Saturday, December 24, 2011

Old Nameless Motorcycle Philosopher

Today's post is a guest blog. Although the writer doesn't KNOW that he's filling in today. Its just that I could not say anything better on Christmas Eve than this Christmas card greeting.

Is there anything cuter than a two-year-child? On the cover is our little 2-year-old granddaughter, Ella Mae. (Tom & Molly's little girl) 
We are showing her because two-year-olds are just so darned cute. The other grandchildren are beautiful, high-achieving, well-mannered young people - and we love them dearly. But... they aren't two years old! (Although they were at one time.)
Accompanying this blue-eyed little darling is our new 6-month old kitty, named "Noodle." Patty calls him a "middle school" cat. (I wonder where she picked up that phrase?) He is called Noodle because at any given time he can become limp - as a noodle. He's playful - at times he's mischievous...but he's always loving. There are few things as relaxing as sitting back in your recliner, a fire in the fireplace, and a sleeping kitty purring on your lap.
Dr. Knutson had to put down our old 20 pound Josie because of a brain tumor. We found ourselves at the animal shelter a few days later and came home with Noodle.
I said to Patty on the way home, "Our old cat has just been gone just a few days and you already have a new cat." Jokingly I added, "If something happened to me, I bet you would take up with a new man right away!"
Patty casually replied, "Would people think it tacky if I brought him to the funeral?"
BAM! What a comeback! I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a wonderful life with a wonderful wife. We are blessed with a lovely family, good friends, few worries, and lots of love and laughter.
As an old nameless motorcycle philosopher once said, "Don't let a few bugs hitting your windshield spoil an otherwise wonderful ride." Take time to savor each and every precious moment on this big, beautiful blue marble in space. Try not to let the little stuff get you down.

The Old Nameless Motorcycle Philosopher just happens to be my Dad.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Cold Evening Walk

Tonight's view from the porch is a clear, starlit night. After dinner, I decided to take a walk. It wasn't too cold tonight, but I did walk briskly. It isn't often that it is not bitterly cold or too icy to walk around in the evening and enjoy the lights. Homes were glowing with Christmas lights inside and out. My walk takes me to the edge of town and I think Mother Nature's twinkling stars were as beautiful as any display I passed. It was quiet and I was ready for quiet after a very productive day of housework and holiday-work.

The week did not end the way I expected and some alone time for reflection was in order.

Since August, I've been helping to coordinate an evening meal for friends whose baby girl was in the NICU in Iowa City. She passed away earlier this week and I was honored to attend services for her yesterday. There's just no easy way through that. The pastor was amazing and said so many beautiful things when I wondered what one could say that would make any sense at all. I have never cried so deeply for someone I had never met.

One of the things that the pastor said was that this tiny little girl changed all our lives. And that is true. I will never again take for granted the power of a hot homemade meal delivered home in time for dinner. And it really wasn't just about sharing dinner, it was about giving a family a gift of time. Even in my own family's schedule, there are nights when its a challenge at the end of the day to come up with a meal. For our friends, bringing dinner a few nights a week gave them time to be together rather than grocery shopping and cooking.

I hugged my kids a little tighter last night, held them a little closer.
And I prayed for peace, and comfort, and healing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Today's view from the porch is a sky that looks like a gray wool blanket. No snow in those clouds here, but plenty of rain. Two words that do not go well together in Iowa are 'December' and 'rain.' It is a day to be grateful for a warm house and a pantry stocked for holiday baking.
A hot cup of coffee, Windham Hill's "Celtic Christmas," and a stack of recipe cards are presenting a day in touch with dear memories. Grandma Pearl's old aluminum measuring spoons, cookie press, and cutters at the ready. Recipes from Eugenia Johnson - my children's paternal great-grandmother who immigrated to the US from Sweden in the 1920's. Marian Sellergren's spritz recipe. Grandma's sugar cookie cutouts, with a hint of nutmeg... The house will smell wonderful very soon.
This week has been a bit of a challenge. Emily is recovering well from her long illness and is much improved over last week at this time and I am relieved that she is back on track. Last night, we played "Let's Dance" on the wii and Emily was dancing away, hair flying, arms in the air... She's a dancer that girl. It doesn't matter the music, if it moves her spirit, it will move her body. It was wonderful to watch her so uninhibited and with the energy to dance. It's been weeks since she's had the energy to get out of bed, let alone dance. It made me very happy to dance with her and to soak in her excitement.
This week, friends and acquaintances have struggled with death and loss. For some it has just happened, others are having their first birthdays or holidays without a parent. Broken hearts, whether recent or many years ago, seem to be laid wide open in December. A time filled with remembering, with doing things the way they have been done for years. The familiar music, ornaments for the tree, and simple things like cookie recipes put us in touch with those memories and the flood of emotions they bring.
December can be a melancholy time for many of us. We may find ourselves swinging between the joy of the season and reflective of Decembers gone by. In the midst of it all, recognize that it is not only normal to experience sadness and loss right now, it really is best to feel those emotions and not fight them. Honor them. Open up to feel it all, both sorrow and delight. For without allowing yourself to feel the sadness, you really will not feel the full impact of joy.
Time to warm up the oven, the house, and my heart with the simple acts of making bread and cookies. After the bites, licks, and tastes, I'll be ready to dance with my daughter again.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving in Quarantine

It's Thanksgiving weekend.... and it couldn't come at a better time. My 10 year old baby has influenza, a "novel strain" it seems and this is day 10 of low grade fever, aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, and a persistent cough. My house smells of lysol and I've laundered linens and slept in my living room to give her my bed most nights.
John Lennon wrote lyrics to this effect, "Life happens when you are busy making other plans..." The unwelcome virus visitor postponed our weekend plans to host our welcome visitors, the grandparents from the Great White North. But we managed to make the best of it anyway. While Emily slept, John and I did our own turkey trot for a couple of miles on an unusually mild Thanksgiving Day in Iowa. And never in 47 years have I ever sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner just for two. It was wonderfully unique, relaxed and a mix of  nice table with a measuring cup for a gravy boat because I couldn't find a real one as easily. "When I was his age..." that would not have happened AT ALL. Nor would we have taken 50 minutes to sculpt Kinnick Stadium out of mashed potatoes. Nor would a Beatles greatest hits cd be the background music or us in jeans and t-shirts...
"Thanks for all you did to make it a fun holiday, Mom," said my 13 year old at the end of the night.
Sweeter than pecan pie.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Simple Gifts

It's been a few weeks since I've much going on. This week's view from the porch is my yard full of fallen leaves that need to be dealt with before my neighbor guys Richard, Marv, and Joe perform an intervention. However, it's the inside of the nest that has required my attention and time lately.
I'm "nesting" these days. Fighting the good fight against the onslaught of clutter that is a daily battle.
I'm also preparing to cook my first Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, at 47. It is about time.
I've been seduced by pumpkin spice coffee and reading Facebook updates of my friends who are doing a daily gratitude journal. We share many of the same sentiments - except I am noticing the growing number of classmates who are grateful for their grandbabies. I'm a middle school mom and I do have moments of disbelief when I see those darling kids. I'm not there yet and when I am, they will coo over mine as I am now cooing over theirs.
I'm grateful for my two amazing children who fill my days with life. I am grateful for simple things like clean drinking water right from the faucet, a warm and safe home for my family, and money to feed them well.
And a clean place to use the loo... Did you know it is International Toilet Day? And for good reason. Sanitation is a huge public health issue around the world. (NPR Science Friday...home with a sick girl yesterday.)
This year, I am most grateful for relationships. I am so fortunate to have an incredible network of friends and family that support me and my kids in so many ways. And I hope that I can be at least as good a friend to them.
I've learned an important lesson in the past year. It is ok to ask for and accept help. That's a hard one for many of us, I suspect. And I have been able to offer help to others this year. New friendships have developed and long standing ones have been strengthened. When we ask for help, we allow others to give help, a tremendous gift for everyone involved.
Between shopping for the upcoming holiday, knitting away at L.Doone pillow cushions, combatting clutter, putting the finishing touches on tomorrow's Sunday School lesson, listening to Hawkeye football, I will be holding those relationships closely. And giving thanks.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

With many happy returns...

This week's view from the porch is pretty amazing.
I've gone to three birthday parties in the past 10 days. I don't think that's ever happened before.
One was a pizza party at a local restaurant hosted by the man with the birthday who turned 58 and whom I have always had a secret crush since I first met him years ago. More than two years ago, he had a stroke and we did not know if he would even make it. The stroke impaired him in many ways and communication is one of them. With great focus and determination, he ordered the meal for the entire table and was a perfect host in every way. What a celebration of life and of the immense work he has done to be up and out of his wheelchair and to regain everything he can. He's just super and I am proud to know him.
I went to a 50th birthday party this week and it was classy, relaxed, and the way to celebrate 50 years. It was fun to go to a party, talk with friends I haven't had a chance to really catch up with for awhile and feel like a grown up instead of just a parent.
And then last night, I went to a celebration of women. My dear friend has a birthday today and we celebrated the last day of her 70th year and the women in her life during this past year. I was very honored to be invited and as she predicted, the energy in the room was strong and evident. Eight women with roots from all over the world now living in Grinnell. Educators, nurses, social workers, musician, artists, clergy, mothers and about-to-be a mother, grandmothers, writers, sisters, lovers, and friends - and only nine of us around the table. The wisdom of generations of women. We enjoyed wine, music, baseball and an incredible meal that felt like Christmas...
Life is good, as they say.
Today I am reflecting on these three gatherings, the people, the energy, and the moments. It is the last possible day to get pumpkins, carve them and have them ready for the trick or treaters tonight.Nothing like waiting until the last moment...  We'll be baking and carving, listening to the Iowa game on the radio, and making a home.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Things to Come

The view from the porch today is a nice one - crunchy bronze leaves surround the mums in the front garden. Deep russet, burnt orange, bright gold. We had our first hard frost this week at my house and the mums have taken on richer hues. The grass is beautifully green and vibrant. I'll get the boy to cut the grass one more time this weekend, bagging up the leaves into mulch as he goes.

Last night I went to the varsity football game, the last home game of the season. It was kind of an orientation for me as I have lived here for six years and this is the first high school game I've attended. The 8th grade band played with the high school marching band and I recognize that this is a sign of things to come. Next year, the boy will be a high school freshman and we'll go between middle school activities for the girl and high school activities for the boy. So I went and had fun, learned the school song ending chant and had a good time with friends.

I was very flattered this week to be asked to take on an important leadership role at church. I really, really want to do it and think I could make a positive contribution. But the coming years with my kids at home are going to fly by, filled with concerts and games and life. There's a whole congregation of people who can step into that role and also make their own positive contribution. But only I can be Mom to my kids.

Monday, October 3, 2011

When October Goes

I'm resurrecting an entry originally posted October 28, 2009. The sentiment is just as true today. October continues to be a time of transition for me. As of today, I am legally divorced and single. October focuses me on family, home, and life's journey. Good thing I love this month...

Johnny Mercer said it well, "I should be over it now, I know. It doesn't matter much how old I grow. I hate to see October go."

I think the colors this year have been more vivid than I have remembered in many years. Maybe I always think that, but there are just some unusually spectacular looking trees out there. And they've just started to go past their peak. It's such a short time to really enjoy them.

To indulge my melancholy a little more before I shut it off, it isn't lost on me that the year is quickly coming to an end. Once Halloween is through, it is a sprint to New Year's Day, or so it seems.

It's been an interesting week. I witnessed a wedding of two lovers in middle age. A love that has not aged in 20 years, but rather has deepened and strengthened. Wonderful, affirming, and worshipful.

I also learned that a good friend has cancer. Again.

Two very different events in the space of a few days.

It fits with my melancholy mood, my realization that the Octobers are coming a little faster each year. I am reminded this week that life is precious and precarious. What dreams do I need to let go? What dreams do I need to pursue? What new twists does life have in store? What do I need to do to continue to live my life intentionally and with purpose? What do I need to do for my children as they grow before my eyes?

What do I need to do before it's too late?

Okay, enough melancholy.

What I need to do is enjoy life, with all its twists and surprises, joys and sorrows, and all the wonderful, amazing people I know and love. And to let them know how much they mean to me.

What we really need to do before it's too late, is to fully live our lives.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

September Friday Night

The view from the porch has a little extra light from TT Cranny Field over at Grinnell High School. It's a September Friday night and that means football.
Many thanks to my dear stepdad Phil who taught me how to understand the game and how to enjoy watching it. With a 13 year old son who's life is about football right now, it helps a lot. Thanks, Phil.
Nights like this remind me of the other Tigers, the Red Oak Tigers. Friday nights with friends at what we now call Russ Benda Field and heading for chili at the Elks after the game ended.
I actually prefer to listen to sports on the radio. KGRN on Fridays and WHO on Saturdays.
There's a chill in the air and it is a night for hot food and a cold beer.
Go Tigers!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Busted open

Living with eyes and heart wide open is a wonderful goal. It sounds so encouraging to experience all that life has to offer.
Truth is, it takes a lot of courage to live that way.
If you are an adult and it isn't a challenge for you to live with your heart wide open, then your heart probably hasn't been broken open. I think we start off that way as children and then little by little we begin to develop the shell around the heart because we have experienced heartbreak, disappointment, hatred, jealousy...We develop coping mechanisms, healthy and unhealthy, to take the edge off or make us numb.
It takes risk to experience all that love is for us. Every time we open ourselves to experience life again, we take a risk.
Would it be easier to simply our close hearts to prevent us from the pain? Sure. But it also prevents us from feeling the amazing joy and love that life has to offer as well.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Stanton, Nyman, Bethesda, Clarinda...

An interesting thing happened last weekend that is worthy of note...

I am getting to spend some time with two of my four parents alone these days. One weekend every month or so while the kids visit their dad, I spend a Saturday evening and night with my dad and stepmom. It has been ages since this happened, really, if at all.

Dad has treated us to Saturday dinner out somewhere around Red Oak, Iowa. We leave the house about 5 and listen to "A Prairie Home Companion" on the radio as we reach our dinner destination. Last week, the destination was The Ice House in Clarinda. We had a great meal and conversation, just the three of us. We finish our meal and get back in the car in time to listen to the monologue as we take the long way home.

Last week, Dad drove us through the grounds, still beautifully kept, at what is now known as the Clarinda Treatment Complex. Formerly a state institution for persons with mental illness. Back in the day, it could have been a private college campus. The views are pastoral and lovely as we head north out of town.

The area is familiar and we drive along the farms and rolling hills. A recent hailstorm has destroyed many acres of corn and beans - late season storms that strip the leaves and beat down the corn as if a truck had driven around the field.

South of Stanton, west to Bethesda, north to Nyman...this is the place where my great-grandparents settled when they immigrated from Sweden. The farms and communities they established more than 125 years ago. Earlier, Dad and I looked at a gift I had received from my dad's older sister. It was my great-grandmother Nora Olson Linquist's autograph book. Signed in beautiful pen and ink script by teachers and friends with equally stalwart Swedish names, sweet poems of remembrance, and the date. 1889 is the earliest year penned.

Driving those roads, I thought that those folks today would likely be able to find their way around. Many farms are still there, the churches are still there, the roads are paved and not dirt or gravel.

We then had a moment of serendipity. Remember my last post? About paying attention to those moments when things seem to conveniently converge? The last song played on "A Prairie Home Companion" that night was a hymn that is deeply cherished by this Swedish-American community in Montgomery and Page Counties of Iowa, and I have written about it before.

"Children of the Heavenly Father" is a tender and lovely cradle song, a lullaby of God as the Father and we as his children....safely gathered, protected, cared for and loved beyond measure. We hear this lovely hymn on one occasion and it will bring tears to the eyes of the most stoic Swede. It is typically played at funerals. We grow up hearing it first at our grandparents' funerals as we are children and at every funeral after. It's the song that we dread and adore at the same time. I've never quite been able to sing it all the way through and I marvel at those who are asked to sing it at a funeral.

This rendition was a lovely duet and they sang all the verses, including the first verse in Swedish as it is done these days. The music and the place seemed to come together in one of those Fellowship of Saints moments when I was reminded of the presence of all those people with me. It was an ideal soundtrack for this late summer drive through the land of our roots.

Life is amazing. Go through it with your eyes and heart wide open.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Paying Attention and Being Present

I pay attention to funny stuff.

I notice when my horoscope happens to be especially spot-on in its thoughts about my life. Often my daily devotional hits the nail on the head and really speaks to me. And often Leo Babauta's posts on ZenHabits blog just happen to be written for me.

Like this recent post. You can read it here.

Mindfulness. How to deal with all the overwhelming details and stress of the day to stop and focus. Simply be aware and interrupt the pattern. It's what Christine tells me to do... focus and breathe, she says. It's so easy for my thoughts to spin out of control and forget that I am wearing the ruby slippers I need to reconnect with my peace of mind.

It's how we teach HeartMath, too... heart focus, heart breathing...heart feeling.

My dad rides a Harley - in fact, he's had a motorcycle for nearly as long as I can remember. He and I talked the other day and he gushed over the ride he and his friends had that day. The weather was ideal. He was listening to his favorite music and enjoying the scenery along the two-lane highway through Iowa's countryside.

"It's a mechanical anti-depressant, Doone. (that's his name for me) I get on that bike and I am fully and completely in the moment. There's nothing like it."

As a newly single mom, my days can be extraordinarily busy with work, kids, keeping up the house and all my other activities. It takes a real effort to make time for myself and to not feel guilty about it. (Can I get an amen?)

If I simply ( focus and enjoy the moment for what it is, it does feed my spirit. For those of us who are so busy trying to do three things at once, this takes practice and allowing oneself a good deal of grace for not getting it right all the time. Because life is in our everyday moments, not something to always work toward, but finding joy in the warmth of the sun, the time spent with my kids at this moment, even the satisfaction of washing my dishes by hand. Noticing. Paying attention. Living in the moment.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summer's Turning

I've spent a lot of hours driving over the past couple of weeks and I have noticed that summer has turned. We've passed the point of accelerating into the peak of summer and have begun the downward turn that takes us to autumn. The vibrant shades of green are fading and tinged with brown. The cicadas, the harbinger of late summer started their sawing a few weeks ago.

The pile of new school supplies, backpack, and lunch box, the football shoes, the trainers, the fleece jacket bought on sale, and the Iowa State Fair are all pointing the way to the end of summer.

Today's view from the porch is the turning, the transition from one season to the next. It's been a very full and satisfying summer for us. My plan to put the big rocks in the jar back in May was important to do all the things we wanted to do. John went to Tennessee at the end of May. We traveled to the Black Hills in late June, enjoyed a family reunion, and just ended our annual summer trip to Minnesota. This summer, we learned many things about ourselves, about each other and about who we are as a family in the new way our family looks. It's a time of turning for us, too.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 30, 1964

Today's view from the porch is different than usual. My porch view today is of the Minnesota north woods complete with a thundershower. Deep greens and dark clouds today in sharp contrast to yesterday's brilliant blue sky and abundant sunshine.

Most people have days of the year that mark the passing of time, New Year's Eve, the first day of school, anniversaries.... I'm having one of those today. It is my 47th birthday.

I love birthdays, I really do. My best friend had a birthday earlier this week and it left her feeling a little sad and a little scared. She's much more pragmatic, rational, and analytical than I could ever be. We are a good balance. She keeps me grounded and I keep her busy.

My birthday weekend has been filled with good times spent with family, with longtime friends, and the beauty of a Minnesota lake in the height of summer. Life is the best birthday gift there is.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

There's only two things that money can't buy...

and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes. " - Roy Clark

"The" summer meal is something many people look forward to all year long. For some, it is fresh crab in the Pacific Northwest. In Wisconsin, it's a fish boil.

In Iowa, it is fresh sweet corn and homegrown tomatoes. A "go-to" summer meal around here includes fresh sweet corn and BLT's - bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. Many an Iowan will not eat a BLT unless there are "real" tomatoes involved and I am one of them. My own tomato plants aren't quite there yet, but the recent hot and humid weather should jump start them. For now, I rely on local growers. Soon, my tomatoes will come from my garden just a few steps from my kitchen door.

The early sweet corn is out of this world. There is nothing else like it. The first amazing meal of summer is a simple one. A bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with buttered ear of sweet corn. We wait all year for this time and it is well worth the wait.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stinkin' Thinkin'

There's a family story that my father in law used to have a word... "photorectimyesis" which for him, translated into "a poopy outlook on life."

Lord, how easy it is to fall into THAT kind of stinkin' thinkin'!

Today's view from the porch needs to be abundance, not scarcity. After a delightful six day vacation hosted by my dad and stepmother to the Black Hills with my family, I returned to clogged floor drains, again, in my basement.

Today, my mind went directly to scarcity. "How much will this cost?" I thought of backhoes and tearing up concrete. Roto-rooters and then to refinancing my house...and my credit score is "risky" and how will I ever get a loan again? What about retirement? What about my kids' college education? What if I end up losing my house?

You get the idea. Geez, girl. Get a grip.

It's not fun. It is stinkin' thinkin' at its very best. It is not how I had planned to spend my last day of vacation, trying to get a sewer unclogger to call me, or spending precious hours talking with loan officers just to be told that I would have to do some serious work on my credit score...

"Mama, you are thinking overtime today," Emily says. (yes, she is brilliant, isn't she?)

OK, Laura, you let those waves of doubt overtake you today. Time to get back on the board and get on top of the waves instead of letting them capsize your peace of mind...

Peace! Be Still! Surf's up.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Either/Or Neither/Nor

Have you ever noticed when you held two opposite emotions at the same time?

If you are a parent, perhaps you felt an overwhelming sense of joy at the same time you realized that this tiny little person would rely on you as their parent for the rest of your life. Fear and elation...

If you have ever chosen to commit yourself to another person, you know that feeling of love and terror...

If you have ever had a pet that you simply adored, but knew that you would outlive that pet and someday it would die...

If you have started teaching your child life lessons such as doing laundry, cooking, completing a deposit slip, driving a car, you are helping them to eventually leave you to make their own mark in the world, taking your heart with them.

The view from the porch today is the middle. As I say, I am a middle aged mom, living in the middle of my block, in the middle of Iowa, which is in the middle of the country. Today's view is both sides, all sides... and what a gift. Being in the middle allows for appreciation of what has happened, the ability to do a little course correction, and to look to the future with hopeful expectation and the second half of childhood.

Last summer, I was in the middle of a separation from my husband. Our summer both flew by and dragged on... This summer, we're in the middle of divorce and the kids and I are making this summer one to remember. Emily and I will go down the blue slide at the pool at least once a week together. We will enjoy fireflies. We pick strawberries from our garden and made JAM for the first time. We will travel to exotic places like the Black Hills and Detroit Lakes, MN. We will celebrate our country with 100,000 other people on the west lawn of the Iowa capitol. We will worship together. We will see "The 39 Steps" in Lincoln, Nebraska with Uncle Rob. The kids will attend a family reunion. I will spend time through the summer with dear friends I do not see nearly enough. We will really live and experience our summer.

The view from the porch this week is as rich and lush as the exploding fields of corn, the deep blue of a baby's eyes, the wide smile of a friend, the warm embrace of love. All the while holding the feelings that remind me I cannot stop time and keep my children at this moment, that they continue to grow as independent (very) individuals. I can pause, and appreciate, and therefore be present to experience it all. I would not trade a single moment.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Women of a Certain Age

I finally feel officially 'middle aged.'

I care about my lipid profile and know that a statin is something I want to avoid having to take. And I actually have conversations, lively ones, about things like cholesterol, triglycerides, LDLs, and other things that I don't exactly know why I should be concerned about them, but I am.

I'm not ready to stop coloring my hair.

I notice that it takes more effort to look "polished" than it used to.

I have had conversations recently with physicians about permanent birth control who have all said, "Yeah, you really don't want to have a baby at your age..."

I remember thinking that I would have a freshman and a senior in high school at the same time, but just recently went to the next step and realized that I will also have a freshman and senior, hopefully, in college very shortly thereafter...

I don't like to drive at night. I wear trifocals. A bottle of beer gives me a buzz.

I order coffee with lunch.

I have a sense of confidence that comes only with twenty-odd years of life and work experience.

I have friends who are celebrating 25 years of marriage. Friends with grandchildren. And they are in love with life all over again.

I care less about what people think of me, and more about what they think about their own lives.

I can get really angry with God, and know that she's okay with that.

I know that every single day is a gift, not something to "get through."

And I know that life isn't about being happy, it is about living.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

As Yet No Sign

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade. - Gertrude Jekyll

I didn't know anything about Ms. Jekyll, other than I knew that roses had been named for her. According to Google and the link above, she looks like my Great Aunt Florence and was a phenomenal gardener of the English tradition.

The view from the porch today is June. In all its loveliness.

As I went for my walk last night, this quote gently came in and out of my thoughts... I had planted a garden of my own earlier in the day and the walk was to hopefully work out any sore muscles I might discover this morning. While I did enjoy other's lovely plantings and blooming flowers, there are no gardens that rival Ms. Gertrude's. But, we do what we can.

Iowa gardeners tend to be reserved. Gardens are plotted and landscaped. Flowers, like mine in my cutting garden, are planted in rows. Our gardens reflect our personalities. We line up well. We tend to be rather nice and don't draw a lot of attention to ourselves. There are some of us who will blaze the trail for the rest, try new plants and such, but by and large, we plant the gardens of our grandparents.

I know that I do. Pearl enjoyed her flowers regimented along the fence line. Peace roses and zinnias. Lester had a wonderful vegetable garden. I am certain that I planted the same things yesterday as he would have chosen, HE would have added a few things I did not. I have a few tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers...I doubt he had basil or any herbs that I love. He would have planted hills of potatoes back on Good Friday and all the onions they would need for the year. Maybe a muskmelon or watermelon...

This is the time of year when June is so lush with promise of things to come. How interesting that it also has the power to make me pause and remember people and moments of my childhood.

Margaret Atwood once said, "At the end of a spring day, one should smell of dirt." It is hugely satisfying.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Midlife? WTH?

Today's view from the porch is a number. I can see 47 from here.

I'm not terribly hung up on my age. I know all that stuff about age doesn't matter... In fact, I spend at least an hour every Monday morning with a room full of people who pat me on the head and smile when I mention my age because they tell me I am just a young thing. As long as I work with the senior ed program, I will always feel young.

Mostly because they show me what aging is supposed to be. Engaged. Learning. Slow down if need be, but do not stop.

So, squarely in midlife, I find myself with some interesting options. Options that have never crossed my mind...what is next for me?

While I once thought I had some notions about what I might like to do "when I grow up," there are all kinds of things coming at me. It is thrilling and terrifying all at the same time.

I wonder what comes next?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Post-rapture sermon.

This week's view from the pew is actually a view from the pulpit as I filled in for a dear friend who is on maternity leave... Here's the sermon from May 22, 2011, Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14.

Well...we're still here.

Maybe you saw on the news the past few weeks that a radio host, Howard Camping predicted through his bible study that Judgment Day would happen late yesterday afternoon, May 21, 2011. John and I spent a little time talking about this and what this all means. We do what other 21st century families do, we googled it. "Rapture 2011." and it laid out the very complicated mathematics that look more like numerology rather than theology. Interestingly, we also saw that if didn't go on May 21, there's another coming on October 24, 2011.

Here's what I'm wondering this morning... what are the pastors who warned their congregations about this impending rapture talking about today? What's the mood in their churches today? Are they a little peeved that they are still here?

How do they recover from this?

In some ways, Howard Camping fits a little with our story of Stephen... "But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, "I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him..."

I have to admit, I've thrown some verbal stones at him myself. I wonder how his followers are treating him today.

I also have to admit that until news of the rapture, I really didn't know what I would say to you today about these passages that would provide any insight.

I struggled with today's passage from John, especially. There's just so much here to unpack. There are so many themes to choose, so many ways to go. The writing is really lovely and I am a sucker for good writing. It is metaphorical for us and that's part of the challenge. I asked a lot of friends about this passage and everyone of them suggested a different theme, a different way to go.

They reminded me about the concept of Pater Familias - a term that explains the reference in the opening verses of the Gospel - I was told that during the time this gospel was written in Greece, that wealthy men had large homes and if you were chosen to live in his house, you had a true sense of security. But, this was highly selective and not everyone had the opportunity to live in a home like this. When Jesus said, "in my Father's house there are many dwelling places," he infers that there is room for all, not just those special few...

And when folks like Mr. Camping read their bibles, they know that moments like a Judgment Day are going to happen..."and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself..." It all seems to be so clear and straightforward - if it's what you want to hear.

Frankly, I find this so full of metaphor and words that can provide great comfort as well as words that can provide disappointment. I do take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my confusion - grasping at what the writer is trying to convey...

This passage from John is part of a long farewell from Jesus to his disciples. They are confused - they know the end is coming and it is terrifying for all of them. The disciples don't know what Jesus is saying either. "Lord, we do NOT know where you are going! How can we know the way?"

Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip jumps in and is so confused - show us, prove to us... Jesus gets exasperated with them all...

In the disciples' defense, is is hard to think clearly when faced with extreme fear, stress, worry. Our hearts are troubled, they ache. Maybe that is why this passage has been shared and read to us for generations when we are suffering, times when hope is so hard. We've all been there - times when we are so afraid, so sad, so unsure of what the future holds.

It's easy to struggle with this passage - it's easy to ask why God lets us suffer? Where is God or Jesus in the pain of life? Do we have to wait to die to feel "at home" with God? I've prayed to Jesus, just like he said to, and still my prayers go unanswered...

Today, many of us have heavy hearts as our friend, colleague, and principal Buck Laughlin passed away yesterday afternoon. Some of us have walked this journey with him when he was first diagnosed with cancer more than ten years ago.

In his book, "The Words of Gardner Taylor," I find his interpretation of this passage consoling today. Taylor interprets this passage to say that God is not apart from us through the pain and suffering of life. God is there with us through it all and that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light through all of life's trials, loss, suffering, and disappointments. As an Easter people, we know that death does not have the last word and that none of these situations define who we are. We know through Jesus there is more to our life. And Taylor suggests that Jesus is the way, the way home... in this world and the next.

I'll close today with a quote from Gilda Radner, who also lost her life at an early age to cancer. It seems very appropriate for us today.

"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next."

May you be at home with God in all the days to come.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Renewal and Dog Hair

Today's view from the porch is one of renewal...and fluffy bits of fur from my weekend bed, there's no new man in my life...

My mother and stepfather came to visit this weekend, hauling their trailer behind them from the great north like Santa and Mrs. Claus. A new recliner wrapped in a blue tarp looking like Granny Clampett could have been strapped in, came into my living room. It is huge. A chair and a half recliner, they call it. My kids think it is the greatest thing that has happened to them in the last several months. Topped only by a new television...

The recliner IS pretty great...but better yet was the other seat they brought with them. A brand-new high rise WHITE toilet. The color is really important because the one that was replaced had only one problem. It was pink. Otherwise, it is a perfectly fine fixture for one that is more than 55 years old. Bob and John worked their tails off...replacing the toilet and laying new vinyl between fixing the leak under the kitchen sink and a new sink disposal.

I even got a new to me bike out of the deal. Mom's arthritis doesn't allow her to ride it any longer, so I will. Maybe it will keep the arthritis at bay in me.

While Mom and Bob were houseguests at a lovely local motel, their sweet puppydog stayed with us. I awakened on Saturday morning with my darling daughter on one side of me and this big lug at my feet. I've had my dog fix for a while, but very pleased with how responsible the kiddos were with him. Maybe a dog will be in our future at some point...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A time to celebrate new life

From us to you...Joy of spring and rebirth to each of you.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The "Mad Men" of the Early Church - Advertising at its best

I've worked in public relations for 25 years. Just like other professionals, I read journals and other articles to learn more about how others do this work for inspiration, ideas, and more. Never have I seen better marketers and PR people than early church leaders.

They were great marketers and experts in rebranding and repackaging. Honestly. As they worked to spread Christianity, they adapted what worked and made sense from religions that were already present and made them their own... Of course, sometimes this was often a hostile takeover.

Two stunning examples come to mind. The Europeans who decided that Advent should happen when their world was the darkest, when the Pagans celebrated Yule, were geniuses. How reassuring it is to hear the words from John that remind us that the darkness will not overcome the Light at a time of year when the nights are much longer than the days. And miraculously, the light begins to return to the world at that time...daylight comes back slowly to our hemisphere.

When we look a little more closely at the beloved story of Jesus' birth, some have suggested that shepherds were usually in their fields during lambing, in the spring.

There is nothing biblical about when to celebrate Easter. The first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring. The only constant is that Easter is on a Sunday. When we have been through forty days of personal spiritual spring cleaning and our inner life reflects the outside world of drab, a bright, sunny spring Sunday morning is a wonderful way to celebrate new life and resurrection.

I understand from my friend who lives in Michigan's Upper Pennisula that they have awakened to snow on the ground on this Holy Saturday. Now, those people are looking for a little green grass and evidence that there is life after death.

The lush green of the lawns, the eye-popping yellow daffodils, the beautiful magnolias, all remind me that just a month ago, it was drab, brown, and new life was hard to find. It fit with the difficult journey of the wilderness of Lent. But this week, this Holy Week has shown that even when it looks like it is the end, as if death has the final word, the world in all its green, shows that life and love have been there all along. We just haven't been able to see it.

It is genius, really.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mindful and present

Today's view from the porch is deceiving. While the grass is certainly greening and there are little sprouts of tulips and daffs in the flower beds, it is chilly out there this morning. There are snow showers in the forecast and I am missing the warmer days of last week when it was wonderful to walk outside. Those days will return soon. The weather is giving me the excuse to have a "sweatpants Saturday." The kids are on spring break now and, boy, do we need a break.

There's a lot going on in our family these days. The kids' dad is in the hospital in Iowa City and its a serious situation. We're being very gentle with each other, finding a lot of strength in ourselves we never knew we had, and feeling both grounded and lifted by the love and support of family and friends.

The last gasp of winter weather draws us to stay in today. It calls for movies and basketball, naps and cups of coffee, homemade waffles like Auntie Ar makes, and freely giving hugs. I think it also calls for a big pot of "end of the week" soup. Whatever I find in the veg bin is going in the pot.

In light of the serious nature of what we are dealing with, I am struck that we are simply living, mindful that life is a gift. It can be messy and it is often not what we expect. But the best part of this gift is found in the everyday moments of life - laughter, tears, work, sleep, and love. Living with a new focus on gratitude for this most amazing life.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Life is full of surprises. Expect them.

The world's axis shifted in more ways than one these past several days.

These days, one needs to have multiple personalities to keep up with all that is going on in the wider world, the country, the state, the community, and my own family.

Mother Nature had mercy on us this week and gave us some warm and sunny mid-March days to remind us that, yes, Virginia, there will be a spring. More daylight in the evening has allowed us to get outside after dinner. The early spring air smells so...muddy.

My vices of comfort this week have been the delectible taste of spring spinach and the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Honestly, the events of the past several days on all fronts have been life-changing. No whinging about my life - my family and I were not buried alive under a tsunami of mud.

But...there have been some very, very close calls this week with those closest to me. As my son John says, "Life is full of surprises. Expect them."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Always Look On the Bright Side of Life...

Somethings I love...

My daughter did not blink an eye or even ask a question when she came in my room this morning to find her big pink plastic box of crayons on my bed next to a drawing pad where I had left them.

My son turned the kitchen upside down this morning to find his great-grandmother's recipe for coffee cake. We're still looking, but Bisquick did the job in the meantime.

DaVinci blend coffee at Saints Rest in Grinnell on a winter February afternoon with a good book and 45 minutes to myself.

Friends who Facebook with me while they are in church and I am at home.

This week, I read that some people think Facebook is making us depressed. I'm thinking they don't have the right friends. I'm living through some of the most challenging days of my life right now and I am buoyed by the network of friends, both those from my childhood and those who are relatively new. Just this week, my friends and I had moments of sharing love and memories of amazing women from my home church. From England, Iowa, Minnesota, even Kenya, we all were united in one big roll call of admiration and celebration of the lives of these women and how they touched each of us.

Look for the hate and anger in the world and you will find it. You will feel worse for it. Look for the love and potential in this world, the little things that make you smile, and you will feel the divine.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January Saturdays

There is something about this time of year that compels me to spend hours cooking. I know I am not alone in this. Even the lady at the checkout counter said that she loves to bake at this time of year as she placed the flour, sugar, chocolate, and nuts in my shopping bag. And Mrs. Sundberg's post this week nearly echoed my past weekend. I made three soups for the week and a pan of dinner rolls...

This weekend, I have a reason to bake. It's my turn to bring treats for coffee hour after church. Two pans of brownies made last night - use the recipe on the Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate box. Yes, making them from scratch is worth the extra step. On the baking roster today will be chewy date nut bars and chocolate chip cookies. All the while, soup will be going in the crock pot and on the stove. Tomato, lentil and barley, a split pea, and I'm going to see what I can do with broccoli...

This week, my home-body self was affirmed when it was revealed to me that I am in fact a Cancer and not a Leo. I have never really followed astrology - I know my sign and the traits of my sign, but it never really fit me - ambition, the spotlight, devouring my enemy... anyone who knows me knows that is not me. 

But, I do have a highly developed sense of intuition. I am an emotional and sensitive person. I am trusting, to a fault. I seek the good and positive in every situation. I am a homebody and love to spend time in the kitchen. I knit more than half of the gifts I gave at Christmas this year...As I read the traits of Cancer, I was gobsmacked how they fit me so much better than a Leo ever did. That has been a fun surprise of the week.

Time to put on the coffee, to pull out Grandma Pearl's measuring spoons and get the oven started. Stay warm today. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year's Toast

The view from the porch today is a cold one... A cold front has passed through during the night with gusty winds that has blown away the fog that has blanketed us for several days. The kids and I enjoyed a quiet New Year's Eve. Friday night is pizza night at our house and instead of the usual 4 for $10 kind that is often is, I had time to make homemade pizza. I tried a new recipe from the good ol' BHG standard cookbook, circa 1982. Wonderful crust, probably my best ever. 

We toasted each other with stemmed wine glasses, yes the good crystal, filled with 7up and cranberry juice. 

"Here's hoping that all the yucky stuff from last year stays there!" Emily, age 9. 

Well said, my little lovey.