MIDWEST FARMER’S DAUGHTERS

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MIDWEST FARMER’S DAUGHTERS

I’m all about celebrating birthdays.  Gail’s was last month, and we honored her in several posts.  Suzanne’s is in August, and she will be feted as well.  And, just so you don’t forget, mine is coming up next month.

We recognized Mom’s birthday in January, and now it is time to celebrate Dad.  He would have been 85 next weekend, and I like to think we would have had a big party for such a big birthday for such a big-hearted man.

We had a giant party for his 70th birthday.  We had one planned for Mom on her 70th,  but the weather didn’t allow it.  We never did make up for it, and I wish we had.  Yet another reason to keep celebrating them every day of our lives.

So, in his honor, we are celebrating his farmer heritage, which also gave us our farm-girl heritage.  We wouldn’t trade it for all the riches we never had, and likely never will.

If you knew our dad, you knew this about him:  he loved to talk—to anyone, he spoke his mind—even when it didn’t make him popular, he called a spade a spade and he was a man of his word.

He worked the land, and he worked it hard.  He knew the value of hard work, and, along with Mom, he taught this value to his seven children.  And we are forever grateful for that lesson.

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Dad’s favorite tractor was his  Farmall “H”

Life on a farm in a family of nine people brings many tasks; work that simply must be done.  Ground to work, crops to plan, plant and harvest, livestock to breed, feed, care for, take to market and perhaps butcher, machinery to maintain and a multitude of other obligations to the land that must be met in order to have our needs met.

And they were always met.  Perhaps not our wants, but always our needs.  Nine mouths to feed was not an easy task.  Having beef and pork in the freezer—and chickens to butcher in the earlier days, I recall (more on this torture later)—was the most fundamental building block of our meal planning and preparation.  Despite the toughest of times in the farm economy in the 1980’s,   I don’t ever recall a time when there wasn’t enough food to go around.  I remember an abundance, to be exact. We always had a garden planted in the spring (Mom didn’t enjoy gardening much, but she knew it was part and parcel of the package), we had fruit trees—apple, pear and cherry (more on cherry picking later), and in our small-town grocery store, we had a running credit account.  I remember the folded, lined card that was produced from the box under the counter that constituted our “bill.”  It was ongoing, and it was a wonderful service the grocer provided for many families in our community.  We simply initialed it when we made a purchase large or small, and somehow, Mom and Dad always had the money to pay it off.

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As an only child, Dad inherited the family farm without question.  He was the third generation to farm our family land, and now two of our brothers farm the land he left.  Two of our nephews show promise to be fifth-generation farmers, and for this, we are so grateful.

The land is more than just property, and farming is more than just a job.  The land is part of our heritage, and farming, if it is what you love doing, is in your blood.  It is a lifestyle, not just a job.

Perhaps it would have been different if any of us three farm girls had fallen in love with a farmer, but none of us did, and neither did any of us marry farmers.

We would have made good farm wives, though.  Gail, being the eternal Swiss Army Knife in whatever job she finds herself in, was the Jill-of-all-trades, (and master of all) both indoors and outdoors.  She could drive a tractor, truck or combine—and often did.  She also could cook and bake, clean and do laundry, change diapers and take care of whatever younger siblings needed care, which was five of us.

Me, I was mostly inside.  I never learned to drive any farm machinery, but I could—and still can—bake and cook.  I remember folding clothes, a task I rather enjoy now.   I still enjoy baking, and I will cook when I have to.  I was also in charge of taking out the trash, which was mostly burned in barrels just across the fence near the chicken house.  Speaking of the chickens, they were my responsibility, and I loathed them.  My husband occasionally jokes about getting me more chickens, and I tell him “I hope YOU enjoy taking care of them.”

Gail reminded me that the chickens were initially her idea.  When she was in the eighth grade, apparently she felt she needed more responsibility, so she set up the chicken operation.  She quickly became disillusioned with the idea, and since she had plenty of other tasks to complete, the responsibility fell on  me.  Thanks, Gail.

To further illustrate my distaste for chickens, I must share this story:

Our grandpa—Dad’s dad—lived in town five miles away and would often come to the farm to see how his progeny was continuing his legacy.  (I think he was pleased.)  He accompanied me into the chicken house once to feed them and gather the eggs.  My routine was swift and mindless, as I had performed it hundreds of times.  So mindless, in fact, that I forgot he was in there with me.  I got in and out quick, locking the door from the outside when I left.

Several hours later, one of our brothers heard a faint “Hey! Help!” coming from the direction of the chicken house.  They let him out with no apparent harm done.

I was only an observer of the chicken’s demise when it was time to butcher.  I know firsthand where the phrase “like a chicken with it’s head cut off” comes from.  I wish I could un-see that, but it’s burned on my brain.

Suzanne’s responsibilities included a lot of mowing.  She also kept the cats and dog fed and watered—we always had one dog, and several cats, and some indoor duties as well.

Come June, we were all involved in cherry-picking. (Ugh.)  I remember groaning at Mom as she woke us up early to beat the heat when it was time to pick the cherries.  We picked most of the morning, and pitted most of the afternoon.  I grew to despise that job, too.  Now, however, I am thrilled to finally have a producing cherry tree in our backyard thanks to my husband’s efforts.

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Last year’s harvest

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I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have grown up on a farm:  for the lessons the farm taught me, for learning about nature from the seasons, the weather and the animals, for the chance to get dirty and dusty—and especially muddy, for learning how to climb trees and how jump safely into a hayloft or out of a swing.

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We delighted in the muddy squalor the heavy summer rains sometimes left us, just like our boys did when they were kids.

 

More than that, I am thankful for the women we became from our early years on the farm.  Each of us spent our first 18 years on the farm before leaving for college.  We learned how to work hard to make our way in the world, because, for us, there was no other way.   Looking back now, we would have it no other way.  We learned early and often that in farming, and in life, there are no guarantees.

 

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Spending a day in the harvest field every summer is still a priority for me.

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My husband and I had the opportunity last week to take in an amazing concert in the beautiful Stiefel Theater in the downtown of our small city.

Playing together for 53 years, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band put on a show we will never forget.  Much of their music has a sense of fun and lightness, such as one of their most notable songs—”Fishin’ in the Dark.

They were talkers as well as singers, often explaining the meanings and origins of many songs.  Another one of my favorites hit home for me after they explained the origin.

Nowhere To Go” is a heavier song, a 1988 hit that tells the story of a farmer who lost his farm due to the ailing farm economy.  The 1980’s was a devastating decade for many Midwest farmers, due to extremely  high interest rates, record debt for land and equipment, record crop production which subsequently lowered the grain prices and the grain embargo against the Soviet Union.

“I’m a workin’ man with nowhere to go…”

I was in high school in the early 80’s, and I remember clearly the specter of the auction block lingering around us and many other farmers in our area.  I recall that several of the farmers lost their farms, and I remember the very real concern that it could happen to almost every farmer.

My heart broke for those who lost their farms, and mercifully, we were able to hold on to ours.  I will be forever grateful to my dad and my brothers for their hard work that helped us survive these toughest of times.

The lead singer of the band went on to talk about his friend Willie Nelson, who, along with John Mellencamp and several other musicians, started Farm Aid.  Their goal was to provide their musical gifts in concert to raise money to keep American farmers on the land.

Nelson and Mellencamp then brought family farmers before Congress to testify about the state of family farming in America.  As a result, Congress passed the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 to help save family farms from foreclosure.

Farm Aid continues as an annual event; this year’s concert will mark 34 years in operation.

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In the process of sorting and rearranging during the remodel, I rediscovered this book that I stacked under some other books, never reading it.  I am reading it now.

My husband and I are Willie Nelson fans, having seen him in concert three times.  Dad’s birthday is next Saturday, the same day Willie plays live just across the Kansas border in northern Oklahoma.

Happy Birthday Dad.  I think it’s time to celebrate.

 

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My son in the harvest field with Dad

 

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Gail’s son enjoying a tractor ride with Dad

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Dad taking a meal break in the field

TWICE IN A BLUE MOON

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TWICE IN A BLUE MOON

In 1988, I began collecting blue moons.  A gifted ceramics artist designed one with the perfect twist:  the word once printed inside it.  I saw it, and knew I had to have it.

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My 30-year plus attraction to this simple, yet profound shape was born.

Seven years later in 1995, my now-favorite libation was created:

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A beautiful sight in a beautiful Colorado town from our trip last year.

Then, two years later in 1997, my favorite Friday-night hang out opened:

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The owners proudly celebrated their twenty-year anniversary several years ago,  and the hostess extraordinaire and I have become quite chummy:  not only is her magnetic personality difficult to resist, her name is impossible for me to forget:  Kathleen.

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This get-away is a Friday-night special for us; it is our preferred destination for a night out when we get a night out.

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This Friday, Gail, her husband and one daughter traveled east, joining us for the weekend.  Her college son joined us for the evening, traveling west for one hour.  And, our shared friend Sharon joined us to help us celebrate Gail’s birthday a day late.  She and Gail have been close since grade school; our parents were friends with hers, and our families grew up together as friends.

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Sharon saved her toast for Gail for this week’s post, weighing in with further evidence that Gail is indeed a gift:

I think of Gail as the Thelma to my Louise.  I think of jumping in a convertible with her and having no destination in mind, but no matter where we go, it would always be fun with Gail.  She knows no strangers, and she is always the life of the party.  No matter how much time has passed, our friendship always picks up right where it left off.  Friends forever.”

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Expecting to be socked in with the prognosticated 6-9” of snow that fell short, we hunkered down with Suzanne at my home and waited for the snowstorm that didn’t pack the punch we were promised.

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The snow began to fall in the early afternoon.  “Big, happy flakes,” Gail called them.

The snow continued to fly, but not with the 45-50 MPH gusts promised.  Gail and Suzanne, the wind-lovers they are, were disappointed.  I wasn’t.

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We were left only with several inches and several less-than-anticipated snowdrifts.  Sunday was bright and beautiful.

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We showered Gail with birthday gifts.  She is the gift-giver extraordinaire, so matching her generosity is hard, but we try.

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Gail welcomed the cold with a favorite shirt from our favorite shirt-maker,

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and I welcomed the time with a favorite shirt, and  with my sisters—just like I always do.

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We played cards.  According to Gail’s daughter Lydia who observed, there appeared to be matches that almost drew blood.  Many of the matches drew colorful language from all three of us, hurling good-natured insults toward each other.   The words we slandered cannot be put in print.

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Because I am a word-nerd—I have admitted that freely before—I will put the following definitions in print.  Suzanne will confirm that I am a purveyor of useless information and meaningless trivia, so if this fits into that category, then so be it.

A “blue moon” is the second full moon within one calendar month.  This happens only once about every 32 months, so it is relatively rare.  There is no change to the color of the moon.  Therefore, “once in a blue moon” is used to describe an event that rarely happens.

When researching this online, I learned something new, and I love to learn more useless trivia about things I am interested in, so I hope you are interested, too:

Citing NASA, Space.com reports there are actually two meanings.  The other, older meaning is the third full moon in a season that has four full moons.  This is called a “seasonal blue moon.”  Occurring every 2.5 years, the last seasonal blue moon was May 21, 2016, and the next one will be a few short months away on May 18th, 2019.

Our last monthly blue moon was on March 31st, 2018, and the next one will be on October 31st, 2020—perfectly coinciding with one of Suzanne’s favorite days of the year.

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Gail, Suzanne and I have a long history of enjoying each other’s company, and we plan to continue to do so as long as we all are able.  We found this gem from just over twenty years ago, demonstrating that within this history, we have always enjoyed partaking of good food.  We did plenty of that this weekend as well.

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Making time to spend together is a priority for us.  Traveling or at each other’s homes, we cherish our “we time.”  We enjoy each other’s company, and we know this is a gift that many sisters do not have.

Gail’s birthday was the occasion for this get-together, and in less than two weeks, Gail and I will have another get-together as we head west.  Suzanne has excused herself from this destination due to altitude sickness, and she gives us her blessing to go back to the mountains without her.  We will travel together to other destinations in the near future.

We know how blessed we are.  We have a sisterhood that is truly once in a blue moon.  As the middle sister between these two, I know I hit the sister lode.  Perhaps that only happens twice in a blue moon.

 

 

THE GIFT OF GAIL

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THE GIFT OF GAIL

She had me at hello.”  –Tanya, my old friend and Gail’s new friend

Gail is one of the funniest people I know!  She has such a good and generous heart and I just love her.”—Maureen, “Mo”, Gail’s friend since college

“Back in the day, she could sleep less and drink more Coors Light than any other woman I knew.” –Gail, a mutual friend with a great name

“She has a presence.  You just want to be around her; you can’t wait for what she has to say next.”  Tana, our mutual friend featured in two previous blog posts (Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever—July 2018, and Swheat Girls Part Two–July 2017)

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All the ballots have been cast, and they all voted the same:  Gail is awesome.  As if I had to ask other people to confirm that for me.

Gail will celebrate her 59th birthday next week.  She welcomes another trip around the sun, relishes the opportunity to grow older, wiser, and to keep having as much fun as she possibly can in this life.  She isn’t afraid to share her age; to her, it really is just a number.  And she’s not really a numbers girl.

When we were growing up, Gail was bigger-than-life.  She was the older, cooler, fun-loving sister who mesmerized me with her spirit.  She was a goddess, a trail blazer; a force to be reckoned with.  She still is all those things, and more.

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She has been mothering Suzanne and me since we were born.

Above all this, she is always faithful to those she loves.  She would give you the shirt off her back—and probably her pants, too.  She would—and still will—do triple back flips to help you in whatever way she can.  She extends everything she has to make your time with her a joyride.

Before my husband and I were engaged, he had a building project in the small town she lived in, the town where she raised her first two children while she managed the Pizza Hut there.  He was staying in a Podunk motel with four boring walls, so she knew she needed to brighten things up for him.  She recruited him into her bowling league, which was his saving grace.

“You can imagine how much fun it was to bowl with Gail.  It was a trip.  And whenever I ate at her Pizza Hut—which was often—she made sure my meal was awesome.  She didn’t normally stock anchovies as a pizza topping, but she knew I liked them, so she kept them on hand for me.  She had me and all the guys on my crew over for barbecues, too.   I don’t know how I would have survived my time there without her to keep me from going crazy.”  –Mark, my husband on his time in Osborne with Gail in the early 1990’s.

And we weren’t even engaged at the time.   I don’t think she would have rolled out any more red carpet than she already had for him if we were, she simply gives her all no matter what the situation.

Gail rarely complains, especially about the weather.  She embraces it, no matter what the temperature or conditions.  This early picture may be the closest she ever came to complaining:

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It rarely happens now, but sometimes I still find myself thinking “I should call Mom and ask her…”  and then I remember I can’t, so I go on.  Since I couldn’t ask Mom or Dad for their input, I went to the next best sources, the only two siblings of our parents remaining:  Mom’s sisters.  They have known us since we were born.  They were much younger than Mom, so when we were younger, they were sometimes partners in crime with us.

“Gail and I and two of your brothers got on top of the wash house and jumped off the roof into an old stuffed chair below.  They taught me how to do it.  She was always adventuresome.” –our aunt Sharon

I am recalling the time when our visits to their home in Wichita were the most exotic vacations we could have imagined.  423 South Crestway in Wichita, Kansas was the southern limit of our universe, the edge of the world for us.  We never traveled further than that; we didn’t have to.  All the excitement in the world we needed was right there, starting with meals at their kitchen table.  The one and only puff I ever took from a cigarette was right there at this table, way past midnight one magical night.  Gail was a willing participant too, but neither of us ever picked up the habit.

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Gail and Suzanne at their table.  Not sure where I was. No cigarettes that day.

“Gail is truly amazing, raising four kids, being a single mom of two part of that time, working, never complaining.  She has a positive attitude, a fighting spirit, and the will to accomplish whatever needs to be done and I have always admired her for that.  And I hope she has an amazing birthday!”  —our aunt Reitha.

Sharon echoed her sister’s sentiments as well.  Above the mischief they engaged in with her, they knew this about her for sure.

I gathered just a few tidbits from her college roommate quoted above, as well as these pictures from a road trip to see Mo’s boyfriend-now-husband:

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Last week, I wrote about the love between parent and child.  Gail’s children know this very well from her.  Her second child, Abigail, shared this:

“To my Mama ‘Mean Gail Jean’ (as I used to call her growing up.)  This is YOUR day, and I want to thank you for being my forever best friend.  You have loved me and supported me even in my darkest of moments, and have taught me so many of life’s lessons that I am still learning to this day.  Raising two strong-willed children on your own was never an easy part of motherhood, and I can attest to this now firsthand!   You are the most selfless person I know, and the hard work that you put in for everyone else day in and day out doesn’t even seem like ‘work’ to you.  You are such an admirable person, and I am so blessed to call you my mom and teacher.  I admire  your drive for the ones you love, and I hope that some day I can be half the woman you are.  Happy Birthday Mom and GG.  Love, Abby, Hudson and Hank.”  —Abby and her sons.

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Gail with her two grandsons.  I am pretty sure she wasn’t driving and texting with him in her lap.

Lydia, her youngest, offered this:  ” I am so blessed to have you as my mom.  I really do miss your donuts and living under your roof because I miss your cooking and just having you around.  You are my inspiration and my role model,  I look up to you every day because you are you.  Without you I’d be lost because you help me with so much, especially counting my carbs!  You are my best friend, and I love you so much Mom!  Happy 59th birthday–don’t party too hard!” —Lydia

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Kate, her firstborn, echoes all this and then some:  “I could never do Mama Gail justice in only a few sentences.  She is the hardest working, most genuine person I know.  Every single one of my accomplishments belong to her…I would not be here without her.”–Kate

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Gail and her progeny

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Gail knew I was toasting her in this blog for her birthday, but knew few other details.  I asked her for pictures, and she was willing to share these:

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Even on her first birthday, she knew the importance of having fun.

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Don’t let the serious look fool you.  Ideas were surely brewing…

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Preparing the Thanksgiving dressing has always started with LOTS of toasted bread, something Mom always did.  We NEVER take shortcuts on something so important.

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Aloha!!

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Wedding cake and beer are always an unbeatable combination.

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Anyone who grew up in, or close to our hometown will need no explanation for this picture.  For anyone else, it defies explanation.

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Gail and her husband will come for a visit next weekend, and a grand birthday celebration will ensue.  He was also asked to provide a few words as well:

“Gail is one of the sweetest, most outgoing people you’ll ever meet–if you haven’t already.  The most fantastic woman, wife, mother, sister and friend you could ask for, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.  Happy birthday, and remember I love you always–always have, and always will.”  —Terry

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I was honored to be her maid of honor when she married him in Las Vegas.

Suzanne knows her in her own unique way as a sister, but also as a boss.  She worked for her at the Pizza Hut:  “She has always been an authority figure–in a good way.  She always knew what she was doing, and still does.  However, I do have a few stories from after-hours that would get her in trouble with the actual authorities…”  

Gail’s motto at the Pizza Hut, according to Suzanne, was this:  If you have time to lean, then you have time to clean.  Her work standards have always been high.  Suzanne recalled her asking a job interview candidate “Do you know how to run a broom?”

I have spoken many times about Gail’s strong work ethic.  It is simply how she was raised; it is who she is.  I am happy to report, however, that she is taking a much-needed step back from one of her many self-imposed obligations, and learning how to spend more time on what is important to her.  She will likely never be the slacker that I am, but she is now one step closer to my take time for yourself ethic.

As press time approached today, there were contributions I was not able to include in this post from more people who adore her.  Next Sunday, I will likely report on our birthday celebration, and they will be included.

I saved my own comments for the end.  Everything everyone else said is true, and sometimes, as a writer, the right words escape me.

I simply want to let the world know this, and by posting it for the world to see, I want Gail to fully realize it:  Nobody gets me like you do.  And for that and everything else, Gail, I love you dearly.

You are still a goddess,  a trailblazer; a legend who is bigger than life.  I always wanted to be like you when I grow up, and I still do.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAIL!

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU–AND ME

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU–AND ME

“Today you are you!  That is truer than true!  There is no one alive who is you-er than you!    Dr. Seuss

Some people say it’s just another day. I say it’s not, and Gail and Suzanne agree:  it’s your birthday, and it is a special day.  It is the anniversary of your arrival here on earth.  It is an observance of the day you came into the world.  It is the mark of another trip around the sun.  Without your birthday, you wouldn’t be here.

It’s that simple—and that important.

Since I observed Gail’s birthday in February with a post, and Suzanne’s birthday in August with a post, I decided it was appropriate to observe my April birthday in a post.  Gail and Suzanne agreed.

I will turn 52 this week.  I am not hiding my age; rather, I know age is a gift to be opened, celebrated and treasured.  And I will do just that.  I’m not sure what I will do just yet, but I know I won’t work—if I can swing it.  My schedule is clear so far…I know I will go to my son’s baseball game.  My husband is planning on taking me to lunch.

I also observed Mom’s birthday in January with a post.  She never called attention to her own birthday, but she always made sure to celebrate all of ours.  Most years, she would call me at 4:15 p.m. on my birthday, the exact minute I was born.  Dad always chimed in with a birthday greeting as well.

Mom always made a cake for each of us, and cooked a special dinner of our choice.  There was always at least a small gift.  For our youngest brother Ryan, who was born on Christmas Eve, she never let Christmas outshine his birthday; she always made it a special occasion that wasn’t overshadowed with the holiday celebrations.  Some years, I remember her observing it in the summertime too, creating a special occasion to allow him more attention that may have been garnered by the holidays.

Long before they died, Mom and Dad took the time and care to sort hundreds of pictures from dozens of years of their family life.  They made a pile for each of us, labeled it with our names, and made sure they gave it to us.  I have looked through mine many times, and I found these various pictures from my birthday celebrations through the years.  I think I got them in the right order:

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My first birthday; my great-aunt and uncle are pictured with me.  I don’t think I have turned away from any cake since then.

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Three of my brothers and Gail were with me, Suzanne wasn’t yet dreamed of.

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I thought this was my birthday, but I don’t appear to be eight years old as the candles would indicate.  This must be Gail’s birthday.  I included it because it is a great picture of our great-aunt Madeline, who was a great substitute grandmother.  If either of my boys had been girls, the first girl would have been named Madeline after her and our mother’s stepmother, also named Madeline.   Neither Madeline was a genetic grandmother to us, but they were both incredible grandmothers to us in every other way.

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This one doesn’t appear to be a happy birthday…

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I have always loved books, and I remember these book/record sets fondly.

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That laced-up vest look complements the gap in my teeth…

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This appears to be my initiation into the awkward teenage years.

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And, after a long gap without pictures, this was my 34th birthday.  If you look close, there is a baby bump, and he was born in July.

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I recall a few birthday memories from my younger years:

*I had a track meet on my 18th birthday.  I ran long distance races so my events were later, and I had a crush on a guy who was there from another school.  He didn’t know it was my birthday; I’m not even sure he knew I existed.

*One of my sisters forgot my 21st birthday.  I even stopped at her workplace to see her that day.  Granted, she was very busy, and it was Good Friday. Still…She did make up for it later, so I let her off the hook.  Several other important people forgot too, and I felt like the star of the movie Sixteen Candles.

*The only birthday I recall dreading was my 25th—pictured here with Gail’s two oldest daughters.

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At this monumental quarter-century mark, I was going nowhere in my life, and I was wasting precious time with Mr. Wrong, whom I cut out of this picture.  There is a longer, soul-sucking story explaining why I was with him and not Mr. Right, and if the price is right, I will tell you the rest of the story—in private.  It ranks up there with one of my biggest mistakes I ever made.  Luckily, I was able to rectify the situation, and I married Mr. Right three years later.

Twenty-two years after that party, Mr. Right threw me a 50th birthday party.  His son–my stepson Matt, observed  his 30th birthday a month earlier, and Amy (Swheat Girls, Part Two:  July 9th),  turned 40 the same day Matt turned 30.  We were feted with a 30-40-50 party.  Mark’s brother, who turned 50 four days after me, was also included in the celebration.

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I wore the tiara proudly.

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It was held on the eve of my birthday on a beautiful spring day, and a grand time was had by all.  We are already planning the 40-50-60 party in just eight years.

The last birthday bash I had was 40 years prior.  Each of us in my family was granted a large 10th birthday party with friends and family invited.  It was an occasion to be anticipated and remembered, because we each got one when we turned 10.

Suzanne reminded me that we also got the day off from doing dishes on our birthday.  We never had an automatic dishwasher, Dad always said that when all seven of his dishwashers grew up and moved away, he would buy a dishwasher.  He never did buy one for the farmhouse, but their house in town had one.

Suzanne and I were talking about how Mom and Dad made sure to take pictures on our birthdays, first of the birthday girl/boy, then with the rest of the kids.  Suzanne, however remarked that all the pictures she has of her birthdays are with Mom and Dad only, because they always took her to Disneyland, without any of us.

Whatever, Suzanne.

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Gail rang in her 50th birthday in style with a big party as well.  There was a blizzard that weekend, and Suzanne and I weren’t able to make it.  She did, however extend the celebrating throughout the entire month of February with this campaign:  50 Beers for 50 Years.  I think she managed to reach her goal before the end of the month.

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Nearly every year, the best birthday gift I get is from Mother Nature.  She (almost) always has the leaves hung on the trees for me, and has a lush carpet of green covering the earth just in time for my big day.  I can only remember one other birthday about two years ago when the trees were bare and the earth was still mostly brown.

Apparently, she’s not going to deliver in time again this year.

As I write this on April 14th, we are experiencing a freak early spring blizzard.  Sideways snow and strong gale force winds have been the order of the day.  Our son has prom tonight.  It is a cruel trick from Mother Nature for all of us.

She hasn’t been very nice to us this spring.

Gail, a.k.a. Gale Force Winds, reminded me that there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it, and complaining about it won’t help.  Her daughter’s prom was changed to Sunday night due to the weather, as western Kansas got it worse than we did.  Interstate 70 was closed at the Kansas-Colorado border, right where we took our pictures on our trip there just over a month ago.  It was sunny and pleasant that day.  Not so much today.  Gail loves it.  She always loves it, no matter what the weather.

One should never dread birthdays; I certainly don’t.  I welcome them; relish them.  Neither should we dread any kind of weather, but still, I do.  All of us should welcome the weather as graciously as Gail–and Suzanne–both do.

The forecast for my birthday is 82 degrees and sunshine.    I will give Mother Nature a break if she can deliver that for me.

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Gail, Suzanne and I are expert birthday gift-givers to each other.  Seeking out and finding the perfect gifts for each other is a sport, one we all immensely enjoy–almost as much as getting the gifts on our own birthdays.

Gail found another perfect gift for me in Michigan when they were there at Christmas, and, like I frequently can’t, she couldn’t wait until my birthday to give it to me.    So I got it early, and I am so glad I did.

She knows how I love to watch the moon in all its phases.  In a quaint shop in northern Michigan, they sold necklaces with the  various phases of the moon.  But it’s more than just another moon necklace.  If you enter any day in history you wish to commemorate–like, for example, the day I was born, it gives you the exact phase of the moon for that day.   So now, I am the proud owner of this necklace, which features the moon as it appeared on the day I was born 52 years ago.  Of course, it glows in the dark.

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If you need a gift for a moon-lover like me–or for yourself, check out http://www.moonglow.com.

Gail’s gift for your birthday is this sage advice:  Birthdays are a gift.  Unwrap them and enjoy the presence.

In honor of my birthday, I ask one gift from you:  Please celebrate your own next birthday.  It is a gift to be opened, another year to celebrate,  a day to relish your presence here.

Take the day off, buy yourself a gift; have a party.  Or do it all.  Just please celebrate.

Happy Birthday to you.

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Happy Birthday to my birthday buddy Charlie, a college friend born on the same day in the same year as me.  Pictured here–second from left–with her own sister lode.

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Happy Birthday too, to my friend and former co-worker Lois.  We share the same birthday in different years, and we always wish each other happy birthday by phone every year.  Once in a while, we manage to get together.  

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD

“You’d better get that timing belt changed.  If that goes, nothing will work.”

And so goes the memory of one of the most important things my dad ever taught me as a young, independent woman.  I don’t think I ever got that timing belt changed on my car, but I traded it off soon thereafter, so it didn’t matter.

Turns out that in life, just like with cars, it is indeed all about timing.  It is what makes things work out the way they do.  The lesson went much deeper than a simple rubber automotive belt.

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Dad was born in 1934 via Cesarean-section.  In that era, it was an inexact science, and his mother wasn’t able to have more children.  She died when he was eight.  He told us that the doctors told his dad it was cancer, but she was never well again after his difficult birth.  After she died, he was raised by his dad and his dad’s two sisters–Madeline and Marie, who, because they played the parts, were like our grandmothers.  They were never married, and Dad was like their only collective child.  They were a gift to him, and I’m sure he was to them, too.  His dad never remarried.

Life as an only child was very lonely, Dad said.  He knew he wanted a big family, and got one:  we were their Magnificent Seven, they said.

 

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One of the earliest pictures we have of Dad; it’s condition tells a story, too.

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Dad and Grandpa in the wheat field.  Swheat boy.

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Dad–left, with childhood friends.

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And, with his best friend.

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Grandpa and Madeline playing Monopoly with Dad.

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Grandpa, Dad, Madeline and Marie.

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Dad had a brilliant mechanical mind, but more than that, he was wise beyond what he could feasibly put to work.  He knew about all things automotive and mechanical, and used this brilliance on his farm machinery and vehicles.

As an only child, however, the family farm was his destiny, no questions asked.  He was a steward of that family legacy until he turned 65, at which he time he promptly handed the reins over to two of my brothers.  One of them still farms it, living on the original homestead.  The house that built me, the farmhouse that was in our family for four generations, was torn down last fall.  Mold overcame it, and it was time for a new creation.

Dad and Mom moved into Osborne in 2000, the small town of about 1,300 people, the town where all three of us girls, and two of our brothers were born.  They lived there until they died, both of them immensely enjoying the “city” life, as well as the social connections they made.

Dad was a local conversational legend.  He was known far and wide as a gifted talker, and could strike up a conversation with just about anyone.  It was reported that when he would frequent the small hospital there to visit someone he knew, as well as the nursing home, he  made rounds as the self-appointed visitor extraordinaire, making new friends with patients/residents he didn’t yet know .  I made my own rounds to that nursing home in the year before they died, visiting them every time I came to town.  I treasure that opportunity to have seen them perhaps 15-or-20 times in their last year.  I left a “really good” hospital job to travel the uncertain nursing home circuit as a speech therapist, deciding—against all reason—to do so exactly a year before they died.

I know now, in crystal-clear hindsight, why I was supposed to listen to that little voice that, for no apparent reason, nagged me to go.  I would have gravely regretted it if I hadn’t.

Not long after they died, I was called there to see a new patient, an older gentleman who was having problems swallowing.  He was cantankerous; I was warned.  He wanted nothing to do with me when I arrived and introduced myself.  I knew that my dad had recently befriended him, so I pulled that strategy out of my arsenal.  I told him who my dad was, and he softened immediately.

“He was your dad?  Why sure!  You just come back to see me anytime!”

Dad’s reputation preceded and succeeded him, always in a good way.

Suzanne, when asked to recall something he had said that stuck with her, came up with this generalization, an exchange that was safe to make between a father and his adult daughter:

Suzanne:  “Every time you tell me something that I might question or doubt or might not like, it turns out you are right every time, and it’s really starting to piss me off!”

Dad laughed, knowing his opinion was not always the most popular.  He was a man of integrity and honesty, always calling a spade a spade, whether you liked it or not—even if you were his daughter.

Mom loved to write; I’ll claim that trait in myself from her.  Dad was an ardent reader, and I will credit him for my love of reading.  He loved to learn, and much like me, he read mostly factual and informational reading, rarely—if ever—works of fiction.  He read biographies, and so do I.  I really didn’t want to know that much about Lee Iacocca, but after listening to Dad talk about his autobiography, I decided to read it, and I’m so glad I did.  Likewise, I learned–from the book he had just finished reading—the multiple theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I will never look at just one side of that historical event ever again.

Very simply, Dad was a brilliant man who educated himself further by reading.  He knew at least a little bit-if not a lot–about everything.

And, like Dad, I am an expert sleeper.  At least, I try harder than anyone else in my family, and for better or worse, it is something I am recognized for among my siblings, as well as my own family.

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Gail frequently speaks of Dad’s greeting upon your arrival to his home:  “Sit down, stay awhile.”  And when you did, you were in for an informative and informational conversation, for as long as you were able to stay.  He always had time to talk.

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Dad, while his guest sat down and stayed awhile.

On our way to my future husband’s first meeting with my father, I warned him that he would likely talk his leg off.  He indeed did, but Mark loved it; loved him.  We all did.  I don’t know if Dad had even a single enemy, but if he did, it was likely because the other guy didn’t like his words of truth.

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Dad would have been 84 years old this Friday, March 30th.  I found the following piece I wrote four years ago on his birthday.  I hadn’t read it for a few years, and I was struck by how much stronger I have become, how time continues to heal.

I will close with that, but not before I say this:  If you still have your own father, pay him a visit if you can.  Sit down and stay awhile, even if what he has to say pisses you off.  There will come a day when you will not regret it. 

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD

My dad was a Kansas wheat farmer.  As I type, I am facing a bookshelf with a framed picture of him on his International Harvester “H” tractor, an antique, working tractor that was one of his favorites.

Today, March 30th, 2014, would have been his 80th birthday.  I wonder, especially today, what he would be like if he were still with us.  He had struggled with heart problems in the past, but always—sometimes miraculously—pulled through.  I want to believe he would have still been going strong.  In light of that thought, I am celebrating his life today.  In honor of his wheat farmer heritage, I am grinding wheat.  Wheat that was planted, grown and harvested by my brother John on the farm my dad was the steward of before my brother took over.  My dad was the third generation of family farmers;  John is the fourth.  John’s two sons show promise to be the fifth.

Sometime around 1995, Dad purchased a small wheat grinder in hopes of grinding all the flour we would ever need so as not to ever have to purchase it again.  For a while, he kept us all supplied.  I have fond memories of him at the kitchen table with this new grinder, showing off its features and ability to turn his personally harvested fruit of the earth into a fine powder that was the foundation of so many things we ate.  For a while.  Then, the new wore off, and he didn’t grind as much, as often.  Then, the grinder got put away.

I became interested in grinding my own flour somewhere down the road, and I borrowed it from him.  He and Mom retired as active farmers in 2000, and moved into a small town nearby, so John was now providing the wheat.  I took the grinder to my home on a long-term loan.   It has been here since.

Every year when I make my trip to the farm to partake of harvest, I bring back several gallon buckets of wheat to be ground.  Today, after looking yet again at the three remaining buckets on the shelf in my garage, I decided it was time to grind.  It was a warm and windy spring Sunday afternoon, so the dust and mess would blow away.  I set it up and plugged it in on the patio, and ground away. Before the grinding began, I took the large sifter that came with the grinder and I separated the wheat from the chaff. I realized the metaphor fits my life now, as I pride myself on getting better at sorting the unimportant from the important things in my life.   I even drank a wheat beer as I ground it, just for good measure.  I sent up a happy birthday to my dad as I did.  It felt right.

On my daily run this morning, I had a great idea, like I do so many mornings when I run.  My husband, our teenage boys and I would celebrate Dad’s birthday by having brunch at IHOP.  So we did.

After my run and before we left, I succumbed to the guilt from not dusting my furniture and shelves for far too long, and I broke out the dust rag.  I dusted the bookshelves where Dad’s picture on the tractor sat.  As I moved past it—I don’t know how I did it—I knocked it off.  I didn’t think I was very close, but it fell to the floor.  I sat down next to it and picked it up gently and sorrowfully as if it were a living thing that had I had unintentionally inflicted injury upon.  I cradled it, making sure the glass or frame wasn’t broken.  It wasn’t.  I felt myself become awash with tears.  I felt myself entering the minefield.

In the past six years (and twenty-six days), I have frequently found myself in this minefield, not realizing it as I entered.  Once in the minefield, I was typically stuck there all day, and any false move could bring another detonation.  I never knew which way to step, never knew where the mines might be hiding.

Today, however, I fought back.  I wasn’t willing to spend Dad’s birthday in the minefield.  I made a conscious decision to back-step, to find a way out before entering any further.  So I did.  And, as of 5:11 pm, I haven’t found myself back in.  I am winning.

My sister-in-law Lara—John’s wife—stopped by to see me on her way through town today.  I needed her visit, as she always picks me up and encourages me as a writer.  I needed her today more than ever.  I showed her how I grind their wheat with Dad’s grinder.  She seemed impressed, and she’s not able to fake being impressed, so I know she was.  She, as the vintage picture on her kitchen wall says, is a “Nice, Swheat Girl.”   I  like the play on words/letters, being the word nerd that I am.  For so many small graces like this one, I thank her.  For many other graces from my siblings and their families, I thank them as well.  I am blessed.

I choose to focus on these gifts that I have been given all throughout my life, not what I have lost.  I chose to back out of the minefield today, I’d had enough.  I celebrated my father today with gestures and positive actions, instead of wallowing in any residual sadness.  It is there, but, again, not today.  I can feel him smiling down upon me, and I will focus on this.

Happy Birthday Dad.

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Special thanks to Lara for bequeathing me the “Swheat Girl” picture when they moved into their new house.  And to Gail, who is crafting a frame for it. 

Thanks, too, to another sister-in-law Joni, who enlarged and reproduced the picture of Dad on the tractor, and then shared it.  It is a treasure. 

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Thank you for your support and readership.  I wish you a blessed Easter next Sunday; there will be no post then as I will be enjoying the holiday next weekend.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAIL: A GIFT OF PEACE

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAIL:  A GIFT OF PEACE

“When I first met Gail, I was impressed by her friendliness, her outgoing nature, and how she always was so funny, kind and generous.”  –Mark, my husband.

“Gail is always so friendly, and she always takes care of everyone.”  –Joel, my son.

“I love Gail.  She is so much fun.” –Skip, my neighbor.

The reviews are in, and they are all five stars.  Gail is all these things, and so much more.

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Gail will celebrate her 58th birthday on Wednesday, February 21st.  She doesn’t care that I divulged her age.  She is proud of it; we all know age is a gift.  She is planning a giant 60th birthday party already.   Gail, Suzanne and I will leave for our annual trip west a week after that.  We will celebrate in high style there—high in the Rocky Mountains.  We probably won’t tell you many details about how we celebrated, though.  Those are privileged secrets.

Gail is six years older than me, and ten years older than Suzanne.  She is the Big Sister Extraordinaire, the acting matriarch of our family now.  She had big shoes to fill, and she is filling them like no one else could.  She stepped into them in her usual grace, striding into her new role that she didn’t want, didn’t sign up for, but was heaped upon her.

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Whoo has the best big sister in the world?  Suzanne and I do!

Gail has always accepted whatever is laid at her feet.  No matter how small or how great, she tackles any challenge with an “I got this” attitude, long before “I got this” became a frequently used catchphrase by women of lesser strength—like me.

So, because she is my sister, and because there are stories to tell, I am going to share a few.  I have already shared my earliest memories of her working non-stop.  If, like most children, my earliest memories are recalled from around age four, Gail would have been ten.  She was already a small-scale Swiss Army Knife, helping Mom with all those tasks that must be performed for a large family:  child care, cooking, cleaning, laundry and on and on.  Mom used to tell the story of Gail waking up from a nap, still drowsy with eyes half-shut and walking by Mom changing the latest baby—it could have been me or my next older brother, or maybe even Suzanne—and she picked up the dirty cloth diaper as if on cue, taking it to the diaper pail while still waking up.  She didn’t need to be told; she knew.

It only intensified from there.  She picked up her pace and productivity, knocking out all that needed to be done without question or complaint.

She continues to knock it all out, and usually knocks it out of the park.  Gail does nothing halfway.  If a job is to be done, it is to be done right.

When she managed the Pizza Hut in Osborne, Suzanne worked for her for a time.  Suzanne confirmed that she did indeed run a tight ship.  She posted a sign that read:  IF YOU HAVE TIME TO LEAN, YOU HAVE TIME TO CLEAN.

Gail works hard, spins those plates I spoke of earlier.  If one plate is done spinning, she throws another up in its place.  She runs on more horsepower and cylinders than any of us dream of possessing.

Every time I hear the term “elbow grease,” I think of Gail.  As a young child who was learning that our language is filled with non-literal terms that don’t really mean what they say, I recall exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard that term, and of course, who said it:  Gail.

I was standing beside, or perhaps behind her as she washed dishes at the kitchen sink—an automatic dishwasher was unheard of; our parents had seven human ones.  She said something about scrubbing a dirty pan with elbow grease.  I remember looking at her elbow to see if there was any grease on it, or coming out of it.  I asked her if there was, and she said, yes, it did indeed have grease inside it, and that is what she was using to get the dishes clean.

I have never forgotten that, and I think of it every time I hear “elbow grease.”  So, as I was trolling eBay for her birthday gifts, I came upon this Rosie gift:

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Even though this effectively spoils the surprise for this small part of her gift bag of goodies, I had to include the picture of the small bar of soap in her bag.

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Mom and Dad had studio pictures taken of each of us around one year of age, and they hung on their living room wall.  As a child, Gail said she thought the reason her hair stood up on top is because she was sitting up on a stool.

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Gail does show kindness and empathy, but ultimately, she helps you get through whatever brings you down with a get over it/toughlove approach, even from a very young age as demonstrated here with me:

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If I stopped here, and you didn’t know Gail, you would think she was all business.  As we all know, all work and no play makes Rosie, Gail, or any other woman a dull girl, so I must tell you also how much fun she carries with her, and brings to anyone in her midst.

My earliest memories of Gail having fun are not necessarily good ones, at least not for her anyway.  I recall waking up at 2 a.m. early one Monday morning to the sound of Dad’s stern voice—it was only stern in such circumstances—when Gail arrived home from a Sunday “afternoon” at the lake with her friends at this hour.

She was grounded for I don’t know how long, and then Suzanne reminded me that as soon as she was released from house arrest, she committed a similar crime, and she was grounded again.

Not that it matters, but just for the record, Suzanne and I were never grounded.

From these earlier episodes of misbehavior grew a matured and more responsible sense of fun within Gail.  I wasn’t part of the train trip from Denver to Las Vegas that Gail and Suzanne went on with a handful of other thrill seekers, but I wish I had been.  I don’t know where I was or what kept me from this excursion, but if I had been able, I am sure I would have signed up too.

Apparently, the train staff didn’t anticipate that many thrill-seekers on one trip, so extreme measures were necessary:  On one stop, one male patron—I would call him a gentleman, but apparently he was not—had to be removed from the train for disorderly behavior.  While he was not initially part of Gail and Suzanne’s group, he apparently knew how to have fun, and was indeed having fun with their group.  Unlike Gail though, he apparently did not learn how to have mature and responsible fun.

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When Gail’s second daughter got married in Hawaii about seven years ago, Gail realized a long-held dream:  she zip-lined.  I, being less adventuresome, will likely never do this.  Nor will I bungee jump, like she has also done.  She is fearless, compared to me.

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When my husband and I were dating, he had a four month long out-of-town project in Osborne when Gail lived there.  His evenings were destined to be monotonous and boring as he stared at four motel room walls—until Gail reached out.  She invited him to join her bowling league, invited him to dinner at her home and always treated him like family.

One of his unique tastes is for anchovies on his pizza.  While not a topping she had listed on her menu, and not typically kept in stock (and not eaten by typical people), she made an exception for him.  She always had anchovies available for him when he wanted them on his pizza.

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Now, it’s time to get down to business.

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IT happened again.  I can’t put a name on IT, because it is so unspeakable.  We all know what IT is.

How can this happen again?  When is this going to stop?  How can one person have so much evil inside them?  What can we do?

The easy answer is to think that since it happened far away from us, happened to people we likely didn’t know, is to say our prayers for the victims and go on our way.  That’s what most of us have been doing all along—myself included.  It’s a good start, but we must do more.

The hard answer is to take a look at ourselves.  Find any small or large seeds of discontent in ourselves and find a way to turn them around.  We all want peace in our families, our communities our country; our world.  But we have to have it in ourselves first.  We can’t give away something we don’t have.

But I’m just one person, my actions don’t really matter,” you may think.  I often think this too.

But they do.  They create ripples, good or bad. And those ripples are far-reaching; we have no idea how far they can spread.

Consistently, it has been found that the people who perpetrate these heinous crimes have been ostracized from their peers; they have been set apart in a negative way.

The innate need to belong to the human group cannot be denied, no matter how much we may want to–myself included.  I find myself wanting to hole up alone more as I age.  But I need people.  Just like everyone else.  Without that connection, we wither as humans, we cannot become the people we were meant to be.

So, back to what can I do?  I can reach out, and you can too.  We can do something as simple as smile at a stranger, or something as complex as forgive an enemy, even if they think they did nothing wrong.  Forgive them in your heart, bless them, and let it go.  Roll your eyes if you have to; that’s how I get through it sometimes.  Forgiveness is really about freeing ourselves, not the other guy.  Letting go frees up a lot of space in our hearts and souls to be filled with good things like peace and positivity.  Try to see the conflict from their perspective.  Remember, often times, there ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.

I can’t take any more of this, and I hope you can’t either.  I am searching for ways to crank it up at least  a notch; to find a means to share more peace and positivity. It is in me, and I need to get it out.

It’s in you, too.  I hope you find your unique ways to get it out there, because we all need it now more than ever.  We all need to share our gifts of peace, whatever they are.

Start within.  Find those seeds of discontent, and weed them out before they grow any bigger.  Forgive, and if you can’t forget, then bless them and send them good vibes.  Smile more.  Say thank you.  Tell someone you not only love them, but you like them too.  Say your prayers, whatever they are.

Speaking of prayers, I must use this platform to spread one of the most timeless ones, one that, if we all simply followed it, we may never have to say not again again.

I have written about The Letter our mother left, and I will likely write about it again.  She asked us to live our lives by the prayer of Saint Francis, commonly known as The Peace Prayer.

Along with The Letter, she left seven prayer cards, one for each of her children.  Per her written instructions, they were handed to each of us by the priest at their funeral in front of 500-plus people.

Given that, and in light of this week’s tragedy, I’m having a little trouble feeling that I don’t need to do a little more than I am already doing.   I want to say that I was trying my best, but I can do more.  I have put it just below my bathroom mirror, so that it stares at me every day until I say that prayer at least once daily.  And then I must do something about it.

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This is heavy stuff, especially after Gail’s birthday tribute.  However, Gail has a birthday gift request for you:  She has a Facebook group called Mom’s Message–Instrument of Peace (click on about tab) that she started many years ago. ( If you had previously joined, somehow, Facebook zeroed out the membership, so please re-join.)  Go to it, and consider joining to further Mom’s message of peace, if you haven’t already.   Then, figure out what you can do.  Figure out what gifts of peace you can offer those in your life.  Also, if you are on board, and you are reading this through Facebook, consider reposting this blog on your page.

And, in honor of Gail, never forget this:

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Happy Birthday Gail.  Here’s a toast to peace.

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It’s time we put some elbow grease on this problem.  And don’t forget the ripple effect–what you and I do matters, so let’s do something good.

WE CAN DO IT!

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!

Mom never missed a birthday for any of her seven children.  That was 296 birthdays, if my math is right.  When we were grown, she would send a card or call, or both.   In our younger years at home, she always made sure to observe the birthday with a cake and a small celebration.  We always got at least one small gift when we were kids.  We each got to host one large party when we turned ten.

She not only never forgot our birthdays, she could tell you what time of day each of us was born, our weight, and our head circumference.  Whenever possible, she would call at the exact birth minute.

I gave birth only twice, and I think I can remember the exact minute of their births; I remember the hours at least.  I’ve got their birth weights committed to memory.  I have no idea what their head circumferences were.

Suzanne just informed me during this writing that she could remember our actual due dates as well, and when we started walking.  Gail added that she remembered our chest circumferences, too.

The least we can do is remember her birthday.

And we still do.

When Suzanne lived in Osborne near them, she would take Mom on a shopping trip every year; Gail and I would come when we could.  On her last birthday in 2008, Suzanne and I took her to Grand Island (A Grand Overnight Island Getaway, December 10th). That year—as usual—we went to TJMaxx.  Mom helped me pick out a new purse.  It would come to signify the last excursion I took with Mom.

The next year when her birthday rolled around, I found myself recalling bittersweet memories of that last birthday trip.  I decided to chuck work for the day and take a shopping trip in her honor.  Every year since then, I have done the same on or near her birthday.  Sometimes, Gail and Suzanne go, sometimes I go alone.  Always, I go to TJMaxx.  Always, I buy a new purse there in her honor.

On Sunday, January 21st, Suzanne and I will be shopping a day early in her honor.  Gail is hunkering down for another western Kansas blizzard as I write, and cannot make the trip.  We will have another celebration in her honor in just six weeks in Colorado.

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My heart is heavy this week with the news of the 13 siblings from California who were found malnourished, tortured and hidden away in their home.  I cannot shake the reality of this incomprehensible situation; cannot wrap my mind around it.  How could two parents be so horribly abusive to their children?  How could they continue to reproduce?  How could they be surprised when they were arrested, as if they did nothing wrong? How is this fair?  (It’s not.)  How?

How, I must also ask, were we so blessed to have two incredible parents?  How else can I give thanks for what we had?

Mom saw to that in Peace, Sister (July 16th).  If we can share the peace they left us with the worlds each of us live and interact in, that would be the best birthday gift we could give her every day, not just for her birthday.

We are all connected, all of us.  Even to those 13 children.  We are all in this together, and any good deed—large or small—creates a ripple.  I try to do what I can to create good ripples, and create them often.  That was Mom’s last wish.   But that’s hard.  Most days, I fail miserably.  It’s easier to do what I want, to do what benefits me first.  I fight this every day.  But Mom’s wish is a good reminder, so I keep trying.

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Mom lost her mother to leukemia when she was just eight.  Her older sister Jeanne was blind, and was away at the Kansas School for the Blind in Kansas City during the school year.  Our grandpa, along with help from his mother and other relatives helped to raise Mom and Jeanne.  Having only eight years with her own mother had to be heartbreaking for Mom, but she obviously had a strong seed planted within her from this short time to teach her how to be the incredible mother she was.  With the other positive maternal influences from her grandmother and aunts from that point on, Mom was given a gift of incredible motherly love, even if it wasn’t from her own mother.  When Mom was 12, her dad remarried and Mom gained a wonderful stepmother, who  eventually became our grandmother.  She was the only grandmother we ever knew, because Dad’s mother died when he was eight as well.  His dad didn’t remarry.  Mom soon got two more sisters from this union, something she was so excited about.  Having a mother again, as well as two more sisters was something she so longed for, and she got it.

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Mom never liked to have her picture taken, but somehow I think she wouldn’t mind me sharing these pictures from her youth.

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The picture below is one of the few I found of her with her older sister and their mother.

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She wouldn’t have approved of me sharing this next picture if she were here, but, again, I think she is okay with it now.

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Our sisterly consensus is that it was taken on her 70th birthday.  She would celebrate her 71st birthday, and be gone six weeks later.

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Mom’s birthday is an important landmark in my writing endeavors.  When I was limping along in my struggle to write my  book, I realized I needed a deadline, a self-imposed limit to my tendency to slack.  I decided Mom’s birthday would be the perfect target, and I let her know that.  I gave myself one year to finish writing, get it self-published and get it out.  I told her on her last birthday that I would have it finished by her next birthday, and I meant it.  I got busy writing.

Six weeks later, both Mom and Dad were gone.  My heart was shattered, and I was sure I would never be able to write again.  Then, I remembered my promise to Mom.  I had no choice but to move forward.  I would miss her birthday deadline the next year and take more time to eventually finish the book, but I did finish it.  I know she understood.  Without her birthday deadline, I may have let it go.

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A birthday is a celebration of the fact that that someone arrived in the world, was sent to fill the space created for them.  It is an annual observation this arrival, and the fact that we have made it a better place (hopefully).

Our mother certainly did.

On Monday, January 22nd, we will celebrate her arrival here, the space she filled and all the ways she made the world a better place. She is gone from this plane, but she is still with us in so many ways.  She wanted us to know this, and to never forget it.   She would have been 81 years old.

I have spoken of The Letter she left us in previous posts, and I while it is a private family treasure, I want to share the last line, one sentence that continues to comfort all of us:

“Please don’t think I have left you, I am still very much with you.”

We are still very much with you too, Mom.

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When Gail was born in February 1960, there was a massive snowstorm that socked Mom, Dad, Gary and Gail in for six weeks.  They lived west of our family farm, deeper in a hilly area that couldn’t be reached due to the snow.  Gail said Mom spoke of how she treasured this precious time together as mother and new baby.  Now, the irony is that Gail is getting snowed in and can’t make it for Mom’s birthday/shopping party with Suzanne and me this year.

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Just got home from the birthday celebration.  I think I am going to love my new purse.

Happy Birthday Mom.  The world is a better place because you were in it.