Posts in Category: Inspirational

Kicking Stones

I am kicking stones.

I am kicking stones from the bridge into the shallow sandy creek below.

I lean upon the rusty old iron rail, and I am kicking stones!

I watch them as they fall and wait for the splash, the sploosh, the plip, the plop, the rapid stutter of multiple small stones kicked all at once. I wonder what will become of the dusty old rocks now washed clean by the flowing water. Will they stay lodged in the bedrock, or continue their journey toward the river or perhaps, even the sea? Over the years, have I kicked enough stones into this creek to have forever changed its path? Or does it take just one?

What about the creek of my life? Have I kicked enough stones into its current to change the course of a life? Have my words, thoughts and actions had an impact on others? Have they been kind, compassionate, and caring, or have they been biting, ugly and cruel? Have I been reckless with the hearts of others, or have I tended them like a sacred garden? Have I helped or have I hurt? I suppose a bit of both.

And where have I resided in the creek of life? High and dry on the creek bank only to bear witness, or fully immersed in the raging waters of the spring. Did I seek the comfort of the slow-moving shallow water, or did I venture deeper into the rapids only to cling to boulders for safety? Was I ever courageous enough to wade in without hesitation, let go, and let the current lead me to my destiny?

I wonder, what is the sum of my life? Have I created a splash, a sploosh, a plip, a plop, a stutter or a ka-thump? Will I, in the end, arrive at my final destination washed clean of this life as a finely polished stone, or weather-beaten and broken? I cannot know the answer. What I do know is that the tally has not yet been totaled. Though there is little I can do to make amends for the misdeeds of my past, I can go forth today, tomorrow, and all of my tomorrows with love, kindness, and compassion. I will throw caution to the wind, and step boldly into the creek, let go, and allow my destiny to unfold.

Song of the Post: Stones In The Road By Mary Chapin Carpenter.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Originally Published Kicking Stones 08/24/2013

Looking For It

I have been looking for something. I have checked the cupboards, the fridge, and the freezer. I have picked up books, read a few lines and put them down. I have sorted through old photos and trinkets. I have taken rides in the boat, in the car, and through the woods on the golf cart. I have walked the farm, only to find that my favorite places to sit and ponder have long since become overgrown. I have spoken with friends and trusted advisors, and still I cannot find it!

What ‘it’ is, is somewhat unclear. When I take stock of my life, I find that I have been a hard worker, I have tried to always do my best and to live right, I experience happiness and joy nearly every day, I am surrounded by the beauty of nature that nourishes my soul, I have loved and been loved, and I am blessed to have many good friends. Most days I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. So what is ‘it’, then, that eludes me?

The ‘it’ has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has made me a lifelong seeker of what is meaningful and true. Sometimes it slumbers contentedly in the background, but other times, it is like the incessant whine of a mosquito hovering about my ears. At first, a mosquito is just a minor annoyance, but the longer it lingers without capture, the sound becomes intolerable. The latter is what I have been feeling for the last few weeks.

Looking back I can see clearly that ‘it’ was awakened when the Amish grocery store burned down and was, subsequently, compounded by the near miss I had on the highway the following week. My first response was to ignore the slight niggling in my mind. Sometimes this works, but the technique is most often like waving away the pesky mosquito. It keeps it at bay for a moment, but it always comes back. Next, I buried myself in projects, moving erratically from one thing to the next. Again, as with a mosquito, it does not matter how quickly or what direction one moves. Once the mosquito picks a target it does not give up until it is sated.

Thus, I have chosen to surrender. I will cease the endless searching, and I will sit quietly and let ‘it’ come to me. I will abide mosquito one last time. After all, even a mosquito is quiet while it is filling its void.


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Thanks to Carmel Steffen for Editorial Assistance

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Loving Memory of Gwen Jansma

How Can Anyone Ever Tell You You Were Anything Less Than Beautiful

This evening I learned that a dear old friend passed away. Though I had not been in touch with her in many years, I thought of her often. I heard her words of wisdom, her laughter, saw her magnanimous smile accentuated by the deep lines and creases that come with age.  But most of all her sparkling blue eyes that were alive with love, compassion, and a bit of mischief. Gwen was a beacon of light in a world that can so often be frighteningly dark. Gwen entered my life during a profoundly desperate time. She lifted me up, guided me, gave me hope, and helped me believe in myself, and my future.

I met Gwen purely by accident in my mid thirties. During a time when most of my friends had found successful careers, marriages, and had started families, I was still struggling. Nothing I tried was working. I had given up my dream of working as a park ranger, had failed miserably at two love relationships, and was working in the Detroit area at a low paying dead end job. To top it off, I had sustained a painful and debilitating upper body injury that left me unable to work for over a year. All the money I had saved had been spent on medical bills, and I could no longer afford to keep my apartment. Thankfully, my friend Mimi allowed me to stay with her until I could get my feet back on the ground.

Recovering from my injury was a slow and painful process. The only thing that eased the pain was massage and acupuncture. One day while I was getting a massage my therapist suggested that I get counseling for grief and loss. Having little money and little faith in therapy I quickly rejected her suggestion. However, she convinced me that I should join a group that met one weekend every other month. It would cost $50 and a dish to pass.  Feeling I had little left to lose, I signed up for an upcoming workshop.

A few weeks later, armed with black bean and corn salad, I nervously entered the first of many meetings to come. At first glance I found the group of thirty strangers to be quite an odd lot, and not particularly friendly. There were men and woman of all ages and vocations. Some dressed in hippy garb, others in jeans and t-shirts, and yet others in their Sunday best. They came from many different religious backgrounds and had varied spiritual beliefs and practices. What I found on second glance was a group of folks that no matter their background had stumbled upon some adversity that had challenged them to look deeply within themselves.  With Gwen’s guidance, they were able to explore and gain greater insight and strength. And finally, I found a loving, kind, compassionate group that accepted, and loved me. 

Gwen took this odd group, disassembled our differences, and exposed our sameness. With each tale of hardship the group listened to one another, wept, and prayed for one another.  In doing so, we were all on some level healed. We also, sang, meditated, created ceremonies, pledged in the Native American Tradition to Air, Water, Earth, or Fire. We created prayer sticks and explored the emotions relevant to each of the four elements. We opened our minds, bodies, and spirits to gain greater insights to ourselves and each other. Gwen guided us graciously through each process.  Sometimes with gentle encouraging words of wisdom, and at other times, quick to call one on their misconceptions (otherwise known hog wash or b.s.).

I went to the workshops for several years. During that time I not only grew stronger mentally and physically, but also met the woman that made my career in dentistry possible. I literally went from the depths of despair to having most of my dreams come true, and from believing there was no hope to knowing that there is always hope. I have never had the words to thank Gwen for all she gave me. Thank you just seems too small and insignificant. But as I look heavenward all I can say is this: Gwen from the deepest and most sincere part of my heart and soul, thank you.

Gwen was 88 when she passed away. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, poet, and artist. She was also a teacher, mentor, and healer to countless numbers of people. During her workshops Gwen would occasionally speak of her transition. She was unafraid, as she did not believe in a true death, only a changing of one form to another. She spoke of this transition with joy and looked forward to continuing her journey on the other side. She would not want us to be sad, but to remember and to carry on, to live in love, with integrity, and to help one another when possible.


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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sweet Memories

All these memories! Where are they coming from?  Just one note from an old country song or Sunday school hymn can evoke vivid imagery from my childhood. Sights, sounds, smells, and voices rush back as clear as the day they occurred. Perhaps I am just of an age when this phenomenon occurs.  Perhaps it is simply because I have been working in the same vegetable garden that my folks started in 1963. Or perhaps the memories live in the ground and are released as I part the soil to plant seeds. The memories come in clusters quite rapidly and then into individual events.

Mother is in the kitchen, not yet thirty, listening to Tiger baseball cheering on Al Kaline and Willie Horton. The room is hot and humid and her skin glistens with sweat. There are tomatoes in the bushel baskets, on the stove being blanched, in the sink cooling, and some in jars. The house is filled with the smell of partially cooked tomatoes, the clinking sound of glass jars being bumped against one another, and the pop of canning lids as they seal. My arms itch from the juice that seeps from tomatoes as I remove the peels for mother.

Calvin and Kenny are in the upstairs hallway endlessly stacking and restacking wooden blocks into a pyramid.  Only to propel the indestructible gray model car forward hoping each time for a bigger better more magnificent crash. They banter back and forth arguing over which crash was the best. I am the cheerleader and always root for Kenny because he is not my brother.

Jeannie, Joanie, Frankie, and I are sitting in the front yard on a warm summer day. The grass is cool but prickly on our outstretched legs. Our legs create a human fence to contain the new baby bunnies. We take turns holding each of the babies, nuzzling and petting their soft black and white fur. We giggle. We giggle because they are cute, and soft, and funny, and because they try to nibble the ends of our fingers. We giggle because we are delighted, because it is summer, and there are bunnies, and we have each other.

I am sitting in the old fiberglass canoe on the pond, fishing pole in hand. I am in the front and Dad in the back. I want to catch a fish, but I am distracted by the turtle that is swimming under the boat. “Keep still” my father cautions, “You will scare the fish.” So I sit still and watch the bobber. I like the yellow flowers on the lily pads and ask if we can take some to mom. “Keep still” my father cautions, “there is no talking in fishing, you will scare the fish.” I am five years old and I try to watch the bobber and I want to catch a fish. But my mind begins to wander, and I wonder how warm the water is and why we cannot go swimming in this lake. “Jerk!” my Dad hollers, and I do and he says “reel in” and I do and he smiles and calls me his little fisherman. He takes the fish off the hook, tosses it in the bucket with a splash, and recasts the line for me. I want to catch another fish and I try to watch the bobber, but I am distracted by the bird flying overhead.

All of these memories! Where are they coming from? I simply cannot say. No matter the catalyst, each is a precious gift to be unwrapped, savored, and considered again and again. I hear the laughter of children and the echo of boys being boys. I feel the special bond that is created between father and daughter spending quiet time together, and that of mother and daughter working side by side to complete a task. I have cherished these snippets from the movie of my life. It is with the sincerest gratitude that I say thank you Mom, Dad, Calvin, Kenny, Frankie, Jeanne, and Joni. Thank you for all of precious moments long past shared that have molded me into the person I am today.


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© Gail Howarth and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tell Me Something Good


A friend of mine posted on Facebook, “Tell me something good. I am so tired of bad news and being sad.” My friend has faced so many challenges this year. First, she lost her mother, and then a few short months later, her father. There have also been other life crisis, some big, some small. The most recent occurred just a few days ago, ironically, on the anniversary of her mother’s passing. As she and her siblings prepared for their annual Labor Day camping trip, her sister had a serious heart attack. Fortunately, she was rushed to the hospital, treated, and is now recovering at home.

My friend has had enough! Though she has experienced much joy in the past year, it has been tempered by the pieces of the puzzle that are missing. Birthdays, weddings, camping trips with her family, and time spent with her grandson are often bittersweet. Grief is a heavy burden, and leaves one feeling so alone. It took courage for my friend to reach out beyond her sadness and ask: “Tell me something good.”

How many of us carry the burden of sadness or grief at least once in a while? How often do we suffer alone with our own personal pain? Haven’t we all wanted or needed to just hear something good! What is it that keeps us from asking sooner? How often do we finally reach the point of asking, only to learn how much our friends and family long to help?

And so it was for me. When my friend asked, I merely wanted to help. I searched my mind for something grand, stupendous, or so magnificent that it would surely lift her spirits. I pondered this for a long time, and was dumbfounded to realize that I could not recollect one huge great thing. What I found, though, were innumerable small things. Good for me is the first cup of tea in the morning, the purring of the cat when she is happy, the trill of the peepers in spring, and the symphony of crickets and grasshoppers in fall. It is the seemingly endless days of summer, when it feels like anything is possible. It is a beautiful sunrise, sunset, or a rainbow after a storm. It is a sweet memory from days long past, and time well spent with friends and family.

As I pondered what to share, I wondered if any of my seemingly insignificant “good things” would be enough to lift my friend’s spirit. I began to type, backspace, and type again: I took a great photo; I saw a flower so blue that my heart was filled with joy; The lady in front of me at McDonald’s bought my iced tea; Lydia the crane met me at my car when I got home from work; One of the people I trained today said something that touched my heart. The list went on and on. In the end, I posted that it was cool enough to have all the windows in the house open. It was not grand, magnificent, or stupendous, and honestly it felt a little silly.

A few days later I was having a tough day. Seemingly easy tasks became complex, roadblocks appeared every step of the way, and soon my entire day was consumed by utter nonsense. I was frustrated, angry, and feeling way out of control. In a rare moment, I posted my irritation on Facebook. The response from my friends was overwhelming and heartfelt. The gal that I worried so much about what “good thing” to post, responded by saying: “I wish I could write like you do, so I can return the favor you have done for me countless times by making me feel better with your words!!!“

Then in a great “aha” moment, it came to me! That one “good thing” is not about the words. It is not about big, or small, significant, or insignificant. It is about the meaning behind the words. It is simply and purely about the caring! It is about one friend reaching out to another. So if I may, this one time have a do over, I would like to say to all my friends and family that need to hear something good now, or in the coming days; I care. I am here for you. And, I hope your heart finds the peace it desires, and that you are soon able to experience the love, beauty, and joy that are ever present.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Everything You Want


Everything You Want

Everything You Want

An old friend of mine once said, “Gail, you can have everything you want!  But, not at the same time.” That was nearly fifteen years ago. Since then, I have attempted to disprove her words.  However, over and over, I have failed. In fact, I have even felt like a failure at times, because I have been unable to achieve my goals. As the New Year approached, her words, once again, began to haunt me. Would 2014 be the year that I could finally put her words to rest?

On New Year’s Eve, I spent the evening alone contemplating the year behind me, and the one that lay ahead. There were many successes in 2013: I finally broke through the overwhelming burden of grief that I had experienced since my parents passed away, I started eating right and lost a bunch of weight, started a blog that I believe truly touches the hearts of others, picked up the camera after several years of neglect, and began sharing the beauty of nature with my friends on facebbook, created and sold a calendar that many people enjoy, and lastly, experienced joy more frequently, and at a deeper level than I can ever recall. I also had some failures: My vegetable garden was mostly eaten by deer; I was unable to write a blog weekly as planned, nor was I able to find anyone interested in publishing anything I wrote; I regained seven pounds; almost completely ignored the house I have been attempting to refurbish; and the saddest of all, failed to save a long term relationship. Despite my failures, I consider 2013 a good year. None-the-less, it was not the year I would prove the words of my friend wrong.

As I considered 2014, I began to write my New Year’s resolutions. The list was composed of ‘leftovers’ from previous years, but also included several new additions. Each line was numbered, and by the time I reached 20, it became quite clear that, once again, I had set myself up to fail. Or had I? Not yet willing to yield to defeat, I began again on a fresh sheet of paper. This time I created categories and sub categories, and each item was given a priority. I organized and reorganized, and imagined how I might balance everything on the list, along with work and all of the other incidentals of life. The exercise was for naught! The list was still the list. 2014 would be no different from any other year.

I spent the first few days of 2014 disgruntled. Foolishly tormented by words from the past, I decided, finally to put them to rest. Had I not, after all, experienced many successes in 2013? And had I not experienced an abundance of love, peace, and joy? Yes, yes, and yes! Had I truly failed because I was unable to achieve an unachievable goal? Absolutely not! All I really needed was a change of attitude.

I now acknowledge that my friend was right. My expectations and desires for this life are much larger than can be achieved or experienced in one year. This will not change. I will no longer, however, be bound by her words, but choose new ones that are more fitting. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” It is not about the completion of the tasks, the order of completion, or even by how well the tasks were completed. It is about living fully and present in each moment. It is finding the silver lining in all things, good or bad, and growing richer from having had the experience. It is about taking time to, not only, smell the roses, but to love and nurture them along the way. And that is exactly what I plan to do.

Happy New Year to all of you. May your journey be filled with love, peace, and joy!


Special Thanks to Carmel Steffen for editing.  


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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Birthday Dad



It is my father’s birthday, and I am lost in thoughts of the magic, mischief, and mystery that made up this man. He was a good man: honest to a fault, a hard worker, a great provider for his family, a great dad, a teacher, and a good friend to many. His joy was solitude, nature, food, and his family. His love for me, and mine for him, was as close to unconditional as I will likely ever know. He would tell me, “You are my sun, my moon, and all the stars above.” And though I never told him, he was mine.

My father was also a man of opposites. His needs were simple, yet his mind complex. He was deeply tenderhearted, yet he could spew words that would cut to the quick, leaving one feeling small and broken. In the out of doors, he was comfortable with silence, yet inside, awake or asleep, he was a living, walking, breathing, noise machine. He could condemn the church, yet quote scripture, and live by the Word better than many theologians.

My father loved winter. He always said everything made more sense in black and white. When all the distraction of foliage and colors were removed, the truth about a thing was much clearer. I always knew he was talking about more than the forest in winter. How appropriate, though, that he was born and died during the coldest of the winter months.

My father loved and respected nature. He saw not only the beauty of nature, but also its cruelty. In his own life, he did not turn away from the ugly or difficult parts. He embraced the good, the bad, and the ugly as a whole; not as separate items that could be compartmentalized, or ignored, just because it was not pretty, or convenient. He was a true realist.

My father loved food. He enjoyed cooking wild game and making soup. He believed that soup should always include carrots, and that any dish could be improved with salt, butter, tabasco sauce, onions, and perhaps a little more butter. He was famous for slum gum. Slum gum starts with eggs, butter, onions, and leftovers. I am pretty sure that in the beginning he was attempting to make an omelette. However, due to lack of patience or too many ingredients, it just became eggs and leftovers fried together in one pan. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it was awful! But then again, those were the days we would just add a bit more butter, or salt, or tabasco.

I could tell you so much more about my father, but I believe I will stop for now. Today is his birthday, and if he were here, there would not have been much fuss. I would have given him a card that he would read once, then mindlessly, place upon the counter for my mother to put away. Mom would have baked him a cake, spice, carrot, or yellow, frosted in white. He would have eaten too many pieces, and she would object. But all he would have to say is, “What? It is my birthday!” And, what could she really say on his special day!

I love you and miss you, Dad. Though I cannot see, hear, or touch you, I know you are not too far away. You always said that heaven is here on Earth, and maybe you were right. See, since you left, I have come to believe that heaven exists only a short distance away, beyond a curtain that I am unable to see. l feel your presence every day, and I know that you are near.  I hope that there is cake in heaven, Dad, and that today your favorite kind is served.  Happy 87th Birthday!  


Thanks to Carmel Steffen for proofreading and fixing my commas. I swear there were never this many commas needed when I was in high school or college.

For more of Gail’s photos consider:

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

1981 – Summer Ends on Isle Royale


I am learning that when writing, words often find a life of their own or story that is quite different than the author’s original intent. And so it is today. This is piece was intended to be a story about a fireworks display I witnessed while working on Isle Royale National Park in July of 1981. Instead it is a story about how life as we know it changes in seconds or brief moments, not over long suffering years as many people believe. It is also a story about how God gave me an unexpected gift at exactly the right moment to prepare me for one of those life altering moments.

In June of 1981 I left civilization behind to live on Isle Royale National Park for three months. I had attained a job as a cook for the concessionaires at the lodge in Rock Harbor. With one small suitcase I left my Mother and our dog Patty on the dock in Houghton and climbed aboard the big blue boat called the Ranger II. I do not recall sadness in leaving them, only the excitement of getting to the Island. The six hour trip across Lake Superior was not what I expected. It was colder than I had dressed for and the boat lurched sluggishly and without grace through the waves causing me to become quite seasick by the time I arrived in Rock Harbor.

Once upon shore I met my welcoming crew and though a bit green from the boat ride cheerfully and anxiously greeted them. They introduced me to the folks I would be working with and then took me to my room. I was one of the lucky ones as I received a room to myself in the guest house along with three other gals. The alternative would have been double occupancy in an overcrowded dorm set farther away from the lake. The guest house was big and quiet and built on the shore of Lake Superior. My window was lakeside and I could always hear the calming sound of waves splashing onto the rocks. Later I would discover that the small pools of water that collected amongst the rocks provided a great cooler for beer.

Once I settled in I began to realize just how isolated Isle Royale is from the rest of the world. The island is located fifteen miles South of Thunder Bay Canada. Of the forty-five mile long eight mile wide island only 2% is developed. Thus any travel is done on foot or by boat. In 1981 there was one English speaking radio station, one television that our manager did not allow us to watch, and one telephone. The telephone was located four miles down the harbor on Mott Island at the National Park Service Headquarters. We could use the phone if we called collect, but first one needed to rent a fourteen foot aluminum rowboat with a small motor to get there. I was able to call home once that summer before our privileges were revoked. That left mail as the only means of communication. Mail delivery depended upon clear skies as it was flown in by pontoon plane from Houghton Michigan. Fog was the enemy and I recall a two week period when no mail was delivered. It was difficult for me, but several people were driven nearly insane from the lack of connection to the outside world.

I spent my days working in the kitchen on the lunch and dinner crew. Time off was spent hiking, boating, fishing, looking for greenstones, playing poker and drinking beer. The beer drinking was not technically permitted and was not sold on the island, however, one could easily bribe a crew member from the Ranger to smuggle in the contraband. For the most part the days on Isle Royale were easy and carefree.

I met some wonderful characters on Isle Royale. Bob our maintenance man would take a few of us fishing for Lake Trout, Salmon or Whitefish. We always caught something and when we got back to shore Bob would clean the fish while the rest of us found the necessary supplies to cook them over an open fire. It was by far the best fish I have ever eaten. Bob was kind and generous and always had a good word to say. One day Bob woke up and declared that he was Jesus Christ. Sadly, when the delusion did not pass he was removed from the island. Martha was in charge of housekeeping, but I remember her always doing laundry. Martha was old with short unkempt gray hair, a deeply wrinkled face and was as round as she was tall. She used her irreverent cranky sense of humor to scare folks. Most could not see the adorable woman that truly was and kept their distance. I saw right through her though and she always made me laugh. She was somehow able to thoroughly convince our normally stingy management that she needed to drink buttermilk and goats milk for a stomach condition. One day with a twinkle in her eye she confided in me that she did not have a stomach condition and that she just really liked buttermilk and goats milk. Martha, too, left the island early for some unknown medical condition. I suspect it was from drinking too much of the rich milk.

There were many wonderful carefree days spent exploring the island with friends. One of my favorite days was when Carmel and I caught a ride with the tour boat to Moskey Basin. We left the tour and hiked to Lake Richie where we laid on the sun heated rocks and named the clouds as they passed overhead. Later we were mesmerized by a cow moose carrying her calf across the lake upon her back. And even later as we waited for the return of the tour boat at Moskey Basin we sifted through stones along the shore in search of the perfect greenstone. We were accompanied by Loons and Mergansers noisily teaching their

chicks to dive. Try as hard as they might the chicks would quickly bounce back to the surface only to be scolded by their disapproving mother’s. And lastly I remember the quarter size leach that attached itself to Carmel’s ankle. Even that did not ruin the day as she nonchalantly picked it off, cast it aside and compressed the wound until it stopped bleeding.

As Labor Day approached my coworkers began to leave. I and a few others were chosen to stay a bit longer to clean and close the lodge. Each day, the island grew eerily and steadily more quiet as fewer and fewer people remained. Summer turned abruptly to fall and weather grew cold and damp making the island feel even more remote. On September 14, the day before my departure, the assistant manager knocked on my door and asked if I would like to watch his television. I told him no and to go away as our managers had a reputation for visiting female employees with gifts in hand in hope of receiving something in return. He assured me that he did not want anything from me and that he was just trying to be nice. I still did not respond and after a bit I could hear him walk away. Later I found that he had left the television behind.

I brought it into my room, plugged it in, sat on the old wood floor and proceeded to search for available channels. It did not take long to realize that I had only one choice. It was a PBS channel featuring a program that explored the lives of three people whom had become quadriplegic due to accidents. They talked candidly about their injuries, their struggles emotionally and physically, and how they not only moved on, but had become very successful. Though, I was not completely captivated by the program I could not turn it off. Perhaps it was because I had not seen television in 3 months or perhaps it was something else entirely. When the program was over I unplugged the television and put it back in the hall.

On the morning of September 15th I packed my suitcase and headed to the harbor to meet the seaplane. It was not a sad departure from the island. By that point in time I was more than ready to return to my “normal” life. I looked forward to spending a few days at home with my folks, eating good food and heading back to Michigan State University for the fall term where I would live off campus for the first time in an apartment with some of my closest friends. My biggest concern of the day was that the seaplane might crash into the icy waters of Lake Superior en route to Houghton Michigan. Surprisingly, the flight took only twenty minutes and both take-off and landing were incredibly soft and gentle.

My mom, dad and Patty the dog were waiting for me on the dock when I arrived. Though I know we were thrilled to see one another I am sure no one cried tears of joy or even hugged as that was just not our way. I do not recall much about the trip home other than I was shocked that mom and dad had bought a baby blue Ford Escort station wagon instead of a truck, I thought traffic moved way too fast, and the 60 pound dog laid on me the entire eight hour trip. We arrived home around 11 pm. As we got out of the car we were stopped by the voice of our neighbor Micky. As she approached we could see that she had been crying. With great difficulty she told us that my brother, Calvin, had been in a serious accident and that it was uncertain that he would live through the next 24 hours. My mother cried and my father just shook his head and kept saying no over and over again. I felt somehow separate from it all in dazed confusion. Life changes in seconds. That is all it took for my family. “Normal” in the way we knew it would never exist again.

My brother is a quadriplegic due to an accidental forty foot fall from an electrical “high line”. He is still alive and doing quite well some thirty-two years later. He indeed experienced many of the same challenges as the three people featured on the PBS program I watched the night before his accident. His passage through this life has not been easy, but he is a survivor. Despite the pain and hardships that his disability have caused he still remains mostly cheerful, independent and a very good brother.

I will never know why the manager, a man I never liked and or respected, felt compelled to lend me his television on September 14th. Or why the only program available was one so related to what was about to happen to my family. What I do know is that it gave me hope for the future, faith that we could and would make it through, and the strength to endure.

There are no coincidences. It was simply God’s grace to paint a picture of what life could be for my brother. Imagine how bleak my outlook could have been without having seen this program. The journey I travel is not alone. Though God is not always as timely or transparent in sharing wisdom as in this case, I believe he is always present. I did not have to ask, to surrender or wait. What I needed was simply given and I am forever and profoundly grateful.


© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


My Mother’s Garden


Today I raked my mother’s garden.  It was not my intention to rake the entire garden, but the task was one of overwhelming and unexpected joy.  In February of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, and the garden had been sadly neglected ever since.  As I tended to the garden, a flood of memories came to mind.  The clearest though, was that spring of 2010.

That year I bought flat after flat of blooming annuals.  The colors were bold and bright, and I chose varieties that would last all summer.  I wanted to provide my mother with the most stunning garden of her life.  I wanted the beauty to counter the pain and discomfort of her disease.  I wanted to give back something in return for all she had done for me.

As the spring progressed, mom grew tired quickly.  Though I had planned the most stunning garden ever, I was only able to plant about one flat of flowers before my time needed to be spent doing other things for Mom.  The garden was not beautiful.  In fact, it was less than beautiful.  It was not raked, and the flowers that were normally thinned were overcrowded, and, some even died.  I gave away the flats of flowers and let go of the dream of giving mom the perfect garden.  Mom did not seem to mind.  But, I did.

Mom passed away in February of 2011.  That year came and went without a thought of the garden.  Then, spring of 2012 arrived and I was determined to dismantle Mom’s garden.  I even promised any interested friends, co-workers, and neighbors that I would dig and deliver Mother’s beloved perennials.   But I could not.

Again in 2013 I have offered flowers to friends and family.  So today, I began to make Mother’s garden beautiful one last time.  As I raked I thought of how much she loved this garden, and how much I did not.  It is not particularly organized, nor does it follow any of the rules for creating the perfect flower garden.  It is truly a hodge podge of perennials that were added as she received them, with the edges of the garden moving outward into the yard farther and farther.

I was suddenly struck by the whimsy of this haphazardly planted flower garden.  Without a doubt what my mother did best was to control, organize, and manage people, places, and things.  This garden with no clear boundaries had no rules, nor need to be perfect.  Finally I got it!   This was the one place my mother had that did not have to be perfect, as it was beautiful of its own accord, just by being.  All she needed to do was to love it, tend to it a bit, and enjoy the gift of colors and scents, and the birds and butterflies that were attracted to it.

My mother’s garden is beautiful again.  Three years of leaves and branches removed.  Three years of blackberry bushes and small trees that threatened to take over removed.  The soil relieved of its heavy burden can breathe, feel the sun, the rain, heat. and cold.  And like the garden, I too have begun to shed the heaviness, the sadness, and despair.  I, too, can once again feel the sun, the rain, heat, and cold.   I am but one of my mother’s flowers, frequently difficult to control, organize, or manage.  My boundaries are often fluid, and I am not perfect.  But I am a beautiful flower that she loved, tended to, and mostly enjoyed, and I am forever grateful.

My Mother's Garden

Mom and two of the creatures she loved most.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



The Perfect Evening

The Perfect Evening

The Perfect Evening

It is the perfect evening to sit on the back porch and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Lakehouse.  Even the birds are savoring this spring evening.  Their songs, so plentiful that it is difficult to distinguish one from another.  There are Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouses, Red-Winged Black Birds, Cow Birds, Eastern Tohees, Mourning Doves, Gold Finches, Bud the Sandhill Crane, Sparrows, and Woodpeckers at the feeder.  And not to be forgotten, the Loons, Canada Geese, and various ducks are calling from the lake below.

The cats, Mini and Laila, accompany me.  I am certain they will be exhausted tonight, as they are diligent in their attention to the birds, and the first chipmunk of the year.  Laila quivers and chirps back at the birds. Oh, what might fill her dream tonight!  Mini races back and forth following the chipmunk’s path.  The chipmunk, intuitively, knows he safe, and is enjoying tormenting poor Mini.  They all make me smile and laugh.

There is something timeless about a night like this.  The stresses of the day are far from consciousness, the worries for tomorrow non-existent.  Only the moment, this very moment, matters.  This moment so rich, so full of life, love, and beauty, fill me up, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

And so, I have remained upon the back porch long enough for the day birds to roost for the night.  A chorus of spring peepers, whip-poor-wills, and other night birds welcome the night with a different song.  Tom Turkey is gobbling his last few gobbles, the loons are crying their mournful tune, and the geese are settling in with a few last honks.  The sun set an hour ago, the air is cooling, and I know it is time to go.  But I do not.  How does one end the perfect evening?  Perhaps, I could sit here, for just a few more moments.


The Loons

The Loons

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