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A Marvelous “reblog” for You!

4 Apr

Ok, I have to “reblog” this post because it is so marvelous. “Clyde of Mankato” is a fellow-Minnesotan. This post about a chaplain visit he made to a nursing home is full of humor, pathos, and humanity. I practically began weeping in the café as I read it. Luckily no one looked at me weirdly as my eyes were full, that’s for sure. Please read this and experience it with me. – Gretchen

No Man – or Girl – is an Island

26 Mar

I have been struck anew, this past week, over the tenderheartedness of my two daughters. Though, to be sure, their emotions are shown in different ways.

Boo, age 6, was watching The Lion King the other day. She came up to me, scared, but dry-eyed, when Mufasa the king was thrown off the cliff to his death by his own brother, Scar. I held her, and together we weathered the injustice of the jungle out there.

The Lion King

But her indignation at Scar’s behavior was not done. Later, at the end of the movie, as Scar is trying to convince a young Simba that it is his, Simba’s fault, that Mufasa died, Boo suddenly shouted from her place on the couch. “Dummy head! Double Dummy head!”

That, to Boo, is high abuse indeed.

I must say, I loved that what came out of her mouth in that moment of unguarded behavior was something so benign…and yet so full of truth.

She knew, though perhaps could not articulate, that the “jungle out there” is, truly, the jungle we all live in every day.

I couldn’t help but think of our other daughter, now age 11, who behaved much the same way when she was Boo’s age.

She and I were watching A Little Princess, a nicely-done movie based on the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett.

A little princess

She was sick that day, as I recall. She liked the movie, followed it along, understood – for the most part – what was going on. But every so often she would turn to me and ask, “Why is that woman so mean? What did Sara do to deserve that?”

I suppose I said something about injustice in the world. About bad people. About things not always working out the way we wish.

But then came the end – the part where Miss Minchin lies and denies that the amnesiac man is Sara’s father. And our daughter stood up on the couch and cried, “NO! NO! He is her father!” And she cried and cried and cried and could not be consoled.

Her tender heart has not changed over the years. Just now, at age 11, she came upstairs in tears. It’s well after bedtime, but she’s caught up in her book, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, and Beth, the sweet, kind sister, just died.

Little Women

“Why do we care so much about storybook characters?” she asked me through her tears.

Because we love them, my sweet girl. Because books have power to change our lives. Because you have a kind and gentle heart and when you cry over injustice and sorrow and sadness in the books you read, you are really crying over the things in this world you have not yet faced, but you know are real. You know they could happen, and you weep for those they have happened, and will happen, to. You weep for the imperfections of the world. You weep because you are not an island. You are a part of the continent, a piece of the main.*

Never send to know, my darling girl, for whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee.

*John Donne, Meditation 17

I’m Done

12 Mar

So the story goes that J.K.Rowling, when she finished writing her seventh and last Harry Potter novel at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, wrote on the base of a bust of Hermes, “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.”

I have no statues or heads of statues nearby, nor do I have sufficient clout to assume that anyone would even want me to write on their statue should there be any around, so I am choosing, instead, to write to you, my blogland friends:

I, Gretchen O’Donnell, have finished editing my children’s novel, tentatively titled, “The Children of Eel Pond Island” on this day, March 12, 2013, in BenLees Café, in Worthington, Minnesota, at 2:00 in the afternoon.

I am full of caffeine.

I am heady with joy.

I am scared to death.

I am done.

That’s What Friends Are For

26 Feb

I mentioned last week that I’m writing several articles for my local newspaper. It’s going well so far and I’m having fun! I am certain that I’ll have all sorts of epiphanies to share with you about the whole process when I’m done.

In light of my creative juices being entirely taken up by journalism right now, I have asked my blogging friend Audrey if she was willing for me to re-blog one of her lovely posts and she was! I have mentioned Audrey and her blog, “Minnesota Prairie Roots” before, though it’s been awhile. Audrey is one of those amazing people who is able to blog daily. I can barely make my once-a-week deadline!

Audrey (r) and me, in her lovely backyard last summer.

Audrey (r) and me, in her lovely backyard last summer.

Audrey writes about life in Minnesota. Every post includes relevant and often very lovely photographs. She writes about daily life, about heart-warming people, about thought-provoking issues. She writes about quirky restaurants or stores she comes across, local places of interest, Minnesota authors, Minnesota news, Minnesota life. But don’t count her out just because she’s not writing about YOUR state or country, because everything Audrey writes is, at heart, about humanity. About things people will find interesting, humorous, and important.

I met Audrey “virtually” a year ago last fall, and since then she has become a lovely and knowledgable companion in my writing journey. She and her husband even welcomed me and my family into their own home last June and served us a delicious meal. Boo, our six year old, calls Audrey, “the lady with the great backyard.”

I call her my friend.

I picked a post of Audrey’s from last November. It’s about a museum in northern Minnesota…but, mostly, it’s about one man and his amazing dream…

So…please click on my next post and find her fantastic story!



News – and a short poem by a real poet

19 Feb

Well, it seems that hard work pays off – giving you more opportunities to work hard and keep busy and not get the dishes done. I’ve been asked to write several articles for an upcoming special edition of our local newspaper – and I’ll be paid!

I’ve written for the paper – a daily with a healthy circulation despite the hard times that papers have come across in recent years – several times since moving here, but I’ve never been paid for it. A year ago January, they asked me to begin a blog (which I call The View From my Window) on their “Area Voices” server, which was quite nice. Every post appears on their homepage and, in addition, about once a month they print one of the posts in their actual physical paper.

So now I guess I can call myself a real free-lance writer!

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I’m realizing that this means several things: 1) Deadlines; 2) Interviews and not just “out of my own head” stuff; and 3) A pay check. I’ll put up with the first two to get the last one.

In light of this time crunch and additional writing stress, I’m giving you something not entirely original this week and possibly the next couple of weeks as well. I might even have a guest blogger join us!

For today: this poem, by Jane Kenyon. I think this is my favorite poem in all creation.


Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
Let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

I Dream an Ocean

5 Feb

I live on the prairie, but I was born near the sea.
On rocky shores and tidepools I cut my teeth.
And it is never far from my mind.

So I give you this today – a poem, I suppose – because I can’t stop remembering.

I Imagine an Ocean

I pretend, sometimes, that the field to the east of my house is the sea. I imagine that the brown slopes are actually undulating waves; that the trees far off on the edge of the hill are trees on an island, waving their branches in a salt-scented breeze.

Not palm trees – no thank you – these are pine trees, the trees of my childhood, the trees of Puget Sound with their balsamic scent (Does that word work here? I choose to say it does.) and their sticky sap just waiting its turn to enfold unsuspecting bees which, in their amber prisons, will fascinate scientists millennia from now.
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I imagine my prairie ocean with the most success when it’s foggy and I cannot see the dirt. Then it’s easy to see phantom many-masted ships, their sails set and their scuppers gleaming. Or, more likely in these days, scurrying speed-boats, as we used to call them, their purpose apparently nothing more than making waves and scaring seagulls.

I imagine I am on a tall cliff – not unlike that of my youth – and I – why not? – a lighthouse keeper, a fog-horn blaster, the sole protector of sailor’s lives. Their one and only defense against a watery grave.

Would that I had been there for the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In the autumn when combines, like ships in the night, roam the sloping shores of my imagined ocean, I sit out on the deck and savor the sight: I am in a valued port, a sheltered haven where HMS John Deere tacks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, in her attempts to reach safe harbor. I wave and shout, “Ahoy!” but the good ship cannot hear me over the chugging of her engines and she carries on – back and forth, back and forth, until, finally, she sails away, taking her fleet with her.

And I am left on deck, with nothing but my dried-up ocean, my memory of water, the scent of salt-spray tickling at my throat.

Bonus: For those of you who don’t know my reference, The Edmund Fitzgerald was an ore ship which sank in a storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. All 29 men in the crew perished. This video link is of a great song, by Gordon Lightfoot, titled, the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The video is entirely footage of Lake Superior, the wreck itself, and with the song as the background.

Yes, I realize that I referenced a fresh-water incident in my salt-water poem…but it’s the ship which comes to mind when living in Minnesota!  In addition, I must say that I did not mean to be flippant about the wreck…it was a heart-breaking incident and remains, to this day, the largest ship ever to be lost on Lake Superior.

Wa Hoo! They Like Me, They Really Like Me!

5 Nov

I have a confession to make (it’s been awhile since I’ve confessed anything on here, so it’s about time): My e-mail inbox has 4042 messages in it.

Now all of you efficient/non-procrastinating/tidy people can pick yourselves up off the floor (or pat yourselves on the back) and know that I wish I was you.

It is possible that, were my inbox emptied on a regular basis, I’d have noticed the lovely e-mail hidden in all the clutter much sooner. As it was, upon checking my blog on Saturday morning, I noticed something rather extraordinary: I’d had over 50 views already that morning and it was only 9:00.

“What does this mean?” I asked myself. “How can this be?”

I “refreshed” the page again. Just to make sure.

“Yes! It’s true! And I have a bunch of “likes”, too! What’s going on?” I said not a word – barley even acknowledged the thought – as I clicked over to WordPress’ homepage.

“Could it be? Really?”


I shouted to my husband, sitting not two yards away, “I’m FRESHLY PRESSED!”

His blank look did nothing to deter my happiness.

“That means that I‘m featured on WordPress’ homepage! It means they like me! They really like me!” (Yes, I was channeling my inner Sally Field.)

(By the way, I’m on page two now, if you want to joy of seeing my photo and link in person.)

THANK YOU SO MUCH and WELCOME to my new readers. I am so glad to have you along on the journey! I am still working on visiting all of your pages so thanks for being patient!

I also have to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who’ve been along for awhile, too! I love getting to know you all.

Here’s a fun stat: WordPress chooses TEN new blog posts a day to add to their homepage. This is out of 31.7 million new posts a month. Here’s the link to prove that. And here’s another useful link: So You Want to be Freshly Pressed.

But here’s the truth of the matter: This post was not my best-written post, not my funniest or most emotional or most educational, interesting or sentimental. It’s just that it happened to get noticed. They do say that a catchy title is hugely important so I guess I had that going, at least. (Note, however: my previous post had the same title…and it didn’t get chosen! So titles aren’t everything…it’s a group effort!) Interesting photos are good, too. They also say that having links included in the post is good as it emphasizes the fact that blogging isn’t all about you, the blogger, it’s about world-wide connections.

I find this to be both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because ANYONE can be Freshly Pressed. It doesn’t take a perfect writer or an impeccable blog. Discouraging because hard work on a fabulous post does not necessarily equal “success” – if being Freshly Pressed is a measure of success. I think that the encouraging trumps the discouraging in this scenario.

I know that I have found with my other blog – the one that is through my local newspaper – that they are more apt to print (in their physical paper) timely/seasonal/human interest posts. I know I have seen that play out on the Freshly Pressed list, too, which is another thing to remember if striving after such a thing. For the Love of Vinyl wasn’t any of that, however! They liked it because it was nostalgic.

And, in this day of hurricanes and political stress and terrorism, people like to be reminded of simpler times. So, if you have a turn table, “go, put your records on….” You’ll be glad you did.

PS – my inbox now has 4050 messages. Time to get to work.


23 Oct

I have written the opening lines of this post several times in my head over the past week. I have questioned and prayed and cried. I have wondered whether or not I ought to even write it. Are there things so sacred that they ought not to be written? Things that, in the writing, are depleted by the very act of putting them into words? Or is it just that I, as an imperfect being, am frustrated that nothing I say can begin to touch the truth of a life which was…but is no more?

I am not a painter. I am not a sculptor, or a carver of fine wood. If I were I would attempt to remember through my art, to present a portrait of my cousin that could be admired, touched, hung on a wall or put on a pedestal for all to see. Even then there would be limits: her hair was not quite like that. Her fingers were surely longer: a pianist’s hands. How can I portray her laugh?

My medium is less tangible, but no less imperfect: words.

Andrea loved words. She handled them correctly, used them honorably, and her conversation was intelligent and enlightening. I always enjoyed talking to Andrea and she always made me think. I only wish we could have talked more often, and for many more years ahead. She would comment on my blog from time to time, and I cherish those comments – never wasted words, always seasoned with grace.

Andrea’s sense of humor was dry and sharp, much like her mother’s. I didn’t realize how alike they were until, in recent years, I read letters from them both and saw how closely they resembled each other in viewpoints, in political ideas, in tone of voice. Their letters – or e-mails as the case may be – are ones I sit down to read with a cup of tea and a smile. And it is they I am thinking of when I proof-read my Christmas letter each year, knowing even as I do so that I probably have a few errors which they will notice but be too kind to point out.

Andrea wrote about her visit to the plastic surgeon after her mastectomy. She had me doubled over in laughter as I read, describing his harem of nurses, his words of assurance that her new chest would be gorgeous and compelling. She could laugh at herself, her world, her cancer.

When I was eleven or twelve, Andrea came from Ohio to spend the summer with us on Orcas Island, Washington. Living so many hundreds of miles apart had done nothing to encourage relationship, and, while I’d met her several times over the years, I didn’t really know this cousin who was eight years older than me and I didn’t really know what to expect when she moved into our house for three months. After all, I already had two older sisters; did I really want another one?

Turns out, she enjoyed spending time with me! She even wanted to make cookies with me and didn’t mind me hanging around! She helped me with stuff, she laughed and giggled and schemed with me. She even led me in a culinary triumph: Hot Dog Cookies, just so she could help me trick my dad, her uncle Dave – or, as the cousins all called him, “Jungle Dave”.

The cousins. I’m the little one on the end…Andrea is five over from me. This is most likely the first time I met Andrea…though, to be sure, I don’t remember it!

Together Andrea and I taught Dad that if he asks for Hot Dog Cookies, he’s going to get them. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like Snickerdoodles with a slice of hot dog hidden inside.

I’m pretty sure he even ate one.

After that summer it was back to sporadic sightings of each other, but every time I saw Andrea, I was glad: our grandparent’s 50th anniversary, and later their 60th, family weddings and reunions. She even came to Minnesota for my wedding, and once, she came for work. My husband and I drove over to Rochester to see her that time, about three years ago. We had lunch and we talked about her cancer – briefly. It was easier to not talk about it. Easier to believe the doctor’s words that, while chronic, it shouldn’t be fatal.

That was bone cancer, I think…after the breast cancer and before the brain cancer. Before she couldn’t see to read, couldn’t walk, couldn’t play her piano. And it was before she got married, if I remember right. Andrea waited a long time to find the man who was perfect for her. She told us about him at my parent’s 50th anniversary, when we all met at the Washington coast to celebrate.

We were so happy for Andrea. They got married not too long afterwards. Two years ago? Three? Either way, it wasn’t long enough. Not long enough when you say your vows, believing that, “till death do us part” will still be a long way off, a distant and aged event you both can enter into, wrinkly and bent, but willing because you’ve led a good and long life.

She led a good life, yes. But not a long one.

It’s not fair. It’s all wrong.

The fingers that played are still. The voice that laughed is quiet. She told her family that she was looking forward to seeing her brother, also gone far too soon from a terrible disease. I think to even say such a thing was to acknowledge that she knew that hope, that intangible, wispy miasma, was gone.

Or, rather, is it this way? Was it hope which allowed her so say such a thing? Hope, faith, whatever you want to call it. She knew – as much as a human heart can – that she’d see her brother again someday because she knew Whom she had believed.

Faith in Jesus is what held Andrea together. When she wept, when she questioned “why”, when she cried out to Him that this was not what she wanted, it was faith and faith alone which enabled her to face death, knowing that it was not the end. It was merely a change in viewpoint. A new piece of sheet music upon her piano. A new word – or whole strings of words, of understanding – to add to her vocabulary.

“Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55. The sting of death was destroyed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We will see Andrea again.

Yes, Andrea’s body betrayed her. But her God never will.

I Philosophize About Epiphanies

16 Oct

When I began this blog a friend asked me, upon hearing the title, “But what if you don’t have any epiphanies one week? What will you write about then?” I refrained from smiling but I admit I thought, “You aren’t a writer, are you?”

The truth is, a writer can write whether inspired by some huge revelation or not. I can write about the big stuff, yes, but I can also write about the normal moments of life. The day-to-day events that create me far more than the big things. Because, while big things may mold us faster, it’s the daily stuff that makes us able to face those big moments with grace.

While the huge “Epiphanous Moments” may not come every day, every time I sit down to write (or stand at the sink and get to thinking or drive into town while pondering) I have moments where life becomes a little more clear, where things clarify themselves into coherent thoughts or sentences and I have to run to the computer to jot down my revelations (or write them on the back of a business card if I happen to be in the car, all while keeping my eyes on the road and upholding the law).

I think that most of us have small moments of realization all the time. I will think about some decision I have to make: let’s say, to dye my gray hair or not. I ruminate. I puzzle it out. I consider. This may take anywhere from a few minutes or hours to weeks or months. Then, quite suddenly, I know. I have decided. And, of course, I want to act NOW. I get on the phone and make the appointment. Preferably for that very day, though, in the case of haircuts, that never seems to work. (In case you’re wondering: I haven’t yet decided about my gray. I’m still too freaked out to decide. I do know I need a haircut, though.)

Yes, those small decisions or epiphanies, if you will, happen all the time. But I do certainly have huge epiphanies, too. Take the moment that I knew for sure that I wanted to marry my husband. We had been talking about the “M” word and I knew that he (being the researcher that he is) had bought a “secret book” about marriage (Saving your Marriage Before it Starts, by Les and Leslie Parrott) which he wouldn’t tell me the title of lest it freak me out. We’d talked about the future, about kids and life together, but he hadn’t yet officially gotten down on one knee…which he eventually did exactly 17 years ago next month, in the snow, in the gazebo (and camp) where we had met. I totally knew what my answer would be at that moment…thanks to the thinking I had given to the issue prior to that event…and The Epiphanous Moment that came as I stood by my computer one evening and suddenly JUST KNEW.

“Yes,” I said to myself, watching him as he worked on the computer. “Yes.” I hadn’t been contemplating it just then…it just smacked into me from the blue. “YES! This is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.” There. Decision made. No regrets.

I remember that moment clearly – though it was not romantic or memorable in any other way. It was a decision reached after the question had been left to simmer on the back burner of my brain. It was a decision made in a normal moment of life, knowing that I wanted all the rest of my normal moments to include him.

I did not know the moment was coming until it came. Such is the mystery of the epiphany. It is untouchable/unforcable/ unforeseen. And it is jolly good when it comes.

And that, my friends, is why I blog my epiphanies. Even if it’s a lesser decision – to dye or not to dye – I can write about it. I can make it work. I’m never at a loss for topics. The huge epiphanies may not come every day…and that’s okay. Just like my decision to marry The Sailboat King…I want my blog to include the normal moments in life.

I want to stand by my computer and say, “Yes”!

Decisions, Decisions…

25 Sep

When I began to blog, almost a year and a half ago, I didn’t have a clear audience in mind. I was torn between several. I could not decide so I kind of…didn’t. I just started blogging and hoped that everyone would like it.

This is not the best way to proceed with anything in life, really. I mean, specifics make for happier audiences, happier students, happier parishioners, friends, directors. This was especially not the best way to proceed with something where one goal was to find lots of people who like reading my stuff!

I began the blog for several reasons, one of which was that I wanted to WRITE – to exercise that need – and to see if people actually liked what I wrote. It appears that people do, which is gratifying. But now I am faced with a focus issue…which is – even after 17 months – still not a decision I want to make.

You see, I’m a people pleaser. I like making everyone happy even though I know, intellectually, that this is impossible. I wanted my blog to make everyone happy. I wanted men, women, writers, moms, grandmas, aunts, uncles and cousins to find my posts irresistible. I wanted travelers, photographers, locals, internationals, liberals, conservatives, sports fanatics (okay, I knew I’d never please the sports fanatics!), dreamers, friends, theologians, to like me.

Yes. I ought to have known better.

I think that my resistance to “box myself in” to one particular audience all boils down to this: I am 42 years old, the holder of a master’s degree, the dreamer of extravagant dreams…and I am a stay-at-home mom.

Don’t get me wrong: I honestly love my life. I do not regret my decisions, I love my children, I do not WANT a 9-5 job.

It’s just that I don’t enjoy washing laundry and dusting. I do not embrace the house-wifely things that I feel like I ought to embrace. I don’t get all hot and bothered over sentimental mommy things. Yes, I keep tons of their drawings and I write down all the cute things they say.

But that doesn’t mean I adore the PTA.

It is hard for me to JUST be a mom.

And so I began writing a book.

I always imagined that I’d be a writer.

And yet, the things that I know, the things that I, apparently, write about the best, are mom things. But I fight tooth and nail against writing a Mommy Blog. WHY? Because I always thought I’d be more than that. And, to claim that title makes me feel like I’m giving up. Giving up on all of the potential – and real – audience members out there who don’t fit that category.

And yet, I’ve been told – by a person who knows this stuff – that I write a good “mommy blog”. And, I admit, the most feedback I get is from moms and grandmas who can relate to the things I post. And this is not a bad thing – I mean, I LOVE THAT FEEDBACK, AND I LOVE THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE GIVEN IT TO ME.

So why is it so hard to admit that that is where I belong? Because I don’t want to lose readers. I don’t want to displease anyone. UGH. Just make a decision already.

I envy those of you who have strong, focused blogs – cooking blogs, sewing blogs, travel blogs, local blogs – I envy your ability to be specific, your readers who look to you BECAUSE they want those specifics. I also admire the hard work you’ve done to gather those readers. And it is work, I know.

So why am I writing about this? What is my purpose? Well, I suppose that I’m alerting you that there may be a few changes around here. Not huge changes, but, as I learn to accept this role in my life, I probably will write about it more.

However, in this process, I have discovered something that I didn’t realize before: it appears that, as a mom of elementary and middle-school aged children, it is impossible for me to ignore that in my blogging. I hadn’t thought about the fact that writing a post about walking with the Girl Scouts in a local parade was a mommy post – I just thought it was something kinda fun to write about. But, it turns out, the very fact that I was in the parade at all is because I’m a Girl Scout leader, which I wouldn’t be if I wasn’t a mommy trying to help out with something my daughter loves. So, what I took to be just a random post…is actually a mommy post.

This is actually encouraging to me because it means that I don’t have to change my posts all that much! I suppose what it proves is that I’ve been writing a mommy blog all along even if I didn’t realize it. That I can’t escape who I am, where my focus is in life. I am not a reluctant mommy, per se…even if I’m a reluctant mommy blogger.

So what does this all come down to? I guess it means that I need to accept who and where I am in life. I need to be okay with the fact that I don’t have some marvelous job that defines me. Yes…I know what some of you are thinking: “Being a mother is the most wonderful and fulfilling job you will ever have.” Or, similarly, “Mommies don’t get paid in money, they get paid in kisses and hugs.” Okay, whatever. I’m not schmaltzy. And, while I may agree in principle with those ideas, I’m not going to start being all sentimental and adoring diaper bags.

Because, after all, I may be a mommy…

…but I’m still me.

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