A weekend away

June 29, 2009 | My Jottings

Last weekend Michael and I went away to celebrate our 28th anniversary. We drove to Bayfield, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Superior. We also visited Madeline Island, which is part of the Apostle Islands Chain. We went away to rest, to stroll, to nap, to refresh and to reflect. I might add that my intention in this little retreat was to not cook, not clean, not let the dogs in and out seventeen times during the day, and to not do paperwork. Measured by that criteria, I would say our anniversary weekend was a success – we had a very fun and restful time.


We stayed at a great place right outside of Bayfield, called Woodside Cottages. We liked the idea of not staying in a hotel or an inn, and not sharing a hallway or walls with anyone else. We wanted quiet, and the Woodside Cottages delivered.


Our cottage was #4, and it was situated right on the edge of the woods. The  photo of the inside isn’t very large but you might be able to see that we had a wood stove, a fridge and microwave, a tub, table and chairs, etc. The weather was warm and breezy, so the sound of the leaves rustling and the many varieties of birds singing was like nature’s sleeping pill. We could feel the tension just fade as we unpacked our bag and decided to nap before going into town to explore.



My husband of 28 years, happy to rest after driving for a couple of hours.

Later in the afternoon we drove into Bayfield and shopped. Bayfield boasts only a couple hundred residents and survives mostly by tourism. There are a lot of cute gift shops, antique stores, restaurants, fishing boat businesses and places to lodge and dine. The first weekend of every October, tens of thousands of people from all over the upper Midwest converge on Bayfield for their famous Apple Festival, and there are vendors, parades, contests, and all things apple to eat. Apple orchards abound in and around Bayfield, and the fall colors are so brilliant.


On Friday evening we ate dinner at Maggie’s, which is known for their great food and over-the-top pink flamingo theme. Michael had pan-fried Lake Superior Whitefish and I had the Blackened Chicken and Blue Cheese salad. People with flamingophobia should not visit Maggie’s, as every square foot of the walls and ceilings are covered with flamingo posters, stuffed pink flamingoes, plastic flamingoes, and lighted flamingoes.


After the most restful sleep from not getting up at 5:00 a.m., we took our time and didn’t go into town for breakfast until 9:00 a.m. This is unheard of in our lives. 9:00 a.m. is almost lunchtime at our house – we’ve been up for hours by then. This is a morning view of Bayfield, taken from one of the main streets (Manypenny Avenue) looking toward Lake Superior. You can see Madeline Island in the distance, 2.6 miles from Bayfield.


Michael was looking forward to going to Bayfield for two reasons: to rest and to eat at Greunke’s. Greunke’s is a really old inn that’s sort of a landmark in Bayfield, known for hearty, home-cooked food. Any time we’ve ever visited Bayfield overnight, Michael has talked about eating breakfast at Greunke’s.


I’m not a very good photographer, but when we ate breakfast at Greunke’s I had to get a shot of my surprisingly crunchy ham and cheese omelet. I stared at it for a while before trying it, and I almost sent it back without taking a bite, because it was so….well, crispy looking. I cook my omelets to be soft and fluffy and not browned at all. I tapped on the outside of this omelet with my fork and it made a loud sound, like someone knocking on cardboard. I thought quietly for a minute and decided I didn’t want to begin our Saturday discontented and persnickety, so I took a bite. The outside of the omelet was as crispy as a potato chip.  Not good, I thought. But guess what? The more bites I took, the more okay it got. I actually enjoyed my almost-burned and strangely brittle ham and cheese omelet from Gruenke’s, and somehow starting out the day in a gratitude mode made me feel really happy.


Michael had his never-varying favorite breakfast: two fried eggs over-easy, two pieces of wheat toast with peanut butter, American potatoes, and two sausage links. I have never known anyone more devoted to sausage than my husband. He knows this is not the greatest boon to his arterial health so he doesn’t eat sausage daily like he used to before we got married, but sausage is one of those things in life that makes Michael very happy. As you can clearly see by this photo.


After breakfast and a little strolling around downtown Bayfield, we lined our van up with several other cars waiting to take the ferry to Madeline Island. There are four ferries in Bayfield and the biggest one holds 20 vehicles. The one we took on Saturday was called The Island Queen and held about 12, I think. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the island.


And we sat in the van as we crossed, backwards. The temperature was already 80 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We were looking forward to doing a lot of nothing much, and visiting beautiful Big Bay Beach on Madeline Island.


Here’s part of the sandy shore at Big Bay Beach on Madeline Island. The water temp was in the forties, so it was still too cold for swimming. Later in the summer it will warm up, and swimmers can go hundreds of yards out in the very shallow water before they reach a huge drop-off and dangerously cold water. The sand was scorching hot.


Lake Superior is legendary for its “gales of November” and  for never giving up its dead. (If you don’t believe me listen to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.) I’ve seen the Lake’s towering storm-tossed waves, but on this June morning the waves were about two inches high.


After Michael and I enjoyed the beach until I was on the verge of sunburn, we drove all around Madeline Island, looking at houses that were for sale, and we dreamed about having a summer home there. A three bedroom house can be had for less than $200,000. Wildflowers grew on the sides of the roads everywhere – here are some lupine, and we saw Indian paintbrush and buttercups in abundance.


Even in the afternoon we were still so full from our Greunke’s breakfast that we opted to each have an apple and a bottle of water for lunch. We knew we had a special dinner lined up for Saturday night, so we thought two meals would be plenty for one day. After more strolling and more not paying attention to the clock, we headed back to the ferry dock to wait for the next ride back across the water to Bayfield. While we sat in the shade by the big Lake, we watched in delight as a mama duck led her little ones around and showed them what to eat. The waves were bigger here and the ducks were bobbing up and down like little corks.


See how tired and worn out relaxed and refreshed we look after a day on the Island?


Back in Bayfield, we decided to do another thing dear to my husband’s heart – antiqueing. Michael has always loved to shop, and I never really enjoy it very much. But that saying “I have places to go and people to meet!” did not apply on this day, so I magnanimously suggested that we check out the antique store across the street from Greunke’s. Michael was excited. Excuse the pun that is this picture. It was absolutely intended. 🙂

We went back to our little cottage after a low-key and wonderful day, to (what else?) nap and to not cook and not clean, and to talk about how much we looked forward to our anniversary dinner at The Old Rittenhouse Inn.

P6201240 There is no way to describe how amazing the food is at The Rittenhouse. The old Victorian mansion is beautiful inside with fireplaces in every room. A five-course dinner is served, and Michael and I chose different things for each course so we could have a taste of each other’s food. His soup was homemade tomato with fresh herbs and sour cream. I have never liked tomato soup but could eat that kind every day. I had French onion with Gruyere that was to die for. His salad was greens-based with smoked lake trout, wild rice and a horseradish/mayonnaise dressing. My salad was spinach-based with toasted hazelnuts, strawberries and a balsamic dressing. The third course is a palate-cleansing and refreshing sorbet. Are you ready for this? Our sorbet was Hibiscus and Ginger. There are no words, really.  For our main course Michael chose the Rittenhouse pork chop – a two-inch thick, center-cut chop seasoned with sage, thyme, rosemary, and garlic. It was slow roasted, could be cut with a fork, and was served with an apple marmalade glaze and pan jus. I had the Chicken Champagne with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. The sauce served over all of this was delicate and had flavors I couldn’t identify, because I cook with a crockpot three times a week and consider homemade tacos a really good meal.


When it came time for dessert, we looked at each other doubtfully – we were already stuffed. Oh well. Michael had a vanilla panna cotta – a silky, eggless custard with Bayfield fresh blueberries, a rhubarb sauce and an almond cookie. Once again, I have no idea how to describe all these textures and amazing flavors. We could only look at each other with each bite and say nothing, which was saying a lot.


My dessert was a dark chocolate ganache cake with a tart raspberry sauce, ice cream, homemade whipped cream and shaved European chocolate. At this point I wouldn’t have known the difference between Hershey’s chocolate and Belgian chocolate, because I was wondering if we were going to walk or waddle out of the Rittenhouse after our meal. I think we waddled. We walked around Bayfield after dinner, and sat down by the marina for a while, enjoying the setting sun and the cooling air.


That night when we returned to our little Woodside Cottage, we remarked again how nice it was going to be to sleep in and not to not have any particular schedule to adhere to. No meetings, no paperwork.

Sunday morning I took this photo – right outside our cabin’s porch was a hanging basket of fuchsia (thank you for telling me what these are, Tauni!). I was so taken by these pink round buds, and then the unique way they opened and bloomed.


Aren’t these lovely?

The constant, soothing birdsong, the poplar leaves rustling in the soft breeze, the flowers and the water all around us – what a tonic it was for us on our anniversary weekend.


On Sunday morning we ate at The Egg Toss (one crunchy omelet was enough for the year so we didn’t go to Greunke’s again) and had a fantastic breakfast. Michael had his usual, and I tried whole grain buckwheat pancakes and a smoked chicken sausage with oats and chopped apples inside. Sounds iffy, tasted indescribably yummy.

And since we browsed antiques for Michael, we had to browse books for me. We walked around this tiny and well-stocked used book shop in Bayfield for a while before reluctantly heading for home.

You know, it’s not as if we don’t already live in a beautiful and relatively quiet part of the country. Northern Minnesota is one of the most gorgeous places on the planet, in my humble opinion. But visiting Bayfield and Madeline Island was so fun and restful. We feel rejuvenated and are looking forward to planning our next getaway. We’re thinking about going up the North Shore of Lake Superior next time, maybe this fall or for our 29th anniversary.

But for our 30th anniversary, in 2011, we’re talking Alps. We’re talking Scottish Highlands. We’re talking Norwegian Fjords.

Oh, yes, we’re talking…


June 26, 2009 | My Jottings

The house we lived in for almost twenty-four years has finally sold. It has been on the market for nine months, and I was shocked and mildly offended that scores of people weren’t lining up with offers on the first day it was listed. After all, it’s such a lovely home, in a quiet area not far from a river, a park and Lake Superior, with wonderful neighbors, a hand-carved fireplace, a large kitchen, four bedrooms, two baths, and loads of charm that comes with a house built in 1895. (Apparently not every looker appreciated the small back yard or the black and white toile wallpaper in the bedroom, however.)  🙂

I cried on the day we moved in and I cried on the day we moved out. And a few days in between too, because a lot of life happened in that house.

My husband had been a homeowner before, but it was the first house I’ve ever owned. I cried on our first day there – September 24, 1984 – because it needed so much work and I had no vision for what Michael, my hardworking and talented carpenter man, could do. The house had an ugly and tiny kitchen, so small there was no room for a refrigerator, so it had to be put in the mudroom. And what the heck is a mudroom? this former Southern California girl asked when she and her husband started looking at houses so long ago – (Minnesota really does have a culture all its own.) The kitchen had orange metal cabinets. The banister on the stairs had white, beige, mint green, electric blue and dark brown coats of paint on it, in that order. The “master” bedroom had what Michael called Buffalo Board on the walls. (Don’t even ask.) The window trim was spray-painted purple and white. The windows all throughout the house were so leaky that the curtains would billow inside when the wind blew outside. The bathroom had a diagonal slant to the ceiling that made standing up impossible in certain places. The basement leaked when it rained.

It was no surprise that this old and neglected house sat empty for some time. We paid $27,000 for it and wondered if we could afford the monthly payment of $268.66. Could we really come up with that kind of money, and pay the taxes and utilities, every month for fifteen years? I was nervous. And not all that excited about living in a dump.

But Michael was thrilled. He saw the Victorian charm and dignified bones of the house. He saw where walls could be taken out to make larger rooms, and where supporting beams could be put up, and new windows installed. He saw where one-fourth of the back of the house could just be ripped off, and a gorgeous and spacious two-bedroom addition built on, to make it a four bedroom home. He saw where the ceiling could be raised and a dormer built for the bathroom. He saw beautiful woodwork under all the painted spindles. He saw the perfect spot for a half-bath in a good-sized closet off the kitchen. He saw hostas, azaleas, tulips and poppies where there were just dandelions in profusion. He could see new plaster on every wall, new doors hung, crown molding placed at the high ceilings, nice new flooring and carpet. And perhaps what he envisioned most clearly was the potential to add on a bazillion square feet to the existing garage, making a ginormous man-space to hold his four-wheeler, his snowmobile, countless carpenter items and a behemoth barrel wood-stove. He always lamented the fact that the huge garage never expanded enough to also hold his fishing boat.

I cried on the day we moved out of our house – March 8, 2008 – because Michael’s hard work had turned a dreary dump into a warm, cheerful and peaceful home I loved. I was not anxious to leave it behind for a bigger place with a bigger mortgage and a bigger yard in Uppityville, just a few miles down the road. I had settled in well at the old place after a couple of decades. I liked the big kitchen with the red walls and the Delft accents. I liked the fact that it was paid off. I cherished the memories, and wanted to make some more there. I loved getting up early and sitting by the fire in the small hearth while I read, preparing for the day ahead. I loved that Bible studies were continually held in that house, that friends and family were welcomed frequently for years. I pictured myself living in that home until I was old and gray.

But some things you cling to are not meant to be. So you grieve and wail and get the sadness all worked out of yourself until you can wipe your tears, square your shoulders, take a deep breath and embrace what is next.

It has taken me a long time to embrace what is next, but I’m doing it. I’ve got my arms around it now – maybe it’s still a tentative hug I’m giving, but at least I’m no longer turning my back to it and pretending like it’s not there.

We will hand the keys over to the new owners on Wednesday, July 1st. One night soon, our youngest daughter and I are going to take an inflatable mattress over to the old house, which of course is empty and waiting for its new people. Sara and I plan to spend one final night there, reminiscing, looking at the leaf-filtered light streaming in the windows as the sun sets, listening one last time to the familiar house creaks and neighborhood noises, quietly walking through the rooms, and saying goodbye to dear neighbors.

I’m thankful our house finally sold. I’m thankful for the beloved daughters we raised in that home. I’m thankful that God brought us through hard times and lavished us with laughter and wonderful times there. I’m thankful for the lessons we learned there. And I’m thankful that I’m married to someone who always sees what is possible, in contrast to how I often see what is wrong.

I’m also thankful that Michael looks at me with the same visionary eye that he had for that big, shabby house. He looks beyond what others might see outwardly, and sees warmth, good bones and dignity, the potential for years of peaceful and cheerful living. He sees, like God does, what is possible.

Lord, today I thank you for the homes you have blessed us with. I’m so aware that many of your children all over the world do not know where they’ll lay their heads tonight, but for some reason, you’ve given us a home. Thank you. And Father, I thank you again for Michael. Thank you for giving me a husband who always sees what is possible, in houses and in people…especially in me.

Gratefully settling in,

Edition 10 – Wednesday’s Word

June 24, 2009 | My Jottings

Yesterday I shared about how much I’ve enjoyed the books by Vinita Hampton Wright. Today’s (longish) quote is from her book Days of Deepening Friendship, and its substance keeps rolling around in my mind and heart. This excellent book is actually about deepening our relationship with God, but Ms. Wright’s blessedly candid words below are about marriage:

“For instance, in the beginning of a marriage, infatuation takes you quite a way, and you are sure that what you’re experiencing is fully love. The years show you otherwise; you learn love layer by layer, wound by wound, gift by gift, and revelation by revelation. After years of living with this person, you wake up one day and realize how faulty and frail and self-serving your love really is. You discover so many falsehoods in yourself that have remained, magically, hidden from yourself.

After a few years of marriage, love no longer connected my husband and me at the surface of life; it submerged us in periods of darkness and confusion out of which we had to feel and fight our way. It wasn’t anyone’s fault – it was simply the way our love developed in the real world. After a while, though, what I hungered for most was to be the truest, kindest, and most honest friend to this man that it’s possible to be. And I wanted him to express to me the truest, deepest friendship possible. He and I have come to understand that if the friendship keeps growing, so many other things heal and get better. The harshest conflicts lose their power when the friendship grabs hold. This intimate, tenacious love makes possible repentance and conversion, and it gives energy to our courage and grace.”

Michael and I are getting ready to celebrate twenty-eight years of marriage. As we find our way through the new dynamics that his Parkinson’s disease presents, my goals and desires as a wife are changing. I used to picture us retiring together on a lake, traveling to new places each year, entertaining friends over home-cooked meals, chatting companionably by a fire in the cool Minnesota evenings, working on projects together.

I’m not sure many of these dreams will happen now, and the reason why this is okay is because we belong to the Lord. He is ours and we are His. We may not understand all that He allows, but we love and trust Him with our lives.

When I read this above-quoted portion of Vinita Hampton Wright’s newest book, I put my head down and wept. She put in words what my heart has been yearning for ever since I realized that European trips, frequent fellowship with other couples, a cabin on a lake, intimate conversations and even vigor were going to go by the wayside.

As our new normal plays out, I think less about the fun and adventure we might have had, and more about learning to love Michael in ways that make him feel like I’m the “truest, kindest, deepest” friend he has ever had.

If any of us are granted deathbeds someday, we may soberly ponder and even sadly voice our regrets as our earthly lives ebb away.

Would anyone ever regret loving their spouse so unselfishly? I still have a long way to go on this path, but I fully intend to have no such regret.

Have you read Vinita?

June 23, 2009 | My Jottings

Last summer my friend Carole Seid, who has exquisite and discerning taste in books, recommended a few titles to me. She knows books (and sells books) and travels around the country showing people how they can effectively home school their children with a good math program and a library card, and she always clues me in on the most wonderful reads. One of the books Carole told me about last year led to my finding another new author I dearly love. I’ll tell you about that in a minute or six.

Carole told me to read Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner, and it was a marvelous book about a brilliant young woman who grew up a nominal Reformed Jew, then converted to stringent Orthodox Judaism, then years later became a Christian, because she grew convinced that Jesus is who He claimed to be: God. Because Lauren Winner’s books are so outstanding, I took note when she recommended an author in an online interview she gave.

I love to read, and I am a Christian, but I’ve never been a devoted fan of Christian fiction. I know this genre is popular and a blessing to many people, but I’ve always been a bit bemused at how so many of the stories end with a perfectly tied bow and everyone lives happily ever after, which is not how it is in real life. The themes always seem the same: people have big trouble, then the people say the sinner’s prayer, then everything falls into place and the people are groovy for the rest of their lives. I don’t know about you, but this is not how things have unfolded in my life. And to be fair, I know that sometimes we do have big trouble, and we do cry out to Jesus and He does intervene in miraculous ways and things do improve and we get set straight. How awe-struck and thankful I am for those times! But then the next wave of “learning opportunities” comes crashing, and we see again what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. We spend our Christian lives (hopefully) holding on to His hand in the dark, rejoicing and praising Him when light dawns but knowing that nightfall will most certainly come again and we’ll be desperately groping for His hand again. But that could be another blog post. Back to Lauren Winner.

Ms. Winner was asked in an interview about her opinion on the state of Christian fiction, and she replied (surprisingly to me), “I think it’s improving, especially with writers out there like Vinita Hampton Wright.”

I had never heard of Vinita Hampton Wright, but I was pleased to find that our local library had most of her books, and I checked them out. All the old adages apply here – I could not put Wright’s books down, I did not want them to end, I was transported by her elegant writing directly into the lives of her characters, and more. I think I recommended Wright’s Grace at Bender Springs and Velma Still Cooks in Leeway to every single reading friend I have. These are books that are seamlessly and brilliantly written, never trite, full of real problems (some terribly serious) and flawed people who are all in various stages of unbelief, of slow, meandering conversion and fruitful, mature faith. Vinita Hampton Wright creates characters you care about, some who evoke visceral reactions as their struggles are revealed on the pages. You won’t find a deeply troubled person in these books who just says a prayer to ask Jesus into their hearts and then finds smooth sailing from that day forward. Wright instead writes books that look more like our own lives. She writes about believers who struggle with sin and depression, people who have messed up children and who are weary of monotonous and sometimes precarious living. She writes more about the day-to-day glimmers of God’s glory that slowly transform our ordinary lives, rather than the magnificent, blinding epiphanies Christians are often led to believe they need and will receive if they would only pray.

Ms. Wright’s newest book is non-fiction and I’m starting on my second reading of it. It’s called Days of Deepening Friendship – For the Woman Who Wants Authentic Life with God.  I devoured it the first time (on my Kindle) and now will begin to slowly re-read and savor the paperback copy I have, doing the assignments as my own mini-retreat and journey toward deeper friendship with God.

Tomorrow I will share one of the many quotes by Vinita Hampton Wright that recently struck my heart. She wrote something so candid and poignant it made me cry and yearn.

Have you read Vinita? If not, I hope you will.

My Kindle

June 22, 2009 | My Jottings

I would imagine by now most of you have heard about Amazon’s newest Kindle. I happened to read about the first Kindle months ago, and knew I would like to have one. But after reading the reviews, I took the advice of many Kindle 1 owners and waited for the bugs and quirks to be worked out of the first edition reading device. When Kindle 2 was released, I ordered one, and I am really enjoying it.

Kindle can hold up to 1500 books, which makes it so nice for traveling. When Michael and I took a trip to Scotland, Ireland and England a few years back, I tried to pack light, so we wouldn’t have to check our bags for each one of our many flights. (If you would like to learn how to pack light for traveling, Rick Steves is the one to teach you – visit his website here – we learned all about it and it made a huge difference in our travel. We never had to check our luggage – what we had always fit into our overhead bin and it was really the way to go.) Anyway, even though we packed light, I still had my Bible and two books in my suitcase, and they took up a lot of space. From now on, I will travel with my Kindle.

It took me 40 seconds to download my Bible on the Kindle. Most books cost $9.99, some are $3.49, many are free. One feature I like is that if you’re wondering about a book, you can download a sample of it within 20-30 seconds (from the big Kindle storage house in the sky, the books just come wafting down into your Kindle at the press of a button) and then determine after reading it if you’re interested in acquiring the whole book.


The Kindle is lightweight and easy to use. I like the feature that allows me to change the size of the font any time I like. And if you want, you can select the Text-to-speech feature and a voice will read the pages to you out loud.

And it’s quite compact. When I’m at a doctor’s appointment or at an airport, I can pull my Kindle out of my purse and have over a thousand books at my fingertips.


I’m impressed with how long the Kindle battery lasts. I can read for days on one charge. It’s nothing like a laptop that flashes its low-battery icon after two hours on a plane.

Let’s say I struck up a conversation with someone waiting for a flight in an airport. They noticed I was reading my Kindle and we got to talking about books. That person might recommend a couple of their favorite books to me, and I might want to read them myself. No longer do I have to go to the airport book store to see if those books are there. No longer do I have to wait to get home to reserve them at the library. After my conversation with said person is done, I can find the books they recommended in The Kindle Store (through my Kindle), read the reviews, check out a sample, and if I desire, download the entire book right there in the airport in less than a minute. Scary? Wonderful? I don’t know yet.

The Kindle also allows you to read many newspapers and magazines. I don’t think I’ll be doing that much.

Even my granddaughter Clara likes my Kindle. She asked me to download several Beverly Cleary books and it’s fun to see her curled up on a chair, rhythmically clicking the next page button, totally engrossed in the stories.

The Kindle definitely does not replace the feel of a good book in your hands. I will always want to own books and go to the library and dog-ear the pages of good books and underline my favorite parts and give books for gifts. But there’s a place for a Kindle in my sometimes too on-the-go life.

Do you Kindle? Would you like to? Why or why not?

Conversation Peace

June 18, 2009 | My Jottings

One of my favorite things in all of life has just begun. Every summer for the past eight years, I have hosted a women’s Bible study in my home. Years ago our first study was Beth Moore’s Breaking Free, and we have done a Beth Moore study each summer since then. Every single one has been a blessing. This year I was feeling led to depart from our usual format and try another author, and based on a couple of trusted and glowing recommendations, we started on Mary Kassian’s Conversation Peace Tuesday.

There are ten of us who crowded together in my den, and I believe we all want the same things: for God to help us walk closely with Him, for our love for Christ to grow, and for Him to touch our lives and the lives of our families in powerful ways.

0633007617_LThe cartoonish cover of our workbooks might make one think that this seven-week study is rather simple and light-hearted. But I don’t think that’s the way it’s going to be. We’ll be studying one of the most needed (at least in my life) and most difficult-to-achieve feats in life: controlling our tongues. Making sure our words are always constructive, loving, careful, tempered, true, gentle, and encouraging. I can’t speak for others, but I know that for me, this is an impossible task without God. I tend to be a whiner when life gets difficult, and my speech default mode is often complaining or speaking too brusquely. I lack gentleness. Thankfully, Jesus Himself tells me in the Scriptures that with God, all things are possible.

Here are a few nuggets from Mary Kassian’s study:

“Your tongue can take you into calm or troubled waters or make or break your relationships,”

and “a wound inflicted by the tongue bleeds the spirit more severely than a wound inflicted by the sword bleeds the flesh,”

and “if you choose to use your tongue as a sword, your relationships will experience perpetual calamity. On the other hand, if you choose to put your sword in its sheath (a mark of peace and friendship), pound it into a plow, and begin to till the soil of your relationships, you will reap rich rewards,”

and finally “humble people relinquish the right to control. They are acutely aware of their own fallibility when it comes to judging correctly. Thus they offer judgments cautiously, with a humble rather than a demanding spirit. They relinquish the right to arrogantly coerce or force others to agree with their opinions.” Yikes. Ouch. Ouch.

Just our gathering together each week, every summer, is a collective declaration of hope and faith. As the ten of us sing a hymn to settle our hearts and help us to focus on God instead of ourselves (O blessed relief!), as we quietly pray and invite God’s presence to be with us, as we share our stories, our heart’s desires and desperate needs, as we listen to the teaching and take in what God has to say to each of us individually, we demonstrate the hope and expectation we have in our God and His marvelous ways.

Today, along with the myriad things on my to-do list, I will sit down and begin my summer study. The first thing I see on the page is this statement: “Our tongues determine the direction of our lives.” I have long known what direction I want to go, but have frankly found myself too often driving in circles, going around the same huge mountains, ending up on the same dead-end roads I thought I had left years ago.

I do not take lightly the privileges and freedoms we have. We can meet for this study openly and legally, without fear of arrest. In many countries, some of God’s choicest servants cannot count on that. We have access to any Bible study in print, and most of us have multiple Bibles within reach. Some followers of Jesus are thrilled to have just a few torn pages of His Word, and treat it like the gold that it is. But most of all, we have the promise that if we sincerely call out to God, He is there and ready and able to help. Our access to Him is never cut off.

Today I am very thankful to know that He is right here when I need Him.

Edition 9 – Wednesday’s Word

June 17, 2009 | My Jottings

“My body and your body are miracles of design. Scientists are pretending they have the answer as to how we got this way when natural selection couldn’t possibly have produced such machines.”

Kurt Vonnegut, late author and avowed secular humanist

Thinking about Psalm 139,

Ashes and anosmia

June 15, 2009 | My Jottings

“Hello. My name is Julie, and I’m anosmic.”

“Welcome, Julie! We’re glad you’re here.”

So goes the bad dream running around in my head these days about an imaginary AA meeting (Anosmics Anonymous), now that I have been officially without a sense of smell for months. I have been trying to figure out the correct noun that would go with the condition anosmia but can’t seem to find it online. Am I an anosmic? Am I an anosmatic? Maybe I’m an anosmian. Whatever the word would be, there seem to be an awful lot of folks out there with this same condition (pronounced a-NOZZ-mee-uh) and I’m not really that interested in joining in the sharing at their online communities. I’m not sure what they would have to say to each other once the “I’m so sorry you lost your sense of smell” pleasantries were dispensed with. Would their conversations on their message boards sound like this?

“Guess what I didn’t smell today? Roast beef cooking in the oven.”

“I know that one, honey. I was unable to smell the roses yesterday.”

“Did you have a nice weekend? What did you not smell?”

“Yes, we had a good time. We went to the movies and I couldn’t smell my popcorn.”

“Today, I did not smell a rat.”

And so on.

People are so kind to frequently ask me about my loss of olfactory function. I appreciate that my maladies are on their minds – it’s part of turning into an “older” woman. I need the practice in being able to vocally outline all the things wrong with my aging body, because when you pass the magical age of fifty, some chemical in the brain kicks in (possibly called pathetisone) that convinces you the rest of the world desperately wants to hear in detail about all your aches and pains and age-related malfunctions. It’s a rite of passage for quinquagenarians all over the planet.

For example, yesterday I fell headlong getting up off the couch. Banged up both my knees, which are already complaining continually. Landed on my turned-under right hand in such a way that made me cry and think one of the little hand bones is cracked. I’m trying to decide if an x-ray is necessary, whether or not my hand will heal without a cast. I’m right-handed, so I really do not want a cast on my right hand. A bunch of Ibuprofen and a compassionate husband’s prayers have enabled me to take a wait-and-see stance.

When my daughter Carolyn was here in the evening she could easily see that I was running on fumes and said “Mom, are you okay?” and I blurted, “No I’m not. I hurt my hand and I’m tired and I’m a bit overwhelmed and…blah, blah, blah Ginger, blah blah Ginger blah blah.” Probably at that point the same area of her brain lit up and pumped out a chemical that makes her think, “Oh, here we go, now that Mom is getting old she wants us to listen to her talk about all the things going wrong with her aging body. Time to mosey on home…”  (This chemical produced in younger women’s brains is called adiosenol.) 🙂

But I digress. I do have something to share about my anosmia. And it might just be hopeful. Prior to this last month, I was not able to smell anything. Bleach, perfume, savory foods cooking, spouse flatulence, muddy dog…pretty much everything was just a blank. I won’t go into the emotional ramifications of this unwelcome condition, because I have already done that here.

Lately, though, I’m smelling something. Something I haven’t smelled in decades. It’s wet, stale ashtray. About sixteen hours a day, I smell this faint, unpleasant odor that reminds me of my childhood, and it’s pretty bothersome.

I grew up in a home where my father smoked cigars and my mother smoked cigarettes, pretty much non-stop. They were nice people who loved me and they were both very accomplished and well-loved, and my mom was a fanatical housekeeper, but this was back before the aggressive anti-smoking campaigns began. A vivid memory I have must have been when I was a toddler. I can remember reaching up to the kitchen table to grab a Sweetheart cup from In-n-Out Burgers. I tipped it into my little toddler mouth and it had some slightly melted ice, a tiny bit of leftover Pepsi, and a whole lot of ashes in it. Someone had used it as an ash tray and I had taken a mouthful. I remember spitting it out and someone cleaning me up. But that taste. That ghastly smell. Stale, wet ashes. I grew up absolutely detesting the smell of any kind of smoking, and my aversion hasn’t abated over time.

And this is what I’m smelling now. All the time. The only thing is, there are no stale, wet ashes anywhere. It’s a phantom smell.

So I went online a few days ago to see if I could learn anything about this disagreeable phenomenon, and lo, I found something. It was on an anosmia message board. Someone with anosmia had written in complaining of the same thing I’m experiencing – the constant, irksome smell of wet ashtray. This person also said the ashtray smell turns into a burnt coffee smell at times. The respondent told the person that this was a good sign, that when the olfactory neuron receptors decide to regenerate (which is extremely rare, as my ENT told me when I was diagnosed), people often smell stale, wet ashtray. The respondent said to be patient, and that it was a hopeful sign that smelling ability would return.

This person, to my knowledge, was not a doctor. I have no idea if what they wrote was factual. But I grabbed on to that thread of hope and am still carrying it around with me. Wet, stale ashtray smell might mean that something good is happening! It might mean that in time, I will again be able to smell my grandbabies’ skin, my husband’s neck, a roasting chicken, some freshly laundered sheets, some peonies…and also have full taste restored.

I also know that none of this might be true. But I think today I’ll believe that out of the smell of ashes, something new will come. If that ever happens, you’ll easily recognize me from afar, because like a bee goes from flower to flower, I’ll be the fifty-somethingish woman flitting around from item to item, joyfully inhaling their different fragrances and thanking God for all the wonderful, exhilarating scents He has created for us to enjoy.

From Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

And provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

May God bless your week.

Edition 8 – Wednesday’s Word

June 10, 2009 | My Jottings

I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.

Mother Teresa

Trying to swear off invisible ink,

This month’s winner: Jenna!

June 9, 2009 | My Jottings

Thanks to all of you for sharing your quirky food preferences. Some of them sounded pretty good to me, and others, as in Ronda’s squirrels, Carey’s dad’s block of cream cheese, and Jenna’s roasted Nicaraguan iguana, made me cringe. And Savannah’s friend who dips graham crackers into blue Gatorade? Oh dear are the only words that come to mind at present.


As promised, this month’s bloggy giveaway winner will be the recipient of something yummy, and that person is Jenna! Jenna wins a small box of See’s chocolates.

See’s candies were practically a staple in our home in Southern California. My mom loved chocolate, and passed on that rich heritage to me. Gee thanks, Mom. (I think.) See the piece in the box with the tiny sprinkles on it? I loved those – they were called Bordeaux. When I moved to Minnesota in 1981 I missed See’s, so I tried Fannie Farmer candies and was shocked at how different they tasted from the scrumptious See’s candies I’d always known and loved and been intimately acquainted with. In my humble opinion, other chocolates taste somewhat waxy and aged in comparison to See’s.

Since I’ve lived in the Midwest I’ve eaten See’s candies less than five times, and that’s probably a good thing. But I’m happy to share a good memory and a delectable treat with this month’s bloggy winner, and this small silver box of assorted chocolates will be shipped to Jenna very soon.

Don’t they look yummy? Maybe if you all e-mail Jenna, she will share her See’s.