Family Life, Good times

The Wedding Guest – Part 2

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Once they knew Mara had permission to come to their wedding, Thad and Bailey also understood that Mara would need a dress to wear, so they made a date with her to go dress shopping.

When the day came to pick up Mara for the shopping trip, Thad and Bailey drove to her house only to learn that she and her family had been evicted. Bailey and Thad asked neighbors if they knew where the family had gone. One neighbor had heard the family had taken up residence in a tent on a farm, and gave them directions to the location. When they arrived at the farm, Mara and her family were no longer there.  They were told by the farmer that the children, Mara and her two younger siblings, had gone to the home of a shirt-tail relative and her boyfriend, who, seeing that the children were hungry, dirty and suffering,  kindly allowed the kids to stay with them in a duplex home on the edge of town. The farmer gave them general directions to the home of the couple.  This is where Thad and Bailey found Mara and her brother and sister. The parents had left the children there, and gone on their way. Mara, after all the  difficulties of moving from place to place,  was very happy and relieved  to see Bailey and Thad, and  glad they had been able to find her so they could go on the much anticipated clothes shopping date.

The shopping date fell on a hot, sunny day, and as they left the duplex Mara asked where they were going to go look for a dress.  “Houghton,” Bailey replied. Houghton is approximately 13 miles from Calumet. It has a small mall with a couple of department stores that would allow for some selection for Mara’s clothes.

“Houghton!” Mara said, “Oh no! We have to walk so far and it’s so hot!”

Taken aback by her dismay, Thad quickly explained, “We don’t have to walk, Mara. We have a car, and the car has air conditioning.”

“You have a car?  And air conditioning?” As soon Mara understood that this trip was going to be comfortable, a look of relief filled her eyes. “OK! Let’s go!”

As they climbed into the car Bailey asked Mara if she was hungry. “Starving,” she answered. So the first stop was lunch at  McDonald’s.

After lunch came the trip to  JC Penney. Mara had never been to a retail clothing store before. Almost all of her clothes were from the Community Free Store in Calumet, so this was an exciting time, and Mara was in awe of everything she saw at Penneys.  The three eventually made their way to the dress department, which had a broad selection of clothing in Mara’s size. As Mara picked out dresses to try on,  Bailey became   puzzled over  Mara’s choices. None of the dresses she tried on were really suitable for a wedding.  Eventually Bailey  guessed that the reason Mara was so smitten with those particular dresses was that each one had an inexpensive decorative necklace attached to the collar – and jewelry was something that the little girl loved but didn’t own. Bailey confirmed with Mara that it was the necklace that she liked best about the dresses, then said, “Let’s find a different dress that will be nice  to wear to the wedding, and you can find a necklace to go with it, OK?” Mara agreed. They found a dress and necklace that pleased Bailey, Mara and Thad, too,  whose approval was sought by Mara when she came twirling out of the changing room as she tried on each dress.  A pair of new shoes completed the ensemble. The threesome then went to the check-out center to pay for the purchases.  When Mara saw the total cost of the items flash up on the cash register,  she was distraught.

“No you can’t do that,” she cried. “It’s too expensive!  I will put the necklace back!”

Thad and Bailey took Mara aside and quietly assured her that everything was fine, that they were very happy to purchase the items she had picked out and not to worry about the cost, which was not very much at all. It took some time to convince her, but eventually Mara was able to receive and enjoy the clothing that she would soon wear to the wedding.

As the wedding date came closer, Mara asked about the cake topper, and was curious to see a picture of it on the wedding cake. Bailey explained that there wasn’t anything to see yet because the cake was almost the last thing to be done for the wedding since it needed to be freshly baked and decorated for the big day. This answer seemed to satisfy Mara, but privately, Bailey wondered what solution Sheila had found for Mara’s gift of the 1970’s cake topper. Time was passing quickly. Mara had endured a lot of disappointments in her young life, and Bailey hoped the gift of the cake topper would not be another one.

Family Life, Good times

The Wedding Guest – Part 1

Pastel colored jelly beans

Several years ago Bailey Takala, an  almost 20-something, met Mara Jarl , a friendly, tow-headed, blue-eyed first grader.  Bailey was attending university then,  but made it a priority to volunteer at a local Calumet, Michigan elementary school in an  afterhours program called Great Explorations. Bailey had been a volunteer for the program since her high school years. Mara was one of the students enrolled in Great Explorations, and after their initial meeting at GE, Mara and Bailey became fast friends.   When Mara learned that Bailey lived  close to her house, she rode her bike over to visit Bailey almost every afternoon.  On one of her visits to Bailey’s, Mara spotted a candy dispensing machine that had M&Ms in it. She was fascinated by the device – a type of gumball machine – and loved to turn the handle, watch the candy tumble down and eat a few M&Ms while she was visiting. “How did they get those M&Ms in there?” was a frequent question and a great mystery to the 6 year old. Initially Bailey strictly limited the number of M&M’s  Mara ate so that the candy would not ruin her appetite for supper, but it wasn’t long before Bailey and Jan, Bailey ‘s mother,  realized that whatever Mara ate at their house might be the only food she would get for the rest of the day. Over time Takala ‘s began to realize how destitute Mara’s family was, and they started to offer Mara nourishing food in generous amounts, which Mara never turned down. But seeing that the candy was a special treat, Takala ‘s made sure that the candy machine was always full of M&Ms for Mara.

About 4 years after Mara and Bailey struck up their friendship,  Bailey became engaged to her high school sweetheart, Thad Johnson, whom Mara had come to know through his many visits to Takala’s.   Bailey spoke often of her upcoming wedding, and  Mara was always excited to hear about the plans for Bailey and Thad’s big day, which was going to be at the height of summer –  a very beautiful time of year in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Because Mara was so interested in all the wedding discussion, Bailey invited Mara to the wedding, and to her bridal shower, also. Mara was extremely happy to be included in the momentous occasions, and looked forward to them both as only a child can.

On the day of the bridal shower Bailey and Mara had time to talk about what a shower was, who would be attending and what kinds of things happen at a shower. During the festivities Mara enjoyed meeting Bailey ‘s  extended family and friends, and eating the wonderful food that was prepared for the guests. Mara also watched with great interest as Bailey opened her shower gifts, but the highlight of the afternoon for Mara was the cup of M&M’s that she got to eat all by herself.

Two weeks before the wedding, Mara came over to Bailey ‘s with a  plastic bag that was rather balloon-shaped and presented it to Bailey as a gift for her and Thad.  Bailey was very touched at Mara’s generosity.  She said, “Thank you Mara! But you didn’t have to get us anything for our wedding.”   Mara ignored Bailey ‘s concerns and insisted that she put the gift down carefully on the table and open it, which Bailey did. What Bailey  found inside was a wedding cake topper circa 1970, complete with a large domed circular base sporting a plastic bride and groom standing in front of a big, lacey plastic heart.  It also appeared that the topper still had remnants of frosting from the cake it had adorned so many years ago. As Mara  and Bailey gazed at the plastic decoration, Mara offered a brief explanation for her choice of a wedding gift: “Just in case you get to have a cake at your wedding.” Bailey again  tried to gently tell Mara that she shouldn’t have used the little money  she had to buy a wedding gift, but Mara said, “No problem, Bailey! It’s from the Community Free Store!”

Mara went happily home, confident that she had chosen just the right gift for Bailey and Thad’s wedding. Bailey, on the other hand, had a dilemma: how could she honor the gift from her little friend but not actually use it on the cake since she had already chosen and paid for a cake topper herself? Bailey  called  Sheila Thompson, the woman who was making her wedding cake. Sheila worked at the school, knew many of the kids in the GE program, and understood how important it would be for Mara to have her cake topper used at the wedding reception.

“Don’t worry, Bailey,” Sheila said, “I will think of something. It will work out just fine.” Sheila was both compassionate and capable, and Bailey trusted her with finding the best answer to the cake topper challenge.

Christianity, Good times, Reviews, Writers/writing

The Completest Thing

Reading Material into 2011
Reading Material into 2011 (Photo credit: Bob AuBuchon)

Have you ever experienced an event that was perfect from start to finish? Dr Stephen Maturin, one of the main characters in Patrick O’Brian’s spectacular naval series “Master and Commander”, uses a particular phrase  when one of his tricky espionage escapades, difficult emergency surgeries, or challenging nature observations succeeds without a flaw; he says, “It was the completest thing.”

Last Friday night was just such an event for me. Several weeks ago a friend, Tracey Finck, told me that writer and speaker Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer – Pastor,Martyr,Prophet, Spy was going to be at Bethlehem Baptist church in Minneapolis, and she asked me if I would be interested in attending. I think I jumped out of my chair, yelled “Yes! and circled the date on my calendar before Tracey had finished speaking. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to hear this excellent writer speak about a man who was one of the most outspoken opponents to Hitler during the Third Reich. Both Tracey and I had read Metaxas’s book, and had been amazed at how in-depth the biography was, and how powerfully the author had conveyed the role that family, education, faith in Jesus and courage had played in Bonhoeffer’s life. (Read Tracey’s comments on the book here: www.traceyfinck.com)

The evening would have been wonderful if all we had done was attend the lecture, but we had also been invited  to have dinner  before-hand with Ben and Betsy Alle, Tracey’s daughter and son-in law, who attend Bethlehem Baptist  and were the first to pass on  the information about the upcoming event. Plus, the “we” had grown to include Becky Hagstrom, a friend of Tracey’s – so the evening became kaleidoscopic, and was turned into a beautiful, multifaceted celebration of making new friends, enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal (lasagna,salad,homemade bread,individual mini chocolate-molten-lava-cakes with whipped cream and espresso!) and gracious conversation, topped by an incredible lecture that was as funny as it was profound and challenging.

We also had the honor of meeting the delightful Mr.  Metaxas.We spoke with him briefly, had a book signed,  and took a few Kodak-moment pictures – along with the 1300 other people who were at the lecture. Metaxas said he would stay until midnight if that’s what was needed to greet those who wanted to meet him. I wonder  how late the meet and greet went? We were fortunate to be almost at the head of the line, and saw Metaxas sprint from the front of the church to the table where the signing took place – in the back of the church, of course.  Eric Metaxas embodies energy, humility, wit and  intelligence wrapped up in a life committed to furthering the Kingdom of  Jesus Christ – it was inspiring to see and to be a participant in the Bonhoeffer Tour.

But was this all? No. On the way home there were cold coffee drinks and snacks  –  a drive-home picnic prepared by Tracey – plus we discussed the lecture and associated subjects on the hour-long commute. Oh, and did I mention it was a lovely winter night with a full moon?

God’s favor and blessing  were wonderfully evident that evening, and I will always treasure the memory of it.  Plus, I also think that now I truly understand what  Dr Stephen Maturin means when he says, “It was the completest thing.”

Family Life, Good times, Thinking back, Uncategorized, Writers/writing

It’s Jan 23 ~ Are you celebrating National Handwriting Day?

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...
The English alphabet, both upper and lower case letters, written in D’Nealian cursive. The grey arrows indicate the starting position for each letter. For letters which are written using more than one stroke, grey numbers indicate the order in which the lines are drawn. The green tails on the front of several of the letters are for connecting them to the previous letter; if these letters are used to begin a word the green portion is omitted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to an FYI from friend Heidi Osborn, I am celebrating National Handwriting Day today. Good handwriting is not as important as it used to be, it seems. In my school days, we received a grade on our report cards in penmanship. Time was set apart each day for students to practice cursive handwriting from large note books called “The Palmer Method of Handwriting,”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmer_Method  Those with good handwriting received plenty of praise from teachers, and “Good Penmanship” awards, and were envied and admired by those of us who did not develop that skill.

There were other  marks of honor to look forward to in penmanship besides praise from teachers and “Certificate of Merit” awards. There was the longed for moment when your teacher said, “You may now use a ballpoint pen to write your homework assignments,” and in eighth grade we  finally received permission to use a fountain pen. Yes, when you made it to fountain pen level, you had arrived.

Practicing handwriting had a dangerous side to it, also. My sister-in-law JoAnne Messmer King has beautiful penamnship, and told me this story of the day she practiced writing cursive  at home as a little girl. Her father had come back from a trip to town, and put his purchases on the living room coffee table. JoAnne was home and in the living room just then. She looked through all the items on the table. A small, rectangular box caught her attention, and she opened  it to find a stack of  brand new checks from the bank. As she went to find a ballpoint pen, JoAnne heard  a knock  at the front door, and recognized one of her father’s friends. Soon the two men sat companionably in the living room visiting and drinking beer. JoAnne stayed in the living room, too, and practiced her penmanship by filling in all the spaces on the beautiful, new checks. It wasn’t until some time later that JoAnne’s father realized what type of  paper his talented daughter had been using to practiice her cursive handwriting. It doen’t take much imagination to know how this story ended, but JoAnne said she did not get a “Certificate of Merit” award for her efforts.

Today, I celebrated National Handwriting Day by putting some handwritten letters and postcards in the mail, with an acknolwedgement of  the day in those missives. Next year, I plan to do the same thing, but I am going to write my letters with a fountain pen.  That is, if I can find one. They still make fountain pens, don’t they?

Family Life, Good times

Let’s go to the fair!

Giant slide, Minnesota State Fair, Falcon Heig...
Giant slide, Minnesota State Fair, Falcon Heights, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received a text this evening from one of my favorite people. It said, “Blog about the state fair. I’m feeling melancholy.” I responded, saying I was sad too, but I thought it was a little early to write about the fair since I was still in denial that it was over. We texted some of our thoughts about the yearly spectacle, and I began to truly consider why the State Fair, the Great Minnesota Get Together, holds me in its thrall. It might be understandable if I were an out-going, party loving extrovert, but I am not – I am an introvert. Go figure.
If you don’t know anything about the fair, here is a link you might find helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_State_Fair.

Wikipedia is a good place to start your MN State Fair education, but descriptions, definitions and statistics cannot capture the essence of the fair, it can only give you the framework. To explain the phenomenon of the fair I am going to steal an acronym from author and futurist, Leonard Sweet: The Minnesota State Fair is EPIC, truly EPIC. That means, according to Dr. Sweet, that it is Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich and Connected. Yep. And extraordinarily fun. Does that make it FEPIC? No matter. If you are in Minnesota during the last week of August, you simply must get yourself to St Paul, jog up Como Ave, push through the main gates with hundreds of other fine folks, and live it up at the fair for an entire day. Or two.

The fair is sensory overload at its most friendly and inviting. Colors are everywhere, food is everywhere, music is everywhere, smells are everywhere, new experiences and old favorites are everywhere, and people, lots of people, are everywhere.  Quick aside: Favorite new experience : the Giant Sing Along venue http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvfBtA8Ks54&feature=colike. Favorite tried-and-true experience: the Creative Arts Building. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ficIIAbuGOw&feature=colike

My absolute favorite aspect of the fair is the music. You can buy tickets to the Grandstand acts, of course, but anyone at the fair has access to all the free music venues throughout the grounds all day long. These are professional musicians, often they are performers who are nationally known, eg: Riders In The Sky and Tonic Sol Fa. (Fair story about RITS: Our son was in high school, and had his wisdom teeth removed the day before he went to the fair with his buddies. I told him that he might not enjoy his day because eating would be a hassle. He went anyway. When he came home he immediately asked for pain medication. I started the “I told you so” routine when he interrupted, saying, “No, Mom! It wasn’t the food! It was “Riders In The Sky.” Their songs were so funny that I couldn’t stop laughing. That’s why my mouth is sore!”) I usually purchase a CD from my favorite musical group at the fair. This, of course, enlarges my eclectic collection of CD’s, which I enjoy all year long.

The fair is such a huge experience, both in the size of the grounds and in the range of activities, that a single visit may not permit an individual to come away with an accurate impression. With this in mind, I am going to try to write my thoughts on the fair in a few blog entries. This will be helpful in a couple of ways: 1. perhaps I will be able to figure out why the fair has such a special place in my heart, and 2., as long as I  write about the fair, it isn’t really over, is it?

Good times, Uncategorized

How Pinteresting!

English: Red Pinterest logo
Image via Wikipedia

Have you heard about the image-based (as compared to word-based) social network called Pinterest? It seems to be a hot topic in many conversations these day. I’ve been lurking on Pinterest’s site for several months, Here’s a description of Pinterest that I found on Galleycat that seems to explain it pretty well:  http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/:

“Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you  find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate  their homes, and organize their favorite recipes. Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people.  Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get  inspiration from people who share your interests.” 

A neighbor, who is not yet 30 years old and is a stay-at-home mother of one, posted this on her Facebook status:

“I just joined Pinterest a few days ago, but I love it so much that I’ve been having dreams about finding amazing things on it!  I wake up thinking, “What did I find…oh no…I can’t remember what it was!”

Now that’s powerful – Pinterest has invaded the dream-world of my young friend! I guess it’s no big revelation that the present generation was raised on images more than written words as a form of communication. We should know by now that if you want to connect with the youth of this world,  do it with pictures. Pinterest has definitely used that information to good advantage,  but Pinterest has another hook going for it,in my opinion: they have made the process of participating in their social network fun! It is almost like a game to fill your own pinboard with things from the internet that you want to keep and view again (Pinterest has an application that allows you to ‘pin’ internet images, e.g. the cover of a book you enjoy), or you can re-pin images from other people’s pinboards.There is also a way to comment on the items that are pinned.  And you can follow, a la Twitter, people whose boards you like.

So,if you are ready for a new adventure in social networking that can be both useful and fun, give Pinterest a try.http://pinterest.com/ See you on the boards!

Good times, Uncategorized

Happy New Year!

Erica x darleyensis 'Arthur Johnson'
Image by wallygrom via Flickr

Do you entertain the thought of making New Year resolutions? My Mom had the same two resolutions every year:  to have better diction and better posture. I would observe her as she worked on them throughout the year –  every time she sat up straighter in her chair, or paused before she spoke, I recognized what she was doing. It never seemed strange to me that she made the same resolutions each year. I didn’t think that she had failed at keeping her resolutions by making them over and over again; they were simply worthy goals she set for herself each year.

I don’t like making resolutions myself,  but here is an interesting idea to carry into 2012, one that is new to me: a “one word’ style of resolution. Beth K. Vogt wrote about it in a blog post on the WordServe Water Cooler blog:

http://wordservewatercooler.com/2011/12/15/a-writers-life-ban-new-years-resolutions-focus/

Or, if you are interested in action oriented resolutions, here are some ideas by Erica Johnson, a communication strategist from Automattic, Inc., called Project 365:

http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/project-365/

Whether you make resolutions or not, may the year 2012 be filled with blessings for you and all your loved ones. Happy New Year!

PS – I did meet one 2011 resolution: with this post,100 entries have been written for this blog! Ok, ok, I only made this resolution last month – but I kept it : )