THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

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This week, I am honored to feature the Greif sisters, the amazing set of six sisters I mentioned a few months ago.  Their stories will make you richer for the reading…

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

There was a popular western film made in 1960 called The Magnificent Seven. It was a story of a group of seven gunmen hired to protect a Mexican village from bandits.

There is another group of seven magnificent people, according to their mother—our mother.  My two sisters, four brothers and I were her “Magnificent Seven,” her “Seven Wonders of the World.”  She spoke this, and put it in writing.  Dad would smile and agree, and show us in multiple other ways.

They loved us without question or limits.  We loved them back just as fiercely.

This post is not about us, but about another group of seven children, six of whom are daughters.  Certainly, another Magnificent Seven, even if their parents didn’t call them that like ours did. The lone son in this family is recognized both by his sisters and by me as a warrior in his own right to occupy that role, but, as our title suggests, this is about sisters.

The Greif sisters have ties to our hometown and to our family as well.  Like us, they had roots on the farm outside of our hometown, but unlike us, did move off the farm into another small town close by.

Gail and Suzanne know several of them, as they lived in the same town after high school, the same town Mom and Dad moved to when they left the farm.   I was acquainted with the youngest two while in high school, but I didn’t know them well.  I wish I’d had the opportunity to get to know all of them.

Suzanne, Gail and I have always been quite pleased with ourselves for managing our travels, making them work; elevating them to a priority over everything else.   While we were priding ourselves on this feat on one of our travels within the last few years, Gail and Suzanne began to talk about this family of six sisters who, as detailed on Facebook, traveled extensively, all over the country.  That’s double our count.  I was intrigued.

Several months ago, they came back into our conversation.  I decided it was time to reach out to them to see if they would be willing to be featured in a post.

They were more than happy to agree.

To introduce you to them, here they are in birth order with a short bio:

Debbie:  Married with 2 daughters and 4 grandchildren, just retired, lives in Owasso, Oklahoma.

Joyce:  Married with 7 children, 7 grandchildren, retired PE/biology teacher, then earned a PhD, now a professor at my alma mater. Lives in Russell, Kansas.

Kathy:  Married with 2 grown children, retired middle school PE/science teacher/coach, currently works with a teachers organization.  Lives in Hays, Kansas.

Linda:  Married with 2 stepchildren, 4 grandchildren, retired teacher, works part-time at a library, lives in Eureka, Kansas.

Patty: Single with 2 children and one grandchild, nurse practitioner, lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Shari:  Married with 3 children, personal trainer/manages husband’s construction business, lives in Kearney, Nebraska.

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Our mother acclimated very well to her new life in this small town when they moved from our farm in 2000.  She already knew Betty, and they became closer friends, remaining close until Mom died.  Our dad knew their dad as well, who passed away in 1983.   Betty operated a day care in her home, and Suzanne’s daughter Julia was one of her charges.  Good day-care providers are hard to find, and I know Suzanne was so happy to have her daughter in Betty’s care.  Suzanne told me that our mom would fill in for Betty when she needed time for an appointment or a few hours off.  I did recall this after she reminded me.

I had the opportunity to get to know Betty as well.  However, I wish it hadn’t happened in the way it did.  Because it is a sensitive issue, I did receive permission from these sisters to include this information:  Betty had a stroke and eventually moved into the nursing home in this small town.  As the treating speech therapist there, I got to know her as a patient of mine.  I had the pleasure of meeting Linda and Kathy while I worked with her.

I will say only this about her:  she was as sweet and loving as our mother was, and as a mother to seven children like our mother was, they were so much alike in all the good ways.  And, just as our mother Liz, Betty’s full name was Elizabeth.

Their father passed away in 1983, and Betty passed away in 2017.  I know this pain never really goes away, and my heart breaks for them because it must be so fresh.  I am so glad they have each other, just like we do.

But this isn’t about grief.  It is about living life large, just as our mother and their mother would have wanted it.  And, of course, our fathers too.

These six daughters had it going even before they lost their mother, 34 years after losing their father.  Before Betty had a stroke, they decided to take a little trip.  It wasn’t really little; it was a trip to Branson, Missouri with their mother along as well.   Realizing that, like our mother, a mother of seven children had had little opportunity to get out and see the big world.  So, they took her along. Knowing that a trip for seven women would be a logistical challenge, the oldest daughter chose Branson—they took turns choosing in birth order—because it was within driving distance for most, and held a variety of activities to keep them all entertained.  This would be the only trip where they stayed in a hotel—three rooms between the six of them.  They realized they needed a home-type atmosphere to share space and togetherness.  Every trip since then has been a home rented online.

The picture below was taken there, and it is now a family treasure.  It would be Betty’s only “girl’s trip.”

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At 52 years of age, I can safely say I have earned the right, at one time or another–or sometimes all at the same time, to wear each and every one of the T-shirts they are wearing in the picture below.  Their dear mother joined in the fun, and their brother remained a good sport.

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In a farming family with seven children, a vacation of any kind with all nine family members was as likely as a trip to the moon on a rocket ship.  This was the case in our family, and in theirs as well.

Kathy, the third-oldest daughter recounted the only “vacation” they ever took as a family.  This was when the two youngest sisters—Patty and Shari—had not yet been born.  They traveled by car to Iowa to visit friends of their parents.  They spent one night in a hotel with two double beds.  Their parents slept in one bed, and the five kids laid across the other bed top to bottom.

Our “vacations” consisted primarily of the three-hour trip to Wichita to see Mom’s family:  our grandparents, aunts and their families.

Like our family, they grew up with enough, but nothing extra.  Like our family, they knew there were others who had much more in terms of material goods—bigger, nicer houses, fancier cars and nicer clothing.  Like them, I realized we were without a lot of nice “things,” but I knew then, and I know even more now, that we had all the love we needed.  They knew the same. And, like them, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our youth.  We played sports like they did.  We were in the pep club like they were.  The only difference is that their mother was the seamstress who sewed their outfits.  We hired a friend’s mother to sew ours.

Joyce sent me a message at the moment she was listening to Dolly Parton sing Coat of Many Colors.  This lyric jumped out at her: “One is poor only if they choose to be.”

It is obvious to me that all nine of us sisters I am speaking of—the three of us and the six of them–know we have each other.  After our parents were gone, this bond became the greatest remaining family wealth.   This awareness becomes greater with age.

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I recall visiting with Dad several years before they died about a family who was fighting over material resources after their parents died, and there was a rift between the siblings.  I told Dad that we don’t fight among ourselves, and likely wouldn’t after they were gone because there was no considerable material wealth to fight over.

And there wasn’t.  And we didn’t.

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Before their travels started, two of the sisters were able to connect in Albuquerque, New Mexico when Kathy was there for a conference. Patty was 180 miles away in Farmington, and she traveled to see her sister.  They relished the time alone together, but realized they needed to find a way to get together with the other four, without the other 35-or-so people in their mother’s small house.  The annual Christmas gathering was their only time each year when they were all together.

“We needed some time together besides the mass chaos of Christmas,” Debbie–oldest sister–said.

Patty, who was second youngest, remarked that the older sisters seemed more like “friends of the family,” as they were so much older and weren’t around much when the younger ones were at home.  The trips gave them time together that they never got while they were at home.

“We didn’t get to grow up with all the sisters in the same house,” Shari, the youngest sister said.  “We had a different set of circumstances to grow up in.”

Patty concurred: “Shari and I didn’t really know the older girls.”  She added that while it may have been more difficult to make ends meet before the younger kids came along, they got to know their dad in ways the younger girls didn’t.

I outlined the circumstances Gail grew up in as the oldest daughter, having no choice but to work hard to help with the younger kids.  She still works circles around Suzanne and me, and while we think we work hard enough, we’re slackers compared to her.

Learning how to work together to make it all tick is a given for a large family, especially a farm family.  These sisters were no different.

Debbie, the oldest daughter likely echoes Gail’s sentiments: “We were blessed because we had to work hard to survive.”

Joyce, who is second oldest, added “Growing up like this prepared us for difficulties later in life.”

They travel to stay connected.  They consider it a highlight—if not the pinnacle—of the year.  They get together to stay together, and to support each other through thin and thick.  Growing up, they didn’t all have time to get to know each other.

Gail is the canner among us.  I shared pictures of her salsa and zucchini relish earlier.  Linda, the fourth daughter and middle child in their family is apparently the canner among them.  Canning for her is apparently a quiet time for consideration and contemplation.  Canning, which both of our mothers did as a necessity, but also a labor of love.  It struck her recently while canning that “we will never know all the little things they did for us—we were too young to know.”

Increased awareness of these sacrifices and depth of their love come only after one’s parents are gone, and without these realizations, Gail, Suzanne and I wouldn’t be traveling, and neither would they.  The pain of loss can only be overcome by celebrating all we gained from them.

So, we travel.  The three of us.  The six of them.

And, just for the record, Gail, Suzanne and I do love our brothers.  We have stated that.  However, there are four of them, and we have chosen to make this a sister’s only trip.  Essentially, they were never invited. They do love us back, and they understand.

For the other sisters’ record, their lone brother was invited.  “Too much estrogen,” he said.  So, they go without their brother, too.

Gail, Suzanne and I thought we were so cool and something to behold; all three of us making it work, taking time off, finding the funds, prioritizing the travels before all else; leaving our families to fend for themselves.  We never thought twice about the fact that we could travel harmoniously and enjoy ourselves, never realized this peaceable interaction while traveling is something many sisters couldn’t achieve.  It seemed like a given that any sisters should be able to pull off.

Our travels and the stories we brought home—and posted on Facebook—brought several women’s horror stories of other sisters and how they couldn’t find peace, even when they were far apart from each other.

Smugly, we thought we were pretty special.  All three of us.  Maybe we really were the exception.

If we are an exception, then these sisters are the rarest of all finds:  Six sisters who make it work, near and far.  Six fun-loving, peace-loving sisters who travel—not just to the state next door, but to far and near destinations nationally—together.  In perfect harmony.

As mentioned, the oldest sister, Debbie, chose the first trip, Branson in 2008.

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Then, in 2009, Joyce picked Ouray, Colorado.

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Only five of the sisters were able to make this trip, pictured here with the guide.

In 2010, Kathy chose Hill City, South Dakota.

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Only four of the sisters were able to make this trip.  Their guide is pictured as well.

Linda decided upon Healdsburg, California in 2011.

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In 2012, Patty chose Taos, New Mexico.

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Rounding out the first round in 2013, Shari picked Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

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Back to the top for trip #7, Debbie chose Nashville in 2014,

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Followed by Charleston, South Carolina—Joyce’s choice in 2015.

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In 2016, Kathy picked Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

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Linda chose Door County, Wisconsin in 2017.

 

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This year, Patty chose San Diego, where they were able to visit a cousin (center).

 

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Rounding out Round #2 will be Shari’s decision, which she just announced:  Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It should be quite obvious from the pictures that their trips always include adventures.  It’s no surprise that their Facebook posts from their trips have inspired other sisters to begin their own tradition of sister travels.

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Buoyed by their strength and successful national travels, this would be a good time for Gail, Suzanne and me to make an announcement:  our Colorado trips with the three of us are likely a thing of the past.  It became obvious that Suzanne could no longer disguise her altitude headaches as merely discomfort; she simply cannot tolerate the altitude, and it becomes more apparent with each successive trip.  She is not one to complain, so we knew it was bad.  She was essentially immobilized for much of the last trip, so it is time for Plan B:  We, too, will begin an annual tradition of traveling to a new destination each time—likely closer to sea level.  And this will be a good thing.  Change is good, and so is expanding one’s horizons.

This year, they will head toward our previous destination, and our 2019 trip is yet to be determined.

Not to worry that our beloved destination in Colorado is a thing of the past, or that our friends in Cripple Creek will never see any of us again; Gail and I plan to make the trip, forging on without Suzanne.  And she is perfectly fine with that.  Our annual trip will compensate for any adventures missed when she doesn’t go west.  Plus, Suzanne has all kinds of fun without us anyway…stay tuned.

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The gift of sister time spent together is the greatest gift of all.  Without even polling the other eight sisters I am speaking of here, I know we would all agree with this sentiment.

There are other gifts, however.   Gail, Suzanne and I began to share small gifts with each other in the beginning, typically a small token, or a gag gift that would remind us of our time together.  We would collect these in the months prior to the trip, adding to the anticipation.  Receiving theirs was almost as much fun as giving.

Then, the gifting grew.  And grew.  And grew until it became a little bit ridiculous.  We lavished gifts upon each other like it was Christmas.   Oh, it was fun to both give and receive, but we realized it was simply not reasonable.  So, we cut back.  Back to small tokens that were more meaningful.  We thought this was the best way to do it.

Until we heard about how they do it.

For each trip, each sister chooses a gift that would remind any of the other five of them.  A gift of reasonable means; a value they could all agree on.  They exchange—drawing style, with each sister randomly receiving one gift from another sister.   By design, whatever gift each sister ended up with was meant for her, to remind her of the sister who gave it.

I love it.

We are going to copy-cat them.  Our exchanges will be repeat themselves sooner than theirs, but that’s okay.  Hopefully imitation is indeed flattery, because that’s two of their ideas we are stealing…

As I mentioned above, I wish I could get to know all of these sisters.  Perhaps one day we will all have the opportunity to celebrate our sisterhood together.   I do, however, feel quite comfortable with them already, judging from some of the comments and quotes they sent me from their travels:

“Wine a little, beach a lot.”

“Take one for the team.”

“Walk away from the jewelry…”

“It’s all downhill from here…”

“It’s just around the corner…”

“Just don’t look down.”

“When in Taos…”

“We didn’t know it was ‘clothing optional.’”

And my personal favorite:

“Don’t sleep with the bedroom door open…”

 

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Having grown up without extra material things or money, all nine of us sisters learned the values of hard work and responsibility.  These traits do pay off, but not always in the time or the way we want them to.  We all had lean times not just growing up, but as adults making our way.  We all learned how to make it on our own, but not without struggles.

It is the singular privilege of anyone who has lost a loved one to believe in signs from them.  Those of us who speak the language of loss get this.  We know when they are with us; we know when they send us these “signs.”

There are those who doubt that these are indeed a sign or a message, but they are welcome to have their doubts, and we will have our faith in this kind of communication.

Patty related the story of her leanest times as an adult: when she would find pennies on the ground, calling them “pennies from Heaven,” courtesy of her father in Heaven.

They began noticing pennies on their travels, seeing them as signs that their father’s love was surrounding them.  When they found a dime laying on a dresser upon their arrival in one of the houses they rented on a trip, they felt him there again, at least times 10—probably times infinity.

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Betty passed away in April 2017, with all seven of her children by her side.  She was buried four days later on what would have been their father’s 87th birthday.

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After the funeral, they decided to go to the last house they lived in together, the last house their mother lived in.  They wanted a picture with all seven of them by the house.   It was set to be demolished that day, with one family living in it after them.  The first round of the demolition crew arrived just after they did.  The crew understood, and waited patiently.  The house was stripped bare, seeming so much smaller than when all nine of them had all managed to live there together.  Nothing was left, not even the windows.  Except for one thing.

On the ledge where the phone had set was a rosary.   None of them recognized it as one of their mother’s.  The only family who lived there after them wasn’t Catholic, and likely wouldn’t have owned a rosary.

They all believe that their mother sent them a sign to let them know she was now in Heaven with their father.  I believe it, too.

I wrote in an earlier post that we were given our parent’s possessions that were with them the day of the accident.  In each of their pockets, we were told, was a rosary.

This sign of their strong Catholic faith, the faith they carried with them throughout their lives, remained a sign after their deaths.  We all grew up knowing how strong this faith was, and now, how it lives on.

The Greif family knows, too.

Shari’s daughter drew a picture of this mystery rosary, and Joyce decided to make it a permanent sign on her arm.

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Signs.  You have to believe them to see them.

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As I wrapped up this post, I got another message from one of the sisters.  Our communication throughout this project has consisted of a group chat on Facebook—a lengthy one at that.

Sorting through the information and input from all six of them has been a challenge, but one that I was up for; a mission I am so glad I accepted.  As the additional information continued to roll in over time from several of the sisters, they became apologetic:  “I know we have given you so much information, and I am so sorry to add more, but…”  There was never a need to apologize.  I only wish I could have included everything they gave me.

I have loved reading it all, and getting to know them through these messages.

Today, Joyce told me had a car full of high-school girls on a trip, and Coat of Many Colors came on the radio.

One is only poor only if they choose to be.”  She had to fight back tears, not wanting these teenage girls to see her cry.

But they would have been tears of joy.

Joyce and Linda made a quilt for their mother—A Quilt of Many Colors, they call it.  Most of the fabric pieces were from clothing their mother made for them as kids.  Joyce now proudly hangs it in her home.

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“One is only poor only if they choose to be.”

Gail, Suzanne and I have chosen to be rich.

The Greif sisters—Debbie, Joyce, Kathy, Linda, Patty and Shari—have chosen to be rich as well.  Joyce added in her last message that they were probably the richest kids in town.

I believe they were, and I believe we were, too.

May these sisters inspire you like they have inspired us.

And may you choose to be rich, too.

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This morning after putting final touches on this post, I went to my bedroom.  In the middle of the floor, away from everything else, was a dime.  I picked it up and put it inside the frame of this picture of Mom and Dad that sits on my dresser, holding several pieces of jewelry I couldn’t walk away from on our travels.   I am choosing to see this as a sign that I am indeed rich, and that they are still very much with us.  This would be a good time to mention that for as long as I can remember, our parents saved dimes, putting them all in their dime bank.

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Thank you, Greif sisters.  

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Thank you today, and every day to our veterans and active military on this Veteran’s Day.  Special thanks to my father-in-law, Marvin, who served in the Korean War.

  Our freedom isn’t free, and we have all of you to thank for that.  

 

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: PART TWO

 

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WASTE NOT, WANT NOT:  PART TWO

Of my 61 previous posts, the one that has come back to me the most often in ripples from readers was Waste Not, Want Not (January 14th).

I have long considered writing a Part Two as a follow-up, and when I received this tea towel in the mail this week from my friend Bridget, I knew it was time:

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I wish I had counted the number of people who have told me they think of me every time they use a paper towel.  I’m glad I admitted this idiosyncrasy.  Perhaps it is not so strange after all.

I have had several other people come clean about their miserly habits.  I thought I was the only person who ever did this:

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Then I got a picture from someone I didn’t even know who does the same thing.  His mother reads the blog, and she knew he did this, too.  She had him send it to me.

Suzanne said she does it, too.  Gail confessed that she does it to lotion bottles, and toothpaste tubes as well.  I don’t remember learning that one at home, but all three of us do it.

Suzanne and I were discussing other money-saving habits we have.  I did this in college, but I have decided I can afford to leave this one behind.  I was careful then to buy the ones made of paper and not plastic, so that I could easily snap them in two.  I still buy the paper ones, but I no longer break them in half.  I’m guessing Suzanne could afford not to do this as well now, but old habits die hard…

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Gail simply uses both ends before she throws them away.

I learned the hard way it’s okay to re-use plastic silverware, but PLEASE don’t put them in the dishwasher.  The heat cracks them, and then they easily break.  My experience could have been disastrous, but it was averted.  One of the fork tines broke off in my mouth, and it could have been deadly.

Suzanne’s disaster was costly, much more costly than simply throwing them away and buying new plastic silverware.  One of the tines broke off a plastic fork and created a dishwasher disaster, creating the need to call a repairman.  Again, it would have been much cheaper to simply throw it away buy new plastic silverware.

But that would cost a dollar or two…

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Old habits die hard.  After the first Waste Not post, I tried to loosen up.  I watched in horror as one of my son’s friends pulled off a long string of perhaps four or five sections of paper towels just to dry his hands.  I’m sure my face showed how aghast I was, but I didn’t say anything; I didn’t want to embarrass my son.  I wanted to loosen up about this; I really did.  So, I experimented with using more paper towels in a more liberal fashion, trying to let go of the taboo of using them generously.

No way.

That one is not going away.  As a child, they were an expensive commodity.  Now, all three of us can afford to use them however we choose, but we continue to choose to use them sparingly.   Mom and Dad taught us well.

We used everything sparingly because we had to.  We no longer have to watch our spending that closely, as evidenced by my patterns of spending.  I realize the dissonance between this practice of frugality, and the excessive clothing and jewelry purchases I make.  I feel it, I know it; I realize my patterns don’t align.

Yet I continue to do it.  I am trying.  I truly am.  I am making progress, but it will likely always be a work in progress.

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I just re-read Waste Not, Want Not– January 14th.   I was reminded of the commitment I made to myself in writing for the world to see that I was actively and passively working on getting rid of stuff.  Stuff, both material and non-material.  Then, I re-read Time for Letting Go, Part Two.  Again, I reminded myself that I have publicly proclaimed my efforts to purge stuff.  I had already decided, once again, to accept the one-month challenge to give away/throw away/donate one thing on the first of the new month, two things on the second of the month…This time, I decided to determine the grand total—465 things for the 30 days of November—and purge accordingly by the end of the month.

So far, on the morning of the 4th of the month, I have purged 97 things.  Things like old pens and markers I no longer use–as well as the container they were in.  Someone else can put them to better use.

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The beautiful clock that no longer works.  I finally had to concede to that reality after changing the battery—again—and setting it back an hour this morning.

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And the widowed earring that lost its mate years ago on a theater floor.  It likely isn’t coming back. It’s about letting go of things small and large, and letting go of ties to the past.

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Books.  I’m like a crazy cat lady with books.  I have several hundred, and they are all special to me. They are a part of me, and when I adopt one, I rarely let it go.  However, I realized perhaps there were people who could gain more from these books than I could as they sat on the shelf, likely never to be picked up again.  There is someone out there who could take better care of them than I do, even if it is a cool cookbook by a woman with a cool name.  I haven’t cooked from it in years; it’s time for it to go.

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My owl collection was so 2017 for me, so I let it go.  Again, someone else will adopt them and take better care of them than I could.

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The good news is, I’m on a roll.  The bad news is, I haven’t yet made a dent.  I feel a bit lighter, but no one else will notice—yet.  No one, meaning my minimalist husband.  God bless him for that, and for his patience with my non-minimalism.

Wasting not and wanting not truly do go hand in hand.  The more stuff I get rid of, the more I want to keep going.  (I know my husband is over-the-top thrilled at these words as he reads them.  He has been gone all weekend and has no idea what I am up to.)  It makes me want to bring less in, and wisely use what I already have without waste.  Action begets action, and I have been going strong all weekend.

Like paper towels.

And it reinforces my eco-friendly, Mother Nature-loving practices like hanging out my laundry, which I did this morning, even though it was only 46 degrees.  It will get warm enough to dry them; the northwest wind will see to that.

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The dryer generates heat, and that costs money.  I dried the tea towel gift on the line after I washed it, and it was wrinkled.  So, I ironed it to make it look spiffy and crisp for the picture, which, of course, generated heat, thus counting against my clothesline savings.

I feel my mother’s gentle presence as I hang out my laundry, perhaps that’s the biggest reason I keep doing it.  She, too, loved to hang out the laundry.

Gail reported to me that she conserves in a manner I don’t, and likely never will:  If she is the only one drinking it, she reheats her coffee from the previous day if it is left.  I am a fresh coffee snob; I need it newly-brewed and freshly flavorful in order for me to savor it, as I do each morning.

Suzanne doesn’t yet drink coffee, but Gail and I still have hope that she will one day see the light, and savor the flavor.

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Suzanne doesn’t have much to contribute this week because she is the material minimalist, eco-friendly, non-consuming sister and citizen.  Gail and I keep trying to take notes from her, but we are wired a bit differently.  The important thing is that we keep trying.  And, with Suzanne’s influence and gentle coaxing, there is hope for both of us.

Gail has agreed to purge 465 things by the end of November.  I don’t think Suzanne owns 465 things, and that is a good thing.  Therefore, she will not be participating in this challenge.

I’ll call it fall cleaning.  Kind of like spring cleaning, but in the fall.  While I had the house to myself this weekend, I not only purged, I actually dusted.  As in, I picked up the things on the shelves and table, dusted them, and dusted the surfaces.  It’s been awhile.  As I examined each thing, I questioned my need to keep them.  I asked myself these two questions that I asked myself in the last sweeping round of purging I wrote about:

1:  Would I take this with me if I moved?  (Suzanne’s good idea.)

2:  Does it make me feel good?

I was surprised to find myself discarding a few things that, in fact, made me a little blue.  Perhaps a sentiment that turned sour, a heaviness that wasn’t necessary.  Or maybe it was just an ugly, useless thing.

So now they’re in the donation box.

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My friend Bridget who sent me the tea towel has been with me since graduate school in the early 1990’s.  She is a bit older, and a lot wiser.  In one of our many discussions, she told me this nugget that didn’t shine like gold until many years later.  Forgive me, Bridget, if these are not your exact words, but this is the message I took away that has become profound for me.  It went something like this:

We all have holes inside we try to fill up. Try to figure out what those holes are and what you are putting in them.  You may be able to fill them with good things instead of not-so-good things, or perhaps nothing at all.”

Thank you, Bridget, for the tea towel, but especially for the wisdom.

Please take her wisdom with you from this post.

And please, try not to fill up those holes with useless things–or paper towels.  That would be a waste.

 

 

 

 

BE A SPORT

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BE A SPORT

I like to move my body in some form of exercise every day.  I hope I have made it abundantly clear to you in previous posts that the ability to do so is a gift not granted.  My work has made me see that.

I exercise almost every day because it makes me feel better, and, as I age, as a prayer of gratitude for the ability to make it all work.  I am already learning that age limits that.

But let’s not dwell on that.

I have never been an athlete, per se.  I did attempt volleyball in high school, but it was not meant to be, although I do enjoy it.   My long-distance running experiences in high school track laid the foundation for me to pick it up again six years after I stopped running track.

Twenty-eight years later, I am still running.  I run because it makes me feel good.

I attempted coed softball with my husband early in our marriage.  It became quickly apparent to me and the entire team that this venture was ill-fated; I possessed skills only for solitary endeavors, such as running in a straight line.  I lacked the mental and physical coordination to be a team member of any value on the softball team.

I left that behind.

Five years ago, I experimented with yoga.  I am still experimenting, but on a more regular and organized basis.  Stretching in this fashion is good for any human body.

So, I stretch mine.  Yoga stretches my brain, too, which is good for any human brain.

Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you I am not a sports fan.  With the exception of our beloved Kansas City Royals Baseball, I have no desire to attend any professional sporting events.  I realize what I am about to say is heresy to a hallowed American institution, but if I were given tickets to the Super Bowl–the pinnacle event of sports in the United States, I would pass them on.

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I am pretty sure that in any sport’s inception, it was intended to provide a sense of fun, fitness and friendly competition.

If I were appointed Goddess of all Sporting Events, I would magically ensure that these three elements were held foremost.  I would eliminate any scandals, doping, mean spirits and underhandedness.  I would ensure that every participant in every sport had equal playing time, and that all parties had fun.

I wouldn’t be very popular.

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About five years ago, Suzanne and I attended the county spelling bee that our niece and nephew were participating in.  We were psyched and eager to watch them compete.  We sat close to the front and had to sit on our hands.  We considered painting our faces and cheering loudly for them, but we kept it subdued to save embarrassment for them.

If we’d had the time that particular Thursday prior to the 1:30 p.m. kickoff, we may have tailgated in the school parking lot.  Why not?

Then there was the Quiz Bowl.  My firstborn was a team member, traveling to several area schools.  I had the good fortune to see him in the same town I was working in.  Again, I held off on the face painting for his sake.  I had to hold my hand over my mouth to keep from blurting out some answers in this battle of factual knowledge.

Pennsylvania is the Keystone State!”  It was tough to hold that one in.   I used to live there.  I kept it together—barely.

These events are the real deal for me.  This is Fun—yes, with a capital F.  Take me to a football game, and I may pass for a corpse.  As I write this on the eve of the big match-up of the KC Chiefs vs. the Denver Broncos, the regional rival NFL teams, I know once again that putting these words in print is heresy.

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I do enjoy volleyball, likely because I understand it.  I had the pleasure of seeing Gail’s college-age son compete on his university’s men’s club volleyball team this weekend.

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I was in nearby Manhattan to meet my dear friend Shari for a fall hike through the famous Konza Prairie Trail.  We moved our bodies in this outdoor activity among the splendor of fall foilage.  I even got to see my son there as well.

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We walked and ran this morning, again moving our bodies.  Again, we found immediate reward in the payoff—we felt better.

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We even picked up the paddles and hit the ping pong ball a few times in good-natured competition inside the locally famous donut shop.

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Having already had a full weekend of athletic activities including hiking, running/walking, yoga, ping pong and volleyball, I had hoped to be able to observe a session of boxing as well.  Let me explain:

I work with many people who have Parkinson’s Disease.  This progressive neurological condition slowly and methodically attempts to rob the human body of its ability to move smoothly in good time.  It also attempts to silence the voice for most people, and affects their swallowing ability.

There is an international boxing program known as Rock Steady Boxing® that is designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s.  It helps them rebuild their strength, balance and coordination.  It also helps them strengthen their voices in the process.  Perhaps most importantly, as a by-product of all these gains, they are reminded they are still fighters in the Game of Life.

There is twice-weekly class held in Manhattan with these warriors and their trainers.  A dear friend is one of these trainers, and a colleague of mine in our small city was recently trained to work within this program as well.  I wanted to see the class in action.

It used to be held on Saturdays, but it has been moved to Friday instead, so I missed it.  I didn’t get to take in this sporting event.  I have seen videos, and it brings tears of amazement and joy to my eyes.  This is the real deal; this is what sports in its purest form can do for the human body.

If you, or anyone you know could benefit from this, please visit their website at:  www.rocksteadyboxing.org.

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Gail is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  Our husbands are Kansas City Chiefs fans.  Suzanne and I are not football fans.  We don’t understand what all the hype is about.  We don’t even understand the game; our brains simply aren’t wired for it.   The spelling bee is more our style.

If you are a football fan, I hope your team wins.  Most importantly, I hope it is a source of fun for you, like it was intended to be.

And if you aren’t already, get out there and move your body.  If you move it within a competitive sporting event, be sure to have fun while you are competing.  If it is a solitary venture, do whatever makes you feel best in your body and mind.

And in tomorrow’s regional NFL rivalry, may the best team win—and may every team member and spectator leave the stadium as a better person.

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I have had the pleasure of getting to know some awesome sisters through this blog who have made me a better person in ways small and large.

I wrote about Martha and Mary in Loads of Sisters (November 19th).   They are Gail’s twin aunts by marriage, and they live in Manhattan.  They came to see their great-nephew play volleyball, and I got to enjoy their company today as well.  Today, their 60-something birthday. 

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARTHA AND MARY!

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I have honored my friends Tana and Amy, two other amazing sisters in two other posts   (Swheat Girls Part Two—July 9th, 2017 and Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever–July 8th, 2018).  While on the Kansas State University Campus this morning, we took a moment to honor their grandfather, a former Director of Housing at KSU.

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Shari and I took in the majesty of the Kansas sunset from atop a hill outside Manhattan.  Every time I take time to enjoy this splendor, I am always a winner, and I become a better person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEA LEVEL TO 9494

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SEA LEVEL TO 9494

Suzanne and I live at 1,227 feet above sea level in our small city.  Since I live north of the city, and I am eye-level with the tops of the water towers in town from my front porch, I am probably a few hundred feet higher than that.  Gail lives at 2,858 feet, perhaps a bit higher because she lives on a hill in her small town.

My first post detailed our adventures at sea level on the beach.  The subsequent posts detailing our travels took place at 9,494 feet in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

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While on this trip several years ago, we traveled up nearby Pike’s Peak by cog train to an elevation of 14, 114 feet.  Technically, we were higher than that at cruising altitude around 35,000 feet on our flights to and from the beach.  But that doesn’t really count.

These travels are anticipated before, enjoyed during, and savored in their memories.  But, like all events in life we enjoy, they are typically here and gone.

I work hard to enjoy life at my daily altitude as much as I enjoy it at each end of the altitude spectrum we travel to.  But that is hard.

I find myself eagerly anticipating the arrival of each trip, and savoring those memories after each trip.  During the trip, I want time to stand still.  I want to languish in the minutes and hours without them passing by so quickly.  Without them being over so quickly when we find ourselves back at home again.

Back at home, where the meat and potatoes of life are served up daily, where Real Life dwells in our day-to-day rounds.  Where we live with our families.  Where the minutes and the days may tick by slowly, but the months and years whizz by quickly.

Back at home, on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons and everything else in between that constitutes life.  Because, as we all know too well, time away is a respite, a sabbatical from the work of life.

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Another Colorado trip has been here, and is gone already.  We eagerly awaited it—as we always do, languished in the moments there, and we are now relishing the memories—once again.  If my calculations are right, this marks the twentieth time we have gone west, young women. 

There was a point in my life a few years ago when the pull of the mountains—and the beach too—were a mystery to me.  Like the full moon, I am drawn to the mountains instinctively; the deepest part of me is pulled by some invisible but undeniable force to travel there.

I decided upon a single word that describes this force that draws me to all three:  energy.  The mountains, the beach and the full moon have a living spirit about them, one that draws not just me and my sisters, but humans in general toward them.  Which would explain the high real estate prices in such places.  People with good money pay their good money to live in or near the mountains, and/or near the water.  And most of us cannot deny the beauty of the full moon, even though we can’t purchase real estate there—yet.

So, we go.  And we go again.  And again.  And we come home again.

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If I could characterize our latest trip in one word, relative to our other mountain getaway weekends, it would be this:  subdued. 

Perhaps it was the delayed departure—one month after our usual Labor Day jaunt.  However, we frequently talked about taking a later trip to enjoy the change of color in the mountains, so we relished this new schedule.   Perhaps it was the touch of altitude sickness one of us experienced—or both, that made this trip a bit more laid-back than normal.

You wouldn’t know it from our usual stop in Limon,

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Bear claws were always Gail’s favorite…

Or the great lengths that our newly-acquired friends go to in order to be in our group,

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Or the cult followers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show waiting in line with us to see the show at the local theater.  We hadn’t yet seen it, and we had no idea what we were in for…

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Perhaps the most surprising, unplanned event was the fortuitous, purely-by-chance meeting of our former hometown farm neighbors on Bennett Avenue.

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Gail and I used to babysit the young man on the right.  He now protects and serves our country.  Thank you for your service, Paul.

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You may know the subdued nature of our trip by the beautiful aspens as they turn their glorious golden color, as they do every fall.  We welcomed this beautiful sight, having never traveled here in October before.

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Their seasonal slow-down perhaps helped set the tone for our relaxed weekend.  Perhaps we, too, shed some temporary coverings—internally, of course.  The daytime temperatures were relatively balmy, but the evening and night-time temperatures were flirting with the freezing mark, so we put on extra layers on the outside.

You may know it by the mountains in their fall grandeur lined in the brilliant golden of the aspens, their fresh air and their majesty against the bright blue sky have a way of opening up one’s mind and soul, which is not a bad thing.  Instead of reaching out as much as we normally do, perhaps we reached inward.

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John Denver sings Rocky Mountain High to us every trip, so you wouldn’t know it by that..

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I signed up for the 1,000 feet below adventure at this local attraction with my family many years ago.  Gail and Suzanne have yet to sign up for it.  I went to the gift shop by myself; I needed a souvenir with this awesome name on it.

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In my profession as a speech therapist, we distinguish between receptive and expressive language.   Expressive language is that which we put forth, typically in our speech.  Essentially, it is what we express.

Receptive language is that which we take in from others, typically by listening.  It is what we receive.

Typically, my posts about our travels detail and expand upon our expressions, that which we put forth.  Typically, we have plenty of interactions with others; an abundance of connections and expressions made.  This trip was no different.

Besides the family from our home and our history pictured above, Gail and Suzanne connected with four people who pulled up in a car with Kansas plates outside our hotel.  It was a Veteran’s tag, so the home county was not on the plate.

The family pictured above lived about two miles—as the crow flies—south of our farm.  One gentleman in the car grew up about three miles north of our farm.

Small world.

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Sometimes, like on this trip, doing nothing special is really something special.  Sometimes, like on this trip, traveling without a plan is the most liberating form of vacationing.  Sometimes, our structured lives at home and at work spill over into our vacations, making us feel as if we must have a plan.

On vacation and in life in general, I often seem to do better without a plan.  Gail and Suzanne travel that way, too.  There is a long-standing joke between us about going to Colorado without a plan.  Perhaps that is why we get along so well.

Perhaps that is why I can safely say this trip was one more of reception vs. expression.  We let it all in.

The beauty of the aspens along with the change of seasons in the cool mountain temperatures was a refreshing new sight for us.

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I received a little bit of jack from this machine, but I’m pretty sure I put forth more than that all told. 

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This is a common sight along “The Strip” of Cripple Creek.  Gamblers and tourists come and go at all hours.  Like us, they keep coming back for more. 

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“The Strip” is relatively subdued; I was obviously able to stand at the top of the hill without interruption from traffic to take this picture.

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Two weeks ago this evening we returned home.  This morning, I took these beautiful roses outside.  They were waiting for us upon our arrival to our usual bed-and-breakfast/hotel; the proprietors do back flips to ensure we know how much they enjoy our stay.  Gail and Suzanne took their share, and the rest came home with me.  As with all their gestures of appreciation, we received them well.

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Like the trip, however, they are temporary.  The memory of this gesture, as well as all the new memories we made will remain.  Until next time, we will languish in those memories, and anticipate future ones.

Every day in between, however, we will attempt to enjoy the moments here at our own altitudes, our own longitudes.  Because here at home is where Real Life is lived.

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My front porch view of the tops of the water towers and small buildings of our small city.  The front porch of my home, where I live a pretty good real life.

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Our trip was so subdued, in fact, that we forgot to take a group shot.  We had a family event today, so we snapped this one just a few hours before this post.  We make it work wherever we find ourselves together.  

 

AND YOU WILL GO ON

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Once in awhile, as you know, I post something that isn’t light and funny, and this is one of those.  It is heavy, but it has a happy ending–I promise. Thank you for sticking with me through all the seasons of my writing, just as the one and only picture at the end shows a beautiful change of seasons as well.  

I wrote this two years ago tonight, the Sunday after I returned home from the event I described.   I have held onto it since then, and I decided it was the perfect time to post it. 

Besides, just as last time, it wasn’t my Plan A.  This post is actually Plan D, with Plans A, B and C to follow in good time–I promise.

No matter if it is Plan A or Plan Z, the important thing is that we all continue to GO ON.

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AND YOU WILL GO ON

It took eight years, seven months and eleven days, but I finally did it.  I had several dozen opportunities to take the short detour, but I never did—until tonight.

In my mind, there was a permanent, dark gray—if not black—cloud hanging over that spot.  This evening, however, it wasn’t there.  It was dusk, with a hint of daylight and the full moon rising.  It wasn’t too dark to see it if it had been there.

It was the full moon that confirmed to me I had chosen the right night.  Not just big and round, but full, as in, according to the calendar.  My mother knew I loved the full moon.  It rose clearly with crisp, sharply defined edges in the clear October evening sky as I took this road never travelled by me, not even in the years before that day.

That day, March 4th, 2008, was the day my parents died as they tried to cross through this intersection.  I had thought many times about visiting this spot, this dreadful place where they drew their last breaths.  It was a mere ten miles out of my way home when I had travelled many times to west Wichita to visit my brother, several friends, and, of course, to shop since that day.   But I never did.  It never felt right.

Today, however, it occurred to me that it might be the right day to expel this demon—or as close as it could ever be. It would never be right. I was returning from Tulsa after a Friday evening of unparalleled fun and memory-making with a dear friend.  One of her quests was to see Toby Keith in concert, and I was game.  To a lesser degree, it was my quest too, and Tulsa was the closest stop on his tour.  Since we both recently had a Big Birthday—which we had already celebrated with a week-long girls trip—we were up for still more fun, so we made the trip.  Besides, having fun is now a priority for me, since I learned the Life Is Short So Have Fun Now lesson the hard way.  I remain an enrollee in the Life is Short class, choosing to study in it for the rest of my life, because this lesson is too important to forget.  I am the annoying student in the front row, always raising my hand, asking questions and making comments to everything the teacher says.  The other students roll their eyes whenever I speak up—again.   I get my homework done ahead of time, do the extra credit; suck up to the teacher.  I don’t ever want to forget The Lesson.  I always carry an A-plus.  I spend whatever time and money I can to Have Fun and Make Memories.  My hope is that all the other students can learn it the easy way.

My friend came from Kansas City, and I met her in Tulsa from my small city in central Kansas.  On Saturday afternoon after a late lunch, we went our separate ways.  After  2½ hours in the car, I needed a break, so I turned west off the interstate in Wichita to my familiar favorite store.  Then, on to another favorite store that put me even closer to that place.  Perhaps this was an auspicious time to conquer this demon, to move past this literal and figurative spot on the map and in my mind.   I wasn’t sure yet if I should go to that spot yet, and perhaps that’s why I lingered with no potential purchases in my hand in the second store as daylight waned.

It will probably be dark by the time I get there,”   I thought.  “But maybe that’s good.”

I speculated there were at least 27 minutes of daylight left to make this trip as I checked GPS, which would put me there only a bit before dark.  I left the store after a small purchase, and headed in that direction.  I could still back out; I had several alternate routes I could turn on to take me home before I had to make the defining decision.

“Go West Young Woman,” a voice inside said.  So I turned west, leaving those other two routes home behind me.  This road, I realized as I headed down it, was the same road my dad took as they left west Wichita that day.  I was, in essence, retracing their last steps.

“I’m really going to do this.  This feels strange.  I hope I made the right decision.”

After four miles west, the GPS told me to turn north, so I did.

There it was.  The full moon, which had been first obscured by the city, then was at my back as I drove west, was beaming its approval to me through my passenger window.  The man in the moon—and perhaps the woman too—let me know I was headed in the right direction.

Eighteen minutes later, I was there.  I stopped at the stop sign, the same one my father stopped at.  He did stop, it was reported, but then he did go.  He should have waited.  I waited.  There were no headlights from either direction, but for a moment, I was frozen there.  Then I accelerated with a quick stomp and drove through.  Through the threshold they didn’t cross over.  I pulled over on the other side into an abandoned driveway, and sat for a moment.  This strange new world I had just entered into took a few moments to enter into me.

“I did it.  I made it through.”

Just to make sure I had indeed expelled this demon, I drove back across the intersection, turned around and did it one more time.  This time I kept going.  Going down the road my parents would have gone on.  Going down the road home, to my home, eventually taking a different road than they would have to arrive at their home.

And I went on.

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I continue to go on.  Every day, I go on my own road.  I stayed on their road in some ways, but in many others, I took the divergent road.   The road they paved for me by instilling their faith in me.  Their faith in God, and their faith in me and my six siblings.  This faith allows us to follow our own paths and make our own ways, lives of our own choosing, lives that let us be who we want to be, even if it’s not exactly what they may have expected or hoped for us.  They gave us the metaphoric roots and wings.

We all continue to fly.

 

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I believe in Heaven.  I believe there is a place beyond this world that is free of all evil, a place that is an unfathomable, ineffable, fabulous evolution of love and the human spirit.  These two elements of mortal life must carry on in some way.  They are not accidental or secondary by-products of human life.   They are why we are here.

I respect your beliefs if they do not agree with mine, but just for one second, please suspend them and think about this point my mother made about death many years before her own:  if babies could choose to stay in the womb where it is comfortable and familiar—not that they could–they likely would.  If they did, however, they would miss this incredible world that awaits them.  The transition from womb to birth may be painful, but it is necessary to move on.  Such is birth.

We don’t know what awaits us after this world, but if we chose to stay here—not that we could—we would miss out on something so spectacular that is beyond any life here, even if the crossing over is painful.  Such is death.

If you have lost a loved one/ones, my wish for you is that you will embrace the belief that we are here to await a better place, and that those you loved are there.  Grief is for the living only, the deceased don’t benefit from it in any way.  I am sure of this.

There is so much life here to live, so much happiness that can be found, as sad as life can be sometimes.  Still, there is so much love and so much good out here, if you simply stay open to it.  Please stay open to it.  Please choose to find this love and goodness.

And you will go on.

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I recall something so profound that a priest told us after Mom and Dad died:  “Grief is like the backside of a beautiful rug.  It appears to have no beauty, no reason, but when you get to the other side, it all comes together, and the beauty is there.”  

This post made me think of that, and this tree I saw yesterday made me think of it as well.  The backside of this tree was nothing splendid, but when I saw it from this side, it took my breath away–in a good way.  

That’s what I imagine it will be like in Heaven–at least, for starters.  

 

 

THESE SHOES ARE MADE FOR WALKING

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THESE SHOES ARE MADE FOR WALKING

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.  She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”   Ellen Degeneres

 

“All truly great things are conceived while walking.”  Friedrich Nietzche

 

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”  John Muir

 

“Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.”  Steven Wright

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Like so many times in life, Plan A is sidelined and Plan B takes over.  That is the case with this post.

I had a Grand Plan A, and it wasn’t meant to be for this post.  Time and circumstances prevented that, and that’s okay.  Because, as we all know, life is all about how well we execute Plan B—or C, or D—not how well Plan A comes together.

I can guarantee you that the post I planned is an epic, grand story of sisterhood at its finest.  I can guarantee you that it will be posted in the very near future.  I can guarantee you that you have never before heard a story like this one about these sisters…

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Like so many other ideas, this post came to me while I was running, with Nancy Sinatra on my iPod singing “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”  However, my running these last few days, I must admit, has included more walking than usual.   Reluctantly taking the advice of a trusted physical therapist colleague, I am incorporating more walking into my run.  My daily run that I have taken almost daily for over 28 years.  My daily run that is rarely compromised or sacrificed.  My daily run that keeps me sane.  My daily run that I have come to depend upon as lifesaving medicine.  My daily run that has likely caused the knee problems I am experiencing.

The pain is intermittent and tolerable, but consistently increasing over time.  The noise my left knee makes seems to be most painful.  Going up steps creates a sound much like a percussion instrument.  Think of shaking a maraca as you walk up any number of stairs, and you get the idea.

The physical therapist told me I need to give both of my knees more of a rest.  I need to incorporate more walking and less running into my daily run.  I need to listen to the pain and let them heal a bit.

I am taking his advice.  I am walking as well as running, as well as performing the specific exercises he recommended for me.  I am realizing I am aging, and my knees are not invincible; not immune from the wear and decline many people experience with age and use.

I am recalling my younger, prouder days of invincibility when I would hear people talk about their previous years of running:  “I used to run, but my knees just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“That’s not going to happen to me.”  I would magically think.  “I don’t have to worry about that.”   How arrogant youth can be.

As well as his advice, I am trying to take my own advice:  I am practicing gratitude for the fact that my legs work.  My work shows me that so many people don’t have this ability.

The wisdom of the ages also tells me that if I use my knees for running every day for almost 30 years, that they will likely wear out faster.  This wisdom has also told me that walking is one of the best exercises for anyone.

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I recall our mother taking long walks when we were younger; when we were all living at home, and likely making her realize that a long walk was the best much-needed and deserved break she could get from all of us, the best mini-vacation.

She would walk a mile or so down the road, and walk back.  It seemed like so far when she would show us in the car how far she had walked, and I remember bragging to a friend who was with us in the car one day, “Mom walked all the way to here and back!”

Now, I realize it was likely the minimal distance required to keep her sanity, to give her a break and to keep her physically fit.

As she aged, she seemed to find it harder to get out the door.  I get it; I find it harder, too.  I recall encouraging her to get back out there and walk again, because I knew, and she already knew it was good medicine for all that ailed her.  I like to think my cheerleading helped her get back in the walking groove, helping her to feel her best.  She always said she felt better after she simply went for a walk.

Moving one’s body is the most natural physical thing to do.  The human body was created to be a mobile, flexible and on the move.  I will reiterate again the words of wisdom from those youthfully aging patients of mine—as well as their family members—the secret to aging well they share with me when I ask:  1:  keep moving, and 2:  do what makes you happy.

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Gail and Suzanne are walkers.  Walking is one of their preferred forms of exercise.  That, along with riding their bikes.  They are biker babes, I am not.  They both agree that walking for exercise heals the body, clears the mind and keeps them going physically and mentally.  We all took that cue from Mom.

Gail is non-stop, as you likely already gathered.  One of her gigs keeps her on her feet late in the evening hours. Walking the next morning gets her in the groove again.

If you don’t already walk for exercise, consider taking that wisdom, along with all the other wisdom from Mom—and from us– we have offered in previous posts.

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Gail’s comfy shoes

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Suzanne’s comfy shoes

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My running/walking shoes.  The late-summer stickers are in full bloom.

The only equipment one needs for walking is a comfortable pair of shoes.  Comfy and flexible clothes help, but I often take off for a walk in my jeans. 

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Learning to walk is perhaps one of the two most important milestones of the first year of life—give or take a few months.  That, along with the first word, seem to be the two developmental milestones we instinctively look for in a developing infant.  “One year, one word,” is the guideline we give parents as speech therapists.  Walking typically starts anywhere from 9 months, and can start a few months past a year as well.

Sadly, when an adult suffers a stroke or serious head injury, often times we speak of this tragedy:  “They had to learn to walk and talk all over again.”  My role is in helping them to talk again, and I watch them as they learn to walk again.  I am always reminded to be grateful for these two amazing abilities.

One of the reasons I didn’t get the epic post finished for tonight is because of this:

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Along with my husband and younger son, I spent the weekend in Wichita with the grandchildren while their parents were away.  He is eleven months old, and is walking quite well.   The real fun has begun.  Walk on!

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Just like in the post three weeks ago, I am again wearing another Life is good shirt.  This one happens to say BORN TO RUN.  All of, however, are BORN TO WALK.

WALK ON!

 

 

 

HOW DOES SHE DO IT? PART TWO: SUZANNE

 

 

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HOW DOES SHE DO IT?  PART TWO:  SUZANNE

After Gail moved out to go to college, Suzanne moved into the bedroom with me to fill Gail’s spot.  It felt like my domain now that I was the senior resident, and I let Suzanne know I was essentially the landlord and she was the tenant.  I was the big sister, and I was determined to show her that.

Our decorating styles were essentially nonexistent except for a few teenage heartthrob posters.  Gail had moved out and took her flair with her. Our housekeeping styles, however, were in stark contrast to each other.  You would never know it now, but I was tidy and minimal, and Suzanne, well, she wasn’t.

I recall being frequently frustrated at her clutter and crap—junk, stuff, whatever she called it.  Motivating her to keep her part tidy was a chore.

So, when I was tasked with an experiment in a high school social science class to find a way to change someone’s behavior, I devised a plan.  A plan that turned out to be an evil scheme, and I am more than a little embarrassed to write about what I did to poor little innocent Suzanne.

If Mom were here, she would tell you about it and laugh about it now, too, so let’s just consider it funny.

I was tired of her lack of tidiness.  I wanted to change that behavior.  Because money seems to be a great motivator for most people, I decided I would pay her.  I had some change in hand, and when she and I were alone in the room, I instructed her to tidy up, and she would be rewarded for it.

So she did just that.  She picked up one thing and put it away, and I immediately reinforced her a coin—probably a quarter to bait her; saving the smaller change for the end.  She was thrilled with the prospect of earning while tidying, so she continued to tidy.  And I continued to pay her.  One coin per item picked up and put away.  This was working out well for both of us.  I got my room tidied up, and Suzanne got paid.

Except for one small detail:  the pile of change that I picked up and paid her with belonged to her, so I was essentially paying her with her own money.

Cold, I know.  I did what I had to do.

Now, Suzanne is the tidy minimalist, and I am the not-quite-as-tidy not-so-much-a-minimalist.  But we have both found what works for us, and we are content with our own ways.

I think she has forgiven me for that dirty trick I played on her.

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Like the post for Gail last week, this one honors Suzanne.  For no special reason; just because.  Her birthday, however, went relatively unnoticed this year.  She was under the weather, and has opted instead to change it to another day later this year.  In keeping with her favorite line in one of her favorite movies—Mean Girls—Suzanne will celebrate her birthday on October 3rd this year.  Perfect, because that day coincides beautifully with our departure to Colorado to make up for the Labor Day trip we had to bypass.  You will hear some of the celebration story, but again, as with any trip, not all of it.

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Imagine that, instead of your car having enough gas to make it go, it’s always out of gas, and it simply will no longer hold fuel.  Imagine you have to push it everywhere you want to go, because it can’t create enough energy to move itself.  Every day, everywhere you go, you have to push your car.  And you can’t leave it behind, because it’s your only vehicle.  It’s your only means of functioning.

Sounds absurd, I know, but Suzanne has likened life without her thyroid to being continually “out of fuel.”  When the doctor handed her a thyroid cancer diagnosis on her birthday six years ago just after her thyroid came out.  One of the long-term effects is continual lack of energy.  Most people without their thyroid suffer this scourge.  And she is cold.  All the time.

Never, though, will you hear her complain.  She may make a joke about it, and she may offer a few details if you ask, but she will not let on that she struggles every day.  That’s not her style.

Nor is it her style to worry about the specter of cancer hovering over her.  She has six years under her belt, but even before that, she knew in her heart that she would be okay.

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Sometimes okay is the most we can hope for, and some days that is all she has.  Most other days, she will make it clear to you that she is more than okay, even if she has to fake it.

Next week, she will see her endocrinologist for her six-month check-up.  She has no worries.  An important fact to recall from Not Her Type (February 4th), is that, just as she told Gail’s daughter Lydia after her diagnosis of Type One Diabetes is this:  “Only the cool girls get to see an endocrinologist.”

Suzanne is a fighter, as you already know.  I am recalling the episode when, before she started school, we came home to find her motionless on the living room couch.  Her lips were blue.  I thought we had lost her.

“MOM!”  I remember yelling as we came in the door.  “Suzanne is dead!”

She was simply napping.  After she had eaten frozen blueberries.

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Both Gail and Suzanne struggled, but emerged victorious as single mothers.  I don’t know this challenge, I only know that raising children with a great man who is also a great father is still a tough chore.  I have no idea how they did it, but they did.  And their single-mothered children are now amazing young women.

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Unlike Gail, Suzanne and I do not possess, nor do we wish to possess a work ethic that drives us to seek out more work than we already have.  We are happy with whatever comes our way in our work.  We don’t feel the need to be seek any further employment as Gail does, we don’t extend ourselves to can zucchini and salsa.  We have no aspirations to engage in other ventures that may take up our free time that we reserve for working jigsaw puzzles, taking naps, coloring or reading books.

We weren’t tasked with the multiple responsibilities Gail was; as the fifth and sixth children of seven, there wasn’t as much mothering to do.  We all had our work for us on the farm and in the house, but Suzanne and I did very little extra mothering.  We didn’t have to.

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I am adoring my new baby sister.  She had a lot of black hair when she was born.

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Suzanne and David in their younger, happier years, before he ruined their relationship with the skunk episode.  (Just kidding, they are both over it now.)

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Suzanne has always loved Halloween–and she still does.

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Mom bundled us up for one of those big snows we never get anymore in these parts. 

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Suzanne and me at Sunset Park, a beautiful park in our small city that we used to picnic at annually, meeting other family there from Wichita.  It was the halfway point.   Perhaps we should go back to that park now and re-enact this picture…

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I am four years older than Suzanne, so perhaps I was somewhat responsible for her, but Gail likely had that base covered.  She had been a second mother to all of us for so long, she likely did it without thinking, without effort—just like she completes her work now.

But this is about Suzanne.

Suzanne and I enjoy our geographical closeness now.  When she lived in the same town as our parents, we were about 90 miles apart.   We did manage to get together quite often, but now I could see her every day if I want to.  I do want to see her every day, but I don’t always get to.  I find myself stopping at the bank more frequently than I used to, the bank she works at that has been my bank for 20+ years.

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Suzanne at work.  Tana and Amy ( July 9th, 2017:  Swheat Girls, & July 8th, 2018:  Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever) stopped to see her last year.

We have an annual tradition of traveling to the pumpkin patch an hour away.  It was equidistant from her former home and mine.

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We used to meet there when our kids were younger, but they no longer want to go.  We do, so we go without them.

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I must come clean on another crime against Suzanne:  there was a time in our shared bedroom days that I didn’t like her so much.  While I adore her now, and I wish I had more time to spend with her, I recall wanting her to be away from me in our younger years.  Like, downstairs while I was upstairs.  Like, forcibly down the stairs.  Like, I wanted to push her down the stairs.

While we frequently shop together now and enjoy it, our limited shopping trips in our younger years weren’t so pleasant.   I recall that she could rarely find anything she wanted when we were shopping.  That is, until I bought it, then she wanted one just like it.  She would typically decide this after the trip, then beg me to let her wear what I had just bought.

I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t.  I was frustrated.  I wanted my own look, my own style, and I sure didn’t want my little sister looking just like me.

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Easter Sunday morning in our teenage years.  We possessed such style–and still do.

Having Suzanne here after her scare with cancer is a gift.  Now, we can sometimes wear the same size clothing again, and I am so honored to share some of my clothes with her now.  That is a gift, too.

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Sharing Dad’s pants surely was a unique fashion statement.

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Perhaps I shouldn’t brag too much about having any style in my younger years.  Suzanne delights in sharing this picture, and I already made peace with it by sharing it in an earlier post.  She is so proud of it; she framed it in this “subtle” frame for me last Christmas. 

I already told you one of Suzanne’s strongest qualities:  her strength.  Her strength as a single mother.  Her strength as a cancer survivor.  These are her quiet strengths.  You don’t know about them because she doesn’t let on, and that is a strength as well.

If you spend any amount of time around her, you will quickly notice her visible, louder strength:  her sense of humor.

When she left her job nearly two years ago to move to my small city, her co-workers threw her a party, complete with a custom-made cake.  They understood and appreciated her sense of humor, too.  One of her former co-workers said that it’s no fun at their workplace anymore without her.  I believe her.  And I’m pretty sure she has livened up her new workplace.

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I look up to Gail.  I always have, and I always will.  I look up to Suzanne, too, even though she is younger than me.  Apparently, there was a day when she looked up to me—as this picture taken with the framed one above shows.  I hope I am worthy of that upward look from her now.  Some days, I’m not sure.

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I know in my heart that both Gail and Suzanne are my lifelong companions, my closest confidantes; my dearest friends.  We have to be, we have no choice given Mom’s letter to all of us.  Peace is the mission we all accepted from Mom, and I like to think that even without her missive, we would have chosen this path of togetherness and harmony then, and now.

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Suzanne–I’m so glad I didn’t push you down the stairs all those years ago–you’re the best little sister ever!  XOXO  middlesisterkathleen