My First (and Last) Valentine’s Date

Shaun and I have a running joke that we just can’t do things the easy or normal way.  We met in college and then dated long-distance for four years, first between Ohio and New York, and then between Texas and New York, while I finished up school.  With inter-state travel being a necessity, we were bound to have a few travel-related mishaps along the way.

It also meant that “dating” was a bit of a misnomer when it came to describing our relationship.  E-mailing, AIM-ing, phoning, skype-ing, even letter-writing, yes–but actual dates were a rare thing.  In fact, we didn’t have our first real date until we had been “dating” for about a year and a half.  I suppose we could have tried a candlelit dinner via Skype, but I doubt a glowing computer screen would have created the same ambiance.

When Shaun surprised me by visiting for Valentine’s Day weekend my sophomore year, we were eager to try out this long-heard-of-but-as-yet-untried relationship ritual.  The college was set in a rural part of New York, and the campus and surrounding hamlet offered no appealing venue for such a momentous occasion–being not only our first date, but also the most romantic day of the year, at that.  The nearest large town, which was half an hour away, boasted an Italian restaurant, and we decided that this would be very suitable.

Being winter in New York, it was getting dark by the time we set out along the winding county routes.  We were excited and a little nervous and relieved that, finally, some part of our relationship would conform to the prescribed pattern.  Lacking a car, I was also excited to get off campus and at least see some different trees than everyday.

Everything had been going smoothly by the time we arrived in town, and we were basking in the rosy romance of being together, on a date, on Valentine’s Day.  At the first stoplight, Shaun got into the left-turn lane and waited for the light.  The light glowed green–and the truck stalled.

He turned the truck off and back on, and nothing happened.  He tried again.  Meanwhile, the line of vehicles waiting to turn grew longer and longer.  Giving up on getting the engine to come back to life, Shaun found the AAA card in the glove box and called the number.  The cars behind us also gave up on waiting, and started using the center lane to turn left around us.  After waiting through several “press one” thresholds, a recorded message politely informed us that the AAA offices were closed that night.

We looked at each other in dismay.  There was no other service number to try, and we were blocking traffic.  “I don’t know the local police number, but there’s always 911,” I suggested. Shaun apologetically explained our non-emergency situation to the 911 operator, who dispatched a police vehicle to assist us and told us to sit tight.  We sat in the dark and watched as annoyed drivers navigated around us.

At last we saw flashing lights and an officer pulled up behind us.  Shaun demonstrated the stalled engine to him.  He had Shaun put the truck in neutral, and pushed the vehicle across the intersection and onto the shoulder.  Then he offered us a lift to the police station, where we could try and figure out a way to get back to campus.

I sat in the passenger seat of the police car, while Shaun had the notable experience of riding in the back, on the hard plastic bench, behind a metal grate.  When we arrived at the station, the officer said to me, “You can go ahead and get out, but then you’ll have to let him [Shaun] out, because the back doors don’t open from the inside.”   So I ended up chivalrously holding the car door open for my boyfriend.

Inside the police station, we tried to figure out what to do next.  The other officers offered us coffee, and a few jokes about our situation, and looks full of pity.  At the time I did not have a cell phone, and had none of my friends’ numbers.  In any case, few of them had cell phones, and even fewer had vehicles.  Thankfully, Shaun’s phone still had numbers for some of his fellow ROTC cadets, from when he had attended the college the previous year.  He started working his way down the list.

Not surprisingly, most everyone was out for Valentine’s Day.  At long last, he reached someone who wasn’t out on a date, and thankfully, who had a car.  Forty-five minutes later, our ride pulled up outside the police station door.  We rode back to campus in awkward silence.  So yeah, thanks for picking us up from our date at the police station–so glad you didn’t have a date yourself tonight….

Our rescuer accepted our profuse thanks and some money for gas, and dropped us off at the campus center.  It was late, and we still had not eaten, so we made our way to the campus snack shop, where we ate wraps and curly fries at a booth, surrounded by students doing homework, goofing off, and ogling this poor couple who had to have a date at the snack shop.

The bright side of this situation was that Shaun had to stay over for an extra day, to wait for his truck to be repaired.

We never did get to that Italian restaurant.

But Shaun did propose two years later, so it must not have been such a bad first date, after all.


In the Grip of the White Witch

Originally written on December 28, 2017.  I couldn’t quite bear to post it until we had passed the half-way point for winter.

I was dozing this morning when I half-heard a loud “bang.”  A few seconds later, the water in the bathroom abruptly stopped.  Shaun, who was brushing his teeth, moaned, “Oh, no.”  That really woke me up.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, as he came into the room and started throwing on layers of clothes.

“The water stopped,” he said, putting on his third shirt.  “And there was a bang.  I’m going to see if one of the pipes burst in the basement.”

I followed Shaun downstairs, which was markedly colder than the upstairs, and waited anxiously as he went into the basement.  I could feel the cold seeping into the house.  The furnace had long given up on keeping the house at our set 64-degrees, and had settled for 59 instead.  A few minutes later, it gave up on even that, and the thermostat registered 58-degrees in our living room.

Shaun returned from the basement and reported that no pipes had broken, thankfully, and that he had stopped up an old, broken basement window, in an attempt to keep out the frigid air.  A little later, our water started flowing again.

Disaster averted.

After consulting the weather conditions posted online, Shaun finished dressing for work. He often spends a great deal of time working outdoors in a warehouse and supply yard.  -21-degrees merited long johns, a long-sleeve tee and two sweaters, two pairs of pants, wool socks, and a fleece jacket to top it all off.  This was before he put on all his outerwear, mind you.  I imagine him toddling around work looking like the Michelin man.

A little before 7:00AM, in a fit of perverse curiosity, I checked the online weather report. was cruel enough to initially pull up the stats for Miama, FL, where it was a balmy 60-degrees.  I checked our town again, which had fallen to -22-degrees.  The local news station reported that Watertown, NY, had set a state record that morning for -25-degrees–not factoring in wind-chill.  This comes directly on the heels of record-breaking snowfall in the Tug Hill region.

Fairbanks, AK, on the other hand, was reporting a balmy -1-degrees.

While I was on the computer, I was startled by several more ominous-sounding bangs coming from the house.  This is my fifth winter in New York’s North Country, so I am no longer a stranger to sub-zero temperatures, but this is the coldest I have yet experienced.  After checking the house, I settled down the conclusion that the house was merely “creaking with cold.”  The whole morning has been an unnerving symphony of structural pops, bangs, creaks, and crackles.  As I was eating breakfast in the dining room, a small older window suddenly started crackling–the very sound ice or glass makes in the movies when it is cracking and about to shatter.  It looked fine, but I finished my bagel while watching the window with suspicion.

It’s not even January, yet.

(Not long after, in January, I set a new personal record for Coldest Temperature Experienced, at -30 degrees.  That was quite cold enough, thank you.)


Come soon, Aslan.


Why Punxsutawney Phil lives in Pennsylvania…

After living in New York’s North Country for five years, having Groundhog Day on February 2 seems rather pointless to me.

At this time of year, a groundhog’s burrow is still deep under multiple feet of snow.  Forget the groundhog seeing his shadow–you can’t even see the groundhog.  Or his den.  I doubt he even wakes up long enough to consider attempting to dig his way out.

Of course we are going to have six more weeks of winter.  At least.  There’s even two snowstorms on the way to prove it.

Having Groundhog Day on April 2, though…that would make more sense.

Dear Groundhog, is it going to snow on Mother’s Day?

That’s the question everyone around here would like answered.


Winged Futility

He beats himself against the window
framed in a square of watery winter light
while behind him
stretches the wide, wide-open door
but he
is futility, winged.



(A note for animal-lovers: he did eventually find his way out…cupped carefully in my hands…and flew away into the great outdoors.)

Apple Harvest

At the start of the year, when we decided to move–when I cringed at the thought of ripping out all the emotional threads I’ve sewn into this place–I secretly thought, “Oh!  But we will miss the apple harvest!  Perhaps we could stay just that long….”

(Be careful what you wish for).

We have two trees, one an eating apple variety, and one a cooking apple variety.  The eating apple tree is beautiful and produces some of the most delicious fruit I have ever tasted–sweet, tangy, and flavorful.  The cooking apple tree, on the other hand, is like a vertical thicket, and has small, hard, ugly apples.  Until this year, we had not harvested from it, as the apples looked so unappealing.

Last year, due to the unusually hot, dry summer, neither tree produced any apples. This  was a great disappointment to me.  This spring, as I looked at the bounty of blossoms on the eating apple tree, I thought regretfully of the harvest we would miss.

As spring turned to summer, I watched as “baby apples” replaced the blossoms on the eating tree.  It was packed!  And then, for some reason…perhaps because of all the rain, perhaps because we need to prune the tree…all the apples turned brown and rotted on the branch.  There would be no apple harvest, whether we lived here or not.  Summer slipped away into fall, and with my last reason for staying here gone, I became very impatient to leave.

September came, and on a whim one afternoon, I walked around the side of the barn to look at the two trees.  The cooking apple tree is “hidden” behind the eating tree, so I don’t see it unless I go looking.  The eating apple tree had almost no fruit on its branches, and even its leaves were sparse.  But the cooking apple tree…it was lush with leaves and packed with round, yellow-red apples.  I was amazed.  We would have apples, after all.

After such a rainy summer, it took extra time for the apples to fully ripen, but towards the end of September we gleaned almost three bushels from its branches.  I was elated.  Money is tight right now, and any source of food is welcome.  I was somewhat less elated when peeling, coring, and cutting the apples took a week and a half, and canning took another week–fitting it in around the I had other things I had to do, like go to work and do laundry–but at last the apples were processed, frozen and canned.

I have been struggling over the last few months with anger and impatience over our lack of progress towards moving.  We feel stuck, and forgotten, and we are tired, and tired of waiting, and tired of being tired.  I let this house, which I truly love, become a source of resentment and bitterness.  Some wise words from dear friends have helped me change my perspective, slowly.  I began to pray for comfort during the waiting, rather than the strength to forge my own way through.  And we were given apples…the ugly apples from the ugly tree, which I had discounted–and they softened my impatience and quelled my anger.

Thanks be to God for His provision, and for His softening of hard hearts.

And for ugly apples.

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Six Years

In 2018, my grandparents on both sides of my family will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversaries.

Shaun and I marked six years of marriage on November fifth.

Our years are few by comparison, but I hope that one day six will be sixty.


I did not write last year, to mark five years, because it was too hard.  The times come when everything seems to crash around you, and a year-and-a-half later, we are still sifting through the pieces.

Together.  Thank God.

I have fallen in love with Shaun even more fiercely over the last year.  His character has truly been tested, and has not been found wanting.  I admire and strive after his faithfulness, integrity, loyalty, compassion, and self-sacrifice.

And, also, I’m completely smitten with his post-Army curly hair and beard. 🙂


I was cleaning out a closet not long ago, and found two shoe-box size plastic bins.  One held all of the letters and cards I sent to Shaun while he was in Army basic training.  The other held cards from our wedding, and most of the correspondence we received over our first year of marriage, while we were living in Texas.

Seeing the cards and letters transported me back to our one-bedroom apartment in El Paso.  I got a bit teary, re-reading the encouragement people sent to us as newly-weds, living a new life in a new place.  It was a hard year.  It’s taken me a while (the last five years) to realize just how hard.  Those cards and letters bolstered us through the difficulty.

I was terribly remiss in thanking the senders of those cards and letters for their thoughtfulness and encouragement–but I was grateful then, and possibly, I am even more grateful now.  The difficulties come and go and change, but we know that we are not alone in them.


Happy anniversary, my love.  And thank you to everyone who has encouraged us, shared their wisdom with us, and smiled and laughed and cried with us over the years.  I hope there will be many more years to come.



Drops of Glass

A few beading projects.

First, a series of wildflower greeting cards.

The forget-me-not and white clover were raffled off as part of a benefit for the library where I work.  I like them, but am going to keep tweaking the patterns.


I was very pleased with how the clover flower came out.

The black-eyed susan is my most bead-intensive work yet.  It also took the longest–almost four months of off-and-on work.  I’ve gotten pretty attached to it, and will probably keep it for now.


Second, two graduation gifts, both based on Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.  I love her artwork, and the lupines from the book were the inspiration that evolved into the wildflower cards.  Both pieces were beaded freehand, with no pattern, so each is unique.

The first was beaded on cardstock, and framed behind glass.


The second was sewn on cotton, and left framed in the embroidery hoop (and yes–that is beaded cursive!).


And finally, a re-discovered card which was made last summer.  It was intended to be used as a baptismal card.


Everything Green and Growing

I’ve never thought that I would like gardening much.  Kneeling in the dirt until your knees ache, the sun beating on your back, swatting at insects, yanking up weeds only to have them return as soon as you turn around–no, thank you.  A succession of dried-out, dead houseplants from my year in Texas seemed to confirm my brownthumb.

So I am still surprised when I go out into the garden and spend hours kneeling (on a really cushy pad), in the cool shade, with insects kept away by lemongrass spray, meditatively yanking up weeds–and enjoy it.  Surprised enough, in fact, that I reflexively procrastinate on gardening until it must be done.  I hope that the enjoyment will become a stronger memory than the distaste.


In case I forget why I put up with six-month, subzero winters laced with multiple feet of snow–this is why:




A happy thyme plant on the sunny kitchen windowsill.  Its neighbors are oregano, basil and chocolate mint.

photo 3

Last year, for better or for worse, we planted strawberry plants as groundcover in our front flower garden (a.k.a. “edible landscaping”–we are always either early or late to these trends).  They have enthusiastically filled up the available space, and this year we are getting our first real harvest.

They are small, but delicious, and have deep flavor ranging from candy-sweet to tart.

Picking strawberries is like a treasure hunt.  Only the thought of seeing how many I can gather “this time”–and love for my husband–keeps me from popping all of them in my mouth as I go.

A bowl of summer:

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When G.I. Joe Moved In

While Shaun and I were dating, I found a book in the library called Married to the Military* It’s a handbook for military spouses, sort of a bootcamp-in-a-book on everything from how to read an LES (and what that stands for), to what to wear (or not wear) to military functions, to how to stay sane while PCS-ing (at least you can try).  The summary states that “Whether you’re dating, engaged, or married to an active military servicemember or reservist—or you’ve just signed up yourself—you may feel as if you’ve somehow married the United States military!”  Yes.  That handsome man may be wearing a uniform, but sometimes the uniform wears him…and it comes with a whole bunch of strings–and more uniforms, and boots, and field gear, and paperwork–attached.

More than once over the six years of Shaun’s Army career, we felt as though there were an extra, unseen person hitched on to our relationship.  “The Army” was something like an extra spouse or an invisible child to both of us–right down to waking us up in the middle of the night (hello, recall).  It even took up as much space in the house as a third person might have, from two extra sets of boots at the door to a whole room which, at various times, was more or less dedicated to housing military gear.

At times I complained about all the extra space taken up by “The Army,” but I had no idea how much space it had actually claimed until Shaun was discharged six months ago.  Army green and ACU digital camo–which, by the way, seems to camouflage with nothing but itself–was so much a part of our domestic landscape that I took its presence for granted.  Cleaning out, I have been astounded by the volume of gear, and the way it has worked its way into every nook and cranny of our home.  Moving it all out of our house is still an ongoing process, in part because I keep finding tiny items that were hidden away and forgotten, like acorns buried by a squirrel.

So far, the total for reclaimed space stands thus:
-Half of one closet
-One underbed bin
-Two bureau drawers
-Three small bins
-Five 18-gallon totes
-One 32-gallon tote
(And a partridge in a pear tree…)

Please note that this includes only gear, and not paperwork, which is a whole different can of worms which I am currently not even thinking of opening.  Except to say that when I do, there will be a mighty big bonfire (for reasons of catharsis as well as security).

This kind of explains to me why the two of us have felt inexplicably cramped in a 1,200 square-foot, three-bedroom home for the last four years.  It’s because G.I. Joe had basically moved in and spread himself around.

Time to move out, Joe.

*Link goes to, in case you are curious about the book, but just get it out of the library.




Life lately feels like a continuum of boxes.

Mentally, we are checking off the many boxes that will enable us to move to another town, another house: find a new job, find renters, find financing, find a new house, find a way to move between houses.

Our conversations have more frequently consisted of verbally checking off boxes:  “I did a, b, and c today.”  “Were you able to do x, y, z?”  We make a list of tasks and split them between us, and proudly report on our progress at the end of the day.  It’s very romantic.

Most noticeably, we are surrounded by physical boxes, of the cardboard type.  I spent two and a half weeks sorting through and packing up the items which we had stored on the unrented side of our duplex, in preparation for persons yet unknown to fill it with their own possessions. Those few weeks have made me into something of a cardboard box connoisseur.  I am collecting them, in various sizes and shapes, from a variety of sources–book boxes from my work at the library, paper boxes from the office of a family member, Easter candy boxes from the local convenience store.  I am becoming quite adept at eyeballing a heap of variously-shaped items, carefully selecting a box of just the right volume and shape, and packing everything so the contents fit together like pieces of a puzzle.  Sturdy boxes with pre-cut handles are gold, the Holy Grail of packing supplies.  My enthusiasm for them may border on the effusive.

I have also started packing up on our side of the house, choosing the least-used items to pack first.  We have no idea when we will be able to move (this depends on the person(s)-yet-unknown who will hopefully want to rent out our apartment), so I try to keep in mind that I might not have access to the items for months or, possibly, for more than a year. This sort of rigorous selection process has resulted in another round of de-cluttering–“if I really won’t need it for a year, will I ever need it again, and in that case, do I want to spend the time and energy to move it?”  Sometimes, unfortunately, I can’t recall if a certain item has been packed up out of sight in a box, or has been gotten rid-of altogether.  I’ve also started “losing” items, in general chaos that is my house lately, and I’m never quite sure that some necessity hasn’t been accidentally slipped into a box and sealed up.  I regularly check on the cats for this reason.

There are stacks of empty cardboard boxes scattered around my house, waiting to be either broken-down or filled up.  I’m starting to feel like a hoarder.  I try to remind myself that this is temporary, but then I remember that I don’t know how temporary.  I also know that when the time to move actually arrives, it will be much, much worse.  A sea of boxes.  A forest of boxes.  I’ll be wading through them, in every room.  I myself may wind up swathed in newspaper and sealed inside one with packing tape.  If you help us move, be sure to carefully check my labels scrawled in Sharpie, and be mindful of This End Up.