Tag Archive | farmhouse

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.

MM Class Reunion 2006 600 dpi adj

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.”

Meg and Marie - adj

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 Cohort in Big Adventures

Ellen M Kogstad

Ellen Kogstad – my cohort in big adventures!

In the middle of my 11-day getaway a couple weeks ago, I drove home to Cambridge to have Sunday brunch with Mim and my other cohort in big adventures, Ellen Kogstad. Ellen was in Wisconsin for a wedding, so I jumped at the chance to have a few hours together to catch up on our lives over eggs florentine at a new favorite restaurant in nearby Fort Atkinson.

Mim and I met Ellen 33 years ago, when we lived in Chicago. I was a newly minted MBA, earning a living in the big corporate world high up in the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower). But I was trying to do something more meaningful with my business skills by volunteering on the board of Circle Christian Health Center (CCHC), a medical clinic starting up on the far west side of Chicago, a medically under-served area of the city. At the time, Mim was nursing director of the clinic. One of the three founding physicians of CCHC was Emily Bray who had been my roommate at Wheaton College in the late 1960s.

Ellen had heard about me through my role on the CCHC board, and she wanted to meet me. She had a vision for a new ministry and she was getting her ducks in a row. The problem Ellen wanted to address was the growing number of teen moms who were homeless and were struggling to care for their babies. Ellen had been trying to help them on her own by keeping the trunk of her car filled with diapers and formula. She also hosted drop-in groups of new moms and their babies in her apartment. But she knew she couldn’t do enough alone to seriously address the problems these very young women and their children were facing. To do more she realized she needed to create a non-profit organization broadly focused on addressing all the needs of homeless teen moms and their children. She wanted me to join the board of directors she was trying to form to help create the organization.

New Moms LOGO

That was the first big adventure Ellen and I took on together, along with several other people who were inspired by Ellen’s vision. I served as treasurer on the board for a few years and tried to keep the finances of the struggling new ministry somewhat organized. My mom wanted to help, too. She crocheted lots of baby afghans to help keep the babies warm. (I’ll admit I didn’t pass all the afghans on to New Moms. I kept out enough to be sure her grandchildren would have afghans for their own babies.)

My mom kept crocheting baby afghans until just weeks before she died.

My mom kept crocheting baby afghans until just weeks before she died.

Meanwhile, over the past 30 years, New Moms has grown into an amazing ministry. Last year the organization served over 500 adolescent parents and children – a whole lot more than Ellen could possibly help out of the trunk of her car! (To learn more about this amazing organization, explore their website: http://newmomsinc.org/.)

New Moms Building

The “Transformation Center” – the new home of New Moms, Inc. provides housing to 40 homeless adolescent parents and up to 50 children in single-family apartments all located in one well-designed building on the west side of Chicago.

After getting New Moms off to a good start, Ellen went a different direction. She currently is Adjunct Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at North Park Seminary in Chicago and is a frequent workshop leader. She also has returned to New Moms part time and serves as Director of Spiritual Formation.

Over the years our paths haven’t crossed many times, but in late 2008 we decided to become cohorts again and do another big adventure together. Mim and I had moved to our condo in mid-2007 with the intention of selling our farmhouse. After a year and a half, the house was still sitting empty, and I knew that couldn’t be God’s plan for this beautiful resource – to be unused. Mim and I sent out our annual Christmas letter and solicited ideas about what to do with our farmhouse throughout the economic recession when houses weren’t selling. Ellen called us right away and we scheduled a time for a long telephone conversation on the last day of the year – December 31, 2008.

In that conversation, Ellen shared her vision for our farmhouse – a spiritual retreat center. We talked excitedly for a couple hours, and then scheduled a weekend at the farmhouse to pray and dream and plan together. That was the beginning of Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. I became the primary hands-on person to transform the idea into a real ministry, with prayers and support from Ellen and Mim. For the next four years Whispering Winds Retreat Haven was a bed-and-breakfast-style retreat center that provided hospitality to hundreds of individuals and small groups. Whispering Winds became “A place to be still and be renewed by the Spirit. A place to relax in the peace and quiet of the country.”

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

At brunch on Sunday Ellen, Mim, and I had a lot of things to talk about, and we had a wonderful time. No plans for another big adventure together – yet…

Since “Gratitude” is my special word for this year, I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am for people, like Ellen, who have come into my life. Of all the millions of people living in Chicago, what are the odds that Ellen and I would ever meet? Pretty slim. Fortunately, there happened to be one critical intersection on our life pathways. Because I was a new MBA serving on the board of a struggling non-profit medical clinic, Ellen heard about me, and she took the initiative to find me and introduce herself. I wonder who told her about me – so I can thank that person. But since I don’t know who that person is – I guess I can thank the one who is ultimately responsible for all grand adventures – God.

Dove in sky - left

Reflections on a Musical Memory

Christmas Mountain Village SignLast week Mim and I spent four days at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells. Four days is the longest we’ve been away together in years. We had a wonderful time, just relaxing and being thankful we could celebrate our one year wedding anniversary.

As I was enjoying my first real vacation day on Monday, I opened up the magic cloud that follows my computer wherever it goes, and started listening to an album called “Instrumental Songs of Worship for Quiet Moments.” I sat down on the couch and looked through the window at the trees just beginning to turn from dark green to light red. I was going to start reading my book, but I noticed that a symphonic version of an old, old hymn was playing, “The Old Rugged Cross.” As I listened to it, I remembered playing that hymn on a little electronic organ at a Bible camp 56 years ago. I think I was 10.

Mims Reed Organ

Mim’s grandma’s pump organ

Before I explain the significance of that memory, let me give you a little family background.  My mom grew up with a small reed pump organ in the farmhouse. I never saw that organ, but I imagine it was similar to the one Mim’s grandmother had, which we now have at the base of our stairway in our condo.

Sometime after my mom and dad married, they bought a used upright piano. That’s the one I grew up playing. I remember my mom talking about how much she missed having an organ. At that time, in the 1950s and 1960s, electronic organs had become popular. Mom finally saved up enough money to buy a Lowery organ. It had two short manuals and a one-octave pedal board. Mom had negotiated a deal that included our old upright piano as a trade-in.

The night before the organ was to be delivered, I spent all evening playing the piano, for what I thought would be the last time. I was excited about getting an organ, but I knew I would miss the piano. I was saying goodbye to my 88-key friend by playing through all my piano books.

Old upright piano

My mom’s upright piano

The next day, when I came home from school, I was ecstatic to see the new organ, and also to see that the old piano was still there. My dad had bought the old piano back from the delivery men for $50. My dad got a good deal – he paid less than the original trade-in value – because the delivery men were so happy not to have to load the big old upright onto their truck.

Although the piano was my old friend, the novelty of the new organ captured most of my attention for the next few years. The organ came with ten free lessons from the WardBrodt Music Store in Madison. After those lessons were used up, I switched to taking both piano and organ lessons, alternating weeks, from our church organist. The ten free lessons from WardBrodt broadened my repertoire considerably. I’m sure my church organist teacher would never have taught me “The Beer Barrel Polka.”

(It’s a good thing I learned it because a friend of mine, who plans ahead, has requested that I play “The Beer Barrel Polka” for her funeral!)

Lowery Organ 2

A 1960s era electronic organ by Lowery – just like mine.

The following summer, between fourth and fifth grades for me, our church youth group spent a week at Willerup Bible Camp on Lake Ripley in Cambridge. The previous week’s campers had rented an electronic organ for the chapel, and it was still there. Since the camp director knew I was taking organ lessons, she asked me to play a solo for a special evening service toward the end of the week, a service that would include all our parents as guests.

I chose to play “The Old Rugged Cross.” The hymn had two flats, B and E. I always remembered to play the B-flat, and sometimes remembered the E-flat. It wasn’t my best performance, but I was still proud of the fact that I was the only kid at camp who knew how to play an organ.

After the service, my mom asked me why I chose to play that hymn. I didn’t really know why. I guess I kind of liked the melody, and I knew lots of people liked the song. I couldn’t think of any other reason I had for choosing it.

I think my mom’s question had a profound impact on me. For the past 50-odd years, I have always thought carefully about what music I play on either the piano or organ – whether it’s for background music during the dinner hour at the Cambridge Country Inn and Pub or for a worship service in church.

For example, the Scripture readings for last weekend included two stories about God’s grace. The first one was about Jonah, after his whale adventure. He preached to the people at Ninevah, they repented, and God decided not to punish them. Jonah was mad that God had changed his mind. He wanted God to punish them as they deserved. The second story was the parable Jesus told about the landowner who hired people to work in his fields. Some worked all day, some just a few hours, and the landowner paid them all the same wage. The laborers who had worked all day weren’t happy. It wasn’t fair. The disciples also had a hard time seeing the fairness in Jesus’ parable.

Mom looking down at me

I’m pretty sure my mom’s looking down at me, listening to me playing in church…

So what music did I choose for a prelude?

I wanted to suggest the ideas that we need to try to understand what God is telling us, just like the disciples were trying to understand the real meaning in Jesus’ parables, and that God’s message this week is about generosity and grace. I cobbled together an arrangement of three hymns – “Open My Eyes,” “He Giveth More Grace,” and “Amazing Grace.”

I’ve been accused of taking my music selection process too seriously. Maybe I do. Occasionally I choose to play something simply because I like it, but that’s only when I can’t think of anything that relates directly to the Scriptures of the day.

At least I know that if Mom is listening up in heaven to whatever I’m playing, I’ll have a good answer for her if she asks me why I chose to play what I chose. And I’m sure she’ll approve.

Marian at Messiah organ 3

And I have a very good reason for playing what I’m playing!

Awful August – except for …

Broken Glass grass and skyDoes it ever seem like your world is shattered? That life is suddenly broken? For some of my family members, that’s what August has been like this year.

I guess I would describe August 2014 along two tracks of events. One track is affecting my broadly extended family. The other track is affecting Mim and me mostly, and a few other unrelated people. I feel like I’ve been running as fast as I can along the “Mim and me track,” but the “broader family track” keeps pulling me over to slow down and cry with my family and wonder what’s happening in our world.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining who my “broadly extended family” includes. My brother, Danny, married his high school sweetheart, Sandy, shortly after they graduated from high school in the mid-1960s. They had two kids, Cindy and Kevin. As Danny and Sandy matured, they grew in different directions and divorced when their kids were still young. Danny and Sandy still stayed in contact over the years, primarily because of their kids. They both remarried twice, bringing more in-laws and nieces (no more nephews) into the family. We’re a big, complicated (but probably fairly typical) extended family. I think of Sandy as my first sister-in-law. She is still part of my “broadly extended family.” I knew Sandy in high school, even before she dated my brother. I’ve always liked and admired Sandy. She made me laugh a lot with her quick wit.

Sandy and Conrad holding handsSandy has been in declining health for the last few years, even though she’s only 67. Several months ago Kevin took the picture of his mother and her husband, Conrad, holding hands when she was in the hospital. Kevin had gone to visit her, and he found them both asleep but still comforting each other.

A few days later she was released from the hospital, to go home on hospice. Conrad would take care of her at home.

On Monday evening, August 4, Conrad went to Subway to get sandwiches. He was killed in a car accident on his way home, on the street right in front of their home.

Sandy was devastated. She lost all will to live. She died 16 days later. Her funeral is today.

Kevin has three daughters and his sister Cindy has two sons – all who lost two very loving grandparents in August. It’s been a very sad month. We’re reminded of the observation in Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” But it’s really hard when two deaths – of people you love deeply – come so close together. Too much time to weep. Too much time to mourn. And no time to laugh and dance.

Farmhouse exterior - summerOn the “Mim and me track,” our farmhouse is moving quickly into its next phase. As you may recall, six years ago we turned the farmhouse into a bed-and-breakfast style spiritual retreat center. We named it Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A year and a half ago we put Whispering Winds on hiatus and agreed to rent the farmhouse to a family who needed a place to live for a couple years. On August 3rd the renters moved out, five months earlier than planned. We were okay with that because the renters were able to buy a home of their own sooner than they expected, and we really wanted to spruce up the place and try to sell it.

A few days before the renters moved out, I received an email from someone (Jeff) who wanted to talk with me about collaborating on reopening the farmhouse as a retreat center. Eventually Jeff would like to buy the place, but for now he wanted to see if we could work together to reopen the farmhouse as a retreat center. We scheduled a time to get together at the farm and talk. That meant Mim and I had just over a week to “spruce” up the place before our meeting.

We quickly realized that we had a bigger clean-up job on our hands than we had anticipated, and we would need help. Amazingly, within that one week in early August, we had two women from a cleaning service deep-clean the five bathrooms and the kitchen; five men from a landscaping service spend a full day weeding, pruning, and removing three truckloads of brush from the yard; another handyman mow our 3-acre lawn and spread 8 more yards of mulch (he had spread 10 yards earlier in the season); our HVAC service man clean the furnace and repair the central AC; and a friend help us carry a dozen heavy boxes of dishes, glasses, flatware, and other furnishings up from the basement. With all that help, the house was presentable for our meeting with Jeff to explore the possibility of collaborating on a retreat center.

The next week, we had a friend paint walls and ceilings as needed throughout the house, reinstall parts of the kitchen cabinets, and replace the garbage disposal and faucet in the kitchen sink. Mim and I worked, too – mostly moving around furnishings to make the house look like a B&B retreat center again. It was an amazing transformation! Oh, and we also bought a new range to replace the one that had been accidentally damaged beyond repair by trying to clean the self-cleaning ovens with a spray-on oven cleaner. (Caution: Don’t ever do that!)

We were amazed. With the help of half a dozen friends and half a dozen strangers, our farmhouse was completely transformed within a couple weeks – all within the same timeframe between Conrad’s death and Sandy’s death.

Stone Meadows Condominiums

Stone Meadows Condominiums

The day after our meeting with the retreat guy (which had been a great time for sharing ideas, but probably not the beginning of a retreat collaboration), our realtor showed the house to a prospective buyer. Thanks to all the help we had received over the past week the house and 3-acre lawn were completely ready for showing!

But then everything changed. Our friend Sharon, who was renting one of the condos in the duplex next door to ours, was told that her condo had been sold and she would need to move out within a month or so. Sharon is the friend who had welcomed “Mary,” one of the 93-year-olds we care for, as a short-term roommate because we didn’t have room for her in our condo.

So… that’s what the next phase is going to be in the life of our farmhouse… Sharon and “Mary” are going to move into the farmhouse next month. Sharon may also invite her 90-year-old parents to join her for the winter months. We’ve talked with our real estate agent and have decided to take the farmhouse off the market. It seems pretty obvious that this is where Sharon and “Mary” need to be for the next several months.

That’s August 2014. Track one is filled with sadness. Track two is filled with fast-paced problem-solving and lots of hard work. Between the two tracks, we’ve been able to deeply sense God’s presence, God’s comforting love. I guess that’s why I played “God Will Take Care of You” for the prelude last Sunday in church. The awful August of 2014 demonstrates this truth. We’re not in this world alone. God is with us, as are the friends and family God has sent to comfort us, as well as the kind strangers God has ready to help us with our various challenges.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
Beneath God’s 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;
God will take care of you, God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart grows frail, God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.

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

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon God’s breast, God will take care of you.

[Civilla D. Martin, 1904]

Gods presence butterfly

Thoughts on Gratitude

Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life.
(Jack Canfield, creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books)

Anna in wheelchairAnna, the 92-year-old woman who lives with Mim and me, knows that very well. She is so appreciative of everything anyone does for her. “Thank you” is probably the most used phrase in her vocabulary.

Last Saturday was a beautiful autumn day. It was warm and sunny with a light breeze –more like late August than late September. Mim and I decided to take advantage of the unusually nice weather and take Anna to Old World Wisconsin, a living museum about an hour’s drive east of us.

The first highlight of the day came before we even got to Old World Wisconsin. We decided to take roads we seldom drive in order to see (and smell) some new scenery. About half-way there we smelled onions. Then we saw it – an onion farm during harvest. We saw several wagons full of onions next to empty fields with long troughs where specialized equipment must have dug out the onions. Anna was delighted to see a large-scale onion farm. This was a first for her in her 92 years of living, and Anna is a real onion-lover. The day was off to a wonderful start, and Anna was beaming. So were Mim and I, even if we aren’t as big fans of onions.

When we arrived at Old World Wisconsin we were able to roll Anna in her wheelchair onto the tram. We went directly to the German farm where they were preparing root vegetables for storage in the cellar. They cut up samples of raw carrots, rutabagas, beets, and kohlrabi. Anna tasted and raved about how good everything was. We wheeled her into the various gardens surrounding the house, and she talked with each of the museum workers who were all in character as a German immigrant farm family. From there we followed the gravel pathway to a couple other German farms and to a small Polish settlement. We watched the oxen in one pasture, and sheep in another. Anna had grown up on a farm in northern Wisconsin and really enjoyed being back on the farm like it used to be in her youth.

Sampling root vegetables.

Sampling root vegetables.

After we had explored the German and Polish areas we got back on the tram and rode to the Yankee area and Crossroads Village. We were able to push the wheelchair inside the general store and we looked at the merchandise. It was fun for all of us to imagine what it was like to live in rural and small town Wisconsin in the 1800s. Back outside, Mim and I found a bench to sit on while Anna visited with other museum characters. About 3:00 a Civil War era band marched down the gravel road and set up to play a concert in the grove. After the concert we went home.

Visiting with the gardeners.

Visiting with the gardeners.

Yes. Anna knows that “Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life.” She wasn’t thinking about her arthritic pain. She wasn’t wishing she could walk to get up close to everything there was to see. She was grateful that we had taken her on this outing, and she was as happy as could be.

So why did I write about Anna’s attitude of gratitude today?  Yesterday when Mim and I were out for a walk, Mim suggested that I should write about gratitude today. She said that her heart was just filled with gratitude for all the warm wishes and congratulations we have received for our marriage. We’ve received dozens of cards, emails, Facebook and blog comments, and face-to-face congratulations. Both of us are overwhelmed by everyone’s kind wishes, and we are extremely thankful to each one of you. We are thankful that you are a part of our lives.

Wedding Cards on Buffet

Just as Anna is grateful for the many blessings and people in her life, Mim and I are grateful for the same. One of the readings we included in our wedding was called “Aztec Prayer to God.” It’s from the book Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. It says a little more about gratitude, about being thankful for each other.

O Divine Parent and Gift-giver,
let me not take those I love for granted,
failing to remember
that you have loaned them to me only
for a very short while.

Help me, this day, you who are absolute love,
to love those you have loaned to me,
as if tomorrow you would call them home to you.
Let me not take them for granted
or be blind to the marvel of their presence,
to the sound of their voices,
the joy of their companionship,
or the beauty of their love.

May their minor faults and failings,
which often cause me discomfort,
be seen as trivial transgressions
compared to the marvel of the gift
that you have loaned to me
for only a short while.

One last thought on gratitude. “The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.” (Dr. Robert Holden)

My Favorite Guns


RR Gun and Holster SetMy First Gun.
When I was a child, my hero was Roy Rogers. I watched him on TV whenever I could. He was the good guy in the white hat. He used his six-guns to bring the bad guys to justice. I wanted to be like him when I grew up. That’s why my Roy Rogers gun and holster set, like the one pictured here, was one of my favorite toys. My brother, Danny, and I usually played cowboys and Indians when my cousins rode their bikes over to the farm to play with us. These cap guns were the only props we needed to transform us into our cowboy heroes.

Shooting Real Guns. When Danny and I got a little older, Danny got a BB gun. A few years later he got a pellet gun – a more modern-looking black pistol. Then he got a 22 rifle. We used all these guns for target practice in the back yard. We lined up tin cans in a row to see how many we could hit. I was never much of a sharpshooter, but occasionally I’d knock a tin can over.  I could still fantasize about being a cowboy hero with my cap guns – I never missed my targets in my imagination.

deringerAlmost Buying a Derringer. When Mim and I lived in Chicago, we became good friends with Lenie, a very independent woman, about thirty years our senior, who owned an antique shop in our neighborhood. She was a wonderful story teller, and she became our source of a lot of Chicago history – the personal stories. Lenie obtained most of her merchandise for her antique shop from estate sales. She specialized in jewelry, cut glass, and small household items. One Saturday Lenie told us she had something she wanted to show us when the other customers left the store. We browsed until everyone else was gone. Then she took out her special prize – a lady’s derringer.  She hadn’t decided for sure yet if she wanted to sell it, or keep it in her purse. If we wanted it, she’d let us have it for $100. I was fascinated by the pretty little gun, but I knew it wasn’t a toy, and conventional wisdom was that it’s dangerous to have a gun in the house.  I didn’t buy it – and Lenie kept it in her purse.

My Dad’s Rifle. In 1991 after my dad died, Mim and I decided to have Danny remodel the farmhouse for us and we would move to Cambridge. The first step in the process was to clear everything out of the house. One of the items in the coat closet was my dad’s 22 rifle. He had kept the gun handy to shoot at wild animals, not to kill them but to scare them away, animals like raccoons, opossums, and foxes. I thought it might be kind of fun to shoot at tin cans again, but Mim really didn’t want to have a gun in the house, so I let one of my nephews have it.

Danny’s Guns. One spring morning shortly after Mim and I had moved to Cambridge, we were outside picking asparagus. I suddenly saw a huge snake coiled up like a hose right next to Mim. I told Mim to step directly toward me and to do it immediately. She did it but she was a little confused why I was ordering her to do that. We had a lot more asparagus to pick. Then she saw the huge snake, too. This wasn’t a little garter snake. It was the biggest snake I’d ever seen outside of a zoo. We left the asparagus patch and went to the barn, which had become my brother’s carpentry workshop. I asked Danny to get one of his guns and get rid of the snake for us. He was delighted to oblige. He had several guns in his collection to choose from. He used one of his pistols, one that looked a lot like the Roy Rogers cap gun I used to have, except his gun shot real bullets, not caps.

With Roy Rogers as my childhood hero, I can understand the attraction for owning a gun. Cap guns were the prop that transformed me into a hero in my imagination. I enjoyed target practice. I thought about buying Lenie’s pretty little derringer. And, I’m really glad Danny had a gun and could use it to get rid of that menacing snake in our asparagus patch. There’s a place for guns in the homes of American families that want them.

But, I simply cannot understand why our Congress seems incapable of passing a law to limit access to high capacity assault weapons. Perhaps, such guns serve as props that enable some people to be war heroes in their imaginations, just like cap guns enabled me to be a cowboy hero in my own mind. But there’s a pretty big difference. Cap guns can’t kill 26 people in five minutes.

Because I cannot understand why everyone doesn’t see the need for reasonable gun legislation, I tend to get angry and think the people who are resisting new legislation are just stupid.  But then, I came across these words in the Bible:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with – even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. (Romans 14:1 The Message)

I guess I don’t need to agree with them, and they don’t need to agree with me. I can still stand up for what I believe to be best, but I need to treat with respect people who disagree with me, and I need to be kind to them. That’s another thing I need to pray about.

Transition Time

The winter wonderland surrounding the farmhouse

The winter wonderland surrounding the farmhouse

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

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

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

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

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

Abbey is the most popular caregiver at Country Comforts.

Abbey is the most popular caregiver at Country Comforts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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