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PRAIRIE COLLAGE (letter below)

Tulip tree bloom, low enough to be enjoyed

Spring beauties in town

May apple forest, ground level (May!)

College mate reunion
Chicago area, September

High school mates cruisin' 
August.  Photo and car by Norma

Rediscovered 2nd cousin Ann in Indiana!

30 year sweater project finished! 

Backyard addition-- pool with fall 

Fall harvest-- berry pie 
Farmers market berries. September

Texas trip --Arkansas ice storm.  January

Blissful visit to Oregon.  September

Unidentified Philadelphia Hemphills(?) 
uncovered in CT (May)
Dear Friends!                                                                                                        mid-December 2009

   December's well underway & I refuse to admit its the holidays!  Not yet writing or opening cards--unheard of.  Thanksgiving came and went and I didn't twitch to start writing The Holiday Letter.  Finally cornered myself to start my What Happened!--2009--letter!  Quite possibly there's no making sense of 2009 (or the decade)!  Sensible folks say Happy New Year and sit down!  One old friend says she can't imagine anything more boring than reading about someone else.  So, enjoy or...!
    As Kathleen Norris might say--surpassingly strange year.  Central IL was and is unprecedentedly soggy.  Big storms went around, often by a hair, reeking havoc nearby.  No tornadoes.  The only heat was late June, leaving 2009 even mellower than 2008.  Missing scorching IL heat is like a stay of execution!
    Bummed when beloved 20 yr old tent started splitting last summerL  No replacing; apparently dome tents are like dinosaursL.  After weeks of shopping, acquired tent for "motorcycle folks" (v. backpackers).  'Til then, I'd been sleeping inside like a normal person (ha!). As soon as I set up the new tent on the back deck to be sure all parts were there...  I moved in, enjoying mild nights listening to the new waterfallJ  (Folded up tent when birds discovered tent peaks and began splatteringL.)
    Reviewing last year's holiday letter tells me this is my third anniversary at Melrose Ct on the prairie!  (I've lost track.)  Feels righter than ever in these tense times, to be back where I started, where claim checks aren't required.  Central IL feels stable in an unstable world.  Not many surprises crossing town--pretty much same old, same old.  I love having a rural buddy who doesn't hesitate to bring me a cowpie for the rhubarb (which I keep moving around the yard).  Appreciate earthy folks who balance the cerebral world of teachers and retired profs.
    Speaking of crossing town, I no longer drive the main drag during prime time.  After safely driving hundreds of thousands of miles around the west, the RAV was bashed twice this year on Morton.
    As we know from Prairie Home Companion, small town life is never dull; gossip is first class.  The new newspaper owner and the new local weekly vie to share good news-- big change.  Much to everyone's disappointment, and my relief, the new ed. has tamed the gruesome Open Line/Whine column I insist is largely made up by rascals who dream up stuff to see who'll bite.

HIGHLIGHTS:  (more or less related to photos)
WINTER - Losses: classmates Willie and Teddy (awesome funerals/memorials); cousin Peter in Tucson; aunt Patsy in FL.  Warmed up in TXJ; drove back through iceL.  Finished (with help) Irish wool sweater started ~30 yrs agoJ  Joined Met Live broadcasts devotees in Springfield, starting with Lucia di LammamoorJJ  Found gggmother Pallett's grave (dad's mom's side), Adams Co., IL via internet volunteer.  Heard Lincoln historian BurlingameJJ  Treated self to Fox theater/Cirque show in St Louis.  Cold; no snow 'til late March.
APR - "Went to the garden" for Easter to clear head (meaning camped early; brrr.)  New regime/new mayor.  Toyota rearend #1L.
MAY -  Patsy Hemphill memorial in CT; joined 2 bros, 2 cousins; copied family photos.  Rain, rain on the plain.
JUNE -  Chicago (Art MuseumJJ & theater) w collegemateJ; visits.  Rain, rain, green, green, no tornadoes.  10 days of heatL
JULY - rain, rain; home, home.  Non-4th/rained out.  New mini pond/waterfallJ  Started going through old boxes but....  Not much camping or walking (due to muddy trails, flooded creeks; tent demise.)  Watched TV twice !!--Keillor and Sacks (some of you know I'm Teevee free)!!  Urbana buddies reunion.
AUG  -  Rain; no heat.  Met cousin Ann, IN!  PA workshopJ.  Jenn stopped teaching yogaL
SEPT -  Another superb local ChautauquaJ.  Toyota t-boned right side by Ky Fried--crash #2L.  Blissful Oregon retreat/Boise visit, perfect weatherJ.  College micro reunion.  Winter starts early.
OCT -  Cold, rain, rain.  New Hemphill and Pallett genealogy connections (via cyberworld)J.  East coast Hemphill Reunion (met other Hemphill lines).  Warm Halloween, fun symphony concertJ.
NOV - "New" car adventure - craigslist prius, IN.  Shoulder workshop, IDJ.
DEC  -  home alone for the--gulp--holidays!

SAME:  Delightful monthly-ish classmate lunches.  Spring/fall Mon. eve yoga at hospital; out of state workshops; adventures with back and hips.  Massage with MaryJ. Committed 5pm Sat. Prairie Home Companion listenerJ.  9:30am Y water class with Connie.  Tues. 1pm Sunshine Senior Singers w coach Mary Ann.  Too much food: church luncheons and dinners; Sat. breakfast/Sun. dinner groups.  TOPS/fat club.  Deacon John's Bible study--a local version of As The World Turns every week!  Buddhist sits in Springfield.  Prison penpalsJ.  Still roam church world.  Farmers market regularJ.  FirefliesJ.  Addicted genealogist (central IL courthouses, cemeteries).  Super local playsJ.  Visit mom's 96 yr old birding buddy.  Same computer (new doc).
FAMILY:  See May siting of 2 brothers (photo below).  To the best of my knowledge, the brothers/families are busy and well, kids launching to and from colleges.
HOME:  Backyard update by mom's birdwatching buddy Pat who originally landscaped yard.  Uneasy about another dependent (pond/pump); grand to sleep to sound of water.  House seems warmer w new windows, added insulation.  Global warming?  AntsL; terro on kitchen sill month after month.
MISSING:  Christmas taize with the Springfield Dominicans - canceled due to flu potential L  Seattle Folklife.
NEW:  Prius "Silver Bell".  After nearly 50 years of manual transmissions, still reaching for gearshift, flipping on wipers/ squirters.  Old dog, new tricks?  Maybe, maybe not!
BOOKS:  Lincoln-ophile.
LOOKING FORWARD TO/GOAL:  Conquering pie crust (maybe via food processor)?  Moving towards simplicity?

    My grandest delight remains discovering human gems on the prairie, and bumping into old, acquaintances.  Like dropping in on high school mate Janet one fall full moon evening, as I headed north towards Peoria!  Fun!
    It's trendy to bash Walmart but as I see it WM and the grocery store are the center of town.  The more clerks and greeters I get to know, the more defensive I get.  Saints work there, as they do everywhere.  Almost wore my nightgown down the other night, when I couldn't live another minute without a working food processor.  (Or so I thought; still haven't figured out how to use.)  May be in The People of Walmart yet.
   Always knew I'd be crossing lines, walking edges of Jax, socially, politically, economically, education-wise, and spiritually.  There's no family farm anymore, no cabin, summer or winter place.  I don't belong to a social, service or historical group (ex. genealogy).  Nor am I a disabilities specialist/advocate.  Not clear, as we used to put it, where I belong.  Enjoy baptists and unitarians; educated and "uneducated"; clerks and farmers as much (more?) than professors.  Everyone's interesting!  I'm on chatting terms with a slew of folks all over town/area, both sides of the tracks.  Attended all grades here.  (No liberals or environmentalists to worry about.  One friend refers to me with a sneer as Green.  Right.)  Some paths I may never cross; some I wish I didn't have to!
   When I yell at someone (or they've had nails for bfast), I remain grateful for the community that more or less puts up with me, and grateful to be learning to do the same.  Nowhere to go.  Can't wait for a certain Rev. to leave town; there are folks who feel the same about me.  From time to time I hear: "You don't have anyone here, why don't you go some place else?"  Depending on what I had or didn't have for breakfast I either say, "Good idea", or snarl "Why don't you!"  We're stuck with each other, and most of us know it.  Signed up for this--I did?!  What a bunch of outrageous folks (like Stan sharing his earwax story at Thanksgiving--Why Me!!)!
    The wonderful thing (to me) is the following week, we're all talking at each other.  (The good thing about so many of us having bad hearing (or memories) is--maybe we don't hear insults ('course we also hear things not said!))  I like this going right on--not like family.  A few folks, very few, hold on to slights (real or imagined) for years, sometimes generations.  But by and large we move on, an valuable model for me.  Forget 'til you forgive.
    After I describe a particularly colorful incident, city buddies sometimes tell me, "Get new friends", in much the same tone as "get a man, a dog, or stop eating fried food".  They don't understand.  There are no new faces here.  The odd person transfers in for a rotation or contract; prodigal offspring move back, like I did, when life falters.  Otherwise, we've met the enemy and it's us.  I treasure these friends and sacred enemies as Dalai Lama calls our teachers.  We're it.
    My benefactors have graciously introduced me around and entertained me for 3 years.  I visit their churches and organizations liberally.  I was turned down when I made the mistake of asking to visit a private program; last time it was listed in the paper.  I like folks who know who and what they like; so do I.  I didn't join up much.  To be fair to myself, only a couple of folks have ever visited my (yoga) class.
    An introvert comfortable with a fair amount of not doing, who will "just write" for hours, I'm more or less ok with a quiet life.  If I'm lonely because I don't have a life--it's my choice--made a child and fur free bed in the ashram (as brother Jamie once called my idea of home).  My challenge is to balance alone time and to make friends where people have known each other for generations (without a 40 year gap).  My "just being" is a bad fit in a keep-busy society.  At best, it's just plain weird.  Luckily weird is a matter of opinion.  "Takes one to know one!" is one of favorite mantras.  Just one big state (mental) hospital here my genealogy buddy and I agree!
    I'll know I'm fully home when people stop asking "How many grandkids do you have" and "What do you do".  They'll realize Ronda and Bob's daughter covers it.  Next year will be even harder to explain--I aspire to do one thing at a time!
    Several months back I was asked to talk (about yoga) to a (local) hospital support group next April.  April!!  Who can think that far ahead!!  Now that we're into December, maybe I'll make it to 2010!!  Things to do!
    Like genealogy.  Haven't been able to verify dad's Hemphills in Ireland.  Found more than I dreamed.  Turns out genealogy's my way of bringing history to life.  Each time I visit a country church, I'm humbled to think of gg grandmother Pallett living and dying young (at 31 yrs, 1857), an itinerant minister's wife.  This year I learned Rev. Pallett's Bible was inherited by descendants of his first son (of 4) marriages!  Stunned to see (copies of) pages shared by a 4th cousin in Missouri. Gotta finish transcribing gold rush journal from mom's side before it disintegrates!  Then all has to be organized!
    Getting close to acquiring the mincemeat recipe I remember mom and the church women in the basement making when we were little--Carol D has it!  Plus other small goals...  Things to do.
    Christmas and New Year's greetings to all!  Send stories!  Better yet, y'all come visit (like I said last year, one of these years the guest room will be more than a futon camping experience--maybe a blow up one?)

Love and blessings from the prairie to all,

Hemphill gathering in Connecticut -- Aunt Patsy's memorial, June 2009
Brothers Stuart (3rd from R) and Scott (far R)
    Cousins Jim and Bob 2nd and 5th from L