Books, my loyal friends…

May 31, 2022 | My Jottings

I don’t think I’ve ever had so many books going at once. And for whatever reason, this doesn’t bother me at all, doesn’t make me feel scattered or behind or pulled in too many directions. Instead it feels like I have multiple treasures or fascinating friends waiting for me every which way. Here are the books I’ve either read very recently, or am in the middle of reading.

This is a series of essays and I love his writing and perspective. I had to look up how to pronounce anthropocene, however. 🙂

I would highly recommend this book, especially to those who are setting out in life. I’m not setting out, I’m setting sail for the horizon in a way, but it still motivated me to really make some changes. Give this book to a graduating young adult for a wonderful gift.

I love Jackie Hill Perry. This book was needed for this time in my life, and I think I would read anything she wrote.

I had no idea that Buzz Aldrin took communion when he stepped onto the surface of the moon, and that NASA kept it quiet. I love anything about space, and the way Levi Lusko ties the two together is very unique.

I read this book in a day and it has me thinking, thinking, thinking. I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

I love Candice Millard, and one of the best books I’ve ever read was her Destiny of the Republic. Get that book for any history buff you know. This one is part of my daughter Sharon’s online book club, and I’m about half way through. Millard takes subjects you think you wouldn’t care a whit about, and makes you marvel and care very much about them when you’re done.

My friend Pat has so highly recommended Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, I had to check it out. This is the second one, and I like them so far.

I read The Hobbit in junior high school, but decided to read it again recently, in preparation for My Summer Read, which will be The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read it 20 years ago and was stunned at its beauty. It’s time to be overcome by beauty again, I think.

Just started this one again — I purchased the whole illustrated set.

What are you reading? Or what is a good book you’ve read recently you could highly recommend?

Someone old, something new, something blue, something adorable.

April 30, 2022 | My Jottings

It’s a gray and rainy afternoon, and all the snow in our yard has finally melted after having piled up storm after storm all winter long. My grass isn’t green yet, but it will be soon. The deer have been in the yard eating my plants down to the nub, so I cut up some Irish Spring soap and sprinkled it around the ones they seem to like best. A friend from our senior citizens grief group told me about this deterrent, and it really works. The deer don’t like the strong smell.

Our beloved miniature German Schnauzer Mildred is gone now. She was just under sixteen years old, so was quite the old lady in dog years. Millie began having issues in early March that made us watch for suffering. On the 13th and 14th we could clearly see it was time to help her, and Sara and I took her to our vet’s office. We were with Millie to the end, petting her and kissing her and reassuring her, crying softly and deeply. It’s surprising how a scruffy and quirky little dog can leave such a void. We miss the click-click-click of her nails trotting around on our hardwood and travertine floors. We miss seeing the enthusiastic wag of her stubby little tail every time she saw us through her cloudy eyes. We miss her Schnauzery eyebrows and mustache.

We have Millie’s ashes in a little wooden box now, along with a paw print the vet made for us. We plan on doing what we did with Edith’s ashes when she died a few years ago — we’ll spread them over Michael’s grave when summer is here and the grass is thick and green. Both dogs adored him so much, but Millie did especially.

We gave our doggie steps (Millie used them to get into Sara’s bed) to Carolyn’s family dog, Walter the pug. We donated Millie’s dog food and other doggie accoutrements, and now we are a dogless home. People have asked if I’ll be getting another dog, and I tell them no. I’ve been a dog-lover and owner my whole life, but I’ve reached an age where I would like to have the freedom to travel more when I can. I’m dreaming about and semi-planning a solo trip to Ireland in 2023, if things in the world allow it. And Scotland and England and Switzerland and Israel, while I’m dreaming.

When Michael and I moved into this house by Lake Superior in 2012, our living room paint was what I would call a robin’s egg blue. It wasn’t something I would have chosen, but we liked it and it worked fine with the art and furniture we had, and it really grew on me. It’s been ten years now, and the walls need paint. I have been looking online at the color Oval Room Blue for months, and finally decided to use it in the living room. Here is the old color with a patch of Oval Room Blue. I got a large swatch from Farrow and Ball, who makes the color, and had it matched at Sherwin-Williams. It was perfect.

I think the color looks colonial, is soothing, unique. It’s dark enough for my ever-present desire for jewel-toned and moody walls, but not too dark. If you google Oval Room Blue paint you’ll see lots of examples of how it looks in different rooms and lights.

I’ll show you the finished look later in this post.

Not long ago I asked my grandson Elijah if he owned a suit. When I found out he didn’t, I asked him if he would like to go suit shopping and I was so glad he said yes. He’s going to be nineteen in a couple of months and I’m always looking for ways to invest in my grandchildren, financially and spiritually and in any way the Lord leads me.

Elijah and I drove downtown and the men’s shop had a buy-one-suit-get-a-second-suit-for-a-dollar sale. How could we not take advantage of that? Here is handsome Elijah in one of the suits he chose, being fitted for the tailoring it needed. He is a very tall and slim young man, and I think he is a wonderful blend of his parents, Jeremy and Carolyn.

Elijah picked out two shirts, two ties, and the look was completed with a new pair of Italian leather shoes. Even if his current work doesn’t call for this kind of attire, I told him every young man needs a suit — for weddings, funerals, interviews, etc.

Elijah is interested in math and science and all things space. I had him over for lunch not long ago and he told me all about the newly launched James Webb telescope which will send back pictures that reveal more than Hubble has. I learned the new word Beryllium after being with my brilliant grandson.

Back to my living room. I’m really minimizing things in my life these days, and the minimal look in decorating suits me as well. The room isn’t huge, so having less things on the wall and on surfaces is visually calming.

I also plan to steam clean my carpets soon. It has been years since it was done and needs it badly.

The dark red leather chair is new — I was visiting my dear friend Diane and she and her husband had two of these chairs. I loved them so much I ordered one of my own, and it took a year to arrive, due to the whole supply chain phenomenon going on in the world. I’m so happy with it, and decided to bring my little toile footstool from my bedroom to the living room for a little whimsy and support.

I will probably never part with the three bird prints on the other wall. If you are new here, here is the unbelievable story of how that trio of paintings almost never came to be.

And on the back of the couch is a cherished gift from my English friend Helen who lives in Switzerland. We “met” each other online years ago, and she is so dear. She’s a brilliant creative — she quilts and knits and sews and writes.

After Michael died in February of 2015 a box arrived at my door, and this quilt on the couch was in it. I was overcome by Helen’s generous gift and treasure it each day. You can click here to see details of her beautiful work.

We still have one little pet in our home, our beloved parakeet Phoebe. She is seven years old. Phoebe brings such cheer into our kitchen and dining room areas, alway alert to the people who enter. She breeps and chirps more when we’re nearby, and sidles over on her perch to get close to us if we walk by.

Phoebe does something that always makes us smile, and I say it’s her way of coping with the world. She puts her soft little head underneath a bell in her cage, and holds very still. Sometimes she goes to sleep with this bell on her head.

We all have our ways of coping, especially during these last two years. Some of us sleep more, retreat, watch TV, eat, read. I do all of the above, except perhaps the sleeping more part. I’m definitely not sleeping more. That’s another story for another time.

How have you coped these past two years? Have you thrived? Have you flagged a bit? What are some of the coping strategies you’ve employed, if any?

When I see Phoebe calm herself and even doze with this tiny bell on her head, I wonder if she’s on to something.  🙂

Have a lovely spring everyone,

Finding Refuge

March 11, 2022 | My Jottings

Hello friends, how are things for you these days? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when conditions in the world are as they are. While people are being bombed and are dying, evacuating to who-knows-where, while the world is still wondering if the corona virus really is waning a bit, do we talk about our dogs? I don’t know.

But because I can’t serve the people in my life very well if I’m under the covers 24 hours a day, I guess I’m still trying to live my simple and dwindling life, give my thanks to God, pray every day, buy books for my grandchildren, and sit down at the computer and say hello.

Back in January our little Schnauzer Mildred began having neurological issues and some very bad days. We even got to the point where we made an appointment to take her to the vet to say our goodbyes. But Millie rallied a bit. Her bouts of trembling and tremoring and falling over (possibly vestibular syndrome, but also certainly because she is 96 in dog years) eased a bit, and we cancelled the appointment. She is still so frail, but her appetite is good and she obviously still has a few joyful days yet to live. Sara is Millie’s person. Her allegiance was transferred from Michael to his youngest daughter the day he died in 2015. Millie lives for Sara to come home from work or nursing school, follows her around like a puppy dog. Probably because she is a puppy dog.

Sara coddles Millie like you can’t believe. And I think it’s pretty cute. Here’s a picture from this morning. Millie sleeps in Sara’s bed and when it’s cool in the house she prefers to be covered by an Asian-inspired duvet cover. And her little scruffy head is resting on a pillow. I think she looks like a baby wolf in this photo.

I watched a PBS show recently on our Milky Way, and had no words. How can we wrap our minds around the size of just our one galaxy, not to mention trying to fathom the other possibly trillions of galaxies we now know are out there? What kind of power does God have to create such vast beauty and sustain it all in perfection? What kind of God is this who is so huge, yet He still focuses His loving eyes in on us, His tiny people on the particle in space that is Earth? The challenge for us is learning to accept His timing, remembering that He often works in the dark without telling us what He’s up to. It helps me to remember His trustworthy character, and how faithful He has been to me in the past, so I can rest while seeing such unrest everywhere.

I woke the other morning at 4:00 and didn’t want to get up that early, so I laid there and thought about this as much as I could. It brought tears to my eyes, Someone so holy and powerful and sovereign and enormous, bending down to listen as I cried and lifted my concerns to Him.

I came across a familiar verse not long ago and it shimmered a bit as I read. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18. 

I’m sure there are more theologically precise interpretations, but what I saw in that verse was this: if I keep beholding the glory of the Lord, which I find in His creation, the night sky, His Word, in my grandchildren’s beauties and uniquenesses, in trees and birds and language, in mercy and patience and kindness and truth, over and over again with great intention and worshipful focus, I can be changed into someone more like Him. It’s going to take longer than a lifetime, because I am more resistant to transformation than I even comprehend, but He is able.

I saw in that verse that it’s actually profitable to gaze at, to behold His glory again and again. I have recorded every Nova and Nature program from PBS for years. I knew they all made me cry and want to put my head down on the ground in awe and gratitude, but now I see that the apostle Paul was inspired to tell us that kind of beholding can actually change us.

I’m also still watching three eagles’ nests every day when I’m in my office doing foster care paperwork, paying bills, answering emails. Jackie and Shadow in Big Bear, California have an eaglet who is thriving. He/she is being fed by both parents 8-12 times a day, and the camera is so close and of such good quality, it feels like I’m perched on that tall tree myself, watching God’s handiwork.

I have watched for weeks now as both bald eagles have patiently and calmly incubated the eggs, sitting quietly, watching the world around them. They are unhurried, unworried, serene and beautiful as they do what they were created to do. When Jackie changes positions, she tenderly turns the eggs with her beak, then straddles the eggs, carefully folding her talons in so she doesn’t puncture anything. Then as she settles over the eggs she rocks from side to side to get all those downy feathers spread over her treasures to warm and protect them. There is only a sense of peace and quiet purpose, and waiting. I would even say waiting on God. Because the eagles don’t form the chicks inside. God does. The eagles just do their part and He takes care of the rest. Oh, surely there’s a lesson there.

So I then turned to Psalm 91 and read this:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ He will cover you with His feathers; under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and rampart.”

That little bobble-headed eaglet abides under the shadow of his parents’ feathers and wings. They keep him safe from the ravens who circle, looking for an opportunity to snatch him. They give him refuge with their wings. They have been taught by the God who spins the Milky Way and every other galaxy how to faithfully care for their young.

Should I be as calm and secure in this groaning world as that fuzzy little eaglet is in his nest so high above Big Bear Lake? I can only pray, “Oh Lord, help me to rest in you. To trust in you so completely that I live in the peace Jesus died to give me.”

I’ve been listening to my daughter Sharon’s podcast. My guess is that if your child had a podcast you would listen to it too. Sharon is my oldest daughter, and she had my middle daughter Carolyn on recently, as they discussed some “brain tingle moments” about the state of Washington. I had to laugh when they reminisced about their childhood, and I learned a few things I never knew.

Then I listened to the episode where two members of Congress were on the podcast (called Sharon Says So), and felt like cheering. Dean Phillips is a Democrat and Brian Fitzpatrick is a Republican, and they became friends in spite of their disagreements, reaching across the aisle in a spirit of kindness and collaboration, and challenging others to do the same. These men have actually quietly spoken to members of Congress who are acting poorly, saying things like, “If your behavior here would make Putin happy, maybe rethink what you’re doing.” I felt hopeful after listening to these two men share about the respect they try to offer as they serve in their elected capacities.

The sun is coming up over Lake Superior now, so I had better get ready for the day. I have a kitchen to clean, laundry to fold, my CBS lesson to do, foster care paperwork to catch up on, books to read, prayers to pray.

I hope today you can behold some of God’s glory and feel His love and mercy at work in you.

May God bless and keep you,

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 152

February 23, 2022 | My Jottings

“I discovered the Sabbath isn’t about what is done or left undone as much as breathing in the goodness of God. The more I inhaled, the more I desired another long breath.” 


~~Margaret Feinberg

A Fisher of Grandchildren

January 12, 2022 | My Jottings

Hello friends. How is your January going? Are things winding down from Christmas? Do you still have your tree up? Are you staying warm where you are?

My daughter Sara took our little tree down a couple of days after Christmas. I’ve always been in the put-it-up-early/take-it-down-right-after-Christmas camp, as I like to get things back to normal. I like the feel of a clean slate in the new year, mentally and environmentally, as much as is possible.

We are staying warm here in Northeastern Minnesota, but only because our furnaces run almost continually, since our temperatures have been in the teens below zero. Today it’s actually 30 degrees above, and if I could kick up my heels I most certainly would.

I have a couple of bird feeders in my yard. One is a clear little plastic contraption that hangs on my dining room window with large suction cups, and this time of year the chickadees are frequent visitors. We can see them an arm’s length away, just on the other side of the glass, and it’s a delight to watch them. They always take turns. Two or three will sit in the branches of pine greens Sara put in my three front flower boxes, and then in perfect timing, one chickadee will swoop in the very second the one who was just getting a seed flies out.

I noticed a lot of juncos in the yard last week, and they didn’t seem to be interested in the black sunflower seeds I keep out that attract so many other birds. So I took some of Phoebe the parakeet’s tiny seeds and arranged it all along the deck railing. It took a day and a half for the word to spread, but one junco must have told the others, because I’ve had as many as sixteen juncos on my deck, eating that seed like crazy. Do you have juncos where you live? Here’s what they look like if you’re not familiar:

Speaking of birds, Lloyd and I just completed our first puzzle of 2022. If anyone had told me two years ago that I would take up puzzling as a hobby I would have laughed — all my life I’ve hated jigsaw puzzles. Michael used to love them. His parents used to have one set up on a card table at their house at Christmas time, and whoever wanted to could sit and puzzle for a while. I tried a time or two, but searching for one piece in a thousand felt like torture to me. It was puzzling, indeed… why anyone would want to spend time looking for one tiny cardboard piece after another escaped me. Well, now I understand. Putting together a puzzle in a slow, quiet, contemplative way has become a new hobby. When he is in town (because he lives in the woods in a cabin one hour south of me) my husband Lloyd and I have a cup of coffee or tea, sometimes turn on some soft music, and work together in mostly companionable silence. If the puzzle isn’t pretty to look at, I’m not as enthusiastic about it. But if it’s interesting or beautiful, it’s time well spent to gaze at it and use my eyes and brain for hours on end.

My granddaughter Eleanor saw this puzzle below and asked her dad to bring her by to give it to me. She knows how meaningful cardinals are to me, and I was thrilled with the gift. To be remembered by a grandchild is no small thing. The puzzle below was 500 pieces and we usually do 1000, but it was so pleasant to work on. A lovely quilt, beautiful song birds… we loved putting it together.

And it’s getting close to egg-laying season for bald eagles in many parts of the country. I regularly check in on three nest cams. One is in Big Bear Lake, California, where Jackie and Shadow are adding sticks and fluff to their nest daily and the egg-watch has begun. Another live nest cam I watch is in Decorah, Iowa. Two babies successfully hatched last year and I got hours of enjoyment watching them from newly hatched to full-grown and learning how to hunt. The third nest I watch is in the Minneapolis area, three hours south of me, and I have seen an eagle pair roosting near the nest recently. The picture below was taken of my computer monitor when one of the eagles in Decorah stopped in after a snowfall to check on the nest.

The other morning in the dark right after I woke up, I was listening to my Pray As You Go app play the day’s Scripture reading. It was from the gospel of Mark, chapter 4, where Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee as Simon and Andrew were casting their nets for fish. Jesus said to them, “Come follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” They left their nets and followed, and the world changed forever.

Something welled up inside me at that moment as I was still nestled in my flannel sheets, and I sensed a strong call of sorts, and the words that formed in my mind were, “I will make you a fisher of grandchildren!”  My eyes filled with tears and I whispered, “Yes Lord!”

And so I will be, as He gives me grace to love and pray.

As I age, my purpose in life becomes clearer as each day passes. I am to be a woman of prayer, lifting up my children and grandchildren continually. I have always struggled with being faithful in prayer, because frankly it’s hard to have a conversation with Someone I can’t see, and who speaks without a human voice. I have learned, and indeed am still learning, to hear His voice in the pages of Scripture, through circumstances He orchestrates, and through His glorious creation.

The more I slow down and pay attention to the work of His hands, the more I detect His words and ways. I look at Lake Superior and He speaks to me of how deep His mercy, How cleansing His blood. I look at the trees in the forests I’m surrounded by, and He reminds me, “Look up, Julie.” I consider the details of a single flower, and my mind goes tilt at the care He takes to lavish us with beauty. I read about atomic particles (which I don’t understand) and He affirms to me how nothing holds together without Him holding it together. I look at the Milky Way on a bitterly cold and clear night, and almost bow down when I try to wrap my mind around the fact that He breathed it into existence, that as vast as it seems, it’s tiny to Him. I look at a human cheek cell under a microscope with my granddaughter Louisa, and hope that she will learn to marvel at a God who thought the cell up, and that we are all thirty trillion living cells, cardiac cells and brain cells, skin cells and muscle cells and bone cells. All created by God, and not only is He all-powerful and staggeringly brilliant, but He loves us. And He proved it.

So I write my beautiful daughters’ names in my prayer journal. And the names of my dear sons-in-law. And my precious grandchildren’s names. I write them over and over and over, asking God to work His love and salvation and ways into their very beings. To speak to them, to draw them to His book so they can see Jesus, to nudge them to lift their heads and be awed by all He has done. I ask the Lord to be real to them, to be their delight and refuge. I ask Him to give them wholeness and joy in Christ. I ask for the same for myself. And I’ve asked that for you. The names of my friends and political leaders and neighbors and online friends and their loves, all grace the pages.

Why would I live, why would I be conceived and grow in my mother’s womb, why would my life have been saved from death many years ago, why would I reach an old age now, if not to love and pray for these I would give my life for?

Their interests interest me. Their sorrows pierce me. Their happiness makes me happy. When they are wounded, I almost die. I love their voices, their company, their eyes, their laughter, their very beings.

I am not a very good fast-er and pray-er, but I have a feeling that is ahead for me. The thought of it actually scares me a little, because food can be too important to me. But I’m willing, if the Lord will help me and strengthen me, take the veil from my eyes, give me His heart, and lead me further in this school of prayer.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m some great prayer person. I don’t spend hours a day praying for those I love. I know people who are like that, and I’m alternately in awe of and repelled by them.

But I know I want to pray.

If you need prayer today, I will pray for you. Tell me in the comments what you would like the Lord to do, and I will take your heart’s cry to Him. If you want me to keep your name confidential, just say that when you leave your comment.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 16-18.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  
Philippians 4:6-7

Thank you for stopping by today.

The Lord bless and keep you,

What Man Is This?

December 21, 2021 | My Jottings

A couple of weeks ago Lloyd and I drove 3 1/2 hours south to Stillwater, Minnesota, for a medical appointment for me. Since my appointment was a morning one, we drove down the afternoon before and checked in to the carriage house at a lovely Victorian inn by the St. Croix River. It was such a peaceful place to stay. We ordered Mexican food and Lloyd went to pick it up and brought it back so we could have dinner in our suite.

After a good night’s sleep, Lloyd dropped me off at the clinic and then returned to the inn to load up our things, and get the provided breakfast boxed up so we could enjoy it on the way home. Quiche, fresh fruit, and a baked hotdish of some sort with Bisquick and cheese and pesto.

The plan was to drive from Stillwater to Bruno, where Lloyd lives, drop him off at his cabin, and then I would continue on to Duluth, an hour north of Bruno. We stopped in a tiny town called Finlayson, MN to get gas on the way home. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and the gas station was old and I’d never been there before. As Lloyd got out to fill the Outback’s tank, I glanced to my left and gasped. About a stone’s throw away was a man unloading boxes from a truck. He was stacking them on a dolly, one by one, getting ready to deliver the goods inside the gas station. I grabbed my phone and started taking pictures of him immediately, and when he turned my way to go into the station, of course I stopped.

The reason I gasped and wanted to get some photos was because he was Michael’s identical twin. Not fraternal, not someone who looked like he could be a relative. His twin. His hair, his build, his profile, his glasses, the way he moved, his broad back, short legs. Even the way he was dressed was like Michael. An olive green sweater/jacket. Jeans. Work boots.

Here is the man in Finlayson, MN.

Here is a picture of Michael a couple of years before he died. I wish the photos were clearer.

As the man passed in front of my car to go into the station, I could see that his face wasn’t exactly like Michael’s, but almost. From the side, though, he was a true doppelgänger. Lloyd finished pumping the gas and got in the car, and I showed him the pictures and told him about The Man Who Would Be Michael. We waited until the man made his delivery and came back out to return to his truck. As he walked in front of us, he turned his head slightly toward me, smiled a small smile, and raised his hand in a quick wave.

A couple of days before this, Michael had been heavy on my mind and heart. We are approaching seven years without him, and it gives me so much happiness to think of what life in Heaven might be like for him now. Suffering over, beholding such beauty, knowing such peace, worshiping the Savior he loved…. all the things we try to conceive of with our minds, knowing how limited and anemic our imaginings of Heaven must be. Because of the verse in Hebrews chapter 12 which tells us we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, I had said out loud, “Michael, can you see us? Does the Lord allow you to watch, help, be involved in our lives at all?” Any Catholics reading this will have no trouble believing that could possibly be true. Most Protestants will think it’s not true. I myself have no idea, but the thought of it comforted me as I spoke to Michael in tears and loneliness.

Days later when I saw this man in Finlayson, I wondered what it could mean. I had never been to that gas station before. It’s hours from my home. Why did I see a man identical to Michael in almost every way, right after I had spoken to him as I never had before? Why were we there at exactly the same time he was, even though we didn’t really need gas that badly? Why did the man look at me, smile and wave? It could be coincidence, I know. But it still has me intrigued and on alert, wondering, pondering.

I texted the pictures of The Man Who Would Be Michael to a few friends — every one of them thought it was an old picture of Michael I was sending to them. Even his daughters had to look twice.

Whatever it means, it felt like a gift. I’m grateful to know there’s so much more going on aside from the things we see with our human eyes. Someday the veil will be drawn back completely, but for now, I’m content with little glimpses of God’s love.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 151

December 15, 2021 | My Jottings

“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

~~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamozov

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Gladys Light and the Hips

December 4, 2021 | My Jottings

Years ago our family attended an Assembly of God church called Glad Tidings. We were members there many years and raised our family going to services each Sunday and many Wednesday nights. I’m no longer a member there, but I have such wonderful memories. I taught Second Grade Sunday School, was involved in some women’s Bible studies, Michael and I belonged to a young couples’ cell group where the friendships we made were so cherished, and I remember many children’s Christmas programs in which my girls sang or wore lamb costumes. And who could forget the Harvest Festivals (because we didn’t do Halloween back then) where three year-old Sara won first prize for her Lazarus costume, which was simply toilet paper wound around and around and around her little self?

Our church’s custom was to have a Watch Night Service on New Year’s Eve, and the aim was to gather together to worship and pray as the clock turned over. When my girls were very young we didn’t go each year, but we were there a few times, staying up past our bedtime to be there. Several years the Watch Night Service included a talent show, and oh, how fun some of those were. There was always a wide variety of “talent,” ranging from a dear elder woman named Arlene who couldn’t sing, singing a falsetto of “I Love You Truly,” to a dad dressed in a tux, doing puppet/ventriloquism with a raw chicken, to lovely duets of hymns, piano solos, and skits put on by children. I think there were mime performances too.

One year in the mid-1990s, a group of seven women (me included) decided to put something together for the Glad Tidings Watch Night Talent Show. The movie Sister Act had been out for a while, and we chose the song “I Will Follow Him,” originally sung in the 1960s by Peggy March, but redone by the nuns in Sister Act as an anthem of love to their devotion to Jesus. Whoopi Goldberg was the fake nun who led the real nuns in their song, and even now as I’ve watched it back, I love it. What started out as a pop song was turned into a lively song of faith in the movie, about following Jesus wherever He would lead. How no other person could ever take His place in our hearts.

So. Our beautiful and kind pastor’s wife Kim was recruited, and even though she was more reserved, she was a good sport and agreed. The other six were Barb, Dawn, Kathleen, Joanne, Su and me. We knew it had to be a goofy performance, because we’d be so bad we wouldn’t want anyone taking us seriously. We decided to wear black stretch pants or leggings, padded grotesquely in the hips with towels or pillows (not that I needed any help in that area.) White blouses, hair in ponytails, red lipstick, and large Christmas ornaments for earrings. Like this, only much larger balls. And we all wore big sunglasses.

Our pastor’s wife Kim needed to stand out as our leader in some way since she would mouth the main vocals, so she wore a sequined knit turban on her head. She was front and center, the rest of us were behind and to the sides, the way a chevron of geese flies.

We thought we would do better if we played “I Will Follow Him” from Sister Act over the church’s sound system and lip-synched it rather than attempting to actually do our dance routine and use our own voices.

The whipped cream on top of this bizarre New Year’s Eve sundae was the large, sparkling disco ball we rented and hung from the ceiling in the church. And I guess the cherry on top of the whipped cream was our group’s name: Gladys Light and the Hips. So. Very. Appropriate. In every way.

The more we envisioned and practiced our fun number, the more we added to it. In hindsight I’m not sure I would ever hang a disco ball from a church ceiling again, but we were young and energetic then, and wanted to make people laugh and sing, and considering the raw chicken act, we didn’t think we were that far off course.

There was a good crowd on that New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service. Gladys Light and the Hips all got ready downstairs near the fellowship hall and we knew we had rehearsed our dance moves well.

We were introduced and took our places on stage with our heads bowed. The first part of the song begins slowly and reverently, and as Kim held a microphone and lip-synched dramatically, the rest of us took side steps and lifted our hands to the ceiling as we sang “I will follow Himmmmm.” We dipped low and scanned the ground at “there isn’t an ocean too deep” then raised our arms and gazed at the sky at “a mountain so high it could keep…. keep me away….away from His loooove.”

Then the music changes and the upbeat begins, and we sang and swayed and bobbed and did our best to do all our moves in unison, and well, the crowd (congregation?) went wild. People whooped and hollered and clapped their hands to the music, and of course that energized us and we gave it our all. Pillow-hips, ornament-ears, flailing arms and the whole bit.

The stage and the disco ball were lit; the other lights of the sanctuary were out, so when we looked out at the people as we performed, we could see it was crowded and lively, but we couldn’t see faces — just silhouettes.

Right around 20 seconds into the bee-bopping part of the song, I saw two people about half-way back in the church stand up abruptly, move sideways to the end of the pew in front of all the people seated, and quickly stride down the aisle and exit the church. Oh, do I remember their body language. It said, “We cannot take one more minute of this debauchery.” The two women who left were pillars of our church. A respected, godly widow and her servant-hearted, middle-aged unmarried daughter, both of whom I liked and admired. As we Hips twirled and sang I saw them depart in what I perceived as a sort of holy huff, and my heart sank. We had not wanted to offend anyone, and clearly we had.

After our song we got a standing ovation and thought it was the most fun we’d all had in a long time. What a memory we’d created. We found out soon after that  Myra and her daughter Doreen had thought we were singing an old hymn, and desecrating it with our antics. When our pastor explained to them that it wasn’t a hymn at all, but just a pop song rewritten for the movie Sister Act, to express the love nuns can have for their Lord, I don’t think they changed their minds about our performance. I can certainly understand how thoughtless that must have seemed. I can’t say I would think any differently if I saw someone sing The Old Rugged Cross and treating it so lightly.

But, we told each other, we weren’t singing a hymn. We always looked back on that New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service with a bit of a wince, recalling those two silhouetted figures marching out of the sanctuary while we took our number to its finish.

The whole Watch Night Service was video-taped that night, and Gladys Light and the Hips were planning to get together in the New Year at someone’s house for snacks, fellowship, and to watch the talent show on the VHS tape. Before that could ever happen, we learned that someone had “accidentally” recorded something over the talent show, and our performance (and all the others) was lost forever.

Oh, what I would give to be able to show that video to my grandchildren now. They think I’m fairly stodgy and boring, and I’d love to see the looks on their faces as they gape at their grandma singing and dancing and having the time of her life.

Thanksgiving Eve Thoughts

November 24, 2021 | My Jottings

Oh, the gales of November are howling today. The sky is deep blue and cloudless, the trees are bending in the wind, and the chimes outside of my office sound like a blind person is furiously playing a discordant marimba. It’s cold enough now that our furnace runs non-stop, and that means I’d better soon retrieve the snow shovels from their corner in the garage and carry them to the entrances of the house.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and for the first time in years, I’m not roasting a turkey or hosting anyone in my cozy white corner house by the Lake. This year we are all driving over the river and through the woods to my daughter and son-in-law’s house. Chris and Sharon will roast the turkey and do the stuffing, corn, and the giant relish plate with her delicious homemade dip, set the table and let us all wander in and enjoy our holiday plopping. Carolyn and Jeremy will bring French silk pies, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, and six beloved children to add to Chris and Sharon’s cherished four. I will bring rolls, biscuits, some more rolls, cranberries, and a Thanksgiving anomaly — a huge green salad. I’m in charge of bringing something green, and in the past I’ve done roasted asparagus, Brussels sprouts or broccoli. This time, since everything we’ll eat will be warm and soft, I’m bringing cold and crunchy.

At this moment I’m alone in my house, which doesn’t happen very often. It’s divine. I love the hum of the heat coming through my floor registers, the glow of the sun going down through the bare crabapple trees on the west side of my yard, and the smell of clean white laundry that just dried in the laundry room around the corner from my office. I ordered food for dinner because I decided not to cook, and I might even put my feet up in my brown leather recliner later and watch something on television.

Speaking of that, have any of you watched the movie Wild Mountain Thyme with Emily Blunt? My dear friend Su recommended it to me a long time ago, but I didn’t want to pay $7.99 to watch. It finally dropped to $2.99 and I downloaded it a few nights ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Such rapid-fire, quirky conversation! Such breathtaking scenery as it was filmed in Ireland. I could easily have stepped through the TV screen and just moved to County Mayo in the blink of an eye.

Sara has been super-busy in nursing school, but took the time to deck out my three flower boxes on the front porch. She fills them with lush, fragrant pine boughs, sticks and twigs, huge pine cones, and oversized ornaments the size of cantaloupes. When the snow falls they look especially lovely.

I think we’ll put up our Christmas tree in a few days, and it will probably be our little one. I’ll put it on a table in the corner of the living room, and relive all the memories I have from the myriad ornaments I’ve collected over the decades. My mother’s orange and banana ornaments from the 1950s. My daughter Sharon’s orange juice can lid with the word JOY punched out with nails, my daughter Carolyn’s little stained glass ornament with her name painted on it, done at a birthday party when she was in elementary school. My daughter Sara’s colored Christmas tree, preserved in contact paper. Crocheted bells from the Glad Tidings church secretary, bead ornaments made by my friend Carey’s daughter Liz, a stuffed angel from my friend Sue P., and so many more. They’re all mostly red, gold and green, and the word I use each year to describe how our tree is decorated is festooned. There isn’t a spare bare inch left on our tree, and it looks so beautiful to us.

I was talking with a granddaughter recently and we were discussing Christmas movies. I think the two I look forward to watching the most this year are the animated version of A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey (unbelievable stuff they do in that one) and the 1970 version of the same story called Scrooge, a musical with Albert Finney. I know all the songs by heart and sing them out loud and heartily when I watch it. What are your favorite Christmas movies? Is there something you watch every year? Can you believe that Lloyd had never watched It’s a Wonderful Life until last year, when I asked him to sit down and view it with me?

Here are a few things I don’t want to talk about, in person or here in print: how the virus is surging in our area, my ferritin levels, my intense need to get rid of half the stuff in my house on my slow quest to simplify, politics, supply chains, or how lonely it can be to be at home so much. It’s truly a good thing I’m an introvert and love this place.

Here’s a recent picture of Lloyd and me.

And at the age of 64, I’m still learning how to pray. I pray in my own handwriting the most, in a prayer journal in the mornings, and I also pray prayers others have written, and I cry out to God from my heart with tears, and I pray the Jesus prayer sometimes. I pray along with the wonderful app Pray As You Go, I pray in silence, I pray when I listen to worship songs. But I still wonder…. how shall I pray? Jesus taught His disciples to pray, and I pray that prayer a lot, slowly, thinking of what each phrase means and meaning it in my heart. I pray lots of short prayers…. Help me Lord!! and Thank you Jesus! 

I’m still in the school of prayer, not ever feeling like I’m quite doing it right. One thing I’ve become convinced of lately is, that I want to pray at least three times a day. I mean, stop what I’m doing and go to my room and have a short time of focused talking with the Lord. Morning, noon-ish and before bedtime sounds good to me. I’ve even set my phone to help me remember, and honestly on the days when I do that, my soul is more at peace. Even after the disciples had their lives and beliefs turned upside down by Jesus Christ, they still had set times they went to the temple to pray. Check out the third chapter of the book of Acts to read about Peter and John doing that. If they needed to do that, I think I might also.

I looked back in my prayer journal this morning and saw an answered prayer about my granddaughter Miriam. And one about my daughter Sara. And there have been many about Eleanor and Vivienne and my own children, and friends. I’m so grateful. But I’m still in elementary school when it comes to prayer. I want to be a woman of prayer before I die. I want to know my Savior’s voice.

Well, the sun has set and the wind has died down just a little bit. The mail was just delivered and Mildred the almost 16 year-old schnauzer has been fed. She sure totters and trembles in her old age and we know 2022 might well be the year we kiss her goodbye. I will be up with the dawn to bake and chop and toss and wrap, music playing on the dining room fireplace mantel as I do.

I pray that your Thanksgiving is a day you have even a small something to be grateful for. Whether you will be with family or friends or all alone, I ask the Lord who holds our breath in His hands to give you His peace and love. Thank you for stopping by.

October Weekend

October 18, 2021 | My Jottings

She wakes at 4:35 a.m. and is satisfied with that. If I go back to sleep, fine, if I don’t, this was a decent night’s sleep. She reaches over to the nightstand in the dark and feels for the little bottle of Systane eyedrops, peels her bone-dry upper eyelids from each eyeball, then squeezes two soothing drops into each eye.

She notices how dead quiet it is here in the woods, in this log cabin loft she calls The Tree House. Windows behind the king-sized bed, to the right of the bed, and across the small loft beyond the foot of the bed are filled with foliage and sky, prompting the name. Being in the middle of eighty wooded country acres means there are no nearby streetlights, businesses, headlights, or glowing windows from neighbor’s houses. At home near Lake Superior, even though her house is in a quiet neighborhood, occasional sirens can be heard, a streetlight stands and beams close, and semi-trucks can be heard heading south on I-35, two blocks away.

She puts on her glasses, pockets her dang phone, slips her toes into her Haflingers with the embroidered sheep on the tops, and eases her way down the precarious wooden steps in the dark. “Be careful,” he urges as he throws back the covers and sits up. She takes it one step at a time.

The sun is barely paling the sky over the trees of his woods. Near his recliner she checks the indoor/outdoor thermometer and calls up, “Thirty-six outside.”

“What is it in here?” he asks, and she peers again in the dim cabin living room and answers, “Sixty-three.” She clicks on the air source heat.

She pours some organic half and half in a large mug decorated with a cardinal pair, then pours cold brew over that. He comes downstairs and makes his own pot of hot coffee, turns on the floor lamp with the painted trout and angling gear on the shade, and they sit together on the love seat, ready to read.

It’s October, and an odd date, so that means she reads first. He leads on even days. Her reading is from the gospel of Mark, the account of the Zebedee brothers asking Jesus for special seating in heaven. After she reads the passage and the meditation, he takes out the smaller devotional and reads aloud from the book of Hebrews. Because of what Jesus did, God’s children can approach His throne of grace with confidence, to obtain the mercy needed every day, every moment.

They sit and look through the windows and see what’s left of the autumn leaves, and share quietly together about what confidently approaching the throne of grace really means. Not having to grovel and beg, not having to make an appointment and hoping the King would grant a short audience. Can He be so merciful, so welcoming?

They eat a simple breakfast. He likes bran flakes and Cheerios together in one bowl, with cranberries and chopped walnuts added, and pours milk and Madagascar vanilla kefir over it. She cuts up an apple, scoops a tablespoon of peanut butter onto her plate, and joins him at the table, where he has already put the cooked links of chicken and sage sausages they enjoy.

They watch the half dozen blue jays swooping to and fro outside. He clears the table and she says, “I’ll do the dishes. You made a nice dinner for us last night.” She puts on some jeans and a turtleneck and folds her flannel plaid nightgown and places it in her overnight bag on the glass case with the real stuffed pheasants in the dining room. He dons a hat and a heavy flannel shirt before heading out to put out food for the birds and deer that live in his woods. She plays some Celtic music from her dang phone, and washes the dishes while praying for some marriages on her heart.

The low autumn sun is streaming golden through the cabin windows and the remaining leaves on the birches near the pond rustle in a way that always reminds her of applause. “Aspen leaves are God’s sequins,” she read online recently and smiled, agreeing. And birch leaves too. The trees of the field will clap their hands….

She gathers her journal, her bold point pen that flows so smoothly and calligraphically, her CBS study of Daniel, and a book on the topic of rest for the believer, then feels for the button on the side of the loveseat that lifts her feet and legs up off the ground in comfort. She loves to settle in here, thinking and praying and reading and writing.

A couple of hours later, they both pull on socks and walking shoes, and head out into his woods, walking the trails he cut over twenty years ago when he moved to the Minnesota Northwoods after retirement. He knows she isn’t as steady on her feet lately because of a sudden and puzzling iron deficiency, and her wonky prosthetic knee. He retrieves two chest-high walking sticks he’s cut and sanded and holds them out to her with a smile. Each step they take is crackling and loud with the fallen oak, maple, poplar and birch leaves carpeting the ground up to their ankles. Chickadees flit and flutter across their path, and they pause to watch them here and there.

He points out the blueberry patches along the trail, long picked bare by wild turkeys, and probably a black bear or two. They stop to inspect hard mushrooms growing on the sides of trees, and bark growing over them. They find a place deeper in the woods where an old cabin foundation stands. Over a century ago who lived there? Further in is an old sink and some kind of metal headboard piled together and nearly covered over by brush growth. They walk by a giant white pine, long dead and stories high, slowly killed years ago by porcupines. He knows she doesn’t like to hear about animals suffering, but he tells her grimly that he shot the porcupine when he could finally catch it in its tree-crippling ways.

They come upon a mound of dirt half the size of a barrel. “Ants,” he mutters. He shows her things she would never have noticed on her own, and explains things he’s observed from living in the forest for almost a quarter of a century. He can see where bucks have scraped the trees, what a timber wolf has eaten by its (surprisingly huge) scat, which trees have unseen insects slowly destroying them, which raptors have been decreasing his red squirrel population.

They stroll into a clearing and she considers taking her cardigan off as the sun is warm and the sky cloudless and dark periwinkle. He points to a four foot long depression in the grass where a large deer had recently rested, and she sees the pronounced outline, curved on one end where its rump had been. A few strides further they see the deer droppings, so fresh the animal must be close by. Are they being watched and sniffed? Is there a twitching nose back in those trees, a white tail ready to raise an alarm?

By the time they walk a mile, she’s thirsty and looking forward to taking off her hiking shoes and SmartWool socks in the cabin. She drinks deeply of Lake Superior water, brought to his place in jugs from her house, as they both think it’s the best tasting water they’ve ever had. She reads a while with her feet up, then gets up to put some jasmine rice on to simmer while she cuts up all the ingredients for a grain bowl meal. Squash, green onions, chicken breasts, salsa verde, cotija, and seasonings. He sets the table and pours Fever Tree Ginger Beer for both of them, and they pray for their families before they tuck in.

The sun begins to sink behind the trees skirting his land and an autumnal chill seeps in. She wonders if it will dip into the thirties again tonight while they sleep in The Tree House. He does the dishes while she takes notes from a podcast she’s listening to for the second time. He nods his head as he listens too, and she writes down “Reticular Activating System” and “neurobics” in her journal, and decides to research these in the future.

Tomorrow morning she will pack her overnight bag and he will carry her things to the Outback, and they’ll hug and then wave wistfully to each other as she drives his long and winding driveway out to the county road which will lead to the highway that will take her home.

They’ve been married two years now, and have no plans to live together permanently. His home is here in these peaceful and glorious woods. He built it himself, and loves his land. Her home is near the shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, close to her daughters and grandchildren, and she can’t imagine making a purposeful decision to change that.

They will talk on the phone right before they both go to sleep, she in her lovely oasis and he in his cozy tree house cabin loft.

Sometimes she dreams of her beloved husband Michael, gone from her for almost seven years. And he tells her of his infrequent dreams of Rosemarie, taken suddenly two months before Michael.

How and why certain lives, previously unknown to each other for decades, eventually meet and meander and intertwine so late in life, is still a mystery to them both.