Tag Archive | assisted living

Ghostly Tricks

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Doris and Mary having a good laugh with Abbey – our best caregiver of all. (About 10 years ago)

Over the past 14 years, Mim and I have cared for more than twenty elderly people who have lived with us in our home, usually one or two residents at a time. Almost all of them have lived out their last days with us. Some of them lived with us for just a few days, some a few months, and some a few years. We have been honored to have cared for them as they journeyed from this life into the next life.

Today is All Saints Day, a day to remember each one of them, along with all the other people who have been close to us throughout our lives, and who are no longer with us on earth.

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Mim helping Doris get dressed up for Halloween.

One of our former residents, Doris, has actually been on my mind a lot lately. Doris lived with us almost four years, and she and her family became close members of our extended assisted living family.

Doris had a good sense of humor and liked to joke around with people. She often warned us that she was going to come back and haunt us after she died. Well, she’s come back. Really! I didn’t want to believe that she would follow through on her joking threat, but I can’t think of any other explanation for what has happened.

Several months ago I replaced my 5-year-old HP laptop with my first Apple product, a MacBook. The biggest challenge I had with my transition into the Mac world was getting my big fancy Konica Minolta laser printer/copier to work with the Mac. After hours of trial and error plus long phone calls to Apple Support, I finally was able to download a third-party printer driver that works pretty well – not perfectly, but at least I can print most documents.

A couple days after I finally got the printer working, I tried to boot it up one morning, and it was completely dead. I tried everything I could think of – with no success. I finally placed a service call with Konica Minolta to have them come out to fix it. The printer appeared to be completely dead. Not even the copier function would work.

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My Konica Minolta printer/copier is an excellent color laser printer, but it’s big and heavy.

This printer/copier is a large, heavy, floor model – something I don’t move around very often when I clean house. But I decided to do a little cleaning that day so my office would look better for the Konica Minolta repairman. I tugged the printer in one direction, then the other, to “walk” it away from the wall so that I could vacuum behind it. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The printer cord was plugged into a surge protector/power strip, and the power strip was not plugged into the wall outlet. It was plugged into itself! I called Mim over to take a look. She was as shocked as I was. I unplugged the power strip from itself, plugged it into the wall outlet, turned the printer/copier on, and it worked just fine. I immediately called Konica Minolta to cancel the service call.

img_1600Mim and I tried our hardest to figure out how that could have happened. Did one of us sleep-walk (which we’ve never done as far as we know), struggle to pull the printer/copier away from the wall, mess up the cords, and then shove the printer/copier back in place – all without waking up or making enough noise to wake up the other person or even our dog? Did someone break into the house the previous night while we were asleep and do it as a practical joke? The printer had worked the night before, but not that morning.

Hmmm. Practical joke… The only person we could think of who would do a practical joke like that was the ghost of Doris… In my mind, I’ve given Doris a high-five, and we’ve had a good laugh over it.

I’m sure Doris isn’t the only friendly ghost who has visited our home. The most usual time for ghosts and angels to visit us has been when one of our residents is near death, and a deceased parent, or spouse, or even a stranger comes into the room of the person who is near death. This visitor has come to comfort, or possibly escort the resident to the next life. Mim and I have never seen any of the special visitors ourselves, but several residents have told us about them.

All Saints Day is a time to remember all who have died in Christ, and who are now gathering in heaven to praise God. That includes Doris, even though she may sometimes sneak back down to earth to play a practical joke on us.

The image of a crowd of saints gathering together in heaven is suggested several places in the Bible. For example, Revelation 7:9-10 says:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

In 1864 William Waltham How, an Anglican bishop, wrote a hymn using this image. Forty-two years later, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a new tune for the hymn, creating one of the most moving and dramatic of all Christian hymns – “For All the Saints.” Here are the first and last verses. (You may want to google the title for the rest of the words.)

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who They by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, of Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For me, the highlight of All Saints Sunday is playing this hymn on a pipe organ and hearing the congregation loudly singing the joyful words. It puts a lump in my throat every year.

On the other end of the musical spectrum is a spiritual that describes the same image – “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There are many different verses for this song, both sacred and secular, the usual first and last verses are:

O when the saints go marching in,
O when the saints go marching in,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when the saints go marching in.

O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when they crown Him Lord of all.

In Cambridge, my hometown, the “Fight Song” for the high school football and basketball teams is “When the Jays Go Marching In.” (The Cambridge mascot is the blue jay.)

Back to our assisted living residents that I’m remembering today. Helen had been my first grade teacher, and had always been an enthusiastic fan of our school sports teams. (Her husband had been the high school principal and the football coach.)

helen-cropped

It was a special privilege to care for my first grade teacher in her last months.

The most fun I ever had playing the organ for a funeral was for Helen’s. For the postlude I played the majestic descending opening line of “For All the Saints” and then played its mirror image in the ascending opening line of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I kept weaving these two tunes together as the people processed out of the church. It was the most fun juxtaposition of very different melodies on the same subject I’ve ever played around with.

I don’t know if Helen thought I was playing a joke on her by making up that postlude, or not, but I’m pretty sure she was smiling along with me and her friends and relatives as they processed out of the church.

Thanks to Doris and Helen and many of our other residents, there’s no doubt in my mind that ghosts and saints still have a sense of humor.

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Our “All Saints Wall” where pictures are mounted of all the people we have cared for in our home.

Christmas brings out the Poet in me

I am not a poet – but every once in a while, especially around Christmas, I like to play with song lyrics. Several years ago I was a real estate broker, and I rewrote six Christmas songs with a real estate theme. The new titles were:

  • Christmas Tree in condoO Real Estate, O Real Estate  
  • O Little Town of Cambridge
  • Go Tell it to the Whole World
  • All I want for Christmas Is …
  • I’m Dreaming of a Good Housing Market
  • We Wish You Some Real Estate Sales

I won’t share all the lyrics here. (Email me if you want them.) But to give you an idea of how much fun I had, here’s part of the first song (to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”).

O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.
O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.
To sell a home at Christmastide
Spreads hope and gladness far and wide.
O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.

Like I said, I’m not a poet, but I sometimes have fun playing with lyrics. I guess I can thank my mom for that. When I was in junior high school, Mrs. Neupert, my English teacher gave us the assignment to write a poem for National Library Week. I had no idea how to start. I talked with my mom about it, and she said the easiest way to write a poem is to think of a song you really like to sing, one with an especially catchy tune, and write new words to it. She said the tune that worked best for her was “Oh, Susanna,” the old western song by Stephen Foster. So I tried it. The only words I still remember from my poem are the opening line, “I went down town the other night to get myself a book…” I can remember singing the song over and over again in my head until I got my new lyrics just right. I think I actually wrote four verses. I wish I still had them, but I don’t. Anyway, I have the memory of having lots of fun writing my poem for National Library Week.

Last year I took the very rhythmic Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, and rewrote some of the words to use as a Christmas card for the people who live with us and for the friends who work for us at Country Comforts Assisted Living, to explain that instead of giving them individual Christmas presents we were donating a cow in their names from the ELCA [Lutheran] Good Gifts Catalog. Here’s that attempt at my poetry.

Christmas Cow

‘Twas the Night before Christmas at Country Comforts

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the earth
Lots of people were hungry, despite Jesus’ birth.
Many stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that kind people would have something to share.

The children were cuddled all snug on the floor
With visions of bread and milk and maybe something more.
And Mim in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap
Were racking our brains for a present to wrap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of midday to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a beautiful cow…. To my eye came a tear.

She was black and white, a cute little calf.
I smiled when I saw her, then let out a laugh.
A wink of her eye and a swish of her tail
Let me know – soon there would be milk in a pail.

‘God’s Global Barnyard’ came right to the rescue,
A cow for a family in need, yes, we knew
Would be the best gift we could possibly give –
All of us at Country Comforts can help one family live.

A share of a cow is a mere fifty dollars.
“A gift for each person,” sweet Floey then hollers,
“Adds up to a cow for a family in need.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good deed!”

My apologies to Clement Clarke Moore for taking such liberty with his classic Christmas poem.

cow head w cowbell outside cropped flippedThis year I’m playing around with “Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont. I’m struggling to find the best onomatopoeic word for the sound of a cowbell – Clanging bell? Clinking bell? Bonging bell? I’m still working on it…

Whether you like to play around with words and music like I do, or if you prefer to play online by exploring wherever google takes you, or however you like to play – I hope you find plenty of time to play this holiday season. I’m sure play is one of the gifts of the spirit that the authors of the Bible just forgot to mention.

As an old proverb says, “The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter and the spirit heals with joy.”

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Doris and Mary, former residents of Country Comforts Assisted Living, playing with Abbey, laughing, and experiencing joy.

 

 

The Life of a Farmhouse Continues

Ready for a new adventure...

The Farmhouse (FH), about 1999

Last Thursday was a very big day for Mim and me. We sold our farmhouse. This is the farmhouse where I grew up, and where my mom grew up. The farm had been in my family for over a hundred years – since 1908. Mim and I moved to the farmhouse in 1992, after my dad died. My brother remodeled the house into our dream house, where we intended to live for the rest of our lives.

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Mim and Marian at the farmhouse -2006.

Mim and I thoroughly enjoyed living there for 15 years, but as we got a little older, we realized it wasn’t all that much fun to mow 3 acres of lawn, weed flower beds scattered all over the yard, and keep a 3,672 square foot house clean. More importantly, we realized we didn’t need that much space any more, and it simply wasn’t good stewardship of God’s resources to keep the farmhouse. So, in 2007 we decided to sell it and move to a new condo that was being built in what used to be the pasture of the farm. We told our friends that we got old and were “moving out to pasture.”

That was 8 years ago. We moved into our condo, but we didn’t sell the farmhouse. I guess God had other ideas for the farmhouse. In 2009 we opened its doors to the public as a spiritual retreat center – Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. (That’s why I originally started writing this blog – to let people know about Whispering Winds and the opportunity it offered to spend some quiet, peaceful time alone with the Spirit.)

In 2012 one of my blog posts was a conversation between the farmhouse and me. Last week when I was pondering turning over the keys to the new owners, I decided to have another conversation with the farmhouse about the change that was about to happen.

Here’s the 2012 conversation, originally posted on this blog December 2, 2012, followed by the Addendum – my conversation with the farmhouse last Thursday, just before closing.

The Life of a Farmhouse, Whispering Winds Blog, December 2, 2012

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.

What prompted this conversation is that the farmhouse will be going through another transition over the next month (January 2013). Whispering Winds Retreat Haven 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.”

“Country Comforts Bed and Breakfast” – painted by Rocio Herrera, 2001.

“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 within 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!”

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

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

“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.”

Danny and barn - cropped

Danny, Marian, and Dad building the new barn.

“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. 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 Marian 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 several times a year.”

“That’s when Mim and I decided it was time to stretch you even further – we put on another addition, 672 more square feet, so that we could easily accommodate people in wheelchairs and with other physical limitations.”

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Megabyte and Marie, one of our earliest assisted living residents, enjoying the fireplace together.

“Yeah. You thought you were doing it for B&B guests, but God had something else 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.”

In the Prayer Room of Whispering Winds

In the Prayer Room of Whispering Winds

“And that brings us to the present (2012), being 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.”

Addendum written August 20, 2015 – Another Conversation

“Well, FH, it’s been almost three years since our last conversation. Are you ready for another change?”

“I think we’ve been easing into the next change for a year already. When Nancy and Mike moved out last summer, you thought about selling me again. But then you decided to let Sharon and Martha live here for a while instead. It’s kind of like our first assisted living days, only on a smaller scale, and more like supportive living—not quite so intense without having to deal with major health concerns.”

“That’s right, FH. And now we have someone ready to buy the house and continue the status quo living arrangement for a year or so. Then they plan to expand the supportive living business to provide a home for more people. The expansion will probably happen next summer when the owner’s mother moves into the house and joins her daughter in the supportive living business.”

“I think that’s wonderful. All my existence as a farmhouse—way back to 1890—I have been committed to two primary values—stewardship and hospitality. I have always wanted my owners to make good use of me—not to ever waste the wonderful resource that I can be. I was built to be used for good purposes. And hospitality is the best of all possible uses for me. I am meant to be a place where people will be welcomed, cared for, and loved. A peaceful place for people to call home. It looks like that’s exactly what my new owners will be doing with me. I’m ready to move on to my next adventure!”

“Good! Me too. God be with you, FH, as always.”

Ready for a new adventure . . .

Ready for a new adventure . . .

My Musical Destiny

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Seventeen years ago, Mim and I created a new business called Korth-Jacobson, LLC. Within that business structure we have done lots of different things – from being a bed and breakfast to selling real estate; from doing strategic planning and project management for small businesses to providing music in churches and a pub and other venues; from hosting spiritual retreats to caring for the elderly in our home. All of these businesses have been based out of our home. For the past 12 years, one of our businesses has been Country Comforts Assisted Living. We currently care for two 94-year-olds in our home, and we also coordinate the care of a third almost 94-year-old who lives with a neighbor.

By the very nature of this caregiving business, we are working 24/7. Whenever we are at home, we are responsible for being sure the needs of our residents are met. Whenever we are not at home, we need to be sure another caregiver is present to meet these needs. We have finally realized that to meet our own need for a break, we must take some time off, and that means we need to be away from our work environment – away from home. Lately we’ve established the schedule of taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off from about 1:00 or 1:30 pm till about 8:00 pm. Our most usual destinations on these days are Woodmans, Costco, and occasionally Trader Joe’s for groceries; Menards for hardware items; Farm & Fleet for dog treats and toys and for clothes when they go on sale (really!); and resale shops for books, clothes, gifts, and other bargains we “need.” Occasionally we’ll go to a movie if we don’t have any shopping that needs to be done.

A couple weeks ago we redeemed a gift certificate from a good friend and went to see the matinee performance at the Fireside Theater of “All Shook Up.”  We had a wonderful time listening to all those Elvis songs from the 50s and 60s, and laughing about the inter-racial mix-ups and mistaken sexual identity antics. Hearing those Elvis songs from our grade school and high school years brought back one of my childhood memories.

Lowery Organ 2

Lowery electronic organ, state of the art using vacuum tube technology in 1957.

My sister Nancy (11 years older than me) started giving me piano lessons before I started school. I’ve  enjoyed playing the piano ever since. When I was nine, my mom bought a Lowery electronic organ. She had grown up playing a reed pump organ, and she missed playing an organ. A piano wasn’t as much fun for her, although she played it some. When the new electronic organ was delivered to our house I was as excited as I could be. I got to take the ten free lessons that came with the organ from Ward Brodt in Madison, and then I continued taking lessons from our church organist – both piano and organ. But from my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt I learned that any kind of music can be played on an organ – not just hymns. I had to walk through the print music department at the store to get to the lesson rooms, and I always browsed the music on my way out of the store. Most of my allowance was spent on music books with titles like “The Best Hits of 1962 for Easy Organ.” I acquired quite a collection and learned to play songs as varied as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

One Thursday morning when I was about 10 or 11, (I know it was Thursday because that was my mom’s day off) Eleanor Jarlsberg, one of my mom’s friends from church, came over for morning coffee. Mom and Eleanor were sitting at the dining room table drinking their coffee, and I was in the living room playing the organ just for fun, not practicing. I was going through my latest “Greatest Hits…” book. I was playing mostly the slower and quieter songs so that I wouldn’t disturb their conversation in the next room. When I finished playing the Elvis’ hit “Love Me Tender,” Eleanor asked me what hymn that was – she really liked it. When I told her it was an Elvis Presley song – not a hymn, she laughed and laughed, and I felt kind of embarrassed.

That’s when I began to put two and two together to understand that my destiny was to be a gospel pianist/organist, regardless of the type of music I tried to play. I’m not the gospel pianist that my Aunt Edith was who added all kinds of embellishments all over the keyboard. I’m not very good at that. I’m the kind of gospel music player that can play very expressively by varying volume and where on the keyboard I’m playing – high or low – and by sometimes holding a note a little too long to build the tension. I do simple stuff to draw the listener into the emotional message of the song.

Over the years as I learned more classical music on the piano and more traditional hymns and hymn arrangements on the organ, I tried to become more classical in my style of playing. But that was never as much fun for me. But then I noticed that Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” can easily morph into “Jesus Loves Me.” And that “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” can weave itself into Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.”

Beer Barrel Polka sheet musicOne morning last week I had a musical breakthrough. A few years ago, a friend of mine was planning her funeral, and she asked me if I would be willing to play for it. Of course, I said sure. Then she said she wanted the funeral to be a joyous time of celebration. One of the songs she wanted me to play was “The Beer Barrel Polka.” I happen to know the song because that’s one of the songs my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt taught me. But, I’ve felt uncomfortable with that song for a funeral ever since she made the request. My friend died last week. As I was mulling over whether nor not I should play the song, it suddenly dawned on me – if I can morph “Clair de Lune” into “Jesus Loves Me” I certainly can morph “The Beer Barrel Polka” into “Jesus Loves Me.” So I did.

Yup. That’s my destiny. Regardless of what type of music I try to play, gospel is what’s going to come out. God made me that way, and I’ve finally come to whole-heartedly accept it.

Thanks, Nancy, for helping me learn that lesson.

Nancy Koplin cropped

Nancy Koplin, a good friend who helped me find “Jesus Loves Me” in “The Beer Barrel Polka.”

Dinnertime

Abbey Hungry 05-12-08

Abbey used to let us know when she was really hungry by bringing us her metal dish – and dropping it on the kitchen floor, making a clatter capable of waking the neighbors.

I guess today is a good day to talk about dinnertime. It’s Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – a time of feasting the day before beginning a forty-day fast for Lent. Mim and I are planning to go out for a musical feast tonight – an organ recital by Thomas Trotter (a fantastic organist from England) at the Overture Center in Madison. We’ll probably stop at Culver’s for a cheeseburger and fries on our way there. If the flavor-of-the-day is really good, we might splurge on a small dish of custard – but only if it’s a really good flavor. The real feast of the evening will be musical.

Bread for the Journey coverOver the past few days I’ve been reading about “the meal that makes us family and friends” in the book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J. M. Nouwen. The reflection for February 15 in this daily devotional book started with these words:

We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

During most of my growing up years, Sunday dinner, eaten about 1:00 p.m., was the most special meal of the week. My mom usually put a roast in the oven before we left for Sunday school so that it would be almost ready when we got home from church, between 12:15 and 12:30. Mom had the potatoes peeled and waiting in the pressure cooker.  She turned the burner on to start the potatoes and grabbed a package of our own garden vegetables from the freezer, either corn or green beans. While the potatoes and vegetables were cooking Mom made gravy, and last of all she mashed the potatoes. My job was to bake some refrigerator rolls and set the table. Then the whole family gathered around the table, Danny and I said the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer, and we ate and talked and laughed together. Often my Grandma Kenseth joined us for this meal. The meal ended with a dessert of homemade cookies, cake, or pie – and always ice cream.

What made this meal so special every week was that it was the only meal we all ate together. My dad was usually in the barn milking cows when the rest of us ate breakfast, and also when we ate supper. On weekdays, my dad was the only one home at noon. My mom was at work in Madison, and Danny and I were in school. Sunday dinner was the special time to eat together.  Besides sharing the meal, it was also a time for the whole family to be involved in conversation. I guess those Sunday dinners were pretty instrumental in forming our identity as a family.

In 1973, when I first met Mim and she invited me to share her apartment with her until I could find an apartment of my own in Chicago, Mim and I went out for dinner at the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor (for cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes) to get to know each other a little, and to clarify our expectations as roommates. One of the rules Mim insisted on is that we eat meals together whenever possible, and that we would share equally in the cost of all groceries. I think Mim’s concerns were mostly about not wanting to keep track of which food belonged to each of us. But as Nouwen suggests, “Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.” Maybe Mim had an inkling of how important it is to share mealtime.

Mim and me, ready to sit down for Easter dinner in the dining room of our apartment in Chicago. We’re still dressed up from church.

Sharing meal time provides an opportunity for developing relationships better than almost any other activity. I was surprised to learn that this is true even for business meals. When I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago I frequently had to travel on business. During those years I ate plenty of restaurant meals alone. I usually went to the restaurant with a notebook to outline plans and draft reports while I ate. But whenever I went out to dinner with a business associate instead of eating alone, I found that I got to know the person beyond the business context. By “celebrating the gifts of life we share” together over a meal, a genuine friendship usually developed. Meal time truly was a special time, even on business.

Twenty-some years later when Mim and I turned our farmhouse in Cambridge into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, we made the decision to have all our guests eat breakfast together around the dining room table. As our guests ate, we stayed in the dining room to refill coffee cups and to be sure food was passed around the table, and also to encourage conversation among all the guests. (We usually had four to eight guests at a time.)  One morning, near the end of breakfast, I remember a young man said, “I was dreading this breakfast – having to eat together with strangers, but I’m really enjoying it. I feel like we’re all friends.”

B&B Guests at breakfast

B&B guests at breakfast in our farmhouse

When we changed Country Comforts B&B into Country Comforts Assisted Living, we changed from sharing our breakfast time to sharing all meal times except breakfast. Mim and I and our residents all like to start our day at different times, so we each eat breakfast on our own. But lunch and dinner are always shared meals. I think that is a big part of what transforms our residents from being strangers living under the same roof into becoming caring family members of the Country Comforts family.

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Today’s reading from Nouwen says, “The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another…. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us.”

I’m glad Nouwen’s book prompted me to think about meal time. Whether we’re feasting for Fat Tuesday or eating more modest meals throughout Lent, it’s good to remember that “A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events…. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.”

Our extended family gathered around our extended table for Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago, 1984.

New Words for 2015

After one year’s experience, I’ve decided that I really like the idea of having one special word to focus on for a whole year, as an alternative to making New Year’s resolutions. Last year’s word for me was JOY. Knowing that JOY was what I would concentrate on every day from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 helped me to recognize and appreciate how much JOY is in my life. It was an inspiring year.

Joy Cross and snowy pond

 

For 2015, I’ve chosen the word GRATITUDE. I’m quite excited about what a year focused on gratitude is going to look like. To give myself a preview of some of the things I might think about, I googled the word gratitude. This is some of what I got:

  • Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. (William Arthur Ward)
  • Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. (Melody Beattie)
  • It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.

Gratitude fall scenery

But I’m jumping ahead. I have a whole year to mull over this word.

Mim chose the word WAIT, with an emphasis on patience while waiting. She’s planning to re-read Holly Whitcomb’s book, Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting to get her started. I googled WAIT for her, as well, and came up with a quote attributed to Corrie ten Boom, “God has perfect timing; never early, never late. It takes a little patience and faith, but it’s worth the wait.”

wait-for-the-lord

 

Floey chose the word LEARN. Although she has already learned a lot in her first 11 months of life, she is determined to become the smartest dog and best four-legged caregiver possible. In addition to her on-the-job training at Country Comforts Assisted Living, she started a formal class last night. Floey, Mim, and I went to “Beginner” class at PetSmart in Madison to work on canine manners. She’s already good at SIT and DOWN, but she needs to learn more about STAY and COME. She also wants to learn leash etiquette. When Floey and I were talking about her word, she quoted Pablo Picasso, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Learn

With our new words rolling around in our minds, Mim, Floey, and I are charging ahead into 2015. We’ll keep you posted on what impact GRATITUDE, WAIT, and LEARN have in our lives throughout the year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Mim-Floey-Marian 01-06-15

Mim-Floey-Marian in my first selfie.

 

JOY – My Special Word for 2014

JOY Cross“Abbey, Mim & Me – Our Special Words for 2014” was the first blog post I wrote this year. I explained that rather than coming up with any New Year’s resolutions for 2014, I would spend the year focusing on JOY. The idea of choosing one special word to focus on for a whole year came from Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the Difference. The word I chose was JOY; Mim chose ENOUGH; and Abbey chose PLAY. To help me remember to think about my word, I bought an amber-colored glass cross with the words, “The JOY of the Lord is my strength” printed on it, and it hangs from a suction cup on my patio door. Every time I slide the door open, the JOY cross clinks on the glass door and I think about my word. Most nights I lay in bed before falling asleep and I think about the joy I have experienced that day.

I’m sure I’ve been more aware of joy in my life this year than any year in the past. The irony is that I’ve also experienced more than my usual share of sadness. Maybe that’s why God gave me the word JOY to focus on in 2014. I’ve been to lots of funerals for friends this year, and about half of them (4) have been for friends about my age – mid-sixties. But even at funerals, there can be joy, as we get together with old friends we haven’t seen in a long time and remember good times together with each other and with our friend who is no longer with us.

One of the biggest changes in our living situation happened early in 2014. For most of 2013 we had only one nonagenarian living with us. Before the end of January, another 92-year-old moved in. A couple weeks later a third 92-year-old moved in with a neighbor along with the understanding that she can rely on us for the general management of her care. Keeping up with three (now) 93-year-olds is keeping us very busy! All of them are very active. One is an avid reader and enjoys going out with friends and family. She has some kind of social engagement almost every week. The other two go to bingo once a week and have two or three other outings every week. All together, we have lots of good times together – a regularly recurring source of JOY.

The hidden JOY of being somewhat overwhelmed by all this added caregiving responsibility is that we now have six independent caregivers who help us out several hours a week so that Mim and I can take two afternoons off almost every week to do fun things – like going to movies and shopping at resale shops. (The best of many good movies we saw this year was “The Theory of Everything.” We both highly recommend it.) Mim and I were also able to get away for four quick mini-vacations – a first in many years. We visited friends in Wausau for a Wisconsin-style lobster fest. We went to Minnesota for the 150th anniversary of Gol Lutheran Church, Mim’s family church. And we went to our Christmas Mountain timeshare a couple times – once to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and once to just relax for a few days. We had lots of JOY to celebrate with each getaway.

Abbey head-on colorJOY would have been a good name for our dog Abbey. She brought an incredible amount of JOY to Mim and me and to everyone who lived with us during the eight years she was with us. When she had to leave us in November, there was a great big hole in our home. One of the 93-year-olds said the same thing every time she came into the house from one of her outings, “I miss Abbey so much.” Abbey would always be at the door to meet us. All three nonagenarians and Mim and me quickly agreed we wanted to get another dog to love us and be loved by us as soon as we could.

Within a couple weeks, Floey (short for Florence Nightingale, caregiver in training) joined our family. She’s been with us just over a month now, and already she’s taken on the role of bringing each one of us a daily dose of JOY.

Floey sittingJOY definitely was “the perfect word” for me for 2014. Focusing my attention on that special word helped me find and recognize and appreciate how much joy is in my life.

Which leads me to what I think will be my word for 2015 – GRATITUDE. That word keeps coming to mind whenever I try to think of what will be a good word to focus my attention on next year. I’ll decide for sure by January 1 – but I think GRATITUDE will be the word.

JOY Cross and Pond - closer