Thursday, February 26, 2015

Once in his life...

Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it.
     He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.
     He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk.

N. Scott Momaday

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Time to Say Goodbye

     We shall dig ourselves out and proceed as planned. This is the day when the girls and their families must inevitably leave. Steve got busy with the snow blower and the young men got busy with shovels. Everyone except Steve snatched playtime in between. Mari revisited her fort and built a snowman with her dad, we sledded down the little hills in our yard, and the bigger kids had a friendly snowball fight. Claire and I took turns with baby Matthew in the house. No one wanted this weekend to end, but there were new adventures to be had and everyday life to be lived. Right up until the last goodbye, the children, young and old, played. Even after Claire had her entire family loaded in their car, she grabbed a sled and said, "Just one more time down the hill." And off she ran to make one last sledding run.

 Digging a path for Henri. Claire was cracking up over her father's attire. She took a whole bunch of pictures of him. : )
Jack is stranded...    

...and rescued by Aunt Chelsea

 Snowball fight!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Soon it was very, very quiet and we were alone.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Well, That Storm Was a Surprise!

     We expected a little bit of weather today in the form of three to six inches of snow. It was predicted to change over to rain in the afternoon. Instead, we got another foot of snow!  It was already coming down hard at six this morning. At nine o'clock we attempted to go down the road in our four wheel drive truck and quickly decided to turn back because we hit a patch of ice under the newly fallen snow. Steve had already lost his left side mirror earlier this week and we just barely missed losing the right mirror. Aside from our own safety, I was beginning to worry that two of the girls wouldn't be able to drive out here today as planned. We were supposed to all get together to see Chelsea off for her move. I phoned Audrey and we agreed it was too dangerous for her and Jared to drive out. I was sad that they wouldn't be here with us, but these conditions were out of our control. Chelsea and Simon, on the other hand, assured me they could make it up. Simon said every day is like this in Canada and they felt confident to make the drive. I didn't wanted them to take any chances, but I was overjoyed a few hours later when they walked in the door. They were safe and I hugged them before they could even stomp the snow off their boots. They had also managed to stop for groceries.
     The snow came down all day. This was an entirely different landscape than yesterday. Today's sky was heavy and dark with thickly falling snow, absorbing all sound with its thick blanket. This is my favorite winter landscape. After lunch, Claire, Tess, Chelsea, and Simon decided to go out for some sledding. They planned to head for the big hill next door. It would mean a very long walk across the thirty-five acre property next door, but the bigger hill would make it worthwhile. They were excited with the anticipation of an adventure as they bundled up. Sleds in tow, I snapped a picture of them as they left. Then, I bundled up myself  and followed them; I was about fifteen minutes behind.

     I was exhilarated when I first began walking across the field. I love the sound of snow. It's both eerily quiet yet constantly swishing as each flake hits the ground. It gives one the feeling of being very alone. All I could hear were my foot tromps and my breathing, just me and the elements. The snow was dry and fluffy, but still extremely difficult to maneuver because it was knee-deep. My natural inclination was to take high steps as though stepping over the snow. After some time I realized it was best to just plow through it. It was hard work and I was already winded when I reached the other side of the fence in the photo. I still had so far to go! I expected everyone to be at the first hill where we typically sled. As I passed the barn, the hill came into view but no one was there. I stopped and strained my ears to listen for their voices and all was silent. I stood still and used this opportunity to catch my breath while I gazed at the trail their footsteps left in the snow. I knew the trail would lead me to them, wherever they were, so I set off again, a little worried about how far that might be. I reasoned that I was already in it this far and turning back wasn't an option that I would allow myself. When I finally crested the first hill, I searched the landscape for any sign of the kids. Finally, I called out toward the next hill, "Are you guys there?" Silence. Where could they be? I called again and this time I heard a faraway, "Is that you, Mom?!". "Is it worth walking all that way?" I yelled. "We don't know!" came Claire's voice, "We haven't gone down yet!" Then Chelsea said, "Yes!" "Come on!" Encouraged, I continued on. I had to stop every eight or ten steps to catch my breath from all the body plowing I was doing. I would need to go down the other side of this hill, cross a ravine and then traverse diagonally up the other, larger hill. It was daunting. This deep snow was so hard to walk through. I scolded myself for being out of shape. I was warm and dry everywhere except my thighs. I had no snow pants so my jeans were wet. This portion of my body was exactly the part that came in contact with the snow as I plowed through it. Otherwise, I had dressed perfectly. Plodding onward, I began to worry about making this equal walk back home later. I knew the thrill of sledding would make this exertion all worth it. I just hoped I could get myself back without help later on.
     I finally got close enough to see four shadowy figures above me at the top of the hill. Chelsea called down, "You're almost there! You can do it!" I yelled back, "I know you're just saying that because that's what you're supposed to say, but I'm NOT almost there so don't say that!!" She laughed at my annoyance. "C'mon Mom, you can do it!" she yelled again. I knew she was using "hiker" mentality on me and it just wasn't working. Those last ten yards up that hill were the hardest. I finally drew near to the clump of shadowy, snowy figures and I threw my sled down. I collapsed on top of it to rest. My legs were soaked and freezing and I hadn't even gone sledding yet, but I made it! The view from the hill was extraordinarily beautiful. It wasn't a long view, we couldn't see the mountains, but the snow covered cedars and tree lines were simply as beautiful as nature can be. I preferred this quiet, soft world of gray and white over the blinding sun we had yesterday.
     I'll never forget Tess' first comment to me after I sat down. She said I looked pretty. Dear, sweet Tess. My face was damp with snow and red from the cold and I know my hair was sticking straight up out of that headband. I was wearing a mishmash of clothing; Steve's ski jacket, Audrey's barn gloves, my thirty year-old LL Bean boots, Chelsea's old neck gator, and a knit headband someone made for me back in the 90's. But she told me the snowflakes on my eyebrows made me look pretty and I believed her. I loved that we were all together, sharing this experience.
     It takes two or three initial runs down a hill to pack the snow enough to make further runs more enjoyable. Those first runs are slow and the sled bogs down in the deep snow. It also results in face-fulls of snow for the trailblazers. The kids had already finished these by the time I had my turn down. Still, I veered off the path near the bottom and tumbled into very deep snow. Laughing and brushing myself off, I huffed up the hill to do it again. I don't remember how many times I rode down, but it wasn't many. My wet jeans were frozen on my thighs and I regretted not layering my leg clothing. For this reason, I was going to have to go home too soon. The rest of the gang decided to try another hill, so I set off alone toward home. Claire also decided to head back back home so she followed about twenty yards behind me.
     The walk back wasn't as lonely with Claire following me. However, I was still alone with my thoughts. All the way home, I pondered the early settlers and explorers lives. How ever did folks thrive in this weather with only the crudest essentials? Arctic explorers enduring months and even years on ice or in deep snow with none of the current, high tech gear must have suffered terribly. Even with new gear this type of climate is unforgiving. I thought of the Donner expedition and their will to survive. I also thought of people who sit down without the strength to ever rise up again. I wondered what my fate would have been in such circumstances.
     My last thoughts as I crossed the horse field and entered the basement stairwell was how ever was I going to get out of the wet jeans that were plastered to my legs. It was not going to be easy. Later, dressed in dry clothing and sitting in a comfortable chair, I felt thankful to be able to enjoy winter as I did today. I had a chance to relive childhood sledding, feel snowflakes on my eyelashes, and witness the serenity of a deep, falling snow. Winters like this only happen every few years in our Virginia experience. We need to seize the opportunity to enjoy them while we can. Claire made a comment
about "epic sledding" in her Facebook post today. She got that right.

The last three kids returning. (Chelsea is lying in the middle.) The weather cleared for a bit and the sledding hill is at the far back in the photo.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Gathering and Playing in Snow

     We've had the entire week off from school! The big snow on Monday was followed by severely low temperatures and that threw everything off schedule. Aside from some inconveniences like running out of fuel oil (a whole other story), flat tires (me), driving into a ditch (Tess), and getting towed out of our own yard thereby breaking off a truck mirror on a fence post (Steve), it was a good week.
     Claire, Daniel and the grandchildren had planned to drive up this weekend to join us all in seeing Chelsea off. When they heard of our snowy conditions, Daniel took Friday off from work so they could have an extra day to play in the snow. Daniel lived in Alaska for many years and we all grew up in snowy winters, so were all excited about the prospect of snow play. The plan was to enjoy it while conditions were right. We had no idea of the storm that was to come our way tomorrow! We knew today was good, there was ten inches of snow on the ground, and the sun was out. CarpĂ© Diem!
     Chelsea drove over to spend the day and bake a carrot cake. Simon was driving down from Montreal and would arrive in the wee hours of tomorrow morning and Audrey and Jared would join us from town tomorrow. Steve even came home from work a little early. The 'gathering' had begun.

 Three more young cousins joined us for the afternoon. The back hallway turned into Winter Gear Central. Remember those days of wet woolens, rosy cheeks and melted snow puddles on the floor? 

After all that bundling up, Jack only lasted about two minutes outside. He didn't care for it one bit. Maybe he'll feel differently when he's a little older.

 Cousins in a snow fort. I love the hats their Aunt Katherine knit.


Tess taking a little break.

One little guy didn't go outside at all. Claire with three-month-old Matthew.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Blessing the Dust by Jan Richardson

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

–Jan Richardson

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

At Home in the Snow


     Our recent snowstorm was a two-day event. Day One brought the initial excitement of the storm as the snow steadily fell. Steve returned home from work before noon, Chelsea decided she was snowed in at our house, and I started a pot of soup. Weather reports said we were in for ten to fourteen inches and at the rate it was falling, this looked about right. While keeping an eye on the storm, we watched Netflix, played Scrabble (I won by one point. We had a recount to be sure.), the girls painted a still life, and Steve worked from home. In the evening, John bravely drove down the three miles from their house to join us for dinner. The guys thought they might shoot pool, but after only one game John thought better and decided he needed to make sure he could get home. Ten minutes later, he texted Steve to let us know he made it safely. Steve kept the wood stove roaring as we settled down for the night.
     We girls wrapped in blankets and put on "Boyhood" for our evening entertainment. We endured the entire 165 minutes of it and ended it by questioning what all the hype was about. "Exhilarating", "Astonishing", and "Dazzling" are terms some reviewers used, but we just didn't see it that way. Many times I feel like the entertainment industry is pulling an "Emperor's New Clothes" move on us. Publicists and fans tell us that someone or something is grand and can't we all see it?! I'm sorry, but for Boyhood, I must say, I don't see it. It was long and boring and, in my opinion, the writer/director missed an opportunity to create a real masterpiece here. In theory, it was a great idea, but that's about it.
     Day Two: This morning, the sun came out and it was time to dig out the vehicles and play in the snow. Steve gassed up our circa 1991 Troy Built snow blower. How he keeps that thing glued together and running is a mystery to me. Tess and Chelsea bundled up and went out with a camera. I usually enjoy a romp in the snow, but I was nursing a stiff neck with the comfort of a hot water bottle and Motrin. I did enjoy their photos and will share Tess' take through them here. Chelsea was able to drive out late this afternoon with the promise of returning Friday. The rest of the family is due in this weekend with Claire, Daniel and the grandchildren arriving us Thursday, Simon on Friday, and Audrey and Jared joining us on Saturday. We'll be saying goodbye to Chelsea once again as she  moves north to upstate New York. This will be another bittersweet weekend with the joy of having everyone here, but another goodbye to Chelsea.
Steve snowblowing

These always remind me of frosted Shredded Wheat

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Maybe We Can Talk About It" (What Steve's alarm says every morning at 6:30)

     I've been considering a change in my journaling format and I think now might be the time to make that change. When I started working two years ago, I gave up my quiet mornings to leave the house every day at 7:30 AM. I know myself and my habits and morning are always my natural time to write. If I don't write before noon, then I probably won't write for the rest of the day, even if it's only to jot down three beautiful things. That said, I also know that I can't entirely shut up. I've tried to figure out why that is and why I feel compelled to write things down or "tell" things. I've come up with two observations on this. The first is that I've always been 'conversational'. I got in trouble from Kindergarten through second grade for talking to kids around me during class. (By third grade I had learned better self control.) Talking to the other kids was a sharing of myself. I wanted to share what I thought, what I felt, what I was thinking. Experiences and thoughts were more exciting when they were shared. Secondly, when I write stuff down it's like I'm having a conversation with myself. I'm telling myself what I saw, what I felt, what I was thinking. It's another dimension of the experience itself; the retelling of it. I still don't know why I feel compelled to do these things, but I think it's just the way some people are.
     The final factor in this decision to change my writing format is "The Final Curtain" on Clare Law's blog, which inspired me to begin this journey in the first place. Seven years ago I was mourning the death of my sister when I ran across Clare's blog. Her blog simply noted three beautiful things every day. In my grief, I had observed that joy coexisted alongside it. Even with a broken heart, I saw beauty all around me and somehow the brokenness made it even more beautiful. My faith comes into play here as I believe I see the world filtered through a Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ. Clare's blog was the impetus to give voice to my own observations of beautiful things every day, even in the midst of grieving. It's not that I never saw the world as beautiful before, but it acquired new meaning as I counted these simple things as blessings, taking care to make note of them every day.
     So, my intent is to still write about beautiful, (and broken) things, but not in the list format and not every day. I've been skipping days for two years now and that will still occur, however, I won't guilt myself about it. I'll keep my journal in a more conversational style as events come about, however small and insignificant they may be. Like this crazy, wonderful snow we just had...!!!


Sunday, February 15, 2015

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." Prov. 17:22

     Cabin Fever Follies is an old tradition of bringing light and laughter to the long, cold winter months of being cooped up. We thought we had left the tradition behind when we left the north but, we introduced it this winter at our church. Good sports that they are, they embraced the idea.
     We began the evening with a chili cook-off. Two long tables were laden with ten crockpots of various chilies, numbered and made ready for voting (and eating!) Two more tables were covered in toppings of every sort, cornbreads, tortilla chips, and desserts. We had several serious tasters and voters recording their ballots for three categories of winners. They were, Most Unusual Ingredient, Hottest, and Best Overall, which would be the Grand Champion. Several new visitors at church even submitted entries. The hour we spent tasting and eating gave everyone a nice chance to visit and introduce themselves. We had about eighty people of all ages brave the bitter cold weather to be out for this evening's event.
    As the chili ballots were being tallied, everyone made their way to the sanctuary where the Follies would take place. A dozen performers had signed up for a variety of acts: some serious, some amazing, and some on the humorous side. Our Small Study Group got excited about putting together something entertaining. We've had so much fun over the past three weeks preparing for this evening. we all contributed an idea or an enhancement to the core idea, that being our pastor's sermon on Jonah earlier this winter. It would include a big fish prop and a song of the same title, by FFH.
     The chili votes were in and the Follies began with the awards. The audience created a drum roll to introduce each winner. Chelsea won the Most Unusual award for her Turkey Pumpkin Chili! One of our elders won for his Hottest Chili named, 'The Chilinator', and a new family won for Best Overall. The Champions were awarded the golden spoon, among other prizes. These winners will hold the golden spoon for a year until it's time to pass it on to the new, next-year's winner.
     With this business completed, we readied ourselves for the dozen performers lined up for our entertainment.  All the performers were amazing! There was singing and dancing, musicals and skits. Some received standing ovations, all received hearty clapping, and a few received hoots of laughter and whistles.
     The evening was a success and folks were already talking about preparing for next year's event. Some acts will be hard to follow. But, we all agree that the gift of laughter is a balm to weary, over worked, and aching souls. I must admit that I lean towards laughter as a counterweight to life's burdens. My faith, my family, and my friends provide me with a balanced attitude toward most things. I could not endure life's difficulties alone, of that I am sure. Thank you for the laughter, my friends, it is golden.
     And now I present, "Jonah and the Longettes" as we perform, Big Fish. Our inspiration was a sermon series on Jonah our pastor gave earlier this winter. (Click here if you wish to listen.) Our cast is composed of two engineers, a pilot, a pediatrician, a speech therapist, a math professor, a bank teller, and me. I suppose we better not give up our day jobs. : )

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Here Baby There Mama Everywhere Daddy Daddy- Hair!, Comments, Crunchy and Good

Photo by James Ransom at
1. Steve needed a wig so went to the costume store. The place was a maze of low-ceiling rooms that were jam packed with merchandise. They had every costume and accessory imaginable. It was interesting to see Steve's taste in hair. He wanted a wig like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, but Tess and I convinced him to go Lady Godiva.
1a. I've had the lyrics from "Hair" going through my head all afternoon.
2. Lynn played catch up and posted a whole bunch of comments on my blog. It was fun opening and reading each one. It felt like I'd received a bunch of little gifts.
3. Here's another excellent recipe that we had for dinner tonight, Quinoa with Hazelnuts, Apples and Dried Cranberries. It crunchy and fruity and addictive. I made a small, roasted pork loin on the side.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In the Deep, Dark..., Cats at Play, Parenthood

1. There is a pine woods at the Christmas tree farm where the pines are so dense that it looks like nighttime underneath. The floor is covered in a blanket of pine needles. I haven't made up my mind about this place. The darkness makes it eerie but the thick pines create a comfortable shelter.
2. Little calico cat watches grey cat from a distance before he decides to run across the road to play. He appears to be weighing his options and scoping out the situation before he commits.
2a. On our return walk, I see calico cat running home across the field. His owner has just driven up and he's running home to greet him. We did this very same thing when we were children. We dropped whatever we were playing and ran home to see our parents as they pulled into the driveway.
3. I'm stuck on the series, Parenthood. There are five seasons available and I'm on season three so, it still feels like I have a comfortable abundance ahead of me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Two Miles, Poster Board, Dining in Front of "The Paradise"

1. I decided that forty-three degrees was bearable weather for a good walk, so off we (Henri and I) went. There were Chickadees and Blue Jays skittering from branch to branch alongside our route, chattering at us as we championed our way up the road.
1a. When I got to the abandoned farmhouse where the cows live, I thought of Chelsea's comment, "There they are, right where we left them."
2. Tess and I had a date for a trip to Michael's. I was looking forward to that all day. We added a side trip to Target and that was like the icing on the cake.
3. We had quick and simple egg-a-muffins for dinner: They consist of a toasted English muffin, buttered, with a slice or two of deli ham, a fried egg, and American cheese melted on top. They are one of our absolute favorite meals.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Starting the Week on a Positive Note, Last Day of Spring, His Song

1. I have aged into ponte knit, elastic waist, wide leg pants and I love them. I usually wear them on Mondays because I need to start the week off on a good note in carefree, comfortable clothing.
2. It's our last day of 60 degree weather for a while. Walking to the compost is a treat rather than a chore, as is getting the mail and walking the dog.
3. There's a chickadee singing in the dogwood when I walk by. It's song is the perfect, "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunshine!, Getting Together, Today's Sermon

1. Little fur ball, Henri is soaking up as much sun as he possibly can.
1a. The girls were going through the Sunday paper ads and choosing all the favorite things they would buy if they could.
2. More good times as we practice our skit, share a meal, and study together.
3. Our pastor, in his sermon from Galations, said, "We want spiritual intimacy without commitment." More specifically, we want spiritual intimacy without the commitment of ethics or theology. It is so very true.
3a. The sermon was twofold. He also drove home the point which we hear often, and that is: "It is Jesus Christ plus nothing." It's not the way a person dresses that makes him a Christian, or speaks, or votes, or raises his children, or anything else he does. It is Christ alone. Amen.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Painting, Walking, Eating

1. I asked Steve and Chelsea to help me with a stage prop today and they came through with flying colors. Steve drew the design, Chelsea brought the paints, and we had great success putting it all together. I can't say exactly what it is because it's a surprise for the Cabin Fever Follies. I'll share more about it after the show next weekend.
2. As promised, temperatures soared and all of us were all lured outside this afternoon. We took a nice walk: the kind that had us unzipping and shedding jackets as we progressed.
3. We grilled hamburgers for dinner and they tasted like summer.
4. Audrey popped in after riding, wearing her nifty blue, houndstooth riding pants. She stayed just long enough to make us laugh, eat a slice of apple pie, and then she was gone again.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Doing Well, Wait Until Tomorrow!, Look Who's Here

1. As each day passes, the relief we all feel for our friends is palpable. Their son is recovering and everyone's mood is lighter and sparked with joy. Mutual friends greet each other with, "Have you heard how well...?"  And we can reply, "Yes!"
2. Single digit temperatures this morning are destined to rise into the fifties by tomorrow. Knowing this is enough to help me overlook the frigid morning's commute.
3. Once per month the ladies (I still think it's funny that I'm one of those.) meet for lunch at various establishments throughout the area. You never know who might show up and I think the surprise of it is part of the fun. It gives the opportunity to chat with someone we might not otherwise have the time with.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Still Here, Walking the Trails, SO Good!

1. Chelsea was still here when I got home from work. That was a nice surprise.
2. B., Chelsea and I took the dogs to Greenfield for a walk on the trails. It was mild enough outside to be enjoyable and we all felt better for the exercise.
3. I made the most amazing recipe for dinner. Check out this recipe for Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprout, and Bread Stuffing with Apples. It's filling enough on its own if you want vegetarian, but we had it with breaded, pan-fried, boneless chicken breasts on the side. I'm even more excited that the recipe made a lot because now we get to eat it again tomorrow night : )
by Gena Hamshaw @ Food52
4. Steve and I watched a Netflix movie together. This was a rare treat with all the long hours he's been working. We watched "White House Down". It was typical Hollywood, blow 'em up stuff, but still entertaining to watch together. It was also packed with enough action that neither one of us fell asleep, which is a really big deal.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mixed Seasons, A Beacon, Winter Moon

1. I stepped out the front door on this rainy Monday morning and was greeted with the smell of spring. That wonderful, inhale deeply smell of rain and dirt that comes on a warm breeze.
2. The power went out at 1:45pm and it was still out when I left the house at 3:00pm. With high hopes, I flipped the front porch lights on as I was leaving in case the power was restored by the time I got back. Sure enough, our front lights were a beacon as we drove around the bend toward our house. They signaled that it would be warm inside and we would be able to heat dinner!
3. The clouds scattered on high winds, leaving a few shreds scudding across the sky at sunset. A very large, full moon rose behind the sunset-colored clouds. It was clear and white and looked cold, like winter.