I counted a least two dozen winged trinkets and framed pictures on the shelves, mantel, and walls of both of our homes. Mini birdhouses, feeders, nests, a sparkly snow bird and a reindeer (they fly!), angels, blue willow dishes, and an artist’s portrait of a peasant young woman cradling a wounded sea gull decorate my home. These creatures bring life and represent my love of sacredness and nature … the green life of plants, trees, bushes, vines, and flowers as well as their winged friends. Eagles, owls, ducks, swans, gulls, wrens, finches, hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies are what I am attracted to during my walks besides the flowers and trees along the way. And those angelic beings are protecting my loved ones and I.
Our Midnight. Midnight was the extended Bates and Gall family pet and everyone’s friend. His vivacious, contagious spirit made you laugh and love life. Midnight loved his Dean, and the special attention Dean gave him. He loved people. He loved our kids and grandkids, “his kids”. He loved the many friends and family who visited our home. Whined and cried with happiness when any one came to visit “him”, of course. He loved his Elisabeth, stayed at her side after every chemo treatment until she was back on her feet. He loved the morning ritual of seeing Libby and Brendan onto the school bus. He loved crockpot dinner and Chinese carry-out nights. He loved his evening walks especially those that included a DQ ice cream cup. He loved going out to “the farm”. Midnight loved lakes and creeks, and chasing after all the waterfowl that lived in them. But he hated thunderstorms. Major anxiety raced his pounding heart except oddly for those he embraced outside. One of my fondest memories was being on the boat dock of cabin #2 at Valhalla Resort on Island Lake in Minnesota. The thunderheads rolled in above the lake so abruptly like the cap-size waves that July evening. Midnight and I faced the storm together while missing our Dad who passed away too soon to enjoy that evening with us. We ran together for shelter once the lightning strikes began. And that story reminds me of the time Dean, Midnight, and I ran for the shelter from a tornado overhead while at the farm and greenhouse. The whirling winds rocked our van just inches from the creek. I think all three of us had a few more gray hairs after that adventure!
Our Midnight passed away on Monday, June 11. And yes, this is our Midnight’s eulogy. Our 13-1/2 year old Labrador-flat coat retriever mix was 115 years old in human years. It came suddenly, the vet said his body gave way to old age. Midnight lived and loved 5 generations of the Bates/Gall family. He was given to my Grandpa Earl and Grandma Paula as a Christmas gift in 2004. Puppy love with huge paws. Grew into a 90-lb adult dog, too much for my elderly grandparents to handle. In turn my Dad adopted Midnight, trained him to be an excellent waterfowl retriever. This pet came to live at the 99 Jane house with Dean and I after my father passed away 5-1/2 years ago. Sometimes a crowded house, but always had room for our Midnight. For a few days Midnight lived with Dean’s parents when we all were displaced from our home after the main water line flood. One night our dog stayed with a kind family after he wandered off through an unlatched gate, no thanks to the contractor during our house addition. Oddly enough, this family lived one field over from where I grew up on the tree farm in St. Peters. Our handsome Midnight had been dubbed “Nerm” and “Hercules”, and I cannot explain why. Our easygoing dog co-existed with 5 different house cats during his time with us. Beyond tolerable, he was sociable to his feline companions especially during the late evening cat treat time all gathered in Dean and I’s bedroom every night. He made a few doggy friends … Nasa, Mokie, Jesse, Bleu, Beatrice, Barry, Daisy, Gus, Molly, Parker, Roman, another Molly, Shawnee, Peyton, Ellie, Eddie, Max … learned to accept or avoid the young whipper-snappers as he became an old man dog.
Midnight is greatly missed, our hearts feel an emptiness yet privileged to have known him and feel his love. Our Midnight. We will always love you.
Spring finally arrived but transitioned into summer within days. 80 and even 90 temps have come quickly after such a long winter. I have not put in my vegetable and herb garden yet. Yes, I know. A sense of guilt for the early crop of greens I missed. But the garden will get planted. It has been one cold spell after another, one distraction after another, and one rainy day after another.
We brought the perennials outside yesterday. Some survived the winter in the semi-heated garage, and others did not. After a good soaking last night, my potted greenery seems to relish the mild outdoor air and misty morning rain this Sunday. My arrowhead plant has taken a beating from the baby kitten newly adopted. “Little WeeWot”, I dubbed him, who likes to hop from the tall ceramic pot up onto the buffet where he has full view of the kitchen. He even lays on the arrowhead plant to nap. The arrowhead plant is now housed next to the porch under the Japanese red maple. Such a pleasant sight this morning to see its branches perked up looking for the sunlight on this overcast day. Hopefully, just the song birds perch on the potted plant.
This spring has been a different season. I see my plants tell my story, my life. Gone with the dead, on with the living. Browns and grays have passed away. Green and vivacious colors reign again. Flowers of red, purple, blues, and yellow spring forth and fill the pots overflowing. Relationships renew. Love lavishly wins. Always.
April 8, today is my youngest grandson, Eli’s birthday! A big eight-year old! I cannot remember what the temps were that day. Dean and I were engaged, making plans for our July wedding, and visited Rachel and our new grandson, Eli at the hospital. Another miracle baby, conception and the life he lived inside his mother. God has a plan for his life. A mighty good one indeed.
What did the pastor talk about today? “Faith…the evidence of things not seen…” The weather has been up and down, up and down for weeks now. The spring equinox came, but little evidence is seen. The daffodils bring their burst of yellows more than the sun does these April days. Wild violets creep between autumn remnants, and the stifled buds keep closed. A tinge of green appears in some of the trees. But snow in the forecast once again today! We need some more sunny, warm days for the plant life to sing “hallelujah”. I cannot wait.
I am so behind on the garden. It has been too cold, or too wet to get to the greenhouse even in the Jeep. Last year we had arugula coming up by late March. Yesterday was a sunny, but crisp Saturday. We worked clearing brush at Boone Hollow Farm after the temps got above freezing. And we dumped some more organic soil in the vegetable and herb bed, worked it in. Maybe next week, we can sow our leaf lettuce, peas, and beets? Faith … I can almost taste those roasted beets fresh from the oven!
The sun wants to come out to play, but the gray clouds hold the sunshine back. Glimpses of yellow daffodils appeared a day ago, but today they keep their heads covered as the veil of cold conceals them. At dusk snow flakes mutter winter’s last moan. What happened to yesterday’s rain showers and thunderstorm? Is Spring hiding?
Outdoor gardening seized late October. My perennials appear to be in dormancy under the plant lights in the garage. Such a cold winter, the little heater is keeping the garage just above freezing. Sometimes life’s circumstances appear to keep us in dormancy like the season of winter. But winter is just one season, there are those three others. And really underneath it all, life is emerging from the roots, bulbs are multiplying, and green growth will reappear in just weeks. Valentine’s Day red comes in the midst of the bleak cold winter in this part of the world. We just celebrated National Wear Red Day, comes the first Friday in February each year, with women sporting red dresses and men vivid red ties which reminds us to take care of our hearts with healthy foods and ample physical activity. Valentine trinkets, cards, and boxes of chocolates are given with red cupids and hearts on February 14.
This winter holiday warms hearts for some, and leaves others wondering if they will ever find true love. The history of this holiday evolved like so many other holidays from Christian roots. Wikipedia tells us “St. Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, Saint Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, and before his execution, he wrote her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine’ as a farewell.” A original European tradition is to give St. Valentine’s keys to show love and with that goes the lore that these keys keep epilepsy away from your children. Now the golden key is gifted as a romantic symbol and an invitation to “unlock the giver’s heart”. Wow, what an invitation!
With Jesus you do not have to unlock the Giver’s heart. He gave all His love on the Cross. True love does come in Jesus! He is there for each of us. His love is perfect … it is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, or rude, and is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not like evil, and rejoices in the truth. His love always protects, hopes, perseveres, and never fails!
Tis the season of busyness and preparations for the holidays. Presents bought and wrapped. Baking. A surprise visit and present from my son. It is Dean and I’s heart to get these holiday greetings sent via postage mail long before Christmas week. Please know that you are in our hearts year round. Christmas joy has filled our home, peace with God and grace to all people despite any differences. This snowy Christmas Eve is the slow-down to reflect on His Gift, Jesus, lessons from 2017 and what is hoped for 2018. The 4 Advent Sundays reminded us of this moment. Father Peter shared at Mass tonight the Christmas story, how there was no room for Joseph, Mother Mary, and the birth of baby Jesus. A meager manger would be the chosen place of His birth. It was asked how many of us would say the same “no room at our house”? “What would you do if Joseph and Mary came knocking on your door tonight? Do you have time to deal with this? Can you make space in your house without resentment or casting judgment? Would you empty the tool shed or a spot in the garage? Would you charge high $$ to profit from this situation? Or worst yet, steal their possessions, what little the guests have? Scriptures tell us “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto Me.”
“Family” would summarize our year of 2017. As a reminder, Dean and I have 6 children, 5 in-law children, 6 grandchildren, 3 parents, 5 siblings and their families, and we cannot forget our dog, Midnight and cat, Celine, the 7 grand dogs, and 3 grand cats. Dean and I began 2017 in Key West, Florida with his parents and siblings, an 80th birthday celebration for Dean’s mother. Such a while ago, but lovely memories of the beach breezes, discovering new sites, and time with family. We still have our greeting card boxes that niece Amelia made each of us. After the hurricanes there, I suppose the scenery is quite different. In a couple of days warmth awaits us in San Antonio, where we will meet up with Dean’s son, AJ, Nancy, Elise, and Nancy’s family there. Spiced rum eggnog, homemade chicken soup, Christmas carols, and having each other will keep us warm tonight …
In February my daughter, 33-year old Elisabeth was diagnosed with 2 types of breast cancer, stage 1 and stage 2. Elisabeth went through a strict regimen of chemo treatments, hair loss, zapped energy and strength. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction this summer. We are so very thankful to our Father as she has been given a cancer-free diagnosis in July. Elisabeth is regaining her strength and hair while under hormone therapy and low-dose chemo. Her husband, children, family, friends, and all the supportive, praying communities continue to surround her. Her bravery and fighter personality helped Elisabeth stay above. I reached out for prayers by many women, visited church 1-block from my office to take part in many noontime prayer vigils, and Dean and I together continue to provide a quiet and calm home while she heals.
Refreshing spring brought us to the completion of our 2-room addition. It took a whole year, but it is beautiful and has provided the much needed space to our home. At this season of our lives we share our home with my daughter and her family. More warmth with the woodwork, a set of barn doors matching the stained doors in the rest of the house as well as a high ceiling to heighten the spacious floor layout. We use the 2 rooms as a family room/dining area and an extra bedroom that Elisabeth and Mark can rest their heads in. In May Dean and I spent almost a week in the Smoky Mountain region of our beautiful states. Experienced the AirBnB hospitality for this vacation. We loved Gatlinburg, TN and Asheville, NC. Antiques, the arts, and foodie places were our hangouts. Of course, a few walks in the woods. There was a sign warning us, and you know the saying “hindsight is 20/20”. Dean drove the Dragon’s Tail Highway with all its hairpin turns, not understanding what we were in for. I was very close to losing lunch during that ride. We tried the glamper scene one night in the middle of nowhere land. And we stopped in Nashville for a night. Love the nightlife there with all the honky-tonks and country music.
Weekend trips to Lee’s Summit and Farmington keep us on the road at least once a month visiting with children, grandchildren, and Dean’s parents. When we are home we read, write, catch a music venue or new foodie joint in St. Louis. And there is always those weekend chores. We garden and mow at the greenhouse site on Boone Hollow Farm near Defiance 7 or 8 months out of the year. This year’s gardening included a voluntary cherry tomato plant that literally took over the whole vegetable bed from July until the October frost killed it. We dubbed this plant as “Audrey” from the play/movie Little Shoppe of Horror. We made a delicious green tomato marmalade from the abundance of fruit left after the killing frost. Our perennials are inside now, and our bird of paradise is about to bloom again under the plant lights in the garage. Autumn brought Dean and I a steal-away weekend to Pella, Iowa. We loved this Dutch town so much, we are planning a Mother’s Day weekend there with our mothers.
My occupation as the employee wellness coordinator of St. Louis County is the work God called me to this season of my life. We had our Billion Steps Challenge using Fitbits and a web portal called One Community. With two 8-week walking challenges this spring and summer, we cleared the 1 billion steps goal and went well over 2 billion steps amongst 2800 participating employees and spouses. I have been asked to speak along with a panel at the St. Louis area American Heart Association’s Wellness Forum in February discussing employer wellness budgets on a shoestring. Personally, my biometric numbers were improved substantially with the walking challenges, and my primary care physician is thrilled. The walking culture continues through winter. Dean, Midnight, and I still take an evening constitutional almost every night. At 20 degree temps, I declined tonight. Hives or worse a visit to the emergency room would not be good. Dean’s occupation with the National Archives keeps him going, and work he was called to as well. He loves the hunt for military records especially for his family and friends.
Our youngest granddaughter, Elise has captured her Grandpa Dean’s heart. I think he counts the days until he can see her again. This Father’s Day was a wonderful gathering of Dean’s children and their families with us at our home. The red children’s swing in our sweet gum tree remind us of that special weekend. We had a Gall Family Thanksgiving at Rainer and Erica’s newly bought house in St. Louis City, and a birthday gathering for Dean the following day at a local bakery cafe. Another day that weekend we celebrated my oldest grandchild, Hannah’s 16th birthday. Church every Sunday and occasional birthday celebrations and plays keeps us in touch with my mother and family. While celebrations and victories punctuate our year, so does illness and death. Dean’s extended family lost a cousin recently. Cancer, this wicked stuff. Keep Mike’s wife, Terri and 2 daughters in your prayers please. Another extended family member is undergoing treatments ; please say a prayer for Marion, our son-in-law’s father. My oldest daughter, Rachel has multiple medical conditions, her conditions declining, which cause severe pain. In 2018 I plan to take more time off from work each month to help Rachel with the kids and house. Please bathe Rachel in your prayers.
What room do you have in your heart, home, and life for the least of these My brothers? What has God prepared you for this very night, or the 365 days in 2018? Blessings to you this eve of Jesus Christ’s birth. As the carols sing … “Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!”… “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders of His love.” Joy to the world!
Is that Santa peering at us from the tree? Or an angel? Maybe an angel in the form of Santa in the first snow! Angels are amongst us, and I believe in miracles. Perform Your miracles through me and Your People, Lord God. We need Your Peace. Let us be an instrument of Your Peace this Christmas and each day of the New Year …
Trees, trees, and more trees, reach to the gray blue sky. Most naked of their leaves. Some willows and pin oaks hang on. Autumn winds swept the green, gold, orange, and crimson red away to the earth to repurpose and mulch other plants. The trees’ limbs are bare, exposed. Their shapes form letters “J”, “V”,”X”, “Y” , and “Z”. Each tree has a story why it is shaped the way it is. What thunderstorm broke which limb, what drought stunted its growth, what sunny spring brought fullness of life. Squirrels and birds nests still rest in the crooks, a shelter high from the earth, but subject to the weather tossing its substance this winter season. The trees are dormant, but not barren. A big difference. Sun and warmth comes and spring buds green once again. This somber December day brought the burial of a wonderful Christian man. Not young, but not old either. The life swept out of him from cancer while on this earth. But life everlasting in Heaven at Home with our Maker is his. Thank you Jesus for making this possible. Good bye for now cousin Mike. Until we meet again this season we decorate a tree and place lights on it to remind us of the light of Jesus, our everlasting Life in Him. Mike, I am sure you are a shining Star in Heaven…