Saturday, July 08, 2017

Some Happy Things...

Sometimes it might be good to write even if I haven't got a lot to say.

For July, today was quite beautiful, and not as oppressively hot as some July days can be. I felt like being lazy, but committed to at least an hour in the garden. The weeds are beyond redemption but I still have to try. (I'm NOT going to post pictures---too ashamed of the weeds.)

But, as I said, the day was so nice, and once I got started, the momentum carried me along. My hour commitment nearly immediately became a resolve to work at least two hours. They flew by.

I have a serious sensitivity to chiggers, so I was working after spraying with bug spray. But bug spray is not reliably effective for me. I knew that I could work for a few hours before I would have bites. I also knew that a shower after working was the only foolproof method to prevent the bites. Even if I reapply bug spray, a half day is as long as I can expect to remain bite free before the shower has to happen.

So, as I worked, I kept thinking, "I'll just do this one more thing before I shower, because I'm not touching a blade of grass after the shower." The things included mowing the last third of the yard that I didn't have time for yesterday, mulching until I'd used up the straw Chuck had moved to the garden, weeding some areas I couldn't mulch yet, watering rhubarb, planters, and some of the flower beds, and picking flowers for the house.

That last bit is especially good because I can enjoy it without walking on grass to look at it again and again. But the two hours had extended to nearly four. It's such a good thing when the work is fun enough to keep going.

Other good things lately...

We celebrated a safe wheat harvest yesterday evening with the rest of the Regier family along with our landlords, our extra help, and all their families. This event is called Thresher Ice Cream and is a tradition from long before I joined this family. It was our turn to organize and Chuck's mom graciously offered her yard and large dining room as our gathering site. Everyone brought either sandwiches, cake or chips to share and the farmers turned ice cream. There was vanilla frozen yogurt, tutti frutti lactose free, strawberry banana, and I made my mother's recipe for a custard base vanilla.

People outdid themselves on the tempting sandwiches and mouth watering cakes, but for me the best part of the evening was the relaxing conversation. The evening was so mild, the wind was low, the moon was nearly full, and hardly any mosquitos. People stayed and visited until well past dark. 

Last weekend was a marker for Chuck and I as we passed our Fortieth Wedding Anniversary

To celebrate, Chuck planned a weekend for us, keeping the details secret from me. What fun! We began with a meal at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in Newton, Acapulco.

Then on to Lindsborg and a bed and breakfast near the campus of Bethany College. It was a lovely historic home with great breakfasts, and lots of information on things to see and do around Lindsborg.

So we saw and did as many of those things as we could in two days. We hiked and swam at Kanopolis reservoir.

We didn't take swimming pics, lucky for you, but we did take hiking pics.

Some purple flowers shaped like fireworks, surrounded by poison ivy.

We made it back in time for a very Swedish dinner at the highly recommended Swedish Crown Restaurant, complete with lingonberry lemonade, lingonberry garnish, and lingonberry sauce on our dessert. Then back out to capture a few more historic sites before sunset. 

First, Mushroom Rocks State Park, the smallest state park at less than 5 acres, but with quite impressive rock formations.

Then the dugout inhabited by a Swedish immigrant family for six years in the 1800's. This one took about 5-10 minutes of our time to walk in, look, and walk back out, but it was interesting.

And then we hustled on up to Coronado Heights to watch the sunset, which was definitely worth it. It was such a nice evening, and a beautiful sunset. (which we did not photograph).

This is a historic site, but the buildings are from the depression era works projects, rather than from the explorer, Coronado. But he was here once. 

The site is at a high point and is a popular spot for watching the sunset. We were told it is a popular spot for the younger set to park after dark as well, but we didn't stay to find out.

The next day we had another lovely breakfast and then skipped the planned museum visit in favor of a matinee before returning home to find a happy greeting waiting for us from Ben, Andrea, and Charlie, who house sat while we were gone.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Yard Project

We have a couple of spots on our yard that have irritated me for years. There is a rectangle of what used to be grass bounded by sidewalks and the driveway. It is the first thing you see when you get out of your car and walk up to our front door.

The grass was nice while it lasted. But years of children and dogs walking across it, combined with summer droughts, had eliminated all but a couple of clumps of grass. The rest was an assortment of dandelions, other unidentified weeds, and bare dirt.

I'd been thinking about this spot for a long time, wondering what to put in that would be low maintenance and still attractive. I'd thought of filling it with monkey grass, which eventually grows so thickly together that no weeds can squeeze in. 

I had, in fact, planted the front edge to monkey grass, before realizing I did not have enough available to fill the whole spot. I also did not have enough energy to transplant more that day. And so it remained the same for a couple of years.

A couple of things came together to reignite my resolve. My growing dissatisfaction with the eyesore was reaching a tipping point at the same time that a friend reported using a hoe to rid herself of a large area of weeds in her own yard in order to plant grass. Inspiration in the form of example.

I came home and brought out the field hoe, a heavy hoe with a large blade that could cut deeply into the soil. Thinking I could get the whole rectangle worked and the monkey grass planted around the border in a couple of hours, I started to work. Reality was quick to rear its ugly head.

Trying to hoe such a large area to about a four or more inch depth was going to take much longer, so I made a border and then began planting the monkey grass. After much more than a couple of hours, I had this.

I wanted a ground cover to fill the space inside the monkey grass. Research on the internet was not giving me as much info as I wanted about ground covers that would work in a full sun area. After consulting with two area nurseries, I settled on perennial succulents, and after visiting three businesses, I'd collected enough for my area. 

Yellowish low variety of sedum and larger variety of sedum.

Baby tears on the left, hen and chicks at the top, blue-green sedum in the middle, and ice plants.
 Now to hoe up the rest of the area. At one spot place my hoe was hitting something hard and large. It turned out to be a good sized piece of limestone. Chuck helped me remove it and I saved it for an accent.

On that day a rain was imminent, so I felt compelled to not only finish working up the dirt, but also complete the planting. This is how it looked when we left for a late supper with friends. Limestone accent on the left.

Last step was to add cyprus mulch, so that it would not dry out so fast in the hotter part of summer, and so that it would have a finished look.

Limestone surrounded by hen and chicks, large sedum, baby tears, and yellowish sedum

More rock accents with a good view of ice plant.

Cedar log accent.

A photographer could do better, but this is how it looks now.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Some Every Day, No Matter What...

For the month of April, I am participating in Rebecca Barrett-Fox's writing challenge. I sent in $20, with the agreement that if I write 400 words a day, five days a week, for four weeks, I will get the $20 back. Now that I have completed three weeks of the challenge, this is what I've noticed.

I've joined a group of participants who largely have a wider writing experience and responsibility than I do. Some are doing research, writing books, teaching in colleges or universities. I, on the other hand, want to learn to write daily. I don’t have a project to work on other than my blog, which does not need daily updates. 

Without a project, I began this challenge by sitting down each day to a blank screen and doing stream of consciousness writing about whatever I was thinking about. It was scary. I don’t have profound or meaningful thoughts to share every day. I began with a lot of doubt about why I was audacious enough to sign up for this.

But as the days passed I caught myself noticing topics I wanted to think more about. Sometimes I'd have a conversation that I wanted to process. Something I read might trigger questions about life. Or other times, life might hold so much to think about that I'd need a place to record it. Sometimes a memory would come to mind. One week I wrote four days straight about some neighbors whose land we used to farm. 

As I’m writing these thoughts into my google document, I begin to understand myself better, and to gain a bit more clarity about the emotions and reactions I’m having to my experiences. So there is the first plus. 

The second is just the truth. It doesn't matter if  I'm a writer or if I have important things to say or if there is anything of value for anyone else to read. It is $20 dollars, which isn't much, and I only lose it if I don't follow through on the challenge. I'm starting a habit I've wanted to start for a long time, I'm starting it for free, and isn't that enough? So no more angst about this!!!

The third builds on the second. Even if I end up writing nothing of value, I now value writing enough to set it into my regular schedule. I have to make time for it, so beyond the $20, it has value for me in the time I invest. Whether I have a project or not, I need to be writing. Period. So there will be words daily, and I will send them in, whether they are part of a project or not, whether they help me understand life or not, whether they are drivel or not.

And fourthly, since it takes time, less time is spent doing something else, like Facebook, or Netflix, or other time wasters. I'm trying pretty hard to not let it cut into my 'people' time, although there have been a couple of nights I've gone to bed late in order to send in my words for the day. So mostly inadvertently, some of my vices are getting less time. This seems to be an easier way to reduce time wasters than guilt. Maybe a choice to do something is more motivating than a choice not to do something? 

So far I've only found one problem, and it isn't with the challenge.

I’m writing on my computer, but I have not decided on a way to organize these writings. 

Every year I try to go back through my current journals a couple of times, usually at the new year, and also the week of my birthday. Doing this gives me a sense of the direction my life has taken, the lessons learned, gratitude for graces I've experienced, validation for painful times, recognition of things I wish I'd done differently. It is an important part of how I go through life.

When I go back to review my life from the last year, these writings for the challenge will not be in my journal because they are on my computer. It is much easier to send a word count from my computer than from my handwritten journal.  I want to keep record of these thoughts as part of my learning and growth. I need to find a way to organize it to be easily accessible. It needs to happen soon, before it is too overwhelming.

If you are interested in the challenge, it is opening up now for the May challenge. Deadline to sign up is April 30. Instructions are here.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Spice it up

Chuck and I have been married nearly forty years. Our lives have never been dull. But excitement is not the only ingredient for a thriving relationship. Sometimes the excitement (or maybe the stress) would push the relationship into the background until suddenly it became obvious that the relationship was falling by the wayside while we attended to whatever was most demanding in our lives. Tyranny of the urgent was sometimes the best description.

So we learned by mistakes and by better choices that especially in the struggles, time for nurture of the relationship has to be carved out. And really, at least for us, when is it not intense struggling with one thing or another? Rarely is there a time without some kind of crisis. So we have chosen to find space for our relationship.

The crazy thing is, even the nurturing things can become routine and boring, no longer renewing to the relationship. And that is where we find ourselves right now. We love each other. We are in intense times, like always. And the ways we wind down and spend time together have become so routine that although they are comfortable, they are also a bit boring.

It can take a while to realize that the things that always worked are not working as well anymore. But that is normal. At any rate, there was a day when we seemed to both be recognizing at the same time that we’d slipped into a slump.

Because we’ve been married nearly forty years, we don’t take for granted that time will move endlessly forward for us. Life is now pretty obviously time sensitive. So we sat down and asked ourselves the question, what can we do now that will bring joy and new life to our relationship?

The first answer we came up with was the one we acted on last week.

At least once every three months we are going to go somewhere or do something new to both of us...create a completely new memory. We set a date and I offered to come up with the plan.

In the last year I’ve noticed my facebook friends posting pics of places they visited in Kansas. There were pictures of prairies, natural formations, interesting foods, musicians. One of those places was the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve.

Stone barn at the Tallgrass Prairie

I was looking for a place we could be outdoors, because Chuck loves being outdoors. I wanted a place we could bring the dog, because Fritz needs to get used to being calm in new environments. And I wanted a place close enough that we could get there, enjoy it, and get back home in one long afternoon. The Tallgrass Prairie fit all the requirements.

Prairie with visitor center 

It was so lovely. Overcast skies allowed the temperature to stay comfortable for a long walk, and the lack of even a breeze made the songs of the meadowlarks unmistakeable around us. Fritz carried our water in his backpack as we ambled along trails that took us to places where the trail itself was the only visible sign of human presence.

We relaxed and talked about fun things and hard things. We pondered questions about faith, and about human nature, and about less weighty topics...such as whether we can judge how far 100 yards are so that we can be sure to stay at least 100 yards away from any buffalo. We pointed out the things we could see and hear, and made sure to notice. At one especially quiet moment we heard Prairie chicken hens calling and clucking. It was magical.

Today we are back to living in the midst of important things to think about and respond to, but with a better view from having taken a step away for ourselves yesterday.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lessons from dog training: Temptation

On the first Sunday of Lent, the lectionary passages included the temptation Jesus faced after his baptism, as well as the Genesis story of the choice Adam and Eve made to eat from the forbidden tree.

I did not know this as I walked Fritz that morning.

Fritz needed to go out before I left for church. When I take him out, he is to walk with a loose lead to the area where he relieves himself, after which we go back to the house. During the two days leading up to that morning, he'd lunged toward some dried manure that fell from a tractor tire on the driveway.

Sunday morning, as we walked down the driveway and back again I began talking to Fritz in an excited voice while we moved past the tempting smells. His ears perked up. His tail began to wag. He placed himself next to me and watched my face as we walked past that spot. He was so focused on me that he showed no recognition of the odor.

When I began training Fritz, one statement I remember was that in order to keep your dog from chasing squirrels, you have to be more interesting than a squirrel. So I frequently took Fritz outside on lead, and while I did not have squirrels, I did have rabbits. I found I was definitely not more interesting than a rabbit. It didn't matter how exciting my voice was, how good the treats were, or how fast I could run in a game of chase, the rabbit was more fun than me.

The training I have chosen to follow since then is one of playing games with him. We learn games that are fun for the dog and also help them rehearse and be rewarded for self control and engaged attention. Day after day we play together. Fritz loves the games. When we start a new one, he is highly motivated to try to understand what is required of him. His ears are up. His tail is wagging. His eyes are on me.

In church as we read the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent in the garden, I was fresh from this experience with Fritz being able to focus his attention on me while walking past the smell of something he usually wants.

Genesis 3:6 reads, "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate."

Eve and Adam were aware of the fruit, always. They had been told about it ahead of time. But they had not been tested until this moment, and in this moment they were not strong enough. Something allowed them to forget the truth that all goodness comes from their creator. Their focus changed from the goodness of their creator to the desire for what they saw.

In the temptation of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 4, there is a difference in focus. Jesus hears the words of the tempter, but he hears them through the lens of truth, of his goals, of his relationship with God.  There is no record of his taking his attention away from God to the goodness of the temptation. Even though famished and exhausted, his eyes stay clear. His immediate response to each offer are words he knew from scripture. There isn't a sentence about him seeing the goodness of the bread, or wondering about whether the angels would save him, or being drawn to having the world at his command.

I want that kind of clarity. I desire to know how to foster it in my relationship with God. Is there insight in the dog training?

With Fritz, I'm still not more exciting than a rabbit, but in the videos posted by those farther into the training than I am, I can see that dogs can be called off running wildlife. Not only can they be called off, but they can even wheel around and run joyously back to their masters. Why? They have developed such a strong relationship with their person, that they know being with the person means only good things. They have practiced and been rewarded so many times that it is no longer a thought process, but an automatic response. If this person calls me, I'm going!!!

In training Fritz there is a goal of rewarding increased focus in the presence of increased distraction. A rabbit is pretty high on the list of distractions. We start smaller. We play a game called, "It's your choice." I hold a good smelling treat in my closed hand. Fritz comes running and nudges my hand, licks my hand, lunges toward my hand, and my hand stays closed. If at any moment he backs away from my hand, it opens. But if he tries to get the treat, my hand closes again. He quickly learns that backing up is good. Soon he learns that sitting is even better because if he happens to sit down while he is waiting and looking at the treat, I will take the treat to his mouth and tell him to get it.

Step by step we increase the difficulty of the challenge while also celebrating wildly the successes of self control, and Fritz begins to learn that the good things he wants will come to him through his relationship with me. Not only that, but it will be fun and joyful as well.

Fritz ignoring temptation

But the goal for me as his trainer also has to stay in focus. I'm not training him in order to have the heady experience of having a dog that does exactly what I tell him to do. The goal is to have a dog who is to go anywhere with me off lead, because I know that the sound of his name being called will be enough to turn him around instantly from dashing in front of a car.

 As Jesus was free, free from needing the approval of anyone but the Father, free from distractions away from his goals, free to offer truth and love and a path to that same kind of freedom for each of us.

Eve and Adam lost sight of the truth that the goodness of obedience far outranked the beauty of that fruit. We all do. But our story does not end there.

Like Fritz, we aren't done learning yet.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


This is something I shared at a women's brunch in our church a few days ago. The brunch was named "Gratitude 2" because it was the second year the women had focused on this important discipline at their annual gathering.

Although gratitude has been something I’ve thought about throughout my life, there was a more conscious shift in focus a few years ago. In the last year of my sister-in-law, Donna’s life, we had a long and memorable phone call. We talked about difficult things and encouraged each other. As a result of that call she loaned me a book, called “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp.

Ann’s writing style was difficult for me at first, but her message was important. A friend of hers had challenged her to make a list of 1000 things for which she was grateful during a time in her life when things were pretty hard. She kept notebooks and paper handy so that things could be written quickly at the moment they were noticed. The book is the story of what changed in her life as she worked her way up to 1000 gifts.

I no longer remember what her lists contained, but I was challenged to begin to see things in new ways. That was the beginning of a new adventure with gratitude for me.

Gratitude is a choice we make to notice.

It is both of those things together...a notice.

First of all, a choice.

On good days or in happy seasons, it doesn’t seem like a choice. This summer, with a garden full of flowers, and with the goodness of Tim and Michelle’s wedding, gratitude was like a wave I was riding. It surrounded me and was effortless. It had little to do with choosing and it was impossible not to notice.

But there are times when things are hard. Times when things are so hard that unless we make the choice for gratitude, it will not find us. Psalm 50:14 says “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” and Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Thanksgiving as a sacrifice seems different than the wave of gratitude I ride in the really happy times of my life. The Philippians instructions about handling worry make it even more clear that gratitude is a choice that we make when worry is the more natural response.

When I am worried or under a lot of stress, every free moment is filled with the worry. If my mind is not actively engaged in what I’m doing, it is drawn back to the hard stuff. Arguments replay themselves in my head. Lists of my failures or my grievances play on autoplay. During those times, taking a walk is more stressful than staying at home and working, because even surrounded by nature, my mind can’t jump out of the rut of the hard things I’m trying to figure out.  

But gratitude is a choice. So some things have had to change.

One change involved memory work. I worked on it during my walks so that my thoughts would be forced away from hard things. I chose Psalm 103, which begins “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name, Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits---” I walked and spoke those words again and again, adding a line, and then another, until I could repeat nearly all of it to my 5th grade Sunday School class. Instead of reliving hard things I had little to no control over, memory work forced my mind to gratitude.

I want to be clear. This choice did not erase all the hard things or push me back onto the effortless wave of gratitude. Sometimes, especially on very hard days, the words did not resonate as much as I wanted them to. It was a choice more than it was a feeling, but it was also a true choice. My circumstances were still hard, but I had to recognize the truth that there was also goodness in my life.

I bought tiny composition books. They come in packages of three for 88 cents at Walmart. They fit in my purse or on my nightstand. I began to try to write down something every day, or three things a day, or more. One year my Lenten discipline was to write five things each day. I use the books on and off. I kind of forget about them sometimes, especially when I’m riding a wave of gratitude. But when the wave  runs its course and I’m not so naturally grateful anymore, eventually I remember that choosing to write things down helps me notice.

And that is the second part of gratitude. Notice.

Notice even in the midst of the mess.

Photography can maybe illustrate this better. Sharing photos online with friends is something I enjoy. I’ve used facebook in the past, and now recently my daughter-in-law, Andrea, introduced me to instagram. People often post pictures of good things in their lives, such as places they are visiting, or events, or people they love. It is often about gratitude. Right now there are a lot of sunrises, sunsets and autumn leaves showing up.

This year I’ve posted a lot of pictures of garden flowers. We filled our garden with flowers for Tim and Michelle’s wedding, so I’ve had fresh flower arrangements in the house all summer, and I may be able to get some more picked yet this afternoon. Sometimes when I take a picture of a vase of flowers, I think I’m getting a photo of flowers, because that is what I see. But the camera sees not only the flowers in a vase, but also the papers strewn on the table, the bits of leaves and stems left from making the arrangement, the crumbs from snack time, and maybe a dirty dish or two. Am I being too honest here? My point is this. Gratitude can come before the mess is gone. I can see what the camera cannot. I can ignore for a moment the mess that could obscure the flowers. And gratitude can sometimes be the beginning of the motivation to clear the mess.

Table mess is relatively simple to clear. Some messes are beyond my control. But I can choose to notice even the graces of my life that can’t posted on facebook or instagram.

What are the things I notice?
Small things, normal things often headline my list.
There are the sensory things. The taste of a fully ripe peach. Warm gentle breezes. The colors of a maple tree in October. Mockingbirds singing through the night in spring. The smell of freshly brewed coffee or bread in the oven.

There are people things. The way Sarah lights up when she sees us across the room, or the feel of her arms around my neck. How Aaron looks up out of the tops of his eyes instead of moving his whole face. The intense Luke-ness of Luke. Charlie’s giggle and his attention to detail.

There are things that happen. Hearing one person offer another grace. A smile from a friend. A conversation over coffee. An unexpected gift. A lunch at Dutch Kitchen with my mother.

There are memories. Memories of grace offered. Memories of loved ones. Memories of places. Memories of my Grandma’s rocking chair and her voice singing, “Gott ist die liebe.” For those of you that know that song, do you ever hear it without hearing it in your Grandmother’s voice?

Memories of past kindnesses. Because I’ve spent a lot of time with the children of my church, their kindness or wit or questions or wisdom have often been in my little books. But not just the children. I’ve seen so many others do or say things that brought me to gratitude. I’ve written some of those things down in little books or in my journal, but there are too many for the time I have here.

And there are insights or ideas. Seeing a Bible verse as though it is new again. Hearing something explained differently that finally makes sense. Understanding more fully the life of someone who has experiences very different from mine.

So, just for a moment, choose to notice.

In this moment, find gratitude.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thankful Moms

I was honored to be able to write a guest post for the Thankfulmoms blog. I found this blog through a friend who is also an adoptive mom, and as soon as I read the post she tagged, I subscribed. They write about their lives with conviction, and with hope and compassion. They are able to write vulnerable posts while being diligent to protect the dignity and confidentiality of their children. It is a good place to go, even if you have no connection to adoption or foster care. Try this link to get to my post, and explore while you are there, if you like.