Winter Solstice

June 21 10:07 p.m. begins the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. While you are all enjoying a long day (hopefully) of sunshine, I am waking up in the dark and eating supper in the dark (5:06 sunset.)

It is actually a fairly mild winter here on the North Island with daily temperatures in the 50s. Still, I slept the first night in warm pajamas, my merino (wool) poncho, and mittens! I dug the extra space heater out of the storage today and will fill my hot water bottle before going to bed tonight. Right now I’m sitting about 14 inches from the woodburning stove.

James and Anne were throwing off their covers last night and Charlee was running around in bare feet and a diaper this morning. I’m blaming my inability in handling the cold on the fact that only a few days ago I was enjoying a heat index of 105 F.

This winter solstice is odd in another way: the countryside is lushly green and there are flowering bushes along the roadside. Lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange trees are heavy with fruit, though Anne says the oranges will be sweeter in a few more months. I’m also going to plant garlic on the winter solstice. Apparently here it is supposed to be planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest day. My garlic at home was planted October 15 and should be ready to harvest when I get home.

Wikipedia says this: “The winter solstice (or hibernal solstice), also known as midwinter, is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year.” I’m kind of liking the hibernal name. Getting over jet-lag means I’m doing more hibernating than usual. The cold is giving me an excuse/reason to stay in bed even longer. They are saying colder weather is likely after the solstice 🙁

Anne was born on the shortest day of the year, December 21, 1991 (northern hemisphere.) We’re expecting her baby to be born soon–maybe not on the shortest day of the year, but close. I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

Fathers’ Day Gifts

It’s been a really long time since I last wrote a blog—an interval much longer than I usually go between posting. It hasn’t been for want of raw material.

When I last wrote John2 was coming home as our “guest”. He wasn’t thrilled with the concept, but was relieved to be home and accepted our conditions. One of those conditions was participation in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) 9:00-3:00 Monday through Friday. We chose a program in Hinsdale which required early wake up times, almost an hour commute in rush hour traffic. He and I figured out how to make all this happen: a wake-up smoothie.

Overall, the program gave some structure to his days and helped him look forward to the next treatment phase, which is a DBT program involving individual and group counseling, as well as continuing work with his life coach. It also will include our participation in his counseling on a regular basis. (Previously he avoided groups and didn’t want us involved.)

I have had a couple of good conversations with his therapist. In one session, he recommended that I read two books: Anatomy of an Epidemic and Saving Normal. Both deal with the way we have over-diagnosed and over-medicated mental illness in America over the last few decades. They were scary books to read—and yet, hopeful too. Emotional Management, LLC, has worked with many people, helping them learn to manage their emotions successfully and in some cases, decreasing or getting off medications (a long, slow process.) I wonder if this is the “abundantly more” than I have been able to ask or think (Ephesians 3:20?)

The last six weeks have been difficult and tiring. John has been fairly cooperative, but his moods still went up and down based on circumstances, relationships and car troubles. I stayed up late and got up early, monitoring moods and medications. I also worked a bit more than usual as our staffing is really short at the moment.

I was also preparing for another trip to New Zealand. Knitting, sewing, shopping, and planning to be gone from home for a month. I finished quilts for Charlee and the new baby, diaper inserts, and a baby carrier for Charlee’s doll. I collected items on Anne’s wish list: Annie’s Fruit Roll-ups, Swiss Miss, REI socks, etc.

I am on my way—finishing up the first leg of my journey as I write; preparing for the long flight to Auckland. I’m traveling alone this time (which makes meeting weight limits on luggage harder!) and also traveling to winter (warmer clothes weigh more.) I dread the cold nights, but can’t wait to be there to help with Charlee and welcome a new grand baby. Anne had two due dates—ten days apart. I am arriving on the first one, hoping that the baby is born sometime in the middle.

I also left on Fathers’ Day leaving John with the “gift” of Johnny, whose name actually means “God’s gracious gift.” I’m sorry-not-sorry to be leaving home at this time. I really do want to support and help John2 in this transition, but respite is appealing as well. Please pray for John these next four weeks as he steps into a somewhat different role in the home.

Of course, I also want to help Anne and James. I’m not indispensable in either place and my heart is very much in both places. I’m so glad that my heavenly Father is present in both locations, caring for my family across continents and time zones.

As we were singing worship this morning in church, I was reminded of my Dad who in his later years would sit (not stand) in the pew and raise both arms to the Lord in praise. That was not his style until much later in life but I loved to see these glimpses into his heart and relationship with the Lord. Such memories are a wonderful gift. Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I’m so glad I got to watch you grow sweeter and kinder as you aged.

 

Be Our Guest

We have a new guest room in our home. This weekend we welcomed our first “guest”–Johnny.

He spent the last ten days in the hospital, following a particularly bad manic episode. We will spare you the details, but we still want to share our news so that you can join us in prayer for the days ahead. This week there will be several appointments and then he will start an outpatient program the following week.

We have renewed hope for Johnny’s future. Our hope is not in the programs, doctors, counselors or anything that John and I plan for Johnny. We’ve pretty much come to the end of our ability to trust John, ourselves or others for the change needed. Our hope is in the Lord.

May I tell you my story?

The first sermon of 2018 at the Edge Church challenged us to “Make Room” for God, miracles, relationships, and ministry in our lives and in the life of the church. Afterwards, I prayed with the ministry team, asking God for a miracle in Johnny’s life this year.

Later, as Lent was underway, they launched a series of sermons on the biblical practice of fasting. I began fasting and praying, specifically for John. In April, I decided to try a 21-day partial fast, called the Daniel Fast (no meat, no dairy, to grains, no sugar=basically a vegan diet. It wasn’t particularly difficult to eat less or skip meals, but coming up with a diet of vegetables, fruit and legumes was a bit challenging. I bought a spiralizer and two cookbooks, but most of the recipes still included meat or cheese so there weren’t a lot of options–and very little variety. I’m pretty sure I could never be vegan.)

The last day of my partial fast happened to coincide with John’s manic episode. John and I were up all night with him and finally called for help as the sun rose the next morning. I was more than a little stunned, but still sure that this was more than a coincidence. It is not how I imagined God would answer my prayer, but I was able to trust that somehow this would “work together for good” in spite of how things looked at the moment.

I woke up at 4 am the next morning and immediately thought of Johnny, now a resident of a chronic psych unit. I got up to pray for him and started reading my Bible. I’d been reading a lot of the lament literature–Psalms, Jeremiah and Lamentations. I was looking for verses about a “new heart” which had been my specific prayer for John–tho I often told God I wasn’t sure how to define a new heart. I noticed Ezekial 36, reading verses 22-38 and then read chapter 37, the Valley of Dry Bones.

I didn’t take it as a promise from God for John but as a beautiful picture of what God could do in his life. It was extremely encouraging in light of all that had transpired that day. You can read it yourself and imagine my encouragement, my hope.

John was, of course, miserable in the hospital. He begged to come home and for the first time we weren’t sure that we could let him return home. His counselor told us to clear out his room and make it into a guest room, so we spent a couple days doing that. Although we visited John when we were able, our best conversations took place over the phone. Gradually, we walked him through the events of that night (he doesn’t remember much) and then, through his goals and ours, long and short term. He had one short term goal and that was to come home, but we were slowly able to work through a negotiation process together. We talked with his counselors, doctor and life coach and the case worker at the hospital and feel confident that we’ve got a good plan in place. Even so, we know that unless God gives him a “heart of flesh” and his Spirit within, all the plans in the world will likely fail.

Will you pray with us? Choose some phrases from Ezekial 36 or 37 to ask God to fulfill in John’s life. Pray for us. Pray for a miracle!

 

P.S. One of my good friends told me this joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Three, but only if the lightbulb wants to be changed :-).

 

Two Hot Tubs

Just a few days ago, I sat in a hot tub overlooking Big Bay. The weather changed every few minutes from blue skies and sunshine to light rain and clouds, and then back again. Every hour or so, a big jet would fly over, heading out from nearby Auckland, beginning a journey to other lands. I would be on a similar plane later that day.

 

Our bach consisted of two small buildings hanging (quite literally) on the edge of a sandstone cliff. A small white picket fence surrounded the property and kept Obi and Charlee safe from falls. Two steep driveways led to the road (one so steep we couldn’t get up it in Annie’s van!) The path down to the waterfront switched back and forth to a small grassy landing, lined with rocks and a lot of seaweed. Tides changed our view throughout the day, as did the changing weather. We saw many rainbows as the sun filtered through the light rain.

John and I claimed the smaller building, a 9 x 12 room with a whole wall of windows/doors facing north towards the bay. It had room for a bed, a chair and a couple tables. We moved furniture around to make room for a small mattress for Charlee and shared it with her. So sweet to share our space–and bed–with her our last two mornings.

In New Zealand, a bach is usually a rustic cottage on or near the coast. (On the South Island, they are called cribs.) I’m sure there are lots of really lovely bachs, but probably not in our price range! This one was pretty basic, except for the hot tub.

Today, I looked over the edge of another hot tub at a completely different view: evergreen trees, a grassy winter yard (no snow!) and blue skies. We’re back home, getting over jet lag, and feeling a little stunned to find ourselves back in the U.S.A. Even though we got on that plane and flew for 11 + 4 hours, its hard to fathom the distance between here and New Zealand. (Is anyone else still amazed by the fact of overseas air travel? It seems so common and yet, surreal.)

Coming home to a “new” house might have contributed to this odd feeling. Surveying some of the damage to said house probably also had an impact. (John2 didn’t do well on his own.) An enthusiastic welcome at the Birkey house and Charlee’s new level of response when Skyping will probably help us ease back into our life. As the week progresses and normal activities begin to take over, I’m sure we’ll feel better.

That, and a hot tub with a view!

Last Supper

Today was our last full day at Cherry Lane Cottage–and it was a full day. I made cinnamon rolls for morning tea and Anne made bao buns with twice cooked pork for dinner. They were amazing. She’s quite a good cook.

 

 

Charlee and I took a fun walk in the rain, in the cutest little rain suit you’ve ever seen. Anne first saw these in Petersburg in 2010. When I was there this summer, I looked for them and then searched the Internet, finding them on Amazon (of course. If you really want to see how they work, check out this video of Oaks and Olive demonstrating (make sure you make it at least halfway through the video. It is worth it.)

 

Lizi fed the chickens for the last time. She has really enjoyed the animals here–chickens, cats, cows, sheep and the dog–but I think she might like the chickens the best, especially the four little chicks. 

Grampa spent the day finishing a big girl bed for Charlee. She was quite the helper throughout the day and with the final production. She will sleep in it tonight.

 

Tomorrow morning James leaves early for a whitewater kayaking trip and we are going to a bach (not a typo) about an hour southwest of Auckland. Annie’s friend Emily is flying in from Canada tomorrow evening. We’ll spend the next two days playing at the beach and then they will drop us off at the airport on Thursday afternoon. I thought that might make our parting a little easier.

Cherry Lane Cottage

James and Annie’s address is 44 Kentucky Road, Karapiro, 3494, New Zealand, but at the end of her driveway is a sign with a sweeter name: Cherry Lane Cottage. We haven’t found the cherry trees yet, but there are plenty of other fruit trees on the property–lemons, grapefruit, fig, apple, avocado, fejjoa and peaches. Anne has also planted a mandarin orange tree, a lemonade tree (seriously), and grapes, raspberries and blueberries.

 

 

 

 

 

What fun it is to bake here at Cherry Lane Cottage. The first week we made cinnamon rolls, homemade marshmallows, and bagels. Last week Anne made a pear pie and today I’m going to try a peach cobbler. John just picked a bag of peaches from the tree. We are also in the process of freezing peaches and blueberries (purchased yesterday at the Blueberry Cafe.)

Yesterday and today, I processed 5 HUGE zucchini (corgettes in New Zealand) and made zucchini bread and muffins. I will freeze the rest for later recipes, or maybe donate some of it to the ABS Lodge. (I ended up with something like 20 cups of grated squash.)

 

 

It’s so lovely to have a ready supply of fruit, especially lemons. John makes lemon cordial every few days so that we have always have lemonade on hand. At home, I rarely have lemons when called for in a recipe, but here they are always available, at least in season. A small glass lemon squeezer is easy to use and quick to clean up. The best part is that all the rinds can be fed to the cows and chickens or dropped into the compost. The same goes for all the excess zucchini parts. No waste.

And eggs. There are six laying hens at the moment so we get about 3-5 eggs most every day. We know where one of the nests is, but we have been having a hard time finding where the others are laying. They cackle loudly after laying but we haven’t been quick enough to figure out where they are laying. This week John and Anne worked on the chicken coop, with a goal of keeping the hens out of her garden at the very least and also to get the chickens laying in an accessible place. I’m really going to miss having fresh eggs for breakfast and baking.

There is one thing, however, that I will not miss about farm life: flies! We bought a three- pack of fly swatters and have pretty much worn them out. John built a screen for one of the kitchen windows and is thinking about a door screen as well. It’s so lovely to have the doors and windows open, but not so nice to share our space with the flies.

We have about ten days left at Cherry Lane Cottage. We hope to spend at least one more day at the beach and our last two days at a bach near Auckland. It’s going to be hard to get on that plane to come home. We will miss the warm weather, the fresh eggs and fruit, but mostly Anne, James and Charlee. Good thing we’re coming home to more grandchildren. And spring is right around the corner, eh?

 

Glow Worms

We just got home from an adventure: a middle-of the night visit to the glow worm caves in Waitamo.

ABS (Adventure Bible School) has been gone for 4 days: hiking, camping and abseiling. Tomorrow they will go caving. We joined them yesterday for a late night hike.

I’ve actually seen glow worms on at least four occasions. The first time I met James, he took Anne and I in a night-time kayak trip down the river so see glow worms hanging on the overhanging trees. During the wedding trip, James and Anne led us across the field near the ABS lodge and down into a ravine. We walked up and down and through a foot of water (where eels lurked in the dark!) to a small cave with a waterfall, open sky and hundreds of glow worms. I’ve been back there twice: once when Anne led Marilyn and I to the caves and again, the night before Anne went into labor.

For all these years, and all these visits, we’ve wanted to go to the bigger glow worm caves at Waitamo. We heard stories about the ABS adventure, including a worship service inside the caves. It never worked out–until this trip.

We met the group around 9:30 p.m. after negotiating miles of curvy switchbacks as the sun went down. By the time we started our hike, it was totally dark. We basically bushwacked for about 40 minutes, up and down, on a rough trail. When we neared the caves, we turned off our headlamps, joined arms and side-stepped our way into the cave. We found seats on a narrow ledge of rock and sat in silence for awhile, taking it all in.

At first, glow worms look like a dark sky full of specks of iridescent light, kind of like the night sky full of bright stars. Looking up at them, I started to see a bright light surrounded by a kind of halo. Viewing them at eye level looked like hundreds of silver/white ornaments in huge clusters, each with a bright center.

In reality, they are simply the excretion of ATP from the bum of a maggot-like larvae, the lights designed to attract flying adults at the end of their life cycle, to be used as food/fuel for the mating and reproduction process of arachnocampo luminosa. They really are quite ugly in daylight.

Still we marvelled at God’s extravagant creation. All this beauty–for what? I’m guessing He just loves creating beauty, even hiding it for hardy hikers (and paying customers who can see it by boat or other means. That’s what I’m planning for my next glow worm experience!)

After midnight, John and I left the group at the trailhead and headed back to town to stay in the Huhu Chalet, a tiny tower AirBnB, with a second floor bedroom with a 30ft ceiling, a steep stairway to the first floor kitchen/bathroom. In spite a comfortable bed, we didn’t sleep well–aching joints and muscles reminded us of our advancing age.

There are no pictures with this post, as there is no way our phone/camera could do justice to the beauty of the glow worms. Instead, here are some interesting links to glow worm pictures and information. Actually, I don’t think the pictures–even the best ones I could find on the Internet–really capture what glow worms are like in real life. Guess you have to come to New Zealand to see them.

44 Kentucky Road

I always imagined I would enjoy a rural life–and I’m finding that I really do like it.

This morning we listened to the chickens loudly cackling, announcing the presence of a few more fresh eggs. There were five eggs hidden under the bushes and one chicken still laying, so we left her–and the eggs–alone.

Yesterday in the middle of laundry, our water ran out. James and Anne have a huge cistern–20,000 litres–that is usually kept full with rainwater, but it was empty that morning. We showered at the lodge and brushed out teeth with bottled water. There was still water in a smaller tank, so John filled a rubbish bin with water and we dipped into it to flush the toilets.

This morning we called to order water. While James was making the call, we noticed that the Internet was down. Then John couldn’t get the toaster to work. We finally figured out that the power was out too. About that time, the water man told us that he couldn’t give us a time for the delivery because the power was out in Cambridge, 15 km away. It was a pretty big outage, covering all the the Waikato and even up into the Cormandol.

Annie had an ultrasound scheduled for this morning, so that was off as well. Fortunately, the power came back on within a couple of hours; the water man came with with 1300 litres and pumped them into the cistern; AND the ultrasound was back on schedule. (Baby looks fine. Gender not revealed, though a “guess” has been placed in a sealed envelope.)

 

 

 

This afternoon, we did more laundry, hanging it all out to dry, which is fun on a sunny summer day. (It’s not so fun in the middle of winter.)

 

 

Charlee had her bath outdoors in a plastic laundry bin.

Lizi feeds the chickens once a day. There are nine hens and four chicks. Two of the hens are on maternity leave, even though their chicks are surrogate chicks ordered from Raglan. They are truly free range, sometimes even venturing into the house!

 

After dinner, I walked the length of Kentucky Road, 2K, in the cool evening, watching the sun set, turning puffy clouds pink. There are seven farms along this road, ranging in size from small to large. Two are working farms (beef, goats and dairy) and the others are more hobby farms. Anne and James live on the smallest “farm”: Two calves, one sheep, 9 hens and 4 chicks, two cats, and one dog.

 

Living the dream here on 44 Kentucky Road.

Christmas al fresco

We celebrated Christmas today. We had cinnamon rolls with fresh eggs; read the Christmas story from Luke 2;  enjoyed watching Charlee open her presents and played the new game that was James’ gift, King of Tokyo. James and Anne gardened and clipped the chickens’ wings. We went swimming.

 

And then we had a lovely dinner of roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and pavlova–outdoors.

 

Its been overcast and rainy since we arrived but we haven’t minded. We needed time to get over jet lag and enjoy little Charlee.

 

She is a busy little girl with a beautiful one-dimple smile, white-blond curls, and a solid, strong body. She inherited agility from both James and Anne: climbs confidently, wanders freely, and handles the animals with ease.

Her Christmas presents were a bike, a baby doll (w/cradle, quilt and baby paraphernalia), a stuffed singing elephant, and a coffee-maker wooden toy. The bike was from her parents and later that day, James made a ramp for her! John made the cradle and I made the quilt. She is a busy little mama, caring for the baby. Good practice for the real baby coming in June.

Anne and James are now away on a two-day vacation, the first time they’ve both been away from Charlee overnight. The three of us are managing to keep up with one busy little girl.

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas! (It’s finally over :-)!

 

 

All I want for Christmas…

A week or two before Christmas John asked me if there was anything I wanted for Christmas. I replied, “All I want is for it to be over!”

The next day, I listed all the “new” things in my life: a new house with new furniture, a new piano and a new hot tub, as well as a garage I can park in, a first floor laundry room, a master bedroom suite and a fantastic kitchen. I really didn’t need anything for Christmas. (Though I still desperately wanted it to be over!)

December and early January is a difficult time in our house. The combination of winter weather mixed with the holidays (and John2’s birthday) means a lot of added stress. It started early in December this year with John2 obsessing about gifts, both for himself and for others. He loves to give gifts, but also loves to get them. His wish list start sounding like a list of demands for a calm Christmas. And once we get through Christmas, his birthday is ten days later, with a different set of expectations. We must go ice skating on his birthday; we have halibut and baked Alaska for dinner, and there is another wish list. This year I had Lizi give him his Audrey Hepburn calendar as a Christmas gift, which bothered him. I also tried changing the menu.

Anyways, we made it through the month of December, Christmas and John’s birthday.

Now we are packing, and getting ready to celebrate another birthday (Anne’s) and Christmas in New Zealand. It’s too expensive to mail packages and Annie is a lot more relaxed about gifts and traditions. They were traveling anyways, spending her birthday and Christmas on the South Island with James’ family.

We are sewing and building and still ordering things on Amazon while we are un-decorating our house and packing for summer. Two weeks of white snow and arctic temperatures will give way this week to a heat wave in the 30s. Next Monday (January 15) we will start our journey to the other side of the world, arriving on the 17th, with a day lost on the way. (We’ll pick it up on the way home.) Maybe we’ll celebrate Anne’s birthday on January 21 and Christmas on January 25th. Or maybe not.

We are all so excited to see–and hug–Annie, James and Charlee so much that the rest seems inconsequential. We’ll spend five weeks with them on their “farmette” eating from the fruit trees and garden, caring for the animals, and loving on little Charlee. And we’ll get mid-winter tans as well 🙂 Our first New Zealand summer!

P.S. John2 will be home alone for five weeks. Please pray for him–and if you are nearby and feel “called,” reach out to him with a phone call, a text, a meal, or an invitation. His phone number is 630-200-0415. He may or may not answer it, but will likely listen to your message and may return your call. Or maybe not.