Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All I Wanted Was an Ice Cream Cone!

Only 50 more miles to go on my 3,093.9 mile road trip. The last day of driving was the most difficult. I was driving directly into a very strong west wind. And my little Prius was only getting 35 mpg when it should have been getting 50 mpg.

Only 50 miles to go, but I was getting sleepy and needed a break. An ice cream cone and a cup of coffee sounded really good. Taking the first Fort Morgan, CO, exit, I walked into Burger King and asked for my cone. "We don't have ice cream", she said with a deadpan face. What?? Well, I thought I might as well get my coffee there and stop at McDonald's a mile down the road to get the cone. So I ordered my coffee, gave her the money, and waited. She disappeared and I waited. And waited. Finally, after several minutes, she appears, plops the coffee down, and starts to walk away again. "Where can I find some creamer?" I shout after her. She trudges back, reaches for a bucket of creamers, slides it towards me, and disappears again. I open the coffee, see that it is very strong, and add three creamers, noticing a lot of coffee grounds as I stir it in.

Now, off to get my ice cream cone. I take the next exit and drive up to McDonald's. It is closed!! Getting frustrated, I drive through a parking lot full of potholes; then I see a brand new McDonald's right across the street. I just may get my ice cream yet, I thought. Just as I'm driving into the parking lot, I see a sign - new McDonald's opening Wednesday. Well, this was Tuesday. By this time, I was wishing I had stopped at the Dairy Queen back by the Burger King; even if their small cones were more than $1. But after making my way through more construction and back onto I-76, I decided to give up on my little treat. Forty-five minutes later, after I pulled into my driveway, I took that horrible Burger King coffee and dumped the whole thing out.

It was good to finally be home.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Beanie Stein

I don't know if I spelled his name correctly, but this is a true story! It happened somewhere around 1962 - 1964.

It was another beautiful fall school day in Churchs Ferry, North Dakota. From time to time one of us grade-schoolers was lucky enough to bring a quarter or two to school. Why? Because during noon hour we would walk down to "Bert's" grocery store and purchase some candy. It was only a short walk, maybe 2-3 blocks. On this particular day, my friend, Lisa, had the money and she asked me to walk with her to Bert's. Enjoying the lovely weather, we skipped and hopped along the broken sidewalk. On an impulse, I hopped up onto the cement stoop of a little house that set right up against the sidewalk. Suddenly, the door flew open and I was confronted with ... a scraggly looking man ... with a shotgun! In shock, for a moment I was unable to move. I gaped at the whiskered man in the flannel shirt. He had his gun pointed at me. Lisa and I heard him say, "You stay off my property or I'll shoot you!" Like a human bullet, I shot off his stoop and Lisa and I ran the rest of the way to Bert's. We were shaking with fear.

My shaking lasted a long time. It may not have been visible on the outside, but it was weeks before my "insides" settled down. And you can be sure I never walked in front of Beanie Stein's house again; and I certainly never placed a foot on his stoop!

What is strange to me now is that we never told our teacher about this experience. No cops were called, the principal never found out. Eventually, I told my mother, but as far as I know, no one ever had a conversation with Beanie Stein about how he shouldn't threaten little girls with a gun. Maybe he was just another harmless old man ... but it sure didn't feel like it to me!

Friday, October 8, 2010

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 4

Jealousy.

There is no other word that can more accurately describe the feelings I had. Why should others receive from my mother what I so strongly desired, yet was denied? I could hear it in the lilt of her voice; I could see it in the softening of her face. And I first noticed it in relation to my sisters-in-law. She seemed to genuinely like them. She said nice things about them and to them. She enjoyed visiting with them. As much as I myself liked these new women in the family, it hurt that they were so quickly able to have an affectionate relationship that was beyond my grasp. I saw the hugs, I heard the words, “I love you, too”. And I was intensely jealous.

Later, it was the children of my brothers. I would hear about how cute they are and how smart they are. I would hear about the nice cards they sent on her birthday and for Mother’s Day and how pleased she was with them. She would brag about their accomplishments and their activities and their dreams. Yes, that, too, made me jealous. I never saw any of that spirit exhibited towards my children, even though they, too, were cute, they were smart, they sent cards, and they had accomplishments and dreams.

Often over the years I would agonize on how to break the silence, the sterility of our relationship. Always the obedient and dutiful daughter, inside I longed for a relationship of love and tenderness, affection and pride. I would see the easy, fun and loving relationship some of my friends had with their mothers and feel … jealous.

If she had died in her 80’s – there is a lesson I would never have learned. I’m glad she didn’t die in her 80’s.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 3

Surely it must have happened when I was very young. Surely there was a little cuddling, a hug, a tender touch. But there is no memory of any affection, any tenderness extended towards me. Oh, I received lots of expressions of love from my older sisters. They were tickled to have a baby sister after having four brothers come into our home. But it seemed my relationship with mom was all brusqueness, practical, sterile. But I knew the day would come that my mother would embrace me and kiss me. I knew it because I saw what happened to my sister.

I was only nine when Evie got married. It was so exciting. Evie even bought me a coloring book about a couple who became engaged. Every page to color was about the steps they took preparing for the wedding. I colored each page and dreamed. Finally, the big day arrived. I don't remember a lot about the wedding itself, but I vividly remember the reception line. Standing off to the side, I watched as my mother came through, gave Evie a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I'm sure my eyes widened in wonder as I witnessed this demonstration of affection. From that moment on, I held it close to my heart - on my wedding day, I would receive a hug and kiss from my mother.

Ten years later, I was the bride. The ceremony went off beautifully and we were introduced as "Mr. and Mrs.". Walking down the aisle, I felt both anticipation and trepidation for the moment I had been awaiting for ten years. There were hugs, kisses and well-wishes from the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Then came my parents. A hug from my father, a perfunctory handshake from my mother. And a sense of something lost forever.

If she had died in her 80's - there is a lesson I would never have learned. I'm glad she didn't die in her 80's.

Monday, October 4, 2010

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 2

There were around 150 students -- in grades 1-12. Yes, it was a small school. So things were done a little differently. For two or three years prior to junior high the girls in my class often talked about being a cheerleader. In our tiny town, that was one of the most prestigious and "popular" thing a girl could aspire to. The junior high basketball team had four girl cheerleaders, and they were "elected" every year. Finally, we were in 7th grade! Shortly after the school year started, we were told that the next Friday all the 7th and 8th graders were going to vote on who the cheerleaders would be. Oh, the anticipation was high! Will I get it? Will I get it? I didn't mention anything to my mother because I know she would say I needed to withdraw my name. If I didn't tell her, and I was elected, there is no way she could take that away from me. This was the most important thing in a 7th grade girl's life! And, besides, my brother, Tom, was on the basketball team. How could she NOT let me do this??

Friday finally came, the votes were counted, and YES! I was one of the elected cheerleaders! I was so excited. But with great trepidation, I broached the subject with my mother that evening. Surely she would be happy for me; be proud of me; understand how important this was to me. "Mom," I said, "I'm going to be a cheerleader." "No you're not," she replied. "But I was already elected!", I cried. "That's too bad. We're not going to start driving you all over the place and pay for those silly uniforms. You better let them know on Monday that you can't do it." My heart fell, but I would not give up. I had all weekend to work on her. And, she didn't know it, but on Monday after school I was meeting with the rest of the cheerleaders to pick out our outfits. I planned to stay overnight with my friend, so there would be no inconvenience for my parents.

By Monday morning, the answer was still "No!" But I didn't let on to the other girls. Together we went through the catalogs, choosing the skirt, the sweater and the shoes. I began to worry about how to pay for them, as it was more money than I had. Tuesday night, I approached the subject with with my mom again, and it was not a pleasant conversation. It ended up with me crying in my room behind my locked door once again. I knew I had lost the battle. Knowing I could not face the class without crying, I wrote a note to my friend and had my brother give it to her the next morning. And I played "sick" and stayed home.

Oh, life went on. I went to a few basketball games and cheered on our team from the stands. I listened to the cheerleaders talking, I watched them practice, I told them what a good job they were doing. But this big disappointment rooted deep in my heart. Throughout the years, if I looked hard enough, I could sense a little resentment against my mother -- buried deeply within me.

If she had died in her 80's - there is a lesson I would never have learned. I'm glad she didn't die in her 80's.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Health and Wealth

I've been reading through the book "Poems Teachers Ask For". This is the book that mom wanted and Amy found it on the internet. I gave it to mom on her 90th birthday. I found the following poem today. Rather pessimistic, isn't it?

Health and Wealth

We squander health in search of wealth;
We scheme and toil and save;
Then squander wealth in search of health,
But only find a grave.
We live, and boast of what we own;
We die and only get a stone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Circle of Life

She was born into this world in 1916. She came with only a body and a soul. She was born into a family who had very little, so her possessions as a child were few. But over time, the possessions began to amass:
  • A home filled with furniture
  • Buildings, farm machinery, cars and trucks
  • Trinkets, nice gifts, worthless gifts
  • Pots and pans, utensils, dishes
  • Quilts and blankets, towels, tablecloths
  • Washers, lawn mowers, refrigerators
  • Many more things than any of us would ever be able to recall

A lot is accumulated in over 90 years of living. But eventually, the accumulation of things begins to go backwards. Each stage of life was a down-sizing - from a 400-acre farm, to a house in town, to an apartment, to assisted living, to a nursing home. The process of getting rid of goes much faster than the process of gaining:

  • Sell
  • Throw away
  • Give away
  • Leave behind

Early the morning after mom passed away, I went to her room at the nursing home, sat in her chair, and marveled at how little she had and how little she needed to meet her needs. I fired up my laptop and, along with brother Jim (who also arrived early), listed her final possessions. Here is what she had the last weeks of her life:

  • Furniture - chair, love seat, dresser, TV stand, side tables, doily
  • For snacking - packets of crackers and peanut butter, salt and pepper, packets of sugar, Altoids, coffee cup and candy
  • For self care - hearing aid with extra batteries, chap stick, clear fingernail polish, eye drops, emery board and nail file, mineral ice, neosporin, baby powder, 2 tweezers, a few bandaids, mirror, combs, handkerchiefs, magnifying glass, clothes
  • For entertainment - TV with remote, word search puzzle book, emails received, Yahtzee, Cribbage board, deck of cards, radio, an altoid box with quarters (for bingo)
  • For reflection - Bible, devotional book, Estate Planning Guide, Guidepost magazine, Nicole's essay, the birthday calendar, funeral folders (Zola, Nolan, Charles Hanson, Eva), miscellaneous family pictures, one doll, one stuffed animal, cross stitched wall hanging, picture drawn by Makenna (great granddaughter), award to dad from the Farm Bureau in 1975
  • For getting along - scotch tape, spool of white thread, paper clip, 2 ziplock bags, screwdriver for glasses, knife, John Deere letter opener, scissors, 7 pens, flashlight, address book

Mom managed the process of her possessions. She kept control of what to do with nearly every item until she was left with the list above. It took only an hour or two to distribute the last of her things. She went out of this world like she came in, with only a body and a soul. Twelve hours after she died, the ridding of the remaining possessions was all over. The circle of life was complete.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 1

Sitting beside my best friend, Kay, on the piano bench, I marveled at the beautiful music she was able to make. They were simple little songs, some familiar tunes, some new ones, and some really fun ones. "I want to take piano lessons," I told her, "but mom and dad won't drive me. They say it is too far." Lying on the couch after a long day teaching school, Kay's mom heard the conversation; heard the longing in my voice. "Tell your mom and dad that you can stay with Kay on her lesson nights and we'll see if her teacher can take you right after Kay," she said. My face lit up and hope rose within me. Suddenly, it seemed like a possibility.

From a very young age I was fascinated with the piano. Vaguely, I remember one of my older sisters waking me up in the morning with piano music. Every Saturday when I dusted the furniture, I lingered over the keys, wishing I knew how to make beautiful sounds. I imagined myself playing lovely music and my parents being so proud of me.

Now - maybe it would happen! The next day I bounded off the school bus, ran to the house, and told my mother that I could take lessons, and they wouldn't have to drive me at all! "No," she said. You are not taking piano lessons. We're not going to have all that noise in the house again." It felt like I hit a brick wall. But, being a pre-teen, I thought it would only take a matter of time to wear her down. After all, this was something I really, really wanted to do.

A few days later, as we were all sitting around the supper table, I heard dad tell mom, "they're going to be here about 7:00 to get the piano." What?!?! With a broken heart I ran to my room, locked my door and flung myself across the bed. Awhile later I looked out my window to watch some strangers load my precious piano into their pick-up truck and drive away. That night I cried myself to sleep. That night my dream died.

If she had died in her 80's, there is a lesson I would never have learned. I'm glad she didn't die in her 80's.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Hi, Mom. Happy birthday. 94 years ago today Frank and Sophia welcomed their first daughter into their family. I bet you are really glad you are able to celebrate this birthday in heaven. Are you with Dad, LeRoy and David today? Maybe, though, birthdays aren't important anymore. Maybe they are only important to those of us left behind - a time for us to remember and rejoice.

And I do remember. September 13 will always bring my thoughts back to you. After you died - after everything was over and I was back home - I felt drained and, yes, relieved. Relieved that your struggle was over. Relieved that (dare I say it??) I no longer had to worry about you. But today, on your birthday, I find myself missing you. Over the past couple weeks I've been reading books that you gave me. They are books full of humor: "Cream and Bread", "Holy Hilarity", "More Holy Hilarity", and the one I just finished, "Stories I Couldn't Tell When I Was a Pastor". It seems like a dichotomy; I so seldom saw you smile or heard you laugh, yet you had a collection of humorous books, readings and poems. And at unexpected times you would throw out a statement that had everyone laughing.

Today, on your birthday, I hope you are liberated from any earthly restraint or piety and are reveling in joy and laughter and freedom of spirit. I miss you, but I'm so glad you are where you are. Happy birthday, Mom!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chapter 5 - Fear Conquered

It was cold in the Red River Valley of North Dakota that winter. And windy. It was so cold and windy that it hurt to breath. It was a good week to stay indoors. After a few days, however, I was getting restless and agreed to make a hospital visit to a nearby town with my preacher husband. Leaving the car to go through the parking lot, I pulled my heavy coat close around me, put my mittens on, and ran for the hospital front doors. Just that short trip chilled me to the bones; it felt like I would never be warm again.

Making our way to the room of one of our parishioners, I finally started to thaw out. We entered her room and the unfamiliarity of it all assaulted my senses. There were strange smells, there were tubes and lines everywhere, there were beeping and whooshing sounds. And my friend looked so fragile. As Rod began to speak with her, I began to feel surreal. The sights and sounds were swirling around me; I began to feel hot. Knowing I was in trouble, I quickly unzipped my coat and started to pull it off. The last thing I remember was grabbing Rod's arm.

I was in a different place. Where I was, I do not know. I saw no one, I saw no light. But my soul was instantly whole. There is no way to describe the completeness I felt. I've tried for 30 years to describe it; but words fail. I only know that it was perfect and completely satisfying.

I'm sure it was only a moment or two. I found myself coming back to awareness with the words, "Jesus, Jesus" on my lips and feeling the cool floor beneath my supine body. A nurse was hovering over me, loosening my clothes, putting a cold cloth on my forehead. "She's coming around," I heard her say.

Just a little fainting spell, but, oh, so profound. From that day on I never felt a shred of fear over my own death. From that day on I have had complete confidence that the next life is so wonderful that there is no need for concern about entering it. It took me 30 years to be brave enough to share this very personal story. And for 30 years I've thanked God for that special gift in a moment's time. My fear of death was finally conquered, never to return again.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In A Roundabout Way


As many of you know, I am collecting a single teacup and saucer from twelve different countries (note: must be made in that country). This one came to me from India - in a roundabout way. Here's how it happened:

My daughter's
mother-in-law's
pastor's wife's
sister - was a missionary in India.

My daughter's mother-in-law asked this missionary to bring a teacup and saucer for me next time she returned to the United States. And she did!!

And I love it!!

Chapter 4 - Fear - Up Close and Personal

The next few years were busy years ... finishing high school, going to college, getting married, having a baby, being a "Pastor's wife". Outwardly I had it all together. I had no experiences with death since that episode in the nursing home. Eventually, the terrors at night came rarely. And when they did I would force my mind to repeat memorized poems, Bible verses, and anything else I could think of until I fell back to sleep.

Then, suddenly, I encountered death like I had never imagined. Completely unexpected to me, my dad died. Died. The man in whose home I lived for 18 years was dead. This time I could not ignore, I could not run out of the room and flee from it, I could not think it away. The grief was overwhelming and all-consuming. Along with my mom and siblings, I lived and breathed this loss, pretending to be so strong. As plans were made for the family service and the funeral service, my fears were added to my grief. There was no escape.

At the family service, the setting was beautiful. The soft music was playing, "Be not dismayed what e'er betide; God will take care of you..." Coming into the room I saw the open casket at the front. Praying, and acting strong, I made my way to the front. Dear dad; he looked so good, so peaceful, but .... so dead. As I was standing there alone, I reached out to touch his cheek. It was cold ... and hard. And suddenly, the assurance rushed over me - he is not here, this is only a shell. My eyes were opened and I realized emotionally a truth I had embraced mentally - the real person, the one we love, is a spirit. Our spirit lives temporarily in a body. When the body gives out, the spirit, the real person, moves to a new place. My heart flooded with peace, with understanding, with comfort.

I encountered death, up close and personal. Although the grief remained, the fear was gone. At least, the fear over the death of someone I loved was gone. I had finally reached the end of my fear journey -- or at least I thought I had.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chapter 3 - Fear on the Job

My first “real” job was as a nursing assistant in a nursing home. After a shocking first few days, I learned to love and truly care about the residents. I found purpose and felt I was making a difference for these vulnerable aged. Whether it was feeding them, bathing them, or cleaning up their messes, I went about my duties with care and compassion. There were challenges I had never faced before, but I felt competent and fulfilled.

One summer day as I was going about my work, “spreading sunshine” (as my colleagues said I did) I started getting my charges up from their naps. I bounced into Mr. Olson’s room, singing a little tune. Thinking it a little strange that he didn’t respond the way he usually did, I went over to his bed, put my hand on his arm and gave it a little shake. Looking at him, I suddenly felt a cold fear sweep over my body. Something was not right. I ran from the room and called for one of the other aides to please come quickly. She took a quick look at me and ran into Mr. Olson’s room. Soon the room was full of people; one went to call the doctor, another started straightening out his bed, closing his eyes, making him look nice. I was plastered against the wall, watching what was going on, wondering what my role is supposed to be, and feeling very, very weak.

The nurse, noticing me on her way out of the room, said, “Audrey, you better go take a break. We can finish up here.” Running from the room, I locked myself in the bathroom, and leaned against the door, trembling. This was the first time I had ever seen someone who was dead. And it shook me to the core. Unexpectedly, with no warning, I was suddenly face-to-face with my biggest fear, my biggest demon. And I was unprepared. I resumed my duties, but I was never the same. The fears returned with a vengeance, just as before.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chapter 2 - Grace Taught Me to Fear

My fear continued to follow me. It tormented my mind and my soul; coming as always like a thief in the night. I searched for peace, but could not find it. Finally, at age 15, partially driven by my fear, I had a true spiritual awakening; a new soul was born within me. It felt so cleansing, so good, so liberating. I felt that, finally, I had conquered my fears. But was I really freed ... or was I only using a new method to cope? I was soon to find out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chapter 1 - Fear, With No Hope

It was the middle of the night and I woke from my sleep. The demons had come back. The fear in my gut was real and it was strong. I lay in my bed hugging myself tightly to stop the trembling. I sat up, put on my bedside lamp and looked at my hands. They were very young, smooth and unblemished. As I looked at them I envisioned myself 50, 60, 70 years later. I could see these beautiful young hands spotted with speckles of brown, wrinkled and with thin, dry skin. And I felt my mortality. Though I had never seen a human death and never been to a funeral, I knew that someday I was going to get old and someday I would die. Death was fearsome and final. It was incomprehensible to me, as a pre-teen, that this could actually happen. But I knew it would and, other than dying young, there was no way I could stop it. Sometimes my mind went to the grave, to cold and dark and alone … and to decay. With time I learned to quickly grab a book and read, read, read until I fell into a deep sleep. In the morning I was able to push it all from my mind.

Sometimes I went weeks, sometimes months without experiencing this episode of fear. But many times during my youth this would come back to me in the night. How do I get rid of this fear? I didn’t feel I could talk with anyone about it; death wasn't something that was talked about. I was probably the only person in the world who just couldn’t get it together concerning death and my personal eventual demise. I had no one to turn to, nowhere to go. It was like a hound, biting at my heels, coming at me unexpectedly; but always at night.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Down To Eight


We started out being twelve. I don't think I've ever seen a picture of all twelve of us at one time. It seemed like we had forever to take family pictures; we'd get around to it some day. But suddenly, in 1975, Dad was gone. It was then we realized that we need to make the effort to get the pics -- while we could. Over the next 32 years, several pictures were taken of the "Eleven"; the most recent was at mom's 90th birthday party in 2006. We had a professional photographer come to that party so we could get some really good pictures. I'm so glad we did, because the very next year, 2007, we lost David. That put us at ten; Then in 2009 LeRoy left us. Down to nine. One year (minus seventeen days) later, mom, the matriarch, passed into the next life. So now we are down to eight. I get an odd feeling watching my family unit gradually roll over from this world into the next. Makes me realize how temporal and mortal our human bodies are. Some day, one of us in this picture will say good bye to the final sibling, and be the only one standing. I wonder - who will it be?

For those who haven't seen us for awhile: Each row Left to Right - Bob, Tom, Jim, Don; Audrey, Vivian, Sylvia, Evie.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Conversation With Dad, Part 2

August 14, 2010

Hi, Dad. I'm back. As you must know by now, Mom is here beside you. I want you to know that her end was peaceful and without pain. I turned away for only a minute or two, and when I looked back, she was gone. I don't understand everything about the spirit world; it is hard for me to comprehend what it is like. But I hope you have reunited with her by now.

I wish you could have seen your nine grandsons, who were pallbearers. You would have been so proud of them. You would have delighted in seeing all the granddaughters and all the great grandkids. We miss mom, but her funeral was a wonderful gathering of the living, a celebration of the family you both created.

I want to thank you both. Thank you for loving one another. Thank you for the example of a committed marriage. Thank you for your "old fashioned" values and for your strong work ethic. Thank you for your involvement in your communities, your churches and your families. I sorrow over the end of the Oscar-Viola era.

Now that you are finally here together, I will be leaving you. Tomorrow I will be driving out of North Dakota. It is time now to focus on living the rest of my life. I don't know what the future holds for me, but I am confident that the same God who holds your souls still cares about me. It may be many years before I am back at this spot, but I will always hold you both very close to my heart. I love you and I miss you. Good bye - until we meet again.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Peaceful

Should I go home for the night, or should I stay? I vacillated back and forth. Finally, I decided to go to my car, fetch a quilt, and cozy up in the love seat until my sister from Omaha arrives. It would only be a couple more hours. Coming back into her room, I checked on her again. She was sleeping so peacefully. Putting my mouth next to her nearly-deaf ear, I said, "Mom, I'm here with you. I love you." No response, just as it had been all day.

Rather than curling up on the love seat, I decided to sit in her recliner. I looked through her Bible. I found her devotional book, with the bookmark on July 24. Had it been that long since she felt she could read from that book? I organized her magazine rack, throwing away Kleenexes and napkins and old church bulletins.

Suddenly, looking over at her, I felt I needed to check on her again. Throwing off the quilt, I stepped to her side and knew immediately. Can it really be? I touched her and she was as warm and soft as ever, but no rising of the chest. I felt for a pulse, knowing there would be none. I put my finger under her nose to feel the soft whoosh of a breath, knowing there would be none. I hugged her, crying tears of rejoicing and sorrow. Reluctantly I reached for the call bell. "She's gone," I said.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Last Smile

I wish that my camera had been ready. But it was so unexpected -- as so many of life's precious moments are. She was having a bad day, oscillating between sleeping, groaning, a few words here and there, and then the nausea. My childhood friend, Kay, was supposed to come and see my mom. Putting my mouth next to her ear, I said, "Kay is here. Do you still want to see her?" I fully expected her to say she wasn't up to it. But she quickly replied, "I want to see her." It had been years, if not decades since she had seen Kay, who was like another daughter when we were young. She and I stayed overnight with each other on a weekly basis.

I met Kay in the lobby and tried to prepare her. With apprehension I led her into mom's room. Just as I was about to lean down to wake her up and let her know that Kay was here, mom suddenly lifted her head. A big smile came over her face and for a moment she looked like her old self. "I would have recognized you anywhere!", she clearly said. Within five seconds she was sleeping again. Then she woke up and began taking with Kay, sharing memories from 45 years ago. Kay left when mom was again nauseated and retching with dry heaves. After she was all settled down, she said, "Where's Kay?" I told her she had to go, and she went back to sleep.

I knew when it happened -- that would be the last big, spontaneous smile I'd ever see on my mom's face. That brief moment was a final glimpse into the spirit of my true mom. I didn't catch it on camera, but I will always remember how beautiful and full of life she looked at that moment.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Beyond My Control

She feels so helpless ... and so angry. She feels so despondent ... and so vulnerable. It is a terrible position to be in. As hard as it is to see my mom's body deteriorating right before my eyes, the hardest part is seeing the struggle of her spirit. She is completely dependent on others for the very basics of life. And "others" are busy, they are in a hurry, they have time lines to meet. Some are very kind, others are impatient. Some take time for her to express her thoughts, others finish her sentences for her or ignore her. Too many patronize her. She feels de-valued.

The body is failing fast. How can it not, when she takes in so few calories and drinks so little? It is getting harder to tell a story; there are more and more mistakes in what she says. Her skin on her lower legs looks like a bad burn. Her toes and fingers are cold and blue. She sleeps a lot. Sometimes she will rally for awhile and seem "better". But it doesn't last long anymore. She hates what is happening to her, but is powerless to change it.

My heart breaks to see this happening to such a strong woman. My prayer has become, "Lord, release her. Bring this devastation to an end." Meanwhile, all I can do is be there, listen to her, advocate for her, let her know that she is not alone.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Roots

The wind was gently blowing and the sky went back and forth from cloudy to sunny. Driving on the dusty gravel roads of North Dakota, we went past mile after mile of open fields and swollen sloughs. We were traveling through the prairies where my parents were born, grew up, fell in love and married. Most of the houses are gone and most of the churches are remembered only by the big bells displayed by the roadside.

But the cemeteries are still there. Cemeteries that are far removed from city streets and noisy activities. How appropriate that my ancestors were laid to rest in these beautiful and peaceful spots; close to the churches they helped build; near the farms they carved out of the prairie grasses. Most of them spent their lives toiling just to survive. Most had little more than the necessities. Some were so poor they could not even afford a granite stone to mark the grave of their infant child.

It was in this setting that I found my grandparents, Lars and Petra. It was here that I found my great-grandmother, Christine Westad, from whom I got my middle name. It was here that I found the "temporary" grave marker of my aunt Florence, who died at age 2, nearly 85 years ago.

Enjoying the peace and beauty of this balmy North Dakota summer day, it is easy to romanticize about how life must have been. But I know North Dakota. I know the long, cold winters. I know what it is like to lose crops to hail or to drought. I remember the three day blizzards. I understand the devastation of a sick cow, a horse that needs to be put down, chickens that are killed by the foxes. Life was hard. But it was also full. Families were important and neighbors took care of each other. There was love and laughter. There was a sense of belonging, there were deep roots.

Thanks, Susan, for taking me on this trip through the past. It helped to anchor my soul and give me hope for my own life and for the legacy I will be leaving my descendants. It helped me focus on what is really important in my life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Conversation with Dad

Hi, Dad. It's been a long time since I've been here to see you. In fact, it was so long that I had a hard time finding you. But here I am. Is it okay if I lay on top of you? Today I need to feel close to you; I need to feel your strong and steady spirit. Things have been pretty tough for me lately. Sometimes I feel like the life has been sucked right out of me; that my bones are as old and brittle as yours. Why did you leave me when you did? I want so much to know you better and learn from you. If you had lived another ten years, I know I would be a stronger and better person because of it. Maybe I would be better equipped to deal with life's hard times. But, wait. What is that you are trying to tell me? Oh, I hear you clearly now; "My daughter, you have a heavenly father who is still alive and is very real. Go to His arms, lay your head against His chest and listen to His heart. He will comfort you and lead you down the right path." Yes, Dad, you are right. Sometimes I lose my way. I need to come back home to the One who leads me beside still waters, who fills my cup to overflowing, who anoints my head with the healing oil; the One who restores my soul.

Dad ... thanks for helping me today. Now I am going to rise from this grass. I will set my face to the wind and march on. After all, I am my father's daughter - and I am strong, like he was.

But before I go ... there is another thing I want to tell you. Mom is going to be joining you soon. I don't think it will be very much longer and she will be lying here beside you - just where she wants to be. We're taking good care of her, but her heart is already in the next world. So I'll be back to see you again. And by then, things will be much better. I'm sure of it.

Time with Mom

Here I am - back in North Dakota. Yes, I drove again. It takes me longer each time, as I stop more often.

Mom is so frail. I was here at the end of June and I can see decline since then. The fluid in her legs build up until they start leaking out profusely, pulling the skin apart in the process. Once the pressure is off, they are fairly dry for a short while. Then the process begins again. She has a deep sore above her right heel and the skin on both legs is breaking down. I used to be so glad she enjoyed her ice cream every day, as that was a source for some calories. But she doesn't even want ice cream anymore. She eats barely enough to keep a bird alive. She told me she just has no appetite at all, her gums hurt when she tries to chew (I'm sure her gums have shrunken, leaving her teeth to be very ill-fitting), her eyes are no good, and today she mentioned that she is short of breath. She doesn't do puzzles anymore and she sleeps a lot during the day. It is almost like she is disappearing right before my eyes. Tomorrow I plan to meet with her nurse and on Tuesday morning I hope to meet with the hospice nurse. She is taking morphine from time to time for the pain that she is now experiencing in her legs.

I encourage you to send her short, large-font (18 or more) emails. She said there was one whole week she didn't get a single email. How about we all make an effort to send a bunch of emails while we can. Short emails are okay!

I plan to spend a lot of time with her over the next week. Much of that time is just sitting there with her. I'll give another update after I have a chance to speak with the nurses.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Myself

Here is a poem from my youth that has been swirling around in my head lately.

MYSELF
by Edgar A. Guest

I have to live with myself and so
I want to be fit for myself to know.
I want to be able as days go by,
always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don't want to stand with the setting sun
and hate myself for the things I have done.
I don't want to keep on a closet shelf
a lot of secrets about myself
and fool myself as I come and go
into thinking no one else will ever know
the kind of person I really am,
I don't want to dress up myself in sham.
I want to go out with my head erect
I want to deserve all men's respect;
but here in the struggle for fame and wealth
I want to be able to like myself.
I don't want to look at myself and know that
I am bluster and bluff and empty show.
I never can hide myself from me;
I see what others may never see;
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself and so,
whatever happens I want to be
self respecting and conscience free.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Evie - # 3 out of 10


Evie, known to others as Evelyn, has a birthday May 18. Evie is my "youngest" sister, though she is #3 and I am #8. This picture of Evie, when she was about 18 is how I remember her most when I was a child. Evie graduated high school just before I started first grade. Then she went off to college and did some teaching. My first memories are when she was around that age.
Evie was the one who was always laughing and always playing jokes on my brothers. Here are some of my favorite memories:
  • Letting the cats in the house when mom and dad were gone (absolutely forbidden!)
  • Throwing water on my brothers - through the screen by the kitchen sink
  • Drinking lots of water, then lying on the couch, moving her belly so I could hear the water slosh around inside her
  • Malted milk balls in the top dresser drawer - and sharing them with me
  • High heels and lipstick and going on a date
  • Laying awake until she came home to see if she had a ring on her finger
  • Telling me I was going to get a baby brother or sister
  • Telling me I got a baby brother
  • Telling me what happens to girls when they start to grow up
  • Buying me my first razor to shave my legs
  • Reading and responding to lengthy letters filled with teen-aged angst
  • Beautiful handwriting
  • Baking cookies, making "tomatoes and macaroni"
  • Introducing the family to pizza
  • Playing the piano and singing
And then - she moved far away to California and it was a long time before I saw her again.
I'm so glad I've been able to spend more time with her since my job takes me to the Omaha airport every 2-3 months. I cherish those times we have together, just the two of us.
Thanks, Evie, for the positive influence you've been on my life, for introducing me to new and different things, for accepting me and loving me. I love you and I am proud to be your little sister. Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Irene - Youngest Girl


My mother's youngest sister turns 84 May 13. Irene is another one of those "out west" relatives I never got to know real well until the last few years. I have only one memory of her in my youth. This is when I went to Washington to see all the relatives in 1960. I remember sitting close to my mother in Irene's home. I was very shy. And I felt very intimidated by my "city" girl cousins. While mom and Irene visited, I watched Kandy come through the door and head "somewhere". Kandy - I had never heard a name like that before. And I briefly saw Karen, who is almost exactly my age. But she seemed so mature and sure of herself. Then there was little Kay Kay. Again, who ever heard of calling a girl Kay Kay? My best friend back home was just Kay. I remember Kay Kay being very cute. If John was born by then, I don't remember him at all. After I went back home I named my dolls Kandy, Karen and Kay Kay. I still have Kay Kay.

What fun it has been getting to know all these people as adults. I'm so glad I saw Melvin a few times before he died. And I've gotten to know Kandy, Karen, Kay and John. And Irene. Irene who is so slender and so active. She certainly does not look like she is 84. A couple months ago I had the pleasure of sitting beside her as we all went to Duke's for lunch. We talked a lot and laughed a lot. Irene comes out with the most unexpected statements that are so funny!

I know Irene is having a difficult time now. She has experienced a lot of losses lately and it is difficult to deal with. I know she is feeling lonely. I hope her birthday is a very good and positive day. I hope it is a day where we all take time to be thankful for the special people who have touched our lives. Happy Birthday, Aunt Irene! I wish we lived closer together so we could see each other more often. Have a very good day!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mother's Day With My Mom

As most of you know, I decided to fly to North Dakota to spend Mother's Day with my mom. I'm sure it was her last one. It was really good to see her again. I arrived in Devils Lake at 9:45 pm and decided to stop by the nursing home to see if the doors were still open. They were! So I surprised her in her room. Though I only stayed about 10 minutes, I'm sure it meant a lot to her.

The experience was both satisfying and distressing. Mom has refused to do anything that may prolong her life, including taking her "water pills". There is a huge amount of water retention in her body right now. Her feet look like footballs, her legs are huge, weeping fluid, and blistering. A lot of fluid has settled in her left arm. When I spoke with the nurse, she said she has pitting edema all the way up to above her waist. At this point her lungs are still clear, but the fluid will keep rising until she ends up with pulmonary edema. It bothers me that she is refusing any treatment for this, yet I understand her desire to not prolong life. There's got to be a better way to go! She has absolutely no mobility left and cannot even adjust herself in her chair anymore.

In the midst of this, her mind is still good. We played several games of rummy and she talked intelligently about everything. But she looks and sounds so terribly frail. She eats so little, her eyesight is deteriorating, and her hearing is atrocious (most of the time). It is often hard to understand her because her voice is just wearing out.

Though the trip was hard, I'm glad I went. The days go by so slowly for her. She looks forward to any activity that is out of the ordinary. Next weekend David's widow, Nancy and their daughter Jennifer with her two little ones will be there. Mom is so looking forward to seeing them. And there are several family members coming memorial day weekend. Personally, I don't really expect her to last much longer than that.

Remember to send her emails. She counts on that every day. Just be sure to increase the font to 16 or 18. You don't have to say much. Just hearing from you is enough.

Now don't you go telling Mom I put all this in my blog!! I'd be in trouble for sure!

You Know You Are Gone Too Long When ...


... you find this on your car. This nest with two eggs was firmly attached to the bottom of my windshield when I got to the parking lot last night.
The good news is that it gave me a smile after a very long day of travel - or maybe I should say non-travel. I was supposed to leave Fargo at noon, but my flight was cancelled. Now, there aren't too many flights going from Fargo to Denver. The next one was at 4:30. I got on the standby list, but just as I was ready to go down the jetway, the last passenger showed up and I got bumped. The next flight was 7:30. Though it, too, was delayed, I finally made it back home at 9:45. What a day! And today, it's back to the airport to go to Texas again. One of these days I will catch up on things!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Second Night - Not So Good


Yes, Wednesday night we sure had a good time. And Thursday night we were all going to Billy Bob's Texas, The World's Largest Honky Tonk. In preparation for this big outing, all of us director's had to rent a van so we could transport everyone to Billy Bob's. There were no vans, however, so we all got an SUV when we arrived in Dallas. All week, we had to drive these big SUV's around the city so we could fill them up with people on Thursday night. The big night arrived. Billy Bob's was 27 miles from the hotel, but since we were going during rush hour, we gave ourselves an hour. Leaving at 5:00 pm, I piled 4 extra people in my SUV, the amount of people who would fit into a full-sized car, and headed for the congested highway towards Fort Worth. An hour and a half later we finally arrived at the famed Billy Bob's. After being ushered to our private room, we ate things like chicken, baked beans, tacos and deep-fried fruit pies. A couple people played a game of pool, about a half dozen did some line dancing, most of us browsed through the gift shop, and most were talking about how tired they were and how sore from the previous nights exercise. It was obvious most were not big party-ers who could handle two nights in a row. So around 8:30 pm 3-4 SUVs loaded up and headed back to the hotel - a trip that took only 45 minutes this time. (I heard the rest left shortly after us). I was definitely under-whelmed with Billy Bob's. But I'm sure it's not their fault, we just weren't a very vivacious group that night. Today I was really glad to finally turn that SUV back into the rental car company. It had fulfilled it's purpose.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Texas Country

I am exhausted. And surely I lost a few pounds tonight. We are having a company-wide meeting in Dallas this week and tonight we all went to the Austin House (or something like that). The food was good. The games were fun. The music was okay. Being with all the clinic managers and the directors was great. And I spent a couple hours doing things like line dancing, the chicken dance, karaoke, and other stuff that I'm not even sure what it was. A great time was had by a bunch of women of all ages (the two guys left early). In the midst of all the heavy stuff we hear about during the day, like cutting costs while improving quality, it a nice break to get some exercise and have fun, too. Tomorrow I have my presentation. And I hear that tomorrow night we are going to "Billy Bob's". I may even try riding that out-of-control steer. Or maybe not. I have a lot of recuperating to do between now and then. Whew!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Hilltop Inn


My tea party at Georgetown didn't turn out very well, as you can see if you read my earlier blog. But I do have a success story from this weekend.

For my and Nadine's birthday, Sue (niece-in-law) gave us each a "tea" at the Hilltop Inn. I had never heard of this place, but Sue had been there before with her mother. What a wonderful place it is! And what a wonderful time we had. This was a very traditional English "High Tea" with scones, tea sandwiches, sweets, and lots of tea. We spent an hour and a half enjoying our tea and goodies. It was very refreshing and fun. Maybe that is why the English cherish their tea time so much. It is an opportunity in the middle of a busy day to slow down, enjoy one another, nourish the body and soul, and leave all the hassles of life behind us for awhile.

Thanks, Sue, for the wonderful time, and for introducing me to another special place! I'm sure I'll go back again and again.

We Sure Fell For That One!!

Such a beautiful Spring day ... a great day for driving to the mountains. Rod and I decided to take the one-hour drive and go to Georgetown for lunch. Just as we turned the corner onto historic downtown, Rod saw this sign. "Hey," he said, "they have a tea shop here now!" Aww, Georgetown just went up a notch in my estimation. Now we can come here for tea.

We made our way to the Happy Cooker and had a nice little lunch. In anticipation of the upcoming tea time, I ordered only water to drink. And what a lovely walk it was going the two or three blocks to the house of tea. I always get excited when I find an unusual and out-of-the-way type of place to enjoy a pot of tea with a friend or lover. As we step across the threshold, I see nothing but dark clothing in a dank room. It even smelled a little "old". But, wait! There is another room off to the right. I peak around that room, see more clothes, and a heavily tattooed lady comes from "somewhere", and starts explaining the great sale they have going on now. They are changing, she says, from the current shop to an Athena shop.

I'm sure my confusion showed on my face, but we politely looked at a few clothes and quickly left. Turning around to look at the sign again, I see "a T h E n A". The a, h, and n are just a white outline - but look at the T, the E, and the A - bright and bold colors. How strange. As we moved on, however, I noticed a fenced-in patio with tables and chairs. So maybe, when they finally convert to Athena, they will also have TEA. I can only hope.

Since we didn't get our tea, we made our way to the old-fashioned soda fountain shop and had hot fudge sundaes and coffee instead. And enjoyed listening to the lady at the shop tell us stories about the goings-on in Georgetown. The more we egged her on, the more she gossipped. It was fun.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elvera's Necklace


Today I wore her necklace. And many times throughout my busy day I would fold it within my hand and think of her. And be thankful for her. And miss her. This is the necklace my aunt Elvera gave me last month. At the time I didn't think she would be leaving us so quickly.

I have regrets. I wanted to get to know her better. I wanted to spend a lazy afternoon with her, just chatting and learning more about her. I missed so much of her life, spending years, even decades, never seeing her. I envy my Washington cousins who grew up around her and knew her so well.

In her Christmas card just last year she wrote that she had a story to tell me next time she saw me. I wanted to ask her about it when I saw her in March. But it was already too late. That was not a time to search for what I wanted. It was a time to support her in her illness and her weakness. And now I will never know. No, I shouldn't say that. Someday I am certain we will have unlimited time to talk, laugh, and catch up on all we missed out on while living on this earth. Someday ... I'll hear her story.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Baby Turns 80!


On Sunday, April 11, the baby of the family turns 80. Duane, the youngest of more than a dozen kids hits another decade. Duane is another uncle that I became reacquainted with in the early 2000's. My memories of him prior to that time are rather sketchy. I remember, in 1960, when he took my mom and me through his office supply store. I was in awe that a relative of mine would work in such a wondrous place. (I've loved office supply stores ever since). I remember that he and his wife, Martha, lost a baby while I was there in 1960. And I'm almost certain that it was Duane who met us at the train station when we arrived in Seattle/Tacoma after a 2-3 day train trip. As little as I knew him then, I am making up for it now. I love this guy's sense of humor, his warmth, and his openness to me and all the nieces and nephews. He always seems so calm, so kind, and so thoughtful. When I hear stories about his dad, my grandpa Frank, it seems like they must have been very much alike.

Duane is pictured above with his wife, Martha. This was taken during my last trip to Washington about a month ago.

Duane, I've enjoyed getting to know you better over the past several years. I'm glad I found yet another uncle to love. You are looking mighty good for being 80! Happy Birthday!

Shocking!

Remember the blog about my less-than-great experience at Chili's? The redeeming part of the whole experience was the great food ... or so I thought. On a whim, I looked up the nutritional value of the food at Chili's. Here's how my Grilled BBQ Smoked Chicken Salad looks. Calories: 1060; Grams of fat: 63; Milligrams of Sodium: 2090!!!!! And I ate every last bite. In one meal I ate over half the calories for an entire day. And the recommended salt intake for my age is 1500 mg/day.

Last night we went to Outback Steakhouse for a nice dinner together. I thought I'd try something different - the Shrimp en Fuego with fresh steamed green beans and potato bowl. Sounds good, doesn't it? And it was. Here's how this delicious meals looks nutritionally. Calories: 1,356; Grams of fat: 90; Milligrams of Sodium: 3611. It just keeps getting worse!! I did leave most of the potato boat and a lot of the cream sauce on my plate, so I didn't consume quite as much as I could have. But I ate a couple slices of the bread, topped with salted butter.

This is very discouraging to me. It is obvious why I'm having difficulty taking off 20 pounds. I eat much larger portions than I should, I eat high fat, high calorie, high sodium foods, and I don't move around enough. What to do???

I think I'll go take a brisk walk - and turn into a raw vegetarian. A message to my body - "I'm so sorry for what I've been doing to you. I'll try harder. Honest."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Feeding the Family: Correction

I knew I was missing something! Thanks to my brother, Tom, for the complete and correct story about the butchering. I guess we all remember the parts that we were involved in. I obviously did not participate in the entire process. Here is what my SIL, Marty, wrote:

From your brother, Tom ,,,
"The day we killed a steer, we skinned it out, gutted it (I took the heart, tongue, liver and kidneys to the house to be wrapped or cooked), salter down the hide and rolled it up to be sold (for leather), and quartered the carcass. It was then hung in the well house, covered by clean white sheets, to age for several days before it was processed and frozen. This was possible because we killed the steer in the fall when the weather was cool.
Also, there is no lard in beef to be rendered. It is tallow and was used (as you said) to make soap."

Put On Your Easter Bonnet


I must have been about the age of Julia (above). Any older and I think it would have been humiliating. All the girls in my class had to make an "Easter Bonnet" from a paper plate. Then we all had to wear our bonnet and parade through the other classrooms to the tune of "Put on your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it" and then I would "be the grandest lady in the Easter parade". I must have been older than Julia is, because I remember feeling rather foolish. But today when I was telling her the story she said, "Can I make an Easter bonnet?" Of course, she could. And she thoroughly enjoyed it. Turned out rather nice, too. But I didn't make her parade around the neighborhood. Just out to the back deck for some pictures. By the way, Julia is 7 years old. A good age for paper plate bonnets.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Feeding the Family: Butter

Butter may seem like a small thing. But with all that good homemade bread, butter is absolutely essential. As you can guess, we didn't just pick up sticks or rolls of butter from the grocery store. Again, we made it ourselves. By the time I came along in the family, we were really high tech - we made butter in the washing machine. I'm serious. We really did. Just ask my mom. In the barn we had the cream separator, a contraption that separated the milk from the cream. A lot of the cream went into the metal "cream cans" and got sold to the "creamery" in town. But we always had plenty for the family for things like cream and sugar over bread, creamed gravy, all kinds of baking, and, of course, butter. There was a special piece of equipment that fit over the agitator in the wringer washing machine that we poured the cream into. We plugged it in and .... it made butter! This must have been a big improvement over the "old" way of making butter that took a lot of arm work and took a lot of time.

I don't remember how mom made the butter yellow, but it always came out beautiful and delicious. We shaped it just right, wrapped it up, and put it in the freezer with the rest of the family food. One of my most pleasant memories is going into the kitchen in the evening, all by myself, and popping up a couple dishpans full of popcorn. I would melt a big pan of butter on the stove and smother the popcorn in butter and salt. Each of us would get a bread pan full of this delicious popcorn. I made my bread pan last for at least two days, because I knew I wasn't allowed to make popcorn more than once a week.

We all laugh about the night my sister, Evie, who was home from college, dished up ice cream for dessert. She brought the ice cream to each one of us at the table. At last she sat down to her own dish, smothered in homemade chocolate sauce. She took a bite, then accusingly said, "who put butter in my ice cream?" Ha ha on her. She is the one who put chocolate sauce on a dish of butter instead of ice cream!

I'm glad I enjoyed all this butter when I was young. Now-a-days, I wouldn't think of consuming so much butter. It really isn't good for my health. And, well, it just doesn't taste that good anymore. But maybe if I had the homemade kind ... maybe it would taste good again.

Pals Cabin

Complain, complain, complain. I know I do a lot of complaining about my grueling life on the road and in the air. Finding good food is the biggest challenge I have. Tonight I struck gold! Not far from the hotel is a place called Pals Cabin, in business since 1932. It is advertised as a steakhouse, and I don't like steak. But I thought I'd give it a try because (1) it is not a chain restaurant, (2) I like trying different places; and (3) most steak houses also sell chicken and fish. And, boy, did they have a good menu! I debated between the crab cakes, the salmon, and the scallops. Well, I had salmon at the meeting last night and crab cakes can sometimes be a little sweet, so I settled on the scallops. Should I have them broiled, sauteed, blackened, or fried? Broiled it was. Yummmmm. Those were the best scallops I've ever had (except for once in Seattle). Yes, I am spending Friday night alone in a New Jersey hotel. But just thinking of Pals Cabin makes me smile. And tomorrow I go home.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It Felt Like I Was in Chuckie Cheese's

I worked so late that I missed the free nachoes at my hotel tonight. That, along with some popcorn, would have made for an okay evening meal. But .... I missed the nachoes. So where to go to get something to eat? I really like Chili's BBQ Chicken Salad so I set off for the local Odessa, TX, Chili's. I should have known it wasn't going to be a very good experience when I was told there is a wait time to be seated. After 20 minutes, I was led through the restaurant to a small table to enjoy a quiet meal all by myself. Here's what happened next: (1) It took a LONG time for anyone to take my order; (2) I was set right under a speaker, out of which came some very loud, clangy noise; (3) It became clear to me that there were many more children than adults; (4) The children had no reservations about screaming, crying, yelling and running around; (5) It took a very long time to get my salad; and (6) It took a very, very long time for anyone to take my money. Two bright spots: (1) the salad was good; and (2) I didn't eat alone in my room. Tomorrow night, however, I will be back at the hotel in time for their tacos OR I will bring something back to my room to eat a quiet meal ... alone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feeding the Family: Cattle, Part II

My door was closed and the windows were shut tight. Lying on my bed, I put the pillow over my head and pushed it into my ears with my fists. But I still heard it. Bang! It only took one shot and the job was done. I knew a young steer had just met it's fate and would be in our freezer before the end of the day. It was when I saw the steer, with a rope around its neck, being led to the ditch down by the chicken house, that I realized what was going to happen. I didn't want to have anything to do with this project! That evening, however, I found myself sitting on the basement steps, watching the process. Dad knew what he was doing; he knew exactly how to cut every piece of meat. There were steaks, roasts and ribs being cut up with knives and saws. I watched as chunks of meat went in the grinder and came out in long strings of bright red ground beef. Mom and some of my brothers were busy wrapping each piece in freezer paper, taping and labeling. Then all the neat packages went into the freezer. What a messy day - but a necessary part of feeding the family over the next year.

I have vague memories of the "rendering of the lard"; mostly I remember the horrible smell. I don't know how it worked, but all the fat, along with some lye (and maybe other things) eventually turned into bars of soap. Every wash day (Mondays), mom would shave off pieces of a bar of homemade soap into the wringer washing machine.

As a child, I never cared much for beef, though I did like meatballs. I still don't care for beef. I've often wondered if it has anything to do with my fondness for the cattle ... and the unavoidable butchering day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Feeding the Family: Cattle, Part I

It may be a little strange, but I always liked the cows. They were gentle, non-threatening creatures. During the summer, in the late afternoons, my brother or I would have to "go get the cows" so they could come to the barn to be milked. Off I would go, lazily walking through the pasture daydreaming, picking wildflowers, avoiding the thistles, making my way towards the cows. It wasn't a hard job, for as soon as the cows saw me they would start walking towards the barn. There was one cow I especially liked because she didn't mind when I jumped up on her, laid down on her wide back and had a nice ride to the barn. For a country girl, the hot sun, the bugs and the unique smell of dirt and cow was not the least bit unpleasant. I loved being in the barn during the milking, though my brothers often chased me out. I enjoyed watching all the cats gather around for the fresh milk, I enjoyed using the curry brush on the broad side of a gentle cow, I enjoyed watching the rich cream pour out of the "separater". And I didn't mind washing the teats before the milking machine was attached. The barn was a hub of activity and a conglomeration of distinctive smells - hay, dirt, animals, milk, ground feed, and manure - melding into one very "farm" odor. In the spring the pens in the barn filled up with new calves. I remember the day my Dad showed me how to teach the calves to drink from a pail. I would straddle the little calf, holding a can of fresh milk in it's face. Sticking my fingers in its mouth, the calf would begin sucking. Oh, what a strong sucking sensation that warm, wet mouth had! I would quickly guide it's bucking head to the milk in the pail and it was soon sucking up the milk on its own. What cute little animals the young calves were! Yes, in the spring and early summer, it was easy to pretend that fall would never come.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Enough Already!

So good to be home. I arrived back in Denver after spending the week in Dallas. But what is NOT good is coming home to news that sister Sylvia is back in the hospital .... again! And it's not even a holiday. I just spoke with her and it is the same problem that just will not go away - fluid buildup. I'm starting to have a strong aversion to Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). It is interfering with the lives of too many loved ones. On a good note, Sylvia sounded good, said she feels good, and is expecting to go home tomorrow; albeit on oxygen. And she will be seeing a cardiologist in Grand Forks in less than two weeks. Let's hope and pray that the right treatment can be found that will improve things in a hurry.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Dirty Dozen


Country cousins and city cousins. What a different upbringing they had! I doubt if any of the city cousins ever baled hay, butchered chickens, plowed fields, moved manure, or went to a high school with less than 30 students. And I know the country cousins had little, if no exposure to city buses, tug boats, 2-story department stores, or a school class of hundreds. Yet we have so much in common. We have a blood-line; we all came from Frank and Sophia. Twelve of us first cousins (about 1/4 of the Peterson first cousins) met together last Friday night. How fun it was to see some again, get to know others better, and meet some for the first time. The first guest arrived before 6:00 p.m. and the last one left at 2:00 a.m. A good time was had by all. Besides the cousins, we had several spouses/significant others join us; all wonderful people to know. We thought about inviting the aunts and uncles, but they said, "No, you don't want us old folks around. You young people just enjoy yourselves." Our ages ranged from mid 40's to 70. I'm all for that being the new young! For those who aren't sure who is who, here is the list. The name in parenthesis is the Peterson child from which they came.

Back row: Kay (Irene); Debbie (Glenn); Kandy (Irene); Audrey (Viola); Karen (Irene); Janice (Stanley)

Front row: Barbara (Wilma); John (Irene); Bob (Elvera); Greg (Elvera); Curtis (Stanley)

Sitting in the front because he is the oldest and the tallest: Raynoir (Stanley)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lunch at Dukes


It's not very often I get this opportunity. Friday I enjoyed delicious seafood and salad at a nice restaurant right on the water of Puget Sound. And the best part was the people I shared the meal with. From left to right they are: Cousin Barbara (Brown) Lester, Uncle Glenn, me, Aunt Nancy, Aunt Irene, Cousin Kandy (Treakle) Osmon, Aunt Martha and Uncle Duane. A wonderful time was had by all. It was so good to see Irene so happy and engaged in the conversation. She sure enjoyed her coconut prawns. And Duane had a cheeseburger that must have been six inches high. Glenn enjoyed a big bowl of clam chowder ... and was going to have soup again for his next meal. We ate, and talked, and joked, and laughed, and .... loved. How very blessed we all are to have each other!


Friday, March 5, 2010

Dear Aunt Elvera


I'm so glad I went to Tacoma. It was good to see all the aunts and uncles today. But this entry is about my Aunt Elvera. I couldn't believe it when I heard in January that she was in the hospital with pneumonia. Then she was back in the hospital, then it was other things going wrong. I'm not sure what the immediate future holds, but I'm sure glad I had a few short visits with this special person. It breaks my heart to see her feeling so poorly. Dearest Aunt, please know that many, many people love you, care deeply about you and are praying for you. I will always honor and admire you. Your strength, your sense of humor, your steadfastness and your beautiful spirit have blessed all of us over the years. Thank you for being who you are.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The House is Smaller!


It was the most exciting event of my entire childhood -- the long train ride from Devils Lake, ND, to Tacoma, WA, to see my Peterson relatives. The year was 1960, I was eight years old, and I took the trip with my mother and my great-aunt-Alma. Here's Grandma and Grandpa's house - the place where we stayed. It was all white back then. And it sure seems like it was much, much bigger in 1960. I remember sitting on those steps in the warm June sun. And I remember the yard filled with cousins and aunts and uncles when they all came over to see us.

Yes, I got a tour through the past today. After landing in Seattle about 10:30 this morning, Cousin Kandy took me to see Aunt Elvera and then she drove me around to places from that memorable trip "out west". I found the "reservoir" and the chain link fence where I got my picture taken with Grandpa. Kandy showed me the probable route of my very first city bus trip when Grandma, mom and I went downtown. The department store downtown is where I saw, and rode, my very first escalator. I was hoping to see the corner store where grandpa bought me a 5-cent push-up each day, but it is no longer there. Another first from that trip was watching my Grandpa wash the siding of the house with a hose. I had never known anyone to do that before.

Oh, what a good time I am having! Tomorrow I will be having lunch by the water with my aunts and uncles. Then we go for a visit with Elvera. And Friday night is the "cousin" party. Currently there are 23 planning to attend.

One big disappointment - Kandy took a couple good pictures of Elvera and me -- but I lost the pictures from my phone. So tomorrow we'll try again. Be looking for a picture and an Elvera update soon!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Won't Let It Happen!

My former life, with my former job was so intense and so all-consuming that I had to quit to re-balance. Those were the days of nearly 100% travel, work all day, every night, and Sunday afternoons. Those were the days of 150 emails a day, eleven budgets to maintain, lots of direct reports, lots of issues, lots of presentations, and not enough sleep. After I quit, I enjoyed more time at home, and even had some time with no work at all. Those were times of eating right, getting exercise, reading books, starting a blog, re-connecting with friends and family, sleeping good and feeling great. But I was also getting restless, wanting a bit of the fast pace again, the challenges, the rush I got from solving difficult problems and starting new programs. So back to work I went! It's been going great and I love my job. But these past two weeks have really heated up...more and more travel coming up, huge problems to work through, tighter budget constraints and ... did I say .... more travel? So once again it is a struggle to eat right, sleep right, exercise, read books, stay connected. But I REFUSE TO LET IT TAKE OVER MY LIFE AGAIN!!! Which is one reason why I am taking two days off, flying to Tacoma to see relatives, and (mostly) forget about work. Yes, life is short. I don't want to miss out on anything important. So if you see me spinning out of control again, shake me and say, "You said you won't let it happen again!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Feeding the Family: Baking

A family as large as the one I came from consumed lots of food over the years. We were all hard workers who burned up lots of calories. Calories that were replenished with breakfast, lunch, dinner, lunch, supper and snack. A large part of our lives revolved around feeding the family. You read about the garden, the canning and freezing, the chickens. The best part, though, was the baking. We never bought bread from the store. Every week mom baked several loaves of bread and several pans of buns. Is there any better smell than the smell of bread in the oven? And mom made the best buns. Mmmm, fresh buns made delicious sandwiches - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, meat sandwiches, pickle sandwiches, or just bread and butter. Every once in awhile, we were treated to the best cinnamon rolls any of us have ever tasted. They turned out perfect every time with lots of soft caramel. What a delicious Saturday night supper - sandwiches and cinnamon rolls!

Then there were the cookies. We didn't just make a couple batches of cookies. On Saturdays we made triple batches of three or four different kinds of cookies ... chocolate chip, peanut butter, ground raisin, oatmeal, molasses, sugar, and many more. The all time favorite that we made each time was chocolate chip. Many times I sat on the kitchen stool with a big bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough anchored between my legs as I used a big spoon to stir in the chocolate chips. And what fun it was to use a fork to press down the peanut butter cookies. We used the bottom of the toothpick holder to press down the molasses cookies. We ate cookies when they were fresh and we froze cookies for later.

Besides all the breads and the cookies we also made bars. Every time we had company, mom would go down the basement and bring up a variety of bars to put on a plate and thaw out while visiting with the company. When it was time for "coffee", the bars were all ready to go. We tried lots of different recipes with bars. They were all good.

The best baking of all, however, was the birthday cake! Every birthday (and we had lots of them) there was a large angel food cake with frosting and candles. Melt-in-your mouth angel food cake. I can taste it now. I told my family the only thing I want for my 60th birthday (I'm giving them plenty of warning) is a home made angel food cake. Will they come through for me? I hope so!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Uncle Glenn



Isn't he a good lookin' 82 year old? This is my uncle Glenn Peterson. I have practically no memory of this man during my childhood years. I vaguely remember seeing a tall, thin, quiet-kind-of guy around the farm a couple times. I remember his wife, Nancy, much better. Nancy was the social one, the one who talked, laughed, and got after the kids. It wasn't until after the turn of the century (2000) that I re-met Glenn in Tacoma. Wow, what a guy! I'll never forget how he welcomed me with warmth and hugs - as if we had been close buddies all those years. I instantly felt a kinship with Glenn. Every time I've seen him since, he has continued to win my heart. He drove me to the airport, he came to see me where ever I was, he always showed an interest in what I was doing. Uncle Glenn, I am so thankful I found you. I'm sorry this is a day late, but Happy Birthday! May you be filled with health and happiness throughout your 82nd year of life. I love you!

I Just Have to Say This

For My Mother:

Thank you:
  • for having child #8
  • for your patience with me through the teen years
  • for really good cinnamon rolls
  • for letting me do the housework rather than the cooking
  • for the sewing machine I started using at age 10
  • for hosting the 4-H club, even on your birthday
  • for welcoming my best friend into our home on a regular basis
  • for loving my father
  • for working so hard for all of us
  • for creating a home of stability and security and peace
  • for letting me take the car to my job in Cando, even when you had to go to church in the pickup
  • for teaching me the honor of hard work
  • for meatballs and gravy over boiled potatoes
  • for Christmas traditions and Christmas foods
  • for taking me to Tacoma in 1960
  • for coming to my college graduation, even though you just broke your shoulder
  • for taking care of me
  • for being proud of me
  • for loving me
  • and most of all
  • Thank you for living long enough for me to realize how much I love you

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Crazy or Courageous?

Really, I should have known better. And I did have reservations about proceeding with the plans. So why did I put myself into such a position? Well, I guess I know why: (1) I always wanted to try it, (2) a friend needed a partner, (3) the opportunity was crystal clear, and (4) I keep forgetting that my body is much older than my spirit. I've lived in Colorado for nearly thirteen years ... thirteen years of people saying to me, "Oh, you live in Colorado. Do you ski?" The answer has always been, "No, but I really want to learn." From now on, however, my answer will be, "Been there, done that, end of story." You see, yesterday I signed up for a ski lesson in Breckenridge, Colorado. The scenery was pristine and the opportunity was ripe (and expensive). My friend, Laura, and I bought an all-day skiing lesson, rented ski boots and skis, bundled up against the single-digit temperature, and confidently set out to learn to ski. Let's just say that Laura dropped out before the end of the morning and I dropped out at lunch time. And for good reason. How many times can an out-of-shape "middle-aged" woman pick herself up on a snowy slope with skis attached to boots that are too heavy to walk in?? Man alive, I can barely get up off the living room floor after playing with the grandkids! I fell four times, nearly froze my fingers, depleted every last ounce of strength I had, and still didn't learn to ski. "Enough is enough", I said. I became a ski-school dropout. I've always thought that with being a full blood Scandinavian, skiing would surely come easy to me. Well.....well.....maybe if I tried again I would finally get it. Maybe next year. Maybe not.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fun in the Mountains

I know I'll have a wonderful time. But I really don't feel like going ... yet. Sometimes I just wish I could stay home for awhile. Today (Sunday) I am going to Breckenridge, a nice mountain community, and spend the next few days with a bunch of my colleagues from around the country. I love the mountains, but I love them best in the summer. Cold and snow and wind aren't particularly appealing to me right now. I need an attitude adjustment. After all, many people would be thrilled to trade places with me. We have a nice lodge rented, the menu planned, the activities scheduled, and I like everyone I will be with. Yes, I know it will be fun. If I don't chicken out, I will be taking my very first downhill ski lesson. I bought new cozy pajamas, I bought a warm cap, I found Rod's heavy winter coat that I can wear, I bought slippers, I packed my teapot and four flavors of tea. See, it's going to be fun. Leaving my house and husband once again is going to be the hardest part.

Goin' Out West

Procrastination can quickly turn into "too late". Which is why I am going to sandwich in a quick personal trip between my business trips. For months I've been saying I want to get to know my Aunt Elvera better; I have never spent much 1:1 time with her. I envisioned going to her house and spending a pleasant afternoon sitting with her at her kitchen table, sipping coffee or tea, and getting to know one another better. Well, the scenario has changed. Elvera has been having some health problems, is currently in a nursing home, and is looking at assisted living rather than going back to her home. I want to scream out, "Wait! Let's go back a few months and start over again!" Of course, the days and weeks continue to rush by while I am darting to and fro, busy with many other things. Enough! I found a week with no travel, so I am going to hop on a plane the morning of March 4 and head out to SEA-TAC. Thanks to cousin Kandy for offering transportation and a place to stay and to chauffeur me around to see my aunts. No more procrastination. I am going to "just do it." (Although, I feel slightly guilty for not rushing to my ailing mom's side instead. But not guilty enough to change my plans :-)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Lost Skill

Almost on a daily basis I find myself feeling very thankful for a skill I acquired as a teen-ager. As I sit in the airplanes, I see people pecking away at their computers. In the clinics I see my fellow employees typing out emails using two or four fingers. I look at resumes where the applicant proudly announces that she can type 30 words a minute. I see executives limping along on their keyboards. If there is one major failure of our public school system, it is the fact that they dropped the ball with one of the most basic and useful skills - keyboarding. How dare they use computers in first grade, but never teach the children how to "type"? How dare they allow teens to graduate with never requiring them to learn a basic skill that leads to higher productivity? It does not make sense to me! I can still hear Mrs. McConnell speaking to the tune of the clicking of several typewriters (this was before computers) .... f f f space, f f f space, j j j space, j j j space. And on and on through the entire alphabet, numbers, and all the symbols. Except for those who went through Mrs. McConnell's class, I have never seen anyone who can type things like *, $, @, #, and _ without looking at the keyboard. I have never seen anyone else who can type 70, 80, even 90 words a minute. I would go crazy, making my mind slow down to 50 words a minute; having to look for each letter, rather than looking at my document. Thanks to the late Mrs. McConnell, for one of the most useful classes I have ever taken. It has served me well for a lifetime.

Things I Miss

It's been seven months and I still really like my job. Although I have no desire to return to my former life, sometimes there are things I miss:
  • Spending most of the winter in places like southern California and Phoenix
  • Staying in full-service Marriott hotels with the really comfortable beds and with a concierge
  • New foods and unique dining experiences
  • Working with lots of men (not because they are men, but because of the way they think and the way they approach their careers)
  • Continuous intellectual challenges
I may be feeling this way now because it is getting to be a long winter and I have been going to cold, snowy places. And because it is challenging to get good, healthy food at the places I go. Spring is coming and I will soon be energized again. I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feeding the Family: Chicken

The chicken coop down by the road housed a lot of laying hens. It was a dirty, stinky place. The chickens would scratch around the yard all day eating seeds, worms and other such delectables. Sometime or other they would find their spot in the chicken coop and lay their egg. These would be picked up every day, taken to the house, properly cared for, and either used by the family or sold. I was quite young when the chickens disappeared and the chicken coop was mostly unused. I say "mostly unused", because there was yet another connection between that chicken coop and some chickens.

Early in the spring I would come home from school to find we were the owners of a bunch of freshly hatched baby chicks. They were ugly, with hardly no feathers. The delicate little chicks were put in the "brooder house", which was specially prepared with a heat lamp, water and special chicken feed. Throughout the summer these little chicks grew into full-grown chickens. I dreaded the day they were declared to be "just right". It was a family project. My older brothers would help mom catch the chickens, one-by-one. The head would go between two nails on a board and one swing of the ax ended it all. The head fell to the right and the body was thrown to the left. A brother picked them up and dipped them into a tub of boiling hot water. Meanwhile, down at the chicken coop, everything was set up for my job (and a brother or two). That sopping wet chicken was hung by its legs in front of my stool and I began plucking feathers. It's surprising how easy they came out. After a quick round with the blow torch to sear off all the little fine feathers, it made it's way to the basement. Mom and Dad were there, cleaning out the innards and giving them all a good washing. Then several of us wrapped them up in freezer paper, labeled it with the date, and into the freezer they went. After a day like that I said I'd never eat a chicken again. But who could resist the delicious fried chicken that came from mom's kitchen? Not me. You know, after all these years, I can clearly remember the smell of wet chicken feathers on a freshly butchered chicken. Weeding the garden wasn't such a bad job after all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's a Good Thing I Was a Country Girl

After a nice dinner with my sister, Evie, I had another three-hour drive through the country tonight. As I was going mile after mile in the dark, sometimes for many miles without seeing another car, I was reminded of some conversations I've had with some former colleagues. Conversations about real fears of driving alone, in the dark, over strange roads. I'm sure it's because of my upbringing, but this has never bothered me. In fact, I find it rather peaceful. So long as my GPS knows where to take me, I'm content just motoring along the long, empty, dark roads. There are, of course, some small towns along the way. Places like Correctionville, Holstein, and Early. (I'm always curious how these places get their names). The roads were dry, except for the last 30 miles. But even those few miles weren't too bad....just had to slow down a bit. When I saw the Lighthouse (yes, a lighthouse in the middle of Iowa) and the Tyson Chicken Factory, I knew I was almost there. (Oh, that reminds me .... I need to write the next installment in Feeding the Family.) And good news on the hotel this time! King's Pointe Waterpark isn't too busy tonight - only saw about 20 cars in the parking lot. The elevator is out of order, so the nice girl at the desk gave me a main floor room. And since I had told her I'd really like a microwave, she gave me a free upgrade to a suite. It's nice - nicer than any Residence Inn I've ever stayed in. Tonight, life is good.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Feeding the Family: Fruit and Berries

The day my parents started carrying big crates from the trunk of the car to the kitchen, I knew some more days of canning was not far behind. What would ripen first? How many quarts would we get this year? Peeling peaches was the easiest. When they were just right, they would be dropped into boiling water, then quickly plunged into cold. My job was to slip the skins off and hand them over to mom, who quickly sliced them and packed them into the waiting jars. Pears were harder; they had to be peeled. Cherries and plums were only washed. Rhubarb was washed, cut into little pieces and made into "rhubarb sauce", which was amazingly good. I'd love to taste that again! Sometimes we would go to the Overton's farm and pick raspberries; sometimes we had strawberries. Everything looked so pretty in the quart and pint jars. Just about every evening, as mom was making supper she would say, "Audrey, go down the basement and bring up something for dessert." Should I get pears this time? Cherries? Or should I ask if I can make some pudding instead? Every supper, all winter, we had dessert and it was all delicious. Later in the fall, dad would bring home another crate; this time apples and sometimes oranges or grapefruit. These were put in the cold room in the basement and enjoyed for a long time. Yes, in the fruit and the vegetable department, we were ready for another year. But what about meat?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Feeding the Family: The Garden, Part 2

We were organic before organic became popular. From the totally organic garden to the table, and sometimes it didn't even make it to the table. The first peas were furtively plucked, pods popped, and the delicious fresh peas were scraped from the pod and scooped into the mouth. The first tender fresh carrots were pulled from strategic places in the row, wiped on the pants, and crunched between the teeth. And is there anything better than a tender young radish? Or the first handful of washed lettuce topped with sugar? But, of course, there was much more than could be eaten on the go. Tommy and I soon found ourselves with large dishpans full of peas in front of us. We made a game of seeing who could fill their bowl with shelled peas first. After the bowls were full, mom blanched and froze them. After the peas, we began on the beans. Sitting on a blanket on the shady side of the house, we attacked the dishpans that were now filled with beans. Each one had to be "snapped" on both ends before mom took them, cut them up, and canned them. Beans weren't as much fun because they are no good raw and too many of them had dandelion fuzz stuck to them. It wasn't long before we were husking corn, which mom cut off the cob and froze. And, oh, the taste of fresh corn-on-the-cob straight from the garden to the supper table! My brothers had a contest to see who could eat the most. For weeks, our days were consumed with picking the produce from the garden, canning, and freezing, making into pickles, relish and numerous other things. The two big freezers in the basement had been defrosted and made ready for all the new food. The shelves in the basement were ready to receive the bounty of canned goods. Last of all, the "pit" under the well house received gunny sacks full of potatoes and carrots. Finally, before winter set in, another year of gardening had been complete. I looked forward to several months reprieve before I was once again on my hands and knees in the hot sun, in the dry dirt, battling against the never-ending weeds.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Feeding the Family: The Garden, Part 1

The sun was hot, the days were long, the dirt was dry, the row was endless and the weeds were numerous. My brother Tommy and I had the job of weeding the garden. Rows were assigned and a timeline given ("Before supper"). Tommy didn't seem to mind. He hurried through his rows, yanking up all the weeds, staying ahead of me. I tried to keep up for awhile, but daydreams and the hot sun soon slowed me down. It wasn't long before Tommy started using the hoe, working between the larger plants. I was still on my hands and knees, pulling every weed around the peas and the beans. "Isn't it lunch time yet?" I asked again and again. Kool-aid and cookies sounded really good. Yes, this is how many days of my summer vacation went. Planting the garden was fun - it was early in the year, it was cooler, the dirt was black and moist, and the planting seemed to go fast. But this weeding business was very tiresome and b-o-r-i-n-g. This was no back-yard garden, after all; this was a small field. Row after long row of vegetables: peas, carrots, beans, beets, corn, cucumbers, squash, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, watermelon, tomatoes, and more. Eventually, the plants were bigger than the weeds would ever get. I anticipated the reprieve. But the real work was soon to begin - time to harvest the bounty.

I Hate Those Viruses!

It's amazing how dependent we are on our computers. Tuesday night I landed in Odessa, Texas, at a little after 10:00 p.m. That's only 9:00 my time, so after I made it to the hotel I fired up my laptop just long enough to check my email and Facebook. I had a strong signal with the hotel free wireless, so I used that instead of my broadband card. The next morning I made my way to the dialysis facility and started up my laptop. Everything went crazy. I got all kinds of alerts and then some porn sites pop up. Whoa! I quickly lower the lid to about a 30 degree angle and call our IT department. Well, IT worked on my computer remotely ALL DAY! They got all the viruses cleaned out, but was unable to fix whatever keeps me from logging on to the Internet. They said, "DO NOT use your computer until we can get it fixed!!" So I've been all week with only my blackberry, which is a great secondary, but a rotten primary way of getting work done. Well, I'm home now and will be taking my infected computer to IT tomorrow. I sure hope they can fix it. By the way, this is the second time at the same hotel that I got infected with a virus. I think I would be wise to never use their free Internet again. In fact, the wise guys at IT said "DO NOT USE THEIR INTERNET AGAIN!" Got it.