Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Beginning of a New Time

I've just finished reading Country Chronicle by Gladys Taber (1976, American Reprint Company, ISBN#0-89190-596-0).  I had been invited to be the first patron of our local public library to read the book when it arrived because it had been ordered as one of several in memory of my mother.  When asked how I would like the plate inside the book to read, I requested the following dedication: "In memory of Barbara Naidl - A library volunteer who loved the words of Gladys Taber."  And as Mom loved Mrs. Taber's words, so do I.  I see our mutual admiration for her writing as yet another aspect of Mom that remains alive in me.  With the end of the year approaching in just hours and the fresh face of a new year holding promise and opportunity, I think of Gladys Taber's closing thoughts in Country Chronicle:  "It is not an ending as a season draws to a close but only a beginning of a new time."  And so it is indeed with the passing of seasons or years or of someone we have loved so dearly.  The beginning of a new time.  Many thanks to you for reading this blog and for providing such supportive comments and encouragement.  You make my little experiment just that much more fun and rewarding. I look forward to our continued communication in the new year.  A toast to new beginnings and new times.  Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tick Tock

My good friend Chris recently told me that his son is 14 years old, the very same age that Chris was when I first met him years ago.  As I watch the snow falling outside of my window. I think of how fleeting time is -- how just like the snowflakes, the days (and years) come and then melt away.  As we prepare to close out one year and usher in the next, I find myself reflecting a lot about time.  In fact, I just read a poem this week that began, "What is time?".  Time is a strange thing.  It has different significance depending on where I am in my life.  When I'm at work, my eye is forever on the clock to ensure that I arrive at a meeting or appointment at the designated moment.  When I'm not at work, however, time takes on such a different meaning and pace.  It rarely matters if it's 11AM, 2PM or 7PM.  I'm more in touch with the sky and the seasons and I live more in the moment as part of that life-rhythm calendar.  As we step up the pace of modern life and place demands on ourselves with schedules that are jam-packed with commitments, are we really accomplishing more?  Truly experiencing or enjoying more?  I hardly think so.  I learned during the last months of my mom's life that time is ephemeral.  It isn't about the quantity of our years so much as it is about the quality.  The years will fly by and when I reflect back on them, will I want to see the blur of the race or the precious, discrete moments that brought such profound beauty and joy?  I don't want to hurry anymore.  The time I have been given is a gift and I'm going to savor each moment.  That's my new year's resolution and my wish for us all.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Eagles Have Landed

It's been a busy holiday week of long workdays and little time off, so I decided to steal away for a couple of hours today in order for Larry and me to walk out at Devil's Lake.  Winter hasn't hit its stride yet in Wisconsin.  The sun was shining, the temperature peaked in the mid-40s, and there was only a bit of snow and ice to hamper our brisk pace.  A few others had the same idea, for we came upon a couple throwing snowballs at each other and a young foursome bravely and deftly swishing about on the little bit of solid ice near the shoreline.  Another group of young people skipped stones across the ice, while small children standing with their mom and dad at the boat landing chanted in their light, high voices back to the chattering crows overhead.  We walked behind a couple with a dog whose white coat blended in with its environs.  All the while, the waves of the open water crashed into the icy areas, causing a castanet-type of sound similar to the crackling of freezing rain against the windowpane.  Just when I thought it couldn't get more perfect, Larry and I looked up and saw two bald eagles swoop in and land high atop a pine tree, a sliver of moon already showing in the afternoon sky to their backs.  They spent a great deal of time talking to each other in high-pitched voices.  Larry tried to capture the scene using his cell phone camera but it couldn't do it justice, so we decided to simply etch the memory of that beautiful encounter in our minds.  Our respite from the everyday renewed our energy and made everything seem so right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Talent Scout

Have you ever noticed how truly talented people rarely make a big deal of their talents?  They just confidently go about their work, requiring very little fanfare.  So it is with my good friend Kitty.  She'll show me her latest sewing or quilting project, describing it all as if it was just a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and then it all effortlessly came together.  I get so caught up in the details of "this," wondering how she possibly accomplished it, that I barely hear the details of "that."  I am not one to work with my hands so it is overwhelming at times for me to comprehend the vision that goes into each of her creations, let alone the time and patience required to make them.  But Kitty makes it all sound easy, almost commonplace. Spoken like the real pro that she is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Drink with Jam and Bread

My mom loved Constant Comment tea.  So when I read a book lately in which the author referred to Constant Comment, I thought of Mom right away and the many conversations she and I had over a "cuppa" throughout the years.  I think there's no gift more intimate among good friends than a gift of tea.  This holiday season, I gave my friend Ellen some Constant Comment as a remembrance of the special friendship she and my mother had.  I gave our friend Betty chai tea -- a favorite of hers, and I gave my boss a calming tea blend to balance her busy life.  A cup of tea has the amazing ability to calm the nerves and clear the mind.  And on a cold, snowy, dreary winter day, a steaming cup of tea goes delightfully well with a good book in one's favorite chair.  I can see myself there now.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Forever Friends

A chance encounter reconnected my forever-friend Pam and me two days before Christmas.  Such serendipity was a true Christmas gift.  Once inseparable, Pam and I now have lives in different time zones. Yet, our long, deep friendship has amazingly weathered the years and the miles.  When we talk, it is as if the decades melt away and we are still those same two school girls finding joy and laughter in innocent times together. Seeing Pam caused me to reflect on the precious value of friends in my life.  These days, we tend to use the term "friends" in new, virtual ways.  Surely, Pam and I communicate via email and Facebook.  But there is nothing like seeing her face, hearing her voice and her laugh, and feeling her warm hug.  While I see value in those new ways of being a friend, my favorite friendships involve real, in-person encounters that transcend the good and not-so-good times.  Someone in whom you can confide over a cup of tea.  Someone who will hold your hand when all you can do is cry.  Someone who can be counted on to be trustworthy and loyal.  What comfort it is to know that no matter how much life throws at us and how rapidly things change these days, cherished forever-friendships last.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Birthday Girl

Our good friend Betty was the first baby born on Christmas day in Cleveland, Ohio in 1922.  For that distinction, she and her family received new baby furniture from a local store.  And forever, Betty's birthday celebrations would be commingled with Christmas.  Larry and I had the good fortune of being with Betty as she celebrated her 89th birthday today.  We joyfully sat in her cozy living room, hearing her recount stories of Christmas birthdays of long ago.  And while birds enjoyed front and backyard Christmas seed buffets, Betty, Larry and I enjoyed a bountiful, delicious carry-out meal from our church's free Christmas dinner. Together, we shared food and gratitude for having the gift of each other on this Christmas day.  Joy to our world!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Can I Give? Give My Heart

In the last verse of the hauntingly beautiful Christmas hymn, "In the Bleak Midwinter," the singer asks what he/she can give the Christ Child, "poor as I am," and the response is "give my heart."  At Christmas, it's easy to get caught up in gift-giving, albeit a lovely expression of affection for others.  However, as I have witnessed, giving one's heart is a treasured and priceless gift that often comes back to the giver multi-fold.  This morning, I had the opportunity to help prepare a free Christmas dinner that will be served at our church to 120+ people tomorrow.  All of the volunteers worked in the kitchen this morning with precision and organization, but also with the jocularity of Santa's merriest elves. I went to the church thinking that I was going to give, but instead I received so much from being with my fellow volunteers.  This afternoon, I visited St. Clare Meadows Care Center, the nursing home where my mom spent the last year of her life.  Although my plan was to bring cheer to the lovely people I had gotten to know while Mom was there, it was I who benefited from my visits.  These good people, many of whom in their 90s, provided me with cheer by telling me their stories, sharing their wisdom, talking lovingly about Mom, and expressing their gratitude for all they have.  The Christmas spirit was present in each experience and conversation I had today.  "Poor as I am," I risked to give my heart and I came away the richer.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Card Wisdom

When I was cleaning out my mom's apartment, I saved a Christmas card cover that she had taped to her kitchen cupboard. Mom used it as a daily reminder of how she wanted to live.  I am now using that card as my reminder.  The verse is a series of one-line statements about friendship, love, gratitude and more.  Mom embodied all of those jewels of wisdom:  She always gave a soft answer, laughed easily, kept her word, shared what she had, found the time to be present to others, listened with her whole being, and loved being around children and youth.  It was she who taught me to appreciate nature. As I stand alone now as the only one left in my small family tree, I feel almost an urgency to keep that Christmas card close at hand and to live its verses to the best of my ability.  In so doing, I hope to honor who Mom was and how she chose to live, and hopefully model how she would want me to live my life.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Night Lights

Today is the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter, the longest night, the beginning of the slow return of daylight.  To celebrate the occasion, Larry and I spent time this evening at the home of our good friend Ellen where we were warmed by hot cocoa, good conversation and the beauty of Ellen's Christmas tree.  Then, we ventured out to take in Christmas lights.  Mother Nature had delivered just a little snow last night to make the sights pure and pristine -- scenes right out of a Christmas card.  We drove into the country, throughout the town and into the downtown business district, oohing and aahing at the many beautiful and colorful light displays on houses and in yards.  In all of the darkness, I find nothing more friendly and inviting than a lovely Christmas light display.  And what better way to celebrate the Winter Solstice, the return of light than to bring our own lights into the world, literally and figuratively?  Welcome, Winter!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Here We Come A-Caroling

I'm a caroler.  For the past several years, save one, I have been caroling with a group of singers from our local downtown Village Booksmith during the six weeks leading up to Christmas.  Every Saturday for two mid-day hours, we don Santa hats and red felt scarves and gather up our music books.  Then, we stroll from store to restaurant to store, singing in a cappella, four-part harmony, hoping to add holiday cheer to the downtown shoppers' experience.  It's always fun to see people's reactions when we pile in.  There are abundant smiles, and often the audience claps and sings along. Tonight, I got to be the lucky recipient myself of carolers' musical cheer.  Youth from my church surprised Larry and me with an after-dinner visit to our home.  As soon as the doorbell rang, the joyful group serenaded us with a mini-Christmas concert, ranging from "Away in a Manger" to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."  On Saturday when we carol downtown for our last time this season, I will think of this evening's surprise caroling concert at our door. And I will remember just how much music means to the joy of the holidays and to our lives.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Padding Our Nest with Nature's Bounty

I'm a scrounger.  A few weeks ago, I gathered boughs from limbs that had broken off of a long-needle pine tree and created our dining room table centerpiece in a clear canning jar.  On another day, I bought three large pine cones at a thrift store for a total of $1.65 and they now make a bold, natural statement in an antique basket in our living room.  While enjoying a walk one afternoon, I picked up off the street as many plump little pine cones as I could stuff into my jacket pockets and placed them into a crisp, white bowl.  And now today, I brought home several limbs of red dogwood that someone was tossing and I made an alternative Christmas tree out of them for our living room, decorated only with one of Mom's lovely red felt cardinals.  I love nature and I enjoy bringing items from nature into our home all year long.  Although I favor the other three seasons, there's a part of me that must be a winter bird -- a sparrow, cardinal, chickadee, junco, even a crow --that survives the cold winter by staying right at home.  My good friend Kitty brings the outdoors in, as well, but she has creatively brought some of late spring into her recent Christmas celebrations by refrigerating cuttings from her peonies and bringing them out to blossom for the winter holidays.  Whether through pine cones, poinsettias, Christmas trees or even peonies, we have many ways of displaying our vital connection to the natural world at this time of year.  I am grateful to pad our nest with them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Little Bit of Heaven

I can scarcely think of anything more relaxing than strolling through an art gallery.  Add live chamber music and I think I'm in heaven.  I must've been in heaven yesterday because Larry and I took in an afternoon at the spectacular Chazen Museum of Art on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison.  The museum had recently expanded, so the artwork available for view had grown tremendously since our last visit.  From the masters to modern art, from Grandma Moses to Andy Warhol, we took it all in, finding a treasure to savor around every turn.  The piano, cello and violin music of the Arcos Trio carried throughout much of the museum, creating an almost ethereal environment in which to pore over each piece of art.  I believe it lowers one's blood pressure, focuses attention and restores the spirit to be in the midst of beauty.  A little bit of heaven, I'd say.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Mouths of Babes

There is almost nothing as delightful to me at Christmastime as watching a children's concert or program.  I love the earnestness and exuberance.  This morning, the youth and children of our church presented a Christmas pageant.  Everyone was well-rehearsed, all the way down to the littlest lamb. Their high, sweet voices carried throughout the church's sanctuary as light as air.  Of course, there were some moments that were so cute that one had to chuckle, such as when the littlest of the angels had to have her halo pushed back onto her head instead of over her eyes.  There were also moments that nearly brought one to tears, including the beautiful singing of the young shepherd.  Watching this morning's program reminded the adults in the congregation that Christmas is so much more than gift buying, party going, card sending and cookie baking. It is the beautiful, timeless story of Christmas as told by the youngest among us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Endings

While preparing our dinner this evening, I turned on the television for a little entertainment.  I watched the latter part of a splendid production of "The Nutcracker" on PBS.  Then, while flipping through the channels, I came upon the beginning of one of my favorite movies, "Pride and Prejudice," starring Keira Knightley.  It is such a beautiful movie: The scenery, the cinematography and the music enhance the beauty of Jane Austen's story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, real love and happy endings.  Even the language is beautiful, with such words heard so seldom anymore as derision, taciturn and caprice.  At a time when all we hear are tragic stories of broken marriages and the unhappy lives of the famous and not-so-famous, it is a treat now and again to get lost in beautifully told stories of forever-love.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I've admittedly been feeling somewhat blue all week.  The closer we get to Christmas, the more my heart aches for Mom and I increasingly mourn her loss.  I find myself wrapped up in nostalgia, thinking about one memory after another about her.  People have been so kind.  They've given me permission to grieve in their presence, surrounding me with understanding and love.  I've been keeping busy, too, both at work and with the social activities that Larry and I have had on our calendar.  But, no matter what I've done this week, that feeling of malaise has covered me like a cloak.  Then, today, I was tossed a lifesaver.  After attending an afternoon holiday party at my boss's house, Larry and I spontaneously decided to take a walk at Devil's Lake State Park.  We didn't have on the correct shoes but we did have heavy jackets.  So, despite the cold and the raw wind, we trekked.  It was as if I'd taken a magic pill.  Just being at Devil's Lake and walking along its foamy shores quieted my mind, raised my spirits and healed my sadness.  I've always found healing properties when in nature but today I experienced that balm deeply.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Today was so windy that my winter hat nearly blew off my head.  I had to hold my fleece cloche-style hat in place with one hand while juggling my belongings and opening my car door with the other.  It was such a relief to get home to remove the layers of scarf, hat, gloves and heavy jacket.  At this time of year, when I get home from work, I tend to like to cocoon, tucked in for quiet, cozy evenings with Larry.  Tonight, home was even more inviting, for I had baked some treats after supper to take to a function we're planning to attend tomorrow evening.  When I stepped into the garage for a moment and then back into the kitchen, I was welcomed by the sweet, warm aroma of fudgy brownies, made with pumpkin puree.  In addition to battling the wind, mine had been a day of little stresses and strains, so I was tired.  Yet, one whiff of that wonderfully sweet aroma of fudge brownies in the oven and Larry's great reviews after sampling them made my so-called irritations slip away, giving me a fresh, new perspective on the gift of this day and what's truly important and lasting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In the Eye of the Beholder

There's been a lot of silly talk lately about colorful Christmas sweaters.  Some call them loud.  Others call them garish.  Still others call them ugly.  A good friend recently embellished her son's sweater to help him win an ugly sweater contest at a party.  Another close friend told of a similar ugly sweater contest that was part of her service club meeting.  Then, I read a newspaper article about colorful, loud holiday sweaters illustrated with loads of color photos to make their point.  Admittedly, I'm out of touch with the fashion scene so I maybe don't deserve to comment but I actually like those sweaters and fleece tops festooned with snowmen, trees, French horns, geese, Christmas ornaments, jingle bells and the like.  They seem to put the "merry" in "Merry Christmas," a perky touch to put a smile on your face during a dark time of the year.  Come to find out, according to the newspaper article, seasonal sweaters are now in vogue -- the louder, the better.  And "hip" people are proudly sporting them.  Perhaps I'm not as fashion-challenged as I thought.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

White Christmas

I watched "White Christmas" on television tonight.  It was the umpteenth time I've seen the Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye Christmas classic, but I can't seem to get enough of its innocent, happy-ending message where love is pure, life is a song, and it snows just in time for Christmas.  Mom, Larry and I watched that movie the past two Christmas Eves.  We'd gather around the television eating our Christmas Eve dinner before the service at church.  We'd end the evening by driving around town to admire the Christmas lights.  We have unseasonably warm temperatures and green grass right now.  The only hints we have that Christmas is even nearing are the colorful lights decorating lacy, leafless trees and house roof lines.  Rain is predicted for tomorrow.  If our anticipated precipitation came in the form of snow, the meteorologist said it would equal 10 inches.  Admittedly, the warm weather is a welcome break from breathing in winter's chill and cleaning snow off of the car.  However, when I hear Bing, Danny, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen sing "Snow," it sounds so romantic. Instead, I'll hear the words of Bing and Rosemary singing "Counting Your Blessings":  "When I'm worried and I can't sleep, I'll count my blessings instead of sheep...."  And I'll think of those very special Christmas Eves when Mom, Larry and I celebrated together.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Festival of Love & Light

Tonight, our St. Clare Hospital hosted its annual Festival of Love & Light.  It is a time when the community gathers to honor and remember loved ones and to light Love Light evergreen trees in the St. Clare Healing Garden.  This year, the event was even more meaningful to me because of the grief  I feel from the loss three months ago of my beloved mother.  The minister who delivered the message during the event's program asked the large audience to contemplate how the actions of our loved ones have inspired action in us and how what we do now may inspire action in others someday.  I thought about my caring, loving, gentle mom, who even in her dying process, still found myriad ways every day to reach out to others and to show her caring for them.  Until practically the day she died, she shared her healing spirit, gentle touch and kind words with those around her.  Her actions, her very being, inspire me to try to emulate her, to carry on her legacy.  The question I find myself asking each day is: How can I be a healing spirit, a gentle touch, a kind word for others?  So, this Christmas season and beyond, I will try each day to take the gifts she gave me and give them to others.  Mom was a light to so many.  I hope to become that light and shine it on others.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seven Swans (or 200 Geese) A-Swimming

With temperatures in the 40s and the sun shining brightly this afternoon, Larry and I took a splendid walk at Devil's Lake State Park.  Chickadees and other winter birds chattered to us overhead while what appeared before us were up to 200 honking Canada Geese spread out in a long chorus line across the lake.  I had never seen (or heard!) so many Canada Geese on the lake at one time. Ice is gradually forming over the lake's surface, creating an artistic icy pattern, and a little frosty snow connects the lake with the beach and is visible in the dormant vegetation.  The geese were in those areas where the water is still open.  The lake and its environs may not have the brilliant color of other seasons right now but the quiet beauty of winter affords the pine trees, red dogwood and bright blue sky center stage.  After our brisk walk, we headed home for another winter treat -- a nice hot bowl of homemade soup and a Green Bay Packer game on TV where the team appeared unstoppable.  A perfect mid-December Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Weather is always a popular subject for small talk.  In Wisconsin, we seem to be pros at talking about the weather.  No matter what is happening outdoors -- inclement or not -- we have an opinion about it, as if our discussing the weather can change or control it.  For the past couple of days, no matter where I've been, people have been comparing this year's weather to the last. We got clobbered with a big snowstorm a year ago this weekend.  This year, the temperature is cold but the grass is still green.  According to a local television meteorologist, the first snowfall of six-plus inches has arrived on or before December 10 for the past four years.  Not this year, though.  Once Daylight Savings Time ends, I start thinking winter thoughts, but a state climatologist was quoted in a recent newspaper article as saying that the meteorological winter season is technically from December through February.  I had to chuckle because there have been years when winter seems to begin at Halloween and end when the lilacs bloom in May.  With or without snow, cold or not, this December is a beautiful month and tonight's full-moon night sky is so magnificent that it warms my soul.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chicken Run

Some close friends told us a sad story recently.  They have a beautiful property nestled in the bluffs where they reside with a delightful array of other living creatures.  Theirs is an easy-living, everybody's-welcome kind of home where outside the dogs can run, the children play and the chickens roam. These gentle, kind and peaceful folks have been raising free-range chickens for a few years, providing family and friends with eggs in white and brown, all the way to Easter basket colors of pale blues and greens. When our friend would tend her garden, she said that the people-loving chickens would come to greet her and keep her company with conversations of lots of clucking and head tilting.  A few months ago, however, they found their chickens reducing in number and discovered a fat and clever raccoon as the culprit.  Since then, they've created safeguards to prevent such devastation from occurring again. Slowly, their chicken family has been multiplying, but you could still hear the sadness in their voices over the loss of their special, egg-laying companions.  We get so close to our pets, whatever they may be. When we lose them, we lose a part of ourselves.  Hopefully, next summer, our friend will have a new generation of clucking gardening friends to pass the time of day with her as she peacefully plants and weeds and harvests.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This Little Light Of Mine

Since Daylight Savings Time ended a month ago, I have been leaving work in the dark.  The expansive, clear night sky is lovely as I walk eastward to my car.  Each evening, I watch for the position and phase of the moon and then my eyes rest on a lone, bright star in the eastern sky.  When Larry and I visited a planetarium-theme IMAX presentation last month, I thought I learned that the bright star I'd been seeing was the planet Saturn, but since then, a friend who's an amateur astronomer has said that it can't be Saturn and must be something else. Whatever that faraway, bright star is, it guides me at the end of my workday, helping me to slow my pace by revealing its beauty against the ebony sky. As Christmas approaches, it makes me think of the lyrics to "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow": "There's a star in the east on Christmas morn...."  My parents used to sit outside in lawn chairs, enjoying the nuances of the summer night sky.  As a teenager, I was too busy being a teenager to spend time joining them in their star-gazing pursuits.  Now that I'm older, I, too, am captivated by those same celestial nuances.  How fortunate to live where the night sky isn't hidden by human-made light.  How blessed to have had parents who taught me gently, by example, to appreciate its beauty and mystery.  And how blessed I am to have my eastern star to welcome me each evening.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mom's Christmas Cardinals

For many years, my mom brought winter beauty indoors by making red and black felt cardinals. I don't recall where she got the pattern, but from my early 20s onward, Mom could often be found on snowy winter evenings making cardinals as gifts for family and friends and as decorations for our home and Christmas tree.  I have a photo that I took of Mom and Dad seated on the floor in front of our tree some 30 years ago that was decorated simply and tastefully with little white lights and Mom's lovely cardinals.  This holiday season, I have some of her cardinals in wreaths and arrangements of evergreen and curly willow around our home.  But, rather than just look at them and admire their beauty, I find myself touching the tiny, precise and even stitches carefully, wanting my hand to touch where her hand had touched.  Today, Mom's close friend Lou emailed to tell me that when she opened her ornament box to decorate her tree, a cardinal that Mom had made for her fell out.  Lou took that as a sign that the cardinal should be placed at the top of her tree this year.  Lou said she enjoys looking at it and remembering very good times together.  This first Christmas season without Mom is marked by sadness for those of us who knew and loved her. Yet, we are wrapped warmly in memories and feel close to her as we celebrate the season with her lovely cardinals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bookin' It in Baraboo

We have a bookstore in our downtown called The Village Booksmith, where one can disappear into the stacks for hours, sip some coffee or tea with a friend, or vie for the comfy reading chair with the resident golden retriever.  There is an eclectic array of books, posters, bird houses, greeting cards, journals and other items displayed everywhere.  The cozy, comfortable atmosphere draws you in.  But it's the diverse cultural programming scheduled there by the store's proprietress that sends Larry and me -- along with countless others -- to the store on Friday nights.  Last Friday evening, we heard a marvelous Christmas music concert presented by a sextet of a cappella singers and a quintet of brass musicians.  A couple of weeks earlier, we heard a trio of musicians there -- a mom, dad and teenage son -- performing spirited and soulful folk and Christmas music from the British Isles and elsewhere around the globe.  The jubilant music from those evenings had everyone in festive mood and grateful that such a place is available to all ages, all walks of life to stretch their minds, please their ears and feed their souls.  Just another of the many special gathering places in our small rural community.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Music To My Ears

I had my first root canal today.  Given the horror stories one always hears about such procedures, I'm pleased to report that mine was a pleasant experience.  The dentist was skilled and professional and his assistant was thorough in her explanation about every step along the way, all of which inspired my confidence and relaxation.  But what made the experience even more enjoyable was the fact that Christmas music was playing throughout the clinic and the dental assistant gently hummed along while my tooth was being drilled.  It was all music to my ears.  Throughout the rest of my work day, I encountered a series of so-called "root canals," challenges that at another time might have affected my mood.  However, instead, I decided to think of that delightful humming to Christmas music at my dentist's office and I found that my everyday "root canals" held no power over me.  It's all in what I choose to listen to, the drill or the song.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Literary Dreams

My good friend Kitty made me a quilt that she calls "Literary Dreams." When she gave me the beautiful masterpiece, she explained the quilt's name by suggesting that I use it while resting in my chair, snuggled up with a good book.  Made of botanical-theme fabrics (because of my love of nature), "Literary Dreams" is exactly where I'm transcended when cuddled up with that lovely quilt and a good mystery or a P.G. Wodehouse romp or a magazine. The quilt sits on my chair's ottoman, ready for me whenever I'm ready for a restful time.  This afternoon's bleak sky gave me permission to take a break from my self-imposed busyness.  It was as if the sky was telling me to relax a bit.  As always, I had a to-do list at home.  Despite the laundry beckoning me and the dust rag chiding me for not bringing it out, my quilt's whispers were louder in my ear.  Instead of succumbing to my household chores, I snoozed happily with my "Literary Dreams."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Decked in Holiday Style

Our community has a picturesque downtown.  Everything is situated around a stately courthouse in the town square: a wide variety of retail establishments, banks and law offices, coffee shops and restaurants, a florist, two bookstores, a magnificent theater, churches and more.  There is vintage lighting, a cannon on the courthouse lawn and a pocket park for the children.  Our downtown is beautiful at any time of the year but it is particularly enchanting at Christmas.  Swags of evergreens with deep red bows hang from the exteriors of the well-kept old buildings while evergreen roping twines around every vintage light pole throughout the retail district.  Twinkling holiday lights are everywhere.  You don't have to go to the big city to enjoy artfully crafted Christmas window displays.  A stroll in our fine community's vibrant downtown is a treat, with nearly every store window decked in holiday style.  One sees charming and elaborate displays of antiques, the latest in children's toys and games, mannequins attired in stunning royal purple evening gowns, shimmering silver, old and new books, and colorful kitchen gadgets and cookware.  A couple of the surrounding communities offer weekends of historic living windows in their downtowns, where shop windows are decorated with vignettes depicting holiday seasons of old.  Small-town life is a gift and at Christmas time, it seems to be wrapped up beautifully with a bow.

Friday, December 2, 2011

O Tannenbaum

Larry and I attended a sneak preview of our local historical museum's Victorian Christmas celebration this evening.  The beautiful mansion was made even more magnificent tonight thanks to the glow of flickering Christmas tree lights everywhere.  Twelve trees, decorated to the theme of "The 12 Days of Christmas," exemplified the boundless abilities of imagination.  From frothy and feathery to fanciful and fun, each tree was a visual delicacy.  Creative local people adopted the trees, each employing his or her own unique interpretation of a verse from the popular Christmas song.  For instance, the Four Calling Birds tree was adorned with the "tweet-tweet-tweet" of little telephone-talking birds.  Six Geese A-Laying took a nostalgic view of the 1950s with everything from Red Goose Shoes to feathery angel ornaments.  There were drumsticks, plaid bows, french horns, a partridge in a pear tree and even a tribute to Audrey Hepburn.  It was such a lovely way to end the week -- appreciating holiday beauty with child-like wonder.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Season of Light

Today is the first day of December.  A local newspaper columnist, Betty Lee, wrote this week that December is considered the cloudiest month of the year and that, in our corner of the world, the sun will only shine 25% of the time this month.  That's a mere seven to eight days out of 31!  I felt quite victorious when I saw the brilliant sunshine this morning, thinking that today was one of those precious seven to eight days.  The next time I looked outside, however, the sky had become overcast, then leaden, then filled with a wintery mix that fortunately quit as soon as it started. December is the month when we experience the longest night, followed by the journey to regain daylight, minute by minute.  December often encompasses what we call the season of light.  During all of the figurative and literal darkness of this world, I saw evidence of people bringing light to others today. This morning, I was invited to take part in two cash donation collections to bring a little light to someone else.  No matter what darkness abounds, there is also much light.  If we can't see it, perhaps we are being called to be the ones to initiate it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Thousand Words, A Thousand Memories

A picture may be said to be worth a thousand words but I also think a picture evokes a thousand memories.  Since my mother's passing in September, I have joyfully distributed many of her photographs to family and friends, and even to her nursing school alma mater's archives.  It's made me happy to see how pleased the recipients are to receive them.  In addition to giving away photos, I've asked for one specific picture of my mom since her passing.  Thanks to our good friend Ed, I now have two precious color photographs of Mom wearing a dress that I bought for her to wear at her 25th high school class reunion when I was 11 years old.  Those pictures are filled with nostalgia for me.  They take me back to Mom, Dad and me standing in the local women's clothing store where Mom selected a white, sleeveless linen shift with matching white and colorfully striped linen jacket.  I proudly handed over to the clerk the months of weekly allowance I had been saving to buy Mom her special class reunion dress, realizing that I had just enough to pay for it and for some matching jewelry, too.  I love looking at those two photos.  Today, I was in some small way able to pay the experience of receiving priceless photos forward.  I had recently been given a 16"x 20" framed, sepia-tone photograph of two young women from about 1910. Recognizing that the picture belonged with the women's family and not in our hospital's institutional archives, I tracked down the one woman's son.  Fortunately, he lived close by and was able to pick up the photo today.  The man didn't recall ever having seen that image of his mother before.  At age 92, he plans to pass the photo along to one of his daughters as a surprise Christmas gift.  Just as I have received joy in seeing those photos of Mom in her class reunion dress, I saw joy in the man's face today, as his eyes cast into the eyes of his mother as a young woman.  Perhaps a picture is worth a thousand words, but perhaps its worth is even greater as a thousand memories, a thousand joys.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Promise of Spring

The beautiful lyrics of Natalie Sleeth's "Hymn of Promise" came to mind this morning as I looked out our kitchen window and saw that there were buds on our lilac.  Later in the morning, I saw buds on the magnolia tree outside my office window.  "The Hymn of Promise" has become one of my all-time favorite hymns.  My mother loved it, too, and asked that it be sung by the congregation at her memorial service.  Today, those lovely lyrics came to life for me once again, particularly the phrase, "In the cold and snow of winter, there's a spring that waits to be."  Winter hasn't officially arrived on the calendar yet, nor have we had any lasting snow, but we're edging our way there with cold days and raw winds. Only one more day and December will be here. The leaves are stripped from most of the trees and everything seems to be preparing for the long Wisconsin winter ahead. Yet the lilac and magnolia in my view today valiantly showed that they hold the promise of spring.  When I get ahead of myself and am filled with worry or sadness, that hymn is a gentle reminder to look beyond my winter to the spring that waits to be and to trust that God's plan is all I need. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Smoke in the Bluffs

Today, I saw smoke in the distant eastern bluffs and it brought back to me a wonderful memory from my childhood.  There was always summer adventure when Grandma and Grandpa came to visit.  I recall one such visit when I was all of seven or eight years old.  It was after supper and the reptile farm that my parents owned and operated was closed for the day.  All of a sudden, we saw what looked like smoke billowing from the bluffs, as if there was a fire somewhere.  For whatever reason (the details I can't recall), Dad and Grandpa decided to venture out to find the source of the smoke and they allowed me to tag along.  With a sense of complete excitement and anticipation of the adventure ahead of us, I piled into the backseat of Grandpa's car and off we went.  Strangely, I recall very little of the experience, save that anticipation and excitement as we set out into the summer evening.  In fact, I don't believe we ever even found the source of the smoke or sign of fire, but I remember having fun with the two most important men of my early life, a merry trio of adventurers riding around in the Baraboo bluffs until the summer sun set.  It's been some 45 years since that summer night and my extraordinary memories of that likely ordinary evening have yet to fade.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Season of Waiting

Winter is in the air.  Despite the raw wind and the temperatures so cold that we could see our breath, Larry and I bundled up and ventured out to Devil's Lake for a walk today.  In my faith tradition, today marks the first Sunday of Advent.  Regardless of the weather, I needed time after church to walk and reflect on it.  Advent is often referred to as a time of hope, of waiting, of anticipation.  Other than my understanding of the religious connotation of Advent, for what am I personally anticipating, hopeful or waiting?  Lately, I am devoting more of my energy to being present, being in the "now."  I'm less concerned with the anticipation of something to come and more focused on what the immediate moment has to offer.  My quiet, reflective time is teaching me that all I truly have is now.  Rather than a season of waiting, my Advent season is becoming one of openness.  I am gradually opening myself up to the many -- and often unexpected -- gifts that life offers to me now.  If I anticipate too much, strive too much, plan or push too much, I'm not fully honoring the Gift of Now.  My Advent season is filled with beginnings -- Each new day provides me with an opportunity to experience life's blessings with openness and gratitude and to find ways to be of service to others.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Singing' in the Rain

I was singin' in the rain today -- not Gene Kelly style, but with a group of sopping wet, though jolly carolers attempting to add to the festive atmosphere of our local downtown's holiday shopping experience.  It was an unseasonably warm 50 degrees and drizzling (sometimes out and out raining) -- not our typical late-November Wisconsin weather.  But, with Santa hats and umbrellas, we sang the likes of "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" and "Jingle Bells" anyway.  Music and memories are so integral to Christmas that it can be difficult to separate one from another.  Not surprisingly, it's harder for me to get into the merriment this season, having just experienced the loss of my beloved mom in September.  Perhaps "Singin' in the Rain" is an apt description of my Christmas experience this year.  I'll admittedly be in kind of a rainy state of grieving but I'll welcome a little fa-la-la mixed in.  For, as the song goes, "We need a little Christmas...right this very minute."  I know that I do.  Perhaps more than ever.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rethinking My Nest

I was supposed to be making the bed early this morning, but then I caught sight of the light blue sky with pink puffy clouds and I was drawn to the window to appreciate the spectacular sunrise.  A bird sat still, high on the branch of a silhouetted tree in the distance.  Below it were four squirrels scampering in and out of a leafy nest in the crotch of the tree, like so many clowns scooting in and out of a tiny clown car.  The squirrels chased each other, darting from branch to branch.  Larry and I have noticed a lot of squirrel nests in bare trees these days, counting as many as seven in one tree.  It's funny how I worry about our "nest" at times -- Is it clean enough?  Do we have enough insurance on it?  Should we refinance our mortgage to an even lower rate?  Our home is important to us but the joy of this morning's scampering squirrels reminded me to lighten up, acknowledge my nest's to-do list, but revel in the celebration of simply being. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Touching Heaven

"To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven." - Johannes A. Gaertner

I awoke this Thanksgiving to a gray and brown day, which suited me just fine.  The quietness allowed me to awaken slowly and thoughtfully, providing me with the luxury of contemplating my many blessings before rising.  My mind wandered to my good friend, Mary, who visited Mom and me during the last hours of Mom's life.  Rather than deliver the usual platitudes, Mary pressed a small brass leaf engraved with a tiny heart and the inscription "Give Thanks" into my hand and said, "Give thanks that you have had such a wonderful mother and a close and cherished relationship with her."  I thought this morning of how Mom chose to experience life, and even her dying process, with joy and gratitude, grace and acceptance.  She touched Heaven every day with her grateful heart.  Although she was no longer vibrant of body because of her cancer, she was still vibrant of spirit.  While giving thanks for the memory of my mother and thinking about this first major holiday since her passing, I found myself also grateful for what is today.  My wonderful husband suggested that we dine out as a real departure from our normal Thanksgiving routine.  While he ate bread pudding, I ate mince pie, and we both loved every morsel.  We cheered on the Packers to another win and we walked at Devil's Lake where the sun came out and all was beautiful.  I spoke over the phone with family and friends, exchanging Thanksgiving wishes, and I visited a dear friend who wasn't going to get out of the house today.  So, I conclude this Thanksgiving, clasping the little brass leaf, giving thanks for all that was, all that is and all that will be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Blessing of Food

We had some of the last sweet potatoes from the farmer's market for dinner tonight. Their vermilion skin and bright orange flesh are sweet and tasty like no others I purchase elsewhere throughout the year.  Our county's university extension gardening agent wrote about sweet potatoes in her local newspaper column published today.  I learned from reading her article that sweet potatoes belong to the Morning Glory family.  They root at the points where the vine touches the soil.  I also learned that I've been storing my sweet potatoes incorrectly all of these years.  The gardening agent wrote that sweet potatoes are a Southern crop and they do not like the cold, even in the refrigerator.  She recommended storing them on top of the refrigerator instead.  Our sweet potatoes are now in a bowl on our kitchen counter, and I must say that I like them better there.  Now, I can enjoy looking at their smooth skin and beautiful color until they become supper.  As I ate my sweet potato tonight, I reflected with gratitude that we have such healthy, locally grown food to enjoy for our meals and that we have food at all.  Television news stories last night and tonight have told of the increasing cost of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner and how much more difficult it is this year for people to afford to prepare one without the assistance of food pantries.  In a country as great as ours, it saddens me deeply that people should have to be uncertain whether there will be enough food to feed their families. I pray that everyone who is hungry tomorrow will have a meal.  Now, that would be a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


It's a bittersweet time of year - literally.  The vibrant red-orange of bittersweet berries brings a pop of color to the subdued late-autumn landscape and to our home.  I can't resist having a fall bouquet of bittersweet on our dining room table. I'm always grateful when one of my country-living friends shares her bittersweet bounty with us.  It's also a bittersweet time of year more figuratively as we transition to the hush of winter.  A part of me longs for summer's green lushness and the bold spectrum of flower colors.  I saw some brave pink petunias still blooming in a planter this morning and our sedums -- mavericks that they are -- are stubbornly hanging on till a serious blast of winter quiets them down.  We're in a constant act of bringing the outdoors in at our house. Curly willow, gourds, pine cones, acorns and stones litter nearly every surface.  Soon, evergreens, red dogwood, winterberry and more pine cones will accessorize every room.  How glorious that Nature provides us with such beautiful gifts!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad would have turned 93 years old today.  As I reflected about him throughout the day, I thought of his amazing work to educate children across the country about the value of reptiles, arachnids and amphibians in the ecosystem.  I thought about what a great husband he was to my mom, always signing his cards to her, "All my love, Chuck," and meaning it.  And I pondered the many wonderful memories I have of my father who died so long ago when he was only 65.  Dad was sensitive, hilarious, creative, intelligent, independent, and devoted to Mom and me.  He was nearly 40 when I was born. Consequently, he always treated me as kind of a little adult.  One story that reflects our special father-daughter relationship takes me back to when I was 10 years old.  That was when Dad taught me how to drive.  He picked me up from school one June day so we could go black widow spider hunting in the hills.  While on our journey, Dad pulled the car off the quiet gravel road and invited me to get behind the wheel.  Although barely tall enough to reach the pedals and see over the dash, I drove the car slowly, proud of my accomplishment and amazed that Dad would offer such an unexpected, adult-like opportunity to this elementary school student.  With no traffic in sight, I drove only a little distance but the adrenalin rush was huge.  Dad always allowed me to be a child but saw the potential adult in me.  He encouraged me to improve myself, have confidence, develop my skills and celebrate whatever talents I had.  I was the only 10-year-old I knew with steering wheel experience.  Thanks, Dad, for always believing in me.  Happy Birthday.  I love you.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Give Thanks Always

A gentleman in our community provides joy to passersby in a unique, creative way.  He has an extraordinary talent of taking ordinary stick figures that he's made of wood and hinges and turning them into clever tableaus in his front yard located on a busy local thoroughfare.  The stick-figure scenes are changed on a regular basis, usually every week or two.  Sometimes his creations make me laugh.  Other times, they make me think. But, always, they make me smile with appreciation.  His themes run the gamut but quite often, the focus is on seasons and holidays.  His latest yard creation depicts a man and woman seated at a table, heads bowed praying.  A sign accompanying the scene reads "Give Thanks Always."  What a wonderful reminder to us that Thanksgiving is not a day but a state of being.  By giving thanks always, we recognize that there are blessings to be appreciated each and every day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Made With Love By Talented Hands

I attended a holiday craft bazaar and bake sale at our local hospital today and, as always, was impressed with the generous sharing of people's talents.  I looked with awe and appreciation at each handmade item, thinking about the time and talent that it took to make such beautiful creations.  The women on my mother's side of the family have all been very skilled with their hands.  If you were to have put them all in a room together and encouraged them to work on their latest projects, you would have found my maternal grandmother, mother, aunt and cousins all displaying their creativity in myriad ways.  I, however, would have sat there with idle hands, wishing I had been born with the inclination and interest in such things.  Instead, I would've grabbed the closest book and stuck my nose in it, or I would've looked out the window, or I would've taken a walk.  The same thing is true with baking.  I'm an everyday type of baker (the few times I bother to do so, that is -- my husband and I lean toward a healthy diet with few sweets).  My maternal grandmother, aunt and cousin Amy could bake circles around me.  I knew it was Christmas, for instance, when entering my grandparents' house because it would smell of mouth-watering, commingled aromas of holiday baked treats.  Grandma Carrie would have made a holiday stollen decorated with white icing and candied green and red cherries for our breakfast.  She would have baked a wide array of Christmas cookies, with each variety housed in its own large coffee can in a corner of the kitchen.  My favorites were the Russian Tea Cakes.  I asked for them one year as the only Christmas present I wanted from Grandma and Grandpa!  As the holidays approach, I think of all of those wonderful women in my family who have brought so much beauty to my life through their loving hearts and talented hands.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Heavenly Thoughts

When we speak of loved ones who have passed away, my family, friends and I frequently look or gesture upward, as if to suggest that they now reside in a heaven located high in the sky.  While flying in a jet above the cloud cover recently, the sun shone brightly and all was sunlight and blue sky.  I could see glimpses of farm land, cities, even moving vehicles far below between the puffy white clouds, and I wondered if this was the heaven to which we so often refer.  With the passing of my mother recently, I have changed my mind. I now see her not far up in the sky among the clouds but very close to me.  She and my dad are perhaps in another dimension that isn't visible to me but I believe they are still very nearby. My former thoughts about that distant separation of heaven and earth are no longer comforting to me.  Having my loved ones close to me and carried in my heart is my new definition of heaven.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bohemian Rhapsody

This morning, I ate a poppyseed kolache and I was transported back to my childhood when Mom, Dad and I would visit my paternal grandmother in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.  Kolaches are a traditional Bohemian pastry -- a not-too-sweet dough formed into a round, with an indentation in the center that is filled with a couple of teaspoonfuls of canned filling, such as poppyseed, prune, apricot or raspberry.  Poppyseed has always been my favorite.  My Grandma Josie was a wonderful baker, as was my Aunt Norma.  It's unfortunate, but I never thought to learn how to make kolaches.  I just spent my time eating them.  My cousin, Sally, however, did ask and she learned how to make them at my aunt's elbow.  Sally now has my grandmother's spatter-ware mixing bowl and she has used it to make kolaches.  She's even sent them all the way from Washington State to my mother and me and they were delicious, just as I remember them from childhood!  It's amazing how taste can affect our memories.  Biting into that soft, doughy, poppyseed-filled kolache this morning brought back such a flood of wonderful memories of family, holidays and visits to Two Rivers that I carried the thought and taste of that splendid kolache with me all day.  Truly, a rhapsody to this Bohemian!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day at the Museum

Larry and I visited the Milwaukee Public Museum recently, and what a magnificent museum it was!  After hours of touring its many floors, we attempted to name our favorite exhibits as we sat down finally for lunch.  While everything was grand, I was fondest of the broad leaf forest exhibit with its audio recordings of bird song and squirrel chatter and Wisconsin landscape dioramas filled with wildflowers.  I could have stayed there all day.  Another favorite area was the solarium filled with butterflies.  The delicate, lovely beings of every color, size and design flitted merrily around us, occasionally landing on an eager hand.  We saw more than one butterfly draw nectar out of a flower, using its tiny, precise proboscis. My third favorite experience at the museum was the IMAX presentation about Cleopatra. There I learned new information about the powerful, multilingual and well-educated female Egyptian leader of so long ago. There was so much to experience at the Milwaukee Public Museum.  Being there reminded me that the world is to be explored and enjoyed with wonderment and awe.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nature Stills Me

While traveling with colleagues today, I was captivated by their enthusiastic and good-humored conversations about their busy lives.  Their comments ranged from the hectic pace of their children's before- and after-school activities to deer hunting plans to hosting large numbers of guests around the upcoming Thanksgiving table.  I used to love a sense of busyness in my life but I now appreciate much more a quieter, more measured existence.  As the conversations swirled around me, I found myself staring out of the vehicle window at the stunning sunset over the Wisconsin River, the deer that were placidly eating in a hollow, a hawk flying over a cornfield now stripped bare, and the silhouettes of trees and silos on the prairie.  Busyness and merriment have their place, most certainly, but I am satisfied to be quieter right now, just as nature is quieting down, preparing for winter.  Truly, nature grounds me and stills me, no matter what is happening around me.  Now that is something for which to be grateful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Letting Go

My horoscope read recently that I should take it easy and trust that things will fall into place without my added input. It went on to say that pushing to close a deal could make matters worse.  I don't hang onto every word of my horoscope but this one spoke to me.  Knowing when to push on and when to let go takes discernment.  We're reminded time and again to never give up, not ever.  But there are those times when we need to stop, listen and then proceed with openness for signs of the next right thing as it comes before us.  Such openness to newness may involve risk, re-invention or an energy we may not be certain we have.  But it can also be that something we need in order to reinvigorate or redirect us onto the right path.  Pushing on or hanging on may stall us while letting go may be the true, liberating watershed moment.  I witnessed an elegant letting-go a couple of days ago that exemplified grace, peace and calmness.  It was a blessing to see this wise individual accepting what is to be, with openness.  I learned from her that letting-go can indeed be the right decision.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Right Where I Belong

Over the past four weeks, I've had the experience of visiting three major Midwestern cities.  While there are myriad opportunities and a wonderful energy in urban settings, like the late John Denver though, I feel like singing, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (or Girl, in this case!).  I am meant for life in a rural setting.  I belong in a small town with ready access to the outdoors where instead of backed-up traffic on the hot pavement, there are hay bales dotting the land.  Instead of the glare of city lights, there are the stars in the infinite sky.  Instead of the large, fast and impersonal, business is still done slowly, genuinely over a handshake with someone you've known all of your life.  I always enjoy cities because they have so much to offer, but I enjoy even more my departure from them when the cityscape gives way to expansive green space.  That's when I feel liberated to be my true self.  Such was the case today after my third city visit in a month.  I had a great time during each visit but I am thrilled to be back in the comfort and familiarity of small-town, rural life.  Right where I belong.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset Offer Spectacular Light Show

There is no more spectacular light show for me than the daily rising and setting of the sun.  Yesterday morning, as we traveled east in darkness, the subtle mauve cast to the sky in front of us, that slip of light along the horizon, welcomed us to a new day.  Once again, I was reminded of my mom's favorite Biblical Scripture passage from The Psalms:  "This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it." As the sky brightened, silhouettes of lacy, leafless trees illuminated by the early-morning light, brought an elegance to the landscape.  With each breathtaking moment, the sky changed in color.  From mauve and dark violet to orange and cadet blue to an eventual cream and light blue, the day unfolded before us.  What a great way to start the morning -- with color, light and beauty, setting the stage for a lovely day to come.  This evening, we were transfixed by a brilliant sunset -- blazing orange and bright yellow blending into the ever-darkening sky.  Such drama is there for us to enjoy -- free of charge -- every morning and evening.  What a light show!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Orange Barrel Lessons

It was still dark when we traveled on the interstate this morning.  As we navigated a construction zone, a myriad of orange and white striped barrels seemed to pop up everywhere in the darkness.  It seemed difficult to know in which lane we should be driving, let alone where the lane was even located.  If I focused on the area right in front of our car, the way became clear.  If I looked out too far, everything was confusing and the right path too complicated to discern.  Our way became even clearer when we saw tail lights of vehicles in front of us.  Isn't that like life?  If we try to focus too far ahead, the way seems confusing and unclear.  If, instead, we focus on the moment before us, we can more easily see the path and it's far more enjoyable.  Along the journey, others may shine their light to help us find our way.  Living in the moment and giving our full attention to what's in front of us -- I believe that's the way to go.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Where Am I Going? And Why?

Who am I?  Where have I come from?  Where am I going?  Why?  These questions are fundamental to my life's journey, but how often do I ask them in order to shed light on my path?  The questions originated from my friend Don's encounter with security at an airport in the UK.  When taken in a different context, they can serve as a metaphor for life's bigger questions and our continuous quest for fulfillment and happiness.  I dare say that the answers are not always easily found and they will likely change with the seasons of our lives.  But I appreciate the act of pausing, asking, listening and reflecting on them, all the while having faith that I'm where I'm supposed to be right now.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Power of Electricity

We got our first big snowstorm of the season today. Three inches of heavy, wet snow came down from early morning until about 3PM.  I thought I was prepared for it.  My snow brush had been moved from the trunk of my car to the floor of the passenger seat.  I had placed the rugs and boot caddies by the front and back doors.  I got out my boots and scarf and warm hat and had zipped the lining in my raincoat.  But mid-day while I was home for lunch, our electricity went out.  The heavy snow was weighing down utility lines and trees.  Likely, something finally snapped and poof! our electricity went out.  It's amazing how one takes things like electricity for granted.  Out of force of habit, Larry attempted to warm up his coffee in the silent microwave.  I tried to turn on a closet light.  Finally, we got out the hand-crank weather radio and settled in to the situation.  Fortunately, whatever went wrong was repaired quickly but, meanwhile, it made me realize how much I appreciate all that electricity does for us.  While at a natural history museum recently, we saw exhibits about the lives of long-ago Native and European peoples, none of whom had electricity in their abodes.  But I'm a modern-day creature who likes her comforts.  As I run our dishwasher and clothes dryer tonight, watch the television, open the garage door, and warm up something in the microwave, I'm doing so with gratitude for the gift, the power of electricity in my life.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Things In Common With Ariadne

I've decided that I'm the Ariadne Oliver of my day.  OK, perhaps not, but we do share some interests and beliefs.  Ariadne Oliver was a lesser known, but delightful, recurring character in Agatha Christie mysteries.  While we aren't soul mates, Ariadne and I do share a love for apples and a belief in intuition.  Ariadne was forever eating apples. I find myself doing the same thing this fall.  I can't seem to get enough of them.  Our refrigerator is rapidly filling up with bags of apples from Ski-Hi Fruit Farm.  My fear, it would seem, is that the orchard will close for the season and I won't be prepared with an ample apple supply to last me far into the winter.  As for the shared belief in intuition, I do indeed believe in and rely on that innate wisdom.  When we stop long enough to listen, really listen, I believe we have the capacity to hear that wise voice from within and to allow it to guide our decisions and choices.  Sometimes I don't want to hear that wise voice because it seems contrary to the louder voice in my head, but when I pay attention and allow myself to follow those nudges, right things happen.  Apple is my fruit right now, intuition is my guide and as I get older, I think I'm becoming more and more like Ariadne.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fall Living Up To Its Name

I love weeping willows.  They remind me of the country property where I grew up.  As a young girl, at a time when I was reading enough British murder mysteries to know that properties could have elegant names, I thought our rural land should have been called The Willows.  Alas, it was not.  These days, weeping willows and oaks are some of the few trees still valiantly hanging onto their leaves.  Recently, Larry and I drove past some of those brave willows and oaks, as well as a variety of trees that had spilled their brilliant leaves in bright yellow puddles around their trunks.  Those trees are especially beautiful to me when they hold onto just the lower half of their yellow leaves, the luscious fall sun illuminating them and their fallen brethren on the ground.  Fall is living up to its name.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Our Voices, Ourselves

In King Lear, Shakespeare wrote, "Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low -- an excellent thing in woman."  My mom had a soft, gentle and low voice.  It was lovely -- calming, patient and kind.  While Shakespeare may have approved, my grandfather -- Mom's father, who wore bilateral hearing aids -- used to jokingly call Mom "Whispering Hope."  In his witty way, he would explain that Mom whispered and he hoped that he could hear what she said! Seriously however, I really wish that I had Mom's vocal qualities. But, alas, while her voice was a bell, mine is a gong.  A couple of nights ago, Larry and I heard a musician in concert who has his own style but strikingly bears the singing voice of his famous musician-father.  The next day, we visited with a young relative who is living her own adventures but shares her late mother's speaking voice and laugh.  I must admit that I envy these two talented young people in that they have been gifted with the qualities of their parents' voices, yet have their uniquely own stories to tell.

Darkness Cometh

It's that time of year again when Daylight Savings Time ends.  For a brief period after we turn the clocks back, I'll awaken to daylight and leave work in darkness, but soon I'll wake up to the dark, as well.  The days will grow shorter and shorter until we reach the Winter Solstice in mid-December.  As Mom's favorite author, Gladys Taber, wrote in Stillmeadow Calendar (J.B. Lippincott Company, 1967), "I really prefer the long summer days, for I love light with a passion."  Like Mrs. Taber, I, too, want my days brimming with sunlight.  My favorite days are the sparkling ones in May and June when there's more daylight than I know what to do with.  I awaken early at that time of year to a morning that feels as if it's already begun without me and I linger outside as long as I can to soak up that last glow before the sun sets. For now, however, I must flow with the rhythm of the seasons, be one with the positions of the planet and sun, and get used to the darkness once again.  I'll be dancing on the Winter Solstice, however!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wind Power

While heading to the eastern part of the state where the rolling hills dissolve into flatter land, giant windmills sprouted up to our left and right as far as one could see.  At first blush, they looked like big, white flying birds.  Upon closer examination, they became perfectly synchronized dancers or cartwheeling acrobats.  Harnessing the power of the wind, these huge monuments to humans' innovation and intervention stand like sculptures, like sentinels across the fields.  The landscape will not be the same with the erection of these windmills.  Whether they seem to be beauty or blight, we can only hope that they will help us conserve our precious resources and preserve our planet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Goodness Abounds

There is a lot of goodness in this world.  Watching the evening news on any given night might make you think otherwise because only the most violent, horrific, extraordinary and disgusting seem to be worth a sound bite.  But I witness generosity, goodness and thoughtfulness every day in my ordinary life.  Much of that generosity is seen through my work for a nonprofit.  But I also see it evidenced in other aspects of my life -- a neighbor reaching out to another neighbor, adults giving of their time to benefit a children's cause, folks of all ages organizing food pantry drives, and people visiting our local nursing home to bake cookies, clean eyeglasses, and fluff hairdos.  The world truly is a good place.  Surely, there are bad things happening, but doesn't it nourish our spirits much more when we focus on the good, instead of the dreary or alarming?  I am blessed to see generosity and kindness around me each day.  We all have opportunities to learn from the example of others so that we can lighten another's load and contribute in our own way to the greater good.  For that, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Let It Snow! But So Soon?

The season's first snowfall arrived today.  As I left work, a wintery mix of rain and snow stung my face and coated my car's windshield, rapidly turning roofs a pristine white. The wet snow clumped up on our lawn - the kind of snow that you know will melt just as soon as the temperature rises, even just a little.  I'm of two minds when it snows.  On the one hand, the inconvenience of the cold wind and the slick, icy surfaces irritates me.  But, by contrast, a sense of coziness envelops me that is so perfectly portrayed in the Bing Crosby movie, "White Christmas," when Bing is joined on the train by Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in the singing of "Snow."  The arrival of snow brings the hub-bub and hurry-up of the other seasons to a standstill, a literal chill-out that complements the temperature. There's a blessing in having to slow down now and again.  A local meteorologist is forecasting between 60 and 70 inches of snow here this winter, greater than the average.  That prediction may give us numerous opportunities to slow down and maybe even stop a bit.  However much snowfall we do get, this season -- like all others -- will be a series of moments where we can choose to embrace and even thrive in the midst of what we've been given or we can gripe about it.  We might as well choose to thrive, for just as quickly as the snow arrives, spring will come.  Nothing is forever on this Earth, not even an irritating, early-season snowfall.

Good Friends

For me, a sign of good friends is the ability to pick up the conversation thread with ease, even when months have passed since you were last together.  So was the case last weekend with my friends, Donna and Gloria.  We met at a favorite downtown cafe and nestled into one of the antique wood booths, each of us taking our familiar places around the table.  Over eggs, pancakes and oatmeal, we coasted from topic to topic -- gardening, politics, family, local events and home improvement -- as if we had all just been together the day before.  Our conversation flowed effortlessly as such conversations do among good friends who have known each other for a long time.  Laughter, a hot meal, communing with forever friends -- what a great way to start my day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween at the Pumpkin Patch

I drove by a pumpkin patch yesterday.  What more appropriate day to do so than Halloween?  It was one of those Linus and Charlie Brown "Great Pumpkin" kinds of pumpkin patches that stretch far and wide, rows of bright orange orbs as far as you can see.  It was made even better because the daytime sky was overcast with clusters of dark clouds to give a moody, almost eerie Halloween-esque look to the landscape.  'Tis the season of the pumpkin, as well as the winter squash, sweet potato and carrot -- those great orange foods brimming with the anti-oxidant beta-carotene.  In addition to the produce delivered in Nature's own packaging, I recently bought pureed, canned pumpkin at the grocery store, ready to add it to soup, pasta, and vegetable lasagna (in the place of tomato sauce).  Pumpkin is beautiful in color and rich in nutrients -- no trick, all treat.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Rejoice And Be Glad

My mom truly lived her favorite Biblical Scripture passage:  "This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24).  While out of town on business recently, I threw open the curtains in my hotel room and was met with a sunrise that was bold, orange red and magnificent.  As the light bounced off of the myriad glass surfaces of the surrounding skyscrapers, I could hear Mom's soft, sweet voice reciting her favorite passage to me, as she so often did.  There is indeed a glorious promise for each day, a newness that offers bright opportunity, an ability to start fresh each morning, and the opportunity to see life with gratitude and openness.  I ask these questions for each of my new days: What will I do with this blessing?  What will I give?  What will I receive?  What decisions will I make that will honor the gift of being blessed with this new day?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Too Nice To Be Inside

Yesterday was just one of those days made for being outdoors. Though chilly (bordering on crisp), the sun warmed the day, beckoning me to the fresh air.  My friend Kitty and I took our sub sandwiches and apples out to Devil's Lake State Park for a picnic on the South Shore beach.  The sun bounced off of the west bluff, giving the russet oak leaves an orange cast and making the rock outcroppings appear more silver than gray.  A late afternoon walk through my neighborhood revealed others' similar passion for being outside.  With rakes in hand, they were beautifying their yards and preparing for the inevitable winter.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Food for Thought

My friend Ellen and I saw the documentary "Forks Over Knives" last evening and it shed a new light on the old adage that you are what you eat.  The movie focuses on the work of two medical doctors who have devoted their professional careers to research and clinical work with patients here and in China.  Their findings?  A whole-food, plant-based diet keeps us healthier longer.  According to the documentary, the Western diet is killing us.  It lays out the case that processed and animal-based foods cause most degenerative and chronic diseases.  Conversely, they claim that eating a plant-based diet prevents and can even reverse such diseases.  As one who eats a vegan diet 90% of the time, "Forks Over Knives" was preaching to this choir but it still gave me much food for thought.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Green Cleaning

Vinegar, especially white vinegar, is the most amazing substance, with more uses than I'll likely ever have the chance to try in my lifetime.  I use vinegar as a multi-purpose cleaning agent -- in the kitchen, in the bathroom, even on wood laminate floors.  I've discovered some outdoor uses for it, as well.  White vinegar is great for washing windows and, when sprayed on weeds, is just as effective as herbicides.  White vinegar is such a simple product, yet it is rather miraculous -- and so inexpensive.  I wonder how much money I save each year by replacing expensive, toxic cleaning agents with my inexpensive, green-cleaning methods.  I started the quest to use environmentally-friendly products in lieu of the more toxic alternatives back in the 1990s and I've not looked back.  I have an overflowing file of clippings and pamphlets about cleaning with such everyday products as white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and salt.  I also make my own powder laundry detergent, which costs me pennies and drastically reduces containers and packaging.  There are so many simple things we can do to positively affect the health and well-being of our planet and ourselves.  I'm sold on green cleaning as one of those simple, yet effective things.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bend and Flow

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of sitting under a sun umbrella on a hotel rooftop patio. The day was warm and breezy, and I was in the heart of a city where all around me were privileged views of the upper-scale part of town.  There was an abundance of architectural wonders, including a dazzling array of glistening, towering skyscrapers.  My eyes, however, kept going back to the gently blowing ornamental grasses on the patio.  The carefully groomed area allowed for just a hint of strategically placed greenery to suggest a garden -- big planters filled with small trees, bright flowers and those lovely ornamental grasses.  Perhaps those grasses are a metaphor for how I should live my life -- sometimes feeling confined but determined to bloom where I'm planted, bending and going with the flow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Backyard Camping

Long before sta-cations were in vogue, I was a backyard camper.  Our house didn't have air conditioning, so our camping tent staked in the backyard kept us comfortable on steamy summer nights.  Such a treat it was when Dad, Mom and I would roll out our sleeping bags and make the evening a tented, family slumber party.  Before we got the tent, Dad would pull the station wagon close to the kitchen door and lower the car's tailgate and backseat.  The three of us would slither into our bedrolls in the back of the car and settle in for a night among the stars and summer night sounds.  We couldn't roll over, let alone move, because we were jammed shoulder to shoulder into the back of the station wagon. But we were so happy.  Such simple, joyful times are usually captured somewhere in the recesses of my memory.  Fortunately, these particular happy memories were flooded back to me recently while I was taking a refreshing, deep breath of the cool evening air at Devil's Lake.  The layers of decades were peeled away and once again I was a small child of endless summers, reveling in backyard camping with my fun-loving, nature-loving parents.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Now-peace.  My friend Clyde used that term in a recent letter to my husband and me.  I love the term now-peace because it makes the concept of finding peace accessible and achievable now, not some elusive, hoped-for event for the future.  After all, now is truly the only time we know that we have (although my plans, worries and fears would trick me into thinking otherwise).  The ability to find peace and embrace it right now is worth the effort.  Now-peace will become my personal meditative inhale-exhale.  Now-peace: I'll repeat it to myself whenever harried, hurried, angry or upset.  Now-peace is with me right now.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Autumn Splendor Out My Window

Most of the perennials have had their moment and the last of the annuals are ready to cash it in.  But autumn is still a brilliant and beautiful season in the St. Clare Healing Garden.  Fiery red burning bushes, jewel-tone mums, autumn joy sedums, and tall, plum-colored native grasses bring color and texture to the fall gardenscape.  I'm blessed to say that that is the view from my office window.  Even when I'm deep into a project, it's hard not to turn my chair to the window for just a glimpse of the beauty each season presents in the Healing Garden.  Just a moment of looking out into the garden grounds me and reminds me of the striking and subtle rhythms of life and where I fit into them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Can't Beat Pickled Beets

A chance conversation about pickled beets with my friend, Laura, at the farmer's market took me back to my childhood.  I was a very fussy eater as a kid.  I went through a phase from age 4 to about age 9 when I had very little interest in eating.  I'd rather play, read, even dance around the dinner table -- anything but eat, much to my poor mother's frustration.  Each winter during my elementary school years, I was prone to some bout after another of pneumonia, bronchitis or a horrible cold.  I didn't seem to have the ability to fight off those bugs, so Mom worried doubly about my eating and getting proper nutrition to nourish my little body.  Oddly, despite my pickiness, I loved our good friend, Barb's, pickled beets.  I even asked for jars of them as birthday and Christmas gifts.  To this day, I still love pickled beets and I always think of our friend, Barb, when I eat them.  I no longer dance around the table.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Discovering Beauty in the Ordinary

I love to read well-written prose.  Sometimes, I discover such writing in unexpected places.  I was recently given a magazine that featured writing so beautiful I've been re-reading it ever since.  Each time I open the pages, it's as if I'm receiving a warm welcome from a beautiful and eloquent friend who always knows just the right thing to say.  One well-chosen word woven with another and another form harmonious sentences embroidered with beauty that somehow pull me in and won't let me go.  I keep studying the word choices and phrasing, as if I'll tumble to some formula.  But, alas, the beauty of it all comes from the surprise of these extraordinary compositions about ordinary things.  Perhaps there's a comparison about life to be had in all of this, too.  We often find beauty in the unexpected places, word by word, encounter by encounter, moment by moment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Some Summer Still To Be Savored

The thermometer registered 39 degrees on this mid-October morning, but as I gazed out of our kitchen window, there were still signs of summer to be had.  Our azalea bush was in late-season bloom.  The shrub's yellow flowers were like warm sunshine to me on this chilly day.  Even my breakfast was summery.  It included red, plump, juicy strawberries from the local farmer's market.  I've never seen strawberries -- really, big, tasty strawberries -- available at our outdoor market this late in the growing season.  Our recent, unseasonably warm weather may be the explanation for these last precious sights and tastes of summer, but I'll take them for as long as I can.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Made Me Want S'More

Larry and I had s'mores for lunch yesterday.  It'd been years since I'd roasted marshmallows over a fire and spread the charred, gooey blob over a square of chocolate between two graham crackers.  I'm a "serious" marshmallow roaster:  I like them charred, not just golden brown.  As I bit down, the black and white goo oozed out of the sides of the graham cracker sandwich.  I eagerly licked my fingers to capture every tasty, sweet morsel.  We sat with good friends around the fire pit, roasting marshmallows while sharing stories and time under the dappled autumn sunshine.  Leaves fell gently around us, making a crunchy path for our walk in and out of the woods.  The swish of dry leaves underfoot, the smell of campfire in our nostrils, full marshmallow bellies, hugs from friends.  Made me want s'more.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sallying Past the Sallyport

Traffic was re-routed recently during a local fire department exercise.  The detour took me past a sign that read "Prisoner Sallyport - Not A Public Entrance."  Having never heard the term 'sallyport,' at first blush, it sounded like a rather happy place -- sort of like, "Let's go sit on a bench on the sallyport, sip some lemonade, gaze at the bluebirds and smell the roses."  Add the word 'prisoner,' however, and I knew it wasn't a verdant, relaxing place for hanging out or even the destination for a little jaunt.  So, I headed home to look up the term in my trusty dictionary and learned that it's a gate or passage in a fortified place, usually for troops on a sortie.  Therefore, the one I drove past is likely where prisoners are first detained, a safe and secure place until they can be moved elsewhere.  I may be somewhat curious but I'll likely not be too concerned if I never know the intimate details of what a prisoner sallyport is or know anyone who ends up there.  I'm content to simply drive by it and just keep on driving, no looking back.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chop Chop

My friend Donna is right:  Fall means lots of chopping.  With the harvest still at its peak, every meal is filled with fresh produce these days and with it comes lots of chopping.  Lately, an average meal can include chopping green beans, the stems and leaves of rainbow chard or kale, garlic cloves, heirloom tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, broccoli, apples and cabbage.  For all of the work, though, our meals are delicious and nutritious -- and locally grown.  The effort is definitely worth it. Soon, we'll be chopping squash, turnips, potatoes and other root vegetables for some great roasted vegetable entrees.  Then, alas, we'll transition to the frozen varieties with an occasional treat of organic vegetables from the produce aisle.  All the while, I'll dream about the growing season ,and chopping and chopping and chopping.  It'll be my endless-summer dream all winter long.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Recent Weather Was Music to My Senses

The weather appears to finally be catching up with the calendar.  But there was one day recently during a stretch of sunny, unseasonably warm weather when I observed that if the day had been put to music, it would surely have been a Telemann trumpet concerto -- vibrant, bright, spectacular.  It was what I would call the Perfect Autumn Day: sunshine, temps in the 70s, light breeze, everyone wanting to get outside to soak up that oh, so perfect day because we knew in October such days would be numbered.  At Devil's Lake State Park (where Larry and I walk nearly every day), the sun-soaked east bluff boasted brilliant fall color while the west bluff, shrouded in shade, was somewhat more subdued.  The two bluffs seemed to be in competition with each other as to which side could brag about its fall wardrobe the loudest.  The boardwalk was covered in the usual sand, but commingled with acorn fragments, fallen oak leaves, rusty evergreen needles and crunchy maple leaves.  One maple along the boardwalk was an amazing combination of green and mottled yellow and scarlet.  Autumn was displaying her most vivid finery that day and I was fortunate to be there to watch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crispy Crunch - It's Apple Season

Macoun apples were my mom's favorites.  So, in remembrance of her, I bought two bags of Macouns at Ski-Hi Fruit Farm last weekend.  Being a beautiful, sunny, unseasonably warm Saturday, the orchard was abuzz with apple shoppers of all ages.  The orchard is always such a happy place, especially on a day as exquisite as that one.  Children were running throughout the grounds, giggling, shrieking, chasing each other and enjoying all abandonment of worry or cares, as only children can do.  The crispy crunch of biting into a locally grown, tart Macoun took me back to the joy of my own childhood when my mom and I would visit Ski-Hi.  Priceless.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Human Being, Not Human Doing

Time to be.  Why call my blog by that name?  Because I enjoy the peaceful act of simply being as much as doing.  I've learned that it's necessary to set aside regular time for solitude, reflection and introspection.  With this blog, I'll focus on being, not just doing.  I'll express opinions and observations, offer thoughts about items in the news, reflect and ruminate, reminisce and ramble, dream.  I will look to see life for all that's good and report on the simplest tasks and most fundamental of relationships with nature and others.  With a deep respect for the gentle steadfastness of my beloved mom who passed away four weeks ago and with a nod to her favorite author, Gladys Taber, I will write of joy, of loving and of living in the moment.  Time to be.