Category Archives: Anecdotes

It’s a New Year. Time to Get My House in Order.

2014-12-24 18.12.51I sort of mean this literally, and if you could see my house right now you’d think: yes! Please get your living conditions under control, woman! But I mostly mean it figuratively. For me, getting my house in order this year means getting a handle on some things that I struggled with in 2014.  Many of my friends have posted inspiring resolutions on their Facebook pages about how 2015 is going to be their year.  This is the year to travel the world, start that dream business, get back into phenomenal shape, rebuild important relationships, get the most out of life!

Unlike my publicly ambitious friends, I didn’t post anything definitive about my goals, but that’s because I’m kind of superstitious.  It seems like as soon as I put my plans on paper or make a verbal admission of intent, something goes terribly wrong.  It’s better if I let the wind carry me along and present spontaneous opportunities.  It probably makes me seem a little shifty and unreliable, but it’s a system that works for me.  So this year, I decided to be stealthy in my resolutions, take the time to reflect carefully on exactly what I want to improve before going crazy with promises of self refinement.  But here’s the thing — whether or not we like to admit it, whether we like to make resolutions or keep things loose, we all start a new year with expectations of what the future holds and what we might be capable of with our many talents and shortcomings.

"Let's spend Christmas and New Year's thi...

A Navy quarantine poster from World War II  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a partial Type A person, I of course had expectations for Christmas and New Year’s, and as usual, my expectations failed miserably in the face of what I felt was God’s rather morbid sense of humor. The plan was that after Christmas we would pack the car and drive out to Kansas City to stay with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days.  The guys would spend some time hunting in South Dakota and be back for the New Year’s Eve party that my sister was preparing.  We would also squeeze in a belated birthday party for my husband, complete with homemade cake and splendid gifts.

I imagined days filled with craft projects, refreshing walks in the country, shopping trips in the Kansas City suburbs, and cooking adventures with my daughters and sister while the menfolk were away.  We would stay up late watching movies, cuddling on the over-sized couches in our cozy pajamas, eating big bowls of popcorn.   It would be so wonderful, and such a special way for our whole family to recharge before diving back into the chaotic routine that would come with a new year!  Best of all, my husband would  search through the house for me at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to give me a romantic kiss and set the tone for our new year together!  Well, nothing happened as planned.  My husband and I did manage a New Year’s kiss, but how romantic can a kiss be when you are planting a smacker on your husband while holding an ice cream bucket for a puking child who has caught the stomach flu just in time for the disco ball drop?

We spent a hellish week between Christmas and New Year’s fighting off a horrible intestine churning virus.  It was like a horror movie; every night at bedtime we huddled under the covers wondering who would be next.  When we heard footsteps rushing down the hall and the bathroom door slamming shut in the middle of the night, we knew.  We knew.  The virus picked us off one by one — first my brother-in-law, then my husband, then me, and finally my daughters on New Year’s Eve.  My husband and I, still recovering from the virus ourselves, were up all night, each nursing a very sick, miserable child.  So instead of imbibing on delicious food and drink and squeezing in last minute celebrations with loved ones, I spent my final week of 2014 obsessively swabbing down the communal bathroom with Clorox wipes, running to the grocery store for Saltines and Pedialyte, sanitizing record breaking amounts of barfy laundry, and keeping a careful tally of the dwindling toilet paper supply.  By New Year’s Day, I was a sobbing mess.  Thus my plans for a glittering entrance into 2015 were ruined.  I didn’t triumphantly stride so much as limp pathetically into the new year — battered and exhausted.

My wiped out family needed a vacation from our Christmas Vacation after what we had been through!  The whole experience left me muttering to myself, “Man, I just can’t catch a break!”  But, after putting my hurt feelings aside for the moment, I managed to focus on the real issue.  My house has been out of order for some time, and I want to straighten it out.  I’d like to improve certain aspects of my life in the coming year.  And now, with nothing but my priorities laid out in front of me, I have a simple question to ask: what do I really want to accomplish?  Getting my house in order involves more than just having every thing organized neat and tidy, put away where it belongs.  It means changing my attitude, gaining a more positive outlook, building relationships, and developing better habits that will ultimately lead to the goals I want to achieve.  Sure, things like mini-epidemic viruses will change my short-term plans and temporarily slow me down, but if I allow such obstacles to prevent me from living a happy life, then there is no one to blame but myself.

So, I have now made my relatively simple, but very important resolutions for 2015 and kept them close to my heart.  It could take longer than expected to get my house in order, but I will follow the wind and learn as I go.

Happy New Year!

~G

He Who Owns Us

My Mini Tatanka, a treasure found at a favorite second hand shop in Belle Fourche.

My Mini Tatanka, a treasure found at a favorite second hand shop in Belle Fourche.

For the next few posts, I will be writing about my latest trip to South Dakota. Rather than start from the beginning, I have chosen to work backwards, so that in effect, the posts will read (hopefully) in chronological order once completed. I don’t know if this will actually make reading them more enjoyable, but since the return trip is freshest on my mind, I begin with this story.

It always seems to rain when it’s time to say good-bye.  I try to remember back to childhood.  Did it rain every time my grandparents finished their summer visit?  And there is a tradition in my family that no road trip to South Dakota would be complete without Mother Nature hurling her most creative weather concoctions at us as we rocket down the parched and patched roads.
My sister and I left Belle Fourche on a cloudy morning, my car so loaded with “treasures” that we could only see out the side mirrors.  Traveling this way makes some nervous, but we’ve done it so often that after looking at the pile of bags, coolers, boxes, and assorted furniture crammed into my SUV, we just shrugged, laughed, and started the ignition.  My parents were depressed to see us go, and as we prolonged our farewells, rain clouds stacked up in the sky.  I noted this but said nothing of my observation about rain and families splitting.  I volunteered to drive first so that I would be less likely to pout in the car.  I did not want to leave.  South Dakota had seeped into my bones and was coursing through my blood.  I burned with the fever of wanting to return to the dreamscape –Black Hills Spruce, impossible geography, and frosty creeks  hiding gold flecks — all muted the outside world.

 

The Al's Oasis sign at Oacoma, with the legendary buffalo mascot.

The Al’s Oasis sign at Oacoma, with the legendary buffalo mascot.

We made small talk in the car and let the conversation twist down whatever trail seemed appropriate.  On Interstate 90 east of Rapid City, I looked up into the sky to gauge the probability of a storm and saw an enormous bison in profile, charging majestically across his cloud prairie.  Tatanka, or He Who Owns Us, according to the Lakota language, demanded our full attention above the horizon.  The literal translation of Tatanka is buffalo bull, but the meaning of the name — He Who Owns Us — implies the Lakota’s great reverence for the king of the Plains. Legend and tradition ingrained through generations has made the bison a permanent central character defining life in South Dakota.  Symbolizing the sacredness and abundance of life on the Plains, the bison is not owned by any person.  Instead, we who walk the earth are owned by him, who has sustained us.

 

It was difficult to keep my eyes on the road; the Tatanka cloud was practically mesmerizing.  Within minutes it morphed into a smaller bison, maybe a cow, and soon it was strolling slowly with its humped back framed against a bluebird sky.  By the time we reached Wall, the cloud had changed once again, breaking apart to become the wispy face of an old bull, staring down as we passed the cemetery like a great sentinel watching over his vast domain.  Tatanka certainly owned us that day as we wallowed in the bittersweet memories of our adventure.

The next day we left South Dakota in the early afternoon.  It was raining.  As I said, it always rains when I have to say good-bye.  The clouds, a reflection of my breaking heart, streamed quiet wet tears down the canvas of the sky.  They swirled above and around, creating the impression that we were enclosed under a great inverted bowl of steel blue wool.  A few tears escaped from behind my sunglasses and I brushed them off my cheeks quickly.  Suddenly Tatanka appeared one last time, humped up and riding the cloud bank shot through with lightning, reminding me to keep my aching heart strong and wait for the next time I would return to South Dakota.  The question is, can I hold out?

~G

Blessed 4th of July

Last week I had the honor of meeting with photographer and fellow veteran Stacy Pearsall at the Junction City USAA for a portrait session through her Veterans Portrait Project. It was an incredible experience. Persall, an Air Force veteran, is an energetic woman with eyes that reflect  a kind heart. She guided me onto the stool and helped me find a comfortable pose. Often shy in front of the camera, I end up looking stiff and imperious, so she asked questions about my tour of duty while placing my hands in a natural positions and turning me toward the camera.

 

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project.  I retain no rights.

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project. I retain no rights.

She asked one of those typical questions that I love to hear — so, deployment/family?  And I blurted “Oh, going to war is great practice for raising a family.  Dealing with children is similar to dealing with terrorists, and vice versa!” and her lighting assistant gave a belly laugh.  After that I felt more at ease and tried to charm the camera.  It was a fun session, and having my portrait taken this way was extremely special.  I often don’t give myself credit for my work in Iraq; I step back and let better veterans, more deserving veterans, take credit.  And I’m okay with that.  But on this day, it was about me, and it was nice.

Stacy took several silly photos of me with my kids, and then gave me a big hug.  The paperwork to fill out — so the pictures would be sent to me — included a question about what being a veteran meant to me.  I wrote ‘continued support and service to those in the military’.  I love the photos I received.  The images are perfect.  They show a person who isn’t a soldier anymore, but who wants to continue to serve.  And someday I will have them enlarged and framed for each of the kids, not to glorify the fact that I was  on the battlefield, but to convey a message that even though war must split up families, it doesn’t change the fact that love remains.

Have a blessed 4th of July.

 

Please take time to look at these images of the men and women who have served.

http://stacypearsall.photoshelter.com

 

Garden Adventures

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Home is where the heart is! A healthy sample of our potato crop: little red potatoes, some shaped like hearts.

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Invasion! Colorado Potato Beetle Larva devouring my potato plants!

Yesterday Van and I spent a lovely evening in the garden after dinner. While he fussed over where to put seeds, I pulled weeds, thinned out competing baby plants, and discovered a horde of hideous  larval Colorado Potato Beetles.  Not wanting to touch them, I batted the nasty little buggers off the potato plants and into a plastic bucket.  I must have knocked at least fifty into the bucket in twenty minutes.  Van had recently ordered a kit: lady bugs, praying mantis, lacewings, and beneficial nematodes to eliminate nasty garden pests without the use of pesticides.  They should arrive soon, and I can’t wait to see them in action!

While I was pulling Morning Glory vines away from the rows, something cool and familiar passed with lightning speed over my foot.  I shrieked and Van chuckled.

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Napoleon “posing” for a photo. Isn’t he handsome?

“Did you find Napoleon?’  He asked.  Napoleon is our toad who has lived in our back yard since we moved into the house in 2012.  I named him Napoleon because of the determined and grumpy grimace permanently fixed on his little toad face.  I suspect that he is bent on world domination.  After crossing my foot, Napoleon froze and deigned to have his picture taken.  I hope he eats all the potato beetles that I didn’t find!

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A view of the new rhubarb through a screen of asparagus buds.

The weather yesterday was absolutely perfect, a rare occasion for Kansas.  It was a bit inebriating to be in the warm, welcoming sun, bronzing us ever so slightly as we toiled — not too much, but just enough — to feel vitality running through our veins.  I checked all the plants.  My rosebush had come back triumphantly since being pruned quite aggressively in early Spring.  It could very well have over one hundred buds right now!  Van put in a dried rhubarb rhizome sliver several weeks ago, and we were delighted that a healthy little plant popped out of the soil in the asparagus patch.  Our asparagus, established in 2012, is now available for eating.  We get 3 to 5 spears a week, and they are amazing!  I snap them off and eat them straight out of the garden.

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Our grape vine on its trellis, expected to climb over eight feet tall this summer.

Because of the cool weather and thunder showers, we have many plants doing extraordinarily well.  Potatoes, sunflowers, dill, tomatoes, grapes, roses, raspberries, bleeding hearts, asparagus, hops, rhubarb, and beans have all taken a healthy start to summer.  We worked in the garden until there was nothing else to do, and then Van asked me to sit on the deck and watch the world with him for the rest of the evening.

Napoleon made mooing noises at his garden post, perhaps wooing a Josephine somewhere.  I was so happy that he had come back.  A few weeks ago we had a rather large bull snake in the yard, and I was worried that  such a large predator would scare away more timid pest controllers like my beloved toad.  Ross the Dog scared the snake into the next yard, where it met its demise when it coiled itself under the neighbor’s grill and scared the neighbor half to death.  So, Napoleon has his yard back and is the ruler of his vast domain for now.

I wouldn’t mind more days like yesterday, with immeasurable time to work in the garden followed by a languid night of good, casual conversation with a treasured loved one.  It must be the best cure for any problem.  A little dirt, a splash of sun, a grumpy toad, little green plants, and a lover’s hand.  What could be better?

— G

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Checking potato plants. A healthy little specimen!

 

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We Did It For The Ducks

Last night we had the pleasure of attending the Kaw River Ducks Unlimited Banquet. Van’s best friend Sam had extra tickets, courtesy of his father, a lifetime sponsor of Ducks Unlimited. We knew little about the event other than it was a casual dress fundraiser in a popular venue outside of Saint George, Kansas.  I didn’t know what to expect, but this is almost always the case with Sam’s family.  The rule of thumb when spending time with them is to come prepared for nearly any contingency, including small road trips, Roman candle tag (don’t ask) and all other forms of chaotic fun.  We were in the mood for some spontaneity anyway, and looking forward to a night out.  When we arrived, the fundraiser atmosphere was down to earth and exuberant; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many burly bearded men dressed in different kinds of plaid, camouflage, or K State insignia, sometimes all at once.  Nearly everyone had a Solo cup of frothy beer, and everyone looked very happy.

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Pencil sketch version of the guys keeping track of the auction proceedings.

Our table, reserved for Sam’s father and family members, was closest to the auctioneer’s stage, perfect for watching the action unfold.  As soon as I saw people pass me, carrying plates of food, I realized that I should have brought snacks.  Having been on a gluten and dairy free diet for almost a year, I should know by now that not every public venue is going to accommodate special diets.  To combat food disasters when dining out, I typically have a large snack/small meal at home prior to leaving, or stash “survival” treats in my purse so I’m not miserable and crabby during the events.  A tote bag full of snacks was thoughtfully packed, but when it came time to hop into Sam’s truck and head to the banquet, I forgot to pull out a few items and slip them into my purse.  So here I was, snack-less at a gluten laden buffet.

Half of the (grand total of four, excluding condiments) items on the buffet line contained gluten and dairy, so I ended up with a plate of watery canned green beans and greasy pulled pork.  After I finished eating, I was still famished and  began contemplating devouring the contents of my purse: leftover vitamins, extra migraine medicine, and a giant tube of lip balm flavored like gummy bears.  I also considered whether or not eating my spare change (about $4.00 in quarters and dimes) would make me feel full.  Then I wondered if I was being weird.  Van bought me a Coke, which was watered down like the green beans, but it filled my stomach and kept me satisfied while we bid on silent auction items.  Van tried to win me a Bulova watch.  We spent a Kansas sized utility bill on tickets for a camo print Mossberg shotgun.  Van also wanted to win hunting dog gear for Ross the Dog, but I also put a ticket into the bucket for goose decoys.  Van could use them.

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Van and Sam kept tabs on the items being auctioned while Sam’s wife and I entertained ourselves with the surroundings — mostly a drunk guy who kept standing in front of our bench and then leaning over to talk to someone, thus pushing his butt into our faces for minutes on end.  Let me specify.  We weren’t admiring the view, we were being assaulted.  After a while, we got the giggles pretty bad; luckily with all the screaming auction winners and loud beer swilling rowdies, we blended in.  Van and Sam had a scheme to win a hunting trip at a game preserve, but the bids became too high so they contented themselves with adding up the auction totals.  As with many things between the boys, it got a little competitive, and Sam gave Van an F-  for his addition because it didn’t match Sam’s.  By the end of the evening, we had spent some money, but for a good cause — the ducks!  And we didn’t go home empty handed.  Van won the geese that he didn’t want, and the Bulova watch was mine.  Only when we went to settle up with the cashiers, we discovered that someone had stolen the watch from the display table.  So we left with the geese, a receipt, and the promise that a new watch would be sent to us.

This morning I woke up too early, having gone to bed too late.  We had stayed the night with Sam and his wife.  Van had a hangover from too much beer and too much fun, but he had one more surprise (maybe to make up for the watch debacle).  While I was sipping my coffee he laid a small handgun case in front of me and said, “There is one more thing.  Sam won this last night, and I bought it off of him.”  It was the handgun that Van had been wanting to give to me for a long time, a compact beauty of shiny black and gray metal.

“What an amazing surprise!  You are so sweet!” I kissed him on the cheek.

“Aww, crap!  I should have saved this for Mother’s Day,” Van mumbled.

Yes, I do believe I was a big winner last night.

— G

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Tips on Adulthood, From a Child

Worms Special

At the school where I work as a paraprofessional, I was recently transferred from the third grade classroom I’d grown to love into an unfamiliar second grade classroom. While sad to leave my favorite third graders, I’m looking forward to getting to know a new group of students. On my last day in the third grade classroom, one of the students thrust a composition notebook into my hands.

“Do you want to read my thoughts on growing up?” he asked.

“Of course!” I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to read what this young man had written in his classroom journal.

He had divided it into five chapters, with room to add more. Each was a section devoted to advice about a specific aspect of growing up, such as paying bills, jobs (spelled gobs — adorable), love, and having kids of your own. I have to paraphrase his words, but the introduction went something like this:

…You might think that there is nothing better than growing up and being an adult. You might tell yourself that having a car, a house, piles of money, a ‘gob’ and a family of your own is the best thing in the world. But it’s not, because then you have all kinds of responsibility. You have to pay for things like food and electricity and you have to go to work every day. And then you don’t get to have as much fun as when you were a kid…

I read each chapter full of astute observations about the realities of being full grown.  His thoughts on adulthood had me smiling and nodding.  But the last chapter had me practically rolling on the floor.  It was titled ‘Love’.  He wrote something like this:

…When I am an adult I want to get married and have kids.  But have you ever thought about actually being married?  I mean, you have to get into bed with the same person every night for the rest of your life!  There are going to be times when you don’t want to do that, but you still have to.  And you don’t want to know about what happens to have a baby…

After wiping the laughter tears off my cheeks I handed the book back to the student and told him that I loved the book and that he is wise well beyond his years.  I am going to miss my third graders.

— G

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Ain’t Love Grand?

Be honest -- did YOU save the best valentine in the package for that special someone who made your hear skip a beat?

Be honest — did YOU save the best valentine in the package for that special someone who made your heart skip a beat?

Once again I’ve been shirking my blogging responsibilities, this time due to a massive migraine, which has left me bed-ridden and quite dizzy.  However, before my aching head sent me into a tailspin, the work week provided enough material for at least one good story.  It seems that ever since Valentines’ Day, even grade school children are not safe from Cupid’s arrow.  My third graders are particularly lovesick, but they haven’t quite figured out the economics of romance.  One boy seems to have cornered the market on the infatuations of female classmates.  Nearly a dozen little girls have set their designs on this one little boy!  He is nice enough: well dressed, good manners, athletic, and a scholar.  It would seem that he is the epitome of third grade boyhood, and because the girls have put him on a pedestal, they won’t even look at another boy, no matter how virtuous or adorable.

A couple of days ago during recess, I was approached by one of the lovesick admirers, who smooshed her face against my coat and began sobbing uncontrollably about how “someone” didn’t want to be her friend and it wasn’t fair because he was “friends” with “other people” but not her.  Oh the humanity!

“Is this about a boy?” I asked gently.

“Ye–e–e–e–s!” she wailed. “It’s not fair! I just want to be his frie–end!  But he said that he doesn’t want to be friends!  And he’s the nicest boy in third grade, so why wouldn’t he want to be friends with me? And pretty soon I’m moo–ooving!”

“Well if he doesn’t want to be your friend then he is missing out, and maybe he isn’t as nice as you think.  I say it’s his loss.” I tried to reassure her.  Most likely the poor boy was tired of all the girls stalking him and shooting eye daggers at each other, and he had told the more clingy ones that he couldn’t be “friends” to avoid any confusion of exactly what kind of friendship was happening.  I decided to prescribe my trademark pragmatic advice.

“You’ve heard of Facebook, right?” I asked as I smoothed her hair off of her tear stained cheeks.

“Uh–h–h–h–uh.” she stammered, still squashed up against me.  I felt like crying a little myself.  It was only the beginning of the week, and already a broken heart and snot on my new coat.

“Well, when I was in third grade I just absolutely loved a boy who I thought was so cool.  He was cute, and smart, and just the best at everything.  But he never liked me back, and I was sad, just like you are right now.”  I smiled at her.  “Then I grew up and forgot about him.  And a few weeks ago, I saw a picture of him on Facebook, and he is all grown up just like me.  And you know what?”

“Wha–what?” she sniffled.

“He’s terrible!”  I exclaimed.  “He’s bald, and has a big belly, and he has horrid taste in clothing.  He hasn’t gone anywhere fun in his whole life like I have.  And he doesn’t look at all as cute as he did in third grade.  Besides, I met and married a much nicer boy.  He’s my best friend.  We go everywhere together, and he is much more fun to hang out with.  Does any of this help?”  I looked at her expectantly.

“No,” she said emphatically, without even thinking about it.

“Really?”

“No,” and she started crying harder.

“Oh, come on now, don’t do that!  I know that it’s hard to trust what I’m saying because we can’t see the future.  In fact, forget what I said about the bald ugly guy on Facebook.  Just remember this.  I promise that the you ten years from now is going to be so awesome, and twenty years from now — even better!  And your life will be amazing.  I can’t guarantee that you won’t ever have rough days, but I do know that your life will be great.”

Somehow she stopped crying in time for the recess whistle, and walked ahead of me to get into her line.  As I was strolling toward the school, another student approached, a small sweet girl who also harbors a crush on our tiny Romeo.  She looked me straight in the eye and said in a dead serious tone, “There is no one else.  He is the only one,” and then she walked away.  Very helpful.  When I saw my love-struck student in the lunch room a few minutes later, she was talking and laughing with classmates.  She looked happy and at ease.  Good.  Maybe my advice didn’t hit the target, but as long as my kiddos have friends to turn to for support, they will survive their heartaches in the years to come.

And I am SO glad I didn’t marry the boy I had a crush on in third grade!

— G

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