Archive | July 2016

Two Thousand “Ducks in a Row”

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Just imagine 2,000 ducks waddling around a big pond. Some wood ducks. Some mallards. Some plain white farmyard ducks. Some old. Some fluffy little yellow ducklings. And they’re all mixed up. Now imagine that it is your job to organize them by species and subspecies, and then line them up alphabetically by name – from Abby to Zach. How long do you think it would take you to get all your ducks in a row?

It took me two weeks. Except my ducks are books. And yes, I estimate Mim and I together have about 2,000 books . This number does not include my digital books (about a hundred) nor my books of piano and organ music (another couple hundred). And it doesn’t include our cookbooks (probably another hundred or so).

Mim and I both like to read, and over the years we have accumulated many books. Mim says a good book becomes a friend – someone that we may want to go back to again and again at different times in our lives. We’ve accumulated friends, not just books. It’s not easy to part with friends. It’s not easy to part with books. But sometimes we try.

Twenty-four years ago when we moved from Chicago to Cambridge, we went through all our book shelves and gave away several boxes of books, the books we were pretty sure we wouldn’t read again. That’s when we got rid of most of our textbooks. But never fear. We found new books to enlighten our minds and enrich our souls.

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A mini-library in one of our B&B guest rooms

Eighteen years ago when we turned our farmhouse into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, one of our distinguishing amenities as a B&B was that we had a bookcase in every guest room. We wanted to have more than just a Gideon Bible in every room. We put a good selection of our favorite books in each room – devotional books, novels, biographies, coffee table style picture books, etc. Many of our guests picked up a book and enjoyed it during their stay with us. Some even asked to take a book home with them, and promised to return the book by mail when they finished reading it. We were happy to oblige – delighted to share our love of books.

Nine years ago when we moved from the farm to the condo we put hundreds of books in our down-sizing sale, but we still moved about twenty boxes of books with us to the condo.

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Some of the books in our down-sizing sale in 2007

We had my brother build a wall of bookshelves from the knee-wall to the ceiling along the hallway in the finished part of the basement. However, we never had time to organize our books. We simply unpacked the books and set them on the shelves in no particular order. We wanted to get everything out of boxes. Our plan was to organize the books later, when we had more time. That time never came. Whenever we wanted to pick up a particular book, we had to scan all the shelves until we found it. Sometimes we were successful. Sometimes we weren’t. And we spent a lot of time just looking.

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The book shelves my brother built for us – 6 sections of 4 shelves each

So why did I decide to get my “ducks in a row” over the last couple weeks?

By the end of June, the time finally came for us to empty the last of our belongings from the farmhouse. That included twelve more boxes of books! When we turned the farmhouse into a B&B-style retreat center we intentionally built up a nice little library of mostly inspirational books for guests of Whispering Winds to use. Some of these books were duplicates of our personal favorites. Others were new books that we picked up at resale shops and second-hand book stores in Madison. Even though we brought the big bookcase and a couple smaller bookcases from the farmhouse to the condo this summer, we still didn’t have room for all our books. I had no choice. I had to organize and filter all the books or Mim would never be able to get her car in the garage again.

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Bookcase in living room – reserved for our favorite authors

My first step in organizing 2,000-plus books was to go through all the books on the shelves in the basement, searching for our favorite authors: Max Lucado (34 books!), Philip Yancey (17 books), Frederick Buechner, Tony Campolo, Henri Nouwen, Edward Hays, and about a dozen other authors. I put these books in the big new bookcase (also built by my brother) that we moved from the farm to the living room of the condo, arranging the books by author and title. Then I went through the twelve boxes from the farmhouse, picking out the books of just our favorite authors, and inter-filing them on the shelves.

I put all the duplicates of these favorite authors in another bookcase – the one we designated for books to give to friends who may have an interest in a particular subject, author, or book. Mim often talks with friends about some of her favorite books. If the person is really interested in the book, Mim is happy to give them one of our duplicates – to keep permanently or to read and pass on to someone else. We don’t have a “lending library.” We have a “give-away library.”

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Our “Give-Away Library”

When I accomplished this first step of organizing the books of our favorite authors, I was elated. Finally, after nine years, our favorites are now organized so that we can easily find them whenever we want to read or simply reference an idea in them again.

Then I carried the twelve slightly lighter boxes downstairs, to organize these books with all the rest of our eagerly-waiting-to-be-organized books. I decided on the following general categories (which reflects our reading interests pretty well):

  • Bibles – old family Bibles and various newer translations (1 shelf)
  • Daily Devotionals (1-1/2 shelves)
  • Inspirational Stories (4 shelves)
  • Religious (6 shelves)
  • Biographies and Memoirs (3 shelves)
  • Bed & Breakfast and Travel (1 shelf)
  • Norwegian History and Humor (1 shelf)
  • Humor (1 shelf)
  • Dogs, Cats, and Other Animals (2 shelves)
  • Caregiving and Personality Types (1/2 shelf)
  • Health, Medical, and Alzheimer’s Disease (2 shelves)
  • Death and Dying (1-1/2 shelves)
  • Music Theory and Hymn Stories (1 shelf)
  • Writing (1 shelf)
  • Self-Improvement (1 shelf)
  • Current Issues (2 shelves)
  • Christmas (1-1/2 shelves)
  • Picture/Coffee Table-style books (1 shelf)
  • Fiction (7 shelves)
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The shelves lined with fiction

Using the 24 built-in shelves (six sections with four shelves in each section) plus five other bookcases downstairs, I was able to fit all the remaining books, each in its right place – the right bookcase, the right shelf, then alphabetically by author and title. By counting the average number of books on a shelf and multiplying that by the number of shelves, I estimate our library is now down to about 2,000 books. That’s after donating about ten boxes of books to St. Vinny’s.

When I described the process of getting all our “ducks in a row” in our home library to a friend, she asked how many of those books we have actually read. Mim answered, “All, except maybe an eighth of them.” That’s only about 250 books left to read. Fortunately, I’m sure we can find more books sitting in resale shops just waiting to become new friends when we need them.

So why do Mim and I think of some of these books as our friends? One book was one of my mom’s favorite novels. I feel a closeness to her whenever I pick up that book. Another book, OPEN HEART, OPEN HOME was written by Karen Mains, the wife of our pastor when we first lived in Chicago. That book prompted me to think about hospitality as something that should be an important element in my life. THE ECHO WITHIN by Robert Benson helped me think through my desire to write about ten years ago. ONE PERFECT WORD by Debbie Macomber got me started on the habit of coming up with a new word to focus on each year instead of coming up with New Year’s resolutions. JESUS CALLING by Sarah Young is a daily devotional that I’ve re-read at least four times. I’m reading it again this year after taking a couple years off. THE SHACK by William P. Young is a very weird novel that I read a few years ago when I had the flu. It made me think about the character of God more than anything else I’ve ever read. I’m sure I’ll read it again. All these friends have enriched my life in many ways.

I’d like to go on and on, telling you about more of these wonderful hardcover and paperback friends, now lined up like “ducks in a row,” but this blog post is already getting pretty long. I guess it’s time for you to tell me about some of the friends on your bookshelves.

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God’s Garden – and Mine

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I think God laughed a little at my lazy approach to gardening on the deck this summer, but decided to bless it anyway. The lettuce did very well in its bed of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve had several salads, and the lettuce keeps coming back when I cut it. It’s not quite as sweet and tender as it was a month ago, but it still makes a good salad. We had a few little radishes, but I think I made the mistake of planting too many seeds too close together. I wanted to get as many radishes as possible out of my bag of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. A couple weeks ago I pulled out the remaining radish greens with their scrawny roots, and planted the rest of the radish seeds from the package. I spaced each seed more appropriately, and this crop is coming up nicely. We’ll see if July is too hot to grow radishes, or not. It’s all an experiment.

IMG_1268The three tomato plants are doing very well. I transplanted each plant from the Deerfield Greenhouse into a larger pot filled with Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve been eating fresh-picked tomatoes almost every day for weeks. Wonderful! A few of the leaves on two plants are starting to turn yellow, so I don’t know how long our prolific tomato harvest will last, but we’re certainly enjoying it now.

Fortunately, God has blessed us most from the gardens of our friends who still live in the country and have really big gardens. They have brought us asparagus, beans, cucumbers, different varieties of tomatoes and radishes, and various kinds of summer squash. And black raspberries!

Can you believe that the same God who thought up the idea of asparagus, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, also created black raspberries! And just think about all the produce that is yet to come as gardens continue to mature this summer and fall!

God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants, every sort of fruit-bearing tree.” And there it was. Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties, and fruit-bearing trees of all sorts. God saw that it was good. It was evening, it was morning – Day Three. [Genesis 1:11-13 The Message]

I’m discovering that God thought about nourishment for all of creation, not just us. This morning I went for a short walk in our back yard, near the pond. Lots of wild milkweeds are in full bloom. I expect to see many happy butterflies fluttering around any day now.

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Five years ago I wrote about “An Abundance of Tomatoes and Thistles” in this blog. I just discovered (by trying to follow an inactive link) that my blog posts from 2011 are no longer available on the Internet. (I switched blogging applications in 2012.) Here’s a flashback to when Whispering Winds was an active retreat center, and I was learning to share “my” tomatoes with God’s chipmunks. (This blog post is also included in my first book, LISTENING FOR GOD: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life.)

August 22, 2011:
This is a good year for cherry tomatoes at Whispering Winds. In the spring I planted a couple plants of my favorite variety, “Sweet 100” and one new variety that was simply identified on the tag as “large red cherry tomato.” For the past few weeks Charlie Chipmunk and I have been sharing an early abundance of the “large red cherry tomatoes” and a few of the “Sweet 100’s.” Charlie has decided that every tomato he tastes is worth eating in its entirety – no more taking one bite out of the tomato and then moving on to the next one like he did last year. This way, there are plenty of tomatoes for both of us, and for our guests, too. Unfortunately, Charlie has figured out that the “Sweet 100 s” are the sweetest of all tomatoes, so he gets most of them. But the “large red cherry tomatoes” are good, too, so everyone is happy.

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Charlie Chipmunk keeping a close eye on the tomatoes in the raised bed at Whispering Winds.

This is also a good year for thistles. That might not seem like a good thing, unless you’re a goldfinch, or someone who loves to see goldfinches. They’re my favorite songbird. Seeing a goldfinch perched on top of a bright purple thistle blossom reminds me of taking walks with my mom and seeing goldfinches perched on thistles along the roadside. She called them “wild canaries.” I’ve seen more goldfinches this year than ever. Almost every time I take a walk I see one or two, and smile, remembering my walks with Mom.

Late summer is a time for enjoying the abundance in God’s creation – the abundance of cherry tomatoes if you’re a person or a chipmunk; the abundance of thistle seeds if you’re a goldfinch.

I love the sights, sounds, and tastes of summer. As I walked around the pond this morning snapping pictures of the milkweeds with my smartphone, I was startled by the splash of a frog leaping into the pond right next to me. I guess I startled him, too. Then I started listening more closely to all the birds singing.

Last Saturday was the perfect day to enjoy summer with all our senses. I grilled really long hotdogs from Jones Dairy Farm in nearby Fort Atkinson, Mim cut up a fresh cucumber into a vinegar and sugar water mixture, and all of us – Carolyn, Anna, Martha (the three 95-year-olds), Floey, Mim, and me – had a picnic on the deck, with sweet, juicy watermelon for dessert (plus a few Oreos).

God certainly knows how to delight our senses!

Happy Summertime!

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Floey served as Anna’s foot rest, and enjoyed a soothing back massage throughout lunch.

Do Something!

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Pastor Jeff Vanden Heuvel

“You’re not dead yet. Do something!”

That’s what Pastor Jeff preached about at Messiah last Sunday. He talked about how difficult the past week had been – with two black men being shot in our country, just a day apart, and then five police officers being killed and more injured in Dallas just days later. When you think about all the violence in our country, and the continuing racial injustice and unrest, it’s easy to conclude that the situation is hopeless. Then, when you look globally at the inequity, hatred, and wars worldwide – the big picture only confirms that we might as well give up. Hatred is the victor. Our experience proves that love and justice will never win in this world. Why bother to fight for what’s right? We won’t win.

The Scripture Pastor Jeff turned to was the familiar story of The Good Samaritan. A lawyer had asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life, and Jesus told him to love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love his neighbor as himself. The lawyer then asked Jesus to define who his neighbor was – to put limits on who he had to love. Jesus then told the story of The Good Samaritan, which essentially said there are no limits. Jesus told the lawyer to go and show mercy. Period. No limits.

Pastor Jeff paraphrased that directive to us. “You’re not dead yet. Do something!” Then he offered some practical suggestions of things we can do, starting with becoming more educated on the issues, and discussing the issues with our families and our neighbors….

The day before, on Saturday, I was inspired by an email I received from Ellen Finn. I mentioned her a couple months ago in this blog. She’s the person who introduced me (via email) to Casita Copan in Honduras. Casita Copan is the organization that connected Mim and me with Dulce Maria and Leydi, the two little girls we provide monthly support for in Honduras. (Here’s a link to that post:
https://whisperingwindsblog.com/2016/04/26/another-piece-in-gods-puzzle/)

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Ellen delivering a Christmas “basket”

I have never met Ellen face to face. A friend of mine, the daughter of one of our assisted living residents, told me about Ellen 7 years ago, when she was trying to raise money to give Christmas baskets to poor families in Honduras. Buenos Vecinos (Good Neighbors) is the name of the organization Ellen created. Ellen explained how she got involved with projects in Honduras on the organization’s website, www.BuenosVecinos.org:

I originally went to Honduras to study Spanish and live with a wonderful homestay family for a week. I stayed two weeks. I fell in love with the family as well as the Honduran people and the children absolutely captivated me!

I came back to Seattle and after 3 months, sold most of my belongings and my car, gave up my music career and moved to Honduras to teach English.

Within 3 months I began to see how distressed the schools were in the neighboring villages and decided that I would commit my energies to raising money to building, supplying, and repairing village schools. Soon we found ourselves expanding into areas of health and emergency relief….

On Saturday I received the following email from Ellen:

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY, IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!!!

Well okay, soon it will be my birthday.

As many of you know I have been privileged and happy to be working in Central America for almost 10 years!

AND NOW, I am about to turn 70 years old and still going strong!!!

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Ellen getting school supplies for her friends.

In these years, together, you and I have built 15 schools, a library, a clinic, bridges, water projects, endless school repairs and furnishings, school supplies and teaching materials for more than 100 schools … and have provided all sorts of educational and health and nutrition programs for children. We have provided emergency services for pregnant mothers, communities in distress and much more!

Many folks have asked me what I want for my birthday and I keep coming up with the same thought.  Operating expenses for a year! 

It doesn’t require much to keep us going…. we can still provide great services on less than $15,000 per year and if we had this sum, we could concentrate more on providing much needed services and projects, and less on raising the funds. This would be such a great way to start my next decade… with time and energy and support to do even more needed projects.

If you’d like to help me celebrate … You can donate at our website www.BuenosVecinos.org

THANKS FOR HELPING ME MAKE THIS BIRTHDAY A SPECTACULAR ONE IN WHICH WE WILL BE ABLE TO PROVIDE SERVICES TO THOUSANDS MORE CHILDREN!

With love and gratitude,
Ellen

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Ellen opening boxes of school supplies.

That email was inspiring to me! One person can’t solve all the problems of the world, but one person can make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.

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Young Hondurans carrying benches from the storage shed to their outdoors classroom.

So, what can we do? Pastor Jeff kept reminding us, “You’re not dead yet. Do something!” So, who are my neighbors? I guess I have some neighbors in Honduras that need some help, and Ellen is willing to coordinate the logistics of getting help from me to these neighbors. I can simply go to her website and make a donation. That’s a start.

And I have other neighbors with needs…. Last week I received a phone call from someone who was trying to line up donations of winter coats for inmates who will be released from the Dane County Jail this winter. The caller asked me if I could enlist the help of our church in this project. The inmates are my neighbors, too. I guess I could follow up on that request. I could also clean out my own closet….

With the world being in such a sorry state, there are plenty of opportunities to be a good Samaritan. As Pastor Jeff suggested, I need to educate myself on the issues underlying the tragic problems in our neighborhood, our country, and our world. I need to look around to see and understand the needs of my neighbors.

Like Jesus said,

“Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan], do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:36-37 NRSV]

Or, as Pastor Jeff said, “You’re not dead yet. Do something!”

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Jail inmates released in the winter months will need warm coats. Maybe we can help….

(You can hear Pastor Jeff’s homily on the church website. Pastor Jeff always begins his homilies with a song and a story. Even if you just watch the first few minutes, you’ll hear a great story about an old and very clever German Shepherd.
http://messiahchurch.com/media/video/2016-sermons/  
Note: You may have to click the refresh button of your browser and then click the arrow for the July 10 sermon.)

Dot-to-Dot Life

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Dot-to-Dot books were my absolute favorite activity books when I was a little girl – even better than coloring books – well, maybe my Red Ryder cowboy coloring book was the best of all – but other than that, dot-to-dot pages were my favorites. I could spend hours drawing lines from number to number to reveal a picture from what started out as just a mass of numbers.

mediumSunday morning I read a short paragraph from FIRSTLIGHT: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd.

During those times when I wonder what I’m going to do with my life and I’m unable to envision it, I recall a dot-to-dot picture of a giraffe – a gift from a four-year-old. The child had created the picture by moving his pencil from dot to dot, one at a time. It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot. [p. 175]

A couple weeks ago Mim and I went to my 50th high school class reunion. It was fun to talk with former classmates, to find out who is retired and who is still working, and to discover some surprises in what all of us have been doing with our lives.

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I’m in the front row, right in the middle, wearing glasses.

When we left high school, many of us had dreams of specific careers where we would spend our lives. In my case, I was going to be a chemist. Really! I changed my mind after my freshman year in college. I switched my major from chemistry to English and prepared myself to become an English teacher.

After college, I taught English for two years, and then I became an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia. The publishing business was interesting for a couple years, but then I switched again and began a new career path in business. I spent ten years working in the financial systems department of a large corporation in downtown Chicago and went to grad school evenings to get an MBA. Then I left big business and became a small business consultant, creating my own business. Then my partner Mim and I became owners of a bed and breakfast. Then I became a real estate agent. Then Mim and I turned our B&B into an assisted living business. Next we turned our farmhouse into a spiritual retreat center. Oh, and simultaneously with these “career changes” I became a church organist and a writer, publishing a weekly blog and a couple books.

So much for the idea of devoting my life to a one-track career. I really appreciate what Sue Monk Kidd said,  “It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot.” When I drew that first line from dot 1 to dot 2, I had no idea what the total picture of my life would end up looking like. In retrospect, that really didn’t matter. I just needed to live my life one dot at a time.

SKMBT_C28016070409180Joan Chittister focused on a related theme in the June issue of The Monastic Way. The 30 daily readings reflected on a quote by St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.”

The reflection on the first day of June boldly stated, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” [Chittister was quoting David Viscott, a psychiatrist.]

One of the things I learned from my own life experience, and had confirmed by the life experiences of some of my classmates at our reunion, is that God has given us many different gifts. Discovering what these gifts are is a lifelong adventure.

One of my classmates has written a book about his life story, That First Step. In the Foreword, Lee states, “There is nothing earth shattering or noble here, just a straightforward tale of a Navy Parachute Rigger who became an Air Force Master Sergeant.”

SKMBT_C28016070409240As I read the book, I learned a lot about day-to-day life in the military, about the job of a parachute rigger, and about the importance of packing a parachute just right so it definitely will open properly when the ripcord is pulled. I also learned about how Lee discovered his natural talents, his deep interests, and his amazing love for free-fall parachute jumping. Through the narrative of his story, I learned how he gradually discovered that his life was meant to be spent in the military – first in the Navy, then the Air Force. That was his life calling. Or, as he writes at the end of the book, “As I look back to those childhood days of playing soldier, maybe, just maybe, having this career was the fulfillment of my destiny.”

Lee has learned the truth of what St. Catherine of Siena said seven centuries ago, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.” Lee’s book makes it clear that he has had a very inspiring and rewarding career in the military. He has discovered his life purpose.

In The Monastic Way Joan Chittister defined “vocation” as “the call within us that tells us that we will never be really alive until we become what we are called to be… It is, Merton says, ‘the original selfhood given me at birth by God.’”

The next day Chittister added, “What we are given to work with in life is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God.”

dot-icecream-1-coloring-pageOn the surface, my own career progression might look like I’m scribbling an abstract design on my dot-to-dot page rather than following the dots correctly. Fortunately, Sue Monk Kidd assured me that even if I can’t make out the complete picture of my life yet, all I need to see is where the next dot is. Sometimes I think I might be drawing lines with more than one pencil, but that’s okay. As long as there are more dots on my page, I’m still working on my gift to God.

Sue Monk Kidd includes the following story in her book FIRSTLIGHT:

Rabbi Joseph Liebermann told how he fell asleep one night and had a dream. In the dream he dies and goes to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waits for God to speak, he fears that the Lord will ask him, “Why weren’t you a Moses … or a David … or a Solomon? But God surprises him. He simply asks, “Why weren’t you Rabbi Lieberman?”

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t a Mother Teresa. The question I fear most is, “Why weren’t you Sue Monk Kidd?”

The most gracious and courageous gift we can offer the world is our authenticity, our uniqueness, the expression of our true selves. [p. 176]

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t Joan Chittister or Sue Monk Kidd or J. S. Bach. I just hope God doesn’t ask me the question, “Why weren’t you Marian Korth?”

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My earliest career aspiration was to be either a cowboy or an Indian.