GAIL AS GUEST BLOGGER

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I wrote last week that my posts may be sparse in the next month or so, due to the many weekend activities, plus, I need a little breather.  I hosted Gail as she took her artwork down the road to a show in Abilene.  Along with a friend, I helped her there on Saturday.  The rest of the weekend was filled with Gail-time, which never fails to entertain.  This weekend was no different.  

Wanting to add her own contribution to the blog posts–however short and sweet, she wrote this for me in my hiatus.   Gail takes fun wherever she goes, as this post shows.

Kathleen didn’t write this time, but I decided to.  Yes, it was a busy weekend; but no matter how much work I have to do, I always make time for fun.  There really wasn’t much time for writing, what with the show all day, then coming back to her house with our friend for an evening of cooking and eating lasagna, which turned into a night of story-telling and laughter with her husband and son, perhaps a few drags on a cigar, dancing, and practicing on each other with a taser–it’s best to know how to use that thing before you actually have to.  (Kathleen didn’t partake of the last three.)

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She turned in early–like she always does–so she missed the 11:00 p.m. ACDC concert on DVD in the basement two floors below her.  She said she heard it loud and clear.

Fun was had by all, which, after all, is what it’s really all about.

Take care and make sure to have some fun of your own.  –Gail

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Thank you, Gail.  You’re an amazingly talented artist with your tin and wood, as well as your words.  Your ability to share fun and laugher is perhaps your highest art form.–Kathleen

 

SWHEAT GIRLS PART TWO: NOTHING IS SURE BUT SISTERHOOD–AND THIS BRAND NEW TATTOO

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WELCOME BACK TO THE SISTER LODE!

This week I am honoring not only my sisters, but a special pair of sisters who have been an integral part of my life for many years.  Thanks for joining us!

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Left to right:  Tana, me, Amy

**

I wish I would have rolled that word around in my mouth a little longer back then, like a piece of hard candy.  I wish I would have realized its bitterness before I uttered it, before it had to be swallowed all these years later.  Now, it tastes more sour than sweet.

NEVER.

As in, “I am NEVER going to get a tattoo.”

I don’t know how many people I likely uttered it to in the last, oh, say, 30 years or so.  Probably at least several, because I thought it many, many, many times.

Life has a strange way of turning us into liars, even when we don’t want to lie.  Especially when we so desperately wanted to hang on to the truth as we once knew it.

The truth, however, is that the truth about ourselves changes.  It changes with us as we grow, as we evolve into that better person we are now today, different from the person we were yesterday.

And this is a good thing.  This is a thing to be honored at all costs.

**

Eight hours ago, I waved the big driveway wave as my dear friends drove away.   They were here for six days, and those six days raced by like six hours.  The other half of the group left before sunrise yesterday; we bade adieu before bed two nights ago.   Back to Phoenix they went.

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These two groups consist of two dear sisters and their families.  These two women have been in my life since 1984 when I was a mere 18 years old, and they were 12 and 8.

I was their babysitter. Now, their children are older than they were when I met them.  I wasn’t so much a babysitter as a household manager and a companion.  They lived with their farmer father during the summers, and their mother in Phoenix for the school year.  Their dad was a busy man who covered a lot of ground—farm ground– and he needed help with his daughters during his busy season.

And so it began.

We have pictures from their visits from the last 20-plus years; one such picture shows both me and the older sister pregnant with our now-almost 17 year old sons.   And here’s one from several years after that, with my sons flanking hers:

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Then, in just a few blinks of an eye, here they are again:

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They haven’t missed a year.  Their children, they tell me, start asking weeks ahead:  “How soon until we leave?”

We do essentially nothing.  We drink coffee until noon, work on a puzzle, talk, eat and then swim in our small above-ground pool.  We may enjoy a cold libation or two.   For the 4th of July, however, we become more festive.  We shoot fireworks, go fishing, and the boys hunt bullfrogs— as they are preparing to do above, and cook them for all of us to eat.  We have an annual water balloon fight.  We simply have fun, because, if you remember from my first post, fun is generally under-rated and under-exercised.

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And, of course, we do a puzzle.

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The girls and I love to bake; their mothers don’t.  This year, it was fresh cherry pie with cherries from our backyard tree, raisin cream pie and baklava.

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They enjoy my siblings as well; we stopped to see Suzanne at work.

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Gail passed through on her way to Michigan to see her daughter, taking her younger daughter along.  Those two sisters got to enjoy each other’s company, something they don’t always get to do.

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There are four children and one husband between them.  They are the houseguests extraordinaire.  They don’t stink after a few days, as the saying may suggest.  They are beloved by my husband and boys as well.  They know and love my siblings.  They keep the wheat separated from the chaff.  They make me laugh.  They make me cry.  They made me get another tattoo with them.

**

Tana and Amy have stuck together through thin and thick.  Through their parents’ divorce.  Through the loss of their beloved stepfather.  Through a divorce each. Through infertility, adoptions, the loss of one child’s father, estrangements, life and all it had to throw at them.  Through it all, they kept coming to see me.

Every summer, they join us for the 4th of July.  Every summer, since 1984, we have enjoyed jigsaw puzzles together.  Last summer, I was touched and honored by Tana’s idea:  “Let’s get matching tattoos of a puzzle piece with the American flag.  You have to get a border piece, because you have always held us together.”

And so we did.

This year, to celebrate our wheat farm-girl heritage, we had the same idea separately, from a thousand miles apart:  “Let’s get wheat tattoos.”

And so we did.

A single stem of wheat, with the writing of our choice woven into the stem.  Tana’s simply says “home,” because she will always think of The Wheat State as home.  Amy’s says “ad astra per aspera,” which is the motto on the Kansas state flag.   It’s Latin for “to the stars through difficulties.”  Mine, because I saw this on an antique poster long ago and have always loved it, says “swheat girl.”   Imagine that.  It is in my own handwriting.  My father likely would have rolled his eyes and laughed at this on earth, but I feel him beaming with honor and approval from above.

Each of these are small, meaningful, tastefully and discreetly placed.  That is all you need to know.

Through these difficulties, these “swheat” girls will always have a home in my home as long as they wish to come.   May they continue as long as we are all able.

**

So now I have these tattoos.  I swore I never would.  Never say never.  Greater than that, I am thinking about how I judged—and still judge– others for things besides their tattoos; other actions I have no right to pass judgment on.  Few of us ever have the right to do that.  Few of us ever have all the information.  Few of us can prove a spotless record and the authority that allows us to determine when others are doing something “wrong.”  And the definition of “wrong,” as we think we know it, may change over time, or from situation to situation.   Or our definition may be different from theirs.   I strive to make every day Non-Judgment Day.  It will be a lifelong effort for me, but I am trying.

**

In those early weeks and months after my parents died, I know my actions reflected my state of mind.  Unlike tattoos, however, this grief was hidden deep inside, invisible to anyone who didn’t know what was going on in my life.  I was likely–in alternate and unequal measures–sad, angry, flippant, depressed, crying, laughing, unaware, grouchy, sullen, short-tempered and any other emotion imaginable.  I likely treated people poorly in my efforts to make it through the day—or the moment.  If someone had treated me like that, I likely would have judged them—without having all the facts.

Now, when I encounter a grouchy waitress or an unkind stranger, I think, perhaps, “maybe her parents just died.”

I have a friend who has multiple tattoos.  She wants more.  She swore she never would.  Then, her college-age daughter died of cancer.  She pays tribute to her in this way.  It is one way she honors her daughter’s memory, and that, even though she once thought it was, will never be wrong.  Ever.

This post was hard for me to write.  It was hard to expose this part of myself.  Most of you don’t know me, but if you do, this may surprise you.  I was a wallflower for many years.  Now, I realize, I have become a wildflower.

“I never would have thought Kathleen would get tattooed.”  I hear your thoughts.  I still hear them in my head, too.  But, in order to honor that truth I spoke of in the beginning of this post, I got them.  And I am writing about them.  They are meaningful to me, just as other’s tattoos are meaningful to them.  They are art for the body, and art is a good and necessary thing—no matter what form it takes.

It’s more fun here on the wildflower side.  There was nothing wrong with life as a wallflower, but it was time.  Time to listen to the little voice that begged for expression through writing, my other favorite art forms and through the tattoos.

It is highly unlikely that my sisters will ever decide to take the tattoo plunge, and that’s the right thing for them.  They have supported my decision, and I am grateful for that.

**

No regrets, my friends.  This is as sure as sisterhood—and the tattoos.

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Once again, Happy Independence Day.  Keep it alive every day by separating the wheat from the chaff, and honoring the truth about who you are deep inside–even if it changes.

Special thanks to Brandon, our go-to guy for tattoos. Let me know if you need his expertise.  And, without the one-and-only Edgar Hake, I would have never met these “swheat” girls.

 

The Sister Lode

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I sat in 28B holding my sisters’ hands.  The take-off and landings are the hardest for me, so when I booked the trip, I put myself between them.  They are not scared.  I am.  I squeeze their hands for the first five minutes, those first five when the flight is most likely not to make it—extremely infinitesimal chance, according to one of our four brothers.  He pilots one of these silver birds; he knows.  But then, he always acted like he knew what he was talking about anyway.  We still love him, we love them all.  But this is only about sisters.

My sisters are used to my in-air neuroticism by now on this, the last of four flights to complete our trip.  We have never before flown on our travels, always by car.  We take off out of O’Hare, we will land in just under two hours.   The sun is setting to the west, and on the opposite horizon the full moon is rising.  We climb above them both.  This is something I have never seen before and may never see again.  It, like our latest adventure, is priceless.

We have had the time of our lives.  We always do.  This time it was on a beach.

**

I have always been close to my sisters, but over the last nine years, they have become my best friends.  They are always there for me, and I do what I can for them.  We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but that’s okay.  We respect each other’s differences.   We don’t argue.  We keep peace; we have to.  We have no choice because our mother saw to that in The Letter.

We know of many women who don’t feel such peace with their sisters.  Women who may want to feel it, but don’t know how.  Women who have the choice to opt out of peace and harmony.  We don’t have that choice, and that’s okay.  We don’t need it. We do feel the need to share our peaceable ways, to share the love.  We don’t always know how, but it usually involves simple advice like, “Figure it out,”  “It’s not about you,” “Let it go,” or “Life is too short.”  Advice that sounds easy, but is harder to put to work.   Most importantly, we teach by example.  This, my friends with and without sisters, is how we do it.   We would like to help in whatever way we can.

Perhaps we can help you too.  That is why we are here on this blog.

**

Life is short. We learned the hard way, and will never forget that lesson.   We use it now to celebrate our sisterly bond, to find all the joy we can on our travels, and to simply have fun every day, traveling or not.  Fun, we have observed among others, is generally under-exercised and underrated.  We refuse to follow that example. We try to compensate for all the fun our mother never had the time or the money to have, as well as our own share for our lifetimes.  And then some.

We post some of our antics on social media, but not all.  Some things, however, that happen on our trips, well, you know where they stay.  We don’t share it all.  We do, however, share enough to show people we have unparalleled fun; experiences that most people don’t think of having; don’t think is possible.  It is with us.

Many people ask—some in a coy, shy, roundabout fashion—if perhaps they might possibly be able to come along on one of these trips someday with us, maybe?  Perhaps? They see the fun we have, and they want to be a part of it.  Who wouldn’t?

The short answer is no.  The long answer is hell no.  Our sisterhood is the exclusive price of admission.  Nothing personal.

These are sister trips for us only, because only we three understand the importance of this time together as sisters.  We celebrate the joy in the moment, remember the good times of the past, and relish the lessons life and loss have taught us.  We stay positive.  It is a choice, and we choose positivity.  By and large, we don’t let crap creep into our lives.  We ain’t got time for that.  There is too much fun to be had; and we are out here having it.

 

**

It is fitting that our usual getaway destination is an active gold mining town.  Cripple Creek, Colorado is nestled behind Pike’s Peak, and in its heyday, it’s gold production rivaled the California Gold Rush.  The mother lode was struck there, and it became a boomtown.  There are beautiful mountains there, but no beaches.  And it was time for the beach.

We had already hit the mother lode, and the father lode too.  They were, quite simply, the best.  Now, we celebrate our sisters in the Sister Lode.

**

Most people wait five years to observe a milestone cancer survival date.  We’re not like everyone else, so my sister chose to celebrate it at four. Besides, she knows.  She has an unshakeable faith in God, in her good health and long life ahead, so why not celebrate now?

So we did.  On the beach.  Her choice.

Since we can easily make friends even with someone as cold as a snowman, we had no trouble signing up a fresh batch of folks we now call our friends in and around our new favorite warm, sunny beach town.  No snowmen here.  We have new BFFs in this delightful place; we could probably eat Thanksgiving dinner with them if we asked. We might.  Except that our oldest sister hosts Thanksgiving every year, so we probably won’t.  We will all be at her house.  Perhaps we will invite some of them to join us there.

In order to make these friends, we may need to go against some socially prescribed norms.  I’m all for that, rules are meant to be broken, or at least stretched, so we do.  Anyone who might have the good fortune to be around us when we are in this friend-making/rule-breaking mode will easily see that we mean business in our fun.  We make our own rules, and if we need to break them and remake them, we do.  For example: We just met this group of locals in this hole-in-the-wall bar, and most outsiders like us wouldn’t even talk to them, but we do, and when we leave, we will hug them and tell them we love them, and we will mean it.  Or, it’s probably not generally acceptable to most people to hug the manager/host as he greets us upon our arrival in his restaurant, or to dance with the owner—complete with a dip– as we leave, but we do it anyway.  We’ve told our life stories to the hotel clerk within five minutes of meeting her, made her laugh like never before (she says), then made her an honorary sister on the spot. 

Most people wouldn’t dream of these antics.  We don’t dream of it.  We do it.  That’s the difference between them and us.  We are doing it, and, if you want to, we want you to do it too.  Whatever it is.  Whatever makes you happy, sister.  Whatever brings you peace.

I will celebrate the wonderful sorority of true sisterhood through the bifocal lenses of Real Life and Real Loss, always from a place of peace and positivity.  I’ll double down—no, triple down–on optimism, with a healthy shot from each of us.  We want to share the love with you.

You, and perhaps your sisters—if you have any.

We’re here for you; right here in this blog.  Thanks for coming along.