This Country Gal in the Big City

Jan’s cell phone went a little wonky recently which necessitated a trip to the Apple Store in the mall.

He asked me along for company on the two hour ride to the big city, making it kind of a “date” since we had no children with us.

One look at the Apple Store though – and I started hyperventilating. What a geeky technological nightmare! I told Jan I would just wander around the mall while I waited for him.

And that’s when things got interesting. There I was. A country gal who hasn’t been in a mall since – hmm…let me think….umm…..still thinking….. okay…. I don’t remember the last time I was at a mall.

And I was alone.

As I stood outside the Apple Store deciding on which direction to head first, a charming Middle Eastern man at a nearby kiosk  offered me a free sample. I smiled, said thank you and took it. Then he asked to see my fingernails.

I almost laughed. My nails are broken, stubby and stained from weeks of gardening and canning. Ahh, but he was charming and quick! Before I could escape he started in on a lengthy sales pitch on this wonder buffer for my nails in his thick exotic foreign accent.

“And today – for you only – it is just $80!”

Seriously dude. Look at those nails? Do they look like the nails of someone who would spend $80 on them? Do they look like I ever spend any time or money on them?

I exited as politely and quickly as I could and headed back in the Apple Store to see how Jan was fairing. Not well – he had already seen 3 techs and was still waiting for someone to fix it.

So I left again, sneaking out when Creepy Nail Dude  wasn’t looking and headed in the opposite direction.

I browsed through William and Sonoma, trying out all the lotion samples. Then on to the Pottery Barn.  When salespeople asked if I needed help – I just told them my husband was in the Apple Store and they smiled knowingly.

I passed by several clothing stores – sorry folks – but even 50% off is more than I pay for clothes at Goodwill – a shoe store, a purse store, and was heading for the escalator when I saw it.

Free Tea Samples.

It was a siren call. I pushed past people in my effort to cross the mall and then stood in the doorway of Teavana, breathing deeply. Now here was a store.

I tried every sample they had brewed, learned the art and secrets of properly brewing tea from the “teaologist” and was just about to ask if I could smell every one of the 50 canisters of tea blends behind the counter when I remembered my poor husband, who had no idea where I was in the mall.

I regrettably left my little tea haven and sent a text to Jan telling him I would be upstairs at Barnes and Noble Books.

Now, while I prefer used bookstores with piles of books laying around and rough wooden shelves with cool ladders, in a pinch I can keep myself quite entertained in a big box book store where everything is new.

And I did. I was just perusing the cookbook section when Jan found me. Good news – they replaced his phone. Bad news – he needed to head to the Verizon store to get it reactivated. But there was one in the mall – was I done? Or did I want to stay awhile?

Done? In a book store? Even a big box one? Never. I stayed while he went to battle even more cell phone red tape.

I leisurely walked through history, biography, travel, gardening -picking up books of interest and reading snippets here and there. I lost all track of time and space.

Jan found me in the Christian life section reading a random biography. Poor guy looked frazzled. The folks at Verizon got him set up – but noticed his new phone didn’t sound right and sent him back to Apple to replace it. He spent an hour and half dealing with sales people before he finally got a working phone.

And there I was – in a very happy place – mellowed by the tea samples and time with books.

He was quite ready to leave the mall. The city. The traffic.

And I thought to myself – now here’s a guy who needs some tea samples. Maybe the Blueberry Bliss Rooibos or the Spiced Mandarin Oolong with the hint of citrus or even the Peach Tranquility with the soft peach and the sweet pineapple gently falling cross his palate while Roman chamomile and lemon myrtle shower over him creating a truly tranquil treat…

Oh yes. Definitely the Peach Tranquility.

Saturday Date Night

It was a Facebook post Saturday morning that started the adventure.

Some friends are building a home in northern Missouri and had discovered a little country church nearby. They were having a Sweetheart Dinner that night – would we like to come?

Lured by the thoughts of prime rib with all the fixings, followed by an evening of gospel music – it was an easy sell.

Jan and I drove the winding country roads of southern Iowa into the alphabetical maze of back roads the makes up northern Missouri as the sun was setting over beautiful snow covered fields.

It was so peaceful.

We found the church nestled in the hills surrounded by rolling pastures, just as it had been for the last 150 years.

This faithful congregation had been serving up a free prime rib meal and gospel music to the community every February for more than a decade.

They greeted us warmly – wayfaring strangers that we were. The conversation was lively. The company fun.

And the food! Oh my! The food was abundant, delicious, and homemade – a hunk of prime rib that covered half my plate, potatoes, salad, crescent rolls, green beans and bacon, and a table full of desserts.

Then the music began.

It was nothing professional – just some friends who played really well. A man on the banjo with his eighty something year old momma on the bass and his buddy on the guitar.

Joking. Laughing. Strumming. Singing.

It was comfortable – like being invited into someone’s living room for some music.

Gospel songs. Mountain melodies. Old Hymns.

The melodies rang out of the old church on the frosty February night.

And we were a part of it.

When the music ended – we reluctantly said our good-byes and started the 45 minute drive home, navigating those same winding roads under the light of  full moon.

The snow sparkled as we held hands, the music still ringing in our ears.

And my heart smiled.

Flea Market Fun

Jan and I had our 22nd wedding anniversary in August – but we really didn’t have a chance to celebrate.

It fell on a very busy weekend – after the very busy and emotional week that included  grandma’s funeral.

Since we spent out actual anniversary driving 8 hours in a car with Buddy to pickup Pedro and Angel Girl from their Teen Pact Adventure- we felt it only fitting that we should have an adventure of our own.

So went to the Rutledge Flea Market.

Yes – a flea market! Jan and I are both treasure hunters at heart and we love Flea Markets! One of our very first dates was a flea market. 🙂

You can find anything and everything there – from homemade Amish noodles to a new hunting dog. From a vintage gun to Avon products. From garage sale cast-offs to a priceless antique.

You just have to be willing to look!

And we were! The weather was perfect and we had an absolute blast – going from booth to booth holding hands and looking for treasures.

And yes! We found some!

FindingsA beautiful double wedding ring quilt for our bed – in my favorite colors! Someday I’d love to make a quilt like this – but this was such a good deal – I couldn’t buy the material for what I paid for it.

A heavy 10 inch Wagner cast iron skillet. We had been looking for these all day and saw some really nice ones in the $50-60 range.  Then in a little corner booth we found this gem for only $15! We snatched it up so fast! I love cooking with cast iron and have needed a bigger size skillet and this is a really nice one.

But my favorite purchase of the day was a vintage carpenter’s tool chest. It was in excellent condition and had been crackle painted on the outside.  It now sits on my porch and holds many, many shoes! No more ugly banana box with piles of flip flops and sneakers!

We also found a 5 gallon Igloo thermos – new – with a cup attachment, some cups to go with it, 2 chicken waters,  2 bundles of leather scraps for Angel Girl to get creative with, and several tools that made my husband very, very happy!

But most of all – we re-discovered the treasure we have in each other. We shared a bag of kettle corn, another of fresh cheese curds, ate fresh honey roasted peanut butter by the spoonful, laughed, talked, held hands, and enjoyed just being together.

And that was exactly the treasure we were looking for.

I told you you can find anything and everything at a Flea Market!

Home School Conference Time

By the time you are reading this – I will be  immersed in the unique world of the the yearly NICHE home school conference.

And I’m so excited!

Jan and I look forward to this weekend all year! Two wonderful days together!

We’ll walk hand in hand through the curriculum hall – drooling over books and resources. Debating over purchases. Adding to our extensive library.

Running into friends and family in the hallways between sessions, laughing and catching up with life.

Sitting side by side during keynotes – gleaning wisdom and encouragement from the speakers.

Having deep conversations over our picnic lunches.

Honing, refining our vision for our family.

Sharing our thoughts, our convictions, our dreams, our realities.

Making life-changing decisions. (Was it just a year ago that we heard John Stonestreet speak and sent Matt to Summit, which lead to his semester in Colorado, which lead to Oxford?)

Alone, together, surrounded by thousands of people, but belonging to each other.

A team.

On the same page.


I can’t wait!

Love is a Verb

Here’s the third installment of our blog series called “Taking Your Marriage from Good to Great. We’ve already talked about Date Nights and how to use the little things in a marriage to bind your hearts together. Today’s post is a reality check!

Love is a verbIf you’ve read the last two posts in this series, you may have gotten the impression that things are a bit perfect around here. That everything is smiles and hugs and kisses and mutually edifying.

I am about to burst your bubble.

The truth is – sometimes Jan makes me so mad I could spit nails!

Are you shocked? Wait – there’s more!

Sometimes my actions really exasperate him!

Now I know your shocked! 🙂

In all seriousness – there is no perfect here.  But there is sickness, tight budgets, cars that break down, long work hours, slow internet, broken appliances, (all of which happened last week!)  and of course teenagers.

Any or all of those things can cause misunderstandings, unrealistic expectations, and hurt feelings.

Notice I said can cause. But they don’t have to. We have a choice.

It’s easy to love each other when everything is good and you feel like it – when your spouse is spending time with you, the fridge is full, the kids are obedient, and the stove works.

But love isn’t a feeling – it’s a verb. It’s an action that must be taken, even when misunderstandings happen and feelings are hurt.

Years ago as a young wife with little ones at home, my world would stop for 15 minutes every morning at 9 AM when the program “Gateway to Joy” came on the local Christian radio station. It was hosted by Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of slain missionary Jim Elliot, and served up truth in a way that shaped my life.

I can still hear her say, ” You are loved with an everlasting love, that’s what the Bible says, and underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend Elizabeth Elliot…”

Which would be followed by 15 minutes of incredible wisdom that can only come after one has been through the fire and spent years in the Word seeking God’s face.

One particular program changed my marriage.

She gave two bits of advise for married couple.

1. Aim for unity in all conversations.

2. Aim for the good of the other.

Think about it.

So simple, yet so profound. And so very true.

Notice the theme that ties them together? They are both actions that you must take. “Aim for unity” and “aim for the good”.

You can’t rely on your feelings – you choose an action to take. You choose to love. You choose to stop thinking about your self and what you need or want, and you choose to think about your spouse’s needs and wants.

I copied those two bits of advise on a 3 x 5 card and taped it to my refrigerator – where it stayed for many many years. That card is now stained and yellowed – the writing so faded it is barely readable. But the words are etched in my heart.

Aim for“.

Make the choice.

Choose to love.

The Little Things

Part Two in the blog series on “Taking Your Marriage From Fine to Fabulous”. Last week we looked at Date Nights. Today’s topic is those “little things” in a marriage.

QuiltI’ve always loved quilts. I’m amazed at how a quilter can take separate pieces of material and turn them into one beautiful creation.

The definition of a quilt is simple – a bed coverlet of two layers of cloth filled with padding held in place by ties or stitched designs.

I’ve found from experience that the more stitches or ties that are binding the pieces together – the longer the quilt lasts.

Several years ago I sewed a quilt for Matt’s bed. It looked nice at first – but since I made it very quickly, the few ties that I put in to hold it together soon broke in the strain of use.

I have another quilt that my Grandma made for me during my college years. She carefully tied it every few inches making a tight and warm covering that has stood the test of time and is still being used today.

One quilt lasted and one didn’t.

Marriage is like a quilt.

It begins as two separate lives that are bound together by a vow.

Then the process of “quilting” begins.

A good quilter knows that many small stitches hold better than a few big ones. The same is true of marriage. It’s the little things in daily life that will make a marriage strong.

Little things that say “I love you and you are important to me.”

Things like – getting up early to make your husband breakfast and packing his lunch before he leaves for work.

And getting the special “thank you – I appreciate this” look while he holds your hand and blesses  that breakfast.

It’s when your husband puts a CD in and immediately goes to your favorite song, or when he gives you all the M & M’s from his trail mix, or takes the dish towel from you and sends you to the couch to rest.

It’s letting your husband eat the last piece of apple pie, or choose what to watch on TV, or sleep undisturbed in the recliner on a Sunday afternoon.

It’s a kiss when they leave and a kiss when they return.

It’s a phone call at lunch break, a back rub, a shared joke.

It’s taking time to really listen.

It’s putting their needs ahead of your own.

It’s those little things.

Stitch by stitch. Everyday. Binding your hearts together.

“Little Things Mean A Lot”
Kitty Kallen

Blow me a kiss from across the room
Say I look nice when I’m not
Touch my hair as you pass my chair
Little things mean a lot

Give me your arm as we cross the street
Call me at six on the dot
A line a day when you’re far away
Little things mean a lot

Don’t have to buy me diamonds and pearls
Champagne, sables or such
I never cared much for diamonds and pearls
’cause honestly, honey, they just cost money

Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way
Give me a shoulder to cry on
Whether the day is bright or gray
Give me your heart to rely on

Send me the warmth of a secret smile
To show me you haven’t forgot
For always and ever, now and forever
Little things mean a lot

Making Time for Date Night

As Valentine’s Day approaches, my friend Jessie Leigh asked me to join her and a few blogging friends in writing a series of blog posts about marriage.  I was honored, but humbled since I’m certainly not an expert! But since it is one of my favorite subjects – I agreed to give it a try. So for the next three weeks I will try to share some practical ideas on “Taking Your Marriage from Fine to Fabulous”. This week’s subject – Date Night.

Date NightsI came downstairs the other morning and heard one of my children exclaim, “Wow! Mom curled her hair!”

Okay – I wonder how bad I normally look that simply curling my hair would create such a sensation?

All eyes turned to me as they tried frantically to remember what big event was upcoming that would cause mom to actually curl her hair on a weekday?!

Then someone remembered that they would all be at a Youth Group activity that night – and Jan and I would be alone.

“Oh yeah! It’s for her big date with dad tonight!”

I’ve trained them well.

They know that we consider it a “date” anytime we are alone without children. We didn’t even have big plans. Actually – we didn’t even leave the house! We shared a frozen pizza and cuddled on the couch watching TV together.

But it wasn’t always that way.  My definition of a date has changed throughout the years. When we were first married it was easy and fun to plan special evenings out. Once the kids started coming things got harder. Our budget never allowed for babysitters and rarely for eating out, so we had to get creative.

When the kids were really little I’d put them to bed early and we’d enjoy a candlelight dinner at home. (This works best when you skip nap time!)

Or sometimes on Sunday afternoons we would take the kids to a state park and hike. Then we’d buckle them in their car seats and take the long way home. They would fall asleep exhausted and we’d have uninterrupted time to reconnect.  (To this day – car rides and long walks are my favorite times with Jan!)

In time I came to realize that the goal of a date was to be together. Period. The details really didn’t matter.  It didn’t have to be expensive – it didn’t even have to be planned.  I lowered my expectations to just one – we needed to be alone.

Then we learned to seize the moments whenever possible.

Watching a movie on the couch when the kids were in bed.

Sitting in the porch swing holding hands and watching the sunset.

Sharing a root beer float on the picnic table during nap time on a Saturday afternoon.

Occasionally Poppa and Nana would bless us by taking the kids for an evening allowing us some wonderful uninterrupted time together. Sometimes we would drive to the nearest large town and eat out before getting groceries and stopping at Wal-Mart. Other nights, we’d stay home and enjoy a frozen pizza and take a long walk.

Nothing fancy. Nothing expensive.  We were alone. We were together.

Now that the kids are older,  it’s easier to get away for the evening – even for an overnight every once in awhile. 🙂

But I still love the simple dates – sitting by the bonfire talking, holding hands as we walk out to check the cows, or a Saturday morning at garage sales.

It’s choosing to be together. Taking time to reconnect.  Showing my husband that spending time with him is still my favorite thing to do.

Which is why – even after 21 years – my heart sings when he says, “I’m running some errands in town – want to ride along?”

Yes! He still wants to be with me!

Eating Out

bonfireWe ate out last night.

I mean really out.

Like – outside out.

Like – out in the pasture out.

Yes, I know it’s January.  Yes, I live in Iowa.

But it was a balmy 60 degrees yesterday and the kids had spent all afternoon cleaning out some fence lines. When Jan came home they hauled the wood and started a fire – a big fire.

Since they were already out there – and they already had a fire – we decided to pack up some  hot dogs and make it an adventure!

So – by the light of an almost full moon – we pulled up some stumps, roasted our hotdogs and made a memory.

After eating way more s’mores than we should have, the kids packed things up and went home.

But Jan and I sat on our stumps holding hands while we watched the fire turn to embers.

It was so peaceful sitting there in the light of the flames,  talking and listening to the coyotes howl – a real “country-style” date.

It was one of those sweet moments that can’t be planned, they must just be enjoyed!

The Great Western Adventure: Winter Edition Part 2

After a very discouraging day in airports with canceled flights, driving on icy packed snow and a night in the “Hovel Hotel”, we are ready to cross the mountains to visit our first born son.

If you study a map of Colorado you will soon realize that Pagosa Springs is on the other side of the Rocky Mountains from Denver.

If you look carefully at that same map you would see that there are two mountain passes that we must cross before we find our son.

Two. In the winter. Remember me? I’m the one who freaked out on Teton Pass on a sunny day in September!

We started west out of Walsenburg and began the climb toward La Veta pass. The roads got slicker and the snow started to fly as we reached the summit and started down, very thankful that although the elevation was over 9000 feet, the grades were not steep.

We made it! Piece of cake! One pass conquered – one to go.

The roads cleared and the snow ended as we headed down. We had dry roads, clear skies, and sunshine as we drove across the high plains of Colorado.

Our spirits lifted as we settled in and enjoyed the adventure!

But we soon discovered that Colorado wasn’t done with us yet. We started the climb toward the next pass – the granddaddy of mountain passes – the infamous – the dreaded – Wolf Creek Pass.

We hit snow just outside of the city of South Pass.

It got deeper and visibility got poor.

Still we climbed.

We noticed that cars were just crawling down the mountain in the other lane – a mute reminder that it’s easier going up a mountain than coming down. At least going up we have gravity to help us stop.

We saw an accident that had just happened – it was a miracle that both drivers were still alive when you looked at the condition of the car and the position of the truck on top of the guard rail.

We reached the Summit and started the nail biting descent into Pagosa Springs. Steep 7% grades that end in a hairpin turn. Down and around the mountain.

Low gear. Top speed is twenty miles an hour. Poor visibility and the roads are snow covered.

Finally we reach the bottom and drive right out of the snow into Pagosa Springs!

As I peeled Jan’s hands off the steering wheel, I said, “Never ever again will I take that pass. Never again in a million, trillion years – especially in a snowstorm!”

We drove out to Wolf Creek Lodge and finally- finally got to see Matt!

I didn’t even cry – much. 🙂

Wolf Creek LodgeAnd he took this picture of Jan and I to prove that we made it. Notice that white stuff on the ground? Oh yeah…

We had a tour, got to meet his roommates and friends – and it started to snow – again.

I ignored it as we sat down to lunch and tried to just soak up the time with Matt. But it was getting harder to ignore – especially when the director mentioned the Winter Storm Warning that was going into effect.

I tried not to meet Jan’s eyes – because I knew what he was thinking – Wolf Creek Pass.

He talked to the director to see if there were any other options for getting out of there.  There were none. If we wanted to go home, it would be over that pass.

Graduation was at five o’clock. If we stayed for that – we would be traveling over the pass after dark – and after it had snowed all day.

If we left on Saturday – we may not make it out at all.

We said our good-byes and left.

Three hours. We traveled a day and half for three hours with Matt. 😦

And we missed graduation.

We bought some chains for the rental car before heading east out of Pagosa Springs and started climbing up that pass that I had just said I never wanted to go over again ever in my lifetime.

And I got to do it twice – in one day – in a snowstorm.

Thankfully the grade on the east side of the pass wasn’t as steep and winding as the west side, because the snow was deeper and the visibility worse.

Once again the snow stopped at the town of South Pass and we started across the high plains of Colorado in sunshine with dry roads.

Can I pause a minute here and say what an incredible man my husband is?! I was amazed at his driving skills and cool under pressure.

We drove hard and fast – making it over La Veta Pass after dark – despite the blowing snow and black ice. We just kept driving north on Interstate 25, thinking that if the roads were good – we were going to get as close to the airport as we could.

We finally got a hotel on the north side of Colorado Springs – which proved to be a wise decision since we woke up to another snow storm.


We had one more white-knuckled drive into Denver – but made it to the airport in time.

Our flight was an hour late – but considering everything else that we had gone through in the last few days – that was nothing.

Home never looked so good!

And you know – even though things didn’t go as planned, it was still a wonderful trip! I would do it again in a heartbeat – but only in July!

Post script-

We found out later that they closed Wolf Creek Pass a few hours after we got through. The other family hoping to drive home was still stranded on Sunday.

Northern New Mexico, from Albuquerque to Southern Colorado had a winter storm into the next week.  If we had stuck to our original plan – we might still be there. Some of the students who planned to travel that direction were still waiting on Tuesday.

Matt made it to Durango for his flight home on Sunday, but only after another white-knuckled drive west from Pagosa that included hitting a deer.

Remind me to avoid Colorado in the winter! 🙂

The Porch Swing

SwingI sat on the porch swing the other night with Jan.

That statement is profound when you remember that the last 6 weeks of our lives have been crazy busy. We’ve been running at high speed with one big event following another leaving little time to catch our breath.

Little time to sit on the porch swing.

Little time to enjoy a sunset.

Little time to hold hands and listen to the night sounds.

The porch swing is our special place. Years ago when we were still dating, I mentioned to Jan how much I love porch swings.

A few weeks later he surprised me with a porch swing hanging in his little porch.

We spent many a date night swinging and talking.

It’s remained one of our favorite places over the years.

The swing is now gray and weathered. Some of it’s bolts are rusty, others are loose.  The seat sags a little in the middle. But we still love it.

It’s a reminder to slow down and enjoy the moment together.

To hold hands and watch the sunset.

To take a deep breath in the midst of the chaos and rest.