A Guestroom and Some Grands
March 31, 2023 | My Jottings
March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. In northeastern Minnesota, March indeed came in like a lion but is still roaring and terrorizing as it goes out and April arrives. Snowstorm after snowstorm has blanketed the ground with multiple feet of snow, causing people to shovel their roofs and making me feel like I live in Narnia.
I have stayed home a lot this winter, reading and slowly putting together a guest room. It’s still in process, but here is where it’s at today:
I’m still deciding on the art to hang above the queen-sized bed, but this space calls my name and I am drawn to the peace I feel in this room. Two adult grandchildren have already slept here, as well as one ten year-old granddaughter, and I’ve issued an invitation to friends afar to come and visit.
Here is the fairly blank slate I started with:
I couldn’t find the exact curtains I was looking for, so I bought flannel sheets from Pottery Barn and Lloyd hung them for me. I have three little green transferware plates in mind to hang on the wall between the new curtain rod and window, a large print of sheep and Scottish hills for over the bed, and there’s a mirror hung on a wall that these photos don’t show.
“Nowhere beats the heart so kindly as beneath the tartan plaid!” said an old Scottish poet, and I guess in my old age I have to agree.
I enjoy books and movies that cause me to think about things deeply, or show that a person can truly change. I watched Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto a couple of days ago and loved it because of how the main character experienced transformation. I read the book years ago (A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman) and knew the story, but it was such a treat to see a person late in life, deeply entrenched in his rule-enforcing curmudgeonliness, be transformed by the love of a friend. The friend didn’t give up, Otto gradually opened up his heart even though he may not have known he was doing that, and many lives changed. That’s the best kind of story, and one that gives me hope for my own change.
I’ve been told by someone who should know me pretty well that I am incapable of change. What a blow that was, since my heart’s desire is to grow and change in the right direction until my time here is done. I may not be growing as noticeably as I would have when I was young, but I don’t want to stagnate or be stubborn. I want to learn, be transformed more and more into someone who better resembles my Savior, and be pliable inside, even as my body and joints stiffen. “That’s just the way I am” is something I hope to never say, and if ever I do, those of you within an arm’s length can pop me.
My oldest daughter Sharon and her husband Chris went to Dallas recently because the George W. Bush Presidential Center invited her to discuss democracy on a small panel. That was fun to watch.
My middle daughter (“diddle maughter”, as a friend recently introduced hers, so I’m claiming it too) Carolyn is due any day to give birth to her eighth child. She and Jeremy lost Hannah Joy in 2017, so this will be their seventh child still here on earth. I can’t wait to meet my little granddaughter, and wish they would let me in on the name. You’d think they’d have pity on me after all these years and give me the inside scoop, but I have to wait until she’s born along with everyone else. If I could have my druthers she would be Evelyn, but I’ve loved every name they’ve chosen so I know she’ll have a lovely, old-fashioned name.
My youngest daughter Sara has been working hard in nursing school and will graduate as an RN in a couple of months. I’m so proud of her — she has been on the Dean’s List each semester and will be a wonderful nurse. She plans on applying at one of our local hospitals and has already secured a nice apartment of her own nearby.
My daughter Carolyn sent me photos from her new phone yesterday and I couldn’t stop looking at them.
This is the eye of Vivienne:
And Audrey’s eye:
Speaking of “grands”, Lloyd and I will be taking our first trip to Arizona soon. Neither of us has ever seen the Grand Canyon, so we’ll stay in Flagstaff and drive over to Williams to take The Grand Canyon Railroad for one day. We’re hoping the snow in northern Arizona melts before we get there.
There always seems to be so much to share, yet when I finally sit down to type it all out, the rocks in the stream pile up and form a bottleneck. That may be an apt metaphor for my life right now too — I’m trying to remove some rocks to pile on the shore as an Ebenezer of sorts, so the water can flow again.
I hope there are signs of spring where you are,
The Paper Boy
February 5, 2023 | My Jottings
I had my first real crush on a boy when I was in the fifth grade. His name was Duane Edmunson. Since his last name began with the letters Ed, his friends called him Ed instead of Duane. I liked him because I thought he was cute (he looked like Paul McCartney if you squinted your eyes and stood 1/8 of a mile away), he was tall (I was the tallest girl in the class), and he was nice. He didn’t behave like an idiot like some of the other boys did.
Duane liked sports, and spent most of his time at recess playing football or basketball with his friends. He was also a paper boy for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, our evening newspaper, and I used to see him riding his purple Schwinn Sting Ray bike with his canvas paper carrier on the handlebars.
At Workman Avenue Elementary School in West Covina, California, we often went into the cafeteria and square danced for recess time when it rained outside. I remember The Virginia Reel, and another dance we did in a circle to the words “Oh, Johnny, oh Johnny oh!” I always hoped that Duane would end up being my square dance partner.
Many of my classmates had crushes on boys too. My friend Denel went steady with cute Barry Fourzon in second grade and red-headed Bob McCarter in fourth. I confided in my friends about my crush on Duane, and we giggled together like girls do. It was very innocent, even though looking back now I think we were too young to be focusing on boys when we were only 10 years old. I don’t think a boy ever had a crush on me back then, unless you count Irwin Fast, who asked most of the girls to go steady because he just wanted to say he had a girlfriend.
I don’t know who spread the word, but someone told someone else who told Duane that I liked him. It was probably a passed, crumpled note in class that had written in faint pencil, Julie S. likes you. When I found out about that I was embarrassed, but I had hopes that maybe Duane might like me back. What were we going to do if we “liked” each other? Nothing at all. He didn’t live close to me, he ate lunch with his friends as I did mine, and we were too young to date.
After a couple of months, two of my friends called my name on the playground one sunny afternoon and came running up to me. “Ed wants to go steady with you!” one of them exclaimed. This was the way of things — messengers were used to do the asking and the relaying of messages. She held out a little cardboard jewelry box and nestled inside was a pretty gold heart necklace. On the flat heart were several clear rhinestones shaped in a small cross. I was so shocked, but I was happy, and they helped me put my necklace on. I couldn’t believe that Duane actually liked me and wanted to go steady.
Things continued as before, with Duane playing football at recess with his friends, me playing four-square with mine, and we exchanged occasional shy smiles and quick hip-high waves when we saw each other at lunch. One time I saw him finishing his paper route and went out to the sidewalk to talk to him. He gave me a ride on his bike and I thought the clouds had parted and the angels sang.
I don’t remember how long Duane and I went steady before I got the news. Probably a month or two had passed. Two friends told me that they had felt sorry because no boys were interested in me, so they talked Duane into asking me to go steady. He was a nice guy and thought it seemed like a kind thing to do, to take pity on the tall gangly girl with the freckles and the buck teeth. I know that none of them were trying to hurt me. But I’ll bet you can guess that it did. I gave the necklace back to Duane, and tried not to show how “other” and alone I felt.
Seven years later Duane and I graduated from high school in the same class, and he continued to be a football-loving, relatively shy, uncommonly nice guy. He had a serious girlfriend, and I was dating the guy I would eventually marry.
Why this particular memory wandered back to me I’m not sure. It makes me wish I could go back and tell that ten year-old girl a few important things, put my arms around her and comfort her heart.
Wednesday’s Word — Edition 155
January 25, 2023 | My Jottings
“We are fools for Christ’s sake,” Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians.
God is foolish, too, Paul says. God is foolish to choose for His holy work in the world the kind of lamebrains and misfits and nit-pickers and odd ducks and stuffed shirts and egomaniacs and milquetoasts and closet sensualists as are vividly represented by us all.
God is foolish to send us out to speak hope to a world that slogs along heart-deep in the conviction that things can only get worse…He is foolish to have us speak of loving our enemies when we have a hard enough time loving our friends…God is foolish to have us proclaim eternal life to a world that is half in love with death…God is foolish to send us out on a journey for which there are no maps, and to aim us in the direction of a goal we can never know until we get there. Such is the foolishness of God.
And yet, and yet, Paul says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than man.”
~~~ Frederick Buechner
Because He Picked Up a Pen
December 31, 2022 | My Jottings
In 1976 I had been married for less than a year when my Air Force husband and I moved out of our trailer on the banks of the Yuba River in Smartville, California, which is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We moved into a three-bedroom house on Beale AFB — the address was 4093 Terrace Drive and we were just beginning our life together. I was eighteen and Glenn was twenty-one.
I was so happy to be a homemaker. I kept a fairly tidy house (unlike how I’d kept my bedroom growing up on Eckerman Avenue in West Covina, much to my mother’s occasional consternation), I liked to cook, and made a lot of recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook called Cooking for Two my mother had given me for my hope chest. I still make the little meatballs recipe to this day, along with the homemade barbecue sauce in the book. I also used to make Cornish game hens stuffed with mushroom rice quite a bit.
One day while my husband was at work on the base, two little girls knocked on the sliding glass window in the dining room of our base home. They were nine and seven years old, and introduced themselves as Celeste and Kathleen. Their father was a Senior Master Sergeant and their family lived around the corner and down a few houses. I was so taken with these beautiful, kind-hearted little girls. I looked forward to their visits and one time even invited them in to bake cookies with me. Those were the days when things like this could happen without a care. Celeste and Kathleen soon introduced me to their mother Yvonne, who became a fast friend despite our thirteen year age difference.
Yvonne taught me a lot about prayer during the two years we lived in the same neighborhood. When I gave birth at Hospital Beale to my first daughter, Yvonne came minutes afterward and joined me in marveling over such a miracle. I always cherished how easily she would shed tears of joy, and she certainly did on that day.
As happens with military families, goodbyes always come. The Laynes went to other assignments, including Minot, North Dakota. Glenn and I lived in a little German village called Damflos, not far from the Luxembourg border, and our second daughter was born at Landstuhl Army Hospital. Over the years Yvonne and I wrote letters to each other, and I was glad to receive her Christmas cards with the newest school photos of their four children, Mark, Celeste, Kathleen and Jenifer. Once Frank retired from the Air Force, the Laynes bought a home in Duluth, MN, where Yvonne had been born and raised.
When my little girls were two years old and nine months old, our lives took an unexpected turn when my husband of four years struck out on a different path. I found myself suddenly uprooted, with eleven pieces of luggage (high chair, suitcases, and several densely packed household boxes), two exhausted little ones, three passports, a diaper bag and a purse, flying from airport to airport so we could go home to Southern California to heal and begin anew. We flew from Frankfurt to McGuire AFB in New Jersey, to Charleston AFB in South Carolina, to the civilian airport in Charleston, where we had an eight hour layover. From there we flew to Atlanta, Georgia where we had another layover, and then flew to Los Angeles. Our journey took exactly twenty-four hours.
After a difficult six months I felt stable enough to look for a job and was blessed with a good one in Anaheim. I was thankful, but working full-time while a nanny cared for my children was not the horizon I had hopefully scanned when Glenn and I stood at the altar. We got a nice two-bedroom apartment, visited Disneyland when we could, drove to the beach, and read lots of books.
One day I came home from work from the private investigating company on Brookhurst Avenue and stopped at the mailboxes to grab my mail. The one envelope that caught my attention was one addressed to me by hand. The postmark was from Duluth, MN, but that did not ring a bell in my mind. I truly had no knowledge of Minnesota, and because Frank and Yvonne had moved around with the Air Force, it hadn’t registered that this had been where they might retire.
I climbed the outside stone stairs to my second floor apartment, greeted my little ones and Gwynne, their nanny who lived with us during the week, and sat down to go through the mail. Of course I had to open the mysterious hand-written letter first — it was from an M. Balmer. Michael introduced himself and took several pages to tell me all about his life. On the first page I learned that he was Yvonne’s nephew, and she had given him my name and address a year and a half before. I vaguely remembered that after I flew home from Germany and was staying at my mom’s, Yvonne and I spoke on the phone once, me in tears and she with her compassionate tears and kindness coming through the receiver, and she mentioned having a nephew who was going through something similar to me. Just hearing the word “nephew” conjured up something undesirable in my mind and I wasn’t interested in the least. I was hoping my marriage might be restored and was focusing on that.
But since Michael didn’t seem to be fishing for a relationship in his letter, and instead was telling me how the Lord was seeing him through an unwanted divorce, and he spoke so genuinely about his faith in Christ, I felt relatively safe, and wrote back. We exchanged handwritten letters (they were the only kind back in 1981) for a few weeks and then he called me. Our conversations on the phone were easy and grew to be lengthy. I was so drawn to his love for Christ, who had delivered him from many hardships and a few foolish decisions. After about six weeks, I received a letter from Michael declaring his feelings for me, and I felt my heart melting as well. He asked me to marry him before we had ever met, and I accepted. I did not have enough faith to just set a date and marry him the first time we were together, however. I bought a plane ticket for Minneapolis, arranged for Sharon and Carolyn to stay with my friend Diane, and flew north to meet the Balmer/Nesgoda clan.
I spent a few days in Duluth, gasped when I first saw Lake Superior since it looked vast as an ocean, basked in the welcoming love of Michael’s aunts and uncles and cousins, hugged his sweet daughters Buffy and Daphne, and gulped when I met his mother Bernie who said when she saw me, “Oh! You look just like the Blessed Virgin!” Michael and I set a wedding date and I flew back to Anaheim to get ready to move. I gave notice at my job, packed up my belongings, and after Michael arrived in late June, we were married in a small ceremony attended by my parents, brothers and a few dear friends. Michael, Sharon, Carolyn and I made the long drive north and east in two vehicles — a rented moving truck and my green VW Rabbit. We had known each other a little longer than three months. It took about a week before Sharon and Carolyn began to call Michael Daddy.
In less than a year Michael and I had a daughter together, Sara Yvonne, and yes, Yvonne attended our home birth and cried when we told her Sara’s middle name.
The years passed, as they do. I home-schooled my three daughters. We bought an old Victorian house in a neighborhood we loved and Michael transformed it over the course of twenty years. We certainly had our ups and downs, but two things I never questioned: Michael’s love for me, and his love and devotion to Jesus. He was never ashamed of either one of us, and showed it outwardly, often.
There is so much more to this story of course, but much of this blog already contains those accounts. What is on my mind today is how many people have come to be, how many friends have blessed and loved us, how much beauty has appeared in our lives because Celeste and Kathleen came to my door, and because of that, eventually Michael picked up a pen. My name and address had been in his wallet and he only came upon them when he was going through his old fishing licenses and cleaning up his wallet. He wrote to me on a whim of sorts. Because of all this, actual human beings of inestimable value have come into existence. Our daughter Sara. My grandchildren Clara, Cullen, Elijah, Eleanor, Vivienne, Margaret, Audrey, Louisa, Miriam, Hannah, Levi, and now a little girl who is still growing inside her mama. Because of all this, I have my own home and can see that breathtaking Lake Superior from my windows every day. Because of all this, my dear friend Su lives minutes away because she wanted to move to Minnesota too. Because of all this, I have a life in one of the most gorgeous places on earth, get to look into the actual eyes of my beloved daughters and granddaughters, and know who I am and where I belong. And because of two little girls who knocked and a man who picked up a pen, I have two sons-in-law that are as dear to me as if they were my own flesh and blood.
Also because of all this, I was able to be married to Michael for over thirty-three years, and be with him as he took his final breath after suffering with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia for too long. I was able to experience the faithfulness of God in times I thought I wouldn’t survive.
Here is the wreath Sara made for Michael’s grave this winter:
It has been almost eight years since Michael went to heaven, and I have said before that I don’t view each day as getting further away from him, I look at each day as one more step to being able to see him again. The first year after his death was one I hardly have words for, but God was with me. Emmanuel… God with us.
Because of Celeste and Kathleen knocking and Michael picking up a pen to write to me, I am now remarried, to another lifelong Minnesotan who also lost his wife.
I am sixty-five years old now, the age Michael was when he died. I’m glad the Lord can read my heart, because the words my mind can come up with are much too feeble to express the wonder I sometimes feel because I live here in Northeastern Minnesota, have three precious daughters and a bundle of grandchildren (ages 20 to almost-born).
I think of dear Celeste and Kathleen who are grandmothers themselves now, and their wonderful, godly mother Yvonne, and Yvonne’s nephew Michael in Minnesota, and how he picked up a pen to write to a fragile young woman he didn’t know in California, and how the Lord mercifully brought so much from that.
I hope your Christmas was peaceful, and that hope infuses your life in 2023.
A Wintry Morning’s Musings
November 19, 2022 | My Jottings
Oh, how I love a day at home, with no packages to mail, groceries to lug, meetings to attend. It’s also a luxury to let myself wake up when my body wants to wake up, slowly, in the dark and with no hurried thoughts set toward organizing a to-do list. When I have such a day, I usually do wake before 5:00 a.m., but after going potty and clicking the heat up a bit, I come back to bed, tug the heavy covers up over my neck and ears, and listen to something to help me calibrate my day. Often it’s Father Mike Schmitz reading The Bible in a Year to me on the Hallow app. Or today’s scripture reading from my beloved Pray As You Go app.
When I’m ready to get out of bed 20 minutes later, it’s still pitch black outside. I turn on a beautiful little stained glass lamp Lloyd gave me for our third anniversary in October. It puts out just enough light, not so much to illuminate the whole bedroom. I often light a beeswax candle on top of my tall mahogany dresser, and I turn on my little electric fireplace by the bedside. I pull the curtains open and look out on the neighborhood. The wind blew the snow off the roof last night while I slept, and deposited it on my newly shoveled driveway. I head to the kitchen to get some water and to microwave my Medibeads eye compress (44 seconds will do it), then I return to my room and put the compress on my eyes until it cools. I’ve had Meibomian Gland Dysfunction for years and oh, this compress is so wonderful for those with dry eyes. It really works.
I reach for the remote and the head of the bed slowly raises, and if Lloyd hasn’t been in town from his cabin in the woods south of me, all my Treasured Things are waiting for me on his side of the king bed. My Bible. My CBS lesson (currently on the book of Joshua), two devotionals I love equally, my gratitude journal and a regular journal I often write prayers and thoughts and heart cries in. I look out the window from bed and see swirling light snow in the street light across and down one house. I look at the triad of soft lights in my room, almost equidistant from each other, and I ask the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to please come and help me this day. My prayers are so simple, really. But almost every morning without fail I end up with several wadded up tissues on the bed, because the tears fall as soon as I read His Word, or write the names of my loved ones in my journal. Everything seems to condense as one ages. The same prayers and struggles and joys, but more intense, more urgent.
Several days ago my dear friend Denel flew from San Diego to Duluth to spend a long weekend with me. We hadn’t seen each other since March of 2020. She and I sat and reminisced of course, because when a friendship is 58 years old, how could we not? We drove down to see Lloyd’s place and the three of us had the legendary burgers at The Bear’s Den. She came with me to see my granddaughter Margaret perform as Ariel in her high school’s production of The Little Mermaid. Denel and I drove out to Chris and Sharon’s to visit a while, and we solved all the political problems of this divided country, just the three of us. We also took a drive up the north shore and stopped at Great Lakes Candy Kitchen in Knife River, where we browsed and picked out delectable goodies before going to sit close to Lake Superior and watch the waves break on the rocks. One night Denel and I shared a meal at Taste of Saigon, our local Vietnamese restaurant, and talked about our childhoods and families as we always do. When I shared a memory of her dad, my eyes filled and I felt so grateful to have known him.
Denel has reminded me that even though we’ve been through so much in our lives (both lost husbands, both had difficult brothers, both experienced heartache in other ways) and have gone on to happy times and being grandmothers and delighting in other friends, we are each others’ last link to our childhoods. We knew each others’ families, triumphs and tragedies so well. I went on vacation with the Lupianis, Denel went with the Sooters. To say we have thousands of memories would not be overstating it, but to say we can access them all, well that is another story. Denel and I sat in my living room one night and quietly acknowledged to each other that at our ages, this could be the last time we’ll see each other on this earth. Probably not, but it’s possible. And I wanted to distill everything we did and said, and hang on to it so tightly.
Soon I will pack a small bag and drive to one of my favorite places, Pacem in Terris, in St. Francis, MN. It’s about a two hour drive from my home, and there are 19 hermitages placed in the woods of this retreat center. I’ll be staying in one of the three newly built hermitages, all named for saints. Mine will be St. Maximilian Kolbe, and I had to look him up because I wasn’t familiar with him. Here’s a photo, and the path that leads to it:
I never quite know what a few days in a one-room cabin in the woods will be like. The first time I went was restful and much needed, as Michael was becoming more ill with Parkinson’s. The second time I went was all about my pride, and what the humility of Christ looked like. One time I went to Pacem and the word “offering” kept coming to my mind and was in all the scriptures I turned to. Sometimes I go very heavily burdened and just want the Lord to tell me what to do next.
The first time I went to Pacem the woman who met with me before I walked back to my hermitage said, “Even though you made the plans to come here yourself, please remember it is Jesus Himself who has invited you, and He is waiting for you in your hermitage.” I’ve been pondering that these past few days. I believe with all my heart that He will be waiting for me when I open the door, and I pray I will receive His words, correction, cleansing and hope. I know that He lives within all believers and is always with us, but there is something quite set apart about going to a hermitage in the woods to be solely and wholly with Him. He knows how deaf I can be, I ask Him now to open my ears. He has experience with healing the deaf and the blind and the lame. And the dead. So no matter what hinders me, He is able.
Can you imagine opening your mailbox and seeing an inviation from Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, sitting there with your name glowing on the envelope? I wonder what He would invite us to? I know He invites me to prayer all the time, and too often I don’t show up. He invites me to deep trust, but I’m more familiar with fretting. He invites me to keep company with Him, and I turn to lesser things. What would I do without His patience and mercy? I would have died decades ago, but that is another story for another time.
I was going through old pictures two weeks ago and found a blurry one of my sixteen-year old self. This was taken in Squaw Valley, California, at Girl’s State. It was a program for high school juniors from all over the state to spend a week learning about government by participating in actual campaigns and elections. We never got snow where I grew up in Covina, CA, so I guess I wanted to stand in a leftover patch at the ski resort that hosted us.
That girl in the picture was in pain. Her parents had split up two years before after 31 years of marriage, her brothers hated each other, she had a boyfriend who was not a standup guy, and her priorities were all wrong, and she knew it.
I feel love and kindness for that tall, uncertain girl. I’m so thankful the Lord did too, and kept her alive and kept pouring out His mercy and faithfulness on her life. He brought her out into a more spacious place and saw her through dry deserts and mucky swamps of sin of her own making. I’m so grateful He saw fit to give her three daughters who her heart beats for today. His goodness was so deep and wide He let her hold and kiss eleven grandbabies, with one still yet being formed in her mama. The ocean of His mercy in which He bathed her has now allowed her to receive invitations to come and spend time alone with Him, because He’s not finished with her yet.
Have you ever received an invitation from God? What did He invite you to?
Thank you for stopping by, friends. May you have peace and hope this Thanksgiving.
This, that and the other…
October 22, 2022 | My Jottings
It has been many weeks since I’ve walked in the woods, or at the cemetery or on the lakewalk. Walking from my bedroom to the kitchen during the summer was an accomplishment. Now that my fractured tibia has mostly healed, I’ve been thinking about walking in the woods near Lester Park, on the eastern boundary of our city.
When Michael and I were raising our family we lived a couple of blocks from the Lester River, which empties into Lake Superior. We used to walk over to the woods that surround the river and hike the loop and return home, which was about a two mile easy walk. Some of the pines are considered old-growth, and it’s calming and awe-inspiring to walk the needle-cushioned paths under their canopy many feet above.
Lloyd came and picked me up and we set off on one of the trails around 8:30 a.m. I took my trekking poles and they ended up helping so much, especially when the path went downhill. My bone might have healed, but the soft tissue injuries from my fall in July are still apparent, and are said to take a year to heal. The muscles and ligaments all around the knees are still sore.
We had thought we would walk twenty minutes into the woods, then turn around and walk back to the car. We ended up walking for about an hour and ten minutes. I had to go slower than normal, but oh, how lovely it felt to be out in the dry, brisk fall morning air, surrounded by falling leaves and the smell of pine.
Here’s the Lester River as soon as we got onto the trail:
The white pines grow so straight and true, and their trunks are as wide as a large refrigerator:
Here’s Lloyd standing next to a majestic white pine:
I love this poem by Joyce Kilmer:
But only God can make a tree.
I always hope to see lots of wildlife when I’m in or near the woods, but yesterday all we saw were chickadees fluttering around and calling right above our heads. The sound of the river swirling in its various pools and rapids as we walked further away from the Lake made me breathe deeply and question why I don’t get outside more often. That is the quandary of a nature-loving homebody. I love to be at home, I love to be outside. Too often the former wins out.
Today I drove down to Lloyd’s cabin and will spend one night. He is taking a nap in the loft as I type this, and I’ve got my feet up in our loveseat/recliner, a Yeti full of cold water near me on the side table, and a wonderful window view of the forest that surrounds his home. Most of the leaves have fallen but the few that remain are rustling in the breeze in a way that makes me think they’re giving one last applause before they lose their grip and become part of the earth. Will I be able to do that? When my life is almost bare and the last of me is getting ready to let go, will I give my applause and praise to my Creator up until the very end? I pray He gives me the grace to do so.
My long-time friend Linda and I had lunch together recently and it’s a blessing to be with her. We have watched each other’s children grow up and now we are older women coping with the challenges that aging brings. She’s one of those brilliant creatives who can do almost anything artistic, but she has quilted more than anything, I believe. Linda gave me two quilts at the end of our lunch, a completely unexpected and humbling gift. One of them (which I will show someday soon) is full of orange little foxes and vibrant colors I would never have thought to put together, and it’s so stunning I keep examining it every day. The other quilt had plaid fabric and a cabin-y motif I thought would be perfect for Lloyd’s house in the woods. I have loaned the quilt to his place for a while, and here it is today, on the back of where I’m presently sitting:
So much goes into a quilt, to receive one (or two) as a gift feels lopsided or heavy, like you’ve received so much more than lovely pieces of fabric put together. I cherish them.
Are any of you Doc Martin fans? I am, because my dear friend Su introduced Michael and I to the series years ago. Of course I then had to initiate Lloyd, and he is a devoted fan. Su let me know recently that there are two episodes from the final season out, and last night Lloyd and I watched them. We laughed out loud several times, and he said, “You know how good these are when the whole episode goes by in just a few minutes.” I’ve also been enjoying the week-by-week releases of the newest season of The Great British Baking Show. What have you been watching lately? Shetland is on my list too.
My middle daughter Carolyn was in a delightful community play recently called Nunsense!. She played Sister Robert Anne in the musical, and was one of five singing and tap-dancing nuns who had the audience laughing and clapping along with them. Here’s a photo of my girl (she’s the nun on the right):
I’ll share some other things when I post again, but it’s getting close to dinner time and Lloyd and I are going to make a salad and split a sirloin steak to thinly slice and put on top of the greens. We also bought a loaf of French country bread at Costco and that sounds like something that would make the parotid glands awaken.
What do you always buy at Costco? Our store is fairly new so I’m still getting accustomed to it, but here are some things I’ve loved from Costco: their organic chicken breasts, frozen blueberries, cauliflower crust pizza, and bed sheets. Lloyd is partial to their extra-large pumpkin pies.
Have a peaceful weekend, friends.
Woods, Water and Waiting
October 8, 2022 | My Jottings
Hello friends. Lloyd and I just returned from a four-day trip up the north shore of Lake Superior to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. How three years has whooshed by I don’t know, but that is the thought every aging person I talk to is marveling about. The passage of this next year will really feel like three months. And soon, if I live longer than I have long had a premonition for, I will be 85 years old and more than ready for my time on this earth to end.
I know someone who dearly wants to keep living and living and living, and he doesn’t feel quite comfortable talking about death or making plans for his death, but I’m the opposite. If I even have a chance of making it to Heaven, I’d like to go before I reach 70, and that’s not martyrish or fatalistic, it’s just me. I have my health care directive done and filed with my doctor and hospital and family. My will is completed, with a friend as the executor. My finances are in order, and I give thanks to God for that, because He has kept His grace and lavishness ever before my eyes, and I will always thank Him for caring for me in that way.
A couple of weeks ago the four SAGs were at Pat’s house and we touched on the subject of funerals. They didn’t know that you can purchase a casket online and save thousands of dollars, but I know that from personal experience when Michael died. Even in the midst of the sorrow and relief during the week of his death, I knew he would not want me to spend triple for a wooden box that would be seen once and then lowered into the ground. Most states have laws so that a grieving family can purchase a lovely casket online and it will be delivered the next day to the funeral home, and the funeral home is required to use it. The SAGs wanted the link to the casket site and I texted it to them right then… such are the evening conversations of older women when they gather for soup and bread, music and laughter.
Lloyd and I stayed in a lovely condo that was so close to the Lake we could have almost jumped into the frigid water from the deck. This was our third time there, and as wonderful as it was, we decided that next October we will stay someplace in the woods. We both agree that woods or water are needed for our restful place, but it was the drive deep into the Superior National Forest on Tuesday that helped us decide we needed a change. We drove through one almost empty campground set in an old-growth forest and the feeling of wonder and quiet overcame us. You need to spend time here, my brain nudged insistently. Or was it my soul?
So yesterday I spent some time perusing the websites of every single resort on Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail, one of my favorite places on earth. Michael and I have stayed with friends at Golden Eagle Lodge on the Trail, Lloyd and I have stayed twice at Bearskin Lodge, and we’ve driven the trail numerous times. I am past the time in my life where I could stay in a super rustic cabin. I don’t mind old, but I want clean, I want a toilet that can’t earn the nickname Hobbit Hole, I don’t want spider webs, and it should have a comfy bed. And of course it has to be close to one of the zillions of lakes surrounding the Gunflint, and should be so deep in the woods only the moose and wolves come close.
I narrowed the resorts down to two, and then chatted with Lloyd and shared photos last night. We have settled on a resort far up the Trail and are still deciding on which cabin. Here are a couple of pictures of what we’re considering for next fall:
Now for an exciting segue. Here’s a wonderful little boy who knows nothing about buying caskets online and health care directives. He’s my grandson Levi with some big news:
Yes, Levi and his family are expecting a beautiful little girl to brighten up their lives in early April. This will be my daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy’s eighth child, with Hannah already gone ahead to Heaven in 2017. We are all so thrilled and can’t wait to meet her.
I have finally put away my cane and am now walking normally after my tibial fracture. I see the orthopedic doctor next week for a final X-ray to make sure new bone growth is still occurring. I’m walking slower than usual because that knee will still occasionally feel unstable, but I guess that’s normal.
You know I like to talk about books here, and I just read a phenomenal one. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles was beautifully written and so unique. I’ve now picked up the same author’s The Lincoln Highway because two friends have said it’s the best book they’ve read all year. What are you reading?
I’ve been thinking about prayer in light of all the images that are coming back from the James Webb telescope. If you haven’t seen any of the photos, you might be astounded if you look them up. Galaxies and star nurseries so many light years away the human mind can’t grasp it. I so want God to answer my prayers regarding my grandchildren and children. I’ve experienced His grace and miraculous intervention in my life, but I mostly experience what it’s like to wait on Him and trust. It’s heart-wrenching to pray for someone fervently for years and not see the relief you beg Him for. But then I’m reminded that He is outside of time and space, and to describe His doings as “glacial” doesn’t even come close to being accurate. He is not in a hurry, and I am. I am in a desperate hurry to see the people I love whole and free and suffused with the peace and joy of Jesus. I want that for myself as well.
I know the Lord has things well in hand, but I would sort of like Him to come and personally assure me He has things well in hand, and that He will answer and all will be well. Julian of Norwich promised, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I wish I could ask her, did Jesus talk to you about my grandchild? Did he mention my daughter’s name? Are you certain about this? Did He really say all?
I think I might be able to lay hold of this more firmly if I were more often in the deep woods or very near the water.
Well I think that’s enough rambling for today. Sometimes I consider letting this little spot on the internet go silent. Who cares what my thoughts are when myriad others out there share and even shout theirs? My quiet life isn’t notable enough to put words to anymore, as if it ever was. But then I remember that everyone has a story. And how much I love to read other peoples’ stories.
So here I am. My story in a nutshell is that when I was three years old, Jesus helped me believe in Him and want Him. And He has helped me continue to believe Him and want Him until this, my 65th year.
Wednesday’s Word — Edition 154
September 28, 2022 | My Jottings
“The most important discovery of my whole life is that one can take a little rough cabin and transform it into a palace just by flooding it with God.”
Healing and Dreaming
August 31, 2022 | My Jottings
I visited the orthopedic surgeon recently after being moderately laid up from a fractured tibia. He showed me on my x-rays how some new bone growth was happening, and was not overly concerned about the weirdness I feel inside the knee cavity, which is probably a ligament injury he thinks is slowly healing. He said they don’t often operate on the medial collateral ligament (MCL) anymore, and that it would heal on its own.
I am now taking slow steps without a walker (cue the Hallelujah Chorus) and ordered a cane online. I took a long time picking it out and settled on an offset green cane with pretty dark red paisley. I’m to use the cane for a few weeks and then can return to regular walking. I feel pain in the area of the fracture sometimes, especially at the end of the day, but I’m trusting the doctor and believing it’s pain that shouldn’t alarm me.
I listened to a wonderful book called Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson on my Libby app, read two Louise Penny books I borrowed from my friend Pat, and have now started a book I can tell I’m going to love — A Gentleman in Moscow. Things really slowed down as I waited to heal. Lloyd drove up several times and did a lot of things around the house for me, and we started a series I never thought I’d like. In fact I was sure I’d hate it, but I didn’t. Have any of you watched Alone? We jumped in on Season 7 on Netflix, and could not stop watching. The human ingenuity, the mastery over thought and attitude in truly horrible circumstances, the resourcefulness shown, was amazing.
And speaking of mastery over thought and attitude, these little cardinal salt and pepper shakers on my table help me do that. And this lovely quilted runner from a gifted friend named Sue, how can such presents not give me a lift?
And the hydrangea bush in my front yard has gone crazy. It was a small bush a decade ago, and now has decupled in size, at the very least. It dominates the yard, and when I look out my kitchen window or pull into the driveway after having driven to Target for a lavender oil and Systane eyedrops pickup, it makes me marvel anew at this beauty.
These bloom balls are the size of cantaloupes, and soon each one will be the prettiest, dustiest pink.
Lloyd and I have been talking about visiting the Grand Canyon. Neither of us has ever been, and many people have told us that pictures don’t do it justice. For those of you who’ve seen it, would you agree? Was it more breathtaking than you expected?
What we aren’t sure of is when we’ll go. We have a desire to get away in the winter time, since January and February in Northeastern Minnesota can be brutal. But we’ve heard that you don’t really want to visit the Grand Canyon in the winter, since blizzards can happen there and travel on the roads could be truly hazardous. We don’t want to visit in the summer when it’s hotter than we could stand and crowds are at their densest. We wondered if March or April might work.
We saw that the Grand Canyon Railroad might be a good bet for us too. You park and stay in Williams, Arizona, take the train right to the canyon, stay if you want, avoid lines of cars waiting to get in. But we would miss the other part of the canyon that way. This is the very thing I get excited about, take pleasure in planning, then abandon after lots of advice and warning, leaving us to wonder how to proceed.
Other places we hope to see are the Smoky Mountains, Glacier National Park, and New York City. And Oregon, and Wyoming, and New Mexico and the Emerald Coast, and Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland again, and the Swiss Alps, and Israel. And Maui. And then I stay home, all because I can’t decide on a few things. For example, if I take a solo trip to Ireland, which I’ve always wanted to do, should I go with a small tour group that specializes in older travelers? It would mean everything was taken care of and nice hotels would be secured. No tickets to stand in line for, parking or navigating to worry about. Those are pluses. It would also mean I couldn’t stay in a little Irish cottage overlooking glorious countryside, couldn’t rent my own little car and drive wherever I wanted and when, walk alone down deserted paths, stay home and build a fire and read and nap. Not being able to do that would be a negative in my mind. So I just don’t make a plan at all. I’d love to know any opinions about this!
I’m looking forward to seeing my dear friend Denel in October. She’s flying in from SoCal to NoMin and will spend a long weekend with me. We haven’t seen each other since March of 2020, when Lloyd and I flew to California right before the pandemic took hold. Oh, we have such a history. Fifty-eight years of friendship as of this writing. When we were little girls we talked about school, music (together we saw the Beatles, the Eagles, Elton John, Humble Pie, Boz Skaggs, and others in concert), boys, shopping and books. Now that we’re old women we talk about our children, grandchildren, books, blessings, hardships, thinning skin, prayer, creaking joints and the faithfulness of Jesus.
Here are a few questions for you, dear reader. Who have you seen in concert? What is your favorite country to visit? If you’ve seen the Grand Canyon, what tips do you have? And if you were going to travel solo, would you take a small, specialized tour coach, or strike out on your own so you could do exactly what you wanted?
Help me I think I’m falling…
July 31, 2022 | My Jottings
A while back I went down to the basement to empty the water from the dehumidifier. For those of you without basements, it’s something we do in the Midwest in the summertime. If we don’t use dehumidifiers, our cool basements become dank and eventually moldy, and no one wants that. I slid the basin out from the front of the unit and carried it by its handle to the half of our basement that isn’t finished. It’s the side where the furnace is, where we have shelving for storage, and a room Sara uses for a workshop to do her floristry. In that room is a work sink, and I tilted the basin and poured the day’s worth of moisture down the drain. It really makes a difference we can feel. If we go a day without running the dehumidifier, the basement feels like a cave; if we turn it on and set it to 50%, it’s comfortable like the rest of the house.
As I turned to go back to the finished part of the basement, I stepped on a padded floor mat Sara uses when she’s standing long hours arranging flowers for weddings and events. The floor in the workshop is painted cement. We learned later that the floor had a tiny bit of moisture between it and the mat, which caused the mat to shoot out perpendicularly from my body as I stepped on it, as if it had been violently yanked. I crashed to the cement floor on my knees, not being able to break my fall since I was carrying the empty dehumidifier basin. My forehead hit the floor too.
I labored and gave birth to three children as a young woman, never taking so much as an aspirin for pain relief, as those were the days of unmedicated Lamaze labors and deliveries. I consequently had this idea that I had a fairly high pain tolerance (with the weird exception of my fingers and toes, which are total babies when hurt even the tiniest bit), especially since I kept fairly quiet during the births of my children. Well. That notion has been proven a big lie, because when I hit the basement floor I screamed. And screamed. And cried and sobbed for fifteen minutes at least. It felt like a sword had been thrust through my knees, especially the left one. My good one.
I had a knee replacement surgery years ago on my right knee, which took away the arthritic pain as it’s supposed to, but I was left with quadriceps weakness that makes going up and down stairs an ordeal. I’ve always been grateful for my left good knee. Now my left good knee was growing in size and I literally couldn’t move it one inch without yelling.
Lloyd was here that day and he came running when he heard me screaming. He took one look at my twisted leg and said, “Ohhh, this doesn’t look good, I’m going to call an ambulance.” I could not get up. I wanted to settle down before the last resort ambulance was summoned, though. I thought if I waited long enough until I could bear the pain, I could scoot on my side to the part of the basement where the stairs go up to the main floor, and perhaps sit up. I scooted inch by inch, wailing, for fifteen minutes, and I made it near the stairs, but by that time my knee was grotesque, and I couldn’t have done it if my life depended on it. Lloyd called my daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy (who is an ER nurse) and they rushed over. Jeremy looked at my leg and said this was certainly going to require an x-ray, and transport needed to be called. Carolyn called Sharon and she rushed over; I asked them to delay calling Sara because she was at work and I knew there was nothing she could do except worry.
Finally 911 was called and while I laid on my back trying not to move my leg one centimeter, I requested they not use sirens. I could just picture the neighborhood being on alert and wondering what was happening and who was dying. In a couple of minutes the sirens came screaming anyway, ambulance and fire engine, and soon I was surrounded by nice uniformed people who saw they couldn’t move me without starting an IV for pain medication.
First I was given a tube of something sprayed up my nose to ease the pain. I couldn’t feel any relief. Then the woman EMT tried to start an IV in my arm, to no avail. I usually have such good fire hose veins, but maybe adrenaline clamped them off or something. She could not get a needle in. Then she tried on the back of my hand, and I have never seen anyone sweep back and forth under the skin so widely as she did, hoping for that pop of success with the searching needle. I was grinding my teeth and squeezing my eyes shut so tightly as she tried and tried again. Finally after trying in my wrist, the needle went in, and two strong meds with it. In a couple of minutes I felt enough relief for them to move me (without the crane I kept saying they’d need) on to the body sling, to the stretcher, to the back of the ambulance. I was transported to St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth and soon my leg was x-rayed. It was a portable machine and the technicians had to gennnnttttly lift my knee in the bed while trying to slide the x-ray tray under me, while I tried not to arch my back and make a spectacle of myself. I’d already done that in the basement, and I thought once a day was a good quota to not exceed.
The x-rays showed considerable arthritis, and nothing much more conclusive, so the ER doc ordered a CT scan. This was what finally revealed the fracture. It’s official name is Fracture of the Tibial Plateau. My break was lateral (on the outside) and deep into the back of the knee, and an orthopedic surgeon was consulted by phone. He said he didn’t think I’d need surgery (thank you Lord) but I would have to be super careful going home (with a walker like a proper old lady) and see a specialist as soon as possible. How grateful I was to have my three daughters and Lloyd with me during the hours in the ER.
We made it home, and getting up the basement stairs to the main floor was a feat. During the days of waiting for my next appointment I stayed mostly in bed, iced and elevated a lot, and depended on so many kind people to help me. Meals were delivered, my daughters helped, Lloyd stayed for over a week and waited on me hand and foot. (You might remember that even though we are fairly newly married, he and I have separate homes in different areas, and we aren’t usually together for that long. His neighbor took care of his cat for him and checked on his cabin in the woods and brought in his mail.)
After a week I finally saw the surgeon, who said my case is a “gray case” and if I were younger they would do surgery. But since I’m 64 and probably have a knee replacement on that knee coming in a few years, he didn’t think it was the thing to do for me. His instructions were strict — non weight bearing for six weeks. I asked him how I could be 100% non weight bearing even when just using the walker to get to the bathroom and he conceded it would be nearly impossible because of my other knee (which is also hurt but not as badly), so he said, “Five percent weight bearing.” So I am doing the best I can.
I am in bed most of the time, with brief little forays down the hall to the living room and kitchen, using my walker and putting as little weight on my left leg as possible. Lloyd had to go home eventually and my children do have their own children and lives, so I get my own water, make simple meals for our foster gal, order meals to be delivered. I decided this would be a season of finding treasures in the dark, and of reading. It seemed appropriate to reread a Christian classic that has been newly updated: Joni: An Unforgettable Story. I finished it late last night and can hardly even convey how it spoke to my heart again after all these years. Joni Eareckson Tada is a modern-day saint, and if I could face my life with one iota of the courage and cheer she does, I would consider it real growth.
So as you can imagine, I’ve been reading. Thinking. Writing in my journal. Praying. Doing our annual summer Bible study that is thankfully by Zoom and therefore doable for me. We are studying Kelly Minter’s Encountering God and it has been so rich, and such a blessing. I highly recommend it.
Here’s a little bit of my view:
I have two baskets of clean laundry that need folding, and I’ll get to it when I can. I have things I’d like to return at the post office, but they might stay in the back of my car for a long time. There are vegetables to be washed and cut up, paperwork calling my name, cleaning, organizing and who knows what else… but they will all have to wait.
I go back to the surgeon in three weeks to have an x-ray to determine if my fracture is healing. Oh, how I pray it is. If I think about not being able to take a good, strong, stable step anymore, my frame of mind suffers.
These are the thoughts that don’t help: what if I can’t take walks in the cemetery with Lloyd anymore? What if I need a cane for the rest of my life? What would happen if I fell again, this time in public? How small is my life going to become? Will I ever see Ireland?
These are the thoughts that do help: You saw this happen before the foundations of the world, Lord. You are here with me, Jesus, help me hear your voice. What beautiful family and friends you’ve blessed me with, God! What a miracle pain meds are. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. My future is in His hands. I can trust Him.
And I have all this extra time, completely uninterrupted, to pray. I pray for my daughters, their husbands, my grandchildren, their friends, my friends and their families, my Bible study ladies, people I don’t know across the globe who need wheelchairs, my pastor and his family, Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken, my neighbors, and whoever comes to mind. I will pray for you.
I guess that is enough about my fall for one blog post. Thank you for stopping in, and if I can pray specifically for you, let me know in the comments. I’ll keep it confidential if you ask.
God bless each one of you…