Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Faith in Place

I wrote in March about a door opening - a part time job with a non-profit that gave me a way to begin rebuilding my life after so many years taking care of Gerrit.

We are working on fundraising to continue our good work and had this video made to help explain what we do.

Wondering where to donate some of your end of the year charitable money?  Faith in Place.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pictures, please

We - correction - I (still getting used to I instead of we) have two wonderful people who advise me on financial stuff.  The broker and his assistant are lovely, lovely people - not just great at their jobs, but really nice human beings.

I wrote about them almost six years ago when they sent us a calendar, and again last spring when I finally met them face to face (we live far away from each other).

And now it's time for a little update.  You need to read the six-year-old post to understand this one.

Here's what was in my mailbox this week:

Don't you love these people?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Early Winter

 First snow, swirling through the dusk.

Evergreen branches turn to feathers.

Dusky light leaves an Impressionist patina.

Wind-tossed branches evade my camera's focus. 

Iconic frosted berries.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Remarkable Susan Branch

You wouldn't think one not-so-big woman (at the podium on the left) could have such an impact, but Susan Branch does. She has a cadre of devoted followers ("the girlfriends") because because of her ability to create joy out of everyday occurrences.  Yes, she's a wonderful artist and cookbook author, but I think the magic is in her attitude.

Susan has a talent for living: for appreciating the small things in life, for creating beauty in her books and calendars and fabrics, and for lifting the hearts of her readers.  Her first book, a handwritten and hand illustrated cookbook, The Heart of the Home, was published more than 25 years ago.  Now she's published her thirteenth book, and her blog, in which she writes prolifically (how does she get anything else done?!), is a celebration of life's little pleasures.  Reading her stories and the quotations she sprinkles liberally through her writing, and seeing her photos and artwork, bring joy to the reader. And the comments from the readers!  One of the things that has delighted her followers on the blog is not only the chance to communicate with Susan, but also to communicate with each other.  The girlfriends love Susan, and they love each other as well.

Susan and Joe, her partner of 26 years, are on a cross country book tour, and this is what they are traveling in:  a van wrapped with Susan's photos and artwork, celebrating the book.

The book signing at my local bookshop was fun, but the tea at a suburban country club two days later was pretty close to perfect. Because we were sitting around linen-covered tables, there was even more conversation and exchanges of information between the girlfriends than there had been at the book shop two days earlier.  At my table were a group who had driven down from Wisconsin, one all the way from Green Bay (4 hours?).  These are devoted fans, people!  It was wonderful to meet them and exchange stories about how we had gotten to know of Susan, favorite books, things that had inspired us.  It was a magical afternoon. 

 The pictures are courtesy of Dawn, a devoted Susan Branch girlfriend, and a new friend of mine.  Isn't that nice?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Susan Branch! In my neighborhood!

Be still my heart!

Tonight I took my parents to our local bookstore for a Susan Branch book signing. Her new book is called A Fine Romance.

My dad offered to take our picture with Susan when we had our turn in the book signing line, but to prepare for that shot, he walked around practicing picture-taking with my point-and-shoot camera.  When I got home, downloaded the pictures, and looked at them on the computer... Well. Maybe I shouldn't have said yes to his offer.

Granted, my camera doesn't take the best outside-in-the-dark pictures, but...

...even the inside pictures were a bit, er, shaky.

On the last shot in the series, though, my dad came through. 

Yea!  Thanks, Dad!

And Tuesday, my cousin Mary is treating my mom and me to tea with Susan Branch. 

Monday, August 12, 2013


A year ago today I lost Gerrit. 

I thank God for his life, 
and I thank God that his suffering is over.

Below is the homily our minister gave at Gerrit's funeral.


The language doesn’t seem to matter.  Whether in Dutch or English, Swahili or Mandarin, just the tenor of the preacher’s voice of Ecclesiastes is able to speak to that part of our soul that is hungry for truth, wisdom and perspective.  For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.  With the wisdom gained from age and experience, the preacher reflects back on life and offers his assessment.   Seven pairings of opposites call to mind the seven days of the week, and the opposites of night and day, and the opposites contained in them as well – the shadows cast by the sun and the stars which punctuate the night sky.  All of life is covered and uncovered.  As we reflect on our own lives, and today on Gerrit’s life, we do so with humility, limited vision, and a sense of awe in the setting of time, from beginning to end, that God has created for us to live in, think, act, play, weep and work.

There is for all of us a time and a place to be born.  For Gerrit, it was August, 1933, Amsterdam.  Netherlands means “low country.”  Over twenty percent of the land area is below sea level.  Generations of extracting peat from an already flat terrain resulted in sunken land levels vulnerable to flooding.  But ingenuity and hard work created a system of drainage and dikes to control the forces of water.  Holland is a land of cities and urban, sophisticated culture; it is the home great masters such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Unlike mostly royals, The Dutch Queen Beatrix rides a bike as do most of her subjects.  Holland is known for its windmills and tulips the world over.  The national color is orange.  Last year, Holland was ranked as the happiest country in the world.  Hoe haat het?  Ja goed.  Gerrit was through and through Dutch – his DNA containing the strong elements of his nation’s character – curiosity, humor, creativity, and regard for welfare of all humankind.

There is a time to grow.  Gerrit was just six years old when Nazi Germany invaded Holland on May 10, 1940.  Young children adapt quickly to their circumstances, however grim and frightening.  For a young boy, there was the excitement of streets with tanks and soldiers with guns.  But then neighbors began to disappear and the strain of occupation to weigh on psyche and soul.  There were food shortages and hunger.  A family connection to a local bakery was a lifeline.  It was Gerrit who risked riding his bike after dark in violation of the curfew laws to retrieve a loaf of bread set aside for his family.  Gerrit was twelve when the war ended.  Hopefully, you will hold in your memory the image of a smiling man, who held within a deep joy for life.  But in that face was also the experience of war, indelibly marked with sadness and loss on a personal and national level.

There is a time to build up and break down.  After the war, Gerrit served in the Dutch navy.  He violated his own rule not to volunteer for anything when his unit was asked if anyone knew some English.  He raised his hand, knowing at least some words in English, which led to training in the United States and an assignment on the other side of the globe in Dutch New Guinea.   During this time, he was married and had two daughters – Karin and Lestari, who now each have three children of their own.  Gerrit’s military background and language skills helped him begin a career at KLM, the Dutch national airline.  As a purser, or head attendant, he worked in what was then the glamorous world of international air travel, with roundtrip flights between Amsterdam and New York and other world capitals.  After seven years of the jet set life, and the toll it was taking on his family, Gerrit left KLM and opened a small restaurant with his wife.  If you want to spend more time with family, this wasn’t the way to do it.  After a year, Gerrit started in industrial sales, which was the path for rest of his career. 

There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.  For many reasons known and unknown, Gerrit’s marriage to his first wife unraveled.  Relationships with his daughters were strained.  There were arguments, distance and separation.  But in time, with Karin and Lestari, there would be reconciliation.  It would be the genuine and heartfelt words, “I’m sorry” coming from the man who once seemed so formidable and so large - words that healed and transformed their relationships.

There is a time to love.  In the late 1980s, the lives of Ginnie and Gerrit would intersect.  Both working at the same global corporation in different countries.  A meeting in England is where their paths would cross.  In a cold meeting room, Gerrit offered his jacket to Ginnie.  Christmas cards were exchanged.  A romance began and led to the altar to my left.  The picture of Ginnie and Gerrit on their wedding day says so much about a time of joy and happiness, two people who found each other and made their vows to hold, to cherish and to love.  So much fell into place that was right – experienced so wonderfully in the times that they would just sit together, tell stories and laugh for hours.  It was also at this altar where Gerrit was baptized and marked as Christ’s own forever.  A time for Gerrit to know God’s love for him – both unconditionally and complete.

There is a time to love even more.  The symptoms began to appear in odd and vexing ways.  Gerrit’s tools in the basement workshop were no longer impeccably sorted.  A household project that normally would have been easily accomplished became difficult and unfinished.  He was more irritable and lost interest in many of the hobbies he enjoyed.  It was several years before the diagnosis was vascular dementia.  A referral to Rush University and involvement with a support group was a godsend for Gerrit and Ginnie.  Breaking the isolation and connecting to others in a similar situation was healing in itself.  The passage from 1st Corinthians that we have heard today was read at Ginnie and Gerrit’s wedding and was lived out so extraordinarily in their marriage.  For the second half of their marriage, the spotlight shifted clearly to Ginnie, who practiced the essence of love, in self-giving, patience, kindness and endurance, in the face of her beloved’s inability to reciprocate as he would have so desperately wanted to.  Ginnie and Gerrit’s family and this church community have witnessed their journey with awe, and as we commend Gerrit to God’s rest, we stand and surround Ginnie with our love, our thanks and profound respect.

The preacher tells us that we have been given minds to have a sense of past and future, but we cannot and never will comprehend the totality of a given life let alone the expanse of time that God has set forth.  But even with limited ability, we see a life before us of all that is under heaven, of birth and death, building up and breaking down, weeping and laughter, of joy and anger, of what is Dutch and what is American, of what is health and what is illness and what is love, and we give thanks to God for Gerrit.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Life gets in your eyes

Many apologies for my long absence in writing and visiting. 

Nothing is wrong - I'm just distracted, in a good way, by life.

 Yellow finch at the feeder that I installed for Gerrit's pleasure last summer.

 Tulips in the Queen's Garden

I've been here:

 New Orleans for the high school graduation of my nephew.

And here:
 Beautiful and beloved Wisconsin...

to attend the high school graduation of my nephew 
(yes, 2 nephews graduating!  
Luckily not the same weekend)...

...and to begin preparation of cakes and marzipan carrots 
for a graduation party 2 weeks hence.

Then I was here:
 in London, for a wonderful short trip with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew.

Then we went here:

 to The Hague, Netherlands (Royal Palace)
where we were met by Gerrit's older daughter Karin & her family

and then I went home with Karin
and did a little weeding in their big garden allotment
and a lot of catching up with the family.

And then back to Wisconsin...

to finish the cakes (carrot and strawberry) and attend the graduation party.

There is more, but right now I need to be on my way to O'Hare to meet Karin, 
who is flying in to spend a week with my family
for our annual family vacation in Wisconsin.

It should be a happy week.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Illinois Environmental Lobby Day

A group of about 75 people of faith, organized by my non-profit employer, met at 6:30 yesterday morning to ride two buses from Chicago to our state capital in Springfield to lobby our senators and representatives on three environmental bills as part of the day organized by the IL Environmental Council.

Most of us were novices at lobbying but got training during the three and a half hour bus ride on what the bills were, where to find our lawmakers, etc.  The biggest issue on the table is to get some regulations in place before companies move in and begin hydraulic fracturing - fracking - in Illinois.  Now there are none - no protections against water contamination, air's a long list of issues.

It was a long day, and we were able to connect with some of our legislators - others remained elusive.

The democratic process is a strange and confusing thing.  I would participate again, but don't feel a calling towards lobbying!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Beautiful weekend

 Terrace Hill
Two weeks ago I drove to Des Moines to spend a long weekend with my sister and brother-in-law.  The last time I had visited was 2003 for the wedding of my niece - which was great, but not like the relaxed weekends that I used to have with them every few years either on my own or with Gerrit.

I told Carlie that even if all we did was sit inside and talk the whole time, I'd still be happy.  But of course we didn't just sit and talk.  We did things and talked.

We took a tour of Terrace Hill, the 1860's mansion that is now the Governor's mansion.  Perched on a hill with a beautiful view of rolling hills and the city of Des Moines, it has been well-cared for over the years.  A visit to Carlie's workplace and gardens followed - because this has been a cold spring, there wasn't much to see garden-wise, but it was great to meet her co-workers.

We had dinner one night at the home of friends, two of whom I've spent many hours on the phone and email with over the years (my broker and his assistant) but never met face to face.  It was such a fun evening.

We drove the 30 miles to Iowa State University, my alma mater; I hadn't been back in more than 25 years and wanted to stand on central campus and look and look and look.  It was fun to see the familiar buildings - and all the new ones. 

 The Campanile - the iconic symbol of Iowa State on Central Campus

We walked into some of the buildings, including Beardshear, the building where all students had to go to pick up their class schedules (who does that anymore?!).  I didn't remember the beautiful skylights - guess in those days I was too focused on getting my class schedule and getting out of there.

We walked to the Horticulture building and greenhouses where I had taken a couple of electives my senior year.  This odd sculpture is by a sculptor my sister says is well-known.  It's set in a bed of tulips.  Is it supposed to be a tulip? A corn plant? Or both, since this is Iowa, home to miles of cornfields as well as Pella, a Dutch community with a major tulip festival every May?

Back home, we walked around Carlie's garden.  She has lots of beautiful plantings, most of which had yet to bloom.  Lenten rose (hellebore) is something I keep meaning to add to my garden but haven't yet.

One of the many things we reminisced about was a cable access television show my brother-in-law did several decades ago about an aging cowboy artist character.  That discussion prompted him to dig through some boxes in the garage and come up with an assortment of artifacts from the show: bolo ties, collar points, belt buckles, all in a Western theme.  As we sorted through the stuff, I pointed out that one of the pins was sterling silver and suggested he polish it and wear it on his lapel - that it was too pretty to be in a box in the garage.  Later that day, he made a gift of it!  Thank you, Gino!

Saturday night, dinner at a neighbor's, who happens to be a "reader," as in Tarot card reader.  Something I've never had done before.  She only tells good news (there's a comfort) and will do a reading on whatever topic or part of life you are interested in hearing about.  It was interesting and encouraging and confirmed one of the things I've been trying to be, which is open-ended about opportunities.

Sunday was church and a trip to an architectural salvage (and other types of salvage) warehouse - really expensive stuff!  None of us were in the market for anything, and it was fun to wander the floors of the building, wondering what some things were, and telling stories about other things we spied that brought back a childhood memory.  Sunday night we co-opted the television from my brother-in-law to watch Call the Midwife - and did you know there are three books by Jennifer Lee Worth?  Carlie had read the first one and recommended it, and I agree - so well-written with keen observations on life in the East End and the culture of the times.  I'm looking forward to reading the two additional volumes, Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End.

Monday morning my nephew was back in town, so we made an early morning visit to his place before I headed back to Illinois to pick up Oscar who had spent a happy weekend with my parents.

It was a wonderful weekend, and even without the arrow pin to remember it by, it will stay in my heart, thanks to my loving sister and brother-in-law.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April Showers

Historic levels of rain in 24 hours

 One block north of my house
the road is a lake.
As are the properties on either side.

 That red car isn't going anywhere

 South a block and around a corner,
the pond in the park has overtaken the roadway.
That white car isn't going anywhere, either.

Sloshy swinging in the park.

Makes me thankful the house I fell in love with 26 years ago happens to be at the top of a hill.  I wish I could say it was strategic planning, but I was not that savvy of a home buyer.

My heart goes out to all who are bailing out basements and dealing with water damage.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter dinner

This year I hosted the family Easter dinner - something I've not done before, because there are always others who are glad to host, and because with my choir schedule during Holy Week (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday night's Easter Vigil, and two services Sunday morning) I have always thought it was more than I wanted to take on.

Plus, my contribution to holiday family parties for most of my married years was our annual Sinterklaas (Dutch St. Nicholas) party in early December.  2009 was the last time I was able to manage that, so I decided this year I wanted to host Easter dinner.

Happily, everyone could come and, as well, everyone offered to bring something.  Which makes it so easy, and so much fun.

Thanks to my Illinois-based family - I loved having you here.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring? Wisconsin-style

What a difference ten-score miles makes!  
We spent last weekend at my parents' cottage in Wisconsin, where the snow (unlike at home, where it has all but disappeared) still covers most of the landscape and the lake has 15 or more inches of ice - enough for ice fishermen to spend the day with ATV or truck to haul a temporary shelter out to a fishing hole. 

See those tiny dots?  Ice fishermen.

Oscar is always ready for a walk, no matter the conditions.
We were lucky to have sun and bright blue skies on Friday - lovely for a walk in the snow.  

Oak leaves still cling to the trees, adding color to a gray landscape.

A robin sings amongst the bare branches.

The old boathouse, its green tile roof still snow-covered.

A more-than-half moon rising through the birch branches.

Love this detail on the boathouse.
Oscar and I ventured out again Saturday morning as the sun was coming up and saw five deer on the frozen lake in front of the old hotel down the shore.  Odd for me to see them in that spot, though they didn't seem to find it strange.
Saturday's dawn over the lake.

Golden-pink beams of sun on snow.

Deer traversing the frozen lake.

Clearing the clouds
Friday night dinner with my sister and her family for a birthday dinner for her youngest (who had just won Player of the Year for his high school basketball conference, as well as being only the third player in the school's history to score more than 1,000 points - talent he did not inherit from his Aunt Ginnie), another visit with my sister over lunch on Saturday, and the day ended with a cozy dinner at home with my parents in front of the fireplace.

Oscar, ever watchful
The cozy fire

My wonderful parents