Goodbye Old Cottonwood

When I  went to visit Mom last month she asked me, “Did you see out back yet?”  I said no and asked her why.  “They finally cut that tree down,” she stated.

“What tree?” I asked as a feeling of dread began to bloom in my chest.

“The big one in the alley,” she replied, after which I went out the door to the backyard and all I could do was stare into the empty space of sky that was occupied by a massive cottonwood that towered over the houses at the top of the hill.

One of my favorite things about visiting Mom, along with talking with her over coffee of course, was listening the wind rustle the leaves of the cottonwood tree out back.  I would sleep with the window open in the back room so I could wake up to the sound in the morning.  If you do not have cottonwood trees in your area you may be able to find sound bits on YouTube of the wind fluttering the thick, sturdy leaves of the cottonwood tree.

Mom was relieved, along with her neighbors, to not have to clean up the leaves anymore.  Being as hardy as they are, the leaves of a cottonwood do not curl up and fall apart like other leaves in the fall.  They become flexible from moisture but do not disappear as easily as other leaves.  I understand her decision when it came to the mess, but what about the shade it provided?  Many trees still remain in her neighborhood but I did enjoy listening to the chickadees as they hopped from branch to branch overhead.  “Doesn’t the beauty and shade of the tree outweigh the fall mess?”  I thought.

Over the years, many trees have disappeared from our neighborhood.  I do not judge however, because I have no idea how it is to be a senior and having to deal with the mess.  I can be disappointed in the trees being gone, however.  I went out front to sip on my coffee on the front steps and the sun blasted my face with it’s heat.  A massive pine tree next door used to cover that area.  This pine tree was so large and full of birds that my dad called it the “Bird Hotel.”  Sparrows, finches, chickadees, robins, and doves lived there along with a few squirrels.  Our neighbors were kind enough to wait until the fledglings were gone before they had the tree removed.  The tree was gone in less than an hour.  I was furious of course – not at my neighbors but at how short of a period of time something so massive could be destroyed.

We planted three trees in our yard in the summer of 2014.  I am happy to say that they are growing quickly and we have a robin’s nest in one of them.  We are able to enjoy the scent and beauty of the blooms every spring and the birds enjoy perching in them.  With the summers becoming increasingly hotter I wanted to grow some shade for our home and provide a place for my feathered friends.

 

I don’t think we can ever plant too many trees.  They are beautiful to look at and give us a place to sit under on sunny days.  I am not a treehugger but I am thankful for God’s creation and the comfort and joy it provides man and bird alike.

Double Rainbow

My grandmother, Joan Juanita Peterson, was laid to rest last Saturday.  When we walked into the funeral home, one of the first things I noticed was her casket – pine green with gold pine trees along the edges.  The first thing that came to mind was, “that matches her.”

Once we were all seated and the pastor started the services, the first of 3 songs started playing that grandma had picked out months before – all classical pieces.  As I sat next to my dad with tears streaming down my face, I remembered the cassette tape she gave me when I was younger.  It was by Mantovani.  At the time, I was listening to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi but I remember enjoying and appreciating the cassette in private.  I wish I would have kept it.  The pastor shared great stories and memories of grandma and my heart ached for her three sons as well as my sister.  Sherry took care of grandma in her later years, mending fences and roofs, painting, and replacing floors.  She always bought grandma cotton candy at the fair.  She also took care of my grandma in her final days until the end.

The graveside services were beautiful – warm weather, blue skies with soft clouds drifting by, and cows quietly grazing in the distance.  I commented that it was a beautiful place to be laid to rest.  The funeral director agreed, saying he also enjoyed going up to the cemetery for moments of peace at the end of the day.

At the end of the services I gently patted grandma’s casket and told her I loved her.  There is a beautiful crab tree in bloom right over grandma and grandpa’s grave and it was full of pink flowers.  I plucked one of the blooms and set it on her casket before I walked away to join my husband and son.

Everyone was hungry at the luncheon and I was humbled by the church and everything they did to help my family.  They provided a huge table of food and a kind woman plated up my mother’s food so she could keep both of her hands on her walker.  My two-year old nephew, who has also been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ran around the church basement in his little suit with a mischievous grin on his face.  Despite the sadness in my dad’s heart, this little fella did not fail to make Dad smile.

That evening a storm rolled in.  When the rain started to fall a double rainbow formed. It stretched from the edge of the Judith Mountains to the front of the house.  Over the edge of the mountains, lightning started to strike.  The Judith’s took on an otherworldy, orange color and they lightly glowed in the setting sun.  The closing of the day we said goodbye to grandma could not have been more beautiful.

The next day, my son said “Mom, the lightning was there along with the rainbows because great grandma was sassy.”  Well said son, I thought.  I cannot think of a better closing to the great novel of my grandma’s full life.  You have inspired me to live more, love more and fear less; to be bold and be myself; and to refuse to take a backseat in life.  Rest in peace grandma – you were a warrior and an artist who painted the most vivid picture of life.

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Beautiful Hands

My grandmother of 92 years is in hospice care.  I drove over to see her last week and was taken aback by how frail she looked.  As I sat next to her and talked to her, I kept looking at her hands.  I thought of everything her hands accomplished during her life – raising three boys; taking care of a home; breeding and raising beagles; growing, picking, and canning massive amounts of vegetables every year; shooting and processing deer every year; raising and caring for rabbits; boarding dogs; creating art and building things; and living a full life.  Her hands became still on her blanket as she slept, and I watched her hands raising up and down to match her breathing as I thought of everything they accomplished during her life.

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Some of my fondest memories are being in grandma’s backyard or in her garden.

Grandma only said what needed to be said and she said it with truth and boldness.  I honestly cannot remember her ever making small talk.  The funniest thing I remember hearing her say to date was about a woman sitting in the waiting room with her as she waited for the eye doctor:  “She talked and talked for 30 minutes and didn’t say a thing.”  Grandma listened and I know this because she always had a remedy or an idea for just about anything.  When Dave had to go into the hospital for a stomach ulcer, her advice was to have him eat some lamb.  When I wrote to her about our finches and the eggs that were being laid, she gave me tips on caring for a female that was having a hard time passing the eggs.  I told grandma once how much I enjoyed hearing chickadees and she told me that she always knew when a deer was around because the chickadees would start chirping.  I am thankful for every moment I have had with her and I will always try to follow her example in many areas of my life.

Equally amazing is my sister and our good friend, both of whom are caring for my grandma.  The sacrifices they are making, the dedication, and the love they are pouring out for her truly humbles me beyond words.

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We are not here on this earth just to exist, waiting for Friday every week and dreading Mondays.  We are here to love, create, serve, worship, lift others up, and bless one another.  One of the greatest gifts God gives us is the opportunity to care for others – whether it is hands on caregiving, offering a smile to a stranger or encouragement to a co-worker, donating our time or resources to people in need or simply being who God created us to be with no fear holding us back – only holy boldness and beautiful hands.

Scars Strengthen Us

I read a story about four seeds in a book by Rev J. Martin called God’s Grace Is On The Way:  Let go, embrace love.  To sum it up, four seeds were taken up by the wind and dropped into a clearing in the jungle.  Their dream was to grow to be beautiful trees, towering over the jungle.  Three monkeys also lived in the clearing that liked to amuse themselves by throwing bananas at any plant that tried to grow.  This made it very difficult for the seeds to take root.  The seeds agreed that it would be better to wait for the group of monkeys to move on before they attempted to grow.

Weeks passed and one seed thought she should at least attempt it.  When she tried to grow, the monkeys pelted her with bananas.  She tried and tried, even after the other seeds asked her to stop trying.  She didn’t give up but kept trying harder and harder as the monkeys continued to attack the plant.

Then, one day, the monkeys hit her with bananas but none made her stoop over.  The little tree had taken so many blows that she was now full of hard knots and scars.  Her slim trunk had gotten thicker and more resistant and could now withstand the impact of a banana.  The monkeys were unable to uproot her.  She grew until she became the most majestic tree in the jungle.

When we are dealt a bad hand in life or end up facing all sorts of difficulties, it is easy to give up on our dreams and goals.  It could be bad news from the doctor, the loss of a loved one or financial difficulty that puts us in the middle of one of life’s storms.  The storms can be so bad that it is difficult to see the other side of the lake and we wonder how we will ever make it across to the other side.

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After recently being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I wasn’t sure if I could pursue my dreams any longer.  I thought about the loss of my son, Christian, his brother, Andrew,  who continues to fight his muscular dystrophy and my husband who lives with a heart condition.  After being pelted with several bunches of bananas I set my dreams aside.

When we make it to the other side of life’s storms we become more resilient and strong.  God can use us in amazing ways when we let Him give us the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other when life gets hard.  We can then be an inspiration to others who are dealing with their own difficulties.

We are all given gifts from God to make the world a better place.  Some of us sing, play instruments, serve, sew, write or draw.  Some of us are given the gift of inspiration.  It is amazing what a kind word or a little encouragement can do for the spirit of another.  No matter what difficulties come our way, we must never give up on the gifts that God graces us with.  He knows how important our gifts are so He will give us the strength we need to make it through life’s storms.

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365 New Beginnings

As I look out the window at the last day of 2017, I am thankful for the beauty and perfection on display.  The snow is deep and smooth and it covers everything in a graceful blanket of white.  The sky is a soft blue with whispy clouds and the birds gently eat at the feeders.

Like many, I am ready to say goodbye to this year and hello to 2018.  I have never been one for resolutions or crash diets, but I do look forward to a new beginning.  I am ready to leave the difficulties of this year behind and carry with me the lessons learned and the things God has blessed me with into 2018.  God has blessed me with His strength and mercy every single morning that I opened my eyes.  His Word has given me guidance through difficulties and challenges and has given me comfort on my most painful days.  He has given me a loving, supportive husband and a wonderful son.  I was a bride’s maid in my niece’s wedding this past summer, and my husband and I were able to take a long overdue vacation to sunny California.  God has given me His comfort when I missed my son the most – if I would wake up dreaming that Christian is still with us or if I dreamt of losing him again.  I have learned the importance of balance and rest of the mind, body and soul and how loving ourselves is the foundation to everything in our lives.  By loving ourselves, we become more open to receiving the love of God.  God pours His love into our hearts until they overflow so we can in turn love others.

What are my intentions for the new year?

To love even more…

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To thank God for each new day and for the miracles He so graciously bestows upon us…

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To invest in the gifts God has given me so I can bless others with them…

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To serve others more…

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To do more to brighten another’s day, whether it’s a smile, holding open the door, letting a vehicle go ahead of me in traffic or sending a greeting card or letter…

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To keep my thoughts centered on the good things in life while letting go of the rest…

Each day is a new beginning, a chance to enjoy God’s mercy and love while experiencing His goodness which He promises us in His Word.  I wish all of you a peaceful, blessed 2018 and that all your hopes and dreams come to life while love flourishes in your hearts and daily lives.

 

 

The Beauty of the Lord

On the evening before Christian passed away he told me that all he wanted was to be able to look at things without being in pain.  He wanted to watch his finch, Kiwi, hop around or relax in his cage.  He wanted to gaze at birds at the feeder, beautiful sunsets, and stars in the night sky.  Little did I know these were some of the last words he would say to me.

Tomorrow marks three years since Christian left this world to be with the Lord.  Many think that with time it gets easier, but in some ways that is not so.  It adds on another year since I have heard his voice and seen his sweet face.  The ache in my heart feels stronger at moments and I remember things I would rather forget.

A few days ago I came across Psalm 27:4  “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and require:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple.”  Even though I have read and meditated on this verse before, it moved me to tears.  I remembered what Christian said and I wondered if he knew he was going to die.

This scripture, among others, moved me to make more of an effort to gaze at the beauty of God’s creation and capture it in photographs.  I find beauty in seeing the dark outline of tree branches against an autumn sunset, a patch of light on the tract books at work, a house finch resting on the shepherd’s hook, flowers on my table, squirrels playing around a tree at the park and Canadian geese lying down in the grass.  In honor of my son I encourage you to take a photo of something beautiful and post it on social media.  Noticing God’s abundant blessings and sharing them encourages others to focus on the goodness of God and also spreads more joy.

A Journey in Vinyl

I grew up in the age of vinyl.  My parents had 8 tracks and a player but I went straight for the vinyl.  I had my own little record player in my room.  I enjoyed listening to my Disney collection, Sesame Street Christmas, and 20 Power Hits albums.  My favorite songs off of the 20 Power Hits were Knock Three Times by Tony Orlando and Green Eyed Lady by Sugarloaf.  On my parent’s player downstairs, I listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John and Wayne Newton.  I developed a crush on Wayne, as I listened to him and stared at his album cover.  This was before Bon Jovi came into the picture.

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I remember the first cassette I bought – Look What the Cat Dragged In by Poison.  I was fascinated because the cassette was clear.  My all time favorite cassette was Def Leppard’s Hysteria.  That was the first album I ever bought the day it came out.  I also bought it on vinyl and I still own it.  By the time CD’s entered the picture, I didn’t own a record player and honestly didn’t think much about vinyl.  They were never in the stores and the only time I ever saw them was at my parent’s house.  The first time my boys saw my parent’s records, they came upstairs exclaiming “Look Mom!  Giant CD’s!”

A few years ago, my husband bought me a Music Hall record player for Christmas.  He also surprised me with a few new vinyls to start out with.  I was ecstatic!

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A few weeks ago, a friend of my husband revealed that he had a large collection of vinyl and he wouldn’t mind lending me a few at a time to listen to.  He had worked in a record store when he was young and since vinyl could be bought for less than $5 during that time, he ended up with quite a collection.  These past few weeks have been a musical journey through time.

I will never forget listening to David Bowie’s Young Americans.  David Bowie’s voice filled every room in my house.  Among the albums I have been blessed to hear so far are The Fox by Elton John, Dire Straits, Face Value by Phil Collins, Flat as a Pancake by Head East, Loggins and Messina, Dr. Hook, Foghat, Foreigner, and my favorite so far – Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly.  He told me Donald Fagen was a huge part of Steely Dan but I didn’t recognize any of the songs.  As soon as the needle dropped, I was almost out of my seat as I.G.Y. started playing.  If you are scatching your head and wondering what song that is, I almost bet if you start playing it on You Tube or Spotify you’ll say “I have heard that song!”  I loved that album so much that I bought a used copy of it from Amazon.

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Nothing compares to the sound of vinyl.  There is a rawness and a richness that I don’t hear when I play songs from my iTunes library.  Sadly, new vinyl is expensive – some albums costing over $30, however it is more worth the cost when they come with a free digital download.

Even if vinyl is not available, it is well worth it to join other people on their musical journeys as they grew up.  You may be surprised to hear a song you loved growing up!