THE GIFT OF GAIL

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THE GIFT OF GAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gail and her progeny

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

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

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

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

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Aloha!!

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Wedding cake and beer are always an unbeatable combination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAIL!

 

 

 

TRUE LOVE

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TRUE LOVE

I used to call it “The Minefield.”  I never knew where the landmines may lie; when they may detonate.  In the weeks and months when my grief was young, there were certain things, events or memories that would send me reeling backwards, straight into a pit of sadness for the rest of the day.  Certain things, simple things like a shirt Mom used to wear.  Or, as I returned to my work as a traveling speech therapist in the nursing home circuit, certain patients would remind me of them.  Shortly after they died, I was working with a patient with swallowing problems.  I visited with her in her room, asking her the typical questions:  “What is hard for you to swallow?  Do your dentures fit?” 

“Yes,” she said.  “My dentures fit fine.”   She said this as her dentures started to fall out of her mouth.  This is truly funny now, but then, it reminded me that sometimes, Dad’s dentures would come loose and start to fall out.  I lost my professional composure.  I told her that was all I needed to know that day, and I got out of her room quickly before the detonation.  I had to hang it up and go home.

I was hollowed out for the rest of the day.

It used to be that I was incapacitated, stuck in the landmine.  Any wrong turn, any misstep, and another would detonate.  They were suddenly everywhere, and I was defenseless.

As the months wore on, I found I could rally and gather my strength; I could easily extricate myself from the minefield and avert any further danger, coming out victorious. As the years wore on, I no longer felt trapped.  I could let the moments of grief wash over me quickly, and move on to complete my task; finish out the day.

In about 4 weeks, it will be eleven years since our parents died.  I rarely have these moments anymore.

I had one last night.  I was innocently unloading the dishwasher, getting ready to go to dinner with my husband and son and a friend.  I had The CBS Evening News on the kitchen TV, and one of my favorite features came on.  One of their special reporters, Steve Hartman, spoke of his most frequent interview subject, a subject who would no longer be featured, as he had just passed away:  his father.  I stopped unloading dishes to watch.  I always enjoy his On The Road With Steve Hartman stories.  This one would become my favorite.

He spoke lovingly of his father, a kind, loving and unassuming man who always put others before himself.  He didn’t know a stranger, and was adept at striking up conversations with strangers, quickly turning them into friends.

Our dad was that way, too.

He featured interview clips with him, sharing some of his favorite memories of his favorite man on earth.

He then reported that his father had recently died.  His mother died several years ago.

His next statement stopped me in my tracks and brought tears.  I felt, for a few moments, that it had detonated another landmine.  But this time, it was sweet-bitter.  I knew it wouldn’t last long.

He said something to this effect: “I was now an orphan.  The two people on earth who knew me the longest and loved me the strongest were both gone.”

For one searing moment, I felt ice cold pain burning through my heart.  I knew too well how this felt.  The grief came roaring back—but just for one moment.  I dried my eyes and resumed the dishes, knowing I would have to appear happy for my dinner guests.  And I did.  They didn’t know I had just hit another landmine.

This morning, my husband and I watched morning TV while we sipped coffeeThey featured a chef who spoke of foods that reminded him of home.  Something about how home is where your Mom and Dad are.  I looked away for just a moment just in case I had to shed a few tears.  I didn’t want my husband to see.  I bit my lip and kept it together.  Perhaps I was still lingering on the edge of the minefield from last night.  Perhaps, with all this talk of Valentine’s Day love in the air, I am feeling more sentimental than usual.

This love, the love a parent has for a child, I am convinced, is the strongest love on earth.  Perhaps the love the child has for one’s parents is a close second.  I have children.  I know both forms.  These are true love.

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LOVE may very well be the most beautiful word in any language.  In its purest form, it is what we all live for, how we all keep going.  It is what allowed our parents to care for us as infants and children, and how those of us with children care for them.  It is the most difficult job on earth.  But it doesn’t stop there.  I know as a grown woman who now has grown children that it lives on in a new form, in a way that lets us see the beauty of unconditional love that now no longer needs to be nurtured as tenderly and carefully as it did when our children were young.   Infant humans require more care and parenting than any other species, so it’s a good thing babies are so lovable.

I remember when my boys were babies, and every new stage they reached made me a bit nostalgic for the one they had left, but I welcomed each new one, deciding that this one is the best one yet.  This is where I want them to stay, because it can’t get any better than this.  But it just kept getting better, and I kept thinking this as they grew.  Now that my boys are grown, part of me still thinks that.  I miss some of their earlier days, but seeing the fine young men they have grown into makes me happy they are where they are, and not younger.

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I know now that our parents loved us unconditionally as infants, children and adults, just like I love my children.  They loved us when we lived with them, and they loved us when we moved out.  They loved us as we married and formed our own families.  They loved us until the very end.  And we loved them back just as fiercely.

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Monday of last week was just another day.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  I worked, keeping my appointments and other obligations.  Something kept nagging at me, making me ask myself did I forget something important?  It felt as if I was neglecting some responsibility, some required task.  Something I had committed to.   Late in the day, it hit me.  It was the 4th of the month.  For the last 131 months, the 4th of the month rarely escapes me.

Our parents died on the 4th of the month.  Every month, for the first 18—if I recall correctly—I knew the 4th was coming around again.  I knew it would be another monthly anniversary.  I believe it was 18 months before it hit me late in the day.  Still now, most months it hits me at some point in the day on the 4th: “Oh yeah—it’s the 4th again.”  This month was the first one I had to stop and think about it.

I consider that a good thing.

I will never forget that 4th of the month nearly eleven years ago.  I will never forget that day, but the pain is no longer a beast in control.  I am in control, and my memories are letting more sweet in, and not so much bitter.

They got to go together.

The most pure form of love for another person is that which cares more for them than for oneself.

It was so hard for us, but so easy for them.  So easy for them. 

We loved them deeply; lost them tragically.  But true love never dies, and their love lives on.

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Happy Valentine’s Day.  If you still have your parents, please let them know how much you love them.  While their love for you will live on forever, they won’t be here forever. 

This post is dedicated to my parents, of course, and to my three boys as well.  

 

HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY

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HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY

“What if there is no tomorrow?  There wasn’t one today.”  Bill Murray as Phil Connors in Groundhog Day.

“I find my inner peace, my quiet self at the movies alone.  I stretch out and I smile to myself in the dark.  The first few times, I was scared I would look like a loser, at the movies by myself.  But now, I’m like, ‘Yea, I’m doing this,’ complete with popcorn and snacks.  It’s my therapy.  It works.”  –my friend Rhonda, on the joys of going to the movies alone, which she does several times a week.

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I am crushed.  I sat down to hopefully start a marathon of watching Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day, and I could find it exactly nowhere on cable TV.  So, like a modern, self-respecting American woman, I looked it up online.  Surely a cable station—TBS, Comedy Central, etc.– was playing it nonstop all day today, Saturday, February 2nd, 2019, but, no.  Before I panicked, I checked Netflix and Amazon Prime—I subscribe to both; surely one of them would offer it in their lineup for free streaming.

But, no.

Herein lies the quandary:  I have seen it at least ten times.  Do I invest $3.99 to see it yet again?

This year marks the 26th anniversary of one of my all-time favorite movies, in honor of one of my all-time favorite (obscure) holidays.  In 2006, it was added to the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  I totally agree.

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Groundhog day is observed by both the United States and Canada, with its origins in Pennsylvania among the Pennsylvania Dutch.   The earliest records of this were a simple mention made in a diary of a local resident dated February 2nd, 1840.   In 1886, a local Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania newspaper reported the observance of this date, whereby “the beast has not yet seen its shadow.”  The following year, it was made an official celebration.

Prior to the movie release, the crowds in Punxsutawney numbered around 2,000 for this celebration.    After the movie release in 1993, however, the crowds rose to about 10,000.  The population of Punxsutawney is around 6,000 people.

Most traditions, no matter how illogical and non-sensical they may seem typically have roots in deeper traditions, and Groundhog Day is no exception.  The observation, according to online sources, appears to be an enhanced version of the weather lore that the badger is the predicting animal.  February 2nd is the Christian observance of Candlemas Day, and legend has it that clear weather on that day forebodes a prolonged winter.  The groundhog—also known as the woodchuck—became the preferred weather prognosticator.

Typically, the groundhog sees his shadow, and there are six more weeks of winter predicted.  Official reports indicate he didn’t see it this year, so we will have an earlier spring.  Statistically, he is right about 40% of the time.

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I love a good movie.  I love to watch good movies repeatedly.  I have a fantasy of being trapped in a hotel room, all by myself, with nothing else to do but watch movies.  It has yet to come true, but I keep hoping.  When I am at home, I don’t spend a lot of time watching movies, I always feel I should be doing something more productive.  However, while I was at home alone this weekend, I got back on Netflix and did a little more binge-watching…

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Groundhog Day is certainly one of my favorite movies.  I love the humor, but deeper than that, I love that Phil Connors, the main character, after failing to escape the time loop he is stuck in that forces him to re-live Groundhog Day multiple times, realizes he can make this work for him, and for those around him.  He first tries to work it to his advantage by over-indulging in food, drink and merriment, but always wakes up to the same day all over again.  He even tries suicide to escape, but even that sends him back to the same day all over again.  So, he makes it work for good, not evil.  He gets multiple chances to fix his mistakes, and turn them into acts of kindness and generosity.

If we could all be so lucky to have that opportunity with our own mistakes.

Another one of my favorites is Pay It Forward. If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance to show you how powerful one person’s actions can be, and the ripple effect they can have.  Just be sure to have your tissues ready.

Two of our mom’s favorite movies were Fletch with Chevy Chase, an 80’s comedy, and Dirty Dancing.  Quite a combination.  She also liked Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and Mannequin with Andrew McCarthy.  Another interesting combination.  I don’t recall our dad watching movies, but he did have a few television series he liked, especially Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger.

I polled Gail and Suzanne regarding their favorite movies.  Suzanne, hands down, and without hesitation, responded: “My all-time favorite is ‘The Birds’ by Alfred Hitchcock.”  Hmm.. I found this interesting, so I asked why.

I guess because I enjoy watching people get their eyes pecked out.” I found this quite disturbing, but consider the source.  I reported this to Gail, and she, too, likes The Birds.  I simply had to laugh.  You don’t know my sisters as well as I do, so please take all this with a grain of salt.  They are harmless, as evidenced by their other favorites:

Suzanne:  “I also really like ‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Sixteen Candles.’”

Gail:  “One of my favorites is also ‘Catch and Release,’ with Jennifer Garner and Timothy Olyphant.  You know, him.  HIMmmmmmm…  She also likes Top Gun for the male actor as well.  You know, him.  HIMmmmmmm

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The American movie industry has been a staple of our entertainment economy.  During the Great Depression, the movie industry suffered, just as nearly every other industry did.  However, Americans spent their hard-earned fifteen cents to escape the reality of their excruciating poverty for just an hour or two, with 60-70 million Americans seeing a movie in the theater every week.  Even during these hard times, it was worth it to that many people.

“The content of the motion picture still was designed for escape, the majority reflecting the tastes of tired or jaded adults seeking a never-never land of luxury and melodrama, sex and sentiment.  –Dixton Wector, historian.

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We have a low-key evening planned for the Super Bowl tonight.  While my husband and son will be watching the game, I am planning on delving into the movie minds of my sisters, and watch The Birds.  I have never seen it, and if they like it, perhaps I might, too.  It will be a new experience.

I didn’t get to watch Groundhog Day yesterday.  Time got away, and while I wasn’t opposed to paying $3.99 to see it online for the sake of the occasion, I didn’t get around to it.  I will have to shell out $3.99 for The Birds, but for this glimpse inside my sisters’ movie minds, it will be worth it.

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I rarely go to the theater to see movies.  Suzanne and I have seen a few together since she moved to my small city, but we should see more.

If you feel the desire, take yourself out for a movie date, just like Rhonda does several times a week.  It would likely be time well spent.

Or, whatever you enjoy doing, take the time.  Unlike the main character in Groundhog Day, we don’t get the chance to go back and re-do yesterday.  We don’t get time back after it is gone.  So make it count.1034921601.jpg

 

AGE IS A GIFT

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AGE IS A GIFT

This post is dedicated to those women and men who struggle every day to age with relative ease due to illness, injury, chronic and disabling pain, physical and/or mental struggles, and the myriad other reasons why aging is difficult. Keep on fighting the fight, and may you find peaceful, pain-free independence to live your life as you desire.   For anyone who doesn’t fit that group—and we all know which group we fit in, this post is meant to make you think twice before you complain about your age…

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Discover a newfound sense of youth!

Feel younger than you did yesterday!

Gain a greater appreciation for your amazing human body!

Embrace your age, no matter what it is!

**Ask me how—I have the easiest way to achieve all this, and more!**

Here’s how:  Spend the afternoon visiting a nursing home, or perhaps the rehabilitation unit of a large hospital.  You will most likely see residents/patients there younger than you.  If these are not options, simply sit in a neurologist’s waiting room for a few hours.  Or, perhaps, visit a children’s hospital.

Guaranteed to deliver, or your money back.  Give it a try!

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I will give you exactly one reprieve if you have no reason to do so, yet I hear you complaining about your age, because I used to complain about mine, too.  That is, until shortly after my 40th birthday.  I was working in a larger regional hospital, and I was lamenting this new decade I had just entered into.  Then, I received an order to see a new patient.  She had had a stroke.  At age 39.  Shortly after she delivered her fifth child.  She lost most of the function on her right side.  She was right handed.

I never complained again after that.

Shortly after my 50th birthday, while I fully embraced it—complete with a big party–and did not complain even once, I was sent a reminder:  a man just a few months younger that me with ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—became my patient.  He died a few months later.  I was not able to help him much, if at all.

My heart still breaks for his family.  He was only 50 years old.

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”The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”  –Frank Lloyd Wright

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I met a woman this week who is struggling with yet another physical setback.  She already had a long medical history.  She became my patient when she went home from the hospital, trying to return to some semblance of her former life.  She has a young child.  She was independent, working; able to take care of herself and her child.  She may no longer be able to live without help and support.  She is not yet 50 years old.  She laughed and made jokes, and she spoke of the power of positive thinking.

She gave me more than I gave her.  This sometimes happens with my work.

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“Don’t try to be young.  Just open your mind.  Stay interested in stuff.  There are so many things I won’t live long enough to find out about, but I’m still curious about them.”  –Betty White, age 96.

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Our mom would have been 82 years old last week.  I had grand intentions of celebrating her birthday with a shopping trip—just like we used to do with her when she was here—but duty called, so I didn’t plan anything.  Duty was superseded by the weather on Tuesday, and I ended up not going anywhere.  In time, I will find a fitting way to observe her day.

Gail will celebrate her birthday next month.  She will be 59 this year, and she is already anticipating an even bigger celebration next year for her 60th.  She had a grand celebration for her 50th, but Suzanne and I weren’t able to join her because of a snowstorm.

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Suzanne will turn 50 next year, so it will be a year of celebrations.

I had a grand celebration almost three years ago for my 50th.  Along with my stepson and  Amy (Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever, July 6th), my husband feted us with a 30-40-50 party.  In just 7 more years, we will be preparing for a 40-50-60 party.

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Birthdays are important observations of the day you arrived on this earth.  They should always be celebrated–never feared or ignored.

In my work as a speech therapist, I see many strokes.  In the most severe, there are sometimes no words, no ability to speak.  The ability to formulate words or phrases is attempted, but unsuccessful.  In order to get speech flowing in any manner at all, I often engage the patient in a singing exercise, as singing is often relatively preserved.  The song I always start with, because everyone is familiar with it, is “Happy Birthday to You!”

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Aging in an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”  –David Bowie, who died three years ago at age 69.

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In “The Magnificent Seven” (November 11th, 2018), I wrote about six incredible sisters who take incredible annual trips together.  The youngest sister Shari will turn 50 in a few weeks.  She is enjoying a grand birthday celebration on the grand, beautiful island of Grenada.

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Happy Birthday Shari—life begins at 50, or whatever age you decide to live life to the fullest.  Coincidentally, her oldest sister is celebrating her birthday today, Sunday, January 27th.  Happy Birthday Joyce!

Four other people I know are also celebrating a birthday today:  Happy Birthday to our neighbor Dan, and his daughter Ariana, our friend Lonnie, and our brother-in-law Jerry.

A former patient of mine will be celebrating a Big Birthday next month.  She is a world traveler, and in honor of this big day, she and her family are taking a trip to another beautiful island. She struggles to make it all work after her stroke, but she keeps on trying, and she keeps getting better every day.

May all of you enjoy a grand birthday celebration, and if you weren’t already, I hope you are living life to the fullest.

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“Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.”  –Author unknown.

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Every year brings 365 sunrises and sunsets, just like the ones I captured close to my home this weekend.  The more of these you get to see, the luckier you are.

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Kansas is known for our beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  And speaking of our home state, it will celebrate its 158th birthday on Tuesday, January 29th.  So, if you see me wearing my gaudy sunflower pin this Tuesday, you will be expected to recall that it is in honor of Kansas’s birthday.

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Happy Birthday Kansas!

We quietly observed Mom’s birthday last week, and we will observe Gail’s next month with–hopefully–a lot of noise.

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May we all embrace aging as gracefully as Gail does, and may we all age with as much wisdom, love and peace as Mom did.

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“He who dies with the most birthdays wins.”  —My friend Kelly, who turned 57 last week.

 

 

WEEKEND RETREAT

 

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WEEKEND RETREAT

Solitude. Sleeping in.  Sunshine. Strong, black coffee. Sisters.

Simple pleasures like working on a jigsaw puzzle.  Watching a movie.  Binge-watching a Netflix series. Snacking at all hours.  Navigating and discussing social media.

Discussing the upcoming playoff games—but only in terms of the stellar musicians who will perform The National Anthem—Jimmy Buffet and Melissa Etheridge.

Attempting to solve the world’s problems—at least, those in our own worlds.

All these things and more took place at my house this weekend.

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We made the most of the ongoing construction project in my home.

Gail and her daughter Lydia arrived at my home late Thursday evening, bearing IHOP pancakes to go.  Pancakes at 10:00 p.m. is but one of many surprises Gail is known to bring.  She is unpredictable in that respect, and that is a beautiful thing.  Lydia had a craving, and while she doesn’t normally crave pancakes, she deserved them.  She had to take insulin before eating them, but it’s just how she rolls now.

Lydia had her quarterly endocrinologist visit Friday morning in my small city, so they came early.  As I type Sunday morning, they are still here, and I love it.

My boys are not here, however, they had an over-nighter down the road at another family member’s home.  The men in their family and close circle of friends gather annually for a Christmas party, and this year it was belated.  This translates into a weekend to myself.  I have earned it, however, as my husband was the host for many years, and I would wake on Sunday morning to find a houseful of sleeping men—some family, some friends.

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Old Man Winter didn’t deliver the punch he was predicted to; the weather prognosticators were off the mark for their warnings—at least in our area.  We had two separate family events that requested the honor of our presence, and the weather forecast was prohibitive, so we hunkered down and went to neither.

We simply hung out. Suzanne came to visit for awhile, too.  She had other social engagements to tend to, but there is always time for sisterhood.  We even had a few adopted sisters for the weekend.

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While these sisters are not related to us, we realize we can share our sisterhood with our soul sisters who may need more sisterhood than what they have.  We always seem to have an abundance of sisterly love, and we find that when we give it away, it doesn’t subtract from what we have, it actually multiplies it.

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I have made it abundantly clear in previous posts that Gail is typically in perpetual motion, working toward completing tasks large and small.  She has work to do, and she gets it done sooner, rather than later.  However, when she is away from her home, these tasks must sit and wait for her return.  She sought out a few in my home—she cooked twice for us—and I do welcome her presence in my kitchen if it means I don’t have to be working in it.  I let her complete these tasks, as they benefit me greatly.

Otherwise, I would have discouraged her from working on this getaway weekend that was meant for relaxation.  Sometimes for people like Gail—especially for people like Gail—it is important to stop working and just enjoy.  Take a break, and relax.  Just do whatever.  Just do nothing. 

While she says she doesn’t enjoy it, I caught her working on the puzzle.  Suzanne and I love to work jigsaw puzzles, and it is my impression that Gail thinks she simply doesn’t have the time.  However, after I woke from a long winter’s nap Sunday, I found her working on the puzzle.

“I thought you didn’t like to do puzzles,” I told her.

I don’t,” she said. “I’m just bored.”

I don’t believe her.  I think perhaps she just needed a little push to engage in something so relaxing.

According to our Sunday paper, January is National Puzzle Month.  Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, whatever puzzle puzzles you in a good way is a recommended leisure activity for the month.

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My firstborn just left a few minutes ago to go back to campus for the spring semester.  He had five weeks off, and we all enjoyed our time together.

I am remembering their younger days when I felt I couldn’t afford the luxury of taking time for myself.  There was simply too much work to do.  I didn’t have that kind of time, what with working full-time and taking care of a family and a house.  My husband has always been a doer like Gail, always helping with whatever he could.  I can’t imagine single motherhood as the reality that Gail, Suzanne and millions of other women experienced, and continue to experience.

I realize now I perceived that busy-ness as my only choice, I didn’t acknowledge that I had the right to sit back and enjoy something for myself.  I didn’t even take much of a break on Sundays.

Shame on me.

I recall a friend asking me, when I complained about this lack of time for myself, if I couldn’t perhaps squeeze in an hour or so for myself.  She dedicated every Sunday afternoon to herself, and to me, at this point in my life, sounded like a distant, futuristic luxury.

I take time now.  I usually take Sunday afternoons to myself.  We learned the hard way that life can forever change in just one moment, and all this busy-ness means nothing when life pulls a punch like that.  All those tasks we knock ourselves out to accomplish become meaningless when stacked up against Real Life and Real Loss.

And this hard-learned lesson, over time, has turned into a gift.

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With the help of one of our guests, we finished the puzzle we already had in progress, the puzzle before the one Gail is working on.  I thanked our guest for her help, asking her if she enjoyed puzzles as much as I did.

I don’t know,” she said.  “I have never taken the time to find out.  But I’m pretty sure I do now.”

I wish her all the time she needs to enjoy puzzles, and whatever else it takes to enjoy her life.

I wish the same for you.

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I now know very well what shiplap is.

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Suzanne told us in the “INTREPID” post that she had no fears except for skunks.  Turns out she has a tiny little fear of heights as well.  Gail had a hard time getting down, too.

INTERIOR REMODELING

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INTERIOR REMODELING

By the end of this month, the vast majority of Americans who made resolutions for the New Year will abandon them, according to a popular news source—the one that reports and lets you decide.   They even pinpointed January 12th as the exact day that this vast majority will most likely give up.  Eighty percent will give up at some point in the year, and only eight percent will achieve their goals.  I’m not sure what happened to the other twelve percent.

I made some loose resolutions, and some tighter ones, too. One trick they mentioned in the article was to have someone to support you through the changes.   Other suggestions were as follows:  Make it measurable.  Know exactly why you want to make the change.  Make a plan to reward yourself when you achieve the goal.

Check, check, check and check.  My most important goal meets all four criteria, and my support is Gail.  She actually made the same resolution.  We are holding each other accountable.  Suzanne–while she is younger in years–is infinitely wiser and more evolved than her older sisters in many ways.  She doesn’t need to work on this trouble spot that her older sisters struggle with.

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My Mark-of-all-trades husband is at it again.  Just short of 21 years ago, he finished building our house.  He worked tirelessly evenings and weekends for about 18 months.  While he built the house, I built the first baby.  Even though it took me only half as long, I will argue I had the harder job.  He doesn’t disagree.

He is embarking on a massive re-do of the living room. New walls and new flooring.  This is big stuff.  He has been itching to do it for some time, and now that the holidays are behind us, he dug in.

If you know him, you can skip this next paragraph.  If you don’t, trust me when I say he is an expert builder.   He typically loves to have a project going at all times, something measurable and goal-worthy to strive for.  A shed addition and a new patio are but a few of his most recently completed projects.  Not much short of absolute perfection passes his inspection, which is a favorable quality to have in the contractor/builder in charge of your home.

As a word nerd, I am always up for learning a new word.  Several months ago, when he announced his choice of wall covering as shiplap, I didn’t know what it meant.  Gail informed me that if I didn’t know what shiplap was, then I must not be watching enough home-improvement television.  I don’t really watch any.

Shiplap:  a style of wooden wall siding characterized by long planks, normally painted white, that are mounted horizontally with a slight gap between them in a manner that evokes exterior shiplap walls.  Typically used as exterior cover, it is also used indoors for a rough or rustic look.

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As a proud future owner of shiplapped walls, I decided I’d better look it up.  I hadn’t heard this one before.  I always have room for new words.

It has shaken up our living area, the space we enjoy every morning for coffee, the space we sit with company, the space we simply live in.

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The changes will be good, but they are a bit uncomfortable right now, as changes are.  I have to make a new map of where and how I need to navigate and make it work in my home in my mind, and I really would rather not have to.

But I have to.  Just like I have to make the interior remodeling I committed to with Gail.  She is holding me accountable, and I am doing the same for her.  We are re-arranging certain habits in order to build new ones, even though we are quite comfortable in the old ones.  In with a new design.  We simply know it is time for new; we have worn out the old one and it no longer serves us as well as the new one will—just like the new carpet and new walls will serve us in our living room.

Mark built a literal plank that he will walk as he creates the new design.  He will construct scaffolding on this plank that will allow him to climb and create.

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His initial plan was to challenge me to walk the plank as well, as this plank would have been the only entrance to our third floor, where our master bedroom and bathroom are.  I would first climb the ladder, then walk the plank.  Good thing I’m not afraid of heights.  Just heights at 36,000 feet inside an airplane, which I have already admitted to.  However, given his considerate nature, he devised a way to pull back the last two sections of the plank to open up the stairway, which he can easily do when he finishes for the day.

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I can stretch to accommodate this inconvenience.

However, I did need to go upstairs while he was working, so I braved it.

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AARGH!

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As I have been continually attempting to do, I filtered out a few possessions today.  As a condition of the remodel, everything had to be cleared off the shelves and tables and any other surfaces in our living room.  I packed them in boxes and totes, but I started a box for a friend who is starting over, the same friend I wrote about several weeks ago who is doing a complete remodel of her life.  She will need new things, new stuff that is not part of her old life.  Like me, she delights in garage-sale treasures, so she is thrilled to have cast-offs.  One woman’s treasure, I hope.    I wouldn’t give them to just anyone, but if these semi-prized possessions are going to her, I can let go.

I picked up this treasure, and knew immediately that I couldn’t part with it.

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If you are in “The Club,” perhaps you know that seeing a cardinal is a sign that a loved one you have lost is with you at that moment.  Several years ago, another dear friend who had also lost both parents told me she found a cardinal in her garage.  In her garage.  It was her mother’s birthday.  Shortly after she told me that story, I found two of these cardinals on sale together, and I knew she needed one, and I needed the other.  So we each have one.

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She sent me a picture of hers, perched on her mantle.

About ten minutes after I moved the cardinal to its temporary storage spot in the tote, I went into the garage for something.  There, in my garage, was a cardinal.

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The contractor has been non-committal in giving me a time frame; perhaps he doesn’t want me holding him to it.  It will take at least a week or two, I’m sure, as he will be working on it when he is not at work.  I will continue to navigate and function around the inconveniences, because I know there is something better coming out of it.  Plus, I really don’t have a choice.  When he is hell-bent on a project, he is full-steam ahead.  For that, I am grateful.

I don’t ever make honey-do lists.  He makes them for me.  I am grateful for that, too.

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When these changes are completed, our house won’t look any different on the outside.  The inside, however, will be refreshed and renewed.

When Gail and I complete our changes, we likely won’t look any different on the outside, either.  Our insides, however, will be refreshed and renewed.  It’s a bit messy and inconvenient while we are remodeling our insides, but we are hell-bent on our goals, just like Mark is on our house.

When I have made positive changes in the past, one of the most important things that helped me was someone to support me.  As well as support, I need accountability.  Most humans—myself included—reach goals better when someone else is helping them—pushing them, driving them, if necessary—to make this change.  It is too easy to be accountable only to oneself, so having someone to answer to helps most people.

If you need help reaching your goals, find an accountability buddy.  I hope you have a Gail in your life; I know how lucky I am to have one in mine.  She is holding me to the fire, and I am doing the same for her.

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I rushed back into the house to get my phone right after I found the cardinal to get a picture; I was afraid he would fly out.  He ended up flying back and forth in the rafters for at least four hours before he was finally gone.  I opened both doors, and left the walk-in door open—that’s how he got in.  I wanted him to find his way out, but I didn’t know how to help him.  I was glad for his presence; for his sign, but I knew he needed to be back on his way.  He didn’t belong in my garage, and he didn’t belong close to me for long.  He needed to go back to where he flew in from, because staying near me was too confining for him.  I enjoyed his presence, don’t get me wrong, but I knew he had somewhere better to be.

It has taken me a long time to fully accept this truth about losing a loved one.  I believe they have somewhere better to be, and I am so happy they are there.

It bears mentioning that our high school mascot was the cardinal.

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If you set a goal or goals for the new year, I hope you are among the eight percent, not the eighty percent.  Or, the nebulous twelve percent.

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Go get yourself a Gail for your goals. You can’t lose.

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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.