Black Beauty and Frankenstein

Black Beauty left this week.  Somehow, Someway, she made impact with a stationary object.

I know NOTHING about that.

I do not drive her.  Really.  The person who does might have more to add, but that’s all I’m sayin’.

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In the meantime we’ve acquired, supposedly on a “temp basis”, an old farm truck that had been put out to pasture.  His name is Frankenstein.

I just call him Frank.

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Frank’s paint is peeling.  He’s old.  He used to be a diesel, but someone decided he should run on gasoline.  So when you look under the hood there’s a big empty space and some weird things that don’t connect anywhere.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of my mechanical knowledge.

Last week we took Frank for an overdue trip to the dump.  As soon as Doug connected the trailer hitch I swear I heard Frank say, “are you kidding me?!?!?…”

But Frank got us to the dump anyway.  He rumbled along steady, even with a heavy load.  And he made it back home, which is always a plus.

As we backed into the driveway, Frank suddenly rattled, wheezed and blew steam everywhere.  Poor guy.  I was beginning to like him.  He’s soft and comfy on the inside.  I can climb into Frank without hurting myself.  And he runs like a champ, even if he is old, tired and patched together.

But honestly, I didn’t want to like Frank.  My husband has a penchant for collecting vehicles like I collect sets of dishes.  And we have more than enough of both.

The truth is, I’m beginning to identify with Frank.  I feel on the inside how he looks on the outside… a little rough, a little rugged, a little tired.  And when I get tired, it really isn’t pretty.  Do I need new vitamins?  A new moisturizer?  Or maybe, a complete make-over like Black Beauty will get over the coming weeks?

More seriously, can I keep up with what life demands?

As for Black Beauty, her door is bent so badly it won’t close.  She’s on her way now and will come back with some new parts on the inside and a shiny new coat on the outside.

Frank’s doing a lot better.  He got a tune-up and a part or two.  He doesn’t spew steam anymore.  And I don’t care what he looks like on the outside because I know him on the inside.

As for me, I know nothing else than to rumble along steady, do the job God expects of me and come back home when I’m done… kind of like Frank.  These words say it better:

Take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.  Mark out a straight path for your feet.  Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.  Hebrews 12: 12-13

…and I’m trying a new moisturizer.  Hey, it can’t hurt.

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Connections ~ From The Road

A couple of weeks ago I headed south… just a quick trip to check in with my folks and help with tax paperwork.

Over the years driving has become my least favorite thing, especially when I’m alone.  But staying connected to family is one of my most favorite things, so I get in the car.  From the rural road I live on to the fast paced interstate, I find my groove in the southbound lanes and go.

This time the snow level was high, pavement dry and the sky was clear.  The mountain fuel stop filled my car and my lungs with crisp, clean air.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I or they or we have driven this highway, traversed these mountains, bought fuel at this location and a burger down the road.

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I-5 has linked me to family my entire life.

Visits northbound when I was small… I don’t know how Dad did it.  The interstate we use today was a two-lane then.  Mom packed food and there were few restaurant stops.  It took two full days and one night in a motel.  Dad was silent, strong and focused as he drove.  And I loved to watch him.  He did it with a wife,  two noisy little girls and no modern rest stops.  Amazing.

Visits southbound when I was grown and married… one husband, one wife, four little boys  and money didn’t grow on trees.  The husband’s rule was everyone ate the $1.99 Grand Slam special at Denny’s… whether you wanted it or not.  (cheap and filling, you know)  The upside… it was only a one day trip on a modern interstate WITH rest stops and Grandma’s good food at the other end.

This solo trip I packed a few snacks… knowing I would eat at a restaurant on the way.  Snacks are tradition.  Makes me think of my boys, or mom… good memories.

I found Mom and Dad well, since their move eight months ago.  Their apartment in an independent-living senior community is cheerful.  And Mom knows almost everyone, how long they’ve been there, where they’re from, what they did before retirement and how the bus system works.  She’s good that way.  But Dad… not so much.  He hangs back.  And I know this because it’s my default setting as well… when I’m not sure… and when change is relentless.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    I think Dad is sad though.  He misses driving.  It was kind of the last thing he had to give up.  It was his connection to the way things were.  And it was the last thing the doctor told him… that he shouldn’t drive.

Dad is the best driver I ever knew.  He was unflappable.  It was his thing.  And he taught me well.

He even taught me to do minor maintenance, because “not all men will do this for you”, he often said.  And he was right.  Thanks, Dad.

When I call, I make a point of telling him that I got the oil changed or the tires rotated.  He likes to know stuff like that.  And he nods approvingly when I check the tire pressure before I head north.

Because, inevitably… I always have to head north.  Again.  And this time Dad is on my mind.  I look for our favorite restaurants, the “safe” rest stops, the easy fuel access.  I pass the olive groves and where we used to buy big cans of them, the lake just before we climb the mountain pass and the peaceful farmland on the other side.  He has seen and memorized those same things.  And sometimes, even though I am alone, I feel his hands are on the steering wheel.

So I channel my inner Bob… and drive on.

Pruning Life

I pruned back the hydrangeas a couple of weeks ago.  It was a little early, maybe.  And I’m no expert gardener.  Just a reluctant beginner.

Several how-to articles were read.  My husband did it last year and they survived.  So how hard could it be?

I was pretty ruthless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFortunately, this one is doing great.  But then, it was the healthiest one to begin with.

The other two… the two that get too much sun in the heat of summer, struggled to survive last year.  One looks promising, but the other…

… it looks sad.  It’s misshapen.  The branches are gnarled and wrapped around each other.  It was hard to prune evenly.  It looks dead in the middle.

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I didn’t have the heart to cut it any further, so it gets a reprieve for one more growing season.  It seems a little mean to whack it down just because it had been ignored for so long.  It deserves a shot.

Then I planted a few little color spots… just to brighten up the place until the big plants leaf out and bloom.  They give me something pretty to look at while I breathe fresh air… while I gather my courage… while I contemplate the ruthless pruning to my soul.

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Because long before I got to this place I did, after all, ask the master gardener to do just that.  So I can’t complain.

The Portable Home

Over the past two years my concept of home has been dismantled one roofing shingle, one 2 by 4, one new window at a time.  It’s been curious and painful and enlightening all at once.

As every load of debris went dump bound, every piece of sheet rock was man-handled to the second floor, every plastic tote was packed into storage… I’ve asked God to teach me what it is I need to learn.

And all I know for sure right now, is this journey moved me way beyond a street address.

I do not take lightly there is a roof over my head.  Not at all.  Especially when I see the same homeless man camped under the same freeway overpass two weekends in a row.  And I can’t begin to imagine what home means to him.

And then every couple of weeks I see these ducks.  005

They apparently live in the parking strip between Safeway and Kmart.  They’re always there.  And I haven’t a clue what they eat, where they lay their eggs, or even where they swim.  They do, however, seem content.

Perhaps home has nothing to do with walls and floors and family photos… or that comfortable, hospitable space I grew up in… the same type of space I tried to create for my own children to grow in.

Maybe comfort and hospitality is something you carry with you.  Maybe this home stuff is more about relationship than anything else.

Because I’m finding that as the familiarity of stuff and place disappear… truth and faith become clearer.  Connectedness to others grows… even if they live far away.

And just like those contented ducks who nap in the middle of a busy shopping center, I’ve found that comfortable welcome of home in odd and varied places…

…like the cab of our truck… as we move another load from the old shop into storage.

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… and we talk of what has been and where we hope to go… if we’re blessed with that kind of time.  We sip our tall Americanos and roll into the fog.

I felt home at the train station, where loved ones arrive… and go… and leave memories to hold.

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Memories that remind me of home, yet nothing to do with a house… like picnics at the beach, homecomings at armories, airfields and army posts, gatherings at weddings and ball fields, at baby births and graveside goodbyes.  We come together, are held together by something more than a physical space.

This concept of the portable home is growing on me.  If it is so, I can take it wherever I go… share it with whoever I’m with… exercise it in whatever I do.

The quiet dark of early morning is one of my favorite home times… no matter where I am.  My books, my Bible, my journals of prayer to God.

He listens.  I listen back.  But He does it so much better.

I’m still learning.

“Lord, through all the generations you have been our home.  Before the mountains were created, before you made the earth and the world, you are God, without beginning or end.”  Psalm 90: 1-2 (NLT)

Renewal

Mostly I’m a point A to point B person…. as in, we have a long way to go so let’s go.  Now.

I’m not your best choice as a shopping partner.  I can fake that I like shopping for a while… a short while.  Typically I have a list and that’s the reason I’m at the store.  I want to get it over and done.  Now.

My husband is not a point A to point B person… we’ve been together almost 44 years and he’s lost somewhere in the middle of the alphabet.

If you’ve got the time he’s fun to travel with.  But be prepared, you’ll see most everything you wanted to see plus a lot that you didn’t.

If you’ve got the time, he’s fun to shop with.  Bring lots of money… and an appetite.  There will be many coffee stops and lunch involved.  Maybe breakfast.  Or dinner.  Possibly all three.

I’ve secretly wished I could be a little more like him.  (only a little!) We’ve come a lot closer to meeting in the middle over the years, but his life seems more interesting than mine.

The problem is when I want to go to a place, or investigate something, or do a new thing, I reason myself out of it.  Because, you know… there’s not enough time, it’s inconvenient to stop, someone’s waiting for me, someone is with me and they would be uncomfortable (I imagine), or I’m fearful.

Unfortunately, the last reason is probably the most true.  Fear of spontaneously doing a thing and risk looking like an idiot… stops me.  And it’s really quite silly.

Several times a week I drive the two-lane highway in this rural community.  And every time I turn off toward the road we live on, I think how beautiful the field is.  I wish I’d taken pictures of it change through the seasons.  But, you know… there wasn’t time, it was inconvenient, someone was waiting on me, didn’t have my camera, or… I just felt silly pulling off the side of the road taking pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The other day I realized new grass was coming up.  Isn’t that a springtime event? This is the end of November in the cold, windy Pacific Northwest.  Yet there it was… tender, green grass.

I pulled over and took pictures.  Not great pictures.  I’m still  learning.  Just pictures of something I want to remember.

A few minutes standing in the wind with camera in hand, rain sputtering in, refreshed me.  In a moment’s time I felt renewed.

A blogging friend of mine recently wrote her word for this Christmas season is “awake”.  Awake to the beauty and meaning of the season, not getting bogged down in the rush and hype.  I like her choice of words.

My word is renewal.  It doesn’t need to be spring for new growth.  It’s happening right here, right now… in this soggy, windy, rainy place I live.  It’s happening all around me… inside me.

Renewal.

I suppose all this sounds silly… that’s ok.  But I plan to keep my camera handy for future impromptu stops.  There’s nothing to be afraid of and it only takes a moment to snap the shutter.

My First 21 Days… Cause You’ve Got To Start Somewhere

One of those sideways days… today.

It was also my first day of 21 days.  No, I’m not going to post something for 21 days like I did for 31 days in October… I’m going to change something in 21 days.

And I might post about it occasionally.

“They” say if you do something for 21 days you establish a new habit.  I have a lot of bad ones to break and a lot of new ones to create.

And of course, the day you start something new, things happen.  Or they don’t happen.  Or you feel discombobulated over something silly that shouldn’t matter at all.

Maybe it’s the season.

Normally I love fall, but it’s different this year.  Everything feels in a hurry.  The leaves are falling too fast.  We picked the last of the apples Saturday and the tree looks sad.  And I feel like there’s something I’m supposed to be doing but don’t know what.

So, back to 21 days.

It’s easy to overwhelm yourself… or I should say it’s easy for me to overwhelm myself.  So I’m taking baby steps.

1-     Nothing to eat after 7 p.m.  No nibbling.  No sneaking.  So far, so good.  Of course, it’s only 10:05 p.m. (and 46 seconds) as I type this, but I’m sticking to it.

2-     No candy at any time.  HE was eating licorice awhile ago… I am strong.  No candy.  No.  Absolutely not.

3-     Fifteen minutes a day working on my book, with the hope I’ll get so caught up in it I’ll spend much more time.  And well, this did not happen today.  We were gone all day.  Excuses, excuses.  I know… but like I said earlier, I’ve been discombobulated.  That’s just the way it is.

And when I successfully finish this 21 days… and I will… I will start another 21 days and tackle something new.

I do think those apples are calling for me to bake a pie this week, however.  Pie with dinner is acceptable.

Just baby steps, remember?

Standing On An Even Place

I don’t belong to either major political party.  I have voted for candidates in almost every party.  I even voted for Ross Perot… twice!  But I must say… last election day really shook up my conservative self.  I managed to not eat the chocolate chips in the freezer… then went to bed early.  I feel pretty good now.

The first presidential election I voted in was for Ronald Reagan.  Loved that guy.  I’ve been looking for a candidate with Reagan’s mixture of charisma, common sense and courage…

…  still looking.

This might sound simplistic, but I think folks want a hero.  Someone to swoop in and make it all better.  It would certainly make things easy, but that only happens in fairy tales… or Hollywood.

I can’t do much about America’s big problems.  I can’t even make my husband remember Thursday is trash night.  But I can change me.

Of course, some things don’t need to change… regardless of election outcomes… like the principles and values at the core of my life.  While I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to die for them, I’ve never been tested that way.  But I am honored to know several who have put themselves in harm’s way, not only to stand for their own values, but to protect my right to stand for mine… And I thank you…

… Dad and Doug and David and Andrew… every Veteran… every single one of you.

So as I reflect on the election and what the next four years might bring, some things are coming into focus.

First, I’m glad we don’t live in fairy tale land where a super hero swoops down to fix stuff.  I believe things happen for a reason and God has it firmly in control.

Second, I’m looking at my list of goals… which is actually quite pathetic.  I have tweaked and modified and scratched off and just plain ignored them for too long.  Now that is something to change.

At the end of the next four years… do I want to weigh less, be healthier?  Have finished the book I started writing long ago?  Learned to bake bread?  Ride a zip line?  Or be a better example to my grandchildren, a more effective helper to those in need?  (I have no idea why, but I really, really, really want to ride a zip line)

So the goals need resetting… with concrete plans… and follow thru.  Because I intend to be a stronger me four years from now… regardless of what happens to this country that I love.

From my point of view, real change must start within… within each individual.  I don’t believe it can be legislated… or voted into office.

I love what King David said, “I have walked in integrity… my foot stands on an even place” – from Psalm 26.

My personal integrity… that’s where it starts… with me.  where I live.  today.

How He Makes a Home

We’ve lived here almost one year now… still living out of boxes.  Should I still feel like I’m living in a motel room?

It’s not my place to decorate or make wholesale change because, in a sense, I’m a guest.  I keep clean, keep safe and keep familiar the surroundings of the one we care for.

But what about the space we do occupy?

Last June we (and when I say we I mean the man and me) visited a son at his new home in Kentucky.

You wouldn’t think a single man with an army career would be such a homebody, especially as busy as he’s been the last 10 years…

… multiple combat tours to Afghanistan and Iraq, an instructor at Ranger school in Georgia, a deployment to Haiti right after the earthquake…

If anyone knows uncertainty, the fragile nature of life… I imagine it would be a combat soldier.  Yet during that time he bought and sold three homes.

He put down roots even knowing he would be deployed again and again… and again.

He took the time to paint the walls and hang the pictures, fill the bookshelves and make it be that comfy space called home… right down to the cowbell hanging on the front door.

He makes friends, wastes no time finding the nearest fishing hole, and his dogs love nothing better than to hunt the woods with him, then curl up at home.

His door is always open to family, friends and his soldiers.  He lives each day with purpose.  He doesn’t put things on hold until everything is “back to normal”… as I’m prone to do.

And he’s teaching me a lesson.

That very uncertainty of life seems to compel him to make a home base.  A safe place.  A recharging space.  It’s healthy and good.  And I need to do that.

I stashed a favorite painting behind the bedroom door when we arrived here.  I think it needs to see the light of day.  And perhaps I should dig a few family photos out of boxes to sprinkle about the room. 

Oh yes… I believe it’s time.

~ ~ ~ Rangers Lead The Way ~ ~ ~     thank you, my dear.

The best thing I learned this summer

As my husband might say, “I have a case of the fall-a-parts”.

Things have been breaking loose, you know… a summer of being undone.

The last couple months have been full of things I’ve never experienced before…

– cancelled a very important trip for an emergency tooth extraction

– lost all my credit cards and didn’t even know it… for three days!

– after years of thinking I must be immune… got a hefty dose of poison oak, or ivy, or some such evil plant (why did God even invent those??)

– helped my parents move into a senior retirement community

– and what we “thought” would be the easy installation of new tub, new surround and new tile in the old bathroom of our ancient house which has sat empty for almost a year sucking up money we don’t have…. WAS NOT.

So, I’ve learned a couple of things….

…wear long sleeve shirts whilst weeding the back forty… ibuprofen does not fix everything (call the dentist)… there are a lot of good people and some of them work at Home Depot where credit cards were found and kept safe… and I think I want our next home to be a travel trailer hooked on the back of our pick-up truck… SIMPLICITY, folks, that’s what I’m aiming for!

Last Saturday my parents moved into a cozy, comfortable apartment.  It’s in the midst of a senior community where they will be safe, secure and won’t have to worry about rotted old houses that need major repair.

I spent last Monday night alone in their house.  I slept on the fold-away in Dad’s old office.

It was odd to walk thru the rooms… tables loaded with life possessions, ready for this weekend’s estate sale.  Hard to grasp… no more family gatherings here… no more Dad puttering in the garage… no more cups of coffee and conversation on their back patio.

Days earlier I helped my sister load the rocker in the back of her car, odd bags and boxes of things tucked in and around it.  And eventually the back seat of my car and trunk were filled too… with things they don’t have room for… things too precious to sell or throw away… things I couldn’t imagine walking away from.

…like the hat box – filled with love letters between two young people – lives interrupted by World War II.  She asked me not to read them right now. And I won’t… just put them away safe.  I’ll be the history keeper for now… until it’s someone else’s turn.

Tuesday morning I said goodbye to the house, then stopped at their new place on the way out of town.

They were waiting at the door, coffee on, sun streaming into their small living room, happy and rested.  And it occurred to me… it doesn’t matter where they (or I) live… it only matters who they are… and Who they place their trust in.

And that’s the best thing I learned this summer.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill me completely with joy and peace because I trust in him. Then I will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit – Romans 15:13

How I Can Look Like A Rusty Tractor

The man has a knack for spotting old things stuck in the bushes… along a road… in someone’s driveway… out in the middle of no-where.

He catches a glimpse… of a headlight, a tail light amongst the branches, a rusty fender… and more often than not it ends up in our yard.

Last weekend’s acquisition is a tractor… from a neighbor’s yard where it’s been rusting for years.  They were thrilled to see it go and he was more than happy to take it off their hands.

He chained it up behind our truck… I hopped on to steer… and he towed us up the hill.  (Honestly, there was no hopping involved – I climbed on carefully because it had ants and bugs and moss and creepy stuff all over it!)

So, does it run?

Ummm… no.

Does it have the potential to run?

He says yes.

I hope so, because it was fun to steer – plus it all felt very farmy-ish.

This exercise reminded me of my old Chevy Suburban – Alaskan style…

…Doug goes to plow customer’s driveway… finds rusty blue and white suburban in the trees…  it’s filled with bags of frozen garbage… asks if he can have suburban instead of cash… guy looks at Doug like he’s nuts… tells him it doesn’t run, but “heck, ya, take it!”

So Doug plows driveway… tows suburban home… connects two wires… car starts… drives to dump and unloads garbage… drives to car wash and scrubs it inside and out… drives it home to me.

And I drove that car for years.

Toted boys and groceries and laundry and sports equipment and coolers of salmon. Fairbanks, Valdez, Kenai, Homer… it went everywhere there was a road… and a few places there wasn’t.

At the laundromat the back-end doubled as a playground for Star Wars and GI Joe adventures.  And when we left Alaska it made the cut to caravan down the highway to Oregon… where a mechanic’s wife said ‘driving a car like that should be grounds for divorce’.  Quite rude, don’t you think?

It was a great old car.  It fit our family.  It didn’t let us down.

I’m glad the man has an eye for potential.  And it’s a good thing he’s not afraid of a little hard work.

I’m also glad he views in the same way, the potential and hard work involved in our relationship.  At least… I’m guessing, after all these years… I think he must.

And when I drive myself in circles and roll off the deep end worrying about things I cannot fix… when I get stuck on the negative and forget to remember the good stuff… I’m glad God finds me in the mess I’ve made of myself.

He’s not put off by the exterior.  He sees thru his lens of possibility.  He sees who he created me to be.

The top layer is rarely the true story anyway… I’m learning.