Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Little Grace

When I got home from church tonight my husband told me that we had had a visitor about an hour before. She was a young, dark-haired woman, and my husband said she had a dog in her car. She also seemed to know Scout. She asked for "Pastor Roth," but I was at our church's book group, discussing Pillars of the Earth.

She dropped of a gift card for Borders and a nice bouquet of flowers.

The flowers look really nice on our dining room table, and in the middle of the developing pre-refinishing-hardwood-floor mess.

Right now, I can't figure out who the visitor is. It's a mystery, and I can't figure it out. I thought I would look through the church directory, but I forgot to bring one home.

I've been asking a lot of questions, like "Did she wear glasses?" "Was she tall?" I think my husband is tired of me answering questions. I think I need to just let it be.

It's hard though. I can't figure out what prompted this unexpected gift. I want to figure out the mystery.

It's made me think back, though, on gifts I have received, recently and long ago, some large, mostly small.

Three quilts, from the ladies' aids at each of my churches in South Dakota
a quart of fresh raspberries delivered to my door every July.
Deer Sausage, green beans, wild asparagus
a handmade angel
a small Japanese teacup from the town of Hagi
the recipe for Tortellini Soup
three small hand made books given to me by strangers

It's an abundant life, really, if I allow myself to catch a glimpse of it
if I allow myself to open my hands and share it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Honor of our Tenth Anniversary this Weekend...

.... we are starting a project we have never before attempted (though we have often talked about it).

We are getting ready to have our hardwood floors refinished.

There, I said it. It is just one simple sentence, ten words. And yet, this project seems much more daunting than anything we have attempted yet. We re-finished the basement. We painted the living room, kitchen and bathroom. We constructed a shed in the back yard (I think that the boys were actually more involved with that than I was).

Ten simple words, one sentence, but here is what our project involves: pulling up 1970s style green carpet from living room and hallway. Cleaning and re-organizing porch and basement. Sweeping, tossing, and organizing in our garage. Taking almost all of our furniture out of the upstairs and finding temporary new homes in other parts of the house, porch or garage. (This involves both brainwork and brawnwork.)

Tonight I spent about an hour in the garage, just getting started: getting rid of a bag's worth of leaves, styrofoam peanuts and other miscellaneous items from the floor.

What is it Confucius said? The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step?

What did he know, anyway?

This weekend we are going away overnight to celebrate our tenth anniversary.

I figure, we might as well have some fun while we still like each other.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Book That Took Over My Life

For the past two months, our church book club's mission has been to read Ken Follet's best-seller (and Oprah book) Pillars of the Earth. We took two months to read it, because it is 973 pages, after all (seems long but doesn't compete with Les Miserables, which I started last summer on the way to Paris, and which is 1463 pages in the Signet edition).

I did start, dutifully, sometime in June. But it was a big book, and there was VBS, and there were a couple of funerals, and I didn't want to take the book on vacation with me. And, to be perfectly honest with you, I felt sort of resentful of this big book, and it didn't really grab me at the beginning the way people told me it would. I just wanted to keep reading Maisie Dobbs.

But after three Maisie Dobbs mysteries, I saw the handwriting on the wall, and returned to the Middle Ages, to Tom Builder, and Prior Philip and Aliena (as well as the evil characters: William Hamleigh, Bishop Waleran, and various and sundry other unsavory characters). I was still rebelling in my heart, but I did want to discuss the book with the book group, and I was also seized with another emotion: "I will NOT let this book defeat me!" I said to my husband.

You see, as of Sunday, I was only three hundred pages into this book.

But tonight, I finished it.

It is book #26.

I will say this about it: it's not great literature. It's not Les Miserables, which I still want to read, although I might have to take a sabbatical to do it. The characters don't have too many more dimensions than one. Prude that I am, I did think some of the sex and violence was gratuitous.

But it's a good story. And how can you not love a story that has building a cathedral at the heart of it?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Power Within Us: A Story From My Sermon This Morning

My sermon was based on Ephesians 3:14-21, I told and did not read this story, but thought I would share it with you...)

What does this deeply rooted and grounded power look like?......

I was invited to go to the Capital one day this week, to be part of a group of pastors and other leaders, and to go with a group construction workers, trained at a place called Summit Academy, which especially trains women and minorities for this kind of work. This kind of training is a way out of poverty for people, because, as the director of Summit Academy says, "The best social service program in the world is a job." But even though it is construction season in Minnesota, and even though there is more work than ever because of the Federal Stimulus dollars coming to us, the Summit Academy people have not been able to get work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. So we were there to talk to the Commissioner about hiring some of these trained people. We prayed, a couple of the leaders testified, and then one person started to lead us all in a song, an old song from the civil rights movement, called "Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around...." I didn't know it before we started, but I knew it by time we were done!

There are a lot of verses in this song, but one of them that kept recurring is "Ain't gonna let the jail house turn me around..." and I have to say, I was a little annoyed by this, because I don’t want to go to jail. I wasn't sure what was so compelling about the jailhouse. Because deep within me, I was thinking, BAD people go to jail. Good people don’t go to jail.

At one point I could hear this young African-American man, wearing a construction helmet (so I knew he was one of the workers) say, "Sing the jailhouse one!", and then turn to his friend and say, "That’s my favorite verse."

And though I am in no way advocating jail, I did later reflect that there have been some occasions and in some communities where good people have gone to jail:

The apostle Paul, for example,
the women who were suffragettes, advocating for women’s right to vote,
Dr. Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement.

They were rooted and grounded in something they knew was right, something they believed in,
but sometimes there were setbacks, and sometimes they experienced conflict and failure, and sometimes they even went to jail.

So the apostle encourages us to know, in the times when we are discouraged, in the times when we have failed, in the times when we are in jail, even jails of our own making
– that there is a power at work within us, a power at work within us building something greater than we can imagine.
There is a point at work within us, in the great works that we do, and in our ordinary, small daily lives,
and that is the power of the love of God, that is the power of Jesus, it is the power that kept Jesus going on the way to the cross, and it is the power that raised him to life.
It is the power of God’s love, and it is working in prisons and in schools and in households and in neighborhoods, and inside human hearts, healing, uniting, bringing God's mercy and peace..

Thursday, July 23, 2009

700 Posts: Caption Contest

This is my 700th post. Amazing, isn't it?

In honor of this post, I thought I would post this picture of my dad when he was a little boy. He grew up in the Cedar-Riverside and Seward neighborhoods of Minneapolis (where the Swedes lived).

This picture hung on the hallway down to the basement in our house; I've always loved it for its uniqueness -- it just seems like such a slice of life, in so many ways. And I love for for what I don't know about it -- I really don't know much about the story behind this picture.

There's my dad, carrying this dog up the sidewalk. It's probably somewhere near downtown Minneapolis in the 1930s. I know that my dad liked dogs. He told me once that he brought a dog home that he had found somewhere, but it cried all night and his parents made him take it back where-ever he found it.

But this was not that dog. That dog was a Lab. The dog in this picture was not his dog. I don't know why he was carrying it. I don't know what happened to it. I don't have any idea who took the picture (except that no one from the family took the picture).

I also love this picture because it's from a disappeared time and place. My dad used to tell me on occasion that the house he grew up in didn't exist any more. It was torn down, as was part of his neighborhood, when Interstate 94 was built. I don't think I appreciated what it meant to him to know that his past had been torn down, bull-dozed, was just GONE.

Since this is a picture without a story, and in honor of my 700th post, I'd love if, again, creative people would suggest a caption for this. Also, any speculation you might have about this picture would be fascinating to me.

P.S. There will be a prize, but I don't know what what it will be.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Name is not "Those People"

By poet, singer, prophet, social activist Julia Dinsmore

I posted about her book My Name is Child of God...Not Those People previously.

The title poem was written after Julia's encounter with a church committee. A group of people had gone to a rather large congregation, asking them to partner with some homeless people to buy a home. The congregation's group said "No," and one of the committee members said to them, "Those people don't need homes. We give them turkeys at Thanksgiving."

Julia's poem has become very well-known, and has been recited in many different venues, often without attribution or Julia receiving any remuneration. I'm glad she's finally getting some recognition for her work.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The week is getting away from me already, and it's only Tuesday. By this I mean, I had been dreaming of extended, leisurely study and pondering time, as well as quality time with friends and parish members, as well as a couple of important and thought-provoking meetings. And when I was organizing the week, I thought it would all fit together nicely, but it looks a little frantic in places.

I am not carving out the writing (and especially poetry) time that I thought I would be carving out.

But I did take a nice walk in some soft rain this morning.

I did not sit down with the Scripture texts for quite as long as I thought I would this afternoon. I wove my way through all six chapters of Ephesians, on the way to focusing on the doxology of Ephesians 3.

But I did spend an extended time catching up with an old friend from seminary about everything under the sun, from theological passions to personal life updates. I have not done anything like this for a long time, and it felt like an extravagance, but a necessary one.

I got a little book recently, called These Days. It's small, hand-made, and contains a few prayers and poems for the Daily Office. I found it at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

My favorite poem right now is by my friend, Pastor Kae Evenson.

Gracious God,
There was a day when we asked who you were.
On that day, you turned your back to us.
"I am" you said, that's all.
There was a day when we asked you to show
us a miracle or two.
In return you asked us to follow you to Jerusalem.
On that day we did not know that strength is having
the courage for small, kind gestures.
And then there was the day when a small prayer
pulled through us like a thread, as taut and hopeful as light.
Forgive them, you said, for they do not know what they do.

In the meantime, in the space between your hopes and what the day becomes,
in the space between the time that blows through your fingers and the time that rests in your lap,
in the space between your good intentions and your not-so-good intentions,
I offer this poem to you.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Waiting for Rain

.....don't know if we'll get it.

The grass is brown around here. My basil is wilting, despite some recent revival efforts. It was unseasonably cool last week, but is back to beautiful summer weather again, except for one thing:

We need rain.

I thought I heard a report that there was a chance of rain tonight. I am hoping for that. I'm hoping for the deep continuous soaking rain that refreshes and renews everything and everyone. However, my husband said that the TV radar showed it was just possible that the rain might miss us altogether, heading north.

I am also praying for people who are not just needing rain: they are in the midst of a serious drought. I received an Email from Lutheran World Relief (which is, by the way, a top-notch organization and one of the reasons I am Lutheran) about drought in East Africa.

Please keep them in your prayers.

A while back someone told me they visited our congregation, and they didn't really like the sermon that day because it was about water. This person said, "I like more practical sermons."

I wonder what she meant by that?

There is nothing more practical than water.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Very Late Friday Five: GAMES!

Jan over at Revgalblogpals writes:

In less than three weeks, my family, including children and their partners, will be gathering in Seattle, WA for 12 days. After various days in Seattle sightseeing and in Bellingham seeing family, we will travel to the coast of Washington State to spend three nights in a large rented house. With nine adults (from almost 20 years old and up), I am thinking that we need to have some activities pre-planned--like GAMES! (Any ideas will be appreciated.)

So this Friday Five is about games, so play on ahead. . . .

1. Childhood games?

Among our childhood neighborhood games were Kick-it-and-run, (enough kids if the Catholic family down the street played), "Twelve o'clock midnight/Hope to see the Ghost tonight" (great for summer evenings, Red Light/Green Light, and Simon Says. My sister and I also made up a game called "Flood", which consisted of pretending that our house was in a flood and taking all of the books off the bookshelf and putting them on the floor as stepping stones to various rooms in the house. My mother LOVED that game. not.

2. Favorite and/or most hated board games?

We played a lot of Monopoly (though very rarely finished a game), Yahtzee, and Rook, and Parchesi. As a college student I also learned to love Pit. I loved Trivial Pursuit, when that was popular, but hated the one where you have to draw. My grandmother and I liked to play Scrabble together (but she cheated). Any game which can be construed as embarrassing in any way -- I hate. But I like the ones where everyone laughs until their sides hurt.

3. Card games?

The aforementioned Rook was very popular, as my grandparents did not think it appropriate to use regular face cards. I learned to play Gin Rummy in college, and the predecessor to the card game Uno.

4. Travel/car games?

We played Twenty questions a lot, as well as one which started with my dad intoning.... "I spy with my little eye something that begins with.... (letter of the alphabet)". We also sang songs in the car, particularly songs from musicals, and rounds like "Frere Jacques" and "Row, Row, Row your Boat."

5. Adult pastimes that are not video games?

My husband and I enjoy doing Crossword Puzzles, Acrostics and Cryptic Crosswords together (well, actually he enjoys Cryptics much more than I do).

Bonus question about family vacations:

I'm bad at this; I mostly want to eat a lot.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Planes, Trains, Automobiles -- and Books

Being on vacation and on the road during the last couple of weeks brought more than my usual amount of reading time, during which I was able to develop an obsession: Maisie Dobbs. In the last two weeks, I have read the first three of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries:

22. Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear, in which our heroine is introduced, we learn her unique background, capabilities and heartbreaks, and she solves her first mystery.

23. Birds of a Feather. Maisie's missing person case becomes more complicated when it appears to be connected to three murders.

24. Pardonable Lies. Maisie is asked to prove that a soldier, son of a prominent attorney and Lord, actually died in World War I.

All these books are set in London in the early thirties. The Great War is the shadow that lies behind all of the books. In fact, in the Reader's Notes to one of the books, the reviewer notes that "the war is the underlying crime", a fascinating motif for me. So far, I have enjoyed all of the books, although the third one has been the best and most thought-provoking.

A few weeks ago, the topic of the Danish Resistance during World War II came up. My friends had never heard of it, claiming they had never learned anything about it at school. I mentioned King Christian's habit of wearing a Star of David on his sleeve, and the fact that the Danes rescued most of the Jews from their country, sending them to safety in Sweden. Recounting these stories made me decide to re-read Lois Lowry's wonderful book,

25. Number the Stars, which I recommend to everyone. The high school I went to had a significant Jewish presence. One of my high school counselors told me one day, "The Jewish people love the Danes," which made me proud that I even had 1/8 Danish blood. My Swedish grandmother once confided that she was ashamed that Sweden had been neutral, but I pointed out that if they had not been, the Danish Jews would not have had anywhere to go. Life is complicated.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Give My Regards to Broadway

As I mentioned last week, when we were in New York, we hoped to see a Broadway Show. We stood in the TKTX line for an hour and a half last Thursday, and got tickets to our first choice: The Thirty-nine Steps.

This play faithfully follows the plot of the Hitchcock movie of 1935, but.... it's a comedy. And it's hilarious! There is broad physical comedy, there are lots of sly Hitchcock references, and there is great literary humor as well (example: the train stops are "Mansfield Park," "Brideshead," and "Brideshead Revisited.") Four actors play all the parts, sometimes switching roles with just the change of a hat. They use multiple broad, exaggerated accents, and the one negative is that if you don't know the plot of the original, you might not always be able to figure out what's going on.

We didn't stop laughing, and we enjoyed the opportunity to be at the historic Helen Hayes Theatre as well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Write Soon"

After Ellis Island, I did go back into the website and eventually found my grandma Judy: under "Judith Anderson." (only one 's'! how unusual!) There were three passages listed for Judith, one in 1910, one in 1914, and one in 1920 (she was quite a traveler, it seems.) The 1920 trip is the one (the story goes) where she met my grandfather, who was also returning to the U.S. and now listed his residence as "Minneapolis" and wrote his last name with one 's.'

On Sunday, I showed my findings to my parents. My mother showed me this old picture of my grandmother, taken when she was still single, living in Connecticut, and working as a servant or a housekeeper. The interesting thing is (and I thought of Barb here), that she took the photo and made it into a postcard.

A woman of few words, her postcard reads simply: "Greetings from your sister Judith. Write soon." It is addressed to her little sister Johanna, who eventually travelled to the U.S. with her on that fateful 1920 voyage.

There are a few questions still about the exact chronology, but I'll leave them for another time.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Folke Ferdinand Gummesson

I've been to New York City before, you know. I was there with my husband about a year-and-a-half ago, partially at the invitation of friends and parish members. I went once when I worked for the infamous AIG, and I went to New York in 1981 when I interviewed to become a missionary and teacher in Japan for three years.

But last week, we were in New York again. For me, it means getting used to the trains and the faster-paced lifestyle, at least for a few days. It means long days of trying to fit everything in, and not succeeding. It means sensory overload: music, history, language, theatre, creativity.

This time, there was really only one place I wanted to go, had to go: Ellis Island.

Both of my dad's parents emigrated from Sweden in the early twentieth century. They certainly came through Ellis Island on the way to the new world and their new life. So this place has held a certain fascination for me for a long time. I wondered what it was like for them coming over both as single people . What were they looking for? Did they find it? We never asked them. All we can do now is imagine.

We wandered through the hallways and exhibits in the great hall on Wednesday, and then I had to spend some time at a computer, trying to find my grandparents' records amid the 25 million that are stored in the Ellis Island database. Had I been better prepared, I could have brought more information from home, but I was armed only with names: Judith Andersdotter (I thought), and Folke Gummesson. It was my grandmother I was most interested in, but finding her proved elusive. I could not find any matches in the computer anywhere near her name.

Finally, I gave up and type in my grandfather's name: F. Gummesson.

And there it was: Folke F. Gummesson, from Karlskrona, Sweden, sailed from Copenhagen to New York and arrived in November of 1913. He arrived on the ship Hellig Olav, together with his younger brother Allan. They each had 25 dollars in their pockets. The manifest indicated that they hoped to go to Iowa, although that is not where they ended up.

Folke Ferdinand Gummeson. He was the 4th of ten children from a sea-faring family in Blekinge, Sweden. He was only 5 feet, 5 inches tall. He came to the United States in 1913, but he didn't meet my grandmother until 1920 (or so it is told). They got married in 1921, and had four children. My father is the youngest.

My grandfather died when I was in the 5th grade. He smoked pipes, and sang Swedish songs that I didn't really understand, even though I remember some of the words. (Du och jag och Anna gick segla i en kanna.... nar vi kom til Kopenhagen de hela kan var full of van....) (or something like that.)

Standing at Ellis Island, I think about all the things I never knew about my grandfather. Who was he? What were his dreams? What did he do between 1913 and 1920? Did he wander around the U.S.A., working and having adventures? Or did he come to Minneapolis and settle down right away? Why did we never ask him?

In my mind I am still standing at the ferry at Ellis Island, or I am standing in line in the great hall, or I am carrying a heavy trunk, or I am on a boat, and I am wondering what my life will be. Are there still great oceans to be crossed, and what lies on the other side? What hope and what courage (sometimes born of desperation) those immigrants held. I realize how little I know them, and I pray to be just a little like them.

They were not rich, or educated, or well-born, my ancestors. They didn't have prestigious names to pass down to their children or their grandchildren. But they reached for something, they reached for something, and I hope they passed just a little of their reaching down to me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We're In New York....

Well, actually, we're staying with friends in a charming town not far away, in New Jersey. It is really a lovely place, and these friends are about the most gracious people in the whole world. This town is home to a prestigious college and seminary; they live about two blocks away from the train station, which takes us into Penn.

Yesterday we went to Ellis Island. More about that later. We were to meet friends later in the evening in Greenwich Village. He was playing in a band. We were so tired after Ellis Island that we went home and I fell asleep. I could not get myself back in gear to go back into the City. I feel very badly about that. I called our friends and told them we wouldn't be able to meet them. I feel old just now. It takes a few days to get used to living by train schedules, and we never have more than a few days.

Our digital camera is broken. I feel badly about that too. Does anyone know if they can be fixed, or if the camera stores tell you just to "buy another one"? (we did get pictures of Ellis Island.)

We are getting a late start today. Will go in to the City soon, hope to see a show tonight. I'm trying to remain flexible, although we are currently hoping (as many know) to see The 39 Steps. We'll see.

Don't know about tomorrow or Saturday yet.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I miss My Girl Already

Last week Scout got to travel with us and go hiking up along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Tomorrow we are leaving for Phase two of our summer vacation, a short trip to New York City. Unfortunately for me, Scout does not get to go along on this leg of the journey.

It's all right with her, though. She loves going to Ruth's house. I dropped her off this evening, and watched her run to Ruth's background, excited to play with the other dogs. Before I left, I sneaked a peak through the fence to watch the dogs running and chasing and sniffing each other. She was already having a great time.

This week I am looking forward to seeing Ellis Island, and learning about the immigrants who entered the United States here, full of hope and fear. We hope to take a stroll through Central Park, and to visit with old friends. As for me, I know I'll be noticing all the dogs, and wishing she could be with me all the time.

I know that the trip to the North Shore is more for my sake than for hers. I work a lot of hours sometimes, and it's great for me to have quality time with Scout, to get to know again her unique personality, how playful and fun she can be, her imperfections and her talents.

As for her, she finds a way to fit in and have fun whereever she is, with dogs and people, with children and adults. God's gift to me, she inspires me, too.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

....And I Have Good Insurance

The last few weeks, I have been engaged (off and on) in an unpleasant activity. Perhaps it could even be considered hair-raising. At the very least, it has been enlightening.

I have been paying medical bills.

Admittedly, it's been an interesting spring. At the end of March, I had a bout of severe flu that sent me to the emergency room in an ambulance to get intravenous fluids. Then, later in spring, I fell down in a parking lot (not unlike our esteemed Secretary of State, I'm sure) and broke my arm. I managed to get by with a visit to Urgent Care and four X-rays this time.

And I finally got a couple of new pairs of glasses (two, because I'm always misplacing one of them.) They are progressive lenses, which of course, makes them more expensive.

It hasn't been fun paying the bills for all these things. I'll tell you one thing: I'm going to think long and hard before I go anywhere in an ambulance again. And while I haven't been happy about the amounts that I pay out, when I look at the original bills -- well, that's the enlightening part.

Now I have good insurance. It covers (except deductible) almost everything, including certain mental health coverages I might need. And it's not cheap. I know what our church pays for us to be able to have this coverage.

I also might note: these have been minor illnesses. My arm needed no cast, and I spent no overnight time in the hospital when I had the flu. These aren't the catastrophic diseases and accidents some people have.

So while I am paying and looking at bills and cringing a little, I'm also thinking: what would it be like if I didn't have insurance? How would I feel if I was getting these bills and I didn't have insurance or didn't have work, or had uncertain work? Wouldn't it affect so many aspects of my life?

I realize that the issues surrounding health care are complicated ones; when we had a health care forum at my congregation a couple of weeks ago, a couple of nurses brought up the great point that besides money and insurance and good doctors, one thing that people need (and many don't get) is education: education about their bodies, about nutrition, about health.

Still, if I was getting bills and I had to write out these checks, and I didn't know how to pay them, I think I'd feel a lot less healthy.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Quiet Day

Today was the 4th of July, Independence Day, a national holiday.

Today we did not:
  • Go to a parade
  • Have a picnic
  • Go to a fireworks display (hard on the dog)
  • Spend time with husband's kids, or my brother (who had to work)

We did:
  • Have bueberry pancakes for breakfast
  • Visit with my mother-in-law in her new apartment
  • Have cupcakes and help put together a Minnesota State puzzle with my parents
  • Eat hot dogs and potato salad in the living room while watching Animal Planet
  • Watch the movie "1776"

It seems a little lonely, and odd, today. We had a brief, but intense rainstorm, about mid-afternoon, which sent Scout into a corner shivering. After the storm, I called my parents, and we invited ourselves over to their house for a little while. Doing the "Minnesota" puzzle seemed a modestly patriotic activity.

Though I'm in town, I'm officially on vacation. I'm left with the rare decision of where to go to church on Sunday. Some choices: The African-American church in town, New Life Celebration, a nearby Lutheran church where one of my seminary friends is the Senior Pastor. Or, I could worship with my husband, who is NOT taking this Sunday off. What do you think?

And I've got a short (or actually long) list of things I either have to or "should" do before we go out of town on Tuesday.

On the short list of New York experiences this go-around: The Ellis Island Immigration Center, and a Broadway play, if at all possible. (We don't know if this is possible, but I would like to see The Thirty-nine Steps.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Thank You for Not Calling Me -- "Just To Chat"

As of this Monday, I finally and for the first time became the proud owner and user of a cell phone.

Before Monday, we have had a cell phone that we used in emergencies: it's call a "Trac" phone; you buy minutes and add them when you need them. The trouble was, sometimes the "Trac" phone would not work at the times when we most needed a phone. Like when we visit my sister in Phoenix, for example. It never works there. There must be something about the wild wild west. When we travelled to New York two years ago, the phone worked fine on Thursday evening and all day Friday until 4:30. Then it was done. "No Service."

Finally, at the end of May, I was going out of town just overnight, and I knew a parish member was very ill and in the hospital. I left our "Trac" phone number with the church. But the phone did not work in the small Minnesota town where we were spending the night. "No Service."

I realize that I have come somewhat late to this cell phone business. My husband and I are simple people; we have a pretty frugal lifestyle. But we do have basic cable television. That has been our one luxury. Until Monday.

I did not get a fancy phone with lots of accessories. Truth be told, a friend gave us a perfectly good phone which I took to the store when I had decided which plan was best for me. I'm using that one for now. Who knows, maybe in a year or so, I'll decide I can handle a Blackberry with all kinds of bells and whistles. For right now, I'm just glad that people can get in touch with me when they really need to, and that I can get in touch with others as well.

So far, I've just given my number to a few people, including, for example, my sister, my mom, my step-sons. I haven't gotten a lot of phone calls, which is just fine with me. In fact, I've missed a couple of calls so far, because I'm not used to fishing the phone out of Where-ever It Is That I've Stashed It.

I do think it's going to come in handy. But I noticed that, even though my mom now has my cell phone number, she hasn't started calling me all the time, "just to chat."

So, I want to go on record: "Thanks, Mom (and whoever else) for not calling me on my cell phone -- "just to chat."

Thanks for not calling me to find out how I felt about Al Franken being our new Senator.
(Frankly, I'm just relieved to have two senators right now.)

Thanks for not calling me to ask about Sarah Palin, either. (I have no idea.)

Thanks for not calling me to ask whether I think it will rain, what I'm doing right now, or who's preaching this Sunday, or whether I'll ever twitter again (I have no idea).

But, if you are going to be in New York City next week, and want to get together: shoot me an email! I'll send you my new cell phone number!

Or, if you have some advice for me in navigating these uncharted cell-phone waters, I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Remembrances of Vacations Past

Until I got married, I did not take very many vacations.

In my first parish, I did take the required vacation time, and not just because it was required. I needed it. But, as a single pastor, I had a hard time figuring out where I could afford to travel, and would like to travel, by myself. So I often took vacations either to visit my sister or to my home town, where I still had friends.

As a child, I only remember taking two significant vacations with my family. My dad had his own business, a small Television Sales and Repair Shop, and he just couldn't be gone. (I also suspect that we couldn't afford to travel that much.) But when I was going into the 5th grade, we took a two week vacation out to Seattle, Washington, to visit my aunt and uncle and their two small children. My uncle had gotten a job at Boeing. It was the first time anyone from my family had moved so far away.

This was a Big Deal in many ways. My dad had never left his work for so long, and I'm sure it made him anxious. We drove out there, and it took us three days in the Rambler. I figured out that Montana was a Really Big State. It was the first time I ever saw a mountain, or an ocean. We stayed in motels every night, but just looked for blinking "vacancy" signs. On the way home we stopped at Yellowstone National Park and saw Old Faithful. My aunt and uncle took us to the ocean, the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, and other places that I don't remember any more.

The second major vacation was a family vacation to Disneyland, when I was 16 years old. This was about a year after my dad's business had gone bankrupt. He was working for someone else now, and had actual vacation coming. And this was the One Dream Vacation for our family. My dad got us hotel reservations all the way out to California. We stopped for an extra night in Denver, Colorado, to visit friends who had moved away. At Disneyland, we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel -- the height of luxury for us -- and had a tour guide for our first day at Disneyland. I was in total awe of her abilities, as she would speak to us, and then turn and speak to another set of tourists in french! I decided then and there that I wanted to be a tour guide at Disneyland when I grew up.

I sewed a little back then, and sewed myself three new pairs of shorts, two halter tops and one midriff blouse especially for our trip. Thus began my obsession with having "something new to wear" when I travel.

Since getting married in 1999, I've travelled more than in my previous forty years combined. I've been to San Francisco, to Pennsylvania twice, to Disney World in Orlando, to Door County, Wisconsin, and to the North Shore of Minnesota. We've headed out to the Black Hills and Chicago by car, and to Albuquerque and the Grand Canyon by plane (haven't taken the train yet, though).

And since being up there at Lake Superior for the umpteenth time (and it never gets old, by the way), I've been thinking of two of the pleasures of vacations: there is the humble pleasure of discovering something for the first time, of realizing how little you really know about the world, and expanding that world just a little bit again. And there is the other pleasure of going back again to the place you've been before, the joy of returning to a familiar place, with its familiar mysteries.

I've been to the North Shore many times, but always a little later in the summer. This week was the first time I've seen the lupines bloom here.

I wonder if heaven will be that way too: familiar, but also full of discovery, comfortable, but strange.

Having a Wonderful time; Wish You Were Here

So far, we have a great little room just north of Two Harbors, right on Lake Superior. Our room, as you can see, overlooks the outdoor pool and the woods (the rooms that overlook the Lake are significantly more expensive.)

I haven't been blogging, but I have been:

1. Eating breakfast at Betty's Pies;
2. Working on the shawl I started two winters ago;
3. Writing some unrhymed iambic pentameter (first exercise from Stephen Fry's book The Ode Less Travelled); (more on that later)
4. Hiking around Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse (we're about to embark on another hike even now as I type); (and more on that later, too!)
5. Reading Maisie Dobbs; she has become my new obsession! I am pleased to discover that ther are five more books! As my husband would say: "oh-uh".
6. Writing down snatches of dialogue, words I like, etc.

None of my couplets are "good"; I'm trying hard, via Stephen Fry's suggestion, not to try to be "good", but just to get the feel of the rhythm of the iamb:

For example:
The menu here is said to be so bland

A messy desk -- a more creative mind
four pencils, colored pens and books galore
erasers, scribbles, post-it notes and ink
A messy desk -- a coffee cup unfilled.

And this is a messy blog post! We're off

oh, and by the way, I think that Miss Rumphius has been here.

More on THAT later, too....