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Autumn Memories

Today is the last day of October already, and it’s also the anniversary of my father’s death.  I thought it would be fitting to share with you one of the fondest memories I have of my dad.

First, let me show you what my dad looked like. 017_00

The cool thing about this picture is that not only can you see my dad, but you can also see the “fireplace” that we had in my house when I was a kid.

It was made of plywood covered with a brick print contact paper. I can’t think of a tackier focal point for a living room than a fake fireplace made of contact paper bricks, but when I was a kid, I really liked it!

The opening of the fireplace was home to a set of fake logs that had a piece of fire-colored plastic in it with a light bulb behind it.

I remember many times my father coming home and saying, “It’s cold in here.  Let’s have a fire in the fireplace.”  He would bend down behind that chair and plug in the fake logs.  It’s hard to imagine, but those fake logs did have a way of making the room feel warmer.

My dad had a unique way of decorating our home for autumn.  Every year in October when the foliage was at its peak, we would go out for a walk and gather the most beautiful fall leaves that we could find.

When we got home, we would apply little wads of white sticky tack to the back of each leaf so that we could “tack” them to the wall in our living room.  Here’s what it looked like when we were finished:


I hope nobody tells my brother and sister-in-law that I shared this picture of them online.

Anyway, don’t the leaves look beautiful?

It was like bringing autumn right into the house with us.  Just like outside, the leaves would lose their luster after a week or so.  The leaves would curl up and little bits of them would fall off onto the floor.

Now I understand why my mom wasn’t particularly fond of this tradition since it would have fallen to her to clean up the mess.

In October 1982 when my father was in the final stages of lymphoma, I went for a walk in the woods by myself to gather the leaves. My dad, who was like a shadow of the man he once was,  sat on the rocking chair watching while I sticky-tacked leaves to the wall one last time. I can’t remember how long he had at home to enjoy them that year because he died in the hospital on October 31, 1982 at the age of sixty-four.

My father passed on to me a lot of his frugal ways, his enjoyment of a warm, cozy home, and a lot of practical living skills.  I don’t know what happened to that fireplace, but I suppose it’s best that he didn’t pass that on to me, too.


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Operation Christmas Child: An Opportunity to Give

What could be better than giving the one gift this Christmas that would bring a smile to child’s face?  In our land of plenty, it’s a joy to know that many children are not just satisfied but elated over one small shoe box filled with small gifts.

Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse has been sending out shoe boxes packed with gifts to children all over the world since 1993.

If you’ve never been a part of this amazing opportunity, I encourage you to head over the the Samaritan’s Purse website and read all about it.  The packers  (people like you and me) choose whether they will pack a box for a boy or a girl and what age child will receive their box.  This is a great project for children, especially now that Samaritan’s Purse makes it possible for packers to trace their boxes all around the world.

We’ve been packing shoe boxes at our house for quite a few years.  When Justine was here with us, she enjoyed helping to choose gifts for the recipients of our boxes.  We’ve packed boxes for boys and girls,  and we’ve chosen different age groups different years.

Some of our favorite items to include are crayons, pencils, stuffed animals, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and a washcloth.  The website has lots of suggestions and a list of items that are not permitted, too.  I saw lots of great ideas for shoe box gifts on Pinterest, too.

The boxes are collected at churches and other locations during the middle week of November, and that is why I’m blogging about this now.  It’s not too soon to decide to pack a box, choose the gender and age of the recipient, and start shopping!  Samaritan’s Purse also asks for $7 to be included in each shoe box to help cover the cost of shipping the boxes worldwide.

Have you ever packed a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child?  If so, what are some of your favorite items to include?  If you haven’t ever packed a shoe box, then what are you waiting for?



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Snake on the Table!

 It was a normal Sunday like any other.  Grandpa and I arrived home from church,  and I went out back to light the gas grill.  I was at the grill with my lighter, when I discovered that I was not alone on the porch.  This charming fella was watching me from the table ….

The snake was lying so still and had such a plastic appearance that I was totally convinced it was fake.  In my mind, I was already compiling a list of people who might have come to our house to plant the fake snake on our table while we were out. 

When I got inside, I yelled for Grandpa, and he, too, thought it was fake.  I decided I’d better make sure, so I threw a Sharpie marker at the snake.  No movement.

I threw a piece of mail at it.  No movement.  Yup, it’s a fake one.  I’m planning what I will do to my nephew(s) who were probably laughing about this practical joke. 

In one last ditch effort, I slid my broom across the table at the snake.  FANGS!  How clever my nephews are!  They found a battery operated fake snake to place on our table while we were at church.  Creeps!

Just then, the snake turned its head and looked at me.  It was not a battery operated fake snake.  It was a real live black snake.  It was on the table on my back porch.  It was twelve inches away from our grill.  It was six feet away from our doggie door which would allow him access to the INSIDE of our home!!!!

I immediately closed the back door and called for help.  Grandpa is a courageous man, but he doesn’t really like snakes.  So I called my nephew who lives nearby. 

This is the same nephew I suspected of planting the “fake” snake, but he didn’t know that.  By the time he arrived, the snake was not as friendly as he was at first.  He had coiled himself on the table, and his fangs were working overtime.

 Josh used the broom handle to pin down his head, and then he was able to pick him up with gloved hands.  Josh has lots of experience with handling black snakes, and it’s handy having him around.  Grandpa was certainly relieved not to have to deal with our guest!

Here’s Josh, our hero, ready to transfer the snake from our porch to the woods where he will be free to help with pest control.

I still feel kind of shivery when I think that the snake could have slithered through our doggie door into the dining room.  I don’t even want to think about what it would have been like to see a snake on the dining room table!

For now, we’re keeping the doggie door closed, and we’ve got Josh’s number on speed dial!

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A Perfect Summer Day

Last Monday, I spent the day with some family members at Greenwood Furnace State Park , and I remarked to my sister that it was a perfect summer day.

What made it perfect for me?

1. Special people  

Two of my sisters and their grandchildren met me at the park, and I had my new granddaughter Aaliyah with me for the day.  The kids loved getting to meet Aaliyah, and we all had a good time together talking, walking, and picnicking.

2. Gorgeous weather and scenery

The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, and the temperature was in the seventies.  I love this kind of weather!  It was just barely warm enough for kids to swim in the notoriously cold water at Greenwood.  The cooler temps were perfect for pushing a baby stroller or sitting on a lawn chair.

According to one official website, Greenwood Furnace State Park  “is an area of rugged beauty, abundant wildlife, breathtaking vistas and peaceful solitude.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself!

3.  Freedom from hurry

While Aaliyah napped in her stroller and the other kids played in the sand, my sister and I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful lake and the peaceful feeling of being outside on a summer day with nothing more to do than keep an eye on the kids and to make sure the baby’s bare feet were covered up.


This was a day I would love to repeat again and again this summer.  But have you ever noticed how perfect days can never be reproduced no matter how hard we try?

I believe that days like this one are gifts to us from God.  A perfect day isn’t something we can engineer with plans and preparations.  It’s something we receive when we step away from screens and lists and expectations.

Lord, I thank You for this perfect summer day.  Help me to slow down on days like this and enjoy the moments that You will miraculously turn into memories.

What is your idea of a perfect summer day?

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The Gourmet Termite

During our Sunday evening small group meetings, we’ve had the pleasure to get reacquainted with a couple from our church whom we’ve known for a long time.  Mr. and Mrs. White  are two of the most interesting people I know.   They own and operate a sign carving business, and they do most of their business at flea markets and craft shows around the country.

This past Sunday night, everyone in our group was treated to a tour of their center of operation, and it was parked in our driveway.

Mr. White, the Gourmet Termite himself, travels with his own workspace in the back of a mini van.  This may sound like a redneck operation, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve got to tell you that I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed with someone’s ingenuity, creativity, and craftsmanship.

Sample signs hang from the inside roof of the van with spotlights lighting them up for passersby.  Neatly stacked signs of all shapes and sizes await personalization.  The van is equipped with a sound system so that customers can listen to music playing while they wait for their signs to be carved.  It’s not a long wait though, since the Gourmet Termite can complete a custom carved sign from start to finish in three minutes.


A slide out working surface provides the Termite a place to sit down while he carves.  Every necessary piece is right at his fingertips, and the foot pedal that powers his carving tool allows him to start and stop without wasted movement.

Where did he ever find such a workspace?  He built it himself!  Mr. W. told us that it took him one year to custom design the van that would carry them back and forth to Florida each winter and around to all the craft shows and flea markets in Pennsylvania in the summer months.

Mr. and Mrs. White are now at an age when many of their peers are retiring, but they seem to have no plans to retire.  What keeps them going?  Their mission.

Oddly, their mission is not just to sell signs.  Their mission is to reach their customers and other people they meet with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This elaborately engineered custom designed van is obviously the  work of a genius craftsman, but it is just a tool to take them to places where they can meet people who may not know that Jesus loves them and died for them.

Mr. and Mrs. W. love to talk to people they meet in their travels, and they like to give out a free gift of scissors and a flyer to each one who comes by their business stand.

I salute them in their dedication to the Lord and consider myself blesssed to know them.  They’ve had many interesting adventures and have lots of great stories to tell!  What a pleasure to be a part of their lives again for these past six weeks.

Have you met any interesting people lately?  If so, what have you learned from them?

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A Morbid But Necessary Word to Parents

If you are the parent of a dependent child or children, you have a responsibility that most parents don’t like to think about.  That responsibility is to make a decision about who will finish the job of raising your children in the unlikely event that you are unable to do so.

Nobody likes to think about dying, and some of us fear that talking about tragedies increases the likelihood of their occurrence.  Of course, that isn’t true, but it’s still no fun to think about unpleasant events.  If you have never thought about or discussed with your spouse or family  the matter of who will raise your children if you can’t, you need to set aside some time to do just that.

Some believe that without a Last Will and Testament, upon their death, their children would be made wards of the state and would be placed in foster care.  After doing a bit of research for this post, I can tell you that in most cases, that does not happen.  If both parents precede a child or children in death, usually the dependent children are turned over to a family member.   The only problem is that the parents who are gone will have no input as to which family member fills their parental role.

I urge all parents to, first of all, think about which family members or friends you would want to serve as your children’s guardians if you were not here.  Things to consider are age, health, and values of those you might be considering.  It’s vital that you ask permission of the person or persons you want to name as potential guardians.  It would be best to consult an attorney to verify the laws in your state and to make sure that your wishes will be carried out in regard to your children’s future.

The odds are that you will safely see your children through to adulthood, but this is one case where you don’t want to depend on the odds.

Please stay tuned to My Grandma Knows.  I promise that my next post will be lighthearted and happy!

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When Mother’s Day Wasn’t Happy

I used to dread Mother’s Day.  That was the day we went to church and all of the moms were asked to stand up and be recognized during church.  Some years the moms even got a carnation.  It was a lovely gesture for all the moms in attendance, and I’m positive that the person who thought up the idea of recognizing moms in church with applause and flowers never intended to hurt anyone.

There were, however,  a decade of Mother’s Days when I had to summon all the control I could muster to keep from crying when the carnation-bearing ushers passed me by.  It’s hard not to be a mom on Mother’s Day especially when you really want to be a mom.

This perpetual longing for a child eventually led me to a crisis of faith. I had a choice to make.  I could either become increasingly bitter over the fact that God was denying my wish for a child, or I could cling to what I know to be true about God.  That is that He loves me, knows what is best for me, and makes no mistakes.  I chose truth.  I chose to accept with gratitude all of the blessings that God showered on me, even when  one of those “blessings” was childlessness.

Now that I’m a grandma, having skipped the child-bearing that usually accompanies that distinction, I can look back on those years and see that God had a plan for me.  I just didn’t know it yet.  He knew that a certain ten year old girl was going to be needing a haven for a year (or eleven) in the near future, and that haven was to be our home.

I think about what I would have missed if I’d have had a baby when I’d wanted one so badly.  I’d have missed watching that certain little girl grow up to be a lovely young woman.  A girl who isn’t my daughter, but a girl who perfectly fills the longing that I had to be a mother.  Who but God could do that?

Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate and honor mothers, and that is a wonderful thing.  It’s also a time for me to look back and remember that God can fill any longing of my heart, and He can do it in ways that I would never imagine.



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The Faces Behind the Chocolate in our Easter Baskets

Easter is fast approaching, and if you’re filling any Easter baskets this year, chances are you are including some chocolate candy.  My favorite Easter treat has always been Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs.  That is, until this year when I learned about the exploitation of children and slaves which make it possible for us to have reasonably priced chocolates readily available to us.

Previously, my knowledge of chocolate making was limited to what I had learned on a few trips through Chocolate World at Hershey Park.  That fun and informative ride doesn’t really tell the full story. Allow me to share with you a few facts about chocolate that you may not learn at Chocolate World.

Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, especially the Ivory Coast. The prices for cocoa, however, are set by big businesses rather than the farmers who grow the cocoa.  Because these big businesses want to buy their cocoa at low prices to maximize their profits, cocoa farmers cut costs wherever they can in the harvesting of their cocoa beans because they want to increase their profits, too.

How do these cocoa farmers keep their costs low?  One of the easiest ways to lower costs is to spend less on labor. Sadly, this mean that many people who work on these cocoa farms are not paid a fair wage.  Some of the work is done by slave workers, and thousands of those slaves are children, many as young as nine years old.

Much information is available online about the use of children and slaves in cocoa harvesting, but little is being done about the problem.  Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to know what to do.  A boycott of chocolate sounds like the best way to react, yet a total boycott would drive cocoa prices even lower with even less money going to the farmers.

For now, the best means we have of speaking out against child labor in the cocoa industry is to demand and to buy fair trade chocolates.  Unfortunately, fair trade chocolates are more expensive than other chocolates, and they are not as readily available as other chocolates.  That would change though if we all refused to buy chocolate that is not labeled “fair trade”.

If you’re not sure what to do, here are a few suggestions:

1) Ask for fair trade chocolates in the grocery stores where you shop.

2) Call or write to chocolate companies asking them to buy fair trade cocoa

3) Learn more by doing some online research about slave labor in the chocolate    business

4) Raise awareness by discussing these deplorable practices with others.

5) Keep buying chocolate, but buy fair trade chocolate.

I am just now waking up to the idea that the choices that I make have far-reaching consequences, not just for me, but for many other people, too.  I want to make the most responsible choices that I can make, speaking out with my words and with my dollars on behalf of every person represented by the faces behind the products that I buy.

My commitment to buy only fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolates is just the beginning of this journey for me.

Make mine Fair Trade!
Were you already aware of the plight of many who harvest cocoa beans?  What are you willing to do to ensure justice for those who are being exploited?
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World Water Day and Many Still Thirst

How much is clean water worth to you?   How much would you be willing to give to help one family have clean, filtered water for the rest of their lives?

I recently read of an opportunity being offered by Forward Edge International, an organization that is familiar to me and one whose mission statement I fully support.



Forward Edge International exists to share Christ’s love with those affected by poverty, disaster and sickness in the U.S. and around the world.


Because a special young lady from our church is a missionary in Nicaragua with FEI, and our church has partnered with FEI for youth mission trips, I am sharing their opportunity here.  (Just so you know, Grandma always advises you to do your homework about any charity or organization that is asking for money.  You want to be sure that you are investing in a charity that shares your values and wisely uses the money that you give. I trust FEI in both respects, but you can check them out for yourself here.)

This week leading up to World Water Day, I’ve been getting daily emails from FEI with a daily Water Fact.  I learned that a water crisis exists in our world, and thousands of people are dying each day from diseases that could be prevented by giving these people access to clean water.

The Water Facts weren’t all bad news though.  I’ve just got to share with you what I learned on Tuesday.  In the midst of all of these depressing statistics, here is a statistic that you don’t want to miss……

For $65, you can bring the #1 solution to the #1 problem facing poor families.

Did you catch that?  SIXTY-FIVE DOLLARS!!!!!  Why, I’ll bet that many of us spend that much on bottled water, sodas, juices, and other drinks in a month or two.  Forward Edge is giving me the opportunity to help a Nicaraguan family with clean water for the rest of their lives!  A FEI health care team with hand deliver a filter system to a family and train them how to use it.  This one filter will filter harmful bacteria from one million gallons of water.  For $65!  I’m frugal, and some might even describe me as cheap, but that is what I call a deal!

If you’d like to check this out for yourself, here’s the FEI information where you can read all about it.

This water crisis is something that is not going to go away when World Water Day is over, and plenty of other organizations are also doing a lot of work toward making clean water available to all.  I’ve seen and heard of many organizations, both Christian and humanitarian, that are trying to do all they can do to end these needless deaths by bringing clean water where there is none.  I’m not trying to tell you how to spend your money, but I can tell you this, I feel pretty darn happy right now knowing that there will soon be one more family in Nicaragua quenching their thirst with clean, filtered water after today.

On Sunday during church, I copied down these words by Edward Everett Hale which our pastor quoted during his sermon:

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  The something I ought to do, I can do.  And by the grace of God, I will.

If you don’t have $65 to donate today, don’t be discouraged.  I’m sure there is something else you can do to help alleviate suffering in the world.  Be on the lookout for that one thing that you can do today, and by the grace of God, DO IT!

 image source



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What Is Fair Trade?

Perhaps you’ve seen this Fair Trade Certified symbol on some products in a local or online store.  Do you know what it means? 

Until last weekend, I didn’t pay much attention to this whole idea of fair trade products.  The only fair trade product that I was aware of was coffee, and the only thing I really understood about fair trade coffee was that it’s more expensive than regular coffee.  Sad, I know.  I was the proverbial ostrich with my head firmly planted in the sand.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I recently attended a workshop entitled Radical Justice for Today.  At that workshop I learned about the importance of fair trade practices.  I pledged never again to bury my head in the sand as a consumer.  My spending choices speak volumes, and I want to be sure that what my spending choices say is in harmony with my Christian values.

That is why today, I want to explain a little about fair trade in case there are others who are not aware of what it means.  Here are three very important benefits of fair trade products:

1.  Guaranteed minimum price which, though they vary by companies, reward the farmers’ hard work by giving them a decent living wage after covering the cost of production. (Many times this minimum price is DOUBLE the amount that farmers are typically paid by the buyers for the large corporations that bring us most of our food choices in our supermarkets.) 

2.  Fair treatment of workers include safe working conditions, no child laborers, freedom to organize, and having a say in the workings of the farm co-operative where they work.   

3.  Environmentally sustainable practices  protect the farm land and the quality of the food that is produced on it.

Sadly, these benefits are not readily extended to most farmers of exported products.  Child labor, slave labor, extremely low wages, exposure to harmful pesticides and dangerous working conditions are more the norm than the exception. 

The realization that each time I chose to buy an imported product (coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, sugar, etc.) that did not bear this Fair Trade Certified symbol, I was giving our money to businesses who exploit other human beings to increase their profits was enough to make me feel sick inside.   

I’ve recently done a lot more reading on this subject of fair trade, and I encourage you to learn more about it, too.  It is not a perfect system, but for now, this fair trade symbol is our best assurance that the people who grow and harvest the products we want are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. 

I encourage you to do some investigating concerning the products you are buying.  Is everyone who had a part in your purchase being treated in a fair and humane manner?  If not, it’s time we put our money to work to bring about the changes we want to see in the world.

(The above information about fair trade was gleaned from the book Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices which I would highly recommend.)

I would love to hear about your thoughts on Fair Trade!