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.

Quietude: A Relationship Baseline

My story is not everyone’s story, of course, but some will identify with it. My relationship with my children has revolved around quiet times more than any other type of activity. I won’t say that we abhorred noise (got some stories to negate that) but our household was quiet, and I think we came to associate that with comfort, safety, calm, peace, refuge and rest.

When they were small, the girls did a lot of quiet playing. We read a lot. During their school years, they studied at home so the house was quiet during school hours. They liked being in their rooms, having friends over to talk or play games. As music got more prominent in their lives, there were occasional loud moments but there didn’t seem to be a time when they were afraid of silence.

Sunset silence, on a walk.

This is a very loud world and I’m kind of glad that we adopted quietude as a way of life, a baseline. I still see Julie and Esther doing their best to plan quietude into their lives. I have many memories of morning coffee time with one or the other of them, in a quiet coffee shop or outside on the patio. We take quiet walks, just us and nature. We sit around campfires with only the sound of the flames and some nightbirds. We sit in the kitchen late at night talking, but not always talking, sometimes just being. We like quiet sports, bike riding, hiking, kayaking and horseback rides. It’s not just okay to be quiet, it’s actually healthy and healing.

Quietude is also about calming and bringing peace, and often when I’m bothered about the twists and turns of life, I call or text my girls. The relationships we’ve built help settle me, make me feel known, heard and somehow calmer. A quiet talk with someone who loves me, listens to my story, maybe even prays with me is the best medicine ever!

Quietude in our relationships tells us it is okay to retreat to a dark room with a headache if we need to. We understand when one of us needs to leave the crowd, or get away from overstimulation. One on one has always been my preferred way of interacting and definitely preferred in my relationship with my daughters. It allows for being quiet, personal, and more deeply relational.

My daughters don’t live near enough to have regular, in person quiet times with me, but my mom and my youngest brother do. Most every morning I take the short walk over to Mom’s front door and open it, knowing the smell of fresh coffee will be there inside. Mom will wave at me from her recliner and we will just sit for a while before we begin to talk. A few minutes later we will hear the door open again and my brother will come in and sit down with us. We talk about what we’re reading, what’s on our mind, how our families are getting along, what our plans are for the day. But often we are quiet, just sitting, thinking. And that’s okay.

Just thinking, in the woods where it’s quiet.

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’…