Saturday, August 31, 2013

It doesn’t take much!!

 To make me happy!!! 
I love fresh vegetables – the kind that just came to the famers’ market from the garden with dirt on still.  You can smell the freshness and anticipate the crisp flavors: spinach for soup and salad, and the anticipation of turning onions and eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash, red and green peppers, and plump red tomatoes into savory ratatouille.  Gazpacho, I even love its Spanish name – chop up some cucumbers and green peppers, a sweet onion and a tomato and cram the rest into the blender or food processer.  Flavor it with a little extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar and it is the best salad in a dish – garnished with the reserved chopped veggies. 

The round green cabbage will wait a day or two, but halupki ( slice some of the cabbage fine and fry it in butter with some sliced onions and toss it with fresh cooked noodles) will find its way into the menu, and then stuffed cabbage leaves – and make an extra dish to freeze, and I love fresh homemade coleslaw – with mayo and pineapple.     
An ear of corn isolated on a white background Stock Photo - 10797807And the corn – oh, we will roast some for dinner, but I am planning on the extra for black bean and corn salad (with some red and green pepper for color) a dressing with a little lime juice and olive oil…one of Jim’s favorites.
I looked at the apples today, but forced myself to be reasonable – the season is only at the front end right now – plenty of time to make applesauce – the easy way, in the crockpot.

Jim asked me why I was washing the empty jars, and I told him, “So I can fill them.”  Isn’t this part of retirement, being a grandma, “putting up the harvest,” even if I didn’t plant, nurture or harvest it. 
Thank you God for beautiful food and the joy of making wonderful things with it !

       (images from 123RF Stock Photos)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Just passing it along!!!

Did you ever make or bake something and it ended so well, you wanted to tell someone else?  Well, that happened to me yesterday, and since my neighbors are all gone, you’re stuck.

Boneless Pork RoastFirst of all, my husband loves dressing or stuffing as some call it.  And I had bought a very small pork loin – boneless, on sale this last week.  Coincidentally, I happened to catch a cooking show last week that showed how you could cut a pork loin and stuff it, tying it up with string.  No string in my house and I knew I would have such sticky fingers that regular thread would never work, so I came up with this…so easy!!!

First I made a box of Stove Top turkey dressing, but you could make your own recipe.  Then I cut my little filet or pork loin down the middle – cutting on the side so that fatty part was still on the bottom, for flavor.  Then I spread mustard liberally over the cut surface and seasoned it generously with salt and pepper.  I carefully spread the dressing over the top of the meat, making a flat surface covering the meat.  I had an apple handy, so I did not peel it, but I did take the seedy center out and cut it into eight slices, lining them up on their sides on the top of the dressing(added flavor and presentation).  Finally, I put some halved and washed (but not peeled) potatoes along the side of the meat, as much as I could - cut side down or against the meat.

I covered it all with foil and baked it at 325 for about an hour and a half….Out of this world, and a great company meal.  Remember I had a small loin, so it would serve five (generously) or six.  I can see myself doubling this for a family dinner, baking it and serving it in two separate dishes. I would imagine you could put the whole thing in a crockpot if you wanted and it should be fine. I will reheat the “planned overs” in the microwave and only have to make a salad.

This morning I cooked up a package of coconut pudding mix, the kind with 2 cups of milk, and after I put it in a casserole, added three slices of toasted banana bread, buttered and cubed.  It should all be cool and set by dinner tonight.  That’s one of the hazards of just the two of us, and my desire to bake things my husband enjoys (and deal with the uneaten bananas.)  You can eat only so much banana bread.  And if you are only one in your house, make this and invite a couple of friends in for dessert or a coffee break.

Probably most of those who are reading this blog did not expect to find recipes here, but I am blogging about my retirement journey just now, and this is part of it – God still teaching me things and me just passing it along.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I gotta confess!!

 Well, here goes…all those great photos I have used recently are borrowed. There it is, my confession.  I have not figured out how to take a photo with my camera or phone and somehow magically get it into my blog.  So, I go to google images and search for a suitable image, one that comes closest to being appropriate to illustrate the point I want to make.  The coffee table I used yesterday looks exactly like mine – shape and color, but it is not a before or an after shot of the real thing.  I used it to show you what I was doing so you had the right image in your mind.  The sewing machine is a little Singer and as close to an image of mine as I could find.

 And last week, when I wrote about art journaling, the ones I chose to illustrate the blog that day were not my creations.  Again, I went to google images to find images that would give you an idea of what art journaling could look like – because honestly, if my daughter did not create art journals or altered books, I would never have heard about them or known what they looked like.

As an English teacher I knew about copyrights and about citing your resources, but somehow I had the idea that if google images came up with an image I wanted, it was free for all and I could use it.  I did not think about the reality that those images came off from articles posted on the web, that they belonged to someone else.  They were free and I was not going to make any money using them…and I was wrong.  I do need to cite where they came from…so please forgive me for misleading you.  Though I meant well, it was improper, and I hope to do better.

So, about yesterday, I tried something different for my devotional time with God.  I dug up an old hymnal and sang my way through it, the old hymns that I grew up loving.  I am sure it would have been painful for anyone else to hear, but I am certain that my Abba Father received it with the love I sent it with.  As I leafed through the pages of “The New Church Hymnal” of 1976, I found this wonderful hymn written by my husband’s great uncle, Alfred A. Ackley. He and his brother traveled with Billy Sunday and together and separately, they wrote many beautiful old hymns.

 Since you probably don’t have an old hymnal lying around, here is a copy of that page, courtesy of   and taken from The New Church Hymnal 1976.  I must tell you that it was a wonderful half hour, and if you grew up in a hymn singing church, you might want to try it out as well.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Well, it’s about halfway done, but I DID IT!

Still, people are asking me about retirement, and how I feel about it.  And if you have been reading this blog at all, you know it has been some kind of journey laced with a little self-pity, now that I go back and look at what I wrote, to a little acceptance, and I think finally to some anticipation.
It started with a pipe dream of sorts.  One of my granddaughters remarked that although her sister had a quilt made by another grandmother, she didn’t have one – as she is holding tightly to my arm and snuggling right in.  So I did what any good grandmother would do, decide I, who had not made any kind of quilt in over 40 years, decided I would make her one.

 So, I designed one in my head, super simple, - the idea - not my head, and bought some fabric.  Wow, that was an experience.  The last time I bought fabric four bucks was a lot and this good, I was told, quilting fabric was $12.99 – a yard!!  And do you know how may yards even a small quilt takes? 

Anyway, I got home, along with some books about quilting and found out I needed a self-healing cutting mat, a rotary cutter, a plastic 6 x 12 ruler and a sewing machine that works. Hmmm.  By now I have the material shrunk, and actually laid out in the order I want to sew it, and realized I needed a couple more pieces to complete the pattern I ‘designed.’  Back to Joanne’s and found out that the tools I needed are half price this weekend, so far so good, and I found my little Singer sewing machine – which I was told was junk as far as quilting.

But I’m gonna try it, and when I hit the wall, and prove to my husband that I am really going to do this thing, we will go machine shopping, and as my friends have all warned me to, we will go to a real shop so I can try the thing.

 That’s not the halfway done thing though. While I wait for the sale this weekend I decided to take care of a coffee table, oval cherry and severely beaten by a number of little and big grandchildren (and their parents.)  So, me who has never refinished anything, bought three kinds of sand paper and a can of paint (the label said it was the right one), and set to work.  Would you believe, it looks pretty good – the heat marks and chips are mostly gone.  That’s the halfway mark…now I have to get it good and dry, and turn it upside down and do the legs. 

So, today, I’m thinking retirement is pretty good.  I think I am adjusting and I have hope and even at this stage of my life, I can still learn new things.  Who knows what is in store!!





Friday, August 23, 2013

Haunted by a works faith...

Haunted by a works faith, even though I know better.  That has described the inner me for way too long.  Here I am retired and this morning I came to a way too late, or perhaps I came to it again, revelation that God made me just the way I am…and that’s OK.

God made me a woman who loves to create, who loves to write, and cook and bake because I love the creative process – the lining words onto a page or the decorating the table with color and flavor.  But here in my retirement, this very morning, I wrestled with doing something creative just for me, because I want to do it, once more as if it was some sort of sin to just play – in this case art journaling.
And as I read Scripture this morning, as I prayed and meditated, I heard the voice of God – no, not out loud, but His Spirit within me.  “Go for it,” He said.  “I made you that way.  I put those desires into your heart, and you will glorify me in it – even if no one else sees it.”  Kind of like Eric Liddel running…he said it made God smile when he ran.

So I went downstairs to my work table and I hauled out the gesso and the gel medium and the gold and silver sprinkles, and I gussied up the page I started yesterday, and I started another…and I didn’t feel guilty.  In fact, I felt joyful and relieved and unburdened.






Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stolen Cherries!

Funny the things you remember…I think it is because the farmers’ markets are brimming with bushel baskets full of green corn and red potatoes and green and yellow and red peppers and scarlet tomatoes…and we haven’t considered the fuzzy peaches and blueberries and burgundy cherries.  Anyway, it’s that time of year when one of the most coveted sounds is that snap a mason jar makes when it seals, signaling rows upon rows of tall jars filled with the makings of winter’s dinners. 

 My Jim loves cherries, and they were finally within reason at the grocery store this week, so we had plain washed cherries for dessert last night – so good – and some kind of fun to watch the little pile of stems and seeds grow on our plates. 

Today as I turned the remaining peaches I bought last weekend (at 50 cents a pound) into peach cobbler, I noted the remaining few cherries and suddenly dropped back fifty years. My cousin worked at the Grant’s Department store in our town (some of you will remember that store but probably no one under 50), and since his family lived quite a distance away, he lived with us.

Now to the cherries…have you ever canned cherries?  It is a real chore to can cherries, what with pitting them – it takes hours if you have very many – and then the processing, and finally the stashing them for rare winter pies or cobblers. Cousin ... had been with us for several months when one Sunday afternoon my mother decided we deserved a real cherry pie.  Down into the darkness of the earthen cellar she went, returning in a few minutes, somewhat cobwebby, with the terrible news.  Someone had eaten all the cherries, eaten the jars empty and put the jars back on the shelf behind the tomatoes and green beans.

 You have to know that my little sister and I only descended the stairs into the basement under duress, so there was little doubt about who had crossed the thresh hold from welcome family member to outright traitor and thief.  I’m not so sure it was because the cherries were worth all that much money, but it was the betrayal, and the reality that Cousin ... could no longer be trusted.  I'm sure my mother would have given him some if he asked, but he didn't ask, not once.

 He went on to become successful in life, but for my family, that memory always haunted us at every family reunion.  It made me think today of what things I might have done or do now, that color my reputation, that cause people to look past whatever I might have accomplished or do, seeing it only through my failure. 

Today we will probably finish up the cherries, and enjoy a piece of peach cobbler, savoring the blessings of the harvest.  But I will pray today that God will help me to glorify Him in all that I do, that His image in my life will not be tarnished.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I made tortillas and Latin America touched me

I found a great recipe for tortilla pie (we love Mexican food), but I had no tortillas, so thanks to google, I found a recipe and made my first tortillas.  They turned out just fine, especially since I would be layering them with chicken and black beans, salsa and sour cream, and a taco cheese blend.  But it got me thinking Latin America. Then when Jim got home, he told me about a new student he had just met with roots in Argentina.

 Have you ever heard the word “Desaparecidos?”  A Spanish word, it means the disappeared or missing, and it was used to describe up to 30,000 people in Argentina who disappeared or went missing between 1976 and 1983. The LA Times reported on March 3, 2013 that an Argentine ex-officer described drugging and throwing “leftists “ (the description for anyone seen as an enemy of the government) out of planes into the ocean.  Their theory was “no bodies, no crime to investigate."

Honestly, this happened when we were missionaries in Africa, and I not only heard little about it, but I gave it little thought.  Until yesterday! 

Our new student: her father and grandfather came to New York first, and when it was time for her grandmother to come, she didn’t show.  Over and over arrangements were made for her flight.  The planes came and went.  Her father and grandfather eagerly awaited her arrival in New York, but she was not among the crowds that threaded their way through arrivals, not once.  Can you imagine the fear that filled their hearts?  There was only one explanation: she was one of the “disappeared.” 

As I thought about this, I thought also about the American men and women who travel abroad as missionaries with no guarantees.  I remember when my Jim went missing during the war in Chad, we were reminded our mission agency does not pay ransom.  Today I got a letter from a missionary in what was part of Russia, and she asked for prayer for a colleague who was detained at the airport because they questioned her documentation.  That brought to mind the day my children and I were evacuated from Chad, and the soldier questioned the documents for my oldest.  I knew we were in trouble when he asked other soldiers what to do and he was directed to an office on the upper level…but God intervened, and instead of sending us there, he waved us through to the waiting French jet.

All of this to say, today I am grateful to be an American and living here.  I am also grateful that those Americans who travel as missionaries do not travel alone.  None more powerful than God is their travel companion, and He is their rock and their refuge and their very present helper.  Certainly, bad things do happen to God’s people, by our standards, but He redeems them.

I am reading Joni Eareckson Tada’s book: A lifetime of wisdom: embracing the way God heals you, and she came to understand the grace of God in a life under pressure. This is not the kind of book you should plan on whipping through, but read it slowly, meditatively, and allow God to bring to mind those you could pray for, who need the riches of God’s comfort. 

And if she comes to mind, pray for BBC’s new student who never knew her grandma.



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From Carpet Cleaning to the Sea

Funny how one event can trigger memories of another event – years earlier.  After two years of having college students in our house, it was finally time to get the carpet shampooed, and the guy doing the job was only too happy to show me how much more dirt his cleaner got that my vacuum missed.  He practically put the furry filter in my face to show me the earring wire and the shredded carpet caused by the layer of sand in my carpet. He said everyone’s filter would look like that, and all I could think of was I don’t live anywhere near a beach.  I wanted to tell him that you never impress a woman by showing how what a failure she is at cleaning her carpets, but didn’t know how I could end that speech, so I didn’t start it.
BUT, all that sand made me think of the sand that has touched my life, in more than one ways.  First, it took me back thirty years to our time in Chad, Africa where the sun sucked every drop of moisture out of the ground during dry season leaving only sand behind, the kind of sand that the Harmattan winds lifted into the air like fog which crept through the wooden shutters coating everything with fine dust. That made me think of rainy season where the “sandy” roads turned into chocolate pudding and holes that would put Pennsylvania potholes to shame opened up big enough to swallow a VW bug ( I really saw it once) or small trucks. Soldiers dropped barriers across the roads every ten kilometers when it rained, lifting them only when the sun appeared to dry up the roads…did I say there were no paved roads in the southern part – where we lived -- of the country.
Then I was carried forward to the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey and I could feel the splash of the foamy water washing away the sand under my feet as I stood at the edge of the ocean. I remember thinking about the endlessness of the ocean and the waves that followed one after the other all day and all night every night, and how the love of God is like that, never tiring, always washing over us every day and every night.
And finally I was thinking about that sand in my carpet, I never saw it. I vacuum several times a week, and with a pretty good vacuum, but that sand brushed off from the shoes of visitors and into my rug, and according to the carpet cleaning guy, the sharp edges of those grains of sand cut up my carpet, turning the nap into blue fuzz.  As I said, I never knew.
That made me consider what might be sand in my life…practically invisible, yet fiercely dangerous, and what could I do about it.  This may sound stupid to you, but I wondered if Spider Solitaire is like that sand – addictive and eating up minutes that could turn into an hour when you piece it all together.  I allow myself three games, as a break, I say, between chores, but three games might turn into four or more while I am not looking and what could I have done in that time?
I do believe God means for us to relax and to have fun in life, and a game or three of solitaire never killed anyone.  But for me, I wonder if my failure to limit it could be like sand in my carpet. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Making It Real!

 Funny, you’d think by my age, over 60, that I had finally reached the age where I had escaped peer pressure and any kind of artificial pressure in my life.  However, it is, I think perhaps, a battle that will pursue us to the end of our days, in ways we may not even recognize.
It was just a line in the journal I am using mornings: The Best of Andrew Murray on Prayer.  He said, “But prayer that has its own life and spirit is vastly superior to any ritual form.”  As I thought about this, all the forms of ritual prayer practiced in my world shook me, albeit well-meaning ritual.

I remember a friend’s salvation being questioned when she said she did not always pray before eating. That brought to mind another friend’s proclamation that we should pray before eating anything larger than an olive, said partially in jest, but perhaps not.
We pray before eating. We pray before class – in my old world of teaching in Christian institutions.  We pray like book ends at the beginning and end of a church service or any other kind of Christian gathering.  Many believers want public schools to re-institute the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of a school day, though as someone who grew up with that in elementary school, I am not sure very many of the teachers and students who said those words were really praying them.

What struck me this morning was how bound we are by expectations and ritual, and I wondered how much of that is because they are clear and safe and we can do that much…rather than live in prayer.  That continual recognition of the presence of God. That, I think, requires active love of God  It requires a thoughtful recognition of who we are as believers in the risen Christ, the Redeemer who loves us, who pursued us and made us His own – children of God. 

I love my children.  Nothing delights me like hearing their voices, whether in a crowded room, my house or theirs, or over the telephone  or Skype.  There is something so wonderful about knowing they want to talk to me – even if it is about nothing.  And I wonder if God is not that way as well. I think about my kids all the time.  I have their pictures all over the house, and I begin every day praying for them.  And when they are facing challenges, I fill the heavens with my importunities.

I guess it boils down to love again.  If we love God, we are not satisfied with ritual, or we make ritual alive, real conversations.  That is one of the reasons I lift my hands when I pray – much of the time.  It makes it all real.  I am recognizing the presence of my God and giving Him honor.
I guess this might sound like a lot of rambling, and very personal rambling, but it was on my mind this morning – making prayer a living conversation that I pick up with God all day long – not something I have to do, like punctuation at the end of a sentence



Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Hummingbird and Art

Lost in the glossy pages of my book, I missed its arrival until the need to consider this line, “Nature became a doorway to the infinite, so much so, that they (the Romantic poets – who wrote in reaction perhaps to the Modernist poets) invested in it the power to transform the human spirit.”  That one rang my bell because I was sitting on our deck in the morning sunshine, tall evergreens blotting out the houses in front of me intentionally, to get as close to nature as I could – honestly because immersing myself in nature tends to draw me closer to God.
Anyway, there I sat, pen in hand and journal on my lap when I happened to look up and notice the tiny grey hummingbird flitting from one deep purple trumpet flower (what I call them because it describes them best) after another, gulping down fast draughts of nectar. Suddenly he heads my way. I pause, and he does likewise, his wings almost invisibly beating the air.  Determining I am harmless, and not a source of nectar, he drops a speck of white – kind of a “so there!” gesture – and busies himself draining the remaining flowers.

The book, it is downstairs or I would give you the title right now, discusses the church and art and it is fascinating.  Although God seemed pretty interested in beauty, check out the Old Testament and the design for the Temple and the garb of the priests for instance, there is little about art in the New Testament.  You see art in the early church first in the Catacombs, and later in the great Cathedrals – where art was the method of choice to communicate the gospel and the Bible narrative in a non-literate culture.
But literacy and the enlightenment and then modernism changed both the utilitarian view, influence of art, and the appreciation for art…and with the postmodern culture, art also lost its moorings.  Modernism and its philosophy that science and the ability to empirically demonstrate anything ruled culture could only be followed one way, and as the pendulum generally swings, postmodernism said knowability was only in the mind of each person. 

Have you ever heard anyone say, “It may be right for him, and that’s OK, but it’s not right for me”?  Or have you heard, “I think it means this, but that doesn’t mean it has to mean that to you.”  That same philosophy permeated postmodern art – or what is called art.  During the Renaissance, the artist sought to reproduce the image he or she saw – even if the seeing was in the mind, so the gospel, the truth could be clearly understood and understood to mean the same thing to each viewer.
Today, much of art, be it performance art, film, music, collages – flat and three dimensional, are not meant to have a common meaning.  In response the church fled art!  Did you notice that you seldom see any artwork other than the ubiquitous head of Christ in a protestant church?  But God’s people are still creative!  How is it that we cannot share that creativity in the church…well, in some churches we do get creative with our music….but it is seldom that we see other expressions of art in a church. We sing poetry as lyrics of a song, but I can’t remember hearing an adult use poetry in worship.  We invite chalk artists in or have power point presentations, but how often do we have other forms of art used in worship?  I don’t have a solution, and I have only started the book, but I do know God is still drawing creative people to Himself, and I think their giftedness is to be shared.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Seven Men!!

One of the things we like to do on long road trips is listen to books, and on our last trip to Michigan we listened to Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas told each man’s story in about 25 pages in the print book, and let me tell you, this was way more than a history lesson, though it certainly was that as well.
I’m one of those people who hear or read words and immediately see them – the scene in my mind, and Metaxas made that easy.  I saw George Washington step off the pages leading his men through bloody Indian battles and he was hardly twenty years old. I watched him rise through the ranks, return home to Virginia in an attempt to lead a quiet life.  But this man of God, and you have to read the book, or listen to it, to understand his testimony, followed God’s leading to become our nation’s president, after doing about everything he could to avoid the spotlight.  Eric Lidell was a Scotsman, a missionary kid, and you may think you know all about him if you watched Chariots of Fire, but you only know part of the story.  And you probably think you know all about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian hung by the Germans days before the end of World War II.

Metaxas includes Wilbur Wilberforce, Pope John Paul II, Jackie Robinson and Charles Colson in his book, but let me tell you, when you finish reading their stories, the rest of their stories, you will understand why.
None of these men sought honor or recognition or power or greatness.  But they had a number of character traits in common: integrity, honor, faith, love of God and a sacrificial spirit.  That is, they loved God, communed with Him daily, and sought to do His will regardless of their personal cost.

As I listened to the book, I began to wonder if there are such great men and women today – people who hold on to things and recognition lightly, but who also hold tightly to their faith in God – going wherever and doing whatever they believed God directed.
Funny about that, my husband had ordered a copy of the lives of David and Ruth Seymour, colleagues of ours during our missionary years in Africa, and I think I found another Twentieth Century great couple of God.  Dave was a missionary kid whose father died while Dave was a boy. Subsequent to his father’s death, his mother returned to Africa leaving Dave and his sister in an orphanage because she could not care for them in Africa.  You might think that embittered Dave, but it didn’t.  He understood.  He served in the Navy during World War II, coming home to go to medical school, marrying Ruth after she graduated from nursing school.

Now Dave was a handsome man, a doctor, and the world lay at his feet.  But he and Ruth headed to the real heart of Africa where he not only provided medical care but trained Chadians to become what we might today call Physician’s Assistants, young men who headed up their own bush dispensaries saving the most critically ill or those needed surgery until his monthly visits.
Dave and Ruth had electricity only when the generator was on to provide power for surgeries in the hospital.  They lived off whatever was available – I remember we ate spinach in April (lots of ways) and corn in August and rice year round.  The point is the Seymours cared not for the riches this world had to offer, but lived only to serve God out of their giftedness. Were they perfect?  As none of the men in the book were perfect.  But Dave and Ruth, Washington and Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer and Lidell, and the others, all showed us that God can do amazing things through a yielded spirit. 

So read the book, buy it for the young men and women in your lives, or just consider, what you could do to bring honor to God.  It’s been two weeks since we listened to the book but I just cannot get it out of my mind.  Let me know what you think of it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sparkles and Shiny Things

Birds sing above me and water splashes as my feet, and I cannot help but hold my hand up in praise to God; it really doesn’t matter who is looking.  I hold my palm up in submission and appreciation and notice that light sparkles back from the ridges and whorls, reflecting His glory, in creation, I think.  Then the mirrored water draws my gaze – images of heart shaped leaves reaching from its murky depths and reflecting twice:

On the shimmering water, leaves peer at themselves and I see on the back sides of those same leaves, some turned up in homage to God, I think, shimmering images, light reflected from the sky dancing slow waltzes from the water to the smooth green leaves.

Remy, Amy’s yorkie, pushes aside my pages and I see glory shining from his wet nose and then from the grains of quartz on the sandy slate at my feet.  An ant’s crusty shell winks sparkles in the sunlight and I notice then, the diamonds on my ring, the fake gold of my watch shine more glory to God.

Water spilling over the rocks ripple glory to God and sing praises to God as they run into the pool below. And then I notice that even a birdsong shines through the air – I cannot see the sparkles, but all the same, I hear them. 
A little chorus of laud sings patiently to me, if I will look, from tiny cups of dew caught in the curves of grass and broad folds of what some might call a weed, but it has taken on a holy purpose this morning – reflecting the glory of God.

And I wonder if that is, after all, the purpose of all things shiny – to remind us of our Maker, the One Who loves us and made all things beautiful in His time….a verse I remember teaching three and four year-olds many years ago.


Monday, August 12, 2013

like Christmas ornaments, promising more.

Fog shrouds the landscape allowing only glimpses of the still pond, the dew glistening grasses, and now and then, a peek of fuscia or golden brown-eyed daisies shows through, like Christmas ornaments, promising more.

I am drawn to the scene, the fog like heavy drapes to be burnt off in an hour, so I shower and dress quickly to get breakfast ready. There’s something about breakfasting here with only a wide picture window separating me from the wakening world.  A swoop of barn swallows converge on the grassy knoll guarded by the four-story rugged barn – a grandfather of barns with the roof falling in on what was once a busy milk house leaning in on the left.  Windows lend a glance into the past, and I watch my father-in-law dead these twenty years measure and cut long oak boards for a china closet.  As I peer more deeply into the darkness I see him leading black and white Holstein cows from their stanchions  - a little boy in bib overalls following and slapping the nearest cow on her flank…I hear the boy yell, “Giddayap.”

 Wisps of straw filter down from the upper levels where tractors and plows, combines and harvesters appear to have parked themselves on the first floor up, green Olivers, red Massey Ferguson, and orange Allis Chalmers.  A ladder leads to the upper levels, the hay mow where rectangular bales stacked floor to ceiling mark the hours of sweat poured into their transport and where boys were wont to play of a rainy day.

 But my visions are memories now, and the only movement comes from feral black and white cats and barn swallows who seem to have called a conference this morning. In a circle there in the wet grass, they converse and make decisions because suddenly one must have pounded an invisible gavel and in concert, they dance into the sky pirouetting to land on the barn’s peaked roof.  It looks like a flying class with one, two and then three of the smaller birds taking off to the left, sketching ever greater circles into the sky and then returning, their pointed tails and wings like the ends of silk scarves turning to the right and settling on the edge from which they had launched themselves.  Over and over they draw this pattern in the air until, I think they are either tired or bored, and they retreat to the top of a sumac leaning out from the barn’s foundation looking ever so much like the Christmas birds I pose on my tree. I imagine them chattering away, rehearsing whose flight was the smoothest, whose the most graceful, and all the male birds bragging about whose was the bravest and most daring.

And as I look up after penning these last words, I realize they’ve vanished.  Embarrassed, do you think by this watcher, or having done their calisthenics, have they retreated to search out errant hay seeds high up in the sift filtered light of the mow or have they flown to the nearby towering corn fields?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Purple-footed Grape Pressers

Funny how bits of heaven slice into my life, and yours as well.  This would have been an ordinary weekend, of laundry perhaps, a run to town for blueberries and bread, milk and orange juice, some vacuuming, all ending with the pleasure of folding clean laundry, warm from the sunshine, piling folded towels, think navy and white, then tucking the basket into a corner of the stairway to be put away after supper.

But a puppy needed watching, so here I sit, the sun warming on my back and drying up the dark blotches of water a thirsty dog sprayed after his visit to the pond for a cool drink.  I call it a pond, but the waterfall singing, splashing over the piled up rocks into the green of water lilies and tall grasses, the glints of gold from the school of fish that call this home, the bass growl of a bull frog, the rocky border circling this miniature body of water – flat rocks perfect to kneel on while you sprinkle in red and green and yellow flakes to the immediately ravenous fish, make this much more than a pond.

Ponds, this time of year, have a murky lace of green, blown sometimes this way, and sometimes that, like a floating mantilla.  The murky edges bear witness of cows or deer or maybe a raccoon or two along the water – prints deep and hollow, sucked out like those in fossil rocks in a mountain stream bed.  But this pond transports me to the tub of water by an Auberge in the Alps where you pointed out the fish you wanted for dinner or the humongous fish tank at a restaurant in the fog-shrouded cold and wet Cajas (the Andes of Ecuador) where we did the same, or my favorite thought right now, another manmade respite from the world, like this one, a netting covered pergola filtering the sun’s hottest rays, summery lawn chairs filling three sides of a rectangle, the water garden hugging the fourth, with a floor of slate rectangles pieced together like a puzzle, wild grasses working so hard to peek through the crevices.  I see and feel the sharp edges of the sun and its shadows laid in like an artist had shaded them with charcoal pencils.

I imagine I am in Tuscany, not northeastern Pennsylvania,and I lean into the shadows of the earthy colored water, shiny under the sun.  I lean into the ripples of laughter, or tears, splashing from the waterfall.  I listen for the clashes of swords, the hoots from purple-footed grape pressers – turning the grape riches into juice and the joy and anticipation into fine wine.

 And two thousand years evaporate like the blotches of water on the slate.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Grand-Puppy-sitting? In the job description?

Back in the day - before it was official, people kept telling me that in retirement I would get to spend more time with my grandchildren.  Most times, I nodded, but inside I winced.  Of my nine  - should I say 11 grandchildren, since two more have married into the tribe, only the two youngest at five and six might want any babysitting.  The rest live full lives with school, jobs, relationships, and well, you get the picture.  And I confess, I sometimes felt a little self-pity.

BUT, my Amy lives only an hour away and she has two of our four grand-dogs.  Her in-laws are celebrating 50 years of marriage and Tom and Amy wanted to make the journey to Grand Rapids, but they did not want to put the dogs in a kennel.  The littlest, Remy, has a few separation anxieties, and by the way, he has thoroughly bonded with Grandma, or is it that Grandma has bonded with him.  I have been known to fill a tiny lunch box with dog treats to take when we visit Remy, and, I must admit, to keeping a box at our house for when Remy comes for a visit.

Anyway, here we sit, with Remy taking turns whose feet he guards.  By the way, I remember the day when Jim brought a dachshund home, and after one night of this little wiener dog battling all night to sleep between Jim and I, he went back.  The dog, not Jim.  Last night, Remy joined us in bed, checked to make sure I was on my side, and spent the night snuggled right up close to Grandpa’s feet…and how do you think Grandpa responded?  He LOVED IT!  Remy, after all, is our very needy grand-dog, and how could you do anything but love him back.

He has guarded us today, announcing loudly all visitors, or squirrels in the back yard.  He sat still like a good boy in the car when we checked out a local McDonalds.  He played catch me if you can, when I tried to assure him that the squirrel would not hurt us…and all in all, he thoroughly satisfied the nurturing needs of his grandparents.

Now Remy shares guard dog duties with Jack, a long haired lab who has to stay out of the main living areas – Amy is allergic, and we love on Jack too…but don’t tell him that our hearts belong to Remy this weekend.

So what does this have to do with retirement?  I love dogs, and God blesses us all in unique and wonderful ways…even through grand-dog sitting.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Going on vacation?

When you go on vacation, real vacation, not visiting people, but going away for some R and R, what do you take with you?  I always take books, a bag of books, because on vacation, most chores have been left behind and I have the time and quiet to read.  And I love to take books that I can learn from – even if it just that the book might take place in a different country, or culture, or conditions that I am not personally familiar with.  I get lost in the pages of a book, traveling to far off places, so far off that I have often said that while I am reading, the walls could fall down around me and I would not even notice.  Funny how we do that, make time to read books for entertainment and enlightenment, and we will spend hours lost in someone else’s words.  At least I do.
So, back to yesterday and the thoughts about accessing the presence of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, I need that same kind of quiet, that same kind of commitment to the pages that will take me out of this world…only here it is the pages of God’s Word. Oh, and the faith to believe that the words on a page in my Bible were laid in there by God for me – and for you.

I think real peace is only accessible when we give it time.  That’s why there is such an emphasis on spending time with God and thinking on His Word.  I just did a quick search on words like meditate, think on, bring to mind or medicate on or before.  Wow!!!  Eight synonyms came up and they were used nearly 300 times.
The passage in Philippians 4:8 comes to mind: Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just,…pure…lovely…of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.  In ! Timothy 4, Paul gives many words of wisdom and counsel to the young believer and he ends that passage with this admonition in verse 15: Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them that thy profiting may appear to all.  Check out Psalm 119 for the use of the word…and maybe you might want to do a study like I did.

The point is this: God wants us to be filled with joy – check out Philippians.  He wants us to overflow with a peace that can hardly be understood.  I think He wants us to laugh out loud, and I think we would do a lot more laughing with pure joy if we thought about Who He is, who we are, and how much He loves us – actively.
From a purely secular perspective, imagine the absurdity of the King abandoning his fine raiment and position to step into your place of punishment – my place.  We are nothing apart from Him.  Wouldn’t we rejoice, especially if we had been delivered from a death sentence?  But we have!  And then this fine King, who redeemed us, reminded us that He would never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5)

So, our issue is that we get so busy, even doing good things, that we forget these most beautiful truths. We allow our circumstances to control us, the temptations to rehearse someone else’s circumstances that may look better than our own.
In truth, as God’s children, we were made to rejoice.  We were blessed beyond measure, like a cup splashing the sink full under the rushing spigot.  It is all there, and all the time, if we would turn all the distractions off and devour His Word with the same appetite that we devour the words of others when we are on vacation.

PS. I am relearning this as I learn retirement.  I am experiencing for the first time in a while such an appetite for God’s Word, right now devouring them through The Message and my old KJV.  And being amazed at God's kindness!!!