I counted forty Canadian
Geese on the lawn behind the
The northern geese quietly congregate to graze the grassy area. When Zoë insistently pulls me closer, they do not flee nor do they hiss and honk. They remain calm, though they are watchful and alert.
As the weather cools a bit and Fall creeps up on us, we will hear flocks of wild geese flying overhead. It is a particularly beautiful sight when there is a full moon and a few clouds peppering the sky. The sound of geese in the night evokes, for me, many of the same feelings as the lonesome sound of a freight train traveling through the darkness to places far away.
The effects of light…
For happiness is not what makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.
- David Steindl-Rast
A Listening Heart
The moment did not come until I sat down at the keyboard. I poured fresh coffee into my bright yellow coffee cup, hoping to find some pleasure in the look and feel of the cup and from the black gold within. It was not, however, the coffee or the cup that captured my attention and spurred my sense of beauty and gratitude into wakefulness. An unexpected view caught my eye. A view that was not evident in the past. The unexpected quality of light pouring through the kitchen window took my breath away.
Until recently we ate our
kitchen meals perched on bright red bar stools at an oak island. Since grandchildren
This morning, as I took my place in front of the laptop, I glanced through the pantry door (into the area we call “the Meson”.) and was rewarded with a scenario befitting any calendar or postcard. This lovely vignette could grace the cover of a home decorating magazine. I would not have caught his view from my island seat, but now seated on my ladder back chair, the perspective is just right.
It is a humble, homey view, but enough to nurture my sense of abundance and remind me how much there is to be grateful for.
The light has gone now and the moment has passed. The white framed window with the arrangement of “Noxema-jar-blue” bottles, plates and vases is still pleasing, but there was a moment when these items served as an inspiration. I will keep my eyes open to catch such a moment again.
The table in the kitchen seems to please the cat too. The usually reclusive creature is sprawled on a nearby chair (Randi’s spot at the table) where he is taking care of his daily ablutions with a proprietary air that cats often assume. As I pause to watch him, he pauses and looks at me quizzically and then resumes his activity.
Kitchens, in my experience, have always been place to gather and linger. Zoë agrees. She has claimed a spot under the table these days. Children in the house mean more opportunities for dropped food and now with the table in the kitchen the odds are even higher that she will score an in-between meals snack.
Having the children here gives us the opportunity to rethink many things. How we use space is one of the things that I mull over. I like the idea of using space wisely. Multipurpose rooms fascinate me. It takes discipline to maintain a small space; cleaning, clutter and cultivating restraint when it comes to shopping are issues that must be taken seriously.
The dining room is now Miss
Miranda’s sleeping and play room. The TV and craft room is now
My allotted time is gone and my coffee has grown cold. It is time to shower and head out the door to work on the EHS web page. It is Friday and I can smell the weekend ahead…
Waling with grandkids…
Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.
We walked Miss Zoë
between thunder showers last night. Mark
“Last one to the stop sign is a rotten egg!” yelled one of the grandchildren and then they were off and running. Gramma joined in too. It must have been a comical sight since I was wearing a long denim skirt and sandals –hardly running wear! Despite the handicap of unsuitable attire and age, I managed to catch up to the redheads and I am sure I could have beat them if I hadn’t remembered my “dignity” and resumed my grandmotherly poise almost as quickly as I set it aside moments earlier!
We were, technically, playing hooky as we were out for our evening walk. The PTO meeting at middle school was on the schedule, but the walk seemed like a much better time. Don’t turn us in.
thunder shower ruled out football practice, something I was happy to skip quite
frankly. Of course
We do have a good time walking and talking.
On another walk
earlier this week we spent some time feeding stale bread to demanding geese at
the mill pond near Randi’s school and then broke into
another impromptu race across the vacant field behind the
Without a pause for explanation, I put my finger to my lips in the universal signal for silence and began a quiet, contemplative walk along the paths of the labyrinth. The red-heads fell in line behind me and respectfully, did not speak.
I could not have anticipated heir cooperation. It is so unlikely that two energetic children would simply fall in line and walk quietly around and around and around, but they did. The experience was uplifting for many reasons.
As we finished the labyrinth, the sun was setting over the pond. The sounds of cicadas soothed us and fireflies were beginning to dart about captivating us with their tiny twinkling lights.
No story last night. Mark is the story reader. We returned from our walk a bit later than usual. I think the football player got in more running than he ever does at practice and I know Randi and I did! The kids put on jimmies and by the time Mark arrived home, they were ready to head off to bed to recharge for another day.
Today, I have jury duty…more on that tomorrow no doubt!
Refrigerator “art” & some peace and quiet…
Eyes see only light, ears hear only sound, but a listening heart perceives meaning.
- David Steindl-Rast
A Listening Heart
The weekend is over and for a few hours I have the luxury of having the house to myself again.
The blue and white tile of the kitchen floor shines, the stainless steel sink is polished and glistens, the golden oak kitchen table shimmers under a coat of Old English Oil, and, after a weekend of overcast skies, the sun is shining through the windows promising a pleasant day.
I am seated at the table, sipping black coffee from my favorite mug, a sturdy, cheery yellow, Bosco mug. I like this time of day. The grandchildren and husband have been launched into the big world, the dog has walked me, and the kitchen is in order and is an inviting place to linger.
It pleases me to
spend a few moments examining the content of my refrigerator door. It is cluttered with memorabilia, most in the
form of photographs. There is an old
black and white picture capturing my husband and me in our wedding attire,
sitting casually on the steps at the front of the church. There are snapshots of several Spanish
castles we picnicked in over the years and there is a series of photos of our
grandson at a pumpkin farm on a wonderful autumn day when we still lived in
Now that the grandchildren are in residence for a few months, the clutter has expanded to the side of the refrigerator. There, hangs a school calendar with appointments penned in and days “exed” off. Two school menus are featured and consulted (“Ewwww, southern fried chicken…gross!”) each day. There is a barrage of “important” paperwork sent home by harried teachers to make sure parents and guardians know the rules and ramifications of various behaviors.
I cannot imagine my refrigerator without a mass of photos and memos. It would certainly look bare.
Dog’s eyes, Caleb, Mom & Miranda too…
To be able to spread an aura of goodness and peace should be the motive of life.
- Paramahansa Yogananda
Zoë sits waiting patiently for me to hook her leash to collar so we can begin the morning adventure together. I pause a moment to look in her blue eyes and wonder, as I often do, what she is really thinking. Her gaze locks mine and we have a moment of silence.
Many days I find myself remembering Caleb’s blue, blue eyes and when my thoughts linger there at the doorframe of long ago memory, I can feel pressure in my throat and my eyes begin to tear. As if she knows where my thoughts have wandered, Miss Zoë often brings me back to the present with a tender lick on my hand or a snap of her jaw and a toss of her head.
Zoë’s blue eyes can be a trap for me. I can get ensnared there and make a downward slide into grief and mourning for my blue-eyed son. It has been 2 1/2 years since sweet Caleb died, but the knife to my heart is still sharp. Usually I catch myself before I indulge myself in sadness. The memories of his 26 years are vivid and filled with joy. Though he is gone, he continues to influence our lives in positive ways. Yes, there are ways to turn the moment around and make it a celebration of life, a moment of gratitude for all the blue-eyed ones who have made my life better.
When the dog’s blue eyes rest on my brown ones these days, I wrestle with memories of Mother, another blue-eyed blessing that is gone from this mortal life now.
I learned about grief and mourning from my blue-eyed mother. She lost a blue-eyed child when my sister Geraldine died of complications of diabetes when she was just 12 years old. I was a self-centered two year old then, so my memories are not reliable, but they are what I have woven into my life as truth.
During those pre-school years I remember Mother opening the truck that contained Geraldine’s toys and memorabilia. She would examine each item and share a story with me. There were drumsticks and a hula skirt, beautiful collector’s dolls and school photographs and all kinds of things of interest to a young child. Heedless of the pain I might be causing, I would beg with Mother to let me wear the hula skirt and the little Dutch Girl hat. I would ask questions about my sister. Mother would smile a sad smile, but she always answered me. Soon the mood would lighten. Mother would laugh over some memory. Soon we would tenderly put the items back into the cedar chest where they waited to comfort us again another day.
Mother died three weeks ago. Now when I look into Miss Zoë’s eyes, I see a bit of my mother there. My mother and my son. I look deeply into those eyes and reach my hand out to scratch the dog behind her attentive ears. In a moment I am on my knees, hugging her neck, finding comfort.
Suddenly, in a burst of six-year-old energy, granddaughter Miranda appears on the scene, oblivious to everything, chattering away about some very important detail of her first grade life. I look up at her blue eyes and draw a deep breath. It is like the moment when my mother laughed. I am rescued by joy.
In another moment we are out the door and down the sidewalk, the sun shining down on us as we start our morning walk.
The best way to show our gratitude to God and the people is to accept everything with joy.
- Mother Teresa
Dogs, like children, are poorly behaved in groups. They seem to forget the rules and regulations that make for an orderly existence. I generally prefer to deal with them individually rather than collectively, but eventually, they all congregate and then trouble begins.
This morning the two children and one dog gathered around the breakfast table with Grandaddy and me. The table was set with lovely placemats, cloth napkins in rings and there were fresh flowers on the table. The morning paper rested next to my plate and the smell of coffee filled the room. Soon the cheerful bowls were full of cereal and orange juice brightened the clear glasses on the kitchen table. The scene resembled a Norman Rockwell painting.
That vision did not last.
In a series of misadventures, milk spilled onto the table and leaked down on the freshly waxed floor. Brother and sister squabbled over some obscure violation, I mopped up the milk, and Grandaddy, perhaps out of a need for self protection, kept his nose buried in a novel.
Under the table, the Siberian Husky held court with our 6 year old granddaughter who should have been sitting at the table, finishing her breakfast. The normally placid dog suddenly let out a yelp and headed toward the door. Both children denied any knowledge of what happened.
I set a plate of toast on the table and was greeted by a round of polite, no thank yous.
The butter on the cooling toast congealed as the kids each poured a second bowl of cereal. By now the dog was back under the table. I sat sipping my coffee and thinking about feeding the scorned toast to the ducks and geese and the local pond. (Would they eat buttered toast or did they actually prefer dry bread?)
My reverie was short lived. Brother and sister had a disagreement and there was a foot battle going on under the table. Once again the dog yelped and lunged out of the room. This time coffee spilled and pooled across the table. Placemats, napkins and newspaper soaked up much of it, but once again, I was on my knees under the table wiping up a spill.
Finally the interminable meal ended. I cleared dishes from the table except for the plate of toast and quickly loaded the dishwasher, and then I headed for the bedroom to don my dog-walking clothes.
In minutes I returned to the kitchen for a last sip of lukewarm coffee and saw the placemats hanging off the edge of the table and an empty plate precariously balanced on the table’s edge. Miss Zoë stared up at me and I knew who the culprit was.
With breakfast behind me, it is now time to start my day.
Reflections on Miss Zoë Mae’s birthday…
I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.
- Diane Ackerman
Sunday is Miss Zoë’s third birthday. The whole thing is rather arbitrary of course since she came to us from the local Humane Society and there is not too much concrete evidence concerning her earlier years. We have pieced together a history and decided that Miss Girl is about three years old now and since she joined our lives in early August last year it is a tribute to that anniversary to also celebrate a birthday in August too.
During the course
of our year together I have dropped three clothing sizes and worn out my
walking shoes. I also feel more fit. If my daily walks were focused on reaching a
destination, the dog and I could be sipping coffee at my sister Rosemary’s farm
Another aspect of the daily dog-walking business is this: it forces one to stay in the here and now. There is a Zen quality to it. I am a person who makes lists and happily checks items off as I accomplish them. My mind organizes time and schedules activities and makes rules about what I must accomplish before I can move on to the next project. All this can be good. If production is the standard this kind of behavior is appropriate. In life however, we should focus on the immediacy of things or we miss out on so much: babies are small for only a short time; lovers grow old and die; flower blooms wither away quickly; and carefree summer days quickly give way to the bitter winds of winter (at least if you live up north!).
The daily dog walk forces me to put aside the physical lists (and usually the mental lists too). I am living in the here and now. I walk briskly and observe the world around me and I am better for this time spent in a rather purposeless activity. I come home sweaty, breathing hard and inspired.
The walks have changed over the past year, or is it I who have changed? In the beginning the walk was simply a commitment to my dog. Funny, I could not carve out the time to exercise for myself, but when I got a dog, I knew I had to do the right thing and walk her twice each day, rain or shine. Step by step, Zoë and I have racked up miles together and we are better for it.
I do not miss the hours I have spent on my end of the leash, in fact, I treasure them. In the “olden days” I would have said “no time for this, I need to ________ “(fill in the blank: go over a proposal, grade papers, do the laundry, weed the garden, read the paper, scrub the floor, etc, etc, etc). There’s that false sense of nobility that comes from sacrificing seemingly unimportant things to accomplish more onerous tasks. If you do this too rigidly, you miss out on life.
The morning walk belongs to the two of us, but the evening walk has become a time of special closeness for my husband and me. We talk of nothing and everything. We laugh a lot. On occasion some nonnegotiable outside demand has forced me to be left behind when dog-walking time rolls around. When Mark and Miss Zoë hit the trail together and leave me behind, I feel a bit bereft. It does not happen often because I want to be there. The walking time allows us time to talk. The rhythm of our footsteps seems to prime the pump for words to spill from our lips.
This past month our grandchildren have joined us on our walks. The morning walk coincides with the school bell at the nearby elementary school so first-grader Miss Miranda tags along as we stride along the pavement. I am the recipient of her confessions and confidences. Miss Zoë sniffs around and patiently slows her pace a bit to accommodate the shorter human. We drop Randi off and continue the walk at a brisker pace and enjoy the quiet again.
The evening walk
includes four of us. Eleven year old
Cameron walks backwards, telling us tales of whitewater rafting on the
Life is good, but you have to take time to recognize it sometimes. Taking a walk is a simple start.
So, we celebrate Miss Zoë’s third birthday.
Thinking about Mother’s funeral…
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
- Philo of
Of course the great battles we fight may not seem like much like battles to others. Being pleasant and cheerful under stress may not seem like much of a battle, but cultivating a calm, trust and positive attitude can be a battle at times.
Mother used to sing Christian Science hymns as she went about her housework. I am reminded of lines from “Feed My Sheep”: “Shepard show me how to go, o’er the hillside steep, how to follow, how to sow, how to feed thy sheep…I will follow and rejoice, all the rugged way” I loved that song as a child and I still find it comforting. It is true, we cannot always change our path, but we can trust and move forward with joy. Being joyful and trusting are not easy tasks. Maintaining a strong faith and being pleasant and grateful can demand character and conscious choice. There is no request that the Shepard take an easier path. The prayer (I think of it as a prayer) asks for guidance and affirms a commitment to follow with joy.
The hymns my mother shared stay with me and I find them to be helpful as I attend to my daily tasks. I am so grateful she shared them with us so faithfully. Mother was not one to sing in front of other people, but in her heart she sang out loud and strong. Usually she merely quoted the lines rather than singing them. Most days as I headed out the door to school Mother would say a few lines of some hymn or scripture or poem. The words inspired me and they linger in my mind even now and come back like angel thoughts to help me meet the challenges of each day.
The past three weeks have been filled with heady moments of joy and lots of activity. The moments of joy are like the calm at the eye of a storm.
Rosemary phoned me on Wednesday July 21st with news that Mother awoke that morning and then died peacefully within a matter of moments. It was not unexpected really because she was almost 90 and was under hospice care over the weekend. I spent the morning on the phone letting people know and then organized our things for the long trip north.
The trip took 24 hours of driving and our air conditioning was broken so we arrived at the Radloff farm tired and sweaty on Friday.
The heat index in
Friday night we gathered at the funeral home. Near the front of the church we set up a display of photographs of Mother taken over the years. I had never seen her wedding photo before and I enjoyed seeing some of the other images too. Near the entrance we placed Mother’s Science and Health and Bible and a plaque with the daily prayer on it. Rosemary arranged a few other special items and some more photos there. Mark also set up a computer generated slide show with our collection of photos. In the kitchen, grandchildren set out a meal for the family.
Many people came for the visitation. I had heard of many of the people who came, but had not met them in the past or did not remember them from my youth. I took a lot of pleasure in sharing the photos with people and sharing stories about Mother.
Following the visitation there was an Eastern Star ceremony. It was moving to see these dedicated individuals stand up and pay tribute to our mother in this special way.
The funeral was held on Saturday. It was a Christian Science funeral. Mark played a CD over the PA system of Larry Goss singing Mrs. Eddy’s hymns. Mother’s grandchildren were the pall bearers. Following a graveside ceremony we returned to the funeral home for cake and coffee and shared more stories about Mother’s life.
Saturday night the family gathered at Radloff’s farm for a “campfire”. We continued to share stories and enjoyed the fire and some watermelon and other good food. The small children raced around chasing fireflies and toasting marshmallows. Mother would have enjoyed sipping her coffee and visiting the evening away.
When I was a child I always found it peculiar that people would mourn and weep at a funeral and then would gather afterwards for a “party”. I could not understand the laughter. Of course now I know that sharing stories about the one who has died often leads to other stories and wonderful memories spill out for everyone to share. I now believe that a funeral is a celebration of joy - almost a going away party for the one who died. Mother is off on a great journey and we are left here at home…
While we were
going through these activities, the Jeys Reunion was
in full swing. Waneta
Martin and family organized this year’s campout and though I was not there, I
heard lots of good feedback on it. At Saturday (the same time as the funeral in
Le Mars) the family gathered and had a ceremony of remembrance for Mother. Perry Joe played a key role. People asked if he was indeed a
preacher! Aunt Mary (99) and Aunt Eda Lou (70?) were there to talk about the earlier years
and Waneta kindly made a tape of their
contributions. A collection was made and
the Jeys decided to send the money to Mawingo in
On Monday following the funeral, Mark, Zoë and I drove about six hours to Lawrence, KS to Moriah and Chip’s house. We stepped out of the truck, Moriah handed us paint brushes and we were off and running on the process of painting, cleaning, sorting, and packing for their big move. We worked hard and also managed to have some fun too (went to the fair and the farmer’s market). We had the truck AC repaired ($900 – yikes!) while we worked on the house.
On Friday the 30th
we had a yard sale and then loaded our truck up for our trip back to
So, here it is 10 August and we are getting settled into a routine. School started last week so we had to race around and get the children registered, oriented and outfitted too. Since we left rather suddenly when we went north for the funeral, we still had much to do to ready the house for the kids. I have been rearranging furniture throughout the cozy cottage we call home to make it work better for us all.
Today is the first “normal” day we have had really. The children are at school and I finally have had time to collect some of my thoughts on “paper”.
The children will
be here till Christmas when we plan to drive out to
Mark reads from
the C.S. Lewis, Narnia books each night. They walk with Miss Zoë and me morning and
we find out about football registration for 11 year old, 6th grader,