WEEKEND RETREAT

 

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WEEKEND RETREAT

Solitude. Sleeping in.  Sunshine. Strong, black coffee. Sisters.

Simple pleasures like working on a jigsaw puzzle.  Watching a movie.  Binge-watching a Netflix series. Snacking at all hours.  Navigating and discussing social media.

Discussing the upcoming playoff games—but only in terms of the stellar musicians who will perform The National Anthem—Jimmy Buffet and Melissa Etheridge.

Attempting to solve the world’s problems—at least, those in our own worlds.

All these things and more took place at my house this weekend.

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We made the most of the ongoing construction project in my home.

Gail and her daughter Lydia arrived at my home late Thursday evening, bearing IHOP pancakes to go.  Pancakes at 10:00 p.m. is but one of many surprises Gail is known to bring.  She is unpredictable in that respect, and that is a beautiful thing.  Lydia had a craving, and while she doesn’t normally crave pancakes, she deserved them.  She had to take insulin before eating them, but it’s just how she rolls now.

Lydia had her quarterly endocrinologist visit Friday morning in my small city, so they came early.  As I type Sunday morning, they are still here, and I love it.

My boys are not here, however, they had an over-nighter down the road at another family member’s home.  The men in their family and close circle of friends gather annually for a Christmas party, and this year it was belated.  This translates into a weekend to myself.  I have earned it, however, as my husband was the host for many years, and I would wake on Sunday morning to find a houseful of sleeping men—some family, some friends.

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Old Man Winter didn’t deliver the punch he was predicted to; the weather prognosticators were off the mark for their warnings—at least in our area.  We had two separate family events that requested the honor of our presence, and the weather forecast was prohibitive, so we hunkered down and went to neither.

We simply hung out. Suzanne came to visit for awhile, too.  She had other social engagements to tend to, but there is always time for sisterhood.  We even had a few adopted sisters for the weekend.

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While these sisters are not related to us, we realize we can share our sisterhood with our soul sisters who may need more sisterhood than what they have.  We always seem to have an abundance of sisterly love, and we find that when we give it away, it doesn’t subtract from what we have, it actually multiplies it.

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I have made it abundantly clear in previous posts that Gail is typically in perpetual motion, working toward completing tasks large and small.  She has work to do, and she gets it done sooner, rather than later.  However, when she is away from her home, these tasks must sit and wait for her return.  She sought out a few in my home—she cooked twice for us—and I do welcome her presence in my kitchen if it means I don’t have to be working in it.  I let her complete these tasks, as they benefit me greatly.

Otherwise, I would have discouraged her from working on this getaway weekend that was meant for relaxation.  Sometimes for people like Gail—especially for people like Gail—it is important to stop working and just enjoy.  Take a break, and relax.  Just do whatever.  Just do nothing. 

While she says she doesn’t enjoy it, I caught her working on the puzzle.  Suzanne and I love to work jigsaw puzzles, and it is my impression that Gail thinks she simply doesn’t have the time.  However, after I woke from a long winter’s nap Sunday, I found her working on the puzzle.

“I thought you didn’t like to do puzzles,” I told her.

I don’t,” she said. “I’m just bored.”

I don’t believe her.  I think perhaps she just needed a little push to engage in something so relaxing.

According to our Sunday paper, January is National Puzzle Month.  Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, whatever puzzle puzzles you in a good way is a recommended leisure activity for the month.

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My firstborn just left a few minutes ago to go back to campus for the spring semester.  He had five weeks off, and we all enjoyed our time together.

I am remembering their younger days when I felt I couldn’t afford the luxury of taking time for myself.  There was simply too much work to do.  I didn’t have that kind of time, what with working full-time and taking care of a family and a house.  My husband has always been a doer like Gail, always helping with whatever he could.  I can’t imagine single motherhood as the reality that Gail, Suzanne and millions of other women experienced, and continue to experience.

I realize now I perceived that busy-ness as my only choice, I didn’t acknowledge that I had the right to sit back and enjoy something for myself.  I didn’t even take much of a break on Sundays.

Shame on me.

I recall a friend asking me, when I complained about this lack of time for myself, if I couldn’t perhaps squeeze in an hour or so for myself.  She dedicated every Sunday afternoon to herself, and to me, at this point in my life, sounded like a distant, futuristic luxury.

I take time now.  I usually take Sunday afternoons to myself.  We learned the hard way that life can forever change in just one moment, and all this busy-ness means nothing when life pulls a punch like that.  All those tasks we knock ourselves out to accomplish become meaningless when stacked up against Real Life and Real Loss.

And this hard-learned lesson, over time, has turned into a gift.

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With the help of one of our guests, we finished the puzzle we already had in progress, the puzzle before the one Gail is working on.  I thanked our guest for her help, asking her if she enjoyed puzzles as much as I did.

I don’t know,” she said.  “I have never taken the time to find out.  But I’m pretty sure I do now.”

I wish her all the time she needs to enjoy puzzles, and whatever else it takes to enjoy her life.

I wish the same for you.

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I now know very well what shiplap is.

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Suzanne told us in the “INTREPID” post that she had no fears except for skunks.  Turns out she has a tiny little fear of heights as well.  Gail had a hard time getting down, too.

MIDDLE SISTER SYNDROME

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MIDDLE SISTER SYNDROME

“My mother never had time for me.  When you’re the middle child in a family of five million, you don’t get any attention.”    Woody Allen

According to cultural lore, as well as multiple online reports, studies, comments and articles, middle children frequently suffer from feelings of being overlooked by parents, thus creating feelings inferiority.  It is known as Middle Child Syndrome.

I am the fifth child of seven, so technically, I am not smack in the middle.  I am, however, the middle of the three girls.  Suzanne is younger than me, and there is one brother younger than her. Gail is the second-born, with one brother older than her.

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Older children, it is noted, tend to have stronger personalities and are typically leaders.  These two aspects, in the very best of ways, describe Gail.

Youngest children, in contrast, tend to be charming and popular, which describes Suzanne exactly, but perhaps not for the reasons cited:  youngest children have developed social skills that will get other people to do things for them.

I can say honestly that as a child, I knew only this:  Mom and Dad loved us all fiercely, and all resources—time, the little money we had, and energy—was equally divided among all of us.  I don’t ever recall feeling slighted.  I do remember hanging out with my two brothers just above me, because we were the closest in age, and Mom was likely busy with Suzanne and Ryan.

Apparently, while Gail was busy helping Mom with the babies and the house, David, John and I whiled away the hours outside building forts in the wooded area behind the house, working our own plots of land on our make-believe farm, building haystacks in the hayloft in the barn, going fishing and generally keeping ourselves busy with all the outdoors had to offer, much like all farm kids did back then.  Indoors, I remember reading Motor Trend magazine with them, playing pool, playing board games and the occasional game of football—indoors.  The most memorable one was in the living room, and I was the football.  I learned to be physically tough.

When I am in a social situation that necessitates good-natured talk of a physical fight, and the other party perceives my small stature to ensure a win for them, I remind them that I grew up with four brothers, and while I am relatively small, I am mighty if I need to be.

So don’t mess with me.

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They’re all good…

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We have no control over our birth order, and I cannot imagine being anything besides the middle sister.  I get to be sandwiched between my two best friends; I get to be the middle link.  I get to look up to Gail, and, as I have mentioned many times, I look up to Suzanne, too.  She is infinitely wiser than me in so many ways.  I get to be there for either of them if I can help, and I ask them for help, too.

Gail, being the natural-born leader, quickly assumed the role of matriarch when our parents died.  She was self-appointed, but by birth order and virtue of her exceeding qualifications, she was the best woman for the job.  She had big shoes to fill, and she continues to fill them well.

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The dark side of the online studies and reports I read is this:  there are often resentments between siblings—and sisters—predictable by birth order.  If resources were unevenly distributed among the children, this negativity may result.  If achievements by the sibling that appeared to be more favored—often the younger child–are more celebrated by parents, this resentment grows.  If one child was perceived as the clear “favorite” by the parents, this is an almost sure set-up for further conflict.

I remember telling Dad that we didn’t fight among ourselves, because there was no reason to.  There was no uneven allocation of resources, no wealth that may have been perceived to be unevenly shared and ultimately divided in the end.

Very simply, we didn’t have anything to fight over.  No favorites—although Suzanne, in that charming style I mentioned above, will make frequent jokes about all that was bestowed upon her, while we toiled away to make it on our own in college and making our way in the world after that.

Unlike Woody Allen, I never felt that Mom and Dad didn’t have time for us.  Growing up, my most vivid memories of Dad were as a busy farmer, and Mom was perpetually busy with laundry, while Gail was the chief chef for nine people.

But they always had time if we needed it, and they always seemed to know when to take a moment to play a game, read a book, wipe a tear or band-aid an arm.  They always kept us their priority, their Magnificent Seven.

And number five of that seven is the perfect place for me, between Gail and Suzanne.

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INTERIOR REMODELING

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INTERIOR REMODELING

By the end of this month, the vast majority of Americans who made resolutions for the New Year will abandon them, according to a popular news source—the one that reports and lets you decide.   They even pinpointed January 12th as the exact day that this vast majority will most likely give up.  Eighty percent will give up at some point in the year, and only eight percent will achieve their goals.  I’m not sure what happened to the other twelve percent.

I made some loose resolutions, and some tighter ones, too. One trick they mentioned in the article was to have someone to support you through the changes.   Other suggestions were as follows:  Make it measurable.  Know exactly why you want to make the change.  Make a plan to reward yourself when you achieve the goal.

Check, check, check and check.  My most important goal meets all four criteria, and my support is Gail.  She actually made the same resolution.  We are holding each other accountable.  Suzanne–while she is younger in years–is infinitely wiser and more evolved than her older sisters in many ways.  She doesn’t need to work on this trouble spot that her older sisters struggle with.

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My Mark-of-all-trades husband is at it again.  Just short of 21 years ago, he finished building our house.  He worked tirelessly evenings and weekends for about 18 months.  While he built the house, I built the first baby.  Even though it took me only half as long, I will argue I had the harder job.  He doesn’t disagree.

He is embarking on a massive re-do of the living room. New walls and new flooring.  This is big stuff.  He has been itching to do it for some time, and now that the holidays are behind us, he dug in.

If you know him, you can skip this next paragraph.  If you don’t, trust me when I say he is an expert builder.   He typically loves to have a project going at all times, something measurable and goal-worthy to strive for.  A shed addition and a new patio are but a few of his most recently completed projects.  Not much short of absolute perfection passes his inspection, which is a favorable quality to have in the contractor/builder in charge of your home.

As a word nerd, I am always up for learning a new word.  Several months ago, when he announced his choice of wall covering as shiplap, I didn’t know what it meant.  Gail informed me that if I didn’t know what shiplap was, then I must not be watching enough home-improvement television.  I don’t really watch any.

Shiplap:  a style of wooden wall siding characterized by long planks, normally painted white, that are mounted horizontally with a slight gap between them in a manner that evokes exterior shiplap walls.  Typically used as exterior cover, it is also used indoors for a rough or rustic look.

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As a proud future owner of shiplapped walls, I decided I’d better look it up.  I hadn’t heard this one before.  I always have room for new words.

It has shaken up our living area, the space we enjoy every morning for coffee, the space we sit with company, the space we simply live in.

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The changes will be good, but they are a bit uncomfortable right now, as changes are.  I have to make a new map of where and how I need to navigate and make it work in my home in my mind, and I really would rather not have to.

But I have to.  Just like I have to make the interior remodeling I committed to with Gail.  She is holding me accountable, and I am doing the same for her.  We are re-arranging certain habits in order to build new ones, even though we are quite comfortable in the old ones.  In with a new design.  We simply know it is time for new; we have worn out the old one and it no longer serves us as well as the new one will—just like the new carpet and new walls will serve us in our living room.

Mark built a literal plank that he will walk as he creates the new design.  He will construct scaffolding on this plank that will allow him to climb and create.

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His initial plan was to challenge me to walk the plank as well, as this plank would have been the only entrance to our third floor, where our master bedroom and bathroom are.  I would first climb the ladder, then walk the plank.  Good thing I’m not afraid of heights.  Just heights at 36,000 feet inside an airplane, which I have already admitted to.  However, given his considerate nature, he devised a way to pull back the last two sections of the plank to open up the stairway, which he can easily do when he finishes for the day.

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I can stretch to accommodate this inconvenience.

However, I did need to go upstairs while he was working, so I braved it.

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AARGH!

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As I have been continually attempting to do, I filtered out a few possessions today.  As a condition of the remodel, everything had to be cleared off the shelves and tables and any other surfaces in our living room.  I packed them in boxes and totes, but I started a box for a friend who is starting over, the same friend I wrote about several weeks ago who is doing a complete remodel of her life.  She will need new things, new stuff that is not part of her old life.  Like me, she delights in garage-sale treasures, so she is thrilled to have cast-offs.  One woman’s treasure, I hope.    I wouldn’t give them to just anyone, but if these semi-prized possessions are going to her, I can let go.

I picked up this treasure, and knew immediately that I couldn’t part with it.

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If you are in “The Club,” perhaps you know that seeing a cardinal is a sign that a loved one you have lost is with you at that moment.  Several years ago, another dear friend who had also lost both parents told me she found a cardinal in her garage.  In her garage.  It was her mother’s birthday.  Shortly after she told me that story, I found two of these cardinals on sale together, and I knew she needed one, and I needed the other.  So we each have one.

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She sent me a picture of hers, perched on her mantle.

About ten minutes after I moved the cardinal to its temporary storage spot in the tote, I went into the garage for something.  There, in my garage, was a cardinal.

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The contractor has been non-committal in giving me a time frame; perhaps he doesn’t want me holding him to it.  It will take at least a week or two, I’m sure, as he will be working on it when he is not at work.  I will continue to navigate and function around the inconveniences, because I know there is something better coming out of it.  Plus, I really don’t have a choice.  When he is hell-bent on a project, he is full-steam ahead.  For that, I am grateful.

I don’t ever make honey-do lists.  He makes them for me.  I am grateful for that, too.

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When these changes are completed, our house won’t look any different on the outside.  The inside, however, will be refreshed and renewed.

When Gail and I complete our changes, we likely won’t look any different on the outside, either.  Our insides, however, will be refreshed and renewed.  It’s a bit messy and inconvenient while we are remodeling our insides, but we are hell-bent on our goals, just like Mark is on our house.

When I have made positive changes in the past, one of the most important things that helped me was someone to support me.  As well as support, I need accountability.  Most humans—myself included—reach goals better when someone else is helping them—pushing them, driving them, if necessary—to make this change.  It is too easy to be accountable only to oneself, so having someone to answer to helps most people.

If you need help reaching your goals, find an accountability buddy.  I hope you have a Gail in your life; I know how lucky I am to have one in mine.  She is holding me to the fire, and I am doing the same for her.

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I rushed back into the house to get my phone right after I found the cardinal to get a picture; I was afraid he would fly out.  He ended up flying back and forth in the rafters for at least four hours before he was finally gone.  I opened both doors, and left the walk-in door open—that’s how he got in.  I wanted him to find his way out, but I didn’t know how to help him.  I was glad for his presence; for his sign, but I knew he needed to be back on his way.  He didn’t belong in my garage, and he didn’t belong close to me for long.  He needed to go back to where he flew in from, because staying near me was too confining for him.  I enjoyed his presence, don’t get me wrong, but I knew he had somewhere better to be.

It has taken me a long time to fully accept this truth about losing a loved one.  I believe they have somewhere better to be, and I am so happy they are there.

It bears mentioning that our high school mascot was the cardinal.

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If you set a goal or goals for the new year, I hope you are among the eight percent, not the eighty percent.  Or, the nebulous twelve percent.

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Go get yourself a Gail for your goals. You can’t lose.

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INNER PEACE ON EARTH

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INNER PEACE ON EARTH

Tis the season.  The Christmas holiday is almost upon us, and most of us—myself included—are doing the dance.  Again.

We shop.  We decorate. We bake.  We send cards (I don’t, sorry).  We plan and attend parties.  We eat.  We hope we bought the right gifts for the right people in the right amounts.  We wonder.  We worry.  We stress.

Then we wonder why we worry and stress.  At least, I do.

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I spent the day yesterday with a dear friend.  A friend, who, while we are not close in the sense that we see each other often and talk frequently, we remain close.  Months can go by, and we are able to—you guessed it—pick up where we left off.

Except this time things have changed since we left off.   She is making some major life changes that, she reports, need to be made.  I found this out when I called her last week, apropos of nothing.  Just to talk.

It had been too long, and it was time to get together.  I realized she needed to talk longer than the time we had on the phone, so we made plans for the weekend.

We shopped.  We ate.  We sipped.  We puzzled and colored.  We talked.  We laughed.  We shared.  We understood.

Our day started with a one-hour car ride.  She talked for most of that.  I realized she needed to be heard, and I needed to listen.  So, I did.

If life truly is a dance, then she is changing her steps.  Changing them in a way she needed to for herself.  Except her dance partners now don’t know her new dance, and they don’t like it very well.  None of us want to be made fools of on the dance floor of life.  So, while her new dance moves feel good to her, they have been met with disdain from the other partners.  They don’t know these new moves.

Yet, she keeps dancing the new dance because she knows she cannot go back to the old one.  It feels good to her.  It feels like she is finally making peace inside herself, even if the dance partners feel like she is creating strife and waging war.  She is going with it, and I am cheering her on.

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As I write this Sunday morning, I am mentally cataloguing all the Christmas preparations I need to complete today.

*Wrap gifts.

*Bake cookies.

*Shop online, maybe even go to town to a real store, even though I just did yesterday.

It is causing me a bit of stress.  I really just want to take a nap.

It’s not supposed to be this way.  It’s supposed to bring me tidings of comfort and joy.  It is supposed to help me spread peace on earth.  It is supposed to be a Holy Night, and a Holy Day as well.  And I just want to rest ye, merry gentle-woman.

So, I am taking a moment to re-align.  A few minutes to stop, look and listen, because I feel like I am doing all the talking here.

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In my work as a speech language pathologist–a.k.a. speech therapist, we talk about the two-sided coin of expressive language and receptive language.  When a person has a stroke, head injury or some other compromise to the brain, we assess how well they can express themselves mostly through speech, but also by writing and other non-verbal means.  We also assess how well they receive information, mostly by listening, but also by reading and looking.  They must be able to understand incoming information before they can process it and turn it into outgoing expression.

When most of us speak of communicating, we tend to focus on our expression primarily, and what our listeners understand secondarily.  Both sides of the coin must be considered in effective communication.

In this Christmas season of busy-ness, bustle and hustle, perhaps more listening is what we all need.  I know I do.

In my grade school Catholic education, I recall learning the four pillars of prayer:

1:  Praise God

2:  Give thanks.

3:  Ask for forgiveness.

4:  Ask for help.

This is a well-rounded formula for talking to God; it covers the bases of what we should say in prayer.  However, I don’t recall learning that we should also flip the coin over and listen.  Perhaps we were taught this, but clearly, I wasn’t listening.

No being—human or divine—enjoys a one-sided conversation.  Who wants to listen to someone talk without ever listening?  No one I know.

Be still, we are told in the Bible.  That’s the tough part.  Just sit still and listen.  Some people call it meditation, but if that’s too woo-woo for you, then don’t call it that.  It is, at its core, simply listening.  Downloading information instead of constantly uploading.  And there is a lot of good information out there, if we simply listen.

Whomever you pray to, in whatever fashion, whenever you do pray, don’t forget to also listen.  That’s where the good stuff is.

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Mom wanted us to live our lives by the Prayer of St. Francis.  I’ve referred to it many times, and I will continue to refer to it in the future.  It is the perfect prescription for a life well-lived.

In order to be this Instrument of Peace that Mom and St. Francis so kindly asked us to be, I have discovered in my efforts that in order to share this peace, one must first possess it.  You can’t give away something you don’t have.  Further, the best way I have found to possess this peace is to start by simply listening.

Listen to people.  We don’t know what their lives look like on the inside, and listening is the only way we can determine how to best understand them so that we can share peace with them.  I listened to my friend for the first hour yesterday so that I could formulate a response that would help her the most.  She told me her story, and I told her mine.  I shared my past struggles that I felt would help her with her current struggles, even though I have never walked in her shoes.  I think it made her feel less alone.

Listen to your little voice inside.  It is the voice of reason and intuition, and the older we get with more life experiences, it is ultimately the voice of wisdom.   Don’t deny it or shush it.  It may end up screaming to be heard if you do.

Listen when you pray.  Whatever you believe in, in whatever way you choose to believe it, there is always wisdom greater than our own to be downloaded.

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When I got ready to decorate for Christmas last week, I found myself stressed just looking at those totes we brought up from the basement.  Four of them.  Ugh.

So, I listened.  I left a lot of it in the box instead of feeling obligated to put it up.  I gave some of it away, too.  I rearranged a few things.  I cleared the coffee table and put up my favorite Jim Shore pieces, the artist who created the Thanksgiving angel I wrote about two weeks ago.

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I have another angel he made with the Nativity scene on it.  I put her on Mom and Dad’s table next to the Thanksgiving angel.  It brought me peace.

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I made it a little simpler this year, and it felt good.  I have a little more peace inside to share now.   I plan to keep going.

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In Our Favorite Gifts of 2017 (December 31st, 2017), I wrote about the annual hand-made ornament I receive from the young boy I worked with for several years in private speech therapy.  Although it had been more than a year since I had worked with him, I received a third one from him last year.  Last week, there was another box from him at my door, over two years after we stopped working together.   It is the first gift I have received this year, but I’m pretty sure it will be one of the best.  He made it himself, from the heart, with appreciation and kindness.  I’m sure his kind mother helped him send it.  I treasure all four of the ornaments he has now made for me.

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In the interest of privacy, his name is covered.

What will be the best gifts you give this year?  Will it be the ones you purchased in a frantic mode, spending too much money and wondering if it will be the right one?  The right size or color?  The one you bought that will bring them joy all year?  I doubt it.  I think perhaps it will be the ones that aren’t bought.

Perhaps it will be the gift of listening to a friend who needs to be heard.  Maybe you will take them to dinner, or better yet, cook for them.  Maybe it will be the permission you gave yourself to decorate less, or maybe spend less.   Maybe you will give away a possession of personal value to someone you know would enjoy it more than you do.  Maybe you will buy yourself something you know you need and/or want, and very likely deserve.  Perhaps you will even create some new dance steps for yourself that you know you need to make, even if your dance partner(s) don’t like it.  Maybe you will create a home-made gift from the heart like the young boy does for me every year.

Perhaps it will be a gift to yourself of listening when you pray.  Maybe you will forgive someone, which turns out to be a buy-one-get-one gift, because in the end, forgiveness benefits you more than them.

Bonus.

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When January comes and the holidays are gone, we should start preparing for the holidays again—in our hearts.  Christmas should not be one day in one month within one season.  If the true spirit of Christmas is to be celebrated, is should be within us every day of every month of every year.  If we can make peace within, we can share it with everyone else all year.

If you are unable to celebrate with your loved ones at Christmas, have a celebration later and call it Christmas.  Or whatever you want to call it, as long as you treasure the time spent with them.

There will be no Sister Lode post for the next few weeks.  I am taking some time to celebrate with my family, taking some time off work, and probably taking more naps.

I plan to do a lot of listening.

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Me, middle sister Kathleen at Christmas, circa 1972.  I asked Gail and Suzanne for Christmas pictures, but no luck.

Merry Christmas from Gail, Kathleen and Suzanne, the sisters of The Sister Lode.  Peace on Earth, starting with peace within.

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I took that nap after lunch, and started on the cookies.  I had my Christmas cards stacked on a pile on the counter as I mixed.  This one was on the top of the stack.  It came from the young boy who makes my annual ornament; every member of his family signed it.  Its message is exactly what I am trying to say, too.

FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

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FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

When the former leader of our country shed tears on live television this week, I shed them, too.  He was saying goodbye to his father, another former leader of our country.  At this moment, his most important role was that of son, and the purpose of the funeral was to celebrate the life of a father and husband first—perhaps even a friend—before the life of a former United States president.

I had a lunch date with a home health patient at the time the funeral was televised.  He was watching it, and my job was to watch him eat to make sure he was not having problems swallowing.  So, with a few sideways glances to lessen the feeling I was indeed staring at him—its my job, I, too, watched the funeral.

This man was almost as old as George H.W. Bush.  He, too, had lived a long and storied life.  Unlike George Bush Jr., though, he didn’t shed tears when his own father died, he told me in between bites.  When he was thirteen years old, his father died suddenly.

From that point in, he was taught, boys and men don’t cry.  A series of further tragedies befell his family.  Still, he reported, he never cried. I tried to hide my obvious tears as I, too, held my hand over my heart in a salute, just as they did on TV.  Unlike him, I wasn’t very good at not crying.

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The next day, George H.W. Bush’s body arrived in Houston by train for burial.  It was noted during the television coverage that the last president to be transported to his final resting place by train was Dwight D. Eisenhower, 49 years ago in 1969.  He was carried by train to his boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas, the very place I was at that moment.

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71-456-279 Funeral of Dwight David Eisenhower – Abilene, Kansas 2 April 1969 The funeral train arrives at the Union Pacific Station 2 April 1969

I tried to imagine this small town of less than 7,000 residents alight and alive with glory, respect and honor for their hometown boy; a meaningful, but sad parade of people from far and near.

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I was three years old in 1969, living two hours away from Abilene.  Now that I am aware enough,  I wish I had been old enough and close enough to Abilene to witness the history of Eisenhower’s burial.

Now, in 2018, this town still resonates with the spirit of the Eisenhower presidency.  I see it around town, especially when I visit or drive by his museum, which includes his final resting place in a small chapel.

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I wrote about Abilene in Someplace Special (September 10th, 2017). If you have never visited Abilene—and especially the Eisenhower museum, I highly recommend it.

 

 

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I recall a funeral procession I was part of in Wichita in 2006.  My aunt Jeanne—my mother’s sister—passed away, and her funeral was on the east side of town.  Her burial was on the far west side of town.  For a nominal fee, she was allowed a grand police escort on her final ride, with the procession cutting all the way through this city, stopping all traffic along the way.

And it was grand.  I wish you could have seen it.  I wish she could have seen such a procession while she was alive.  You see, she couldn’t see.  She was blinded at 18 months of age from retinal blastoma—cancer—in both retinas.  She never knew sight, but it didn’t stop her from leading a full and vibrant life.

Then, the day before our parents died, we were back in Wichita for our grandmother’s funeral.  Gail, Suzanne, several of our brothers and I were in one vehicle in her procession to the cemetery from the church.  In his signature dry, monotone comedic style, our brother Ryan posed this deep question: “If a funeral procession meets a fire truck or ambulance, who has the right of way?’

We laughed it off, knowing such humor was his gift to us.  We left the cemetery after the burial to go back to the church for a dinner, no longer in procession.  It was a large cemetery, and yet another funeral procession was headed to the cemetery as we left.  Then, as if he had sent out a freak vibe with that question, a fire truck headed swiftly toward the oncoming procession.

Apparently, urgency for the living supersedes respect for the dead.  The procession had to pull over.

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We paid loving respects to our grandmother, celebrating her 90-year, long and blessed life.  We had one day of reprieve after her funeral before we started planning another one.

Now, we are not a family to brag or gloat over our achievements, but we will hold fast to the honor of having received the most floral arrangements for any funeral ever in the lone church in our small hometown—95, if I got the number right.  Granted, it was a double funeral, but it was still one funeral, so we will argue that should the record ever come into question.

We had to find joy in whatever small ways we could.

In those four days between their deaths on Tuesday and the funeral on Saturday, we clung to each other; cried mostly, but laughed some, too.  We propped each other up and picked each other up, with grace and faith ensuring that a majority of at least four of us seven were relatively strong at any given moment to pick up the other three or less, both literally and figuratively.

The only good thing about the time between the deaths and the funeral was the fact that our actions were already prescribed.  We didn’t have to figure out what to do.  We simply mourned, made arrangements, accepted food, flowers and friendship, and waited.  We were in the socially expected shroud of mourning, and we did that well.

Still, knowing exactly what we had to do, the pain was unparalleled for all of us.  No one is prepared for such soul-searing pain, but I am glad we weren’t warned.  That would have been worse.  We loved them fiercely, just as they loved us.  We collected ourselves for Saturday morning, and even found ourselves comforting some of the mourners who had come to comfort us.  We were experts at comforting each other by this point, so we had it down.  We found strength to make it through the funeral.

Since then, we have all became stronger than we ever dreamed we could be.  They are still with us, and we celebrate them in our own ways now, every day of every month of every year.

Their funeral helped us do this.  There were tears, of course, but just like President Bush’s funeral, there were happy moments, too.

When George W. Bush eulogized his father, I felt his pain.  I recalled the eulogy we delivered for our parents.  All seven of us composed a written eulogy before the funeral, and Gail, Suzanne and I delivered it.  We agreed ahead of time that we would take turns reading, and if any of us were to become emotional and unable to read any further, we would simply step down, handing the baton to the next one, even if it were mid-sentence.

None of us faltered.    I suppose we were perceived as strong, at least at that moment.  I suppose we were strong, at that moment, anyway.  This isn’t to say that anyone who does falter while delivering a eulogy is not strong.  We simply were given grace and composure to get through this difficult moment.  We know where—or shall we say who—provided it for us.

At this moment, let me interject my expert advice on how to comfort the mourning.  I hate to brag, but we are sort of authorities on this subject:  It is not accurate to gauge how the bereaved are handling the loss by the way they are acting at the funeral.  The real test comes in the days, weeks and months—perhaps even years—after the funeral.  Trust us on this.  Trust me when I say that it is never too late to express condolences.  There is no statute of limitations.  For me, I found some of the most meaningful expressions of sympathy arriving not immediately, but after some time had passed.  It let me know that not everyone in the world had moved on, there were actually some people who knew that we were still suffering.

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Because funerals really are joyful celebrations sometimes cloaked in heaviness and sadness, it is important to keep a positive perspective regarding them.  Which is why I asked Gail for her contribution of funeral humor.  This is what she came up with:

A woman is sitting at her deceased husband’s funeral.  A man leans in to her and asks: “Do you mind if I say a word?”

“No, go right ahead,” the woman replies.

The man stands, clears his throat, says “Plethora,” and sits back down.

“Thanks,” the woman says. “That means ‘a lot.’”

Just before press time, I asked Suzanne for any large or small contribution to this post.  I wanted to keep it light, I told her.  And she is just the person to give me that.

Um, you are writing about five funerals, five funerals for six different people.  Good luck.”

I knew she would give “light.”

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We did cry a lot.  But more important than that, we found joy in those early days, even laughter.  Ryan, our dry-witted younger brother was 34 when Mom and Dad died.  Gail is his godmother, one of two adults appointed at baptism to be a spiritual leader to the child as he or she grows.  In earlier times, this meant also that they would be the guardian to the child should something happen to the parents.

At the wake the night before the funeral, Ryan was seated next to me.  He leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”

As we greeted people arriving at the wake, our childhood dentist, who lived across the street from our parents then, arrived with his condolences.  He re-introduced himself to me very seriously, thinking perhaps I would have forgotten him.  I hadn’t; he was a good dentist and is a good man.

“Of course!” I said.  “I remember you.”  Then I flashed him a wide smile, and asked: “Do you remember these teeth?” 

“Yes, yes I do!  They still look great,” he replied.

Thank you,” I said.  “I floss every day.”

“I can tell,” he said, smiling as he walked away.

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To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”—William Shakespeare

It takes a strong man to lead a country, especially the United States.  I think George W. Bush’s tears as he bade farewell to his father were a sign of strength.  I cried with him at that moment, sweet-bitter tears for a life well-lived.  Sweet-bitter tears that recalled fond memories of my own father.  Tears of strength that keep me going through my life, reminding me of all I have to be thankful for.

And all I have to keep laughing about.

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ANGELS AMONG US

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ANGELS AMONG US

I had a welcome guest last night.  He hadn’t visited in awhile, even though he knows my door is always open for him, and I would so love to see him more often.  I can’t predict when he will show up, but it always seems to be at the perfect time.

Be careful what you wish for.  I think I have given this admonition a few times before.

I had a dream about my dad last night.  He stopped by our house for a casual visit, as if he had never been gone.  All my dreams about Mom and Dad—and there aren’t many—are always in the context of a normal gathering, interaction or visit.  They are still on earth in my dreams, never having left.

In this dream, my dad stopped by our house just as I discovered a water leak.  It appeared to be coming from the top floor, draining two floors below to the basement.  I immediately brought it to my husband’s attention, my Mark of all trades and master of all—especially plumbing, and he was more concerned that we get going to wherever we were going at the moment.  “We’ll take care of it when we get back,” he said.

Now, if you know my husband, you know this is preposterous, he would have been on it in a cloud of dust; no hesitation.  The plumber from my hometown even showed up in my dream, and took a look at it.  He couldn’t figure it out.  My husband did take the time to check it out, but couldn’t find the leak, either.

My dad–my brilliant father, took one look and found a faulty plug on a nonexistent toilet in a nonexistent bathroom in our home.

Problem solved.

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Any essence of creativity for today’s blog didn’t show up yesterday, as I was trying to get it going.  I had several started, and several waiting in the wings, but nothing came together.  I thought perhaps I may have to crap out for this week, and try again next week.  I am at the mercy of this fickle force; if it doesn’t show up, there is nothing I can do to find the words.

At the end of the day yesterday, I prayed for some spark of inspiration, some guidance; some ideas.  I woke up with ideas swimming this morning, courtesy, I’m sure, of my dad’s visit.

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I put the Thanksgiving/autumn decorations away yesterday.  I felt a bit blue, as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  My husband suggested we get started on the Christmas decorations, and this made me even more blue.  I wanted to enjoy the space between the holidays with a bit of nothingness; I wanted to savor the lingering Thanksgiving tidings before hauling out the Christmas ones.

I feel strongly about the meaning of Christmas, but I don’t feel so good about how our society commercializes it.  I struggle with this every year.  I languish in the element of gratitude Thanksgiving brings; enhancing the practice of giving thanks can only be a positive formula for the striving toward peace on earth that Christmas should bring.

I decided to change one thing to try to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving more alive all year.

Several weeks ago, I found a Thanksgiving angel created by Jim Shore, one of my favorite artists.  He has become a favorite because Dad used to buy his pieces for Mom, having discovered them at their local drug store/gift shop.  He had bought her several pieces which we divided among us, and I have added to them with my own.  Mom loved angels.  We decided to engrave one on her side of their tombstone.

When I found this “Joy In The Harvest” angel, I knew she needed to come home with me.  So she did.

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When I put her away yesterday with the other Thanksgiving decorations, it brought me down.  When I woke up this morning, the first thought I remember was this:  Get the angel back out and leave her up all year.  Put her by your parent’s picture.  Perhaps that was the parting message Dad left me in the dream, right after he diagnosed the water leak.  Perhaps he wanted this special piece from the special artist displayed.

So, I did.  But this presented a new problem.

I have a small, family-heirloom table that serves as an altar; a shrine for my parents.  It is crowded already, as there are pictures, multiple other angels and small keepsakes to remind me of, and honor, Mom and Dad. Mom’s favorite saint–Saint Francis, as well as his prayer, is honored there, too.

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Give away one thing of great value,” was the advice given on a favorite daily calendar.

As these words from several months ago rang in my head, I knew what I must do.  I must part with one angel to make room for this one.  “One in, one out,” is the rule I try to live by when adding new possessions.  This is hard, and just this morning over coffee, my husband reminded me that I don’t necessarily need to one in just because I one out.  We will table this discussion for another day.

Today, however, is a special day.  December 2nd is my neighbor Diana’s birthday, and she, too, loves angels.  She speaks the language of angels, understands loss and forges on, having lost a son 21 years ago, the same way I lost my parents.

This beautiful angel, a gift from a family friend, was given within a floral arrangement at my parents’ funeral.  Her beauty must be shared, so I am passing her on to my angel of a neighbor, Diana, in honor of her angel in Heaven, Mark.

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This gratitude thing can be hard.  Some days, I don’t feel very grateful.  If I didn’t sleep well, which is a hit-or-miss affair at age 52, and especially if certain joints have decided to act up again, then I lose my focus.  I find myself angry because sleep escaped me, which makes everything gray and more uncomfortable.

I take some quiet time each morning to write, especially by hand, in a journal.  One practice that I keep is this:  write down three things I am grateful for, three things I haven’t written before, as well as all the big ones I write every day.   Most days, before I do this, I wonder what on earth I will come up with.  I think I can’t possibly think of three new things again, yesterday and the day before were hard enough.

Yet, I do.  I have become skilled at taking a glass that is half-empty, and calling it half-full.  It’s all in how you look at it.

And the how you look at it is the key.

It is your choice to see the glass as half-empty or half-full.  No one gets to dictate those thoughts inside your head.  It is always your choice, and I am here to testify that I have tried it both ways, and half-full always feels better.

When I get really desperate, when I feel there is no way I can possibly find even one more thing to be thankful for that I haven’t yet written down, I get quite creative with my gratitude.  Among the things I have written down on these lowest of low days include:

*electricity:  there was a planned power outage from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

*French press coffee during this power outage, courtesy of my husband heating the water on the gas burner on his grill in order to press the coffee, our morning life-giving drink.

*flannel sheets

*six 25-cent CDs at a garage sale from several of my favorite artists

*no sign of bedbugs after being exposed to them (again) on a home health visit

*a beautiful, intricate spiderweb on the porch

While it has taken me a long time—years—to sense gratitude for the following, I can say, with peace,  I have arrived at a place where I am thankful for these gifts:

*my parents didn’t have to leave each other behind when they died

*they didn’t have to suffer for one moment, like so many of my patients do

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Angels are among us, within us and all around us.  If you don’t sense this, turn some thoughts around.  Look around.  I hope you find them close, within your own home, even.  If you are lucky like me, you will have one or more as your sister/sisters.

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Perhaps you may even have one next door, like I do.

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Happy Birthday Diana

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May every day be Thanksgiving Day for you.  May you take the spirit of gratitude into the Christmas season with you to find the peace that is within, so that you may do what you can to create peace on earth, just like Mom and Saint Francis asked us all to do.

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EAT MORE PIE

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EAT MORE PIE

There was a time in my life when I didn’t eat much meat.  I didn’t drink much coffee, either.  I rarely ate sweets, and only occasionally did I drink alcohol.

Those were good times; I was happy.  This discipline suited me well—then.

When I meet someone who doesn’t consume any or all the above, I understand.  It truly is the best thing for some people.

It worked for me then, but not now.  I start my day with coffee, no exceptions.  Strong, black coffee.  Several cups of it.  I don’t eat a lot of meat every day, nor do I limit myself  if I desire it.  I ate a significant amount of turkey this holiday, which I count as meat.  Dark meat turkey happens to be my favorite meat. I drank a beer or two each day of the holiday weekend, but that’s not out of the ordinary.

That leaves the sweets.  I have had a lifelong see-saw relationship with sweets, an all-or-nothing mentality in the past.  Not anymore.

I know from multiple attempts at proving the notion wrong that I do indeed feel better if I don’t indulge in sweets.

But that doesn’t stop me from eating a little bit—not a lot, and not every day.  But enough to enjoy them, enough to savor the treat without making myself feel bad.

Pie happens to be one of my favorite sweet treats.  Pie also happens to be one of my favorite things to bake.

So, I signed up to bring pies to both family gatherings for Thanksgiving—my husband’s family on Thanksgiving Day, and Gail’s house on Saturday.

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I made eight pies:  Six pumpkin, and two sweet potato.  In honor of my mother, and just like every other pie I have ever made in my life, I made the crusts from scratch.  It was a three-hour, Thanksgiving Eve labor of love.

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My boys had friends over as I was baking.  One of them wasn’t sure there would be his beloved pumpkin pie at their feast, so he went home with the two missing pieces. 

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I am fully aware of the discrepancy, the dissonance, the abject disagreement between last week’s post highlighting my niece Lydia’s struggles with Type One Diabetes, and this week’s post singing the praises of pie, and eating more of it.  I had already decided upon the topic of gratitude when I found this awesome charm:

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It went so well with my Thanksgiving shirt, I knew it was meant to be.

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Lydia’s diabetes doesn’t prevent her from eating sugar, but it does require advance carb measuring, strategizing what and how much, prioritizing intake and injecting insulin to compensate for the carbohydrates she decides to consume.  To make it as easy as possible for Lydia to enjoy everything else, and, of course, to make myself appear to be a good aunt who doesn’t speak and write out of both sides of her mouth, I made one of the pumpkin pies sugar-free.

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My intended moral of the story is this:  Don’t deny yourself any desired joy in life if there is some way to make it work.  Figure it out, and go for it.  You owe it to yourself.  It’s Thanksgiving.

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Giving thanks should not limited to one day each year.  This holiday, which happens to be my favorite, should serve all of us as an annual check-up to ensure that we are practicing this virtue called gratitude every single day of the year.  Just like Lydia doesn’t get a day off from measuring her blood sugar and counting her carbs accordingly, neither should any of us take a day off from measuring our levels of gratitude, and counting all we have to be thankful for.  Like Lydia–and every other diabetic, we should do this every day as if our lives depend on it.

Because guess what:  your life, if you want to live it to the fullest, does depend on it.

The wheel of gratitude is not always an easy one to grease; I have been there.  When  you need a gratitude adjustment–as we all have at times–it’s best to start simple.

So, let’s adjust.  If you are reading this, you are likely breathing, so start there.  And keep going.

*If you have a partner, children or a family you love, they are among the greatest gifts.  If you don’t, and you want to, give thanks for the power you have to change that.  Look inward, not for external causes.

*If you have a job you love, you are miles ahead of many people.  If you don’t like your job, and it pays the bills, you are more fortunate than most people on Earth.   All of us have the opportunity to look for a different job.

*Even if you don’t like our current political situation, we do live in the Land of Liberty.  If you disagree, you can consider moving to another country.  Be thankful for that, too.

There.  I got you started.  Please keep going.

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I am writing as the Thanksgiving Sunday blizzard moves through, the blizzard that brought us home a day early from Gail’s house, my favorite Thanksgiving destination for my favorite holiday.  I chose to be grateful we were able to go, as well as:

*Enjoying the company of not only Gail’s family, but Suzanne’s, too, and part of one brother’s family.  Some years we have more, but the skeleton crew was a gift as well.  We will see more of them at Christmas.  Our children enjoy their cousins, a gift we didn’t get to enjoy as we grew up, as we only had one.  My boys taught them how to play 6-point pitch, something they recently learned from hanging out with my husband’s family.img_20181124_140648693.jpg

*Safe travels during the 450-mile round trip, with a dependable vehicle to take us there and back.

*My firstborn made it back to campus safely late last night after we returned home early, beating the blizzard—another 60 miles east.

*A cozy escape in a cabin on the shores of the small lake in Gail’s small town:  we anticipated an overnight crowd at Gail’s, and reserved space accordingly, so we kept it.

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*Warm soup today made from leftover turkey, but more importantly, made by my husband.  If you recall from a previous post, I only like to bake, not cook. 

*A cozy, warm, private space in my home  first and foremost to nap, then to write.

*I am solar-powered, and less daylight brings me down.  Only 26 more days until the days get longer!

*As always, my sisters—as well as my entire family.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Take the simple things and make them special, because this is where special lives—right amidst the simplest of everyday gifts that are often overlooked.  But first, you must consecrate them with gratitude in order to make them special.

Let us not forget the big things, either.  Every day, whatever degree of good health you have, your family, food, clothing and shelter, as well as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should never be overlooked.

Write them down every day.  Start a journal. Putting them on paper with your own handwriting gives you not only awareness, but ownership.  Often, this simple act is all it takes to turn the ship around, to make your perceived lack become certain abundance.

It is your choice.  You get to decide if you want to see through skinny, little lenses of half-empty, or big, round glasses of half-full.

For the life of me, and all that counts as a blessing, I’m not sure why anyone would choose anything but half—or all the way—full.

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Gail, Suzanne and I took our third annual Thanksgiving photo in Camp Gail, her private, highly personalized, highly decorated space in her home.  Along with our two previous Thanksgiving pictures, it will now grace the opening to every Sister Lode post.

We Camped out in her retreat, her private sanctuary for as long as we could before we had to get back to the cooking and the crowd.

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As always, we laughed a lot.

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And, as always, the sun always comes out again after the blizzard, after every dark day.  I gave thanks for that, too.

 

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My husband and son were eager to move snow after the blizzard stopped.  For that, I am over-the-top grateful.  

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After I woke up from my nap in my private space–both of which I am so thankful for, I ate more pie-both sweet potato and pumpkin.

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERY DAY.