Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

I tried to write a generic Christmas letter this year. It's been a really full year, but it proved hard to condense into a letter. There were some things I wanted to share with everyone and other things I only wanted to share with some people. There were things that would sound like bragging in a Christmas letter but were things some of you wanted to know! And there was so much I had already recorded here that it might have been repetitive.

So, I'm working on cards. If you haven't gotten one yet, you will soon. Or you'll get a New Year's card or a Valentine. And it will be hand-crafted and contain news that interests you - or if you're up on everything, it will be a vehicle for me to tell you how much you mean to me.

I am also doing all the stuff we all do at Christmas. Baking. Shopping. Wrapping. Getting the car serviced. Going to parties. Shipping. Laundry. And in the middle of all of this I have such peace. I've taken my own advice and simplified Christmas. I did the things that mattered to me. I stuck to my budget. I didn't decorate every nook and cranny - only as much as I felt like putting away. I got lots of sleep. I socialized some and acted like a hermit some. And now Christmas Eve has arrived. I will be at church much of today, then sharing a little Christmas Eve feasting with some new friends here before a good night's sleep in preparation for traveling east to see the girls.

I hope that you are joyful this day. I hope that you are warm (at 9am here the temperature has climbed to -9) and that you will see or speak with someone you love today or tomorrow. And I wish you the joy of the child. The hope for the future that would be impossible without God coming to us. We are loved; no matter our circumstances we are loved fiercely and faithfully and unfailingly. Joy to the World, indeed!!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yep, It's Cold Enough for Me!

It's a Minnesota conversational staple, "Cold enough for you?" And the answer is yes. Yes it is cold enough for me.

I awoke this morning to the words "bitterly cold" closely followed by "double-digit windchill", as in double-digits BELOW zero.

I just want to stay in bed with a cup of cocoa and a good book. But alas, duty calls. They don't close the schools for cold here, only impassable snow, so I will have to get out the door pretty soon.

If the sun shines I will be ok. Most days it does, even when it's miserably cold. And since I have south facing office windows I am in a little hothouse just perfect for this Texas transplant.

My mind has become a jumble of thoughts along the line of:

  • Hot cereal was invented for mornings like this.
  • Thank God for my garage.
  • I don't care how it looks, it's warm.
  • One more cup of coffee and I'll head out.
  • Maybe I should bake something.
I have to allow five minutes for "robing" before I go outdoors. None of this dashing to the mailbox with an unzipped jacket and bare head and hands. Nope, I stop the car by the mailbox, leave it running, and hop out while still fully swaddled because I know I won't get swaddled again once I remove all these layers.

The natives are tougher. And they have better gloves.

Scripture references to snow are rare but I take comfort in Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Psalm 147:
16 He spreads snow like a white fleece, he scatters frost like ashes, 17 He broadcasts hail like birdseed - who can survive his winter? 18 Then he gives the command and it all melts; he breathes on winter - suddenly it's spring!
In the meantime, with another psalmist I will cry out "How long, O Lord, how long?"

I am loving the winter, just not this arctic phase. This week is, indeed, cold enough for me!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Hello old friends! I spent Thanksgiving in Arkansas with my mom. A very thankful Thanksgiving this year.
  • Thankful for a short break from cold and work.
  • Thankful for time to spend with this remarkably wise woman.
  • Thankful for the birds that populate her bird feeders and bring such joy to watch.
  • Thankful for the wonderful tradition of Thanksgiving pies and all the other trimmings.
I was very aware that while Thanksgiving at Mom's was as natural as it could be, returning to Blooming Prairie was going to be a bit strange. It's not just that the weather is going from moderate to cold instead of warm, it has to do with what is waiting for me on the other end. Usually when I leave to go home after Thanksgiving it is to a whirlwind of activity that goes on all month long. While I have some December busy-ness, overall it is not the frenzy I am used to in December. And I am thankful for that, even as I miss some of my Texas December traditions.

That said, I did return to what will probably be the longest day of my entire month. Sunday was filled from early morning on: Sunday School, Program Practice, Worship, Education Board Meeting, Advent Festival,  and Wish Tree Shopping. All of which went well, and were fun to participate in. 

My three-year-old teacher was out with the flu so I got to help the littlest ones practice walking in and out of the sanctuary. While we were doing that, one of our newly confirmed 10th graders was practicing a violin piece he is playing for one of the Christmas services. My little threes were wide-eyed and very curious about this, and sat and listened quietly for an amazing number of minutes.

This is Amy and her miniature donkey 4-H project. She brought him to the Advent Festival and all the kids got their pictures taken with him. It was a very fun way to imagine the Christmas story with the children. Amy is in 7th grade and has a twin brother. They are farm kids and talked knowledgeably about delivering lambs and caring for them in confirmation recently. This is one of the things I am truly enjoying about being up here - seeing how different these kids lives are from the kids I worked with in Austin. Not better. Not worse. Just different. They have different kinds of experiences and sometimes different kinds of dreams. The kids here are probably a little more aware of what life is like for kids in Austin than the reverse. It is just as much fun to be with them as with the others. Guess that means I just love young people in general!

The final event of the day was going with two Senior girls to shop for kids we adopted from the Wish Tree. We spent a fun hour searching Target for just the right combination of gifts. We nailed our budget with $19 to spare, and then went for dinner. It was fun to hear about their friendship. They have lived across the street from each other for their whole lives. They are heading off to different colleges in the fall and can't even imagine life without one another. They are smart, kind, helpful, and sweet girls. They go to school, work, volunteer and teach first grade Sunday School. Amazing.

So, I am thankful. And one more special thing to be thankful for: this Friday I am going to hear the St.Olaf Christmas concert with Emily and Paul, and Paul's family. And I won't have to travel two days to get here. This will be the third time I've seen Emily since I got here. Living in MN has its perks!

Still missing the familiar, but gaining more familiarity here each day. Another blessing to be counted. Keep in touch!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Let It Shine

I've been musing on light this week. It all started last Sunday night when I pulled off the road on my way home from Austin (MN) to try and capture the incredible sunset. I'm not a very good photographer, and while this picture isn't as good as the real thing, you can still tell that it was something pretty special:

It was almost exactly 5pm and it was just breathtaking. I had no trouble believing that God was in heaven and all was right with the world.

This of course was just after the time change weekend and I realized I had been missing the sunsets in my transition from work to home at the end of the day, because I don't always work regular hours that take me home as the sun goes down.

Monday morning I woke with the sun and immediately recognized a change in the quality of the morning light in my bedroom (whose only window faces east). As I lay there thinking about the day ahead, some long untapped memory of lights past sent me flying out of bed to look out the window. And there it was: snow. I had forgotten. When there is snow on the ground, the quality of the light changes. It's reflected upward. Light "goes" in both directions, all directions, and things are suddenly brighter.

Here's the view from my front door. I didn't want to step outside and mess up the pristine perfection of my front yard just yet. It was still snowing at this point but later in the day the skies turned blue and the whole world sparkled.

Tuesday the wind picked up and the snow swirled in a way I couldn't capture photographically (though I even tried to make a video,)

Ironically, Tuesday was in the low teens - very cold - but I was almost hot in my office because of the sunshine streaming in my windows. Can you imagine that sunbeam beating down on me as I worked?  I didn't want to close the blinds because it was so gorgeous outside, so I just sunned myself like a cat for about half of the day. Beautiful warm, buttery, sunshine - on the coldest day since March.

Wednesday brought a few city lights as I traveled to Rochester for a lunch meeting (which included a burger at Newt's, one of my favorite places to eat there.) Thursday featured firelight as I hung out with the Seventh Grade confirmation class in the Fireside room at church and later, a spotlight on human trafficking as I attended a talk by some Franciscan nuns brought to Blooming Prairie by the AAUW.

Earlier this morning I reflected on how it takes darkness to bring the full bloom of my Christmas cactus into the light.

As always I am overcome with awe that the writers of scripture, who had such limited experience of the world, could capture the essence of God so wondrously - I keep thinking of the first verses in the book of John:"In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:1-5 (RSV)
  • In the Genesis account of creation we hear that God "speaks" light into being with the command "Let there be light." How can this be?
  • And in my extremely limited understanding of the Higgs boson, or "God Particle" it seems that the best analogy has to do with light going through prisms or water, and being broken and re-formed.
  • I think of the people of the Philippines who will be without electricity, and by extension light, for some time to come. 
  • And of Advent arriving in two weeks, and the candles I must buy soon, before they are not to be found.
  • And of how brightly the stars shine in the deep darkness of rural Minnesota.
Still missing the city lights and the bright smiles of my dear friends, but settling into life here with a "lighter" heart each passing week.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Homesick Kitchen

Last week I ate an entire jar of Pace medium picante sauce. Put it on eggs, chips, and chicken wrapped in tortillas; I think I even dipped a pretzel or two into its spicy, tomato-y goodness. I just needed a little heat on my tongue. I even lit up like Christmas over Qdoba. (Thank you sister and nieces for indulging me!) Mashed potatoes used to remind me of home. Now they are home. I wonder if they would taste good with picante sauce on them. I'm betting yes!

Last night I held the first Sunday night get-together for the 10th, 11th, and 12th graders of First Lutheran. It was my first new initiative and I have been working toward it for a couple of weeks. I planned to have us cook a meal: Jambalaya as a tip of the hat to New Orleans, because it was All Saints Sunday, and because several of these youth had attended the National Youth Gathering there in 2012. And so I bought enough groceries to make a LOT because on Wednesday night we are going to feed some homeless people at a shelter in Rochester so I figured I would just freeze any leftovers and be ready for that event too.

I also built an entire Jeopardy board using my printer and lots of paper and tape and all the wit and wisdom I could muster.

The picture stinks but there are awesome categories and fun questions.

Saint-ly Cities for $100, Julie:
A: The capitol of Minnesota
Q: What is St. Paul?
I'll take Saint-ly Holidays for $400:
A: Holiday where coffee is served to people still in bed by a young woman wearing candles on her head.
Q: What is Santa Lucia Day?

As you can imagine, I had a ton of fun dreaming it up, and if you are a total nerd like me, you can even play the game here: jeopardylabs.com/play/all-saints-jeopardy2.  Beware of the New Orleans Saints category, most of the questions refer to things that Vikings fans would know.

I also had a really good devotion planned. . .

One kid came. ONE. She was adorable. And we had three great hours of conversation and cooking. I have plenty of Jambalaya left for the hungry people on Wednesday night.

Doesn't this make your mouth water? It's delicious, and very easy, and a perfect recipe to cook with a kitchen full of kids with different skills. But I only had ONE . . .

So I was disappointed, and homesick for Triumphant Love where an evening in the kitchen with "moi" would likely draw a bunch of kids. So when all was chopped and cooked and sampled and the tools washed up and put away, I went home and had a few chips and salsa while I watched a sappy movie on Hallmark.

Then I went to bed. And as is my habit, I prayed for my new young friend. A young friend who was feeling lots of loss on All Saints Sunday. A young friend who at 16 has lost two friends to suicide, and another to a car accident. Whoops! I guess this wasn't about me at all. I guess I was right where I was supposed to be, with a person who loves hanging out in the kitchen, trying out new foods, talking about God, and who needed someone to talk to about the people she was missing. As I prayed for her I realized that there was probably no one else in this town who didn't know at least one of the people she was grieving and so her loss would have been diminished, because everyone else was grieving too. And had 15 kids showed up, she wouldn't have shared so much. . . God had a plan. And my ignorance of the plan probably prepared me perfectly for what was supposed to unfold. I feel so privileged to be useful in this way. So blessed to have God walk with me step-by-step. And so stupid that I miss the point and get all wrapped up in my own plans.

Today we had a skeleton crew at work so we had a little Jambalaya for lunch, and as I shared about last evening I received wonderful words of encouragement to keep at it, and that the kids will come, it will just take time. God blessed me with another little helping of comfort from the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Indulge Your Nostalgia and Carry On

I am embarrassed - I am watching Secret Princes on TLC just to get a glimpse of the old home town. I couldn't help but smile when I saw the view of the Capitol looking up Congress Avenue. It's funny, I used to watch the beginning of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, just to catch a glimpse of downtown Minneapolis. Place has power. Every story has its setting, and for 30 years and a couple of weeks, Austin was the setting for most of my life's stories.

Two of the princes have arrived in the Austin airport, but so far no guitars. . .  finally! Number four, the Italian prince, brings a glimpse of the guitars to the screen.  (I recently read Chris Bojhalian's Light in the Ruins which is set in Italy during WWII, so it's fun to hear him talking of his part of Italy and his family heritage. One lovely by-product of living where I'm a relative stranger is that I've had a lot more time to read than usual!)

Oh - they just showed a shot of downtown at night. Blue lights on 100 Congress. And one of the princes was just dancing around Goodwill or Savers or some such place in a Westwood tee-shirt. It's a hoot!

How come I never ran into these guys when they were filming in Austin?

But, in other news, Saturday I attended the 41st annual craft show hosted by the Blooming Prairie Chapters of AAUW & Women of Today. Cindy Leonard, a new friend and spouse of my senior pastor, invited me. It was at the local high school (you can get a glimpse in this picture:

I met a lot of really interesting women and I have been invited to join, which I think I will.

I found a Stampin' Up! demonstrator and had a chance to talk stamping for a bit until she got busy. (Don't you love those wreaths? I've been a little chicken to try them but this was inspiring. I may have to give it a whirl.)

I did do a little stamping a few days ago, and made these boxes for the confirmation gifts the Board of Education is giving to the confirmands:

Later this week I will head over to Brookings, SD to work at a craft show organized by my sister. I am looking forward to another road trip.

So, missing Austin, but carrying on!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Missin' Manners

Maybe it was just because I caught the second half of Sweet Home Alabama on Saturday night but on Sunday evening I found myself irrationally insulted when a man didn't stand up to greet me. No kidding! On some level I wanted to throw a little hissy fit. . .

I went out of my way to find this man at an event last night. He had sent me a note asking for a favor and I was seeking him out to grant it. AND HE DIDN:T EVEN STAND UP! That was really only one small part of his lack of manners, and bless his heart, he probably just didn't know any better, but I am amazed at my own reaction to it. I didn't even realize I expected it!

I am also missing the easy way the kids from Texas called me Ms. Julie. They do it here because I asked them to, but it doesn't flow naturally. However, the pastors love it and keep promoting it to the kids and their parents so eventually it will probably stick. The kids are definitely disappointed that I don't sound very Texan, but they dissolve into giggles every time I say y'all (so I'm going to keep saying it!) and I got to explain the difference between y'all and all y'all in the kitchen last night, so I haven't completely left Texas behind.

My sandals are packed away until spring. The weather the last couple of days has closely resembled Austin in January. The highs won't move beyond the 40's this week and we can expect to see the occasional snowflake early in the morning or after sundown when the temperatures drop. Yesterday morning was a dreaded window scraping morning (although I took a Southern girl approach and let the defroster do its thing while I shivered inside the car.) Beginning November 1st I will be parking in the garage (thank you Jesus!)

There is nowhere I am more homesick or at home than in worship. I am acutely aware that I don't yet have friends to seek out and sit with but at the same time I am at home and fully part of the group in a way I am not the rest of the time. I am very grateful for this hour each week.

On Tuesday I registered for a conference in Houston so I can begin looking forward to a visit to Texas in January. I will be in Austin either before or after the conference. That makes more sense than any of y'all coming up here in January!

This was my first week without visitors and by Friday I was ready for a familiar face. Thanks to Beth and Niel Wiegand for letting me drop by for coffee on Friday afternoon. I needed a fix of the familiar, and their presence and their home provided the perfect medicine.

And now, back to Blooming on the Prairie where I'm planted. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Monday, October 14, 2013

There's something fishy going on here. . .

Today I got to witness a well-oiled machine at work. Throughout the church there were clusters of people performing unusual tasks. When I arrived there was a pickup at the back door filled with potatoes.

Near by, a strange machine was rumbling like a washing machine and shooting water out one side into the grass while the potatoes bouncing around inside got naked.

Inside I found a classroom full of people peeling still more potatoes, and apparently having a jolly good time doing it. Pastor Charlie was one of them and got a lot of good-natured ribbing for bringing his own knife.

When they were done, they had peeled enough potatoes to fill garbage cans, these, and several others!

Across the hall were large storage bins filled rosettes and krumkake baked in the church kitchen by many dedicated volunteers last week. Most of them were back today, working on other kinds of food.

This is what Norwegian desserts for 1600 people looks like.

Around the corner and down the hall there was another huge crowd. I christened them the Holy Rollers, and they seemed pleased to have a nickname.

How many meatballs will 1600 people eat?

And around another corner they were filling still more trays with meatballs.

All of this for an event called a Lutefisk Dinner.  One brave group tackled the "food of honor". Here are the brave souls who "wrapped the fish". While it didn't have quite as dis-stink-tive aroma as I remembered, I was definitely happy to move on after recording the main event.

The tickets are sold, the tables are set, and tomorrow the building will be filled with members, neighbors, and friends gathered to celebrate their heritage, their community, and each other. It's an amazing project. I can't wait to see it all come together tomorrow. I post some more pictures of the actual event. Think about coming next year! You'll be welcomed along with everyone else.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

It's Relatively Complicated

Something has been slowly dawning on me since I started work: there are a lot of multi-generational families here at FLC. In true "Sons of Norway" fashion we have households made up of:

  • Amundsons (3) 
  • Andersons (10) 
  • Bensons (2) 
  • Carlsons (3)
  • Christiansons (5) and Christiansen (1) 
  • Erickson (3)
  • Hansons (4) and Hansens (7)
  • Hillsons (2)
  • Ingvaldsons (10)
  • Iversens (1) and Iversons(2) 
  • Johnsons (22) 
  • Kittelsons (5)
  • Knutsons (6)
  • Nelsons (3) and Nielsens (2)
  • Olsons (2)
  • Pedersons (1) and Petersons (22)
  • Seversons (2) and Severtsons (3)
  • Sorensons (2)
  • Swansons (2) and Swensons (7)
  • Thompsen (1) and Thompson (3)
  • Williamsons (4)
  • Gullicksons, Jordisons, Larsons, Matsons,Thorsons and Tollefsons are clans of only one household

And many of them are related - to each other and to the -bergs, -ruds, -dahls, and -stads, not to mention the descendants of German and Czech settlers and people with boring last names like Smith and Brown. To further complicate matters, sometimes these people get divorced and remarried, and still all go to church here.

I will get them all sorted out eventually, or at least most of them, but coming from a church that made families out of strangers, it's fascinating to see the dynamics of a church where so many people are connected by blood or marriage. That's enough for now, just thought I'd share. More soon!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

You know you're in a friendly town when. . .

. . . you can call your child at the library!

As I sit here in the public library using the free wi-fi to shop for towel racks at IKEA because someone offered to pick up anything I needed there when they went next week, the phone rings and the librarian answers. I hear her say "Yes she is," and then, to my amazement she gets up, walks down into a stack, and says "Emily, phone call for you." Emily wasn't that thrilled to get a call from her mom at the library but it certainly highlighted how different things are when the whole town is part of a child's community.

Another sight that warmed my heart this week was the bike rack at the elementary school literally overflowing with bicycles. There is concrete evidence that as  parents here feel their kids are safe.

I have mentioned to some of you that the school mascot is a BLOSSOM. Fitting for a town called Blooming Prairie, but not exactly fear-inspiring for the football team. However, last night the team prevailed 35-14 against the scarier sounding St. Clair Cyclones at the High School's Homecoming Game. I sat on my patio and could hear the announcer and the cheering. . .

This is a picture I took at yesterday's Homecoming Parade. 

It didn't last long, but it was great fun, and the band sounded pretty good, the Homecoming Court were carried along in convertibles, and the day was sunny, warm, and filled with little kids, big kids, parents, grandmas and grandpas, and of course, the whole church staff showed up to cheer them on!

I'm sure it won't all be sweetness and light, but I am savoring it while I can!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Not this but there's that.. .

Just a quick post to continue the story. . .

All that stuff has come home to roost in my new place pictured on the right.
My new address is:
741 Center Avenue N. #2
Blooming Prairie, MN 55917
I think I'm going to love my new place. It's a re-purposed space so it has some funny quirks, but I really think I'll enjoy living here. The windows to the right of the front door on the first floor are all mine. There's lots of light on this bright September day. The bedrooms are small, but there's plenty of parking, and room for company so I hope you'll come to visit. In the meantime I'll be unpacking all that stuff I discussed last time.

I got a lesson in turn-around-time right away. One of the first things I did when I got here was call the cable/internet company that serves my building to set up an installation. That was Thursday. On Friday an enthusiastic young salesman (who looked to be about 19) came to sort out all the particulars. I signed and initialed everything needed and he said he'd take the order to the office to get it processed and they would be calling to schedule an install. They called this morning (Monday) and I will have internet and cable installed on Tuesday: that would be Tuesday October 1st. Almost two weeks from my first phone call . . .  On the other side of this story: this will be the fastest internet I've ever had, and the cheapest 200 channel cable package ever.

I also have a mailbox. I mean a real mailbox, in front of my house. Before this I have always had a lock box down the street or over by the office of the complex. I expected to have to pick up my mail at the Post Office here so that mailbox was a delightful surprise!

Other discoveries:
  • There's no pizza delivery but you can get your milk, butter and sour cream delivered
  • There's no place to go out for brunch on Sunday but it's a rare week without a pancake breakfast fundraiser somewhere
  • My apartment has no dishwasher, but lots more cupboard space
  • The grocery store carries fewer convenience items than I'm used to but sells incredibly fresh meat cut right on site, and to order if you wish
The adventure continues!!!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sorting It All Out

Everything about moving can be painful. For me, one of the hardest parts has been the sorting. Going through things drawer by drawer and shelf by shelf. Deciding what goes, what should be given away, what should hit the dumpster. The decisions are hard, and some of them bring regret. Why didn't I do this kind of sorting more often? Why didn't I give that dress away while it was still in style, or keep up with those people in the pictures I haven't put into albums yet, or mail that birthday card? Why didn't I use this cake mix before the 2010 expiration date?

On top of that there are unanswerable questions: will I need this? How many sleeveless tops are necessary in Minnesota? (Do people my age even go sleeveless in Minnesota's more moderate summers?) Will this dish drainer fit my new sink?  Is this sweater too hopelessly out of style to go? How much cabinet space will there be in the new bathroom?


Into my over-thinking, inefficient sorting rode my friends. God bless them all!!! Some of them made short work of my sorting crises: "It doesn't amount to a shoe-box full of difference. Just pack it." Or, "If you haven't worn it in the last year, let it go." Or, "It really doesn't matter. Replacing your dish drainer will cost next to nothing."  I am so grateful for all their patient and good-natured help and encouragement.

My friends sorted themselves out by their best gifts: sorting, packing, cleaning, running errands, reminding, making custom boxes, deconstructing modular furniture, feeding, housing once the beds were taken apart, distracting and entertaining, gathering groups together to mark my transition, crying with me, and taking care of things that couldn't be accomplished until after I was out of the apartment. I needed all of them and all their gifts because sorting, packing, and asking for help are all missing from my arsenal.

Today they are all in a box in my heart marked BELOVED. And none of them will be discarded!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Goodbye and Hello

Triumphant Love Lutheran Church, Austin, TX
My church home since 1984, and my place of employment since 2002.

First Lutheran Church, Blooming Prairie, MN
Lutheran Church
My new church home and place of employment as of September 2013.

Sunday morning I got a loving send off from Triumphant Love, and then spent a sweet evening with some of the people I've known the longest and with whom have shared countless experiences and memories. It's at their request that I have decided to share the transition experience in this public forum.

I have spent most of the summer saying hello and goodbye. Looking for work and a new place to live; looking ahead to the inevitable day of departure. I have felt frightened, worried, hurt, excited, hopeful, uncertain, stretched, loved, despised, incompetent and blessed. And countless shades and variations of those feelings. But now that the time has come, I go forward knowing that I will not travel alone; my journey will be accompanied by the One who will support me through it all, and who ties us all together - old and new friends. Adios Austin, Buenos Dias Blooming Prairie.