SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE: LETTING FREEDOM RING

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SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE:  LETTING FREEDOM RING

I have featured this pair of amazing sisters in two previous posts after their annual visits to my home.  (Swheat Girls Part One and Two, July 2017 & July 2018).  They bring their families every Independence Day week from their homes in the Phoenix area.  I treasure their visits; we have maintained contact since 1984.  Tana and Amy began as the girls I babysat in the summers; now they are the women I am lucky to call my lifelong friends.  

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This year, they told me they used to spend the weekends sitting in their rooms on the farm, bored until I returned Monday morning.  They couldn’t understand why I felt I needed the weekend off.  That’s many miles bridged from the rough beginning I chronicled last year when I insulted their cat in our first ten minutes together.  After that introduction, they were set on running me off, just like they had with all the others.

Except they didn’t.  And I didn’t leave, either.  We made it through the bumpy beginning, and the sailing just gets smoother every year.

 

 

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My stomach muscles hurt—in a good way—from laughing so much last week.  If laughter is indeed good medicine, then I should be in perfect health.  And, if I should ever need to get more of this good medicine in the future, all I need is a big dose of this picture:

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The bugs were formidable, but we found a way to avoid them.  And, in their usual form, these two find a way around obstacles—simply sip your drink through the straw through the net.  They’ve always figured out a solution to whatever comes their way.

Those early days on the farm were revisited with reverie and stories, recalling their youthful demeanor,

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Which hasn’t changed much in all these years.

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We enjoyed all our usual activities:  puzzling

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Yard games,

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Cooking, baking and grilling—followed by overeating.

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We took a little trip to Tana’s college town,

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the same college their parents met at, and the same college that honors their grandfather–their mother’s father.

 

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We swam in our backyard redneck pool,

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and in our neighbor’s real-deal pool.

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A fireworks display was offered courtesy of my son and a friend,

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followed by Tana’s karaoke rendition of Kansas’s own Martina McBride singing “Independence Day” the morning after Independence Day.  The flyswatter was handy for obvious reasons, so it became her microphone.  She’s always good at improvising when the circumstances may not be perfect.  Her voice is that of another talented Kansas wheat farm girl.

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Being the swheat girls they are, they took a trip to their family farm to enjoy the harvest.

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As a joke, I offered this garage sale find to Amy; she wasted no time putting it to use.  She says it’s the greatest treasure I have ever given her, and she plans to hand it down to her children as a family heirloom one day.  I planned to use it in an art project, but clearly, it belongs with her. 

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Proof she is truly a swheat girl

This year, we added yoga to the mix.  They, too, enjoy a good yoga workout, and since my teacher lives just down the road, she agreed to come over on the morning of the Fourth for some porch yoga.  She led us from the corner of the porch; the rest of the yoga-goers wrapped around the back porch. 

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If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then these pictures should be worth many thousands of words, so I won’t write much more.  They tell the stories of the fun and laughter we shared last week.  Hopefully, I have made it quite clear that we felt free to exercise our independence this week, and throughout the other fifty-one as well. 

Tana and Amy have been constants for each other; they have no other siblings.  Through births and deaths, divorces and disappointments, they are sisters through thin and thick.   They know liberty because they earned it, and they honor it as the gift it is every day, not just on Independence Day.

I hope you find that well of liberty within, because it is a gift to be opened for each and every one of us, every day of the year.

Have fun, and laugh while you are doing it.  It truly is the best medicine.

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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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FREEDOM ROADS

 

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FREEDOM ROADS

Hit the road…The Road Less Traveled. ..The road to a friend’s house is never long…Take the high road…Get this show on the road…Country Roads, Take Me Home…Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.

As I write on Friday evening before Sunday’s post, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of one set of guests, with the other set arriving in two days.  Crossing 1,053 miles of American highways today, they will be here in less than an hour.

They were my guests last year for the July 4th week last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and…

They visit every year.  They, too, are sisters.  They are dear to me for a very special reason.  They were with me in the Swheat Girls Part Two post (July 9th), and they will be featured again next week.

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The Sister Lode was conceived on a road trip, one of many my sisters and I took–and continue to take–to Colorado.  Contrary to what may have appeared from the trip by air I featured in my first post, The Sister Lode was born on the road.

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Our country has thousands of miles of Interstate highways, having been signed into creation by Kansas’ own Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Almost every workday, I travel across the very first paved section of Interstate 70 near his boyhood home and final resting place of Abilene, Kansas.

This complex grid of roadways can carry us nearly everywhere we want to go in this great country.  As I age, however, I find myself wanting to take the back roads whenever possible, just like our Dad always did.  The interstates are too busy for me.

I spend a great deal of work time in my car, mostly traveling between home health appointments. The odometer on my beloved Stella, my buggy that takes me to and from every day, now reads 87,227 miles.  I bought her not quite two years ago with 36,453 miles on her gauge.

I drive a considerable amount of my miles in a neighboring county.  The beautiful and regionally famous Flint Hills are within my routes, and it has been a natural pleasure to drive through this natural tallgrass prairie.

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The tallgrass, as well as the wheat and every other crop, depend upon ample rain–but not too much–in order to flourish.  Perhaps that is why one of the roads in this county is named just that:  Rain Road.   I have noticed the sign at three different intersections:

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April of this year, before the cruel winter relented.

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May, when Mother Nature finally gave in.

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Summer, my absolute favorite season.  More rain, please.  

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Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on country roads that carried us to and from our small hometown five miles away.  The first two miles were—and still are—gravel, the last three are paved state highways.

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Standing at this intersection on the south end of our hometown, those 3 miles stretch out in front of the camera.  The ribbon of white in the distance is our road.

We learned how to drive first on the farm—around and up and down the driveway, then on the roads and finally the highway.  The gravel roads provided a challenge in inclement weather, forcing us to learn how to drive in mud and snow. The hills had to be negotiated with any oncoming traffic, which sticks with me to this day:  when cresting a hill, get as far to the right as possible and slow down. The roads, just like all our other public spaces, must be shared. The other parties must be respected.  We don’t own the road.

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The long hill leading to the highway from our farm.

Two weeks ago, I went to the farm for my annual harvest visit.  As I approached the last stretch to our farm (above), I recalled the days years ago when these hills were not opened up.  The “Rock Hills,” as we called them, were cut into the hills when they were created.  In our school years, if a blizzard was setting in, Dad would come to town to pick us up so that we didn’t get snowed out.  The hills would easily drift shut, so Dad came to pick us up before that happened.  When he showed up in the classroom doorway, we knew we had an automatic “snow day” for the rest of the day and probably the next, even if no one else did.  I recall a silent “yes!” as I packed up my books to go home.  I’m sure my siblings did the same.

In this part of the country, these roadway negotiations often take place with farm machinery.  The gravel/dirt roads and the smaller highways are fair game for tractors and even combines.  Whenever I get behind one of these slow-moving behemoths, and I find myself frustrated at my reduced pace, I stop to remember where I came from, and where some of my food comes from.

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You may even see them on city streets—in smaller towns, of course. 

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(The above four pictures were taken randomly, and the fact that all four feature green vs. red machinery is in NO WAY a personal endorsement of the green over the red. Remember, I am an International Harvester girl from an IH farm.)

When I went to the farm, I left Stella in my garage—she’s a beautiful glossy black color, and I had just shined her up—and took my son’s truck.  Or, as we say on the farm, pickup.  It was a better vehicle to take on the country roads.

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The panoramic view opens to the west as I approach the harvest fields.  

When I left the wheat field, I decided to take a trip down several different memory lanes that were the country roads of our youth.  We used to drive them to get to the best fishing ponds, and I recall many trips on the school bus on some of them.

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Just south of our farm, the first hill allows a beautiful view of our hometown.

I was on a quest to drive to the pond another mile south and a bit west that was the scene of our record catch on a fishing trip perhaps 40 years ago—I believe it was 30-some fish.  As I approached the pond, I realized it was not in the best interest of my son’s pickup to go any further.

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The bank of the record-setting fish-catch pond is to the left.

I backed up and took a turn further south, winding through a better-graveled road.  I had to stop to snap this picture, because the roadside wildflowers are an integral part of these warm memories of our country roads.

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Suzanne reminded me that Mom would often dig these up and attempt to replant them at home, but I don’t remember them thriving.  Wildflowers, I guess, are supposed to remain wild.

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I rounded the curve around this Memory Lane, realizing I likely hadn’t been this far southwest of our farm since I babysat for a family who lived a bit further in high school.  I kept going southwest until the roads no longer held memories.  Then, I turned east to head home.

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My family and I are hitting the road later this summer for an approximate 1,450 mile journey.  Like Dad loved to do, I want to take the back roads.  The fast pace of the Interstate highways leaves less time and space to savor the natural beauty, as well as the man-made wonders and attractions along the way.  Given the distance, however, we will likely travel a combination of both.  Either way, it will be new ground covered for three of the four of us.   We will explore this Land of the Free by car, crossing state lines and going wherever we choose in this Home of the Brave, which is but one more freedom we are privileged to enjoy.

Gail, Suzanne and I will enjoy another road trip this fall, another in an ever-increasing series.  We have no intention of ever stopping.  Three women traveling wherever we choose in this free country, a country that has never denied the right to drive to any woman.  Saudi Arabia recently legalized driving for women, a freedom every American woman–myself included–has likely taken for granted.

This, and every other freedom begs recognition and gratitude during the upcoming Independence Day observation.  May yours be enjoyable and safe, and may you keep the spirit of Independence alive within every day of the year.

Happy 242nd birthday, America.

Let Freedom Ring, and thank you to all the men and women who made, and continue to make it free.

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