I’ve an ivy issue

June 30, 2010 | My Jottings

We have some ivy in our front yard that grows at the base of our chimney. It grows extremely fast. During one of my sleepless nights, instead of counting my respirations backward starting from the number seventy-three, I laid there and mentally calculated how fast this ivy grows. I know how fast it grows because I tear it down every fall, right to the ground. Then every spring it (here you can cue the theme music to Jaws) begins its relentless climb up the chimney once again, and in a little less than six months it grows over three stories high, which is roughly between one and two inches per day.

The ivy looks very quaint and is reminiscent of old, stately British manors, and most people comment on it favorably. But I have heard too many horror stories about what ivy can do if left unchecked. It can weasel its way through the mortar between bricks, if given enough years to work at it. It can grow underneath siding panels and get into the walls of one’s house. It can grow up a chimney and then when it finds the top, grow down into the chimney and come peeking out into your living room one morning while you’re sitting on your couch having coffee and reading the paper and say, “Good morning little darling! Here I am after all these years!” Except I have a feeling that if ivy could talk it wouldn’t be so cheerful. I think it would chuckle malevolently and hiss in a deep voice, “Well, what do you know, while you weren’t paying any attention, I’ve finally gained entry to your lovely little home, and now you’re going to live to regret it for the rest of your sad and tortured life……HAHAHAHAHAAAA!”

Anyway, here’s what the ivy on our chimney looks like as of this writing:

It’s almost halfway up. We still have all of July, August, September and October before I go outside one fine day and commence to bringing it to its knees. Or ankles. Or if I’m feeling powerful maybe I’ll bring this ivy to its toes. I’ll let you know in October.

Here’s another photo that sort of creeps me out a little bit. These photos enlarge if you click on them, so you’ll be able to clearly see how our quaint Mr. Ivy isn’t content to keep to the path and stay on the chimney. No. When he thinks (notice I’ve given him a male identity now – as I’m typing the threat has grown more pronounced in my mind and our ivy is no longer an it but a mister) I’m not looking, he starts growing toward the front porch, and slowly wends his way to the wooden porch ceiling:

Perhaps you can also see the remnants of Mr. Ivy’s attempts, years ago, to infiltrate the whole porch ceiling. This did not happen on my watch, but when the previous owners were living here. Look closely and you can see the little ivy suction cups left behind on the stone work and the ceiling. Mr. Ivy might have nothing to say about it when I decide each fall that he’s done with his creeping, but he certainly tries to leave enough of himself behind so that I don’t ever forget he’s been here.

Now, here’s a photo I took at the end of autumn, and you can see that the ivy grew all the way up to the top of the three+ story chimney, and then changed into beautiful breathtaking colors:

That’s why I don’t pull him out by the roots completely. Because kept in check, the ivy is lovely and delightful to look at, and adds charm to the house. But as soon as the last leaf falls and the Minnesota air turns chill enough to hint of coming snow flakes, these vines are coming down.

(I think a devotional could be done on this subject, likening ivy to the destructive habits and strongholds we allow in our lives. Sometimes we think those little dalliances are fairly innocuous and that we’ll just take care of them when they get a little out of hand. Sometimes sin even looks pretty and is pleasing to the eye. Where the analogy dies, however, is that with sin, we’re not supposed to just pull it down to the ground when it starts to take over our lives. We’re supposed to completely pull it out by the roots and be absolutely ruthless with it.)

Not only do I not want the ivy making its way under the siding, across the porch toward our front door, or crumbling the chimney mortar, but when I pull it down each year I tell myself I’m actively working to prevent our house from eventually looking like this:

Perhaps I should be so diligent in other areas of my life.

Twenty-nine years

June 28, 2010 | My Jottings

Twenty-nine years ago today I married a man I’d only met in person one time. 1981 was before the days of e-mail, so Michael and I carried on our courtship through many letters and phone calls over a three month period of time.

He asked me to marry him before we ever met — he told me we could make the plans and he would be fine with meeting right before the ceremony. I was pretty sure I wanted to say yes about marrying him, but I insisted we meet first, and I flew from Southern California to Northeastern Minnesota so we could see each other face to face.

During that short time I met his family, got a feel for how different life and culture was in Minnesota, gasped when I saw the beauty and vastness of Lake Superior, prayed for guidance, and felt like it was the right thing. I flew home, gave notice at my job at a large private investigating firm, gave thirty days’ notice at my apartment complex in The Big OC, broke the news to my sweet little girls (ages 4 and 2 1/2), and started packing our things.

Michael flew to California for our June 28th wedding so my family could meet him. Everyone approved. We were married in a small ceremony in Los Osos on the Central Coast, spent our wedding night in a motel on the beach in Cayucos, and departed the next morning for the long drive to what I would later come to wryly and affectionately call American Siberia.

He was thirty-two and I was twenty-three.

Any credit for almost three decades of marriage goes to Jesus and Michael. We loved and love each other deeply, but there is no way we could have made it without the love and power of the Lord, and without Michael’s steadfastness, faithfulness and patience with me. If you would like to read a short tribute and see a current photo of this brave man who rescued me from the certain disaster I would have made of my life without him, click right here. It’s worth the read.

So today I wish my husband a Happy 29th Anniversary. I shudder to think of what our lives would have been without you, Michael.

You’re still the one…

Swings, smoothies and geese

June 25, 2010 | My Jottings

Last week I took my Maryland grandchildren, whom I will no longer be referring to as Maryland grandchildren because they’re now Minnesota grandchildren, just as all our other grandchildren are Minnesota grandchildren, on an outing.

First, I took them to the park. We live in a city that has an unbelievable 129 parks and/or playgrounds, and the one we visited isn’t the prettiest, woodsiest one, but it has been recently redone, so we went to check it out. All the playground equipment was shiny and new, and because this park’s new grand opening had been well-publicized, and also perhaps because this park is near the shore of Lake Superior, there were lots of people that day.

The thing I noticed right away was that there was no sand or dirt at this park. I’m a firm believer in living life as much as possible without letting sand or dirt interfere with your business, so I was impressed with the tiny bits of rubber tire pieces that were used all around the playground equipment.

It was spongy to walk on and would certainly provide much more cushion to a child who accidentally fell from a swing. The rain could wash the tire bits clean, local cats wouldn’t be as apt to make it their own…it got my vote for a good playground choice.

I thought I would be able to take Mr. McBoy, Mrs. Nisky and Little Gleegirl to the park, sit down with my Kindle and enjoy a few pages of Lisa See’s On Gold Mountain, while keeping my eye on how they were doing, but no. It was crowded enough that I felt like I’d suddenly turned into a grandmother owl as I tried to watch where each child was at all times.

I looked quickly to the left for the tall blond boy with the navy and red striped shirt – okay he’s on the monkey bars – where’s Little Gleegirl? – oh my gosh I don’t see her how did she get away so quickly? – oh thank God she’s over there coming out of that slide in the purple knit dress, now where’s Mrs. Nisky? – oh dear oh dear she’s climbing too high on that contraption with the steps and the rings and she seems a little scared – remember to look for the brown sundress with the pink flowers – “Watch your step Mrs. Nisky and hang on!” – and where is that purple dress now – oh maybe I shouldn’t have let her go over to that area by herself there are so many big kids over there – where is she I can’t see her oh dear Lord oh thank God there she is by the swings…

And so on. An owl, with my head revolving every which way at all times, keeping my eyes on those three grands in the midst of the noisy crowd of kids.

Here’s a photo of Little Gleegirl swinging (all photos can be enlarged by clicking on them):

And again on a different kind of swing:

And here’s soon-to-be-six Mrs. Nisky on a steel ring contraption you stand on and gasp and giggle while your grandma spins you around until you can hardly hang on anymore:

And this – an unusual, fairly high slide with no sides, so that going down requires that a tall adult reach up to hold your hand and run beside you while you’re whooshing down the curves:

After assisting in slide usage I realized I hadn’t seen Mr. McBoy in at least forty-six seconds and started to panic. I utilized my owl neck-and-head turning powers and thankfully saw him on a swing on the other side of the park:

I went over and pushed him for a while and by this time everyone was getting a little hot and thirsty. Our average summer temperature in this city is 74 degrees, but it was just over 80 on this day and a bit humid. So we trekked back to the parking lot where we had paid FIVE DOLLARS to park, and headed to Dunn Brothers, where they make wonderful smoothies.

We drove through and gave our order: four small strawberry smoothies, three with whipped cream on top, one without. Little Gleegirl wanted hers plain. They were so refreshing. We sipped on those while driving to a beautiful wooded cemetery in our city, the one where Michael and I will be buried, as a matter of fact. It has a couple of big ponds with many different kinds of ducks and geese, and one Great Blue Heron that I know of.

We had a package of hot dog buns, a package of hamburger buns, and one large loaf of bread with us. As soon as we drove to the back of the largest pond and parked under some trees, every feathered creature within a quarter mile radius stopped its leisurely swimming or waddling and looked up, peering at us intently. Then, as if on cue, they all ran as one to the car and surrounded us, quietly quacking and honking, and waiting for us to feed them. I decided not to get out since Little Gleegirl is three and probably wouldn’t want to learn yet how to fend off aggressive hissing geese. So instead we opened all our windows and from each of our four seats in the car we leisurely tore our stale and crumbly offerings into small pieces and gave the birds some lunch.

Sitting there in the shade with the breeze blowing through, we had the best time. All the kids immediately saw that there were greedy seagulls lurking and darting in front of the other birds (sky rats, Michael calls them), and they didn’t really want to feed them so much. They tried to aim their chunks of bread toward the many baby ducks and geese instead.

Here is Mr. McBoy watching as some Canada geese and their babies hang around, hoping for something to eat:

And the two girls watching the birds approach the car:

On my side, there were some very intense looking blue-eyed geese actually pecking the door, wanting me to feed them:

It would be hard to have a good, relaxed conversation with someone who looked at you like that when you were talking.

I preferred the little babies, who were actually close to moving out of their baby stage but who received the bulk of my bread, because they hadn’t learned to dash in for it themselves yet:

And here are some Canada goose goslings, clearly growing out of their little baby stage and closer to adulthood:

When I mentioned to the kids that these were goslings that were close to adulthood, eight year-old Mr. McBoy nodded and remarked knowledgeably: “Yes. They’re teenager geese.” And that’s exactly what they look like, don’t they?

We doled out the breadstuffs slowly so the enjoyment of the day would last longer, but after we were out of bread we headed home. The three children all leaned out of the car to say their goodbyes, and I got this shot of Mr. McBoy’s smile in the sideview mirror:

He looks like his daddy here, painted with his mama’s palette.

As we wound slowly around the roads in the cemetery, Mrs. Nisky asked from the back seat about the ancient looking headstones, “What do all of those say?” I told her they had the names of the people buried there, and the dates they were born and the dates they had died. I told her that someday Grandpa and Grandma would be buried here, and that our names would be put on stones above our graves too. After a few seconds in which she was obviously deep in thought, Mrs. Nisky asked, “And what date are you and Grandpa going to die on?”

I lightheartedly told her that only God knows when we will die, that He numbers our days and knows when the right time is for our lives here to end, and our lives in heaven to begin. And that hopefully it wouldn’t be for a long time. I thought to myself, I want to see teenager grandchildren, not just teenager geese.

That seemed to satisfy her and as we were driving out of the cemetery, three year-old Little Gleegirl piped up from her place in the backseat, “This has been a good day!”

I wholeheartedly agreed.

Take three wonderful grandchildren. Add swings, smoothies and geese. It’s really a delightful combination.

Edition 41-Wednesday’s Word

June 23, 2010 | My Jottings

“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever.”

C. S. Lewis

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Seven Things

June 22, 2010 | My Jottings

1.  We hung bamboo shades in our kitchen windows yesterday. I would never have chosen bamboo shades, but Holly Mathis strongly recommended them for our kitchen, so I stepped out of the decorating box, and we love them!

2.  It would be beyond wonderful to have a cook and a massage therapist on staff.

3.  Based on recommendations from different book-loving friends, I picked up these books at the library last night: Called Out of Darkness – A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice, An Infinity of Little Hours: Five young men and their trial of faith in the western world’s most austere monastic order by Nancy Klein Maguire, and China Court by Rumer Godden. Also a DVD entitled Into Great Silence.

4.  I think this post on marriage at Sarah Markley’s blog is really worth reading and passing on to anyone who is married, or to anyone who is even thinking about marriage.

5.  I have posts coming up about grandchildren and geese, window seats, UCLA’s John Wooden, a summer Bible study I’m part of called Breaking Free, and the insidious ivy that grows over an inch a day as it creeps malevolently up our chimney. Scintillating stuff, I tell you.

6.  We’re excited about summer visitors! In late July and early August my step-mom Dorothy will be flying to MN to see us, along with my sister-in-law Christy and my niece Savannah, all at the same time! I’m already planning the menus.

7.  We are gradually putting the finishing touches on our house with the intent to put it up for sale next summer. Simplifying, scaling back, smaller living, stability, service, security….these are all some S things I have in mind as we look toward a smaller existence. Christmas of 2011 will tell if the Lord had these things in mind for us as well.

What are your seven things today? I would love to know. Small thoughts, big dreams, dreary details – what’s going on with you?

A Year of Nots

June 18, 2010 | My Jottings

First grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School was a year of nots for me.

I did not have a really close friend yet, so I spent recess time wandering around deep in my thoughts, talking to myself a little bit.

I did not like most foods, so spent lunch time in the cafeteria hoping others would offer me their peanut butter balls that came in the tiny paper cups. When it was time to go outside for lunch recess, I always took the mashed potatoes and hamburger gravy, peas, and cherry cobbler that I did not eat, walked to the cafeteria garbage can and threw them away. I also did not eat the fish sticks, the pizza, or the spaghetti and meatballs.

It wasn’t a concern because I was not that hungry. Abba Zabbas and cottage cheese were usually waiting at home if I was.

In first grade my hair did not have bangs. My mother always took an uncompromising moral stand against bangs. She believed little girls’ foreheads should be seen and not covered. And the rest of them covered and not seen. 

Consequently, one small drawer in my room was not lacking in a wide variety of plastic headbands.

I did not think I’d better chop off my hair right before picture day, like I did when I was in Kindergarten, here.

At age six, I began to be aware that my parents did not have a solid marriage. I felt this deeply and probably spent a lot of time walking around at recess begging God to please not let them split up.

In Southern California in 1963, I was miserable and petulant if I was not allowed to swim as often as possible.

I was not close to my older brother Steve, who regarded me as a pest he did not want to have around.

I did not see my oldest brother Larry enough, as he was twenty-one when I was six and did not live with us anymore.

I did not miss very many afternoon episodes of Mighty Mouse.

One afternoon during story time on the rug, my teacher Mrs. Weber asked the class if they believed in the devil. I was a Sunday School goin’ girl so said yes, and when I described to her what I thought he might look like, Mrs. Weber laughed and mildly snickered at me. I was a little embarrassed and did not like that. (Mrs. Weber was in her fifties then, so I do not think she’s alive today. I would imagine that no matter what side of the spiritual fence she ever came down on, she is not snickering about that topic now.)

My mother had a friend named Mary Wyles who did not ever miss a Wednesday visit at my house with my mom. They did crafts together and talked over the matters of their hearts.

I had a little red bike with training wheels and did not like it when it was stolen from our garage less than a year after I’d received it for Christmas.

In first grade I had not yet eaten anything green except celery and iceberg lettuce, had not had a nibble of cheese, or a taste of an egg.

When I was in first grade, I did not realize how wonderful it was to have a back yard with two nectarine trees, one apricot tree, one peach tree, one plum tree, and a lemon tree with fruit the size of oranges.

I did not know that two chocolate donuts mushed up in a bowl of whole milk was not a healthy breakfast. And apparently my parents did not realize this either.

I did not realize then how I could have been the poster child for Gummy Bears, but hindsight is everything. (Click on the photo for further confirmation.)

I did not know that twice-yearly trips to Disneyland was not the norm for other little boys and girls of the world.

In 1963 I did not have a clue that I would do better in school the following year.

I did not know that someday I would drink from a water fountain and not have the water run out of my nose.

In first grade I realized my mother had a slightly crippled foot (due to a botched spinal anesthetic), and that was why she sat in the car and did not go into the local Alpha Beta grocery store, and sent me in with a list and a check instead.

There was never a time when Knutsen Cottage Cheese was not on the list.

Right around this time I decided I would like to be a grocery checker (we didn’t call them cashiers) when I grew up, and not a nurse or a teacher after all.

Even at age six, I was not afraid of deep water.

I did not understand puns yet, and had no idea how humorous it was to have a dentist named Dr. Payne.

I did not know a lot of things.

What I also did not know when I was in first grade was that God was really there with me at all times. I did not know yet that He had made me and was going to see me through a lot of things in the coming years. I knew He loved me because my Sunday School teachers told me so, but I did not realize what kind of love and keeping that would turn out to be.

I did not know that He would save my life over and over again, and that He would not ever let me go.

I did not know that no matter how tied up in nots, Jesus can take any life and make His light and presence known in the deepest of darks.

Even today, I sometimes do not remember that this is His promise to His children.

During the year of nots, Jesus was there. He never left me.

He will not leave me now.

And He will not leave you.

Have you called out His name lately?

If not…why not?

What are you reading?

June 16, 2010 | My Jottings

My favorite time of day is any time I can take fifteen to twenty minutes, put my feet up a little, and read. I usually don’t find this time until right before I go to sleep at night, but once in a while on a weekend I might even take a half hour in the middle of the day to read.

Here’s what I just finished:

I could hardly put Snow Flower and the Secret Fan down. My friend Diane recommended it because she had the opportunity to meet the author.

Because this book was so amazing, I have reserved another by Lisa See at the library and will read this one soon:

Sometimes I have more than one book going at the same time. Right now I’m also reading this one:

My friends Kay and Carole told me about Jon Hassler, a very prolific Minnesota author whose writing has been compared many times to Sinclair Lewis. I’ve never read anything by Sinclair Lewis, but I thought you might like to know that Hassler has been compared to him.  :)

And here’s a book I honestly feel every Christian should read:

This was one of the most comforting, refreshing books I’ve ever read. Why doesn’t God answer our prayers the way we want sometimes? Why, when He could so easily fix the mess we’re in, doesn’t He? Almost all of Yancey’s books have answered huge questions for me.

And here’s another one along the same lines:

If God is all-powerful and all-loving (which He is), why does He allow so much pain and suffering? I vividly remember reading this book by Joni Eareckson Tada one summer, and lightbulbs were going off over my head constantly. One of the most well-written and profound reads of my life.

When I was young I loved anything by Carol Ryrie Brink. I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to read many of my favorite childhood books out loud to my children, and now to my grandchildren.

This one is a favorite:

When I read The Pink Motel to my grandchildren, Clara was so thrilled with the book that she was literally jumping around in the den as I read, laughing and trying to wait patiently to find out what was going to happen at the end. **Smile**

The book that surprised me the most was this one:

I tried to read At Home in Mitford three times before finally “getting it.” The first couple of times it seemed to be such a yawner and I was perplexed by the constant stream of recommendations it was bringing. When it made the New York Times bestseller list I thought I’d try again. What a lovely surprise that perseverance brought. The whole series touched me in ways I never expected. I have tried to get my daughters to read these and I do appreciate the block they’ve had as they try to understand the (deceptively) simple and meandering read these books are. I am almost to the point where I’ll bribe them to read the Mitford books. $100 a book – what do you think Sharon, Carolyn and Sara? That’s how amazing these books are.

Here’s a book I read that I wish I hadn’t:

Nothing is quite so irritating as pushing through a long book because you keep thinking it has to get better, but then never does. So many people have loved this book, I thought there would be something redeeming in it, and I kept going. And going, and going. When I turned the final page and closed the cover, I threw it in the trash. There are so many reasons why, and I’ll save that for another day.

I often give this book as a gift:

I’m not a huge fan of Christian fiction, even though I’m a Christian and I love fiction. Christian fiction often seems too tidy, too predictable to me. I have read too many surfacey stories that have such delightful endings because someone says the sinner’s prayer and then lives happily ever after. (Vinita Hampton Wright’s Christian fiction is not like that – check her out if you haven’t before.)  Penelope Wilcock’s The Hawk and the Dove is amazing…some of the best Christian fiction I’ve ever read. It grips you from the first page, and I promise it’s like nothing you’ve ever read before. I have two copies on order right now, one to replace my own which I’ve given away, and the other for a friend in California who used to play basketball for my dad. :)

Here’s another book I read out loud to Clara and Elijah, and at the end of each and every chapter I heard them both plead, “Grandma, will you puh-leeeeeeeze read another chapter? Please?”

Those words are music to a book-loving grandmother’s ears. If you ask Clara today about the words “cerulean blue,” she will smile and tell you right where they came from:

Where will a lie get you? Down a road of big trouble, and Irma’s bad times really illustrate this in an unforgettable way.

Here’s a book I plan on reading soon:

I read Miller’s Blue Like Jazz and cried and laughed and gained understanding about those whose political leanings are so different from my own. I look forward to reading  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

Here’s a book I read every three or four years, and hope to continue rereading until I die:

Keith Green’s life and music have impacted my husband and me in deep ways. His music seems timeless to me. His love for Jesus and what God did in his short life continue to convict and inspire me. I wish I were more like him.

What are you reading these days?

One hundred days

June 12, 2010 | My Jottings

We have had family staying with us for exactly one hundred days. Sharon, Chris, and their three children ages eight, five and three moved from Maryland to Minnesota on March 2nd, and now they have moved into their own home. They are happy to be first-time home owners and have been painting and working on a few projects in their century-old house for the past week.

Thursday night was the first night without them, and it was quiet and odd. Michael and I went to the movies and out to dinner with our gals that night, and when we came home the house was dark, the garage was empty and we parked our car there, and there were no little voices whispering or giggling in their beds. After we let Edith and Millie outside one last time for the night and locked everything up, I came upstairs and saw the nightlight on in the room where Mr. McBoy and Mrs. Nisky slept for one hundred nights. (Little Gleegirl mostly slept in the crib in her parents’ room on our third floor, but she occasionally slept on a pallet at the foot of our bed.) Even though there are still some toys and clothes in the room that will be moved to their new house soon, the beds were empty and GT and the Halo Express was not playing on the little stereo. The nightlight seemed mournful to me, giving a normally heartening little glow for no one.

It has also been raining a lot in our part of Minnesota. Once I moved here from SoCal in 1981 I joined the ranks of The Weather Obsessed and nary a day passes without a few comments about the weather. We never did that in Covina, where I grew up. In the mornings we say while we’re getting meds ready and breakfasts for our gals read, “Still raining.”

“Yes, but the lakes are down so we really need it,” the other will answer. Then if the rain stops one of us might remark profoundly, “Looks like the rain stopped. Maybe the sun will come out.”

“That would be nice. I hope it doesn’t get too hot any time soon, though.” And then we can move on to other topics for the day once the mandatory weather talk is covered. Almost everyone in Minnesota does this, at least everyone that I know. Now if my daughters are reading this they will probably leave comments and say no mom you and dad are the only ones who do this but in my heart of hearts I know this isn’t true. We are part of a statewide community of folks who have to do weather talk every day of their lives.

Having all seven of my grandchildren here is a gift. For the hundred days that three of them were temporarily living with us there was a little more activity than I’m used to, but now that they’re in their own house we can start doing more intentional things together. I told all seven children that this summer I would have them each over for three or four days and we could do fun things of their choice, like building sand castles on Park Point, making Reese’s bars, going to the library, and maybe even to a movie.

When I was young my maternal grandparents lived nearby and we saw them every Sunday. I remember watching Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney on their living room television after dinner, but that was about as special as it got, since that grandpa and grandma weren’t very fond of me. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, and that grandma lived in Missouri and was quite old. My father and I flew to visit her, my aunt and uncles and a brood of cousins, when I was nine years old. I remember being shocked that people in Missouri had basements. I loved riding to the top of the St. Louis Arch, and bought the 45 rpm record “Windy” by The Association on that trip. My cousins Tracy and Dawn and I listened to that record in my Aunt Mabel and Uncle Chester’s basement fifty times that week.

The next time I visited that part of my dad’s family was in the summer of 1973. We flew first to Detroit to pick up a brand new GMC motor home. It looked just like this except it was bright orange.  As a favor to a friend who was a GMC dealership owner in our city, my dad agreed to drive the vehicle back to California and I and my cousin Tracy went with him. I had my driver’s permit by then and my dad let me drive most of the way. I loved it. We stopped in Dixon, Missouri to visit my Uncle Charles and Aunt Jewell, and Tracy and I had a taste of what small town life was like. Everything slowed down in Dixon. I learned to throw horseshoes. I would walk down to the railroad tracks early in the morning with a blanket over my shoulders to ward off the chill, place a penny on the tracks and return to the big two storied farm house where my dad’s older brother and his wife had raised their family. When the train whistle sounded later that afternoon I hurried over to find my completely flattened penny, marveling at such a phenomenon.

In Dixon I saw that my relatives really did eat cream gravy on biscuits at breakfast and at dinner. We drove out to what was left of Sudheimer, one of the places my father’s family lived when he was young and my grandpa was a minister. Terrapins crossed the highways and we had to be careful not to hit them as we drove. I learned about chiggers. I saw my first Midwestern storm in Dixon, Missouri. I’d never seen a black, furious, thunder-crashing, lightning-filled storm like that in Southern California.

We sat on the front porch swing in Dixon and listen to the crickets and the frogs each evening. We walked the two blocks to the drug store and ordered a shake from the man behind the soda fountain counter. This was 1973 but it may as well have been 1957. I cried when I hugged Charles and Jewell goodbye and we set out on our way in the motor home.

We drove to Olathe, Kansas to see where my mother grew up. We drove by the huge, brick high school she attended — Wyandotte High. My mom was a member of the Skyliners, a club for the school’s tallest students. You had to be 5′ 10″ to be a girl member and 6′ 0″ for a guy.

We visited Yellowstone, which was beautiful. And then we visited the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. I had no idea that when I signed my name in the guest book there that nice looking and polite young men in shirts and ties would soon start knocking on our door back in Covina as a result. They could never convince me that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers and that God is a polygamist, no matter how little I knew then.

Yesterday I was talking to my friend Carole on the phone. She lives in the Chicago area and was telling me how unbearably hot it is there. She was resting on her porch swing as we chatted, and in the background I could hear the clear, fluid song of a cardinal on the other end of the line. “Is there a cardinal near you?” I asked her. Yes, indeed, there was. He was unusually perched on a telephone wire above her, singing his heart out, and Carole told me it was God’s gift to me, to give me needed hope. I asked her how did she know the cardinal was for me, perhaps the cardinal was there for her, and she gave me an answer that made me laugh in a way I always do with her. “Julie,” she said seriously, “I have no relationship with cardinals!” Implying that I do have cardinal relationships, and of course we got a good chuckle out of that. I believe God sends me cardinals when I need them, and so yesterday as Carole and I talked about books and possibly doing a blog together about books, I listened to the cardinal’s song in the background and said in my heart to my Father,“Thank you.”

Today I will run all kinds of errands. Someone in our household needs a haircut. Someone else needs tennies. Yet another needs her meds picked up at Walgreens. I’ll do several loads of laundry and try to think of something different to make for dinner. Any suggestions, friends? Would you share your favorite “this is what I make when I don’t know what to make” recipe with us?

Then tonight I will watch Mr. McBoy, Mrs. Nisky and Little Gleegirl while their parents go out to dinner and a movie by themselves, something they haven’t done for over a hundred days. Or maybe two hundred days. Now that they’re 1 1/2 miles from us, they can do this more often.

In another hundred days the summer will be gone. It will be September 20th, and the fall colors will be brilliant and the crisp air will make us all inhale and feel invigorated. We’ll get up in the mornings to get meds and breakfasts ready and one of us might say to the other, “It’s time to turn the furnace on, got a little chilly last night.”

“Yes, before you know it the leaves in the woods will be gone and we’ll be able to see the deer moving around again. I wonder when the first snow will come?”

Michael will probably ask, “Do you want to take a walk later?” And I might answer yes. And sooner than we think, many hundred days will pass and we will be just a memory, and our grandchildren will be remembering us.

I’m still working on what kinds of things they’ll remember.

“Bring them here to Me…”

June 7, 2010 | My Jottings

A few years back I was curled up on the couch very early in the morning, with a little fire burning in the hearth and my Bible open in front of me. I was reading from the first chapter of John, preparing for a lecture, and something lit up on the pages. I read that in the earliest days of Christ’s ministry, Andrew and John spent many hours with Jesus. Whatever it was they discussed with Him, it must have been so profound, because the first thing that Andrew did was run to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The first part of verse 42 says, “And he brought him to Jesus.” In the Greek, the word brought suggests that Andrew grabbed his brother by the arm or the hand and pulled or tugged on him. And he brought him to Jesus.


As I was meditating on this verse, another one came to mind. It’s in Matthew chapter 14, and is the story of the feeding of the five thousand. After a long day Jesus told his disciples to give thousands of people something to eat. The disciples were stunned, wondering how they would ever procure an amount of food so great, but one of the disciples, Andrew as a matter of fact, found a small boy who had some food, and Andrew told Jesus what he was able to come up with — five loaves and two fish. Hardly enough to feed five people, much less five thousand.


What was Jesus’s response to that meager discovery? He said, “Bring them here to Me.”


And when the humble offering was brought to Jesus, He gave thanks and began to break the food apart so the disciples could distribute it. Thousands of people were fed, and leftovers were collected.

As I sat on my couch reading this in the morning dark, I pondered what this could mean to all of us. Who doesn’t have great needs in their lives? Do we find we only have loaves and fishes provision yet a massive crowd kind of need? What lack or emptiness or great gaping needs do we face? I have some desperate needs myself right now, as I’m sure most of you do as well. That is life.


But in that moment on the couch, all three of my cherished daughters came to mind. Just like anyone else, they each have different needs, but they’re things that I can’t give them anymore. When they were little it was so easy to fix a snack when they were hungry, put on a bandaid when they had fallen, and show them how to spell a word or to correctly figure an equation. Now they’re grown women with grown up lives, responsibilities and pressures, and a cheese stick, a bandaid or a well-done math problem can’t help.


My eyes filled with tears and I sensed the Lord speak so compassionately to my heart about my three beloveds: “Julie, bring them here to Me.”

And I pictured Jesus Christ, the mighty One about whom Isaiah prophesied, the Lamb of God that John the Baptist announced, the Messiah that Andrew and John dropped everything to follow, sitting right across from me in my living room. And I pictured Him huge. Full of power and love.


In my mind as I prayed for my daughters, I brought them to Jesus, one by one.

My oldest daughter is 33 years old and 6′ 1″ tall, the mother of three and so creative, yet in my mind’s eye I picked her up like I used to when she was a sleeping toddler, and I brought her to Jesus and laid her in His lap.


“Bring her here to Me.”

And in my mind’s eye I picked up my middle daughter, who is 5′ 10″ tall, 31 years old, the mother of four and so creative, and I carried her to Jesus and laid her in His lap.


“Bring her here to Me. And in my mind’s eye I carried my 28 year-old daughter, who is 5′ 7″ tall, beloved auntie to many and so creative, to my Savior, and placed her carefully on His lap as well.

It was big enough for all three. It was big enough for the whole world — for all of your loved ones, all your problems, and for every single one of you.

Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus and he was never the same. Andrew brought a small bit of bread and fish to Jesus and a multitude of people were well fed.


“Bring them here to Me,”
He still invites.


Sometimes, most times, I don’t know how to pray. But I remember those comforting, commanding words:  “Bring them here to Me.”


And knowing He is there and that nothing is impossible for Jesus, I pick up all those who are precious to me, and one by one I bring them to Him. My husband, my daughters, my sons-in-law, my grandchildren, my friends….


Chances are, in my mind’s eye, I’ve even picked you up and brought you to Jesus.

And until I draw my last breath, this is what I’m going to do.

Everywhere I turn…

June 3, 2010 | My Jottings

Sara has worked in a local upscale flower shop for a few years now, and we are continually reaping the benefits of her knowledge and creativity. She really knows her flowers (and probably your flowers) and she helps Michael in the yard with our various gardens. I’m one of the few Minnesota women who don’t enjoy gardening very much. I love the results of someone else’s hard work, but I’ve never had much of a green thumb.

It seems like whenever Sara stops over, she first grabs a few blooms of whatever happens to be growing outside, then without us even noticing she puts together a few small arrangements and sets them out around the house. I might come downstairs in the morning and see this on the kitchen table:

Our lilacs are in bloom on the west side of the house, so Sara cut a few stems and arranged them with maple and hosta leaves, phlox and a tulip. It brightens everything up! (All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

We used to have a huge aloe vera plant years ago that we used for medicinal purposes. Sunburns and bug bites usually feel better after aloe gel is gently applied to the skin. Today I noticed this new little aloe plant below, in a kitchen window. Sara bought it last night and potted it in a drinking glass as a little gift for Michael. It looks right at home with our Delft pigs, a windmill that plays the Dutch national anthem, two egg cups and a delightful ceramic sculpture Carolyn made of the house we lived in from 1984-2008.

Last night Sara went with Sharon to buy paint for the kitchen in Chris and Sharon’s new house. If you like, you can see a few photos by clicking here.

Their large yard is bordered by huge white lilac bushes, and Sara cut a few of those blooms and leaves, some fern and also coral bells. This morning when I came downstairs to start breakfast and pack lunches, this lovely little arrangement was sitting on the coffee table in the living room:

Last summer some friends gave me a plant I had never heard of. Sara potted it in a black and white vase so it would look nice in our master bath, where we have black and white toile curtains. This is a peperomia plant on the side of the tub, and it’s in full bloom right now:

Aren’t those blooms creepy unusual? Every day a new little white spiky flower with a blood-red stem unfurls. I have really enjoyed this plant, even if its blooms aren’t as typically beautiful as lilacs, roses or irises. Hey, you bloom whatever you can bloom. And this peperomia can only bloom pointy spikes. I think that’s better than not blooming at all.

Everywhere I turn, there are little pockets of nature’s beauty in our home.

Thank you Sara…

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