Archive | December 2012

Transition Time

The winter wonderland surrounding the farmhouse

The winter wonderland surrounding the farmhouse

It’s official. Whispering Winds Retreat Haven is on break. As of the first of the year, the farmhouse will be home to another family for at least two years. In January of 2015, the farmhouse may reclaim the name of Whispering Winds and come back to life as a B&B-style retreat center again, or it may move ahead into a new stage of its life, possibly with a new owner. The farmhouse is for sale as soon as God sends the new owner our way.

Our Chicago friend Ellen, the one who helped us turn our farmhouse into Whispering Winds Retreat Haven four years ago, was with us this past weekend. Ellen, Mim, and I got together in the living room of Whispering Winds to celebrate the blessings of these last four years and to pray for this time of transition. With the help of the book, For Everything a Season: 75 Blessings for Daily Life (written by the Nilsen Family for The Youth & Family Institute, Bloomington, MN, 1999), we created a special blessing ceremony for this occasion. Our opening prayer was:

Gracious God,
you gave us a home in which to grow and rest,
to find shelter and experience the many joys and sorrows of life.
Thank you for the blessings of this place
and what it has meant to all who have lived and visited here.
May this home be a blessing to those who come after us.
Amen

We spent some time remembering many of the blessings we have experienced at Whispering Winds, many of our guests, and some of the special occasions that have been celebrated here. We ended our short liturgy with the following blessing:

May God’s love fill our hearts with gratitude for our blessings
and help us treasure every new stage of life.

Abbey is the most popular caregiver at Country Comforts.

Abbey is the most popular caregiver at Country Comforts.

Now what? Several people have asked me what I’m going to be doing with all my time now that I’m no longer managing Whispering Winds. Mim is very quick to answer that for me. All the things I was supposed to be doing for our other business, Country Comforts Assisted Living, can now become the priorities. Most importantly, I need to spread the word that we have decided to specialize in providing end-of-life care in our condo. That has become the niche for Country Comforts Assisted Living.

When people draw near to the end of their life, often they choose to receive hospice care at home with their loved ones taking care of them. A hospice organization provides help, but the majority of caregiving is done by family members. Sometimes, family members are not able to give the care their loved one needs at home. That’s where Country Comforts can help. Their loved one can be moved into our home where we’ll provide attentive and loving care for them. Family members can be with their loved one as much as they want at Country Comforts, but they can rely on us (mostly Mim who is a registered nurse) to provide whatever physical, emotional, and spiritual support is needed – from medication management to prayer. We work together with a hospice organization and the loved one’s doctors, pastor, and family members to help the loved one peacefully live out their last months, weeks, or days on this earth.

What will I be doing? Whatever I can to spread the word about the end-of-life care we provide. That means updating our website, www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com; meeting with social workers, doctors, pastors, and community leaders in the area; and starting another blog about “Creating Moments to Cherish” as loved ones draw near to the end of their life. (I’ll also continue to keep up this blog, www.WhisperingWindsBlog.com, which has evolved into reflections on hearing God speak to us through everyday activities.)

Another thing I’ll be doing is writing and publishing more. I’m going back to Christmas Mountain the second week in January to do the final editing of my book on hospitality, Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest. I hope to have this book published by summer. Meanwhile, I’m reviewing the proofs of my first book, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life, and plan to finish that task this week. I’ll let you know when the book is available on Amazon.com. Soon, I hope. It will be available in both paperback and e-book formats.

December 31 is a good time to talk about transitions. Hope you are looking back at the blessings of the past year and looking forward to a wonderful New Year, too!

Happy New Year from Marian, Abbey, and Mim. Family portrait compliments of Kevin Korth.

Happy New Year from Marian, Abbey, and Mim. Family portrait compliments of Kevin Korth.

All I Want for Christmas

Sears Christmas CatalogIn the 1950s, the day the SEARS CHRISTMAS CATALOG arrived in the mail was just about the best day of the year. I’d sit down in the living room, flip to the toy section, and spend the next hour or two looking at all the toys, page after page after page. When I got to the last page of toys, I’d go back to look again at the toys that I really wanted. They were usually on the cowboy page. I’d much rather dream about getting a ranch set than a doll house. (That’s probably why I still take such delight in setting up my “Bethlehem ranch” set for Christmas. My crèche has over 100 pieces, and is still growing!)

One year my mom tried to change my interests and she got me a big beautiful doll for Christmas. I cried when I opened the package. My mom gave up trying to change me, and got me a ranch set with a ranch house, corral, horses, and several cowboy figurines the next year. I couldn’t be happier. I finally outgrew the cowboy stage and drooled over chemistry sets in the Sears Catalog. One year my parents really splurged and got me the biggest chemistry set in the catalog. The next year, when my parents remodeled the kitchen, I was given the old hoosier to keep in my room as my laboratory. That way I didn’t have to take over the whole dining room table whenever I wanted to do chemistry experiments.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

The other side of Christmas presents – the giving side – soon became even more exciting than the receiving side. Most Decembers I’d spend two or three hours working in the barn every day, stripping tobacco. (That’s another long story for another time.) I earned two-cents a lath – equal to about five minutes work. On Saturdays, I’d sometimes work all day. By the time I had earned between $5 and $10, I was ready to go Christmas shopping. Typical presents were a model car or airplane for my brother, a pen and stationery for my sister, a box of candy for my mom, and a tie for my dad. I felt rich with all the money in my billfold to be able to buy all those presents.

Over the last few years, Mim and I have changed some of our ideas about Christmas shopping. Whenever we’re in a store, any time of the year, and I see something that I’d really like to have, but I can’t quite justify that I  need it and that I should spend the money on it, Mim will say, that can be your Christmas present, and vice versa. That’s how we justified spending $16 on a monthly planner notebook for 2013 for Mim, and how we justified spending $300 on a Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone for me last week. (I think I’ve mastered this new way of looking at presents better than Mim has!)

But the five things I really want most for Christmas this year are:

  1. Krumkake – and other homemade Christmas cookies, especially the Norwegian kinds.
  2. Good roads so that I can get to the Christmas services I’m scheduled to play for this year – all eight of them.
  3. Time to spend with my family and best friends.
  4. Quiet time to think about how much God loves me – and vice versa – probably relaxing time sitting at the piano, not necessarily completely quiet.
  5. The opportunity for everyone to experience a moment of God’s peace.
Part of the Fontanini creche I've been collecting since 1984.

Part of the Fontanini creche I’ve been collecting since 1984.

“Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope”

Dont Bother Me I Cant CopeOne of the first shows I went to see when I lived in Chicago was, “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.” It was a musical review with songs about major themes of the 1970s – student protests, ghetto life, black power, and feminism. The musical style was a blend of gospel, jazz, soul, calypso, and soft rock. The show won several Tony Awards in 1973. That’s about when I saw it – almost forty years ago. What I remember most about the show is the rhythm of the title phrase, “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.”

That phrase comes to mind occasionally when I’m dealing with something that’s really bothering me and I think the situation is hopeless. It came to mind again this past weekend with the horrible massacre in the elementary school in Connecticut.

One of the tangents my mind went off on from this terrible story was – Is there anything that could ever drive me to the point of wanting to kill someone? The short answer to the questions is yes. (I’ll explain that more below.) Fortunately, I can honestly say that I never have killed anyone, even though I must confess that emotionally I have wanted to. So, how do I cope with the extreme emotions that make me want to kill someone? How do other people cope?

blue toolboxGrowing up on the farm in southern Wisconsin, I quickly learned to become a problem-solver.  When the hay baler broke, my dad fixed it. When a gadget in the kitchen broke, I figured out how to fix it. A career in business management may seem like an unlikely fit for a farm girl, but it really was a natural. My approach to any organizational problem was to figure out how to fix it. That approach carries over to my personal life, too. Whatever challenges face me, my immediate instinct is to figure out how to overcome the challenge, “to fix it.” I’ve learned to be quite patient with this approach. If my first solution doesn’t work, I look for another one. Killing someone rarely comes up as the solution.

The first time I remember the killing option occurring to me as possibly the only solution to a problem was when I was battling state regulators in the department of commerce and the department of health. Mim and I wanted to put an addition onto our farmhouse so that we could become a wheel-chair accessible bed and breakfast. We were increasing our size from three guest rooms to four and we intended to make the house as universally accessible as we could for an old farmhouse. Only five percent of the B&Bs in Wisconsin were wheelchair accessible. We wanted to become one that was, to begin to increase that percentage. The state B&B law had a provision that said B&B’s could not have additions built onto them. That provision had been a compromise measure when the state had last changed the B&B law several years ago to allow B&Bs to have as many as eight guest rooms, instead of limiting them to four guest rooms. The “No Additions” provision of the law didn’t serve any good purpose and was actually counterproductive to improving the quality of B&Bs. That provision of the law was enforced inconsistently throughout the state – some counties completely ignored it, others enforced it rigorously.

MS CoupleIn our case, the local building inspector, who had to approve our plans in order for us to get a building permit, fought us tooth and nail, along with most of the state regulators in Madison. They were all committed to following the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law. We eventually worked out a compromise that permitted us to build the addition, but we had to conform to commercial building codes rather than residential codes, significantly increasing the cost of our addition. The negotiations took several weeks. We enlisted the support of the Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association, which gave us a louder voice. We continued the battle further after completing our addition. We worked with a state legislator in northern Wisconsin to get the law changed again so that no other B&B owners would have the same hassles we had. Additions on B&Bs are now legal – if the house is at least fifty years old. To get the votes needed to pass the new law, another one of those crazy compromise provisions had to be inserted. This one will probably have to be fought by someone else at some other time – a necessary evil of our contentious legislative process.

handgun 4The whole process of working with state regulators was the most irrational and frustrating experience I have ever had in my life. I couldn’t believe how unreasonable the regulators were and how powerless I felt. I can remember saying to Mim in the middle of the negotiations, I now can understand for the first time in my life why someone would actually resort to killing a person. I was that mad. Fortunately, I didn’t have a gun. And, fortunately, I have been blessed with a lot of patience and self-control.

“Don’t bother me. I can’t cope.” Everyone has problems. Everyone has a breaking point. And everyone responds in a different way when they reach their breaking point – when they “can’t cope.”

One of my friends knows that she’s at her wits end when she starts wishing someone is dead. She doesn’t fantasize about killing them. She leaves that up to God. She says that God rarely fulfills that wish, but she trusts that God will eventually help her deal with the relationship problem.

Another friend knows he is powerless to fix most problems, so his attitude is to ignore them. Eventually the problems will go away, or at least they’ll stop bothering him.

The Bible has lots of examples of people who are given terrible circumstances to cope with. Job’s situation was probably the worst. He coped by trying to understand why all this bad luck was happening to him. In the middle of all his sufferings he said, “God has no right to treat me like this – it isn’t fair! If I knew where on earth to find him, I’d go straight to him. I’d lay my case before him face-to-face, give him all my arguments firsthand. I’d find out exactly what he’s thinking, discover what’s going on in his head. Do you think he’d dismiss me or bully me? No, he’d take me seriously.” (Job 23:2b-6 The Message) Despite all the suffering he went through, Job still trusted that God was in ultimate control. Even if Job couldn’t understand why God was allowing these things to happen to him, he would cope by trusting God.

I guess that’s what I should try to do, too. If I can’t fix a problem, and I can’t even fully grasp the reasons behind the problem, I can still trust that God understands what’s happening, and that God is ultimately in control of the whole situation. God understands my frustration, too. For now, that’s enough.

Pastor Holding Bible

The Price of Kindness and Gas

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

About noon on Friday I left Christmas Mountain in Wisconsin Dells to drive home for the weekend. I’ll return today (Monday) for three more days of my 10-day writing retreat. I’d made the reservations for this writing retreat a couple months ago. Since then a few things have come up for the weekend that required me to go back home. Fortunately, the drive is only a little over an hour. But on Friday, it was closer to two hours.

After I’d been on the road about twenty minutes my cellphone rang. It was Mim. She wanted to know if I remembered where I had put the music for “Mary Had a Baby.” One of my reasons for going home for the weekend was to play the piano to accompany Mim. She was going to sing “Mary Had a Baby” for a Scandinavian Christmas Hymn Sing at East Koshkonong Lutheran Church on Saturday afternoon. (“East” is one of two churches where I’m half-time organist.) I told Mim where I thought the music should be, but it wasn’t there. I suggested a few other places she could look – but the music wasn’t in any of those places either. Finally I thought, maybe I had taken it to Christmas Mountain with me to practice on my keyboard. I decided to take the next exit off I-90. I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to check my briefcase in the back seat of my car, just to be sure the music wasn’t there, before driving back to Christmas Mountain to look for it in the timeshare condo I was using for ten days.

As I got out of my car a man, probably in his thirties, walked up to me. He said he hated to ask, but he didn’t have quite enough gas to get where he was going. Could I give him a dollar or two to help him buy more gas.

US Currency - small bills 2The situation took me by surprise. When I lived in Chicago and worked in the Loop, people on the street asked me for money almost every day. I usually ignored the requests. Back then I rationalized that giving generously to churches and social service agencies instead would help more people. Today, I’m not so sure I made the right decision about that. I wasn’t being kind to the person in need right in front of me.

I moved to Wisconsin twenty years ago, and a stranger asking me for money here is a rare occurrence. On Friday, the guy sounded sincere. He was driving an old white Chevy with plenty of rust. There were a couple other men waiting inside his car. Maybe I was being conned, but I really didn’t think I was. I pulled out my wallet to see what I had – a twenty, a couple tens, a five, and several ones. I gave him the five. He was very appreciative, said “Thank you, Ma’am” several times, flashed a big smile, and walked back to his car.

A beautiful arrangement of "Mary Had a Baby" is in this songbook.

This is the lost (and found) songbook. A beautiful arrangement of “Mary Had a Baby” is in it.

I went back to looking for “Mary Had a Baby” in the back seat of my car. The music wasn’t in my briefcase, so I got back on I-90, headed toward the Dells instead of home. A few minutes later Mim called again. She had found the music. It had been mixed in with the non-Christmas music on the shelf. So, I took the next exit to get headed back home again.

As I was driving, I thought about this little incident. Maybe it was meant to be that I should meet that guy and give him a few bucks. I was feeling good about that rather than being upset by the roundabout route I was taking to get home. But then I thought, how much gas can the poor guy buy with the measly five dollar bill I gave him. Why didn’t I give him the twenty so he could buy almost half a tank?  Why wasn’t I more generous? That bothered me.

Then my thoughts turned to wondering why this whole incident happened. Sure, Mim needed to find the music, and the guy needed gas money. But I also needed to learn more about being generous to someone in need. I must listen a little more closely to what the need is before I figure out how I can help.

I’m glad God’s still trying to teach me lessons!

 

Christmas Cookies 2ON ANOTHER NOTE: Next Sunday, December 16, 2012, is the last hymn sing currently scheduled at Whispering Winds. We’ll sing lots of Christmas carols, eat lots of Christmas cookies, and simply enjoy having a good time together. Everyone is welcome. It’s free. Just show up at 3:00 Sunday afternoon prepared to have a good time. Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin. Call me at 608-212-6197, or email me at MarianKorth&Gmail.com if you have any questions.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven - 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven – 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin

The Life of a Farmhouse

Captain Kangaroo talking with Grandfather Clock.

Captain Kangaroo talking with Grandfather Clock.

When I was a kid, I’d occasionally watch “Captain Kangaroo” on TV. One of the characters on the show was Grandfather Clock. He was a tall, normal-looking grandfather clock, except he had a cartoon-like face and he talked. He often talked about whatever was on his mind and how he felt about it.  I thought about Grandfather Clock today because I’ve been having a conversation in my mind with our farmhouse, another supposedly inanimate object just like Grandfather Clock. The farmhouse (FH) was rather talkative and she let me know how she was feeling. FH has feelings, too. At least in my mind she does.

Painting of the farmhouse about ten years ago.

Painting of the farmhouse about ten years ago.

What prompted this conversation is that the farmhouse will be going through another transition over the next month. Whispering Winds will be going on hiatus. The farmhouse will become home to a family for the next couple years while this family is in a transition period.

I asked FH how she feels about this change. She responded, “I’m looking forward to having Mike and Nancy live here. I’ve enjoyed welcoming new people every week or so, but I’m ready for some consistency for a while.  And, Mike said he loves to do yard work. I know you and Mim try to keep up with the weeding, lawn mowing, trimming shrubs, and cutting asparagus and rhubarb, but I can tell it’s a struggle for both of you to keep up with everything. I think Mike may treat the yard more lovingly than you have been doing lately.”

“That’s probably true,” I agreed. “But won’t you miss all the warm feelings shared by the people who come here for retreats?”

“Oh, I’m sure I will, but I expect we’ll go back to welcoming guests here again before too long. I have a 122-year history of welcoming guests into my rooms. I’ve had thousands of people within my walls. Some have stayed for just a day or two. Some guests have become part of the family and have stayed for several years.”

“That’s a long history, FH. Tell me a little about it.”

Marian's grandfather, Martin Kenseth, plowing with horses.

Marian’s grandfather, Martin Kenseth, plowing with horses.

“I don’t remember my first couple decades very well. I know I was built in 1890. My memory of the first family who lived in me is pretty fuzzy. But I remember the second family well. It was your grandparents and your mom and her brothers. They came to live here in 1908. Your mom was just three weeks old when they moved in. A year later your mom was blessed with a baby brother, and then a few years later she got another baby brother. The whole family worked really hard on the farm – milking cows, taking care of chickens, and driving a team of horses to work the fields. But no one worked on Sundays, except for what really had to be done, like milking the cows. Instead, everyone went to church both in the morning and in the evening. But the afternoons were for relaxing and having fun. Throughout the summer, all the kids from church came out to the farm to play baseball on the lawn by the road. Your grandma made root beer for everyone to quench their thirst. All the kids had so much fun!”

“Yeah. I remember my mom talked about how much fun they had playing together here. Everyone really liked my grandma’s root beer, too. Another thing my mom told me about my grandma is that she was constantly rearranging the rooms in the house. My mom said that at some time or other, every room of the house was her bedroom. Is that true?”

FH laughed. “Well, she may have exaggerated a little. But your grandma did move things around a lot. That’s one way she kept me clean. When you move all the furniture out of a room, it’s easy to clean it thoroughly before moving any furniture back in.”

“When I grew up in the house, I always had the same bedroom.”

Building the new barn about 1955.

Building the new barn about 1955.

“Yes, I think your mom compensated for the disruption in her life of constantly changing rooms by never, ever, changing the rooms or rearranging any furniture within a room when she was in charge. When your grandparents retired, they moved to a small house in town, and your parents took over the farm. Your mom loved living here. Your mom and dad modernized the farm to mid-1950’s standards. They built a new barn and they made quite a few improvements to the house – like indoor plumbing, electricity, and a furnace. They added a new kitchen, too.”

“I’ve always loved living here, too. It’s out in the country, but it’s close to town. It’s just so peaceful here. That’s what most of our guests have said about our home. It’s so peaceful.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Marian. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to serve as a peaceful refuge for so many people. I think one of the reasons for the peacefulness people sense here is that God has been directly invited several times to be present within my walls. Your mom first had a house blessing sometime in the 1970’s. The pastor walked through the house, room by room, with your parents and some of their friends and invited God to be present at all times in each room throughout the whole house.”

“I remember my mom telling me about that, but I was living in Chicago at the time, so I wasn’t here for it. But Mim and I had house blessings, too, when we turned you into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, and when we became handicapped accessible, and when we became a retreat center, and…”

“That’s right. But you’re getting ahead of my story. After your parents died, you decided to have your brother remodel me into your dream house. What a “facelift” that was! You stretched me from a 1500 square foot century-old farmhouse into a 3000 square foot country home with plenty of space for guests. The expansion was a real shock to my system, but I’m glad you did it.”

Mim's mom (Selma), Mim and me on the front porch

Mim’s mom (Selma), Mim and me on the front porch

“I’m glad we did it, too. We completed the remodeling just in time. About half a year after we moved within your walls, Mim’s mom had a stroke. She became our first long-term guest. She lived with us almost five years.”

“Mim’s mom liked to have guests, too. Quite a few of her friends from Minnesota came to visit and they stayed in my rooms for a few days when she was living with you. That was a good warm-up for my next phase – when you named me “Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast.”

“You have gone through a lot of changes, FH.”

“You’re right about that. A lot of changes and a lot of guests! Over 2,000 guests stayed in my guest rooms over the next five years. They came from all over – from 45 states and 12 foreign countries. It was so much fun to share the peacefulness of the farm setting with so many people. Some people fell so much in love with me that they came back again and again. Some of them even chose one of my rooms as their favorite to return to a couple times a year.”

“That’s when Mim and I decided it was time to stretch you even further – we put on another 600 square foot addition so that we could more easily accommodate people in wheelchairs and with other physical limitations.”

“Yeah. You thought you were doing it for B&B guests, but God had something more in mind. After September 11, 2001, travel declined significantly. You decided to adapt all my doorways a little, put in permanent ramps, and you changed my name again – from ‘Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast’ to ‘Country Comforts Assisted Living.’ That was quite a change, too, but those years were very satisfying. I became ‘home’ to ten elderly people over the next five years, two or three at a time.”

“How did you feel in 2007, FH, when we decided to leave you and move to a new condo in the pasture? You knew we were trying to sell you. Did that hurt?”

“I was a little apprehensive, not knowing who would come along to buy me. But, with more than a hundred years of God bringing the right people through my doors, I knew whoever came next would be the right people. When no one seemed to want to buy me, I couldn’t understand why. But then it became clear. And you caught on, too. God wanted us to be together a while longer. That’s when you renamed me ‘Whispering Winds Retreat Haven.’ I became a B&B-style retreat center. That was my best identity yet. I love having people come through my doors to spend quiet time praying and listening for what God has to say to them.”

“And that brings us to the present – on the verge of another change. Are you okay with it, FH? To have just one family living with you for a couple years?”

“Like I said before, with all the house blessings we’ve had, I know that God will always be within my rooms. Whoever comes through my doors will be blessed. I’m sure that will be the case for Mike and Nancy, and for whoever comes after them, whether I return to being Whispering Winds and welcome more guests coming on retreat, or whether there is some other use for my next phase. I know that God will always be with me, and that makes every next phase a great adventure.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, FH.”

“There’s something I’ve been wondering about you, Marian. When my ‘Whispering Winds’ identity goes on hiatus next month, are you going to keep writing the Whispering Winds Blog?”

“I plan to keep writing every Monday, just as I have for the last couple years. Obviously I won’t be talking about what’s going on at Whispering Winds, but I’m sure God will prompt me to write about other things. I really enjoy the online conversation I’m having with my readers.”

“Good! I’m ready to move on to my next adventure.”

“Me, too!”

The farmhouse this fall

The farmhouse this fall