Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

Well it’s over….almost.  Not the end of the world, as some had expected, but the end of another year nonetheless.  Like everyone else, I’m trying to figure where it went.  I’m really happy that someone thought to invent calendars (and also colanders, which can come in handy for lots of things, but that will have to wait).

Did you ever think what it would be like to live on Jupiter?  Besides always being blown about by that awful cyclone (perpetual bad hair days worse than Florida), you could only do the Auld Lang Syne song every 4,330 days. We’d be hearing things like, “It’s been a busy year. I graduated from college, got married, got divorced, gave birth to four children, moved three times and went through five jobs and three new cars.” Of course, some of you can say that now, but you are considered nutty. On Jupiter you would be accepted.

Or maybe if we lived on Mercury, where a year is only 88 days…. we’d only have to pay the rent three times a year (and report cards would come out only once!)  And if you didn’t get what you wanted for your birthday, oh well…..“I’ll just wait for the next one” (though I’d be something like 232 years old by now, which is not okay).

Twelve is a good number.  It’s long enough to accomplish something big, but short enough to get through if things are not going well. All in all, my year went extremely well and I hope yours did too. It ended with trips to Iowa and Georgia to be with friends and family. We grieved together, laughed together, held the babies, gained weight but didn’t care, slid on ice, sat by the fire, hugged, and wished we all lived closer together. I think my children and I traveled by car and plane about 4500 miles in December.

How far would that be in Jupiter miles?

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012


I’m sitting here watching Daffodil trying to open presents, waiting for Ted and Leah to arrive. Tomorrow morning we’re flying to Iowa to be with family and attend the funeral. I spent some time this weekend just vegging, thinking about the tragedy in Newtown, the loss of my children’s grandmother, the homeless lady who walks my streets, and (here’s a new one) the spot that was just discovered on my friend’s father’s lung.

I have felt the gamut of emotions, as I’m sure you have also.  Let’s name them:

Me:  Sorrow

You:  Outrage

Me:  Fear

You:  Confusion

Me:  Compassion

You:  Confusion

Me:  You already said that one.

You:  Oh….how ‘bout hatred?

Me:  That’s a strong one. What about shame?

You:  Why are you feeling shame?

Me:  I’m not exactly sure. I think I feel ashamed that I complain so much. Not out loud, but to God. I’m never satisfied.  I want all my dreams to come true. ALL of them. That kind of thinking seems vulgar right now, in light of all the pain in Connecticut……and the rest of the world..

You:  You’re right.  Have you considered counting your blessings and asking for contentment?

Me:  Duh!  But this weekend when I’ve tried to talk to God,  I’ve been kind of frozen. Unfocused, unable to speak to Him. I keep thinking of David’s prayer, “Search me O Lord and know my heart,” or something like that. So I’ve just been saying the same thing….Search my heart. I know He knows what‘s in there; the good, bad and ugly.  Words aren’t working, but it’s okay.

You:  I’ll be praying for you in Iowa.

Me:  Thanks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Gift

I love surprises…and presents…and presents that are surprises. The day of my Christmas party I heard the doorbell ring when I wasn’t expecting anyone. It’s absolutely glorious to open the door and see the UPS man driving away. He should have a sleigh with reindeer, but then I suppose Rudolf’s nose would have to be BROWN.

There was a little package on the porch floor……from Ten Thousand Villages. Do you know that place? It’s a fair trade company that sells hand made items from artisans in developing countries. I visited a retail store in PA  four years ago, but they have them all over the country.  I love that place! It has such interesting stuff!

Now who could be sending me an early Christmas present from one of my favorite stores?  Hmmmmmm…..the mystery was part of the present. I didn’t open the package right away. I wanted to savor the not-knowing. I let at least 30 seconds pass before I slit it open. There was a little box enclosed and of course the invoice which revealed the name of the sender.

I lifted the flaps of the box and found bright red tissue paper resting on my surprise like cardinal wings on a sacred nest.   I waited….. waited …. I found my phone and took a picture.  I imagined, I envisioned, I thought about how this was the last few moments in history I would not know what eggs lay under those feathers.  I would never have this experience again…about this one gift……this one suspenseful, beautifully agonizing point of time (btw, I have time for thinking like this. You don’t…if you’re married, have children, or work for a living, but you should think like this anyway).

I stared at it a while longer til I couldn’t stand it, then slowly lifted the paper. First one wing,  pause….. then the other.  A gift….delicate….non-pretentious….personal.  Nothing could have been more perfect at that moment.

Christmas is making me introspective and more emotional than usual.  And so is the waiting on news about my mother-in-law in Iowa.  Any day now,  the doctor says.  Her box has been opened and her trembling fingers have grasped the red paper. I know that even in her sorrow, she’s feeling anticipation and maybe even exhilaration to be leaving behind the mundane and familiar, and setting out for glory;  peeling back the last few layers, seeing the blessed hope take shape through the haze.  Wow!  Every other experience in life must pale in comparison (except maybe childbirth which is the mirror image).

We grieve our loss as she takes hold of the prize.  She knows the Giver and she is about to realize the Gift.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Party Surprise

Or homeless.....
There are two things that I think and pray about these days. Thing number one is a meaningful ministry that will take me outside myself, make me grateful for all I have, consume my extra time and energy, and keep me from thinking about thing number two…which is my aloneness.

When my friend Louise was single for several years,  she dated here and there (I think I set her up a couple of times but nooooooo!….she was hard to please!)  She finally told God that if He wanted her to marry, He should bring a man to her doorstep. And yes, just as you’re thinking, He did just that.  I’ll tell you the story another time.

So as I was praying this week I debated whether to be as bold as Louise.  I’ve dated a good bit this year, tried on some really nice guys (not literally, you pervert!) but none seemed to fit just right. I was thinking I should just stop dating until someone appears on my doorstep.

So imagine my overwhelming surprise last night when, as my Christmas party set out to carol in the neighborhood, there standing right in front of my house watching curiously and wanting to join in was………..a homeless woman!  (I know, you were hoping it was going to be a knight. So was I).

Anyway, we invited her to come along. She said we had made her day, which I suspect was an understatement. She took a songbook, told us her name and we all welcomed her warmly into the choir. No audition was required.

As we rounded the block, we noticed two young women watching from a second story balcony. We stopped,  circled up and broke into a chorus of  Hark the Herald…..or was it O Little Town? We called for the girls to come join us and one of them made a mad dash for the stairs and popped out the door.

Now get this………the young woman, a Christian who just moved in a month ago, knew three members of our group AND she knew the homeless lady. She had ministered to her at a homeless shelter in a different part of the county.

They both finished caroling with us then came back to my house for yummies and the Chinese (er…..guess I should say Asian) gift exchange. When everyone else went home, they lingered and the three of us got better acquainted.  We agreed we wanted to meet up again.  I’m meeting Sunday with the younger woman to discuss ways of helping the homeless woman.

I’m not trying to make too much out of this.  I’m just wondering and anticipating what comes next. And, at least for today, thing number two doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I cracked under pressure. I’m not proud of this and I don’t want to talk about it.   The old traditional decorations are still going to Leah (she asked for them), but I decided I’m not quite ready to be the eccentric old lady in the yellow bungalow who puts up a tree with no ornaments. So I went shopping for a new theme, a new idea for Christmas trees yet to come. First stop: Pier One. I was no sooner in the door but I had an epiphany.

BELLS!!!!! I love bells! I have always loved bells! Bells will be the theme of my new tree and my new Christmases.  My favorite carol is I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. It’s actually part of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War. His wife had died, his son had joined the union army, all was dark and hopeless:

Then in despair I bowed my head.
“There is no peace on Earth,” I said.
     “For hate is strong
      And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
“God is not dead nor doth He sleep.
      The Wrong shall fail,
      The Right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Bells will have this meaning for me. Hope, Joy, Renewal. Bells in different colors, different sizes and shapes, from different countries or traditions. A tree ringing out a message! A few now, a few more next year, a vision for years to come.

And just when you think your troubles are behind you and you’re going to have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…. you get the phone call.

My beloved mother-in-law is failing fast. She was diagnosed with leukemia about the same time Greg got sick, seven years ago.  Her blood counts are too low to measure, her lungs have filled with fluid, she has a high fever. Her good fight is coming to its inevitable end. She will soon hear bells of unimaginable splendor….Hope, Joy, Renewal on a scale I can’t begin to fathom.

We are a family who often gets our grief delivered in December, never wrapped in pretty paper but always marked “Fragile”.  Greg spent the holidays of 2007 in Hospice, and my father passed in early December many years ago.  A part of me feels thrown to the ground, tripped up again by sorrow. Will it ever end? Is there really a point in trying to capture this Christmas Spirit thing with so much sadness everywhere?

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep….”  I just have to look on my beautiful
Christmas tree for the answer!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Spirit

It’s me! I’m back! I haven’t posted on my blog since the summer. Some of you know that and have brought this to my attention. I am so honored by your gesture of noticing.  I’ve said before, writing is so good for my soul. And actually I have been writing. I’ve been transforming earlier blog posts into a book. Get your order in now. There will be a limited number of copies  (from my printer).  I have also been making songs and singing them to Daffodil.

Once again, I am committing to my blog.  But it’s like keeping a resolution to exercise. Repent, restart, repent, restart. I’m hoping this time…….

Where have I been?  Out here in single woman land, trying to organize my life, make sense of  my circumstances, step in time to the music of God’s marching band as it pounds out a rhythmic pattern here in the “half time” of my life.  Sometimes I’m in, sometimes I’m out.  The game is going to proceed,  come what may (can you tell I’ve been watching too much football?)

I can tell I’m still making progress. For the first time in six years I’ve wanted to decorate for Christmas. The kids came for Thanksgiving and we went to Ken’s, our old traditional Christmas tree lot, and got a fresh tree. I chose a small one to put on a table. But when we got it home and in the stand and on the table, it was way too big for that. Remember Tiny Tim in the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol? He sat on Bob Cratchit’s shoulder but looked ridiculous because they must have chosen a twelve year old to play the part (Nothing tiny about him, but he could still sing soprano…Hmmmm….I digress).

That’s the feeling I got with my over-sized tree on the table. So one…two…..three….Ted lift the tree, Thomas hold the stand, Leah pull out the table, Mom not watch.  It made it to the floor, water and all, with no catastrophe.

When they all went home I went to the garage and opened the big Rubbermaid tub marked "Christmas". I carefully unwrapped all my traditional ornaments that I hadn’t seen in these last few years. As I lifted each of these handmade, cherished, heirloom treasures up to the light, I gazed on them curiously and declared with conviction,   “I‘m sick of these!”  One by one I put them back in the box,  whether made or bought,  given or received, intact or falling apart.  It actually surprised me, my lack of sentiment.

I went to Target and bought all new lights, large LED cone shaped ones. That’s all that’s on my tree. Not a single ornament do I want to adorn it.  At least not this year. Think I need to see a shrink?

In analyzing myself (one of my favorite past times) I have concluded that Christmas ornaments from the past  would like to catapult me back to a place I have been trying to leave behind. Though I have beautiful memories of raising my children in our little country cottage  (not unlike the Cratchits, come to think of it), things that tend to recreate those warmest scenarios and pull me back in time also stir the grief pot. I’ve drunk my fill of that bitter soup and what’s left needs to stay in the deep freeze with last year’s fruitcake.

So I’m creating new traditions and memories that bring me great pleasure. I called Vivianne to come over and hold the ladder. “I’m hanging icicle lights along the gables of the yellow bungalow!” Vivianne did not want to be a party to this, but neither did she want to say at my funeral, “She asked me to hold the ladder and I refused”. So guilted she was...  into conspiring with me to scale the 45 degree angles above and bring glad tidings of great joy to the neighborhood.  You have to admit, I did a good thing!

I bought a live wreath for the porch so when I sit out there and read, the air smells like it’s supposed to. I’m having a Christmas party next week so everyone can ask, “Who hung your lights on the roof?”

Think they’ll notice there are no ornaments on the tree?????

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Appreciating Simple

Well I spent the weekend moving into my bedroom. As you recall, I moved into this house in early January. It’s taken this long to do a little remodeling and cleanup. There’s still painting to be done and the plumbing, but all is well and I’m very settled now. I even have some pictures on the tables and the walls (I think you’re in one of them).

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not really a house (or any material thing) that brings peace and meaning to my life these days (or yours either). It’s easing deeper and deeper into the vast ocean of Christ’s love and finding how miraculously I stay afloat, even as my arms often flail about and I gulp water. It would be so much easier if I just relaxed and let the waves carry me out to sea, but there’s still the fear that the Loch Ness monster is lurking out there and God won’t see it. Still, on most days I put my trust in Him and bob along smoothly (can one bob smoothly, or is that an oxymoron?)

So today was my typical, single woman, between careers, almost past menopause type of day. I got up early and colored my hair (remember in Alaska when I accidentally colored my toenail)?  Anyway, I then turned on my computer to check my email and “NOOOOOO!”, not only was I not connected,  but my network did not appear in the network list. Now that might not be such a big deal except I know I have a virus that I’ve been trying to delete. I was afraid it had eaten up my network or something. I don’t know how these things work. I really did pray over my modem (not the first time) and YAY! When I unplugged it then plugged it back again I was in business. In my email was a note from a cute guy from Things were looking up!

Then off to run errands, mainly Home Depot.  Outside I noticed a piece of my palm tree fell in the night. It broke off right at the ground. Hmmmm. What causes that?  Well, later.

On the way to Home Depot, I “needed” to stop at Starbucks because I always like to reward myself for doing anything productive and besides, it’s on the way (It’s always on the way everywhere. It’s right by my house). But there was NO parking anywhere at all. I guess this cool, fresh weather has inspired people to drink. Now once “latte” is in my head, there’s no turning back. So I drove back home, parked, and walked to Starbucks. Then back home to my car and off I go.

The most wonderful thing happened in Home Depot. When I pulled out my Kleenex and handed it to the man at the paint counter and sheepishly, batting my eyelashes asked, “Can you match this?”, he replied with a hearty, “No problem, Ma‘am!” Woohoo!  My bathroom walls are going to be Kleenex green (and that’s before the Kleenex has been used, for all you funny people out there).  It’s perfect!

While the paint was being mixed I cruised the store, picked up a light fixture, then got my paint and headed for checkout. The line was long so I thumbed through a kitchen decorating book.  On about page 6, where I noticed they had stolen my idea for two-toned walls, it was time for another sip of latte and, “NOOOOOOO….”,  it went missing! I double checked the cart (and my hand) and it was gone. I didn’t know where to look first. I started back to the paint counter and there it was, waiting for me beside the free paddles, like a lost child. A lady gave me the eye as I desperately snatched it up from in front of her and moved away.  Another tragedy averted in my simple life.

And a simple life it is right now. And I’m so thankful. I was at a funeral for a friend my age on Saturday. She’d had a long battle with colon cancer, and I felt the heaviness, the loss, and the disorientation of her family. The grief journey is just beginning for them. Nothing will ever be the same and, for a while, nothing will be simple… or happy.

“Weeping may endure for a night , but joy comes in the morning……..Oh Lord, My God, I will give you thanks forever.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More Thoughts On The House

So today is the big kitchen floor refinishing day. The preparations actually started yesterday. It’s not unlike the day-before preparations for a feast….getting things organized, lots of anticipation. In this case, Ted was here to remove the refrigerator doors so we could move the fridge into the dining room. Alas, the first hurdle to overcome! We couldn’t find a valve to shut off the water supply line to the icemaker. We looked everywhere, in the house and under it. Then Ted put the fridge doors back on before the chicken started to smell. I told him I'd just call my contractor who has dealt with all the other quirky issues in this house.

Now as I write this, a new valve is secure, the appliances are in the dining room and the workmen are digging old linoleum and tar off the floor. I just heard one of them yell to the other, "Where's a mop? Do you see a mop?" I'm ignoring this. I have already contributed my sage advice such as…"Be sure that plastic you hang on the door doesn't have holes” and “Be careful with that sharp thing”. All the workmen who have been in my home in the last month appreciate, participation!

I was getting a little anxious last night after Ted and Leah went home. Not sure how the valve thing would be resolved, not sure if the tar would come up off the floor, and the plumbing was acting up again (already had one incident that involved sewage in the tub and an eye-rolling plumber).

Today when the floor guy showed up, I had a chance to process my thoughts in conversation with him. We talked about these old houses and how you just have to go with the flow (although that idiom doesn’t really apply to the plumbing issue. ) If you have fixed expectations, you’re liable to be disappointed. You know there are beautiful secrets lurking, but the uncovering can be laborious and more expensive than you thought. Some things you can do on your own, but other things require professional help. Some things wear out and have to be discarded, some things can be lovingly restored with time and patience, while others heroically withstand the test of time and become almost sacred for their endurance.

You have to be careful that, as you decorate the surface, the interior isn’t collapsing on you. You can’t ignore red flags, although you don’t have to get everything done all at once. You can triage, address what’s urgent, what will shut you down if not dealt with. Then when you’re feeling stronger and more confident, you can take on the rest.

And always you are grateful that you’ve been given this house, that its architect is all-knowing, that it’s yours and yours alone, and such a privilege to bask in its mystery and splendor.

I didn't use those exact same words with the floor guy, but it was the same idea.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Back to Writing

I haven’t posted in several weeks. My devoted blog followers say they have missed reading my updates. My sincere thanks to you, both of you : )

Actually, I have missed reading my updates. There’s something about autobiography that is affirming and encouraging. It’s MY life. I live it. For better or worse, it happens and I negotiate it. I get to celebrate the triumphs and I have to mourn the losses.

I think I need to write it out as much as I have to ride it out. Everything makes more sense to me in print. After Alaska, the everyday here and there isn’t too exciting. No more bush planes, mountain climbing or dog sledding. Just the usual here and now.

And yet……..nothing is usual about my life. Nothing is usual about yours either, because it’s not what we DO in the day to day that creates the drama. It’s how we manipulate it, how we form this raw clay called circumstances into beautiful works of art, or not.

My hands are still mired in the mud up to my elbows. My furniture is in the yellow bungalow. It was a three bedroom/one bath last time I posted. Now it’s a two bedroom/two bath (note the Alaska agates in the shower listello). The contractor has said his final farewell and now it’s up to me to paint, stain, get the kitchen floor refinished and put the final touches on it all.

I love my new old home. But I’m not deliriously happy. Some things about life are not remedied by “things”, even if the things are gifts from God. They are gifts to bring us pleasure, but not to change who we are. That has to come from within, where the Spirit dwells; His residence, not mine.

Mine is made of wood (albeit beautiful heart of pine that has weathered into a gorgeous patina, esp. in the utility room by the dryer where it's been left alone all these years). His is made of flesh, my flesh, that is weathering into something not so impressive, often uneven and too fragile (Can some of you relate?)

He is constantly remodeling His “temple“, restoring the foundations that have stood the test of time and proven strong and unshakable. Then restructuring the additions to make them useful and productive. Mercifully, He has an aesthetic flair that makes it all flow together and beautifully unique. A limitless supply of fresh paint and no wasted space.

I am the appointed caretaker, and keeping it swept and hospitable is sometimes a struggle.

What does it all mean? I turn to my mentor, Solomon, whose cryptic proverb first initiated this blog. Bet he was fun to live with. (No wonder he had so many wives. They were probably leaving him left and right). Imagine the dinner conversation:

“So honey, King of Israel, how was your day ?”
“All is meaningless. As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain?”
“Well……..have some more lamb.”

Somehow I find something meaningful in Solomon. Because he was “wise”, after all. I’m feeling impatient, wondering what this second half of my life is all about, what is the purpose of a great house, spending hard-earned money on rooms, enjoying the “things”. Solomon has a calming effect on me. God has plans!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Gas Fire

I finally got my logs on…..the gas logs in my fireplace. I had them on once before, but last night I went through the turning knobs routine, got the pilot lit, then nothing happened. I went through the cycle a few times then gave up, out of fear of blowing myself (and more importantly, my beautiful yellow bungalow) to smithereens.
Tonight I just had to try again. The pilot lit easily enough. There’s a knob that you’re supposed to turn gradually to adjust the flame after the fire is lit. The fire wouldn’t light, but I decided to go for broke and turn that control knob all the way anyway and see what happened. What had scared me last night was not so intimidating tonight. I had reasoned that the problem was no gas coming through, so I probably would be safe in my experiment. I lit the pilot, pictured myself with brown cheeks and singed eyebrows, then gave that control knob a full throttle. Presto, gas fire!
It’s pleasant to sit here on the floor (no furniture til Wednesday), read, listen to my Pandora stations on my iphone dock and now do some writing. The holidays were merry and sweet, but it’s good to be “home”.
Like you, I’m wondering what the new year will hold. Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of Greg’s passing. Sheesh! Has it been that long? I certainly feel like I’ve been traveling a broken road, an emotional journey that has taken me to some dark, despairing places then circled back over itself to bring me back to the main highway. Does that make sense? I’m still way out of my comfort zone, anxious about the business to-do list on the kitchen counter, but I’m feeling more like a ground ball than a pop up. I may be clumsily bumping along, but at least it’s in a steady direction.
Today I visited a church for the second time, the church home of my best St. Pete friends. I’m meeting some other people there and feel like I fit in. I just wonder what life will look like this time next year.
I hope I can summon the courage to keep turning that control knob all the way to the left, come what may.