Pumpkin

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PUMPKIN CAT

Christmas can be a complicated time both physically and emotionally. Distances make it hard to be with all the people we love. Expectations set in motion by sometimes less than perfect childhood memories conflict with the unreasonably “perfect” picture of Christmas we see portrayed in movies and the media. Add into that mix the losses that come as a normal course of life. Suddenly, “the happiest time of the year” can become a muddy mix of bright lights and tears.

Two weeks before Christmas my 11 year old cat, Pumpkin, stopped eating. The energy drained out of her. I coaxed her into eating a little and some days she actually rallied into herself. On December 18 I finally took her in and some blood work revealed feline leukemia. A friend and I held her and whispered love into her ears as the vet injected the med to take her home to St. Francis. In death, as in life, her beautiful fur was a luxurious mix of black, orange, and blonde.

Pumps, as I called her, was a Tortoiseshell cat. Like Calicos, Torties are almost always female. A male Tortie is extremely rare and always sterile. Predominantly black, they have red, orange and yellow markings and occasionally a bit of white. Resulting from a complex genetic and developmental mix these cats are part of the beautiful “fur people” that make up the Feline species.

 

Tortoiseshell cats are said to have “tortitude”, a definitive personality seen in Tortoiseshells. It’s easy to say that one is owned by a Tortie. They are extremely talkative, strong – willed and feisty. Pumpkin was rescued by a friend in Indiana. Mice had invaded the rectory where I was living, so this tiny cat with a big personality came to live with me. I had to feed formula to her with a tiny bottle for a couple of weeks. Sitting on my knee to nurse, she would occasionally turn around to arch her back and hiss at my two curious Golden Retrievers. As she got older she would sit in the crook of my arm as I wrote sermons on my laptop. Resting her head on the corner of the laptop she would “growl” at me when I needed to use the Shift key! Loving Pumpkin was done on her terms, not yours. She survived and controlled 6 different dogs who came through our household; some fostered for a while, and her three Goldens – Katie, Sugar and Bella. I’m sure Katie and Sugar met her at those heavenly pasture gates with St. Francis:)

I will so miss this little “head of our household”!  Bella and I will see her dark shape and hear her definite footsteps for a long time; and I will have to go back to using a heating pad to warm my feet at night.

Preachers

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Mary Mac Shields, preaching on Christmas Day

Preachers come in all sizes and shapes. Just bringing up the word, “preacher”, can bring to mind all sorts of images and memories. Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” captures a particular type of preacher:

Starting soft and slow

 like a small earthquake

and when he lets go

half the valley shakes.

Brother Love can be found in almost any church, synagogue, or mosque. For anyone raised in religion the memories of preachers are there along with a favorite person or two. The preacher who spoke to young and old alike; the one whose voice was kind and full of love; the preacher who taught us the meaning of believing; and the one we could count on for “3 points and a conclusion.” Those preachers are there along with some who scared us talking about “hell” all the time and those who yelled or leaned over the pulpit and shook their finger at us.

 

On Christmas Day at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, NC,  I got to hear a friend of 20+ years preach for the first time. I know her as a creative, energetic friend. We share the same birth year, yet this retired school teacher is still serving others.  She entered the Diaconate Formation Program in The Diocese of East Carolina 2 years ago and is now a postulant for Holy Orders.

 

Hearing Mary Mac preach gave me such happiness. Preaching will just be one of her gifts. She is excited about the way she can serve the least, and the lonely. Focusing on educating and enabling others so that they can become involved in the ministries of the church is deeply embedded in her heart.

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Greeting people after the service in front of the Chrismon Tree

This preacher comes in a petite package that sparks with energy. She focuses on the God who loves us…God who will never stop loving us.  Earthquakes and shaking valleys may not be her forte in preaching, but encouraging all of us to become the best we can be with God’s help is the gracious message she brought on Christmas Day. “The ‘presence of Christ’ is more important than any of the ‘presents’ we receive.” That was one of the messages that Mary Mac planted in my heart as she proclaimed the good news…good news indeed!!

Prayer

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It’s been snowing for two days here in Alleghany County. Today is sunny and the snow is melting.  The picture above is from yesterday evening when we got caught in a passing cloud for awhile. It was eerie and beautiful.

Several weeks before Thanksgiving I was at the local Family Dollar store. Since I had no list, I was walking the aisles trying to remember what I needed. On a shelf I saw some little blue boxes with the label “Prayer Box” on them. Curious, I opened one and found a little pad of paper and a pencil. This is a picture of what is written on the inside of the lid:

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Always looking for any help I can get in remembering the things and people I want to pray for, I bought one. The little box fit neatly on the table beside my bed and I wrote the “names and things” of my prayers on the slips of paper. The box got crowded with paper slips and they landed behind the table and under the bed…well, you get the picture. So I got sticky notes to use instead of slips of loose paper. I stuck them on the side of the bedside table and now when I get into bed they are right there at eye level.

Thinking that this would be a great thing to give friends I went back to the Family Dollar store but could not find any more of the little blue Prayer Boxes. And of course, you know what is next: I decided to make my own to give others! I found out that Amazon has these little boxes, and also has little mechanical pencils that fit into the boxes. I ordered them. And here is my version of the Prayer Box:

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There was nothing on the original box that said where it was made or any copyright information so I used the little poem on the inside of the box in mine. I made several of them and of course some of you who are reading this will get one. You don’t really need a “Prayer Box” to write prayers down on little sticky notes to put beside your bed. The easier thing to do is get a pen or pencil and some sticky notes.

December 2017 025 (2)Sticky notes on my bedside table

There are so many things that fill up our hearts and stir us to pray. While I was in Georgia for Thanksgiving, I saw a car wreck. When I finally got a chance to turn past the accident all I saw was a badly damaged car with all the air bags deployed. I felt my chest go heavy with fear for the people who had been in the car. I eventually pulled off the road to just gather myself and pray. The image of that car has persisted in coming into my mind triggering my prayers. One of my little sticky notes simply has the word “travel” on it to remind me that all who travel need prayer. We live such distracted lives and the holidays accentuate that distraction. We all need “travel mercies”!

The older I get the more “slippery” my mind becomes. I remember my wonderful friend, Margaret Peterson showing me her “prayer list” which she faithfully prayed every night. It was a full page of names and things to pray for. Margaret was head of the Prayer Chain at Holy Trinity in Fayetteville for so many years and a great example of faithful prayer to me. Not everyone of us can pray in that way.

Prayer continues to be such a mix of mystery and memory to me. I want to remember people by name in prayer. Not because I think God needs me to remind God of that person, but because I want to allow that person or that event or that need to fill up my heart. I need to reach across time and space through God’s Spirit and feel that person’s pain or need; I want to remember my friends by name and feel their love fill my heart. I want my heart to ache for peace.  Prayer is seldom, I think for others – it is for us. Prayer is that time spent in God’s presence so that our hearts are enlarged and changed. Those little pink sticky notes take me into that place where God is present.

May your hearts be filled with prayer this holy Advent season.

Bronchitis

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Did you know that there is a tree inside each one of us? Looking more like an upside down tree it is the bronchial tree. As long as everything is working well with this life-giving tree, we are pretty much unaware of its presence. But let a little virus or bacteria come along to complicate things and we can become quite focused on our “tree within”. The branches (bronchi) deliver the air we need for energy and life to the cells and when they are swollen – well, we’ve got ourselves a “situation”.

 

I got to my brother’s house in Georgia for Thanksgiving two weeks ago and sat down to write a Thanksgiving blog. Words kept getting twisted up in my mind and nothing seemed to make sense so I put it aside to do later. At some point in the next 24 hours I realized that I was getting sick. It came on the heels of downsizing and moving. Enabled by stress and tiredness, the infection bloomed into acute bronchitis. The cartoon above is a pretty accurate picture of what our household has been like since I got back home a week ago today. Antibiotics, steroids, cough medicine, decongestants, expectorants, have all done their work and finally I am beginning to feel better. I think the “tree shaking” cough will remain for a while. For those who read this blog, I would suggest several things to keep your “tree” healthy: an extra dose of Vitamin C occasionally, wash your hands (a lot), stay away from people like me who are coughing, avoid stress, and take a nap. Sounds like a plan?

 

I missed the first Sunday of Advent. I love Advent. There is something quite mystical about this dark time of the year. These days leading up to the Winter Solstice are pregnant with anticipation. When I was in Ireland a few years ago we went to Newgrange to visit the 5000 year old Passage Tomb famous for its Winter Solstice illumination. The doorway and lightbox above the door were aligned with the position of the sun at the Winter Solstice. When the sun rose on this shortest day of the year it would shine into the box above the door so that the entire tomb was illuminated. In this way these ancient people would know that “the gods” had granted them another year of life. This was their sign that the sun’s light would continue to grow into long days for growing crops that would sustain their lives. Imagine the anticipation that preceded that day!

 

In much the same way Advent is our soul longing for that word from God that will sustain us. It seems quite practical that the early Christian church chose this time around the Winter Solstice to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Into the dark winter comes the Light which illuminates God’s love for us. This is the gift of life-giving Love that will sustain us in the midst of all darkness.

Moving Around

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Winter Colors

Yes, it’s been a long time since I added a blog post here.! Since I returned from Alaska, life has been generous with adventures. Thinking it would take forever to sell my house, I put it on the market before I left in July. As our trip was winding down in Alaska, I received an offer on the house. It was one of those moments of being caught between something you want, and feelings of ambivalence about getting it! Coming home from my long journey I was prepared to feel sad about letting go of a house that had so graciously received me when I retired and came home to North Carolina. There were a few moments of that sadness but for the most part I felt relieved that the house I loved would continue “under new management”; and be cared for by younger and stronger hands.

 

There were genuine moments of anxiety for sure: where was I going to live? How would I get sorted out and packed? What would stay and what would go to Alleghany Cares? As I began journeying through those questions, the person renting the house across the road from me decided to move. It felt like there was a huge arrow coming out of the clouds pointing to that lovely little cottage. Less than half the size of my house, it is the perfect space for Bella, Pumpkin and me. On the day I was considering the finances of replacing my loveseat with a sleeper sofa, a friend came to me and said, “You couldn’t use a queen sized sleeper sofa could you?” And so it went; at each turn of the road in making this next life transition, things came together. Friends came from Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Florida to help. When I was too tired to move they shooed me off to bed and continued working. Other friends, who are Bella’s “other parents” took her for a week so I could get settled. Transitions are hard! This one seemed particularly hard. But as I write this blog, I can see that even in the midst of what seemed like a solitary journey, I was surrounded by the care of community.

 

We are “more or less” settled now and our lives continue much as before here on Ivy Lane. We have everything we need, just less of it! It is freeing. Moving around has not been fun, but it has been a lesson (once again) in God’s provision through community. Praying for the grace to remember this, I only hope that I can offer that gift to others.

 

On another note – I am reading a book written during WWII by the grandfather of my friend Blair Both. The Rev. John S. Bunting, D.D. was the rector of The Church of the Ascension in St. Louis, Missouri when he preached the sermons in this book which is called, Christ in War Time. His words about how to live in the midst of uncertain times are so apropos for our own times. This morning I read these words which have stayed with me today: “Love refreshes, restores and calms – makes us deliberate and gets results that endure. Selfishness makes us rush and hurry and rudely jostle people, and wears down our nervous reserve. A loving heart always has time, because it has given its time to the need of another heart. Therefore love is quietness, and quietness is God.” Quoted by Dr. Bunting in this particular sermon, these words are actually from another of his books called The Secret of a Quiet Mind (p.18).  I have lots more to say about Christ in War Time, but not today.

Duck!

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Walking with Bella yesterday morning and as we got almost to the end of Parkway Lane, she nearly pulled the leash out of my hand as she ran forward. The deer love to hang out in the grassy area there so I dug in my feet and looked for deer. I couldn’t see any which didn’t mean they were not there! As we walked forward I was startled to see these three duckies waddling around in the pine trees. If they were aiming for the ponds that are in the area, they missed by several hundred yards! I would say that they were on the hunt for something:

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Bella and I also went to our favorite place yesterday: Glade Pond. It is at mile marker 230 on the Parkway and just about a mile from the house.

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We found Michaelmas Daisies in bloom.

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Michaelmas Daisies usually bloom around St.Michael and All Angel’s Day or September 29. The day is kept as a Minor Feast Day in most liturgical churches although during the Middle Ages it was a Holy Day of Obligation. Having been a member of St. Michael and All Angel’s Episcopal Church in Anniston, AL during the 1970’s I came to love this day and the festival celebration we always had at the end of September. A turning point of sorts is what it felt like; from summer’s light filled days to the softer light of fall moving into shorter, less frenetic days.  Even in the coming darkness we could trust that St. Michael, the great Archangel would defend us and keep us safe.  Michaelmas Daisies are comforting and beautiful reminders of God’s presence for me.

 

Vietnam

Bill's book

“Most” people who meet me think I am a pretty nice person; but I always tell people that my brother, Charles W. Honaker (Bill) is nicer! He really is! We are all that is left of our “family of origin”. Our parents and our older brother, Tom, are dead and have left us as the matriarch and patriarch of the family. Sometimes that feels like a heavy responsibility to me, but Bill and his wife Bobbie (who I have known since I was 13) shoulder that responsibility the way they have walked through their 50+ years of marriage – with faith and joy.

 

Bill served two tours of duty in Vietnam and in 2014 he wrote a book about that experience: The Dead Were Mine. It is a well written account of his service and work in Vietnam. Serving in the Army as  a Non Commissioned Officer in Graves Registration meant that he and those who served with him, searched to find and recover the remains of those who died in battle. These are soldiers who performed those duties with reverence as a sacred trust. Once a fallen soldier’s remains were recovered, they were never left unaccompanied as they were returned to the US and to their families.  As an Episcopal priest I had the honor of  accompanying the dead at funerals where I presided. From the moment the casket or urn was received into the church, it was my honor to “shepherd” that person’s remains until they were buried, praying every step of the way. Most of the mortuary people I worked with knew that I took that responsibility seriously and always waited for me before they moved the remains. My experience is only a small picture of how those in Graves Registration maintained “vigil” with those who were recovered from the field of battle.

 

The first time I ever heard my brother talk about his experience in Vietnam was when our dad was dying. During that week we were often up at night together staying with daddy. I’m not sure how it happened but one night Bill began to tell me about the work he did during those two tours of the war. It was, for me, a tender time of getting to know Bill again. The experiences he shared were sobering. I do wonder now why it took so long for me to ask him about Vietnam. Part of it is, as Bill writes in the Preface to the book, an assumption that he would not want to talk about those experiences. But part of it too is my own feelings about war…in part formed by my participation in a generation that had grown to believe that the Vietnam war was not our war to fight.  I am a pacifist who possesses a heart which is incredibly tender towards humanity. I hold on to Jesus’  teaching on the Sermon on the Mount as a hopeful guide for our lives. These things do not interfere with my respect for those who serve in the military…or for those who disagree with my point of view. Reality teaches me that we need to have both sides of any question represented as we make decisions and especially decisions about war. Killing others, even when it is justified, leaves a residue of pain in our hearts and soul. The Vietnam War left us with thousands of scarred people; so many of them live on the streets of our cities.  Those who served our country in Vietnam have not received either the gratitude or the services they deserved over the intervening years.

 

Watching The Vietnam War by Ken Burns on PBS over the past week  hasn’t been easy. My hope is that this documentary will exorcise some of the demons of silence that have surrounded this war. I wonder, with hope in my heart, if we can begin to understand this war, with all of its intentions for good and its enormous sacrifices as a part of the history we own as less than perfect humans. The misjudgments and hubris by those in charge should never stand in our way of thanking those who fought, and those who died in Vietnam.

 

The Dead Were Mine gives a picture of the Vietnam War that most of us would probably rather forget. But we need this book to remember that as my brother says, “there is a cost involved” in the freedom we cherish for ourselves and for others.

Satisfying Saturday!

Yesterday and today are the first days since I returned from Alaska that I have felt completely well and settled! Speeding through time zones is not good for your body! Working through the upper respiratory stuff I brought home and the “tummy troubles” of traveling have taken longer than I wanted. Yesterday I went out to lunch and got some errands done. I sold my car before I went on this trip in July and so I rented a car when I got home until I can find another Subaru Forester. Yesterday my wonderful neighbor offered me one of her cars to use so I got to take the rental back!

Working in the yard for a bit today gave me such a good feeling of being back home and then I made soup:

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More of a vegetable stew, it is a “clean out the refrigerator” special! Can’t wait to have some for dinner!

My friend Ruth Gillis and her daughter in law Cathy Gillis came up last weekend to visit. Cathy is a native Alaskan who lives in Anchorage with her husband John and 2 boys. She had just finished taking Riley, their oldest to school at the Culinary Institute of America in NY and came down to visit Ruth and John, Sr. in Fayetteville, NC.  Cathy and I don’t see each other often but when we do, we revel in it! She is a fiber guru who has a business called Wooly Workshop. Teaching others to work with fiber – spinning and weaving beautiful things is one of her passions. You can find her at http://www.woolyworkshop.com. We got out my “Little Peggy” spinning wheel and while the 3 of us talked non stop about all sorts of things she helped me “get going” again on spinning.  And so I have been spinning on my “girl”:

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She showed me how to ply the wool I was spinning so I would come out with a “weightier” yarn to knit with.  So I have been spinning and have almost finished the fiber bundle I started when she was here. I have plied some of it but needed a Knitty Knotty to wind it on.  Wooden ones can be a bit pricey but Cathy told me I could find instructions for making one out of PVC pipe on the internet. Yesterday at the local hardware, I bought the necessary supplies to make my knitty knotty for $5.48! And today with my trusty hacksaw, I produced this:

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Coming soon is a picture of the skein of wool wound on this lovely instrument! In the meanwhile, it has been a very satisfying Saturday.

Leaving Alaska

 

Spur and Redoubt volcanoes

September 11, 2017  Sixty-two days ago today we left the mountains of North Carolina on an adventure that not one of our group of four could anticipate. Being exceedingly nice to each other lasted through the first week. We said “please” and “thank you” and kept the car reasonably clean and neat. Somewhere along the line we settled into a “nesting pattern” in the car. Debbie and Fred were in in charge of navigation…Debbie in the front seat and Fred in the back seat. Pat and I rotated driving and sometimes I drove from the backseat which wasn’t too popular with Pat! Otherwise I nested in the backseat doing my little research projects and knitting. I knitted 2 washcloths, 1 hat and part of a sweater during the trip. Researching where to stay was a task we all took on from time to time. We made reservations and sent Fred in to close the deal. Fred is extremely good at getting deals!

 

We could not have made this trip without the support of the Life Savers Company. We went through 2 big bags of Life Savers (like you buy at Walmart) and some individual rolls. Our other passion was Mambas and Dollar Store has the best deal on them! Your life will not be changed by Mambas but if you are ever on a long trip, they may keep you from getting grumpy.  At one point we had probably no less than 2 dozen packages of Mambas in the car. Each package of Mambas has 24 individually wrapped pieces in it.  Between the little cellophane wrappers that Life Savers come in and the little papers that each Mamba is wrapped in, “please” and “thank you” had a better chance than “neat and clean”.

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Aida, the saloon waitress! Papa coming down the steps 

In case you and yours are contemplating a two month trip with 3 of your closest friends, here is some advice and some reality: Contemplate flexibility and prepare for difficult moments; learn how to take deep breaths and let go of some expectations. But by all means GO, because the surprises of God’s grace, and the beauty of being in the moment will outweigh those moments when you just wish you’d stayed home. Lovely moments when you can’t imagine being anywhere else will abound.

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Kenai Airport

September 12, 2017 Leaving Alaska today has been hard. Alaska and its wild beauty are part of that; leaving Jill, Jeremy and Aida adds considerable pain, and of course this is the end of our adventure. I do look forward to being home and seeing Bella and Pumpkin, and at the same time I will miss the adventure of traveling. After 2 months of getting up each morning and wondering what new sights will meet me, it may be hard to adjust. This trip has taught me some new skills in observing the beauty around me – using not just my eyes, but all my senses to appreciate my surroundings.

 

I am so grateful to my traveling companions for teaching me so much and putting up with my quirks. Yes, dear friends we all have quirks…sometime I will write a blog about that! I will continue to write at this blog spot. After all what is life but a journey. We can give that journey the space it needs to be appreciated or we can just live in a kind of unaware way. I hope to be as conscious about the rest of this life’s journey as I have been this journey. I’ll share that with you.

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Back where we started 66 days before! Tired but happy.

September 14, 2017 Home now with some sleep to help me think better. Blair and Inza brought Bella to the house and they are staying a few days to help me get settled. There would not have been a trip without Blair and Inza taking care of Bella and my local cat sitter, Kathy Harrer, taking care of Pumpkin. Both Bella and Pumpkin are well and slept as close as they could get to me last night, Bella on the floor beside the bed and Pumpkin under my arm, purring away. Pat and Fred are home and resting, Debbie is back with her beloved, Betty, who picked us up yesterday at the airport.

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Mt. Spur in the evening light

Lots of changes in my life while I was gone, but those can wait for another blog on another day.

Homer and The Spit

 

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The land in the middle of the photo is The Spit – we stayed at the end of it!

Narrowing down to the last week of our wandering adventure, we travelled once again, this time heading south down the Kenai Peninsula. Homer is a 60’s sort of town with lots of character, hotels and restaurants. Eating at the Cosmic Kitchen was our first experience in Homer. It was wonderful food, and definitely a local favorite! Pat, Fred, Debbie and their family have visited Homer many times, so this was an informed choice!

Just south of Homer is the 4.5 mile spit of land known simply as “The Spit”. At the end of this curved spit is Land’s End, a hotel which also has condos to rent. Pat and Fred, Jill and Aida, Debbie and I stayed in one of the condos with windows facing out onto Cook’s Bay where it enters into the larger waters of the Kachemak Bay. Across from our home at the end of The Spit were the snowy, glacier riddled Kenai Mountains which come down the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula curving slightly to form the Bay around Homer. Behind those mountains lies the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean. Homer and The Spit are ringed with mountains including the volcanos of the Aleutians and Alaska range on the western side of Cook’s Bay that I wrote about last time. The waters of this area vary in color from a pale teal green to a icy blue depending on the light. Amazingly beautiful, this area attracts artists, writers and poets who seek to capture the light, the water, the mountains and the animal life of this area.

Kenai Mountains and glaciers across the bay from our condo

Each day we watched the parade of fishing boats go out in the morning and returning in the evening. They were undoubtedly catching some halibut, which is a delicious dense, white fish.  One day a huge cruise ship came by our windows headed into Cook’s Bay; another day a barge coming from Cook’s Bay slipped around the end of the Peninsula and into the Gulf of Alaska. Otters dove for clams and floated on their backs in front of us showing no signs of shyness as we watched them.

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We gathered some of the beautiful rocks from Bishop’s Beach. Rocks smoothed by the tides they are speckled, red, green, grey, amber and the glittery black sandstone called “whacky rock”. Picking up more rocks than we could ever bring back, the joy of finding special ones never seemed to wane. We visited some of the shops in town seeing the beautiful art work of both Native and Anglo Alaskans. Beautifully carved ivories and local gems made into beautiful jewelry.

Left to right: Jill and Aida, Debbie Aida and Pat, Debbie and Aida

We played games with Aida and visited with each other, and watched some of the US Open. It was hard for me to take my eyes off of the surrounding beauty. Deep blue mountains streaked with snow and pale blue glaciers slipping between them as they ease into the teal colored waters of the sea; and with each shadow of a cloud or movement of the sun, the colors changed. Other than our Blue Ridge Mountains that surround us in Sparta, NC, this is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.

Leaving Homer on Friday, the weather finally cleared and we could see Mt. Augustine and Redoubt on the way back up the peninsula:

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Redoubt Volcano

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Augustine Volcano

And I have continued to work on the 12 days of Alaska song and this is one option:

12 glaciers melting

11 people fishing

10 Ravens raving

9 Otters frolicking

8 boats a’ leaving

7 Mosquitoes buzzing

6 Moose are eating

5 kinds of Salmon

4 volcanos

3 other fish

2 native flowers and

1 state bird…the Ptarmigan!

 

Go ahead you know you want to sing it!