THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

It’s that time again, and I don’t like it.  I don’t like the cooler temperatures, I don’t like the shorter days, and I don’t like the thought of cold weather returning.  Call me crazy, but I am in my element when the mercury is in the triple digits. 

I have tried for over fifty years now, but it does no good to be upset about it.  Fall still comes, and behind it, winter.  I try a little harder every year to embrace it, and I think perhaps, I may be just a bit more successful each year.

I am sitting on my porch at 8:40 p.m., feeling the cool breeze.  It is 69 degrees, and I cannot deny that it feels nice.  But with the cool evenings and mornings come the cooler days.  We have had temperatures in the forties this week, and rain for four days straight, no sun.

The backyard pool must come down, and this breaks my heart. 

However, I am seeking out the other joys that arrive only as summer begins to depart.  Like the sunflowers.  For about two glorious weeks at the end of August/beginning of September in Kansas, our state flower is in full bloom in the wild.

This year, my husband planted some in our yard, so we have our own personal blooms to savor. 

I cannot deny that I immensely enjoy this part of late summer.  When it becomes obvious that summer will soon wind down, the state flower steps it up and shows off its unparalleled beauty to remind me that nature’s splendor remains in other ways.  I simply needed to take another look.

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Not that sunflowers aren’t beautiful and grand, but Gail and Suzanne have other, more exciting reasons to celebrate. 

Gail was together with her four children and her two grandchildren two weeks ago.  Her second-born lives in Michigan, and their visits are not frequent enough.  Her grandsons live there with their mother, so these visits are an incredible highlight for all of them.

But Gail, as you already know, can make a celebration out of pretty much nothing.  I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad day or a wasted day in her life.  She chooses to let the bad roll off her back, and focus on the good.

I want to be like her when I grow up.

Both Gail and I have been married for twenty-plus years, and have lived in our homes that long as well.  Both our husbands and our homes are nothing new, but they are tried-and-true, and we are still very much smitten with both.  There are no big celebrations planned at this time, but there is no need for any.  Every day is a gift to be savored.

Suzanne has quite the opposite news.  She is getting both a new house, and a new husband.  This is super-exciting news not just for her, but for Gail and me as well.  Her husband-to-be got a 127% approval rate from both of her sisters, and while Gail has not yet seen her new house, I gave it five stars.  My husband the builder gave it five stars as well when he checked it out for her.  (This never happens.)  Guys aren’t much into approval rates, but I know he finds his future brother-in-law at least as favorable as the house. 

In the interest of her limited self-disclosure, that is really all I can tell you, and that’s enough for you to know she has a lot to celebrate right now.

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If you recall, one of our mother’s many nuggets of wisdom she shared with us was this:  Always have something to look forward to.

In this year of COVID, our excursions have been greatly limited.  Last weekend, however, my husband and I ventured out to western Kansas to see some of our Sunflower State’s natural beauty that we had not yet taken in.

Topped off by an overnight stay at Gail’s house—along with patio sitting, we had a lot to look forward to last week, and none of it disappointed.

This week, I am anticipating a long-overdue trip with a dear friend.  No details at this point, but suffice it to say that even though our backyard pool came down already, my time splashing in the sun is not done yet for this year. 

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Two years ago this fall, I featured a group of six sisters we know who take annual sister trips—all six of them, which makes us look like amateurs, which we are.  This week, they have been celebrating in Michigan, very close to where Gail’s daughter lives.

May their annual celebrations continue to inspire us, and hopefully you, too.  They set the bar high for making it all work, but when family and fun are priorities, they show us that the sky is the limit. 

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I am sitting on the porch again, this time I am savoring the sunshine and 80-degree temperatures.  The weather is simply splendid, even if it lacks perfection by 20 degrees in my book.  The humidity, however, is a breathable 44%, and I cannot deny I do love that part. 

I am working harder than ever to savor every beautiful day of the fall, even if I know that means the cold will be here soon.  I am working on savoring the cold days, too.  Life is too short and too beautiful not to at least try. 

Kansas has four beautiful seasons, and each one is distinct in its gifts.  The hardest gift for me to accept—no matter which season—is the blessed/cursed Kansas wind.  Gail and Suzanne call it blessed, I call it cursed.

Suzanne’s new house is tucked away on an almost-secret street in our small city, surrounded by trees.  I don’t think she realized until I pointed it out to her that she would not have full benefit of the wind.  This may have been a small downer for her, but the wind, along with all the other simple things to celebrate, are always able to be found somewhere.

Sometimes, we just have to look a little bit, and sometimes, we have to look at them differently in order to call them celebrations. 

But they are always there.

STARS AND STRIPES AND SISTERS FOREVER

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STARS AND STRIPES AND SISTERS FOREVER

“Game on,” was the thought Tana said was going through her twelve year old mind when I arrived as their new babysitter.

Except that in 1984, that phrase had not yet been coined.

It was probably something like: “We’ve run off all the other babysitters, and we will run you off, too.”  Or, “You have no idea what you’re getting into, but we plan to show you.”

It probably didn’t help that one of the first things I said after the initial introduction, upon meeting their cat was “I don’t like cats.”  I proceeded to show them that if you blew in a cat’s ear, it would shake its head vigorously.

I thought it was funny.  They didn’t.  Neither did Cinnamon.

That was 34 years ago, and, having survived those crucial first few weeks, we are now bonded forever.  I’m not exactly sure what I did to win their trust after that cat incident, or what I did to make it strong enough for them to decide they wouldn’t run me off, but I apparently did something right.

And—mercifully, I have a new respect for cats.

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Tana and Amy were twelve and eight respectively when we met.  They spent the summers with their dad on the farm, which was close to ours.  They lived with their mother in Arizona during the school year.  Their dad was a busy farmer, and he needed a babysitter, as well as a household manager.

I made the grade well enough to keep coming back for many more summers.  Even when they were no longer in need of babysitting, they brought me back.  It was a great summer gig for a college girl.  And when that was over, we kept each other—as friends.

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Every year for the last I-can’t-remember-how-many, they come to visit for the July 4th holiday from their homes in the Phoenix area.  They bring their husbands and children, who have grown up knowing that “Kathleen’s house” is the Independence Day destination, as well as their summer vacation.  According to their mothers, they begin asking months in advance “How long until we go to Kansas?” and “Why can’t we stay longer?” and “Can’t we go in the winter too?”  I take all these as confirmation that I did indeed make the grade as their mothers’ babysitter all those years ago.

“My friends ask me ‘So, what do you do there?’” Tana said.  “And I say ‘Nothing.  We do nothing.’ And they look at me like I’m crazy.”

But a lot of nothing is what we do indeed.  Nothings like working on puzzles.

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swimming,

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and baking.

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And, of course, eating.  After we bake and cook, we eat.

This “nothing” is what makes it so much fun.  All three of us feel that having a plan and packing a vacation full of activities is sometimes counterproductive, creating stress of its own, which is exactly what vacations are meant to avoid.

We did take a day trip to their hometown, the same town they were born in.  Gail, Suzanne and I were born there, too.  “I’s born in Osborne…”

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Our two-car convoy approaches their small town.

Lunching at the Pizza Hut there is a highlight, the Pizza Hut we ate at all those years ago, and the one Gail managed for years–just in a new building now.

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Stopping along the way at the newly re-opened family market on the way home in Lucas is a highlight.  We stopped there on our way to Osborne for the Loads of Sisters (November 19th)  post to procure some of the locally famous meats from this iconic market, the market that was our dad’s favorite place to stop for meat and conversation.

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Then, having passed by too many times before, we finally took the tour of the locally—and regionally—famous Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas.   And yes, there really is a visibly entombed dead guy there.  He built this unique creation, and it was his wish to be preserved as such.  If you are ever in the vicinity, it’s worth the stop.

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The second-place finisher in a national public restroom contest, this work of art is not to be missed.  Whether or not you have to go, you have to go.

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Nothing is too sacred to be added to the mosaic art that makes this restroom unique, the mosaic art that validates my favorite form of art to create.

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The food and libations, the company and conversation, the heat, the pool—it’s all part of the porch experience at our house.

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Besides all this, there are some secrets this porch holds, memories that require one to be present to win.

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Tana gave this gift to me at the end of the trip, and I treasure it.

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Independence Day has come and gone again, just like holidays, and every other day does.  The guests have returned home, and it’s back to work for me Monday.  The memories remain, and the seeds of anticipation for next year have been planted in all our minds.

This Independence as a nation, as well as our personal independence, needs to be celebrated every day.  We are a free country, thanks once again to the brave men and women who made—and keep it that way.

Just like the soldiers fulfill their duty, each of us has a duty to ourselves to free ourselves from anything that holds us back from living our lives to their fullest.  Too many people, I learn more each day, are held in chains by their own bitterness and regret, their closely guarded pride and useless fears, and lack of complete awareness of all things beautiful that surround them.  I can write this only because I am one of them still.  I feel a continued evolution away from all of these, but I know it will be a lifelong journey.  A journey it is, not a destination.  If I—or any of us—think we have it all perfected, perhaps another look would enlighten us to yet more joy we could unearth and hold within.

Not to be confused with happiness, I have learned that joy is the deeper of the two, the feeling that no matter what sadness may befall us, we have a deep well within to sustain us, a well that will never run dry, even when happiness is in a drought spell.

Happiness, if you dissect the word, looks too much like “happen,” happening” or “happenstance,”  all of which suggest it depends on external things that we may have no control over.

The longer I live, the more I realize it is my duty to myself first, then to my fellow human beings, to find any and all things that make me happy and add to that well of joy, so that I may first savor it for myself, and then share it with others.

As a sister to Gail and Suzanne, I find deep joy having them in my life.  This blog, I hope, gives you an insight into this well within me that seems to become deeper with time, thanks in large part to them.  I am so grateful that Tana and Amy kept me, long after they needed me.  They didn’t have to.  They have made my well inside deeper.

Like most sisters, we have had heartbreak in our own lives and within our family.  So, too, have Tana and Amy.  Like us, they have stuck together through thin and thick.  They were the only two children of their parents, having each other as constants when they divorced.  They rode through storms of many other forms of loss and sadness, and came out victorious, and with a stronger bond after the storms cleared.

Some sisters, I know too well, do not have this resilience.  Some sisters, sadly, don’t ride out the storm.

I recall being struck by this statement I read after our parents died:  The two people who knew you the longest are gone.  Sisters and brothers are second only to parents for most of us in terms of relationship longevity.

I know, sadly, from seeing others struggle with their families, that the peace I have with my sisters, and the peace Tana and Amy have, is not universal, not a gift granted.  It may take work, and for some sisters, no solution can be found.  Some sisters—and brothers too—cannot find that middle ground to meet upon; cannot bridge the chasm that lies between them.

Once again—the third time within The Sister Lode, I will make a reference to a profound lyric from a classic 70’s song:  “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me and we just disagree.”

Tana and I had the privilege of seeing this rock icon who first performed this classic song, right here in the downtown of our small city:  (Amy departed that day, so she wasn’t able to join us.)

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Sometimes, if we step back and simply try to see the situation through their eyes, we may come closer to meeting in that beautiful middle; not being a good guy or a bad guy.

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Stars and stripes are forever, and so are sisters.  Forever is a long time.  Except when it’s not.  Forever could come tomorrow for any of us.  Please make the most of whatever is left of forever; none of us know how long that could be.

I hate to brag, but I am kind of an authority on this subject:  life can change forever in one second, loved ones can be gone in a blink.  If you are at peace with your sisters and any other loved ones, celebrate it every day.  If you aren’t, do what you can to meet in the middle, and perhaps just disagree.   I get that some people will not budge one inch toward the middle, and we have to leave them in their far left or far right.  As long as you have tried.  If they were gone tomorrow, I hope you would find peace with whatever efforts you made.  If you think perhaps there is more work you can do, then do it.

Until every day is Independence Day.

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My life is coming full circle– I find myself liking cats once again.  Thank you, Tana and Amy, for giving me a second chance after my failed first impression with Cinnamon.

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Suzanne was able to join us for our July 4th celebration, but Gail was not.  Gail was here for Memorial Day weekend, and we celebrated then, as we always do.

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In her absence, Suzanne and I had our own little pool party yesterday.  Anytime there is laughter, Gail is there in spirit.

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OUR FAVORITE GIFTS OF 2017

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OUR FAVORITE GIFTS OF 2017

I usually just say no.    I get several requests every year to work privately with children.  I am most comfortable with adults, and I feel that another speech therapist would be better suited for helping children.

Given that, I did have the pleasure of working with a fine young boy on his speech sounds for an extended period of time.  I said yes to this request, and I am so glad I did.

I went to his home typically once a week after school for a period of several years.  He and his family were delightful.  I was a guest in their home, but they made me feel at home every time I was there.

Every year at Christmas, I received a handmade Christmas ornament from him.  He presented them to me on my last visit before the holiday; and I treasured each of them.  I hung them together on my tree, and sent a picture to his mother to show him how great they looked on our tree.

I stopped working with him just over a year ago, not long before Christmas.   When I put the tree up this year, I hung each of his three ornaments together.  I stepped back and smiled, recalling the fond memories of him and his family.

About a week before Christmas, I stopped by Suzanne’s house.  Her home is close to theirs, and as I drove by their street, I recalled more fond memories of him and his family.

When I got home, there was a parcel on my porch.  His name was on it.  He made another ornament for me.

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There are some rewards to my work that no paycheck can compete with.

Another patient, knowing my dad’s favorite pie was a straight raisin pie—no cream on this one—and that I liked it too, delivered one to me the week before Christmas.  His wife made it just for me.  It was delicious, and my dad would have loved it.

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And there’s James and Lucy from my Time for Letting Go:  Part Two, dated October 29th.  How did they know I love clean and fresh candle scents instead of flowery ones?  I have told them so much about me, but I am sure I didn’t share this little fact.  They just knew.

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Therapists are not allowed to accept large gifts, but our code of ethics allows those of “nominal” value.    Monetarily, these could be called “nominal.”  However, they are worth far more in a different kind of currency.  When I sometimes feel I am making no difference, not helping these people at all, I simply remember their appreciation expressed through gifts like these.  And then I remember why I continue to do this work.

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Gail, Suzanne and I have an annual Christmas tradition.  We give each other gifts.  Of course, this sounds like garden variety gift-giving.  But these are no regular gifts.  These are gifts we shop for year-round, gifts we accumulate slowly, methodically, purposefully.  We buy them new in cool stores, used at garage sales, find the hard-to-find ones on eBay,  troll the thrift stores year-round (Suzanne and I do, anyway), and special order them when we need to.  These gifts—and there are multiple ones for each of us—are, quite simply, the best.

During our family Christmas get-together, we sneak away for our private exchange when we think no one is looking.  Except they’re on to us by now, and when we slip away, someone always finds us.

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Busted again!  We thought perhaps in Ryan’s house, they wouldn’t know where to look, but they did.  The sisters-in-law have now vowed—in good-natured ribbing– to start their own secret gift exchange, and we hope they do, because it is so much fun.

These gifts are special, solemn and secret.  It would not be right to showcase them, but perhaps the picture gives you a small inkling.   We seem to know exactly what each of us needs to get in a special package from their two special sisters.

Because Suzanne is a minimalist, and because laughter is a gift too, she chose to receive her largest gift from me as a ticket to a night together, complete with much laughter.

There is a small, art-deco style theater in the beautiful downtown of our small city.  A very funny lady with a great first name—Kathleen Madigan—performed there in November, so Suzanne was my date.  The memories of her humor and our laughter made that gift priceless to me, and I hope Suzanne felt the same way.

Gail and I always find treasures in Cripple Creek at Christine’s place, 9494.  I had found yet another one there on our trip in September, and I resisted the temptation—initially.  I told myself if it was still there the next day that it was mine.  We went back, and it was gone.  “Then it wasn’t meant to be,” I thought, and assumed it had found a more deserving home.

It showed up in my gift package from Gail.

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Suzanne’s daughter gave her a gift that brought back great memories of her childhood, a retro-style toy that was recently resurrected, and Julia found her mother’s favorite one, which was Suzanne’s favorite tangible gift:

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Suzanne was an exceptionally cute little girl.  Of course, she is still cute, but not like she was when we were kids.  She treasures a certain picture of both of us, one where she looks cute as a button, and I look, well, not cute.  She delights in showing this picture to her new co-workers, because I already knew many of them.  She wanted me to have an enlarged print.  She wanted to keep the frame subtle, she said, so as not to take the focus off of the subjects of the picture.  It now sits on my bedside table.

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(Please realize the enormous amount of self-acceptance required for me to post this picture for the world to see.)

There is a certain person who delights in reminding me just how not cute I look in this picture.  He even has the audacity to suggest that, perhaps, my pre-adolescent female hormones were late to arrive.  He knows who he is, and I have but one cryptic word for him:  karma.

Mercifully, my fashion sense has evolved, the gap between my teeth grew shut, I shed the pre-adolescent weight, and I got a more flattering haircut.

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But all these things are just things.

The greatest gifts are not things.  The greatest gifts cannot be bought or touched. They are experienced.

We celebrated Christmas with our siblings and their families, and we celebrated Ryan’s birthday too, just as we always do.

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Our day at his house together was wrapped up at its close with another beautiful Kansas sunset, its vast expanse visible out his front door.

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Because I couldn’t decide if the earlier picture or the later one was more beautiful, I included both of them.

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Gail and her family left Ryan’s house in the pre-dawn hours and headed north to visit Gail’s daughter and her family in northern Michigan.  After a semi-treacherous period of 20 hours, five more than it should have taken, they arrived.

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Gail’s greatest gift she says—hands down—was time with her daughter, and her grandsons.

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The ornaments, the pie, candle and necklace, and all the other gifts were absolutely wonderful.  I am very grateful to each of their givers for their thoughtfulness and generosity.

The biggest and best gifts, however, cannot be wrapped and given away, cannot be bought or made.  The Giver gives, and too often, we take, without saying thank you.

For these gifts bestowed upon me in 2017, I want to give thanks:

*Always, for my sisters.

*Suzanne now lives and works in my small city, much closer to me.

*More travels with my sisters.  Whether it be Colorado, Florida, Nebraska or somewhere in Kansas, I relish the memories and look forward to making more.

*The unique celebration of sisterhood through this blog.

*Another year, another birthday to relish, because age is a gift.  I welcomed 51, Gail celebrated 57, and Suzanne is proud to be 47.  We don’t hide our ages, because we know the gift of every year, of every day, every moment.

*For you, dear reader.  You gave me the faith to keep this endeavor afloat after its maiden voyage.  You made me believe I really can do it.

*Work that continues to sustain and support me.

*Good health:  my work reminds me every day that it is a gift not granted, a gift to be savored and enjoyed every day.

*My ability to communicate in spoken and written form.  My work also reminds me daily of this gift, the gift that allows us to connect with others and be fully alive through it.

*Our continued constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These may be legal rights, but more importantly, they are all three gifts from God.

*My family.  Another addition extended the circle of love.

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Because my patients also found the humor in these, I want to share two misspoken New Year’s greetings from two different women who had strokes, and had difficulty choosing the right words.  It was New Year’s Eve day during their therapy sessions three years and one year ago respectively, and after multiple attempts, these two greetings are what they called good enough:

“Happy Two Beers!”

“Happy Near You!”

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Happy 2018 to all of you.  May every moment of this new year be a gift.

 

 

 

GIVE THANKS

 

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THANK YOU

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”    Meister Eckhart

Our country celebrated my favorite holiday last week.  I celebrated with my husband’s family on Thursday, and my family on Saturday.  I try to celebrate it alone every day. I try to find small and large things to be grateful for.  Some days, I know I don’t try hard enough.  When I give it my best, I get the best in return.

I find more peace.  More joy.  More awareness of so many more things I need to be grateful for.  More awareness of how rich life can be when I focus on the good.

I am now grateful for things that used to drag me down.  Like the seemingly endless stretch of Interstate 70 that leads to Gail’s house:

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I drove this hundred mile stretch several hundred times on my way from my current small city to an even smaller city during my graduate school days:

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If I try just a little harder, I can find so many beautiful sights along the way to be thankful for.  Out of respect for Gail and Suzanne’s love of the wind,  I have come to appreciate–only a little more– the reason why Kansas has so many of these:

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An hour past my alma mater town, this gem on the plains is the hometown of both of my in-laws.  They were married in this church that stands as a tall beacon on the prairie skyline, and all four of my husband’s grandparents were laid to rest behind the church.  A dear friend’s parents are buried there as well.   In an unlikely coincidence, my mom’s father was born there at home, but didn’t live there long as a child.

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As I age, I am more thankful that I was born and raised a Kansas farm girl.  While my family trusted only the red tractors, combines and other machinery, the green ones are fixtures on the Kansas plains.  My husband’s brother-in-law recently retired from a long and storied career with the green tractor company, so I have to respect them too.  Only if you were raised on a farm would you understand the ongoing debate/argument over which tractor is better:  red or green?  Either one will adequately harvest the current corn crop, which, in the last 10 years, is becoming a bigger cash crop in Kansas.

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So, just when I think I can no longer tolerate the monotony of the flat western Kansas landscape, the road to Gail’s house takes a surprise twist:  hills!

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Then, about ten minutes later, we have arrived.  Over the plains and through the hills, to Gail’s house we go.24058991_1925613150786933_3385765566210426815_n[1]

Gail and Suzanne are busy cooking; Suzanne and her family arrived last night.

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Anyone in the kitchen is expected to lend a hand.

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This is Gail’s time to shine, it is the pinnacle of the year–in family terms–for her.  I think that’s why it’s my favorite too.  Three of our four brothers, their wives and most of their offspring were there as well.   If Gail is in charge, it’s gonna be good.

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And it was.

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Our new tradition is to take a picture in Camp Gail, just like we did last year.

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After duplicating that picture, we decided to try to duplicate this one, with a slight modification to reflect the fact that we are all fifteen years older than when this picture was taken:

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It didn’t turn out so well:

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Still, we tried.  And we will keep on trying to have all the fun we possibly can.   I am so thankful for that.

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I have long been thankful for Kansas sunsets, perhaps the most recognized natural wonder of The Wheat State.

Happy Thanksgiving every day from the three Kansas  wheat farm girls of the Sister Lode.