Into the Silence — Part 1

April 25, 2021 | My Jottings

It has been 109 months since she has been here. Nine years. She thought it had been seven, but no.

When she returned home she checked the dates in the back of her Bible and frowned slightly, thinking of all that had transpired since her last visit to Pacem in Terris, the Franciscan silent retreat center in the east-central Minnesota woods. The sale of a big house. The move into a smaller one closer to Lake Superior. The rapid decline of her beloved’s health. The hallucinations and delusional thinking that broke everyone’s heart who loved him. The hopelessness. The joyous birth of three more grandbabies. The utter despair in which she’d been engulfed, as she moved her husband to a skilled nursing facility an hour north, near the shore of the Inland Sea. The sense of failure. And Michael’s last week on earth, his last smile at her, the funeral, the burial. The new house with few memories that seemed to mourn silently with her because he would never walk there, lie there, sing there, laugh there, hug there, again. The transformation of her bedroom into a cocoon, where she retreated each day in hope that the stillness and nothingness would one day break open and lightness and color might emerge. The death of a precious granddaughter. The love and kindness and beauty of her grown daughters. The reluctantly attended grief support group for seniors. The surprise, the camaraderie. The edge of pain’s knife becoming duller. Nearly five years later, a new marriage. A kidney donation. Cataracts, crooked fingers, cpaps, creakiness, calm, yes, and contentment.

So much has happened these nine years.

She last came with her sister-in-law Christy in March of 2012, when there was still snow in the oak woods surrounding the sixteen little hermitages. They were a few hundred yards apart; each stayed silently in their own cozy cottage, asking God to show them how to walk the coming years out.

She arrives at 11:00 a.m. on a Friday, checks in at The Big House, gets the key and hands over her two bags to the staff who drives them back to her hermitage porch. He asks if there’s any prayer intention she has for her stay and she answers instantly, “Yes, for the well-being of my family.” That’s always it, anyway. Three daughters, two sons-in-law, ten grands. And Michael’s two daughters who have shown her such love, who bring tears to her eyes… their husbands, their children, their concerns. The whole family’s spiritual, familial, physical, emotional, marital, vocational and mental well-being are there in every prayer of every day. They bow their heads and pray in the parking lot, asking for what always lays on her heart. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

She knows the way to the hermitage even though it’s been nine years and she’s never been here in the spring. She walks up the dirt paths winding through the winter-bare woods, past the grass prairie with the huge wooden cross at the far edge, past the first hermitage named after St. Michael the Archangel. Her eyes gravitate to the evergreens in among the tall oaks, and she reaches out to grab a few long needles of a white pine so she can smell what she thinks is the most heavenly of all scents.

The woods are just budding and there aren’t visible leaves yet; she can see part of the wooden siding of St. Peter and St. Paul, then St. Anthony the Hermit and St. Mary Magdalene. She stayed in St. Mary Magdalene in November of 2011, aware of her sin and her inability to put it to death herself. She wanted to be in a place named for a woman who knew the delivering power of Jesus, and was the first one He spoke to after He rose from the grave.

She can see her brightly colored Vera Bradley bag on the porch of St. John the Beloved, and feels a flutter in her chest about the two days and two nights ahead, where she believes Jesus has called her to be alone with Him, in a tiny cabin named for the disciple known for how loved he was, and how much he learned to love because of his Savior.

She unlocks the door and steps in, carrying her bags with her. There is the twin bed to the right, against the wall, with a window above and a small crucifix hung above the pillow. The bed has a warm green bedspread, and folded at the foot is a cream colored crocheted afghan. Toward the end of the bed sits an empty book shelf with a gas ring burner on top, along with a shiny tea kettle, where she will make tea a few times a day and hold the mug to warm her hands. She stows her bags on the shelves below. To the left of the shelves is a gas heater on the wall, which she knows will keep the hermitage toasty. There is no electricity.

The grain of the wood floors glow in the morning light. On the opposite wall from the front door is a huge window, almost the entire width of the hermitage, with two crank-out windows on either side. Placed in front of the window is the familiar large wooden rocking chair on a plain rug, with a brown leather foot stool. Next to the rocking chair is a small side table with a votive candle in dark green glass, set in a carrier with a wooden handle.

Under the table is a woven basket with several items in it. The book Poustinia By Catherine D. Doherty, a couple of suggested prayers, a small zippered pouch with a rosary, a pen, a pencil, a tablet with blank sheets of paper, and the latest newsletter from Pacem, with two testimonies she reads and finds fascinating and inspiring. One is about a high school hockey coach who has stayed at Pacem in Terris eighty times, and considers his silent times there some of the most instrumental in his Christian life. Another is about a Special Education teacher who felt the Lord asked her to commit coming to retreat there every quarter, and she has done that, joyfully, for decades. She says the Lord spoke like a thunderbolt to her, “A different life is possible for you,” and indeed that was the beginning that made the difference.

To the left of the chair against the wall is another small table, with a good-sized open Bible placed upon it, a votive candle in amber-colored glass set in an intricate gold stand, two photo icons hung above, and a large wooden cross on the wall.

On the opposite wall from the bed and the shelving with the gas ring, is a tall cabinet with two doors and many well-stocked shelves inside. They think of everything. She surveys the things she’s seen before… a rain poncho and umbrella hanging on a horizontal pole. A broom, dustpan, dry mop. A beautiful carved walking stick. A knife, fork, spoon, metal plate, cup and bowl, and a dark green ceramic mug with the Pacem logo. A diminutive sewing kit, a first aid kit, dish soap, disinfectant spray. An extra long handled lighter for the candles and gas ring. Writing materials. A laminated map of the trails and locations of the hermitages and outhouses. A flashlight, extra batteries, and a bottle of holy water to put into the tiny ceramic font that hangs on the wall to the right of the door. An extra pillow and blanket. An extra set of sheets, towel and washcloth. A slotted wooden box with single-serve coffee bags, Lipton tea bags, powdered creamer, sugar and stevia. A checklist hangs on the inside of the closet door to help each hermit know how to make the hermitage ready for its next occupant.

Next to the tall closet is a wash table, wooden and waist high. A bottle of liquid hand soap sits next to the same sized gel disinfectant. There’s a framed mirror hanging on the wall above the shelved table, and a towel rack with a forest green towel and washcloth are affixed to the left on the side of the closet. A roll of paper towels hangs under the table, and three gallons of delicious spring water sit on the floor.

She knows what will be in the basket on top of this wash table because she has savored the feast before. Two loaves of home-baked whole wheat and oat bread, small boules slightly bigger than softballs. Three navel oranges. Two apples, two bananas. A block of parotid-activating mild cheddar cheese, and one good-sized whole wheat bran muffin with a little valley of gooey date mixture splitting the top, and three toasted walnuts filling that valley.

She unpacks her Bible and journal and places them on the table next to the rocking chair. She moves the box of Kleenex from the closet to the table too, knowing she will probably need to open the second box before she leaves for home on Sunday.

She takes off her hiking boots and puts her Acorn slippers with the quirky embroidered moose on her feet, wincing as the swollen, broken toe is brushed. She takes off her long black cardigan and opens two windows to let the breeze blow through. The woodland scene outside is calming. The forest floor is thickly carpeted in a layer of dried, golden oak leaves. The glint of the shallow lake a few hundred yards away shows through the bare trees. The drumming of a woodpecker, then its echoing call. Squirrels keeping busy, putting their whole faces beneath the leaf cover to look for a stash, then running off to do the same at another seemingly random spot.

She pours a cup of water, then opens the side door of the hermitage to step out to the screened porch with the wooden Adirondack and matching footstool. She sets her bottle of Stok cold brew, the Organic Valley half and half, and the Torani hazelnut coffee syrup on the porch, knowing it’s the coolest place for them. Remembering her one lone and struggling kidney christened Verna, she drinks the metal cup of water down as she stands on the porch and feels the chill that helps her decide to go back inside.

She has brought her Community Bible Study lesson with her, and settles down in the rocker with it open on her lap. John, chapter 21. Jesus appears to some of His disciples and makes a simple breakfast for them over a charcoal fire. She wonders if Peter remembered when he last spent time near a charcoal fire. One scene was of his denial and shame, the other of restoration and fellowship, and Christ’s sober prophecy about where Peter would ultimately end up.

There are scenes of denial and shame in her memory as well. Lord Jesus, will you come and sup with me too? Will you prepare me for what is to come, and help me live out my days in joy and obedience to you? Will you strengthen, heal, and protect my family? Will you do the same for me? Here I am, Lord.

She reads, turning pages and pages. She writes, praying over what might begin to shimmer there. As the day wanes and the sun goes down, she gets up to close the windows and turn up the wall heater’s thermostat. Its comforting clicking commences, and in minutes the hermitage is delightfully warm. It’s supposed to be 35 degrees tonight. Perfect for sleeping. She pours water into the kettle for tea and sets it on the gas burner, turns the knob and hears the whuff as she holds the lighter underneath and the blue ring of flame spreads. She peels an orange and marvels at how miraculous it tastes, having come from a simple basket delivered to a tiny hermitage in the woods where she is being prayed for by the dedicated staff. She lights the candles. She writes in her journal all the names she always does, plus more. Chris. Sharon. Cullen. Eleanor. Margaret. Louisa. Jeremy. Carolyn. Clara. Elijah. Vivienne. Audrey. Miriam. Hannah. Levi. Sara. Bob. Buffy. Emma. Bryce. Joe. Daphne. Jordan and AJ. Josie and Robbie. Friends near and far.

She puts down her journal on the side table. Brushes her teeth at the mirror, rinses her toothbrush with occasional splashes from the jug. Washes her face with the leftover warm water in the kettle, and gets ready for sleep. The little digital clock in the closet says it’s 8:30 p.m. but she thinks with the dark and the circumstances she’ll doze off quickly.

She does not. She is awake for hours, thinking of each loved one, all the needs, her own drifting days. She thinks of the baby eaglets being tended in their nest in Decorah, Iowa, and how blissfully unaware they must be of all things COVID. How their parents care for them and feed them and warm them, and how they grow and sprout new spiky feathers every day, fantastically visible via a live webcam. How one day they’ll grow featherpants too.

She pictures how they’ll look when they finally sit on the edge of that massive, intricate nest and take their first flights. She wonders what that would feel like and wishes she would have another flying dream. She has had only one in her life, and it was wonderful. She remembers that her old friend Leslie has flying dreams regularly, how in her sleep she can just tell herself to have a flying dream, and then she runs and takes a little leap, and off she goes up into the sky, at will.

A Momentous Year

April 19, 2021 | My Jottings

From the archives….

The year I turned seven was a momentous year in my life. In good ways and in bad, 1964-5 shaped my youth in ways that still affect me today.

This is my second grade school picture from Workman Avenue Elementary School in Southern California. I was in Mrs. Lokken’s class. Several really important things happened there.

First, I learned that contrary to what my parents had been told by Mrs. Weber, my first grade teacher, I did indeed have some academic potential after all. Who knew? Apparently not Mrs. Weber. I still have all my report cards from elementary school. I keep them in a file that’s labeled “report cards” in my filing cabinet. In first grade I got straight C’s. In second grade I got mostly A’s and a few B’s.

Secondly, I learned from Mrs. Lokken how crucial it is to enthusiastically blurt out “Rabbit!” to random people on the first day of every month (before they say it to you first), so you’ll have good luck the rest of the month, and presumably the random people won’t. I’m in my fifties now and our family still works hard at this undertaking. My husband Michael has been known to lay awake until the stroke of midnight on the first of the month, then gently nudge me and put his lips next to my ear and whisper wickedly, “Rabbit!” before he chuckles and then rolls over and goes to sleep. I am not making this up. My daughters try to rabbit me before I rabbit them, and I of course I try diligently to get them first. Texting has come in very handy with rabbiting. I sometimes text RABBIT! to Sharon, Carolyn and Sara very early in the morning on the first day of the month. My sons-in-law halfheartedly participate in this activity, all because I learned this life skill when I was seven years old, in Mrs. Lokken’s second grade class, in the momentous year of 1964.

Thirdly, I lost my two front teeth in the second grade, and actually let the insensitive nice man photographer influence me to smile with my mouth closed. I had never smiled like that before. For a long time after that I was self-conscious about my teeth and hated my smile. Then a few years later my parents spent thousands of dollars on 1) head gear, 2) braces, 3) a retainer, and 4) myriad orthodontist appointments, and after I heard “we’ve spent thousands of dollars on your teeth!” more than a few times, I decided to start liking my smile better.

Fourth, in the second grade I met my friend Denel. She was in Mrs. Lokken’s class too. She and I were the best of friends for years. I wrote about some of our childhood antics here. Denel still lives in Southern California and in 1981 I moved to Northern Minnesota, but we still keep in touch, pray for each other, and call each other “my dearest oldest friend.”  We still try to rabbit each other too. When I was seven years old in 1964, only God knew that I would gain a treasured friend whose love and faithfulness would span my entire lifetime. Forty-five years is a long time to have a friend.

Also when I was seven years old, I had not yet eaten an egg, a bite of cheese, a green vegetable other than iceberg lettuce, or even a sip of any kind of soup.

While 1964 was an eggless, cheeseless, fiberless, soupless year in my life, thankfully it did not turn out to be completely brainless, smileless or friendless.

Or rabbitless.

Reach back into your memory and share something that happened to you in 1964!

We Are Minnesotans

April 7, 2021 | My Jottings

When I was twenty-three years old (many, many moon ago), I moved from The Golden State to The North Star State. From the ever-sunny, densely populated, smoggy, southern part of California, to the mostly wintry, wide open, lake-strewn northern part of Minnesota. There are almost twice as many people in Los Angeles County, where I was born and raised, as there are in the entire state of Minnesota, where I’ve been lovingly tended and have now grown old.

In California we had fresh strawberry stands on the sides of the roads and my mom bought “flats” of them often. In Northern Minnesota the growing season is so short we all believe berries are like ruby-colored treasure, and we get excited if we have any kind of berry pie or shortcake. In California if we ever ate anything just thrown together and baked (basically almost never), it was called a casserole; here in Minnesota we call it hotdish. Not a hotdish. Just hotdish.

When I moved here, I wanted enchiladas in no time, but my native Minnesotan husband hadn’t heard of such things. He suggested we drive through Taco John’s, which was not the authentic Mexican food I was accustomed to growing up so close to the border. Early in our marriage I invited my in-laws over for homemade tacos, and neither had ever eaten a corn tortilla, much less one perfectly folded and fried in hot oil to serve as the heavenly and moan-worthy vessel for meat, salsa, sour cream, onions, lettuce and cheese.

Of course my first winter in Duluth was record-breaking, with weather that made the front page of The Duluth News-Tribune and Herald, and had me calling my mom in temperate Morro Bay, California to urgently tell her, “It’s 27 degrees below zero.” And two nights later, “It’s 34 degrees below zero.” And the next night, “The wind chill is 65 degrees below zero.”

“How does your house stay warm?” Mom wondered, slightly alarmed. “Are you keeping blankets wrapped around you at all times?” Our furnace in SoCal was the size of a Christmas tree box and it fit in our hall closet; no one ever gave it a second thought. I learned quickly that furnaces in NoMin are metal octopus-like behemoths that lurk and roar and blast in dark basements, and actually keep houses quite warm when it’s 34 degrees below zero outside. Or colder. We didn’t actually have to wear blankets in the house. But we did have to dress “in layers.” Instead of my usual cut-off Levis, halter tops and sandals, my husband Michael instructed me in wise and warm dressing for the Northwoods. Turtlenecks, wool socks, lined Sorel boots (and later Steger moosehide Mukluks which I still wear — see here), Thinsulate mittens (never gloves!), scarves, down-filled jackets or parkas, but I drew the line at long underwear. Michael wore them since he worked outside a lot, but I never did.

That first winter tested me. I had married a man I’d only met once, left behind family, friends and balmy weather and moved to what I still call American Siberia. It took me a while to make friends and learn to live in a part of the country that had snow on the ground from October until May, but it only took me two weeks to get pregnant with my third child. I made my own enchiladas and got a good recipe for a hamburger and wild rice hotdish which tasted pretty good.

After a couple of years, the rhythms of Minnesota, her seasons and people, became my rhythms, seasons and people. I loved the changing colors of the leaves in the fall and made pumpkin bars and harvest soup. I stopped feeling that mild dread when winter blew in, and learned to love the comforting fires in our hearth, the piles of books from our little neighborhood library, and the smell of my homemade whole wheat bulgur rolls wafting through the house almost weekly.

I never took up gardening like so many Minnesotans do, but spring always felt like we were emerging from a dark cave, and I learned Michael wasn’t exaggerating when he assured me my blood would “thicken” as time passed. My thick blood became apparent to me as I walked down the streets of downtown Duluth in sandals and a sleeveless denim shift one early spring morning before I noticed the temperature on the marquee of the bank said 26 degrees. I drove home immediately and sat and pondered what had just happened. No wonder people passing me on the sidewalk gave me second looks.

I grew up in Covina, California, and we used to have to drive two hours to the mountains to see snow, to spend a day sliding down a slope on red metal disks with white canvas handles. Seeing mountains is probably the only thing I really miss, living here. After a Southern California rain which cleared the smoggy air, Mt. San Antonio, or Mt. Baldy as everyone really knows it, was always visible from wherever we were. When it was covered with fresh snow, I always took time to stare at its beauty, even as a child. Here’s what a view of Mt. Baldy looks like from Los Angeles.

Now that I’m close to retirement age, I think about ways to get out of the cold in the winter time. Lloyd and I have talked about visiting different places in January, maybe northern Arizona, maybe North Carolina. I don’t ever want to move away from Northern Minnesota, because it’s too beautiful. Life is too lovely here to move away completely. But getting away for a couple of weeks in the darkest, coldest month is a strategy many Minnesotans use that enables them to stay in the state they love.

Last Sunday after our Easter time was over, two precious granddaughters stayed to spend the night with me. Louisa got a tubby in Grandma’s deep, fancy tub. They got in their jammies, had snacks, did cartwheels, giggled together, drew pictures of dogs, and wanted to sleep next to each other on pallets made of blankets in front of the bedroom fireplace. I read two delightful books to them, and Audrey in particular listened so attentively to each word, eyes never straying from the illustrations. Here’s one book, and here’s the other.

After they finally settled down and fell asleep, I set my phone alarm and tried to snooze myself, but struggled to sleep well. Maybe it’s because I knew we’d have to be up early to get ready for school.

I woke them up earlier than they are used to, in steps. First I turned up the heat, and clicked on the fireplace, so a cheerful little glow would be the first thing they’d see. Then I opened the curtains of one window to let in a bit of the dawn. Then I put some soft music on from my phone. I took their toothbrushes out and set them on the bathroom counter with toothpaste. I said “Good morning girls,” but no one stirred. I bent down to rub their backs under the thick down comforter, and finally saw signs of life. I asked them to get dressed and told them what time breakfast would be ready, and went to the kitchen to get things started. I turned on the gas fireplace in the dining room so they’d have warmth at their backs as they ate, while the house was warming up. I made scrambled eggs (sloooowwww is the way to go on these), toast, and chicken and sage sausages, and the girls were ready and calmly at the table in time. They both thanked me for the food, and went off to brush their teeth and hair before grabbing their things and heading down to the basement and to the car (christened Hubble) in the attached garage.

We drove Louisa to school first, and as she got out of the car I reminded her how much I love her, asked her to do her best in school, and told her that even though she can’t see Jesus with her eyes yet, He is right there with her, all throughout her day. On the way to Audrey’s house (she goes to Catholic school so the day after Easter was a holiday for her), we drove up on Hawk’s Ridge, overlooking Lake Superior in all its glory as the morning sun assured me that, yes, I could trust God again on this day. The photo was almost our exact view, except it was taken in the fall and later in the day.

I told Audrey how when I met Grandpa Michael for the first time in 1981, I flew from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, and he drove me north to meet his family for a few days. His mom Bernie came out of the house as we drove up the driveway and parked, and held out her hands toward me and said reverently and in a hushed voice, “You look just like the Blessed Virgin!” That memory is funny and dear to me, now that Michael’s parents are gone too soon from a terrible car accident.

The second day I was in Duluth, Michael drove me up on Hawk’s Ridge to see Lake Superior and I gasped, asking, “What is that?!” I’d had no idea it would be so vast, so sweeping and spectacular. It looked like an ocean. Now, forty years later with Michael gone on ahead of us to heaven, I know this Lake is our treasure. We drink the exquisitely delicious water every day, we give thanks for its cooling power in the middle of summer, and we watch the 1000-foot ore boats coming and going all during the shipping season. Because of God’s provision and kindness, I get to see this Great Lake from the windows of my home every day.

We watched the sun rise a little higher and then I drove Audrey home, called her Beauty as I always do, and watched her run in her back door to join her five siblings and parents.

When I return to Southern California now, it seems like a foreign country to me. So many trees are gone. People have removed the green grass and paved their front yards to park numerous cars. Windows on normal residential houses have iron bars on them. Schools are gated and locked. And the traffic….

If you’ve visited my blog much, you know I love to look back at my formative years in Southern California. It was a splendid place to grow up, surrounded by orange tree groves that made the gentle breezes smell like paradise, bordered by the mighty Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Gabriel Mountains on the other, where nearly constant sunshine gave me freedom and opportunities to run and play and swim.

But now I am a Minnesotan. My people are Minnesotans. I’ve embraced Minnesota culture with everything in me. I love how people here say, “Oh fer cute!” and “Do you want to go with?” and “Nice day, ay?” and “Uff-da!” There are few swimming pools here, no roadside strawberry stands that I’ve ever seen, and my furnace would never fit into a hall closet. I no longer have to drive two hours to see the snow, or 45 minutes to see a huge body of water.

Here in the North I’m never far from a stealthy wolf, a massive moose with nostrils you could fit your fist into, an undulating fisher pursuing a mouse, a gliding muskrat, or a flashy cardinal perching low on a lilac bush. I like hotdish, walleye, keep my Kahtoola nanospikes near my shoes six months of the year, store a blanket and a first aid kit in the back of my Outback, and am one of the few people in the state who doesn’t, alas, own a cabin.

I love to travel, and hope to do more of that before I die. There are so many places I’d love to experience. Switzerland. Israel. England and Scotland again. Ireland. Norway.

But I feel so very blessed to live here in this grand northern state full of water and wildlife and trees.

Just some rambling

April 3, 2021 | My Jottings

I am alone in the house. That almost never happens. I love it. My dear foster resident is at her parents’ house overnight for Easter. My youngest daughter Sara is at a wedding. Lloyd is at his north woods cabin and will be joining his daughter and her family at their lake cabin tomorrow for Easter.

It’s sixty-nine degrees out and I think when I finish this post I’ll take a walk down by Lake Superior.

I spent the day in the most exquisite state of not rushing around, not meeting anyone else’s needs, moving quietly and slowly. Not like in slow-motion, in case you were picturing me doing that, haha. I scrubbed and baked a pile of huge russet potatoes, took them out of the oven one by one and held them in my mitted hand while I scooped out the soft steaming innards. I mixed the hot potatoes with grated colby and jack cheese, parmesan, chopped green onion, blue cheese dressing. Then I took my bare, clean hands once everything had cooled sufficiently and pressed that cheesy goodness back into the skins. I sprinkled a mixture of sesame seeds, smoked paprika and garlic powder on top. Would you like to see some photos of the whole process? Click here — my daughter Sharon took these pics of me making them since many had asked for the recipe. I make them every Easter.

We’ll be having an Easter meal with typical offerings, I think. Ham from Chris and Sharon, along with a lemony dessert. Homemade bread, deviled eggs and French silk pie from Jeremy and Carolyn. I’m doing the aforementioned stuffed baked potatoes, a chopped salad with a ton of colorful vegetables, and an old family favorite I’ve never made at Easter before — Green Macaroni and Cheese.

There will be sixteen people crowded around our two tables lined end to end. One table has a blue and white runner, one has a blue and white table cloth. Tulips from Sara’s floral studio are already put out in blue and white mugs all along the tables.

After I flash-froze and then stacked and refrigerated the potatoes, I went out on the front deck where the sun bakes the front of the house from morning until evening, rolled my jeans up and put my feet up on the patio table. I read some of Les Miserables as I sat and exposed my vanilla legs to the sun for the first time in many moons. I saw our across-the-street neighbors were taking advantage of the warm weather as they sat under the awning on their front porch. As I read and reclined I wished him the best well-wishing I could from my heart, even though he recently made fun of the way I call our Schnauzer Millie in from going potty. Millie just turned fifteen and is almost completely deaf, and the only thing she can hear are exceedingly high pitched, fairly loud voices. So if she’s dallying too much on the side of the house, especially in the winter, I go out on the deck and call her name in my highest pitched warble. She usually hears me and comes running. My neighbor (who is a very nice guy although we’re not well-acquainted with him) was watching TV and mimicked me inside his house and  said, “MILLLLiiieee!” He called in a high and feminine yodel, probably not realizing he could be heard across the street and down some.

I worked on my Community Bible Study lesson, did devotions with Lloyd over the phone, paid a few bills. I opened windows all over the house and let the fresh air blow through. Such a wonderful and invigorating smell! I’m grateful to live in a place where water and air are clean, traffic is non-existent and muskrats swim in nearby ponds and their wakes look like two perfect and diagonal water braids.

My dear childhood friend Denel and I talked for an hour today too. She and her husband have retired to Solana Beach, California, and I was at her home a year ago just as things started to get chaotic with COVID. We talked of our children, our blessings and struggles, the way the Lord reminds us He’s there and attentive to our lives and loves, and how His timing isn’t the thing we love the most about Him.

Another blessing was a phone call with my dearest adulthood friend Su. We had tentatively planned to meet for a quick cup of coffee or tea, either in the cemetery or at Mt. Royal grocery, but it didn’t work out today. Now that she and I have had both of our vaccinations, I hope we can take advantage of it and get together more often. I heard Anne Lamott being interviewed recently on Bob Goff’s podcast, and she talked about how friendships have been so sacred in her life, getting her through the hellish times and reminding her of God’s love. I’m generally not an impulsive person (except when I married a man I’d only met one time and had only known three months through letter writing and phone calls – except for that one little time) but Anne Lamott’s words about picking up a friend in pain and making a Target run together, eating Hershey’s kisses and just being together for a short time, really appealed to me. Let’s just get together for an hour, have some tea and chocolate, and then go back home. Nothing has changed at home, but something has changed in us, because we were together. I think that’s one of the best things about friends.

I’ve had a hard time reading this past year. I read every day, but it has been a long time since I’ve picked up a book to read for hours like I used to do. I hate it. I want that feeling, whatever it is, to go away. I want to sense the inexpressible comfort of settling down into a beautiful read like I used to all the time, all my life. I am slightly encouraged (but only slightly) by hearing that this seems to be a common phenomenon of lock-down. I keep plugging away, reading a chapter here, two pages there, listening to 30 minutes of my latest book on Audible. I guess I should be thankful that I do read 2-3 books a month. My dad used to read five books a week in his retirement.

I’ve been working my way through Call the Midwife on Netflix and I love it. Maybe I’ll make myself a cup of Irish tea (Barry’s) tonight and watch the next episode. I’ll get up early tomorrow to make the salad and get the Green Macaroni and Cheese ready for the oven. Everyone will be here at 1:00 p.m. Grandsons will carry extra chairs up from the basement, granddaughters will pour ice water, trays and pans and covered plates will be carried in the parade that comes through my door.

I’ll get to see Cullen the Tall, Eleanor the Deep, Margaret the Cheerful, Louisa the Lover, Clara the Kind, Elijah the Mind, Vivienne the Treasure, Audrey the Beautiful, Miriam the Dear, and Levi the Organizer.

The ones who we miss at our table are Michael the Builder and Hannah the Strong, but our separation is only for a little while.

And to have my three beloved daughters all together with me under the same roof will seem like riches beyond measure. Sharon, Carolyn and Sara. I like to just say their names.

And because Jesus lived on this earth, willingly took on every sin I’ve ever committed as He died on the Cross, then rose again and ascended to the Father, I have hope. I have love. I have His grace, mercy, and help.

May the life of Jesus fill us all,