Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hooked on Biographies

We just finished Robert Massie's Catherine the Great, some 600 pages of fascinating history and personal stories. What an incredible woman she was, despite all her faults and failures. She was a friend of Voltaire and many other notable figures of her age---was liberal minded in many ways, though was never willing to go so far as to liberate the serfs from their absolutely miserable lives. The entire book has shed light on what is going on today with Putin threatening to annex the Ukraine as he recently did Crimea. John read every morning and evening and it still took us several weeks to plow through. We're now reading a biography of Henry Ward Beecher, 19th-century American preacher and abolitionist, who is known for the biggest sex scandals of the era.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Warm Easter Sunday

We went to church this morning, sat near the back and were soon joined by Kayla and her boyfriend Ariel. Then before the service began Carlton and his buddy Robert showed up. We all came back to the house for a picnic dinner and then out for a hike. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm, though Robert was missing his wife and kids in El Paso. He was stranded this weekend in Michigan and will be flying out East before returning home next Sunday. John's sporting a new shirt---didn't even bother to take the tag in the armpit off!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Snowy Tax Day

For most people April 15 is just another day. For me, with the complications of a business and a too-busy tax lady (who knows our general situation inside and out), it means sleepless nights and then filing extensions for state and federal governments with checks for both 2013 and 2014 for estimated tax payments. I just wrote the 4 checks and John is off getting the coupons and getting them mailed. We woke up this morning to more than two inches of snow and the temperature all day to hover in the 30s. I remember so well this week 18 years ago, having just bought the property for the business and trying to get major excavation work done with inspectors poking around, and at the same time getting ready for family to fly in from Rhode Island to Seattle for Carlton's April 20 wedding. My life was a mess, but it was a very early beautiful spring and the trees were all leafed out. Now I judge every spring by the size of the leaves on that date. This year we don't even have buds. Above is the river back-lit by the sunset. Below is today's snowfall at the Gardens. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

March Going out on Top---at 63 degrees

It's been a long cold month, today being the warmest day, I think, since last October. The back-water of the river continues to lap at the road near flood stage, which is sort of the norm this time of year, though the Sunday paper reminded us that last year at this time (2 weeks before the 100-year flood) we were several feet below what we are now. I've been nursing a bad cold which hasn't helped my spirits much, but every day that I write another 1000 words or thereabouts, I'm that much closer to finishing the 1st draft of my next book. John has been writing as well, or more accurately, arranging. Recently an acquaintance asked if he would arrange some music for a small brass ensemble, using arrangements he had previously done for a much larger ensemble. He was excited to do it, got it all done, and then lost his work. What a bummer! Yesterday after he went to church (while I was home with my cough), he drove to the Gardens, hoping he might have left the music there. Nothing. So on his way home, he stopped by the recycling complex to do some dumpster diving, since he'd dropped stuff off late in the week. Turns out they were locked up on Sunday. So he slithered under an iron gate, no more than 12 inches from the pavement----ended up finding nothing. We looked some more around the house when he returned, and then I suggested he go into deep, deep meditation---way deep---to try to come up with the last moment he had his hands on his music. He did, and that led him to his file drawer and a folder for our taxes. Good news. So, it's not been such a bad month after all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

NOAA's Flood Graph's Good News

This morning's graph shows the difference a day can make, and there is a big sigh of relief that the danger of an ice flood is behind us. Long range prediction is for cold weather but surely not cold enough to cover the river with a thick layer of ice.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ice Jam Broken

Our little flood has come and gone---for the time being. The ice jam broke this early this afternoon and the water is down 2 feet from where it was at it's high late last night. We were preparing to leave the shop early and get home to pack up some things while we could still get our car in. Then I talked with Alex at the cottage and she said she was looking out in her yard and the water was starting to recede. Good news, but we're still on edge. The rains of spring haven't even started.

Ice Jam Flood?

This morning we woke up to an open river, no ice as far as we could see. That seemed very strange since it was iced-over with big chunks sticking up when we'd gone to bed. Within an hour after we were up, though, we started seeing huge ice sheets, logs, limbs, trees and a tire going by at what seemed like about 3 miles an hour. We knew immediately that such things don't simply make their way out to Lake Michigan and that an ice jam was probably inevitable. I'm at the business right now; John just called from home saying the road is still dry. But the NOAA website certainly gives the impression that we're right in the middle of an ice flood with the river rising rapidly. According to the prediction, we'll have almost a foot and a half of water over the road by the time we get home this afternoon. We've got our waders in the car, and I've warned Alex to be ready to get out of the cottage in a hurry with Dr. Ike (her cat).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ice Jams and the Fear of Flooding

Once again we're on flood alert, this time with a flash flood warning due to ice jams. Here is what we see out in front of our house this evening. It's beautiful but we are fully aware of the terrible power of the river.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Natchez Trace Parkway and Barren River Lodge

After last night in a cheap hotel, we are treating ourselves to a room at the Barren River State Park Lodge in southern Kentucky, about 100 miles NE of Nashville, $80/night. We enjoyed driving nearly 300 miles today on the Natchez Trace and stopped several times for short hikes, then came here to the lodge on a whim, never imagining that there would be a room available on a Saturday night. Tomorrow morning we will make a stop to pick up 20 or so home-made bird houses for Carlton Gardens from one of our Kentucky suppliers. Here are some photos: John amid rock formations along the Trace, John facing the steep incline on the river side of our lodge, and a sunset view outside the screen door of our room balcony.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Good Bye Mississippi

We're in Jackson, Mississippi this evening after spending a wonderful 4 days in Biloxi in a nice motel across the road from the beech. Here's John doing a crossword on a sunny morning, the blue waters of the Gulf in the background. This morning we left early for New Orleans and spent some time in the French Quarter and then on to the City Park where we enjoyed hiking some trails and strolling through the sculpture garden. My selfie is actually a cube of mirror. I thought I looked pretty good alongside the sculptured lady.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

If Churches Paid Taxes. . . . .

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Peaceable Kingdom

We went to church this morning and then to Applebee's for lunch with Sarah, John and the kids to celebrate Ashley's birthday. Then back home where I hunkered down to write. As I was looking up some information on Margaret Fell Fox, "Mother of the Quakers," I came across a book with a copy of a wonderful painting on the cover. Turns out it was painted by an American, Edward Hicks in 1833. Here is what I discovered about this Quaker preacher:

Trained as a sign, coach, and ornamental painter, Hicks painted over a hundred versions of his now-famous Peaceable Kingdom between 1820 and his death. His artistic endeavors provided modest support for his activities as a Quaker preacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The theme of this painting, drawn from chapter 11 of Isaiah, was undoubtedly attractive to Hicks and fellow Quakers not only for its appealing imagery but also for its message of peace: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." 

In my quest for Hick's work, I happened on some other delightful paintings. Discovering such artwork is a wonderful way to waste time on the computer.
Jon Rappleye, "Nightwood Bloom"
Leo Rawlings, "The Peaceable Kingdom"

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Happy Birthday, George!

Since listening to 1776 on audiobooks, we have taken a greater interest in the Father of our country, and this morning while reading our daily fix of "The Writer's Almanac" were reminded again of Washington's love for Sally Fairfax, the beautiful young wife of a Virginia plantation owner. After he became engaged to Martha, he wrote to Sally: "Misconstrue not my meaning, 'tis obvious; doubt it not, nor expose it. The world has no business to know the object of my love, declared in this manner to you when I want to conceal it."  It is probably incorrect to assume, however, that Sally would be crowned Miss Virginia if Martha had been in the competition. I found this very interesting perspective online:

Our image of the mother of our country, vague and insubstantial as it is, is drawn from portraits painted after her death showing a frumpy, dumpy, plump old lady, a fussy jumble of needlework in her lap, wearing what could pass for a shower cap with pink sponge rollers underneath.  But today, 250 years after Martha and George tied the knot, a handful of historians are seeking to revamp the former first lady’s fusty image, using the few surviving records of things she wrote, asking forensic anthropologists to do a computerized age-regression portrait of her in her mid-20s and, perhaps most importantly, displaying for the first time in decades the avant-garde deep purple silk high heels studded with silver sequins that she wore on her wedding day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fighting All the Way Back From Florida

Yes, we were fighting non stop. And if that wasn't bad enough, on the way down it rained and poured and we were swept away in flood waters. Just got back home last evening. Otherwise, it was a relatively stress-free vacation.

On the way to Florida we listened to The Johnstown Flood by Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough. We both felt as though we were experiencing the reality of that 1889 flood ourselves---a flood that claimed more than two thousand lives. On the way back we listened to 1776, McCullough's book on the first year of the American Revolution which he read himself. Though we actually do know the eventual outcome of the war, it seems like we re-fought those first awful battles every mile of the way. In fact, both books were as exhausting as they were spellbinding.

I wish that every American could listen to 1776. It's so easy to imagine that particular year as simply the hot Philadelphia summer of the glorious Declaration of Independence. But the Rebels' utter lack of preparedness, lack of clothing and shoes and tents, insufficient food and gunpowder is hard to comprehend. Camp conditions were deplorable, disease as rampant as were desertions, and then the string of humiliating military defeats. Untrained, undisciplined soldiers often ran wildly in retreat.  Besides all that was General George Washington's inexplicable indecisiveness again and again. The Revolution was a lost cause. No doubt about it. There was no way those rebels could prevail against the strongest military establishment in the world. But then on Christmas night, Washington crossed the Delaware River and with his rag-tag soldiers and some very able officers made a surprise attack on Trenton that ended in a decisive victory. 

The war, of course, would drag on for 7 years, but Washington learned from his mistakes. His untrained underlings, especially Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox, would become the seasoned officers of military history.

It was a good reminder to us of the incredible price that was paid for the birth of this nation. Today we lose sight of that as one side of the political spectrum screams about the 1%---especially the billionaires who claim they are as persecuted as were the Jews under Hitler, and the other side lamenting that we are suffering under the rule of a Kenyan, Muslim Marxist President. Most of us have pretty good lives---lives that these destitute soldiers could not have imagined.

Florida Memories

Our initial destination in Florida was Apalachicola, where we stayed at the River Inn for 2 nights, then on to Suwannee River State Park where we met Carlton for a night in a nice cabin---same one we stayed at for the past few years. Carlton picked up Kayla at the Jacksonville airport the following afternoon and we all met up in Fort Myers where we stayed 5 nights and had a lot of fun in the warm sunshine, especially hiking and biking.

This blog is primarily a family picture journal which supplements John's hand written detailed daily journal. I used to write once a week or so myself, but I've traded that for this blog. We often try to remember particular events, and these posts jog our feeble memories. 
Outside our door at the River Inn
Our room at the River Inn

Carlton, Kayla,winning night at dog races

Kayla, Thomas Edison Museum

Black Swan, Sanibel Island

White Pelicans, Sanibel Island

Saturday, February 08, 2014

A Few Witty Literary Quotes

“If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.” 
P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer” 
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”  Dorothy Parker, The Algonquin Wits

Thursday, February 06, 2014

My Etch-A-Sketch Memory

The last time etch-a-sketch was in the news was a quote from Mitt Romney's campaign advisor: "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an etch-a-sketch." Recently another reference was made to that toy when Jane Pauley said: "I have the memory of an etch-a-sketch." I was glad that someone so young as she could say that.  I often wonder where all the information stored in my memory bank has gone. Now I have a metaphor---an etch-a-sketch. I'm particularly feeling this memory loss as I'm working on my next book related to women in the history of Christianity. I've read so many books and done so much work in that area in the past, but it feels almost like my memory has been erased and I'm starting over. I will take a book off the shelf and it sometimes seems like I'm reading it for the first time. I take my frustrations out in shoveling. The snow simply won't quit.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Overnight in a Cozy Loft

With the prediction of 6-10 inches of snow beginning at midnight, we decided to stay at our loft here at the Gardens last night. Glad we did. We started shoveling just after 8 am and before we're done we almost need to start all over again. It will be a mess this afternoon when we get back to the house on the river but that driveway is much smaller than our parking lot here. We love the loft and staying there is surely no hardship, though we have no running water, thus there are similarities to camping.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thank you, Fred and Lena

Frederik Meijer was born in 1919, when John's father was three. Both were raised in poor Dutch families in West Michigan. Both opened grocery stores as adults. But as the chain groceries came to the area, John's dad was done in by them; he went into insurance sales but financial success eluded him. Fred Meijer shook his fist at the chain stores and was determined to do them one better. He eventually did by dotting the Midwest and far beyond with his Meijer super-stores. One man became a millionaire many times over the other did not. I'm married to a son of the latter. But there's no feeling of envy at all. Fred and his wife Lena, now both deceased, have given us a spectacular 132-acre world-class park, and today, with people staying away due to the cold weather, it almost felt like it belonged to us alone. A reporter from the Wall Street Journal noted that there's "nothing like Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park this side of Kroller-Muller Museum and Sculpture Park in the Netherlands."  

We closed the Gardens early and arrived before 2 pm to enjoy a wonderful lunch at the cafe before going through the turn-table with our membership card. I took a lot of pictures, simply unable to resist the orchids. These sassy flowers shamelessly flaunt their dazzling blooms. So I snapped away. From the conservatory we went outside in the brisk biting air to hike the vast park and enjoy the sculptures, every style from traditional and abstract to  stately and whimsical.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cutting Wood and Making Music

He was cutting wood just 10 days ago. At 94, he's now gone but his music will forever live on.

Pete Seeger- Sanga Music Inc -BMI

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn? 

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Scarves, Stocking Caps and Foxes

I received an email this morning from a West Michigan friend. Her first words were: "This winter has just been AWFUL! No other way to describe it."  I feel for her; she's a single mom trying to make a living in sales and this weather is not helping at all. Fortunately, we don't have to make a living in sales. We do get tired of shoveling six inches of snow everyday, though. We've never had a winter like this since we opened the business in 1996. We try to make the best of it and today I offered a little humor to travelers by putting these metal foxes out by the road with hats and scarves.  They're for sale for $52 (another $3 for the hat), but no takers. Hadn't really expected any business. If high winds and bitter cold was not enough to keep people away, our small parking lot cramped with huge snow piles was. When we weren't shoveling, we indexed the book. And amazingly, we did have a customer stop by and purchase some wall hangings.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Enough Already!

After spending an hour shoveling our drive here at home yesterday, we went to the Gardens. It took us a few hours, including breaks, to get the driveway and parking spaces partially cleared, though we did not open the shop. I'm under the gun for several writing deadlines (John helping me), so we didn't have a lot of time to spare. But if we are so adept at mixing work and play there's no reason why we can't just as seamlessly mix work and work. So our breaks from shoveling were spent indexing my next book. Here is our vehicle next to the worst part of our snow removal task. It's next to the road and the snow is plowed up in heavy icy chunks. The pile is over 6 feet high and the wind was blowing hard. No fun. But there's beauty amid the hard work. I snapped this bottle sculpture, shining amid a brief respite from the cloud cover.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Wonderful Wisconsin Winter Day

The temperature outside is 11 degrees with a predicted high of 13. But the sun is bright and the sky is a brilliant blue. It brings me back to my childhood in northern Wisconsin. This is exactly what our winter days were like. I look out into the back yard here at the Gardens where the hard shadows break the pure whiteness of the snow. What beauty! A normal West Michigan winter day: cloud-cover and dirty slush.

Just had an interview on The Biographical Bible with the host of the Author's Corner in the St. Louis area on KNEO radio that reaches four other states. I love to talk about that book. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tithing and Giving Until it Hurts

Yesterday's news about the widening gap between rich and poor was very troubling and at the same time the standard same old same old. It's simply a normal trend in the US and also  worldwide. And it truly does trouble us. What can we do in the face of poverty? So often we read warnings like these opening sentences from a 2007 article in the New York Times titled "Giving Till it Hurts."

The public has rightly shown its empathy with wounded and troubled war veterans, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to private charities that claim to have the veterans’ best interests at heart. A new study details rampant abuses of the money flow. Of 29 military charities vetted by the American Institute of Philanthropy, a nonprofit watchdog group, only nine received passing grades in managing resources.

For decades I've heard sermons on tithing and giving until it hurts. I've never really understood the concept of tithing. So your family income is $20,000; you give $2,000, and live on $18,000. It means (at least in the US) that you're scraping along. If your income is $40,000, you still give 10%. If your income is $200,000 and you tithe, you're keeping to yourself $180,000.

The Apostle Paul praises certain Christians for giving not only "according to their means" but "beyond their means" (2 Cor. 8:3, ESV). For rich people that means giving a lot more than 10%.

John and I are rich. There were many times back in the day when I was teaching that I would play a little game in the classroom---most often when it at least indirectly tied in with the topic of the day relating to poverty and wealth. I would draw a line across the chalkboard. At the left I would write 1% and at the right 100%. I would tell my students that the left represented a woman I once met in Allele, Kenya who was living in a cornfield in a tiny thatched hut with a dirt floor and a pile of rags to sleep on. She had a baby less than a week old and she held him with pride, as did my 13-year-old son Carlton. I'll never forget her. A symbol of poverty. On right side of the line, representing 100%, was Donald Trump.

I would go around the class room pointing at each student demanding they give a number of where they were on the chart. They were, for the most part, relatively poor students. On occasion a student would get it right and give herself a 90 or above. When it was done, I would give myself a 97, then wipe out the 7, change it to an 8 and then maybe a 9. By world standards I am very wealthy, and I would point out to my students that I have all the food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc. that I need---just as much as Trump has. His bath faucets may be gold-plated, but my bath water is just as hot as his is. Case closed. Now, of course, my students weren't as rich as I, but neither were they a 30 or 50 or even 70 on the percentage line.

This year John and I decided to give not a tithe but "according to our means" (though not beyond it). John added it up the other day and it came to $24,928, more than three times a tithe. But it still leaves us much more than it costs us to live economically. We simply don't need a new car or new furniture or new clothes. We already have more possessions than we need and we take wonderful vacations. So I surely do not relate this information in order to boast. But I do relate it to encourage anyone who is reading this to consider giving more if they can afford it.

Part of what has stymied us in the past is exactly what we read in the NYT piece or in other such articles. It is maddening to discover we've given to a charity that has squandered our money.  The good news is that after spending time in research we have discovered some good charities, one of which is Compassion International. The organization gets a high rating from independent watchdogs, and it recently gave a university sponsored research team full access to its records and field work. The findings showed that there is very good accountability and that money given is a good investment. The major focus is Third World education (school fees, books, uniforms, lunches, etc.). Education, it seems, is one of the best ways to respond to world poverty.  Thus we gave a large chunk of our charitable contributions to Compassion. We also donate to a select number of other charities and high-rated environmental groups. We dropped our contributions to some organizations that we had given to in the past because of our lack of confidence in how they distribute their funds.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say (2 Cor. 9:7) that "God loves a cheerful giver." I don't think he had income tax deductions in mind when he said that, but that does add a little cheer for anyone who may feel the simple act of giving is not cheery enough.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Home Sweet Home

Eleven days, 10 nights on the road is enough for both of us. How we love to get back home again. We drove into our driveway before 4 pm yesterday and were at the business before 10 am this morning. The basement is dry and very little damage from the flooding. Besides that good news and the good news that my arm continues to heal is the good news that our trusty vehicle gave us no problem during this trip of slightly over 4,000 miles. It's a 2005 Honda Element. We went over the 226,000 mile mark as we were approaching Grand Rapids. We basically hate the vehicle, which we purchased new 9 years ago, but it simply won't die so we keep driving it and using it as a truck. The tail lights are held together with duct tape and the tail pipe with a coat hanger. We stuff paper napkins across the top of the passenger-side (as the picture shows) when we drive to keep the air-flow noise down and more duct tape across the outside of the top of the windshield, also for noise control. It has dents on the driver's side caused by a woman who side-swiped me---never fixed the dent but got money from her insurance company, money that has paid for more than a couple of sets of new tires.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Leaving Big Bend with Pictures and Memories

One of the most striking aspects of Big Bend is it's size. From the north entrance to the Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande River is 75 miles; the east-west distance is about the same. This morning we left our comfy room at the Chisos Mountains Lodge and drove 7 miles down to the junction. Instead of going out of the park we turned back to the Chimneys (a 46 miles round trip) and then hiked out on the trail and climbed the rocks.  We were alone out there and it was the perfect way to end our stay in this spectacular spot on the planet. Besides the great rock formations there are some very interesting petroglyphs. We drove toward home all afternoon and evening and are now spending the night in Wichita Falls Texas