Why we believe…

June 24, 2019 | My Jottings

I have long loved Phillip Yancey and his books. His writing is so rich and his thoughts so deep and real, I always look forward to what he puts to paper.

I read this on his blog recently and thought it very worthy reading. It’s called “Why I Believe,” and I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it.

I especially like that he deals honestly with his own skepticism and times of struggle, as a Christian, to believe.

Here’s the link: Why I Believe.

Have a wonderful week,

Every Good and Perfect Gift

June 18, 2019 | My Jottings

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17

Yesterday I was pondering the state of my mind, and I found that my mind was not in a good way.

At the end of the day, when dinner is over and my foster gals have taken their nighttime meds and are tucked into their beds, I like to put on one of my plaid flannel nightgowns and my Acorn slippers, make a relaxing cup of tea, and watch something on television. My favorite thing is to watch some series on Netflix, something that is compelling and keeps me thinking and wondering, wanting to go on to the next episode. There have been so many like this. Recently I decided to give a certain series a try because it was about murder and mystery (there’s where it could start to go wrong, because too much gore and debauchery is not a good choice) and the lead actress is someone I loved in an excellent movie.

Early on, this series, while compelling, became awful. I should have stopped at awful, but the compelling won out. At least for several episodes. I kept the remote in hand so I could hit fast forward when scenes would come on that I didn’t want in my mind. There are things I believe we are truly not meant to see. And as I age and my brain struggles to hold on to things that used to stick like Velcro, why would I put things there that are not helpful, beautiful, uplifting, strengthening? I have long thought that our brains/minds are the prime real estate of our lives, valuable beyond measure, and yet we dump toxic waste there and wonder why we have hopelessness and anxiety and fear as our daily companions. This series I watched for a couple of nights became toxic to my mind, and it wasn’t even as bad as some of what’s out there, I know.

I began to notice a dullness and a sense of hopelessness crowd out the normally thankful and optimistic thoughts I have. I felt gray. So I made the decision to stop watching the series, of course, and have made a more conscious effort to care for my prime real estate with intentional kindness and tenderness. I would never allow someone to come and dump their garbage on any piece of land I owned. Not one time. Why do I allow this with my mind?

Perhaps when we’re young we don’t know how to live out the encouragement of Philippians 4:8, and think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy. That might not even seem practical. Well, I can tell how not to live out that verse, and it’s by watching hours of dark programs that encroach on that valuable property I have between my ears.

Anyway, I went to bed last night counting creatures. Some count sheep, I decided to bring a lovely slideshow into my mind of all the magnificent creatures I have seen just from the windows of this house. I knew that would be limiting, because I’ve seen wolves, but not from this house. I’ve seen undulating fishers in the winter, but not from this house. So as I turned on my left side with my right knee bent and pulled up on a supporting pillow (old hips), I closed my eyes in the dark and began to thank the Lord. Thank you for the deer. And I saw the most recent doe, neck stretched high to reach the bird feeder right outside my office window, eating the seed from the tiny openings. I had thought of running her off, but I watched and marveled instead. Thank you, Lord, for the fox. It has been a while since I’ve seen a fox in this neighborhood, but I recalled when I saw him, trotting down the middle of our street in all his rusty beauty. Thank you for the cardinals. We don’t have many this far north, but warming weather has brought them to us in recent years, and when I see one, I am filled with hope. And the goldfinch, Lord. Just three days ago, a brilliant, almost neon flash of yellow on the bird feeder, and I stood and gazed and smiled. You know that God’s creation has an eternal element to it when you can see the same things over and over and over, yet still they thrill you like the first time you saw them. The beauties of creation never get old, they just keep feeding and healing and strengthening us. But we must take time to look. And absorb. Thinking on God’s goodness and faithfulness, and also His magnificent creation, is a good way for me to fix my mind on things that are true and good, excellent and praiseworthy. It makes a difference!

After I thanked God for the gift of the goldfinch, that was it. I fell asleep. Four creatures, four gifts, was all it took. It felt truly delicious to go to sleep that way. And tonight I will do the same, perhaps starting with the frequent flyers of our area, the chickadees. I love the way they swoop when they fly to our suction cup window feeder on the dining room window.

Here are some other gifts I’d like to share with you.

These red flowers are called mandevilla, and I love the red against the white of my house. Sara does my front deck planters every spring, and also decks them with greens and ornaments every winter. We’ve never had mandevilla before, and they will hopefully trail down as they grow. Isn’t it a gift to be able to see color?

Please click to enlarge these.

I have three flowering crabapple trees at the side of my house, which grow so full each summer they’re almost like a privacy hedge. This picture below doesn’t do the pink spring blooms justice, but when I walk into my living room, the pink fills my vision and touches my heart in such a way I must pause and take it in.

And this might not be terribly beautiful, but some of what I love are represented on this table in my living room. Songbirds (Eastern bluebird, cardinal, goldfinch) whose trills and calls lift the spirit, a part of a psalm to remind me to treasure each day and not waste it, candles and lamps that in their own simple way remind me that Jesus is the Great Light that pierced the world’s and my great darkness. The B in the picture was a gift from my niece, who made it out of cardboard, covered it with Bible verses, put the spine of a Bible on it, and attached an old key with a ribbon. I love it. Birds, words, light, life. So much better than murder, conniving, lying, cheating, treachery, selfishness.

And can a porcupine be a gift? I think so, if it’s measured by the heights to which my heart soared when I saw her. I was at Lloyd’s house recently. He lives in the woods in a log cabin he built himself, and he sees bears, wild turkeys, beavers, myriad birds, deer, fishers, martens, ducks, and porcupines. I’ve never seen one in person before, and as I was looking out of his dining room window, there she waddled, toward the house. I took this picture with my phone, so it’s not terribly clear, but I wanted to share it with you today. I had no idea porcupines have blond tips. She wanted to go under the house, but Lloyd clapped his hands and she raised up on her hind legs when she heard the noise, wavered in porcupine uncertainty for a moment, then turned around and ambled back into his woods. Their tails are so long and paddle-like! I would not like to meet her up close, but seeing her was a gift, and I thanked God for letting me fill my mind with His beauty in this way.

I named this lady Polly Pointer, and surmised that if she has siblings out there in the Minnesota woods, they could be called The Pointer Sisters. Was she praiseworthy and admirable? Oh yes, she was.

You may not think mismatched pillows are uplifting, but they bring me a little jolt of happiness. Sara knows I love plaid, so she gave me these two black and white buffalo checked pillows for mother’s day, and I love them.

Another sub-quality picture below, but the sun pours into my house and I walk from room to room, grateful to see it. I bought my first piece of furniture online and it turned out well — the brown leather recliner below.

The greatest gifts of all are people. This man below is my son-in-law Chris. He is my oldest daughter Sharon’s husband, and the father of four of my grandchildren, ages 17 to 6. I could do seven blog posts about all the ways in which Chris has blessed and loved our family.

Out of the blue, Chris recently learned at his annual physical exam, that he is in severe kidney failure. He needs an immediate kidney transplant. He has been accepted into the Mayo Clinic’s transplant program, and we are praying that someone will come forward and donate one of their kidneys to him. Chris is a behind the scenes giver, servant, helper. He is humble, and would not love that I’m putting this on my blog, but if there is someone out there who knows someone else who knows someone else…. his life might be saved. I myself am being tested (just sent my 24-hour urine collection sample and tubes of my blood taken from my doctor’s office yesterday) and am willing to give one of my kidneys. But I am 61, and even if my kidneys turn out to be healthy, they are older models. A younger kidney would be even better. So I’m going to include a link at the end of this post, and if you know of anyone who might fill out this simple questionnaire on the Mayo Clinic’s transplant site, please forward it to them. You will need his name — Chris McMahon. And you will need his birthdate, but I won’t publish that here. If you email me at JulieBalm at gmail dot com, I would gladly give you his birthdate for the questionnaire. (All costs will be paid by his insurance.)

He is a gift to our family, to his wife and children, to his church, to so many. And there is a person out there with a kidney who could give a priceless gift to Chris. Thank you all for your prayers.

Speaking of gifts, this young man just passed his driver’s exam. Mr. McBoy was waiting to have his picture taken for his first license. He is Chris and Sharon’s oldest child. 6′ 6″ tall and still growing. He calls me Gma (Gee-mah) and it always makes me smile.

I took a walk in the cemetery where Michael is buried a few days ago, and even though I’ve passed this little stand of trees many times, I never noticed how close and straight the nine trunks stand. It reminded me of a family.

I’m asking God to wash my brain, and I’m cooperating with Him and filling it with creatures and creation and praise and people I love and the hope He has given me. Pondering His many gifts brings joy, and a deep contentment.

What are some of the gifts you’re most thankful for?

The link to the questionnaire:


God bless and keep you all,

The Colors of Rest

May 21, 2019 | My Jottings

Every once in a while I like to take my two foster women on a little weekend trip. Most of you know we live in a beautiful place with a close view of Lake Superior, so sometimes being in this home feels like a retreat to me, especially when I have a day at home and can putter in my bedroom.

But there’s something to be said for getting away, having a change of scenery, going to a place for intentional rest and also exploration, and both my gals are always game.

Years ago we used to do much bigger trips — we took them to Walt Disney World, on an Alaskan cruise, and to Branson, Missouri. But flying was a huge stressor for one gal in particular, and it also became apparent that neither one appreciates grandeur and beauty as some do. They like to shop for souvenirs, dine out, and rest. So in the past years we have stayed closer to home, and they are so content with that.

A couple of months ago Betsy, Carrie and I drove 100 miles north to the sleepy Lake Superior town of Grand Marais. Michael and I visited many times over our 33 years together, and I decided to rent a cabin that sits right on the edge of Lake Superior.

This is the small bedroom I slept in. I love the little elevated stove that gave heat and cheer.

This is the view from my bedroom in the morning. Just a few strides and you’re on the edge of a cliff that overlooks our beautiful lake. Lake Superior is roughly the size of Austria and there’s enough water in it to cover all of North and South America with lots left over. I might be biased, but it is the best tasting water I’ve ever had.

I took this picture on Saturday morning as the sun was coming up.

The little cottage doesn’t have any closets, but handy hooks were all we needed.

Sunday morning I stepped outside in my bare feet to catch the sun coming up. Magenta, cantaloupe, periwinkle, blue heron, peach, grays, golds, the deep greens of the trees and the sapphire water…it’s the anti-depressant palette. Gazing at this as often as possible is a mood lifter.

I love that there is no television reception at this cabin, and I wondered how my gals would do with that. They like having their own TVs in their rooms at home, and spend a lot of time relaxing there when they get home from work. I try to take them on regular outings, to movies and restaurants, on little trips, so they can experience something a little different. There’s a small TV that plays DVDs, though, so they were able to bring their favorites, and after our days of exploring Grand Marais, we came back to our cottage and got into our jammies, then popped popcorn and watched one movie each night by the fire in the living room.

We enjoyed sleeping in past 6:00 a.m., shopping at the iconic Ben Franklin and the Lake Superior Trading Post downtown, and trying out new restaurants. We enjoyed the chickadees and their flight patterns and varied calls. We took naps, chatted together, and felt ourselves exhale.

Carrie has a saying we can count on each time we return home after a little getaway. “You know what I always say, Julie. It’s nice to get away, but it sure is nice to come home too.”

We have another weekend getaway planned in August, but this time it will be to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The gals are looking forward to seeing our favorite comedian, Tim Hawkins. He makes us laugh like no one else.

May you have a good week, and I hope spring is bringing you lovely colors and comforting sounds wherever you are.

A Wintry Spring

April 13, 2019 | My Jottings

We’ve had the snowiest winter here in NoMin. And considering the mountains of snow we had everywhere until recently, I think we could call Northern Minnesota “NoMin’s Land.” I live in NoMin’s land.

I had to have my roof shoveled off this year, needed salt-filled tube socks placed above the gutters to melt ice dams I’ve never had before, and Michael’s grave stone was almost completely buried in snow. It’s about lower hip high, and you can see the top of it peeking out behind the wreath Sara made, below. You can click to enlarge these pictures if you like.

Some of the drifts in my front yard were shoulder high, and I had to lift Mildred the Schnauzer up to set her on the frozen snow so she could do her business.

Then we had several warm days and the snow melted completely, leaving streets and grass showing for the first time in months. We rejoiced! We talked about how wonderful it was with bank tellers and grocery store cashiers and neighbors.

Then, two days ago a mean storm named Wesley (appropriate) came barreling through, and for two whole days Wesley snowed and blew until everything in NoMin’s Land is white and cold and grey again. There is no use complaining about the weather, since I have power and heat and food and peace in my life. But I don’t think I’ll be alone in kicking up my heels when spring really shows itself, whenever that will be.

It has been a while since I posted, because I’ve been working on four sessions for a women’s retreat. The retreat was last weekend and as far as I can tell, it went fairly well. The best part for me were the 100 women of the church who welcomed me and were so gracious. I have never spoken at a weekend retreat before, and it was overwhelming to prepare talks and PowerPoint presentations when I’m so out of practice. I felt like I was helpless, really, and prayed that God would just bring His strength and mercy and breathe life to my feeble words. If that happened for one person there, it was worth it without a doubt.

The church, Bethel Lutheran in Hudson, Wisconsin, blessed me with a beautiful hotel room right on Lake Superior. Hudson is three hours south of me, and the church held the retreat in Duluth for a nice getaway for their women. Even though the weekend was rainy and cold, this was the sunrise from my room.

Here are a couple of other pictures, taken by a delightful woman from Bethel named Mary.

The whole group:

Saturday morning session – Jesus is Our Bread:

My friend Lorna led the worship for the whole weekend and I’m still singing and playing some of the hymns she did:

The Saturday evening session was Jesus is Our Light, and a nice buffet meal was served as well:

I have another blessed day at home today, spent catching up on little things that have gone by the wayside these past weeks. I think I am a true housewife at heart, even though I’m not currently a wife. I love wiping off my kitchen counters, running the dishwasher, putting oils in my diffusers, folding laundry, writing out bills, making order. I don’t do any of those things very efficiently anymore because I’m getting slower and I take my time. And I take breaks. But my home is an oasis, a gift from the Lord that I don’t take for granted.

I also have a book to read. I ran into a woman I know from my church – she was returning books at the library and said ever since she retired she reads a book a day. My father was the same, and that sounds like heaven to me. I asked her for a good recommendation and she walked right over and pulled a book off the shelf for me. Not a book I would ever choose, or even a genre I’ve enjoyed, but I took her word for it and hope to begin it today.

What are you doing this weekend? Tell me one or three things…

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 139

March 13, 2019 | My Jottings

Oh, how I love this quote by C.S. Lewis — what a mind he had.

We must simply accept it that we are spirits, free and rational beings, at present inhabiting an irrational universe, and must draw the conclusion that we are not derived from it. We are strangers here. We come from somewhere else. Nature is not the only thing that exists. There is ‘another world’, and that is where we come from. 

And that explains why we do not feel at home here. A fish feels at home in the water. If we ‘belonged here’ we should feel at home here. All that we say about ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’, about death and time and mutability, all our half-amused, half-bashful attitude to our own bodies, is quite inexplicable on the theory that we are simply natural creatures. If this world is the only world, how did we come to find its laws either so dreadful or so comic? If there is no straight line elsewhere, how did we discover that Nature’s line is crooked?

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February Felicitations

February 11, 2019 | My Jottings

I’m grateful for a Monday morning at home, no appointments, no company coming, nothing tugging at me. Except foster care paperwork and four sessions I’m writing and praying about for a women’s retreat, and a couple of untouched books and a kitchen sink full of dishes. Just those things. 🙂

It has snowed off and on for days, and this morning when I woke up I couldn’t see the front steps that lead to my house. If I were a younger woman I’d be all bumbled up (as one of my fosters says) and doing the shoveling myself, but those days are behind me. Especially since my back has been healing and I don’t want to undo that. It’s seventeen degrees above zero and since a couple of weeks ago we had twenty-eight below with sixty below wind chills, this seems like a gift. The forecast for my city says one to three more inches of snow tonight.

What’s the weather like where you are? I see online friends posting pictures of spring flowers breaking through the ground, but in northern Minnesota we are months away from that.

My oldest daughter Sharon and her husband Chris recently took a trip to Maui, and their three daughters stayed with me. I felt bad that the worst of the cold weather prevented us from doing much outside, so we watched more TV than I preferred. We also played Farkle, Backgammon, Gin and Uno.

Here’s six year old Weezer, fast asleep next to me. She and I read quite a bit from the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, and a few chapters from Charlotte’s Web.

Her older brother calls her Louis and some friends at school call her Lisa, and she isn’t thrilled about that. She told her mother recently that people can call her Louisa, Weeza, Cheetah or Snoodlepoop, but not Lisa. She is so good-natured and I am having a difficult time watching her grow up so quickly.

Here’s a picture Sharon took a few weeks ago when we were celebrating Carolyn’s birthday.

They are twenty months apart and are so alike, and so different. I love observing the women they’ve become, and learn so much from each one. They have both comforted and wisely advised me now that I’m nearing my dotage. And they make me laugh.

It’s surprising how many people have told these two girls that they look like twins and are hard to tell apart.

Sharon is blonde and is six feet tall, Carolyn is a brunette and is 5′ 10″. They obviously look like sisters, but our family has never been able to understand the twin thing. Both of them have had strangers approach them and think they were the other.

What do you think? Do they favor each other a lot? Is it so much they might be twins?

Carolyn is mother of seven (six on earth, one in heaven) and Sharon is mother of four. They have made me rich in grandchildren and love.

Our elderly Schnauzer Mildred has struggled with our bitterly cold temperatures. We noticed that if it was colder than 10 degrees out, she would run out into the yard to go potty, but then would get stuck and have a hard time walking back in. It is treacherous to go outside quickly to pick her up and bring her in, when there’s a layer of ice under the snow and it’s frigid enough to cause frostbite in less than a minute.

So my youngest daughter Sara bought booties for Millie (not shown in the picture below) that she hated because of the Velcro sound. And next Sara brought home a puffer jacket, which Millie was thoroughly delighted about. Can’t you see the pure joy in her schnauzery face?

It took several times for Millie to adapt to her winter wear, but oh, what a difference it has made. She submits to the donning of the booties and jacket now, and can be outside more comfortably without getting stuck. We are so proud of her.

Sara has been going to college, working, and fitting in a few fun things whenever possible. I so appreciate the help she gives me around the house, and the respite care she provides when I need a little work break.

She and a friend are taking a belly-dancing class together, and she comes home and shows me what she’s learned. Apparently belly dancing has very small, precise-yet-jiggly movements to it, and is not at all easy. We’ve had some laughs when Sara tries to instruct me in the small, precise-yet-jiggly motions. I am doing well in the jiggly, but the small and precise elude me.

Sara and I have been looking at pictures of Michael and reminiscing a lot lately, because the four-year anniversary of his death was on February 9th. How is it that my beloved husband has been gone for over one thousand four hundred days? She has been counting her blessings because she felt unconditionally loved by her father, and I have been thanking the Lord for all He’s done in my life through Michael.

For those who grieve, the pain does fade. Tears still come for me, but I don’t feel that desperate, raw sorrow that I did four years ago. As I put on my Instagram account recently, no matter what happens, I will always be Michael’s and he will always be mine.

My oldest grandson is going to be seventeen in a couple of months, and he has a very sweet girlfriend. They went to their first Sweetheart Dance at their high school last month, and since Carissa’s dress was red satin, she asked Mr. McBoy to rent a gray tux with a red vest and tie. Plus, their school colors are red and gray, so I guess they were totally sick. When I was his age we said far out and cool and outtasight. Now they say sick.

Mr. McBoy is 6′ 5″ tall and the doctor says he’s not done growing. He played high school basketball but loves football more, and enjoys singing in his A’capella choir. If anyone reading this knew my father, you might be able to see those Sooter genes beaming out in that face. I’ve been told that Mr. McBoy resembles his grandma, and once in a while I get a fleeting glimpse of that. 🙂

I see the sun rise over Lake Superior almost every day, and it never fails to give me a thrill. Here’s a picture I took a couple of weeks ago when the morning temperature was twenty below zero and the ice was beginning to form. If you enlarge the photo, you can see the ice on the surface.

Since then, the Lake has frozen solid enough to beckon crazy brave ice fisherpeople to set up their ice tents, drill holes in the ice and sit for hours waiting for a bite. There must be a lot of biting, because a couple of days ago I drove by a portion of Lake Superior and there were over a dozen tents and even more people standing out there, mere yards from the open water.

While my granddaughters were with me (twelve days, the longest visit so far), fourteen year old Mrs. Nisky drew this for me. It took her less than an hour.

I have a wonderful carved cross my friend Ember gave me, just perfect for holding in a closed hand while praying or pondering the love of Jesus. Mrs. Nisky drew this of her own hand holding the cross, and chose this verse, which I took as a word from the Lord to me. I am going to have this framed and will hang it in my room.

Mrs. Nisky plays the cello and is on the girls basketball team at her high school. She has the most beautiful copper colored hair and eyes, and has been a blessing to me from the day she was born. I don’t mind at all either that her middle name is Julia, sort of after me.

Speaking of sunrises, Lloyd sent me this picture taken from his bedroom loft window in his cabin in the woods. Isn’t that breathtaking?

He gets up every morning and makes a cup of coffee, suits up and goes outside to feed the birds, deer and wild turkeys that wait for him to thump on the bucket to let them know breakfast is served. After he spreads the corn and seed around, he goes to his huge shop/guest room and builds a roaring fire in the wood stove to keep the in-floor heat from freezing, and by the time that is done, over a dozen turkeys have come in to feed. When they’ve had their fill they roost in the trees surrounding Lloyd’s home, and then they all walk jerky-turkey across his pond and back into the woods. I enjoy the pictures he texts to me from fifty miles away.

Well, laundry is calling, my work on the April women’s retreat is waiting, and I haven’t had breakfast yet. I think a small bowl of Muesli sounds good. Here’s the recipe if you’re interested.

How are things with you?

With a bad back from a big bed

January 12, 2019 | My Jottings

I don’t like being in bed. I mean, I like being in bed when it’s time to be in bed, around 9:00 at night until around 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. But being in bed when you have injured your back is not a very good situation. I forget that I am in my sixties and can’t or shouldn’t do foolish things anymore, like lift my king-size bed so some risers can be placed underneath the posts. I felt the twangy pull across the sacro-iliac area when I lifted, and a groan of “ooohhh noooo” went through my brain, and then I lowered the bed. I was okay for a couple of days, just a little sore but functioning. Today I am not as okay, and I am a large amount of sore and pretty much lacking in the functioning department.

So on this gray Saturday, I am trying to get comfortable and hoping that my back will heal and that nothing catastrophic has occurred. I still have my nightgown on, some soft music is playing on the David Nevue Pandora channel, my little electric fireplace is “blazing” cheerily, and I have a good book at hand.

Today is my middle daughter Carolyn’s birthday, and we celebrated last night with her family, my oldest daughter Sharon’s family, Jeremy’s parents and his grandmother. I decided last week to have the meal catered, and how fortuitous that was, with my back and all. It was the first time I’ve ever hired a caterer and it was such a treat to watch the Duluth Grill van arrive, uniformed people hop out and carry hot and delicious food into the house, set it up with little fires underneath, and have everything be ready to serve. We had lasagna, chicken marsala, wild rice pilaf, smashed potatoes with parmesan, fresh marinated green beans, spring greens salad with homemade dressings, focaccia bread, and roasted Brussels sprouts. Sharon made a deep, dark chocolate cake and I don’t think a person here went home hungry. In fact, there was enough left over that three families will be having yummy leftovers tonight.

I was supposed to attend a snowmobile club banquet with Lloyd today, but I had to bow out since attending the event would require me to get dressed and be upright for a couple of hours.

I checked today and it has been 1,433 days since Michael moved to heaven. How can over a thousand days pass without my seeing him? How do we survive without the ones we love? I couldn’t tell you a fancy answer to that, except that the Lord gets us through, an hour at a time, then a day, a week, a month at a time.

I remember in the late 1980s when carpentry work in our area was scarce and Michael got a good paying temporary job in West Virginia. He and a friend drove to Marlington, lived in a tiny trailer and worked 18 hour shifts for 49 days, and I couldn’t believe we’d been apart for so long.

After Michael died I used to visit his grave quite a lot. It was a lot more often than I had ever pictured myself doing. I found great comfort reading the words on his grave stone, watching the ducks and geese in the ponds, praying and thanking God for all He had done for us. Now I might visit two or three times a month. I was there a couple of days ago and the snow was deep and the sun was setting. The wreath my youngest daughter Sara made stands there, telling whoever sees it what a loved, missed man Michael is.

As I recline awkwardly in my bed today, I see a basket of unfolded, clean white laundry on the ottoman of my plaid bedroom chair. Mildred the aging Schnauzer is laying at my feet on her side, looking so scruffy and unkempt and breathing deeply. She wants to be fed and I’ll do that as soon as I publish this post. Strewn across my bed are pieces of today’s mail with piles of catalogs I never peruse, two devotional books, my purse, some foster care paperwork, a wrist brace, and some prayer beads. It’s almost dusk, but I can still see the snow-covered Wisconsin shoreline as I look way across this southern tip of Lake Superior. I can see that there’s no wind today, and that the chickadees are enjoying my feeder on the front deck.

I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat this April, and I hope to spend a lot of time working on that tomorrow, even if I’m still hobbled. I was surprised to be asked since I am not familiar with the church, which is three hours south of me. I will speak four times in one weekend, all on the theme of Psalm 112:7: They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. I prayed about it when I was asked, and only agreed after much trepidation and what I felt was a clear confirmation from God. I’ve done this a couple of times, but have never been comfortable doing it, and always have second thoughts after saying yes. My friend Lorna told me, “Julie, you’ll do what you can and show up, and God will do the rest.” I keep hanging on to that.

Well, I see that it’s time to feed the little gray beast, and then I’ll warm up our catered leftovers for my two foster women. I’m so glad they don’t mind a cook in a red plaid nightgown.

Do any of you watch Netflix? I would love a good recommendation of your two or three favorite shows or series. I just finished watching “Loch Ness,” and it was gripping. A little too raw for me, but I watched it anyway. Have any of you watched the documentary “Minimalism?” I would recommend it. And of course I’ve seen the first episode of Marie Kondo’s new tidying up show and loved it.

May you have a gripping, tidy, not-too-raw weekend.


A Prayer for 2019 and Other Things

January 2, 2019 | My Jottings

Happy New Year, friends. Do you remember when 1999 turned to 2000 and we thought we’d never get used to no longer saying “19–” and how strange it felt to say the year as a “2000-something?” Now we’re knocking on 2020’s door and we’re so used to space age numbers.

My resident florist (youngest daughter Sara) filled our front three flower boxes again this Christmas season, with piles of fresh greens, pine cones and huge red bows. Now that we’ve had two significant storms, they’re mounded with snow and look even prettier.

These good-sized boxes are on our front deck.

It was below zero yesterday and today, and whenever that happens Lake Superior steams. Here’s a picture of an ore-boat coming into the Port of Duluth in the frigid air.

And this is what massive Lake Superior looks like from space when it’s steaming. You can click to enlarge if you like. I live right down there by the tip of the wolf’s nose.

A couple of weeks ago I spent the day with Lloyd at his home in the woods. We walked his property at sunset and looked at all the animal footprints in the snow. I can easily recognize deer and rabbit tracks, but he showed me how to tell the tracks of voles, turkeys, mice, squirrels and coyotes. I love the silence of the woods in winter, disturbed only by the occasional flutter and call of the chickadees.

I like to make frittatas for breakfast once in a while — they’re so easy and it’s a good way to start the day with protein and vegetables. I don’t usually add the cheese that I did to this one below. I sauteed fresh mushrooms and asparagus, threw in some chicken and sage sausage and chopped tomatoes, poured over a few beaten eggs, and cooked it covered on super-low heat until the eggs had set. What is something you make for breakfast that might be a little different than the usual?

My granddaughter Louisa’s school recently asked family members (mostly grandparents) to help them put together a museum of sorts, bringing old things from their lives to be displayed. On Grandparents Day after visiting Louisa’s classroom and meeting her teacher, she took me to the gym to see the many tables set up with photos and vintage items of yesteryear. Louisa is six years old and in the first grade, and she’s standing in front of one of the tables from her class’s grandparents — that is my six year old, first grade picture right there by her.

About once a month Lloyd and I like to take a drive up the north shore of Lake Superior, and we often stop in Knife River at Great Lakes Candy Kitchen. We buy four pieces of candy — two homemade salted caramels dipped in chocolate, and two of what they call peanut butter buckeyes. We drive to Stoney Point a couple miles away and watch the waves while eating our candy. He likes dark chocolate, I prefer milk. It’s a fun place to visit because it feels like you’ve stepped back in time, and the quality of the candy rivals my childhood favorite, See’s.

My beautiful new grandson Levi is doing well at almost five months old now. He has such a sweet disposition, is a voracious nurser (and consequently has wonderful chunkiness everywhere), and is so beloved by everyone in our family. I think this picture below is one of my all-time favorites. My oldest daughter Sharon took it seconds after Levi Samuel’s birth in August, and the joy on Jeremy and Carolyn’s faces needs no explanation.

I hope you had a peaceful Christmas. We had seventeen people here, and my living room isn’t that big so we were pretty cozy. But there were no arguments, no harsh words, no testiness, no undercurrents of strife… and there have been times in my life when that wasn’t the case. I felt so grateful. After everyone went home and Sara and I began to slowly pick up and restore things to order, I kept telling the Lord thank you. Thank you, thank you, Jesus.

I follow Pastor Tim Keller on Instagram, and this is his prayer for 2019. I make it my own prayer for the coming year, and thought I would share with you.

I worry because I forget your wisdom.
I resent because I forget your mercy.
I covet because I forget your beauty.
I sin because I forget your holiness.
I fear because I forget your sovereignty.
You always remember me.
Help me to remember you.

Thank you for stopping in today. May God give you a year that brings you closer to Him. That is what I’m asking for.

Our Tribute

December 31, 2018 | My Jottings

IMG_0053I’m republishing this one so anyone who missed my daughter’s slideshow at Michael’s funeral can see it. The link to click is below.

Friday was my husband Michael’s funeral. I don’t know how I’m going to write about everything yet, so for now I will share the tribute our daughter Sharon compiled for her dad.

This wonderful slideshow was played at the funeral, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the church. I’ve watched this over and over, and it makes me weep and smile and remember and pray and laugh out loud and praise the Lord each time.

I will never get over the gift of having a husband like Michael. To have had his love makes me feel like the most blessed of women.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it all the way to the end, and let me know what you think. It’s an absolute treasure to me. (Thank you, dear Sharon…xoxoxox)

Please be sure to turn your speakers up, and click here to watch.

God bless and keep you all,

D. Michael, my husband

December 29, 2018 | My Jottings

(One of my favorites from the archives….)

My husband Michael’s name is really Dennis. His parents named him Dennis Michael but never intended to call him Dennis. So he signs his name D. Michael B______.  Some friends still call him D. Michael instead of just Michael, and that always makes me smile.

Anyway, my husband and I are a very romantic couple, and by that I mean that we take moonlight strolls on The Lakewalk near the shores of Lake Superior, listen to Etta James as we gaze longingly into each other’s eyes each night before we climb into our big bed, hold surprise scavenger hunts for each other with trinkets and love notes hidden all over the house, enjoy large red boxes of waxy chocolates and have a hefty bubble bath bill each month.

Actually, only one of the last six statements is true. The rest are all bold falsehoods. We haven’t taken any moonlight walks by the Lake because when the moon rises I’m usually yawning or already in bed, and Michael is watching the Minnesota Twins or the Vikings. We don’t hold scavenger hunts for creative ways to show our love, because we’re already tired of searching high and low for small, hidden things and are lately trying to give that up — we frequently have harried, romantic hunts for keys, cell phones, and checks that need to be deposited. And eating chocolate (hopefully coupled with peanut butter) is something we both firmly believe should be a daily chore practiced with moderation and discipline, so we eschew big red boxes of random shiny candies. Reese’s will do just fine.

Michael and I usually go out to dinner once a week, but the last time we went out for Valentine’s Day was several years ago. We did the unthinkable, which was drive to one of our favorite restaurants expecting to be seated within one hour. Once we saw the crowd and were told how long the wait was, we left and drove to one of our second favorite restaurants, and were surprised to find no place to park and standing room only inside. Then we drove to our favorite little sandwich joint and were greeted by the same. We decided that from then on we would go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day on either February 13th or 15th. No more of this February 14th business.

Well. Life has a way of changing things. Michael and I would probably never be chosen for the reality show America’s Most Romantic Couple. Sara teased us recently and said a reality show should be done about us, and I told her it would be successful only because it would help insomniacs get back to sleep. But we have some things that are so precious to me I don’t exactly know how to put words to it all.

He wanted to marry me before we ever met, after writing many letters and talking dozens of hours on the phone. He wanted to stay married to me after reality set in, which is even more amazing than wanting to get married before meeting. He helps keep me sane when I feel like craziness is maniacally tapping on the windows of my mind to be let in. He has taught me what faithfulness means and what a priceless, solid foundation it is for a marriage. He has built my confidence day after day, year after year. He has never disrespected me by an outright or a sideways glance at another woman in my presence. He sits with me on the couch when we have a few minutes, takes my feet in his lap and scratches the ridges left in my ankles by my SmartWool socks. He comes up behind me in the mornings when my mood is low and my hair is on end from the night’s sleep, puts his arms around me and tells me lies about how pretty he thinks I am (did I mention he has vision problems?) and how blessed he is to have found me.

He struggles with a terrible illness, but rarely with selfishness. He gets up every morning and makes me feel like I have a life partner who will always cherish me and work side by side with me, and believe the best about me. He often says in the middle of the day when there is finally quiet, “Let’s go read together,” and we take tea and shortbread on a tray to the sitting area of our bedroom, and soak in the truth and help from the Bible that we need for each day. He recently told me that when he saw me pull into the driveway after I’d been out running errands, that his heart did a little flip and he felt “twitterpated.” He dug his heels in years ago when my immaturity allowed me to talk of leaving each time things got rough, and he said, “I will never leave, I will always love you.”

He has worked his body into the ground for our family, sometimes in winter temperatures so far below freezing that he came home with tiny icicles on his mustache. He cries when I read touching stories out loud. He frequently directs me to take out the checkbook when someone is in need. He has never nagged, harped or driven home an important lesson to me. He has never withheld forgiveness for a time, just so I would learn my lesson.

He wrote “Happy Birthday Honey! I love you!” in giant spray-painted letters on a 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood tied to the side of his truck, and drove it through town and to our house, honking the horn so I’d come out and see it. You can see the photo of that sign if you click here. Over the years he has gently Q-tipped my face for hours, which must be quite the boring and confining prospect for a manly man who would rather be hunting or fishing outdoors. He has leaned over and kissed me while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. In front of people,  even when we were in our fifties. He has assured me in the darkest of times, “God is faithful. He will do a miracle. He will answer our prayers.” He smiles like no one I’ve ever known. He has knelt with me and laid his arm over my shoulders in prayer as we have wept and snotted into our couch, crying out for our children and the people God puts on our hearts. Quite literally, he has helped me live.

He has reminded me to praise God, many times when my spirit was flagging and I didn’t want to. He has shown me what it looks like to humbly trust God and to rejoice in Him no matter what. He lives the same way today as he did when we had seventy-six cents to our name. In thirty-one years he has never touched another, and I am so thankful for the freedom and peace this has brought to our marriage. He has made me feel like I’m a gift from God to him, which at times is laughable because I can be a high-maintenance wife.

Stated simply and profoundly, Michael has loved me.

So we may not be sipping champagne by candlelight and sitting in bubbles in our whirlpool tub on any future Valentine’s Days, but I’ll take our form of romance any time. My husband Michael has done for me what no other man could do, and for that I will thank him and the Lord until I no longer have breath.

As I write all these things today, I’m reminded of some verses from 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Why Jesus chose to bless me with a husband like this, I don’t know. It’s certainly not because I deserve him. I think it might be because my heavenly Father wants me to have a clearer picture of His grace.

Michael has been that, and more to me…

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