THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

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THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

According to popular, but erroneous national sentiment, Kansas doesn’t have much to offer.  “Fly-over country,” we’ve been called.  As if there’s nothing to see here.

We—the sisters of The Sister Lode—are here to tell you differently.  Kansas is our born-and-raised home state, and we aren’t backing down on our stand that there’s plenty to see here. 

But this is not a post about Kansas tourism.  That would require a blog of its own.   This is a post about one simple thing–Kansas’s state flower:   the sunflower.

Our mom liked sunflowers.  And, like the topics of so many other good memories of both Mom and Dad, the sunflower has been elevated in status for all three of us.  It’s timeless beauty, and classic, iconic face have made it a favorite for so many people–not just Kansans, and not just us.

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They are still in bloom right now—although nearing the end of their annual fashion show, so now is a perfect time to extol their virtues.

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 “Weeds are nature’s graffiti.”   J.L.W. Brooks

The sunflowers gracing the fields and ditches at this time of year are primarily a weed.  They are very common across the United Sates—except for the Southeastern U.S.–and parts of central Canada. They grow well in soils of dry to medium moisture, as well as sand and clay.

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I don’t care that they are classified as weeds.  As A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh states, “Weeds are flowers, once you get to know them.”

While there are sunflowers planted as crops,

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this blog is not about them.  I recall that Dad did try to plant sunflowers as a crop once or twice, but he didn’t make it an annual thing.

A common misconception is that sunflowers follow the sun across the sky every day.  While this is true for young, immature sunflowers, the fully mature plant will continue to face east throughout the day, as its head is too heavy and the stalk has become too inflexible to move.

Because the young plants follow a circadian rhythm, they will turn from east to west even on cloudy days.  They re-orient themselves overnight to the east to begin the process over every day.

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The plants are harvested for their seeds, of course, to be used not only for human consumption, but for birdseed as well.

Sunflower oil is also an economically important product of the sunflower.

Because I am enthralled to learn new, useless trivia, here is some I learned online about the sunflower, just in case you, too, may enjoy such trivial matters:

*The sunflower is the only flower with “flower” in its name.

*There are 67 species of sunflower and multiple varieties of each species.

*Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium.  They were used to help clean up the area after the Russian Chernobyl disaster.

*The earliest examples of domesticated sunflowers in the U.S. were found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 B.C.

*Among Zuni people, the fresh or dried root is chewed by the medicine man before sucking venom from a snakebite and is ceremoniously applied via poultice to the bite.

*The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.

*Sunflowers were worshipped by the Incas because they viewed it as a symbol for the sun.

*Once the sunflower heads are empty, they can be converted into scrubbing pads for tough jobs.

*I may, or may not, have a wheat tattoo to honor Dad.  I may, or may not get a sunflower tattoo to honor Mom.  (That wasn’t from the web.)

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I like the sunflower because it reminds me of Mom.  Gail and Suzanne show it proudly as well.

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But I like it for other reasons, too.  I, too, live by the sunlight, and if I could, I would follow the sunlight every day.  Unlike Gail and Suzanne–who like any and all weather–cloudy days bring me down.  It reminds me of the sun; it is named the “sunflower” not only because it follows the sun, but because its face simply looks sunny.

I realize I am like the sunflower in that I like to follow the sun from east to west every day.  I get a certain high from taking in a beautiful sunrise from my porch.

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And an equal high from watching the sunset—this picture was taken just last night facing west from my driveway.

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We are extending an open invitation to anyone who would like to discover why Kansas is not fly-over country.  It is drive-through-and-around country, it is drive-here-and-discover country.

Kansas is our beautiful home, and the sunflower is our beautiful, iconic cover girl.  It will soon be past its splendid prime, but Kansas will stay beautiful in its own right throughout the year.

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Don’t just fly over.  If you do, you’ll miss not only the sunflowers, but the sunrises, the sunsets and everything beautiful in between.

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Mom’s tastes were simple.  The sunflower may be a simple weed indeed, but she knew that sometimes, simple is best.

KISS:  Keep It Simple, Sunflower.

 

 

 

 

SISTERS ON WHEELS

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SISTERS ON WHEELS

Our dad passed on many positive attributes to his seven children.  One of them was an appreciation for vehicles, and how to take care of them.  Having seven children required having many vehicles over the years, and Dad made sure they operated soundly. 

The most memorable school car we had growing up was the 1973 Plymouth Valiant in a beautiful army green tone.  Not being able to locate any pictures we took of this beauty, here’s one from the web:

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I never got to drive it.  I was too young anyway, and it had a three-on-the-tree gear shift.  I eventually learned how to drive a four-on-the-floor standard transmission. 

It was Gail’s high-school pride and joy, however.  (Not really.)  Dad loved anything Chrysler, and this Plymouth didn’t disappoint him.  He bought it for a school car for Gail and the two brothers between Gail and me.  It was a legendary, local bomb, and it didn’t escape the notice of one of the infamous tricksters in our high school.  He decided to take it out for some four-wheelin’ fun in the rain one day after school, and returned it caked with mud.  Our brother, who had driven it to town, drove it home. Dad drove it right back to town, found the guilty party, and, by putting the fear of God into him, made him clean it thoroughly. 

He never crossed our dad again. 

Dad was proud of all his vehicles, and he took expert care of them.  He loved to tinker with them and fix them when he could, which was most of the time.  He taught us girls how to change a tire and how to change the oil; he wanted us to know.   Greater than that, he instilled in us that taking care of one’s vehicle in every way was an important obligation.

Dad and our brothers read Motor Trend and Mechanics Illustrated magazines, so we did, too.  All three of us sisters notice cars to this day, probably because of these early influences.  Speaking for myself, I am usually able to name a car’s make when I see it, and sometimes the model.  The car companies that are newer on the American market like KIA and Hyundai confound me; I don’t recognize them.  These are not the cars I grew up with.

Dad was a Chrysler man, most of his vehicles were from the Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge family.  I have vivid memories of traveling from our farm home with him to the small city I now live in to buy my first car.  I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college, having survived the first year walking, begging and borrowing a car when I needed one.  We came home with a 1982 Plymouth Horizon, a beautiful cream-colored four-door hatchback.

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Again, a picture from the web

It wasn’t a cool car by any means, but it was a set of four wheels, thus beginning my status as a car owner.  I have owned two other Chrysler cars since.

I traded that car in for a fancier Nissan from a small car lot several years later.  I made the deal myself; I learned how to inspect, inquire and negotiate from Dad.  The dealer was in my college town, and his wife was in one of my classes.  She told me that he said:  “If every woman could buy a car like she did, they wouldn’t need a man to help them.”

Thanks, Dad. 

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On my first date with my husband, I recall thinking clearly:  I don’t like his car.  It was a gold 1988 Chevrolet Beretta.  I should have been careful what I didn’t wish for, because I ended up driving it for two years after we got married. 

I didn’t give up much too marry him, except for a car almost like this:

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It was the first new car I ever bought.  I had my first real job after college, had stars in my eyes, thought I had money to burn and thought I needed a brand-new car.  It was a great car; it even traveled to Philadelphia with me for  the second half of my year there.   It was a Toyota, a runner-up to Chrysler in Dad’s mind, and the same kind of car I drive today.  I was smitten with that car, and loved every moment I spent in it.

This small car wouldn’t easily accommodate my future husband’s legs on his six-foot frame.  We didn’t need two cars because he had a work truck, so one of them had to go. 

I sold it to a young man just before we got married.  I rode to the courthouse with him to take care of the business end, and lectured him that there would be no sex or drugs or drinking in this car, but rock-n-roll was certainly okay.  I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes at me.   I met his mother in the process, she was a kind woman.

I loved that car with all my heart, and selling it just about broke my heart.  I knew my husband was worth the trade-off, but still…

Because I love to write, I decided to write a letter to Toyota to let them know how much I loved that car.  I expounded on how well it had treated me, and why I had to let it go.  Apparently I was singing their song, because they sent me a bouquet of flowers to thank me, and to congratulate me on my upcoming wedding. 

A few months later, I saw the new owner driving it down the street and I almost cried.  He had put low-rider tires on it, and had covered the back window with stickers.  I saw his mother in the grocery store a short time after that, and I told her to tell him I didn’t like that one bit. 

Of course, she laughed.

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Gail’s first new car was one-of-a-kind.  So much so, that I couldn’t find a picture of it on the web, and Gail didn’t have a picture of it.  It was a two-tone blue 1980 Ford Pinto.  If you change the top 3/4 of this car to a dark blue, it would look like Gail’s car.

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She, too, spent the first year of college hoofing it, so this car was her ticket to independence.  She shelled out $4,300 for this new beauty.

I remember that car well.  It had a personality just like Gail.  She let me drive it; if I recall right, I think I learned how to drive a stick shift in that car.  There were memories made in that car, both hers and mine. 

Gail has always had a spirit of fun about her, and whatever car she happened to be driving was her means of taking her brand of joy to other places.

Or, maybe it wasn’t a car.  Her next vehicle was a small, brown Toyota truck.  She rocked it, too.  Whatever she drove, her essence of Good-Time Gail came along with her.  It looked pretty much like this:

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When she needed a bigger car to accommodate her first child, she essentially swapped vehicles with Mom and Dad, who no longer needed this family truckster:

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Plenty of memories were made in this car as we grew up in it, but then it also served as a means for me to go places as a teenager.  I will never forget that car.

After her first two girls got a little older, she traded the wagon for the first of her four Honda sedans. The first was a light blue Civic, followed by a dark blue Accord, then two white Accords. 

Her last white Accord moved with her to her current small town.  She then made Dad even more proud by becoming a Chrysler owner—and she made the local dealer happy too.  She still drives a Dodge from him:

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Gail and Cindy Citadel

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Now, about Suzanne and her car:  let’s start from present day and go back, because I can’t wait to tell you about her latest car.

She has driven a Nissan Altima for four years, even though she prefers to trade every few years to stave off the boredom that always comes with her car after a few years.   She reports that since 1991, she has traded cars 15 times.  

She still has the Nissan, but has made it essentially her Sunday car.  She recently purchased an older General Motors product for her daily commute.  I’m pretty sure Dad is frowning upon this, because he was never a GM man.  No matter, it’s what she wanted, and just to show you how much she loves it, I can’t wait to tell you what she named it—the first car she ever named:

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Meet Carol Anne.  (Make sure you spell Anne with an ‘e’ on the end.)

Perhaps Suzanne’s favorite car of all time was—Dad is smiling upon her for this:  a Chrysler 300M that she owned in the early 2000’s.

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She also owned four different Toyotas as well.

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My first car to ever have a name was two cars ago.  I took a gamble on another Volkswagen product after my Jetta wasn’t what I’d hoped.  It took too much to fix, so I traded up for a bright red Passat.  I named her Scarlett, and I was sure I would never love another car as much as I loved her. 

I was wrong.  Scarlett betrayed me one too many times, and after four new water pumps, I had to let her go.  It was to my dismay only, not my husband’s, and I think the mechanic was even happy to see her go. 

I limped her—almost on her last leg—into a Toyota/Honda dealer just down the road, told the fine young salesman that I wanted a used Toyota or Honda.  It must be black or dark blue, and have a black leather interior (so my morning spilled coffee wouldn’t show).  I wouldn’t budge on a sunroof, either.

“Well,” he said, “We have this one.”

“I’ll take it.”   It wasn’t quite that quick.  I did sleep on it, but the next day, I went back and adopted “Stella.”  I had another name picked out, but sometimes, just like with a baby, she didn’t look like that name.  She was Stella, and that was that. 

Of course, Dad’s negotiating skills surfaced in me when I made the deal, and I still think I got the better deal than the dealer. 

And that is how my 2013 black Toyota Avalon has become my favorite car.  She had 36,000 miles when I brought her home, and now, just a bit over three years later, she has 111,000 miles.  She has been my faithful companion and friend, and has treated me like a queen.   May she ride on for 211,000 more miles. 

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She’s not clean today, because she travels with me on asphalt and rock alike to my home health visits, and she is going back on gravel tomorrow, so I didn’t bother to clean her for this post. 

My Mark-of-all-trades did change the oil and rotate the tires just yesterday–and he cleaned the windshield to boot.   I am forever grateful that he does this for me.  Even though Dad did teach his daughters how to, I don’t have to maintain my wheels.  Thank you, Mark.  Dad liked you for so many reasons. 

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Four-wheeled modes of transportation are not the only means of transportation that Gail and Suzanne employ. While I do own a bike, they are the biker chicks, not me. 

When I started running again after my second baby, I had a very basic bicycle that I decided to ride down the road one Sunday morning, leave it in the ditch and run down the less-busy gravel road instead of running down the highway. 

I laid it over in the weeds, laid the helmet on top of it, and ran/walked down the road a mile.  I turned around and did the same on the way back.  When I got back, it wasn’t there.  Neither was the helmet.  It was a Sunday morning, and I don’t think the thief was headed to church. 

I walked the half-mile home along the highway in tears, channeling Pee-Wee Herman.  His bike got stolen in his movie, and I laughed at that thought through the tears. 

I did find a high-quality bicycle at a garage sale, and it has sat in my garage motionless for several years.

Gail and Suzanne, however, do ride their bikes.   They both loved them enough to name them.   Meet Trixie—Suzanne’s bike, and Lucille—named in honor of Gail’s first boss.

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Gail even belongs to a bike gang in her small town.  Boasting over 30 members, they used to go on regular rides, enjoying the camaraderie of fellow bike-lovers. 

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So why all the fuss about our cars and bikes?  Because we enjoy them, that’s why.  And, if I may get back up on my soapbox as I have lectured from before on this subject, we should all be grateful that we can move.  Whether it is moving our legs to move our bodies, or moving our entire bodies on two or four wheels, it is a gift to be able get around.

Having the means to own and maintain a working vehicle, having the right as American women to drive, having the legal privilege of holding a driver’s license and having the freedom to hit the road are all gifts not granted, and none of us should ever forget that. 

Suzanne, in her youngest sister wisdom, offered this food for thought to ponder: 

“If no one could see you driving your car, would you still drive the same car?”

Without a doubt, Suzanne would drive Carol Anne and her Nissan, Gail would drive Cindy and I would drive Stella. 

We hope you would still drive the same four—or two—wheels as well.

 

 

 

 

UNDER OUR SPELL

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UNDER OUR SPELL

I had never even heard the word kewpie.  I didn’t know it was a little doll, even though I was a ten-year old girl in the fourth grade.

I spelled it c-u-p-e-e.

And then, after Anne W. spelled it correctly and went on to spell another word correctly, I became the second-place winner of the 1976 Mitchell County, Kansas Spelling Bee.   I can’t remember her winning word; I was too traumatized.

In my grade-school career, I would go on to compete every year after that, but I would never place again.  I will never get over it.

Sometime in my college career, our dear mother sent me a clipping of a newspaper headline.  It read:  “Yeah, but why ‘kewpie?’”  It is buried somewhere in a stack inside a box within a crate; if I knew where I would have dug it out.

It matters not, only that Mom was always so thoughtful, and that I never won a grade-school spelling bee.

Suzanne never won one either, and, apparently, she, too has carried the wounds with her well into adulthood.

If you have spent any amount of time around us when the printed word is misspelled, you will know without a doubt that this is simply not acceptable with either of us.  We have taken it upon ourselves to be the spelling police, and will right these grievous wrongs whenever they confront us.

And, we will probably insult the person who misspelled it as well.

Gail is a spelling freak like we are, even though she likely has more important things to worry about; work that must be done.  She wasn’t able to join us for the bee, but wanted everyone to know that she was able to spell our error words correctly.  Perhaps all three of us will be able to participate together in a future bee; we have already begun to discuss this possibility.

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Sometimes, however, life has a way of humbling those who put themselves up a bit too high.  Like the time I bought a personalized plaque for a co-worker, and I misspelled a word on it.  And I had it engraved that way.

Her name was Michelle, and she was an incredible secretary–this was way back when that term was still politically correct vs. administrative assistant.  I wanted to honor her on Secretary’s Day, so I had a name plate engraved that said:

MICHELLE

SECRETARY EXTRAORDINNAIRE

Except that ‘extraordinaire’ has only one ‘N.’   I swear I looked it up, and there were two.  That is a permanent reminder that I should never criticize those who misspell a word here and there.

Another reminder confronted me just last week.

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Suzanne’s daughter Julia lives just down the road in Manhattan, Kansas, where my firstborn goes to college, where three of Gail’s four children attended or currently attend college,  where Suzanne’s daughter graduated last year, and is now gainfully employed there.  So, when she saw this, she knew her mother and godmother would want to be part of it:

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We knew this was our calling for last Thursday night, and we cleared our schedules to make it happen.  We arrived promptly at seven to sign up, had a quick dinner,

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And then made our way back across the street to re-live those glory days, and make new ones as champion adult spellers.  We were pretty confident that one of us would walk away with the purse, which was the sum total of the $5 entry fee each contestant paid.  There were only eight contestants, so $40 would be the bounty for the champion.  It was unspoken that surely one of us would leave there with it, and the other would be runner-up.  We are formidable spelling forces, in case I haven’t made that clear.

So, we got down to business.  Apparently, we were more business than the emcee, as the 8:00 p.m. start time got pushed back to allow more time for more contestants.  We were there for blood, so we were primed and ready to start whooping up on everyone else at 8:00.  A storm was looming west of our small city and heading this way, and we were one hour east of there.  It was projected to hit around 11, so we needed to get the show on the road so we could get on the road.

It commenced at 8:30, and we were pumped.  Suzanne and I were second and third respectively in contestant order.  Suzanne breezed through her first word, and while I was waiting for mine to be read, I felt something hit me.  Suzanne, acting as the audience heckler, had thrown her shoe at me.

GAME ON.

It didn’t ruffle me, and I spelled consignment correctly.

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About six years ago when Suzanne hadn’t yet moved to my small city, we met in the middle, in Beloit, Kansas, to watch our niece and her brother compete in the same bee I never won.  The anticipation was high; this kind of competition brings out the warrior in both of us.  We can sit silent, in an almost-comatose state during any sporting event, likely with a barely detectable pulse.  But bring us to the spelling bee, and we are the fans extraordinaire.  We come alive.  We pondered the idea of tailgating in the school parking lot prior to the event; it began at 1:30 p.m. so a lunch would have been timely.  We thought about painting our faces and sitting in the front row, too.  In the end, we did neither.  But let it be noted that we seriously considered both.  That’s how serious we are about it.

The bee ended with our niece in second place, just like her aunt Kathleen did almost forty years before that in the same competition.  Her brother didn’t place.  No matter for them, the fun was in the spirit of the game.

To my knowledge, neither my niece nor my nephew were traumatized by the fact they didn’t win.  I am so glad they will not carry this weight around forever like their aunt still does.

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About twelve years ago, when I was working at the hospital in our small city, I had a dream that I won the All-Hospital Spelling Bee.  Clearly, my subconscious hasn’t recovered either.  I remember that the word I had to spell correctly that the runner-up fumbled was “insufferable.”  Moving on, I then had to spell the winning word, which was selected from a bank of patient’s last names, as if HIPAA would ever allow that.   When I told Suzanne about this dream, her jaw dropped at the winning word.  It was her mother-in-law’s maiden name.  I had no idea.

The last thing I remember in the dream was me asking this question:  “Does this mean I finally get to go to Topeka?” (to the Kansas state spelling bee).

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I am old enough now to enter the Senior Spelling Bee in our county.  I waited anxiously until I turned fifty, but then I didn’t enter.  I had two fears:  First, I was afraid I may go out on a ridiculously simple word, and my self-perpetuating illusion that I am a champion speller would be shattered.  Second, I was afraid also that I may have to go up against a former patient of mine, and I would have no mercy, effectively smoking them out of the competition.

In the bee on Thursday, the first fear came to reality.  The word tripped me up, and I was out.   I can’t yet bring myself to tell you what the word was.  I am still licking my wounds.

Since this was in the basement of a bar in a college town an hour away on a Thursday evening with a storm brewing, there was little danger of competing against a former patient—there were none there.

Suzanne was still in, and I was truly happy for her—even if she threw her shoe at me in the first round.  Let it be known that I didn’t throw anything at her.

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In the end, Suzanne placed second.  She backed down to a fine young man named Steve, and was awarded several wooden nickels to be redeemed for libations at the hosting establishment.  She passed them on to her daughter.

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We made it home and into our respective garages literally seconds before the storm unleashed its fury.

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Let it be known that although neither of us walked away with the champion’s purse, this is only the beginning.  We are now officially on the circuit, and plan to seek out and find many more spelling bees we can compete in, and likely win.

Please let us know if you hear of any.

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There is a certain military rank that is sometimes shortened to “Sarge” as a nickname.  How do you spell the full title of that rank?  Be careful, it may be tricky for you, too.

I’ve once again been humbled.  Just when I needed it, life brought me down a notch or two.  I realize I am not the spelling extraordinaire I thought I was; that I ain’t as good as I once was.  Somehow, Suzanne and I are making peace with our defeat last week.  We will back, however, stronger and smarter than ever before. And, we are feeling quite sanguine about it.

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Congratulations, Steve.  Just watch your back…

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

GARDENER GAIL

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GARDENER GAIL

“The glory of gardening:  hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature.  To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.  –William Blake

 

As if her multiple full-time jobs aren’t enough.  And, adding to them, Gail has several side ventures: her Pampered Chef business, her art created from antique wood and tin and she dabbles in oils.  Oh, and she also gardens.

As if.

She already works circles around me and Suzanne, and then she really makes us look like slackers by adding gardening to the mix.  She doesn’t do this to make us look bad, it is simply her high-gear default setting.

And I’m not talking about a few tomatoes and cucumbers, although she does produce those quite well.   I’m talking about onions and beets, too.  And potatoes and peppers–multiple varieties.

 

Oh, I’ve got a garden, all right.  And it’s is an incredible garden.  It’s just that the only work I do in it is eating what comes out of it.  My master-of-all-trades husband Mark gardens, too.  He enjoys it, I don’t.  So, I let him do it.  I think I’ve already made it clear that he is an over-achiever.  Have you ever been in a garden you had to sweep?  He got bored during one stretch several years ago, and after he built the raised boxes, he decided to tile it as well.

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I’m not even kidding.  I couldn’t make this up if I tried. 

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I planted a garden once.  Once.  I was still in high school, and I asked Mom what she wanted for Mother’s Day.  She said she wanted someone to plant the garden for her.  I look like my mother. Apparently, I am like her in the respect that I don’t really like to garden, either.  I didn’t really want to, but she was an awesome mom, and it was Mother’s Day.  

 So, I did.  That was the only time I have ever planted a garden.  I am coming clean right here—I am a lazy, slacker gardener.  That should be no surprise after I admitted my slacker tendencies in last week’s post.

Suzanne makes no claims to be a gardener, either.  Like me, she likes to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of someone else’s labors, but that’s the extent of it. 

This is the extent of her garden this year: 

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Now, as promised, back to Gail’s garden.

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Gail, like my husband is an over-achiever.  Except that that’s all they know, and I am judging in relative terms, so it’s all good.  Good for me when I get to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of their labors.

Gail’s potato patch was green and blooming early in the summer,

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before the heat and repeated blows from several rounds of intense storms recently in western Kansas.

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The backyard took a hit, as did the community.

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Gail wasted no time in cleaning up her yard and garden–as well as helping the community cleanup–and got back to the business of gardening—and living.  She had stuff to do, things to get done.

“Life is like a garden.  We all face storms, and get weeds in our lives, but the end result, if you weather it, is good,” she said. 

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Another of Gail’s multiple talents is that of a canner, canning her garden abundance.  The zucchini, I learned, are gifts from other gardeners.  

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Her canned salsa is perfect in every way.  She also makes a zucchini relish that, while it may not sound versatile or tasty, it is over-the-top on both counts.   She jokes that if you leave your car unlocked in her small town at this time of year, you are likely to find zucchini in it.  She sometimes finds it on her front porch, and she welcomes it.

Mark sometimes refers to his garden as a “salsa garden,” as he plants a lot of tomatoes and peppers.  He then makes an awesome fresh—not canned–salsa from them.  He grows cilantro as well, but it blooms early and not often. 

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“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.  –Luther Burbank

Not only does Gail plant a vegetable garden, she has an incredible green thumb for potted flowers as well. 

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My husband has a green thumb for flowers, too.  Every year he plants a variety in the ground and in pots. 

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He knows Mom loved begonias, so he plants a pot of them every year in her honor. 

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Lantanas are favorites for both of us.

I actually got my fingers dirty about ten years ago and planted daffodil bulbs.  I knew they had to be planted in the fall before the first ground freeze, and in my usual slacking fashion, I planted them the day before it froze.  They are the first harbingers of spring, and when they bloom every year, I feel a sense of hope again; I know I can make it through the winter.   

About 12 years ago, my husband and I took a weekend trip in May, and Suzanne watched our boys, then ages ten and seven.  She drove them by the outdoor greenhouse in town, and made the comment that she was surprised that the plants and flowers weren’t stolen, as they were left outside after business hours unattended.  She shared our son’s response:

Our ten-year old, without missing a beat replied: “Only mean people steal, and mean people don’t like flowers.”

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The house that built us, the farmhouse we all grew up in came down several years ago.  It was time.  My brother and his family live on the farm and have since built a new house there, continuing to be the perfect stewards of that special spot of land.

On the lot where the house stood, they plan to plant a garden. 

Perfect.

**

It went by without fanfare last year, and I’m afraid Suzanne’s birthday slipped by again this year.  She was in the hospital last year, and this year she is traveling with her boyfriend.   Another year is always a gift, however, and acknowledging that she added a digit to her age is always a good thing—age is a gift, don’t forget. 

Seven years ago on her birthday, she was given a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.  On her birthday.  Every birthday since then is always a big one, but she will celebrate a really big one next year. 

Gail will celebrate a big one next February.  It will be a good year for birthday parties, and I’m sure you will have the opportunity to read about them.

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The gardens are almost done; it won’t be long before the cold temperatures will render them dormant for another year.  Gardens, even when they appear dead, are always a sign of hope.  Like everything else in nature, it will become alive and vibrant again.  Just like life–time always heals and makes us vibrant again.  After all, life did begin in a garden.

“The most lasting and pure gladness comes to me from my gardens.”—Lillie Langtry.

Mine comes to me from many people in my life, especially my sisters. 

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THE JOY OF SLACKING

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THE JOY OF SLACKING

I did it again.  Or, perhaps I should say I didn’t do it again.

I had grand ideas for a grand blog post that I started writing, and then I simply couldn’t finish in time for my weekly post.  I was busy with other, more important things.  Things that were more important to me, anyway.

That post will get done in time, just not in time for this week. 

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I made it through six years of college by getting things done at the last minute, which is how I get most things done even now.   This is a defining hallmark of the classic procrastinator, which, I am.  I own that title; I’ve learned to embrace it over the years.  I have come to understand that someone like me who has crazy ideas, ideas like writing a weekly blog about sisterhood, also likely embodies the true-blue characteristics of a procrastinator.

It’s not all bad, though.  It’s the tradeoff for those crazy ideas that, with a little focused effort, can be brought to fruition in the form of positive outcomes.

Which brings me back to this week’s topic.

I had good intentions of getting that post finished.  Per my usual pattern, I started it with a few loose lines midweek, and then started thinking a little more seriously about it Saturday, because I typically post on Sunday evenings.  Then, on Saturday, more important things bumped it down the priority line.  Things like a family gathering on Saturday,

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Followed by an impromptu shopping and dinner date with a friend.

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“I will do it in the morning,” I thought.  But I didn’t do it in the morning.

I woke up exhausted from a poor night’s sleep, a night of intense, seemingly never-ending thunderstorms that were apparently most strongly concentrated in our back yard.  Thunderclaps that rattled the house on top of brilliant lightning, a storm that knocked the power out.  I lay awake without moving air or any other sound in the still after the storm, and woke up with zero motivation to do much of  anything.

So, I didn’t.  I decided to take a nap and generally be lazy.  Which meant the blog post would not get written.

I did slog through a slow, short run, a habit I rarely miss.  It gets my body and my mind moving most days, my mind more so than my body today.  I get ideas while I run, and today did not disappoint.

As I ran, I let go of the idea that I would write the “good” post I intended to, and pondered the importance of simply letting go of some things.  Things that I hang on to for no good reason, even if there was a good reason at one point in time.  Things I sign up for that only serve to drag me down, instead of bringing me joy like I had hoped they would.

I have had plenty of these things in my life, and I have learned to change the way I think about them.  That change in thinking brings changes in actions, which is where the real change lies. 

I started writing The Sister Lode blog over two years ago, with over 90 posts under my belt.  I started because I love to write; it brings me joy.  It is purely a hobby; I am obligated to no one but myself to post weekly.  So, when the thought of not posting today felt better than the thought of posting, I decided I would let it go.

Until I started thinking about how important it is to let go and simply be a little lazy when we have the opportunity.  Mom used to say,  “If it feels good and it doesn’t break the Ten Commandments, do it!”  Or, in this case, don’t do it.  Then, I thought, it would be fun to extol the virtues of simply slacking in my weekly blog post. 

I liked how this idea felt.

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I called Gail after my morning nap; we often talk on Sundays.  I felt much better after the nap, it made up for the storm sleeplessness.  I told her my thoughts about not writing the intended post and writing about slacking instead, and she liked it, too.  Now, keep in mind this is Gail.  Gail, who seems to be a never-ending font of energy, Gail, who routinely spins five or six plates in the air simultaneously.  Gail, who signs up for multiple obligations and gets them done, because they do bring her joy.  She agreed.  She realizes the importance of slowing down and letting go of obligations that don’t bring us joy.  While it appears she rarely does slow down, I know she has become better able to do so when she feels like it. 

Then there’s Suzanne.  Suzanne of few words.  Suzanne, whose one-word motto is simply “whatever,” offered this: “I like to be lazy, and I don’t care what other people think of me.”

We all agreed that past our obligations to our children and families, and our responsibility to pay bills and support ourselves and our spending habits through our work, there is really nothing else we have to do. 

I can honestly say that Gail, Suzanne and I meet those obligations.  Which means we can slack whenever we want. 

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Tomorrow will bring a new work week, and I will once again rise to the occasion.  Gail and Suzanne will, too.  Today, however, I have been a slacker.  I let my husband cook lunch for our family.  He enjoys grilling, so it’s not a chore for him.  I did do the laundry like I do every day, but remember that is a joy for me, so I was motivated to do it.  Call me crazy, I know, but washing laundry and hanging it out to dry on my redneck clothesline on the back porch in the summer heat gives me an unparalleled thrill.  My family never complains about that. 

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I couldn’t tear myself away from this today,

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A slacking pastime I enjoy immensely, as does Suzanne, but not Gail.

I took another nap after lunch today.  A two-nap day is bound to turn out well.  Mom used to say “There was a nap laying on the bed, so I took it.”  I highly recommend naps when and wherever you can get them.  In one of Mom’s favorite books, the author wrote: The more naps you take, the more awakenings you have.

N.A.P.  Not A Problem.

Go take a nap if you need to.  If not, then take the time to enjoy something you like to do, even if you feel like a slacker when you are doing it.  Especially if it makes you feel like a slacker. 

It can be a really good feeling, if you let it.  Gail, Suzanne and I can’t all be wrong. 

 

 

SISTER’S DAY EVERY DAY

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I wasn’t even going to write a blog post tonight.  I was having too much fun this weekend celebrating my hometown at our annual church picnic.  A chunk of my readers are from my hometown, and many of them were also in attendance, so I knew they would understand if I took the week off, since I was having so much fun celebrating.

Then, I noticed online this afternoon that today is National Sister’s Day; an unofficial day to celebrate sisterly bonds.  Since I am all about celebrating whatever there is to celebrate, I wanted to spread the word that today is the day for sisters to connect in yet another way.

I didn’t know that today was such a special day.  I was disappointed in myself at first for being out of the loop, but I let it quickly pass, because I like to make every day Sister’s Day.  Suzanne wasn’t able to join us this weekend, but along with other family, Gail and I celebrated our hometown and our sisterhood at the picnic.

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We took the train ride around town, the same train we rode on as kids.

 

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We ate the delicious meal prepared in homemade fashion by the dedicated residents of our hometown.

 

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Illuminated by the brilliant lights of the ball diamond, we took a little walk and  celebrated with our parents by taking them a burger and a beer.  We believe in celebrating however we can, so we do.

We celebrated our hometown in so many other ways, but that may be another blog post for another day.

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If you need to reach out to your sister, National Sister’s Day would be the perfect time to do it–or any day, for that matter.   Just so you do it.

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Happy Sister’s Day.  I am offering a montage of some of our finer moments as sisters.

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Happy Sister’s Day Suzanne and Gail!  You are the best!

 

 

 

TRAVEL THERAPY

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TRAVEL THERAPY

“Anticipation is the greater joy.”  —anonymous

Suzanne and I were recently discussing the subject of traveling.  How, while one is in the anticipatory stages, it seems magical.  The heightened sense of this is going to be so much fun builds, creating an experience of its own.  Then, when you get home, the memories of that was so much fun continue to build as time passes, perhaps surpassing the actual fun that was had on the trip.  I have found that during the actual trip, I find myself lamenting the fact that the trip is going too fast, and I can’t enjoy it like I had anticipated.  I want time to slow down so I can enjoy it more.  In effect, this actually takes away from the fun of the trip.

I am so weird, I know.

“Schedule something to look forward to.  Anticipation is like 401K matching for happiness.  Double the happiness.”  Eric Barker.   This is the essence of our Mom’s advice in “Something to Look Forward To.” (January 7th, 2018.)

I wish I could bottle up the feeling I get when I am planning a trip.  I would capture it and save it to be savored when I am experiencing the trip.  Because, weirdly enough, when the trip is happening, the feeling is not the same as when I am anticipating it.

Weird, I know, but Suzanne agrees with me.  Sometimes, the anticipation and then the recollection of the trip are the best parts.  When it is happening, it goes too fast, and the joy seeps through the cracks, getting away when all I want to do is slow the trip down, and roll the joy around in my mouth like a piece of hard candy, savoring it at the rate I choose, not the rate that the passage of time demands that I do.

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Tonight—Friday evening, I am rolling a piece of hard candy around in my mouth that tastes like Iowa and Minnesota.  The memories of my trip last week are preserved inside that piece of candy, and, like a good meatloaf, they taste better after marinating for a few days.

Taking a few days off and heading north was just the medicine I didn’t know I needed.  I went with my dear friend Shari, picking her up in Kansas City after I left my small city around noon last Thursday.  We made our way north and a bit east, with Minneapolis, Minnesota as our final destination.

But not before we took a step back in time to 1995, detoured, and stepped upon the Bridges of Madison County, Iowa.

As any chick worth her salt knows, this movie is one of the best chick flicks of all times.  To see and feel the actual bridges that were filmed in the movie was almost sensory overload.

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We struck our best Meryl Streep poses, as if Clint Eastwood himself may happen by. (He didn’t.)  After watching the movie again several days ago—it had been awhile, I realized we were on the same bridge—the Holliwell Bridge—on the same end of the bridge, and Shari was on the same side of the bridge that Meryl Stood 24 years ago as Clint photographed her.

But that was only a warm-up for the real deal.

My dear friends Amy and Kelly live in Minnesota, and seeing them again was better than seeing Clint would have been, had he showed.

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Kelly was my neighbor until she moved to Minneapolis about seven years ago.

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Amy got me started on my TJ Maxx addiction, so it was only right that we take our picture there.

Amy held me accountable to meet her for a daily run in 1990 when we both lived in Philadelphia, thus creating a good addiction. Had we not met, and had she not gently prodded me to pick this good habit up again, I may not be a runner today, which translates into I may not be have the energy to travel, or to get anything else done.  If I don’t run, I have realized, I don’t run.

We drove back through Iowa on the way home, catching an iconic 80’s rock band at the historic Surf Ballroom on Sunday night in beautiful Clear Lake, Iowa.

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Good thing we planned ahead.

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“The Day The Music Died” was written in honor of Buddy Holly of “Peggy Sue” fame, Ritchie Valens, (“La Bamba,”) and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (Chantilly Lace), because their plane went down in a snowstorm shortly after midnight after leaving the show in this ballroom.  REO Speedwagon paid their tribute to Buddy Holly with a rendition of “Peggy Sue,” with the audience singing along.

This somber piece of American rock and roll history is memorialized inside the ballroom, as well as at the crash site six miles outside of town.  The iconic black glasses mark the path to the site,

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Which sits about one-half mile off the road next to an Iowa cornfield.

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I didn’t catch the memorial when I was in Clear Lake five years ago, and I vowed to see it next time I went through.  It was worth the trip outside of town, and worth the walk.  History becomes more interesting and more important to me as I age, and this is a vital piece of rock and roll history right here.  In the half-hour we were there, we passed perhaps ten more people coming and going.  If you ever have the opportunity to see the Surf Ballroom and this memorial, I highly recommend doing so.

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There was a time in the recent past that it felt like too much work to plan and execute a trip, but thank goodness that time has passed.  Staying home and reading about it is a far cry from actually experiencing a new place, but that’s where I was, and that’s where it felt most comfortable.

But comfortable is not always the most exciting feeling, and I needed more.  Now, after being home not even a week, I want to get ready to go again.

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Gail and Suzanne have recently taken trips of their own as well.  Suzanne took a trip to South Dakota with her boyfriend,

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And Gail had a weekend mountain getaway with her husband.

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Our travels without each other are an adventure in themselves, and necessary in order to spend time with others we are close to.  However, our annual Sister’s Trip is yet to come, and we will certainly share that when it does.

Speaking of Sister Trips, the six traveling sisters from “The Magnificent Seven” (September 2018) took their annual trip this week.  They met in Colorado Springs, and enjoyed each other’s company, as well as many of the beautiful sights in that area.

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I had a surprise visit this week from our uncle and aunt.  Our uncle Don was married to our mother’s older sister, and our aunt Sharon is Mom’s youngest sister.  Don is 86 years old, and is retired from Beechcraft Aviation.  Don is blind, as were his wife and two children.  Sharon spends Wednesdays with him, helping him with appointments, shopping and errands, as well as a road trip some Wednesdays.

“I like to get out of the house and ‘see’ new places,” he said.  He uses the verb “see” in the same manner those of us with sight do, because he is truly “seeing” things in his own way.

I remember when I brought my aunt Jeanne, his wife, to our new home.  I led her through the front door, and closed it behind her.

“Oh my, this is a big room,” she said just after I closed the door.  It has a 20-foot ceiling, and she was able to tell this by the way door sounded when I closed it.  Anyone who cannot use their sense of sight to “see” relies upon their other senses to “see,” which is exactly what Don still does.

“I’d like to go to Kansas City.  I want to eat some of their famous barbecue, and I want to go to the museums,” he said.

He went on to tell me about other places in Kansas he’d like to see, places he has researched; some places I didn’t know about.  He told me about the cabin in Smith County he’d like to see, relatively close to our hometown.  It was where Dr. Brewster Higley wrote “Home on the Range.”  He wants to see the museum in Oakley, Kansas.  He also wants to go to Greensburg to see The Big Well, and to see the town that was rebuilt after the tornado on May 4th, 2007.  I want to go back there, too.  That town inspires me, just as my uncle does.

He is 86 years old and blind.  He lives alone. He has buried his wife and two sons.  He knows very well that travel is therapy indeed.  If you have the desire and the resources, but not the inspiration, please let my uncle inspire you.  If there are places you want to see, and you are able to see with your eyes, or with any other sense, then by all means, go see them.

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Every year in July, the Leadsled Spectacular converges upon the small city that Suzanne and I live in.  About 2000 classic cars and other automobiles gather in one of our city parks, with the owners showcasing their classic treasures to anyone who wants to see them, including us.  These people form a unique group, traveling from wide and far to meet with others just like them, others who share their passion.  They display them, drive them in a parade, and some enter theirs in a drag race.  Many of them drive them from far away, perhaps a small percentage of them are hauled here on a trailer, but most of them hop in and hit the road.  I saw many of them on the interstate headed toward our city late last week, and many of them cruising around town.

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They, too, know the value of Travel Therapy.

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At everyone’s disposal, and in varying amounts, we have the same basic three resources:  time, energy and money.  Traveling takes all three.  There was a time in my life—and in Gail’s and Suzanne’s too—when all three of these resources were spent in almost their entirety on our families.  And that is the way it should have been.  This may be the way it is for you as well, and traveling is low on the priority list.  I get it.  But—if there is any way to pull off even a short trip, even a day trip to a local attraction, then do it.  Getting out of the house has the magic power of getting you out of your head.  Seeing new sights, experiencing new places, eating new foods and perhaps meeting new people is just the elixir you may need to jump start your state of mind into a higher place.

Then, when you come home and feel yourself slipping back into the old, lackluster groove, pull out those memories and suck on them like a piece of hard candy.  Get that flavor back.  And then start planning your next getaway.

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