Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rainy Days

We've had a string of rainy days. The kind I like, a few hours of rain and sunny the rest of the day. I love the fragrance of rain, so fresh, so life-filled, and cool. The trees and bushes are happy today as they stretch their branches to gratefully accept this plentiful gift.

Earlier this summer I got caught in an all-day rain storm. Not the kind I like. I was on an outing and didn't have much choice about getting in and out of the rain. The rain was falling from buckets it seemed and there weren't many breaks to take advantage of. So I braced myself and used my little umbrella to keep the rain out of my eyes and trudged through the puddles and waterways. My jeans were soon soaked and my sandal-footed feet grew wrinkly. Before long it didn't matter that it was raining; I was already wet. Though it was less than comfortable I wasn't in pain or too cold.

Sometimes it is okay to be uncomfortable. It stretches us and makes us grow when we try new situations. We learn new things and have valuable experiences. After walking through the downpours it didn't seem like a problem to walk through a little rain shower.  I was acclimated to my surroundings.

Life offers us many challenges similar to rainy days. I could have chosen to stay in the car and miss all the sights and fun that happened on that downpour day.  I could stay inside and not risk getting my hair wet. But I think God wants us to enjoy His rain sometimes. He promised us He would never flood the whole earth again and we have the rainbow as a covenant.

"And God said, This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come. I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember" (Genesis 9:12-16 NIV).

The raindrops are bigger and falling faster now as I write this, but I'm confident that God will bring us a rainbow again to enjoy. I'm not afraid of getting wet anymore. God will see me through, whatever the challenge.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Hairy Story

"And even the very hairs of our head are all numbered" (Matthew 10:30 NIV).

One thing that happened before each new school year was a haircut and perhaps another occurred before school pictures. I was born with fine, straight hair. There is no curl whatsoever. Not even a thought of a wave. What I have now is all fake from a perm. I realized as an adult I needed to give my poor head of hair a boost of volume using a perm for body and curl.

Mother tried to give me curls. There were home permanents that did strange things to my hair, but mostly she just settled on keeping it short in a pageboy type style with bangs (or fringe as my hairstyling friend corrects me). By the school pictures I can tell she tried rollers and pin curls sometimes. By the time I got to junior high and high school she gave up and let me do whatever I wanted which wasn't much.  Long and straight was the style in the 70s so of course that's what I did. One school picture shows a terrible problem with oil, common in teenage hair. After that one disastrous photo I seemed to do a better job of keeping it clean. Most likely mother pleaded with me to wash it again and I refused; I don't remember.

I do remember another hair disaster in my early teen years, though. I was in seventh grade and I had a small part in the class play. On the second night, a Saturday, I needed to wash my hair and we were out of cream rinse so daddy took me to the tiny grocery store in Clemons, IA to buy some. The only choice was Alberto VO5 Conditioning Hair Cream. I'd never used anything like it before and I clearly didn't read the directions or listen to anyone's advice. I took a palm full of the cream and put it on my freshly washed hair on Saturday afternoon. Then I proceeded to wash and wash and wash my hair to try and get it out. Time ran out and I ended up with plastered down hair that I finally had to pull back into a ponytail because it was so greasy. I remember feeling humiliated on stage and as my friends asked what I did to my hair. Ah, the value of life experiences.

The worst hair story I have was before my sister's wedding. Everyone got to go to a salon and have their hair done for the wedding. I was a teenager and I didn't want my hair done. I carried on terribly about it but ended up having to go. Only to come home and cry about my hair looking terrible and proceeding to comb it out and maybe wash it so it looked quite terrible for the wedding. I'm still ashamed about how I acted.

God knows every hair on our heads. Even the gray ones that have a mind of their own and the thousands that fall out every day leaving thinning on the scalp. God cares, not about the style, the color, or the cut. He knows each hair because it is yours and a part of who you are - His creation.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

School Days

School has started for most children this fall and I can't help but reflect on the days I started back to school. I remember being anxious and excited at the same time. One year I moved and started school in the middle of the year, in kindergarten. I was very shy and nervous that day but a lovely little girl took me by the hand and became my first friend there. I still remember her standing by me and calming my worries.

Another year I had gotten a cute new wool skirt and sweater set and I wanted to wear it on the first day of school. Mother tried to talk me out of it but I wore it and it was a typical hot September day, I finally understood why I shouldn't wear wool on the first day of school...ugh.

I remember being so excited to get the new textbooks. I wanted to dig in and read the whole book right away. It was a joyful time to be a student. I attended school before the days of backpacks. What on earth did we do without them? Was it because the school supplied most of our paper and pencils? I don't remember having a lot to carry back in my younger school days.

Then, there was the ride on the school bus. Luckily I had the same bus drivers for many years and they were the best. It was always interesting to see who was on my bus route, old friends, or new kids on the miles. Sometimes we had assigned seats but most often we were allowed to sit anywhere as long as we didn't cause trouble. School bus drivers deserve rewards for taking on such a challenging job.

My favorite first days of school came much later in my life, when I returned to attend college as a 40-year-old. It became pure excitement to learn in each new class and for once I had self-confidence in my abilities to learn. What a joy it is to learn. We must never forget that.

"For attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young--let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance" (Proverbs 1:2-5 NIV).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Jobs

Summer was a great time to earn a little money to help with school clothes and shoes and the most obvious task was babysitting the neighbor kids. I did quite a bit of this when I was preteen age but as I grew older I was eager for more money and willing to work for it.

Walking beans was a job I did for daddy at first and then later I walked for the sharecropper who farmed our land. He paid really well and believe it or not I was excited to get up before dawn and brave the cold and wet beans to earn a paycheck. We usually worked at least until noon or when the field was clean. It was plenty warm and dry by the time we finished. Unfortunately there were only so many beans and the job ended too soon in the summer.

When I was 14 or 15, I had the opportunity to clean house for a shut-in lady who became a good friend. I would clean her house every other weekend. I learned responsibility and how to take pride in my work. It always felt good to complete the job well and to her pleasing. This job led to another cleaning job for a woman who just came home from the hospital. I was her caregiver and cleaned her house and then spent time helping prepare meals and helping her around the house. She taught me to cook salmon, something I'd never seen before. She was quite a talker so I learned a lot about life by assisting her for a  few days a week for several weeks. Surprisingly, my parents trusted me to drive to these ladies homes before I had my license. It was just a few miles away and I usually stayed on the gravel roads and never had an incident.

These little jobs taught me responsibility to others and prepared me to take a 'real' job at a book store when I was in high school. God uses even little things like walking beans and cleaning house to mold us into the person he wants us to be.

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6 NIV).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Swimming Lessons

When I grew up, many decades ago, one summer tradition was swimming lessons. The Red Cross sponsored swimming lessons for all the area schools and the school sponsored the school bus to take learners to and from. My memory isn't very good but I do recall feeling frightened and anxious. These were days before my school had an indoor pool and there weren't any "aquatic centers" yet. Marshalltown had the only pools I was aware of and my lessons were at the Riverview Park pool that's been gone for many years.

The instructors were all young confident swimmers and I admired them for their cool talent. Since pools were rare and busy it seems our swimming lessons were early in the morning while it was still very chilly outside. I remember not liking to get into the cool water but once I was in, the water was warmer than the air so I'd huddle down with only my head exposed. I believe by the time I got home it was usually nice and warm but the shivering and chattering teeth lasted several hours.

For a country girl to take swimming lessons was quite a special treat. Usually my summers were lonely without many chances to see friends from school. I had a good friend I saw at church and spent time with, and occasionally I'd enjoy a visit to a girlfriend's house. I spent most of the summer playing by myself. I loved to play house or school outside in a shed or off in a dry creek bed where the tree roots created rooms to play in. I'd go to the dump on our farm, left by the previous owners, and find all sorts of fun stuff to play with: broken cups, bottles, old pans and more. I had a great time.

The creek was the next best summer play spot. We would go wading on a hot day and cool down. Exploring the creek bed for treasures, pretty stones and drift wood that would make its way back to the house to show mom and dad. We learned that leeches lived in the shady areas of the creek. It's a wonder we didn't get hurt more often. Only rarely was the creek deep enough to swim in, so the swimming lessons were a probably a good idea, just in case.

"He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers" (Psalm 1:3 NIV).

Monday, August 11, 2014

What I learned at the Iowa State Fair

Watch your step.
Working with animals builds character.
Farms are learning grounds for life.
Be patient; it's worth the wait.
Get a bird's eye view on the Sky Glider.
Don't wear flip flops to do chores.
Wait your turn.
Fair animals are treated like humans - bathed, brushed, blown dry, fan on the face...
The cleanest bathrooms are the least used.
Everyone in Iowa is a photographer or wants to be one.
If you strive for a purple, be proud of what you get.
On a hot day head for Ye Old Mill.
Big isn't always better but it's sure impressive: Big Bull, Big Boar, Big Ram, Big Horse, Big Pumpkin...
If you climb high you get a reward on the big slide.
Seek air conditioning when it's hot.
Everyday offers something new.
Don't ride the Ferris Wheel after eating a butterscotch shake.
Hold hands with the ones you love.
4H's are: head, heart, hands and health.
Ice cream comes from cool cows.
Not all cows are made of butter.
Wash your hands after you throw a cow chip.
Use a free bag for all your fair stuff.
The governor has a steer show.
Purple pays a premium, but so do blue, red and white.
There's nothing better than being an Iowa State Fair Champion.
Iowans are proud to live on Century Farms.
Find your honey in the Agriculture Building.
Farmers, faith, family and fairs go together
Anything can come on a stick.

"Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will live in the land and the blameless will remain in it" (Proverbs 2:20-21 NIV).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Iowa State Fair

As the song goes, "The Iowa State Fair is a great state fair" and it is now a summer tradition for our family. As a child I remember going down early on a Sunday morning and arriving while it was very cool and moist outside. We'd always seem to park near the big barn on a very steep hillside (back in the day you could still park on the grounds). We'd head to the church service and attend there before exploring the rest of the Fair.

Daddy would sit in on a horse show and Mama loved the food and textile judging or she would seek out the 4-H demonstrations and exhibits. They both enjoyed a trip through the Varied Industries building, checking out the new machinery, and tasting some Fair food along the way. We'd always explore the livestock buildings being sure to include the horse barn, the sheep barn, and the cow barn. A look at the dairy cows usually resulted in an ice cream cone. Our visit included a trip back to the car for a picnic lunch and my favorite treat of all - a ride in Ye Old Mill. That was as close to the Midway we got.

During later years we would stop at one of the church food stands along livestock alley and find a shady place to sit and listen to music or watch the Bill Riley Talent Search. There would be a small bag of taffy and cotton candy to take home and a stop for lemonade or root beer during our day trip. I'd sit in with daddy at the horse show and he'd usually treat me with popcorn or a Frosty Malt so I'd sit still a little longer.

The State Fair was our vacation. Daddy was a farmer and that meant chores morning and night so we never took a real 'vacation'. The Iowa State Fair was a special day trip for the whole family and created great memories for us all.

"He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how an he take are of God's church?)" 
(1 Timothy 3:4-5 NIV).

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mama's Canning Time

One rewarding aspect of summer was canning time. When the bountiful garden overproduced the need for a meal and the plenty could be stored away for a winter treat. I've done my share of canning over the years when we've had a large productive garden but my mother topped anything I've ever done.

During her healthier days she would reap produce by the bushel basket full: peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, okra, potatoes, onions, carrots, sweet corn, turnips, broccoli, zucchini, and more. She had a king size upright freezer, more like a commercial brand. I've never seen another one like it. She would fill the shelves with mounds of vegetables and neatly stacked boxes that were ready for a winter's day meal.

She would spend hours preparing homemade catsup and fill up saved bottles and store them in the freezer. There were pots of pungent pickles that would brew to fill the awaiting sterilized jars. Lime pickles, dill pickles, vegetable relish, green tomato mincemeat, cherry olives, pickled okra, and picked beets. She had the most beautiful relish trays, all from the jars she stored in the cool, dark basement.

There were jars of tomato juice, tomato sauce, and tomatoes ready for any recipe. And when the concord grapes ripened there were jars of grape juice, grape pulp, and jams and jellies. Those joined the rhubarb, raspberry (black and red) and strawberry jams. There would be bags of chopped peppers and onions in the freezer that were time savers and boxes of berries ready for a special dessert.

Somehow she always seemed to be the recipient of bags of apples, someone else's surplus and she would make amazing applesauce with the peel left on, and containers of apple pie filling. She used her time so wisely and always had something in store for a delicious meal or to make a delightful treat as a gift for someone else.

Mama lived through the depression era and never ever wasted anything. She was a wife of noble character, a Proverbs 31 woman who earned her reward at the heavenly gates.

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies...She gets up while it is still dark; and provides food for her family...she opens her arms for the poor and extends her hands to the needy...when it snows, she has no fear for her household... " Proverbs 31 NIV.