Twice Blessed

It just so happens that I have two men in this present stage of life that are near and dear to me. It just so happens that they are both named Dennis. It just so happens that they both have birthdays this week. Isn’t that a little odd?

The husband’s serene smile.

The one that I’ve known for the last 49 years is the husband Dennis. We are together still and figuring out life together, one day at a time. He will be 75 on Friday. His birthday has always been a little anticlimactic, being a day after the birthday celebration of the Savior of the world. He’s always seemed very accepting of being in the shadow though. It’s fortunate for him that he doesn’t put a lot of stock in birthdays in general, his or anyone else’s.

My brother even goes geocaching with me (well, once…).

The second Dennis is my brother. I’ve know him for all of his life. He came on the scene when I was ten years old, the youngest of my four brothers. His birthday is tomorrow, Monday. He might as well have been born on Christmas, since the holiday lasts nearly a week for all practical purposes. It’s easy to get overlooked in a very busy season.

We who write, read, and blog – we’re kind of a community, aren’t we? I’ve shared my two Dennis’s with you because I have an “ask” to put out there. If you have time, and just want to put a kind, happy surprise in the life of someone you may not even know, would you wish them a happy birthday? I haven’t tried this before so I don’t know if Facebook lets you say happy birthday if you aren’t on a person’s friend list, but I love experiments. Feel free to tell me if it doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if you do it on the exact day either. Thank you so much! I love these guys.

Brother Dennis can be greeted here: https://www.facebook.com/dennis.l.smith.739

The husband Dennis can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/dennis.r.dietz

Yes, I did my 10,000 steps!

Talking about My Brothers

The interesting thing that happened today, in addition to getting my 10,000 steps

was a phone conversation with my cousin who loves to study and talk with others about relationships. I had to think about how to express what she loves to do, and I’m not sure I’ve got it just right. She wants to learn what it takes to have good relationships with other people in order to love well. She and her husband have helped others through Marriage Encounter workshops, and she is also the person who comes to any family event armed with questions to spark discussions. She likes hearing what others have to say. And don’t we all feel good when someone wants to hear us?

Today’s question worth thinking about was “what does it mean to be a good sibling?” I have four brothers, and I would call all of them good. It was an interesting exercise to define and talk about what “good” meant.

We are not above wearing cheesy reunion T-shirts for the sake of family togetherness.

Although we Smiths grew up together, we have gone our separate ways, lived our very different lives, in different parts of the country. We all have families of our own. Because we are talking about siblings, not friends or business associates or any other connection, making family of origin a priority has to be part of the definition. I love that my brothers, from time to time, have all taken the initiative to connect with each other, with parents and with me. We visit each other and make it a priority to be at family reunions and landmark events. We don’t stalk each other. We don’t demand to know every detail of each other’s lives, but when there is something to talk about, we are pretty sure we can find a family member who will take the time to be a good listener. We want to help each other when there is a crisis.

My Dad died a few years ago, and I love the way my brothers have taken care of Mom since then, each in their own special way. My youngest brother’s wife died this year and there we all were, wanting to share the loss and grieve together. One of my daughters had a pandemic wedding this fall and once again, family showed up to help and witness the special event.

Because we have met often over the years, our children know each other and have a special regard for family as well. They try to make sure that no one gets left out of the “cousin club”. I am so proud of all my nieces and nephews for their efforts to stay connected even as they have started their own families and gotten very busy.

Proud of the way the next generation of cousins has stepped up to honor family.

My brothers and their families are all interesting people and we have a common history. Those things should be more than enough reasons to want to know each other, to initiate and pursue connection. We aren’t doing it perfectly but we are learning as we go. It’s fun.

I would wish that everyone could have the blessing of good relationships between siblings, or other family members. I know sometimes it isn’t the case because living as family is a complex, and often messy business. I am glad today that I took time to think about how I can be a good sibling to my brothers. It is a topic worth much thought, just sayin’.

Small Town Chronicles

Grocery Shopping with Mom

It is dead of winter in this small town in the northern part of the Midwest, which is synonymous with saying not much is happening from day to day, except trying to keep warm. Our weekly excitement is going grocery shopping at Walmart on Friday mornings.

We go on Friday so we can plan a pleasant sabbatical rest day on Saturday. Eating good stuff always makes it special. We go early to avoid the Friday rush. The parking lot is not full yet at 8 am – we usually have our pick of the handicapped spots. It is also nice to avoid crowds since we have an immune suppressed person in our family to consider. We just don’t need to be around coughs and sneezes.

This particular Friday I loaded up our trash and recyclables because we take it all to the dumpster on the way. We always take Mom’s SUV because it’s easy for her to get in and out and has lots of room for all the stuff we buy. It’s also a significant blessing to have this SUV in a heated garage. We never have to feel the freeze when it’s below zero outside. We just get in our seats and off we go.

I say that we shop at Walmart, but that’s really the last place we go. We know what’s there most of the time, so we check out the other grocery store in town to see if they have different/better stuff on sale. I pulled into the parking lot at Marketplace Foods and looked for good parking. I was just planning on how I would park so we could wheel our carts right up to the lift gate, when I remembered that we had forgotten to stop at the dumpster. The back of the car was full of garbage.

Another wonderful thing about living in this small town is that everywhere we go is within five minutes drive of home. So we extended our outing a few minutes and drove back home to the community dumpster. Good to get rid of that stuff and have room for groceries, yeah.

The rest of our shopping trip, through the two grocery stores, dealt with the details of finding a boneless turkey roast – not just any turkey roast, but one with both light and dark meat. It involved tech skills on smart phones and researching the store we hadn’t yet shopped. It resulted in a large white meat roast and a package of turkey legs, bone in, at the first store and the kind of turkey roast we wanted at the second store. In short, research was ineffective. Way too much turkey.

That’s it folks. That was the excitement last week in Hayward, for us. But before you label us totally lame, know that this coming weekend 40,000 people are showing up in Hayward for the American Birkiebeiner (ski race) and it will be enough excitement to last us until spring. I get to help feed hot soup to this crowd after they knock themselves out skiing 40k through the woods. This is not something one sees every day, not in this small town.

The soup crew (me on the right)
How we cook soup for a crowd with no kitchen.

P.S. There actually was more shopping excitement last Friday. Mom is redecorating the living room and we also have two furniture stores in town… but that story is for another thrilling post, someday. I don’t want to throw all the adventure in one post when it’s really worth two. Just sayin’…

Choosing Hope

January 26, 2019

Writing is difficult these days. Our family is going through cancer trauma and much of what I need to tell is too personal. Other things I might write about seem so trivial in comparison. That doesn’t leave much left.

It is easy to keep busy because we are forming a team, coming together to share necessary tasks and watch out for each other emotionally as well as physically. Only one of us has the serious physical suffering, but we all feel the shock as we try to help. Everyone worries about how everyone else is coping. Tears come easily and often. We cling to anything that reminds us of normal and we are often grateful for mundane tasks that occupy our minds and bodies.

We do have faith in our God who has said that it’s times like this that he carries us through. We are waiting to see how that looks. Now we are finding out what it means to have it be “well with our souls” while bad things are happening. Some days our “souls” are not doing so well and we realize that this work is not just physical, not just emotional, but very much spiritual.

Realizing that we live in a world that has gotten ruined in many different ways, we have done what we can to think about and prepare for the worst case scenario. As I went through my own worst case imaginings (which I am always doing – seems to be a habit) I found it kind of liberating to have faced the most feared things. It seemed to free up the energy and motivation to fight back.

When something comes upon me suddenly, unexpectedly, I spend more time with my fear than I do with my hope. There are those two different views to any perceived threat and I do have a choice about how much time to give to each of them. With God’s help, I’m choosing hope.

With God there is no rule about how these things must go. There is the possibility of surprise and blessing to come where I least expect it. God can take care of us in the darkest of places. Isn’t that what I’ve said – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me”? Now I get to mean it for myself, and for someone else.

Another biblical phrase is “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. I’m not yet at the place where I can say I’m glad our family gets to go through a trial. None of us are glad for this. It was not a chosen path, but since we are on it, much better that we accept the offer of Jesus, our creator and greatest healer, to go with us. How could we not? Once again, just sayin’…

Autumn and Family

A past Thanksgiving in the place that is now my home.

I’m not sure I can blame it on the season, but there is something about fall that makes me miss my family in far away places. Sitting here at breakfast with the husband, I even miss our  family members that live down the street. Maybe I’m thinking longingly of Thanksgiving gatherings. Maybe it’s the thought that the long winter is coming and we should see people now, before travel gets risky. Maybe it’s because life is so obviously changing for all of us and I feel the need to KNOW how it’s affecting everyone.

We do a lot of sitting and talking. Good stuff.

Mom and I were sitting in her living room, doing our sunrise chat one day this week. She brought up the fact that many of our southern family members had moved recently. They were in houses she had never seen, so she didn’t know how to picture them at home. We started reflecting on how much better we know someone if we have visited them in their home – or at least we think we know them better. We know where they sit to relax, where they stand to talk on the phone, where they let their cat in and out, where they set the table for a meal. We know a lot of things, if we’ve been there. 

This topic is also on my mind because it was just a year ago this summer that we moved.  For quite a while friends and family didn’t know where to picture us. Even scarier, we didn’t know where to picture us. We were kind of floating and fitting in. A year into being Hayward residents, I feel like we are gradually setting our stamp on our home. There are beginning to be ways that it reflects who we are, our interests, our activities and priorities. As that happens, I feel the need to be known.

I am grateful today, for all the times I’ve been able to visit friends and family in their homes. I’m grateful for the times I’ve been able to host them in my abode. Those sharing times add to my awareness of their personalities. I know the ones who find minimalism comforting, and the ones who surround themselves with ALL their treasures. I know who is handy with tools, who loves creative touches, and who spends most of their time outdoors. I love knowing these things.

 And since this is Saturday sabbath, I have to consider that God is leading me to think about what I consider my “real home”. What will I find there and in what style am I getting ready to decorate it? From what I have seen of God (who I believe came up with the idea of home and family), the good things here on earth are meant to show us, in a small way, what he will let us experience in the future. He is such a hopeful God. 

I know not everyone is comforted by their knowledge of family togetherness. Some have never known a family. Some would like to forget what they know of family.  If that’s you, I want you to know that when it is done God’s way, family is wonderful. My family experience is not perfect – no one’s is, but even the hard and sad times have purpose. They create a holy longing for the perfection that will come when God makes bad things good again. I think it’s that simple, maybe. Just sayin’… 

Running Out Ahead

The husband keeps repenting of “running out ahead” of God. He is a problem solver and problems drive him crazy – it always seems to him that because he is aware of the problem, it is his to solve. He is not comfortable waiting for God. It’s usually in retrospect that he realizes his “running ahead”.

I am not saying that I condone inaction, waiting on everything because one is too lazy to address issues. That drives me crazy. When a problem is there to be solved, I am willing to pray about it and do whatever comes to mind in a reasonable fashion. Do something, do one thing and see what happens next…

Lately, almost daily, new problems are coming up on Dennis’s radar. He thinks about them obsessively. When there isn’t an actual problem, he thinks of a possible problem. He comes to me three or four times in the space of an hour, with more to say about the developing structure of the problem. It grows, takes shape in his mind and is often described as a dangerous situation, not just to him but to others as well. He must figure out what to do and intervene. He must convince others that action is required because he is not physically capable of doing what is needed by himself. What a dilemma. His world has a lot of anxiety in it.

The basement where his stuff is stored is likely going to flood because there are springs on the property.

The coming trip back home is dreaded because something in the truck is messing with his eyesight and making him sleepy. His wife will fall asleep and there will be an accident.

He hasn’t heard that the AC in his daughter’s house has been serviced in the two years she’s lived here. Danger, danger…

He might run out of vitamins, or pineapple on the trip home and his whole health regimen will go down the tubes.

There must be a reason he’s had the word “Fabian” given (by God) to him to investigate. Who is Fabian Farrington and how can he discover why he needs to know?

How can he keep from being further brain damaged while his wife is using the hotspot to access the internet?

How can he convince the code officials of the need to reverse their thinking about grounding rods in duplexes? People’s lives are at stake.

Who wouldn’t be anxious? It seems to me that the challenge is to be aware of possible problems AND aware that someone more capable than one’s self is working out the solution. Trust someone else. Trust God. Learn to wait without stressing out. Like the sign I saw yesterday in the barn I was in – ” Remember stressed, spelled backward, is dessert”. Yes it is, just sayin’…

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Dinner and a Show

7-3-2019

Dinner on the deck

We are still at Smith Meadow, and tonight we had our first dinner guests. The menu was my secret recipe Macaroni and Cheese with a salad, watermelon and raspberry cream cheese pie for desert. Brother Dennis and sis-in-law Mary Pat came out to join us (they brought the pie)(and it was good!). This was such a treat for Dennis because he misses out on family dinners now that he isn’t comfortable at the condos.

It’s mighty hot here, for Wisconsin anyway, and we ate outside on our deck which was cooler than in the trailer. It was early enough that the mosquitoes weren’t bad yet, the meadow was half sun and half shade, and the birds were having their final sing for the day. It was remarkably comfortable. We didn’t hurry it.

Family selfie

As we were finishing we heard a tractor approaching and, sure enough, it had a rake attached to prep the downed hay for baling. The surprise was that it was driven by a 15 year old young woman (in a dress), a Mennonite farm girl working to make hay with her dad. I didn’t get a picture of that huge rake and tractor as she ran it around the meadow – a missed opportunity for sure. We watched in awe, and clapped when she left. She acknowledged with a smile and a wave. She was one of eight children from the farm adjoining our land. My brother said he wouldn’t be surprised if she came back with the baler before it was dark.

Tractor and baler (shielded cab with AC of course…)

Sure enough, more tractor noises approached, preceded this time by an SUV driven by a mom with her four children in the back. The tractor and attached baler came next driven by the father with his one year old son on his lap. They start them young.

It didn’t take long for the family to leave the car and come sit on the deck with us. The children were such happy, farm savvy, healthy looking and enthusiastic young people that I kind of fell in love with them, quickly.

The eight year old boy saw the baler stop and immediately announced that his father had put too much hay in and had clogged the baler. He ran out and rescued the one year old while his dad crawled under the baler to fix things. He also gave his opinion on how many bales the meadow would yield and he was right. He had already been around enough hay fields to be knowledgeable.

The little guy would rather be riding the tractor with dad.

The girls sat next to me and conversed while we watched the field get processed. They were surprised when I told them many children don’t know what a farm is all about and think milk comes from a supermarket. We talked about cows, coyotes, their toy room, and how nice it was that their grandpa and grandma lived next door. Janessa, who is five, was the most talkative. She could have played Laura in Little House on the Prairie, if she had been an actress. But how much better to live the life and not have to pretend.

The baler got fixed, the field cleaned up right good with three big bales and a smaller one. The show was over. Our new friends got in their Suburban and went home. Night fell and the fireflies came out. Dinner and a show, but much more interesting and fun than the usual outing by that name… just sayin’.

December “Up North”

For a month now, we’ve been waiting for snow. We had such a good start in November but since then the temperatures have been between the high teens and a bit less than 40. The early snow has gradually melted in all but the shadiest, most protected places. In some ways this mild streak of temperatures is nice but it puts a damper on those who are waiting to ski, snowmobile or just see more of the pretty white stuff.

We were very hopeful about the winter storm that was forecast for last night. And sure enough, when I looked out in the dark this morning, I could tell by the streetlights that we had new snow. We also had a good chance of more precipitation in some form, but it was 37 degrees – that meant it would likely be rain not snow.

My brother is responsible for snow removal in the small development that he manages. I help him when I can. He runs a small machine with a plow, called a skid steer, and I shovel close to the houses where he can’t easily go with the machine. There are 12 dwellings. It’s a good upper body workout, yes it is.

But I like to shovel snow most of the time. This snow was wet and heavy. There really should be different names for all the different kinds of snow, and there are a few, I guess. This snow was white and pretty on top but slush underneath. Slush is heavy, being mostly water trapped in collapsing snow particles. When I pushed the shovel through 3 to 4 inches of this stuff it would curl up in a roll until it was too heavy for me to make it move. If I’d been out to play instead of work, it would have made super, sticky snowballs.

And the more I thought about it (play), I decided I was not an “all work” girl. Making a giant snowball is a pretty nifty way of clearing a path, so I did that a couple of times and ended up with a snowman. By this time it was raining instead of snowing. I had a hard time getting Frosty’s eyes and nose to stay on his face for a picture but I persisted. Mom is not “all work” either. She suggested one of her hats would look good on him, so that’s why he got photographed twice – the second time with a somewhat more glorified nose.

Celebrating Today

Although I am not with her, today I am celebrating the birthday of my daughter, Julia. As I scrolled through multiple pictures of her it was easy for me to recognize why I love her and am blessed to share life with her.

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First off, you cannot put this girl in a box. Oh, wait, maybe…

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Of course, I am her mom and have a fair amount of bias. There are a lot of “mom pics” in the album I’ve made. But most of the photos are of Julie with the family at large, with her Cambodian “sisters and brothers”, with her clients and their animals, with her own menagerie of four legged friends, Julie being silly, enjoying the outdoors, Julie being Julie. The smile is always present and gives the impression of coming on easily and quickly. She is connected. She is involved.

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I’ve seen her when she isn’t at her most glorious, when her dishes aren’t washed, when she doesn’t feel well, when she’s depressed, when she’s overwhelmed with her complex life, having a bad hair day, in trouble at work… all those things that happen to us all. I still like her. I always love her. I admire her resiliency and her ability to work through to better times. If I were a captain choosing my team, I would pick her.

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So today, thank you for keeping yourself in my life Julie. I am grateful for your friendship and all the wonderful opportunities you give me to talk, to laugh, to work, TO HAVE FUN! I am forever on your side and you are forever in my prayers.

Love, Mom

An Ordinary Day Up North

Is there such a thing as an ordinary day? I would call September 6, 2018 a fairly normal day as it had its share of minor crises and busyness, but nothing earthshaking. It was a good day, and I will lay it out before you for the sake of meeting my writing challenge (something every day in the month of September).

 

6 am, rise and get coffee, morning talk with Mom as we watch the sun come up. World problems get discussed, and solved.

7:30 am, I’m worried about some papers I can’t find for the husband’s medical file and spend time looking through boxes in the 6 x 12 trailer where our extra things are stored. It seems I am always looking for something, but this time, no find… I walk the short distance to my brother’s business, Apple Awards, and find him in his office. He is busy but is glad to talk for a few minutes.  It is so good to be close to this part of my family!

8 am, Back at our condo, the husband is up earlier than usual. I tell him he must get his own breakfast because I’m going to help Mom do her shopping in town. We might be back before he gets it done, but it is good for him to fend for himself when he can.

We buy bread at the European bakery in town. They do not use yeast and the fresh loaves are beautiful to look at. It’s early and we find parking right in front of the store – wonderful.

Off to Walmart for some groceries. Mom has a recipe for soup that needs some vegetables. I am proud of myself for remembering a return that I have. I trade in the wrong connector that I bought for the husband’s TV earphones and buy the right one. We finish grocery shopping. This is definitely the time of day to come to Walmart. No crowds to fight.

10 am, Mom is chopping vegetables for her soup. I hook up the husband’s earphones with the new connector. He now can watch and listen, leaving us in blessed silence.

10:30 am, I am compiling a double stack of the husband’s medical records to take with us to doctor’s appointments. Tomorrow he meets a new primary care provider and coming up on Monday, he will be at Mayo Clinic. I am thankful the copier works.

11:30 am, My phone did some updates last night. I’ve tried several times to make calls this morning and my cell phone refuses to hold the call. I’ve forgotten about it until now when a call comes in and I realize I can’t received calls either. I jump in the car and visit my good friends at Verizon. I’ve been in so many times lately that I’m recognized immediately. The rep smiles, reboots the thing, and it works. I knew that. I go home feeling stupid but, hey, I spent no money there, so no complaints.

12:30 pm, We eat Mom’s soup, which is quite good. The husband and I spend some time talking about our house that hasn’t sold, our daughters, our upcoming trip to Mayo. We talk to God about all this and more.

2:30 pm, I have an appointment with Pastor Chad at the church we’ve been attending. I like to feel known and since we are new in town, an introduction is in order. We talk for an hour. I get permission to come in and play the piano when it’s not in use. I miss my music outlets and enjoy the sound of the piano in the large, empty sanctuary.

4:00 pm, On a whim, I stop in to check on an old friend. She hasn’t felt well so I haven’t seen her since coming to Hayward. She’s out weed whacking in her yard so I know she’s better. We hug and stand outside talking. It’s a beautiful day and we both love being outside.

5:00 pm, More prep for our trip to Mayo. I fill out online forms for the husband and make a list of his medications. I sort through all the vitamin bottles and parse out his pills for the next three days doses.

The husband, Mom and I eat our supper and I clean up the kitchen.

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6:00 pm, Mom and I take the nature walk around the pond. Mom’s been doing this for about a week now, trying to regain some strength in her legs. We see a white tail deer ahead of us in the meadow and I am able to get its picture before it runs off. It is a little cooler every evening now and we wear jackets. Definitely getting to be fall.

7:00 pm, Coming back to the house, we meet my brother in his truck and talk for a minute. I decide to go around the nature trail a second time with my sister in-law Mary Pat and nephew Evan and Scruffy the dog. It’s nearly dark but we see something strange in the pond. It looks like a snapping turtle may have killed a duck and is slowly trying to submerge it. Life and death in the wetlands leaves us feeling a little sobered.

7:30 pm, Sunset as we walk back to our houses. Days are noticeably shorter. As usual, I stop multiple times to take pictures. Can’t get enough of the gorgeous views.

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8 – 10:00 pm, I wander around the house, putting things away, knitting a few rounds on my project, answering texts and emails and watching some TV with the husband. Thinking and planning for tomorrow. Realizing I haven’t written anything today – oops. It’s a challenge for sure.

10:30 pm, Realizing this is not the most inspiring post but I hold to the theory that in order to ever write something good, a writer has to write a lot of bad things too. Time to sleep.

 

Have you ever gone through the exercise of remembering and writing down your day’s activities? How did that go for you?