Abide with me…

My parents didn’t go to church when they got married in 1942. Mom was raised by her maternal Dutch grandparents, and attended church regularly growing up. (Mom’s mother died when she was 2 weeks old. Her father was not ready/capable of raising infant twins in 1927) Dad said when he was a kid his family attended the Methodist Church occasionally but not consistently. About a decade into their 62 year marriage, they joined a small church called Calvin Christian Reformed. My sister Mona (more on her later) was born in 1943, my brother Larry (I’ve done several stories about him) was born in 1946 and the unplanned tag along brat baby of the family Denise, (me) blew into their lives in late 1950. I believe all 3 of us were baptized in 1953 after Mom & Dad became members. Most of the churches in Rock Valley had 2 services on Sunday, so I spent a lot of time in church, plus catechism, Sunday school and children’s choir.

Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Rock Valley, Iowa, mid-50’s…

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own.

And the joy we share, as we tarry there

None other has ever known….

Thus, there aren’t many Sabbath’s between the years of 1953 and 1987 where I wasn’t sitting in a pew, usually twice a day. I’m trying to think why we stopped going for a spell after we moved to Michigan. Don’t know, we had great neighbors and they all attended services at various churches, but we just stopped going for a dozen years. After we moved to North Muskegon and languished at home on Sunday mornings for a bit, just as suddenly-we started going again. It felt really good-for a spell.

This is my home church…

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.

Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long…

My dissatisfaction/disappointment/frustration with organized religion was my fault. I joined too much. Volunteered too much, saw too much, heard way too much, felt disillusioned, but was not ready to give up my Sunday mornings in the pew. When a minister told me September 12, 2001 that the attack on the Twin Towers was America’s fault, I was done. We changed churches and I swore, (sorry God, just a figure of speech) I would simply sit in my pew, (ownership issues) sing the hymns (now lip syncing cause I can’t carry a tune with my hearing loss), say the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, listen to the message, AND GO HOME. But that’s not what God had in mind for me. Sigh.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged thinking all is lost.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

God thought (no, He was sure) I had a job to do for this congregation. A select group from the congregation who no longer attended services because of age or illness. I was compelled. (Think the story I wrote is actually titled “Called”). But with this dream vocation came all kinds of required “church-business-meetings-stuff” which hindered my visits because I was in church rather than visiting. Church politics are unpleasant and not for the feint of heart. Hated every minute. After about a decade, I just walked away. From my wonderful mission and the church. That was 6 years ago and I haven’t been back. To any church. But I digress.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, that shadows a dry, thirsty land.

He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covers me there with His hand,

And covers me there with His hand…

These two congregations were about as different as night and day. The first one was an encompassing community church. Families from surrounding neighborhoods with lots of children. Much of the service was geared towards children/youth/family. They had adopted a more contemporary style worship. Praying for soccer tournaments that their kids were participating in, youth skits, children’s choir. The second Methodist congregation was more traditional. Sanctuary was 90 years old, with beautiful stained glass windows, and took up a city block. In its heyday (the ’60’s, when the vast majority of folks went to church on Sunday-period) it boasted (God doesn’t really dig boasting so maybe not the best word choice) 1600 members and 3 services on Sunday morning, but had shown a steady and steep decline since then. When we joined in 2004, there were 2 services with about 250 attending, but the member scrolls tallied closer to 450, many who were now my responsibility. But this church was located in a dying downtown where the wealthy folks who used to walk to church had long since moved to the burbs.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comfort flees. Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me…

This was more like the type of church I grew up in. Somber, serious, revered, traditional. The size of the building, organ and age of the congregation were different though. We were in our early 50’s and among some of the younger crowd. There was a youth group, though very few kids under the age of 8 for children’s sermon. The church was struggling but not to the point of admitting it yet (it got so much worse). I felt comfortable/needed/loved by those I saw on a regular basis. My list who no longer attended was significant.

It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

Not my father, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord, standing in need of prayer.

Not my father, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer…

A friend of mine recently posted an article that piqued my interest about different styles of worship service today. Namely big screens versus old-fashioned hymnals. I’m not surprised how strongly I feel on this subject. How can one worship God without a hymn book in your hand? Not possible. Sacrilege. Who wants to look at a 20 foot white screen with huge words (maybe a cute dot that moves below each word to help you keep up because there’s no music)? Where’s the reverence? I love how each song in the hymnal has verses 1-4, sometimes 6, plus the chorus. I know I’m pitifully old fashioned, not keeping up with the times, resisting the new guitar music accompanying praise (raise your arms and sway them-no I cannot. Because it reminds me of being at a rock concert. Where’s my lighter? Hey, I love concerts but that’s not how I want to sing praise to God).

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love

I love to tell the story, because I know tis true.

It satisfies my longings like nothing else will do…

For over 60 years, the most meaningful part of worship for me has always been the hymns. I love hymns. I have more memorized hymns/verses/chorus lines than I ever imagined possible. I can’t remember why I walked in the kitchen (most likely to snack) but those old fashioned hymns from the ’50’s & ’60’s have been stored in my memory bank and remain secure, loved, nurtured, appreciated and cried over. Many of which I haven’t heard in decades. I don’t know if these old favorite hymns are still popular and sung on a regular basis in some churches, but as a (now lax) Methodist, the hymns that make my throat close tight and my eyes lose focus from the tears, (so most of the time it’s impossible to sing these favorites anyway) are not used very often. What is it about those hymns I sang repeatedly as a child that continue to hold so much meaning for me?

There shall be showers of blessing, this is the promise of love.

There shall be seasons refreshing, sent from the Savior above.

Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need,

Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead…

This non-acceptance/it has to be my way hymn fetish reminds me of a wonderful lady I visited for several years. She had dementia and her faithful husband could no longer care for her. He placed her in a nearby long term care facility and spent part of his day (everyday) sitting/talking/watching tv/reading in her room. Over the years I watched her steady decline. Her use of language was almost nonexistent. Her head didn’t turn as her husband and I conversed. She was in another world and we weren’t privy to it. Aside from being Parish Visitor, I had volunteered (too much-yeah you’re preaching to the choir) to bring Communion to the shut-ins once a month. I took a class exploring the meaning and significance of Communion, and had a specific liturgy plus scripture from Sunday’s service to read. We were taught a certain way to dispose of any leftover sacraments. When I stopped to give Barb Communion, something miraculous happened. Every single time. She’d be in her own lost world, not even looking at me. But when I started reading the liturgy, she’d listen intently, bow her head as I prayed and open her mouth for the sacraments. Every month. That’s the way I feel about singing my favorite hymns holding a real hymn book, not up on the big screen.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…

Compounding my hearing loss and the constant noise/ringing in my head for the last 20 years has been a challenge. I have this fabulous antique clock that I can actually hear if there’s not too much extra noise/sounds going on. It simply goes tick, tick, tick. But I love that I can hear that particular sound. It brings me comfort and I find it very soothing. Often a song will pop in my noisy head which perfectly matches that methodical tick, tick, tick. On a loop in my head and might stick with me FOR DAYS! A normal person might go stark raving mad but it bothers me not one whit. (Usually it’s a hymn cause I remember all the words).

Tick, tick, tick…

I will Sing of my Redeemer, and His wondrous love to me.

On the cruel cross He suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, oh sing of my Redeemer, with His blood He purchased me (He purchased me).

On the cross, He sealed my pardon, paid the debt and made me free (and made me free)

Here birdy-birdy…

The only incidents I can honestly remember involving birds when I was young was getting pooped on. Nice. I was riding my bike home from the swimming pool and wearing my bathing cap. (a requirement at the pool) All of a “sudden something warm was runnin in my eyes, but I found my baby somehow that night.” Sorry bout that, seemed to good to pass up. Looked up and the culprit was flying just ahead of me. I recall seeing Red Wing Black birds perched on some farmer’s fence along fields in Iowa, otherwise, I got nothing. No hawk flying into my windshield, not one instance involving some kind of bird. You’d think there would have been something in my life that could be brought up, but if there was a poignant, scary, tragic, funny bird story in my life, it’s buried pretty deep.

However during the last 15 years, several times I’ve had a gentle nudge to pay closer attention to the birds that live around me. Equal parts says this happened in my slow-down-and-watch-the-birds-for-a-spell (after I hit 55). Second part were things I witnessed in North Muskegon. Sure we had seagulls flying around but as dwellers on a lake it was paramount that we be able to see the water, so no over-abundance of trees in our yard. The final part of my passion for birds was because of my friend, Rosemary.

Rosemary enjoying Lake Michigan…

Always the early riser, I went downstairs at the crack of dawn one morning and started the coffee. Looked out my bay window and noticed a tussle going on near some low evergreen shrubs in my neighbor’s yard. It was a Peregrine falcon killing/eating something. I did not move because I was afraid he’d flee. (The only reason I knew what kind of bird he was is peregrines were frequently featured in our local paper because they nest/raise their young-uns from the highest point in town). The highest spot in our area was on the smoke stack of the BC Cobb plant about a half mile away (as the crow-er-peregrine flies). Every spring this happily married falcon couple returned to raise another batch of babies. Soon there would be pictures in the paper about naming and banding the rather homely babies. Well this falcon finally decided he needed his breakfast to go, snapped up his meal and took off towards the Cobb plant. I opened the sliders, walked out where he had been to see if I could spot some evidence. Sure enough, a few grey/brown feathers were stuck in the dew of the grass. Sparrow, probably.

A beautiful Peregrine Falcon…

The second time a bird made an impact on my life was a nice summer day when I was canning a bushel of Bread & Butter pickles. I heard a loud thump on our front porch. The door was open but there was no one standing in front of our storm door. Hmmm. I walked in the living room, looked through the window and see a bird on the porch floor. Half sitting, half lying flat, not moving. His head was brown turning to a gray back with a black mask like a cardinal’s. The end of his tail was bright LEMON YELLOW! I’d never seen such a bird, dead or alive. I ran to get my bird book (a gift from Rosemary) and discovered he was a Cedar Waxwing. Absolutely stunning. While we had only one tree on the side yard in back, our front yard boasted 3 big pines.

One of the most beautiful birds, the Cedar Waxwing…

I quietly walked out on the porch, leaned on the railing and saw he was still breathing. He must have flown into the window and knocked himself out. After about an hour he opened his eyes and instead of having his belly resting on the porch, tried to stand on his spindly legs. After a couple tries he could stand. He did not seem frightened of me or nervous about me being fairly close to him. He ruffled his feathers a few times so I could enjoy the reason he’s named so. The ends of his flying feathers looks as though they been dipped in melted red wax. Amazing bird to see in person. Ten minutes later he gave me a fleeting glance and flew to our nearby blue spruce tree. I was hooked.

The B.C Cobb plant which was just closed and torn down…

Lastly Rosemary. She’s about 15 years younger than me and went to the same church. We didn’t have much in common. Her work took her all over the world as a big wig in the retail world of loss prevention. My job was visiting the elderly, home bound folks from the church. Rosemary asked if she could visit a couple ladies on my list when she was in town. Of course, they love seeing/visiting/listening to someone other than me all the time. (No comments necessary here folks, thanks). Rosemary enjoyed visiting her small group immensely and would report to me every month, unless there was an issue, which would mean a phone call.

Northern Flicker woodpecker, only pecker who forages on the ground…

Sadly about a year later Rosemary was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her early 40’s. Although she was much younger than most of the folks on my list to visit, once she had surgery (she opted to have both breasts and ovaries removed as a preventative measure, because her mom died of breast cancer in her early 40’s) and started chemo therapy, our roles really changed. Now I was part caregiver, friend and substitute mom.

Rosemary had been left several acres when her dad passed away, about a mile from Lake Michigan, which was the reason she was moving to Muskegon from Grand Rapids (about 50 miles away). Before she got ill, she had her dream house built. She was still putting the finishing touches on her fabulous house when she was diagnosed.

A decent shot I got of a Baltimore Oriole in North Muskegon…

Without going into her excruciating cancer journey, (I wrote a story about Rosemary in November of 2014) my point was her wooded acres. There wasn’t a better birder around than Rosemary. Feeders everywhere outside, including several for hummingbirds. And the windows of her house made it easy to become a fan of the birds. After a long day at the Johnson Cancer Center, it was peaceful and pleasant to sit in her house and watch the simple lives of her birds. The icing on the cake was her love of Baltimore Orioles every spring. I wanted them at my house so bad. Rosemary wasn’t sure I could attract them or humming birds. According to her, both liked to have a nearby tree to flee to after eating or becoming frightened, but I was willing to try.

A new little friend who stops over to eat everyday, a Hummingbird…

I had some success with both birds while we lived in North Muskegon thanks to Rosemary’s encouragement (ok, prodding). But nothing like the variety of bids we’ve watched/fed since moving to Jackson 4 years ago. More trees, quiet neighborhood and I’ve upped my game in offering better foods and feeders. Hubs keeps the feeders filled and corn on the cob hung from a tree for the squirrels. Rosemary would be pleased and thrilled about my feathered friends who regularly dine in my back yard. The birds are too far away to get good pictures, and you know what a lousy photographer I am.

Isn’t he a cutie? We have at least 2 pair of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks at our feeder…

This is our third year of enjoying several pair of Baltimore Orioles snacking on oranges and grape jelly. (No, not my home canned stuff. It’s way too much work to feed to the birds). They show up about May first, eat heartily for 6-8 weeks, then we don’t see much of them anymore. This year Hubs was doing an outside project for a couple weeks near the feeders. Said he heard a different bird and finally spotted him-an Eastern Bluebird. I wasn’t getting around very well after knee replacement so I missed the few times John got to see them. But I was rewarded one morning when I was raising our bedroom shades. There sat a grumpy bluebird in my clump river birch tree just staring at me. I stared back until he blinked and flew away.

My 3 year old Clump River Birch. Had no idea Birds would play in my tree already…

Besides the Robins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, (go Cubs) Martins, Red Winged Blackbirds, purple finches, Northern Flicker and Hairy woodpeckers (they love our suet) we’ve added a couple of pair of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, American Goldfinches and one little Indigo Bunting in the backyard. We marvel at their beauty and antics.

A slender little guy…

I got a new Hummingbird feeder this spring, and placed it in front of my large living room window. I hoped they would be less skittish if they weren’t close to the other feeders and birds. They didn’t show up immediately but but the wait has been worth it. I can’t believe the difference in size and colors of the hummingbirds. Since the feeder is only a few feet away I have captured some decent shots on my phone. I’m tickled because I often see them fly into my clump river birch from the feeder. My tree is only 3 years old but I can easily watch them flit from branch to branch. I know they can be terribly territorial but I’ve only caught 2 near the feeder at one time giving each other a ration of grief.

Hummingbirds are so much fun to watch, but a little skittish if you move…

I’m envious of bird watchers who routinely hike out in the woods, feast on their amazing finds and post them for the less fortunate (namely me) to enjoy. I’ve yet to see an owl or pileated woodpecker. (I live a sheltered life). But I’m very grateful for the wonderful varieties who make their appearance in my yard everyday, summer and winter. It took me this long to realize everyday life without some feathered friends is for the birds…

I will gladly pay you Tuesday…

Once in a while, out of the blue, a post on Facebook from an acquaintance (the topic which really holds no interest for me) mentions something about their life. At that precise moment it feels like the wind’s been knocked out of me. Not painful but the memory hit me so hard. Bam, it feels like yesterday when in reality I was going through this almost 50 years ago. Maybe some of you (not so young ones) were too.

Hubs & I during our first throes of wedded bliss, 1973…

A young mom posted she was looking for a specific, gently used piece of toddler equipment (toy) for her kids to play with outdoors this summer. Another mom piped up she had one in perfect condition and was looking to get rid of it. A deal was struck. Sort of. This is the part that happened to us all too frequently during our life in the 1970’s. After the seller mom quoted her price-the buyer mom said, “sounds good, but would it be ok to wait until Friday to pay and pick it up then?” How many times during those first few years of marriage did Hubs and I have to wait for something, (whether it was a new shoes, hunting license, fuel oil, haircut, groceries, gas for the car, maybe even a prescription) because we had absolutely no cash to our name? Too many times to count. Part of this was our fault yet we stood by our decision for years. Hubs and I decided we didn’t want our kids in daycare, so we were a one income family. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how broke we were most of the time during our first few years. (Now having worked in the world of daycare with infants my mind has been forever changed. I’d have to say it’s been a wonderful experience for all the babies I’ve nurtured).

One of Popeye’s sidekicks named Wimpy…

One of my favorite old cartoon shows called Popeye had a character named Wimpy (before political correctness ruled the world). Wimpy was always short on cash and used the line again and again in his favorite restaurant, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” he’d say. That was our life throughout most of the first decade of marriage. There was never enough money to go around. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. As much as I love, love my native state of Iowa, money wise, the best thing we ever did was move to Michigan. Actually hurts my heart a bit to write that, but it’s the gospel truth. Salary, job opportunities, housing was better in Michigan. Education, insurance, cost of living, better in Iowa. Now 30 years later, our grown kids and grands have made Michigan their home, (thus even in retirement, we continue to live here where it snows. And snows). None have any loyalty whatsoever to my Hawkeyes or the Cubs. Ok, they all were pretty young when we moved here, but still Iowa’s embedded in their DNA.

Our gorgeous, painfully honest, toddler Shannon, 1973…

When looking back to those painful first few years, there was a lot of happiness too. We realized what a pickle we were in by the phone calls from the bill collectors. There was no screening calls, caller ID, not even an answering machine. When the phone rang, you answered it. Could be someone calling long distance (which was cost prohibitive and didn’t happen very often). I needed those calls from Mom, Mary Jane, Jeanene, Helen and Char. Didn’t want to miss out on those important conversations. But when the dude on the line was from Beneficial Finance, you’d better have an exact date when they could expect a payment, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

The three some in 1973…

Life could be downright negative if we focused on how little we had at the time. A rental house that was frigid and used fuel oil, a car we couldn’t afford and didn’t start when the temperature was between 28 and 40 degrees, which is frequent in Iowa. A freezer which periodically thawed our meat we could ill afford to waste. But running around the tiny living room was the brightest, cutest, most precocious toddler in the world. What could really be wrong? We were young, in love, healthy and new to the world of parenthood. The best, scariest journey of our lives, shared with a thirty pounder who brought joy to everyone she encountered.

Growing family, Joshua 2, Shannon 6-1/2, 1977…

Ok, maybe not every single person in the entire world-but most everyone. We were at a Sioux City truck stop off highway 75, right before you made a right curve into Leeds. Probably 1973, Shannon was 2-1/2. Her vocabulary already rivaled mine. Dang she was a smartie. The 3 which made up our cute little family were waiting patiently for our food. Shannon was peeking over the top of our booth, flirting outrageously with 2 older women in the booth behind us. She’d stand up on her tippy toes, (in her white high top corrective shoes) lavishly handing out her mega watt smile, looking for a response in kind, then turn around to keep tabs on what mommy and daddy might be talking about. But she just couldn’t leave those ladies alone. (Duh, they were truly smitten by her charms. Talking about how adorable she was. And where in the world did someone 2-1/2 get such a head of hair already)? They just didn’t know how honest she could be. Brutal. She gave them a coy smile, then addressed John in a very loud voice, “daddy, why are those ladies so fat?” (Please Jesus, now would be a good time to take me home). Needless to say, it would be months before we dared venture into that restaurant again. Kids say the darnedest things whether it’s appropriate or not. If only we could have afforded to pick up their check. We slunk out of that place like someone had spotted cooties on us.

Mommy & Shannon, 1973…

In the long run, the good has always far outweighed the bad. The formative years of being married, raising our growing family, finding our strengths, realizing we were in this thing for the long haul. Finally learning to cook, discovering the pride in watching Joshua scoot in for a touchdown in flag football or Shannon’s first dance recital which felt like it lasted 2 months when her routine was 90 seconds-tops. Wringing my hands watching Adam, the smallest player on his team walk up with a good stance at the plate and take a nice swing at his first T-ball game.

We are complete, 1979…

No, it wasn’t all fun and games. All three had to get through their teens (yikes) with us as parents (double yikes). Not always easy. But they eventually reached adulthood, mostly unscathed. No arrests, no rehab, no hard drugs that I know about and all got college degrees (and then some, then some more). Their successes, maturity and happiness probably have nothing to do with the lean years John and I survived through during the beginning. But when I reflect back on those first years, so painfully broke at times we ate a can of Starkist night after night I realize life back then was still pretty good. The simple truth being, if you wanted your marriage to not only survive but thrive it definitely was not for the weak or wimpy…

Where it began…

Some background for any newbies I might have picked up reading my blog recently. I am the most technically challenged, inept person on earth. I didn’t know how to send an email in the year 2000. Hubs finally bought me a laptop so I was forced into the new century, yet years behind most elementary students. (But I was content, trying to remember where my fingers were supposed to be during typing class with Mr. Tyler). A decade later my techie kid, Joshua convinced me to buy an iPad, saying I’d never use my laptop again. He was right.

My technical advisor, early in his career. Joshua, 1976…

Not long after, I received an invitation from a classmate of the Hubs (Ray, 3 years older than me) to join a closed group aptly named, If you grew up in Rock Valley, Iowa. (I did grow up & join). There were about 40 fledgling members, mostly within a decade of my age, one way or the other. I didn’t know all of them, but most. The posts (almost daily in the first few months) from that group (growing everyday, but steady for quite awhile once we hit 100 members) were hilarious, sad, ordinary, thought provoking and off the wall. Someone would write, “do you remember when the cow got out of the Locker plant pen and ran through town? No one could catch him.” (I did not because I was 5 when it happened). Some of these threads would garner 300 comments and go on for days. I loved every minute, being relatively new to social media. (Ah, the good old days when FB was still social instead of one political platform after another).

50th reunion of 1966 (Hubs class). Ray (center) invited me to join, If you grew up in Rock Valley…

One of the group’s frequent readers/contributors/commenters had my curiosity piqued. A gal near my age but I simply couldn’t place her. She (Marlys) figured out how we were connected. Our parents had been friends when we were very young and we attended the same church. Her family moved to Michigan a couple years after my brother Larry was killed in 1958, which was still a vivid memory for her. When we started chatting we were surprised to find out we now lived about 45 miles from each other. (Thanks God, that was a good one). Marlys mentioned (in a very kind way) every time I posted or wrote a comment, If you grew up in RV, I wrote copiously. “What others say in 50 words takes you 500. That’s not bad, it’s just the way you write. I hope you’re a blogger.” (I didn’t know what a blog was). I’ll refer you back to being the least techie person on the planet.

My friend Marlys during Rock Valley’s Diamond jubilee in 1954.

Well Marlys had me read a blog she had written when she and her husband Jim had taken a long, nostalgic vacation. I. Was. Smitten. Hook me up please. Which is precisely what she did. Invited me to her house for lunch including hugs and loads of encouraging words. Helped me choose a blog name from several I was mulling over (in memory of our mutual hometown, Rock Valley which we both still carried deep feelings for. Our cute little town only had one stoplight back then. (It’s now doubled in size and traffic lights).

Rock Valley’s one stoplight until recently…

I left her house enthusiastic but nervous. I’m not a writer. My vocabulary sucks. I have punctuation issues and my spelling is dicey. (Thanks spellcheck-at least most of the time). I thought blogging was far beyond my capabilities. But I was determined. Really, who was I trying to impress anyway? No one is gonna read what I write. Once I realized I was writing for me, I lost most of my insecurities. Suddenly all those words and stories swirling around my head started taking shape. This blog was for me. I gave it 3 months-tops and I’d be done writing, stories depleted, memories spent, all out of words. Ha.

Ha-ha, Marlys and I both had pics taken for RV’s jubilee, but I didn’t get the quaint outfit…

The very next day I wrote my first blog post about my big brother who left me too soon called, Larry Wayne. The date was June, 11, 2014. Five years ago. Unbelievable. I thought I’d be done way before this. I just topped 250 blog posts. Sounds like a huge number, at least to me-because it is. So how come I’m not done?

Larry 3, 1949…

At first I could only write stories from and about my past. Nothing about my present life. But as I’ve said from the get-go, this writing business has a mind of its own. Often I have an old memory in mind, but once I start typing, I don’t always know where this particular installment’s gonna take me. Or how it’s gonna end. This storytelling has been one long emotional roller coaster ride. For me, my blog has been often painful, mostly therapeutic, rewarding, sad, goofy, joy filled, gut wrenching, truthful, and horribly embarrassing. There’s just not a lot of subjects I find taboo-thus some of my traumatic childhood stories. (Except politics. Not ever gonna change anyone’s mind on how I feel or how they do, it just creates hard feelings and enemies. Where’s the social media in that)? Believe and feel how you want, I’ll do the same. Period.

Me, painfully practicing for my piano lesson. Love my dirty, summer feet…

While several posts have been about a long ago family tragedy, some stories have been mildly amusing (at least to me, though not everyone gets Neese humor, which I guess is understandable), poetic and somewhat embellished. For the most part when I’m talking about my past, I cry when I write-and every time I reread that particular story. Although much of my life has not been filled with sadness, but reliving something-even though it was a happy event may cause tears. For example the birth of our youngest son. The story was called Party of 5. He wasn’t exactly planned but we were ecstatic as his due date grew near. (Shannon was almost 9, Joshua, 4-1/2) Adam however was breech, feet first, and my cervix closed around his neck after his shoulders made an appearance. We both almost died. (I’m convinced had it been the early 1900’s neither of us would have made it). Long story short, doc hopped up, straddled me and pushed Adam’s head out before any loss of life. Thanks for helping out that day, God. The emotions of reliving, telling that story made me cry for days. Hubs still harbors a huge resentment because I refused to see a specialist in Sioux Falls or Sioux City. We were living in a much smaller city. John was right, I should have had a C-section.

Adam, my perfect breech baby, 1980…

Celebrating my 5th anniversary compels me to start at the very beginning because I have something to prove to myself. I’m going to be brutally honest and count how many stories out of 255 so far are really good. Geez, I hope it’s more than 10 or that will indeed be brutal. While I’m gonna keep writing, for the next few weeks you might spot an installment that looks vaguely familiar or not, because I’m gonna repost the ones that have a special meaning to me. I know there’s a few and hope if you’ve been reading about me and my mundane existence for awhile, but never started at the beginning, you’ll enjoy a few of my favorites. I know there’s a couple folks out there who have been along for the entire blogging ride. For those few, I’m eternally grateful. Thanks again to one of my idols, Neil Diamond. Whenever I’m lacking a title for a new post, I can usually count on a favorite lyric or song title from Neil that fills that little niche for me. Keep reading, I’m not done writing. (I heard those groans)…

My 3rd Neil Diamond concert. Older, but still the best, 2017…

The Graduate…

When the date of Landon’s (Drew to the rest of the world) upcoming high school graduation open house was being tossed around there were very few choices. Because Michigan kids get out of school later than the rest of the nation, most Pioneer kids will hold their parties late in June. For Landon, who’s committed to Holy Cross with a basketball scholarship, he’s supposed to be there before he even gets out of school. Squeezing an open house would actually occur a week before he dons his cap and gown.

Ok the date was set and Shannon was going over menu ideas which would consist of most of Landon’s favorite foods. Shannon asked if I would be able to make potato salad (not on his favorite foods list but most grownups like it). The reason she was hesitant to ask me is because it would only be 6 weeks after my knee replacement. Six weeks sounded like an eternity. I said, sure I can do it. Hmmm.

See, he’s still really Landon…

The Lowder’s know a ton of people and all were invited. (Landon’s great aunt Carolyn flew in from California to attend). Aww. I’m thinking 25 pounds of potatoes, 3 dozen eggs, 3 jars of sweet pickles, 3 bags of radishes, 2 bunches of green onions, plus celery and a whole lot of doctored up Miracle Whip. Forget the whip, I might need a miracle.

Yup, this is about 20% of what was needed for Landon’s open house. Without pretty egg slices on top…

It’s not that I’m not doing well. I am. But I still tire easily and haven’t been sleeping worth a toot (both driving me crazy). Standing in one spot for more than a few minutes is not very comfortable. I needed a plan. Realized I would have to be seated for parts of this endeavor. And accept my limitations. Dicing all those veggies would fall on the Hubs. He filled a 3 quart bowl full of colorful veggies (but forgot the 3 jars of pickles which I did). I hard cooked the eggs and stuck them in the fridge overnight. Took a plastic gallon container and mixed 3 jars of Miracle Whip with a large squirt of yellow mustard, several shakes of salt, pepper and couple tablespoons of sugar, slapped a lid on and stuck it in the fridge. Next day all I’d have to do was peel, cut, cook 25 pounds of potatoes, drain, cool and dice. Yeah, I said ‘all.’ Ha-ha.

The dessert table was delicious. Those are tiny graduation caps on top of the purple frosting…

These large quantities added altogether is impossible to mix thoroughly. So I divided it up in thirds. I eyeballed the 2 huge pots of cooked spuds and start dicing one third in a big bowl. Add one dozen chopped up eggs and 4 cups of diced veggies. Glop on Miracle Whip and start incorporating (I detest the words incorporating and infusing when I read them in recipes). Ok, I mixed it all together. When it looks exactly like my mother-in-law Mag’s Famous Potato Salad I dump the whole works in the plastic container and sprinkle the top with pepper. (Normally I slice an egg on the top, then pepper the top with pepper). But Shannon’s gonna dump one container at a time in a pretty bowl and set it in a larger bowl of ice so I’m not bothering with the pretty sliced egg. I repeat this little scenario 2 more times and I’m so pooped I hardly scoop from one bowl to the other.

No, I’m not going to show what my kitchen looked like. Yikes…

Dirty dishes, silverware and pans cover every square inch of my small countertop. I. Just. Can’t. Even. I need to sit for a bit before tackling my tiny kitchen, which resembles a bombed out building. I’m befuddled why a bowl of potato salad can tire me out so. It has to be a combination of my non-existent sleep pattern and taking medication at night to help me sleep. I can count on one hand how often I take OTC drugs for anything. But laying in bed or sitting in a recliner for hours when I should be sound asleep has freaked me out a bit. Why in the world can’t I sleep? I am not going to start taking a prescription to help me sleep. But I really need to sleep, not this fitful tossing and turning for hours.

This ended up on the inside of the slider door a bit soggy…

My potato salad is chilling by 1:30 and the kitchen’s clean by 4. Hubs is grilling supper on so my day is pretty much done. When Shannon was discussing food she mentioned ordering assorted cupcakes. (Why, I could do that. But my expertise in cupcakes stops at the puny number of 3 and doesn’t include complicated fillings or cute swirly frosting, though my frostings are good). Besides, she sounded like she was having fun choosing from the large variety offered. When the number 300 was mentioned, I’m grateful I bit my lip hard enough to refrain from foolishly offering. I could not have done it.

The flowers on the mantle just make this picture doesn’t it?

Landon’s party was a rousing success in spite of the weather. The Lowder driveway was filled with a long table capturing Landon from an adorable baby to 18 year old handsome, honed athlete. Two tents were set up, tables and chairs everywhere. Cookies, cupcakes, salads, slider sandwich fixings and get this, 2 people working chicken fryers. Constantly frying wings plain, barbecued and lemon pepper, piping hot. All afternoon.

This one makes me cry. Love Landon’s good sportsmanship…

But a mere 15 minutes in, our May/June monsoons returned. It had been cloudy all morning but at 1:15 the sky suddenly went dark gray. Sheets of rain pelted guests, hail pinged the driveway, strong winds swayed the trees on the golf course in the back yard and water dripped into my Potato Salad. (I hadn’t even made my way outside yet and was watching the changing weather from my favorite chair in their living room). Garage door was raised, boards with Landon’s pics brought in, dried off and rehung on fireplace mantle, table and slider doors. The long food table was moved inside their pristine garage. Joshua glanced at his phone’s weather radar and said Jackson was the southern tip of the storm and it wouldn’t last long. A good half hour later the rain had petered out, grey skies prevailed and party goers kept coming.

One of my favorite pictures…

Another milestone in Landon’s life over and done. But this young man’s just getting started. He leaves for Holy Cross in Massachusetts in one week. New beginnings. Freshman on the basketball team. Low man on the totem pole once again. But if you’ve kept up with my blog, you remember 4 very short years ago, Landon, # 3 made the varsity team and had a huge impact on Pioneer’s team. Barely 15, he entered their first game and nailed a 3 pointer. The whole student body rose in unison and screamed, “he’s a freshman, he’s a freshman.” Best basketball moment-ever. Ok buddy, do that again…