Planting: Relationship in the Garden

Planting, in the garden, was a very early relationship building activity. Julia and I both love dirt and have a long history with it. As a family, we have always had some kind of garden on our property, and except for a few hot days picking beans or hoeing, Julie and Esther loved being there. During their teen years, they didn’t feel the ownership of the garden quite as keenly but I still preached it as an important way to connect with God, nature, and fellow gardeners.

Now that they are grown, I see that has paid off. They are plant lovers, landscapers, gardeners, people who appreciate things that grow. They both have their own style, suitable to the places they live and the time they have to invest. It’s another thing we love to do together when I visit. There are always things to do in their yards or gardens.

I have always loved that taking care of plants is such a learning experience. Going through the seasonal process of planting, growing, harvesting and resting provides such teachable moments. I have tried to convey to them that a garden is truly a kind of spiritual place. Air, sunshine, water and earth are clearly seen as elements of life. We get to watch the miracle of a dead looking seed respond to these elements and become something completely different. We get to see how weeds can take over and choke out useful plants. Unprotected borders let rabbits and deer in to eat. We have also killed our share of plants, but that is the price to be paid. Plants don’t live forever either and there is something to be learned even in that. I can hardly be in the garden without a God-analogy coming to mind.

Esther lives in an urban community and has a small but beautiful yard. She loves small space gardening, and has a yard where entertaining is easy and fun. Plants thrive in the mild climate in Washington state. Almost every time I visit we go to her favorite garden center and look (well, and buy).

A couple weeks ago I was in North Carolina, where the grass is already green and the trees are flowering. Julie had a day off and we had nothing planned. Of all that we could have chosen, planting the salad garden and working in the yard was what we wanted to do. She too knows that I would rather work in the garden than sit around.

If you discover that planting is an activity that someone in your life would like to do with you, go for it. And don’t forget – plants are alive. We don’t know what they are thinking, if they think, but we know they have likes and dislikes and they seem to know when they are being treated kindly. It’s a bit spooky if you think about it. Makes it more fun. Just sayin’…

Organizing: Can Cleaning Closets Build Relationship?

Yeah, let’s whip this into shape!

I wouldn’t have thought organizing was an activity, or that by doing it, we could be working on our relationships, but it was and we did. However, my two daughters gave me completely different experiences of organization.

One of them, (not saying which one) had her ways and was very particular. You could take a look at her sock drawer, every pair bundled and stacked according to color and thickness, and you knew what kind of a kid you were dealing with. I couldn’t really say she was a collector, but she seldom got rid of anything so she had to organize to make the best use of her space. That is who she was at twelve, that is pretty much how she is today.

The other one only organized certain things, on occasion. We had some very sweet relationship building times cleaning her room. I would come in, sit down on the bed, if I could find it, and we would pick up one thing at a time and ask “where does this go?” Eventually it would all get into place. She loved a clean room but it wasn’t a necessity. She gives me credit for the quotable sentence “A messy room is not an indictment, it’s an opportunity.” For us, it was an opportunity to spend time together (and find lost stuff…).

Our times together organizing have a somewhat different flavor, now that we are all adults. When I visit them, we often go through closets, looking for things to fold, stack, throw away and give away. Those are hard chores that people tend to put off doing, but they are easier when there are two of us. We might even love going through kitchen cupboards, rearranging, and finding out what’s in there.

I especially like seeing all their shoes. Believe it or not, their shoe choices (and whether or not there are both a right and a left to be found) give me clues as to what is going on in their lives. Has she gone sensible yet, or is she really wearing those six inch heels? Has she been feeling the need for shopping therapy or is she okay? There are clues to all these things.

I am always making out pretty good after these organizing sessions. Both girls give me clothes they don’t want any more. That is the only reason I have anything from Nordstrom’s in my closet. But, speaking of my closet, I’m about due for some organization soon and plan to have that fun activity on the schedule the next time I get a visit.

By organizing and sharing our various ways of creating order, we have helped each other, we have been productive, we’ve communicated values, and we’ve spent time together. It’s been good for our relationships, and actually, we’ve found a lot of missing stuff.

Noticing: A Relationship Building Skill

Not too long ago, I was waiting outside a public men’s restroom for my husband to come out. He is disabled and whenever we go travel, there are challenges to be dealt with. I’m often aware that we are slow and inconvenient for people around us. I’m also aware that the husband needs to have his dignity protected and his needs addressed with kindness. This is a balancing act and my patience or lack thereof is often on display.

We are slow and careful, but people often notice and help us by holding doors and waiting. Much appreciated!

On this particular day a man came out of the restroom ahead of my husband and stopped to encourage me. I forget exactly what he said, but it was something about having noticed us and feeling that we were a good example. He evidently had caught one of my more patient moments and had given thought to what life was like for us.

As he went on down the hall, he stopped to talk to another elderly woman who was sitting on a bench. He got down on a knee to be on eye level with her. This man was an expert “noticer”. He was building relationships. I found out later that he was a very prominent man in the community and in his field of business. He had at one time addressed a United Nations assembly. I believe his behavior and his prominence are related.

Sometimes I notice, and sometimes I don’t. The more often I notice people, really see them, the better my relationships with them become. But noticing is something of an art.

There are times when I am so focused on what’s going on in my head that I’m blind to what’s going on around me. People have facial expressions, body language, behaviors and words and I should be paying attention if I value the relationship with them.

It’s the best feeling in the world when I’m able to do a successful “notice”. Especially with my daughters, if I’m able to pick up on when they are frustrated and need to talk, I can just listen. When I sense they need some privacy or alone time, I can disappear. And when they need some help, I can figure out a way to help them. Over the years we have learned to count on each other to notice because they do the same for me. Our relationships are all the more comfortable and beneficial because we know each other from our years of noticing.

Noticing is very much like the present trend of being “in the moment” and fully aware. It’s probably not something any of us can do all the time but we can intentionally get better at it. We once had a neighbor who was a police artist. My mom took some art lessons from him and they talked at length about how few people are prepared to be expert witnesses, because they don’t notice with intent. See if this exercise gives you increased awareness of what you notice:

Think of a person you love, with whom you have a relationship – someone you are with often. If you had to describe them, or if you tried to draw them yourself, what would that be like? Think of the details of their face, the most prominent features, their most usual expression. If you were asked what their most recent concern was, would you be able to name it? When you last spoke, did you leave them in a better mood than you found them? How could you tell?

I value the people around me who notice. It can be painful to be in a relationship where I am not noticed. I imagine you feel much the same. We want good relationships. Let’s go out and, quietly but intentionally, notice our important “others” and see what happens.

Movies: Choices in Relationship Building

This topic has become a more serious one for me of late. I’m aware that what goes into my mind in any form has consequences for my mental, emotional and physical health so I do what I can to guard those parts of me.

The room is dark but the glow from the computer monitor reflects off surfaces throughout the room. We are spellbound and immovable, except to push pause and rush to the kitchen for more snacks. We have both hopped into another world, another time and are making memories, living vicariously through the characters in our chosen story. We are engaging in 21st century binge watching. In recent years I have done this with both daughters during visits to their homes.

Eons ago when they still lived at home, lots of movies were watched. Julia’s room was more of a theater than a place to sleep, with a projector on a ceiling mount and a sheet for a screen. Friends coming over to watch movies was a frequent event. We didn’t have hours upon hours of a single story available, so we often watched the same two hour movie over multiple times. It still amazes me that they can quote a good portion of Princess Bride, or certain episodes of Mystery Science Theater, or Monty Python. Useful phrases like “anybody want a peanut?” should forever be available at a moment’s notice. Fun times.

What a character. I love him.

Then came mini-series and shows online with no commercials (yay!). Often the girls would have something that they were wanting to watch and we would do two or three hours at a time some evenings. The stories often had an historical bent or exciting plot that we couldn’t wait to get back to. Watching “Victoria”, “The Man in the High Castle”, “Poldark”, “Larkspur to Candleford”, “Madame Secretary” and “Downton Abbey” all have produced memorable times in my relationships with family members. It is easy for me to recall the details of sitting and watching with them, and discussing how it made us feel.

What I have to admit is that I don’t watch much on any screen the last few years and am pretty ignorant about what is out there. For a long while I grew weary of looking for movies that had content good enough to balance out the violence, perversion or superficiality also included. It was disheartening, and a waste of my time.

I think that is the important question for me – is it a waste of my time? I have decided to be very discriminating in what I watch when with others or alone. Like reading a good book, a good movie can be a wonderful way to escape my own problems and thoughts for a limited time. What really adds to its value though is watching with someone else and using it to build relationship.

Because movies are a reflection of the culture they come out of, and some are made with intent to influence, I always try to be aware of that with anything I watch. Even when controversial, movies can be starting points for some interesting discussions. Discussions are part of being relational, and getting to know others, so in that sense they are not a waste of time, but a tool.

Another consideration, cinematography has gotten so much better and more complex that it is sometimes the main focus of a film. Sometimes the realism is frightening. Sometimes I have to ask if a movie could actually be detrimental to healthy relationships. This is where discrimination is important.

Summing it up, movies and film in general are a big part of the world we live in and we end up making decisions about how we use our viewing. These stories and images can be a fun, interesting, educational tool in building our relationships, or something other than that. I’m glad that we do get to decide. Just sayin’…

Best movie you’ve watched recently?

Cooking: A Means of Relationship Building

Everybody eats, and when we are together it makes sense to share the job of getting a meal together. It’s called cooking, most of the time, and it’s one of my least favorite jobs. Knowing that I have to think of something to eat, two or three times every day, for the entirety of my life sounds like cruel punishment to me – made tolerable only by sharing the load.

My children have sometimes made the job easier, but a lot of our bonding over food is because they have made it more complicated. Youngest daughter E decided to be vegetarian in her early teens. My memory of those years is foggy, but there were a lot of brownies, and peanut butter/jelly sandwiches for her. The rest of us ate everything, but it was hard for me to think I might be shortening her life by not feeding her better.

Oldest daughter J, on the other hand, was early into amateur chef behavior. Even on our hike on the Appalachian Trail, she was the one who had to bring real coffee, and fixings for blueberry pancakes. Now I have given up learning how to use all the machines she has in her kitchen. Electric crepe griddle, blenders, choppers, mixer, espresso machine, ice cream maker, air fryer, steamers, driers, toasters, more – I just can’t think of them all. I find cooking with her very interesting because it’s about the only time I really use a recipe, and I get to learn a new gadget. I am in awe of her knife collection, and her many pans.

Looks dangerous, I know. What are all these?

Cooking with E became easier when she started eating more food and searching out some of her health problems. We spent time on special diets like the autoimmune protocol, where we did things like making spaghetti sauce out of beets, and talking about umami, and boiling bones for hours and hours. One of her favorite recipes from childhood is still the meatloaf made out of everything except meat.

We had fun making ordinary food. No beets were involved.

Even though I don’t like to spend hours in the kitchen on fussy food, I have inherited a gene that demands food on social occasions. I get it from Mom, better known in the family as Cinnamon Girl. She always make the cinnamon rolls for our family gatherings and although we have all tried to learn, no one does it quite like she does. The feature film “Cinnamon Girl”, made by my marketing guru brother, is a family treasure. It was supposed to be a tutorial for us all, but we laugh so much that it’s more of a comedy documentary.

I find that bonding and relationship building over and around food is really pretty available, easy and satisfying. I text the daughters and send pictures when I make milk soup. We laugh over our dinner menu of popcorn, just popcorn. We have rituals involving donuts and ice cream. Maybe it’s not all technically “cooking” but that’s where I put it. Just sayin’… close enough.

The chicken is sitting in a really awesome pan! Also, all those spices in matching bottles – I’ve never been able to do that…

Six Communication Tips (Help Me Remember!)

8-26-2019

Communication is so important. I am drawn to think about it this week since I have been twice (that I know of) in situations where my communication was less than sufficient or completely missing, forgotten. In my world of “communication rain”, it was pouring!

And if I could just read people’s minds, and they could read mine, miscommunication would not be an issue. But I guess, or assume, and things go awry.

I forgot to invite a family member to a family gathering. And when I did contact them late, I neglected to find out if they knew where the gathering was. I neglected to exchange cell phone numbers in case plans changed. I spent half of the family picnic feeling worried about why they weren’t there and wondering if they had gotten lost. I couldn’t call them to find out. I felt the guilt. It was the hardest thing ever to pick up the phone later that evening and find out what had happened.

The very next day(!) a series of late decisions and wrong assumptions led to disappointing some friends and leaving them waiting at a restaurant for us to meet them for dinner. Mom was in on this one and her observation was that her aversion to talking on the phone often kept her from necessary communication. We could have just made a call, earlier than we did.

Realizing that I have caused someone inconvenience or emotional pain/upset is stressful for me. I don’t need more stress! And I don’t want friends, family, or anyone for that matter, to feel confused, unloved or unimportant. That is stressful for them. So, thought and prayer brought some things to mind. From now on I will tell myself:

Shirley, listen now,

1. If you are in doubt, pick up the phone and find out! People don’t have to answer if they are busy. They will know you cared and will call back when they can.

2. Let people know that you don’t mind being called. They might have that phobia or aversion to calling. I always feel cared for, not bothered.

3. Text, if they use texting enough to be familiar with it. Be sure to SEND the text after writing it. (Yes, that one is for me.)

4. Call sometimes when there isn’t a pressing reason. This is how to make sure you have the correct contact information, home phones and cell phones.

5. Realize that it’s hard to over communicate. Talk plans through if you make them in person, and agree to confirm later if needed.

6. Probably the most important thing, pray about any plans, that they would be under God’s direction. Even if things seem to be going wrong, if he’s in charge, he is working something out and he isn’t expecting you to worry about it.

Lake Fest

Lake Fest

8-4-2019

Do you have a community? I mean a community where people know one another, speak regularly, wave to each other and know who is in your family? I haven’t often observed that type of neighborhood, even in a place I lived for over 20 years.

But then, along came Lake Fest. I had been hearing about it from day one of our time in North Carolina. “Are you staying for Lake Fest?” “They will be pretty busy getting ready for Lake Fest.” “Leave the slip n slide in the truck – it’s for Lake Fest.” I had originally planned to leave before this event, akin to a national holiday, occurred but my curiosity got the better of me. We stayed.

Lake Fest, as I understand it, is the natural outgrowth of a healthy community. It’s neighbors, friends and family who love where they live, love to celebrate summer, and really like being with each other. And who doesn’t love an outdoor, summer party?

Three neighbors with adjoining properties around a small, private lake took it upon themselves to start this event. It is now well on its way to becoming an annual tradition. A block party, with a lake instead of a block. A Saturday afternoon in August with games, water sports, food (food, lots of food), a pool, live music and so many beautiful spots to sit and watch it all that it was hard to decide where to go.

I didn’t kayak the lake – though I wanted to.

I didn’t do the slip ‘n slide – I really wanted to do that, really!

But I had lots of good conversations, enjoyed some good food, listened to great music and decided (unofficially) to photograph the event in order to share it.

Parking could have been a problem, but many people walked.

This neighbor hosted the children’s games and the slip ‘n slide.

Boat rides, tubing, and a jet ski on the lake.

Furry family members were welcome.

“Santa” (not his real name) putting flames to the hot dogs and hamburgers.

Live music!

Dad’s and kids

Keeping cool in the pool

Sharing a drink?

Lots of good “eats”

No one is too young for this party…

No one is too old for this party…

Wondering where his “mama” went…

Relaxing, just relaxing

At the bottom of the slip’n slide.

Have you had an event in your neighborhood to encourage real community? What good things might come from knowing those physically close to you better?

A Much Needed Visit

Friends. Most of the time I am aware that I have some, here and there, people to smile at, speak with, do an occasional lunch or other outing with. But then there are those times when people show up, at great expense to themselves, when I am not at my loveliest or in the greatest of circumstances. They are the truest of friends who show up and do life with us, me and Dennis, when they wouldn’t have to. That is what happened last week.

It surprised me when my invitation to come “up north” was accepted not just with “sure, we’ll come someday”, but with “when is a good time – I’ll buy tickets…” Not many visitors make it up here, although it is a great place and to cool off in the summer. I also was thinking of the perfect time for them to come. My whole local family was taking a two week Alaskan cruise. I couldn’t see how we could go with them since I had just done my Grand Canyon trip. I was fairly content to stay home, watch the animals, water the plants and weed the garden. Having friends come would be the perfect thing to keep me from feeling sorry for myself.

Arlette, a.k.a. “French girl” has been one of my best friends for several years. Her husband, Dwight, and my husband, Dennis, started the American Aldes office in Sarasota way back in the 1980’s. They had heard a lot about our Wisconsin home since helping us move last July. Now I had a chance to show them some of its charms.

It started with the three hour trip from Minneapolis airport to Hayward. Then we rushed them off to eat at The River Deck, a waterfront restaurant where my nephew had just started working. It’s also the location of the National Lumberjack Championships, which had to impress them (I think). And although we didn’t visit it, I did point out the gigantic Musky (at least three stories tall) in the nearby park.

Eating out was one of the easiest things for us all to do together, and I had my list of favorite places. In addition to the River Deck, we were able to go to The Angry Minnow, and Garmisch Resort. Each of these places had its own unique vibe and I think we all enjoyed the differences.

One of our lunches was a bit different. It was on a boat, out on my favorite Round Lake. I had heard of the Jacobson’s project from my brother. Ralph Jacobson and several of his friends built the “Galilee”, designing it to host small groups on the lake, as a ministry opportunity. He and his wife Carrene, served us lunch and spent an hour showing us their part of the lake. It was a beautiful day, weather wise.

Thank you, my friends, for your supportive visit.

Dwight and Arlette, the brave ones.

Slapping mosquitoes on a hike. Photo ops were brief.

Dog Therapy

Five days to go, then the adventure starts. I’m worried.

It’s another rest day, with only about 4,000 steps. My legs are feeling tired very quickly and there’s a hint of shin splints. I’m worried that this will continue, or that I’ll do something unwise like switch my shoes out, or forget something important, or get sick.

For some reason this is also the week when we have meetings with a lawyer to get our wills settled (a two hour trip to the city), and the week when paperwork for our house sale closing is being mailed back and forth, a physical exam for a new life insurance policy, and the week when youngest daughter is flying here to be with her dad while I’m gone. There is a lot going on. A lot to get ready for.

Yes, right around that ear, and don’t stop.

That is why I took time yesterday to run away to the empty sun porch over at my brother’s house. It was a time to just sit, do some journaling and thinking. It was a time for “dog therapy”. Scruffy came and sat on my lap.

Scruffy and I have gradually gotten used to each other over the last few months. I sometimes take him for a walk, and I’m usually along when his mom and dad take him for a walk. I always pet him and try to make him feel special. He didn’t always come up and want to sit on my lap, but we seem to have bonded now.  I pet him, and since he can’t really pet me back (but I think he would if he could) he licks my hand. I think that’s dog language for “pet me more”.

Scruffy and I have things in common. For one, we have hair the same color. We both love to go for walks and are easily distracted when we are outside. We’re both a bit aged. I could think of more, but that will do. All this to say that when we sit somewhere together and just chill, it is relaxing, for both of us, but especially for me. I think I worry about more things than Scruffy does. Dog therapy is quite effective since I take my cues from him and don’t worry about anything except whether my lap is comfortable for him to lay on. He is most definitely a lap dog.

Cricket, Ellie? Hope you’re having a good dog day!

Scruffy says hi to Cricket and Ellie and wants them to know he enjoys their astute comments. Dogs really have it together. Just sayin’…

My Elephant

Part of my problem as a writer is that I often feel like a minor player in someone else’s drama. Even if they don’t write their own story, I feel like I’m stealing if I write about it.

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In searching for reasons why he was diagnosed with Lew Body Dementia just weeks after his retirement, the husband has wondered if he is supposed to share his experience with others. Could it be he is meant to encourage others in some way, even though he is pretty sick about this whole thing? He actually says he might start a blog, or write stuff down as he thinks of it. For several reasons, I think the chances of him writing anything are slim.

For one, he has a history of brilliant ideas that never see action. I don’t see his diagnosis changing that.

Reason two – he doesn’t have experience expressing feelings. He has them, but they don’t usually bother him or beg to be shared. He would like to share things now, but they end up coming out in long, convoluted histories of his life journey accompanied by tears, and a tone of desperation and sadness. He’s doing it a little better now, but the first couple of weeks were tough and any compassionate person who had time to listen patiently ended up crying with him and giving him a hug.

Reason three is simply that writing is work and work isn’t something he’s looking for. Too much mental work makes his head spin.

It’s true that my story has a lot to do with his story but, of course, I tell it from a very different perspective. He reads what I write. I wonder if I will be able to write what I really think or will I change the narrative because of the effect it might have on him?

Interestingly, the two things that have helped the husband and I know each other better in the last few years are our “together” prayers and my blog/journal. I guess in each instance I tend to be more open, truthful and informative. In each instance he feels less threatened by my words because they aren’t spoken to him – they are conversations with God or my readers. He listens better. And the same goes for him when it comes to telling God his thoughts and concerns – one might as well be honest. I learn things about him that he doesn’t think to tell me.

It certainly isn’t that I don’t want him to write his own story, from his own perspective. I do. But not writing about this part of my own life has been hard. The vague feeling that I couldn’t write about this big thing happening to us, has made me not write much at all. Somehow, when there is “an elephant” in the room, so to speak, writing about anything else takes second place to wondering about the elephant and what it’s going to do next.

That elephant is on my mind most all the time. I might as well write about it. Probably have to. Just sayin’…