Friday, October 30, 2009

Weekend Words

My husband and I don’t argue much. I always assumed the reason for this was because I don’t spend a lot of time at home. Now that I’m retired from full-time teaching, I’m finding lots of other things to do and places to go. We have rules, of course. I write these trips down on the calendar so he knows where I’m going and when I’m coming back. I leave my cell phone on in case he decides I need to be contacted. And I always come back when I say I will, or call if there’s a delay. Sometimes I wonder if I would be so tolerant if he went away as often as I do.

Last Friday, for the second weekend in a row, I packed a suitcase and left town. This time I went to the lovely town of Fremont, Michigan, home of the Gerber Baby Food Company. The Gerber Guest House is a wonderful bed and breakfast place. It was perfect for our group – since we booked all but one of the seven rooms, we had the run of the entire house – two large dining rooms, two sitting rooms, an enclosed porch, and a patio overlooking a beautiful garden. Check out their website at

One of my writers’ groups booked the Gerber House for the entire three days. The idea was to spend the time clearing our minds of the outside world and devoting our time to our craft. My agenda was a bit different this time. I have a story well on its way to completion, but since a lot of it was written in 200 word chunks (hastily scribbled between classes, before going to work, or before going to bed), I needed to arrange these chunks into the framework of the manuscript. That turned out to be a bigger challenge than I expected. I went, hoping to organize all my scenes into a coherent whole, and maybe add some meat to some of the important parts. Instead, I caught up on blog entries, correspondence, and playing Boggle Bash (hey, at least I was working with words!)

Remembering my peaceful walk from last week, I joined two of my writing friends when they decided to walk through town and visit the quilt shop. If the fresh air could calm me down in West Olive, maybe it could work in Fremont. I had a great time rummaging through the bolts of beautiful fabric, the lovely patterns, and admiring the intricate quilts on display. I splurged on a few yards of fabric and walked back to the Guest House ready to write.

But the words didn’t come.

Sunday afternoon, I got back home. The kids were there, doing laundry. A nice hot dinner was simmering. I hugged my family, ate dinner, unpacked, and caught up on a few chores. And then I sat down at my keyboard. And I wrote. Paragraphs and pages. A new scene, a new angle. It was amazing.

So why couldn’t I write during my writing get-away? Who knows? I’ve written a lot during past retreats. Maybe I just needed the inspiration of my lovely, tolerant family. Or maybe the weekend was a chance to step away from them and really appreciate them when I got back. Whatever the case, the muse seems to be alive and well again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Picture This

Last weekend I spent two days in a quaint cottage on Lake Michigan with eight other women, working on scrapbooks. I’ve attended several overnight scrapbooking marathons, but this one was unusual for me for two reasons. First, this event lasted the full weekend instead of a twenty-four hour period, and second, one of the women attending was my daughter. As my kids get older, I’m more and more amazed at the wonderful adults they have become, despite their upbringing!

I had a later start due to my work schedule, but I eventually made it there and got to work. I love to arrange the pictures on the pages, often embellishing them with color, and journaling so that I can go back later and relive special times. But my favorite part of the weekend was when my daughter and I took some time on Saturday afternoon to stroll the boardwalk toward the beach.

I love fall in Michigan. It’s one of the reasons I moved back here after attending undergraduate school out of state. The colors are so plentiful and vivid, and the brisk coolness in the air just energizes me. And being outdoors near the water, I was enveloped in a calm that I hadn’t felt in a while. I’m not an “outdoors” enthusiast. Given a choice, I will almost always choose an indoor activity over an outdoor one, and I often admire the scenery from the comfort of my home or car. But there was something about the combination of the water, the cool air, and the colorful foliage that gave me a sense of peace and rightness with the world. I guess it was God’s way of reminding me how powerful He is.

We returned to our scrapbooking cottage refreshed and ready to resume our work. But my gaze kept straying to the windows, back to the source of my peace. On Sunday afternoon I went home, back to my frenzied life. A few days later I picked up my copies of the pictures I took during our walk. Amazingly, my heart lightened and I experienced the same sense of contentment I felt last Saturday. How incredible, this power of nature to calm and heal the soul!

So this past week, whenever I had the opportunity to be outdoors, I took time to really look at my surroundings. I am surrounded by beauty and splendor, some created by man, some not. It’s creativity at its best. And it makes me happy.

We’re not quite at the peak of the color season, but there was enough color for some lovely pictures. Thank goodness for phone cameras!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Matthew's House

Yesterday I delivered some of our “Warming Ears” fleece hats to a mission in the West Side of Grand Rapids called Matthew’s House. I had never taken a delivery before, so I asked my good friend Rose to come with me. In addition to providing moral support, Rose belongs to a Bible Study with the director of the mission, Pastor George Werkema.

Matthew’s House gets its name from Matthew 9:10: “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” The door is open to all who need help of any kind. The neat white building on the corner of 7th Street and Alpine is set up like a comfortable coffeehouse where people can come and get moral as well as physical support.

When you first enter, large round tables invite you to sit and have a cup of coffee with your neighbors. Bookcases are filled with reading materials as well as games and toys. Baskets near the front hold items people can take, such as toiletries and clothing. In the back corner of the great room, three computers with internet access are available. These computers are used for computer literacy classes as well as job searches and resume writing.

In the next room, people have free use of a washer and dryer, as well as a shower. As one of the women there told us, “When I’m clean on the outside, I feel better about myself, and then I’m more able to accept the help I need to stay clean inside.” A quiet gentleman told us he went through a period where he was unable to pay his utility bills, so he came to Matthew’s House every day to shower and stay warm. Both of these people provided wonderful testimonies to the helping hand they received through this mission.

Students in the neighborhood can come to Matthew’s House for tutoring and mentoring. Adult education classes in skills such as knitting and crafting are also offered, and a beautician comes regularly to give free haircuts. Pastor George told me he doesn’t have an agenda for what happens there, but the gifts people bring and the needs that arise are what drive the events.

As with all faith-based ministries, the need is great. There are many ways we can work together to ease this need. Go to their website at for information about this wonderful place. The “Services” page lists ways you can help. I know the Warm Ears Ministry will be back with more hats as the days get colder.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Celebrate Creativity

Community celebrations are wonderful opportunities to connect with friends, neighbors, and family. When you live in or near a large metropolitan area, the idea of community takes on a much larger dimension. Grand Rapids hosts its annual Festival of the Arts each June, but this fall a new event arrived. Art Prize attracted creative people working in endless mediums, displayed in all sorts of venues. Visitors had two weeks to view their efforts and vote on their favorites. The unique thing about this contest is that the winners were selected not by a select group of experts, but by the regular people who came. Young people, elderly, entire families – everyone had an equal vote.

My daughters took me to view the sights last weekend. One daughter took the time to plan our route. I had only two requests – I wanted to see the large table and chairs, and Nessie. Other than that, I was content to walk wherever they led me. My wishes were granted, and I have pictures of both for my scrapbook. But I was treated to so much more.

This celebration was unique. The focus was art in all sizes, mediums, and forms. That in itself isn't unique. But I think the accessibility of the art for everyone who wanted to come was wonderful. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of the world’s most famous works of art. And I guess the experts knew what they were talking about when they decided what was special, and what was not. So those precious pieces are locked away, guarded against people who want to steal them for their own pleasure. And we commoners must pay handsomely for the privilege of peering at them for a few moments.

That’s what made Art Prize so special. The art was out there for all to see, and since we decided not to spend $15 for the shuttle bus, my only cost was a tube of Ben Gay for my tired legs and feet. But the rewards were priceless. I spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon with my kids, walking through a great city filled with the creative efforts of many talented people. I really think we saw Grand Rapids at its best.

There wasn’t much time for my own creativity this week, so here are pictures of my two favorites from Art Prize:

Friday, October 2, 2009

What's New?

This summer I joined the millions of people on facebook. It didn’t take long to connect to a lot of friends (73 so far) including most of my kids and grandkids, present and former co-workers, and friends from sewing and scrapbooking. I was skeptical about the necessity of knowing what everyone is thinking and doing, but I take time to check out the latest posts several times a day.

There are a lot of great things about facebook. I love seeing pictures of trips and events. I appreciate knowing about birthdays and other special dates. It’s great to hear about accomplishments, frustrations, and good or bad days. It’s also really convenient for contacting people, especially if I know they are likely to log in often. One of my children accused me of stalking, because I seemed to know more about what some of her family members were up to than she did!

Not particularly interesting about the almost hourly play-by-plays of people’s days. Morning post: “Today I’m going to ­­­___.” Mid-morning post: “I can’t wait to ___.” Mid-afternoon post: “I’m in the middle of ___.” Evening post: “Today I ___. It was great!” If an event is that momentous, how can you enjoy it if you’re constantly posting updates? Just tell us about it when you’re done!

There are ways to avoid seeing some of these things. I could hide the people who post constantly, but I’m not sure I want to totally ignore them. I suppose it’s like being around people who like to talk all the time – I just tune them out a little and let them talk. If they say something they want me to hear, they’ll let me know.

And if I have something to say that I really want you to know about, I’ll be sure to let you know – but not necessarily on facebook.