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Whispering Pines Amish Grocery

 On September 16th 2013, the Amish owned and operated general store in my community caught fire and burned beyond repair. Though I was working in a town two hours away, I was made aware of the tragedy almost immediately. Friends texted first to report smoke, then fire and finally that the store would be a total loss. The news left me feeling off balance, and I found it difficult to concentrate for the remainder of the training. I was deeply saddened and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness.

The drive home was excruciating. I was anxious and overcome with the desire to help my neighbors. But what could I do for the Amish? I would not be allowed to help the men and it would not be my place to stand with the women. When I finally arrived at the store the light of day was beginning to fade. I watched as the Amish men, faces drawn and clearly fatigued from the long difficult day, sort and remove debris. The Amish women gathered around makeshift tables, chatted with one another, and served the hungry workers from the multitude of covered dishes.

I lingered along the side of the road for some time. As tendrils of smoke continued to rise from the wreckage, and horses and buggies splashed through the muddied parking lot, I was, as I often am, awestruck by the Amish community. The Amish have held onto values that are often forgotten or inconvenient in our busy modern world. My most cherished is that they understand that a neighbor is more than just someone that lives next door. They, as a community, are committed to one another. They help each other, and occasionally, their non Amish neighbors, in both good times and bad. But, my, how they shine in the darkest moments!

Sometimes memory fades, but I believe I will always remember a day in late February of 2011. It was cold, dreary, and snow was lightly falling. It was the end of one chapter of my life, and the beginning of the next. I sat at the old formica table in the kitchen at my folks’ house, still numb, baffled, and bewildered by the events of the previous week. My friend, Cindy, had come from New York as soon as she heard the news that both of my parents had passed away on the same day. She was sitting next to me addressing envelopes, as I wrote personal messages of thanks to all the people whom had so generously sent plants, flowers and gifts of money in memory of my mother and father.

As we worked quietly, I became aware of the sound of many footsteps crunching on the new fallen snow on the deck. My brother, Cindy, and I went to the front door and were astonished to find thirty-five Amish children of various ages and three of their teachers. Their heavy black woolen coats, hats, and mittens were flecked with pure white snowflakes, and their faces were flushed red from winter cold air made even colder by the 2 mile ride from the school house on the open horse drawn wagon. We listened as one of the teachers explained that the children had been discussing what had happened to my parents, and how they wanted to do something to help. Their wish was that we might find comfort and hope in two songs they had chosen to sing for us.

Clouds of moisture danced about the faces of the children as warm breath met frigid air. Their voices rose and broke the silence of this wintry day, and, in doing so, shattered the wall that I had begun to build about my heart. I was completely rapt by the cold, snow dampened faces of living angels, singing off key. There are no words to describe how deeply and profoundly touched I was by this selfless act. These children did not know me, yet they understood my loss. They came as neighbors to lend a hand in a time of great pain and sorrow expecting nothing in return. They did, indeed, bring comfort that day and perhaps, for all the days of my life.

I owe my Amish neighbors a debt of gratitude that I may never be able to repay. I could do nothing to help when the store burned down. But, I will keep looking, and listening, and watching. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will have the opportunity to be a good neighbor, to bring hope on a hopeless day, or give comfort when none can be found.


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.

Migration – Spring Is On Its Way


Spring Is On Its Way

Spring Is On Its Way

This morning as I was waking, I heard the Blue Jays chattering outside my window. Their conversation was markedly different than it was just a few short days ago. I lingered under the covers for some time savoring the moment. After all, the noisy birds were announcing such good news. They were celebrating the end of a relentless winter, and proclaiming that spring would soon arrive.

I began to think about Bud and Lydia, the Sandhill Cranes that nest in my backyard.  I wondered how far they had traveled on their Northward journey, and hoped that they had not experienced any difficulties. I made an attempt to telepathically tell them not to rush home. Though the snow has begun to thaw, it is still deep enough that there will be little food available.

I pondered what wakes an animal from its winter slumber. Or, exactly what tells a bird to leave its warm comfortable winter home in the South?  To travel countless miles, often through brutal weather conditions, only to arrive in the less hospitable North, seems quite absurd. If it were me, I would be tempted to disregard the internal niggling that must occur. I would, without thought, hit the snooze button! I would sleep a little longer, or remain in the warmth of the Southern sun.

It occurred to me then! How often have I ignored my own internal knowing? How many times have I hit the snooze button when something inside has told me to get up, get moving, or start anew? How often did I stay in the comfort of the sunshine, when I knew I was being called to run through the cold rain? Too numerous to count, I am sure.

Spring is nearly here, and I can hardly wait. It is the season that inspires hope and encourages one to dream. It is time to plant seeds, to nurture, and watch them grow. It is the time that we are reminded to listen to our inner knowing, and like the migrating bird, move forward without reason or hesitation.


Thanks to Carmel Steffen for her editorial skills.


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Additional Note: The cranes arrived safely on March 11.

Bud & Lydia Meet Thin

Bud & Lydia Meet Thin

© 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.


Till Death Do Us Part


A little over three years ago my mom passed away from lung cancer. Ironically, on the same day, five hours later, my father passed unexpectedly from what I believe was a broken heart.  When people learn of this they instantly conjure images of the couple in Nicholas Sparks book or movie “The Notebook”.  My parents were not that couple.

My parents were both fiercely independent.  My father worked away from home much of his career.  Mother was not the kind of woman to wait around for her husband to fix things on his short weekends.  Instead, she learned how to fix everything from toilets to electrical appliances.  She loved wood working and could build anything from bluebird houses, closets, desks, bookshelves, and cabinets.  She even finished her own basement and built a sauna for my father.  My father preferred fishing, trapping, or cutting wood. to fixing or creating things.  The reality is that Mother was much better at these tasks and it was better if he did not try to help.

When my father retired my mother grew tired of him always being underfoot.  Everything about him being in the house irritated her.  My mother was more than a bit OCD and my father was more harmony in disorder.  He got up early and she late.  He made messes everywhere he went and she continually put everything back in place.  He took over the kitchen to make breakfast and lunch often leaving unpleasant odors, grease on the stove, counter, and table, and a mountain of dirty dishes.  He was also noisy.  He walked hard, he talked loud, and even when he was not talking he made grumbling noises and often cursed for no apparent reason.

My mother’s solution was to have a 2 ½ stall garage built.  One side was insulated and equipped with a wood stove, sleeping cot, easy chair, books, and a reading lamp just in case he might like to hang out there.  As time went on my father did grow to love his garage.  So much so that he added a refrigerator, a camp stove, crock pot, and other cooking supplies.  Then he moved into the garage.  We might never have seen him had it contained a bathroom.  This was the perfect solution.  They could be close, but have enough space to find peace with one another.

There were times I wondered why they stayed together.  I loved them both so much, but often thought they might be happier with other people.  I will admit there were times that I thought they stayed married because they lived during a time when a commitment was a commitment, and till death do us part meant just that.  But every now and again I would glimpse my father looking at my mother in a very special way.  And, occasionally, I would see my mother look at him in the same fashion.

A few days before they passed I witnessed a profound exchange between the two of them.  Never again would I wonder if they really loved each other, or, the depth of that love.  I was staying with them knowing that the end was near for mom.  The cancer had gone to her brain and in that last week she was not always thinking clearly.  I had just helped her with meds and thought she was down for the night.  I escaped upstairs to get some much needed sleep.  Just as I started to drift off I heard the thumping of feet running back and forth from the living room, to the hall, and the office.  I rushed downstairs to find my mother racing from one room to another, confused, but knowing that her oxygen was not working.  With all that running and sheer panic she had become quite oxygen deprived.  I noticed a small oxygen tank near Dad and connected her air tubing to it.  Of course, the tank was empty.  Mom was beside herself.  Then my father said something I had never heard before.  He said quite sternly, “Lynnie, go sit down.”  My mother obeyed, calmly walking back to her office, where we had set up a temporary bedroom.  What startled me was that he called her by her name.  In all my 50 years I had never heard him call her anything other than Mother or Ma.

I followed her and then proceeded to study the oxygen machine and its manual in an attempt to determine a solution.  I was still looking at the manual when my father arrived in the room.  He, too, had an oxygen machine.  He had gotten up on legs that were no longer stable or reliable, unplugged his own machine, and was hunched over it, pushing it toward mother.  He plugged it in, took the air tubing off from his face, and gently placed it upon hers and said, “It is more important that you have this.”  They sat beside each other on the twin bed holding each other’s hands and looking deeply into one another’s eyes.  There are no words to describe the moment they shared.  On the one hand, they looked like newlyweds with yet a lifetime to share, and on the other hand, like the elderly couple they were, with no words to needed express how they felt.  The energy in the room was palpable.  I was an intruder in this very intimate moment.  As they both grew tired from the incident, the spell was broken, and I remembered that I needed to fix the oxygen machine.

The following evening, as I prepared dinner, my father told me that he had walked by my mother while she was resting.  He could not see her breathing and thought momentarily that she had died.  It gave him a terrible shock.  He told me that he just did not think he could bear to live without her.  Little did I know that what he was really saying is that he would be going with her.  Two hours later he had a fever that could not be controlled.  Sometime mid-morning of the following day my mother began to fade, my father’s kidneys began to fail, and his lungs began to fill with fluid as a result of congestive heart failure.  They both passed quietly at home in the presence of a few friends, family, and an amazing hospice crew.

My folks were not the couple in The Notebook.  But they were hardworking, honest, kind, and giving.  They loved the kids from the neighborhood and welcomed them into their home.  My mother taught cub scouts and 4-H.  My father taught many young people how to fish and trap, including most recently a group of Amish boys.  He also mentored many young men when he was a journeyman lineman.  They both loved their children with a passion.  And in the end I was lucky enough to learn that they had an unbreakable bond and love that lasted not only for their 54 years of marriage, but also, into the eternity of the hereafter.

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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.

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.

If you enjoy the photos in this blog please consider:


© 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.



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