A GRAND OVERNIGHT ISLAND GETAWAY

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A GRAND OVERNIGHT ISLAND GETAWAY

Some traditions are not meant to be carried on forever.  If, perhaps, they bring you more sadness than joy, you should consider leaving them behind.  Maybe, though, you could change them up a bit, and make something new out of the old, something happy out of the sad; something that brings you joy where it once made you blue.

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Before Suzanne moved to my small city, she was nearly equidistant between here and Grand Island ,Nebraska.  Mom and Dad lived in the same small town she did; Gail lived about 2 ½ hours west of them where she still lives.

Shopping trips were split nearly evenly between the two; sometimes Suzanne and Mom would travel here, sometimes they would head north.  As I write this, I realize that maybe they went north more than they headed south toward me.  Perhaps Grand Island held more shopping charm than my small city, and I understand why.   I went along sometimes too.  When I could swing it, I would make the trip to their small town, and then we would drive further north from there.  Once or twice perhaps, Gail was able to make the even longer trip and join us too.  Most of the time, however, it was Suzanne and Mom who took this little trip.  After Mom and Dad died, it was too painful for a long time for Suzanne to return, so I didn’t go either.

We liked to take Mom here as a birthday trip.  Our last trip together was for her 71st birthday in January, just six weeks before they died in March.

If you are a Kansas native like we are, or perhaps from another Midwestern state, you already get it.  If not, perhaps we need to paint you a picture, an image that will prove to you that Midwest farmer’s daughters know how to create an adventure in what may appear to be land that lacks virtue, plains that may not look so great.  There is a reason why we are called the ‘plains,’ but there are many reasons why we are also called “The Great Plains.”

Kansas sunrises and sunsets are unquestionably several of our greatest virtues.

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Suzanne and I took a little trip north Saturday, a trip to commemorate all those trips we used to take with Mom.  Gail already had five or six plates scheduled to be spinning in the air for Saturday, so we had to soldier on without her.  Suzanne and I went last year to go Christmas shopping, deciding to revive an old tradition.   It was time to leave the pain behind, and make new memories.

So we did.

I was inside shopping during the Nebraska sunset Saturday night, but I’m sure it had the potential to rival those in Kansas.

I’ll bet the Nebraska sunrise was beautiful, too, but I after all the fun we had last night, I didn’t get up early enough to see it.

I did get a few shots of  the scenery on the way there.

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And just in case you are thinking this Midwest beauty is not so beautiful after all, take a look at the fortune inside my cookie after our Chinese buffet dinner:

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It’s all in how you look at it.  The beauty is always there if you choose to see it.

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Last year at this time, Suzanne was preparing to move to my small city.  She thought, perhaps, she may never come back here again since she was moving further south.

She was wrong.

Because the route on the way here last year and the way home went through her small town, we also drove by the sign that leads you to the geographic center of the United States.  After all those trips driving past it, we decided it was time to actually stop.

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I’m so glad we did, because we didn’t take that route this year.

We have a long tradition of making a grand entrance into Nebraska.  Sometimes it’s just a honk and wave, sometimes it’s a stop.  One year, we actually came to a complete stop on the highway at the state line–after checking to make sure there was no traffic behind us of course, squealing out and perhaps laying a little rubber as we honked.

This year, we pulled over.

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After a full day of shopping–apparently we were really, really good this year, because Santa got us each a few goodies too–we enjoyed dinner.  Our dessert tasted exactly like one Mom used to make, so that made it taste even better.

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Then, we checked into our room.  This picture of an old tractor almost identical to one our dad had and treasured greeted us at our door.

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That made our hotel room even more perfect.

And, after fully checking them out, we decided–in our very own Goldilocks style, that our beds were just right.

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We tested the beds last year too, and decided we would make it a new tradition.

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The holiday season is upon us.  Traditions abound; we know the drills and we carry them out, mostly without thinking much about it.  For better or worse, our holiday memories are rooted largely in these traditions.

Traditions anchor us, give us stability and bring back good memories.

Except when they don’t.

Sometimes, traditions have lived beyond their natural lives.  Sometimes, they no longer serve us with tidings of comfort and joy.  Sometimes, it’s time to think about leaving them behind; changing them up.

Sometimes, like rules, traditions can be bent or even broken without anyone suffering.  Sometimes, it won’t hurt a soul to change these traditions, just like it doesn’t hurt to bend the rules.  Sometimes, there is more fun to be had when things are changed up.

Sometimes, however, traditions serve as a lifeboat for some people, but not for others involved in the same traditions.  Referring once again to the 70’s song, I will reiterate a point that is so often unrecognized:  “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me and we just disagree.”   We all see things differently.

However, if you are the one who wants to rock the boat, just be aware that you may also be the one treading water in the end.

I consider myself a mover and somewhat of a shaker; I don’t hesitate to challenge the status quo if I think there is a better way.  Which is why I saved this page from one of my daily calendars the other day:

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Don’t hesitate to consider that there may indeed be another way; perhaps a better way.

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Sometimes, out of necessity, traditions must be changed.  The first Christmas after Mom and Dad died, my siblings and I were faced with a decision.  Our tradition had been to spend a day at Mom and Dad’s house with them, with all of our families.  Now they were gone, and their house was gone.  We had to make changes.   Now, it was even more important now for us to remain close as siblings, and spending a day together around Christmas was a priority for us.

My house was geographically in the middle for most of us.  We had the location, the space and the desire,   so my house it was.  For the last nine years, we have met with our families for a day of family, festiveness, food and fun.  This year, however, we are changing it up.

Our younger brother and his wife will be the new hosts.  On December 23rd, we will meet at their house near our family farm and it will be wonderful.  His birthday is Christmas Eve, and one tradition we will continue to observe–no matter where we meet–will be to observe his birthday.  Mom always made sure to observe it, so we will carry that on.

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My holiday wish for you is to find peace and joy, no matter where or how.  If your old traditions bring you that, keep them going.  If they bring you more sadness than joy, consider changing them.  Start by simply considering it.  There may be a better way.

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And next time you find yourself in a hotel room, don’t hesitate to test the beds like we did. The rules were broken, no one was hurt, no harm was done and a new, fun and wonderful tradition was begun.

 

 

THE BAKER, THE LONG JOHN MAKER–AND SUZANNE

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THE BAKER, THE LONG JOHN MAKER—AND SUZANNE

When I have the time and the occasion, I love to bake.   Not cooking, just baking.  I cook because I have to, although I have a husband who is gifted in the kitchen, and enjoys cooking more than I do.

For that, I am thankful.

I’ve psychoanalyzed why I love to bake and not to cook, and I have arrived at this conclusion:  I have had to cook for most of my life for my family, both growing up and as a parent/wife; it was non-negotiable.  It was a chore, and there were no options.  We had to feed the masses.  Baking, however, is sometimes optional.

On the farm, the girls were inside, and the boys were outside.  Except Gail– she was cross-trained to do just about anything on the farm, inside the house or out.  She was the second-born, and she was the Swiss Army Knife out of necessity—she HAD to learn it all.  Mom needed her inside, and sometimes, Dad needed her outside.  No wonder her work ethic puts ours to shame; we all relied so much upon her, and she simply did the job and moved on to the next.

I’m not sure what all she did outside, because I wasn’t there to learn from her.  I did learn from her inside.  She and Mom taught me how to prepare a meal for nine, and how to bake goodies for us too.  I remember the baked goods felt better to prepare.  The cooked meal sustained us, but the pies, cakes, cookies and other treats make others happy.

Cooking is like the exercise routine you have to perform; baking is like getting a massage.  Cooking is watching the news; baking is listening to music.  Cooking is doing your taxes; baking is reading a juicy novel.  You get the idea.

Feeding nine people was no small chore.  Mom took it upon herself as the serious business it was.   She performed this Herculean task three times every day, with and without our help.

Breakfast at our house was like a diner, and she was the short-order cook.  If one of us wanted bacon and eggs, we got it.  If another wanted French toast, she made that.  For seven kids.  For all those years.

Dinner, which is the noon meal on the farm, was some form of meat and potatoes with a vegetable, or some variation of that.  Supper—the evening meal—was another well-rounded spread.  Then, she would do it all over again the next day.  And the next.

We were enlisted to help cook as soon as we were able.  It was non-negotiable, it simply had to be done.  Nine hungry mouths were there open and waiting.  As the years passed, nine became eight, then seven; six…  I was child number five of seven, so there were five at a minimum when I was still home.  When Gail left, as I mentioned in a previous post, I had to do more.  Having set the bar so unrealistically high, she was a hard act to follow.

She cooked meals like we all did; like we all had to.  She found more joy in baking, too.  Her specialty, as I remember it, was long johns.  From scratch, fried and frosted.  Donuts, too.  So it’s no wonder she opened a Daylight Donut shop in her small western Kansas town, and became the donut queen extraordinaire of western Kansas.  For over seven years, she burned the before midnight-to-after lunchtime oil, sleeping only in short spells after the donuts were made and sold, and the mess was cleaned, and all her other work was done.  Seven months after Mom and Dad died, she fully realized the life is too short secret, and shut her doors.  She hasn’t looked back, but says she wouldn’t trade it.

She still cooks.  And bakes.  And not just for big events like last week’s Thanksgiving feast.  She took the torch from Mom’s kitchen, and still burns it bright.

Now Suzanne, however, is a different story.  I recall teaching her to make pie crusts about 15 years ago, because Mom never taught her.  Mom was alive and able to do so, but I think she was simply done. She had cooked and baked all she cared to, and she no longer had any interest in doing any more than she had to.  She earned the rest of her life off from this task.

When I was working this post in my mind before I wrote it, I asked Suzanne what, since I was obviously the baker, and Gail the long john maker, I should call her.

She laughed, and without hesitation answered:  “Suzanne.”

So she remains simply Suzanne.  She doesn’t think of herself as a baker in any way, and she is more than okay with that.  So was Mom.

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I lucked out in so many ways.  My husband is a great cook, and he enjoys it.  Not just the grill guy as some husbands are, but he is that too.  He can take ingredients that may appear hopeless and lifeless, and turn them into a memorable, delicious feast.  The only problem is that he typically can’t repeat those kinds of dishes, because it was a flash of culinary inspiration that disappears just after it came.

I’ll take it.  I also take the responsibility for cooking when it’s my turn.  I’d say about half the time.  We make it a priority to have a sit-down meal nearly every evening, just like he and I both did in our families when we were growing up.

I must tell you a vital bit of information now, before I get into the baking part of this post.  I want to make it abundantly clear that I am forever grateful that I married a good cook.  I want to make it clear too, that I support him however I can when he is cooking.  Generally, I don’t criticize a single move he makes when he is in the kitchen.  Except this one time.

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I inherited my Grandpa’s flour sifter.  It was in his kitchen, likely belonging to his sisters who lived with him to help raise my dad after my grandmother passed away when Dad was young.  I don’t remember him using it, but I treasured it.   It is a single sifter, requiring that the handle is cranked.  It was a labor of love.  I used it as a ritual when I made pie crusts, because sifting the flour twice is one of my two secrets.  I took good care of it, never washing it to prevent any rust from forming inside.  I would pat the flour off after each use and gently put it away.  It was a trusty sifter, and my expert use and care kept it in pristine condition.

Mark was cooking something wonderful; I don’t recall what it was.  Whatever it was required a can of crushed tomatoes.  They needed to be strained, and he wanted a fine wire mesh strainer.   You can see where this is going.

He decided my flour sifter was the perfect tool.

Fortunately for him, he was redeemed.  Albeit several years later, but redemption did happen.

His aunt held a lottery-style drawing for some of his grandmother’s treasures in her possession, in order that they would be passed down to grandchildren.  As pictured, he won the triple sifter that belonged to his grandma.  With several quick pulls of the hand, the flour is sifted not twice, but three times.  It is slick and smooth, and works like a charm.

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My grandpa’s flour sifter has sat unused in the cabinet since then, not even used once to strain tomatoes.

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The evening after Mildred’s funeral several weeks ago was unseasonably warm, just as the day was.  We got home late in the afternoon, had dinner, and I decided it was time.  Time to get out the grinder.

About twenty years ago, Dad bought a wheat grinder.  For months, he ground his own wheat to provide flour for so many of the dishes—both baked and cooked—that Mom was still making.  He showed it off to each of us when we visited, demonstrated and then shared the freshly ground fruit of the earth if we wanted some.  I always took some, incorporating it into baked goods whenever I could, and using it in cooking for breading and such.

As the months passed, he became less enthusiastic about grinding wheat, until his grinding production ground to a halt.  I decided to borrow the grinder from him and grind my own, because I missed cooking and baking with it.

He didn’t mind loaning it out.  I had it in my possession when they died, and have had it ever since.  If my siblings want to use it, I have let them know I am happy to pass it on.

So that evening, since I was out of flour, and my brother was kind enough to provide more wheat from last summer’s harvest for me, I dug out the grinder to enjoy the beautiful fall twilight.

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I didn’t get an action picture, but the first and most important task that must be performed before the wheat can be ground is to sift it, separating the wheat from the chaff.    The sifting tray is sitting on top of the stack of buckets.

It is a messy and dusty proposition, so I set up shop in the driveway.  And, just for good measure, I drank a wheat beer while I ground the wheat.  Dad would have approved.

The wheat dust hung lazily in the air, just like it did when I wrote about the day I spent in the harvest field.  Days with no wind are a gift in Kansas, and this was another one of them.  Gail and Suzanne would beg to differ.

In half an hour or so, I had five half-gallon ice cream buckets filled with flour.  I was set.

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The night before Thanksgiving, I prepared to bake.  I planted myself in my kitchen, in my element.   All my boys were gone to visit Mark’s family, and I had the house to myself.  I put on my favorite music, poured a glass of wine, and set out to bake two pumpkin pies, two sweet potato pies, a pumpkin cake, and pecan pie bars.   Some would go to Mark’s family gathering the next day on Thanksgiving, the rest would go to Gail’s house for the weekend festivities.

I got cranked up, spinning several plates in the air at the same time, so to speak.  I was mixing pie dough and other bowls of ingredients smoothly, with nary a glitch.

Perhaps it was the heaping scoop of memories, or the pinch of melancholy, or perhaps the cup of merlot–maybe all three, but it hit me.

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The mixing bowl was Mom’s.  She used it hundreds of times; I can easily summon a visual image of her cooking and baking with it.  A very clear picture came to me, and I had to have a moment.  I had to walk away from it all for a moment.

But just a moment.

And then it was gone.  In the early years after they died, it may have been a full-on breakdown, rendering me incapable of finishing the task.  Not anymore.  I only need a moment now, and it usually is a quiet one.

Then I got back to work.  I felt her peace, and it was all okay.  She was here for Thanksgiving after all.  Dad was too; the flour from his grinder was a part of the plan.

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So Gail and I continue to bake.  Suzanne continues not to bake.  And that’s okay.

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When those memories come back, as they sometimes still do, I feel them; give them their due.  If they hurt for a bit, that pain is now more quickly replaced by the unspeakable but sure knowledge that these are simply signs that Mom and Dad are still with us.  And that is always worth the pain.

In Peace, Sister (July 16th), I referred to the letter Mom prepared so carefully and lovingly years before her death.  She signed off with this line that still brings me down for just a moment, then back up, then to an even higher place:

“Please don’t think I have left you.  I am still very much with you.”

And, as I just wrote her line above, I heard this line on the radio:  “And know a mother’s love.”

I’m pretty sure she is right here, right now.

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In case you want the other secret to my pie crusts, here it is:  always use Crisco.  And, it goes without saying, never wash the sifter, or strain tomatoes with it.

 

 

 

GIVE THANKS

 

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THANK YOU

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”    Meister Eckhart

Our country celebrated my favorite holiday last week.  I celebrated with my husband’s family on Thursday, and my family on Saturday.  I try to celebrate it alone every day. I try to find small and large things to be grateful for.  Some days, I know I don’t try hard enough.  When I give it my best, I get the best in return.

I find more peace.  More joy.  More awareness of so many more things I need to be grateful for.  More awareness of how rich life can be when I focus on the good.

I am now grateful for things that used to drag me down.  Like the seemingly endless stretch of Interstate 70 that leads to Gail’s house:

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I drove this hundred mile stretch several hundred times on my way from my current small city to an even smaller city during my graduate school days:

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If I try just a little harder, I can find so many beautiful sights along the way to be thankful for.  Out of respect for Gail and Suzanne’s love of the wind,  I have come to appreciate–only a little more– the reason why Kansas has so many of these:

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An hour past my alma mater town, this gem on the plains is the hometown of both of my in-laws.  They were married in this church that stands as a tall beacon on the prairie skyline, and all four of my husband’s grandparents were laid to rest behind the church.  A dear friend’s parents are buried there as well.   In an unlikely coincidence, my mom’s father was born there at home, but didn’t live there long as a child.

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As I age, I am more thankful that I was born and raised a Kansas farm girl.  While my family trusted only the red tractors, combines and other machinery, the green ones are fixtures on the Kansas plains.  My husband’s brother-in-law recently retired from a long and storied career with the green tractor company, so I have to respect them too.  Only if you were raised on a farm would you understand the ongoing debate/argument over which tractor is better:  red or green?  Either one will adequately harvest the current corn crop, which, in the last 10 years, is becoming a bigger cash crop in Kansas.

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So, just when I think I can no longer tolerate the monotony of the flat western Kansas landscape, the road to Gail’s house takes a surprise twist:  hills!

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Then, about ten minutes later, we have arrived.  Over the plains and through the hills, to Gail’s house we go.24058991_1925613150786933_3385765566210426815_n[1]

Gail and Suzanne are busy cooking; Suzanne and her family arrived last night.

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Anyone in the kitchen is expected to lend a hand.

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This is Gail’s time to shine, it is the pinnacle of the year–in family terms–for her.  I think that’s why it’s my favorite too.  Three of our four brothers, their wives and most of their offspring were there as well.   If Gail is in charge, it’s gonna be good.

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And it was.

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Our new tradition is to take a picture in Camp Gail, just like we did last year.

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After duplicating that picture, we decided to try to duplicate this one, with a slight modification to reflect the fact that we are all fifteen years older than when this picture was taken:

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It didn’t turn out so well:

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Still, we tried.  And we will keep on trying to have all the fun we possibly can.   I am so thankful for that.

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I have long been thankful for Kansas sunsets, perhaps the most recognized natural wonder of The Wheat State.

Happy Thanksgiving every day from the three Kansas  wheat farm girls of the Sister Lode.

LOADS OF SISTERS

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LOADS OF SISTERS

Sisterhood at its finest is what I aim to celebrate with each blog post.  Typically, this means I write about my sisters, but sometimes we need to share the spotlight with other sisters.

This week, I have done just that.

Gail, Suzanne and I met Friday for Mildred’s funeral.  Mildred, like a handful of other caring, thoughtful and loving matriarchs, opened her heart, home and holidays to us in our time of need.

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Gail’s mother-in-law lived fully, loved even more deeply, and left an incredible legacy of peace, positivity and optimism to her entire family.  On a beautiful November day with full sun, near record-high temperatures and—much to Gail and Suzanne’s chagrin—absolutely no wind, Mildred was memorialized in this small town where Gail, Suzanne and I were born.

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Mom and Dad lived there from 2000 until they died in 2008.  Both Gail and Suzanne had lived there as well.  Tana and Amy (Swheat Girls Part Two, dated July 9th) were born there, and spent their early childhood years there, too.

The service left only a few dry eyes in the church, and the burial concluded with this spectacular sight:

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We all returned to the church, and enjoyed the unparalleled cuisine of a small-town church potluck lunch, complete with homemade desserts.  Gathering outdoors in the beautiful weather became the obvious order for the rest of the day.

Gail’s three daughters hadn’t been together for some time.  They, too, celebrated their sisterhood today:

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Lisa (right), who also married into the family, celebrated with her sister today too.

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Mildred’s daughters, who weren’t old enough to lose their mother—no one ever is, if you recall from last week, are now the matriarchs of the family.  My heart breaks for them.

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When Mildred was just ten years old, her world was effectively rocked by the arrival of—surprise—twin sisters.  She was an only child until then. Mary, Martha and Mildred became perhaps as close as Gail, Suzanne and me.  They traveled, had fun, bent the rules, laughed, spread joy, and drew even closer as Mildred neared the end of her life.

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Besides Gail’s three daughters, Mildred’s other granddaughters are left to help their mothers carry on her legacy.

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Even the great-nieces will carry Mildred’s memory forward.

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Mildred’s family didn’t let the beautiful November weather pass them by.

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The window pictured in that small gap in the trees in the center of the above picture is the house my parents lived in, just across the street and across an open lot.  Mildred, Mom and Dad couldn’t have asked for better neighbors in each other.

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Suzanne and I were chauffeured to Osborne by my husband.  We savored the beautiful Kansas landscape along the way, with next year’s wheat crop just getting its start.

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We stopped in Lucas to partake of the sights, and to procure some of the locally famous bologna and cheese from Brant’s Meat Market.

In operation since 1922, Doug Brant is handing the reigns to his daughter carry this family legacy forward as one of the few remaining authentic meat counters in Kansas.  Our dad was one of his regulars, and Dad’s local conversational legacy is still alive and well at Brant’s.  He remembers Dad, and he remembers us.  We remember how good his homemade treats are.

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No trip to Lucas is complete without a stop at Bowl Plaza, voted second best restroom in the world on World Toilet Day in 2014.

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The contest was sponsored by the United Nations and Cintas to increase awareness of worldwide sanitation.  This free, public restroom has been recognized for its uniqueness and flair.

For me, it provides a welcome rest stop on my travels in this direction, but more importantly, it validates my favorite expression of art:  mosaic art with all degrees of randomness included.

Life is often random, so art like this makes perfect sense to me.

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Next time, I swear I will make time to stop at the other world-famous attraction there:  J.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden.

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The holidays officially begin this week.  I know from heart-wrenching experience that this can be the hardest time of year for the newly grieving.

If it is your first year without a loved one, please consider this perspective:  Although the pain  never fully goes away, this first year is a blueprint.  We have no idea what to expect on the first round of birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, but when we survive the first year of all those special days, we can say I made it.  I will make it again.  We now have a foundation of what to expect in future years, and while each year is different in its own right, each year you move forward makes you another year stronger.

I am celebrating Thanksgiving Day with my husband’s family, and then we will spend the weekend at Gail’s for her much-anticipated annual Turkey Party.  It is a large part of the reason why I love Thanksgiving so much.  Our signature picture at the beginning of each post was taken in Camp Gail last year on Thanksgiving weekend, and I plan to take another one this year.

My favorite holiday is almost upon us, and after nine years, I can say I no longer dread holidays.  I welcome them, and savor the memories from so many blessed years with my parents.  I still miss them, though.

If you are missing a loved one, I wish you this peace I now feel.

If your family struggles to find harmony on holidays, I wish you peace as well.   Consider, if possible, seeing your family through their eyes for just a moment, or just for the day.

Give thanks.  Be grateful.  Express gratitude for the little things, as well as the big things.  Because the little things, as you already know, are what the big things are made of.

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In loving memory of Mildred.  I am thankful I had the privilege of getting to know her.  She left an incredible legacy of love for all of us to carry forward.  May her family feel peace at their Thanksgiving table, and every day.

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Any woman who was a sister to another woman posed for this impromptu picture.

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Gail with her family.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

 

 

 

LOADS OF SISTERS

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LOADS OF SISTERS

Sisterhood at its finest is what I aim to celebrate with each blog post.  Typically, this means I write about my sisters, but sometimes we need to share the spotlight with other sisters.

This week, I have done just that.

Gail, Suzanne and I met Friday for Mildred’s funeral.  Mildred, like a handful of other caring, thoughtful and loving matriarchs, opened her heart, home and holidays to us in our time of need.

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Gail’s mother-in-law lived fully, loved even more deeply, and left an incredible legacy of peace, positivity and optimism to her entire family.  On a beautiful November day with full sun, near record-high temperatures and—much to Gail and Suzanne’s chagrin—absolutely no wind, Mildred was memorialized in this small town where Gail, Suzanne and I were born.

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Mom and Dad lived there from 2000 until they died in 2008.  Both Gail and Suzanne had lived there as well.  Tana and Amy (Swheat Girls Part Two, dated July 9th) were born there, and spent their early childhood years there, too.

The service left only a few dry eyes in the church, and the burial concluded with this spectacular sight:

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We all returned to the church, and enjoyed the unparalleled cuisine of a small-town church potluck lunch, complete with homemade desserts.  Gathering outdoors in the beautiful weather became the obvious order for the rest of the day.

Gail’s three daughters hadn’t been together for some time.  They, too, celebrated their sisterhood today:

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Lisa (right), who also married into the family, celebrated with her sister today too.

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Mildred’s daughters, who weren’t old enough to lose their mother—no one ever is, if you recall from last week, are now the matriarchs of the family.  My heart breaks for them.

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When Mildred was just ten years old, her world was effectively rocked by the arrival of—surprise—twin sisters.  She was an only child until then. Mary, Martha and Mildred became perhaps as close as Gail, Suzanne and me.  They traveled, had fun, bent the rules, laughed, spread joy, and drew even closer as Mildred neared the end of her life.

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Besides Gail’s three daughters, Mildred’s other granddaughters are left to help their mothers carry on her legacy.

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Even the great-nieces will carry Mildred’s memory forward.

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Mildred’s family didn’t let the beautiful November weather pass them by.

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The window pictured in that small gap in the trees in the center of the above picture is the house my parents lived in, just across the street and across an open lot.  Mildred, Mom and Dad couldn’t have asked for better neighbors in each other.

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Suzanne and I were chauffeured to Osborne by my husband.  We savored the beautiful Kansas landscape along the way, with next year’s wheat crop just getting its start.

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We stopped in Lucas to partake of the sights, and to procure some of the locally famous bologna and cheese from Brant’s Meat Market.

In operation since 1922, Doug Brant is handing the reigns to his daughter carry this family legacy forward as one of the few remaining authentic meat counters in Kansas.  Our dad was one of his regulars, and Dad’s local conversational legacy is still alive and well at Brant’s.  He remembers Dad, and he remembers us.  We remember how good his homemade treats are.

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No trip to Lucas is complete without a stop at Bowl Plaza, voted second best restroom in the world on World Toilet Day in 2014.

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The contest was sponsored by the United Nations and Cintas to increase awareness of worldwide sanitation.  This free, public restroom has been recognized for its uniqueness and flair.

For me, it provides a welcome rest stop on my travels in this direction, but more importantly, it validates my favorite expression of art:  mosaic art with all degrees of randomness included.

Life is often random, so art like this makes perfect sense to me.

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Next time, I swear I will make time to stop at the other world-famous attraction there:  J.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden.

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The holidays officially begin this week.  I know from heart-wrenching experience that this can be the hardest time of year for the newly grieving.

If it is your first year without a loved one, please consider this perspective:  Although the pain  never fully goes away, this first year is a blueprint.  We have no idea what to expect on the first round of birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, but when we survive the first year of all those special days, we can say I made it.  I will make it again.  We now have a foundation of what to expect in future years, and while each year is different in its own right, each year you move forward makes you another year stronger.

I am celebrating Thanksgiving Day with my husband’s family, and then we will spend the weekend at Gail’s for her much-anticipated annual Turkey Party.  It is a large part of the reason why I love Thanksgiving so much.  Our signature picture at the beginning of each post was taken in Camp Gail last year on Thanksgiving weekend, and I plan to take another one this year.

My favorite holiday is almost upon us, and after nine years, I can say I no longer dread holidays.  I welcome them, and savor the memories from so many blessed years with my parents.  I still miss them, though.

If you are missing a loved one, I wish you this peace I now feel.

If your family struggles to find harmony on holidays, I wish you peace as well.   Consider, if possible, seeing your family through their eyes for just a moment, or just for the day.

Give thanks.  Be grateful.  Express gratitude for the little things, as well as the big things.  Because the little things, as you already know, are what the big things are made of.

**********************************

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In loving memory of Mildred.  I am thankful I had the privilege of getting to know her.  She left an incredible legacy of love for all of us to carry forward.  May her family feel peace at their Thanksgiving table, and every day.

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Any woman who was a sister to another woman posed for this impromptu picture.

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Gail with her family.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

 

 

 

THREE PAIR OF GLOVES

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THREE PAIR OF GLOVES

The words “Thank you for your service” seem to be the best we have to thank our service men and women.  It’s what I say when I see one in uniform and I reach out to speak to this stranger.   It’s meaningful, and it is always appreciated.

It’s also what I say to the veterans I know when I want to express my gratitude for what they have done for me, for you and for our country.

If I dug a little deeper, put a little more heart in it, I might find something like this:

There are no words strong enough to express my gratitude for the sacrifices you have made.  I want you to know how much I appreciate your service.”

I have one veteran in my family.  My father-in-law Marvin served in the Korean War.  I called him yesterday to offer my gratitude on Veteran’s Day.

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I sent an unspoken thank you to all the others.

Just like Thanksgiving Day, we should make Veteran’s Day every day.  We should go out of our way to thank them.  Be it for their service, or any other gifts from any other giver, we can never express gratitude too much.

The words “I am sorry for your loss” seem to be the best we have to express sympathy.  I say it to some people, but now that I have been on the receiving end, I try to dig a little deeper.

In the 150-plus cards I received after my parents died, there were three friends who sent cards—not even close friends—who wrote these words of gold I will never forget, and words of gold I now use:  “My heart breaks for you.”

I cannot find words that go any deeper in my heart.

If it is a parent of a friend or loved one, I also offer this:

We are never old enough to lose our Mom/Dad,” because we aren’t.

**

Our dad escaped the draft because of his flat feet.  Now, several of his seven children—including myself—have flat feet.  I don’t complain; I may not be here without them.  He was never outfitted in a military uniform, but he did wear another uniform for very special occasions.  The gloves were part of the uniform, and if not for a third pair of gloves, I may not be here either.

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I wrote the following piece earlier this year. 

I will never forget the gloves.  I gave them to Mom as she sat under the green tent at her mother’s funeral.  It was a cold, but bearable early March day in Wichita, Kansas.  I was standing behind her, and I noticed she had her hands clasped tight in her lap.  I wanted her to have them; she was burying her mother and I wanted to comfort her in whatever small way I could.  So I gave her my gloves.  Her hands were in mine, so to speak.

I wore those gloves five days later as I stood under another green tent—it’s always green–to bury my father and my own mother, the woman who, just five days earlier had these same gloves wrapped around her living hands as she buried her mother.   I held the hand of one brother and one sister; we held on to each other literally and figuratively in order to get through.

I retired the black leather gloves soon thereafter.  I panicked for a moment when I thought I had lost one of them, but it showed up.  I tucked them away in my bottom dresser drawer alongside other keepsakes.

**

My father was a Fourth-Degree Knight in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.  They were knighted and outfitted in a regal, caped tuxedo with a plumed hat fit for a prince, a red-white-and-blue band that stretched from shoulder to the other side of the waist and a sword in a sheath on the opposite side of the waist.  The final touch was a pair of thin, bright-white gloves.

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The Fourth-Degree Knights would stand in full regalia in a majestic honor guard fit for a king when one of their own died.  Knights from nearby towns would come if they were available.  It was a solemn duty; one to be fulfilled if at all possible.

I remember my dad donning his tuxedo and all the extras.  As a child, it seemed mysterious when he would leave the house for a funeral fully garbed, but as I grew up, I saw the majesty.

I didn’t realize it until his own funeral, but apparently, he was the one who would cajole and beg other Knights to find a way to travel far and near to stand guard for one of their own.  One of the other Knights told me this, and took it upon himself to assume his powers of persuasion, and assemble a sizeable group for my dad’s funeral, since he did it for everyone else.

And it was sizeable.  He had a salute fitting for the earthly, humble king he was.   The Knight and his dame of 50 years got a special salute—women don’t normally get the honor guard treatment.

Along with other precious possessions, we were left with his tuxedo and accoutrements.  We turned in the tux, the sword and the hat in order for some other Knight to use it.  My brother was going to take the gloves and band and turn them in as well, but I stopped him.

Do we have to give those away, or can I keep them?”  I asked.

“No, they are his, we can do whatever we want with them,” he said.

So I kept them.  They are sitting in the bottom drawer, next to my black leather gloves that Mom wore.  They are sealed in a thin plastic bag, apparently they had just been professionally cleaned.   I kept the band too.  It bears the insignia of the Knights of Columbus.

I plan to let them rest there.

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I started writing this after I found a little ditty I had already written about my gloves some time ago.  I felt like writing more, so I sat down and let it flow.  Not knowing what was coming, or what I would eventually do with it, I just kept writing.  It felt good.  The part about Dad’s gloves came to mind, and it seemed fitting to add that to the story.

I sent the first part to my older sister, ending just after describing Dad’s gloves.  She is my sounding board, my cheerleader, my positive and constructive critic.  What she replied back with took my breath away for a moment.

I had forgotten the story about Mom’s gloves.

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My parents met on a blind date.  They lived three hours apart; Mom in the city and Dad on the farm.  They wrote letters to fill the hungry gaps of time when they didn’t get to see each other as often as they wanted to.

This was 1955, and long-distance telephone charges applied.  So letters it was.

Mom saved hers, and Dad saved his.  When they married, they combined them in a box.  When they died, we got the box.  I couldn’t bear to read any of them early on, and my sister took the box.

“Don’t you remember the story about the gloves?”  she asked when she replied with immediate feedback.  “In one of the letters, after one of their first dates, Mom said she left her gloves in Dad’s car on purpose so he would have to get in touch with her again.”

Without those gloves, I may not be here.

I knew I needed to honor my gloves that Mom wore. I knew after I almost lost one of them that I needed to keep my black leather gloves in a safe and special place, and then place Dad’s white gloves next to them.

**

I wish I had Mom’s pair of gloves from their date.

I wish I could offer my gloves to my mom again.

I wish I could see my dad in his Fourth-Degree Knight regalia again, gloves and all.

I wish I could hold both their hands right now.

I wish the damn cemetery tent could be orange or maybe even yellow sometimes.   Perhaps a little twist with a paisley print or maybe some tie-dye would brighten things up a little.

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First, Dad wasn’t drafted.  That kept him here to meet Mom.  Next, the gloves.  Finally, to complete the trifecta that fate perhaps orchestrated, I must tell another story, just like the one about the gloves, one I recently learned from Gail.

Mom and Dad met on a blind date.  This I knew.  What I didn’t know was that Dad was not the first choice in this fateful match.

We’ll call him Fred.  Fred was the man my uncle had lined up to meet my mom, but Fred apparently had too much fun the night before.  By the time the scheduled date came around, Fred was in no shape to meet my mom.  My uncle rounded Dad up as a fill-in at the last moment, and the rest, well, you know.

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I am so thankful for the series of events that allowed me and my siblings to be born.

I am so thankful for the service of all veterans that continues to allow me to live freely in the United States of America.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

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I wish you the peace I feel now over nine years later, knowing their hands are guiding me along my path every day, in every way.  Hands that no longer need gloves.

I wish our veterans peace every day, peace of mind to continue to live their lives to the fullest, despite the sometimes unimaginable pain and suffering they have seen as part of their service.

MY HEART BREAKS FOR YOU.

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Gail’s beloved mother-in-law Mildred passed away peacefully on Tuesday with her family at her side.  She was an incredible woman whose smile will never be forgotten.  She  became the Thanksgiving Matriarch for my family at Gail’s when Mom was gone.

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She will be missed, because we are never old enough to lose our mothers.

My heart breaks for her family.

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Recall that my plan was to dress as Rosie the Riveter at Halloween.  Because this blog is dedicated to optimism, Rosie will be my final image and thought:

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WE CAN DO IT!

 

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

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THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

A tire.  Your eyeball.  The moon.  A donut.  A steering wheel.

The answer is:  they are all circular.  The question I sometimes pose to my stroke patients is what do all these have in common?

Sometimes after a stroke or some other neurological condition, it is difficult for my speech therapy patients to see such relationships, and even more difficult to verbalize the answer.

If we add the word LIFE to the list above,  we may struggle for a moment to fully acknowledge the relationship.  It, too, is a circle.

Unlike the list of objects in the first line, life, however, does have a beginning and an end.

Just like I said it might, the baby came soon after I posted my last blog.  Moments after I hit the publish button, we got the word that they were on their way to the hospital.  At 11:02 p.m., exactly five hours after I posted, Finn Matthew was born, and we are grandparents again.

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He is perfect, of course, and his mother—and father and sister are doing well too.

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The circle begins again.

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The days are getting cooler, the sunlight is waning, and my skin is drying out—again.  Mercifully, the trees are giving us a few weeks of beautiful splendor.  Mother Nature is showing off once again; a grand finale before she puts them to rest for the winter.  They spend the next five months or so in  dormant state, making plans, thinking, rejuvenating, resting and renewing.

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It has taken me a long time, and it becomes a little bit easier every year when my beloved summer has gone, but I, too, try to make the most of those dormant months.  I know the Great Circle will bring summer back; it seems to arrive more quickly each year as I age.  In the meantime, I think a lot, make plans to be carried out when it is warm again. I try to rest and renew.

The darkest nights always give way to another sunrise.  The storms always clear and calm returns.  The cold may last six months, but the heat always returns and bathes us.  When the wind, ice, lightning and rain take away, the human community always bonds together to give back to those who are suffering.

The circle continues.

Where one life begins, another ends.

Finn entered the world a week ago, adding to our family.  My family has grown, and at the same time, Gail’s family is preparing for a loss.  Her beloved mother-in-law is not expected to survive much longer.  Her illness has progressed, and their family is saying a sad goodbye.

Finn arrived into the world from a quiet, dark place, into a bustle of noise and lights, strong hands, and a complete lack of familiarity.  He soon met his mother, father and sister, and the circle inched forward.

They hold him, care for him and feed him, but most of all, they love him.  The entire family gathers.   It is so easy to greet a baby with such acts of love.

When the circle of life nears completion, the same thing happens.  The family holds them, feeds them, cares for them but most of all, they love them.  The entire family gathers.  The roles are reversed, and the family prepares for loss, not gain.  It can be a very hard act of love to prepare to say goodbye.

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

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

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

We are given perhaps the tiniest morsels; small tastes of the beauty that may await us:

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Another perfect circle.

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Opposite the beautiful moonrise is another beautiful sunset at the closing of another day.

And, as promised, it is always followed by a splendid beginning to yet another day.

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Another perfect circle rising.

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My daily Word of the Day arrived in my inbox moments ago.  Atemporal:  without limitations of time.  

We measure time in seconds, hours, days, seasons, years; lifetimes.  Each one begins, ends, then starts again.  We know no other means of measurement.

Except when we say hello to a new life, or say goodbye to a loved one.  Time stops for that one moment; we are not limited by it.

And then we go on.

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