Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Let's Go Shopping!

I have a rule: Never pass up shopping at an authen-tically quaint country store, if you can help it.

Vaughn's Orchard in Weston, Mo., is one of those places. My Aunt Dot introduced me to Vaughn's last year, I believe (maybe the year before.)

It is real -- not a characature of a "country store" kind of place. It's a real orchard, with rolling hills filled with apple trees pruned to produce the best fruit on strong branches. You can pay a small fee and pick your own or buy a bag or box inside. All they ask is that you not waste food if you do go picking.

Inside there's a separate area for the apple sorting machinery. With supervision, they give tours during the working season, which kids love to watch.

The apples are off-loaded on the conveyor belt and then the machine sorts by size as employees pick out bad ones. At Thanksgiving, the season is over and the orchard is doing its maintenance work to shut down for the winter.

Back inside the store, you'll find all manner of treasures from cured hams hanging from the ceiling to gourmet delicacies in the freezers.

Shelves are stocked with jams, jellies, butters, relishes, sauces and dressings. All the good things of life! Some special treats: genuine Vermont maple syrup bottled in tiny, delicate art bottles made in Italy. They are works of art that satisfy the eye as well as the taste buds.

Margaret may be there to help box up your goodies, but don't forget to look upstairs.

They also sell some decorative items and antiques upstairs. This time of year, they've got a Christmas tree set up in one corner, decorated with apple ornaments.

The apples may be gone for this year, but they will be back! Count on it. Meanwhile, 'tis the season to turn our attentions to home and hearth. Pick up some goodies to make it more fun. I did! (Don't go telling, but I did my Christmas shopping while I was at Vaughn's.)

Oh, one more thing: Vaughn's has a glass jar on the counter that holds miniature Cherry Mash candy bars. Mmmmm good. I've always loved Cherry Mash but the small ones are every bit as satisfying as the bigger ones. And they are made just down the road in St. Joseph, Mo. Someday we may do a tour of St. Joseph -- but not today.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Weston, Mo. -- A Spirited Town

Welcome! Let's get in the mood for Christmas, shall we? Today we stop at Weston, Mo., a village of about 1400 people in Northwest Missouri.

Weston has a long, colorful history. It's situated on the Missouri River, just on the east side across from Leavenworth, Kansas. It was a part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and Lewis and Clark made part of their journey through Weston.

The river has been the lifeblood of the land around Weston. Not only did the river open up paths for trade, but it also contributed to the rich, fertile farmland (some of which has been in my family since the Civil War.) Some of the crops of this area are tobacco, hemp, corn and soybeans. Weston was a major tobacco trade center until recently, when the last tobacco sales barn closed on the west side.

Weston has been hit hard by several disasters. First, in 1855, a fire destroyed most of the downtown area. Three years later, in 1858, the river changed course and flooded the town, destroying the port. And third, the issue of slavery during the Civil War ripped the area apart.
Platte County, Mo., was very much a slave county, immediately adjacent to Kansas, formed as an abolitionist state. Kansas became known as "Bleeding Kansas" during the Quantrill raids on Lawrence, Kansas. The whole area saw bloodshed during the border war between Missouri and Kansas.

The population had grown from 300 in 1840 to 5,000 in 1854. After the turmoil of the 1850s and 1860s, a mere 900 residents remained in 1870.

Today, Weston, like many small towns, is capitalizing on its history. A historic building which once was home to river boat captains and traders is being converted to luxury apartments.

The St. George was supposed to open in late summer, but workmen were working hard the day after Thanksgiving.

These days, spirits other than historic figures keep the town going. Weston is home to McCormick Distillery. There's a gift shop downtown that sells some of the wares.

Just down the road from the distillery is one of the area's many wineries, Pirtle Winery.
The winery is housed in an old German Lutheran Evangelical Church. The owners offer wine tasting daily. Pirtle's is best known for its mead, which is a honey wine. Several gift items are also sold at the winery.

By Thanksgiving, area residents are loading freshly cut Christmas trees on top of their cars and merchants have decorated for the holiday. The street downtown is crowded with shoppers taking in the Victorian atmosphere that has been recreated in the 21st Century.

Shop owners have a competition to decorate their store windows around a theme.

Here's one who used the Dr. Seuss book, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Huge green hands came down from the ceiling on each side of the window, ready to snatch the goodies on display.

But you know, there's always a good reason for every action, don't you think?

No holiday visit to Weston is complete without a visit with Father Christmas. He makes his first appearance each year at Weston's Open House, held in early November.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery

Leavenworth, Kansas, is a significant little town for several reasons. It was located on both the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail (look for markers around town with information on Lewis and Clark and the trails.) And it was established as a cantonment in the 1820s to protect trade routes after Mexico gained its independence from Spain.

It was a key location for the U.S. government in quelling Indian uprisings and was in the thick of the bloody border wars between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War.

Leavenworth became a city two weeks after Kansas was opened for settlement in 1854.

Today it is home to the Army's Fort Leavenworth, Saint Mary College, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. (Side note: My mom was never good at following directions, and more often than not would wind up at the penitentiary any time she tried driving to the family farm in Northwest Missouri. Ah, she never could get the hang of "TURN RIGHT! NOT LEFT!" in the directions.)

Leavenworth is also the location of the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, adjacent to the V.A. Medical Center.

More than 22,000 soldiers and their qualifying dependents are buried here. The soldiers were interred here starting as early as 1827 when malaria and other diseases started claiming lives of those in the cantonment.

Among those buried here are Union soldiers, seven Confederate prisoners of war, 12 American Indians whose bodies were found during the building of the V.A. Medical Center (relocated to a mass grave -- the only one in the cemetery). Over the years, thousands of soldiers' remains were moved to the cemetery from other locations.

Row upon row of white head-stones covers the 36 acres dedicated to the ceme-tery.

About four years ago, I visited the cemetery with a Missouri historian. We came upon an area on the north side, below a hill, where hundreds of concrete vaults were stored. I tried to find them, to show a photo of how many burials they were prepared to perform. There are no vaults stored there now -- they have all been used.

On the way

There are several ways of getting to the farm from OKC. This time I took the Kansas Turnpike to Bonner Springs, then went up through Lansing and Leavenworth, Kansas. I kind of wanted to take the old way in so I could go "Over the River and Through the Woods." Oh yeah, I picked this particular spot because it fits the bill, but there is another "extra" reason...

Beverly had postal service from 1946 to 1960. Now, there's one antique store there and another business that changes often. I think it was a bar this time, but I can't remember for sure.
It's located at the intersection of the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific R. R., and the Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs R. R. It is six miles west of Platte City, where residents now have to go to vote. It's classified as a "hamlet." Cool. I like being named for a hamlet. I don't think anyone lives in Beverly any more. Platte City actually claims the antique store. To give you an idea about the size of the area, Platte City (the "big" place in this whole area) has a population of 3,700. Camden Point, where my family is centered, has 343 residents. Platte City's claim to fame is its courthouse, built in 1866. Bonnie and Clyde were convicted there in 1933 after a bar gunfight.

There's some powerful interesting history in this area from the Civil War. But that's all for another time, in another format.

Wednesday morning in Missouri

When I awoke Wednesday morning, there was no rain. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny morning, with 7 inches of snow on the ground that fell between 1 and 7 a.m. Here's Buck, (all 125 pounds of him) eating a big face-full of snow at my aunt and uncle's house.

My cousin and her husband and I had stayed at a motel in the next tiny town from the family farm, about 9 miles away, and drove back to my aunt and uncle's house on gravel country roads. It wasn't too bad, but we were all taken by surprise. The power had gone off at their house for several hours during the night. But we enjoyed the beautiful, quiet serenity of the snow-covered country and took advantage of the moment to shoot Christmas card photos. Each year of their marriage, my cousin and her husband have had a photo taken together to send out. If you promise not to tell, I'll show you the one I took for them this year. If you get one in the mail, act surprised, OK?

We had a hectic day Wed-nesday, and I wasn't able to get away to shoot some beautiful snow pictures like I wanted to. But at the end of the day, I was outside getting a breather just as the moon was rising over the east field. I was happy.

Fall's nearly over

Around the neigh-borhood.

"Bob and Larry" looking a little worn out on my front porch.

The collage of leaves which cover my front yard. P.S., don't forget to clean your gutters once the leaves stop falling at your house.

These were all taken Tuesday as I was leaving town for Thanksgiving. It was a rainy day -- I battled rain and fog all the way to Missouri.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Epiphanal living

According to the Christian liturgical calendar, we're about to enter the period of the church year called Advent.

Advent is the period of time which covers the four Sundays before Christmas. It's a time of preparation for the coming Savior, sometimes marked by prayer and fasting. In my church it is also a period of study and is one of the periods of activities specifically for families. It's a way of helping children understand that there is a spiritual aspect to the Christmas holiday as well as a chance to pile up a bunch of loot.

We were talking about the paradox of the Christmas season in Sunday school class. Some of my friends in our singles Sunday school class are parents, trying to co-parent with former spouses. They confessed that they often feel a competition with their children's other parents and family members, trying to come up with the most presents. They're often over-stressed by multiple commitments in a short period of time as well as the need to perform perfectly and stage a Martha Stewart-type presentation.

What's missing? Could it be that the Savior came as an infant so we'd be forced to listen carefully? Are we missing the quiet and time to listen to the Quiet Voice?

I have to confess that my Christmas holidays have never been a pleasant experience. In my childhood, Christmas was sometimes shared with cousins and grandparents in Missouri. I loved my time spent with cousins, but the gatherings always added another layer of criticism and punishments from my grandmother.

I was raised in an athiest household, so my only exposure to the spiritual aspects of Christmas came from my Aunt Dot and the time spent at the Christian Church of Camden Point, Mo. I remember being stunned to attend a Christmas eve gathering at the church. Santa was there and had presents for all the children. I figured since I didn't go to church I would just sit quietly until it was time to go home. But Santa called my name that night! He had a present for me!

This was the second time I had gotten a present at a gathering away from my house. When I was 6, there was a family Christmas party at Conoco in Ponca City, where my Dad worked. It was a pretty heartbreaking affair, I think especially for my mother. The children all received a mesh stocking filled with hard candy and an orange. Then there were boy gifts and girl gifts. My "gift" from the company was a three-inch-tall hard plastic doll that was broken to pieces when I unwrapped it. I was disappointed, but my poor Mom nearly started crying. My big gift that year was a pair of shoes -- she had stood me on the dining table on top of a piece of paper and had traced my feet so "Santa" would know for sure what size shoes to bring me.

So it's foreign to me to think about the abuse of children through overindulgence at Christmas. And indeed, that's what I consider over-gifting -- abuse. Excess creates greed and a sense of entitlement. It's also overwhelming for children to have so many things that they can't focus on or appreciate any one item.

Maybe it's because of my earlier experiences -- being thrilled by a simple gift in that tiny Christian church one Christmas -- but for me the gift of the holiday is found in quiet, listening to that tiny, quiet voice of the One who came to be the ultimate gift for us all.

Taking that time for quiet reflection can also open the door to Epiphany, the time that comes right after Christmas. Epiphany is, simply, that "Aha!" moment when you finally "get it." It's the lightbulb moment when one sees with greater clarity the lesson in a moment or an experience.

Though we're not to Epiphany, the season, I've been witness this week to people who are living what I call epiphanal lives. There has been something in their life such as an illness or a spiritual awareness that has caused them to turn their lives in new directions.

One is a woman in western Oklahoma who owned and ran a restaurant with her husband. A year ago, she started studying artwork and learning to paint with oils. About the same time, they moved into their dream home -- an extraordinary home sited over a creek with red rock bluffs. The roots of 100-year-old burr oaks on the facing bank are as entwined as the couple's love.

Just as the couple was moving into their new home, her mother died. And within four months, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had a heart attack. A defibrilator was inserted in her chest to shock her heart back to life if it stops.

She told me her prognosis is not very good as she gave me a tour of her home. She showed me the great room which was actually built out over the creek, cantilevered above the bluff with glass walls on both sides. Then we moved to her art studio, just off the gourmet kitchen.

But the part of her home she was most excited to show me was her shower, in the master bath.

"Go on through the curtains," she urged me. I started to poke my head through the shower curtain just to take a peek when she planted a hand on my back and shoved me on through.

I found myself standing in a space roughly the size of a car wash, with three separate shower heads (one was a rain shower, another a waterfall, the third a massaging spray) and steam. I'd estimate the shower room was about 10 x 10 feet. We sat on the built-in bench which easily could seat four people.

I giggled at the absurdity of it all as she started up the steam and told me how she could add different aromatherapy oils to a little inlet. She talked about the parties they've held in the house and how, at times, she and her girlfriends would sneak off for a little steam and a few glasses of wine.

"We've had up to 12 people in here at a time," she said.

About that time we heard the male voices of those we had left in the great room, looking for us. There was her husband, the architect, an attorney and the photographer who was working with me. We hollered for them to join us, and pretty soon we were all chatting -- until we all stopped in the same instant, realizing we were in the shower, for gosh sake.

So then we moved to the patio and the outdoor fireplace, which she called the most sensuous part of the house. "You can feel the companionism of the fire," she said. I loved the way she expressed it.

Though she acknowledges her physical being may not last forever, she said she intends to make her remaining time one wild ride. She has devoted herself to her art and has every intention of being the best artist she can be.

I'd say she is well on her way. She had a show opening in 50 Penn Place the day we visited her home. Not bad for a novice who had never painted a year ago.


The next epiphanal life I encountered was the next night at a benefit concert in Kingfisher at the middle school. Two bands (made up mostly of the same people) were performing. The first set was the bluegrass band (The Bonham Revue). Incredible music played for a small crowd in the auditorium of the middle school. After an intermission with some reconfiguring, they reappeared as City Moon, a country-western band. One of our guys from the singles group is in the bands, so a group of 10 of us made a road trip to listen. Despite small numbers, they raised a honkin' big amount of cash to benefit a woman with sky-normous medical bills.

Aside from whooping and hollerin' to the music, we talked with some of the other guys in the band. They were telling us about some of the off-stage stunts they pull on each other during performances trying to crack each other up. They've got things right: Music and performing have to be fun or there's no point in doing it.

On the trip home, my friend (who's engaged to our band pal) was telling me about the banjo player who was pulling the most stunts that night. I asked about his day job. Turns out he started out as a stock broker and now is some sort of administrator/bean counter at a hospital in an eastern Oklahoma town.

He, too, has experienced the epiphany and found music as his creative outlet. Actually, all the guys in the band have. They all have day jobs running the gamut. But they've been pulled together by a small voice, with a definite musical flare. And they prove my theory that music is often a prayer that reaches the parts of the heart that words cannot touch.


The last epiphanal life came to me as a story being told by a girlfriend on our drive to the benefit concert. A friend of hers needed to pick up a gift while they were out shopping and wanted to go to a particular candy store well known for its chocolate.

The proprietor seemed especially content with life, meeting all her customers with a cheerful conversation and extraordinary service.

"I used to be a baker," she said, out of the blue. "But one day I woke up and decided I liked chocolate better."

She said she makes less money and works much harder now, but she's much happier. Chocolate will do that for you.

So will listening to the Quiet Voice.

Can you hear it?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

TV with impact

Did you guys know I'm a Nielsen household? Well, I am. I've been asked three times to keep a diary of my TV watching. I'll be putting my latest diaries in the mail tomorrow. Y'all should be scared if people really pay attention to what we report collectively as the TV viewing of the American public.

That aside, today (which was not part of my reporting period) was an interesting day for television. Two programs in particular had quite an impact on me. First was Oprah Winfrey, whose topic today was "How Clean Is Your House." Featured was a woman whose house was so filthy she had not allowed anyone inside for two years. Her pets had turned her house into a toilet, and she had not washed dishes probably during that whole time. Her floor was carpeted with nearly new clothes -- it was simply easier for her to buy new ones than to do her laundry. I won't even describe the scenes that made me wretch.

I'll do a separate post later about why this program was so important. I think, personally, that Oprah hit the nail on the head when she said to the woman that she needs ongoing psychological help to deal with the issues that got her to that point. But I also think that pronouncement was not particularly newsworthy to the woman and definitely was not a helpful comment. There are avenues of help available, which I'll discuss in the next post on the topic.

The other program that blew me away was on ABC -- a Prime Time special with Peter Jennings interviewing President Clinton at the opening of the Clinton Library in Arkansas. What an interview! My favorite part was when Clinton laid blame squarely at Jennings' and ABC's feet for their coverage of Ken Starr's garbage regarding the White Water investigation.

ER (the program, not the blogger) is on NBC right now. I have always loved this show but I'm starting to feel like it's run its course. During the commercials I'll be doing intense spurts of housekeeping. I feel like WATCHING television, not BEING ON it. And I can feel the Oprah producers peering through my windows, just in case...

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Freedom to think and write

We would all like to think that we're free to write about whatever we want to on our blogs without fear of having to explain or justify our thoughts. This is one reason we use aliases. The down side is, we sometimes have to invite people to come read our blogs in order to get responses and feedbacks. We want it all -- the freedom to say what we'd like to, without getting gigged about it, and yet having an audience that will respond.

This is a painful conflict at times. For example, my post below about lost love. I thought I made it clear in the disclaimer there that I DID NOT WANT TO BE CONTACTED (off blog) about my thoughts. It was not clear enough.

So I am posting this link, which I found on Southern Belle's site. It gives a great explanation about some of the unspoken etiquette of blogging. This is a new world and the rules aren't widely known (if indeed we may assume there is an etiquette involved in anonymous or semi-anonymous writing. I DO make that assumption in some cases, and expect to have those wishes to be left alone respected.)

Anyway, I hope this link and the information contained in the disclosure prove to be helpful and useful. I'm also posting it in my side menu for future references. And anyone who agrees and would like to have a similar link on their site may get a button from the site itself.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Three-Alarm Decisions

Disclaimer: The thoughts below are just that: thoughts. I have no intention of acting on these thoughts; I have no intentions of ever speaking them to anyone who has been in my life in the past. In no way would I want these thoughts to be interpreted as a signal that I am predatory or have designs on anyone who is off limits. OK? So don't even start with me. Don't ask me for details. These are, simply, thoughts. The end.

Sometimes there are critical points in our lives when we make decisions that have lifelong consequences. And some of those critical points come at times when we don't have a damned clue about how to make those choices.

We can be impulsive and jump into situations that are no good for us and wind up in a world of hurt. This includes getting drunk and trying to drive home from a party, and hurting or killing people. At best, we may realize we have no idea how we got from point A to point B, which is 50 miles from our intended destination of point C. If we're smart after being this stupid, we wind up being so scared that we learn not to do this again. Peeing in your pants when you wake up driving 65 mph on a strange road is still preferable to crashing into another car and killing someone else's friend, mother, or lover.

Six times in my life I've had to bury people who were close to me after someone got into a car in that state. That's too many people to lose to Jose Cuervo, my friends.

We can also over -think decisions to the point we make "safe" choices that are no good for us. And just like losing someone in a drunken driving accident, we can pass up the chance for the great love of our lives.

I was 18 years old – a freshman in college living in the dorm. In 1973, it was a big deal to have “co-ed” dorms; pretty tame by today’s standards considering the guys and girls were separated by an elevator lobby.

He had come to see my roommate, one of his high-school classmates. She was on her way to some sorority party so we got the briefest of introductions. We discovered we had other mutual friends, and soon we were wrapped up in a conversation that lasted for hours. He lived on the other side of my dorm floor, so we ran into each other often and got caught up talking.

At some point he caught my gaze with the darkest brown eyes I’d ever seen, and wouldn’t let go. The kiss that followed was repeated, often, during the next four years.

Passion was kept in check by ambition. We both had strong drives to do well in school and lay the groundwork for our futures. I’d been taught by my parents, especially by my dad, that it was ultimately important that I be able to support myself without needing to rely on a man to take care of me. Absolutely nothing was to get in the way of my becoming a modern, independent woman in their eyes.

And so I remained both obedient and rebellious.

My parents didn’t discourage me from drinking. They did teach me to be responsible about it and said they’d rather have me drink a fifth at home than a beer somewhere on the road. So I remained sober until that fall freshman year, when one fateful night I drank a pint of Bacardi rum mixed with Coke. Every drop. While keeping a diary.

Like I’ve said, I don’t believe in drinking and driving. So I walked that night – from one side of the room to the other, on top of the furniture to avoid touching the floor. My roommates caught me walking on top of a desk when they came home that night and tried to put me to bed. I didn’t understand the physiology of what I was doing – it made no sense – but as soon as they would put me into my bed, I was springing up and walking again. I thought the bed was launching me like a catapult.

They almost had me down in bed again before they realized I was getting sick. They kind of guided me to the bathroom where I spent the rest of the night, locked in.

Mr. Brown Eyes came the next day to visit and heard part of the story from the roommates. The rest he deciphered from the diary. He kindly pointed out that by the end of the notebook, I was writing one letter per page.

It was an awakening moment, after I sobered up. I realized I could have died of alcohol poisoning. And I realized I would be like the alcoholics on both sides of my family if I didn’t put a stop to this right now. That fateful pint pretty well sealed my decision not to drink as an adult.

So with renewed vision, my resolve was strengthened and I remained committed to my goals during the remainder of my college career. I drew the line with alcohol, as well as sex.

As tempted as I was by those brown eyes, we never crossed a certain line. And I was tempted, powerfully tempted. But we had each said there was too much at stake to take the chances of being derailed by the byproducts of lust. OK, I said that more than he did. His fear was being thrown off his career path by love.

Countless times I can remember telling him that I had no intention of getting married and starting a family until I was established in my career. Countless times he vocalized his fears that I was born to be the soccer mom with the wood-paneled station wagon (this was pre-mini-van days). I scoffed at the “domestic” label, even when I baked him a birthday cake from scratch and made a fancy swirled pattern in the frosting.

I realized the depth of his fear when I saw his face blanch at the sight of that cake. On one hand, he was touched by the gesture, but his male eyes (those beautiful, dark brown male eyes) must have seen shackles reaching out from that cake.

We continued our push-me-pull-you entanglement through our senior year, and even the summer after graduation. The bittersweet end came when he had to leave the state to go to graduate school.

Even to the end, we played the game. Completely drawn to each other, fighting to resist the powerful, unexplainable magnetism, we continued to spout all the reasons why we couldn’t, we just couldn’t, there are good reasons why we can’t, we can’t, we can’t.

And we didn’t. We couldn’t.

We couldn’t let go of reason long enough to listen to love. In the 30 years since then, I’ve often wondered if he would have changed his mind if I had changed mine and simply admitted what I felt for him.

It’s only now, this minute, that I’m able to cry about it. How different would our lives have been? I dare not think of it too much. Everything would have been different. But we did what we did and life is what it became.

So many friends fought this same battle and lost the fight. Many started their families in a moment of passion mixed with abandon and an open, loving heart that allowed them to set reason aside. Several of my girlfriends had to drop out of high school because of pregnancies. Every one of them is still married to the same man. The ones betrayed by biology in college are together as well, and now are grandparents.


I scarce can believe it because I never did become the soccer mom. I got so good at avoiding love – seeing it as a weakness -- that I didn’t marry until I was 32. It was a disaster that ended a mere three years later, with no children born.

The rest of my family is gone now, so I remain alone.

My brown-eyed sweetheart has been very successful in his career, I've learned. He
found the love of his life in grad school and they’ve remained married all these years. They have three children, the youngest in high school, probably fighting her own battles now.

I hope every minute of their time together has been happy beyond words.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Chili tonight, hot tamale

We're having a chili cook-off at church tonight. My entry is simmering away, almost ready. This is an annual event we have to introduce all the new members who have joined the church in the past year. It's also a good-spirited competition to see who can garner the most votes for their crockpot concoctions. The categories are 1, 2 or 3-alarm chili. Mostly the men like the kind that can blister paint.

We do get some interesting entries, using a variety of meats or other ingredients. Mine is plain-ol' plain-ol. I'm not looking to win a prize, but in my 11 years in the church I've never taken a crock of chili and I felt like I was taking advantage.

Many folks bring a muffin tin so they can sample small amounts of several varieties. We're expecting 22+ crocks tonight.

I wanted to warn y'all that I've got a blog entry cooking in my head, too, that is ever so much more spicy and steamy than my chili. The ingredients will include passion and longing and decisions made long, long ago that changed lives. You've been warned... I'll give you time to digest this while you decide if you're up to a 3-alarm post.

See you later this evening.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Seeking the warmth

A friend of mine was in town for an appointment today so we had a late lunch together at Cracker Barrel. I love Cracker Barrel -- I know it's marketing and as my mother said the one time I took her there, "It's a tourist trap full of crap." OK mom, but I like it. I love the food, and I could shop there for a couple of hours every time I go in. In fact, I usually do. Like today.

Friend needed to find some small gifts for a Secret Santa exchange at her work. She hasn't participated in this kind of exchange before and really, wanted nothing to do with it. I offered to help, feeling confident that we could find several small, inexpensive items that would be appropriate.

So off to Cracker Barrel we went.

First, we fortified ourselves with a hearty, warm lunch. Chicken and dumplings with okra and fried apples for me. Chicken and rice for her. We were both sated and happy for the second phase of our mission.

After we paid our dinner checks, we mosied around the store half. Perfect time for our efforts -- there are Christmas ornaments galore for sale right now. The Halloween items and almost all the Thanksgiving things have been pushed off to the discount corner where prices are cut 50 percent to 75 percent. Oh, but back to Christmas...

My initial suggestion was to get several of the old-fashioned candies and treats that you can only find at Cracker Barrel and other nostalgia vendors these days. Ah, first snag... so many people are diabetic these days that candy is a no-no. OK, continue.

Here's another thought: They carry Yankee Candles (my personal favorite! my preferred scent being Home Sweet Home, but I also like Sage and Citrus and Midnight Dream. Today I picked up a Harvest votive.) Oh, but not for the exchange. Too many people allergic to scents. Hmmm. This is getting tougher.

Next suggestion: Old fashioned toys, like a Slinky, or a kazoo, or ...

There it was. A bottle of bubbles waiting to be blown. Ka-ching, we have our first sale!

The kazoo also made it into the shopping basket, but alas, the Slinky, at $5, was a little over the budget.

Next was the bonanza. There are several small Christmas trees set up among the sale displays, each containing a particular collection of ornaments. Bingo! We quickly find some really, really cute ornaments that complete our job. She's happy. I'm thrilled.

We pay for the purchase -- five items for less than $8. THEN the clerk says "Would you like those gift wrapped, for free?"

Our eyes and mouths opened wide and we said in unison: "YEAH! HOW COOL!"

A good half-hour later, our tiny little purchases are individually dressed boxes wrapped in rustic gift paper with small burgandy bows. Cute as can be. Getting the wrapped packages will be as much fun as opening them for the presents inside, I'm thinking. Very good.

So let me suggest it to you. If you're hunting for gift ideas, go have a good, better-than-home-cooked dinner at Cracker Barrel, then browse the store. Get your friends some good candy, some almonds or cashews or peanuts. Then check out the toy section for checkers, Slinkies, Wheel-Os and board games for anyone and everyone. Pick up a CD of nostalgic music, gospel songs or old radio programs. And let them wrap it all up for you, for free.

You can even get a holiday dinner to go, complete with pie.

They're open for Thanksgiving, serving the whole meal with dessert for less than $10 a person. Count on the lines being long. Maybe I'll see you by the fireplace.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

My brain is full

It's time to siphon off some of the thoughts filling up my head. I know it's been a few days since I've posted on my own blog. I've been busy making the blog rounds and commenting on others' posts.

It's been kind of odd and crazy this week. I've been having problems with my blood pressure. Even with my medication I'm having trouble getting it under control, and it's sky-high, way up in the scary range where I wonder if I'll wake up some mornings. I have become more diligent about making sure I take my meds and I'm getting it checked often. Sometimes I'm catching myself thinking I'll never make it to Jeopardy! if I have a stroke. I wouldn't even make it to PeggyHill's Boggle tournament because I would forget all the words in Patsy Cline lyrics.

The worst part of this is that you guys are the only ones I've mentioned this to. I'm afraid to mention it to my closest friends for fear of scaring them. So, there you go. You're now my close confidents, like it or not. "They" are right when "they" say middle age ain't for sissies.

But onward to other things...

As much as I love (and I do mean LOVE) the freelance writing I'm doing, reality is setting in with a heavy hand. It's time for me to start working full time again, for several reasons. More than the money, I need the daily contact and structure that goes with a j-o-b. There are several ways of putting those things into your life, but a regular paycheck is a good motivator. My hope is to find a job that combines my work skills with my personal mission statement -- to do what I can to make the world better when I leave it than it was when I got here. I've done some things towards that goal over the past two years doing volunteer work and church projects. Hopefully I'll find a more intentional way to do so.

I'm very tired tonight. So I'll say goodnight while I'm partially coherent and wish you all sweet dreams as well. May tomorrow be a wonderful day for you!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Back from camp

It was a wonderful weekend. Just the right cool nip to need a light jacket on our morning walks. Here are a few photos just to let you all know what the camp looks like -- I hope you aren't TOO jealous.

A perfect fall afternoon with the glow of the sun on the cabins, just before it dipped below the ridge of the canyon.

A lot of people like to climb the canyon up to a lighted cross on the ridge. That's something I gave up when I was in college and had to run up the trail with a load of inner-city sixth graders.

The B.C. Clark chapel is a tiny place of worship. It will hold at most 16 people in the tiny wooden benches that hold two people each. The tree has been there long enough to find its path between the roof of the chapel and the canyon wall. Yes, the chapel was named for THAT B.C. Clark -- the one of the jewelry store with the state's official Christmas song. The Clark family has long been benefactors of the Oklahoma United Methodist Church.

A hand-carved cross rests on the altar of the chapel.

An emblem of the camp is the dinner bell, rung before nearly every meal served in the dining hall in the camp's 50-year history.

What the heck... here's a photo of me at the bridge that crosses the big mud puddle.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Have a great weekend -- I'm unplugging

I've got a few hours before I leave for my retreat, so I am going to begin now by signing off my computer. I am going to try to keep myself occupied so the withdrawal goes easier -- peel my fingers off the keys, pack the weekend suitcase, toss my stuff in the car. I hope I have time to go to the camera store -- this may be the day I fulfill my lens envy!! I'm going to look, anyway. I'm very happy with the 18-70mm zoom that came with my Nikon D70, but now my lens hunger is even greater. This also will be a good weekend for trying out something new, while I'm down in the canyon.

The canyon (aka Canyon Camp, the United Methodist Camp near Hinton, OK, west of OKC) is a beautiful, glorious place. Geographically it has red rock walls which form a series of five canyons.

Peace to you all!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

What Do We Need Today?

We need:

To relax now that the election is over. Things aren't perfect; they never were and never will be.

To have hope. Maybe things will be better than we fear, if not as good as we'd like.

To cook a good, healthy dinner for our household. Vegetables. Casseroles. Healthy soups. Something that feeds our bodies the nutrients they need without piling on a lot of excess fat.

To exercise. It's a two-prong plan, we all know that. Input and Output. (I had a typo for a second--outpoot. Maybe that is more appropriate.)

To set aside fear. This is a topic on several blogs this week. Fear is paralyzing. It clouds our judgment and keeps us from moving forward. It is also a fake -- it doesn't really exist but in our minds. We can't control corporate fear -- the fear of society that makes us give up our quality of life in search of safety -- but we CAN conquer our own fear and perserver through our daily lives.

Puppies. We all need a good puppy to play with -- one that will grow up into a loyal, faithful, lifetime friend. Puppies are gifts from God to remind us that love is a universal option, that it is given unconditionally, that it can be warm and fuzzy, even with a cold nose. Sometimes it's messy and needs to be cleaned up after. But it is also a blast. It's hard to think of having a new puppy after loving a dog through its whole life and yes, its death. It's hard to think of taking on that responsibility again in exchange for the joy of fuzzy love. Especially if you bought white carpet after losing the previous fuzzy love of your life.

To give away the leftover Halloween candy. It's making me sick. I bought three bags and only gave away part of one bag. I think I will go find small children and toss this stuff at them. TRICK OR TREAT!

JOY. I am anticipating joy this weekend as I go on a singles retreat at our church camp. This is an annual retreat for our group. We don't stay in the kids' summer camp bunk houses. Nooooo, we get to stay in the lodge, which is as nice as a hotel with meeting rooms for playing Cranium and working on our planning sessions. And we don't have to cook -- we can go to the dining hall and sit on the wood benches at the wood tables. There will be plenty of time for photo-taking and outdoor walks. These are the things that renew my spirit seasonally.

Be happy, happy. Look for the good. Stay safe, but turn your back on the annoyances of modern life. Listen to your God's voice inside you. He speaks more often than we listen, and it's His wish to give us all the good in life. Listen, and accept it. Peace.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Happy holiday! It is ELECTION DAY. We have until 7 p.m. to make it to the polls and VOTE.

This election is not just about choosing the president. There are local issues and local races also (how did you miss knowing that? Didn't you get the same 1,693 phone calls I did?)

Look at your sample ballots if you haven't already. By now you know what you think on each of the candidates and the questions. Now, you have two choices:
(1) Get in your car and drive to your polling place. Take your ID just in case there is a challenge (don't expect one, but be prepared.)
(2) Put on your walking shoes and walk to your polling place. Take your ID just in case there is a challenge (don't expect one, but be prepared.)

Now, VOTE. Follow the exact procedures set up at your polling site, whether you have a paper ballot, a voting machine or one of the new-fangled video screen things. DO IT RIGHT, you hear?

Once you have completed the process, smile sweetly at the poll workers, breathe deeply and slap on your "I VOTED" sticker. Be a positive example for others. Offer someone a ride to the poll if they can't get there, then buy them a cup of coffee to celebrate on the way home.

This IS a holiday, people. There are rules!


Monday, November 01, 2004

Let's Write a Novel!

Today is Nov. 1, the first day of NaNoBlogMo -- blogspeak for National Novel Blogging Month—a "seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing" designed to extract a novel from your head within thirty days.

Here's more from Blogging Your Novel about NaNoBlogMo:

"If you've got the fever to unlock that story trapped within you there's only one cure—more cowbell! Okay, there's another cure: sit your duff down and rock that thing out. Get it out of your head and share it with the world.

"Some say the hardest part about writing your novel is just getting started, others say sticking with it is what breaks them. In any case, to help you achieve your goal, we've come up with our own brand of inspiration: NaNoBlogMo. National Novel Writing Blogging Month is our spin on Baty and friends' ingenious program (NaNoWriMo).

"To reach 50,000 words, you'll need to write every day — Blogger was born for this gig. Add to that the fact that blogging already has a successful track record in the book world and the big picture begins to emerge."

Now, from me: Those of you already working on major works, like your own book or master's thesis, are exempt from this. The rest of you, consider jumping in with me. It's always more fun with friends! The instructions are posted in the link above -- there are methods suggested for keeping track of your work without having it lifted by a wordthief. No one really reads your text -- the thing merely counts your words.

I'm going to try this for grins, though I already know of several interruptions in my routine this month. What the heck... I may not make it to the word total that's suggested, but putting one word in front of another will get me closer to the goal, right?

OK... here we go ...

It was a dark and stormy night ...