Saturday, January 31, 2009

An eighty year old lesson I hope never to forget.

All the participants in the tableau are long dead. What survives is a second hand memory of what happened; the testimony of the witness, my father, as told to me...and of course the sweet, sweet souvenir of the lesson taught some eighty years ago.

I could always imagine the scenario so clearly. I grew up in the house two doors down from my Grandma and Grandpa's house. The last house on 1oth Street, across the street from the slough of marsh and cattails and wild asparagus that lay between us and the Menominee River which ran into Green Bay, the "thumb" of Lake Michigan. Between our house and the river were the railroad tracks. I grew up exploring the same fields, climbing the same willow trees that my Dad had twenty years before me. I spent endless hours in my Grandma's kitchen watching her bake and cook. And although the early 50's addition of the shiny chrome legged, dinette set wouldn't have been a part of the story, I know what the light coming in the kitchen window over the sink looked like and how my Daddy as a young boy would have sat at the table with my grandparents and his three older brothers. I know the pattern of my Grandma's dear old dishes and I can smell the Swedish egg would all be the same, as familiar to me now as it would have been if I was there on that day back in the Great Depression.

In those dark times of homelessness, and closed businesses, and massive unemployment and hunger, hordes of men took to the rails. "Hobos","Tramps" hitched rides on freight cars of trains. They formed loose squatter's villages, camping here and there surviving on handouts and maybe if they were lucky, a small job in exchange for something before hopping the next freight. The hobos even had a cryptic code, their own hieroglyphics which they would scrawl on fenceposts or foundations of homes informing members of their brotherhood passing that way in the future that a compassionate housewife likely to share a slab of bread lives here....or a bad tempered husband with a gun leaning in the corner of the back porch. The slough was a haven for the hobos, and my Grandparents must have been approached frequently.

Tap Tap Tap...Tap. The hobo standing at the bottom of the back stoop humbly and respectfully knocked at the base of the back door, providing some sense of security for the housewife, my Grandma as she opened the door above him. The hobo, so the story goes, asked my Grandmother if she could possibly spare a bar of soap for him. My Grandma agreed that Yes, she had a bar of soap for the man....but wouldn't he also join her family for a meal? My Dad remembered it all vividly, because he sat next to the man who carried on a conversation with him about how Palmolive Soap was the best because you could get a good shaving lather from the minty green bars. After the meal, the hobo and his new bar of Palmolive disappeared through the cattails in the direction of the river.

The story continued. The next day, standing in her kitchen Grandma heard, ...tap, tap, tap, and according to my Dad, wondered what her previous day's generosity might have brought upon her as she opened the back door to find yesterday's supper guest.

He offered up his gift.
He'd returned to the campfire between the river and the railroad tracks and had constructed a little table from the end piece of an old wooden apple crate and finger thick willow branches which he nailed together with nails probably pulled from old crate boards salvaged as firewood to warm the men as they slept on the damp ground . He'd even used a jack knife to carve decorative notches up and down the table legs. I know that man could never imagine how very sweet and beloved his table is to me.

Relegated to the family cottage along with other family castoff furnishings whose worth today, if appraised on Antique's Roadshow, would doubtlessly stun my Grandparents, the little table was used for imaginary tea parties by my cousins and me. The inevitable march of life brought fewer and fewer gatherings as little girls and boys became teenagers and moved on...the Grandparents passed away...then some of the sons who had sat around the kitchen table sharing the meal with the stranger. The dear cottage and it's contents were lost in the garish 60's. Forgotten.

Then, one day,with my parent's home as it's return address, a mystery in a large cardboard box arrived at our house. What could it be? As I opened it and pulled aside the protective packaging I peered down inside to see the familiar scars of the apple crate table top and gasped. How could I be so fortunate to possess this treasure? The treasure of the sweet little table, certainly. But it's the story, the ability now as an adult to have such insights into my Grandparent's moral compass, to realize how the generosity of their response to their unexpected guest shaped my Dad and his brothers' way of "doing life", THAT is the treasure. But it's also the unsolvable "sudoku" of what was behind this stranger's gift of gratitude..what was his life's beginning and it's end?

So, I find myself the unworthy custodian of the little table and it's lesson.

"Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

Hebrews 13:1-2

Sunday, January 25, 2009


A thought has been ricocheting around in my head for several day now, and keeps surfacing despite all the distractions I try to throw in front of it. I know the signs. I've "been here before". This is a Pop-Up from God, no doubt about it.

It all started two weeks ago today as I was showering before church. (Look for a future blog on "Shower Chronicles") This scripture popped into my mind:

"being confident of this, that HE who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus"

Ok. One of my favorite scripture verses. Thanks for the reminder, God...You and I KNOW there is alot of work to be completed in this girl! Now, knee-highs or full on panty hose today?

Later, in church, after a wonderful, joyful ( it's the only place where my heart is so full I am pushed past the barriers society places on me NOT to share my singing voice!) opening to the service, Our Pastor got up to begin his message. With a scripture. With a scripture from Philippians....Now, from the Living Bible:

"And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you to grow in His grace until His task within you is finally finished ..."

Ok. Again, Ok. Hey, that's interesting! Now, settle in and open my journal. Which color pen do I feel like taking notes in today?

Home from church and time to settle in for a Bible Study Fellowship "marathon"...completing my lesson for Monday night's meeting. All is in readiness. Lesson on clipboard, colored markers and pen at the ready, journal open to a clean page for insights the Holy Spirit really wants to press upon me.
And there is was, this time in black and white on the lesson page:
"And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in His grace until the His task within you is finally finished.."

OKAY. Wouldn't THIS get YOUR attention?

God has spoken to me in this way many times before.... To draw me to join with Him in the work HE is doing in me. To invite me to pay attention and slow down to spend time with LISTEN to what He is saying and to be obedient. I use the word OBEDIENCE because I realize it is not only being thankful that He is reminding me that He is at work within me, but also that as a believer, I am to follow His example. I am made in His image am to reflect Him in my life and actions.

So. Back to that ricocheting thought. WHAT does FINISH "look like" in my life? What could that mean?

FINISH... all those dribs and drabs of projects around the house...well, sure. First one that comes to mind is a miniature chest I had promised to my niece. It is to be my version of Swedish rosemalling on a small blue chest for her American Girl doll with her name painted among the flowers.

FINISH...all those half finished letters, or those only begun in my mind, to elderly aunts and good friends. I construct and diagram the letters in my mind but get distracted before actually putting pen to paper and stamped envelope in mailbox.

FINISH...New Year's Resolutions. This comes to mind as it IS January, and they are fresh, and in some cases actually being worked out this year....Not so much the exercise and better diet ones.....

FINISH...What about all the "We should get together...Let's make that happen"s? In the past four months I have made some wonderful re-connections with old and dear friendships that in my Lexapro haze, content to sit on the couch and knit with my TV "friends", I allowed to lapse.

I have been SO convicted that while I wasted time watching and sometimes REwatching old movies with knitting needles clicking away in my raggy hoodie...these friends were going through various rough spots in life that as a FRIEND I could have been hugging, praying, and helping them through. Wasted opportunities.

FINISH...This hit me, even the annual "catching up" with old college friends in this year's Christmas card epistles brought word of not only the introduction of grandbabies to some of our lives, but sad circumstances in employment and relationships...with the sadder promise that these look as though they will worsen. What keeps us from actually planning to get together, FACE TO FACE after all these decades? THAT is a thought I am convicted to finish in action.

FINISH....In the past two weeks as I have thought about it, I have become aware that I think alot. I get ideas and flesh them out in my mind and then pat myself on the back," GREAT idea! That would be so neat, and it can work! You go girl!"...but I don't. I congratulate myself on my ideas, but often don't put any legs to them at all...and they evaporate into thin one else even hears the idea...poof. SO NOT finished.

And most importantly, aren't all the many ways I DON'T FINISH based on my thinking that my time to work in these many situations...that my time on earth, is limitless? How ridiculous is THAT? I also love the scripture that tells us that God planned all the details of each of our lives, His purposes for us, BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF TIME! I don't think He so much planned how many stitches I would knit in front of HGTV somehow.

I want to FINISH well. I want to accept HIS invitation to join Him in the work HE is doing in my life. Hey, that's from our small group "Experiencing God" study discussion for tonight...Go FIGURE!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In the bleak midwinter....

In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone:

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter

Long ago.

Christina Rossetti, 1872

Except it's not "long ago", it is NOW. The cold is literally radiating into our house through windows and doors. I am staring out white framed windows,hung with white slatted blinds at everything covered in a thickening slather of white, white snow. This morning it is not the soft fluff of a snowglobe slowly falling like is insistent, tight little ice pellet snow, urgently throwing itself to earth with a purpose.

I hate the fact that the calendar is forcing me to give up the cheerful bits of Christmas decorations around the house....I am putting up a fight. I've cleared away the Santas and most obvious Christmas themed frippery, but the white lights ....I NEED them!

How to counteract the effect of bleak midwinter:

Paint your rooms in stimulating colors to contrast the outdoors. ( Seriously, It really is looking alot like "The Shining" outside my "sun" porch....I am waiting for Jack Nicholson to pop into my back deck window...)

The Benjamin Moore paint names describe what I'm talkin' about. I've a BM 1307 GERANIUM laundry and half bath ( I talked myself down from "Habanero"). My front room is BM 2019-40 AMERICAN CHEESE ( go to your refrigerator and look at your Kraft Singles...then go up two steps and you're there). BM 828 AIRWAY BLUE flows through the main parts of the first floor living areas. This actually is a beautiful, soft, comforting blue.

My latest, and presently most loved antidote to bleak midwinter, is the repainted sunroom. I considered colors, literally for years before coming up with BM 2146-40 PALE AVOCADO. Well worth the wait. It is perfect and I LOVE it. It is the bright shade of the center of a stalk of asparagas or a creamy quacamole. It somehow energizes me whenever I look into the room and reminds me of Spring....which will return.

So, as January insists upon ripping cheerful Christmas from the tight grip of my frozen fingers, I'd like to thank Avery, my partner in painting adventures for all he's done to help me survive what Christina Georgina Rossetti so accurately described...long ago.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Holidays Negotiated...Important lessons learned

Amy Grant in Grand Rapids for a Christmas concert with her husband, Vince Gill, was quoted as saying that she has come to realize that we "negotiate" the holidays. I don't know why I found this terminology so intriguing, but the longer I considered it as related to our holidays this year, the more I found myself embracing that concept.

NEGOTIATE, v., 4. to move through, around, or over in a satisfactory manner: to negotiate a difficult dance step.

Early in October, I saw the clouds forming on the horizon. I admit it. I have considered the holidays as an annual obstacle course. I hold myself responsible to make the holidays everything everyone around me WANTS them to be. THIS year I was determined to not merely survive the season, but to ENJOY it.

I started planning...and baking early. I prioritized and made certain there was time for not only the things expected but also for some special "extracurricular" activities I wanted to make happen. As much as possible, I didn't allow myself to think ahead, but rather planned and worked to accomplish whatever was necessary day by day.
I simplified and only put my favorite Christmas decorations ( Maybe 1/3 of my stash!)
I found ways to prepare foods for big meals ahead of time, ready to slide into ovens, or uncover and serve.


The Last holiday-ish event, a wonderful wind down cup of coffee and gift exchange with our next door neighbors happened yesterday afternoon...a relaxing hour of catching up and looking ahead.


A candlelit Swedish Smorgasbord dinner with two other "Svenska Flickas"...and their husbands ( made a major discovery that a meat market in town with an Italian name is actually owned by SWEDES who make potato sausage just like my Grandmas!)

Decorating and hosting a table at our church's annual Ladies' Christmas Dessert program. It is always a beautiful night of meeting new friends and focusing on God's greatest Gift to us, His Son.

Attending the breathtaking "Imagine" presentation with almost our whole family. The wonder of how it makes me feel like a small child whenever I see it.

A wonderful Grandmothers, Moms, and babies lunch/playdate with all the Fredericks and Campbell women, on a snowy day at Megans.

An overnight road trip to Detroit with Becky, Megan, Adam and Caity. We spent Santa Lucia Day in the IKEA is Canton shopping and eating Swedish meatballs and lingonberry soda.

A quiet Christmas Eve with Christian and Emily here for the evening of dinner and euchre .

Plenty of spontaneous coffee klatches with friends, handcrafting of some Christmas gifts, catching up with old friends in annual Christmas card notes...and watching the wonder of three Grandbabies enjoying Christmas.


Friday, January 2, 2009

First resolution....CHECK!

January 2, 2009

After many months of being so inspired as I've meandered from blog to blog to blog , and with alot of help, I'm jumping in! I'm not sure where this will take me, but any creative outlet for someone living in the "lake effect" affected shores of Lake Michigan in the winter HAS to be a good thing. I wonder how many other newborn bloggers are taking first steps this day?

Yes, I am 57 years old, for crying out loud. It is time to ACT on my many threats (read: resolutions)...Who knows where I will go from here? FINALLY learning more about using my laptop...experimenting with new recipes.... designing and sewing clothing, taking up my paintbrushes...moving from watercolors to oils....Tai Chi...opening and READING the stack of wonderful books stacked and waiting for me...learning to speak Swedish...becoming a marathon runner...Whoops definitely delete that.

The sky is the limit.

Come on in, Helen. The water's fine!