November 28, 2015 | My Jottings

This morning I got up before the sun to let Edith and Millie out, and since it’s cold enough to form a layer of ice on area lakes now, of course I clicked up the heat first thing. After tidying up a bit I drove to the store to pick up a few groceries, and was going to see a movie too, but I decided against it at the last minute. I just wanted to come home.

First I drove to the cemetery, though. I was surprised to see that one of the large ponds has been drained, and the other one has frozen over enough for two grown men to be skating around on its glass-like and precarious looking surface, pushing a hockey puck around in front of their curved sticks.

I drove up the hill to Michael’s grave, and while there’s no snow on the ground yet, the blades of glass were glittering in their frostiness. I didn’t get out this time, but instead turned off the car and looked out across the beautiful view, and played this song from my new Sara Groves CD. I thought I would share it with you here. The lyrics follow the video.


Late nights, long hours
Questions are drawn like a thin red line
No comfort left over
No safe harbor in sight

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see

In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow

Upstairs a child is sleeping
What a light in our strain and stress
We pray without speaking
Lord help us wait in kindness

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see

In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow

(Words and music by Sara Groves, Sarah Masen and Julie Lee)

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I love this song, and have played it numerous times today, hoping its truths will buoy up my downward-prone thoughts. The words, “In these patches of joy, these stretches of sorrow, there’s enough for today, there will be enough tomorrow” helped my soul today.

Indeed, life does seem like the times of sorrow can be long stretches, and the times of joy more like small patches. Reading that someone else experiences life in this way too, is a comfort. And I sensed God’s nudge, reassuring me: “There’s enough for today, there will be enough tomorrow.”

I sat listening to these words and cried as I looked at Michael’s headstone and felt again how final death is. On this earth at least.

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After a few minutes I started my car and slowly drove away, down the hill and around on the road that skirts the woods, toward the pond and the ice skaters, past the few straggling ducks and geese huddling together in the tiny part of the drained pond that hasn’t completely frozen yet. As Sara Groves sang, “There’s honey in the rock, there’s more than we see,” I wiped my tears on my coat sleeve and whispered my thanks to God.

“But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”  Psalm 81:16

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 122

November 25, 2015 | My Jottings

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“But what if the great secret insider-trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life? Is that good news, bad news, or both?

The good news is that if you don’t seal up your heart with caulking compound, and instead stay permeable, people stay alive inside you, and maybe outside you, too, forever.

This is also the bad news, not because your heart will continue to hurt forever, but because grief is so frowned upon, so hard for even intimate bystanders to witness, that you will think you must be crazy for not getting over it. You think it’s best to keep this a secret, even if it cuts you off from certain aspects of life, like, say, the truth of your heart, and all that is real.

The pain does grow less acute, but the insidious palace lie that we will ever get over crushing losses means that our emotional GPS can never find true north, as it is based on maps that no longer mention the most important places we have been to.

Pretending that things are nicely boxed up and put away robs us of great riches.”

From “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair” by Anne Lamott

No humbugging allowed

November 20, 2015 | My Jottings

I got up the other morning around 5:50, and Sara (who is recovering from jet lag after her month-long trip to Ireland, Scotland and England), had put up the Christmas tree, had carols playing on the stereo, had festooned our dining room mantel with ribbon and holly and stockings, and was generally jump-starting us into the Christmas spirit. I usually consider it early if our tree is put up the day after Thanksgiving. We’ve never had our tree up before Thanksgiving. I think my children are trying to prevent me from becoming Mrs. Scrooge, so I’m trying to cooperate. I am firm in my resolve to not utter the words bah or humbug this year.

I’ll post more photos in the next weeks, but here are a few today. You can click to enlarge if you like:




Two cherished gifts are on our couch — the cardinal pillow from Peggy, and the quilt from Helen. I. Love. Them.


And of course Mendelssohn the moose is doing his part to bring a smile.


And here’s a picture of our parakeet Phoebe, who is almost five months old now. We can’t get over how much we love her. She chatters and peeps and plays with her toys, and eyes us warily if we try to get her to eat a millet spray from our hands.


I see many parakeets online who sit on their owner’s shoulder or hand and I’ve tried all the tricks recommended, but Phoebe isn’t buying it yet.

Maybe the Christmas decorations will put her in the mood.

A Saturday Hodgepodge

November 14, 2015 | My Jottings

I’m taking it easy in our brown leather living room recliner this evening, with the television tuned to America’s Test Kitchen on PBS, and our aging Schnauzers Edith and Millie nearby. I’m a bit tired and sore from Rug Doctoring my living room carpet today. In my younger years I used to steam clean our carpets every other year, but it’s been 3 1/2 years since this carpet has been done. It needed cleaning badly. We don’t wear shoes or even dirty socks on the carpet, and we have one of those ridiculously expensive and powerful vacuums, yet the dirty water in the Rug Doctor container was almost black when I finished.

I took a few Ibuprofen for my complaining joints, soaked in the tub while listening to the relaxing hymns station on Pandora, and then made myself a cup of tea to sip while the sun goes down and the shadows on the front deck lengthen.

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For dinner tonight we’ll have a wonderful Chicken Curry Stew, made with Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, peas, coconut milk, and other delicious ingredients, served over basmati rice, and I like mine sprinkled with a few cashew pieces, raisins, and a handful of fresh chopped cilantro.

I read a great book yesterday, called Newlyweds Afloat by a fabulous local writer named Felicia Schneiderhan. Felicia and her husband Mark spent their first two years of marriage living on a trawler in Chicago. Her memoir of their meeting, romance, adventures on his boat Mazurka, and eventual move to Northern Minnesota was wonderfully written and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.

I also just finished Susan Branch’s newest book called The Fairy Tale Girl, and it was a visual feast and so enjoyable to read.

I have about six other books on my nightstand and am not sure which one will be opened next; should I finish Elisabeth Elliot’s book on discipline and surrender? I could use some of both. Should I read the book about visiting Ireland as a “creaky traveler” who is mobile but not agile? That’s appropriate too. Or I could finish Beth Moore’s new book entitled Audacious, which I had to set aside because it made me sob and sob.

My youngest daughter Sara has been gone a month, traveling solo through Ireland, England and Scotland, and she returns tomorrow night. She basically took the trip of my dreams and I’m excited to have her home again so she can tell me about everything and cause my internal yearn-o-meter to spike to new highs.

A couple of Netflix movies I’ve seen recently are The Drop Box and the new documentary about Glen Campbell called I’ll Be Me. I recommend both.

I’ve been asked to do an opening at Community Bible Study next month so I’m working on that a bit. The opening is 10-12 minutes of one person’s sharing, right before we go to discuss our lessons in our Core Groups. I know what I’ll be speaking on, but as always happens, the closer I get to the time to speak, the more oatmealish my brain becomes. I hate that phenomenon in my life. I am happy to be asked to share, feel grateful for direction from God on what my topic will be, and then soon things get dark and thick and blurry, like I’m navigating through porridge. It makes me second guess myself each time, but I just pray, cry, prepare, and go.

Speaking of second guessing, Sara Groves has a new CD out called “Floodplain” and it’s on repeat in my car stereo. I love it already. Her song “Second Guess Girl” is one of my favorites, and if you like, you can listen to it here. I love Sara Groves’ humility and transparency. She shares in liner notes and in clips online about how she’s been paralyzed by anxiety and depression these past several years, and how friends came together to help her get this album out. I like people who tell the truth about their lives and don’t act like life is a merry skipping down the path called Tra-la-la. I think real bonds can form between people when they’re honest with each other.

All of our autumn color is gone now, and the bare trees provide a beautiful view of Lake Superior each day. Big snowflakes, the first of the season, blew around for a few hours the night before last, but nothing stuck on the ground in my neck of the woods. It will come soon enough.

Michael has been gone for 271 days now. The waves of grief are still huge and they knock me down, but they are coming with less frequency now. I still watch the slideshow Sharon created for his funeral, at least every other day. If you’ve never seen it, click here and turn your speakers up. It fills me with so many strong emotions to watch it. I wonder if I will watch it off and on for the rest of my life?

This will be our first Thanksgiving without him. And our first Christmas. All the empty firsts.

Thank you for stopping by….I’d love to know what you’re reading, what music you’re enjoying, or any good movies you’ve seen lately.

In His grip,

Vivie’s Cardinal

November 11, 2015 | My Jottings

My granddaughter Vivienne spent the night last weekend and we had a nice, quiet time together. I took her out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and she had a huge multi-grain pancake with homemade raspberry syrup. I had a Cobb salad, which I think I could eat at least three times a week.

We also played Farkle and Battleship, and watched a Tim Hawkins video at her request. It made me so happy to see her laughing hard at some of his comedy routines.

Vivie loves to draw and is already a serious artist for her age, so she always spends time with her head bent over some paper when she’s here. She made a little Bird Book, and drew dragons with scales and pug dogs with little triangle ears.

Before I drove her home on Sunday, she took the red wax from a tiny Babybel cheese I gave her, and in about five minutes sculpted a little cardinal from it. Even its wings and back have little delineations to represent his feathers.


I haven’t seen a cardinal in a long time. They’re still rare this far north.

So I put this little guy on the side of a candlestick on my dining room mantel, to remind me of wonderful Vivie (who is almost 10), of hope, of beauty, and God’s faithfulness.

Sometimes we do need to be reminded.

What reminds you of God’s faithfulness?

Yet Shall He Live

October 29, 2015 | My Jottings

It’s probably normal that everything reminds me of Michael now. I see any kind of beauty, and then I wonder what kind of beauty he is seeing in heaven. I see pictures of the uncountable galaxies the Hubble sends back to earth, and I wonder what it must be like for Michael to be in the presence of the One who made them all.

We’ve had some glorious sunrises lately, and here’s a photo I took just last week from our dining room. The sun rises over our part of Lake Superior and it never fails to send my thoughts heavenward.


The military foot stone commemorating Michael’s service in the United States Marine Corps has been installed on his grave. (I didn’t do a great job of removing the key dates in this photo below…I did this so weird people trolling over innocent little blogs can’t use the dates and names for fraudulent purposes.)

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And this morning I was reading John, chapter 11 and of course these verses lit up for me:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”  ~John 11:25-27

Though he die, yet shall he live. Michael believed in Jesus and placed his complete trust in Him. So you can imagine how precious this promise of Jesus is to me — yet Michael shall live.

I walk through the cemetery where Michael’s body was laid to rest in February, and am overwhelmed once again by the beauty that death can bring.


Many blessings to you, dear friends. Thank you for stopping by.

Gaining perspective from Andromeda

October 19, 2015 | My Jottings

This is the kind of thing I need to see often. I watched this today and was reminded of God’s power, and how able He is to come to our aid.

I hope you’ll take three minutes in quiet to watch this, and let your mind go to the One who made this, and more. The gazillions of dots? Other stars and galaxies.


A prayer for troubled times

September 27, 2015 | My Jottings


“O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

II Chronicles 20:12

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Bowing out for a while,

Cruise Lessons

September 21, 2015 | My Jottings

No matter how exciting it is to plan a trip and anticipate what you might see and do once you go, there’s nothing like coming home. Home to your own more comfortable bed, your own drinking water, your own normal sized toilet, your own familiar floors that don’t rock beneath your feet.

Earlier this month I took my two foster residents on a long-awaited and much planned for week-long cruise to Alaska. My friend Carey offered to come along to help, which ended up being invaluable. And my friend Denel from California joined us, which was a wonderful treat. (If you’ve been reading here long, you know that Denel and I have been trying to take yearly trips together, flying to meet somewhere for a long weekend to catch up and marvel again at being friends since we were seven. Based on our maiden names, we’ve called them our Lupi-Soo conventions. Now that Carey was joining us, we thought it only fitting to add part of her maiden name to ours, so this was our Lupi-Soo-Berg gathering.)

Here are a few pictures.

This is Tracy Arm Fjord below, which was so much more gorgeous than this simple shot portrays. We got up early on this morning so we could be stationed on the viewing decks of our ship (Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas) as we slowly cruised up the fjord. We gazed at dark teal, opaque, glacier-silted waters, icebergs floating silently by us the size of small cars or large mattresses, long-faced, shaggy mountain goats hundreds of feet above us, standing on cliff ledges no wider than your leg, sea otters the size of small Labrador retrievers undulating through the glassy sea near the ship, and the Sawyer Glacier, which you may be able to see if you click to enlarge the photo.

One of the people I was with wasn’t at all happy about having to get up in the morning to look at such beautiful things, but I think the rest of us thought we could have stayed here for days to drink in the splendor.


This is the stateroom Carey and I shared, which was pretty comfortable, if you don’t count the very very very very firm beds and the floor beneath our feet which kept moving. We all took Bonine each day to prevent any seasickness and that worked for three of us. Unfortunately on the days we were at sea, in the open Pacific rather than in the protected Inside Passage, Carey and Denel both got a bit sick from the slow but fairly dramatic galloping motion of the ship.


If any of you have cruised before, you probably have experienced the efficiency and attention to detail your cabin steward gave to your stateroom. They also leave adorable towel sculptures on your beds.


This is right outside Juneau. Betsy has been with me for 12 years and Carrie for over 7.


The food on a cruise is almost beyond belief. I remember Michael and I saying to each other on our first cruise years ago, “This is not real life,” and on each subsequent cruise I’ve heard that same thrumming thought. There are people in the world who don’t have one daily meal to count on, much less mountains of fresh fruit and eggs and meats and pastries from which to choose each morning. I never know quite what to do with that conflict: enjoy the abundance in front of me and send a check to ministries who feed people? Not travel at all? Feel guilty for being born with these choices? Somehow I always feel like I’m probably doing the wrong thing.

That being said, I took a few pictures of our food, especially since Betsy wanted me to email her mom what we were eating. I will spare you the lobster, beef tenderloin, French onion soup, chopped asparagus salad, creme brulee and Thai vegetables with jasmine rice, and just share one appetizer I had. It was a wild mushroom with wine sauce over puff pastry appetizer, which even the best food critic would have a hard time describing. Absolutely delicious.


And here we all are on one of the “formal nights.” From left to right, Carey, Carrie, me, Betsy and Denel.


Here are a few other things some of us saw on our cruise: butterflies the size of your hand lighting on an arm, seventy-six souvenir shops in Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier, humpback whales breaching, lazily slapping the water, and feeding in tandem, brown bears eating salmon on the shores of the Inside Passage, almost nothing but rain and low clouds in Skagway, hundreds of acres of breathtaking flower gardens on the island of Victoria, British Colombia, 12-foot gray swells outside our stateroom window, and snow-capped Alaskan mountains that made me think of Psalm 121.

One of the things I learned on our cruise was how I’ll do future trips with my foster gals. They were not interested in the scenery at all, and didn’t have the good time I had hoped they would have. They were bored and disappointed that there weren’t more opportunities for shopping. Over the years Michael and I have taken them on many vacations, and I learned on this one that they really only want to shop. You’d think I would have figured this out before now.

So in the future, I’ll plan shorter weekend trips for them, where we’ll go to a place they can buy souvenirs. They let me know that this is what would make them really happy, not trips to see grandeur and gorgeousness.

I will probably save those kinds of trips for myself. I’m thinking the Atlantic crossing of the QE2. I’m thinking European river cruises. I’m thinking little stone cottages in the Highlands of Scotland and walks on the beaches and cliffs of Cornwall. I’m thinking of guided trips to Israel and driving a rental car by myself all through the Alps.

For now though, these will just have to be dreams. Michael has been gone for 32 weeks today. And that’s the lonely reality that keeps cutting the line of my dream balloons, sending me falling harshly back to hard earth, where he no longer lives.

Anyway, back to every day life, which is a blessing of its own. I have foster care meetings this week, Community Bible Study has begun again, there’s fall air pouring into our open windows, leaves are turning color everywhere I look, and there are plaid flannel sheets on the bed….

How about you? What do you have planned for the week ahead?

The House on Eckerman Avenue

September 15, 2015 | My Jottings

(Reposted from the archives…)

We moved into the house on Eckerman Avenue when I was three years old. I remember being in the back of an open trailer being towed by our Buick station wagon, with my thirteen year-old brother Steve and our dog Dutchess, and pulling up in front of the house for the first time. My parents chose the house because it was new, and one block from Covina High School where my father taught school and coached basketball. When we moved in, the house was yellow with brown shutters.

So many milestones happened in that house. I have some wonderful memories from the twelve years we lived there. And there are some pretty sorrowful memories too.

I made my first real friend at that house — her name is Tauni and she and I are still friends today. She lived on Puente Avenue, just over the fence from us, and I spent many carefree hours with her family during my childhood, especially in their built-in swimming pool.

I learned to read when I lived in that house on Eckerman Avenue, and of course had no idea that reading a Nancy Drew book a day was paving the way for one of the greatest pleasures I have in life — books.

I met Denel when I lived in that house, when we were in second grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School. We spent countless hours together in her house on Rowland Avenue and in mine on Eckerman, playing hopscotch, listening to music, doing homework, dreaming dreams.

I remember a favorite snack I enjoyed in that house — a spoonful of peanut butter and one of grape jelly, washed down by a swig of milk. I still like that treat today.

Perhaps my love of green and blue began in that house. My mother decorated with teal blue and avocado green, which looked fine back in the 60s. Today I’m always drawn to blues and greens.

On Eckerman Avenue, we had six fruit trees in our large back yard. Nectarines, plums, apricots, and lemons the size of oranges, and a ground cover of wild strawberries all along the perimeter of the fenced-in yard.

Some other random vivid memories are of my mother’s wonderful tacos with home-fried corn tortillas, the one fire a year we were allowed to have in our living room fireplace, bike riding for miles, skateboarding, visits to the beach forty minutes away, watching Saturday morning cartoons and putting off my chores, going barefoot almost everywhere, my mother’s amazing talent on our Hammond B-3 organ, my own organ lessons with a brilliant woman named Gerry who’d been blinded in a fire and who lived in a trailer park, braces on my teeth, thick glasses on my face, my father allowing me to sit in the front seat of the car and steer while he braked and accelerated, going to Sunday school each week and growing in my love and awe of the Lord, and thinking I might be an astronaut someday.

Other memories from the house on Eckerman Avenue are a little darker. I remember my father driving away with his face all screwed up in tears, and the few months he and my mother were separated. He had his own apartment nearby and I visited him on weekends. When he moved home I was very relieved. I also remember my mother’s depression, which I couldn’t identify then but recognize now. I remember feeling lonely a lot, in spite of my few dear friends.

One horrible night time memory comes from when I must have been about three or four. My parents were out and my two older brothers (who were about thirteen and eighteen) were home, and I was in bed. I was awakened by the sound of my younger brother screaming and crying while my oldest brother violently beat up on him. I went into the hallway sobbing and begged for my brother to stop hurting my other brother, and he yelled at me, “Julie, get back to bed!” and he didn’t stop for a long time.

Also in the house on Eckerman Avenue I began to lose hope. Things between my mom and dad grew more silent and distant and I knew her world of music and his world of sports weren’t meshing. I grew tall, buck-toothed, long-legged and more gangly by the month, and by the time I was thirteen I was convinced I was unattractive and that no one would ever love me.

When I graduated from Traweek Junior High School (the eighth grade), I was thirteen, and that summer my father told my mother he wanted a divorce.

It was also at this time that other relationships in my family finally broke apart after having been fractured by pride and anger for so many years. I felt like the ground had opened up and was slowly swallowing all of us.

I prayed and asked God to restore my parents’ marriage and it never happened. Of course I know now that neither one of them were exactly walking in God’s ways, but in my immature faith I couldn’t understand why God wasn’t bringing the miracle I was pleading for.

Two years after this eighth grade graduation picture of me was taken, we had to sell the house on Eckerman Avenue, and my mom and I moved into an apartment while we looked for a different house. When we left, the house on Eckerman Avenue was grey with turquoise shutters.

As the years passed I continued to be a good student and always did well in school. I was a cheerleader. I had a part-time job after school and bought my own car. I was involved in sports. I had a boyfriend or two. And my friends and I had some pretty fun times together. On the outside, I think children can carry on and appear as if divorce doesn’t crack the very inner foundation of their lives.

But God was also faithful to me when I lived on Eckerman Avenue. I didn’t understand this fully until I grew into my (middle) old age. So many times we can’t see God’s hand in the pain and hard times we’re experiencing. We ask Him to remove them and when He doesn’t, we wonder what the heck prayer is all about. I wish someone had taught me more about this when I was young. Anyway, I can look back now and see His hand of protection on me in so many ways. I can see His mercy threaded all through those dark times, and I’m so thankful He has allowed me to live long enough to recount them.

In the house on Eckerman Avenue, a seed of faith in Jesus took root and I became a Christian. In the glorious jumble of darkness and light and hope and fear that was my young life, Jesus reached out and chose me. (See Ephesians 1:3-10).

And I chose Him back.

And by His grace, I choose Him again today….

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