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Monday, October 26, 2015

Three Score and Ten or by Reason of Strength Four Score...

This fall has been spectacularly beautiful. A single red or orange or yellow tree can make me gasp with joy.  A woods or a canopy overhead of color is beyond words to describe.   On the way to church this morning I said to Jim, "This beauty is not going to last" and he wisely responded, "Enjoy while it lasts." 

My life is going by too fast.  Occasionally a day will seem long but a week flies by.  Didn't I just fill that weekly pill sorter yesterday?  I met a young friend for lunch Friday and thought how could it be a whole year since we met regularly last summer outside Hesburgh Library?  Is it time to think about Christmas gifts already?  (not for me, but someone asked me about it today!)

I look at the obituaries in the South Bend Tribune.  So many of the deaths are of folks my age or younger.  There are some in their 80s but even then I think, "Do I really have just ten years left?"

If there was ever a time in life to think about living in the present and enjoying each moment, this is it! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Great River Road

Road trip Day One--October 19, 2015

We left shortly before noon driving on Interstates most of the way—80, 294, and 88—traveling around Chicago and then heading north and west.    It was all pretty flat and boring until we got past Rockford when the terrain became hilly and there were panoramic views of the farms and forests.

Julia Dent Grant and home
We arrived in Galena around 4 and checked into the Aldrich Bed and Breakfast where we were greeted by the innkeepers, Robert and Douglas Mahan, and given an opportunity to choose from four open rooms.  We did not choose the one Lincoln had supposedly slept in but instead one that was a bit more spacious.  We walked to the Ulysses S. Grant home and appreciated the statues of both Julia Dent Grant at the home and  Grant himself on the bluff of the Galena River.   

After wine and snacks with the innkeepers who had been experienced Chicago hotel employees, we made a brief trip down Black Jack Road to get a glimpse of the Mississippi from Casper Bluffs.  We drove to town and had dinner at One Eleven Main Street. 
Day Two--October 20, 2015
I enjoyed a 35 minute walk to town before breakfast, crossing the Galena River and climbing to Bench Street up the hill from Main Street.  There was one historic house after another—mostly red brick and all located right on the sidewalk.  A sign said you could sit in the pew that Grant sat in in the old Presbyterian Church.
Breakfast with another traveling couple was a first course of a fruit plate and then quiche, potatoes, and sausages.
We left around 10:30 and drove to Mississippi Palisades Park where we had several great views of the big river from the bluffs.  The road followed the river  for several miles.  Our first bridge was the one near Sabula—the first of five for the day.
Other highlights were seeing the imposing Mormon temple in Nauvoo and then driving south again right along the river until we crossed it for the fifth and last time today.  

 We stopped for the day in Keokuk, Iowa where we stayed at the Grand Anne Inn; our spacious Tower suite had a great view of the river.   We ate at the innkeeper's recommended Hawkeye Restaurant with its soft rolls, paper napkins wrapped around silverware, an ample pour of wine, large portions of pretty boring veggies and, lest this sound too snobby, for me, a great Iowa pork chop and draft beer.  Back to the inn and a quiet evening of reading and listening to the thunder and rain outside.
Day Three--October 21, 2015
After a better night of sleep, we had another more than ample breakfast-- a soufflĂ©, yogurt, fruit and muffin—and bacon!  We could not finish it all.  The innkeeper introduced herself as the manager and was efficient and pleasant but not as eager to talk about the inn and the setting as the Aldrich innkeepers.
My attempt at whitewashing the fence
The sunrise over the Mississippi was spectacular. After a second cup of coffee and some reading, we left for Hannibal.  Following the Great River Road, we drove through giant farms in the flood plain with very few farm houses.  Hannibal exists for tourists.  We enjoyed seeing Mark Twain’s house but did not sign up for any tours.  
South of Hannibal along 79 was the some of the most spectacular scenery with rolling hills, panoramic vistas, and trees in full color.   However, when we stopped at a scenic point and got out of the car, we were completely bombed with lady bugs.  I literally had to shake off dozens and then we couldn’t help but bring some along on our journey. 
 We decided that there would be no more stopping at scenic points! 
The bluffs along the Mississippi
We planned to cross into Illinois at the town of Louisiana but the bridge at 54 was closed and wouldn’t be open until late afternoon.  Our alternate plan meant driving on main highways to the St. Louis area and then crossing  the Mississippi River at Alton. It was not a scenic route but the bridge  was fantastic and so was the short ride from Alton to Elsah where we are spending the night at Green Tree Inn.
The innkeeper gave us coupons for free wine at the Grafton Winery and Restaurant so that made a dinner decision easy.  We sat outside overlooking the river and a beautiful setting sun—and enjoyed grouper with a tomato basil sauce and our complimentary glasses of wine.  Lest we be too cheap, we bought a bottle to bring back with us.

So we saw the sun rise and the sun set over the river! 

Day Four--October 22, 2015
1857 Schoolhouse--note 1993 flood line

Part of the fun is chatting with the inn-keepers.  Connie is a trustee of the village of Elsah and knows all the news.  She referred to the other inn-keeper in town as so rich that she could "burn a wet horse with her money."   The former inn-keepers did not have flood insurance, suffered quite a loss, divorced, and now the gentleman has remarried and lives in Elsah and the wife is dating the mayor.  So that's only a bit of the Elsah news I heard!  

After a quiet, beautiful early morning walk for which I was filled with gratitude, I saw the labyrinth in the garden of the inn.  I followed it and this very appropriate message greeted me at the center. 

Bidden or not bidden God is present
  It has been a very nice road trip.  In one important way, it was more successful than last year's Mississippi River road trip--in that we actually saw the Mississippi a lot more.  Several times the Great River Road would go along the river for miles.  Other times the towns were right on the river.  In Keokuk, we could see the river from our window.  And here in Elsah, it is just a short walk to get another glimpse. 

We will take one last drive along the river and then it's five hours of interstate roads to South Bend. 

From home--October 23, 2015

Yesterday was more like six hours of travel through very flat Illinois farm country with historic Route 66 running parallel to I-55  The traffic around Chicago was congested and unpleasant as always.  But the ride along I-80 in northern Indiana had us gasping at the beautiful color--as beautiful as we had seen any where else--especially with the sun low in the sky lighting it up.

I write a blog like this primarily for our own memories.  But thanks to anyone else who is reading it!  I had so much fun planning the trip and the memories will be great.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Musings from the Organ Bench

I have been playing the organ at our church (formerly South Bend Christian Reformed Church, now Church of the Savior) for about 23 years.  Before that we belonged to a very large Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina with a full-time worship director but I always said that if needed I would dust off my organ shoes and play again. 

Even after all these years, when I am driving to church on Sunday morning, I wonder how I have the nerve to sit down at that organ.  I know it is not a performance; it is leading in worship.  And
mistakes are forgiven or not even noticed--unless they are egregious in which case they do disturb a sense of worship!  Sometimes the mistakes are not mine if the power point words do not change in time for the next stanza or someone skips a part of the liturgy.  I have to be ready to adjust and I always need to be alert.  

Last week I played a chorale prelude by Bach to begin the service and a partita by Bach to end it.  As I played Bach, I tried to remember that he put "Soli Deo Gloria" on each piece he composed and that needed to be the goal of my playing as well.  To my surprise the usual noise of fellowship during the postlude became softer and softer and I wondered if there were more folks stopping to listen.  Our worship director asked me if I looked in the rear view mirrors at the organ to check.  It never occurred to me to do so and it was good that I didn't.  I might have lost my place in my color-coded manuscript!  One visitor asked her daughter why everyone was facing the back of church and her daughter said, "Mom, it's J.S. Bach!" 

Well, this week it won't be Bach.  But I love the music I have chosen.  The prelude will be "Rhosydmere" by Ralph Vaughan Williams--still a dead white male but of the 20th century.  The offertory might be based on "New Britain" (aka "Amazing Grace") composed by Elizabeth Krouse, a woman about my age. And the postlude will be "Rondeau" by Carson Cooman, an organist and composer at Harvard who is young enough to be my son.   It's a bit dissonant but not enough to be disconcerting, I think.

Some of our hymns this Sunday are familiar hymn tunes but with contemporary words.  For example, we will be singing the tune "New Britain" to words  from Psalm  40, "I waited patiently for God." Sometimes that bothers me because I know the words from my youth that go with those tunes by heart.

 However, yesterday I was thinking about the cross so I went to the hymnal and sang some of the old familiar hymns.  I have to say that I stumbled on words like "there a precious fountain, free to all a healing stream flows from Calvary's mountain" or "I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face." They did not  increase my devotional spirit.  Sometimes words are of a certain era and not for all times. 

Music is very important to me in worship.  My doubts disappear when I sing "In Christ alone, my  hope is found" and "here in the love of Christ I stand" or "from life's first cry to final breath."

So I pray for our worship tomorrow morning--for those who lead in liturgy and preaching but also for my part and those who will join me in  music. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Forever Learning

"Forever Learning" is the name of our local senior citizens program in which dozens of courses are offered each spring and fall.  I am taking my fifth course with this program right now. 

I have learned that I do not like group exercise.  My first class was a great opportunity for me to do  ballet, a skill I missed out on in childhood and something I really wanted to try.  I found it difficult to follow instructions and I did not enjoy the 50 minute lesson each week, even though the teacher was very kind calling us her "divas!"  I tried Zumba thinking maybe a more vigorous exercise would be better.  There was another wonderful teacher but I watched the clock hoping for the end to come soon!

I did better in my "couch potato" classes.  "A Ladies Guide to Football" helped me watch games with more awareness and fewer dumb questions for Jim.   Our teacher even treated us to a classroom tailgate party.   "An Introduction to Rare Books" was  taught by a very knowledgeable retired librarian who had a gift for making everyone in the class feel affirmed and welcome.

This fall I am learning the art of calligraphy.  Again the teacher is upbeat, full of energy, and very helpful.  I enjoy the class more each week and my letters don't look terrible.  Some look pretty good! 

It is always good for me to be a learner again.  It is a humbling experience in many ways.  I feel awkward and insecure but basically accepting of those feelings. 

It does bother me that I am not eager to practice my skills or do homework.  I would rather write about calligraphy right now on this blog than to return to the table and practice my majuscules (aka capital letters.) I dabble in all these new areas but don't stick with anything long enough to really pick up the skills. 

I have been a teacher almost all of my working life.  I am still a teacher in my retirement as I volunteer with an adult student at a homeless shelter. It is good for me to be a learner as well.  It helps me to be patient with my student.   Working with her helps me to be patient with myself too.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Sentimental Journey

We are home again after a 24 hour trip to Grand Rapids and Cadillac.  It was a sentimental journey in more than one way. 

Laura was in Grand Rapids to speak at a conference of state policy think tanks.  She arranged to stay an extra night so that she could visit her 100 year old grandmother.  My own mother died at age 59; my dad remarried, and my Aunt Agnes became the only grandmother my children knew from my side of the family.  Aunt Agnes thought she would never see Laura again; Laura was quite aware that this might be the last time she would see her grandmother.  I had tears in my eyes as we anticipated the journey but also when Aunt Agnes who could not hear that Jim was saying grace before dinner burst in with a prayer herself--a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and blessing. 

 But it was also a sentimental journey because I was returning to a place of my childhood.  I was delighted to stay at the historic Pantlind Hotel, now known as the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.  I remembered it as being old and beautiful even when I was a child. We were given a room with a view--a corner room on the 12th floor in the newer towers.

    I took an early morning walk trying to         reconcile my childhood memories with a rejuvenated downtown of restaurants, venues, and offices.  I was totally confused.  Where could the Wurzburg's and Herpolsheimer's and Steketee's Department Stores ever have been in this maze of new buildings?  I knew they were all closed years ago but thought I might recognize the locations where we visited Santa Claus or rode the little Christmas train or shopped for special occasions.  I suddenly realized that Monroe Street was not the Monroe Street of the 1950s.  It is now called Monroe Center and I was so relieved to be re-oriented. Herpolsheimer's is now a police station; Steketee's is an office building with a plaque; and Wurzburg's was demolished with an Art Museum in its place. 

I am quite sure I recognized the steps leading up to a piano studio where my best friend had her lessons.  At age nine, we would take a bus downtown, she would have her lesson, we would shop at a dime store for nail polish and other frivolities, and take a bus home.  I guess we were "free-range kids!" 

The only recognizable shop from those days was Groskopf's, now owned by a fourth generation family member.  When I began 7th grade with changing classes, my parents bought a beautiful blue leather zipper binder for me to keep my work organized.  I wonder how long it lasted and whatever happened to it?  It was a gift that symbolized a rite of passage.

Laura blogged about the trip as well--and called her blog "Make the Trip."  I am so glad she did make the trip and that we also made the trip.