Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I knew this day would come, I just didn't think it would come so soon. My friend, Steve died early yesterday. My last "newsy-chatty" email from him came a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Once more, the purpose of the email was to encourage/goad/push me to get back to writing this blog. I replied with an email filled with all sorts of excuses; some of which are valid, some of which have to do with legitimate circumstances. I never wrote, "But hey, Steve, how do I get back into the blog when I've been away from it for so long?" but I sure was thinking it. In case someone other than Steve has been checking up on this blog, here's the status of my writing life. I have eight chapters of the next novel about Karl and Maggie and Jacob started, but something keeps tellng me that I need to know where the plot is going and since I can't seem to get at that, I'm stuck. (Never mind that I didn't know where "Eddie's Wake" was going when I started it.) In honor of National Novel Writing Month (which is November every year) I started something new, about Eddie and Will and how they met and what brought them together. I'm liking it, so far, but other than the most likely parameters, I don't know where it's going, either. But I am committed to working on it as often as possible, if not daily. Challenges: it's hard to NOT write an Eddie Stern who is really Karl Stern in disguise. How do I make them different? Even though Eddie is younger than Will by a couple of years, at the start of "Best Friends" he is much more serious and adult than Will is. Will, reveling in his escape from his father, Henry J. Denver, and his snotty older brother, Jacob, is more like a kid. I need a better working title than "Best Friends," but for the moment, it will have to do. I have thought about blogging a novel - whether "Best Friends" or the sequel to "Eddie's Wake." I'll ask readers to give their input, understanding that what shows up on the blog may not be what shows up in the novel. I'll ask questions about what might happen next, or what you think this or that character should be like. I know, this sounds like I would be giving away the novel for nothing, but in this day of electronic publishing, is that so bad? If and when I do this, I will blast out the news on facebook and will email everyone I can think of. This blog may turn into a static website about "Eddie's Wake," which is still near and dear to my heart. So, Steve, I'm doing what you've been on my case to do. Somehow, I know you already know this, if you're not too busy gawking at the glories of heaven. But I will surely miss your comments and jokes. Rest in peace, old friend. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cherry Blossoms and Snow

I'm grateful that we didn't get the fifteen inches of snow that was sort of predicted, although out where we live it's pretty hard to determine just how much actually accumulated in this last storm. The wind has blown some areas almost bare, while there are two to three foot drifts in other places. The "plow man" came to dig us out yesterday afternoon while the wind was still howling, so the gravel driveway is drifted over already. But I'm thankful that the main driveway is still open enough to use.

I'm thankful for my husband, Tom, who allows me to laugh at him without getting mad at me. Like those times when he wears his hat in a funny way, or when, like yesterday, he had his turtleneck on inside out and backwards, so that just under his chin it said Land's End. "Did you get dressed in the dark?" I asked him, laughing. "Well, it was dark inside the turtleneck when I put it on." I'm grateful that he realizes (I hope he realizes) that I laugh with joy and delight because I love him so much.

I'm grateful for my kids, grateful that soon I will have a daughter (in-law). I'm thankful that Andy doesn't think I'm a lazy sloth when he sees me napping in the middle of the day.

I'm thankful that my Mom seems to be content with her living arrangement and that my brother maintains his sense of humor even while he deals with all too many medical issues. I'm grateful that he has been sober for a whole year now. I'm thankful for Tom's family, even though some of them post photos of themselves in warmer, tropical climes on facebook while I'm looking for my boots and gloves. Yes, I'm thankful for them, and glad they could get away.

I'm grateful that Tom has had a job for the past year even while we pray that it will continue for another year.

I'm thankful for my new-ish friends, people I didn't really know five years ago, but who were so kind and supportive of us after Andy's crash in '06. I'm thankful for old friends and the times we can get together and catch up. I'm thankful for colleagues who care about me and how I am doing.

I'm thankful for Valentine's Day flowers that cheer up the house. I'm thankful for battery operated LED candles made of real wax and that have timers so I can set them up high in the living room and dining room to help chase away the winter darkness without worrying about burning down the house.

A few weeks ago, I found a bucket filled with sticks in the floral department of the grocery store. I thought they were pussy-willows, but discovered that, no, they were branches from cherry trees, with blossoms just about to pop. There was no way I could walk away from something like that, so I bought a bunch, rationalizing that I could give some to my Mom.

The blossoming cherry branches in the big vase reached their peak on Sunday, while snow blew and the wind raged outside. It took awhile, but I was able to get a good picture of them and the snow. But now, the petals are falling and soon the mess will be enough to warrant tossing the sticks into the woods. That's ok, though. The sun is high enough that the snow on our black-top is melting. Spring is only a month away.

Thanks, Steve, for telling me I'd feel better if I sat down and wrote something. You were right. The cherry blossom picture up there is for you.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Today - January 7, 2011 - is my grandmother's birthday. She was born in 1897, which would make her... let's see... 114 years old! I had Grandma in mind, at least part of the time, when I wrote about Maggie Stern. Maggie was born in 1897 as well.
Grandma (Clara) always wanted to fill us up when we came to visit. Each dish on the table was passed around under her eagle eye again and again. "Go on, have some more," she would say in her crackly "cherman" (German) old lady voice. "What's wrong, aren't you hungry?" she would ask if you said "no thanks" to anything. I am amazed that anyone got home without falling asleep at the wheel because we were soooo full of food!

I wonder if my Mom, now very forgetful, will notice what day it is today? I think we should celebrate in some small way.

I am finally getting back to writing. The journey through my family trauma-drama has taken a toll on me, even though those more directly involved than I are doing much better. The clouds seem to be parting, however. The maddening thing about this writer's block has been that I've been out of work, and I've been feeling like I need to take advantage of the time off by writing. It feels like the clock has been ticking.

No calls or churches on the horizon, but I am doing a little supply preaching. I am going to be the mother of the groom this summer. My kids are doing well. Tom is working and we hope it will continue through April and beyond. (He's a contract employee.) I've been able to enjoy the unique personality of each one of our cats. They give us a lot to laugh about. So life is pretty good.

New Year peace and blessings to all!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

So long ago...

Well, yes, I do realize that it has been almost three months since my last post. I could give you all sorts of excuses, but the truth is, the well has been dry and I have been trying to pull myself together.

Since my last post was about the hailstorm that shredded the beautiful corn plants in the fields and the flowers in my garden, tore down about a third of the leaves on the trees on our property, and ruined our roof, I thought I ought to tell you about the recovery of one sedum plant. As you can see from the photo above, it was completely stripped of its leaves.

I can't remember if I cut it back, although I believe I did. And over the summer, it did begin to grow again. The other photo is what it looks like today. Life over death; life wins!

In my zeal for making the garden look nice again, I overplanted all those 75% off annuals, and added a new tomato plant as well. Now I have a jungle outside of my front window, including a tomato plant that is trying to escape. It hasn't given us any sweet, red, ripe fruit for our table, but is bearing plenty of green ones. Soon I will pick them to see if I can ripen them in the kitchen, then tear up the plant. Maybe I'll tear up some of the other annuals as well to clean things up a bit, then buy a few garden mums we can enjoy until we get a killing frost.

I want to start writing about Karl and Jacob and Maggie again, but I am a bit afraid that I won't produce anything worth reading. A part of me feels empty without them always in the back of my mind. So maybe with a little TLC and time at the keyboard, I will "recover" just like my sedum.

I hope to stay more current with this blog, or start a new one. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hail Damage

Heavy with water, the sky was terrible and beautiful at the same time. Blues and greens swirled into updrafts and downpours, with spears of lightning criss crossing the changing shapes and colors... The meteorologist on the radio kept saying this was "a dangerous situation, with hail and possible tornadic activity" and that we should "take cover immediately."

Since we had foolishly gone for sandwiches in a town set right between our house and the storm, my husband drove as fast as he dared, hoping to get home in time to get the car into the garage and shut the big doors of the pole shed. I twisted in my seat to watch the sky, finally insisting that we stop for just a moment so I could try to shoot some photos with my cell phone camera. (That's one of them above.)

We made it just in time. The skies opened, the sirens sounded, and we headed to the basement with our laptops in tow so we could watch the radar, since the rain had obliterated the TV satellite signal. Soon we had the hail the forcaster told us about and soon it covered the garden with white.

Back upstairs (who could hide away when there was such a mighty storm to watch?) the hail pelted the roof, the trees, the flower garden that was just coming along, the corn and soybeans in the field. Leaves from the trees fell as fast as the hail did. None of our windows were broken, but the growing things outside were utterly shredded. According to the local newspaper, the areas on either side of our road were the hardest hit in the county. Crops ruined, lowlands flooded, muck and mud everywhere!

Now, several days later, the air smells like autumn. The corn is drying out the way it's supposed to dry out in September and October. There are dry leaves on the lawn, but it's too hot to do much raking. I cut back many perennials with broken stems and torn leaves. It kind of looks like fall, too. I find it terribly sad.

Last week I learned that two great saints from my first parish recently died within days of each other. Both were 96 years old, each had been a member of her congregation since she was young. I could tell fond and funny stories about each one of them.

When I first became their pastor fifteen years ago, I remember looking from one face to another in their women's Bible Study groups and wondering how many of them I would bury. As it turned out, many of them did die while I served as their pastor, and others have died since. It was a sad moment to realize that I wasn't there only to befriend them, but that I would be called on walk their last days with them. I preached resurrection hope at all their funerals; some with joy because they had been released from their suffering, all with sadness at losing them.

Yes, the leaves on the trees around here are pretty thin. Yes, my garden looks nothing like it should. Sadly, the beautiful corn is done for this year, since it's too late to replant.

BUT, the garden store down the road is changing from nursery to local produce outlet - all annuals are about to be composted, most of them leggy and spent. For 75% off, they sold me two boxes of plants that are in good enough shape that they might just bring some beauty and life back into the garden. Death doesn't have to win this one! (Does it ever?)

I'll keep you posted and maybe even share a photo or two of the garden once it starts coming along again.

Peace, health and good weather to you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Lesson from Pansies

In Eddie's Wake, Karl receives valentines from the girls in his class who befriended him after his pals, Jimmy and Elmer had deserted him. But he also receives a really nice storebought card that had pansies on the cover, with the words, Pansies for Thoughts. It was from Jimmy and Elmer, who wrote on the back, We still think you're a pansey, Stern... Karl laughed at the card from his stupid former friends; he'd given up on them and could see how childish they were. But deep down, I think he was hurt, too.

This is the season for pansies in my garden. It's cool enough that they grow nicely and stay compact; not like the way they will bolt and grow crazy once it gets hot. Then I will sadly pull them out and wonder if there is a greenhouse around where I can buy pansies to plant in the fall. (Maybe I should start my own from seed...)

The fun thing about these flowers, though, is that they reseed themselves and sometimes come back the following spring. So when I cut off the spent blooms during the growing season, I don't throw the flowers in with the compost. I either leave them in the garden or scatter them at the edge of the lawn.

My grandmother loved pansies, and I think I inherited that from her. I try to plant some every year. Once, when I had a patch by the back door of our house, I noticed the deep, deep purple that colored the inside of one of these sweeties... and I thought, "Ok, God, just how do you do that? Where do you get that color?"

That was a long time ago, in a diffferent place and time and life. But I just noticed the same thing the other day. The rich, deep purples and blues just blow me away; it's like you could fall into the color of eternity if you stared at it long enough. How can anyone walk by without noticing?

Despite whatever junk is going on in my life - and often there's plenty - God can still bring forth something amazing like a pansey, with all it's regal, velvety color. It puts things in perspective, somehow. God hasn't given up on us, on me. The Creator is still creating. I think the adjective is steadfast.
Until next time...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Now the Green Blade Rises..."

Two weeks ago, we burned "the Triangle," a patch of field bordered on two sides by driveways (both of them ours) and one side by the town road we live on. We intended to do a burn, as we do every couple of years to give our expanding collection of prairie wild flowers a head start in the race against the weeds and grasses. But this year things got exciting when the fire went faster than anyone expected.

But nothing that wasn't supposed to burn burned, and we had a big black patch between our driveway and the yet-to-be-planted corn field. Over the last few days, however, green has returned little by little. Yesterday it rained, and now the whole patch is kelly green; the charred grasses from last year are nearly swallowed up by new life. (The photos above are sort of "before" and "after.") This just about always happens when there is a grass fire, but it still seems like a miracle to me. Green returns, in spite of what we do.

The windows in our church santuary were covered with black sheer-ish curtains for Holy Thursday and Good Friday. All decoration had been removed from the church, and last night the environment was spare and grim, as you might expect. Some of the windows face west, and on a good evening you can watch spectacular sunsets from your seat in the church. Too beautiful, too distracting for Good Friday, indeed, so the windows had to be covered.

But last night, as the service went on, the sunset was so bright that you could still see it through the curtains. Dark a day as yesterday was, though, the darkness of failure, despair and death could not hide the beauty and brightness of the setting sun. Darkness is swallowed up by light in spite of what we try to do!

It's too late for me to be up writing this; the sun rises tomorrow at 6:49am and I will be with other believers at our outdoor sunrise service, celebrating the truth that the Light of the Risen Christ always trumps the darkness.

And not just the darkness of night, the darkness of failure, of confusion or despair... but the darkness of death. Death now becomes the portal to life eternal, where there is always light... where there is nothing but peace and joy.

So, even with the hard things in our lives, the sad things, the irritating things, we are bold to proclaim: "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia."