Tag Archive | whispering winds

Two Thousand “Ducks in a Row”

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

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

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

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

Step-Down Bookcase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bookcase in living room – reserved for our favorite authors

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

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

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Our “Give-Away Library”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ducks

God’s Garden – and Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God certainly knows how to delight our senses!

Happy Summertime!

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

Why in the World do I keep writing blog posts?

Floey sitting - profile croppedWhen I sat down at my computer to draft this blog post, my dog Floey came up to me, sat down, looked up and asked, “Hey, Mom. Why in the world do you keep writing blog posts? Just think about how much time we would have for walks if you didn’t do all this writing.”

I thought a minute before responding. Then I said, “You know, Floey, I’ve been thinking about that very question myself. My original purpose for creating www.WhisperingWindsBlog.com was to use it as a marketing tool to spread the word about Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. In order to get people to read the blog and think about coming to Whispering Winds for a retreat, I wrote about everyday happenings in my own life, things that prompted me to think that God really cares about us and is involved in our lives in many different ways. Over the past five years, I’ve built up a regular following of readers. Obviously, I no longer need to convince people to come to Whispering Winds for a retreat. It’s no longer in operation. So why do I keep writing?”

“Yup. That’s the question, Mom. Why do you bother to keep up the Whispering Winds Blog?” Floey looked hopeful that I might really give it up and go for a walk right now. But I wanted to think this through out loud with Floey before I grabbed her leash to go for a walk, so I continued.

Marian - 5th grade

Me as a 5th grader

“I’ve always liked to write. I remember one of the earliest personal essays I wrote was entitled, “I am a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” I was in fifth grade when I was given the assignment to write a story. My mom gave me the idea to pretend I was a mouse in the schoolhouse and to write about all the strange things I saw. My teacher (Mrs. Borgerud – who 50 years later lived with us as an assisted living resident) liked the story so much she read it to the class. She could hardly read parts of it because she was laughing so hard. That was enough positive reinforcement for me to decide I really liked to write.”

“Wow. That sounds like a good story, Mom. Can you read it to me?” Floey looked at me expectantly.

“No, I’m afraid I can’t, Floey. My mom kept the story in the bottom drawer of the chest of drawers in her closet, where she kept all my school pictures, but somehow it got lost when we emptied the farmhouse to remodel it in the late 1900s.

Marian HS Graduation pic

Me as a high school senior

“But, back to writing, I even liked to do term papers. In junior high and high school I loved choosing a topic and going to the librarian for help in finding as many as a dozen books to study on the topic. One year in high school I wrote about the life, values, and influence of Sir Walter Raleigh for a term paper for my English class. Somehow, I convinced my mom that I needed to stay home from school for a day or two to complete my research and write the paper. I can still see myself sitting at the dining room table writing it well past midnight. Mom took all those handwritten pages to work the next day to type it for me – 12 pages typed – so I could turn it in the following day when it was due. My English teacher read that paper to the class, too, but no one laughed. I think a couple kids dozed off, but the teacher really liked it. He gave me an A.”

Floey interrupted my musings to say, “I don’t think you should have gotten an A if your paper put people to sleep.”

“Fortunately, my teacher didn’t agree with you. Anyway, I think maybe the real reason I started my blog five years ago was that I just like to write, and Whispering Winds gave me a reason to write. When the retreat center went on hiatus a few years ago, I justified keeping up the blog because we might reopen Whispering Winds sometime, and I wanted to keep my readers as prospective guests. Now that we sold the farmhouse, I know we won’t reopen Whispering Winds. Maybe I should stop writing the blog… That’s something I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks as 2015 is coming to its end.

The Monastic Way“But then I started to read the December issue of The Monastic Way. I’ve been reading The Monastic Way, a monthly pamphlet written by Joan Chittister, for about four years. I saw the pamphlet for the first time when I was in the jail chapel playing the piano for the women’s worship service. The chaplain offered a pamphlet to me. I took it home, read the daily readings for that month, and then went online and subscribed to it. I think Joan Chittister writes the pamphlet primarily for inmates. It’s designed to be a thought-provoking devotional tool, regardless of one’s religious background.”

“I like The Monastic Way, too, Mom. I usually read it over your shoulder every morning,” Floey added.

“For the first couple years I read it, Floey, Chittister chose a painting for the front flap of the pamphlet. Each daily reading consisted of one or two sentences to help readers understand the meaning behind the painting and to help apply the artist’s message personally. Since 2014, Chittister has replaced the painting with a quotation to examine. This month’s quotation is one of my favorites. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. [Teilhard de Chardin]

“In this month’s introduction to the quotation, Chittister writes:

It’s then [in the final third of life] that we begin to understand that life has been more about the shaping of the spirit than it has been the accumulation of things. It’s then that we finally come to know that it has been about our inner selves – our generous souls, our happy hearts, our loving relationships, our worthwhile work, successful or not – rather than our public status, that life has been about all along…. It is, in the end, who and what we have become spiritually in life that finally, ultimately, counts.

Listening for God FRONT“Writing my blog is something that helps me keep that perspective on life. As Teilhard de Chardin says, We are spiritual beings… To be sure I have something to write about every week, my mind is constantly on the lookout for signs in life that may be helpful for the development of my spiritual being. The title of my first book, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life, really defines what I’m doing with my blog. The book is simply a compilation of 52 blog posts selected from the first year and a half of my blog. For five years I’ve been consciously Listening for God, to be sure I’m hearing what God may be saying to me, and then sharing those insights on the blog. I don’t want to stop writing my blog mainly because I don’t want to stop Listening for God. Without the commitment to post something to the blog every week, I’m afraid I might get lax about Listening for God.

“I can understand that,” Floey interjected. “You always seem so busy I can see how you could forget to think about what God might be saying to you if you didn’t have to write about something every week.”

“God has given me a love of writing, Floey. Following that passion is critical to the development of my spiritual being. WhisperingWindsBlog.com is no longer a marketing tool. It’s a by-product of my spiritual journey. As long as it continues to contribute to my spiritual growth, I’ll continue to write posts.”

Floey-Marian faces selfie“I think I see,” responded Floey. “I guess that means I should go take a nap. We aren’t going for a walk just yet.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, Floey. But we’ll take time for one later. Sometimes that’s where God shows us new things to think about and write about.”

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

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

4 geese on pond

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