DREAM ON, SISTERS

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

Again, be careful what you wish for.

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

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

It was real, just for that moment.

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

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

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

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

**

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

I will. I am.

**

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

Sweet dreams, my friends.

SIXTEEN CANDLES–PLUS FORTY MORE

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

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

I’ve never let Gail forget that day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It should be road-ready in a few weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

*********

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

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

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

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

WORDLE WOMEN

Close. Silly. Sweet. Funny. Happy. Tight. Trust.

These are all words I could use to describe my sisters and our relationships with each other. They are all fitting, and they all have five letters.

**

I am not one to jump on any bandwagons. I carefully decide if a new trend is good for me before I commit, which is why I resisted the new Wordle game and its accompanying craze that seems to be sweeping the nation. I held out, even when my neighbor, whom I walk with many mornings gave me her daily Wordle report. I held out, even though I am a self-professed word nerd. I held out, even though I make my living with words as a writer and a speech therapist. I didn’t get it, and didn’t understand what the fuss was all about.

I do now. So does Gail, and as of this week, Suzanne does, too.

Last month, my husband and I vacationed with his sister and her husband. We were together for a week, and both of them completed the Wordle puzzle early every morning. My curiosity was now piqued, having seen it in action. So, I gave it a whirl, and, along with good coffee, its now part of the reason I can’t wait to roll out of bed every morning.

My husband and I drink strong, black coffee every morning. We both savor its rich, deep taste, and sometimes, before bed, we will remark that we can’t wait to get up in the morning to have coffee. It’s that good. Now, along with the coffee, I can’t wait to get up to do the Wordle puzzle. I pour a cup of coffee upon waking, and head straight for the daily Wordle.

In case you are still resisting–just as I did, there is one five-letter word puzzle posted daily. Just one. You have six tries to guess it. If you miss, it will tell you which letters are in the word, and if they are in the right place.

As of today, I have played 27 games, and have solved all but two. Most days, it requires four attempts for me, but I have got it in as little as two, and as many as six. When it is solved, I feel a rush; a heady thrill, but for just a moment. Then, I realize I have to wait 24 hours for another one.

Oh, sure, I could play one of the multiple knock-off versions that are online, and I could play them all day. but that’s not what I’m in this for. I’m no sell-out, I’m waiting for the real thing. And I only get it once a day, which, because I am human, makes me want it more. As the silly and simple creatures we are, we always want what we can’t have, don’t we?

There is a fascinating Japanese word: ikigai. Its concept translates into your reason for being, your life purpose; your bliss. It is why you get out of bed in the morning.

While Suzanne and I continue to attempt to re-fashion our adult lives into a creation that lets us be who we were meant to be in order to find more reason to get out of bed every morning, Gail seems to continue to find joy in her daily rounds, always choosing optimism and cheer over any unrest about her livelihood, the unrest which has befallen her younger sisters. She rolls out of bed every morning, ready to greet another day with 110 percent. And, along with her coffee, she plays Wordle. I know, because we send each other our puzzles every day after we finish them. Usually around 7 a.m.

They can be shared directly from the web page, with the letters covered, like this:

Or, like we do, you can take a screen shot on your phone and send it that way, which we do, too.

Here is one of my best …and one of my worst.

**

The daily Wordle posts from the New York Times at midnight. While Gail is often up at that hour, I am not. However, both of us like to save it to kick off our morning with coffee. It is part of our ikigai. Suzanne hasn’t yet found a pattern, but does take a moment to complete it every day.

On the heels of St. Patrick’s Day, I must say there is a five-letter word that describes how I feel to have my sisters: lucky.

WHAT WE KNOW FOR SURE

WHAT WE KNOW FOR SURE

*Fun is doubled when there are two of us present to have it. It is tripled when all three of us are present.

*Unfortunately, Suzanne was not able to join us on our annual “March Forth” Colorado trip.

*She gave us her blessing to go on without her.

*Gail and I had fun x 2, or perhaps, on some other scale, it was exponentially increased. It’s hard to measure. Still, not as much fun without Suzanne.

*The weather was much better for our trip out than it was last year. As last year’s picture shows, we drove–and miraculously arrived–through a mountain snowstorm.

*As always, we are sure to add John Denver to the music mix while we are on the home stretch to our destination.

John will forever have the classic voice for this classic song, but we gave it our best in a sing-along.

*Stopping to take in this panoramic view of our destination is a must.

*Arrival at our favorite B&B–the Cripple Creek Hospitality House–is always a welcome relief from traveling. We have been guests here perhaps twenty times, and they treat us like family.

This is a classic photo from several years ago with all three of us.

*Bonnie and Judy, the sisters pictured on these wooden garage sale treasures, joined us once again. They like to tag along when Gail and I travel, but they stay at home when Suzanne joins us because there is no third sister for them. We realized they are indeed our doppelgangers from our younger days–look closely.

*Gail needs about half as much sleep as I do. She starts it in the wee hours of the morning while I am in my deep sleep mode, and finishes it when I am awake.

*To compensate for this lack of restoration, she rejuvenates herself by bringing fun to the blackjack table to be shared by all the other gamblers, especially fun-loving people like Jimmy.

The casinos do not allow pictures at the tables, so we captured a picture of Jimmy as he boarded the bus back.

*Gail brings fun to any party in so many forms. This time, she added “party-gras” beads to the mix. She had her entire blackjack table adorned with them.

*While we have no way to be sure, apparently a large gaming corporation believes that if they build it, the gamblers will come.

*Gail and I continue to come back to the casinos, with or without winnings, as do the people who fill these buses.

*Gail’s favorite is the Wheel of Fortune, and I have had good luck with the buffalo slot machines.

*No jackpots to speak of this time.

*Clearly, Suzanne is smarter than we are for not over-feeding the beasts when she does go to the casinos. She is no gambler.

*Gail and I always win at the shopping game. This year was no different, as we both found a few new jewelry treasures and other small souvenirs to bring home.

*The trip home began Sunday morning, and was interrupted by Mother Nature. We didn’t plan on spending the night at the Holiday Inn in Limon, Colorado, but when Interstate 70 was closed here, we had no choice.

The return trip started out with a beautiful snowfall, and then turned into this:
Highway 24 became increasingly hard to navigate as we approached Limon. As always, Gail drove on fearlessly, as I white-knuckled it in the passenger seat.
We couldn’t leave Bonnie and Judy in the cold car all night…And, if you look close, you will see that we are just across the road from this picture from several years ago on our Halloween trip.

*The trip was a success. Being together is all it takes.

*Sometimes, unexpected delays and factors out of our control can create a unique experience for Plan B. If we can find a way to connect with other stranded motorists like ourselves, we may be spearheading a big party in the lobby by sundown. We will let you know.

*Life is often about Plan B (or C, or D, etc.)

*March Fourth rolls around every year, and it is the only day of the year that tells us to do something, so we do: we March Forth. It has been 14 years since the March Fourth that changed our lives, the day our parents died.

*We have struggled, mourned and become stronger individually and together, and together, we are the strongest.

*There are dark days and nights in life, but the sun always comes up the next morning, and the morning after. The days always get brighter after the darkness. Always. In time. If you continue to March Forth.

SPELL IT SISTERS

I can’t speak for Gail or Suzanne, but I know I am trying to settle an old score. I have never recovered from narrowly missing the title of the Mitchell County (Kansas) grade school spelling champion. I placed second in the 4th grade in 1976, and never placed again. I never saw the lights of Topeka, never made it to the state bee.

I know this has been lurking around in my subconscious since then. When I was employed at the hospital in our small city over 15 years ago, I dreamed I won the “All-Hospital Spelling Bee.” I correctly spelled “insufferable,” then went on to claim the crown with a hard-to-spell patient’s last name. As if HIPAA would allow. Then, I clearly remember asking: “Does this mean I finally get to go to Topeka?”

Perhaps this helps illustrate my unfulfilled psychological need to win a spelling bee.

So, I keep trying. And, being the stellar spellers they are, as well as being as fanatical as I am about proper spelling, Gail and Suzanne are always up for some healthy adult spelling bee competition.

Suzanne and I have competed in two other adult spelling bees recently: It’s How You Play the Game, February 2nd, 2020 and Under Our Spell, September 1st, 2019. Gail wasn’t able to join us then, but she was with us last night.

We traveled down the road to my beloved Abilene, where Suzanne and I competed two years ago in their bee hosted by Neighbor-to-Neighbor, a very worthy local charity. Gail and I arrived early, enjoyed a Mexican lunch,

found some treasures at the multiple antique stores Abilene is known for,

then warmed up with my favorite libation at my favorite bar/grill honoring my favorite president.

We met Suzanne and the real fun began.

Gail’s daughter Lydia custom-designed these shirts for the occasion, and they didn’t go unnoticed.

We were a team of three, with six allowed on each of the twelve teams that competed. We were given a word, and had 15 seconds to arrive at an answer. Gail was our spelling spokeswoman, answering the call when the hostess with the microphone arrived at our table.

Each team was allowed to buy mulligans as insurance, which we knew was a good idea. Up until round four, these could be used to excuse a misspelled word to keep you in the game. After correctly spelling facetious, atrocious, formaldehyde and Freudian, we cashed in one of these get-out-of-jail-free cards after misspelling bourgeois.

It was largely a matter of the luck-of-the-draw, as we were fortunate to not have to correctly spell dachshund, whippoorwill, or babiche. We wouldn’t have been able to, as we attempted every word that was given to every other team.

The “tablecloths” were paper for formulating an answer, and for doodling as well.

There were several breaks to conduct the raffle drawings, with many splendid gifts donated by generous local businesses and individuals. Just as it was two years ago,

my lucky number was called for the coveted quilt.

I know I am a lucky–and warm–girl.

Snacks and drinks were served, and we are never ones to pass up the good stuff. Masking, as we all know, can create communication breakdowns–or comedic substitutions, so we enjoyed the seasoned “moisture” (oyster) crackers served in small cups when they came around.

The competition resumed. As several of the teams faltered and were no longer in the game, we stayed in two more rounds with maraschino and mausoleum. This round brought the number of teams down to three.

In just two more years, it will be a quadrennium since we first began competing in this bee. However, we didn’t know how to spell this four-year period, and this took us out of the running for first place, as our mulligans were useless at this later point in the game. One of the other two teams spelled coalesce correctly, which made them the champion after the other team misspelled debauchery.

At this point, to award the silver and bronze, a spell-down was had between us and that team. The final volley went back and forth, with them correctly spelling duodenum, machismo, encephalitis and picaresque. We correctly spelled hootenanny, connoisseur, tautology, portmanteau and kriegspiel.

When the host handed them vichyssoise, they were done. We would have been done after that word, too. I felt both excited for us, but knew that word was a bummer for them. Not many people in these parts eat this thick, cold French soup made of leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. Even fewer know how to spell it, I would guess.

Our kriegspiel, or wargame strategy was, first and foremost, to have fun. We certainly accomplished that. And we brought home a $60 purse.

It was already past my bedtime when the party ended, but I can stay up late when there is such fun to be had. I was wide awake, and with only that one Blue Moon beer in my system prior to the bee–I was the chauffeur for the 30-minute drive to drop Suzanne off, and 20 more minutes to my home. We headed first to the gas station to fill up Gail’s car. At the light, two fine young men in the car next to us alerted us to the fact that she had a headlight out. So, our kriegspiel to keep from being noticed was to take the back roads, and it worked.

Just a mile from my home, Gail and I had to take a moment to capture another “moony” Kansas night on film, as the crescent moon hung low in the western sky. When they were young, her daughters called this the “fat fingernail moon” and it brought back those good memories for her. The elements of the memorable evening, the second place prize, abundant laughter and now this beautiful nightscape coalesced into a perfect alchemy.

And, as always, the time spent with my sisters is the maraschino on top.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE KANSAS

I didn’t think it was very funny, but he did redeem himself by repeating several times that the people in Kansas are as nice as they come, or something to that effect. I listen to this speaker on the radio every weekday morning; we’ll call him “Kevin.” He typically injects humor into his two-minute morning ditties, but this one wasn’t so funny to me.

He was traveling from Tennessee to Colorado, which necessitated driving all the way through Kansas. “Hundreds of miles of nothing,” he said. He even tired of seeing our breadbasket crop: wheat. Clearly, he doesn’t get it.

“Close your eyes, and I am going to give you a mental picture of what it’s like.” Then he was silent for a moment. “That’s what it was like.”

You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes right now–I didn’t even close them, either.

I guess the splendor of The Wheat State sometimes takes special eyes to see, unless you are a Kansan to the core, like my sisters and I are.

We were all born and raised here. ‘I’s born in Osborne,’ we can all say.

Except for the college semester on an exchange to New Mexico, and the year in Philadelphia, I am a lifelong Kansas girl. Gail and Suzanne have never lived anywhere else. While we do enjoy getting away to visit other states, Kansas will always be in our hearts as home.

“Kansas” is a Native American name meaning “People of the South Wind.” Now, if you have read enough of this blog, you know that Gail and Suzanne love the wind, and I loathe it. So they claim that title with pride and joy–but not me. It’s one of the few things I don’t like about Kansas. Gail has said, “I love the wind so much, I’m thinking about changing my name to ‘Gale Force Winds.” I can’t even dignify that with a response.

Aside from the blasting wind and the sometimes-brutal winter weather, I love our climate. We have all four seasons in full splendor, with annual temperatures ranging from about minus 10 degrees to around 110 degrees, give or take a few degrees. I know of few other places in the country with this range.

As I write today, Friday January 28th, it is beautifully sunny, calm and 41 degrees. I was even able to put my laundry out to dry today, one of my farm-girl traits I will never abandon.

I will hang out laundry again tomorrow, one of the first things I will do to begin the festivities before my husband and I embark on a field trip: tomorrow is the 161st birthday of our great state, having become a state in 1861. I am planning a day-long birthday party to celebrate. Gail, Suzanne and I were not able to celebrate together, but my husband was available and willing to embark on this adventure with me.

To The Stars Through Difficulties is the translation of our state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera.

Sunday, 10:30 AM: The birthday party yesterday was a hit. We left about 10:00 AM, and returned home about 8:00 PM. He likes to drive and I like to be chauffeured, so it worked out well. Except that he didn’t know where he was going until I told him where to turn. I had the day-long itinerary planned, but he didn’t know the plan. After almost 28 years of marriage, surprises are hard to come by, so I purposely kept him in the dark, and he didn’t complain. He was a good sport, knowing we were long overdue for a day-long date.

Our first stop was 45 minutes away at a splendidly beautiful place that I had driven by, but never explored. Geary State Fishing Lake is a few miles south of I-70 on Highway 77 south of Junction City, and it is home to what many consider the most beautiful waterfall in the state. It takes a short hike from the parking lot, but it is well worth it. The falls were mostly frozen, but this was magnificent in its own right.

We plan to come back when we can spend more time exploring, and we highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for the (partially) hidden natural treasures of Kansas.

Returning to I-70, we headed about 20 miles further east, and turned north toward Manhattan. Along the way, there is a stunning panoramic vista of the Konza Prairie, a tallgrass natural wonder that is also a research station for nearby Kansas State University, as well as a popular hiking mecca. I have featured several hikes on these trails in earlier posts.

While Manhattan offers its own wonder, we skirted this college town–our son’s alma mater and Kansas’s own Little Apple–to head further east on Highway 24, arriving in this beautiful burg just 12 miles further:

After a delicious lunch and Kansas-brewed beer at this fine establishment,

We took a stroll down the iconic Yellow Brick Road,

then crossed the street to this mecca for anyone who likes the Wizard of Oz, as it is Kansas’s most notable film.

It was informative and entertaining, providing much history and trivia we didn’t already know. The Wizard of Oz is considered the most viewed movie in the world, having reached over one billion people across the globe.

We met these awesome, hard-core Kansans at the museum. Eden and Perry took their Kansas Day celebration to the next level, as shown in this picture:

If you live close to, or are traveling close to Wamego, Kansas, this museum is a must if you haven’t already been there.

Heading north out of Wamego on Highway 99, we stopped to see this hand-dug well in Westmoreland, then continued on north and east, picking up highway 9 to Blue Rapids.

If not for this guidebook, written by my friends and Kansas explorers extraordinaire, Marci and WenDee, we wouldn’t have known about this natural wonder outside of Blue Rapids, along the Big Blue River:

Alcove Spring is a natural spring in a beautifully wooded area, just a short hike off the gravel road that leads to the parking lot. Knowing it was the perfect place for their needs at that time, the ill-fated Donner Party even spent some time there in 1846. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and rightfully so. We plan to return when we have more time, as the hiking along the multiple trails would easily fill an entire day.

The guidebook also informed us that the city “square” in Blue Rapids is not really a square at all. In fact, it is the only circular city square in the state of Kansas, with the streets extending from it like spokes on a wheel.

Now, I would be lying if I told you that part of my motivation to create this trip was to allow me to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, one that many women enjoy as immensely as I do: shopping.

I had heard so much about Sunflower Mercantile just 12 miles further on Highway 9 in Barnes, Kansas, on the same radio station as the comedian. Their advertisements enticed me, and I made it a must-see/must-shop destination for someday. Their antique/new/used combination was right up my alley.

Since I had the power to make someday today, we headed there after Blue Springs. It’s a good thing I budgeted our time on paper, because, while it seemed we had so much of it to go to these places, turns out it really is true that time does fly when you are having fun, and what was supposed to be an hour in this awesome store, turned into 25 minutes when we arrived there at 4:35 instead of 4:00, knowing they closed at 5:00.

It’s an even better thing that the owner was willing and planning already to stay open a bit later. More awesome than that, however, is the fact that, unbeknownst to me until I arrived, I already knew her; I met her through Marci and WenDee. Gloria and I had a great time catching up, and I left with a few treasures, including another addition to my growing Fiestaware collection.

Heading out of Barnes around 5:15, we proceeded on to our next and final stop, the only one I had already told my husband about, because we had already decided not long ago that we needed to go there:

We arrived in Clay Center, Kansas just before sundown, another splendid Kansas sunset that continues to make this natural wonder one of Kansas’s most beautiful skyscapes.

It’s not fair to say we saved the best for last, because every stop was magnificent in its own right. However, after a full afternoon–without snacks, even–we were hungry again. And, as we typically are on Saturday evenings, a bit thirsty, too. We were drawn to this place because we both savor the taste of their most famous libations: locally brewed craft beers. Hands down, we both agreed they were top-quality, perfectly flavored beers.

The food was equally as tasty and perfectly flavored. Their surf-and-turf special was just what my husband craved, and the fish and chips on my plate were among the tastiest I’ve ever had–and I frequently order them when I dine out. Their service was fabulous, fast and friendly. Without hesitation, I can say that we will be going back for more of their tasty food and beer.

We had hoped to see the murals that the city of Clay Center boasts, as they have many beautifully drawn murals around town. It was almost dark, and we were hungry, so those will have to wait until next time. We did see this one on our way out of town:

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If I understood it right, the legend of the “Kansas Nice” sticker goes like this: a visitor from another state commented on how “nice” Kansans are. He said, “There’s nice, and then there’s Kansas nice.” We get it. We stand out for our welcoming friendliness, smiles and kindness. We reach out to make newcomers feel welcome. We help our neighbors. We aren’t in it just for ourselves. Just as “Kevin” said on his radio show, “You couldn’t ask for nicer people.”

The natural beauty of Kansas is one thing that may need to be shown to the unaided eyes, but our “nice” is obvious even to someone who couldn’t wait to reach the Colorado border.

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

Gail likes Kansas for all these reasons, too. She wanted to be sure you knew, too, that she loves the thunderstorms, blizzards, and any kind of Kansas storm. The more intense, the better. Of course, strong winds make it as good as it gets for her.

Gail, Suzanne and I are born and raised Kansas girls, and this is our home. Mom and Dad were born and raised here, too. Family ties run deep for all of us; our roots and loved ones are here. We do like to travel to other states,

but there is no greater feeling than coming home to Kansas.

Suzanne prides herself on her ability to rapidly name each of our 105 counties, and to identify them by their two-letters on our state license plate. This was her contribution when I asked for favorite Kansas pictures:

She can be such a smart-ass sometimes, but we love her for that.

Gail’s friend Jan took these two magnificent pictures of our beautiful state:

And Gail captured these pictures of the Kansas sky:

It can be sunny here, as well as moony. Both day and night skies can paint beautiful scenes.

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Even though we know there may be a lot more “Kevins” out there who fail to realize the natural beauty of Kansas, we fully get it. The Sunflower State/Wheat State/Ad Astra Per Aspera State continues to shine as a beautiful wonder of nature, and we will do our best to continue to shine as “Kansas Nice.”

We welcome all you “Kevins” out there to come visit Kansas. We are up for the challenge.

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For Gail, Suzanne and me, there’s no place like home.

Thanks to all the merchants and employees for allowing us to celebrate our state’s birthday with them. Also, the guidebook pictured above is a must-have for anyone who wants to get the scoop on any and every place in Kansas. It is a great gift as well. It is available in independent bookstores in Kansas, many Kansas merchants, and on their website as well: http://www.kansassampler.org.

HOW TO SURVIVE JANUARY

I think she does it just to piss me off.

Whenever I make a comment about inclement weather–no matter what the season–Gail will invariably respond with something like, “I know. I love it. Nothing you can do about it, so you might as well embrace it.” Her comments about last week’s snow and sub-freezing temperatures were a perfect example. I called her that morning while the temps dipped and the snow flew, and I could hear the upbeat tone in her voice. It was windy as well, and recall that both she and Suzanne love the wind. Ugh.

Normally, I try to keep a positive and sunny disposition, but when it’s not sunny, and especially when it’s cold and windy, I’m not very positive. As if there is anything I can do about it.

So, instead of letting her get to me, I thought I would embrace the issue, just as she embraces any type of weather.

Gail quoted this statement from a Facebook page she reads when I asked for her input on the topic of the title: “I make my bed every morning because it’s a gift that I get to open at the end of every day. A gift that not everyone has. So while I am wrapping my bed in the morning and unwrapping it at night, I’m reminded of what a great blessing my bed really is in my life. When we stop viewing what we have as little, insignificant or not enough, then we get to see what we do have as gifts we get to enjoy, great blessings in our lives and provisions for our needs.” She then added her own thoughts:

“I have always made my bed every morning because I feel it sets the tone for the day. Here is another way of looking at it, a thought for the new year: we take our beds for granted, but think of the ones who don’t have a bed.”

Great advice from Gail, as always. In closing, she added this: “Get rid of shit that needs gone!”

In contrast, Suzanne also offered wise words, albeit a bit more passive: “Stay asleep the entire 31 days. Or drunk. Dealer’s choice.”

Wise words from my wise sisters.

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Crucible: noun: a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.

I find January to be an annual crucible. Surviving the elements of cold weather, minimal daylight, gray days and months before my beloved summer comes, I struggle to thrive in January, my least favorite month of the year. Gail, in her ever-sunny disposition regarding the weather, even when it is not sunny–and hot–takes it in stride. I am a long way from that attitude; it is quite likely I will never reach that point, but I keep trying. I need those reminders that I do indeed have a warm bed. I make mine every morning as well, and I will now think of it as a gift to unwrap when I get in, thanks to Gail. And, if January is indeed a crucible by definition for me, then I need to use it to make me stronger and renewed.

On top of that, I have a warm home, plenty of warm clothes, money to pay bills and have a little fun, and plenty of food to eat. I have fulfilling work, a loving family–my two sisters are the icing on that cake, and despite a few new pains and aches, I am generally healthy.

So what’s a little bad weather? Get over it, Kathleen.

Gail’s comment about getting rid of stuff–I believe she called it shit–is a good idea for most of us, except Suzanne, who subsists as a minimalist, and I admire that in her. If she gets rid of much more, she may not have the essentials for daily living.

Gail and I, on the other hand, are not minimalists. We could both stand to get rid of a lot of material possessions, which is what we both commit to every January. So far I am moving along with a nice pile to donate, and Gail reports that she has gotten rid of multiple unnecessary kitchen items and clothing she no longer wears. She’s still on a roll, and finding more “shit” as the month goes on. So am I. We both need to continue to take that cue from Suzanne.

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January, with all its darkness, does offer two elements of spectacular light here in Kansas: the sunrises, and the sunsets. The sunrise picture was taken from my porch last week, and the sunset picture with the Kansas grain elevator is courtesy of my friend Stacy, taken not far from our home:

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Spring always follows winter, and summer always follows spring. The cycle has never disappointed us, and it likely will repeat again this year. Like nature, we should all use this time of year to go inward for all the “re-” activities: rest, renewal, rejuvenation, reconsideration and relaxation.

Embrace it like Gail does, or sleep through it like Suzanne–and the animals do. Dealer’s choice.

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Until the warmer temperatures arrive, I am offering a montage of photos from earlier posts with the sisters of The Sister Lode enjoying the sun and warm. We hope they bring back memories of warmer times for you as well.

THE LIGHT

I found a piece I’d written several years ago, and realized that it is timely for this time of year. While this is a heavy piece–unlike most of my posts, I feel its message is important to anyone who may still be missing a loved one, which, I have found, is most of us. My wish is that if you are feeling this pain, too, that you will feel at least a small measure of peace, and realize you are stronger than you may know.

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In just two days, we will experience the shortest day of the year; the longest night. There will be more darkness than any other day, and then the light will begin to return, slow but sure.

It always does.

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The holidays are a festive time of year, celebrations of peace and joy abound. This is a favorite time of year for many people, but for some, it is not so joyous.

The last two years have been a crucible for many people, and for some, loved ones have been taken. Too many people have died from COVID; this is a heartbreak we all are aware of. Other losses abound too, and while holidays are meant to be a pinnacle of joy, they can also be extremely difficult for those who have lost a loved one in the past year, or years past.

We are approaching the 13th Christmas without our parents, and while our tears have been mostly replaced by laughter and warm memories, we will never forget how hard those first months and years were.

If the pain of your loss is still greater than the joy you want to feel, please know there is light ahead. The darkness always subsides, and you will emerge a stronger person. Just as certainly as December 22nd will be a bit lighter than the day before, the light will grow brighter every day for you, if you let it.

And that is the truth.

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THE TRUTH (written in 2019)

The truth, my friend, is that you are going to be okay. This ‘okay,’ however, is yet unknown to you. It won’t be the savory, sweet okay you once knew; it won’t be the same okay you knew before the loss and want so desperately to get back. It will be a new breed of okay, and what it will look, feel and smell like, you don’t yet know.

The truth is that you will likely have many dark moments in the near future, even on the brightest, sunshiny days. You may feel your heart will be further ripped from your body as you feel so acutely how much you miss your loved one. You may even wonder how it could feel even more painful than the earliest days, yet, it just might. You might wonder how you can breathe long enough to get through to the next minute, but you will.

You will keep on breathing, and you will keep on moving forward, because you don’t have the choice to do anything besides that. You will move on to the next moment, the next minute and the next hour, and those will turn into the next day and the next week. The sun will continue to come up each morning, just for you.

You might wonder how the rest of the world can keep on spinning as if nothing has happened. Your loved one died, dammit, and they don’t seem to care. Curse them now if you must–I did, but remember this: there will come a day when you are ready to get back on the spinning wheel that the world revolves on, and these people have kept it spinning for you. You will then thank them. It would be impossible to get it moving again if they had let it grind to a halt when you wanted them to so that they could stop everything and grieve with you.

You will soon–and this soon can’t be defined in temporal terms–be able to smile from deep in your heart again, instead of forcing the smile on your face to make the world think you have the old okay back, because that is what they want for you, and for themselves. This is hard for them, too, because they truly don’t know what to say or do. They most likely haven’t been exactly where you are, and they don’t speak or understand the language. Don’t hold it against them, I was one of them before. Most people are one of them in the before.

Yet, here you are. You keep breathing when you think you can’t, and you keep moving forward when you think you can’t, putting one foot in front of the other, even if each foot weighs hundred pounds. And, you might even smile.

When this smile rises up from your heart, you may feel as if you should push it back down, stuffing it in because surely, you shouldn’t be smiling when your loved one is no longer on this plane, on this planet. You may feel a bit guilty, as if you are dishonoring them.

But you’re not. You are doing what comes naturally when you loved someone so much, and they were taken from you. You are simply feeling them in your heart, the same heart that felt like it was being ripped out just a short time ago. And in your heart they will stay, even on those days when the old familiar searing pain comes roaring back as if it were brand new, as if the wound was just made.

When you’re tired or not feeling well, when no one seems to understand–even those close to you , because they truly cant, when your job is hard or when the car breaks down or the basement floods, but especially when they don’t show up at your holiday table you may feel your heart being ripped out all over again.

The beast of grief won’t be leaving any time soon. You will soon become comfortable with it, even though you won’t want to. It will become a docile beast over time, and you will figure out how to manage it, even though it stays strong. It should be strong, because you loved them so much. But in time, you, my friend, will become stronger than the beast. You will crawl out of the belly of that beast. It swallowed you whole, but you will find your way out, back into the sunshine. Not right away, not as soon as you may hope, but you will. You never wanted to become this strong, but there you will be, feeling mightier than you ever thought you humanly could.

You may reach for the phone to call them, because they need to know this. They need to know about your great news. Or may you need to ask about that recipe. You may keep doing this–albeit, not as often–for a long time. Years, perhaps. But you will one day stop yourself and remember they can’t be called on the phone anymore. And one day when this happens, you will smile instead of feeling as if you need to cry again. This will very likely become routine.

You may, even more than eleven years down the road–that’s how long I’ve been living in my new okay, break down and feel as if you haven’t moved an inch since you got the news. You may wonder how you got this far; surely you didn’t fully grasp the finality, the darkness of their departure. And here it comes, the blackness, roaring back to remind you: they are indeed gone.

But not really gone. They are still with you, and they are with you every moment of every day. Everywhere your heart goes, which, of course, is everywhere you go, they will be there. They may feel a million light years away sometimes, lost in that next dimension, but they have never been closer than they are right now.

This, my friend, is the truth. And you are going to be okay.

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This post is dedicated especially to anyone grieving a loved one lost to COVID, but to any other form of loss as well. You will be ‘okay’ again, and the light will indeed come back into your life. And they will ALWAYS be in your heart. May your holidays bring you a measure of peace and strength.

Merry Christmas from the sisters of The Sister Lode. We are living proof that the light comes back.

Christmas 2019

THANKS AND GIVING

Today was the busiest highway travel day of the year in America, and we were in the flow of interstate traffic as well.

After missing last year, we resumed our family tradition of Thanksgiving weekend at Gail’s house. The almost-3.5 hour trip from Suzanne’s and my small city, the 2.5 hour trip for our two brothers on the farm and the 5-hour trip for our brother in Wichita is always worth the trek–especially after the hole that 2020 left.

There was plenty of cooking,

and the eating commenced. It was delicious, tasting even better after missing a year.

Gail’s son Wyatt was first in line.

There were visits from extended family and friends as well, and Gail is pretty sure she reached record capacity in “Camp Gail,” her special space within her home.

Gail gained another grandson this year, and he was along to help celebrate. He didn’t even realize he was pretty much the center of attention.

There was a Christmas parade in the downtown of her small town Friday night,

Our dad was a member of the Fourth-Degree Knights of Columbus, just as these men are. As they do for fellow Knights who have passed, the other Knights stood in an honor guard at our parent’s funeral. Gail, Suzanne and I always have a moment of heartbreak, followed by joy whenever we see these Knights dressed in full honor guard attire, just as our dad was.

and we enjoyed the only in-store Black Friday shopping we ever partake of in her downtown as well.

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Thanksgiving is one of my top two favorite holidays. Along with the Fourth of July, I find joy in the celebrations of gratitude these two holidays bring. It’s simple really, saying ‘thank you’ for all blessings great and small on Thanksgiving, and celebrating the joys of freedom that Independence Day brings.

It’s not as simple, really, to keep this spirit of gratitude alive year-round, although that is what I believe would bring us more joy every day of the year, if we simply take the time and make the effort to send up a simple ‘thank you’ prayer. There is so much good fortune surrounding each of us every day, but sometimes, on the hard days, it seems to be invisible and nowhere to be found. These are the days, I have found, that are begging for another try, just a little more effort to dig a bit deeper to find those hidden gems.

They are there, even on days when you are sick, or on Monday mornings, or the rainy, windy and gray days, the days you didn’t sleep the night before, when worries about health or money crowd your mind, or when you had a fight with a loved one…you get the idea. It’s every day, even when it’s not a ‘good’ day.

Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day can, and should be every day. And when you’re not feeling it, consider, just as the plaque on Gail’s wall says, giving. Even when–especially when–you feel you have nothing to give. It’s there to share, somewhere deep within. Just keep looking. I need to try harder, but I have found that when I do practice giving, the thanks come automatically.

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There is a new picture at the beginning of this post, it follows the four previous annual Sister Lode pictures taken in Camp Gail each year at her Thanksgiving celebration–minus last year. Beginning in 2016, we continue to pose for our yearly snapshot. Each year, I feel the gratitude a little more. My sisters remain my best friends, and I am thankful for them every day. They keep me smiling and laughing, and make me realize, despite our shared losses, how fortunate I am to have them in my life.

They remind me that every day is Thanksgiving Day.

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After 29 months, my book was published this week. I am so honored to help tell one veteran’s story–ONE AMERICAN’S STORY. My work with Jim Fawcett has reminded me that, thanks to veterans like him, active duty military, National Guard and Reserves, every day is indeed Independence Day.

The book is now available on Amazon in print and as an e-book as well. Please consider reading it and gifting it as a celebration of your Independence Day, and Thanksgiving Day as well: “One American’s Story” by Jim Fawcett and Kathleen Depperschmidt. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B09M4QZ8Q6.

Thanks to all of you for continuing to read our blog, and Happy Thanksgiving–every day of the year.

LISTEN CLOSELY, AS OUR MENU OPTIONS HAVE CHANGED

It happened again. You would think, as many times as I’ve heard it before, that it would no longer annoy me. Yet, it does. Perhaps more each time I hear it.

I placed a business call this morning, and I got this recording: “Listen closely, as our menu options have changed.” Like I had the previous ones memorized. Whatever.

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Certain things come over some women after age 50. Certain things like, say, attitudes that change to “I don’t give a damn anymore.” And this can be a very good thing.

Gail, Suzanne and I are all past this half-century mark, so we feel qualified to make this statement. I have observed within myself, and with my beloved sisters as well, that we have liberated ourselves from many of those old annoying ideas that we have to do things the way they “should” be done. The way they have always been done. The way that other people want them done, because they think that is the only way they can be done, most likely because it benefits them, not us.

If you know any one, two or all three of us, this revelation should come as no surprise to you. Further, if you have known us for a long time, and you think we have always been this way, well, now it’s amped up to grand new levels.

And this is a very good thing, too.

We grew up as (mostly) very obedient girls. Obedient to our parents, our elders, our teachers, our church and our community. We did what as expected. (Mostly.) And this was a very good thing.

Gail, shortly before she started her wild streak. Don’t let the innocent look fool you, there was trouble brewing.

We didn’t get in much trouble, except Gail’s antics during her wild high-school years. (Her episodes of being grounded were detailed in a previous blog, and she won’t deny them.) Besides a few speeding tickets each, none of us have been in trouble with the law. We’ve been good girls. (Mostly.)

This hasn’t changed in our after-fifty years, but life has taught us many lessons–some that were hard-earned. We have taken what we have learned, and we are using it for our benefit–hopefully for yours, and all of woman-kind (and ultimately man-kind), too. We are still “good girls,” but our definition of “good” may have changed.

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Our parents moved off the family farm into a nearby small town in 2000, nine years after they became empty-nesters. Throughout our growing-up years, Mom was an incredible cook, not just in the delicious dishes she made, but in the amounts: three meals every day, including a short-order breakfast menu that allowed each of us to choose whatever we wanted, and a meat-and-potatoes dinner and supper–on the farm, it is dinner at noon and supper in the evening. All this, plus baked goods and anything extra that needed to be whipped up. Gail, Suzanne and I apprenticed in the kitchen under her, learning her delicious methods, with Gail carrying the load for many of the meals as she grew up. Gail has continued to carry on Mom’s legacy in the kitchen more than Suzanne and I have, but if we have to, we can whip up a meal and baked goods, just like Mom taught us.

Understandably, Mom became tired of all that cooking, so when the table dwindled down to two place settings, her cooking dwindled with it. She had earned this time off. However, her cooking was always delightful, and when it was no longer there as he was used to, our dad apparently missed it. His menu options had changed, and he didn’t like it.

According to Suzanne, the legend goes like this: Mom fixed something simple for a meal, much less grand than she had all those years. Apparently, this episode–even though it was out of character for him–was too much for her, because when Dad said, “What is this shit?” she decided she’d had enough. She quietly changed her menu options with a quick trip to the pasture just beyond the backyard, and retrieved a cowpie, which showed up on Dad’s plate at the next meal. He called it ‘shit,’ so that’s what he got for his next meal.

Be careful what you ask for.

He let out his beloved belly laugh. He knew he was busted, and this never happened again. He listened closely to her menu options after that, and chose carefully from the new menu. In time, he even started cooking more for both of them.

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I remember Mom as very quiet, generally getting along with everyone. She rarely spoke harsh words about anyone, but we all knew when she was upset about someone or something. This episode happened when she was in her 60’s, likely when she had experienced enough crap in her own life to call it out and act upon it when something didn’t work the way she needed it to. It took her many years, but she was able to change her own menu options to find what she needed in life. And those around her knew what their new menu options were with her.

For myself, I have taken so many of Mom’s life lessons to heart. She was a quiet, but forceful teacher (mostly), with the cowpie episode being one that stood out as extreme–in a good way. I find myself able to call out BS when I see it; and with the strength she bestowed upon us, as well as courage and practice I have cultivated over time, I find it easier to liberate myself from old chains.

Tragedy can be a crucible, melting a person down to their core before building them back up, stronger than before. This is how I experienced the tragedy of their deaths. I was down so low for so long, but when I summoned the strength to crawl out of that hole, I found the grace and the gift of newfound strength waiting for me to tap into. I felt empowered from the gifts, lessons and legacies they both left for their children, their posterity and for humanity.

I see Gail and Suzanne flexing their new muscles, too. All of us fell to our knees, struggled to get back up and began figuring out the new world we were living in. In time, I saw each of smiling again, even laughing sometimes. We forged on separately and together, becoming the new people, the new family we had to be without our beloved parents. A big part of this growth was this: we didn’t let the stupid little things bring us down–and we still don’t. We make our decisions based on what’s best for us, while still taking other’s needs into consideration. We figure out what works for us, and when someone proposes a menu option that doesn’t, we can assertively and meaningfully reply, “That doesn’t work for me.”

I wish it didn’t take such a hard and harsh lesson for me to learn what to keep and what to leave behind.

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In my last post, “On Becoming a Matured Woman,” I wrote of the liberation women often feel when they are relieved of responsibilities, obligations and sometimes pressures from their younger lives. This typically comes with age, as well as hormonal shifts. It is not an easy transition for many women–myself included, but the other side can be glorious.

Knowing that newfound freedom may be around the corner, it is sometimes hard to claim it. Significant other people in your life, including your spouse, children, other family members and friends, may not be making changes in tune with yours. They are used to the you they always knew, and when you make changes in your life and your way of doing things, this may throw them off.

Humans generally like patterns and predictability, and if life is a dance, and every interaction has certain dance steps, you may be throwing off theirs when you change yours. No one wants to be humiliated on the dance floor of life by not knowing the steps, so be ready for some resistance from those who know your old dance steps.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you are leaving them behind, although, if you feel some relationships have become dead weight, this is the time to shed them, no longer including them on your menu. Only you know which ones should stay, and which ones should go. And trust us on this one, life really is too short to lug around dead weight.

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If you knew our mom–and even if you didn’t, let her example above inspire you to change your own menu, if it is time. Trust that you have all the tools you need to rewrite your own menu, no matter where you are at in your life.

And remember, if a cowpie shows up on your plate, perhaps you should examine your actions to see if perhaps, just like our dad, you did indeed unwittingly order it off the menu of life.

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