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“Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently, I found a box of old letters from the nineteen seventies and eighties. They were sent by friends and family members, many of whom are no longer living. They’re a treasured link with the past. Postage stamps cost eight cents in 1973, but the letters are priceless today.
A letter from my great aunt, Carrie Brandes, contained fabric samples. The women in my family were dedicated to sewing and liked to share what was on their sewing machines. Often when you opened a letter, a square of fabric would fall out. It told more about a project than a wordy description. A springy color. A challenging fabric. A visual of someone’s prom dress.
Carrie’s letter does more than tell about a project. It reveals her thoughts and character at the age of eighty three. Carrie was one of the characters in Secrets of the Dark Closet, my historical fiction, which was set in 1899 to 1907. Much of the book was based on other research. However, a lot of the stories came from Carrie.
Because Aunt Carrie recorded many stories with a tape recorder, we know her mother was a fine seamstress. She passed her skills and commitment to excellence to her daughters, Bessie and Carrie. Bessie passed them on to her daughters, including my mother, Neva. Making clothing for babies through adults, piecing quilts, rug making, crocheting and knitting were among the skills that were common in our family. Today, several of my nieces enjoy quilting.
Here is what Carrie wrote some seventy years later in a letter postmarked Jan. 27, 1973: Neva tells me you are piecing tops for boys beds I know it takes a lot of pieces I have been piecing too-I have an asst left and would like to send themto you the squares are like the enclosed about 4 inches sq. If you still nrrd a variety just let me knw or via Neva and I’ll quick them off PDQ.
I know. Carrie never learned to type. She headed the county draft board for twenty-five years, pecking away at a manual typewriter with two fingers. You have to wonder what all those government forms, filled out in triplicate, looked like.
Nevertheless, this letter shows a lot. Mom phoned her aunt and told her I was piecing quilts. That must have been the news of the day. I can imagine them being happy that I was beginning to take up a skill that defined the women in our family. Carrie followed up by offering me tangible support.
The letter is a fine lesson to me in the way one generation nurtures another by passing on a life pattern. In this case, it’s quilting.
Carrie was still quilting in her eighties. Mom made quilts for each of her seven children and for some grandchildren after she retired. She used various patterns to cut and sew the tops. Then she’d set up her quilting frame in the tiny living room of her home and hand stitch the quilt together. (This is the same house that has the Dark Closet.)
Patterns. One generation shows the next how to manage life. Passing on our skills is as old as life itself, and not just how to do things, but how to be. How to appreciate nature or handle emergencies. How to fill time, when at last you have some extra on hand. How to encourage and bless others.
Among the most famous of all letters are those written by the apostle Paul in the New Testament. The letters I kept are only a few decades old, but Paul’s were written two thousand years ago. It’s powerful to see that the patterns for life that he set are still valid.
Paul wrote two letters to a young man named Timothy. He began by blessing Timothy with “grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” The letters to Timothy include Paul’s concerns, thoughts, and feelings. He also instructed, encouraged and cautioned the younger man.
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me,” II Tim. 1:13. (NKJV)
How we need the same kind of blessing, encouragement and instruction today.
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The display of mugs with Simplicity pattern artwork in a local fabric shop surprised and delighted me. Along with the mugs, there were notepads, aprons and tea towels imprinted with the retro images of young women wearing stylish clothing from other eras.
The items evoked so many memories that I immediately purchased several pieces.
I haven’t sewn much for a dozen years. The Pfaff sewing machine I bought for retirement sits idle in a closet; the Simplicity pattern I used to make pajamas for my sons and grandsons is stashed somewhere in a container.
Still, using patterns to construct clothing may be a dormant part of my DNA. I come from a long line of seamstresses with exacting skills. As I grew up, my mother made all of her clothes and mine. Dresses, shirts, pants and pajamas. One year she even sewed a winter coat for me. No doubt with a Simplicity pattern.
I clearly remember how fussy she was about the fabric she purchased. It had to be strong and durable, and it seldom cost over a dollar a yard. After being well used as clothing, it was turned into quilts or rugs. I still have doll quilts that she made out of our old dresses. My dolls had the best wardrobes.
After she selected the fabric, matching thread, and any needed buttons, zippers, binding or rickrack, she would set about making an article of clothing. The first step was to wash the fabric in case it tended to shrink. It was then pressed free of wrinkles.
Mom usually began the actual construction after a meal, when the kitchen was quiet. First, she cleared the oblong oak table of its standard sugar bowl and toothpick holder. Then she laid out the fabric on the table, and the tissue pattern pieces on top of the fabric. She put glasses on top to hold them in place in case someone blew in the kitchen door. Finally, she put stickpins around all of the edges.
Before the scissors ever made it out of the sewing machine drawer, she checked everything twice. Measure twice, cut once might have been her motto. Mom had special stainless steel scissors used only for cutting material. As I remember it, the penalty for borrowing them was so severe that no one ever dared use the scissors as a screwdriver or to cut out newspaper stories.
When I joined 4-H, she bought me a child-sized scissors that fit my hands. Eventually, when I was responsible enough, she gave me full-size scissors, which I still use. Responsibly.
Once Mom cut the fabric along the pattern lines, she moved on to the sewing machine. Hers was a treadle machine purchased on credit during the desperate 1930s. Somehow, she had squeezed five dollars a month out of her egg and cream money to buy that machine. The papers remained in one of the drawers as long as she lived.
She lifted the machine from the cabinet and put it in a working position. Then she took one of the three bobbins she used for decades and filled it with thread.
When both the bobbin and the spool of thread were in place, she’d check the needle. You couldn’t do a good job with a dull needle or one that was the wrong size for the type of fabric.
Then, she set the tension on the machine. The tension between the needle and the bobbin must not be too tight or too loose, or the stitches wouldn’t be right. She also checked the presser foot and set the stitch length before lowering the feed dog onto the fabric.
Mom sew hundreds of items during my growing up years. Then, in high school I finally went through the process myself: choosing fabric, cutting it according to the pattern, basting seams, and sewing them. I have clear memories of our teacher standing over me while I ripped out a less-than-perfect seam. And happy memories of wearing lined wool dresses that I made.
There were no shortcuts when it came to sewing a quality garment. The pattern had to be laid out straight so the seams matched. Otherwise, my pretty summer dress might have roses that went this way and that way. As you sewed it, the pattern’s dark blue notches, numbers and cryptic instructions had to line up. The buttonholes needed to be in a straight line and the buttons set in the same direction. Seam tape, binding and zippers had to be sewn perfectly.
Sewing requires patience. To skip one of the steps is to invite disaster. A garment can be ruined by shoddy workmanship, such as a crooked seam or a lopsided collar. However, creating something beautiful is a matter of simply taking your time and following the steps of the pattern. The process is important, right down to the last stitch in the hem.
There are many types of patterns to follow. Any creative process, from making clothing to woodworking, to designing buildings, requires a pattern or a master plan.
However, the most important patterns have nothing to do with clothing or wood or buildings. They are the patterns we follow in making decisions every day. If you want simplicity in your life and want good results from your decisions, follow the plans of the Master Pattern Maker.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously
to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 (NIV)
Almost every day someone asks if I’m working on my next book. The answer is…maybe!
For now, I’ve been out and about signing copies of Amber’s Choice. The downside of that is there isn’t much time to write. The upside is meeting so many people who buy copies because they enjoyed By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek and Secrets of the Dark Closet.
If you haven’t purchased your copy yet, it’s available locally and online, in paperback and in eBook. And if you know someone who loves to read, your recommendation is the best kind of publicity.
To all of my readers: Thank You and God Bless You!
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Seasonal Changes Underway
In the past month, the trees have changed from green to harvest colors. Now a very early snowstorm is gripping the whole region. I’m hoping this snow will melt and we will still have a golden Indian Summer.
Just as seasons change in nature, so do the times of our lives. Here on the northern prairie, we try hard to pack every lovely summer day with activities. Now, after a hectic summer, it’s time to bake some pies from fresh-picked apples and light the fireplace.
What are some of your favorite cozy activities? I’d love to hear from you.
The writer’s life also has seasons. Amber’s Choice was released in July after seasons of writing and editing. Since then, I’ve been working on marketing. Updating this website is one way to publicize my books. Carrie at Solutions Website Design created the website and now has refreshed it.
You’ll see a new banner at the top of the page. The prairie grass scene has been replaced by a new banner called “Prairie Praise.” The picture is by photographer Christy Brucks, who also took the cover photo of Amber’s Choice. I think both photos express the joy and hope found in nature. Find more of her photos on Facebook and at cbimagry on Instagram.
A Photo page was added to the website to host photos related to my historical novel, Secrets of the Dark Closet. I’ve shared these pictures when doing presentations, and am happy to make them available for everyone.
Another website change: You can now click on the picture of the three books and place an order with Amazon. The list of places in North Dakota where the books are available is also refreshed. The Christmas season will soon be here and books make great gifts!
The Blog remains the same Prairie Lighthouse. Today I found a post on www.christianwriters.com/topic/317-prairie-lighthouse from six years ago. In it, I talk about the Prairie Lighthouse Project, when churches across the state were invited to be lit and open on New Year’s Eve 1999 as we went into the new millennium. I could image God smiling down on our state that night and saying, “Look, little North Dakota is all lit up for Me!”
That was 20 years ago. I couldn’t have imagined the oil boom that has rocked our state since then. Today, there are satellite images of the western part of the state lit up with flares from oil wells. Also, back then, I didn’t know I’d write a novel about a young pastor and the prairie churches under his care. By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek first came out as an eBook in 2013. Amber’s Choice is its sequel.
The Prairie Lighthouse blog began as a way to offer people a beacon of hope and light. Although it sometimes more personal than purpose, it remains based on Psalm 119:105:
“Thy word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path.”
More than ever, I am convinced that the answers to life can be found in the Bible, and that we can put our confidence in God. Have you found this to be true? If not, check out the gospel of John, the Psalm and Proverbs.
Writing Update & Book-Signing Schedule
Barnes & Noble, 1-3 p.m., October 19. South 7th Street in Bismarck
Touchmark on West Century, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., October 26. Bismarck
The Big One Art & Craft Fair, November 22-23, Bismarck Events Center
This post is about my emotional trauma at turning 70 this summer, and the resurrection of Grandma Bessie’s mint plant.
First, the birthday. Sure, I’m grateful to be alive and in relatively good health. At the same time, turning 70 this past summer was tough. It was like falling into a stream and being unable to fight the current.
Keeping up appearances is getting harder all the time. Age may be a state of mind, but my body doesn’t know this. My weight stays about the same, but my body is sagging down, down. All of those funny cards about your boobs resting on your belly? They aren’t funny anymore.
Still, if there is a time to embrace your age, it might be 70. A cousin bought a ranch in Montana at age 70 and started over again. My mother worked until she was 73. Remember Miss Lillian, President Carter’s mother? She joined the Peace Corps at 75.
My third book, Amber’s Choice, was published the week I turned 70. Perhaps this was my way to rebel against aging? Saint Paul encourage his followers to finish the race set before them. I’ll stay in the race as long as I can. Perhaps 70 is the line of demarcation between making a living and living a calling. These years of freedom from work obligations can be like the encore at the end of a concert, or like whipped cream on a dessert. I plan to keep writing.
Now, about that mint. Growing up at LaMoure meant stopping by Grandma Bessie Muir’s home at least once a week. I was very familiar with her large yard, and loved the mint that grew against the foundation of her house.
After Bessie died, I acquired a root of the mint when we bought a house in Bismarck. The plant did well. Years later, we moved to another home and transplanted it again.
When we moved two years ago, I was dismayed to leave Grandma’s mint behind. With four-foot snow drifts in the backyard, there wasn’t any way to dig up a plant. I mourned it’s loss.
Actually, I whined about it. After all, that mint was older than me, and my book about Grandma Bessie, Secrets of the Dark Closet, was about to be published.
That fall, my niece arrived from Minnesota with a root of Grandma Bessie’s mint plant. Thrilled, I put it in our tiny garden next to the foundation of the house and hoped it would survive winter.
The next spring the mint popped up and today it’s in “mint condition.” So far, it’s been served in lemonade, gifted to friends, and it helped squelch an invasion of ants. A grandson planted a root in a pot and it’s grown as big as a peony bush.
In other words, it’s older than me and still has a purpose.
Maybe that’s because it’s always been located close to a foundation that protects it. For we humans, the best foundation we can have is a friendship with Jesus. If we stay close to him, we can trust that he will be with us no matter what. In Matthew 28:20 he even said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Hebrews 11 is considered the ultimate list of people of faith. One of them is Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Verse 11 states that, “Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him (Jesus) faithful who had promised.”
While most of us aren’t too keen on producing a child in our old age, we can be productive in other ways. I like the idea of pursuing a calling in my golden years.
There are so many needs in the world. Organizations that need volunteers. Friends that need encouragement. Kids who need mentors.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank
I had several interviews in August. The first was with radio station WMPC in Michigan. To listen to it, go to www.wmpc.org, click on Off the Bookshelf and find Amber’s Choice.
An interview that aired on KNDR-FM can be heard at http://kndr.fm. Click on Interviews. Mine took place on August 21.
On August 12, I was the guest author on Lorrie Doman’s author blog. This interview can be found at http://lorriedomin.com/interview-with-author-gayle-larson-schuck.
Many thanks to each of these, and also to Christian Women of Aberdeen, where I spoke in August and to Boneshakers Coffee House here in Bismarck where I signed books a couple weeks ago.
Next up: Signing books at the Pie & Ice Cream Social at Memorial Park at Grand Rapids, N.D. this coming Sunday, Sept. 8.
Amber’s Choice is now available at bookstores across the state and at online bookstores everywhere.
Thank you to those who wrote Amazon reviews. Good book reviews are an important force for writers. Will you consider writing a review? It will be deeply appreciated.
The doorbell rang on July 1st, announcing the arrival of the proof copy of my new novel, Amber’s Choice. I thumbed through every page, looking for errors in margins and gutters, trim size and bleeds. Ten areas in all. I didn’t read it again before pushing the button to approve distribution, for fear I’d beginning the editing process all over again.
By July 4, it was available online, so I announced it on Facebook. What a way to celebrate my 70th birthday.
Publishing a book is something like having a baby. The idea is conceived. It grows over time. Then you go into the most painful part, labor, aka publishing. Like labor, publishing is the part you hope to forget so you can enjoy your new baby. There are other correlations. Babies and books deeply represent who you are. Both require properly picked names. Their weight matters. You hope neither has birth defects and that everyone will love them as you do.
Here is what Amber’s Choice is about:
First, it’s a love story between Amber McLean and Kelly Jorgenson. They were both featured in my first novel, By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek, and this is a continuation of their story.
Secondly, it’s a story about God’s calling in their lives, and in our own lives. Our heavenly Father calls us each into a relationship with him. He is a good father who has good plans for our lives. But, we are flawed human beings. Our past and personality get in the way. Often, we have our own agenda or motives. In addition, the world pushes us to conform to its standards. And sometimes we aren’t aware of our call at all.
Thirdly, Amber’s Choice is about…choices. In the story, Amber literally and figuratively rides a roller coaster as she tries to decide if her loyalty belongs to her career, her family, or Kelly and her calling. She asks the question many people ask: can she really trust God with her future?
Since Amber’s Choice was started four years ago, I’ve spent hundreds of hours at a computer, just me and my mug of coffee—and some inspiring scriptures pinned to the bulletin board in front of me. Yet, I’m indebted to many people for help with publishing this book. Here are just a few: the members of Dakota Writers for weekly motivation and guidance. Julie Hendrickson who polished the manuscript. Korrine Lang and Cinnamon Schuck for superb proofreading skills. Christy Brucks, who supplied the beautiful cover photo. Consultant James Dillehay for getting it launched. I won’t forget your support and encouragement.
Where to Find Amber’s Choice
Amber’s Choice is available, along with By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek and Secrets of the Dark Closet, at online retailers everywhere. For an autographed copy, send me a request through this website. The book will be available through retail outlets and at book signing events later this summer.
Two Upcoming Events:
August 13 at the Christian Women of Aberdeen (S.D.) luncheon at the Ramkota.
September 8 at the Old Fashion Pie and Ice Cream Social at Memorial Park, Grand Rapids, N.D.
The Scriptures Over My Desk
“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. Sent by my good friend, Bonnie Haseleu
“Be confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in your will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 1:6 This is basically my mission statement.
“We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” This is the scripture theme for Amber’s Choice.
“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” Esther 4:14 This was on a card given out at Java Joy last fall.
A headline in the Bismarck Tribune recently made me think of my brother’s favorite saying: “Who says you have to like your job?”
His words usually came after listening to his nephews, and probably his sons, complain about their jobs. Long hours, hard work, low pay! Glen, a man of few words, would give them some time to get things off their chests, and then he would ask, “Who says you have to like your job?”
His logic and example probably ended a few conversations. Glen was born during the Depression, and grew up in a place and time where jobs were hard to find. He planted trees for the county, ran a road grader, and later began a small contracting business. If you needed a 60-foot tree taken down, a house demolished, a road built, Glen was your guy. He and his wife ran the business, and many of those sons and nephews worked for him at one time or another. I sure miss his wisdom and humor.
The newspaper headline that reminded me of Glen was this: “Unemployment falls to lowest rate since 1969” by AP writer Christopher Rugaber. The story states that the 3.9 percent unemployment rate is the best in 49 years. It reflects a healthy economy driven by strong consumer and business spending. Employers are having trouble filling openings. They’re having to raise starting wages. In addition, the Dow Jones is at an all-time high at 26,000. The low unemployment rate among Black and Hispanic people is particularly noteworthy.
On the international front, the U.S. has feared the irrational North Korean leader, Kim Jung-Un, who seemed to enjoy lobbing missiles at us and our allies. If you look at a satellite map of the world, you can pick out the two countries. The U.S. is the large one with all of the lights. North Korea is a small black hole, because even electricity is considered a luxury there. Since the surprising June meeting between our president and Kim Jung-Un, a.k.a. Rocket Man, a peace treaty is being negotiated.
We are also strengthening our ties with Israel. Doesn’t it makes sense to support the only democracy in the Middle East? Plus, Israel’s outstanding achievements are making our lives easier. Everything from geothermal power, to turning salt water into drinkable water, to developing the cherry tomato can be credited to this nation. With only .11 percent of the world population, they have received over 20 percent of the Nobel prizes. On top of that, the Bible says in Genesis 12: 3 that God will bless those who bless Israel.
More sensational and less important things make the headlines these days. The story about the unemployment rate was at the bottom of page B9. We mostly hear about people who are offended and angry, or are paid to protest because they are offended and angry. (Think about it. Can you afford to give up your job, and pay for travel and hotels in order to join protests across the country?)
So, with apologies to my brother, here is a paraphrase of his unshakable logic: Who says you have to like your president?
This is not meant to be a political piece, but an appeal. Look beyond the sensational headlines. We (US) are gaining back strength and self-confidence as a nation.
The sequel to By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek is still a work in progress.
In November, I’m excited to share a booth at The Big One Craft Fair at the Bismarck Event Center with Carol Schuck and April Schmidt. Carol makes beautiful centerpieces and April has her own line of essential oils and other natural products. I’ll be signing copies of both of my books there, but remember they are also available online.
Recently we attended our grandson Benjamin Schuck’s Senior Recital, performed on a grand piano before a full house. It was a summit he reached after 11 years of spending time each day at the piano or keyboard.
The program had his name at the top and included a story he wrote about his musical journey. He had composed an original piece, Toubaki Petals, so his name was listed with some famous composers, like Faber, Chopin and Glass.
Other kids performed, including our other grandsons, Solomon and Jonathan. We were so proud of them. However, it was Ben’s night.
And Elizabeth’s. The event made me think of where the music began in the Schuck family. While my husband’s father, Clements, was known as a musician, perhaps it was his mother Elizabeth Geffre Schuck that taught him how to play in the first place.
My only memory of the first Elizabeth Schuck (her daughter-in-law and a granddaughter were also named Elizabeth) was after Larry and I were married. She came to the farm for Easter dinner and gave each of her grandchildren a small gift of money, including me. She died a few months later.
Elizabeth lived most of her life on the windblown Dakota prairies. As a married woman, she hauled pails of water to the house to cook and wash clothes, worked in the fields and milked cows. When her husband left, she moved to a little house in Aberdeen.
In the midst of that hardscrabble life, she fostered beauty. Her wedding dress was fit for a princess. She also did fine needlework, and Larry and his sister recall that their faith grew when they stayed at her house.
However, it was her music that was passed from generation to generation. Elizabeth had a piano in her farmhouse, and she taught her son Clem to play. Along with the piano, he played saxophone, accordion, and organ. He played in a church band, and for a time traveled with Lawrence Welk’s band.
Later, while raising 12 kids and managing a farm at LaMoure, N.D., Clem had a lot to deal with, but at the end of the day, he’d let go of his worries by sitting at his Wurlitzer organ and filling the house with waltzes and polkas.
Like his father, Larry likes to play music in the evenings, although his instrument of choice is the guitar and his music is 50s and country western. He’s played in church bands for decades. Our sons took piano lessons, played sax and clarinet in the school band, and one played bass in a church band for years.
At the recital, the talent displayed by Ben and his brothers would have made Elizabeth proud. It certainly made his parents and grandparents bust some buttons.
There are some lessons to learn from this this simple woman of the prairie. Elizabeth taught the gift of music, stitched beauty with her own hands, passed along her faith, and was generous to her grandchildren. Maybe for all of us, it’s enough to follow her example, plant good in the lives of others and leave the rest in God’s hands.
Note: Elizabeth likely never met my grandmother, Bessie Kloubec Muir, however they were contemporaries, born in 1887 and 1888, respectively. Both moved to North Dakota and married in 1907. Bessie died in August 1966 and Elizabeth a year later. Because Bessie’s son documented so much of her early life, I ended up writing a historical fiction story about her called Secrets of the Dark Closet.
Here is where I’ll be in the next few weeks:
August 23. Fargo Barnes & Noble from 6-8 p.m. Local/Regional Author Event. Here’s your chance to browse the store, meet several local authors and purchase signed copies of By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek or Secrets of the Dark Closet.
September 6. Joy International’s Java Joy meeting at Boneshaker Coffee Company at 1501 Mapleton Ave., Bismarck, ND. At 6:30 p.m. Motto is “Women experiencing fresh faith, new hope, real love.”
September 13. A special presentation for the Christian Women’s Club Brunch Group at 9:30 a.m. at the Eagles Club, 323 N. 26th Street, Bismarck. For reservations call 223-2177.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27: 14
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June is busting out all over! And boy, do we who live up here on the prairie appreciate it. After a long winter, everything is now green, green, green. This May, the apple and chokecherry trees had bumper crops of blossoms. The lilacs opened en masse.
As soon as greenhouses were stocked, dozens of carts rolled through the aisles piled high with pots of alyssum, daisies, geraniums, petunias and every imaginable veggie plant.
We were pleased to be out there pushing carts, too. Last year at this time, we had just moved, and there were Bobcats roaring around the house moving dirt and rocks. This year, we’re pleased to have actual grass and weeds.
Swept up in the joy of spring, I joined the Bismarck-Mandan Garden Club, and in a weak moment, the Daylily Club. These organizations are filled with Master Gardeners. You can pick out their homes by the wonderful landscaping and quality blooms in their yards.
Since I’ve only successfully grown one Daylily, I question whether I deserve to be a member in good standing. Also, last year four out of my six new rose bushes died. Still, wearing a new pair of garden gloves and fancy sandals, I’m determined to make our postcard-sized yard beautiful.
Of the two remaining rose bushes, one was up right away this spring, while the other slept in. I’m happy to say they’re doing fine and one is blooming! In fact, in the past two weeks, most of our garden has been growing.
I say most of it, because of the green beans. They came up right away, then disappeared. It seems some of our wilder neighbors (rabbits) like them for breakfast. Then there are the chukars. These brown Hungarian partridges thrive in Bismarck. While they’re shy, they aren’t afraid to stroll across our patio and wallow in the garden dirt. Nothing is growing in their favorite spot.
Now, we’re working on the front yard. We dug in an old-fashioned rose bush, a short row of Hostas, and Daylilies! (Purchased from A Garden Club member.) Each plant has a name attached. I only hope to be organized enough to remember which plant is which.
I’m having trouble with other parts of this landscaping business, too. For some reason, we sold our nice outdoor table and chairs, but our aging picnic table survived the move. I wrote a sad tale about it last year. It was a center of outdoor activities for our family for decades. The night it was hauled away was a low point in the moving process.
Well, surprise! It went to our son’s garage, survived the moving sale, and showed up at our twin home. Now, the darn thing needs another coat of paint.
Also, the view outside my office/guest bedroom window is of the utility wall of the tall, beige house next door. There is nothing inspirational about it. Wouldn’t a trellis with climbing roses or grape vines look nice there?
I didn’t mention this to anyone, so it seemed like an answered prayer when friends offered us a wrought iron archway. We went to look at it. With a little sanding and a fresh coat of paint, it would be lovely.
We didn’t realize how big it was until our friend delivered it. It’s eight feet high, with a five-foot wide gate. We soon realized that the small space outside my window is too narrow and sloped to hold the behemoth, even though it would be cemented in the ground. It would look a little strange in the back yard because we have a rock wall right behind the house. In other words, the dream archway is turning into a nightmare.
As I’m swept up in the joys and trials of spring, I’m also trying to pause to smell the flowers. Noticing the beauty around us and counting our blessings every day can add happiness to our lives and the lives of others.
I Thessalonians 5: 18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is one of many Bible verses that has been proven true by science. It really is healthy to have a thankful heart.
That said, I’m thankful for you, my readers, as the Prairie Lighthouse Blog begins its fourth year. Blessings to all of you.
I’ll be at the Downtown Arts Market in Jamestown on June 14 from 5-9 p.m. Please stop by if you are able to attend. Both of my books, By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek and Secrets of the Dark Closet will be available.
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Mother’s Day isn’t just about moms, it’s also a wonderful time to honor other women who influence our lives. Alice was one of those people.
I met Alice when my brother brought her to the farm to meet our parents. It was a winter night and I was seven years old. Glen, my nearest sibling in age, was probably 20 at the time. Alice was an 18-year-old beauty, with long dark hair and a pixie nose.
Other young women might have ignored the little waif who approached with a coloring book and crayons, but not Alice. She gave me her full attention, even coloring a couple pages in my book. I’ve adored her ever since.
She and Glen married and moved to Virginia, where he was stationed with the Army. A couple years later, they came back to North Dakota to raise a family.
Alice was kind, talented, and fearless. Fearless, except for one time. We had taken the BB gun out to the pasture to shoot gophers. For the record, I don’t think we actually hit any. However, we did draw the interest of some cattle. Suddenly a whole herd of bulls was stampeding over a hill toward us. We ran for our lives. Alice leaped over the barbed wire fence and then pulled me to safety.
When we told the rest of the family about our adventure, they just laughed. They said the “herd of bulls” were just some curious and harmless yearlings. (I’m still not convinced.)
For a while, Glen and Alice lived in a storefront building in LaMoure that had been made into apartments. By this time, Mom, Dad and I also lived in town. Both of my parents worked full time. I was nine and sometimes stayed with Alice.
One hot summer day she learned that I’d never had a chocolate malt, so she gave me a quarter and sent me up the street to the Dairy Bar. That malt was so good. I slurped it down and said I could drink another one, never dreaming she’d give me a second quarter and insist I get a second malt. And, no, that one didn’t go down as fast.
Eventually they moved onto the home place. At age 10, I was already sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee with Alice and my sister, while their boys played outside. Sometimes we’d pile all the kids in the backseat and explore an abandoned farm or go shopping at a nearby town.
One of my favorite memories is of Alice strumming her guitar and singing. She had a husky voice and perfect pitch. I never hear the song, “Me and Bobby McGee” without thinking of her. When I became a teenager, Alice was the one adult I could talk to. She listened to my teenage traumas and always had sound wisdom for me.
Later, Larry and I married and lived in the old house on his family’s farm. We thought we’d stay forever. We’d be just a few miles from Alice and Glen and I could imagine afternoons spent with Alice, tackling projects or just drinking coffee.
However, it wasn’t to be. After two disastrous farming years, we moved away so Larry could go to school and begin a career. When his family farm was sold, the new owners hired Glen to bulldoze down the old house. That is a poignant memory.
As time went on, their kids grew up and moved away. Glen died at age 59 and Alice was left alone on the farm. Her independence showed. She had some cattle at first. Kept a big garden. Lived through winter storms without electricity. Helped her neighbors and her kids. Was a fan of my books.
We’ve had family in Dean township since 1904, but for the last 25 years, Alice held the position alone. That ended in 2017 when, frail and on oxygen, she finally admitted she couldn’t live alone on the farm any more.
Alice passed away this month. She wasn’t much for anything showy and she didn’t want any fuss over her departure, such as being written about in a blog. However, she is likely playing a heavenly guitar right now and won’t care what is happening back here.
So happy Mother’s Day, Alice. I hope the story of your faith, kindness and strength will inspire others.
“Serve wholeheartedly as though you were serving the Lord and not people.” Ephesians 6: 7 NIV
Many other women have also encouraged, influenced and guided me along the way–enough to fill a book! Do you have a special “Alice” in your life? I’d love to hear your story.
I’m busy working on Chapter 23 of “Amber’s Choice” and the poor girl is really up against it at this moment. Have you ever had to make a decision that will alter your life forever? That’s what Amber is facing and I can’t wait to see what she decides.
On May 21, I will talk about my writing at St. Gabriel’s here in Bismarck. Also looking at some other engagements and craft fairs this summer.
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The Sears store in Bismarck is closing. I think it’s worth a blog post to offer a tribute to one of the retail wonders of the 20th century.
When I was a kid, the Sears and Roebuck catalogue arrived regularly every spring, fall and Christmas. I’d spend hours looking through each section. The Christmas catalog was also known as the “wish book.” You could order almost anything from the Sears catalog, kind of like ordering from Amazon today.
Living in a rural area, we depended on mail order to purchase everything from shoes to overalls. Oh, Sears had competition from others, such as Montgomery Wards, affectionately known as “Monkey Wards,” but it ruled. We also had small Sears store in towns where we shopped.
I do remember seeing the big Sears store in Bismarck for the first time. I was 12 and the leaders of the Happy Hustlers 4-H Club took two carloads of girls to see the State Capitol in Bismarck. Note: We didn’t have seatbelts, so you could squeeze quite a few little bodies into the backseat.
The Sears department store was on Main Avenue and Fourth Street. It had huge plate glass windows, and a brick and black marble front. There were three stories of clothes, furniture and appliances. The ceilings were tin and looked like a wedding cake.
Eventually Sears moved north to the new Gateway Mall. After I married and we moved to Bismarck, I made many trips across town to the store. Sears sold Toughskin jeans, which had a lifetime guarantee on the knees. I had two active sons. The knees on the jeans would last two or three weeks, and I’d go and trade them in for a new pair.
Later, my first job in Bismarck was at Sears. I dressed up several times a week and drove across town for a 3-hour shift ordering draperies for customers and pricing towels. I was working the day President Reagan was shot. The department was around the corner from the television section, so when I wasn’t busy, I’d watch the unfolding developments. After a few months, I found a job with better hours that was located much closer to home.
There was a time when Sears, Penney’s and Montgomery Wards were prominent in the Dakotas. Today, Wards is completely gone and Bismarck has one of the few Penney’s stores in the state. Sears has been struggling for some time. Getting rid of the ever-popular Craftsman tools was a real sign that the store was on shaky ground, and it got so they had so little staff, that you had to hunt for a clerk.
The other day, we stopped by the store for a last look. Another couple was walking out as we walked in.
I looked around and said, “This is sad.”
The woman nodded. “I’m sorry I came,” she said.
It was a little like walking around the estate sale of an old friend. Goodbye Sears, you will be missed.
This past month, the plan was to work every day on Amber’s Choice, the sequel to By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek. The reality has been I needed to spend the time pulling together a presentation. While it came together slowly, I’m certainly happy with the end product. Happy, because it’s fun to talk about writing Cottonwood and my historical novel, Secrets of the Dark Closet. But more than that, the presentation is about passing on your family values.
Life for younger generations is way different now than it was in the 20th Century. What that really means is people need hope and encouragement more than ever. The talk, “Cottonwood Tales,” includes a PowerPoint presentation. I used it for the first time at the Spring Breakfast at the Bismarck Senior Center this past week.
For information about scheduling a presentation, please email me at email@example.com. Meanwhile, I’ll be spending more time with Amber McLean. She has some interesting choices to make, and when I left her, she was in a very awkward position. I can’t wait to see how she gets out of this predicament.