a better forecast

Hello from the beach.

Our first day here was filled with rain and threats of Tropical Storm Debby lasting all week. We sat in the condo and watched the rain. And we watched the wind. We played a few games and watched TV, especially the Weather Channel. We ate and snacked and ate some more. When the rain would stop (briefly) we would walk out to look at the gigantic waves and the tiny beach and listen to the roar of the surf and the storm.

But thankfully the weather forecast was wrong. The clouds broke apart yesterday as we sat on the beach watching the waves calm down.  We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over a coastal lake as we ate a delicious grouper dinner. Today’s forecast has a ten percent chance of rain – two days ago they were calling for a one hundred percent chance of rain today. Tomorrow the “guys” are going deep sea fishing on a calm gulf, so different from a few days ago.

We are thankful that our annual one week oasis from the trials and tribulations of daily life will go on as planned. Hopefully we have enough sunscreen.

beach memories

When I was young my family came to Florida every year. We didn’t come to the beach, because my father and grandfather came to fish, not to soak up the sun.

I remember the concrete block motor hotels we stayed in near the fishing marinas, and the tourist-y souvenir shops with the shells, pens, postcards, and orange blossom drawer sachets.

oyster shell parking lot

I remember sitting outside at night in folding chairs on the oyster shell parking areas and eating watermelon that we bought on the way down (the farther south the better the melon, my dad always believed). Usually I would get lucky one or two days during our stay and my parents would take me out to the gulf, but most of our trip was about deep sea fishing, although I never went myself.

Later when I was a teenager and my grandfather no longer traveled with us, we would stay in a motel on the beach, which I thought was heaven. I am an only child, so I always got to bring along a friend. We would spend our days at the pool and on the beach, and the nights were filled with trips to the amusement park and playing putt-putt golf. I can remember the sunsets at the pier, the Miracle Strip Amusement Park, Goofy Golf, and the Observation Tower – sights that are hard to find in today’s Panama City Beach, but are still vivid in my mind.

When my husband and I married we did not have much of a vacation budget, so our trips to Florida were nonexistent for a few years. After our children were born we (finally) decided to come back to the beach. Even though we stayed at a different beach in another state, I experienced déjà-vu on our first trip there. All those memories of past years came rushing back – things and feelings I hadn’t thought of in years. Every detail was so clear and fresh, as if there hadn’t been any space and time between then and now at all.

We have continued our annual beach trip every year since then. Now I have memories of our children and their sunburns and bleached hair and diving for pennies in the hotel pool. I remember jellyfish stings and colorful rafts to ride the waves after they got over their fears of “the big waters.” There were putt putt games and daring sky coaster rides and days at the Big Kahuna water park. Our children grew up going to the beach, and I have a feeling that one day they will continue that tradition with their own families, too.

we never thought of that

There was one thing we never thought of when we bought our cabin at the lake.

We were so blessed to purchase a cabin on the lake three years ago. We wanted so much to have water access, but when we looked at available real estate, we quickly realized that it wasn’t in our price range. Not by a long shot. Then, through a series of connections, we learned about a house that was to be auctioned. And miraculously (truly a God moment) we were the only bidders and bought this house for the minimum bid.

Our water access takes time and commitment. We have a boathouse but there are many stairs between it and our cabin. Yet we made a beeline to examine it first when we went to look at the house for the initial time. And we have huffed and puffed up those steps many times since then. We have even had additional stairs built to make a more direct route. Still, the boathouse is there, it is ours, and we are so thankful.

This house appealed to us for many reasons. It had plenty of bedrooms, high ceilings, a stone fireplace, and a basement for future completion and use. The neighbors immediately became like old friends and yet we all have plenty of “space” separating us. We have a lake view but also the towering trees and woodsy feel we love. It also had a musty (moldy) smell, dated wallpaper, rickety steps off the deck, and peeling paint outside. I was hesitant to take on the tremendous amount of updating that was needed, but my husband was able to look beyond ALL that work to see the potential here for our family and for the future.

But there was one thing we never thought of when we bought our cabin at the lake. Our location is at the end of a cove that has a small marina at its entrance, and several boathouses close together, also in the front. However, back in our area, there are just a few boathouses and docks, so it is a peaceful spot that doesn’t have much boat traffic – well, maybe a kayak or a paddleboat or two. What we never thought of was how we would have our own “swimming hole” right there.

We have used this swimming hole to the fullest. We love to get on our floats and spend lazy days there. When visitors come they often choose floating over boating, just for the peacefulness of it. My friend remarks every time she comes that “You never thought about having your own swimming spot, did you?” I’m also reminded of the neighbor across the cove, whose family has been coming to this spot for forty years, who always says in his soft voice, “It’s the best cove.” Little did we know, but we do now – and he is so right.


the cadence of summer

So it is officially summer. I already knew that because it has been in the 90’s for days and that summer haze is hanging in the air. There’s little critter activity during the day because the temperature is just too stifling. Even the birds do most of their melodious singing before daybreak so their throats won’t become parched in the midday heat. The oakleaf hydrangea blossoms are already moving from pink to brown (they lost their white color long ago), and there are actually some yellow leaves falling from trees. The farmer’s market is full of its bounty and the tomatoes are tasting more like homegrown every day.

Now summer is meteorologically here. I didn’t need the news anchor to tell me that, but he did. We’ve had the summer solstice and the days are technically getting shorter from here on out. Even though time slows for me during the summer – no school schedule and so much sluggish warmth pressing in all around – I couldn’t tell that yesterday was the longest day of the year, but it was.

The warm weather came so early this year that we were robbed of spring here in Tennessee. It passed so quickly I compared it to the end of a fireworks display – almost too much to take in at one time. So I am glad that summer is taking its time and moving a little more leisurely. So far I have filled my days with visiting and shopping and projects and professional development and walking and corresponding and cooking and doctor visits and catching up on those left-undone chores that had been neglected during the school year.

But since it is officially summer, so I’ve been told, I am done with all that. Now I am going to concentrate on reading (books that are piled up waiting),
and writing (words that need time to be pulled from inside my head and my heart),
and breathing (deeply and slowly),
and floating (in the cove at the lake with family and friends),
and going to the beach (two days from now!),
and playing with some art projects (that I have been planning and pondering for some time),
and sitting and watching lightning bugs in the evening (weaving their firefly trails),
and listening (to my family, my friends, and my heart),
and being (rather than so much doing).

I am thankful that the rhythm of summer has finally arrived. Hopefully the cadence will linger and the pace will become ingrained inside me.

a bigger sky

Years ago, because of a promotion in her job, my friend moved from the hills of Tennessee, her lifetime home, to the flat plains of Ohio. She and her husband knew it could be somewhat traumatic, as most moves are, and yet her family was looking forward to the new experiences that a different location would surely bring into their lives.

They had talked with their young children about these changes and their son and daughter seemed to share their anticipation, wondering what would be new and different in this unknown place. It turned out to be a good move for their family, in some unexpected ways, and it led to some decisions that shaped their lives for the future.

My friend eventually divorced and raised her children as a single mother. When her son graduated from college, this proud mom helped her son make a bittersweet move to far away California. A year later, tragically, her son passed away, leaving her heartbroken and trying to make sense of this devastating, unexplainable situation. In the midst of her sorrow she and her daughter planned a beautiful memorial service that helped family and friends learn more about her precious son, and appreciate the wonderful qualities he possessed.

One of the stories told at the service was about that move to Ohio many years ago. Her son was a bright and inquisitive youngster, and when the family reached those flat plains that would be their new home, he looked around and said, “The sky is bigger here.” Of course it seemed bigger on the open plains than it did with the trees, hills, and forests of Tennessee wrapping around it, holding it in, and blocking the view. Perhaps he could see the opportunities this new home would provide as well.

How does a little boy have such sharp perception? Possibly when we are young we do not have so much of this world ingrained in us yet, our minds are not clouded with self imposed worries, and we are naïve enough to still be able to see the wonders that we later take for granted. I think of this always when I am in the boat on the lake, for the sky is bigger there, too. And the sky, or at least our understanding of such things, looms large when we take time to relish the wonders of nature, or when we are moved by the talents of others, and when we reach out to help someone and make a difference, or as we spend time with close friends. It is bigger anywhere we can see outside ourselves.

I still mourn the loss of this promising young man, and I grieve for the sadness that my friend, his mother, will always know. But he most definitely left his mark on this world and so many of us still in it, and he continues to help me see the bigger sky. For that I am filled with gratitude for his brief but important time with us here.

time with friends

This weekend we were privileged to have our Sunday school class come to our cabin at the lake for the weekend. This was the fourth year we have been able to get together there, staying two nights spread between our cabin, another member’s relative’s cabin, and the nearby state park inn. We spent time boating, floating in the cove, relaxing in the cabin, eating too much, and doing lots of catching up. Since Sunday was Father’s Day, we reminisced about our favorite memories of fathers, with both humorous and touching tales.   It was a good time of being together and spending time with old friends.

I remember when our family first visited this church twelve years ago after we moved to town. My husband and I were determined to visit several churches and see what each had to offer. We wanted to see where the Lord was leading us and how we could fit in and make a contribution. However, when we visited the first church on our list (our current church) we felt the presence of the spirit there, and we saw people who were “celebrating the joy of their salvation.” We learned about positions and jobs we could fill, and we never visited another congregation.

Then we were determined to visit several Sunday school classes, but we failed in that attempt as well. The first class we went to (our current class) hooked us from our first visit. We found a group of people who were “living our lives” – they had children getting ready to finish high school, taking the ACT and SAT, planning for college, or playing sports, just as ours were. They had parents who were becoming more in need of care, just as ours were. And they had a heart for making people feel welcome and working together in ministry, which is just what we needed.

Throughout the years we have been in this class, our family has had children graduate from high school and college, lost all four of our parents, had one child get married, and gone through these same experiences in the lives of other members. We have raised funds for missions, hosted Room in the Inn for the homeless, worked at the Last Minute Toy Store at Christmas, and authored a church cookbook. Our fellow class members have been the constant throughout all of these events. Most importantly, we have made lasting friendships for which we will be forever grateful.

And so it is truly a privilege to be able to have these dear friends spend time with us at the lake, adding another chapter to our treasured memories of being together.

melting moments

My aunt makes the most delicious cookies. She calls them Melting Moments. Just saying those words makes my mouth water. I wish I had one right now. But one is never enough. They truly do melt in your mouth and then you want – you need – another.

The first time I tried to make these delicious morsels, I made a big mistake. When I called her to describe my unfortunate results and ask for advice, she said, “Did you use real butter? They can’t be made with margarine. If you don’t use real butter the outcome is not good.” Hmmm…  No joke.

When our daughter got married several years ago, we decided to have a gathering for friends who had graciously given parties for her and her husband-to-be. It was an afternoon come-and-go type occasion with light refreshments and lots of visiting. As our friends left, we gave them a small treat bag and a card with these words:

Moments fly by so quickly – you have helped us make beautiful memories of these special times as we prepare for Beth and Jamie’s wedding.  Thank you so much!

Please enjoy this sample of Aunt Rosie’s “Melting Moments” cookies.

How often do moments in our lives melt away and leave behind nothing but memories? I think of old friends that I no longer see regularly. I remember teachers in school and at church that have formed me into who I am today. I recall places that I can see in my mind’s eye so vividly but haven’t visited in years.

When I see pictures of our children when they were young I remember how they smelled when I rocked them to sleep at night. Photos of them in certain outfits remind me of who they were at that time in their lives. And I think of all the sports uniforms (and stinky shoes) they wore through the years. Their art projects and notes that I have kept remind me of their pure hearts and kind spirits for which I continue to be thankful.

A thrilling musical, an upbeat movie, a motivating speaker, an incredible concert, a kind note from a friend, a brief moment with someone where emotions are shared that cleanse the soul… these are the moments we cherish. They melt away quickly but we savor their memories forever.

From my treasured recipe card in Aunt Rosie’s curly, cheerful handwriting:

Melting Moments

½ lb. (real) butter

6 tbsp. powdered sugar

1 c. cornstarch

1 c. flour

Cream butter, sugar, add cornstarch, flour. Shape into small balls (size of a large marble). Place on cookie sheet, flatten with bottom of glass dipped in cold water. Bake 8-10 minutes @ 325-350. Edge should be barely browned. Cookies break easily. Remove carefully from cookie sheet and glaze.


1 c. powdered sugar

1 tbsp. melted butter

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. orange juice

Mix well, spread on each cookie. Good!

on getting older

I was celebrating a friend’s birthday with a small group recently and of course our conversation turned toward getting older. Several of us have had experiences with parents and other loved ones that have spent their last days in various levels of care-giving residences. It’s a tough thing to think about whether you are in the child’s role, as we have all been, or in the aging parent’s position, as we wondered if we would be one day.

One friend lightened the mood by sharing a discussion she had with her two sons. As a single mom, she realizes that in the future her boys may very well be looking out for her. “All I ask of them is that they find a nice facility for me when the time comes. And I asked them to find an aid there and tip them regularly to be sure and pluck my chin hairs. I know they won’t do that for me themselves, but if they can find an aid at the place that will keep me neat, I can be happy.” We all had a good laugh at that, but it does make you stop and think about what’s ahead.

I have a dear friend whose mother has Alzheimer’s and has been in assisted living and now in a nursing home for many, many years. She has not spoken for the last four or five years and has had a number of illnesses that have weakened her in other ways, too. My friend visits her often and regrets that she can’t do more. She was disappointed when her sister said that their mom was no longer the mother she knew, and even though my friend knows that to be true, it doesn’t make her love her mother one bit less. I told my friend that with all her mother has working against her, she is a blessed woman to have such a wonderful and devoted daughter.

My husband’s mother spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home, losing mobility day by day due to arthritis and other ailments. She was well cared for, yet it had to have been hard for her to give up so much of her independence. But she never once complained about anything (except for the food). Her graciousness during that time will always be a reminder of how one can respond even in difficult circumstances.

Several years ago my husband and I were privileged to care for his grandmother during her last days. She had congestive heart failure and became so weak she had to go to a nursing home. While there she improved so much that we were able to move her, briefly, to an assisted living facility. We brought the furniture from her home that she asked for, and I will never forget the day she walked into her room and saw her “things.” Her face lit up and her eyes shone, and we left her there that day going through some of her mementos, pictures, and special possessions that were in her cedar chest. It was such a simple thing for us to be able to bring her so much joy – just to move a few pieces of her furniture and other things there for her to reminisce with – things that she thought she would never see again.

Her stay there was brief, and she had to return to the nursing home. The last time we visited her that she was able to talk to us, she gave us a lasting gift. It was one evening after dinner, and her room was quiet and still. Again that night her eyes shone as she spoke of what she saw. “Don’t be afraid of this time in your life when it comes. I can hear the angels singing. I see a lovely place full of light and peace. Don’t be fearful of this when you are old one day. This is a beautiful time.” This was the last piece of a wonderful legacy she left with us that guides us still.

a clean smell

One morning this spring I was running a bit late and I walked into school in the midst of a group of children who had just gotten off the bus. They were fresh from bed and still a little sleepy, so they were walking in single file or in small groups of two or three, sometimes talking softly along the way. These boys and girls were quiet, yet they were also energized in a way that reflected their eagerness to see what today would bring.

Then I breathed in deeply and caught the scent of clean bodies, washed clothes, and maybe a little shampoo, too. I hadn’t been surrounded by that fragrance since my own children were small. I said a prayer of thanks for the parents who got them ready to have a good day. And I felt more ready to face the day myself.

Then of course I remembered other schools where I have taught whose students didn’t come to school so clean and well prepared. So I said a prayer for those little ones and for the day that was ahead for them as well.

cooking out

A long time ago when my husband and I were dating and still in college we used to make day trips to state parks and grill out at the shelters and picnic areas there. That sounds so boring in today’s world of non-stop entertainment, but we thought it was the most fun then.

Being college students we didn’t keep a lot of supplies on hand, so we did everything as simply as we could. We would take a bag of charcoal and use one of the permanent grills at the park to cook on. You can imagine how clean these were after years of use (or lack thereof), but I don’t remember doing a lot of cleaning, just mostly scraping. I guess the fire helped get rid of the germs.

Usually we took hamburger meat which we patted out there in the park with our sanitary hands. Sometimes we had hot dogs instead. In my memory the buns were soft and fresh. There weren’t many condiments because we would forget to bring what we had on hand in the dorm and were too cheap to buy a whole jar of something at the store just to use for one meal.

We would also take a can of baked beans (still a favorite of my husband’s, especially now that there are so many flavored varieties). Sometimes we had a pan to cook them in, but often they were heated in the can atop the grill or sometimes down in the coals. Once we forgot a can opener but my husband’s pocket knife did the trick and we got the can open far enough to get the beans out. Usually we brought a bag of chips as well.

Once a friend of mine and her boyfriend came along, and she insisted we bake biscuits on the fire. Her method involved using a forked stick and the round metal ends of the biscuit can. We spent long minutes holding the stick with a biscuit perched on the can’s end that was balanced on the fork of the stick. And since there were only two ends and eight biscuits, this process had to be repeated again and again. I recall eating doughy biscuits that night and never trying that since then.

Of course you know we had s’mores for dessert. There never seemed to be enough (I wished for just one more) and yet I always ate so many I made myself sick because they were so, so, finger-licking good.

We came back dirty and smelling of smoke but none too worse for the wear. If someone told me I had to do that for supper tonight I would complain about the work involved (since it would be so much easier to cook at home in the kitchen), but I have a feeling I would return home later tonight just as contented as I did those many years ago.

precious memories

Today I thought of the creek that surrounded the church where I grew up. Nowadays building codes would surely say this was unbuildable land, in case of flooding, but I never remember that being a problem there. On one side of the church was a wide walkway where we used to play “monkey on the sidewalk.” It could be tricky because the ground on one side of the concrete pathway fell off steeply down towards the creek, and if you were running that direction you had to cross the sidewalk quickly before getting tagged and yet be able to stop quickly enough to keep from tumbling down the hill.

The creek curved around to the other side of the church where there was a bridge for people to walk across from the parking lot on the other side of the stream. The construction was simple – a concrete span with metal pipes for the handrails. If it were built today, the bridge would undoubtedly be more ornate, yet it served its purpose well. Plus there were lots of trees surrounding the creek which made it a shady place in the heat of the summer.

The church was built in the 1950’s in a growing suburban area of our city as a mission of another church not too far away. My mother was on the “building committee” and I have a picture of her as part of the group unveiling the cornerstone of the three story education building. This was the first phase and stood alone for several years until money could be raised to build the bigger sanctuary and fellowship hall.

Meanwhile, worship services were held on the second floor of the education building. I recall the folding chairs we sat on and the plain concrete floor. There were double swinging doors that led into the space on each side of the front, and a small stage in the front served as the altar, with windows all across the back. Later this area was turned into several classrooms when the sanctuary was complete.

I went to this church all my life until my husband and I were married there. My best friends went there, and our family friends were members there, too. I learned about the Bible, sang in children’s and youth choirs, went to Vacation Bible School, played church basketball and softball, went on mission trips, and sang in Christmas and Easter programs there. It was a tremendously influential part of my life.

I suppose this came to mind because earlier today I was looking through an old “Golden Anniversary” program from the church. It listed gifts made to the church in honor or in memory of many church members. As I read the names, I saw my Sunday School teachers, song leaders, Bible scholars, youth group leaders, ladies who cooked and served Wednesday night suppers, ushers, deacons, mission leaders, and friends who loved and prayed for me all my life. I realized once again how blessed I am to have been a part of this community and to have known so many people who loved and served the Lord together.