Sunday, January 19, 2020

COFFEE, TEA AND ME

I enter the Salem narthex on a Sunday morning and I smell the coffee being brewed in  the large kitchen and hear the clanking of trays put out for goodies to accompany the coffee.  I smile and enter the sanctuary knowing that after the worship service I can join others in a time of socializing as we hold our warm cups and sweet treats.  Across the narthex is the fellowship hall where adults are seated with their warm drinks listening to the current Sunday School leader sharing information on a topic of interest to all of us.  I see smiles on faces and I hear  calm voices and sometimes giggles.
On week days employees come to work with thermo cups in hand full of coffee or tea.  A pot of coffee is brewing in the small kitchen for refills.  The cups follow us to our desks and our meetings.  Often, sweets are available near the Mr. Coffee in the kitchen.  Somehow listening happens more often and conversation is more civil and relaxed when these are offered.  
Friends and family call after work and want to reconnect and catch up with each other after a time apart.  Let’s go for coffee somewhere, someone suggests.  Morning, noon or night works for that favorite warm drink, whatever the season.  In winter, hot chocolate adds to the fun and the kids join in, appreciating the caring atmosphere of the moment.
What is it about coffee, tea and other warm drinks that seems to “settle us down”   and “open us up” to others?  Is it just a Scandinavian thing?  Or a Minnesota thing?  To help me understand, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a book for Christmas called, “The Little Book of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga), Danish Secrets to Happy Living” by Meik Wiking.  Apparently hygge is a commonly mentioned thing among people younger than myself.  It’s about time I caught up with the times.  That being said, I found it to be a wonderful little book in which Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, in Copenhagen, explains what makes societies and their individual members happy.  I was not surprised to find food and drink are right up there on the top of the list.  Goodies and warm drinks, often coffee or tea, bring people together for quiet conversation, making us feel connected.  When we are connected we feel safer and more confident in who we are.  Thus, we feel happier.  For some, a cup of joe (or perhaps another type of warm drink) and a few moments of alone time in a cozy corner with a book or a collection of old pictures that bring back sweet memories can bring happiness.  This is not just a Minnesota for Danish “thing.”  People of all nationalities find this helpful.  Of course there are other components to the feeling of hygge but comfort foods and drink are a great start, which explains our love of coffee and the treats that often go with it.  
Tomorrow I will take the path to the coffee pot in the small kitchen at work and pour a steaming cup, with two cream.  Someone may ask, “What are you doing?”  I will smile and reply, “Finding happiness.  Would you like to join me?”  We will find a place to sit and enjoy each other’s company.  We’ll start our day feeling more calm, connected and happy than we would have otherwise been.  Who would have thought coffee  could create so much hygge! 

Happy Hygge Day! 


Friday, December 20, 2019

JANUARY 2020 

Our family saw  FROZEN II over Thanksgiving break and I loved it for several reasons.  Being a Scandinavian and a Minnesotan I love winter and all it’s traits.  How exciting it would be to be Elsa with her magic powers to create snow and Ice anywhere, anytime.  With the wave of a hand Elsa creates ice castles and snowmen, skating ponds and sparkling forests.  If her good friend, a snowman named Olaf, is melting, she creates a mini snow storm around him bringing him back to good health.  In this movie Elsa, her sister, Anna, and friends Olaf, Sven the reindeer, and Kristoff, conquer the forces of nature and learn to love the ways of the northern people.  They love winter!
I, too, love many things about winter.  It’s here to stay for awhile so I want to enjoy it!  Snow and frost are beautiful as they sparkle on the trees, rock, rivers and houses.   My older grandsons gather snow from all around the yard (some years they have to make their own snow) to build a huge snow fort.  When it’s done several adult size people can fit inside.  The younger grandsons build snowmen and play chasing games through the snowy bushes in the neighborhood.  Our whole family loves downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and sledding together.  A walk on a quiet bike trail through snow covered trees is a great way to relax for awhile.  A cup of hot chocolate by the fireplace or an outdoor fire pit is a great way to end a walk.  The Bartz family, living just north of Salem, builds an enormous snow sculpture every winter that attracts thousands of visitors.  An ice castle will be built near Long Lake this year and many will visit there.  It has been in Stillwater in years past.  I visited it there and loved it!
There are many ways to enjoy winter.  Ice fishing is one very Minnesota choice.  I’m not a fisherman any time of the year but my one good fishing story happened when I was ice fishing as a young girl.  My cousin and I were given permission to use an icehouse on Lake Darling where her parents owned a resort.  We put our line in the water through a hole in the floor which I remember being in the corner of the icehouse floor.  Then we proceeded to do what girls usually do, hang out talking, laughing, maybe we had a snack, I don’t remember for sure.  At any rate, we were not checking our line.  Suddenly there was a splash and a huge (at least by our definition) northern came up the hole in the floor!  We screamed and didn’t have a clue what to do.  The fish flopped around and eventually got stuck between the ice and the floor of the icehouse.  Our screams attracted help and eventually the fish somehow got pulled out of the icehouse and was, at last, laying on the ice outside.  Even though we  really had nothing to do with actually catching this fish, I remember feeling very proud of “the big one” we caught that day!
It’s the beginning of a new year and I’m excited about the winter and all that follows it.

“Do you want to build a snowman?”

Monday, November 18, 2019

DECEMBER 2019  
THE MAGIC OF MUSIC 

Whether instrumental or choral, music brings magic to the Christmas season.  The words and the melodies tell the story of God’s son born to Mary in a humble stable in Bethlehem.  For the young, music captures the details of the story and helps them remember the event.  Mary rode on a donkey to Bethlehem.  She and Joseph had to stay in an animal stall since there was no room in the inn.  That’s when Mary delivered her baby and things went from ordinary to exciting.  The shepherds were young boys watching their sheep at night when the angels appeared in the heavens telling them that God’s son had been born in Bethlehem!  They were told to go and see the child.  How amazing!  In our preschool classrooms we often sing our way through the story with songs we have learned, “Mary Rode a Donkey,”  “Mary Had a Baby Boy,” Away in a Manger” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”  We read the book, “Little Drummer Boy”  and listen to the beating of the drum as a child plays for Baby Jesus.  The Christmas story is told and retold as we sing our favorite songs. 
Christmas concerts are on many of our schedules in December.  Colleges, churches and professional groups excite us with their performances of classic Christmas music.  Sung in many languages and played by orchestras, bands and ensembles of many sizes, all in attendance are  swept up in the emotions of the music.  We imagine the events of the story, the surprised shepherds, the wandering Wisemen, the contented animals in the stable, the star and the choir of angels singing of “peace on Earth, good will to men.”  Mothers and fathers alike can imagine the pride and awe Mary and Joseph must have felt seeing this lovely child born of God.  Although the angels weren’t singing the “Alleluia Chorus,” when I hear that powerful song, written in response to the birth of Christ,  it touches my heart,  I feel the magnitude of this event and strong emotions of praise, love and hope!
The power of music is witnessed again in the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914.  With World War l soldiers hunkered down in the trenches on Christmas Eve silence fell over the French countryside.  Quietly, a German soldier began singing “Silent Night.”  Soon others joined in singing in their native tongue, honoring the day Jesus was born for all mankind.  What a remarkable experience in the midst of war.

With the coming of the Christmas season, embrace the music.  It has a story to tell and the power to unify even people of opposing ideologies.  Jesus came for all of us. He loves all of us.  Alleluia!  Praise the Lord!  Merry Christmas!



Sunday, September 22, 2019


OCTOBER 2019
I’M STUMPED 

It happened on July 19th.  It was my daughter’s birthday, that’s why I remember the date.  I had had a fun day watching my grandsons and was on the way home when I heard an ominous weather warning for the Balsam Lake, Turtle Lake, Cumberland, Wisconsin area.  Our cabin is right in that area.  Tornados, straight line hurricane force winds, and heavy rains were on their way.  This was a Friday and we often headed for the cabin but we hadn’t this time.   At dinner we decided it would be best to see if there was any significant damage to our property.  The storm had passed and the hour’s drive up there went well, with little sign of damage …..until we got to Turtle Lake.  Turning north off Highway 8 we encountered road after road blocked by fallen trees and electrical poles.  Barns were down and houses were buried beneath trees.  If we could get to our cabin we wondered what we would find.  Meandering through the countryside we eventually got close enough to our cabin to park and walk in along the lakeshore.  The cabin appeared to have minimal damage.  We were thankful.  Then we walked to the back deck and saw nothing but chaos.  Standing at the back door we saw uprooted trees lying across all of the properties in sight.  We couldn’t see our garage or find the driveway.  Sixty to seventy foot trees had fallen covering everything in their way.  Our driveway, a third of a mile long, and the forest surrounding it were impassible.  

The rest of our summer was consumed by storm cleanup!  It wasn’t all bad, however.  Like difficult circumstances can sometimes do, it brought our family together to conquer the issue.  We used loppers, chainsaws, hand saws and wood chippers to attach the debris.  We called in two tree services to help clear the sixty-plus trees down on the property.  Friends came to help and our children’s friends came to help.    We were a team determined to win.  By  Labor Day weekend we felt we could take a break.  The area near the cabin is open and sunny now, very different then it was in the past, but we’ll get used to it.  To take advantage of the new, open space we pounded a piece of plywood on top of a tree stump to make a “forest pingpong table.”  We used chunks of discarded wood from the broken garage joists to make a lawn game similar to Bocce Ball.  We had a great time.  The following weekend we gathered five foot sections of straight tree branches for an all school environmental project at Blake School.  It was then, while hauling branches, that I almost trip on a stump near the driveway.  I  looked down and saw a heart created by the growth rings in the middle of the stump.  I felt a sudden rush of emotion as I looked down at it.  It summarized the summer’s events for me.  The feelings of despair and sadness over the loss of the trees and the damage to property were overcome by the thankfulness and joy of having friends and family around, working as a team to accomplish something worthwhile and to ultimately have lots of fun together.  What could be better than that!  That stump put the exclamation point on the summer’s adventure!  Thank you, God, for reminding us you are always with us, in the hard times as well as the good times.  

Thursday, May 2, 2019


MAY 2019
   SHOES
I recently re-read a favorite picture book of mine called, “My Shoes Take Me Where I Want To Go,” by Marianne Richmond.   As she names the various shoes in her young family’s closet our imaginations take us to the various venues where these shoes could be worn, favorite sports, the wild west, the beach, Hollywood, mountain tops, etc.  
That motivated me to look in my own closet.  I’m not much of a shoe guru.  I wear my shoes and boots until they fall apart and I don’t have too many choices. Take my rubber boots for example.  I have had them for at least 10 years.  My daughter took them to Costa Rica when she was in college.  She worked in the rainforest and needed to protect her feet from unacceptable critters.  Recently they have lived at the horse barn where I boarded my horse.  I wear them in the spring, mostly, when the mud in the paddock is deep and stinky.  They aren’t allowed in the house!  The same rule applies to the winter boots I wear out to the farm.  I do have a new addition to my “horsey”  foot attire, my “horse slippers.”  To be clear, these are for my feet not my horse’s feet.  My children gave them to me for Christmas this year.  They are toasty warm, felted wool, made in and shipped from Estonia!  
My black leather shoes are my school shoes.  They’re comfortable and easy to put on.  My feet need comfortable shoe these days so I wear them often!  I try to polish them from time to time to make them look work-place worthy, but the streak of glue, enhanced with glitter still shows if you look closely.  If I notice you looking at my feet I’ll know what you’re looking for.
The navy blue shoes in my closet looked so scuffed up I didn’t wear them often………until recently.  My sister and I were reminiscing about how nice looking our dad kept all the family shoes.  It was his army skills that kept them shiny.  “Spit and polish” he called his method.  He never taught us the technique  and now our shoes look pitiful.  Plus, I had no navy polish to work with, since the shoe repair store has such short hours and I can’t seem to get there on time.  BUT, “what to my wondering eyes should appear,” in my basement pile of  memorabilia from Dad, but his shoe box with bushes, rags and BLUE SHOE CREME, still soft and useable after many years!  My navy shoes look great now.  I’m proud to wear them!  Thanks, Dad!
Lastly, I love my gray and pink running shoes.  I’ve put many miles on them over the years running down the road at the cabin and in the neighborhood.  They feel so comfy I have taken them  as my primary footwear to Ireland, Scandinavia, the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands National Park.  They’re showing a little wear but how can I part with something that has made so many memories with me?  
Shoes, shoes, shoes, they let us be who we want to be and take us where we want to go.  They protect our feet, take us to work,  help us play and they wear us out.  At the end of the day, when I’m tired  and worn,  they take me home, bringing me to the feet of Jesus where I can feel safe and loved like a child climbing into her mother’s lap at the end of the day.  There is no better place to be.  

Where  will your shoes take you today?


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

UNFINISHED PROJECTS

Like many people, I have some unfinished projects around the house.  I’m a knitter and I have to admit, what I enthusiastically start doesn’t always get finished.  I am conscious of the fact that it’s still in my knitting bag but it is too far down the priority list to get taken out except on long drives to distant destinations.  It’s a dark cloud hanging over my head.  Maybe that’s why an article written by a therapist who took out her unfinished knitting project and discovered it had therapeutic benefits, caught my eye.  How could that be?  The therapist invited others, who also had unfinished projects, to join her as she knit.  That way they could hold each other accountable for finishing the items.  What she discovered was remarkable.  Each person in the group began to share various touching stories from their lives as it related to the project in their hands.  They talked about their children who once would have fit the sweater they were knitting or the special person who taught them the skill but who is no longer with them.  On and on the stories went.  They became something of a support group for each  other over time.  I’m assuming their projects eventually got finished but that became secondary to the friendships that developed.
With that in mind, I took out my mittens that I have been working  on, intermittently, for many years.  In the meantime I have knit many other articles, hats, baby blankets, scarves, Christmas stockings, felted purses and pillow covers.  I just can’t seem to finish the blue and green mittens.  I bought the yarn in Bozeman, Montana when I was on a ski trip.  My friend, Linda, and I both love to knit so over the 17 years we went to Big Sky we always took a day out to shop for yarn (and other things.) Those are sweet memories!  When I’m not working on the mittens I keep my knitting bag in a wooden storage box that my dad made when he was in high school.  He said his mom used to keep old socks that needed darning in that box.  On the wall above it is a cross stitch piece made by a dear friend of our family, Lorraine.  Lorraine was like a second mom to me and her daughter, Bonnie, is still  one of my treasured friends.  Bonnie recently found the cross stitch project, unfinished, among her mother’s boxes of saved  treasures. The directions were stored with it so Bonnie bought matching embroidery thread and finished the hanging, sending it to me for my birthday.  What wonderful memories that brought back for both of us!  

I can feel the magic working for Linda, Bonnie and me as we use our unfinished projects to instigate discussions about our past.  One story leads to another and another.  The unfinished projects that once felt like such a burden helped us look back and appreciate  many of our life experiences.  We can see how God has walked with us all the way.  Next I plan to get out my mom’s unfinished weaving project.  I wonder what stories God has in store for me next?  I can’t wait to see!



Thursday, January 17, 2019

FEBRUARY 2019

What’s For Dinner?

February………the shepherds are back in their fields, the wisemen have gone home, the Christmas decorations are put away.  Now it is time for the Christmas work to begin, sharing faith, hope and love with family, friends and community.   My birthday falls just before Christmas and I received a wonderful book from a friend.  “Table Life, Savoring the Hospitality of Jesus in Your Home,” by Joanne Thompson opened my eyes to the wonderful gift of hospitality as a way of doing Jesus’ work in the world around us.  I love the fact that, as Joanne says, we don’t have to be fabulous cooks or have fancy houses to reach out to others inviting them into our homes to sit at the table with us and Jesus.  Looking at Jesus’ life in the New Testament we see many examples of Jesus taking time to quietly share a meal with others.  Even as a young child, Jesus needed to be fed as all of our children do.  There was always a blessing and a spirit of gratitude to God for providing food.  There was conversation and listening and a feeling of love present at the table.   
One of the first chapters in the book caught my attention.  The chapter was titled, “Thanks for Supper, Mom.”  It addresses our current cultural tendencies to let our busy schedules at work and school become more important than taking time for the family to have dinner together at the end of the day.  When it does happen we often find ourselves checking our phones or watching TV.  We’re all guilty at times.  
Finding time to sit down together for dinner is a gift we need to give our children.  This is a time when they hear our voices thanking God for his gift of food and family.  They learn a attitude of gratitude that they can take with them the rest of the week.  When we look our children in the eyes and focus our attention on them they see our love for them and recognize our faith in Jesus to show us how to live.
    Okay, I have four children and I remember some chaos at the table when they were young.  It’s not always easy to make dinner a time that children look forward to.  Joanne Thompson makes some suggestions.  All of you have young children and this is an opportunity to  establish a family dinner ritual.  That includes involving your children and your spouse in the meal preparation.  Good conversation happens when the table is being set or the carrots are being peeled.  Let them all have some skin in the game.  Be creative by using “special” dishes on occasion or lighting candles.  Mix up the menu.  Try serving a fruit dessert first and then the main dish.  Crazy?  Maybe not once in awhile.  When you talk to your children, avoid general questions like, “What did you do today?”  Be more specific by asking, “Who did you play with today?”  “Did you like the story, “The Three Bears?”   (We post the preschool activities of the day next to the classroom door to help you out with this.)  Making dinner pleasant will make it a time your children will look forward to each day, now and when they are grown up.

Having regular family meals has been shown to have a positive affect on your child’s development cognitively, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually.  I’m thankful for the positive example my parents set for me and my siblings.  I hope I have done the same for my children and grandchildren.  Blessings on you and your family dinner rituals as your children grow and learn to join you and Jesus at the table.