Finding Beauty on this Fantastic Friday

After a frustrating week, I searched my memories for the days' hidden beauties and found them.The red buds are blooming in our neighbor’s ravine again. They are as achingly beautiful as they were at the end of April last year. Twelve months ago I wrote this post, and though I feel better than when this post appeared in April of 2015, the words written in it are as true on this Fantastic Friday as they were then.

Finding Beauty in a Not Very Easy Week

The week just past was not an easy one. Last Sunday, I was finally home for a good long while after months of speaking engagements and Grammy duties, with no book deadlines looming. Don’t get me wrong, all of the above are good–even great and blessed–events. But they were wearying, too, and I naively thought that the week would be devoted to creative activities that rejuvenate me…like finally getting back to poor, patient Jane and her languishing mystery novel. That didn’t happen.

Because I had forgotten that the first several days after being gone
are devoted to catching up on everything that piled up in your absence.
Laundry.
Mail.
Email.
Bills.
Grocery shopping.
Once those were taken care of,
it was  time to respond to people I’d told,
“Contact me a few days after I get back, and I’d be glad to help.”
All that took until Saturday.

Which left me as frustrated as the crazy, two week allergy elimination diet I began on Sunday has been leaving me hungry after every meal. (More on the diet tomorrow.) And I was tired. Bone tired. A wee bit out of shape. And whiny because the weather’s been rainy and cold for days. Something had to be done. So Sunday afternoon, I sat down and racked my memory for the beauty hidden in my not-too-easy week.

Once I started looking, beauty was everywhere,
in the cherry blossoms in our neighbors’ yard,
blossoms left untouched by a nip of frost.
in finding the exact watch Mom wanted to replace her old one at the first store visited.
on the heavenly red bud trees blooming in the ravine along our road.
in the forgiveness of our church Connection Group
when I totally forgot about the potluck we were hosting.

Most beautiful of all,
most heart-breakingly beautiful of all,
in the kindness of staff members interacting with a resident in Mom’s memory care unit,
as they encouraged him, though his mind is dimmed by disease, to play his trombone,
as they hummed the birthday tune to him until the notes brought back his memory,
and he played the tune straight through,
with vibrato
and rhythm
and perfect pitch.
In his fellow residents giving him a rousing round of applause,
and asking him to play it again…
and again…
and again.

A miracle.
A miracle of grace.
A miracle of beauty.
A miracle of unequaled beauty almost overlooked,
though hidden in plain sight,
and waiting eagerly to be found.

And to think,
I almost missed it.

Finding Beauty in a Not Very Easy Week

red budsThe week just past was not an easy one. Last Sunday, I was finally home for a good long while after months of speaking engagements and Grammy duties, with no book deadlines looming. Don’t get me wrong, all of the above are good–even great and blessed–events. But they were wearying, too, and I naively thought that the week would be devoted to creative activities that rejuvenate me…like finally getting back to poor, patient Jane and her languishing mystery novel. That didn’t happen.

Because I had forgotten that the first several days after being gone
are devoted to catching up on everything that piled up in your absence.
Laundry.
Mail.
Email.
Bills.
Grocery shopping.
Once those were taken care of,
it was  time to respond to people I’d told,
“Contact me a few days after I get back, and I’d be glad to help.”
All that took until Saturday.

Which left me as frustrated as the crazy, two week allergy elimination diet I began on Sunday has been leaving me hungry after every meal. (More on the diet tomorrow.) And I was tired. Bone tired. A wee bit out of shape. And whiny because the weather’s been rainy and cold for days. Something had to be done. So Sunday afternoon, I sat down and racked my memory for the beauty hidden in my not-too-easy week.

Once I started looking, beauty was everywhere,
in the cherry blossoms in our neighbors’ yard,
blossoms left untouched by a nip of frost.
in finding the exact watch Mom wanted to replace her old one at the first store visited.
on the heavenly red bud trees blooming in the ravine along our road.
in the forgiveness of our church Connection Group
when I totally forgot about the potluck we were hosting.

Most beautiful of all,
most heart-breakingly beautiful of all,
in the kindness of staff members interacting with a resident in Mom’s memory care unit,
as they encouraged him, though his mind is dimmed by disease, to play his trombone,
as they hummed the birthday tune to him until the notes brought back his memory,
and he played the tune straight through,
with vibrato
and rhythm
and perfect pitch.
In his fellow residents giving him a rousing round of applause,
and asking him to play it again…
and again…
and again.

A miracle.
A miracle of grace.
A miracle of beauty.
A miracle of unequaled beauty almost overlooked,
though hidden in plain sight,
and waiting eagerly to be found.

And to think,
I almost missed it.

Top Ten Reasons to Take a Fall Road Trip

fall colors

10.  Gas prices are hovering around the $3.00 mark.

9.   The weather’s comfortable during the day and not too cool at night, so you can turn off both the AC and heat while you’re gone.

8.   You’ll be gone on those warm fall days when the Asian soy beetles and box elder bugs swarm the south side of the house. That means you won’t be letting critters in whenever you go in and out.

7.   Pumpkin spice lattes are available at every pit stop.

6.   You can sleep with the windows open when you arrive at your night time digs.

5.   Watching farmers bring in the harvest makes for an captivating drive.

4.   So does viewing the fall colors along the way, especially along the Mississippi River valley.

3.   Good weather makes it possible to stop and walk around a prairie lake that’s too windy, too cold, or too hot most of the year.

2.  You might be present when a two-year-old is enthralled by the first fuzzy-wuzzy caterpillar he’s ever seen.

1.   Driving west on your way home, watching a magnificent sunset can move you to tears.

What do you love about fall road trips? Leave a comment.

Top Ten Things About Living in Iowa

Iowa top ten

10.  Radio ads during sports broadcasts feature seed corn, soybean hybrid, fertilizers, and the like.

9.   During the recession, Iowa’s unemployment rate was 2–4% lower than the national rate.

8.   Unbearable hot, humid summer days and nights are interrupted by cooler, less humid reprieves that make a person appreciate good weather.

7.   Cookie’s Barbeque Sauce.

6.   Drives in the country on summer Sunday afternoons or evenings.

5.   Fresh produce stands from June through September.

4.   Soil so rich your son, whose college major is Soils, takes pictures of garden dirt when he comes for a visit.

3.   After a childhood devoid of raptors, the eagles and falcons are back, soaring on the updrafts.

2.   The green, verdant beauty of our country lane, which brings tears to my eyes each time I drive home.

1.   Sweet corn, sweet corn, and more sweet corn.

The Price of Beauty

fawn

Morning walks have been a parade of beauty
These late spring days.
An indigo bunting perched on the fence,
Baby bunnies hopping around in dizzy circles,
Cardinals, male and female,
Singing from the treetops,
Or flying beside the path.
And then, this morning,
The season’s first glimpse of a shy, spotted fawn
Crossing the road behind her mother.

I do not care that the drivers of the cars coming down the hill
Thought me a crazy woman
For holding up one hand in warning,
While using the other to point to the fawn ahead,
For urging people on their way to work
To slow down,
To stop
Until this small and speckled new life had crossed the road.
Such is the price of beauty,
And I am glad to pay it.

Top Ten Reasons to Love Spring

10.

IMG_1738

The wild plum tree blooming across the road.

9.

Blossoms on the cherry tree across the fence in the neighbor's yard.

Blossoms on the cherry tree across the fence in the neighbor’s yard.

8.

A white crab apple tree just about to burst into bloom.

A white crab apple tree just about to burst into bloom.

7.

Sunshine streaming through trees covered with new leaves.

Sunshine streaming through trees covered with new leaves.

6.

White jonquils waving at the morning sun.

White jonquils waving at the morning sun.

5.

Red bud trees vibrant enough to take a person's breath away.

Red bud trees vibrant enough to take a person’s breath away.

4.

A field of dandelions...next to someone else's yard.

A field of dandelions…next to someone else’s yard.

3.

A red crab apple tree heavy with flowers.

A red crab apple tree heavy with flowers.

2.

A fairy ring of bleeding hearts.

A fairy ring of bleeding hearts.

1.

A tulip festival in our own backyard!

A tulip festival in our own backyard.

What do you love about spring? Leave a comment!

 

 

 

Hungry for Iowa

Spring Along Our Gravel Road

Spring is lovely along our Iowa gravel road.The rain washes away the dust kicked up by cars passing by, so the foliage is a deep and vibrant, soothing green. Every day is a feast for the senses.

The lingering scent of rain from a night time thunderstorm.
Toads betrayed by small movement in the grass.
Does hiding the shadow.
Cardinals singing in the treetops.
The stream rushing and gurgling under the bridge.
Goldfinches fighting for their turf in low bushes.

Each spring morning, I rush outside to greet new blossoms.
First the magnolias, the rhododendron, the red buds, and the daffodils.
Then the bleeding heart, the tulips and the lilacs.
Now the iris, the clematis, and the columbine.
Soon the peonies and the daisies.

I can’t bear the thought of missing the arrival of these friends. So most years, I stay home in May, determined to fully savor its beauty. But not this year. Not this week. Tomorrow, we pack the car and leave the beauty behind for a few days. I hate to miss the arrival of the peonies and daisies. But I know how much my daughter misses our gravel road after a year in Ohio while her husband finished grad school.

She misses the ancient silver maples in our yard,
The sight of leaves and grass,
The smell of trees and space and flowers,
The fairy ring where she played as a child,
The regularity of a gravel road each mile,
The greenness found only in Iowa,
Beloved by Iowa girls like my daughter and me.

She’s hungry for her home state, as I was during the seven years Hiram and I lived in South Dakota. So hungry, I could hardly bear it. So eager for a taste of home, I lived for my mother’s visits and feasted on the time she spent with us.

My mother left her roses,
And her yard work,
And her rhubarb,
And her invalid husband
To feed her daughter a taste of home.

So the peonies and daisies will have to bloom without us. Hiram and I are off to see our daughter and new son. Packing our car with Iowa air and comfort. Eager to share our feast with our hungry, Iowa-starved children. Bringing them the taste of our gravel road as my mother once brought a taste of home to me.

Waiting for the Fog to Lift

November is not Iowa’s best month.

Maybe that’s why our small state has never been a destination location in late fall, except for the fourth Thursday of the month when people come back in droves for an indoor frenzy of food and football. Considering Iowa’s landscape this time of year, who can blame our inhabitants and visitors for eating themselves into a stupor and yelling at a bunch of goofy guys in helmets running around on TV?

True, the temperatures have been mild for November and the winds calm. But the cloudy gray skies, the bare, gray tree limbs, and the feeble, ineffective hours of daylight make for poor eye candy during my daily walks. In fact the scenery is so glum, it takes all the discipline I can muster and an Evelyn Lundberg Counseling Agency pep talk to force me out the door.

This past Saturday was no exception. In addition to the normal gloom, a thick fog settled over our area. No need to become road kill this close to the holidays, I thought, and delayed my walk until mid-morning. Even then, the mist hadn’t completely dissipated. Everything around me was gray and shades of gray, at ten in the morning no less.

And then I walked behind our community college. The campus was quiet and empty for the weekend, except for a row of wet and shivering crab apple trees between the parking lot and the buildings. The naked branches were loaded with fruit, crying as the blanket of fog lifted and left them exposed and red and lovely.

What other beauty is hidden in the fog, beauty I miss by concentrating on dreariness and gloom? What bright colors have I missed, driven indoors by gray skies and weak sun?

Instead of waiting for the fog to lift, perhaps I should walk into it and find joy in unexpected places, in every season of the year.

Beauty Yet to Come

This morning, the sky is gray. Every once in a while, in a fair imitation of an irritable camel, it spits a little. The cold and rain is about as welcome as difficult house guest who wore out her welcome weeks ago.

But I refuse to let the weather dampen my enthusiasm because spring is on its way. Between Monday’s substantial rainfall and Wednesday’s sunshine, the lawn is now more green than brown. I saw crocuses in bloom at McFarland Clinic yesterday. And every day, another tulip or daffodil in my flower bed braves the cold and comes out of hiding.

The magnolia tree beside the house is covered with buds waiting to flower at the slightest provocation. I can hardly wait since it barely bloomed the first spring after planting and an April frost nipped last year’s buds in the bud.

The tree was supposed to be a bush, but it had bigger growth plans and implemented them with great success. Hiram wanted to move the tree away from the house last fall, but I persuaded him to let it bloom this spring before digging it up. The trauma of a move could be deadly, so I want one glorious blooming and lots of pictures in case that happens.

Which means, of course, that I should be pleased with a cold spring which keeps plants from flowering too early and becoming victims of a frosty death. The magnolia is more likely to be what I hope it will be, all because the weather is not what I think it should be. So I am pleased, at least in my more mature, big picture moments which don’t come nearly often enough.

Every gloomy morning provides an opportunity to mature and consider the big picture. So this spring I am maturing at record speed. And in the moments when I see the big picture, I thank God for gray skies and chilly days, and most of all for magnolia buds and for beauty yet to come.

Walnuts

Black walnut season has arrived on our gravel road. Every time a car drives over one of the round green fruits, there’s a peculiar pop, like the popping of a giant paper bag. When I’m in the car the pop is beneath me, and I jump a little, wondering if I’ve lost a tire.

This morning was so beautiful, the sky so blue that I thought up excuses to stay outside. The best excuse was to pick up walnuts. Good exercise, I thought. Get rid of the mess. And since someone in our church is collecting walnuts to sell, with all the proceeds going to our building fund, I could get my good deed for the day done before mid-morning.

The idea of all that multi-tasking had me so pumped I borrowed extra five gallon buckets from the neighbors. I filled six of them before I noticed my back and my legs were getting a little sore. By tomorrow morning, after a good night’s stiffening sleep, I’m thinking they’ll be a lot sore.

Still the extra time outdoors was worth it, and I was slow to hike up the driveway and into the house when I was done. I looked back at the walnut tree near the end of our driveway. Its leaves are gone and its limbs are black against an intense October sky. And there are plenty of walnuts hanging there, waiting for stiff winds and cold nights to shake them to the ground.

I have a feeling I’ll be out here again, I thought as I walked to the house. But will there ever be another morning as beautiful as today? I opened the door and forced myself to walk inside.