Friday, December 30, 2011

An Unexpected Gift

What not to do at Christmas:

1. Plan too many projects that must be completed before the big day.
2. Plan too many activities that keep you running from event to event.
3. Plan a big holiday dinner with over-tired, over-stimulated children as guests.
4. Find your father who has been missing for 54 years.

This was an exceptionally difficult Christmas. There were some beautiful, meaningful moments--driving around looking at lights with Fred and the girls, the concert at church, our candlelit devotions in the morning, seeing the girls' joy with their gifts and receiving lovely handmade gifts from each of them. But overall, the holidays were stressful this year. And then, a most unexpected gift landed in my lap--the gift of a father. And I'm still asking if this is really a gift or something else.

My parents split when I was a little girl. I never heard from my father again. Was it his choice to never pursue me? Or my mom's choice to prohibit him from finding me? Who knows. And does it matter? I've been curious about him off and on through the years but I assumed I'd never know anything about him.

Right before Christmas I heard from my sons that their dad was researching his own family tree. For whatever reason, he left his tree and decided to go in a different direction and research mine. I think he wanted to give this information as a gift to the boys. He asked one of them what my original maiden name was. (I was adopted by my step-father.) Now here is the eerie part: Years and years ago my mother gave me a silver rattle and silver cup that belonged to my birth father when he was a baby. I still have the cup but the rattle has been long forgotten and lost. At the same time that the boys gave their dad my name and he did a little research, he discovered this rattle on his daughter's dresser. Where did she get it, he asked. She told him she found it at the bottom of his toolbox. He examined it and saw my father's initials and birthdate. He made the connection to recently discovered information he'd found. He asked my oldest son if he wanted him to contact his grandfather. Yes. So he called the home of my father, far away on the other side of the country. The rattle gave him an opening.

Two days before Christmas one of my boys tells me this story. I am shocked, and buried memories and emotions surface. At this point, the boys' dad has only talked to my father's wife, but they decide on a good time to have a phone conversation with my father--Christmas Eve. So he calls my father and supposedly has a long, interesting conversation. (All info is coming to me second hand from my sons.) My father says he never knew where I was all those years. He is interested in finding out about his daughter and grandsons. He is old. There may not be much time.

So I am planning Christmas with all this turmoil swirling inside. I can't concentrate on anything. I can't sleep. Where is God in all this? (For He is in everything.) The boys and I collect some pictures and information to mail to my father, their grandfather. I find an old picture of a young man holding a blonde giggling child on his lap. His arms are tight around her in an embrace and he is kissing her cheek. Father and daughter.

Christmas is over and there is time to contemplate all these things. I have no illusions of a grand reunion. I would just like a little information to fill in the blanks. Maybe some medical history. Maybe my father really doesn't care after all these years or maybe he wonders if I'm after something. Maybe this is the end of it. And that's okay.

When the girls and I were looking through the box of old pictures, I found several of my grandmother, the woman who adopted my mother when she was a tiny girl. No, she is not my biological grandmother. But she is the one I loved and the grandmother who loved me. I tell my girls that blood doesn't matter. This is my "real" grandmother and nothing will change that. Arielle says, "She's pretty." Liana says, "She looks so kind, just like my own grandma." They are right. She was the best grandma a little girl could have.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The moonlight washes across the face of my beautiful daughter when I come to kiss her good-night. She says she loves to fall asleep looking up at the moon full in the sky. She can see it through her blinds. "Put your head right here on my pillow, Mom, and you can see it." I remember her first sentence at fifteen months. We stood on our front porch wondering at the moon that night. She said, "Look! Moon, big, high, sky!" And I wondered at this baby so taken with the heavens.

The same moon, the same house, the same child. But time has changed the people here. I grow old; Arielle grows up. I feel so blessed--so incredibly blessed--that I had the opportunity to nurture this girl through her childhood. I was chosen to be her mother! Of all the mothers of the world... What a privilege! Arielle will continue to grow apart and away from me. It's the plan. But she will always be my precious daughter and I will always be her mother and the moon will rise full through all the seasons of our lives.

Of course, I have another equally treasured daughter who might read this and say, "What about me?" Liana, I will tell your story at another time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Weekend

Despite my failures, God continues to bless. What a beautiful weekend! Saturday we busied ourselves with housework and projects. I've learned to thank God for TIME to clean. I don't like doing it, but I like a clean house. Fred was given a restaurant gift card for his birthday, so he treated us all to Olive Garden! We don't often go out to eat, so it is a special occasion. Olive Garden has gluten-free pasta and all that salad! It was very cold outside, but cozy inside this bustling restaurant on a Christmasy Saturday night. Afterwards we drove through winding streets on the way home to see the houses all lit up while listening to Christmas music on the radio. We passed through the old neighborhood where the boys grew up, bringing ghosts of memories as I remembered people who lived here long ago. My next-door neighbor who lost her son in Afghanistan a couple of years ago has her house adorned in twinkling lights. We were glad to see that. Hope lives on.

At home the girls and I played a rousing game of Quiddler in front of the fire. Driving around looking at the lovely (and cheesy) decorations people set up, listening to the meaningful (and silly) Christmas songs, playing games on a cold winter night: these are our traditions. Are we missing the true meaning of Christmas, as some might say? I don't think so. Our traditions remind us of God's goodness in past years as we do all over again the things we've enjoyed before. They give us hope that we will continue them next year and beyond. And when we are gone, our children will carry on these traditions.

Our family was asked to light the Advent candle in front of the church on Sunday. Oh, the turmoil for the girls in deciding on an outfit, and how would they do their hair? I reminded them that all their friends will be in their Sunday school classes and would not see them. Still, it was exciting and a little scary for them to stand before the throngs of people watching. These same two girls a few years ago sang a duet in front of hundreds on Christmas Eve. What happened to them, that innocence lost? This morning we were up front about one minute total, so it really wasn't too traumatic. With the girls dressed up and lighted trees surrounding us, we had the perfect opportunity for a Christmas photo. So here it is. Long gone are the days of my babies posing at the Sears portrait studio. (So sad...)

One of our best family traditions is to attend the concert at our church each year. This is definitely not a "holiday concert" but a Christmas concert. Through music and the word the message is clear: God's son was born to die in order to save the world. Crazy, huh? So, in spite of our fun traditions, we remember what Christmas is really about. Carl Trueman writing on church services this time of the year:

"It is foolishness and a stumbling block. Foolishness, because the very idea of the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe being born of a teenage virgin in a stable in a tiny nation of no account at the far end of the Mediterranean is utterly ridiculous. Indeed, one might say that it looks very much like proof that God cannot exist -- at least, that is, God built according to our specifications and requirements. An offence because I do not need salvation, especially salvation brought by a pre-modern peasant's child in some backward place nobody would otherwise ever have heard of." As we proclaim the message of Christmas, we should not attempt to "make Christianity look sophisticated or moral as the world understand these things. Least of all is it stand-up comedy designed to entertain those who might otherwise seek their fun elsewhere. Its agenda, especially at Christmas, is not to be determined by unbelief or what the hipsters in the Village will tolerate or what the brain's trust at MIT think is plausible."

I stand on what I know to be true. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


I have a disorder of mind and spirit. It's called "I-can't-be-bothered." The older I get the more I like to seclude myself from others and just stay home. I can explain this by saying I'm overwhelmed with all I have to do. That's why I don't teach Sunday school or cook for Alpha anymore. That's why I didn't want to serve the staff lunch or go into the city and do a work project last summer. Our family was asked to light the Advent candle at the morning service next week and my response (in my mind) was that I can't be bothered. Why us? Ask another family. (We will be doing it, however.) So when someone at church asked if I was going to the Women's Christmas Brunch, I said no, I wasn't planning to go. Why not? Well, I can't be bothered. I want to stay home on Saturday morning. I didn't say that, of course. Later, I thought I would invite a friend of mine and if she wanted to go, I would go. She said yes. Thank you, Helen!

It was a wonderful morning! Each year women volunteer to decorate a table, bringing their own special china and table settings and creating a centerpiece. I am definitely not creative enough to do this, but I so much enjoyed walking through the room seeing their beautiful artwork during the "Tour of Tables." Music played and the mood was festive. Then we had a lovely lunch, heard a speaker, played a silly game (Helen won!) and sang Christmas carols together at the end. A highlight was when I was able to introduce Helen to a single mom who has been blessed by Helen's generosity for years as she has shared her daughters' outgrown clothes with this mom who also has little girls. These two had never met and I was so glad to see them together for the first time. More than anything, this morning meant I was able to spend time with my friend and catch up with her. How can we be too busy for people we care so much about?

Helen says she knows how to decorate and we decided to do our own table next year! What about "I-can't-be-bothered"? Well, I'd forgotten that when women get together like this, there is joy. There is healing in connecting with other women, each of us with our own stories of happy times and heartbreak. We need each other.

I've just figured out what my real problem is, this sickness I have. It's called selfishness. We are not meant to live in seclusion and hoard our lives to ourselves. I hope to do better.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Five Best Toys of All Time

At this time of the year, we're always looking for great toys. Someone e-mailed this to me. Check it out! (Mothers of boys, young and old, will especially appreciate it.)

"So to help you out, I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time." Jonathan Liu

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Liana is learning to write different types of essays and she had an assignment. I asked her to write a narrative on anything that happened last week. Those days were loaded with many bits of kindling to spark her imagination. But my creative daughter couldn't think of a single thing to write about--so she said.

Our whole family loves this joyous, crazy, hectic season. An old Andy William's song started playing in my head when I started to write this, "It's the most wonderful time of the year...there'll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near..." That comes from the 24/7 Christmas music on the radio. We listen to the old songs over and over everytime we're in the car. It marks the beginning of all the excitement and we love it.

Our week began in rainy Gettysburg. The day after we got back, the girls and I, along with Lana, headed to church to cook and serve the staff luncheon. Fred volunteered us. At first I was not happy about this. The day before Thanksgiving? What was he thinking? Like I have nothing else to do that day. But I saw how much this meant to him, so I decided to serve with joy. I wasn't feeling joyful at first, but I chose to change my attitude. And it was fun with all of us together. Many people gathered at church that day to decorate for Christmas, making it a festive day. So Liana could have written about that.

The next day was Thanksgiving. We were anxiously awaiting Dominic and Stacia's arrival from DC. Arielle and Liana LOVE having them here. They constantly watched out the front window and finally announced, "They're here!" Then the rest of the family came over and we prepared to partake of our feast. As usual, I asked the kids to reflect on the past year and give thanks for their blessings. We had two weddings in the family and a baby is on the way! Much to be thankful for! Joy abounded as I listened to their testimonies. What changes this year brought.

Black Friday. It's a tradition. We all headed to the most crowded, crazy mall around. Not to shop, but to walk around and join the masses as they buy, buy, buy. The prices were good, no doubt. But for us, we just like to go and soak up the atmosphere. We always check out Santa. Since Arielle was a baby, the very same Santa has been at this mall. We always say he is the "real" Santa. He's old and kind and has a real white beard. Every year we sigh in relief when we see that he has returned. But this year, no! He was not there! Arielle was dismayed. "He's dead!" I assured her that maybe he just wasn't up to being Santa this year. (I heard he lives in Florida and returns each winter for his Santa stint.) But she was not convinced. It was sad to see this different man sitting in place of the "real" Santa. We don't like changes at Christmas.

At the mall, we sampled peppermint bark and walked around the kitchen store full of items no one really needs. Fred and Dominic waited in line forever at Starbucks, but we enjoyed people watching. We got free See's candy samples and when Fred shared his with an employee outside of Penney's, she jumped with excitement bragging to her co-workers that she is "special." Dominic and Arielle played Wii on a big screen, and then we went home for turkey leftovers.

Dominic wanted to go to a thrift store to donate a trunkful of goods he brought from home in his rented car. We found one right down the street and had a great time looking over other people's junk. The parking lot was packed there too because there was a 50 percent off sale. We found some great old videos to watch on our family nights. Stacia bought some cute little jewelry for the girls. Back home we had a rousing game of Apples to Apples. Good times with my family. I am so grateful. Liana has plenty to write about.

But the weekend wasn't over! Dominic and Stacia left on Saturday. It's always sad to see them go. Then we prepared for Arielle's birthday. She's beyond the age of little girl parties and she's happy with a gathering of family. Once again the big kids filled the house. Nick brought his little ones and I think Arielle enjoyed playing with them most of all. Arielle is Laci's special person and Arielle adores her in return. Lana, Mattie and Liana delighted in playing with their little toys. Liana is so imaginative that she can entertain the little girls for hours. Deacon kept us hopping with his constant motion. Damien and Gretchen gave us a slide show of their wedding pictures and we relived that special day. The conversation was rich and deep. A friend told me when her grown kids get together, the talk is so shallow. Not here. We've never lacked passion, that's for sure! Sometimes it heats up a little too much but my kids are fierce in their love for each other and that cools the fire.

So Liana had plenty to write about. In words we can acknowledge all we've been given and pause to give thanks. That's why I write.

"I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord..." Psalm 69:30, 31.

Another week of the Christmas holiday begins. We're grateful for yet one more trip to the tree farm with the girls.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rain on Gettysburg

Fred needed a little break from the demands of work, so we headed out to Gettysburg for a couple of days. This will be the third trip for the girls, so they already have ideas on what we must see and do. A meal at Ping's and another at Friendly's. Devil's Den and Little Round Top. For Liana, to see the Pennsylvania Monument (her favorite). Swimming in the hotel pool.

We enjoy our family time together but the slow and steady rain made visiting the battlefield sad and eerie. No matter how many times I hear the auto-tour CD, the horror of those three days of the Civil War doesn't diminish. Rain pours down in rivulets on the windows of the car as we peer out at the flickering flame of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. 148 years cannot erase the tragedies suffered here. We come to remember, to learn and understand, but because of the weather, we can't balance the war stories with a lovely tramp through the woods like we did last time. We get out of the car at Devil's Den and still the rain comes down, soaking us. Fred walks on ahead and the girls take pictures. Gettysburg in cold November is different from our first trip when the redbuds bloomed a hazy purple throughout the woods.

Ping's is cozy and warm, the soft lighting welcoming us on this dark and dreary day. We all agree; it's the best Chinese food ever. Afterwards we watch the big Christmas tree being assembled in the center of the town square and once again get pictures with Abe.

Home again to get ready for Thanksgiving. So much to be thankful for this year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Prayer for All

I really fall short when it comes to praying for others. My own life and the needs of my family crowd out concern for other people. It should not be that way. "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people." (I Timothy 2:1) But how can we pray for everyone in the world? We pray for our family, of course. When my daughter-in-law was burned badly... when Jon and his family were lost on the mountain. We pray for friends--my friend Joan and now her husband. Those are obvious and easy. But for strangers? We are blessed when we do so.

I remember praying fervently for Elizabeth Smart, the girl in Utah who was kidnapped. When she was found and returned to her family, a whole nation rejoiced. And those who had prayed had a certain joy in knowing somehow we had participated in bringing her home.

Early in the year someone asked me to pray for a friend of hers who was going through a hard time. This young woman lived in another state and I did not know her. But I prayed. Months later I actually met her and felt such love for this stranger, a tender place in my heart for her. In prayer, somehow, we enter into people's lives and see them as God sees them. I'll never forget when I read that Said Musa had been freed. I shouted to the girls that God had delivered him! We care about him, even though we will never meet him.

What can my fumbling, puny prayer do? Does God need my help? But we pray because we are told to pray. It is a mystery we can't explain. We can't pray for every hurting person in the world, but when the sadness and grief tears at your soul, pray. Pray for strangers. How about this boy Jonathan whose parents abandoned him to live alone in the Amazon jungle? He is only 15. You can read about him here. "When Compassion Becomes a Gold Rush."

Or Chen Guangcheng. He is a blind human rights activist who was imprisoned for five years in China for exposing forced abortions used to enforce the one-child policy. He was released from prison but during his time of house arrest he endured a brutal four hour beating in front of his young daughter. He was denied any medical care. This man and his wife are now missing and no one has been able to find them. His picture has replaced Said Musa's on my refrigerator, my reminder to pray.

Often times we need to DO something to ease the suffering in the world. Sometimes we are told to GO. Sometimes all we can do is pray. But don't discount its importance.


Previously I wrote about Said Musa, a man imprisoned in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity. I recently read an update on what has happened to him since then and it reminded me that we need to continue to pray for people, known and unknown. Often the grief of the world is just too much and I try to shut it out. But sometimes we are just compelled to pray. There is joy in entering into another person's life with love and concern and weeping with those who weep.

Musa is now living with his wife and six children in an undisclosed place. Their safety is still questionable. In an interview with a reporter, Musa told about his conversion. A bomb had shattered a house in his neighborhood and many people died. Musa was working with others to find survivors and two Western women were also helping dig through the rubble. Musa asked someone who they were. "Christians, followers of Jesus Christ." It was the first time Musa ever heard the name of Jesus. He thought he needed to find out who this man was. Finally he asked, "What is a Christian? Do you have a book?" Reading the Bible on his own, he found out. Weeks later he and his wife were baptized. Musa was bold in his faith and opened his home for Bible study and gatherings. He could recite the whole book of Matthew from memory. Of course, he was eventually reported and sent to prison where he was beaten and tortured.

Musa was asked how he endured his time in prison. He said at one point he was deep in despair and cried out to God. That night he had a dream and saw Jesus. Jesus spoke to him saying, "I am always with you" and Jesus gave him his hand. He woke with a new attitude. He said he saw that "his Lord was alive." His execution was imminent and Musa only asked that it be public.

He was finally released and secreted away to a new country. He says it is difficult for his family to learn a new culture and language. He still fears persecution from other Muslims. He still needs our prayers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Last Day?

We heard the weather forecast and thought that maybe this was the last day of beautiful sunny autumn. It was supposed to be 70 degrees! So we headed off to our favorite park and were blessed with showers of colorful leaves raining on our heads and crackling beneath our feet.

#97 of my 1,000 gifts: enchantment beneath the towering trees with my husband and daughters.

Why keep a list of blessings? Ann Voskamp, who turned my attitude to gratitude rather than complaint, is in the mountains of Ecuador providing food and labor to the poor. She says, "A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting out the love of Christ." We are filled so we can pour out. My blessings are overflowing. What do I do with this? I haven't a clue right now. So I continue to make my list, not to glory in what I've been given, but to acknowledge the Giver and be open to whatever plans he might have.

This might not be the last day. Maybe many more warm days will follow before winter winds keep us indoors. But we really don't know how many days we have left. I don't want to miss a thing.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Panic and Prayer

It had been a beautiful Saturday, sunny with the trees in full autumn glory. Darkness falls and Fred starts a fire in the wood stove and we are getting ready to watch The Santa Clause. Every year the girls look forward to watching the old Christmas movies as they count down to the big day.

A phone call. It's Damien. I immediately know something is wrong by his voice. In a rush he explains that Jon, Chrissy and Lana went on a hike on the Appalachian Trail and have lost their way. They hadn't seen any people for hours and it is dark and cold. Jon had called Damien to let him know the name of the campground where they began their hike up the mountain, "in case something bad happens." The signal for the phone goes in and out and Damien loses contact. All he knows is the name of the area and that his brother and his family are on a trail coming down from the summit. My granddaughter is only 8 years old. Damien says he has been calling Jon every few minutes since the call broke, but he can't get through.

Damien hangs up quickly so he can try to call Jon again. I just kept saying, "What?? What??" Now a million questions fill my mind. When did they realize they were not on the trail? Do they have a flashlight or are they stumbling in the dark? What kind of trail is it? How far away are they? What should we do?" My heart is pounding. Is this the way people's lives change in an instant? An ordinary day turns to a nightmare.

Fred is in the shower. I grab the girls' hands and we pray. God sees Jon and Chrissy and Lana. We pray for their safety. We pray they find their way. We pray to know what to do. Damien calls back. Jon had called him again, but they were immediately cut off. Damien is very upset, angry even, but anger is easier to manage than fear. We are struck with fear, deep and penetrating. Do we call the police? Damien says he will go look for Jon. Fred says he will join him. I go to the computer and look up this campground that I never heard of before. When I see the name of the nearby town, my fear closes in tighter. Years ago the boys and I hiked there. It is extremely steep, rugged and rocky. The campground website has a weather forecast. For that night--25 degrees. I am trying to get a grip on my rising panic so I can think straight. Damien said Jon told him they had no camping gear with them, and they were not wearing winter coats. They had begun their hike in the warm midday sun with plenty of time to return to camp.

I look up the local and state police phone numbers and write them down. This is serious. We must get help. Then Damien calls back. Jon made contact! He is back at his campsite! He has quite a story, but we have to wait for the next day for that.

Jon said Saturday morning they had driven out to the campsite, as they often enjoy spending time together as a family camping. They had decided to take a hike before settling in for the night. Jon had a lighter, a knife, and a flashlight--just in case. They hiked to the pinnacle for a spectacular view, noticing that the blue trail markers of the campground had merged into the white markings the Appalachian Trail. Many people were at the top and they did not feel any danger. They left in plenty of time to return before dark. But coming down, they did not find the blue campground markers. They continued on the Appalachian Trail, lost, not seeing a single person. Jon said as darkness fell, fear rose in him. He alone was responsible for his little family. He knew it would be dangerous to continue hiking at this high elevation among the boulders. They could fall. Lana was crying, frightened. Jon carried her but he said he could not do it for much longer. And it was very cold. They cried out to God to deliver them. Finally he realized he had to make a shelter. The lighter he thought was in his pocket was gone! There would be no fire to warm them. Then, in the distance, they saw the light of a campfire. You never leave the trail when you are lost, but they knew they must. They walked toward the light and found a group of men, startling them, because these men probably were not supposed to be camping out there in the middle of nowhere. They offered food and water and warmth. Two of these men walked them to a main road and waited with them until someone from the campground came in a truck to return them to camp.

The conclusion of this story is obvious: PRAISE GOD! He answered all of our fervent prayers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


My son sent me a birthday card with these words on the front: "Live richly and savor all of life's offerings." I've been offered much and I do live richly. And I am always, ever grateful.

The older I get, the more joy abounds. Today I am overflowing, abundantly full. I have been granted another year to live on this earth. It is a privilege. God has filled me up with precious children, dear friends, and a good husband. What more could anyone ask for? I do not ask for more. It is enough, and when the time comes to leave this earth, I will not say that there is anything good that God has withheld from me. And all his graces have been totally undeserved.

You would have thought it was Christmas morning, the girls in their excitement, anxious for me to open gifts. There are no gifts for them, but they don't seem to care. Their joy is full in giving. I know that Liana has recently been alert to any of my sewing needs and she must have really been paying attention because I unwrap exactly the right tools I've needed--a new rotary cutter, mat, and ruler. The girls had to work for the money to get these gifts, and that makes them even more special. Liana has also painted me a picture in water color, a still life of my sewing machine and table, unbelievably detailed. I am amazed at her talent. She also designed and made me a quilted purse. It is lined and has a button closure. She used no pattern but has an incredible talent of envisioning a project and knowing how to put it together without any directions. I open gifts from my mother. How do moms know when you need jammies? Perfect timing, perfect gifts.

It's sunny and the mums are in full bloom. What a lovely October day! The girls talk me into taking a day off to celebrate my birthday so I let them decide what to do. We all go to the mall and pick up needed items. Arielle says she might get her ear pierced. Maybe... She's been talking about this for awhile. She stops by the piercing kiosk but then changes her mind. Right before we're ready to come home, she changes her mind again and goes through with it! I am so proud of my brave daughter! She had been so afraid it would hurt.

We arrive home to find gorgeous flowers at the back door. My friend Helen has stopped by. I wish I'd been home to talk with her. The flowers bring the fall colors into my kitchen. My sons call and I have e-mails from family far away. Fred and Arielle have go to church to cook for the Awana program this evening, but I plan on making a big pot of chili and apple crisp for anyone who comes by around dinner time. Liana asks, "Why are you making chili?" It's not her favorite meal. I say it's my birthday and I want chili! Just like my mother used to make. It's strange how we crave those comfort foods from our childhood. Liana helps me prepare dinner. She takes great interest in cooking and I think she will be the one to carry on the family recipes.

Soon my kitchen is filled with loud passionate conversation after Damien and Jon arrive. My friend Connie and her daughter come and I assure her that the boys are not arguing but agreeing with each other! They are discussing the important issues of life. Connie gives me a treasured gift, a collection of poems that she wrote over the summer, hand-bound. Earlier I had read a few of them, but here is the full set for me to enjoy. My precious granddaughter Lana bounces around with joy and gives me a handmade card, her drawing of a house on it. It says, "Here's your house that will keep you safe from the rain, but God will keep you safe forever!"

Damien has photos and video clips from his wedding and we relive the special moments. Gretchen begins to cry again as we watch the video of Damien singing their song for her. It's called "Stay Forever." Oh, to keep this moment forever, for all of us to stay forever together. But we can't. Children grow up and we grow old.

Just a few days after this idyllic autumn day we are hit with a Nor'easter. The girls and I are out shoveling ice and snow off the deck since Fred is called into work to plow. Huge branches crash down from our big maple, blocking the street. Under the weight of the snow we can hear the trees cracking in the woods as their limbs break, but the fall is unusually quiet as they land on the ground.

The trees are still full with leaves. This is a strange, early storm, untimely. Not what we expected. That's how life is. So we number the blessings and count our joys. Have you started your list of 1000 gifts? A day will come when the crack and break will be frightening, but the fall will be soft, and we will end as a whisper. The sun will shine the next day after the storm.

Dark Night

My friend Joan's husband came to our door on a dark night two days before my birthday. He had called to say he was dropping something off. We were all in pajamas, watching a movie with the girls and planning to go to bed shortly. We opened the door to find him on the porch with a plate of blueberry corn muffins. For my birthday, he said, since I can't eat cake. Joan would have done that for me. In fact, the muffins were arranged on a plate I recognized. It was the same dish pattern I owned years ago, and Joan and I had laughed about having identical dishes. Then her husband handed me a bag of oolong tea he bought in Chinatown, the same kind of tea Joan gave me last year. I'm almost out. I so wish she were here to enjoy some tea with me. He also handed me some papers, upcoming events and information about things I might be interested in. Joan always used to save things like that. She would attach little sticky notes with my name on them.

He runs back to his car and comes in with a large tote bag. He said Joan told him to give it to me. It is her unfinished quilt. Last year we took a quilt class together to learn to make a unique regional design. I finished my quilt and gave it to Liana in the spring. Joan never completed hers. She was a perfectionist and worked with precision, not throwing things together hastily like I tend to do.

I shake my head no. No, I cannot keep Joan's quilt. She told me while she was sick that she hoped for some time to work on it. She never got that time. The quilt is not mine. I am stunned and grateful, but no. Then I told her husband I would finish it and give it back to him. Maybe he would find comfort in sleeping beneath the soft covering of colors his wife had chosen and skillfully crafted.

After he leaves I am overwhelmed with the gifts. I think of the profound mystery of marriage, the oneness Joan and her husband knew. He, acting in her place, bringing her presence here to my home. Her loss rips my heart once more. I miss my friend. I cannot fathom her husband's pain. I know what Joan would want me to do with this quilt. Give it back. I open the bag and unfold the partially pieced top. It is exquisite. I will not do it justice, me with clumsy hands. I see her small notes to herself, labels for the blocks and rows. She so much wanted to finish this work of art. I cannot look at it on this night.

The next day I unpack her bag with all the notes, her tools, and the careful squares. She is so organized that the quilt will not be hard to finish. I won't have to choose colors she might not have liked. The pieces are already there. I just need to sew them together--with the greatest of care. That would please her. I will do it for Joan. Hopefully, when it is once again in her home where it belongs, her quilt will continally remind her husband of Joan's deep love for him.

Friday, October 21, 2011


This morning I read Charles Spurgeon's questions, "Has he prepared heaven for you? Has he prepared YOU for heaven?" We know Jesus has a place for us. He told his disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." John 14.

What made me stop and think was the second question, that God is preparing US for heaven. It reminded me of a biography of Hudson Taylor the girls and I read recently. The story of his life as a missionary to China in the 1800's is told in Hudson Taylor: Deep in the Heart of China by Janet and Geoff Benge. Taylor, a young Englishman, knew he was called to China, but information about this faraway country in that century was hard to come by. He did know his life would be difficult, so he tried to prepare himself in any way he knew how.

"Every decision and every activity became valuable only if it moved him towards his goal. This focus on China took several forms. First, he realized he would need all the academic training he could get...Second, he needed to toughen up his body. He started with a strenuous exercise program out in the cold. He also got rid of his feather bed and began sleeping on bare boards. He gave away many things that were not essential to his daily life. When I get to China, he told himself, my body must be ready. Third, Hudson had to find some way to learn the Chinese language."

Now I don't think we need to practice physical hardships to prepare for heaven. But some of these principles still apply. Are we moving toward our goal in our daily decisions and activities? Are we encouraging others to come along too?

The main point of Spurgeon's words is that God is the one doing the work in us. What does that look like? Maybe circumstances play out in our lives to prepare us for our eternal future. Hudson Taylor knew life would be different in China. We really don't know what heaven will be like. So how can we prepare for it? But God knows. He knows what we need before we get there. Maybe even our difficult situations here on earth are a preparation for life with him. So in all things we can give thanks because it all comes from his hand. We don't exactly know everything he's doing, but that's okay. We'll be ready when the time comes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Wedding

The time has come! The parents enter, walking past the seated guests. As I sit down I remember my camera is not with me! No time to get it. Here are my sons all standing in front, waiting for the bridal procession. My three-year-old granddaughter who is one of the flower girls does not want to stand where she is supposed to be. She runs to her dad, one of the groomsmen. He persuades her to sit beside me. She does for a few seconds, sees Arielle and runs to her. In that length of time, I missed the all the bridesmaids walking to the front! Too quickly, here comes the bride and we all rise. I hope to see the video because it seems like I missed it all.

Gretchen is breathtakingly beautiful. Damien's eyes light up. As I see him standing there, for some reason I remember him in a soccer uniform. The skinny legs, but strong and muscular, clad in shin guards and dirty cleats. My little boy, now a man. It happened in a flash. I wish I had a video of his life because I have missed so much, busy with other things.

Damien and Gretchen say tender vows. Arielle addresses the congregation, to charge us all to uphold this marriage, to encourage Damien and Gretchen and not to judge them or come between them. Then the ceremony is over. We applaud the new married couple and go to our tables, ready for a feast. The bride and groom dance and everyone watches. Then the bride and her father have a dance. Not me! Thank you, Damien.

We have a delicious meal and visit with people from long ago. Liana, Mattie and Lana can't wait for the music to begin. And when it does, they do not sit the rest of the night. With pure joy, they dance and dance and dance. Arielle gravitates to the little ones, carrying Laci around and playing with Deacon. Damien's band plays and even Damien joins in on the drums. I move to the front to see my son in action. He catches my eye and smiles.

I heard a rumor that Damien would be singing a song to Gretchen. Damien doesn't sing--ever! Not as a boy, not now. So this has to be good. He takes the microphone and begins to sing--"their song"! The crowd surges forward, sensing a very special moment. Gretchen comes to the front, sits with the band. Damien kneels beside her, oblivious to the public gaping at him, and sings to his bride. Gretchen begins to sing with him. Marissa is standing next to me watching and we both have tears in our eyes. This is a moment from a movie! I feel so privileged to witness the love my son has for his wife, to see his sacrifice in doing something difficult for him that he knew would please her.

The song ends and the crowd retreats. Women are sniffling and wiping their eyes. Later, Liana wrote a poem, "When Damien sang a song for his bride, it was so sentimental that all the girls cried."

Cake cutting. Love and respect, no smashing cake in the face. A lovely dessert table is spread for us. The evening winds down. Laci and Deacon fall asleep. It's been a lovely wedding.

The next day after the wedding, I read these words: Damien and Gretchen, "You are in our hearts...I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort...I am overflowing with joy...I rejoice because I have perfect confidence in you..." (II Corinthians 7) God's plan is unfolding.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Preparing for Another Wedding!

I have a new daughter-in-law! I've always loved Gretchen, but now she is officially part of our family. It was a glorious day for a wedding--bright and sunny and warm, with autumn peeking around the corner. We were privileged to ride with the bride to the hotel where hours of hair and make-up filled the morning and early afternoon. Two hairdresser, many girls to get ready.
We all rode in a van to the venue, our driver a little boy I knew long ago who ate birthday cake with us every December. Now he is grown of course, just like my son. I got a picture of Gretchen in the van, just like the one I took of Stacia when she was on the way to her wedding. Stacia appeared calm and reflective. Gretchen seemed bursting with joy, apprehension, and excitement.

The wedding and reception would take place in an incredible facility. In 1871, the first factory in the world for the manufacture of optical glass was built here. This building was in operation creating many different products until 2002! Then it was renovated and became an art center with galleries and art, music, and dance studios. I can see why it appealed to our artsy Gretchen. It is a beautiful old building with a lot of character. All wedding guests would even walk through an art gallery upon arriving before continuing upstairs to the reception hall. And what a great place for taking creative wedding photos! Unfortunately, I had camera problems and have very few good pictures, and none of the actual wedding ceremony!

The women and girls were secluded in a locked room so we could get ready. Gretchen's bridesmaids helped her into her spectacular dress, the little girls gathered around fascinated with her garter. Three of my granddaughters were flower girls and they needed to get into their dresses. Sashes were tied, hair fixed, new black shoes taken from boxes. Laci was wearing the same dress Arielle wore to Anthony and Kim's wedding when Arielle was four years old! The little girls had fun swirling and twirling, feeling like princesses. Soon we would all line up to make our grand entrance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Special Treat

A gift for you: Find joy!

The Future

Over the weekend my number three son, Damien, got married. It was a wonderful wedding! More on that later. I'm still gathering pictures. But two things happened over the weekend that got me thinking about this post.

The night before the wedding, my number two son, Dominic, drove us to the rehearsal since I just can't drive in the dark anymore. On the way home I was snuggled drowsy in the back seat with Arielle and Liana as Dominic drove, feeling totally secure in my son's hands. I thought back on how many times through the years this son of mine was crowded into the backseat with his brothers as I drove them to soccer games or scouting events. I was the chauffeur and they the children who needed to be protected. Now I need help.

Damien's best friend Jeff from first grade was at the wedding. It was great to see him again. So many memories! Jeff's parents came also and we "old" people had a chance to catch up. We talked about the good old days when our boys were little and we were young. Jeff's mother gestured to our grown sons and said, "They are us now." We step back. They go on.

I saw a glimpse of the future of our family on a hike through the park Sunday. My daughter-in-law and Liana and I were lagging behind and I noticed Dominic and Arielle up ahead. I don't know what they were discussing. They paused under a tree and then led us down the path. Dominic is already fulfilling some of his dreams, but now here is Arielle just beginning her journey into adulthood, these two trailblazers who want to change the world. I hope when I'm long gone they will sharpen each other with their visions and grand plans. I hope they will lead the family in carrying on our history and our traditions and leave a legacy to be remembered.

At the rehearsal I was talking with the young minister who would marry Damien and Gretchen the next day. He had just returned from a mission trip to Brazil where he daily risked his life in a dangerous area. I told him Arielle won't always be mine. She belongs to the world to fulfill God's purpose in her life. She's already beginning to separate from me with ideas different from mine-- secret plans and deep thoughts. She's biding her time, traveling the globe in her books, but so anxious to grow up. I want to just hold on to her. I saw this in Dominic too. I always knew he would go off and do great things. These two--excited about the future with a strong sense of justice and curiosity about people of the world. They both, with their calm demeanor, have the perseverance to accomplish their goals. What a privilege to be a mother to these children of mine!

I'm a simple person who loves home. I don't dream big. I'm content where I am. But for Dominic and Arielle...who knows what the future holds?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Fall Harvest

What still clings to us that we can't see the bounty God provides? Sometimes it's hard to remove the dirt and enjoy what lies beneath. If carrots are left in the ground too long, they become bitter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Wings on My Shoulder

Yesterday we went to the Natural Science Museum in the city. Besides the fun of riding the train and walking beneath the towering skyscrapers amidst the bustling crowds, we had an unexpected gift. Butterflies!

In a small, warm and humid room laden with flowering plants, we stood awe-struck as exquisite butterflies fluttered over our heads and in front of our eyes, even landing on the floor beside our feet. Dazzling colors on their fragile wings, with unfurled proboscis they drank nectar from ripe fruit and blossoms. Moths with wing span larger than my spread fingers flew like small birds, landing on the wall to display their designs. If you were still and watching, you would see one, then another, and another in the foliage, each more beautiful than the next.

I was quiet, wanting to blend into the flowers of their world, mesmerized, and suddenly I felt the lightest touch on my right shoulder. Tiny, threadlike legs perched on my green sweater. Inches from my face, I gazed directly into the magic of this gorgeous insect pausing mid-flight. A gift--for me!

"Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy." (Ann Voscamp) I could not grasp this winged gift to hold or keep it. But by pausing in the moment to really see, we receive our gift. And then we give thanks to the Giver of the gifts.

Liana and Arielle were busy with their cameras taking amazing pictures, as you can see.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Spider

Liana and I are studying spiders. We're at the end of Zoology 3 that we began last year. It's a good time of the year for spiders. They seem to be everywhere. Or maybe we are just more tuned in to find them now. We built a frame to invite a spider to spin a web so we could observe it and then planted the frame outside near the bamboo grove. Yesterday we went out to check on it only to find it was damaged from all the rain we've had. It took a long time to make, so that was discouraging.

As we folded up our project to put out for the trash, Fred said, hurry, come and check out this spider. There, right in front of the shed, was a huge spider! Huge from our perspective anyway, I guess it would not be large at all in the Amazon rain forest. It was fat and hairy, with striped legs and two white spots on its abdomen that looked like eyes. We've already learned that brown recluse spiders don't live here and black widow spiders are very distinctive, so we concluded this spider was harmless. And not scary. Liana didn't back away in fear; instead she ran for the camera and got up close trying to get a good shot.

We stood there a long time watching our spider. It was building a very large orb web and seemed to be in a great hurry. We were fascinated because we'd read about the way an orb web is constructed and this spider certainly had the directions memorized. How can a little creature be so precise? How can each strand of silk be placed in just the right spot to form this beautiful design? We watched as it raced up and down making the radial lines and then come back to the center and circle around attaching them all.

Our multitude of photos did not turn out. Liana tried hard to capture this moment but the spider was so quick in its work. It just wouldn't stand still to pose. So we imprint this special time we shared in our memory and in these words. In light of the book I'm reading, I think, what if we hadn't stopped...if we hadn't really looked... These times are the treasures of life.

We're hoping for a sunny morning so we can go out and see dewdrops on the silk and maybe get a better photo.


The next morning was cloudy, but we went to check on our spider anyway. It had caught a small beetle in its beautiful web. As we watched, it wrapped the insect around and around in white silk. Then suddenly, as if it just noticed us standing there, it quickly skimmed across the web and disappeared beneath the shed roof.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Naming the Gifts

Three scenes run through my mind this morning. My good friend telling me, "I don't want to do this anymore." Another person telling me that thoughts of death are ever present. How do we live this short life fully, prepared for the fate of every person ever born? And then Gretchen's wedding shower, a joyful celebration yesterday, my dining room bursting with young women and their laughter amidst decorations of green and gold and pumpkin spice (and everything nice). But do we have to wait for these big events to find joy?

I haven't finished Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. It shouldn't be read quickly. The library book had to be returned but this is a book to keep, to re-read, to live. I need to be reminded to live a life of gratitude for the simple gifts, so I ordered a copy from Amazon. I never read self-help books by the latest guru or psychologist. This is not a trendy formula of "do this and you'll be happy." It is not a "name it and claim it" false doctrine. This book is about living a God-centered life with hands open to receive all he has to give us. The beautiful and the good, along with the not-so-good. We can be thankful because all of it comes from him. Even the most difficult of life situations.

The author talks about "humanity's discontent with all that God freely gives..It scrapes us raw." What a good description. I am scraped raw by my never-satisfied, critical attitude. Then when my ugly and self-destructive habits spill over in words and actions, self-condemnation sets in. Ann says thanksgiving "prepares the way for God to show us his fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all the sin that estranges us from him."

What is the remedy? "When one is thirsty one quenches one's thirst by drinking, not by reading books which treat of this condition." (Jean Pierre de Caussade) What can we DO? I've suffered many years with an attitude problem.

A friend challenged the author to name a thousand things she loves, one thousand blessings, one thousand gifts. I also challenge you to begin a list. "Not of gifts you want but gifts you have... Writing down the gifts is receiving them."

I wrote my first one on August 30th. Hot pink sunset in waning summer sky. It's a picture of how I feel sometimes, joyous color in descending darkness. Click on it and see the beauty.

Friday, September 16, 2011


It was just another task in our too busy schedule. Another aggravation to take this long drive on a rainy evening. My car had been recalled. We would need to leave it overnight at the dealership.

After dropping off the car, we got into Fred's to go home. But traffic at this time of day was crushing. We decided to wait it out a little. What to do? Fred suggests burgers. We rarely ever eat fast food, so everyone cheered the idea. We ordered and the clerk asked if the girls wanted crowns. Fred thought he said "crayons" so he said sure. The girls graciously accepted their paper crowns and then the clerk said, "How about you, Dad?" Fred said yes and promptly put his crown together and set it on his head, the girls laughing at the absurdity.

During our meal, the girls and Fred wore their crowns. I wish I'd had a camera! Fred even walked out of the restaurant still wearing his, amidst more giggles from us all. This is so not like him. We still had time to kill. Kill? No, time to enjoy each other and our evening out. We headed to our favorite bookstore and perused the shelves, looking for gifts to add to Christmas lists. (Fred would not wear the crown in the bookstore, much to our disappointment.) Fred and I relaxed with cups of coffee and the girls thumbed through a book on world records that someone had left on the table. Arielle filled us in on these foolish wonders. The wonder is right here--the four of us together, the laughter and conversation.

An errand to run became not just another irritation, but an opportunity. Parents set the tone. We can't blame the kids. So instead of taking out our frustration by bickering, our usual default mode, Fred decided the theme would be "family night out on the town." Simple things. Gratitude. It changes everything.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Gift to You

On August 15 I started to read a book recommended by a friend of mine. It starts with the author's story of a tragedy in her life. As I read the words Arielle played lively old piano pieces in the other room and Fred sat in an interview across town and Liana was out having fun with her friend and all the while lightening cracked across the sky. I read a bit, stopping to stir the ground turkey browning on the stove, pausing to think. All of this is life: grief and music, anxiety and companionship, extraordinary, untamed power of the heavens and peace in my little kitchen. What does it all mean? I noted the date because I knew this was a day that could change my life. I read the words in the book showing me how to slow down, take notice, pay attention.

This author, Ann Voskamp, is on to something. I've had the same vague truths floating about me for years. That joy is found in simple gifts, of seeing God in all things. Living with gratitude for it all. But I would never be able to write the words the way she does. It is truly the most beautiful book I have ever read.

Popular now is the "bucket list." Things to see before you die. The author says, "Are there physical places that simply must be seen before I stop breathing? Why? To say that I've had reason to bow low? To say that I've seen beauty? To say that I've been arrested by wonder? Isn't it here? Can't I find it here?"

And then..."I don't need more time to breathe so that I may experience more locales, possess more, accomplish more. Because wonder really could be here--for the seeing eyes."

So my gift to you is to suggest you read this book. Then live it and find joy.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The 8th Clan

The Cherokee and their seven clan system makes them distinctive from many other Native American tribes. The Cherokee have a matrilineal society and descendents are traced strictly through the mother's side of the family. A person receives his mother's clan at birth and retains his clan for life. Cherokees intermarried with whites more than members of other Native American tribes, causing many problems with the laws of the clans. Children, who were both white and Indian ancestry, were still regarded as Cherokee by their clansmen.

Seven is a sacred number to the Cherokees. If clan affiliation is not known, it is very rare that it will be identified. There is no record of clan membership on file.

The seven clans of the Cherokee are: Panther Clan, Long Hair Clan, Bird Clan, Paint Clan, Deer Clan, Wild Potato Clan, and Wolf Can.

We all traveled many highway miles to be together for one day. Our family from up north, two brothers and their families from down south, and all the roads intersect at a park just outside the Cherokee Reservation. We've been here many times before. So many memories fill my mind. A dark evening cooking chicken over a grill--just my mom and Fred and me. I remember not just the event, but what was stirring in my heart then. My temporary stint in Atlanta, the summer I was lost. My dear mother was my foundation of love and security, steadfast no matter where I wandered. I think of another time tubing down this same creek with my young nieces, all of us bouncing off the rocks with shrieks of laughter. Family. We change and grow but here we are, all together again. And then I think of the last time, three years ago. My brother's pain piercing us all. We upheld him with love and prayed for better times to come.

So we meet once again under the sheltering trees of the Smokies. Our time together here will be so short. One family will be here only for the day before taking to the highway again. How do you connect the years in such a short time? There is no time for deep conversation, but it is a joy to see the beloved faces and hold them close for a moment.

We have two new family members to meet--my oldest brother's fiancee and my new grand-niece. Everyone says, "You have to meet Angela. You will love her!" And we do! Then my sister brings her granddaughter, and we terrify the adorable baby with our exuberance as we crowd around her. We feast on unconventional picnic food--delicious tamales my sister has made. We take silly pictures and tell silly stories. The kids wade in the cold mountain creek. Then too quickly it is all over and we pack up the car and say sad good-byes. So many words left unsaid. Maybe too much silliness and not enough real connection. I want to know their hearts, their dreams, their regrets. Time races on. Where will are lives be at the next reunion?

All of us lay claim to Cherokee ancestry, but we do not know our clan. After spending several days with my zany family, I suggest we form a new clan. (I know, the number 7 is sacred, but really, who would take us in any of the other clans?) So I suggest we become the 8th Clan of the Cherokee, our own distinctive clan. We need a name. Please look closely at the picture below of the patriarchs of this family, and give me your suggestions for a name for the 8th Clan.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Soul Food

My friend Joan's husband came for dinner. As I set the table, the place next to his was conspicuously empty. Joan should be here. Why did we never invite the two of them to a meal? Too busy and too overwhelmed with life. That's the only excuse I can come up with. My sad reason for not doing many things.

This man brings me gluten-free oat bran muffins. I am surprised he knows about these. Joan made them for me when I was first diagnosed with celiac and she gave me the recipe years ago. I coax the muffins from the tin, still warm, and arrange them on a plate. It's as if Joan has given them to me. My heart is heavy.

Joan's husband and Fred are on the deck grilling. I cut a zucchini into round disks, fruit heavy with fullness of life, fresh picked. As I dip them into beaten egg and crumbs, I pause, startled. God is here. Here in the mundane, in my ordinary kitchen and my ordinary life. He's here in the deep well of grief and he transfigures simple acts into beauty. His bounty from our meager garden can nourish an empty soul. I reach for one soft, round muffin and eat it now. The offering is sweet and filling. Sacred food.

The bowls and plates for the meal cover the empty spot at the table. We surround Joan's husband with food and love.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Coming Home

We drive into Cherokee, the Great Smokies enfolding us like welcoming arms. We can rest easy here. I fled to these mountains years ago when life was chaos and uncertainty. My sister and my mother sheltered me and nourished me. I think of other times when my brothers, at their own crossroads, strengthened me. Ancient mountains, they know the secrets and pain of the past. God provided a place of healing.

As the familiar sights come into view, I think of happy times bringing my baby girls here. They dipped their toes in refreshing mountain streams and walked beneath boughs of green forest. They were welcomed and loved strong by aunts and uncles and cousins. I've never lived here, but when we pull into the gravel drive in front of my mom's house, this is coming home. The girls go up the ramp to the door ahead of us, shy. They haven't seen their grandma in three years. She draws them in with hugs and chatter and they are immediately at ease. As usual, she lays out a huge spread: her best-ever potato salad, Kentucky ham (Mom says that's the best kind too), jello with strawberries and real whipped cream, and anything you could possibly want to drink. We fill up on food and love.

Later we walk through the shops and the museum. We've been in all these places so many times before, but it's tradition! My mom doesn't seem to mind doing it all over again. The girls, older, learn more and understand more each time. The town is slow and sleepy this day. Deserted almost. Where are the tourists? Mom says it's the economy. We note which hotel has changed hands and name, which stores have closed up. Nothing stays the same. Except for the circling mountains. Their faithful presence brings us peace.

Buying Time

If we actually had to buy time, would we spend it more wisely?

--Ann Voskamp

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I hadn't seen my family in three years, I'm ashamed to say. No excuses. So we headed to North Carolina, a very long, long car ride. I don't do that well. Half of my childhood was spent in the car--traveling across the desert to visit my grandmother in California or spinning around the mountain roads in northern Arizona at a high rate of speed. Narrow roads and a big old car. My dad with one hand on the wheel and another around a beer can, my mother yelling at him to stop right now and let her and the kids out on the road to prevent our untimely deaths. Four of us kids bouncing around the backseat--no seatbelts--and usually me, carsick, looking out the window wondering how it would feel to careen down the cliff. No, I don't like long car rides.

When we left today a storm was brewing, the sky black. Worse than an ordinary long car ride is one in rain. I drove once from Atlanta to Philadelphia, all in one day, blinding rain. But this day we outran the storm by skipping lunch altogether until we got to Roanoke. We all played hangman while we waited for our food in Cracker Barrel, and I realized the drive wasn't so bad after all. Fred and I had time together to talk about whatever came into our minds, neither of us rushing off to the next task. I enjoyed hearing the girls sing all the way down while they listened to their ipods. Each was singing a different song at the same time. It made for interesting music. Sometimes I could even figure out what they were singing. Or else they were playing the license plate game. We are fiercely competitive with that. Fred and Liana on one team and Arielle and I on the other. You would think Fred would be at a disadvantage driving, but no. His sharp eye caught all the different state plates. He would see them way before my old eyes could even bring them into focus.

We stopped for the night in Bristol. Fred could have driven all the way, but there was no point. We did not have a room in Cherokee and it would have been stressful to drive through the mountains when he was tired. A hotel with a pool! That's all the girls need to be happy. The four of us all together without distraction. That's all I need.

More later.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fair Days Once Again

Another three days at the 4-H Fair. The girls look forward to this all summer. We've spent many days and many hours measuring and pricing fabric and sorting through donations of all kinds of sewing notions--patterns, buttons, yarn, crafts, needles, thread, trims, etc., etc.. So much stuff, but the potential to find treasures. My two big finds this year were enough matching calico for backing a quilt I already pieced and flannel to contribute to another quilt my mother started and I am finishing. All free. We workers get credit for our hours and get first dibs on the fabric. The girls brought home armfuls that will inspire them all winter.

The doors opened to our huge fabric sale on Thursday night. Crowds filled the old gym where we had carefully stacked and arranged our goods. In no time, fabric littered the floor from the careless shoppers and we were constantly re-stacking and arranging. Then my help was needed on making a baby quilt that would be auctioned off the next day. I worked with Liana and two girls who are beginners, but we finished piecing it that night. It was beautiful!

On Friday Lana came with us to the fair. She loves it as much as my girls. Then on Saturday we picked up two of my other grandchildren and spent the day with them. Every year the fair ends with an informal fashion show under the tent. Very few people watch because most have gone home. But the girls always do this just for fun. This time their teacher invited Mattie to participate. She is only 6 and too young to join 4-H now. The look on her face was priceless. She just lit up. Liana helped her design an outfit from scraps leftover at the sale and she paraded around like a big girl, proud as anything.

Sewing season is over. But we need to keep up the momentum so we stay busy and inspired until next year. I'm trying to build inventory and possibly start an on-line store.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Test Day

After putting off a necessary test for six years, I finally had an upper endoscopy. Blood work long ago revealed I likely had celiac disease, but it is so easy to let go what needs to be done, especially something potentially scary and painful.

My son had this test done in Europe with no anesthesia at all. He just had a tube shoved down his throat in a doctor's office. Our medical group is much more civilized and the test was really not much of anything because I was out cold. Oh, I had some apprehension. Like when I signed a form acknowledging that the scope can kill me, or if it doesn't, maybe the drug they give me might. It was also pretty frightening to see how much co-pay was required to get this done. But I'm thankful for health insurance because otherwise it would have been out of the question to do it at all.

"Okay, now we are going to sedate you." I had an IV in my arm and I guess someone injected something into it. I don't know. I don't remember anything else. Hiccups woke me up. It was annoying when I just wanted to keep sleeping, so I tried holding my breath to get rid of them. Then I realized that if I had the brain power to think of that, I must be alive and not brain damaged from the drug--one of the side effects listed on that paper I signed. Thank God! I could hear my heart beating on the monitor and the blood pressure cuff was pumping up periodically and no alarms went off, so I figured I must be okay. I heard a nurse call Fred and tell him to come in thirty to forty minutes. So long? Let me go now. The nurse brought me cranberry juice that burned my throat and she gave me a gluten-free cookie that expired last January. I realized I only had one shoe on! How did that happen? But then I think, I had a tube down my throat exploring my stomach, and on it traveled into my small intestine where the doctor took biopsies--cut me--and I didn't even know what was happening. Amazing.

I'm writing a few hours later and I guess this is coherent. So my brain is working, I'm alive, and I'm healthy-- today. We're all just buying time, aren't we?

Family Picnic

Love rushes in when there is a big hole in your heart. Kelsey and Seth will be leaving soon, so we planned a picnic in the park to see them off. We took a very short hike before grilling. Short because it was sauna weather--steamy and hot. We pretended we were in the Amazon jungle and the kids called out what animals we might be seeing along the way. Then while Damien cooked his famous chicken, the little ones manned a cold, vacant grill and imagined they were barbequeing mushrooms (toadstools?), skewering them with sticks. After several warnings about never to touch them or really eat them, we let them play.