Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Day of 2008 . . .

It's a crisp, cold day here, sunny and bright, but a little bit ago I looked out the window and it was snowing, a fine, glistening snow. It looked as if someone had shaken a container of glitter over the yard!
What a winter it's been!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Winter Surprise!

The first snow this year came quietly, filling the yard and street as we slept.
We went to sleep with the weatherman's words reassuring us: dusting. It was going to be “just a dusting of snow.”
Ha! It was more like 7.5 inches of heavy wet snow, making the roads slick and every tree branch and flower stalk a work of glistening art.
With such beauty as that round about, who could complain?
Today the snow is dripping slowly from those same silver branches, but there's more snow in the forecast. This time they're calling for an inch or two.
If the ratio from “a dusting : 7.5 inches holds true, it's going to be a heavy snowfall!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Have A Winner!

The voting was close, but there's a winner!
If you go to today's Inspired Bliss post, you'll see which badge won the contest for The Mother Letter Project here.
Stay tuned for more Mother Letter Project news!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Mother Letter Project -- You're Invited to Write!

It has all the elements of the most romantic movie -- and you're invited to be part of it!
The Mother Letter Project is a surprise Christmas gift for the wife of a very romantic, creative husband -- a letter blog consisting of letters from mothers to mothers, covering any and every aspect of mothering you might think of.
You can read all about it in Robin's post on Inspired Bliss, here, as well as Robin's e-mail interview with "Secret Daddy" the sweet husband who thought of this. And you're invited to write a letter to a mom to be part of this project/gift!
If you do write a letter for The Mother Letter Project, please let us know in a comment here, so we can celebrate your creativity, too!

A Real Thanksgiving

What a wonderful Thanksgiving!
We used to drive ourselves crazy trying to make sure our kids didn't kill one another as they grew up.
“Someday you'll be friends with each other, and you won't want to be holding grudges for silly things you did to one another growing up,” we used to tell them as they rolled their eyes and stomped away.
We'd insist on apologies. We'd arrange opportunities for bonding. We'd talk and talk and talk about “how good and lovely it is when brethren dwell together in unity.”
As far as we could tell it wasn't making all that much difference.
Until they actually did grow up.
Now, they really are friends with one another. They enjoy getting together. As far as we can tell, while there is still a bit of occasional friction, they aren't holding any grudges too closely to their hearts.
Which makes family gatherings delightful, full of laughter, good conversation, and fun.
It was worth all the hard work, and then some.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Indulgence and Luxury

This morning I indulged myself, and watched the sun come up.
Making time to watch stars fade as the sun washes over the sky is a luxury I usually forgo. There are too many things to get started on, I tell myself as I bustle around accomplishing my early morning routine.
Once in awhile, though, it's a good thing to just sit with a mug of hot coffee and watch morning come.
Today the moon was the thinnest sliver of crescent, hanging like an ornament between the branches of the sycamore. Dry leaves have caught in the big hostas, and a few leaves still litter the back yard. The yard is colored in the browns and bronzes and dull greens of late autumn, but the sky -- the sky was pink and orange and a thin rim of scarlet overtaking the blue of night.
Indulgence and luxury in the back yard -- what a way to start the morning!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hymns, Again

I love hymns. I've loved them ever since I was a little girl sitting in the midst of a congregation of people who loved to sing them, who sang them well, and who loved to share their passion for hymns with anyone who listened.
Since then I've found a lot of different ways to enjoy hymns. Valerie, who blogs about music for Inspired Bliss, recently highlighted Bart Millard in her Music Video of the Week.
I wasn't particularly familiar with Bart Millard, but I'm a fan now! Check out Millard and his band with I Saw The Light! Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One Good Shopping Idea

My friend Jackie worked many years in Bangladesh, founding a company celebrating the handmade. Motif offers exquisite fabric items designed by Jackie, a noted British designer, and now we can order them online ourselves at Chelle.
Chelle offers bags of all sizes, and you won't believe how lovely they are! I'm getting ready to order at least one for myself, but it's hard to choose! So far the bags I've looked at online are roomy, designed with zippered tops, as well as interior pockets for phones and all the other paraphernalia we all carry around. The colors are vibrant, the designs fresh and lovely, and the fabric is beautiful. If you're looking for a gift for someone you love, this might be it!
I'll be writing more about Jackie's story soon, so watch for it! And in the meantime -- check out Chelle!

Monday, November 17, 2008

One Sure Sign . . .

It's snowing here this morning; the flakes are just drifting down, one at a time, but already I can see little skiffs of snow in the grass by the driveway.
I can't avoid it any longer: the season is changing. You'd think I'd have figured it out when I had to get out my winter coat and gloves, but the trees still were dressed in gold and orange, so I pretended the cold was just temporary.
It's not.
Even I can see that now, with these snowflakes making the view from my window look like a snowglobe.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Of Queens and Kings

It's been one of those weeks when every moment seems filled with things that need to be done.
This evening I had a long list: a little hand laundry. Clean the refrigerator. Write some Thanksgiving notes. Plan a Thanksgiving dinner menu. Read two chapters of Group Dynamics.
I didn't get any of those things done. Instead I got caught up in the PBS series on the British monarchy, specifically The House of Windsor.
What is it about royalty that so captures our imagination?
The palaces are lovely, and Queen Elizabeth resolutely good. I am amazed at the number of people it takes to enable the queen to do all the things she has to do. And she seems to really like people.
I think that's the thing -- she seems to really like people. That's reassuring, the idea that somewhere there's a King or Queen who really cares about the people s/he rules over, the people s/he serves.
I think there's something in us that looks for someone to honor. We want to look up to someone who consistently does the right thing, who is honorable and kind and good.
That's why a bad King or Queen is such a bitter disappointment. Not only do we have to deal with their evil deeds, but we have to cope with their dishonor. It's a shameful thing, in the most basic sense.
Queen Elizabeth has kept faith with her subjects, and deserves their affection and honor. It's a lovely thing to see.
It makes me think of the King we honor, the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One who will reign forever.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The past day or so has been windy, and leaves have been raining from our trees. The back yard glows as if it's lit from within; golden leaves on the ground and the few still hanging from branches create a circle of light that brightens up even this rainy grey day.
Leaf-rakers and leaf-blowers and leaf-mowers are all busy trying to clean up the natural clutter; it's almost as futile as cleaning up after kids. Eventually the yard will be clean again, and so will the house, but in the meantime chaos, in the form of what looks like a mess, reigns.
Sometimes someone will assert that clutter (or a mess) is an indication of creativity, that it means someone is busy creating. I think it might be more accurate to say it's a sign of life, that someone or something has been busy living.
Perhaps those two are the same thing, creativity and life.

Golden Circle

It has been a lovely autumn.
The color around us has been rich, vibrant, long-lasting. Burning bushes all seemed to turn scarlet all over, all at once. Oaks are burnished and bronze, and maples looked as if they'd been dusted with orange and gold and red.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two Quick Web Adventures

I love the way the Internet allows us to go exploring from the comfort of our own desk chairs!
Here are two things you might find interesting: the preview of a documentary, Rumblings of Imminence, about the New Madrid fault (coincidentally written and produced by my son!)
And my newest post on Inspired Bliss about coffee and conversation with my best friend.
Take a few minutes and go exploring!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

One Wise and Funny Story

My friend Kathy is wise and funny, and sometimes tells the story of the time she was fretting that she couldn't remember the sermon her pastor (who happens to be my husband!) preached the Sunday before.
Her husband thought for a bit, then told her that he couldn't remember every meal she'd cooked for him, either, but that all of them had been nourishing, and even if a sermon wasn't memorable, he was sure it was nourishing, too.
We all laughed, and it's become one of my favorite stories because it's funny, but also because it's wise.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Places To Go . . . Fresh Grounded Faith Conference

I had the privilege of hearing Jennifer Rothschild speak at a Woman's Holiday Breakfast sponsored by Immanuel Bible Foundation last December. The morning was punctuated by an ice storm as we left, with tiny ice pellets pinging on the pavement, making travel home an adventure.
Jennifer was wonderful, though, and worth the effort -- warm, faithful, encouraging.
She is speaking again this week-end in Springfield at a new kind of event -- a Fresh Grounded Faith conference. You can read all about it in the article I wrote for the Springfield State-Journal Register.
I had the pleasure of talking with Jennifer about this event -- she is a delight -- and I can tell you she's excited to come. If you get a chance to attend this Fresh Grounded Faith conference, I encourage you to go.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chanting Hope

Suzannah Lessard's essay The Luxury of Order, taken from the House Beautiful book If These Walls Could Talk, Thoughts of Home -- particularly her comments about “Gregorian chant sung on a dark morning in Lent” -- reminds me of how easily appearances can deceive.
What a grounding thing it is to sing or listen to Gregorian chant, both ethereal and earthy at the same time. How does that happen? Is it a combination of words and music? Expectation? The juxtaposition of experience and hope?
Some things don't take to language easily, and sometimes reality is one of them. We see something we are sure is true, and it turns out not to be.
Autumn comes, and trees are stripped bare of everything that looks alive. Winter comes, and death glitters with icy chill. From every appearance, life is overcome by death.
But even then, underneath the chill of death, there is life waiting.
If we rely only on our impressions, on what we think we see, we can be deceived.
We need to be sure we understand; we need to listen to what the music is telling us: our hope is not in what we can see or hear, but in what God does.
Our hope is in Him.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Number of Things

Robert Louis Stevenson said it, and I think it's true: “The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.”
Known for his children's poetry as well as his adventure stories, Stevenson's cheerful couplet suggests that it's the number of things that should make us happy.
For Stevenson, that might have seemed more true than it does to us now. He lived in a time when a number of things weren't available to many people, and life wasn't as comfortable as we experience it to be.
We have many many things, and what some of us have learned is that it really isn't all about the things at all. It's about the relationships, it's about the giving, it's about the loving and caring.
Maybe that revelation is the best thing we can say about the wealth of things around us -- the comfort and convenience is nice, but the truth that things aren't everything is even better.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Autumn Liturgy

Sometimes it's hard to ignore how blessed we are.
Farmers around here are taking corn and beans out. This land is so productive, so fertile and rich it's almost Rubenesque. The harvest pours into trucks, elevators, and barges, golden and wholesome.
Fields are emptied and left to rest. Before long, farmers will shed their tractors and combines, and try to find time to rest as well.
In the meantime, they are bringing the harvest home.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Well Red Mom . . .

Some things are easy to change.
A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting where the organizers decided to pamper us. They set up spa stations for us. There was the usual self-conscious giggling as we tried lip exfoliator and smoothed on satiny hand cream. We all had fun mixing up fragrant bath salts. But my favorite, and the table where we lingered longest, was the fingernail painting table.
We had about 10 color choices, everything from sparkly pearl polish to fire engine red. As we polished away, we visited. When we finished, I had lovely, bright red fingernails for the first time since I was 12 years old.
I was amazed at how those red fingernails altered my attitude! I felt different, somehow -- more conspicuous, more noticeable.
And boy, did people notice! I noticed lots of glances at the grocery store as I flaunted my fingers. Not everyone was impressed, though. One family member just stared at my hands, shook his head, and said, “Wrong. It's just wrong.”
While the color of my fingernails was easy to change, attitudes aren't so easy!
I've thought about that a lot, lately.
Evidently once a mom, always a mom!

Friday, October 3, 2008

One More Way Things Are Changing

Here's one way I know things are changing: the first thing I reach for in the morning these days is often my laptop, not the newspaper on the front porch.
I love print newspapers. I like the feel of them, and I like that moment when I first shake one open and look to see what's happened while I wasn't looking. It feels luxurious, that settling down with a cup of coffee and something to read.
But more and more that something to read is on my laptop, whether it's an online newspaper (I can find out what's happening almost anywhere in a matter of moments) or my favorite blogs or an e-zine.
I don't want to lose print newspapers or magazines. There is something satisfying about holding something in my hand, or tucking it under my arm or in my purse and taking it with me when I have early morning appointments. My laptop doesn't quite do that for me.
My laptop is somewhat portable, but not as comfortable under my arm, and there's something quite literal about the idea of connecting -- if you can't get a connection you won't connect.
The growing importance of online news, information, and entertainment seems to shove out the old ways of getting those things.
Surely there's room for both in the world!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Falling into Temptation

I succumbed to temptation.
There by the checkout at our local Barnes & Noble was a rack of music with the usual mix of pop, country, and pseudo-classical CDs. I was looking them over half-heartedly when I noticed it: The Four Seasons. Joshua Bell. Vivaldi.
I didn't buy the album the first time I saw it, or the second. Not even the third.
But the fourth time it was chilly and rainy outside, and I could just imagine how bright and lovely Joshua Bell would sound playing Vivaldi. And I fell.
Forgive me, husband, for I have transgressed against the budget.
When you hear it, though, I hope you'll forgive me. It's a wonderful CD.
I'm no music critic. I'm just a music appreciator. Having said that, this is everything I hoped it would be: bright, lovely, sinuous, evocative. If you're familiar with Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, you know it's like being outside experiencing each season in every kind of weather, hearing sounds you've not noticed before, seeing colors of varying intensity, smelling the rain, the flowers, the leaves lying on the ground.
Joshua Bell's playing is strong and yet delicate; his interpretation is inventive and tickles my imagination. He makes me smile, like an old friend who's come to share the day.
I've listened to this CD over and over again already, and it still sounds fresh and beautiful.
I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Heart's at Home

I love Hearts at Home!
As a younger mom I often felt isolated. Most of the women I knew had jobs they got dressed up for, and my job often involved spit-up and other stains. The first time I went to a conference I felt as if someone else understood.
I remember being impressed with the chocolate, the hand lotion in the restrooms, and the overall attitude that my decision to be home with my family was a valid one.
So when I got a chance to volunteer with Hearts at Home, I jumped at it. For 12 years I wrote a monthly column in our local newspaper, but that season has passed. (A wonderful writer, Patty Maier, will be writing that column now, joining the excellent writing team of Julie Kaiser, Jill Savage, and Mary Steinke. You can read their work on the newspaper website.) Patty's first column will run this coming Sunday.)
I'm still writing for Hearts in their magazine occasionally, and on their website's blog. In fact, if you'd like to know The Trouble with Dogs, you can read it here.
While you're on the website, I invite you to look around. Check out conference information, indulge in the blog and articles, and investigate the other encouraging things Hearts at Home offers moms.
After all these years, I still believe home is a good place for my heart!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Twelve Reasons to Stay Put

I like my house.
By any standard it's a nice house, spacious and full of light. The kitchen is well equipped and pretty, the bedrooms look out on green spaces, and there's room for family, books, and conversation.
I know someday we might need to move. Someday we might want to move. But not yet.
“Wouldn't you like to downsize?” asked one of my daughters, noting that only her dad and I live here now. “A cozy bungalow -- doesn't that sound appealing?”
Well, no. It doesn't. And there are several reasons why:
* This house is full of memories. It's the last house where my dad visited us, and the last house where John's parents came to see us. I remember them all here for family dinners, or walking up the driveway or in the yard, or just stopping by for a visit.
*Seven of our eight kids spent a lot of time growing up here. Two of them had their weddings here, one in the back yard, one in the living room.
*All ten of our grandchildren think of this as our house, and have fun when they're here.
*We've remodeled the kitchen and the basement, re-roofed, planted shrubs, trees and flower beds, survived a flooded basement, and painted, patched and papered almost every room in this house. My dad and my uncle, all our kids, their friends -- everyone pitched in to help us fix up this place.
*When our dog Meg died, we buried her in the back yard; two of our boys came a long way to help.
*The rose bushes in the side yard were a gift from my confirmation class students one year. The lilac bush was a gift from another confirmation class.
* We have the best neighbors.
* We like the location -- we can walk uptown easily.
* This house has a peaceful quiet that I love. John and I enjoy breakfast at the picnic table or coffee on the swing or chilly Sunday afternoons in front of a fire.
* Did I mention all the family celebrations -- the Christmas morning when we got up to a picture-perfect snow, or the Easter egg hunts, or the Fourth of July backyard baseball games? Thanksgiving dinners when we have to set up tables in the living room and the basement? These walls have absorbed the joy and fun of those family times; on a quiet day they echo back that joy and fun.
* I like having space. I want room to spread out, room to invite people into. I would rather create cozy, not have it imposed on me by the down-size of a house.
* This house is a home, a shelter. When I turn onto our street, I feel as if I'm returning to a place where I belong, where I can relax or where I can get to work -- whichever I need to do. This house is the place where I can locate my family, my heart.
How will I ever fit all that into a bungalow?

Monday, September 29, 2008

One Fun Thing

Here's a fun thing I found on one of my favorite blogs, PENSIEVE: Wordles.
You have to go take a look! and then you can make a Wordle of your own.
It's a captivating form of wordplay, designed to tempt and coax the artist in you.
Just be sure you have a little time to play!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Beauty Is Its Own Reward

The Midwest is hardly ever listed on “most breathtaking” lists. The nation's breadbasket doesn't win tourism awards. We're hardly ever photographed the way Big Sur is, or the Great Smoky Mountains, or Cape Cod.
But the Midwest has subtle beauty for those who have eyes to see, and this week-end is a good example. As trees color the hills and roadsides from green to gold and red, fields undergo their own transformation from green to bronze. Sumac blazes, pumpkins wait for harvest, orange and round and plump. Light filters through spider webs and shimmers on creeks, all tucking themselves in for the coming winter.
Like a crazy quilt, the Midwest in autumn is stitched together with color and texture, piecing beauty and utility into something warm and surprisingly beautiful.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Something Old, Something New . . .

It's always exciting to start something new.
For me something new is a new weekly column on the Blissfully Domestic website, on the Inspired Bliss channel. You can find my first Grandma on Board column here, and a new column again each Thursday. You can also use the Inspired Bliss button on the side column of Notes from Home to find the Inspired Bliss website and explore all the other excellent posts on that channel.
Oh -- the something old?
That would be me!

Boredom, Ennui, Restlessness, and then some . . .

I've been reading Kathleen Norris's new book, A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life: Acedia & Me, and as always, I'm both touched and challenged by her insight.
In this book she shares a great deal about her marriage, her husband's death, and the acedia she experiences in the midst of her everyday life, in the challenges of making a life in the midst of daily responsibilities and death.
Norris writes, “It's easier and far more efficient to go about our daily tasks as though we were the sun around which the earth is spinning, and devote our attention not to divine mysteries but to whatever comes along: deadlines, e-mail, rush-hour traffic. And all of this is oddly comforting.”
She continues, “While we complain about the stress, it reassures us to know we're busy -- it means we're essential. We convince ourselves that we are far too important to die, and this is how we live from one day to the next.”
So -- what, exactly is acedia?
Boredom? Ennui? Restlessness? A sense of futility?
All of the above, and then some.
And what is the remedy?
One of the nice things about Norris is that she doesn't preach; she shares her life with her readers. She doesn't provide prescriptions, she offers pieces of her experience.
And in that life and those experiences, we can see glimpses of God dealing with one of His beloved children. No one-size-fits-all remedy. Just God, being God.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Little Things Like Silverware

Sometimes it's really all about the little things -- the small pleasures and irritations of daily life that bring us joy and build our character.
I blogged about little things on the Hearts at Home website this month. Find out how loading the dishwasher turned out to be a lesson in both character building and marriage.
And let me know how you load the silverware!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Telling The Story, One Day At a Time

I love stories.
I love to hear them, I love to read them, I love to tell them. I just love stories.
My favorite story is the gospel story -- the good news of Jesus Christ. And I love the “story songs” that tell that story, or talk about telling that story.

Here are some of my favorites:

“I Love To Tell the Story”

“Tell Me The Old, Old Story”

“Tell Me the Stories of Jesus”

“We've A Story to Tell to the Nations”

These old hymns always remind me of the privilege of sharing the story of Jesus, the responsibility to tell it, not just with words, but with my life. They remind me to be intentional and deliberate about telling this wonderful story, and they remind me of the pleasure God takes in our sharing this story.

Sometimes I think heaven will just be one big sing-along!

So -- what's your favorite old hymn?

Rain, Rain, Go Away

This past week-end's rain left our yard soggy, but the sun has come out to dry everything off.
We scurried around in our basement as the rain continued to fall, putting things up from the floor, wondering why we haven't made more progress in sending our grown-up kids' possessions home with them, watching the creek as it rose and rose.
By noon, though, the rain had stopped and the creek started to fall, slowly at first. The basement was still dry!
For us this was a morning's anxiety; for our friends and neighbors in Texas and Louisiana and Chicago -- not to mention Haiti and Cuba -- this was devastating. Our prayers are with them.


Went out to sweep the porch a few days ago and found this visitor.
I backed up fast -- I'm not a big bug person -- but then I couldn't resist snapping a few shots. He -- she? -- kept turning his head to watch me, which was a little freaky. I felt as if I'd stepped onto the set of some sci-fi movie.
Later the 5-year old identified my visitor as a praying mantis. A boy in her pre-school class had brought one in for show-and-share and she recognized his face and form. We examined the photographs carefully, noting the fine details of this particular praying mantis. The detail and planning that must have gone into creating this small creature are amazing!
Next time, I'll try to remember to introduce myself.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Five Ways to Work Toward a Culture of Life

Working to create a culture of life doesn't require winning an election.
It does require courage, commitment, and creativity.
It also requires discernment and the ability -- and willingness -- to think about different possibilities with clarity.
It might even involve some compromise -- supporting a candidate we don't agree with 100%, or accepting some policy we don't support wholeheartedly in exchange for making progress on something more truly important.
It means we have to be able to define clearly, both for ourselves and for others, what we believe to be negotiable and what is not.
It means becoming invested in that conversation with God we call prayer.


I like Sarah Palin. She's feisty and brave and funny, and she's a mom, which means that, no matter what else she does, she's a working woman.
There's still a lot I'd like to know, though.
I think she has a serious lack of a certain kind of experience, particularly in foreign policy. I'd like to know how Senator McCain is working to help her learn what she would need to know as his Vice President; how he'll prepare her to carry on if the worst should happen to him. I'd like to know how he intends to utilize her gifts and abilities in that role. I'd like to know what he expects of her, and how she intends to meet those expectations.


If it came to a choice between a candidate with integrity of character but little experience, and a candidate with experience but little integrity of character, I think I'd choose the candidate with character.


Kristen commented on a previous post, noting that “We'll know women have really advanced when we don't have to behave like bad male caricatures...the posturing is like the bad menswear shoulder pad suits of the 80s... “ I think she's right. We women need to quit imitating men when we run for office (or run companies or do any of the things women are doing now) because when we do that, we neglect the distinctive gifts we as women bring to a situation.
Andy Crouch addresses the postures we adapt in his book Culture Making. He writes, “I've found that a helpful word for (these various responses) is postures. Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance. It is the position our body assumes when we aren't paying attention, the basic attitude we carry through life.”
Too often both women and men adopt what Crouch calls the “gestures” of everyday life that we think we should adopt -- the gestures that will help us fit in, that fit the way we think the world is or should be -- and not the gestures that reflect who we really are. Those gestures, repeated over and over often enough, become part of our posture.
So, politicians adopt gestures they think will win votes, and over time those gestures become part of their posture, whether they are authentic or not, at least initially.
The question is, how do we discover what is real in a person and what is not? And how do we live so politicians will trust us when we see them as they really are?
We need to be discerning.


I don't agree with a lot of things Senator Joe Biden says or does, but I like this about him: he took care of his family when his wife and daughter died. He made his boys his priority, and that shaped the man he has become.
And I liked Senator Dick Durbin's sharp rebuke of those who would make much of Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy. His defense of the Palin family's privacy in this matter was both pointed and elegant.


Creating a culture of life is work enough for all of us, and it requires God's grace.
Andy Crouch, writing in Culture Making, describes that grace this way: “Do we see a divine multiplication at work after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”
Dizzy with joy. Unearned, unexpected abundance. Grace.
Where is the candidate for office who understands this?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Creating a Culture of Life

Today, and maybe all this week, it's political.
The issues we face are important ones, and it's silly to pretend we're not thinking and talking about them. These posts aren't brief, because the issues are complex, and I don't want to think about them carelessly.
What I'm offering here is only my opinion, a kind of thinking-out-loud conversation, and you're welcome to join in, whether you agree or not -- maybe especially if you don't agree. Feel free to comment!
The only thing we have to agree on is that we'll have this conversation courteously, and stay friends, even if we disagree.


I was talking with an extended-family member the other day about presidential politics. He was gloating about Senator McCain's vice-presidential choice. “Want to just concede right now?” he asked, chuckling.
We discussed some of the pros and cons of various issues, and as I shared my point of view about Senator Obama and abortion, the conversation became more serious. He agreed that abortion is a bad thing, but “so is bringing a child into the world who isn't wanted, or whom the parents -- or parent -- can't care for properly.”
He brings up a fair point, but I think he stops too soon.
In my opinion, the answer to that argument isn't to abort the child, but to help that family cope with an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy. That help doesn't have to come from the government, either, although adapting government policies to enable safe adoption more easily wouldn't be a bad start.
Was it President Reagan who talked about a culture of life? I really don't remember if he used that phrase, but I think it speaks to the real answer to the question of abortion.
When we value each life -- see it as something to cherish and celebrate -- we are more likely to find solutions to the difficult emotional and economic problems that come with unexpected or unwanted pregnancies. We make room in our lives for what we value, even if it requires sacrifice of some kind.
How do we create a culture of life?


In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch talks about the importance of cultivation and creativity in building a culture, and his definition of culture covers a variety of the ways in which we organize our lives -- including ethnic culture, political culture, religious culture, and so on.
When he talks about cultivation, he is talking about a kind of nurturing, a way of building into something so it grows and flourishes. When he talks about creativity he is talking about finding ways to invent and re-invent anything and everything that has to do with our lives.
Crouch says, “What is most needed in our time are Christians who are deeply serious about cultivating and creating but who wear that seriousness lightly -- who are not desperately trying to change the world but who also wake up every morning eager to create.”
Abortion is a matter of life or death, and we've had decades of angry accusations back and forth between those who define the rights and responsibilities involved, differently. How much better it would be if, instead of trading acccusations we worked together, creating and cultivating a culture that affirms the importance of life, a culture that seeks to create and cultivate abundant life for all babies, even before birth, as well as the mothers and fathers who are their parents!
It would require our best effort, but isn't the effort worthwhile?


Senator Obama, in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, asserted that common ground on abortion is to work together to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
To me, common ground on abortion would begin something like this: recognizing that parents (not to mention the father-to-be) have a legitimate interest in being informed if their minor-aged daughter is seeking an abortion. Parental notification that recognizes the danger some girls might face from a parent under those circumstances, but that also recognizes legitimate parental interest, might move toward convincing me that abortion-advocates are serious about “common ground.”
“Preventing unwanted pregnancies” sounds too much like a rationale for comprehensive sex education programs and condom hand-outs to me.
Sex education isn't something I'm categorically opposed to. A comprehensive sex education program that begins in kindergarten with lessons on same-sex marriage and technical descriptions of various sexual acts -- now that I'm opposed to, and not just on moral grounds. I don't think kindergartners need that kind of sex education, period.
Perhaps we should help parents understand more about how they might educate their kindergarteners about sex instead. Isn't home a natural place for those talks?
And if it's not, what can we do about that issue, without unquestioningly giving the responsibility for that education to teachers/school administrators/the government?


This has implications for end-of-life issues, as well.
When each life is cherished and celebrated, that means no elderly person, no special needs person, no person with a life-threatening illness that falls on the wrong side of an insurance adjustor's cost/benefit ratios will have to fear abandonment or worse, encouragement to “just let go.”
There comes a time when it is appropriate for each of us to die, and sooner or later we'll all get there.
Do we really want to rush someone toward death just because it's too difficult or expensive or inconvenient for them to keep on living?
Yet, despite scoffing at the “slippery slope” arguments against abortion, what has happened since Roe-v-Wade is a growing acceptance of euthanasia in our country. It's still whispered about, but a recent case in Oregon proves the point, where a middle-aged man with cancer has been denied treatment by his insurance company because it would only prolong his life, not cure him.


Creating a culture of life -- just how do we go about doing that? What would it look like?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Brief Sightings

We went past a farm stand today, piled high with late summer melons and early fall pumpkins. The furnace is humming, warm against the first chilly evening. Twilight comes earlier and earlier now, and a few trees sport red and orange leaves among green.
Summer is hanging on valiantly, with warm afternoons and bright blue skies, but for how long?

Friday, September 5, 2008

September Song

Yesterday rain whispered around the house all day long.
What was left of Hurricane Gustav came with grey tenacious clouds, and when the rain began it was quiet and steady. We had rain all through the night and all through the day and into the evening again, rain that brought up the creek, greened up the grass, and sang in the windows.
No lightning, no thunder, nothing but rain. Relentless rain.


This time of year I start gathering up light against the dark winter. We have a hosta in the back yard with a generous bouquet of bloom. It reminds me of the first lines of Jane Kenyon's poem Peonies at Dusk, where she says “White peonies blooming along the porch/send out light/while the rest of the yard grows dim.”
The white blooms of our hosta light up the backyard, especially at dusk, when shadows gather.


I got Trisha Yearwood's newest CD, Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, a few weeks ago at Coldwater Creek; the first time or two I listened to it I wasn't impressed. Then I listened to it while I was baking one Saturday afternoon -- probably my favorite way to listen to music -- loud, while I'm working.
It's a great CD! There's not a bad cut on the album -- The Dreaming Fields is beautiful and poignant, while Nothing About You Is Good For Me sizzles with sass. Cowboys Are My Weakness slyly tips the hat to all those guys with “down-home rugged sweetness.” Let The Wind Chase You will speak to anyone who's ever yearned for someone who didn't yearn back, and Sing You Back To Me is a tender end to the album.
If you're looking for something with a little country kick, this album is it!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Abortion and Senator Obama

This rainy evening we are getting Hurricane Gustav's left-overs, and the Republican Party is going about the business of nominating John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Corn is firing, drying down, and fields look like storehouses of gold. We drove past a field of sorghum this week-end, and it looked as if it were on fire.
The temperatures cool off even as political rhetoric heats up.
And so the season changes.


Last week I listened with great interest as Senator Obama gave his acceptance speech. I think he is an honorable man with some good ideas. I especially like his emphasis on a father's responsibility to his family.
I'm convinced he cares about people, and I believe he would give the presidency his best effort.
But I won't be voting for him.
In his speech -- so quickly overshadowed by Senator McCain's announcement of his running mate, Sarah Palin -- Senator Obama talked about his energy policy, but he did not tell us how he intends to pay for it. Higher taxes? Restrictions on our everyday use of non-approved forms of energy? What changes will his policies make to our everyday lives and our budgets? He gave very few details about that part of his energy policy. That concerns me.
It seems too much like one more political pocket-picking.
I thought it admirable that he reached for common ground on thorny issues, but I don't believe working harder to “prevent unwanted pregnancies” even begins to address our differences about abortion -- his compromise falls short, and his voting record on abortion makes it impossible for me to vote for him.
Dennis Byrne writes about one aspect of Senator Obama's voting record on abortion in a column in the August 26, 2008 issue of The Chicago Tribune, reprinted here on Rick Hogaboam's blog Endued, a Blog About Life and God. In that column, Byrne discusses the Senator's resistance in the Illinois Legislature to recognizing any legal rights for a born-alive “product of abortion.”
I agree with Byrne's assertion that “by arguing against the born-alive legislation because it might in some distant and ambiguous way obstruct abortion, Obama implies that the right to an abortion trumps an infant's right to life, even after he is born.”
I don't see how Senator Obama's position on abortion allows him to claim moral leadership.
I believe his position on the basic issue of life is basically immoral.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One Fun Thing for the End of August . . .

Now that the kids are back in school and summer seems to be considering her exit strategy, my natural inclination is to take a look at my surroundings. There is something about this time of year that makes me want to freshen things up, cook something delicious, even clean!
Not knowing how long this nesting instinct will last, I don't want to waste it; those freshening, cooking, cleaning impulses usually come under “discipline” so it's nice when they seem like just the things I want to do.
I found a website to encourage me: Blissfully Domestic -- Everything You Need to Make Family Life Easier. And they're not kidding! Today there's a feature on mismatched chairs, as well as one about health myths. And if you scroll down you'll find a great recipe for pumpkin dip as well as ideas for box lunches -- this is a fun site to explore!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rainy Days and Music

Rainy days are so cozy -- as long as there aren't too many of them in a row.
It's been rainy today; spritzy this morning as I walked our canine house-guests, then pouring early this evening as my dinner partner put the pork chops on the grill.
In between, though, it's just been rainy, off and on, enough to make the grass go green again and the humidity go up. The house darkens down a little as the clouds gather. I turn on the little lamp on the sideboard, then the rain rains itself out and the sun peeks out. An hour later it's darkening down again.
I just figured out how to use the media player on my computer to stream music (I know, techno-challenged and pathetically slow.) I found Sunday Baroque on NPR so on this rainy day while I worked online, I listened to Bach, Handel, Purcell, Vivaldi, and other artists whose names I didn't know but whose music I loved.
What do you do on a rainy day?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Learning and Persevering

We've been enjoying an air show in the back yard lately.
A small hawk family has been taking flight practice, giving the crows who gather here every few nights second thoughts about perching in our trees.
We think there are two, perhaps three young hawks; two adults hover nearby watching, occasionally intervening when the crows get too bold.
While the crows will pick on one hawk, they tend to fly away fast when there's more than one.
Somehow, there's a lesson on bullying there, I suspect.


Speaking of bullies, what's with Russia “punishing” Georgia?


As the Olympics finish up, I thought it would be somehow less interesting with Michael Phelps done swimming. I was wrong.
It was a huge thrill to watch the swimmers -- men and women -- but other events have been compelling, too. The women's marathon just about wore me out!
Watching the perseverance of runners near the 26-mile mark of their race, putting one foot in front of the other over and over, is like watching Paul's words come to life: to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. How will I ever read those words again without picturing those runners wearily, steadfastly running up into the Bird's Nest?
Sometimes it really is a matter of just putting one foot in front of the other and keep on keeping on.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Answers in a Field of Corn

Speaking of glory, Ann Voskamp writes about ripening corn fields and the way they reveal the reality, the glory of God, here on her blog, A Holy Experience. I've been reading Ann's work a while now, and recommend it highly. Treat yourself to a reminder of God's presence in your life.

Such a Thing as Glory

Driving east last night the sunset glimmered rose and peach in the rearview mirror. The moon rose glowing in the west, round and full. Flashing past on each side of the highway, fields of corn, beans, cattle; small towns every few miles, lights winking in windows as families tuck in for the night.
Rich Mullins' music filling the car, reminding me “There's such a thing as glory . . . “

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Desiring . . .

This week I've been listening to Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and I've been listening to what passes for silence around here.
I say “passes for silence” because the silence isn't always very quiet.
There are crickets, trucks, a little song sparrow who has made her home close to ours, various neighborhood construction projects, kids wringing the last fun from summer -- the silence I think I'm getting when I turn off all the appliances and noisemakers in our house is filled up by the noises of the neighborhood.
Those lively noises don't bother me; they have a quality of sharing life about them that is usually pleasing.
And sometimes I've invited Bach into the “silence.” For some reason I've wanted to hear Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring over and over again.
Perhaps it's the good memories associated with that piece of music -- weddings, holidays, quiet mornings with a second cup of coffee. Or it could just be the sheer loveliness of the music. I seem to hear something new each time I listen.
Maybe it's the sense of calm assurance the music seems to hold. This is not intrusive music. It's more like an invitation.
As Kathleen Norris's student said, “Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.”
And sometimes, so does music.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Medal Stand in My Future?

Like so many others, we've been enjoying this month's Olympic coverage.
The extra features on life in China have been interesting, the competitions exciting. When Michael Phelps threw those goggles off onto the side of the pool and rubbed his eyes we just knew something was wrong, even though he'd won the race.
My favorite part of the whole thing, though, is the medal ceremonies. It's fun to watch all the winners, but I must admit I get tingly every time The Star Spangled Banner is played, and feel thrilled for our American medal winners. I love how the camera pans around American fans as they mouth the words, or just stand there, hands on hearts, grinning, crying.
I just know that all across the country, there are people like me, people who could never win that kind of medal, singing along.
And I think to myself that, while I'm no athlete, there are some things I can do well, and I'm inspired to do those things better. I can try harder, invest more of myself in practicing to do those things well.
There might not be a medal stand in my future, but that doesn't mean there can't be excellence.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Invitation

In case you don't know, I write another blog about life as a grandma: Grandma on Board. I wanted to explore ways grandparents matter, and how to be a better grandma. You can scroll through older posts from 2007 and read the first post at Grandma on Board.

Hope to meet you there!

A Cooking Lesson . . . Foot Sandwich

Do you ever get in trouble because of things you've said?
I do. Sometimes I think my diet is mainly composed of foot-sandwich.
I've had to learn to think before I speak, but more importantly, to think about who it is I'm talking with when I choose how to say what I'm thinking. You can read more about the process in a blog entry I wrote on the Hearts at Home website.

It's no surprise that Scripture encourages us to be careful about what we say as well as how we say it. James is blunt: “the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” (James 3:5)
But Scripture also encourages us to remember that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver,” (Proverbs 25:11) and that “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
How we choose the words we use makes a difference in whether or not a situation is “set ablaze” or not; our words can help to “turn away wrath” as beautifully as “apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
I think this applies to situations as diverse as talking with a toddler or dealing with a clerk who is rude to us. How we respond verbally sets the tone for that interaction -- and it reveals a lot about us and how seriously we practice the faith we claim.
James points out in his letter that we should “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) In an indirect way, he's trying to get us to understand the importance of thinking before we speak, considering who it is we are talking to, and letting our words reflect our faith. Then -- we need to act on what we've said: it's not enough to murmur gracious words if there's no gracious action to follow!
I want my words to reflect my faith, to be seasoned with the salt of the gospel, to be gracious, nutritious and delicious.
I think that would be much tastier than foot-sandwich!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pick-Me-Ups and Refreshing Surprises

Last week, while out doing errands, I decided I needed a pick-me-up, so I stopped in at our local Barnes & Noble bookstore, conveniently located next to my favorite Schnucks grocery store.
It seemed like a good time to try Starbucks' new Vivanno smoothie, advertised as a “nourishing blend” of a proprietary protein and fiber powder, real fruit or fruit juices, and milk. It comes in two flavors, banana chocolate or orange-mango banana and sounds refreshing.
I tried one.
The orange-mango banana smoothie was delicious -- rich and filling, and after finishing it I really did have more energy, although that could have just been the experience of sitting down quietly for a few minutes.
While I sat there sipping my Vivanno, I took the opportunity to look at a book I've been eyeing for some time -- Sarah Addison Allen's book The Sugar Queen. I took time to look through the first chapter and was so intrigued I bought the book and brought it home.
I wasn't disappointed.
I'd recently finished -- and loved -- Allen's book Garden Spells, so I expected The Sugar Queen to be similar. It was, but it wasn't. Both books hint at a bit of magic, both books have quirky, interesting characters, both books have relationship-driven plots.
But each book is original in the way those relationships are resolved, and satisfying.
The writing is bright and fun. These are two books I highly recommend!


Another book I've read recently is A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. This mannerly mystery solves the question of whether a maid's death is suicide or murder, and the hero, Charles Lenox, is just the kind of neighbor one would want if one lived in London in 1865.
This is a quiet book without gratuitous violence or even unnecessary roughness, but the mystery is absorbing and beautifully written, with a few twists and surprises tucked in.
I'm anxious to see if our local library has a copy of The September Society, Finch's next book, published just last week.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Beetles and Roses

I went out to pick a red rose this evening at twilight, and as I carried it, fragrant and lovely, into the house I saw something moving in the bloom. I stepped under the light by the back door, and realized the something was a Japanese beetle enjoying an evening snack.
I took the tip of my garden scissors and tried to disengage the beetle from the rose, only to see another beetle and then, another.
By the time I finished cleaning beetles from the rose there had been six or seven of them (which I stepped on as they fell to the ground) and the rose had lost most of its outer petals to our wrestling match.
I know I'm not anywhere near the first person to think this, but those beetles reminded me of sin, eating away at the heart of something beautiful, which, if left alone, would destroy it utterly.
They were completely hidden when I clipped the rose from the stem. The rose looked perfect from a distance, on the outside. It was only when I held it up close to smell it that I caught a glimpse of the beetles within.
I was so glad I hadn't gotten the rose into the house!
As it was, I left it out on the picnic table in an outside vase.
Sometimes we think sin is hidden away, doing little or no damage. But eventually either the sin is found out, or the damage becomes obvious, or both.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Slowly, Subtly . . .

I love the twilight this time of year -- the way the light picks out first this corner of the yard, then the big tree, then the daylilies in the back, spotlighting them for just a few moments, then moving on to something else.
I'm fascinated with the way light reminds us of the nature of God, the way it moves, shimmers, shines through clouds and sometimes seems to disappear, only to show up brightly again later.
I wrote about light -- first light, that first light of an early summer morning -- and you can read it here on Notes From Home (just scroll down to June 6, 2007.) The first light of morning promises possibilities.
Twilight is more settled, more soothing. Instead of song sparrows, twilight is ccompanied by the whirring of locusts and the sounds of kids playing in the neighborhood -- nothing too quiet, until the sun has dipped into the horizon a little more, like a child laying its head down onto a pillow.
Even on the darkest or stormiest days, there is light somewhere.


Days are getting shorter, bit by bit. First light comes later, and twilight comes earlier. The sun is still strong at mid-day, though, and warms us up beyond what we're comfortable with.
Queen Anne's lace -- and is it tall blue phlox? -- grows along every ditch and roadway. I've noticed a squirrel or two beginning to dig their winter supplies into the yard.
Slowly, subtly the season begins to turn.


I spent a few weeks of one fall helping my grandmother while my grandfather recovered from a heart attack. She was sad as she noticed the days getting shorter. She was not looking forward to shorter days, darker mornings and afternoons, being cooped up in her house during the winter. I was taken aback. Normally she was a cheerful woman who made the best of whatever happened, and it was hard to see her even a little quiet and sad.
There were few things that upset her, at least that she let us see. One day after the mailman came, she came into the kitchen and clanged a few pots and pans around -- not her usual behavior at all! I asked her what was wrong.
“Letters,” she said. “I write them to everyone, but no one answers me.”
She did write letters. At the time I received them I underestimated their value. She wrote about what she cooked for lunch, who had called, and what her friend Letha had worn to their Ladies Aid Society at church. I was always glad to get a letter from grandma; she always asked how I was doing, and was interested in what was going on in my life, but I didn't appreciate the real value of her letters. I tried to answer her letters, but honestly -- I didn't know what to say most of the time. Then when I was a young wife and mother my grandma died suddenly.
We had a flood in our basement a few years ago, the kind that soaks into boxes of keepsakes. Some of the things we were able to save (thanks to the kindness of friends who helped in a hurry to get things out of the water) included some of my grandmother's letters tucked in with some other things. I hadn't saved them on purpose, but when I held them, re-read them, I felt as if I held a long-buried treasure.
It was a different kind of light that dawned that day, the light of understanding. Each one of her simple letters was nothing more -- or less -- than her reaching out to remind the recipient that she loved us. It was a hug in an envelope, a reminder that she cared how we were doing, and was willing to share her life with us.
Going through those damp boxes, I learned that love doesn't die just because the people who love us die, just like light doesn't die just because the sun goes down.
The sun will come up again; the light will come back.
And love always has the power to warm our hearts.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Changes . . .

We were talking in our adult Sunday School class this past Sunday about the changes God calls us to make in our lives. One couple -- parents of three girls under the age of 10 -- mentioned that they have pretty much quit watching television.
Even sports? we asked.
Even sports, they said, adding that what they've gained is greater than what they've given up.
What have you gained? someone asked.
Without hesitation they answered: family time. A sense of peace and contentment. A measure of control over what their girls were taking into their minds and souls.
That's the key to being willing to change, I think -- recognizing that what we gain is greater than what we give up when we act in response to something God asks of us.
It's hard to think of doing something like giving up television. Most of us can think up all kinds of reasons why it would be too hard, why it really isn't all that bad (I really only watch public television . . . ) -- but it isn't called the plug-in drug for nothing!
Over this summer we've watched less and less television, and we're surprised at how little we actually miss it. We are looking forward to watching Olympic coverage, more for glimpses of China than for most of the sports events themselves, but once the Olympics are over, I suspect we'll leave the television off more than on, because over this summer we've learned, too, that what we've gained in time to read, to talk, and to do other things we like to do is worth more than what we've given up.


News over the week-end about the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a reminder of how much the world has changed.
His books illuminated the inhumanities of communism, and served as a reminder of the reality of sin, as well as the resilience of the human spirit. His courage as a man and as a writer inspired so many readers -- I began reading his work just after high school, and his experiences and stories shaped the way I saw the world.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Green Beans, Sweet Corn and Tomatoes

It's green bean, sweet corn and tomato season, and that means hard work, a steamy, fragrant kitchen and laughter.
Because my husband watched as a wide-eyed little boy the day his mom's pressure cooker exploded (a malfunctioning safety valve) we've never canned much. No one was hurt that day, but he tells me frozen vegetables taste better anyway.
When our kids -- now all grown -- lived at home, we had lots of help when it was time to put up green beans, corn and tomatoes. Now that they all live on their own we don't need quite so much in the freezer, but we still freeze corn, tomato sauce, and green beans because it's such a pleasure, in the middle of winter, to pull out those frozen packets of summer's goodness.
The kids used to try to hide when it was time to shuck corn or snap beans, but we tracked them down and persuaded them back to the kitchen to help. These days, they still come to help when they can -- voluntarily. They come to give us a hand, to snag some of those frozen packages of vegetables for their own freezers, and to share in the fun.
Yesterday, though, it was just my husband and me. He shucked the corn and I blanched it. Together we cut the corn off the cob and bagged it for the freezer. Our golden lab scouted the floor for kernels of corn we dropped -- making her a real corn-dog.
It's hard work but we didn't mind. The whole time we worked we talked and laughed; the table covered in corn silk and cobs, just enjoying the rhythm of the work and each other's company.
Later this summer I'll freeze tomato sauce; this coming winter that sauce will be delicious for spaghetti, or soup or lasagna. At least some of the green beans and corn will show up on our Thanksgiving table. We'll be nourished twice: once by the actual vegetables themselves, and once again by the memory of the fun we had doing all that hard work.

A Framework of Limitation

What do limits have to do with creativity?
That old cliche “Necessity is the mother of invention” is part of the answer, I think. When we need to make do, we have to be creative.
When we think about managing our day to day lives, our households, our budgets, we think of it as resourceful management. The Hearts at Home website is currently posting a column I wrote for them for The Pantagraph on this topic. You can read it here.
But our households aren't the only aspects of our lives where we experience limitations that require us to choose creative responses.
Parents who are limited by their responsibilities to their children must come up with creative ways to fill their lives with contentment, stimulation, a sense of freedom -- even when they feel least free. It isn't easy but it is possible, and yields the satisfaction of having fulfilled their duty to their family without losing themselves in the process.
The limitation becomes a kind of “laying down your own life” for the sake of someone else, and it's important to realize that the limitation is real. There is a real “giving up” when you accept a limitation.
It is when we “choose to look for -- and celebrate -- life in the midst of what feels like death” that we begin to understand the art of living creatively.
Our limitations become the framework for our art.

Book Bonus

One of the nicest things friends do is to fill our lives with smiles. Friends hang in. Even if they can't get there or be there in the moment, they come when they can.
So it is for my friend Peg. She's a busy executive with multiple responsibilities, and she's written about what she's reading this summer. Peg says, “We read Sea Glass . . . I enjoyed the novel and reading about that time in history. I've been on the road quite a bit and heave been listening to a book that I have realized is based on a true story. The Innocent Man by John Grisham -- to tell you the truth I could not finish the book, it was very disconcerting. I have listened to my first book by David Rosenfelt and love his style of writing. Open and Shut was the book and I plan on reading/listening to more.”
Peg also read Three Cups of Tea:One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations, by David Mortenson. It was, she reports, “very interesting.” Peg also commented that she has “not read Pillars of the Earth yet, but this has peaked my interest.”
It's interesting how many “readers” are actually “listeners” who take in a book however they can. Technology gives us so many new options!
I must admit I'm tempted by the Kindle -- the price is still too much for me to indulge in one but it's tempting to be able to carry so many books in such a small package.
No matter what the options are, the important thing is the story, the information. No matter how it's delivered, a book is a good thing.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Local Vegetables at Schnucks

Yesterday also held another pleasant surprise -- our local Schnucks grocery store has begun carrying a wide variety of local vegetables.
They had a good supply of local sweet corn, tomatoes, summer squash, onions and other seasonal veggies, and it all looked good! The prices were reasonable, the quality good.
I'm glad to see this; it's more efficient, energy-wise, and it's welcome support to our local economy.
Good for Schnucks!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Little Work, A Little Play

I remembered something important today -- how much fun it is to play.
I'm not sure what puts me into such a nose-to-the-grindstone mood. Maybe it's guilt: I have so many opportunities I'd better make the most of them. Maybe it's achievement hunger: I want to do something that matters, and I want to do it well. Or maybe it's just habit: I get into the routine of doing what needs to be done, and there is always something that needs to be done.
I enjoy the things I do, even -- shhh, the cleaning -- but after awhile things are so predictable I even bore my own self.
Play is unpredictable and not boring. It's exploring, it's adventuring, it's having fun seeing and hearing and doing something we enjoy. Usually play is creative, fresh, fulfilling.
Sometimes work is like play, usually when singing is involved, but if there is too much work and not enough play, it can be hard to keep on singing.
So today I went exploring. I drove through a part of the local countryside I haven't driven through for a long time, and admired the crops growing so lushly in the fields. I honked at a field full of black-and-white cattle. I stopped at a new store in a little town near our home, The Main Street Mercantile, and explored their store, indulged in lunch.
The Main Street Mercantile is charming, specializing in what my husband would call primitive country (not his favorite, although I like it!) You'll find handcrafted furniture, pictures, candles, wreaths, cards, linens, even toys from Melissa and Doug. There is a whole line of foodstuff -- preserves and jams, flours, popcorn, trail mixes, noodles and more.
Lunch is served at the back of the store in a cozy dining area, and carry-out is available. I had a made-to-order roast beef sandwich (delicious and filling) served with potato chips, and a peach smoothie --worth going back for all by itself!
So why did this little side trip through the country fill me up and give me fresh enthusiasm for my everyday work? Because seeing something new stirs up new things in me. Being around the creative work someone else has done, even if that creative work is planting and nurturing a good crop, is stimulating.
I believe God is creative, and that He made us in His image. We are meant to be creative people one way or another, incorporating that creativity into even our most everyday tasks, but also being open always to the possibility of other creative work.
Work and play are two sides of the same coin, I think; we're meant to spend ourselves in creating something true, something honorable, something right. We're meant to incorporate purity and loveliness into our lives, and that requires creativity. We are meant to be busy with excellence, whether that is simply creating a lovely, orderly home where the people we love can live and thrive, or creating an altogether original something else.
That takes work, but it takes play, too.


Speaking of creativity, it's a handy thing to use in managing a household. I wrote about this in a column for Hearts at Home that appeared in The Pantagraph, and it's being reprinted on the Hearts at Home website here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back from Missouri

Driving back from Missouri this past Sunday, we found ourselves detoured away from the fast four-lane because of flooding. The detour took us through a part of that state we don't usually see, past fields thickly planted with corn and beans, past small towns busy with unexpected traffic, past farm houses neatly trimmed in sunflowers and shade trees.
As we drove, I thought about detours and how they become part of the trip. We didn't intend to swing through that part of Missouri but now those scenes will always be part of how I think about coming home from our first visit with our tenth grandchild.
Detours can be inconvenient and time-consuming but they also offer us a chance to see things we'd never go looking for.
Life is like that, I think. We find ourselves detoured away from what we'd planned, doing things we'd never thought of doing. Suddenly we find the detour is really the trip.
What detours have you taken lately?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Thrilling Day to Read!

It's grey and rainy this morning – not to mention humid! It's just the kind of day to sit on a porch with a tall chilled glass of lemonade and a good book.
Here are more suggestions!
My friend Joyce reports she “hasn't read much this summer,” but then says, “I enjoyed Sea Glass and The Spiral Staircase was interesting. I'm reading Sail by James Patterson. I read another one of his earlier this summer . . . I prefer mysteries. I'm enjoying Max Lucado's 3:16.”
Have you noticed that a lot of people who say they aren't reading much have long lists of books that they've read?
Meanwhile, Amy is reading Dying for Chocolate but doesn't remember the author. She says, “It's a little more in depth than the old James Patterson books I've been reading.”
I don't know – this seems like just the kind of day for a good mystery or thriller! Enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2008

More Book Recommendations for Your Bookstack!

Have you finished up all the recommended books from the Bookstack Blog Party?
I've indulged in one or two already, but here are more recommendations!
My friend Jody is just finishing up the book Trading Places by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. She says, “I love their materials on marriage. This one is about the important value of empathy in marriage. My husband and I serve as marriage mentors through our church and so I'm always reading up on marriage books to recommend to our couples. This book is great!”
Jody continues, “I actually just returned from a doctor's appointment. When the nurse came into the lobby to call me back she said, 'Boy, what are you reading? It must be really good because as I went to call you, I saw you had a big smile on your face as you were reading.' Made me laugh.”
I think Jody is a power reader, because she just read a book by John Maxwell: 25 Ways to Win with People. She says, “It was written in 2005. I take advice from Bill Hybels and he recommends that you always have a book on leadership that you're working through. This was a great book.”
Finally, Jody says, “My most recent fiction book I read was My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I LOVED it! Very gripping story. I have yet to read a book by her that I didn't like.”
If you've picked up a book recommendation, let me know – your insight and comments are always appreciated!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Pleasures . . .

I picked up The Atlantic magazine's Special Fiction Issue 2008 last night. Wendell Berry has a short story -- Stand by Me -- that I loved! I've had a hard time getting into Berry's books, but I'll have to give them another try after reading this story about Jarrat, his two sons, and the parameters of grief and loss. It sounds depressing, but really, it's a great story!
It's fun to read through these fiction issues – the New Yorker has a summer fiction issue I l look forward to each summer – because I love the short story form. It's hard to convey a whole story in shorter form, and I respect writers who are good at it.
Ann Patchett has an essay – My Life in Sales – in The Atlantic's fiction issue, and I'm looking forward to reading it next.


I picked up our CSA order last night, and once again I am amazed at how beautiful fruits and vegetables are. The table was heaped with neat piles of produce – beets, kohlrabi, swiss chard, basil – a wonderful tangle of color, fragrance, and texture. It's not hard to understand how artists are drawn to still life – the things they paint are still, but so alive!
There was also a table of sunflowers large as dinner plates, and lovely bouquets of snapdragons. I didn't bring any home this time as we have flowers of our own in the garden, but what pleasure it was just to look!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mixed Thoughts . . .

A big thank you to all of you who took part in last week's Bookstack Blog Party! It's been fun to see what you all are reading!
Maybe it's just because I've been thinking about books all week or maybe it's just the season, but it seems as if a lot of people are into lists – lists of their favorite books, or the books that have influenced them most or even the most influential books of all times – so I think sometime soon, maybe in August, we'll have to have another Bookstack Blog Party in list form. Start thinking!


On a much more somber note, I came across a news story about the Taliban executing two women, and this morning I saw there's a link to photos on Compuserve. I didn't look at them; it was horrible enough to think of them existing.
The women were said to be prostitutes, consorting with American troops.
I am sickened at the thought of the Taliban given any authority, credibility or space to operate.
The first time I heard of the Taliban was on a television sit-com. Remember Seventh Heaven? We used to watch it occasionally while we lived in Dubuque when John was in seminary.
One episode involved the mom trying to persuade her daughters and other friends to picket somewhere because of the way the Taliban in Afghanistan treated women – this was before September 11.
I remember being indignant, and thinking “someone should do something.”
But I didn't.
As we know now, the Taliban is wicked. They insist women stay in their houses, often with windows painted black so that no man passing by would see a woman inside and be tempted into sin. Girls are not allowed any education, and women cannot go outside without a male escort. If there is not male family member to escort her, she stays inside.
If she is widowed she has two choices: prostitution or begging. Well – make that three choices. She can starve. Her children, too, unless she allows a male relative to take them.
And of course, the chador, that repressive fashion statement, also meant to protect Afghani men from the wiles of women.
Jesus said we should pray for our enemies, and on behalf of women everywhere – our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends – I am praying for these wicked men, that God would change their hearts, that they would be open to His Holy Spirit.
Failing their positive response to His initiative, I am praying for His justice for them.
Please join me in prayer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Smorgasbord of Books . . .

I read an editorial this week – I think it was in the Chicago Tribune – about how blogging is simply a self-indulgent form of narcissism.
For a few moments I was worried – had I somehow gotten myself involved in something totally self-centered – again?
As I thought about it, I decided the editorialist isn't reading the right blogs.
There may be some blogs that fit that description, but I haven't come across them yet. And this Bookstack Blog party reminds me more of what my grandmother would have called a conversation over the back fence – the kind of chat she often had with friends who lived nearby, friends she saw almost every day.
Most of us don't have back-fence friends any more, the kind of friend who lives so close she can drop by for coffee on the spur of the moment. What we do have to keep in touch are blogs, and what a pleasure it is to hear from friends in response to a simple question like “What are you reading?” !!!
In answer to that question, my friend Terri says, “I recently started In My Father's House by Bodie and Brock Thoene . . . I'm enjoying the book – I love books rooted in history.”
Christina just finished Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. “It is about the affair Frank Lloyd Wright had with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, which was the scandal of Chicago at the time,” says Christina. “He left his wife for her, she was later murdered by an employee of Frank's. It was a fascinating book; I just had no idea. The newspapers painted her as a home wrecker, but the truth was they had a deep intellectual connection; she truly understood him in ways his wife didn't (of course that is not grounds for leaving one's wife.)
Christina also just finished If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation by Janine Latus. She says, “This book haunted me for days. I found myself baffled by what the women in this family would accept from the men around them. A lot of abuse, control, and degradation. It was sad and riveting and in the end a bit triumphant.”
Finally, Christina says, “I was debating whether to e-mail you about this book, but to be honest – I loved it! Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster made me laugh out loud several times, partially out of recognizing myself in her, but also because she is blunt, graphic, and so very self absorbed and egotistical. I have loved all her books and pass them around to my girlfriends.”
If books are food for the mind, and we are what we eat – these past few days offer a smorgasbord of books!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And Even More Books . . .

One of the surprising things about this Bookstack Blog party is how many of you have multiple books going – Cheryl even has a book for every room!
My friend Rosemary has quite a bookstack going, including The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland; The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde; Tell Me Pretty Maiden by Rhys Bowen; and Trace by Patricia Cornwell.
Rosemary says, “Obviously I started summer reading early.”
We can only hope a hammock was involved!
Rosemary goes on to say, “The Diaz book is about Dominican culture and people and I probably missed some of the slang and a lot of the Spanish – liked the story, though. Hyland book I am just starting and it is about Australia and a woman who returns to the Aboriginal camptown of the workers on her Dad's farm to solve a murder.”
And there's more! Rosemary adds, “Cornwell is Cornwell – forensic pathologist Kate Scarpetta triumphs again after quite a bit of intrigue. The Fforde book is by a Welshman so that is probably why it attracted me. It is a mystery/fantasy book. Quite new type of mystery for me but funny and interesting.”
Rosemary concludes her report, “Naturally there are probably some other things that are not fiction. These do not end up in my book diary except for the Barbara Kingsolver Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which you know I loved.”
Maybe someday Rosemary will publish her book diaries – now that would make a good read!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Teetering Bookstack . . .

Are you finding books listed here you might want to read? I hope so – I know I am!
Suzanne says, “I must say that I am pretty one-dimensional! I'm on a memoir kick and that's all I've been reading for months!”
Suzanne goes on to say, “I'm currently reading Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints – yes, it sounds dubious. But it's very well-written and funny. The author, Simon Doonan, is a lot like David Sedaris or Augustin Burroughs – really witty and sarcastic and outrageous. He tells stories about growing up as a misfit in London.”
“Before that,” Suzanne goes on, “I read two books by Firoozeh Dumas, which I highly recommend. They're called Funny in Farsi and Laughing Without an Accent. It's about growing up Iranian in an American culture. It's very funny and perceptive and even a little heartwarming. I'd also recommend Finding Home: An Imperfect Path to Faith and Family by Jim Daly, who is the president of Focus on the Family. It's about his almost unbelievably difficult childhood and how he managed to come out of it, with wisdom to boot.”
And Jane – not the Jane in previous posts but a different Jane – says “I loved A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. It's the Bloomington/Normal summer read selection; I loved the book, loved the characters, learned a lot about a part of WWII I didn't know, which set me off to find out more about it. The story was brilliant and desperately sad, in fact I really wanted to cry when I finished it. Instead I felt angry that this really could have happened and probably lots of similar stories did happen.”
Jane is also reading Chosen and Infidels from Ted Dekker's The Lost Chronicles of History series. She says “These are the first 2 in a 4-book set. I am waiting for the junior high kid I teach to finish book 3 so I can read it. They are youth fiction/Christian and really good stories; it actually reminds me a little bit of Dune which I loved in junior high and high school.”
The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik is also on Jane's bookstack. “I liked the story, liked the crafting of the characters, did not like the Kristi Casey character, or the subtle tone that evangelicals are all morons who believe everything they hear. But the book made me laugh out loud, cringe, and feel empathy for the characters. Overall, a decent summer read.”
Two more books Jane is enjoying include Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best, and Christianity For the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass. Jane says, “Music Through the Eyes of Faith is a great book I am reading as I have time; one of the chapters has a thought provoking discussion on contemporary music and the issues surrounding the music industry.
Christianity for the Rest of Us is a book for our church summer reading group. I am still in the first half and am a little put off again by the narrow minded attitude towards the evangelical movement. What I find most disturbing is that she takes an us-against-them attitude, again subtle. She has some great profiles of living mainline Protestant churches, and the 10 things that they have that work for them. It is well written and it is challenging my thoughts about what I truly believe about churches. I am interested to hear what the others in my group think as well.”
That's one of the best things about reading, I think – the opportunity to read something, consider it, then share what you think about it with someone else who is interested, who has an opinion of her own.
Among other things, a book is a privilege . . .

Still More Books . . .

This may be far more about books than you were looking for, but the book reports keep coming in! At least none of it is required reading!
My friend Cheryl says, “Thanks for asking – I read different things in different rooms at different times of day!”
Now that's my kind of reader!
Cheryl goes on, “Here's the current list: in my bedroom: Captivating by Staci and John Elridge.
In my quiet time corner: The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (reading that with a prayer partner.)
In my office: Winning with People by John C. Maxwill (reading that with my friend Jody)
In the bathroom: The Seven Conflicts – a marriage book by Tim and Joy Downs (Love to be reading that with Mike, hence the bathroom, but so far my bookmark hasn't been moved . . . )
I'm also in the midst of The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis, whom I adore but have to be ready to chew on . . . sounds good to me right now . . .
Listened to one of my favorite books of all time (read it 3 times, passed it on to on-the-edge believers almost a dozen), Blue Like Jazz, on tape with my family en route to CO.”
Cheryl says she'd like some fiction to take with her to the beach . . .
Meanwhile Natalie says, “The last book I was reading was The Diana Chronicles; before that it was Blind Eye by James B. Stewart. It's a crime book about a doctor named Michael Swango who was actually murdering patients with different medications.”
Natalie, who works in a hospital, goes on to say, “Our pathologist is mentioned several times in the book because Swango was his student. This was back in the 70s . . . he actually bought me the book and signed it. I took a break halfway through because it's hard to read about someone like that . . . it's infuriating!”
She adds, “I'll pick it back up and finish it.”
Whether we take our time to read a book or read it over and over and over again (and then listen to it on tape!) it's clear that a good book engages us, mind and heart.

And More Books . . .

We read books for a lot of different reasons – to be entertained, to be informed, to be provoked. Books can make us uncomfortable or they can comfort us, and both kinds of books are important. A good book is like a visit with a friend – it nourishes us one way or another.
My friend Bobbie is reading Jan Karon's Mitford series. She says, “I am really enjoying it. I'm on the second of six. This is about a town called Mitford and an Episcopalian minister named Father Tim., the church and twon people and their lives.”
Bobbie adds, ”These books were a gift from a friend which makes them more special to me.”
Isn't it neat when someone gives us a book they think we'll enjoy? Some of the best books I've read have been gifts, or recommendations from a friend. That's what happened with my friend Norma. She says, “For my birthday my daughter gave me five books, which I'm sure she carefully chose for me. One of the books is 'What Now?' by Ann Patchett, and she tells how we ask ourselves that question when transitioning from one stage of life to another and how we should find joy in our journey.”
Norma adds, “I thought it was interesting that as she was preparing the commencement speech for her alma mater, she consulted her college professor and wanted his opinion after all these years had passed. I enjoyed this book very much.”
Norma is also reading Marley & Me by John Grogan. She says, “Marley is a very rambunctious dog who the author and his wife acquired as newlyweds to prepare them for having children. This is a very humorous book that has you laughing out loud as he describes in great detail their dealings with Marley and the various situations they encounter. I hated to see the book come to an end.”
On her bookstack of books to be read, Norma has The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. She says, “I am anxious to get started – but it may be awhile because I am getting ready for a visit from our five grandchildren.”
Norma also makes an interesting observation. She says, “I wish I were (a more avid reader) because readers are very knowledgable and can contribute so much to conversations. I'm trying to read more, but the weeds in my garden keep calling to me.”
It's just my opinion, but I think Norma's choices reveal a fine reader!