I’m finally in the mood for Christmas music

November 29, 2011 | My Jottings

Back when I was in my twenties, I used to start playing Christmas records in October. I wanted the feel of this wondrous season to last a long time. 

I don’t play Christmas carols in October much anymore, but today I am decidedly in the mood for Christmas music. We have a fantastic stereo system that plays music all over our house, and I love it. There are ceiling speakers in the den, the living room, the kitchen, laundry room, the master bedroom, master bathroom, and on the landing of the third floor. So we can put six CDs on our stereo and play soft music all over the house for hours. There are controls for each speaker, so if you want the music to play in the kitchen but not in the master bath, no problem.

Anyway, it has always been our tradition to buy one new Christmas CD (and sometimes two) each year. We have a nice variety already, but I’d love to have your help in determining what we should get this year.

What is one of your favorite Christmas CDs? Or if you have more than one, please share as many as you like.

I can’t wait to see what you enjoy, and thanks ahead of time for helping us add to our collection!

The Full Mantel

November 25, 2011 | My Jottings

We often put our Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, but it will have to wait a few days, because today we have a house showing from 2:30-3:30. It’s time to scrub floors, dust, vacuum, actually make our bed, and swish toilets. We know our house will sell in God’s timing, but still we pray that today might be the day the next blessed owners will arrive on the scene.

We had a very nice Thanksgiving at Chris and Sharon’s house. They did a brined turkey and it was delicious. We all wrote what we were thankful for on small pieces of paper that were then tied to a hanging line of yarn. There is nothing better than decorating your home with gratitude.

Even though our tree won’t go up for a few days, Sara decorated our mantel in a new way this year. I call it The Full Mantel. Instead of a minimalist look, she loaded it with interesting things, and I love how it turned out. (Click to enlarge if you like.)

I think this year we might hang our stockings on the staircase.

Michael and I were remarking yesterday how one year ago today it was bitterly cold with already a foot of snow on the ground. Yesterday it was in the 40s and there’s almost a foot of dead leaves on the ground.

I hope your Thanksgiving was peaceful, and that you were reminded about many things to thank the Lord for.

And I thank you once again for stopping by my little blog!


Thanksgiving 2011

November 24, 2011 | My Jottings

From our home to yours, we wish you a blessed Thanksgiving….


Wednesday’s Word-Edition 74

November 23, 2011 | My Jottings

“There are three requisites to the proper enjoyment of earthly blessings: a thankful reflection on the goodness of the giver; a deep sense of our own unworthiness; and a recollection of the uncertainty of our long possessing them.

“The first will make us grateful; the second, humble; and the third, moderate.”

~Hannah More

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When praising God doesn’t come easy

November 21, 2011 | My Jottings

Have you ever had a cyclamen plant? I love them. This one with white flowers sits on our kitchen table. Look at the delicate “Christmas tree” pattern in the leaves.

See how the buds are tightly twisted in spirals before they burst out in full bloom? (You can click to enlarge these photos if you like.)

Cyclamen blooms have always reminded me of praising God in difficult circumstances, what the Bible calls the sacrifice of praise. (see Hebrews 13:15)

To me, they look like beautiful old women who are bent over and cannot stand tall. You might say that cyclamens have a congenital defect that prevents them from ever standing upright.

Their flower faces must always bend down toward the ground. Cyclamens can’t be like other flowers, the kinds whose faces turn upward seeking the sun’s warmth and light.


But even though the cyclamen faces must be forever bent down, their upswept petals reach back and up toward the heavens, in their own silent and magnificent praise.

Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.

I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands. 

Psalm 63:3-4

Do you have any difficult circumstances in your life right now, the kind that seem to turn your face to the ground in sorrow or great concern? Everyone has something or someone that needs the touch of God.

Today I’m thinking of these exquisite cyclamens, who seem to offer up the sacrifice of praise to their Maker. I want to be like them.

Crunchy knees….that still walk.
Cold, gray weather….that makes the furnace a lavish gift.
Confused husband….who knows, hugs, and loves me still.
Crazy, bothersome Schnauzers….who teach us vigilance and devotion.
Comfort of the Holy Spirit….when the future looks uncertain.

Can you offer God the sacrifice of praise today? Would you be willing to share it with me?

These Birks are made for walkin’

November 18, 2011 | My Jottings

In 1979, when I returned to the States after living in Germany for almost two years, I bought my first pair of German-made Birkenstocks. And I loved them. They were dark blue sandals with two thick suede straps. I couldn’t believe how they made my feet and legs feel, the comfort and ease they brought to walking and standing for long periods of time.

Six years later my sandals were finally worn out and I bought another pair. Navy blue again, but this time with three thinner, more feminine straps. The style is called “Florida.”

Every 5 1/2 – 6 years I’ve purchased a new pair of Birkies, and this week my sixth pair in 32 years arrived. Birkenstocks are expensive, but I don’t know many other brands of shoes that last for six years of daily wear.

Here’s what my current old pair looks like:

And here’s the new pair — both are Floridas, but alas, they no longer make the leather navy blue Birks I like in that style. So I reluctantly decided to get black.

So now the old pair will be the gardening pair, for all the gardening I never do. The new pair will support my bare feet in spring and summer, and my SmartWool stockinged feet in fall and winter.

When the snow gets deep then I’ll have to set my Birkies aside for a few months, and it’s always a sad day to do that. Today it’s 28 degrees out (minus 2 Celsius) and with socks, my trusty Birkenstocks are warm enough.

Have you ever had a pair of Birkenstocks? If so, what did you think?

A flash of black

November 17, 2011 | My Jottings

Sitting here in my office a couple days ago, I saw a flash of black moving in the front yard. I grabbed my camera and here’s what it was…

…a black squirrel, hurriedly digging around in the leaves on the ground. I promptly named him Schwarz the Squirrel. Schwarz is the German word for black.

I’ve always heard that squirrels store nuts for the approaching winter, but I don’t know where Schwarz would be getting his little squirrel hands on any nuts in our yard. We have no nut trees here.


Now I get it.

Schwarz’s GPS isn’t working! He’s looking in the wrong place for nuts. I need to go call to Schwarz and tell him if he’s looking for nuts, he needs to come a little closer to the house.

Bringing Me Low

November 14, 2011 | My Jottings

I don’t remember precisely when the realization came to me that God was bringing me low, but I have known this without a doubt for a few years now. If someone were to ask, “Julie, what is God doing in your life?” I think I would answer, “He’s bringing me low.” Not everyone would understand what I mean by that, and to be honest, I’m still learning myself. But I know it’s true, and good, and my very recent stay at Pacem in Terris solidified this in my heart and soul more than ever before.

While Pacem is a Catholic retreat center, about 70% of the visitors are not Catholic, so my Protestant self felt very welcome and at home there. I’ve been to Pacem three times now, and this visit was the most meaningful so far. Here is a post about last year’s visit, with lots of pictures.

This time I think it will take more than one blog post to do justice to what I felt the Lord spoke to my heart while I was there, and as I feel able, I will share soon about that here on the blog, if anyone is interested. 🙂

For now, I’ll share some pictures — you can click to enlarge them if you like. Here’s the hermitage I stayed in recently:

The little prayer hermitages at Pacem in Terris are named for saints, and mine was St. Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene had apparently been a sinful woman before she met Jesus, opening the door in her life to the control of seven demons. When she met Christ, He set her free from all that evil, and the scriptures say she then followed Him. She also was the first one to see the resurrected Christ, the one who ran back to tell the discouraged disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”  I, too, would like to share her testimony. I would like to be able to say that Jesus set me free from all chains that bound me, that I followed Him closely out of pure love and gratitude, and that I somehow conveyed to anyone who would listen how wondrous are His ways, and that He was worth serving. I pray, Lord, that you help me cooperate with you in this….

Here’s the inside of my hermitage, the morning light streaming through the windows. There are sixteen of these little cabins at Pacem in Terris. They don’t have electricity or running water, but the Pacem staff provides jugs of fresh water for each hermit, and the gas wall heater keeps it cozy warm inside. Each time I’ve visited Pacem I’ve gone in the late fall. The trees in the oak and birch forest were almost bare and the nights were cold, but that only made me want to hunker down even more.

Below, the door to the left goes out onto the screened porch, and the door on the right is the front door. The cupboard is thoughtfully filled with anything that might be needed for a hermit’s stay: candles, matches, coffee and tea, cream and sugar, a flashlight and extra batteries, a rain poncho and a walking stick, extra linens and towels, a first aid and sewing kit, paper and pencils, utensils and paper plates, cups and glasses, cleaners and more.

This time I asked my dear friend Carey if she would consider going to Pacem with me. It was her first time there, and she’ll be sharing about it on her blog soon, I think. We drove the two hours’ south together and then briefly visited each others’ hermitages when we were first settling in. But since the retreats at Pacem are silent retreats, we didn’t see each other during the day at all. At night we walked the dark trails up to the main house, where the staff prepares dinner for anyone who asks. Conversation is welcome during that time.

Below is a photo of my faithful friend of 27 years. Carey’s cabin was called St. Teresa of Avila and was on the other side of the forest from mine.

When the Pacem staff drives you out to your hermitage, they leave you with a basket of victuals that seems simple on first glance, but becomes more delectable as the time passes. With no phone, no noise, no people plucking at your sleeve, nothing to do but sit in the silence and answer His invitation to “be still, and know that I am God,” soon things begin to change. New lenses get put in front of your eyes, and time slows down. A simple round loaf of whole wheat bread with a slice of cheddar cheese is a feast. A juicy Honeycrisp apple and a chunk of a muffin with dates and toasted walnuts on top is mouthwatering. Cold, clean water tastes like the nectar of Heaven.

The first day can be hard, but it’s worth it. It takes time to get accustomed to the silence. (Many people surprise themselves by sleeping several hours on their first day of silent retreat…the staff remind people that sleep is also a gift from God and hermits shouldn’t feel guilty about sleeping when they first get settled in.) The second day, for me, was amazing, and there was hardly enough time in the day to absorb all that it seemed the Lord wanted to speak to my heart.

In times past I’ve seen some leaping deer and a fox in the forest, but this time I saw only birds, and about ninety-three squirrels. Carey saw two deer in her part of the woods, and the last night we were there she heard a pack of coyotes howling in the distance.

I watched a female Downy Woodpecker on this tree outside my window:

After my first night there, I got up at dawn and sat in the rocking chair, looking out on the barren woods toward the small lake in the distance. I sipped Jasmine tea and stayed in my plaid flannel nightgown and Acorn slippers as long as I wanted. I read my Bible slowly and asked the Holy Spirit to help me hear His voice. I prayed. I listened.

There’s a gas burner in each hermitage, and making tea several times a day was so comforting and seemed like such a privilege.

In spite of photographic evidence to the contrary, this is a photo of a well-rested, comfortable, calm and hopeful woman:

At the end of the day, it gets dark in our part of the country very early now. By 5:00 p.m. it’s “peach black” out, as my granddaughter Vivienne used to say. I tried to read by candle light but it wasn’t bright enough. I didn’t feel like reading by flashlight. So by 7:00 p.m. I was ready for bed each night. I pulled the covers up to my neck and gave thanks for the warm, clean hermitage, the friends and family praying for me at home, and for a heavenly Father whose storehouses of mercy and grace are so huge they’re incomparable (see Ephesians 2:6-8). I thanked God for not giving up on me after all my wandering, and tepid living.

This printed prayer was sitting on the little table next to the rocking chair in my hermitage, and I prayed it out loud and with my whole heart:

Almighty and eternal God,
Creator of the heavens and the earth
and Creator of me,
I praise your holy presence.

Thank you for calling me to come and
be alone with you in the silence of this hermitage,
that I might know your love and hear your word.

Have mercy on me, O God, for I have sinned.
I repent and ask you to forgive me for all the ways
I have failed to love you, my neighbor, and myself.

Through the redeeming love and sacrifice
of Jesus, your Son, hear my prayer
and open my heart to receive your gift
of healing and forgiveness.
Help me to offer love and forgiveness
to all those who have sinned against me.

By the power of your Holy Spirit,
lead me to your truth and set me free
from all the snares of the evil one.
Let me know your will and grant me the
courage and strength to embrace it everyday.

Lord, fill me with the joy of your presence,
as I live in gratitude for the wonders of your love.
Grant me the grace to love and serve you in this life–
and to live with you forever in heaven.

All glory be to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
now and forever.

Amen. Alleluia!

Now that you’ve read it, you might like to go back and pray it, saying it out loud or in your heart, asking for God to do the impossible in you, just as I ask for Him to do the impossible in me.

That’s one of the reasons I went again to Pacem in Terris.

To ask God to do the impossible.

He’s the only one who can.

Do you have something in your life that’s impossible to overcome, impossible to fix, impossible to deal with? Don’t we all? Here’s what Jesus says about our impossibilities:

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.'”

Even if your impossible is the most impossible on earth, it’s not too impossible for God.

Don’t give up. God wants to prove Himself mighty in your life. I would never lie to you about this. You don’t have to go on a silent retreat to connect with Him. Right now, sitting at your computer, reading from your iPhone or iPad, you could whisper….

“Jesus, please help me.”

Pondering Plumage

November 9, 2011 | My Jottings

He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:4

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
(or a robin would do)
I would fly away and be at rest.”

Psalm 55:6

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Have a blessed week!

Don’t take my picture!

November 7, 2011 | My Jottings

My mother always dressed me frilly when I was a little girl. Dad and Mom had two sons fifteen and ten years before I was born, so I think because I was an unexpected baby girl, she delighted in making sure I was in ruffles, hats, and patent leather shoes whenever it was time to dress up. I distinctly remember preferring bare feet, shorts and dirt smudges on my face, but once in a while I had to submit quietly to curlers and bobby pins in my hair and a poofy dress with a huge satin bow tied in the back.

I remember a few photos my father took of me on Easter Sunday when I was three years old. After Sunday School my parents and I went over to my grandparents’ house to visit. I was a child who always seemed to have an earache, and that Sunday I had a bad one. A couple of the pictures were of me leaning with one hand against the rough bark of a southern California palm tree, and covering my ear from the wind with the other. I was crying. My dad asked me to smile but non-cooperation was the theme for the day, and I think he thought he’d get a picture of my Easter dress later on after I got out of the wind.

I didn’t feel good the whole day. I went outside on my grandpa and grandma’s patio to wander around right outside their garage, and my dad decided that might be the time to snap a few more photos of me in my Easter dress.

I couldn’t find the close-up pictures of a sick little three year old trying to smile for the camera through a whimper, even though I can still see them in my mind.

But I did find this old photo taken that same day, when I had finally had enough. I did not want to smile anymore, I did not want to be in stiff shoes and a scratchy slip under a fancy dress any longer, and I did not want my dad following me around with the camera.

So I did the only thing I knew to do to get him to stop. And before he went back into the house, he took this shot of me issuing my final statement on having my picture taken that day. My family has had a few giggles from this photo over the years.

Looking back on this, I can’t decide if I was a brat, or if it’s just that no one was listening to me.

Today I wonder those same two things…