Wednesday, February 3, 2016

For the Love of Coffee Breaks - Bring Me Summer and a Popsicle

            “For the Love of Coffee Breaks” is a regular Wednesday feature on this blog dedicated to yesterdays – mine and maybe yours.  When time moved a little slower, entertainment was found in our imagination, and socializing was done face to face. So please grab your beverage and snack of choice, slow down and enjoy.

Today it’s snowing a cold, wet snow here in Northern Michigan and that’s got me thinking about summer. But instead of dwelling on the types of summer I have nowadays where it’s over in a blink and more time was spent in the dirt of the garden than in the sand of the lake shore, I strolled down memory lane. Let me show you a day in the summer of my childhood.
          Those summer days were endless, and hot. Funny though, the heat only bothered me when I was working. If I was playing, who cared if it was 95 degrees in the shade?  Just give me day after day after day of hot sunshine, a good book, no school and life was good.
          This particular summer Lil Sis and I were too young for jobs that paid money but old enough to stay at home alone when Mom and Dad went to work for the day. Every morning I’d get up shortly after they left and before breakfast I’d read Mom’s chore list that she left for Lil Sis and I. It would look something like this:

Hang out the clothes
Vacuum the living room
Sweep the kitchen and shake the rugs
Wash the dishes
Weed the sweet corn
Not a bad list, about an hour to an hour and a half of work depending on how weedy the corn was, but for some reason we’d make it last all day.  Both of us would take our turn calling Mom at work; me to let her know that Lil Sis wasn’t doing her fair share and Lil Sis would let her know that I was being mean and bossy.  Then I’d have to call Mom again to let her know that I wouldn’t have to be mean and bossy if Lil Sis would just do her share of the work.  That took up quite of bit of our morning. 
Being normal kids we left the worst chore for last – weeding the sweet corn.  So it was afternoon and the sun was at its hottest when we’d walk out to the garden.  It was a short walk but taken at the snail’s pace of dread, it took us a while.  And we had to work ourselves up during the walk, “Oh it’s so hot!”  “I itch all over; the bugs won’t leave me alone!”  And so on.
No, these aren't our rows of sweet corn.
It just felt like ours were this long.
We usually had 10 to 12 rows of sweet corn, so Lil Sis and I would split the number of rows and start.  We’d tug and tug at weeds that seemed embedded in concrete.  We’d fight off spiders and run from bees.  We’d talk a little, fight a lot, and complain in between.  Just when I’d think that I couldn’t take another sweaty minute in the hot sun I’d realize that I only had one more row to go.  One more?!  Lil Sis and I would speed weed to the end.  Once we were done we found our energy again and raced to the house.  Quickly washing our grubby hands and calling Mom for probably the 11th time that day with the news.  “Mom!  We’re done!  Can we have a popsicle now?”  Popsicles, those frozen fake juices on a stick were exactly what two little red-faced girls craved.  Mom would give her consent and we were off to fight over who got the last cherry or grape flavor.  Orange and lime were for losers. 
We’d sit on the couch sucking on our popsicles, our lips and fingers turning color to match the melting ice.  Our sweaty bodies would relax and our day would take on a carefree air.  We could do anything.  I usually chose to spend my time reading a Trixie Belden mystery, wishing and dreaming that something slightly mysterious would happen on Youker Road.  Just once.  To this day I have no idea how Lil Sis spent her free time.  I’m sure it was doing something dumb anyway.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For the Love of Coffee Breaks - On the Back of the Sleigh

This is the third post in my regular Wednesday feature, “For the Love of Coffee Breaks”.  These posts are dedicated to yesterdays – mine and maybe yours.  Time moved a little slower, entertainment was found in our imagination, socializing was done face to face, and our family life was blessed by two horses and a sleigh.

I can remember the feeling of their hooves pounding the ground.  The vibration went through the earth, shaking the hayfield all around me, traveling to my knees and chest.  I knew they were running before I could see them.  Would they stop at the fence or blow right through?
My Grandpa owned just two Belgian draft horses, but the thunder they made when they ran across the field felt like a hundred horses were coming my way.
His were good horses.  I remember Grandpa comparing them to a couple of playful dogs.  They were that friendly.  Whenever they sensed or saw someone walking along their fenced pasture, they came a runnin’.  And they respected the fence.  They just wanted to say hi and get a scratch and pet.
In the summer, their manes were clipped short.  Their coats were shiny gold, tight; their muscles rippled as they moved.  In the winter, they took on a softer, darker look.  The lines of their muscles were blurred by the slightly shaggy fluff that kept them warm.
There were times when Grandpa would hitch them to his sleigh and take the family for a ride.  Those were good times.  Our family gathered together, helping, joking and laughing.  Snowballs were lobbed, threats of a face-washing made.  No one was spared. 
I never once thought that these times would end.  But end they did.  That doesn’t mean they were taken for granted.  No.  Not when I can still smell the horses and leather; hear Grandpa’s gravelly voice saying, “Giddup there Peg!  Flash!”  Not when I can see us all there, together once again, on the back of that sleigh.

Grandpa's team of Belgian draft horses, Flash and Peg.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

For the Love of Coffee Breaks - Best Friend/Arch Enemy

            This is the second post in my regular Wednesday feature, “For the Love of Coffee Breaks”.  These posts are dedicated to yesterdays – mine and maybe yours.  Time moved a little slower, entertainment was found in our imagination, socializing was done face to face, and my little sister was my best friend and arch enemy.  This post is a funny look at a small slice of life with my little sister, whom I love with all my heart (and my fingers aren’t even crossed behind my back). 


            I grew up in a rural area of Northern Michigan.  Not on a farm or ranch as you might think, just rural – as in void of people you don’t know. I still live there, though it’s not as rural as it used to be.
            Living in the country as we did it was pretty slim pickin’s when it came to playmates.  There was one house on our road that seemed to get new owners every few years or so and a couple of times there were kids.  The first neighbor kid was a boy.  All I really remember about him is that he came down a lot, uninvited, and I seemed to get in trouble whenever he left.  Another family had two girls about the same age as my sister and me.  I remember getting together with the girl my age quite a bit over the course of one summer.  I don’t remember what we did, just that it was fun.  But her family didn’t stay in that house too long.  So most of the time, my best and only friend during the summer was my sister (though I didn’t formally acknowledge her as my friend until we were both married).  In case you think I’m not a nice person, I’ll have you know that I did acknowledge her as my sister with a smile on my face, with no sighing and rolling my eyes, much sooner. 
            My sister is three years younger than me.  That meant that from early on I was her caretaker whenever mom and dad were gone; and her supervisor whenever I felt the need to tell her what to do, which was often.  She required lots of supervising.   I took the jobs quite seriously.  She didn’t.  The job she took seriously was finding ways to avoid work without getting into trouble.  She managed it quite well; in fact, I’d say she was something of a genius at it.  For example, every night after supper we were supposed to do dishes.  I’m not talking about loading the dishwasher.  This was back in the day of standing on a stool at a sink full of hot soapy water and every inch of counter space was full of dirty, crusty dishes.  Anyway, Lil Sis would have to visit the bathroom just about the time I started fill the sink with hot water.  She wouldn’t reappear until she heard the water going down the kitchen drain, as in dishes were finished.  It was a nightly event.  I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t pick up on this right away.  Mom is the one who brought it to everyone’s attention.  But Sis didn’t get into trouble.  There was no, “Well you’ll do dishes tomorrow night all by yourself.”  Or even, “Kris, you’re just the best daughter ever!”  Nope, and she continued to do it even after being exposed.  I began to suspect there was some favoritism going on.
            My suspicions were strengthened when my mom began noticing that Lil Sis was putting her vegetables in her napkin and under the rim of her plate.  Those nasty, green veggies that I ate, every single one, Lil Sis would slyly put in her napkin or slowly scrape off her plate when no one was looking.  Once again she never got in trouble!  I was robbed of dancing around singing, “You got in trouble!  You got in trouble!”  Our parents just laughed about it.  Again, genius, or maybe evil genius. 

            I think the favoritism took place because she was younger and adorably cute.  She did have white-blonde hair while mine was brown.  She has big brown eyes like both our parents, while mine are hazel.  Plus, I had glasses at an early age.  Even Dad called me ‘four eyes’.  But the clincher, I had freckles all across my face and she didn’t.  Not one.  The odds were stacked against me.

Me and Lil Sis - 1970 something

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

For the Love of Coffee Breaks

     I’m introducing what I hope will be a regular Wednesday feature on my blog.  For the Love of Coffee Breaks is about yesterdays – mine and maybe yours.  Time moved a little slower, entertainment was found in our imagination, socializing was done face to face, and there was an always.  We always went to Great-Grandpa and Grandma’s house in the summer. There was always homemade bread with honey, and we always had coffee break.  At 10 a.m.  Every day.
     Lil Sis and I were too young to be home alone in the summer when Mom and Dad were at work.  So we would go to our Great-Grandparents’ house which was just across the field from ours.  They had a pale green cement block cottage that I thought was just the best house ever.  It was always tidy and warm, and it smelled wonderful.  Always.
     Mom usually fed us cereal for breakfast before we went over.  But Lil Sis and I would still sit at the small kitchen table with Great-Grandpa and Grandma and while they had their breakfast of oatmeal, half a grapefruit, cranberry juice and coffee, we would enjoy toast made from homemade bread, slathered in butter and topped with golden honey.  We’d also get a small glass of milk that always tasted a little off, so I’d chug it without breathing.
     After breakfast the four of us would clear the table and go into the living room to read a chapter from the Bible and pray.  I loved listening to Great-Grandpa read.  His voice was strong and soothing.  They always let Lil Sis and I read a verse too.  We would stumble our way through the complicated words of The Kings James version with Great Grandma correcting our mistakes. 
     Once the devotion was done, we were off to the many tasks of the day – maybe pulling weeds or picking strawberries or shelling peas or trimming the ponies’ hooves, or making donuts or maybe it was laundry day.  I loved watching the clothes come through the old wringer.  They were so flat, ready for us to hang on the line.  Maybe we’d get to ride on the tractor with Great-Grandpa or pick up rocks out of the freshly plowed field.  Whatever the task, we went at it.  The work just never seemed as hard at their house. 
     But it all came to a halt at 10 a.m.  It was time for coffee break.  In we’d go to that tiny, sunny yellow kitchen and no matter how hot it was we’d have coffee.  Lil Sis and I would get a cup too, (extremely small amount of coffee, lots of milk and sugar).  There were always homemade cookies to go along with that coffee - chocolate chip raisin, molasses, sugar or maybe just another thick slice of bread with that golden honey.  Most of the time coffee break was over in about 20 minutes, unless there was company.  It was just a little pick-me-up then back at the work until lunch and the dreaded nap time.

Great Grandpa and Grandma's house.

Not the sharpest photo,
but that's Lil Sis in Great Grandma's kitchen.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

God's Tomorrow

Happy New Year!

I am painfully aware that I’m five days late.  But it’s still loaded with love.  In fact, I’ll say it to you again.


I think the all caps version really emphasizes my sincerity.

Do you reflect on your past year?  I do.  On December 31st, all throughout the day and up until roughly 9 p.m. which is my bed time, I go over all the things that happened in my past year.  I dig up celebrations, exciting events, special family moments, visits, goals accomplished, and all things awesome.  Of course I can’t think about just the awesome, the not-so-awesome comes up too; the embarrassing, the frustrating, the angry, the scares and near-misses, and the truly sad.
Once I’ve relived all that, I start wondering how this new year will go.  What will happen that I won’t see coming?  What great things will come my way and what will pass me by?  What celebrations will I have and what losses will I endure?  I can really start to freak myself out.  Then I have to tell myself to breathe, my life is in God’s hands.

A favorite verse of mine is the often quoted Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  
They are plans for good and not for evil, 
to give you a future and a hope.” (TLB)

What’s really interesting about this verse is that it’s part of God’s directions to the Jewish exiles while they were in Babylon.  They were captives, and God was telling them that they were going to be there for many years so they should get comfortable (verses 5-7 of chapter 29).  They weren’t to listen to the false prophets who were telling them that they wouldn’t be captives for long; they were, in fact, going to be there seventy years (verses 8-10).  God had a plan and a designated time.  And even though they were captives in Babylon, God promised them that if they prayed and sought Him with all their hearts, He would be there (verses 12 and 13). 

They were to have “faith in God’s tomorrow. . . .”1   

That’s what I hold on to in this new year.   No matter what comes my way I know that God’s got a plan.  He’s there for me if I seek Him wholeheartedly.  I’m making the choice to have faith in God’s tomorrow.

1 D. Guthrie, B.D., M.T.H., PhD et al., New Bible Commentary, 3rd Ed. (Guideposts, Carmel, New York 10512, 1970), 643.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bobcats and Freedom

It was a clear and beautiful, late afternoon in November when the dad told the boy to go check grandpa’s trap.  He knew the boy would like the independence of taking the 4-wheeler across the property on his own.  The boy is 15, he's all about independence. 

We heard the engine start up and then fade into silence as he drove across the field.  We raised our eyebrows and looked at each other when we heard him return.  It was too quick.  Could that mean . . .?  “We’ve got a bobcat!” the boy said with excitement. 
That wasn’t the news we were hoping for; you see it’s illegal to trap and kill a bobcat in November.  So, we had to let it go.   Yeah, we had to un-trap the bobcat. 

The four of us (the boy, the dad, the girl and me) readied ourselves very quickly for the task - a tarp, thick gloves, and three phones for photos.  Our excitement was high and the November wind was cold as we rode across the field towards the trapped bobcat.  Our small group was quiet, each wondering how this would go down.  Tires splashed through the mud and the girl received the worst of the spray.  She was not dressed appropriately for our adventure - brown leggings and Sherpa-lined, tan suede boots, and she knew it.  She didn’t complain because Northern Michigan girls don’t let the wrong outfit get in the way of real outdoor adventure.  This girl waded in a river up to her chest trying to help her dad net a salmon.  She didn’t have waders on, only knee-high rubber boots.  She knows how to roll with it. 

We parked the 4-wheeler a short distance from the trap and slowly walked up the hill towards the bobcat.  The bobcat saw us and became anxious, moving as much as the trap would allow.  When we were close enough, we stopped to assess the situation.  I took in the beauty of this wild cat, watching him as he watched us, and clicked a couple of photos.  The dad started to move in with the tarp. 

“Whoa now, just a minute”, I said, “what’s the plan?  I need to know before we get into the thick of it.” 

The dad explained his simple plan as he continued to slowly walk up to the cat.  The tarp was spread out in his hands.  The cat reacted with growling and hissing, ears flattened back.  It seemed to grow into a lion right before our eyes.  (Not kidding.)  Once the tarp was over the cat, all was quiet.  It was a little eerie.  The dad quickly used a large stick to help hold the tarp down at one end, then he used his free hand to pinch one side of the release on the trap.  It took both my hands to pinch the other side of the release, but as soon as I did it, the cat’s paw came out and he bounded out of sight.  And just that quick, it was over.

The dad and I looked at each other and laughed nervously.  Our adrenaline was slipping away.  I caught a whiff of the several days-dead coon and possum bait that had lured the bobcat in.  Realizing I was practically kneeling on top of them I quickly got up and walked out to fresher air before my gag reflex took over.    

Later, at home, we sat around marveling at how well it had gone.  It could have ended very differently.  This task took us completely out of our comfort zone and headlong into, ‘I don’t know how this will turn out,’ but we didn’t let that stop us.  We couldn’t.

I need to tackle more of my life’s problems that way.  Just jump in and do something.  No stalling, no waffling, no wondering how this will turn out, no hesitation.  My tendency is to do all of those things and more.  I’m afraid to move without an iron clad plan.  I need to loosen up the grip of control and trust that God’s got a plan.  I don’t need to know every step, just what He wants from me in this moment.  If I did that, I think I’d have a lot more days filled with His freedom – the sharp wind, mud spattered, beautifully dangerous, amazing wow factor freedom that God wants to give me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New Beginnings

It’s a new beginning.  A step out in faith.  It’s taken me awhile to get here; starting again.  To make this claim out loud.  It still scares me.

I am called to write.

It feels like I’m taking on airs making such a claim.  Who am I that I should be “called” to do anything by God?  But aren’t all of us, called by God to be obedient?  Because really, that’s all this is, it’s just me being obedient and using a talent that God gave me.  Writing was something that I once loved and was good at, until I threw it away and forgot about it for quite some time.  I picked it up and played with it, not putting in much effort, then tossed it aside again only to have God put it in front of me.  Again. 

Writing was something that I truly enjoyed as a teenager.  It was the one thing that brought complete satisfaction.  What could be more rewarding than a story or article that I was proud to have written?  I was complimented on my writing and that felt good.  I loved it enough to choose to do it in my free time – as a teenager – if I wasn’t reading, I was writing.  Yes, I was a nerd.

In college, writing was even better.  Journalism classes, English classes, writing for the college paper, oh, I loved, LOVED, seeing my first By Line and front page article.  I believe my BFF cut out the article and taped it to our front door (our version of Facebook).  But, my best experience was in my favorite class of magazine writing.  It was such a confidence boost when the professor said that he thought out of the class, I would be the one to be published.  Oh the thrill.

It never happened.  I’ve never been published.  After college I moved back home.  And stayed.  New York was just too scary to pursue dreams of magazine writing and editing.  Instead, I worked for an insurance company.  Not very inspiring, although, I did write for and became editor of their quarterly newsletter.  I even taught some English/business writing classes in the company.  They didn’t go over very well. 

Then I married and had children.  I tried to write again when I was a stay-at-home-mom.  I even started getting up early-early, before the kids; but as children do, they caught on to what mom was doing and they started getting up early-early too.  So, in my ‘poor-me-I-can’t-do-anything-without-children-around-so-I’m-going-to-pout-and-not-do-anything!’ attitude, I quit.
I did keep some diaries on and off over the years but entries were few and far between.  A few years ago I tried my hand at blogging but that turned out to be like my diaries, posts were few and far between.  Mostly this was because I felt like I had nothing to say and no one was listening anyway.  So I quit.  Again.

Then, on October 7, 2015 I was reading a devotion from Proverbs 31 Ministries, "Have You Forgotten How to Dream?" by Glynnis Whitwer.  After reading her opening line, “What God-inspired dreams do you have in your heart now?” I sarcastically said to myself “None.  I have no dreams.”  I meant it.  Further in her devotion she asked, “What would you do for God if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”  There, I had a spark.  There were things I would do if I knew I would succeed.  Fun things.  I’m not sure if they were for God or just for me, but they were things that I’ve always wanted to do and succeed at.  The devotion was strong and God-inspired and it hit me hard as I sat in my van at 4:40 a.m. that Wednesday morning in the Menards parking lot, readying myself to go in and start a job I need but don’t really want.  In the “Related Resources” section of that devotion was a free download for an eBook called "The 7 Secrets You Need to Know as a New Writer from 30 of the Industry's Top Authors and Bloggers".  I planned to check that out when I got home after work, and I did.  I printed it off and read through it.  On page 19 was an invite to a free webinar.  Webinar?  What’s that?  I had no idea but it was free and it was about writing.  I don’t know what made me do it, well yes I do.  God intervened.  And I said yes.  So on October 21, I watched the webinar by Lysa TerKeurst “Making a Statement: Three Essential Secrets for Writing That Works”.

I was inspired and excited after that webinar.  I decided to check out this “Compel” that was mentioned at the end of it.  Although I was leery because it did cost money, yep they had me hooked and now they wanted some dough.  But when I saw the multitude of training courses offered, and the opportunities for me to connect with a community of writers, I said yes again.  Two yeses in a row for me!  I can’t remember the last time I’ve experienced such stomach churning/tingling excitement.  This was both good and bad, excitement tingling to do something, and excitement churning because I now have to do something.

For all the excitement I’m still taking it pretty slow.  I’m refreshing my skills with Compel training courses and I’m trying to be brave enough to connect with the writing community there.  I know I need to write but have struggled with starting this blog because I still wonder what I have to share. 

But I said yes.  And here I am.  I showed up and the rest is up to God.

Psalm 32:8   “I will instruct you (says the Lord) and guide you along the best pathway for your life; I will advise you and watch your progress.”  (The Living Bible)