Black and stark                                                                                                                                  Was the bark                                                                                                                                          Of a newly-moistened tree.

On velvet grass                                                                                                                                           I passed,                                                                                                                                                  Its splendor to better see.

How calm–how green!                                                                                                                            Did e’er such a scene                                                                                                                      Come from anyone but He?

A gift of love,                                                                                                                                           A taste from above,                                                                                                                             To lighten the heart of me.

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Times Have Changed

Many things in society have changed since I was younger–some good, and some not so good. I was reminded of this recently when I bought a wedding present at a store where the couple was registered. I have pleasant memories from my early twenties, when many people I knew were getting married, and I had the privilege of getting gifts for them.

The department store we used to shop at had nice music, carpeting, and a white desk  just for wedding endeavors. What an enjoyable experience it was to sit with a clerk and browse through the special white book filled with the couple’s selections. After getting   an idea    of what they still needed, we went over to their very own display of china, crystal, and silverware. It was so easy and fun to decide what to give them.  Next, the wrapping department would box the gift and cover it with lovely paper and bows unlike anything   we had at home. It was a comfortable, satisfying experience, and we felt good about the presents we purchased for our friends or relatives.

Since my husband and I now live hundreds of miles from our hometown, we had not bought a wedding gift in several years. How things have changed! We entered the same store chain to cold air and hard floors, passing three unoccupied employees just before reaching a computerized system. We had become accustomed to searching for gifts this way, but this one took things a step farther.

So many items are being registered now, it’s difficult to decide what to do. Sheets, towels, bowls–almost anything a couple could want–in addition to the usual china, silverware, and crystal. Weary of scrolling down the list, we decided to print it so we could better compare. The machine made quite a ruckus for a couple of minutes, then–nothing. We asked one of the nearby clerks for assistance, and she eventually found the printout on the back of the computer. The printed list (which was longer than any Santa’s list I’ve seen on TV) was actually more difficult to read than the computer screen, but we finally found a piece of their silverware we wanted to buy.  The store didn’t have it.  We could order it, but it wouldn’t arrive in time for the shower.

It was bad enough that there were no displays of the selections, but we also learned that many were not in stock.  The couple resides an hour and a half away, but we live in the bride’s hometown, where many are purchasing gifts for her. We finally told the sales lady how much we wanted to spend, and she located a clear glass bowl with a design around the rim. “Sure,” we said, without any enthusiasm. We were just relieved to find some- thing they wanted, and we couldn’t get excited about it. Then came the wrapping.  The clerk pulled paper from under the checkout counter, and I noticed dents in it as she searched for the official seal to place on top. There was no real bow, and the package didn’t have the finesse I remember seeing in the past.

I miss the days when buying a wedding present was warm, easy, and personal. After all,   it is a personal occasion.

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The Deer

The forest was dense and beautiful.                                                                                                    A lone deer wandered toward our cabin                                                                                            And drank from the trough at our windowsill.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The deer laughed, and all the forest with her.                                                                                    They knew what all of mankind should know:                                                                                  That all of creation belongs to God,                                                                                                      And our joy comes from Him.

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Grand Cayman Island

It had seemed like a good idea–going to Grand Cayman for a vacation. My cousin had been there twice. But there we were, driving around aimlessly, not sure which way to go after an officer forced us to take a detour. We tried to explain to him that we didn’t know the island, but he insisted we take a country road leading to . . . we didn’t know where.

It took a while, but we finally found our way back to civilization. It was my first trip out of the country, and it all seemed so strange. From arriving on the island, to finding the right van to the hotel in the pouring rain and riding through a mostly industrial area       to our small inn, I wasn’t sold on the place.

But the next morning the rain had subsided and the sky began to clear. My first moment of “Wow” on Grand Cayman came when we went to a large hotel to rent a car.  On the blue ocean just outside the lobby towered a huge white cruise ship. We entered the pool area to Calypso music, passing a gorgeous pool with a swim-up bar.  Continuing on to    the bleached white sand beach, we needed darker sunglasses to observe the crystal water which changed to aqua, then deep blue. It was my Caribbean dream come true.

Hyatt, Grand Cayman 001

Grand Cayman Beach Suites

I began to see the true beauty of the island as we explored more–driving a short distance to a public parking area right next to Seven Mile Beach. Casuarina trees shaded our car, and we only had to walk a few feet, right past the Governor’s house, to smooth sand and clear water.  Not only was the ocean more beautiful than any I’d ever seen, but there was less wave action. It was easy to swim in the calm water, and a snorkeling mask made it possible to view colorful fish nearby. There was very little moistened sand, so strolling along the shore was different than it is on South Carolina beaches, where we usually go.

Beach, Grand Cayman Island 001

Another difference on Grand Cayman is less sea breeze. I’m sure it varies, but I was    used to a constant breeze cooling me. And even though it was only 87 degrees most        of our time on the island, I really felt the sun. But the lack of wind also made dining outdoors more enjoyable. Usually I have to hold my hair away from my face and weigh down napkins in order to combat the wind while I’m eating, but outdoor dining was a pleasure. We ate outside more than inside, and insects weren’t a problem.

Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman 001

One of my favorite activities in Grand Cayman was a submarine ride.  I was a little hesitant about being in an enclosed space with a group of people, but I didn’t know if     I’d ever get another opportunity.  We boarded a boat which took us into the darkest, bluest water I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a submarine anywhere, but we were assured      it would appear at any moment. And appear it did–rising to the surface as a light green blob, then exploding on top of the water and changing to a dull gray. It was truly exciting, then a little scary as we followed a gang plank between the two vessels and descended metal steps into the belly of the beast.

After we found seats on a bench facing portholes I relaxed more, waiting for the journey 101 feet down to begin. A winding sound indicated we were sinking, and soon the water seemed gray. The lack of sunlight caused this, but we soon observed underwater moun-tains with many sea creatures swimming above them:  Sea turtles, stingrays, and fish I couldn’t even identify. Everything was in slow motion, and we started back to the surface all too soon.

Indigo Inn, Grand Cayman 001

Indies Suites

I’m really glad we made the trip, and the differences and inconveniences were definitely worth it. It’s a place I’d love to visit again.

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What happened to the crickets’ song                                                                                                We listened to all summer long?                                                                                                    Has man with knowledge, machine and might,                                                                    Turned these creatures from the night?

What happened to the crickets’ song?                                                                                          Must we wait all winter long?                                                                                                          And hope that when the time is near,                                                                                              On an evening warm and clear,

Once again we will hear                                                                                                    Harmonious melodies from the trees,                                                                                  Floating on the gentle breeze,                                                                                        Surrounding us with summer ease.

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Tomatoes, Anyone?

One of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever had was after my sophomore year in college.  Some of my friends worked in a tomato patch, and it seemed like a good summer job.   I’d always thought it would be fun to work outside during warm weather, since I loved sports and the out-of-doors, but somehow “fun” never entered my mind during my stint.

When I arrived, everyone else was already in the two-acre field covered with tall plants. They weren’t picking tomatoes yet, but weeding was the task at hand.  That’s not one       of my favorite activities, but I was ready to prove myself as a good worker. We were a motley crew of about four or five, consisting of a couple of guys and girls and Maggie, who owned the tomato patch. I was briefed on what should and should not be pulled up, then sent into the trenches.

Unfortunately for me, all the work gloves were being utilized, so I had to grab and pull with my bare hands. (I still have a rough place on my right index finger from those hours, even though it was years ago.) The work was difficult enough, but a wonderful discovery  I made was sweat bees. Yes, those tiny creatures loved to get on the backs of our thighs and sting us when we knelt down to grasp more weeds.  It was a little painful, but we  kept going. When we finally finished my first day, I walked up a long path to my car   with noodle-like legs. Even though I’d always been active, they’d never felt that way before.

When the tomatoes started ripening, I was instructed to select the ones which had pink bottoms or “blossoms.”  Any past that stage were picked, of course, and the ones that were too far gone became ammunition for rotten tomato fights. We waited until some-one was engrossed in his or her work, then we’d launch a surprise attack.  (This was especially enjoyable when my ex-boyfriend showed up to help.)

When the tomatoes started coming in faster than we could pick them, we had to be there at 7:00 a.m., which meant a 5:30 wake-up call for me. I bought my own gloves and tried to work with some heart, but I was always exhausted when I got home. Sometimes I was still tired that evening and even the next day, but the worst times were when we stayed until 8:00 p.m.

Most days at lunchtime, we’d pile into a pickup truck and drive up to Maggie’s house. She’d prepared a huge meal, which was nice, but what I really wanted was water or anything that would take away the most terrible thirst of my life. The house was cool,  but that was counter-productive, since the summer air felt like an oven when we went   back outside.  The afternoons were difficult, with the sun beating down on our heads mercilessly. I’d always loved being in the sun, but it wasn’t my friend in this situation. My thirst soon returned as dust rose into my face, and I longed for the barrel of water which stood at the end of one row, but I always waited until everyone took a break.

The picked tomatoes were placed in large buckets, then we poured them into a crate.        When we finished the day, we swung these onto a large flatbed truck. It took two people to lift each one, and we found it almost impossible at first, but we got stronger and improved our form.

I now have empathy for anyone who picks produce by hand.  It’s such a draining job,     and weather conditions and insects can make it even harder. We did get relief from the heat one day, but it didn’t go as I’d hoped. Rain started falling, and we kept staring at Maggie, thinking she’d tell us to go inside. But every time we glanced at her, she was  bent over as if trying to avoid us. The rain became heavier, but we kept picking tomatoes. When we finally stopped and the sun came out, she said, “Don’t you have spare clothes  in your cars?  Your parents might get mad at me if you get sick.”

Ah, yeah. Thanks, Maggie.


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Biggest Surprise Ever in a Pool

During the time my husband, Rick, and I lived in the country, some neighbors down the road told us we could swim in their pool. We hadn’t been swimming in a long time, and   we wanted to go one day when they were out of town, since we thought we would feel more comfortable that way. We walked down the forest-lined road where we’d spotted eagles and weasels occasionally, only to find that the pool filter had broken.  Since we were surrounded by wildlife, it was starting to resemble a pond. There was scum on the  surface of the water, and it was teeming with life. (My husband said he saw some frogs jump in.)

We didn’t really want to get into the infested pool, but we really wanted to swim, so pretending it wasn’t any different than a natural body of water, we took the plunge.     After swimming several laps, I noticed something out of the corner of  my eye, and            I turned to find a two-foot snake happily swimming beside me.  I wasn’t sure what     kind it was, but I didn’t take the time to find out. I said something to Rick, and we     swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out as quickly as possible.

Watching it from the safety of the deck, my husband thought it was a king snake, since   it was black with light yellow rings. They’re not poisonous, but no one wants to be bitten by anything, and we knew someone who was bitten by a king snake and became ill.  Rick used a net with a long handle to scoop the serpent out of the water, taking it to the woods which bordered the back yard, and we felt all was clear.

I got back into the pool, enjoying the cool temperature and exercise, but it wasn’t long before another king snake, closer to three feet in length, swam alongside me. Moving at Olympic speed, I once again hurried out of the water. Rick pulled the creature out, but  we decided we’d had enough nature for one afternoon. I realize now how much filters can help a pool, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as bad if we’d been in a city or town.    I think we learned our lesson concerning messy swimming pools.

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