30 Years Together, Part Two: NYC and Points North

Today we hit the road to celebrate “30 Years Together – Part Two.”

Part One was the body-punishing first attempt at cross-country skiing back in February – a satisfying trip in terms of character and accomplishment. Pain is good, we assured each other. And the woodland trails were lovely.
30 Years – Part Two will be different in that our destination is not the working man’s Midwest, but the working man’s East – NYC and Queens! And while we will hike our feet to nubs and our joints to arthroscopic anguish on the concrete trails, it still won’t hurt like falling on cross-country skis. I know this.
So here’s the plan:
We will leave Dixieland on Sunday, September 30, after church. Andrew will preach and I’ll teach and then we’ll load the CRV with probably the most wrong-headed clothing for October in the the upper East, and we’ll drive as far as we can along the spine of Virginia. Our camp stove will supply the coffee that beggars all others including that Seattle liquid. Behind a Circle K or at a rest stop picnic table, a cup of our coffee is like a drill instructor setting the cadence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b65RQtL4H3Q
And then, Monday, October 1, my happy birthday, we’ll make that giddy trip over the Hudson River into Manhattan right at Midtown and over the East River to Queens and check in to our Airbnb in Long Island City that has parking included!! Perks, and whatnot.
We look forward to Asian, Italian, Jewish, and Middle Eastern food in Queens.
A visit to our son-in-law’s high school, St. Francis Xavier, near Union Square.
Time with Ben and Kim Kaufmann, kin and friends.
A visit to the Cloisters up Riverside.
Another walk along the High Line because it’s really awesome.
And then!
We’ll leave the teeming city and visit the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point, for Andrew. Once we get there, I’ll buy the T-shirt and really be enthusiastic about it, because I’ve always wanted to be a hero on the battlefield, ‘stomach of a lion’ and all that. But my heart will be feeling the call of the next stop which is for me.
Stillmeadow in Southbury, Connecticut. Home of Gladys Taber, a soulmate author and homemaker who lived, wrote, and homesteaded in the early years of the 1900s. Her books are little oases of pleasure in undistracted things.
And then!
We will continue north to Pine Plains, NY, and Fat Apple Farm. A Farm to Table Dinner in October replete with butchered meat demonstrations and yoga classes and art opportunities. Since I read Washington Irving”s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in American Literature I’ve dreamed of visiting the Hudson River Valley in October. Irving’s lush descriptions draw me: apple-mouthed swine on platters surrounded by every root vegetable known to New World pioneers, pies, gravies, and all the denizens of the barnyard converted to plump Sunday dinner. Add Sunday morning worship in Kingston, NY, at a reformed church plant, and what more could you ask from a 30 year anniversary trip??
We will keep you posted of highlights along the road. And we declare ourselves to be unworthy of all the blessings which our Lord showers on our heads.

~30 Years In: A Tableau~
I’ve been sewing in the dark for the last few days because the switch for the lights over the big table shorted out and died its death. We’ve discussed it a few times and so today I casually said, “I put in a call to So and So Electrical to get on their schedule.”
Understand, I had no manipulative motives here.
Him: “Oh, no. I can do this.”
Me: “Ok, but I thought when you went up into the attic you discovered that the wire has no play on it and without electrician’s tools (whatever those are) you can’t replace the fixture.”
Him: “Well, I’ve thought about it and I think I can do it.”
Me: “How?”
Him: “I don’t know yet, but I know I can.”
Me: “Okaaaay.”
Him after work last night and three trips to Marvin’s: “Ok, come stand over here one more time and holler when this wire wiggles.”
And wouldn’t you know, he did it.


Back Porch Devotions in September

Wing-whir and squeak
Of the resident hummingbird.
Mr. with a band of white at neck and tail –
A collar and tennies. His four-spouted feeder,
He says,
Is three spouts too many.
Scritter and crunch of two squirrels.
Brothers. Frenemies.
Chasing each other for
Possession of one pecan among ten
Thousand, in figure eights around trunk
And limb-split. Siblings obviously.
Dove whoo. Shell pieces dead-fall
Onto the tin porch roof
As the siblings truce to tap open and eat
Pecan meat.
Silent things add their inhalations and
Exhalations to the glory chorus;
Butterflies catch the early sun-slant on orange
Wing and light on a taller zinnia.
Chipmunks hug the ground, never looking up,
Intent on the earth.
Silent, too, are birds in flight, a feather ruffle on landing.
But from their tree-y houses, though lip-less,
They opine with
Consonants and vowels:
Answering one another
Impatiently, mothers with a work day ahead.
Cicadas trill on a sleepier key than they will
This evening. It’s early yet.

Teacher, What Would You Rather Be?

What metaphors do you think of to illustrate a teacher’s job? I recently came to see my teacher-self as a doorkeeper.

A doorkeeper gives entrance, opens doors, to what lies inside. What lies inside is desirable, even splendid, enough that there is a door in front of it. All splendid objects lie behind doors. One does not wander in and handle a relic like produce at an open market. There’s a door. And there’s a keeper.

Students then are knockers. As such they must themselves knock and walk through the door. Whether they know to value what’s inside or not, they have to summon the courage to knock and the resolve to walk in and take up the values of those already inside. The keeper does not do any of this for them. Perhaps the keeper models by her very presence at the door the abiding preciousness of what is inside. But the keeper only opens. And then perhaps takes the knocker’s hand and says, “Look!” 

Maybe a doorkeeper does a little more than this. There is the word ‘overqualified,’ and perhaps an experienced teacher might be called overqualified to be a mere doorkeeper. But who better than a master of the treasures inside could so deftly make a door attractive? Who better than a friend of the owner could convince busy people, young or old, to pause and consider that what’s inside is worth their time? 

Have you ever made a list of desirable attributes in a doorkeeper? I haven’t. If I were hiring a doorkeeper, what adjectives would I look for? Alert. Eager. Sensitive. Unprejudiced. Listening. Glad. Strong. Passionate. Prompt. Expert. Active.  And attributes I would avoid in a doorkeeper? Pushy. Selective. Wheedling. Bribable. Arrogant. Lazy. Nonchalant. Unaware that though he is a keeper of this particular door, he is a knocker himself at many others. If I am applying to be a doorkeeper, this list is an interesting self-analysis. And if I want to be a teacher, a good teacher, then this list is a thought-provoking twist on the usual items on a resumé. *As an English teacher, I cannot help picturing, and laughing at, the bawdy, hungover doorkeeper in Macbeth 🙂 

This morning, I ran across this verse, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84: 10.

 I would rather be a doorkeeper. 

Discussion Questions: (I would love to hear your thoughts!)

How, or would, you tweak this metaphor for elementary, middle, high school, college, or adult students? Special needs students?

As phrased above, the doorkeeper gives entrance, that is, the doorkeeper does not block entrance or select who enters. The job is opening, not guarding. Do you agree? Disagree?

Ponder the phrase from above: ‘ . . .and take up the values of those already inside.’ What are some of those universal values? Specific values? Unifying values?

What attributes would you add to the lists of desirable and undesirable doorkeeper qualities?

Explore the idea that every doorkeeper is also a knocker.

How broadly can this metaphor be stretched? Could it apply to anything from children’s Sunday school to workplace meetings to lectures and even to instructional writing?

Is a doorkeeper still necessary in this day of ‘everything at our fingertips’ internet access? If so, what exactly does a doorkeeper do that the knocker can’t do on his or her own?

Is there really a door? If so, what constitutes the door? How does this idea of a door resonate in our current era?

Reflections On A Second Alabama Wedding

Glorify the Lord with me! Weddings are a blur of color and emotion. Occasionally, the blur lends up a still shot. Here are a few still shots, all out of order.

Zinnias. Filling garden and vases, zinnias from Don and Judie did their thing all over the place.

Christ Covenant Presbyterian youth on the dance floor. Close to heaven is the sight of young ones celebrating music and summer and God’s good plan for a man and a woman and the sweet knowing that their turn will come.

The groom’s father, Roger, ended the rehearsal dinner with the doxology, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!” Someone write this down in the ‘wedding traditions’ book. It was a profound benediction.

Sandy Jurgensen’s smiling face. She doesn’t know how many times in my life her smile has buoyed me for the task ahead. Deep lesson here. A friend doesn’t even have to do anything but be there and smile. It steadies the feet and anchors the ship. *Note to self.

Post-wedding laundry. Andrew’s cousins lived in Zaire during their childhood and tell of the ‘washjack,’ or the laundress. I felt for the washjack as I washed, dried, and folded every towel and sheet for two whole residences – ours and the house where the groom’s party stayed. Thank you, Brad and Sue, for use of your little slice of heaven on Smith Lake. On that note, our favorite part of the whole wedding event was two days later, swimming in the lake and falling sound asleep on the dock, no towel, hot decking beneath our backs as the final laundry tossed in the dryer. Bliss.

The wedding dress, all lush and white and laced with girlhood, hanging ready in that girl’s room in the dreamy calm before the first arrivals.

The obligatory ER visit on wedding day. I woke that morning to find Andrew gone. Two hours later he was still AWOL. Finally he wobbled in, covered in blood, six stitches in his right middle finger, and a circus balloon for a hand. He had pitched forward on a downhill part of his run, split and bent backward his finger, crept into the house to get his keys without waking the bridesmaids slumbering on pallets wall to wall, and taken himself to the ER.

Doing the Electric Slide at the reception with Peaches. Peaches is the groom’s aunt, or ‘auntie’ pronounced ahn-tee, his mother’s baby sister. She patiently tried to teach me her smooth, fluid, yes, even elegant, dance moves. The spirit is willing but the flesh is white.

Carter James, the three year old ring-bearer, in a tiny blue suit. Seeing that little man walk head-up and unafraid, downright interested, through a sea of happy faces, made the solemn groom smile big.

Two young girls I raised alongside their mothers, my daughter’s best friends. Callie and Leah. Callie, artistic and lovely; Leah, loyal and 5 weeks from delivering Cindy’s second granddaughter. These girls are women now and how they stepped in to do women’s work! One of the unexpected blessings of growing older is to watch that sacred baton pass and to see how ready the next runners are and to know God did it and will continue to do it.

My sibs! Walking out of the bride’s room a half hour before the ceremony, nerves and adrenaline like cicadas at twilight, I see my fam and I know, Ahhhh, I can do this because they are here.

Grant Mallard, Baby G, a mere 8 weeks old, with his sweet restlessness and his little perfection managed to distract me from the nerve song and to lend a measure of life perspective as I awaited Denise’s direction to seat the mothers.

Instagram. Thank goodness for Instagram. I love social media. Without intruding on the tender early days of them establishing their marriedness, I got glimpses of the groom singing love songs to his bride on a Miami night. Goal-post hands!

No one will ever hire me as an event planner. I ran out of water at last year’s wedding and seating at this year’s. Oh well, let them eat cake.

And my daughter, in ivory lace, coming in to How Great Thou Art, going from my child to a man’s wife in a blink. No gradual processing when your child gets married. Nope. You basically get the length of the church aisle to let her go. Later at the reception someone said, ‘Wow, your son-in-law can dance!’ My son-in-law. I have another son. No wonder it has taken me all week for my brain to relax. This is no small thing.

The wedding folder has run its course and is as retired from duty as this Mother of the Bride. Next wedding for us will be the smile-and-be-quiet kind.
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!







One Month ‘Til Wedding – Tips for My Friends

Abigail Grey Photography

We are in the home stretch toward our second daughter’s August 11 wedding and trying to keep it all in perspective and learning as we go. If you have daughters or sons and can benefit from this little reverie, good.

I am daily remembering to enjoy the process. Because. . .

Planning a wedding is an orchestra of art, economics, theology, relational dynamics, and Pinterest. I decided going in that I would roll with it and enjoy each of these facets individually.

Because I only have two daughters. I only get to do this twice.

And declare as I might that I will be frugal and that the budget is the budget and so on, there is really no getting around the basic seven or eight realms of a wedding.

Thus, I find myself managing all the realms like the CEO of a company, weighing options, one eye on the artistic vision, one eye on the bottom line, moving notecards around the design wall when suddenly out of nowhere I remember my wee daughter is about to become a WIFE for goodness sake. And I stand still for a second. Ah. These are the pains of childbirth Genesis foretells. They last as long as motherhood does.

She will call me on the way to her first big-girl, pre-wedding doctor’s appointment, and I’ll say, ‘Bless your heart, my child.’

As the CEO, wedding planning is like setting up a temporary company. Very important, very urgent, then very over. As one husband said to the giddy women in the aftermath, ‘I think people have moved on.’

If that beloved daughter wanted to get married in less than 8 months, I would tell her the truth: “I’m sorry, dear; it can’t be done.”

If two of my children want to get married within a short period, it can be done, but it’s way off the charts and only those with nerves of steel can manage it. (Sue? Donnette?)

I remind myself of the only point of all this preparation: a ceremony that glorifies the Lord Jesus, that centers on Him and the union of this man and this woman in Him. This simplifies and un-Pinterests the whole thing beautifully and bears writing large on the cover of the wedding planner. Which is a good gift idea for friends with daughters.

A second goal is that everyone in both extended families feels honored and thanked for coming. A wedding is all and only about the people, the families and dear friends and traveling guests and the pillars of local friends without whom the whole event absolutely would not happen.

And on that note, the process is so very humbling. I look at the RSVPs and think, Wow, you’re really going to drive all this way?  You’re really going to spend hours in church shoes, for us? Thank you! Here, have a canapé!

A second child’s wedding will be a little more expensive than the first child’s. This is not out of partiality but out of fatigue. The jet-lag is still fresh on my mind from wedding one, so this time around I know to hire it done. I can’t do it again. I don’t feel guilty. The first child will understand sooner or later.

And in so doing, I will meet people like the incomparable Judy Pitts of Top of the Town who, with a few tweaks and suggestions, turned a floundering mother of the bride into someone who felt like she had a handle on things. And turned a detailed planning meeting into spiritual encouragement. And advised peanut butter sandwiches for the children. A master of her trade.

I have learned, too, that starting at about 3.5 months out, I will need to do something every day. Big or little. Put the hotel info on the wedding web page, or buy Spanx and break them in, every single day must be some degree of forward motion toward The Date.

Because The Date functions as a little BC/AD on the family calendar. It divides time like a cleaver. For several months before The Date, a thousand home-improvement projects, from obscure to stains-on-the-ceiling, are hit and accomplished with vigor, and the Pinterest dreams are grand. And then there comes this critical tipping point at which they are all seived through the practicality sifter. Completion looks doubtful. Then the operative phrase becomes, “Ok, that will have to be after the wedding.” And progressively the project list dwindles to a reasonable goal of sweeping the back porch.

The list of the big 7 or 8 realms mentioned above? I say ‘realms’ because each has its own bubble diagram of lists, decisions, choices: Date. Venue(s). Invitations. RSVP method. Dress. Color Scheme. Wedding Party. Wedding Party Apparel. Director (you canNOT do this yourself, seriously, you think you can, but you can’t). Music and Musicians. Flowers. Photographer. Program. Reception menu. Reception Decor. DJ or Band. Playlist (no bad words, and include some awesome 80s dance tunes). Cakes. Cake Topper (not important to everyone but definitive for me). Hair decisions/Appointments. Hostess gifts. Hotel and lodging for travelers. People’s Needs and Feelings. A Thousand Odds and Ends. This is just a quick sampler. So maybe it’s not 7, or 8, but 78.

And like the five points of Calvinism, these are all interdependent; individual parts cannot be plucked out and discarded. One depends on the other which defines the next. It’s a system of all or nothing.

It is irreducible complexity. And even here in the home stretch, awash in to-do lists, it is totally worth it.


Song To Keep On Walking This Side Of Heaven

Your statutes have been my songs

in the house of my sojourning.” Psalm 119:54

Yes, Lord, that your word would be my song, 

That I would sing your word as I quarter in this house, 

That your word would last longer in me than even I do,

That you, your name, would receive bright glory 

As your words are sung in notes over the reaches of the earth.

That those who grieve with tears today

Would find those very tears turn to healing ointment,

Filled with You.

That doubts would be exposed as the enemy’s 

Faulty weapons, dulled and off-mark.

And may your words be my songs

In the house of my sojourning.