THE LIBERTY LIST

According to my watch, the time is now.” –Jimmy Buffet

My generation remembers where we were and what we were doing 21 years ago today: I sat in the recliner all day, holding my sick baby as he slept, watching the horror unfold before my eyes on TV. These memories are seared into the brain of anyone old enough to remember that dark day, the day that forever changed our country.

Gail was preparing her soon-to-be opened donut shop for business. I called and told her about it, she hadn’t heard yet. She went home to watch it on TV, something she rarely does. She knew this needed her attention at that time. The donut shop could wait.

Suzanne arrived at work, not knowing what was happening. She and her co-workers remained glued to the TV for the rest of the day. Her five-year-old daughter had a friend over that evening, and they wanted to watch TV. She heard her ask him what they should watch. He replied innocently, “I guess we could watch the explosion channel.” We all remember there wasn’t much else on, and he realized this, too.

That dark day won’t ever be forgotten, nor should it ever be forgotten. The people who lost their lives that day should be remembered as heroes, even though they likely had no idea what was happening in those horrific moments leading up to their deaths.

The rest of us get to continue to live our lives, even though that scar will always be on the face of our country. The family members and loved ones of the victims, as well as the first responders and others who sacrificed their safety that day should always hold a special place in our memories and hearts as well.

Our veterans, active duty military, Reserves and National Guard are the heroes every day of every year; they are the ones who protected and continue to protect the freedoms most of us take for granted–including me.

Our small hometown held its 150th birthday celebration last Saturday; Suzanne and I were able to go to this special gathering, but Gail couldn’t join us. The veterans of our hometown who were present were honored with recognition: a profoundly moving speech and a special flag salute by some of our town’s youth, followed by a standing ovation:

They are the reason we live in this nation of freedom. We have so many liberties that we fail to realize, all thanks to them.

One of them is the opportunity to travel freely about this country, and take in all it has to offer. Gail, Suzanne and I do our best to enjoy this privilege. Another is to partake in whatever activities interest us, because this country is indeed the land of liberty.

Which is why the term “bucket list” is widely known. Popularized by a movie of the same name, many of us have a list of things we’d like to do, or places we’d like to travel to before we euphemistically “kick the bucket.” Instead of using that term, however, I decided to call it “The Liberty List.” It reminds me that I am so fortunate to have these liberties.

My 25-year-old son lives on the other side of the world. He is checking something big off his “Liberty List” at a relatively young age, exercising the freedom he has as an American to put this big world right in the palm of his hand. He has had the opportunity to travel to other countries as well, and has given himself permanent reminders of this liberty.

Last year, when America was celebrating it’s Independence Day, he traveled to Egypt with 5 other American friends. To remind themselves of this freedom, they gave themselves a permanent reminder in the local language–Arabic. This year he spent July 4th in Thailand, and added to this reminder in Thai:

The translation is “freedom” or “liberty,” both translate into the one foreign word. You pick the one you like best. I like the ring of “liberty.” And what kind of a mother would I be if I didn’t follow my son’s example? An unfit one, that’s for sure. So, my next tattoo will be inside my upper arm, just like his, with “Liberty” as my English word of choice.

I am already sure I will never regret this permanent reminder of all that America has given me.

*********

I asked Gail and Suzanne what they had on their “Liberty Lists.”

Gail: “I don’t really have one. I just live life to the fullest every day.” I can attest to this. She makes every moment of every day the most it can be, whether it is working one of her multiple jobs, or cruising around with her friends in “Lola,” her 1974 Chevy Nova, into the wee hours of the morning. It’s usually a party whenever Gail is there. Always has been, always will be.

Suzanne: “Going to any beach, anywhere, anytime.” Simple and true. If you recall, my maiden post on this blog just over five years ago detailed our epic beach trip to Florida (The Sister Lode, June 16th, 2017). We haven’t been back to a beach together since, but it is on all three of our “Liberty Lists.”

If you know me, you may want to be sure to be sitting down when you read what I am soon to check off my list. When I tell people, it is generally met first with disbelieving laughter, then something along the lines of, “That’s so cool!”

This endeavor has been on my Liberty List for some time now, and the time is right to check it off. I see it as a natural extension of my 28-year career as a speech therapist. I have been a speech scientist, and now it is time to be a speech artist.

I will spend eight days at the end of October/beginning of November in Des Moines, Iowa, training to become–wait for it–an auctioneer! I have long been fascinated with this skill, knowing that one day I would learn it. That day has come. I don’t know yet how much, or in what capacity I will use it, but I am doing it–now! All we have is now, and as the wise Willie Nelson says, “It’s always now.”

*********

Now only comes once, which is why I am struggling so much with some heartbreaking news I received this week. A friend, a bright light with an electric smile and unforgettable laugh, was cruelly taken by COVID and its complications. We bonded after she lost her parents separately, but both in devastating ways. We understood each other. We spoke this dreadful language. We connected, but I had let too much time pass, knowing I needed to reach out to her again. But I didn’t do it then, and I can’t do it now. My heart breaks for her family, because I know how it feels to lose your mother way too young.

I’m not feeling the strength yet, but I will regain it after this heartbreaking news, and I will check a few more things off my Liberty List. They are things I have needed to do for some time in order to reach out to other important people.

We never know when it may be too late. I smugly thought I had learned the Life is short lesson after our parents died in that one moment, but if I think I have fully learned it, that only means I need to go back to school. Clearly, I didn’t. It is a lifetime of learning in order to make sure every now is the most it can be.

We would all be well-advised to think back 21 years ago to September 12th, or perhaps a few more days or weeks later, when so many people used that tragedy to galvanize their efforts to create more peace toward each other. Let’s all do our best to do that again, every day. Connect with those you need to reach out to before it’s too late. The time is now.

So, turn off the explosion channel in your head; we’ve all seen enough, and it will always be there. Use that memory to honor those who lost their lives, their families and loved ones, the first responders and our military–past and present.

And get out there and work on your Liberty List.

Raise your hand high and place your bid on that.

THINGS ARE GONNA GET EASIER

Perhaps it was the stray dime I found at a garage sale yesterday. I paid the woman a quarter, and told her it was a sign from my parents. As I have written before, I believe it was.

Perhaps it was that song again. I believe our loved ones who are no longer with us can speak to us in a number of ways. One of them is through music. About four years ago, I was having a strong moment of grief while thinking about my dad. I was sitting on my bedroom floor with the radio on, and I heard his voice come through a song released in 1970 by The Five Stairsteps: “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.”

And they did.

In another month or so, it happened again. I was thinking about Dad, and there was that song. And, once again, things did get easier.

The third time it happened was uncanny. I had him on my mind, and there was the song–again.

And, of course, things did get easier.

I heard that song on the radio last night. Life ebbs and flows, as we all know, and it happened during an ebb. Not necessarily about Dad, but there was that song again. And, yes, things did get easier.

Perhaps it was the dream I had last night. I have mentioned several times in my posts that when I dream about Mom and Dad, it is as if they are still with here, never having left us. Last night was no different. There was a community dinner of some sort in a public hall, and they were there. “Oh, Mom and Dad are here,” I remember thinking in the dream. “I’ll sit with them,” as if nothing had happened. And then the dream was over.

**

I checked Facebook while I was sipping coffee about 7 a.m. today. A widowed friend has posted about how hard it was to face her now-empty nest. Her youngest of two had just moved away to his first year of college, and without her husband, she was truly alone. She spoke of the heartbreak and pain, but also of the strength she will have to summon to keep going, and I know she will.

I commented as such, and another friend commented as well. This is a mutual friend who also faces a crushing loss: her beloved sister was taken from her in a pedestrian accident several years ago.

Lest we think we are alone in our grief, none of us have to look far.

This morning while I was walking/running, I had my iPod in my ears as I always do. Out of 250-plus songs, there it was again. “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.” I smiled, then shed a little tear, but I kept moving; my husband and I had plans for an outing later this morning.

Perhaps it was the song again, or maybe the dream, or the Facebook posts, or likely a combination of all the above that brought it to mind: as we were getting ready, I decided today was the day to make my second pilgrimage to the place where Mom and Dad drew their last breaths; it wasn’t far from our destination. Dad had spoken to me through song twice in the last 12 hours, and they both showed up in my dreams again last night. Those were my signs, and I chose to heed them.

I had been there only one other time (And You Will Go On, October 14th 2018), and now that it has been fourteen years, five months and ten days (not that I am counting), I knew in my heart of hearts it was time again. We would be driving near there, and a short detour would take us there.

It was there, and then it was gone. We didn’t stop, I only needed a glance. It was almost dark when I was there the first time; today it was full sun, but in my mind, the dark cloud still hovered over the intersection. I was alone last time; my husband was with me this time. Plus, I was six and a half years stronger. Still, the sharp pain of loss and lingering grief was there. This docile beast will never go away, but I know now how to keep it tame–most of the time.

**

I have a dear friend who recently lost her ex-husband, her daughters’ father. Ooh children, things are gonna get easier.

I have another friend, a graduate school classmate, who is struggling through a cascade of devastating family crises. Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.

We have a mutual friend, another graduate school classmate who lost her 52-year old husband suddenly in the spring. I have lost touch with her, but my friend hasn’t. She gave me her number, and I am going to call her tonight. There is no statute of limitations on expressions of sympathy to others; I have learned this in the past 14-plus years. Today is the day. Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.

To my two friends on Facebook this morning: Ooh children, things are gonna keep getting easier.

**

About four years ago, I had a home health patient in a rural area. About a mile off the highway, there was a wooden cross. It was lovingly adorned with football items, and it appeared to be a memorial to a young man, which was confirmed by co-workers. I passed by it multiple times on my repeat visits to this patient’s home, always saying a little prayer for his family.

One day, a woman was stopped there, re-arranging the memorial items. I didn’t hesitate, I knew I was supposed to stop. I surmised it was his mother, and it was. I got out of the car, walked up to her and said, “I don’t know who you are, but I know you. I have two of those.” We instinctively hugged, shed a few tears, and gave each other the gift of understanding.

I couldn’t have survived these past fourteen years (five months and ten days) especially without my sisters, but also my brothers, my husband and sons, and my wide circle of family and friends. This support net has carried me through, and I know it will continue to carry me, as long as I keep reaching out to help connect with others who are living with grief, and letting them reach out to me. It can still be so hard, but every day brings me more strength, hope and understanding.

We may not know who they all are, but we know them when we see them. We must keep reaching out, and keep our arms open for their reaching in.

Ooh child, things are gonna get easier.

SWHEAT GIRLS–PART THREE

It has been two years since I made it to the wheat field. Last year, it was a work scheduling problem, along with weather woes that dictated the days in the combine. This year, it was a little problem called COVID. That makes only three harvests I have missed in my 56 years, and it breaks my heart.

Along with Gail and Suzanne, however, I will always be a Kansas farm girl at heart. Swheat girls, just like our friends Tana and Amy. I met them in the summer of 1984 when I began “babysitting” these two amazing sisters. They didn’t need much, just someone to take care of business. Business soon became pleasure, and we have remained close since. We may, or may not, have gotten wheat tattoos together a few summers ago to prove this.

So close, as a matter of fact, that they visit every July 4th with their families from their homes in Arizona. We have maintained this tradition for many years, and our hope is that it will continue for many more. They left only four days ago, and I am already looking forward to next July 4th, which, coincidentally, is one of my favorite holidays.

Their visit kicks off my favorite month of the year. Following that fun-filled (almost) week, I continue to enjoy the Kansas summer, my favorite season. A vacation is usually in order in July, as well as our youngest son’s birthday. And, I have deduced that since I was born in mid-April, I most likely came into being in July.

Suzanne was able to join us for an evening, but Gail wasn’t able to make it. As always when she is not here, we missed her; she always adds life to any party.

We decorated to the nines again, perhaps even more than we normally do.

One of our favorite pastimes is to porch sit, and we amped that up too this year by dragging the old couch out of the shop for some good old-fashioned redneck couch-sitting on the porch.

Recall that the term “redneck” originated from the sunburn on the back of a working person’s neck from working outdoors in the hot sun. Therefore, it is a term of honor, one we take as a compliment.

The couch is still sitting on the porch, up for grabs. It just may look perfect year-round on your porch. If you think perhaps it would, please let me know–and bring a truck.

We swam in the backyard pool,

and, of course, took in the fireworks. We celebrate our country, as well as our favorite place in it: Kansas.

This one looks almost unreal, but it is real, taken by my daughter-in-law.

Every year brings back old traditions and memories, and more new ones are made. Our bonds grow deeper, and our Kansas farm-girl roots keep us grounded and gritty.

These Swheat girls , just like Gail, Suzanne and I, are Kansas farm girls who know how lucky we are to have this heritage, and to have each other.

Happy Independence Day to you, every day of the year.

THE GAIL EXPERIENCE

The reviews are in: “Gail brings high energy and fun to all aspects of her life! I had such a fun time. Her garden is delightful, Lola is one of a kind, we got to meet her friends on their front porch, and had a great lunch at the bar/grill she manages. Camp Gail was highly entertaining. I give “The Gail Experience” 5 stars! –Shari

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It’s a real thing, The Gail Experience. I have lived it many times; I am one of the lucky ones. In the next breath just after I say that, I will also say this: there is no such thing as The Suzanne Experience. And that’s how they both want it. As the middle sister, I guess I am in the middle there, too. I guess, perhaps, this blog is part of The Kathleen Experience, if there is such a thing.

But I am not here to talk about that. This is about Gail, her aura and the gifts of her presence. And there are so many.

Shari, my friend since kindergarten, loves to hike like I do. We have long planned to take a trip to western Kansas to experience the natural beauty of several land formations there, as well as a new state park with hiking trails. We have tried two other times: first, my son was sick with Covid in my home, so we decided it best not to share that kind potential illness. Second, we were both available and healthy, but Gail was not going to be home at the time we planned to go, and this involved an overnight stay at her home. I told Shari, “We could go, but you wouldn’t have The Gail Experience. I will let you decide.” She decided to wait until Gail was home

Wise decision.

Last week, it finally happened. The stars and planets aligned, we were both able to get out of work responsibilities, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect, and Gail was home. So, Shari arrived from the Kansas City area at my home Tuesday evening, and we headed west Wednesday morning. The sightseeing and hiking was every bit as beautiful and enjoyable as we had hoped, but that’s not the point. Our home state boasts so many natural wonders that deserve more attention than most people give them, and more than I can put into this blog. It may very well be covered in a future post, because both Gail and our beautiful state deserve their own headlining coverage.

The farthest point of our trip took us to the northwest corner of Kansas, and even into the southwest corner of Nebraska. We turned around, and were at Gail’s house in the beautiful burg of Atwood an hour later. Gail had supper ready, and we were hungry hikers. As usual, it was delicious.

Shari’s reaction to Gail’s home was the same as mine when I first set foot in it over 20 years ago: it’s Gail. Her spirit and style are carried through in her decor, especially in Camp Gail, which I have featured in each of the five pictures at the beginning of the blog. We “camped” after our cruising, more on that later.

It was about 7:30 pm at this point, and it was a beautiful almost-summer evening, the kind that calls for cruising. So, as well The Gail Experience, Shari also got to have The Lola Experience.

Gail’s 1974 Nova, lovingly named after its last owner, always turns heads on the streets of Atwood.

We were privileged to meet a group of her friends, who were hanging out on the porch of the group’s senior member, 87-year-old Buzzy. Perhaps you could say, with the little squeeze that Buzzy added in this flanked pose, that Shari and I also had The Buzzy Experience. Or, perhaps more accurately, we got Buzzed.

We cruised some more, then headed to Gail’s house. It was a girl’s night, as her husband was out of town for a few days. Her daughter, Lydia, was there to enhance The Gail Experience. As is custom at Gail’s house, guests gravitate toward Camp Gail, which is where we spent the rest of the evening talking and reminiscing, but mostly laughing.

Perhaps it was the beautiful night, or the slight deliriousness from a day in the sun, or maybe since we were one or two beers in, everything was funny.

I’m pretty sure, though, it was mostly the company.

Among other visual treats in Camp Gail, Shari noticed a beautiful scarf Gail had as a decoration. She picked it up, and proceeded to find all the ways it could be used. With Gail’s encouragement, suggestions and goading, we laughed until our stomachs hurt.

Starting with the functional look to keep one’s hair tame in the Kansas winds–just like our mothers used to wear, Shari began the modeling:

Our mothers also wore scarves fashionably around their necks:

And to church.

Then, it started to get really silly.

She took the cue for this one from my Willie shirt, and it was followed by the do-rag:

And the blindfold…

And the bandit.

and the toothache/mumps wrap.

The turban was the finale; our stomachs couldn’t take any more laughing.

Shari and I had to hang it up and go to bed, but, as usual, Gail could have entertained us for hours more.

In the morning, we went for a brisk walk, followed by massages. We were relaxed and energized, and, of course, hungry.

Gail had some work in the office of her first full-time gig as an office manager for a chiropractor,

and then we enjoyed lunch at the home of her second full-time gig as the manager of Legends bar/grill. She wasn’t technically working, but she had already unloaded the food truck that delivered supplies earlier that morning.

As parties always are, it was then over. We fought the blasting south Kansas wind for the first 30 miles, and then I cussed it as I drove east for about the next 120 miles until it calmed. As usual, Gail loved the wind. Ugh.

But I still love her for that. It’s part of The Gail Experience. If there were a Suzanne Experience, it would include the love of wind as well. Definitely not part of Kathleen in any way. Our day of hiking/sightseeing in western Kansas couldn’t have been more calm and beautiful, with brilliant blue skies and a slight breeze. NO wind.

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I am not as pious as the picture of Shari praying in the scarf, but I say a prayer of thanksgiving every day for the gifts of my sisters, and for the “experience” of being their sister. They cry with me in the bad times, and laugh with me in the good times. And, we know the importance of having fun.

Special thanks to my dear friend Shari for making this trip with me. Her “Gail Experience” was a great one!

DREAM ON, SISTERS

It has been a while. I have had a bit of a dry spell, perhaps even a drought of ideas. So, I asked for help. I prayed for ideas and inspiration, and I wasn’t disappointed. Our parents are the inspiration for this blog–their lives and their deaths, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Again, be careful what you wish for.

I woke up early this morning after a relatively late night–11:00 is way past my bedtime. It was not yet six, so I went back to sleep. When I am lucky enough to fall back asleep, I often have the strangest dreams. This morning was no exception, except that it was perhaps the strongest, most moving dream I have in the last fourteen years. And, it took me a moment to realize it was just a dream. It was still real when I woke up an hour later, for just that moment, and I had to wrap my mind around what I thought was my new reality.

In the dream, Mom had called to tell me that Dad had died in his sleep. I was awake now–barely, and my own heart was broken. I didn’t know how I would live without him. And then I realized it was a dream. I had already been living without him for over fourteen years, and without Mom for just as long.

It was real, just for that moment.

Perhaps it was because I was thinking about them yesterday as my husband and I traveled close to the accident site. I considered taking the short detour to stop there, but there was no reason. I had already been there once. (And You Will Go On, October 14th, 2018. )

Perhaps the dream was portended by the five cardinals I saw the day before. Yes, five. I even had to slow down to avoid hitting two of them with my car on two different occasions.

Perhaps it was the dime I found on the floor of a store yesterday. Mom and Dad had a dime bank they often contributed to, and after I wrote the blog about the six amazing sisters (The Magnificent Seven, November 11th, 2018 ) and they told me about the connection they have to their parents through dimes–“Dimes from heaven,” they call them, I started to find dimes lying randomly here and there, including one in the middle of my bedroom floor later that afternoon. I had just tidied up the room, and left it with no trace of anything stray on the floor. Yet, the dime showed up. And they have been showing up ever since. I put that one next to their picture and each one since then has been placed in a skinny shot glass next to it.

One of Gail’s daughters has this same connection to her grandparents through dimes. We send pictures of our latest dime finds to each other via text along with a short story. I sent her the picture of yesterday’s dime, and not long after that I got one back from her–this one was wedged in the crack of a table.

**

I get good ideas when I take my morning run/walk. Last night’s dream was still bouncing around in my head as I ran, stirring up more ideas. I came in the house ready to get them on paper, because ideas don’t always stick around. I left the house with CD music playing, and when I walked in the door, a lyric I’d heard dozens of times, but never noticed, jumped out at me: “Ill hold you in my dreams.”

I will. I am.

**

I long to dream about my parents in a way that brings them back to me. Except for this morning’s dream, whenever they show up in my dreams, it’s always as if they never left, so there is no grand reunion. It’s just another day of my life with my parents in it, as if they were still alive.

Gail says she rarely dreams of them. I doubt she sleeps enough to dream. Suzanne says she dreams about them, but it is as if they never died. The most memorable one she had is that, after a long absence, they showed up, having moved to a nearby town. When she asked them if they were moving back, they said, “No, we like it here. We plan to stay.”

We all long to connect with them again in grand style in a dream. However, we don’t get to order one up as if we are ordering at a restaurant. I remember visiting with a friend who had lost his young son. He longed to dream about him, he said, because this was the only way he could see him again.

If only we could put that order in, and expect it to be filled.

**

I hope that not a single one of you can relate to this strong desire to connect to a lost loved one. I hope none of you have ever experienced a loss of a loved one. But I doubt that. I am guessing that each one of you has had to let go of a loved one at some point in your past. For that, I am so sorry.

If, perhaps, you have not felt this pain, or even if you have, and you want to discount any of these “signs”–the dreams, the dimes, the cardinals, please be my guest. I have no proof that they mean anything. There is no science to back this up. Yet, I believe. And, if it brings you peace, I hope you believe, too.

Sweet dreams, my friends.

SIXTEEN CANDLES–PLUS FORTY MORE

Thirty-five years ago today, I stopped to see Gail at work at the Pizza Hut in Osborne. It was Good Friday, and I was driving home from college for Easter weekend. She appeared to be in a rush, but took a few minutes to visit. I could tell she didn’t have much time to chat, so I wrapped it up and went the rest of the way to our farm. She was a busy bee 35 years ago, just like she is now.

She was so busy, so rushed, as a matter of fact, that she forgot to wish me Happy Birthday. I was 21 that day. Suzanne would have been 16, and she probably remembered; I don’t remember that she didn’t. Mom and Dad always remembered, but few other people did. There wasn’t much fun to be had in a small Catholic town on Good Friday for a girl trying to celebrate her 21st birthday, but a few friends and I toasted to my legal status that day. I felt like the main character in the classic movie, Sixteen Candles.

I’ve never let Gail forget that day.

Today, however, is a different story. She hasn’t forgotten that I am 56 years old today. On our way to her home, we stopped in my college town to have lunch at our favorite spot, and we were joined by our dear newlywed friends who found each other later in life, and continue to exemplify the meaning of this very blog. They are still celebrating.

We have been celebrating my birthday all weekend. I am honored to observe my birthday this year on one of the most jubilant days of the year on the Christian calendar: Easter Sunday. We are celebrating that, too.

Celebrating is what we do, even sometimes when there is no occasion. On Saturday of this weekend, we made our own fun in her small town. We went cruising in both town and country in her vintage 1974 Chevrolet Nova, better known as “Lola.”

Gail creates an atmosphere of fun no matter where she is. Lola’s dash is metal, which thrills her because she can adorn it with magnets, just as she has done in Camp Gail, where we take our annual Sister Lode picture.

We met up with their friends at The Lucky Eleven in nearby Ludell,

And did a little car shopping while we were in town.

It should be road-ready in a few weeks.

As always, Gail showered me with a fabulous goodie bag of birthday gifts–she knows what I love.

Suzanne and I will celebrate later; we always do. Today, she is celebrating Easter with her daughter, so she is not with us.

Bonnie and Judy came along, as they like to do when Gail and I are together.

At the end of the day, my husband and I will celebrate my birthday and Easter with our youngest son and his beautiful, delightful new bride of two weeks.

It has been, and will continue to be a great day, I know.

*********

Age is a gift. I am never ashamed to admit my age. Neither is Gail; she proudly wears her 62 years, and will continue to do so. Suzanne doesn’t hesitate to share her over-50 status.

I gave this plaque to Gail a few years ago on her birthday. Such a profound message, no matter who and no matter what the age.

Every sunrise is a gift. Every day is a gift. Every new year we celebrate with a bigger number is a gift. Don’t ever hide that number. Today, mine becomes 56. Whatever yours is, make it a grand celebration.

Happy Easter, and whenever your day is, happy birthday to you.

WORDLE WOMEN

Close. Silly. Sweet. Funny. Happy. Tight. Trust.

These are all words I could use to describe my sisters and our relationships with each other. They are all fitting, and they all have five letters.

**

I am not one to jump on any bandwagons. I carefully decide if a new trend is good for me before I commit, which is why I resisted the new Wordle game and its accompanying craze that seems to be sweeping the nation. I held out, even when my neighbor, whom I walk with many mornings gave me her daily Wordle report. I held out, even though I am a self-professed word nerd. I held out, even though I make my living with words as a writer and a speech therapist. I didn’t get it, and didn’t understand what the fuss was all about.

I do now. So does Gail, and as of this week, Suzanne does, too.

Last month, my husband and I vacationed with his sister and her husband. We were together for a week, and both of them completed the Wordle puzzle early every morning. My curiosity was now piqued, having seen it in action. So, I gave it a whirl, and, along with good coffee, its now part of the reason I can’t wait to roll out of bed every morning.

My husband and I drink strong, black coffee every morning. We both savor its rich, deep taste, and sometimes, before bed, we will remark that we can’t wait to get up in the morning to have coffee. It’s that good. Now, along with the coffee, I can’t wait to get up to do the Wordle puzzle. I pour a cup of coffee upon waking, and head straight for the daily Wordle.

In case you are still resisting–just as I did, there is one five-letter word puzzle posted daily. Just one. You have six tries to guess it. If you miss, it will tell you which letters are in the word, and if they are in the right place.

As of today, I have played 27 games, and have solved all but two. Most days, it requires four attempts for me, but I have got it in as little as two, and as many as six. When it is solved, I feel a rush; a heady thrill, but for just a moment. Then, I realize I have to wait 24 hours for another one.

Oh, sure, I could play one of the multiple knock-off versions that are online, and I could play them all day. but that’s not what I’m in this for. I’m no sell-out, I’m waiting for the real thing. And I only get it once a day, which, because I am human, makes me want it more. As the silly and simple creatures we are, we always want what we can’t have, don’t we?

There is a fascinating Japanese word: ikigai. Its concept translates into your reason for being, your life purpose; your bliss. It is why you get out of bed in the morning.

While Suzanne and I continue to attempt to re-fashion our adult lives into a creation that lets us be who we were meant to be in order to find more reason to get out of bed every morning, Gail seems to continue to find joy in her daily rounds, always choosing optimism and cheer over any unrest about her livelihood, the unrest which has befallen her younger sisters. She rolls out of bed every morning, ready to greet another day with 110 percent. And, along with her coffee, she plays Wordle. I know, because we send each other our puzzles every day after we finish them. Usually around 7 a.m.

They can be shared directly from the web page, with the letters covered, like this:

Or, like we do, you can take a screen shot on your phone and send it that way, which we do, too.

Here is one of my best …and one of my worst.

**

The daily Wordle posts from the New York Times at midnight. While Gail is often up at that hour, I am not. However, both of us like to save it to kick off our morning with coffee. It is part of our ikigai. Suzanne hasn’t yet found a pattern, but does take a moment to complete it every day.

On the heels of St. Patrick’s Day, I must say there is a five-letter word that describes how I feel to have my sisters: lucky.

WHAT WE KNOW FOR SURE

WHAT WE KNOW FOR SURE

*Fun is doubled when there are two of us present to have it. It is tripled when all three of us are present.

*Unfortunately, Suzanne was not able to join us on our annual “March Forth” Colorado trip.

*She gave us her blessing to go on without her.

*Gail and I had fun x 2, or perhaps, on some other scale, it was exponentially increased. It’s hard to measure. Still, not as much fun without Suzanne.

*The weather was much better for our trip out than it was last year. As last year’s picture shows, we drove–and miraculously arrived–through a mountain snowstorm.

*As always, we are sure to add John Denver to the music mix while we are on the home stretch to our destination.

John will forever have the classic voice for this classic song, but we gave it our best in a sing-along.

*Stopping to take in this panoramic view of our destination is a must.

*Arrival at our favorite B&B–the Cripple Creek Hospitality House–is always a welcome relief from traveling. We have been guests here perhaps twenty times, and they treat us like family.

This is a classic photo from several years ago with all three of us.

*Bonnie and Judy, the sisters pictured on these wooden garage sale treasures, joined us once again. They like to tag along when Gail and I travel, but they stay at home when Suzanne joins us because there is no third sister for them. We realized they are indeed our doppelgangers from our younger days–look closely.

*Gail needs about half as much sleep as I do. She starts it in the wee hours of the morning while I am in my deep sleep mode, and finishes it when I am awake.

*To compensate for this lack of restoration, she rejuvenates herself by bringing fun to the blackjack table to be shared by all the other gamblers, especially fun-loving people like Jimmy.

The casinos do not allow pictures at the tables, so we captured a picture of Jimmy as he boarded the bus back.

*Gail brings fun to any party in so many forms. This time, she added “party-gras” beads to the mix. She had her entire blackjack table adorned with them.

*While we have no way to be sure, apparently a large gaming corporation believes that if they build it, the gamblers will come.

*Gail and I continue to come back to the casinos, with or without winnings, as do the people who fill these buses.

*Gail’s favorite is the Wheel of Fortune, and I have had good luck with the buffalo slot machines.

*No jackpots to speak of this time.

*Clearly, Suzanne is smarter than we are for not over-feeding the beasts when she does go to the casinos. She is no gambler.

*Gail and I always win at the shopping game. This year was no different, as we both found a few new jewelry treasures and other small souvenirs to bring home.

*The trip home began Sunday morning, and was interrupted by Mother Nature. We didn’t plan on spending the night at the Holiday Inn in Limon, Colorado, but when Interstate 70 was closed here, we had no choice.

The return trip started out with a beautiful snowfall, and then turned into this:
Highway 24 became increasingly hard to navigate as we approached Limon. As always, Gail drove on fearlessly, as I white-knuckled it in the passenger seat.
We couldn’t leave Bonnie and Judy in the cold car all night…And, if you look close, you will see that we are just across the road from this picture from several years ago on our Halloween trip.

*The trip was a success. Being together is all it takes.

*Sometimes, unexpected delays and factors out of our control can create a unique experience for Plan B. If we can find a way to connect with other stranded motorists like ourselves, we may be spearheading a big party in the lobby by sundown. We will let you know.

*Life is often about Plan B (or C, or D, etc.)

*March Fourth rolls around every year, and it is the only day of the year that tells us to do something, so we do: we March Forth. It has been 14 years since the March Fourth that changed our lives, the day our parents died.

*We have struggled, mourned and become stronger individually and together, and together, we are the strongest.

*There are dark days and nights in life, but the sun always comes up the next morning, and the morning after. The days always get brighter after the darkness. Always. In time. If you continue to March Forth.

SPELL IT SISTERS

I can’t speak for Gail or Suzanne, but I know I am trying to settle an old score. I have never recovered from narrowly missing the title of the Mitchell County (Kansas) grade school spelling champion. I placed second in the 4th grade in 1976, and never placed again. I never saw the lights of Topeka, never made it to the state bee.

I know this has been lurking around in my subconscious since then. When I was employed at the hospital in our small city over 15 years ago, I dreamed I won the “All-Hospital Spelling Bee.” I correctly spelled “insufferable,” then went on to claim the crown with a hard-to-spell patient’s last name. As if HIPAA would allow. Then, I clearly remember asking: “Does this mean I finally get to go to Topeka?”

Perhaps this helps illustrate my unfulfilled psychological need to win a spelling bee.

So, I keep trying. And, being the stellar spellers they are, as well as being as fanatical as I am about proper spelling, Gail and Suzanne are always up for some healthy adult spelling bee competition.

Suzanne and I have competed in two other adult spelling bees recently: It’s How You Play the Game, February 2nd, 2020 and Under Our Spell, September 1st, 2019. Gail wasn’t able to join us then, but she was with us last night.

We traveled down the road to my beloved Abilene, where Suzanne and I competed two years ago in their bee hosted by Neighbor-to-Neighbor, a very worthy local charity. Gail and I arrived early, enjoyed a Mexican lunch,

found some treasures at the multiple antique stores Abilene is known for,

then warmed up with my favorite libation at my favorite bar/grill honoring my favorite president.

We met Suzanne and the real fun began.

Gail’s daughter Lydia custom-designed these shirts for the occasion, and they didn’t go unnoticed.

We were a team of three, with six allowed on each of the twelve teams that competed. We were given a word, and had 15 seconds to arrive at an answer. Gail was our spelling spokeswoman, answering the call when the hostess with the microphone arrived at our table.

Each team was allowed to buy mulligans as insurance, which we knew was a good idea. Up until round four, these could be used to excuse a misspelled word to keep you in the game. After correctly spelling facetious, atrocious, formaldehyde and Freudian, we cashed in one of these get-out-of-jail-free cards after misspelling bourgeois.

It was largely a matter of the luck-of-the-draw, as we were fortunate to not have to correctly spell dachshund, whippoorwill, or babiche. We wouldn’t have been able to, as we attempted every word that was given to every other team.

The “tablecloths” were paper for formulating an answer, and for doodling as well.

There were several breaks to conduct the raffle drawings, with many splendid gifts donated by generous local businesses and individuals. Just as it was two years ago,

my lucky number was called for the coveted quilt.

I know I am a lucky–and warm–girl.

Snacks and drinks were served, and we are never ones to pass up the good stuff. Masking, as we all know, can create communication breakdowns–or comedic substitutions, so we enjoyed the seasoned “moisture” (oyster) crackers served in small cups when they came around.

The competition resumed. As several of the teams faltered and were no longer in the game, we stayed in two more rounds with maraschino and mausoleum. This round brought the number of teams down to three.

In just two more years, it will be a quadrennium since we first began competing in this bee. However, we didn’t know how to spell this four-year period, and this took us out of the running for first place, as our mulligans were useless at this later point in the game. One of the other two teams spelled coalesce correctly, which made them the champion after the other team misspelled debauchery.

At this point, to award the silver and bronze, a spell-down was had between us and that team. The final volley went back and forth, with them correctly spelling duodenum, machismo, encephalitis and picaresque. We correctly spelled hootenanny, connoisseur, tautology, portmanteau and kriegspiel.

When the host handed them vichyssoise, they were done. We would have been done after that word, too. I felt both excited for us, but knew that word was a bummer for them. Not many people in these parts eat this thick, cold French soup made of leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. Even fewer know how to spell it, I would guess.

Our kriegspiel, or wargame strategy was, first and foremost, to have fun. We certainly accomplished that. And we brought home a $60 purse.

It was already past my bedtime when the party ended, but I can stay up late when there is such fun to be had. I was wide awake, and with only that one Blue Moon beer in my system prior to the bee–I was the chauffeur for the 30-minute drive to drop Suzanne off, and 20 more minutes to my home. We headed first to the gas station to fill up Gail’s car. At the light, two fine young men in the car next to us alerted us to the fact that she had a headlight out. So, our kriegspiel to keep from being noticed was to take the back roads, and it worked.

Just a mile from my home, Gail and I had to take a moment to capture another “moony” Kansas night on film, as the crescent moon hung low in the western sky. When they were young, her daughters called this the “fat fingernail moon” and it brought back those good memories for her. The elements of the memorable evening, the second place prize, abundant laughter and now this beautiful nightscape coalesced into a perfect alchemy.

And, as always, the time spent with my sisters is the maraschino on top.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE KANSAS

I didn’t think it was very funny, but he did redeem himself by repeating several times that the people in Kansas are as nice as they come, or something to that effect. I listen to this speaker on the radio every weekday morning; we’ll call him “Kevin.” He typically injects humor into his two-minute morning ditties, but this one wasn’t so funny to me.

He was traveling from Tennessee to Colorado, which necessitated driving all the way through Kansas. “Hundreds of miles of nothing,” he said. He even tired of seeing our breadbasket crop: wheat. Clearly, he doesn’t get it.

“Close your eyes, and I am going to give you a mental picture of what it’s like.” Then he was silent for a moment. “That’s what it was like.”

You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes right now–I didn’t even close them, either.

I guess the splendor of The Wheat State sometimes takes special eyes to see, unless you are a Kansan to the core, like my sisters and I are.

We were all born and raised here. ‘I’s born in Osborne,’ we can all say.

Except for the college semester on an exchange to New Mexico, and the year in Philadelphia, I am a lifelong Kansas girl. Gail and Suzanne have never lived anywhere else. While we do enjoy getting away to visit other states, Kansas will always be in our hearts as home.

“Kansas” is a Native American name meaning “People of the South Wind.” Now, if you have read enough of this blog, you know that Gail and Suzanne love the wind, and I loathe it. So they claim that title with pride and joy–but not me. It’s one of the few things I don’t like about Kansas. Gail has said, “I love the wind so much, I’m thinking about changing my name to ‘Gale Force Winds.” I can’t even dignify that with a response.

Aside from the blasting wind and the sometimes-brutal winter weather, I love our climate. We have all four seasons in full splendor, with annual temperatures ranging from about minus 10 degrees to around 110 degrees, give or take a few degrees. I know of few other places in the country with this range.

As I write today, Friday January 28th, it is beautifully sunny, calm and 41 degrees. I was even able to put my laundry out to dry today, one of my farm-girl traits I will never abandon.

I will hang out laundry again tomorrow, one of the first things I will do to begin the festivities before my husband and I embark on a field trip: tomorrow is the 161st birthday of our great state, having become a state in 1861. I am planning a day-long birthday party to celebrate. Gail, Suzanne and I were not able to celebrate together, but my husband was available and willing to embark on this adventure with me.

To The Stars Through Difficulties is the translation of our state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera.

Sunday, 10:30 AM: The birthday party yesterday was a hit. We left about 10:00 AM, and returned home about 8:00 PM. He likes to drive and I like to be chauffeured, so it worked out well. Except that he didn’t know where he was going until I told him where to turn. I had the day-long itinerary planned, but he didn’t know the plan. After almost 28 years of marriage, surprises are hard to come by, so I purposely kept him in the dark, and he didn’t complain. He was a good sport, knowing we were long overdue for a day-long date.

Our first stop was 45 minutes away at a splendidly beautiful place that I had driven by, but never explored. Geary State Fishing Lake is a few miles south of I-70 on Highway 77 south of Junction City, and it is home to what many consider the most beautiful waterfall in the state. It takes a short hike from the parking lot, but it is well worth it. The falls were mostly frozen, but this was magnificent in its own right.

We plan to come back when we can spend more time exploring, and we highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for the (partially) hidden natural treasures of Kansas.

Returning to I-70, we headed about 20 miles further east, and turned north toward Manhattan. Along the way, there is a stunning panoramic vista of the Konza Prairie, a tallgrass natural wonder that is also a research station for nearby Kansas State University, as well as a popular hiking mecca. I have featured several hikes on these trails in earlier posts.

While Manhattan offers its own wonder, we skirted this college town–our son’s alma mater and Kansas’s own Little Apple–to head further east on Highway 24, arriving in this beautiful burg just 12 miles further:

After a delicious lunch and Kansas-brewed beer at this fine establishment,

We took a stroll down the iconic Yellow Brick Road,

then crossed the street to this mecca for anyone who likes the Wizard of Oz, as it is Kansas’s most notable film.

It was informative and entertaining, providing much history and trivia we didn’t already know. The Wizard of Oz is considered the most viewed movie in the world, having reached over one billion people across the globe.

We met these awesome, hard-core Kansans at the museum. Eden and Perry took their Kansas Day celebration to the next level, as shown in this picture:

If you live close to, or are traveling close to Wamego, Kansas, this museum is a must if you haven’t already been there.

Heading north out of Wamego on Highway 99, we stopped to see this hand-dug well in Westmoreland, then continued on north and east, picking up highway 9 to Blue Rapids.

If not for this guidebook, written by my friends and Kansas explorers extraordinaire, Marci and WenDee, we wouldn’t have known about this natural wonder outside of Blue Rapids, along the Big Blue River:

Alcove Spring is a natural spring in a beautifully wooded area, just a short hike off the gravel road that leads to the parking lot. Knowing it was the perfect place for their needs at that time, the ill-fated Donner Party even spent some time there in 1846. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and rightfully so. We plan to return when we have more time, as the hiking along the multiple trails would easily fill an entire day.

The guidebook also informed us that the city “square” in Blue Rapids is not really a square at all. In fact, it is the only circular city square in the state of Kansas, with the streets extending from it like spokes on a wheel.

Now, I would be lying if I told you that part of my motivation to create this trip was to allow me to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, one that many women enjoy as immensely as I do: shopping.

I had heard so much about Sunflower Mercantile just 12 miles further on Highway 9 in Barnes, Kansas, on the same radio station as the comedian. Their advertisements enticed me, and I made it a must-see/must-shop destination for someday. Their antique/new/used combination was right up my alley.

Since I had the power to make someday today, we headed there after Blue Springs. It’s a good thing I budgeted our time on paper, because, while it seemed we had so much of it to go to these places, turns out it really is true that time does fly when you are having fun, and what was supposed to be an hour in this awesome store, turned into 25 minutes when we arrived there at 4:35 instead of 4:00, knowing they closed at 5:00.

It’s an even better thing that the owner was willing and planning already to stay open a bit later. More awesome than that, however, is the fact that, unbeknownst to me until I arrived, I already knew her; I met her through Marci and WenDee. Gloria and I had a great time catching up, and I left with a few treasures, including another addition to my growing Fiestaware collection.

Heading out of Barnes around 5:15, we proceeded on to our next and final stop, the only one I had already told my husband about, because we had already decided not long ago that we needed to go there:

We arrived in Clay Center, Kansas just before sundown, another splendid Kansas sunset that continues to make this natural wonder one of Kansas’s most beautiful skyscapes.

It’s not fair to say we saved the best for last, because every stop was magnificent in its own right. However, after a full afternoon–without snacks, even–we were hungry again. And, as we typically are on Saturday evenings, a bit thirsty, too. We were drawn to this place because we both savor the taste of their most famous libations: locally brewed craft beers. Hands down, we both agreed they were top-quality, perfectly flavored beers.

The food was equally as tasty and perfectly flavored. Their surf-and-turf special was just what my husband craved, and the fish and chips on my plate were among the tastiest I’ve ever had–and I frequently order them when I dine out. Their service was fabulous, fast and friendly. Without hesitation, I can say that we will be going back for more of their tasty food and beer.

We had hoped to see the murals that the city of Clay Center boasts, as they have many beautifully drawn murals around town. It was almost dark, and we were hungry, so those will have to wait until next time. We did see this one on our way out of town:

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If I understood it right, the legend of the “Kansas Nice” sticker goes like this: a visitor from another state commented on how “nice” Kansans are. He said, “There’s nice, and then there’s Kansas nice.” We get it. We stand out for our welcoming friendliness, smiles and kindness. We reach out to make newcomers feel welcome. We help our neighbors. We aren’t in it just for ourselves. Just as “Kevin” said on his radio show, “You couldn’t ask for nicer people.”

The natural beauty of Kansas is one thing that may need to be shown to the unaided eyes, but our “nice” is obvious even to someone who couldn’t wait to reach the Colorado border.

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Gail likes Kansas for all these reasons, too. She wanted to be sure you knew, too, that she loves the thunderstorms, blizzards, and any kind of Kansas storm. The more intense, the better. Of course, strong winds make it as good as it gets for her.

Gail, Suzanne and I are born and raised Kansas girls, and this is our home. Mom and Dad were born and raised here, too. Family ties run deep for all of us; our roots and loved ones are here. We do like to travel to other states,

but there is no greater feeling than coming home to Kansas.

Suzanne prides herself on her ability to rapidly name each of our 105 counties, and to identify them by their two-letters on our state license plate. This was her contribution when I asked for favorite Kansas pictures:

She can be such a smart-ass sometimes, but we love her for that.

Gail’s friend Jan took these two magnificent pictures of our beautiful state:

And Gail captured these pictures of the Kansas sky:

It can be sunny here, as well as moony. Both day and night skies can paint beautiful scenes.

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Even though we know there may be a lot more “Kevins” out there who fail to realize the natural beauty of Kansas, we fully get it. The Sunflower State/Wheat State/Ad Astra Per Aspera State continues to shine as a beautiful wonder of nature, and we will do our best to continue to shine as “Kansas Nice.”

We welcome all you “Kevins” out there to come visit Kansas. We are up for the challenge.

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For Gail, Suzanne and me, there’s no place like home.

Thanks to all the merchants and employees for allowing us to celebrate our state’s birthday with them. Also, the guidebook pictured above is a must-have for anyone who wants to get the scoop on any and every place in Kansas. It is a great gift as well. It is available in independent bookstores in Kansas, many Kansas merchants, and on their website as well: http://www.kansassampler.org.