Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam is dead

A little over an hour ago Saddam was hanged for crimes against humanity. This is one of those moments in history that we'll not forget.

It's a pity it overshadows the rememberances of former President Gerald Ford, who made his own history being the only man to serve as vice president and president without being elected to either office. His state funeral is tomorrow. It will be interesting to compare and contrast it with the services held for Ronald Reagan.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Australian Miracle

As I have probably mentioned, I'm a moderator for a prayer group that has members all over the world. We've been together for just over four years now, and during that time there have been about 10,500 prayer requests made and/or answered. It's pretty remarkable to see what God can do in those times when things seem most bleak.

Recent examples include this note I received today from a member in Australia. I don't know if many of us in the U.S. have been following the devastating fires there, but please read this and see if you don't get a few goosebumps on top of goosebumps:

From the family in Australia:

"Today it is snowing and putting out the wildfires. Usually it's very hot there ... it is summer ... usually in the 110 degrees."

This family lives in the Australian bush country where the fires are so bad. Their son had totaled their car last week. Somehow they were able to get a bank loan for a new car over the phone and the bank drove the new car out to them so they could evacuate.

Here's the last part of their note:

"All is well with us, no smoke, clear blue skies and freezing cold winds off the snow - yes snow, it's snowing on the mt peaks above us, it's snowing on the bushfires and the firefighters, it's rained and it's freezing cold and Christmas morning bought the extinguishing of many of the fires - no better gift could be hoped for :-) ..... just so tickled pink that it's cold here, such a joyous treat, a cold Christmas, oh boy it's usually over 100 degrees!"

Here's a link to a news story about this snow storm. Can you possibly read it without giving thanks?

Bushfire Black Turns White

SNOW, and plenty of it, has doused the alpine bushfires in Victoria's east, transforming the blackened landscape into a brilliant white.

Christmas revellers - enjoying a sweltering 34C - took to Perth's popular beaches, and holidaymakers in Queensland intent on getting sand between their toes were not disappointed by the muggy 32C.

Melburnians, on the other hand, shrouded by smoke for the past fortnight, had their coldest-ever Christmas Day and were pelted with hail and chilled by arctic winds.

Just days after fearing deadly fires would destroy their mountain, residents atop Mt Buller, northeast of Melbourne, were hurling snowballs at each other and shaking their heads in amazement.

Likewise, in parts of Tasmania, and Thredbo, in the NSW snow territory, snowmen were the order of the day.

As much as 30mm of snow fell at Mt Baw Baw overnight.

"I've never seen snowfall before in my life, so I thought it would be worth it on Christmas Day just to go up there and have a look," 25-year-old Peter Tuffley said, gripping girlfriend Andrea Innes in the thick snow. "I loved it, it was great."

There is more on the way for Thredbo and Perisher in NSW.

Adelaide shivered through its coldest Christmas Day in 13 years. And Hobart hasn't had a Christmas quite as cold in more than two decades.

(Click the link for the full story!)

Another ongoing prayer request has been from the sister of a young man named Kendall.

Kendall's story begins at midnight on June 30, 2006, when he began having severe chest pain and shortness of breath. It wasn't long before he and his wife Andi knew further attention was necessary and headed to the ER. The next morning he was admitted to the hospital for a CT which later revealed a large mass in his right chest.

Just about daily since then, Kendall's sister posted an evening update and prayer request for Kendall, telling our group about how his day had gone and what his prognosis is.

I feel a little at ends tonight because this is the time when she usually posted, and I usually hurried to read the request and send it on out to the group. There has been no post for the past three nights.

Here's why, from her Saturday post:

Dear prayer warriors and family in Christ,

Kendall was home in time for lunch today. :-)

Now that Kendall is home I probably will not send out an update unless there is
a specific new prayer request. ...

I just can not thank you enough for your faithful prayers. Have a very Merry

Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans
to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'

2 Corinthians 9:15 'Thank God for his Son—a gift too wonderful for words!'

All I can add to that is a big ol' AMEN!

Treasured gifts

I had an ornament exchange with some friends on a message board. Here are the ones I received from a pal in Iowa:
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No girl can have too many shoes or purses. I would so wear those shoes if they came in a 6 1/2!

Here's another purse:

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And a little penguin pal. "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille!" "Is this my good side?"

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And from another pal in Glenpool came this cutie:
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But the two really meaningful gifts are these:

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The angel is from my associate minister and coffee buddy. Saturday I had mentioned that my mom's dog had eaten the ornaments that had meant the most to me, including an angel that I had gotten when I was 4 from a neighbor man who had a greenhouse/nursery in his home. This angel had been on her family tree for many years. It was such a thoughtful sharing!

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The little Christmas tree has a little secret. Open it up and you see the surprise -- a tiny little nativity! It was handmade in Belize and my friend got it when she was there on a mission trip with her son, helping to build a church.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My own tiny Christmas miracle

Sometimes it is hard to confess just how tight our finances are. It's a matter of pride for us not to let on that we're worried about where the next gallon of gasoline may be coming from, or whether we've got enough bread and milk to make it to payday.

In order for me to tell you about my Christmas miracle, though, I have to confess it, to lay it right out there in plain sight. Financially, it's a tight time for me. This whole year has been a pinch, no kidding.

I'm self employed, so I have no benefits that come from working for a company. Sure there's no doubt there are other ways I could make money. I admit right here also that I'd like to think I could still earn a living in my profession after a 30-year career. (Lord, yes, it also hurts to confess that 30-year thing...)

Anyway, my income has been less than minimum wage, to be perfectly honest. And from that I have to pay all of my business expenses, including equipment costs and all that blah-blah. Every penny that I earn is important and valuable.

This year I've had a summer full of expenses for my car as well as a big chunk of money spent to attend the funeral of an aunt, my dad's last surviving sibling. Those two particular things put me behind the 8-ball. And last month one of my editors forgot to pay me. Yeah, that was a real treat.

But the paycheck I get this coming week is supposed to include that pay, along with some extra bits and bobs I picked up last month. It will be a pretty nice check, if everything was handled right along the way.

Ah, but see, that check doesn't come until Saturday the 30th. And I'm flat broke. I've held on to $7 in one-dollar bills for the past two weeks to make sure I had money for my Saturday morning coffee meeting with a good friend and minister. A friend blessed me with a gift certificate that same week. I felt so blessed all inside and out for that simple, wonderful gift.

Last week I was doing some cleaning and stumbled across a little packet of folded up money. I figured it might be a couple of bills, but when I unfolded it, it was $5. OH my! I knew I could cut back to a small coffee and put the change in with my other $7 I was still pinching, and have enough for a coffee and a couple of gallons of gasoline. But then I saw a small cocoa was less, and it was a better substitute for my usual white chocolate mocha. I didn't miss my usual at all! (In fact I may switch to cocoa!)

I could give you more examples of those small moments where I've stretched a buck or found some loose change in a pocket, but the point is I've been blessed to have ENOUGH.

I wasn't so sure about Christmas eve and Christmas day, though.

It was important to me to celebrate my holiday alone this year. I NEED this holiday alone. It's hard to confess that too. We're made as social creatures and it's just peculiar to want to be alone at Christmas. But I have my reasons, many of them.

I've been stretching the food budget all month, cooking at home and making things that will stretch for several day. Who can seriously say that grabbing something at a drive-through is better than having a pot roast with onions, carrots and potatoes? Or cooking a turkey breast or a ham? All of these things are great reheated or used in sandwiches and they make several meals. My crock pot and my oven are my friends!

Even so. My last pot roast is past its prime at this point (or Past the Point of No Return, I'd say), and the ham bone is ready to go in the bean pot. Tasty, but not festive enough for Christmas celebration, even if I am going solo. The cupboard isn't quite bare, but there's mostly small cans of veggies in there -- great side dishes, but we need a centerpiece.

Somehow, I still have $3 or $4 from that $7 that's been lasting all month. I knew that wasn't going to cut it, so I was delighted when I remembered I still had ONE PIGGY BANK I hadn't yet tapped. It was a giant Hershey bar piggy bank that was so full it wouldn't hold anything else.
I knew the Hershey bar would be stuffed with pennies, but I thought there might be enough other change in there to cover the cost of some ground beef and a bag of potatoes. I started shaking out my riches. The first handsful were all pennies. I moved down to the floor, where my cardboard cutting board from sewing last night was still unfolded. Makes a great counting surface.

I kept shaking and shaking. A few quarters -- wonderful! Tons of nickels and dimes. Things look good again! Ah, but something's cloggin the opening.

One dollar bill. Then another. Then ... $7. All in one-dollar bills.

I shook until there was no more rattling. Then I checked inside with my finger just one more time and felt another bill in there. Hmmmm... maybe I can get some real chocolate?

I pulled the bill out and started crying. It was $20. Oh my gosh. I started crying harder. Not because this meant a GREAT feast, but because of the many times in my life when I've been blessed by a $20 bill when I was in real need.

There was the time I was walking at the mall, penniless, and looked down to see a $20 on the floor in front of me, with absolutely not another person anywhere close to it. I did what I thought was the right thing and turned it in to a clerk at the closest store, figuring someone would need that enough to come back trying to find it. Yeah, the clerk thought I was a fool for sure.

Funny thing ... that same hour, I went home and walked my dog in the little park across from my apartment. Just the two of us among the trees as she did her business. And there, against the trunk of the tree in front of me, was a $20 bill.

I kid you not.

I started laughing, looked at the sky and said "Thanks, God. I get it. And I thank you."

That's exactly how I felt again today when the last thing in the Hershey bank was a $20.

I folded up those extra $7, by the way, and put them in the spot where I keep my coffee money. I'll make it through, for sure, until that check comes.

So then what? I jumped up, put that $20 in my pocket with the dribs of the month's money, and hopped over to the grocery store before it closed for Christmas eve. I got a 5-lb. bag of potatoes, some bananas and a couple of oranges -- one for tonight and one for tomorrow. Then I headed back to pick up some ground beef. And stopped in my tracks, when I saw the butcher moving around turkeys that had just been marked down. I had a $9 package of ground beef in my hand that I put back, and instead got an 11-pound turkey for $7.25. Yes indeed. A feast will be had here tomorrow.

I picked up a package of frozen yeast rolls, a $3 pizza for tonight, a half gallon of skim milk and a bottle of Diet Coke (on sale for 88 cents).

Guess what my total was? OK, I'll tell you. $20.84. I guess God made me pay for that Diet Coke myself. LOL!

Every time I have one of these events in my life, I remember the hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." Let not your heart be troubled.

More than my petty budgeting issues, let's take tonight to remember the even greater gift given to us.

Luke 2:10-11:

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

May peace and joy be yours this day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wow, you want more?

Hi there everyone, and welcome to Rave! Glad to have another local reader!

When I started to write today's update, I took advantage of the opportunity to switch over to Blogger Beta. I think they've gotten enough of the bugs worked out to make it worthwhile now to go ahead. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that things work correctly.

Well, no, the hairspray and makeup stuff didn't really kill me, but it has been a pretty busy week or so since I last posted. That's usually a very good thing because it means more income, but more importantly it means I'm getting to meet new people. And most of the people I meet are incredibly interesting in some form or fashion. It's always a pleasure to be able to tell their stories about their lives and what they are doing.

And of course the holidays are upon us. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. My handbell choir will be playing for the morning service -- we've cut back to just one morning service for tomorrow only because we'll have three evening services with communion.

I've got a project in the works this afternoon. The granddaughter of my friend (associate minister at my church) is getting a baby dollie for Christmas. And I happened to have some fleece at the house, so I am going to make a no-sew blankie for the little girl, with one for the dollie to match, plus a matching pillow so they can all take their naps together. The fleece happens to match a prayer blanket I made for the little girl's great-grandmother last month. (see photo below)

I wish you all a very happy Christmas eve and Christmas day! May the joy of Christ's birth be in your heart! That's the best story any of us could ever tell.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

What a night

I've been painted up and duded up tonight -- there's even HAIR SPRAY in my graying locks.

The fancy dress is back in the closet until there's another "occasion" and it's time to scrub off the extra makeup before my face cracks.

Yes folks, it was all for a Christmas Banquet -- a formal occasion for a professional association, which I was invited to attend when an editor/friend couldn't go.

There's a big ol' part of me that hates this stuff, being the unhitched person I am. I go to these things alone, which is in itself intimidating enough. And though I know many people in this particular industry, I'm still the odd person out, which can be mighty uncomfortable.

It probably was not as bad as I feared earlier. I had on my good-smellum and some shiny object hanging around my neck, to go with the ozone-depleting spray that lacquered my hair, so no one stared agog at me like I was some freak. I shared a table with six people, none of whom were actually members of this industry. They were "associate members" of the association, meaning they are in related fields and were invited to create even tighter business connections for the new year.

Dinner was great, I have to say. Prime rib AND lobster, with asparagus and doctored up potatoes and a great little chocolate mousse with berries. My companions and I were seated at the "undone" table. Silverware had been tossed on the table, sort of in place settings, but sloppily, and without napkins, centerpiece, glasses or drink pitchers. Yeah, the crew got distracted before they finished up our table, and I had to ask four times for someone to bring us napkins. But hey, we pretty much wound up with what we needed and we all enjoyed our meal and our conversations.

There were plenty of awards and installation of officers. That's where the people I know were -- at the numbered tables in the center front of the room. The new president of this group had his family and employees there, and they took up well over half of all the seats in the room. It was great fun watching them celebrate his installation.

I made my departure when the dancing portion of the program started. It was a good time to say goodnight to my table companions.

I'll feel better when the makeup comes off and I can brush the glue out of my hair. Getting fancy is nice, once in a while, but getting normal is even better.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What could be better?

My usual Sunday evening habit involves watching English comedies on OETA (PBS). I usually set aside "me" time to watch "Keeping up Appearances," "As Time Goes By" and "The Vicar of Dibley."

Well, imagine my delight when at the end of "Vicar" (the Christmas pageant episode, BTW, good to the bone!) OETA goes straight into "Great Performances: A Tribute to James Taylor."

Swoooooon! I was taken right back to 1973 when his music first warmed up my heart. How could it not when you hear Carole King singing "You've Got a Friend" as Taylor sat in the audience. My heart was beating faster, hoping against hope that he would leap up on the stage and sing with her.

And then, a voice cracked with emotion picks up "Winter, spring, summer or fall..." as Taylor walks onstage (from the back. Like the rest of us James is past the leaping on stage part of life.)

Now he's singing "Shed a Little Light" -- a song written to honor the birthday of Martin Luther King. Beautiful. Beautiful.

His final song for the night: "How Sweet It Is (to be loved by you). Taylor's brother, Livingston, his two youngest boys and wife joined the party onstage.

Tonight I celebrate the serendipity of stumbling across this program at the exact moment my spirit needed it. What a great way to bid goodnight to this weekend. And my memory flies back to that time in 1973 when several of my friends and I sat around on a Friday night at the Wesley foundation listening to a James Taylor album playing on the stereo, in candlelight. It got very quiet that night when "You've Got a Friend" played, until the chorus.

Through the dark, through the years...

you just call out my name, and you know wherever I am I'll come running to see you again.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Miserable weather

It's 10:21 p.m. Thursday and we're in the midst of a terrible, widespread winter storm. It is 24 degrees with a wind chill of 8 and it is still snowing. Ice has covered everything. The weatherman just said we have gotten 7 inches of snow. We'll see low temperatures tonight in the single digits. I dunno -- hard for me to tell that it's that much. I'd say maybe 3 to 4 inches here at my house, with some drifts much deeper around the car.

The weather is making it impossible for me to get some of my work done for this week. I got the "must haves" taken care of, but there were a couple of others I needed/wanted to work on. The people I need for those, though, have done like me and stayed holed up at home. I can't blame them and there's nothing I can do about it. That's the problem with newspapering though -- rare is it that a newspaper person in any capacity gets to take off because of weather. I've spun out at 2 a.m. on the way home more than once. At my advanced age, (cough), I have become more obstinate (is that possible???) and refuse to take chances that I once did. My work is not that essential or critical, and praise the Lord I can do so much of what I do right here at home.

Anyway, like I said, I don't have to get out, but I know people who must, no matter what. E.R. is one of those, so pray for his safe travel. Also please pray for his mother who has been brought to OKC for heart surgery from the Fort Smith area. That's a long way from home, in the worst storm in a long time, for a serious problem. I sure wish the weather was better for that family since they've already got more than they can say grace over.

I'm well prepared to stay inside with the doors shut for several days if I have to. The fridge is stocked and the laundry is sorta caught up, so I don't have to go out to the garage to wash clothes. I'll stay inside, wearing my long johns and wrapping up in a quilt when I need to. Until the sun comes out I'll be protecting the public by staying off the street.

Y'all stay safe and warm now, y'hear?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Silly thoughts

You know what it's like when you see people in certain conditions, without knowing the whole context? Like when you see someone talking to themselves before you realize they're on a blue-tooth phone?

That's what I thought of when I took these photos at my friends' Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know these young guys, but they were part of the friends' family.

Now, just imagine telling guys this age to go outside and make up a dance like this. They would tell you you're crazy! But put a ball in the air, and it all makes sense, in a ballet kind of way.

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Dainty, aren't they?? LOL!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Yes, yes, yes! It is Thanksgiving

It must be Thanksgiving! Here's how I know: Time spent with very best friends and their families; standing together, holding hands as we say prayers of gratitude; tons of food consumed and beverages drunk; fun time spent in the sunshine enjoying a glorious record warm day; hundreds of photographs taken for sharing memories; sounds of football games coming from the TV in the living room where some of the guys were gathered; children playing all over the place.

And one more thing. The thing that PROVES this is Thanksgiving in Oklahoma: I just saw the B.C. Clark Jewelers anniversary sale commercial during the 10 p.m. news.

I've posted about this in previous years; it still brings me a moment of comfort waiting for that first airing each year.

This happens to be the 50th anniversary of the jingle, and since we're now just a year away from the state's centennial, here's one version of the jingle for you. This is the bouncing ball jingle:
Bouncing Ball

For other versions, you can check out Other jingles.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Friends' kids enjoying the weekend

Playing follow-the-leader with the dog then throwing rocks in the pond to stir up the cattail pollen.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Happy 99!!

I cannot let this day go by without wishing my fellow native Oklahomans a hearty "HAPPY STATEHOOD DAY!" Today is the 99th anniversary of Oklahoma's Statehood Day.

Hang on folks, the next year sweeping toward 100 will be GRAND!

O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A Oklahoma! OK!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Simple Guide for Behavior

"Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get."

(Matthew 7 from "The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language" by Eugene H. Peterson.)

This was one of two passages read this morning at the dedication of a home that was moved and renovated by Mustard Seed Development Corporation: A Partnership With God. This little dedication, which lasted maybe half an hour, was one of the most powerful examples of human flesh becoming the arms and legs for God I've seen in quite a while.

The house is now located in a comeback neighborhood in north Oklahoma City, just a stone's throw west of my former office. It's been blighted with violence, drug infestation -- and mostly, poverty -- for the past 25 to 30 years. It's near the neighborhood where I bought my first house; I moved out right after my house was hit during a drive-by shooting aimed at my next door neighbor's teen daughters.

The house that was dedicated Saturday morning originally belonged to an Edmond doctor and his wife. They donated the home to Mustard Seed rather than bulldozing it when they decided to use the property for a new office building.

God's hand has been all over this project from before the beginning. First, a woman familiar with Mustard Seed's work on another project contacted Santa Claus -- the executive director of Mustard Seed (see yesterday's post). The next day he was contacted by this doctor and his wife about the donation of this house they had. The NEXT day, a landowner in this blighted neighborhood called him and said he had a vacant lot he was interested in donating.

Before the first week was up, the agency's finance gurus had raised the money to make it happen.

Things like this don't just happen, not even in efficient organizations, without God's hand being on top of it in a big way.

I had the chance to visit with the new homeowner today and she told me all the ways this was a blessing to her. It's material that I'll use in an article, but I'll tell you it was a powerful testimony.

Ah, but there is something even more powerful, which will never see newspaper ink. And I think this is the REAL story about this deal.

The doctor and his wife attended this morning's dedication. So did the people who donated the first house that was renovated by Mustard Seed. So did two city council members. And several neighbors. And others who were instrumental in fundraising and the behind-the-scenes work that helped pull this together.

And so did Sherman, who lives across the street.

Sherman is a black man in his 60s who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years or so.

"I'm Uncle to a bunch of kids around here, kids who have grown up now and have kids of their own who call me Uncle too," Sherman said. "Most of them I don't even know their names any more, but when they call me Uncle I look at them and wave and try to remember them for the next time."

Sherman keeps an eye on his block, better than Gladys Kravitz ever could. He knows who comes and goes on the street and knows who belongs here and who doesn't. During the day he walks the block, visiting with his neighbors. At night, he keeps watch through his curtained windows like Gladys.

"I used to work security at night, so it's hard for me to get to sleep and I just keep watch," he said.

He starts pointing out where everyone lives on the street.

"I used to live in this house next door and I owned this lot," nodding at the new house. "Then I lived down there, and then over there, and now with my mom across the street there. I want to get her a new roof, because without a good roof you don't have a good house."

The doctor's wife touched his arm, her mouth open slightly.

"You donated this land, didn't you?" she asked him quietly.

Sherman just touched his lips with one finger. "It's better not to tell your secrets when you do something good," he whispered.

"But this makes us partners, doesn't it?" she said. Both she and her husband shook Sherman's hand. I felt like a sacred observer, being the only person who saw this exchange between them.

Sherman turned back to me.

"I came to Oklahoma City in 1968. I had been a poor black cotton picker before I got here and made 75 cents an hour," he said. "When I got here I got a job and they said they could start me out at two dollars and fifty cents an hour. $2.50 for cleaning rooms! I was going to get rich!"

Later Sherman and his daughter, who was 4, moved to Alaska. "We moved back here when she was 7, still intact," he laughed.

"I married a woman I thought was the finest woman in the whole world and we lived here next door," he said. "She was so fine I felt like I needed to put her on top of the house to see her. But she done me wrong."

Sherman was down so low he was ready to die after that split. His heart was broken.

"I figured if I was going to die, I might as well die for something," he said. "So I joined the military and did my service."

He talked more about God's blessings in his life. He learned a trade and made a life he never dreamed possible during his young years as a poor, cotton-picking black man.

Today, though, Sherman got to see how he made a difference in someone else's life. He got to see the power of neighbors working together to change a neighborhood. And for the most part, he has gotten to keep his secret. I don't think it was an accident that I was privileged to hear his story or to see his secret partnership with the doctor and his wife.

Thank you Father God for Sherman and his goodness, and for the goodness of all the others who made today's blessing what it was.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What a fascinating day!

There are days, which follow weeks like this, when I start the morning with a prayer asking for the eyes and heart to see the wonder in my humdrum life. I have learned without fail that this prayer is always answered in abundance, in unexpected and delightful ways.

The first time I clearly remember saying such a prayer, I was on a four-wheeler zooming across a golden pasture an hour later. Completely unexpected, and totally one of the best days of my life. I still laugh as I remember how much I dreaded making a trip to a country development way south of the metro area. I flat did not want to go that particular day.

Not only did I have the thrill of driving a stranger's vehicle wide open across untouched prairie, but I learned so much from the man and how he conducted his business. He was the kind of guy who could dig a hole and make money selling the dirt. Literally! He had dredged out a lake on a piece of property he was developing in Colorado, and sold the dirt to landscaping companies in a five-state area!

He also had closed out some livestock operations and was looking for another way to make some money from the land. Well, he happened to discover that the hay made excellent bedding for apes, and coincidentally was an excellent food for giraffes. Zoos could not buy enough -- turns out his stuff cut down remarkably on the number of respiratory infections giraffes got.

Likewise, he had owned a horse trailer company, which he started to meet his own needs in transporting horses. After selling off the horses, he looked for another way to use the trailer company and before you know it, he was making specialized trailers for catering companies to use as party trailers at big rodeo events and other venues!

Seriously, I think the man could sneeze and make money.

It took a few days to pry the smile off my face, not just for all I saw, learned and did that day, but because it was such an obvious answer to the pitiful prayer I had whined that morning. Lord, help me see the good -- and boy did he!

And so it was with today.

First thing this morning, I returned to the home of a man I had interviewed a few weeks ago. One of the editors I sometimes work for had wanted me to make a photo assignment to go with the story, so we went back to Buck's home. Buck happens to be the uncle of my best friend's fiance, so I have sort of a familial feeling, like he's my adopted uncle twice removed or something. I think he's a great guy and he's got a fascinating story as a retired furniture maker.

Anyway, I enjoyed getting to visit with him again for a little bit and getting to play with his little dog, Penny. After the photographer left, we visited a few more minutes. I told him I was going out to his nephew's house to dog sit later in the day. We started talking about fishing in his pond and half-joked that we should get out there with a couple of poles this afternoon. I told him I'd be content to sit out there with a stick and not even mess with a hook.

Seeing Buck again put me in an even better mood and I caught myself smiling as I drove the few blocks to the next appointment. I was meeting with the leaders of a nonprofit housing group in the same area.

Sometimes, when I meet with people in this type of nonprofit work, I get the impression that there are some very big-hearted people with big visions and very small business plans. They often are underfunded and dream bigger than their purse will pay for.

When I drove up, the banker who is part of the leadership team was sitting in her little sports car, talking on her cell phone. I didn't rush to get out of my car -- I made a few notes, then decided to get out and look around, while she finished her call.

I heard another car down the block and it caught my attention. It was a ruby-red PT Cruiser, sparkling like a gem. Driving it was a chubby man with long, white hair and a long, full white beard. His deep blue eyes twinkled through his wire glasses.... are you getting the picture here?

Guess what his car tag said. Go on, guess!


He slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop right next to me, hopped out and called me by name. I shook his hand and realized my mouth was hanging open. I snapped it shut, smiled and said "Yes, I'm so-and-so. Glad to meet you!" He laughed and introduced himself by name.

We wound up talking for a very long time about the nonprofit's work, and a bunch of other stuff. He said something about being busy with his "other" job. Yes, indeed, he IS Santa Claus and has the pictures to prove it. He works during the season at a Christmas store called North Pole City. Honestly, it's one of my favorite places. Walking through it makes me feel like a young child again. Sometimes I make a couple of trips there during the season just to experience that joy that the holiday always brought.

Meeting Santa Claus was enough of a delight for the day, but wasn't really even the biggest blessing of our meeting. We had moved the meeting to the nonprofit's office space in a nearby church, and during that second part of our conversation I started realizing that I have done several stories on such housing ministries. Small clusters of houses are being renovated and rebuilt in formerly blighted neighborhoods all over this metropolitan area.

You know what? When I started with that thought, I realized exactly what I was witnessing. With each of these groups and their work, I am seeing God's fingerprints all over this city! YES! That's what they are!

Not any group can do everything, but every group can do something. And with each change that each group makes to improve housing for the poor and disenfranchised in our city, we're making life better for everyone here.

You've no doubt heard or read the statement: "If you want peace, work for justice." These ministries and non-profit projects do exactly that. They instill the pride of home ownership in parts of the city where ownership rates are miserably low. They treat people with dignity and respect. They bring neighbors together in areas where such contact has been unheard of.

Yes, I can see God's fingerprints on this neighborhood and this non-profit.

Security bars are coming off windows. Drug houses are being abolished and replaced with good, quality homes that are safe. People are able to sit on their porches again and visit with their neighbors.

And in this area, one of the neighbors is Santa Claus. He is so vested in his work and seeing this neighborhood improve, that he's actually bought a home there himself, so he can be present with those he's trying to assist. It's the best way to find out what their needs really are, he says. It also helps him see what the neighborhood resources are.

And who knows -- there may be some child out there who is writing a letter to Santa asking for a safe place to live. There's a good chance that's a request that would be granted.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's been a tough week or two

I've been doing a lot more extra work the past couple of weeks, so I haven't had any time for blogging or even much blog reading. I've missed it!

Yesterday I worked hard and steady from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. -- I finally did get to eat about supper time. Unfortunately once I did, I started moving in slow motion.

All tallied, I wrote about 2,700 words, did three interviews, shot two photo sessions and I don't know how many phone calls during the brief moments I was home in my office. I fell asleep in my clothes once I sat down on the bed to take off my shoes and woke up about 4 a.m. still dressed, with the TV and lights still on.

Today's been a slower-paced day. Still productive, but fortunately not like yesterday.

There are crews replacing the water lines on my street, so there are heavy machines outside my window tearing up the streets and yards across from me. I don't know if my yard will be torn up too. They put notes on our doors yesterday morning, which, of course, went unseen until things down the block were already torn up.

I'm glad the lines are being replaced because we've had some water tests showing violations of water standards. See, I live near an interstate so the water lines in my area end at the interstate. That allows the bad stuff to build up in our water mains. In areas where the mains continue flowing, any bad stuff keeps moving.

Anyway, there's minor inconvenience while the work is being done. My poor yard still has never been the same since the tree fell a few months ago, and this certainly won't be adding any curb appeal for a while. They do come back and resod the torn-up areas, but they tend to settle over time and leave valleys. I'm so glad I was gone over the weekend meeting up with friends, because I had seriously thought about planting mums in the damaged area of the yard. Thank goodness I didn't!

Well, just wanted to stop long enough to wave and say hi! Hope all is well with you out there.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Newest prayer shawl

I finished the prayer shawl for the district superintendent, which will be presented at our charge conference tomorrow night. I have to say this is my favorite one so far because of the colors. My intention was to use the warm fall colors to create something that would bring to mind the colors found in fire.

Please forgive this Cliffs' Notes version of Methodist history; this symbolism of warmth and fire is tied to the founders of Methodism.

As the Wesley brothers, Charles and John, felt the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives in 1738, their hearts were strangely warmed. John Wesley's conversion experience took place during the reading of Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans at a society meeting at Aldersgate. Just a few days before, his brother, Charles, had a similar experience.

Their response was to share the Good News of the Gospel by preaching throughout Great Britain, making the rounds to various places on a schedule. Thus was born the Methodist movement and the first examples of the Circuit Riders.

Well, enough of that lesson; it's not my intention to summarize the history of my church, but to remind us all that the Holy Spirit does soften and warm our hearts and we are called to respond.

The Holy Spirit's work can be symbolized in a prayer shawl, spreading the warmth in many ways -- through the colors, through the physical warmth and comfort of the wrap, through the shared prayers that went into the work.

Similarly, it symbolizes the work of the local church's ministries, reaching out to touch and make a difference in the lives of others.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday night in the big town

And what's up with you as the weekend arrives?

I've got plans to make some meat balls. Just had a craving for them today, made from my aunt's recipe. Alas, I could not find her recipe, so I'll be flying by memory. It's basically a meatloaf recipe rolled into balls, browned and baked with a sauce. How hard can that be? I'll be doing the ketchup/grape jelly sauce that pretty much everyone's familiar with from the olden days of crockpot appetizers.

I don't know exactly why, but meatballs always seem like a treat. Maybe because my mom would never, ever consider making them. My only exposure to meatballs was in cans of Chef Boyardee spaghetti! When I got to college, one of my roommates made Swedish meatballs for supper one night. You should have seen the catfight when another roommate decided they needed pepper. Meee-OW! That was one of those fights that lives on even now!

Other than that, I'll be working to finish the prayer shawl I'm making for the district superintendent. I'd love to get it finished tonight, but I think I'll probably put the fringe on it tomorrow. It has to be done before church Sunday morning for the congregation's blessing. No pressure or anything! LOL! I'm easily 3/4 of the way finished with it, so I'm not freakin' out.

Oh I got a couple of books yesterday after finishing with a photo shoot. I picked up "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" by Barack Obama and "Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live with Passion and Purpose" by Robin McGraw. I can't wait to curl up with these!

I'll spend part of the weekend, probably Sunday afternoon, taking care of some writing.

And some time this weekend I MUST MUST MUST go to the post office. I'm so bad about actually GETTING to the post office when I need to mail things. Does anyone else have this shortcoming? I'll put that on my New Year's Resolutions list in a couple of months. I really need to get over it!

Off to the meatballs now! Y'all have a great time -- and send up a prayer for ER who is suffering with an ear infection. Please. Pretty please.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Favorite lullabies

What are your favorite lullabies?

After the first of the year I'm going to be working on a CD of lullabies. For quite some time I've wanted the women of my church to work on this project -- singing and recording a set of lullabies which we can present to the families of new babies as a gift from the church. Now it looks like the plan will finally come together.

I'm working on a women's retreat for right after the first of the year, and this is something that we could work on during a session on creativity. It would be the beginning session of the project, introducing the idea to women who attend the retreat and getting their ideas and input on what they think would be good to include in the project. We'd begin sight-reading some of the lullabies I've collected over time and set up a rehearsal schedule.

I talked with the music director about this tonight and he's behind the project. Since I'll be chairing the care team, I've got a channel for distributing these now.
Everything is coming together nicely.

Now, if you have a favorite lullaby, please share it along with some words about what it means to you, if there is a special story connected to it.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wrapping up the season

I hope I've completed the final mowing of the yard for 2006. It was a good temperature today so on the spur of the moment I thought it was time to tackle the task. The yard has been a disaster this year with the falling of the tree. There are some rather large trenches and holes where the tree fell and tore up the lawn.

This morning I was able to dispose of the last of the stray branches from that episode in the weekly trash pickup. It was nice to finally finally finally get those out of here.

The mower resisted going to work today. I spent well over a half hour trying to get it started. I suspect the gasoline was losing its oomph. Finally it occurred to me to push the mower down the driveway a bit before trying one more time to get it going. That did the trick -- one more yank and it jumped to life with a backfire, but at least it was going! I'll have it serviced before next season starts. It's a good mower and just needs a little cleaning up and encouragement.

As I was finishing the back yard, I was startled by a bird that I couldn't identify. Its body was larger than a robin, shaped rather like a football -- the head and tail were similarly shaped. There were brown and yellow stripes from bill to tail. It seemed very content to go about its work next to me -- not at all fearful of the mower. It made no effort to fly off or hop away even though I was within 3 or 4 feet of it. It seems to be fond of eating bugs from the ground. Anyone have any clues? I've tried searching for it in my bird guide and online without success. It was a pretty fat bird, but I wonder if it was a juvenile because of its tameness. If so, the parents are gonna be rather large.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Emma says goodbye too

Emma, Anne's dog (one blue eye, one brown), had the chance to say goodbye to her little friends next door under the fence.

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Emptying the nest

It's been a heart-breaking weekend for my friend Anne. The final day at her old home came today. The new owners will take possession tomorrow after the closing of the sale. Anne's already signed her papers so she won't have to take off work to attend the closing. I'm glad, because I know having to face the people she's turning her keys over to would be hard.

She's met them, don't get me wrong, and she likes them. We said a prayer tonight in the house that they have many years of happiness in the house. What would hurt Anne is having to put the keys on the table at the title company and being in an "official" setting when she loses possession of the home in which she raised her son.

I went over this evening when Anne called me. I could tell she was stuck and wasn't able to leave the house on her own. She spent the night there last night to take the chance for one final farewell. Even with that time spent in the empty house wasn't enough. She was simply not ready to leave.

She called me weeping. "I don't have any pictures of my back yard," she said. I asked her if she had her camera -- it was nearly 6 p.m. and she still had a little daylight.

"No, I don't," she got out through her tears.

"Well, you have a friend who has a camera right close who could come take some for you," I told her. "And your friend could come over."

"Can you come right now?" she asked. "Yes, I can come right now," I answered.

We had already had a couple of photo sessions at the house over the past week or two -- goodbye photos to remember the place.

Tonight I shot about 100 more photos of the back yard and the front yard, as well as all the rooms now empty of all of Anne's possessions.

We shared lots of tears and several memories that had taken place there.

I remembered the very first time I went to Anne's house, in 1993. I was new at my church, and Anne became a fast friend quickly. Shortly after I started attending the church she invited me to her house to play games with her and her son Matt, who was a new first-grader at the time. We played a board game and then switched to Skip-Bo, we think it was. The two of them made me feel so welcome. I have felt that same welcome feeling every time I've gone there over the past 13 years.

Anne visited with her neighbor a few minutes to say goodbye. Then we stood on the driveway, reminiscing some more. Then we stood there quietly for a minute, both of us choking back the tears. I gave her a big hug, then finally spoke:

"I love you my friend, but it's time for you to go home now. You know the way," I said.

Another tear wiped away, then she got in the car and pulled out of the driveway.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hee Hee!!!

Well, things are so boring in blogland right now for some reason. So I was playing with my virtual pet, Sweet Puppy Girl, over on the left part of the screen. You know what, some things have changed with her! She's learned to sit and lie down, and now she has a ball to play with too! And she no longer has to jump to get her treats. You can hand her one straight out of the box and she'll eat it. I love seeing my little girl evolve.

I think people must be busy or going through a "blah" period. Few people on my circle are blogging as regularly as they usually do. Some have even talked about taking a break. I've been slow, too. I don't want to keep boring you with stories about my car A/C problems! (Day 15 today of the misery.)

I've been busy sewing and knitting and teaching Divorce Care and other things at church. This is a busy time of year for a church with stewardship drives and fund-raising projects like the Pumpkin Patch and starting rehearsals for Christmas music. There are a couple of things I am taking on for the next year that are pretty substantial. I'll become the chairman of the Care Team. We will have some major changes coming in how it's structured which I look forward to. I'll also be leading a grief recovery group as a component of that. Please pray for me to be able to carry out these jobs in a compassionate and loving manner.

I've got some soup cooking in the crock pot and will be making some cornbread to go with it. I'm having company tonight. So I'll cut this short.

I hope someone is still out there taking a glance at my blog now and then. Thanks to those of you who have responded to some of the posts lately. It's getting lonesome around here -- is it just that time of year?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Getting Real

The conversation started with this post on one of my message boards about Dove's Real Women campaign.

First, visit this site and watch the short video: Campaign for Real Beauty. Go ahead, I'll wait for you to come back.

The original poster and I both applauded Dove for having the courage to say out loud and in real life that women are beautiful exactly as they were created. Somehow we have gotten terribly off course when whole generations of young women aspire to an unrealistic and unhealthy concept of beauty which would have us believe that the Creation was defective.

It's but one facet of a flawed gem. We also have perverted God's gift by falling prey to overspending and excessive consumerism. In this regard I am a member of the "anti-bling" brigade.

More and more people are spending more money than they have to buy more things that they don't need. They have a sense of entitlement for the brightest and best. How sad that we as a society have been distracted from our real lives by bright, shiny objects. Just like a mina bird.

A lot of people are so caught up in the lifestyle of possessions that they fail to pay their bills, run up enormous credit card debt, have charge-offs and bankruptcies and fail to provide for their children's needs. It is that kind of obsessive consumerism I am against. It is unneccessary, destructive and irresponsible.

That type of consumerism is indicative of deeper problems, not the least of which is a damaged self esteem.

A lot of people are criticizing the Dove campaign. One point they have made is that "commoditizing" sex still sells products, and "commoditizing" self esteem sells soap.

I was stunned to return to the post three hours later. Nearly 100 posts had been added, criticizing the Dove campaign and criticizing me and my stance on extreme consumerism.

It's hard -- no, impossible -- for me to understand defending a lifestyle in which people routinely pay $200 or more on jeans, buy diamonds because they are bigger than the last diamonds they bought, and spend $800 a month or more just to eat out. Oh, especially if the rent goes unpaid and they have a long history of delinquent payments and charge-offs.

That life seems so empty to me.

I grew up poor, as did most of my friends. Since then, however, one of those friends became incredibly wealthy. Our life views are so vastly different now that we have a hard time finding any common ground now. I have a hard time "getting" her lifestyle now.

So I want to know what you, my readers, think. Where do you come down on the scale of consumerism?

How about your stance on the Dove campaign? Is it a good beginning in affirming real women and real girls, or a clever sales campaign? Is it both? Does the fact that Dove is a business change the value of this campaign?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tending to my knittin'

I finished a prayer shawl for my Aunt Dot, which I started in July when she was hospitalized. Fortunately, she recently started feeling and sounding better. She's been through a tough stretch.

Here's a photo:

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I'll get this in the mail to her this weekend (thank goodness there is a 24-hour post office at the airport.) I also have a package to mail to an internet pen pal as part of a fall gift exchange. I've got everything ready for that as well, just a matter of getting it in the mail.

I've started work on a few more creative projects. One is a prayer shawl for the District Superintendent for my church district. Instead of an ordinary annual report, he's requested that the church work areas come up with creative ways of demonstrating what our work has been about this year. So as the incoming chair of the Care Team in our congregation, I am making a special prayer shawl for him, since that has become a significant and tangible symbol of what we do. The Care Team offers pastoral support to the members of the congregation -- through the lay members as well as the clergy. We maintain the prayer chain and provide help to those on our homebound and special needs list. We take communion to those who are unable to join us in worship and make hospital and home visits, among other things.

In addition to a creative demonstration of our work, the DS has asked each work area to present a hymn which symbolizes its work. Ours will be:

I cast all my cares upon You,
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet.
And any time that I don't know what to do,
I will cast all my cares upon You.

I had coffee with my associate pastor this morning -- our standing Saturday morning fellowship time. Good things are ahead for our church this coming year. Our staff recently attended a leadership training at Church of the Resurrection (United Methodist) in the Kansas City area. They all report amazing things and are on fire to implement some of the things they learned. I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bugging the shutter

It's no secret I am a fan of the camera. Have been since grade school when my dad put a twin-lens reflex box camera in my hand. I still have that one, which was old when he gave it to me. The thing is, "old" then still meant "good quality." It's a great camera even now, with good optics. Maybe I'll give it a whirl again for old time's sake, provided I can still find film for it. Yikes... it has been long enough now that film almost seems like a dangerous thing.

In college and one state job I had, I ruined enough film in the darkroom to know that I was not cut out for processing. Getting the film wrapped on reels to process in little canisters was a skill that was bestowed on others. I was all thumbs and managed to stick the film together too often, ruining the images it might have held.

So I trusted, for the most part, my film to processing labs. Most of the time I was happy with that, but I do recall a few times when my anger exploded at finding a particular frame or two punctured by the lab's machines with an ID code or something equally maddening. (July 4, 1984, Empire State Building, lit up in red, white and blue lights. Taken from my rooftop garden at Third and Lexingon. Yes, I'm still bitter ... why do you ask?)

I've converted to digital, nearly exclusively, over the past few years. Yes, I still appreciate a fine film photograph and the artistry and mastery that goes into that work. But there is a freedom in digital that brings me pure joy.

I'm still figuring out the capabilities of this medium and now I'm working on learning about lighting. Since I have a little time for myself this week, I am planning to set aside a portion of that to study my camera and flash equipment some more and see if I can't improve my work with those. See, I still think in film terms, but it's a bit like going from a manual typewriter to a laptop and expecting the paper to come out the top. It doesn't quite work the same way.

I also have some studio lights and finally had a chance to play with those last night while shooting some photos of my friend, her son and his girlfriend. The reason for the shoot was to say goodbye to her old home, the place where she raised her son. They are moving on -- he to college, she to a new life in a new home, with a wedding in the near future to someone she loves very much, who loves her very much.

Here's a sneak preview. Shhh. It's a secret -- y'all are getting to see this before she does. It's part of a work I am creating as a present.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

You suppose I should blog something?

OK, it's been a week since my last post. Here's a brief recap of the time that has passed:

Divorce group
Minor work
Visit to friends' house for a girls' night out
Went to street dance in Jones
Sick Sunday morning so I missed church this week.
More little work.
More little work.
Colder temperatures and rain. AH! FALL!!!! Yippeeee!!!
Dazed and confused. Need nap for brain-sharpening purposes. And quilty coziness.
Hmmm supper would be good too.

Th'th'that's all, folks!

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Plains! The Plains!

E.R. said Frenzied needed to see some photos of the "real Plains." Well, here's your Plains, righ' cheer.

First, a rest stop in Texas. Texas has nice rest stops with beautiful buildings, nice clean rest rooms, mosaics, points of interest, picnic areas and grills, like these:

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In Texas, especially the Panhandle and West Texas, you will see a lot of the horizon and miles and miles of scenery like this:

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On the backroads to Lubbock, there is an area called the Caprock Canyons north of Silverton. There's a turnout where you will see formations like this:
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You'll see lots and lots of these:
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and lots of these:

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Some of these:

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Lots of these:

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Not too many of these:

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Some of the little towns had their buildings painted in humorous ways. This burned out motel was painted with all kinds of stars of yore:

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And the jail in the next town was also decorated...

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It was harvest time, for lots of things like cotton:
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And peppers:
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And pumpkins. Say hello to Josh.
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I asked Josh about a huge field of peppers at the Texas-New Mexico border. The air was pungent and you could feel the sting from them as you drove by. He said the field was ready to harvest but the owners didn't have anyone to pick the peppers because of the tightening of the Mexican border. He wasn't sure if they would be harvested in time.

There are also lots of peanut farm in that area, but I couldn't find any that had been harvested to show you. I did see pumpkin fields being harvested and the pumpkins boxed and trucked to take all over the country for Halloween. That was interesting.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Home, now to sleep

Just one photo to share at the moment. More to come later on. It's been a long drive -- 1,300 + miles since Friday morning.

This was my favorite of many photos taken during the trip. It was also one of the last taken tonight, just as the sun set. I got it just two seconds before the light disappeared completely.

From the wind farm near Weatherford, where there are literally hundreds of these wind generators line up for miles, looking like ballerinas dancing on the prairie (E.R., thought of you while I saw these, both on the way out and on the way back.)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Heading for New Mexico

When I came home this evening after church music rehearsals, I had a message from my cousin Jim, who lives in Bryan, Texas. He was calling to relay a bit of bad news in the family. Our Aunt Chick, as she was called by family, died yesterday after many years of life in a nursing home with Alzheimers'.

Chick, whose "proper" name was Geneva, was my dad's last surviving sibling. With her death another generation of the Smith clan is gone. This loss makes me and my cousin the senior generation. Since I have no descendents, my entire line will die with me on both sides of my family. Such morbid thoughts -- it's the same with many of my cousins as well. Very few on either side had children.

Jim did tell me that he is heading for Hobbs tomorrow and will piggyback a visit to a new grandchild on the way. I'm glad there's someone who will know the joy of passing on a portion of our history.

Like any unexpected emergency trip this one comes with a handful of headaches. It's a nine-hour drive from here to Hobbs and I have no air conditioning as you all know from previous posts. No chance that I can get it repaired in time for the trip. Can't afford to rent a car, I don't think. I should check on that before dismissing the idea completely. I have an 11-year-old hot car. Perhaps that is an option. Hmmm.

UPDATE: I checked and I have reserved a rental car. Just under $60 for three days. SO worth it not to drive a hot car! Woo hoo!

One tough thing is that payday is Saturday, too late for a bank run for cash. So the whole trip will have to go on plastic, something that sickens me. I thank God that I have that option, however.

Also grateful for having a cell phone available. That's new, too, and has become more important to me than I had expected.

Let's see. Chick's life was very interesting, but I want to wait until after the service before I say much about that. I will tell you her nickname came because of her lack of height. When she was a child, she was short enough to run around under the dining table. Family said she looked and acted like a little chick, constantly in motion. Heh, I turned out to be the tallest one at 5'. We didn't stand a chance, though, because Grandma Smith was 4'6".

I last saw my aunt at the home she shared with my Aunt Emma and my grandmother in Amarillo, Texas, on April 25, 1987.

She was the epitome of the phrase "tough broad." She was a registered nurse married to an oilfield mudder. When she made family visits back to Oklahoma from New Mexico, she drove alone across barren West Texas with my cousin in the back seat. Chick sat on a thick phone book as she drove. I remember one reunion at my grandparents' house where we all waited nervously for her arrival. Her big ol' car had betrayed her with vapor lock, which left her on the road crippled until things cooled enough to allow her to get running again.

She was a smoker and a beer drinker, tough as nails. No one would dare mess with her.

When I saw her last, I was struck by how much she looked like my father. Since he died in 1976 it was shocking to me to see her again, looking like him.

This could well be the last time we cousins get together, I'll not kid myself about that. Several years ago I held a cousins' reunion here in Oklahoma City and everyone but Jim was able to come. His sister Jane has since died. I suspect we're at the age now when we'll start getting calls or notes about this one or the other dying over the next few years. I'm the baby at 51.

Tomorrow will be a tough day because I'll have plenty of work tasks to compress into one day instead of two. I hope I can do it. If I make this trip I will have to leave early Friday morning.

Well, there are a few things I can get ready tonight, and I want to get a good night's sleep to gear up for what's ahead the next few days.

I suspect an afternoon start for my return trip Saturday, so I may spend Saturday night on the road, depending on how tired I am. I am almost counting on it at this point, coming on home Sunday. I might have to call this weekend my fall "vacation."

I'll catch up with everyone when I'm home again. I hope you have a more pleasant weekend.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Guess what?

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Well, yeah. Big surprise.

I hopped in the car at lunch today to run to the nearby Taco Mayo for a burrito and taco. While I was at the drive-through speaker, the car started shaking violently and smoke started spewing forth from the hood, smelling of Freon. The car started losing power and died a couple of times. I was stuck -- couldn't get out of line because I was already pinned in front and back and had placed my order, so I shut the car down as long as the line wasn't moving. Finally I got my order and drove directly to the place that has been working on my air conditioner all year long (OK, just since July. Hey, only TWO months -- and 11 trips!)

Along the way I had to keep the RPMs up so the car wouldn't stall, shifting into neutral as I approached traffic signals so I could idle faster and not risk dying the final death.

And when I got to the shop, I took my lunch in and sat down. When Mike asked if he could help me, I said "I'm going to eat my lunch first and then we'll talk." Mike says "Eddie's not here today." (Eddie being the guy who "specializes" in air conditioning for them.)

"I know. It's Tuesday. It's his day off," I replied. "So is Scott, the manager, here today?"

Well, Scott is in the shop today, but he's making the rounds to the other stores and has gone to the salvage yard for a part for another customers at another store. He'll be back sometime.

I can wait. I finish lunch and watch some of the judge shows on TV. I complain that there are no new magazines and I need something to entertain me. Mike has the newest issue of "People" behind the counter. I make him cough it up and put my feet up on the table for a while.

I visit with another customer who asked me if I'd been in before. I laughed and gave her the short version of the long story.

She noted some green fluid on the ground. I asked Mike if that was antifreeze, because I've been down that road before with a different car. He assures me it is the coolant from the A/C with a dye in it to detect leaks.

Mike finally said the compressor virtually exploded. He doesn't want to touch it because Eddie has been been working on it so long and he doesn't know what all has been done.

Finally Scott returns. He's more than willing to make good on everything. He asks if I would be willing to take it to one of his other stores to let someone else look at it. He's going to get me a rental car while it's in the shop. And if that's not a satisfactory offer, or if the other guy can't fix it either, he is willing to give me back my money.

I asked him to give me a little time to weigh the options and had him disconnect the belt to the compressor. So for the short term, I still have no air conditioning.

Can you spell exasperated?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hello again

I haven't had a lot of blogging time this past week, so I apologize for leaving my haircut photo at the top of the page for so long. Yeah, I like it, quite a lot, but not really a week's worth. HA!

Anyway, I'm just taking a short break from my sewing machine. I've been in creative pursuits this weekend. I made a skirt Saturday night and a blouse tonight. They don't go together, but both go with other things already in my closet.

I've always enjoyed sewing, even in my teen years when it was a necessity rather than an expressive art. I can spend hours in a fabric store. I didn't think I still had it in me until the middle of last week, when I was exhausted from the everyday bits of my life. I think I spent about six hours total in three fabric stores -- well, more than that if you count the three quilting stores I went to on Friday.

I am well stocked for a while on fabrics, patterns, threads, necessary zippers and the other doo-dads that are a part of sewing. My den is set up, production style, with my sewing machine and ironing board. How handy it is to have them set up next to the TV! I've learned that most of my TV time is spent with my eyes on something else with an occasional glance at the screen, more like radio.

There's something so familiar and relaxing to me about being set up in such manner. I can remember working on particular garments in junior high with my sewing machine set up on a folding Army surplus table. I loved that table and miss it. I don't know what happened to it in the years after I left home. Now I use whatever open surface that is available around the house. There was a relaxing rhythm to the work, and I was surrounded by my family as they did whatever activity they were involved in. Dad would read while my mom and brother would be mostly focused on the TV.

Well, friends, I'm going back to put in the side seams and sleeves on the blouse. After that it will just be the hems, and I'll do machine hems on this item. I'll finish before bedtime tonight, no doubt about it.

Tomorrow I hope to tell you about my great day last Friday. See you later!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I could stand it no longer!

And so I went shorter!

I'm talking about my hair. I had these wild dreams about growing it long enough to donate to Locks of Love, along with a friend from church. But I measured a couple of weeks ago and it was only six inches long below my earlobe. To donate, the hair has to be cut at 12 inches or longer. That would put it down w-a-a-a-y too long. It was already a struggle dealing with it just past my shoulders. So yesterday I ran off and here is the result ...

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Can't get much shorter than this! (I must remember to use less shampoo.)

OK, I did find a "before" photo from a couple of months ago. My hair was just a smidge longer -- below my shoulders.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

It is finished

The 10th time is the charm! After today's trip to the repair shop (Day 10 in the saga) my car now produces cold air when the A/C is turned on!

Of course it does. I woke up this morning to discover the heater had come on in the house overnight. It was 63 degrees when I left the house.

Despite the cooler temperatures, the A/C is still a critical part of the car. Yesterday, during the torrential downpour in the morning, I was in dire need of the compressor as I was hydroplaning my way to church. Not only does the thing do the cooling, but it also is the key component of the defogger/defroster. I feel much safer knowing I won't have to carry a towel to clear my view on days such as those.

And man, wasn't that some rain! I was house-/dog-sitting for my friends in the country. Leaving the house requires putting the dog in the outdoor kennel, where she has a crate for keeping dry and nominally cozy.

Yeah.... by the time Miss Emma Lee was in her digs I looked like someone had taken a barrel of water and dumped it over my head. I barely had time to track down a plastic garbage bag and pack up my hair dryer and a change of clothes. After a 40-minute drive to church I was able to get changed and get my hair dry, get my choir robe on and make it to the loft in time to play handbells. There were only a few folks that saw me completely soaked before I was able to make myself quasi-presentable. Choir robes are a wonderful thing!

By the way, I was able to secretly work on the quilt project some yesterday afternoon. I got all the strips and block sections cut, unseen. They will be surprised when they see I started working on it at their house.
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Friday, September 15, 2006

Catching up

I've been away from home for a couple of days. Wednesday night at the end of choir practice we got the word that one of the older ladies at church (79 years old) had been in a hit-and-run car accident. This is the widow of my friend who died in February -- a woman I feel very close to and very protective of. I went straight to the hospital, which is just a few blocks from the church, to see her in the E.R.

Our minister was there, as well as her granddaughter. Shortly after, another couple of friends came as well. She had had some X-rays and a CAT scan and we waited with her for the results. Eventually she convinced most of them that she would be fine, so we had a prayer with her and people slipped on home. We expected she would be kept overnight, but at 10:30 I was able to take her home. I stayed with her to check her through the night for signs of concussion, but she snuck in to my room and reset the alarm clock so I wouldn't wake her at 3 a.m. The little stinker! I got up at 6 to make sure she was OK and she told me to go back to bed!

Yesterday, around my work assignments, I managed to run several errands for her. Fortunately she had a friend doing some painting on her house and he arrived just as I was off to take care of some things. He finished up and was getting in his truck just as I returned. That's good timing!

Among the errands I ran was cleaning out her car at the body shop. The wrecker service took her car over there just before I went by the impound yard, so I had to go track it down at the second location. She had had some clothes altered and picked them up at church just before the wreck. That's the main thing that concerned her -- she wanted her clothes!

I got everything from the car, then she sent me back to look for her handicapped parking card and to get the tag off the back of the car. I hadn't been able to find the hang tag when I went through it the first time but she said she kept it in the middle between the two front seats. That's when a light went off -- when I got back to the yard I felt underneath the console as far as my fingers could reach, and I could feel it. It had been thrown below the console, between it and her car seat where it couldn't be seen. And I found an envelope with a few dollars in it that she was also worried about. That was truly a God-inspired lightbulb moment for me. I felt like Nancy Drew!

She's feeling a little better -- still a little sore but she insists on keeping active to work through the pain and not let it overwhelm her. She's still sharp enough that I'm not worried about a concussion. Now she's antsy to get a rental car from her insurance company until she can find a new car. This afternoon, when I finish my work, I'll take her to the body shop so she can see the car and I can get some photos of it for her.

Interesting note: The young driver who plowed into her lived in the neighborhood. Witnesses saw everything that happened and were of great assistance to her and the police at the scene. One witness followed the young man because he was her neighbor. She followed him to see if he went home. Sure enough, he did, so she returned to the police to let them know where he was. DUH!

As my friend was waiting for her test results, resting on a gurney in the hallway by the nurses' station, the police brought in the young man and his girlfriend, in handcuffs. They were seated in front of the nurses' station, just feet from us. Both were so impaired that it was difficult for them to sit upright in their chairs. They were there to be tested for substances that could have contributed to the accident, but it was generally accepted among those on the floor that these two were stoned out of their ever-lovin' minds. Sometimes the system works in delightful ways. The young man seems to have a record an arm long of reckless driving and driving while impaired. One officer told us "he's a very, very bad boy. But she's worse."

And so that's my adventure so far this week. I'm off to get my work done now, as expediently as possible, so I can take care of a few other things later in the day. The weekend will be busy as I'll be house/dog sitting for other friends, and the handbell choir is playing Sunday morning. Looks like I'll be seeing a lot of road before Monday gets here!

Y'all take care!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Working on projects

Shhhhh! This is top secret!

I've got some quilt projects in the works. I spent a small fortune on fabrics today -- it took a long time to get all the 19 pieces cut at Hancock's. I've got the dark reds and purples in the washing machine right now, getting ready for cutting into quilt pieces. I'll be using a speed strip method so I don't have to cut itty-bitty squares and sew them back together.

The first one I plan to make will be a nine-patch. If I have successes, I will post progression photos.

I've got enough in my stash now to make three or four quilts. That's not counting scraps and fabrics already in my stash. I may wind up scrounging through those after I get the first projects under way.

These quilts will be gifts.

Today in Sunday school one of my friends and I co-taught a lesson on "The Keeping Quilt." We talked about the various ways we humans share The Story through the ages through a variety of means -- the oral tradition; the written word; songs; art; and quilts.

Family histories are shared through these practical home-made coverings. Fabrics often came from family members' clothing. There may be other sources of materials with historical significance.

In my family's case, the farm families made good use of the materials in feed sacks. Feed companies knew they provided considerable usable yardage for farm families and accommodated the tastes of their customers' wives and daughters.

Other details found in quilts also tell a family's history. In my family, my great aunt Beulah (known to us as Bo-Bo) was engaged to be married in the early 1910s. As we know, World War I broke out and America's young men fought their first battles overseas. Bo-Bo's fiance, Maynard, was killed in one such battle; she never married.

Back home, though, Bo-Bo and my great-grandmother Laura Lee Deal had been working to prepare items for her household. In the works were two quilts made of similar fabrics. After Maynard's death, there was a change in plans in the quilting of one of the pieces. In the solid squares of this quilt, they quilted the pattern of a war eagle where otherwise plain quilting would have gone. A soldier was dead; his love remembered for the rest of her life.

Their love story was told every time the quilts were brought out of storage. It was a ritual my mother performed on special occasions, to make sure I learned about that bit of family history from a young age.

One of the quilts went to my mother's sister. When she died, her children (my cousins) had no interest in keeping that quilt. It was already packed in a black trash sack when they asked me if I would be interested in having my aunt's quilts. I immediately shouted "YES" and rescued four quilts from the trash pile. I am sorry my cousins didn't understand the history behind the family quilt they had in their hands, but I am delighted that the two companion quilts are back together and living, for the most part, in Bo-Bo's cedar chest, next to my bed.

Another family treasure is my mother's baby quilt, made by my great-grandmother Laura Lee Deal. She embroidered the details of when it was made, by whom and for whom on the back. That's the way to share the history of a quilt -- with an embroidered provinance.

I'll share more about the quilts I'm working on later. For now, I can only hope they will some year have more of a meaning than the money I spent today at the fabric store. Honestly, I don't think that will be a problem.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cozy Corner Challenge!

In the previous post I showed you a picture of my den, one of my favorite spots in my house. So instead of a meme, I am issuing a photo challenge. I've seen other bloggers do this and it is just fascinating! Your assignment is to take a photo of your favorite corner of your house -- and explain why you like it so much. Mine is the photo below, and I think the reason I like it is because it is cozy. Also because it's a bit of a peculiar room, having once been outside of the house. It is an addition, as is apparent from the exterior brick wall leading to the dining room and the former porch light which is still working.

And I mentioned the "curtains" are really quilts covering floor-to-ceiling French doors that have been used to enclose the walls of the room.

Here's a view from a different angle showing the wall of cabinets you'll see from the sofa. Lots of games, books and hobby things are stored behind those white doors.

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Heh, I just noticed how that suitcase next to the chair seems to be smiling. It's filled with the memorabilia of my mom's life -- photos of her friends from nursing school, song sheets from bars in Chicago they visited. No wonder it's smiling!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The new year begins

I don't know about the rest of you, but I still seem to measure my life in semesters. Yes, even at 51, September is REALLY the new year on my internal calendar. Life begins anew at Labor Day. And, well, looky. The calendar shows that this is Labor Day weekend.

Alicia over at Posie Gets Cozy is on a little hiatus as she gets her new shop area set up at an antiques mall in Portland. Oh how I long to go back to Portland now that I know about her and so many other creative bloggers who live there. It's almost as though I've found a nest of kindred spirits there. Someday, perhaps. Someday.

And Kuky at Kuky Ideas is making the CUTEST dolls. I adore them! Kuky just has this incredible simple, cute style that makes me laugh, even on the days when that's the last thing I want to do. I feel so lucky to have stumbled on her blog. And her baby is getting new teefies too. Look at the photos. The other day I also discovered her blog about her dogs. I don't know how I've managed to miss out on that one for so long. I've fallen in love with them too now. Go visit Waldo and Nestle and give them a treat and a hug.

It feels as though the summer's heat has finally crested. We've had some rain the past couple of days. But no, we're in that period where it's still hot as hades most of the time. We may be scorched for a while, but not parboiled like in August.

What's the latest on the A/C? Well, Eddie tells me they have now been able to ORDER the part that's been on back order, and I should check with him on Tuesday. So no great holiday driving adventures for me over this long weekend. Not unless it snows. I'm not happy that I'm having to alter my lifestyle because of this machine, but that's life. I'd much rather have the freedom to get in the car and go if I feel like it without worrying about melting into the floorboards. Sigh.

One of my message boards has been having a thing where we show each other photos of our homes. Pretty much everything is fair game -- people ask to see parts of your house and if you're willing, you show them.

Well, you may know how this goes, if you know me. Clean, clean, clean... photograph. Move to next area. Clean, clean, clean... photograph. Oh, but that means moving stuff from Area 2 to the space you cleared out in Area 1 for the photos there. Eventually the clutter from the guest room somehow winds up on the kitchen counters because that's the only space still open! Sigh.

My goal for today is to actually move some of that clutter all the way out the front door if there's not a proper place for it. I'd like to preserve some of the clean spots!

Here, I'll share one of my favorite rooms with you since I'm kind of proud that I finally got it looking livable again. My den. I've gotten rid of all my dead plants. At one time it was a lush room with many living, gorgeous plants. One day I made a semi-conscious decision that I wasn't going to fool with them any more. I can't believe I did that, but I think it was at a particularly hard time when I did not have the energy to be concerned with them any more. Now I wish I had maintained them. But I'll start replacing them, slowly, so I can stop when I get to the point of "enough!"

I love this room, but don't spend enough time in here any more. Most of my waking hours are spent in my office. Time for that to change some. The den is a place where I feel most cozy, especially when I have friends over to share the space.

Here, come pull up a chair and let's chat!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Now here's a corporate charity that makes a difference!

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Tide's CleanStart offers victims of disaster loads of hope.

After Hurricane Katrina, Tide® and the America's Second Harvest Network partnered to create Tide® CleanStart — a program that provides clean clothes and a sense of comfort to families through a free mobile laundry facility.

The Tide CleanStart mobile laundry facility contains 32 high-efficiency washers and dryers; can wash and dry approximately 10,000 free loads of laundry over a four week period; can do about 300 wash and dry cycles a day — equal to one year's worth of laundry for a single family.

Go Here to Tide's corporate site to see more about this incredible helping hand program. And imagine yourself as a victim of last year's hurricane. Wouldn't it be a huge blessing to you to have any way to feel just a little cleaner after that?

Thanks, Tide, for helping to turn things around with this corporate outreach!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Good morning! It's Saturday!

Yeah! And you know what? It is one of those increasingly rare Saturdays for which I have no commitments or obligations! This is a play-day Saturday! No guilt for leaving chores undone because I've helped a friend move, for example. No feeling bad about making it someplace on time. Nope. This day is MINE! All MINE! Bwah-haha!

It has started well. I slept in, and even when the clock radio went off I dawdled in bed and listened to the entire "Car Talk" on NPR this morning. Those guys are a hoot -- comedians and good information all in one. Makes me feel better about driving an old car when I listen to them, especially when I can diagnose car problems along with them from the listeners' calls.

To update y'all on my car situation: At the moment I am completely without any air conditioning. Last Saturday I was out of town, and an an inopportune time the compressor bearings went out and started creating an embarrassingly horrific sound. Nothing I could do would stop it. Leaving church was also embarrassing as there were plenty of people in the parking lot listening to it and wondering if my car was ready to explode.

Monday morning I learned that the evaporator core (No. 4 for those who are counting) is on back order until the end of August! Another week, probably, at the earliest -- that now puts us over the Labor Day weekend and I am betting that I won't hear a peep until AFTER the holiday. So I explained the problem has now contaminated the compressor and the bearings are squawling. They offered to disconnect the belt and change the clutch on the compressor to at least stop the noise. He'll also get me a compressor at cost, saving me hundreds of dollars, when the evaporator core is available and we install that. I may have cool air in October, right about the time we all have cool air.

This hot summer is tough on a delicate little wilty flower like me, although someone said I was more like a sunflower -- and sunflowers are tough! (Thanks for that, someone! But remember sunflowers are also tall, which I decidedly am not.)

Honestly, August heat and I don't get along. I'm also sporting a major sunburn from having spent a few too many hours outside without protection while doing some work. I'm about as white as a sheet of paper and it doesn't take a lot of exposure for me to get a serious burn, so a couple of hours outside in a rural area is just begging to get cooked to a crisp.

On the other hand ...

Yesterday morning I had a great experience, meeting someone for coffee at Starbucks. It's a whole different sort of place at 10 a.m. than at other times of day. There were a couple of moms there in different areas -- one momma giving her baby boy a bottle on the soft club chairs and another momma with her toddlers playing in a nook with a couple of love seats. The toddlers were enjoying some of the baked goods for a special treat, alternating between taking bites and coloring and playing with blocks of some sort. It was quiet and serene, and, I noticed, everyone had smiles on their faces. Especially the momma feeding the baby boy his bottle.

There was also a man at a table for one, reading the morning paper as he sipped his coffee, and an older couple. I think they were probably traveling through because they asked to have a thermos filled. It was fun watching them as they decided what to order -- one would pick something only to be reminded by the other why that was a bad choice. Then they flipped roles. It was a wonder they ever were able to place an order, but when they did get their treats they went to sit on the patio under an umbrella.

The cool slate floor and the blond wood ceiling features made the coffee shop a serene, almost holy place for these special Friday-morning moments. Through the windows we could watch a gardening crew replacing some of the small shrubs that had fallen to the summer heat.

Lazily watching these gentle moments made me glad that I had arrived early. I found myself able to breathe a little more deeply than usual, pulling out memories of my childhood and those special moments with my own momma when we would do something different, like going to a little cafe for lunch instead of eating at home. Such times as these are special bonding moments with children -- times when adults can show them, even without words, that they are special and deserve those prized moments and experiences.

I felt special too, when my acquaintance arrived. I wasn't sure why she had called for coffee, but had a bit of a fear of a serious conversation about some recent conflicts involving other people. I could not have been more wrong.

Instead, she started by asking me how I was doing, and was unwilling to take the glazed-face "Fine" that we all respond with. She gave me a chance to voice all the nasty little problems that have accumulated recently. And I appreciate it so much.

We wound up having a great, long, serene conversation, exchanging some real truths about what is happening in both of our lives. Sometimes just speaking the truths helps to take the pressure off of those things we're dealing with -- knowing that now there is another human being who knows and understands what we're facing.

During our conversation we also kicked around some creative ideas that we're going to discuss further, in another morning coffee session. Ideas for worship and a women's retreat and other spiritual expressions.

Funny how one morning's coffee klatch can have such an effect. Funny how one hour spent like this can take someone from an acquaintance to a friend. Thanks, my friend.