The View From A Slightly Twisted Angle

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The Uncomplicated Project

Saturday dawned sunny, bright and full of promise.  My sweet husband was off work, I felt well rested and the day lay before us with no specific plans whatsoever. Utopia.  Over our morning cup of really yummy mocha coffee we discussed what we wanted to do over the course of the day that stretched out before us.  Relax?  Catch up some housework? Relax? Do a little yard work? Relax? (Guess which one I was leaning towards??) By cup number two we decided it was about time to tackle the one remaining landscaping project we had been dreading putting off but wanted to accomplish this year.  Though the day was supposed to get hot we decided if we started early enough we could finish early and enjoy the rest of the evening.  Having determined our days plans we set off to tackle this:


This is the area in the front of our house where the two sidewalks meet into the steps that go down by the old wash house.  Yes. Wash house.  The little white house where my grandmother did her laundry before she had indoor plumbing.  Actually the white building  you see in the picture is the cellar house which is connected to the wash house but let’s not get technical.  And yes.  It is the front of the house which confuses the snot out of my kids because no one really uses the front door much so they think the back door should be the front door. I’ve tried to explain to them that no house’s “front door” opens into the laundry room.  Again…technicalities.  Since these steps lead to both doors I guess for the purpose of this post it really doesn’t matter. The point is that this mess was there to be viewed every time we sat on our front porch and it was time to do something about it. We’ve spent quite a bit of our spring and summer cleaning out areas about the farm and this was the final area left to tackle.  The fact that we’ve made it this far without killing each other is a minor miracle considering my husband’s “let’s just rip it out and start over” theory often clashes with my “my grandma planted those let’s weed around it” attitude. Combine that with the fact that neither one of us actually enjoys this type of activity – we just want it to look nice – and you have the perfect storm really.  Fortunately for him there really wasn’t much here that I wanted to preserve so we knew it was going to be a faster fix. Storm clouds were not on the horizon here. This should have been simple. Uncomplicated.

After pulling out almost everything growing in the dirt, we turned our attention to what we thought was going to be the hardest part of our project: digging the sunken bricks out of the dirt between the steps and the bank.  Those bricks are from the old “big barn” on the property – the barn built by my grandmother’s uncles – so of course I wanted to save them and reuse them as edgers. My husband cheerfully dug them up while my younger daughter and I reset them.  All was going well.  Everyone was quite content and pleasant as my husband and I left for town to pick up the mulch required to finish off our little project area.  It was a little before noon so we were right on track. Victory was in sight.

Arriving home with our mulch (and a couple bags of rock for a different area) in tow we paused for a quick bite of lunch before heading back out to finish for the day.  We were focused on completing our uncomplicated task.  That’s when the landlord, or “Daddy” as I call him, appeared.  He had mentioned before that he wanted to do some work on the concrete in that area so the water would quit pooling there and making mud, further burying the sidewalk and steps, every time it rains.  He had, in fact, purchased several bags of concrete mix to do that repair.  They are safely out of the rain in the barn waiting to be used. Apparently because we were out working in the area he remembered that project needed to be done so he was measuring and figuring while we were laying down mulch.  By the time our mulch was laid he had busted out the old step and was laying the old concrete in to “flagstone” the path behind the house.  My husband once again grabbed his shovel and my two favorite men worked together to lay the old concrete into flagstones.  (Looks great by the way.)  That project completed and back to figuring the best way to lay new concrete to get the water to run-off down the hill and rebuild the step they just removed, Daddy mentioned that at one point he had dug a trench under the handrail and filled it with rock so that the the water would run down the hill.  Muttering about some prior renters not keeping it up he pondered aloud the fact that redigging that trench and finding the now buried rock might help before he relaid the sidewalk.  Cleaning up from our other project I smiled and told him that we could probably do that…thinking we could do it another day.  Fixing the area under the handrail wasn’t on my agenda for the day.  That’s why my husband has a weed wacker. It didnt look so bad. I resumed cleaning up mulch bags. When Daddy brought up the buried rock trench again I suddenly knew my uncomplicated plans were changing.  We were about to dig up rock.

Once again the guys manned the shovels while my daughter and I helped unearth the billion and forty two rocks that had become buried over the last 5-7 years.  Big rocks….little rocks….lots of rocks.  Realizing that if we tried to find every lost rock were were going to be out there for…oh…one hundred and five years…I threw out a desperation contingency plan.  Why didn’t we just pull out the larger rocks, leave the smaller ones in the ground, retrench and then mulch the top of the trench over the mixture of small rocks and dirt.  That way we didn’t need to locate every rock and could save ourselves a week of work.  (I’ve always been more “just make it look pretty” than functional anyway. Well…when it comes to yardwork I just want to be done I’m that way.)  My plan met with approval so while my engineer minded father trenched the water run-off we quickly finished finding the large rocks. And washing 5 years of dirt off the large rocks. Yes. I washed rocks. Then we waited while my dad (I just mentioned he’s an engineer, right?) tested the run-off trench with the hose.  And a bucket.  And the hose again.  It worked  (Of course it worked.  He’s an engineer!) so we were given the green light to arrange the now ridiculously muddy large rocks and put the mulch in the now muddy area under the handrail.   I’ve seen ads for mud baths at spas and I must say….I don’t get it. There are few things I like less than playing in mud.  Since I used to make mud pies for my mother so I guess this is a new thing but I must say laying muddy rocks in the muddy ground was not my favorite part of the day. It was messy and squishy though so I guess there is some fun in that…okay…not really.  At any rate, we got it accomplished.  Satisfied that we had a well draining run-off that looked pretty we cleaned up our mess and dragged our now sun-burned – and muddy -bodies into the house just in time to take a fast shower and make dinner.  Not quite the quick project we’d envisioned but gratifying none the less.  It seems like life is that way most of the time isn’t it? Things are never as uncomplicated as you thought they were going to be but it turns out better in the end.

Just don’t say the word “rock” to me for a few days…okay?

Our Finished Project:



When Life Gives You Brown Bananas….

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When our oldest child was quite young one of his favorite books was “Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”  Can I quote it for you? No really: I can.  I read it to him that many times.  Actually after the way things were going this past weekend I don’t need to quote the book.  I lived it. Two days in a row in fact.

I woke Friday morning looking forward to completing my last day of a very long work week and getting home to my family.  We all have weeks that wear us out on occasion.  Mine was last week.  I was in a pretty good mood because it was, after all, Friday. I knew I had little on my plate to complete at work that day so I was looking forward to an “easy” day and…perhaps…leaving a little earlier than normal.  Yep. I was pretty chipper when I arrived and sat down at my desk.  Joking with a few coworkers I settled in for the day feeling pretty good.  That feeling lasted until I opened my inbox and started reading the emails that were awaiting me.  Part of my responsibilities is to QA data prior to transferring it to one of our clients.  I could go into greater detail here but I’m sure if I did it would somehow be a HIPPA violation and the last thing I need is for the HIPPA cops to come looking for me.  Anyway, the data transfer QA  is by far the least favorite part of my job. Mostly because if there is a problem with any of the data I get an email and a weekly “issues log” and I have to figure out what is wrong and why.  There in my inbox was last week’s issues log. UGH!  As I opened it and began to investigate the “issues” my mood was still pretty good.  It is a weekly occurrence and usually is some silly little thing like the scan was hard to read so it transferred into the spreadsheet incorrectly or that the original number was plain flat wrong. No big deal.  The computer makes mistakes and so do I.  I am a human after all.

I pulled files and happily went about answering questions until I hit the “issue” that made my stomach roll.  The one that turned my happy mood on its ear.  As I began investigating the final problem I discovered that the issue was caused because I had somehow shuffled all the data on the Excel sheet into the wrong place.  I had totally screwed up the file.  It didn’t matter to me that the file was submitted when I had only been at my new job for two weeks I was sick at the fact that I had messed up that bad.  As I said before, I am fully aware that I am capable of messing up.  I can live with that. No what my type A personality can’t take is when I can’t figure out how I messed up and I, still to this moment, couldn’t figure out what I did. I had no explanation for it other than I messed up…somehow.  After running myself in circles for a while I did the only thing I could do: I redid the entire file, resubmitted it to our client, and then emailed them taking full responsibility for my error and apologizing.  Knowing that my error not only affected our client but our client’s client, I felt horrible and I braced myself for the reply email that I knew was not going to be happy.

About this time my boss came in and I quickly explained the problem to her.  Thankfully she was very understanding and sweet to me, as per usual, because I was already doing a pretty good job of beating myself up.  I even offered to have her take the fee I was sure our client was going to charge for the screwed up file out of my paycheck.  Yep.  I had myself in a real funk by the time she’d arrived.  She reassured me that wasn’t going to be necessary and I handled it the best way possible so I was feeling a little better right up until the reply I was dreading hit my inbox.  I knew the reply wasn’t going to be pleasant but I wasn’t expecting to be made to feel like I’d bankrupted a company by my error. (I hadn’t by the way.) Nor was I really anticipating to be spoken to (can you apply that to an email? It doesn’t really “speak”.  You know what I mean right?) like I was an inept toddler.  As I read through the  reply I knew the day was going to get ugly.  You see with this particular client when she finds one mistake she then becomes the mistake FBI.  She digs until she hits the core of the earth.  Suddenly she suspects that if you screwed up once you had to have done it multiple times before.  I again replied my apology noting that I understood the problem it caused everyone and assured her that I would be diligent to never let it happen again.  That’s the best I could do.  I braced myself for the barrage of emails I knew were coming.  The ones questioning other things that wouldn’t have been questioned before.

They arrived.  I spent my day re-checking all the files for one of the companies her company represents while fielding the emails from her that kept hitting my inbox.  Thankfully one of my coworkers had pity on me and sweetly helped me out. (I have great coworkers.)  Had she not I might have done myself harm with my staple remover.  I contemplated it a few times during the day.  Added to the “heat” I was feeling for my screw up and the internal berating I was giving myself, the air conditioning was on the blink making the office feel somewhat like a sauna.  Now saunas are nice in a spa but not so fabulous when you are already having a bad day at work.  By the time I left for the day (not early I might add) I was hot, tired and completely drained.

It was in that frame of mind I began my commute home through the increased traffic caused by the College World Series being in town. I love the College World Series but I wasn’t in the mood for the increased volume of cars nor the fact that none of them knew what lane they needed to be in. My already frazzled state became even more frazzled after nearly rear-ending the fifteenth person cutting across four lanes of traffic to exit.  Added to that I was deeply contemplating whether or not I am cut out for my current job or whether I should begin looking for something with a little less pressure like…for instance….checking groceries at a local supermarket. (Okay I’ve seen the way people treat the workers at check-outs. I was only half serious in that thought.)  I was seriously re-evaluating every decision I have made in the last 6 months while trying not to kill anyone with my car.  By the time I arrived home I had myself in full cranky mode.  Tired, grumpy and slightly depressed I managed to make it through the might without scaring my poor family too badly.  I had my moments but I have a great understanding family.  I found myself relaxing and letting things go. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the next day would be better.  I was wrong.

I awoke Saturday earlier than I’d planned to the sound of ice falling from the window air conditioner in our bedroom.  We are currently living in my grandparents old house and since my grandfather would have none of that new fangled central air stuff we cool with window units.  The one in our bedroom is one from our old house and it is pretty old as evidenced by the fact that it ices up every few hours.  Because there has been no room in the budget to replace it we’ve been just dealing with it and waking up a little warm.  No big deal.  Just annoying.  As I stumbled out to start the coffee pot I failed to notice my husband had already set it up for me before he left for work earlier that morning.  Water all over the counter.  Nice.  Noticing it was warmer in the rest of the house than usual I investigated and discovered the living room unit was shut off.  After a text conversation with my husband I learned it was struggling that morning so, thinking it needed a rest or needed to be hosed out because of cotton, he’d turned it off for a while.  I tried to turn it on.  Nothing.  Because I don’t trust myself to “hose” out anything I wandered up to my parents house to enlist the help of my daddy.  He was more than willing to, once again, help out his youngest child.  After his expert assessment it was discovered the fan motor was burnt out.  I felt bad that I’d broken his air conditioner.  (I go to guilt pretty fast.  I didn’t break the air conditioner.  Time had.)   Being the amazing landlord and father he is,he assured me it wasn’t our fault and then informed me he would go buy a new one because it is his house and it needs one anyway.  The deal was that my husband could put it in when he got home from work so he wouldn’t have to.  Okay.  That was more than fair I thought.  One warmish day.  I could handle that. The third and final unit was still plugging along so it wasn’t too bad in the house. Yet.

I rushed about getting some cleaning done before the house got warmer than I prefer. My kids were not so happy about that but they wisely didn’t say much. They just helped me…while “standing up on the inside” I imagine. We had just finished when…bang…no power in the house.  Great.  What had I done now?  Locating a flashlight to check the breaker box I was about to investigate when my mom showed up at our house. Her power was out too.  Okay. At least I didn’t break something this time.  (At this point that was a bonus point.) We called in the outage to a computer generated voice, not something that inspires confidence that anyone is going to get it, and set in to wait. Not much else you can do with no power.  Have you ever noticed when the power is out and you can’t use the bathroom (one has to have electricity to pump water from a well on the farm) suddenly everyone needs to use it?  Have you also noticed that when it gets hotter in your house than normal your children start bickering over nothing?  It was in this state I texted my husband inquiring if he thought it was too early to start drinking.  Since I don’t drink I think he figured I was having a bad day. Again.

While my mom and I were trying to distract the children from bickering with a game of cards my phone rang.  It was my father in law.  It seems a little birdie (I think the bird’s name was “Whining Facebook Post”) told him we were having air conditioning problems so he had ordered one for us.  He informed me we could use it to replace our dying one in the bedroom. Feeling guilty I left to go pick up the unit he ordered.  I was too hot to argue with him but not hot enough that I didn’t feel a little guilty that they’d bought us an air conditioner.  I also felt slightly guilty that I left the bicker twins with my mother in her heating-up house while I got in my air conditioned car to go get it.  I did it anyway.  Once again fighting through stupid drivers with baseball tickets,  I obtained the amazing gift from my in-laws and made it home.  I think I only thought a few bad words during the trip and didn’t verbalize them. That was a minor miracle considering the mood I was in.  Arriving home I discovered that we still had no power.  I had two new air conditioners but no juice to run them.  I was also starting to get a “hot and tired” headache.    At this point I was afraid to even open the refrigerator because I didn’t want to let any cool escape.  Two and a half hours at 90 degrees outside was making it quite warm inside. Settling in again I silently hoped that the power guys were close to a solution and my food wouldn’t all spoil before they found one. It was then that  my husband texted that he would pick up a pizza on the way home from work.  Things suddenly started looking up a little. I didn’t need to open the fridge now.   Then the power came on.  Even better.

My Superman arrived home with the pizza and immediately began installing the new units. I of course was irritated because I thought he should eat first.  I am so rationale when I’m tired and hot.  He firmly informed me he wanted to get the air conditioners in first so the house could start cooling.  You’d think he’d know better than to be logical when I’m trying to “wife” him.  Geez.  Never the less: he began putting in the new units. That sounds simple but in this house it is a bit more complicated.  Because the windows slide open left and right instead of up and down the process involves plexiglass, foam filler and tape.  Lots of tape.  And patience.  I probably wasn’t a really great candidate to help but he put up with me anyway. It was well into evening before the job was complete and the house had a chance of cooling off.   After feeding Super-husband the pizza he wouldn’t eat earlier, cleaning up the mess from putting them in and standing in a cool shower for a while I drug myself to bed, reminding myself of the lesson that Alexander learned from his Mom: everyone has bad days.  I’d had two.  Surely tomorrow would be better.

Sunday dawned with a storm but as I woke in my cool house I didn’t care.  Checking the coffee pot before I added water I hummed about preparing for a new day.  After a good night’s sleep I found myself thankful for our amazing parents (both sets) my wonderful husband and even my bickering kids.  I even found myself thankful for my job and co-workers I enjoy. My attitude much improved by a night of cool sleep. It was going to be a better day I’d decided.  Then I noticed the bananas on my counter.   It seems the heat in the house Saturday had turned my nice yellow bananas brown.  Quickly I knew no one was going to want to eat them.  What a waste.  ‘Okay’ I thought, ‘If you make lemonade when life throws you lemons what do you do when it gives you brown bananas?’  Then I had an epiphany: Banana Bars.  When life gives you brown bananas you bake banana bars.  With cream cheese frosting on them you won’t care if you’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…or two.



Perfecting My Country Wave

waveNow that we’ve been on the farm for three months I have found myself falling back into and enjoying some of my forgotten “country habits”.  I find myself waking up to the sound of birds outside my window rather than garbage trucks. I didn’t even know I missed that. I once again sort my trash….okay…I didn’t really miss that.  I have need of a “mud room” now – no sidewalks.  I have even found myself liking one of the farm kittens recently added to our domain. (My husband is concerned that I’ve hit my head.) Yep….my farm roots are starting to poke out again.  For the most part it has been lots of fun rediscovering some of the things I forgot about.  One of my favorite things that I have found myself reclaiming is the “Country Wave.”

If you’ve ever driven down a gravel road in rural America you know what I’m talking about.  It’s the friendly gesture exchanged between drivers as they pass on the road.  Fortunately on most gravel roads you don’t pass a whole lot of people so you don’t wear yourself out waving.  Unfortunately, for the same reason,  you don’t get a lot of practice perfecting your wave.  That may sound silly until you understand the fact that there are different approaches to the country wave.  It isn’t easy to decide which one fits you best.  I’ll give you some examples:

  • The One Finger Wave.  Now don’t confuse this with the one finger wave you get on the interstate.   This is the wave that requires extending your index finger upward while passing another car.  Kind of a “I see you” sort of gesture.  It says, “Yo!” Simple. Concise. Doesn’t require much effort.  Seems kind of unfriendly to me but is a step above no wave at all.
  • The Hand Flash.  This is extending all of your fingers upward while keeping your palm on the steering wheel.  It’s a step above the one finger wave (10 steps above the interstate one finger wave).   The down side is that unless you drive with your hand on the top of the steering wheel (making all 10 and 2 driving instructors crazy) it is hard to execute.  Thankfully I never liked my driver’s training instructor much. (No – not you dad.  The one from school.)  This wave is friendlier. It say’s “Hey!”   If you are feeling more friendly than that you can execute…
  • The Finger Flick. This takes the wave from above but adds a little flick of the wrist to simulate a wave.  It sort of says, “Hey There!” rather than simply “Hey”.  If you are in a really good mood you can try…
  • The Finger Wiggle. This is when one takes the above wave and adds a ripple of the fingers. A “wave” of your fingers if you will. (Okay. That was bad.  I know that.)  The art of this wave is you still don’t take your hand off of the wheel, which is good advice on a gravel road.  This wave says, “Hey. Have a good day!”  Slightly friendlier than above without risking your life on loose gravel.  There are some who are brave though and might pull off…
  • The Salute.  Seriously. A salute.  I pass one older gentleman every day who gives me a formal salute.  I figure he is formal military.  Or he thinks it’s respectful. I am not brave enough to try it for a couple of reasons: 1 – I’m afraid I’ll salute wrong (never been in the military) and 2 – I like both hands on the wheel. (That was for you dad.) Also on my “no-no” list would be…
  • The real wave.  It is just that.  A wave. It says, “Hi. I’m insane enough to risk losing control of my car to wish you a good day.”  Those people make me a little nervous when I pass them.  Particularly in a “bend” in the road. I prefer going by people in full control when rounding a curve.  Just saying.

These are just the most common of the country waves around our area. There are of course many variations and twists to the classics.  It all is quite overwhelming when you have to sit down and figure out which gesture fits you best. (Assuming of course that you’ve already ruled out the one finger interstate wave.) Not a task to take lightly.  I don’t want to seem to unfriendly but then again I don’t want to wind up in the ditch.  After several months of thoughtful consideration and practice I finally have concluded that the finger wiggle fits me the best.  Just friendly enough to express myself without running the risk of hitting a rough patch of loose gravel without both hands on the wheel. Yep.  That’s me.  Simple and friendly with a dash of safety.  I’ve spent the last week or so expressing my friendliness with the finger wiggle and feeling my country roots growing.  It is fun to watch for the wave back. The one finger people (I’m still talking about the gravel road remember.  I don’t enjoy the interstate ones. Jerks!) the finger flickers and my saluting friends.  Some people don’t wave back.  I assume they must be “city-folk” cutting through and they don’t know the “rules.”  “Country-folk” are friendly after all and I am evidently becoming one of them.  I must be.  The other day I saw a car approaching and noticed the driver was giving me a full-armed-fingers-wiggling wave.  “Wow!” I thought, “I must be fitting in.  I must look like a friendly local person.”  For a moment I felt like I am finally where I belong.

Then I realized it was my brother….


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My Grandmother’s Legacy

I spent the weekend working in the yard and thinking about my grandmother.  It seems I think about my grandmother a lot lately.  I guess that is inevitable considering that we are living in her old house.  I think about her as I cook in the kitchen where she spent hours cooking, baking and canning.  I think about her when I look out the window and see the bird feeder she hung.  I walk into the living room and I see the spot where her piano used to sit.  I can see her sitting in her rocker in front of the window doing “fancy work” every evening.  As I said, I think about her a lot, but none more than as I was working in her flower gardens this weekend.  She loved those flowers and spent hours tending them.  The daffodils coming up in the front of the house.  The rose bush by the old wagon wheel.  The lilac bush outside my bedroom window.  I see touches of her everywhere which makes me think of her more.  The more I think about her the more I talk about her.  My children have heard more stories about their great-grandmother in the last six weeks than they have probably heard in their lives.  It helps that their grandparents are right here to help supply some stories too.  Some of them I didn’t even know.  The more we talk the more amazed I am at the lady she was.

My grandmother was the oldest of ten children.  There were actually thirteen (two sets of twins) but only ten lived past infancy.  When my grandma was 14 her mother gave birth to her youngest brother and never really regained her strength.  My grandma had to quit school in order to stay home and help her mom.  Two years later her mother passed away and at the tender age of sixteen my grandmother was left to manage the home.  A farm home.  With eight younger brothers and a little sister who wished she was a boy. No electricity or indoor plumbing and not much money.  She made and mended their clothes and then she washed them by hand.  She baked loaf after loaf of bread and cooked on a cook stove only to have her brothers come in and devour it in one swoop.  She loved her younger siblings and gave up all the “fun” stuff she should have been doing to take care of them.  For ten years until she was well to the age where people considered her an old maid.  Then she fell in love with my grandfather.  Her father forbid her from getting married (presumably because he didn’t want to lose his housekeeper) so, with the help of her aunt, my grandparents eloped.  Her father remarried shortly after that.

Of course getting married didn’t mean my grandma’s life got any easier. She married a farmer during the depression.   She made all their clothes, mended them and washed them by hand.  She cooked on cook stove. She raised chickens and geese.  She helped on the farm.  She gardened and preserved everything she could find. She worked hard and then worked some more.  They didn’t have electricity until my dad was in grade school.  Indoor plumbing didn’t come until they replaced the old farm-house with this house – in 1967.  (My brother was a baby then.)  This house that would now be considered small and too plain felt like a mansion to my grandmother when they moved in.  even though this house did make her daily chores a little easier she still worked hard.  Every day.  That is just the way she was.

She lost her cousin in World War 1 when his plane hit a mountain.  She worried as her two youngest brothers also fought in that war. She lost her younger son to a tragic drowning when he was only 21. Over the following years she lost more brothers to heart issues.  Each of those events took a piece of her heart but she continued on. She never looked back or dwelled on it.   I’ve only recently heard some of the details about these things from my parents. I can’t remember my grandmother ever talking about them much. That was also the way she was.

She was also my grandma.  The lady who would light up when her grandchildren walked into her house.  She always had a cookie and a hug.  She taught us all to play the piano.  She taught me to play the trumpet.  She helped with our various 4-H cooking and sewing projects.  She taught us to garden.  She fed us and took care of us on the few evenings when my mother had to work. She recorded our concerts on her old-fashioned tape recorder so she could listen to them again.  She clipped out every newspaper article in which we appeared.  She loved us with her whole heart and “grandmothered” us like no one else could.  That was just the way she was.

My grandmother passed away in 1994 just four days after our oldest daughter was born.  She hadn’t been feeling well for a while but she still managed, with the help of my mom, to can all the pears on her tree that year. (The tree I look at out the dining room window now.)  Even though she wasn’t feeling well she sent my dad out to see me and meet his new granddaughter. She sent my favorite homemade sticky buns, a can of her pears that my son loved and a pink handmade baby quilt.  I talked to her that day and she told me she’d felt well enough to putter in her flowers a little that day.  She expressed her delight over her new redheaded great-granddaughter (She loved red heads.  She did marry one after all!) and told me how much she loved me.  That night while she was getting ready for bed she fell to the floor from a massive heart attack.  As shocking and hard as that was at the time I’ve often thought in later years that it really was a blessing that she went so fast in the home she loved after spending the day doing things she enjoyed. She’d have chosen that if she’d have been given a choice.  That’s just the way she was.

The more we’ve talked about her the more I have realized what an incredibly amazing lady she was.  Her work ethic.  Her quiet strength.  Her fierce love.  Those were her legacies to us. I can only hope to grow up and be half the person she was.



It Isn’t Home Any Longer

Early (very early!) Saturday morning found me jumping in my vehicle for a road trip to the north. My companions: my mother, our youngest (sleepy) daughter and my over sized travel mug of coffee. (I did mention it was early – right??)  Our mission: to help our oldest daughter get ready for her senior prom.  I think I’ve mentioned a million a few times how hard it is for this mom to have her little girl finishing her senior year without me there so since I had the day off we decided to whisk up to our former hometown and spend the day with her.  It seemed important.  I didn’t want to miss it. I think she was happy that I didn’t want to miss it too. Since I am a multitasker I also scheduled an appointment with my wonderful hair therapist whom I haven’t seen since we moved. (I had the gray hairs showing through to prove it.)  Of course it was prom day (or “up-do day” for hair therapists) so she sweetly squeezed me in early since I was going to be in town. That was the reason for the giant coffee mug and early start.  I really can’t blame my daughter.  Don’t tell her I said that though.

As we took off for a ladies road-trip day I couldn’t help but wonder a little how it was going to feel to return to the town which used to be home.  I hadn’t been back since the day we took off with the U-haul except for one quick trip for a final walk through our old house.  That particular trip left a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth, but that is a rant blog for a different day.  Setting out on the route that is oh-to-familiar I hoped this trip would be a little more fun and produce better memories but  I did wonder if I’d feel weird in such a familiar place now that things have changed.  I had promised my husband that we wouldn’t drive past our old home: something our daughter has struggled with since we moved.  She would drive by and get upset at the changes that were taking place.  Then she’d text me.   It’s hard to say goodbye to a house you grew up in.  It’s even harder when they are changing everything about that place.  Like cutting down all the trees you loved.  Since I am “away” it was easier for me to detach: we don’t live there any more and everything has changed for us.  For her it has been harder: the only thing that has really changed for her is her address and her “parents”. (Trust me – she got the good end of that deal.  Her new “parents” are way more fun, own a Keurig and make homemade blizzards.  She may never come “home”.)  Even though I detached fairly easily there have been times since we moved that I’ve missed that old house.  Like the times when our youngest daughter and I are both trying to get ready to leave in the morning.  I miss having two bathrooms.  Or when the kids are bickering.  I miss the space to send them away from each other.  Or when I’m tired. I miss our private master bedroom.  Just a few times few and far between. For the most part  I am over the moon with happiness at being where we are but there are times.  Driving by the old place, I knew, wouldn’t accomplish a thing.  I didn’t intend to do it.  What I forgot was that when you enter town you can see our old house from the highway if you know where to look.  From the backseat our youngest daughter exclaimed, “Oh my GOSH!  What did they do?? The trees are all gone and it looks stupid!”  Heart sinking a little I turned up the street to take my mom and daughter to the local coffee shop not far from my hair salon without responding to her.  Maybe this hadn’t been a good idea.

Since it was before noon  9am on a Saturday and no teenager in her right mind was going to be awake yet, I dropped off my traveling companions at the coffee shop to wait for daughter #1 to meet them while I got my hair done.  It was really kind of an odd feeling.  Everything there was the same yet it felt so very “different”.   Odd.  My hair appointment helped quite a lot.  There is nothing like being pampered and walking out of a place feeling pretty that helps one frame of mind.  My sweet little hair therapist is a miracle worker and I love just talking with her.  I felt a little more “at home” after spending time there and even better when I arrived to pick up my road trip-mates to discover daughter #1 had rolled out of bed and joined them.  Have I mentioned that I miss that girl?  Giggling and planning for the rest of the day we took off to go to the house where she is living with some very sweet friends of ours.  We had a dress to shorten and time to spend together.  The day was looking up!  It was great to see our friends again and catch up on the happenings of the past five weeks.  While we chatted my mother and I managed to figure out how to shorten my “inherited her mother’s height” daughter’s dress without deconstructing it.  When the last-minute (thanks kid!) dress alterations were complete it was time to take off for her to get her hair done.  Back to the salon.  Half an hour later she emerged with a princess-‘do and we were off to have lunch.  Then back to the house for nails. Make-up.  Last-minute primping.  Every girl needs a day to feel pampered and special and I’m so glad I didn’t miss this day with ours.  It was a wonderful day: a day of girly giggling and spending time with some of the most precious ladies in my life.  Despite the surreal moments of being in our “hometown” but staying in someone else’s home, it was a great day.

After the pictures and the good-bye hugs we watched her drive away before taking off for our return trip.  My mommy heart was a little sad seeing my beautiful girl take off and knowing I wouldn’t see her again for a few weeks.  It was in that frame of mind I pulled out of the driveway in the neighborhood very close to the neighborhood where we used to live.  Out of habit I pulled onto the shortcut street to get to the highway.  The one that runs parallel to the street where we lived.  I didn’t even think about it until we were passing our old house.  “Mom – LOOK!” daughter #2 exclaimed. I couldn’t help it – I glanced over.  I took in the yard now void of trees: the lilac and magnolia and crab apple that I loved to watch bloom every spring.  The pine trees which blocked the view of the garbage trucks parked in the lot behind the house.  Oh my. I quietly observed that I was glad they didn’t make those changes before we moved because I wouldn’t have liked them.  We got to the highway and headed south.  Somewhere in the middle of that trip the feeling of “I just want to get home” set in.  About the same time the realization hit me: I was headed HOME.  I finally realized why things felt a little odd all day long.  Though I have left a large piece of my heart living in our former hometown and I will cherish the memories we have from there the truth is this: It Isn’t Home Any Longer.

Of course I’m going to post a picture of the purpose for our trip.  Isn’t she beautiful??

Three of My Favorite Ladies

Three of My Favorite Ladies


Back In The Saddle Again!



It was a month ago today that we headed “south” with all our belongings packed into a truck. A month ago that our new adventure began.  What a month it has been!  A month of adjustment: A smaller house.  One bathroom. A dad who is home every day but an oldest daughter who is not.  New schools.  New schedules.  A bus ride for the kids. A month of re-learning how to build a fire in a wood burning stove. Of remembering what a mess snow and rain make a gravel road. (My “keep the cars clean at all times” husband may need therapy soon.)  Of peace and quiet.  Of reconnecting with our families.   For me it meant getting used to not working for a few weeks but that didn’t last long.  I am now in my second week at my job.  Yep.  One interview and I landed a job at a place that I am loving more every day.  (God takes really good care of me.)  More adjusting of schedules.  Did I mention that we have done a lot of adjusting.  It’s been one of the most challenging but rewarding months of my life.  I can honestly now say that I am so glad I laid down my original plans and dove in.  There were days when I wondered if I was losing my mind but I can now tell you it was worth it.  I feel like I’ve been let out of a cage.

I’m happy to report: we now have INTERNET – finally!  Amazing how you don’t really notice how much you depend on something until you can’t have it for a while.  (And I can’t begin to count the number of times I’d think, “That’s going in a blog…oh…wait…”)  It’s also amazing how something that sounds like it should be simple like, oh… reconnecting to the world-wide web…can get so complicated.  Who knew  that our former internet provider, who also happens to be our television provider, couldn’t possibly provide the same service we had aaaaalllll the way out here.  Four miles from town.  Apparently the exact same dish doesn’t work in the country.  Interesting isn’t it?   Thankfully there are all sorts of options out there for us “country folk” so after sorting through and comparing plans we finally chose one and got reconnected: without tunneling wire from my  parent’s modem to our house I might add.  You know what this all means right?

It means that while I may miss a day or two while I adjust back to working and my longer daily commute I am back in the blogging saddle.  Of course I’ve never been a big fan of horses.  Maybe I’ll go for this kind of saddle….


Sometimes There Just Aren’t Words

moving moments

It doesn’t happen often but this weekend something occurred which left me teary-eyed and at a loss for words.  I have mentioned before that many of us here in Nebraska are  quite fanatical about our beloved Huskers and this weekend I was reminded one of the reasons why.  This Saturday at the annual spring scrimmage (The “Red/White” game that my boys usually don’t miss, but unfortunately did this year) something happened that caused quite a reaction.  In a time when college athletic programs are taking heat for being corrupt an event at a scrimmage served as a reminder that all hope is not lost.  This is the original video courtesy of Husker Sports:

The little boy running the football is Jack Hoffman, age 7, who is battling brain cancer.  You can read his story here, here or here.  This little boy who was befriended after a hospital visit from a football player has moved not only an athletic program and an entire state to rally around him has now achieved national attention.  This story was picked up by EPSN and many other news outlets. The following link to ESPN includes an interview with Jack and his father and Rex Birkhead the running back who befriended Jack and brought his story, and the need for pediatric brain cancer research, to the attention of the state and now the nation:

Yeah. Sometimes things happen that restore your faith that there is still some good out there.  Sometimes there are just not words….

teamjack2You can donate to “Team Jack” and pediatric brain cancer research here.


Hitting The Wall And Finding The Gift

Photo Credit:

It was bound to happen really. One can only go so long at full speed, or what feels like full speed,  before one winds up running smack into “the wall”.  You know “the wall” right?  The place where you figure out that you are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.  I don’t know why I was surprised by my wall but I was.  You’d think I would have seen it ahead but apparently I was running blind or thinking I could go around it.  Maybe I thought I could plow through it.  Silly me.

It’s been a draining two and a half weeks.

Draining physically: packing, purging junk, cleaning, unpacking, cleaning, laundry…did I mention cleaning and packing?  I always thought I was a neat, clean and organized person.  I now know I was delusional.  Or maybe I now know that life has a way of making things messy. I do know for sure that cleaning to leave a house that you’ve lived in for so long makes you discover muscles, and dirt, that you never noticed before.  I also now know that a family of six accumulates a lot of stuff.  Probably too much stuff.

Draining mentally: remembering all the last-minute details, making sure you’ve taken care of everything before you move, figuring out what things you need to function and what things can be stored for a while.  We downsized to a MUCH smaller house for now.  Trying to find the line between necessary and functional while still wanting to achieve the feel of “home” was a little more daunting than I thought it would be. (Remember I just said we have too much stuff?)  While doing that at home I was trying to ensure that everything at the job I was leaving was lined up and easy for those who followed me.  I didn’t realize how many details there were to my former job until I started trying to list all my tasks.  Life is kind of like that isn’t it?  We don’t realize how much there is to  the “ordinary stuff”.

Draining emotionally: leaving a job I had for 12 years, friends I had for 14 years, the house where we raised our children and, worst of all, our oldest daughter.  That may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I spent a portion of the day following our move looking at the snow, missing her and crying.  Emotionally drained. Of course along with the hard stuff was the good stuff. Like returning “home” after 21 years. Moving into a house that belonged to my grandparents where my memories are so happy. Life is kind of like that most of the time isn’t it?  There is always good mixed in with hard.  Sometimes I think that makes it more confusing.

Of course there is always just the stress that goes along with moving.  Like getting the moving truck stuck in mud, twice.  Or eight inches of blowing snow the day after you get to your new home.  Or trying to remember which box you packed the toilet paper in.  We had great help and I will forever be grateful but the bottom line is this: moving is hard.  And tiring.  You’d think I’d have seen that wall coming. But I didn’t. Or I ignored it.

I tend to function best at full speed.  I like a plan and a deadline. I like to be busy. So really the last two weeks were right up my alley: I had a goal to accomplish and a checklist to get through.  It works for me.  Well it works for a while.  We got moved.  We got settled.  The younger two children got settled into their new schools. I had a job interview.  Things were clicking along according to the schedule in my brain.   In my brain I need to be working again soon. I thought I was on track for that. I have settled the house, gotten the kids settled in school, established a routine…there is really nothing left for me to accomplish here.  I’m not used to all this free time and it’s messing with my head. Then yesterday I found out that the job that I interviewed for and thought I got I may not have gotten.  I’ll find out next Monday.  That threw me for a loop. What it really did was throw me into the wall.

The wall which reminded me that I can’t control everything.  The wall that says not everything is going to go according to my plans or schedule.  The hard wall.  The solid wall. The wall that knocked me on my fanny for half a day.  The wall that made me stop mid-rush and realize that I had been throwing away a gift.  A gift of some time to rest and take a break from frantic living.  The gift of being able to just hang out with my parents and the rest of my family for a while.  The gift of quiet.  The gift of peace.  The time to take a deep breath and relax a little.  I didn’t even know I needed that until now.

So what’s the “plan” for today?  I’m going to sip coffee and enjoy the view from my front window:

or maybe the back one:

Later I’m going to make dinner for my parents who are returning from a trip out of town for a few days. Until then maybe I’ll read a book.  Or take a nap.  Do a craft.  Bake something.  I really have no plan.

Whatever I do I intend to enjoy my unexpected gift!

Photo Credit:





Poor Man’s Flowers

carnationsSo today is Valentine’s day: a day of romance and love and…well…setting most men up to feel like they are failures. Not romantic enough.  Not thoughtful enough.  Just not…well…enough.  They didn’t get us the right card or chocolate or take us to the best restaurant.  They didn’t spend enough on flowers and gifts. The card wasn’t handwritten. They just didn’t hit the romantic standard we had in mind.  Like the guys in the movies or television or romance novels do. Quit trying to pretend ladies – we’ve all been there.   I was reminded of it last night as I heard my girls discussing Valentine’s day and their friends’ expectations from boyfriends.  Most of us grow out of that eventually but I know some women who haven’t.  I find that kind of sad.  If you’ve followed me long enough you already know that I firmly believe that if I don’t show my family that I love them and they are special to me on more than just a select few days a year (Valentine’s, Birthdays, Anniversaries, etc.) then I am sadly missing the mark anyway.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t get our kids something for Valentine’s day or their birthdays or any other special occasion.  We do. We just aren’t extravagant for them or for each other.  I don’t need those things to know I’m loved and I have hopefully passed that security on to my children.  It isn’t about the gift.  It’s about the giver.

Not long ago I was sitting in a meeting where there was discussion about handing out flowers.  Someone made the statement, “We’ll be giving out roses – not carnations, the poor man’s flower. ” (or something to that effect.)  My eyebrows shot up.  “I LOVE carnations.”  I said.   “They are cheap.”  was the reply.   That statement bothered me on several levels.  It not only exemplifies the attitude I was just discussing but it reminded me of the time I had to grow up and begin to learn what true love is about.  It reminds me of how ugly my attitude and expectations used to be.   And it all happened on a Valentine’s Day long ago.

My husband and I had been married a little over a year and our son was still a baby. We didn’t have any extra money.  None.  In fact we barely had enough money to feed ourselves.   It was obvious to both of us that there was not going to be any kind of special celebration or gifts for Valentine’s Day that year.  I’d like to say that I was mature about that but at that point in my life I just wasn’t.  I was disappointed that I was going to be gypped out of a romantic day filled with flowers and gifts.   I did force myself not whine or complain too much to my young husband but he knew how I felt.  I’m not sure how he could have missed it really.  Pity parties are pretty hard to miss. My poor husband, married too young and doing the best he could at that point felt like a failure because he couldn’t go out and buy roses and chocolates and take me to dinner.  He wasn’t a failure.  His wife was just a spoiled selfish little girl.  On February 14th that year I baked a chocolate cake and decorated it with heart sprinkles (all the ingredients donated to me by my mother by the way) and felt some sort of martyr-ish satisfaction knowing I had a least done something for him for Valentine’s day while I knew he would have nothing for me. (How many times have we played THAT game girls??)  Much to my surprise he walked through the door that evening with two carnations: one red and one white.  He had scrounged through our vehicles, couch cushions and everywhere else he could think of to come up with the change to buy them because he didn’t want me to have nothing that day.  He knew it was important to me so he did everything he could to make sure I got something.  He loved me.  Amazingly – he still does.  From that day to this: carnations are my favorite flower.

Just a few weeks ago  I arrived home from work right before my husband had to leave for his four-day (ok – overnight) work week out-of-town.  I found a simple vase with two carnations, one white and one red, sitting on our headboard.  “What is this?” I asked him.  “Nothing really. Just a little something to let you know I love you and I’ll miss you.”   He does things like that for me all the time.  Nothing extravagant but just a “little something” to tell me he loves me.   Those “poor man’s flowers” bought simply “because” are worth more to me than all the roses in the world.  I guess I learned my lesson all those years ago: any gift given out of love is precious no matter how expensive (or inexpensive) it is.  So tonight while people are out wining and dining and celebrating romance I am going to look at my $10 bouquet of flowers that my sweet man brought me yesterday.  He picked them up at the grocery store while he did the grocery shopping for me.  Now that, my friends, is true love!



This Is Why We Pray

prayerAfter logging a bunch of miles on the road last week I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am that this week the farthest trip I have to take is to work which is about 5 miles from home.  I’m pretty sure after arriving home Sunday evening that if I had to go any further than that my lower half would go on strike. Permanently.  I love my vehicle but I’m tired of it right now. For those who didn’t catch my tales of the road you can read about our longer trip last week here.  I also mentioned that after returning home from that trip we turned around a day and a half later to go and begin doing things to prepare our “new” house for our arrival while my husband worked the weekend. While my husband, I and our youngest two children were there our oldest daughter traveled with some other students from her high school to an honor choir in a different part of the state.  It is that trip which has made me stop and ponder some things the last few days. Our family has the practice of praying together before anyone takes off on a trip.  We take a moment to ask God for a safe journey when we are all together in the car before starting off. My husband and I pray with any child who is leaving with a group on an outing.  I pray with my husband before he leaves for work each week.  It is just something we do.  Like so many other things I thought less and less about why we were doing it and just did it out of habit until something happened this weekend that gave me pause and reminded me that all too often I take things for granted.  I think every once in a while we need a reminder.  I got mine.

Saturday night while sorting and boxing things up at the house into which we are moving I received a text from our daughter that they were headed home from the honor choir.  I texted back to have a fun trip and paused a moment to ask God to keep them safe on the way home.  If I’d have known what was going to unfold I probably would have done more than pause a moment.  I’d have hit my knees. About an hour after her text arrived my phone rang, the ringtone indicating it was our daughter calling.  The conversation went a little like this:

Me: “Hey you! What’s up?”

B: “Hi Mom. I’m just calling to let you know we are stopped on the highway right now. I didn’t want you to worry when I wasn’t home by the time you thought I should be.”

Me: “Stopped on the highway? Is everything okay?” (I was thinking flat tire at this point.)

B: “We’re fine. A car just crossed the line and sideswiped the van but everyone is okay. We’re waiting for the other van to get here and pick us up.  She isn’t too far behind us.” (For those of you who have never had a conversation with a teenage girl this would be a good place to inform you that they talk FAST when explaining things to you.)

Me: “Sideswiped?! Are you sure everything is okay.”

B: “We’re all fine. The driver’s window got knocked out but no one got hurt. We just can’t drive without a window.  Mrs. Bender is coming. My phone battery is dying so I can’t explain it all now.  Don’t worry. I’ll call when I get home.”

I did manage to refrain from asking too many questions such as “Why do you always have enough battery to tweet but never enough to talk” and let her off the phone.  After disconnecting the call I texted her father who was working and passed on what little information I had to him.  I really should have known better than that. He immediately was prepared to take emergency time off from work to go and pick up his little girl.  (That’s one of the many things I love about him.  He is a GREAT daddy.)  It took me a little to convince him that they had things under control there and that there was no possible way for him to arrive there before the other van arrived.  We had to trust the teachers who were with them had it under control.   Again I stopped and, along with my mom and younger daughter, prayed for the kids safety for the rest of the trip and thanked God for keeping them safe that far.  It sounded like a pretty minor incident from the things our daughter had said and the sound of her voice.  That’s what I thought anyway until she arrived home, called me, and filled in some details.

It seems a drunk driver crossed the center line of the two lane highway they were travelling. The choir director who was driving his students got over as far as he could without running them into the ditch and tipping their 15 passenger van but the oncoming car still clipped the driver’s side mirror sending it crashing through the driver’s window.  Guess whose child had been sleeping in the seat right behind the driver. Mine.  She opened her eyes at the sound of the glass shattering and blowing everywhere: mostly on her and the choir director. Part of the mirror clipped her forehead and she had glass fragments everywhere but she assured me she was okay and not bleeding.   No cuts just a couple scratches.  Oh – and she’d bumped her head. Again.  She hadn’t said anything to anyone because she didn’t think there was any big deal.  No.  She didn’t think she needed to see a doctor. Yes.  She was going to take a shower and make sure she had all the glass out of everything.  After talking to her a while I was able to settle my racing mother’s heart down and assured by her that she was in fact fine I let her off of the phone.  Good thing because her daddy called her right after we hung up.  He too wanted more details. After he talked with her he sent me a text:

Do you realize what could have happened?  That wasn’t sideswiped – it was almost a head-on!

Yes I had already realized that and I was already crying and thanking the Lord for protecting our daughter and all of the other people on that van.  Thanking Him for preventing the oncoming truck from crossing any farther into the van’s path.  Thanking Him that all that was hit was a mirror.  Thanking Him that the van didn’t tip.  Thanking Him that our daughter’s eyes had been closed so the glass didn’t hit them.  Thanking Him for the choir director who did such an excellent job protecting his students as best he could by keeping his cool.  Just thanking Him.  Then it occurred to me that our “habit” before trips was probably more important than I had let it become.  I wondered how many other close calls had happened that I never even knew about. How many times had we been kept safe while traveling from things I didn’t even see coming? How grateful I am to God that in all the trips we’ve taken this is the worst accident any of us has ever suffered.  We are blessed beyond words and I hadn’t even taken the time to think about it or thank Him before Saturday night’s reminder. The thought running through my head that evening over and over was: “This is why we pray….”  I’m just so thankful He answers whether my head is fully in the game or not…..So Thankful!

This is what a “few scratches” from flying glass looks like…..but she’s still smiling…..