The Lion In Winter

March 29, 2017 | My Jottings

About six years ago my oldest daughter Sharon wrote a blog post about what it’s like to wait for spring’s arrival in Northeastern Minnesota. She’s no longer dyeing yarn like she was when she wrote regularly on her Yarnista blog, but her posts are still there, and so worth reading.

I read this today and knew I wanted to share it on my own blog, so I’ll put the link below.

For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to go through a Minnesota winter and to watch for spring like you watch for hope itself, you’ll enjoy reading this. For those of you who know all about northern Minnesota winters, this will sound very familiar, and it might make you the tiniest bit proud of where you live. 🙂

Click here to read The Lion in Winter.

Have a great day!

The View From Here

March 25, 2017 | My Jottings

It’s a deeply grey, windy morning. I can see the three tattered flags on my across-the-street neighbor’s backyard flag pole, and they’re crazily whipping and snapping. The top flag is the American stars and stripes, the next one down is the flag of Norway (they are Olsons), and the bottom flag is for our Minnesota Twins baseball team. All three are in shreds from a year of wind and snow and sleet and sun, so I’m guessing he will put new ones up this summer sometime.

What if we all had flag poles in our yards? And we were to choose three flags to fly, to represent our loyalties? I think it would be fun and interesting to see what people choose. My friend Su doesn’t have a flag pole, but she does have a flag bracket (I’m not really sure what they’re called) on her front porch, and she changes out the flags she hangs there. She has lovely seasonal flags, an Irish flag, and I think at least one that has a joyful Christian message. Maybe she’ll chime in here and remind me what her flags say/represent. It gives the front of her lovely house a cheerful, welcoming look to it.

I think I would hang an American flag, a flag with a cardinal on it, and at the top, some kind of flag that marked my home as belonging to Jesus Christ. I don’t think even ten years ago I would have considered that making known my Christian faith on the outside of my home would invite vandalism or retribution of some sort, but as I’m typing this, I realize things have changed, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to expect backlash of some sort from my flag choices.

I certainly didn’t plop down on my bed this morning, open up my laptop and intend to write about flag poles. If you had to fly three flags on your property, which flags would you choose?

This week has been a dark one for me. When suddenly my outlook narrows and all I have is what feels like a forced tunnel vision regarding something particularly difficult going on, I feel paralyzed. Emotionally, spiritually, physically. I was supposed to go to my SAGs dinner this week with my dear friends, but something happened and I couldn’t go. So in pain and fear, I sat like a statue and barely prayed in my mind, “Help us Lord. Help, Jesus.” And those prayers were so faint and feeble they felt like almost nothing at all.

I tried to take my own advice and just give thanks and wait. I failed at the first part, and the second part just happened as I sat in the dark, not interested in anything I’m usually interested in. A murder mystery on TV? Ridiculous. A book? Absurd. Thinking about the pleasure I take in puttering around in and keeping my house, or a walk in the cemetery, or a lunch out? All bleak.

After a couple of days passed, the darkness turned to grey, which was an improvement. I felt like I could wash some rugs, take a bath, make some meals, do my CBS lesson. Today things still feel very tentative, but I am putting one foot in front of the other. And I look forward to sitting down in my bedroom chair to read my Bible and sit with Jesus. I hope He speaks something powerful to me that pertains to this situation, but if He doesn’t, I know He’ll be here with me. That will be enough.

Before the darkness, I took a rare selfie and put it on Instagram. Then I played with a fun app called Prisma that transforms your pictures into works of art. Some of them look like your photo has been made into a watercolor, some are very abstract, some look like comic books, some like pen and ink drawings. I sent a couple of them to daughters, because, ahem, who sends pictures of themselves altered with Prisma to their friends and acquaintances? “Hi Amy! I hope you’re having a great day! Here’s a picture of me with pink hair.” No.

Here are four of the views Prisma made out of the one selfie I took. The one on the bottom right looks like a watercolor painting, I think. I didn’t love the zombie one, so omitted that here. I like these “photos” okay because they hide my double chin a little and my hips don’t show. 🙂

I just finished the book A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin and have never read a book like it. It was 880 pages and I almost abandoned it several times because I didn’t want to read all about war strategies, but right when I couldn’t take another page, something so profound and beautiful would be said that carried me through another fifty pages. Here’s a description of what the book is about:

“As a young man, Alessandro Giuliani foresees Italy’s entry into the Great War and joins the navy rather than waiting to be drafted into the more dangerous infantry. This reasoned and logical course of action has no place in a world gone mad, and Alessandro’s life, loves, friendships and fortunes all take bizarre and often tragic turns. Still, Alessandro is able to find beauty not so much because he is a professor of aesthetics (though he is) but because he is profoundly spiritual. As he nears the end of his life story, Alessandro tells his young companion, “And yet if you asked me what [the truth] was, I can’t tell you. I can tell you only that it overwhelmed me, that all the hard and wonderful things of the world are nothing more than a frame for a spirit, like fire and light, that is the endless roiling of love and grace. I can tell you only that beauty cannot be expressed or explained in a theory or an idea, that it moves by its own law, that it is God’s way of comforting His broken children.”

I don’t align myself with Alessandro’s spirituality 100%, but I do believe beauty is one of the ways God comforts His broken children. I have experienced it again and again, and seem to know this truth more intensely and frequently than I ever have. I used to say “oooh” and “aaah” when I saw glowing red leaves on a maple tree in autumn or Morro Rock on California’s Central Coast, or when I smelled the skin of a newborn or saw the latest photos the Hubble was sending back from space, but now these things make me want to bend at the waist and wail. I almost can’t bear them, in the most wonderful of ways. I feel undone by what I see of God in His creation, and I want to respond to Him but almost have no human way that’s adequate. Wailing comes close.

Today my grandson Mr. McBoy is coming over to help me with a few things. The snow in our yard is gone, so he and I will bond over picking up the evidence of Millie’s well-working digestion. He is already 6′ 3″ and is only 14 years old. He’ll go through the list I have for him, and then I’ll make him lunch and we might talk a bit, I hope. Looking into his face is a surreal experience for me, because out of all my wonderful grandchildren, he looks the most like my side of the family. Looking at him is like being able to see my dad as a boy, is also like seeing a male representation of myself, and it all seems oddly familiar. The faces of children are portals to so much that can’t be articulated.

I have also begun to enjoy the smell of essential oils being diffused in my home. I don’t sell them, but I did sign up for my own account so I could buy them more reasonably. My favorite right now is Idaho Blue Spruce, which makes me think of Michael and the walks we used to take in the woods around our area. He used to pick the end off of a blue spruce branch and inhale the fragrance deeply with a hearty “Aaahhh,” and then reach out and put it under my nose so I could do the same. We thought it was the perfume of heaven come down.

Time to start my day. I hope you have a peaceful weekend and some beauty to gaze upon.

God rest and keep you,

Venturing Forth

March 15, 2017 | My Jottings

Today has been a quiet day at home, the kind I love best. The sun is out, I can hear the hum of the dishwasher in the kitchen, the exquisite smell of Idaho Blue Spruce essential oil is diffusing, and in a little while I’ll pick up Vivie and Audrey from school and give them a ride home. I love those 15 minutes with them on school pickup days, when they tell me the newest cutenesses about their little sister Miriam. Carolyn told me recently that when Miri pets Walter their runty black pug, she croons, “Boogoy Walter, boogoy,” instead of “good boy.” Things like that make my heart fill up.

A couple of weekends ago I took my foster gals and my fifteen year-old granddaughter Clara on a little vacation up the shore of Lake Superior, and we stayed in a log cabin close enough to the lake to toss a rock into it. The winds almost ripped the car doors from their hinges when we got out, so we didn’t do the leisurely strolling and shopping in the little town we thought we might. We visited a few places so the gals could buy souvenirs, had some nice restaurant meals, and enjoyed the wonderful view from the warmth of our weekend home.

I’m not one who likes to buy a lot of souvenirs, but this mug did catch my eye, and I’ve had my tea in it almost every day since then. It has things I love — moose, birch trees, the colors black and white together, and of course, a cardinal. I think it looks like it’s made for my room, don’t you?

The last morning of our weekend away, I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and went out on the deck of the cabin, to sit in the wind and snow flurries, watch the waves pound, and listen to the sounds a human cannot make.

I read my devotional out there, and held very still as I watched two young deer stepping their slow and guarded way over the rocks near the waves on the shore. I have seen many whitetail deer in my 36 years in Minnesota, but I can’t remember seeing any of them so close to crashing lake waves. It was a thrill to watch.

There was a good-sized and well-filled bird feeder attached to the deck railing, and even in the approaching snowstorm, chickadees busily fluttered back and forth from the tall pines to the feeder, and seemed almost tame. I gathered some seed in my hand and held my arm out. One little frequent flyer flew close and then thought better of the idea. If it had been warmer I would have persisted and waited until one landed on me, but even with the blanket I was cold. The flakes were starting to stick and I went back inside. We drove the two hours home slowly as the snow piled up on Highway 61.

Last weekend I had some friends over for dinner. My pastor Rob and his wife Gayle came, and we had homemade Beef Barley Soup. The recipe is truly moanworthy, one I got from my friend Carey years ago, and I tweaked it the tiniest bit. Not everyone likes marjoram and thyme but I do, and I doubled the amounts called for. So aromatic.

I love to set the table when company is coming. I start in the morning as music plays on my little Bose speaker, and add things as the day progresses, getting as much ready as I can so the whole experience will be restful and nurturing rather than stressful in any way. I am not trying to impress anyone anymore. I made the soup the day before, which made it so much better on the day of company.

I don’t own any fancy china, and most of my things are mismatched, but somehow when I put it all together, it makes me happy. It would prompt a decorator roll his/her eyes, but here’s a picture of how things looked about halfway through the day. I still added a few things before Rob and Gayle arrived, but I forgot to take a picture then. You can click these photos to enlarge if you like.

My only dishes are blue and white. The ones you can barely see underneath the soup bowls are from Target, circa early 1980s. The blue and white fruit dishes were a gift from my book club friends years ago, and they bought them on clearance at Pier One. The thick, carved goblets are from The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California, and bring back such wistful childhood memories I could write a book about them. The plaid salad plates are from, of all places, the Pendleton clothing company. The dark blue pitcher was a gift from my friend Laurel, and is by Le Crueset. I have been collecting and receiving wonderful blue and white mugs for years, and the three on the table are from that collection. There’s a blue and white woven, Norwegian table runner in the middle, and some red, blue and black Scottish tartan plaid place mats that were a gift from Sara last year. The adorable cardinal salt and pepper shakers were a surprise from my friend Kristi. I got the cloth napkins from Target years ago. If you look at the far end of the table you can see a candle I received from my friend Pat, and Delft windmills, all sitting in a white serving tray.

None of this matches. Who puts Scottish tartan with Norwegian reindeer? Or fruity plates with plaid? Or gaudy goblets with a coffee mug from the Pannekoeken House in Minneapolis? Or Dutch Delft pottery with Le Crueset? But it’s what I have. It’s all wrapped up in memories and love and generosity, and I want to put it all out when I have the opportunity to do so. Somehow, in my mismatched world, there’s beauty there.

What was more beautiful was having a simple meal around a table with people I care about. Aside from the soup, I served a marinated red cabbage salad, gluten-free French rolls (for Gayle) and gluten-filled French bread (for Rob and me). Carey loves pesto in this soup, so at her suggestion I put out a little bowl of basil and pine-nut pesto, and both Rob and Gayle tried it.

For dessert we had a mishmash of things, which seems appropriate because of the way I set the table. I bought a chocolate mint tart at our Whole Foods Co-op, and cut it up in quarters. It was amazing. Click here to see a variety of the flavors, and their ingredients. I set out some gluten-free crackers and wedges of Brie cheese, and a pile of Marcona almonds. We each had a cup of tea, and lingered at the table as we talked about our families, our faith, and a smattering of other things like colonoscopies, rabbits and weddings. You know, regular table talk.

I’ve shared about food and table decor today, but what’s most important to me is that I welcome people into the home the Lord has given me, and that we connect and enjoy being together. I don’t know if that’s the way Rob and Gayle would sum up the evening they were here for dinner, but it’s the way I would describe it.

For the first two years after Michael’s death I had this intense need to cocoon myself up as much as possible, to experience quiet, rest, time to think deeply, for intentional thanksgiving, and to heal. I still feel like I need all of that, but I want to break out a little more these days, to love and enjoy the people God has put in my life.

Would you like to come for dinner sometime? I would love to have you.

An Ocular Arc and the ER

March 4, 2017 | My Jottings

I think that sounds like a tongue twister, don’t you? Instead of “She sells seashells down by the seashore,” or “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” we could add “An Ocular Arc and the ER,” to our tongue-twisting repertoire. No, not really. That would be silly, because “An Ocular Arc and the ER” are not that hard to say.

Before I talk about the ocular arc I want to mention something a whole lot more fun. Last night one of my grandchildren spent the night. Miss Louiser was apparently so excited when I texted her mama to see if Friday happened to be open on her calendar. It’s so nice when a grandchild loves you so much she can hardly contain herself! I feel the same way about my grands, but some of them are teenagers now, and as my friend Sue mentioned to me the other day, we grandmothers are about as interesting and important as lamps to our teenaged grands now. Sigh.

I picked up Weezer from preschool yesterday around 2:45, and she was so happy when I peeked through the classroom door at her, she started jumping up and down and squealing. After we gathered her things we walked down the outside steps of the school, down the sidewalk to Grandma’s blue car. I strapped her in the back seat and she chattered happily at me the whole three miles home.

She asks for snacks every thirty minutes or so, and here’s a list of what she had while she was here:

*Babybel cheese
*Peanuts and raisins in a little custard cup (did you know you can squish a raisin between two peanut halves and it looks like a hamburger for a Barbie doll? My grandkids have done this for years.)
*One half of an orange
*One carrot stick
*Three apple slices

Then for dinner we tried a new Papa Murphy’s about a block from my house. You walk in, order your pizza, they make it immediately and wrap it up, and you bring it home and bake it yourself. It’s not like you all didn’t know about places like this before, but it’s the first time we’ve been there. So I thought it was semi-newsworthy. (Pause and feel sorry for me here.) We liked the pizza all right, and then Auntie Sara brought home a Red Box movie, Pete’s Dragon, which made me cry. I would so have a pet dragon if I could. I wouldn’t want a mean dragon like Tolkien’s Smaug, but a humble dragon like Elliot would be welcome in my home if he took me on regular flights out across Lake Superior. Please watch this very brief clip and tell me if you would do this if given the opportunity.

Louiser loves to take a tubby at my house. Bubbles galore, water that comes out of the ceiling instead of a regular spigot, bath toys, and some warm snuggles with books afterward always make her happy. Her hair needed a trim and Mama said I could even things up a little, so I cut about an inch from the ends and shortened her bangs a bit while she sat quietly. Then she requested a French braid, which I gladly did.

By the time the movie was over, our little four-year old was almost nodding off in the plaid wing back chair, so we decided to brush our teeth and get ready for bed, even though it wasn’t even 7:30 yet. In less than fifteen minutes this happened:

I picked up a little after I made sure she was sound asleep, then let Millie the Schnauzer out for the last time. I read a while and then after I turned off the lamp on my nightstand, I listened to Weezer’s breathing, which is so precious. Breath is precious in a precious life, isn’t it?

Around 1:45 a.m. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep for almost two hours. Gah. I am not a fan of that kind of night. I listened to some music on my iPhone, turned down low so as not to disturb Louiser, and when I heard my alarm go off at 7:00 it seemed like I had just shut my eyes. Little Miss slept pretty well, except for one time in the night when she turned over with the teensiest little whine and said clearly, “Nevermind!”

Today she asked for a fried egg for breakfast, and all the snack requests commenced after that, but they were all healthy ones so I just handed them out every hour or so. She wanted to watch a couple Saturday morning cartoons and explained to me that the flying lions on Elena of Avalor were not called flying lions, but Jackwins. At least that’s how I heard it. I later looked it up out of curiosity and saw that the creatures are called Jaquins; children’s programming has changed considerably since I was Louiser’s age. I watched Felix the Cat, Mighty Mouse and later, The Archies. Do any of you remember those shows?

Around noon, Mama and big sister Mrs. Nisky came to pick up Mrs. Baby. That’s another nickname Weezer has had since birth. And often her family shortens that one to just Mrs., which she happily answer to. Sara cleaned the kitchen, I did a little foster paperwork, and then I decided to move the furniture in my bedroom around. It was time for a little change, and I always enjoy the fresh, new feel a room takes on with a bit of rearranging.

We put sliders under the big mahogany dresser and that was easy. Then I decided to move the king-size bed by myself, and I realized three things immediately: 1. I am weak, 2. My carpet is thick, and 3. I can grunt very loud. I had to move it a couple of inches at a time, and finally Sara must have heard my vocal commotion so she came in and helped me finish. We moved the chairs, nightstands and lamps, and I sat down to rest and look around with a pleased expression on my face, when all of a sudden something got my attention.

On the left periphery of my left eye, I saw an arc of multi-colored, flashing bright lights. It was as if a miniscule mirror was broken, and tiny triangular shards were arranged around a half circle in my field of vision. I saw the arc, the kaleidoscope of blue and pink and silver flashes, and very pointed and geometric shapes clinging to the arc.

It looked sort of like this, but mine was more colorful, and the triangles were smaller:

No matter where I looked, the flashing arc was there, and I thought to myself, weeelllll, THIS can’t be good, so I googled something like “flashing arc with triangles in eye,” and saw several sites that said I should see my ophthalmologist without delay. I knew Dr. Treacy’s office would be closed on a Saturday, but called for the answering service, and the doctor on call telephoned within five minutes. Since this happened right after I had physically exerted myself moving my bed, I felt sure I had done something bad to the retina. I was already mentally calculating how things would be taken care of at home with my foster gals while I was having eye surgery.

But the ophthalmologist felt certain that what I was describing to her was an ocular migraine. I had never heard of an ocular migraine and I doubted her right away since I have never had a migraine in my life, and I had just moved furniture. She was very matter of fact and said to rest a bit and she would call me back in 25 minutes to see if there was any change. When I talked to my daughter Sharon, she had just read of a case like this on Facebook, and the delay had been a bad thing for the patient. The ER folks told him he should have come in immediately. With that information, I decided to go to the Emergency Room, and Sharon offered to drive me. I am legally blind in my right eye, corrected to 20/40 with glasses. This ominous arc was in my good left eye. I didn’t want to take any chances.

So to bypass all the things like registration, sitting and waiting, vitals being taken, and seeing a doctor, the verdict was that he also believed I was having an ocular migraine. Since I didn’t have a dark curtain come down in my vision, or splatters of floaters, he didn’t believe it was a retinal detachment. But since the ER didn’t have the right equipment to examine my eyes, I will make an appointment with my ophthalmologist first thing on Monday morning. While I was at the hospital the flashing arc with the mirror-like triangle shards resolved itself, and I felt okay about going home. Sharon dropped me off, and I decided to rest for a couple of hours.

Here was my view as I began this blog post, and the new way my room is arranged:

The picture is distorted since I was using the panoramic feature of my iPhone and my hand wasn’t steady, but it’s good enough. Millie is at the left, worn out by the bath Sara gave her this morning.

I’m so grateful my vision seems to be okay now! I’m grateful for medical insurance. And for my time with Louiser… her hugs and giggles and sweetness. I will try not to think about how lamp-like I will be to her in less than a decade. That will be terrible.

I’m also giving thanks that even though I still have no idea what I’ll be speaking on, I know by the time March 14th rolls around, the Lord will have helped me write the opening I’ll be doing at Community Bible Study. I have been praying, taking notes, trying to discern what the Holy Spirit might want to say to the beautiful women in our class, and so far, I’m in the dark. It seems like this is the pattern every single time I’m ever asked to share, and I don’t get why it works this way. I’m thanking Him in advance for His faithfulness, and trying to learn to rest while feeling so uncertain.

Well, it’s time for bed. I’ll bet your Saturday night was a bit more lively than mine. After my post-ER rest, I made dinner, watched part of the Lawrence Welk Show, took a bath, brushed my teeth, and cleaned my Invisalign trays.

I’m glad you stopped in… God’s peace to you all,

Homesick

March 1, 2017 | My Jottings

I will have ashes on my forehead tonight for the first time in my life. I am looking forward to my first Ash Wednesday service. I have observed Lent before, but not in the way I’m anticipating this year. I will share more about this soon, but for today, I wanted to share this wonderful quote with you:

“Lent begins with this realization. That we are people in exile. That we are wandering far from our true home. And thus, the beginning of repentance isn’t merely the terror one finds in wandering in a strange land; the beginning of repentance is homesickness. Lent teaches us to admit to how often we have settled down in the land of our exile as though it were our true home; attempting to still the yearning the Spirit has created by throwing at it physical or psychological pleasure, and how it never works.”

~Will Weedon

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