Learning to Love Words – A Legacy

Maresy-doats and doesy-doats and little lambsy-divy.

A kid’ll eat ivy too – wouldn’t you?

This was one of the nonsensical songs my mother would sing to us in our childhood. Of course we would chuckle for we knew the next line was coming, which would explain the first.

If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,

Just say mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy….

Words were our parents’ toys and it was only natural that we became comfortable with language early on. Growing up in a home that eschewed the television because our father could see into the future to a time when the box at the front of the room would draw the attention from all else, we were left with ‘only’ words — the written word, the spoken word, and the words that were joyfully sung.

A flea and a fly in a flue were imprisoned

So what could they do?

Said the flea, Let us fly!

Said the fly, Let us flee!

So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Oh, how I remember trying to learn this little wordplay as a child. With all the homonyms, it certainly made a young child’s mind think! And think we did. We wrote poems, sang songs, read books…

We never noticed the great thing our parents were doing in equipping us with a love of language. We did not think it odd when our mother would tell us to clean up because we looked like ‘The Wreck of the Hesperus’. We knew that was a Longfellow poem about a shipwreck and we must do just as she said. I once referred to this in a class I was teaching and the poor unfortunate souls looked at me in confusion. For all the ‘progress’ of enlightened, modern education, their lack of knowledge took me by surprise. I thought everyone grew up surrounded by Jabberwocky and walked down the beach with the Walrus and the Carpenter.

The language of hymns lifted our vocabulary and increased our understanding of words as we sang:

Though the angry surges roll o’er my tempest driving soul,

I am peaceful for I know, wildly though the winds may blow,

I’ve an anchor safe and sure, that shall evermore endure.

And it holds, my anchor holds

Blow your wildest then o gale,

On my bark so small and frail,

By His grace it shall not fail,

For my anchor holds, it firmly holds.

At Christmastime, we learned history as we sang the words of Longfellow written during the dark years of the Civil War, struggling with his sadness at the division of the country and expressing his hopefulness when he writes –

And in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth I said.

For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep, GOD IS NOT DEAD NOR DOTH HE SLEEP.

The wrong will fail; the right prevail with peace on earth goodwill to men!

Oh, it was so easy to believe when we were surrounded by this goodness, this beauty, this use of language! Chesterton, that great British author was not afraid to speak about words:

Our generation professes to be scientific and particular about the things it says, but unfortunately, it is never scientific and particular about the words in which it says them. It is difficult to believe that people who are obviously careless about language can really be careful about anything else.

Our dear Chesterton is correct – and to think he died in 1936! Ah, but he was a man of words and could see what was truly coming down the pike. He knew that standards in speech are important and one of the ways we establish order in a society. When language falters, we are less likely to understand one another. Without rules of speech we do not present ourselves well and this often leads to coarse or underdeveloped use of words. Without an ability to converse, chaos reigns.

There are arguments that can take place peacefully. We call them discussions. However, without the ability to communicate clearly we will never be able to have them! Chesteron notes this also, when he says:

What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you’re not going to argue about words, what ARE you going to argue about?

Ah! This man is speaking my language. How many nights around the dinner table did talk reign supreme with opinions freely given – very freely given, for we were raised to speak our minds and we certainly did. Man or woman, boy or girl, each had words to say. Our parents viewed us with the respect granted a child of God and we would never take advanatage of that. We knew there were times to be seen and, respectfully, not heard, but that we would also have our time to speak.

My father’s last words to me arrived in a card a few days after his death. I treasure those words. They are worth more than any amount of money. The words we exchanged over tea, the everyday discussions of what flowers or vegetables he would plant in those last years of his life, are precious and gentle remembrances of time well spent.

Now, whenever I sit in a crowded room or around a table and hear conversation flowing around me, whenever I am part of that conversation, I am reminded that my wise parents presented me with a feast of words, a love of language, and I am reaping the benefits daily. That, my friends, is what we call a legacy.


Once Upon an Evening

As any family, in our grown up years we find ourselves scattered across the country and sometimes across the world. But every once in a while we feel the need to gather– to hear the familar voices of our siblings. We’re an opinionated bunch, most large families are. We learned early the old adage, speak now or forever hold your peace. and believe me, we can speak! And so we found ourselves one weekend smack dab in the middle of the country…

Here we are, all together in one place, sitting on my niece’s bed which she has so kindly provided for this weekend. I am looking at my older sister and listening to her talk.  My brother sits next to me as our little sister leans against the pillows.  It is late and we have traveled far. We are friends, borne of family and choice and we are savoring every moment of this night as we laugh and talk and catch up on each other’s lives. We are children grown up, laughing and talking and chiding as children do.

There was no plan for this late-nigrockwell parents with childrenht meeting.  It is a serendipitous moment seldom found in the rush of adulthood. We were unaware when we stepped off our planes and hugged each other, that after all the chatter of the evening we would drift into this room to renew our acquaintance with the past.

Years ago we ran together through the fields of upstate New York, towheaded and barefooted, skin the color of gently roasted marshmallows. We climbed up high in the barn for the tomboy contest and swam in our old pond, murky as it was. In winter, we dragged our trusty toboggan up the big hill to come flying quickly down, piled one behind the other, screaming with fear and enjoyment. We walked through tunnels of snow, dug from our house to the road, to climb on the school bus during those cold, dark winters, and picked apples in the back field at the end of beautifully sunny summers. We picnicked at the creek and picked out Christmas trees from our own fields.  We savored wild strawberries, their tiny size betraying nothing of their enormous flavor. We delighted in our own names for our own fields – the flat, the hill, the harp, the knoll, the pool table, the lane – we knew them all. We knew the best place for blackberries and became experts at stringing raspberries on tall Timothy grass.

We learned to state our opinions at our kitchen table where our parents encouraged us to think and talk. We learned to sing around the piano and did not fear the sound of our own voices. We grew strong and confident never realizing the depth of relationship developed over those glorious years. And, as most children, never noticing the great work our parents were doing in our lives every day. Now, as parents ourselves, we are kinder and more understanding of our own parents and we love them even more as we understand their lives and their decisions.  We are now them. They are seen in us.

We have gathered in the middle of the country to celebrate many things, our parents, our connection to one another, a triumph of health…..there is a gratefulness to us in this meeting. We have learned, over the years, that our gatherings are never to be taken for granted and so we treasure every moment together.

Yes, here we are, thankful children, talking late into the night, with no mother to scold us or father to direct us. Yet we know, if there is a way to see us from that heaven up above, they are smiling and enjoying their children gathered together under one roof again.


Growing People

When I was a little girl, I helped my father plant a garden. He was a master gardener, not in the sense of taking a course, although he held a degree in agriculture. No, he was a master gardener in the fact of loving plants, and loving the process of gardening from beginning to end. Before the seeds were planted, the earth must be tilled, the little tractor pulling the plow, disturbing the rocks that grow so well and turning over the soil.

My father knew the ground would need to be turned over several times, that fertilizer must be mixed in. He measured each row, tying string to stakes at each end to ensure the rows were straight. Each row was hoed just deep enough for a seed to be planted, but not so deep that the seeds could not grow. I walked along dropping corn kernels in the row, strategically placed, two at a time. I loved the bright pink color – at that time corn was treated before planting. We must be careful not to put the kernels either too close or too far apart. Cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins were different. THEY must be planted in small mounds and given freedom to roam. We worked together, the children doing their part, my father leading the way. This was his specialty and my mother was nowhere to be seen. She loved her music. He loved his plants and books. They poured their seeds of music and nature into our lives and, though we never noticed, they were growing us all the time. We were just some of the things they grew.They found great solace in escaping city life, in buying a simple country home, and surrounding us with music, books, animals, and large vegetable gardens.

We looked forward to the time when the corn grew high and ripened, tassels turning brown and a summer evening consisted of shucking the ears, boiling the corn, slathering it with butter, sprinkling it with salt, and feeling the soft kernels pop as the juice ran down our chins. The room was full of laughter and talk and life was simple and good.

It was August and school would not begin until after Labor Day. It was a distant thought. As children, we did not realize the beauty of this experience, foolish as we were. We did not realize these days would be treasured in years to come – and that was just as it should be, for children do not need the burden of being made to appreciate the everyday-ness of life. They must be allowed to live each day fully and memories will appear in their older years, when they are needed.

During the winter months, in between reading Solzhenitsyn or Louis L’Amour in front of a roaring fire, and journeying with us through the Little House books, our father studied his seed magazines and planned his garden. The gardens grew as the years went by, to include three separate glorious spaces. Gourds were grown simply for their beauty, laid out to dry, and then to be shellacked to a lovely shine and shaken with vigor by certain children to hear the seeds rattle. These were used purely for decoration and enjoyment.

As I look back on this now, I realize this was not an unusual experience for the time and area in which I grew up. Families often planted their gardens together and children seldom had time to contemplate the boredom that is so rampantly expressed in our present age. There were weeds to pull and, later, vegetables to pick. Summers days of wandering through the fields, a stalk of Timothy grass hanging from one’s mouth, feet and head bare, were the norm. Sunscreen was unheard of, a burdensome invention yet to come. We felt the sun warm our bodies and lifted our faces for its blessing.

Without television or screens of any kind, I wandered happily over the hills never realizing the charmed life I’d been granted. And yet, I did not disdain it. There was a joyous feeling to picking tiny wild strawberries with my siblings in the middle of a wide, open field. All in all, life was good, free of worries, full of hope. We did not choose to be grateful, we simply were.

Now we live in the terribly enlightened year of 2022. Screens abound. Children must be instructed to play in the fresh air. Social media has taken the place of kitchen table discussions. Friends are too busy to drop by. Strawberry fields have given way to housing developments. It’s a brave new world where twenty-somethings exchange looks of disdain for their elders’ lack of wokeness and breathe a sigh of relief that we have escaped the gentle life of all that was truly good and beautiful. Now, we must schedule our times of reflection if that is even to be.

As for me, I’m holding on to gratefulness. I’m choosing the wide open country and walks into good books. I’m looking for wild strawberries and kitchens full of friends and neighbors. I’m hoping the Wendell Berry life is still available and I want to invite all who wish, to come away with me. There are still so many lanes to wander, so many trails to explore. I want to grab the hands of all those woke disciples and lead them to the land of plenty — no shoes, no hats, no sidewalks, just the good fresh air and the folks you love. I dare any screen or tight schedule to compete with that.

Hope in the Midst of Chaos


Back in the saddle again. Out where a friend is a friend, where the longhorn cattle feed on the lowly jimson weed, back in the saddle again.                                                                      

Out on the range once more, totin’ my old .44, where you sleep out ev’ry night and the only law is right, back in the saddle again.

The words of this old western ballad caress my ears as I rock my grandson. The music of the rocker sings along with Gene. It’s the end of a busy week and a busy day. As we rock I listen to those words, words that are foreign to the ear in these days. Few people listen to cowboy music – not country music, mind you – true western music….ballads of life in the great western parts of our nation. They are filled with the stories of men riding the range, fighting the weather, living a life in which dreams and reality collide. 

As we rock I sing along and look into the true blue eyes that are looking up at me The words of the song speak to me more deeply than they have in earlier times. In this unhappy world, full of violence and illness, with the strain of society tripping over itself to find answers, I hear the clean music, the gentle voice, the words that speak of true friendship, of the peacefulness of an agrarian life, of a time when guns were not  something to argue over but simply a tool to use and the public was thankful for the rule of law.

I don’t think it is just my age that causes me to return to the old things, the good things, though it is true, or should be, that as we grow older we learn to appreciate the goodness of the old, rather than forsaking it. In our restless society, it has become more important to be ‘woke’ than to be wise. There is a great pressure to ‘keep up’, to be savvy, as we used to say. That was when people understood language more fully, read whole books rather than this blog of 500 words. 

There is no time now to study history and read deeply. We are too busy fighting and making sure we are not pushed around by others but instead WE do the pushing. Could it be, could it just be that those simple songs and simple times that are thought of as so naive and far too innocent, lacking the reality of skepticism and full of blinding hope were actually better? 

It was not a bad way to live when people were polite, when families sat around a nicely set table laden with food made by loving hands, and talked and laughed and cherished each other. The father at one end of the table, the mother at the other. Prayer was offered and all was just as it should be. A knock at the door was not feared, rather another chair was added to the table and food was passed.  This picture actually offends so many now; the thought of anything so picturesque must be eradicated. The present age of tomfoolery has no time for beauty, preferring instead to focus on how to make the world uglier.  Would that we could return to the days of love and understanding, of affection and kindness, of politeness and respect.

These thoughts meander through my mind as I watch my grandson’s eyes flutter and close, I listen to the lilting western ballad and my heart is encouraged that there are still some who live far away from the noise and there is hope that this child will not see the destruction of our society that is going on in the false name of justice. I hope that he, a white boy, or any of our other grandchildren – black and brown included, will not be judged by the color of their skin as so many seem to think is appropriate in these progressive times. 

The world has taken a turn for the worse; what was evil is now seen as good and what was good is now evil. The beauty of life on the range is unfamiliar to the angry protesters and to much of our society.  With blinded eyes, most could not see the goodness of a life lived outside the fog of mediocrity that is all the rage, where no one can do well and all must settle for the lowest denominator. In such a society, there is no use for beauty or striving for excellence – all must be the same.

Mock me if you choose, I prefer to follow a higher calling. Yes, head in the clouds, I will cling tightly to hope.  I choose to look up and to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, full of virtue, praise-worthy. It’s peculiar, I know. But who wants to follow the madding crowd? I’m happy coming out from among them, living high on a mountain, listening to beautiful music, and generally  being a peculiar person. Wow – that sounds, well, almost Biblical.

II Cor.6:17    Phil. 4:8


On Pilgrims and Indians

IMG_0254It’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving and I am sitting at the piano in our little church on the reservation. We talked, last Sunday evening, about how the Navajo word for Thanksgiving was, for a long time, Little Christmas (Kishmish).  Our pastor says there was no understanding of the history of Thanksgiving and so it was seen as a precursor to Christmas, minus the presents.

He is a good and kind person and it shows in his view of life. He says he is grateful for boarding school because, even in the hardship, it was the place he first heard of God. He is grateful for his wife who followed Christ before him and helped to lead him to Christ and away from Native traditional religion. He is a gentle person and it is seen in how he treats those around him. I have read that after a few years, a church will take on much of the personality of the pastor and I see that here. There is a yearning to learn and a kindness which seems to flow from him and is seen exhibited in the church body as a whole.

We planned our feast last week. Jokingly, someone asked who would be a Pilgrim and I raised my hand, “I will!” We all had a good laugh over that and one of the ladies spoke of how the history of Thanksgiving is being erased because of political correctness. Yes, we live out here where many have only a generator and haul their water, and outhouses are not an unknown, but the reality of life helps one to see through much of the falseness of our present culture. 

On this special morning, our son and daughter-in-law sit by our side and shi nali, our grandson, sits on my husband’s lap. We sing in English and we sing in Navajo as the room continues to fill. My husband comes forward to play the guitar and I am blessed to sing with the pastor’s daughter – God Binahji’ Adaniit’e – Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. My heart fills with joy as our voices blend and we sing from our beautiful Navajo hymnal, Jesus Woodlaaji Sin. We have all been leaning on those arms and they are holding us now as we join in worship.

Our longtime friends have arrived from Window Rock. We have spent many Thanksgivings together. They look at our son and remember  aloud the day we laid him in his cradleboard, their gift to us at his birth. How did he grow so tall? They share his Navajo name with the others – Little Boy of White Clay Mountain – Ash Kii Glaesh Ni De Gai, the name given to him by one of  the men in our church there.  Of course he does not remember this, but he is the baby they cared for before he even knew them and they will always remember him brand new and wrapped tightly in his cradleboard.  It is a bittersweet moment as they are reminded of their own son in heaven awaiting them. Our hearts are closely joined, having experienced the joys and sorrows of life as we have traveled through the years.

The Pastor preaches and shares his thankfulness to God for many things – for His beautiful creation of each one of us, His plan for each life, His sacrificial death. He talks of how Christ loved us so. His life was not taken; it was given. He reads a Psalm of thankfulness and I look around and am filled to overflowing with thankfulness for this gathering. His words flow from English to Navajo and back again, making sure all understand. It is a beautiful scene, with the wood stove crackling cheerfully in a little church in a big desert.

We worship simply, there is no fanciness about us, but we are a family, united in the bonds of Christ. Time is given for testimony and several rise to thank God for their families, His provision, His work in lives.  We are thankful for the small things and the big things and we realize the importance of both.

After the service we gather next door to eat and fellowship. We have all been generous in our contributions of food.  There is everything — turkey, mashed potatoes, freshly made tortillas, homemade yeast rolls, olives, sweet potatoes, steamed corn and mutton. We visit and eat and enjoy one another just as the attendees at that first Thanksgiving. It began in 1621, when Pilgrims and Indians joined to Give Thanks.  398 years later we remain, Pilgrims and Indians, grateful for God’s provision and each other.

Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore. – Diyin God Bizaad – Psalm 133 


Walk in Beauty

IMG_1859My husband and I often talk of the lives we’ve lived. Yes, I meant lives, plural, for we have journeyed much and been allowed the experience of learning different people and places. There is a distinct culture to every place. Each person has a tribe, not just those we think of as tribal peoples. We are all tribal to a certain extent, for we know our ways and our family’s ways and we find comfort in the familiar.  We know this, my husband and I, and we have talked of the differences and similarities of cultures. We have learned that people are different and people are the same. Some behaviors are everywhere and some behaviors are particular to certain places.  It is the nature of humanity.

Years ago, we began our foray into other cultures on the grand Navajo reservation. Our hearts were captured by this gentle and beautiful people. We delighted to see the sheep herder and to sit in a hogan drinking coffee while shi’ma spun her wool, spindle on her leg rolling back and forth, or shuttle sliding quickly on the loom.

It was years ago, full of child, that our good friend set up a loom for me and I sat cross-legged on the porch overlooking the Rio Puerco wash, weaving. My rug was rough, boring by Navajo standards, no Grey Mountain design for me,  simple stripes running across it, not evenly woven as the master weavers in their simple homes. I was the student and I learned to respect their art.

When our baby was born, the neighbor women arrived at our door, cradleboard in hand, and he was soon swaddled and safe in the leather thongs, wound firmly to keep him comforted. It was their tradition and we knew this was good.

That was a long time ago, and we wondered, when we moved near the reservation again, if things had changed, if the old ways still held true, if the culture we loved had vanished, if cell phones and technology had claimed another tribe as it has claimed ours. And so, we found ourselves, on a Sunday morning, headed out to the reservation just a few miles away, to join our people in worship. The road wound out into the desert and I gazed at the wide open country.

Was it? It was. It was true. A beautiful sight met my eyes – a man herding his sheep and goats – and though others will not understand, to our eyes, it was a beautiful sight. It was our first gift of the day and we did not know that God had a plan and our cup would overflow with His goodness to us.

For fifteen miles we drove, until we came to a small town and found a simple church. Climbing out of our car, we looked at each other. It had been many years, but we wanted the simpleness of this place. We have been in many churches and heard many speakers. We have listened to men with many letters after their name. And along the way, we have wondered if somehow, there has been a puffing up with knowledge and a loss of wisdom.

Quietly, we stepped into the sparse room and found a spot to sit on the side. The pastor, an elderly Navajo gentleman, was just finishing his Sunday School lesson and the sound of the beautiful Navajo language fell soothingly on our ears. Smiles came our way and a woman showed us where the teacher was in the book of Romans. Another came and whispered that there was water, lemonade, coffee, and cookies in the back on the table. Help ourselves as we wished. A man came and asked my husband who we were and he replied we lived on a nearby ranch.

Soon it was time to sing and a beautiful elderly lady stepped forward to lead the singing.

“We’re going to sing in Navajo.” she told us. “You can join us.”

We were given a Navajo songbook. Our hearts lifted with the goodness of God. It had been years since we sang in Navajo, back in that little mission church so like this one. I found myself gulping back tears as we lifted our voices to sing.

Of course, our fellow worshipers noticed our singing and when it was time for testimonies, they called us forward.

“Come! Share a testimony with us!” and we stepped to the front and briefly shared our history – that we were so happy to be with them and we delighted to sing with them and that it felt like we had come home. They rejoiced with us and the pastor claimed us as one of their own.

Then he preached – going from Navajo to English and back for our benefit. The simple words of a man who trusts, who gets up every morning and simply trusts. These people do not have the luxury of going off to some school of higher education and it sometimes seems as if they, knowing they must rely on God for everything, humbly begging for His wisdom, are less full of themselves and more full of Him. I work in a world of educators, but I am not foolish enough to think these gentle, beautiful people cannot teach me many things.

As the service closed, one of the ladies motioned to me, asking if I could play the long unused piano. I stepped forward and as I stepped to the piano, the years fell away and I was back on that reservation of old, back with God’s blessed people, worshiping in spirit and in truth.  As two women prepared the frybread for the following potluck, my husband’s voice rang with joy as he joined the small group of believers in the last song.

The Navajo are known for hozho naasha – the belief that it is important to Walk in Beauty. There is much to this, including traditional worship. However, there is a respect for God’s creation and for His goodness that I believe is easily understood and exhibited by these gentle people because of this and is brought to fullness in their understanding of God. Their very view and expectation of life directs them to look for truth, for goodness, and for beauty….and that is found in Christ.

Last Sunday, we went to church and walked in beauty in a special place with special people.



Late Night Reflections

IMG_3611C.S. Lewis once wrote, ‘ You can never find a cup of tea big enough, or a book long enough to suit me.’  At this late hour, with my cup of tea by my side, surrounded by my precious books, I feel a kinship with the great man.  It’s late, very late, and I  am tucked up in the quietness of our home office, my special place, the place that is fast becoming my thinking spot.

It is good to reflect in these quiet night hours. It is good to reflect on all things good and beautiful, on the blessings of the week. Tonight as I put the water on to heat and prepared the teapot, I thought of the many times through the years when tea was prepared in our home, taken to a birthday child, brought to a sick parent, lovingly embellished for an evening of Masterpiece viewing. Tea has played a large role in the lives of this family. It has given us comfort and enjoyment, encouraged a sense of oneness and given each of us a better understanding of beauty and goodness.

Tea is our shared experience. It is more than a beautiful cup, although that is important. It is more than a fine leaf, although that is also important. In our home, it is our remembered ritual. The making of the tea, the choice of blend, the careful picking of a special cup, the perfect teapot, the arranging of the tray just so, sugar cubes, cream….In the hustle and bustle of life, there will always be a hearkening back to those times, those precious tea times we cherish. It is a gift that each child has taken with them as they ventured out into the wide world. Nothing can take it away and, as each one has made sure, there will always be a teapot and lovely cup to transport the soul to a quiet place.

This week as I sat working quietly at my desk, the door quietly opened and there was our son, now an adult, and, thankfully, still a lover of beauty,

“Would you like some tea, Mom?”               IMG_3613

Lovingly, he carried a tray with hot tea, cream, and sugar and placed it on my desk. I gulped.

“Oh God, thank you for this kindness. This good thing.” I whispered in my heart. How quickly the hours flew, as I sipped my tea and continued my writing.

The next morning, busily at work again, our sweet daughter, again ever so quietly opened the door,

” Mom, would you like some tea?” IMG_3615

Oh dear Lord, thank you for this goodness. “Yes, that would be great.”

And again,another tray. A different teapot, a different cup, and crisp toast. God is good to show His goodness in the loving touches of our children. And so it continued. These lovely souls, children by birth, servants by choice, lovingly ministering to another. These are grateful moments, never to be taken for granted. 

The ritual of tea continues to unite us. In this fast paced, often coarse and jarring world, it is a comfort to know that the hours spent creating beauty and believing in goodness are not wasted. There are still children and adults who notice. Though the world may scoff at niceties, I make no apologies, for there is still a difference to be made. There is a loveliness to our ritual that is not necessarily the teapot or the cup. It is the caring and the giving, the kindness of time taken.  It is true and it is good and it is very beautiful.

Whatsoever things are lovely…think on these things. Phil. 4:8



The Simple Kind of Life is Splendid

IMG_2927The sun shone brightly as we stepped out into the cold morning air. Silver slivers of ice covered the ground. We were headed out to do the chores, my granddaughter and I.   Lambs baaing, dogs barking, and goats bleating welcomed us in a beautiful orchestra of morning music.  I had slipped my daughter’s barn boots on before leaving the house and I was free to slosh through any mud, ice, or muck we met on this adventure.

“Come on, Nonna Kathy! Come see my pony.” and off we went on this wonderful, beautiful morning on the farm.  The sky was blue, the animals talked, and we laughed and turned our faces to the bright sunshine.  Soon the ice on the pony’s water was broken and I found myself with arms wrapped around a soft furry neck and memories pouring over me…..


It was a school day, but that mattered nothing to my sister and I. We may have overslept and missed the bus, we sometimes grew wild as flowers, although very cultivated flowers. Children of older parents, ours was an extraordinary situation. Our parents loved us in a way only older parents can; appreciation of the beauty of childhood grows as parents age. They loved us so and we would not like to disappoint them but we knew they understood that we were not bad for having missed school. We loved music and books and that was the basis for a very good education, one in which thinking blossomed. Today was a day for leisurely learning, the kind that required being together exploring the great outdoors. Today nature would be our classroom.

We headed to the pasture to find our ponies, Big Red and Duke.  They were soon saddled and off we went to ride the country roads. There is nothing quite so enjoyable as ambling down a country lane, when one should be in school, one leg wrapped around the saddle horn, chatting and laughing together. That is just what we did, my sister and I.   We were young and free and completely oblivious to the fact that ours was a charmed life and that we were making memories that would last a lifetime.  The cliche of ‘living in the moment’ had not become popular yet and so we must have been ahead of our time.

Late in the afternoon we climbed happily off our trusty steeds and waved as the school bus passed by.  It was a day well spent and we would return to the stuffy old classroom refreshed and ready to hit the books in the morning.  We smiled at each other. We were pals in the best sense of the word.

All of these memories wandered through my mind as I followed my lovely granddaughter through her morning chores and around the farm.  My heart felt as if it would burst as the ponies ran to the fence to greet us and the lambs scampered across the pasture.  Somehow, in this crazy world of technological tomfoolery there is still a place where children learn in God’s classroom and young girls run free.  In a few years there will be sisters riding ponies together on the hills and smiling at one another and never realizing, yet somehow knowing, theirs is a charmed life. Sometimes the simple life shines in all its glory and we are blinded by its light and we know in our hearts that in that very simpleness there is God and there is goodness and it is, as my father would have said, Splendid.


An Ark for Me

IMG_2816Driving along narrow country roads has never been my cup of tea. I prefer the wide vistas of Arizona to the narrow country roads of the east. But here I was. My job had called me to Kentucky and I was left with a free day, my plane not leaving until evening.  This was my chance to visit the much talked about Ark Encounter, a replica of the biblical Ark, built with the exact dimensions given in God’s instructions to Noah.

Rising early, I ate the rather artificial hotel breakfast — Were they real eggs? Probably not—packed my bags, and headed out for an adventure.  The trip was to take an hour and a half. I typed the address, 1 Ark Encounter Drive, into my phone, and started on my way. The drive seemed simple enough. The first hour was straight driving on the freeway; easy going with a smattering of rain.  I listened to the Kentucky radio station and hummed along.

And then, the British voice on my navigation system directed me to turn off the main road onto a lovely little two-laned highway…..for 15 miles.  The thin country road meandered through the Kentucky boondocks with steep hills, pastured cows, and as many twists and turns as it takes to make a stranger downright scared.  Where was I going? Would I end up in the proverbial ‘holler’?  I remembered a Reader’s Digest article of a traveler in Iceland who ended up miles from his planned destination because of his know-it-all GPS. My heart beat a little faster, but I talked myself back into a calmer state.  

As one does when one is driving down an unfamiliar road by one’s self, I began to think about life and the surprises it hands us.  Sometimes good things burst upon us and we are surrounded by joy.  Other life events leave us empty and hurting, not sure what to think, but knowing we are still called to follow the Instructor.   We start out with our grand scheme and somewhere along the way things happen and we wonder just where we are.  We would never grow in our relationship to our Savior without experiencing both blessing and burden. Yes, all of life is purely biblical, and even as I tossed up a quick prayer, I knew God was reminding me of this. 

On, I traveled, purposing that all was well and if I kept on I would surely find myself in the place I ended up!  My instructor (Oh why did I set that voice on the British accent? She has a way of making me feel a fool!) directed me to turn and turn again and I breathed a sigh of relief —- 1 Ark Encounter Drive.  

Yes, here it was.  I parked my rental car, slipped on my sneakers, grabbed my bag,and headed to the ticket booth. Stepping out of the shuttle, I  stood, amazed at the enormity of the Ark and all that happened in it. Despite the storm, Noah and his family and all of those many animals floated on to safety. 

Not all arks are made of wood. If we trust, we will one day top a hill and see our Ark.  It’s not a rainbow. It’s not a promise that all afflictions will vanish. It’s a safe place to ride out the storm.  It’s our Heavenly Father holding us tightly when we feel as if our world is falling apart.  It’s Elohim — The Strong and Faithful One. 

I stood on the second deck, surrounded by cages that would have rescued two of each kind. Looking up through the center of this massive lifeboat I could see  the open holes protected by the high roof, skylights of a sort. It seemed I looked straight up to heaven and I thought of my Savior, my Ark, who carries me safely through calm waters and raging storms, always knowing, ever present.

Driving back to catch my plane and wing my way to hearth, home, and husband, my heart overflowed.  It was appropriate that the heavens opened and I drove through  a torrent of rain as I traveled back over that tiny country road.  I hummed an old hymn to myself…The Lord’s our rock in Him we hide….a shelter in the time of storm….

Let the storms rage on. I’ve found my safe place.  I’m safe in The Ark.



Christmas On The Mountain

Christmastime was a grand event at our little country church. Not grand in the way that our present culture counts grandness, but in a true and uncomplicated way.  We looked forward to the Sunday School program each year. Practices were held every Saturday morning in December and all children faithfully attended. Life was slower then. Church was important and the celebration of the birth of the Christ child took precedence over all else.IMG_2621

Our father drove us faithfully to practice each Saturday and we memorized our parts in preparation for the big day.  Each class had its turn and of course every child longed to  be chosen for the coveted role of Mary or Joseph. Even the littlest class had poems or scripture to recite and worked hard to learn their parts.

There was always a real tree donated by some church member and decorated by all. Under the tree, were nestled the gifts we received from our Sunday School teachers —– farmer’s wives, grandmothers, women who loved God and children. Each showed up for Sunday School equipped with lessons often taught with flannelgraph. Their images remain in my mind to this day.

How we looked forward to that special night. The gifts were simple, pencils with verses, and my favorite, the slide puzzles with a verse to be placed in order by sliding the pieces  to the proper spot.

At the end of the program the pastor would step to the front of the church and share a short message reminding us of Christ’s birth and the Father in heaven who sent His Son in the form of a baby to save the world. The story, spoken sincerely,  while lights twinkled on the tree and dear folks listened respectfully, was ever new and always old, just as God’s work in our life.  When the last hymn was sung, the happy congregation visited with one another as they filed to the back of the church. Waiting at the door were the Christmas bags filled with hard candy and a juicy orange, accepted with excitement and enjoyed thoroughly by grateful children and adults. We stepped out of the church to a cold winter night, often with a light snow floating down.

It was all so simple — a quiet church in a little vale, a country pastor, familiar Christmas carols, families seated in wooden pews, mothers holding babies, fathers smiling proudly as they looked down their row of children.  Families were larger in those days, a symbol of love and something to be admired.

Memories can sometimes be larger than life, and it is often a temptation, especially in the present age when life has become so cynical, to hear stories of the past with a wry expression on one’s face and a rolling of the eyes.  But I like to think that the important things in life are still going on, that there will always be a Christmas program in that little country church, that families still gather to sing the great old hymns of Christmas, children still hope they will be chosen to play the part of Mary, and that a pastor still tells the ever new and always old story of the Father who sent his Son to save us.


The Strength of Tradition


IMG_2619Press it thinner.” my mother said, and I struggled to press the soft sandkaker dough into the metal form.  I knew that the dough needed to be just the right thickness in order for the sandkaker to bake properly.  My young hands worked hard, fingers pressing the dough to the sides of the metal tin, shaped like the outside of a cupcake.  It was Christmas and the krumkaker must be made.  

Tradition was important in our home. Krumkaker and sandkaker must be made, mixed nuts along with the nutcracker, bowls of mints, and of course fruit, must be laid out on Christmas day. All of these to nibble on while we waited for the special dinner to cook. 

The night before, Christmas Eve, we set out a tea cup and cookies for Santa because we knew OUR Santa drank tea. He also knocked on the stovepipe that ran up into the upstairs bedroom, and shouted Ho-Ho-Ho to our delight. We were all together on Christmas Eve, as tradition dictated all five girls must sleep together on that night in anticipation of the early morning when we would rise early, peek at our stockings, and make breakfast for our patient parents, who lovingly consumed burnt toast and runny eggs with courageous smiles.

Our stockings were filled with cupie dolls, chocolate bells, ribbon candy, and marshmallow Santas. Tucked in the toe was a lovely orange.  On Christmas morning there were no rules about eating. We gobbled our chocolate while taking turns opening our gifts. There was the year Dad donned each article of clothing he received which brought us great laughter as he stepped into his new winter coveralls and continued to hand out gifts.  

The Christmas tree was always decorated on our brother Steven’s birthday, the 21st of Dec. We trudged to the knoll or above the shale pit  –  there was a name for each field on the farm –  to cut down a homegrown tree.  We dragged it home to be decorated with glass ornaments, being careful not to break the little glass church and other special pieces. Candy canes came next and lastly the tinsel, always with the warning to hang it one strand at a time, for tinsel hanging is an art. Compared to the lights we use today, the lights on our tree were big, even a bit garish, but we loved them and all their bright colors.  

Maybe it was because our grandparents were immigrants or maybe it was just the time in which we lived, but our Christmases seemed to be ordered by old world traditions that I have come to appreciate more and more with each passing year.  Perhaps this is why I find myself setting my special Christmas books out, placing the pine boughs over the living room archway, hanging those special ornaments on the tree, insisting the tree should be decorated on Dec 16th, my husband’s birthday, and filling two stockings.

The children are grown and there is no need to continue the traditions, but my mother taught me something long ago as I pressed the dough in the krumkaker forms.  It is important to establish traditions for they form the structure on which we hang our lives.  Life is fragile and often changeable, but tradition is strong and helps to strengthen our connection to all that is good. In the rush of everyday life, the getting ahead, it is a comfort to know that certain things will always be. 

On Christmas Eve we will gather for our traditional Christmas Eve pasta and sauce followed by the candlelight service. Christmas morning is different now, with only the two of us.  We rise late, enjoy our coffee, open gifts, and travel to our daughter’s home for dinner. Shouts of Merry Christmas will greet us, little voices will tell of their Christmas morning in a house filled with wrapping paper and toys. They will be full of chocolate from their stockings and they will have left cookies for Santa.  They will be too full to eat a proper Christmas dinner, but I hope they have room for the sandkaker.



Lessons From My Mother

Richer than I you can never be; I had a mother who read to me. – No, that was not the case in our home growing up, for our father did the reading. Our mother sang. She sang her way through life and along the way dropped morsels of wisdom I never noticed until she was gone. She lived a busy, full, exhausting life and then she stepped out and left me with far more goodness than I deserve. The mother I knew – and of course in a family of nine children, each child experiences their parent differently – the mother I knew speaks to me daily, for I carry so much of her in the way I view life and the things I hold important.

My older siblings remember a time when our mother did not work outside the home. Some remember coming home from school to hot bread, fresh from the oven. That was not the experience for the last of us. MY mother arrived at 4:30 each afternoon, dressed in a white nurse’s uniform complete with white hose, white shoes, and her elegant nurse’s cap perched neatly on her head. She would have her hair done once weekly at the beauty parlor for she must look her best. She took great pride in her appearance and profession as a nurse. How well I remember attending our mother’s capping ceremony. It was a magnificent accomplishment for her and we, her children, along with our father, were there to honor her. You see, she did not start her nurse’s training until after the birth of her ninth child. The mother I knew worked full time, sang in the choir, sewed dresses for the holidays, fed the masses (that would be us), welcomed people into her home….my mother, in her everyday life, did so many things, and just when I think I’ve remembered them all, someone tells me of something else she did. I found this out when speaking to a colleague of hers, another nurse, after her death.

“Oh! Your mother was ‘The Singing Nurse’. That’s what she was known as in the hospital. She helped me through the hardest time of my life.’

So this was what my mother was doing while I was at school and completely unaware. I thought she was simply doing her job and then coming home to us at day’s end with fruit she had picked up at the P&C. But no, my mother loved people and so she must always have an open heart and an open door, for we had many people in our home over the years. And truly, no matter what society says, it is the lady of the home who creates a welcoming atmosphere.

When I look at the parents of today, so afraid they might not do things right, so afraid to let their children out of their sight, so afraid to let their children simply BE without being entertained, so afraid of EVERYthing, I wish they could sit at the feet of my mother. She approached each day with a common sense attitude. There were no podcasts to listen to to give her advice on mothering. She simply parented with a confidence, not in herself, but in the fact that one must do what must be done and with the humility of knowing things would not always turn out right, but that was to be expected. God was in His heaven and all would be right with the world even when things were hard. Now, parents stress and cause their children to stress over the littlest things. In a world that professes to let go, we are holding on to control more tightly than ever.

I admire my mother for her fortitude, for the complete confidence that we would be alright as we spent our summers running through the fields, swimming in the ponds, climbing trees, and much too high in the haymow. We rode high atop hay wagons, burdened with far too many bales, having no sense of fear as we swayed back and forth. We ran down the lane to find the cows who came running at the sound of our voices, eager to be fed and milked. We rode our bikes and horses skinning our knees and galloping at the fastest speed our little horses could manage. And she let us! She let us! I will always be thankful to her for this. She was not the prissy mother, allowing only two cookies per child and nagging with unneeded correction. When my mother corrected me, it was because I needed it. Few and far between were those corrections, which is just as it should be when the correction is honest and true.

She was not a person without standards. There were certain things that were extremely important to her and I learned to treasure them. They are standards in my life today. We must love music. It was her doing that drove me to learn to play clarinet and piano – never a maestro in either. I remember those Thursdays getting off the schoolbus and trudging up the long walk to the parsonage so Mrs. Colson could teach me. What patience she must have had. And later, when it was time to continue with piano and voice lessons, there was the wonderful Mr. Mobley, a true gentleman, who would patiently guide me through ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. There were musicals on the record player and Jerome Hines and George Beverly Shea singing beautiful hymns. I listened to her sing Ave Maria as her friend’s son was married. And once, in my memories of long ago, I watched my mother join a choir to sing Handel’s Messiah. When I was 13, it was expected that I would join the choir, for we were a singing family. This was the world my mother opened to me.

Without a word, she walked me into the value of tradition and respect for beauty as each holiday, tucked up in our very rural corner of the world, we took part in special observances — Christmas mints must always be put out along with nuts for cracking. The Currier & Ives china must always be used. It was she who reminded us of our Norwegian heritage when we helped to make the sandkaker or stood watching her make the krumkaker. I think of her when I make these treats even now. I have quoted her admonition to my own children — ‘Make sure you don’t make the sandkaker too thick!’ They are hearing her through me. She has spoken to them so many times over the years and I am honored to repeat her words.

Yes, my mother, without ever noticing, taught me many lessons of life. She was strong and faithful, with a tremendous sense of humor which stood her in good stead. Even this was a lesson. So many people in our present society have lost their sense of humor. I suppose it comes from thinking too highly of one’s self. Not my mother. She knew how to laugh – at herself and at others. With her quick wit and love of wordplay she equipped us with a knowledge of language that has served us well. How many times did she tell us we must clean up for ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperus’. Of course we knew that was a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about a ship that had wrecked. How many little poems and ditties she taught us, all of them sharpening our use of words and without any spoken admonishment, leading us more deeply into an appreciation of language.

Sometimes I think the art of parenting is a vanishing art. It is not because it is impossible. It is merely that society has changed. Whatever the reason, there is a great temerity in parenting in these present times. It makes me remember once again that lessons are often not spoken, but rather lived, and that we ought not rely upon our words as much as our actions. Traditions, routines, example – these are the tools of learning. Parents don’t have to be perfect, just committed, as was my mother.

And there is one more thing, one very little big thing —– there is love. With all the busyness of life, me in school, my mother working, entertaining, singing, living…..she loved me. She loved us all. We never doubted her love. Not the frilly, silly love we hear so much about today. This was the day in, day out, I’ll be there in the good and bad times love. The love that expects something of you because they treasure you. The love that gives its all. There is a great confidence that grows in the heart of a child when they are enveloped in this kind of love.

Can it really be forty years since she stepped from this world to the next? For it seems she is still here, teaching me every day. I look forward to all I have yet to learn.

Today He Sent Me Bluebirds

                                                         He sees the sparrows when they fall.     

He hears the righteous when they callIMG_0303 (2)

He counts the hairs upon my head.

By Him all living things are fed.

If God so clothes the grass and flower,

He surely cares for me each hour. 

He surely cares for me each hour. 

I need to be getting ready for church but the bluebirds are flying and I must stop and watch them. I wasn’t expecting this. Years ago, when our family moved to the great Navajo reservation, I met my first bluebird. In a little settlement in the Pine Springs area, in a small hogan church, we sang songs and taught Bible stories to beautiful little children attending the nearby boarding school. They were there out of choice. The families lived a distance from the day school and so had chosen to send their children to the boarding school each week. And it was here, among the juniper trees that I saw my first bluebird, the color of turquoise flitting in and out of sight, beautiful and bright and capturing my heart.  

There is no falsity about a bluebird. Their color stands out boldly against the brown of the desert or the green of the juniper trees. They do not hide. They cannot.  God has made them bright and blue as if to say, ‘There, see now what I have done. I have given you a thing of beauty.’ 

I have been waiting for the bluebirds for six months, ever since I moved back to the high country. In the quietness of my mind, I have thought of them and hoped to see them, for they remind me that God deals with us individually, not simply in general terms. There are those who view God with a faraway understanding. They see Him as an impersonal God who directs things from afar and has no time to minister to the individual. But God is not like that. 

 Many times, as I ran down the cinder road, these past months, I would ask God to show me a bluebird. It was not just for a pleasant memory, but a sort of reassurance that in this chaotic world certain things remain untouched, that bluebirds still fly in the high country, and God still ‘deals in the affairs of men’. It’s the knowing that in our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows, God remains. 

And then, in the quietness of a Sunday morning,  he sent me bluebirds, flocks of bluebirds, flying about and perching on the water trough. I stood and rejoiced and knew that yes, my God cares. He sees me, standing alone in the desert and He sent me bluebirds. 

“Oh yes! Thank you!”  I spoke it aloud and tears ran down my cheeks. I thought of the happy blessings He bestows and was thankful and I thought of the sad times  He allows and was thankful. I thought of the people I rejoice to see daily and those I long for, of those I am privileged to hold tight and of those I yearn to hold. I stood, near the corral, looking at all the bluebirds, thanking God for every one.

Walking to the house, I mulled over the goodness of God in ministering to me on this beautiful Sunday morning. Into the kitchen I went and poured myself some coffee. I was alone this Sunday morning which was unusual. Usually my husband and I are getting ready together and chatting as we do. But he was spending special time hunting with our son and I was happy for them. I walked to the kitchen door which leads to the back verandah. I would look out on the Painted Desert this morning.  I opened the door wide to let in the morning sunshine—–and there he was.

Standing outside my door, preening in the light, was my very own bluebird. I could hardly believe my eyes. God surprised me again. He gives so generously – ‘in good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over’. My heart swelled with gratitude. My Heavenly Father loves me. Today He sent me bluebirds.

IMG_0316 (2)

Behold, the fowls of the air, they sow not neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Talk to Strangers

Her name is Mary and she is my welcome home committee when I return from my travels. I remember the first time I met her, climbing into the airport shuttle after leaving my car in East Economy.  I waited at the curb and she pulled up, swung open the door, and welcomed me with her bright smile.

“I’ll get that for you.”

She reached down and firmly took my suitcase from me, placing it in the holding rack.  Yes, that was the first time I met Mary and I’ve been meeting her ever since.


Society says we shouldn’t talk to strangers and does everything it can to promote a distrust of those we don’t know. Children are raised to avert their eyes from others, unless they are acquainted with them. But not Mary. Mary talks to strangers and sees her job as shuttle driver as a way to visit with people. She does not know that her work in the world is important, that people need to be welcomed. She has no agenda. 

For almost six years now, Mary’s been welcoming me, a friendly face when I return from places where there are lots of strangers. We are different and we are alike. She is in her seventies, African-American, raised in Texas. I am me – a fair skinned, Italian/Norwegian, grandchild of immigrants, raised in upstate New York. Mary has no family here in the heat of Phoenix. She lives alone but she likes to go on cruises and tell me about her latest trip in our short rides around East Economy parking. I have children and grandchildren and am often surrounded by family, but I like cruises too and we meet at that point. 

I rarely talk about my work trips to Mary, answering only where I’m returning from. I like to listen to her. Last time I climbed aboard Mary’s chariot, she had both good and bad news for me. She had just returned from visiting her dying brother. He had had a long battle with cancer. Mary was philosophical about it. He had been sick for a long time and though she hated to say goodbye, she also hated his suffering. She had said her goodbyes and returned to Phoenix. This is how Mary sees life – one must do what must be done. 

She came home and was now waiting to see if she would receive the loan she needs to buy a small home in Sun City. I hope she does. Mary’s a worker. She asks for nothing and smiles at the hardships of life. She greets everyone with a smile and offers friendly conversation to all. When she moves to her new home, she’ll cut back on her work days. Selfishly, I hope she won’t cut back too much. It will be lonely to climb on board and see a different face.

Sometimes I miss Mary’s shift and a man with a memorized talk tells me about the airport. I know about the airport and I turn my mind off and sit with a frozen look on my face while my mind goes to other places. I can’t wait to get to my stop, then. All I can think is that he’s not Mary and now I have a long drive home without the pleasure of our short visit. Mary always makes the drive better.

We need more Marys in this world – more people to greet us with a smile and ask how our trip went, to make us realize the world is not always frightening and that an airport shuttle can be a place of comfort.  In the busyness of life, we tend to overlook the importance of lifting one’s face from our phones and smiling at others. We need more Marys to show us it’s important to talk to strangers.