For all of you who’ve been wondering where on earth the wonderful Simons Christmas letter is, now you know. It never got written. There were good reasons for the delay, as you will see. But now I’m ready to get this thing out. Here I sit with the 2013 Chick-fil-A calendar, ready to fill you in on this past year. What on earth was “S.J.” at 7:40 AM on January 21? (Stewart James? Sewing Jammies? No clue.) However, as I look at other entries I’m reminded of what a great year it’s been. So here goes:


I’ll start with him, because not only did something happen concerning S.J. on Jan 21, but also on that day Gideon passed his driving test. Finally. I heard a segment on NPR not too long ago saying that teens aren’t getting licenses nearly as early as in years past. Only about half have a driver’s license by age 18. And why is that? Because the good ol’ parents can always be counted on to pick up and drop off. Weird, huh? He just didn’t seem all that interested. I kept saying, “Gideon, I couldn’t wait to get my license!” I also kept saying, “I couldn’t wait to go off to college!” But the very next day, Jan. 22, the note says “UCD classes begin.”  Gideon’s living at home while going to school. I have to say that he works extremely hard on his classes. And it’s nice to have him around. So he’s all set for now, taking creative writing, film and art classes. Right now he has 67 hours since he came in with 24 hours from high school, so he’s well past junior standing. He’s planning to be a writer and is looking forward to living in a garret somewhere. Not only does he work conscientiously on his classes, he also consistently writes a certain number of words per day on his own fiction. (And he nags me unmercifully about my writing.) He and Jim are still pursuing their tae kwon do studies with a great teacher at a studio only a mile from home. They seem to enjoy trying to figure out the history of various strange contortions in the TK20130702_0844D forms.


There’s always a section on this topic, isn’t there? We took a three-week driving trip to L.A. and back this summer. And, as often happens, the whole thing got started from a very small seed. In this case it was something Alan, our esteemed brother-in-law, said back in December of 2012. He mentioned that he would almost certainly be attending the SIGGRAPH convention for his company, and how about having Gideon come? While Alan was manning a booth during the day Gideon could occupy himself with the exhibits, and he and Alan could hang out in the evenings. (This is a big computer graphics and animation conference that’s held in a different city each year. This coming summer it’s in Vancouver. Hmmm.) Well, if you know anything at all about me you’ll guess that I didn’t quite see doing it that way. No sir. We would ALL go. And we would drive, and take a week to get there and a week to get back, and do stuff on the way. What a wonderful, fabulous, magnificent trip! If you want the whole day-by-day drama, go back one post on this blog. The only thing that could have made the trip better would have been to have Jan come with us. I’m not sure where we would have put her since Gideon brought along over 20 books. And I brought 7, I think. We would have managed somehow. But Jan felt that she just could not leave town with her mother’s health being what it was, so we reluctantly left her behind but got Lowell to come along. The four of us had an incredible time. I couldn’t even begin to summarize. I will just say two things: Gideon would have been one lonely guy if he had gone by himself, as Alan was very busy most evenings during the conference. And I bought my big souvenir at our first major stop, Arches National Park. It’s a cookbook, of course: Seasonal Southwest Cooking. I will be including the recipe for Southwestern Corn Pudding at the end of this letter, and I beg you to make it. I simplified the original quite a bit, and it’s very, very easy. And people go absolutely nuts over it. Just be sure you include all the butter it calls for!



Okay, now for one reason why this letter is so late. We got back from our trip (did I mention how great it was?) and on Jim’s first day back at work he found out that the office was closing on Oct..1. To be honest, it was almost a relief to have the axe finally fall instead of having to wonder when it would happen. The loss of a big project, plus government cutbacks, had made the continued operation of this branch pretty problematic. And he was given a very nice severance package. So I figured that there wouldn’t be much of a hiccup in his work history. Maybe a month at most and he’d be back at a desk. There was some talk of a part-time contractor’s job with his old company, but that didn’t pan out. Jim made a pretty much full-time job of taking the classes he was offered through the “outprocessing” service and applying for positions, but the phone was very, very quiet. I began to realize that I hadn’t taken this whole thing all that seriously. We had often prayed that God would help us realize that Jim’s job was not the source of our provision; He was. Well, now we were having to prove that we believed that. There was a job for which Jim was one of the top two candidates, with the decision to be made the week of Thanksgiving. I thought, Great. We’ll have something to be very thankful for! It just seemed obvious to me that this was the job. But no. They went with the other guy. And then, the week of Jan. 1, when I was thinking that there wouldn’t be any action until the holidays were well and truly over. Jim got a call. Things moved very fast, with Jim being offered a job within a few days. He started work on Jan. 27. So . . . I couldn’t send this letter until I could report that he had a new position. But there was another reason having to do with me.


And the reason is . . . my book. And new website. If you’re reading this letter you should have gotten the previous e-mail with the sample chapter of Intentional Happiness. It also said that Facebook and website information would be coming shortly. So I’ve been trying to get some sort of rudimentary website up and running so I could include the link in this letter. The amount of time you can spend fiddling around with such things seems to be just about infinite. I’ve picked out a “theme,” and some images, spent some money, and analyzed some other people’s websites. You can go here for the initial result, with more to follow.

20131117_2252 - For Book - Gideon VersionBookCoverImage

In addition to the bookwriting, a lot went on with me last year. I continued to tutor a student at the Excelsior Home for Girls until the end of May, at which time she moved to a group home in California. I do wonder how she’s doing but have no real way to find out. I continued to teach in the women’s Bible studies at our church, with the added responsibility of making dinner for 30-35 people every Wednesday night. And I cooked the dinner for the adult Christmas party with an attendance of about 55. My activities with the Cherry Creek Chorale continued. It’s amazing to me to see how one small step (going in to audition) has resulted in so many new aspects of my life: the singing itself, the new friends, the opportunities to drive myself crazy with making dozens and dozens of cookies for the receptions or feeding 75 people at the annual picnic or close to 100 at the once-a-concert special Saturday rehearsals . . . I’ve also started writing short essays on the literary and historical backgrounds of the pieces we’re singing, something I really enjoy and which may actually result in a better understanding of the music, at least for the few people who read them. Those who do seem appreciative. And there are new projects on the horizon: marketing plans for the book, ideas for a new one, and the possibility of doing some teaching in a local home-schooling co-op. We’ll see.


Not a whole lot happened in the vegetable garden this year, partly due to THE RABBITS. I think our resident fox may have retired. My sympathy for my brother, who lives out in the country and is overrun with the creatures, has definitely increased. We got very few strawberries from our big bed even though there were lots of blossoms and immature fruits. The tomato failure can’t be blamed on the rabbits, though. I don’t know what the problem is: I get big healthy plants but very few if any actual tomatoes. There were plenty of blossoms, as with the strawberries, but hardly any went on to fulfill their potential. So I don’t know what the deal is. Any ideas out there? I know there are some farmers reading this. My green bean plants were spindly and useless. My spinach hardly grew at all. I did get some lettuce, but as I say, when you can buy beautiful heads of romaine at the store for a dollar it makes growing your own seem kind of counterproductive. The one relatively successful vegetable was the asparagus. We had about a month’s worth of small harvests, and since we are now heading into its third full year I am very hopeful that we’ll have a bounty. It tasted really good. Our raspberries produced just a few small berries and they didn’t seem to have much flavor, but, again, the bushes are only a couple of years old. I did grow some beautiful flowers, however, and must sing the praises of the Salmon Sunset four o’clocks. My mother used to grow four o’clocks, so named because they usually open late in the day, so I’m kind of attached to them. But I never liked the common colors much: you could only get a mixture of white, yellow, and that horrible magenta. Ugly! But Park Seed had this beautiful color available, and they were truly spectacular last year. I wish I had a picture of them at their peak (So instead I have a picture of them as they looked when I planted out the seedlings. By August they had filled the beds.) I do need to remember to go around and trim them as they start going to seed so that I can prolong their season. Right now I have bags of the tubers sitting down in the crawl space and also lots of seeds. I would be thrilled to have them all over the place this summer. Of all flowers they probably give you the most for your money: from one seed you get a nice three-foot bush covered with blossoms. My perennials did very well, too, and the front landscaping is filling in nicely. So not a complete failure overall, but it’s sure a good thing that we aren’t dependent on my food-growing capabilities to fill our plates. I am absolutely determined to get a better harvest this year and have actually been taking the time to cart the vegetable refuse out to our compost bin. Jan grows a beautiful vegetable garden every year using compost, so I’m going to see if that will work for me. If I can at least get enough tomatoes to attempt to duplicate Vivian Howard’s tomato sandwich I’ll be happy. (Be sure to watch “A Chef’s Life” on PBS if you haven’t done so yet.)013

Well, I guess I’d better stop. We are truly thrilled with what God is doing is our lives and the great opportunities He has given us. Take a minute to get in touch with us and tell us how things are going with you.

Jim, Debi, Gideon and the cats

Bonus for reading to the end: SOUTHWEST CORN PUDDING

(adapted from Seasonal Southwest Cooking)

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 15-oz. can creamed corn

1-2 4-oz. cans mild green chiles (depending on how hot you want it to be)

2 cups grated cheese (I like a mixture of sharp cheddar and pepper jack.)

1 stick (yes, ONE STICK) butter, melted and cooled

1 cup buttermilk or 1/4 cup buttermilk powder and 1 cup water

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 and grease an 8- or 9-inch baking pan. Mix together the first three ingredients, plus the buttermilk powder, if using, in small bowl. In your mixing bowl combine the corn, chiles, and cheese, then stir in the dry ingredients. Mix in the butter, buttermilk or water, and the eggs, then pour into the prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes and let rest for 10 minutes. You can bake this until it’s completely firm in the middle and it will be more like cornbread, or you can leave it a little jiggly and it will be more like spoonbread. You can add extra corn, fresh or frozen, and 1/2 cup or more of finely-chopped onions (scallions or regular) and/or red or green bell peppers or any other fresh hot pepper that you like. A very versatile recipe!

Last Christmas Alan, Jim’s brother-in-law, suggested that Gideon might like to attend the SIGGRAPH computer graphics and animation convention that’s held every year and would take place in Los Angeles this summer.  Gideon could attend the convention during the day and hang out with Alan at night.  What could be better?   Well, I thought it was  great idea–except for the part about Gideon’s being the only one going.  Hey, forget that! I said.  We’ll all go.  This will be our family vacation.  And . . . let’s drive there, and see things on the way, and make it a big circle trip like the ones we used to take when we lived in Virginia and would come out to Denver in the summer.  Jim was amenable, as long as we went to Yosemite.  So the plans were put in motion.  We really pushed for Jan and Lowell to come.  Happily, we persuaded Lowell; unhappily, we did not persuade Jan.  Her mom’s health is just too unstable at the moment.  So the four of us set off in Jim’s Charger, ready to see the Southwest.


Sat., July 13–

We picked up Lowell and got on the road 10:30 or so, and headed for Arches National Park, a place I had just thought of as a good marker to get to for the first day.  Well, what a marker, is all  I can say.  We hiked our legs off for this first day of the trip and were able to be at the Delicate Arch at sunset.  It was HOT until the sun started setting.  There were climbs up rock faces and along trails. A theme of the trip began to emerge on this first day:  “Aren’t you going to put on your tennis shoes?”  This question was directed at me by people who didn’t seem to understand that my $70 Ortho-heels were actually okay for hiking.  Maybe not for rock climbing, but we weren’t really doing that. We ran into a Russian guy who’s in the Air Force and was traveling to his new base.  He had a great time talking to Lowell.  We staggered back to the car in the dark—I’m not sure how well we would have done without Jim’s miner’s headlamp, which I had rather made fun of him for bringing.  I had an idea that the Apache Hotel desk closed at 10:00.  At first that seemed like a time impossibly far away, but we didn’t get back to the car until 10 till 10:00.  I managed to call them from the car just as they were closing up.  They were planning to tape the key to the door for us anyway, so I guess I needn’t have worried.  And so to the first of our l-o-n-g series of hotels.


Sun., July 14—

I had picked out a church for us, but the timing was off—the service didn’t start until 11:00 and we were set to go by 9:30, so we gave it a pass. We had breakfast (great coffee and pastries) at a little café and went back to the Arches to hit a few more things, ending with the visitors’ center, where we learned about what we’d missed.  No matter.  We had certainly gotten our money’s worth with what we did do. (Little joke there, as we actually didn’t pay to get into any of the national parks we visited since Lowell has a senior pass that’s good for all of them.)   On to Bryce Canyon, more than ready for bed, where we stayed in Panguitch at the Bryceway Motel.  It was nicer on the inside than it was on the outside.  Sort of a Tardis-like place.


Mon., July 15—

Had a great day at Bryce Canyon.  In fact, when Gideon and I conferred later we decided that this was our favorite park.  It was hot (until it started raining) and the trails were steep, but it’s so beautiful and unusual.  I kept thinking of Dan and Joyce here on their honeymoon 35 years ago.  Is that possible?  We ran into a ranger talk at 2:00.  He was doing a very clever comparison of the layers of rock to a pizza:  whole wheat crust, tomato sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and mushroons.  We missed a turn in the rain for something we wanted to see but decided we had hiked our allocation.  I keep getting comments on my flip-flops and will  just point out that my feet are cool and blister-free, and if I don’t want to go up a certain slope I have a ready-made excuse.  We went on the Cedar City for the night.


Tues., July 16—

This morning we had one of many memorable meals, at a diner renowned for its portion size.  The food was great and the waitress was a hoot.  In fact, another theme started emerging:  NO BAD MEALS. Then it was time to get on to Yosemite!  We had originally thought we’d stay on the western side for all three nights but got good advice from our hiking friends at church and so had a hotel on the eastern side for this first night.  Jim thought that something called Mono Lake would be sort of interesting as a prelude to the park, but it ended up as usual being a great destination in its own right.  It’s at least as salty as the Great Salt Lake and has all sorts of attractions:  tufa towers, seabirds, and flies.  We hiked some around it and had another great meal at another diner.  We were in a lovely little town called Lee Vining that hadn’t popped up at all as a place with hotels when I was looking online, so we had something reserved about 80 miles to the south.  Our hearts failed us as we thought of having to drive all that way and then all the way back again in the morning, when here we were so close to the entrance of the park.  A little closer look at the map would have been useful.  Well, we decided, let’s see if there’s anything available, and we managed to snag the last room at a very nice place (with a coffee garden) and just had to let the other room go as it was too late for a refund.  But it was worth it just to stay there.


Wed., July 17—

First day in Yosemite!  We went on the upper road for this day and hiked first to Bridal Veil Falls (pretty unimpressive with the low water level) where I put on my tennis shoes for the first and last time.  I couldn’t have scrambled over the rocks at the base in my flip-flops, but I realized when all was said and done that my scramble hadn’t netted me any better of a view, so there!  We hiked through the Tuolumne Meadows and over a stream, visited the Soda Springs,and took the Lembert Dome trail.  It was quite a day.  We got to our hotel on the west side at 9:00 or so.  The guys wanted to go eat, but I wasn’t all that hungry.  They went and had a great meal at the only place in sight, right next door.


Thur., July 18—

I must immortalize my breakfast, which was truly awesome:  French toast, heavenly scrambled eggs, and homemade sausage.  I said, “I want to come back tomorrow and eat exactly the same thing,” which we did indeed end up doing.  We went down into the valley today.  Yes, the parking lots were crowded, but we never failed to find a parking space and also  made use of the shuttle.  I’d been kind of dreading Yosemite, to be honest, with all the horror stories I’d heard about how packed it is.  I envisioned a line of cars snaking all the way from one side of the park to the other.but of course it wasn’t that bad.  We hiked up to Vernal Falls  (way more impressive than Bridal Veil) and lots of other stuff.  People kept asking me on the horrible stone staircase at the falls if they could help me, mainly because I kept hugging the side, keeping a hand on the rock.  I decided later that maybe they thought I was blind or somewhere close.  It makes me laugh every time I think of it.  People are really very kind.  I got into a nice conversation with a very lonely young man from India who was there all by himself and had hiked/climbed up Half Dome starting at 5:00 that morning.  We never did get to the lower meadow that a range told Jim about, but we managed to fill up the day regardless.   Lowell and I were quite keen on going to the Yosemite Theater that evening to see a one-man show on John Muir, which ended up being completely captivating.  The guy just had us riveted as he told stories in Muir’s persona.  I had to laugh at myself afterwards, as Jim bought a book and got the guy to sign it  At first I thought, Wow, he’s getting John Muir to sign his own book!   We hadn’t really had dinner and the only place open was a  pizza joint next door, so we took advantage of that.  We made it back to our hotel around 11:00.


Fri., July 19—

Our last morning in Yosemite.  What a great place this has been.  We went out the south entrance and took a fairly quick look at the sequoia grove.  All of us were dragging a bit and didn’t go all that far, but it was well worth seeing.  We got on the road to San Josee and took just about forever to get there.  There was no straightforward route, so we just followed the GPS rather blindly.   We got in not too late at this absolutely gorgeous place I had reserved hurriedly right before we left, and at first I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake.  It didn’t seem possible that they were charging the rather modest sum I was expecting, but it turned out that they were.  We were able to touch base with Carol and, thankfully, decided that she should take the shuttle from the LA airport to her hotel the next day, a plan which turned out to be a good thing.


Sat., July 20—

Our excellent breakfast at the hotel saved us time and money. We headed out to the Winchester Mystery House, this stop’s marker, and had a great if rather pricey tour.  It’s such a sad place, in a way.  The heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune was told by a psychic to go out West and build a house, and that when she stopped building she would die.  So she came out to San Jose, bought a small farmhouse, and started expanding it.  Some of the plans were scribbled down by her as spur-of-the-moment ideas, and then the builders had to figure out how to fulfill her wishes.  The house is very, very strange  stairways that lead into the ceiling, windows in the floor, doors opening onto blank walls.  We had a nice tour of the house and then one of the outbuildings and basement, looked around the gardens, and then needed lunch and a shoe-shopping stop for Lowell. Had our first meal at a national chain, but it was Chipotle’s, so that was okay.   We finally got out of town at around 3:00 and headed for Los Angeles.  It was more helpful than ever that we weren’t picking up Carol at the airport.  She would have been waiting a long, long time.  As we came down the exit into Anaheim we saw the Disneyland fireworks ahead of us, welcoming us to town.  Carol was there as promised.  A great start to our week in LA.


Sun., July 21—

We never got to the church I had picked out. I had been a little hesitant about going there anyway as their website was kind of wild, so maybe it’s just as well.  Gideon’s classes started today, so I got up early with him and he went off to registration for his SIGGRAPH classes by 8:15 or so.  Then I went and did laundry while the second shift ate breakfast.  Got everything done but barely escaped being deafened by the Spanish soccer match on the TV in the laundromat.  We civilians decided we’d better get ourselves registered for our one day at SIGGRAPH, something that had never quite gotten coordinated.  This seemingly simple task took FOREVER—I could not believe that a computer convention would make us fill out paper forms that then had to be entered into a laptop.  Well, that was finally accomplished.  We grabbed a quick lunch there and then headed off to the Norton Simon museum, something I had read about in our guidebook and thought sounded interesting and also thought was somewhat close.  Well, ha. Nothing is close in LA if you have to drive.   But when we finally got there, what a delight.  There’s a  beautiful sculpture garden and astonishing art collection, including half a dozen Van Goghs!  Several Picassos!  We had to zip through the last few rooms because they were closing.  Came back and met up with Gideon, who’d had a great first day, and decided to get a Disney experience by going to Downtown Disney for dinner—an eating and shopping complex that’s right outside the park itself, so you don’t have to pay the exorbitant admissions price in order to spend yet more money to eat and shop. It was very, very loud and very, very crowded.  The food was good, though, and actually not too terribly pricey.  Once was enough, however.  We watched the fireworks, hung out for awhile, and went to bed.


Mon., July 22—

We had discovered last night upon a closer reading of our guidebook that the Getty Villa, one of our must-sees,  is closed Tues. and Wed., so really the only logical day to go was today.  Gideon went off to SIGGRAPH and the rest of us headed to Palisades, about 40 miles away.  While the traffic has certainly been heavy at times it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.  Our reservations were for 11:30 (it’s free, but you have to have reservations and pay $15 for parking) and we made it just in time.  What a place!  Some pretty (well, very) heavy-duty erotic stuff. Those Greeks!  I was a little relieved that Gideon wasn’t along.  I took the garden tour and was completely captivated.  Just a delightful day.  We had lunch at the café—pricey but good—and I decided on a Mediterranean meal, with olives, feta, pita, hummus, and tabbouleh.  Absolutely delicious, and so apropos.  We headed back into town, met up with Alan, who had arrived the previous night, and had dinner at the Tangerine Grill on their lovely patio right around the corner.  Gideon had misunderstood our message and so hung out at the conference and ate something weird on offer. We’re staying in this rather down-market hotel that’s right on the block with the convention cente rand across the street from Disneyland, surrounded by all these pricey places.  We can watch the Disney fireworks on the balcony of our little dump, something you can’t do if you’re on the wrong side of one of the big highrises, and we indeed managed to take them in yet again tonight.


Tues., July 23—

Got Gideon off and headed for the LaBrea Tar Pits and the LA County Art Museum.  We discovered later that the LACMA is only open till 5:00 instead of 8:00 as our 2013 guidebook said.  Had we but known we would probably have skipped the tar pits, but they were really fun and interesting, and I have a feeling Lowell may have been a little art-museumed out.  Maybe not.  Anyway, we had only two hours at LACMA, and I was pretty irritated, but once I finally figured out where to go I really enjoyed it.  Have fallen madly in love with two pictures so far—“The Traveler,” a 1915 cubist painting by Liubov Popova (which no one but me seemed to like) at the Norton Simon Museum, and “Edge of the Forest, Sun Setting” by Pierre Etienne Theodore Rousseau here.  I just took a look on LACMA’s site and it looks as though I can download the image, so I may do so.  I kept going back to it.  We went back to the Tangerine Grill for dinner and had a very funny waiter.  I told him I hadn’t gotten as many toasts with my salad as I should have, so he brought me a plateful.  Watched the fireworks again!


Wed., July 24—

Today was SIGGRAPH day.  Wow, is all I can say.  Another one of those things that turned out to be way more interesting and fun than I had thought it would be.  Got in on three wonderful talks—two huge presentations in the arena, one on Iron Man 3 and one on LAIKA, the stop-motion studio that made Coraline and Paranorman.  Just astonishing what they do.  Then I went tinto the exhibition hall and ran into a talk by PIXAR on their latest short, “The Blue Umbrella.”  Fascinating.  Walked out of the afternoon presentation on “Epic” even though it was very well done because I just wasn’t interested in the film itself and went on this marathon walk looking for a bookstore, but oh well.  Went to the animation film festival from 6:00-8:00—some really great, including student works, and some just plain weird.  One of the winning films had Versailles at the time of Louis XIV populated by chickens in court dress.  It was extremely clever and funny.  I had grabbed something in the late afternoon but everyone else was hungry and headed to Tiffy’s. The two restaurants that have gotten by far the most business from us have been those on the corner, Tiffy’s and Coco’s.  They’re actually very good, thus continuing the food theme. I skipped dinner and ice cream and went over to catch the fireworks.  My goal is to watch them every night possible.


Thurs., July 25—

This was the last day of SIGGRAPH for Gideon, and Lowell decided to stay around too and see more stuff.  Jim, Carol and I headed for what started out to be a tour of downtown LA with a visit to this cool modern cathedral, architecture, etc.  We were doing our usual slow crawl along I-5 when Carol said that there was something called the Bowers Museum in the tourist guide she was reading—what about that?  So we turned around and ended up going back all the way we’d come plus a couple more exits, but it was faster than we’d been going and the museum ended up being just wonderful.  We were so glad we’d changed our minds.  Housed in a hacienda-like building, it had beautiful grounds and a huge range of exhibits, including the chess set that Lord Peter Wimsey gave to Harriet Vane, miraculously restored.  Great fun.  And it was their late-closing day, otherwise they’d have closed at 4:00, which would have been terrible.  We took a break at some point and ended up eating at yet another awesome place. Norm’s, which is apparently an LA landmark.  They’ve been in operation since the 50’s.  The food was just great, and the restaurant itself was like a time capsule.  With renewed vigor we went back to the museum and didn’t leave until 7:00, got back to the motel and discovered that Lowell and Gideon hadn’t taken our admonition to just do whatever they needed to do for dinner and had been waiting for us to go eat, which necessitated getting dinner for them.  I was pretty irritated, as we (or I) really wanted to go see Pacific Rim, and there was a theater at Downtown Disney at a reasonable time.   There was a showing at another theater a little later so we ended up doing one of our signature dashes to a move, missed about a minute and a half, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Lowell didn’t even get seasick.  (Little inside joke there.)  Home very late.


Fri., July 26—

Getty Museum day.  Yet again a demonstration that low expectations are a key to happiness.  I had thought that the Villa was the big deal and that this was just a street-level city museum—I thought I was reading a description of the Villa when I was really reading about this.  What a place!  Thoroughly enjoyable, especially the garden tour.  The outing was worth it just for that and the architecture itself.  We all had a great time, left about 5:30, and ended up going to a pizza place Carol had spotted the night before on our mad theater dash, so that turned out not to be a waste after all.  It was Il Vincino’s with gelati.  We’d had to rent a van for the day because we wanted Alan to be able to come along and that meant we had too many people to fit into the car with him and Carol.  The rental  ended up being surprisingly reasonable given the location, and Jim was truly a champ about driving a strange vehicle in LA traffic.  We had originally tried to go to a Laguna Beach arts festival for the evening, but the distance and the traffic just made it unworkable.  Maybe we’ll make it when we come to SIGGRAPH again, as appareently it’s in LA every few years.


Sat., July 27—

Last Carol day, last LA day.  Jim and I got up early, he returned the van and I did laundry. We managed to get everyone fed for breakfast and finally decided to go to the LA Natural History Museum.  Because of all we were doing beforehand it ended up being a very short visit.  The place is much like the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.  I loved the three Tyrannosaurus Rexes.  We got Carol to the airport with minimal angst and headed for the Grand Canyon.  It was quite a long drive, and we thought we were going to get in after midnight but when we finally staggered into the El Rancho Motel at what we thought was 12:30 it turned out to be only 11:30, a mystery that was cleared up later when we found out that Arizona stays on standard time all year.  It figures.  So we didn’t have to get the hotel owner out of bed after all.  Williams AZ looked like the town that time forgot, an impression that was only reinforced when we saw it the next morning.


Sun., July 28—

Jim and I went out exploring and located a church that seemed reasonable-looking, got to breakfast at what turned out to be a historic diner (a picture of it is in some famous vintage Route 66 photographs) and got to church, which turned out to be quite a place. The ex-professional-wrestler-turned-pastor preached a very thoughtful, biblical sermon.  Everyone was very friendly, and they’re obviously growing and going places.  Then it was time for the Grand Canyon.  Well, it’s truly grand, and we really, really enjoyed it (with an exception as described below), but it’s so big that you can’t get into it, as it were, unless you do the enormous hike or mule ride down to the bottom.  Otherwise you just go down a little way.  Well, we decided to start out with Lowell’s suggestion of taking the Bright Angel Trail, and we hadn’t gotten down very far when it started absolutely pouring.  We kept going down and so did the rain, the lightning and thunder were all around us, and I didn’t have a jacket.  Why on earth do I keep forgetting about jackets?  I have a nice one that folds up in a pouch, but did I bring it on this trip?  No.  Even without the rainstorm, I needed something for the refrigerated museums.  Anyway, I was SOAKED.  Finally, after someone told us that it was dangerous farther down, we decided to turn back before getting to our goal of the 1 ½-mile marker.  I walked into the gift shop/studio and people looked at me as if I were from Mars.  The nice ranger gave me some paper towels.  We went over to the Bright Angel Lodge and got something to eat.  Of course they had on the air conditioning, even though it was so cold outside.  I was FREEZING, but once our wonderful food came I felt much better.  The sun came out, we did some more hiking around, and got back to our nice motel.


Mon., July 29—

Second day at Grand Canyon.  Made return visits to both the breakfast diner and the Bright Angel dining room, where I got exactly what I’d gotten the day before in both places:  a fabulous chile and vegetable omelet for breakfast and chicken quesdaillas for lunch.  Hiked along the Rim Trail for awhile and visited some more shops and museum things.  Really very enjoyable.  Jim and Gideon waited in line practically forever for milkshakes that Gideon describes as “not bad.”  Finally, about 3:00, we decided we’d better tear ourselves away, still not realizing that we were an hour better off than we thought.  We got to our hotel kind of early but that was fine—a nice, relaxing evening.


Tues., July 30—

On to the Petrified Forest.  We ate at our hotel (Super 8 is really great!), and for some reason Lowell and Gideon were up not long after Jim and me.  They were being so tactful that I think we did wake them up, although we did our best to be quiet.  So we got on our way fairly quickly and had a great day.  Another one of those stops along the way that was more than I expected.  I sort of hustled us out of the first stop and later realized that those boring-looking logs out in the back were sort of a big deal.  I would say we were pretty thorough, though.  We saw the Painted Desert, too.  Jim got to use his enormous tripod that he’d insisted on bringing along.  (Another theme of the trip, along with my flip-flops and the great meals:  Jim’s supposedly weird items that turned out to work out great.  So there was the headlamp, the tripod, the hiking GPS, the bright yellow plastic rain poncho, and the picnic cooler.  I had thought that the cooler just could not be fitted into the trunk and was totally unnecessary, both of which were untrue.  And if Jim hadn’t set the coordinates on that GPS to get us back to our car there would have been several times when we’d have wandered around for quite awhile.)   We got going to Santa Fe, thinking it was about 275 miles but discovering it was only about 215, so we had time to go into town for the evening and walk around the lovely plaza.  There was music playing and lots of people just hanging out.  Dinner, of course, was at the Bumblebee Grill.  Our hotel this time wasn’t the picturesque place where we stayed last summer, as their cancellation charges were outrageous.


Wed., July 31–

We all kind of did our own thing today.  Gideon hit art galleries and I scoped out some places I didn’t get to see last summer, including a house that’s now an antiques co-op and that has adobe walls that are painted to look like brick.  Jim, Lowell and I did do some things together, visiting the cathedral and ending up at a fascinating art gallery where we met one of the artists who does bronze sculptures.  We stumbled upon it through their back door because of the incredible piece just sitting there in an unlabeled patio and wandered around in this place with art worth thousands of dollars for quite awhile before anyone showed up to see if we were moving the stock out.  Jim hovered on the brink of buying something but in the end saved himself from toppling over the edge.  I had been interested in the possibility of visiting Georgia O’Keefe’s summer home, Ghost Ranch, but it wasn’t doable.  Maybe next time!  After a nice day we got on the road to Taos, which we were expecting (there’s that word again) to be this little jewel of a place, sort of a smaller, more exquisite Santa Fe.  Well, it wasn’t.  Even the road there, the so-called “High Road to Taos,” which I thought would be dotted with pretty little towns, was instead dotted with decaying buildings.  When we finally emerged from the 70 miles or so of winding roads we found that there was construction going and we couldn’t figure out for awhile how to get to the plaza, there were lots of empty stores, and the plaza wasn’t anything much when we finally got there.  It was absolutely the first disappointment of the trip and we were all a little down, even getting a little snappish with each other, another first for the trip.  I said, “We don’t have to stay here if we don’t think it’s worth it.  We can just go on our way to Colorado Springs and have more time there.”  But we decided that we were hungry.  After we had poked dispiritedly around for awhile Jim said, well, let’s just eat at the place right across the parking lot.  I don’t know why we didn’t go there to begin with.  We walked in and saw that it was this cute little place, sort of funky, with a patio strung with colored lights.  Suddenly everything looked better.  We had an excellent meal–in fact, I want to try to re-create Wanda’s chili, the item I ordered.  While we were waiting for the check (a long process, as was the meal as a whole), I decided to go over and look just for fun (fatal words, as we always end up doing or buying something if we say them) at a bed and breakfast whose sign I’d seen.  Talk about serendipity!  It turned out to be an absolute hit in a trip full of hits.  The guy gave us a deal because he had some empty rooms, the place was a great antidote to the rather sterile hotel in Santa Fe, and the owner’s 91-year-old father hoicked our bags.  He said to Gideon, “What have you got in this suitcase?  Bricks?”  No, just books.  I told Gideon that I hoped he’d be able to sleep since their room was so loud.  He didn’t quite get the joke until I pointed out all the patterns it contained.  Our rooms was the angel room.  Apparently there’s a “rainbow room” upstairs that’s really worth seeing.  The owner has been working on restoring the old adobe building for over a decade.  I hope we can come back sometime.


Thurs., Aug. 1–

After a nice breakfast on the lovely patio (patios apparently being yet another theme), we had to leave our beautiful b&b and headed out to see a few things in Taos.  Jim and Lowell went to see Kit Carson’s home, Gideon went to an art gallery, and I went on another of my epic quests, although I sure didn’t think that was what I was doing.  The map I was using to get me to La Hacienda de los Martinez wasn’t drawn to scale, so what I thought was going to be a stroll of a few blocks ended up being over two miles.  Honestly!  It was quite interesting, but I found out later that Kit Carson’s home wasn’t all that different.  And my ancient phone couldn’t pick up a signal, so I couldn’t call anyone until I got to it.  It was my hike for the day, I guess.  Well, we needed to get going, as we had decided that we wanted to get back to Denver tomorrow, so we headed out of town. taking yet more of those winding roads.  Last year we had been somewhat interested in seeing Bishop Castle in Rye, CO, but had run out of time, so we decided to make a stop there after ascertaining that it stays open until sunset.  Jim’s low-slung car hit a bump when we mistakenly tried to drive right up to it, but there didn’t seen to be any damage.  What a place!  I’m just glad I didn’t realize that both Jim and Gideon were up on the highest tower, the one that looks as if it’s made of spiderwebs, at the same time.  Jim Bishop was even there for awhile, counting the money in the contributions box.  We stayed until it was about time for us to be kicked out and headed on to Manitou Springs, where we stayed in a little family-owned motel.


Fri., Aug. 2 —

Our last day!  So hard to believe.  I headed up to Miramont Castle, where I’d like to take Jim, while the guys did some poiking around.  Manitou Springs is such a cool little town.  We made our ritual visit to the chocolate shop, where I found, to my great disappointment, that they no longer sell the white-and-dark-chocolate-with-pistachios-and-hot-chili candy.  They do now sell something with bacon in it, but even I couldn’t bring myself to try it, much as I do like bacon and chocolate separately.  Gideon had expressed an interest in visiting Cave of the Winds, which for some reason we had never gone to, so that was the last thing we did.  It was really great, although I was kind of glad to get out of there.  We took the lantern tour.  Since we’d had to wait for that, we ended up hitting rush hour traffic on I-25, something I had hoped to avoid.  Oh well.  We made it home by around 7:00.  What a trip!

Happy 2013!

January 2, 2013


Dear members of Smoggy’s fan club (surely that’s everyone),

Her Highness is watching the computer screen as I type this, with her tail swishing over the keyboard.  Although the vet said at her recent visit that she has beautiful soft, clean fur, she’s overweight and needs dental work.  Dear me!  She might just as well be human!  (Dorrie and Sandie are also looking a bit pudgy.)

The humans at 16685 East Dorado Avenue have had quite a year.  I’ll start with . . .



who graduated from Smoky Hill High School in May.  His sleep/health struggles continued throughout second semester, but he kept on going, finished up with a B average, turned in all of his CAS hours, passed his IB exams with points to spare, and therefore earned 24 college credits.   I know he was under considerable pressure as the last weeks of the school year unfolded, but he kept his cool and kept on going.  And then, suddenly, it was all over.  Hard to believe.  But did life stop for awhile?  Not at all.  It was time to make up his mind about what to do in the fall and to get ready to go on the . . .


which took place the third week in June.  We had decided in January that we would all serve on the team, as it would be Gideon’s last chance to go as a teen.  Meetings and activities continued throughout the following months.  It was quite a process.  And then the morning of departure was actually upon us.  Since the woman who had served as cook for many years was not going this time I volunteered for that position.   We had to bring along all of our food since the Navajo reservation where we were staying has very limited shopping opportunities.  Huge coolers had to be packed with everything we would need to feed 25-30 people for 8 days.  Whew!  The shopping trip to Costco was an expedition in itself.  The week was a joy.  We reaped the good results of the faithful ministry that had been carried out for over a decade by our church, with the Little Dan family welcoming us to their home and letting us set up our tent and hold VBS classes.  We had been told that the Navajo culture was very reserved and cool and that we shouldn’t expect much friendliness, but that was very much not the case.  Grandma gave us many hugs, we had great talks with her extended family, and the kids were wonderful.  While I scrubbed out coolers and refrigerators and cooked, Jim headed up work crews (notably pouring concrete) and Gideon dug post holes, painted, and did drywall.  Everyone got hot and dirty.  Red dust was all over everything.   It was GREAT.

Since we were down at the Four Corners area anyway, and since we had talked about somehow working in a visit to Mesa Verde the last time Gideon went on this trip but hadn’t done it, the week after the mission trip was made into a . . .


with expeditions to the aforementioned Mesa Verde, Durango, Pagosa Springs (where I bought one of the world’s greatest hats), and Santa Fe.  Lowell, Jan, Ed and Carol met up with us in P.S. and we went on from there.  Our plans for doing some sightseeing in the Colorado Springs area were dampened by the fires, so we decided to stay an extra day in Santa Fe.  Gideon is somewhat interested in attending the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, so we were given a tour there.  Quite a place.  And we did our best to keep the Bumblebee Grill and Burro Alley Café in business.  Santa Fe is packed full of art galleries, so when we weren’t eating we were poking around in those.  The Georgia O’Keefe museum is well worth a visit just for the old photos of her camping out with her 1930’s-era Ford station wagon.  Our drive among the polka-dotted hills between Taos and Santa Fe visiting various art studios was a treat.  I can totally understand why artists move down there.  So it was another great week, but over all too soon.  Now our attention was directed . . .


who needed to get himself registered for college.  It didn’t seem like a terribly good idea for him to go off somewhere and live in a dorm where no one sleeps anyway.  I suggested that perhaps staying home for a year and attending school here might be sensible.  (He’d say, “suggested?!”  “might?!”)  He’s now completed his first semester at the University of Colorado at Denver.  With the credits he already had, he’s now basically a sophomore.  Really, I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with his reports on his teachers and the level of work required, and the parent orientation meeting was quite no-nonsense.   He’s all registered for next semester, and we’ll see what happens after that.  For now, he’s set.  He and Jim have finally found a tae kwon do studio that they like, and Gideon has been helping Jim teach the middle-school class at church on Wednesday nights.  Which brings us to . . .



whose responsibilities at church have expanded to include the above-mentioned middle-school teaching (with a study of Romans) along with leading a Dave Ramsey financial class, while he continues to help out in services, do some preaching, serve as an elder, and direct our care group.    He has continued with his job at L-3 Communications and the coming year looks promising for new projects.  (There’s that fiscal cliff thing, but we try not to think about that.  Hard not to when you work for a government contractor, but there it is.)  His fiftieth birthday party this summer was very well attended, with him in the thick of the volleyball playing.  It was nice that we had about 50 people there.  I didn’t make him grill anything for his own party but did the cooking myself, so I guess I’ll give an update about . . .

J&DChristmasParty 2012


and my various activities.  I continued my volunteer work at the Hope of Israel ESOL school during the spring semester but decided that I really wanted to get into a program that was moving people along to an end result rather than just holding conversation classes.  I’ve now started doing some tutoring at the Excelsior Youth Center, a residential home for at-risk teen girls.  My interest in going ahead and earning my teaching certificate for Colorado and actually getting back into the classroom has been spurred.  I was also greatly privileged this fall to teach my own material on a Christian view of happiness to our women’s groups at Parker Hills.  Now I need to rewrite it all (I HATE rewriting) and see about getting it published.  With the availability of publishing on Kindle the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched.  My cousin Gary Bennett has released a book on Kindle about his experiences in Rwanda (Faith Through Fire:  Rwanda and Me, authored by his brother Randy) with a hard copy book to follow next year, so that may be the path for me.  (Great book, by the way.  I would strongly recommend it.  Don’t start it unless you have a lot of time, though, because you won’t want to leave it unfinished.)  We’ve done lots of . . .


this year, but most of it was in the maintenance area.  I hope next year to report on how much asparagus we harvested, and how well the tomatoes did in the new area I have planned for them, and whether or not the dozens of salmon-colored four o’clocks I have seeds for did anything to fill in the numerous bare spots in both the front and back yard, and how much the spindly little bushes and grasses that I planted this year grew.   We just finished up our . . .


which included a visit from Jim’s sister Carol and her husband Alan.  They were able to come for a whopping ten days this year, so we crammed in all sorts of outings, including the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, a viewing of The Hobbit (but only in 2-D, so we’ll have to see it again in 3-D to compare the two), and the Simpich Puppet Theater’s Christmas Carol.  It was a great time but over all too soon.  Today the Christmas lights have come down and great efforts are being made to install the TV antenna that Lowell and Jan gave us for Christmas.  Jim goes back to work tomorrow.  The new year has begun!  And that’s . . .


All the best from all of us,

Jim, Debi, Gideon, Smoggy, Dorrie, and Sandie

2011 Letter

March 4, 2012

February 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, if I wait one more month to get this out I can say that I’m writing it for my birthday.  I’ll try to do better next year.  Anyway, here’s how last year went:


I have a dear friend at church who will say periodically, “You guys sure get together with your family a lot!”  To which I always reply, “We moved out here to be closer to them.  Of course we spend a lot of time with them!  We love them!”  This has been a year rich in family get-togethers, with lots of Sunday lunches, birthday parties, movie outings, and just hanging out.  Jim’s parents continue their busy lives with many church activities and managing their square dance club.  Jan cracked her kneecap in a car accident a few weeks ago, and Lowell said that it’s hard to get her to relax and take it easy the way she’s supposed to.  Ed, Jim’s brother, continues to enrich Jim’s and Gideon’s lives with lots of new games brought in from his store.  (Our picture was taken over at Lowell and Jan’s recently, where we were playing a new game supplied by Ed called “Shadows over Camelot.”)  And we see my side of the family a lot, too.  It was really great to have all three of my nephews here for Thanksgiving dinner.  We’ll hope that next year we’ll get my niece too.


The elders at Parker Hills Bible Fellowship had been talking to Jim for some time about becoming an elder himself, and this year, after a lot of discussion and prayer, Jim was installed.  He preached his first sermon the Sunday after Thanksgiving and did an excellent job.  He is so glad to be a part of our church’s ministry and to take some of the load off of the other two elders.  He and I are now teaching the middle-school youth group class on Wednesday nights.  While that age group isn’t necessarily my first choice, we are having quite a time as we study various heroes of the faith down through the ages.  (We started out with Athanasius.  You remember him, don’t you?  We were thinking at one point of having some T-shirts printed up with his motto: “Athanasius contra mundo.”  However, I felt that perhaps it sounded a bit as if we were making him into Superman, so we didn’t do it.  The kids would have loved it, I’m sure.)  We have also signed up to go along as adult sponsors on the youth group missions trip in June, so I will be in charge of the meals for about 20 people for 8 days, with the closest grocery store being hours away.  I have continued to do a fair amount of cooking, with my biggest project for the year being the dinner for the adult Christmas party.  We had about 55 people in attendance, and I fed them prime rib.  Lots of fun, though with the usual crisis, this time involving potatoes that were far from done with only half an hour to go before dinner.  We managed, though.  I had someone say, “What did you do to those potatoes?  They were so good!”   I don’t think we could ever reproduce what we did under normal circumstances.   I will be helping with the women’s retreat in April and hope to start teaching a women’s Bible study next fall.  We are truly blessed with all the opportunities we’ve been given at this church.


Our big trip this summer was to Branson, Missouri, for our Simons family reunion.  We drove out with Jan and Lowell and made sure to have time for a visit to Abilene, Kansas, where Eisenhower lived as a boy and where his presidential library is, and to Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, where we once again failed to remember that it’s best to concentrate on the RIBS.  (I told Jim that I want to have our 20th anniversary dinner, which will be May 30, at Arthur Bryant’s.)  Once we got to Branson we stayed in a big hotel with a Victorian theme where the cleaning crew has to dress up like maids of yesteryear to do their work.  Quite amusing.  We weren’t sure, to be honest, what all there would be going on in Branson that we’d want to do, but it was quite a week, with a river cruise, circus, outdoor theater performance, and water park.  I remember going to Silver Dollar City there many, many years ago when it was a rather dinky (and cheap) old town.  Now it’s huge, glitzy and expensive.  It’s probably a bad sign when you’re driving down the main drag of an entertainment center and you keep saying, “Isn’t (s)he dead?”  However, we really did enjoy what we did, and we got to see some Simons relatives whom I had never met before.  The highlight was the fabulous lunch we all had at the College of the Ozarks in their beautiful dining room.  I will never forget that piece of coconut cream pie that I devoured.


We now have a high-school senior in the house.  How did THAT happen?   Gideon had a tough first semester with all sorts of projects due, most importantly the dreaded IB Extended Essay.  He changed his mind a couple of times about his subject but ended up doing it on an animator named John Whitney.  In spite of, or because of, all the agonizing he did a good job.  All this, and he has continued to struggle with sleep and other health issues, causing him to miss a fair amount of school last fall.  He’s doing better now, though, and managed to hold onto his B average after all the dust cleared.  With the first-semester projects out of the way, he can concentrate on classes this semester, his IB Digital Arts show, his other four IB exams . . . you get the picture.  He’s turned in his application to go on the church missions trip, so we are excited about the opportunity to go on that as a family.  And, oh yes, he does need to think a little bit about what he’s going to do next year.  Right now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design is a strong contender.  We are thinking about going down for a visit during spring break.  I’m encouraging Gideon to consider staying at home for one year and getting his freshman subjects out of the way, possibly at University of Colorado at Denver.  It will be interesting to see what he ends up doing.


Jim has had an encouraging time at church, as discussed above, and a challenging time at his job this year.  His company has struggled a bit this year to bring in new projects as old ones draw to a close.  We are thankful, though, that there have been encouraging signs of new business of late, and we remind ourselves often that the job is not the source of our provision:  God is.  At least Jim’s office is very close, which makes it possible for the two of us to have lunch together periodically and for him to bike in fairly often, using the Cherry Creek State Park trails for most of the journey. We want to devote regular time this year to getting some of Jim’s wonderful kids’ stories written down and submitted somewhere for publication.  Cannonball the Parrot, Freeko the Pterodactyl, and Secret Agent Bobb all need to make their way into the public eye.  Any children’s book illustrators out there?  We need one!


Meanwhile, I continue to teach my dear Russian ladies (and one gentleman) at Hope of Israel, an ESOL school with evangelistic motivations.  I’m also starting up a (very modest) service of home decorating and sewing, offering free advice, shopping, and hand-holding for those who’d like to do something with their homes but are a little intimidated by the whole thing, charging, at least for now, only for the materials and actual sewing time.  (That special offer will end July 31.)  If you’d like to take a look at some of my recent projects, visit debisdesigns.wordpress.com.  I’m not a professional decorator or seamstress, but I have always enjoyed fixing up the places where I’ve lived, and I was a little sad to think that my (much-procrastinated-about) projects in this house were drawing to a close.  It was kind of frustrating to go to a fabric store and to realize that, well, I didn’t need anything.  So this may be a way to keep my talents in use and also to give employment to at least one other person.  (E-mail me if you live in my area and are interested in trying this service out.)  I am also more and more interested in developing Bible-based material that has grown out of the book “The Happiness Project,” which I raved about in last year’s letter.  (Have you read it yet?)  Ideas from that book and a number of other sources will form the basis for the curriculum I hope to teach in our women’s ministry next fall.


“I…am the cat.”

“We like the stairs.  We match them!”

Still just as charming as ever, still refusing to sit on my lap much.  (Gideon says that I squeeze them.)  Still getting into things they’re not supposed to.  Still NOT DOGS.  Still meowing in chorus as they wait for Jim to give them their treat of morning milk.  (Did you know that milk really isn’t all that good for cats?  But they don’t get very much, and they’d just die if Jim quit giving it to them altogether.)  Visitors to our house seem to find them very amusing, although we have to warn people that Smoggy really isn’t a friendly cat.  Sandie and Dorrie seem to find the meetings of our church small group very interesting and often make an appearance there.  Technically they’re Gideon’s cats, but I have a feeling that they’ll be around for quite awhile.  I do long for a dog, and apparently there were lots of Chihuahuas at the Denver Dumb Friends League last fall, but I didn’t allow myself to go.  I know I would have come home with two or three.  So . . . we’ll stick with what we have, at least for now.

I think I’ve exceeded even my usual long-windedness for this letter, so I’d better close.  (There’s no gardening section in this letter, as there’s a very long blogpost on that subject just previous to this one.  I will just say that I’ve bought my seeds and am more than ready for SPRING.)  We trust you’ve had a great year, too, and we enjoyed hearing from many of you.  Keep in touch!

Jim, Debi, Gideon, Smoggy, El Doro the Magnificent, and El Sando the Great

Gardening 2011

August 1, 2011

I had planned to update this blog with gardening info throughout the growing season. It’s now the day after Memorial Day and I’m finally doing the first post. But don’t think that we’ve been idle. Actually I’m writing this as I’m waiting for the owner of a landscape materials company to come by and check to see that his company really did short us a cubic yard of mulch when they delivered it last Thursaday. Honestly! As I told Jim, you’d think that we were asking for a cubic yard of platinum the way he’s acting. Here’s what we’ve gotten done since the last week in March:

1. Repainted the huge back fence. This was probably not strictly necessary right now, but we wanted to get it done before installing beds alongside of it. Jim and Gideon labored over this for parts of several days during Gideon’s spring break. Right before we got started we realized that the other side of one long leg of the fence was in terrible shape–those people hadn’t painted for years. Almost all of the finish was gone. Well, it made no sense for us to paint our side but for the other side to remain bare, so I suggested that we tell them we’d paint their side, too. That would shame them into doing it themselves. It actually worked. They haven’t painted yet but have promised to do so, and the homeowner has replaced a number of boards. We probably need to use the same strategem on a second neighbor whose paint job also needs an update.

2. Planted 100 strawberry plants, 100 asparagus roots, and 46 raspberry bushes. (It would have been 50 raspberries, but we couldn’t jam them in even using the closest spacing allowable.) Again, Jim and Gideon were the main laborers on this job, although I did plant the strawberries in a bed I had prepared last fall. (Well, sort of prepared. I was trying out a variation of the old newspaper trick, which I call the new cardboard trick. It’s a way to get out of digging up sod in an area you want to make into a bed. In my version, you spread compost over the grass, then cover that with cardboard, then cover that with mulch. Leave it all winter and let it rot. The next spring, plant through the cardboard. The grass will be dead and you won’t have gotten rid of all that organic matter. We did this when we got rid of a large chunk of the front lawn. It works pretty well, all things considered, but I do wish that I had sprayed the grass with Roundup before covering it up. Quite a bit of grass is growing up into the strawberry plants through the holes I punched in the cardboard. This wasn’t as much of a problem in the front yard as we just planted four trees and so didn’t have as many holes.) If you’re wondering why I bought so many of each of these, it’s because I got drawn into the Harris Seeds catalog and they have a minimum order for fruit-bearing plants and asparagus. I do love all of these, but I may find that it’s a bit much.

3. Dug out a trench all along the 100 feet of the raspberry bed and installed metal edging, then put in landscape fabric and mulch. This project is almost done. Jim did most of the digging for this, as Gideon was in the throes of end-of-year schoolwork.

The asparagus rows, ready to be planted, strawberry bed, and raspberry bed along the new-painted fence.

4. Put in new hooks and installed our spiffy new metal hanging flowerbaskets. I am very pleased with these, although I discovered later than Wal-Mart carries something very similar. I haven’t had the heart to check their prices. These are very sturdy and look just like the ones you see hanging in commercial installations. I had bought some inexpensive plastic pots last year, but they sagged between the hooks of the hanging chains and the front one deteriorated badly in the sun. A fairly inexpensive experiment that didn’t turn out well. The new ones should last us until we move out, 20 years from now. (I hope it’s that long!)

5. Planted a number of new perrentials, including three kinds of coreopsis, some Shasta daisies, a new kind of artemisia, a dwarf Ponderosa pine, decorative grasses, and four small rosebushes. Two of the rosebushes died before I could plant them, but we should be able to get a refund on those. Everything else seems to be doing okay. We also have three drawf Mugo pines sitting in pots, waiting to be planted along the front walkway. They should provide some welcome green this winter as we go up to the front door.

6. Made a start on a vegetable garden (in addition to the asparagus). I know of at least two people who have already harvested great loads of spinach, but I planted mine only two weeks or so ago. So I have a few sprouts, and tomorrow it’s supposed to hit 90, so it will probably bolt before it produces anything. We’ve had chilly weather for weeks, with night temps in the 40’s, and now it’s going to be summer. I won’t get much spinach or lettuce. It’s planted, though, along with basil, rosemary, cilantro, parsley, dill, and tomatoes. I have pole beans in pots, but the first planting didn’t do anything because it was so cold. The newly-planted seeds probably won’t mature soon enough to give me much of a harvest, but we’ll see. I have some perennial herbs (chives and thyme) that need to go into the ground, and I’d like to find a zucchini seedling for the Magda variety, and that will pretty much fill up the area. I’m trying to make it look fairly neat and attractive as that’s what I promised to do in the landscaping plan I turned in to the homeowners’ association. (Yes, if we’re going to plan a vegetable garden we have to get it approved. Can you believe it? I didn’t find this out until the night before we closed on the house.)

The horrible weedy bed along the side of the back yard. This is the next big project, and should keep us busy for at least the next five years.

To be updated at harvest!


Hello Everybody,

Here we are in January 2011 at Denver's oldest restaurant with our friend Karl Russo from DC.

It’s been quite a year for us. If you’ve been reading the blog posts you already know about some of our adventures. Here are some highlights:


I’m starting with this section because, other than our families, I would say that this part of our lives has been the most important this year. We have felt welcome from the very beginning at Parker Hills Bible Fellowship and have already been given some great opportunities for ministry. Jim is teaching Adult Sunday school class right now and has been asked to lead a care group. I’ve helped with food-related activities, with my most recent project being the desserts for the adult Christmas party. I’ve also been given the opportunity to do some piano playing for services, something I had missed at our former church in DC, and am involved in teaching 5th and 6th grade Sunday school. Our pastor is young, energetic, and committed, and his sermons are excellent. (It’s not every day that you hear references to Weird Al Yankovic in a theological framework.) We appreciate his emphasis on the sovereignty of God and have gotten to know lots of great people. The youth group is very active, with another young, energetic and committed leader. We consider ourselves very blessed to be there.


Our main reason for moving back here was to be closer to our families, and we love being able to spend time with them that’s not bracketed by plane trips. (We were really glad this Christmas not to be involved in all the canceled flights that happened because of the storms in the rest of the country–and to be in wonderful Colorado where it was 50 degrees on Christmas Day.) Jim’s father and stepmother are going strong, with church and square dancing a big part of their lives. We see them almost every week along with Jim’s brother Ed, and we get together with my brother and sister-in-law a lot, too. We got to see all of my brother’s kids (Gideon’s only first cousins) at Cody’s wedding this October. Jim’s sister and brother-in-law made it out for a visit in August, which helped console us a little bit for their not being able to come for Christmas.


This is the last letter in which Lupita will appear, as we lost her on Memorial Day. We do miss her! She was such a great little character. I had so hoped that she would live long enough to see Gideon through high school, but that would have made her 18 years old.She did achieve age 16, which isn’t too shabby, and then the side effects of her heart drugs caught up with her. Although I love dogs, I just can’t see us starting over again with a new one (especially one that’s not housebroken), and getting someone to take care of a dog when you’re gone on vacation is a real pain.

A graphic version of our dear little departed dog.

So, at least for now, we have the three cats, whom we love dearly but who are NOT DOGS. They provide lots of laughs with their various antics and some angst over snags and scratches. We’re finally moving their litterboxes out of the laundry room now that the basement is finished.


Dorrie and Sandie, sitting on the couch

Sandie in the Christmas Tree


We’ve actually had a much milder winter out here than Virginia did, so the big difference in gardening isn’t so much temperature as WATERING. Virginia does tend to have a drought most summers and everyone’s lawn dies, but we usually get plenty of moisture the other seasons. Colorado, on the other hand, doesn’t have a reliable snow cover or ground freeze, so the main thing to remember is to water in the winter whenever the temperature gets to around 50 degrees. That’s a hard habit to acquire, though. I’m afraid some of my new plantings aren’t going to make it because I forgot to water them. We turned off the sprinkler system at the end of September and have had dry, mild weather pretty much ever since. I have hopes that the trees in the big front mulched area are going to make it through, and I may have caught the other things in time. We’ve gotten some fairly large projects done this year and have plenty more to do. I told Jim that in a decade or so we may have things the way we want them.


This year has been one of struggles and successes for Gideon. He has had trouble sleeping on and off since eighth grade after being a champion sleeper almost from birth. We finally got him into a sleep specialist who said his “circadian rhythm” was off and who recommended a biological clock reset. I must say, Gideon showed some great self-discipline in going through this process, which involved moving his bedtime later and later until he got into a normal schedule. He stayed up all night quite a few times, as we had to do the whole thing twice. But now he seems to be pretty well set, although we have to be very careful over the next few months to keep him on a pretty rigid bedtime. Next semester he’ll have a very heavy roster of classes as he’ll be going through some of the requirements for his International Baccalaureate diploma, so it’ll be even more important than usual that he be able to function well in school. In spite of all this he’s been active in various activites: youth group (with a missions trip this summer), game-making on the computer, and plenty of time hanging out with family. He and Jim haven’t found a Tae Kwon Do studio to match the one back in Virginia, but they are going to make another effort in the new year.


Jim’s activities show up throughout this letter, so I’ll limit myself here to his job. We are very thankful for the opportunities he’s had with his company/companies. Although he’s never changed employment himself, the company has been changed for him a number of times over the years because of buyouts. He now works for L-3 Communications. He has great co-workers and is at work on a fascinating project. As he says, he just showed up at the last minute for the photo op. Working on government contracts can be a bit of a nailbiter as you wait to see if funding will come through (although that’s true in the private sector as well), but things look favorable for next year. We say often that our provision is from God and not from the job, and we need to remember that whatever happens.


The house we had just closed on last December has now been through a fair number of projects. I have to laugh (a little) when I think that we bought this house partly because we thought it wouldn’t need much done to it and then I look at what we have done to it. These items include: floor and deck refinishing, new carpeting, painting, new kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, new drapes, new furniture, new windows, and basement finishing. That last item has been the biggest headache, as we were very inexperienced (actually unexperienced) in the areas of building permits and contractor licensing. Now that we know all this stuff we’ll never use it again–I hope. But it’s almost done and looks great. A little drywall repair, some touchup painting and the carpeting, and we’ll be done. Nothing is ever as simple as you think it will be! Probably one of our lowest points occurred when we were told that the window well for the egress window was too small–that it had to be extended a full 12 inches further. This change involved massive dirt digging, cutting out part of the deck, and moving a support beam. What a pain! I was glad someone else was doing that. But we’ve worked as a family on painting the basement (for which Jim stayed up all night) and sealing the deck, along with the yard work. We have already had several overnight guests and hosted many get-togethers, including an open house in November. We deliberately went ahead and invited people over even when things were still in disarray, as we knew that otherwise we’d be out of the loop for a long time. People were very kind about the moving boxes, protective paper on the floors, and empty walls. We should soon be out of project mode and into maintenance mode.

The house in winter.


Our big trip this summer grew out of Gideon’s desire to attend the youth retreat at our former church in DC. I said, “But I want to go on a trip, too!” So Jim and I ended up folllowing Gideon out to DC and meeting up with him, doing some visiting in the area, and then heading for New York City and the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. If you’d like a more detailed trip description read my previous post: “Our Wonderful New York Vacation.” And it was truly wonderful. I would love to visit NYC again sometime. When I look back over the years of our marriage, and especially the years since Gideon was born, it’s our big family trips that stand out. Next summer will be our last before Gideon graduates from high school, so there’s a big change coming. I’m so glad we’ve taken advantage of the time we’ve had. In keeping with our having a high school junior in the house we made a college visit in October, combining a trip to Cedarville University in Ohio with several days in Chicago. Our friends the Gollmers put us up in Cedarville and we stayed in one of our signature ratty-but-nice hotels in Chicago. Both places were great fun. I don’t know what Gideon will decide about college, but this trip at least gave him some things to think about.


I can’t close this letter without mentioning a book that has truly been life changing for Jim and me: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. As I’ve said many times about this book, it isn’t a Christian book but it is truly Biblical in many of its ideas. As the book makes clear, happiness isn’t a matter of self-indulgence but of self-discipline. I was so pleased when our book group at church voted to read THP for its current choice. We’ve been having great discussions as we’ve worked our way through it. Jim and I both plan to launch happiness projects of our own in the new year, and I plan to post entries on t

his blog about my progress. Do get hold of a copy of this book and read it for yourself.

Well, that about wraps it up. I’m looking forward to doing some part-time teaching in the new year at an ESOL school that ministers to Russian immigrants. I did some substitute teaching there this fall and enjoyed my class greatly–and they seemed to enjoy me, too. I look forward to continuing on with ministries at our church, attending Community Bible Study, singing in the Parker Chorale, and getting on with my writing. We hope you have

a great year, too. Come and see us!

Debi, Jim, Gideon, Dorrie (El Doro the Magnificent), Sandie (El Sando the Great), and Smoggy

I have found in the past few years that I’m less and less interested in reading fiction. I’ll get partway through a book I would have found fascinating ten years ago and just can’t keep going. Or I’ll hear or read about a book that sounds good but as soon as I realize that it’s a work of fiction I think, “Why bother? It didn’t really happen.” Apparently this change in reading taste is common as people (gulp) age. In compensation, though, I’ve become more and more interested in memoirs, but they have to be a certain kind. They have to have a compelling narrative voice and they have to be devoid of self-pity and narcissism. (So those requirements pretty much eliminate Julie and Julia, although I loved the film.) Gretchen Rubin says that she found memoirs of catastrophes helpful in building gratitude for her own life; the following titles all have something tragic in them. I’ve put some titles from Rubin’s list on hold at the library and am looking forward to reading them but realized that I’d already read a fair number of this type of book. Here are some favorites from the past couple of years or so:
Together on Top of the World: The Remarkable Story of the First Couple to Climb the Fabled Seven Summits by Phil and Susan Ershler with Robin Simon, Grand Central Publishing: 2007.

This is much more than a mountain-climbing book. It’s a love story, told alternately by each spouse. Phil Ershler has battled since high school with Crohn’s disease and then developed colon cancer and had to deal with that before he and Susan could climb Everest. What I found so touching and amazing about this book was the total trust and respect that Phil and Susan display for each other.

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love by Carole Radziwill, Scribner: 2005.

Carole DiFalco married Anthony Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy’s nephew, and became friends with John and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. Three weeks before Anthony died of cancer, John and Carolyn crashed into the Atlantic. Carole was born in a small town and gives us very much of an outsider’s view of the Kennedys; the book would be worth reading for that characteristic alone. But she’s also written unflinchingly about what it’s like to experience an ongoing tragedy that is unstoppably racing towards death and then, on top of that, to have another tragedy land out of the blue.

In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing by Bob and Lee Woodruff, Random House: 2007.

This is another book co-written by a husband and wife. Bob Woodruff is the reporter who was injured so terribly by a roadside bomb in Iraq; he was kept in a medically-induced coma for 36 days and had to have part of his skull replaced with metal plates. Meanwhile his wife, Lee, coped with his situation and with the care of their four children. Quite a story. There is apparently a new edition out with updates.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Knopf: 2005.

This book generated substantial buzz when it came out. I didn’t read it at the time and can’t remember why I eventually did as I thought of Didion as being some sort of radical feminist left-winger, and perhaps she is. Whatever her political leanings, however, it has to be said that this book is pretty astonishing. Like the Radziwill book, it’s also concerned with an ongoing tragedy and a sudden one: Joan and her husband, John, were dealing with the potentially fatal illness of their only child (Quintana Roo–isn’t that quite a name?) and were eating dinner in their apartment after having come back from visiting QR in the ICU when John collapsed with a massive heart attack and died right there in the living room. Didion is achingly clear in her portrayal of so-called “magical thinking”: the idea we have, even though we know it’s false, that we can somehow undo the past if we do or say the right things. It is a deeply affecting and courageous book.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken, Little, Brown and Company: 2008.

I know I picked this up from the new-book shelves at the library because of the weird title. It turned out to be a memoir of McCracken’s having a stillborn baby. Would it sound just as weird as the title if I said that parts of it are wildly funny, even in the midst of the calamity? You’ll just have to read it. (But I will give one example: McCracken and her husband are living in France at the time of the stillbirth, but they don’t speak French very well at all, so when they are asked, “Would you like to speak to a nun?” they misunderstand and think they are being asked, “Would you like to speak to a dwarf?”) I know I said that Joan Didion’s book is “astonishing.” Now I have to say the same thing about this one. I don’t know how you write something that is so honest and so devoid of any self-pity and that still conveys the depths of grief and despair over the loss of someone you’ve never even met.

George and Sam: Two Boys, One Family, and Autism by Charlotte Moore, St. Martin’s Press: 2006.

Well, another astonishing book. Moore tells about her life as a single mother with three sons, two of them severely, and agonizingly, autistic. Her husband leaves because he can’t deal with the situation. She lives in the house where she grew up, a huge, tumbledown farmhouse in the English countryside. She deals with the unbelievable complications of life with her sons, meanwhile carrying on as a journalist. As with almost all books these days, you can read at least parts of this one online. Read the Prologue, and you’ll never feel sorry for yourself again.
Every Mother Is a Daughter: The Never-Ending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen (Recipes and Knitting Patterns Included) by Perri Klass and Sheila Solomon Klass, Ballantine Books: 2006.

Perri and Sheila are mother and daughter, and this book is a delight. After you’ve read it you should then track down all of Perri’s non-fiction books (she writes about med school, the medical profession, and knitting), avoid her fiction (not worth the paper it’s printed on, in my opinion), and see if you can find any of Sheila’s (Everybody in this House Makes Babies is her memoir of living in the Caribbean with her husband at the time Perri was born; you’ll have to find it on a used-book site). The two of them together are a hoot. I was extremely tickled to see that Sheila, at age 82, is on MySpace. Although this book is by no means a “tragic memoir,” the death of Morton Klass, Sheila’s husband and Perri’s father, is explored, as are the difficulties in Sheila’s life as she ages.

Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story by Isabel Gillies, Scribners: 2009.

Well! Another one of those books whose title grabbed me. It was obvious to me that the book had to be about a failed-marriage/wife-is-always-the-last-to-know situation, and indeed it is. But Gillies is so disarmingly naive and charming (and, dare I say it, clueless) that you have to like her. And she’s absolutely gorgeous into the bargain, so it’s either reassuring or unnerving to know that she could get dumped. Warning to the squeamish: you might want to skip her description of childbirth. I was completely hooked, pulled along by her energy and honesty.

Oh dear! When you try to get people to read something it’s usually futile. My mother used to leave books on my bedside table when I was a teenager in the hope that I’d read them, and I don’t think I ever did. But I can at least write this post, and then I’m not buttonholing people in person. Let me first say that none of these is a Christian book; none will tell you how to get to Heaven. So I make no claims in that area for them. They are unashamedly secular self-help books, and so a big piece of the puzzle is missing. We can’t really help ourselves; we can’t change our hearts–only God can do that. At least some of the ideas in these books need to be matters of prayer for me. Having said that, I will say that theSE three books truly flipped a switch for me in some daily life issues. Maybe they can do the same for you–who knows?


If you’re only going to read one of these, read:


You may have heard of this book–it has been on the best-seller list and has a popular blog associated with it. I can’t say enough good things about it. What the author has done without being aware of it is to take the famous quotation from the great preacher David Martin Lloyd-Jones, “Too many of us listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves” and written a whole book about how to change that. (Lloyd-Jones is saying that we need to take charge of our thoughts instead of just passively letting them wash over us. He almost certainly got this idea from II Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” NIV.) Rubin is in her late thirties, lives in New York City and before this had written books about JFK and Churchill. One day on the bus she realized that, though she had a wonderful life with professional success, a great husband, two beautiful daughters and a close family, she wasn’t really aware of her blessings on a day-to-day basis–she wasn’t happy, most of the time. Why was that? Could she change it? And thus she launched herself on this project. Her main model was Benjamin Franklin, who set himself what could be called a “virtue project.” You may have read the section of his Autobiography that tells about this, as it’s a staple in high school and college English literature books. I thought when I read her title that this was just a light, humorous book that would be fun to read and ended up being so impressed with it that I used it as our “trip book” to read aloud in the car when we went to New York recently. It’s hard to describe. It’s not sappy. It’s not dogmatic or preachy. It’s beautifully written and very funny in parts. And it’s inspiring. Truly. There is a glut of books out there these days on the theory and philosophy of happiness, but the ones I’ve seen are way too general. Rubin isn’t afraid to tell us about the details of her life, including the time she got mad and threw a pillow at her husband because he said she snored. One of her ideas is that we need to come up with our own set of personal commandments to help us with our own happiness, tailored to our weaknesses. If I follow these 12 commands (Gretchen and I both have 12!) I will be happier: that is, I will feel productive, connected and in control, and have less stress and guilt. Here they are:


1. The big things that you do once in awhile matter less than the small things that you do consistently. I had a dear friend and colleague a number of years who shared my approach to tasks, especially in the area of housekeeping. We were both single and living alone, and we used to joke that we were “on the burst” housekeepers instead of “steady state” ones. Now I find myself muttering, “Every day, Debi, every day,” as I am tempted to put off until tomorrow the post-dinner cleanup or some other daily task. But this idea applies to far more than wiping off the bathroom counter or keeping up with paperwork. It especially applies to relationships. I’m reminded of something my mother said to me once. She was talking about my housekeeping propensities (or lack thereof) but what she said applied to the way I lived my life in general (and, I’m convinced, the way most people live theirs.) She said, “Debi, you get your apartment all cleaned up and it looks really nice, but then when you try to keep it cleaned up you get bored. So you let it get really messy, and then you have to you clean it all up and that’s exciting because it’s dramatic.” That’s a pretty accurate quotation. And she was completely right. That was exactly what was going on with me in the way I lived my daily life. In relationships, too, I think it’s tempting to have long slides, big blowups, emotional reconciliations, and then back to the long slide. But if that’s the way we handle things, in whatever area, then we spend most of our lives in the “long slide” part of the equation. The house is almost always messy. The laundry is almost always behind. And the relationship (this applies especially to marriage) is almost always in a state of low-level bickering, disinterest or neglect. I have been so saddened as I’ve thought about my father’s last years when he lived in San Diego. He remarried in 1995 after my mother died and moved out to California. It turned out to be a very good decision for him in many ways, but he did miss Colorado. As his health failed he became more and more limited in his activities, and he was very lonely. I needed to call him regularly, maybe once a week for 15 minutes. A small thing. It would have cost me practically nothing in terms of money or time and meant a lot to him. I just needed to plan to make it happen. But my father and I weren’t particularly close. And there was a three-hour time difference between Virginia, where we were living at the time, and California. I would think of calling him when it wasn’t feasible, such as 9:00 AM my time, 6:00 AM his time, or when it was inconvenient for me, such as 10:00 PM, my bedtime, which would have been 7:00 PM for him, right after supper. I’d think, Oh, I’ll call him tomorrow. But, as my husband says, tomorrow never comes. I rarely actually made the call. But, just in case you think that I was a totally neglectful daughter, I did make sure that we went out as a family to see him in San Diego on a pretty regular schedule every other year. When he went into a nursing home in 2006 I made a point of having us go out there during my son’s spring break and see what his situation was. Trips to San Diego involved plane tickets, a hotel room, a rental car, and admissions charges for activities during the day. They were a big thing. And I’m sure that my dad enjoyed seeing us. But . . . if I’d had to choose the consistent small thing or the occasional big thing, I would have done best by making those weekly calls. Now he’s gone.


2. Quit offering unsolicited advice. No one’s going to listen to you anyway, and you’ll just annoy people. (This advice doesn’t apply to parenting. ) I am the queen of unsolicited advice, so this commandment really hits me hard. I want to be tactful, so I often phrase my advice as a question: “Why don’t you . . . ?” I have a hard time drawing the line between giving advice and offering to help, but if I take a task off someone’s hands I guess I’m free to do it my way. It’s very hard for me to suppress my natural tendency to take people by the shoulders and give them a good shake, but that sort of thing hardly ever works. You do hear stories of people being told, and told, and told again about some action they need to take, finally being persuaded, and making life-altering changes. I just seem to put people’s backs up when I try to do this, though. Maybe it’s a gift I just don’t have. So I need to bite my tongue and keep my mouth shut unless someone’s doing something really life threatening–or unless someone actually asks for my advice.


3. Shut up and deal with it. I don’t use the words “shut up” to anyone else, but I like the way this command works for me. In other words, get on with it. Do what needs to be done. Quit whining. And don’t be squeamish. I read somewhere recently about a mother who taught her children that squeamishness was the least profitable emotion on earth. It accomplishes nothing. So, Debi, clean up that mess, take care of that situation. Hold your nose if you have to, but quit digging your big toe in the dirt and explaining why you can’t do so and so, or aren’t good at such and such. And for goodness’ sake quit saying that you’re “not that kind of person” when you need to be that kind of person! I’ve said many times, for instance, that I’m “just not the kind of person who remembers to have her cell phone with her.” And, sure enough, there have been numerous times when a charged-up, turned-on cell phone would have saved me and others a lot of time and frustration. (I know, I know–there may be people reading this for whom a cell phone is as necessary as an opposable thumb. Trust me–there are lots of people around like me.) I have decided that there are few utterances more irritating than the constant refrain of “Oh, I don’t know how to do this” or “I can’t do this” or “How do you do this again?” These utterances often come from those of us who have attained a certain age and concern our (supposed) inability to deal with new technology. My poor patient brother has given me his cell phone number at least half a dozen times. I’ve finally put it in my cell phone address book. It sounds small, but it’s not–not for me, anyway.


4. Say what needs to be said kindly and with a smile. Just this morning I got out of the shower and saw that my husband and son still hadn’t left the house to go over to the in-laws’. My sister-in-law is in town and we’re spending as much time as possible with her. But instead of saying, smilingly, “Oh, I thought you had left,” I snarled, “Haven’t you guys left yet?” In fact I could write an endless stream of examples of my snarling at my dear husband and son, mostly over things that they have done with the best intentions in the world. Take a deep breath and smile before you say something. Or, as the book of Psalms says, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19;14, KJV). The pastor of the church I attended in grade school always ended his public prayers with that verse. Both the mouth and the heart have to be involved.


5. Respond appropriately when others are rude and disrespectful to you. It may seem strange that I would list this command in a discussion of how to be happy. But many of us, when we lie awake at night thinking about things that bother us, stew over what we should have said in various situations where people said or did something rude. We’re not so much unhappy about what the other person said as we are about what we said, or failed to say. It has taken me a long time to realize this principle, and is it ever a struggle for me to implement it! As the British would say, I find it a bit of a facer when someone is rude. You’d think that my years of teaching high school would have given me the ability to come up with good comebacks, but that’s not so. And snappy put-downs are not really the point, anyway. It’s a matter of self-respect and of having the relationship on a proper footing. Sometimes the best thing is to ignore the rudeness; other times some type of answer or rebuke is needed. But when do you do what? I agonize over this. So far in my new resolve on this issue I’ve at least managed not to do what I usually do, which is to be taken aback and not want to make other people uncomfortable (including the person who’s being rude!), and instead have shut down in such a marked fashion that the person (the rudee, as it were) has noticed and said something, which has at least meant that the incident hasn’t just been glossed over. I’m so terrible at thinking on my feet and so good at realizing what I should have said when it’s too late. I’ve been trying to think ahead about what would be appropriate things to say in certain situations; now I just have to implement them. (How about, “I’m sure you don’t mean that to be as rude as it sounds”?) Otherwise I just have another incident to stew about at 2:00 AM.


6. Cultivate the habit of remembering where you put things (including the car). See “I’m just not that kind of person” above. It does no good for me to say that I never remember where I parked the car, or put my keys or sunglasses. The time I’ve wasted looking for things is enormous. If I truly take that time seriously I will be motivated to do something about it. Just today I spent a useless hunk of time looking for my billfold. I knew I’d brought it home. Where on earth was it? I couldn’t leave for shopping without it. I looked every possible place at least twice. We all know the drill. It finally turned up–on the piano bench. Why on earth did I put it there? Beats me.


7. Recognize who’s in charge and don’t butt heads if it’s not you. Be gracious and do things their way. Maybe you’ll be in charge some day.


8. DON’T FUSS. The faults that most irritate us in others are often the faults we have ourselves. I’m a fusser! If someone else were doing it I’d be saying, or at least thinking, “What difference does it make?” But when it’s me, then whatever it is that’s bothering me is the most important thing in the world. Just last week we hosted a family get-together to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I planned to have us eat outside on our beautiful deck, but for some reason there were a lot of aggressive wasps out there and everyone came back inside. They decided to reset the table in the dining room, on the almost-new, completely BARE and UNPROTECTED dining room table. People were clinking serving dishes and silverware down. It sounded like shattering glass to me. I stood there, quietly stewing, wanting to say something but not being able to think of how to phrase things without sounding like you-know-who. Fortunately, my dear sister-in-law stepped into the breach and said, “Shouldn’t there be some kind of protection on this table?” And everyone decamped to the kitchen table. Whew! Somehow I need to learn to handle situation such as this one in a way that puts the comfort of people first but still prevents damage to my possessions, WITHOUT FUSSING.


9. DON’T COMPLAIN. I say this to my son, but I do it myself. Sometimes I complain in order to make conversation, but it would be better to have silence!


10. Don’t be difficult; say “yes” whenever possible. Agree with the plans if you can. Maybe it’s not your favorite restaurant. Maybe you think it would be better to sit over there than to sit here. Maybe the timing could be better, or you’re not in the mood to do this but would rather do that. I think of the lovely evening one Friday when my husband said, “Let’s go to the Free Shakespeare play tonight.” It was perfect weather for a summer outing, a rarity in Virginia. But I just wasn’t in the mood. I hadn’t thought about going then. I was thinking we’d do something else. Whatever. So we didn’t go. And when we finally did go, several weeks later, putting ourselves though an unbelievable odyssey involving car and bus travel, it was rained out. (He never said a word of recrimination.) Why couldn’t I just have said, “Sure, why not?”


11. Be more “there you are” than “here I am.” There aren’t very many “there you are” people around. Many conversations, for example, aren’t really conversations at all: they’re competing monologues. You’re telling me about your experience, and I’m supposed to be listening, but what I’m really doing is waiting for you to draw breath so that I can get in the story about my experience. Jim and I have talked about this human tendency a number of times. This desire to get in my story or opinion leads to my often doing something that I hate when someone does it to me: I interrupt a lot. Don’t draw that breath in the middle of your sentence! If you do that when you’re talking to me, you’re lost. I have also begun to realize that when I look forward to having new people over for dinner what I really anticipate is that the company will be interested in hearing about me. I’m not too interested in getting to know them. I’m making a little progress, though. Last week a family friend e-mailed me about the trip he was taking from Seattle east to the Colorado Rockies. We took the same trip, only in the other direction, in 2008. I started to tell him that in my reply. Then I stopped. This was his trip. He didn’t really want to know about mine. Instead I wrote back that it sounded like he was having a wonderful time and that I hoped we’d get to see his pictures. If I’m truly interested in him and his trip, by the way, then I won’t be so tempted to try to prove, at least to myself, that my trip was better. A focus on others will help me avoid the insidious habit of always comparing myself to others, sometimes to my credit, but often in the other direction. Galation 6:4 says, “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else” (NIV). What drives us to be constantly in a stew about how we stack up against others is the “here I am” mentality.


12. Plan ahead so that you’re prepared and on time. Is this an original piece of advice or what? I’m constantly impressed, though, with what I’m going to call “the importance of five minutes.” It’s so wonderful to have that little cushion of time–it makes all the difference between being stressed and being relaxed.


I’m sure I can come up with more commandments; I’ll do that when I’ve implemented these.


THE SKINNY: HOW TO FIT INTO YOUR LITTLE BLACK DRESS FOREVER by Melissa Clark and Robin Aronson, Meredith Books: 2006.


I caught a passing reference to this title not long after it was published and ordered a copy. While I have never had any type of serious weight problem I had gone around for years carrying 10-15 pounds more than I wanted and feeling that I either needed to lose the weight or give up and buy a size larger pants. I had read French Women Don’t Get Fat when it first came out and had really liked it but never implemented her ideas. I think (sorry, Mireille) that she’s just a bit too hoity-toity for those of us who shop at a regular grocery store and don’t make several trips a year to France to buy prunes. (Yes, prunes. Well, maybe she does a few more things while she’s there, but she does buy her prunes in France.) The Skinny is basically FWDGF for ordinary American women. Some of the writing is pretty cutesy, and Melissa’s recipes for the most part sound pretty inedible. (“London Broil with Caramelized Pineapple”?) But the authors give excellent advice on the day-to-day business of losing weight and then maintaining that loss. Something about the book gave me the impetus I needed to get rid of those excess pounds. I did buy the new pants–but they were a size smaller, not larger, and I’m still wearing them over four years later.


And this whole weight-loss issue leads to an idea I’ve had recently: There are diets and there are philosophies of how to eat, and the two are very different. But the diet books sell the most, because they promise you some type of easy-to-follow formula. If you’ll eat this and not eat this, whether it’s fats or carbohydrates or cabbage soup, you’ll lose weight. So people put their faith in the diet and then don’t follow it, or follow it only briefly, because it’s too hard to stick to it. Since the only tool they’ve been given is the diet, and they haven’t followed that, they just go back to eating the way they always do, which causes them to gain back any weight they might have inadvertently lost on the diet in the first place. If you have some type of over-arching philosophy of what you eat and how much you eat, though, then you know that you’re in control and that tomorrow you can always cut back if you overeat today. The one philosophy-of-eating book that has sold well is, of course, French Women Don’t Get Fat, and the reason for its success is, I think, that the author seems so glamorous to us Americans. (I know, I know: I just said that she’s too hoity-toity. But I did buy her book, even if I didn’t really do what she said.) She has an adorable French accent and is the CEO of a champagne company. How glitzy is that? Her book is charmingly written and illustrated. Stripped of their trappings and associations, though, her ideas are very simple: Eat well, pay attention to what you eat, and make wise decisions along the way.


Two good but differing examples of weight loss have occurred in the church we used to attend in DC. One of the associate pastors, a man in his thirties, had gotten to the point at which he needed to lose 35-40 pounds, so he started following one of the low-carbohydrate diets decried in the previous paragraph. However, from what I overheard him saying to others and from his obvious success, it is clear that he used the diet as a tool, not as a magic formula, pairing it with a good exercise program. He felt that it helped him to have some definite guidelines laid out for him, and the weight came off and stayed off. (To be fair, any diet that keeps you from eating what I call “industrial pastry” has some value.) The senior pastor, on the other hand, after being told repeatedly by his doctor that he must, must, MUST do something about his weight, settled on a more general guideline, along the lines that he just had to realize that he can’t eat everything he wants to any more. He’s now lost a significant amount of weight and looks at least a decade younger than he did a year ago. Both men, I think, thought of losing weight as a means to the end of having a longer and more fruitful ministry.


SINK REFLECTIONS by Maria Cilley-The Flylady, Bantam Books, first published in 2002.


I’m more than a little embarrassed to list this book as one of my top three. Much of it is unbearably sappy and goopy, and the theology is more than a little off kilter. However, I’m in the ranks of the many who’ve found The Flylady’s ideas to be very helpful in the area of housekeeping. You can subscribe to her e-mail service; I did so and unsubscribed after about a week–I couldn’t stand all that stuff flooding into my inbox. I have read and re-read her book, though, and now that we’ve moved into a newer, much larger, house, I’m planning to follow her idea of drawing up checklists for each area of the house. (Gretchen Rubin is also big on checklists.) Her best idea as far as I’m concerned, an idea which I’m still struggling to implement, has to do with establishing routines so that you automatically do household tasks the same way each time instead of having to re-think them every time you do them. Other cleaning/housekeeping books also make this point, especially the ones written by Jeff Campbell and The Clean Team. The idea is that you have a certain way you clean an area and you do it the same way every single time, trying to get faster and more efficient along the way. “Routine” in this instance is not being used as an adjective to mean “dull, ordinary, everyday,” but as a noun that means “a set way of doing something.” After all, gymnasts and figure skaters have routines. They do the same set of moves, exactly the same way, for thousands of repetitions, in order to get it as perfect as is humanly possible. There’s no Olympic event called “kitchen cleanup,” but there should be! If I know that I have a plan to vacuum and dust the living, dining and family rooms, that everything will be done without my having to go back later and do something I forgot, and that there is a certain amount of time that this task will take, I’ll be much more inclined to go ahead and do it.

This is a very detailed, day-by-day account of our trip to New York City and the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Please feel free to skip this if you just want the RD version! You can read that in the Christmas letter. So . . . for those still with me, this whole trip had its genesis in Gideon’s desire to go to the youth retreat at our old church in DC. I thought Jim and I should come out to DC, join him, and do something we could have done much more easily during the 15 years we lived in Virginia: go to NYC. After we sent Gideon off on July 10 to visit with friends and attend said retreat, Jim and I flew to Minneapolis on Friday July 16 in order to attend Jim’s Fourth Baptist Church and School reunion on Saturday, flew to DC Saturday night, visited Capitol Hill Baptist Church Sunday, did get-togethers in the area on Monday, and then Tuesday morning got on the DC/NYC bus. 4 1/2 hours later we were dumped off on the streets of New York. Here’s how it went:

Our hotel's street.

Day 1, Tuesday, July 20

King Kong and me!

Our first task was to figure out the subway system and get to our hotel, which wasn’t too difficult. We had spent a fair amount of time figuring out a not-too-expensive hotel that wouldn’t require a lot of travel time to get to what we wanted to see and had ended up with a place only 3 blocks west of the middle of Central Park. The block was beautiful, lined with old brownstone buildings, but the inside–well, it was clean. Narrow hallways, bathroom down the hall, layers and layers of paint. Gideon said, “This is the crummiest hotel we’ve ever stayed in.” At first I thought

he was saying that it was the COOLEST hotel. My heart did sink a little at the thought of staying there for four nights, but it actually turned out to be fine. The beds were clean with sheets changed very day, there was only one time that I wanted to get in the bathroom and it was in use, and it was very quiet. There was a nice little cafe on the corner and a subway stop only 3-4 blocks away. We dumped our bags and headed for the Empire State Building. Our guidebook said that midweek and during the dinner hour were the best times to go, and we were hitting them both. Wait times can be hours, but we spent perhaps half an hour getting up to the top (or at least the 80th floor–we didn’t spring for the extra $15 to go up on the spire), got in a picture of me with King Kong right before he took off at 5:00, and got the great views from the top. Altogether a very successful start to our trip. Well, we thought, let’s see about getting tickets for a show. It’s a weeknight, so things shouldn’t be too booked up. Our first option was to see “The Addams Family,” a new musical that we saw advertised on

a brochure in the hotel registration office. (Don’t you just love the way we plan ahead?) Our second option was to see “Wicked,” which sounds awful but which is apparently quite delightful. So we ended up in Times Square, which Gideon says he really liked but which I was decidedly unimpressed with, found the discount TKTS booth, were told that “Wicked” and “Addams Family” weren’t discounting tickets, trekked over to the theater for AF, were told that the cheap seats ($51.50!) were sold out, sent Jim to reconnoiter about Wicked, found out that it was COMPLETELY sold out, SIX YEARS after it opened, with a lobby full of little girls dressed up as

princesses, or good witches, or whatever. Jim said he didn’t think they wanted a big sweaty male in there anyway. So we ended up getting cheap seats ($56.50!!) for AF for Friday night. Oh-kay. Now we needed dinner. Our guidebook said that there was a good pizza place near TS, so we ended up there. I didn’t think the pizza was all that great, but it was a fun place–very big, very noisy, and very fast. An extremely friendly elderly gentleman stopped at our table to welcome us to New York–his wife said that he thought he was the mayor. We made our way to Rockefeller Center, poked our nosesinto St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and then decided to head


for the hotel. And we did end up there–eventually. Please note: always have a plan in mind if you’re taking a mode of transportation for which it is possible to get split up. Let’s just say that Jim’s gallantry in trying to find me cost him and Gideon a fair amount of time and frustration.

Day 2, Wednesday, July 21:

I had heard on NPR about a new book detailing the culinary history of immigrant families living in a tenement on the Lower East Side. The author was the director of a museum there, so I thought it sounded worth a visit. We chose the garment workers’ tour and were given a real glimpse into the lives of people who landed in NY and ended up sitting in stifling little rooms hunched over treadle sewing machines or handwork, being paid by the piece. Water had to be carried upstairs from a pump in the yard. Laundry had to be hung from a line in the kitchen. People slept in all sorts of strange contortions, the most memorable being that of the boys who had their upper bodies on a couch and their feet on chairs. The woman of the household had to keep schlepping that water, no matter what. After this fascinating tour (which I would highly recommend and which isn’t on the top list of attractions in NY) we

The hall of armor with no armor. Lots of space if you want to add some,though.

spoiled tourists went across the street to get gelato from a famous place and then headed to somewhere that isn’t even IN most guidebooks: Wave Hill Gardens in Brooklyn. I had read about this place in a gardening book and had thought vaguely that maybe I could go there and Gideon and Jim could do something else, but we all went–no more splitting up for us! It ended up being quite an expedition, but we made it, and it is a truly lovely place. I wish we had had a little more time and that I had worn my hat, but we enjoyed it. Just don’t expect the Hall of Armor to have any actual armor in it. Our trip back was MUCH easier, as we caught the shuttle that took us directly to thesubway station. We headed toward Ground Zero but couldn’t see anything to speak of at all as it’s all fenced off and full of cranes and cement trucks. We were told later that there was a memorial chapel there on the other side from where we were, but to me simply being there was haunting. For some reason I’ve always thought that the World Trade Center was right on the water and off by itself–I had no idea that it was just there on the street. Kind of ignorant of me, I guess. What it must have been like to have those huge buildings collapsing right there in the middle of everything! And now the surrounding buildings are carrying on as usual. We were reminded of how long the cleanup/construction effort has been going on by the fact that the little deli where we ate was still offering a 15% discount to anyone in a hard hat. I’m not sure what else we crammed in for this day, but we had earned our rest in our crummy cool hotel by the time we got there.

Day 3, Thursday, July 22:

I had been told a couple of weeks before we left on this trip that I needed to book our tickets for the Statue of Liberty ahead of time as they tended to get sold out. Well, alas for us, the tickets to go up into the crown were sold out well into September. However, there were still tickets for climbing up onto the pedestal. The only time that seemed feasible for us to go during our stay was 8:00 AM on this day, so I had a total heart attack getting us going, urged Gideon to wait on breakfast until we were sure we were going to get there on time, and then, of course, ended up realizing that there was no big rush. In spite of the fact that we were in the first batch of the day we didn’t get on that ferry until well after 8:00 and would have had plenty of time for breakfast. Oh well. You never know. Other than the statue itself my favorite memory of this outing is that of a little woman showing a policeman a page with something highlighted on it, trying to get some kind of information. The policeman said, “Lady, I can’t read that–it’s in Japanese!” I must say that coming into the harbor and seeing that gigantic statue is pretty heart-stopping. You see pictures of it all the time with people and buildings around it to give it scale, but I at least didn’t quite take in how big it (she?) is. (I still want to find out what she’s doing with her back foot. Jim thinks she’s pulling free of chains.) Of course, once you get onto the island and climb the pedestal you can’t see much of the statue itself, but I made sure I did lots of peering up at her anyway. Jim’s friend Vince (of whom more later) said that he always just tells people to take the Staten Island ferry instead of the actual SOL one. It’s free, and the view is just as good. However, our tickets also

included Ellis Island, something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Another thing I didn’t realize: EI was for the steerage passengers. The richer passengers were processed by customs and immigration onboard the actual ship. The poorer ones, who had already endured weeks at sea in appalling conditions, were herded onto ferries (since the ship couldn’t come in that far) and taken to EI, where they could be told that they 1) were free to come in, 2) had to stay in the hospital/quarantine area because they had some type of physical or mental problem, or 3) had to go back. And only one person could stay with you if you had to stay for treatment. We got in on an extra tour of the hospital building that’s still being restored, which was a big plus. Between Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum I came back inspired to do more reading on what the whole immigration experience was like. After we got back we thought we’d try to get in a view

Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, but Gideon and I kind of wimped out. That is a long bridge! I had thought we’d walk all the way across it, but then we’d have had to walk back . . . so Jim walked up to the first tower, about a third of the way across, while Gideon and I waited for him. There’s a pedestrian/bike walkway over it, so mixed in with the tourists were plenty of people just going home from work. It reminds me of seeing the Circus Maximus in Rome and noticing that there was someone jogging around it. It was just his normal routine. Anyway, we needed to make a stab at Chinatown and had read in our guidebook that there was this fabulous ice cream place there, so, somewhat restored by our wait on the bridge, we hiked over there, passing a seafood shop with an squid (or possibly a misshapen jellyfish) hanging in it. We managed to get our ice cream and headed home to bed.

Day 4, Friday, July 23:

We had our tickets to the show for this evening, so with that in mind we decided to hit a

We had out tickets to the show for this evening, so with that in mind we decided to hit a few last big-ticket items.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the biggest attractions in NY we decided to go there first, hitting a “Hot and Crusty” place for breakfast. Great pastries. (Gideon is a serious bread and pastry man.) I got very tickled with a woman on the subway who tried to tell me that we had passed the museum way back and were going the wrong way on the wrong side of the park, and I had to show her on my map that I did indeed know what I was doing. She was trying to be helpful, but it was pretty funny–she had the art museum mixed up with natural history one. The MMA is pretty much like the Louvre–too much to take in, confusing, but stuffed with

great stuff.  We kept getting split up (so much for our good intentions there) and Jim and I were rushing around trying to find Gideon when we passed that very famous Rembrandt of “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.” I said, “Oh look!” and then we were past it. We did end up wandering by there again, though. I was most impressed by the Egyptian rooms, including as they do a genuine temple. Statues, paintings, armor (a suit worn by Henry VIII!). Tiffany windows. At least one Vermeer. Blur, blur, blur. Click, click, click. At some point in this trip I said that the days were rushing by just like the windows on the subway. We land back outside. That visit’s over. Where to next? Let’s walk across Central Park, take a look at some sort of castle and the outdoor Shakespeare theater where free performances are given every summer and people line up the night before in order to get tickets. For some reason I keep thinking of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who had an apartment looking out on Central Park during her last years and for whom the reservoir in the park is now named. Let’s peek inside the Museum of Natural History. It’s after 4:00, so it’s not worth it to buy tickets. We’ll just take a look at the dinosaur skeletons in the lobby. Back out the door. Let’s get some dinner. Let’s get to our theater. Let’s get milkshakes since we have some time to kill. Whew!

I found the musical interesting on a number of fronts. (In case you’re wondering, we’re huge fans of the old Addams Family TV show and also liked the first AF movie.) The theater is cramped (originally built in 1901) and doesn’t have the greatest sightlines in the world. I hate having heads in front of me, but there wasn’t a choice here. The performances were quite good, although if I may say so I think Bebe Neuwirth could have done a bit more with Morticia. The plot is basically “You Can’t Take It With You” with dead ancestors thrown in. Of the choices we had for seeing a Broadway show I think we made the best one. In spite of terrible reviews when it opened this past April it’s still doing quite well. I don’t expect it to still be running five years from now, though. It’s amazing, really, that legitimate theater is still going, since we’re so spoiled with our special-effects/raked seating/multiple showings/bargain matinee moviegoing habits. It was kind of . . . hopeful. And sweet. Anyway, I’m glad we went.

Day 5, Saturday, July 24:

We checked out of our hotel, lugged our bags to the subway, and set out for Queens, where an old college roommate of Jim’s, Vince Sawyer, is the pastor of a church: Faith Baptist Church, “the church with a heart, in the heart of Queens.” After a few quandaries over directions we found the church, with Vince and his wife Terri welcoming us. What hospitable people! We had planned to visit the Museum of Moving Images in Queens, which was going to be a real treat for Gideon because it includes an exhibit on video games. Alas. It was closed for renovations, as the Sawyers had helpfully found out. So we went to the Science Museum for the afternoon. Vince took off to play softball in the upper-90’s heat. And then we got in on a truly wonderful and unexpected treat: a concert by someone I’d never heard of, Marty Goetz, a Messianic Jewish singer and pianist. What a great evening! Here we were, in downtown Manhattan, in some sort of synagogue or temple or something-or-other, listening to this funny, talented, engaging man talk about his early years in New York City and his conversion to Christianity. I would have hated to miss out on him, and we would never have gone had it not been for the Sawyers.

Day 6, Sunday, July 25:







Church at Faith Baptist, with a rich and theology-dense sermon by Vince and friendly people. We took off after the regular service and headed out for ONE LAST MUSEUM in NYC, the Intrepid Land, Sea and Air Museum down on the docks. We ended up grabbing genuine NYC bagels on the way at the H&H Bagel Company. We’ve seen a ton of these ship museums over the years, but this one was fun. It wasraining, though, and cold. We persevered. We went through the nuclear submarine. We saw a presentation on Pearl Harbor. We went down the plane elevator. And then we headed back to a little pizza place we had picked out on the way there, had a very mediocre pizza, and made our way to JFK airport to pick up our rental car for our driving trip into upstate New York. That was quite an experience, but everyone was very helpful and the signs were good. Vince had lent us his GPS and given us a map, so we were able to navigate with only a few confusions back to their house, which is a ways from the church and nowhere near a subway station. The Sawyers were gone to a family function, so we had the house to ourselves. It was nice to relax on a couch and watch our Netflix DVD of Monk episoldes that we’d brought with us from home.


Day 7, Monday, July 26:

We had actually planned to leave on Sunday afternoon for our foray into the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, but Vince had offered to take us out on the ocean in his motorboat, so that    was     on tap for today. I had vaguely thought that we were just going for a short boat ride and that we’d be on our way out of town by early to mid afternoon. Well, au contraire! We went FISHING. It was QUITE an expedition. Vince is an avid fisherman and loves any excuse to go out, but he hadn’t gone since the spring. So it worked out wonderfully for everyone: he got to go out and we got another totally unexpected bonus from our visit with them. Terri and I battled bouts of seasickness, but it wasn’t too bad–we just couldn’t sit for too long in any one spot. Gideon had a ball hauling up fish after fish–all of which had to be thrown back. Poor fish! I decided just not to think about it. We had a few fairly high-speed dashes with the spray flying. I don’t think I’d ever been out in a motorboat before. It was totally great. And then it was time to go. We were trying to beat rush hour out of town but didn’t really get going until almost 4:00, and our Googlemaps directions were a little confusing, but in the end all was well. It was a little wrenching to leave NYC, but we had other fish to fry. (Terrible, I know.) Our beginning destination was Watkins Glen, at the bottom of Lake Seneca, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes. And why were we going there, you may ask? Well, our reason for visiting this region in the first place was that my parents lived here in 1951 when they were first married. I was born at Sampson Air Force Base hospital in 1952. And my father always talked about the beautiful Finger Lakes. I had memories of a trip up here about 33 years ago one summer when my parents picked my brother Dan and me up from college and drove Dan to his summer job at a camp in New York State. We had driven by the closed-down base, looked at the lake, and gotten a nighttime view of Niagara Falls (and gotten lost on the way back to the hotel, but that’s another story). I had a clear memory of seeing a sightseeing boat on the lake and wishing I could do that. Well, this was my chance! We needed a definite destination, and I had some vague idea that Watkins Glen was a nice place, or something my parents had mentioned, or something of the sort. We ended up getting there around bedtime


Day 8, Tuesday, July 27:

Sometimes it’s good not to have any preconceived notions about a place you’re visiting. We pulled into the parking lot at the state park and discovered that WG is this gorgeous gorge with waterfalls, trails, and 800 steps. It was a lovely surprise. We spent all morning there, hiking up one way and down the other. (Gideon did say when we got to the top, “Wait–we have to go all the way back down?” They did have a shuttle, but that would have been GIVING UP, and then we would have missed the water lily pond.) I’m sorry to say that the highlight for Gideon was probably the ice cream bar vending machine that flipped open the freezer lid and then picked up your bar with a weird vacuum hose. After our boat trip on the lake we headed up to Geneva, which is at the top of Lake Seneca, looked for a boat rental place, and ended up driving around back roads for awhile. We got to know a stretch of road called Route 96A pretty well and never did find any boats for rent. We stayed at the hotel in Geneva that was right on the lake, our biggest hotel splurge of the trip, and sat on a bench watching the light fade over the lake. It was a real treat.

Day 9, July 29:

Gideon the gunner!

Today, finally, we could visit Sampson State Park and see the museum housed in one of the old buildings from the days when this was a military base. We had to wait until today because the place is closed Monday and Tuesday. The website hadn’t looked all that impressive, but we had wanted to go because of my father’s time there, and of course it turned out to be much more of a big deal than we’d thought. Sampson was a huge naval base during WWII with 40,000 men and then started up as an Air Force base during the Korean War, which is when my dad was there. The naval section of the museum is run by the state since the WWII veterans are now too old the staff it; the same thing will happen soon with the AF area. For now, though, it has some extremely sharp people on site who really know their facts. Jim and I got to talk for some time to one of them, a former training instructor. After our time at Sampson we were left with an afternoon before heading to Niagara Falls. I had done some research about old mansions/homesteads in the area that might be of interest, but we ended up visiting Rose Hill Mansion, a place we had passed on our many passes up and down Route 96A. We thought we’d take a quick peek and then be off and instead had an hour-long tour guided by a very knowledgeable young man who was obviously interested in the families who had lived there. Even Gideon enjoyed it, and he’s usually not a big fan of old house tours. And then it was time to head off to the Falls. We found a hotel, were told by the desk clerk about the Wednesday night fireworks (only during July and August), managed in spite of the very confusing signs to park and to there in time, and so ended our day in a very dramatic fashion.

Day 10, Thursday, July 29:

Last day of our trip before flying home! We certainly made the most of it, with trips on the Maid of the Mist boat at the base of the falls (windshield wipers for your sunglasses or perhaps a coating of Rain-X would be helpful; if you keep your glasses on you can’t see through the water drops and if you take them off you’re blinded by the spray) and to the so-called Cave of the Winds tour, which used to consist of actually going behind the small section of the falls called the Bridal Veil but which now just includes a visit to the so-called “Hurricane Deck,” where you have the privilege of getting royally soaked. (Ponchos are provided.) I was a little disappointed in that. We did lots of walking around, looking at the falls from every angle possible, but fairly soon we felt that we had done all there was to do. Since we had been sure to bring along our passports we decided to drive over to the Canadian side. (Originally we had thought that we could land on the Canadian side from the Maid of the Mist but that’s not the way it works: there are separate boat trips from each side.) As we came up the road that runs right in front of the falls someone was pulling out from one of the very small number of parking spaces there and we grabbed it. Jim paid for an hour, and we got to see the falls all over again, this time from a much better vantage point, watch a glassblower, visit the gorgeous gardens in Queen Victoria Park, and (for me) almost buy a very expensive hat. It was great, and well worth the rather long wait to get back over to the US side. Our last stop for the day was Buffalo, where we were to catch our flight home the next day. We had quite a time finding a hotel–who would have thought that Buffalo would be so booked up? Super 8 came through for us, though.

Day 11, Friday, July 30:

We were due to arrive home at 11:30 AM after a not-too-bad one-layover flight; that’s not what happened, but we did make it by about 5:30. A long day, but the cats were on hand to greet us when we finally got home. What a trip! Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed experiencing it, both originally and while writing this post. We’re already planning our next one, a driving trip during Gideon’s fall break to visit Cedarville College and take a jog up into Chicago. Keep an eye out for that one.

Christmas 2009 Letter

December 31, 2009


In front of the fireplace in the family room in our new home.

Hi All,


This is going to be interesting, writing my trademark l-o-n-g Christmas letter in a blog. We’ll see how it goes. You should have gotten a postcard or an e-mail (or both) telling you that we’ve moved and giving our new physical address and this blog address. So here goes . . .

The Big Move

We’ve been talking for at least a decade about moving to Denver, with the original goal’s being to get here by the time Gideon started kindergarten. A shakeup at Jim’s company made a move during the summer of 1999 seem problematic, so we didn’t push for it then. Life moved on. Suddenly Gideon was a freshman in high school, and we had said we wouldn’t plan to move during his high school years unless, as I put it, Jim was offered his dream job out here. One evening late in October 2008 Jim and I decided to take a look at his company’s website just to see if there were any job postings. We should have known better–after all, we bought our house when we were looking just for fun. There had never been anything that fit Jim’s seniority or area of expertise when we’d looked at other times, but here was a posting for a job in Aurora, CO. We had always assumed that we’d probably be living in Colorado Springs if we ever moved, since all job listings in the past had been at that location in connection with Peterson Air Force Base. And now here was this job, seemingly a very good fit, just sitting there beckoning to us. It had seemed more and more to Jim and me (but not to Gideon, as will be noted below) that the time had come to leave Virginia. Jim’s and my ministries at our church had come to an end. Jim’s job was going well but a contract renegotiation was looming in the near future. Gideon’s youth group was wonderful, but with the departure of several graduating seniors it had really shrunk. I was beginning to think that it would be a great idea for him to go to a Christian school. So Jim stayed up late a couple of nights, polished up his resume, and sent it in. And heard . . . nothing. No, they said when he checked, they hadn’t gotten it in the HR department. Could he resend? We had thought that perhaps he could have an interview during our 2008 Christmas trip to Denver. At that point they had barely acknowledged receipt of his resume! If I were to list all of the ins and outs of the next eight months this letter would be even more longwinded than it usually is. Finally, near the end of July, after a four-month wait which was supposed to be two weeks, Jim told them that he had to have an answer by the next week or he wouldn’t be interested in the job, as we needed to get out here in time to register Gideon for school. And he got the offer right away. Honestly! I guess we should have done more foot-stomping earlier. Time would fail me to tell in detail about the move itself, with one sale of our Virginia house falling through, our leaving it furnished and coming out here so Jim could start work and Gideon start school on August 24, the house selling for more than the first offer, our having to rent an apartment in order for Gideon to enroll in Cherry Creek Schools since our offer on our dream house wasn’t accepted for almost three months, our having to put our possessions in storage (with most of them still there as I type this), and our finally closing on the new house November 20. Our family picture was taken in front of the fireplace in the family room. We went from camping out in an apartment with borrowed furniture to camping out in our new house with about the same borrowed things (thanks to Jan and Lowell, Jan’s mother, and my brother and sister-in-law). In the midst of all this my dear father, who would have been 90 this past December, died in a nursing home down in southern Colorado. I had gotten to see him several times this year and was so glad to be on the spot to help with the funeral arrangements, as my brother had been taking care of all Daddy’s affairs since 2006. It was a sad time but also a blessing to look back on his life. I was really touched by the number of people who came to the service.


No gardening to speak of this year! This spring we were looking to put our house on the market soon (ha!) and so I decided to cut off the tulip leaves right away before they had a chance to die back. They hadn’t made all that great of a show anyway, and I didn’t want to deal with the dead foliage later. Then we didn’t actually put the house up for sale until July, so I sacrificed 2010’s tulips for nothing. I did very little this summer beyond some deadheading and weeding, as my motivation was completely gone. Now that we’re in the new house, though, I’m very much back in business. Our house is in a covenant-controlled community and all landscaping has to be approved by the HOA. At first I was a bit taken aback by all this formality–even a backyard vegetable garden has to be approved. The more I thought about it, though, the more I actually liked the idea. I tend toward impulsivity in gardening (Jim would say, “tend?”), and these requirements will force me to think things through. Having lived for 15 years in a non-covenant neighborhood I know how difficult it is to get neighbors to clean up their yards, so even though I foresee a certain amount of frustration involved I think it’s a good thing. We’re planning on an asparagus bed, a strawberry patch, and a row of raspberry bushes. We have a huge back yard (our lot is about 14,000 square feet, nothing compared to my brother’s ten acres, but still!), so we have great plans. We’ll have to lay it out well to get it approved, so that will be fun. There’s an enormous deck off the back of the house, so I’ll have great swathes of railing on which to put pots. It’s going to be great! Watch for pictures throughout the year on this blog. (Another “ha!” is probably appropriate here.)


As mentioned above, Gideon has not been thrilled about our move. I had picked out a Christian school here in the area that I thought would be good, but when he visited the school in April he didn’t feel that it was a good fit for him, and I had to agree. He really wanted to get his International Baccalaureate diploma, a program he had started in Fairfax County, so he is now attending Smoky Hill High School, a highly-rated public school about 1 1/2 miles from us. It’s kind of tough to start a new high school. His computer teacher is a Christian, though, his chemistry teacher likes to tell bad jokes, and he’ll be taking a really cool class next semester in computer animation and graphics. (That class had a waiting list, but somehow his Grandma Jan got him in–we’re not sure exactly what she did, but it’s extremely hard to say no to her!) Our new church, Parker Hills Bible Fellowship, has a very active youth group, with a regular Wednesday night meeting that pulls in a number of non-church teenagers and a good roster of activities. He and Jim have found a Tae Kwon Do school very close to us, taught by someone who knows their great teacher back in Virginia. (Both he and Jim got their black belts right before we left, a notable accomplishment indeed.) And he is enjoying getting to spend lots of time with both sides of the family, with great buckets of time being spent obsessively playing a game called “Bohnanza” which we all love, even me. (It’s great for him to have an uncle who manages a game store.) He also enjoys watching the Broncos lose. Good thing, huh?


Jim went from being the manager in charge of a group of about a dozen people, having a cubicle, and running around with his hair on fire most days, to having an office with a view of the mountains and not many people around and spending his days doing more writing than computer-wrestling. He’s excited about the project he’s involved in, though, and has climbed quite a ways up the learning curve. He’s stayed in touch with his former colleagues, and all the news he’s heard has made him more and more grateful that he’s not there any more, what with layoffs and furloughs and general upheavals. Jim’s friend who replaced him always says, “I hate you!” when they talk. As we settle into our new church he will doubtless get involved with the men’s bi-monthly Bible studies and something called “theology breakfast” (which was also a feature of our former church) involving theology but no breakfast and a very early start to Monday mornings. We managed to plan things so that he has a fairly short commute. He has recently spent a number of hours working on the plans for our basement remodeling. The permit has been issued, but we’re going to have to enlarge the egress window so that it’s another foot out from the house. That’s a lot of dirt! At least we don’t have to rip out any concrete. He and Gideon will get to do some digging when the weather warms up.


Well, in the 2006 letter I told the story of how we got Smoggy after years of my saying that we would not be getting any cats because I hated cats and was allergic to them. Note the past tenses. When we were discussing our possible move I told Gideon that if we moved to Colorado he could have another cat. A shameless bribe, indeed. We couldn’t have our current pets with us in the apartment (they stayed with the longsuffering in-laws), but once we finally got into the house I decided we’d better go ahead and do this second cat thing. When we went in to the Denver Dumb Friends League at the end of November it took less than five minutes for us to zero in on two little ginger tabbies, littermates, who had the color I wanted (they match the woodwork) and were having such a good time playing together that I just couldn’t split them up. So now we have El Sando the Great (or Sandie) and El Doro the Magnificent (or Dorrie). I won’t bore you too much about how we came up with those names—something to do with the fact that they’re sort of golden, and French for “golden” is “d’or,” plus we live on Dorado Avenue, and they’re also kind of sandy-colored . . . well, you get the picture. Smoggy has adjusted surprisingly well to them after some initial hissing. I hate to say it, but she’s kind of cowardly. Lupita now has three cats to bark at, which gives her a renewed interest in life. For some reason the kittens think that her water is tastier than theirs, so we often have a scene with a kitten calmly lapping away at Lupita’s water while she barks hysterically. Lupita is now on three heart medications and can’t make it up stairs, but for a fifteen-year-old dog she’s not doing badly at all. She may make it to Gideon’s high school graduation after all. We hope so.

So that’s about it for now. I’ve been looking for teaching jobs and have about decided that I should at least investigate getting certified to teach in Colorado. The first thing I was told when I went online to do this was that I needed to have a “fingerprint card” sent to me and that it would do me no good to submit my application without it. The application itself is 11 pages long. That should keep me busy for awhile. I won’t get anything regular this year but may try my hand at substitute teaching, a truly thankless job but one which would give me some much-needed current experience. Our church is getting itself actively involved in some outreach ministries in Parker, which is just down the road from us, and we plan to attend the meeting about those opportunities later on this month. And there’s still plenty to do on the house. We are so thankful for God’s leading in our lives! Let us hear from you.

Jim, Debi, Gideon, Lupita, Smoggy, El Sando the Great and El Doro the Magnificent