IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

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IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

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

  —Abraham Lincoln

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

   –Antonio Villaraigosa

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

   –Barbara Kingsolver

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

  –Jackie Kennedy

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

  —Barbara Bush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This magnet graces my refrigerator.

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?”  I asked.

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

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

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

So I will try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

SLEEP TIGHT

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SLEEP TIGHT

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

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

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

“Sleep on it.”  Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youforgottoshutoffthelavalampthekitchenwillprobablybeonfireyoudidn’tgetthefinancialaid paperworkdonetherewontbeanythingleftforcollegemoneyforyourkidsthatmolehaschanged sinceyourlastdermatologistvisityoudidn’tsignthatreportitwontgotothedoctorandyourpatient willprobablydie.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dad was always an expert napper as well.

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

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

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

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

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Gail is winding up for the evening.

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Suzanne is winding down.

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Obviously, I am wound down already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU–AND ME

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU–AND ME

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

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

It’s that simple—and that important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I recall a few birthday memories from my younger years:

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

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

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

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

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

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I wore the tiara proudly.

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

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

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

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

Whatever, Suzanne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday to you.

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

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

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ODE TO THE RED BARN

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ODE TO THE RED BARN

It once was the symbol of the Great American Farm.

It once held a  hay loft, as well as memories of our years as farm kids.

It once stood as a beacon on our family farm, just like so many other farms.

The red barn on our family farm lived a long and full life, and in the name of moving forward, it came down.

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Gail, Suzanne and I spent Easter Saturday on our family farm with three of our four brothers, and all our respective families.   Our oldest brother lives in another state, and wasn’t able to join us.   It was a day of visiting, eating, and reminiscing.  Like every time we get together, it was a memorable day.

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We grew up on this now-fourth generation family farm, and while the original house we all grew up in and the barn have since come down, the memories remain.  Our brother John and his family are caretakers of our family’s heritage, parceled into a farm on the Great Plains.  For their stewardship to the land and our legacy, I will be forever thankful to them.  I treasure the opportunity to have grown up as a farm girl, even though I chose not to stay there.

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The iconic red barns appear to be a thing of the recent past, and metal buildings are appearing on many Great American Farms as their replacement.

Wooden barns, John tells me, are no longer the most efficient and effective structure to have on one’s farm.  He, along with my husband, who has erected many of the metal ones–including helping with the one that now stands in place of the barn, tells me the metal ones are the wave of the present and future farm.  Perhaps a few fully-functioning barns remain, but they are likely on smaller, hobby farms.  They are costly to repair and/or maintain; the metal buildings are less so.  Some classic red wooden barns have been repaired, refurbished or renewed, but most working barns have been replaced by metal buildings.

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I have many fond memories of time spent in that barn in my childhood.  John, who has always been industrious, had a wood shop just inside the front doors.  He built many wooden projects there, and I recall lingering behind or beside him as he toiled with his craft.  I was fascinated, made a few feeble attempts, but never engaged as a carpenter myself.

Perhaps that is one reason why I was drawn to my husband, the builder extraordinaire.  But that’s another story for another day.

As long as I could remember, we always raised cattle on the farm.  John, somewhere in his teenage years, decided to start a small swine operation in the barn as well.  Suzanne and I were reminiscing about the lessons taught by Mother Nature when, no matter the hour, we would hurry up to the barn to see the baby pigs being born.  Once in a while, we even saw a baby calf come into the world.

John continues to raise cattle on the farm.  They once came in and out of the barn, but their new home is this metal building.  He no longer raises hogs.

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The barn had an upstairs hay loft, where many of our memories were created.  I didn’t realize the new cattle “barn” had a hay loft as well.  The small, rectangular hay bales are not as common as they once were; but John stores some in the loft now, just as we did in the barn.  The much-larger, round bales are the most common type now.

For those of you with no farm history, the hay bales are tightly bound wrapped bales of the wheat straw that remains after harvest.  The grain is harvested and sold, and the straw is baled for livestock feed and bedding.  These bales were stacked in our barn, both upstairs and downstairs.  There was a large, sliding door on the ground floor of the barn, the one traditionally painted with red and white stripes as shown in the pictures.  The smaller door upstairs slid open sideways, and a long bale elevator was used as a conveyor to move the bales from the ground to the upstairs through this door.

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Our younger brother Ryan with Kate, Gail’s first-born enjoying the view from the upstairs door.  The striped door below was the front door to the ground floor.  Circa about 1987.

We built many forts out of these bales, and it seemed our brothers always possessed superior architectural and building skills that made their forts “cooler” than any we could construct.

There was a square, hinged “trap door” in the back of the barn from the upstairs to the downstairs.  We spent many hours jumping from the upstairs to land in the loose hay downstairs, not caring one bit about the hay that ended up in every crevice of our clothes and bodies.  It was good clean—but dirty—fun.  Suzanne and I commented that now, we would likely land with a few twists and sprains.  Gail, however, probably would free-fall in such a way to avoid that.  She always seems to land on her feet, literally and figuratively.  As a little sister, I am still watching her, still looking up to her to learn how to do so many things.  Recall from her birthday post that she has zip-lined…as Suzanne has as well, but not me–yet.  And did I mention, she also bungee-jumped just a few years ago?  She holds that singular honor among us three.

The steps to the upstairs of the barn began to show their age in their last years.  I recall holes in the steps—some large, some small—that needed to be avoided in order to make a safe ascent.  Several steps probably weren’t safe to step on, but I don’t recall any fall-through injuries.

Those steps were well worn not just from our family, but from an old tradition of “Barn Dances.”  Our parents spoke of earlier years when our grandfather would host other couples for a dance in the upstairs of our barn.  The music was provided by local musicians, and I am quite sure fun was had by all.

The upstairs in the barn was also an indoor playground for us.  There was a basketball goal and modified half-court.  Gail recalls the days when our oldest brother hosted frequent Sunday afternoon basketball games with his friends.  The group was large, as our barn was apparently the hot spot on Sundays.   She recalled, and I do too, that caution had to be taken to not get too close to the edges of the floor near the walls, as they weren’t always reliable.

Ryan turned what would have been the back half of the court into his work site with his Tonka tractors, graders, and other equipment as well, farming the loose hay.   There were some cabinets and other older, perhaps antique furnishings and small equipment stored in the back as well.

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Gail, Suzanne and I visited the new “barn” last weekend.  Instead of cattle and hay, it now houses the machinery that plants and harvests the crops, as well as the other necessary implements and machines that keep the farm running.

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Gail was the only one of us three girls who learned how to operate the farm machinery.  Recall that she has always been a Swiss Army Knife.

I recall the good-natured argument between farm kids regarding the best color of farm machinery:  red or green?  My family has always been red, and probably always will be.  Those color allegiances tend to be passed down to the next generation, although I did spot a few small pieces that looked green to me…

When I meet retired farmers who are now my patients, I always ask:  red or green?  Typically, it sparks a good-natured discussion, and sometimes well-intentioned banter and boasting.

The barn, with its resident hogs, was a smelly place.  To add to that, Suzanne recalled the family of skunks that took up residence there as well.  I don’t remember as clearly as she does, but when she was perhaps ten, there was a mother and about four babies that kept her away from there for months.  I probably didn’t go near it for a while, either.

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The barn came down in 2008.  The house came down last fall.  Some things, while they served a purpose and were well-loved at one time, are not meant to last forever.  That’s how things in life are.

Sticks and stones.

Moving past the sentimentality and emotional attachment can be hard, but sometimes a small gesture and/or token can ease the pain enough to move forward with the good memories, and leave the pain of loss behind.

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John’s wife, Lara, rescued several small pieces of the barn wood after it was torn down, as it was headed out to be burned.  She took a picture, put it on a barn-shaped piece of this wood, and created a Christmas ornament for each of us–and other relatives as well.  It is a treasure, one I display year-round.  This small token, this actual piece of our farm’s history is all I need to keep the good memories alive and leave the loss behind.

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Thank you, Lara.

Thank you, John.  You and your family are keeping Our Great American Farm alive and well.

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Dad, posing for his high school graduation.  The barn lives on in so many pictures, and in so many memories.

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Dad’s legacy–and progeny, too, lives on–in the same place he was raised.

Long live the farm, and the farm girls of The Sister Lode.

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When I chose the format and  title picture for the front page of my blog last summer, I was drawn to the barn picture featured on the opening page of THE SISTER LODE.  Hmmm…

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD

“You’d better get that timing belt changed.  If that goes, nothing will work.”

And so goes the memory of one of the most important things my dad ever taught me as a young, independent woman.  I don’t think I ever got that timing belt changed on my car, but I traded it off soon thereafter, so it didn’t matter.

Turns out that in life, just like with cars, it is indeed all about timing.  It is what makes things work out the way they do.  The lesson went much deeper than a simple rubber automotive belt.

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Dad was born in 1934 via Cesarean-section.  In that era, it was an inexact science, and his mother wasn’t able to have more children.  She died when he was eight.  He told us that the doctors told his dad it was cancer, but she was never well again after his difficult birth.  After she died, he was raised by his dad and his dad’s two sisters–Madeline and Marie, who, because they played the parts, were like our grandmothers.  They were never married, and Dad was like their only collective child.  They were a gift to him, and I’m sure he was to them, too.  His dad never remarried.

Life as an only child was very lonely, Dad said.  He knew he wanted a big family, and got one:  we were their Magnificent Seven, they said.

 

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One of the earliest pictures we have of Dad; it’s condition tells a story, too.

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Dad and Grandpa in the wheat field.  Swheat boy.

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Dad–left, with childhood friends.

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And, with his best friend.

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Grandpa and Madeline playing Monopoly with Dad.

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Grandpa, Dad, Madeline and Marie.

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Dad had a brilliant mechanical mind, but more than that, he was wise beyond what he could feasibly put to work.  He knew about all things automotive and mechanical, and used this brilliance on his farm machinery and vehicles.

As an only child, however, the family farm was his destiny, no questions asked.  He was a steward of that family legacy until he turned 65, at which he time he promptly handed the reins over to two of my brothers.  One of them still farms it, living on the original homestead.  The house that built me, the farmhouse that was in our family for four generations, was torn down last fall.  Mold overcame it, and it was time for a new creation.

Dad and Mom moved into Osborne in 2000, the small town of about 1,300 people, the town where all three of us girls, and two of our brothers were born.  They lived there until they died, both of them immensely enjoying the “city” life, as well as the social connections they made.

Dad was a local conversational legend.  He was known far and wide as a gifted talker, and could strike up a conversation with just about anyone.  It was reported that when he would frequent the small hospital there to visit someone he knew, as well as the nursing home, he  made rounds as the self-appointed visitor extraordinaire, making new friends with patients/residents he didn’t yet know .  I made my own rounds to that nursing home in the year before they died, visiting them every time I came to town.  I treasure that opportunity to have seen them perhaps 15-or-20 times in their last year.  I left a “really good” hospital job to travel the uncertain nursing home circuit as a speech therapist, deciding—against all reason—to do so exactly a year before they died.

I know now, in crystal-clear hindsight, why I was supposed to listen to that little voice that, for no apparent reason, nagged me to go.  I would have gravely regretted it if I hadn’t.

Not long after they died, I was called there to see a new patient, an older gentleman who was having problems swallowing.  He was cantankerous; I was warned.  He wanted nothing to do with me when I arrived and introduced myself.  I knew that my dad had recently befriended him, so I pulled that strategy out of my arsenal.  I told him who my dad was, and he softened immediately.

“He was your dad?  Why sure!  You just come back to see me anytime!”

Dad’s reputation preceded and succeeded him, always in a good way.

Suzanne, when asked to recall something he had said that stuck with her, came up with this generalization, an exchange that was safe to make between a father and his adult daughter:

Suzanne:  “Every time you tell me something that I might question or doubt or might not like, it turns out you are right every time, and it’s really starting to piss me off!”

Dad laughed, knowing his opinion was not always the most popular.  He was a man of integrity and honesty, always calling a spade a spade, whether you liked it or not—even if you were his daughter.

Mom loved to write; I’ll claim that trait in myself from her.  Dad was an ardent reader, and I will credit him for my love of reading.  He loved to learn, and much like me, he read mostly factual and informational reading, rarely—if ever—works of fiction.  He read biographies, and so do I.  I really didn’t want to know that much about Lee Iacocca, but after listening to Dad talk about his autobiography, I decided to read it, and I’m so glad I did.  Likewise, I learned–from the book he had just finished reading—the multiple theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I will never look at just one side of that historical event ever again.

Very simply, Dad was a brilliant man who educated himself further by reading.  He knew at least a little bit-if not a lot–about everything.

And, like Dad, I am an expert sleeper.  At least, I try harder than anyone else in my family, and for better or worse, it is something I am recognized for among my siblings, as well as my own family.

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Gail frequently speaks of Dad’s greeting upon your arrival to his home:  “Sit down, stay awhile.”  And when you did, you were in for an informative and informational conversation, for as long as you were able to stay.  He always had time to talk.

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Dad, while his guest sat down and stayed awhile.

On our way to my future husband’s first meeting with my father, I warned him that he would likely talk his leg off.  He indeed did, but Mark loved it; loved him.  We all did.  I don’t know if Dad had even a single enemy, but if he did, it was likely because the other guy didn’t like his words of truth.

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Dad would have been 84 years old this Friday, March 30th.  I found the following piece I wrote four years ago on his birthday.  I hadn’t read it for a few years, and I was struck by how much stronger I have become, how time continues to heal.

I will close with that, but not before I say this:  If you still have your own father, pay him a visit if you can.  Sit down and stay awhile, even if what he has to say pisses you off.  There will come a day when you will not regret it. 

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD

My dad was a Kansas wheat farmer.  As I type, I am facing a bookshelf with a framed picture of him on his International Harvester “H” tractor, an antique, working tractor that was one of his favorites.

Today, March 30th, 2014, would have been his 80th birthday.  I wonder, especially today, what he would be like if he were still with us.  He had struggled with heart problems in the past, but always—sometimes miraculously—pulled through.  I want to believe he would have still been going strong.  In light of that thought, I am celebrating his life today.  In honor of his wheat farmer heritage, I am grinding wheat.  Wheat that was planted, grown and harvested by my brother John on the farm my dad was the steward of before my brother took over.  My dad was the third generation of family farmers;  John is the fourth.  John’s two sons show promise to be the fifth.

Sometime around 1995, Dad purchased a small wheat grinder in hopes of grinding all the flour we would ever need so as not to ever have to purchase it again.  For a while, he kept us all supplied.  I have fond memories of him at the kitchen table with this new grinder, showing off its features and ability to turn his personally harvested fruit of the earth into a fine powder that was the foundation of so many things we ate.  For a while.  Then, the new wore off, and he didn’t grind as much, as often.  Then, the grinder got put away.

I became interested in grinding my own flour somewhere down the road, and I borrowed it from him.  He and Mom retired as active farmers in 2000, and moved into a small town nearby, so John was now providing the wheat.  I took the grinder to my home on a long-term loan.   It has been here since.

Every year when I make my trip to the farm to partake of harvest, I bring back several gallon buckets of wheat to be ground.  Today, after looking yet again at the three remaining buckets on the shelf in my garage, I decided it was time to grind.  It was a warm and windy spring Sunday afternoon, so the dust and mess would blow away.  I set it up and plugged it in on the patio, and ground away. Before the grinding began, I took the large sifter that came with the grinder and I separated the wheat from the chaff. I realized the metaphor fits my life now, as I pride myself on getting better at sorting the unimportant from the important things in my life.   I even drank a wheat beer as I ground it, just for good measure.  I sent up a happy birthday to my dad as I did.  It felt right.

On my daily run this morning, I had a great idea, like I do so many mornings when I run.  My husband, our teenage boys and I would celebrate Dad’s birthday by having brunch at IHOP.  So we did.

After my run and before we left, I succumbed to the guilt from not dusting my furniture and shelves for far too long, and I broke out the dust rag.  I dusted the bookshelves where Dad’s picture on the tractor sat.  As I moved past it—I don’t know how I did it—I knocked it off.  I didn’t think I was very close, but it fell to the floor.  I sat down next to it and picked it up gently and sorrowfully as if it were a living thing that had I had unintentionally inflicted injury upon.  I cradled it, making sure the glass or frame wasn’t broken.  It wasn’t.  I felt myself become awash with tears.  I felt myself entering the minefield.

In the past six years (and twenty-six days), I have frequently found myself in this minefield, not realizing it as I entered.  Once in the minefield, I was typically stuck there all day, and any false move could bring another detonation.  I never knew which way to step, never knew where the mines might be hiding.

Today, however, I fought back.  I wasn’t willing to spend Dad’s birthday in the minefield.  I made a conscious decision to back-step, to find a way out before entering any further.  So I did.  And, as of 5:11 pm, I haven’t found myself back in.  I am winning.

My sister-in-law Lara—John’s wife—stopped by to see me on her way through town today.  I needed her visit, as she always picks me up and encourages me as a writer.  I needed her today more than ever.  I showed her how I grind their wheat with Dad’s grinder.  She seemed impressed, and she’s not able to fake being impressed, so I know she was.  She, as the vintage picture on her kitchen wall says, is a “Nice, Swheat Girl.”   I  like the play on words/letters, being the word nerd that I am.  For so many small graces like this one, I thank her.  For many other graces from my siblings and their families, I thank them as well.  I am blessed.

I choose to focus on these gifts that I have been given all throughout my life, not what I have lost.  I chose to back out of the minefield today, I’d had enough.  I celebrated my father today with gestures and positive actions, instead of wallowing in any residual sadness.  It is there, but, again, not today.  I can feel him smiling down upon me, and I will focus on this.

Happy Birthday Dad.

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Special thanks to Lara for bequeathing me the “Swheat Girl” picture when they moved into their new house.  And to Gail, who is crafting a frame for it. 

Thanks, too, to another sister-in-law Joni, who enlarged and reproduced the picture of Dad on the tractor, and then shared it.  It is a treasure. 

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Thank you for your support and readership.  I wish you a blessed Easter next Sunday; there will be no post then as I will be enjoying the holiday next weekend.

 

THE SISTER’S GUIDE TO MIDDLE-AGING

 

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THE SISTER’S GUIDE TO MIDDLE-AGING

“Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.”    Anonymous

The irony is that apparently, I had a really good memory in college.  At least, that’s what my former roommate Denise says.  I don’t remember having a good memory.

So, when I called her Friday to wish her a happy birthday, I didn’t realize it until she answered:  “Dang!  I did it again!” I realized as she said hello.  “It’s NOT today!  It’s, its…tomorrow?”   I asked her.

“It’s Sunday, you silly girl!” she replied.  I always think it’s the 16th, but it’s the 18th.   Every year.  Has been since I met her in 1984.  That’s 34 years ago, 34 years to practice remembering that her birthday is March 18th, not March 16th.  But I keep forgetting.

She claims I used to have a stellar memory.  You could remember everything!”   I like to think she remembers accurately.  Her own memory, she tells me after the birthday greeting on the phone, suffers too.

“I have to write everything down,” she says.   People are so impressed with what appears to be my good memory now. ‘You have such a good memory,’ they say.  But I tell them it’s all here on these sticky notes.  That’s the only way I can remember.”

We lamented that, initially, the actual process of having children seems to drain a woman’s brain, then the day-to-day process through the years of having children continues the slow, but sure drain.  We both gave birth twice, both were the busy mothers, and now, as we both turn 52 just a month apart, we like to think we’ve got the upper hand again:  we simply realize the secret to a good memory–we have to write it down.

If only all other aspects of aging could be hacked so easily.

Denise was kind enough to dig up some old pictures of us from our college days, the days of youth and invincibility.  The days when our hair was still one color.  For me, the days of the gap teeth.  Age has many benefits.  It worked my teeth together.  This one was taken at a formal we both attended in 1986.

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Because I have not yet figured out a shorter way, I take pictures from a text, copy them privately to Facebook, copy them to my desktop, then copy them over to my blog.

Interestingly, when I posted this to Facebook, even though it tried with the boxes around our faces, Facebook couldn’t identify us.  Apparently we have changed.

About 12 years ago, we ran into each other at a water park. We lived about 100 miles apart, and both of us decided to take our kids here to this park that was right between our homes.

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It is fitting that I can’t remember where this next picture came from, but it was taken with Suzanne, and it was within the last several years.  It popped up in the series of pictures we had texted to each other on my phone.

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When I was preparing to turn 40, I was whiny and full of dread.  Ugh.  40.  It was a dark, empty place that loomed straight ahead; no detour.

Then, I got the kick in the pants I needed:  I was called to see a 39 year-old woman  for speech therapy.  She had just had her 6th child, had a massive stroke and lost function on her dominant side.   She did regain some function, and was able to return home with her family.

Since I met her, I have never complained about my age again.  Every time I even consider it, I remember her, and I remember my good health.

Apparently, I needed yet another reminder that, as a healthy human being, I have absolutely zero room to complain about age.  Shortly after I turned 50 almost two years ago—and I don’t remember complaining about it, I was called to see a man just a few months younger than me with a diagnosis of ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease.  He passed away shortly after his 50th birthday.   My heart still breaks for his family.

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I never shy away from giving my age.  I am proud to be whatever age I am, which is currently 51.

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One of my favorite coffee cups; a birthday gift from a dear friend. Life is good.

I have a friend who wasn’t entirely honest with me about her age when she first told me.  She claims she didn’t lie about it, I say she did.  She says she simply didn’t state the truth completely.  She didn’t give me a number, she said something vague like “I’m your age.”  She is almost exactly one year older.  I recently asked her why she did that; I can ask her honest questions and expect honest answers.  “Because I didn’t look my age,” she replied.  I have done what I can to convince her that age is truly a gift, and we should never hide it.

Another friend, whom I’ve known for over ten years, refuses to tell me—and likely many other people—exactly how old she is.  Even though her birthday is just two days after mine, and some years we actually have a birthday lunch together, I am not privy to this information.  I recently asked her why she refuses to state her age.

“Because everyone pays too much attention to a number.  We assign certain things to people based only upon their age, and that’s just not right,” she replied.

I cannot fully disagree.  I recall in my Introduction to Sociology class at age 18, the instructor—who has since become my favorite professor, teaching my favorite subject, pointed out this fact:  “Most of us, when we scan the obits, look for the age.  It tells us if it’s okay if they died.” For many years, I have scanned the obits in my daily paper first to see if any of my former patients are there—many times they are, and then I look at ages.  I must acknowledge that I consider that a factor in the level of attention I pay to their particular obit.

But what is that magic age when it becomes okay to pass away?  I know for me, it used to be a whole lot younger than what it is now.  As I age, that number keeps getting bigger.

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Since this is the Sister’s Guide to Middle-aging, I went to Gail and Suzanne for their advice.

Suzanne, who is 47, may not have quite as many years of wisdom Gail and I have, but she has life experience beyond Gail’s and mine:  she is a cancer survivor.  When I asked her for her advice, she gave me two pieces, and they are golden:

“Never dread or regret another birthday.  Be glad you are still having them.”

“Don’t worry.  Worry steals your time.”

Words of wisdom from an expert.

She adds:  “Worrying is actually praying for what you don’t want.  So don’t do it!”

Thank you, Suzanne.

Now, to Gail, at age 58.  Given that she never has been a worrier, she gave advice that is more practical, and its importance became crystal-clear to her just this week:

“Slow down. Your body is slowing down, so slow down with it.”

Gail, the multi-tasking workhorse, took a spill on her back step last week.  She was carrying in eight bags of groceries, moving along at a fast clip.  She likely had somewhere she needed to be in order to get some work done, so she decided to do it all in one trip, and what a trip it was:  the eight bags spilled all over the floor as she was halfway in the house, but that’s not the worst of it:  she twisted her ankle like never before, hurt her leg and hip, and ended up in considerable pain, bruised, battered and in need of her boss’s care (the chiropractor).

She is bouncing back; she always does.  I asked her (in jest) if she thought ahead to take a picture of the mess on the kitchen floor for this week’s post, but she said she didn’t.  She was willing to stage one, but you get the idea…

Gail, in my estimation, may try to slow down, but will have greater difficulty doing so than, say, me. I move fast because I have overscheduled myself, and I hate it.  She, however, loves it.  Having a lot to do is her normal mode.

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I do, however, use the slow down advice with my patients.  About half of the work I do as a speech therapist with the adult population is to address swallowing problems.   Many people are sent to me because they are coughing and choking more when they swallow for no apparent reason.  Often this problem is caused by a stroke, head injury, Parkinson’s disease or some other attributable cause, but often, it’s not.

I have “cured” many swallow problems first observing a patient eating and drinking, and diagnosing them with “you’re eating too fast.”  Most people, myself included, eat quicker than what we should.  We don’t take small bites, chew them thoroughly, savoring the taste and the texture before we swallow them.  We gulp, we wolf; scarf our food.  And most of us can get away with it.   Until we can’t.

As the body slows down with age, the swallow process slows down, too.  Simply increasing one’s awareness of this quick intake, then taking conscious steps to slow it down can be the difference between coughing and choking, and a quiet swallow.  Everyone knows what it means to clog the drain, and I use this analogy.  Our drains don’t drain as fast, and we must respect that slowdown.

It would behoove all of us to start taking this advice now, even if you are not having any problems.  Given that about 95% of us eat too fast, just slow down.  There’s your free advice from me, a licensed, certified and experienced swallow therapist.   I am confident I will cause no harm to any reader with this professional recommendation.

I try to follow Gail’s advice in all physical movements as well.  Seeing many people with physical therapy in my work settings because of falls has made me keenly aware that falls are far too common, and much too heart—and body—breaking.  Because I am a trivia nerd, I looked it up:  32,000 people die each year in the United States alone as a result of a fall.  If they had just paid attention and had been more careful.  If they had just slowed down.

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Perhaps it was around the time of my 40th birthday when I started to notice.  I now look very closely at those people I meet who appear to be aging gracefully, effortlessly; smoothly.  I have met perhaps a thousand people as my patients who are older than me since then, and in our interactions, I am not afraid to ask those who stand out:  “What is your secret to aging well?” 

Most of them are flattered, and are not shy about answering.  There are many variations on two central themes:  1:  keep moving your body, and 2:  do the things you like to do.

As I write this on Saturday afternoon before Sunday evening’s post, I was inspired by the first answer to take a break and get up to walk the 2/10 of a mile to the mailbox and back.  And, since it was such a nice afternoon, I walked the loop around our neighbor’s driveway, and back to the mailbox again.   I try to keep that motivation close at all times.

A 90 year-young woman recently told me precisely those two answers.  She loves music, plays several instruments, and played in bands with her husband.  She still plays for him.  Music moves her.  It keeps her young.

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Gail also gave advice not just on the physical part of aging, but in how we think, feel and react to life and all it hands us:

Life is too short to worry about things you cannot change.  The longer we are alive, the more loved ones we will lose.  Don’t let death rule your life.  Instead, live your life with them to the fullest.  There are so many other things in life we have zero control over.  Some diseases just happen.  I know this with my daughter.  Just do what you can to live with it.”

Good advice about the heavy stuff from Gail.  Now, on a lighter note from Gail:

“Don’t let other people control your thoughts.  That’s letting them live rent-free in your head.  And don’t subscribe to their issues.  Cancel your subscription if you have to.   Again, don’t be bothered by the things you cannot change.  Like the wind.”

Good stuff from Gail.

And from the three of us, we like to illustrate a very important point by our travels, and all our interactions:  Have fun.  Life is simply too short to deny yourself this.  Whatever fun looks like to you, simply have it.

In summary, we are leaving you with eight words:

Slow down.  Have fun.  Don’t worry.  Keep moving.

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As soon as I finish writing this post, I am going straight to my all-purpose notebook and I am going to write down Denise’s birthday:  March 18THJust like she does, and just like I tell my patients who are working on memory, writing it down is the best way to remember.  I sent this to Gail and Suzanne several hours before posting, as I always do.  Suzanne, in her wisdom, came up with another way to remember Denise’s birthday:  I met her when I was 18.  Brilliant.  Thank you, Suzanne.

Happy Birthday Denise.  You make 52 look effortless, and I look forward to getting there.

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Denise, circa 1986.  She and another roommate were in an 80’s air band, and she was getting ready for a gig.

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Denise and her husband, present day.  Happy Birthday today,  March 18th.

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Gail, Suzanne and I through the ages, mostly middle age.

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2010:  Our first Colorado Labor Day trip.  Like age, these trips just keep getting better too.

 

 

ROCKY MOUNTAIN ‘HI’

 

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN ‘HI’

**I believe in signs.  This one was from my favorite calendar, the day before we left.**

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Speaking of signs, we finally did it.  After saying we should on every other trip, we finally stopped at the state line by the iconic sign for pictures.

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The rest of the state line story comes with a price.  If yours is right, Gail and Suzanne will tell you the rest, but only if I get a healthy cut.  Remember, we are not telling all.

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Waking up to this sight in Manitou Thursday morning, just as I said we would last week, can only bode well for the rest of the weekend.

And it did.  We lingered a bit in Manitou Springs on Thursday, taking in shopping and a tasty lunch—and a game of shuffleboard—before we began the ascent.

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In our effort to satisfy Suzanne’s love of ferris wheels, we attempted to stop at The North Pole on the way up.

While I have laughed through the movie at least a dozen times, I have never before been able to empathize with the Griswolds in Vacation:  The North Pole was closed.

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Closed Until May 1st.  The ferris wheel, noted to be the tallest in the world given it’s altitude, wasn’t even there; wasn’t visible from the road as it usually is.  We found out it had been taken down for refurbishing, refreshing and renewing.  It will be ready for us next time.

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And so on westward we went.  John Denver did his part on CD, getting us into Cripple Creek.  Cripple Creek, where the gold-mining mother lode was struck years ago, and where The Sister Lode idea was conceived only one year ago.

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 And the real fun began.

Our friends who own the Hospitality House were ready for us:

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They look forward to our return trips, as do we.  We love them, and we love their place.  We savor the spirit of the place, as well as the space.

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We do a lot of enjoying their space; simply sitting and sipping is one of the simple pleasures we enjoy.  Sometimes that’s all we need to fulfill our expectations.  Sometimes, it takes a little more.

This time, there was a full moon to greet us.  While pictures can never do it justice, the moon was in grand splendor along with the mountains it rose up above.

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From a full moon to a Blue Moon–in honor of my favorite libation, there was this good omen in the street in Manitou on our way there.

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Perhaps it is the Midwestern, hospitable farm girls in us.  Perhaps it is the fact that we are away from home and in a higher altitude; a higher place.  Maybe it’s just who we are.  Maybe it’s all the above, but we find ourselves saying “hi” a lot while we are on our trips.  Not that we don’t do it when we are home; it’s just that there are so many more people to meet in a place like this.  Chances are, we already know most of the people already in our circles at home.

We reach out, we strike up conversations with strangers, we somehow have other people do the same to us, and most of the time, we welcome it.  Most of the time.

If we hadn’t reached out, we wouldn’t have made friends with these fabulous hotel proprietors.

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Given that they are now our friends, we asked for Rick’s advice on a predicament we found ourselves in, likely in part due to our outgoing natures, and in equal or greater part to a misinterpretation of our intentions.

Rick (in front) simply said: “stop saying ‘hi.’”  Sounds like a simple, obvious, easy answer, sure, but we can’t do that.  It’s not who we are.

If we’d stopped saying “hi,” we wouldn’t have met this dear, delightful young woman who became our favorite waitress at our favorite restaurant several years ago:

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Kaitlin serves us beyond and above, and she is preparing to do the same for our country.  A few days after our visit, she will become a member of our armed forces, joining the Unites States Navy.  We thanked her for her wonderful service as our favorite waitress over the past few years, and we thanked her in advance for her future service to our country.  We wish her so much love and joy in her new venture.  She will likely be replaced in the restaurant, but she will never be replaced in our hearts.

Godspeed, Kaitlin.

And where would we be without Christine?  Less bejeweled, that’s where.  And that’s no fun.  Our favorite shopkeeper in Cripple Creek keeps us shopping and adorns us with the most beautiful baubles and gems.

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Her shop, 9494, is cleverly named after the town’s altitude.  Given her charm, grace and allure, we feel even higher than that when we are in her store, and especially in her presence.

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The native donkey herd that roams the streets freely in the spring and summer (as shown here on our Labor Day trip)

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is taken to pasture for the fall and winter–with shelter.  Tourists who miss them in their off season—like us—are urged to visit them in their winter home just outside of town.  The shopkeepers supply the donkey treats, and we do the rest.

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Perhaps the three of us—at times–have something in common with the asses…

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Rhonda, however, doesn’t appear to let that affect her.  She became Gail’s neighbor at the Blackjack table on Friday, and came back on Saturday, too.  We hung out there too; Suzanne even tossed a few chips out next to Gail.

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In an unprecedented joint decision between the three of us, Rhonda became our honorary sister for the weekend.  She was one of us, and we welcomed her into our circle.  Gail typically befriends the others risk-takers at the blackjack table, and by the end of the weekend, she has either renewed her friendship with, or created new ones with the dealers and pit bosses.  Only Gail has that skill, the ability to turn tough guys—and girls too–into butter.  We tried to take a picture of one of our favorite tough guys, but he assertively reminded us that pictures inside the casino were not legal.  Sorry JR, we snapped the one above accidentally on Friday before you told us that on Saturday.  Oops!

An honorable mention and a shout-out (pun intended) goes out to Dave and his wife Charlie, our other new friends at the blackjack table until Dave’s excessive decibel level created the false notion that perhaps he was breaking another casino law:  no gambling while intoxicated.  We know better, and JR was just doing his job.  Still, they are keepers in our memories.

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Speaking of memories, March 4th was a memorable date; a bitter-turned-sweet-bitter date.  A date that will never be forgotten in our family.

My work keeps me closely acquainted with death as a fact of life.  Before my parents died, I would see this stark reality, and somehow push it aside, not letting myself actually believe I would likely lose each of my parents to illness.  I didn’t let myself go there in my mind; I somehow managed to avoid it, magically thinking “So far, I’m lucky.  Perhaps I won’t have to deal with that.”  The thought of losing either of them was too much to bear.  Seeing the illnesses that some of my patients succumbed to, I simply assumed that if they were to die, it would be due to illness.  Never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would lose them the way I did.

A part of me died with them—at least for awhile.  At the moment the news was delivered, I felt a death blow myself.  Crawling up out of that dark pit, first on my knees, then eventually pulling myself upright again, took more strength than I ever wanted to possess.

But I did possess it; we all did.  It was there.  And we keep growing stronger.  But that’s not to say I don’t still have my moments.  Like on the morning we left Cripple Creek, the morning of March 4th–the ten-year anniversary of their deaths.  We played John Denver on our way out of Cripple Creek that morning.  The morning of our departure is always blue, but this one was closer to black.  For me, for a brief moment, it was a Rocky Mountain Low—but just for a moment.  I don’t even think Gail and Suzanne knew I shed a few silent tears in the back seat.  Then, as quick as they came, they were gone, and I was okay.  I was tired and still blue, but, just as I have known for many years now, they are still with us.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone who said this if I hadn’t experienced it, but if you believe that love never dies, you get to carry the most precious part of them with you at all times in your heart, and that can never be taken away—not even by death.   I feel them within me; their spirits will live on through all of us, and all we need to do is look within.  They are always there—just as Mom told us she would be in The Letter.  And dare I say this:  sometimes it is even more whole, more powerful than when they were here on earth with us.

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The darkness always turns to light, and the blues always give way to brighter colors and brighter days ahead.  Remembering the importance of something to look forward to, I came home Sunday night with ten minutes to change clothes and turn around to go to the beautiful art-deco theater in the downtown of our small city to take in this incredible performer:

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Mom knew how much I always loved his music, and I know she had a hand in this.  Plus, the theater director has a long history of scheduling the most incredible shows on important dates for me like birthdays and anniversaries—thanks Jane.

The blues faded, and by Sunday night—even though Gail and Suzanne didn’t go to the show, we were all Back in the High Life Again—thanks Steve.

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Soon, the skies will be mostly blue, with perhaps only a cloud or two.

29103692_2048586151822965_5939430490325909504_n[1]The green grass will soon return, and our smiles and laughter will be in full bloom again.  And, in our usual style, we will continue to March Forth.  

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