JOYOUS MOTHER’S DAY

Joyous Mother’s Day to all mothers out there.

To all grandmothers.

To all stepmothers.

To all daughters and sons of wonderful mothers.

To all daughters and sons of mothers who did their best, even if it didn’t feel good enough. After all, every woman with children, I believe, does the best she can.

To all women who may not have been a mother, but who acted in a motherly role to help bring up a child.

To all women who wanted to be a mother, but were not able to become one.

To all women who gave birth, but lovingly gave their baby to someone they knew could take better care of this gift of life.

To all women who adopted these gifts of life.

To all women who had to give their child back to the heavens. They come through us on loan, not from us.

To all women who are preparing to say goodbye to their mothers, as their time is nearing.

To all women who still have their mothers here on earth, but who may not recognize them as their child.

To all daughters and sons who lost their mother to COVID, a form of loss none of us ever dreamed of.

To all daughters and sons whose mothers battle, or did battle addiction, or other demons.

To all mothers whose children battle addiction, or other demons.

To all mothers who are estranged from their children.

To all children who are estranged from their mothers.

To all mothers who are away from their children in service to our country. ‘Thank you for your service’ will never be enough words of gratitude, but we offer them to you today, and every day.

To all children whose mothers are away in service to our country. Your mother is a hero.

To all mothers whose children are away in service to our country. Your child is a hero.

To all grandmothers and sometimes great-grandmothers who raised their grandchildren, even if they would rather not have.

To all daughters and sons, like me and my siblings, who celebrate our mothers who were taken from us too soon. This, I have come to learn, is anyone who has lost their mother, as we are never old enough to let go.

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I have chosen to say ‘Joyous,’ rather than ‘Happy’ Mother’s Day. ‘Happy,’ by definition, is a fleeting emotion. It is fickle, often here and, without warning, gone again. And, as I have come to learn, many people do not feel happy on Mother’s Day.

‘Joy,’ by the definition I am choosing, is the deeply held spirit of acceptance and contentment, which is present even when the circumstances we find ourselves in do not make us happy. Deep in our hearts we may feel sadness, but we know it, too, is fleeting. We know we will find a higher place of this acceptance within, realizing that we were given a precious gift that we can choose to savor, rising above the darkness that may remain.

I know that I was given a precious gift in my mother, and I had her here for almost 42 years. Gail had her for 48; Suzanne had her for 37. We know how lucky we were.

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I am celebrating the day with one of my three sons, and my delightful mother-in-law as well. I know that all my children are always in my heart, even if they aren’t with me today. And that gift is enough for today.

I know, too, that my mother is in my heart, more deeply every day. And that gift is enough for every day of the year.

My hope for you this Mother’s Day is that you know both happiness and joy, no matter what your circumstances are. If you need it, I hope the healing power of time is with you, as it is with us.

JOYOUS MOTHER’S DAY–HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TOO

One of my favorite pictures of our mom with Suzanne’s daughter, Julia.

CRAZY CAT LADIES

When my son Joel was about 12, our neighbor Sue asked me if he would be interested in cat-sitting for her. I asked him, and he asked me how many cats she had.

“Just one,” I said.

“That’s good,” he said. “Because if she had a bunch, she would be a crazy cat lady.”

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I didn’t think I ever really wanted a cat, although I did state in a recent blog that perhaps, I was closer to getting one than ever before. Somehow, with age, I was becoming softer toward cats, and I maybe I would get one someday.

We grew up with multiple cats on the farm, and they were just that: farm cats. They stayed outside, reproduced and gave birth outside; lived and died outside. If I were to get a cat, it would be an outside cat.

In January, a gray tiger-striped cat showed up at our back door. I didn’t see it; I heard it. My head was in the refrigerator, and at the very same moment I was smelling the milk to determine that it was indeed a few days sour, I heard the meowing at the back door.

Here’s your sign.

I gave the milk to the cat, and the saga began.

In honor of my love for all things Abilene and Eisenhower, I wanted to name her Mamie. My husband, however, with his unique sense of humor, did me one better: Katleen.

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We had many farm cats, but none as memorable as Goldie. She was the matriarchal family farm feline; having given birth to eighty-some kittens, at our last count. She had one back leg accidentally shortened by a farm mower, but this didn’t stop her. She even went missing several weeks, and we all missed her. I had a dream one night she came back, and the next morning she did. She disappeared another time, and she never came back. Without providing too much detail, we found proof that she was gone forever.

I remember that Suzanne had a favorite farm cat she named Ashley. I also remember that she dressed her up in doll clothes. Suzanne doesn’t have a cat now, but she says she would like one again someday. When she lived in Osborne near our parents, she had Donnie and Salem. When Gail’s kids were younger, they had a housecat: Bojangles. When they found out Bojangles was female, she became Belle Jingles. She hasn’t had a cat since, but hasn’t ruled out another one someday.

Our parents had a very special cat that first belonged to Suzanne. Blackie was adopted by the wonderful people who moved into their house, because she refused to leave. (The Luckiest Black Cat, August 23rd, 2020).

Katleen became a shop cat; my husband’s workshop became her new home. It was heated, and she was happy there. We were happy to have her there, too. She was a nice cat, very friendly. Clearly, she had been loved. No one local claimed her, and she didn’t show any desire to leave us. She was clean and tidy, using the litter box without any training.

In short order, Katleen became pregnant. Knocked up. With kittens. This wasn’t what we signed up for, but, recalling how farm cats take care of this business without any help, I wasn’t worried. She would simply give birth on her own terms. She would take care of the kittens until they were weaned, and we would find homes for them, just like we did with the dozens of farm cats that were born. Easy peasy. Mother Nature would be the only midwife and nurse she needed.

Katleen continued to grow; appearing to be ready any moment, but she just kept growing. And growing.

On Tuesday, April 13th, I went in the shop early in the morning to check on her, just like I had every morning lately. She didn’t spring off her favorite chair to her food bowl, like she usually did. She had been known to sneak around behind the workbench, prowling in and out of the nooks and crannies. She always showed up, so I knew she was in there somewhere. I looked around, but didn’t see her. Then, I heard it: a tiny little mew. Not a big meow, but the tiny little voice of a new born kitten. I traced the sound, and found it coming from behind the workbench, behind the trashcan. I didn’t move it; I knew it wasn’t my place. I needed to leave them alone; I would be a hindrance to what happens naturally, without the need for human intervention.

When I came home that afternoon, I decided it was time to take a look. It was feeding time, and I knew she would be hungry. Like a steak dinner for a new mother in the hospital, I opened a can of tuna for her. I didn’t hear any more mews; perhaps they were all resting. However many there were. Four-five is an average size litter, I found out soon thereafter. I pulled the trashcan out, and found her nest:

She had apparently drug plastic bags back there, knowing she would need something between her and the floor. She got up and went right to the tuna in her dish. It was relatively warm, but I knew her babies needed something softer than the plastic bags on the concrete floor. Hearing Mom’s advice in my head–don’t touch the kittens when they are new, the mother won’t like your scent on her kittens, I put on rubber gloves and put them on a softer bed of rugs and old towels. Katleen didn’t mind. She was hungry; gobbling her food. She did turn her head and look behind her a few times as she ate to check on her babies. She was doing well; the kittens were doing well. All seven of them. The Magnificent Seven–just like our mom called us. They looked like little mice, squirming and wriggling, but always heaping themselves together on a pile. I tucked them all in (figuratively speaking) and left them alone with each other for the night.

All eight felines were doing well the next morning. By afternoon, however, Katleen had stopped eating. She wasn’t interested. And, there was no water gone from her dish. I thought this was strange, but I learned from local experts that she may need a day to rebound. We gave her that day.

She didn’t bounce back. By Thursday morning, all her food and water remained. She was minimally responsive, but lied quietly and nursed her babies. She was losing a bit more afterbirth, and the smell coming from her was awful. My neighbor Sue–the not-crazy-cat-lady I mentioned in the first paragraph, was very concerned. I was, too, but in my state of denial, I heard myself say “She’s a tough farm cat. She’ll be okay, just like all your farm cats from years past.” But deep down, my voice of reason said: “She’s not okay.” I knew of a great local vet from a friend’s recommendation and he wanted to see her right away. Sue, being the stellar neighbor and friend she is, stepped in and stepped up to take her in, because I had to get to work. We loaded up Mama and her babies–the vet said to bring them along, but the babies came right back home.

She went into surgery shortly thereafter to remove her uterus, as it was “full of gunk” from the placentas that didn’t pass, and this material was becoming toxic to her. She was given a 50/50 shot at survival. She wouldn’t have made it much longer if he hadn’t performed surgery, he said.

“This is rare,” the vet told me on the phone when I called that afternoon. “She made it through surgery, and she is starting to wake up. We’ll know in the morning if she’s okay. If she survives, she may not produce enough milk right away, and they may still need to be supplemented.”

He kept her overnight. Sue had brought the kittens back, and jumped right into lifesaving mode. She procured the necessary powdered formula, made two trips back into town to get the right supplies, and, with her partner Rick, they syringe-fed the first feeding. More would need to follow every two hours until midnight, then about every four hours.

My husband was at work, and I got another patient added to my list before we could come home and launch into kitten caregiving. This was not turning out to be a good day, but my faith in my local circle of humanity would soon be enriched.

When we both got home, we went across the road to Sue’s house. She had a highly efficient system set up, and showed us how it worked. We all jumped in and got in the groove of the next feeding.

It was about four o’clock, and they would need to stay on this schedule until about midnight, according to the vet’s recommendations. Then, every four hours would suffice.

This schedule, however, would be daunting for all four of us together, let alone any one of us. I knew it wasn’t feasible for me, as sleep is my highest priority after ten p.m., it is my lifesaving medicine.

Enter Annie–Angel Annie, as she deserves to be called. She came highly recommended from a friend, and she was home from college just a few miles down the road. She loved cats, and was up all night anyway, she said, as many college students are. She came over with her dad, completed Sue’s crash course in syringe-feeding two-day old kittens, and took them home for the night. We were in one-day-at-a-time mode.

God bless her.

I called the vet at 8 a.m., hoping and praying for good news. He had it. Katleen was awake, recovering well and eating. We could pick her up anytime.

God bless him.

This left the weekend. The weekend we had planned to go to Kansas City to celebrate my birthday, which was Saturday. We had big plans with friends, and taking care of seven kittens and their mama–as lovable as they all are– was not in my plan.

Enter more angels. Mark’s brother and his wife agreed to take all eight cats, at least for the weekend. They knew that they would likely need to be fed with a syringe, or, if they took it, a bottle with a small nipple. They stepped up and accepted the challenge.

Moments after the reunion–Mama didn’t miss a beat.

Mama and her babies were seamlessly reunited, and they all appeared happy to be back together. We delivered the eight felines, and were able to hit the road for Kansas City by noon, as planned.

God bless them.

They kept us updated via text and videos/pictures; all eight cats were hanging in there. Even the lighter-colored runt–Slim, as they affectionately named him/her.

When they got up for a 3 a.m. feeding, there were five kittens in the box, and no mama cat. They searched the house for about half an hour, but no luck. Knowing they were somewhere in their house, and the other kittens were fed and quiet, they went back to bed. In the morning, he found Mama and the two biggest kittens hiding in the back of his closet. She had apparently separated them from the smaller kittens, likely instinctively knowing that the bigger ones may compromise the smaller one’s ability to get enough milk. She knew what she was doing. He put them all back together, and she separated them again.

We arrived Sunday afternoon to pick them up. They were all doing well, and only one–Slim–appeared to need extra milk that morning. And, when they tried, Mama cat wasn’t too happy about it. She apparently wanted them to know she had it under control.

The spring weather still wasn’t very springy last week, as evidenced by the snowfall Tuesday. I don’t ever remember snow like this after my birthday.

So, instead of returning them to the shop–it was warm but not as warm as the house, we welcomed them into our guest bedroom. I set them up in a cardboard box on one side of the bed when we got home, and within ten minutes, Mama had relocated them to a spot under the bed. They stayed there for a while, but then Slim, who has wandered away since day one,

tried to wander away again. I put them back in the box on the other side of the bed, as far away from the door as possible. They have stayed there since. I tried to help Slim along with a supplement when we got home, but again, Mama got mad. I took this as a sign she did indeed have it under control, so I let Mama cat and Mother Nature rule.

Now, one week later as I write, it’s apparent that she did indeed have it under control. All seven kittens are growing, eyes are open, and they don’t scream out much, if at all. They nurse, and fall asleep satisfied in their pile.

She is eating and drinking well, and producing ample milk. The kittens are contained in a cardboard box, but not for long. They will be exploring their world on their own very soon. Mama gets out and naps alone sometimes, and enjoys roaming around outside for a bit every day.

We left the house overnight last night to hang out with the grandkids, and with Sue checking in on them several times. They continue to thrive.

It has taken a village to do what one creature normally does. If not for the help of Sue and Rick, the fine folks at Sunflower Veterinary Clinic in Minneapolis, Kansas, Tori–a local vet-tech in-training, Angel Annie, Mark’s brother and his wife and anyone else who played a role, these eight creatures likely wouldn’t be with us still. Mother Nature is infinitely wiser than any human, even when we think we know it all. Our efforts to help when they weren’t necessary were well-intentioned, and we didn’t yet know what was necessary for their survival, and what wasn’t. I like to think we did the best we could, and we did keep them alive. Remember, we are not cat people. At least, we didn’t used to be.

We went from a “no animals in the house” policy, to “we have eight cats in our guest bedroom.” Secretly, I think both Gail and Suzanne are jealous, although they would never admit it. I offered them each a kitten, but they politely declined. At this time, I think all seven kittens are spoken for. That is, if we can let go of them. We are both feeling a little attached to Slim, perhaps his/her underdog/undercat status has created a soft spot within us.

For his valiant and selfless efforts, we gave Mark’s brother the privilege of naming these kittens, and while Slim and Wolfman are perfect for the two smallest ones, and Shaq and Barkley are perfect for the two largest ones–that’s all the further he got, I have been thinking of them as our parents’ Magnificent Seven: Gary, Gail, David, John, Kathleen, Suzanne and Ryan.

And, in our parent’s litter of seven, I was the runt. Still am. Perhaps that’s why I feel a special bond with Slim. And, according to my son’s definition in the first paragraph, I am now an official Crazy Cat Lady.

SUZANNE SISKEL AND KATHLEEN EBERT

Spring Break, 1988. Hays Kansas. I was a senior in college; Suzanne was a senior in high school. She came to Hays to spend the week with me, but spring didn’t get the memo to come. Instead, we were snowed in for the week in the middle of March. I recall trudging through waist-deep drifts with Suzanne to get to a party. That memory, and one other stick out.

We had rented two movies on VHS. They were the only forms of in-home entertainment we had, and we got our money’s worth. We are still quoting lines from one of them.

“Lucas” was the story of a shy teenage boy who gets bullied, and decides to join the football team. It was a heartwarming story, and as I write it, I realize I can recall only a few other details.

Perhaps it will be on my movie queue tonight; I am quite sure I haven’t seen it since then.

I have seen the other movie since then, and I believe I have seen it enough for one lifetime. “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” was, and still is a classic in its own right. However, it very likely will never again appear in my movie queue.

Everyone I know has a big ‘but.’ Let’s talk about your big ‘but.'”

“Listen to reason,” another character says. Pee Wee responds: “I’m listening to reason.” (Must have hand up to ear for effect.”)

I’m rolling a big donut and this snake wearing a vest…” (Pee Wee is telling another character about a dream he had.)

Jokes about the Alamo are still tossed between us in regards to this movie. If you haven’t seen it, we do still recommend it. Once, however, is likely enough.

Perhaps this week of movie-watching laid the foundation for the movie watchers we have become today…

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If you know Gail either in person or through this blog, it shouldn’t surprise you that she simply doesn’t have time to watch TV. Not even in full-on lockdown mode last year at this time. She always found constructive things to busy herself with.

Suzanne and I, however, fell prey to urge to use the lockdown to sit down and watch movies. Even as the world has started turning again, she and I still love to plant ourselves on our respective couches many evenings with our husbands and watch movies. She and her new husband were enjoying movies together before the shutdown– Hallmark movies, Lifetime movies, you get the idea. (I just threw up in my mouth a little bit again.) While I also like to watch an occasional series, she tells me that she and her hubs are committed only to each other, and are non-committal when it comes to binge-watching a series.

(Again, a little throw-up-in-my-mouth episode.) Whatever works for you, Suzanne.

We frequently share movie recommendations, because it is often difficult to decide if a movie is worth an evening of our lives. So, in honor of the iconic movie critics Siskel and Ebert, and to hopefully help all of you movie-watchers out a bit, she and I have decided to offer you our picks for movies. We will have no thumbs-down like they did; if it’s listed here, it is obviously at least one thumbs-up. No streaming information is provided, since everyone seems to have different streaming services. If it interests you, I hope you can get it!

Suzanne Siskel:

*Mean Girls–she wears pink on Wednesdays.

*Pretty in Pink–and Suzanne is pretty, too.

*Sixteen Candles: Suzanne was only 11 when I turned 16, so she is off the hook. Like the main character in this movie, however, nearly everyone forgot my 16th birthday–even Gail.

*Shawshank Redemption–a classic beyond words

*Identity Thief: anything with Melissa McCarthy is a hit, Jason Bateman is a hit, too.

*Game Night: Jason is a hit in this movie, too. Every movie, really.

*The Long Kiss Goodnight: an action thriller I haven’t yet seen.

*Thelma and Louise: an ongoing classic, Susan Sarandon shines, as always.

*Terms of Endearment: funny, sappy, classic.

*Arachnophobia: don’t watch if you don’t like spiders.

*Needful Things: Stephen King. No need to say any more.

*Overboard: one of Mom’s favorites, too.

Kathleen Ebert:

*Pay It Forward is my all-time favorite movie. It changed my life. Enough said.

*Groundhog Day is good for any day of the year, and perhaps every day of the year if you like it as much as I do.

*Bad Moms/Bad Moms Christmas: We saw these together in the theater when they came out. Crude, but hilarious. Carla was our favorite, and for a time after, if we were faced with a dilemma, we would simply ask ourselves, “What would Carla do?” Susan Sarandon shines again in the second film as Carla’s mom.

*Bad Words: We seem to be drawn to movies with “Bad” in the title…or maybe movies with Jason Bateman. Another crude movie, but with a good message. We are spelling bee freaks (Under Our Spell, September 1st 2019), so this one was perfect for us.

*Akeela and the Bee: Another awesome spelling bee movie; family friendly.

*Twister–a must for anyone living in Tornado Alley.

*Bruce Almighty: makes you laugh, and makes you think. As a speech therapist, my favorite is the newsroom scene. You’ll know why when you see it, if you haven’t already.

*Evan Almighty: the kind-of sequel to Bruce Almighty.

Dolores Claiborne and Misery: These Stephen King classics are made unforgettable by Kathy Bates.

Dirty Dancing: needs no explanation. It was our mom’s favorite.

There are many more movies we have watched in the last year, and I can’t remember most of them. My husband and I recently watched two great movies, both based in India, and both are highly recommended. White Tiger is a drama that illustrates the social structure/caste system in India, and Lion is based on a true story about a five-year old boy who gets stuck on a train and becomes lost a thousand miles from home. He is adopted out, and struggles with knowing he left his family behind as he grows up. Have your Kleenex ready.

Unlike Suzanne, I have committed myself to watching a few series, including:
Breaking Bad, The Queen’s Gambit, Bloodline, Dead to Me, Ozark, and Goliath. All are highly recommended, if you want to give up sizeable chunks of time.

Spring is springing, the days are longer, and the outdoors beckon. We are answering the call, but still make time for our beloved movie-watching. If you have any movie suggestions for us, and for everyone else reading, please post them. If you have any suggestions for convincing Gail to sit down and watch a movie once in awhile, please post that, too. She simply needs to listen to reason.

Thanks and happy movie-watching!

THE BITTER AND THE SWEET

When I was a few months shy of my 24th birthday, I departed for a year in Philadelphia. I signed a contract as a nanny for a suburban Philly couple, and I left 31 years ago last month. Despite the initial homesickness, and the difficulty inherent in living in someone else’s home and taking care of their children, it was a sweet experience.

My firstborn son is a few months shy of 24, and he left Friday for the first of his three-year commitment in ministry in south Asia. For me and his dad, it was mostly a bittersweet experience. For him, I know it is sweet-bitter.

Unlike me at age almost-24, he seems to genuinely care that it was hard for us to send him off, and hard to be without him here. I don’t remember giving a flip how my parents felt when I left them, but I do remember wanting so badly to turn around in that narrow center aisle of the airplane after they dropped me off, and run back to them, letting the fear overriding my sense of adventure. But I didn’t. I made it there, and I made it through the year with two visits to home.

My son will spend his first year there before he comes home for about a month. It will be sweet.

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Life has a funny way of coming around full-circle.

When I was in Philadelphia, I made two lifelong friends, both named Amy. They, too, were nannies, and both from the Midwest, so we had a lot in common. When I speak of both of them among others, I aptly differentiate them as “Tall Amy” and “Short Amy.”

“Tall Amy” sent me a text last Saturday. She wanted to let me know that they would be driving through my small city in six days on their way from Minneapolis to Texas with their three children for Spring Break, and would it work to visit, at least for a bit?

This was a gift from Above. Knowing my husband and I would be sullen and sad the day after sending our son off, I knew there couldn’t be a better remedy than a visit from an old friend.

There wasn’t. They arrived at dinnertime Saturday, spent the night and departed around noon today. I hadn’t seen her for almost two years, and she hadn’t been to my home since our second-born son took his first steps, almost 20 years ago. He joined us too, and at 6’4″, wondered why she didn’t get as excited about his ability to walk now as she did then.

Laughter is such good medicine, and we did plenty of that.

We recalled our dark, desperate days of the first week alone in Philly before we met each other. Both alone in a strange city, living with strangers, and soothing ourselves with the only familiar remedy: food. There seemed to be a big hole that could be filled with nothing but food.

We both arrived on Saturday, February 17th, 1990, through the same agency. They got us in touch with each other, and when she answered the door on February 24th, my first thought was this: “I know I am going to like her.”

I still do.

We were perfect company for each other, and quickly discovered our similarities: we both grew up in large Catholic families. We both couldn’t stop eating. We both were/had been runners; she was still running, but I left it behind after high school. We quickly became inseparable. Our respective employer families both suggested other nanny friends to us, because, perhaps, it wasn’t good to have just one friend. We both disagreed, and until “Short” Amy came into the picture in my neighborhood in the fall, we were all each other needed.

By May, she had me running again. I cannot put into words how grateful I am that she gently, but assertively coaxed me back into running. It saved me, I shed the extra weight, and I felt better than I had in my 24 years. She held me accountable to meet her for early morning runs, and I have been hooked since. I rarely miss a day now, and when I don’t run, well, I don’t run. Nothing else runs, either. And, it still saves me.

From the depths of my heart and soul, dear Amy, thank you.

I dug back in my Philly photos, and found one of the few of us together. While we took many excursions together, we had mostly pictures of each other. No selfies back then! We are no longer concerned with taking pictures with hot lifeguards.

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When we get together, or even through the mail–typically for no occasion, we like to share small gifts with each other. This time was no different. Let me preface the rest of the story with this: of our many food remedies in those early days of our year together, dry cereal seemed to be good medicine, and there was always plenty with kids in our respective houses. One kind in particular eased the most pain; and I called it my “crack”–its name fit. While putting together our bag of goodies for each other, we had the same idea:

This morning, we enjoyed a run. At age 54 for both of us, this now means a run/walk. We were gone for an hour, and I had my 10,000 steps for the day before we got back. It was gloriously reminiscent of our early days together, 31 years ago. Last night, we called “Short Amy,” and left her a voicemail. She lives in Hawaii now, and we dream of going there to see her. If not that, we keep trying to find a way for all three of us to connect when she is back on the “Madland,” as she aptly calls it. She left a voicemail back for us this morning while we were out running. We will keep trying, because friendships this special are worth the effort.

We enjoyed a brunch, and they hit the road. Their children were delightful and patient with our extended visiting, but Spring Break 2021 was calling, so they hit the road.

Two big send-offs in one weekend was enough. A shared meal is always a good way to begin the goodbye process, and we were able to enjoy a family lunch Friday in Wichita on our way to the airport.

I feel that big hole deep inside again today, and, once again, I have been trying to fill it with food. This time, I know I can rein it it, and accept and appreciate both the sweet and the bitter that life offers, and not rely upon food to provide it. However, I’ve got an entire box of cereal waiting to make me feel better…

GOLD AND GIRLS

If you value your personal safety above having fun, I wouldn’t recommend traveling with Gail in the mountains in the midst of a snowstorm.

If, however, like me, you value both, you may not have a choice. She was driving, it was snowing (blizzarding?), and I was trapped. She wasn’t the slightest bit scared, and I was white-knuckling it in the back seat. Margaret was in the front, not saying much. She didn’t have to. I was saying it all: Gail! We can’t go any further! Gail! Look at those cars in the ditch already! Gail! We can’t see the road! Gail! Slow down! Gail! Even the locals at that convenience store said we were crazy to go on! Gail! We can’t go 18 more miles on hairpin-turn roads in this weather! Gail! March 4th is not our lucky day! You get the idea.

It may as well have been sunny and 70 degrees, for all Gail cared. The treacherous driving conditions didn’t faze her one bit.

“Kathleen, it’s fine. I can drive just fine. Don’t worry one bit. I’m not.” And she truly wasn’t one bit scared.

Margaret remained silently stoic. I’m not sure exactly how she felt. It didn’t matter, Gail was captain of our ship, and she was captaining forward. Forward through the blowing snow, slush and ice, forward on the road with no center line visible, forward to our Cripple Creek, Colorado destination.

“All I need is my rosary and my rear-view,” Gail said. Apparently, she was right.

Apparently, Gail really is invincible. She thinks so, I think perhaps she is most of the time, but this time, I wasn’t sure. Much like when I am trapped in an airplane and scared to death–for no reason when I’m in the air–I felt trapped in the car. I couldn’t get out and freeze, and I couldn’t exactly hitch a ride either. And there was no place to stay at this point.

Obviously, we made it. And, several hours after we arrived, with several more hours of snow accumulation, several more hours of daylight gone, and several more hours of wind, Mary and Cindy made it, too.

I wasn’t feeling any form of Rocky Mountain High like I normally do when we are driving through the mountains on that last leg; I was too scared. The John Denver CD was ready and waiting, and finally, with just a few more of the last 18 miles to go, I loosened up a bit, dug out the CD and sang along. I let myself think that perhaps we really would make it there alive, and for that, I was feeling a bit high. Gail and Margaret sang, too, and we coasted slowly into town.

It is always a bummer when Suzanne can’t join us, and there is no replacing her. We weren’t trying. Her altitude intolerance makes it miserable for her, and we get it.

It seems Gail has touted this destination among her peers back home as a great place to spend time and money, and several of them wanted to check it out for themselves.

So, since it wasn’t officially an exclusive sister trip without Suzanne, we included several new adventure-seekers. Margaret went last year, and apparently had enough fun for a repeat trip. Mary and Cindy had never been, which made their arrival all the more wondrous. The last 18 miles are normally splendidly beautiful, but this time they were treacherous. Mary, however, is apparently a skilled snowy-mountain-road driver in her Jeep, even when she has no idea where she is going. They blew in with the snow and the wind in the dark several hours after we did, and the fun commenced.

And it really never stopped.

It actually started for me Wednesday evening, when I arrived in Atwood to spend the night at Gail’s before we departed Thursday morning. Margaret conceived the idea for this sign for her beloved hometown, and she worked to make it happen.

We hit the road Thursday morning, and made our way west. Gail’s favorite stop just outside of Colorado Springs–The Pop-a-Top Saloon–was on the agenda, as it always is. However, as we approached, something didn’t look right. It wasn’t. It was closed due to a fire in January.

We continued on, with the snow just beginning to blow as we approached the Springs. It became slush by the time we were on the other side of town, climbing up the mountains on Highway 24. There were several cars in the ditch along the way, and even with the snowplow just in front of us, it remained slushy and slick. We turned the corner for the last 18 miles, and the highway was white. It didn’t get much better as we went along. Mercifully, there were no idiots speeding at us from the other direction on this two-lane, mountain-hugging highway with sharp drop-offs on the side opposite the mountain. We met a few cars, but most people probably had the good sense to stay put. Below is a picture from Google Earth of the road this weekend, with more snow headed there.

The storm this weekend in Colorado apparently opened up for the travelers to arrive safely to Cripple Creek.

We were the only guests on the first night at our favorite inn, the Cripple Creek Hospitality House. It is the former Teller County Hospital, and it is reminiscent of the early days of the last century, complete with authentic equipment and remnants from its days as a hospital. I turned in before all the others, and, as I understand it, they celebrated in the hallway well into the wee hours of the night. Sleep is always my first priority, so I didn’t join them. I wish I had their stamina.

The next morning brought sunshine and warmer temperatures, as if the snow squall from the night before never existed. The wind went down, and the streets were quickly cleared.

We shopped, hitting our favorite jewelry and gift store, 9494, as well as the second-hand store, where–woo-hoo! I found a few more Fiesta ware pieces. It wasn’t the jackpot I gave away last time to Suzanne and Gail that I wrote about in my last blog, but I found a few nice additions to add to my collection waiting in boxes from Kohls.com when I arrived home. There are several more must-shop shops there, and we made our rounds. We donated to the local economy in the casinos as well, with a few of the others hitting a few small mother lodes, but no large fortunes.

And, of course, we ate. And we ate some more. We are sure to hit our favorite Irish pub each time; this time we hit it twice.

The donkeys that have freely roamed the streets of Cripple Creek for years are descendants of the original donkeys used during the original gold rush there, and are safely sheltered just outside of town during the winter months. Visitors are encouraged to visit and feed them, so we did.

Gail doesn’t normally kiss ass…

We took the four-mile drive to nearby Victor, another gold-mining town. The large mining operations along the way are an educational sight, and, because I am a trivia nerd, I wanted the others to know all the uses for gold besides jewelry, and I want you to know, too:

*It is used as currency worldwide.

*It is used in dentistry for crowns and fillings.

*It is used in computers and other electronics because it is a good conductor of electricity. It is likely in your cell phone, too.

*Winning the gold medal is recognized as the top honor, and it is used in religious statues and idols as well.

The mother lode was struck in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in 1890, and Cripple Creek’s population swelled to about 50,000. Today, Cripple Creek’s population is just under 1200 people, and Victor is home to about 400. Mining jobs remain an important element of the local economy.

It was in Cripple Creek that the idea for this blog was conceived. We have been taking our sister trips to Cripple Creek twice each year for the last ten years, and it became obvious to me a few years ago that I had indeed struck the sister lode. This time, we hit the friend lode, too.

We enjoyed lunch at a local veteran-owned bar and grill in Victor, then shopped some more.

We had a 5:00 date in Cripple Creek, and after an hour and then 12 extra minutes of grace, we found our way out of the escape room in the Cripple Creek District Museum. As well as enjoying our collective brainpower in this adventure, we learned a lot about the gold-mining history of the area; we had to in order to get out.

These adventures will stick in my memory, but I am most fond of this memory: I made new friends. It is no secret that when women gather in groups, as the numbers increase, so does the potential for discord. Not among us. I am looking forward to gathering again with Gail and her three friends, whom I now call my friends as well. We talked, laughed, cried, bonded, “relieved wind,” did yoga, did a puzzle, ate, drank and were merry–with Mary, Margaret and Cindy.

Bonnie and Judy, the sisters I found at a garage sale last year, joined us once again. They are quiet, but good company.

Mary and Cindy left a few hours before Gail, Margaret and me on Sunday. The weather remained bright, sunny and safe for traveling. While we have never wished for a snowstorm to keep us from arriving–which we almost didn’t this time, we always wish for a snowstorm to sock us in to keep us there for an extra day or two. As I write, the area is getting pummeled by a monster snowstorm, and I wish it would have been a week earlier. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and we were all able to hit the road.

Rocky Mountain High blared again on the way out, and we all sang along.

There’s no place like home…

***********

It has been 13 years since March Fourth became March Forth for our family, and while the pain of loss never fully subsides, each passing year strengthens our sisterly bonds, as well as our fortitude to continue to live our lives in honor of the legacy our parents left us. We celebrate life and their lives on or around the anniversary date with this trip each year, and again in the fall. We know that we hit the mother lode and the father lode with our parents. As parents and as people, they were golden. Something tells me Mom and Dad are smiling down upon us and our adventures, and while they never met Mary, Margaret or Cindy, I’m pretty sure they are smiling down upon them as well.

PEER PRESSURE

They finally wore me down. After months–perhaps years–of exerting all the influence they could, I broke down and did it. I joined them. I held out, probably because I am not one to jump on bandwagons. But this really is no bandwagon I am talking about. This practice has stood the test of time–decades for some, perhaps one decade for Gail, and two for Suzanne. They have obviously been collectors for quite some time, and they want to share the love with me.

I am talking about, of course, Fiesta ware.

Now, however I feel as if I have awoken from a long slumber. I’m not sure why I didn’t join them sooner, but as of Friday night, when I placed my first online order, and yesterday morning, when I picked up a few random pieces on clearance at a kitchen and home store, I am officially collecting. Those bright colors, the expected randomness in one’s color collections, the thrill of the find, something new in my routine and the increased kinship this brings to our sisterhood all make me feel warm inside.

Sometimes small changes in one’s habits can be a much-needed refresher. I wonder now how I used that boring stoneware for all those years when these vivid colors of the iconic tableware were waiting to entice me.

Suzanne and I are expert thrift-store shoppers. Gail, not so much. Which explains why, when I was shopping in the local thrift store in our favorite Colorado town on our last trip, and I found the mother lode of gently used Fiesta ware for $50, I had to text them both pictures (Gail was trying to hit the mother lode at the casino) to find out if that was indeed a good deal.

I should have known that I had just unearthed a treasure. Instead, I gave it away. Gail gladly forked over a fifty, and she and Suzanne split the colors–red, blue and yellow. I now regret this stupid move, and I mentioned that in the text thread Suzanne and I shared last week:

I have put the vibe out to attract more good Fiesta fortune, and I am confident I will find it. If you happen to have any lying around that you want to pass on, please contact me–first. As in, before Gail or Suzanne. I have lost time to make up for here. Besides, I have given enough away already. And, to add insult to injury, I have recently given away three coffee cups I found at garage sales to Suzanne and Gail, simply because I didn’t know what I had.

Gail and Suzanne are happy to showcase their collections for your viewing pleasure:

Gail salivated over Fiesta ware for years before she began collecting. She used to store it in her cabinet, but she now loves the visual treat of displaying them on shelves in her kitchen/dining area.

Suzanne collected Betty Crocker points for years and redeemed them for Fiesta ware. She finds random pieces in her thrifting excursions as well.

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The tables have now turned, and I am applying peer pressure to my sisters to conform to my idea. I have something up my sleeve–literally and figuratively, and I want to share the love with them. We have talked about it for a long time; one is on board, and the other is not yet committed. And it is a commitment, because it is permanent. I want to further bond our sisterhood in ink.

Several years ago, in honor of Dad, I got a wheat tattoo. Ten days ago, and just in time for the anniversary, I paid homage to Mom with one of her favorite things, as well as two of mine:

Mom’s printed signature is in the petal; one of my favorite sayings is represented inside the moon.

I will let you know if this idea becomes permanent for all three of us.

And, if you need a good set of stoneware, let me know.

Gail and I will be in Colorado next weekend, Suzanne will join us on another trip. Perhaps I will find another mother lode of Fiesta ware at the thrift store. Here’s a picture from a previous trip to keep Suzanne’s spirit alive there.

SIXTY-ONE AND STILL HAVING FUN

About the time I was likely getting into my deep sleep last night, Gail and her friends were carousing about in the countryside, not yet even considering hitting the sack. They were celebrating, after all, and when Gail is celebrating, time doesn’t matter.

Time, with its seemingly fickle nature, can play tricks on all of us. If we are in the dentist’s chair, it drags on interminably. If we are vacationing, say, lying on the beach, or carousing in our favorite mountain town, it seems to fly. It passes all the same, however, no matter what we are doing to pass it.

One year ago tonight–2/21/20, we were celebrating Gail’s 60th birthday. Here’s a refresher:

Today, 2/21/21, Gail is celebrating her 61st birthday. While this number may seem an unimportant age to some who have already reached it, it’s another significant milestone to Gail. No birthday is meaningless to Gail; as she has said before, and I quote: “It keeps getting better,” and “Birthdays are a gift you unwrap.”

Gail is 61 today, born on the 21st and celebrating in 2021. Such perfectly aligned numbers; perhaps we should use them when we throw our money down once again in the casinos in our favorite mountain town in a few weeks. Surely this time we will be lucky. More on that later.

One year ago tonight, we gathered in her small town to help her celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. It was a grand Gail gala, and we were so fortunate that she was indeed born on 2/21, because shortly thereafter, the entire world shut down; celebrations of this magnitude were forbidden.

It has been almost a year since COVID began to dictate our social interactions. I need not explain any further. In many ways, it has felt like a year in the dentist’s chair, but Gail continues to make every day of her life–pre-Covid included–a celebration. Her festive nature and ever-present sense of optimism are always palpable.

To me, this is simply Gail. It is how I have always known her. To anyone who is a new acquaintance, her deep reserves of positive energy are astounding. To me, she is my larger-than-life big sister. I have never known her to be anything but.

Her home is a chapel to this vibe. I remember when she moved from the small town close to where we grew up to her new home in another small Kansas town. I felt a sense of grief for those sacred walls she left behind; so many wonderful memories were made there, with many more sure to be foregone since she was moving. I was sure it would never be the same, and it wasn’t.

But it was still good, it was still Gail. She took her collection of whales along. She modified the rock-n-roll room–complete with rocking chairs–she had into a music room with her 600-plus CD collection.

She took her 80’s wicker furniture along, keeping it until it was time to let it go. She had walls of Hallmark plaques in her former home. Some made the cut, some didn’t. Most of them have since been retired. There sometimes comes a time to let go, to listen to one’s little voice about changing tastes, and she has always listened.

Gail and her two older daughters had many memorable evenings in their first home. If you look close, you can see the wicker under the 80’s throw blanket behind her. Her daughters rocked and rolled right along with her, and still do.

I remember walking into her new home, and I knew instantly that nothing was lost. This is still Gail’s spirit in her new home. And I felt no more sadness about what she left behind. It was time for new, with the pieces of her past arranged in their new places.

While some of her favorite collections can be explained and understood, as in Rosie the Riveter–Gail Can Do It, others, like her penchant for yellow clocks, cannot. It simply is what she loves, and because of that, it’s beautiful. They are beautiful, all those yellow clocks. She likes what she likes with no apology.

None necessary.

While I am missing my big sister on her birthday, I know that her friends capably helped her celebrate last night–or shall I say this morning. The lantern was a gift from one of those fellow carousers, complementing the light that radiates from within her, no matter where she is, what day/time it is, who she is with, what is happening in the world around her, or what the weather is.

The weather around Gail is always sunny and warm.

In eleven days, Gail and I will arrive back in our favorite mountain town to once again, March Forth. We will have a belated birthday celebration, and we will celebrate our parents lives on the 13th anniversary of their deaths. It will indeed be a celebration. Suzanne still fights the altitude sickness, and because she is a newlywed, she is happy to stay back. We will gather together another time.

Remember, when you are with Gail, life is always a celebration. She even made jokes at our parents double funeral. She cried with all of us, but she made us laugh, too. As the new matriarch of the family, she flexed her We Can Do It Rosie muscles to show us all how to do it. She carried a lantern of her inner light, guiding the way for all of us to continue to smile and laugh, and to make a celebration out of life, no matter what it hands us.

She continues to be larger-than-life, and to this little sister, growing larger with each passing year. I am a lucky middle sister.

Judging from our past performance in the casinos, however, we could use a little more luck with our numbers. Please send us your good vibes for good luck with #61 and #21.

HAPPY 61ST BIRTHDAY GAIL!

SISTER LODE TOGETHERNESS BEFORE GAIL’S 60TH BIRTHDAY PARTY

THIS IS LOVE

Love has the power to to send us flying high, or to bring us to our knees. We have been on our knees in soul-searing pain when our loved ones were taken away, which makes it even sweeter when it takes us flying high.

We share our joy and sadness with each other. The wonderful thing is that sadness is divided when it is shared, and joy is multiplied when it is shared.

Today is Valentine’s Day, the day in my single years that used to make me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I am long past those years, comfortably settled into almost 27 years of marriage. Gail is right behind me with 25 years under her belt. The flying-high part is a necessary, but short-lived part of long-term romance; it is simply not sustainable.

And that’s a good thing, because if Suzanne’s beau doesn’t stop all those sickeningly sweet gestures he does for her, I may be throwing up in my mouth a little bit more. Gail may do the same.

As of yesterday, he is her husband, as well as her beau. And this is a beautiful thing–sweet gestures and all.

Now, her last name rhymes with Gail’s last name, and it is the last half of my long German last name. We love to be alike.

The snow has been flying off and on all day today, but yesterday, the clouds parted and the sun shone through, just in time for the wedding. The travelers traveled safely, and both families were able to attend this small gathering, sharing the joy with the newlyweds.

I am quite sure that all four parents smiled down from above; it would have been the groom’s parents anniversary yesterday. I’m sure they were celebrating as well. I know that our parents were happiest on earth when their children were happy, so that had to be magnified in Heaven.

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

Sometimes, in the darkest days of life, there are simply no words to express the sadness. We’ve been there.

Sometimes, too, in the brightest days of life, there are no words powerful enough to express the joy. We were all there yesterday. The best words I can muster are this: I have never seen Suzanne this happy.

There simply are no more words to write, except HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, and CONGRATULATIONS SUZANNE AND STEVE.

GROUNDHOG DAYS

“January has only one thing to be said for it: it is followed by February.” Kathleen Tynan

I hate to disappoint Suzanne, but Groundhog Day is only two days away, I don’t have an outfit planned yet, and it doesn’t look like I will be able to come up with one. Perhaps I will simply wear brown and call it good, but I’m open to ideas.

It’s not that the day isn’t worthy of a special get-up, because it is one of my favorite obscure days of the year. Plus, the movie Groundhog Day is in my top five. I will be watching it Tuesday.

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Even in the pre-pandemic years, January was typically a soul-draining month for me. The coldest and windiest part of winter is upon us, the holidays are over, and the days are short and the nights are long. I have to work harder to remind myself that brighter days are soon to follow the darker ones. This year, when I reminded myself to look closer, January offered the following joys:

*Hope for the eventual defeat of COVID began arriving in the vaccine.

*Gail, Suzanne and I got together last weekend to celebrate a late Christmas and our Mom’s birthday as well.

*After it adopted us by not leaving our door, we adopted a sweet cat. My husband has aptly named it “Katleen,” and Suzanne thinks I’m on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady. I haven’t owned a cat since I lived with both of my sisters on the farm, but it kinda feels like I need a cat at this point in my life…

*Our great state of Kansas celebrated its 160th birthday two days ago, and I dressed appropriately. I think Suzanne liked it; I’m pretty sure she meant “you’re crazy” in a good way in the return text after I sent her this picture:

One of Kansas’s locally famous daughters recommended drinking beer or wine made in Kansas to celebrate. I did my part by toasting to Kansas with a beer from Blue Skye, our local brewery.

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

The best is always yet to come. One of our Mom’s greatest lessons on surviving tough times was this: Always have something to look forward to.

*Suzanne is getting married in a few weeks, and Gail and I–as well as our whole family–are almost as excited as she is.

*Since COVID prevented our epic 50th birthday party at the shore for her, Suzanne will choose her dream beach destination for a sister trip this summer–we hope.

*Gail will turn 61 years young in February, and I will turn 55 in April. While our celebrations won’t be as big as Suzanne’s–or as big as Gail’s 60th last year, we will celebrate as we always do.

A visual reminder of just how much fun was had at Gail’s 60th birthday party last year…

I don’t need to tell any of you who know the movie that 2020 felt like Groundhog Day almost every day. The same bad news over and over; the same staying-at-home pattern, the same yearning for lost social contact.

If, however, we look at our lives this past year as a chance to re-evaluate, just like the lead character Phil did in the movie, then perhaps it can be seen as a catalyst, or even a crucible whose challenges and crises provided an opportunity for personal growth.

If the same old ways in your life keep producing the same old results, well, then…you get the idea.

I have found the best way to keep the winter blues and blahs alive and well is to stay in the same routine, the same rut over and over again. It always works like a charm. So, today, as the gray skies hung low like a wet blanket, and the dreaded Kansas wind (Do I need to remind you that my crazy sisters LOVE the wind? Ugh!) tried to steal any remaining joy from the outdoor experience today, I decided to get out there anyway, and shake up my routine.

My empty-nested husband and I took a little Sunday drive north. We have the time and only ourselves to take care of, so we took care of a yearning to try something new. Because we like the small-town atmosphere of a down-home dining experience, we decided to try a new restaurant we had heard of in a roundabout way.

The Broken Arrow Cafe in tiny Aurora, Kansas was just what we needed. While we don’t recommend taking the backroads on a wet day, if you live anywhere in central Kansas, it is worth the drive to this restaurant in Cloud County, Kansas.

Happy Groundhog Day to you this Tuesday–and every day.

PER ASPERA

If you meet any one, or all of us when we are traveling outside of our home state of Kansas, and you call any one of us, or all of us Dorothy because clearly, we are not in Kansas anymore, we will not think you are funny. We have heard it a million times already. If, however, you are calling us Dorothy because she demonstrated strength, bravery and fortitude during a most difficult time, then we will be flattered. She embodied the original Ad Astra Per Aspera spirit.

Dorothy Gale, the main character in the iconic movie The Wizard of Oz, found her way home to Kansas when all hope was lost and helped others find their way as well. She demonstrated courage by facing her fears, led others out of darkness and challenged false authority like the good-natured bad-ass she was. And, her last name was Gale. Different spelling, same good-nature, same bad-ass spirit as Gail of The Sister Lode.

There’s no place like home.

Most of us, after spending record time in our homes last year, know this better than we may want to. I don’t have to explain any further, the entire world is in the same boat.

The roughly 2.9 million residents of Kansas are no different. However, we come from a long line of people just like Dorothy Gale. On January 29th, just 5 days from today, we will celebrate our state’s 160th birthday. Our state motto says it all: Ad Astra Per Aspera: To The Stars Through Difficulty. Our state was founded on this motto, and we continue to demonstrate it in good times and bad.

Gail, Suzanne and I gathered at my home on Saturday, January 23rd. Gail’s daughter Lydia had her quarterly endocrinologist appointment in Salina on Friday, and then they went on to Wichita to see Gail’s firstborn, Kate. Because Lydia has her mother’s strong We Can Do It sense of fortitude, and she is a Kansas-bred and born girl just like her mother and aunts, she has the Per Aspera spirit as well. She continues to meet the constant challenge of her Type One diabetes, and she continues to win the daily battles, as well as the war. Her checkup was as good as they could have hoped for. Just like any other hardship Gail and her offspring encounter, they plow through, to the stars through difficulty. Typically, they come out smiling on the other end. This time was no different.

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In the absence of our typical large Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, the sisters of The Sister Lode had a gift exchange that still needed to take place. This annual event is highly anticipated between the three of us; we spare only some expense and no effort to choose the most exquisite and perfect gifts for each other.

This year was no different.

Suzanne has no live cats yet; she is searching for the perfect one. Until then, Gail found the perfect substitute:

If you grew up in our era, you probably won’t bat an eye at one of the gifts I got for Gail. She loves pillows, and this seemed perfect. If, however, you are from a generation below us, please know that this game was not considered occult when we were kids, nor do we consider it that now. Perhaps we got some really good information and guidance from the Ouija board back then, back when it was socially acceptable.

Knowing I am a patriotic American and Kansan, Gail knew I would love this addition to my Sunflower State collection of decor. Suzanne, who exaggerates, will tell you that I have a costume to match every holiday and special occasion throughout the year. She is pretty sure I will fashion an outfit out of this flag just in time for Kansas Day on Friday. Silly Suzanne, I would never desecrate our state flag like that. Besides, I already have my outfit for Kansas Day ready to go. I planned it out just after I put my Inauguration Day outfit together last week.

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Our mother would have been 84 years old last Friday, January 22nd. Because, in order to to reach those stars through difficult times, we continue to find reasons to celebrate. She would have wanted us to celebrate, with or without her. So, we did. A day late. I’m pretty sure there are no clocks or calendars in Heaven, so to her, it was no big deal. Nothing was ever a big deal to Mom; she was pretty much go-with-the-flow; along for the ride, always doing whatever worked for everyone else. If she had even one fault, it would be that she never put her needs first. Of course, that can also be a virtue, and it worked well for her.

She loved navy blue and white stripes, and while there was no memo to be missed by Gail, somehow Suzanne and I decided separately to wear those when we got together.

All three of us, however, got the other memo circulating on social media, and we invited Bernie to our celebration. We know Mom was laughing from Above, and we hope you are, too. It’s much easier to get through difficulty with laughter.