Archive for May, 2012

Grandma’s Grave Surprise

This morning about 6 am, I knelt on my kneeling bench next to the huge brick flower bed beside the sidewalk leading up to my house. A dozen plants needed to be planted before my flower bed was complete, and I wanted to get them in early, before the sun started scorching them. I planted some blue lobelia, my favorite bedding plant, and then put in some sort of orange colored African daisies, as well as some petunias. Finally just two plants remained–both of them leafy, whitish Dusty Millers.

Perhaps because of the Dusty Millers, or perhaps because we’ve just passed Memorial Day weekend, I remembered something that happened when I was in my first year of college. It’s become a classic family memory. If you’ve known me very long, you may have heard this story, but I thought it worth retelling.

My grandmother, Lillian Mason, died around that time. She’d asked to be buried in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, near where she’d been raised. We lived in Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula then, and as Memorial Day approached, my mom picked up some bedding plants she thought would be pretty together and drove down to Chippewa Falls to plant them on Grandma’s grave. About July first, my mom asked if I’d go with her to Chippewa Falls once again so that she could settle some details of Gram’s estate. We would also, she commented, go to the cemetary and make sure that the plants were okay.

When we arrived at the cemetary, we walked across the peaceful, tree-shaded lawn toward the headstone marking my grandmother’s grave. Even as we left the car, I could see the flowers blooming vigorously in front of the marker. As we got closer, though, it seemed to me that some of the plants looked a little…different. Being the horticultural ignoramus I was then (and still am to some extent), I didn’t say anything about the anomaly.

My mother stopped at the graveside and stared down at the flowers. “What’s that thing? I didn’t plant anything that was supposed to look like that!

I followed her gaze. In the center of the colorful assortment of annuals stood several large, aggressive, green plants with knobbly heads that looked like…”Mom!” I gasped. “That’s broccoli!”

“It’s no such thing,” my mom insisted. “I planted a bunch of pansies and some petunias, and some of that Dusty Miller plant in the center. It can’t be broccoli.”

I reached down to snap off an immature head, holding it up for her inspection. “It is, though. Definitely broccoli.”

My mom’s face reflected the wild impropriety of the moment. Broccoli? Here?

We looked up and our eyes met.She shuddered and shook her head. “How awful! I planted broccoli on my mother’s grave.”

I clasped my hand over my mouth to prevent laughter from leaking out. But the irrepressible chokes and snorts escaped, and my mother also began to grin. And then to laugh and laugh. At last we sank to the ground beside the grave, still chuckling. I patted the mound beside me. “I think Grandma would have thought the broccoli was pretty funny, too, don’t you?”

My mom wiped her eyes and nodded. “Let’s just leave it here. It’ll make people wonder! She’d like that.”

We returned to our car, smiling and content–and somehow closer to my grandmother because of the laughter we’d shared at her graveside.

“You know,” Mom speculated as we drove away. “When broccoli is young, it has sort of powdery looking gray leaves. I remember the greenhouse where I bought the plants had the annuals all mixed together with the vegetables. I’ll just bet someone accidentally stuck some of their broccoli transplants in with the Dusty Millers.”

That’s probably what happened, too. All these years later, I never plant Dusty Miller without a smile, remembering my Mom and my grandmother, and the day we found the broccoli on Grandma’s grave.


The Mother Road

See the book cover on the top of this post? It comes from one of the best new books I’ve read this year. As a reader, I like books that engage me immediately, cover topics that matter to contemporary life, challenge my faith and thinking on relevant topics, and where possible, have some humor as well! This one met all my requirements and did so in a lively, entertaining fashion while still leaving me thinking. I noticed the book initially because of the title–The Mother Road will always be historic Route 66 for those of us who live in the West. But I came to love the book particularly because it fulfilled my reading requirements so well. I even gave it to my high-standards husband, who also thought it was excellent. You might want to grab your Amazon card and order this book. I don’t make that recommendation lightly, but you won’t be disappointed in The Mother Road.

Author Jennifer AlLee agreed to respond to a few questions, so you can get to know her as well as her excellent new book. Here’s my interview with Jennifer as we talk about The Mother Road…

Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to stop by my blog and talk about your recent book, The Mother Road. I read it a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it very much.  In fact, I passed it on to my husband, and he liked it as much as I did. Would you mind giving us a brief summary of the story?

Thank you, Mary, for the invitation. I’m so glad you and your husband enjoyed the book! Here’s a taste of the story:

Within the course of a week, marriage expert Natalie Marino is dumped by her husband, receives an urgent call home from her father, and discovers her estranged sister, Lindsay, is pregnant. A road trip on Route 66 may not help, but it sure couldn’t hurt. Or so Natalie thinks, until Lindsay’s boyfriend starts stalking them. Will their trip down the Mother Road bring the two sisters closer, or turn out to be the biggest wrong turn of their lives?

As an author, what was the starting point for this book? Why this particular story? When you are writing fiction, who do you envision as your audience?

This book started with the first line, “I cannot get a divorce.” It popped into my head one day, and from there I had to think, what would be the worst case scenario? That’s when I got the idea of making Natalie a marriage expert. Not only does the divorce devastate her emotionally, it crumbles the foundation of her career.

I envision my audience as mostly women, although I love it that the men who pick up my books seem to enjoy them just as much. I think most women share a common yearning to discover their identity. So many of us pour ourselves into our roles as daughter, sister, mother, wife… we tend to lose sight of who we are in God. We all have a unique, special identity which is enhanced by the gifts and talents God has given us. I hope my books entertain my readers, but also encourage them to think about the person they were created to be.

In my little community in Northern Arizona, there is considerable interest in Route 66, since it ran right through town at one time. I was delighted to read that your characters Natalie and Lindsay spend the night at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook in The Mother Road.  Did you ever take the drive that Natalie and her sister traveled? If not, how did you find your excellent information?

Mary, I really wanted to take that drive, and I had every intention of doing it. But life had other ideas (in the form of my son needing surgery), so that didn’t happen. It was extremely important to me to get my facts right, so I did lots of research: books, YouTube videos, web sites, blogs, DVDs… I didn’t use any towns or locations that I couldn’t find information about. For example, Natalie and Lindsay stop at the Road Kill Café. I searched the internet until I found a photo of the menu, just to make sure that I could have them order authentic dishes.

You touch on many of the toughest issues women face—infertility,  the infidelity of a spouse, an unwanted divorce, the loss of a loved career, disrupted family relationships, a parent with Alzheimer’s, and questions about God’s role in their difficult experiences. Yet this is a humorous book as well as a sad one, and Natalie is very hopeful at the end of the book. I know your first goal was to produce a good novel, but did you also write the book to help women with these struggles? What kind of reactions are you getting from readers since the book came out? Do they relate to Natalie’s difficulties?

The reaction to the book has been wonderful. Lots of people have told me that the humor keeps the story from being depressing, but doesn’t trivialize the serious issues. You’re right, my first goal is to write an entertaining, moving novel. But I also want there to be some substance, something that gives the reader hope.

Natalie’s husband makes some overtures to her at the end of the book and indicates that he wishes he hadn’t left home, but she tells him to devote the rest of his life to his new family. Divorce can be a touchy topic in Christian circles. While writing the book, were you ever tempted to depict a reconciliation between Natalie and her husband, rather than concluding with the divorce?

Yes, divorce is a difficult topic to address, especially in Christian fiction, because the automatic response is that every couple must work things out in the end. While I believe that God’s best is for us to keep our marriage vows , there are times when that just doesn’t happen. For example, if the relationship is abusive, the woman absolutely needs to get out. With Natalie, I never considered a reconciliation because of the details of her split with Tony. But I wouldn’t dream of judging anyone for the decision she makes. That’s between her and God.

Please let us know what else you have happening, Jennifer. Is there another book on the horizon for you?

I’m very excited to be part of a new line for Abingdon Press: Quilts of Love. Each book is about one quilt, one family, and one unforgettable love.  Mine is the second in the line, A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, coming November 2012. Izzy Fontaine is a former ballet dancer whose grandmother has just died and left her an heirloom quilt. Things get complicated when museum director Max Logan claims that Gran promised him the quilt. And when Izzy’s mother and brother catch wind that it may hold the key to a great treasure, they want a piece of it, too. Things get a little crazy as Izzy tries to keep the peace, deal with the charismatic Max, and figure out what Gran was trying to tell her.

Thank you again for being with us today!

Thank you, Mary. It was great visiting your blog!


When I talk to people who have visited Holbrook (as opposed to residents), the number one reason they’ve come is to visit Petrified Forest National Park. Among the National Parks, Petrified Forest stands out as one of the…well, one of the oddest, to tell you the truth. Part of the Painted Desert is within the park, and the Painted Desert is colorful, stark, almost entirely devoid of plant life, and dry as a bone. Jeff made the definitive comment about the Park when he said, “You know, it isn’t really a pretty place, but it is exceptionally interesting.” That’s a good description.

So what do you know about petrified wood? One of the things I learned at the Park is that it’s found in every state in the USA. But no other collection comes close to what you see at Petrified Forest. According to the informative video provided at the park, the area around the park had once been moist and tropical, covered with plants and animals–dinosaurs, in fact. Streams and rivers abounded and huge trees grew on their banks.

In some unknown flood long ago, trees were swept from their banks and carried down the stream until they jammed in place and sank in the mud. After millenia, the cells within the trees exchanged their living tissue with chemicals from the surrounding water. When the area eventually became drier and drier, the petrified trees began to emerge from their muddy entombments. Some logs remained together despite their rocklike condition. Others broke into pieces.

Visitors today can drive through miles (literally) of park land littered with the remains of this tropical forest. Some of the pieces came from trees that were immature and small, but some are mind-bogglingly enormous. Should you be so inclined, you can polish petrified wood (but not wood found in the park–you would get into big trouble collecting there) into flat, colorful slices that mimic gemstones, prized by collectors.

In the heyday of Route 66, the Petrified Forest National Park drew many visitors and today, with I-40 offering easy access, it still does. It’s worth the visit. And you can stay with us when you come!

Speaking of Route 66, my next blog post will be a review of an excellent new inspirational fiction book called The Mother Road by Jennifer AlLee.  Two of Jennifer’s characters in the book take a trip along the route of old Route 66 after some family difficulties–they even spend the night in Holbrook! I’ll tell you all about it next time but if you see it in the bookstore, grab a copy! You’ll love it. Then, on May 23, Jennifer will be on the blog with me for an interview.  Looking forward to it!


And just for fun, here’s a photo of daughter Liz, Jeff, and son Matt–taken at the Petrified Forest.

Singing a New Song–Together

When we got to Holbrook a few months ago, Jeff discovered that there was no pastors’ association in town. On Guam, he valued his fellow pastors very much and appreciated their advice and their prayers. He wasn’t willing to forego that fellowship here, so he decided to start a pastors’ group.

We’d heard that previous relationships between the pastors of the various churches in town had been a little strained and maybe more than a little competitive. But as it turned out, several of the other pastors besides Jeff were newcomers, too, so they didn’t have any negative history, and they welcomed the chance to get together.

Jim Minnick, the pastor at First Baptist, loves music as much as Jeff does–and that’s saying something. At one of the meetings of the pastors’ group, the members (perhaps pushed by Jeff and Jim) decided that every month with a fifth Sunday should be the occasion to get the congregations together and simply sing. But would people come? Joint services here in town have a poor track record for attendance, so no one knew for sure.

Last  Sunday evening, the first of the singing events was held at the Baptist church. People began to come in about fifteen minutes before the announced time–and didn’t stop coming until the church was full. More than 150 participants from five churches decided to make a joyful noise together–a good crowd in a town of 5000!

Special music got the evening going. Jeff and Jim sang a duet. Pastor Jerry Keams played his guitar and sang in Navajo. A children’s group performed. A local prosecuting attorney, whom nobody suspected of any particular singing talent as far as I know, got up and sang a solo so movingly that people actually cried over it. Young and old singers called out their requests, and we sang everything from When the Roll is called up Yonder to Away in the Manger. What we lacked in pitch, we made up for in volume. The pastors promised the crowd that the event would end in an hour, and they hit it exactly.

And then the magic really started for me. We went to the fellowship hall for refreshments. Navajo grandmothers and Latino kids and every other stripe of person Holbrook can boast sat side by side at the refreshment tables and talked together over cookies and punch. Maybe this kind of mixing happens often in your community, but I haven’t seen it here as much. I thought of Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.”  We have Christ in common, if nothing else, and that’s something worth singing about!