INNER PEACE ON EARTH

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INNER PEACE ON EARTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Wrap gifts.

*Bake cookies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:  Praise God

2:  Give thanks.

3:  Ask for forgiveness.

4:  Ask for help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the interest of privacy, his name is covered.

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

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

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

Bonus.

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

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

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

I plan to do a lot of listening.

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

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

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

ANGELS AMONG US

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ANGELS AMONG US

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem solved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the how you look at it is the key.

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

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

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

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

*flannel sheets

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

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

*a beautiful, intricate spiderweb on the porch

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Birthday Diana

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

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HOW DOES SHE DO IT? PART TWO: SUZANNE

 

 

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HOW DOES SHE DO IT?  PART TWO:  SUZANNE

After Gail moved out to go to college, Suzanne moved into the bedroom with me to fill Gail’s spot.  It felt like my domain now that I was the senior resident, and I let Suzanne know I was essentially the landlord and she was the tenant.  I was the big sister, and I was determined to show her that.

Our decorating styles were essentially nonexistent except for a few teenage heartthrob posters.  Gail had moved out and took her flair with her. Our housekeeping styles, however, were in stark contrast to each other.  You would never know it now, but I was tidy and minimal, and Suzanne, well, she wasn’t.

I recall being frequently frustrated at her clutter and crap—junk, stuff, whatever she called it.  Motivating her to keep her part tidy was a chore.

So, when I was tasked with an experiment in a high school social science class to find a way to change someone’s behavior, I devised a plan.  A plan that turned out to be an evil scheme, and I am more than a little embarrassed to write about what I did to poor little innocent Suzanne.

If Mom were here, she would tell you about it and laugh about it now, too, so let’s just consider it funny.

I was tired of her lack of tidiness.  I wanted to change that behavior.  Because money seems to be a great motivator for most people, I decided I would pay her.  I had some change in hand, and when she and I were alone in the room, I instructed her to tidy up, and she would be rewarded for it.

So she did just that.  She picked up one thing and put it away, and I immediately reinforced her a coin—probably a quarter to bait her; saving the smaller change for the end.  She was thrilled with the prospect of earning while tidying, so she continued to tidy.  And I continued to pay her.  One coin per item picked up and put away.  This was working out well for both of us.  I got my room tidied up, and Suzanne got paid.

Except for one small detail:  the pile of change that I picked up and paid her with belonged to her, so I was essentially paying her with her own money.

Cold, I know.  I did what I had to do.

Now, Suzanne is the tidy minimalist, and I am the not-quite-as-tidy not-so-much-a-minimalist.  But we have both found what works for us, and we are content with our own ways.

I think she has forgiven me for that dirty trick I played on her.

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Like the post for Gail last week, this one honors Suzanne.  For no special reason; just because.  Her birthday, however, went relatively unnoticed this year.  She was under the weather, and has opted instead to change it to another day later this year.  In keeping with her favorite line in one of her favorite movies—Mean Girls—Suzanne will celebrate her birthday on October 3rd this year.  Perfect, because that day coincides beautifully with our departure to Colorado to make up for the Labor Day trip we had to bypass.  You will hear some of the celebration story, but again, as with any trip, not all of it.

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Imagine that, instead of your car having enough gas to make it go, it’s always out of gas, and it simply will no longer hold fuel.  Imagine you have to push it everywhere you want to go, because it can’t create enough energy to move itself.  Every day, everywhere you go, you have to push your car.  And you can’t leave it behind, because it’s your only vehicle.  It’s your only means of functioning.

Sounds absurd, I know, but Suzanne has likened life without her thyroid to being continually “out of fuel.”  When the doctor handed her a thyroid cancer diagnosis on her birthday six years ago just after her thyroid came out.  One of the long-term effects is continual lack of energy.  Most people without their thyroid suffer this scourge.  And she is cold.  All the time.

Never, though, will you hear her complain.  She may make a joke about it, and she may offer a few details if you ask, but she will not let on that she struggles every day.  That’s not her style.

Nor is it her style to worry about the specter of cancer hovering over her.  She has six years under her belt, but even before that, she knew in her heart that she would be okay.

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Sometimes okay is the most we can hope for, and some days that is all she has.  Most other days, she will make it clear to you that she is more than okay, even if she has to fake it.

Next week, she will see her endocrinologist for her six-month check-up.  She has no worries.  An important fact to recall from Not Her Type (February 4th), is that, just as she told Gail’s daughter Lydia after her diagnosis of Type One Diabetes is this:  “Only the cool girls get to see an endocrinologist.”

Suzanne is a fighter, as you already know.  I am recalling the episode when, before she started school, we came home to find her motionless on the living room couch.  Her lips were blue.  I thought we had lost her.

“MOM!”  I remember yelling as we came in the door.  “Suzanne is dead!”

She was simply napping.  After she had eaten frozen blueberries.

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Both Gail and Suzanne struggled, but emerged victorious as single mothers.  I don’t know this challenge, I only know that raising children with a great man who is also a great father is still a tough chore.  I have no idea how they did it, but they did.  And their single-mothered children are now amazing young women.

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Unlike Gail, Suzanne and I do not possess, nor do we wish to possess a work ethic that drives us to seek out more work than we already have.  We are happy with whatever comes our way in our work.  We don’t feel the need to be seek any further employment as Gail does, we don’t extend ourselves to can zucchini and salsa.  We have no aspirations to engage in other ventures that may take up our free time that we reserve for working jigsaw puzzles, taking naps, coloring or reading books.

We weren’t tasked with the multiple responsibilities Gail was; as the fifth and sixth children of seven, there wasn’t as much mothering to do.  We all had our work for us on the farm and in the house, but Suzanne and I did very little extra mothering.  We didn’t have to.

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I am adoring my new baby sister.  She had a lot of black hair when she was born.

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Suzanne and David in their younger, happier years, before he ruined their relationship with the skunk episode.  (Just kidding, they are both over it now.)

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Suzanne has always loved Halloween–and she still does.

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Mom bundled us up for one of those big snows we never get anymore in these parts. 

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Suzanne and me at Sunset Park, a beautiful park in our small city that we used to picnic at annually, meeting other family there from Wichita.  It was the halfway point.   Perhaps we should go back to that park now and re-enact this picture…

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I am four years older than Suzanne, so perhaps I was somewhat responsible for her, but Gail likely had that base covered.  She had been a second mother to all of us for so long, she likely did it without thinking, without effort—just like she completes her work now.

But this is about Suzanne.

Suzanne and I enjoy our geographical closeness now.  When she lived in the same town as our parents, we were about 90 miles apart.   We did manage to get together quite often, but now I could see her every day if I want to.  I do want to see her every day, but I don’t always get to.  I find myself stopping at the bank more frequently than I used to, the bank she works at that has been my bank for 20+ years.

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Suzanne at work.  Tana and Amy ( July 9th, 2017:  Swheat Girls, & July 8th, 2018:  Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever) stopped to see her last year.

We have an annual tradition of traveling to the pumpkin patch an hour away.  It was equidistant from her former home and mine.

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We used to meet there when our kids were younger, but they no longer want to go.  We do, so we go without them.

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I must come clean on another crime against Suzanne:  there was a time in our shared bedroom days that I didn’t like her so much.  While I adore her now, and I wish I had more time to spend with her, I recall wanting her to be away from me in our younger years.  Like, downstairs while I was upstairs.  Like, forcibly down the stairs.  Like, I wanted to push her down the stairs.

While we frequently shop together now and enjoy it, our limited shopping trips in our younger years weren’t so pleasant.   I recall that she could rarely find anything she wanted when we were shopping.  That is, until I bought it, then she wanted one just like it.  She would typically decide this after the trip, then beg me to let her wear what I had just bought.

I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t.  I was frustrated.  I wanted my own look, my own style, and I sure didn’t want my little sister looking just like me.

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Easter Sunday morning in our teenage years.  We possessed such style–and still do.

Having Suzanne here after her scare with cancer is a gift.  Now, we can sometimes wear the same size clothing again, and I am so honored to share some of my clothes with her now.  That is a gift, too.

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Sharing Dad’s pants surely was a unique fashion statement.

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Perhaps I shouldn’t brag too much about having any style in my younger years.  Suzanne delights in sharing this picture, and I already made peace with it by sharing it in an earlier post.  She is so proud of it; she framed it in this “subtle” frame for me last Christmas. 

I already told you one of Suzanne’s strongest qualities:  her strength.  Her strength as a single mother.  Her strength as a cancer survivor.  These are her quiet strengths.  You don’t know about them because she doesn’t let on, and that is a strength as well.

If you spend any amount of time around her, you will quickly notice her visible, louder strength:  her sense of humor.

When she left her job nearly two years ago to move to my small city, her co-workers threw her a party, complete with a custom-made cake.  They understood and appreciated her sense of humor, too.  One of her former co-workers said that it’s no fun at their workplace anymore without her.  I believe her.  And I’m pretty sure she has livened up her new workplace.

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I look up to Gail.  I always have, and I always will.  I look up to Suzanne, too, even though she is younger than me.  Apparently, there was a day when she looked up to me—as this picture taken with the framed one above shows.  I hope I am worthy of that upward look from her now.  Some days, I’m not sure.

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I know in my heart that both Gail and Suzanne are my lifelong companions, my closest confidantes; my dearest friends.  We have to be, we have no choice given Mom’s letter to all of us.  Peace is the mission we all accepted from Mom, and I like to think that even without her missive, we would have chosen this path of togetherness and harmony then, and now.

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Suzanne–I’m so glad I didn’t push you down the stairs all those years ago–you’re the best little sister ever!  XOXO  middlesisterkathleen

 

 

LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

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LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME

“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

As a child, I recall hearing and saying this many times:  “I can do what I want.  It’s a free country.”  It was typically in response to some perceived offense, and when confronted, the offending party would often respond with that phrase.

I don’t hear kids—or adults—saying that much anymore.  But we should never forget the meaning behind it.

“And I won’t forget the men (and women) who died, who gave that right to me.”

On Saturday of this week, my husband’s family celebrated his father’s 80th birthday with a large gathering of 50-plus family members.  The host led grace just before the meal, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, then “Happy Birthday” sung to the birthday boy from the crowd.  This trifecta was the perfect display of gratitude first for the food, then for the freedom, followed by a family honoring a strong and deserving patriarch.

“And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.”

After the singing, my father-in-law and the uncles who served our country were asked to stand to be recognized and honored.  There were seven .  We applauded with our hands and with our hearts.

This will never be enough to let them know how much we appreciate their service, but they don’t expect any more than that.  They simply served; they were honored to give.

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Our dad didn’t serve in the military.  He was deemed not fit enough due to flat feet.  Now, most of his seven children have flat feet, but we might not be here otherwise.

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Memorial Day is a wonderful bonus Monday off for many people, myself included.  But, as this Facebook post so painfully illustrates, it goes so much deeper than that.  Deeper than the vast majority of us will ever know.  Deeper than our worst nightmares can conjure, to a depth that that should always be seared upon our minds, hearts and souls how supremely fortunate we are to live in a free country.

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OUR FREEDOM ISN’T FREE.

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Gail, Suzanne and I got to spend the weekend together.  Gail traveled the 230 miles to our small city, and we savored this gift of time together in the sisterhood.  We are supremely fortunate to have each other, and we know it.

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We are celebrating our parents this weekend too, as we do every time we are together.   None of us felt the need to visit their graves; we know they are not there.  Mom made it clear before they died that we were welcome to visit her plot when she was gone, but we wouldn’t find her there.

And we don’t.

We find both of them in our togetherness, wherever we go.

Our brothers and their families who live on their farms close to our hometown take tender, loving care of their graves there, and for that, we are so grateful.  We visit when we are there at other times throughout the year.

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I was a kid during Vietnam.  I watched news coverage of the Gulf War and the other foreign conflicts that took place as I grew up, and unfortunately, continue to take place around the world.  Often, I simply turn off the news when more coverage is aired.  I simply cannot take more bad news of war.  I didn’t fully realize the depth of our freedom NOT being free until I watched the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, unfold on live television.

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”    Jimi Hendrix, a famous 1960’s rock musician, is credited with this statement.  Online sources list other similar quotes, which may have inspired him.  It summarizes what I feel is the answer as well.  Ironically, Jimi Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained as a paratrooper, and was granted an honorable discharge.

But how to find this peace?  What can each of us do, as Average Jane and Joe Citizen, to bring this about?  What on earth—literally-can we do to stop the fighting across the world?  We all think that, as just one person, our actions–good or bad–cannot possibly make a difference.

These hundreds (thousands?) of years, these scores of generations of violence toward our fellow man in the name of one’s god, one’s country, one’s pain, scorn and oppression cannot easily be turned around.  This is the way of life for so many, so many fellow humans who have never known a day of peace.  So many who don’t even know there is a better way.

So many, just like ourselves, who think there is nothing, as an individual, that can be done.

Oh, but there is.

There is one beacon, one guiding principle that each of us can put to work every day.  The key word is work, because it takes a lot of that.  If you have even one iota of self-induced strife in your heart, it has the potential to create a negative ripple, and it can be worked upon.  If you think there is nothing you can do to bring peace to the world, think again.

I have written about it before, and I will write about it again.  I offer no apologies to anyone who doesn’t want to hear anything remotely related to religion, because this only has to relate to humanity.  It comes to you and me as fellow humans, breathing the same air, co-existing on the same earth, from another human being.  A man who walked this same earth, breathed this same air from 1181-1226.  A man who gave up riches to pursue a life of humility and peace:  Saint Francis of Assisi.  He is venerated worldwide as the original Instrument of Peace, the man who wrote the prayer.

He is the saint my parents modeled their lives after, leaving us a tremendous legacy, as well as a tough act to follow.  Specifically, our mother wrote a letter to be read at her funeral asking us to live our lives by this prayer.

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So, we try.  For myself, I stumble and fall, get up and keep trying to try.  Some days, that’s the most I can do.  Some days I do a little better.  But I never stop trying.  I can’t.  Mom saw to it that we were handed those marching orders, and we saw to it that it was written in stone on the back of their tombstone in their honor.

 

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I did something recently that didn’t make me feel very good about myself.  Something that, in the parlance of my Catholic upbringing was very likely very venial, was still very wrong.  And my hyper-developed conscience wouldn’t let me rest until I did something about it.  It was more than a white lie, perhaps a shade of light gray.  Nothing damning, nothing that would incite violence or crush someone’s soul, but wrong, nonetheless.  At the time, it felt like an eye for an eye, but in hindsight, it really was something more like an eye for a toenail clipping.

So, I came clean.  I went to the person who would be affected by this transgression, even though it was known only to me.   I confessed.  I owned up to the infraction, made reparations as best I could, and they forgave with open arms.  They asked only to allow them the chance in the future to help to prevent it from happening again.  In a turn I wouldn’t have imagined, they were an Instrument of Peace to me.

So, if an offense is committed deep in a forest and no one hears or sees it, did it really happen?  Is it really wrong?

Undeniably, unequivocally, YES and YES.

If your little voice tells you that you can make peace by righting a wrong, or even creating a right where no wrong existed, then you’d better listen.  That voice is not only your conscience and your voice of reason, it is a much wiser, deeper part of your soul speaking.  It is your opportunity be an Instrument of Peace.

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“Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,”

I do love this land.  I love the open fields and rolling hills of my home state, and there are so many other parts of this land I want to explore.  My away-from-home favorites are the mountains of Colorado and the beaches of Florida, but there are so many more places in these great States I want to visit.  I don’t even have a strong desire to travel abroad because there is so much in America I haven’t seen yet.  Places open to me and you and everyone else to visit because this is indeed a free country.  We are at liberty to travel where we want to go.

For that, and for every other liberty small and large, our military is to thank.  The brave men and women who served and those in active duty as well.  Those who may never know the liberty they deserve.  Those who gave up their liberties so that we may have ours.  Words will never be enough to express our gratitude, but it is a start.  God bless them, and…

“God Bless the USA.”

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Please observe Memorial Day with gratitude for all the liberties you possess.   Please thank any active or former military service man or woman.   And, because I know it never goes away, I extend my sympathy to you for anyone you are mourning.

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Thank you for your continued support.   My sisters and I are grateful for the opportunity to reach out to each of you through this blog.  We want to take our mother’s dying wish and make it work not just for us, but for the world.  In the face of conflict, in what appear to be war-torn families and relationships, we are often asked what we do to make it work and to keep it all together.  So many people, we have learned, don’t have even a taste of what we have.  If we can help you in any way to find it, please let us know.  Send an email through the blog, or message any of us privately on Facebook.  Please reach out.  

 

 

 

MARCH FORTH

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MARCH FORTH

“Our lives are made by the deaths of others.”   Leonardo Da Vinci

This may very well be the shortest, but hardest post to write.  Yet it may carry the most meaning, at least for the three of us.

I write as I sit alone in our beautiful, spacious, Victorian-style room in Cripple Creek, Colorado on Saturday, March 3rd.  Gail and Suzanne are off doing their things, and I am doing mine.  We love our togetherness, but alone-ness is great, too.   We are relishing this time away in this beautiful mountain town.

I opened my laptop, and turned on the TV, searching for inspiration just to begin this post.  How do I find words on this day, this sacred day ten years ago when we last saw our parents alive at our grandmother’s funeral?  This day before March 4th, the day our  parents died?   What words of adequate weight can I possibly conjure?  Common sense told me to leave the TV off to let the thoughts gel into words, but I turned on a rerun of Criminal Minds, just for some noise.

As it began at 4:00, the first words spoken for this episode were “Our lives are made by the deaths of others.”  Sometimes the perfect words just show up at the perfect time from sources we would never expect.

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Gail, Suzanne and I are having more fun and adventure than mere words can possibly confer, but my attempt to do just that will wait until next week.  Of course, it won’t be a tell-all; it never is.  A tell-some is what you will get, as usual.  There are some things we don’t share with everyone, and this, I feel, is the way it should be among sisters like us.

Sisters like us who loved our parents beyond words, and lost them beyond words too.  But this loss has made us who we are; it is the crucible that forged us into the women of strength we are.  When their deaths brought us to our knees in complete and searing heartbreak, it also planted within us seeds that would grow from barren devastation into amazingly strong, resilient and joyful living beings.

And so here we are.  Here we are every day, for the last 3,653 days. And every day builds on the next.  Every day we move forward, and every day we do what we can to find joy, to make even more joy for ourselves, for those in our lives, and hopefully on a grand scale, it will be shared and spread far and wide.   Every day we try to live our lives in honor of our parents, trying to further their legacies of love and peace.  Every day we March Forth.

Our lives are not perfect or painless, but they are full, rich and beautiful, just like theirs were.  Our lives—as we know them today—were made by the deaths of our parents.

Thank you for joining us on our weekly adventure.  Next week, I promise, I will share enough to give you a really good idea of just how much fun we are having this week—but I won’t tell all.

This week, I ask this of you:  whatever your hardships or heartbreaks are today, please know there are brighter days ahead.  With faith, love and a little elbow grease, things are going to be okay.  They might even be more than okay.  If you forge through the pain, do the work and have faith, you, too, will find yourself marching forth into a place of greater strength, hope and happiness.   We are living proof.

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If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, so my child can have peace.”   Thomas Payne

The Criminal Minds episode ended as I finished this post, and it closed with this quote.    Sometimes the words really do come at the perfect times.

MARCH FORTH, my friends.  

 

GO WEST, YOUNG WOMEN

 

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GO WEST, YOUNG WOMEN

We have been looking forward to this trip for a long time.  Six months, to be exact.  Six months have passed since our last trip there.

On Thursday morning of this week, we will wake to a magnificent view of Pikes Peak.

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If you recall from Something To Look Forward To (January 7th), we return from our Labor Day trip to Colorado and begin the anticipation again.

Anticipation is at least half the fun.

The other half, as I alluded to in last week’s post, is somewhat of a secret.  We engage in all manner of fun, meet new people, make new friends and new memories, and, of course, we leave a mark—in a good way.  We know this because people remember us with a smile when we return.

All this fun, however, takes a little work.

Planning is the first stage.  Marking ourselves off the calendar at work is our first step.  Suzanne hasn’t been able to join us in Colorado for two years; her new job prevented time off.   We didn’t go to Colorado for Labor Day 2016 because we had just returned from Florida, as detailed in my very first post.

So this trip is long overdue for her, and right on time for Gail and me.   A single day longer, and we would implode with anticipation.

Planning our wardrobes and jewelry is a prolonged labor of love for Gail and me; Suzanne throws hers together at the last minute—in a very small bag.  Perhaps a bit larger than the Zip-lock bag she professes to be able to use, because we are going to a cold climate, and she may need a few extra layers than she would, say, on the beach. Several years ago, when I picked her up for the March trip, we were headed out of her driveway when I realized she got in my car without a heavy coat.  Good thing I asked; her minimalism kept her from remembering to pack a heavy coat.  We were, after all, going to the mountains in March, and she may need an extra layer…

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Many people hear about all the fun we have, and see our Facebook posts, and apparently think they, too, could have a lot of fun with us.

They probably could, except, they can’t.  No one else can.  Our sisterhood is the exclusive admission to this highly anticipated, sacred, sisterly excursion.

No exceptions.

We will maintain our tradition of singing Rocky Mountain High on our final stretch.

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Just in case the satellite radio gods don’t play it at the perfect time for us like they did last time, I have already packed my John Denver CD.

Gail will make her grand entrance into Cripple Creek:

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We do publicize some of our activities; we give a little hint of the fun we have.  We don’t plan much of our weekend, we let the spirit move us.  We have even been known to let the horses move us:

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And we move ourselves too.  Perhaps we will do a little nice-not-naughty North Pole dancing, maybe not.  We’re not telling.

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No matter what it is, it is all good, clean fun.10435009_10202836301292505_5243879323619352101_n[1]

Gail will likely strike her Audra Barkley pose on the majestic staircase at the historic hotel we now call our Colorado home:

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(The Big Valley was an integral part of our 70’s television lineup.)

We will renew our friendship with the proprietors of this magnificent and historic hotel:

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The local, free-roaming donkeys will be appreciated and honored, as they should be.

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Other wildlife is revered as well.

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We may put ourselves in the local spotlight with our antics, both on-stage, and off:

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We are there for each other to avert any possible disasters–after we get a picture:

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And if something doesn’t look right with one of us, we will come to each other’s aid:  we found Gail like this one morning, and the mystery of how it happened remains.

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The truth is, we don’t know yet what we will do.  When the occasion calls for a memory to be made, we will make it.  We do know that we will do whatever we can to further the memory and mission of our parent’s lives of peace and love.  It is up to us now to carry it forward, and on this ten-year anniversary, we are cranking it up a notch or two–or more.  Now more than ever, our world needs their message of peace.

We hit the mother lode–and the father lode, too with our parents.  This small Rocky Mountain town is still an active gold-mining town, with the mother lode struck here years ago.  The idea of The Sister Lode was born here; we know that what we have with each other is gold.

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Memories made in times of great fun are golden, savored; sacred.

Memories made in times of great sadness can be dark, sometimes avoided, but always sacred.  Our memories of March 4th, 2008 are still very much with us.  It will be ten years since that fateful, faith-full day.

We have chosen to March Forth from that dark day when we lost our parents in a car accident.  We marched forth back into the light, after our private and shared struggles to find joy and hope again.  It is now sweet-bitter to relish the memories of our parents, not bittersweet any longer.  The bitter still stings, sometimes as sharp as a knife through the heart, but only now for a quick moment, then the pain subsides as quickly as it ambushed us.

These moments are more few and far between, and will, with continued faith and grace, continue to space themselves out in the future.  We will continue to gain strength from our faith, our family and the friendship we have forged as sisters.

We have chosen to celebrate our sisterhood with our travels, and these trips have become an integral part of our yearly calendar.  We carve out the time, save the money and prioritize it just as we would regular and possibly life-saving medical checkups and/or treatment, because for us, it is.  It is survival and sustenance in our lives that now have a heightened sense of what is most important—those we love.

And I do love my sisters.  I’m pretty sure they love me, too.

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My wish for you is that you take the time to celebrate those in your family and/or circle of friends whom you love the most.

Take them on a trip, or take them to lunch, or anywhere in between.  Find a good starting place, and take off from there.

Tell them you love them, and if you need to, tell them you are sorry.  Forgive, if necessary.

Tell them you are glad they are a part of your life.

Tell them if they were gone tomorrow, your life would be richer for having had them in it.

And every day, treat them like they could be gone tomorrow, because sometimes, they are.

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CRIPPLE CREEK, COLORADO, OUR ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

 

 

 

 

 

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!