In My Own Little Corner…

A month ago, we bought a house. At first I struggled: why Ohio? why this very traditional neighborhood? why such a traditional house? why not rent (so we could wander away again)? Gradually I have added layers of color in accessories, rugs, furniture, and decorations. I still struggle with why the job came up here rather than somewhere out West, but the house is beginning to feel more like “me.” It is starting to feel comfortable and nest-like.

Our New Home

Our New Home

In the process of major life changes, I have gone through a number of purge cycles—getting rid of massive amounts of “stuff.” Unlike times in the past when I tried to sort through things because I “should” or because others wanted me to do so, this came from deep inside. I was finally ready to let go of so many things I was holding on to.

An extra benefit of the purging is that I now have empty shelves on my bookcases, empty corners on top of desks and cabinets, empty places on my walls. This has given me the freedom to add color and memory-keepers in the form of little vignettes. At first I wondered if this was inappropriately making “altars.” But since each little scene makes me smile and brings me joy, I’ve decided to keep these mini collections, changing them as the whim occurs.

My Own Little Corner

My Own Little Corner

Today I decided to share details of my desk corner. It sits at the end of the living room, next to a big bow window, looking out toward a lake. It is beside the doorway to the kitchen, in view of the timer on the oven, so it is convenient to keep track of baking or dinner-making. This is where my computer sits so it is both a private place and a place for me to connect to the bigger on-line world.

The desk itself used to belong to our son James. The collection gathered on the corner of the desk is things that remind me of James. I love the pop of color and the mix of textures. I smile every time I notice the stool, covered with cheetah spots and with big red accent buttons. There is a blank wall in front of the desk—soon to have my first-ever custom art by an artist whose colorful work I love!

Reminders of James...

Reminders of James…

The candle is one that we light each at 7pm each 2nd Sunday in December–a worldwide remembrance of children gone too soon. (You can read more about that HERE.) The rock is one we gathered from Honolulu Creek in Alaska. The photo was a trick photo I surprised James with for Christmas one year. He liked to joke that he had a twin brother, John, who was a surfer from Honolulu Alaska. John always seemed to eat James’ favorite desserts before James got to them. And John was the one who always got into mischief! The box holds James’ treasured hard-bound collection of Calvin & Hobbes comics.

Walking Sticks

Walking Sticks

Tucked into the corner behind the desk is a collection of walking sticks. The middle one was given to us in memory of James. This beautiful cedar stick was hand smoothed and etched by a cousin. The outer sticks are both diamond willow from Alaska–one finished and one still in progress. This distinctive pattern is from brushy willow found along stream beds. The “diamonds” are scars formed when the branches are injured or broken off. I love the reminder that our wounds can become a beautiful part of us as we move forward in the healing process!

Storytellers and more...

Storytellers and more…

The final detail of my little desk corner sits on top of the box of Calvin & Hobbes books. The rock is another one gathered from Honolulu Creek in Alaska. I love the mottled green color. The little white spots are remnants of cockatiel droppings–reminders of James’ precious birds who wandered his room at will. And the Storyteller figures remind me of the joy I find in being entrusted with the stories of others and the responsibility I take in sharing stories with the world. (I wrote blog posts about this HERE  and HERE.)

When you read something from me on the internet, you now know where I was writing from. Most likely I was enjoying a little time in My Own Little Corner, In My Own Little Chair.

 

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My Oh-So-German Husband

I’m currently living in Germany for a few months with my youngest daughter. My oldest daughter met us for a few weeks over the holidays. We had the privilege of visiting the Emmelhainz family’s ancestral home town, Erbach, Germany. We wandered the town, took photos of everything we saw, and spent time with some far-removed cousins. What fun to connect with hundreds of years of heritage! (Okay, so I married in to that heritage—but still intriguing and enjoyable…)

The Emmelhainz Haus in Erbach Germany

The Emmelhainz Haus in Erbach Germany

The more time I spend here in Germany, the better I understand some of my husband’s “quirks.” I know, I know, these might sound like stereotypes. But they are attributes I see over and over here in Germany. And when I have asked a few German friends about my observations, they are not offended in the least. They just laugh and affirm what I’m saying.

So, here are a few random ways that my husband is, indeed, so very German:

He is a meat eater…preferring big juicy chunks of meat over veggies any time. You should SEE the size of the meat portions when eating at restaurants here! One German friend actually said, “Real men don’t waste their time with vegetables. They eat MEAT!”

He is stubbornly independent. When you are right, you are right! Why change your mind when your opinion is already set? Obviously, if there is a difference in viewpoints, the other person is wrong! And, if this is the best way to do something why try another way? Don’t interrupt to tell me a more efficient or a more effective way to do something… (Okay, okay, so he isn’t really this stubborn…but sometimes, he is close to this!) And independent? Oh yeah, that describes our family quite well. We can handle it just fine, thanks. Why bother others to help us do something we can fight through and win??

He is “neatnik” about his property. He wants things properly painted, with no nicks, dings, or smudges. He wants things kept in proper repair. Now, to be clear, I’m not complaining about this. It is great that he has these high standards. And as we have travelled around Germany, it is a pleasure to see well-kept houses in even the tiniest of towns. It is just a struggle sometimes at home to balance these desires with raising a large family…

A Typical "Yard Farm" in a German Small Town

A Typical “Yard Farm” in a German Small Town

He spends time maintaining a well-manicured lawn and tending a garden. In my husband’s case, his preferred “garden” is planting trees. But the principle is still the same. I have been amazed at seeing every home in towns large and small with well-tended gardens. In larger city areas, there are window boxes and planters in apartment windows and community gardens complete with little garden cottages in surrounding areas. I love the way this looks…just don’t ask ME (aka the Plant Killer) to tend a garden!

Well-kept Lawn and Garden

Well-kept Lawn and Garden

Even Garden Houses are Well-Maintained!

Even Garden Houses are Well-Maintained!

So what is the point of this rambling blog post? Just that I’ve finally realized some of the “quirks” my husband has are a result of his heritage. He’s not in the minority—he’s like thousands of other Germans in his family line! Guess I’d better quit grumbling about some of these traits…

Oh-So-German Father & Son

Oh-So-German Father & Son

Note: wedding photo taken by Forever Photography Studio in Austin Texas http://www.foreverphotographystudio.com/blog/duchman-family-winery-wedding-elise-and-rob/

10 Life Lessons from Mustang Camp

Here is a random list of life lessons I learned while hand-feeding wild horses at Mustang Camp a few weeks ago. Two of my older kids have spent extended time here, helping to tame these recently captured horses so that they can be adopted. My youngest daughter and I recently had the privilege of spending four days at Mustang Camp, helping with record keeping and initial hand feeding of a new group of 24 horses that had just arrived. (See a video of their arrival HERE)

You can learn more about this wonderful place HERE and HERE.

  • When you keep working through a whirling dust storm, you will spend the next few days picking little bits of hay and wind-driven-dust out of every imaginable place—your hair, your ears, your cleavage, your socks, deep inside your boots, and more! LESSON: walking through difficult times doesn’t end when the storm is over—there will be lots of remnants of that experience that will still need to be dealt with.

    handfeeding

    Mustangs must be fed, no matter what weather occurs.

  • My job was to spend time with the new arrivals, talking with them, singing to them, and feeding them four times a day. I had to learn that although it didn’t feel significant (and I felt guilty about all the hard work others were doing with watering, feeding, and mucking pens), this really was “the most important job” at the Camp! LESSON: spending time with others and building relationships is more significant than you might think!

    spending time

    Sometimes spending time to build relationships looks like wasting time...

  • Although my kids and I are NOT “morning people,” it is not hard to get up early and work hard all day long when the work is interesting and meaningful. (You can see additional photos of Anna’s work assignments HERE) LESSON: when you hate to get out of bed in the morning, it might not mean that you didn’t get enough sleep…it might mean you need to find more meaningful things to fill your days…

    hard at work

    Early mornings and late nights are no problem when the work is fun!

  • It is important to not get distracted by all the horses eagerly chomping food right in front of you. The fearful ones in the back need fed also, which often takes more creativity. LESSON: see the big picture and don’t let timid, quiet ones around you “fall through the cracks.” Sometimes they need more attention than the ones who are bold, up front, or showing off.

    big picture

    Don't forget to look at (and enjoy) the "big picture."

  • Consistency is KING! The only way to tame wild mustangs effectively is by consistently giving positive reinforcement and by training little-step by little-step. (Jakob is excellent at this which is why he keeps being asked to come back to help with new horses.) LESSON: Although I love to be flexible and enjoy the stimulation of new things and places and people, there is still a need for consistency in my life, especially in dealing with others.

    consistency 1

    Jakob is the king of consistency!

zebra training

Zebra training is even more difficult than Mustang taming...but consistency brings results!

  • It is important to keep long-term goals in mind. No, one must not scritch the PolkaDot King on the nose, no matter how much he nuzzles and snuffs and checks out your hands—scritching might scare him and set back his training. LESSON: sometimes reaching long-term goals means giving up short-term pleasures…

    handling

    It is SO hard not to scritch the friendly ones...

  • Aggression might be because one is a bully and has a dominant personality. But aggression can also be the result of being ostracized, picked-on, or isolated by others for too long. It was interesting to watch interaction patterns between horses change over time. LESSON: look behind the bullying to see what might be causing aggression.

    groups dynamics

    ...wish I could have gotten a photo of the biting and kicking that sometimes occur!

  • When a foal is born to a young wild mare who has been starving and who won’t let the baby nurse, the baby has poor odds of survival. Unlike with a tame animal, the mother can not be handled or penned to help the baby nurse. Bottle-feeding colostrum (thawed from a supply bought from the vet) and milk-replacer help, but might not be enough. LESSON: sometimes no matter how much love we give and how hard we work, nature still takes its course.

    wee dibbuns

    We loved and took care of Wee Dibbuns for almost two days...

  • Wild mustangs are often incredibly fearful. Overcoming this fear is a main focus of using positive reinforcement to tame them. LESSON(s): When you run from fear, fear grows. When you face your fears over and over and over, fear gradually dies out. And when you face your fears side-by-side with a buddy, everything feels less scary!

    friends

    Life is easier when you've got a friend!

Story Collector — Part 2

Last post, I explained about being called a “shaman” because of my interest in collecting stories of the people I meet.

one of my story-teller figures

As I have pondered this idea over the past three years, it resonates more and more strongly. Being a “story collector” and a “story teller” effects many aspects of my life.

To me, this fascination with hearing the stories of others is one part of why I enjoy striking up conversations with strangers. They might look plain or ordinary or boring…but they often have wonderful, interesting stories to share. Whether the stories are “good” or are difficult, having these interactions with others affirms my generally positive outlook on humanity.

By swapping stories with people, I am also affirming their worth. In today’s society it is far too uncommon to find others willing to listen. When someone shares their story with me, it is a gift to me. And when I listen, it is a gift to them.

another story-teller figure I have on display

I realize that my enjoyment in collecting stories often spills over into conversation with friends and family. These stories I have heard just seem to come pouring out of me. There is, after all, so much to learn from the life experiences of others. (Hopefully, my loved ones aren’t just “putting up with me” but actually enjoy hearing some of the stories, as well.)

Finally, I have figured out that my love of story collecting contributes to a “disconnect” between my husband and me.  Frankly, I am usually bored by his interest in discussing the latest news. And I have realized that he is generally bored by hearing the stories I have been told. Sigh… I’m not quite sure how to respond or what to do about this…

Here in New Mexico, there are traditional figures from the Pueblo Indian cultures that illustrate my passion quite well. These “story tellers” are fun to look at. They are such a good representation of my love of collecting stories and sharing them with others. I now own two small figures. They are displayed in my bedroom—a way to affirm this interest and this gifting, and a reminder to keep my ears open as I listen for more stories.

Check out http://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa014.shtml for more information about Story Teller figures.

The First Story Teller figure by Helen Cordero 1964
Currently in the International Museum of Folk Art, Santa Fe

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 journey2wonder.blogspot.com )

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 desertusa.com

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!

Storytelling…Christmas Style!

Sometime soon, I will write a blog post about being a story-teller and about collecting stories. For today I just had to share a little fun with you. Hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we have enjoyed the story-telling!

I have a huge Fontanini Nativity Set that we put up each Christmas. The kids usually decide on a setting and make the appropriate scene. Many years we set up the Wisemen in a different location, then add them as visitors to the Christ-child on Three Kings Day (January 6th).

nativity set

Our Nativity Set -- 2011

This year, we put the wise men plus three other “Christmas Visitor” figures around a candle on the table. The extra figures are: the Krist-Kindl (Christ-Child) who brings gifts in Germany, St. Nicholas who was a real person in history who cared for others, and Santa worshipping Baby Jesus. Our wise men follow a Hispanic tradition of including an elephant along with camels. Some day I will find a horse for the traditional third wiseman…

wisemen scene

our story-telling wisemen

With such a fancy tablecloth on the table for the month, we occasionally pushed it back to have a bare table for crafts or to eat messy foods. When we did, the figures apparently decided to entertain us after we slid the tablecloth and figures back into place…

One evening, we found one of the wisemen facedown in the pool of “water.” “Look, Mom,” Jakob called me over. “He must REALLY be thirsty after walking through the desert.”

thirsty wiseman

the thirsty wiseman...

Another time we found the elephant laying down next to the “water.” Can you imagine how thirsty an ELEPHANT would get if he had to walk through a desert day after day after day??

elephant...

the poor tired elephant...

And then there was the tipsy wiseman… We never did decide if he was dehydrated and weak…or if he was hungry and weak…or if he was at high altitude and weak…(we avoided suggesting he was drunk…) Or maybe, he was leaning in to help St. Nick? Whatever the story, we laughed and laughed and laughed.

tipsy wiseman

the tipsy wiseman...

These little stories were fun to hear and fun to discuss…but I took even greater enjoyment in realizing that Jakob and Anna are becoming story-tellers. I love to see creativity and silliness and enjoyment of the little things in life coming out in my kids!

santa jakob

santa Jakob

silly anna

Silly Anna

May each of us see the world through the eyes of a child this coming year…

First Memories

“The first memory then becomes the starting point in our own narratives of the self. ‘Our first memoris are lik the creation stories that humans have always told about the origins of the earth,” [John] Kotre writes. ‘In a similar way, the individual self—knowing how the story is coming out—selects its earliest memories to say, This is who I am because this is how I began.’” –Miller & Paola, Tell It Slant

I have been reading books recently about writing and journaling. A few weeks ago the above quote caught my attention. The idea of a connection between our earliest memories and who we are today has been rolling around in my mind ever since. I’m still not sure that I agree with the authors, but it is an intriguing idea. Here is some of what I have been pondering:

My earliest memories are like snapshots, pictures of moments unrelated to full situations. I remember my dad standing up in river water, holding out a clam for me to look at. I remember running down a road, chasing a station wagon as it drove away; followed by sitting by a campfire arguing with someone that a cat cannot possibly be a fish. I remember a bright room, a dark window, shattered glass, screams, and blood.

Over the years, I have filled in the stories surrounding these mental snapshots. When I was young, we lived in a cottage not far from the Illinois River where we went swimming in the summer. There were clams along the river bottom, and my dad would bring them up to show to me, before throwing them back.

My parents were leaders of the youth group at church. The summer that I was three years old, they took the teens on a campout to a lake an hour or so away from town. At the end of the week, my mom left early with most of the kids. My dad drove back later. Somehow, he forgot that I had not gone home with Mom, an he drove off without me. As the story goes, another family saw me toddling after the car, and took me back to their campsite until my parents returned for me hours later. (I can’t imagine what that car ride back must have been like for my parents.) During that time, my rescuers cooked up catfish they had caught earlier that day, which I was certain was mis-named.

Finally, during a winter retreat with that same youth group later that same year, one of the girls accidentally put her arm through the window while climbing into a bunk bed. That explained the noise, and screams, and blood.

According to the quote that intrigued me, the fact that these are the earliest memories my mind has chosen to remember should also connect with who I am today. Perhaps it is a stretch, but I can see some connections.

I enjoy swimming, being outdoors, and discovering new-to-me critters and plants. There is no sense of panic or fear in the broken window memory. And today, when I deal with emergency situations as an EMT or as a ski patroller, there is a sense of fascination and a focus on helping the patient.

There seems to be an even closer connection from the little me left behind at the campgrounds and the big me of today. Again, there is no sense of fear or panic in this memory. While growing up, my mom frequently commented on how independent I was. I went to summer camps, eventually for weeks at a time, and did not experience home-sickness until going to college in Canada for a year.

I apparently had no shyness about the family who took me back to their campsite. Even today, I enjoy meeting new people and spending time with them; an attribute that runs from childhood through the present. I might have been overwhelmed if I had been totally alone when my Dad drove off. With a group of people to interact with, I was comfortable.

how can a cat be a fish?

Finally, the memory of arguing about a cat not being a fish comes with feelings of laughter. Apparently, even at that young age I was both fascinated with words and happy to argue my own beliefs. Whether considered to be strengths or weaknesses, both of these characteristics are still true of me today.

So…I look at my earliest memories. And I look at myself and who I am today. Perhaps the authors are correct and what I selectively remember builds and strengthens who I have become. Perhaps this is all a bunch of “hoo-ey.”

I would be interested to hear the opinions of my readers—based on my examples or based on your own experience. Do our earliest memories shape us or do we shape them?

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