Archives

A Vacation Filled with Kind Strangers

Last week Mim and I returned home from our third vacation of the year. We’re making up for the past 16 years of almost no vacations while we were doing assisted living in our home. This vacation had lessons for us to learn just as our earlier two vacations this year had.

  1. Our July vacation reminded us us that God is always watching out for us, even in the middle of a remote hay field in South Dakota, far from any cell towers, when we needed to call someone for help.

    fullsizeoutput_29cc

  2. Our September vacation taught us that it’s time to pay attention to our bucket lists and begin to do some of the items on the list, like going to a conference to hear one of our favorite writers.

    AhYSNe1WRsOmQ5EMxOMT0w

  3. Our October vacation showed us that there are a lot of kind people in the world, and we need to notice them as well as to be kind to the strangers that cross our path.

Our plans for our October vacation were to take three days to drive to Cape Cod, one of our favorite vacation spots from our past; to spend four days on the Cape; and then to take another three days to drive home. We planned to pace our travel to spend one night in the Finger Lakes Region of New York so that we could have dinner and a nice long visit with Dorothy, an old friend from our Chicago years. We paced our drive home so that we could spend one night near Cleveland and have dinner and conversation with Claudia, a friend from my freshman year in college whom I hadn’t seen in more than fifty years. (We reconnected about ten years ago on Facebook.) 

Our purpose for this vacation was to simply relax and have a good time. That we certainly accomplished! We hit the fall colors at their peak. The scenery across Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts was beautiful. Most of our days were sunny and in the 60s – perfect  weather for a fall vacation.

fullsizeoutput_2b77

But the real theme for this vacation – the kindness of strangers – became apparent the first evening of the trip. We checked into our hotel in Maumee, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo, about 4:30. We settled into our room and went for a walk to get some exercise. We asked the hotel clerk where we could get good, thick, juicy bar burgers for dinner. She recommended the restaurant at the Holiday Inn across the street. We walked there, and enjoyed very juicy cheeseburgers, fries, and a bottle of wine.  As we were finishing up, our waitress came over to say that our bill (about $50) had been paid for us by a man sitting at the bar. When we protested to her that there must be some mistake because we don’t know anyone around here, the man came over to our booth to explain. 

He was a veteran who said he shouldn’t be alive. But he is, so he’s determined to do nice things for others whenever he can. He said he just wanted us to pay the tip. I said we would gladly do that, but then he changed his mind, pulled out a wad of bills, peeled off two twenties, handed them to the waitress and asked if that was enough. There were tears in her eyes. Then the man sat down in our booth and motioned his two brothers to come over. He’s from New Hampshire and was meeting his brothers from Minnesota. This hotel was a good midway point for them to meet. Their father had passed away this year, and his brothers were bringing him some of their father’s antiques. 

It turns out the three brothers had grown up in Deer Creek, a very small town in central Minnesota, near where a very good friend of ours had grown up. We enjoyed visiting with the three of them until their dinners were ready. The one who paid for our dinner said that he likes to do something “to make someone’s day” every day that he can. We assured him that he had made our day, and that we would pass on the kindness to someone else.

What a start to our vacation! The real theme for this vacation had been defined: looking for strangers who were going out of their way to be kind to strangers, and watching for opportunities for us to be kind to the strangers who crossed our path.

The next day we drove to the Finger Lakes Region of New York and had a wonderful evening visiting with our friend Dorothy. She was a nurse who had served in the military in Viet Nam in the 1970s, and then settled in Chicago for several years before returning to her roots in New York. We met her through Nurses Christian Fellowship when we all lived in Chicago. 

On Dorothy’s recommendation, we started the next morning at the National Women’s Rights Historical Park in Seneca Falls, only about 20 miles from where we had stayed. This is where we experienced our second “random act of kindness” by a stranger.

fullsizeoutput_2b78

We had just finished exploring the first building of the park and were ready to leave when a bus tour of about 25 women (and a few men) started streaming through the door, which blocked our exit. One of the women on the tour introduced herself to us and invited us to join their tour for a special presentation by one of the Park Service Rangers about the history of the women’s movement. The speaker was excellent, and we learned a lot of history, enough to convince us we need to add a longer visit to this park to our bucket list.

The next stop on our trip was Sturbridge, Massachusetts. We had planned to spend most of the next day exploring Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum we had visited about 35 years ago, but we discovered after checking into our hotel that off-season hours had just gone into effect, and the museum would be closed that day. So we had to come up with Plan B.fullsizeoutput_2b82

We decided to drive to Plainfield, Connecticut, the small town where I had been a high school English teacher from 1970 – 1972, my first job out of college. We drove around Plainfield looking for the high school, and eventually found it, but the building I remembered wasn’t there. In its place was a  much larger school. As we were walking around the school taking pictures, a school bus driver came over to us and asked if we would like her to take a picture of us in front of one of the most beautiful trees. (Obviously, she was our next kind stranger!)

The second “kind stranger” to approach us that day was a security guard who came out of the school to be sure we were not there to shoot anyone or cause other mayhem. After I assured him that I was a former teacher of the school from almost 50 years ago, he explained why nothing looked familiar – that the site of the old school was now a field for track events, and that the new school had been built on the land behind it.

We hadn’t even made it to the Cape yet, and already four strangers had impressed us by their kindness. 

The pattern of running into kind strangers continued throughout the vacation – from the staff at the timeshare who went out of their way to be helpful, to the other guests at the timeshare who generously shared travel tips.

fullsizeoutput_2b28

Our timeshare was right on the ocean. We went for short morning and evening walks on the beach, but we spent the majority of our time exploring Cape Cod National Seashore.

fullsizeoutput_2b2f

Then every evening we returned to our timeshare to watch the sunset over the ocean.

fullsizeoutput_2b0a

On Cape Cod there’s so much to see…fLhxL7P+QliXyU283wi4Kw
And watch…iCn4lBMlRu2JyWZBRcnPtA

And hear…fullsizeoutput_2b85

And taste…fullsizeoutput_2af9

Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we knew just where to go to experience all these things at their best.

The theme of the trip continued throughout our drive home. On the ninth evening of the trip we had dinner in a Lebanese restaurant near Cleveland with my college friend Claudia and her husband Ron, whom I had never met before and was therefore a stranger to us. We had a wonderful time visiting and learning more about how we each had spent the last fifty years. And the stranger, Ron, paid for the dinner. Not quite the same situation as the first dinner paid for us by a kind stranger, but definitely a continuation of the theme of this vacation.

fullsizeoutput_2b45The last night of the trip we stayed in Chesterton, Indiana near the Indiana Dunes National Park. The owner of the hotel was the final kind stranger of our trip. After being sure he gave us the best room possible to meet our needs, he gave us detailed directions about what roads to take to get to the Park Welcome Center and where to go once we got there.

Thanks to him we were able to get a good overview of the Park in the very short length of time we had to explore it.

The first night of this vacation set the tone for the whole trip – the kindness of strangers.

As I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness the last couple weeks, I remembered a book I read a few years ago, The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless across America by Mike McIntyre. The book was written by a journalist who hitch-hiked across America without a penny in his pocket. He wanted to see whether or not he would find kindness in strangers who might help him on his journey. The book consists of forty short chapters. Each one tells the story of an encounter with a stranger who showed him kindness in some way. It was a fascinating book.

2118704943

I wrote a blog post about this book and a couple other books on the theme of kindness in December 2016. Here’s the link.

The best thing that veteran in Maumee, Ohio did for us the first night of our vacation wasn’t paying for our dinner. It was reminding us to be kind to one another, especially to strangers.

But the best part of this vacation was coming home again, as always. Floey was so glad to see us that she crossed her paws and listened to us tell her all about our adventures. She couldn’t take her eyes off us.

fullsizeoutput_2b86

It’s Complicated, Floey. But Kindness is what matters.

fullsizeoutput_200e

“Floey, you’re barking so loud I can’t think. What’s wrong?”

“Don’t you see him, Mom? Look. Across the pond. A stranger is walking along our trail. What do you think he’s up to? He doesn’t belong here!”

“Oh, I see him. That must be the trapper our neighbor Tom told me about.”

“What??? A trapper! What in the world is a trapper doing here?” Floey was incredulous. “Really, Mom? A trapper?”

“Well, Floey. I wish I could talk with Gilbert and Gloria Goose, and their cousins Greg and Grace Goose about this, but they won’t be coming back to the pond for another week or two. They usually come back just in time for Lent. Remember how we all sing hymns together?”

“Of course, I remember them, Mom. But what do they have to do with a trapper?”

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

“Well, it’s complicated, Floey. You know God created a wonderful world for all of us to enjoy.”

“That’s right. And we get to live in one of the best places in the whole world. We have a beautiful pond in our back yard that we share with lots of songbirds. And in the spring and fall, geese and ducks share our pond with us, too. And this winter, a new family joined us – the Otters. Ole Otter is even bigger than me. When I first saw him, I thought he was a big, brown seal. His wife Olga and their three pups – Oscar, Otto, and Olivia – just love to jump off the ice into the water to catch fish. Then they tread water near the edge of the ice as they chomp leisurely on their catch. I think the Otter family enjoys living here as much as we do. They sure enjoy their fish dinners!”

otter-asian-baby

Internet image (I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to snap a photo of our neighbors)

“Well, Floey, that’s what’s complicated. I like the Otter family, too. It’s fun to have such happy neighbors. But, I’m afraid they’re eating too many fish. Soon our pond will be empty. At our last condo association meeting, everyone agreed that we need to ask the Otter family to leave.”

“Oh, no, Mom! Can’t we just get some more fish? Can’t we all get along?”

“I’m afraid the people who live here decided that we should hire a trapper to safely transport the Otter family to another location. I’ll have to admit, I think the people are being kind of self-centered with this decision. The decision may be what’s best for the people who like to fish from the edge of the pond, but I don’t think it’s what’s best for the animals involved, although the few remaining fish are probably happy. But I wish the Goose families were back again so we could talk with them about this decision. Maybe they would have another perspective and a better solution, one that’s best for everyone.”

“I agree, Mom. What do you think our Goose friends would say?”

“Well, I don’t know, Floey, but in my mind I can picture Gilbert and Gloria singing the song, Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love.”

“I don’t know that song. How does it go?” Floey asked.

“It begins with the refrain:

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.

“Then it continues with four verses. The refrain is sung again after each verse.”

Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
master who pours out himself for them.

Neighbors are wealthy and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are nearby and far away.

These are the ones we will serve,
these are the ones we will love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.

Kneel at the feet of our friends,
silently washing their feet,
this is the way we will live with you.

[Tom Colvin]

fullsizeoutput_200f“That’s a good song, Mom. I can easily imagine Gilbert and Gloria singing it about our new neighbors, Ole and Olga Otter and their pups. Even though Ole and Olga are a different species from all of us, they are still souls that God created, and we need to love them and accept them as our new neighbors.”

“That’s right, Floey. That’s why I’m troubled about forcing them to move.”

“OK, Mom. Let’s go spring the traps so our new friends don’t get caught.”

“Not so fast, Floey. Remember, I said this is complicated. What about our fish? Don’t you think God wants us to protect them, too? Otters need to eat a lot of fish to survive. Maybe the best solution for everyone is for us to help relocate the Otter family to a place with plenty of fish, a new home where they won’t deplete their food source, a place where the fish population can still thrive, even with the Otters in the neighborhood.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.” Floey looked thoughtful for a few minutes, and then asked, “Will the Otter family be treated like refugees when they try to set up their new home? Or, will their new neighbors accept them as part of God’s family?”

“I sure hope they are warmly welcomed, Floey. Remember the old gospel song, God Will Take Care of You?” The Otters need to believe that song and trust that God really will take care of them.

islay_wildlife_spectacular1

Internet image

“Oscar, Otto, and Olivia are such friendly little pups. I’ll miss having them in our neighborhood. I think I’ll go teach them that song right now so they don’t have to be afraid of what will happen to them next. They need to know that we love them, even if they can’t live in our neighborhood. And, most important, they need to know that God will watch out for them wherever they are. ”

“Good idea, Floey. And when the Goose families return in a week or two, we can tell them about our Otter neighbors, and we can all sing the song together, and as we sing we can prayerfully think of Ole and Olga, Oscar, Otto, and Olivia.

c8b200b62ffce65657da04ab865cd9c3

Little Otto. Internet image

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart doth fail;
God will take care of you.

When dangers fierce your path assail;
God will take care of you. 
Refrain.

All you may need He will provide;
God will take care of you.
Nothing you ask will be denied; 
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

fullsizeoutput_200dNo matter what may be the test, 
God will take care of you.
Lean, weary one, upon His breast;
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

[Civilla D. Martin]

God’s Garden – and Mine

IMG_1271

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.

IMG_1302

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.

Version 2

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!

IMG_1265

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

A Summertime Conversation with Floey and God and me

IMG_1212

Floey and I had quite a conversation during our morning walk yesterday…

Early in the walk, Floey trotted over to the biggest shade tree between the sidewalk and the street and rolled onto her back. Then she twisted and turned to rub every inch of her back on the cool, shady grass. Next she lay still on her side for half a minute, and then she continued rolling back and forth.

IMG_1127

“What are you doing, Floey?” I asked.

“Oh, this feels so good, Mom. I love it. The cool grass is giving me the perfect massage for a hot day. You should try it.”

IMG_1131

“I haven’t rolled in the grass for at least 60 years. I remember doing it when I was a kid. The lawn sloped downhill for about 50 feet on the northeast corner of the farmhouse. Sometimes on hot summer days, Danny and I would roll down the hill just to cool off, get dizzy, and laugh at how much fun it was. When our cousins or other friends were playing with us, we’d form a “monkey pile” at the bottom of the hill. And then race to the top of the hill to do it all over again.”

monkeypile2 2012

Kids forming a “monkey pile” (Internet image)

“So, you should remember how good it feels to roll in the grass, Mom.”

“I guess I do. Do you know what else I remember as one of the great experiences of summer when I was a kid?”

“What, Mom?”

“Baling hay”

“Baling hay? Wasn’t that hard work, dirty work, and painfully hot?”

haybaling

This is the kind of tractor, baler, and hay wagon we had. (Internet image)

“Well, I used to think so. But one day when I was complaining to my mom about having to work so hard in the heat, Mom said, ‘I just love to bale hay. I wish I could do that instead of going to the office to work on a beautiful summer day. It’s so peaceful to sit on top of the tractor, to feel the warmth of the sun on your back, and to watch the birds next to the hayfield perched on thistles surveying their kingdom.’ I thought about what she said, and the next day when I had to bale hay, I was aware of the sun on my back, and I looked for the birds on the thistles. I noticed the butterflies flittering above the field. When I started to feel hot from the sun beating down on me, I noticed a little breeze come up that made me comfortable again.”

Goldfinch on purple thistle

Goldfinch perched on a bull thistle (Internet image)

“That sounds like fun, Mom. You know what I really like about summer, almost as much as rolling in the grass?”

IMG_1456

Gopher daring Floey to stalk him. (Internet image)

“What’s that, Floey?”

“I like to stalk gophers. Sometimes they’re so oblivious to what’s around them that I can sneak up really close before they notice me. I can almost catch them before they start running for their life and duck into a gopher hole. I sometimes wonder if they just duck into the first hole they see, or if they really go back to their own hole.”

“What would you do if you caught one?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’d kill it, which is probably what they’re expecting. Maybe I’d just ask it to play with me. Maybe we could play tag. I’d love to do that. We could chase each other really fast!”

“That would be fun to watch – a gopher chasing you.”

“I don’t think it will happen, Mom.”

“You know what else I really like about summer, Floey? All the smells. Did you catch a whiff of that sweet fragrance we just walked by? I don’t see it, but I know there must be a linden tree in bloom nearby. “

“Yeah. I smelled it, Mom. But my favorite smell of the summer is hamburgers on the grill. We usually don’t smell that during our morning walks, but I smell it quite often when we’re out walking in the evening. That’s also why I like to sit out on the deck with you when you grill steak or hamburgers, or even salmon burgers. Even when you’re barbecuing chicken. It all smells so good!”

Burgersonthegrill_400

“You know, Floey, summer is the best time of the year to experience delight with every one of our senses – beautiful flowers to see and smell, birds in the trees and frogs in the pond singing happy songs from early morning to late evening, fresh strawberries and raspberries to taste (and steaks, too), and cool grass to roll on to feel a soft cooling sensation… I’m so glad God created us with senses to enjoy all these things.”

“Me, too, Mom.”

“I read something last week that said this is one way God talks to us.”

“I guess I can believe that. Do you remember just what you read?”

Jesus Calling“It was from the devotional book, JESUS CALLING. Sarah Young, the author, paraphrased Jesus as saying:

I speak to you continually. My nature is to communicate, though not always in words. I fling glorious sunsets across the sky, day after day after day. I speak in the faces and voices of loved ones. I caress you with a gentle breeze that refreshes and delights you. I speak softly in the depths of your spirit, where I have taken up residence.

You can find Me in each moment, when you have eyes that see and ears that hear. Ask My Spirit to sharpen your spiritual eyesight and hearing. I rejoice each time you discover My Presence. Practice looking and listening for Me during quiet intervals. Gradually you will find Me in more and more of your moments. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me above all else.

“The author referenced Psalm 19:1-2 (among other references) to make it clear that God really does speak to us through our senses, not just words.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (NIV)

IMG_1133“Floey, isn’t it great to think that God is actually talking to us through what we see and hear and smell and taste and feel?”

“Wow! I need to think about that, Mom. Let’s keep walking for another half hour so we can fully sense God’s presence with us.”

“Good idea, Floey. We need to find time to “listen” to God. Thanks for helping me keep from being too busy to “smell the flowers” and too busy to watch and listen to whatever God may be telling me today.”

“And Mom, don’t forget to feel what God is saying through the gentle breezes and cool grass under the shade trees.”

IMG_1207

 

God and I Planted a Garden. And it was Good.

D400-0068-091.JonWarrenGod 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]

One of the delights of summer that I’ve enjoyed every year of my life (except maybe the first year) is eating fresh vegetables from the garden. Sweet corn was my favorite. Then plump red tomatoes were my next favorite. And leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, beans, and cucumbers. And all kinds of melons. There were a few things I didn’t like – especially onions and beets – but most things were delicious.

I can remember helping Mom and Dad plant the garden in the spring. The first gardening job I was taught to do was to place bean seeds in the inch-deep trench Dad had dug with a hoe. Then Mom covered the seeds with her hoe. It was fun for the whole family to work together on the project. But the most fun of all was watching the seeds sprout and grow into little plants, and then grow bigger and bigger until we started to pick the “fruits” of our labors and eat our first radishes and lettuce.

Danny and Marian - husking corn

My brother Danny and I spent many summer days husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Every year Mom found something new in the seed catalog to experiment with. Some of the experiments were wonderful successes. Others were not. One success was the first year she tried planting zinnias so that we could have lots of cut flowers throughout mid to late summer. Every year after that we always had lots of zinnias.

One failure was a mixed flower border mat. It was a special paper, one foot wide and ten feet long, covered with seeds. It came rolled up in a mailing tube from the seed company. The instructions were to unroll the mat on the ground where you wanted a border of mixed flowers to grow, cover it with a thin layer of soil, and water it regularly. I don’t think even one flower sprouted. This easy flower border was just too good to be true. It was Mom’s worst failure of all her gardening experiments.

5584943893dce.image

I love all the bright colors of zinnias, especially the unexpected light green ones.

During the twenty years I lived in Chicago, I still was able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden. Mom and Dad kept planting huge vegetable gardens (and more and more cutting flowers) even when there were just the two of them living on the farm. Throughout the season, Mim and I made frequent trips to Wisconsin to load up on vegetables and flowers.

SKMBT_C28016061807100

Mom sending fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago.

In October of 1986, Mom passed away. In the spring of 1987, Dad still planted two huge vegetable gardens. All the rest of us still had to eat…. (He skipped the cutting flowers.)

Marian - Dad in Garden - close

Picking vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The year Dad died (1991), he had finished planting his two huge gardens before he got sick. When he was in the hospital, he kept asking Mim and me to check on the garden. The new potatoes should be just about ready to dig. He died on June 19, and he was right. The new potatoes were waiting to be dug up. Mim and I spent most weekends for the rest of the summer of 1991 driving from Chicago to Wisconsin to tend the garden (and clean out the house).

The next year Mim and I moved to the farmhouse, and we planted our own garden. We bragged that our garden was the same size as the whole lot of our two-flat in Chicago – 30 feet by 120 feet (half the size of my dad’s gardens). We obviously grew more vegetables than we needed, but that meant we had plenty to share. We also had plenty of cutting flowers.

SKMBT_C28016061723230

Part of our crop of pumpkins

When we moved from the farmhouse to the condo in 2007, we gave up gardening. I’ll admit, I miss it. So this year I decided to try an experiment – just like Mom might have tried. I have a tiny garden on our deck. I got the idea from something I saw on Facebook. I purchased two bags of Miracle Grow Potting Mix. I punched lots of little holes on one side of the bags, and placed that side down on a grate on top of a small table. Then I cut the top off the bags, and planted two rows of lettuce with one row of radishes between the lettuce rows. I also have three potted tomato plants.

IMG_1174

So far, my garden is thriving. We ate our first tomato last week, and I picked three more yesterday. We feasted on our first fresh-picked baby lettuce and mixed greens salad for dinner last night. Mim has been thinning out the radishes a little by eating some as sprouts. I think I can declare this experiment a success.

IMG_1173

Ripening tomato almost ready to pick.

For flowers, I bought a “hanging basket” of petunias from a garden center and placed it in an old wooden wheelbarrow. It doesn’t provide any cutting flowers, but I placed the wheelbarrow on the patio right outside my office – so I have a perfect view of them when I’m sitting at my desk.

IMG_1189

In the second creation story of the Bible, the one that focuses on the nature of God and man and woman rather than on the seven-day creation process, God is revealed to be a gardener.

At the time God made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground – God hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) – God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man became alive – a living soul!

Then God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. He put the Man he had just made in it. God made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and good to eat….

God took the man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order….

[Excerpts from Genesis 2:5-15 – The Message]

In the process of writing this blog post I googled “garden quotes” to see if I could borrow the words of someone else to express the profound amazement and delight of gardening. Lots of excellent quotes popped up on my screen. Here are the three that got the most “Amens” from me.

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation. [Phyllis Theroux]

If you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden. [Robert Brault]

I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of day. [F. Frankfort Moore]

I know all these statements are absolutely true. Even when the garden is a tiny one on a deck.

IMG_1159

To Hug Or Not To Hug

IMG_0045

Floey being hugged by one of her best friends.

“Floey, did you see that story on the news last week? The one that said dogs don’t like to be hugged?”

“Yeah. I saw it, Mom.”

“Well, what did you think about the story? Do dogs like to be hugged, or not?”

“Mom, it’s not exactly a yes or no question. I love to cuddle. You know that.”

“I sure do, Floey. You’re the cuddliest dog I’ve ever known. Often when I’m sitting on the couch, you hop up right next to me and snuggle. I love to put my arms around you and give you a little squeeze, and you nuzzle me or try to squirm even closer to me. I love it that you’re such an affectionate dog.”

“I usually like to be close and snuggly with you and Mim. And when you and Mim are close together, I like to get in the middle to get hugs from both sides. That’s heaven. My whole world seems to be brimming with love during those times.”

“Oh, that’s good to hear. I thought maybe you were jealous.”

“Oh, no, Mom. Just feeling the love. But you know, sometimes I like to be all by myself. At those times, I’d prefer for you not to hug me. And I never want a complete stranger to hug me. I want to be free to move quickly if I feel I need to move. So, like I said, there’s not a yes or no answer to the question of to hug or not to hug.”

Selma-Meg-Mim cropped

Mim and Megabyte walking Mim’s mom about 20 years ago.

“I understand, Floey.”

“I know some of my dog friends don’t like anyone to hug them.”

“You know, Floey, your oldest step-sister, Megabyte, our first dog, was a very sweet,loving dog, but she didn’t like to be hugged at all. She loved to be petted, and she loved to play together, especially to catch tennis balls, but she didn’t like hugging. I guess it made her feel too confined and vulnerable.”

“I think that’s it, Mom. Some dogs just like to feel completely free to move at the tiniest glimpse of a potential threat. It doesn’t mean they’re not loving. It may mean they want to be totally free to protect their family.”

“Well, I’m awfully glad you’re a cuddler, Floey.”

“Hey, Mom, while we’re talking, there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. It’s about Mim.”

“Okay. What’s up?”

2015 Floey and Mim on couch - cropped

Mim and Floey sitting together on the couch.

“I really love her as my second mom. You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Well, I don’t like to criticize, but I think she’s being awfully nasty to the Finch family that’s trying to move back into our yard. Mr. House Finch perches on the deck railing off and on throughout the day and sings to his heart’s content. Ann just loves watching and listening to him when she’s sitting in her easy chair next to the patio doors. And, Mrs. House Finch flies back and forth to and from the deck with little sticks and grasses to build her nest. Mean old Mim keeps opening and closing the awning to chase the Finches away. Then she goes out on the deck to pull down the nest that’s in progress and she sweeps all the nest building materials off the deck. That’s so mean! Mrs. Finch needs to get her nest built so that she can lay eggs. Doesn’t Mim understand that?”

“Oh, she understands that, Floey. And she really wants the Finches to stay in the neighborhood. It’s just that Mrs. Finch insists on building her nest under the metal cover of the retractable awning that goes out over the deck. Every time we push the button on the remote control to roll out the awning, the nest will be disturbed. If there are eggs in it, they will probably get broken. Or, if Mr. or Mrs. Finch is sitting in the nest, they might get hurt. Although the metal awning cover may seem like a good homesite to Mrs. Finch, it really isn’t. Mim is just trying to discourage her from building her nest there. Maybe she could build it under the deck flooring. Or in one of the trees next to the pond. Or even under the roof of the condo. Just not under the awning cover.”

2011_05_31-10_19_37-1428-baby-house-finch-nest.jpg

“Now I understand. I couldn’t believe how hard-hearted Mim was being. I felt so sorry for Mrs. Finch. What can we do to help Mrs. Finch understand?”

“The only thing Mim and I can think of is to move the awning in and out whenever we see her up there. But she still keeps trying. I hope she gives up soon and finds another homesite.”

“Maybe I could start barking whenever I see her flying up there with a beak full of grass and twigs. That might scare her away.”

“It might, Floey, but it might scare Mr. and Mrs. Finch away entirely. We don’t want that. The Finches are nice neighbors. They sing such a happy song when they’re sitting on the deck railing.”

1xl

“Yeah. You’re right. Sometimes I wish all of God’s creatures spoke the same language. Wouldn’t that be great, Mom? Then we could communicate better with each other, avoid misunderstandings, and get along with each other better.”

“That sounds good, but think about it, Floey. Think of all the people in the world who speak the same language. Like Mr. Trump. Senator Cruz. Governor Kasich. Secretary Clinton. Senator Sanders. Do they really understand each other? Do they really get along with each other? Yet they speak the same language.”

candidates

“I see your point, Mom. But it’s not hopeless, is it? You and I have learned how to communicate with each other. Like earlier today, when we were talking about hugs. You know what I like, and I know what you like. We want to make each other happy. We respect each other’s preferences, and we treat each other with kindness. Hey. Maybe that’s the secret for all of us getting along with each other. Kindness – your special word for this year.”

“You may be right, Floey. So, ‘mean, old Mim’ is really being kind to the Finches by removing their nest every time Mrs. Finch starts to build it in the awning. Mim doesn’t want her to waste her time building a nest where it won’t be safe. Mrs. Finch needs to get busy building her nest in a safe place so that she can start laying eggs. We’re telling her that the only way we know how.”

“Yeah. Maybe we can show even more kindness to the Finches by working with our other neighbors to be sure the bird feeders are kept full. Then the Finches will know they’ve chosen a friendly neighborhood for their family.”

“Good idea, Floey.”

“Hey, this is fun, Mom. How many ways do you think we can come up with to be kind to the Finches?”

“Let’s not stop with the Finches, Floey. Let’s think of all the way ways we can be kind to all our neighbors!”

Finch-House.female-male.1-1024x764

All God’s creatures understand kindness.

And God Said …

clock - 3 00And God said, “Marian, wake up.”

And I said, “But God, it’s only 3:00 a.m.”

And God replied, “Of course I know what time you think it is. But you have a lot of work to do before the funeral at 11:00 this morning.”

“O God, go away. More sleep is what I need most to be ready for the funeral. Let me sleep.”

“Marian, you can’t go back to sleep. You need to get on the Internet and find some music that you can play, that Mim can sing, and that the grandson of the woman who died can strum his guitar to. I’ll help you find the right arrangement to download.”

“O God, I really need some sleep. I’ll tell you what. If I’m still awake at 4:00 I’ll get up.”

That’s the way my day started a couple Saturdays ago. By 4:00 a.m., I was still wide awake, thinking about “Morning Has Broken.” So I got up, went to my computer, and searched for Youtube videos of that song to hear different arrangements. Then I went to musicnotes.com and downloaded the Cat Stevens version of “Morning Has Broken,” transposing it from the key of C up to E-flat to put it in a better range for Mim to sing.

Morning has broken 4 croppedLet me backtrack and tell you the whole story of what I’ve learned about how we should treat bullies (pushy, persistent people) who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

At church, the Sunday before the funeral, Pastor Jeff asked Mim and me if Mim could sing and I could play the organ for a funeral later that week. It would be either Friday or Saturday morning. The woman who died, had chosen the music she wanted – “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” for the congregation to sing, and either “In the Garden” or “Morning Has Broken” for the soloist to sing. The musical requirements should be easy and straightforward. We agreed to do it, and I suggested to Pastor Jeff that if the family was having a hard time choosing between the two possible solos, to suggest that Mim sing “In the Garden” and I would play “Morning Has Broken” as part of the prelude. We already had that music, so we wouldn’t have to find and learn anything new. If Mim needed to sing “Morning Has Broken” I would need to search for an arrangement that would work for us.

Later in the week Pastor Jeff called me to say the funeral would be on Saturday, and that the family wanted “Morning Has Broken” for the solo. I was a little disappointed, but I immediately started looking for a vocal solo with piano accompaniment for “Morning Has Broken.” Meanwhile, Mim started fighting off a cold, so I knew I had to come up with an arrangement that was well within her singing range, which is high soprano. I quickly concluded that my best option was to enter a fancy hymnal arrangement from the “Celebration Hymnal” into my SongWriter software, and use the software to transpose and tweak the music. The process took me about four hours, but both Mim and I were pleased with the result.

Motorola SmartphoneFriday morning, as I was out walking Floey, I got a phone call. (Mobile phones are not always a blessing.) The caller was “Jack,” the son who was assuming primary responsibility for planning his mother’s funeral. ”Jack” wanted his son “Alex” to play his guitar along with us on “Morning Has Broken.” Thinking about the style of the arrangement I had just created, I told him I didn’t think that would work out very well. But “Jack” knew it would, because of how beautifully both piano and guitar shared the accompaniment on the Cat Stevens version of the song. I tried to tell him that was not the version of the song we were planning to do, but after about ten minutes of conversation, I realized “Jack” was not going to take no for an answer. We ended the conversation with a compromise that we would all get together 45 minutes before the funeral to try playing together. If it worked, that’s what we would do in the funeral. If it didn’t sound good, we wouldn’t. At least we would have tried.

I knew a strumming guitar would not add anything of beauty to the arrangement Mim and I were doing, so I was pretty sure Alex wouldn’t be playing with us. But that got me thinking again about how pushy and persistent some people can be. In this case, I felt “Jack” was a bully who was going to get his way no matter what. He wanted his son to play his guitar with us, and that was that. I had suggested that his son play something else as a solo, but “Jack” couldn’t be budged from what he wanted.

“Jack” was acting just like a family member of another funeral I was organist for this summer. She wanted me to include waltzes and polkas in the preservice music for her mother’s funeral. I didn’t feel that was entirely appropriate for a funeral in a church, but I reluctantly agreed, and surrounded the “inappropriate” music with non-traditional arrangements of hymns that I considered more “appropriate.”

I talked with Mim about how I was feeling about these “bullies” who were adding such unnecessary complications to funerals. I wondered how I should treat people in this type of situation. What I think I was really asking was “How should I treat a bully who is grieving the loss of a loved one?”

Mim replied that she sometimes asks herself a very similar question, “How should I treat a bully who is dying?” Since we provide assisted living services in our home, we have often cared for people as they are dying. Occasionally, a patient or family member becomes quite unkind in the end, acting very much like a bully.

The MessageSo, how does God want us to treat these bullies? The Bible actually talks about that. The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words this way:

If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. …  I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. [Matthew 5:41-45]

That’s what I was thinking about when I went to bed Friday night. I guess after about five hours of rest, God decided to be more direct with me and wake me up. That’s when we had the conversation I described at the beginning of this post.

Mim and I got to the church about an hour before the funeral. We met “Jack” face to face for the first time, and then we met his son “Alex,” a recent high school grad, just back from a week at music camp – for rock guitar. I gave “Alex” a copy of the music I’d downloaded, and we went to a piano in the lower level of the church to see if we could play together. Within 15 minutes of practicing, we felt comfortable in going ahead with it.

It was a beautiful funeral. The church was packed. We did “Morning Has Broken” after the time of family sharing near the end of the service. The congregation was delighted to see and hear the grandson strumming “Morning Has Broken.” “Alex” felt good about playing for his grandmother. It was the kind of good-bye God wants us to share when a loved one goes home. It was peaceful and beautiful. I hate to say it, but it was the perfect music for that funeral.

I’m really glad God woke me up that morning. Now I know for sure how God wants us to treat pushy, persistent people who are grieving, and bullies who are dying, and friends and enemies of all kinds – to love them, to pray for them, and to let them bring out the best in me, not the worst, just like God does.

Morning has broken 5