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.

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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.

***********

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.

***********

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.

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

ON BECOMING A MATURED WOMAN

Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.” –Mark Twain

*Disclaimer: This post contains gender-specific and hormone-related information. It is intended for mature readers only. Men are not discouraged from reading this educational material if so desired. Mild sexual references included. Proceed at your own will. You have been warned…

We remember it clearly, as I am sure most women of our generation do: In the fifth grade, the girls and boys were separated, and taken to separate rooms. We were given “The Talk,” the one about how our bodies, if they hadn’t already started to do so, would soon be changing. We would soon leave childhood behind, and become young women.

I recall having learning most of it already, probably mostly from Mom, but perhaps some from Gail, too. She was always–and still is–a good teacher. It didn’t blow my mind as much as the other “talk” did, the one about the birds and the bees. That came directly from Mom. I swore I would never do that. Gross.

I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I am 99% sure this is the book all the girls in my class were given after that lesson:

I didn’t save it, I doubt any of us did. With a little digging, I found an image of it online. If any of my hometown homies can corroborate or correct me, I would welcome that.

So there it was, spelled out in words and pictures, as well as spoken to us, likely from the school nurse. We left that room forever changed, and waiting for those changes, if they hadn’t already happened. We were told to welcome the beginning of fertility, because, as women, it was our destiny.

Having learned to drive already on the farm, I still had to take driver’s ed to make it official. It was June after my 8th grade year. That’s when I became that woman I was destined to be. If you had told me then that I would get to deal with that nearly every month for 39 years, it likely wouldn’t have sunk in. Looking back, however, that is a long time to deal with that, and a small fortune spent on “feminine products.”

Now, on the other side of the hump, I have one huge, glaring question: Why weren’t pre-menopausal women once again separated from the boys, and taken aside several years before “The Change,” ushered into a private little room, and given another “Talk” on what was coming down the pike for us as we exited our fertile years? Why didn’t they give us another handy little handbook? They told us what to expect when we got on that bus, so why not let us know the hell that may await as we try, perhaps for several years, to get off that bus?

That’s not fair.

I learned very little about that in a structured form, mostly hearsay from the women who blazed that trail before me. I chose to educate myself during the process to save my sanity, but I truly had no idea what was coming.

Now, I understand this was my unique experience, and mine alone. While many women like me struggled, others, like, say, Gail, didn’t. To quote her directly, this is her summary, given to me earlier today: “As for hot flashes, I may have had them, but was deep in the throes of donut-making in a hot kitchen, so who knows?”

I’m here to tell you, if she had hot flashed like I did–and still do, she would know it. Normally one to welcome the scorching summer heat, I have welcomed the sub-zero temps the last few winters. Rushing outside in these temps was instant, welcome, blessed relief when that sudden inferno started up deep within my core. As the name implies, it is indeed a flash, lasting perhaps a few minutes, and not to be confused with the heat of a fever, or a blast from a hot oven, or the heat from the sweltering sun. It is like no other feeling of heat. It begins deep in the core, and radiates outward, perhaps complete with sweat.

I recently had a retired physician as a home health patient. His house was already hot, and the flash hit me. I began to suddenly and visibly sweat, and I had to remove my top layer–dressing in layers when possible helps me. It was obvious to him that something was amiss, so I simply and honestly said, “I’m sorry, hot flash. I’m sure you understand.” He did.

It’s difficult to hide a flash when it is so intense, and my husband and sons are used to me running outside or tearing off a layer or throwing off the covers. Last summer, when we were the only ones home, my husband and I were on the back porch near the above-ground pool. The flash flashed, and I didn’t hesitate: I simply tore all my clothes off and quickly threw myself into the pool for blessed and instant relief. Whatever it takes.

Then, there’s the little matter of sleep. While Suzanne struggles because she doesn’t have a thyroid, and Gail can subsist on next to no sleep, my sleep needs are extreme. As in, at least eight hours a night. And that means good sleep. Unfortunately, my sleep is often interrupted by hot flashes–which, brutally, become worse at night, and by the 3 a.m. wide-awake spells, which may last for several hours. Mercifully, to combat that, I have discovered three magic letters: CBD. That’s all I have to say about that.

And, just in case anyone on the other side of my bed doesn’t understand how important sleep is to me, I have made it abundantly clear with informational plaque on the headboard.

The roller-coaster mood rides deserve an honorable mention as well; they are similar to those I felt when I entered fertility. They have smoothed out, they feel much like a kiddie roller-coaster now. I have heard it said that if you struggle going into fertility, you will likely struggle coming out. This has been true for me. Not so much for Gail, because, as you may already know, not much gets her down. Suzanne seems to coast along, too.

And we can’t forget the bladder. Tucked neatly in front of the uterus, it is subjected to the whims of the womb. Like two siblings in the back seat of the car, one may put just enough physical pressure on the other to make it a big deal to cry about. And the bladder does cry. As in…“take me to the bathroom AGAIN! And again, and again.

Having just given you the litany of the hormonal hell that I have lived through, and that other women may find themselves in, let me assure anyone struggling through, or yet to struggle through, with this affirmation: It’s all worth it.

Lucky for me, I was the one-in-five women who are rewarded with larger breasts during menopause. My girls, while they sustained two babies, finally appear to have reached puberty. Suzanne’s daughter asked her quietly, not long ago, “Did Kathleen get a boob job?” Nope. Just menopause. Sometimes a “B” really is better than an “A.”

While the hot flashes still plague me off and on, I feel I have emerged into the other side, the beautiful, post-menopausal green meadow with butterflies and wildflowers. The land of Act Two. The time and space to be the next woman I was destined to be. The chemical messengers known as hormones have relaxed, knowing their job with me is reduced to part-time. They have given me a break, and I am grateful for that.

Suzanne, quite simply, says she doesn’t want to grow up, so her contributions to this post are limited. She tells me today that she was absent that day in fifth grade when they had “the talk.” She came back to find the little book in her desk. So, she says, she has exempted herself from any suffering, because, she had no information, then, or now. Gail, however, has always been the wise one to me, so perhaps she didn’t have to wait for the autumn of her life to feel like a wise woman.

She relishes her role as grandmother, adding that these three boys are the best part of aging for her:

While I can claim no genetic contribution to the charm and irresistibility of my stepson’s children, they have indeed added a new and exciting dimension to our lives:

Perhaps the best part of this phase of life are the hard lessons learned all along and put to work now, because we can see aging as the gift it is. My hair, while normally straight, has began its own wave in the recent years. I now have a whole new appreciation for hairpins. I hesitated with the following picture, because, well, not only can you see the wave and the gray, but you can see the wrinkles around my eyes and on my neck, but I have earned them, and they are my badges of honor. I wouldn’t trade them for the wisdom I gained getting them. Gail only has a few gray hairs, and plans to let the rest come in gray as well. It is all part of the process.

While I haven’t yet sworn off of coloring my hair again just a bit to cover the gray, I am inspired by two beautiful women who chose to embrace the glory of aging, complete with gray hair.

Chris, my neighbor-friend, always had the most gorgeous brown hair to frame her beautiful face. During the shut-down in the spring of 2020, she decided to take hair matters into her own hands, and shave it all off. She was recently retired, and, she tells me, she could be incognito in the grocery store with her bald head and a mask, because it was her only outing. Clearly, she remains radiant with gray hair–if not more so than with her brown hair.

Shari, my friend of 50 years, has embraced the beauty of gray as well. Like Chris, her beauty shines through, no matter what the hair color.

Perhaps the greatest gift of life after fertility is the sure knowledge that we have the power to make choices about our lives. We can surround ourselves only with those people, places and situations that bring us joy, and leave the others behind. We realize more fully that we can decide what works for us and what doesn’t, and let any negative energy from others roll off our backs. Except for the fraction of the population who could be classified as sociopathic, and truly wants to cause harm to others, we realize that everyone else, just like we are, is simply trying to do what works for them. If it happens to offend or hurt us, that likely wasn’t their intention. We are all just trying to cover our own bases and our asses, and in that process, sometimes feelings are hurt.

It is for them, not against you.

Sharing the indomitable wisdom of Helen Reddy: “Yes, we’re wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain.” Most of that pain can be over if we let it go. It’s our choice, and if you haven’t already, it’s probably time to do so.

WE ARE WOMEN, HEAR US ROAR

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

I should never assume that, just because something is difficult for Suzanne and me–as well as most of our generation, that it is difficult for Gail, too.

I tend to forget that not much gets her down.

For the past few weeks, I have been complaining to Suzanne, and anyone else who will listen, about my struggles with technology, specifically my new computer and the programs I am learning, as well as unfortunate technical incidents I have recently experienced.

When I asked Gail about how she handles computer glitches, in her trademark style, she reports “I don’t get stressed about it. It’s not worth it. I just picture the successful outcome, and keep going forward. It always works out.”

Maybe for her. Suzanne and I, and I am guessing many people over age 50, struggle with the ever-changing world of computer technology.

It makes me crazy,” Suzanne says. “I hear people talking about a PDF, a JPEG, and I am lost. I don’t get it. we are always having to learn new updates.”

Amen, sister.

********

When Suzanne and I returned from our beach trip last month, we had to get back in the groove of life on land. It was hard enough without the technical difficulties literally facing me when I opened my computer up the next day for a noon Zoom meeting. I had taken it along in its padded case and transported it in the back seat with the blanket and pillows, but somehow it sustained a fatal blow. It was a touch-screen, and the screen was cracked. The video portion of our call quickly was lost, and everything went downhill from there, until it was no longer functional. I went straight downhill with it.

My book was on there; I have been working hard to wrap it up. And another book. And two others I am starting. And several hundred WORD documents.

I knew I had no choice but to suck it up and plow forward with a new one. I knew that someone, somewhere, was a computer wizard who could transfer everything from my old computer to the new one. So, while I did panic, I knew I would find them, and all would be saved.

Because I am an old dog and I have no desire to learn new tricks, I knew it would need to be replaced with another one just like it. Except they no longer make that model, which I bought only three years ago. So, I dug in, did the research, called the company and found the closest replacement. It showed up on my porch two days later.

I took them both in to the local wizards, and sure enough, they saved the day–and my documents, as well as my sanity. And everything else on my computer. They gave me the hard drive from the old computer–about the size of a flat stick of gum–and told me to tuck it safely away somewhere just in case…All was well.

Or so I thought.

My new computer is fully personalized…

When I opened it up again to get back to the book, it was nowhere. Not in the file I had created. Not with the hundreds of other WORD documents. Nowhere. Neither was the other one, or the other files I had created as beginnings of other books.

I felt a wave of disbelief, then nausea, then my little voice kicked in and reminded me that nobody died. It could be a lot worse. The panic didn’t leave after that reminder; but my self-talk went something like this: You have both books on paper. You may have lost the words for the other books, but you haven’t lost the ideas. It will be a fresh start; perhaps even better than what you had.

This was all flowery and good, except I wasn’t buying it from that little voice. Once you get words on paper, they can never be duplicated when lost. Perhaps the general idea, but never the words. And when you were happy with what you wrote, this is soul-crushing for a writer. The waves of nausea and panic continued.

I had apparently been a little too confident, I neglected to put these documents on a jump drive, because that won’t happen to me. Neither did I consciously save them in a cloud; I don’t even know how that really works. I called the computer wizards, cried on their shoulders (again), and granted them remote access to my new computer. They couldn’t find the files either, but it since was close to closing time, they assured me it was there somewhere, and asked me to bring it back in the morning, along with the hard drive they took out of the old computer.

I did just that, after an almost-sleepless night.

Turns out I did save them to a cloud; I just didn’t know I had done that. Except for two chapters of the book I was working on–the longest and the shortest, everything showed up–as far as I can tell. I re-wrote those two chapters from the paper copies and called it a day. The wizards at JAB-IT in Salina, Kansas, saved my books–and my sanity. I owe them a debt of gratitude, which I will continue to attempt to repay with more cookies, and hopefully my recommendations that will bring more people with their computer issues through their doors. I highly recommend them to anyone in this area with computer issues; they’ve got the magic.

The owner, Jason A. Bathon deserves special thanks, not just for his help with my computer, but for his service to our country in the United States Navy. The book he saved, the one I am wrapping up, details the life of another veteran. It is a departure from my normal writing subjects, but I am honored to help tell the story of a Vietnam Veteran who fought for our country over 50 years ago, experienced the devastation of war, and has led the most incredible life since then.

I have become more keenly aware of the sacrifices of our veterans, and whatever I can do to help them in their journey after their service to our country, I will do. Which is why I am recommending Jason’s business to anyone who needs computer help, and why I am hoping the book, One American’s Story: War, PTSD, Politics, Parkinson’s and the Pandemic Through the Eyes of a Vietnam Veteran, will soon be on your reading list. Jim, the Vietnam Veteran I am co-authoring with, offers incredible insight into the nature of conflict not just in Vietnam, but in our present-day society as well.

If, like me, you are an American who values your freedom, but knows woefully little about the Vietnam War, as well as the aftermath, and how it compares to our present-day conflicts, then perhaps your eyes will be opened through this book, too. If, like me, you say thank you for your service when you see an active-duty military person, or a veteran of any war, but feel there is little else you can to do thank them, please consider reading the book, and letting Jim’s wisdom sink in.

We are hoping to have it ready on Kindle Direct Publishing via Amazon within the next few weeks. I will let you know when it is available both in print, and as an e-book.

Having gestated and birthed two children, I think I can safely compare the book-writing process to that: the development seems slow, painful and tiring at times, but now that the final steps are taking place, the contractions have started, and exciting things are happening. We had to call in a few specialists, but it looks like the bouncing baby book will be just fine, once it gets here.

I must also give special thanks to my new friend Laura, who is the formatting wizard. She is preparing the book for publication, and if I hadn’t struck up a conversation with her at her garage sale early in the summer, I would be having even more technical difficulties.

**********

I am proud to say that, after a year of use, I am now feeling comfortable with my iPhone.

I was a die-hard Android user, and somehow, someway, my children talked me into converting to an iPhone. Initially, I regretted it, but now that I am comfortable with it, I can say I am happy I did it. Most importantly because it allows me the easiest method to communicate with my son, who is literally on the other side of the world.

It was a steep learning curve, and I still have questions sometimes, but my youngest son is still around to help me answer them, because he has the very same phone.

Obviously, I am not proficient with technology. I have realized with age, and especially through my work, that most people are either primarily left-brained, which means they are good with facts and concrete information, or they are right-brained, which means they are good with abstractions and tend to be more creative. I know that I fall into the latter category, which means I struggle with technology.

Language learning is typically done effortlessly in the first few years of life. Children, if raised in a multi-lingual home, often pick up two languages simultaneously, and speak them both perfectly. There is abundant research to show that this window of learning is wide open until about age five, when it begins to slowly close. It never completely closes, it just become harder with age, much like learning new technology.

Anyone born before the 80’s will likely agree with us: we didn’t learn computers/cell phones as children, which has made the learning a bit harder with age.

Age, however, doesn’t preclude such learning. It was once thought that the brain lost its plasticity with age, but research and experience has shown us differently. In my work as a speech therapist, I have been privileged to witness this rebounding many times. The human brain is resilient, and remains open to new styles of learning, whether due to illness or injury, or the presence of new technology.

Some people like Suzanne and me, however, resist it. Others like Gail, just roll with it.

About 15 years ago, my six siblings and I gave our parents a computer for Christmas. In our discussions prior to that gifting, I think I was the one who was most doubtful. “I really don’t think they will use it,” I said, “but I’ll go along with it.”

Turns out Mom and Dad had to sign up for time slots because they both enjoyed it so much. Turns out I ended up inheriting it when they died because I was the only one who needed a new computer at that time.

I’m so glad they all proved me wrong.

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

Suzanne and I had a low-tech lunch in the park on Friday of this week. We brought sandwiches, enjoyed the beautiful weather and beautiful landscape, talked and laughed. I almost made her choke once, but she pulled through.

We then took turns snapping each other’s photos in front of the three trees, one for each of us three sisters.

As always, we miss Gail when we are together, but she is always there in spirit. And, thanks to technology, always just a phone call away.

I am feeling more comfortable every day with my new computer, and I still have to remind myself that these technological difficulties are very much a first-world problem. A problem I may not have if not for our veterans, as well as active-duty, Reserves and National Guard soldiers. It is a privilege of the first world.

Thank you, Jim and Jason, and every other soldier, past and present. Our technical difficulties–and all the other difficulties– would be much greater if not for you all.

SUNFLOWER SISTERS

It’s that time of year again. My three favorite months of the year are now behind us; it’s always hard for me to leave summer behind.

There is one grace, one gift of late August/early September that gives me an unparalleled high: the Kansas sunflower is in full bloom. Around Labor Day, the sunflowers start showing off again–and they have every right to.

Our mom loved sunflowers. In yet another effort to keep our parents’ spirits alive and well, Gail, Suzanne and I have taken her affinity for the Kansas state flower and formed a new appreciation for this beautiful gem.

Perhaps I am a little more extreme than they are in many ways, but I took it to the next level, complete with Mom’s signature in the leaf:

My long-lived affinity for blue moons is celebrated as well, wrapped around the sunflower. It just seemed right to pair them.

*********

What a gift it is to be born into a family with sisters whom you love so much. Many women aren’t so lucky, and we are fully aware of this. We had no choice but to be together, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They are not only my sisters, they are my best friends.

Other friends are in our lives by choice. We decide who to let in, and who to keep. Sometimes friendships are made because we are drawn to a person, other times they are formed by chance.

When I went to college in 1984, I was assigned a potluck roommate. You take what you get, and this means taking a chance. I hit the jackpot with Marilyn. She was a sophomore, having learned the freshman ropes already. She was majoring in speech pathology, and I always admired her dedication to this field. It sparked my interest as well, but it took a master’s degree, and I knew I would be lucky to finish with a bachelor’s.

Greater than my interest in her field of study was our friendship. We hit it off, and we welcomed others into our circle, including my dear friend from my hometown, Tracy, as well as Denise, a friend from close to her hometown.

The four of us lived together in an apartment the next year, and the memories we made will last forever, even if some of us can’t remember certain ones. I will never forget, and will always be grateful to Marilyn for inspiring me to pursue the career I chose.

We had the opportunity to fill in each other’s memory holes this past weekend. Two years ago, we gathered to celebrate our 35-year-bond (A Time to Reap, July 2019).

We vowed to gather again every July, but last year, well, it was 2020. This year, however, we had a grand opportunity to meet. After being delayed twice to COVID, we took in a concert in the grand theater in the downtown of my small city.

This was no average concert. This was another Kansas girl, our very own Martina McBride. Even more cool than that, she hails from very close to Marilyn’s and Denise’s hometowns. When she spoke to the crowd–she made it clear how much she loves to be back home, mentioning her hometown of Sharon, Kansas, as well as her family band she grew up in: The Schiffters–her maiden name was Schiff. We were among the few hooting; Marilyn and Denise knew exactly where Sharon, Kansas was, and we were in the area to hear her years ago. Her musical family played at festivities in the area and when I went home with Marilyn in 1984 (85?) for a weekend, we had the privilege of hearing her sing at a wedding dance.

Martina played at this same theater five years ago, and we were there, too. Her legendary voice comes from such a small dynamo, but we know that Kansas girls are big, strong and mighty on the inside. Martina exemplifies this in her voice; we all waited for our favorites to be belted out, and she didn’t disappoint.

We know we are truly Blessed, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear the every day should be Independence Day. If I’d had one request, however, I would have asked for the all-time great Christian song, the song that has the power to bring so much peace to a funeral: How Great Thou Art. We had it as one of the songs at our parents’ funeral, and I will never forget it. Perhaps, however, that request was granted long ago, as I will detail in a moment.

All three of these friends-for-life made the trip to be with me that day, and I will never forget that, either. All three of them know the joy of having sisters, but all three of them also know the pain of losing a sister. I cannot fathom that pain, because, as Martina sings in Blessed, I love them so much it hurts.

But both joy and pain in life, as we all know in our own ways, and from our own losses, have a way of waxing and waning. Joy, if we work at it, and let our loved ones and friends help, can override the pain. It takes work, and it takes letting those people in to share the pain, but it can be done.

Remember, sharing joy multiplies it, while sharing sorrow divides it. And never ever forget there is a force stronger than any of us at work all around us. Love is our proof of that. I have a story about more proof I found on my own, the story of my request granted.

It was in the 90’s, and my husband and I were visiting Mom and Dad on the farm. It was late summer, and the sunflowers and other wildflowers were in bloom, and the road west of our farm was a great place to take in this natural beauty. I headed out for my morning run, and put on my music–this was pre-iPod days, and the best I had was a bulky set of headphones that would tune in to local FM stations.

I almost always run to music, and these usually got me through. It was a Sunday morning, and there was a local station with a Christian music show at that hour, so I tuned in.

When I got to the curve about a mile west of the farm, the DJ announced a song from Martina McBride. I was hopeful that it would be How Great Thou Art, of course. Just two weeks prior, we were visiting Mom and Dad, and when I ran, I had the same station tuned in and her masterpiece rendition of that song played. Further, it was in almost exactly the same place I was running at that moment.

The song began, but it wasn’t that one. I don’t recall which one it was, but I know it was beautiful. The FM signal wasn’t always consistent, and it began to fade. That song faded out, and another song faded in: it was Martina McBride singing How Great Thou Art. She finished, and her first song faded back in, and it finished. The DJ came back on, commented on her beautiful voice in the other song, and went on with the show. No mention was made of what I heard. I do know what I heard, and I will believe this was a show of that great force that is always at work all around us. Sometimes we have to look for it, but sometimes, like that Sunday morning so long ago, it was presented to me, and could not be missed.

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

There are many things that bond sisters together. Love and loss, life and shared memories. Friends have those same bonds. It is often said that friends are the family we choose for ourselves. I am speaking for myself, but I couldn’t have chosen better sisters. I do get to choose my friends, but they have to choose me as well, and for that, I am so thankful that Tracy, Denise and Marilyn chose me back. We are celebrating 37 years as friends this fall; we came two-by-two to Fort Hays State University, and became a circle of four.

Tracy’s gift to us two years ago were the bracelets pictured above. This year, these rings are our new shared treasures.

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

The Kansas sunflower never fails to share its beauty at the close of every summer. My husband, knowing how much I love them, tried to plant a patch for me in his garden, with only one showing up.

Mark and The Sunflower Stalk

It seems that, much like some Kansas girls, they have a strong will to thrive in the wild, making their own decisions about where and when to bloom, choosing to do it in their own way. They prefer to share their gifts on their own terms, and they do it well. Leave them to act on their wisdom, and they won’t disappoint. But they never forget, just like Martina said to do as she left the stage, to take care of each other.

Just like some Kansas girls do.

THIS ONE’S FOR THE GIRLS

ANCHORS AWAY!

Take me to the ocean. Let me sail the open sea. To breathe the warm and salty air and dream of things to be.

The best way to begin the process of moving on, Suzanne and I have discovered, is to take a trip. Preferably, a beach trip. Getting out of our daily and weekly grooves gets us out of our heads, which is a good thing. Not to be confused with out of our minds, which is what may have happened if we hadn’t come to the beach.

The only thing missing was Gail. Our adventures are never the same without her, but we had her blessing to go on without her, so we did. She is our beacon, our rock, our guiding force of wisdom (and fun), but she couldn’t step away from her multiple obligations in order to get away. All those plates spinning in the air around her would crash and fall, and then she would have to start over. And she would, of course, because this is who she is.

This, however, is not what her little sisters are. We purposefully and decidedly passed on the obligations of keeping our plates spinning in the air to someone else, and we stepped out from underneath them. Our replacements picked up where left off, kept them in the air, and we both walked away, with nary a quick glance over our shoulders. We both knew it was time for change, so, we made those changes. Both of us. At almost the same time.

The best part is this: neither of us regret it. We both know we made the right decision.

Currently, as I write on this Friday evening, Suzanne and I are sitting in our condo in this idyllic beach town in the Florida panhandle. We shopped this morning, had lunch and then beached it until the storm hit. Feeding time soon rolled around again, and we had dinner, followed by a sunset walk on the beach.

Talk about getting out of the groove. There is nothing like the waves crashing on the beach to get us out of our heads, and keep us from losing our minds.

Now, this is not to say that Suzanne and I have thrown all caution to the wind; we haven’t completely abdicated our adult-ish responsibilities of work and other obligations. We are simply re-thinking, refreshing, retooling, relaxing, rejuvenating, reframing, re-ordering our priorities. Both of us, at precisely the same times, knew it was time to make changes in our work lives, so we are doing just that. Because we both made these decisions separately yet together, our timing was perfect to give ourselves a little beach break in between.

Again, it is never the same without Gail. We found ourselves more mellow, more subdued, more reserved than if she would have been with us. This is not to say that we were quiet by any means, but just not as extroverted as Gail typically is. There were a few moments, during the post-tropical storm Fred rains, that we needed Gail there to jump start other, non-beach kinds of fun. We did manage to find things to do (shopping, puzzling) that were possible in the rain.

Did I say in my last post that the trip would be half the fun? I think so. However, if you decide to make this 17-hour trip to the Florida Panhandle any time in the near future, we strongly recommend considering air travel. We did see some beautiful country, and we did enjoy our time together, but two days in the car may be a bit much for even the closest of sisters when the beach is calling. Suzanne threatened to hop a plane back after the trip there, but as with most of her threats, it was idle. Good thing, because I needed her as first mate for navigation, as well as a break from the driver’s seat. How did we figure out how to travel before navigation anyway? How did we know exactly which turn to take? How did we know that those residential streets through Mobile, Alabama were the quickest route?

Perhaps they weren’t. Perhaps the human brain’s ability to use a map and employ its pathfinding skills is under-appreciated. It is very likely under-stimulated since the advent of navigation, and this is not always a good thing. Suzanne had the good sense to take along a paper road atlas; it is always there when we need it, and it never changes its routes.

It seems we silly humans always know what is best for us, even when it’s not the easiest thing. Like using a roadmap in conjunction with navigation. Like making work changes. Like working our brains to tap into our deep wisdom. Like listening to the little voice inside to make other big life changes.

Which is what Suzanne and I have tried hard to do to make these changes, and neither of us regret it. We have a lower tolerance for the work-related difficulties that Gail skillfully, artfully and expertly lets roll off her back. The older sister is usually the best at this. We’ve both cried ‘Uncle,’ and we’re moving on.

And all three of us are happy with our decisions, which is the best part. The beach trip confirmed this for Suzanne and me.

Suzanne and I will keep you abreast of our changes when the time is right, but suffice it to say at this point, our new work faces will have same of the same features of the old ones, but some new ones, too. Stay tuned.

A quick look at the current weather radar for the southeast United States will show the projections and trajectory of Hurricane Ida. My heart breaks for those whose lives will be torn asunder by yet another show of Mother Nature’s wrath. I am thankful, however, that our trip home was five days ahead of this devastation. Much of our route was in those bright, but foreboding colors on the map. Suzanne, in her unique, but twisted sense of adventure, has always wanted to be in the thick of a hurricane. As much as I love her, I don’t always understand her. It’s her (and Gail’s) affinity for wind. Not mine, thank you. I find whatever ways I can to escape the wind, and Gail and Suzanne are like moths to a flame in the wind.

In order to pull up anchors and set sail however, one must have a little wind. One cannot expect calm seas at all times. For example, when we got in my car to depart for home, the dashboard screen was lit up like a Christmas tree. Check engine was the first warning I saw, along with several other high-tech warning symbols. I let the first wave of panic splash over me, then, in her little sister wisdom and foresight, Suzanne quickly pulled out the owner’s manual. The most likely cause was a loose gas cap, but after tightening it–I’m pretty sure it was a bit loose–the lights remained bright. Several stops and starts to reset the engine were attempted, but to no avail. A quick call to my Mark-of-all-trades husband confirmed our next step: take it to the nearest authorized dealer. $174 and some change later, the fine folks at Subaru of Fort Walton Beach unplugged those Christmas lights, set them right, and pronounced us okay to drive home, but check it out at your authorized dealer if it lights up again. We made it home with no further warnings.

Thank you, Charlie–their master mechanic. That was a small price to pay for the peace of mind it gave us.

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After I settled upon this title, I found this treasure in a shop next door to our condo. It was the last one, on clearance, and in my size. I couldn’t leave it there. Along with several other souvenirs, this shirt will remind me of our adventure: Suzanne’s belated 50th birthday party.

This view will be a treasured memory, also: Suzanne’s love for Ferris wheels drew us to this one in nearby Panama City Beach. We had so much fun riding it Saturday night, so we went back Sunday morning to see the view from the top in the daytime.

Another of Suzanne’s favorite parts was this:

We got to meet, and gather the story of Carrot, the beach cat, and his owner J.T. They both live on the beach. Thanks to another interested tourist, Carrot even has his own Instagram page, should you choose to follow as well: Carrot the Seagrove Cat. Both Carrot and J.T. were characters, living the beach life by choice every day.

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The miles home seemed to stretch on endlessly, as they often do on the return trip. Mississippi turned into Alabama, and we turned in for the night in Pine Grove. Hitting the road the next morning before 8 a.m., we welcomed Fort Smith, then Tulsa, Wichita, and finally Salina shortly after 5 p.m.

True to Kansas-girl form, there really is no place like home. But the beach will always beckon us, always fill us with new hope and strength to work on our next dreams, whatever they may be. For now, however, we are pulling up anchors from our old ports, but we won’t travel far to our new callings in life. We are anchored here, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

But that salty air and the crashing waves helped us realize that. If you, too, are being pulled to the beach, we strongly recommend finding a way to make your trip there. Pull up your own anchor, and sail away. Come back, if you choose, like we did, or find your new port. Whatever you do, batten down your hatches and make your own waves.

AREA 51

AREA 51

Tomorrow, August 16th, is a very special day. I recall it vividly when history was made. I was a child, but something this monumental will never leave my memory: Elvis Presley died in 1977.

No, wait. Bigger than that, on that same day seven years before that, Suzanne was born. Let’s get our historical events ranked in order of importance here; sorry Suzanne.

If you recall a post last year at this time, I shared that while COVID had taken away any chance of Suzanne celebrating her 50th birthday in the grand fashion she had hoped, we would hope for brighter days ahead with a postponed celebration.

Our modified beach birthday party for Suzanne’s 50th last year.

While those days aren’t as bright as we had hoped, they are bright enough to allow us to have that grand 50th birthday party. And have it, we will. The only downer at this point is that Gail cannot join us. Gail, in her keenly developed work ethic and work obligations, has too many plates spinning in the air right now, and cannot escape with us. She has, however, had other reasons to travel lately.

She is now a grandmother to three grandsons, as her firstborn had her firstborn.

Myles is the big news in Gail’s life I alluded to in a recent post, and they are all over the moon with joy at this new addition to their family. According to his parents, he sleeps and eats, with little fussing in between.

Lucky Mom and Dad. Lucky Grandma.

We have, however, been able to enjoy some sister time together the last two weekends. Today, Gail came through our small city on her way back to her small town after spending the weekend with Myles and family.

Last weekend, we spent Saturday afternoon/early evening together in our hometown, partaking in the annual celebration. It didn’t happen last year, but this year’s 75th anniversary celebration was enjoyed by hundreds–young and old from near and far. It is the annual fundraiser for our hometown’s private Catholic high school, and without fail, human generosity prevails. Our hometown truly is the small town that could–and does (The Little Town That Could, June 2nd, 2019).

Suzanne had made a visit earlier in the day, so Gail and I strolled down to the cemetery to bring our parents their annual church picnic burger and beer. They didn’t say so, but we know they appreciated it.

They are still with us in our hearts, no matter where we may be–near or far.

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In just two days, Suzanne and I will commence her 50th birthday celebration–just a year late. And, much like the mysterious, top-secret no-fly zone in the Nevada desert north of Las Vegas known as Area 51, we aren’t giving out a lot of information. Much like the country song states, we will be going to “some beach, somewhere.” We may post from the land of blue water and white sand, so stay tuned. We are driving, so the adventure will begin as soon as I pick her up early Tuesday morning.

The journey will be half the fun.

Happy Birthday to Suzanne on Monday. Area 51 can be mysterious and exciting; having just been there recently, I feel am qualified to show her how to make it that way. Of course, I will learn from her as well. She is much more adept at throwing caution to the wind than I am, so I will take notes. She is much more skilled at letting troubles roll off her back, so I will try harder to do just that. She has a stronger knack for finding the humor in things that others may not be able to, so I will hone that skill as well.

She is my little sister by over four years, but I look up to her in so many ways. She is a beacon of strength and spirit, just like our older sister is. In our family, I am so lucky to be sandwiched between these two amazing women.

Congratulations, Grandma Gail.

Happy Birthday, Sister Suzanne.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.