  In 2005, after trying herbal remedies for years (St. John’s Wort, Feverfew, Black Cohosh, to name a few), and one antidepressant (Zoloft) that made me violently ill, I finally agreed with my doctor to try Lexapro, and it did help.

But new stresses piled on due to family issues, such as caring for my mother who had Alzheimer’s.  By 2013, I was getting suicidal.  Fortunately, I was directed to an excellent counselor, once I swallowed my pride and admitted I needed help.  It has taken me another eight years to realize (admit?) that having a place where I can let go and truly be myself, where I can say what I really think and feel, is just as important to my treatment as the meds are.

I’m fortunate to be living in a century when some of the stigmas attached to mental illness are lessening and there are treatments available to people like me.  Every person is unique, though, so finding the right combination of treatments can be a long journey.  It has been for me.

As I’ve gone through this, I feel that now is the time to be open and share where I’ve been, hoping this will help someone else out there.

No, the book isn’t published yet.  It still needs to simmer a bit longer.  But I feel the journey is finally reaching some light ahead--at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Whose Idea Was This, Anyway?

 So many people keep talking about the evils of redistribution of wealth, like it was some new idea developed by Karl Marx and carried on by the Communists.  But guess what, folks, it’s in the Bible!

Many of us have heard it countless times, the song of Mary of Nazareth, called The Magnificat, after the first words of the song rendered in Latin:  “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

Today these later verses were brought to my attention: “He (the Lord) has scattered those who are proud in their thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”  (Luke 1:51-53)

Jesus is recorded in Luke 6:20 & 24 as saying: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”

Can the comforts of this world measure up to the spiritual comforts Christ offers?  Ask a multi-millionaire is he is truly happy, and you will find that he always needs more.  True happiness is something elusive and always just around the corner in this world.

Once a rich young man came to Jesus and asked what good deed he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Matthew 19:21).  The next verse (22) says the man went away sad because he had great wealth.  Then Jesus told his disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

 To me, this sure sounds like the idea of redistributing wealth is not Communist at all.  It’s Christian!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

What Are You Taking for Granted?


In our modern world, we take so many things for granted.  A couple of weeks ago, the pump on our well stopped working.  All of a sudden, there was no water when I turned on the faucet.

A call to the well-driller brought the suggestion to shut it all down for an hour and then try to restart it.  So we did.  It worked, but then the same thing happened the next day!  Another attempt was made to reboot it with the hour-long shut off.

It happened again on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.  Someone is trying to get our attention.

I realize our house is past ten years old, and nowadays that means things are going to break down.  Some of our appliances have already had to be replaced.  Not complaining.  It’s just life.

But this whole experience has made me realize how many things we do take for granted.  Like the water coming on every time we turn the faucet handle.  Or the lights coming on whenever I hit the switch.  Even my phone and my computer making it so much easier to do research and to write.

Many of us are old enough to remember the days of typewriters and rotary-dial phones.  (My first two books were originally typed on a manual typewriter!)  But I fear our numbers are dwindling.  What kind of things will our children and grandchildren never experience?  Kind of like how we (and often our parents) never experienced travel in a horse-drawn covered wagon, homes without indoor plumbing or electricity, and travel from Kalispell to Eureka taking days rather than under two hours.

Right now our well is working again, after the second reboot.  But I don’t take that water in my sink or shower for granted anymore.  I realize it could disappear any day now.

I think the timing of this wake-up call event was good, with Thanksgiving just around the corner.  I have a lot more things to be thankful for than I realized, and I hope to stop taking them for granted.