Friday, March 30, 2012

Hooray for Indoor Plumbing

I love modern plumbing. While there are many places in the world where there is still no plumbing at all, or it consists of a well-head where water can be pumped out of the ground and carried home for cooking and washing, for those of us who live in the western world good plumbing is taken for granted. If we are thirsty, we turn on the kitchen faucet. If we need to bathe, we can choose tub or shower and there is plenty of hot water on tap. To dispose of bodily waste, we push down a little handle and it goes away. It is so easy that we don't even think about it. We just use these wonders.

Grandpa and Grandma
by their homestead house.
While enjoying my wonderful, hot shower this morning, I started thinking about my grandparents. They came to Wyoming from North Carolina by emigrant train in 1917. They homesteaded on the prairies of southern Campbell County, where they lived until my grandfather had a major stroke in 1955. They moved into town then, for Grandpa was severely handicapped by this devastating event in his brain. For the first time, my grandmother had indoor plumbing. She had running water in her kitchen, she could bathe without having to heat the water on the stove and pour it into a galvanized wash tub, she had no more trips to the outhouse.  Her life was not easy caring for her husband. I never heard her talk about it, but having indoor plumbing must have made at least a little of her life easier. Of course, Grandma knew about and had used indoor plumbing when visiting away from home. But it had never been an everyday part of their lives until 1955. Grandma was 68 years old.

When I think about it, I feel very spoiled. When people talk about the joys of camping, I always say that I'd love to go camping, as long as there's a flush toilet! What would I do, if I were forced to live without these modern conveniences? Well, I'd learn to cope. Of course, I would. But I'd probably whine from time to time!

Thursday, March 29, 2012


The stuff I have accumulated for working on my photo scrapbooks.
It has taken over my  kitchen table!

I like stuff. I have stuff. My stuff is my nesting material for making my living space my home. From the pictures on the walls to the dishes in the cupboards to the laundry equipment to my filled bookshelves to all the useful bits and pieces of everyday life, I like having stuff.

However. . . stuff multiplies.

And when stuff multiplies too much it becomes a problem.

I live in a smallish apartment. When I moved here I downsized. I got rid of a lot of stuff. But more stuff has accumulated.

This was brought home to me rather sharply by a kind deed my good son-in-law did for me. You know that our government has (foolishly, I believe) gone into the business of supervising even what kind of light bulbs we can use. Out with the old bulbs that give a warm, pleasant light! Well, Chad supplied me with about ten years' worth of the bulbs that can no longer be sold. This is great! The problem is--my very limited storage space is already filled with STUFF.

So now I must really do what I've been thinking about. I must pretend I am moving to a very small space and cull out everything that is rarely used, that I have more of than I really need, or that I'm just keeping in hope of someday finding a use for it. But I will keep the things that are really important to me and that are being used.

When this process is done, I will love having a little more space and a little less stuff!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Although I've just recently begun blogging, I've journaled in other formats for years. I've never been good at keeping a diary for more than a short time before I get bored and give it up. I found short-term diaries more satisfying, such as trip diaries. I learned that after a little time passed (sometimes a very little time), I no longer could keep straight just when we were where, what we did on each day, where that neat little place we stopped to eat at was located, or even what year it was when we made a certain trip. But all I have to do is pick up the trip diary and start reading and it comes back.

I've always loved family photos. They are a window to a moment that will never come again, the record of our lives. My photo books have morphed into photo journals. I don't write a lot to accompany the pictures, but I write enough to remind me of the events surrounding the photos.

Another form of journaling that I've being doing for several years involves my personal Bible study. I've found that I get much more meaning from my reading if I journal as I read. It fixes my attention; it keeps my mind from wandering. Before I started using journaling I could read a whole chapter and really take in only a sentence or two before my mind took off following a new path. The words went and the words went out. Only a phrase or two was retained. But, if I journal as I read, my mind stays with what I'm reading. I find that I notice things in the text that I would probably have simply glossed over otherwise. When I reach a section, such as the "begats" or the descriptions of how the ancient Israelites performed their sacrifices, that usually would put my mind into a coma, I discover there are little nuggets of interest even there. If I journal I am forced to THINK! Sometimes the journaling on a certain passage can take me down thought trails I would not have paused to pursue otherwise.

Words are powerful, even my own words to and for myself.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Storms of Dust and Rain

Another weather front barreled through northeastern Wyoming yesterday. Shortly after 4 p.m. the blast of wind hit the house, then my daughter, Anne Marie, called and said, "Look out the window!" I was working on a jigsaw puzzle and hadn't lifted my head to look when the wind hit, but I did then. Billowing clouds of dust filled the air. I grabbed my camera and started snapping photos through the windows, hoping the dust would show up. (The cross-hatching is the window screen.)

Later in the evening I heard the tapping of rain on the windows and roof of the house. I rather expected it to turn to snow before morning, but woke today to a calm, moist world that smelled deliciously fresh.

There was a tenth of an inch in my rain gauge--not a lot, but a blessing after the dryness of March and the dust that preceded it.

Ah, Spring!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Is It Spring Yet?

The maple tree across the street on February 22
Spring is an iffy thing in this part of the world. Sometimes we say it's the day between winter and summer!

Growing up we learned in school that there are four seasons, each lasting three months. Spring is the season when "April showers bring May flowers." One of the biggest blizzards I recall happened on the first of May! It is true, though, that most years we are through with blizzards by April, but that's no guarantee. Snow in April is not at all uncommon; in fact, if you live here long enough you will experience at least a little snow in every month of the year. That is not to say that we don't have hot summers--we do. But old mother nature slips in a surprise from time to time.

After six months of leafless trees and brown grass (when it isn't snow covered), we get absolutely giddy when the days grow longer, the sky bluer, and the temperatures begin to rise. If it hits 50 degrees (F) in the daytime some people are out coatless and wearing shorts. I think that's a bit nuts, but I understand the impulse to celebrate the promise of winter ending.

The tree across the street today
Yesterday the thermometer hit 71 and my daughter, granddaughter, and I went for a walk. The trees are beginning to bud, there are green sprigs of grass trying to poke their way through last year's brown remains, and some days we get lots of sunshine. Further south spring is in its full glory; here we are just at the tail-end of winter, but hope rises that it might--just might--be done with us.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Body Parts

I woke up quite early this morning. Lying in bed in the dark, my thoughts turned to my husband, Jerry, and some of the things he used to do. I remembered how good he was at connecting with and helping people. He never sought attention for the things he did; he just did them. He spent many hours visiting with people who were too ill or infirm to get out and go to church. He sat with families in the hospital waiting room while they kept vigil for a very ill loved one. He helped people get home from the hospital when they had no transportation, then kept in touch. He listened. He shoveled their walks when it snowed. He mowed grass in the summer. He served them because he was a servant of Christ.

Jerry also could sing or preach or teach or pray in church. He was good at developing group participation. But I think he touched hearts the most by his quiet help, his friendly visits, and his undemanding presence with those most people forgot about.

I do not have these particular people skills, which came from his heart. I feel very awkward with people I don't know well. I get involved in my own little world. Sometimes I feel very guilty because I do not have the kind of outreach Jerry did. I have heard many sermons in my lifetime of church-going in which congregations are encouraged, urged, or scolded in an effort to get them busy winning people to Christ. The congregation may come away feeling they are expected to be out knocking on doors, pursuing people with Bible in hand. Some people may be drawn to Christ through outreach evangelism, some may be drawn through a sermon or lesson they hear in church, but how many are drawn to Christ by the simple loving-kindness of people living out the spirit of Jesus?

When I start getting the guilts over the things I'm just not good at in serving Christ, I remember that this very thing is dealt with in the Scriptures:
For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. (I Corinthians 12:14-18 NKJV)
I do need to be more aware of the needs and hurts of people around me. But I also have the abilities and opportunities God gave me, and those are what He expects me to be using. I can't be Jerry, but I must be Michelle.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sometimes it Takes Two to do One Person's Work

On Friday mornings my daughter and I volunteer as delivery people for the Blessings in a Backpack program operated by a local church. There are children whose families have trouble providing food for the weekends. During the week the children in these families eat breakfast and lunch at school. On the weekends they may go hungry. In cooperation with the church, business donors, private citizen donations, and at least 50 volunteers, backpacks are filled with enough food for a child for the weekend. The packs are delivered to the school, where they are sent home Friday afternoons with the participating children. There are eleven participating local elementary schools, with a total of 375 children being fed.

Delivering packs on a day when my son-in-law, Chad, was helping.
Our part is simple: pick up the plastic tubs filled with packs for our school, stack them on trolleys, wheel them to my daughter's truck, load them and the trolleys into the truck, unload them at the school onto the trolleys, wheel them into the school, stack them in a hallway, take the trolleys back to the truck, and go home. Pretty easy most of the time.

However...recently my daughter developed a very painful tendonitis in her right elbow. I have been having trouble with a little arthritis in my back. Lifting has become a problem! So today it took two of us to lift each plastic tub to load on the trolley, reload into the truck, unload onto the trolley, unload in the school. We felt rather silly and wimpy, as this is usually no big deal. But two acting as one got the job done!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Late Night with a Good Book

When I was a teenager my two older sisters married, and for the first time I had a room of my own. I no longer had to consider anyone else in what time I turned off my light and went to sleep at night. This is a dangerous thing for a bookaholic! Many a night my light burned long past midnight because I just couldn't stop reading. Of course, this made getting up and getting to school the next day a little difficult. School ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in those days, which helped.

As an adult I could not indulge my late-night reading as often. My husband was a very tolerant man, but it was not fair to disrupt his sleep so I could read. There was also the little matter of my need to stay awake the next day, both in the years at home with young children and the years of going out to my job.

Now I am retired, widowed, and my time is my own. I try to keep reasonable sleep hours, but once in a while a book captures me so deeply I just can't stop reading. Yesterday I started reading the latest C.J. Box book in his Joe Pickett series. It was an engrossing, high tension, adventurous ride, and I couldn't put it down. I finished it around 2 a.m. I'm still thinking about it this morning.

If you are not familiar with C.J. Box and his books, I would certainly recommend them. C.J. Box is a Wyoming writer and his Pickett novels are set in Wyoming. They are filled with well-developed characters, some of whom you will like and really care about and others whom you definitely won't. Since the lives and characters progress and develop across the novels, I would recommend reading them in order. They are not just a temporary entertainment to fill a few hours. The adventures, plots, problems deal with many of today's controversial topics relevant not only to Wyoming but to our nation.

(In order not to fall into the habit of reading too late for too many nights, my usual bedtime reading lately has been The Ancient Greeks for Dummies.  That usually has me ready to sleep in about three pages!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I've been dreaming about older family members a lot lately. It doesn't take a psychiatrist to figure out why; I'm spending many, many hours making a Family History scrapbook/album. Now I have begun re-doing my Mother's old 1936-1952 photo album, which is falling apart. My dreams are being peopled with family members no longer with us.

When I wake from one of these dreams I lie in bed and go over the dream in my mind, fixing it in my memory. Although dreams are never really logical and frequently change characters and locations, mixing elements from many times and places, still there is a sweetness to spending the time with loved ones. I feel good after one of these dreams.

One recent night I dreamed about visiting my parents. In the dream they were both alive and well and in their 90s. They showed their ages, but were still getting around fine and our visit was a very loving time. In real life my father died at 73, while my mother lived almost 95 years. They did not really share old age. But this dream was so sweet I treasure it.

My Grandma 
Another dream amused me greatly. To understand why it did, I need to give a little background about my Grandmother. She was born in 1886 and lived to see, via her TV, men walking on the moon. In her youth she traveled by horse and buggy, but lived to fly across the country in jet planes. She was a remarkable woman and I will probably write more about her later, but one thing she never quite mastered was the automobile clutch. She taught herself to drive in an old pickup out on the homestead prairie. One of her younger sons, riding with her while she practiced, cried out, "Maybe you should read the instructions!" To ride with Grandma was to experience what we called her jackrabbit starts and stops. Sometimes the stops killed the engine. That pesky clutch!

Now, back to the dream. Grandma was riding in the backseat of the car. Driving was my husband, and I was in the front passenger seat. The street we were on was rather rough and ridged. It was not paved, but covered with shale or gravel. Grandma kept muttering about how Jerry should drive more carefully--it was too bumpy! For some reason Jerry had to stop the car and check something, so Grandma hopped out and got in the driver's seat and began driving. About then I woke up with a chuckle on my lips, remembering her jackrabbit starts and stops and her thinking in the dream that she could drive better than Jerry.

Perhaps these dreams are a little foretaste of heaven, when we can be together enjoying each others' company again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bounty from the Grocery Store

I've just returned from a grocery shopping trip with my daughter. My primary purpose for going with her was to restock my supply of fresh fruits and veggies. A sizable section of the store was filled with bins of a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits. Most of these had come to Wyoming from a considerable distance away--California, Florida, Mexico, and Chile, to name a few. With at least six months of the year unsuitable for planting and growing food plants, we would have a very short season of fresh produce if we could only eat what we grew here.
My Bounty from the Grocery Store

When I was growing up in this very small, very isolated Wyoming town, our grocery stores were very different from today's bustling, fully-
stocked supermarkets. Other that what my parents grew in our backyard garden, we did not have much in the way of fresh vegetables. And this is definitely not a fruit-producing region. When my California aunt and uncle brought avocados from their own yard on one visit, they were so exotic and strange to us that I can't remember even being brave enough to eat them.

Of course, some fruits and vegetables did make it to our little groceries; I remember having oranges, grapes, and bananas occasionally. But oranges were such a treat it was exciting to get one in my Christmas stocking. For the most part we had canned vegetables and fruits. Some were home canned and some were from the store. When peaches came into town in bushel baskets, my mother canned what we didn't eat fresh, so we had peaches in the winter. Most of the year our vegetables were canned corn, peas, and green beans. Frozen fruits and vegetables were not on the market yet (OK, so I'm old as dirt), so when we could afford orange or grapefruit juice it came in a can. Quite a different taste than the fresh or frozen juices we get today. Bottled grape juice was a special item; we usually only got that when we were sick. For some reason that was one of the treatments our Mother used for upset systems on the mend.

Items such as broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, sugar peas in the pod, or any kind of pear that wasn't yellow were completely unknown to me until I was an adult. I still find myself a little hesitant to try some things now common in the stores, simply because I've never tasted them, but I am branching out a bit.

All I can say is, "Hooray for our modern transportation and preservation systems that make such wonderful fresh foods available!"

Monday, March 19, 2012


A river of wind is pouring through Wyoming, rushing to an "ocean" of low pressure it can fill. The wind river pours over and around my house rattling and shaking anything movable. The awning on my deck is rolled up tight, but the wind catches the edges, creating snapping and thumping. My bedroom opens off this deck and the commotion made for a restless night.

High winds like this sometimes sends the deck chairs on walkabout. These are not particularly lightweight chairs, but the wind can make a very effective sail of the back. Even sliding the chairs up to the table, where the front legs and part of the seat are under the table, does not prevent this walking. A chair has maneuvered from its place at the table, "walked" at least ten feet across the deck, made a right angle turn, and traveled down the 18 steps to the backyard. (Well, the stair part may have been more a crashing and falling than walking!) After a really windy day, the deck furniture is rearranged in most peculiar ways. (The photo is last summer, on a non-windy day.)

When the wind blows like this I can feel restless and whiny. Then I remind myself of when I lived in Joliet, Illinois, for a few months in my early twenties. There was very little wind there and the air never smelled fresh and clean. I returned to Wyoming with a new appreciation for the wind that sweeps our air clean and fresh. Too much wind has dreadful destructive power, and there is much suffering from the tornadoes that have destroyed so many homes and lives. Too little wind leaves the air stagnant and oppressive. Most of the time Wyoming's wind is just about right!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Letter to Yourself

This morning we had a guest speaker, Pam, in church. Her topic was time, her message was thoughtful and, often, witty. Her Scripture references were appropriate. But the thing that will stick in my mind from her talk was her conclusion. She read a letter she wrote in this present time to her 18-year-old self.

The 18-year-old girl she addressed had just lost her father, broken up with her boyfriend of three years, and was facing the post-high school years. She did not want to go to college and just did not know what she did want to do. To this unhappy girl she wrote a letter of encouragement from the future. Pam had quite a witty way of talking to her former self, while assuring her that there were going to be many blessings in her future. One thing she said was, "Remember that cute boy you had a crush on in the eighth grade? Someday you will marry him. No, really!" She did not give away too much of the future, just enough for reassurance.

This made me think about myself at 18. How much of what I believed my future life's work would be actually happened? Not much! Would my life have been better if it had? Would I wish it had? Answer: I would not change my life. What I wanted to do at 18 was very good. I came to realize when it was not possible and my life took another course, that the good ambition was not a path really suited to my personal makeup. God knew better than I did. If I could go back and live an alternate life, I would not. The life I have lived, for all its ups and downs, is the life that has shaped who I am. It is the life that has given me my children and my grandchild. How could I wish for a life that did not have them in it! It is the life that gave me the joy of a beloved husband for 38 years. Even the grief of losing him too soon would not cause me to wish he had not been in my life. He, too, helped shape the person I am. Today is the 7th anniversary of his death, and I think of him with love and appreciation for his having lived and been part of my life.

How many of us have actually lived the life we envisioned at 18?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Books, Books, Books

One day my granddaughter, who was looking at my well-filled bookshelves, said, "Grandma, I'll bet you have a thousand books." I replied that I had a lot of books, but not that many--several hundred perhaps, but not a thousand.

Being a girl with an inquiring and determined nature, she began to go through the house counting books. After she counted all the books on shelves, tables, and the nightstand, she counted the books on my Kindle. To my amazement, she was right. I had more than a thousand books!

Over the years I have not only collected books, I have given away several hundred. Every time I move I cull my shelves to lighten the load. It just does not stay lightened for very long, even though I do periodic culling to free up shelf space (always a painful process!). My son-in-law has come up with some colorful solutions over the years to moving all my books!

Because of my love for books, I find it difficult to understand how people live without books. No matter how nicely decorated, how tidy and organized, someone's home may be, if it has no books in evidence it seems stark and barren to me.

Some of my books are old friends that I have treasured for a half century, read and re-read. Some are brand new. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. Some are classic, some definitely are not. Some are educational, some are frivolous. I am not a high-brow reader. I want writing that is clear, interesting, with a story that captures my attention and carries me to places I'll never go in reality. If a book is highly touted by the critics as innovative, that is a pretty good clue that it is not for me. Just tell me a good story!

I use my Kindle a lot, but it cannot replace the thrill of a real book, with real pages, a book I can hold in my hands, that I can flip back and re-read a passage or look up something I seem to have missed, a book that appeals to all my senses.

Electronic publishing has many benefits, and I use it. But I hope it never completely replaces books!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Families, Genetics, and Me

I've been working on a Family History scrapbook/photo album and it has made me think about all the people that went into making me. That sounds a bit egocentric, but it is true of every one of us. We are each a unique individual, made up of genetic traits inherited from an unimaginable line of other people. Each generation doubles the number of ancestors in my lineage. I've only gone back to the late 1600s in my family tree (following both my mother's paternal and maternal forbears and my father's maternal and paternal forbears). I've found family names I knew nothing about, and a mystery or two.

One of the fun things is finding photos of ancestors and relatives that others have posted on line. These distant cousins and I have ancestors in common, but we will never meet. In looking at the faces of the ancestors I've never seen images of before, I see resemblances to relatives I do know. I realize that I have genetic connections to hundreds (maybe thousands) of people living today. (Those ancestors had some very large families that went forth and multiplied!)

I can't have a personal connection to all those distant relatives. But I can treasure the connections I have with the family I do know. How lonely and barren my life would be without them!

My roots are firmly in Wyoming, but my parents came here from Texas and North Carolina. When they were each born it would have seemed most unlikely that their lives and spouses would be found in Wyoming, and that they would meet in a tiny town at a community dance. On such slim chances hung the very existence of me and my siblings and all our descendants!

Of thousands of such stories we are made.