Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy Times With God's Creation

"Happy Times With God's Creation" is a coloring book our family had when I was young. Full of wonderful, detailed illustrations, it was a great book to color. But I don't know what they were thinking when they named it, because, with almost no exception, ALL the pictures had to do with cute, cuddly animals being hunted.

And occasionally eaten.

Ah, yes. Those happy times.

This evening I took a nature walk and it was as if I'd stepped between the pages of ....

I wanted to get a look at the pair of Great Horned Owls that roosts across the field from my house. Every evening about a half hour before sunset I hear them wake up and start hooting to each other as they prepare for another night of hunting.

I got the cats inside, slipped a pair of rubber boots on over my flannel jammie pants, and started across the field.

Mid-way is the famous rock pile where we found the Least Weasels earlier this summer. Noni did an amazing job photographing them, but I haven't seen them since. Well, tonight they were very active and very curious.

I just didn't have a very good lens. But I did my best.

Predator #1---check. My first predator sighted, and I hadn't even reached the owls yet! My journey forward was again interrupted by the shrill scream of an offended hawk. He had already bedded down for the night in the giant cottonwood, but objected to my presence and flew off in high dudgeon.

Predator #2---check. (Before you strain yourself looking too much, the hawk is not actually in this picture; it's just his tree)

I'd reached the edge of my little woods by now. Leaving behind the golden warmth of the setting sun, I padded softly down the dim corridors of trees.

I sounded like a herd of elephants, I'm sure (Finley's frenzied assaults on the local pheasant population didn't help any!), but I was trying to be as quiet as possible.

I knew approximately where the owls roosted, and sure enough, as I got closer one of them flew away just as I tried to take its picture. It only went a short distance, and I started another clumsy stalk.

This time I had better success and was able to squeeze off one shot before it flew to the other side of the tree patch.

Great Horned Owls are sometimes called Flying Tigers because of their fierce and daring aerial assaults. They are the only bird that will attack----and kill----porcupines. They have been known to prey on skunks, and yes, even cats. Since two of my kitties went missing this summer, I have a more than casual interest in the owls' hunting prowess.

Predator #3---check.

I left the little forest and started back across the fields to my house, Finley panting happily by my side. Suddenly, my attention was arrested by a motion on the hill directly behind. A coyote had crept down, flushed a bunch of pheasants and was leaping into the air trying to catch their fleeing forms.

It is rare to see a coyote in an unguarded moment like that around here. The coyote population is vigorously hunted and all you usually see is a gray streak flashing across the fields. And as I watched, I saw not only one coyote hunting, but three others chasing the pheasants down the slope.

I wanted to watch them longer, but first I had to get Finley inside. I didn't want him getting in a fight with any coyotes (he has an ego the size of the Empire State building) and I also didn't want him flushing a bunch of birds, exposing their location to the hunting coyotes.

After chucking the indignant Finley indoors, I hurried to the back of the property. In the sunset light, I could see a coyote silhouetted against the hill.

Predator #4---check. By this time, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a grizzly!

Coyote song....

I stood out there for quite a while, watching the sunset colors and listening to the sounds of nature. The day shift was bedding down for the night with rustles, chirps, and twitters while the night shift stretched, yawned, and stepped out to take the stage.

It was beautiful.

There was peace.

But I couldn't help thinking how God must grieve when He sees His creation filled with fear, pain, and death. Animals struggling just to stay alive to see another day, but some must die so others may live.

I think back on the events in Kenya this week, as humans hunted and killed other humans. Not for survival, but to make a religious statement. Families were shattered. People---children---were killed, spilling their life-blood onto the pavement of an ordinary shopping mall.

No, it was never supposed to be this way. And one day all these things will be ended. Nature will once again be pure----safe----eternal----the way God intended it to be.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Red Birthday

As part of the build up to my epochal 36th birthday, I've been having special color themed birthday dinners. This started last year on my 34th birthday with my epic green colored dinner party seen here. It was something all right, if a little stomach-turning.

This year was a more appetizing year----red and orange tones. The dinner itself was a little smaller than last year's. We were freshly back from the retreat and all of us were busy playing catch-up, with no time to cook a bunch of stuff.

Even with our time constraints, we still managed to produce a decent, albeit slightly random, meal.
We had spaghetti, sweet potatoes, beets, tomato salad (which was very good), tomato soup, fruit punch, red grapes, and strawberries.

We also had garlic bread sprinkled with paprika as a cheat. It didn't even work. The paprika turned brown in the oven and looked like cinnamon toast.

My plate....

We sat around eating and enjoying each others' company----right up until I noticed one of my cats was missing. We've had a very sad summer, with two of our kitties going missing, presumed consumed.

I have a pair of great horned owls that nest just across the field from my house. Maybe there's a connection, maybe not. But every evening I make sure all my cats are inside.

But that night I couldn't find Essie. I made a perfunctory check of the house, but moved quickly outside. If Essie was inside, she was safe. Outside was the danger zone.

When I opened the door, one of the owls flew out of the tree right next to the house. I called for Caleb to help me, and we both started making the circuit of our tree line, flashlights shining into the trees. Every now and again, I would scare one of the owls out, but it would only circle around to a different spot, never actually leaving, only shifting position.

I was clear at the back of the property, tromping briskly along in my party outfit and hiking boots. The owl was in one of the trees in the back corner and I hurried over there, intending to scare it away and make a sweep down the side of the property where Essie liked to hunt.

My light was shining through the branches, making sure they were clear when I crashed into a barrier.

A sharp, pointy barrier that ripped and tore.

I knew instantly what it was. I'd forgotten about the barbed wire fence right there. I usually crossed it a little further up where the fence had fallen over. I took stock of my injuries, saw that I had a scratch down my leg, but I still had to get back to the house.

I'm a little past the days where I get to sit down and scream for my mother.

Climbing over the fence was an adventure. My legs were torn and I was feeling poorly, so it was the perfect moment for my skirt to get caught on the wire. I had to laugh as I stood there on one foot, the other balanced behind me on the top wire, blood streaming down my legs while my hand reached back trying to unhook the skirt.

I finally freed myself and headed through the waist-deep brush back to the house. When I was almost there someone shouted out the glad news that Essie had been found.

In the house. Naturally.

But that was OK. As long as she was safe.

There's nothing so cheering as a big, bloody injury when you are hurting. I hate the ones where it hurts like crazy and looks like nothing. Like stubbing your toe. Pure agony, but nothing to show for it but a slightly red little piggy.

Not so this time.

Of course, my family is naturally sympathetic. Tiggy told me, "Well, you wanted a red birthday party...."

Just how you want every birthday party to end....with the first aid kit. Now, if this were Devon's  party, you'd sort of expect it.

My mom had made a yummy red velvet cake for desert. Red velvet cake with sprinkles goes a long way towards healing life's little hurts.

Yes, this will be a party I'll remember for a long time. Pretty much every time I look at the scar on my leg. I hope next year's party will involve less bloodshed. But I'm a little worried. We're doing purple and blues for the color scheme.

I hope nobody gets asphyxiated!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Good-bye to Red Lodge

As we drove up to the lodge the first day, we could see that the hills on one side of the road were charred and black.

"Oh, look! There's been a fire since we were here last year," my mom said.

The burn line came right up to the road across from the lodge and we commented on how nervous it probably made everyone.

Later we found out that the fire had actually come through there only a few weeks before. In fact, it was burning when our caravan-o-broken-vehicles came through Billings on our way back from California.

The fire crews had kept it away from the lodge by lighting a backfire. Pretty exciting stuff at the time, I'm sure. Altogether, the fire burned around a thousand acres, but is now fully contained.

Before we left Sunday morning, I walked across the road to take pictures of the burned-out area. It had rained all day Saturday and now the hills were covered in a heavy mist. I was wearing white flip flops, not exactly the appropriate footwear to go hiking through soot!

There was a little blue bird house right at the edge of the burned area. As late in the season as it is, I'm pretty sure the babies were all out of the nest at that point. But I hope someone fixes it before Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird arrive next spring.

After the final meeting and a hurried clean-up of our room, we headed down into the town of Red Lodge. It is an absolutely charming old town, full of shops to explore. We didn't have time to explore much, given the 6 hour drive ahead of us, but we managed to find our way to the candy shop.

So did practically everyone else from the retreat.

 It was like our 20-minute reunion.

We drove through the residential area on our way out of town. The beautiful, stately, old homes are worth a trip to Red Lodge in and of themselves.

The attention to detail is amazing. After three years, I'm still struggling to get my house painted all one color, let alone painting intricate designs on it!

A lot of the houses had deer grazing in their yards. I guess deer-resistant vegetation must be really big in Red Lodge. I never got a good picture of one because they stayed too far away.

This car was a little more cooperative then the deer about holding still. I can't decide which I like better....


or Black and White...

With photo editing, why choose?

One of my favorites, this house was built in the first decade of the 20th century by a cattle baron and his wife (well, technically, they paid someone else to build it).  It was called "ostentatious" in its day, but I think it's perfect.

The couple had no children, but built a house with five bedrooms and who knows how many other rooms besides. It was their summer home; in the winter they stayed in apartments above the bank they also owned.

Not bad for a quaint little summer cottage....

It's easy to feel envious when you think about the kind of people who have a house like this---FOR A SPARE!

 But you know, I wouldn't be surprised if, at the time, they felt like they didn't have enough. That they just needed a little bit more to attain perfect contentment. It's so easy to say, "Oh, if I only had __________, I'd be happy." But stuff (even stuff like a fully-functional house) can never fill us up. There will always be something else we "need".

I'm grateful that God is there to fill the emptiness that things can never satisfy. And He's available to everyone, regardless of the state of their checking account.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Princesses in Tank Tops

While Noni was busy rushing around doing committee things Friday afternoon, Tiggy and I walked along the creek indulging in one of our favorite pastimes---beauty pictures.

At least, we tried our best. I was very sad that I hadn't brought along any outfits to do a serious photo shoot. Tiggy said she tried to tell me to bring some, but she had called only an hour or so before we left on the trip. There were NO brain cells available to listen to her at that point. I don't even remember the conversation occuring!

But even though we were just wearing travel clothes, the beauty of the place was enough to add at least a bit of gloss to our ordinary attire. Everywhere you looked there was another gorgeous setting; you were practically tripping over them!

Having a model brimming over with youthful beauty doesn't hurt, either.

While I can't say I'm still brimming with youthful beauty, I was feeling particularly fetching that day. I was wearing an absolutely magical shirt that somehow gives me a figure while simultaneously camouflaging all my various rolls and bulges.

No, you can't have it. It's mine.

 It was the perfect spot for a medieval maiden or a fairytale princess, but we made do with two people in shorts and tank tops. Did pretty good, if I do say so myself.


I needed a fancy dress!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Insert bitter sobs here)

Short-sheets and Lemonade

This past weekend I cruelly abandoned my cats yet again to gad off to the Montana Christian Women's Retreat in Red Lodge, MT. They are getting pretty disgusted with me. This was the THIRD time I've left them this summer.

Evidently they've decided I'm an inept, hairless cat with abominable luck at hunting, because they've been showering me with "presents" since my return. Rodents, still-warm song birds whose only crime was to attempt a migration through the killing zone---it's been grim.

But I have to say that the retreat was worth it.

To me.

Maybe not to the song bird population.

This was my first women's retreat and my first trip to Red Lodge. Both were very nice, and a relaxing change from my ordinary rushing about.

The speaker was Cheri Gatton, a proud mama and grandmama from Idaho. She spoke on God's amazing grace and love for all of us, broken as we are. A fiery dynamo contained in very small packaging, Cheri was feisty and funny while challenging her listeners to accept God's gift of grace.

The decorating committee did a beautiful job with the stage. They created a basic scene and then changed it up each day to represent different stages in a woman's life. It went all the way from babyhood to womanhood, ending with a wedding dress representing the white robe that Jesus clothes us in as beautiful daughters of God.

Noni is on the retreat committee, and one of her contributions was to bring the dressmaker's dummy that the wedding dress is hanging on in the above photo. This led to such amusing conversations as, "Are we bringing the dummy in?" "No, let's leave her in the car." "Where's the dummy?" "Oh, in the trunk." And leaving it sitting in the driver's seat overnight outside our motel. If only we had thought to bring a wig to drape over the truncated neck....

The retreat was located at the Rock Creek Resort, a very nice facility located by...Rock Creek. Go figure. I'm not a great connoisseur of resorts (Super 8 is about as fancy as I get), but I still think this one was pretty good. And they give you complimentary nasal strips in your room. I mean, who does that? Not Super 8, that's for sure!

All the meals were provided for us and the food was quite tasty. Of course, anything is tasty when you don't have to cook it yourself. However, the weekend was dogged by one terrible scandal---Broccoli-gate, caused when the kitchen ran out of broccoli three tables from the end.

And we were one of the three.

All except Noni, who happened to be eating at the committee table for that meal.

Which was dismissed early.

And got plenty of broccoli.

I, quite frankly, am a little suspicious of all those "coincidences"!

But, in the interest of family harmony, we elected to forgive her.  After we short-sheeted her bed.....Hey, the conference president's wife is the one that told us how to do it!

The centerpieces were flower pens so attendees could use them for note-taking. Each person was able to take one home with them at the end of the meetings. You could tell the retreat committee really put a lot of thought into the comfort and convenience of their guests.

And they gave out free notebooks. I'm a firm believer that you can NEVER have too many new notebooks.

The dining room/conference room overlooked Rock Creek through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and you could hear the water tumbling past while you ate. It was very relaxing, but when you over-imbibed on the truly amazing lemonade, it wasn't exactly helpful to have an aquatic symphony ringing in your ears.

Thankfully, the restrooms were right across the hall.

Well, I'll post more about the retreat later, but for now I'm off to get my tetanus shot after a particularly wild birthday party last night.

More on that later, too.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Next Chapter

The Bible says that to everything there is a season. One of MY transition points is fast approaching, a turning of the page to reveal the unknown (because, unlike in a real book, you don't get to read ahead).

I just turned 35 over the weekend. This is the year of my life that Laura will turn 18. Caleb will turn 18 when I am 36. In only a year and a half, I will have an empty nest and a whole world of possibilities open in front of me.

I'm starting to spend a lot of time thinking about that...what it will mean, and how my life will change. I've spent all of my adult life being a mommy, and it's going to be a bit different.

Not that you ever stop being a mom, but it's not the same when they're on their own.

I know I'll need to find full-time employment---unless some handsome, rich stranger shows up in the next 18 months---and I'm not exactly holding my breath about that. So I've decided to go back to school.

The last time I was in college was 2001. I really enjoyed it, but I was in the middle of a legal battle for custody of the kids and it was too much for me to handle. I had to quit, and I've never been back since.

Twelve years.

My brain is pretty much a blob of soft, flabby mush at this point. This fact was brought home to me recently when I took the Compass exams as part of my application process to Williston State College.

The Compass exams are a placement test given to entering students who don't have SAT scores. It lets the college know if you need any remedial work before they plunge you into the maelstrom of college-level English and...gulp...math.

I did OK on the English, though I found it surprisingly challenging to wrest meaning from some of the passages. Let's just say there's a bit of a difference between light, fluffy fiction and college text books (Motto: We don't have to be interesting because someone is making you read us).

Then I came to the math section.

My stomach sank approximately to bottom of the Marianas Trench when I saw the first problem. I had absolutely NO idea what any of it meant. I'd only found out about needing the test that day, and I'd hurried down without any frantic tutoring from any more knowledgeable family member---like Tiggy.

All I could remember was do the numbers in parentheses first. But what were all these other squiggles? Whose idea was algebra, anyway!?! I took a deep breath and plunged in.

There really was no point in trying to figure the problems out. I am not being funnily modest when I say I was completely lost. I spent the remainder of the algebra portion picking answers based on their esthetic appeal.

"Well, I really like how the numbers interact with the symbols on this answer, but this one does have a lot of energy in its presentation.

The test is designed to give you a certain amount of answers as long as you are getting them right. If you get a few problems wrong it will give you simpler questions, and if there are too many incorrect answers it ends the test. Sort of like a computerized Perfection game---you never know when it's going to pop.

I could sense the computer giving me easier and easier questions. Each time, I could hear it saying, "Surely, you'll get this one right", then shaking its head in disbelief when I missed the answer yet again.

The torment went on and on, and I was a nervous wreck before it was done. The test finally switched to basic computation, and I did a little better there. For instance, I still can't remember how to find a percent, but I was pretty sure that the T-shirt shop wasn't going to be discounting their shirts below wholesale cost.

I may not know math, but I know retail!

It turns out that I'm an amazingly good guesser, because I got to skip two levels of remedial algebra and only have to take one 8-week course before I'm considered at college level. But, since I know that any right answers I had were TOTAL FLUKES, I am studying on my own ahead of time.

Yes, it will be humbling to have a 14 year old teaching me (she's mean, too!), but there is no way I'm going to fail a class---not with the price of tuition these days!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Trip Home, Part 2

The continuation of my mom's guest blog detailing our trip home from California...


The next morning we at the breakfast supplied by the motel and started out, happy in the knowledge that we would be home before bedtime. This would rank as one of the world's all-time magnificently lousy predictions. 

Stopped at the Museum of the Rockies, which has a really great fossil collection. I spent a lot of time there, mocking the evolutionary explanations of how all these dinosaurs were buried (some of whom were standing in mud up to their KNEES when they died in groups) without a flood to account for the burial and subsequent fossilization of the animals. Tina was strangely reluctant to let me tag along with any actual tour guide, so I had to content myself to being snarky to a more receptive, smaller, and less argumentative audience. 

And then we were on our way for that Last Straight Shot to Home. (Please insert hollow laughter here.) In Montana, fuel stops can be few and far between. Unfortunately, as night drew on, Jack was on the phone with his brother when we passed the last good one before Glendive, 3 hours from home. He didn't notice the gauge was low, or hear the single warning "ding" that goes off as a warning. (Please note that if a woman had done this she would have been foolish beyond permission and careless beyond excuse.) I noticed that it was low; I just didn't know that we had passed The Last Gas Station. It was an interesting book, OK? 

Jack had only been able to partially fill the tank at the last stop because he forgot to notify the bank that his card would be traveling, so it shut it down when we tried to refill--10 minutes after the bank closed, with no chance of changing things till the next day. I was in the process of getting $96 of change from a $100 bill when Jack came in and told me. The money didn't even stay in my hand long enough to get warm before I had to hand it back and tell them to put it on the pump. This is why we had started with only about half a tank for this "last" leg of the journey. Frankly, by this point, vacation (in my mind, at least) was losing a bit of its gloss!

So, by the time Jack noticed that the gauge was on empty, he said we were WAY past the fuel stops behind and about 70 miles from the gas stations ahead. He elected to go forward, and find out how far you can go with a big diesel tank when the gauge reads "empty." As it turns out, about 57 miles, which is why we ended up, about midnight, marooned by the roadside for the for 2nd time in 2-1/2 days, 13 miles short of our goal, and once again chatting with the lovely people at AAA. Some hapless contractor with AAA was dispatched to bring us 5 gallons of diesel fuel. This time, they sent him in the right direction, cutting our waiting time in half...not that, in the end, it made the slightest bit of difference.

 When we got into Glendive, we pulled into a closed service station to fill up. Tina's bank card was the lucky benefactor this time, and as we sat waiting, Jack said, "I wonder what else could possibly go wrong..." But although I IMMEDIATELY told him NOT to say that, it was too late. The damage was done. God mercifully kept him in suspense for only about 30 seconds after we pulled away from the station before he saw steam billowing up behind the car. He immediately stopped, and we were enveloped in clouds of vapor from the cracked radiator, which had finally joined the van differential in Dead Vehicle Heaven. May they RIP.

We were a mile away from the Glendive SDA church--also pastored by our pastor--so we limped to a spot behind their church and settled in for what was left of the night. In case anybody cares, don't share blankets with Damon. It's as quick a ticket to freezing anyone could possibly find. In the morning, it was now a job for Don (just diagnosed with Lyme Disease--all our Kahrs were failing at the same time!) to find and borrow another truck and drive down to tow something home. Nobody seemed interesting in towing the SUV towing the trailer and van. Men--I just don't understand them. 

Church members came and unlocked the church, so we had a place to hang out while awaiting our 2nd rescue.  Noni came first, in Tina's car, one of the few vehicles left that isn't scary to drive. She took the 2 kids missing school, Tina, and Devon (homeschool). I had nothing left to give to Mr. Fidget at that point, so HE left in the first wave, too. I mostly sat around and did my best imitation of a vegetable, while Damon and Jack puttered on the patients. I mean, I like fun as well as the next guy, but sometimes you just hit your limit!

Breakfast, anyone? Food supplies were running low at this point...
 Finally, Don arrived with a pickup truck owned by the local NAPA store guy, and they did guy fussy things, deciding to haul the first derelict home first, and get Jack's SUV later that evening. We all piled in and I thankfully vegetated again for the last few hours home. Thursday night, after dark, Jack and Don headed out for Glendive again, only to discover--about 45 minutes down the pike, at 9PM--that Jack didn't have the SUV keys. At this point, the retrievers decided that this hunt was over. They decided to wait until Sunday before making another trip. I mean, what could happen right outside the church, right? Sunday they found out, when they got there, and that last $110 worth of gas had been siphoned off over the weekend. One assumes not on Sabbath morning during church.

So the end of the trip was not quite so resoundingly-wonderful as the parts preceding it, and yet I can't really be sad that we went. The vacation itself, the reunions, the memorial--everything was absolutely wonderful. And even when the troubles started, God helped us out. The first breakdown was in a place where the mechanic was honest and helpful. If we'd been able to buy a full tank of gas, instead of that partial one, or if Jack had seen the gauge in time to fill up the gas at The Last Gas Station, we would've broken down somewhere out in the wilds and the dark of a Montana night...which can be VERY isolated and VERY dark. As it was, we were right outside a town where there was an SDA church to give us shelter, in a part of the road where there was a good shoulder to pull off, on a flat part of the road with good visibility. We didn't end up out in the middle of nowhere, with an SUV, a loaded trailer, and 7 people, with no shoulder, in a dip, or just over a hill, where the rapid traffic passing us by could've hit us as easily as not. We were "covered" in each of our difficulties, so I'm willing to accept, however confusing it seems to me, that God's hand was there in our difficulties as fully as it was in our pleasures. I haven't been able to come up with a good philosophical attitude towards the stolen gas, but when I put it in the list of things I don't understand in life, it still ranks WAY down towards the bottom.

Home at last..........