SHE WHO LAUGHS

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SHE WHO LAUGHS

My stomach hurts.  It’s been hurting for three days now, but that’s not a bad thing.  It hurts because I laughed so hard with Gail on our road trip this week.

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I’ve shared this picture several times before, and it bears repeating once again.  Mom saved calendar pages, quotes, clippings and other small ditties that spoke to her in this box, with the drawing from one of her favorite artists, Mary Engelbreit.

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If this is true—which we wholeheartedly believe it to be so, then Gail, Suzanne and I should last a long, long time.

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Gail and I took a road trip last week.  Suzanne, while she enjoys—and often creates– raucous laughter just as much as we do, doesn’t enjoy live music as much as Gail and I do.  This time, it was a repeat for Gail, but a new experience for me. 

We took a look down this eastbound road,

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and right away we made our choice.  East to Columbia, Missouri to hear one of Gail’s favorite rock-n-rollers:  Bob Seger.

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He played in the Mizzou Arena to us, and approximately 14,998 other fans like us.  And by that, I mean I saw no one in the arena who appeared to be under 40 years of age.   

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29535.jpegGail saw him last May in Tulsa (Concert Quests and College Towns, May 5th), and when he added more dates to his farewell tour, she talked me into the 4 ½ hour trip  (almost 8 for her).  How do you say no to that?  Quite simply, you don’t.  While he was not technically on my Bucket List, how could I resist such an excursion with Gail?  Gail, who has enjoyed Bob’s music for years, Gail who makes any event—sometimes even funerals—an occasion to have a good time, Gail, my dear, one-of-a-kind big sister.

Of course, without hesitation, I said “yes.”

She took a look down her east-bound road early Thursday morning, and arrived in Abilene to pick me up when I finished up my day early. 

Because if you are Gail’s friend, then you are her friend for life, she had the occasion to renew an old friendship when she arrived at the Abilene Hospital.

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Gail and Katie were roommates in college in 1978, and hadn’t seen each other since 1983.  Katie has been a nurse here for 25 years, and I have had the pleasure of working with her for almost six years.  When we realized this was the perfect opportunity, Gail and Katie had a brief, but meaningful reunion.

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We arrived in Columbia with a little time to spare, so we made ourselves at home.

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We planned to walk the short distance to the arena from the hotel, but when a mini-van taxi had only two people in it as we stepped out, we asked if we could split the tab.  They hesitated a bit, but then agreed.  In the four minutes it took to get us to the show, the passengers and driver were laughing too, courtesy of Gail.  Walking the rest of the way through a parking lot, we saw this:

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I thought Gail was a diehard fan, but I think this fan has the edge over her.

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I’m pretty sure that the best wordsmith around couldn’t come up with words to describe the show, because there are none.  It was, perhaps, a life-changing experience—at least for the night.  Bob still rocks with all of his “Old Time Rock and Roll,” doesn’t miss a note on the piano or the guitar and played so many memories for us, and everyone else too, I’m sure. 

He introduced The Silver Bullet Band toward the end of the show, with each one taking a bow—most of them were well over forty as well, and had been with him for most of his career.  When his drummer stood up, his T-shirt caught my eye.  In July, I wrote about the classic car show that came to our small city (Travel Therapy, July 28th 2019).  His shirt was a souvenir tee from that show, the “Leadsled Spectacular,” with “Salina, Kansas” printed below that. 

It made me smile, and so did this, when I found it on the step as I approached my seat at the show:

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As the really good ones always are, the show was over too soon, and we made our way back to the inn.  It was later than my bedtime (which doesn’t take much), but we stayed up later than that, because it is impossible to sleep while one is laughing so hard.  We traded banter using Bob’s lyrics, twisting them into jokes, most of which could be understood only by us. 

We thought about going out and making it an even later night, but we decided that Betty Lou’s not  getting’ out tonight.  We weren’t up for a Shakedown, even though we could still feel The Fire Inside.  Call us losers, but deep inside, we were fulfilled from the show, and felt like Beautiful Losers. 

It was time for sleep, so we got some.

The morning came too soon, and we were forced to take a look down this westbound road.  We had no choice; duty was calling at home.

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About an hour into the trip, we couldn’t help but notice this license plate, jumping out at us on I-70 as we passed it:

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As you can imagine, we got a little excited, feeling sure there was a kindred spirit inside that Jeep.  Gail promptly rolled down the window and waved with three fingers, and she waved back. 

We kept pace with her for about half an hour, but the ebb and flow of traffic eventually separated us.  We had hoped for the slim chance at an opportunity to meet this woman who obviously was one of three sisters, but we let that hope go.  Apparently, it was not meant to be.

At our next pit stop, however, I came out and there she was, filling up with gas.

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Meet our new BFF Irma from Alton, Illinois, sister to Velda and Robin.  Not surprisingly, we had no qualms about introducing ourselves and sharing our story.  She already feels like an old friend. 

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Music can be a healing balm.  It certainly is for us.  We felt fulfilled, and I know we are both still a little high from the show.  The pounding rain on the last half of the trip home didn’t dampen our spirits, even though we had to drive Against the Wind, then say goodbye too soon.  I had to pay all my attention to the road as we passed through downtown Kansas City as it rained, so Gail fed me my Burger King lunch.   We thought we had laughed ourselves dry, but not so. 

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In three weeks, she will accompany me on a westbound road, making our fall trek to our Rocky Mountain High.  Suzanne is planning on joining us this time, and we are counting down the days. 

Just as with this trip, we will tell some, but not all. 

“Laughter is the best medicine.”  This idiom is so true, literally and figuratively.  I’m pretty sure one could never overdose on it. 

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Unless something begs to be written, I am taking a fall break from writing.  I will be back with another travel story if, and when, we return from Colorado.  Until then, keep laughing. 

We parted ways back in Abilene.  We got out and went to the back of the Outback to get Gail’s stuff out of the back of the Outback.  We backed up to the Outback, and snapped this parting shot after she emptied out the back of the Outback.

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There.  We made you laugh, didn’t we?  Keep it up. 

 

 

 

735 DAYS

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735 DAYS

“Everyone needs the help of another in some form.  We are all in this together.” –our nephew Nick

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When our brother David and his wife were expecting their first child, my husband had an idea for the baby’s name:  “If it’s a boy, you should name it Harley.  Then, it would be ‘Harley, David’s son.’”

It was a boy, but they didn’t name him Harley.  They named him Nicholas, after our paternal grandfather.  In time, just as our grandpa was, he became known as Nick. 

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To help them feel less isolated, I often remind my patients that everyone struggles with something.  Some people’s struggles are visible and obvious, as many of theirs are.  Some people struggle and suffer quietly, invisibly.  Some people’s struggles seem cruel and insurmountable, but with God’s grace and our hard work, we can come away with wisdom from those struggles we stared down and survived.

There is a unique kind of struggle that, while it is endured by many people worldwide, we never thought our nephew Nick would have to face it.  It was invisible for a long time to most people.  It was not obvious.  Now, however, he is one of the lucky ones who stared it down.  He is surviving, and thriving. 

Nick was not “the type.”  Nick was always mild-mannered, polite, gracious, pious, respectful and measured his responses—verbally and to life—carefully.  He was not “the type” to become an alcoholic.

But while he was in college, alcohol became his demon. 

He was not the partying type in college.  He was studious, worked hard to earn money throughout his college years, and was serious about pursuing his degree in meteorology.  He was always interested in the weather, perhaps his pilot father fostered that.  I remember him as a kid informing us of the weather conditions, how storms may be building, and wowing us with weather terminology. 

Somehow along the way, he found alcohol to be an escape from stress.  Then, it began to control his life.  Then, it was his life.  It then became a threat to life as he knew it, and possibly to life itself.   It was time for help, and he finally realized it.

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I wanted to tell his story in a mix of his Facebook posts that he has posted throughout his journey.  He tells his story and spares no details that, no matter how raw, may help someone else on their path to recovery.   I wanted our readers to know of his strength, so I began to cobble a few of them together.  I wanted you to get to know this amazing young man and how he faced his demons, because he simply wants to use his struggles to help others.

Then, he decided to create his own blog, and his words and message are the real deal—so much more cohesive than what I could have put together.   His maiden post was last week, on the second annual anniversary of his sobriety.  The years count, but before that, he counted months, weeks and days.  Perhaps for a while, even the hours. 

Something tells me he may still count the days, and he provided this number for me today:  735 days. 

As of this post date—September 29th, 2019, Nick has been sober for 735 days, and he wants anyone he may be able to help to know how he survived with his strong Catholic faith in God, his family, friends and finding himself again.  He wants to help anyone struggling who may benefit from his victory over his struggles.fb_img_1569794258567.jpg

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Wisdom generally comes with age.  Because as we age, we have more experiences that give us the opportunity to learn about life the hard way.  Nick is not old; he actually celebrates his 27th birthday this week.  If, however, wisdom is gained from those experiences that try one’s soul, then it is safe to say that Nick is a wise old young man.

Please click on the title in red at the end of this post, and the link to his blog will appear.  Providing your email at the end will alert you to future posts—you won’t want to miss his wisdom and inspiration that is yet to come in his words.  If you are reading this through Facebook, please consider reposting this blog.  It may reach even one person who needs to hear his words. 

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If you, or anyone you care about struggles with alcohol, there is help available.   There his hope.  If the struggles involve other demons besides alcohol, there is help available, too. Please reach out for yourself, or for your loved one.  There can be joy again, but the work must be done.

Just as Nick said, we’re all in this together, and everyone needs help in some form.

Please let Nick’s story be an inspiration for your journey, no matter what your struggles are. 

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Nick with Kota, one of the many friends that helped him through.

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September 24th is a special day for me. This year it is my two years straight without drinking any alcohol.  This journey that I have been on has been full of learning, victories, struggles, insight, friendships and growth in my relationship with God.  I am so very thankful that God has brought me to this place of freedom and joy.  The last five years were very challenging years for me.  My addiction to alcohol progressed very much in those first few years… (CLICK TO CONTINUE READING)

 

via My New Life — Step by Step

READING IS COOL

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READING IS COOL

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.”—Dr. Seuss

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 “The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  –Dr. Seuss

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.”  –George R.R. Martin

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Every time I buy an article of clothing, I feel at least a little twinge of guilt, if not more.  I have enough clothes to last me for the rest of my life, and then some.

I have enough books to last me for three more lifetimes.  Still, I keep buying more.  And I have yet to feel guilty when I purchase a book.  Not even a twinge. 

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“I always read.  You know how sharks have to keep swimming or they die?  I’m like that.  If I stop reading, I die.”  –Patrick Rothfuss

I have had a life-long love affair with books.  We didn’t buy a lot of new books as children, but we certainly borrowed them.

I have fond memories of going to the church basement after church on Sundays to check out a book from the church library.  Sometimes we had to wait a few minutes for the volunteer librarian to arrive after mass, but we were allowed to start browsing. 

We had our catechism classes in that same basement, and I remember looking longingly at the shelves of books during class, eagerly anticipating my next trip there. 

Our small school—first it was a Catholic grade school, then it became public when I was in the fourth grade—always had a library as well. 

There was a lending library through the mail as well.  We would get a small catalog from this library a few hours away in Great Bend, Kansas, and we would send our requests to them on a postcard, they would send the book in a package in the mail, and we would return it—postage paid—when we were done, or after two weeks, whichever came first. 

New books were a rare treat, but I remember getting the Scholastic book orders in grade school.  We were always allowed to buy one book, and sometimes the decision was excruciating.  I wanted them all. 

When the book orders arrived in the cardboard box, I remember the teacher would usually wait until the end of the day to hand them out; she knew we would be distracted otherwise.

I was a weird kid; I remember opening the book and burying my nose—I loved the smell.  I am a weird adult, because I still do that, and I still love the smell.  It takes me back. 

I remember reading Nancy Drew.  She was a rock-star super sleuth, and her adventures were enthralling.  The Hardy Boys were her counterparts in grade-school reading, but I let the boys read them.  I did read Encyclopedia Brown; I loved to put the clues together to solve the mysteries—some of them, anyway.

We were introduced to reading through. Little Golden Books.  There were many, but I remember Suzanne’s favorite:  Goodbye Tonsils.  There was a little girl who had her tonsils out, just as Suzanne did.  The doctor’s name was Dr. Constantinople.  I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can remember that.  Fat lot of good that kind of information does me now.

I think I mostly read fiction as a teenager, but I do remember some informational books as well.  I loved biographies, and I still do. 

I remember a bookcase we had at the top of our stairs in our farmhouse.  It was small, but it held most of the books we owned.  If I recall right, we put our books in it after we were done reading them in order to share with everyone else. 

I remember being possessive about several of my books. 

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It was a gift from a relative, and I read and re-read it, thumbing through to find my favorite jokes.  The jokes were corny, but fit me well as a pre-teen girl.  I wanted to make sure everyone else knew it was mine.  img_20190921_163510410.jpg

 

I only have several of my books from childhood; I think there was a time when book ownership waned in importance for me, so I let them go.   I do have several books that belonged to Mom and Dad, and I treasure those.  Mom loved to read, but I have more memories of Dad reading.  We may be a bit biased here, but Dad knew so much, likely because he read so much.

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“Of course, anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can hope to read in one fleeting lifetime.  A good book, resting unopened in its slot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper.”  –David Quammen

Book ownership is very important to me now, and has been for many years.  Bookstores and book sales continue to be a happy place for me, but I have to be careful, because I can spend the whole day absorbed in the hunt.  Suzanne and I hit a garage sale yesterday that offered free books out of a small shed next to the garage,

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and then a rummage sale that I had to tear myself away from. 

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I prefer a real book to an electronic book.  A book is a multi-sensory experience: seeing it, feeling it and—for me—smelling it combine into a heady high for me.

I do have an e-reader, I acquired it quite accidentally about five years ago.  At the annual river festival in our small city, our local library used to sponsor a “get caught reading” contest.  If their staff member on patrol “caught” you reading during the festivities, your name was entered into a drawing for a Kindle.  I take books with me whenever I think I may have even a few moments to read.   I distinctly remember my husband teasing me in a good-natured manner, calling me a “nerd” and telling me how un-cool it was to read in such a place.  I was “caught” shortly after that comment.  Several days later, they called me to notify me that, out of 248 people who were entered, I was the winner. 

I promptly let my husband know just how cool it is to read—anywhere, anytime.

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Gail and Suzanne are readers, too.  Suzanne, ever the minimalist—and probably the wisest of all three of us—keeps her collection to a minimum, but borrows regularly from the library.

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She was a few minutes late meeting me for an outing several weeks ago.  I easily excused her, because the library had just called as she was leaving, and told her the book they ordered for her was in.  I understood the urgency of stopping at the library first.

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Gail and I like to display our books–can you guess who her favorite fiction author is?

Gail’s books are part of her decorating style in her home.  She wanted it made clear that the book on top of this stack was a bonus inside a box she bought at an auction.

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I keep stacks in my space as well.

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I even build shelves out of books.

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I keep a stack roughly this size next to my bed at all times, because, at any given time, I am reading about this many books.  I read primarily non-fiction, because it is my goal to keep my real life more interesting than fiction.  The exception is Stephen King.  I usually have one of his more mild books going at any given time. I was introduced to his magic by a patient, who recommended one of his books that involved her diagnosis, as well as a very realistic account of life in rehab therapy.    Stephen King himself had to endure many grueling and painful hours in physical therapy after being struck as a pedestrian in 1999, an accident that almost took his life. 

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Libraries have always brought me solace as well.  I should check out more books versus buying them, but owning a book is an unparalleled high for me. 

I recall my first few weeks into the year I spent in Philadelphia.  I was far away from home, alone and lonely.  There was a library close, and I knew I would find peace and temporary respite there.   I arrived and browsed a bit.  I found a few books and went to the desk to sign up for a library card.  Because I didn’t have in-state identification, I wasn’t allowed to borrow their books.

I went back to my car and cried. 

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“Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading.”  —Lena Dunham

I have often thought that if there were a bonus hour added to each day that had to be filled only with something one enjoys, I would fill it with reading.  I like the idea of an entire day even better. If I ever find myself feeling guilty about spending time reading, I remember Stephen King’s admonition to aspiring writers.  In essence, he said that if one expects to be a good writer, then you must read at least as much as you write.  He likely knows what he is talking about.

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“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”  –J.K. Rowling

Those words from a famous author should not be dismissed.  If reading is not your thing, then perhaps you need to keep looking.  Reading is food for your brain, and just as you may not like some foods, some books may not be appealing to you, either.  Keep reading the menu, keep sampling different dishes.

Reading to children is advice that cannot be ignored.  If our parents had not read to us, had not made books important, our lives would not be as rich as they are.  A good book can make a good day better, and can make a bad day good.  They can be an escape when one needs to escape.  I have heard it said that we should not say “I am going to read a book,” rather, “I am going to ‘visit’ a book,” as if it is a real place.  It can be a very real and wonderful place in your mind.

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“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”  –Groucho Marx

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“Books can be dangerous.  The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’”  –Helen Exley

There have been a few books that have made a profound difference in my life, and I am so glad they did.    I hope you have found at least one book that has changed your life for the better.  If you haven’t, then keep reading.  And if you have, keep reading.

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 “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”  –Louisa May Alcott

 

 

 

THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

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THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

According to popular, but erroneous national sentiment, Kansas doesn’t have much to offer.  “Fly-over country,” we’ve been called.  As if there’s nothing to see here.

We—the sisters of The Sister Lode—are here to tell you differently.  Kansas is our born-and-raised home state, and we aren’t backing down on our stand that there’s plenty to see here. 

But this is not a post about Kansas tourism.  That would require a blog of its own.   This is a post about one simple thing–Kansas’s state flower:   the sunflower.

Our mom liked sunflowers.  And, like the topics of so many other good memories of both Mom and Dad, the sunflower has been elevated in status for all three of us.  It’s timeless beauty, and classic, iconic face have made it a favorite for so many people–not just Kansans, and not just us.

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They are still in bloom right now—although nearing the end of their annual fashion show, so now is a perfect time to extol their virtues.

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 “Weeds are nature’s graffiti.”   J.L.W. Brooks

The sunflowers gracing the fields and ditches at this time of year are primarily a weed.  They are very common across the United Sates—except for the Southeastern U.S.–and parts of central Canada. They grow well in soils of dry to medium moisture, as well as sand and clay.

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I don’t care that they are classified as weeds.  As A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh states, “Weeds are flowers, once you get to know them.”

While there are sunflowers planted as crops,

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this blog is not about them.  I recall that Dad did try to plant sunflowers as a crop once or twice, but he didn’t make it an annual thing.

A common misconception is that sunflowers follow the sun across the sky every day.  While this is true for young, immature sunflowers, the fully mature plant will continue to face east throughout the day, as its head is too heavy and the stalk has become too inflexible to move.

Because the young plants follow a circadian rhythm, they will turn from east to west even on cloudy days.  They re-orient themselves overnight to the east to begin the process over every day.

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The plants are harvested for their seeds, of course, to be used not only for human consumption, but for birdseed as well.

Sunflower oil is also an economically important product of the sunflower.

Because I am enthralled to learn new, useless trivia, here is some I learned online about the sunflower, just in case you, too, may enjoy such trivial matters:

*The sunflower is the only flower with “flower” in its name.

*There are 67 species of sunflower and multiple varieties of each species.

*Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium.  They were used to help clean up the area after the Russian Chernobyl disaster.

*The earliest examples of domesticated sunflowers in the U.S. were found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 B.C.

*Among Zuni people, the fresh or dried root is chewed by the medicine man before sucking venom from a snakebite and is ceremoniously applied via poultice to the bite.

*The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.

*Sunflowers were worshipped by the Incas because they viewed it as a symbol for the sun.

*Once the sunflower heads are empty, they can be converted into scrubbing pads for tough jobs.

*I may, or may not, have a wheat tattoo to honor Dad.  I may, or may not get a sunflower tattoo to honor Mom.  (That wasn’t from the web.)

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I like the sunflower because it reminds me of Mom.  Gail and Suzanne show it proudly as well.

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But I like it for other reasons, too.  I, too, live by the sunlight, and if I could, I would follow the sunlight every day.  Unlike Gail and Suzanne–who like any and all weather–cloudy days bring me down.  It reminds me of the sun; it is named the “sunflower” not only because it follows the sun, but because its face simply looks sunny.

I realize I am like the sunflower in that I like to follow the sun from east to west every day.  I get a certain high from taking in a beautiful sunrise from my porch.

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And an equal high from watching the sunset—this picture was taken just last night facing west from my driveway.

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We are extending an open invitation to anyone who would like to discover why Kansas is not fly-over country.  It is drive-through-and-around country, it is drive-here-and-discover country.

Kansas is our beautiful home, and the sunflower is our beautiful, iconic cover girl.  It will soon be past its splendid prime, but Kansas will stay beautiful in its own right throughout the year.

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Don’t just fly over.  If you do, you’ll miss not only the sunflowers, but the sunrises, the sunsets and everything beautiful in between.

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Mom’s tastes were simple.  The sunflower may be a simple weed indeed, but she knew that sometimes, simple is best.

KISS:  Keep It Simple, Sunflower.

 

 

 

 

SISTERS ON WHEELS

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SISTERS ON WHEELS

Our dad passed on many positive attributes to his seven children.  One of them was an appreciation for vehicles, and how to take care of them.  Having seven children required having many vehicles over the years, and Dad made sure they operated soundly. 

The most memorable school car we had growing up was the 1973 Plymouth Valiant in a beautiful army green tone.  Not being able to locate any pictures we took of this beauty, here’s one from the web:

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I never got to drive it.  I was too young anyway, and it had a three-on-the-tree gear shift.  I eventually learned how to drive a four-on-the-floor standard transmission. 

It was Gail’s high-school pride and joy, however.  (Not really.)  Dad loved anything Chrysler, and this Plymouth didn’t disappoint him.  He bought it for a school car for Gail and the two brothers between Gail and me.  It was a legendary, local bomb, and it didn’t escape the notice of one of the infamous tricksters in our high school.  He decided to take it out for some four-wheelin’ fun in the rain one day after school, and returned it caked with mud.  Our brother, who had driven it to town, drove it home. Dad drove it right back to town, found the guilty party, and, by putting the fear of God into him, made him clean it thoroughly. 

He never crossed our dad again. 

Dad was proud of all his vehicles, and he took expert care of them.  He loved to tinker with them and fix them when he could, which was most of the time.  He taught us girls how to change a tire and how to change the oil; he wanted us to know.   Greater than that, he instilled in us that taking care of one’s vehicle in every way was an important obligation.

Dad and our brothers read Motor Trend and Mechanics Illustrated magazines, so we did, too.  All three of us sisters notice cars to this day, probably because of these early influences.  Speaking for myself, I am usually able to name a car’s make when I see it, and sometimes the model.  The car companies that are newer on the American market like KIA and Hyundai confound me; I don’t recognize them.  These are not the cars I grew up with.

Dad was a Chrysler man, most of his vehicles were from the Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge family.  I have vivid memories of traveling from our farm home with him to the small city I now live in to buy my first car.  I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college, having survived the first year walking, begging and borrowing a car when I needed one.  We came home with a 1982 Plymouth Horizon, a beautiful cream-colored four-door hatchback.

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Again, a picture from the web

It wasn’t a cool car by any means, but it was a set of four wheels, thus beginning my status as a car owner.  I have owned two other Chrysler cars since.

I traded that car in for a fancier Nissan from a small car lot several years later.  I made the deal myself; I learned how to inspect, inquire and negotiate from Dad.  The dealer was in my college town, and his wife was in one of my classes.  She told me that he said:  “If every woman could buy a car like she did, they wouldn’t need a man to help them.”

Thanks, Dad. 

***********

On my first date with my husband, I recall thinking clearly:  I don’t like his car.  It was a gold 1988 Chevrolet Beretta.  I should have been careful what I didn’t wish for, because I ended up driving it for two years after we got married. 

I didn’t give up much too marry him, except for a car almost like this:

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It was the first new car I ever bought.  I had my first real job after college, had stars in my eyes, thought I had money to burn and thought I needed a brand-new car.  It was a great car; it even traveled to Philadelphia with me for  the second half of my year there.   It was a Toyota, a runner-up to Chrysler in Dad’s mind, and the same kind of car I drive today.  I was smitten with that car, and loved every moment I spent in it.

This small car wouldn’t easily accommodate my future husband’s legs on his six-foot frame.  We didn’t need two cars because he had a work truck, so one of them had to go. 

I sold it to a young man just before we got married.  I rode to the courthouse with him to take care of the business end, and lectured him that there would be no sex or drugs or drinking in this car, but rock-n-roll was certainly okay.  I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes at me.   I met his mother in the process, she was a kind woman.

I loved that car with all my heart, and selling it just about broke my heart.  I knew my husband was worth the trade-off, but still…

Because I love to write, I decided to write a letter to Toyota to let them know how much I loved that car.  I expounded on how well it had treated me, and why I had to let it go.  Apparently I was singing their song, because they sent me a bouquet of flowers to thank me, and to congratulate me on my upcoming wedding. 

A few months later, I saw the new owner driving it down the street and I almost cried.  He had put low-rider tires on it, and had covered the back window with stickers.  I saw his mother in the grocery store a short time after that, and I told her to tell him I didn’t like that one bit. 

Of course, she laughed.

***********

Gail’s first new car was one-of-a-kind.  So much so, that I couldn’t find a picture of it on the web, and Gail didn’t have a picture of it.  It was a two-tone blue 1980 Ford Pinto.  If you change the top 3/4 of this car to a dark blue, it would look like Gail’s car.

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She, too, spent the first year of college hoofing it, so this car was her ticket to independence.  She shelled out $4,300 for this new beauty.

I remember that car well.  It had a personality just like Gail.  She let me drive it; if I recall right, I think I learned how to drive a stick shift in that car.  There were memories made in that car, both hers and mine. 

Gail has always had a spirit of fun about her, and whatever car she happened to be driving was her means of taking her brand of joy to other places.

Or, maybe it wasn’t a car.  Her next vehicle was a small, brown Toyota truck.  She rocked it, too.  Whatever she drove, her essence of Good-Time Gail came along with her.  It looked pretty much like this:

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When she needed a bigger car to accommodate her first child, she essentially swapped vehicles with Mom and Dad, who no longer needed this family truckster:

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Plenty of memories were made in this car as we grew up in it, but then it also served as a means for me to go places as a teenager.  I will never forget that car.

After her first two girls got a little older, she traded the wagon for the first of her four Honda sedans. The first was a light blue Civic, followed by a dark blue Accord, then two white Accords. 

Her last white Accord moved with her to her current small town.  She then made Dad even more proud by becoming a Chrysler owner—and she made the local dealer happy too.  She still drives a Dodge from him:

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Gail and Cindy Citadel

***********

Now, about Suzanne and her car:  let’s start from present day and go back, because I can’t wait to tell you about her latest car.

She has driven a Nissan Altima for four years, even though she prefers to trade every few years to stave off the boredom that always comes with her car after a few years.   She reports that since 1991, she has traded cars 15 times.  

She still has the Nissan, but has made it essentially her Sunday car.  She recently purchased an older General Motors product for her daily commute.  I’m pretty sure Dad is frowning upon this, because he was never a GM man.  No matter, it’s what she wanted, and just to show you how much she loves it, I can’t wait to tell you what she named it—the first car she ever named:

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Meet Carol Anne.  (Make sure you spell Anne with an ‘e’ on the end.)

Perhaps Suzanne’s favorite car of all time was—Dad is smiling upon her for this:  a Chrysler 300M that she owned in the early 2000’s.

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She also owned four different Toyotas as well.

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

My first car to ever have a name was two cars ago.  I took a gamble on another Volkswagen product after my Jetta wasn’t what I’d hoped.  It took too much to fix, so I traded up for a bright red Passat.  I named her Scarlett, and I was sure I would never love another car as much as I loved her. 

I was wrong.  Scarlett betrayed me one too many times, and after four new water pumps, I had to let her go.  It was to my dismay only, not my husband’s, and I think the mechanic was even happy to see her go. 

I limped her—almost on her last leg—into a Toyota/Honda dealer just down the road, told the fine young salesman that I wanted a used Toyota or Honda.  It must be black or dark blue, and have a black leather interior (so my morning spilled coffee wouldn’t show).  I wouldn’t budge on a sunroof, either.

“Well,” he said, “We have this one.”

“I’ll take it.”   It wasn’t quite that quick.  I did sleep on it, but the next day, I went back and adopted “Stella.”  I had another name picked out, but sometimes, just like with a baby, she didn’t look like that name.  She was Stella, and that was that. 

Of course, Dad’s negotiating skills surfaced in me when I made the deal, and I still think I got the better deal than the dealer. 

And that is how my 2013 black Toyota Avalon has become my favorite car.  She had 36,000 miles when I brought her home, and now, just a bit over three years later, she has 111,000 miles.  She has been my faithful companion and friend, and has treated me like a queen.   May she ride on for 211,000 more miles. 

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She’s not clean today, because she travels with me on asphalt and rock alike to my home health visits, and she is going back on gravel tomorrow, so I didn’t bother to clean her for this post. 

My Mark-of-all-trades did change the oil and rotate the tires just yesterday–and he cleaned the windshield to boot.   I am forever grateful that he does this for me.  Even though Dad did teach his daughters how to, I don’t have to maintain my wheels.  Thank you, Mark.  Dad liked you for so many reasons. 

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

Four-wheeled modes of transportation are not the only means of transportation that Gail and Suzanne employ. While I do own a bike, they are the biker chicks, not me. 

When I started running again after my second baby, I had a very basic bicycle that I decided to ride down the road one Sunday morning, leave it in the ditch and run down the less-busy gravel road instead of running down the highway. 

I laid it over in the weeds, laid the helmet on top of it, and ran/walked down the road a mile.  I turned around and did the same on the way back.  When I got back, it wasn’t there.  Neither was the helmet.  It was a Sunday morning, and I don’t think the thief was headed to church. 

I walked the half-mile home along the highway in tears, channeling Pee-Wee Herman.  His bike got stolen in his movie, and I laughed at that thought through the tears. 

I did find a high-quality bicycle at a garage sale, and it has sat in my garage motionless for several years.

Gail and Suzanne, however, do ride their bikes.   They both loved them enough to name them.   Meet Trixie—Suzanne’s bike, and Lucille—named in honor of Gail’s first boss.

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Gail even belongs to a bike gang in her small town.  Boasting over 30 members, they used to go on regular rides, enjoying the camaraderie of fellow bike-lovers. 

**********

So why all the fuss about our cars and bikes?  Because we enjoy them, that’s why.  And, if I may get back up on my soapbox as I have lectured from before on this subject, we should all be grateful that we can move.  Whether it is moving our legs to move our bodies, or moving our entire bodies on two or four wheels, it is a gift to be able get around.

Having the means to own and maintain a working vehicle, having the right as American women to drive, having the legal privilege of holding a driver’s license and having the freedom to hit the road are all gifts not granted, and none of us should ever forget that. 

Suzanne, in her youngest sister wisdom, offered this food for thought to ponder: 

“If no one could see you driving your car, would you still drive the same car?”

Without a doubt, Suzanne would drive Carol Anne and her Nissan, Gail would drive Cindy and I would drive Stella. 

We hope you would still drive the same four—or two—wheels as well.

 

 

 

 

UNDER OUR SPELL

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UNDER OUR SPELL

I had never even heard the word kewpie.  I didn’t know it was a little doll, even though I was a ten-year old girl in the fourth grade.

I spelled it c-u-p-e-e.

And then, after Anne W. spelled it correctly and went on to spell another word correctly, I became the second-place winner of the 1976 Mitchell County, Kansas Spelling Bee.   I can’t remember her winning word; I was too traumatized.

In my grade-school career, I would go on to compete every year after that, but I would never place again.  I will never get over it.

Sometime in my college career, our dear mother sent me a clipping of a newspaper headline.  It read:  “Yeah, but why ‘kewpie?’”  It is buried somewhere in a stack inside a box within a crate; if I knew where I would have dug it out.

It matters not, only that Mom was always so thoughtful, and that I never won a grade-school spelling bee.

Suzanne never won one either, and, apparently, she, too has carried the wounds with her well into adulthood.

If you have spent any amount of time around us when the printed word is misspelled, you will know without a doubt that this is simply not acceptable with either of us.  We have taken it upon ourselves to be the spelling police, and will right these grievous wrongs whenever they confront us.

And, we will probably insult the person who misspelled it as well.

Gail is a spelling freak like we are, even though she likely has more important things to worry about; work that must be done.  She wasn’t able to join us for the bee, but wanted everyone to know that she was able to spell our error words correctly.  Perhaps all three of us will be able to participate together in a future bee; we have already begun to discuss this possibility.

***********

Sometimes, however, life has a way of humbling those who put themselves up a bit too high.  Like the time I bought a personalized plaque for a co-worker, and I misspelled a word on it.  And I had it engraved that way.

Her name was Michelle, and she was an incredible secretary–this was way back when that term was still politically correct vs. administrative assistant.  I wanted to honor her on Secretary’s Day, so I had a name plate engraved that said:

MICHELLE

SECRETARY EXTRAORDINNAIRE

Except that ‘extraordinaire’ has only one ‘N.’   I swear I looked it up, and there were two.  That is a permanent reminder that I should never criticize those who misspell a word here and there.

Another reminder confronted me just last week.

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Suzanne’s daughter Julia lives just down the road in Manhattan, Kansas, where my firstborn goes to college, where three of Gail’s four children attended or currently attend college,  where Suzanne’s daughter graduated last year, and is now gainfully employed there.  So, when she saw this, she knew her mother and godmother would want to be part of it:

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We knew this was our calling for last Thursday night, and we cleared our schedules to make it happen.  We arrived promptly at seven to sign up, had a quick dinner,

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And then made our way back across the street to re-live those glory days, and make new ones as champion adult spellers.  We were pretty confident that one of us would walk away with the purse, which was the sum total of the $5 entry fee each contestant paid.  There were only eight contestants, so $40 would be the bounty for the champion.  It was unspoken that surely one of us would leave there with it, and the other would be runner-up.  We are formidable spelling forces, in case I haven’t made that clear.

So, we got down to business.  Apparently, we were more business than the emcee, as the 8:00 p.m. start time got pushed back to allow more time for more contestants.  We were there for blood, so we were primed and ready to start whooping up on everyone else at 8:00.  A storm was looming west of our small city and heading this way, and we were one hour east of there.  It was projected to hit around 11, so we needed to get the show on the road so we could get on the road.

It commenced at 8:30, and we were pumped.  Suzanne and I were second and third respectively in contestant order.  Suzanne breezed through her first word, and while I was waiting for mine to be read, I felt something hit me.  Suzanne, acting as the audience heckler, had thrown her shoe at me.

GAME ON.

It didn’t ruffle me, and I spelled consignment correctly.

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***********

About six years ago when Suzanne hadn’t yet moved to my small city, we met in the middle, in Beloit, Kansas, to watch our niece and her brother compete in the same bee I never won.  The anticipation was high; this kind of competition brings out the warrior in both of us.  We can sit silent, in an almost-comatose state during any sporting event, likely with a barely detectable pulse.  But bring us to the spelling bee, and we are the fans extraordinaire.  We come alive.  We pondered the idea of tailgating in the school parking lot prior to the event; it began at 1:30 p.m. so a lunch would have been timely.  We thought about painting our faces and sitting in the front row, too.  In the end, we did neither.  But let it be noted that we seriously considered both.  That’s how serious we are about it.

The bee ended with our niece in second place, just like her aunt Kathleen did almost forty years before that in the same competition.  Her brother didn’t place.  No matter for them, the fun was in the spirit of the game.

To my knowledge, neither my niece nor my nephew were traumatized by the fact they didn’t win.  I am so glad they will not carry this weight around forever like their aunt still does.

***********

About twelve years ago, when I was working at the hospital in our small city, I had a dream that I won the All-Hospital Spelling Bee.  Clearly, my subconscious hasn’t recovered either.  I remember that the word I had to spell correctly that the runner-up fumbled was “insufferable.”  Moving on, I then had to spell the winning word, which was selected from a bank of patient’s last names, as if HIPAA would ever allow that.   When I told Suzanne about this dream, her jaw dropped at the winning word.  It was her mother-in-law’s maiden name.  I had no idea.

The last thing I remember in the dream was me asking this question:  “Does this mean I finally get to go to Topeka?” (to the Kansas state spelling bee).

***********

I am old enough now to enter the Senior Spelling Bee in our county.  I waited anxiously until I turned fifty, but then I didn’t enter.  I had two fears:  First, I was afraid I may go out on a ridiculously simple word, and my self-perpetuating illusion that I am a champion speller would be shattered.  Second, I was afraid also that I may have to go up against a former patient of mine, and I would have no mercy, effectively smoking them out of the competition.

In the bee on Thursday, the first fear came to reality.  The word tripped me up, and I was out.   I can’t yet bring myself to tell you what the word was.  I am still licking my wounds.

Since this was in the basement of a bar in a college town an hour away on a Thursday evening with a storm brewing, there was little danger of competing against a former patient—there were none there.

Suzanne was still in, and I was truly happy for her—even if she threw her shoe at me in the first round.  Let it be known that I didn’t throw anything at her.

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In the end, Suzanne placed second.  She backed down to a fine young man named Steve, and was awarded several wooden nickels to be redeemed for libations at the hosting establishment.  She passed them on to her daughter.

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We made it home and into our respective garages literally seconds before the storm unleashed its fury.

***********

Let it be known that although neither of us walked away with the champion’s purse, this is only the beginning.  We are now officially on the circuit, and plan to seek out and find many more spelling bees we can compete in, and likely win.

Please let us know if you hear of any.

***********

There is a certain military rank that is sometimes shortened to “Sarge” as a nickname.  How do you spell the full title of that rank?  Be careful, it may be tricky for you, too.

I’ve once again been humbled.  Just when I needed it, life brought me down a notch or two.  I realize I am not the spelling extraordinaire I thought I was; that I ain’t as good as I once was.  Somehow, Suzanne and I are making peace with our defeat last week.  We will back, however, stronger and smarter than ever before. And, we are feeling quite sanguine about it.

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Congratulations, Steve.  Just watch your back…

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

GARDENER GAIL

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GARDENER GAIL

“The glory of gardening:  hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature.  To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.  –William Blake

 

As if her multiple full-time jobs aren’t enough.  And, adding to them, Gail has several side ventures: her Pampered Chef business, her art created from antique wood and tin and she dabbles in oils.  Oh, and she also gardens.

As if.

She already works circles around me and Suzanne, and then she really makes us look like slackers by adding gardening to the mix.  She doesn’t do this to make us look bad, it is simply her high-gear default setting.

And I’m not talking about a few tomatoes and cucumbers, although she does produce those quite well.   I’m talking about onions and beets, too.  And potatoes and peppers–multiple varieties.

 

Oh, I’ve got a garden, all right.  And it’s is an incredible garden.  It’s just that the only work I do in it is eating what comes out of it.  My master-of-all-trades husband Mark gardens, too.  He enjoys it, I don’t.  So, I let him do it.  I think I’ve already made it clear that he is an over-achiever.  Have you ever been in a garden you had to sweep?  He got bored during one stretch several years ago, and after he built the raised boxes, he decided to tile it as well.

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I’m not even kidding.  I couldn’t make this up if I tried. 

**

 

I planted a garden once.  Once.  I was still in high school, and I asked Mom what she wanted for Mother’s Day.  She said she wanted someone to plant the garden for her.  I look like my mother. Apparently, I am like her in the respect that I don’t really like to garden, either.  I didn’t really want to, but she was an awesome mom, and it was Mother’s Day.  

 So, I did.  That was the only time I have ever planted a garden.  I am coming clean right here—I am a lazy, slacker gardener.  That should be no surprise after I admitted my slacker tendencies in last week’s post.

Suzanne makes no claims to be a gardener, either.  Like me, she likes to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of someone else’s labors, but that’s the extent of it. 

This is the extent of her garden this year: 

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Now, as promised, back to Gail’s garden.

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Gail, like my husband is an over-achiever.  Except that that’s all they know, and I am judging in relative terms, so it’s all good.  Good for me when I get to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of their labors.

Gail’s potato patch was green and blooming early in the summer,

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before the heat and repeated blows from several rounds of intense storms recently in western Kansas.

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The backyard took a hit, as did the community.

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Gail wasted no time in cleaning up her yard and garden–as well as helping the community cleanup–and got back to the business of gardening—and living.  She had stuff to do, things to get done.

“Life is like a garden.  We all face storms, and get weeds in our lives, but the end result, if you weather it, is good,” she said. 

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Another of Gail’s multiple talents is that of a canner, canning her garden abundance.  The zucchini, I learned, are gifts from other gardeners.  

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Her canned salsa is perfect in every way.  She also makes a zucchini relish that, while it may not sound versatile or tasty, it is over-the-top on both counts.   She jokes that if you leave your car unlocked in her small town at this time of year, you are likely to find zucchini in it.  She sometimes finds it on her front porch, and she welcomes it.

Mark sometimes refers to his garden as a “salsa garden,” as he plants a lot of tomatoes and peppers.  He then makes an awesome fresh—not canned–salsa from them.  He grows cilantro as well, but it blooms early and not often. 

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***********

“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.  –Luther Burbank

Not only does Gail plant a vegetable garden, she has an incredible green thumb for potted flowers as well. 

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My husband has a green thumb for flowers, too.  Every year he plants a variety in the ground and in pots. 

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He knows Mom loved begonias, so he plants a pot of them every year in her honor. 

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Lantanas are favorites for both of us.

I actually got my fingers dirty about ten years ago and planted daffodil bulbs.  I knew they had to be planted in the fall before the first ground freeze, and in my usual slacking fashion, I planted them the day before it froze.  They are the first harbingers of spring, and when they bloom every year, I feel a sense of hope again; I know I can make it through the winter.   

About 12 years ago, my husband and I took a weekend trip in May, and Suzanne watched our boys, then ages ten and seven.  She drove them by the outdoor greenhouse in town, and made the comment that she was surprised that the plants and flowers weren’t stolen, as they were left outside after business hours unattended.  She shared our son’s response:

Our ten-year old, without missing a beat replied: “Only mean people steal, and mean people don’t like flowers.”

**

The house that built us, the farmhouse we all grew up in came down several years ago.  It was time.  My brother and his family live on the farm and have since built a new house there, continuing to be the perfect stewards of that special spot of land.

On the lot where the house stood, they plan to plant a garden. 

Perfect.

**

It went by without fanfare last year, and I’m afraid Suzanne’s birthday slipped by again this year.  She was in the hospital last year, and this year she is traveling with her boyfriend.   Another year is always a gift, however, and acknowledging that she added a digit to her age is always a good thing—age is a gift, don’t forget. 

Seven years ago on her birthday, she was given a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.  On her birthday.  Every birthday since then is always a big one, but she will celebrate a really big one next year. 

Gail will celebrate a big one next February.  It will be a good year for birthday parties, and I’m sure you will have the opportunity to read about them.

***********

The gardens are almost done; it won’t be long before the cold temperatures will render them dormant for another year.  Gardens, even when they appear dead, are always a sign of hope.  Like everything else in nature, it will become alive and vibrant again.  Just like life–time always heals and makes us vibrant again.  After all, life did begin in a garden.

“The most lasting and pure gladness comes to me from my gardens.”—Lillie Langtry.

Mine comes to me from many people in my life, especially my sisters. 

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