I bought a bird.

August 1, 2015 | My Jottings

Our family had several pet birds during the years our girls were growing up. First we had Rosie the yellow cockatiel. Her last name was Shackadorum and she was hand-fed, so was quite tame and loved to sit on our hands and shoulders. She breeped when we came in the back door and each time the toilet was flushed.

We thought Rosie would like a boyfriend so we bought another hand-fed cockatiel, a grey guy we named Chester Pondaleeky. Chester was mean and domineering to easy-going, cheerful Rosie, and one morning we came downstairs and found her cowering in the bottom of their cage, her wing bloodied. We gave Chester the Molester to a couple right away, who promised to never put him in a cage with another bird.

Then we tried again with a meeker male, another grey cockatiel we named Walter Whomperwhacker. Walter and Rosie liked each other enough to need a clutch box, and over the next couple of years she laid several eggs, three of which had baby cockatiels in them. Rosie and Walter were very intrigued by their newly hatched and helpless offspring, but didn’t know how to feed them, so the poor little ones never survived. Then Walter turned into an angry bird and took his frustrations out on Rosie, and we gave him away too. Rosie lived in cockatiel peace for a good long time, and we were truly sad when we found her dead at the bottom of her cage one winter morning.

Next we acquired a canary with a bad toupee. I think these kinds of canaries are called Gloster Canaries, and you can see what I mean by a toupee here. She first belonged to our friend Carl, but she didn’t thrive in his house because he had over a dozen cats who paced the floor beneath her cage and plotted her feather-exploding death. It was perhaps no puzzle why Carl’s canary began to lose her little yellow feathers, one by one, until she looked like the most pathetic miniature plucked chicken, all pink flesh with an occasional pin feather here and there. Except for her head, where she had retained an odd cap of dark brown feathers I always said looked like a tiny fountain. Carl gave his canary to us and we named her Harriet the Canary with the Bad Toupee. As soon as Harriet came to our cat-less home, her yellow feathers grew back and she was a sweet, trilling pet for a few years.

Then life happened. And dogs were what we could handle. I didn’t want to clean cages and vacuum bird dander anymore, so when Harriet flew to canary heaven I decided to take a bird break.

But now that break is over, and we have a new little parakeet. I’ve never had a parakeet before. She’s quite young, and the way you can tell is that the rows of stripes (or bars) in her head feathers come almost all the way down to her beak. As she grows, these stripes will fade. Here’s a photo of a young parakeet with the stripes, and a mature parakeet who has lost his stripes.

phoebephotoHere’s Phoebe in her cage in our dining room. She is being very quiet, but will squawk once in a while when she hears me turn on the kitchen faucet.

I’ve been relieved to see her eating her seed, and I hope she’ll take a bit of the apple slice I’ve affixed to the side of her cage. I haven’t seen her drinking from her water container yet and that concerns me a little. I hope she’s sipping when I’m not around.

I hope to hand tame her a bit so she’ll enjoy sitting on my shoulder and having her head stroked. But I’ll have to shut Edith and Mildred the Schnauzers away in another room when I try. One doggy chomp could bring about a very sad ending. I’m feeling stirrings of affection for little Phoebe already so don’t think I could bear that.

Michael taught me to love birds. He had a way with animals, and birds were always sidling up to him and were never afraid of him.

How about you? Have you ever had a pet bird? If so, what kind, and what was its name?

Beauty, beauty, everywhere

July 27, 2015 | My Jottings

I love watching my daughters use the creative gifts they’ve been given. My mom was an unbelievably creative person, extremely musical and artistic, such a quick study when it came to making something beautiful with her hands. I’ve heard that creativity often skips a generation and that might be true in our family’s case.

Sharon is my oldest, and is an in-demand photographer whose gorgeous photos make me marvel and gasp. Here’s a (partial) picture of her, gently positioning a sleeping newborn girl for some sure-to-be heirloom pictures her family will love forever.

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Sharon takes wonderful family and graduation photos too, but folks around here call her “The Baby Whisperer.”

Carolyn is my middle daughter, and here’s a photo of her playing Salvation Army officer Sarah Brown in our local playhouse’s current musical production of Guys and Dolls. This was in our local paper.

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Our family went to see the play last week and Carolyn had us practically rolling on the floor, she was so funny. She can also sing beautifully, like an angel, and has been the lead in many plays since she was in high school.

Sara is my youngest, and she has an almost-effortless way with flowers. This is a photo of her wearing a floral crown she created, photographed by Sharon:

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As I’ve said before, it’s so nice to have a florist in the house. It’s not unusual for me to wake up in the morning to something new on the table, and here’s what I found this week:

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These flowers were left over from an order Sara was working on — aren’t they breathtaking?

Watching my daughters use their giftings to add beauty to this world is one of my greatest joys.

Sometimes change is nice

July 23, 2015 | My Jottings

I have long been a woman who’s not crazy about change. If I had my druthers I’d still be in the first house Michael and I ever owned, and I’d also make sure my grandchildren don’t grow any older.

But sometimes change is nice, like the change of scenery and experience travel can bring. And I like the change of seasons we have in northeastern Minnesota. And I have always liked to change furniture around, ever since I was a little girl.

In fact, there were times I’d rearrange the furniture in our house on Eckerman Avenue in West Covina, without asking my mom first. She’d be out getting her hair done at the beauty shop by her friend Mabel Fellis, and I’d shove the living room chairs around and movie the hi-fi, and Mom would usually be pleasantly surprised when she got home and saw what I’d done.

Our current living room is fairly small, so there are only two options for where the couch should go, and only one of them is really a good choice.

But my bedroom, now there’s a different story.

I’ve shared before how the previous owners of this house put on a large addition over the garage. They added a super-spacious master bedroom with a large master bathroom and walk-in closet. I haven’t changed one thing they did, except of course move all of our stuff in.

We’ve had the king-sized bed in two different spots in this bedroom, and not long ago Sara moved things around for me, because she too, loves to rearrange things to enjoy a little change. We talked about how having the bed in the corner like this isn’t really the best place in the room, but we thought we’d try it anyway. After all, if you move a piece of furniture and it doesn’t suit you, you can always move it again. So this is how things look now:

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The bed is in a corner by a window on the side of our house, and it feels like a cozy sleeping/reading nook. We moved the two chairs by the windows at the front of the house, which looks out on Lake Superior. You can click to enlarge these if you like.

By the way, what color would you say my bedroom walls are? I see a grayish green. I have friends who’ve said they see no green at all, but do see a warm gray. Someone else told me it looks like khaki. And my friend Carey calls the color putty.

What wall color do you see?

The wreath made of hymnal pages was a gift from my dear friend Su, and I love it. It’s off-center because it was perfectly hung over a tall dresser and I don’t want to move it just because my bed is there temporarily. I cover my comforter with a washable cotton blanket because Edith and Millie jump on the bed a lot. They’re pretty clean little hounds, but you’d be surprised at the dirt they bring in from outside.

The attractive tubing draped over the lamp goes to my CPAP machine, which I’ve been using since April 13. Every single night. And while I was sad I needed it, it has made such a positive difference in my sleep, I’m afraid to be without it now.

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This little corner of the room is full of children’s books. My grands make a beeline for these bookshelves when they visit, and I often put on soft music or kids’ CDs on the little stereo nearby. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have in my head of children of all ages, sitting on the floor here, laying on blankets, noses deep in a new book I’ve added for them.

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My friend Ginny gave me this lovely red and white, square ceramic bowl, and Sara decided to put it in a plate holder. My bedroom furniture is nearly antique, made by Drexel (which I only found out in recent years is a company well known for heritage pieces), and belonged to my maternal grandparents.

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These two black shelves were here when we bought the house and I had intended to remove them, but never did. Now they don’t bother me, and I have my little chairs, rats, cardinal print (a gift from Su), birdhouse of prayer, plate, pewter pitcher and hygrometer there.

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There’s nothing more wonderful than a pile of books always at hand….

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This is the chair I sit in every day. I read here, count my blessings here, pray and study and cry here, and you can see that Millie the Schnauzer likes the chair too. See her Flying Nun ears?

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And here’s a closer shot of Millie from behind. You can also see how the sunlight has faded the fabric on the back of the chair. The plaid used to be black. :)

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Monday, July 27th will mark 24 weeks since Michael died. Six months. I can hardly take it in. It seems like last week, it seems like a lifetime ago.

This bedroom oasis has been a gift from the Lord to me, I believe. Michael died in this room and that makes it all the more lovely. It’s in this room that I feel the Lord changing my mind most mornings, from a groaning, glass-half empty sort of outlook to a glass-overflowing view. I shudder to think what my life would be without Him.

Thanks for stopping by today. How about you? Are you a person who enjoys a little change in your life?

Not Working

July 18, 2015 | My Jottings

There are several things that are just not working for me these days. And I mean this in our present-day idiomatic quirkiness. I don’t mean that there are machines in my world that have broken down and need repairing. I mean that things aren’t working for me sort of like Dr. Phil asks dysfunctional people on his show “How’s this working for ya?” because obviously changes are needed if they want better lives.

So may I just say that chinch bugs in my lawn are not working for me? My very nice lawn guy (who has been inexpensively and efficiently mowing my small yard ever since Michael’s illness took a turn years ago) called me this week to let me know my grass is being feasted upon and will ultimately be destroyed by chinch bugs. Except he pronounced them cinch bugs. So I looked up online all I could learn about the “safe for children and pets” treatment he recommended to kill my chinch bugs, and I decided against it. It causes bladder tumors in rats and is a neurotoxin. It’s supposed to be safe for humans because the amount they would be exposed to after a lawn treatment is miniscule. Even so, this is not working for me, so I guess I’ll be trying the chinch bug program that’s more ecologically friendly.

Try not to laugh as you picture me purchasing a large amount of old fashioned soap flakes, measuring and mixing it and dissolving it in water, spraying it on the little yellow patches of chinch bug settlements on my lawn, laying light-colored flannel sheets down on top of these wet soapy areas, waiting for the teeny-tiny soap-averse chinch bugs to climb out of the grass in a panic and cling to the underside of the flannel sheets, then quickly gathering up the sheets to plunge them into a waiting water-filled, clean garbage can to drown them. And then I’m supposed to repeat the process as needed.

At this point in my life, chomping chinch bugs and soapy flannel sheets on the grass are not really working for me.

But as a homeowner who will eventually sell this house, I guess I need to make sure the lawn survives. This all makes me think that perhaps being a homeowner will soon be something that will no longer work for me.

I’ve been dreaming (again) of more temperate climes, a place not too cold in the winter and not hot in the summer, and have once again come up with the mountains of North Carolina. blowing-rock-viewI’ve been reading about Asheville, and have also become curious about Blowing Rock and Boone, NC. Having a quiet two-bedroom townhome or condo in the Blue Ridge Mountains where chinch bugs would be someone else’s concern sounds appealing.

But it’s not just the chinch bugs. It’s my quadriceps too. My right quadriceps muscle isn’t really working for me. Ever since I had my right knee replacement surgery three years ago, my right thigh muscle has become weaker and more useless with each passing day. I can’t use my right leg to go up a step, cannot stand from a sitting position without using my arms to push myself up, can’t turn over in bed without a wince. I fully realize the answer would be to begin exercising my right quadriceps muscle to strengthen it, and to quit compensating for it, but the apathy and almost compulsive need for quiet and comfort in my life as I adjust to living without Michael isn’t really conducive for vigorous exercise programs. Faulty reasoning, I know, but I don’t claim that my thinking is on task these days either.

I’ll tell you what is working in my life right now.

Having a little male goldfinch dine at the suction cup feeder on our dining room window many times a day, singing his sweet, twittery song…this is working well for me.

Watching episodes of “American’s Test Kitchen” I record on my DVR, learning about the fascinating science of cooking and baking, even though I don’t want to cook or bake much myself — this is working for me right now.

Having window boxes on our front deck that are continuously, gloriously blooming with red geraniums is working quite well for me.

And dreaming of Scotland is totally working for me. And watching the occasional inspiring movie is always good.

Sara and I watched “Babette’s Feast” a few nights ago and I was thrilled all over again. Michael and I watched it years ago and I remember him wiping tears as we saw the sacrifice and unbelievable generosity of one woman toward a group of people who didn’t fully appreciate what she did for them. Have you seen it? It’s subtitled, and is so worth watching.

Ah. It’s time for me to prepare breakfast for my gals.

I hope whatever isn’t working in your life right now is being overshadowed by the things that are.

Blessings,

Virginia Sooter’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting

July 10, 2015 | My Jottings

When I was little my mom made cakes. No bars, no tortes, no really fancy stuff. Maybe she would make an occasional pie or some cookies, but cakes were her thing. I’m sure she must have made scratch cakes now and then, but mostly she swore by Duncan Hines cake mixes. No Pillsbury (too airy) or Betty Crocker (too spongy) for Mom. It was Duncan Hines or nothing. And since bigger was always better, Mom always made a double batch with two boxes of Duncan Hines, and used a giant, deep cake pan that could have doubled as a sled if Southern California had ever gotten any snow. I don’t ever remember her making a layer cake.

So while she always used cake mixes, Mom shunned any kind of ready-made frosting. She always whipped together her made-up version of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting, and it went on yellow cake, spice cake, devil’s food cake, white cake and marble cake. She liked it because 1) it was extremely yummy, and 2) it didn’t require cooking in a saucepan like many frostings do. My brothers and I loved that Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting, and like any other kids, we wanted to lick the beaters and the bowl and the spoons after she had frosted the cake. Joy+choc+bundt+cake_0036-1

My mom died twenty-two years ago, but I still make Virginia Sooter’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting today. So do my grown daughters. I think it could be renamed Reese’s Frosting, but that would take away all the sentimentality, so when I share it with you here, I’ll keep calling it Virginia’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting. If you make it and like it, feel free to pass on the recipe, but try your hardest to call it Virginia Sooter’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting. Thank you. :)

1 stick soft butter
3/4 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy – whatever you like best)
1 teaspoon good vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
Milk

Cream the wet ingredients together well, then add the dry ingredients. Stir vigorously by hand with wooden spoon, or use hand mixer if you prefer.

Then slowly add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is the consistency you want. These measurements can be approximate. Taste and savor and decide what you think it needs. If you want it more chocolatey, add a bit more cocoa powder. If you want more peanut butter, go ahead, try another dollop. Sweeter? More sugar then.

The milk at the end, added a little at a time, can help control how smooth it is.  Sometimes I’ve added too much milk and it’s too thin. I just go back and add a bit more powdered sugar and/or cocoa until it’s just right.

This frosting doesn’t have the sheen that a cooked frosting does, but it’s quick and delicious and freezes beautifully in a lidded Tupperware container.

Sometimes I make a cake with a Bundt pan, and use Virginia’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting for that, warmed slightly and then spread with a spoon lumpily over the cake. Ha.

I love and miss you Mom.

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 120

July 8, 2015 | My Jottings

Two quotes from the Bible study by Priscilla Shirer entitled Breathe — Making Room for Sabbath:

“Some of us have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we’re running on empty and when the ones we love most are the ones we see the least.”  –Barbara Brown Taylor

“Sabbath-keeping: Quieting the internal noise so we hear the still small voice of the Lord. Removing the distractions of pride so we discern the presence of Christ.”  –Eugene Peterson

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A Holding Pattern

July 4, 2015 | My Jottings

I read that when a plane is being flown in a holding pattern, it’s not making any further progress in miles, but is flying around in a relatively small area of airspace, waiting until it has permission to land.

I feel like I’m in the holding pattern of widowhood, wondering what comes next. Except I realize that what is going on in my life right now (which I’ve always regarded as lavish beyond belief) might just be what will be going on in my life until my days on earth are over. And that would be so fine! But I still have this limbo-like feeling. I guess it’s normal.

I wish I had other older widows to talk to. I have four very close friends who’ve all been widows, but each was young when her husband died, and they’ve all remarried. And indeed they’ve each been wonderful comforts to me.

I wonder about seemingly silly things like, “What shall I do with my time now?” I have daughters and grandchildren and a foster care business, so it’s not like I’m bored. It’s not that. In fact, I can’t ever remember a time in 57 years when I’ve been bored. Being a reader has ensured a boredom-free life for me.

I have a picture in my mind about what a healed widow might do with her time. She gardens, knits, takes painting or sculpting classes, maybe even some college courses. She travels occasionally with friends, does senior yoga to stay limber, volunteers once a week at a place which benefits from her wisdom and compassion. She also loves to walk and bicycle, and only increases in strength and dignity the older she gets.

Well. I love the order and color of a beautiful flower garden, the organic freshness of home grown vegetables. But I’m not even an iota interested in doing it myself. I drove up to the cemetery today and pulled a handful of weeds away from Michael’s grave, and on the way home I noted the dirt under my fingernails with a titch of anxiety, which made me want to scrub them when I got home.

I love the idea of painting and creating and feeding my melancholic soul that way, but for some strange reason I don’t want to pursue that right now. I have scrapbooks I need to finish first.

Yoga would be nice if I could bend my right knee and attend an intensely remedial class for women who’re mostly blind and don’t want to do downward facing dog.

I would love to take a couple of online college courses, but to what end? To get a degree I probably wouldn’t use? Or just for the joy of learning and achievement? The latter sounds like it might be possible.

Travel is the one thing my imaginary quintessential widow-woman does that I would like to do, but I realize I have almost as much agoraphobia as I do wanderlust. I want to go to Scotland tomorrow. But I don’t want to leave my house. This could present a problem.

I can picture myself volunteering someday, but only when I’m not so needy myself. I don’t feel like I have much wisdom and compassion to offer to anyone these days. Rather, I feel vulnerable, drained and sponge-like.

It would seem like I’m in some kind of holding pattern. Like I’m waiting for the next thing, but I have no idea what the next thing could be. Woman_on_park_bench_10058346_l_RGBBecause except for the constant, hollow longing for my Michael (which is huge enough), I have been blessed with a life that keeps me thanking and praising God many times a day, with a full heart.

Can a full heart also feel tentative, sore and unsure? I hope so.

Perhaps a widow who has remained unmarried and is a few years further down the road on this grief journey could tell me that this holding pattern sensation will pass. Or maybe she would tell me it never really goes away, but that it becomes bearable with Jesus.

It’s perplexing but not terrible, and like everything else, I’m entrusting it to Him.

Random water-related things

June 26, 2015 | My Jottings

I had a busy-ish Friday today, and am glad to now be home, sitting in (you guessed it) my flannel plaid nightgown, feet up in the living room’s leather recliner, with Rick Steves in the background on the television, telling me about Liechtenstein, San Marino, Vatican City and Monaco. Oh, I have been bitten by the travel bug, and also have books on my nightstand that contribute to the resulting virus. Travelitis, it’s called. I want to get on a plane and fly over a large body of water. More on that later.

This morning one of my Fosters and I were out the door fairly early, because it was time for her yearly physical exam. Then we went to the passport application place so she could apply for a passport, as part of our upcoming cruise along the water of the Inside Passage will eventually have a stop in a foreign country — British Colombia, Canada. Then we drove to her optometrist’s office so a new pair of lenses could be put in her frames, except they couldn’t get the new lenses in. So I’ll take them myself to the optical lab next week so they can be filed down to fit into her frames. We drove home by noon and I closed the windows in the house and turned on the central air. It wasn’t terribly hot today, but I’m getting more sensitive to mugginess as I age, and I needed the air to be drier than it was. I cannot abide much water in the air. Unless it’s rain, then I’m good.

Then my friend Su came over and we stretched. Yes. Both of us are feeling the need to do something proactive for our unlimberness, and we thought doing a video together would help us want to do a video at all. It really is remarkable how much the muscles appreciate being lengthened. Mine were telling me over and over, “THANK YOU! IT’S ABOUT TIME! AAAAHH!”

After we completed the DVD, we enjoyed Cobb salads for lunch, with sliced organic chicken breasts, a pile of dark organic greens, sliced avocados, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, and home made blue cheese dressing my friend Carey made. And we had glasses of ice water. It was nice to sit together and look out over the sapphire blue waters of Lake Superior while talking about our travelitis. I brought out a couple of books I bought recently on travel to Scotland and Ireland, for “creaky travelers,” i.e. those who are mobile but not agile. I don’t know if my replaced right knee has forever rendered me a creaky traveler or if I’ll get off that special list someday. But the books were fantastic and had really good suggestions for those who want to travel without walking many miles or climbing any peaks.

On Tuesday morning the annual summer Bible study I’ve hosted in my home for thirteen years began. There are eleven of us this year, and we’ll be going through Priscilla Shirer’s study called Breathe. priscilla-shirer-breatheIt’s about honoring the Sabbath (something we western Christians have sort of forgotten to do, even though it really is one of the Ten Commandments) and finding/creating margin in our lives.

I have been intrigued and convicted for a long time about this promise in Isaiah 58:13-14 about the Sabbath:

“ ‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

I would certainly love for the Lord to cause me to ride in triumph. And day by day my desire to honor God and delight in Him grows.

Tomorrow will be a paperwork day, a bill paying day, a tidying up day, and a laundry folding day. Then on Sunday my two Fosters and I will drive to Madeline Island to spend some time with Sharon, Chris and their four littles. Except their oldest little isn’t little at all. He’s thirteen and the size of most adult men. Their family is vacationing for a few days.

Are you familiar with the Apostle Islands off the coast of northern Wisconsin? Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostles, and we’ll drive the car onto a ferry, which will transport us across the water of Lake Superior to the Island. Here’s a map:

apostle_islands_map-usgsThere’s a beautiful, protected, curved bay on the eastern side of Madeline, called Big Bay. Clearly, a man named that bay. I mean no sexism or disrespect, but can you imagine a woman naming a truly tranquil, clear, shallow, gorgeous beach “Big Bay?”

Michael and I visited Big Bay Beach a number of times, and I was always struck by the clarity of the water. You can walk a quarter mile out in Lake Superior and it’s still only about chest high. You can look down and see the wrinkles on your toes and the individual grains of sand. And the taste of the water is the best in the world, in my opinion. Not that I’ve tasted all the waters of the world, but I can’t imagine Parisian or Tunisian or Siberian water could be better than Lake Superior water. I might be slightly biased by my geographical location, but I would invite all who don’t drink Lake Superior water to come for a visit and just try it.

Speaking of water and swimming, here’s an old photo I just saw for the first time last week. It was taken in San Clemente, California, when my friends and I were twelve and a half or possibly thirteen years old. We were in Girl Scouts and this was one of our scouting trips. From left to right: me, my friend of fifty-one years, Denel, Vicki, and Ann.

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Those were the best of times, they were the worst of times. I yearn for them, and I’m glad they’re gone.

In other news, I had the first urinary tract infection of my life recently, and I had to buy a new computer. Completely unrelated topics, but I’m just going with what comes to mind, friends. I thought I had a UTI in late May because I had the typical symptoms. I went in right away for a urinalysis and my doctor called me the next day with the results: negative. I grew more puzzled and distressed over the next TWENTY DAYS as my symptoms worsened, the pain was almost enough to warrant a towel to bite on, and I was peeing every eight to twelve minutes. I timed it. Even though my results were negative I popped cranberry pills and glugged down gallons of water and lemon and vitamins for days. On Day 20 I started having back and side pain that made me writhe. I tried not to cry. I texted my daughter Carolyn and asked her what a UTI felt like since she’s had one, and when I told her I thought I had kidney pain, she texted back, “Go to Urgent Care now. They’re open another forty minutes.” So I did. I practically threw myself in the car and drove to Urgent Care, rocking back and forth at the stop lights, where they were almost ready to close and thankfully no one else was waiting. I peed in a cup and within five minutes the doctor told me I had a bad UTI (lots of blood cells) that had obviously become systemic and spread to my left kidney. I cried, “Well thank God I finally know what this is!” I asked the doctor about the negative urinalysis I’d had weeks before and she said it happens unfortunately, especially if someone is drinking lots of water and diluting their urine, which I was. Now I know not to trust a negative UA, but I am hoping this never, ever happens again. I was doing deep breathing and stifling sobs when I got home from Urgent Care, the kidney pain was so bad. I grabbed a glass of water and took my first pill and prayed that it would work quickly and not cause any other unpleasant side effects, which antibiotics sometimes do. After two pills my kidney pain was gone, and after a week on my prescription I was back to normal. I have been literally praising the Lord, out loud, every single time I go potty now, because it’s such a blessing to have no eye-bulging, nail-digging pain.

Lastly, we have some matching drinking glasses now. Sara just came in with a gift for her 57 year-old mama, who really should have a set of matching glasses at this stage of her life. If you were to open our kitchen glass cupboard, you’d see a motley collection of jelly jars, little kids’ plastic drinking glasses, some prehistoric but intact Tupperware tumblers, and one or two leftovers from cobalt blue sets long ago. I now have eight tall, clear, wide, sturdy drinking glasses, and I couldn’t be more delighted. The next time I have company for dinner, everyone will have a matching water glass.

That’s all for today. If your head is spinning from so much randomness, perhaps you could go take a sip of water and lay down for a while. :)

Sobbing over the puffer fish

June 21, 2015 | My Jottings

Yesterday my friend Ginny and I drove out to Cloquet, MN (pronounced clo-KAY) to the grad party of of our friend Carey’s son Isaac. Carey is a cook and baker extraordinaire, and I think I should just plan now to stop attending all future grad parties because no one else’s food is ever going to be like hers. Korean pulled pork with soft bib lettuce for wraps and a ginger and cilantro flavored slaw to top everything with. And different Korean relishes. And a dessert table that could have been from the kitchen of a queen. Isaac made a pavlova with rose water and strawberries, and Carey made a rustic apricot tart, a traditional chocolate/caramel/pecan turtle cake, a kind of thick lime custard pie with chopped nuts for the crust, drizzled with a raspberry coulee, and there was homemade lavender ice cream and many other sweet indulgences as well. There wasn’t a bratwurst or bowl of potato salad to be seen. And Isaac, who is a handsome, smart and loving young man, waited on people, cleared plates, fetched more desserts, filled coffee cups, and showed us a glimpse of the man he’s becoming.

Ginny and I had a nice visit too. We talked about Michael and the void he leaves. We talked about a request I bring before God every single day and wonder what His answer will be. We talked about death and old age and God’s grace for both, and I’m betting by now you wish you could have joined in such a lighthearted conversation. Ha.

When I got home I fixed dinner for women and beasts, got into my plaid flannel nightgown earlier than Sharon thinks I should, and clicked on the TV. I have been using the DVR I’ve had for years and never knew I had. I record the occasional old movie, James and Betty Robison’s “Life Today” show, anything Agatha Christie, and shows like “Nova” and “Nature” that often take my breath away.

Last night I happened upon a nature show that spotlighted the unusual mating habits of different creatures. I watched only one, because I was so overcome I had to switch it off when the show moved on to a certain kind of sea lion, whose mating rituals include spurting blood and deeply slashed skin and such violence I couldn’t handle it.

But I’d like to tell you about the mating habits of puffer fish. Are you familiar with puffer fish? I’d heard of them before, but what I saw last night had me gasping, laughing, marveling, and eventually, sobbing and thanking God out loud over and over.

Here’s what little I know. Apparently, off the coast of Japan, scuba divers have long been finding what have been dubbed small “crop circles” in the sand of the ocean floor. Here’s a picture of one:

fish-video

They decided to set up some underwater cameras to see how these “crop circles” were being formed, and lo, the builders turned out to be a newly discovered kind of small puffer fish.

A little male puffer fish begins work on his circle, hoping to attract a female. It takes him a week of  ’round-the-clock work to complete it, and somehow he knows the best times when the ocean currents won’t come along and smooth his masterpiece away. He swims close to the sandy ocean bottom and uses his little body as a broom, whisking his tail back and forth rapidly and carving trenches and valleys in a perfect circle. He uses his nose to push sand up on the mounded parts of the circle, and will even pick up sea shells with his mouth to deposit them on the top of these mounds, for decoration.

How does he get the circle so perfect? Where are his measuring stick and compass? Could a human being create so perfect a circle by simply using his/her hands without measuring tools?

Then when his circular nest is complete, the puffer fish swims aside and waits. A female puffer fish comes along and inspects the intricately constructed circles and decides which one is most suitable for her eggs. When Mr. Puffer sees that his nest has been chosen, he then gets to work smoothing out the center of the nest. All the grooves in the center are flattened, while Mrs. Puffer watches. She then swims to the center of the circle, lays her eggs, and Mr. Puffer comes and fertilizes them. He grabs her puffer cheek in his puffer lips, and they do a little puffer dance side by side, both sweeping the sand over the eggs to cover and protect them.

You have just got to watch this short video of the whole process.

When the puffer fish segment was over, I sat in my recliner in my living room and sobbed. “Whyyyyyy, Lord?” I thought. “Why have you made such an astounding world, with incredible creatures and magnificent beauty? Why do you blow our minds with the intricacies and delights and quirkiness of what you’ve made? Why have you created animals and fish and plants that go unseen for centuries, and you alone see them?”

I don’t know if I can explain this, but when I see little puffer fish doing what they are created to do, so beautifully, it makes me want to do what I’m created to do. This little film about the puffer fish made me think of another one I loved.

Did you see the footage of the new baby hippopotamus that was born a few weeks ago at the San Diego Zoo? Apparently hippos give birth under water, and newborns have to swim quickly to the surface to get some air, except they aren’t adept at swimming yet, since they’re only one second old when the need for oxygen arises. I watched this video of the little girl hippo, frantically and a bit inefficiently swimming toward her first gulp of air, and tears streamed.

Watch how the patient mother keeps gently, slowly, lifting her baby toward the surface with her huge nose.

Sometimes I just can’t wrap my mind around the things God has created. Perhaps like no other spiritual discipline, pondering the works of His hands inspires awe and worship in me, and I usually sob and praise at the same time. I keep saying through my tears while I’m honking into a Kleenex, “Lord! You do all things well! I am amazed at you! Thank you!” Considering God’s vast astronomical handiwork does the same thing in my soul. Awe. Tears. Praise.

Do you remember when Jesus taught His disciples about God’s wondrous ways in Luke, chapter 12? He told them to not be afraid of people, but to properly fear God. He told them how valuable they were to God, and that God already knew the number of their days. He told them to stop worrying and assured them that God would watch over them and provide in every way — what to say, where to go, and even that their food and clothing would be supplied. Do you remember how in this chapter Jesus encourages His friends to “consider the ravens” and “consider the lilies?” He was teaching His disciples that if God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers in more exquisite glory than Solomon’s robes, He would most certainly care for them.

Sometimes waves of grief wash over me, and I’m stunned again at the realization that Michael is gone, that I’ll never get to look into those big, kind eyes of his, that I’ll never again hear him speak my name with that familiar deep voice, will never touch his hands or smell his neck. But when I see things like the videos above, my delight, awe, and faith in Jesus increases, and I know I can make it through.

Maybe Jesus’ disciples were mightily encouraged when they heard Him say, “Consider the ravens” and “consider the lilies,” but I am encouraged and strengthened when I hear Jesus whisper to my heart, “Julie, consider the puffer fish! Consider the hippos!”

In grateful wonder today,

On sailing north and sleeping in

June 19, 2015 | My Jottings

It’s a chilly, beautiful morning here on the shores of Lake Superior…the best kind of morning for sleeping in, except that I am never allowed to sleep in. Ever. Edith, our 13 year-old Schnauzer, jumps off the bed every morning around 5:45, stands close to my side of the bed, and begins staring at me. If I don’t make any moves to get out of bed, she walks leisurely back and forth between the bedroom and the master bathroom, repeatedly, and I can hear her little doggie toenails clicking on the black slate tiles by the tub. If that doesn’t do it, she does what we call the Schnauzer Stampede, and she begins to gallop, horse-style, back and forth in the bedroom, from the bed to the door and back, over and over again. Until I throw the covers back and she knows she’ll get fed and let outside. Millie watches all of this from her chair and seems unconcerned, until I open the door and then she charges down the hall to beat Edith to their dog dishes, to wait for breakfast.

So, I haven’t slept in for at least thirteen years. (Now that I think about it there are a couple of exceptions when we’ve been on a trip and the dogs weren’t with us, but I still think you should pity me.)

Speaking of trips, in the fall I will be taking my two foster gals on a long-awaited vacation. They have been saving their money for over two years, ever since we returned from our trip to Walt Disney World in late 2012. Both of them have always wanted to go on a cruise, so we’re going to Alaska! And also exciting to me is the fact that two of my friends will be coming along. My friend Carey offered to come and help (because as wonderful as our trips with our fosters have been, they are a bit of a working vacation in many ways), and I said yes in two seconds. Then, when my friend Denel heard we were going, she said she’d like to join us, so we’ll be a quintet. Yay!

Here’s the ship we’ll be on:

jewelatglacier

It has a climbing wall, some swimming pools, some restaurants, a water slide, a miniature golf course, some staterooms and some deck chairs. My fosters are more than excited. And I am too, just a teensy bit. Michael and I went on an Alaskan cruise many years ago and it was one of our favorite vacations. At first we didn’t think we were “cruise people,” but when we learned how relaxing and restful a cruise can be, we changed our minds. I was pleasantly surprised by the solitude you can find on a cruise, and Michael was surprised that he didn’t go stir-crazy. The beauty of the Inside Passage was like nothing we’d ever seen. And seeing whales breaching close to the ship was unforgettable. I’m really hoping my fosters get to see some whales.

The one thing I hate about cruises are the formal nights at dinner. Blech. Ick. Boo. Hiss. Two out of the seven nights, men are required to wear tuxedos or suits, and women wear fancy cocktail-type outfits with sequins and such. Gah. That is so not me. I live in jeans, soft cotton knit tunics, and Birkenstocks. One option is to stay in your stateroom and watch ship TV and order room service, which I might be tempted to do if I were cruising alone. But I want my gals to have the full experience and I know they will love the formal nights even if I’m not a fan. So I’ll be taking them shopping for fancy attire soon and it will give them a memory they’ll talk about forever.

On the book front, I just finished reading a really good book, entitled A Man Called Peter, by Catherine Marshall. It’s the life story of Scotsman Peter Marshall (duh) and how he came to America and eventually became the Chaplain of the United States Senate. I’ve been very moved and inspired as I’ve read it. The next two in the reading queue are The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and Babette’s Feast. What are you reading? I always like to know.

All this seems so frivolous in light of what just happened in South Carolina. I always seem to have enough words for three people, babbling on with ease. But I don’t have any words for this situation, except what I utter in prayer for them. I ask Jesus to do what only He can do. And ask Him what He wants me to do.

Well, it is time for me to get round two of breakfast started. Later today Edith and Millie will be going on their quarterly visits to The Bad Lady’s house, where they’ll be bathed and groomed and will act embarrassed for the rest of the day as they adjust to their doggy nakedness.

Thank you for stopping in here, friends. God bless your weekend,

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