Tag Archive | life challenges

Minor Characters in Our Life Stories

In last week’s blog post I wrote about the Sunday dinners of my childhood. To keep the story short, I left out one of the minor characters in those dinners, Eva Frankson. I’ve been thinking about her ever since.

Eva lived with Grandma. My grandma had a small house across the street from the west side park in Cambridge. The house had a large eat-in kitchen, a living room, one bedroom downstairs and one bedroom up in the attic. The bathroom was downstairs – a room large enough to hold Grandma’s loom where she wove rag rugs. (That’s another story.) Eva had the bedroom in the attic.

Eva worked as a waitress in one of the restaurants on Main Street. Grandma had worked in the same restaurant, and I guess that is where they met each other.

Grandma - Eva - waitresses

Waitresses of the Cottage Restaurant in Cambridge, about 1950. My grandma is on the left. Eva is on the right. I don’t know the three in the middle.

When I was in grade school, sometimes I would go to my grandma’s after school instead of taking the bus home, and I’d wait for my mom to come home from work in Madison to pick me up. Grandma and I usually spent the time putting together picture puzzles. We both loved to do puzzles. I remember listening together, very quietly, to hear Eva come in the front door after her walk home from work at the restaurant. If she was really tired, she’d stop in the living room before climbing upstairs to her room. Eva would compliment us on our progress on the puzzle, and then she and Grandma would talk a little bit about the day. But mostly Eva just sat down and rested. She was tired. After a few minutes she’d climb the stairs to her room.

Eva and Grandma with their cats. Eva never liked to have her picture taken - that's why she's hiding behind her cat.

Eva and Grandma with their cats. Eva never liked to have her picture taken – that’s why she’s hiding behind her cat.

Whenever Mom invited Grandma to go anywhere with us, she often invited Eva to join us. Once they both rode with us all the way to Wheaton, Illinois to visit my sister Nancy in college. It was pretty crowded in the car with Mom and Dad, Grandma, Eva, Danny, and me. I remember I sat on Eva’s lap for the whole car ride of almost three hours. I’ll admit, I got tired of sitting still. But as I look back on the trip 60 years later, I guess Eva probably got even more tired of holding me, although she never complained.

Eva never said much about anything. She was always pleasant, but very quiet. I once asked Mom about whether or not Eva had any relatives. Mom said that her parents had given her away when she was a little girl. Someone had been visiting them, and they had commented on what a nice little girl she was. The parents said they could have her if they wanted her. So they took her home with them. I guess that’s all Mom knew about the story.

The one person Eva occasionally talked about was John. Another time I asked Mom who John was. She said that although Eva had never married, she had a son named John. He had been killed in a farming accident when he was 13. I never learned any more details.

Eva was a quiet, extra person in my life. Kind of like a bonus family member – another  grandma, but not quite the same. She was part of the Sunday dinner family. After Grandma died, Mom helped Eva find another place to live and continued to include her in many of our family activities.

Eva w coffeeWhen I was in college, I came to the realization one day that my brother Danny had grown from a subtly rebellious teenager into a kind and caring young man. It was the day I learned that Danny had become the person that Eva could call upon for help whenever she needed strong young muscles to move something heavy, or a creative problem-solver to fix something. Danny was always there to help her. I guess Eva’s quiet presence in our lives had enriched Danny’s life as well as mine.

I’m glad last week’s blog post prompted me to remember and be thankful for Eva, one of the many “minor characters” who has enriched my life story.

Oh, the Conflicted Month of February

The merry, merry month of May

The merry, merry month of May

Oh, how I long for the “Merry, Merry Month of May.” But first I must struggle through the conflicted month of February, and then March and April.

I’m tired of winter. There I’ve said it. But huge piles of snow and sub-zero wind chills just represent the most obvious burdens of February. It’s the time of year I have to get serious about catching up on all the accounting for our business. I have to enter hundreds of transactions into QuickBooks. All the scraps of paper that I’ve just shoved into file folders all year long now have to be organized, analyzed, and keyed into the computer – one of my least favorite activities. About one full week of misery is what it takes to do the accounting for the year, at least to clean up our record-keeping to the point that I can turn everything over to a real accountant to figure our taxes.

Snowy Patio ChairI can remember when February was one of my favorite months. I remember one really special morning in February. I don’t think I was old enough to be in school yet. My mom did something really special for me. She took a heart-shaped cookie cutter and pressed it into a slice of bread. Then she pulled off the bread outside the cutter – which included all the hard crust I didn’t like – leaving behind a heart-shaped slice of bread. She buttered the bread heart and topped it off with her home-made strawberry jam. Paired with a cup of hot chocolate that was the best mid-morning snack I’ve ever had in my life.

bread valentineMy favorite holiday celebration in grade school every year was Valentine’s Day. We always had a party in the afternoon of Valentine’s Day, but we began preparations for the party about a week ahead of time. We covered a great big box (about 2’ x 2’ x 2’) with white paper. The teacher cut a slot on top of the box. Then we all cut out the fanciest red hearts we could imagine and pasted them all over the box. This became the valentine box. Day by day for the week leading up to Valentine’s Day we brought valentines for everyone in the class and dropped them into the box. For our party, the teacher would select a few students to be the mailmen. They opened the box and delivered the valentines to everyone. It was so much fun to carefully open every envelope and see what valentine each classmate had selected for me.

valentine - dogs sipping sodaIt had also been fun to spend hours at home over the week leading up to this party selecting which valentine I would give to each of my classmates. In the earliest grades, my mom bought me a book of valentines that were printed and perforated on heavy paper. I would carefully punch out each valentine, trying really hard not to tear it. When I was in the middle grades, my mom was working at a job in Madison, and she could afford to buy me the more expensive package of valentines that I didn’t need to punch out. I still like to look at the packages of valentines at dollar stores to see how closely today’s valentines resemble the ones I remember giving and receiving.

Another fun thing I remember doing for Valentine’s Day was pooling funds with my brother Danny to buy a beautiful heart-shaped box of chocolates for our mom. Of course, she always shared the chocolates with us, which made the surprise gift for her even better.

Valentine Candy Box 3So February is both a terrible month for me – I’m sick and tired of winter and I have to spend days doing the accounting I hate to do; and a joyful month for me – a time filled with happy childhood memories. It’s a conflicted month.

On that note, I think I’ll put on my down-filled winter jacket and ear muffs, put Floey’s pretty blue coat on her, and go for a short walk. Some fresh air will feel good, even if it’s cold air. Maybe I’ll make some hot chocolate when we come back.

Floey playing in snow

 

Better Than Counting Sheep

Counting SheepOne night last week I couldn’t sleep. I’d taken a Sudafed for some head congestion, and my body just wouldn’t let me drift off to sleep. So, I tried to heed the advice I’d received from a friend and shared on Facebook a week or two ago – use the time to talk with God.

God and I started out by talking about all the things I was grateful for that day. Mim and I were up at Christmas Mountain for a few days, and we’d had a nice, restful day together. After about half an hour of thinking about the events of the day and all the good things that came to mind, I was still wide awake. I guess God wanted us to talk a while longer.

The next topic that came up was all the heroes in my life – or the people on “God’s Guest List” for my life, to use author Debbie Macomber’s phrase. I spent most of the night remembering lots of people who had impacted my life in a very positive way. This was kind of like counting sheep, only each sheep was a person in my life that I was thankful for.

Of course, I started with my mom. Without a doubt, she was the kindest, most loving person I have known in my life. You know that, because I’ve written about her a lot in my blog.

Elsie at PresHouse

Mom worked at the Presbyterian Student Center at UW during most of my growing up years.

Then I thought about my sister Nancy. She was 11 years older than me, so she was almost like a second mom. She was truly my hero when I was a child. She started teaching me to play the piano before I was in school. When she went away to college she subscribed to a bi-monthly children’s daily devotional guide for me to get me in the habit of reading my Bible and praying every morning before getting out of bed.

Nancy-Marian-Danny going to church

Nancy, Danny, and me ready for church.

The next person who came to mind was Mrs. Knoblauch, my first grade teacher. I had lots of good teachers as I grew up in Cambridge, but Mrs. Knoblauch was the one who got me off to a good start in school. The day I remember best in first grade was a blustery day in the fall. When I was out in the playground after lunch, a speck of dirt or a falling leaf blew into my eye. It hurt and my eye wouldn’t stop watering. Every day when we returned to the classroom from the playground after lunch, we would sit at our desks while Mrs. Knoblauch read us a story to quiet us down. That day, she looked at my eye first to be sure I would be okay, and then had me sit on her lap while she read the story to the class. I knew she loved me and would take care of me.

Then I thought about all my grade school, junior high, and high school teachers. Some made the list of heroes, some didn’t. Same for college professors.

I was still wide awake, so I went back to thinking more about my family. My brother Danny and my dad both made the heroes list, people that I admired and who had a positive impact on my life.

Danny is only two years older than me – so we were close enough in age to fight with each other about almost anything. We still disagree on many things, but we’ve learned not to fight most of the time. What I admire most about him is that he inherited our mom’s commitment to being kind and helpful to almost everyone. Probably the most valuable thing I learned from Danny is how to fight when it’s necessary to fight, and how to get along without fighting when that’s the best thing to do.

Working up the soil for his last garden

My dad still drove his tractor until about a month before he died, at age 87.

The earliest memory I have of my dad is riding on the tractor with him. I would sit on his lap and watch his hands on the steering wheel, especially that little gadget that was a ball-like wooden handle that enabled him to control the steering wheel with just one hand, even on bumpy fields. (I vaguely remember these gadgets were considered unsafe, so he eventually had to take it off. I know it wasn’t on the steering wheel when I started driving the tractor a few years later.) I guess the most valuable thing I learned from my dad is that you need to take responsibility for getting things done, regardless of the obstacles that may come your way. If the hay needs to be baled and the hay baler is broken, you figure out how to fix the hay baler. You don’t wait for someone else to do it.

Mim head and sky

Mim – my best friend for 42 years and counting …

I continued to think about all the people who have been positive influences in my life – throughout my career, in my social life, and in my spiritual life. Mim certainly was on the list, along with people who have lived with us (and their families), my aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, classmates, fellow church members, … and, of course, my dogs.

I was able to keep “counting sheep” for several hours, feeling more and more grateful for all the people who have helped me become who I am today. Since you readers don’t have most of a night-time to review all these people with me, I’ll simply say, God and I had a nice, long conversation. Thanks to one sleepless night, I am more appreciative than ever of the many people who have touched my life.

Patti-Margaret-Holly-Edith cropped

Patti (left) and her sister Edith (right) were among our many delightful assisted living residents. Edith’s daughter Margaret and granddaughter Holly joined “God’s guest list” for Mim and me when Edith first became a member of our assisted living family.

 

 

How Mean Is That Doggie in the Mirror?

Floey reflection closeupFloey, who will turn one on January 24, barks ferociously every time she sees her reflection – whether it’s in a mirror, in a window at night, in the shiny black refrigerator door, or in the oven window. She sees that same dog everywhere! She knows there’s a dog on the other side of that “window” and she wants her to come forward and either fight or play, or else turn around and run away. Floey just doesn’t understand why that dog doesn’t respond to her appropriately.

I’ve re-written some of the words of the song “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” for her.

How mean is that doggie in the mirror?
The one that keeps following me.
How mean is that doggie in the mirror?
I wish that my friend she would be.

I’m a little surprised that Floey hasn’t figured out yet that the dog in the reflection is not going to respond to her. She keeps barking, and watching patiently for a response.

Floey sitting w patio door reflection

As I was thinking about what Floey must be thinking, I also thought about a devotional I wrote last week for a Lenten booklet that our church publishes every year. The Bible passage I was assigned to reflect on was Romans 15:5-6. Although I referred to the New Revised Standard Version in my devotional, I really like the language used in The Message:

May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir – not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!  [Romans 15:5-6 MSG]

woman in mirrorPutting those two thoughts together – Floey barking at her reflection and the Bible telling us to get along with each other – I thought about what my reflection is like, everywhere it’s seen. Do I reflect the image of a person who wants to get along with others so that together we can praise God?

Maybe, like Floey, I should think about that image I keep seeing in the mirror and on other shiny surfaces. What kind of image do I reflect to myself and to others? I decided to write another version of the doggie song for myself.

How kind is that person in the mirror?
The one that I see every day.
How kind is that person in the mirror?
I wish she would take time to play.

I thought a lot about what the last word should be. I debated between play and pray. Maybe I’ll sing the song both ways, depending on the reflection of myself I see that day.

Floey standing w patio door reflection adj

 

A Dramatic First Entry to My Gratitude Jar

Last week I wrote about the special words Mim, Floey, and I chose for 2015. Mim’s word is WAIT. Floey’s is LEARN. And mine is GRATITUDE. More readers responded to that post than usual, and I really appreciated reading your comments.

My Gratitude Jar for 2015

My Gratitude Jar for 2015

One friend asked me if I had ever heard of a “Gratitude Jar?” I hadn’t, but upon her suggestion, I googled the phrase, and learned a lot about it. Basically it’s a jar that you keep in a handy place, along with small scraps of paper and a pen, so that you can easily write down anything that you are particularly grateful for whenever you happen to think about it. Then drop the scrap of paper into the jar. Over the year, you can see the pile of blessings in your life grow higher and higher in the jar. Whenever you’re feeling that “your glass is half empty rather than half full,” you can look at your jar, reread some of the slips of paper, and remember many of the things you’re truly grateful for – the many blessings in your life.

I told Mim that I wanted to start a Gratitude Jar and to keep it on my desk. She found a beautiful blue glass jar for me to use, and the next day she unintentionally provided me with the first item to write on a slip of paper to put into the jar. She had driven me to jail in Madison to play the piano for the women’s worship service. She was planning to shop for groceries while I was in jail. I was thankful that she had dropped me off at the door of the City-County Building. It was a cold (below zero temperatures), snowy, and windy day. I was glad I didn’t have to park several blocks away and walk to the jail. But that’s not what I wrote on the first slip I dropped into my Gratitude Jar.

After Mim dropped me off at the jail, she drove toward the Beltline to go to Woodman’s. The roads were very slick. As she was driving on the John Nolen Drive ramp to get on the Beltline westbound, she hit a slippery spot, lost control of the car, and spun off the ramp onto a steep embankment. She fully expected to roll over. She didn’t. She didn’t hit any other cars, and no other cars hit her. She was okay. The car was okay. She was upright, but stuck. She had her cellphone with her, and called 911. Before the police arrived, a snowplow/sanding truck stopped. The driver came to be sure she was okay. Before he got to the car door he had called the police and a tow truck. Within half an hour of the accident, Mim was safely back on the road. She didn’t go grocery shopping, but instead went to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. That’s where she waited for me to call her to say I was done playing in jail and ready for her to pick me up.

Mim told me all about the accident when she picked me up from jail. This was only the second time in her life that she had slid into a ditch. The last time she was in college, driving home in a snowstorm in Minnesota – more than 40 years ago.

The first entry in my Gratitude Jar

The first entry in my Gratitude Jar

It’s a scary feeling to lose control of your car, especially when you’re on a steep embankment and you fully expect to roll over. As we talked about how bad the driving conditions were, and how bad the accident could have been, we were so grateful that the only thing that was lost in this accident was about 30 minutes of time and a $150 tow charge, which will probably be reimbursed by AAA.

This is what I wrote on the first scrap of paper I dropped into my Gratitude Jar:

I’m so grateful that Mim was safe when she slid into the ditch at the John Nolen entrance to the Beltline. I’m so thankful for her safety, that there was no damage to the car, and that she was quickly helped to safety.

I sincerely hope that the other slips of paper I drop into my Gratitude Jar are not as dramatic. But I’m certainly glad I’ve chosen GRATITUDE as my word for 2015, and I’m thankful that Roberta told me about having a Gratitude Jar. I think the jar will be stuffed with lots of thoughtful and thankful notes throughout the year. Maybe I’ll share some more with you as the year progresses.

Gratitude Stune - fullness of life

New Words for 2015

After one year’s experience, I’ve decided that I really like the idea of having one special word to focus on for a whole year, as an alternative to making New Year’s resolutions. Last year’s word for me was JOY. Knowing that JOY was what I would concentrate on every day from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 helped me to recognize and appreciate how much JOY is in my life. It was an inspiring year.

Joy Cross and snowy pond

 

For 2015, I’ve chosen the word GRATITUDE. I’m quite excited about what a year focused on gratitude is going to look like. To give myself a preview of some of the things I might think about, I googled the word gratitude. This is some of what I got:

  • Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. (William Arthur Ward)
  • Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. (Melody Beattie)
  • It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.

Gratitude fall scenery

But I’m jumping ahead. I have a whole year to mull over this word.

Mim chose the word WAIT, with an emphasis on patience while waiting. She’s planning to re-read Holly Whitcomb’s book, Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting to get her started. I googled WAIT for her, as well, and came up with a quote attributed to Corrie ten Boom, “God has perfect timing; never early, never late. It takes a little patience and faith, but it’s worth the wait.”

wait-for-the-lord

 

Floey chose the word LEARN. Although she has already learned a lot in her first 11 months of life, she is determined to become the smartest dog and best four-legged caregiver possible. In addition to her on-the-job training at Country Comforts Assisted Living, she started a formal class last night. Floey, Mim, and I went to “Beginner” class at PetSmart in Madison to work on canine manners. She’s already good at SIT and DOWN, but she needs to learn more about STAY and COME. She also wants to learn leash etiquette. When Floey and I were talking about her word, she quoted Pablo Picasso, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Learn

With our new words rolling around in our minds, Mim, Floey, and I are charging ahead into 2015. We’ll keep you posted on what impact GRATITUDE, WAIT, and LEARN have in our lives throughout the year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Mim-Floey-Marian 01-06-15

Mim-Floey-Marian in my first selfie.

 

JOY – My Special Word for 2014

JOY Cross“Abbey, Mim & Me – Our Special Words for 2014” was the first blog post I wrote this year. I explained that rather than coming up with any New Year’s resolutions for 2014, I would spend the year focusing on JOY. The idea of choosing one special word to focus on for a whole year came from Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the Difference. The word I chose was JOY; Mim chose ENOUGH; and Abbey chose PLAY. To help me remember to think about my word, I bought an amber-colored glass cross with the words, “The JOY of the Lord is my strength” printed on it, and it hangs from a suction cup on my patio door. Every time I slide the door open, the JOY cross clinks on the glass door and I think about my word. Most nights I lay in bed before falling asleep and I think about the joy I have experienced that day.

I’m sure I’ve been more aware of joy in my life this year than any year in the past. The irony is that I’ve also experienced more than my usual share of sadness. Maybe that’s why God gave me the word JOY to focus on in 2014. I’ve been to lots of funerals for friends this year, and about half of them (4) have been for friends about my age – mid-sixties. But even at funerals, there can be joy, as we get together with old friends we haven’t seen in a long time and remember good times together with each other and with our friend who is no longer with us.

One of the biggest changes in our living situation happened early in 2014. For most of 2013 we had only one nonagenarian living with us. Before the end of January, another 92-year-old moved in. A couple weeks later a third 92-year-old moved in with a neighbor along with the understanding that she can rely on us for the general management of her care. Keeping up with three (now) 93-year-olds is keeping us very busy! All of them are very active. One is an avid reader and enjoys going out with friends and family. She has some kind of social engagement almost every week. The other two go to bingo once a week and have two or three other outings every week. All together, we have lots of good times together – a regularly recurring source of JOY.

The hidden JOY of being somewhat overwhelmed by all this added caregiving responsibility is that we now have six independent caregivers who help us out several hours a week so that Mim and I can take two afternoons off almost every week to do fun things – like going to movies and shopping at resale shops. (The best of many good movies we saw this year was “The Theory of Everything.” We both highly recommend it.) Mim and I were also able to get away for four quick mini-vacations – a first in many years. We visited friends in Wausau for a Wisconsin-style lobster fest. We went to Minnesota for the 150th anniversary of Gol Lutheran Church, Mim’s family church. And we went to our Christmas Mountain timeshare a couple times – once to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and once to just relax for a few days. We had lots of JOY to celebrate with each getaway.

Abbey head-on colorJOY would have been a good name for our dog Abbey. She brought an incredible amount of JOY to Mim and me and to everyone who lived with us during the eight years she was with us. When she had to leave us in November, there was a great big hole in our home. One of the 93-year-olds said the same thing every time she came into the house from one of her outings, “I miss Abbey so much.” Abbey would always be at the door to meet us. All three nonagenarians and Mim and me quickly agreed we wanted to get another dog to love us and be loved by us as soon as we could.

Within a couple weeks, Floey (short for Florence Nightingale, caregiver in training) joined our family. She’s been with us just over a month now, and already she’s taken on the role of bringing each one of us a daily dose of JOY.

Floey sittingJOY definitely was “the perfect word” for me for 2014. Focusing my attention on that special word helped me find and recognize and appreciate how much joy is in my life.

Which leads me to what I think will be my word for 2015 – GRATITUDE. That word keeps coming to mind whenever I try to think of what will be a good word to focus my attention on next year. I’ll decide for sure by January 1 – but I think GRATITUDE will be the word.

JOY Cross and Pond - closer