HOME Swheat HOME

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HOME SWHEAT HOME

Yesterday for lunch, I enjoyed a turkey sandwich. For dinner—or supper, as we call it on the farm, I had a juicy burger in a soft bun. I savored a sliver of single crust raisin cream pie for dessert.

Last week, our family had take-home pizza, and we enjoyed every bite. I made a cake for dessert, and today, we plan to partake of a loaf of whole-wheat take-and-bake bread.

All these goodies are made possible courtesy of wheat, the staple crop of Kansas.

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Yesterday, after I enjoyed that turkey sandwich, I took off for my annual trip to the harvest field. My brothers had an afternoon of cutting left; harvest took place this year in between the rains. I was worried they would finish before the weekend, but there were a few hours of harvest left for me to enjoy. I haven’t missed a harvest since 1990. It is the high point of the year on the farm, the time of year that brings back my fondest farm-girl memories.

Along with our four brothers, Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on this farm in north-central Kansas. It is now a fourth-generation Kansas family farm, and this heritage gives me untold pride. Two of our four brothers continue to demonstrate stellar stewardship of our family legacy, and I cannot express in words how grateful I am to them for that. Our nephews show promise to maintain this legacy in the future, and this sense of family attachment to our parcel of the Kansas earth is something that will continue to give me a secure sense of home.

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The house we grew up in–the house that built us, was over 100 years old when we lived there. It housed us all for many years, but it was time for it to come down. It’s spirit lives on, and one of our brothers lives on with his family in a new house built just up the driveway from where it stood. A garden now occupies that spot, a fitting tribute to the plot of land that grew our family.

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At the crest of the hill that slopes down on one’s final mile to our farm, the panoramic view is one that never fails to warm me. It was already 90-plus degrees, but I welcome this kind of warmth, no matter what the temperature is.

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Much of our family’s land lies “over west” from our farm, the term we have always used to refer to the farm ground several miles west of our farm. Today, however, the remaining wheat was within view of the farm; I don’t remember a trip where I was able to enjoy the proximity of the farm for my afternoon in the harvest field.   The two combines worked across the road from each other, and the two semi-trucks were kept busy being filled and refilled.

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I hopped into my brother’s combine when I arrived; his son ran the other combine across the road. This time in the cab is the best view of the action, as the reels comb the wheat into the header to begin the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

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The tractor-driven grain cart allows the combine to continue cutting without stopping to drive to the semi.  The tractor pulls up alongside the combine, moving forward along with the combine as it simultaneously dumps a load and continues to fill the bin.

A local farmer once told our dad the story of his city-slicker relative who came to the farm for harvest, and, upon observing this sight, commented:

“It’s amazing how that reel pulls the combine through the wheat.”

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Amazing indeed if that were how it worked, but it’s more complicated than that. Life is usually never as easy at it looks to the unaware eye, and this situation is no different. In the end, though, the wheat is separated from the chaff, carried to the bin and awaits its turn to be dumped into the truck.

Some of the wheat is stored on the farm in a bin as seed wheat for next year’s crop,

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Business decisions between the farmers are made at all phases of the harvest.

and the rest is transported to the elevator down the road.

The other half of my harvest agenda is a trip in the big rig to the elevator.

The truck is first weighed and the driver identifies the account,

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Then the wheat is dumped from the truck into the pit.

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The hopper is wide open to dump the wheat down into the pit

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Where it awaits its vertical trip up into the elevator and is eventually hauled away by train.

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The elevator hand closes the hopper, and we’re off for another weigh-in to determine the amount of grain deposited.

And then we head back to the field to do it all over again multiple times. Except this year, there was only one more load remaining. My brother informed the elevator hand he would be back only one more time; their harvest work is almost done this year for my brother, and for most area farmers.

This year, unlike any other year I can remember, I got to savor the sweet smell of fresh-cut alfalfa, as the farmer they hire to swath this beautiful and fragrant livestock feed did his rounds in the field next to the wheat field we were in.

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My brothers don’t own a swather; it is one of the few jobs they hire out.

Our younger brother took a panoramic video of our farm from atop the grain bin:

 

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Knowing that my family—and that grilled burger will be waiting for me for supper, I head out after the elevator trip. Not, however, before I make a cruise through our small hometown.

The long hill to town marks the ascent out of the beautiful valley our farm inhabits.

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At the top of the hill, four miles away, our hometown pops into view.

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The warm memories of my youth flood back as I see the school we all graduated from,

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The church we all grew up in,

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And our parents’ final resting place.

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Our childhood home may no longer stand, but this community—the community that built us—still stands. Despite the demise of much of Small Town America, Tipton, Kansas has continued to survive and thrive as the even-smaller-than-it-was-when-we-grew-up-there dot on the map, but as a community, its members know the importance of keeping it alive.

I will forever be grateful for our beginnings in this town, and to its current members for sustaining its legacy with hard work and pride.

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Even though I grew up on a farm, I am helpless to drive a combine or truck. For the most part, our four brothers helped Dad, and the girls helped Mom. I can, however, still make a mean cherry pie and fry up a big chicken dinner on command.

Gail, however, was the Swiss Army Knife who could do it all because she had to. She could probably even figure out how to haul wheat in that big rig if she had to; she learned how to drive a smaller grain truck that is mostly phased out of most modern farm operations. She doesn’t have a CDL that would allow her to legally drive it, but in a pinch, Gail’s resourcefulness would surface. I wouldn’t get near that driver’s seat, but Suzanne reports she did drive a short distance on a dirt road with a lot of assistance from our brother in the passenger seat.

The high-tech combines of today may confound Gail, but I know she handled the older ones with ease.  Both Suzanne and I attempted a quick spin in the combine several summers ago, but again with assistance right next to us in the cab.  Another one of our brothers dutifully and gladly takes a harvest leave every summer from his gig as an airline captain to pilot that behemoth machine, which is much appreciated by our farmer brothers. While he has an autopilot in the cockpit, the combine requires hands-on attention at all times.

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Some of the big cottonwoods still stand on the farm,

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And the woods behind the house where we explored, hiked, built forts and sometimes hid out still stand.

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Our farm-girl heritage still stands within each of us. We still know the value of hard work, we aren’t afraid to answer the call in nature if we have to—our house had one bathroom for nine people, and we know where our bread comes from–and the work involved in bringing it to us.

I have to wrap up and enjoy my Sunday dinner. My Mark-of-all-trades husband cooked up a steak lunch for us—dinner, as it is called on the farm—complete with a loaf of take-and-bake bread.

I know where it came from.

Swheat.

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THE THRILL OF THE FIND

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THE THRILL OF THE FIND

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” –Unknown

It’s that time of year again. And, despite all that 2020 has had taken away in its first half, the beloved garage sale did not fall prey to our new culture of COVID. There may be a few changes, and requests to distance and wear masks, but the all-American garage sale is back.

Suzanne and I are thrilled.

Garage sales were a distant reality when we were growing up. For starters, we lived in a rural area outside of a small Kansas town. And—perhaps most importantly, it seems that when we were kids, people didn’t consume material goods only to sell them a short time later in a garage sale. Most families—ours included—bought only what they needed, and used it until it was no longer able to be used. When we outgrew clothes, they were passed down to the next kid, or perhaps given away to someone else’s kids.

Suzanne reminisced about the first garage sale she ever went to. She was ten years old at most, and we were in Wichita visiting our grandparents. There was a garage sale across the street from them, and she walked over with Mom and our younger brother.

“The idea of shopping in someone else’s driveway was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and I thought ‘why don’t more people do this?’”  she recalled. “And then it was probably at least ten or fifteen years before I went to another one.”   She has loved them ever since.

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There are almost three times more storage facilities in America than there are McDonald’s restaurants.   We have become a culture of “stuff,” as evidenced by our need to store it outside our homes. Storage facilities have boomed since 2011, per U.S. Census data regarding private construction spending. In 2011, $241 million was spent on mini-storage facility construction. In 2018, that number had increased to nearly $5 billion. Americans need more space for their stuff.

There is my trivia for this post. My hope is that it helps you understand the surge in the “stuff” that shows up in garage sales. Suzanne and I aren’t complaining, it provides the basis for one of our favorite summer pastimes.

Gail is not a garage sale-er. She does enjoy estate sales; she even has the power to create one when there was not one planned. I’ll explain.

Perhaps you remember that she purchased “Lola,” a 1974 Chevy Nova from the family of a dear woman named Lola, who had moved to the nursing home in her small town. She treated herself to this gem as an early 60th birthday gift.

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As Gail does with people she gets to know, she got to know Lola’s family quite well. So, when Lola passed away several months ago, Gail was in touch with her son, who was making arrangements to clear out his mother’s house and eventually sell it and her remaining possessions. Gail, in her usual style, stepped in and offered to take a few things off his hands. What started as a few small transactions became a one-woman estate sale.

 

The fixtures and the furniture were too much for Gail to pass up.

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The retro kitchen speaks for itself.

On top of many treasures that Lola’s son sold to her, Lola’s house is now hers as well.

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#ALLTHINGSLOLA

It may become a vacation getaway, a hunting lodge, a weekend rental, or all the above. It may become a hangout for Gail. With Gail, all things are possible.   And these are all good things.

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Suzanne and I had a grand plan for our Saturday morning garage sales. The small town of Lindsborg, Kansas is just 30 minutes from my home, and this “Little Sweden” community was hosting its annual community-wide garage sale event.

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We were in.

We arrived early, and I found my greatest treasure of the day at the very first sale. It seemingly jumped off the table into my hands as I walked up the driveway.

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As a bonus, we saw someone we knew at the first sale. We even got to see her again at another garage sale later in the morning.

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Lucy was Gail’s area supervisor when she managed the Osborne Pizza Hut.  Suzanne worked there, too, so she knew her then as well.  Now retired, she lives in Lindsborg and she enjoys her time off doing whatever she pleases, including going to garage sales, and spending time with her granddaughter, Chloe.

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If this picture looks familiar, that’s because Lucy made the four-hour trip to Gail’s birthday party in February, shortly before the COVID shut-down. Gail makes friends even with her own boss, which likely doesn’t surprise you, if you know Gail.

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We found Lucy for the second time in this beautiful outdoor haven, in the courtyard of a local museum, dedicated to a local artist.  I found a few other treasures there, too.

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He sculpted this statue of our favorite saint–Mom’s too, Saint Francis.

Suzanne’s favorite find of the day cost her an entire quarter:

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This picture was the second runner-up:

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The town is a beautiful burg, with unparalleled Swedish—and American—charm.

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If you haven’t visited, I highly recommend you do.

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As noon approached, the sales dwindled, and we had plans to scoot on down the road to Hutchinson, where Suzanne needed to pick up a small dresser she had purchased at a garage sale when nearby Inman had their city-wide sales. She went with a friend, and left it at her house. After a delicious lunch and the dresser pick-up, we got to go to my favorite store:

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It had been over five months, much too long.

We’re already jonesing for the next round of sales. Even though Suzanne is the minimalist, she enjoys finding new treasures when they feel just right. Unlike her sisters, she wants to find only a few things, and she is satisfied.

I typically overdo it, and send a few things to my give-away pile as soon as I get home. But that’s part of the thrill for me, the thrill of the find. Which likely explains why I love to shop at my favorite store pictured above.

I just wish I wasn’t thrilled by so many treasures, and so does my husband. But he knows me well enough to know what brings me small measures of joy, and he knows I will pass them on in due time.

Life is full of treasures, and I don’t mean just at garage sales. Greater than that, there are many joys to take from life, many treasures that can’t be purchased at a garage sale or any store.

Whatever it takes, I hope you search for and find the meaningful treasures in your life. You’ll know them by the thrill of the find.

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THE BEAUTY OF JUNE

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THE BEAUTY OF JUNE

“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.”                L.M. Montgomery

Second only to July in my book, June is one of the most splendid months of the year.

My mind and heart hearken back to my childhood, where June meant the beginning of the three carefree months of no school, hot weather, picking cherries, swimming lessons, Father’s Day and the beginning of wheat harvest. The cherry-picking and swimming lessons weren’t always good memories then, but they are now. I love to swim, and I am so glad our parents took the time and effort to make sure we knew how. I was scared of the water when I first started, but not anymore.

I hated to pick cherries then, but I love it now. I remember Mom waking us up early to beat the heat with our cherry-picking. We climbed our two cherry trees with a small bucket, and didn’t get down until it was full. This was followed by an afternoon of pitting cherries at the kitchen sink. It was torture then; I love it now. My husband planted a cherry tree for me in our backyard several years ago, but the frost got the blooms this spring, so there will be no cherries this year.   I did just find a bag in the freezer from last year, so that will still make a good pie.

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LAST YEAR’S CHERRY HARVEST

Today, June 21st, 2020, is Father’s Day. My family gathered at our in-laws to celebrate the fathers in the family. Good food, drink and company were enjoyed by all, as we always do when we gather there. Father’s Day has become a sweet-bitter observation, instead of the mostly bitter day that I felt for the first handful of years after our dad was gone.

To anyone who has recently lost their father, who feels only the bitter, my heart breaks for you. But, I want to let you know that time heals, and in the coming years, Father’s Day will be sweet-bitter for you, too.

I promise.

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LAST YEAR’S WHEAT HARVEST

I remember celebrating most Father’s Days of my youth in the harvest fields. Dad and my brothers would be hard at work cutting and hauling wheat. This year, harvest has not yet started on our farm, nor is there much harvesting happening where I live, 80 miles south of there. The wheat harvest begins first in the south and moves north as the climate dictates.

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30 miles south of my home, a farmer is moving his combine to the field to cut. Note the red machine, vs. the green. My International-Harvester farm-girl heart will always favor the red ones.   I don’t mind getting stuck behind slow-moving farm machinery, because they feed me, too.

Today, however, the climate here is one of unrest, as we wait for severe thunderstorms to roll in, further delaying the onset of harvest.

Aside from the fly in the ointment that storms cause for harvest-hungry farmers, these storms are another thing I like about June.

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Garage sales and lemonade stands are another sure sign of summer.

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Last night was the summer solstice. The annual “longest day of the year.” The sun shone longer in the sky than any other day, and I always observe this peak day. The days will slowly, almost imperceptibly become shorter day by day until the winter solstice occurs on December 21st. I crave sunlight, and welcome each lengthening day until the summer solstice, and now, knowing that the days will get shorter, I will again welcome the longer days starting in December.

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We were at our brother’s house near our family farm for the last year’s winter solstice. Here, the sun is setting on the shortest day of the year.

July will arrive in nine days. So will our annual guests. I will eagerly welcome both, and we will celebrate the first week of July together.

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July, with it’s honor of being the hottest month of the year in Kansas, as well as a week with some of my favorite friends, Independence Day—my second favorite holiday, and perhaps a family vacation, is my favorite month of the year. My three favorite things about Kansas are July, June and August—in that order.

Because I was born in mid-April, I came into being in July. Perhaps this is why I love July so much. Independence Day, with its fireworks, food, family and freedom, should be savored year-round, keeping its spirit alive in our hearts all year, just as we should with Christmas.

Independence–to me, means letting go of those things that hold us back and limit our happiness. With or without fireworks, it means freedom. None of us who enjoy this liberty should ever take it for granted.

As I anticipate another Fourth of July, I am delighting in decorating my home in a patriotic theme. I started on Flag Day—another great thing about June that occurs on the 14th. Today—Father’s Day, I am holding the memory of our dad close to my heart. I am also celebrating the father who made me a mother, and doing all I can to savor the beauty in every day, no matter how many minutes of sunshine it offers me.

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Our dad enjoying a lunch break in the harvest field.

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Last night’s fiery sunset was a fitting exit for our brightest star, shining longer than any other day of the year.

Happy summer solstice, happy summer, happy Father’s Day, and Happy June to you.

It’s a beauty of a month.

SIMPLE CELEBRATIONS

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SIMPLE CELEBRATIONS

It’s party time. If a party can be defined by a group of people celebrating an event or occasion, then yes, it is indeed time once again to party.

And by party, I recommend staying within the recommended guidelines that we are all aware of.

I had a little party at my home this weekend. A dear friend since childhood was celebrating her birthday, and I had the privilege of helping her do just that. Shari was traveling through on her way to see her parents in our hometown, so she spent Friday afternoon and evening with us. We even continued the celebration yesterday morning. I will expand on that later.

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Birthdays are obvious times to celebrate. Marking another successful trip around the sun should always be a festive occasion. It was for her, and the rest of us as well. Our neighbor was celebrating his birthday as well, so our group of eight serenaded him in his yard with a birthday carol at his front door.

Gail and her 20-year old daughter Lydia were here, too. Lydia had her every-four-month checkup with her endocrinologist in Salina, and she got continued good news regarding the battle she continues to wage–and win–against Type One diabetes. That’s cause for celebration.

Suzanne came out to spend the evening with us as well. If you recall, Suzanne’s encouragement to Lydia when she began her diabetes treatment was this: “Only the coolest girls get to see an endocrinologist.” Another occasion to celebrate is that Suzanne’s recent visit to her endocrinologist in Wichita brought good news as well: almost eight years after her thyroid cancer diagnosis, she remains healthy.

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Living in our strange new COVID world, finding reasons to celebrate any cause large or small is a way to keep looking at the sunny side. Despite all the bad news we are continually hammered with, there is still good news out there. Here’s an example: an elderly, extended family member of ours was dismissed from the hospital back to his home after his battle with COVID. That’s good news, even though the diagnosis was bad news we all naively thought would never strike our family. And, as more bonus good news, other family members who helped take care of him before they knew the diagnosis have tested negative.

And here’s further reason to celebrate with good news about my health: the tick that hitched a ride on my ankle yesterday morning was easily and completely removed. My husband, armed with the tweezers, plucked him out while Gail talked me down from the ledge the tick put me on.

It’s our choice. All day, every day. We can choose to celebrate the positive or magnify the negative. It’s always our choice.

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Mother Nature continues to offer us unlimited reasons to celebrate the beauty in every day. She has carpeted the earth in a lush green with the recent rains, and vibrant green leaves adorn the trees and bushes. Flowers are blooming, and summer is almost here.

Given this generous gift from her, my friend Shari and I decided to accept Mother Nature’s gift, and hike the trails at nearby Wilson Lake. Hiking is something we both enjoy, something we plan to do more of.

Suzanne went home Friday night, and Gail and Lydia stayed overnight with us. As a bonus, a friend of Gail’s since childhood came out for coffee Saturday morning. We all visited for a bit, then Shari and I took off for our hike.

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It was a beautiful day, and the state park area around the lake was re-opened, with many other people enjoying the outdoor space as well.

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The trails were lush in places,

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Rocky and barren in others,

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But always beautiful.

We were hungry hikers at the end of the trail, so we savored the made-from-scratch German lunch at a local restaurant aptly named Made From Scratch. I hadn’t sat down for a meal in a restaurant since March 15th, so this was a celebration of sorts for me as well.

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Celebrate. Whatever occasion, reason, victory or birthday, and within sanctioned limits in these COVID times, find a way to find the good, and share it in a small group now, and hopefully a larger one later.  We all need each other, and we all need to celebrate.  I think most of us have realized that in these last few isolated months.

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MAKING PEACE WITH OUR HAIR

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MAKING PEACE WITH OUR HAIR

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 is going to be a red-letter day for me.

The stars and planets will align, the seas will part, and the angels will sing—just for me.

At 4:00 p.m. that day, I will get a haircut.

Glory hallelujah.

I get my hair cut every 3-3 ½ weeks. A day or two past that, and all bets are off. Quite simply, it just doesn’t work any other way, and I’m better off not leaving the house.

My last haircut was March 25th. On Thursday, when I get back in the chair, it will be almost two months since my last cut. And, if this is the worst thing that has happened to me in that time, then I consider myself extremely fortunate, because I am.

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Gail and Suzanne are in the same boat, just like everyone else. Suzanne, in her usual style, is planning to experiment with her hair length and style, and she is not disclosing any further details at this time. She does, however, color her own hair; she has for years. She claims she has gray to cover, but I’ve never seen it.

Gail is going with the flow, and is in no hurry to get back to her stylist. And Gail, in contrast to her two younger sisters, has no gray hair. Not even one. I looked recently. And, she doesn’t color her hair. It is the same brown it has been for years.

Now, if you know Gail, you know she lets things slide off her back, choosing not to perceive much of anything as stress, things that would be stressors for lesser people—like me. Which explains why she has no gray, and I do. But not much, so I am not going to complain. I have dabbled in self-coloring, but right now, it is the real deal, with the last vestiges of color having grown out long ago.

Our mother, at 71, had very little gray hair for a woman her age. I am nearly a physical clone of my mother, so I must have inherited that from her.  I’ll take it.

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I can’t find it at the moment, but I promise you that when I do, I will post my fourth-grade picture with a stylish do that is similar to the one I have been forced to wear lately. In that picture, my bangs are pulled over from left to right with a barrette into a crisp, nearly right-angle, much like the effect the necessary hairpin is causing in my hair in this picture, taken earlier today. I even tried to duplicate the cheesy grin in the picture.

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In my last post, GROW, I wrote about plant growth. Hair growth, as another of nature’s wonders, may not be as beautiful. Thankfully, we have talented professionals who make hair cutting and styling an art form. Sharolyn, my beautician extraordinaire, is one of them. And, once every July when she visits, my dear friend Amy works her magic on my hair. I don’t know what I would do without these two wizards. When the thought of NOT getting a haircut for several months became a likely reality with the shutdown, I will confess, that for one or two fleeting moments, I was sure I would have to take matters—and a pair of scissors—into my own hands. So far, I have resisted that urge.

Suzanne and I were recalling the morning years ago when our little brother woke up with his bangs askew after going to bed with them wet.   We laughed at him, but he didn’t think it was funny. He was probably four years old, and he did take matters—and scissors—into his own hands. He left the room quietly, and came back a few minutes later without bangs. That recollection has kept me from cutting my own hair in these last few weeks.

I think I can hang on until Wednesday.

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I have written about one of Mom’s favorite books several times. Simple Abundance is a daybook, with a page of wisdom for every day of the year. Some days are more meaningful than others. Some are profound, and some haven’t stirred much thought after I read them. My birthday page—April 17th—was one such easily dismissed page. Until this year, that is. Making Peace With Your Hair didn’t speak to me until several weeks ago, when I was supposed to have my hair cut the day before.

Clearly, this entry has heightened meaning for me. I will never again take the services of my beautician for granted. Again, this inconvenience is small potatoes compared to the health and economic crises many people are facing in these crazy times, so I will let it be.

I’ll keep the peace with my hair no matter how it looks, and I will continue to pray, hope and wish for peace in these crazy times.

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Ban Breathnach, S.  (1995). Simple Abundance. New York: Warner Books

 

 

 

 

 

GROW.

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GROW.

Ah, spring. Nature is fresh and new again, with lush green carpet covering the earth, and beautiful green hanging from the trees, bushes, shrubs and plants. Without fail, this promise is renewed every year. Winter backs down, making way for the return of spring. It may seem during the depths of winter that warmer weather will never come back again, bringing its green with it, but it always does. Always.

Gail has been busy with her outdoor gardening. The words Gail and busy naturally flow in the same sentence, so this should not surprise you. She sent me a teaser of what her yard and garden have in store:

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Suzanne, alas, had nothing to offer me. Her sole effort at growing anything is an indoor plant with just one leaf, and she declined to send a picture. And that’s okay.

I will confess that I am not an outdoor gardener. I am fortunate to have a husband who delights in gardening, so I let him do all the work. I simply sit back, and wait to enjoy the fruits of his labor. I know how lucky I am.

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I am, however, an indoor gardener. I have an abundance of green plants indoors, with this “ZZ” plant as my favorite. Its genus name is “Zamioculcas,” and it is also known as the “Zanzibar gem.” I like that name best.

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I found another smaller ZZ plant about a year ago to add to my collection. I repotted it, and set it next to the big one.  When Gail visited, I gave her a starter from the larger plant.  It is growing slowly, but surely–just like mine is.

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We recently remodeled one room; rearranging décor and another plant as well. I wanted to give the small ZZ plant its own stage; it seemed overshadowed by the larger one. This relocation drew my attention to the new growth on the smaller plant. I hadn’t noticed the new bud until now. Something told me to pay close attention to it. Something told me to take a picture.

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The next day, I noticed the slight, but measurable growth. So, I took another picture.

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And another one the next day. And, of course, the next day, and the next day…

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When I took the time to look and really see, the growth became a small miracle, unfolding every day right in front of my eyes.

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Many of my speech therapy patients are several months into their recovery from a stroke, or head injury, or perhaps treatment for brain cancer or other neurological disease. When they become discouraged, expressing that they feel like they haven’t made any progress, I remind them of where they started. When they take a moment to go back to recall those more difficult days at the beginning, they quickly realize they have indeed made progress, and this often buoys their determination to continue to fight to make more gains, to continue to grow.

The promise of spring is this: nature will renew itself every year, no matter what our personal, societal or universal struggles are. The current global pandemic couldn’t stop spring, nor could it stop the bud on my ZZ plant from opening up into glorious, glossy green leaves.

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If we are aware of it, there are so many ways to see growth in nature, both indoors and out.   And, if we pay close attention to the efforts we have made to grow as individuals, we can see our own progress. It may seem as slow and invisible as the bud on my plant, but it’s there. It may seem non-existent like it does for some of my patients, but if you look back to see where you started, you will likely not want to go back to the earlier, more difficult days.

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For myself, I am grateful to remain healthy. I hope all of you are, too. Most of us, however, may feel a sense of uncertainty about the future, and with good reason. I think we all know that the old normal is gone, and we don’t yet know what the new normal will look or feel like.

I have learned from the crises in my life that even though we have no choice but to face them, and also that the old normal is gone, there may be a grand opportunity for personal growth awaiting, but is disguised at the present moment as a crisis.

I was reminded by a Facebook post that, according to a popular psychological theory, that we must first meet our basic physical, mental and emotional needs before we can expect this growth.

This helped me understand that while I do have extra time right now due to decreased work, it has been difficult for me to focus on reaching some lofty writing goals I set forth a long time ago, goals that involve transcending this low-grade, but ever-present uncertainty and anxiety about what the future holds.

So, I cut myself some slack. This doesn’t mean I won’t work toward these goals; it means I realize that before I can grow, I need to feel a sense of personal security that has escaped so many of us right now. It means I realize that, much like the cold winter, this too shall pass, opening up opportunities for new growth in my mind—a mental springtime, so to speak.

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Much like my ZZ plant, I feel a bit trapped in the bud right now. I know, however, there are grand ideas swirling below the surface, and when the new normal asserts itself, and I have had time to acclimate to it, I, too, may just begin to bloom.

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I put the ZZ plant in this beautiful pot when I repotted it. I realize, however, that it may soon outgrow it. And, I may have to break this beautiful pot in order to get it out. It will likely become rootbound, needing more space to grow.

Perhaps, with careful observation, many of us may realize we too, are rootbound. Perhaps the old normal, the old soil and pot we were planted in is too small for us, cramping our growth potential. With a little luck and probably a lot of work, we can find the springtime within, and grow into a new and wondrous living thing.

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HAPPY SOCIAL DISTANCE BIRTHDAY

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HAPPY SOCIAL DISTANCE BIRTHDAY

I had a great birthday last week, despite the social isolation imposed upon all of us at this time. I worked a few hours, picked up take-out food, and came home to a quiet evening with my family. Binge-watching our favorite Netflix series was followed by a great movie. It was a nice, peaceful evening.  I even had a Zoom happy birthday hour with two dear friends.

Fifty-four is going to be a great year.

***********

Easter typically falls near my birthday, and Gail, Suzanne and I, along with the rest of our family, typically observe my birthday when we all get together for Easter.

This year was not typical. There was no family get-together, so there was no celebration of my birthday with them this year.

For Gail and Suzanne, however, missing the observation of my birthday was not an option. So, as the rest of the world has turned to online business and social interactions out of necessity, they created a virtual celebration on Facebook. They dug deep in their stacks of family pictures and pictures on their phones from our sister trips, and came up with some treasures.  They carefully selected them, cropped them, enhanced some of them, and then they captioned them. It was the next best thing to all of us being together.

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If all this is not evidence of true sisterly love, then I don’t know what is.

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The best gift I usually get for my birthday is from Mother Nature.  Nearly every year, she makes everything green again, just in time for my birthday.  This year, she didn’t disappoint.  However, she wrapped it up in white for me this year, and I didn’t like that so much.  The white was gone by late morning, and the beautiful green was back.

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***********

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: age is a gift. If you are healthy and able, there is no reason to complain about age. Age allows us to build insight and wisdom from all our previous experiences. I said this in Gail’s birthday post, and it bears repeating: we get to keep all our previous ages, sifting out what is good about each of them, and letting the rest go. It is our choice. We get to pick and choose what we want to keep, and move forward with it to make the next years even better.

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Whenever your next birthday is, happy birthday to you. I hope your celebration is everything you want it to be–up close, or from a distance.

 

 

 

 

GHOSTS OF EASTERS PAST

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GHOSTS OF EASTERS PAST

Let’s start with the one Suzanne is dying to tell you about me: when I was sixteen, I sat down after Easter Sunday mass with my Easter basket and proceeded to eat all of my Easter candy. Yes, all of it. It was probably 10:30 or so, and right there, in front of her and probably several of our brothers, before lunch, I ate it all.

She tried to stop me. She stared, incredulous, as likely did anyone else who was watching, and tried to talk me out of it.

“You’ll get an awful stomach ache,” she said.

“I know I will. I’m going to eat it all anyway,” I said. “And don’t try to stop me.”

“Don’t do it,” she said. “You’ll regret it.”

I did do it, and I did regret it. My only excuse/explanation was that I was a teenage hormonal and premenstrual mess, so chocolate—a hollow bunny, chocolate eggs, malted milk eggs and likely Peeps—was the only elixir I thought might make me feel better at that moment.

For just a moment, it did make me feel better. But not for long.

The memory of that morning lasted much longer than the gut ache, obviously the memory is alive and well in Suzanne’s memory.   She loves to remind me of that story, so I won’t likely ever forget it, either.

***********

Speaking of Easter gut aches, I’ve got another story, and this one was out of my control.

When my firstborn was almost two– 21 Easters ago—we went to the farm for Easter–Mom and Dad still lived there. Suzanne and I decided to travel to nearby Hays on Saturday before Easter. I felt a twinge of something in my gut early in the afternoon, but I dismissed it. As the afternoon wore on, I couldn’t ignore it: I was getting the stomach flu.

I remember sitting in the car outside Wal-Mart as Suzanne went in; I knew I’d better not try to make it work. I think we came home after that, cutting the trip short. As the stomach flu does, it progressed slowly throughout the day, until the inevitable was unavoidable. You know how it ended.

The only thing I remember eating that entire weekend was one bite of something mild like mashed potatoes. Certainly, no candy.

I missed Easter Sunday dinner, made it through the afternoon and made the 80-mile trip home. My stepson was with us that weekend; he was fifteen. He had Monday off, so we were to meet his mother Monday evening, two hours away in our usual spot.

Come Monday, I felt a bit better as the day progressed, and my husband began to feel like he was getting the flu. Around five in the afternoon, when it was time to take my stepson back, I decided I felt good enough to make the four-hour round- trip drive, because my husband continued to feel worse. To give him a break, I took our son along, who was almost two.

About fifteen minutes into the drive, I wished I hadn’t volunteered. I’m going to be okay, I thought.  I have to be, I have these two boys to take care of.

I wasn’t alright. The flu came back with a vengeance, again building slowly. My stepson was too young to drive, but I seriously considered putting him behind the wheel anyway. (I didn’t.)

I made it two hours down the highway, dropped him off, and knew I couldn’t stay on the road. I rented a room at The Pheasant Inn, went in with my son, and curled up on the lone bed. He thought it was cool to be in a new place, he jumped on the bed and entertained himself for a while. I couldn’t do anything but lay there. After a while, he seemed confused, and didn’t think it was so cool anymore. I tried to entertain him with cartoons on TV with limited success.

It took about two hours, but finally the waves in my stomach rolled into a productive end. Again, you know what I’m saying.

I packed us both up and made the two-hour drive home, pulling in the garage about 11:00. I was sick off and on all week.

***********

I observed my 21st birthday on Good Friday. I would say I celebrated, but there wasn’t much celebrating on Good Friday. Adding to that, I seemed to be the main character in the movie Sixteen Candles, as many people forgot it was my birthday. I drove home after college classes in nearby Hays that afternoon, stopping in Osborne to see Gail. She was at work capably managing the Pizza Hut as she always did. I chatted with her for a bit, then she let me know she was pretty busy, and needed to get back to work. So, she did, and I left—without any birthday greetings. Suzanne was sixteen, and likely didn’t care that it was my birthday.

I had talked to a friend earlier in the week who would be home from college, and we decided we would meet for a legal beer on my birthday. I called her when I got home, but she decided she was too tired, and didn’t feel like going out. Again, no birthday greetings.

I ended up going out to the small watering hole in our hometown, meeting another friend, and being serenaded by her, and a group of  guys we knew, with with their heartfelt rendition of Happy Birthday.

I remember the beer tasting really good.

***********

I spent Easter 1990 in Philadelphia as part of my one-year nanny commitment. The family I worked for was Jewish, so there were no Easter celebrations. I did learn about Judaism, and I got to participate in their Passover Seder supper. I remember Easter Sunday was a beautiful day, and I met my nanny friend Amy for lunch and a long walk. Her host family was Jewish too, so we were on our own.

Most importantly, Suzanne sent me a stuffed Easter bunny with a note that read “Now you won’t have to spend Easter alone.”

Despite (apparently) forgetting my 16th birthday too, she was thoughtful then, too.

**********

Before Suzanne moved to my small city, she was our Easter hostess for many years. I told this story in Happy Birthday Suzanne—Be Careful What You Wish For (August 13th, 2017), but it bears repeating, especially in these times of toilet paper madness. She has no recollection of these words coming out of her mouth, but I was right there, I heard them, and I tucked them away to get them out in preparation for her next birthday in August.

Most of our siblings were there with their respective families, so our crowd likely numbered over twenty-five people. She was replacing another empty toilet tissue roll in one of her two bathrooms, and she spoke these exact words: “For my birthday, I wish everyone would get me toilet paper.”

A million-watt light bulb lit up in my head. “We can and we will do that,” I thought. I told Gail what she had just said, and we hatched our plan right there.

Four months later in August, Suzanne’s wish came true. Gail, who had lived in her town for years, and still knew most of the people there, organized a gift drive via e-mail, instructing everyone she knew to shower Suzanne with toilet paper for her upcoming birthday. It was delivered to her workplace at the small-town bank she worked in, it showed up on her step, it was delivered in person to her home and even came through the U.S. mail. Over three hundred rolls later, Suzanne’s birthday was one she would never forget. All because of that comment she made on Easter Sunday that she still doesn’t remember.

She told me last week she wants toilet paper again for her birthday this year. That wish might be a little harder to fulfill this year.

***********

I just finished Easter Sunday lunch with my family. There were four of us. It was a nice gathering, but not the large, extended family dinner I am used to on Easter Sunday, with most of my siblings and their families. We had plans to spend it on the farm, hosted by our brother and his family. Like the rest of the world, our Easter plans changed. We will gather and celebrate at a later date. I am grateful to have a warm home in the wintry, un-Easter-like weather, and plenty of food to enjoy with my immediate family. I know I am fortunate.

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Easter promises hope every year, and especially this year, the promise cannot be overlooked. There will be better days ahead. Hope sustains us in times like these, even if we have never before experienced times like these.

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Suzanne’s daughter and my firstborn hunting Easter eggs.  Note my mom pants in the background.  That’s ghostly.  

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Suzanne hunting Easter eggs in our grandpa’s yard, likely 1973.

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Suzanne sent me these memories while looking through pictures yesterday. In this last one, I don’t look very hopeful that this drastic change in my life will ever be a good thing. Even if I gave up hope then, this change in my life in the form of a new baby sister turned out to be an incredible gift.

I doubt Gail batted an eye when I arrived. Perhaps she rolled her eyes, thinking “Great. Another baby I have to help take care of.” But like she always did, always does, and probably always will, she rolled up her sleeves, and accepted the challenge. She did her part; did the hard work she was expected to do.

And hope prevailed.

As we all do our parts in this time of crisis, keep the spirit of Easter alive today, and throughout this challenging time. Take care of yourselves, which, in turn, takes care of everyone else.

And despite the fact that this Easter will be stand out in our memories as a ghostly one, hope will prevail.

 

 

 

 

SING IT, SISTER!

 

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SING IT, SISTERS!

Music has always been a healing balm for me. Being the word nerd that I am, as well as a writer, it shouldn’t surprise you to know I listen closely to song lyrics. They seem to jump out at me at the perfect times, forming soundtracks to the events of my life.

Words have undeniable power, but music unites us in a way that mere words cannot. Certain songs can take each of us back in time to a specific place and time, and can bring back memories for better or worse, as if we are still there.

Song titles and lyrics can tell the story of those times, both good and bad.

The coronavirus pandemic seems to have its own soundtrack. So many song titles have heightened meaning at a time like this. Whether it is a country song lamenting lost love, or a classic ballad explaining the pain of life, it seems that the pain of adversity is understood, and thereby lessened with music. In terms of pain and tough times, this time of pandemic is no different than love lost, personal struggles or, perhaps as a country song may suggest, losing one’s girlfriend, truck or freedom while in jail.

As I typically do, I turned to my sisters for their input for my weekly post. Each of us has insight that the others don’t have, and this week was no different.

As I am, Mom was a “Fanilow.” Suzanne recalled that two of Mom’s favorite Barry Manilow songs were “Looks Like We Made It,” and “I Made It Through the Rain.” I didn’t recall this, but Suzanne reports that Mom never forgot “I Made It Through the Rain” playing when the Iran hostages got off the plane in the United States in 1981 after 444 days in captivity.

In time, the entire world will make it through the rain that coronavirus is raining down upon us. Then, Fanilow or not, we can all sing “I made it through the rain.”

***********

There’s nobody on the road, nobody on the beach. Empty lakes, empty streets. It’s a bit strange when you’re out and about these days, and none of us had better be out and about for anything but essential travel. That’s the new normal, and we all need to accept it as reality for a while. I’ve been out for a few days of work lately, and besides the grocery store, that’s it. There are times I feel all revved up and no place to go, but between books, puzzles, writing, more walking and watching season three of Ozark, I’ve found alternate outlets for that energy that normally would have given me someplace to go.

Nobody told me there’d be days like these, strange days indeed. Most peculiar, Mama. Whoa.

I have been calling upon my small army of friends lately, too. I really thought I was doing okay, but the surreal nature of this strange new world finally caught up with me after one of my friends confided she was struggling with the reality of it all. I let myself go there, too.

Oh, I can’t take no more…so I sit down and I cry too.

And then I felt better. I simply needed to let it out, and go on. If you feel the need, don’t hesitate to let it out. You will probably feel better after, too.   We’re all scared and confused humans, and we all need the human touch. It’s just that we can’t touch this; we shouldn’t be reaching out to touch anyone right now.

Better not do any lovin’ touchin’ squeezin’ with anyone besides your main squeeze right now. Just a little of that human touch is all it takes to endanger someone else’s health.

There is a time you may embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. This would be the time to refrain.

***********

Back to the sisters. They both offered their playlists, and here is Suzanne’s:

*Don’t Stand So Close To Me

*Dancin’ With Myself

*I Will Survive

*Reunited

*Stayin’ Alive

*What A Fool Believes

*How Will I Know?

*Stop! In the Name of Love

*Happy Together

*Alone Again (Naturally)

And Gail’s list:

*Livin’ on a Prayer

*It’s a Heartache

*Hold On

*Under Pressure

*In The Air Tonight

*I’m a Believer

*God Only Knows

*Come Together

*Gimme Shelter

*It’s the End of the World (as we know it, and I feel fine.)

Coincidentally, both of them offered another title—the same title—that was simply too inappropriate to print. Imagine that.

***********

Don’t worry mother, it’ll be alright. Don’t worry sister, say your prayers and sleep tight. This phenomenally talented singer and songwriter goes on to offer profound lyrics that touched me even before this international crisis: “Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery.

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It is a strange, but brave new world we are forging our way through. I’m not even rationing paper towels anymore. I had a good supply laid in before all this started, and now I am using them liberally, and throwing them away. You probably wouldn’t even recognize me anymore.  If you recall from Waste Not, Want Not (January 14, 2018), paper towels are like gold in my house. Not anymore.

Many other things will change. Most of us long to get back to our “normal” lives, but perhaps we would all be well-advised to consider that some elements of our “normal” lives are not worth going back to. If it wasn’t working before, and now you’re going through the shake-up that everyone else is going through too, maybe it would be a good time for all of us to consider leaving some dead weight behind.

This one’s for you, Suzanne: When it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange, who you are and what you’re gonna be. Sha na na na na na na na na, Sha na na na na.

I’m pretty sure it’s not the end of the world, but it is the end of the world as we once knew it. I’m even more sure that we will all make it through the rain.

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HEARTS AND HANDS THAT HEAL

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HEARTS AND HANDS THAT HEAL

When my firstborn was perhaps five or six years old, he asked me the inevitable question: “Mom, how did I get in your stomach?”

Not wanting to tell the whole truth just yet, but not wanting to lie to him either, I took the easy—but true—way out: I responded: “God put you there.”

Without hesitation, he responded emphatically, “No she didn’t!”

Initially, I was confused at his response. With a little probing, it became apparent that he was confusing our female family doctor—the one who delivered him as well—with God. If she took care of me while he was in my stomach, delivered him, and then took care of both of us after that, then surely she must be the God I was speaking of.

In a way, she was. And, even though she is no longer our doctor—she moved away several years ago–she still is a god(dess). Like the doctor I now have, both women are goddesses on this earth—now, more than ever before.

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Tomorrow, March 30th, is National Doctor’s Day. It is a day designated to celebrate the contributions physicians make to our society, and their dedication to our personal and community well-being. It is a day we should all have heightened awareness of how fortunate we are to have these earthly gods and goddesses among us.

The first Doctor’s Day was celebrated on March 30th, 1933. Eudora Brown Almond, the wife of a physician in Georgia, wanted to honor her husband and all other doctors, so she began the tradition. She urged people to send thank-you cards to their doctors, and to place flowers on the graves of deceased doctors.

On February 21st, 1991 (Gail’s 31st birthday, by the way), President George H.W. Bush proclaimed National Doctor’s Day to honor the nation’s physicians for their dedication and leadership.

Now, 29 years later in 2020, this annual observation couldn’t be more important.

I don’t have to expand on the important role doctors—and nurses—are currently playing in our country, and across the globe. You already know all this. They are the heroes and heroines of this seemingly unreal saga that continues to intensify as it plays out more intensely every hour of every day.

We all know what to do in order to stay healthy, and to keep everyone around us healthy. I don’t need to repeat any of that.

I do, however, want to use this platform to encourage you to celebrate Doctor’s Day tomorrow. If you already have sent a card to your doctor, or any doctor you know, kudos to you. Aside from saying thank you, I don’t know of anything more the general public should do for our doctors and nurses, besides following all the precautions, safety rules and restrictions upon us. We all must do our part to keep the spread of the virus as minimal as possible.

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On September 11th, 2001, we watched in horror—on television, safe in our homes–as the terrorist attack victims ran out of, and away from the sites of the devastation. We also watched as the firemen and other first responders ran into, and toward the devastation. It was their job, and they didn’t hesitate to do it.

Soldiers run toward the battle, while we are safe at a distance.

Policemen don’t think twice before putting themselves in the line of fire in order to protect and serve all of us.

Now, in this war against COVID-19, doctors and nurses are on the front lines. They sacrifice their own safety, health and comfort to treat the sick. Many of them have tested positive for the virus; some have died. It is likely that many more will become sick, and more will likely die.

Doctors and nurses know they are placing themselves at potential risk when they first sign up for the job. I doubt many of them envisioned the kind of risk they are facing today; none of us expected a pandemic like this one. Yet, they don’t hesitate to rush toward the devastation, run toward the battle, and put themselves in the line of fire. They are the front-line soldiers in this war; they are in the trenches of the battle.

And yet, they don’t hesitate to go to war. It is their job; their calling. And they do it not for themselves, but for you. For me. For all of us.

The least we can do is to say thank you.

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My small city has yet to identify a case among its residents, but it will likely be a short matter of time. I live in a rural area in the neighboring county, and there has been one resident identified.   The numbers will inevitably grow. My family and I are staying home, getting out for essential matters only.   My husband and I have jobs that are considered essential, and we are still working, but the decline in business for both of us has already begun.   We will continue to respond accordingly. We are thankful for our health.

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I rarely have dreams about my parents. After they first died, I longed to dream about them because, even though I knew it wasn’t real, it made me feel they were still with us. In these rare dreams, it is as if they never died, and it is not out of the ordinary that they are here when I dream about them.

I dreamed about Dad last night. It was in the midst of a series of other dreams, and he made a very brief appearance, then he was gone. He simply laughed his memorable belly laugh. He looked like this in my dream:

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I have been thinking about Dad a lot lately, because  his birthday is tomorrow, March 30th; the same day as Doctor’s Day. He would have been 86 years old.

If you knew our dad, you know that he didn’t know a stranger. He loved to talk to people, whether he knew them or not.

If you knew our mom, you knew she was the quiet one. Dad expressed himself verbally, and while she wasn’t a writer per se, she did love to write letters and notes. She knew the power of the written word, and she left us an incredible gift in a written letter to be found after she died, and read at her funeral.  While the letter itself remains a personal treasure among her seven children, I detail the message in Peace, Sister (July 16th, 2017).

Mom’s birthday would have been January 22nd. She would have been 84 years old. On that day this year, the meaning of this calendar didn’t escape me. A co-worker who displays this calendar graciously agreed to grant me this page after I told him the story about Mom’s letter.  I now display it on a frame, placing it in front of me as I sit at my table to catch up on my thank-you notes.

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Listen to the wisdom of our mother. If you haven’t already, send your doctor a thank-you card in honor of Doctor’s Day. It won’t matter that it may not arrive on time. Don’t underestimate its power.

Listen to our dad’s wisdom, too. Be sure to laugh like he did in the above picture, and in my dream last night. Don’t underestimate the power of laughter, especially at a time like this.

Listen to your doctor. Never underestimate their power.  They should be considered gods and goddesses on earth right now.  And, if you haven’t already, take the cue from Dr. Almond’s wife and send your doctor a card.

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My dear friend Shari is an engineer extraordinaire at Hallmark Cards.  She has informed me that they are helping to share the love of handwritten notes at this crucial time by offering three free cards to anyone who signs up online.   Simply go to http://www.Hallmark.com to get your free cards, and write on!