Scripture for a New Year
December 31, 2010 | My Jottings
Winter acclimation to the extreme
December 30, 2010 | My Jottings
When I moved to northeastern Minnesota in 1981, I was rather excited about finally living in a place with four distinct seasons. My early winter memories are of sunny days in Southern California with temperatures mostly in the sixties, riding my bike or skateboard, swimming as often as possible, and never knowing the feel of a snowflake on my eyelashes. If it snowed in the mountains two hours away, sometimes we were fortunate enough to drive there and play in the snow for a few hours. Before I married Michael I had never experienced subzero weather or a blizzard or icicles hanging from the roof. Now these are a part of our life for a good portion of the year.
The first winter I spent in Minnesota was a record breaker. I have kept the local newspaper’s front page all these years to commemorate my initiation to American Siberia. There was snowstorm after snowstorm and record breaking wind-chills. I remember calling my mom (who lived in Morro Bay, CA) and reporting that the wind-chill temps were 60 to 70 below zero, and the drifts were piling up so high outside I inwardly questioned my decision to move here. She was deeply concerned, wondering how the house could possibly stay warm, whether or not we had to walk around wrapped in blankets, how life in general was carried out in those conditions.
After six months of snow and cold, little signs of spring began to appear, and never had they been more welcome. Six-foot high drifts in our yard melted away to scattered snowy patches with grass showing through. The days grew longer. The house wasn’t so drafty and the car didn’t groan when we started it. I remember going outside with my heavy coat, mittens and hat on, and realizing with a rush of relief that it was too warm to be dressed that way anymore. I was overdressed! Spring had arrived, and we could pack away our winter outerwear as real Minnesotans do, and get outside and start frisking like spring lambs.
Since this was the first spring after my first harsh winter, I had not yet become weather obsessed, as I now am and as all Minnesotans are. Back then I didn’t compulsively check the weather report or put a thermometer up outside the kitchen window so we could plan our day according to what the temperature was and how we should dress.
One fine May morning after I saw Michael off to work, I went outside in the sunshine and it was so warm and inviting I decided to take the girls downtown to walk around and maybe to the park to play. I hadn’t yet lived here a year and I wanted to explore my new town. Sharon was five, Carolyn was three, and Sara was about six weeks old. I put the girls in summery clothes – tee shirts, lightweight pants, and tennies. Since Sara was still a baby she was bundled up in a sleeper and a blanket. I donned a favorite old sleeveless denim shift and a pair of sandals. I don’t have the dress anymore, but it was very similar to this, only a darker color of denim.
We piled into our station wagon, drove downtown, and happily sauntered around, looking in shop windows, and enjoying the fresh and warm air of spring after such a long, harsh Minnesota winter. The girls were chipper and skipped along the sidewalk, looking forward to the ice cream cones I had promised later on in the day. Baby Sara was quiet and content in the stroller, and I was thinking how invigorating being outside felt, and how marvelous it was to live in a place where the seasons dramatically change.
After a while I started noticing that people who passed us on the busy sidewalks downtown seemed to be looking at us for longer periods of time than was polite. I wondered if they had never seen a young woman walking with her children before!
As the girls and I paused on a corner and waited for the light to turn green so we could cross the main street, I happened to glance up at the bank building in front of us and noticed that it had an outside lit up thermometer with the current temperature displayed. I stared, and possibly dropped my jaw when I saw that we were strolling around like beach bums when it was 26 degrees (or minus 3 Celsius) outside. Yet we weren’t shivering and we honestly didn’t feel chilled or uncomfortable in the least.
I did an about-face and quickly herded my little girls down the street and back into the car. We did not stop for ice cream cones on the way home. Once back inside our little house we all changed into more appropriate attire, and when Michael came home from work that night I couldn’t wait to tell him what had happened. I had heard him use the phrase, “It’s tee-shirt weather!” and now I understood. He was quite amused, and to this day we still mention it when spring arrives, and grin at each other.
To this day, after a long, bitter winter, it’s not at all unusual to go outside in the spring and feel that a tee-shirt is sufficiently warm attire, even on days when it’s barely in the thirties.
I think it’s called acclimation. And I guess I would call that little downtown stroll we took in the spring of 1982, winter acclimation to the extreme.
Wednesday’s Word-Edition 52
December 29, 2010 | My Jottings
“Coming before God in quietness and waiting upon Him in silence often can accomplish more than days of feverish activity.”
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What the world needs now…
December 28, 2010 | My Jottings
….is, apparently, chicken diapers.
My daughter was telling me about an article in Entrepreneur magazine about a new business that has taken off. It’s a small but up-and-coming company that sells diapers for chickens. Because keeping chickens as house pets is, by all accounts, a new and fast-growing trend.
If you look at the chicken diaper site, you can see touching photographs of people cuddling with their chickens on the couch, and small children snuggling with chickens while napping.
I mentioned this new fast-selling product to Carolyn and the look on her face was priceless. “Chicken diapers?” she asked dryly, in a tone that said youhavegottobekiddingme. We tried to imagine adding the chore of changing and washing chicken diapers to our daily list of things to do, and neither one of us could picture ourselves at the task.
I am making slow but determined efforts to simplify my life. I can state with a fair amount of certainty that diaper-wearing chickens will not be permitted to fowl up my plans.
O Holy Night
December 27, 2010 | My Jottings
I hope your Christmas was a day you’ll long remember for the joy it brought to your heart. Our Christmas was very blessed, with a houseful of family (seven grandchildren!), a table full of food, too many presents, flowers in every room, two feet of snow on the ground, and for me, the constant comfort and hope that Christ brings.
On Christmas Eve Michael and I went to the candlelight service at our church. Later, Sharon and Carolyn cooked and served a simple, delicious meal at our house. We had roast beef and mushrooms in a delectable wine sauce, roasted cauliflower, and Caesar salad with Carolyn’s amazing homemade dressing and Sharon’s homemade sourdough croutons.
We sat all crowded around in the living room, and each person picked a favorite Christmas carol to sing. The children’s choices included “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” and some of the adult’s choices included “White Christmas,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy to the World,” and my personal favorite, “O Holy Night.”
Then we sat while Carolyn read the Christmas story to us from this book, which is our favorite children’s Bible. It took me a while to grow accustomed to the cartoonish illustrations, but the text is so marvelous the book is worth buying for that reason. The subtitle is “Every Story Whispers His Name,” and the book highlights how even the Old Testament stories point ahead to the arrival of Jesus Christ.
When grandchildren spend the night, they invariably grab this book to page through for the hundredth time when it’s bedtime. Most of them have heard me read through the whole book, but still want to read it again and again. If you have a young person in your life, this would make a wonderful gift.
Everyone eventually went home to their own houses, and we knew to expect them all early on Christmas morning. Both Sharon and Carolyn’s families brought their own gifts over to open here, and then we enjoyed a bountiful brunch with a ham and cheese casserole, baked French toast, wild rice porridge, fruit salad, smoked salmon and Gruyere on hazelnut crackers, and more. (I have commenced to waddling and it has got to stop.)
I took photos of all the floral arrangements Sara created and placed around our house. I also took some pictures of the children opening gifts on Christmas morning, but for some reason almost all of those turned out a bit blurry.
This is the east side of our table centerpiece. Sara used roses, pine boughs, rose hips, bok choy, pomegranates, delphinium, thistle, pears, and curly willow.
Here’s the west side of the same arrangement:
This year Sara also bought little kumquats and cranberries, and put them here and there for color and interest.
This is the downstairs bathroom:
A cheerful little gathering on the kitchen window sill above the sink:
A rose, some eucalyptus, curly willow, kale and kumquats in the den:
In the living room:
And a trio of berries and pine on the mantel:
Here is one of just a couple of photos that turned out of some of our grandchildren (and three daughters). We usually give our grans two gifts each on Christmas, in an effort to not make it “all about the presents.” But when every other person gives them at least two gifts each, then the result looks something like this:
And here’s a photo of our house in the snow:
Uh, maybe not. I can dream, can’t I? Actually, I would never want to live in a huge Scottish manor like this, but I would certainly love to spend a Christmas or two in a cottage in the Scottish Highlands, just over the hill from this place.
And here is the bird that visited us at Christmas time, a thoughtful gift from my friend Carey. I pretended that this cheerful fellow was right outside our kitchen window.
Have you ever sung or read all the words to “O Holy Night”? I always cry when I hear this song. No other song says for me what Christmas is all about. I think of how long my life was in sin and error pining, and how when He appears day in and day out and I pay attention, my soul feels its worth.
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend!
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
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May a thrill of hope cause our weary souls to rejoice!
God Is With Us
December 25, 2010 | My Jottings
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:9-11
A Light Has Dawned
December 23, 2010 | My Jottings
My friend Ginny came over last week to have tea with me, and we sat by the tree and chatted. One of the things Ginny does best is ask questions of her friends. She is truly interested in the small details of her friends’ lives, and I love that about her. Before she left she said, “Tell me the story behind five of your ornaments.” She’s a woman after my own heart. Do you ask thoughtful questions of your friends, and then listen with your ears and your heart simultaneously? It’s a rare gift.
So I thought I’d share a few photos of some simple ornaments on our living room tree, before I wish you all a merry Christmas. All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them if you like.
Below is a thin, bendable, copper mold of a real maple leaf. It’s a keepsake from a cruise Michael and I took to Alaska some years ago. When I see it I’m reminded of how breathtaking the Inside Passage was. I remember gasping as we saw breaching whales, marveling at the massive calving glaciers and the milky, turquoise glacial lakes, and pondering the word majesty as we gazed at the towering, snowy mountains.
This little beaded candle below was made by my friend Carey’s daughter. I hang it each year and remember how long we’ve known each other. When we met we were young women; now we are mothers to young women.
The little sled below was a gift from my beloved friend Sue. It used to hang in the middle of a grapevine wreath that we hung on the wall for years at Christmas time. Once the wreath fell apart, the sled became an ornament.
Below, the red sled is made out of popsicle sticks, and my friend Lynne made one of these for each of my daughters when they were little. The golden banana above the sled is an ornament from my childhood, at least 50-60 years old. (I am 53). We had several pieces of fruit we hung on our tree in California, and four survive — two bananas, an orange and a green pear. When I put these on our tree each year I’m transported right back to my house on Eckerman Avenue, how much I loved Christmas and dreamed of snow, how I used to turn on the tree lights and sit alone on the couch to enjoy them, and how much I yearned for my family to be happy forever. Decades later, I still yearn for that.
I bought the little Schnauzer ornament this year at Target — just couldn’t resist. It looks just like Mildred, and it makes me smile. Target also had a coppery colored dachshund and I gave it to my sweet friend Kay because she has two little wiener-dogs. She named her ornament Jerry.
This ornament below has a Christmas photo of the girls when they were 6 1/2 (Sharon), almost 5 (Carolyn), and eighteen months (Sara). Oh, the memories this brings back to me…..
Here’s a photo of the remaining pear ornament from my childhood tree:
Years ago I used to put cloves in oranges at Christmas time and set them in bowls around the house. Sara remembered that and wanted to do it this year. These sit in our living room and smell fantastic.
See the tray? I won it! I love www.theinspiredroom.net, entered one of Melissa’s giveaways, and actually won. The painted words on this lovely tray say, “Simple joy…unending hope…wonderful grace…authentic peace…unfathomable love.”
I love all the little doodads we have on the tree that speak of Minnesota, like this knitted hat and our state bird, the Common Loon:
I’ve always loved green, and these simple green stars have been a favorite on our tree since Michael and I were married almost thirty years ago. The fascinating story behind this ornament is: liked it, bought it, still oooh and aaah over it.
I often wonder why lights in the darkness are so attractive to us. Why do we bundle up our children on cold nights to drive through residential neighborhoods so we can see the tiny lights people adorn their houses and trees with? Why do we say “Ooooooh! Look at those lights!” and “Wow….I love the lights framing their window — look at that!” Why do we sit in the dark and look so long at candles and hearth fires and twinkling tree lights? Why are the stars in the sky so mesmerizing? I think there’s more to it than “just because they’re pretty.” I think there’s something built into each one of us that recognizes how amazing it is when light pierces the darkness.
And each of us has darkness. We have dark thoughts, dark pasts, dark circumstances.
But a Light has dawned…..
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our family wishes you and yours peace, hope, joy, love and light.
December 21, 2010 | My Jottings
It was snowing heavily when I put my book (The Wee Mad Road) down and turned off the light last night. I knew when I woke up at 5:15 this morning that we’d gotten a lot of snow overnight, because of the quiet. Even the sound of the wind against the house and landscape has a muffled sound to it because of the thick layer of new fallen snow.
I put on my white terry cloth robe, my Sorel slippers, stuffed a Kleenex in my pocket (winter allergies) and went quietly downstairs to click up the heat, make my Cappuccino Cooler, and check online to see if schools had closed. They had.
This will be the first Christmas since Chris and Sharon moved back to Minnesota. They have visited at Christmas before, and we have traveled to see them in Maryland for Christmas, but now they live a mile and a half from us, which is such a blessing. I don’t thank Chris and Sharon enough for making the sacrifices they have for being closer to family.
The other night Chris and Sharon went to see our local community playhouse’s holiday musical White Christmas and their three little ones came here. We played Farkle and read books and ate sliced pears and almonds for a snack. The older two, Mr. McBoy and Mrs. Nisky, spent the night on a pallet on the floor of our bedroom. Since Lil’ Gleegirl, whose new nickname is Moo, was getting over a virus, she fell asleep in bed beside me, but Mama came to get her after the play. Moo slept through being carried out of bed, down the stairs, into her winter coat, out to the car, strapped into the car seat, the drive home, being taken out of her car seat, carried into the house, up the stairs, coat removed, and tucked into bed. We have a guest room and at first Mr. McBoy and Mrs. Nisky said they wanted to sleep there, but when bedtime arrived they both asked if they could be on the pallets of pillows and blankets in our room again. Sharon told Chris that their three little ones are going to have good memories of going to Grandpa and Grandma’s big house with many beds to choose from, and sleeping on the floor.
My three daughters have put their heads together and planned our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menu. Sara wanted it to be really nice and really casual at the same time, with a proper menu. Everyone will bring something for Christmas brunch, and I am to make a calligraphied menu to announce what will be served, even though what will be served will be right there on the table. So far, this is what is planned:
Carolyn’s Egg and Bacon Casserole
Sharon’s Baked French Toast
Michael’s Smoked Salmon and Trout
Sara’s Wild Rice Maple and Nut Porridge
Carolyn’s Vinaigrette-tossed Field Greens
Julie’s Fruit Salad with Pomegranate and Rosemary Dressing
Sharon’s 1930s Coffee Cake
Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
We will watch the little ones open their presents and we’ll sing carols together, which is one of my favorite things to do. Listening to the smallest children sing loud with no self-consciousness is a joy. Last year, Vivienne had just turned four, and she sang her own spontaneous song as she sat on her mama’s lap after we opened presents. She lifted her chin and closed her eyes and sang out her own version of a Christmas carol: “Oh, you’ve got to price de Low-ud, because you’ve just got to price de Low-ud, and we should all price de Low-ud…” and she sang it out for a long time, her own joyful noise. That was one of the highlights of my life. I sensed the Lord whisper to my heart as Vivie sang, “And you also need to praise me….every day, no matter what.”
Well, the Schnauzer Stampede just came down the stairs. I fed Edith and Mildred and let them outside, but they were shocked at the depth of the snow, which is higher than their backs. Millie hopped around like a rabbit, throwing up puffs of snow in the dark, finally settling on a place to go. But persnickety Edith wouldn’t venture out into the drifts and stood trembling pathetically by the door. So I went outside and shoveled a path for them in the back yard, and Edith finally went.
As I stood there in the dark I could feel the snow hitting my face and neck, and I saw movement in the woods across the creek. I could barely make out the dark forms of two deer bedded down in the snow, one lifting her head to watch us and make sure they were still safe enough to stay put. I went outside later when it was light to take a picture — you might be able to see them if you click the photo to enlarge it.
Beryl Singleton Bissell, author of a book I love called The Scent of God, lives up the north shore of Lake Superior, about an hour north of us, where beauty and wildlife abound. She wrote recently about living in that beautiful solitude, “It’s a perfect place for a monastery, here where God’s bounty is so clearly visible. Contemplative living should flow naturally in such a place, one would think, yet perfect places do not guarantee perfect lives. Always we lug ourselves around, not seeing clearly, not listening closely, always dependent on God’s love to rekindle the fires of yearning within us. Advent approaches, reminding us that the Incarnation was willed through eternity as an expression of God’s love for us.”
Oh, how I identify with that. It seems like I am lugging myself around these days, blurry spiritual vision and stopped up ears. I am truly dependent on God’s love to rekindle the flames that have died down, barely embers now.
Christmas reminds me that He loves me, came down to earth for me, and does for me those things that I cannot do for myself. Which these days, is almost everything. But I can still, of my own free will and privilege, price de Low-ud.
And that I do today.
Know that the LORD is God. It is He who made us, and we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:3-5
Now all we need is a fire
December 20, 2010 | My Jottings
I have always loved a good fire in the fireplace. In my childhood home in Southern California, we had a fireplace in the living room, but my mother didn’t like using it. Granted, we rarely needed a fire in the hearth since our weather was almost always warm, but on those infrequent rainy days I always asked if we could build a fire. She usually said no, because the ashes and the wood chips were just too much for Mom to deal with. She relented on Christmas, though. Almost every Christmas morning, even though it was often 70 degrees outside, we burned our Christmas wrapping paper in the fireplace and I would kneel by the blaze and watch, happy and contented.
It’s one of the reasons I love living in Minnesota, even though sometimes the bitter cold gets to me. I love snow and the smell of woodsmoke in the air, and I love a good fire to warm our feet by. In the house we lived in for 24 years, we used our gas fireplace a lot. Unfortunately, building a roaring wood fire in a large open fireplace when it’s below zero outside, really serves to make a room ultimately colder. Most people who live in cold climes know that a blaze in the firebox can create a powerful draw, sucking the warm air out of the room and up the chimney. I think that’s why many people here opt for wood stoves or gas inserts in their fireplaces.
Anyway, we have two fireplaces in our house, and both are closed at the damper and capped off at the top of the chimney — isn’t that just a little bit sad? We had plans years ago to have gas inserts installed in both fireplaces, but now we’ve put those plans on the back burner (ha) and probably won’t do that since we plan to move next year, if possible. But we still love our fireplaces, even if we don’t literally warm our feet by them.
When we first looked at this house, we knew it needed a lot of work to make it something that would suit our family and business needs, and when I saw the fireplace in the living room, I thought it called for something more.
Here’s a photo of the fireplace (and our friend Danny) on a day we toured the house, still unsure about whether we would buy it:
See how there was no mantel or surround around the fireplace? There was just a simple little shelf, and I thought the beautiful carving on the fireplace called for something more grand than a shelf. We also had the glass-shelved bookcase to the right of the fireplace removed, to make the corner of the living room someplace we could put a comfy chair. You may also notice the bumps on the walls, which I called Bubble-wrap for Giants — we had the whole room replastered so these bumps would not drive me to distraction. The house was built in 1925, and apparently this was a plastering technique very in vogue back then.
Here’s a photo of the fireplace after we had lived here several months:
It was rather plain-looking, but the huge bumps were gone and the bookcase to the right had been filled in, making room for an overstuffed chair in which to read.
I kept trying to find a simple fireplace surround that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, but ours would require special measurements, because the wall to the left of the fireplace is narrow and borders a window seat. Most large fireplace surrounds I found had vertical pillars that were too wide.
I forgot about it for a couple of years, and then when we made the decision to move sooner than we had originally planned, I knew the living room would need a fireplace surround. It’s the focal point of the room, and needs a more substantial visual anchor. A few months ago I found a surround online that seemed like it would fit perfectly and was about a third of the cost I had anticipated, so I sent for it.
Here is how it looked right after it was installed:
We hadn’t hung anything above it yet, and just started experimenting with what we’d put on the mantel shelf, but already I loved the look better than the little brown shelf that had topped the fireplace before.
Here’s how it looks today:
The surround is only primed right now, and after the holidays I plan to paint it a creamy white. I also have a pretty wooden applique I will affix to the horizontal part before I paint, hopefully giving it an older look.
Michael and I sat on the couch together last night and enjoyed some softly playing Christmas carols and the comforting glow of the tree lights. We both like how the fireplace surround turned out. But I couldn’t help but think how nice it would have been to have a real fire in the hearth.
One can enjoy a wood fire worthily only when he warms his thoughts by it as well as his hands and feet.
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We are under another winter storm warning today, with up to seven inches of snow predicted. All we need now is a fire.
A House Blessing
December 18, 2010 | My Jottings
May God give a blessing to this house.
God bless this house from roof to floor,
from wall to wall,
from end to end,
from its foundation and in its covering.
In the strong name of the triune God,
all disturbance cease,
captive spirits freed,
God’s Spirit alone
dwell within these walls.
We call upon the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
to save, shield, and surround
this house, this home,
this day, this night,
and every night.
* * * * * * *
I read this prayer last night and something inside of me leaped up and shouted “Yes! Yes! For my home, for my family, for my neighbors, for my friends, for this city, for this country, for the world…yes!”
So today I share these simple but powerful words and pray them for my home, for the homes of those I love, for your home and for the homes of your loved ones.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
God bless your home…