Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Faith, Hope, and Beaded Bracelets

It had promise of being an exhausting weekend, starting with a high-anxiety work week. I lumbered home on Friday evening even later than usual to prepare food for Saturday's family reunion.

Chop. Dice. Stir.

I come from a tomato and cucumber family, so artichokes, avocado, and palm hearts get picked out and shoved aside. Nothing says "It's great to see you again" like pasta salad with vegetables that nobody recognizes.

The reunion was pleasant albeit not well attended, with merely an occasional mumbled snide remark. My 94 year-old aunt had moments of lucidity, but not too many. After visiting with my mother (her sister) for several minutes, Mom walked away and Aunt B said "Who was that woman, anyway?"

And twice she asked Ron Burgundy how long he's worked at the TV station and twice he said "Over 35 years" to which she finally replied "How come they let you stay there that long?"

Out of the mouths of babes - and the elderly.

I attend these family gatherings to put a little "fun" in dysfunctional. I didn't do such a bang-up job this time. The planets just weren't lined up properly or something.

By Sunday I was spent. I was running on about 6 hours of sleep for the week, and had this creeping anxiety about the work week ahead. And my heart was aching a bit for various and sundry reasons that would be a whole other post that probably won't be written.

I went to church alone on Sunday morning. Rather than my usual pre-claimed seat, I sat way back in the balcony. I'd never gone up there before, and I knew with my current state of exhaustion and emotion, the tears would flow with the first song. I really just wanted to sit alone and let the snot run. It's one of my spiritual gifts.

A young family with three beautiful little girls came and sat next to me. I was fine with that. They were well-behaved and polite, and other than the fact the little one next to me had her Crocs on the wrong feet, they were quite Rockwellian. I love how little girls swing their legs incessantly when their feet don't hit the floor.

Pastor gave a short spiel on the mission trips some of the congregants had taken, and at t
he end, the ushers passed pails of baggies containing a hemp string and two beads. We were to put together a bracelet this week, with the green bead representing Kenya and the blue bead representing the Czech Republic. It was a simple prayer reminder for our brothers and sisters who are being disciples to other nations.

But to the little 7 or 8ish year old girl next to me, it was craft time.

"Would you like me to tie your bracelet for you?"

By this time we'd been through 3 songs and I'd soaked as many kleenex. But I didn't want to be rude.

"Sure," I said. "You'll be better at jewelry making than I am." I'll admit it. I faked being nice. I was too selfishly absorbed in my own thoughts & emotions to really feel like being nice.

"Well, we just can't do these things by ourselves, you know. I'll tie yours and you can tie mine on my wrist."

I felt my heart soften. She had the most gorgeous long sable hair, and eyelashes with which you
could sweep the kitchen floor.

She showed such innocence, such confidence, and her sweet little fingers swiftly tied the beads and knotted the string. It was apparent she had done this before.

I then proceeded to tie hers. She carefully directed my every move in the kindest of ways as my clumsy gnarly fingers tied her bracelet together. I resisted the urge to pull it tight using my teeth like I would have in

"Now we should wear these all week you know," she instructed, "to remind us to pray for the mission people."

She was so proud. "What's your name?" she asked.


"That's awesome! I don't know anyone named Candy! I can't wait to tell Mom but she wants me to be quiet in church."

This little girl in the span of a half hour had given me such a lift, such a light to a dark week, that I couldn't help but feel her genuine delight over simply my name, which when you think about it, is pretty silly for a mature woman. I was feeling a bit more hopeful about the rest of my day and the week ahead.

As the service ended and we started to depart, she grabbed her little sister's hand and started walking out.

"You never told me your name," I said.

"It's Hope.....and this my little sister Faith."

Somehow, in the midst of worship music and bracelet tying, I knew that.

Tea today: Snow Water Green Cloud

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lean Not

I clearly remember the day this was handed to me by chubby, sticky fingers on a Sunday morning about 24 years ago. Sunday School fingers were always sticky from rice krispie treats and glue. "Pick off the Elmerts, Mom. My fingers feel funny." This little one was always creeped out by his fingers feeling funny - he even got the heebie-jeebies when I trimmed his nails.

"I made this for you, Mom," he said as he proudly reached up and handed it to me.

I loved it instantly. Proverbs 3:5 has always been one of my favorite scriptures, and now it was etched in my heart forever, conjuring up memories of ice-blue eyes and perfectly parted and combed platinum hair.

The overlapping red hearts are now faded to a light rose color. For a few months this had its place on the fridge, but as the artwork got rotated and things were moved to storage bins, I couldn't put this one away just yet.

I moved it to a place I would see it often. Three small children allowed me to frequent the laundry room several times a day (some days I actually went there to do laundry and not just hide), so the appropriate place seemed to be next to the detergent shelf where the stray GI Joes and Barbie shoes were safe after being rescued from little pockets.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart."

Throughout the pre-pubescent years, the unending laundering of athletic gear, and loads of "boat towels," this verse washed me clean with every visit to the Maytag.

By the time we built our home and moved 13 years ago, those fingers had morphed from chubby and sticky to adolescent gnawed nails that could palm a basketball. And testosterone-laced rebellion and pride had reared its ugly head. The verse had found a new home above the door of our bedroom closet, and I still read it every day as I get dressed and grab my shoes.

Every day.

I don't remember what the argument was about, but no doubt I had given a firm "No" to a request to do something that "everyone else was doing," And thinking in my head that I was not going to use the "if everyone else jumped off a cliff...." line like my own mother had used. But I probably did.

And he was furious. After storming through the house and taking down all the pictures I had displayed of him, he went into my closet and ripped the gift of Proverbs off the wall - and out of my heart.

I groveled. I begged. No matter what, I needed that verse. "Do with the pictures what you will, but I want that verse. I'm begging you."

He relented. I got the verse, though a quarter of it had been torn off in the ruckus. I remember sitting in the closet crying my eyes out, taping it together, and for a couple of days I hid it in my underwear drawer.

All precious things are safe among the granny panties, aren't they?

A few days later, it took up residence again in its proper spot in our closet, taped securely to the wall. It has been there ever since.

Last Thursday, I opened the closet to find the verse had fallen off the wall and landed stuck between the hangers of my pants. Not thinking too much about it, I stuck it back to the wall, noting that even in a closet, old construction paper continues to fade.

The words do not.

Friday, I opened the closet door and it fell down again. As I tried to catch it, it floated out the door onto the dresser, propelled by a vigorous ceiling fan. I took the Fun-Tak off the wall, re-molded it in my fingers, and firmly replaced it.

Yesterday, after a fitful, discontinuous 1 1/2 hours of Friday night sleep, I opened the closet door to grab a pair of socks, and the verse had dropped off the wall again. This time it landed on the top of my sock box.

Of course. God likes to get our attention that way.

Once again, I replaced it. Scotch tape this time.

This morning, I opened the closet to grab clothes for church. My first step was smack in the middle of the dry, cracked construction paper.

OK, Lord, I'm listening!!

He is painfully aware I haven't been listening enough. There are no accidents.

I replaced it this time with electrical tape firmly taped in circles on the back. I could care less what residue and gunk is left on the wall. Next time I may have to use duct tape.

Like that would make a difference when He wants to get His point across.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday Wanderlust

Two things eluded me today - sleep and blog fodder. Up at 3:45 am. Huh?

I asked a couple of my Twitter/blog friends @katdish and @billycoffey (and if you don't follow them, you should because one is going to be famous and one is ... hey look, a chicken!).

Their ideas? Tea. And pictures.

So I left work early and captured a few....
This is what greets me in the morning. Choices, choices.
White cantaloupe is one of my favorites. Sweet without sugar. Yes Billy, I said without sugar.And I love all things pomegranate. Even my tea.
I'm not a tea snob, but I've loved green and white teas for years. It's chock-full of healthy antioxidants which you all know and love. Plus a little caffeine if you feel you need it. Or not.

prefer the loose leaf variety. It's fresher, gives you a better flavor, and if a leaf escapes the tea basket you have something really special to pick out of your teeth and save for afternoon tea. Loose leaf tea has a woodsy flavor and aroma that can't be steeped from bagged tea. More than one person has looked suspiciously at my "stash." I swear to you, it's T-E-A.
And look at this awesome one! It's called Green Peony and the leaves are so long they tie them together like a flower and when you put in in the perfectly off-boiled water, it turns into a tea ball. This is particularly tasty and works well as iced tea because there's a LOT of tea in this bundle.I got this quaint tall mug I got for my birthday from someone who claims me as their mother - it's my favorite size and the woodsy pattern on it is fabulous! OK, so I used "woodsy" twice in the same post. Too much tree bark and woodland creature food for lunch I guess. If I'm feeling really special and Ron Burgundy isn't here to give me a foot rub need to pamper myself, I use this little pot/cup combo that my sister-in-law gave me. It's gorgeous porcelain, so please, Hands. Off. Only I am allowed to break it.Let's grab our tea and go outside and look at my new hummingbird feeder and garden stone that were also birthday gifts. No, Snickers, you can't come out. And Lucky's not coming back (insert sad face emoticon here)See the humming bird? Yeah, me neither. I think it flew behind either the yard waste bag or the kitty litter bucket that I seem to be focused on here.Can't wait until these are big enough to dredge and fry. I love me some fried green tomatoes. They've grown so slow this summer, and nearly got frostbitten a couple of weeks ago. Global warming has escaped Iowa.
The fish are in school this evening. And the water hyacinths are ready to explode into bloom.
Anybody know how to read tea leaves? I never got into that. I'll read this instead. Makes perfect sense to end the evening with cup of tea and a little Malachi.

Tea tonight: Genmaicha

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tragedy Averted

It's been too long since I've posted, so knowing we were going to be spending the weekend at the river for my traditional birthday celebration, I figured I'd wait and show some of the traditional birthday festivities.

Mom loves to go all out.
Remember when I wrote about the money "shirts" and the gifted cemetary plot at Easter? I knew I'd have another story to tell after the weekend. But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be this. But let's start with a picture of the view from Mom's living room window, because the weekend started out beautifully serene.

he amazing grace of God entered a riverside park in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin as we completed our church service this morning.

It was a beautiful, though unseasonably cool summer Wisconsin morning, and St. Peter Lutheran Church (the one Mom attends while she lives at her trailer on the river summer home in Wisconsin) was having its very first outdoor service. There were about 200 people gathered in the park and under and around the gazebo. The praise band was at one end of the gazebo, their backs to the river, so the congregation watched them and the pastor's message whilst the Mighty Mississippi lazily flowed and the lush trees on the Iowa side of the river served as a gorgeous backdrop.

My mom, Ron Burgundy, Abby (my new daughter-in-law) and I pondered where to sit. At first we were going off to the right side of the gazebo, then
Mom spied some friends off to the left, so she wanted to sit behind them. We parked our lawn chairs and it was a perfect spot. Little did we know at that time how perfect it would be.

About 20 feet of space stood between the band
and the wrought iron fence that served as a guard rail to the river, which was about a 50 foot drop below. The way the river is dredged and the retaining wall is built, there is no shoreline. The river is very deep, probably as deep as the main channel, which is about 9 feet - deep enough to allow for barge traffic.

After the band played their final song, pastor said "Go in Peace, Serve the Lord," Abby and I got ready to stand and immediately heard a horrible crashing sound. Within seconds, we saw a car quickly heading down the hill on our right toward a crowd of people, crashed into a picnic table next to the gazebo, splintering wood everywhere, swerved and drove behind the band, hit the iron fence leaving an open gap, then quickly turned toward the crowd again, as if going in an out-of-control circle.

And then, just a foot away from another picnic table it stopped. People were run
ning and scattering everywhere. I called 911 on my cell phone, and when the operator answered I told her what had happened. She asked me where we were and I went blank, but I looked up and right in front of me was a sign on the gazebo "Lawler Park Shelter Reserved for St. Peter's Church..." I don't remember seeing that sign earlier, but it was obviously there in the picture.

Fortunately, only one person was hurt - an elderly gentleman who had wand
ered over to the park from the Fireman's breakfast to visit with friends. He was pretty shocky and was having a lot of pain in his legs and hip. RB sat and held his right leg and others sat there also trying to calm him while we waited for the ambulance. The lady driving the car was very shaken, but apparently not hurt. As expected, she felt horrible about the incident and couldn't explain what happened.

Had we put our chairs in the initial location we chose, we would have been directly in the path of the runaway car.

And had Floyd, one of Mom's friends, not spotted Ron Burgundy across the gazebo and was making his way over to greet him, he would have been in the exact spot where the side of the gazebo was smashed.

In no way do I consider this a brush with death. Merely another brush with life.

Oh, the plans God has for us.

When I think of all of the children who were there just seconds before the car went through, the youth group we prayed for as they head out on a mission trip, the elderly who couldn't move very quickly to get out of the way, and how that lady's car avoided going straight down that 50 foot rock wall into the river, it's nothing short of a miracle that only one man was injured.

I'll leave you with a few more light-hearted birthday memories that pale in comparison to the relief we all felt when the park incident was over.

Mom baked me a birthday pie instead of a cake. I don't eat cake much. Actually I don't eat pie either, but the special peach pie was mostly for Ron Burgundy.

Rather than the traditional "
shirt," Grandma had way too much time on her hands and decided to tape my birthday bills together end-to-end. Abby and I tossed the roll back and forth across the room to see exactly how long a ribbon of 58 bills is. Very. Long.

Ben joined us this afternoon on his way back from a softball tournament. That little boy (I don't see him as a grown man with a bride just yet) sure loves the river! I still see him toddling down to the dock with Grandpa and his fishing pole. I think he does, too.

And then a final parting shot on the bluff before we hopped in the car and drove safely home.

Tea today: Tazo Zen

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Is your head ever so full of thoughts and emotions and intentions that you become totally separated from the world around you? What do you do when your mind is spinning?

Sometimes family will say "What are you mad about?" or "What's wrong with you?" when I am lost in thought. I can't chat because my head is just too loud and I'm trying to quiet it.

I was like that today.

After an extremely emotional church service and beautiful worship music, I just felt like my head was going to explode. It was one of those messages you want all of your kids to hear (and anyone else in your life), just to share the common awe.
What happens to me is that when I continue to reflect long after the message is over and the tasks at hand have begun, I become very quiet.

This is not the usual me. I'm known to just blurt out random things, but not this time. My head (and heart) were reeling and I felt the need to be with those thoughts. Not alone, just with God and what message he was so strongly sending me, about how he cares more about my character than my comfort (thanks, Rick Warren), and I wanted to soak all that in. It was one of those Sundays when you wonder if the pastor was peeking into your life and brain all week, and he knew what you needed to hear.

Ron Burgundy and KT went for a run this afternoon and I was shortly behind on my bike. I rode the 21+ miles up to the labyrinth and back, alone with my thoughts. Sort of - I listened to the last of the "Q" series again, like twice wasn't enough. I can see why someone hacked Pete Wilson's Twitter account. I'd like to hack his brain.

My ride was pretty quiet - said hello to lots of people, gave directions to the A&W to one couple, the
n ran into an old friend who demanded a stare-down with me. I won. She ran quickly into the woods as I tried to take her picture without the zoom. Didn't help that my hands were shaking. I don't think she knew I was more scared of her than she was of me. Truth be told, we're both pretty harmless. And then I found some of that "knee high by the Fourth of July" corn we grow here in Iowa and sort of dreamed about walking into it and disappearing like all of Shoeless Joe's friends did in Field of Dreams. For the record, I'm standing up in this picture. I did walk into the field, but came out the same person, in the flesh. And sweat. Imagine that.
It was all in all a good day, though I'm still feeling rather pensive. RB and I worked on some budget items tonight and he's crashed in bed after a long, hot 8 mile run. KT has gone back to her home away from home, and hopefully tomorrow we'll all wake up after a peaceful night's sleep and remember that it's a new day and God is the same as he was the day before and the day before that and the day before that....

He's got everything covered.

Tea today: green with pomegranate

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Oceans and Mountains Iowa Style

Ron Burgundy and I took a business-type trip with some clients last weekend aboard The American Lady for a dinner cruise down the Mississippi. A quick trip - one of us packs intentionally; the other packs randomly in an old leather satchel with a zipper that doesn't work. Any guesses who's who?

wasn't exactly "down the Mississippi" as we know it - rather it was down a little then back up, in about the time it took 50 people to go through a buffet line of iceberg lettuce, canned corn, have a few barley pops, and enjoy the sunset.

Nothing like the day-long trips we used to take. With Twizzlers. And Chex Mix. With three sunscreened, life-jacketed kids.

Just the two of us, on the road toward the river.
And the obligatory stop at the Dyersville DQ.
We have spent weeks, maybe months, on the river over the years, if you add up all of the weekends of boating we did when the kids were little. We just haven't gone much in the past few years.

As they grew up, we heard "Can I bring a friend?"

Then a couple years later "Do I have to go?"

Then a couple years later "I'm not going to go."

Now it's "Dad, I'm taking the boat this weekend."

Left behind.

RB doesn't want to sell the boat because he's waiting for that time warp to take us back to when the kids were 8, 6, and 5 again. So for now, it pretty much sits as a driveway ornament, and we'd I'd certainly sell it if anyone made us an offer. Unfortunately, nobody thinks our good memories are worth as much as he does. This boat has never been my favorite one, even though it's a beautiful watercraft, and it barely has 100 hours on it.

Sleeps four. Head. Stove. Sink. Make us an offer.

It might be possible that I don't like it because he bought it a few years ago without telling me. And it's just too dang big for my liking.

"I gave the guy a low-ball offer and he took it. What was I supposed to do?"

Change your mind? Good thing I forgive easily.

He had to borrow a vehicle from the local dealership to go pick it up because we didn't have a big enough truck to tow it. And then next, understandably, we had to buy a truck to tow it.

So boatless but river-bound, we arrived at our hotel to be greeted with a gift bag. Is there anything as cool as a gift bag? And a great room in a historical hotel?
We boarded and cruised, I just kicked back, knowing I wasn't the one paying for the boat gas (though I would, just to catch a whiff of that smell...) and took in the beautiful Iowa/Illinois scenery. We often missed that as we were skiing, tubing, or eating Twizzlers. There are beautiful huge bluffs along the river. Iowa's mountains, if you will. And the sunset as the background to the IA/IL bridge. The lock and dam system that keeps the water at just the right depth for the barges to do their hauling is simply an amazing engineering phenomenon. And the beautiful width of what appears to be a calm water, with the raging current underneath. You can never have too much respect for the current in the Mighty Mississippi. It will send you down to the next dam faster than you can say Mark Twain if you're not paying attention. We went back Sunday afternoon and just gazed over the river, walking along the rocky shore. Ron Burgundy became pensive. Or prayerful. Or both. And then we drove home. Well, he drove. I slept.

He drives well with his knees, don't you think?
I always need a foot rub.

Tea today: Tazo Zen