About alivingpencil

Hi, I'm Carol. My life is full of solid joys, deep sorrows, and aggressive hope. I search for truth, beauty, goodness, amusement, and comfort in books, music, worship, photos, conversation. I'm fond of the *idea* of gardening, writing, exercising and practicing scales. Cooking is the best fun with a friend. I like to talk, but it's harder to write.

A Walk to Remember: Fox Hill

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I’ve long had an idea for a series of posts
entitled A Walk to Remember.
I’m a moment-hoarder,
a memory-grasper,
knowing how easily they get
plowed under by the thrum of life.

DSC_1036Two things were special about today.
I woke up at 4:25 a.m., a personal best!
For a lifelong night owl,
that’s a victory in itself. {laughter}

DSC_1037To be precise, it’s not unheard of
to wake up with a 4 on the clock.
But to get up and walk out the door?
Unfathomable.

DSC_1041My co-workers are fitness gurus.
The kind that participate in Warrior Dashes,
look for “Fun” runs (???!!!  #interrobang)
and organize triathlons.

DSC_1043The only “selfie” I took.

 

DSC_1045Last summer they started walking up Fox Hill
on Sunday mornings.

DSC_1049I couldn’t join them because it conflicted
with my music commitments at church.

DSC_1055They decided to hike up Fox Hill on Friday
this week, so I could join them!

DSC_1056This is a picture of endurance.
I needed it today!

DSC_1061The second special thing? I made it to the top!
Eastern Oregon doesn’t resemble the lush green
images of Oregon that most people imagine.
These high green hills will soon be dun.
But today they are simply splendid!

 

 

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51 Things about My Mom

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Nellie Harper with her five oldest children: Margaret, David, Dorothy, John, Jim

 

51 years ago, May 7, 1968, my mom died suddenly and unexpectedly, probably of an undiagnosed case of Addison’s Disease. She was an extraordinary woman and a magnificent mom. Her legacy continues. Since most of you didn’t know her, please let me introduce her to you. I may have some facts mixed up; please feel free to correct me if you know better.

1. Her name is Nellie (Stover) Harper. Many female descendants have Nell for a middle name. The son on her lap in the photo above became a grandpa a few days ago. His granddaughter’s name is Juliet Nell, “Jules” for short.

2.  Nellie was a farm girl. She worked her way to a college degree by ironing and milking the college’s cows!

3. She was an introvert by nature who welcomed people and seldom knew solitude.

4. Gardening was in her blood.  Vegetables, flowers, she loved it all.

5. She gardened in a dress. With sturdy shoes.

6.  Her hair was long, but always in a bun.

7. She was the first one up in the mornings.

8. She was no slouch intellectually. Her friend told me about an astonishing moment she witnessed when Nellie was stirring noodles, a toddler hanging on to her legs, while nursing a baby. My dad came in the door. “Nellie, did you study your Greek today?” he asked.

9. My dad was wholly incapable of refusing anything free. (That’s where I get it!) He brought home bruised apples, government-issued dry milk, wilted produce, etc. She took these offerings, cut away the bad and transformed the good into dinner.

10. When she was not enthused about a situation, she had two default responses. There was the chuckle. And there was the sigh.

11. Once she took a millinery class to learn how to make herself a hat. Women wore hats to church back then.

12. The first three years of my life, Nellie functioned as a single parent. My dad had a teaching job in another state and came home twice a month.

13. After getting married, my folks lived in Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. Most of Mom’s family was in the Yakima Valley of Washington.

14. She wrote weekly letters to her family. Besides a brief time when her sister’s family lived nearby, she only saw her mom and siblings again twice in her lifetime.

15. I remember seeing her cry only once: when hearing new that my oldest brother was in the hospital with a concussion sustained while playing college football.

16. She was a no-nonsense disciplinarian. I received spankings. And stern words. One night we had grits for dinner.  I had to eat my “no-thank-you” portion. But I didn’t swallow. So grits remained in my mouth 45 minutes until my mom asked me a question and I couldn’t respond. Then I swallowed.

17. Like many other families we went to church with, our family hosted college students for Sunday dinner every Sunday. We made enough for 6-8 extra people. Always.

18.  There was a rule in our house: No reading at the table. Someone caught in “story grip” always challenged the rule, sneaking the book under their shirt, holding it on their lap and reading a sentence on the sly.

19. My mom and I flaunted the rule when I was the only one coming home from school for lunch. We both propped our books in front of us and read to our heart’s content, while we ate our lunch!

20. She made lunches every morning. It took an entire loaf of bread to get the job done.

21. One of her abiding characteristics was cheerfulness. She lived life with a smile and a song.

22. The radio on the kitchen counter was dialed in to WMBI, the Moody Bible Institute radio station.

23. She carried an extra ~ 30 pounds into middle age. In letters to my Dad she bemoans her weight. We never noticed.

24. She and my dad both had clean, consistent cursive handwriting.

25. Every summer of my life, she packed up clothes and our family went to Bair Lake Bible Camp in Jones, Michigan. She cooked every single day, which my father managed the staff.

26. Mom and Hallie Southland fed a hundred campers with a frugal budget. A huge Hobart mixer (floor model) stirred up dough for homemade hamburger buns and crumb topping for apple crisps.

27. On Monday afternoons Nellie and Hallie poured a cup of coffee and worked through a menu and food orders. I loved to sit on a stool next to Mom and observe these planning sessions.

28. All the kids were basically on autopilot in the summer. We saw our folks if we got in trouble. We roamed the woods and swam in the lake. And bought sugar-laden items at the Snack Cabin.

29. One Christmas, my present was a new wardrobe for my Barbie doll, hand stitched by Mom. This makes me smile. I never had daughters, but I’m not exactly pro-Barbie.

30. One Halloween, I was a witch! Black drapery and a pointed hat fashioned by Mom!

31. The thing is this: she had seven children and every single one knew down to their bones her unwavering love.

32. She delighted in this story: the third grade teacher warned the fourth grade teacher about my brother. “He’s always reading.” The fourth grade teacher replied, “Great! I’ll make him the class librarian!”

33.  Mom had two older half-brothers and three younger brothers. They all adored her. On a 1967 family visit to Yakima, one brother asked her help by trying on a coat, implying it was for someone else. He then bought the coat and gave it to her.

34. In 1981 Curt and I moved to Klamath Falls, OR, about an hour from her half-brother Herbert. When I wrote Herbert and Hazel and told them who I was and that we lived in the region, they came to see me the same day they received my note. We spent several weekends with them. **

35. Mom also had a sister. Her name was Lenore, but everyone called her Smokey after a comic strip, Smokey Stover. Aunt Smokey lived in Portland, OR, and was very kind to (young adult) me. I never got the impression that Mom and Smokey were close.

36. Mom’s mother-in-law was a domineering type. Opinionated and kind of bossy. I was too young to witness how Mom reacted, but I think she just got very quiet.

37. Nellie was a good friend to many. Her house was open and welcoming. She was other-oriented and was genuinely interested in others. She fed people, hosted visitors; she opened the door with a smile.

38. In Lombard, we lived next door to Dan and Margaret Ball. After the kids all left for school, Mom would clomp up the back stairs to Margaret’s kitchen and they would share a cup of coffee and visit. Margaret’s stories are treasures to me.

39. I loved my mom’s coffee breath.

40. Two things my mom absolutely refused to do: worry and gossip. If any conversation veered towards gossip, Mom would stop the talk and  pray for the person being discussed.

41. She trusted that God would supply all her needs. They raised seven kids on a tiny income.

42. The only time we went out to eat was when a child graduated from high school. It’s staggering to imagine how many meals she fixed and put on our table. We did get ice cream cones on the way home from a school event.

43. Our house was comfortably messy. When we came home to a clean house the first question was, “Who’s coming over tonight?” That said, she made her bed every day.

44. An obituary: “Nellie Harper was well and affectionately known for her simple, spiritual witness…. She was a woman of marked Christian simplicity and transparency…. all [young folk] received a mother’s welcome and reciprocated her affection. Nellie was a fragrant Christian.”

45. My dad signed her 1942 college yearbook: “Dearest Nellie: This year has been one of the best of my life all because of you….The Lord has made me supremely happy and you enter largely into that reason. We can praise Him together.”

46. She was skilled in domestic arts. Sewing, mending, canning, baking, washing, ironing. She made a Spanish Cream dessert, served in fancy water goblets, for Sunday dessert.

47. Nellie did laundry with a wringer washing machine and hung the clothes on a clothesline. When the weather was nice the line stretched between the house and the garage. When the weather was not nice, she used lines strung across the basement.

48. She was tall (5’10”?) with big feet. I remember we had to drive a few towns over to a shoe store that carried size 12? (11?) in a narrow width.

49. We all took music lessons and necessarily practiced simultaneously in various parts of the house. The cacophony! Mercy! 

50. Nellie excelled at studying her children and encouraging their strengths.

51. She was a kind woman.

 

 

 

 

** A tragic postscript: Herbert and Hazel Stover’s great-granddaughter, Jama Harms, 19, was murdered in 1995 about two miles from my house. I had no idea she even lived in the area and the family connection had sort of dissolved after Herbert and Hazel passed. It is one of the handful of unsolved mysteries that La Grande is notorious for.

 

 

Knuckle Down

We had just finished a rehearsal last Thursday evening when my friend noticed a missed call from Collin. That’s odd, I wondered, he knows we’re practicing. Mike called Collin and handed the phone to me. Hi, Mom, my son calmly said. Hey, we’re up in ER, Dad just cut his finger off. But he’s OK. It’s not life-threatening.

My husband Curt is a task-oriented man. So if it’s raining, and the lawn needs mowing, he mows the lawn in the rain. April 11, 2019: first mowing of the season. He had the grass-catcher on and was dumping the clippings onto our garden. Sometimes the tube would clog up with wet grass. He would reach in and grab a clump to clear the passageway.

As he got to the last few rows, my wise and capable man did something very foolish. His mind became disengaged. There’s no logical explanation. The clods became a challenge. As if he were emptying the washing machine, he just kept reaching in and grabbing grass. He didn’t register that the engine was still running. Until the blades grabbed his finger.

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The first thing he felt was disappointment with himself for doing something so dumb. One moment can change everything. Pain propelled him to the hospital.

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Wedding band blues

The ER staff were fantastic. They’ve seen mangled. They’ve seen gore. Actually there wasn’t much blood, because Curt has Raynaud Syndrome, where blood doesn’t flow to his fingers when the temperature is cold. Who knew there was a benefit from Raynaud’s? He lost the top section of his ring finger. Reattachment wasn’t an option.

As soon as our older sons knew their dad was OK, they began the banter.
We’re crossing our fingers for you!
Hang loose!
Give Dad a high 4.5 for me!
Matthew 5:30!

Curt has a few quips of his own. He answers the phone with Stumpy’s Lawn Service. He told a friend that he felt a kinship with John the Baptist. How so? He must increase and I must decrease.

It’s not all beer and skittles. Spontaneous amputation involves pain. But incisive humor, a large fund of humility, and an inclination to be thankful can provide relief, analgesics with no side effects. I can still see Curt shaking hands (using his right hand) with the staff that stitched him up before we left ER.

Dear reader, bear with me. This is a cautionary tale. When I am training employees in my job I have a mantra: You can never go on autopilot. Think! Engage! Attend! Notice! Stay awake! Turn off the engine!

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P.S. In a wry intersection with my reading life, I just finished Abraham Verghese’s novel, Cutting for Stone. Chapter 2, The Missing Finger, relates the story of a surgeon amputating his own index finger when it became swollen and infected after a surgical nick.

‘All or Nothing’ Much?

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Consider this a graphic depiction of my life. I’m either ALL IN … except when I’m ALL OUT. Let me explain.

I use a CPAP machine as therapy for sleep apnea. My machine gives me a “sleep score” for every night that I use it. (Hint: use is the operative word!)

In order to get a 100 score you must:
1) have the mask on for a minimum of seven hours (70 points)
2) have good mask seal (20 points)
3) have less than 6 “events” per hour (5 points)
4) only take your mask off once/twice per night (5 points)

In order to get a 0 score you must:
Not put the mask on. This is what a British nanny would call “bing NAWty.”

Disclaimer:
DO NOT take this as permission/suggestion to not use your own CPAP machine. Those little boxes can save lives. Since I’ve lost 40 pounds some of my apnea has gone away [based on the word of my husband, not a new sleep study] and I’ve been, well, careless. Since my weight loss has stalled, however, I decided on March 10th to give my body every possible advantage; practically, that means using my machine.

Observations:
1. I’ll be honest: I used to feel blushing shame that I needed a CPAP machine. It was something I kept secret. The best remedy was finding friends who used a CPAP and hearing them say how much it helped.

2. This much is true: I can look at any photo of me and tell you instantly if it was B.C. (Before CPAP) or A.D. (after device). My eyes tell all. Haggard or bright.

3. Do not believe that having the mask on for seven hours means I slept seven hours. The pity is my over-caring about a stupid number. I have learned how to play the game, how to ‘cheat’ the numbers. I have woken at 3:52 and waited until 4:14 to rip off the mask and go back to sleep. All for a number. (There may be other therapy I need!)

Any other all-or-nothing types out there? CPAP users?

 

Have and Behave

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I made a connection!! When my grandson misread “have” rhyming it with “gave” — the heavens opened, the light shone, the ground trembled. Could there be a bridge between have and behave?

Longtime readers of this blog know that I get terrifically close to tipsy on be- prefix words. New readers: I can’t explain it: I just love them. Betake, benumbed, befuddled, besought, beribboned. And on and on.

Have comes from Old English habban “to own, possess; be subject to, experience”

Behave comes from be- intensive prefix + have in sense of “to have or bear (oneself) in a particular way, comport”

::Happy sigh::

Isn’t life delicious?

Taking Notes

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We honored our friend’s dad’s life today…and I took notes. I believe a memorial service can be one of the best seminars on living. It is satisfying to see the end product of a life well-lived: friends and family whose lives are forever changed by the love, faithfulness,  care and kindness of an ordinary man.

Although I’ll pass on Bob’s favorite sandwich: peanut butter, lettuce, and mayonnaise.

During the eulogy, all fourteen great-grandchildren were named. You could see each one sit up straighter when named. Individual names are so much more personal and potent than a collective number.

I had shared with the family a nice touch from the last memorial service we attended in February, and they incorporated it into today’s service.  The moderator asked groups of people to stand (and then sit). Grandchildren, great-grandchildren, in-laws, fellow church members; the greatest rising was in response to “if you have ever hunted or fished with Bob.”

A well-worn and scuffy truth was on display today: the highest way to love your children is to love your spouse. Eleven years ago, my husband and I wrote about Averil, Bob’s wife:

This Repeated Wedding Procession

And Grace Will Lead Me Home

Alive Inside

One theme of my life is exploring the power of music. A thread of music can squeeze into the tendrils of my soul and touch me in a profound way. It upholds the spirit in prison camps; it can spark a bloodless revolution, as it did in Estonia.

Alive Inside is a magnificent documentary that shows Alzheimer’s patients waking up, as it were, and responding in glorious ways to music they remember. There are sections that I want to transcribe into my journal.

It’s available on Amazon Prime. I enthusiastically recommend it.