Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Dear Christa—
I’ve been having an issue with cooking pans lately, and today the problem is that I don’t have one. We brought our pop-up trailer here near Cripple Creek today so that Jay could fish, and I could work on the book. We’d also had a conversation last week about if we weren’t going to use the trailer, we need to sell it. It spurred us to take a day and a half to get away. Boy, have we had some great memories in this old trailer.
We bought this trailer 18 years ago to take our last big vacation with all our children before they started the college phase of life. Teaching in Christian schools, we never had the money to take fancy vacations, but we did have time. And so we camped. No matter how grumpy and disgruntled any of us were, it always dissipated to fun while camping.
I think Jay and I first decided we’d like a trailer the time we were camping with my sister and her family—when the inevitable thunder shower came, and Jay and I were in the van making up beds while Lora and Steve were stuck in the drenched tent with a toddler and all 4 of our kids. We’ve hauled this trailer to Minnesota, Illinois, Arkansas, and up the west coast, over to Yellowstone and back. But, it’s mainly gone on countless fishing and hunting trips up here around Cripple Creek. Camping was good for us.
Every family needs to find something that they really like to do together. It doesn’t have to be exciting; it doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to be together. When we got the trailer, everyone had a job. Our kids today could tell you who was responsible for what when it came to putting the trailer up and down. Everyone could recount camping stories that would make the others laugh, probably most of them at my and Jay’s expense.
And, someday we surely will sell this trailer. The appeal of something that goes up and down easier without the hands of four teenagers was very enticing this morning. This old trailer has stayed dormant for the last three summers as we’ve traveled through Europe and stayed at nicer American accommodations, but I don’t think we’re ready to give up camping. Our children are bringing up a whole new generation of little campers for us to entertain, and I’m looking forward to it.
But, my immediate problem is what I’m going to cook the soup in tonight. I think it’s going to be the teakettle. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Just Stop

Dear Christa—
I think a key for me is to just know when to stop. 
We were one night at home between a trip to Illinois and a trip to New Mexico. As I was doing laundry, I put on a pan of sugar water to fill up the hummingbird feeders and went about my business. As I was folding laundry upstairs, I could smell a sweet odor coming through the front windows. “I wonder what someone is grilling to smell so sweet?” I thought.
When I finished folding clothes, I started down the stairs. Half way down I could see the smoke billowing through the house and Jay sitting in the middle of it all—smoke wafting all around him—as he stared intently into the laptop screen, working on a DVD. “Something is burning! Something is burning!” I shouted, as I galloped down the stairs.
The pan was burnt to a crisp; the downstairs was filled with smoke, and not a fire alarm one had gone off, even though there are two close to the kitchen. Jay looked up and said, “I thought someone was making smores.”

I glared at the pan of blackness, a pan that I probably use more than any other. I thought I knew how to deal with it: poured ammonia over a paper towel, stuffed it in a plastic bag and sat it outdoors and went to Albuquerque the next morning.
Sometime after we returned, I looked at the pan, and it looked just the same. I got on the handy dandy Internet and tried nearly every solution, except to use drain cleaner, which I am just not doing.
So, this morning I decided that it’s time to just stop—maybe not throw it away, but at least to set it aside. Sometimes I need to admit when enough is enough, at least for now.
Summer is half over, and I could keep on scrubbing on this old pot, but some things in life just need to be put away. I keep at them through pride or habit, and that is not wise. When it gets right down to it, we should consider what we spend our time on. Some things are worth it; some things aren’t.
So, I’ve had it with this old pan. There are more important things to do with a summer day. I might pull it out some dark wintry evening, or I may not. But, even though I’ve made progress on it, it’s time to stop.
Sometimes, you just need to know when to stop.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Extended Family

Dear Christa—

Finally in a rain pattern—and God knew we needed it. I don’t think I could live in Seattle or any place where it rains constantly, but rain when looking toward another dry, hot summer and fires burning close and far—well, it just feels so good. It makes me want to breathe deep and smell the freshness in the air. And I like a cooling afternoon shower. It has a calming effect and soothes me. It feels like coins from heaven falling when Jay is able to skip a watering day.

Extended family is like that for me—a freshness that centers me. 

This year we made it to our big family reunion—the side with 31 grandchildren (the small side).

And after the tables were cleaned and the floor swept and mopped, we looked around (my sisters and I and the cousins who grew up in the Quad-cities with us), and we said, “Do we have to go?” So—many of us decided we just had too much catching up to do to leave so soon.

At first we gathered in small circles, but as the hours moved toward evening, we eventually ended up in two large circles of chairs—the men and the women. I don’t know what those men talked about, but I know when our circle sucked in the last few women. It was when Aunt Marg made reference to a little known family story, and all us cousins said, “Tell us,” and Aunt Betty looked coyly at my mom and said, “You tell it.” And we cousins, we all leaned forward. Then we scooted around to let in the others, because somehow mysterious things draw us in. And Mother told something that I’d never heard before, which ended with “and that better not end up in a blog.”

Then there were stories from aunts that told of years long gone by when they were growing up during the Depression. There were stories of how they’d met our uncles and married young and gave birth (many of them just teenagers) and stories of Grandma who’d lived in her mother-in-law’s house until after Mom, the fifth child, was born (and my grandparents even shared a bedroom with her). The family stories, probably from my grandma, do not paint her as a nice lady. Some asked where certain handed down pieces had originated.
Then we cousins spoke our part—comments like Peggy not eating any meat at Denny’s house, but I was kind of struck by some recounts of women and their men. And as one cousin stated verbatim what she’d said to a neighbor woman making some moves toward her husband, she finished off with, “and you CAN put THAT on the blog!”

These family stories—the nostalgic and even the ugly—they ground us. They make us know that in a world unpredictable, we have a place. We are a part and we are significant. These are the people to whom we belong. Everyone wants to belong.

Family stories go on. After only a day at home, we buzzed off to Albuquerque to see Jay’s brother and his wife from Virginia, whom we’d lived close to back in the days when we were having babies. Those two short days we recounted stories of weddings and grandbabies—stories that I’ll retell when our kids and grandkids all arrive here in two weeks.

Family stories—they are like coins from heaven and rain on thirsty tongues. 

Breathe deep and feel the freshness in the air—cooling rain that says we belong.