INNER PEACE ON EARTH

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INNER PEACE ON EARTH

Tis the season.  The Christmas holiday is almost upon us, and most of us—myself included—are doing the dance.  Again.

We shop.  We decorate. We bake.  We send cards (I don’t, sorry).  We plan and attend parties.  We eat.  We hope we bought the right gifts for the right people in the right amounts.  We wonder.  We worry.  We stress.

Then we wonder why we worry and stress.  At least, I do.

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I spent the day yesterday with a dear friend.  A friend, who, while we are not close in the sense that we see each other often and talk frequently, we remain close.  Months can go by, and we are able to—you guessed it—pick up where we left off.

Except this time things have changed since we left off.   She is making some major life changes that, she reports, need to be made.  I found this out when I called her last week, apropos of nothing.  Just to talk.

It had been too long, and it was time to get together.  I realized she needed to talk longer than the time we had on the phone, so we made plans for the weekend.

We shopped.  We ate.  We sipped.  We puzzled and colored.  We talked.  We laughed.  We shared.  We understood.

Our day started with a one-hour car ride.  She talked for most of that.  I realized she needed to be heard, and I needed to listen.  So, I did.

If life truly is a dance, then she is changing her steps.  Changing them in a way she needed to for herself.  Except her dance partners now don’t know her new dance, and they don’t like it very well.  None of us want to be made fools of on the dance floor of life.  So, while her new dance moves feel good to her, they have been met with disdain from the other partners.  They don’t know these new moves.

Yet, she keeps dancing the new dance because she knows she cannot go back to the old one.  It feels good to her.  It feels like she is finally making peace inside herself, even if the dance partners feel like she is creating strife and waging war.  She is going with it, and I am cheering her on.

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As I write this Sunday morning, I am mentally cataloguing all the Christmas preparations I need to complete today.

*Wrap gifts.

*Bake cookies.

*Shop online, maybe even go to town to a real store, even though I just did yesterday.

It is causing me a bit of stress.  I really just want to take a nap.

It’s not supposed to be this way.  It’s supposed to bring me tidings of comfort and joy.  It is supposed to help me spread peace on earth.  It is supposed to be a Holy Night, and a Holy Day as well.  And I just want to rest ye, merry gentle-woman.

So, I am taking a moment to re-align.  A few minutes to stop, look and listen, because I feel like I am doing all the talking here.

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In my work as a speech language pathologist–a.k.a. speech therapist, we talk about the two-sided coin of expressive language and receptive language.  When a person has a stroke, head injury or some other compromise to the brain, we assess how well they can express themselves mostly through speech, but also by writing and other non-verbal means.  We also assess how well they receive information, mostly by listening, but also by reading and looking.  They must be able to understand incoming information before they can process it and turn it into outgoing expression.

When most of us speak of communicating, we tend to focus on our expression primarily, and what our listeners understand secondarily.  Both sides of the coin must be considered in effective communication.

In this Christmas season of busy-ness, bustle and hustle, perhaps more listening is what we all need.  I know I do.

In my grade school Catholic education, I recall learning the four pillars of prayer:

1:  Praise God

2:  Give thanks.

3:  Ask for forgiveness.

4:  Ask for help.

This is a well-rounded formula for talking to God; it covers the bases of what we should say in prayer.  However, I don’t recall learning that we should also flip the coin over and listen.  Perhaps we were taught this, but clearly, I wasn’t listening.

No being—human or divine—enjoys a one-sided conversation.  Who wants to listen to someone talk without ever listening?  No one I know.

Be still, we are told in the Bible.  That’s the tough part.  Just sit still and listen.  Some people call it meditation, but if that’s too woo-woo for you, then don’t call it that.  It is, at its core, simply listening.  Downloading information instead of constantly uploading.  And there is a lot of good information out there, if we simply listen.

Whomever you pray to, in whatever fashion, whenever you do pray, don’t forget to also listen.  That’s where the good stuff is.

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Mom wanted us to live our lives by the Prayer of St. Francis.  I’ve referred to it many times, and I will continue to refer to it in the future.  It is the perfect prescription for a life well-lived.

In order to be this Instrument of Peace that Mom and St. Francis so kindly asked us to be, I have discovered in my efforts that in order to share this peace, one must first possess it.  You can’t give away something you don’t have.  Further, the best way I have found to possess this peace is to start by simply listening.

Listen to people.  We don’t know what their lives look like on the inside, and listening is the only way we can determine how to best understand them so that we can share peace with them.  I listened to my friend for the first hour yesterday so that I could formulate a response that would help her the most.  She told me her story, and I told her mine.  I shared my past struggles that I felt would help her with her current struggles, even though I have never walked in her shoes.  I think it made her feel less alone.

Listen to your little voice inside.  It is the voice of reason and intuition, and the older we get with more life experiences, it is ultimately the voice of wisdom.   Don’t deny it or shush it.  It may end up screaming to be heard if you do.

Listen when you pray.  Whatever you believe in, in whatever way you choose to believe it, there is always wisdom greater than our own to be downloaded.

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When I got ready to decorate for Christmas last week, I found myself stressed just looking at those totes we brought up from the basement.  Four of them.  Ugh.

So, I listened.  I left a lot of it in the box instead of feeling obligated to put it up.  I gave some of it away, too.  I rearranged a few things.  I cleared the coffee table and put up my favorite Jim Shore pieces, the artist who created the Thanksgiving angel I wrote about two weeks ago.

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I have another angel he made with the Nativity scene on it.  I put her on Mom and Dad’s table next to the Thanksgiving angel.  It brought me peace.

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I made it a little simpler this year, and it felt good.  I have a little more peace inside to share now.   I plan to keep going.

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In Our Favorite Gifts of 2017 (December 31st, 2017), I wrote about the annual hand-made ornament I receive from the young boy I worked with for several years in private speech therapy.  Although it had been more than a year since I had worked with him, I received a third one from him last year.  Last week, there was another box from him at my door, over two years after we stopped working together.   It is the first gift I have received this year, but I’m pretty sure it will be one of the best.  He made it himself, from the heart, with appreciation and kindness.  I’m sure his kind mother helped him send it.  I treasure all four of the ornaments he has now made for me.

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In the interest of privacy, his name is covered.

What will be the best gifts you give this year?  Will it be the ones you purchased in a frantic mode, spending too much money and wondering if it will be the right one?  The right size or color?  The one you bought that will bring them joy all year?  I doubt it.  I think perhaps it will be the ones that aren’t bought.

Perhaps it will be the gift of listening to a friend who needs to be heard.  Maybe you will take them to dinner, or better yet, cook for them.  Maybe it will be the permission you gave yourself to decorate less, or maybe spend less.   Maybe you will give away a possession of personal value to someone you know would enjoy it more than you do.  Maybe you will buy yourself something you know you need and/or want, and very likely deserve.  Perhaps you will even create some new dance steps for yourself that you know you need to make, even if your dance partner(s) don’t like it.  Maybe you will create a home-made gift from the heart like the young boy does for me every year.

Perhaps it will be a gift to yourself of listening when you pray.  Maybe you will forgive someone, which turns out to be a buy-one-get-one gift, because in the end, forgiveness benefits you more than them.

Bonus.

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When January comes and the holidays are gone, we should start preparing for the holidays again—in our hearts.  Christmas should not be one day in one month within one season.  If the true spirit of Christmas is to be celebrated, is should be within us every day of every month of every year.  If we can make peace within, we can share it with everyone else all year.

If you are unable to celebrate with your loved ones at Christmas, have a celebration later and call it Christmas.  Or whatever you want to call it, as long as you treasure the time spent with them.

There will be no Sister Lode post for the next few weeks.  I am taking some time to celebrate with my family, taking some time off work, and probably taking more naps.

I plan to do a lot of listening.

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Me, middle sister Kathleen at Christmas, circa 1972.  I asked Gail and Suzanne for Christmas pictures, but no luck.

Merry Christmas from Gail, Kathleen and Suzanne, the sisters of The Sister Lode.  Peace on Earth, starting with peace within.

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I took that nap after lunch, and started on the cookies.  I had my Christmas cards stacked on a pile on the counter as I mixed.  This one was on the top of the stack.  It came from the young boy who makes my annual ornament; every member of his family signed it.  Its message is exactly what I am trying to say, too.

FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

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FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

When the former leader of our country shed tears on live television this week, I shed them, too.  He was saying goodbye to his father, another former leader of our country.  At this moment, his most important role was that of son, and the purpose of the funeral was to celebrate the life of a father and husband first—perhaps even a friend—before the life of a former United States president.

I had a lunch date with a home health patient at the time the funeral was televised.  He was watching it, and my job was to watch him eat to make sure he was not having problems swallowing.  So, with a few sideways glances to lessen the feeling I was indeed staring at him—its my job, I, too, watched the funeral.

This man was almost as old as George H.W. Bush.  He, too, had lived a long and storied life.  Unlike George Bush Jr., though, he didn’t shed tears when his own father died, he told me in between bites.  When he was thirteen years old, his father died suddenly.

From that point in, he was taught, boys and men don’t cry.  A series of further tragedies befell his family.  Still, he reported, he never cried. I tried to hide my obvious tears as I, too, held my hand over my heart in a salute, just as they did on TV.  Unlike him, I wasn’t very good at not crying.

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The next day, George H.W. Bush’s body arrived in Houston by train for burial.  It was noted during the television coverage that the last president to be transported to his final resting place by train was Dwight D. Eisenhower, 49 years ago in 1969.  He was carried by train to his boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas, the very place I was at that moment.

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71-456-279 Funeral of Dwight David Eisenhower – Abilene, Kansas 2 April 1969 The funeral train arrives at the Union Pacific Station 2 April 1969

I tried to imagine this small town of less than 7,000 residents alight and alive with glory, respect and honor for their hometown boy; a meaningful, but sad parade of people from far and near.

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I was three years old in 1969, living two hours away from Abilene.  Now that I am aware enough,  I wish I had been old enough and close enough to Abilene to witness the history of Eisenhower’s burial.

Now, in 2018, this town still resonates with the spirit of the Eisenhower presidency.  I see it around town, especially when I visit or drive by his museum, which includes his final resting place in a small chapel.

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I wrote about Abilene in Someplace Special (September 10th, 2017). If you have never visited Abilene—and especially the Eisenhower museum, I highly recommend it.

 

 

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I recall a funeral procession I was part of in Wichita in 2006.  My aunt Jeanne—my mother’s sister—passed away, and her funeral was on the east side of town.  Her burial was on the far west side of town.  For a nominal fee, she was allowed a grand police escort on her final ride, with the procession cutting all the way through this city, stopping all traffic along the way.

And it was grand.  I wish you could have seen it.  I wish she could have seen such a procession while she was alive.  You see, she couldn’t see.  She was blinded at 18 months of age from retinal blastoma—cancer—in both retinas.  She never knew sight, but it didn’t stop her from leading a full and vibrant life.

Then, the day before our parents died, we were back in Wichita for our grandmother’s funeral.  Gail, Suzanne, several of our brothers and I were in one vehicle in her procession to the cemetery from the church.  In his signature dry, monotone comedic style, our brother Ryan posed this deep question: “If a funeral procession meets a fire truck or ambulance, who has the right of way?’

We laughed it off, knowing such humor was his gift to us.  We left the cemetery after the burial to go back to the church for a dinner, no longer in procession.  It was a large cemetery, and yet another funeral procession was headed to the cemetery as we left.  Then, as if he had sent out a freak vibe with that question, a fire truck headed swiftly toward the oncoming procession.

Apparently, urgency for the living supersedes respect for the dead.  The procession had to pull over.

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We paid loving respects to our grandmother, celebrating her 90-year, long and blessed life.  We had one day of reprieve after her funeral before we started planning another one.

Now, we are not a family to brag or gloat over our achievements, but we will hold fast to the honor of having received the most floral arrangements for any funeral ever in the lone church in our small hometown—95, if I got the number right.  Granted, it was a double funeral, but it was still one funeral, so we will argue that should the record ever come into question.

We had to find joy in whatever small ways we could.

In those four days between their deaths on Tuesday and the funeral on Saturday, we clung to each other; cried mostly, but laughed some, too.  We propped each other up and picked each other up, with grace and faith ensuring that a majority of at least four of us seven were relatively strong at any given moment to pick up the other three or less, both literally and figuratively.

The only good thing about the time between the deaths and the funeral was the fact that our actions were already prescribed.  We didn’t have to figure out what to do.  We simply mourned, made arrangements, accepted food, flowers and friendship, and waited.  We were in the socially expected shroud of mourning, and we did that well.

Still, knowing exactly what we had to do, the pain was unparalleled for all of us.  No one is prepared for such soul-searing pain, but I am glad we weren’t warned.  That would have been worse.  We loved them fiercely, just as they loved us.  We collected ourselves for Saturday morning, and even found ourselves comforting some of the mourners who had come to comfort us.  We were experts at comforting each other by this point, so we had it down.  We found strength to make it through the funeral.

Since then, we have all became stronger than we ever dreamed we could be.  They are still with us, and we celebrate them in our own ways now, every day of every month of every year.

Their funeral helped us do this.  There were tears, of course, but just like President Bush’s funeral, there were happy moments, too.

When George W. Bush eulogized his father, I felt his pain.  I recalled the eulogy we delivered for our parents.  All seven of us composed a written eulogy before the funeral, and Gail, Suzanne and I delivered it.  We agreed ahead of time that we would take turns reading, and if any of us were to become emotional and unable to read any further, we would simply step down, handing the baton to the next one, even if it were mid-sentence.

None of us faltered.    I suppose we were perceived as strong, at least at that moment.  I suppose we were strong, at that moment, anyway.  This isn’t to say that anyone who does falter while delivering a eulogy is not strong.  We simply were given grace and composure to get through this difficult moment.  We know where—or shall we say who—provided it for us.

At this moment, let me interject my expert advice on how to comfort the mourning.  I hate to brag, but we are sort of authorities on this subject:  It is not accurate to gauge how the bereaved are handling the loss by the way they are acting at the funeral.  The real test comes in the days, weeks and months—perhaps even years—after the funeral.  Trust us on this.  Trust me when I say that it is never too late to express condolences.  There is no statute of limitations.  For me, I found some of the most meaningful expressions of sympathy arriving not immediately, but after some time had passed.  It let me know that not everyone in the world had moved on, there were actually some people who knew that we were still suffering.

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Because funerals really are joyful celebrations sometimes cloaked in heaviness and sadness, it is important to keep a positive perspective regarding them.  Which is why I asked Gail for her contribution of funeral humor.  This is what she came up with:

A woman is sitting at her deceased husband’s funeral.  A man leans in to her and asks: “Do you mind if I say a word?”

“No, go right ahead,” the woman replies.

The man stands, clears his throat, says “Plethora,” and sits back down.

“Thanks,” the woman says. “That means ‘a lot.’”

Just before press time, I asked Suzanne for any large or small contribution to this post.  I wanted to keep it light, I told her.  And she is just the person to give me that.

Um, you are writing about five funerals, five funerals for six different people.  Good luck.”

I knew she would give “light.”

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We did cry a lot.  But more important than that, we found joy in those early days, even laughter.  Ryan, our dry-witted younger brother was 34 when Mom and Dad died.  Gail is his godmother, one of two adults appointed at baptism to be a spiritual leader to the child as he or she grows.  In earlier times, this meant also that they would be the guardian to the child should something happen to the parents.

At the wake the night before the funeral, Ryan was seated next to me.  He leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”

As we greeted people arriving at the wake, our childhood dentist, who lived across the street from our parents then, arrived with his condolences.  He re-introduced himself to me very seriously, thinking perhaps I would have forgotten him.  I hadn’t; he was a good dentist and is a good man.

“Of course!” I said.  “I remember you.”  Then I flashed him a wide smile, and asked: “Do you remember these teeth?” 

“Yes, yes I do!  They still look great,” he replied.

Thank you,” I said.  “I floss every day.”

“I can tell,” he said, smiling as he walked away.

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To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”—William Shakespeare

It takes a strong man to lead a country, especially the United States.  I think George W. Bush’s tears as he bade farewell to his father were a sign of strength.  I cried with him at that moment, sweet-bitter tears for a life well-lived.  Sweet-bitter tears that recalled fond memories of my own father.  Tears of strength that keep me going through my life, reminding me of all I have to be thankful for.

And all I have to keep laughing about.

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ANGELS AMONG US

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ANGELS AMONG US

I had a welcome guest last night.  He hadn’t visited in awhile, even though he knows my door is always open for him, and I would so love to see him more often.  I can’t predict when he will show up, but it always seems to be at the perfect time.

Be careful what you wish for.  I think I have given this admonition a few times before.

I had a dream about my dad last night.  He stopped by our house for a casual visit, as if he had never been gone.  All my dreams about Mom and Dad—and there aren’t many—are always in the context of a normal gathering, interaction or visit.  They are still on earth in my dreams, never having left.

In this dream, my dad stopped by our house just as I discovered a water leak.  It appeared to be coming from the top floor, draining two floors below to the basement.  I immediately brought it to my husband’s attention, my Mark of all trades and master of all—especially plumbing, and he was more concerned that we get going to wherever we were going at the moment.  “We’ll take care of it when we get back,” he said.

Now, if you know my husband, you know this is preposterous, he would have been on it in a cloud of dust; no hesitation.  The plumber from my hometown even showed up in my dream, and took a look at it.  He couldn’t figure it out.  My husband did take the time to check it out, but couldn’t find the leak, either.

My dad–my brilliant father, took one look and found a faulty plug on a nonexistent toilet in a nonexistent bathroom in our home.

Problem solved.

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Any essence of creativity for today’s blog didn’t show up yesterday, as I was trying to get it going.  I had several started, and several waiting in the wings, but nothing came together.  I thought perhaps I may have to crap out for this week, and try again next week.  I am at the mercy of this fickle force; if it doesn’t show up, there is nothing I can do to find the words.

At the end of the day yesterday, I prayed for some spark of inspiration, some guidance; some ideas.  I woke up with ideas swimming this morning, courtesy, I’m sure, of my dad’s visit.

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I put the Thanksgiving/autumn decorations away yesterday.  I felt a bit blue, as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  My husband suggested we get started on the Christmas decorations, and this made me even more blue.  I wanted to enjoy the space between the holidays with a bit of nothingness; I wanted to savor the lingering Thanksgiving tidings before hauling out the Christmas ones.

I feel strongly about the meaning of Christmas, but I don’t feel so good about how our society commercializes it.  I struggle with this every year.  I languish in the element of gratitude Thanksgiving brings; enhancing the practice of giving thanks can only be a positive formula for the striving toward peace on earth that Christmas should bring.

I decided to change one thing to try to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving more alive all year.

Several weeks ago, I found a Thanksgiving angel created by Jim Shore, one of my favorite artists.  He has become a favorite because Dad used to buy his pieces for Mom, having discovered them at their local drug store/gift shop.  He had bought her several pieces which we divided among us, and I have added to them with my own.  Mom loved angels.  We decided to engrave one on her side of their tombstone.

When I found this “Joy In The Harvest” angel, I knew she needed to come home with me.  So she did.

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When I put her away yesterday with the other Thanksgiving decorations, it brought me down.  When I woke up this morning, the first thought I remember was this:  Get the angel back out and leave her up all year.  Put her by your parent’s picture.  Perhaps that was the parting message Dad left me in the dream, right after he diagnosed the water leak.  Perhaps he wanted this special piece from the special artist displayed.

So, I did.  But this presented a new problem.

I have a small, family-heirloom table that serves as an altar; a shrine for my parents.  It is crowded already, as there are pictures, multiple other angels and small keepsakes to remind me of, and honor, Mom and Dad. Mom’s favorite saint–Saint Francis, as well as his prayer, is honored there, too.

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Give away one thing of great value,” was the advice given on a favorite daily calendar.

As these words from several months ago rang in my head, I knew what I must do.  I must part with one angel to make room for this one.  “One in, one out,” is the rule I try to live by when adding new possessions.  This is hard, and just this morning over coffee, my husband reminded me that I don’t necessarily need to one in just because I one out.  We will table this discussion for another day.

Today, however, is a special day.  December 2nd is my neighbor Diana’s birthday, and she, too, loves angels.  She speaks the language of angels, understands loss and forges on, having lost a son 21 years ago, the same way I lost my parents.

This beautiful angel, a gift from a family friend, was given within a floral arrangement at my parents’ funeral.  Her beauty must be shared, so I am passing her on to my angel of a neighbor, Diana, in honor of her angel in Heaven, Mark.

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This gratitude thing can be hard.  Some days, I don’t feel very grateful.  If I didn’t sleep well, which is a hit-or-miss affair at age 52, and especially if certain joints have decided to act up again, then I lose my focus.  I find myself angry because sleep escaped me, which makes everything gray and more uncomfortable.

I take some quiet time each morning to write, especially by hand, in a journal.  One practice that I keep is this:  write down three things I am grateful for, three things I haven’t written before, as well as all the big ones I write every day.   Most days, before I do this, I wonder what on earth I will come up with.  I think I can’t possibly think of three new things again, yesterday and the day before were hard enough.

Yet, I do.  I have become skilled at taking a glass that is half-empty, and calling it half-full.  It’s all in how you look at it.

And the how you look at it is the key.

It is your choice to see the glass as half-empty or half-full.  No one gets to dictate those thoughts inside your head.  It is always your choice, and I am here to testify that I have tried it both ways, and half-full always feels better.

When I get really desperate, when I feel there is no way I can possibly find even one more thing to be thankful for that I haven’t yet written down, I get quite creative with my gratitude.  Among the things I have written down on these lowest of low days include:

*electricity:  there was a planned power outage from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

*French press coffee during this power outage, courtesy of my husband heating the water on the gas burner on his grill in order to press the coffee, our morning life-giving drink.

*flannel sheets

*six 25-cent CDs at a garage sale from several of my favorite artists

*no sign of bedbugs after being exposed to them (again) on a home health visit

*a beautiful, intricate spiderweb on the porch

While it has taken me a long time—years—to sense gratitude for the following, I can say, with peace,  I have arrived at a place where I am thankful for these gifts:

*my parents didn’t have to leave each other behind when they died

*they didn’t have to suffer for one moment, like so many of my patients do

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Angels are among us, within us and all around us.  If you don’t sense this, turn some thoughts around.  Look around.  I hope you find them close, within your own home, even.  If you are lucky like me, you will have one or more as your sister/sisters.

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Perhaps you may even have one next door, like I do.

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Happy Birthday Diana

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May every day be Thanksgiving Day for you.  May you take the spirit of gratitude into the Christmas season with you to find the peace that is within, so that you may do what you can to create peace on earth, just like Mom and Saint Francis asked us all to do.

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EAT MORE PIE

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EAT MORE PIE

There was a time in my life when I didn’t eat much meat.  I didn’t drink much coffee, either.  I rarely ate sweets, and only occasionally did I drink alcohol.

Those were good times; I was happy.  This discipline suited me well—then.

When I meet someone who doesn’t consume any or all the above, I understand.  It truly is the best thing for some people.

It worked for me then, but not now.  I start my day with coffee, no exceptions.  Strong, black coffee.  Several cups of it.  I don’t eat a lot of meat every day, nor do I limit myself  if I desire it.  I ate a significant amount of turkey this holiday, which I count as meat.  Dark meat turkey happens to be my favorite meat. I drank a beer or two each day of the holiday weekend, but that’s not out of the ordinary.

That leaves the sweets.  I have had a lifelong see-saw relationship with sweets, an all-or-nothing mentality in the past.  Not anymore.

I know from multiple attempts at proving the notion wrong that I do indeed feel better if I don’t indulge in sweets.

But that doesn’t stop me from eating a little bit—not a lot, and not every day.  But enough to enjoy them, enough to savor the treat without making myself feel bad.

Pie happens to be one of my favorite sweet treats.  Pie also happens to be one of my favorite things to bake.

So, I signed up to bring pies to both family gatherings for Thanksgiving—my husband’s family on Thanksgiving Day, and Gail’s house on Saturday.

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I made eight pies:  Six pumpkin, and two sweet potato.  In honor of my mother, and just like every other pie I have ever made in my life, I made the crusts from scratch.  It was a three-hour, Thanksgiving Eve labor of love.

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My boys had friends over as I was baking.  One of them wasn’t sure there would be his beloved pumpkin pie at their feast, so he went home with the two missing pieces. 

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I am fully aware of the discrepancy, the dissonance, the abject disagreement between last week’s post highlighting my niece Lydia’s struggles with Type One Diabetes, and this week’s post singing the praises of pie, and eating more of it.  I had already decided upon the topic of gratitude when I found this awesome charm:

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It went so well with my Thanksgiving shirt, I knew it was meant to be.

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Lydia’s diabetes doesn’t prevent her from eating sugar, but it does require advance carb measuring, strategizing what and how much, prioritizing intake and injecting insulin to compensate for the carbohydrates she decides to consume.  To make it as easy as possible for Lydia to enjoy everything else, and, of course, to make myself appear to be a good aunt who doesn’t speak and write out of both sides of her mouth, I made one of the pumpkin pies sugar-free.

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My intended moral of the story is this:  Don’t deny yourself any desired joy in life if there is some way to make it work.  Figure it out, and go for it.  You owe it to yourself.  It’s Thanksgiving.

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Giving thanks should not limited to one day each year.  This holiday, which happens to be my favorite, should serve all of us as an annual check-up to ensure that we are practicing this virtue called gratitude every single day of the year.  Just like Lydia doesn’t get a day off from measuring her blood sugar and counting her carbs accordingly, neither should any of us take a day off from measuring our levels of gratitude, and counting all we have to be thankful for.  Like Lydia–and every other diabetic, we should do this every day as if our lives depend on it.

Because guess what:  your life, if you want to live it to the fullest, does depend on it.

The wheel of gratitude is not always an easy one to grease; I have been there.  When  you need a gratitude adjustment–as we all have at times–it’s best to start simple.

So, let’s adjust.  If you are reading this, you are likely breathing, so start there.  And keep going.

*If you have a partner, children or a family you love, they are among the greatest gifts.  If you don’t, and you want to, give thanks for the power you have to change that.  Look inward, not for external causes.

*If you have a job you love, you are miles ahead of many people.  If you don’t like your job, and it pays the bills, you are more fortunate than most people on Earth.   All of us have the opportunity to look for a different job.

*Even if you don’t like our current political situation, we do live in the Land of Liberty.  If you disagree, you can consider moving to another country.  Be thankful for that, too.

There.  I got you started.  Please keep going.

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I am writing as the Thanksgiving Sunday blizzard moves through, the blizzard that brought us home a day early from Gail’s house, my favorite Thanksgiving destination for my favorite holiday.  I chose to be grateful we were able to go, as well as:

*Enjoying the company of not only Gail’s family, but Suzanne’s, too, and part of one brother’s family.  Some years we have more, but the skeleton crew was a gift as well.  We will see more of them at Christmas.  Our children enjoy their cousins, a gift we didn’t get to enjoy as we grew up, as we only had one.  My boys taught them how to play 6-point pitch, something they recently learned from hanging out with my husband’s family.img_20181124_140648693.jpg

*Safe travels during the 450-mile round trip, with a dependable vehicle to take us there and back.

*My firstborn made it back to campus safely late last night after we returned home early, beating the blizzard—another 60 miles east.

*A cozy escape in a cabin on the shores of the small lake in Gail’s small town:  we anticipated an overnight crowd at Gail’s, and reserved space accordingly, so we kept it.

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*Warm soup today made from leftover turkey, but more importantly, made by my husband.  If you recall from a previous post, I only like to bake, not cook. 

*A cozy, warm, private space in my home  first and foremost to nap, then to write.

*I am solar-powered, and less daylight brings me down.  Only 26 more days until the days get longer!

*As always, my sisters—as well as my entire family.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Take the simple things and make them special, because this is where special lives—right amidst the simplest of everyday gifts that are often overlooked.  But first, you must consecrate them with gratitude in order to make them special.

Let us not forget the big things, either.  Every day, whatever degree of good health you have, your family, food, clothing and shelter, as well as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should never be overlooked.

Write them down every day.  Start a journal. Putting them on paper with your own handwriting gives you not only awareness, but ownership.  Often, this simple act is all it takes to turn the ship around, to make your perceived lack become certain abundance.

It is your choice.  You get to decide if you want to see through skinny, little lenses of half-empty, or big, round glasses of half-full.

For the life of me, and all that counts as a blessing, I’m not sure why anyone would choose anything but half—or all the way—full.

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Gail, Suzanne and I took our third annual Thanksgiving photo in Camp Gail, her private, highly personalized, highly decorated space in her home.  Along with our two previous Thanksgiving pictures, it will now grace the opening to every Sister Lode post.

We Camped out in her retreat, her private sanctuary for as long as we could before we had to get back to the cooking and the crowd.

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As always, we laughed a lot.

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And, as always, the sun always comes out again after the blizzard, after every dark day.  I gave thanks for that, too.

 

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My husband and son were eager to move snow after the blizzard stopped.  For that, I am over-the-top grateful.  

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After I woke up from my nap in my private space–both of which I am so thankful for, I ate more pie-both sweet potato and pumpkin.

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERY DAY.  

 

A BLUE AND GRAY RIBBON

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A BLUE AND GRAY RIBBON

Imagine your immune system as an army, armed and ready to fight off any and all enemies.   It is a well-trained, disciplined and dedicated team of soldiers.  When an invader, such as a cold or the flu tries to take over, your immune system soldiers mobilize and defeat the enemy.

Most of the time, they do their job quite well.  They recognize the enemy and they know the allies in your body as well.  They are there to protect and serve them.  They do their best, but unfortunately, sometimes we still get sick.  Mercifully, most of us bounce back from illness, and our immune system army has been made even stronger having this battle behind them.

Now, imagine that this army has had a mutiny; the soldiers decide to fight for the other team, and an evil and dictatorial military leader has taken over.  He is commanding them to attack their own.  And they do.

This is what an autoimmune disease does.  The immune system sees its own body, its own master, its own homeland as the enemy, so it attacks.

Type One Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, long with a too-long list of other diseases, including:

*rheumatoid arthritis

*multiple sclerosis

*celiac disease

*Lupus

*Psoriasis

*Grave’s Disease

*Scleroderma

*alopecia

*myocarditis

*amyloidosis

*Crohn’s Disease

And the list goes on for far too long.

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When a person has an immune system disorder, the immune system cannot be recruited back, cannot be re-programmed to return to fight in its homeland, for the home team.  It must be countered with multiple medical interventions.

And so, the life of a Type One Diabetic must depend upon these interventions.  Pictured below is Lydia’s first year of insulin and supplies.

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Maybe you knew already, but I didn’t.  And I thought I learned a lot in the last year since Gail’s daughter Lydia was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes.  But I didn’t know that:

*Type One Diabetes is the second most common chronic illness in children, behind asthma.

*Children are often misdiagnosed with a virus, acid reflux, sinus infection, urinary tract infection or strep throat.

*Type One Diabetes mortality is greatest in infants, toddlers and preschoolers due to lack of diagnosis and dehydration.

*Almost all cases are diagnosed before age 40, with the vast majority before 18.

*By 2050, the incidence in teenagers and children is predicted to triple, with the average age increasing.

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What a difference a year makes.  Thirteen months ago, Gail’s daughter Lydia was handed a diagnosis that would forever change her life.  Forever.  As in, every day for the rest of her life.  As in, if she doesn’t monitor her blood sugar and act accordingly, she could die.

She has no choice but to act.  She doesn’t get a day off, not even on Thanksgiving Day.  So, this Thanksgiving holiday, she will not be able to simply eat whatever she wants and pay the price only in feeling stuffed and sleepy.  She will have to plan ahead, by counting the carbohydrates in everything she plans to eat, right down to the creamy sauce in the green bean casserole.  While I, and everyone else in our family simply eat whatever we choose—and likely too much of it—she will be monitoring her intake of all those luscious carbohydrates—mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie and cake, pecan pie, as well any and all sauces, condiments, snacks and drinks.  She will have to pre-empt any blood sugar spikes by injecting herself with insulin before she eats, something she does 4-6 times every day, every day of the year.  And she will do it with her sweet smile, as all of us simply eat without thinking about the possible consequences.

Thanksgiving is coming around and I love to eat all the sweets but let me tell you about my mom’s stuffing–it’s soooooo good!  I plan on eating as much as I want, so I will dial up the insulin in my pen, and I will cut back on the sweets so I can eat more potatoes and stuffing.”  –Lydia, on anticipating Gail’s locally famous Thanksgiving dressing.

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Because I am a word nerd, and I like to know word origins, I decided to look up the word “stroke.”  Having worked with strokes for about 20 years at the time, I wondered why we call it as such.

From several online sources, I gleaned this information:  As far back as 500 years ago, when someone had a stroke and they truly had no idea what had happened to that person in just one moment, they decided that person must have been stroked by the hand of God.

Now, 500+ years later, we know more about strokes than we did then—not everything, of course, but we still call it a stroke.

Diabetes: Greek—to siphon.  One source reports it was named in the 1560’s by Aretaeus the Cappadocian, a Greek physician.  Another states it was named in 1552 by Hesy-Ra, an Egyptian physician.  Named as such because of the excess sugar found in blood and urine, as if it has been siphoned.  Excess urination is a classic sign of diabetes.

As you can see, I had to know where the word diabetes came from, too.

Gail is a word nerd, too.  She told me that she recalls being fascinated by the term islets(pronounced eyelets) of Langerhans in high school anatomy/physiology.  They are regions that house the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the absent hormone that causes Type One Diabetes.  Little did she know that almost 40 years later, her daughter would be lacking these cells, causing her to develop Type One Diabetes.

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In Not Her Type, (February 4th),  I wrote about the differences between Type One and Type Two diabetes.  If I can reiterate one point I made then, it is this:  there is no known method of prevention or cure for Type One.

If I may paint a picture with words, it would be this:  imagine having to find a way to pump your own heart, and expand and compress your lungs because they can no longer do it on their own.  In Type One Diabetes, the medical interventions are in place to find a way to replace the insulin the pancreas no longer produces, so that the food you eat can be converted to glucose in order to provide the fuel to make your body go.  Just like when your car runs out of gas and can no longer go, the body runs out of glucose, which is your fuel. And then, just like your car, you can no longer go.

 

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November is Diabetes Awareness Month.

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Perhaps you are tired of yet another “awareness” campaign, another month dedicated to awareness of yet another disease you don’t have to worry about.  I get it.  I get how you may feel bombarded by yet another colored ribbon.  I’m not here to say you should focus on diabetes awareness above all others.  Like every other diagnosis/disease, it is best to know the symptoms, so that you may save your own life or that of someone you love.

In addition, if you already know someone who is affected, it is a gesture of caring and concern to educate yourself about what they are going through with their disease.

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Type One Diabetes was formerly called “Juvenile Diabetes,” because it was typically diagnosed in childhood.  This is still the case, but not always.  A close friend’s brother was diagnosed at age 51 since Lydia’s diagnosis.  I can now speak the language with her, because I understand it so much better.

While the exact level of association is widely estimated, there is a genetic link in Type One diabetes.  My friend also has a nephew—her brother’s blood relative—who has Type One Diabetes.  Unfortunately, their family already spoke the language.  To my knowledge, Lydia has no close relatives with Type One Diabetes.

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So, Lydia has Type One Diabetes, but it doesn’t have her.

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She fights it every day, measuring her blood sugar, then counting carbs before she eats them, and, finally,

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injecting herself with insulin.

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I feel a thousand times better than I did before I was diagnosed, but when I go to bed at night I wonder how I will feel when I wake up as some mornings I don’t feel great.  I try to remedy this feeling at bedtime by eating something with carbs, then protein by helping my blood sugar to remain at a safe level.”

“Sometimes I wonder if I should eat carbs because insulin is so expensive.  I dread taking shots to cover the carbs, but I have gotten used to it.”

Most of us only worry about what carbs will look like on our hips, not on our bank account.

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Please enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this week.  If you are not diabetic, be sure to give thanks for that gift.

If you have Type One Diabetes, don’t let it have you, and please enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner.

If you are close to someone with Type One Diabetes, let them know you are thankful they are fighting the good fight.  They really have no choice, but hearing this from you will be a gift to them.

Stay aware, keep fighting and give thanks.  You Can Do It.

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Thank you, Lydia, for raising my awareness.  You are a warrior.

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The response to last week’s post, “The Magnificent Seven,” which introduced you to the Greif sisters and their travels, was overwhelming.  If you and your sisters have a story to tell–travels or no travels, or if you know an amazing group of sisters who stand out among sisters, please let us know.

 

 

 

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

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This week, I am honored to feature the Greif sisters, the amazing set of six sisters I mentioned a few months ago.  Their stories will make you richer for the reading…

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

There was a popular western film made in 1960 called The Magnificent Seven. It was a story of a group of seven gunmen hired to protect a Mexican village from bandits.

There is another group of seven magnificent people, according to their mother—our mother.  My two sisters, four brothers and I were her “Magnificent Seven,” her “Seven Wonders of the World.”  She spoke this, and put it in writing.  Dad would smile and agree, and show us in multiple other ways.

They loved us without question or limits.  We loved them back just as fiercely.

This post is not about us, but about another group of seven children, six of whom are daughters.  Certainly, another Magnificent Seven, even if their parents didn’t call them that like ours did. The lone son in this family is recognized both by his sisters and by me as a warrior in his own right to occupy that role, but, as our title suggests, this is about sisters.

The Greif sisters have ties to our hometown and to our family as well.  Like us, they had roots on the farm outside of our hometown, but unlike us, did move off the farm into another small town close by.

Gail and Suzanne know several of them, as they lived in the same town after high school, the same town Mom and Dad moved to when they left the farm.   I was acquainted with the youngest two while in high school, but I didn’t know them well.  I wish I’d had the opportunity to get to know all of them.

Suzanne, Gail and I have always been quite pleased with ourselves for managing our travels, making them work; elevating them to a priority over everything else.   While we were priding ourselves on this feat on one of our travels within the last few years, Gail and Suzanne began to talk about this family of six sisters who, as detailed on Facebook, traveled extensively, all over the country.  That’s double our count.  I was intrigued.

Several months ago, they came back into our conversation.  I decided it was time to reach out to them to see if they would be willing to be featured in a post.

They were more than happy to agree.

To introduce you to them, here they are in birth order with a short bio:

Debbie:  Married with 2 daughters and 4 grandchildren, just retired, lives in Owasso, Oklahoma.

Joyce:  Married with 7 children, 7 grandchildren, retired PE/biology teacher, then earned a PhD, now a professor at my alma mater. Lives in Russell, Kansas.

Kathy:  Married with 2 grown children, retired middle school PE/science teacher/coach, currently works with a teachers organization.  Lives in Hays, Kansas.

Linda:  Married with 2 stepchildren, 4 grandchildren, retired teacher, works part-time at a library, lives in Eureka, Kansas.

Patty: Single with 2 children and one grandchild, nurse practitioner, lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Shari:  Married with 3 children, personal trainer/manages husband’s construction business, lives in Kearney, Nebraska.

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Our mother acclimated very well to her new life in this small town when they moved from our farm in 2000.  She already knew Betty, and they became closer friends, remaining close until Mom died.  Our dad knew their dad as well, who passed away in 1983.   Betty operated a day care in her home, and Suzanne’s daughter Julia was one of her charges.  Good day-care providers are hard to find, and I know Suzanne was so happy to have her daughter in Betty’s care.  Suzanne told me that our mom would fill in for Betty when she needed time for an appointment or a few hours off.  I did recall this after she reminded me.

I had the opportunity to get to know Betty as well.  However, I wish it hadn’t happened in the way it did.  Because it is a sensitive issue, I did receive permission from these sisters to include this information:  Betty had a stroke and eventually moved into the nursing home in this small town.  As the treating speech therapist there, I got to know her as a patient of mine.  I had the pleasure of meeting Linda and Kathy while I worked with her.

I will say only this about her:  she was as sweet and loving as our mother was, and as a mother to seven children like our mother was, they were so much alike in all the good ways.  And, just as our mother Liz, Betty’s full name was Elizabeth.

Their father passed away in 1983, and Betty passed away in 2017.  I know this pain never really goes away, and my heart breaks for them because it must be so fresh.  I am so glad they have each other, just like we do.

But this isn’t about grief.  It is about living life large, just as our mother and their mother would have wanted it.  And, of course, our fathers too.

These six daughters had it going even before they lost their mother, 34 years after losing their father.  Before Betty had a stroke, they decided to take a little trip.  It wasn’t really little; it was a trip to Branson, Missouri with their mother along as well.   Realizing that, like our mother, a mother of seven children had had little opportunity to get out and see the big world.  So, they took her along. Knowing that a trip for seven women would be a logistical challenge, the oldest daughter chose Branson—they took turns choosing in birth order—because it was within driving distance for most, and held a variety of activities to keep them all entertained.  This would be the only trip where they stayed in a hotel—three rooms between the six of them.  They realized they needed a home-type atmosphere to share space and togetherness.  Every trip since then has been a home rented online.

The picture below was taken there, and it is now a family treasure.  It would be Betty’s only “girl’s trip.”

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At 52 years of age, I can safely say I have earned the right, at one time or another–or sometimes all at the same time, to wear each and every one of the T-shirts they are wearing in the picture below.  Their dear mother joined in the fun, and their brother remained a good sport.

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In a farming family with seven children, a vacation of any kind with all nine family members was as likely as a trip to the moon on a rocket ship.  This was the case in our family, and in theirs as well.

Kathy, the third-oldest daughter recounted the only “vacation” they ever took as a family.  This was when the two youngest sisters—Patty and Shari—had not yet been born.  They traveled by car to Iowa to visit friends of their parents.  They spent one night in a hotel with two double beds.  Their parents slept in one bed, and the five kids laid across the other bed top to bottom.

Our “vacations” consisted primarily of the three-hour trip to Wichita to see Mom’s family:  our grandparents, aunts and their families.

Like our family, they grew up with enough, but nothing extra.  Like our family, they knew there were others who had much more in terms of material goods—bigger, nicer houses, fancier cars and nicer clothing.  Like them, I realized we were without a lot of nice “things,” but I knew then, and I know even more now, that we had all the love we needed.  They knew the same. And, like them, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our youth.  We played sports like they did.  We were in the pep club like they were.  The only difference is that their mother was the seamstress who sewed their outfits.  We hired a friend’s mother to sew ours.

Joyce sent me a message at the moment she was listening to Dolly Parton sing Coat of Many Colors.  This lyric jumped out at her: “One is poor only if they choose to be.”

It is obvious to me that all nine of us sisters I am speaking of—the three of us and the six of them–know we have each other.  After our parents were gone, this bond became the greatest remaining family wealth.   This awareness becomes greater with age.

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I recall visiting with Dad several years before they died about a family who was fighting over material resources after their parents died, and there was a rift between the siblings.  I told Dad that we don’t fight among ourselves, and likely wouldn’t after they were gone because there was no considerable material wealth to fight over.

And there wasn’t.  And we didn’t.

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Before their travels started, two of the sisters were able to connect in Albuquerque, New Mexico when Kathy was there for a conference. Patty was 180 miles away in Farmington, and she traveled to see her sister.  They relished the time alone together, but realized they needed to find a way to get together with the other four, without the other 35-or-so people in their mother’s small house.  The annual Christmas gathering was their only time each year when they were all together.

“We needed some time together besides the mass chaos of Christmas,” Debbie–oldest sister–said.

Patty, who was second youngest, remarked that the older sisters seemed more like “friends of the family,” as they were so much older and weren’t around much when the younger ones were at home.  The trips gave them time together that they never got while they were at home.

“We didn’t get to grow up with all the sisters in the same house,” Shari, the youngest sister said.  “We had a different set of circumstances to grow up in.”

Patty concurred: “Shari and I didn’t really know the older girls.”  She added that while it may have been more difficult to make ends meet before the younger kids came along, they got to know their dad in ways the younger girls didn’t.

I outlined the circumstances Gail grew up in as the oldest daughter, having no choice but to work hard to help with the younger kids.  She still works circles around Suzanne and me, and while we think we work hard enough, we’re slackers compared to her.

Learning how to work together to make it all tick is a given for a large family, especially a farm family.  These sisters were no different.

Debbie, the oldest daughter likely echoes Gail’s sentiments: “We were blessed because we had to work hard to survive.”

Joyce, who is second oldest, added “Growing up like this prepared us for difficulties later in life.”

They travel to stay connected.  They consider it a highlight—if not the pinnacle—of the year.  They get together to stay together, and to support each other through thin and thick.  Growing up, they didn’t all have time to get to know each other.

Gail is the canner among us.  I shared pictures of her salsa and zucchini relish earlier.  Linda, the fourth daughter and middle child in their family is apparently the canner among them.  Canning for her is apparently a quiet time for consideration and contemplation.  Canning, which both of our mothers did as a necessity, but also a labor of love.  It struck her recently while canning that “we will never know all the little things they did for us—we were too young to know.”

Increased awareness of these sacrifices and depth of their love come only after one’s parents are gone, and without these realizations, Gail, Suzanne and I wouldn’t be traveling, and neither would they.  The pain of loss can only be overcome by celebrating all we gained from them.

So, we travel.  The three of us.  The six of them.

And, just for the record, Gail, Suzanne and I do love our brothers.  We have stated that.  However, there are four of them, and we have chosen to make this a sister’s only trip.  Essentially, they were never invited. They do love us back, and they understand.

For the other sisters’ record, their lone brother was invited.  “Too much estrogen,” he said.  So, they go without their brother, too.

Gail, Suzanne and I thought we were so cool and something to behold; all three of us making it work, taking time off, finding the funds, prioritizing the travels before all else; leaving our families to fend for themselves.  We never thought twice about the fact that we could travel harmoniously and enjoy ourselves, never realized this peaceable interaction while traveling is something many sisters couldn’t achieve.  It seemed like a given that any sisters should be able to pull off.

Our travels and the stories we brought home—and posted on Facebook—brought several women’s horror stories of other sisters and how they couldn’t find peace, even when they were far apart from each other.

Smugly, we thought we were pretty special.  All three of us.  Maybe we really were the exception.

If we are an exception, then these sisters are the rarest of all finds:  Six sisters who make it work, near and far.  Six fun-loving, peace-loving sisters who travel—not just to the state next door, but to far and near destinations nationally—together.  In perfect harmony.

As mentioned, the oldest sister, Debbie, chose the first trip, Branson in 2008.

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Then, in 2009, Joyce picked Ouray, Colorado.

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Only five of the sisters were able to make this trip, pictured here with the guide.

In 2010, Kathy chose Hill City, South Dakota.

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Only four of the sisters were able to make this trip.  Their guide is pictured as well.

Linda decided upon Healdsburg, California in 2011.

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In 2012, Patty chose Taos, New Mexico.

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Rounding out the first round in 2013, Shari picked Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

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Back to the top for trip #7, Debbie chose Nashville in 2014,

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Followed by Charleston, South Carolina—Joyce’s choice in 2015.

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In 2016, Kathy picked Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

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Linda chose Door County, Wisconsin in 2017.

 

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This year, Patty chose San Diego, where they were able to visit a cousin (center).

 

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Rounding out Round #2 will be Shari’s decision, which she just announced:  Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It should be quite obvious from the pictures that their trips always include adventures.  It’s no surprise that their Facebook posts from their trips have inspired other sisters to begin their own tradition of sister travels.

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Buoyed by their strength and successful national travels, this would be a good time for Gail, Suzanne and me to make an announcement:  our Colorado trips with the three of us are likely a thing of the past.  It became obvious that Suzanne could no longer disguise her altitude headaches as merely discomfort; she simply cannot tolerate the altitude, and it becomes more apparent with each successive trip.  She is not one to complain, so we knew it was bad.  She was essentially immobilized for much of the last trip, so it is time for Plan B:  We, too, will begin an annual tradition of traveling to a new destination each time—likely closer to sea level.  And this will be a good thing.  Change is good, and so is expanding one’s horizons.

This year, they will head toward our previous destination, and our 2019 trip is yet to be determined.

Not to worry that our beloved destination in Colorado is a thing of the past, or that our friends in Cripple Creek will never see any of us again; Gail and I plan to make the trip, forging on without Suzanne.  And she is perfectly fine with that.  Our annual trip will compensate for any adventures missed when she doesn’t go west.  Plus, Suzanne has all kinds of fun without us anyway…stay tuned.

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The gift of sister time spent together is the greatest gift of all.  Without even polling the other eight sisters I am speaking of here, I know we would all agree with this sentiment.

There are other gifts, however.   Gail, Suzanne and I began to share small gifts with each other in the beginning, typically a small token, or a gag gift that would remind us of our time together.  We would collect these in the months prior to the trip, adding to the anticipation.  Receiving theirs was almost as much fun as giving.

Then, the gifting grew.  And grew.  And grew until it became a little bit ridiculous.  We lavished gifts upon each other like it was Christmas.   Oh, it was fun to both give and receive, but we realized it was simply not reasonable.  So, we cut back.  Back to small tokens that were more meaningful.  We thought this was the best way to do it.

Until we heard about how they do it.

For each trip, each sister chooses a gift that would remind any of the other five of them.  A gift of reasonable means; a value they could all agree on.  They exchange—drawing style, with each sister randomly receiving one gift from another sister.   By design, whatever gift each sister ended up with was meant for her, to remind her of the sister who gave it.

I love it.

We are going to copy-cat them.  Our exchanges will be repeat themselves sooner than theirs, but that’s okay.  Hopefully imitation is indeed flattery, because that’s two of their ideas we are stealing…

As I mentioned above, I wish I could get to know all of these sisters.  Perhaps one day we will all have the opportunity to celebrate our sisterhood together.   I do, however, feel quite comfortable with them already, judging from some of the comments and quotes they sent me from their travels:

“Wine a little, beach a lot.”

“Take one for the team.”

“Walk away from the jewelry…”

“It’s all downhill from here…”

“It’s just around the corner…”

“Just don’t look down.”

“When in Taos…”

“We didn’t know it was ‘clothing optional.’”

And my personal favorite:

“Don’t sleep with the bedroom door open…”

 

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Having grown up without extra material things or money, all nine of us sisters learned the values of hard work and responsibility.  These traits do pay off, but not always in the time or the way we want them to.  We all had lean times not just growing up, but as adults making our way.  We all learned how to make it on our own, but not without struggles.

It is the singular privilege of anyone who has lost a loved one to believe in signs from them.  Those of us who speak the language of loss get this.  We know when they are with us; we know when they send us these “signs.”

There are those who doubt that these are indeed a sign or a message, but they are welcome to have their doubts, and we will have our faith in this kind of communication.

Patty related the story of her leanest times as an adult: when she would find pennies on the ground, calling them “pennies from Heaven,” courtesy of her father in Heaven.

They began noticing pennies on their travels, seeing them as signs that their father’s love was surrounding them.  When they found a dime laying on a dresser upon their arrival in one of the houses they rented on a trip, they felt him there again, at least times 10—probably times infinity.

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Betty passed away in April 2017, with all seven of her children by her side.  She was buried four days later on what would have been their father’s 87th birthday.

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After the funeral, they decided to go to the last house they lived in together, the last house their mother lived in.  They wanted a picture with all seven of them by the house.   It was set to be demolished that day, with one family living in it after them.  The first round of the demolition crew arrived just after they did.  The crew understood, and waited patiently.  The house was stripped bare, seeming so much smaller than when all nine of them had all managed to live there together.  Nothing was left, not even the windows.  Except for one thing.

On the ledge where the phone had set was a rosary.   None of them recognized it as one of their mother’s.  The only family who lived there after them wasn’t Catholic, and likely wouldn’t have owned a rosary.

They all believe that their mother sent them a sign to let them know she was now in Heaven with their father.  I believe it, too.

I wrote in an earlier post that we were given our parent’s possessions that were with them the day of the accident.  In each of their pockets, we were told, was a rosary.

This sign of their strong Catholic faith, the faith they carried with them throughout their lives, remained a sign after their deaths.  We all grew up knowing how strong this faith was, and now, how it lives on.

The Greif family knows, too.

Shari’s daughter drew a picture of this mystery rosary, and Joyce decided to make it a permanent sign on her arm.

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Signs.  You have to believe them to see them.

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As I wrapped up this post, I got another message from one of the sisters.  Our communication throughout this project has consisted of a group chat on Facebook—a lengthy one at that.

Sorting through the information and input from all six of them has been a challenge, but one that I was up for; a mission I am so glad I accepted.  As the additional information continued to roll in over time from several of the sisters, they became apologetic:  “I know we have given you so much information, and I am so sorry to add more, but…”  There was never a need to apologize.  I only wish I could have included everything they gave me.

I have loved reading it all, and getting to know them through these messages.

Today, Joyce told me had a car full of high-school girls on a trip, and Coat of Many Colors came on the radio.

One is only poor only if they choose to be.”  She had to fight back tears, not wanting these teenage girls to see her cry.

But they would have been tears of joy.

Joyce and Linda made a quilt for their mother—A Quilt of Many Colors, they call it.  Most of the fabric pieces were from clothing their mother made for them as kids.  Joyce now proudly hangs it in her home.

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“One is only poor only if they choose to be.”

Gail, Suzanne and I have chosen to be rich.

The Greif sisters—Debbie, Joyce, Kathy, Linda, Patty and Shari—have chosen to be rich as well.  Joyce added in her last message that they were probably the richest kids in town.

I believe they were, and I believe we were, too.

May these sisters inspire you like they have inspired us.

And may you choose to be rich, too.

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This morning after putting final touches on this post, I went to my bedroom.  In the middle of the floor, away from everything else, was a dime.  I picked it up and put it inside the frame of this picture of Mom and Dad that sits on my dresser, holding several pieces of jewelry I couldn’t walk away from on our travels.   I am choosing to see this as a sign that I am indeed rich, and that they are still very much with us.  This would be a good time to mention that for as long as I can remember, our parents saved dimes, putting them all in their dime bank.

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Thank you, Greif sisters.  

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Thank you today, and every day to our veterans and active military on this Veteran’s Day.  Special thanks to my father-in-law, Marvin, who served in the Korean War.

  Our freedom isn’t free, and we have all of you to thank for that.  

 

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: PART TWO

 

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WASTE NOT, WANT NOT:  PART TWO

Of my 61 previous posts, the one that has come back to me the most often in ripples from readers was Waste Not, Want Not (January 14th).

I have long considered writing a Part Two as a follow-up, and when I received this tea towel in the mail this week from my friend Bridget, I knew it was time:

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I wish I had counted the number of people who have told me they think of me every time they use a paper towel.  I’m glad I admitted this idiosyncrasy.  Perhaps it is not so strange after all.

I have had several other people come clean about their miserly habits.  I thought I was the only person who ever did this:

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Then I got a picture from someone I didn’t even know who does the same thing.  His mother reads the blog, and she knew he did this, too.  She had him send it to me.

Suzanne said she does it, too.  Gail confessed that she does it to lotion bottles, and toothpaste tubes as well.  I don’t remember learning that one at home, but all three of us do it.

Suzanne and I were discussing other money-saving habits we have.  I did this in college, but I have decided I can afford to leave this one behind.  I was careful then to buy the ones made of paper and not plastic, so that I could easily snap them in two.  I still buy the paper ones, but I no longer break them in half.  I’m guessing Suzanne could afford not to do this as well now, but old habits die hard…

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Gail simply uses both ends before she throws them away.

I learned the hard way it’s okay to re-use plastic silverware, but PLEASE don’t put them in the dishwasher.  The heat cracks them, and then they easily break.  My experience could have been disastrous, but it was averted.  One of the fork tines broke off in my mouth, and it could have been deadly.

Suzanne’s disaster was costly, much more costly than simply throwing them away and buying new plastic silverware.  One of the tines broke off a plastic fork and created a dishwasher disaster, creating the need to call a repairman.  Again, it would have been much cheaper to simply throw it away buy new plastic silverware.

But that would cost a dollar or two…

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Old habits die hard.  After the first Waste Not post, I tried to loosen up.  I watched in horror as one of my son’s friends pulled off a long string of perhaps four or five sections of paper towels just to dry his hands.  I’m sure my face showed how aghast I was, but I didn’t say anything; I didn’t want to embarrass my son.  I wanted to loosen up about this; I really did.  So, I experimented with using more paper towels in a more liberal fashion, trying to let go of the taboo of using them generously.

No way.

That one is not going away.  As a child, they were an expensive commodity.  Now, all three of us can afford to use them however we choose, but we continue to choose to use them sparingly.   Mom and Dad taught us well.

We used everything sparingly because we had to.  We no longer have to watch our spending that closely, as evidenced by my patterns of spending.  I realize the dissonance between this practice of frugality, and the excessive clothing and jewelry purchases I make.  I feel it, I know it; I realize my patterns don’t align.

Yet I continue to do it.  I am trying.  I truly am.  I am making progress, but it will likely always be a work in progress.

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I just re-read Waste Not, Want Not– January 14th.   I was reminded of the commitment I made to myself in writing for the world to see that I was actively and passively working on getting rid of stuff.  Stuff, both material and non-material.  Then, I re-read Time for Letting Go, Part Two.  Again, I reminded myself that I have publicly proclaimed my efforts to purge stuff.  I had already decided, once again, to accept the one-month challenge to give away/throw away/donate one thing on the first of the new month, two things on the second of the month…This time, I decided to determine the grand total—465 things for the 30 days of November—and purge accordingly by the end of the month.

So far, on the morning of the 4th of the month, I have purged 97 things.  Things like old pens and markers I no longer use–as well as the container they were in.  Someone else can put them to better use.

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The beautiful clock that no longer works.  I finally had to concede to that reality after changing the battery—again—and setting it back an hour this morning.

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And the widowed earring that lost its mate years ago on a theater floor.  It likely isn’t coming back. It’s about letting go of things small and large, and letting go of ties to the past.

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Books.  I’m like a crazy cat lady with books.  I have several hundred, and they are all special to me. They are a part of me, and when I adopt one, I rarely let it go.  However, I realized perhaps there were people who could gain more from these books than I could as they sat on the shelf, likely never to be picked up again.  There is someone out there who could take better care of them than I do, even if it is a cool cookbook by a woman with a cool name.  I haven’t cooked from it in years; it’s time for it to go.

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My owl collection was so 2017 for me, so I let it go.  Again, someone else will adopt them and take better care of them than I could.

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The good news is, I’m on a roll.  The bad news is, I haven’t yet made a dent.  I feel a bit lighter, but no one else will notice—yet.  No one, meaning my minimalist husband.  God bless him for that, and for his patience with my non-minimalism.

Wasting not and wanting not truly do go hand in hand.  The more stuff I get rid of, the more I want to keep going.  (I know my husband is over-the-top thrilled at these words as he reads them.  He has been gone all weekend and has no idea what I am up to.)  It makes me want to bring less in, and wisely use what I already have without waste.  Action begets action, and I have been going strong all weekend.

Like paper towels.

And it reinforces my eco-friendly, Mother Nature-loving practices like hanging out my laundry, which I did this morning, even though it was only 46 degrees.  It will get warm enough to dry them; the northwest wind will see to that.

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The dryer generates heat, and that costs money.  I dried the tea towel gift on the line after I washed it, and it was wrinkled.  So, I ironed it to make it look spiffy and crisp for the picture, which, of course, generated heat, thus counting against my clothesline savings.

I feel my mother’s gentle presence as I hang out my laundry, perhaps that’s the biggest reason I keep doing it.  She, too, loved to hang out the laundry.

Gail reported to me that she conserves in a manner I don’t, and likely never will:  If she is the only one drinking it, she reheats her coffee from the previous day if it is left.  I am a fresh coffee snob; I need it newly-brewed and freshly flavorful in order for me to savor it, as I do each morning.

Suzanne doesn’t yet drink coffee, but Gail and I still have hope that she will one day see the light, and savor the flavor.

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Suzanne doesn’t have much to contribute this week because she is the material minimalist, eco-friendly, non-consuming sister and citizen.  Gail and I keep trying to take notes from her, but we are wired a bit differently.  The important thing is that we keep trying.  And, with Suzanne’s influence and gentle coaxing, there is hope for both of us.

Gail has agreed to purge 465 things by the end of November.  I don’t think Suzanne owns 465 things, and that is a good thing.  Therefore, she will not be participating in this challenge.

I’ll call it fall cleaning.  Kind of like spring cleaning, but in the fall.  While I had the house to myself this weekend, I not only purged, I actually dusted.  As in, I picked up the things on the shelves and table, dusted them, and dusted the surfaces.  It’s been awhile.  As I examined each thing, I questioned my need to keep them.  I asked myself these two questions that I asked myself in the last sweeping round of purging I wrote about:

1:  Would I take this with me if I moved?  (Suzanne’s good idea.)

2:  Does it make me feel good?

I was surprised to find myself discarding a few things that, in fact, made me a little blue.  Perhaps a sentiment that turned sour, a heaviness that wasn’t necessary.  Or maybe it was just an ugly, useless thing.

So now they’re in the donation box.

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My friend Bridget who sent me the tea towel has been with me since graduate school in the early 1990’s.  She is a bit older, and a lot wiser.  In one of our many discussions, she told me this nugget that didn’t shine like gold until many years later.  Forgive me, Bridget, if these are not your exact words, but this is the message I took away that has become profound for me.  It went something like this:

We all have holes inside we try to fill up. Try to figure out what those holes are and what you are putting in them.  You may be able to fill them with good things instead of not-so-good things, or perhaps nothing at all.”

Thank you, Bridget, for the tea towel, but especially for the wisdom.

Please take her wisdom with you from this post.

And please, try not to fill up those holes with useless things–or paper towels.  That would be a waste.