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.

 

 

‘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?

 

Listening In on Grownup Conversations

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When I was a child, my bedroom was an upstairs windowless closet with a slanted roof. There was barely room for a bed to the left and a dresser to the right. A lonely light bulb hung from the ceiling. My dresses floated from a pole across the ceiling. Don’t think Dickensian: I loved my own cozy cocoon.

The room was at the top of a stairway that had two ninety-degree turns. As the youngest in a home where parents sent their littles to bed at 8:00 p.m., I often sensed that I was missing out on the important stuff of life. I’d hear the murmur of conversations that I wanted to be part of. I would tiptoe out of my bedroom and down the five steps to the landing where the stairs turned. As close as could be and still remain out of sight. Hugging my benightgowned knees, I would strain to hear the grownups talk.

Even when I didn’t understand the talk, I enjoyed the aura, the camaraderie. When laughter erupted, I sat in the darkness and smiled.

That, my friend, is how I feel reading C.S. Lewis’ academic work The Allegory of Love. I’m sitting in the dark, listening to the adults, not quite understanding all the fine points, but basking in the atmosphere. Smiling when I grasp a point, soaking up the delicious banter.

Happy to be in the company of such witty erudition.

Like that little girl long ago, I need patience. Lewis quotes Latin, Greek, French, Old French, Old English without translation. He writes about writers whose names I’ve never before heard. He uses words that have never come close to my radar.

Sometimes the words are clear. It was the misfortune of Jean de Meun to have read and remembered everything: and nothing that he remembered could be kept out of his poem.  Yeah, I think, I’ve heard sermons like that.

So I will continue sitting in the dark, craning my ear, hoping to hear something wonderful. Why? Because I’m stubborn; but mainly to be in the delightful company of CSL.

 

A Winter Travelogue

We wanted to honor our friend (my next door neighbor from Lombard, IL) and his family at his memorial service six hours away. The Pacific Northwest has been pounded with winter storms this weekend. As we studied the radar it looked like there was a break in the weather, when we could thread the needle and get through. We decided to give it a try. Except for a few dicey spots, the trip was a blessing.

Chapter 1  Setting Off

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This, my friends, is Eastern Oregon.

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Dry pavement. Yes!

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Deer crossing

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Welcome, Holly! This sign has been a source of delight for decades.

Chapter 2  Investment Opportunities

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This stark landscape reminds me of the Midwest. Or Scandinavia.

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A fine barn

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I imagine homesteaders lived here once upon a time. Or, perhaps a school?

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The detail on this fine old barn thrills me.

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Roof needs repaired. Air conditioning free.

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It was Tiny before Tiny Houses were cool

 

Chapter 3     Birds and Such 

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We’ve never seen so many hawks on posts. Here, there, here again. Sidenote: I over-helped my son write a paper on the red-tail hawk in 1993. I’ve never forgotten the scientific name: buteo jamaicensis.  Isn’t it weird what sticks to the inside of your brain?

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This horse has been studying and applying the Marie Kondo method.

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 Hawk perched in a tree.

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Waterfowl feeding

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I am drawn to lonely trees

 

Chapter 4  Coming Home on the Rattlesnake

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Driving south towards Lewiston

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I wonder how this highway was named The Rattlesnake?

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Looking down from above

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It descends, slithers along the floor of the canyon (see center of picture),
and slinks upward to the next plateau.

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S-curves superabound

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Sidling up to the mountain

 

Chapter 5  Watch for the Light

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Coming into the Wallowas, spots of blue sky

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A shroud of clouds cannot cover it. The light still shines.

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Light and shadow. And a lonely tree.

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Luminous

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Winter glory

 

Bonus Chapter: Deer and Elk

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Outside of Enterprise, deer feeding

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Outside of Imbler, elk herding

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I don’t have the skill to convey this magnificent sight: about 300 elk

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Walking, loping, bunching together

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Move ’em out!

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Bull supervising the exodus

My Reading Rodeo – 2018

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In 2017 (which still feels like last year, but technically isn’t) I joined a Facebook group and read through all of Shakespeare. It involved about five hours a week; I told myself this was continuing education. In 2018 I wanted to continue deep-reading, but without the pressure of all of [insert author’s name] in one year.

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Thus began my C.S. Lewis Reading Project. I’m reading through his published works at the rate of about fifty pages a week. I’ll admit it: my motivation flagged when I hit some hard spots (his early poetry, for one). But I’ve been promising myself that I’d reread The Space Trilogy (which I’ve been a stranger to since high school) and this year I’m happy I did.

Read with Me
Some local friends and I have been talking about starting a book club, but we’ve not unwrapped that package yet. Besides CSL (which I’m reading with some Facebook friends) the Close Reads podcast has been a continual feast. Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory , the story of a whiskey priest in Mexico, was satisfying on many levels.

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Because they have four more hours in the day than the rest of us, the people at Close Reads started another podcast called The Play’s The Thing. I l-o-v-e the concept of reading through Shakespeare’s canon, one act at a time.

My friend Mary Jo Tate guides a burgeoning group of readers through Jan Karon’s Mitford books on Facebook. We just read Shepherds Abiding at Christmas.

This Is Your Life
Biographies and memoirs, old and new, are always a staple in my reading diet. I read the final six of a twenty volume set, Makers of History. Tara Westover’s Educated was a stunner. And 2018 was the year I made it through a 1K marathon of a book, Martin Gilbert’s Churchill. My favorite memoir was Hannah Grieser’s The Clouds Ye So Much Dread.

Soo-prize, SOO-PRIZE!!
Oh, yes, books surprised me. Nina Teicholtz’s The Big Fat Surprise is in the category of game-changer. Oh. boy. Not only are saturated fats good for you (?!!) but vegetable oils like safflower, canola, and corn oil have been around less than a hundred years and are pretty much guaranteed to make you sick.

Barbara Tuchman wrote about Stilwell and the American Experience in China, and I bet you’ve never heard of this general. He would have been the Allied Surpreme Commander, Eisenhower’s role, except that he knew the language, the people, and the geography of China better than anyone in the armed forces.

Kiddos
I spend a day a week with my four local grandkids. Of course, I read books aloud whenever I can: while they eat lunch, practice handwriting, sculpt playdough, etc. We read through Andrew Peterson’s tetralogy, The Wingfeather Saga. Wow oh Wow oh WOW! I’ve never known them to be so captured by a story.

Health and Diet
For a reason I cannot fathom, it is like a switch turned on this year and I started to really care about my health. This is potentially the most boring paragraph in this blog post, so I will give each book one word: Fasting, diabetes, sugar, cancer, and brain health.

Favorite Authors
I managed to read at least one title of Anthony Trollope, P.G. Wodehouse, Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, and Barbara Tuchman. Good stuff!

Reading and Lambing in Advent

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Wednesday was a glorious day watching twin lambs born. These girls above left the pasture, curious to know who was having a get together and why they weren’t invited to the party. And if there was any food for poor wandering circus performers.
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It used to be daunting to be the adult-in-charge (an honorary title) during lambing season. But my Farmer Boy grandson has three seasons under his belt. Here he is checking progress.

While I was watching everything, I was also listening. Gavin patted the ewe, assuring her that she was doing a good job.  Thirteen years old, and a powerful combination of compassion and capability.

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The view to the south from the barn door.

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The maternity ward. Two more sets of twins were born yesterday.

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This is the number 1 assistant. His face lit up when he realized that the lamb born might be his first stock show lamb.

Let’s shift a moment to reading. In the fall of 2016 I started reading the first book of a young adult fantasy,  The Wingfeather Saga. I read a 2-7 chapters aloud once a week. It’s a very interactive time. When some characters listen to troll poetry, pretending to like it, I ask, “Show me pretending to like it.”

Andrew Peterson’s books have engendered meaningful conversations with each episode. This week we read a chapter called The Pain of Remembrance.  Monsters who used to be humans see something that makes them remember what life used to be like. Ouch! It hurts! is their response.

Preston (pictured above) explained: “I think it doesn’t feel like [physical] pain for them. But it hurts in a different way because they can’t go back.”

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There’s always onlookers

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Ethan (face not shown) warming up one of the barn cats.

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Gavin collects the colostrum to give to the newborn before he/she can stand up.

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One latched on and one being licked by mom.

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The smile of a successful start of lambing season.

Let’s Have a Catch Up

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I write blog posts in my head. Shoot, I write series of blog posts in my head. (One imaginary series is entitled A Walk to Remember, with photo highlights and musings from different locations and walking partners.) But still, the blog stays silent.

Today, I’m going to interview myself. Maybe if I can clear out my mental debris the ‘flow’ will return.

Who are you? The big project of the last five months is to reinvent myself. {laugh track} When I wake up in the morning, I typically anticipate that day’s reading, be it audio, Kindle, or print. I can plant my bottom and sit; sit through noon, sit until the moon is high in the midnight sky. I also love two-hour phone calls with my siblings (while sitting) or copying quotes into my journal. Or playing the piano (sitting down). Or entering every receipt into Quicken.

It’s all rather boring. Unless you’re me. Then it’s a delight.

But I long to be able to consider myself an outdoor woman without smirking. The kind whose face lights up when someone suggests a hike. A person who thinks there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  Let’s be kind and say this is a work in progress.

What’s not working? Photography, for one. I’m in an in-between space: shooting raw photos, but not editing them. Meanwhile the backlog grows. Wanting to improve, but not putting the time in or buying the software. Frustrated by my lack of discipline to learn a new skill.

Um, OK. Is anything working?  Yes! There is one hack I’ve discovered. Ditch the snooze alarm. I started walking with some friends in September. My alarm goes off eleven minutes before I leave the house. When the choice to keep sleeping is removed, one gets out of bed. It’s truly been a life changer.

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Anything new?  Yep. The day after I received this wooden sign, a deer ran into my car. Where I live, sadly, it’s so common that people start yawning when you mention it. The deer didn’t stick around, so I don’t know the extent of its injuries.  I am grateful that the only damage sustained by me was to my car. Cars can be fixed.

What surprises you?  When I was a student, science was my least favorite subject. Suddenly, I’m studying science! Neuroplasticity, metabolic issues, hormones, biometrics. Weird.

What are you reading?  Much on nutrition by Jason Fung, Gary Taubes, David Perlmutter, and Nina Teicholz. I always have a C.S. Lewis book going, but found that some of his earlier books are rough sledding. Reading classics along with the Close Reads Podcast is fantastic. Most recently, we read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  And for comfort and joy I’ve been residing in Mitford with Jan Karon and in Thrush Green with Miss Read. My goal is to read through the Bible yearly. This year I chose the Living Bible that my dad gave me when I was 15. (It looks just like the one in the link.) Reading notes my teenaged-self wrote has been interesting and the vernacular in this paraphrase is fresh.

What about music?  So the neatest thing happened. OPB, our public radio station, gave our library heaps of CDs they had culled from their collection. Our library sold them for a quarter each. I brought heaps of them home. I’m listening to all kinds of music. Some go straight to the thrift store. But I’ve found several gems. It’s cheap entertainment!

I thought this was going to be quick.  I get the hint. Later, readers!

 

 

Thyme in a Bottle

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I harvested and dried thyme from my herb garden. This morning I painstakingly picked the leaves off the branches while I caught up on a few of my favorite podcasts. What you see represents two to three hands-on hours. Yep.

Curt (my husband) raised an eyebrow when the slow speed of the progress registered in his brain. Really, Babe? was what his face said. “You have NO IDEA of the preciousness of thyme,” was my curt reply. 🙂 I don’t see it as a waste of time to work on thyme. 

This is year 2 of the thyme revolution. It’s a life-changer! If you have a shred of belief in aromatherapy, you might comprehend the fund of joy I receive when I unscrew this lid and smell my dried thyme. Especially in February. Because I am a show-and-tell girl down to my DNA, I have been known to make visitors take a whiff.

“That spice cabinet is amazing!” they say.
“Thank you,” I politely say. “Smell my thyme.”

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From Sea to Shining Sea

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Within five weeks I went from an island in the Pacific Ocean to an island in the Atlantic Ocean! First my husband and I celebrated our 40th anniversary with a trip to Victoria, British Columbia.

Back in the spring, our next-door neighbors invited us over for supper. While talking, we realized that both couples got married in 1978. Our friend grinned, declared he was taking his wife to Italy for their 40th, and pressed his point: how were we planning to celebrate ours? Well, my lovely husband stalled, we were thinking about Canada. It was all I could do not to swivel and stare. Oh, Canada! Yessss!

It turned out we arrived on Canada Day. Thousands of folk in the streets. A giant block party. Vendors, musicians, artists, mimes, bands, orators, food, dancing, throngs. A sea of people ebbed and flowed. We enjoyed the celebration, Butchart Gardens, museums, monuments, and cathedrals. And just being together in a romantic place.

Monhegan Harbor
In August, my sister Dorothy and I traveled to Maine to visit our brother and sister (in-law). We were eager to visit Jim and Kathie’s favorite spot, an island ten miles off the coast. Monhegan. We enjoyed the quiet punctuated by seagulls’ laughter; gardens, galleries, a museum, shops, and the little community church. And just sharing sibling time in a transcendent space.

Sea to shining sea. That reminds me of what my brother Dan says about pitching congregational songs too high to sing. C to shining C!

Knowing Joy, Knowing Woe

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The tag line for my blog could also be my life’s theme:

Solid joys, deep sorrows, aggressive hope.

Last year a persistent, present grief pressed down my heart. I knew, though, that I couldn’t abandon joy. Grief would need to make room for a roommate: joy was moving in. They would have to cohabit.

I remembered that metaphor as I read this line from an early C.S. Lewis poem:

Be as the Living ones that know
Enormous joy, enormous woe.

The poems are in Spirits in Bondage, a collection of 40 poems written by Lewis between the ages of 16 and 19.