Clear and bright…

September 7, 2008 | My Joys

If ever a child has grown into the meaning of her name, it’s Clara.  

All the baby name books say that Clara means “clear and bright”, and here are some of the definitions of those words from Merriam-Webster: Clear: luminous, cloudless, serene, transparent, unmistakable, keen, innocent, pure.  Bright: shining, sunny, lively, cheerful, intelligent, promising. 

She is my oldest grandchild, firstborn of our daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy.  Clara is six years old and is in the first grade. She loves to read (“Grandma, I guess you could say I’m a bookworm!”) and she’s very content to spend hours drawing, creating and imagining.  While she was at our house yesterday, she read Charlotte’s Web, made an 18-inch tall weather vane out of felt, construction paper, tape and pipe cleaner (making sure I knew which were the North/South/West/East arrows), built a small room out of Legos with an “emergency exit window”, demonstrated the difference between the calls of the chickadees and nuthatches at our deck feeder, and told me she loved me about seven times.

One of the things I love most about Clara is her very real devotion for her three younger siblings. She and her brother Elijah are sixteen months apart and are true friends. There is a deep bond between them and it’s beautiful to see. She thinks the antics of her little sister Vivienne are adorable and says, “Grandma, isn’t Vivie so sweet?” And Clara is genuinely delighted when baby Audrey smiles or accomplishes something for the first time (“Grandma, Audrey can crawl and sit up now!”).

I grew up loving books, and remember the first time that excitement for reading began in me: in the second grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School in West Covina, when my teacher Mrs. Lokken read aloud the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books to our class.  We would sit resting with our heads down on our desks after a hard-playing recess in furnace-like Southern California weather.  I remember thinking that I was going to read those books to my children when I became a mother someday.  And I did.  What never entered my seven year-old mind was that I might eventually be a grandmother as well, and perhaps I would read them to my grandchildren. 

So when the children’s play “The Magic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” came to The Children’s Theater in Minneapolis earlier this year, we began a tradition that I hope to continue for many years: a Grandma Date. Clara and I drove to the Twin Cities and saw the wonderful production, stayed at a nice hotel, ate at restaurants, and made some memories. Elijah knows that next year when he is six, he and I will do the same together.

Clara is tall and long-legged, has golden hair and skin, and expressive blue eyes.  She can be shy around new people, but her conversation with those she’s comfortable with is constant, full of hypothesizing and frequent words of love. She is obedient to her parents, helpful and peaceful. She’s an amazing example for her younger brother and sisters.

Clara loves to watch reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show on Saturday nights.  When she happens to be spending the night at Grandpa and Grandma’s on a Saturday, she’ll often look at me with wide eyes and say, “Grandma! Remember what’s on TV tonight!”  And when I say, “Lawrence Welk?”, she smiles and nods emphatically, knowing in a little while we’ll be watching together, swaying to Guy and Ralna or Bobby and Cissy doing their thing.

She likes to hear about life “back in the old days” when I was a child, or about poignant memories I have of her when she was younger. Recently she asked me to tell her some things I remembered about her when she was a baby. One vivid memory came to mind. I told her that when she was about a year old, we had a high chair in our kitchen that we used just for her visits.  I told her how she would sit in this high chair and tentatively try some of the new finger foods her mama gave her. Even at a year old, Clara was watchful and quiet, and as I moved around the kitchen her eyes followed me, and when I spoke to her in Grandma-like coos and smiled at her, she grinned back hugely, breaking my heart into pieces.  I told Clara that as long as I was in the room, she was content. But if I left the kitchen and moved out of her eyesight, she would burst into tears. After hearing all of this, six-year old Clara looked into my eyes and placed her hand on mine and said, “Grandma, it’s still pretty much like that now.”

There are days now when life seems a little overwhelming to me. Years ago I couldn’t have looked in my mind to the horizon of our future and seen there the things that make up our life now. We have things I never thought we’d have, and are missing things I never thought would be lost.  Sometimes it feels like we are muddling around in the dark, trying hard to hold on to our Savior’s hand. Theologically, I know that He is holding us in His hands, but I forget that much too often.  How thankful I am for our grandchildren and the riches and perspective they bring to our lives. They cause us to lift our chins, roll up our sleeves and set our hearts and minds on what’s truly important. They help us to pray and to dream and to hope. 

My oldest grandchild Clara brings me joy.  She is just plain good company.  Her very presence can make things seem clearer and brighter, although at age six she has no idea that she exemplifies the meaning of her name. It is my prayer that as she grows, she will learn to walk closely with the Lord and that she will look to Jesus as the Protector of her heart.

I’m so proud and thankful to share about my granddaughter Clara.  I love her so.


September 5, 2008 | My Joys

lana2You see her enter a massive room full of dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs, and you are immediately struck by her gorgeous auburn hair, cut very stylishly. Next you notice how perfectly dressed she is, and you realize she knows what colors a redhead looks good in. You watch as she (and possibly an assistant or two) methodically but creatively transform the plain room into an enchanting place that will hold a wedding reception that fulfills a young bride’s dreams. You note how efficient and particular this beautiful woman is as she expertly drapes each seat with a shimmery white fabric chair cover that she designed and made herself, and ties it off with a fancy, elegant bow for a final flourish.  A once nondescript room is now something that would evoke “ooohs” or “aaahs” from anyone entering, and would quickly draw them in.

I want you to meet Lana.  Really, what Lana does with her started-from-scratch chair cover business is very similar to what she does in her life.  She does it with her family, her home, and her friends.  This creative and generous woman can take the ordinary, and quite simply, make it better.  She brings a sense of refreshment with her wherever she goes.

A little over two years ago, Lana introduced herself to me at our Tuesday Community Bible Study and lovingly told me she would pray for my husband, who had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Last year she became a core leader at CBS and our friendship really took off. Lana is one of those rare women who is immediately so easy to be with, to converse with, to get to know, that she has made me feel like we’ve been friends for decades instead of a relatively short couple of years.  Everyone who calls Lana friend knows her attentive, compassionate way of listening. She has a tender heart that translates into everything she does.  When I need comfort and a good dose of encouragement, she’s one of the first people I think of.

Lana is a prayerful, devoted wife, and mom to three grown and fabulously talented children, yet she prays for my husband and children. Her faith in Jesus permeates her life in a humble and attractive manner. She’s a great decorator who brings peace and harmony to her home, not only with her creativity, but with her personality. She helped paint my newly remodeled kitchen and offered her service to us many other times. A year ago she heard that we had an undetected leak in a kitchen pipe which ruined floors, and she showed up at our door with a delicious dinner, to lighten my load.  She’s just there, with a smile and a prayer and a soft way about her that really does make me feel better.

Lana is a true mixture of elegance and grace.  Like the transformation that occurs when she works her magic on ordinary, utilitarian chairs, she probably doesn’t even realize she does the same with the people in her life.  She quietly changes any atmosphere into something a little more beautiful, a little softer and more inviting, with her gentle, sincerely compassionate ways.

She is a woman of many friends, yet she takes time to regularly communicate with me.  I am thankful for the richness and love Lana has brought into my life. I count her friendship among my most cherished blessings.

Meet Lana.


August 22, 2008 | My Joys

Let me introduce you to Diane. diane

We met in the early part of 1977 when we were both very pregnant and taking childbirth education classes with our husbands.  Our friendship was thus conceived at the celebrated and distinguished Yuba College in Yuba City, CA, birthed at Beale AFB in Marysville, nurtured in Germany, and has grown and flourished through decades of letters, visits and talks on the phone.

Diane has had adventures many of us only dream about. She has traveled the world, and lived in a good portion of it: Guam, Korea, The Azores Islands, Germany, and yes, even Louisiana.  She’s a native Southern Californian, as I am, and even though she’s thinking toward retirement, she exudes optimism and youth and resilience, and she knows how to make a new beginning when one is called for.

This woman can write. You and I will see her name on book covers someday.  She is a sensitive poet and has published many pieces. She’s working on a novel that will cause me to someday say proudly, “I knew her when….”  Much of our friendship has been conducted through the written word, long before electronic mail, and on the days I found a thick letter from Diane with that familiar tiny handwriting in my mailbox, I would return inside my house and plop down on the couch, anxious to savor what she wrote.  I still have most of her letters.

In 1988, after moving to an island off the coast of Portugal, she described their house to me: “We live in a 200-year old house which used to be a convent. It is by far the most interesting (although possibly the least comfortable!) home we’ve ever had, although we are taking steps to make it more homey. It’s large and stark, as befits a convent, with high ceilings, thick wooden doors and shutters (which we close at night to keep out the howling wind) – and it’s made of whitewashed volcanic rock. We have 4 bedrooms, a big kitchen/dining room, a small frontroom and bathroom, and a long, spooky hall.”  Can you see why I wanted to hop on a plane at once and go right to where she was?  I wanted to hear and feel that howling wind off the Atlantic, I wanted to tiptoe down that spooky hall and hear those ancient doors creak.  And I wanted to sit and have coffee with Diane so we could talk and laugh and connect.  I still do.

Diane has three remarkable grown children. She was an effective and well-loved high school teacher. She still teaches at the college level. She paints. She travels. She does unexpected and adventurous things like purchase wild, untamed land in Alaska on which to someday build a cabin, and considers up and moving to different states where she might have a new start, a desert climate and a writing casita.

Generous. That’s what Diane is. Generous with her encouragement and words of cheer.  Generous with the way she listens, gets acquainted with people, and imparts comfort and hope into their lives. She’s a woman so generous, even lavish with patience and goodwill toward others.

She came into my life bearing a gift – she knocked on my front door at Beale AFB and handed me a lovely wrapped present for my newborn daughter.  She continues to give so much to me all these years later, and I honestly can’t imagine my life without her.

Meet Diane.


August 20, 2008 | My Joys

Let me introduce you to Susan.

I met Susan when she and her husband Dale moved next door to us over ten years ago. We became friends quickly and often had tea and Pillsbury Orange Rolls together at each others’ tables. She gave me some of the best recipes I’ve ever had and still use, such as Athenian Couscous Salad.

We talked about books, God, marriage, children, about not going home again, aging parents, dogs, and the joys and sadness of life. She is a brilliant woman – a geologist by profession who knows her asbestos! – but she is also one of the most kind and humble people I’ve ever met. You would never know by just visiting with her that she could probably demolish you in Jeopardy; instead you would immediately feel that she could be a soft place to land and a person you could implicitly trust.

She loves all things Egyptian. She is so honest and allowed me to know her, and wanted to know me. A little bit shy by nature, she stepped out of her comfort zone and dressed as a clown for my birthday one year (along with many other clown friends). “See how much I love you?” she smiled. And I was so touched.

She found out I had a hubcap obsession and gave me old hubcabs planted with flowers. She and her husband Dale asked my husband Michael and me to sponsor their children Will and Zoe when they were baptized, and we will never forget the sacred glow of those days. We used to wave at each other through our windows. We used to eat Vietnamese food together on New Year’s Eve.

Susan and her family eventually moved to the southern part of our state and we now have to rely on occasional phone calls and e-mails. I hope we can visit in person before too many years fly by. She

        My Orange Roll Friend

My Orange Roll Friend

will always be one of my most cherished friends, and I never eat an orange roll anymore without feeling like I’m betraying our friendship in some way.

Meet Susan. To know her is a great gift.