The Inviting Ivybank

November 28, 2008 | My Jottings

Michael and I are talking about going to Great Britain again. Time will tell if all the details that need to be covered actually will be, but it’s so fun to dream. And to reminisce.

In January of 2007 we spent twelve days in Ireland, Scotland and England, and the trip was so amazing we keep reliving the memories together. We’ll be laying in bed at night and Michael might say, “Remember when we saw the Edinburgh Castle and then sat and waited so long in the cold for the wrong bus to come?” And we laugh. Or, “Remember all the mashed peas we ate in England?” and I say, “Blech!”  Or “How about the night we walked leisurely through the village of Thirsk in Yorkshire, thinking of James Herriot, and then savored that simple dinner of bread, cheese and fruit in bed back in our suite at the Nag’s Head Inn?” Then we sigh together.  But the place we visited that we speak of the most is Inverness, in the Highlands of northern Scotland. And most specifically, the place we stayed, The Ivybank.

Several important things happened to us in Inverness, listed here in no particular order. We relaxed. We slept. We were almost arrested. We made new, lifelong friends. We ate Whiskey Fudge. I learned to drive on the left side of the road, while sitting on the right side of a car, while shifting with my left hand. We became very dedicated to brisk tea and buttery shortbread. We strolled, arm-in-arm. We warmed our feet at quaint hearths. We experienced Loch Ness. And in some way I can’t explain, we came home.

Michael and I both have Scottish roots, so I keep telling myself that this is why I cry when I hear bagpipes, this is why I felt almost haunted as we drove north from Prestwick near Glasgow to those beautiful heathered hills of the Highlands. The closer we drove to the northern part of Scotland, the more anxious to arrive I became. Something awaits us here, I kept thinking. I have no idea why visiting Scotland was almost like sounding a deep and resonant bell in my soul, but something still pulls me to that ancient, rugged land. Is it just my McIntyre ancestry? Could it be my lifelong love of plaid? Is it my imagination? If it is, it’s terribly insistent and powerful. At this point only God knows, and if He ever reveals all this to me, you can be sure I’ll put up a post about it.

At the inviting Ivybank Guesthouse we met our hosts Tom and Catherine; gracious, hospitable and lovely people who have become dear friends. Catherine and I write to each other regularly, and have shared our love for Christ and for books. We pray for each other and recognize the bond between us that we believe is there because of Jesus. The phrase “kindred spirits” comes to mind when I think of Tom and Catherine. Michael and I hope to see them again someday.

So now that Thanksgiving is over and the hordes are rushing around at the malls, we are quiet at home. We actually have a tea-time planned for this evening. I will brew a pot of tea and put out some Scottish shortbread on a fancy plate, and Michael and I will recall the highlights of our trip to the UK again.

“Remember when you didn’t know you could stop at roundabouts and you almost crashed into that Scottish police car?” he might ask for the umpteenth time. “And how when they learned we were Americans and this was my first day of driving there,” I reply, “they kindly gave us a police escort right to the driveway of The Ivybank and then smiled and waved goodbye?”  Yes, we learned quickly about that famous Highland Hospitality.

Today I was painting some wood trim around a new window we had installed recently in our master bedroom. Michael was sitting in one of the comfy (plaid!) chairs, keeping me company. I asked him, “If you had to live in a country other than our own, which one would be your first choice?” After a few moments of silence as he pondered and I brushed on creamy white paint, Michael said softly, “Scotland.”

From our house to yours…

November 27, 2008 | My Jottings

Happy Thanksgiving!  We are thankful for you, our family and friends…

p.s. – these are some visitors we had in our back yard this snowy morning:

A Thanksgiving benediction

November 26, 2008 | My Jottings

Our Thanksgiving will be different this year. We will be celebrating in a different house. We will have the smallest number at our table (five) that we’ve ever had. We will have two new people at our Thanksgiving table, and will sorely miss six who are usually with us. We will have nothing to eat that’s green (unless we count the celery in the stuffing). It will be quiet. But we will heartily give thanks, for all that we have, for all we’ve been spared, and for the marvelous blessing of having Someone to thank.

I hope your Thanksgiving is blessed in every way – that at the end of the day you can thank God for the love of family, the comfort of friends, the abundance of provision, and the wonder of faith.

Today as I bake pies, ready the turkey, pick up the house and run a couple of last minute errands, the sentiments of this prayer will be constantly on my mind:

O merciful God, grant that we may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and share in your work
for the praise and glory of your name.

Put our lives in good order, Lord God,
so that we may know what you want us to do
to bring to completion the work you have begun among us.

Grant, O Lord, that we may not falter
in times of prosperity or adversity:
may we not be proud and greedy in the former,
nor dejected and discouraged in the latter.

May we not rejoice in anything unless it leads to you,
nor be saddened by anything unless it turns us from you.

Help us, Lord, to show our gratitude to you
by imitating your generosity, the Giver of all that is good.


St. Thomas Aquinas

The SAGs

November 22, 2008 | My Joys

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAllow me to introduce you to the SAGs. This group of four women has been meeting together monthly for almost seven years, and it all began when Pat got an interesting idea.

Pat had read a fictional book about a group of women who called themselves The Saving Graces. In the book, these women were from diverse backgrounds and were different ages, but they met regularly and saw one another through all the happy and heartbreaking things life hurled at them. Pat thought it would be good to start a similar women’s group, where we could share our lives, carry each other’s burdens, laugh together, be loyal listening ears for one another, hold each other accountable, and encourage each other in our faith in Christ.

When Pat first shared her vision about this, I’ll admit I was a little doubtful. Not because I didn’t like the idea, but because all four of us hadn’t spent loads of time together prior to this. We all knew each other from church, and the other three had been pretty close friends before this, but I wondered if just putting us all together every month and calling us a women’s group might not be a little forced. I wanted it to work, but because I am a dark-hearted melancholic, I was dubious that it would. Was I ever wrong.

It has been close to seven years now, and we haven’t missed a month of getting together. Right off we searched for a name to call our little group. Saying goodbye to each other with, “See you at Women’s Group on Wednesday!” just didn’t have that special ring to it. After laughing about a variety of titles each of us suggested, we settled on The SAGs, short for The Saving Graces. Which is what this group truly is.

We meet together each month, and we take turns choosing which restaurant to go to. We enjoy a meal and then spend hours catching each other up on our lives, crying together about the hard times, laughing and rejoicing about the good, and reminding each other about what is true.

This is Gail. She is a devoted wife to Mark, and they have three phenomenal adult children. Gail is a Physical Therapist, an avid reader, a quilter, and a friend to many blessed women. She grew up in Massachusetts, part of a large Irish family, and like me, is a grateful transplant to Minnesota, where she met her husband years ago. Gail loves to learn, and she’s also a wonderful, sensitive listener.

Gail is the heart of The SAGs. She is kind, full of compassion, warm and tender, affectionate and encouraging. Everything she does and says literally “beats” with life, and is pumped into the rest of us, giving us hope and comfort.

And this is Pat, the one who came up with the idea for The SAGs. She is married to Mark, and she has two very gifted adult children. Pat grew up in a tiny rural town in Minnesota, part of a hardworking family who made faith and a strong work ethic part of their everyday lives. Pat works with women who are victims of domestic abuse. She is a super-fit cyclist who considers riding her bike 100 miles in one day no big deal, she’s a voracious reader and organizes a long-standing book club, and she knows how to maintain her many cherished friendships.

Pat is the mitochondria of The SAGs, the constant energy-infuser of our little group. Pat is one of those people whose very presence lifts, relieves, and enlivens. Her smile, personality and sense of humor truly energize us, and there has never been a time after being with her or talking on the phone with Pat, that I haven’t felt better and more hopeful.

This is Lorna. She is married to Steve, and is the blessed mother of three brilliant adult children and has four sweet grandbabies. Lorna grew up in a large, musical family in rural northern Minnesota. She has the voice of an angel, and uses her gift of song whenever asked, which is often. Lorna teaches Kindergarten, loves to read, quilt, and bake. She has a selfless servant’s heart, and can always be counted on to lend a hand wherever needed.

Lorna is the lens of The SAGs. She has a deep love for God’s Word, and is always able to help the rest of us gain perspective when it’s sorely needed. She helps us to focus on Jesus, and to look through that lens of truth in our life circumstances.

And this is me, Julie. You can read more about me here and all throughout this little blog. The three other SAGs have said I am the brain of our group, but it’s certainly not because I’m any brighter than they are. I am not – these are such smart women, it’s scary. I guess I could be thought of as the brain because I’m an organizer, like to make sure things are remembered, and am always, always thinking and (sometimes uselessly) analyzing. The brain is the control center, and there have been a few times in my life when I’ve been called a control freak.

Over our seven years together, we have eaten at almost every restaurant in our area. We have driven far to dine in beautiful surroundings, we have had fellowship around simple tables with hamburgers and fries. We have dressed up and had our SAGs meeting on a train, and in the rain. And in a boat, and near a moat. Oops – that’s Dr. Seuss. No boat or moat, but that’s giving me an idea – maybe someday! We celebrate our birthdays together. We have taken walks, driven a four-seater bicycle carriage with a canopy, and sat in a van after dinners, praying together for our precious children.

We have memorized scripture together. We each have a spiral bound booklet of note cards, and each month one person chooses the restaurant and the verses we’ll work on during the coming month. At the end of the night, we say our scriptures out loud together one right after the other. II Corinthians 9:8, Lamentations 3:37-38, Romans 4:21, and I Corinthians 13, among many others, will always be hidden in our hearts because of The SAGs.

Sometimes our life circumstances are such that we’ve considered “calling an emergency SAGs meeting” – that’s how important our fellowship and support is to us. And yet we all have other dear friends, and there are aspects of our lives that don’t always intersect outside of SAGs.

And we do our share of laughing together. You can imagine the mileage we’ve gotten out of the name we’ve settled on for ourselves. The SAGs. What does that conjure up in your mind?  Probably the same things it conjures up in ours!

One night after a fine dinner, we SAGs were sitting out on the huge rocks by the shore of Lake Superior, talking about our lives in Christ, about books, children, and our hearts’ deepest desires. And then we got on the topic of which of our own sagging parts we would change if we could.  🙂


Here are the SAGgy gals, holding up the parts of us we wish weren’t so saggy. (At least the parts we could put in this photo.)

In truth, we really do hold each other up. That’s what Pat’s dream was all about, and that’s honestly what the Lord has done in our midst. He has brought us together and taught us more about Himself through our little group. For me personally, I have learned more about love and loyalty and acceptance by being a SAG. Gail, Pat and Lorna have done for me what I couldn’t have done for myself.

We even talk about growing old together, continuing to meet each month for as long as we are able. We have spoken candidly about how the odds are that three of us will attend the first funeral among us, and we’ve solemnly promised to share at each others’ services. We do life together, and we want to be there for each other in death as well. We share the wonderful promise in which Christians rest, that we are His and He is ours, not only in this life but in the next.

Meet the SAGs.  I thank God for them…these Saving Graces.

The Notable Nudibranch

November 21, 2008 | My Jottings

If I hadn’t seen you for a while and we ran into each other in the sleeping aids aisle at Target, we might take time to chat and catch up a bit. I might even ask you, or you might ask me, “So, what’s on your mind these days?”  

Possible topics and typical answers might be: The recent elections?  Yes. The economy?  Check. Family concerns? Without a doubt. Nudibranchs? **Sigh** Yes, it’s true. Nudibranchs have been on my mind lately. How about you? You mean you can honestly tell me that a nudibranch (pronounced NOO-di-brangk — it doesn’t rhyme with ranch, it rhymes with tank) has not crossed your mind in recent weeks?  Hmmm. Well I guess this is yet another area where I’m all by myself, because I have been thinking about nudibranchs lately. And I’m completely serious.

The summer of 2008 was memorable in my life for many different reasons, not the least of which is that I first learned about nudibranchs. I had never even heard the word, and now I want to talk to you about them.

Nudibranchs are sea slugs, basically, and there are more than 3000 described species of them. Can you imagine! I’m sharing just six photos with you here, and as you look at these amazing creatures, keep in mind there are thousands of others just as colorful and interesting. 

If you want to know more scientific data about nudibranchs, there are many places on the web for you to peruse, so I won’t make this a science lesson about a creature I’ve only just been introduced to. But if you know anything about me, you probably know where I’m going with all of this.

Nudibranchs make me think about God. 

When I first saw the brilliant colors and the whimsical design of these sea animals I thought, “What was God thinking? Why did He make so many beautiful variations of little sea slugs? What were His purposes in giving them such amazing detail and color and individuality?” (I guess we could ask the same questions about His human creation too).

Look at this lovely fellow. Think about how he and thousands of his colorful cousins went unseen by human eyes for thousands of years. For centuries no one was able to go to the depths of the seas to oooh and aaah over the brilliance and uniqueness of these seemingly inconsequential mollusks. And even now there are probably more undiscovered kinds of nudibranchs on the vast ocean floor, slowly doing their thing and living their simple quiet lives for an audience of One.


Will you check out the ruffles on this nudibranch? They remind me of my 1975 prom date and the shirt he wore with his tuxedo.

I don’t know if it occurs to you, but I want to know why God thought the world needed so many variations of these slugs. Did the Creator know that a dressmaker would see this photo one day and smile? Did He do this so we would marvel and stop what we’re doing and give more than a passing thought to Him and His inscrutable ways?


These two look like they’ve donned their flamenco outfits and are ready to circle around each other and stare one another down, as soon as the music starts and the castanets start clicking. Most likely they have their carnivorous little hearts set on dinner, though, and are slowly and determinedly undulating their way toward other delectable nudibranchs, or perhaps they’ve gotten a whiff of an unsuspecting and waving sea anemone in the distance.



And what can possibly be said about this purple and orange specimen? Does she have any idea how stunning she is? Or does she have self-esteem issues because she worries that her noses are too long, her hair is too straight and hard to manage, her legs too short and stocky?

I’m not even sure why I keep thinking about nudibranchs – I think I’m pondering the attributes of a God that would deposit so much beauty and quirkiness into small creatures that most will never see. Why would He do that? Do you have any ideas? I’m totally serious.

If there are no wrong answers, why do you think He didn’t stop at ten kinds of nudibranchs, or a hundred different varieties? Why did He make thousands? And why was it important to Him to color and design them in the ways He did?  I wonder what can be learned about God through this simple little creature.

Galatians 6:2

November 20, 2008 | My Jottings

I have always loved this verse from Galatians:

Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2

I have experienced this blessing with the friendships God has given me. There are some burdens that just seem too heavy to carry alone. So in His mercy, He brings along friends who are temporary burden-bearers, and suddenly the load I’m carrying seems lighter and more manageable. 

A few days ago I received a card from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. Inside the card was a little booklet of handwritten cards, tied together with pretty ribbons. I cried when I read through them all.

Diane moved to a neighboring state years ago and our contact has been infrequent, but there are strong bonds between Christian friends that distance and time can’t sever. My friend told me that she hadn’t been able to sleep one night, so she was up in the wee hours putting together this little booklet of encouragement for me. 

Inside, Diane took the time to write out many scriptures, meaningful quotations and heartening words to uplift my soul.

Even her handwriting felt like a hug to me, reaching out over the miles and telling me she cared.

One of the things Diane wrote that really struck me was “I’ve pitched my tent in the field of hope.”  And in the midst of difficulties that bellow, “There is no hope!”, I pictured myself doing just that – pitching my tent in the field of hope. 

It’s a decision I’m making. I’m pitching my tent. These fields of hope don’t look like hopeful fields should look, in my mind. There are no tall, whispering grasses and beautiful wildflowers bending in the breeze. I don’t see any sheltering majestic oaks dotting this field. There are no songbirds overhead nor the meditative buzzing of bees. This field I see looks rather rocky and barren. This field of hope doesn’t look like any field I would choose in which to pound down stakes, but I guess that isn’t what’s important.

What is important about this field is that hope is there. My friend Diane reminded me of that. And on this Thankful Thursday, this is what I’m giving thanks for. For the field of hope. For the flimsy but very real tent I’ve pitched there. And for a sensitive, loving friend who spent her sleeplessness not tossing and turning, but crafting a booklet for me, to uplift and encourage.

What are you thankful for on this day in November of 2008?

Evidence of love

November 15, 2008 | My Jottings

Just a few hours ago my kitchen was filled with people, huddled hysterically calmly and waiting to yell “Surprise!” when the unsuspecting birthday girl walked in. We were gathered to celebrate the 50th birthday of someone we all love – my friend Carey. Even though the dishes are done (thank you David!) and the food has been cleared away, I’ve decided to leave the decorations up for a while…as a reminder of love. Family love, friendship love, it’s all pretty wonderful, whether you are the recipient, or you have the privilege of watching someone else be showered. It was our time to shower Carey with love. I’ll take the balloons down eventually. But for now they serve as evidence that love was here today.

Creature Comforts

November 13, 2008 | My Jottings

It’s Thankful Thursday!  I’m so very grateful for the lavish creature comforts I have in my life. A good mattress. A working furnace. Hot water. Many options on what to make for dinner tonight. Socks without holes. Reliable transportation. Indoor toilets. Cold milk. Fresh fruit. A soft chair on which to sit and read. Countless books. Drinking water. Soap. Healthy teeth. Flannel nightgowns. Manual dexterity. Electric appliances. Electricity to power them. Lip gloss. E-mail. Accurately refracted lenses.

And I’m also thankful for the things that are not a part of my life. A wheelchair. Lice. Dentures. Frostbite. Solitary confinement. Shoes with mildew. Infidelity. Cockroaches. Hatred. Chronic pain. Friendlessness.

That isn’t to say that life can’t suddenly take a turn for the worse. I know it can. And I know that for many of God’s beloved children, creature comforts such as I enjoy are not part of their reality. I don’t know why I am warm and others are not. But I would rather notice His generosity to me, not understanding it fully, than to let it go by as if it were inconsequential and random.

In years to come I may not have the things I’m thanking Him for today. But I thank Him anyway. If these things are taken from my life someday, He will give me the will and the joy to praise and thank Him no matter what. 

“Naked (without possessions) came I [into this world] from my mother’s womb, and naked (without possessions) shall I depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed (praised and magnified in worship) be the name of the Lord!”  Job 1:21 (The Amplified Bible)

What creature comforts are you thankful for today?  And what don’t you have that makes you grateful?

Book(s) Three in my Top Five

November 12, 2008 | My Jottings

You may remember we’ve been discussing what books we would choose if we could only read five titles, over and over again, until the end of our days.  Aside from the Bible for me, which is the one I do read over and over again, and will until the end of my days, I’ve posted two other titles so far: The Calvary Road by Roy Hession, and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

Today I’m adding to that list, but because I view these seven books almost as one, I’m counting them as such. These seven books make up The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The separate titles in chronological, rather than originally published, order are:

The Magician’s Nephew

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Horse and His Boy

Prince Caspian

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Silver Chair

The Last Battle

I read these first when I was living in Germany almost thirty years ago. I read them again out loud to my children about twenty years ago. I read them again about ten years ago, and they just got better and better. And these seven books were my “Summer Read” about three years ago, and I devoured them one right after the other. I will probably read these books another time before I’m an old woman, and when I get to the part where Lucy buries her face in Aslan’s mane, I’ll most likely weep all over again. When I reach the account of Aslan soberly telling Eustace how to get rid of his horrible dragon skin, I’ll wish it was me He was changing. And I know that Reepicheep will always make me laugh.

In case there’s any doubt that I may be carrying things a little too far with my love for all things Aslan/Narnia, here’s a photo of what the drawers look like in my kitchen:

If you haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia yet, it’s time to head to the library soon.

Giveaway Winners!

November 10, 2008 | My Jottings

Time is up and we have five winners for our second blog giveaway.  Yay!  Each person who posted a comment regarding the books they could read over and over again wins a copy of The Calvary Road by Roy Hession.

Our winners are Carey, Kay, Tauni, Carolyn and Jessica!  Thank you for commenting, and please be sure to let me know what you think of the book. 

Watch for December’s blog giveaway in……December.