Life, the Universe and Gender Identity

I have noticed a serious increase in cranky posts on FB about gender roles and women in particular.  It’s currently a hot topic and as it’s discussed it seems to get hotter and more volatile.  What is right?  What does it look like to have true equality?  I don’t think laws leaning in any direction will ever accomplish what people desire.   If people feel respected and cared for, the anger will diminish, but, what does that look like?  I feel that I have experienced it while working for the government, but it might look and feel differently in actuality than in thought.

From the burning of the bras (Really ladies?  No support is NOT comfy!) to the advent of the extra padded push-up kind, we women seem to put a lot of passion and argument in what it means to be female.   Our strong beliefs leading the way to anarchy or revolution-depending on which side of the issue you are on.  What is the true all American girl?  Is she more like Barbie or more like G.I. Jane?  How should she be treated?  I think I might have an inkling.

When I was on the trail crew for the Forest Service back in the 90s we came across some gender work differences.  Generally we would spike camp (tents) back in the woods somewhere for 10 days and work from camp.  Definitely a rustic experience and with 4 person crews the government required that if there was one girl on a crew there had to be

station crew pic 001

Us-We’re a spiffy looking bunch for sure!

another.

Sometimes we would work with other crews on big projects and sometimes we were on our own.  For one particular work site we had the privilege of staying at Weitas Guard Station in Idaho.  Built just after 1900 it was rustic, but compared to camping it was bliss!

On this particular 10 days we would not only be working on the trail that lead out of the station but we also would be repairing a bridge.  As a friend of mine would say; “fun times and the apocalypse!”  We arrived, we cleaned, and set up our areas and then we got to work.

When it was time to repair the bridge there came some discussion on who would do what.  The problem being that this bridge didn’t cross over an adorable burbling brook-it crossed a river that was fast and deep.  They needed to have people in the water supporting the bridge while they did the fixing.  The boss and the boss’s boss, who were there to lend a hand on the project, were concerned about my female compatriot and me.

tree 001

Me on the very top of a tree over a 100 foot tall when it was alive-we had to cut through the trunk close to the base which lay across the trail and was thicker than any of us were tall.

For all our work alongside our male counterparts and a half summer of muscle building under our belts…our bodies differed from the guys.  I’m not even talking about the differences requiring unique undergarments.  A woman and man of the same size and weight will have internal differences.  We ladies have more of a percentage of fat per muscle ratio (I think that has something to do with the whole child bearing thing…) and the average man will have more muscle and bone for the same size, including more upper body strength.  So men are scientifically denser.  (Stop thinking about their brain-you know what I mean!)

The bosses were concerned that we gals wouldn’t have the ability to stay safe in the rushing current.  It would be easier for the water to cause us to flounder and the required upper body strength and stamina to support the bridge…well we might not have it.  They asked our opinion to which we said we would do whatever was needed and they went off to talk.  When they got back they let us know that since safety rested in each person’s strength and the ability to not be taken down by the water-we would sit this one out.

little witas cabin 001

The two person cabin we gals shared.

We girls chatted in our little cabin that night about the decision.  We were a bit bummed-we had conquered some crazy things that summer, but we were also a little bit relieved.  What if one of us floundered slightly and that hurt not just us, but our other crew mates?

The next morning the boys went off to conquer the river and the bridge and we sat on the front porch.  What now?  We couldn’t just sit around all day…  We went in thecabin porch 001 station and stood in the kitchen thinking.  Then we opened every cupboard and drawer to see what treasures we could find.  We found cinnamon as well as some other spices, a pie tin, tapioca and some other odds and ends.  We dug through our own supplies and had butter, graham crackers, sugar and apples.  We were in business!

It felt like the kitchen itself came to life with excitement as we started cleaning, washing, crushing, chopping.  We lit the gas stove and set the apples to simmer with cinnamon and sugar.  We melted the butter and mixed it with the squished graham cracker crumbs and then pressed that into the pie plate.  The apples were just beginning to fill the old station with timeless scents when the boys came in for lunch.

Cold, wet and hungry the clumped through the door exclaiming at the top of their lungs that they could smell our efforts at least a half mile down the trail.  One of them who we knew to be a scamp in a man’s body walked straight up to the stove, gleeful look on his face and aimed a finger at the fruity goodness in the pot.

Both of us gals whirled on him with spoons brandished and issued the war cry of our sisters through the ages:

“Don’t you dare!  That’s for dinner!”  Seeing his window of thievery coming to a swift close he dipped, slurped, and ran, ducking two spoons and yelling back over his shoulder that it was perfect.  We looked at each other and laughed then wondered aloud how he could handle the heat of the apples.  Men!

The boys went back to the bridge and we baked our crust, set the apples to cool and got busy with another project.  The boss had found a recipe for trail ice cream and we had made sure to bring what we needed to make it on this trip.

I took on that chore while my compatriot got a simple supper going in the kitchen.  I put the ingredients in a small coffee can and taped it shut, then put that in a large coffee can and surrounded it with ice and rock salt-then taped it shut.  I kicked it back and forth across the porch for half an hour and then checked it-icey creamy goodness!

The boys drug themselves in shortly after and reported the job done and, “please God never again!”  Supper was had and then…dessert.  The weary lackluster countenances flew to life with the speed of a divine miracle.  Coffee was made, cheap shots exchanged, and laughter ruled.  The pie plate was literally licked clean and ice cream put on everything from pie, to coffee to fingers (waste not, want not, right?)

drainage fix 001

A swampy area that we fixed drainage for and then raised the trail.

We gals had not helped with the bridge fixing in a hands on way, but I truly feel to the core of my being that we were a huge help!  Should we have been down the trail at the bridge?  Would it have been fine?  Or would someone have gotten hurt?  That, is only for God to know.  But the short of it is that we were a team that cared about each other.  We, all of us, helped each other.  We took each other’s needs and abilities into consideration

bridge 001

The bridge we were building without motorized tools

constantly.

One of the guys was allergic to bees, we girls weren’t.  On the trail when we had to deal with bees we considered our crewmate first.  And here, with a bridge project the guys had considered us.

That summer we accomplished more than I honestly knew was humanly possible.  Some of it just plain grit hard!  For example:  we packed a rock drill into the woods so the explosives folks could blast open a trail, we cut through the trunk of a tree that had fallen across the trail and that trunk was thicker than we were tall, we had built a bridge in a “wilderness area” which simply means that you can’t use tools with a

mud 001

Another trail with a drainage issue.  I don’t believe my boots ever forgave me for that…

motor…  Yup, draft horse and chains and large iron poles were our tools; I was just glad the saw guys had already cut everything with the crosscuts.  We fixed drainage problems and sunk up to almost our knees in mud.  It was a great summer!

What does it look like to be respected and cared for by coworkers?  I think it looks kinda like this.  Folks willing to work as a team-using strengths to the best of their ability and looking out for each other in situations where some aren’t as strong, no matter the reason.

witas gaurd station 001

For any of you camping types who want to make ice cream on your next trip…  Here’s the boss’s recipe!

 

2lb 7oz coffee can (empty)

13 oz coffee can (soon to be filled with creamy goodness)

In the small can put:

1 cup whole milk

1 cup cream

½ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

½ tsp vanilla extract

 

Tape up the lid on that can nice and tight and then put it in the big can and layer ice and rock salt to the top.  Tape on the lid.  Now keep the can rolling for at least 30 minutes.  I just walked and kept booting it gently with my toe.

When it’s done you can top it with M&Ms, nuts or whatever floats your boat.  One time we squished up a banana and put it in with the cream and it was wonderful!

 

Christmas Hostess in Peace, not Pieces

The Christmas Hostess

This has been my busiest Christmas season yet!  Each year I think it’s busy and I make plans to change my ways the following year to make it less hectic.  I implement a new and improved holiday plan and the season speeds by faster than the year beforimg_2323e it.  #Fail

I asked myself:  What are the BEST Christmas times?  For me it’s baking, having fun with friends and family and slowing down to enjoy the wonder of Christmas.  That last one can be elusive!  My daughter’s dog, Mia has it figured out though…If I had complete control over everything I would slow down to have fun instead of speed up.   It’s a novel concept, but one I plan to explore.

How might I accomplish this?  Well, first I need to see the frenzy for what it is.  In retail, we have projections of sales based on the previous year and then we are supposed to exceed the previous year by a certain percentage.  In essence, making every year, “The best year ever!”  We have a tendency to do this around Christmas.

The Bible has the word,” Selah”, in it a lot.  It means to “pause, to lift up, to praise”.  So, if I am going to add “Selah” to my Christmas schedule it means that I will pause, worship God, and thank Him for His blessings.  That requires room in the schedule…  One cannot “Selah” catnap style.  But where to find the room?img_2206

It occurs to me that in adding quantity to my Christmas schedule I am loosing quality.  This happens a lot when something is good and the desire is to increase quantity so that there is more…good…and that’s better right?  Or is it?

We all will be making lots of decisions.  Some things are not in our control, that’s true, but they are in God’s control.  The things that are in our control CAN be managed.  The things that God is in control of, we should let Him manage.  Then absolutely nothing is out of control…no matter what it looks like.img_2312

If nothing is truly out of control then we can give ourselves permission to relax.  The Bible says that you can’t add anything to your life by worrying. (Lea Freitas paraphrase) If that’s true, then we can’t add wonder to Christmas by fretting over the details of this project or that party.

In the history of the human existence, what does it matter?  I have a thought, and this will be my challenge for Christmases to come.  My new holiday plan is to focus on the things that matter and allow them to take precedence.  img_2313Watching Christmas movies while decorating, walking in the snow, baking with my daughter.  If those are the truly important things then I will put them on the top of my priority list and other things may not find a space on the schedule, instead of the other way around.

In this spirit, I wish to share some good old fashioned fun.  Games are how people used to have fun.  Laughter around the living room or dining table is indicative of quality time.  Games cost money, I know.  However, I am including two games in this post that will cost you nothing as my Christmas gift.   First, a Christmas jeopardy game-or trivia-however you would like to play it.  Then, dinner entertainment.img_2316

We’ll address the latter first…  When extended family is coming over for dinner and there are differing views on politics, religion or other touchy topics, it can be a stressful dinner.  Some families make rules about what can be discussed at the table and even that doesn’t work.  Whether this is an issue or not, here’s an idea.

Put place cards at each plate with the person’s name on one side and a character on the back.  Choose appropriate characters for each person, i.e., someone they are very familiar with.  A young girl might be Elsa, a young boy one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Chewbacca if they are not the type to want to enter into discussion.img_2261

Grandpa could be John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, maybe Dad can be Jeff Foxworthy. I would want to be Queen Elizabeth…you get the idea.  Then any discussion that takes place must be done in character.   Lord willing, laughter and not tension will be the result!

Ok, now for trivia…  If you want to have some fun at dinner you can write a few of the questions and answers down on a paper (or back of place card) at each plate.  Then everyone has a few questions to ask the table and everyone can ponder and/or discuss them.

The other way to play this one is to get a board and make categories and then assign boxes with point amounts in them for each question.  When the questions are answered I cross them off and when all the questions have been exhausted the person with the most points wins.  The winning prize can be anything from first dibs at dessert to a gift card to a favorite family store.

Until next time; may your cider be crisp, your biscuits fluffy, and your gravy be lump free!

img_2315Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

 

Christmas Jeopardy

*no copyright or infringement as I researched these myself. 

Christ Child

  1. Who was the first ancestor or father recorded in the family lineage of Jesus?

*Father Abraham

  1. Who actually named baby Jesus?

*The Angel

  1. What does Emmanuel mean?

*God with us

  1. What was the name of the Angel that appeared to Mary?

*Gabriel

  1. In what country was Jesus born?

*Judea

  1. According to “the law” parents had to offer something in the temple if the first born was a boy.

What was it?

*2 turtle doves or 2 young pigeons

  1. According to the book of Mark, how many angels appeared to the shepherds?

*A heavenly host

  1. What is the definition of a heavenly host?

*Angelic army

  1.    What song did the Angels sing to the Shepherds?

*Glory to God in the Highest

  1. Joseph’s family was from:

*Bethlehem

  1. How many wise men or magi came?

*The Bible says what they brought but never mentioned how many there were.

  1. Who directed Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem?

*Ceasar

 

Candy    *Example:  A confectionary walking brace=Candy caneimg_2318

  1. Another word for giggle

*Snicker

  1. Also a white rapper

*M&M

  1. Famous swashbuckling trio

*3 musketeers

  1. Favorite Day for working folks

*Payday

  1.      Something ships always have on board in case someone falls over

*Lifesaver

  1.     Exploding suns

*Starburst

  1.     A thingamabob or a

*Whatchamacallit

  1.      Klutz who drops things

*Butterfinger

  1.      Explosive gravel

*Pop Rocks

  1.       Cheerful cattle farmer

*Jolly Rancher

  1.     Misfiring moo juice

*Mild Dud

  1. Know it alls

*Smarties

 

Winter Trivia

  1. Can it snow from clear skies?

*Yes, ice crystimg_2278als can form when temps are in the single digits or colder from moisture in the air.

  1. On Average, one inch of rain is equivalent to how many inches f snow?

*10 inches

  1. How many times a year does the sun rise and set in the arctic?

*Once

  1. What is “hoar” frost

*Frost that looks like hair, as it is the word for hair from old English.

  1. What side of a building will have the most and best icecicles?

*South Side

  1. What is a toque?

*Word Canadians use for winter hat

  1. What percentage of fresh snow is composed of air?

*80%

  1. The world record for snowfall in a 24 hr period that we know of happened last spring in Caprocotta, Italy.  Was it under or over 100 inches?

*It was 100.8 inches

  1. What country can claim the honor of inventing the snowmobile?

*Canada

  1. Curling is one of 4 winter Olympic sports contested indoors.  What are the other 3?

*Hockey, Figure skating, speed skating

  1. Only 2 countries south of the equator have won medals in the winter Olympics.  Australia and?

*New Zealand

  1. Can it ever be too cold to snow?

*No, Antarctica often gets snow when it’s well below zero.  And frosty double for who answers correctly!  Coldest temperature ever recorded was -128, where was it?  Antarctic

 

Christmas movies and plays

  1. In Frosty the snowman, who brought Frosty back to life?

*Santa

  1. In “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” what biological shortcoming made the Grinch so mean?

*His heart was 2 sizes too small

  1. Who lost $8,000 in “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

*Uncle Billy

  1. Who said, “God bless us, everyone”?

*Tiny Tim

  1. In what city did “Miracle on 34th St.” take place?

*New York

  1. In “A Charlie Brown Christmas” who plays the innkeeper in their play?

*Pigpen

  1. What is the name of the little girl in most versions of the Nutcracker?

*Clara

  1. What did the Grinch use to pull his sled?

*his dog

  1. Frosty double:  In “It’s a Wonderful Life” who starred as George Bailey?

*Jimmy Stewart

  1. What’s Frosty’s nose made out of?

*Button

  1. How does Scrooge improve Cratchit’s life the day after Christmas?

*He gives him a raise

  1. In the classic Claymation, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, what was Rudolph’s father’s name?

*Donner

 

Christmas Songs and Poems

  1. What is the biggest selling Christmas single of all time?

*White Christmas

  1. Where was I when I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus?

*On the stairs

  1. What carol contains the line, “O Tidings of comfort and Joy?”

*God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

  1. What gift did “my true love” give to me on the 6th day of Christmas?

*Six geese a laying

  1. What Reindeer is never mentioned in “Twas the Night Before Christmas”?

*Rudolph

  1. In the chipmunk Christmas song-what does Alvin want for Christmas?

*Hula hoop

  1. In what Christmas carol is figgy pudding demanded?

*We wish you a Merry Christmas

  1. What song was originally titled, “One horse open sleigh?”

*Jingle Bells

  1. Visions of what dance in children’s heads?

*Sugarplums

  1. What song does a caroler sing outside of scrooge’s office?

*God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

  1. Frozen Double!  Who wrote:  “Twas the Night Before Christmas”

                *Clement C. Moore

  1. On every street corner you hear what?

*Silver bells

 

Random Christmas Trivia

  1. Name the reindeer whose names begin with “D”

*Dasher, Donner, Dancer

  1. What holiday drink has milk, sugar and eggs?

*Egg nog

  1. What type of canned pie filling is a big seller at Christmas?

*Pumpkin

  1. Traditionally, does the oldest or youngest family member open the first present?

*youngest

  1. What Holiday film annually appears on television more than 300 times?

*It’s a Wonderful Life.

  1. Frozen double!  What country started the tradition of exchanging gifts for Christmas?

                *Rome, Italy

  1. What is the most popular tree topper?

*Angel

  1. What did the little Drummer Boy give to the Christ Child?

*A song on his drum

  1. What are elves touted to wear on the tips of their shoes?

*Bells

  1. What are small, inexpensive gifts usually called at Christmas?

*Stocking stuffers

  1. What men’s grooming appliance became a sled for Santa in commercials of the 60s?

*Norelco shaver

  1.     A classic, ancient Christmas cake from the 1400s

*fruitcake.

 

Christmas Hymns

  1. …Stay by my side til morning is nigh.

*Away in a manger

  1. …holy infant, so tender and mild…

*Hark the Herald Angels Sing

  1. ….ransom captive Israel…

*O come, O come, Emanuel

  1. …shepherds why this jubilee…

*Angels we have heard on high

  1. …follow me in merry measure…

*Deck the Halls

  1. …over the hills and everywhere…

*Go tell it on the mountain

  1. …to save us all from satan’s power when we were gone astray…

*God rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

  1. …from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold…

*It came upon a midnight clear

  1. …whom shepherds guard and angels sing…

*What child is this

  1. …guide us to thy perfect light…

*We three kings

  1. …was certain poor shepherds…

*First Noel

  1. …Come and behold him…

*O come all ye faithful

 

Christmas Food

  1. What would you be drinking if you had Gludwein?

*Mulled wine

  1. What is a Buche de Noel?  Commonly eaten in France at Christmas?

*Yule log

  1. Stollen is the traditional cake of what country?

*Germany

  1. What name is given small sausages wrapped in bacon, a staple at a British Christmas dinner?

*Pigs in blankets

  1. Who is responsible for the red and white costume of Santa?

*Coca Cola

  1. What is the name of the skin that hangs from a turkey’s neck?

*Wattle

  1. Which spirit is traditionally added to butter and served with Christmas pudding?

*Brandy

  1. Bread sauce is traditionally flavored with:

* Cloves

  1. Peppermint sticks have been popular for centuries, but which century did the candy cane appear in?

*1640 Germany

  1. How did the Puritans celebrate Christmas with food?

*They fasted

  1. What pudding do Americans often substitute for figgy pudding?

*persimmon pudding

  1. What traditional cake includes in the recipe to be wrapped in spirit soaked cloth and aged for a month at least?

*fruit cake

 

 

As the Crap Flies…

My Facebook feed (and yours too no doubt) is full of political memes.  ‘Tis the season and all…  Most of mine are humorous, (you’re welcome), but the saturation of subject has given me pause.

Can either candidate lead the Nation?  What if Trump becomes President and ticks off the wrong country?  What if I vote for a third option, which takes my vote away from Trump and then leaves us with Hillary and we get sold to China?  Happy times…

I think I prefer another option all together.  Aliens land and declare humpback whales rulers of all.  Yes, that would be better!  Until our smoke signal reaches whatever aliens (hopefully amiable) and they come and straighten everything out…What to do?

Come Election Day, vote for who you are burdened to vote for.  Vote for yourself if you feel God wishes you to do so, but be true to your convictions.  God gave us a heads up in the Bible that we would have times like this.

“…In this godless world, you will continue to experience difficulties…” said Jesus. (John 16:33 MSG)  My translation:  The squishy stuff WILL hit the fan!  OFTEN!   Satan, the mighty crap-shooter, delights in filling all our lives with various forms and textures, of…crap.  No one I know has ever thanked him for his diligence.

I find it interesting that plants use “crap” to grow.  Weeds don’t really need it as they will grow in your rocks, on top of your weed fabric just to spite you.  (It’s true, I asked) But gardens?  Orchards?  Aged manure and dead leaves will yield a bountiful crop.  Fresh, all natural fertilizer, however, will burn and often kill plants…but leave the farm cleanings in a pile where the sun breaks it down and then it’s perfect.

Are we weeds?  If I am saved then God promises that I am “grafted in,” (Romans 11:17, 19, 24 NKJV)which means that no, I am not a weed, but part of Christ’s special orchard.  As much as I would love the ability to grow without fertilizer just like a weed, I can’t.  Even though I might envy the weed’s ability to grow with little nourishment I don’t envy their propensity to be uprooted from the ground and blow about constantly nor the other kind that simply choke out every form of beauty around them.

What about synthetic fertilizer?  Skip the mess and keep it clean?  In modern times those are used on crops more than anything else.  It produces huge crops for everyone, but the food that grows is very low in micronutrients.  These are the very secret weapons that the body uses to combat toxicity.

Scientists say that the planet is more toxic now than it has ever been.  What is toxic?  The American Heritage Dictionary says; “Harmful, destructive or deadly.”  In the Bible it says; “…As the end approaches, people will be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust and allergic to God…” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 MSG)  I think it’s safe to say that it’s spiritually toxic right now, as well as toxic in other ways.

If synthetic fertilizer doesn’t give the food what we need to combat environmental toxicity, why would synthetic spiritual fertilizer work to put the micronutrients into our spiritual fruit?  It doesn’t – it can’t.  God said that His people would be known “by their fruit,” (Mathew 7:14, 16, 20 NKJV).  So if we try to sanitize our existence and subsist off of clean fertilizer our fruit will lack the very thing it was grown for.  That which gives life to others.

What is spiritually synthetic fertilizer?  There is mention in the Bible of people who will, “…make a show of religion, have a form of godliness, but deny its power…always learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of truth…” (2 Timothy 3:5-7 NKJV) They will never be sold out to God, they will simply add Him like an accessory to their lives.  I struggle continually not to be this person as there is no life in such an existence.

While reading “Hinds Feet in High Places,” I came across something I pray I will never forget.  This is not a direct quote, but the author discusses how vanquishing evil is not the ultimate victory, but turning it into good.  This is the essence of using crap and dead plants to produce nutrient rich food.  Christ turned evil to good when He died on the Cross and He can do the same for us.

Only the sun can make farm piles good quality fertilizer and only the Son can take the crap flung in our direction and make it usable to produce nourishing fruit.  Fake fertilizer won’t do it and fresh fertilizer will kill.  Yes, satan aims to kill my spirit.  It’s his greatest wish, but if I’m wise and I give every hurt, pain, bitterness, disappointment, dead dream and heartbreak to God, who is sometimes referred to in the Bible as: Jahovah-Shalom, (God my Peace), He will cause it to bear nutritious fruit – life giving fruit.

This election will determine a lot for our Nation’s future, but do I need to fear satan turning on his almighty crap fan?  Only if I’m not in the habit of giving it all to God.  I can turn satan’s plans and weapons against him by allowing God to truly embody His title as Adonai, (Master, Lord).

Mountain Berry Muffins

There are many things that cannot be done when one is a child, but there are a few, and berry picking is among them. 

I think it might have started out as a way for Mom to keep my Sister and I occupied when we went to fell trees for firewood.  Woodcutting is time consuming business and of course, not on the list of “items for small children to help with”. 

Our trips of old always began with the windows down for air circulation and quiet hopes and prayers that the truck wouldn’t overheat before we got where we were going-we squished all four of us in the dusty family truck and left from Cobalt Station further into the woods in search of dead trees.

The spring water run off areas, or what the Forest Service termed “roads,” kept the going slow enough that we sometimes ended up with gusts of exhaust filling the cab.  I was known for getting carsick so I usually got the window seat.  This allowed me to drape my arm and sometimes head out the open window like a last sardine who simply refused to resign itself to the can.  The smell of hot pickup truck interspersed with pines all part of the outing.

Mom and Dad stopped occasionally looking for trees the size they needed.  After an interminable time in my “sardine in need of escape mode,” Mom and Dad would declare that we had found what we needed and breakout was possible.

I started walking immediately to dispel the headache being in any vehicle caused.  It was better than “tossing my cookies”, but still seemed a bit of unfair gene inheritance.  The family dog, Sunset, jumped from the back of the truck and started sniffing for vermin to chase.  Dad hauled his chainsaw from the truck and Mom gave us instructions.

After Mom’s required lecture on how to remember not to get lost forever or get killed by falling trees, we got turned loose with a measuring cup from the kitchen, the hunt for berries was on!  My sister was the keeper of said cup, seeing as how she was older and wiser, (or so she claimed) so we split up to look for berries-then worked together once they were found.   The strawberries were about as big as your pinkie finger, but they were full of enough flavor to fill a berry 4 times their size.  All we needed was one cup…

Getting firewood and berry picking was part of our family culture growing up.  The berry muffins were always amazing and the perfect reward for diligently picking sweet little forest gems.

This was something that was never repeated once we moved from Cobalt Ranger station when I was 11.  Our new home wasn’t high in the mountains and the forest there wasn’t full of wild berries.  This part of my culture got a bit lost in the recesses of my mind for quite a few years.

Then last spring when I returned to Cobalt I realized that many things I had simply thought to be a lost bit of sweetness in my past didn’t need to stay lost.  Thanks to my Sister who still has the recipe we used for those muffins (still older and wiser I guess)and to a friend who adores the forest as much as I do; this summer I was able to reclaim some of my heritage and to share it with my daughter as well.

No matter how busy life was, last summer we took one day a week and piled all the kids together and went out to the woods.  Things rarely progressed as we planned but we never failed to have a great time

In an attempt to find huckleberries, my friend and I planned an outing and packed lunch.  We drove out of town and then turned off onto an old road that went over the mountain. Since the going was slow- we tossed the kids in the back of my friend’s truck and off we bumped.

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We stopped multiple times, looking at the shrubbery to see if we had found what we were looking for.  We were a bit disappointed to find plants, but no berries.  We paused for lunch and then wandered through the forest away from the road, and our little hike was rewarded!

One of the kids found a ripe huckleberry and then another.  I paused to smile and found, surrounding me, wild strawberries.  The boys started eating every berry they could wrap their fingers around while the girls meticulously picked and saved.

Kids talked and laughed, the buzz of forest bugs and chatter of chipmunks blended with the sound of the pine trees.  It was a perfect day in the forest and calmed my spirit.  The kids had a wonderful time, got dirty and berry stained, conquered a few rocks, tried to get us to drive faster over ruts and bumps when they were in the back of the truck and of course, picked enough berries for one batch of muffins.

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There are many things that I can’t eat now but this recipe works the same if you need to substitute gluten free flour, vegan butter, coconut milk or anything else like that.  Its simplicity allows it to be flexible. img_1616-1

Mountain Berry Muffins

1 7/8 Cup flour

3 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 Tbs-1/2 cup sugar (you can substitute maple sugar or granulated honey)

1 egg

1 Cup milk

¼ cup melted butter

*Combine the egg, milk and melted butter and mix.  Sift together dry ingredients and add to the wet ingredients-mixing gently. 

*Mix one cup of berries with ¼ cup of flower and then fold into the batter.  Line muffin tin with paper or lightly oil, then fill cups 2/3 full.

*Heat oven to 400 degrees and put muffins in for 10 minutes.  Then sprinkle with maple sugar or raw sugar and put back in for 5 minutes (optional).

 

Letter Legacy

Letter Legacy

grandmamadelinecropMy maternal nanna, four days before her 95th birthday, had succumbed to the ravages of pneumonia…  I pushed “end” on my phone and stared at it.  Mom had just informed me, and it had come quickly on the heels of the news of her simply going to the hospital.  This woman-elegant, full of faith, impeccable as a hostess and not shy of adventure…  She had schooled me in etiquette and hospitality, shared secrets of housekeeping and presentation and most of all-reminded me that God was in charge and fear couldn’t stand up to Him unless I embraced it myself.

I ambled slowly downstairs and retrieved the ornate black and white box with a ribbon on it.  Nanna and I’d written letters to each other for years and I saved most of them.  I knew she would love the box, which was why it held her letters.

I opened it up and started sorting cards and envelopes.  I would never forget when we realized that we were of the same heart.  I had been married for only a few years and we had a family reunion.  Nanna and I sat down to chat as adults which was something we had never done as she lived so far away.  We started finishing each other’s sentences.  We did the same sorts of things for the same reasons.  We were kindred spirits!

We began exchanging letters and after a little bit, I saved them.   I let my fingers slidefullsizerender-2 through the beige linen envelopes.  I must have been saving them for today and every day that would follow.  The words blurred a bit but I blinked furiously for a moment so I could read past messages that she had written.  I plucked folded stationary out of an old envelope.

The letter delineated different ways to present desserts.  I loved entertaining and Nannaimg_1829 was my teacher in that.  She even sent me her china right before my husband was commissioned in the military.  She said I would need it for entertaining officers and their families and she didn’t really use it anymore.  It was purchased as a gift to her from my Grandfather soon after they had become newlyweds.  Using it was an honor and a privilege.  Many of her letters shared secrets on cooking, how to make the best chocolate cake (it needs a little coffee) or how to make the perfect Easter dessert, a special lemon cake.  She made it look like a tulip, filled with lemon goodness and then surrounded the cake with tulips on a cake pedestal.

img_0205In my role as Officer’s wife and hostess, Nanna was always the silent, yet honored guest.  People would comment on the antique china and I would smile and tell them of Nanna.  I would take pictures of the finished menu items and how the table was arranged and decorated and send them all to her.

From my ornate letter box, I pulled out a tin type photo.  I had requested it from her aftergrandmamadeline1936 the reunion when I heard the story behind it.  She was 18 and chosen as the Apple blossom festival Queen in May of 1936 in Waterville, Ohio.  The city hired a photographer by the name of Robert for the occasion and her official court photo has her leaning against a rock wall in a lovely, yet borrowed dress.  The man who took the photo declared directly afterward to his friends that he had met the woman he was going to marry.  Good to his word, Robert became my Grandfather.  Even though the image was only of Nanna, both of my Grandparents are in the photo.  He took her on many adventures during their 54 years of marriage before going to Heaven and leaving her a widow.ltcmdrmccoy

I opened another letter from my box and went back in time some years to when we were in the middle of a military move.  One of many through our marriage but on this move our things were vandalized.  Nanna’s china, the most expensive and most precious thing we owned had been smashed.    I hadn’t even known how to react to the news.  My first thought was that maybe it was a mistake and something else smashed instead…it wasn’t though and the feeling of loss was almost paralyzing.

I mourned the tragedy for my entire family and penned a letter that I prayed would not hurt Nanna too very much.  Her reply?  “Oh honey, if I could just reach across the miles and take you in my arms!”  Along with her comforting response, she sent me a huge packet of photos with a note:  “Perhaps this will help you cut through all the insurance red tape.”  What a God send!  Apparently she had never thrown any of the photos away that I sent to her.  There were so many it was like being back in our old house and just turning slowly in the rooms!  We muddled through the paperwork and submitted our claim.

I opened yet another letter and this one brought a smile.  A few months after the fullsizerendervandalism I happened upon a set of china that looked very much like my Nanna’s set.  It was on sale for an impossibly small price and my husband agreed that we should by it.  I wrote Nanna a letter and sent pictures of the new set.  She was ecstatic!  She said it looked identical.  Her stamp of approval along with God having it available for such an amazing amount truly began the healing in my heart over that incident.  She had had faith that God would work this out and He had.

My hands full of envelopes I saw the history of all our residences; Idaho, California, North Dakota, Colorado, New York, Washington, Arizona, Wyoming and now we had finally settled in Helena, Montana.  Some had been rentals, some had been purchases, but each residence settled in the same way.  We would arrive, our stuff would arrive and then I would wait for a letter from Grandma to my new address.  Even when my husband had been in the east with the military and I had needed to take our infant and the dogs to a hotel to live for a couple of months, I got a letter from Nanna and it became home for a brief time.

I pulled another letter out of an old envelope and this one brought a laugh.  I had written of our trip to Disney World and shared about the 2 hours that we spent looking for our car in the airport parking garage when we returned home.  Nanna loved the story and shared a similar one where she and Grandpa had been in the same situation in a parking garage in California about 40 years previous when they went shopping.  At least I wasn’t the only one!

I opened another and another.  Each letter was a gem.  Wisdom and prayers when I was afraid, coupled with stories of how God brought her through WWII, as well as two years of missions in Africa.  She would always circle around to how God does things for a reason and living in that belief is faith.

She laughed over silly things my daughter did.  Her joy in noticing that my little girl seemed to be an artist when she was not quite two, something our family hadn’t seen since my Grandfather.  A congratulations letter for my first story published in a magazine.  My Nanna was really the gem and I didn’t want to let go of her.

I stacked the letters and put them back in the box.  I set it on the shelf and went upstairs.  Our house was almost totally unpacked, and we hoped, for the last time.  We had plans for the yard and plans for the basement…  I looked around.  The wall color, the fireplace rock, the flooring.  I sent samples of it all to Nanna and then pictures.

I tried to console myself that she had gotten to see the finished photos, which was something she had wanted.  I had letters to read and she recently sent me some additional family heirlooms.  I should feel happy and blessed to have had such a strong connection with her for so long.  I felt adrift though, like I really didn’t know what I would do without the ability to tell her about everything and read her responses.

I looked at the clock, it was time to get mail.  The thought depressed me.  Woodenly I took the key off the hook, slipped on my boots and coat and walked to the mailbox.   Mail would be forever changed.  I crunched through the snow and opened my box, taking out the small stack inside.  Out of habit I immediately started to go through it.  As I slipped a bill from the top to the bottom I saw a corner of a beige, linen envelope.

No, that wasn’t possible.  But…I pulled out the envelope and saw her cursive handwriting addressing the letter to me, at my new address.  I opened it immediately and read while I walked back to the house.  She talked of how much she loved how the house turned out.  She adored the Christmas photos and spoke of how glad she was that our daughter loved the rocking chair that my Grandpa had made so many years previous for Nanna.  She was glad that we were settled and could really put down roots.  She spoke briefly of a cold she didn’t seem to be able to shake and sent her love, asking me to hug and kiss everyone for her.

I stopped walking, wiped the tears from my eyes and looked up.  I stood in front of our new final, permanent home, and I held Nanna’s letter addressed to me in my hand.  I was officially home.  Home for good and Nanna had been able to see me through all the years of deployment, moves across the country, two moves where we were on the road less than a week after we were notified, 3 times of living in a hotel, the birth and infanthood of our daughter, unemployment after the service and finally to a civilian career and to being settled.

God knew how much that last letter would mean for both of us and He made it possible for me to have it.  Just like Nanna always said, God did things for a reason.   I was much sadder for myself than I was for Nanna.  She would be with our Lord and Grandpa.  Oh but I would miss her so!

I would pass on all that she had shared with me.  I would remind my daughter that her Great Grandmother referred to her as an; “expressive sweet jewel”.  I would make the lemon cake for Easter every year, remind myself when I was afraid how God faithfully took Nanna through almost 95 years on this troubled earth.  I would keep the photo that my Grandpa took, and remember to take photos through the eyes of love-and most of all-I would treasure her priceless, written legacy.

 

 

 

The Secret in The Forest

 

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The first thing I noticed was all the water.  Creeks tumbled everywhere and my ears were filled with their exuberance. Some months past, I felt the need to return, had planned the trip and finally…here I was. After 27 years, I was deep in the wilderness that raised me.

My friend and I had left our families safely at home to trek into the heart of the central Idaho backwoods. We were armed with our respective cameras and journals, mini backpacks, and hiking boots. Neither of us knew what we would find, exactly–but both of us were searching, having faith that God had something for us.

Life complicates so easily, like a drumbeat that slowly speeds up until the dancers fall in their effort to keep time. So it was in my existence. Schedules…money…health.  Schedules…money…health.  SCHEDULES! MONEY! HEALTH! What do you do when your life becomes so crazy that it literally makes you sick?  No doctor had figured out why, but for almost two years whenever I lay down I would become dizzy, rest turning into struggle. Consequently my diet was restricted to a total of a few meats and some vegetables along with brown rice. Every pot luck, party and dinner I attended saw me on the fringes—my only participation in savoring the aroma.

What did I do? I screamed at God to make it stop. I begged Him to ease the burdens of my chronic illness and other stresses. I begged Him to rescue me from the clutches of fear. What did I receive in response? An incredibly strong urge to return to my native wilderness. So there I stood in mid-May, surrounded by creeks, a light breeze playing with my hair.IMG_1207

I scanned the beloved hills and drank in the cacophony of rushing water, bird song, and melodic pines. The trees I thought large as a child had become behemoths. Strong and proud, they rustled in the breeze. Berry bushes and plants crowded for attention around every corner and rock. Everything was so incredibly vibrant!  In the palpable peace, every part of me relaxed. No schedule, no appointments, no cell service…perfection!

I wandered around the Forest Service station I used to call home. So many memories generated with the caress of this forest. We crossed the primitive dirt road to the old barn standing beside the pasture. Without thinking, I scaled the fence like I used to and walked up to the water trough. It was only a IMG_1226third full, but there was a butterfly floundering in it. I scooped up the pretty little bug and eased it onto a sunny rock to dry. A wave of déjà vu hit me then, for I recalled performing that very service hundreds of times before. In that moment, I connected to my childhood self: That carefree girl who scampered about the countryside looking for surprises and adventure, who championed pretty insects, yet couldn’t abide spiders. I remember one particularly plump bumble bee as fuzzy as a stuffed toy. While it busied itself on a flower, which bowed under its weight, I carefully petted its back for a second. The bee paid me no mind and though I refrained from pushing my luck further with more physical contact, I was captivated.  I stayed close and watched it with avid interest. The soft buzzes it made, the complete abandon to its task. It’s a soothing creature and since then I have adored bees and, they in turn have never hurt me.

Likewise, I encountered many varieties of wild animals when I lived here and though the happenstances always caused my heart to jump for a moment, the occasions simply added to my collection of beautiful memories. Sometimes a black bear would be startled or a few elk would unexpectedly lift their heads and we would lock eyes. In the nine years I spent in this wilderness before moving at the age of eleven, they had never hurt me either.

One little girl, living in an immense forest. I was beyond insignificant and reveled in that awareness. Everywhere I went and in everything I did—fishing, trail riding, hiking or playing…I felt tiny, but confident. I knew God was looking after me. Fear was much more prevalent in story books than it was in my life back then.

We wandered through the pasture and back across the bridge to the car, my history walking with me.IMG_1787 The heavy tread of my horse Leo as it sounded, muffled in the grass.FullSizeRender (2) The concussion in the air from helicopters which landed and took off out of that same pasture during fire season. The tiny titters that a little bat made when it slept, hanging from the ceiling in my favorite cave.IMG_1238 The late afternoon thunder storms that I watched from the front porch of our cabin, eating my mom’s rhubarb crunch as cool air danced around me and blue streaks lit up the sky.

Everything here nurtured my senses and needs: food, song, beauty. It reminded me of when I set up the nursery for my daughter and made sure everything was geared toward safety, comfort and growth. I was safe here. I was taken care of.

After climbing up to my favorite cave, looking for bats and collecting some quartz rocks for my yard, we retraced our steps and then descended to the river. I sat on a large rock and straightaway saw the most beautiful piece of quartz on a boulder in the current. IMG_1250God’s “yard glitter.” I grinned, imagining God placing that boulder specifically where the water made it sparkle all the more.

I looked around again, amazed at the variety and effervescent health of all the plants. I’d striven for years with my own yard, researching, planning, spending time, money, and energy, yet still failing often to get plants to grow. The only one looking after all of this beauty was God Himself. When I had lived here I thrived as surely as the willows and birds in front of me. It hadn’t come with turmoil, angst or grief. On the contrary – it had simply been.

My thoughts clarified intensely. Why hadn’t I needed to strive when I lived here? I knew I was completely helpless, I simply hadn’t cared. Why hadn’t I worried? Agonized? Feared encountering scary unknowns? It came to me again: I had known I was being taken care of—that God was with me.

My life over the past years had deteriorated into striving, driving on the fuel of fear. Striving to please God, striving to always make right choices, striving to be wise. Research, time, energy but mostly…fear. Fear that doing the wrong thing would have dire consequences, fear that I would displease God, fear that I didn’t know what to do, fear that my not knowing would be the end for me and cause my family pain.  Fear is perhaps the real disease that I need freedom from.

“Lord, what do You wish of me? What happens when I return to regular life from this cozy nursery where I was fostered?” My audible, yet whispered question joined the splashes of the river as it tripped over snags and boulders.FullSizeRender (2)

While God didn’t respond with perceptible, English words, He did respond. I looked at the chipmunks going about their business, heard the sparrows and mountain bluebirds gossiping in trees, and watched the river cavort down the mountain. The answer was there and the forest was embodying it.

             Stop striving. Stop agonizing. Don’t fear the bears in life you will encounter. Let Me take care of you again, the way you did when you lived here.

My striving and giving fear a prominent place in life had gotten me nowhere. It could even be part of my struggle with illness.  The forest flourished without striving. Each critter conquering the task it had in front of it, content in that task and only that task. I had been that way once, and I needed to return to it.

Simple, but therein lies the secret I had been searching for—the missing puzzle piece—the anecdote to the disease of fear that crouches in wait: God is the one who is caring for me, if I let Him, just like He cares for my beautiful forest and all the critters that live there.

IMG_1257 I left my rock by the river later that day but I took the secret in the forest with me. I delight in returning to that instant of revelation, mentally revisiting moments of peace on my big rock by the river, when I knew beyond a doubt that I was in God’s care again.