Lonely People

July 28, 2011 | My Jottings

On Sunday a man responsible for so much of the music I listened to during my teen years died at age 60. Dan Peek was one of the three founders of the group America. After he left the group, he started making Christian music, and our family had all of his albums. I still remember listening to the “ElectroVoice” cassette tape, turned up loud as we drove in our behemoth 1986 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon, and if I still had my vinyl albums and record player, I’d put that album on this morning and sit and listen to it straight through.

I know it would bring back many memories of a decade that flew by, a season of three young daughters with perms, huge plastic eyeglasses, big shirts and stirrup pants. And “ElectroVoice” has a remake of one of the group America’s most famous songs on it, one that Dan Peek re-recorded when he struck out on his own.

You’ll probably recognize the song, but listen carefully for the lyrics he changed:

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God bless Dan Peek and his family…

When you thought you heard from God, but probably didn’t

July 26, 2011 | My Jottings

“I’m so concerned about your dad, Julie. He’s just not himself. He’s losing some strength and his appetite is gone. He looks like he’s wasting away,” my step-mom Dorothy told me on the phone in late 2007. “If we could just get some tests done on him and find out what’s wrong, then maybe he could be treated and get well again.”

Unfortunately, my father’s HMO in California wasn’t as anxious as Dorothy was for him to have those tests. And, shockingly, neither was his doctor. “Doc,” the physician said in a slightly patronizing voice, “you’re 87 years old.” And in that simple statement of fact, by the intonations he used and the almost imperceptibly condescending yet sort of compassionate look he had on his face, this young doctor was telling my father that because of his age, expensive medical tests would not be ordered. Because of his age, they would not be getting to the bottom of his illness in order to try to treat it. Even, it turned out, if there was begging involved. And pleading. No. Apparently in this HMO, there were some physicians (who all must have taken the Hippocratic oath, promising: “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone”) who believed that octogenarians did not deserve the health care that younger people did.

To say that this was a great frustration and a deep heartache for my step-mom Dorothy is an understatement. What eventually led to my father being properly diagnosed was a visit to the local hospital’s Emergency Room. There, they gave him the CT scan his doctor had refused to order. It was there that the mass on his kidney was seen. Suddenly all his symptoms fit together — the painful backaches that Dorothy had tried to relieve by hours of massage, the lack of appetite and the literal wasting of his tall and vigorous body, the bloody urine and the debilitating exhaustion….these were caused by kidney cancer. But even if there had once been a chance of surgery and treatment, it was too late now. My father was dying.

I called Northwest Airlines and scheduled a flight from Minnesota to Los Angeles for the next day. I arranged for a rental car at LAX so I could drive the four hours north to San Luis Obispo, where Dad and Dorothy lived. After I spoke to Dorothy to tell her when I’d be arriving the next day, she put my dad on the phone. His normally booming and confident voice had been reduced to a hoarse whisper. He could only manage a few words at a time. When I told him I would see him soon, he rasped, “Love you love you love you….”

In the midst of trying to get everything ready in our home for my absence, I prayed. I knew my time with my father would be short, and I asked God to speak to my heart about what I was to say to him. Of course I knew I wanted to express my love to him, my gratitude for many things he had ensured in my life. That was a given. But as I pictured myself sitting at his bedside with him possibly suffering and being in and out of consciousness, I wondered what I should do. As I packed my suitcase, I prayed. As I organized all the medications that our Foster residents would be requiring in my absence, I prayed. As I made a list of appointments and things that needed attending to while I was gone, I asked God to make it clear what He wanted me to say to my dad.

Some of you reading might wonder why I was concerned about this at all. Maybe some of you have already been through this and you just sat at your parent’s bedside and did whatever came naturally, with no forethought given. But I had the sense that I needed to do some specific thing when I saw my dad. And that night, with everything ready, I thought I heard this: “Sing to him.”

Er….uh….sing to him? That couldn’t be right. I am not a singer, and I had never sung to anyone before, except maybe my children and grandchildren. But why in the world would God want me to sing to my dying father? And if I was hearing correctly, what was I supposed to sing to him? The more I thought about it and prayed, the seemingly clearer it became. I took an old hymnbook down off a bookshelf and paged through. My dad loved the song “Precious Memories.” He cried every time he heard it because it reminded him of his preacher father and their family. My dad also loved “The Old Rugged Cross.” Well, okay, I thought, as God helps me, I will sit with my dad and tell him I love him, hold his big hand if it doesn’t hurt him too much, pray for him, and sing some hymns. I unzipped the outer pocket of my suitcase and slid the hymnal in.

All during the flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles I sat very still, overcome with my thoughts. I prayed for my dad, for Dorothy, for my own family of origin. Our family story was not one of the happiest ever written. There was (and is) a lot of dysfunction, pride and anger, and those traits rarely lead to a warm and cohesive family unit. I also wondered how my brothers would take the news of my father’s illness and imminent death. Soon the flight landed in smoggy and very familiar Southern California, and I grabbed my bag from the overhead bin and headed for the bus that would take me to the rental car agency. After standing in line there for almost a half hour, I finally stowed my bag in the trunk, strapped myself into the rented Nissan, and plugged in my cell phone. I was so anxious to get on the road, get out of LA traffic, and head north to see my father. I wanted to see that contagious smile of his one last time, even if a feeble one.

Before I even put the car in drive, my phone rang and it was my oldest daughter Sharon.

“Have you spoken to Dorothy yet, Mom?” she asked. My heart sank as I sensed what the next words out of her mouth would be. Sharon broke the news gently.

“Mom, Grandpa died two hours ago.”

To read Part 2, click here.

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Book Winner!

July 21, 2011 | My Jottings

Thank you for your comments about all the places you’d like to live. Half of you want to live right where you already are — how blessed it is to feel that way.

Random.org decided that the winner of Beryl Singleton Bissell’s newest book A View of the Lake is Pat!  Yay! I know Pat is an avid reader and loves the outdoors, so she is going to love this book about Beryl and her husband Bill’s move to the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Pat, send me your address and I’ll put your autographed copy of the book in the mail right away.

I am off to pick up my beautiful granddaughter Mrs. Nisky to take her out for a birthday lunch. She was seven years old yesterday. Then we’ll go shopping for the gift of her choice…she already gave me a hint and told me that what she wants is at their neighborhood hardware store..  🙂

Thank you all for reading and commenting on the blog, and have a wonderful weekend,

If you could live anywhere…

July 18, 2011 | My Jottings

I’ve done a lot of blathering about moving lately. Before we moved to the house we live in now, I was deathly allergic to moving and never spoke of it. I had put down deep roots at the place we lived before, and I never pictured myself leaving, except feet first.

Well now that our house is up for sale, we might move. If it doesn’t sell, we won’t move. (I ask you, where other than here can you read such profound truths?)   🙂

Other than the Highlands of Scotland, the Swiss Alps and Asheville, North Carolina, the one place I would like to live probably more than any other is the North Shore of Lake Superior. If you’ve ever driven north on Highway 61, I don’t have to explain a thing to you. It’s some of the most gorgeous, pristine, rugged land in the world. And it overlooks the largest freshwater lake, which is so vast it looks like an ocean.

Recently I had the pleasure of having raspberry lemonade on my back deck with a wonderful woman who has an exquisite, almost luminous gift with words — Beryl Singleton Bissell. I first became acquainted with Beryl’s writing several years ago when a friend told me about her book, The Scent of God.  I couldn’t put that book down and I wish I could give apt words to what it’s like — it’s the masterfully crafted memoir of Beryl’s life as a daughter, a nun, an ex-nun, a wife and mother, and the beauty and heartbreak woven through it all. I have purchased that book several times to give as a gift.

I knew Beryl’s new book was coming out soon since I check out her blog regularly, and when it was released I ordered it right away. It’s called A View of the Lake, and I’ll be giving away a copy on the blog this week!

I read the book in two sittings — each chapter is a delightful essay about what it was like for Beryl and her husband Bill to leave their busy lives in the Twin Cities area and move to a house right on the edge of Lake Superior, in the tiny town of Schroeder, MN.

One reviewer said this about the book: “Beryl’s short stories are like glimmering jewels for the mind and soul. She brings her readers into a world where humanity and nature become one. A world so thoroughly magical and melodious that we don’t want to depart once we’ve entered.”

Oh, how true this is. After reading A View of the Lake, I wanted to drop everything and find a house on the North Shore more than ever. I wanted to hike The Superior Hiking Trail, I wanted to retreat and immerse myself in the quietude of North Shore nature, I wanted to take morning swims at Bill and Beryl’s private pebbly beach, I wanted to sit in an Adirondack chair on Bill and Beryl’s private pebbly beach, I wanted their beach to be my own private beach, I wanted to see what it would be like to wake every morning to the splendor of Lake Superior, a stone’s throw away, and the serenity of a slower pace of living on the North Shore.

I don’t think we’ll be moving to Schroeder or Tofte or Lutsen any time soon. But I will pick up Beryl’s book again when I need a little transporting to a quieter way of life.

Take a few minutes to check out Beryl’s site, and I would really encourage you to get a copy of The Scent of God. Also, I have an autographed copy of A View of the Lake by Beryl Singleton Bissell, and I would love to give it away this week. All you have to do is leave a comment here on the blog answering this question: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live, and why?

Comments will be taken until 10:00 Thursday morning (July 21st), and the winner of A View of the Lake will be randomly chosen and announced then! I promise you will love Beryl’s book, and like me, you will probably end up loving Beryl as well.

Happy reading…

Whither shall we goest?

July 14, 2011 | My Jottings

A couple of days ago our real estate agent and friend came over to measure the rooms of our house and sign a contract to place it up for sale. I asked her if I could take the photos and email them to her and she graciously agreed. I have a new camera I’m still learning about and I wanted to take my time and get several pictures of each room. The Multiple Listing Service site used to allow eight photos and they’ve expanded that recently to seventeen, so I took 150 for Stephanie to choose from. 🙂

Whether or not our house will even sell is chancy. The market in our area is very slow, and property prices have fallen at least ten per cent in recent months. We’ve heard of people selling their homes for less than what they bought them for, and actually having to take money to their closing.

It has been a very difficult decision to make. Our house suits us well because we provide adult foster care for three women who live with us. It suits us because our extended family has grown and there’s enough room here for all the daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren when they visit. It suits us because there’s a third floor guest suite that has enabled us to welcome many cherished friends for the few years we’ve lived here.

But our house is also big. Maybe it wouldn’t seem big to the Queen of England or to Sarah Winchester, but it’s big to me. Many people probably think a big house is a good thing, but I think I’m one of those odd peeps who can appreciate a big, beautiful home without ever really aspiring to live in one. To be completely honest, I never aspired to live in this one. But that is a story for another time.

I want a house that’s easy to clean, not a chore to maintain, a house that nurtures my strong desire to nest and put down roots. I also want a house that’s paid off, if possible. My housing motto is mortgages are not meant to be had, they’re meant to be paid. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but I must have been affected by my grandparents’ thrifty, depression era-fueled mindset in this area, because there’s something in me that feels it’s almost urgent at this time in our lives to dwell in a smaller home with no (or very little) mortgage.

So we’re hoping that a large family in need of a good-sized home will want to come and live here:

If our house sells, we’ll start looking in earnest for a smaller home. We’ve seen a few places already, but figure with the market as slow as it is, we will wait before really searching for something that meets our changing needs. We need a master bedroom and bath on the main floor, so will probably look at ranch-style homes when the time comes.

But if Michael and I could really have our druthers, we might wish to find ourselves settling down in something like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Aaahhh, can’t you just feel your cortisol levels drop when you look at these photos? I can.

In the meantime, we’ll wait and pray that God will help us in this process, and guide us to just the right place.

I’m glad He knows what He’s doing and where we’re going.

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 65

July 13, 2011 | My Jottings

“Know that the love of thyself doth hurt thee more than any thing in the world.”

Thomas à Kempis

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What are we gonna do without the kids?

July 7, 2011 | My Jottings

We’re just now getting used to the absence of the pitter-patter of little (and humongous) feet skipping (and tromping) through the house. Last week we watched three grandchildren for six days. Now that we’re back to normal and only have six people and two dogs in the house, we’re not sure what to do with ourselves.

Our daughter Sharon and her husband Chris flew to Cordova, Alaska for a few days of yarn-filled activities. If you want to read about it over the next few days, visit her blog here. While they were off yarning and hiking in the rain and kayaking on Prince William Sound, I thought it would be nice to do one special thing per day with the kids, and I took a couple of pictures.

All of our grandchildren associate me with geese and ducks. I’m not sure if this is solely because I have taken each of them to feed these big birds at a local cemetery pond, or there’s a more unpleasant reason. I’ve decided not to ask. We stopped to buy two loaves of bread and then drove to the cemetery and parked under some trees.

Below you can see Mr. McBoy (age 9), Mrs. Nisky (almost 7) and Li’l Gleegirl (age 4) standing on the edge of one of the ponds, watching the birds approach.

We stopped to buy Dunn Brothers smoothies first, and after feeding the geese and ducks every last crumb of bread we brought, we sat in the car to finish our drinks. Mr. McBoy had mango, Michael had Wildberry, and Mrs. Nisky, Li’l Gleegirl and I had strawberry.

McBoy was in need of a summer haircut so I texted his parents in Alaska to ask if he could go to the barbershop with Grandpa and get it cut very short. With the only directive being “Yes, but he can’t have a mullet cut,” he and Grandpa set out to a small, local barbershop owned by an elderly man. This is what Mr. McBoy looked like when the clippers stopped buzzing and the cape was taken off:

I think he looks adorable. The older I get the less I like long hair on boys or men. I don’t know if that’s a recessive Sooter gene that mutates to dominance after the age of fifty or what. Whenever Michael goes for a haircut I always put in my two cents and vote for a buzz cut.

We also took the kids to the Timber Twister, which is one of my favorite things to do. Here’s Mr. McBoy getting ready to fly down the mountain.

After receiving instructions from the attendant, McBoy moved forward in the line, ready to take his turn. There are good brakes on these little cars but he wasn’t planning on using his.

There he goes…..

What do two excited little girls look like when they realize they have to wait ten minutes before riding on the Timber Twister?

Like this:

While the McKids were with us, we also went down to a pebbly little beach on Lake Superior and let them throw rocks and explore. One day some of us saw “Cars 2” and some of us saw “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Another day we did a little shopping. We played Farkle, Monopoly, Bananagrams, Yahtzee, and Rush Hour. On my iPad we played Angry Birds and Sudoku. Mrs. Nisky learned to roller skate and the three of them played Jarts in the back yard. They read books on the hammock, they colored in new coloring books, finger-knitted, and played Twister. They built with Legos, Magformers, and Lincoln Logs.

We went to Dairy Queen one evening and everyone got a Blizzard, which put smiles on sweet faces.

As much fun as the games and outings were, one of the things all three of the children begged often to do was this:

They were all very excited to see their mama and daddy when they returned from Alaska. After they left, Sara helped me clean up and put toys away, and after a while we realized how quiet it seemed. I looked at Michael and said, “What are we gonna do without the kids?”

I never did hear his answer, because before I knew it I was headed upstairs for a good night’s sleep, even though it wasn’t dark yet.

What exactly does this say about us?

July 6, 2011 | My Jottings

That we are exceedingly messy?  That we need more shoe trees?  That we don’t have enough closets?  That we have seven dozen children in our family?  That we like to go barefoot?  That we have too many adults living in this house?  That we are shoe sculptors?

So I ask you:

What does this picture, taken recently just inside our back door, really say about us?

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Farther Along

July 4, 2011 | My Jottings

Two summers ago a friend of my daughter’s introduced her to a Christian singer/musician I had never heard of — Josh Garrels. Sara shared the music with Michael and me. At first listen I thought his lyrics were thoughtful and deep but wasn’t sure his style was something a middle-aged person like myself would ever truly enjoy. But I was wrong. The more I listened to the music of Josh Garrels, the more I liked it. Now he’s one of my favorite artists, and has been put into the category of “CDs I would immediately buy without first listening to,” because whatever his songs say, I need to hear.

If you’ve never heard of Josh Garrels, there’s a short, informative bio of him here.

His latest album is called “Love & War & the Sea In Between,” and he’s giving it away free. The entire album. As Sara and I were listening to it together the other night she commented after a while, “Who gives their albums away these days?” I think the fact that he isn’t after money and fame speaks something very profound in this age we live in. There aren’t many people who wouldn’t have a go at either if given the chance.

So I’m posting my favorite song (so far) from Josh’s new album. It’s called “Farther Along” and I think everyone needs to hear it. The lyrics make me cry almost every time I listen, and they speak a truth that those going through difficult times could be comforted by.

If you know someone who might like to have Josh Garrels’ new album, you can direct them to www.JoshGarrels.com. It’s downloadable and postable in many forms.

In the meantime, turn up your speakers and follow the lyrics as you listen to this song, which tells us all we can hold on a little longer, that we can help others be of good cheer because we know that the mighty God of love has everything under calm control, no matter how things appear in the world around us or in our own little lives.

Farther Along

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
So cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man dies, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because He loves ’em both
We’re all castaways in need of rope
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gate
Leading mice and men down to their fate
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home

There’s so much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
That dead weight burden weighs a ton
Go down into the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Forgiveness, alright


But still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like truth and a pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left to go
‘Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
There’s more glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levees and my bluffs
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the Son of God He’s forever blessed
His is the kingdom, we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon


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Thanks for reading, and have a blessed week…

Look Up

July 1, 2011 | My Jottings

This morning.

Look closely….in the big maple tree outside my office window (click on the photos to enlarge)…

A little further in…

Now you see him…


A reminder to me of God’s faithfulness….

For those of you who have an abundance of cardinals in your area, you might understand why a cardinal in our city, on our block, in our yard, in our maple tree, sitting for a long time right outside our office window, is a big deal. If you know us, you know where we live in MN, and according to this map that shows the habitats of the Northern Cardinal, these beautiful songbirds aren’t even supposed to be in our part of the state. And a little south of us, only one or two birds per acre are usually counted.

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.

Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Psalm 5:1-3

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It always helps to look up…