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“Never Trump” the Sovereignty of God

My gut reaction at the close of Indiana’s historic primary election is to say “Never Trump”. There are so many reasons I am repulsed by the idea of Donald J. Trump leading our nation, to list them here would fill a blog post. I am embarrassed and disheartened by the choice a majority of my fellow “conservative” Hoosiers have made. They’ve turned away a godly man who could help lead our nation out of darkness and instead fallen under the spell of spectacle. I believe we will be sorry.

Watching and listening to coverage of the Presidential race (it’s hard to miss, unless you live in a cave), I’ve been reminded of the leaders chosen by the people of Israel over 3,000 years ago. As recorded in the Book of Judges, the Israelites begged God for mighty kings to lead them, though God warned against it. Each time God granted their wish, the people turned from God and sinned against Him.

When the Israelites cried out to God for mercy, he delivered them by raising up the heroes of the book, the Judges. Filled with the Holy Spirit, these valiant men and women obeyed God—although imperfectly—to demonstrate his faithfulness and love.

“Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them.” Judges 2:18-19

When we were a homeschooling family, one of the books I used to teach my sons about this period in history was “Daring Deliverers” by Ollie E. Gibbs. Together, we learned what it takes to be a good leader by studying the 12 judges appointed by God during the first 300 years of the history of Israel. Each of the judges offered hope to the people of Israel, delivering them from the sin that had ensnared them. But in every instance, the godly leaders were eventually rejected and the people returned to their sinful ways.

It appears that America, a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, has rejected a “daring deliverer” before the man even had an opportunity to enact his plan for deliverance. With Ted Cruz laying down his mantle, the future of our nation looks bleak.

But for God……

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,” Ephesians 3:20

Whether or not I cast a vote for Donald J. Trump (or for his opponent), I will keep this election in perspective, believing that even in times like these, God will have the upper hand and that one man or one woman cannot set the course for a nation that looks to God for deliverance.

 

 

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Age Is No Barrier To Inspiration and Passion

There’s something about passionate people that’s attractive and inspiring. I recently stumbled upon just such a combination in the friendship between two very different individuals who happen to share a passion for aviation

Satya Sunkavalli, 27, caught my eye last spring during an event at the local campus of Ivy Tech University. It could have been her diminutive stature or her friendly smile, or the fact that she was one of only three women in the Aviation Maintenance program — or perhaps because she is from India. This bright, eloquent young woman impressed many as she spoke before a crowd gathered for the unveiling of an aircraft donated to the school.

As I got to know Satya, I learned she had discovered a mentor who is a source of inspiration on her journey to become a pilot and, eventually, to build aircraft.

Ninety-year-old Paul Goldsmith welcomed Satya into his company last fall as a newly licensed aircraft mechanic after overseeing her internship at G&N Aviation near Merrillville. The two have developed a close friendship based on mutual respect that spans the generations. Paul and his friend, Musetta Yeager, have opened their home to Satya while she is here on an education visa. Her home is in Tanuka, India.

I recently spent a delightful afternoon talking with Satya, Paul and Musetta, learning about their shared passion for flight and about Paul’s racing career. as well as his upcoming induction into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. To read more about these fascinating individuals, check out the Sunday Life section of KPC Media’s sister papers, The News-Sun, The Star and The Herald Republican.

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Time for a Little Dancing in the Foyer

It was a sweet picture.

A tiny Mama, grey hair disheveled and shoulders draped with a fluffy child’s blanket, twinkled as she shuffled her feet and waved her frail hands. Her smiling, middle-aged son lightly touched her dancing fingers and attempted to guide her toward the restaurant’s front door, planning to safely tuck her into his car for the trip back home. But she had other ideas. Standing square in a patch of warm sunshine, Mama was dancing in the foyer.

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Spring is upon us here in the Midwest — finally. Time to fling open the windows and poke our heads out the door to breathe in the glory of green grass and fresh breezes. Time to lift our faces to the sunshine and leave winter behind.

Isn’t it the way of things that often we don’t realize the “posture” we’ve taken until someone sheds a little light on it. I’ve been hibernating for a few weeks, tucking myself in, taking shelter in the warm blanket of self-protection. Oh, I’ve been plenty busy, keeping up with work and writing, family and church obligations. But I haven’t been all there. I didn’t think anyone would notice, and I was sure it didn’t really matter.

Until a friend peeked under the blanket and asked “Are you okay?”

We need people like that in our lives, caring folk who know us at our best and miss us when we’re absent. We need them to spend time with us even when we’re huddled under a blanket — and to be there when we’re ready to dance in the sunshine.

I’ve been reading about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Hiding under a blanket doesn’t fit the image of a spirit-filled woman. I know that. I haven’t really forgotten. I just didn’t think anyone would notice.

The world’s a cold place sometimes. The blast of hard things can threaten to throw us off balance. But it’s Spring. The sun is shining. It’s warming up out there and there’s music in the air.

It’s time for a little dancing in the foyer.

 

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The Waterway That Marks My Place in the World

A few years ago, I struck up a conversation with some nice folks at a booth at The Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. The booth offered information on The Huss Project and *culture is not optional. I was interested in the intentional community they were establishing in a former schoolhouse in Three Rivers, Michigan. It was pleasant to share words with like-minded folk.

This week, an essay I wrote titled “The Creek” is featured in their online magazine, Topology. It is an honor to share thoughts on the waterway that marks my place in the world. Stop by Topology and enjoy other essays, poetry and images by artists from around the country.

Speaking of The Festival of Faith and Writing, I’ll be making my biennial pilgrimage to this outstanding writers/readers conference later this week. Don’t envy me as I rub shoulders with the likes of Lucy Shaw, Leslie Leyland Fields, Zadie Smith and Tobias Wolff. I’m certain I’ll come home inspired as a writer, and with a lengthy reading list for the coming year.

 

 

A Kindred Soul Can Span the Decades: Emma Smith

kindred :  having the same belief, attitude, or feeling, associated by origin, nature, qualities, etc.

Stumbling upon a “kindred spirit” is a special kind of surprise. It was that way for me recently when I discovered the British author Emma Smith. Emma’s words, in my header above, showed up as I was doing research for a writing project. They resonated so deeply with me that I had to know more about her.

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma, 93, lives in southwest London. She published her two-part memoir “The Great Western Beach” and “As Green As Grass” in 2008 and 2013 respectively — at ages 85 and 90. They cover her life up to 1951, ending at the time of her marriage at age 28. By that time, Emma had published two well-received novels in 1948 and 1949, “Maidens Trip” and “The Far Cry”, both set in Britain during WW II.

When she married, Emma stopped writing for a time, focusing on her family. She returned to writing out of necessity when her husband’s sudden death after just six years of marriage left her as the sole provider for her two children.

Prior to marriage, Emma (whose real name is Elspeth Hallsmith) was an adventurer. She traveled to India to help shoot a documentary and worked as crew for canal boats that carried heavy cargoes between London and the industrial Midlands of England during WW II, both experiences providing backdrops for her novels.

Once she was married, Emma left travel and writing behind. After her husband’s death, she moved her little family to Wales and devoted the next 20 years to raising her children. During that time, she authored a couple of children’s books, but they never achieved the attention garnered by her novels.

With resurgent interest in and the reprinting of her two novels, Emma has experienced a sort of “renaissance” in her later years. That’s where I find her now, and where I expect to dive into her memoirs and her novels.

The kindredness? This:

“I loved being a mother and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I would swap all my books for my children.” ~ Emma Smith

In like spirit, I can say I willingly swap all the books I have not yet written for the privilege of raising my four children. But unearthing a treasure like Emma Smith gives me hope that I still have a good 20 years to write a first book. To quote Emma:

water-5“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”

 

Welcome Spring: In Celebration of Kathy

The last time I sat in the kitchen with my friend, Kathy, I could see her trays of seedlings lined up under grow lights in the next room. Inch-high heirloom tomatoes and peppers, melons, herbs and who-knows-what-else held the promise of sun-warmed produce in the months ahead.

I held my friend’s cold hands that day, rubbing her fingers between mine as they poked from hand-knit mitts. She’d given me two lined notebook pages filled with her familiar scrawl. They were blog posts, the essays she wanted me to share with her followers after she passed away. Her cold fingers couldn’t manage the computer keys any longer and I knew the writing had been painful. I set the pages aside. I’d look at them later. We had plenty of time.

Two days later, Kathy’s battle with ALS ended and her new life with Jesus began.

I have been Kathy’s scribe for the past six months, taking her beautiful, raw musings, editing them and placing them on her blog. Not long after Kathy was diagnosed with her fatal disease, she decided she had things to say. Together, we set up her web site and she began mining her journals, drawing from years of talking to God. She named her blog Stones. As she laid down “stones”  her ponderings were centered on these words from Isaiah 4:24:

“….so that all people on earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and you might always fear the Lord.”

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Kathy was brutally honest about her feelings, about the struggles she was having with the day-to-day realities of her disease. She was also hopeful, joyful and grateful, and most of her posts included scripture, a quote and often a song. Kathy knew the Lord’s power over her life and she carried in her heart a healthy fear of Him.

Kathy was the quintessential “earth mother.” Her vegetable farm, Heritage Acres, sprawls across the broad lawns surrounding her home. A hand-built greenhouse sits in the middle of the back yard. When she wasn’t in the gardens, she was in the greenhouse, where she tended young plants and herbs and packaged seeds to sell at the local farmers’ market.

More than once I stopped by Kathy’s small farm only to find her lying on her back in the grass, taking a short rest surrounded by the smells, textures and colors that were her lifeblood.

Not only did Kathy give life to anything green and growing, she held life in her hands. A trained midwife, she “caught” thousands of babies during the decades she assisted with home births, helping to bring into the world babies of mothers she had eased from the womb in an earlier generation.

As Kathy’s strength was sapped from her body, friends and family pitched in to buy her a golf cart so that she could continue to make her rounds in the garden this spring. Kathy had four days of high-flying fun on that golf cart.

Spring slipped into the calendar this week, just days after we celebrated Kathy’s life and legacy in the little white church down the road from her house. Her sons and husband led us in worship, songs Kathy had chosen just weeks earlier. Family and friends shared stories, scripture and poetry.

It is spring. Kathy is sniffing dirt, planting seeds and praising Jesus. Which is as it should be.

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Artwork Credit: Mary Azarian, Richters Herbs

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade…” ~ Charles Dickens

At the Halfway Mark, Some Thoughts on Lent

We will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ in less than three weeks. Halfway through Lent, I’m pondering what the Lenten season means to me, and revisiting an experience from two years ago that turned around my thinking on the tradition of “giving up” for Lent. Reflecting on that experience helped me see that maybe it’s not what we give up that defines our commitment to Christ, but what we do…..or don’t do.

Here are some thoughts on penitence from March, 2014:

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One year it was chocolate. Another, caffeine. A couple of times, it was television. And growing up as a good Catholic girl, it was always meat on Fridays.

What did you give up for Lent?

Perhaps the better question is “What will you GIVE?”

It’s the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday — the first Sunday of Lent — and we’re sitting in an old brick church in downtown Nashville, Tennessee with two of our sons who now call this city home. Surrounded by folks who mostly exhibit a bent toward the “artistic”, it’s obvious we’re from out-of-town. But the warm handshakes and familiar worship music remind us that we’re all “the church”, whatever our roots.

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Worship ends and a young woman with purple hair takes the microphone to share with us her recent experience as a missionary at Rapha House in Saigon where children are rescued from sex trafficking. A beautician by trade, she is passionate about the work being done there and says she didn’t want to leave. She hopes to go back.

We hear of upcoming events in the church — retreats for men and women, outreaches in the community. This small congregation with a focus on missions is also meeting needs in its own backyard.

But it’s when the young pastor takes the stage that God pulls me toward the heart of His church with this message:

“We define ourselves by what we don’t do.”

As he draws attention to this Season of Lent, the pastor talks about fasting, reading the Book of John weekly, slowing down to listen. But then he returns to it……

……what we don’t do.

The words have hung in the air all week. As we approach this second Sunday on our journey to the cross, I’m still rolling them around in my head.

“Works” are not what God requires. I understand that. It’s not what we DO that earns us the right to call ourselves followers of Christ. Then again, in the literal sense, NOT doing something — eating meat, watching television, consuming caffeine — does not define me, either. During these 40 days, I can forgo luxuries as an act of penitence, but I also know that I need only ask and I am forgiven. Sacrifice in the name of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice is a good thing. But does it define me?

Here’s what I think: It’s a two-sided coin.

  1. Choose not to indulge in practices, attitudes, thoughts that are not God-honoring. If this is what I don’t do, it is good. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:5-8
  2. Choose not to reach out to those in need, to travel across the world and show love to a violated child, to spend time reading God’s word and beseeching Him in prayer. If it is these things that I don’t do, how is that good?  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ” Matthew 25:45; and “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.” Psalm 49:3

Choose either side of the coin, and I am defined by what I don’t do.

So back to our question. What will you GIVE for Lent?

While 17 percent of the adult population, according to a recent survey by Barna Group, will be giving up some form of food or technology for Lent, maybe the rest of us can decide what we will GIVE.

To give our time, love, devotion, energy, attention, wisdom, affection — all things we sometimes don’t do. Lay these alongside things we’ve determined that, as new creatures in Christ, we don’t do — anger, rage, malice, slander. Isn’t this the ultimate gift?

Given in the name of the Christ, who freely gives us grace, mercy and forgiveness, these may be the greatest acts of penitence.

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Walkers pace themselves along the boardwalk that lines the north side of the Manayunk Canal in Manayunk PA. 2008-01-13.

When What You’re Running TO Is a Bigger Deal Than What You’re Running FROM

He was smiling from ear to ear when I pulled in their driveway. Our dog Buddy’s morning romp had taken him to the neighbor’s house.

Again.

Buddy was pretty pleased with himself, but I was none too happy. I got him into the back seat of my car, apologized profusely to my (new) neighbor and drove back down the road to our house, scolding our wayward pet all the way. Buddy just continued smiling and panting.

We live on a farm with over 100 acres of countryside ripe for roaming, but our dog apparently isn’t satisfied with all he could explore and examine within his own property lines. He is drawn to “forbidden territory” and doesn’t care when or if he returns home. Buddy’s urge to run has caused him to break both a chain and a leash in the past, and to bolt whenever he’s given the chance.

I know Buddy loves us, and he isn’t really running FROM us. The problem is what he’s running TO.

I’ve done a bit of running in my day. Running from commitment, from responsibility, from difficulty, from truth. Avoiding conflict, escaping consequences, hiding from myself and from those who love me — that’s running, too.

When the going gets tough, some of us choose to just “get outta Dodge.” (Gunsmoke fans and those of a certain age will know what I mean.)

But when I think about all my running, I realize that much of the time, it isn’t what I’m running from that’s the problem. It’s what I’m running to.

  • The approval of someone who doesn’t really know me.
  • The comfort of distraction from pressing problems.
  • The temporary satisfaction of food, movies, shopping. (Yes, shopping.)
  • Freedom from expectations and consequences.

I have a deep love for prodigals — those who run when the going gets tough, thinking they’ll find fame and fortune, truth and answers,  a better life somewhere down the road. When pressed, they might be able to tell you what they’re running from, but more likely their focus is on what they’re running to.

I love and understand them because maybe I can relate.

Jonah was a reluctant Old Testament prophet who became a runaway prodigal. He wound up in the belly of a whale.

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

Jonah booked himself on a cruise to Tarshish, a mining town over 2,000 miles from his homeland, figuring it would be far more fun than preaching in nearby Ninevah. He was on the run, choosing the unknown over the known, adventure over God’s orders.

What Jonah was running TO became a bigger problem than what he was running FROM.

Jonah’s flight nearly cost him his life, literally and figuratively, because, his running was an act of disobedience that led to the Lord’s dissatisfaction and displeasure. In the end, the Lord rescued Jonah (sorry for the spoiler), dusted him off and told him he still had to go to Ninevah.  Jonah obeyed and the Lord spared the lives of the sinful Ninevites.

Just like Jonah, we think we can run away to something better, easier, more fun and less demanding, when in truth we can’t run far enough to escape God’s plan.

“‘Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:24)

Our dog Buddy is motivated by a case of early “spring fever.” What he’s running to will turn out to be nothing but trouble, but we’ll always go after him, bring him back and try to help him see that he can’t continue his prodigal adventures. After a little dusting off and some stern discipline, we’re hoping he’ll learn not to run.

 

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When Life Is Aflame With Hard Things — Ashes

It’s enough to make a woman give up traveling.

A month ago, during a much-anticipated trip to Nashville, TN, to spend the weekend with our four sons, I wound up languishing for 24 hours in a hospital with cardiac issues.

Fast-forward to last week’s long-awaited trip to Chicago for the Moody Bible College Founders Week –– where I gracefully tripped down the steps of the shuttle bus and landed in an ambulance headed to a local hospital. The arm that got tangled in a railing during my descent was fortunately not broken or dislocated, though it dangled weakly at my side for the next 24 hours.

In between those two trips, my husband and I journeyed five hours one-way to gather up some furniture our oldest son won’t be needing for a couple of months so that we can store it at our farm. On the way home, full with emotion over our son’s circumstances and my recent brush with mortality (“You only have one heart” were words the doctor used to convince me to be admitted and monitored under protest), I had a meltdown.

A pity party in the cab of a pick-up truck is not a pretty site.

Like I said, maybe this woman shouldn’t travel.

On the back side of those three incidents, I prayed for a way to make sense of it all. Then I heard these words from author and blogger Ann Voskamp at Moody Bible College, the morning after I fell out of the bus:

“Ashes are the best soil for life. Do not be afraid of ashes.”

The hospital visits, the son who’s picking up the pieces from a failed marriage, the dear friend who’s living with a debilitating disease, my own perceived failures as a wife and mother.

Ashes. All of it.

When life is aflame with hard things, when hopes and dreams and plans crumble before our eyes, we find ourselves sifting through ashes. Voskamp pointed out in her talk at Moody, ashes add nutrients to soil, promoting growth.

I’ve got some growing to do. Don’t we all?  What if my handful of ashes can actually help me grow stronger and wiser? What if, in the ash heap, I send down deeper roots and pull myself up to dig deeper into God’s word for sense and sustenance.

Life is going to bring hard things. It just is. We’ll probably always find we are “less than” when our circumstances call for “more than.”

God’s economy means the hard things in our lives aren’t wasted. They are redeemed by Him, the Master Redeemer, the One who gives ashes the power to bring new life.

We can’t stop living just because we take a tumble, or because of a new diagnosis or a loved one’s heartache.  Fear shouldn’t cause us to quit loving and caring and opening our arms. Or traveling to places where maybe hard stuff waits. Because there are no guarantees that it will all be easy, or that things will go the way we want.

The only guarantee is that God will be with us in the hard stuff. And, He makes beauty from ashes.

 

 

The Magic of Tidying Up and Making Plans

Winter has settled in the valley and, like many of you, I’m focusing on indoor projects while waiting for warm weather to return.

IMG_0665I spent a recent productive Saturday morning cleaning kitchen cupboards, particularly the baking  and spice cupboard. Old spices and other ingredients were discarded, shelves were cleaned, containers labeled and everything was rearranged.

When my husband came indoors at lunch time, he couldn’t readily see how I’d spent the morning, so I proudly showed him the cupboard. He wasn’t impressed, but I can barely describe the satisfaction I derived from that one task.

My kitchen cleaning project is a start in what I hope will become a major effort at “tidying up.” I’ve been inspired in this mission by theThe-Life-Changing-Magic-of-Tidying-Up-718x1024 New York Times #1 Best Seller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. A friend brought it to my attention recently and I immediately dropped it into my Amazon cart. When I mentioned the book to my brood of Millenial Men, a couple of them knew exactly what I was talking about. It seems the book has developed a bit of a cult following. The author, Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo, has been referred to as a “guru of tidiness, a warrior princess in the war on clutter.” (The London Times)

Her method is to tidy by category, rather than room-by-room or little-by-little. My category for this recent cleaning binge was “food”. The fridge also got purged and other cupboards are now nearly bare (we do have food, just not old, unhealthy or unwanted food).

This endeavor is just the beginning because I seek a radical change in our home environment, and perhaps in our lives. From the chapter titled “The Magic of Tidying Dramatically Transforms Your Life”:

“…through this process, people come to know contentment. After tidying, many clients tell me that their worldly desires have decreased…..they felt that they had everything they needed.”

My next tidying up categories are “books” and “clothes”. Considering those are two prime obsessions, we’ll see how that goes.

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“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

This anglicized quote from the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse” came to mind this week as I sat with a dear friend making plans for a February trip.

My friend is living with ALS and each day presents a new challenge for her. She is a doer and a planner by nature, so it’s hard for her to admit that she’s not sure what, if anything, she can realistically plan to do in the coming year. But we agreed, planning to go with a few other friends to Founders Week at Moody Bible College in February is important. It’s been a long-standing tradition and a life-changing experience and one we don’t intend to miss.

The Moody choir performing at Founders' Week 2015

The Moody choir performing at Founders’ Week 2015

Our conversation turned to the reality that none of us holds a guarantee that we will see our plans come to fruition. At any moment, all our earthly plans can be halted by illness, circumstance, even the Farmer’s plough (poor mouse).

So, we plan because (so says Benjamin Franklin) “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. And because, just as in tidying up, planning begets its own life-changing magic. Making plans is choosing hope over despair, possibility over fear.

Making plans is choosing hope over despair, possibility over fear. Click To Tweet

My friend is a gardener, and she’s decided to make plans for the next growing season. When we return from Chicago, she’s going to plant some seeds, under lights in her house and in the little greenhouse she’s built near her gardens. In the spring, she’ll put her seedlings in the ground. I can already taste the harvest of heirloom peppers, tomatoes and beans that we’ll be enjoying come summer.