SHE WHO LAUGHS

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SHE WHO LAUGHS

My stomach hurts.  It’s been hurting for three days now, but that’s not a bad thing.  It hurts because I laughed so hard with Gail on our road trip this week.

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I’ve shared this picture several times before, and it bears repeating once again.  Mom saved calendar pages, quotes, clippings and other small ditties that spoke to her in this box, with the drawing from one of her favorite artists, Mary Engelbreit.

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If this is true—which we wholeheartedly believe it to be so, then Gail, Suzanne and I should last a long, long time.

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Gail and I took a road trip last week.  Suzanne, while she enjoys—and often creates– raucous laughter just as much as we do, doesn’t enjoy live music as much as Gail and I do.  This time, it was a repeat for Gail, but a new experience for me. 

We took a look down this eastbound road,

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and right away we made our choice.  East to Columbia, Missouri to hear one of Gail’s favorite rock-n-rollers:  Bob Seger.

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He played in the Mizzou Arena to us, and approximately 14,998 other fans like us.  And by that, I mean I saw no one in the arena who appeared to be under 40 years of age.   

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29535.jpegGail saw him last May in Tulsa (Concert Quests and College Towns, May 5th), and when he added more dates to his farewell tour, she talked me into the 4 ½ hour trip  (almost 8 for her).  How do you say no to that?  Quite simply, you don’t.  While he was not technically on my Bucket List, how could I resist such an excursion with Gail?  Gail, who has enjoyed Bob’s music for years, Gail who makes any event—sometimes even funerals—an occasion to have a good time, Gail, my dear, one-of-a-kind big sister.

Of course, without hesitation, I said “yes.”

She took a look down her east-bound road early Thursday morning, and arrived in Abilene to pick me up when I finished up my day early. 

Because if you are Gail’s friend, then you are her friend for life, she had the occasion to renew an old friendship when she arrived at the Abilene Hospital.

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Gail and Katie were roommates in college in 1978, and hadn’t seen each other since 1983.  Katie has been a nurse here for 25 years, and I have had the pleasure of working with her for almost six years.  When we realized this was the perfect opportunity, Gail and Katie had a brief, but meaningful reunion.

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We arrived in Columbia with a little time to spare, so we made ourselves at home.

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We planned to walk the short distance to the arena from the hotel, but when a mini-van taxi had only two people in it as we stepped out, we asked if we could split the tab.  They hesitated a bit, but then agreed.  In the four minutes it took to get us to the show, the passengers and driver were laughing too, courtesy of Gail.  Walking the rest of the way through a parking lot, we saw this:

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I thought Gail was a diehard fan, but I think this fan has the edge over her.

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I’m pretty sure that the best wordsmith around couldn’t come up with words to describe the show, because there are none.  It was, perhaps, a life-changing experience—at least for the night.  Bob still rocks with all of his “Old Time Rock and Roll,” doesn’t miss a note on the piano or the guitar and played so many memories for us, and everyone else too, I’m sure. 

He introduced The Silver Bullet Band toward the end of the show, with each one taking a bow—most of them were well over forty as well, and had been with him for most of his career.  When his drummer stood up, his T-shirt caught my eye.  In July, I wrote about the classic car show that came to our small city (Travel Therapy, July 28th 2019).  His shirt was a souvenir tee from that show, the “Leadsled Spectacular,” with “Salina, Kansas” printed below that. 

It made me smile, and so did this, when I found it on the step as I approached my seat at the show:

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As the really good ones always are, the show was over too soon, and we made our way back to the inn.  It was later than my bedtime (which doesn’t take much), but we stayed up later than that, because it is impossible to sleep while one is laughing so hard.  We traded banter using Bob’s lyrics, twisting them into jokes, most of which could be understood only by us. 

We thought about going out and making it an even later night, but we decided that Betty Lou’s not  getting’ out tonight.  We weren’t up for a Shakedown, even though we could still feel The Fire Inside.  Call us losers, but deep inside, we were fulfilled from the show, and felt like Beautiful Losers. 

It was time for sleep, so we got some.

The morning came too soon, and we were forced to take a look down this westbound road.  We had no choice; duty was calling at home.

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About an hour into the trip, we couldn’t help but notice this license plate, jumping out at us on I-70 as we passed it:

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As you can imagine, we got a little excited, feeling sure there was a kindred spirit inside that Jeep.  Gail promptly rolled down the window and waved with three fingers, and she waved back. 

We kept pace with her for about half an hour, but the ebb and flow of traffic eventually separated us.  We had hoped for the slim chance at an opportunity to meet this woman who obviously was one of three sisters, but we let that hope go.  Apparently, it was not meant to be.

At our next pit stop, however, I came out and there she was, filling up with gas.

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Meet our new BFF Irma from Alton, Illinois, sister to Velda and Robin.  Not surprisingly, we had no qualms about introducing ourselves and sharing our story.  She already feels like an old friend. 

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Music can be a healing balm.  It certainly is for us.  We felt fulfilled, and I know we are both still a little high from the show.  The pounding rain on the last half of the trip home didn’t dampen our spirits, even though we had to drive Against the Wind, then say goodbye too soon.  I had to pay all my attention to the road as we passed through downtown Kansas City as it rained, so Gail fed me my Burger King lunch.   We thought we had laughed ourselves dry, but not so. 

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In three weeks, she will accompany me on a westbound road, making our fall trek to our Rocky Mountain High.  Suzanne is planning on joining us this time, and we are counting down the days. 

Just as with this trip, we will tell some, but not all. 

“Laughter is the best medicine.”  This idiom is so true, literally and figuratively.  I’m pretty sure one could never overdose on it. 

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Unless something begs to be written, I am taking a fall break from writing.  I will be back with another travel story if, and when, we return from Colorado.  Until then, keep laughing. 

We parted ways back in Abilene.  We got out and went to the back of the Outback to get Gail’s stuff out of the back of the Outback.  We backed up to the Outback, and snapped this parting shot after she emptied out the back of the Outback.

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There.  We made you laugh, didn’t we?  Keep it up. 

 

 

 

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

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This week, I am honored to feature the Greif sisters, the amazing set of six sisters I mentioned a few months ago.  Their stories will make you richer for the reading…

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

There was a popular western film made in 1960 called The Magnificent Seven. It was a story of a group of seven gunmen hired to protect a Mexican village from bandits.

There is another group of seven magnificent people, according to their mother—our mother.  My two sisters, four brothers and I were her “Magnificent Seven,” her “Seven Wonders of the World.”  She spoke this, and put it in writing.  Dad would smile and agree, and show us in multiple other ways.

They loved us without question or limits.  We loved them back just as fiercely.

This post is not about us, but about another group of seven children, six of whom are daughters.  Certainly, another Magnificent Seven, even if their parents didn’t call them that like ours did. The lone son in this family is recognized both by his sisters and by me as a warrior in his own right to occupy that role, but, as our title suggests, this is about sisters.

The Greif sisters have ties to our hometown and to our family as well.  Like us, they had roots on the farm outside of our hometown, but unlike us, did move off the farm into another small town close by.

Gail and Suzanne know several of them, as they lived in the same town after high school, the same town Mom and Dad moved to when they left the farm.   I was acquainted with the youngest two while in high school, but I didn’t know them well.  I wish I’d had the opportunity to get to know all of them.

Suzanne, Gail and I have always been quite pleased with ourselves for managing our travels, making them work; elevating them to a priority over everything else.   While we were priding ourselves on this feat on one of our travels within the last few years, Gail and Suzanne began to talk about this family of six sisters who, as detailed on Facebook, traveled extensively, all over the country.  That’s double our count.  I was intrigued.

Several months ago, they came back into our conversation.  I decided it was time to reach out to them to see if they would be willing to be featured in a post.

They were more than happy to agree.

To introduce you to them, here they are in birth order with a short bio:

Debbie:  Married with 2 daughters and 4 grandchildren, just retired, lives in Owasso, Oklahoma.

Joyce:  Married with 7 children, 7 grandchildren, retired PE/biology teacher, then earned a PhD, now a professor at my alma mater. Lives in Russell, Kansas.

Kathy:  Married with 2 grown children, retired middle school PE/science teacher/coach, currently works with a teachers organization.  Lives in Hays, Kansas.

Linda:  Married with 2 stepchildren, 4 grandchildren, retired teacher, works part-time at a library, lives in Eureka, Kansas.

Patty: Single with 2 children and one grandchild, nurse practitioner, lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Shari:  Married with 3 children, personal trainer/manages husband’s construction business, lives in Kearney, Nebraska.

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Our mother acclimated very well to her new life in this small town when they moved from our farm in 2000.  She already knew Betty, and they became closer friends, remaining close until Mom died.  Our dad knew their dad as well, who passed away in 1983.   Betty operated a day care in her home, and Suzanne’s daughter Julia was one of her charges.  Good day-care providers are hard to find, and I know Suzanne was so happy to have her daughter in Betty’s care.  Suzanne told me that our mom would fill in for Betty when she needed time for an appointment or a few hours off.  I did recall this after she reminded me.

I had the opportunity to get to know Betty as well.  However, I wish it hadn’t happened in the way it did.  Because it is a sensitive issue, I did receive permission from these sisters to include this information:  Betty had a stroke and eventually moved into the nursing home in this small town.  As the treating speech therapist there, I got to know her as a patient of mine.  I had the pleasure of meeting Linda and Kathy while I worked with her.

I will say only this about her:  she was as sweet and loving as our mother was, and as a mother to seven children like our mother was, they were so much alike in all the good ways.  And, just as our mother Liz, Betty’s full name was Elizabeth.

Their father passed away in 1983, and Betty passed away in 2017.  I know this pain never really goes away, and my heart breaks for them because it must be so fresh.  I am so glad they have each other, just like we do.

But this isn’t about grief.  It is about living life large, just as our mother and their mother would have wanted it.  And, of course, our fathers too.

These six daughters had it going even before they lost their mother, 34 years after losing their father.  Before Betty had a stroke, they decided to take a little trip.  It wasn’t really little; it was a trip to Branson, Missouri with their mother along as well.   Realizing that, like our mother, a mother of seven children had had little opportunity to get out and see the big world.  So, they took her along. Knowing that a trip for seven women would be a logistical challenge, the oldest daughter chose Branson—they took turns choosing in birth order—because it was within driving distance for most, and held a variety of activities to keep them all entertained.  This would be the only trip where they stayed in a hotel—three rooms between the six of them.  They realized they needed a home-type atmosphere to share space and togetherness.  Every trip since then has been a home rented online.

The picture below was taken there, and it is now a family treasure.  It would be Betty’s only “girl’s trip.”

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At 52 years of age, I can safely say I have earned the right, at one time or another–or sometimes all at the same time, to wear each and every one of the T-shirts they are wearing in the picture below.  Their dear mother joined in the fun, and their brother remained a good sport.

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In a farming family with seven children, a vacation of any kind with all nine family members was as likely as a trip to the moon on a rocket ship.  This was the case in our family, and in theirs as well.

Kathy, the third-oldest daughter recounted the only “vacation” they ever took as a family.  This was when the two youngest sisters—Patty and Shari—had not yet been born.  They traveled by car to Iowa to visit friends of their parents.  They spent one night in a hotel with two double beds.  Their parents slept in one bed, and the five kids laid across the other bed top to bottom.

Our “vacations” consisted primarily of the three-hour trip to Wichita to see Mom’s family:  our grandparents, aunts and their families.

Like our family, they grew up with enough, but nothing extra.  Like our family, they knew there were others who had much more in terms of material goods—bigger, nicer houses, fancier cars and nicer clothing.  Like them, I realized we were without a lot of nice “things,” but I knew then, and I know even more now, that we had all the love we needed.  They knew the same. And, like them, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our youth.  We played sports like they did.  We were in the pep club like they were.  The only difference is that their mother was the seamstress who sewed their outfits.  We hired a friend’s mother to sew ours.

Joyce sent me a message at the moment she was listening to Dolly Parton sing Coat of Many Colors.  This lyric jumped out at her: “One is poor only if they choose to be.”

It is obvious to me that all nine of us sisters I am speaking of—the three of us and the six of them–know we have each other.  After our parents were gone, this bond became the greatest remaining family wealth.   This awareness becomes greater with age.

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I recall visiting with Dad several years before they died about a family who was fighting over material resources after their parents died, and there was a rift between the siblings.  I told Dad that we don’t fight among ourselves, and likely wouldn’t after they were gone because there was no considerable material wealth to fight over.

And there wasn’t.  And we didn’t.

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Before their travels started, two of the sisters were able to connect in Albuquerque, New Mexico when Kathy was there for a conference. Patty was 180 miles away in Farmington, and she traveled to see her sister.  They relished the time alone together, but realized they needed to find a way to get together with the other four, without the other 35-or-so people in their mother’s small house.  The annual Christmas gathering was their only time each year when they were all together.

“We needed some time together besides the mass chaos of Christmas,” Debbie–oldest sister–said.

Patty, who was second youngest, remarked that the older sisters seemed more like “friends of the family,” as they were so much older and weren’t around much when the younger ones were at home.  The trips gave them time together that they never got while they were at home.

“We didn’t get to grow up with all the sisters in the same house,” Shari, the youngest sister said.  “We had a different set of circumstances to grow up in.”

Patty concurred: “Shari and I didn’t really know the older girls.”  She added that while it may have been more difficult to make ends meet before the younger kids came along, they got to know their dad in ways the younger girls didn’t.

I outlined the circumstances Gail grew up in as the oldest daughter, having no choice but to work hard to help with the younger kids.  She still works circles around Suzanne and me, and while we think we work hard enough, we’re slackers compared to her.

Learning how to work together to make it all tick is a given for a large family, especially a farm family.  These sisters were no different.

Debbie, the oldest daughter likely echoes Gail’s sentiments: “We were blessed because we had to work hard to survive.”

Joyce, who is second oldest, added “Growing up like this prepared us for difficulties later in life.”

They travel to stay connected.  They consider it a highlight—if not the pinnacle—of the year.  They get together to stay together, and to support each other through thin and thick.  Growing up, they didn’t all have time to get to know each other.

Gail is the canner among us.  I shared pictures of her salsa and zucchini relish earlier.  Linda, the fourth daughter and middle child in their family is apparently the canner among them.  Canning for her is apparently a quiet time for consideration and contemplation.  Canning, which both of our mothers did as a necessity, but also a labor of love.  It struck her recently while canning that “we will never know all the little things they did for us—we were too young to know.”

Increased awareness of these sacrifices and depth of their love come only after one’s parents are gone, and without these realizations, Gail, Suzanne and I wouldn’t be traveling, and neither would they.  The pain of loss can only be overcome by celebrating all we gained from them.

So, we travel.  The three of us.  The six of them.

And, just for the record, Gail, Suzanne and I do love our brothers.  We have stated that.  However, there are four of them, and we have chosen to make this a sister’s only trip.  Essentially, they were never invited. They do love us back, and they understand.

For the other sisters’ record, their lone brother was invited.  “Too much estrogen,” he said.  So, they go without their brother, too.

Gail, Suzanne and I thought we were so cool and something to behold; all three of us making it work, taking time off, finding the funds, prioritizing the travels before all else; leaving our families to fend for themselves.  We never thought twice about the fact that we could travel harmoniously and enjoy ourselves, never realized this peaceable interaction while traveling is something many sisters couldn’t achieve.  It seemed like a given that any sisters should be able to pull off.

Our travels and the stories we brought home—and posted on Facebook—brought several women’s horror stories of other sisters and how they couldn’t find peace, even when they were far apart from each other.

Smugly, we thought we were pretty special.  All three of us.  Maybe we really were the exception.

If we are an exception, then these sisters are the rarest of all finds:  Six sisters who make it work, near and far.  Six fun-loving, peace-loving sisters who travel—not just to the state next door, but to far and near destinations nationally—together.  In perfect harmony.

As mentioned, the oldest sister, Debbie, chose the first trip, Branson in 2008.

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Then, in 2009, Joyce picked Ouray, Colorado.

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Only five of the sisters were able to make this trip, pictured here with the guide.

In 2010, Kathy chose Hill City, South Dakota.

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Only four of the sisters were able to make this trip.  Their guide is pictured as well.

Linda decided upon Healdsburg, California in 2011.

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In 2012, Patty chose Taos, New Mexico.

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Rounding out the first round in 2013, Shari picked Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

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Back to the top for trip #7, Debbie chose Nashville in 2014,

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Followed by Charleston, South Carolina—Joyce’s choice in 2015.

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In 2016, Kathy picked Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

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Linda chose Door County, Wisconsin in 2017.

 

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This year, Patty chose San Diego, where they were able to visit a cousin (center).

 

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Rounding out Round #2 will be Shari’s decision, which she just announced:  Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It should be quite obvious from the pictures that their trips always include adventures.  It’s no surprise that their Facebook posts from their trips have inspired other sisters to begin their own tradition of sister travels.

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Buoyed by their strength and successful national travels, this would be a good time for Gail, Suzanne and me to make an announcement:  our Colorado trips with the three of us are likely a thing of the past.  It became obvious that Suzanne could no longer disguise her altitude headaches as merely discomfort; she simply cannot tolerate the altitude, and it becomes more apparent with each successive trip.  She is not one to complain, so we knew it was bad.  She was essentially immobilized for much of the last trip, so it is time for Plan B:  We, too, will begin an annual tradition of traveling to a new destination each time—likely closer to sea level.  And this will be a good thing.  Change is good, and so is expanding one’s horizons.

This year, they will head toward our previous destination, and our 2019 trip is yet to be determined.

Not to worry that our beloved destination in Colorado is a thing of the past, or that our friends in Cripple Creek will never see any of us again; Gail and I plan to make the trip, forging on without Suzanne.  And she is perfectly fine with that.  Our annual trip will compensate for any adventures missed when she doesn’t go west.  Plus, Suzanne has all kinds of fun without us anyway…stay tuned.

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The gift of sister time spent together is the greatest gift of all.  Without even polling the other eight sisters I am speaking of here, I know we would all agree with this sentiment.

There are other gifts, however.   Gail, Suzanne and I began to share small gifts with each other in the beginning, typically a small token, or a gag gift that would remind us of our time together.  We would collect these in the months prior to the trip, adding to the anticipation.  Receiving theirs was almost as much fun as giving.

Then, the gifting grew.  And grew.  And grew until it became a little bit ridiculous.  We lavished gifts upon each other like it was Christmas.   Oh, it was fun to both give and receive, but we realized it was simply not reasonable.  So, we cut back.  Back to small tokens that were more meaningful.  We thought this was the best way to do it.

Until we heard about how they do it.

For each trip, each sister chooses a gift that would remind any of the other five of them.  A gift of reasonable means; a value they could all agree on.  They exchange—drawing style, with each sister randomly receiving one gift from another sister.   By design, whatever gift each sister ended up with was meant for her, to remind her of the sister who gave it.

I love it.

We are going to copy-cat them.  Our exchanges will be repeat themselves sooner than theirs, but that’s okay.  Hopefully imitation is indeed flattery, because that’s two of their ideas we are stealing…

As I mentioned above, I wish I could get to know all of these sisters.  Perhaps one day we will all have the opportunity to celebrate our sisterhood together.   I do, however, feel quite comfortable with them already, judging from some of the comments and quotes they sent me from their travels:

“Wine a little, beach a lot.”

“Take one for the team.”

“Walk away from the jewelry…”

“It’s all downhill from here…”

“It’s just around the corner…”

“Just don’t look down.”

“When in Taos…”

“We didn’t know it was ‘clothing optional.’”

And my personal favorite:

“Don’t sleep with the bedroom door open…”

 

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Having grown up without extra material things or money, all nine of us sisters learned the values of hard work and responsibility.  These traits do pay off, but not always in the time or the way we want them to.  We all had lean times not just growing up, but as adults making our way.  We all learned how to make it on our own, but not without struggles.

It is the singular privilege of anyone who has lost a loved one to believe in signs from them.  Those of us who speak the language of loss get this.  We know when they are with us; we know when they send us these “signs.”

There are those who doubt that these are indeed a sign or a message, but they are welcome to have their doubts, and we will have our faith in this kind of communication.

Patty related the story of her leanest times as an adult: when she would find pennies on the ground, calling them “pennies from Heaven,” courtesy of her father in Heaven.

They began noticing pennies on their travels, seeing them as signs that their father’s love was surrounding them.  When they found a dime laying on a dresser upon their arrival in one of the houses they rented on a trip, they felt him there again, at least times 10—probably times infinity.

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Betty passed away in April 2017, with all seven of her children by her side.  She was buried four days later on what would have been their father’s 87th birthday.

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After the funeral, they decided to go to the last house they lived in together, the last house their mother lived in.  They wanted a picture with all seven of them by the house.   It was set to be demolished that day, with one family living in it after them.  The first round of the demolition crew arrived just after they did.  The crew understood, and waited patiently.  The house was stripped bare, seeming so much smaller than when all nine of them had all managed to live there together.  Nothing was left, not even the windows.  Except for one thing.

On the ledge where the phone had set was a rosary.   None of them recognized it as one of their mother’s.  The only family who lived there after them wasn’t Catholic, and likely wouldn’t have owned a rosary.

They all believe that their mother sent them a sign to let them know she was now in Heaven with their father.  I believe it, too.

I wrote in an earlier post that we were given our parent’s possessions that were with them the day of the accident.  In each of their pockets, we were told, was a rosary.

This sign of their strong Catholic faith, the faith they carried with them throughout their lives, remained a sign after their deaths.  We all grew up knowing how strong this faith was, and now, how it lives on.

The Greif family knows, too.

Shari’s daughter drew a picture of this mystery rosary, and Joyce decided to make it a permanent sign on her arm.

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Signs.  You have to believe them to see them.

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As I wrapped up this post, I got another message from one of the sisters.  Our communication throughout this project has consisted of a group chat on Facebook—a lengthy one at that.

Sorting through the information and input from all six of them has been a challenge, but one that I was up for; a mission I am so glad I accepted.  As the additional information continued to roll in over time from several of the sisters, they became apologetic:  “I know we have given you so much information, and I am so sorry to add more, but…”  There was never a need to apologize.  I only wish I could have included everything they gave me.

I have loved reading it all, and getting to know them through these messages.

Today, Joyce told me had a car full of high-school girls on a trip, and Coat of Many Colors came on the radio.

One is only poor only if they choose to be.”  She had to fight back tears, not wanting these teenage girls to see her cry.

But they would have been tears of joy.

Joyce and Linda made a quilt for their mother—A Quilt of Many Colors, they call it.  Most of the fabric pieces were from clothing their mother made for them as kids.  Joyce now proudly hangs it in her home.

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“One is only poor only if they choose to be.”

Gail, Suzanne and I have chosen to be rich.

The Greif sisters—Debbie, Joyce, Kathy, Linda, Patty and Shari—have chosen to be rich as well.  Joyce added in her last message that they were probably the richest kids in town.

I believe they were, and I believe we were, too.

May these sisters inspire you like they have inspired us.

And may you choose to be rich, too.

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This morning after putting final touches on this post, I went to my bedroom.  In the middle of the floor, away from everything else, was a dime.  I picked it up and put it inside the frame of this picture of Mom and Dad that sits on my dresser, holding several pieces of jewelry I couldn’t walk away from on our travels.   I am choosing to see this as a sign that I am indeed rich, and that they are still very much with us.  This would be a good time to mention that for as long as I can remember, our parents saved dimes, putting them all in their dime bank.

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Thank you, Greif sisters.  

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Thank you today, and every day to our veterans and active military on this Veteran’s Day.  Special thanks to my father-in-law, Marvin, who served in the Korean War.

  Our freedom isn’t free, and we have all of you to thank for that.  

 

FREEDOM ROADS

 

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FREEDOM ROADS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April of this year, before the cruel winter relented.

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May, when Mother Nature finally gave in.

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

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

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

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

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The long hill leading to the highway from our farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 242nd birthday, America.

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

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN ‘HI’

 

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN ‘HI’

**I believe in signs.  This one was from my favorite calendar, the day before we left.**

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Speaking of signs, we finally did it.  After saying we should on every other trip, we finally stopped at the state line by the iconic sign for pictures.

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The rest of the state line story comes with a price.  If yours is right, Gail and Suzanne will tell you the rest, but only if I get a healthy cut.  Remember, we are not telling all.

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Waking up to this sight in Manitou Thursday morning, just as I said we would last week, can only bode well for the rest of the weekend.

And it did.  We lingered a bit in Manitou Springs on Thursday, taking in shopping and a tasty lunch—and a game of shuffleboard—before we began the ascent.

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In our effort to satisfy Suzanne’s love of ferris wheels, we attempted to stop at The North Pole on the way up.

While I have laughed through the movie at least a dozen times, I have never before been able to empathize with the Griswolds in Vacation:  The North Pole was closed.

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Closed Until May 1st.  The ferris wheel, noted to be the tallest in the world given it’s altitude, wasn’t even there; wasn’t visible from the road as it usually is.  We found out it had been taken down for refurbishing, refreshing and renewing.  It will be ready for us next time.

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And so on westward we went.  John Denver did his part on CD, getting us into Cripple Creek.  Cripple Creek, where the gold-mining mother lode was struck years ago, and where The Sister Lode idea was conceived only one year ago.

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 And the real fun began.

Our friends who own the Hospitality House were ready for us:

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They look forward to our return trips, as do we.  We love them, and we love their place.  We savor the spirit of the place, as well as the space.

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We do a lot of enjoying their space; simply sitting and sipping is one of the simple pleasures we enjoy.  Sometimes that’s all we need to fulfill our expectations.  Sometimes, it takes a little more.

This time, there was a full moon to greet us.  While pictures can never do it justice, the moon was in grand splendor along with the mountains it rose up above.

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From a full moon to a Blue Moon–in honor of my favorite libation, there was this good omen in the street in Manitou on our way there.

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Perhaps it is the Midwestern, hospitable farm girls in us.  Perhaps it is the fact that we are away from home and in a higher altitude; a higher place.  Maybe it’s just who we are.  Maybe it’s all the above, but we find ourselves saying “hi” a lot while we are on our trips.  Not that we don’t do it when we are home; it’s just that there are so many more people to meet in a place like this.  Chances are, we already know most of the people already in our circles at home.

We reach out, we strike up conversations with strangers, we somehow have other people do the same to us, and most of the time, we welcome it.  Most of the time.

If we hadn’t reached out, we wouldn’t have made friends with these fabulous hotel proprietors.

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Given that they are now our friends, we asked for Rick’s advice on a predicament we found ourselves in, likely in part due to our outgoing natures, and in equal or greater part to a misinterpretation of our intentions.

Rick (in front) simply said: “stop saying ‘hi.’”  Sounds like a simple, obvious, easy answer, sure, but we can’t do that.  It’s not who we are.

If we’d stopped saying “hi,” we wouldn’t have met this dear, delightful young woman who became our favorite waitress at our favorite restaurant several years ago:

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Kaitlin serves us beyond and above, and she is preparing to do the same for our country.  A few days after our visit, she will become a member of our armed forces, joining the Unites States Navy.  We thanked her for her wonderful service as our favorite waitress over the past few years, and we thanked her in advance for her future service to our country.  We wish her so much love and joy in her new venture.  She will likely be replaced in the restaurant, but she will never be replaced in our hearts.

Godspeed, Kaitlin.

And where would we be without Christine?  Less bejeweled, that’s where.  And that’s no fun.  Our favorite shopkeeper in Cripple Creek keeps us shopping and adorns us with the most beautiful baubles and gems.

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Her shop, 9494, is cleverly named after the town’s altitude.  Given her charm, grace and allure, we feel even higher than that when we are in her store, and especially in her presence.

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The native donkey herd that roams the streets freely in the spring and summer (as shown here on our Labor Day trip)

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is taken to pasture for the fall and winter–with shelter.  Tourists who miss them in their off season—like us—are urged to visit them in their winter home just outside of town.  The shopkeepers supply the donkey treats, and we do the rest.

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Perhaps the three of us—at times–have something in common with the asses…

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Rhonda, however, doesn’t appear to let that affect her.  She became Gail’s neighbor at the Blackjack table on Friday, and came back on Saturday, too.  We hung out there too; Suzanne even tossed a few chips out next to Gail.

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In an unprecedented joint decision between the three of us, Rhonda became our honorary sister for the weekend.  She was one of us, and we welcomed her into our circle.  Gail typically befriends the others risk-takers at the blackjack table, and by the end of the weekend, she has either renewed her friendship with, or created new ones with the dealers and pit bosses.  Only Gail has that skill, the ability to turn tough guys—and girls too–into butter.  We tried to take a picture of one of our favorite tough guys, but he assertively reminded us that pictures inside the casino were not legal.  Sorry JR, we snapped the one above accidentally on Friday before you told us that on Saturday.  Oops!

An honorable mention and a shout-out (pun intended) goes out to Dave and his wife Charlie, our other new friends at the blackjack table until Dave’s excessive decibel level created the false notion that perhaps he was breaking another casino law:  no gambling while intoxicated.  We know better, and JR was just doing his job.  Still, they are keepers in our memories.

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Speaking of memories, March 4th was a memorable date; a bitter-turned-sweet-bitter date.  A date that will never be forgotten in our family.

My work keeps me closely acquainted with death as a fact of life.  Before my parents died, I would see this stark reality, and somehow push it aside, not letting myself actually believe I would likely lose each of my parents to illness.  I didn’t let myself go there in my mind; I somehow managed to avoid it, magically thinking “So far, I’m lucky.  Perhaps I won’t have to deal with that.”  The thought of losing either of them was too much to bear.  Seeing the illnesses that some of my patients succumbed to, I simply assumed that if they were to die, it would be due to illness.  Never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would lose them the way I did.

A part of me died with them—at least for awhile.  At the moment the news was delivered, I felt a death blow myself.  Crawling up out of that dark pit, first on my knees, then eventually pulling myself upright again, took more strength than I ever wanted to possess.

But I did possess it; we all did.  It was there.  And we keep growing stronger.  But that’s not to say I don’t still have my moments.  Like on the morning we left Cripple Creek, the morning of March 4th–the ten-year anniversary of their deaths.  We played John Denver on our way out of Cripple Creek that morning.  The morning of our departure is always blue, but this one was closer to black.  For me, for a brief moment, it was a Rocky Mountain Low—but just for a moment.  I don’t even think Gail and Suzanne knew I shed a few silent tears in the back seat.  Then, as quick as they came, they were gone, and I was okay.  I was tired and still blue, but, just as I have known for many years now, they are still with us.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone who said this if I hadn’t experienced it, but if you believe that love never dies, you get to carry the most precious part of them with you at all times in your heart, and that can never be taken away—not even by death.   I feel them within me; their spirits will live on through all of us, and all we need to do is look within.  They are always there—just as Mom told us she would be in The Letter.  And dare I say this:  sometimes it is even more whole, more powerful than when they were here on earth with us.

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The darkness always turns to light, and the blues always give way to brighter colors and brighter days ahead.  Remembering the importance of something to look forward to, I came home Sunday night with ten minutes to change clothes and turn around to go to the beautiful art-deco theater in the downtown of our small city to take in this incredible performer:

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Mom knew how much I always loved his music, and I know she had a hand in this.  Plus, the theater director has a long history of scheduling the most incredible shows on important dates for me like birthdays and anniversaries—thanks Jane.

The blues faded, and by Sunday night—even though Gail and Suzanne didn’t go to the show, we were all Back in the High Life Again—thanks Steve.

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Soon, the skies will be mostly blue, with perhaps only a cloud or two.

29103692_2048586151822965_5939430490325909504_n[1]The green grass will soon return, and our smiles and laughter will be in full bloom again.  And, in our usual style, we will continue to March Forth.  

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GO WEST, YOUNG WOMEN

 

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GO WEST, YOUNG WOMEN

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

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

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

Anticipation is at least half the fun.

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

All this fun, however, takes a little work.

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

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

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

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

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

No exceptions.

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

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

Gail will make her grand entrance into Cripple Creek:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Other wildlife is revered as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CRIPPLE CREEK, COLORADO, OUR ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, We Persisted

Thanks for your support from last week, and welcome to the next edition of The Sister Lode!  I am attempting to post on Sunday nights, hopefully to provide a bright spot for your upcoming week.  This post was written a few months ago in preparation for this blog, but the message is timeless. 

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It wasn’t right to leave Suzanne behind, but it wasn’t right for Gail and me to stay home either.  We were caught between a hard place and a rock, so we rocked on-without Suzanne. Something about a new job and not having vacation time yet.  I am going to have a word with her boss.

We rocked west, toward the Rockies.  We lingered in the Springs—Colorado and Manitou—as we typically do on our biannual trips, then began the ascent.  This year, as part of our effort to shake it up, we took my car, instead of Gail’s.  We further shook it up by not stopping at our usual waystation at Limon, deciding to donate a portion of our proceeds (before any losses) to deserving people we met along the way, staying in a different room (we have a favorite room at our favorite place), and multiple other small twists that, unfortunately, didn’t twist our fate at the casinos in the direction we hoped, the direction it had never taken in our multiple trips here.IMG_20170330_190837420_HDR

One thing we will never change is our Rocky Mountain High ritual.  On the final stretch of the last leg of the seven-plus hour trip, we pop in John Denver’s Greatest Hits CD to play—you guessed it—Rocky Mountain High.  Except this time we both forgot our CDs.  And we had no wifi that deep in the mountains, so we couldn’t bring it up on our phones.  So I turned on satellite radio to fill the airwaves in the car.  I hit the preset to the 70’s station.  An Aerosmith rock tune was finishing up, and even though I didn’t particularly like the tune, I left it.  A few moments later, there it was–you guessed it:  John Denver singing Rocky Mountain High.

We were as speechless as I am wordless to describe it.  At that moment, at that place, there it was.  It was a gift from Above.  I don’t even know what else to say.  Except that it was Dad’s birthday—he would have been 83.  We took that as a gift from him.

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**

So there’s Christine.  She is our favorite shopkeeper-turned friend; she is soft as whipped butter and sweet as powdered sugar, and we patronize her store—9494.  It is a unique gift and jewelry shop named after the town’s altitude.   We come to town with lots of sparkling pretty bling, and we leave with even more.

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And there’s Mike and Rick.  They are the proprietors of the Cripple Creek Hospitality House, the former Teller County hospital-turned-B&B.  They love us, we love them, and we now stay nowhere else but there.  They treat us like royalty, which, of course, we think we are.  It wouldn’t be fair to include a picture without Suzanne on this epic trip, so this one is from last year, on the steps inside Mike and Rick’s place.

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There are a number of dealers and pit bosses Gail has gotten to know quite well.  She is the only one of us who plays the tables, and she knows no strangers, so naturally, she has made friends with most of them.   This time it had been a year since we were there, most times it is only six months.  Of course they still remembered her.

Tonight, it’s Don.  Don is the “nocturnal innkeeper” of the Hotel St. Nicholas, another B&B.   We stayed here three or so years ago, and we met him then and never forgot him.  Tonight, we realize, he didn’t forget us.  We stopped by and found him in the basement bar, aptly named The Boiler Room.  We are enjoying a drink with him, catching up on local news—both bad and good.

Because this is an active gold-mining town, the linings to the dark clouds are golden, not silver.  While we had to do a synchronized walk of shame away from the casinos after we lost all our gambling money—or so we told each other–we both had an ace in the hole.  We had tucked away cash to get home, and to buy back some of our dignity.

Greater than that little stash of cash, though, was the sure knowledge that we were bigger winners than anyone at the casinos.  Even bigger than David, the blackjack player sitting next to Gail who would bet, and then win or lose more money in a single bet than either of us brought and lost all weekend.  David had a poker face until we broke through, then his smile was there to stay.

We seem to have that effect on people.

After we lost our money, I had a moment of profound awareness:  I had just lost X dollars, yet I felt so rich.  I was a winner.  After the frustration, disappointment, shame, guilt, anger (at myself for thinking yet again that I would win) and emptiness fell away, I felt joy filling me up inside:

*I was nestled deep within the splendid beauty of the Rocky Mountains; in one of my happiest of all my many happy places.

*I was with my older sister, one of my two best friends in the world.  (We missed Suzanne dearly, but we persisted, just as she wanted us to.)

*I had the gift of health and physical ability to get myself here.

*I had the means to take such a trip, I even had the means to throw money away in the casinos.  I save for this trip all year in an offshore account.   And, as the captain of my career ship, I decide when to set sail.

*Win or lose, I get to determine my own happiness–or lack thereof.  No circumstance, and most importantly, no other person decides that for me.  Neither one should decide yours for you either.

**

I found a charm pendant with the newly popular phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted” just before our trip, so I bought one for each of us.  It became our mantra for the weekend.   It was famously uttered in reference to a noteworthy woman named Elizabeth.  Our mother was named Elizabeth too; she was noteworthy in a much more profound way.

First, we persisted in throwing our money away, and after licking our wounds, we then persisted in finding the good in this loss.  We have made it our way in life to find whatever good we can in a situation, whether it be a set of circumstances, a difficult person, or the weather.  We persist in our quest to see the glass as half-full, and we generally succeed.  We realize it is a choice, and even though some see us as Pollyanna-ish, we don’t care.  We’ll let them see the negative if they choose.  That doesn’t work for us.  It never has, and as time passes, more certainly, it never will.

No foolin’—even though it was April Fool’s Day on Saturday of the weekend.  You have the choice to look at your cup and call it half-full, just as easily as you can call it half-empty.  Your call.  Others may tell you how it really is—in their minds.  Usually it is dark in their sky, and they want yours to be clouded over too.   Their cup is half empty with a crack in it.  Don’t give in, don’t buy it.  Let them wallow in their own emptiness and darkness, and follow the fullness and the light—your light.  Your choice.

We have our own light, and we welcome you to follow it—except you can’t follow us to Colorado, or anywhere else, for that matter.  Our trips are highly exclusive and private, because we need this time alone with each other, even if it is only two of us.  The third will always be present in spirit if there are more trips of only two in the future.  Be it just two or all three of us, we will continue to offer our positivity here to nourish yours.

Persist.  Push through.  Keep your chin up, and your sights high.

Nevertheless, sister, persist.

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