Back Home Again

DSC_2117 October was a friendship-saturated month.

DSC_2151When I had an empty day in a city far from home, I contacted Faith,
an online friend. We picked up as if we had known
each other forever, drinking pots of tea and talking nonstop.

DSC_2213A week of solitude meant garden clean-up, reading, walking,
and a trip to the wildlife refuge to feast on the Harvest Moon.

DSC_2268My husband and I had a few days in the middle
where our schedules synced. The joy of reuniting, ah!

DSC_2281I met two year old Max and his mom on a flight to Minneapolis.
When he got antsy, I snapped a photo and let him see.
Take another, he urged. He drew in my journal with many colors;
years from now his drawing will remind me of our brief friendship.

DSC_2287A fire is a great conversation accessory. On my cousin’s
back deck we not only caught up on our 17 years apart,
but I—thanks to her transparency—got a tutorial
on life as a new widow.

DSC_2299We gloried in fall colors.

DSC_2347Our dads were brothers. We talked through our
family history, all those quirks we recognize.

DSC_2371And we laughed.

October 2014Then to Chicago for my annual visit.
I enjoy studying each my sister Dorothy’s dozen grandchildren:
their gifts, what motivates and aggravates them,
their unique personalities.

DSC_2525My sister Margaret soldiers through many infirmities.
Cancer and a stroke have attacked but can’t quench her spirit.
Through the pain I never hear her complain.

DSC_2625Several other friends blessed me with time and attention,
a precious gift. Our friendships span the years.
Stories jogged memories.

DSC_2423Tender mercies, all.

Emma’s Wedding

DSC_0991Today, it’s been two months since my niece Emma married Glyn. In my life, the big things aren’t cemented until I’ve written them. From writing this wedding I have cowered, knowing my word hoard hasn’t the depth or width required. I refuse to use ‘epic’ and ‘awesome’, yet I’m still searching for the best words.

July 20142It was a grand Coming Together. Emma is American. Glyn is British. They live in Turkey. Their friends live all over the world. Each mileage sign represents someone who came to the wedding.  The only continents not represented were South America, Australia, and Antarctica.

lobsterfeedThis wedding occupied three days. Everyone was invited to the rehearsal dinner aka Lobster Feed, the wedding the next day, and a brunch the day after the wedding. It resembled the medieval feasts that I read about in my books.

DSC_0860The ceremony was held under the ancient apple tree.

DSC_0877The background was my sister-in-law’s glorious garden.

DSC_0763She grew almost all the flowers for the wedding.

DSC_0653My daughter-in-law made the bride’s bouquet.

DSC_0857A sail cloth tent hovered over the festivities.
My grandson said, “Nana, it looks like Narnia.”

DSC_0909The tables were set.

DSC_0910Mismatched china completely charmed me.
‘Elegant simplicity’ set the tone.

DSC_0915All the cloths under the flowers were purchased
at the bazaar in Istanbul.

DSC_1021My brother, the tenor, sang Simple Gifts, a song
that he sang at the wedding of Emma’s parents.

DSC_1022Emma and Glyn listen.

July 20143Kids were welcomed with open arms.
Not often does one hear, “I’m so glad you brought all your kids!

July 20144We’ve always loved Emma; it was easy to see why she loved Glyn.
They are both strong, generous, compassionate, and fun.
Not to mention smart. They have our deep respect.

DSC_1000As long as I’m giving honor, let me say that my brother Jim
and my sister-by-marriage Kathleen were stellar. This event was
the culmination of a lifetime of love invested in their family, work on
their homestead, their habits of beauty, blessing, and hospitality.

DSC_1016Emma’s older brother Will—best friend of bride
and groom—officiated. This was his first gig. We called
him—tongue in cheek—”Brother Will.”

DSC_1163There were some great toasts: sweet, witty, heartfelt.
But at the end of the day, what everyone remembered
and remarked on was Jim’s toast to his daughter.

DSC_0887Then we took the party to the barn.

DSC_1188My grandson (with the hat) rocked the reception
with his unique style of dance.

DSC_1224It is a Turkish custom to have fireworks at a wedding.

DSC_1219It was a magical evening.

BakkerfamilysanscollinThis is our family (missing our son Collin).
The extended tribe (my siblings and their descendants)
present numbered 39. There were gaps here and there.
We cherish time together and relished the gift.

With the help of Facebook and texting, my kids and their cousins
are much closer than my generation was with ours.
It is a delight to see their friendships deepen.

DSC_07052014 will forever be the summer of Emma’s wedding.

My photographer brother’s photos.

Link to the magnificent photographer’s pictures.
(She shoots film.)

Alan Bradley and Bill Bryson

Alan Bradley and Bill Bryson

Alan Bradley, left; Bill Bryson, right.

It would have made a great story. If only the facts would cooperate.

Last night I finished listening to Bill Bryson’s book about Australia, In a Sunburned Country. I listened with joy to his elegantly turned phrases, self-deprecatory humor, and characterizations of the people and landscape. His dismay at the treatment of aborigines provoked me to care, too. At times Bryson’s tone veers to the suburbs of crass, and he inserts a few liberal rants, but overall I liked it very much.

As it happens, I also finished Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce mystery, Speaking from Among the Bones.  Because it’s how I’m wired, I read through the acknowledgments, and there two thirds down the page were these sentences: Family, too, have been there to wave flags and shout encouragement at every way station, and I’d like to especially acknowledge …Bill and Barbara Bryson

What? Bill Bryson in Alan Bradley’s family section? Crazy!  I skipped out of bed to explore this connection. Alas, Bill Bryson, the author, is married to a Cynthia. Bill’s father, William, is married to an Agnes Mary. I can’t detect anything other than coincidence in the names.

My favorite excerpt from Bryson’s book is his description of how he sleeps:

I am not, I regret to say, a discreet and fetching sleeper. Most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket; I look as if I could do with medical attention. I sleep as if injected with a powerful experimental muscle relaxant. My legs fall open in a grotesque come-hither manner; my knuckles brush the floor. Whatever is inside—tongue, uvula, moist bubbles of intestinal air—decides to leak out. From time to time, like one of those nodding-duck toys, my head tips forward to empty a quart or so of viscous drool onto my lap, then falls back to begin loading again with a noise like a toilet cistern filling.

And I snore, hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam-valve-exhalations. For long periods I grow unnaturally still, in a a way that inclines onlookers to exchange glances and lean forward in concern, then dramatically I stiffen and, after a tantalizing pause, begin to bounce and jostle in a series of whole-body spasms of the sort that bring to mind an electric chair when the switch is thrown.. Then I shriek once or twice in a piercing and effeminate manner and wake up to find that all motion within five hundred feet has stopped and all children under the age of eight are clutching their mothers’ hems.

Flavia’s humor is dry, more inclined to make me smile in appreciation than to laugh out loud. And tucked in unexpected places the whiz kid chemist wonders about life.

How odd, I thought: Here were these four great grievers, Father, Dogger, the vicar, and Cynthia Richardson, each locked in his or her own past, unwilling to share a morsel of their anguish, not even with one another.

Was sorrow, in the end, a private thing? A closed container? Something that, like a bucket of water, could be borne only on a single pair of shoulders?


Edit: I received a gracious and funny email from Mr. Bradley confirming that his Bill Bryson is not the American author Bill Bryson.

Given a New Life


Three brothers loving their baby sister, Aria

::Our son led worship on Sunday. These are his words::

Over the last several months, the boys have had a ritual of kissing the baby goodnight before bed. We will all be in the living room together and they will one-by-one come through and kiss the belly and say “I love you, baby sister.”

So we have three boys and two parents that love this baby before she is born. Before we have held her, before we have looked into her big eyes, before we have seen her smile, before she can walk, before she can talk, before she can do anything that would earn our love—she has been loved.

Our Lord has done the same thing for us only on a far greater and way more awesome scale. Paul tells us in Ephesians that before the creation of the world God chose us to be in Him. This means that before we were born, before creation even, God chose to redeem, justify, sanctify, and glorify us in Jesus Christ.

[…] When we see this grace, we should respond with humility and praise and worship. We have been given a hope and a confidence that apart from God cannot be found. We have been given a new life, a new life made to glorify and bring Him honor. This is the God that we’ve come to worship this morning, so let us worship with every ounce of our being. Let us live our lives, worshiping him in everything that we do.

Rejoice with us in the birth this morning of our granddaughter, Aria!                             (After three sons and six grandsons, we are thrilled that Aria has joined our family.)

Brian’s Mother’s Day Prayer


Heavenly Father,

There are bleak moments in our life when it feels as if the world has pitted itself against us. We grow unthankful and our hearts lose hope. It’s usually at these times our mothers give us breakfast and tell us to snap out of it, and we are forced to rejoice at how good we have it.

Father, we can’t thank You enough for the impact and example our mothers have had on us over the years. Their industry, faithfulness, love, discipline, and unworldly care should give us pause to consider there’s more to the story than meets the eye. You have a majestic plan, and in this plan is redemption, and at the forefront of this battle are our mothers.

We can’t pray enough, Father, for protection of our mothers in their role as helpmate and guide. Give them patience and grace in what sometimes may feel like combat in raising their young ones.

Bless the work of their hands in their homes and bring prosperity upon their many endeavors. We as sons, daughters and fathers are forever indebted for Your design of the family and how it beautifully reflects Your kingdom and character.

Bless our mothers who give of themselves completely and selflessly. May we honor them with our love and respect. “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

In Christ’s name,



* In our church we regularly pray for our families and for the nations of the earth. Yesterday Brian, a young dad himself, prayed this prayer for mothers. He gave me permission to share it with you.

Never Used to Your Absence

Nellie Harper 3/23/20 – 5/7/1968


My mom’s death from an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder was sudden. There were no good-byes other than a casual “bye, Mom!” tossed over the shoulder as I left the house.

As I re-read some of her letters, I notice how she said good-bye to my dad, a college professor teaching in another state. And, these many years later, she continues to instruct me.



I miss you here – really seems lonesome without you – just a few weeks like we had in Sept. spoils me.  But since I love you so much I know that it will always be that way – I don’t get used to you being away, I just wait for you to come home.

Je t’aime beaucoup, beaucoup…

Now I must close – surely do miss you.  Guess I didn’t write partly because I was just too lonesome and didn’t want to sound too sad.  Those spells come when I feel as though I just have to see you, and anticipating a week end without you seems too much.  I just must not think ahead to weekends but take each day as it comes.  And the thought of you using so much time and energy and losing out on your studies just to come home doesn’t cheer me any either.  All in all it is not the most satisfactory situation, but it is the best one for us now or else the Lord would change it, of that I’m sure.

Must close for now.  I do love you and, like Danny, I often would like to give up because “I want you”.  But because of you I take heart and strive to do a good job here.

But we’ll keep on in our feeble way.

I love you and I just can’t get used to having you gone so much — howbeit the Lord has given joy and peace just to know that you are busy for Him.

Time to close — wish you were here to talk to instead of writing. Take care of yourself these busy days. We love you and your name is mentioned ump-teen times a day. I’m learning that when you really love a person you never get used to having him gone — it gets worse instead of easier. Hurry up, summer!

I love you and miss you so much. I would like to have a week or so together with no other responsibility but to catch up on all we’ve missed this winter. But we can only dream of such a time with all the cares of this world upon us.

Like Jimmy says “Daddy can fix anything.” But it is not primarily a handy man that I need here, but to have your love and fellowship in person.

Oh, Mom. I remember you. Forty-five years it has been and I continue to note your absence. I wish that your daughters-in-law, your sons-in-law, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren—every one of them—could know you the way my brothers and sisters and I know you. I wish I could call you on the phone and exclaim today’s good news: the next baby is a GIRL!! I can hear your chuckle at my exuberant joy.

Your letters inspire me. I can take heart and strive to imitate you, to become a Nellie Harper to my people. Thank you for pouring yourself out for us, for giving us yourself, day after day after day. Thank you for being the best mom ever.

Always yours,



Other May 7th posts:
Dear Mom
A Reduction of Tears
Lighthearted on a Heavy Day
May 7, 1968
She’s Not Here

Letters from Mom

Holy Toledo!

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This morning, reading a reference to El Greco’s stormy sky over Toledo, I was taken back ten years.

Holy Toledo! somebody exclaimed. My son, in the neighborhood of eleven years old, asked “Why is a city in Spain holy?”

His grandpa stared—the laser beam—at him. “City in Spain?” He looked away, sighed, shaking his head. “Try city in Ohio.”

Now it was Collin’s turn to demonstrate incredulous. We had been reading about the Auto-da-Fé. If he knew anything, he knew that Toledo was a city in Spain. He’d never heard of Toledo, Ohio.

They both looked at me.

Steady, I thought, steady. I smiled.

You are both correct! Toledo is a city in Spain and a city in Ohio.

That neither of them knew both facts surprised me.  Americans, I think, tend to speak only English and be familiar only with America. But many classically-educated kids know details of the Peloponnesian War but not a rudimentary fact about their own state. (That, my friend, is not a theoretical example.)  

It makes me curious? Did you know both* locations of Toledo?



*Per Wikipedia, Toledo is a also district in Belize, a municipality in Brazil, a town in Colombia, and a city in the Philippines, in Uruguay, in Illinois, Iowa, Oregon and Washington.


Satisfied with Small



Growing up in a large family with a dad who invited students over, my idea of a holiday meal is a groaning board laden with food, tables jammed up against each other with tablecloths dressing the wound between the two, good plates for company with everyday plates tucked in less conspicuous spots, windows steamed, a procession of mounded bowls, a continuous buzz of conversation, singing Doxology, and hours of clean-up for the poor souls whose names on the calendar rotation indicated dish washer and dish dryer. That was my normal.

Early in our marriage we continued the tradition and gathered friends like you would wildflowers: always room for a few more in the bunch.

As our family grows we have the possibility of expanding to 29, as we did for Thanksgiving, or contracting to a table for four. My preference is for big and boisterous. But—shock!—there are others to consider. 

As silly as it sounds, the first time we had one of our small holiday meals, I had a personal crisis. I was smiling and saying It’ll be great!, but the real me inside was stomping, banging pots, and feeding my misery. All sorts of traitorous thoughts ran through my head, the foremost being “Why go to all this trouble for a meal for five?”

A shaft of light, a tiny thought, was the game-changer. What if Mom could come, if she were your only guest? Would you do all you could to make it a special meal?

Serious? If I could have my mom at my table just once, I would plan for weeks to have the most splendid menu. I get all throat-lumpy just imagining the privilege of serving Mom a meal in my home.

The light shaft widened to a illuminating column: What if the Lord Jesus came to your little dinner? Would you be crabbing about all the work for a small meal? My Lord at my table? I would buy the best ingredients, take pains to make things lovely, be thrilled to my tippie-toes! I’d be nervous choosing the wine, but we’d figure it out.

Oh child, I tell myself, numbers-schnumbers. Cherish each celebration, great or small.


55 Photos (Quick, Run Away) of My Guys

I’m slowly posting lists of 55.

55 Photographs is a collection of places I’ve been.
55 Sustaining Verses is a collection of, well, sustaining verses.

Now I give you 55 pictures of the guys I wrap my life around.
1 husband, 3 sons, 5 grandsons (no pictures of the 6th until he arrives)

Only one girl—my sister-in-law—is included because I
couldn’t bear to omit one of the best pictures taken in the 1960’s.

If pictures of dead animals bother you, click away. Now.
My guys hunt. My guys fish. My guys eat.
Please know that I held back. And I will hear complaints
about inclusions and omissions from my sons.
I could have done 55 Field and Stream Photos.

There is no order and I didn’t count pictures per person.
I didn’t try to be fair. Fair is where you take the hogs in August.


1. Come with me on a journey


2. It should make you smile


3. What does this mean?


4. Let’s go!


5. Misty Morning’s Ebony Splendor — our beloved first pet.


6. A happy artist


7. Comforting arms


8. Joy in music


9. The prince of solemn faces


10. Samwise


11. Good stock


12. What a hoot!


13. Relaxing after a hard day fishing


14. A degree doesn’t stop the silly faces


15. Adorable


16. Hi-Ho Silver!


17. ~ swoon ~


18. Easter handsomeness


19. A cup of coffee


20. A family tradition


21. The first fish caught


22. The guys



23. His first Officiant gig



24. For the love of frogs


25. Alaska summer job


26. Backpacking


27. Faneuil Hall


28. Virtue Flat


29. Meal on the beach


30. Melt my heart


31. Howdy, partner!


32. He’s a man’s man


33.  Mama makes the best treats


34.  Anticipation


33. The rigors of archery hunting.


34. The results of archery hunting


35. Fishing with Opa


36. Yu-uhm!


37. Success on the heights


38. The Bear


39. Papa on the trampoline


38. Happy with Daddy


39. Run at life. Attack it!


40. Concentration


41. The boy who beats me at Memory.


42. Just a swanging


43. Five grandsons, and one more on his way.


44. Stinkers, all.


45. Sometimes it’s better to close your eyes.


46. On the ladder to the tree fort.


47. He loves limes. So do I.


48. A penetrating look.


49.  He’s a loveable scamp.



50. The mystery of this boy’s thoughts


51. Daddy’s home: all is well


52. Say goodbye to youth


53. Docking station


54. Coaxing a smile.


55. Was all this really necessary?

In Praise of The Teaching Company


Here is the loot I brought home from my brother’s house. He must love me: he let me borrow anything from his vast Teaching Company library.

David and I share a thirst for learning. Several years back, I bought a suitcase in Pennsylvania and filled it with bulky Teaching Company courses—mostly Medieval studies and music history—on cassette. Did you know that you can replace the cassettes with CDs for $10?

Luther, Literature and Lee. How is that for good stuff?

Color me happy.

Label me loved.

Thank you, David.