Beauty, beauty, everywhere

July 27, 2015 | My Jottings

I love watching my daughters use the creative gifts they’ve been given. My mom was an unbelievably creative person, extremely musical and artistic, such a quick study when it came to making something beautiful with her hands. I’ve heard that creativity often skips a generation and that might be true in our family’s case.

Sharon is my oldest, and is an in-demand photographer whose gorgeous photos make me marvel and gasp. Here’s a (partial) picture of her, gently positioning a sleeping newborn girl for some sure-to-be heirloom pictures her family will love forever.


Sharon takes wonderful family and graduation photos too, but folks around here call her “The Baby Whisperer.”

Carolyn is my middle daughter, and here’s a photo of her playing Salvation Army officer Sarah Brown in our local playhouse’s current musical production of Guys and Dolls. This was in our local paper.


Our family went to see the play last week and Carolyn had us practically rolling on the floor, she was so funny. She can also sing beautifully, like an angel, and has been the lead in many plays since she was in high school.

Sara is my youngest, and she has an almost-effortless way with flowers. This is a photo of her wearing a floral crown she created, photographed by Sharon:


As I’ve said before, it’s so nice to have a florist in the house. It’s not unusual for me to wake up in the morning to something new on the table, and here’s what I found this week:


These flowers were left over from an order Sara was working on — aren’t they breathtaking?

Watching my daughters use their giftings to add beauty to this world is one of my greatest joys.

Sometimes change is nice

July 23, 2015 | My Jottings

I have long been a woman who’s not crazy about change. If I had my druthers I’d still be in the first house Michael and I ever owned, and I’d also make sure my grandchildren don’t grow any older.

But sometimes change is nice, like the change of scenery and experience travel can bring. And I like the change of seasons we have in northeastern Minnesota. And I have always liked to change furniture around, ever since I was a little girl.

In fact, there were times I’d rearrange the furniture in our house on Eckerman Avenue in West Covina, without asking my mom first. She’d be out getting her hair done at the beauty shop by her friend Mabel Fellis, and I’d shove the living room chairs around and movie the hi-fi, and Mom would usually be pleasantly surprised when she got home and saw what I’d done.

Our current living room is fairly small, so there are only two options for where the couch should go, and only one of them is really a good choice.

But my bedroom, now there’s a different story.

I’ve shared before how the previous owners of this house put on a large addition over the garage. They added a super-spacious master bedroom with a large master bathroom and walk-in closet. I haven’t changed one thing they did, except of course move all of our stuff in.

We’ve had the king-sized bed in two different spots in this bedroom, and not long ago Sara moved things around for me, because she too, loves to rearrange things to enjoy a little change. We talked about how having the bed in the corner like this isn’t really the best place in the room, but we thought we’d try it anyway. After all, if you move a piece of furniture and it doesn’t suit you, you can always move it again. So this is how things look now:


The bed is in a corner by a window on the side of our house, and it feels like a cozy sleeping/reading nook. We moved the two chairs by the windows at the front of the house, which looks out on Lake Superior. You can click to enlarge these if you like.

By the way, what color would you say my bedroom walls are? I see a grayish green. I have friends who’ve said they see no green at all, but do see a warm gray. Someone else told me it looks like khaki. And my friend Carey calls the color putty.

What wall color do you see?

The wreath made of hymnal pages was a gift from my dear friend Su, and I love it. It’s off-center because it was perfectly hung over a tall dresser and I don’t want to move it just because my bed is there temporarily. I cover my comforter with a washable cotton blanket because Edith and Millie jump on the bed a lot. They’re pretty clean little hounds, but you’d be surprised at the dirt they bring in from outside.

The attractive tubing draped over the lamp goes to my CPAP machine, which I’ve been using since April 13. Every single night. And while I was sad I needed it, it has made such a positive difference in my sleep, I’m afraid to be without it now.


This little corner of the room is full of children’s books. My grands make a beeline for these bookshelves when they visit, and I often put on soft music or kids’ CDs on the little stereo nearby. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have in my head of children of all ages, sitting on the floor here, laying on blankets, noses deep in a new book I’ve added for them.


My friend Ginny gave me this lovely red and white, square ceramic bowl, and Sara decided to put it in a plate holder. My bedroom furniture is nearly antique, made by Drexel (which I only found out in recent years is a company well known for heritage pieces), and belonged to my maternal grandparents.


These two black shelves were here when we bought the house and I had intended to remove them, but never did. Now they don’t bother me, and I have my little chairs, rats, cardinal print (a gift from Su), birdhouse of prayer, plate, pewter pitcher and hygrometer there.


There’s nothing more wonderful than a pile of books always at hand….


This is the chair I sit in every day. I read here, count my blessings here, pray and study and cry here, and you can see that Millie the Schnauzer likes the chair too. See her Flying Nun ears?


And here’s a closer shot of Millie from behind. You can also see how the sunlight has faded the fabric on the back of the chair. The plaid used to be black. 🙂


Monday, July 27th will mark 24 weeks since Michael died. Six months. I can hardly take it in. It seems like last week, it seems like a lifetime ago.

This bedroom oasis has been a gift from the Lord to me, I believe. Michael died in this room and that makes it all the more lovely. It’s in this room that I feel the Lord changing my mind most mornings, from a groaning, glass-half empty sort of outlook to a glass-overflowing view. I shudder to think what my life would be without Him.

Thanks for stopping by today. How about you? Are you a person who enjoys a little change in your life?

Not Working

July 18, 2015 | My Jottings

There are several things that are just not working for me these days. And I mean this in our present-day idiomatic quirkiness. I don’t mean that there are machines in my world that have broken down and need repairing. I mean that things aren’t working for me sort of like Dr. Phil asks dysfunctional people on his show “How’s this working for ya?” because obviously changes are needed if they want better lives.

So may I just say that chinch bugs in my lawn are not working for me? My very nice lawn guy (who has been inexpensively and efficiently mowing my small yard ever since Michael’s illness took a turn years ago) called me this week to let me know my grass is being feasted upon and will ultimately be destroyed by chinch bugs. Except he pronounced them cinch bugs. So I looked up online all I could learn about the “safe for children and pets” treatment he recommended to kill my chinch bugs, and I decided against it. It causes bladder tumors in rats and is a neurotoxin. It’s supposed to be safe for humans because the amount they would be exposed to after a lawn treatment is miniscule. Even so, this is not working for me, so I guess I’ll be trying the chinch bug program that’s more ecologically friendly.

Try not to laugh as you picture me purchasing a large amount of old fashioned soap flakes, measuring and mixing it and dissolving it in water, spraying it on the little yellow patches of chinch bug settlements on my lawn, laying light-colored flannel sheets down on top of these wet soapy areas, waiting for the teeny-tiny soap-averse chinch bugs to climb out of the grass in a panic and cling to the underside of the flannel sheets, then quickly gathering up the sheets to plunge them into a waiting water-filled, clean garbage can to drown them. And then I’m supposed to repeat the process as needed.

At this point in my life, chomping chinch bugs and soapy flannel sheets on the grass are not really working for me.

But as a homeowner who will eventually sell this house, I guess I need to make sure the lawn survives. This all makes me think that perhaps being a homeowner will soon be something that will no longer work for me.

I’ve been dreaming (again) of more temperate climes, a place not too cold in the winter and not hot in the summer, and have once again come up with the mountains of North Carolina. blowing-rock-viewI’ve been reading about Asheville, and have also become curious about Blowing Rock and Boone, NC. Having a quiet two-bedroom townhome or condo in the Blue Ridge Mountains where chinch bugs would be someone else’s concern sounds appealing.

But it’s not just the chinch bugs. It’s my quadriceps too. My right quadriceps muscle isn’t really working for me. Ever since I had my right knee replacement surgery three years ago, my right thigh muscle has become weaker and more useless with each passing day. I can’t use my right leg to go up a step, cannot stand from a sitting position without using my arms to push myself up, can’t turn over in bed without a wince. I fully realize the answer would be to begin exercising my right quadriceps muscle to strengthen it, and to quit compensating for it, but the apathy and almost compulsive need for quiet and comfort in my life as I adjust to living without Michael isn’t really conducive for vigorous exercise programs. Faulty reasoning, I know, but I don’t claim that my thinking is on task these days either.

I’ll tell you what is working in my life right now.

Having a little male goldfinch dine at the suction cup feeder on our dining room window many times a day, singing his sweet, twittery song…this is working well for me.

Watching episodes of “American’s Test Kitchen” I record on my DVR, learning about the fascinating science of cooking and baking, even though I don’t want to cook or bake much myself — this is working for me right now.

Having window boxes on our front deck that are continuously, gloriously blooming with red geraniums is working quite well for me.

And dreaming of Scotland is totally working for me. And watching the occasional inspiring movie is always good.

Sara and I watched “Babette’s Feast” a few nights ago and I was thrilled all over again. Michael and I watched it years ago and I remember him wiping tears as we saw the sacrifice and unbelievable generosity of one woman toward a group of people who didn’t fully appreciate what she did for them. Have you seen it? It’s subtitled, and is so worth watching.

Ah. It’s time for me to prepare breakfast for my gals.

I hope whatever isn’t working in your life right now is being overshadowed by the things that are.


Virginia Sooter’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting

July 10, 2015 | My Jottings

When I was little my mom made cakes. No bars, no tortes, no really fancy stuff. Maybe she would make an occasional pie or some cookies, but cakes were her thing. I’m sure she must have made scratch cakes now and then, but mostly she swore by Duncan Hines cake mixes. No Pillsbury (too airy) or Betty Crocker (too spongy) for Mom. It was Duncan Hines or nothing. And since bigger was always better, Mom always made a double batch with two boxes of Duncan Hines, and used a giant, deep cake pan that could have doubled as a sled if Southern California had ever gotten any snow. I don’t ever remember her making a layer cake.

So while she always used cake mixes, Mom shunned any kind of ready-made frosting. She always whipped together her made-up version of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting, and it went on yellow cake, spice cake, devil’s food cake, white cake and marble cake. She liked it because 1) it was extremely yummy, and 2) it didn’t require cooking in a saucepan like many frostings do. My brothers and I loved that Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting, and like any other kids, we wanted to lick the beaters and the bowl and the spoons after she had frosted the cake. Joy+choc+bundt+cake_0036-1

My mom died twenty-two years ago, but I still make Virginia Sooter’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting today. So do my grown daughters. I think it could be renamed Reese’s Frosting, but that would take away all the sentimentality, so when I share it with you here, I’ll keep calling it Virginia’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting. If you make it and like it, feel free to pass on the recipe, but try your hardest to call it Virginia Sooter’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting. Thank you. 🙂

1 stick soft butter
3/4 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy – whatever you like best)
1 teaspoon good vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder

Cream the wet ingredients together well, then add the dry ingredients. Stir vigorously by hand with wooden spoon, or use hand mixer if you prefer.

Then slowly add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is the consistency you want. These measurements can be approximate. Taste and savor and decide what you think it needs. If you want it more chocolatey, add a bit more cocoa powder. If you want more peanut butter, go ahead, try another dollop. Sweeter? More sugar then.

The milk at the end, added a little at a time, can help control how smooth it is.  Sometimes I’ve added too much milk and it’s too thin. I just go back and add a bit more powdered sugar and/or cocoa until it’s just right.

This frosting doesn’t have the sheen that a cooked frosting does, but it’s quick and delicious and freezes beautifully in a lidded Tupperware container.

Sometimes I make a cake with a Bundt pan, and use Virginia’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting for that, warmed slightly and then spread with a spoon lumpily over the cake. Ha.

I love and miss you Mom.

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 120

July 8, 2015 | My Jottings

Two quotes from the Bible study by Priscilla Shirer entitled Breathe — Making Room for Sabbath:

“Some of us have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we’re running on empty and when the ones we love most are the ones we see the least.”  –Barbara Brown Taylor

“Sabbath-keeping: Quieting the internal noise so we hear the still small voice of the Lord. Removing the distractions of pride so we discern the presence of Christ.”  –Eugene Peterson

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A Holding Pattern

July 4, 2015 | My Jottings

I read that when a plane is being flown in a holding pattern, it’s not making any further progress in miles, but is flying around in a relatively small area of airspace, waiting until it has permission to land.

I feel like I’m in the holding pattern of widowhood, wondering what comes next. Except I realize that what is going on in my life right now (which I’ve always regarded as lavish beyond belief) might just be what will be going on in my life until my days on earth are over. And that would be so fine! But I still have this limbo-like feeling. I guess it’s normal.

I wish I had other older widows to talk to. I have four very close friends who’ve all been widows, but each was young when her husband died, and they’ve all remarried. And indeed they’ve each been wonderful comforts to me.

I wonder about seemingly silly things like, “What shall I do with my time now?” I have daughters and grandchildren and a foster care business, so it’s not like I’m bored. It’s not that. In fact, I can’t ever remember a time in 57 years when I’ve been bored. Being a reader has ensured a boredom-free life for me.

I have a picture in my mind about what a healed widow might do with her time. She gardens, knits, takes painting or sculpting classes, maybe even some college courses. She travels occasionally with friends, does senior yoga to stay limber, volunteers once a week at a place which benefits from her wisdom and compassion. She also loves to walk and bicycle, and only increases in strength and dignity the older she gets.

Well. I love the order and color of a beautiful flower garden, the organic freshness of home grown vegetables. But I’m not even an iota interested in doing it myself. I drove up to the cemetery today and pulled a handful of weeds away from Michael’s grave, and on the way home I noted the dirt under my fingernails with a titch of anxiety, which made me want to scrub them when I got home.

I love the idea of painting and creating and feeding my melancholic soul that way, but for some strange reason I don’t want to pursue that right now. I have scrapbooks I need to finish first.

Yoga would be nice if I could bend my right knee and attend an intensely remedial class for women who’re mostly blind and don’t want to do downward facing dog.

I would love to take a couple of online college courses, but to what end? To get a degree I probably wouldn’t use? Or just for the joy of learning and achievement? The latter sounds like it might be possible.

Travel is the one thing my imaginary quintessential widow-woman does that I would like to do, but I realize I have almost as much agoraphobia as I do wanderlust. I want to go to Scotland tomorrow. But I don’t want to leave my house. This could present a problem.

I can picture myself volunteering someday, but only when I’m not so needy myself. I don’t feel like I have much wisdom and compassion to offer to anyone these days. Rather, I feel vulnerable, drained and sponge-like.

It would seem like I’m in some kind of holding pattern. Like I’m waiting for the next thing, but I have no idea what the next thing could be. Woman_on_park_bench_10058346_l_RGBBecause except for the constant, hollow longing for my Michael (which is huge enough), I have been blessed with a life that keeps me thanking and praising God many times a day, with a full heart.

Can a full heart also feel tentative, sore and unsure? I hope so.

Perhaps a widow who has remained unmarried and is a few years further down the road on this grief journey could tell me that this holding pattern sensation will pass. Or maybe she would tell me it never really goes away, but that it becomes bearable with Jesus.

It’s perplexing but not terrible, and like everything else, I’m entrusting it to Him.