Turtles and Teapots

I didn’t grow up with teapots, and a teabag was rare. At eight years old, I made the Kool-Aid: orange, lime, cherry, or black raspberry. Add water to make two quarts, and pour in a full cup of sugar. The blue ceramic pot-bellied pitcher looked like the smiling Kool-Aid pitcher, minus the smile. I measured and mixed instant tea, too, from a glass jar, with the same amount of sugar.

My first teapot came as a Christmas gift from my piano teacher, Miss Shannon. It held a music box in the bottom. I didn’t know it could ever hold liquid and has always been on the shelf.

We lived in a big, white house with a two-acre backyard. Painted turtles lived in the small swamp at the edge of the yard. In the winter, the swamp became a private, tiny skating rink. My brother played hockey on the twin ponds behind our neighborhood, called Lakeview, while I slid around in my boots with the younger children. The Christmas I was seven I opened a large flat box. “My own skates! I’m going out after breakfast,” I said.

My parents and brother never played with me, and my big sister, five years older, was much too important to bother. I walked alone across the back yard, tromping through the snow in my new skate guards. For most of an hour, I “skated” through the snow-covered ice, falling over and over. When I get better I will bring a shovel.

Back at the house, I took off my new skates. Bruised and already aching, I looked forward to tomorrow when it would be a little easier. Soon I would be skating like Peggy Fleming.

This week, the ice on Flesher Pond is perfect, smooth as glass. I won’t be going out, though. My sixty-something back wouldn’t take kindly to a fall. It’s been five years since I laced my skates. I remember because Sam took pictures. On that day, I skated in figure eights and backward, gliding from one end of the pond to the other. Sam slid along behind me down to the shallow end. Just a few inches under the ice we saw snappers buried in the mud, hidden except for the shape of their enormous shells. No cute painted turtles, these. We counted four monsters.

Back inside, I warmed by the wood stove. The kettle whistled and Sam brought in the tea tray. Now we have several teapots: two six-cup floral designs from his grandmother, a couple Japanese pots from Seattle, and two single-serving brown betties from England which we use daily, antiques picked up from a rummage sale. The blue Kool-Aid pitcher sits on the shelf, now probably an antique.

For full-proof tea, warm the pot with hot water while the kettle boils. After the boiling stops, add two teabags for a six-cup pot, pour the water from the kettle and steep five minutes. My favorite “ahh” drink, nothing is more soothing than black tea sipped at the perfect temperature. For me, no sugar added.

Perseverance – a steadfastness in a task, despite difficulty or delay in achieving success – I learned at age seven.

“Let us not be weary in well doing (Gal. 6).”

Sandhill Cranes

While Sam and I hung ornaments on our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I heard the buzz of the neighbor’s chain saw. Then I heard something else. Could it be?

“Sam. The sandhill cranes are here!”

We rushed out the front door, me in my slippers on the snow-covered walk, to gaze up at their long, uneven V. My scientist friend explained why one tail of the V is so much longer than the other. “It’s because there are more birds on that side,” he said.

My heart, ready to burst, sang with joy amidst the heartache as we watched and listened. My four children are a long way from Indiana. Now with seven grandchildren and three more on the way (twins included), families do not venture home to us for the holidays. Hanging their homemade ornaments is a bittersweet hour of my year.

The raw power of nature digs deep into my soul. The cranes sing hope to me. I don’t know why they affect me so much. Maybe it’s because they fly over Flesher Pond only twice a year – in spring and fall migration. One of Indiana’s best wildlife shows is found in the marsh in northern Indiana Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area from late September through December. Flocks of cranes stop to feed, dance, and roost. Then they fly south over us.

Maybe it’s the seldom available events which mean so much. No. That can’t be right. Spending holidays together every year was the norm in my childhood. It was good to look forward to grandparents and cousins, and favorite aunts and uncles. All the gifts, and loud, noisy fun. And the good food – the ham from Grandpa’s pig; hot buttered yeast rolls; and my favorite, Grandma’s dried corn, soaked and cooked to perfection. Everyone needs family.

But many don’t get that happiness. I treasure now the few and in-between times. Traveling to New York in the fall to say Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas all over one weekend is gold. In Seattle, I wait until summer when the weather on Puget Sound is perfection. Once, my younger son took me sailing on Lake Union for the afternoon. Just the two of us. Pure gold. Christmas in July.

God bless those of you who celebrate life and good gifts with your family each year. The Eternal Father, strong to save, sees and hears your praising hearts. For the rest of us, He hears our aching hearts. And those that are broken, too.

I remember my sister when, as a teenager, she fell off her horse and broke three ribs. She couldn’t take a full breath for the knife-pains. Twenty-five years ago, the first Christmas after my divorce was the hardest. The children were at their dad’s, and I was alone in the house. That morning, I couldn’t take a full breath either, for broken dreams and fragmented lives.

The years gone by have eased the pain. Now I am content when I hear the sandhill cranes, and run outside to say hello again for the two minutes it takes them to pass over. These in-between moments are golden.

“How all his malice serv’d but to bring forth Infinite goodness, grace and mercy shown On Man by him seduc’t . . .”

John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost

Fox News

“Sam. Have you seen the binoculars? Look at this.” A beautiful, healthy fox, bushy tail bouncing, was playing in the front yard at the edge of the pond. Sam found both sets of binoculars and brought them to the front door. We watched through the glass as the fox jumped and leaped and pounced in the light snow, up and down, over and over.

“It looks like The Jubilant Dance. I wonder what he’s doing? This is real fox news,” I said.

Watching the animals on Flesher Pond is a daily high. Our simple, quiet life is often interrupted with nature sights and sounds. The cry of the red-tailed hawk; the primeval warning of the blue heron; our resident geese, Frank and Opal, fending off newcomers from landing on the pond – but today we watched in silence. And then it occurred to me.

“I think he’s trying to find something to eat.”

Finally the hunter came up with a vole in its mouth. “I bet it’s a mama fox,” I said.

Head held high, apparently pleased with herself, she trotted across the yard. I saw the bottom half of the vole, short legs twitching, as she made her way to the bridge. Sam and I hurried to the side window. She stepped onto the boardwalk, jogged across the bridge over the ravine, and up the steps. Past the circle drive she made her way, and then ducked into the brush, taking breakfast home to her kits. I wonder how many she is feeding? Today she must feel like a happy mama.

I remember when I was a single mom trying to feed my four marvelously exceptional children. (Ha!) My job at the local university was our physical life-saver, but the pay was small; and the eight-to-five office stress wore me down. For years, we tried to smile through the hardships, and many times God sent us help through angels disguised as friends and co-workers. But for a decade, our life in the woods was a daily challenge; my early morning prayers, my spiritual life-saver.

Then the children graduated from college and moved away, two to New York and two to Seattle. And I met Sam. My struggles didn’t end, but the different pace of being an empty-nester, and six-hour days in the office made life easier. Sam took over the cooking when he retired, and always had a pot of tea ready for me when I got home. The glorious day finally came when I retired, and now I have time to write.

Watching this morning’s show with Sam, with coffee and binoculars, I am at peace. I think today the mama fox must be, too.

I wonder, were folks encouraged as they watched my family through the glass? Did our perseverance strengthen others’ faith? Maybe the faith walk is The Jubilant Dance.

“We are all asked to do more than we can do . . . God is always calling us to do the impossible.” Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

“I scarcely know the difference between hard and easy. I am always able for what I have to do.” George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind

Woodpecker Holes

“Sam. The woodpecker is back.” Through the kitchen window, I can see tufts of pink insulation scattered in the grass. That hairy woodpecker is serious about living in the wall of our house. He pecked through the knot hole and has a perfect opening.

In the early years as a single mom living on Flesher Pond, I had a myriad of jobs. One was to climb the ladder and cover the holes poked in the cedar siding. All year long, the hairy and downy woodpeckers insist on making a home in the walls, so the house is covered in “covers.”

One spring, I came up with a brilliant idea. The round lid of the frozen orange juice can was the right size. I could spray paint it brown and use brown caulking to seal it over the hole. The back side of the house is now pocked with a dozen brown lids, all uniform. They make an ice-breaker to conversation around the campfire. “Say, what are those for?”

We no longer drink orange juice in the can, and I married Sam a few years ago, so he now has the task. He gets out the ladder and climbs to investigate. “Yup. He’s already moved in.”

Rummaging around in the shed for a small cover, Sam grabs the first thing at hand. He comes out with something akin to a large cutting board and nails it over the hole. The front of the house looks like a mad carpenter at work (although when he is building or doing finish work he is wonderfully meticulous).

It’s a good thing he leaves the ladder standing. It gives me something to focus on while I wash dishes. “Sam, I hear that woodpecker again. It sounds like it’s in the same spot, although I don’t see another bird.”

We look and listen for a while, and then I wonder, “You couldn’t have nailed that bird inside?”

Dutifully he climbs back up the ladder, cocks his head, and listens. He carefully removes the cover and the startled woodpecker flies out. It had pecked for all it was worth in its new pitch-black home, sounding like, “Let me out, let me out! I’ll never do it again!”

And yet, he comes back late afternoon, or his brother does. Why can’t they poke holes in the trees?

My life is pocked with brown orange juice lids covering all kinds of holes – wrong words spoken at the wrong time, hurt feelings, misunderstandings. Bad attitude, envy, stubbornness. A life-filled with small regrets that add up to a complaining life instead of a grateful heart. I’m learning to “let them out” so I don’t go on about them. Each day, I wake up with “His mercies are new every morning” and try to write good and peaceful things on my heart.

The orange juice lids don’t matter, don’t compromise the integrity of the house. What matters is whether I nail the bird inside.

“I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.” Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water