Story Collector — Part 1

As most of you know, a few years ago my husband and I bought a large RV, packed up our lives, and went on the road for 8 months with our two youngest kids. (If you are interested in more details, you can read blogs from our wanderings at )

One of my great delights as we travelled the West, was to meet new people and hear their stories. I guess I have always “collected” stories; but when you are wandering from place to place there are so many more people to meet and stories to hear than when you are staying-put in one home in one town.

I can't find the photos I took at Newspaper Rock. This was posted on

One day early in our wanderings, we drove off the main road and followed a small back road to get to Newspaper Rock State Park in southeastern Utah. It was definitely worth the drive…in fact, it is still the absolutely best collection of petroglyphs that we have seen so far!

I, of course, had to take photo after photo after photo of the rock face: big pictures, close-ups, photos of our kids leaning over the railing to get better looks, photos of the shadowy pictures behind the main pictures, and more. And while I was snapping photos, there was another fellow there who was doing the same.

I, of course, struck up a conversation with him. Somehow as we talked (and shot photos) we discovered a mutual love of caves in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, mutual challenges of facing and fighting cancer, and a mutual enjoyment of making up stories to go with the petroglyphs we were studying.

At one point, this fellow stopped, looked at me, and stated that I was clearly a “shaman” since he had never told most of this stuff to anyone else (other than his wife). WHOA! No, not me, I’m a Christian, I am certainly NOT a shaman…

But then he further explained that the role of a shaman is to collect the stories of his/her people, keep those stories alive in his/her heart, and share them with others as encouragement or challenge. Hmmm…after thinking about it, I realized this IS part of why I so much enjoy hearing the stories of people I meet. And it helps explain why I feel so privileged when others choose to share with me.

I’m still not willing to be named a “shaman” … but I happily accept the name of “listener” or “story collector.” In my world view, this interest is a gift that God has given me, a way to connect to others, and a way to encourage them. And collecting stories is an encouragement to ME!



enough space for memories...

Do you know what is buried in the back of your closets? Are your closets clean and organized? Or are they filled with jumbles of clothes, piles of shoes and shelves of stuff? Mine are definitely the latter. I prefer to quickly find what I need then slam the door, to hopefully ignore the pitiful state of my closets for as long as possible.

When I think of closets, however, I realize they have played a significant role in my life—far larger than merely holding my stuff. I have happy memories of time spent in closets! Yes, I know that sounds weird. Let me explain…

I have an early memory of a family trip out west, ending up at a conference center near Seattle where my dad had a presentation to make. The housing was amazing. The bedroom held a raised stage, just begging for theatre productions by my sisters and I. We wrote a play, found some costumes, and performed for an enthusiastic audience of two. (Well, I don’t really remember if our parents were enthusiastic, or even if they were an audience, I just remember the joy of being on stage!) What does this have to do with my topic? Yep, that “stage” was a raised, walk-in closet with bi-fold doors for “curtains.”

Some time later, I spent a year or more sleeping in the closet. I was tired of my family. I was tired of having a bedroom right next to my sisters. So, I moved down to the basement. I took over the closet under the stairs. I slid my mattress under the lower steps and squeezed in a small dresser. Ahh…privacy at last! (And, no, I did NOT allow either of my sisters to take over “my” room upstairs. Good thing, too, since I eventually changed from being the troll under the stairs back into a human who wanted a normal bedroom!)

After getting married, we bought an old farmhouse in the suburbs. It was quite frustrating that the closets had been built at a time when hooks were used to hang clothes. Modern-day hangers were too long for the depth of the closet. This led to the purchase of a wonderful wood wardrobe…but none of these were closets I spent time in…

When we moved to a large farmhouse out in the country, there was a huge walk-in closet in the master bedroom. It was almost the size of a small room, with an interior cedar closet and laundry room shelves at one end. This closet eventually became a room—it was the perfect size for a nursery for the two babies born while we lived there. The playpen/crib fit snuggly in one end of the closet, with plenty of shelves for baby clothes, bedding, diapers, and toys. Our clothes fit fine in the cedar closet. My mom worried at times, that we should put a window into the walk-in closet wall. I didn’t worry about it—the babies were only in there to sleep. Plus, I had lived in a closet with no windows for a year, and it didn’t harm me!

Finally, I have happy memories of time spent digging through very special closets: the craft and gift closets at the last few places we have lived. It started with an extra closet being put to use to hold my scrapbooking and other craft supplies. With a large family, it takes a lot of space to hide gifts for upcoming holidays. So, my craft cupboard turned into a gift cupboard near the holidays. I would like to think that kids weren’t able to find the key and search the boxes for their Christmas gifts (although I’m pretty certain that’s not true). At least it seemed like a secure place to hide the gifts from prying eyes. And each time I opened the door to get out craft supplies or to hide another item I had purchased, I was reminded of the joy of holiday gift giving. I miss that craft and gift closet. Now I make do with drawers and bins. It just isn’t quite the same.

Hmmm…as I think about it, I guess messy, jumbled closets aren’t so terrible after all. They still have plenty of space to hold all my memories of closets past!

For the Love of Reading…

books pile up by my bed

I can’t go too long without reading. Sometimes it’s pitiful: if there are no books handy I will read the back of the cereal box, or the instructions on the medicine bottle, or even the miscellaneous scraps of lists and receipts in my purse. I try desperately to avoid sinking to that level and thus carry a book with me wherever I go.

What started such a terrible, wonderful addiction? Why it’s my mother’s fault, of course! I’m sure she must have read to me when I was little. There are still a few well-worn picture books around from when I was a toddler.

As we got older, we had an every-week, never-miss, family tradition: on Friday afternoons we went to the local library and filled an entire box with books. That evening, all of us could be found sprawled around the family room, eating popcorn and turning page after page in those lovely books we had just checked out.

Even today, if I walk into my folks’ house unexpectedly, I will often find my mom laying on the couch, reading yet another book from the library. Nowadays, she even keeps a card catalogue of every book she reads and might want to reference or re-read someday.

a small corner of our personal library

I confess that I have passed this addiction on to my own children. Trips to the library are an integral part of the week. Favorite birthday and Christmas gifts often include books. Bedtime obviously means reading until you are tired or until mean-Mom insists on turning off the light. No matter how we try to organize, piles of books end up everywhere. No matter how we try to cut back, and cull duplicates and no longer used books, our personal library continues to grow.

In more than one location, librarians have mourned the announcement that we were moving. As a family we have apparently single-handedly increased their circulation, thus increasing their funding! Even when we spent 9 months roaming the western USA in an RV, we found ways to use the libraries. If we couldn’t talk our way into getting a temporary library card for a few days or a week, they often had used book sales so we could stock up before moving on down the road.

There is a poem that I discovered years ago, the ending of which sums up this addiction quite nicely

 “You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.”

–Strickland Gillilan

Wishing YOU the wonders and joys of such an addiction!

Talking (Exclamation) Points

! … ?! … 😀 … ! … ?! … — … 🙂 … ! … ?! … 😀 … ! … ?! … — … 🙂 … !

Just read an interesting article from The New York Times. It is talking about the (over)use of exclamation points in today’s writing, especially in electronic communication. NYT article

One paragraph jumped out at me. Joni Evans, chief executive of the Web site is quoted as saying: “I would never use a smiley face, but there are smiley-face personalities. Kathie Lee Gifford comes to mind. People are what they type.”

So what does this say about me? I am definitely an exclamation point user, and a user of ellipsis, with lots of dashes thrown in as well. I confess: I am also a smiley-face personality. Perhaps I should apologize for this “character flaw.” Then again, perhaps these are indications of what others enjoy about me, and what I like about myself…

! – I’m an optimist. I live large. I get excited about things. I’m enthusiastic about life and about friends and about new ideas.

…  – I am casual. I don’t want to be bothered in non-formal communication with writing out complete sentences. I move quickly from one thought to the next and to the next.

?! – I like to ask quirky questions which are often little jokes. This seems to me to be the only way to make sure others understand I’m joking in written form.

😀 – What’s not to love about smiley-faces? I certainly hope to see smiles around me on the faces of friends and family! I like to smile and, especially, to laugh often.

(((hugs))) – I very, very rarely ever use this notation. And when I think about it, I rarely initiate hugs… Oh, I’ll hug a close friend hello or goodbye, but it’s not a frequent thing.

So…what does your typing say about you? Does it reveal your personality and your quirks? I’d be interested to hear what you think!

Oasis in the Desert

"oasis" -- a lovely, lively puddle

I’ve pondered this scene for the past few days. Across the “yard” from where I sit on my front porch (or lounge in my hammock—but that’s another story), there is a beautiful, bright green “oasis.” Part of it is shaded by a lovely tree. There is a small puddle of water, reflecting the bright blue sky. Brilliant green weeds surround the lovely puddle. From sun-up to sun-down there is a steady stream of visitors, fluttering down to splash and soak, chirping and tweeting their satisfaction. Imagine! Water! Here on the arid, high plateau where the only water to be found is usually rushing through the washes after a heavy rain!

This scene is full of life, and vibrancy, and, at the same time, peace. I enjoy watching and listening. What a treat to have such an oasis in our yard.


I need to share the “rest of the story.” It’s not so pretty. For awhile I pondered just sharing the first part. Or not sharing this little pleasure at all. Then I realized it is actually a good picture of my life in the past few years…

The “oasis” occurred this past week. We had a large work team here for the week and apparently the septic system was overwhelmed. Yes, this lovely, lively little puddle is actually smelly overflow from the leach-lines. Now that we have stopped using particular bathrooms (and now that the large group is gone), the puddle is already drying up. Soon we will have to find someone to dig up the area and fix the problem…

For now, it is a good reminder…to me…and to you, as well. Those things that occur in our lives that feel “crappy” might, just maybe, lead to vibrant life.  That’s what has happened for me—husband with life-threatening cancer, son dying unexpectedly, marriage “on the rocks,” life was pretty messy for awhile. But now? Now I am living in a beautiful place, with a purpose again. I’m living in a little oasis for now.

Life is full here and now. I’m thankful for that…no matter what I had to go through to get here…

Never Too Much COLOR…

Have you figured out by now that I am a COLORFUL person? I dislike beige and pastels and “neutral” color. They are so boring…so “safe.” I know there are reasons to use such colors on painted walls…but they tire me out. They are so lifeless and drab.

exterior color...

We have a work team with us this week. One of their primary goals is to scrape and repaint the exterior of the main building on this mission property. One house here is dark brown. Our little house is tan (at least it is a little warmer than beige!) My husband told me I could choose the paint color for this project…so I chose a National Historic Trust color scheme. Rusty Copper building with dark turquoise trim.

The paint poured out of the big five gallon bucket into the roller pans…and I panicked for a moment! It was so…orange. So…bright! Now that the front side is finished, I have fallen in love with the colors. They are full of life. The building looks stunning against the brilliant blue sky and the dark green pinion tree. Ahhh…

And clothes…I also love bright, colorful clothes. They wake me up. They are so cheerful. I feel full of life in them. I have a few “quieter” clothes. I pull them out of the closet occasionally…but they usually get put back without being worn. I NEED bright colors!

okay...I admit...sometimes there is TOO much color!

And I’ve realized this love of color is not just a quirky preference for external brightness. The older I get, the more free I feel to acknowledge and live out my colorful heart as well. When life is challenging or drab, I reach for more life. I look for the positive. I find something to laugh about. I brighten up with color—inside and out!

People from My Past

Yesterday, Anna and I picked Jakob up from a week of Chess Camp. The chess players were a small subset of a larger Music Camp. It was an enjoyable afternoon—with a concert, chess camp awards, and plenty of people-watching.

Watching the campers was entertaining as they wandered here in there in little groups, teasing, laughing, climbing trees, playing one last game of “catch.” Some were dressed in the latest styles; most were comfortable in t-shirts and shorts. A few of the girls had fun extras—a big silk daisy in the hair, a t-shirt knotted at the side, layers of camis and see-through-lacy blouses. I realized, looking at the groups of camp-friends ebb and flow, that they could have been me, too many years ago at summer music camp…

And then I looked around at the parents, arriving to pick up their campers. The anxious searching, the big smiles when they found “their” camper, the hugs, the conversations…was that how MY parents felt so long ago? I know it described me, when we first arrived, looking for Jakob.

I kept watching the parents through-out the afternoon, as our campers wandered away and back to us, spending last moments with new friends. And I watched them as they enjoyed the concert by the campers. What I realized was that they, too, were grown-up versions of my music-camp friends. Yes, there were a few high-class, fit and slender, dressed-in-the-latest-style parents among them. But most of us were dressed more comfortably, in t-shirts and sundresses and bright colorful clothes. And a few of us had fun extras—an outrageous pin on a collar, funky shoes, rhinestone-sparkled shirts.

It’s always a comfort to find a setting where I blend in; where my unique shabby-chic style fits in. Maybe I will have to send a kid back to camp next summer…just so I can enjoy another afternoon with happy memories of my past!

Previous Older Entries