The Twelve Birds of Christmas – “Spread the Word”

“Spread the Word”
The 12 Birds of Christmas – a series featuring a bird each day of our journey to Bethlehem. May these “things with feathers,” give us hope and inspiration as we prepare for the coming of the Child, whom we anticipate; worship and adore.
It’s fitting we begin our series today, December 8 – my mother’s birthday. She would have been 101 today. She loved birds and as I recount in her memoir, “In the Garden,” birds gave her encouragement when life came at her hard in the 1930’s, when she and Henry lived and worked on the land, now Country Dairy.
The black-capped chickadee was one of her favorite birds and though she and Henry could not coax the chickadee to build a nest in one of their many birdhouses, she was always thrilled when the plump feathered wonder with black cap and bib, alit on a tree nearby and peeled out its “chickadee – dee – dee.”

black capped chickadee
Black – capped chickadee

“On a crisp Monday morning in mid – April, Ellen had just pinned her last bedsheet onto the clothesline, when a little black-capped chickadee perched on a branch overhead, trilling its heart out. “Oh you beautiful little creature,” Ellen called. Something about that plump little bird lifted her spirits and gave her a burst of hope (like the cardinals had done earlier{pg. 23}.
Ellen felt a deep longing within – it seemed to come from the very depths of her being, her soul, an awakening to nature and the power of birds trilling, breezes blowing, clothes flapping in the wind. It was in that moment she knew there was a power beyond all that she could see, smell, hear and feel.
She had learned about God in church and Sunday school and had publicly professed her faith when she was eighteen…But now in a bird’s song, she experienced the God of creation and revelation in her heart. In the bird’s song, the budding of the trees, the cool refreshing breeze and the tulips blooming by the side of the house, she knew her Lord. She didn’t have to worry about her new life on the farm or feel lonely and isolated when Henry left her to do his chores about the farm. With God’s help she could become the housewife she wanted to be for her Henry. She felt strangely moved, changed. She had experienced a kairos moment – a moment out of time…Feeling refreshed, Ellen picked up her clothes basket and went inside.” (ITG pp. 27,28)

mountain chickadee
Mountain chickadee

Ellen’s experience with the chickadee is described in a poem by Emily Dickinson: “Hope is a thing with feathers, that perches in the soul; it sings the song without the words, and never stops at all.”
When nesting is over and the young are on the wing, chickadees form flocks of eight or twelve birds, which roost and forage together until spring. Ellen’s chickadee was likely part of such a flock. Finding food in the winter is tough and hunting in groups increases the chances for success. As the band of birds flits about among the trees and shrubs searching for pupae and insect eggs, they keep an eye out for each other. When one of them discovers a tidbit, the rest of the flock twitter and chirp enthusiastically, spreading the word that food has been discovered. In this way, new food-source bulletins are disseminated throughout the band.
The lesson of the chickadee: “Go tell it on the mountain…” As you journey to Bethlehem this season, spread the message of Jesus’s birth to others – a message of peace, love and hope.
Challenge: Can you find the minute feature which sets the mountain chickadee apart from its black-capped cousin?. Answer below.
Happy Birthday Mom. May you be surrounded by a flock of black – capped chickadees today and may the full – throated ease of their singing fill your soul.
Answer to the challenge: (a white eyebrow)
Note: This post is a tribute to my mother on what would have been her 101st birthday)Hoeing "In the Garden" #4 - Of Lilies and Sparrows


To a Waterfowl Verse 7 “In the Garden” – Gone From the House on the Hill Forever

Note: The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God at the crossroads of her life. In the midst of the “why,” moments of her ife, she chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair. “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra. After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in the house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan(the site of present day Country Dairy)rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her. There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker, transforming their home into a place of beauty and sanctuary. To view the memoir visit or In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.

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“Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven

Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,

And shall not soon depart.”  (To a Waterfowl, verse 7, William Cullen Bryant)


In the following poem, C.S. Lewis describes his mother’s death:

“With my mother’s death all settled happiness,

All that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life.

There was to be fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy,

but no more of the old security.

It was sea and island now.

The great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”

When my mother died, on September 1, 2005, a friend sent me the poem, “Daughters Who Lose Their Mothers,” by Margery Mansfield.  The poem describes why losing your mother is such a significant and sobering event.  When your mother is alive, she stands between you and death, but when she dies, that buffer is gone.  Now you become the one standing in front of death for your children and grandchildren, as she did for you. The poem made death seem more real and imminent to me.


My mother’s last years, home bound, immobile and frail as she was, weren’t her best years, but the time I spent with her changed my life.

My mother was ready to die, to join her beloved Hinie and other loved ones who had passed on before.  She had outlived most of her friends and as they passed on, one by one, she would get down in spirit and wonder why she was still here, left behind. “God must have a reason,”  we’d say, trying to cheer her up.   It was purely selfish on my part, but I didn’t want her to die.  I wanted our times together to go on forever, so precious had she become to me.

“On the morning my mother died, I stood…as the funeral home attendants placed a sheet over her dead body. The house was eerily still and deafeningly quiet.  With her gone, the life instantly went out of the house on the hill.  I knew she had flown away to her heavenly home, where she was free of pain and sorrow, but as her body was wheeled away, a voice, from somewhere deep inside of me, cried out, “No! No! Don’t take her away!” I didn’t want her to go.  It seemed for final. I had no idea of the thunderous waves of loss and grief that would roll over me in the months and years to come.” (In the Garden, pp.109,110)

The day of her funeral…

“After the interment we stood staring at the gaping hole that would hold the earthly remains of our mother, grandmother and great grandmother.  Suddenly, a child’s cry pierced the air. Once of my niece’s daughters, in a sudden realization of the finality of death, voiced our collective feelings.  No!  We didn’t want her to go!  But, she was gone from us and the house on the hill forever.  We were left to mourn her absence in our lies.”  (In the Garden, pg. 112)


In the Foreword to the memoir, I describe how experiencing my mother’s peaceful, victorious death  led me to write her story.   I sat at her bedside, mesmerized, as she traveled back and forth on the pathway to Heaven.   I listened as she talked, lucidly with Hinie, who was standing at the foot of the bed, for her.  It wasn’t until later, when I had acquired some objectivity,  I realized that my father was sent, along with the angels, to accompany his beloved Ellen to her heavenly home.  My mother’s final gift to me was showing me how to die.


“A memoir is a reflective rearrangement of actual events.”  (Larry Woiwoode)

The wonder and awe of witnessing her death, led to a reflection of her life.  Dying, as peacefully and  victoriously, as she did, made me think she must have done something right in her life.  On a day in September,  a year after she died, I leashed my my lab and trekked out to Lake MI.  I let Max go and started walking. Turned out, I was walking in my mother’s footsteps. I thought about her life – the challenges of eking out a living with my father, on a small farm in the 1930’s, the seemingly unjust treatment she suffered at the hands of her inlaws on the farm, losing her beloved daughter to depression, becoming estranged from her youngest son, who survived the jungles of Nam, but never returned home.  I too have a daughter and two sons – how would I cope if I lost my daughter or were estranged from one of my sons, never to see them again.  My grief, unleashed, spilled out in torrents, mingling with the waves lapping at my feet; my tears returning to the ocean, from which they had come. I walked and remembered for hours.  When I returned, physically tired and spiritually sapped, I knew I would write my mother’s story.

Next to the might of God,  the serene beauty of a holy life is the most powerful influence for good in the world.”  (Dwight L. Moody)

Hoeing "In the Garden" #4 - Of Lilies and Sparrows

I set out to discover the secret of my mother’s life.  Though it took a few years to pick up the pen,  “In the Garden” is the result of my “reflective rearrangement of actual events”.   The more I learned, the more I realized that the reason she died so victoriously and peacefully, was she had learned to die to herself – her ego, while she lived. The more I learned, the more convinced I became that I didn’t want her story to be forgotten.

The mystique of the last years I spent with her became clearer:  Though infirm and frail, she radiated strength, holiness, Presence – eternity.  Her body withered, but her Being shone through; her breath waned, yet her spirit was energized; her skin was thin as an onion’s, but she glowed with an inner radiance, the sunshine of God’s face  At every fork in the crossroads , of her life, when she faced a challenge, a “Why” moment and had to make a choice, she chose faith over doubt, hope over despair, acceptance over resignation, good over evil, God’s will over her own. And that made all the difference.

I titled the memoir, “An ordinary woman; an extraordinary life, ”  because even though I think of her as extraordinary, my mother was an empty, humbled, tired, ordinary pilgrim, who surrendered her will to the will of God and thus became extraordinary.  She exemplified simplicity, surrender, acceptance, lack of resistance, a nonjudgmental attitude, and most of all, Love.  I wanted to be like her.

My mother not only showed me how to die; she showed me how to live as well.

“…yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,

And shall not soon depart.”

Note:  The author’s blog, “Hoeing ‘In the Garden,'” contains the lessons she learns from her mother’s life.







To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden #1



To a Waterfowl by William Cullen Bryant

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glows the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

IMG_20150106_080940_575~2In Bryant’s beloved poem, To a Waterfowl, the speaker is addressing a shorebird in flight. Using the literary tool of apostrophe – addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent, an absent entity or person, or a deceased person, Bryant achieves the effect of having the speaker muse aloud: “As dew falls and the sun sets in the rosy depths of the heavens, I wonder where you are going?”
In this series of blogs, To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden,” the poem will be taken verse by verse. The reader may wish to read the poem, first, in it’s entirety.

My mother, Ellen, will be the speaker in the poem. As the poem is, essentially, a profession of faith, her musings are a testimony to her life of faith on the small farm, where she and her beloved Hinie, eked out a living, raised their children and honed their faith.
As the waterfowl begins it’s migratory journey north, it has no idea what challenges and difficulties it may encounter along the way, so Ellen, when she married the love of her life, Henry, and began a new life with him in the house on the hill, had no idea what life held in store for her:

“Nothing in Ellen’s life, growing up in a comfortable, well-to-do home in the city {if New Era could be called a city}, could have prepared her for the stark reality of living on (and off) the land; still she threw herself into her new life with determination and optimism for she loved Henry with all her heart and was totally committed to their life together.
The farm is bleak in March. A grim austere landscape greeted Ellen in mid/late March as she and Henry returned from their honeymoon and began settling into their new home.” Looking out the kitchen window, on her first morning on the farm, she would have seen the sun rising to the east. Barren, scraggy trees stood here and there in the yard. Sooty stale piles of snow were reminders of winter’s frigid blast. Patches of green dotted the snow-covered pasture and a ring of water circled the frozen pond – hopeful signs that the bleak barrenness would not last forever. The pond wound lazily uphill to the woods – a scruffy, scraggly army of trees guarding the rear boundary. She might have seen the cows, relieved of their saggy udders, straggling out in a line to greet the first signs of spring, following their leader to seek what sustenance they could find in the grim austere wilderness of the pasture.
As she waited for Henry to return from his early milking for breakfast, her sense of excitement and exuberance shifted to a twinge of uncertainty and doubt, triggered, perhaps, by the foreboding scene framed in the kitchen window. Suddenly, she felt vulnerable, alone and unsure of herself. What was she doing here? She knew nothing of farm life or being a farm wife. Her comfortable, leisurely life back home, only one and a half miles away, seemed far away indeed. …Yet, here she was in the kitchen, dressed in her new house dress and apron, feeling lost and alone.
Suddenly a flash of red flew past the window. Ellen noticed a male cardinal perched on a limb in the yard, his shebird a few branches up. A pair of cardinals, she thought. A pair, just Henry and me. The sight of the birds ifted her spirits. Henry would be home soon. He would make everything right. She loved him with all her heart. He was a farmer, so she would be his farm wife. Well, a housewife who lives on the farm, she thought. Somehow that sounded better.
Ellen started the coffee, set the sausages sizzling and whipped the pancake batter into a froth. Henry would be home soon. He would be hungry. She had better get busy fixing his breakfast.
Ellen’s life on the farm had begun.” (In the Garden pp 22,23)

pair of cardinals

And so it was, on her first morning on the farm, a pair of cardinals, would bring hope and reassurance to Ellen’ soul. it would not be the last time that “things with feathers,” – Emily Dickinson’s symbol for hope, appeared to lift her Ellen’s spirits and put a song in her heart.

I love the image of my mother, there in the kitchen, full of love for her Henry and full of hope and promise for their future together. How could she have known then how dramatically her life would be shaped and fashioned by her new home on the farm and in return, how indelibly the farm would bear the stamp of her (their) presence?
In the beginning, it was her love for Henry that nurtured and sustained her, but as time went on and the challenges of eking out a living and raising a family on the farm increased, her love for Henry and their love for each other would find new meaning and strength in their faith in God and His Word. It was in the everyday details of their lives on the farm, that their faith was honed.
Though Ellen may have recited scripture in church or Sunday School, God’s promises would take on new meaning in the days and details of her daily life:

“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139: 13 – 16)

Coming soon: the second verse of To a Waterfowl in To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden”

MimiThe MimicNote: Mimi the Mimic and the Great Migration, Janet’s 5th book in her Tales From Pelican Cove series, is based on Emily Dickinson’s “things with feathers,” poem and is a tale of hope and remembering.


Note:  The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God at every crossroads of her life.  She chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair.  “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra.  After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in a house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan(the site of present day Country Dairy)rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her.  There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker.  She transformed the house on the hill into a place of beauty and sanctuary for their family.  To view the memoir visit or

In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.