Thursday, September 30, 2010

Of Corners and Handling Challenges



So I know our dining room looks crowded with this extra table in the window, very 'un-chi' (or whatever). But still, I am so excited for I was craving my very own warm space since our front porch is growing colder in this autumnal weather. And that's where this old Formica table was--out there--and Tom began using our dining room table more often (usually just when I wanted it, alone) and Naomi is still living upstairs with all her cats and a fish and I was getting all whiny.
Remember that "In My Own Little Corner, In My Own Little Chair" song from Cinderella? Well, that's been, like, my theme song since I was probably ten years old.
I must have my very own space.
So now I have my own little private, mine-all-mine corner again. Everyone knows don't even think about sitting at that table. :)
There are some challenges I adore, like this one of finding my own dreaming space. And discovering new ways and places to store my winter groceries. And how to cook something from nothing. And how to get by happily on teeny amounts of money, where to dry our clothes downstairs now that upstairs is occupied and how to keep up our spirits while Tom is looking for the next thing in the way of employment.
But what you won't ever hear me doing? You won't hear me blaming God for my troubles or doubting that He loves me just because Life might be hard or accusing Him of not being faithful, loyal or fair.
Uh, no. I'd rather die than hurt God's feelings like that.
Oh, I'm sure He can handle whatever I throw at Him (He's a huge God after all), but that's not the point. No, I realize if a mistake has been made, He's certainly not the one who made it. And I'm not foolish enough to accuse Him of something He did not do. He's invested too many years, too many teachings and too much work and patience into me for me to pull something like that.
Besides, I'm just too crazy in love with Him to accuse Him of anything stupid.


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Sitting at this table is like resting my arms on a pool of water. Don't you just love its reflective ways?


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Would you like to watch a second season episode of American Pickers? Go here. I do LOVE that show!

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Oh! And did you know that Julie and Julia is now in the instant-watch section of Netflix? Cool, uh?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Lindsay Lohans Of Our Lives

So at Facebook, I get it when my non-Christian friends complain about all the Lindsay Lohan news/drama/stunts. I understand that they'd rather see something else in the headlines, though just what, I'm not certain.

But I confess it makes me sad when my Christian friends rant about the "Lindsayness" of it all, when they say cruel, unforgiving things about her. When they expect an unsaved Lindsay to act like she's saved.

I think we just don't care enough about people. Not like Jesus does, anyway.

When I first saw Lindsay in Parent Trap ages ago, I began praying for her. It's as though God whispered that this young girl was headed for disaster, though at the time, I didn't want to hear that. I found her adorable and talented and I so longed for her to make it through her teens and twenties without the trouble young stars often crawl into.

We all know that didn't happen.

But still I kept praying. I prayed through Diary of a Teenage Drama Queen, Mean Girls, Freaky Friday and the Herbie movie, too. And now what do I do when I read yet another article or watch another gossipy story about Lindsay-gone-wrong? I use each of those as reminders to pray.

And pray. And pray.

It's not all the in-our-faces news stories about Lindsay that make me crazy. No, it's the lack of longsuffering compassion coming from Christians, the ones who've forgotten that Jesus came for the sick, not for those who don't need a doctor. And that He:

...didn't come to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.

Now, do I pray for all celebrities as I'm praying for Lindsay? No. But for the past forty-two years (I recall praying for Lucille Ball at age 9) God has often placed one celebrity at a time upon my heart so to pray for their salvation. And always, a compassion grows within my heart the more and longer I pray. Prayer is like that.

Maybe we should all be praying more and criticizing less. Perhaps that is the answer. And maybe, just maybe, we'd all feel better--in lots of ways.



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Psalm 19:14
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord..."


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A special thanks to each of you for your comments about yesterday's post. They were greatly appreciated!


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Oh! I just found this new-to-me blog with a post which kinda goes along with mine. Loved it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

That Phone Call


Okay, here's what happened.

A couple days after we returned from our vacation we were sitting peacefully in our living room and then the phone rang. It was Tom's former boss.

And wow. He said they'd made the cut too deep, laid off too many men. So he went around the plant and, one at a time, he took each guy aside and asked, "If we could hire back any of the four guys we let go, who would you want us to hire back?"

It was unanimous. They each said, "Tom."

Oh my. You can imagine how terrific that made Tom feel. All of them wanted him back!

And now, that is totally not to slight anyone because here is the real miracle: as Tom said, himself, he is the one guy of those downsized who is least able to physically do the work required. The other three were younger and did not have his physical limitations.

Again, wow.

So his former boss said he'd set up a meeting with the powers-that-be and would do everything he could to make Tom's return to the plant, happen. The meeting was finally held yesterday and--if this was a work of fiction--I'd tell you that hooray! Tom was hired back.

But he wasn't. Tom's former boss fought hard for him (and feels dreadful now), but the powers-that-be said, "Not right now. Maybe in two or four months."

Oh well. We knew all along there was that possibility. But you know? Just that first phone call has also, all along, comforted us, encouraged us and let us know clearly that God is making Himself obvious on our behalf. And that's the best news there could ever be.

Way back when I was in my 20's I used to totally fear praying for God's will to be done in my life. I thought His will would be unfun, unadventurous and unfair. My will, my ideas, sounded way more exciting and a better fit for me (me, me, me,), personally.

Good grief! What kind of prideful ignorance was that?

Well, I've grown up a lot since then (thank-goodness) and now I so want God's will to be done in Tom's and my life. His will--I have seen--is exciting and filled with adventure and opportunities to trust and grow and become. No way can I become what God's planned all along if I'm always following my own will.

So let the Unemployed Adventure Days of Our Lives officially begin! There will, I'm certain, be plenty to write about here in the months to come.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Annoying Teachers of Our Lives




Teachers from high school days or college or church or those we've met through books or tv lectures, etc.-- those are the ones we would name if anyone cared enough to ask, "Which teacher has most influenced you?"


But today I suggest that some of the most remarkable, life-influencing teachers are those people who make us nuts. Those annoying souls in our lives who know just how to irritate us into longing to become hermits. The ones who bring out the worst in us, you know, the moods we thought we'd dealt with already, the bad habits and irritations we believed had gone away forever.


The people about whom pray, "Oh Lord, just make her go away. Please make her leave me alone."

Those people, I say, just may be our greatest, most valuable teachers.


They teach us how not to behave, what not to say, how not to treat others.
They show us what happens when we disregard self-control.
They remind us about the necessity of boundaries and of just plain minding our own business.
And while in our hot-and-bothered state, they show us just how very far we still have left to go.

That is, if we are paying attention. As in, not allowing our brains to see only red and reacting only with fight or flight. Or hitting back by using the blame game, the silent treatment or blabbing to all our friends how ______ is a clueless/mean/annoying slob.


It's all about learning from others' mistakes so that we will make adjustments and not make the same ones. And it's also all about remaining humble enough, teachable, too, to learn those lessons well for ourselves, rather than just, over and over, becoming upset, flustered and pull-our-hair-out wild every time these teachers are doing what they do best--and perhaps--what they are meant to do, to teach, in our lives.



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"Iron sharpens iron. So one man sharpens another."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Of Tucking Away Food

So early this year I read that a middle-aged couple went to ask their financial advisor where the best place would be to invest their money.

He told them, "Groceries. Invest in groceries. Too many people are being laid-off right now and it's going to grow worse."

Well they left his office, wondered what was up with him, then decided to visit their old friend, Stan, who was very good with money and often advised his friends (and others) on the side. They sat in his living room and asked, "Where should we invest our money?"

"Invest in groceries," he said. "People are losing jobs by the score and the cost of groceries is going up."

Wow. I read that to Tom and both our eyes were as big as proverbial saucers. We considered 'investing in groceries' at that moment and then? The moment passed. I said something like, "That sounds serious. But I'm glad we don't have to worry about you losing your job."

Oh the pride. Oh the assumption of it all. Good grief.

So guess what I've decided I want to be when I grow-up? A food hoarder.

No, really.

Did you see that woman on Hoarders who filled her house with groceries so she'd be ready for any emergency, especially a job layoff? Well, aside from the way she was out-of-control and wasn't organized and had destroyed her home and was letting food spoil and was eating that spoiled food (eww)--aside from all that--she was my hero.

Yep, I'm gonna be a food hoarder, too. Except that I will share what I have with others. And I'll stay organized and rotate stuff (Organized is my middle name). And I'll buy things on sale and try to just get the healthiest stuff, not things with a bunch of bad extra ingredients. And I'll match coupons with sales when I can. I'm already tossing/giving away non-edible trinkets in order to clear my cabinets for more food, a necessary thing since Naomi's still living with us and I gave her half my pantry space, half our refrigerator/freezer space, too, which caused me to fire-up the ol' chest freezer downstairs, into which I'm gratefully loading our garden and orchard bounty.

Besides, always at this time of year I stock-up for winter, so this feels right. I'm just thinking Larger Scale this year. I'm having fun and feeling as though I'm contributing. So there's that.

So that's where my head is today. It's a good place, a pro-active place, and since we returned home from our vacation we've tried to stay pro-active. Tom and I do at least two productive things daily, two things we did not do the day before, two non-general-housekeeping tasks. And we like where that's taking us--to a more orderly, peaceful way of living.

Pro-activity is a choice. So are thinking and reacting positively. I'm reminding myself of that--and things are going well lately around the ol' farm.



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Tom sold an extra tractor this week and got a good price for it, so that was cool. Oh, and remember that phone call I was pretty excited about last week? Well, hopefully on Tuesday I'll be able to explain more about that.


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"14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet." ... Proverbs 31:14-21

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Future Plans? Just Thinking Aloud




So do you remember when Gomer Pyle went running around in circles calling loudly, "Citizen's Arrest! Citizen's Arrest!"? Well, for the past forever, Tom and I have, when one of us has changed his/her mind, mimicked that, only we say, "James 1:8! James 1:8!"

That's the verse which states, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."

I guess I was thinking of that today when I spoke with my mom on the phone for the first time since Tom was laid off. Not only did she already know about the layoff (having been told by my sister who could only have read my announcement either on Facebook or here in my blog), but I could tell she'd given it a lot of thought. She said if things go bad for us, we could move in with her (in California), store our stuff in her garage and Tom could look for a job (or whatever) in Oregon from there as a home base of sorts.


Gah. Now I'm wondering if my sister also mentioned to my mom that just months ago we'd toyed with the idea of retiring in Oregon.


Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear. That was so ten minutes ago. Oh my. That was so BTL. Before the layoff.


So today I'm gonna make an announcement:

In this blog, when it comes to Tom and myself making future plans of any type, I am just thinking aloud, ok? Just. Thinking. Aloud. Playing with dreams. Using my imagination, challenging the status quo and stating the current Wish Of The Day.


That's all. That's it. Any chatter about future plans is not written in stone nor is it a declaration of what will certainly be. Instead, it's only dreaming (and all the other stuff above) 'on paper' so to speak. It's letting others know what the talk is around our house, what's currently playing inside Tom's and my heads.


Tom and I abhor brain stagnation and shoving God into tidy, safe little boxes so we enjoy dreaming, making all sorts of plans, laughing and getting all starry-eyed. But then we get realistic. And usually sit back down and do the same ol' same ol' things, only occasionally moving or doing something which other folks deem wild and crazy.


Ok? (Whew. I'm glad I cleared that up.)


So now that we understand each other, here are our current thoughts. Tom and I are hopelessly addicted to American Pickers. Good gracious. But the nicest thing which comes from that? We are more grateful today than ambivalent for this tiny farm of ours.

Are we grateful because we can collect acres of junk and have Frank and Mike come crawling all over it?

Uh, no.

Fortunately clutter makes me too nervous to ever let that happen. But I think it's just the knowing that we could become crazy collectors here on the farm--that's what tickles us. And it's the realization we could turn our barn and garage into a neat version of rampant creativity which has us thinking and dreaming again. It's considering how fun it would be to let people (junkers and normal folks) tour our place for inspiring ideas which makes us smile... to own a place where people walk in and say, "Oh wow!" rather than, "Oh dear."


Now, will we actually do all that? Who knows? We are only at another dreaming stage right now. Maybe next week we'll chuck the whole idea. Yet how pleasant to make plans, especially at this time when it's tempting to believe plans are being made for us, not by us.

But in the meantime, again, please take all my chatter of far-off (and not-so-far-off) plans with a grain of salt... and just have some fun along with us, ok?

And even better? Let this chatter nudge you into new dreams for yourselves.



Thursday, September 23, 2010

To Make a Profit Or Not. That is the Question.

Since Tom and I have what I call "baby tv cable", we're behind the times and rather clueless about what's out there on all those zillions of channels we can't see. (Which ok, is probably not a bad thing in most cases.)
But last week, through our subscription to Netflix, we discovered Hoarders.
Wow. That program scared us. We beheld bits of deja vu regarding our back porch, our bedroom closet, and our barn. That show was good for us. I even began clearing our back porch a tad (emphases on 'a tad') and we both promised each other we would never, ever become so out of control with our junk, er, collections.
But then today, after Tom left for physical therapy, I discovered the show, American Pickers.
Uh-oh. That just may be our downfall. American Pickers is the complete opposite of Hoarders. The two stars become absolutely giddy when they find the yards and barns of hoarders and then offer money for the hoarders' rusty/decaying old objects (which they then re-sell. That's their livelihood.)
For fun I googled American Pickers just to see what people said about it, and as usual, I was sorry I did. My oh my, some people surely do enjoy losing their minds and their manners while on message boards. They accused the two American Pickers guys (and the whole History Channel) of everything evil under the sun.
And ok... When the guys bought a saddle from an 88-year-old veteran for $75 (his own stated price) and discovered later that they could probably sell it for between $1,500 and $5,000**, I did feel bad for the older gentleman.

People on the message boards felt the two A.P. guys should have been beaten and/or shot/tortured/blown-up.

Yet I had to ask myself, what if these guys had made that deal with my own grandfather? How would I feel? And you know? I would feel guilty. Guilty because *I* hadn't said earlier, "Hey Grandpa! That spiffy dirty old saddle that is (decaying/falling apart) in your garage is worth around $3,000 to a collector who would oil it up and cherish it. Would you like me to try selling it on Ebay? Or would you rather keep it?"
Put another way, I'd cite the relatives of the elderly sellers for being thoughtless or unkind rather then the Pickers. Family should look-out for family rather than leaving it to a couple scraggy strangers who drive up in a white van. Or to a sweet little couple like Tom and me who are still searching for that one deal of a lifetime.

So there's that.

And there will always (I hope) be this, too: We live in a free country where a man can choose a price to sell what he owns. Or he can choose not to sell it. He can buy a thing and sell it for a profit, even a large profit, if he can find a buyer. Or he can keep the item for 50 years, treat it well or poorly, then sell it to a couple of guys who just show up in his yard one day willing to buy it for a price, he, himself, names. And the two guys can pay that price or barter a lower one and pay that if the seller agrees.
It's called freedom. Free enterprise. It's called living in America. And it's also called let both the buyer and the seller beware.
But it is not called stealing. At least, I'm not calling it that.
You may disagree and that's ok. At least we still have that freedom, too.




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** Ok, to be fair to the Pickers, they did not know the value of the saddle when they bought it. Only afterward did they go to a professional saddle guy for an estimate and they seemed genuinely shocked. On two other episodes they kept giving the women more money than they were originally asking and Tom and I found that quite honorable.

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Some people on the message boards also said the two American Picker guys were disrespectful toward the sellers, but in the one and a half episodes I've watched, I've not noticed that. Frankly, I saw the opposite, but maybe I missed something. What I've seen is that the guys do get a bit giddy at the deals they make and when they're speaking to the camera perhaps they phrase things imperfectly. But I can understand that. I so know that giddy, heady feeling which has made me say plenty of things I've regretted later.


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P.S. So Tom arrived home and together we watched three episodes of American Pickers. He loved it. Says it's his new favorite show. Uh-oh.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

He Who Knows All and Knows Best


The time to prepare for an emergency is not after the emergency arrives, but before.

Though God didn't loudly announce to me that Tom would be downsized (He hinted, but I tossed the hint aside--eegads), He did say months ago, "Buy a few new bath towels to replace your ten-year-old ones."

Didn't do that. (Did replace old dish towels, though.)

"Brush up on your frugality skills."

Did a bit of that.

"Go to Salvation Army to replace your tired, old wardrobe."

I majorly procrastinated that one. I went there only after the layoff and just one day before our vacation. Good grief.

And He did tell me, "Stock up on Forever postage stamps. Replace the guest room bedspreads and your ratty bras. Plant extra tomatoes this summer and buy some strawberry plants."

Check. Check. Check. Check and Check.

"Stock up on groceries early this year."

Didn't do that. (Well, only a tad.)

"Spend extra time with Me."

Mostly did that, but could have done it better.

If I'd have waited for all those varied instructions to make sense, all obedience would be late (turning into disobedience) and I'd have had total unpreparedness when Tom was laid-off. God's ways seldom make sense. Deal with it. :)

Years ago I realized I must yearn for His ways, His plans, His dreams for me. I learned to distrust and even dislike my own ways--anything--which did not come first from His heart.

My life radically changed.

And it continues to change into a whole other adventure, a wild ride, not of my choosing (usually), but always something more incredible than I ever could have dreamed. His plans for me happen, there's little frustration, no having to force them, as long as I cooperate, take the steps He knows will lead to the correct places.

His ways are so not our ways. Thank-goodness for that.




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The above photo was taken from our train while we stopped at a depot. Most of Nebraska was just like that picture, making the sky feel like one of those snow-globe domes since it seemed to come down and rest upon the edges of the golden fields. At least that was my feeling at 6 a.m. one morning while sitting alone and bleary-eyed in the many-windowed observation car.


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Oh! I just now visited Clarice's fall corner and was thoroughly delighted and inspired.


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One last note: when I say that "God told me...", what that usually means is, "I felt so convicted to..." Just thought I'd add that for clarification.


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When God wishes to tell us something, does He have to yell? Or does it require only a whisper?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Harvest Time Down On The Farm



Harvest time!

While on the train I dreamed about returning to our farm and harvesting the cherry tomatoes, apples, pears, squash, hot peppers and pumpkins, And well, that's exactly what I'm doing these days--harvesting the food on our sunny, autumnal acres and then freezing it all down in our dark, dank basement within the chest freezer I finally plugged-in.

This year I'm doing serious freezing of our harvest-- last year I only played around, froze twelve or so pints of tomato puree and a couple bags of squash and called it Good. This year, that's not good enough. Big changes have arrived and I'm taking harvest time more seriously.

And enjoying it. I've always been one to revel in the need to resurrect my pioneer spirit, and well, she's surely returned to life in the last three weeks. And she's welcome. She's fun, too, especially when she reminds me that if I do my best, God will do His. He's faithful like that.

Alas.

Monday, September 20, 2010

This, That and a Question


Awhile ago, our classical music station ran something where you could email them about the time you first realized you loved classical music. They're continuing to read the entries on the air (I'm gonna assume they read mine while we were on vacation...heh). But here is my entry just so you'll know how my love of classical music happened to me:




"It was all Mrs. Martineau's fault.
She was my kindergarten teacher and the one who made each of us 5-year-olds take naps upon green mats on the floor. She's also the one who played that Strauss Waltz record and other classical music recordings while we rested upon those mats on quiet afternoons in the land between asleep and awake.
And to this day, forty-six years later, I still blame Mrs. Martineau for the deep love of classical music which never left me, even as a teenager. And those amazing Strauss Waltz's, especially, still remind me of rest and peace and all that is dreamy and good."








I included that here to encourage those of you teachers, and especially you parents, that what you share with young children often can have an eternal effect. So don't doubt or give-up. We all affect others' lives more than we realize.






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So today I was in the supermarket and discovered the premiere issue of the magazine, The New Pioneer. Oh my, it was cool. And if Tom and I weren't in our pinching pennies season of life, I'd have spent the $10 to buy it. But I did have fun skimming the articles about becoming self-sufficient by growing your own food, canning, root cellars, rigging up your own sources of energy and caring for weapons, hunting, reusing what you have, gathering food out of doors, etc. Very informational and inspiring. Look for it on stands until November. (Remember, The New Pioneer.)






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And a question: Can you really freeze apples whole? I saw here that you can, but I'd never before heard of it. Lovely concept, though. Highly appeals to my lazy nature. (You should see our apple trees--as the Bible would say, they are 'heavily laden'!)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wavers of Trains

Ack! I forgot something important.

While we were on the train, many times, people along the road outside waved to us.

Now, I don't mean some measly parade-riding-beauty-queen-slight-wrist-twist-deal, either. No, I mean lots of folks stretched their arms way over their heads and waved and jumped and smiled big smiles as though they were celebrating with us train-riders.

That happened a lot and I loved it. Fathers alongside their young children. Teen-agers. Women. Way out there in the middle of rivers or standing alongside old brick buildings or corn fields or suddenly rising from benches. We'd woosh past them and still they'd wave excitedly, state after state.

Oh, those wavers of trains made me smile from deep inside and feel as though, suddenly, a party had begun. My fellow travelers enjoyed those wavers, too, some of them automatically waving right up next to the (tinted) windows while speaking to Tom and me, especially along the Colorado River, what with all those colorful water rafters waving wildly.

Wavers of trains make me happy. They remind me to celebrate everything.

And from now on? Whenever I see passenger trains, I'll be waving, too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Off The Train and Back to Real Life

Ok. It's time to depart from the train (with perhaps just occasional mentions in the future) and return to the Real World.

What is my Real World like today? Oh my... The weather is so gorgeous, so autumnally-exquisite that I'm having trouble absorbing the pure splendor.

This morning, in all the outdoors glory, I picked apples from just two branches of an orchard tree and lugged in a whole bucket into the house. With just a few, I made applesauce.

That's about the time Tom's friend, Al, arrived to clear our back meadow as he does once each year. So then I gathered more tomatoes from the garden and made spaghetti sauce, then added it to sauteed vegetables and cooked lasagna noodles. Out on our patio Tom, Al and I enjoyed the vegetable lasagna (my own squash inside there, too) and the applesauce. Just like one of those meals I read about others making... one of those home grown meals you feel good about eating.

Ever since arriving home, Tom and I have felt such peace. We felt that peace on the train, too, and everywhere else we went on our vacation. Before leaving, God instructed us both to set aside the joblessness and just enjoy ourselves so, well, that's what we did. We didn't pretend everything was fine, but rather, we rested in knowing everything will be ok.

And now back at home? He is so with us and we're being so careful to watch our words and our thoughts--to keep them faith-filled and positive... and to put into practice all we have learned for the past forever, really.

And so there we were on Thursday basking in all this peace in our living room, when Tom received a phone call. Wow, an amazing phone call, one about which--right now-- I can give you no details. Tom made me promise to tell no one about it due to its up-in-the-air-ness, especially not the hundred + of you who read my blog. But I can say this: no matter what happens because of that phone call, always it will mean so much. Always it will remain a huge encouragement to me and to Tom, especially, for like, forever.

It was special. It was huge.

But darn, I can't give you any details for a few more days. And boy, these ol' seams are nearly bursting.

Just know that we are fine. Tom is still jobless, but well, we're better than fine, really, on this gorgeous, incredible, breezy, autumn-slant-of-light afternoon.

So You Want to Travel by Train ...?



Our train ride home? It went much like the first part, except that we were blessed with the larger family-sized sleeping room. Tom had played around with dates of our trip online and poof! The family bedroom popped up at a lower price than the other two types. So he snatched it and wow, I'm grateful he did. Now that was riding in comfort. No more claustrophobic bunk nights!

Many people before and after our trip told us, "Oh! We've dreamed about taking the train for decades," so I thought I'd write this what-you-should-realize-about-train-travel post. Perhaps it will make your trip easier, or maybe it will cause you to pause and rethink the whole crazy idea. :)

(If you prefer to skip my banter about traveling by Amtrak and just start playing around with planning a trip, even a pretend one, go here. You'll see how each bedroom type is arranged, what is included and other details about train travel, including testimonials.)

First: Train travel is not for wimps.

Here's a silly warning: the train almost constantly moves. It rolls along, shaking side-to-side with each track switch, which makes walking to the dining car, the restroom, the observation room or showering, well, tricky--every single time. If you have dizziness issues, well, I don't know. I'm just not sure if train travel would be right for you. (But don't let me discourage you if you really want to try it.)



Amtrak does still make 'smoke stops.' (Sounds old-fashioned, doesn't it?). At those times, not only will they pick up passengers, but you'll be allowed to jump off the train for ten (or so) minutes, sometimes longer. But smoke stops are occasional. Most times they'll pick up passengers and you're not allowed to step outside for even one second.

There is no opening of windows on a train. You must be able to tolerate air-conditioned/recycled air, which usually, I can't, but on the train I felt fine. We did, though, always have to leave our room's door open a few inches to stay comfortable.

If you go by train, travel light. Tom and I took only one roll-around backpack each and I brought a good-sized purse, too. Though it's possible to check some of your luggage, we were grateful that we could fit our small bags inside our train bedrooms so we always had our things with us. There are shelves inside the lower level entry door for your larger bags, but it's quite annoying to have people step over you in the skinny aisle while you're retrieving, say, your undies.

You are allowed two bags each on the train, not counting a briefcase, computer case, purse or diaper bag.

Always, always buy a bedroom, not a coach seat (though, yes, they appear so cheap!), unless you can literally sleep anywhere (as Tom can). If you buy a roomette and you lean toward being claustrophobic, and you're part of a couple, it helps if one of you isn't. Claustrophobic, that is. Decide ahead of time who will sleep in the bunk (where the ceiling practically touches your nose.) The lower birth is large enough for one-and-a-half people, but I wouldn't recommend squeezing two down there.

And too, if you go coach, you've still got to eat, and well, train food prices being what they are, all that extra money 'you saved' will disappear quickly. All three (yummy) daily meals are included with the price of sleeper rooms. (Bring along lots of one dollar bills. Tips aren't expected at meals, but are appreciated, and since Tom and I love to give tips, we were glad for the dollars we carried for servers, taxi and shuttle drivers, bag check guys in station waiting rooms, etc.)

In the main hall of the sleeper cars there's semi-endless juice, coffee (regular) and bottled water. On both trips the water and coffee tended to run out, but always there was warm boxed juice. :)





There is no tv on Amtrak. No wi-fi, either, at least not on the CA Zephyr on the Denver route (I read they have it on a Sacramento route, though). If you take your computer, be sure to bring your movies and/or computer programs/discs.

Oh, and the shower. You must push a button every ten seconds for a slight stream of cold water to dribble down (think I'm joking?). Do try to time your showers for the smoke stops/passenger pick-ups so to avoid skidding around on the wet floor.

You'll be asked to sit with other couples at the dining car tables so you may want to brush up on your conversation/people skills. And relax. Train people are nice.

If you must sleep eight hours in order to function, if you must have a daily hot, powerful shower or else fall apart, if you must lock up your room/things and if you must have luxury, total quiet or watch tv daily, well, train travel is probably not for you. :)

In my opinion, Amtrak train travel is for rugged, adventurous, non-complaining souls.

Tom and I must be legally crazy. We are already eagerly anticipating our next train trip.



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Still considering train travel? Go here to learn all about it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More Reno, More Dear Friends

So look who zoomed up beside us on our way back to Reno! Good ol' Jack. Heh. Actually, while waiting in the Jack-In-The-Box drive-through, I spied this poster, loved its quirkiness and asked Tom to take a picture. Is Jack cool or what?

Just prior to this, we dashed into WalMart for one tiny thing and wow! We met a couple from our hometown who, 27 years ago, lived across the street from us--their daughter used to babysit Naomi, even. I'd recently friended them on Facebook and now we happily caught-up, marveled at this 'God-incidence', then hugged one another good-bye. Tom and I picked up lunch at JitB then discovered a tiny park in a tiny town we'd driven past hundreds of times (literally), yet had never driven through. A minuscule desert town with this one patch of green lawn for the public. Quiet, tranquil place.

Eventually we returned to Reno where we stayed at the huge, too-opulent-for-us Peppermill (yet one more of Tom's super online deals). There in the brand new Tuscany Tower, our bathroom, alone, was larger than some motel rooms of our past, even having its own tv, which came in convenient the next morning when, as usual, I awoke three hours before Tom.

Oh, the leisure on this trip. The myriad hours I sat around--in pretty places--doing absolutely nothing except reading, drinking coffee and gazing around.

I am not ready for that life of leisure. Uh, no. Not yet.

What a place for pretending, the Peppermill. Some women dressed in slinky black dresses and hung on the arms of older men, others dressed in sweatpants or jeans and tiredly rolled their suitcases into elevators. Through huge windows I could see the sunny pool area and splashers outside and while Tom later napped, I wandered through the casinos in search of a place where we could meet our Reno/Fallon friends that evening.

Wow. When you live in Nevada you grow used to stepping through ringing, jingling casinos, but when you've been away 17 years you forget about the dark intensity of it all. And the more escalators I took downward, the more I felt as though I entered the bowels of hell, itself. But you know? I chose to just pray. In and around the machines and tables I whispered, "Oh Jesus. Help them. Help us all."

Then that evening! Oh, we met our dear old friend from our hometown days, Ginger, and her husband, folks we'd not seen in 25 years. We'd reconnected, also, on Facebook (love that place!) where we'd set-up this meeting. The four of us wandered through those ol' bowels of hell again down to a buffet where huge trees shook (were there monkeys up there, too?) and lightning storms passed through every few minutes. Wow, pretty exciting stuff they have in Reno. :)

Then came my good buddy, Connie, from Fallon, someone who always makes me laugh and feel twenty years younger, and who did she bring along, but our former pastor and his wife, two of the sweetest people on Earth. For 17 years we've all managed to keep in-touch as good, true friends will, and our conversations started right up, as though we'd visited in-person just last month, rather than six long years ago.

An enchanted night that was, all of us seated around that table, sharing, laughing and enjoying one another. When I'm an old lady, I'll remember those hours.

Next morning, Tom and I ordered one room service breakfast to share, returned our rental car, lolled around the train station for ten minutes then called Ginger and Reggie, who picked us up and took us out to lunch and to their sweet home, also. Then they returned us to the train station, waited with us for the train and then came more good-byes. Always, so many good-byes on trips like these.

Back into the train Tom and I climbed, this time into a larger family-sized bedroom (yay! Another of Tom's killer deals), and we were off again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Hometown and a B&B

Reno. A place where we'd spent much time in the early 90's. No, not for that reason. Heh. Just for shopping back when we lived an hour away out in the desert. But this day we spent only minutes there, only long enough to rent a car before beginning our journey to our old hometown, the place where I graduated high school and met Tom. The very town where Naomi was born.

I'll call it Martinsville.

And after an uneventful ride, marked only by the myriad memories which flew to our brains upon seeing familiar landscapes and towns, we arrived in Martinsville with its lovely bed-and-breakfast inn inside a home built back in 1902.

That's it, above (side view only), and I wish I could convey to you the peace which awaited us there. I mean, this was the scene outside our suite's windows:


Can you imagine awakening to that every morning? Incredible.

And this was outside our door:


(Enlarge to see the raised garden beds.) Oh, the ideas this place planted inside my head! Throughout our entire trip, always, part of me wanted to return home, but this place, more than any other, made me want to race back to New York and create such loveliness within my own backyard.


Here was my room:











And here was Tom's:







The main rooms downstairs were always open and the sun room had a tiny computer, a tv, too (the bedrooms had no tv's, an idea I found wonderful). But here is Tom in the sun room enjoying one of his favorite activities:



So it was here in our tiny hometown where we spent two-and-a-half days visiting with Tom's family. We sat with them in restaurants and in their living rooms and just basked in being with family, in seeing children and adults grown older and mellower over time. I remember gazing around at their faces and pondering, "This feels good. Right. And lovely." And it was.

Tom and I drove around our old town, marking the many changes, the businesses which, decades ago, we only dreamed of having nearby. We ate breakfast one morning with a friend of mine from high school, someone we also attended church with back in the 80's (we reconnected on Facebook. I told you I love that place.). How incredible to visit with her after only a quick glimpse of her 16 years ago in the same restaurant where we now dined. We visited an old friend of Tom's, too, out at the fire station where he is chief. Sat outside the ol' laundromat on a bench while our laundry swirled inside, watched people drive past, and agreed our hometown is a lovely one to be from.

The good-byes to family were sad, but had to come. And with one last cup of coffee in my hands, we were on our way again.




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Oh, and thanks very much to each of you who welcomed me back home and to Blogland. I appreciated your kind words so much! It's amazing to be back.

Oh, The Places You'll Go

(This is my second post today. You may want to read the previous one if you missed it.)

Our roomette on the train was on the second floor and, thankfully, so was the dining room (as opposed to always climbing the tiny stairway). On our way to our first meal, I realized why hallways in trains are only around two-and-a-half feet wide. Why? Because when the train throws you sideways (as it will), the other wall is right there to stop you from completely falling down. You are only dashed side to side, from wall to wall.

In the dining car it's preferred that four sit at each table, so you realize what that means, don't you? Each meal you'll be seated with two more people with whom you've never spoken in your whole life. Tom and I loved that. Oh, the people we met! Tom even took a picture of most couples as they sat across the table from us--he told them it was our tradition (how embarrassing, I thought, but let him have his fun.) Yet they were good sports, all of them.

One couple owned a 70-acre Iowa farm and the wife said she used a regular lawn mower (as I do) for the same reason--the exercise. Yet when I told her I mow at the coolest times of day, she said so does her husband (on his tractor, the big cheater), but she preferred the hottest times of the afternoon. She spends five hours mowing and at least three weed-whacking.

I think she may have been insane.


Anyway, we found keeping the conversations going rather simple. Train people are relaxed folks, they're certainly not in a hurry to get anywhere (having chosen train travel), but rather, they're in it for the things they'll see along the way. The people they'll meet, also. And that is rather lovely.

My favorite days on the train were the two in which we spent the whole day just eating and resting, not having to pack and go anywhere, and simply gazing out the windows at scenes like these:









And the food! It was amazing. We all wondered how such incredible meals could be created on a train. Also, the nicest thing about buying sleeping quarters? Your meals are included in the price. Anything on the menu, even the $22 steak, was permissible to order. And of course, there was dessert following lunch and dinner. Yum.

But oh, the weight I gained. I could feeeel it.

Then there was the bunk in our roomette. Oh dear. It was Claustrophobia City up there. But I survived, just barely, sometimes crawling down and dressing at a dark 4:00 in the morning (not spending one more second up there than needed). I'd wander down to the observation car, read my Paula Deen book and wait for sunrise (and Tom). Once, I chatted with another couple for at least a half hour while we all waited for 6:30 breakfast. On the train, I talked with people and didn't even care how I looked-- often my make-up had been applied the day before. That's big for me-- not to care so much. Maybe it's because I was so often sleepless and bleary-eyed. Or maybe the train was magic.


And then the end of our journey's first leg arrived. If not for that top bunk, I'd have been sad to alight from the train (as Tom was, he who had the normal bed with a view, even), but there we were in Reno. And wow, the old part of the train station charmed us:

Don't you just love that? Zoomed us back to the 1920's. (Do enlarge that photo--you'll enjoy its 'glowiness'.) Here's part of the ceiling and one of the six chandeliers:

Who creates that sort of thing anymore, especially inside a train station? What a delight that it still exists for us who appreciate such things.

And then a whole new part of the adventure began. (Decorators and gardeners, hang in there. I'll have that treat I mentioned for you next time. I promise.)



The Train Journey Continues

 So we stepped onto the train at 12:30 a.m. into a coach car where some people did not believe in sleeping.

Oh my.

The lights stayed on, a handful of folks chatted, the stewards walked back and forth, speaking loudly and Tom and I wondered what kind of a circus we'd signed into.

Now, soon I'll write a blog post specifically for you folks who are considering train travel, but here's one early warning: Never, ever ride overnight in the coach seats. Never. Ever. That is, unless you can sleep anywhere:


... even sitting-up in a train-shaking seat
... or in a pretzel position if you, alone, have two seats
... or if people are chatting constantly behind you at 3:30 in the morning
... and if the train stops and people board everytime you begin to nod off.


Otherwise, do not do it. Do not spend the night in coach. Never ever do that.

We got perhaps two fitful hours of sleep that first night so it was a bleary-burning-eyed pair who wandered past slumped-over, sleeping people into the dining car at 6:30 for crescents, sausage and orange juice while we watched a gorgeous country sunrise. All of that, alone, nearly made up for that first night.


How awesome to sit at white table-clothed tables, munching, while watching morning scenery roll by the window beside you.



Then we returned to our seats and watched more farms and 1800's brick town buildings roll by and cat-napped until we reached Chicago and Union Station (I love the old sound of that. Chicago Union Station.)



There's a lovely waiting area there for those blessed people who will travel by sleeping car--and fortunately--that meant us. Endless juice, coffee, soda and pretzels awaited us as well as comfortable chairs (and more catnaps) and two large tv's. And hours of waiting.

Then finally! We were off for the Rocky Mountains with hundreds of scenes such as the first one which greeted you here in my post. Oh, and our tiny sleeper roomette on the train! I can't even describe the joy we felt when we beheld that cozy space the size of a (small) bedroom closet. It had a door. Privacy. And a great big window. More endless juice, coffee and bottled water. I think this picture of Tom sitting there says it all.




Stay tuned for more Train Adventures With Tom and Debra. There will be a special treat next time for those of you who love decorating and gardening.



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Oh. My. Goodness. The new issue of Mary Jane's Farm arrived today and after a quick perusal, I'm thinking it just may be the best issue EVER. Lots of Gratitude Attitude stuff (which I so need) and when you read about the couple who invented a gratitude game and then opened a cafe where people could play that game, well, your mouth will drop open while reading the rest. Mine did, anyway. What an inspiring issue all-around.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mystery Solved



I'm back! Well, mostly. Whew.


And today I will solve the mystery of my disappearance.


Back in July, Tom decided that we needed to go visit his family in the tiny mountain town where he and I met long, long ago. He said we should fly out there, then I said, after this long, humid summer, flying would push me over the proverbial edge. Splat.


That's about the time one of us suggested finally taking the train adventure we'd discussed for, oh, around thirty years. Yes! We would take the train, instead.


And I was ok with that.


So Tom began to plan online a long train ride from Buffalo, NY to Reno, NV, where we'd then rent a car and drive to visit the ol' hometown in California. He booked us one tiny roomette on the train ride there and a larger family-sized room (after acquiring a killer deal) for the ride back. He lined up the rental car and even reservations at a lovely B&B in our hometown and at the Peppermill in Reno (another deal thanks to Priceline). We were getting excited.


And then Tom got laid off from his job.


Gah. My first reaction? "Cancel the trip! Let's just stay home and clean and paint things and pretend we still have some control over our life." My, I'd never before longed so badly to organize and bake and plan, plan, plan for the future. And to use our vacation money for other things like, well, food.


But that's when God said, "Hmmm... No. I want you to take that trip. You'll have lots of time to plan things when you return home." He reminded me that some of Tom's family had experienced sicknesses and diseases this past year, Tom hadn't seen everyone in three years and I'd not visited with them in six. He also reminded me that none of us has complete control over our lives, only a type of control over our own behavior and responses to what happens to us. What matters most is that we behave in godly ways, that we love and that we trust, trust, trust.


So at half past midnight early Sunday morning, the 5th of September, Tom and I crept up the stairs of our first real train, there outside in the night sky of Buffalo. And the adventure began.





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(To be continued...)


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So why did I ask for your book recommendations? I needed suggestions for books to read on our trip. Turns out, though, that when I ride trains, I prefer to just look out the window and think. Alas. I did, though, finish reading Paula Deen's autobiography which is called something like, It Ain't All About The Cookin'. I enjoyed it, but the sad parts were indeed, sad. Oh, and no one recommended that book--I just decided I wanted to read it. :)