Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

A dozen deer crossed our path as we drove up the reptile road. The engineering of the essentially-a-one-lane-road brought them to our sight again and again and again until at the top of the ridge we watched them one by one jump the fence and head down the river breaks, their white tails disappearing beneath the rock ledge.


It was zero degrees this morning and reminded me of our first Christmas here twenty-five years ago when snow dusted the sagebrush and the roof of the house under construction and the cold froze the mud paths as hard as concrete. We used the hair dryer to thaw out the pipes beneath the fifth wheel trailer. Deer trails like white braids twisted through the ridges toward the river that then as now forms a shoelace of white meandering through the foothills of the John Day River breaks. Chatting Canada geese occupy a small pool of open water. Bo, our Griffon, barks back at the geese while surveying the landscape from his perch on the deck. PB the cat and Caesar the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, our new addition, stand beside him. View photos on Bo’s blog www.bodaciousbothedog.blogspot.com. Stan the goat still guards what remains of the vineyard which is mostly wooden stakes and Stan’s recycled weeds. Two steers await their fate but for now happily munch on the last hay we’ll take from the flat beside the river.


Change does come despite the similarities of times past. Two years ago we sold the cows and now we’ve decided not to try to raise alfalfa next year. Equipment needs updating, the rise of fuel costs, and just the human cost of sustaining ourselves on the land has led us to that decision. I’ll still be planting rows of words and harvesting them in books at least for a few years more. Jerry traveled with me to several events this year in Minnesota and Wisconsin and around the Northwest but stayed home for Kentucky and Texas and a few other sites while he recovered from surgery. He’s doing well but emergency room travel up the reptile road reminded us that while we can still do this homestead thing, we wonder for how long. Jerry will be a young eighty next year.


Two vacation highlights of year were trips to Baja, Mexico and Whistler, BC that included friends Sandy Maynard and her sister Donna Perry. Jerry loves the odds of traveling with three women. He did all the driving into Canada. I notice he no longer complains about the voice of the GPS system. She seems to beat out three women giving him directions at once. You think? We also tried to make my 45th class reunion, got stuck at the airport, had trouble with the rental car, took a wrong turn down a snowmobile road (it was over this little bridge, just like the guy at the tavern directed us to!) and missed it! Fortunately, we found a few classmates at the Mondovi Inn and caught up; time with my 90+year old aunt Idella and cousins Mike and Linda Rutschow helped make up for the loss of time with classmates. For the 50th, we’ll come the day before.

We had great visits from family and friends this fall. My brother and his wife came west and fixed incredible meals for us and told us stories while we cheered the Packers on. Jerry’s daughter Katy and husband Joe visited from Florida and Jerry fished with them and son Matt for two full days without success. At least the wind calmed for them belying the value of the hundreds of windmills that now dot the landscape beyond our sight above us along Starvation Lane. Or youngest granddaughter, Madison, attends a dental assistant program in Florida and works full time. Katy’s other children are spread around the south. Matt continues to work for us and he and Melissa tend the ranch when we travel. Mariah works full time for Azure Farms in Moro, a natural food corporation that ships gluten free food, bulk grains and Nancy’s Yogurt among other things, around the west.

My latest book based on my maternal grandmother’s life A Flickering Light was named this month to Library Journal’s list of Best Books of 2009 which is a delight. Even better has been the reception of the book by family members who still invite me back for family gatherings! My aunt Corinne and Uncle Ron, Aunt Helen and Minnesota cousins Pat and Ross, Molly and others not only helped with research but made our launch trip at the Winona Historical Society a wonderful event. The sequel will be out in March and is called An Absence so Great. We’re also getting ready for my first contemporary book titled Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name which I hope will make people laugh as well as consider the cost of fame versus fulfillment. I’m at work on the next novel. Working title: Journey to a Present Joy.


So we come to this season seeking to savor the present, often fleeting joys of life: The memories of good times, challenges met, changes that await. For us, the blessings of the Christ Child’s presence in our hearts reminds us to thank you all for your part in helping us savor these present joys. We wish you enduring blessings for the year ahead and pray that despite the weather or uncertain circumstances, that your holidays will be warm and fulfilling in every way.


Love, Jane and Jerry

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 2009

“Are you ready?” Several years ago an early morning phone call woke me at a motel in Idaho where I was teaching a writing class. No, “Hello, did I wake you?” or “Sorry, but are you ready?” Just the query: “Are you ready?”


It was a wrong number but it prompted me to write about the things I wasn’t sure I was ready for. One was my precious nephew graduating from high school and moving on to being “out there” in the wild world. His interest was the criminal justice field. I wasn’t sure I was ready for him to be old enough to maybe enlist in the military, maybe going off to war, maybe becoming a police officer or a Federal agent of some kind. But he’d been focused on service and protection of others his entire life. He even had the task of taking the family’s eggs to the women’s shelter each week as a reminder of how relationships can deteriorate but also as a statement to women and children that there are men who would treat them with kindness. He has a caring heart.

While at Hamlin University, he interned with the St. Paul Police department then graduated from Hamlin a year and a half ago. He enrolled immediately in the police academy where he graduated at the top of his class. Things were looking good for a job! Then the economy sank. Even police jobs were frozen. So he took odd jobs working security at area theme parks, for example. He helped at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. He worked as a bouncer, worked for his parents in sales, a job he really didn’t like but he needed work. He put his job applications in and kept checking back hoping for an interview.

Well this week he got the calls! Two interviews with two agencies he most wanted. Now, he hasn’t had the interviews yet; no job has been offered. There are few openings and lots of applicants including former police officers who were laid off earlier. But the good news is that he’s ready! He’s been ready. And that’s all we can really ask of ourselves in a trying time: to just be ready, stay focused, keep our feet on firm ground. If the job offers don’t follow I’m certain he’ll keep looking, broaden the agencies he might want to work for but for now, his patience and commitment have brought him to a new place in the job hunt and we are pleased for him. And for the agency that might chose him. He’d be a good man. He’s ready.

That seems fitting with this season of Advent. Being ready, being prepared is what this season is all about. Being ready to accept the possibility of joy, as Mary did. Being ready to put aside our fears as the shepherds did. Being ready to give gifts as the wise men did; being ready to receive gifts as Jesus did. It is a season to consider.

I confess, I’m not ready with the gifts and cards of the season. Tensions on the home front have redirected my thinking. Even good news such as A Flickering Light being named to Library Journal’s Best Books of 2009 hasn’t stayed on my tongue for very long, the recognition being more like salt than sugar. So I decided to re-read a devotional by Ann Spangler called The Tender Words of God. I actually began the year with Jerry and I reading that book through. Now we begin again. Her words direct me to scriptures reminding me of aspects of God’s character that I need to praise God for and to rely on.

Last week it was strength, which I needed. This week, it’s protection which I also need.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” reads Psalm 91. The Hebrew word sel can be translated as shadow while tsel, another Hebrew word, expands that shadow to be a protective shadow. Oh to remind myself daily that I am privileged to be resting in that protective shadow!

Our Northwest news of the death of four police officers has touched me deeply. They were simply preparing for their shift, doing their jobs when this crazed man walked in and shot the four of them. They were there getting ready to protect their community; they were not protected from one man’s outrageous anger and intention.

The grief of their families makes me think again of my nephew choosing law enforcement as a profession. Is being ready to die something police officers are encouraged to think about? I’ll have to ask my nephew. Surely their families were not ready for the news that came to them of their great loss. And where was that protection from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

My devotional reminds me that bad things do happen to good people but that the protective shadow God promises each of us is God’s presence in protecting our souls. It doesn’t explain when tragedy strikes but it does impress on me the urgency of having my soul ready for whatever may come and trusting that I can find peace within that protective shadow. Two years of telling my grandmother’s story as a photographer have made me think more about shadow and light and the idea of a protective shadow is a comfort.

Part of my family distress this past month required telling the truth about how I felt. I realized that I’d been protecting other people’s feelings at the expense of my own and I’d begun to feel dishonest to myself, to my soul, to my heart. (That workshop I led last month about people who sabotage themselves really spoke to me…and I was delivering it!)

“Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” reads Proverbs 4:23-27.

Sometimes evil finds us when we are getting ready as those fine police officers fatally learned. Our hearts can become sick with anxiety and worry over things we can’t control. What we can control is being aware, taking responsibility for how we feel and moving toward making changes that will guard our hearts and souls. I suspect those officers chose their profession knowing of the risks and we can be grateful they chose to serve anyway.

I’m getting ready this season not for the presents or the mountains of food; not even for the gathering of family and friends or the time at home working on my next book, not having to travel so much. Only three more events await me this December: one in Moro on the 5th at the Sherman County Museum and one in Portland on the 6th at the Historical Society and a gathering of Tualatin area history buffs who paid for lunch with me (and supported the historical society at the same time). After that, I’m home until the end of January! Hurrah!

What I am getting ready for this season is to be grateful: For life; for people willing to give their lives in protection of others; for small gifts like roses and black-eyed Susan’s still blooming in December that fit perfectly in my Bauer pottery; the gentleness of loving friends and family; for words of scripture and the comforting words of writers who share God’s tender care for us despite the turmoil of this world and our own inner turmoil, too.

It’s my hope, and Jerry’s too, that along with the cards and shopping and all the accoutrements that threaten to consume the season that you’ll find time to get ready for the things that truly matter. You know the names of what those are and as writer Madelein L’Engle once noted, “we are named by the choices we make.” Choose to be ready.

Merry Christmas each and every one!

Warmly, Jane
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