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.
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!
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!
Autumn has been lovely. Another late harvest brought in the last of the volunteer arugula and tomatoes early in November. I was able to capture the sun from the growing season in jars of green tomato marmalade. Writing took a back door while gathering and prepping the fruits of our labor. The words continued to be gathered in my heart and eventually journaled. Now winter whispers this crispy morn. I am ready for more steeping hot teas and whipped cream lathered over hot cocoa while writing and reading.
“Rejoice, you deep places of the earth! Break into shouts of joy, you mountains, you forest, and every tree in them!” Isaiah 44:23.
The early autumn colors of sage and yellow have popped out along Missouri’s hillsides, the country and city landscapes. Fresh green leaves have started to turn to sage green and for some woods, that aspen yellow began. Amber and sable are seen in the sunsets, and soon these colors will be in the trees and fields. I love nature in its autumn clothes and all it’s glory!
“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.” ~Terri Guillemets.
“For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.” ~ Edwin Way Teale.
Midnight, our almost 13-year old Labrador wanted outside at 3:30 this morning. Odd, as he is usually sacked out on the couch at this wee hour of the morning. And then he did not want back in. Midnight wanted to lay in his backyard, and Dean left him there. Morning came an hour earlier today…
As we set out for work this Friday, I understood why Midnight wanted to stay outside. Our dog was welcoming the “change in the air”, the first of the family to feel the air switch directions, a cool brisk wind from the north. It is an annual event, noticed by the animals and nature-sensitive people. This colder air brings the geese honking and ducks quacking overhead at sunrise and dusk. Deep-sighing breathes are taken in relief of the sultry summer heat. Dinner menus change to comfort foods. Poems are even written about this change in the air. My oldest daughter wrote this poem in honor of this change and her mother saying every year …
The woods begin to vibrate with gathering and preparation.
The sounds so crisp, electric.
Her words were “I felt the air change today.”
Red, orange, yellow, green, brown.
They dance while falling.
A choreographed waltz.
Every year she said “I felt the air change today.”
Beautiful, breathtaking, loyal.
I think I felt the air change today.
With this change in the air comes thoughts of autumn and winter, getting the household, greenhouse, and gardens ready for the cold seasons. Another crop of greens will be sowed next week, maybe give us 2 or 3 more months of salads. Smaller pots and baskets of our perennials will be combined into bigger pots in preparation for their indoor home. But this time it is something more than a season change for our green life as said in the lyrics of A Change in the Air sung by Clint Black …
There’s something talkin’ in the wind
Whispering through the trees
That feeling in my bones again
Just puts me right at ease
It takes me back to all the times
I’ ve been here before
But crossroads, old familiar signs
Tell me there’s something more
Can’t explain, there’s something strange about the early fall
It’s comfort leaving me without a care
I remain but everything around me hears the call
And tonight I feel a change in the air
The leaves are turning, soon they’ll fall
There’s a norther blowing in
The memories flowin’, I recall
Those changes in the wind
But I can never try to understand
There’s nothing you can hold in your hand
Can’t explain, there’s something strange about the early fall
It’s comfort leaving me without a care
I remain but everything around me hears the call
And tonight I feel a change in the air
Yes I’ll surely feel a change in the air
Where is the Bee—
Where is the Blush—
Where is the Hay?
Ah, said July—
Where is the Seed—
Where is the Bud—
Where is the May—
~ Emily Dickinson, Answer July
I am missing May. This July in Missouri has been a scorcher. Parched the past few days, rain finally came overnight after a 108 degree day in the St. Louis region. More is needed. I pray. Yesterday Dean and I walked Midnight late-morning. The tree leaves were turned and folded in an attempt to protect from the blasting sun rays. They made a wither y rustle when a slight breeze came by. We waited until dusk for that last walk of the day. The sun, oh so hot this summer! Yet I am reminded of its purpose by the flowering beauty of our bird of paradise, the delicate peppery flavor of arugula shoots, the calmness of green in my Swedish ivy planter, and the glimmering glass art butterflies at the Butterfly House.
My whole life is punctuated with green. Green color and green life is found in my meals prepared, the walls and art decorating my home, plants breathing life in my office, and voluntary as well as deliberate gardens of vegetables and herbs.
I recently read in a book about small houses and spaces, that one color needs to be threaded in every room in order for the space to feel bigger and flowing. I would say green is that color. My living room and kitchen walls are a subtle mint green. Blue and taupe tones on the bedroom and bathrooms walls are contrasted with green in the art pieces, textiles, dishes. As I read what the color green symbolizes, I understand why I am drawn to green. And yes, my whole person matches green. I think plants and me are inseparable.
I chose to live this life alone over 12 years ago. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life,” one of the proverbs tell us. My heart was sick for too many years with an unhappy relationship. I only imagined what a happy marriage would be like. A come-true dream is a tree of life for me today. Eight years ago this July, Dean and I met on a semi-blind date arranged by his brother and sister-in-law. This tall, dark handsome man captured my eyes. But unlike the other bucks in the herd, Dean captured my heart. So happy I pursued this relationship. With our family backgrounds and life experiences, Dean and I came together like two peas in a pod, and we still are. Our pod is shared with our huge family almost every evening and every weekend. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is how an African proverb is told.
Dean and I needed to become just “two peas in a pod” again for a few days. We stole away to the Great Smokies, doing the Air B & B thing. Mountains, pines, music, and the visual and culinary arts we surrounded ourselves with. Despite the hot days while on a mountain culture retreat away from our Missouri life, I picked two big plastic bags full of leaf lettuce and a heaping bowl full of arugula and chives from my gardens this week. And those delectable garden peas! I love the pods picked fresh, and peas plucked out one at a time right into my open mouth like a baby bird awaiting mother robin’s wiggly worm catch after a rainy morn. The bountiful earth is feeding me (and my family and friends) goodness this spring. The longer and hotter days tell me the summer equinox is soon. Purple lobelia, wandering jew, and red geraniums are filling my moss baskets and terra-cotta pots. I thank God for watching over my beloved gardens while pursuing what captured my heart 8 years ago!