open house, open hearts

open-house-2016

On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas

 

 

 

I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.

 

Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley

straw bale garden

IMG_4754Last weekend I stumbled on an article in the The Virginia-Pilot, “Greener Living: Norfolk gardener sold on straw bale veggies.” Straw bale — what?  Turns out there’s a whole movement around a form of container gardening that uses pre-conditioned straw bales!

I read just enough on the Straw Bale Garden website to convince me to buy the book. (Of course, it’s even cheaper on Amazon.) The founder, Joel Karsten, tells a compelling story. The science behind it seems sound, the benefits real and significant, and the investment to get started quite low. It does require some advance preparation, a couple of weeks to properly condition the bales. Joel has been working at this for twenty years, so there is a lot of detail packed into the book.

The proclaimed benefits of straw bale gardening seem too good to be true. It works beautifully for most vegetables, including root vegetables — which are hard to grow in our clay-heavy soil. It works great for tomatoes and vine vegetables, herbs, even cut flowers and especially annual bulbs. It works with either seedlings or seeds and provides a boost to the growing season — another No Co benefit. It’s less work and — get this — no weeds! Furthermore, a straw bale garden will grow, quite literally, anywhere. The mere presence of soil is irrelevant. The method has been proven all over the world.

Given the state of our lawn, formerly known as hayfield, and the work ahead of us this spring as we settle into our new digs and begin landscaping, I know that we’re not up for a “real” garden. I think a few straw bales are worth a try! Not convinced? Listen in on the first 12 minutes as Joel does his thing …

Here is another fella’ using straw bales as a container. This is a pretty good example of what not to do — according to the SBG method. He also can’t seem to remember he’s working with a bale of STRAW not hay! But I couldn’t resist sharing “Daddy Pete’s” perspective. ;=) Joel’s SBG book seems essential for getting started on the right foot.

Stay tuned for our No Co straw bale story … assuming the Hubs climbs on the straw bale bandwagon. Are you in? Ready, set, garden!

~ René Morley

this old house


We moved into this house early in 1987 with three small children. A classic American farmhouse, built in the 1800s, it perches on a knoll overlooking the river, presenting some nice views. It certainly offered more space, which we desperately needed. But it was in rough shape.

We were young in parenting and in life. I was quite comfortable in our first home, a tidy little bungalow in the nearby hamlet. I had misgivings about a move further into the country. It wasn’t the condition of the place or the work ahead but that I liked having family so close by. One sister-in-law’s back yard bordered ours. Another lived across the street. I felt connected and protected in between.

Despite my objections, the Hubs insisted on this move to what I disparagingly called the Cordwell Ranch. In retrospect, it was the right move. True to form, he had a longer field of vision. So many times it has happened that way: he has had the courage to take the risk and press forward or encourage me onward.

It truly didn’t matter to us that it was so rough; we hardly noticed. Looking back, however, it is clear why nearly everyone who visited said something like, “Well, it has potential.” It was the kindest thing they could muster.

The kitchen was terribly out of date, with uneven cupboards that wouldn’t close properly (the mice loved — eek!) and an ancient wooden countertop with long grooves that caught everything (mother-in-law hated — a health hazard!). The yellowed linoleum was torn and worn and looked dirty, no matter how much I scrubbed.

The one room that could serve as a family room was more like a man-cave; once an attached woodshed, now complete with bar. Its walls were authentic barn wood, flecked with cow manure. The corner wood stove was absolutely required to compensate for its lack of foundation and the biting wind blowing across the open field through the icy cold north country winter. But we didn’t know that, yet.

The second story was one large open room, roughly finished, the stairway steep and narrow. The main floor was a series of small rooms, some daisy-chained together. The walls were lathe and plaster. All the windows and doors needed replacement, as did the electrical wiring, as we would soon discover. The ceilings sagged, the floors sloped, and the pipes froze in the winter. And that’s only on the inside! Outside was a scraggly yard as rough as a wagon trail abutting a barb-wire fence. The house was covered in deteriorating masonite siding. What’s not to love?

Oh, yes. There was also a grandfather maple tree gracing the back yard — the redeeming feature of an otherwise scrappy place. The grand-maple has been present through the seasons; ablaze in glory every fall and a reminder of God’s good gifts spring, summer and winter. I treasure this tree like no other!

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 6.52.26 AM  Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 6.53.11 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 6.53.03 AM

Our first contractor was a retired farmer who charged us $5 an hour, God rest his soul. His first project was to create three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Al didn’t understand sheetrock and insisted on using a circular saw for every cut. I can still see him, entirely masked in white dust, peering out through safety goggles. His signature was using trim to fill the gaps in his rough finish.  There was a lot of trim!

Another image seared in my memory is of our youngest, aged two, proudly painting molding laid out upon sawhorses. All of our chids learned early how to pitch in and each became a hard worker; life lessons that continue to serve them well. I quickly learned how to mud sheetrock and hang wallpaper, thanks to my mom and mother-in-law. I was never very good at either, unfortunately but we had a lot of help, thankfully. Many nights, long after the Hubs and chids were asleep, I was painting and papering an old house into a home.

Al’s final project involved a new kitchen ceiling. We realized it must be replaced only after ordering the new linoleum, which was to be installed the next day.  At the very least, we had to get the old ceiling out of there. The Hubs took a first pass, knocking down as much lathe and plaster as he could before going back to milk on Sunday afternoon. He left me and the chids knee deep in pile of debris across the kitchen, a portion of the ceiling still intact. But before he left, he called Al.

Good ol’ Al. He arrived within the hour and dove in. He was 70-something, still strong and determined, but he ran up against some difficulties where lathe ran behind the cupboards. Suddenly he ducked out and took off in his truck. He returned with a chainsaw and fired it up in my kitchen without a word. That finished the job. There was a thick haze of blue smoke and chain saw oil splattered everywhere — including across freshly painted cupboards. As I said, that was Al’s final project!

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 6.49.35 AMIn the nearly three decades we’ve lived here, we’ve more than rebuilt the place. Our biggest project was to remove the kitchen entirely and rebuild with full basement and second story in 2000. That was an adventuresome summer of cooking at camp, our living room completely disconnected from sleeping quarters and bathrooms. We’ve added brick patios with potting shed, cozy fireplace and soothing fountain. Last fall, we created a lovely master suite. It’s taken a lot but we’re pleased and proud of the results.

Over the past few years, however, it’s become less and less of a good fit. We don’t use the space fully or well. I began imagining the adventure of building new home, single story please, and dreaming about moving this old house on to the next generation to fill with laughter and love. Last year, the Hubs came on board with letting it go. For once, if only once in 33 years, I had the viewfinder.

This morning as I write, I’m waiting for the moving truck to arrive and our dream to begin to become reality. Grandboy Henry and family will inhabit the upstairs for the next few months as we build a new home on the adjacent lot. I can hardly believe it’s happening — any of it. I am so thankful. I hope they will be as happy here as we have been. I can’t wait to see what they do with the place!

May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace. Numbers 6:24-26

~ René Morley

quebec city

IMG_0467The first and last port of call on the fiftieth birthday sailabration was Quebec City. This was another of my bucket-list destinations. I was pleased when the Hubs suggested we go a day early and spend a night on our own before the cruise.

He made arrangements at Auberge St. Antoine, a richly historic hotel on the outer edge of the old city and very near the pier. Our itinerary allowed for two more nights in Quebec City on the return. What a gift!

It was a pleasant drive up to Quebec City, through woodlands and farmland, skirting Montreal, traveling the Trans-Canada highway until a scenic riverside boulevard led us to our destination. It could hardly have been easier. Staff at the St. Antoine were quick to greet us and park our car. The room was amazing, with an expansive balcony and both St. Lawrence River and Chateau Frontenac views.

IMG_0502 IMG_0500  IMG_0501

The hotel is one of the finest we’ve enjoyed, with every detail attended — right down to the dental floss! The weather was beautiful, brisk and bright, which made for great walking. We were up and down hundreds of stairs — eschewing the funicular — on several trips from the hotel at sea level to the Chateau Frontenac and beyond, following the boardwalk out to the citadel, the Plains of Abraham, and back again. Just perfect.

IMG_0477 IMG_0465 DSC_0491

On one of our trips up to the Chateau, we came upon small park with canons perched along the edge overlooking great views of the river and old city. It was set up for a nighttime production of some sort that looked worth a return visit. As it turned out, the climb back uphill was welcome after dinner. Being part of the local arts scene was, too. Always a turning point in feeling connected, more than just a tourist.

IMG_0487 IMG_0496 IMG_0488

The next day we had plenty of time to explore the old city. It is a fun place for walking, if you don’t mind the up-and-down. It is just lovely, full to the brim with quaint cobbles and cafés, artisan culture and architectural ambiance. I’ve often heard people refer to Quebecers as French elitists and we certainly recognized their pride of heritage in various conversations. However, we felt entirely welcome throughout our visit. (Which is more than I can say for certain European cities!)

DSC_0486  IMG_0481

IMG_0485 DSC_0495

The hotel staff agreed to keep our car at a very good rate and in a much more secure location than pier parking. Then they went the extra mile (or five) and delivered us and our baggage to the pier using our vehicle. As it turned out, our ship was not docked across the street as we’d anticipated. It was definitely not walkable with baggage in tow.

Ten days later, we were back in port. We’d had time enough to explore the old city on our own before the cruise, so I’d booked a tour for our return. It didn’t leave until after lunch. Our driver from the St. Antoine had recommended the large farmer’s market not far from the pier. It is easy to spot by the green roof.

Inside the sprawling building was a bustle of activity. Merchants sold everything you might imagine in a market — from pumpkins to pickles, chocolate to cheese, maple products galore, clothing and kitsch. We loaded up on preserves and condiments for gifts and braced ourselves for a brisk trek back to the ship.

IMG_0533 IMG_0538 IMG_0536
IMG_0539 IMG_0543 IMG_0541

We soon boarded for our one and only bus excursion of the trip. One is usually more than enough but I have to say this one was really nice. Much of that was due to our tour guide who, as it turned out, was a farmer from the region. She and three generations of her family live in the same farmhouse that her family has inhabited for 10 generations. What’s more, her family has been farming in Quebec for 14 generations!

Better yet, she has five brothers, all of whom are actively farming together with her and her family as a cooperative. They are a very diverse operation, with dairy, fruits and vegetables, maple syrup, and also firewood. That’s some teamwork, eh? To top that off (impossible, you say?) the youngest generation — 32 cousins — are mostly farmers! Some are still in school, their career choice perhaps not yet determined, but that is quite an amazing agricultural heritage.

DSC_0825  DSC_0829 DSC_0823

We were worn out from all of the activity of the past ten days and there was a bitter cold wind blowing so it was quite relaxing to sit back and enjoy a cozy ride and our guide’s informative dialogue. We stopped first at Montmorency Falls at sea level on our way to Île d’Orléans. These falls are much taller than Niagara Falls; though not nearly as wide they are impressive. If you look closely in the photo at left, you’ll see two figures walking toward the base of the falls, which looked like a rather adventuresome hike. Our guide noted that the frozen falls form a sugarloaf in the winter and Quebecers come out in droves to play. Apparently this is just what you do for kicks in Quebec City.

I was very much interested in visiting Île d’Orléans, renown as for its agricultural richness. Even though we were well past prime growing season, there was plenty of evidence of the bounty you’d enjoy most of the year. Most of the fields are typical of the region: long and narrow, woodland at the back. Most of the houses face the water, boating being the historical form of transportation. Our guide mentioned that the bridge to the island is closed much of the winter due to blizzard conditions over the St Lawrence River. There is only one gas station and a small grocery store on the island. I guess you’d need to be prepared to hunker down and ride out a storm!

IMG_0551 IMG_0552  
 IMG_0559 IMG_0557

Our tour included a visit to a sugar shanty for maple taffy. There was a long trough filled with crushed ice. Maple syrup, boiled to a soft candy state, was poured out in strips on the ice. We rolled the warm maple sweetness around a flat wooden stick for a yummylicious treat. When we were kids, Mom made a similar confection she called sugar-on-snow. She’d set an aluminum baking pan out when the first snow fell in big flakes. Meanwhile, she’d boil maple syrup on the stove top. Soon enough the pan was overflowing with fresh frosty crystals. She’d trickle hot maple goodness over the snow, where it would harden in golden strands. We’d each grab a fork to pull sweetness into our mouths. It is a favorite childhood memory, one I must remember to make with the grandchids.

We learned how the sugar shanty in Quebec becomes a place of revelry and feasting, especially in the spring during maple syrup season. Quebecers dine out at shanties throughout the region, where they serve traditional dinners of maple ham, pea soup, maple pie, eggs, and other hearty fare. Well, that is quite an idea. Unfortunately, sugar shacks in the North Country do not operate as restaurants. However, I know how much we also welcome spring after the long winter. Quebecers have good form!

IMG_0563When we left the island and crossed back over the bridge to mainland Quebec, I marveled again at how shallow and rocky the water along the shore, how tricky the narrow channel with tides. Our guide noted that the river on the eastern end of the island is freshwater, in the middle it’s brackish and on the western end it is saltwater, as the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Ocean are not far from here. On the ship we’d learned from the naturalist about the beluga whales that live in this river — some near Montreal and others not terribly far from here. Their DNA is distinct from belugas anywhere else in the world. Oh, what I would have given to have seen one!

We continued climbing in altitude until we reached Montmorency Falls Manor at the top of the falls. Here we were served afternoon tea with a lovely maple cake. After a bit of fall-gawking, we traveled on, climbing higher still into the Laurentian foothills and Lac Beauport region. It is beautiful country and quite exclusive, too — home to Patrick Roi and friends.

We were tired, the sun was sinking, and I was glad when we headed back to the pier. We’d covered a lot of ground in Quebec City, making the most of the short time that we had. But it is one of those places I sure do hope to return to one day. The next trip should be in summer, I think!

~ Rene Morley

three months

Three months since I’ve taken time to write? Mercy! What has become of my reflective discipline? (It tanked.) And where has the time gone? (It vaporized.)

I am most pleased to report that shortly after my birthday we were blessed with a new grandgirl. Her name is Rose Elizabeth. She is as sweet as can be. She joins the other three grandbabes, Henry, Oliver, and Sadie, in our personal North Country population explosion! Four grandbabes in less than two years. We are blessed, indeed.

The rest of the summer flew by, between visiting friends, visits from two of my sisters, and hosting a baby shower for my niece — which doubled as a mini-family reunion. It felt great to reconnect with everyone who could join in the fun.

IMG_0331.JPGA huge project at work loomed large into early October, commanding much of my attention and generating no small amount of stress. There were a couple of work trips thrown in for good measure. The bonus was spending a little bit of time with my sister, cousin and aunt in Orlando. (Can anyone say Café TuTu Tango?)
My farmers didn’t even notice, thoroughly caught up in the hustle and bustle of a north country summer. Make hay while the sun shines, eh? Eventually, finally, we all celebrated the new barn rising over the debris of last winter’s ice storm!

Meanwhile, the Hubs and I launched a master bed/bath reno project. It’s been more than a decade since we’ve renovated. I’d conveniently forgotten how much work it is, even if I am not doing any of the real work. Finalizing the floor plan, design, and color scheme; product selection, researching and purchasing both the jazzy (e.g. lights and faucets) and boring but essential (e. g. linens and fans) bits on a budget; securing and coordinating subcontractors for tile, glass and flooring. Oy.

IMG_0480.JPG It has been exhausting. Not to mention all of the disruption in relocating ourselves and the contents of three rooms to another floor for weeks and weeks. It’s no wonder we don’t do this very often!

It’s also no wonder we both felt a bit worn out by mid-October. So I guess our joint fiftieth birthday celebration was pretty good timing, all things considered. We enjoyed a maritime adventure, starting and ending in Quebec City, hopscotching to St. Pierre & Miquelon (France), Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. It was a great trip. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

~ René Morley

perfect fit

20140609-100711.jpgI think this was just about as perfect a weekend as it gets. Beautiful weather, out and about, spending time with family and friends, and especially the grandbabes.

It started Friday night in the village park with opening festivities for the ultimate home town celebration: dairy princess parade weekend. June is dairy month, don’tcha’ know! There were all kinds of fun and games, food and freebies for young and old. Massive blow-up structures were the source of many giggles and squeals. Older folk lined up in lawn chairs to enjoy the show of live music and dancing in the street. Youngsters scrambled over farm tractors on display next to the classic cars.

The ever popular cake walk was situated directly behind our church booth. Excitement ran high among children hoping to score an 8-inch square of sticky sweet confection. Cheap enough for a chance, at twenty-five cents a ticket. Pop music was blaring on a continuous accompaniment loop. Such fervor for sugar!

Our church booth was a beehive of activity, giving away balloons on sticks and chances to win life-size cardboard cut-outs of Olaf, Ana, and Elsa from the Disney movie, Frozen. They were a big hit! We had a ball toss game as well. It was also a great opportunity to distribute information about our summer camp for kids. It was a lot of fun to be present in the community, working alongside friends and sisters in faith.

I was so happy for Ollie join me at the booth for a while. He is becoming so independent; such a little man! He made me laugh because he desperately wanted to play the game like a big boy but did but not want to let go of the ball. So he’d stick his hand through the hole in the plywood and pull it back out, ball intact, with a big smile. Too cute!

The hullabaloo continued through Saturday with parade and fireworks graced by the new dairy princess and her court. But early Saturday morning, I was off for adventures with Henry and his mama. First, to the bakery to order his very special first birthday cake. I can’t believe he will be a year old this month. But yes, he is walking and sporting a first tooth to remind us!

20140609-223021.jpg

Then it was play time in the park, whereby Henry insisted on personally testing and inspecting every piece of equipment. This was followed by a stroll along the river and, finally, breakfast at the local crêperie. Yummy-licious!

Thereafter, we stumbled upon a garage sale with the perfect Henry-sized play kitchen, just like new. His mama insisted we stop and scoop it up, along with a few other toys. Great deals!

20140609-093534.jpg Then we were on to the beach, not yet open for the season. But Henry couldn’t have cared less about the signage; he was determined to get wet. The water was cold but he did not mind: ker-plop! This little guy sure knows what he wants and will figure out how to get it. It’s so much fun watching him develop from baby into little boy.

Throughout the weekend I was knitting, knitting, knitting for our new grandgirl due July 25. This is my third attempt at a sweater to suit the lovely lavender yarn I purchased for Rosie. I’ve moved on to a new pattern, which is proving a challenge. I’m sure I’ve unraveled at least five times what I’ve knit since I started! Still hoping to finish in time for the baby shower next weekend.

On Sunday we had the pleasure of Sadie’s company while her mama took care of some business. (Big brother Ollie was in the tractor with dada, working the fields.) Sadie is the sweetest girl! It is so much joy to spend a few hours with her. She has adorable chubs, the softest skin, perfectly flawless, rosy complexion, and a sunshiny personality to match.

20140608-223238.jpg 20140608-223252.jpg

The a Hubs and I love taking the grandbabes to church; Sadie is especially easy because she sleeps or eats and snuggles. After church, I was determined to get some photos. You know how they say you never take as many of the younger chids as you did of the oldest? Well, grandbabes, too!

First, I snapped a few of her in the sweet gingham dress she wore to church. It was an Easter gift from GiGi and Pops and that is already a bit snug. Then, with a giggle, I slipped her into the onesie from my cousin. “She’s NOT my Grandma, she’s my Glamma!” It cracks me up, given my journey from Glamma-wannabe toapproval as a GiGi. Just like the weekend, it was a perfect fit.

~ René Morley

our rainbow

IMG_7284

June 2017 update: I was chatting with my sister this evening when I saw another perfect rainbow —  reminiscent of the heavenly arc that prompted this post almost five years ago. I recalled that painful day and poignant memory and couldn’t help but smile.  Life is so very different now. So much pain has resolved.  The pathway is bright. Hope has been restored. God has proved faithful, again and again.

~ René Morley

 

This was one of those rare, complete rainbows — end to end, over the river. It appeared just when I needed it, my heart heavy and burdened. It’d been a long day of deep thinking, difficult conversations, but no real solutions. Oh, for just a bit of encouragement, please? And there it was, stretching through my autumn afternoon, piercing the dark, churning clouds before setting down in a bright band of sunlight. Immediately, my spirits lifted.

Do rainbows work that way for you? I suppose it’s all in your belief system. A rainbow reminds me that a loving heavenly Father promises to care for his own. When I see that translucent arc of color crest the horizon, I recall a promise and claim it. There are hundreds* to choose from, woven into scripture as threads in an ancient tapestry. On this day, I claimed hope and healing for someone I love dearly.

Sometimes we’ve traveled far from that time when we basked in the warmth of God’s love, relaxed into the pleasure of his grace. That place of trust, so sure in our faith, may be a distant memory. We wonder, “Did it exist, ever? Can I go back, ever?” We are plodding along an uneven path; our way seems dark, our plight uncertain. We might be hurt and angry, perhaps only a half-step from bitter. Sometimes we are just sad. Or oh, so lonely.

We think no one can truly understand or fully appreciate our anguish or burden. And we are right. Except for One. And He keeps promises in all things.

Look up. Look up! It’s your rainbow, too.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Praise the Lord!
How good to sing praises to our God!
How delightful and how fitting!
He heals the brokenhearted
and bandages their wounds.
How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
His understanding is beyond comprehension!
The Lord’s delight is in those who fear him,
those who put their hope in his unfailing love.
(Psalm 147:1,3,5,11)

May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope… (Romans 15:13) Hope, overflowing. I love that sentiment. It sounds like a rainbow to me!

~René Morley

*Receive an uplifting promise a day or select one that speaks to you now. There are many promise resources to encourage us but we are reminded, “It is helpful to review God’s promises with a heart of trust and gratitude.” So true! If you are not in that space, spend more time with those with who are. Sometimes we have to lean on others — borrow faith, so to speak — until our own increases.

hope dawns

20140420-070510.jpg

A bright band of warm hope
Spreads across my horizon
A reflection of your glory
Shining in dawn of new day

All else seems hard and cold
Winter debris lingering
Fields and forest cloaked
In dark and dingy gray

Then a ruffle of feathers
Bare branches swaying
Birdsong rising
In happy, hopeful chorus

Swooping the fence line
Skimming the cornfield
Winging the hedgerow
Floating the riverbank

In trills and tweets
I hear echoes of the ages
Hope sailing high, yet
Love singing strong

Peace be with you.
Do not be afraid.
He is not here.
He is risen!

Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.

I’ll be with you …
day after day after day,
right up to the end of the age.

Hope dawns.

René Morley

Matthew 28; Luke 24; Mark 16 ; John 20

old mare in spring

20140415-184237.jpgI was caught in a downpour yesterday. It was a hard rain, pinging off me like pellets, stinging my face, drenching my t-shirt. The temperature fell so quickly that I wondered, briefly, if it was hail. But It didn’t matter. I was just so glad to be outside and moving, even in squishy socks.

I haven’t walked the trail in months, to say nothing of routine exercise. My body clearly knows the difference. I feel heavy, discouraged, inept. I’ve been feeling a lot like the old gray mare: she ain’t what she used to be. Winter doggone near got the best of her this year.

Cold and more cold. Ice and more ice. Snow and more snow. All sorts of challenges, across the family, cutting into our core of well-being. Days, weeks, months, with more to worry about than celebrate. So many setbacks; so much drag. I felt my glass-half-full tipping precariously toward empty more than once.

We were ever so thankful for sweet Sadie, shining like a bright light in the dark tunnel of February. In fact, if not for our grandchids, the winter might truly have been unbearable. Grandbabies are the finest therapy, the kind that seeps deep into your soul. My spirit is lifted by mere minutes in their presence.

****

Now we’ve entered mud season. Gray-brown-beige ugliness. The snow is mostly gone but the ground was frozen so deep it cannot absorb the spring melt. Rivers, streams, and fields are full to overflowing. Water has been leaking into our basement for a solid week. The Hubs has been managing the influx with a small pump and great patience. Every time the forecast calls for more rain I wonder if we will lose the battle of the flow.

So, yesterday, feeling just a bit desperate to break out of my sluggish state, I gamed the forecast, hoping the rain wouldn’t push in earlier than predicted. Ignoring heavy clouds suggesting otherwise and warm wind whipping up a frenzy, I fled to the walking trail before dinner. It felt so good to move, even tenuously, on bum knee. The rain, when it hit, didn’t begin to dampen my spirits. Every ping against my skin reminded me that I was alive. I felt hopefulness being restored with each step. I may have a hitch in my git-along but I’m not done, yet.

****

Today, more rain; then snow. The county declared a state of emergency from flooding. Temps are dropping steadily to well below freezing tonight. Robins huddle high in the cherry tree, feathers fluffed as a barrier to the cold. But I tasted spring yesterday on the raindrops. I smelled her in the wind. Hope lives on in this old mare.

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! Romans 15:13

~ René Morley

saint nick time

20131222-191201.jpg 20131222-192032.jpg 20131223-193429.jpg

As usual, I don’t know where the month of December has gone. This time, it’s not because I’ve been caught up in a mad holiday frenzy. This December was entirely sane.

I shopped almost entirely online. We decorated minimally. We haven’t been out and about socializing. One bitter cold tromp through historic Upper Canada Village, alight for the night, was the memorable exception.

Quiet dinners. Snugly grandboys. Café conversations. Lots of small but solid connections. Some writing. Lots of reading. Not much to prattle on about, perhaps, yet totally satisfying.

I did, however, venture forth in knitting. I wanted something new for the grandboys; enough of the hooded sweaters! I scoured patterns at Free Vintage Knitting, Knitting on the Net and Knitting Pattern Central until I hit upon a Santa hat that seemed just right … with a few modifications. It seems I can’t help but adjust a pattern, as if a recipe. Hmmm.Turns out that cooking is more forgiving of my tweaking than knitting.

My first hat worked up as a tiny elfish touque that shot off Ollie’s head like a rocket launching into space. I hoped against hope that it might fit Henry, five months younger. Nothing doing; it was quite a comical sight. Oh, GiGi! The wide white brim fell well above his ears, pom-pom bouncing jauntily from the stiff peak, as if his head came to a sharp point underneath. It’d be the perfect fit if he was off for the Island of Misfit Toys.

Several modifications later, I managed something almost useful, a bit too large. Finally, I found ear flaps and chin strap on yet another hat pattern and adapted to help snug it up. It’ll do. Now I better get knitting for a grandgirl! (Did you read Ollie’s tee-shirt?)

20131222-190247.jpg 20131222-190520.jpg 20131223-193305.jpg

Meanwhile, I’d taken up with burlap, thanks to my friend, V. For weeks I was scouting instructions and collecting supplies around the North Country, inspired by Top This, Top That designs. Six weeks, six rolls of wire-rimmed burlap, and six attempts later … Voilà! Three wreaths to enhance our home. Yes, I know the math doesn’t quite work out. Burlap works well if you’re a mussy sort. It took some doing (and undoing) to get comfortable with that.

20131222-190827.jpg Which brings me to the penultimate project: two newly repurposed ornaments, safely nestled on our tree. They are vintage Christmas bulbs that once lit my own family’s holiday. They came in lovely shades back then — sea green, regal blue, gentle gold. There is Christmas red, of course, and an orange unlike any other. I love these light bulbs! I have only a few left.

I salvaged them years ago to create ornaments inscribed with the scriptural names of Jesus. This year I used my gold pen to record grandbabe’s name, birth information and “First Christmas 2013.” Tied off with a gold ribbon, it’s a simple reminder of an important first in a long string of firsts this first year. Oh, how much fun with wee ones!

I have one more small project before yuletide preparations are complete: photo ornaments of the grandboys. It’s a tradition. Every year since our youngest was born I hung a small group photo of our chids on the tree. I also made or purchased four matching ornaments — one for each chid and ourselves — and dated these as well. When each chid left home, it was with aChristmas starter set of ornaments under one arm.

I kept the group photo ornaments chronicling the growth of our family. I kept a matcher to most of those the chids carted off. As a result, putting up our tree is a sweet stroll down memory lane. Nearly every ornament has a story. The Hubs teases me to remind him, ornament by ornament, until the box is empty and the tree is full.

The photo ornaments are a priceless addition to our collection.There is an eclectic assortment of angels, another of birds, from all over the world. There are fragile painted eggs and exquisite blown glass. There are figures of humble felt, plush velvet, and cross-stitched fabrics; of wood, glass, ceramic, paper and plastic.

Some were collected in our travels. Others were gifts from family, friends, even acquaintances. Many are clearly homemade. Few match but, nonetheless, the effect is truly lovely. Most importantly, we can’t help but be thankful, remembering those who matter most through ornament story time.

So. I never did get our Christmas letters ready this year. Or make a photo memory book of Alaska for the Hubs. I’ve not done any wrapping! Or … sigh. But I have no real remorse. What is done is what I needed to do, apparently. The few finishing touches remaining will be done in the nick of time: Saint Nick time!

Merry merry, to you and yours.

~ René Morley

thanksgivingness

It’s dark yet, the house quiet, fireplace roaring against the chill. The Hubs left hours ago. I procrastinated a bit before stumbling to the kitchen to set the rolls to rise. Those frozen rolls take forever to rise! There’s no point trying to rush them in a warm oven; inevitably, it backfires. They turn out flat and ugly.

Next up, World’s Best Stuffin’, if I do say so myself (and I do). Then maple roasted butternut squash using a new recipe this year (whereby I also learned a handy trick for peeling the stubborn outer layer). That should keep me busy ’til almost noon.

I’m getting off easy again this holiday. Last year we began the hopeful practice of rotating Thanksgiving dinner locations when my daughter took it on. This year, our younger son’s in-laws are hosting. I’m happy to take my turn again, someday. But I am really delighted for a break, two years running.

Thanksgiving is a lot of work. Even if you like to cook; even when everyone brings something; even if they bring wonderful food and generous quantities, it is still a lot of work! I am thankful for the abundance of food we will share and those who prepare this feast today. I know not everyone can say the same.

There are lots of things to be thankful for, certainly. Beyond the essentials, a warm and safe habitat, clean water, nutritious food, and stable employment (which truly is, sadly, saying a lot), “real” people with whom I enjoy “real” relationships always top my list. I hope you know who you are and that I am thankful for you.

I am thankful for those family and friends who have consistently shown up in our lives. I’m thankful that neither time nor distance is a barrier to maintaining relationships that truly matter. There are no words to adequately express the richness of a journey so graciously blessed.

For the first time this Thanksgiving, I can also say that I’m thankful for two grandboys and another grandbabe on the way. Who knew grandchids would be such a blessing? They fill my heart with such joy. Rumor has it that today we learn if a grandgirl or grandboy! We welcome this wee one with hearts full to the brim of thanksgivingness.

Warmest thanks-giving blessings to you!

Psalm 100

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation

~ René Morley

sugar on snow

20131127-102506.jpg 20131127-101324.jpg

It snowed last night
That sneaky Nor’easterner
Snuck in while we slept
She left behind a blanket of white
Tree limbs hanging heavy
Boughs bent low under first snow

Beautiful at first light
Though more gray than white
The skies are dark and burdened, too
Surely she has more storming to do

Giant flakes fall steadily, piling inch by inch
This would have been cause for celebration
In the good ol’ days, when I was a chid …

Mom would set a small pan outside
Aluminum, dented and dinged by years of use
She’d boil maple syrup to the hard candy state
And drizzle over first snow, like icing on a cake

We took turns choosing slivers of maple
Quick frozen and sticky sweet
It didn’t last long (nor the snow, once inside)
Sugar on snow was a favorite treat

The grandboys may still be too young
For such a North Country delicacy
But it won’t be long, for certain, for sure
Before this GiGi does a repeat

~ René Morley

ground level

20131023-083406.jpg

It’d rained in the night; hard, for awhile. The next morning the earth was saturated. Hyper-green grass felt springy-soft beneath my feet. I might deny the reality of the season if not for bare limbs of brown and gray dominating the horizon. It is not spring. It is autumn. And we are well on our way to winter.

Autumn is not for the fainthearted. While I was away last week, our beloved grandmaple gave up his glory. I returned to mountains of orange-gold leaves littering the patio, filling the rain gutters. Gazillions of whirly-gig seeds for next year had spun out over the premises. The flower beds were unruly with dried out debris. Raking and sweeping, cutting and digging, hauling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow consumed a full day. If only I’d finished the work!

Autumn is a season of preparation. Our furry friends are scurrying to find a safe winter haven, scrounging and storing food for the long layover. Chipmunks skitter madly back and forth across my walking trail. I can almost hear their thoughts. “So many berries and seeds; so little time!”

The fuzzy-wuzzies move much more slowly in search of hide-aways. I found one tightly curled and covered with ice crystals, openly exposed in deep shade on the patio. Black, brown, black bands of prickly-soft in my hand, I set her on soft moss in the sunshine to thaw out and try again. Surely she can find better shelter?

Our dwarf Granny Smith is all but bare, a few brown fruits clinging tenaciously, dry and wizened by the elements. The ground beneath has long since been picked clean by the whitetail deer. Older varieties growing wild along the roadside are late-bloomers, still bright with yellow-green and red-green orbs, ornamented as if for Christmas. They will drop like gifts later, perhaps after first snowfall. The deer will find them, for sure before spring.

Canadian geese gather noisily in the hayfield and on the river, just across the road. I enjoy their friendly honks echoing day and night, night and day; the aural essence of autumn. A sentinel or two stands watch as the flock feeds, slender long black necks poking up like periscopes above the field grasses. When I wander innocently across the line of engagement, they are suddenly airborne in a great clamorous swoo-oosh, circling northeast on the updraft.

20131021-211007.jpgLadybugs abound in autumn. Polka-dotted heaps accumulate in out of the way crevices. Safety in numbers? They are so perky that I cannot easily begrudge them my windowsill. The burning bush forms a brilliant backdrop for the beetle. Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…

Autumn is a season of abundance. Unfortunately, rushing pell-mell from one thing to the next, wearied and bleary-eyed, none of this is obvious. Caught up in the craziness, we tend to try to look too far ahead — though there is very little to see. We frustrate, sometimes frighten, ourselves with the unknowns.

This lesson hit home last week, flying to and from Anaheim. The pilot announced the Grand Canyon in clear view off to our left. I could hardly appreciate its beauty. From thirty thousand feet, I could not grasp the depth, the heights, the variations in color or climate. On the ground, I know that it is awe-inspiring. On the ground, I can appreciate its grandeur and my place within it. There, also, I will find a pathway through.

Back home and on the ground, I am inspired by how God provides in autumn. Nearly every tree, shrub or flower stem bears an offering of seeds or berries, a source of sustenance in this season. Whether passing through, en route to warmer climes, or settling in for the long North Country winter, our feathered and furry friends are careless in the care of God.They do what they must do today. Only that. It is enough. I find this immensely comforting.

Our resources may seem to be running thin — perhaps it’s a growing family or growing older, maybe illness, or a series of transitions that have rattled our sense of security and stressed us out. (“Yikes,” she said, “All of the above.”) If so, we need to get down to ground level with God. Take a stroll in the countryside, turn over an autumn leaf or two.

Take courage! If God so faithfully provides for the least of creation, will he do any less for you and me? I want to be careless in God’s care, too.

~ René Morley

i really knit!

20130817-023555.jpgRemember that knitting project I started last September? Well, I finally finished the sweater in July. It was knit by a village, for sure.

I called often on my friend, D, and organized Girl’s Night Out for Knitting with her and C. Whenever I forgot what D taught me, I looped YouTube video instruction until I caught it again. I joined an online knitting network for moral support. Finally, I ventured out alone for a knitting class at the yarn shop, which says a lot about my level of desperation. Eventually, a baby sweater began to take shape.

But I stalled out repeatedly. I’d get only so far with a guide at my side; on my own, I’d get stuck. For every row I knit, there were at least six unraveled. Probably ten. I dropped stitches. I twisted stitches. I split stitches. I knit when I should purl and purled when I should knit. It seemed I would never reach my goal. I should have knit that sweater many times over in the time it took to complete.

Then, in late July, I captured and held an expert knitter at my house for the weekend. Aunt Bea couldn’t escape my knitting neediness. I trailed along behind her, knitting bag in hand, thrusting my wrinkled and worn pattern in her face. She patiently taught me to decrease and bind off, encouraged my wild desire for a signature statement in stripes. I broke free of that doggone pattern like a horse let out of the barn!

I resisted the urge to unravel, determined to finish, conceding perfection. And do you know, just moments before Aunt Bea sprung loose for the airport, I sewed up two tiny sleeve seams. Sweater complete. What a relief!

20130817-023603.jpg A few days later, I tried my work of sweater art on wee Ollie. Oh, my. Have you ever seen a sage green sausage? This was not the intended effect. My D-i-L looked on as I tried to stuff him in it. Ten months in the knitting, it was, I fear, as expected: too little, too late. Classic, eh? What was there to do but start another?

So it was back to the yarn store, with fear and trepidation. I couldn’t afford another ten month knit-a-ganza. I cast on for the largest size this time. It had to fit!

A mere five days later, I had knit another. I know. I can hardly believe it, either! But it’s true. In all of the fits and starts and frustrations of the first project, I learned something. I learned a lot, actually.

My mom was right that it was a great pattern to learn on. But she was mistaken to suggest that it was an easy pattern to start with! Still, I was ecstatic to realize it did the trick. The challenge kept my interest; I learned to knit. I really knit! And what a relief to discover that Ollie’s second sweater fit. He will wear it through the fall, no problem at all.

I’ve already started on Henry’s sweater, blue with green stripes. I may be a one trick pony, this being the only pattern I know, but I am going to ride it as far as I can.

~ René Morley

butternut for baby

Many moons have come and gone since I last put up produce. Once upon a time, I was all about it. I pickled, canned and froze ’til pantry shelves and freezer bins were full to overflowing. But that was way back in the day of blessed mommyhood and all too tight budgets.

Now, I seldom take the time. And until now, I had truly lost interest. Until a wee lad named Ollie reached the age of early solid foods. Suddenly, GiGi was launched on a mission!

What can he eat? When? I queried his parents and other new parents and searched the Internet to bring myself back up to speed. A lot has changed in the nearly three decades since our chids were infants. Just like my foray in car seats and port-a-crib product research, it became overwhelming.

Now there is a healthy suspicion of over processed foods and the early introduction of glucose. Now there are a wide array of organic and natural options on the shelves, many more enticing than Gerber of days gone by. Most importantly, now there is a massive make-at-home movement, complete with all manner of gear — and upsell.

You can steam and purée in one swoop: plug in and presto! But wait, there’s more! You’ll need this special spatula, this handy-dandy cutting board, these itty bitty containers! Just beware the items manufactured overseas or you may have silicone mixed with sweet potatoes. Oy vey. My head hurt from all the hype and information. (Momtastic was a great help in sorting it out.)

So one day on my lunch break I did what any sensible GiGi would do. I sliced three butternut squash, scooped out the seeds, and set in the oven to bake. In the hollow of one squash, I placed some peeled and sliced Granny Smith apples. Soon my house was filled with the delicious smells of — I have to admit — fall.

Ninety minutes later I turned the oven off. (Working from home has its perks.) By the time I finished work, the squash were cool and ready to process. I scooped out the soft flesh of the squash with apples first. This puréed easily with just a dab of water. The remaining two squash I mixed with two bananas and a bit of water. I pushed each batch through a finely meshed sieve, just to be sure my ancient food processor did the trick.

20130816-203652.jpgYummylicious. I could eat this stuff! Each batch was plopped by the spoonful into small containers. I retained one of each, ready to eat, and set the rest to freeze. My kitchen was a total wreck by the time I finished but I was a happy GiGi.

All for a great cause! Not only will my grand-boy have a nutritious, homemade-with-GiGi’s-love dinner, but his mommy and daddy get a small break on the baby food budget. Win, win, win! Now for the ultimate taste test.

Oh, Sweetums … where are you? Peek-a-boo!

~ René Morley