Saturday, October 31, 2009


Todd's parents are visiting us for a few days. We went to the Edgar Allan Poe museum in Richmond today--an appropriate Halloween activity, I think.

The museum is set in and around the oldest house in Richmond, a tiny stone house built in the mid-1700s. There's an old courtyard behind, and several more old brick buildings that you walk through to see the Poe displays.

The weather was perfect for gloomy photos--muggy and rainy.

There's a bust of Poe tucked back inside this arched structure, very atmospheric.

Here's me with the brooding genius lurking behind me. I forgot to take the earbuds out of my ears--we each got a little mp3 player with the audio tour to listen to as we walked around.

The courtyard was really beautiful, even in the rain.

We learned a lot about Poe...I certainly had no idea he had grown up in Richmond. The museum has lots of artifacts from the era he lived in.

After grabbing a quick lunch, we went down to the river district and took a boat ride on the old canal that's been preserved downtown.

Turtles hanging out.

The view looks bleak, but the history was fascinating. This canal runs right through the heart of Richmond--it's been here since the earliest days of the city. The warehouses behind the railroad tracks are replacements for all the warehouses that burned down when Richmond was evacuated by the Confederate army at the very end of the Civil War.

Our boat pilot/tour guide, who was excellent, mentioned that this view (below) sums up the history of transportation in America: the canal at the bottom, the railroad tracks going over top of that (on the right), and the freeway bridges running over top of it all. I guess if there's been a visible plane in the sky above, we'd really have seen it all!

We had a fun day. Came home and got ready for the trick-or-treaters. I ran out of candy for the first time ever!

Monday, October 26, 2009


When my grandpa Martin passed away, I wrote down a few facts and memories about him, and enjoyed doing that. So I thought I'd do the same for my Grandma Clark. Here are some of the things I know about my grandma, Mary Anne Fenton Clark.

She was born in Kansas on a very hot August day right in the middle of threshing time. Her mother had spent the whole day cooking for the threshing crew, and then gave birth that evening. Great-Grandma was a strong woman, and she passed that quality along to Grandma.

Grandma was the baby of her large family, and she was doted on by all her siblings. I remember taking her to visit her older sister Helen years ago, and my 88-year-old Aunt Helen hugged my 76-year-old Grandma, and called her "baby sister."

One of Grandma's first memories was sitting on her older brother Lewis's knee at mealtimes. The other children sat on benches at the table, but Lewis, who was twelve years older than Grandma, felt that the bench was too hard for her to sit on. She was very much loved and cherished by her parents and siblings. I think this gave her a core of strength that she was able to draw on for the rest of her life.

As a farm girl, she was responsible for herding the cows along the road and keeping them out of the hedgerows. But she would carry along a book and sometimes get so engrossed that the cows would get away from her. She told me she spent a lot of time chasing cows out of fields.

When Grandma was fifteen, her family moved from Kansas to the area where her father had grown up, in northeastern Missouri. They bought a farm, and Grandma stayed behind in Kansas until the school year was done. Then she traveled to Missouri with her father and her brother Walter in an old Model A, with her cat and kittens tucked in beside her.

After high school, Grandma taught at three different one-room country schools, and taught at another one a few years after she was married. She taught grades 1 through 8, all in one room. My dad's cousin Raymond told me, at the calling hours, how he had come to school as a new kid from out of town in the fourth grade and how Grandma had looked after him and made a fuss over him. She told me she enjoyed teaching and that the kids always worked hard for her.

In her early twenties, Grandma married Marion Clark, whose family farm was adjacent to her parents' farm. I am not sure what drew her to a man who was more than 20 years her senior. Her sister Florence had married Grandpa's brother Elmer, and the families were friends as well as neighbors. But it has always seemed like a strange match to me.

Grandpa and Grandma had a difficult life together. Grandpa's recurrent health problems meant there was very, very little money coming in, and Grandpa was not an easy man to be married to--erratic, stubborn, hot-tempered. They lived in a tiny house with no indoor plumbing. They had five children, and after sixteen or seventeen years, and my youngest aunt's birth, Grandma had had enough. She moved herself and the children out, worked and eventually put herself through nursing school, and divorced Grandpa. Living in a time and in a culture where divorce was uncommon, it took a lot of courage for her to strike out on her own and find a new path for herself.

My parents and I lived around the corner from Grandma until I was almost six years old, when we moved to Ohio, so Grandma was very much a part of my earliest childhood. I remember her as always in motion, bustling around. She still had two kids living at home when I was small, and was working nights full-time, so it's no wonder she was in motion!

She seemed happiest to me when she had as many kids and grandkids as possible crammed around her small kitchen table. She'd feed us big meals, and if you stopped eating to take a breath, she was right there: "What can I get you?"

My brother told me that one of his girls opened a box of Froot Loops the other day and the smell made him instantly think of Grandma. We always knew that there were Pop-Tarts and "sugar cereal" (treats we rarely got) awaiting us at Grandma's house. She loved to spoil us, but she wouldn't hesitate to gently correct us if we needed it. Often it just took a look.

She had this little two-beat chuckle she'd make in her throat whenever she was amused by the foibles of her fellow human beings. She was amused often.

Her life was not easy, but Grandma was a contented person. She often talked about how blessed she was in her life. I never sensed a smidgen of self-pity in her, even when her body began to fail her and her life became more restricted. She had a deep faith in God and a firm belief that He was guiding her and providing for her. She liked to tell stories. She was quick to see the humor in things.

She was one of the strongest people I have ever known--pragmatic, practical, matter-of-fact. She worked nights as a nurse, first at a hospital, then at a nursing home, until she was 75 years old. She said, "Someone has to take care of all those old people!" Many of her nursing home patients were younger than she was.

Her co-workers told us about how she guided them as young nurses through the stressful times at work, brought them cookies, sewed them baby blankets, gave them advice, bragged on her family, rejoiced when her first great-grandchild was born. She expected the nurses she worked with to put in just as much effort as she did, and they did, because they cared what she thought about them. I think everyone who knew her wanted Grandma to have a good opinion of them.

She crocheted afghans and blankets and tatted doilies. I have a quilt she made for me, and a pile of crocheted snowflakes which I'll hang on my Christmas tree again this year. She loved romance novels and Christian fiction. She always had stacks of books for me to read when we came to visit. She was passionate about genealogy and compiled binders full of names and facts and photos for both her family and Grandpa's family.

She gave hugs that were so tight you could almost feel your bones squeak, and kissed you so hard you wondered if there was a dent in your cheek afterwards.

I'm not sure what qualities I inherited from Grandma...I am far less strong and far more of a whiner than she ever was, but I do feel I received some of her ability to take great pleasure in small things, her love of family and history, and her talent for cutting through the bullshit, although she never would have said "bullshit" or even "b.s." She would have said "nonsense."

I was privileged to have several long conversations with her in the past ten years or so, about her life and her family and her memories. I don't feel like I got to have enough time with her, living as far away from her as I always have, but I will always cherish the moments I did get to spend with her. She was very precious to me and I am so grateful to have had her in my life for as long as I did.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ah, it's Sunday evening and I am home, taking it easy on the couch. It feels good to relax for a while.

I just can't say how much I appreciate all the people who I know were praying for me and for my family the past few days. I could almost tangibly feel the support. My trip went very smoothly, coming and going, and I had two precious days with my family while we celebrated the life that Grandma lived.

My dad had gone to the ER on Wednesday morning, not long after he and Mom arrived in Missouri, because he'd been experiencing chest pain. That was stressful for him, of course, but also for my mom, my brother and me as we traveled to them, and my sister who was in Ohio and wanting so much to be with us.

By the time Jeremy and I got there on Thursday afternoon, Dad had been through a whole battery of tests, and was released from the hospital. His heart is absolutely fine--there was no heart attack, no coronary disease at all. It was such a relief. He was still not feeling great, but at least we knew that his heart was fine.

My mom's current theory is that Dad's gall bladder is what's causing the pain, and he will certainly have to get to the bottom of whatever's going on, but for now he is doing well, and feeling better, too.

The calling hours for Grandma were Thursday evening. I had been dreading going into the room at the funeral home and seeing her in her coffin. She was such a tremendously alive person, I just didn't think I could bear to see her dead.

But I ended up having the same reaction that I did when I saw Grandpa in his coffin a few months ago--"That's not Grandma. She is gone." There was no vestige of her in that coffin.

I had brought along one of my favorite books to re-read on the trip, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, and that night in bed at the hotel, I read a scene where the main character has to identify his son's body. This captured what I'd been feeling perfectly: "Odd how clearly it suddenly became, once a person had died, that the body was the very least of him. This was simply an untenanted shell, although it bore a distant resemblance to Ethan."

That was it exactly. The real Mary Clark re-appeared with all the people who came: her nieces and nephews and cousins, her co-workers, and people who'd been her friends and neighbors for years, who told all of us in the family about things she'd done for them, things she'd said to them, and how privileged they felt to have known her. It was so precious to hear those things.

The next day we had a short funeral for her, a brief service at the graveside, and then a meal in the church basement. While we were eating lunch, she was lowered into the ground and buried. After the meal, I stepped back outside behind the church and went to the mound of dirt over her grave with the spray of flowers on top. I hadn't lingered by her coffin at the funeral home except for a quick look, and I hadn't gone in to pay my last respects before the funeral started. There were too many people around, and as I said, that wasn't Grandma in the coffin anyway.

But alone, standing by her grave, feeling the wind and the light rain and looking at the beautiful fall trees around the church, I could feel her presence and I could say good-bye the way I wanted to. I said "thank you" to her for being my grandma and told her I would love her and remember her forever. Then I was able to go back inside and talk to more people about her. It was good.

Here is the link to Grandma's obituary.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I got another one of those dreaded phone calls this afternoon, that my Grandma Clark was coming to the end of her life, and a second call a couple of hours later to tell me that she had passed away. I just feel heavy and sad.

I am still in the Outer Banks, trying to keep warm in a house full of people I barely know, and trying to hold my sadness inside until we can leave tomorrow and go home.

My dad and all of our family could use your prayers and good thoughts right now. Even when you're expecting it, it's still so hard when the end finally comes. I was sitting on the dock watching the waves and thinking of her right around the time she passed away in Missouri...I hope she felt my love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Here's a little project I did last week. I bought this sign at a yard sale or thrift store a few years ago--it's a little more '80's country than I usually like, but for some reason I liked the shape of it and thought maybe I'd do something with it.

The whole thing is done in that country blue color, which doesn't really go with anything I own, either. I liked the sentiment, though.

So I just changed it a bit:

I painted the outside edge a nice green color, and then lined the inside with a vintage-styled patterned paper. Then I used one of my old scrapbooking lettering templates to make the letters, and cut 'em out of black cardstock.

It seemed like it needed something else, so I stuck a vintage button at each end.

The old sign sat on top of our coat hanger shelf at the foot of the stairs, so I put the new one right back in the same spot. But I think now it needs to be hung on the wall and raised up some so it's more visible.

Love those super-fast projects that make you feel like you accomplished something big, even though you really didn't!

Monday, October 12, 2009


I finally got our new quilt put on the bed!

Here's a closer shot of the star:

And the sides...I'm not super crazy about the swags, but they do hang nicely. And the corners are quilted in a kind of fan pattern which makes them drape really well. Lots of nice detail in the quilting.

I was taken aback by the extra fold at the top for folding over the pillows--neither of us noticed that when the quilt was spread out on the stage at the auction. I don't really like making a bed that way, I like stacking my pillows on top of the quilt and against the headboard, for a pillow nest effect. So I'll have to figure out a way around that part.

Other than that, I love it! We've slept under it for a couple of night now and it's ever so soft and warm. It's fun to sit and look at all the different patterns in the big star, too. I love quilts with lots of different little patterns in them. When I was a kid, I had a baby quilt made by the ladies' sewing circle at either my mom's church or my dad's church, not sure which one...anyway, it had a pale green border and then square patches with tons and tons of tiny squares in every pattern you can think of.

When I got to kindergarten age and had to take a blanket for naptimes, my mom embroidered my name on the side in red thread and I would lay on it at naptime and stare at all the tiny little patterns, all different from each other. I still have the quilt--it's so beat up but still pretty.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Well, I certainly didn't intend to vanish from my blog for days and days. There hasn't been too much going on here as of late.

I overdid it with the organizing and sorting and hoisting of boxes, and had a small setback in my surgery healing process, so I have been taking it easy and reading a lot of books and finishing my unicorn needlepoint along with the boring necessities of laundry and cooking and whatnot. No big projects for the last little while.

I really didn't anticipate weeks and weeks of soreness and restricted activity after this surgery. I can do most things, it's just lifting heavy stuff and reaching up high that has proven too much. Also I think I started sleeping on my chest too soon, so I have had to get very strict with myself about sleeping on my back again.

Anyway, that has all proved as dull to live through as I'm sure it is to read about, so not much blog inspiration there.

Last weekend we headed out of town to see my brother's family and go to the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale in Harrisonburg. All the money raised from the auctions and food sales goes to Mennonite Central Committee.

The big money maker at the sale is usually the handmade quilts. Todd and I have attended the relief sale several times in the past ten years or so, and have always wanted to buy a quilt, but the ones we really liked always went for more than we were prepared to pay.

I didn't realize it, but Todd was bound and determined to buy a quilt this time. So we did! It's a gorgeous Lone Star quilt in dark blues and greens. It was all very exciting.

Natalie and Marissa could not stop talking about riding with "Sonny and Cher," the horses who pull a wagon around the small county fairgrounds where the sale is held. You can see the anticipation on Marissa's face as the horses come up.

I don't know how many times they rode the wagon Friday night and Saturday, but it was a lot! Here they are riding with their friends Adam and Luke.

I wish I had a profile as cute as this. Love the way her nose turns up at the tip:

The sale serves dinner on Friday night, which we all partook of, and breakfast on Saturday morning, which Todd and Jeremy and I went early to enjoy. We had to stand in line a bit (the line runs far into the big barn:)

But it was fun. Here's me and Jeremy after omelets and sausage:

Yet another ride on Sonny and Cher...that's my sister-in-law Tracy, our little friend Luke, Marissa, Natalie, and me:

I got to catch up a little bit with my friend and cousin Trina:

My cousin Dan and his wife Lynley were there too, but I didn't get much time to talk with them, as I had to go off on another horsie ride.

Here's Marissa getting her face painted:

And Natalie and Tracy enjoying some homemade potato chips:

I'll post a picture of our new quilt once I get our bedroom all neat and tidy. I also bought homemade apple butter and stone-ground cornmeal. The donuts, alas, sold out before I could get to them. Just as well, I suppose.

The girls have a new kitten named Luna, who is the sweetest, most laid-back kitten I have ever met. Case in point:

She will sit and hang out on a four-year-old's lap.

She likes my brother, too.

In fact, she likes everyone, and the feeling is quite mutual.
How I do love kittens!