Random water-related things

June 26, 2015 | My Jottings

I had a busy-ish Friday today, and am glad to now be home, sitting in (you guessed it) my flannel plaid nightgown, feet up in the living room’s leather recliner, with Rick Steves in the background on the television, telling me about Liechtenstein, San Marino, Vatican City and Monaco. Oh, I have been bitten by the travel bug, and also have books on my nightstand that contribute to the resulting virus. Travelitis, it’s called. I want to get on a plane and fly over a large body of water. More on that later.

This morning one of my Fosters and I were out the door fairly early, because it was time for her yearly physical exam. Then we went to the passport application place so she could apply for a passport, as part of our upcoming cruise along the water of the Inside Passage will eventually have a stop in a foreign country — British Colombia, Canada. Then we drove to her optometrist’s office so a new pair of lenses could be put in her frames, except they couldn’t get the new lenses in. So I’ll take them myself to the optical lab next week so they can be filed down to fit into her frames. We drove home by noon and I closed the windows in the house and turned on the central air. It wasn’t terribly hot today, but I’m getting more sensitive to mugginess as I age, and I needed the air to be drier than it was. I cannot abide much water in the air. Unless it’s rain, then I’m good.

Then my friend Su came over and we stretched. Yes. Both of us are feeling the need to do something proactive for our unlimberness, and we thought doing a video together would help us want to do a video at all. It really is remarkable how much the muscles appreciate being lengthened. Mine were telling me over and over, “THANK YOU! IT’S ABOUT TIME! AAAAHH!”

After we completed the DVD, we enjoyed Cobb salads for lunch, with sliced organic chicken breasts, a pile of dark organic greens, sliced avocados, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, and home made blue cheese dressing my friend Carey made. And we had glasses of ice water. It was nice to sit together and look out over the sapphire blue waters of Lake Superior while talking about our travelitis. I brought out a couple of books I bought recently on travel to Scotland and Ireland, for “creaky travelers,” i.e. those who are mobile but not agile. I don’t know if my replaced right knee has forever rendered me a creaky traveler or if I’ll get off that special list someday. But the books were fantastic and had really good suggestions for those who want to travel without walking many miles or climbing any peaks.

On Tuesday morning the annual summer Bible study I’ve hosted in my home for thirteen years began. There are eleven of us this year, and we’ll be going through Priscilla Shirer’s study called Breathe. priscilla-shirer-breatheIt’s about honoring the Sabbath (something we western Christians have sort of forgotten to do, even though it really is one of the Ten Commandments) and finding/creating margin in our lives.

I have been intrigued and convicted for a long time about this promise in Isaiah 58:13-14 about the Sabbath:

“ ‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

I would certainly love for the Lord to cause me to ride in triumph. And day by day my desire to honor God and delight in Him grows.

Tomorrow will be a paperwork day, a bill paying day, a tidying up day, and a laundry folding day. Then on Sunday my two Fosters and I will drive to Madeline Island to spend some time with Sharon, Chris and their four littles. Except their oldest little isn’t little at all. He’s thirteen and the size of most adult men. Their family is vacationing for a few days.

Are you familiar with the Apostle Islands off the coast of northern Wisconsin? Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostles, and we’ll drive the car onto a ferry, which will transport us across the water of Lake Superior to the Island. Here’s a map:

apostle_islands_map-usgsThere’s a beautiful, protected, curved bay on the eastern side of Madeline, called Big Bay. Clearly, a man named that bay. I mean no sexism or disrespect, but can you imagine a woman naming a truly tranquil, clear, shallow, gorgeous beach “Big Bay?”

Michael and I visited Big Bay Beach a number of times, and I was always struck by the clarity of the water. You can walk a quarter mile out in Lake Superior and it’s still only about chest high. You can look down and see the wrinkles on your toes and the individual grains of sand. And the taste of the water is the best in the world, in my opinion. Not that I’ve tasted all the waters of the world, but I can’t imagine Parisian or Tunisian or Siberian water could be better than Lake Superior water. I might be slightly biased by my geographical location, but I would invite all who don’t drink Lake Superior water to come for a visit and just try it.

Speaking of water and swimming, here’s an old photo I just saw for the first time last week. It was taken in San Clemente, California, when my friends and I were twelve and a half or possibly thirteen years old. We were in Girl Scouts and this was one of our scouting trips. From left to right: me, my friend of fifty-one years, Denel, Vicki, and Ann.


Those were the best of times, they were the worst of times. I yearn for them, and I’m glad they’re gone.

In other news, I had the first urinary tract infection of my life recently, and I had to buy a new computer. Completely unrelated topics, but I’m just going with what comes to mind, friends. I thought I had a UTI in late May because I had the typical symptoms. I went in right away for a urinalysis and my doctor called me the next day with the results: negative. I grew more puzzled and distressed over the next TWENTY DAYS as my symptoms worsened, the pain was almost enough to warrant a towel to bite on, and I was peeing every eight to twelve minutes. I timed it. Even though my results were negative I popped cranberry pills and glugged down gallons of water and lemon and vitamins for days. On Day 20 I started having back and side pain that made me writhe. I tried not to cry. I texted my daughter Carolyn and asked her what a UTI felt like since she’s had one, and when I told her I thought I had kidney pain, she texted back, “Go to Urgent Care now. They’re open another forty minutes.” So I did. I practically threw myself in the car and drove to Urgent Care, rocking back and forth at the stop lights, where they were almost ready to close and thankfully no one else was waiting. I peed in a cup and within five minutes the doctor told me I had a bad UTI (lots of blood cells) that had obviously become systemic and spread to my left kidney. I cried, “Well thank God I finally know what this is!” I asked the doctor about the negative urinalysis I’d had weeks before and she said it happens unfortunately, especially if someone is drinking lots of water and diluting their urine, which I was. Now I know not to trust a negative UA, but I am hoping this never, ever happens again. I was doing deep breathing and stifling sobs when I got home from Urgent Care, the kidney pain was so bad. I grabbed a glass of water and took my first pill and prayed that it would work quickly and not cause any other unpleasant side effects, which antibiotics sometimes do. After two pills my kidney pain was gone, and after a week on my prescription I was back to normal. I have been literally praising the Lord, out loud, every single time I go potty now, because it’s such a blessing to have no eye-bulging, nail-digging pain.

Lastly, we have some matching drinking glasses now. Sara just came in with a gift for her 57 year-old mama, who really should have a set of matching glasses at this stage of her life. If you were to open our kitchen glass cupboard, you’d see a motley collection of jelly jars, little kids’ plastic drinking glasses, some prehistoric but intact Tupperware tumblers, and one or two leftovers from cobalt blue sets long ago. I now have eight tall, clear, wide, sturdy drinking glasses, and I couldn’t be more delighted. The next time I have company for dinner, everyone will have a matching water glass.

That’s all for today. If your head is spinning from so much randomness, perhaps you could go take a sip of water and lay down for a while. 🙂

Sobbing over the puffer fish

June 21, 2015 | My Jottings

Yesterday my friend Ginny and I drove out to Cloquet, MN (pronounced clo-KAY) to the grad party of of our friend Carey’s son Isaac. Carey is a cook and baker extraordinaire, and I think I should just plan now to stop attending all future grad parties because no one else’s food is ever going to be like hers. Korean pulled pork with soft bib lettuce for wraps and a ginger and cilantro flavored slaw to top everything with. And different Korean relishes. And a dessert table that could have been from the kitchen of a queen. Isaac made a pavlova with rose water and strawberries, and Carey made a rustic apricot tart, a traditional chocolate/caramel/pecan turtle cake, a kind of thick lime custard pie with chopped nuts for the crust, drizzled with a raspberry coulee, and there was homemade lavender ice cream and many other sweet indulgences as well. There wasn’t a bratwurst or bowl of potato salad to be seen. And Isaac, who is a handsome, smart and loving young man, waited on people, cleared plates, fetched more desserts, filled coffee cups, and showed us a glimpse of the man he’s becoming.

Ginny and I had a nice visit too. We talked about Michael and the void he leaves. We talked about a request I bring before God every single day and wonder what His answer will be. We talked about death and old age and God’s grace for both, and I’m betting by now you wish you could have joined in such a lighthearted conversation. Ha.

When I got home I fixed dinner for women and beasts, got into my plaid flannel nightgown earlier than Sharon thinks I should, and clicked on the TV. I have been using the DVR I’ve had for years and never knew I had. I record the occasional old movie, James and Betty Robison’s “Life Today” show, anything Agatha Christie, and shows like “Nova” and “Nature” that often take my breath away.

Last night I happened upon a nature show that spotlighted the unusual mating habits of different creatures. I watched only one, because I was so overcome I had to switch it off when the show moved on to a certain kind of sea lion, whose mating rituals include spurting blood and deeply slashed skin and such violence I couldn’t handle it.

But I’d like to tell you about the mating habits of puffer fish. Are you familiar with puffer fish? I’d heard of them before, but what I saw last night had me gasping, laughing, marveling, and eventually, sobbing and thanking God out loud over and over.

Here’s what little I know. Apparently, off the coast of Japan, scuba divers have long been finding what have been dubbed small “crop circles” in the sand of the ocean floor. Here’s a picture of one:


They decided to set up some underwater cameras to see how these “crop circles” were being formed, and lo, the builders turned out to be a newly discovered kind of small puffer fish.

A little male puffer fish begins work on his circle, hoping to attract a female. It takes him a week of  ’round-the-clock work to complete it, and somehow he knows the best times when the ocean currents won’t come along and smooth his masterpiece away. He swims close to the sandy ocean bottom and uses his little body as a broom, whisking his tail back and forth rapidly and carving trenches and valleys in a perfect circle. He uses his nose to push sand up on the mounded parts of the circle, and will even pick up sea shells with his mouth to deposit them on the top of these mounds, for decoration.

How does he get the circle so perfect? Where are his measuring stick and compass? Could a human being create so perfect a circle by simply using his/her hands without measuring tools?

Then when his circular nest is complete, the puffer fish swims aside and waits. A female puffer fish comes along and inspects the intricately constructed circles and decides which one is most suitable for her eggs. When Mr. Puffer sees that his nest has been chosen, he then gets to work smoothing out the center of the nest. All the grooves in the center are flattened, while Mrs. Puffer watches. She then swims to the center of the circle, lays her eggs, and Mr. Puffer comes and fertilizes them. He grabs her puffer cheek in his puffer lips, and they do a little puffer dance side by side, both sweeping the sand over the eggs to cover and protect them.

You have just got to watch this short video of the whole process.

When the puffer fish segment was over, I sat in my recliner in my living room and sobbed. “Whyyyyyy, Lord?” I thought. “Why have you made such an astounding world, with incredible creatures and magnificent beauty? Why do you blow our minds with the intricacies and delights and quirkiness of what you’ve made? Why have you created animals and fish and plants that go unseen for centuries, and you alone see them?”

I don’t know if I can explain this, but when I see little puffer fish doing what they are created to do, so beautifully, it makes me want to do what I’m created to do. This little film about the puffer fish made me think of another one I loved.

Did you see the footage of the new baby hippopotamus that was born a few weeks ago at the San Diego Zoo? Apparently hippos give birth under water, and newborns have to swim quickly to the surface to get some air, except they aren’t adept at swimming yet, since they’re only one second old when the need for oxygen arises. I watched this video of the little girl hippo, frantically and a bit inefficiently swimming toward her first gulp of air, and tears streamed.

Watch how the patient mother keeps gently, slowly, lifting her baby toward the surface with her huge nose.

Sometimes I just can’t wrap my mind around the things God has created. Perhaps like no other spiritual discipline, pondering the works of His hands inspires awe and worship in me, and I usually sob and praise at the same time. I keep saying through my tears while I’m honking into a Kleenex, “Lord! You do all things well! I am amazed at you! Thank you!” Considering God’s vast astronomical handiwork does the same thing in my soul. Awe. Tears. Praise.

Do you remember when Jesus taught His disciples about God’s wondrous ways in Luke, chapter 12? He told them to not be afraid of people, but to properly fear God. He told them how valuable they were to God, and that God already knew the number of their days. He told them to stop worrying and assured them that God would watch over them and provide in every way — what to say, where to go, and even that their food and clothing would be supplied. Do you remember how in this chapter Jesus encourages His friends to “consider the ravens” and “consider the lilies?” He was teaching His disciples that if God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers in more exquisite glory than Solomon’s robes, He would most certainly care for them.

Sometimes waves of grief wash over me, and I’m stunned again at the realization that Michael is gone, that I’ll never get to look into those big, kind eyes of his, that I’ll never again hear him speak my name with that familiar deep voice, will never touch his hands or smell his neck. But when I see things like the videos above, my delight, awe, and faith in Jesus increases, and I know I can make it through.

Maybe Jesus’ disciples were mightily encouraged when they heard Him say, “Consider the ravens” and “consider the lilies,” but I am encouraged and strengthened when I hear Jesus whisper to my heart, “Julie, consider the puffer fish! Consider the hippos!”

In grateful wonder today,

On sailing north and sleeping in

June 19, 2015 | My Jottings

It’s a chilly, beautiful morning here on the shores of Lake Superior…the best kind of morning for sleeping in, except that I am never allowed to sleep in. Ever. Edith, our 13 year-old Schnauzer, jumps off the bed every morning around 5:45, stands close to my side of the bed, and begins staring at me. If I don’t make any moves to get out of bed, she walks leisurely back and forth between the bedroom and the master bathroom, repeatedly, and I can hear her little doggie toenails clicking on the black slate tiles by the tub. If that doesn’t do it, she does what we call the Schnauzer Stampede, and she begins to gallop, horse-style, back and forth in the bedroom, from the bed to the door and back, over and over again. Until I throw the covers back and she knows she’ll get fed and let outside. Millie watches all of this from her chair and seems unconcerned, until I open the door and then she charges down the hall to beat Edith to their dog dishes, to wait for breakfast.

So, I haven’t slept in for at least thirteen years. (Now that I think about it there are a couple of exceptions when we’ve been on a trip and the dogs weren’t with us, but I still think you should pity me.)

Speaking of trips, in the fall I will be taking my two foster gals on a long-awaited vacation. They have been saving their money for over two years, ever since we returned from our trip to Walt Disney World in late 2012. Both of them have always wanted to go on a cruise, so we’re going to Alaska! And also exciting to me is the fact that two of my friends will be coming along. My friend Carey offered to come and help (because as wonderful as our trips with our fosters have been, they are a bit of a working vacation in many ways), and I said yes in two seconds. Then, when my friend Denel heard we were going, she said she’d like to join us, so we’ll be a quintet. Yay!

Here’s the ship we’ll be on:


It has a climbing wall, some swimming pools, some restaurants, a water slide, a miniature golf course, some staterooms and some deck chairs. My fosters are more than excited. And I am too, just a teensy bit. Michael and I went on an Alaskan cruise many years ago and it was one of our favorite vacations. At first we didn’t think we were “cruise people,” but when we learned how relaxing and restful a cruise can be, we changed our minds. I was pleasantly surprised by the solitude you can find on a cruise, and Michael was surprised that he didn’t go stir-crazy. The beauty of the Inside Passage was like nothing we’d ever seen. And seeing whales breaching close to the ship was unforgettable. I’m really hoping my fosters get to see some whales.

The one thing I hate about cruises are the formal nights at dinner. Blech. Ick. Boo. Hiss. Two out of the seven nights, men are required to wear tuxedos or suits, and women wear fancy cocktail-type outfits with sequins and such. Gah. That is so not me. I live in jeans, soft cotton knit tunics, and Birkenstocks. One option is to stay in your stateroom and watch ship TV and order room service, which I might be tempted to do if I were cruising alone. But I want my gals to have the full experience and I know they will love the formal nights even if I’m not a fan. So I’ll be taking them shopping for fancy attire soon and it will give them a memory they’ll talk about forever.

On the book front, I just finished reading a really good book, entitled A Man Called Peter, by Catherine Marshall. It’s the life story of Scotsman Peter Marshall (duh) and how he came to America and eventually became the Chaplain of the United States Senate. I’ve been very moved and inspired as I’ve read it. The next two in the reading queue are The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and Babette’s Feast. What are you reading? I always like to know.

All this seems so frivolous in light of what just happened in South Carolina. I always seem to have enough words for three people, babbling on with ease. But I don’t have any words for this situation, except what I utter in prayer for them. I ask Jesus to do what only He can do. And ask Him what He wants me to do.

Well, it is time for me to get round two of breakfast started. Later today Edith and Millie will be going on their quarterly visits to The Bad Lady’s house, where they’ll be bathed and groomed and will act embarrassed for the rest of the day as they adjust to their doggy nakedness.

Thank you for stopping in here, friends. God bless your weekend,

A full fountain for an empty pitcher

June 15, 2015 | My Jottings

A lot has happened since I first started on our most recent chalkboard wall.

You can see at the top where our grandson, Mr. McBoy, wrote out his love to his grandpa on the night of his death.

Since Michael moved to heaven on February 9th, I’ve added two attributes of God to the “God Is…” wall myself. I was inspired by a song by Robin Mark that I play repeatedly when I’m driving. The song is so beautiful and if you’d like to hear it, click here. 

I’ve added that God is the binder of wounds, and the healer of hearts.


And even though it’s not grammatically correct, I absolutely think “God is Grandpa we love you!!!” Yes, God can be found in a grandson’s love for his dying grandpa.

When I’m in the kitchen and look across the dining room to this wall, I ask Him to help me put my mind on one or more of His beautiful attributes, so I can meditate on it (or them) all day long. I’ve been thinking about God as the healer of my heart and the binder of my wounds for seventeen weeks now.

Also, this morning I read this poem during my quiet time, when my knees were aching more than usual and my soul felt empty for no good reason. I prayed this prayer and laughed and wiped tears while I did, because in two seconds I realized that an empty pitcher is no problem at all for a Full Fountain….

O Lord, we come this morning knee-bowed and body-bent
Before Thy throne of grace.
O Lord, this morning, bow our hearts beneath our knees.
And our knees in the lonesome valley.
We come this morning, like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord, open up a new window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory.
And listen this morning.

~~James Weldon Johnson

*         *         *         *         *         *

I think the next thing to do is add another attribute of God to our dining room chalkboard wall. God is the binder of wounds, the healer of hearts, and God is a full fountain!

God’s blessings on you today,

Grave Matters

June 12, 2015 | My Jottings

I have begun walking now and then in the cemetery where Michael’s body is buried. It’s a beautiful place, full of overhanging trees, large ponds, rolling hills and very old graves. When Michael and I traveled to England, Ireland and Scotland in 2007, we found we both enjoyed walking in old graveyards, reading the words on the head stones and pondering history. I am enjoying the same here in Northeastern Minnesota. I see older women walking in the cemetery occasionally, and I can imagine why. Aside from the quiet beauty of the many lanes weaving throughout the sloping sections there, it’s relatively private and there’s no traffic. Older women (the ones who aren’t terribly fit) like to walk without being noticed, and Forest Hill is a good place for anonymous waddling.

I have taken several pictures of headstones and mausoleums that caught my eye, and I thought I’d share them here. You can click to enlarge some of them if you like.

I like this rough-hewn cross that looks like it was literally chopped a chunk at a time from a huge stone….


I also like this one, that looks half undone, with a Greek pillar emerging from it….


I admire this one each time I’m there, because of the amazing detail carved in the bouquet of flowers and the look of a parchment scroll for Mr. or Mrs. Gee’s name…


This one always makes me grin…no offense meant to the Coffin family…


So many of the white marble markers are covered with over a hundred years of mold and lichen. This one is about ten feet tall…


It looks like the Johnsons originally intended to have names and dates engraved in the empty square section. I think I’ll get closer next time to see what the book says. I wouldn’t mind an open book over my grave…


This is one of the older sections of the cemetery. Headstones are smaller than are usually seen today, and many of them have either fallen over or nearly so, as the ground has eroded over the last century.


I find the Greek or Roman temple-like mausoleums fascinating. I wonder what they look like inside….are there shelves where caskets have been stacked? Many of the names on these edifices are familiar to me because they’re from wealthy families in our city, some of which have large buildings named after them downtown.


This one is huge…


I took this picture in the oldest part of the cemetery. Elizabeth Shaw was born in 1833 and died in 1897.


All the graves pictured above lie beyond the furthest trees on the hill you see in this picture below. This part of the cemetery below is newer, and Michael is buried out of the view of this photo, to the left.


This is a field of military graves with tiny headstones, and most of these men lived during World War I.


I took this picture because I enjoy seeing the incongruity of the cube the Dowse family chose, compared with the more traditional grave stones.


And the Wilsons apparently planned to come and sit for a while, but wanted the sundial so they could keep track of the time…


There are a few of these above-ground graves too. This couple were friends of Michael’s parents…


And I like Johann and Christine Krause Rakowsky’s grave marker. At the bottom it says, “Christ is my life, death my reward.”

May it be so, Lord.


And if you haven’t seen the recently installed headstone I chose for Michael, you can click here.

In more earthly matters, I will be Rug Doctoring my carpets this weekend. Very exciting, I know. But it will make me happy afterwards.

What are you doing this weekend? Yardwork? Traveling? Resting? Working? Reading?  I would love to know…

A happy threesome

June 5, 2015 | My Jottings

Yesterday was the last day of school here, and my daughter Carolyn took this picture of two of her daughters when she picked them up at the end of the day:


Vivie looks a little crazed, Audrey (who’s lost two teeth this week) looks a lot relieved, and Walter their new pug puppy is adding his happy smile to the scene.

I remember when school let out for the summer in Southern California when I was a little girl. The hot months ahead seemed to stretch out endlessly with so many fantastic opportunities; swimming, biking, the beach, Disneyland, overnights with friends, reading, sleeping in. And when I went back to school in the fall, my friends were noticeably changed, and we all felt like we’d been apart for years.

Now, as all old people know, the next three months will speed by in the blink of an eye, the leaves will begin to turn red and orange and yellow, and it will soon be time to bring out our snow shovels, bags of ice melt, and windshield scrapers.

Wait a minute. I can see lilacs and apple blossoms through my front windows. I see robins and chickadees in my yard. I hear the sound of a lawnmower this very minute. I have plans to buy a watermelon this afternoon. I’m not going to let my mind wander to the coming seasons just yet.

While I like all the pretty pastel colored blooms and the busy birds at my feeders, it’s the smiles of the threesome above that give me joy today.

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 119

June 3, 2015 | My Jottings

Our daughter Sharon quoted C.S. Lewis in his book The Last Battle in the eulogy she gave at Michael’s funeral. It thrilled me to hear it then and I still love it today, four months later. It makes me think of heaven in a way I never have before.


“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of The Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Thinking of heaven in this way, and Michael being there, is a blessing I can hardly contain.