HER NAME IS LOLA

It is that time of year again. The time of year when we should make an extra effort to count our blessings.

It should be practiced every day, because without it, life can feel quite dark.

The gratitude we offer on Thanksgiving, that is.

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The first picture in our series above was taken on Thanksgiving Day 2016. The last one in the series was taken this weekend in Camp Gail, the sacred space in Gail’s house where we hang out when we visit. They have all been taken in Camp Gail on Thanksgiving weekend, and for obvious reasons, we didn’t gather in 2020.

This is the non-negotiable (except in Covid times) time that we gather as a family at Gail’s house. It is expected that we will all be there with as many of our family members as possible.

This was her grandson Myles’ first Thanksgiving feast

It is a joint effort; each of us brings our specialty, as well as whatever else we would like to contribute. As you may have noticed, my specialty is sweet potatoes. Gail, Suzanne and I re-create Mom’s delicious dressing, and it tastes almost as good as hers.

Suzanne and I arrive on Friday to help with the preparation, and to soak up the mirth at Gail’s house. It’s always there.

This takes place on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. On Friday evening, before the cooking begins on Saturday, Suzanne and I–and our spouses–arrive to help Gail celebrate one of the joys of small-town life in the form of their Christmas parade.

Perhaps you remember Lola from former posts. She is the 1974 Chevrolet Nova Gail bought for herself on the occasion of her 60th birthday, almost 3 years ago. Whenever Gail takes Lola out, she is always a faithful ride, turning heads, just like a showgirl would.

This year, she knew it was time to get Lola into the parade action.

In the unforgettable Barry Manilow song, Lola was a showgirl. This Lola is a show car, and Gail proved that in a big way in her small town’s Christmas parade Friday night, right down to the yellow feathers in her hair (on her roof). She had a specially mixed blend of holiday songs to blast from the speaker hanging out side the door. In that blend, however, were snippets of the classics that were perfect for this occasion, just for this car: “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…” and the 1970 hit by the Kinks, “Lola, L-O-L-A, Lola.”

Gail’s former donut shop was in the Oddfellows–IOOF–building across the street. Lola was named after her former owner, and Gail extended an invitation to her son, John, to join her in the parade. He was thrilled to be a part of it all.

Gail’s daughter Lydia helped to toss out candy. Her grandson, Myles, and her step-granddaughter, Macy, helped, too.

There were other entrants in the parade, too, of course, but none quite like Lola–in my opinion.

The Grinch-mobile was second only to Lola, in my opinion.

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We arrived home this afternoon, with another weekend of Thanksgiving memories–and full stomachs– under our belts. Gail never fails to entertain and uplift, but more than that, she inspires every day of the year by living her life to the fullest every day of the year, not just on the holidays. She knows how to make any situation fun, and cares not one iota what anyone else thinks. She knows life is a ride, whether or not she is riding in Lola.

I wish everyone had someone like Gail in their family to remind them to keep life light, to have fun in any and every way possible and to offer gratitude even for the smallest things. I am so fortunate, and I give thanks every day.

Happy Thanksgiving every day of the year.

I AM SO THANKFUL FOR MY SISTERS.

THE COMFORT ZONE

It’s a wonderful place to be. Relaxed, gliding through the day, nailing every task you have signed up for. You have done them a thousand times, and you know what’s next, notwithstanding the curveballs life sometimes throws each of us. You’ve rehearsed it, and you kill it (mostly) every time. It’s easy peasy (mostly).

So, why would anyone ever choose to leave this cushy place? Why would you sign up for something that forces you to navigate an unfamiliar land and speak its unfamiliar language? That’s hard. That’s not the path of least resistance that most of us humans want to take, and do take.

Because that’s where the good stuff is. That’s where you find the high-hanging fruit, and it is much more luscious and tasty than the stuff hanging right in front of us, the stuff we reached for all our lives, because we don’t have to reach too high or too far.

When reaching for this high-hanging fruit, however, we may question our own sanity. Why, for the love of all things easy, would we voluntarily take ourselves to a place that makes us think and act in ways that require sharper focus and herculean effort? What the heck?

One must be crazy to do this, which is exactly what I thought of myself on about day two of the eight-day training I signed up for, and paid good money for. “What were you thinking, Kathleen? Are you nuts? You are not an auctioneer, you are a speech therapist. You have had some crazy ideas in your life, but this one tops them all. Now get back in your cage, and don’t try to pull this s*** again.”

Except that I’d already paid my hard-earned money for those eight days of class, and I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was supposed to be here. This had been on my “Liberty List” for a long time (see Liberty List, September 11th, 2022). I was way outside of my comfort zone, and it was painful. I wanted to run back into the open arms of all things familiar in my life, and leave this crazy idea behind in that hotel conference room in West Des Moines, Iowa. Surely those other 21 people in my class belonged there; they all appeared to be perfectly suited for this adventure. Still, I didn’t run. Looking around, I noticed I wasn’t even the oldest one there, which I had expected to be. Nor was I the only female. There were five other women–but I was the oldest female.

I stayed. My higher self–the one who knows what is truly best for me–overrode the scared child in me, told the woman who had lived in her speech therapy bubble for 28 years that she was not too old, nor too inflexible to learn this new language. Most importantly, she was ready for something different in her life (see Change is Good, October 9th, 2022).

And different is what I got.

Now, back at home, back in the comfort of my home, two days after I graduated, I feel a sense of accomplishment that cannot be experienced without having left that comfort zone. Two hours after getting home yesterday, I went to my first auction last night and helped as a ringman/bid caller, thanks to the ongoing leadership of another auctioneer I am fortunate to be mentored by.

I have a lot of practicing to do; I can’t expect to sound as good as him without daily practice and continued pushing myself to new heights in this new field. I have a diploma, which is only a license to continue to learn and improve my skills.

The verbal and mental boot camp I attended for eight days–8:00 am until 7:30 pm–kept me disciplined and accountable. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I hadn’t sat in class for that long for 28 years since grad school, and my days weren’t that long then. Frequent breaks were necessary; I took a pre-victory lap on foot around the outside of the hotel for most breaks. My 56-year-old brain was being stretched, and my body needed stretching, too.

Arriving for the first day, a quick scan showed me the strangers I would be learning with; I don’t remember the last time I felt this isolated. This group of 22 quickly went from being completely unknown to each other, to cheers, camaraderie, encouragement, friendship, exchanging contact information and hugs on the last day. There were six women and16 men, and fourteen states were represented, as well as two Canadian provinces. The most amazing students were the under-25 group; ten of the young men–as young as 17–were lifelong learners, already having spent years learning the skill in their everyday rounds. Still, they supported their elders in the class, uplifting and encouraging us every step of the way. We were the amateurs and they were already the seasoned experts, but they inspired everyone around them.

One does not engage in that frequent and intense repetition of tongue twisters and number drills without having difficulty leaving them out of their head. Some of the twisters were familiar to me and some were not. I had never heard Tommy Attatimus took two Ts, tied them to the top of two tall trees, but now it won’t leave my mind. As a child, How much would could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood was one of my favorites, so that came easy. However, I wasn’t used to repeating it ten times with increasing speed each time. Nor had I ever counted to 100 and backwards by 2 1/2s, certainly not ten times in a row, with increased rate each time as well. And I certainly didn’t do it every day for eight days straight.

Now, any series of numbers–even two–sends me straight into an auctioneer chant. The tens are especially persistent in my head. You will likely read this with the short /e/ vowel sound you have said it with thousands of times in your life: 10-10-10-10-10, but to me, it sounds like “tay-un, tay-un, tay-un, tay-un, tay-un” and that is the desired sound I hope to master one day.

I checked my alarm clock last night as I wound down, but the display sent my brain back into that drill, keeping me awake a bit longer: it read 10:10.

Before this class, I didn’t know any big names in the auctioneering industry in America. Now, I can say I got to meet some legends.

The legendary Paul C. Behr

I knew so little about this industry, but now as a graduate, I can say I received a well-rounded education, as well as a diploma. My 28 years as a speech therapist played well into this learning; so much of what the breathing and voice mechanisms have to accomplish as an auctioneer are the things I have been teaching my patients for years. Except as the student now, I had to work so much harder than I ever worked as the teacher.

Each student had to auction many items in our drills. As the week progressed, the auctions became more frequent, more spontaneous and more complicated. Among the multiple items I “sold” were: tables, chairs, chandeliers, wall sconces, neckties, my jewelry, an Iowa state flag, a mountain bike, a Corgi, a television, a dinner for ten at a fancy restaurant, a year’s supply of bottled water, an umbrella and a briefcase. Each student brought an item for our “live” student auction. I sold a bag of locally-grown Kansas popcorn for $110, with all auction proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

I have grand ideas about how I am going to develop this new trade; there is so much opportunity, even for women in what has been traditionally a male-dominated field. I have a new skill set I didn’t have ten days ago, and I wouldn’t have this if I’d stayed in that comfortable bubble. If I’d listened to the doubter that most of us have living in our heads, I would have left on day two, or not even gone at all. It will be the perfect complement to my speech therapy career.

I knew so little before I started; I didn’t even know that, because auctioneering dates back to Civil War times, auctioneers are respectfully called “Colonel.” Gail and Suzanne called me that upon graduation. They knew. I ask that you call me the same, but only after you have stepped out of your own comfort zone and have done that thing that you want to do, but are being held back by fear, or that voice of doubt.

Become your own Colonel in your own dream. If I did it, so can you.

Now get out there.

Respectfully yours, Colonel Kathleen.

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CHANGE IS GOOD

When the end of my beloved summer rolls around every year, I feel myself going into a funk. I love the spirit of summer, the lightness of being out of school—even though it’s been 28 years since I’ve been in school. And, of course, the heat. Call me crazy, but 100-plus degrees are my favorite temperatures.

As summer wanes and the cooler temperatures come, I have to face yet another hard truth: the Kansas winter is coming again. But, I have survived 55 winters thus far, and I will survive another one again. The beautiful fall splendor that Mother Nature provides on the trees is always overshadowed in my mind by the hard fact that winter is inevitable.

This was inside my Dove chocolate wrapper today.

Yet, just like Monday mornings that turn out to be better than the Sunday nights I ruin dreading them, winter always is more enjoyable than the fall I ruin dreading them. And, all the while I wasn’t fully appreciating the beauty all around me, the gift nature gives us every year.

As I write on Saturday, October 8th, the trees in Kansas are just beginning to hint at fall. At least, that’s what they were doing four days ago when I left Kansas, and headed west with Gail, her 22-year-old daughter Lydia, and our friend Margaret. Margaret is technically Gail’s friend as she lives in her town, but we have all adopted her as our own. You would too, if you knew her.

She is no replacement for Suzanne; there is no such thing. Again, due to altitude sickness issues, Suzanne was not able to join us on yet another Colorado trip. We miss her dearly, and hopefully we will soon make a trip with all three sisters of The Sister Lode.

Lydia had never traveled to the mountains for enjoyment, only to the foothills near Denver to see her endocrinologist. So, this trip was a treat. As we ascended on the final hour of our drive, she was visibly awed by the Rocky Mountain splendor. She became the photographer extraordinaire, capturing the golden aspens with the glorious sunshine spilling through, and upon them. Our timing was perfect for this visual feast.

And, because we were traveling in Gail’s new space age car, we no longer had a CD player to spin our traditional John Denver tune, Rocky Mountain High. Lydia, however, being the millenial she is, had him ready to sing on her Apple playlist, so this classic song was our music loop for the last half hour. None of us tired of it, not even Lydia. This confirms she is a true mountain girl, just like her mother and aunts.

Our hosts at The Hospitality House welcomed us as they always do. This time, they had an altar prepared, paying homage to “The Kick-Ass Sisters,” as they have come to know us. It was on a table in the hallway between our rooms. We added to it, adorning the picture we took years ago, the same picture we snuck inside a frame that was hanging on the wall in our favorite corner room that houses all three of us when we all go. It took them a while to notice it, but when they did, they gave it a special new home in this place of honor. At least, that’s where it is when we are there.

Bonnie and Judy came along again, as they always do when Gail and I travel together.

The donkeys that freely roam the streets of this town were still roaming, not yet penned up safe and warm for the impending winter. They are the direct descendants of the donkeys that helped found this town as a gold-mining boomtown, traversing the underground mines to help the miners haul equipment.

Lydia, being a newbie to this gambling scene, had luck on her side. Apparently, the machines know who the new kids in town are, and give them enough bounty to keep them coming back, which, she likely will.

Because he treated me bad in the past, taking my dignity and my money multiple times after wooing me like bad boyfriends do (and, just to be fair, likely bad girlfriends, too), I walked away from this joint, never to let him cheat me again. However, at Gail’s urging, and because she had just won a small jackpot on a slot machine there, I took one last opportunity to show him who’s boss, and took my money back, walking away with a small jackpot myself, as well as a smug grin.

Nobody puts Kathleen in the corner, at least, not forever. And, to honor my word to the new merchant next door to Johnny’s , “I’ll be back after I win,” I told him, I did return to his store to celebrate my new bounty with a small piece of locally mined turquoise set in the shape of my lucky charm horseshoe, the one that I am certain helped me walk away from Johnny once and for all as the victor in this game.

The moon came up almost full in its glorious splendor. The mountains once again filled us with awe. Saturday afternoon brought a beautiful rain, and as always, we were made to feel right at home at The Hospitality House.

We laughed, we gambled, we ate, we shopped, but most of all, we enjoyed each other’s company. Gail made new friends, and renewed old friendships she has made here in the past. If you know Gail, this shouldn’t surprise you.

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By the time you read this, we will likely be back at Gail’s house, as we plan to leave Sunday afternoon. We will have taken in the splendor of the changing aspens once again on our way out of town, yet another opportunity to realize that change is indeed good. It brings us another season, and will eventually bring me back to my beloved summer. And, if we recognize it and ultimately act upon it, we have the opportunity to bring desired changes to our own lives. Getting away clears the mind and cleanses the spirit, clarifying the thoughts and ideas that are begging to be heard.

Sometimes change is inevitable and unwanted, bringing heartbreak and misery. This is a part of life. Loved ones pass away, jobs and fortunes are lost, and sometimes people we love change, forcing us to make unwanted changes in our lives. We cannot change them, only our responses to them, much like I cannot change the seasons, only my responses to them.

Perhaps it could be as simple as cleaning out your closet, changing your routine to include a daily walk, or getting a new hairstyle. Or, maybe it is time to adopt a pet, or give up diet soda.

Maybe it’s time to write that novel that’s been waiting to come to life. Maybe it is time to stop saying ‘yes’ to something that only brings joy to someone else, while draining your soul. Perhaps it is time to take that trip that you said you would someday. There are seven days in a week, and someday is not one of them. I just checked my calendar to see if perhaps it was along the top with the other days, but it wasn’t. I have a few “somedays” of my own that I plan to change to a specific date.

Re-learning how to knit is on my personal change list. My great aunt taught me years ago, and I let that skill fade away. I know it is time to change that, and I plan to take a class right after I get back from auctioneer training (see last post). I am also going to keep clearing unnecessary stuff out of my house. I have been doing it for some time now, and it feels good. That is a good change.

I am excited about the changes in my life. If it is time for some in yours too, take a cue from the leaves. They always seem to know how to do it.

Lydia found this sticker while we were shopping. It inspired this blog, and then came home with me.

THE LIBERTY LIST

According to my watch, the time is now.” –Jimmy Buffet

My generation remembers where we were and what we were doing 21 years ago today: I sat in the recliner all day, holding my sick baby as he slept, watching the horror unfold before my eyes on TV. These memories are seared into the brain of anyone old enough to remember that dark day, the day that forever changed our country.

Gail was preparing her soon-to-be opened donut shop for business. I called and told her about it, she hadn’t heard yet. She went home to watch it on TV, something she rarely does. She knew this needed her attention at that time. The donut shop could wait.

Suzanne arrived at work, not knowing what was happening. She and her co-workers remained glued to the TV for the rest of the day. Her five-year-old daughter had a friend over that evening, and they wanted to watch TV. She heard her ask him what they should watch. He replied innocently, “I guess we could watch the explosion channel.” We all remember there wasn’t much else on, and he realized this, too.

That dark day won’t ever be forgotten, nor should it ever be forgotten. The people who lost their lives that day should be remembered as heroes, even though they likely had no idea what was happening in those horrific moments leading up to their deaths.

The rest of us get to continue to live our lives, even though that scar will always be on the face of our country. The family members and loved ones of the victims, as well as the first responders and others who sacrificed their safety that day should always hold a special place in our memories and hearts as well.

Our veterans, active duty military, Reserves and National Guard are the heroes every day of every year; they are the ones who protected and continue to protect the freedoms most of us take for granted–including me.

Our small hometown held its 150th birthday celebration last Saturday; Suzanne and I were able to go to this special gathering, but Gail couldn’t join us. The veterans of our hometown who were present were honored with recognition: a profoundly moving speech and a special flag salute by some of our town’s youth, followed by a standing ovation:

They are the reason we live in this nation of freedom. We have so many liberties that we fail to realize, all thanks to them.

One of them is the opportunity to travel freely about this country, and take in all it has to offer. Gail, Suzanne and I do our best to enjoy this privilege. Another is to partake in whatever activities interest us, because this country is indeed the land of liberty.

Which is why the term “bucket list” is widely known. Popularized by a movie of the same name, many of us have a list of things we’d like to do, or places we’d like to travel to before we euphemistically “kick the bucket.” Instead of using that term, however, I decided to call it “The Liberty List.” It reminds me that I am so fortunate to have these liberties.

My 25-year-old son lives on the other side of the world. He is checking something big off his “Liberty List” at a relatively young age, exercising the freedom he has as an American to put this big world right in the palm of his hand. He has had the opportunity to travel to other countries as well, and has given himself permanent reminders of this liberty.

Last year, when America was celebrating it’s Independence Day, he traveled to Egypt with 5 other American friends. To remind themselves of this freedom, they gave themselves a permanent reminder in the local language–Arabic. This year he spent July 4th in Thailand, and added to this reminder in Thai:

The translation is “freedom” or “liberty,” both translate into the one foreign word. You pick the one you like best. I like the ring of “liberty.” And what kind of a mother would I be if I didn’t follow my son’s example? An unfit one, that’s for sure. So, my next tattoo will be inside my upper arm, just like his, with “Liberty” as my English word of choice.

I am already sure I will never regret this permanent reminder of all that America has given me.

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I asked Gail and Suzanne what they had on their “Liberty Lists.”

Gail: “I don’t really have one. I just live life to the fullest every day.” I can attest to this. She makes every moment of every day the most it can be, whether it is working one of her multiple jobs, or cruising around with her friends in “Lola,” her 1974 Chevy Nova, into the wee hours of the morning. It’s usually a party whenever Gail is there. Always has been, always will be.

Suzanne: “Going to any beach, anywhere, anytime.” Simple and true. If you recall, my maiden post on this blog just over five years ago detailed our epic beach trip to Florida (The Sister Lode, June 16th, 2017). We haven’t been back to a beach together since, but it is on all three of our “Liberty Lists.”

If you know me, you may want to be sure to be sitting down when you read what I am soon to check off my list. When I tell people, it is generally met first with disbelieving laughter, then something along the lines of, “That’s so cool!”

This endeavor has been on my Liberty List for some time now, and the time is right to check it off. I see it as a natural extension of my 28-year career as a speech therapist. I have been a speech scientist, and now it is time to be a speech artist.

I will spend eight days at the end of October/beginning of November in Des Moines, Iowa, training to become–wait for it–an auctioneer! I have long been fascinated with this skill, knowing that one day I would learn it. That day has come. I don’t know yet how much, or in what capacity I will use it, but I am doing it–now! All we have is now, and as the wise Willie Nelson says, “It’s always now.”

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Now only comes once, which is why I am struggling so much with some heartbreaking news I received this week. A friend, a bright light with an electric smile and unforgettable laugh, was cruelly taken by COVID and its complications. We bonded after she lost her parents separately, but both in devastating ways. We understood each other. We spoke this dreadful language. We connected, but I had let too much time pass, knowing I needed to reach out to her again. But I didn’t do it then, and I can’t do it now. My heart breaks for her family, because I know how it feels to lose your mother way too young.

I’m not feeling the strength yet, but I will regain it after this heartbreaking news, and I will check a few more things off my Liberty List. They are things I have needed to do for some time in order to reach out to other important people.

We never know when it may be too late. I smugly thought I had learned the Life is short lesson after our parents died in that one moment, but if I think I have fully learned it, that only means I need to go back to school. Clearly, I didn’t. It is a lifetime of learning in order to make sure every now is the most it can be.

We would all be well-advised to think back 21 years ago to September 12th, or perhaps a few more days or weeks later, when so many people used that tragedy to galvanize their efforts to create more peace toward each other. Let’s all do our best to do that again, every day. Connect with those you need to reach out to before it’s too late. The time is now.

So, turn off the explosion channel in your head; we’ve all seen enough, and it will always be there. Use that memory to honor those who lost their lives, their families and loved ones, the first responders and our military–past and present.

And get out there and work on your Liberty List.

Raise your hand high and place your bid on that.

THINGS ARE GONNA GET EASIER

Perhaps it was the stray dime I found at a garage sale yesterday. I paid the woman a quarter, and told her it was a sign from my parents. As I have written before, I believe it was.

Perhaps it was that song again. I believe our loved ones who are no longer with us can speak to us in a number of ways. One of them is through music. About four years ago, I was having a strong moment of grief while thinking about my dad. I was sitting on my bedroom floor with the radio on, and I heard his voice come through a song released in 1970 by The Five Stairsteps: “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.”

And they did.

In another month or so, it happened again. I was thinking about Dad, and there was that song. And, once again, things did get easier.

The third time it happened was uncanny. I had him on my mind, and there was the song–again.

And, of course, things did get easier.

I heard that song on the radio last night. Life ebbs and flows, as we all know, and it happened during an ebb. Not necessarily about Dad, but there was that song again. And, yes, things did get easier.

Perhaps it was the dream I had last night. I have mentioned several times in my posts that when I dream about Mom and Dad, it is as if they are still with here, never having left us. Last night was no different. There was a community dinner of some sort in a public hall, and they were there. “Oh, Mom and Dad are here,” I remember thinking in the dream. “I’ll sit with them,” as if nothing had happened. And then the dream was over.

**

I checked Facebook while I was sipping coffee about 7 a.m. today. A widowed friend has posted about how hard it was to face her now-empty nest. Her youngest of two had just moved away to his first year of college, and without her husband, she was truly alone. She spoke of the heartbreak and pain, but also of the strength she will have to summon to keep going, and I know she will.

I commented as such, and another friend commented as well. This is a mutual friend who also faces a crushing loss: her beloved sister was taken from her in a pedestrian accident several years ago.

Lest we think we are alone in our grief, none of us have to look far.

This morning while I was walking/running, I had my iPod in my ears as I always do. Out of 250-plus songs, there it was again. “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.” I smiled, then shed a little tear, but I kept moving; my husband and I had plans for an outing later this morning.

Perhaps it was the song again, or maybe the dream, or the Facebook posts, or likely a combination of all the above that brought it to mind: as we were getting ready, I decided today was the day to make my second pilgrimage to the place where Mom and Dad drew their last breaths; it wasn’t far from our destination. Dad had spoken to me through song twice in the last 12 hours, and they both showed up in my dreams again last night. Those were my signs, and I chose to heed them.

I had been there only one other time (And You Will Go On, October 14th 2018), and now that it has been fourteen years, five months and ten days (not that I am counting), I knew in my heart of hearts it was time again. We would be driving near there, and a short detour would take us there.

It was there, and then it was gone. We didn’t stop, I only needed a glance. It was almost dark when I was there the first time; today it was full sun, but in my mind, the dark cloud still hovered over the intersection. I was alone last time; my husband was with me this time. Plus, I was six and a half years stronger. Still, the sharp pain of loss and lingering grief was there. This docile beast will never go away, but I know now how to keep it tame–most of the time.

**

I have a dear friend who recently lost her ex-husband, her daughters’ father. Ooh children, things are gonna get easier.

I have another friend, a graduate school classmate, who is struggling through a cascade of devastating family crises. Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.

We have a mutual friend, another graduate school classmate who lost her 52-year old husband suddenly in the spring. I have lost touch with her, but my friend hasn’t. She gave me her number, and I am going to call her tonight. There is no statute of limitations on expressions of sympathy to others; I have learned this in the past 14-plus years. Today is the day. Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.

To my two friends on Facebook this morning: Ooh children, things are gonna keep getting easier.

**

About four years ago, I had a home health patient in a rural area. About a mile off the highway, there was a wooden cross. It was lovingly adorned with football items, and it appeared to be a memorial to a young man, which was confirmed by co-workers. I passed by it multiple times on my repeat visits to this patient’s home, always saying a little prayer for his family.

One day, a woman was stopped there, re-arranging the memorial items. I didn’t hesitate, I knew I was supposed to stop. I surmised it was his mother, and it was. I got out of the car, walked up to her and said, “I don’t know who you are, but I know you. I have two of those.” We instinctively hugged, shed a few tears, and gave each other the gift of understanding.

I couldn’t have survived these past fourteen years (five months and ten days) especially without my sisters, but also my brothers, my husband and sons, and my wide circle of family and friends. This support net has carried me through, and I know it will continue to carry me, as long as I keep reaching out to help connect with others who are living with grief, and letting them reach out to me. It can still be so hard, but every day brings me more strength, hope and understanding.

We may not know who they all are, but we know them when we see them. We must keep reaching out, and keep our arms open for their reaching in.

Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.

SWHEAT GIRLS–PART THREE

It has been two years since I made it to the wheat field. Last year, it was a work scheduling problem, along with weather woes that dictated the days in the combine. This year, it was a little problem called COVID. That makes only three harvests I have missed in my 56 years, and it breaks my heart.

Along with Gail and Suzanne, however, I will always be a Kansas farm girl at heart. Swheat girls, just like our friends Tana and Amy. I met them in the summer of 1984 when I began “babysitting” these two amazing sisters. They didn’t need much, just someone to take care of business. Business soon became pleasure, and we have remained close since. We may, or may not, have gotten wheat tattoos together a few summers ago to prove this.

So close, as a matter of fact, that they visit every July 4th with their families from their homes in Arizona. We have maintained this tradition for many years, and our hope is that it will continue for many more. They left only four days ago, and I am already looking forward to next July 4th, which, coincidentally, is one of my favorite holidays.

Their visit kicks off my favorite month of the year. Following that fun-filled (almost) week, I continue to enjoy the Kansas summer, my favorite season. A vacation is usually in order in July, as well as our youngest son’s birthday. And, I have deduced that since I was born in mid-April, I most likely came into being in July.

Suzanne was able to join us for an evening, but Gail wasn’t able to make it. As always when she is not here, we missed her; she always adds life to any party.

We decorated to the nines again, perhaps even more than we normally do.

One of our favorite pastimes is to porch sit, and we amped that up too this year by dragging the old couch out of the shop for some good old-fashioned redneck couch-sitting on the porch.

Recall that the term “redneck” originated from the sunburn on the back of a working person’s neck from working outdoors in the hot sun. Therefore, it is a term of honor, one we take as a compliment.

The couch is still sitting on the porch, up for grabs. It just may look perfect year-round on your porch. If you think perhaps it would, please let me know–and bring a truck.

We swam in the backyard pool,

and, of course, took in the fireworks. We celebrate our country, as well as our favorite place in it: Kansas.

This one looks almost unreal, but it is real, taken by my daughter-in-law.

Every year brings back old traditions and memories, and more new ones are made. Our bonds grow deeper, and our Kansas farm-girl roots keep us grounded and gritty.

These Swheat girls , just like Gail, Suzanne and I, are Kansas farm girls who know how lucky we are to have this heritage, and to have each other.

Happy Independence Day to you, every day of the year.

THE GAIL EXPERIENCE

The reviews are in: “Gail brings high energy and fun to all aspects of her life! I had such a fun time. Her garden is delightful, Lola is one of a kind, we got to meet her friends on their front porch, and had a great lunch at the bar/grill she manages. Camp Gail was highly entertaining. I give “The Gail Experience” 5 stars! –Shari

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It’s a real thing, The Gail Experience. I have lived it many times; I am one of the lucky ones. In the next breath just after I say that, I will also say this: there is no such thing as The Suzanne Experience. And that’s how they both want it. As the middle sister, I guess I am in the middle there, too. I guess, perhaps, this blog is part of The Kathleen Experience, if there is such a thing.

But I am not here to talk about that. This is about Gail, her aura and the gifts of her presence. And there are so many.

Shari, my friend since kindergarten, loves to hike like I do. We have long planned to take a trip to western Kansas to experience the natural beauty of several land formations there, as well as a new state park with hiking trails. We have tried two other times: first, my son was sick with Covid in my home, so we decided it best not to share that kind potential illness. Second, we were both available and healthy, but Gail was not going to be home at the time we planned to go, and this involved an overnight stay at her home. I told Shari, “We could go, but you wouldn’t have The Gail Experience. I will let you decide.” She decided to wait until Gail was home

Wise decision.

Last week, it finally happened. The stars and planets aligned, we were both able to get out of work responsibilities, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect, and Gail was home. So, Shari arrived from the Kansas City area at my home Tuesday evening, and we headed west Wednesday morning. The sightseeing and hiking was every bit as beautiful and enjoyable as we had hoped, but that’s not the point. Our home state boasts so many natural wonders that deserve more attention than most people give them, and more than I can put into this blog. It may very well be covered in a future post, because both Gail and our beautiful state deserve their own headlining coverage.

The farthest point of our trip took us to the northwest corner of Kansas, and even into the southwest corner of Nebraska. We turned around, and were at Gail’s house in the beautiful burg of Atwood an hour later. Gail had supper ready, and we were hungry hikers. As usual, it was delicious.

Shari’s reaction to Gail’s home was the same as mine when I first set foot in it over 20 years ago: it’s Gail. Her spirit and style are carried through in her decor, especially in Camp Gail, which I have featured in each of the five pictures at the beginning of the blog. We “camped” after our cruising, more on that later.

It was about 7:30 pm at this point, and it was a beautiful almost-summer evening, the kind that calls for cruising. So, as well The Gail Experience, Shari also got to have The Lola Experience.

Gail’s 1974 Nova, lovingly named after its last owner, always turns heads on the streets of Atwood.

We were privileged to meet a group of her friends, who were hanging out on the porch of the group’s senior member, 87-year-old Buzzy. Perhaps you could say, with the little squeeze that Buzzy added in this flanked pose, that Shari and I also had The Buzzy Experience. Or, perhaps more accurately, we got Buzzed.

We cruised some more, then headed to Gail’s house. It was a girl’s night, as her husband was out of town for a few days. Her daughter, Lydia, was there to enhance The Gail Experience. As is custom at Gail’s house, guests gravitate toward Camp Gail, which is where we spent the rest of the evening talking and reminiscing, but mostly laughing.

Perhaps it was the beautiful night, or the slight deliriousness from a day in the sun, or maybe since we were one or two beers in, everything was funny.

I’m pretty sure, though, it was mostly the company.

Among other visual treats in Camp Gail, Shari noticed a beautiful scarf Gail had as a decoration. She picked it up, and proceeded to find all the ways it could be used. With Gail’s encouragement, suggestions and goading, we laughed until our stomachs hurt.

Starting with the functional look to keep one’s hair tame in the Kansas winds–just like our mothers used to wear, Shari began the modeling:

Our mothers also wore scarves fashionably around their necks:

And to church.

Then, it started to get really silly.

She took the cue for this one from my Willie shirt, and it was followed by the do-rag:

And the blindfold…

And the bandit.

and the toothache/mumps wrap.

The turban was the finale; our stomachs couldn’t take any more laughing.

Shari and I had to hang it up and go to bed, but, as usual, Gail could have entertained us for hours more.

In the morning, we went for a brisk walk, followed by massages. We were relaxed and energized, and, of course, hungry.

Gail had some work in the office of her first full-time gig as an office manager for a chiropractor,

and then we enjoyed lunch at the home of her second full-time gig as the manager of Legends bar/grill. She wasn’t technically working, but she had already unloaded the food truck that delivered supplies earlier that morning.

As parties always are, it was then over. We fought the blasting south Kansas wind for the first 30 miles, and then I cussed it as I drove east for about the next 120 miles until it calmed. As usual, Gail loved the wind. Ugh.

But I still love her for that. It’s part of The Gail Experience. If there were a Suzanne Experience, it would include the love of wind as well. Definitely not part of Kathleen in any way. Our day of hiking/sightseeing in western Kansas couldn’t have been more calm and beautiful, with brilliant blue skies and a slight breeze. NO wind.

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I am not as pious as the picture of Shari praying in the scarf, but I say a prayer of thanksgiving every day for the gifts of my sisters, and for the “experience” of being their sister. They cry with me in the bad times, and laugh with me in the good times. And, we know the importance of having fun.

Special thanks to my dear friend Shari for making this trip with me. Her “Gail Experience” was a great one!

HAPPY HALF-THANKSGIVING

When I lived in Philadelphia in 1990, I was a nanny for a suburban family with two children, ages two and four. Their mother was a pediatrician, and when she came home from her clinic one October afternoon, the four-year old boy became very giggly and excited. He ushered me down to the basement, instructing me not to come upstairs until I was told to do so. I could hear him and his mother in the kitchen stirring about, and in a few minutes, he came downstairs to get me with a big grin on his face.

I came up with him, and his mother and sister were waiting in the kitchen with grins on their faces as well. There were cupcakes on the table, and there were candles in each of them. They began singing “Happy Birthday” to me, still grinning.

Except that it wasn’t my birthday. And he knew that. They all knew that.

“He said he wanted to have a birthday party for you today,” his mother said after the singing. “So we are having a birthday party for you!” And they did. And it was a wonderful, thoughtful surprise.

What he didn’t know–none of them realized this, I’m sure, is that it was exactly my half-birthday. It was October 17th. My birthday is April 17th.

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This gesture inspired me to create a birthday gift-giving tradition for the children in my life after I returned home: instead of giving them a gift on their birthdays, I would treat them on their half-birthday. I reasoned that they received a bounty of gifts on their actual birthdays, so a mid-year gift would be a welcome surprise, and it usually was.

I don’t know why, but somewhere along the way, I abandoned that tradition. I still make a mental note of my half-birthday every October, and fondly recall that surprise birthday party for my 23 1/2 birthday.

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. We typically celebrate it at Gail’s house, and we take our annual sister picture in her favorite space, Camp Gail. These are the five pictures posted at the beginning of each blog. However, the last two Thanksgivings were dampened by COVID. There was some celebrating both years; we did the best we could. It has already been six months since Thanksgiving; that date was May 25th, almost two weeks ago. However, it’s never too late to offer gratitude. It’s never too early, either. Which is precisely why I am offering an advance thank you to you, dear reader: in just eleven days, I will celebrate my fifth anniversary as a blogger. My maiden post was on June 16th, 2017.

I want to offer my sincere and deep gratitude for each and every one of you who has ever read one or each and every one of my blogs, or anywhere in between. This one marks post #172. Without each of you, I wouldn’t have kept going. I cannot formulate words to express how much I appreciate each and every one of you, and for your positive feedback and encouragement you have given me in the last (almost) five years.

Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, so I will add a montage of some of our most memorable blog pictures from the last five years of posts. I have said it so many times before, but I will say it again:

I am so thankful for my sisters.

Happy Half-Thanksgiving to you. May every day be filled with gratitude.

DREAM ON, SISTERS

It has been a while. I have had a bit of a dry spell, perhaps even a drought of ideas. So, I asked for help. I prayed for ideas and inspiration, and I wasn’t disappointed. Our parents are the inspiration for this blog–their lives and their deaths, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Again, be careful what you wish for.

I woke up early this morning after a relatively late night–11:00 is way past my bedtime. It was not yet six, so I went back to sleep. When I am lucky enough to fall back asleep, I often have the strangest dreams. This morning was no exception, except that it was perhaps the strongest, most moving dream I have in the last fourteen years. And, it took me a moment to realize it was just a dream. It was still real when I woke up an hour later, for just that moment, and I had to wrap my mind around what I thought was my new reality.

In the dream, Mom had called to tell me that Dad had died in his sleep. I was awake now–barely, and my own heart was broken. I didn’t know how I would live without him. And then I realized it was a dream. I had already been living without him for over fourteen years, and without Mom for just as long.

It was real, just for that moment.

Perhaps it was because I was thinking about them yesterday as my husband and I traveled close to the accident site. I considered taking the short detour to stop there, but there was no reason. I had already been there once. (And You Will Go On, October 14th, 2018. )

Perhaps the dream was portended by the five cardinals I saw the day before. Yes, five. I even had to slow down to avoid hitting two of them with my car on two different occasions.

Perhaps it was the dime I found on the floor of a store yesterday. Mom and Dad had a dime bank they often contributed to, and after I wrote the blog about the six amazing sisters (The Magnificent Seven, November 11th, 2018 ) and they told me about the connection they have to their parents through dimes–“Dimes from heaven,” they call them, I started to find dimes lying randomly here and there, including one in the middle of my bedroom floor later that afternoon. I had just tidied up the room, and left it with no trace of anything stray on the floor. Yet, the dime showed up. And they have been showing up ever since. I put that one next to their picture and each one since then has been placed in a skinny shot glass next to it.

One of Gail’s daughters has this same connection to her grandparents through dimes. We send pictures of our latest dime finds to each other via text along with a short story. I sent her the picture of yesterday’s dime, and not long after that I got one back from her–this one was wedged in the crack of a table.

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I get good ideas when I take my morning run/walk. Last night’s dream was still bouncing around in my head as I ran, stirring up more ideas. I came in the house ready to get them on paper, because ideas don’t always stick around. I left the house with CD music playing, and when I walked in the door, a lyric I’d heard dozens of times, but never noticed, jumped out at me: “Ill hold you in my dreams.”

I will. I am.

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I long to dream about my parents in a way that brings them back to me. Except for this morning’s dream, whenever they show up in my dreams, it’s always as if they never left, so there is no grand reunion. It’s just another day of my life with my parents in it, as if they were still alive.

Gail says she rarely dreams of them. I doubt she sleeps enough to dream. Suzanne says she dreams about them, but it is as if they never died. The most memorable one she had is that, after a long absence, they showed up, having moved to a nearby town. When she asked them if they were moving back, they said, “No, we like it here. We plan to stay.”

We all long to connect with them again in grand style in a dream. However, we don’t get to order one up as if we are ordering at a restaurant. I remember visiting with a friend who had lost his young son. He longed to dream about him, he said, because this was the only way he could see him again.

If only we could put that order in, and expect it to be filled.

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I hope that not a single one of you can relate to this strong desire to connect to a lost loved one. I hope none of you have ever experienced a loss of a loved one. But I doubt that. I am guessing that each one of you has had to let go of a loved one at some point in your past. For that, I am so sorry.

If, perhaps, you have not felt this pain, or even if you have, and you want to discount any of these “signs”–the dreams, the dimes, the cardinals, please be my guest. I have no proof that they mean anything. There is no science to back this up. Yet, I believe. And, if it brings you peace, I hope you believe, too.

Sweet dreams, my friends.

SIXTEEN CANDLES–PLUS FORTY MORE

Thirty-five years ago today, I stopped to see Gail at work at the Pizza Hut in Osborne. It was Good Friday, and I was driving home from college for Easter weekend. She appeared to be in a rush, but took a few minutes to visit. I could tell she didn’t have much time to chat, so I wrapped it up and went the rest of the way to our farm. She was a busy bee 35 years ago, just like she is now.

She was so busy, so rushed, as a matter of fact, that she forgot to wish me Happy Birthday. I was 21 that day. Suzanne would have been 16, and she probably remembered; I don’t remember that she didn’t. Mom and Dad always remembered, but few other people did. There wasn’t much fun to be had in a small Catholic town on Good Friday for a girl trying to celebrate her 21st birthday, but a few friends and I toasted to my legal status that day. I felt like the main character in the classic movie, Sixteen Candles.

I’ve never let Gail forget that day.

Today, however, is a different story. She hasn’t forgotten that I am 56 years old today. On our way to her home, we stopped in my college town to have lunch at our favorite spot, and we were joined by our dear newlywed friends who found each other later in life, and continue to exemplify the meaning of this very blog. They are still celebrating.

We have been celebrating my birthday all weekend. I am honored to observe my birthday this year on one of the most jubilant days of the year on the Christian calendar: Easter Sunday. We are celebrating that, too.

Celebrating is what we do, even sometimes when there is no occasion. On Saturday of this weekend, we made our own fun in her small town. We went cruising in both town and country in her vintage 1974 Chevrolet Nova, better known as “Lola.”

Gail creates an atmosphere of fun no matter where she is. Lola’s dash is metal, which thrills her because she can adorn it with magnets, just as she has done in Camp Gail, where we take our annual Sister Lode picture.

We met up with their friends at The Lucky Eleven in nearby Ludell,

And did a little car shopping while we were in town.

It should be road-ready in a few weeks.

As always, Gail showered me with a fabulous goodie bag of birthday gifts–she knows what I love.

Suzanne and I will celebrate later; we always do. Today, she is celebrating Easter with her daughter, so she is not with us.

Bonnie and Judy came along, as they like to do when Gail and I are together.

At the end of the day, my husband and I will celebrate my birthday and Easter with our youngest son and his beautiful, delightful new bride of two weeks.

It has been, and will continue to be a great day, I know.

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Age is a gift. I am never ashamed to admit my age. Neither is Gail; she proudly wears her 62 years, and will continue to do so. Suzanne doesn’t hesitate to share her over-50 status.

I gave this plaque to Gail a few years ago on her birthday. Such a profound message, no matter who and no matter what the age.

Every sunrise is a gift. Every day is a gift. Every new year we celebrate with a bigger number is a gift. Don’t ever hide that number. Today, mine becomes 56. Whatever yours is, make it a grand celebration.

Happy Easter, and whenever your day is, happy birthday to you.