THE HONORABLE DAD

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THE HONORABLE DAD

When I was pregnant the second time, I craved ham sandwiches.  And, unlike my normal habits, I ate them in the middle of the night.  I never did before, nor do I now, get up and eat in the middle of the night.

But I did then.

Getting up and going downstairs to the kitchen in the middle of the night was a taxing effort as my pregnancy progressed.  Preparing the ham sandwich was another effort.

In his usual, unique thoughtful style, my husband found a way to take away all the work, and make it sheer enjoyment: he fixed a ham sandwich for his lunch the next day, and an extra one for me.  Then, since the springtime temperatures at night were cool but not freezing, he opened our bedroom window and placed the sandwich (in a baggie) in the window between the screen and the glass.  He closed it, thus creating a refrigerator for the sandwich.  All I had to do was get up and go to the window to get my sandwich.

And I did.  And I loved it.  And I loved him for it.

And our son still loves ham sandwiches.

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Being pregnant is sometimes sheer joy, but often times it is sheer misery.  I experienced both.  My husband did whatever things—both small and large—that he could to turn the misery to joy, or at least to alleviate some of it.

When we were dating, I had a built-in barometer to assess his potential fitness as a future reproductive match for me:  he already had a son.  I liked what I saw, so I deemed him acceptable—if not excellent—as a match.

He was then, and continues to be an honorable—and excellent–dad.

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I thought this picture was taken on Father’s Day, but given my long sleeves and long pants (right), I think perhaps it was Dad’s birthday in March.  Suzanne is on his lap, Gail is in the back.

So too was our dad.  He was an honorable dad, man, husband and human.  He was fair and just.  He spoke his mind, which were always words of wisdom.  He was respected by all, and he knew not a stranger.   For all of this, I am forever grateful.

I know that not every dad is worthy of this honor.  I know there are many fathers—and mothers too—who are not honorable.  Who do not deserve to be a parent to their beautiful and innocent children.   Who do not treat their children with love, respect, caring kindness and tenderness.  Who did not want to be parents, but found themselves in that position.

There are many mysteries in life, and that is one of them.  How such gifts in the form of children are given to parents who are not honorable.  I don’t have an answer, and I don’t want to bring you—or me—down any further by discussing it.

Instead, simply pray for the children, and pray that future potential parents are somehow better chosen.  And if you are a parent, keep being the best parent you can be.

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If you have ever paid attention to the composition of a pasture full of cattle (I’m a farm girl, remember, so bear with me here), you will notice an imbalance between males and females.  In order to reproduce cattle, farmers and ranchers will place the heifers—adult female cattle—in a pasture with a bull—the male.  But there is only one bull for multiple heifers.  It only takes one bull.  More than one would cause disastrous conflicts between the bulls, but I digress…img_20180615_080341675.jpg

This was the scene at the edge of our backyard yesterday.  The cows come home to our home every once in awhile.

In the human animal kingdom, males can reproduce hundreds, if not thousands of times in their adult lives.  Females, who have approximately 30 fertile years, can reproduce at a maximum of about once per year.  Thirty is a generous estimate, but the world record for most babies delivered is 67, in 27 pregnancies with all of them being multiple births.  I could not find a statistic for most births to one woman without multiples.   Most women—myself included—strive to keep it in the single digits.  In 2015 in the United States, the average birth per woman was 1.84.

I have a point here:  females have a much higher physical stake in the reproduction process.  One cycle of reproduction, from fertilization to potential repeat fertilization, is about one year.  That is, if everything goes like clockwork.  The physical toll is increasingly measurable with each successive pregnancy.  For the male, there essentially is no physical toll.

Call it instinct, call it pure motherly love, but there is a force that nearly every mother feels for her child.  If she is the biological mother, she has carried it within her for approximately nine months, then she endures otherworldly and possibly excruciating pain to give birth.

This is not to take away from the love a father feels.  I am simply stating that he does not experience the same physical and hormonal phenomena that a woman does.

Sadly, there are too many stories of women who choose not to stay with their offspring.  If we are to call it instinct, then perhaps this would never happen.  Even in the animal kingdom—I have seen it on the farm—mothers sometimes abandon their young.

There are many stories of fathers leaving their children as well.  In the face of divorce or desertion, too many fathers simply walk away.

But I also know of many fathers who lost their children’s mother to divorce or desertion, and remained the only present, active loving parent.  Sadly, I know a few who lost their children’s mother to death, and the love and devotion they show to their children cannot be exceeded by any degree of motherly love I have ever witnessed.

Many fathers have stepped up to become a father to children that were placed in their lives through circumstance instead of through birth.  Any father—or mother—who takes on children and raises them as their own deserves a special place in heaven—as well as on earth.

My point is this:  fathers can more easily walk away, and they more frequently do.  But most often they don’t, and those fathers are the ones we are honoring today.

Both Gail and Suzanne were single mothers for a period of time.  I bow down to each of them; I never had to face that challenge.  Gail told me today that her oldest daughter wishes her a Happy Father’s Day each year, as well as Happy Mother’s Day.  She realizes now that she was both mother and father to her for a long time.  Many parents have to be both, and they deserve recognition every day of the year.

Speaking of the animal kingdom, I have long had a fascination with two different species:  in college, I collected penguins.  Not so much now, but they still intrigue me.

I did not know this fact then:  the male emperor penguin incubates the egg by sitting on it for two months.  He cannot leave.  Even when the mother returns home late from the sea, the male has to feed the chick, even if he hasn’t eaten for months.   If you want your heart warmed but also perhaps ripped out by a true story from the animal kingdom, watch the documentary March of the Penguins.  It details this very phenomenon.

No wonder I consider penguins cool creatures—as well as another creature:

Instead of the female, the male seahorse—as well as several other related species—gives birth.  They carry the young—up to 1500 eggs– in a pouch for 9-45 days, then deliver them into the water.  Again, I felt an affinity for this species long before I knew the male did the hard work.  I spoke of this admiration in Lessons From My Sister—And the Sea Creatures (July 30th).  They are so amazing to me.

Of course, it’s not like I think they are so cool that I would get a tattoo of one or anything like that…no, never.

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Of course, I miss my dad today.  I cannot not feel the pain more today.  But I am celebrating.  I have a lot to celebrate with my children and their father, as well as my in-laws, and we did just that today.  We couldn’t all be together today, but this picture from last Christmas is my husband’s entire brood:

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My memories of Father’s Day as a child usually involve the harvest field, because that is typically where he was.  I made my annual pilgrimage to the family wheat fields yesterday for a truck and combine ride with my brothers, which will be highlighted in a future blog soon.

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I felt my dad there, too.

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My heart breaks for anyone who is struggling through this day because it is their first Father’s Day without their father, and I am thinking of more people than I care to mention here, but they know who they are.

He is still with you, and always will be.

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These flags were flying along the highway on my way home from the farm yesterday.  I don’t know the family who lives there, but I know of them.   My heart was warmed, and it was already 99 degrees outside.

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HAPPY FATHER’S DAY

 

 

 

 

 

THE ALMOST-EMPTY NEST

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THE ALMOST-EMPTY NEST

Suzanne told me before my firstborn son left for college that I would get through it, I would be fine, and in time, I would even come to welcome his independence.

I didn’t believe her at the time, but she was so right.

Her only child—Julia—had left the year before that, and she was living proof.

Gail survived the departure of her first two children many years ago, so that was old news to her. At that time, her younger children were preschoolers. Like any challenge, Gail stares it down, accepts it as a fact of life, and goes on. She simply does what has to be done.

She does, however, feel it more than she lets on. I know this about her. And the older she gets, the harder it gets to not let it show. Oh, she is still tough as nails, don’t get me wrong. She’s just a little softer on the outside now.

She has always been mush on the inside, and that is a good thing.

I wear my heart not on my sleeve; more like on my collar. Or like a tattoo on my forehead. I once cried during a presidential inauguration on television.

Damn hormones.

Perhaps some mothers would have cried at my son’s snafu during graduation, but I managed to laugh—and I truly thought it was funny.

Every graduate, after they walked across the stage, was handed a yellow rose to take to their mother or other significant adult. The graduates before him did just that, offering heartfelt hugs along with the beautiful flower. Joel picked up his rose, and proceeded to sit back down among the rows of graduates. A fellow graduate likely nudged him, reminding him “You’re supposed to take that to your mom.”

So he got back up, searched and found me, and leaned in from the aisle across about 5 chairs, handed me the rose from a distance as I headed toward him for a hug, just as he turned and quickly headed back to his chair in the front of the auditorium.  The blurry quality of this picture shows just how fast it all happened:

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That’s my boy. He apologized later, and gave me one of his best hugs ever.

As my firstborn prepares for his fourth year away at a state university, Joel is preparing for a year at a local vocational training program. He will live at home for one more year. He will be independent, but he won’t be gone—yet.

I am thrilled. I’m not quite ready for emptiness. But I am ready for—as we say in the rehab field—modified independence. It will be the best of both. He will be here, but he will also be on his own.

His sense of humor is a gift to anyone in his presence. If you thought the graduation incident was funny, well, he didn’t even mean to do that. If you can catch him at the right moment, in the right mood, he will break out his impersonations. Any character, any dialect, as well as the voices of many famous people can be heard coming from his mouth.

He is a funny guy, and I look forward to more laughter with him. Then, perhaps after a year of training, I will be ready to let the last one go—at least out of the house.

It’s supposed to happen. They are supposed to grow up and move away from their parents. This is what we work so hard for, for all those years. For their first 18 years, we knock ourselves out to teach them all we can, and show them how to do things on their own. And then we are devastated when they do just that.

Damn hormones. Or soul-wrenching motherly love. Or the bittersweet Grand Design.

They, like all of us at their age, need to move forward to the next phase of their lives. We were ready at their age, and they, too, are readying to leave.

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Gail’s fourth and last child graduated as well. She was born on my husband’s birthday, and, like my last child, will be attending a program close to home. She will drive half an hour to her mother’s alma mater every day.

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Her oldest sister, Gail’s firstborn and honorable attorney-at-law Kate, was the graduation speaker.

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Gail and I, unlike Suzanne, will not quite have an empty nest. But kind of. They will be under our roofs by night, but yet they are out in the big world on their own by day.

I have convinced myself that I am getting the best of both: they are gone, but still here, too. My husband agrees. So does Gail, and her husband.

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Fourteen years ago Matt graduated from high school.

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Three years ago Jude graduated from high school.

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Joel’s graduation completes the trifecta.

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There is a lot of fun out there waiting to be had, and my name is on some of it. Gail’s name shows up too, as does Suzanne’s. Adventure awaits. More of the same kind we’ve always had, and perhaps—who knows—other kinds may find us too. We are open to that.

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I work with many patients whose spouses are present for therapy. They are visiting in the hospital room when I’m there, or they are at home with them when I am in their homes for home health, or perhaps they bring each other in for outpatient therapy.

I am struck every time I hear it spoken, and I always stop to think about this, and why it happens the way it does: so many of these patients and their spouses call each other not by their first names, but by “Mom” or “Dad.”

Clearly, they are married to each other; they are not parents to each other. Yet, they call them by their parental name. I always wonder this: was parenthood their only identity? Do they think of themselves only as parents, and not as individuals married to each other with a unique identity apart from that as a parent? Did they not have the luxury of thinking of themselves as a separate entity apart from their children? Was their devotion to their children greater than mine to my children, because I don’t now, nor do I ever foresee myself calling my husband “Dad,” instead of by his first name. He is not my dad. My dad is the only person I ever called or will call ‘Dad,’ and he is gone. Neither do I foresee him calling me “Mom.” His mother is alive and well, and that is her name to him. My parents called each other either by their first names, or perhaps a term of endearment, but not by their parental names. So too do my in-laws. My husband and I use these endearing terms sometimes too.

When I am talking to my boys and referring to their dad, I do call him “Dad,” or sometimes “your dad” to them. I think perhaps it was simply easier for these couples to simply continue to use the names “Mom” and “Dad” after all those years of doing just that with their children. But I still wonder if they ever think of themselves as anything besides parents.  Perhaps I am over-thinking this, but I do notice it, just like I notice a lot of things in human communication. It is my job, and forgive my psychoanalysis if it appears that is what I have done. I am simply trying to make a point about one’s parental identity.

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So back to our kids: The passive parenting has begun. Gail spent 34 years in active parenthood, I have spent 21, and Suzanne spent 18, for a total of 73 years. That’s a long time. Our parents spent 33 years from the firstborn to the last to leave. Suzanne tells the story of asking Mom if she was going to miss our youngest brother when he was preparing to leave home. If I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure she said without hesitation: “No. I am ready.”

Gail was second to leave, I am guessing that was a little tougher. I was fifth to fly the nest, and I don’t recall giving a flip about how Mom and Dad felt about me leaving. I only recall being so excited to arrive at college, and when they dropped me off, I didn’t look back. I don’t know if they did or not.  One of our older brothers was at the same university for his last year, so I wasn’t quite alone.

Suzanne was next after me, and next-to-last. She went to the same university I did, but I had just finished. Again, it was probably a bit easier. So by the last one, they were experts at this after having been through it seven times.

Several of us—myself included—drifted back in and out again when we were in transition. They welcomed us until we got our footing again, and left once more.

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Joel is sitting next to me as I write, taking care of some form of business on his computer—the one I hijacked for last week’s post. (By the way, my new charger arrived in the mail from Amazon, and obviously, it fired up and charged my computer again.) He and I are plugged in separately, but we are together still. Perhaps this will be the new normal as he transitions into his year of post-secondary education, then into the big world. His next oldest brother will be back at the same university for his senior year. Their oldest brother continues to live just 100 easy miles down the road in Wichita with his delightful family.

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Our nest is almost empty, but our hearts will always be full with them as our children. I know in my heart this is how our parents felt, too. Our nest is blessed. Full nest, almost-empty nest and someday, perhaps, empty nest, we will keep them in our hearts forever. And this is how it supposed to be, this is what we worked so hard for all those years for.

Let the next phase begin.

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MAY THE FOURTH OF JUNE BE WITH YOU

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May The Fourth of June Be With You

I had a great post started for tonight. It was relevant to Gail and me, and Suzanne had already been there. I started it on my computer on a Word document, as I always do before I transfer it to my Word Press page. I sat down last night–Saturday–to finish it for posting Sunday night, and my computer started up, then fizzled. Dead. Completely dead.

I got the charger and plugged it in, which typically cranks it right up as it charges. No dice. Nothing. I let it sit and charge for awhile, but still, nothing.

With my limited tech skills, I deduced that the battery charger was dead.

My son just got his new computer a few days ago; his practical gift to himself with his graduation jack. He was in town with my husband, and I took the liberty of finding the charger in his room to use his instead. It was the same brand; surely it would work.

It didn’t fit.

So, like I always do when I am desperately in need of computer support, I go to my neighbor, our IT guy next door. Everyone should have one, and I know how lucky I am. He produced several chargers that were supposed to be universal, but again, no dice. He gave me (free) professional advice to purchase a new one at America’s Largest Retailer if I couldn’t wait a few days for Amazon to deliver, which I couldn’t.

So I called my son, and they were gracious enough to go to A.L.R., which wasn’t too torturous at 10:00 on a Saturday night. He found a charger with not one, but six different plugs for what should cover nearly every model. My brand was listed on the side, so surely we were good to go.

They arrived home around 10:30 and he got right to it, trying every plug.

No luck.

So, I have hijacked his new computer, using it more than he likely has in the two days he has owned it. His heart is huge, and he is happy to help. I had to start fresh on my Word Press page, as I couldn’t transfer a Word document from my dead computer.

The post I had started is relevant, but not time-sensitive, so it will wait.

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So why this long story about a battery charger? Because it, too, is relevant.

When I took my almost-daily run this morning, I tried to think of a Plan B. I get good ideas when I run; my mind flows even more than my body does. As I stretched my legs and pounded the ground underneath my feet, I felt the energy build; I felt the ideas forming.

I go to great lengths to get this almost-daily run in; I have for just over 27 years. I need it. I need the flow. I need the energy. If I didn’t get it, I wouldn’t do it day after day. It is the fuel that powers my body. If I don’t run, nothing else runs well, either. So day after day, I run.

Just like getting my computer energized, it is a priority. My computer must have energy from the battery to run, and I recharge my body’s battery almost every day when I run.

We filled the car up with gas yesterday. Fuel to make it go, energy to make it run. I did bat an eye at the escalating gas prices, but I have never thought twice about spending whatever money is necessary to buy gas. I am fortunate, I realize some people must think twice, and perhaps forgo a trip because of this. I am grateful for this.

The computer charger. My daily run. Gas in the car. It’s all about energy.

Whether or not we realize it, we crave energy. Physical energy. Mental energy. Kinetic energy. Mechanical energy. Spiritual energy. It’s all about energy. Every force in the universe runs on energy of some form. Wars are even fought over energy, if you consider that the end product of petroleum from the oil-rich nations is gas, which we cannot live without in our culture, just as my gasoline purchase yesterday illustrates.

I have made it abundantly clear in previous posts that I crave sleep. I want to be rested to be energetic, and I prioritize it over many other things. I love an after-lunch nap when I can get it. It energizes me for the rest of the day. Suzanne loves sleep, too. Most of us do. Gail, however, can do with very little, but she is an exception. Sleep is the ultimate human battery charger.

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Besides my blog posts, I post very little on Facebook. Every May 4th, however, I post one of my favorite greetings as a speech therapist. While I am not a huge Star Wars fan, I take this annual opportunity to extend this well-wish: May the Fourth Be With You.

This force, this energy, is the same life force we all crave in all the ways–and more–that I illustrated above.

No matter the day of the year, I wish you this energy. I wish you this force in everything you do. I wish you positive energy in all your interactions with other people, and I wish you the awareness and strength necessary to walk away from those who drain your positive energy.

I wish I had a working battery charger for my computer.

I wish I didn’t have to go to Plan B for this post, but I realize that life is not about how smoothly Plan A works out, but how well we cope with Plan B. Or Plan C, D or E…

May the Force Be With You every day, and may June the 4th be a great day for you.

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Happy Anniversary to my in-laws, Norma and Marvin. They are celebrating 57 years of marriage on Sunday, June 3rd. They are a positive force in their family, and to anyone lucky enough to know them. When my parents died, they were supportive beyond words. I told Norma “I guess you have to be my parents now.”

She replied: “We always have been.”

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Happy Birthday to Lindsay, the delightful wife of my delightful stepson. She celebrates another trip around the sun on Monday, June 4th. She, like my in-laws, is a positive force and I am blessed to be in this family with all of them.

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I wrote several times about “James” and “Lucy,” a dear patient and his dear wife. James passed away this week, and my heart breaks for Lucy and for his family. May the forces of love and sympathy be with them.

LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

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LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

As a child, I recall hearing and saying this many times:  “I can do what I want.  It’s a free country.”  It was typically in response to some perceived offense, and when confronted, the offending party would often respond with that phrase.

I don’t hear kids—or adults—saying that much anymore.  But we should never forget the meaning behind it.

“And I won’t forget the men (and women) who died, who gave that right to me.”

On Saturday of this week, my husband’s family celebrated his father’s 80th birthday with a large gathering of 50-plus family members.  The host led grace just before the meal, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, then “Happy Birthday” sung to the birthday boy from the crowd.  This trifecta was the perfect display of gratitude first for the food, then for the freedom, followed by a family honoring a strong and deserving patriarch.

“And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.”

After the singing, my father-in-law and the uncles who served our country were asked to stand to be recognized and honored.  There were seven .  We applauded with our hands and with our hearts.

This will never be enough to let them know how much we appreciate their service, but they don’t expect any more than that.  They simply served; they were honored to give.

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Our dad didn’t serve in the military.  He was deemed not fit enough due to flat feet.  Now, most of his seven children have flat feet, but we might not be here otherwise.

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Memorial Day is a wonderful bonus Monday off for many people, myself included.  But, as this Facebook post so painfully illustrates, it goes so much deeper than that.  Deeper than the vast majority of us will ever know.  Deeper than our worst nightmares can conjure, to a depth that that should always be seared upon our minds, hearts and souls how supremely fortunate we are to live in a free country.

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OUR FREEDOM ISN’T FREE.

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Gail, Suzanne and I got to spend the weekend together.  Gail traveled the 230 miles to our small city, and we savored this gift of time together in the sisterhood.  We are supremely fortunate to have each other, and we know it.

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We are celebrating our parents this weekend too, as we do every time we are together.   None of us felt the need to visit their graves; we know they are not there.  Mom made it clear before they died that we were welcome to visit her plot when she was gone, but we wouldn’t find her there.

And we don’t.

We find both of them in our togetherness, wherever we go.

Our brothers and their families who live on their farms close to our hometown take tender, loving care of their graves there, and for that, we are so grateful.  We visit when we are there at other times throughout the year.

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I was a kid during Vietnam.  I watched news coverage of the Gulf War and the other foreign conflicts that took place as I grew up, and unfortunately, continue to take place around the world.  Often, I simply turn off the news when more coverage is aired.  I simply cannot take more bad news of war.  I didn’t fully realize the depth of our freedom NOT being free until I watched the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, unfold on live television.

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”    Jimi Hendrix, a famous 1960’s rock musician, is credited with this statement.  Online sources list other similar quotes, which may have inspired him.  It summarizes what I feel is the answer as well.  Ironically, Jimi Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained as a paratrooper, and was granted an honorable discharge.

But how to find this peace?  What can each of us do, as Average Jane and Joe Citizen, to bring this about?  What on earth—literally-can we do to stop the fighting across the world?  We all think that, as just one person, our actions–good or bad–cannot possibly make a difference.

These hundreds (thousands?) of years, these scores of generations of violence toward our fellow man in the name of one’s god, one’s country, one’s pain, scorn and oppression cannot easily be turned around.  This is the way of life for so many, so many fellow humans who have never known a day of peace.  So many who don’t even know there is a better way.

So many, just like ourselves, who think there is nothing, as an individual, that can be done.

Oh, but there is.

There is one beacon, one guiding principle that each of us can put to work every day.  The key word is work, because it takes a lot of that.  If you have even one iota of self-induced strife in your heart, it has the potential to create a negative ripple, and it can be worked upon.  If you think there is nothing you can do to bring peace to the world, think again.

I have written about it before, and I will write about it again.  I offer no apologies to anyone who doesn’t want to hear anything remotely related to religion, because this only has to relate to humanity.  It comes to you and me as fellow humans, breathing the same air, co-existing on the same earth, from another human being.  A man who walked this same earth, breathed this same air from 1181-1226.  A man who gave up riches to pursue a life of humility and peace:  Saint Francis of Assisi.  He is venerated worldwide as the original Instrument of Peace, the man who wrote the prayer.

He is the saint my parents modeled their lives after, leaving us a tremendous legacy, as well as a tough act to follow.  Specifically, our mother wrote a letter to be read at her funeral asking us to live our lives by this prayer.

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So, we try.  For myself, I stumble and fall, get up and keep trying to try.  Some days, that’s the most I can do.  Some days I do a little better.  But I never stop trying.  I can’t.  Mom saw to it that we were handed those marching orders, and we saw to it that it was written in stone on the back of their tombstone in their honor.

 

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I did something recently that didn’t make me feel very good about myself.  Something that, in the parlance of my Catholic upbringing was very likely very venial, was still very wrong.  And my hyper-developed conscience wouldn’t let me rest until I did something about it.  It was more than a white lie, perhaps a shade of light gray.  Nothing damning, nothing that would incite violence or crush someone’s soul, but wrong, nonetheless.  At the time, it felt like an eye for an eye, but in hindsight, it really was something more like an eye for a toenail clipping.

So, I came clean.  I went to the person who would be affected by this transgression, even though it was known only to me.   I confessed.  I owned up to the infraction, made reparations as best I could, and they forgave with open arms.  They asked only to allow them the chance in the future to help to prevent it from happening again.  In a turn I wouldn’t have imagined, they were an Instrument of Peace to me.

So, if an offense is committed deep in a forest and no one hears or sees it, did it really happen?  Is it really wrong?

Undeniably, unequivocally, YES and YES.

If your little voice tells you that you can make peace by righting a wrong, or even creating a right where no wrong existed, then you’d better listen.  That voice is not only your conscience and your voice of reason, it is a much wiser, deeper part of your soul speaking.  It is your opportunity be an Instrument of Peace.

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“Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,”

I do love this land.  I love the open fields and rolling hills of my home state, and there are so many other parts of this land I want to explore.  My away-from-home favorites are the mountains of Colorado and the beaches of Florida, but there are so many more places in these great States I want to visit.  I don’t even have a strong desire to travel abroad because there is so much in America I haven’t seen yet.  Places open to me and you and everyone else to visit because this is indeed a free country.  We are at liberty to travel where we want to go.

For that, and for every other liberty small and large, our military is to thank.  The brave men and women who served and those in active duty as well.  Those who may never know the liberty they deserve.  Those who gave up their liberties so that we may have ours.  Words will never be enough to express our gratitude, but it is a start.  God bless them, and…

“God Bless the USA.”

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Please observe Memorial Day with gratitude for all the liberties you possess.   Please thank any active or former military service man or woman.   And, because I know it never goes away, I extend my sympathy to you for anyone you are mourning.

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Thank you for your continued support.   My sisters and I are grateful for the opportunity to reach out to each of you through this blog.  We want to take our mother’s dying wish and make it work not just for us, but for the world.  In the face of conflict, in what appear to be war-torn families and relationships, we are often asked what we do to make it work and to keep it all together.  So many people, we have learned, don’t have even a taste of what we have.  If we can help you in any way to find it, please let us know.  Send an email through the blog, or message any of us privately on Facebook.  Please reach out.  

 

 

 

IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

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IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” 

  —Abraham Lincoln

I got to grow up with a mother who taught me to believe in me.” 

   –Antonio Villaraigosa

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.”

   –Barbara Kingsolver

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.

  –Jackie Kennedy

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal.  You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” 

  —Barbara Bush

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I always knew she was an amazing woman.   Like many other mothers who pass away, their greatness shines brighter after they are gone, when their selfless acts that defined their lives are brought to the forefront of everyone’s awareness through the media.

Above the facts that she was a first lady, then a president’s mother, Barbara Bush was a strong matriarchal figure who knew the importance of loving her family.  The presidential fame in her family was secondary to this love, and it shone through in her actions.  She walked the talk.  She put her money where her mouth was.   She was vocal, active and proactive.

I didn’t fully realize this strength until she was gone.  Much like Jackie Onassis, Princess Diana and my own mother as well, I didn’t realize their full maternal strengths until they were gone.

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Most mothers have this kind of strength whether or not they show it; they have to.  It is a prerequisite for motherhood.  As a mother, I know we are called upon to be both strong and soft, active and passive.

As my years of mothering to my children continue to move toward the time for letting go years, I can only hope and pray I gave them what they needed from me.  Sometimes, I think I did a pretty darn good job, other times, I despair that I failed.  I worry that I didn’t give them enough of the right things.  I look at what my mother gave me, and most days, I know I will never measure up to that.

But perhaps I was not supposed to.  Every mother has unique gifts.  Mom gave me hers; I’ll give mine to my boys.

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This magnet graces my refrigerator.

I learned the title quote from Gail.  I believe she had it hanging on her wall years ago.  It has lasted through the ages because it appears to be true:  If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  Apparently I used it more than I realized with my boys.

About eight years ago, I was simply hanging up my laundry on the clothesline, and I threw my back out.  It locked up, and so did I.  I made my way into the house and sat down gingerly on the couch.  I tried to remain motionless at that point, and obviously the pained look on my face told a tale.  Both of my boys rushed to my aid, offering whatever support they could.

Mom, can I get you a pillow?  A blanket?  Anything?”  my youngest, at about ten asked, full of worry and concern.  They were not used to seeing me in pain and out of commission.  I thanked them, and sat still, trying not to moan and groan.  Clearly, though, I was not happy.

I guess that thing you say really is true.”  Joel then said.

“What’s that?”  I asked.

If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

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Mother’s Day is approaching—again.  Every year, for the last ten years, I have turned away from the card displays, sneered at the commercials; rolled my eyes at the ads.  If my mother isn’t here and I can’t celebrate it with her, then no one else should be able to, either.

Self-centered, egocentric and selfish, I know.  Part of me, I fear, will always feel that way.  Another part of me knows in my heart of hearts that I was luckier than many people to have a mother like her, and even though my time with her was cut too short, I was so blessed.  The deepest part of me knows I need to take her wish for her children to be Instruments of Peace, and share what she gave to us.

So I will try.

First, if your mother is no longer here, my heart breaks for you.  I know your pain too well.  Know, too, that the love your mother had for you, coupled with the love you had for her lives on in your heart, and nothing can take that from you.  Know you are not alone.  Know you will keep on surviving every day, with one foot in front of the other, using the love and strength she gave you when she was here.

That leaves those of you who still have your mothers here.  If you have already made plans to celebrate her, I commend you.  If not, you have two weeks to plan a Mother’s Day celebration.  You have two weeks to re-arrange your schedule to fit a visit into your plans.  You have two weeks to find a way to honor this woman who gave you life, love and everything she had to give to make you who you are.  If you can’t celebrate Mother’s Day with her on May 13th, designate a day, weekend or more time after that as your own personal Mother’s Day celebration.  Let her know this is what it is for.

She may not be here next year. Ours wasn’t.

It is hard for me to understand, given the incredible woman my mother was, but I know there are mothers who struggle to give their children what they need, who may not be an easy woman to love.  I realize this, so please take this question to heart:  if she were gone tomorrow, would you be at peace with everything you did to try to make your relationship a good one?  Would you be able to live in peace with your efforts?  Please consider this.  And, know my heart breaks for you, too.

Second, if you are a mother, you deserve to be honored by your children.  Accept it gratefully and graciously.  Know this is your most important role right now, and relish the opportunity to have it.  I plan to split the weekend between my family and Gail’s family, as her daughter is graduating from high school on Mother’s Day.

Third, get ready to do this again on June 17th for Father’s Day.  He deserves it, too.

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Happy Mother’s Day from the sisters of The Sister Lode.

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The next few weeks for me will be bustling with Mother’s Day and graduations, including my youngest son’s.  I plan to take a few weeks off from writing to focus on these events.  Thank you for your continued support.

 

 

SLEEP TIGHT

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SLEEP TIGHT

“Get eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.”  Betty White

“The morning is wiser than the evening.”  Chinese proverb

“There was a nap laying on the bed, so I took it.”  Mom

“Sleep on it.”  Anonymous

My affinity for sleep is a running joke in my family and among our circle of friends.

Gail gave me a t-shirt that reads:  Sleep is the new sex.

My sister-in-law gave me a nightshirt that reads: I ♥ my bed.

Many of our evening guests have seen me in my pajamas.  I hold out as long as I can, say goodnight, and make sure they understand that just because I am going to bed, doesn’t mean they have to leave.

So they don’t, and my husband becomes the sole host for the rest of the night. I did manage to keep my eyes open to ring in the New Year a few years ago, and our friends took pictures by the clock to document it.   Neither of us could find the picture, but just imagine me standing next to a clock just after midnight.   It is a rare sight.

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Gail, Suzanne and I are as different in our sleep styles as night and day—no pun.

*Gail, who was the owner and sole proprietor of a Daylight Donut shop in her small western Kansas town for over seven years, feels sleep is overrated, and you’ll get plenty of it when you are dead.  She didn’t get much of it during those years, and she doesn’t appear to be any worse for the wear.  She does sleep more now, and she sleeps when normal people sleep, instead of from about 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.  It didn’t take her long to adjust her sleep patterns to sleeping at night.  But a short night of sleep doesn’t seem to affect her at all now.  I think fatigue is scared of her–and it should be.

*Suzanne, who is missing her thyroid, struggles to sleep restfully.  This gland controls not only metabolism but regulates sleep as well, and while she never complains, craves sleep because she never feels rested.  She is able to sleep all night some nights, but doesn’t wake feeling rested—ever.

*Then, there’s me.  Kathleen, the sleep queen.  Kathleen, the expert sleeper.  Kathleen, who fantasizes about, craves, adores, yearns for and worships sleep.   I would consider selling my soul for a guaranteed lifetime of good night’s sleeps.

Since my kids have been sleeping all night for years now, I have been able to achieve that sleep nirvana, that state of pure bliss that results from a good night’s sleep—most nights.  Some nights not so much, and recently, as a now 52 year-old woman, not very much at all.  If you are female, and have visited this foreign country my body now inhabits, that’s all I have to say.  If you are male, or have not yet taken this trip—or glided through it smoothly, then disregard the last statement.

When I wake too early, or don’t get that high of waking up refreshed and ready to tackle the day, I feel cheated.  I try to fall back asleep, or perhaps catch a quick early morning nap.  I do whatever I can.  But I don’t dare complain to Gail or Suzanne.  Gail, with just a look, delivers the “get over it” message, and a quick stare from Suzanne reminds me I have nothing to complain about.

Because I am an avid reader—and also a trivia nerd, I am known to be full of information.  Some useful, most of it useless.  I recently read a great book and a few great articles about sleep, and I would like to impart this highly useful and relevant information to you regarding this universal activity, this human need:

*Sleep deprivation is used as a torture method.  If you ever want to torture me, this would likely be the best way to do so.

*The “hunger hormone” known as ghrelin is produced more abundantly in the absence of restful sleep.

*The reasoning part of the brain is not functioning well in the wee hours, which explains why, for many people, irrational thoughts and magnified fears can rule when one is awake in the middle of the night.  The demons lurk and the monsters are alive and well under—and perhaps all around your bed, but only really in your head.  At 3 a.m.,  my brains seems to say “Oh, I see you are trying to sleep.  Let me offer you a running commentary of all the things I want you to worry needlessly about:”  

Youforgottoshutoffthelavalampthekitchenwillprobablybeonfireyoudidn’tgetthefinancialaid paperworkdonetherewontbeanythingleftforcollegemoneyforyourkidsthatmolehaschanged sinceyourlastdermatologistvisityoudidn’tsignthatreportitwontgotothedoctorandyourpatient willprobablydie.  

Mercifully, after falling back asleep, and waking up after restful sleep, I always discover all is well:  the kitchen didn’t burn, there is college money for my kids, the mole looks the same, and I did remember to sign the report.  And I feel strong.  With a good night’s sleep, I can slay dragons, both real and imagined.

As the Chinese proverb states, the morning is truly wiser.  It is more rational and less emotional.  Decisions are best made when the mind is not clouded by emotion, most likely in the morning after a good night’s sleep.  And emotions are best expressed in the evening, which is likely why most dates and other social activities take place in the evening.  Which is also why the advice to sleep on it is good advice for decision-making.

*Much like the office after hours, the brain shuts down the non-essential operations and allows the cleaning crew to come in and do their job.  The brain, during restful and prolonged sleep at night, allows passage for its self-cleaning crew to come in, tidy up and take out the trash.  Without it, filth accumulates, leading to poor health and eventually disease.   Just like the office, if you don’t shut down the non-essential operations nightly, it can’t ever really be cleaned.

*Bed bugs are really real, and they really do bite.  Much of my work is in a home health setting, and I have been exposed to this threat more than I care to mention.  The most memorable patient was a gentleman, who, when he experienced the strange bug bites on his foot, scratched them so hard they became severely infected.  His foot had to be amputated.  The bugs were later determined to be bed bugs.

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Good, solid, restful sleep is a gift denied to many, for many reasons.  Suzanne’s absent thyroid.  Chronic pain.  Severe anxiety.  Medications.  Head injuries.  Babies who don’t sleep.  Teenagers who stay out late.  (I’m there.)  My heart breaks for Suzanne, and anyone else whose cards are stacked against them even before they shut their eyes.  I urge anyone who struggles with these, and many other sleep thieves to fight the battle with every tool in the shed.

Our society’s view on sleep doesn’t promote adequate, quality sleep.  Our affinity for electronic devices at all hours disrupts the natural light/dark rhythms, and the artificial light from any device—a television, a computer, your cell phone—is the worst disruptor of the natural shutdown in your brain.

Even before the devices became commonplace, the attitude that sleep is not cool or macho was prevalent—and still is.  I’d rather be the biggest nerdball square who loves sleep more than any device or esteem from others.

Since I’m already on my soapbox preaching what I try to practice, let me share with you some valuable insights I have gained from my patients who appear to defy age, poor health and general decrepitude:  As stated in The Sister’s Guide to Aging (March 18th),  the advice many of my patients have given was to keep moving, slow down and do what you enjoy.  I have yet to meet anyone who told me sleep didn’t matter.

And then there’s naps.  Ahh, the glorious nap.  I have a healthy habit of taking a nap after lunch on the weekends.  I fight the urge to take one during the week at work as well.  I just read that the human body’s energy typically ebbs around 2 p.m, which is prime nap-time for me.  A good nap—not more than an hour—is rejuvenating, recharging and resets me for the rest of the day.

If there is a nap laying on your bed, by all means, take it.  Our mom would be so proud of you.  Plus, the more naps you take, the more awakenings you have.

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Dad was always an expert napper as well.

“Two things are infinite:  the universe, and naps; and I’m not sure about the universe.”   Albert Einstein

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In my work with stroke patients, the most frequent complaint I hear is this:  “I am so tired.”  In my experience and professional reading as well, it is clear that in order to heal and recover from a stroke—and likely any other physical ailment, sleep is crucial, essential and non-negotiable.  I always prescribe naps as part of my therapy.

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I do my best to stay up later when I am away from home and there is fun to be had, such as when Gail, Suzanne and I travel.  As hard as I try, however, I usually go down before they do.

On a recent trip to Colorado, this was the scene around 10 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, which, of course, is 11 p.m. for my Central Standard Time internal clock:

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Gail is winding up for the evening.

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Suzanne is winding down.

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Obviously, I am wound down already.

I did manage to stay up until around 1:00 a.m. on our Florida trip several years ago, but without pictures to document, you will have to take my word.  Gail and Suzanne will attest.  Given the time difference, however, it was only midnight on my internal clock…

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It wasn’t past midnight, but clearly I stayed awake long enough to take in some night life with Suzanne in the revolving club at the top of our hotel in Florida last summer.

Of course, the best thing about a good night’s sleep is the feeling of being rested, refreshed, full of energy and ready to face the world.  With or without that feeling, I wake to the one sure thing that never lets me down, the thing I start fantasizing about even before I lay me down to sleep:  coffee.  Strong, black coffee.

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Gail and I partake daily, religiously even, without fail, just as our parents did.  Suzanne, however, is not a coffee drinker.  And because we accept each other as we are, she remains one of us.  But at least once on our trips, we try to sway her to the other side.  We haven’t given up hope yet.

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Good night, and don’t let those bedbugs bite.

Thank you for the birthday wishes.  I had a fabulous day, and I hope you do too on your next birthday.

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU–AND ME

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU–AND ME

“Today you are you!  That is truer than true!  There is no one alive who is you-er than you!    Dr. Seuss

Some people say it’s just another day. I say it’s not, and Gail and Suzanne agree:  it’s your birthday, and it is a special day.  It is the anniversary of your arrival here on earth.  It is an observance of the day you came into the world.  It is the mark of another trip around the sun.  Without your birthday, you wouldn’t be here.

It’s that simple—and that important.

Since I observed Gail’s birthday in February with a post, and Suzanne’s birthday in August with a post, I decided it was appropriate to observe my April birthday in a post.  Gail and Suzanne agreed.

I will turn 52 this week.  I am not hiding my age; rather, I know age is a gift to be opened, celebrated and treasured.  And I will do just that.  I’m not sure what I will do just yet, but I know I won’t work—if I can swing it.  My schedule is clear so far…I know I will go to my son’s baseball game.  My husband is planning on taking me to lunch.

I also observed Mom’s birthday in January with a post.  She never called attention to her own birthday, but she always made sure to celebrate all of ours.  Most years, she would call me at 4:15 p.m. on my birthday, the exact minute I was born.  Dad always chimed in with a birthday greeting as well.

Mom always made a cake for each of us, and cooked a special dinner of our choice.  There was always at least a small gift.  For our youngest brother Ryan, who was born on Christmas Eve, she never let Christmas outshine his birthday; she always made it a special occasion that wasn’t overshadowed with the holiday celebrations.  Some years, I remember her observing it in the summertime too, creating a special occasion to allow him more attention that may have been garnered by the holidays.

Long before they died, Mom and Dad took the time and care to sort hundreds of pictures from dozens of years of their family life.  They made a pile for each of us, labeled it with our names, and made sure they gave it to us.  I have looked through mine many times, and I found these various pictures from my birthday celebrations through the years.  I think I got them in the right order:

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My first birthday; my great-aunt and uncle are pictured with me.  I don’t think I have turned away from any cake since then.

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Three of my brothers and Gail were with me, Suzanne wasn’t yet dreamed of.

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I thought this was my birthday, but I don’t appear to be eight years old as the candles would indicate.  This must be Gail’s birthday.  I included it because it is a great picture of our great-aunt Madeline, who was a great substitute grandmother.  If either of my boys had been girls, the first girl would have been named Madeline after her and our mother’s stepmother, also named Madeline.   Neither Madeline was a genetic grandmother to us, but they were both incredible grandmothers to us in every other way.

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This one doesn’t appear to be a happy birthday…

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I have always loved books, and I remember these book/record sets fondly.

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That laced-up vest look complements the gap in my teeth…

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This appears to be my initiation into the awkward teenage years.

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And, after a long gap without pictures, this was my 34th birthday.  If you look close, there is a baby bump, and he was born in July.

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I recall a few birthday memories from my younger years:

*I had a track meet on my 18th birthday.  I ran long distance races so my events were later, and I had a crush on a guy who was there from another school.  He didn’t know it was my birthday; I’m not even sure he knew I existed.

*One of my sisters forgot my 21st birthday.  I even stopped at her workplace to see her that day.  Granted, she was very busy, and it was Good Friday. Still…She did make up for it later, so I let her off the hook.  Several other important people forgot too, and I felt like the star of the movie Sixteen Candles.

*The only birthday I recall dreading was my 25th—pictured here with Gail’s two oldest daughters.

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At this monumental quarter-century mark, I was going nowhere in my life, and I was wasting precious time with Mr. Wrong, whom I cut out of this picture.  There is a longer, soul-sucking story explaining why I was with him and not Mr. Right, and if the price is right, I will tell you the rest of the story—in private.  It ranks up there with one of my biggest mistakes I ever made.  Luckily, I was able to rectify the situation, and I married Mr. Right three years later.

Twenty-two years after that party, Mr. Right threw me a 50th birthday party.  His son–my stepson Matt, observed  his 30th birthday a month earlier, and Amy (Swheat Girls, Part Two:  July 9th),  turned 40 the same day Matt turned 30.  We were feted with a 30-40-50 party.  Mark’s brother, who turned 50 four days after me, was also included in the celebration.

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I wore the tiara proudly.

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It was held on the eve of my birthday on a beautiful spring day, and a grand time was had by all.  We are already planning the 40-50-60 party in just eight years.

The last birthday bash I had was 40 years prior.  Each of us in my family was granted a large 10th birthday party with friends and family invited.  It was an occasion to be anticipated and remembered, because we each got one when we turned 10.

Suzanne reminded me that we also got the day off from doing dishes on our birthday.  We never had an automatic dishwasher, Dad always said that when all seven of his dishwashers grew up and moved away, he would buy a dishwasher.  He never did buy one for the farmhouse, but their house in town had one.

Suzanne and I were talking about how Mom and Dad made sure to take pictures on our birthdays, first of the birthday girl/boy, then with the rest of the kids.  Suzanne, however remarked that all the pictures she has of her birthdays are with Mom and Dad only, because they always took her to Disneyland, without any of us.

Whatever, Suzanne.

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Gail rang in her 50th birthday in style with a big party as well.  There was a blizzard that weekend, and Suzanne and I weren’t able to make it.  She did, however extend the celebrating throughout the entire month of February with this campaign:  50 Beers for 50 Years.  I think she managed to reach her goal before the end of the month.

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Nearly every year, the best birthday gift I get is from Mother Nature.  She (almost) always has the leaves hung on the trees for me, and has a lush carpet of green covering the earth just in time for my big day.  I can only remember one other birthday about two years ago when the trees were bare and the earth was still mostly brown.

Apparently, she’s not going to deliver in time again this year.

As I write this on April 14th, we are experiencing a freak early spring blizzard.  Sideways snow and strong gale force winds have been the order of the day.  Our son has prom tonight.  It is a cruel trick from Mother Nature for all of us.

She hasn’t been very nice to us this spring.

Gail, a.k.a. Gale Force Winds, reminded me that there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it, and complaining about it won’t help.  Her daughter’s prom was changed to Sunday night due to the weather, as western Kansas got it worse than we did.  Interstate 70 was closed at the Kansas-Colorado border, right where we took our pictures on our trip there just over a month ago.  It was sunny and pleasant that day.  Not so much today.  Gail loves it.  She always loves it, no matter what the weather.

One should never dread birthdays; I certainly don’t.  I welcome them; relish them.  Neither should we dread any kind of weather, but still, I do.  All of us should welcome the weather as graciously as Gail–and Suzanne–both do.

The forecast for my birthday is 82 degrees and sunshine.    I will give Mother Nature a break if she can deliver that for me.

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Gail, Suzanne and I are expert birthday gift-givers to each other.  Seeking out and finding the perfect gifts for each other is a sport, one we all immensely enjoy–almost as much as getting the gifts on our own birthdays.

Gail found another perfect gift for me in Michigan when they were there at Christmas, and, like I frequently can’t, she couldn’t wait until my birthday to give it to me.    So I got it early, and I am so glad I did.

She knows how I love to watch the moon in all its phases.  In a quaint shop in northern Michigan, they sold necklaces with the  various phases of the moon.  But it’s more than just another moon necklace.  If you enter any day in history you wish to commemorate–like, for example, the day I was born, it gives you the exact phase of the moon for that day.   So now, I am the proud owner of this necklace, which features the moon as it appeared on the day I was born 52 years ago.  Of course, it glows in the dark.

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If you need a gift for a moon-lover like me–or for yourself, check out http://www.moonglow.com.

Gail’s gift for your birthday is this sage advice:  Birthdays are a gift.  Unwrap them and enjoy the presence.

In honor of my birthday, I ask one gift from you:  Please celebrate your own next birthday.  It is a gift to be opened, another year to celebrate,  a day to relish your presence here.

Take the day off, buy yourself a gift; have a party.  Or do it all.  Just please celebrate.

Happy Birthday to you.

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Happy Birthday to my birthday buddy Charlie, a college friend born on the same day in the same year as me.  Pictured here–second from left–with her own sister lode.

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Happy Birthday too, to my friend and former co-worker Lois.  We share the same birthday in different years, and we always wish each other happy birthday by phone every year.  Once in a while, we manage to get together.  

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