Every year, as a Clergy member of the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church, I travel to Colorado for Annual Conference. This year I was delighted that the conference was held at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Not only is it one of the most beautiful settings in the world, it is a place important to my family, a destination for a yearly pilgrimage when we came to Colorado for summer vacations.
Our family’s Colorado roots came from my dad’s two summers of working in the kitchen at the Y-Camp when he was in college. He fell in love with these mountains and, when the chance came to purchase a run-down cabin in the mountains the year I was born, he and Mom cashed out a $1500 life insurance policy and bought the place.
When I sat in Hyde Chapel the other day for our clergy session, I remembered attending church there while we were on vacation. (It seemed much smaller than when I was a child.) I remember Dad being invited to preach there one summer.
He wrote about it in our cabin’s log:
August 13, 1968
I had the privilege of preaching at Hyde Chapel at the YMCA Camp near Estes. It was an experience I have secretly entertained a hope for. It was fulfilled through Dr. Finis Crutchfield’s recommendation to the selection committee.
As I sat in the chapel I thought on all these things with gratitude. Thank you, Dad and Mom, for this gift, this legacy that has brought me such joy and happiness and meaning. I’m grateful to be a member of this conference in this place which is my spiritual home.
My mom (Marty) and grandma both raised African Violets. I particularly remember the little plant stand in the east window of Grandma Ida Mae’s house in Ada, Oklahoma. The stand had shelves of african violets which she fed, watered, and turned with care. When Grandma died in 1981, I took a pink violet home with me. Then, when my mom passed away in 1983, I took home one of her purple violets.
I’ve kept these plants going through the years, starting new plants from the old ones. After a move a couple of years ago, the plants got some kind of fungus and I thought I had lost all the plants from Mom’s violet. But recently, a young plant bloomed and I realized that my “Marty” violet was still alive.
These plants are special — so much more than houseplants — they’re a little bit of presence of Ida Mae and Marty … women who helped make me who I am. I’m grateful for their presence, still with me after all these years.
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds
are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning
and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. – Psalm 65:1-2a, 5-13 (NRSV)
I’ve just returned from a short fall vacation in Wisconsin. Jack got a break, too. He went to Tracy’s house.
Tracy is Jack’s best friend. He doesn’t mind that she’s not a dog. (He’s very accepting of everyone.) Tracy and her lab, Said (sī – ēd), regularly welcome Jack to their home. Here are Tracy’s notes about Jack’s vacation (he said I could share this with you):
Thursday, November 4
Jack made up for lost time playing while he was here. At 1:00 a.m., Said and McQueen were half dead on the floor and Jack still wanted to wrestle. I only had to chase him around the house twice to get him in a crate.
Friday, November 5
When did you say the “quiet, cuddly time” was? Jack woke us up, raring to go. He spent most of the morning outside. It’s trash and recycling day. Very exciting around here — lots of trucks beeping all over the ‘hood. There are as many leaves on Jack as in my yard. He is very crunchy.
Saturday, November 6
Boone is here! The giant labradoodle that Jack loves. They are wrestling nonstop. Jack went to bed at 1:00 a.m. and woke us all up at 6:00 a.m. Everyone went back to bed after peeing, but Jack barked that high-pitched bark for 30 minutes. We all slept ’til 7:30. Then wrestle, breathe, wrestle, wrestle, breathe.
Sunday, November 7
Jack slept from 11:30 p.m. – 6:30 a.m. (Playing with Boone is very tiring.) They picked up in the a.m. right where they left off. He spent most of the day outside wrestling and inside with Said chasing him.
When we got home last night, Jack was moving pretty slow. I think he’ll probably sleep for two days … dreaming of his friends Tracy, Said, McQueen, and Boone.
This was my first-ever published writing — in the “Patterns” issue of alive now! J/F 1985. I wrote this following my mom’s last trip to Colorado before her death in 1983 from a brain tumor. This piece speaks to me today as I prepare the “Living in the Present” issue, J/F 2011.
Yesterday at the top of the Trail Ridge, I was getting really frustrated because Mom was so slow. I had to walk her to the bathroom and wait while she went and washed and dried her hands. I walked out. Dad wanted to go to the gift shop, but Mom wanted to look at the display in the visitors’ center. So I stayed with Mom.
I was so angry because I did not want to see the display — we’ve seen it so many times before — every year the very same display of stuffed tundra birds and pictures and charts. As I watched her walk around and read each display like it was the first time she had read it, it all of a sudden hit me that she might never see it again. Each trip for her could be her last.
The reading of the display, the rituals that we participate in as a family — certain things to be done (mail a postcard to Aunt Eileen from the top of Trail Ridge, read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”), certain things to be said (“When are we gonna get there?” “Smell that cool mountain air.” “We’ll have these moments to remember.”) — all these things take on new importance as we/she lives every day as a holy one. Mom is the keeper of the ritual right now. In the participation in these family rituals, there is a combination of such pain and joy, such comfort and such vulnerability.
I just returned home from two weeks in Italy. I’m grateful for the opportunity and still processing everything I saw. Here’s the Top 10 according to me.
10. Olives — From olive oil to antipasto to the olive groves surrounding the places we stayed, olives were everpresent.
9. Clotheslines — Thank goodness for clotheslines — they add so much charm to the scenery of an Italian town.
8. Sculptors, artists, and artisans — Thank goodness for the sculptures and those who made them.
7. Cappuccino — Even I (not a coffee drinker) fell in love with Italian cappuccino. (My favorite bar in Vernazza put a smiley face on my morning drink.)
6. Siestas — Of all the Italian ways of life, this may be the one I’d most like to bring home.
5. Gelato — Of all the Italian ways of life, this may be the one I’d most like to bring home. 🙂
4. Church bells — from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. They reflected the rhythm of life — a rousing peal to wake up creation, quieter during siesta time, another rousing peal at 5:00 p.m., silencing after 10:00.
3. Symbols of faith — Icons, statues, reminders of faith were everywhere I turned. I’m always looking for signs of God’s presence. In Italy, the reminders were everywhere.
2. The evening light — the warm light of evening bathed the buildings with such beautiful color. I stopped each evening to watch the slow, beautiful progression of the sun.
1. Churches and candles — Nearly every church I entered had a place where I could light candles and pray for others.
I’m not much of a cook, but I love helping with the baking during the holidays. We had a pie-baking extravaganza on the day before Christmas Eve. The iPod was on “Christmas shuffle” and we spent the day making four pies. The recipe was “Jenni’s Mom’s Dutch Apple Pie.” I am the apple peeler and cutter and the one who cleans. (Oh, and the one who eats pie.)