June Journal

It’s lilac time. Lest you think we overdid it,,, we shared with others.

June 1

June started on a Wednesday. Our usual morning trio was increased to a quartet since cousin Kim is up from Florida for the week. Mom has been getting up early to see the sunrise, which is now around 5:15, but it has been less than spectacular. There are too many trees and houses in the way of the horizon, and it is either too cloudy or completely clear, neither of which make a great sunrise.

I thought a lot about my daughter and her husband who left Seattle in the afternoon to fly to Bethesda, MD to investigate a cancer treatment trial. At this stage it is still an adventure for Ryan, well, except for the stress of decision making and waiting for other’s decisions to be made. The opportunities come suddenly and they had only a day to get mentally prepared for this trip. I pray that it will be productive and that they will feel well cared for.

I spent an hour in the afternoon with a young mother. She was happy to sit on the couch and talk, forget studying anything or counseling of any kind. She was without the children or their father and hardly knew what to do with a whole hour to herself. I prayed for her not only to myself, but also with her after asking her permission. I don’t think she is often in conversation with God because talking to him brought tears, good ones.

June 2

Read to the husband this morning. Besides our Bible passage, and a spiritual growth book, we read the first 7 days of “Sac Prairie Journal”. It totally inspired me to write this month. Life is 99% average stuff so a writer just cannot afford to wait until something explosive happens to write. I’ve known that but the confirmation was good. This author feels the same way I do about the woods, and I should quote him. Yes, I will.

My biking friend couldn’t keep our date to meet for a ride in the afternoon, and I was tempted not to go at all. But thank God, I went anyway and was glad I did. I went on the CAMBA trails at the hospital, and I mean ALL of the trails. It was an 8 mile ride. I didn’t go fast and furious, and I often go alone just so I won’t have to match anyone else’s pace. I stopped and took a picture along the creek. It was a lovely day and I managed all the rocks, bumps, bugs and wind in my face without having any spills or times when I had to walk up a grade.

June 3

My calendar says “Patty will clean house.” This was a birthday present from my Mom who gets her house cleaned by Patty every other week. I have a bad case of “cleaning before the cleaning” syndrome, especially since my house smells somewhere in between a nursing home and a kennel. Having someone from the outside come in and deal with my mess takes a little getting used to, but the payoff is having clean floors and a whole lot less dust. Worth it.

I biked the same trails this afternoon with Sue, but this time it was harder and I didn’t make it up a couple of the grades without stopping. I’m tired from yesterday. Sue, a physical therapist, said I just needed to learn to use my gears. I’m not sure the bike has gears that low.

June 4

Saturday, the last day of the week. I wear my loose, crazy pants to remind me not to do things that aren’t restful. Did a lot of reading today and took Mom in the golf cart to all our favorite places on the farm – Mary Pat’s spot overlooking the pond, Scruffy’s gravesite in the silo, the lilac hedge and the peony bushes and the perennial garden. We drove slow and savored it all while we talked.

Later I went back to MP’s bench and just sat, looking at the water reflections, the clouds, the sunset.

The Canadian geese families were wary of me for a few minutes but later decided I wasn’t dangerous and let their young charges march up to the wildflower field to snack. I say march because they stick together almost in formation. I am amazed at how fast they can waddle. They must eat a lot because they are getting big, fat almost. The two adults spend most of their time upright, looking around on guard duty. They seldom duck down to nibble anything. I’ve seen how fast they can get their brood back in the water at the smallest threat. They know how to do family.

On guard

It is so peaceful – I long to share the quietness of this scene with others.

“Hugh observed that nature was as necessary to some men as opium to the opium eaters… Opium eaters of a different kind. Perhaps – though it is not to say that nature is escape, because every nature lover knows that all is not soothing peace close to the earth, but rather that there is manifest always a ceaseless war, the endless struggle to survive, the marks of which are everywhere to see at all seasons. No, this kind of opium eater has about him a core of inner strength no one else ever has. Something there is that marks his kinship with the earth, something that makes itself manifest in the lingering of an eye upon a bird, the way his body takes the winds, something that rises to quicken the pulse in mid-winter at the thought alone of spring. The necessity of nature to him is stronger even than he; take him away from nature, and an essential part of him will shrivel and die… Nature is the kind of opium that quickens every sense a man has, that enriches and enlivens his appreciation of the earth on which he lives, and to which he ultimately returns as a part to its whole.”

from “Wisconsin Country, a Sac Prairie Journal” by August Derleth

This time of year the sunsets are more interesting than the sunrises, but you have to be up till 9:30 pm to see them

Zarf: Okay, what?

The last post of the 2022 A to Z Challenge is always welcome in my world because posting for 26 nearly consecutive days is truly a challenge. My Z word today doesn’t have a direct link to my theme of relationship building, but then most of the other words weren’t direct links either. But here’s the final, true thing – because relationship with others and with God are the most important things in my life, almost everything in life becomes indirectly linked to those priorities.

I attribute many things which others call coincidences, or serendipitous moments, to God and his desire to give me a smile, a laugh or a touch of some kind. I happened to be looking at this scene in Julia’s kitchen on the day that I was searching for a post on Z.

Zarf, the little metal handle and the ring attached to it at the bottom. Top left corner, some extra zarfs, or maybe zarves. I don’t know.

A few minutes later I came upon the word zarf and realized I was looking at one and never knew what it was called. It brought to mind the many times Julia had made an espresso or latte for me and how I had enjoyed holding my zarf while talking with her.

I don’t know how it came about that someone initially roasted a coffee bean and soaked it in hot water. It seems that ever since coffee has had some kind of crazy hold on civilization. I’ve read a lot of stories about pioneer days in our country, how they were ALWAYS making coffee on their cookstoves or over their campfires. If you had nothing else, you had coffee, and maybe biscuits.

Our family has many people who enjoy coffee, and more than a few who might be called fanatics. Some go for the fancy, expensive kind from the shops that abound in our towns and cities. Most are content with a cup of plain, good tasting brew. I have to admit that coffee is a standard, a hub of our social gatherings. That is the indirect link to relationship building.

Mmm, hmm.

Rarely do any of us refuse a cup of coffee and a donut, or a homemade cookie. This beverage accompanies the best of conversations. Some of us feel secretly linked by our love of coffee. Coffee rituals abound. We have our favorite cups and we have signs on our kitchen walls, clever coffee quotes on our T-shirts. It’s okay. It’s even fine if someone wants to drink tea instead of coffee, as long as they don’t tell anyone what’s in their cup.

So, here’s a toast to that hot, fragrant, brown drink in the clear glass held by a zarf, and to the many relationships furthered by “coffee time”. (And to the end of the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge!)

Yard Work: Joining in Builds Relationship

This one is short. I’m getting tired but there’s only one more letter left!

They say it – the family that works together, stays together. (Did I get that right? Maybe not.). At the very least, the family that has built lasting, enjoyable relationships always wants to help each other with their yard work.

Whether it’s digging up dandelions, collecting dog poop, putting markers on redbud trees so they don’t get cut down, or pulling out vast amounts of invasive English ivy, I have done it. In my daughter’s yards. Happy to help.

After all, when I am visiting the girls during their busy work weeks, I am free during the day and looking for things to do. They are usually distressed by yard work that they haven’t been able to get done. I love being outside so it seems a win/win situation for me to be working in the yard.

It gives me a chance to take part in improvements they’ve done over the years. I get an odd sense of “ownership” in saying “I planted that flower”, or “I trimmed that tree for you last summer”. I think they would say they have loved that part of my work ethic too.

To build a relationship well, I am willing to join them in work that needs to be done. I might need a day or two to be on vacation myself, but that gets old pretty quick, and I have always found other people’s work to be more fun than my own (although I love my own yard work too).

At the end of the day, it is so satisfying to be relaxing in a nice yard that’s had a little love, and to be enjoying it with the people I love. Sweet, just sayin’…

Xenophile: Sharing Passions Builds Relationships

I was delighted to find this word describing a common trait that I share with my daughters, one which has been built especially into my relationship with daughter Julia. Both of my girls have traveled and experienced foreign cultures and love doing that, as do I. We love exploring, talking to people and learning how we are all similar, and how our lives are different. That’s basically what a xenophile is – a person who loves foreign people and their cultures.

Me, dressed for riding the tuk tuk through the city.

The foreign part of the world that I have the most experience with is Southeast Asia, Cambodia in particular. I have taken four trips of about two weeks each time and have made many personal friends, most of them in PhnomPenh. I was so moved by the people and their way of life that I had to take Julia there, so she could experience it too.

Julia loves these kids, they love her too.

While there, our mission was to spend time with the staff and children of Asia’s Hope, an organization providing stable homes for orphans and at risk children. In a country where it is common for people in poverty to “sell” a child into slavery of one kind or another, in order to make ends meet, Asia’s Hope is committed to finding these kids and rescuing them. They are a Christian organization and want to teach children that God loves and values them, even when other people don’t. They place 20 to 25 children in a home with indigenous house parents who will raise them to college age and beyond. They will live out biblical principles and equip the children to be leaders in their own country. It is a beautiful model and it works.

So, the love part – what won me over? I can list a few of the many, many experiences that did the trick.

– arriving at the Phnom Penh airport late at night and finding the house parents and dozens of the kids waiting to greet us, grab our bags and put them in vans and get us to our lodgings.

I’m in there, the only white haired person you can pick out…

– being invited to their homes for meals highlighting their cuisine but also giving us something familiar (they learned fried chicken and spaghetti quite easily).

Their preferred “table”. They were kind enough to make sure we had chairs.

– visiting in their asian style kitchens, while the moms, cooks and older girls cooked on charcoal grills while squatting on the floor (so amazing!)

– playing games with the children outside, sitting with them inside while they overwhelmed us with laughter and hugs

– enjoying outings to the city market where each child thoughtfully chose how to spend five dollars on something they needed with no complaining or arguing.

Of course I am not in this picture because I am taking the picture.
With PE4 after a successful shopping trip. I made it into this picture, again the odd one with very white hair.

– watching them enjoy a rare trip to a pizza restaurant where dozens of wings and pizzas disappeared, again with nothing but smiles and happiness.

Pizza night, and I am given a flower for my hair…
Oh, and there was birthday cake for all to share.

– hearing their delight in learning English words and phrases, and more laughter as they listened to us trying to learn Khmer words from them

– experiencing firsthand their simple, strong faith and how content they are with so little

– and over the years, seeing them learn and grow, graduate high school and go on to university (so rare in their country).

My contact list has almost more Asian friends than American ones and my Facebook messages are filled with pictures from those beautiful friends in that exciting, culturally different but much loved country. I am suffering from xenomania. I am a xenophile.

Whale Watching: Something Different Builds Relationship

We had traveled north from San Juan Island in a boat that comfortably held the seven of us. We went at a good clip past numerous islands with rocky outcroppings, our guide pointing out landmarks here and there. We crossed into Canadian waters, into the Strait of Georgia and slowed as we drew near a gathering of other boats. We were whale watching, and our guide had heard via his radio that there was a sighting. A known pod of orcas was close by. It was an exciting adventure for us, one we won’t forget.

What does it have to do with building relationships, you might ask? A lot.

A few years earlier, youngest daughter met a man worth getting to know better, she reported. I think they must have been at that stage when a couple starts wondering whether their parents might like each other, and wouldn’t that be nice if they did. His parents had been watching the relationship develop between their son and our daughter and were evidently as curious about us as we were about them. They invited my husband and I to visit their home on San Juan Island in the Pacific northwest. I had been to Seattle before but I had not been north to Vancouver or Canada at all, and I had never been whale watching. On one of the days of our visit they arranged this great outing with a captain friend who knew how to give a great ride.

Our kids have family instincts. They naturally gravitate toward close, happy family units. It matters to them that, if at all possible, the people who are important to them, like each other and are capable of getting along and having fun together. This weekend was the perfect test.

We had a wonderful time, and in learning a little about Ryan’s parents, I was also learning things about Ryan. In learning more about Ryan, I was also learning things about my daughter Esther. My husband and I were building relationships with Esther, with Ryan and with his parents as we spent time together doing interesting things over that weekend.

I’ve also had a wonderful time meeting Julia’s in-law family. Getting to know and like them was interesting for many reasons, particularly because her mother-in-law and I are both named Shirley. We both played piano, we were both in a caretaking role for our mothers. We both had severe arthritis in the same thumb, had both been wearing a very distinct, not common brace for years and she was able to encourage me to get the surgical fix that she had just successfully gone through. I think there were other similarities that I can’t remember now. It was uncanny. It created a nice start to our relationship, which has continued.

Our relationships with both of these families was very important to us and our girls as they went through the stress of planning and holding weddings during the pandemic. Talk about bonding experiences… weddings will do that, and in such a memorable (and nice) way.

One way of staying close to my adult children has been getting to know the people in their lives. It started in play groups when they were very young. It continued through the school years when I wanted to know their friends, their teachers, who they played music with, who was in their youth group or on sports teams with them. And now, look where it ended up – watching whales in the Strait of Georgia. Two good words that both begin with W. Isn’t life interesting? Just saying…

Veterinarian: Building Relationship through Work

It’s such a long word, that I will shorten it to “vet” for this post – not to be confused with veteran though.

I think a good addition to the holiday calendar would be a “Take Your Parent to Work” day.

After living with my daughters for years into their teens and more, it was easy for me to view them in light of their history. I remembered all their intermediate steps of growth into maturity, but didn’t always remember to view them in the present, as someone would meeting them for the first time. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to see them at work. It added a new dimension to our relationships to be able to view them as respected professionals with awesome people skills. (Of course, there is still a little motherly bias in my evaluation… it’s allowed.)

My daughter the large animal vet started working in a practice right out of school. She often had to drive to farms, haul equipment into the barns, keep her own digital records, handle phone calls on the fly, and more without any assistance. When I would visit for a few days I got to ride along as vet tech. This was an interesting pastime for me, having been a people nurse for years and finding that there are a lot of similar procedures. As I have written back on day S, I also love saving animals when possible.

Oh the things I never thought I would see. Foals being born, horses castrated, goats getting C-sections, llamas, cows, pigs getting diagnosed and treated. There were calls in the middle of the night, and times when different equipment was needed for emergencies that helped me understand the stress of the work. I heard Julia giving good news to clients, and bad news, handling both with diplomacy and compassion.

She works with a larger group of doctors now and often has an intern to help, so I don’t ride along anymore. I do hear the stories though. It’s now easy to also see her as an adult professional, as well as a daughter. I think it’s a very important perspective for a parent to have and I’m thankful.

Different professions create differing opportunities, of course. I remember when daughter Esther started in retail sales when she was 15. I would go to pick her up sometimes and watch while she handled sales in a busy clothing store (I am so compulsive – would straighten clothing racks while waiting!) She had stories of shoplifters and irate customers that were hair raising. With amazement, I have watched her climb the career ladder as she mentored others and stepped into the role of consultant. I don’t get to go to work with her, but I can, and do, ask questions. I want to know the role work plays in her life. I want her to talk to me about work when she needs someone to listen, and to reasonably expect me to understand. It adds much to our relationship.

And a lot more has happened in the last 8 years!

So here’s the question. What do you know about your adult children at work? Did you ever take them to your work when they were young? Our work is a big part of life. Knowing something about each other’s work life is a huge part of “knowing and being known” and that is what relationship is all about.

Updates: Relationship Building Necessity

In our family, we are not like lots of mothers and daughters who keep their relationships up to date by calling each other every day. I have often marveled at that since I don’t like phoning all that much. A big part of our infrequent calls is that we are all quite busy, and even if we would want to chat for a minute, the chances of us wanting it at the same minute would be slim.

However, all of us have this strange, inner warning system that tells us when it’s been too long. It’s time for an update. We will text to find out a good time to talk on the phone. Or sometimes we will just text for a long time, which leaves a nice record of what was said that can be nice to review. Often we will group chat with the girls’ husbands too, which always adds some hilarious twists. We do care about knowing each other and being known. I definitely give credit to that practice for our generally good relationships.

This need to periodically get updates has spread to our extended family. My four brothers, their wives and children cooperate on a Zoom call every couple of months. It’s a little challenging to schedule since we are in time zones from the east coast to Alaska, but we usually manage to hear from everyone.

We fill up more than one screen when we all participate.

Sometimes a half hour update is not enough for us so we plan a reunion. Spending more time together is what is needed to keep some of these relationships fresh and current. Four or five days of eating together, talking, walking, sharing fun experiences and being in the same space always adds to our understanding of each other’s lives. We always build some new memorable moments. I don’t think any of us ever wants to miss one of the reunions. (I could be wrong about that but no one has ever told me otherwise.)

It’s been four years since our last reunion, so everyone is excited about doing it this summer. We are reviving a number of items from past times, one of which is the family newsletter. This is the gold standard of updates. Every family is asked to summarize what’s been going on since we last met and submit it to the volunteer “editorial board”. And if they don’t take time for that task before the publication date, the board gets to make something up for them. As a writer, that’s one of my favorite jobs.

Lots of my friends and acquaintances notice and remark about how our family is such a close-knit group. Our habits of getting together, doing things together, staying knowledgeable about each other’s lives and having regular updates have made it possible. We are building good relationships for ourselves now and hopefully teaching the next generation ways of continuing to build relationships for the future.

How long has it been since your family had a reunion? What would it take to do it? Worth thinking about…

Tents, Togetherness: Relationship Tools

Tents, togetherness and relationships. Makes perfect sense.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time living in tents, my daughters and I – enough to be thankful we have houses to live in most of the time. Tents probably wouldn’t be much of a thing if we didn’t want to be outside, where it sometimes gets cold and rainy. They allow us to spend time with people in places we might not normally get to visit.

Some tents also provide gathering spaces bigger than our houses, and we’ve done a few of those also. Small tents give us intimate space with a few people. Big tents give us casual space with many, many people. Both are useful and available in a variety of styles, and a frightening array of prices.

I’ve had a fascination with tents since I was a small child. My father set up a used army tent for me, in our yard, for one of my birthdays. I spent a good deal of time in it that summer. I’ve gone on to own three or four tents and they were all dear to me. Some of them leaked but I loved them anyway.

Tents are a relationship tool, but I’m not saying there is a guarantee the relationship will be good. But you and others will be together, like it or not.

There I’ve about said it all for tents and togetherness. Here are my illustrations from my own experience.

Tents in our backyard in Florida served as extra bedrooms for people who got very little sleep. This one was big. It also leaked.
The one on the right is my “other” tent, ready for occupancy at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Requires being horizontal.
In Cambodia I attended many large gatherings in tents. They know how to put on fancy events in them.
Yeah, this is snow. It is the food tent at the Birkie International ski race in my hometown. It was not very warm inside, but better than being outside.
And talk about togetherness! Happening here.
A tent allowed us to gather, during the pandemic, for my sister-in-law’s memorial service. Technically, we were outside.
In 2020 I rented a wedding tent. It did keep us fairly dry in the downpour, at night. Another pandemic gathering outside.

This spring (if it ever arrives), I want to put my tent up by the pond behind the barn, and listen to the spring peepers. Probably no one will join me but I will strengthen my relationship with nature, or frogs and mosquitos… All good.

Saving: A Relationship Building Tool

There are people who don’t have a soft heart toward animals (I think we call them psychopaths). We are not those people. From their earliest days, my girls and I have been saving one lost animal after another. Our collaboration on this mission has helped our relationships grow stronger. After all, if we will do it for an animal we will probably do it for a person. We trust each other’s soft, compassionate heart for things that live.

This has been on Mom’s refrigerator for years. I think that’s why I must have started picking up strays.

Giving kittens a good home was one of the girl’s first projects. We had (way too many) barn cats that usually could not be caught, unless they were very young. The girls were “kitten tamers” so that they could be given to good homes. They were mostly successful, except for the one that had to go growling and hissing into a box, fastened shut. We prayed it would not be returned to us.

Baby birds, found near dead, were nursed back to life. I was commonly looking for recipes for baby animals and conferring with veterinarians on their care. Wounded squirrels found refuge at our house, in spite of being little terrors and biting us. One even got taken to the family chiropractor in hopes that his weird limp and inability to walk a straight line without falling over could be corrected.

Yes, even ants. Activism’s early beginnings.

Kitten tamers and dog trainers, they excelled in their saving of animals, and the animals got bigger. Julia brought a Wisconsin horse home to Florida, not knowing it was pregnant. Her herd started that way. Years later, she has four horses she cares for, plus two ponies, two donkeys, four sheep, two goats, three dogs and two cats. It is a good thing financially that she is now a large animal vet, but it also means she is always hearing about one more animal that needs to be rescued or put down.

Esther has become a greyhound expert, having given two of them a good home while they were alive. She has a third one now, and has had a couple of other dogs along the way as well. She has a passion for training dogs to have good relationships with people, so they aren’t a burden on others and can have forever homes.

I am going to give credit to our experiences saving animals, building trust relationships with them, to our ability to relate in good ways to people. After all, most of the same principles apply, and should be applied. Love and attention, reliable boundaries, consistency, proper care and feeding – doesn’t that sound like what you and I want? Yes, all that. And, in fact, we often buy pets for children in hopes that they will learn to do these things and be responsible for their animals and their people.

It is true that those skills in being compassionate do bleed over into concern and care for people. Both Julie and Esther value their close relationships and tend to them responsibly. It is a joy to watch, and also a comfort to consider as I get older and closer to needing “saving” myself. We’ll see how that works out.

Rescuing animals can be a good tool in teaching about relationships. It was for us, and has been for many others, maybe you? Sometimes it’s enough to send a check to the Animal Rescue Society, after watching one of those commercials about starving, shivering puppies tied up in the snow and mud. For the most part, we do have something in us that longs to save. I don’t believe it’s an accident that we were created that way. Just sayin’…

Once homeless, Shadow lives with me.

Ride: Epic Moves for Building Relationships

Riding of any kind can be an opportunity for building relationships. There’s usually an element of being captive for hours of togetherness. I’m thinking of the road trip I took with daughter Esther from Atlanta to Seattle, in a small SUV packed to the roof with the remains of a household and two large dogs. It was epic.

And epic is my favorite word when it comes to activities that build relationship, because the more epic it is the more memorable. At the end of an epic event, I am usually bonded for years to come with my companions. This was definitely the case in my ride across the state of Florida with daughter Julia, on horseback. It was the Cracker Trail Ride of 2007. Epic.

We survived the Cracker Trail together.

The Cracker Trail was the route that Florida cowboys drove cattle to the Gulf Coast for shipping in the late 1800’s. Central Florida has a large cattle industry even today so there is lots of interest in keeping history alive with the yearly Trail Ride. The route is 120 miles.

I tried to do this ride in 2006 on a borrowed horse and only got about a mile from the start when the horse insisted on being the first in line (not allowed), and seized up when I wouldn’t let him. He was an old race track pony horse and just couldn’t understand that trail ride business. He got put in a trailer and taken back. I was disappointed.

The next year I had my own horse, Andy. Julia had one of her horses, Fea. We had a two horse trailer and a fancy black truck to pull it. We, and a couple hundred of our friends and acquaintances, spent the next five days riding from Bradenton, Florida to Fort Pierce on our horses. We camped in tents at night, in the fields of some of the large ranches in central Florida. There was a chuck wagon that served meals and usually some kind of fun activity or socializing each evening.

Every morning, after breakfast we would pack up camp, saddle up and ride until noon. At our lunch stop a bus would take drivers back to their vehicles and trailers. We would drive ahead to the next campsite and then take the bus back to the lunch stop, where we would again get on the horse and ride the rest of the afternoon. Logistically, it was pretty well planned. At times we rode on major highway right-of-ways, but often it was on ranch property.

Neither of us had ever ridden all day for five days in a row, so it took a day or so for us to get hardened in. We had been trying to get the horses ready for the event, but it was extreme for them too – not only the distance but the crowd of other horses, wagons, and road traffic. We (both us and the horses) were a little nervous the first day. Poor Andy got a red bow tied on his tail to warn others that he might kick if they got too close.

As I said, it was an epic trip for me. Having that once-in-a-lifetime adventure with my daughter gave so much opportunity to learn, to be challenged in our abilities, to succeed at something unusual. It was worth every minute, but it was hard. We were glad and ready to head home at the end of the ride.

Significant relationships are built in small ways, day by day, and that is great. But it is very important, when opportunity allows, to do something special. Maybe it is something challenging, or extravagant, or luxurious or as sometimes happens, something very miserable – but it will be memorable and talked about for a long time. Getting through escapades like this with your children adds so much to the relationship with them. You are investing time and money in an experience with them, and that speaks volumes. And the payback is pretty good – I wouldn’t trade my memories of that ride for anything.