Category Archives: life

Would YOU Remember Being Spit on by a Llama?

 

I reported last week that my teenage writing career was jumpstarted by interviewing my nearest neighbor, a local Langdon, ND farmer who bought two llamas. Yea, that was big news for a weekly newspaper in a town so small the gossip about you arrived home before you did. While reviewing my old newspaper article, I kept getting this strange sensation to call the farmer’s daughter and ask, “Hey Liz Anne, do you remember when your Dad’s llama spit on you?" 

But that’s kinda’ lame.

After all, being spit on by a llama isn’t really big news, except in Langdon.  I bet the farmers that visit the bakery each morning to talk about crops, weather, and local news gossip are still talking about the Quam’s llamas as they roll dice to see who pays for the morning’s coffee and donuts.

Llama Spit

I double-dog dared myself so I wouldn’t chicken out.

It was easy enough to find Liz Anne after all these years. I didn’t  make a long-distance call  to information (555-1212)  or call someone from Langdon. I used a search engine, found Liz Anne, and learned she’d lost both her parents. My resolve to call grew from curious to personal.

I poked out her number on my cell phone and pushed send. Her spunky voice and friendliness transported me back 33 years in time. We chatted easily, catching up on the decades concerning schooling, marriage, kids, and careers. We both went through cancer. We’re both still writing, except she’s smarter – she’s a Professor at Moorhead State University in Moorhead teaching Public Relations Writing. In other words, she probably doesn’t stay in her jammies most of the day.

When I expressed my sympathies about losing her parents she said, “They were "an astounding couple not to be matched." Her admiration and love for her parents increased the grief I felt for her loss.  We reminisced about her parents, and she said, "Did you know my Mom shot at my Dad?”

 

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(A country road near the Little Pembina Ranch, typical North Dakota summer scene)

I hadn’t heard that story, or I would have written another article for the newspaper.  Being shot at is way more exciting than being spit on.

Liz explained that as newlyweds, her parents, Don and Geneva, had moved to her family farm, the Little Pembina Ranch. The two college-educated people were a little bored living alone on the prairie farm so close to Canada. One day Don came home after working in the field and found Geneva sitting on the front porch with a loaded .22 lying across her lap.  She was known to be a good shot, so Don wasn’t initially surprised.

Until Geneva lifted the gun and said, "Dance, Don, or I’m going to shoot.”

Don laughed, but didn’t dance.

Geneva shot. She warned again, "Dance, Don, or I’m going to shoot!”

She shot again, “I’m going to shoot until I run out of bullets."

Don danced until the gun was empty.

Life on the farm was never boring for the Quams after that, it was filled with hard work, laughter, family, pranks, friends, love, community service, and neighborly deeds.

Liz and I caught up to the point of the call, the sheep and llama adventure.  She said her parents ventured into sheep, in addition to the grain, because they had been a money-making venture for farmers for a few years. She took off the spring quarter of college to help, arriving home to a herd of sheep and the two llamas.

 

Two Llamas

 

"Those llamas were perfectly worthless as far as predator control, because they were no good at keeping coyotes away," she said. The strategy was to have one llama on each end of the field, but the llamas always stayed together.

The llamas a failure and so were the sheep. Soon after Don and Geneva ventured into sheep, the market tanked and the Quams eventually lost their family farm. When generations have lived and farmed the land, losing the family farm is more than losing a business. It’s losing your heritage. Sometimes settlers were born and  buried on their land. It’s a tie that goes deeper than mere tradition.

But, happily-ever-afters aren’t just for fairy tales, they sometimes happen for farmers. An aunt died and left money to Don and Geneva, and they bought the farm back. Even though I heard the news years later, I rejoiced with Liz.  We both know too many families who permanently lost their farms.

Liz’s kids grew up spending the summers on the farm learning skills city life doesn’t quite teach you, and spending the time with the crazy Grandpa who once went 140 miles per hour with a college-age grandson in his little Mercedes because "someone was trying to pass me." She lost her mom, Geneva, to Alzheimer’s, and cared for Don in her home for his final four years.

She inherited the farm after she lost her parents.  With the tenacity of her ancestors, she decided to farm. A city-dwelling professor during the school year and a country-living farmer by summer, she  manages the baby farm of 500 acres of the original family farm. She hires someone to do the planting, and dreams of adding an orchard to the blank spot of canvas in North Dakota that’s hers.

And for the finale you’ve all been waiting for, yes, 33 years later she did remember the spitting incident and said, “It was vile!” She hadn’t provoked the animal, she only walked up to it, but went down in Langdon history as the only person spit on a llama.

After catching up,  I think she’s wrong thinking her parents are “not to be matched.” I see the spunk, brains, and beauty of her mother, and the work ethic and humor of her father. 

She’s Don and Geneva, minus the llamas.

Gone to My Happy Place, Be Back Soon!

I’ve adapted my own concept of a Happy Place. Leaving out the Zen, enlightened, and mystical schools of thought, I think of it as a place you visit in person and revisit in your mind to create tranquility in body, soul, and spirit.

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(My favorite t-shirt  EVER bought by dear friend, Kirsti)

During hard times, you borrow from  past happy  to face present unhappy using

  • Memories
    • Pictures
    • Souvenirs
    • Scents
    • Tastes
    • Sounds

These things evoke a time and/or place  we felt loved, secure, and peaceful. It reminds us that life isn’t always hard, painful, and grievous. You soothe your heart and mind with what soothes you  best. It doesn’t take long, either. You look at a few pictures, listen to a song, or rub a smooth stone between your fingers.

My Happy Places are usually outside places.

Any place in Montana is a Happy Place. A sagebrush, Prickly Pear cactus, or a Ponderosa pine tree brings back the contentment and joy of a wonderful childhood. Because I was happy in Montana, Montana makes me happy.

Any crick (that’s "creek" to you non-Montanans) I can stick my feet in, no matter how quickly my toes freeze from the melted snow, is a Happy Place. Actually any place with water is a Happy Place. Let me clarify, outside water, not a flooding toilet or broken pipe,  kinda’ water.

Any place with rocks to pick can be a Happy Place. Not picking rocks out of fields like the farmers in North Dakota, but the "Look! I found an agate!" kinda’ rock picking.

My house is scattered with rocks, branches, sea glass, shells, and driftwood I’ve collected from waterside visits.

may31 421My daily Happy Place is my Jeep. In fact, that’s her name. When Scott and I celebrated our 20th anniversary I’d just finished my first year of thyroid cancer treatment, (surgery, radioactive iodine, and Hyper-Hell) and had suffered a miscarriage. He surprised me and bought my dream vehicle, a Jeep Wrangler.  I wasn’t thrilled because of the dream-come-true vehicle,  I was thrilled because I was married to a man who made my dreams come true.  He loved me and supported me through the hardest year of my life.  Climbing into my Jeep is like climbing into his love.  It surrounds me.  It keeps me safe. 

But, more than Montana, a mountain stream,  a beach full of agates, and more than my Jeep, there’s a more beloved place.

The Lord invited Moses up the mountain to talk with Him. Moses couldn’t look directly on Lord’s face, but Moses could hear His voice and be in His presence. The Lord told Moses,  “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”

It was holy because the Lord was there. I’m in awe that today we can still enter into the Lord’s presence.  We don’t have to follow any ceremonies, climb a mountain in sandals,  or enter a special building. Our faith in His Son gives us full access to the holy, mighty, Heavenly Father, anytime, anyplace.

I can be in His presence when I’m in Montana, wading in a mountain stream, picking rocks on a beach, or driving in my Jeep. 

I pray, He listens. 

I ask, He answers. 

I confess, He forgives. 

I weep, He comforts.

My Happiest Place is when I am in His presence.

Where are your physical, spiritual, and/or emotional Happy Places

 

Why Seattle Shuts Down When it Snows Two Inches

When we moved from the Midwest to Washington ten years ago, our first winter felt balmy.  We ran around in capris and flip-flops, our new neighbors shivered in parkas, the kind I hadn’t worn since daily trudging a mile across the University of North Dakota campus in blizzard conditions.

On the average, WA was 60 degrees warmer. It was like being on spring break all winter long. 

 One Sunday in January someone from our church called.  “Church is cancelled today.” 

We were shocked.  We’d never heard of cancelling church.

“Why?” my hubby asked.

“Did you look outside?”

Hubby pulled the curtain aside and saw a dusting of snow on the ground. He asked, “Yea, so why did you cancel church?”

Our friend repeated, “Did you look outside?”

“Yes,” answered my husband, “but why did you cancel church?”

“There’s snow on the ground.”

“Yea, I see the snow, but why did you cancel church?”

“Because there’s SNOW ON THE GROUND.”

We laughed.  We laughed and laughed and laughed.  After all, we survived the winter of 1996-7 with 117 inches of snow (that’s nearly TEN FEET, people!) and the interstate shut down 13 times, followed by  the Red River Flood of 1997.

We laughed for a few year years, until we finally understood how and why 1/2 inch of snow is treacherous in our new climate and terrain. 

 

 

Seattle and Snow

1. People don’t have snow gear. 

If you shovel once every couple of years, why would you keep a shovel? I piled my shovels, scrapers,  and snow blower on the sidewalk with a free sign when I moved, I use a pancake turner on my front porch.  Seriously.  I use it smugly and wisely. My library card scrapes my car windows.  I’m very happy with this arrangement.

Obviously, my new neighbors don’t have snow blowers or a blade on the front of their pickups. Wait, most don’t have pickups. The cities don’t have garages full of snowplows that run on a regular basis.  Being unprepared is frustrating, but spending money you don’t have on equipment you rarely use isn’t tax money worthy.

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Sidewalks and streets aren’t cleared.  Maybe I should loan the city my pancake turner.

2.  The hills are treacherous.

  Two nearby hills  are so steep that only a guard rail come between a sliding car, and the houses below.  Most hills don’t have guard rails.

Not a stunt driver. Don’t try this next time it snows.
Actual footage. The sliding bus happened more than once. Mute if you don’t like the music.

North Dakota  is extremely flat.  You slide forwards or sideways, or into a small ditch you could drive out of and not tell your parents.

3.  Many drivers aren’t experienced in snow driving.

I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about them.

Even ND drivers drive into  ditches or “accidentally” spin a cookie.  But people in snowy climates have six months a year to perfect their winter driving skills, not six hours or six days.

Many Seattleites didn’t grow up with parents who taught them how to drive on snow, ice, snow on ice, black ice, slushy snow, and slushy snow on ice.  Add  wind speed, air temperature, and visibility to multiply the weather conditions winter drivers master.  

In the Pacific Northwest you learn to drive in overcast with rain, overcast with fog, overcast with occasional thundershowers. 

4.  Front wheel drive doesn’t work on slippery hills.

No  amount of “I think I can, I think I can “  will get you up the hills without the right vehicle, tires, and ability.Many people don’t understand how front wheel/rear wheel/four-wheel drive works, so they just head out.  Yea, we see SUVs in the ditches, too.

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Others know it’s better to walk up the hill in dress shoes, than slide down in your car. (Review #3 if you are still confused.)

Parking overnight is common, but so are car pile-ups on the bottom of the hills.

5.  People Wanna’ Play

When it snows, you stop and play.  Almost every snowfall makes snowball snow, can you believe it, Midwesterners?  It’s amazing.

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My neighbors, Rick and Sandy,  sculpted this amazing Seahawk.  Actually, Rick did most of the artistic work, we “coached” him.  I provided some pictures,  a few shovels of dirtless snow, and the food coloring, but they included me in the picture, anyway.

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There are forts to build, snowballs to throw,

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and snowmen to create.

BEST FACEBOOK POSTS  ABOUT SNOWimage

Kathy –  Facebooking on my front porch and enjoying the snow and also the cars trying to get up our hill.

Vanessa – Please oh please, please stick around until morning, snow!! (We must be the only place on the continent who WANT snow right now).

Sonja – I realize this will NOT be exciting for my friends and family in Minnesota, Ohio, Connecticut, etc., but IT IS SNOWING AT MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW!!! It almost never snows here!! I love it!

LouAnn – It’s a beautiful snowy day in Lacey, WA! Hey! It can happen!

Marilyn – Measured 3-1/2″ so far – yippee!! Hot tub here we come! Love soaking while snowflakes falling

Laura – IT’S SNOWING!!!

Linda – Dreams do come true, Snow is not a fantasy.

Kathleen – I have to say… my aim with a snowball is pathetic, now. More opportunities to practice, please!

Living with six months of snow can be drudgery.  You’re always shoveling, bundling up, warming up, scraping windows, and surviving.

When it rarely snows, it’s a gift to be enjoyed. The morning after our Glorious Snow Day, the rains melted our snow creations into memories. 

That’s the main reason Seattle shuts down for snow. 

Making your home sing Mondays

 

My Husband is The World’s Most Ridiculous Dad

flashback friday

In 2005, we had the privilege of having four, yes  four, count them, teenagers in our house at one time. We thought it would be cool having  six kids close in age so they’d  be friends.  Even if we’d done the math and calculated we’d have teenagers for almost 20 years in a row, two or more teens the majority of those years, we wouldn’t have changed anything. We just might have prepared ourselves a little more for the changes ahead.

When the girls outgrew wearing  Mommy-chosen clothes and wanted to express their own personalities with clothes that were actually in style, it was painful for both sides of the generation gap. Those years of adorable matching outfits sewn by Mommy were definitely over. They had to  wean Mommy from her expectation that her daughters would love her 80’s high-waisted, put-your-socks-on-first jeans.

Daddy, who loved his lovely daughters, but didn’t want the boys to notice how lovely they were,  squawked like a good Daddy about their clothes.  He would have preferred black garbage bags or burlap sacks, because his daughters were his treasures – treasures he wanted to keep buried.

After several discussions, we came to a family understanding.  We didn’t want set rules, because rules stir up theRomans 7 desire to break the rules. We didn’t demand  denim skirts and tennis shoes, but we didn’t want them to dress like Hollywood starlets.   We came up with guidelines. Their clothes had to pass a few inspectors along the way.

1.  The Lord – were they God-honoring?  We tried to instill in our daughters that as Christians they  belong to Him and their life decisions should reflect that. We gave them to opportunity to make wise decisions based on their own faith and conscience.

2. The parents – could we stand their choices?  We didn’t have to like their clothes, but we couldn’t hate them. We gave them leeway  to choose and relieved them from the expectation of looking like us. However, if their conscience didn’t guide them enough, we had veto power.

Daddy’s wisdom in discussing  until we came up with guidelines that pleased everyone paved the way for an easier transition into those years of raising  teenagers. We were encouraged to see the tasteful, stylish clothes the girls chose in their freedom.  They were so good, they started picking out my clothes and providing guidelines for clothes that are flattering  and appropriate for my age. I dressed them when they were young, now they return the favor. 

In 2005, several years after the monumental Introduction of Modern Styles into our household,  Daddy still wasn’t convinced about  low-rider jeans. Usually a seriously minded Office kinda’ guy, the hubbster is known for having occasional outlandish moments that the kids talk about for years and years.

The kids laugh themselves breathless then exclaim, “Oh, Dad, you’re SO ridiculous!”

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This was one of those moments.

He decided to prove how ridiculous low-riders were by trying on our oldest daughter’s jeans.

In front of the whole family.

On Thanksgiving Day.

Not knowing someday I’d be a blogger and reveal all.

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After tugging and pulling and giggling, he got them up this far. (Maybe hubby was  the style inspiration for  teenage boys?)

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Like today’s teenage boys, he found they had to be peeled off.

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But, he wasn’t young and agile, he was an old man losing his balance.  He  humbly begged for help so he wouldn’t fall and break a hip.

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My early digital camera was poor quality, but the blur proves we were busting a gut.

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Toddler Baby can’t figure out why Daddy needs help.  She doesn’t need help.   She dresses and undresses all. by. herself.

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Maybe Toddler Baby is wondering if she should hide her clothes from daddy.  Maybe she’s wondering if he’s going to try on her clothes when she’s a teenager.
Maybe she’s wondering if she even wants to become a teenager.

This episode only proved one thing  – it wasn’t the jeans that were ridiculous.

My children have always declared they have The World’s Most Ridiculous Dad. 

As they mature,  they peel off the memories of their Dad’s ridiculousness and see his wisdom underneath. It’s then they finally understand how treasured they are.

Making your home sing Mondays

Who’s YOUR 12th MAN?

 

I’m not a football fan.  A  Midwest transplant to the  Seattle area, I gradually acclimated to the rains, but not the Seahawks. They never sparked my interest.

Until lately.

It wasn’t the Super Bowl Win! that changed my mind.

It was the  #12.

I saw it everywhere and assumed it was a favorite player’s number. Ya’ know, some guy who made millions of dollars for running past the line at the end of the field while still clutching the football in his hands? 

I never heard a name associated with the #12,

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I  just saw the #12 flags.

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Empty buildings and

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business buildings,

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boldly fly the flag.

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You see the flag at downtown Seattle intersections

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and upscale restaurants.

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People walk the talk.

I finally had to ask someone, “What IS #12?”

I think I was the last person in Seattle in on the secret.

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The #12 symbolizes undying loyalty, but not the fans’ loyalty.

EVERY FAN is the 12th MAN.

The   #12 personifies the Seattle Seahawks’  loyalty to their fans. They know they put 11 men on the field, but they never play alone. 

It’s the first time I’ve noticed a professional team publically testify it isn’t all about them. After all, if the fans didn’t buy the tickets and sports paraphernalia, they wouldn’t have a paycheck.

The Seahawk’s loyalty to their fans results in crazy loyalty to the team.

I mean loud and crazy loyalty. Louder than a Boeing 747 and Guinness Book of World Records kinda’ crazy. Seriously, I thought my six kids were loud, but the Seahawks fans are the loudest in history, and have a record to prove it.  Let’s just say that at a record of 137.6 decibels, they’re only 12.4 decibels away from shattering ear drums.  Ears can be damaged at 90 decibels.

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(click on this box to bring you to the Seahawk’s Website)

The inspiration of the 12th MAN made me a quiet Seahawks fan.  I probably won’t watch all the games, I probably won’t buy a jersey,  but they sparked admiration in my heart.

The Seahawks understand more than football, they understand life.  We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone; personal talents and opportunities aren’t the only contributors to any success.

We all need people in our lives that give unconditional love and devotion.  We need people to appreciate our gifts, yet correct our mistakes without breaking our spirits.  We need someone to wear our colors, to proudly associate with our name, and to speak highly of us through the highs and the lows.  After all, the true fans are the ones that are devoted even when the team loses.

In honor of the SEAHAWKS the SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS and the 12th MAN, I asked Seattle area authors, who also happen to be avid loud and crazy Seahawks fans, Who is your 12th MAN?”

(To read more about each author, click on their name.)

Lynnette Bonner,  “The readers who post reviews, and come back for more of my stories each time I release one. They encourage me so much. My critique group has been wonderful and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, but I look at them more as coaches and fellow players.”

Lesley Ann McDaniel, “My critique group, and the other members of Northwest Christian Writers Association who understand and encourage me.”

Diana Savage, “For 30 years my critique group has provided "12th woman" support for me and for my writing. During that time the various members who’ve come and gone have prayed me through crises while teaching me the finer points of clear, concise, and excruciatingly correct writing that touches readers’ emotions and honors God. If I ever win a Super Bowl for writers, my critique group will be the driving force behind my touchscreen success.”

Gigi Murfitt,  “My 12th man is my fellow NCWA members, my critique groups I have been part of, and my friends and family who pray with me and encourage me to write. My friend Cheryl is my biggest cheerleader. She really helped me edit both books. When I think of 12, I think of the disciples and how they sacrificed, supported and encouraged Jesus along the way. What a model for our twelfth man.”

Marilyn Gray, “12th man and their love and support has been so inspirational! The stories of all the Seahawk players and how they have overcome so many obstacles touched my heart! Why not me? Why not now? I want to live like that 24 hours, 7 days a week!”

Kathleen Freeman, “So many on my team! Without the efforts of many, my writing would be mediocre at best.”"

Judy Bodmer, “My 12th man is first, husband, who has encouraged me from the first to follow my dream, then my writing teacher Bette Hagman who took me to writing conferences, critiqued my first attempts, and said I had a gift, and last, my writing group. I wouldn’t quit a long time ago if it weren’t for people like Peggy King Anderson, Janet Lee Carey, Dawn Knight, Katherine Grace Bond, Roberta Kehle, Thorn Ford, just to name a few.”

Dennis Brooke, “My wife, Laurie, is my first 12th. Fellow writers James Rubart, Mick Silva, Kathleen Freeman, Loree Cameron, and Austin Boyd have also been big parts of my game. Not to mention many other NCWA members.”

My 12th MAN?  My husband, Scott, is my first fan, whether he supports me as a mother or a writer, he convinces me this world is a better place because I am in it.  Sometimes, I actually believe him.

My kids, who have filled my heart with their presence and their love notes through the years, “You are the best mommy in the whole world.”

As a blogger who’s been attached to her keyboard for over five years, my readers are also a huge part of that team.  I am so grateful for anyone who takes time out of their day to read what’s on my heart. 

In your life, who is your 12th MAN?

 

I Should Have Passed a Note

Writers see a blank piece of paper or computer screen as an emptiness waiting to be filled.  It’s not alive until our words cover the area in a literary dance. The blankness beckons something deep within that needs to be released.

Artists must feel the same way about when beholding a blank canvas, seeing an exciting possibility for their creative  explosion of paint,  inspiration, and talent.

Children prefer  natural expressions, with less structure and rules.  A blanket of fresh fallen snow is often their favorite medium awaiting creation.

They shuffle, build, and tunnel, forming caves, towers, snowmen, paths, and messages.  Snow can become anything and take them anywhere in their imagination.

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Playing in the snow is no longer a playtime activity for kids, it’s now a recognized art form.

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The snow artist, Simon Beck, sees a field of newly fallen snow as an emptiness to be filled.

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He shuffles to create stunning images, nearly Geometrically perfect.

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Each design takes about 10 hours to make, using snowshoes, a handheld orienteering compass, and pace counting. 

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Then, he posts the images and allows anybody to use them for free. 

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I was  fascinated by his talent and his generosity with his pictures. But  when I saw to this picture, it reminded me of a time when my shuffling in the snow produced a very different result.

I was a 7th grader at the Helena Junior High, a time of angst and crushes. Those same feelings had accompanied most of us through elementary school, too, but  in junior high there were dances and dates, and we keenly felt the expectation that it was time to act on those crushes.  We advanced from kicking or chasing the boys we liked on the playground, to more mature behaviors, like passing notes in the hallway.

By late fall, I had a crush on a kid named Kevin.  Because we both had long, blonde hair, hey, it was the 70’s,  I thought we needed to be a couple.  My last  name ended with a B and his with a C and since our teachers were obsessed with alphabetical order seating charts, several times a day he was very near. 

But, he was very, very shy, and I couldn’t eke out a smile or a blink from him, despite soulful stares down the aisle of Mr. Beveridge’s classroom.

One morning I was trouncing across town to get to school, ya’ know back in those days when you walked everywhere regardless of traffic or weather, and  my heart was too obsessed with my crush to notice the white snow that had covered the  world overnight.

Until I got to the little hill above the junior high football field. There was a beautiful, white rectangle of sparkling snow awaiting my artistry. The vast blankness needed to come alive with a literary dance.

Inspired, I eagerly plotted my course and made my way to the canvas, where I began shuffling my feet to form block letters.

I thought I would leave an innocent message of love in the football field. Since it was at ground level, I didn’t think anybody would be able to read it.  Only me.  People walked by and asked what I was doing, but  I refused to answer. I wanted to keep my crush a secret.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle…… “I L-O-V-E”

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle….”K-E-V-I-N”

Artwork completed, I  headed to my locker across from my first floor homeroom class.  I was surprised to hear kids teasing me about Kevin as soon as I entered the building.

Duh. Duh. DUH!  Kevin’s homeroom was on the second floor.  While shuffling in my black snowmobile boots with the fur-lined hood of my parka pulled up around my face,  I hadn’t noticed classmates gathered in the second-story windows, laughing and pointing.

My secret message wasn’t so secret.

The public declaration so humiliated him, he was still red during our English class  a few hours later.  It took a few days for the snow to melt my embarrassment  and the junior high chatter to focus on someone else. He never did  talk to me.

One good thing about those dumb junior high moments in my day that today’s kids don’t experience – nobody took a picture.  Nobody revealed my angst on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.  I wasn’t publically humiliated for more than a few days, then it died down.

Do You Like Me 001

After that, I gave up snow artistry and let the blankness of notebook paper beckon any messages that begged to be released.

 

 

CLICK TO TWEET: If you would like to share my story of junior high angst with this ready-made Tweet, feel free.

 

My literary dance left my heart in the snow.Tweet

 

My Daughter “Swears” Like Her Father

Once upon a time, my husband was fresh out of college and taught at a private Christian school.  Although we’d been married over a year and had our first child,  we weren’t much older than the 19 year old seniors, so tried hard to maintain a sense of maturity and dignity.  We had high ambitions for impacting the academic and spiritual lives of our students.

One fine day, my husband was called into the principal’s office.  Surprised, he sat down and watch the principal’s face contort and turn red as he delivered a message.

“I had a phone call from a parent regarding your behavior,” he began.

“Really?”  My husband couldn’t begin to imagine what crime he’d committed.

“Apparently, you swore in the classroom,” explained the principal with twitching lips.

“I Swore? But, I don’t swear,” explained my husband.  It wasn’t a standard adopted for the classroom, it was a personal standard he lived by. He wouldn’t have sworn even if he had smashed his thumb with the proverbial hammer.

“Well,” said the principal, “you used a word that’s highly offensive to a family and they called me to complain.  They insisted I speak to you about your classroom behavior.”

Worried he would be given his walking papers, my husband asked, “What did I say?”

“You used the F word,” the principal spoke and refused to let my husband defend himself.

He continued,  “You used the word….fff…fff…FART!”  With that he gave up trying to hold back his emotions and laughed so hard his office chair squeaked on its wheels.

With relieved laughter, my husband promised to never use the F word in the classroom again.

I think we forgot to teach this valuable lesson to our children.  I found this old worksheet from one of my daughters, who prefers to remain anonymous.

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Yep, a chip off the ol’ block.

Kari’s Smile Lives On

This is the final post in tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.


To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

The Dreaded and Inevitable End
(goodbye to Kari was hello to grief)

 

Losing a friend at the young age of 36 was one of the hardest things I’ve lived through. For at least six months, I cried every day.  I’d never lost anybody close to me and I had no idea grief could become a part of your personality. I viewed life through grief-colored glasses.

During this time of emotional fog, a friend visited.  She sat on my couch with a cup of coffee, tucked her feet under her, and chatted to catch up.  I loved this friend, but she hadn’t read or answered my emails about Kari and was out of touch with my life.  I didn’t want to relive the pain to catch her up. Her words bounced around the room and for the first time in our relationship, I felt disconnected from her. My grief was a chasm between us.

After about 30 minutes, I excused myself, went into the back yard and called a close friend, Kirsti.  I sobbed about how hard it was to talk to people who didn’t know the story and didn’t understand how my life had stopped.

“I just can’t get over Kari,” I cried.

“Mindy, you don’t have to,”  she said.  She gave me permission to grieve and removed the burden that something was wrong with me. I also came away from that conversation understanding that if my visitor didn’t know or understand my grief, and that was OK, too. She was still a good friend.  I walked back into the living room and finished our visit.  The  coping skills I learned through that conversation with Kirsti have carried  me for 14 years, and I have shared her wisdom to others frozen with grief.

I actually remember the first day I didn’t cry for Kari.  It was at least six months after the funeral.  I was cleaning  the house and thoughts of her came, but not the tears. I cherished a few good memories, then continued cleaning.  Eventually, I went an entire week without crying, then a month.  I never stopped grieving,  I learned to live with my grief.

The year after Kari’s funeral, I tried to stay in touch with her kids through phone calls, email, and letters.  Then, they moved.  I had a baby. Email addresses changed. Two of her kids  graduated and moved out on their own.  I moved. Her family moved again.  My family of eight moved to Washington. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Then I moved one final time. My cancer came back.  

When I joined Facebook and starting “finding” people, I was thrilled to touch base with Kari’s daughter, Holly.  I was even more thrilled to learn she was very happily married with adorable kids and lived in Washington – one hour away.

The first time we met up, our relationship took up where Kari’s and mine left off.  It was a natural friendship we both felt.  We caught up on the missing years.  Her love story was so much like her parents’, it astounded me.  Love at first sight and married within a few months. She had her mother’s exuberant personality and the ability to light up a room with her smile. Our relationship filled a gap we’d both felt for years.

We’ve shared tears and  laughs. She told stories I hadn’t heard or remembered and I shared stories of high school. Kari was as honest with her kids as she was with me, and often shared her mistakes and regrets.  She never tried to make herself look perfect in their eyes, she was real.

My conversations with Holly remind me of the afternoons Kari and I spent together, baring heart and soul.  One day, Holly and I  were reliving the final days of Kari’s life.

Holly sat in the antique rocking chair that has soothed generations in my family, and started crying.  She finally choked out she’d always worried and wondered about her mom going to Heaven, and if she was ready.  

It was time to tell her the story.

I  confessed I almost killed her Mom driving drunk in high school, then explained how I came to know Christ as my Savior in college and experienced a radical life change.  I relived  meeting Kari in the thrift store in Helena and our subsequent afternoon visits. But, when I repeated the verses Kari and I  discussed about salvation and Heaven, I saw visible relief in Holly.  The same marvel that Kari and I often shared, that the Lord spared me from causing  Kari’s death to be there when she was facing death, wrapped around Holly’s heart. More of God’s purposes had been revealed.

 

BB and Hatfields 358At the park that afternoon, a tears came when I was pushing this little tiger in the swing.  Kari’s grandson was laughing and giggling and probably wondering why the crazy ol’ lady was crying. Tears came because Kari never pushed him in a swing, then tears came because I could. I chose to rejoice for what I gained, not grieve for what I lost.

BB and Hatfields 344This little Princess looks like her mommy and her Gramma.

BB and Hatfields 364This little guy snuggles all worries out of your life.

BB and Hatfields 406

Holly and I cherishing a final moment together before she and her family moved out of state. Her friendship has been a comfort and a joy. 

This woman is LOVED!Kari would be so proud children and her grandkids.

BB and Hatfields 413

Goodbye, but not forever.

Kari’s smile lives on.

The Dreaded and Inevitable End

 

This is the fourth part of a tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.
To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

and

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

Still hoping for a miracle cure for brain cancer, Kari and Tony traveled to Seattle, Washington,  to try their final option available, the Gamma Knife. 

Hello from Washington Kari 003

They enjoyed  picking sand dollars at the Pacific Ocean and cruising in a boat through the Puget Sound. When Kari sent this picture through email,  I printed it on plain paper and tacked it up on my sewing cupboard door, where it’s been ever since. I love that smile.

October 6, 2000, she sent out this email to friends and family members.

Kari's letter

She began going downhill. During a phone call she was telling an animated story about one of her kids in a minor fender bender.  She just stopped talking. At first I thought she’d pulled the phone away from her ear and was talking to someone else in the room, ya’ know how kids always interrupt, but there was no other conversation or sound.

I called her name. Over and over, louder each time, until I was yelling. She finally put the phone to her ear again, and I could hear rustling sounds,  but her mind was blank. When she did speak, she was fuzzy and confused. She couldn’t finish her story and couldn’t answer my questions.  I tried several times, then kindly told her I had to go and told her to hang up the phone. I repeated my instructions until I heard a click on the other end.

Conversations and emails stopped after that. In November her husband called to say hospice was there and invited me out for a final visit. I drove 828 miles with five kids and deep sorrow.

The family was gracious enough to allow me into their personal space by visiting daily in the afternoons.

The hospital bed was in the living room, and Kari was there with a hospice nurse. The kids went to school, came in jumped on the bed for a hug, talked about school, ran off to basketball practice, school activities, and outings with friends. She would ask “How was school?”  or “How are you doing?”  Mostly, she just held tightly to the hand of who was nearest the bed, and said, “I love you.”

In my ignorance, I asked Kari’s husband why they weren’t all spending more time with her, why they were still going to activities when she could die any moment. He was so gracious to answer my question without offense. “Kari and I decided from the beginning that cancer wouldn’t rule our lives. We wanted the kids to live as normally as possible for as long as possible.” Routine was part of their coping. It was a great decision they’d made together ahead of time and made so much sense.  Kari didn’t want her kids to sit around and watch her die, she wanted them to live.

A fighter, Kari hung on for two weeks after I’d arrived. I  read to her from the Bible, often Romans 5,  or would sing a hymn.  I’d heard that even though people lose their ability to speak, they can still hear and understand.  I chatted randomly and  my voice filled up the empty spaces.

In the very end, we were just silent.  She couldn’t speak and I was speechless.  I would just climb into the bed next to her and we’d lay there.  She’d turn to look at me, staring into my heart, and she’d smile.

When we knew death was hours away, I panicked. I didn’t want to stay and actually see her die, but I didn’t want to leave. I knew I would be driving back for the funeral with a classmate, so made the agonizing decision to leave.

I had driven as far as Valley City, North Dakota, my birthplace, when I received a phone call from Tony. Kari had died.

  Kari's Funeral Brochure

A few days later I drove back to Montana with Janet, another high school classmate. 

Life and death are always circular. 

Kari's Address

The address she gave me when our paths first crossed?  It’s still her address.

 

Kari's grave

She’s buried right across the street in a large cemetery.

I had always thought that our meeting, that divine appointment in the thrift store,  was for Kari. The Lord wanted to bring me back into her life for her death. But, I’ve been a slow student. In her death, Kari taught me how to live. She taught me to forgive and to smile through my pain. She taught me how to fight my own ten year battle with thyroid cancer.

And that smile I love so much? 

It lives on.

To be continued…

The Beginning of the End

My blogging was interrupted by a death in the family and the holidays, so joy and sorrow continue to hold hands through my life.

This is the third part of a tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief. To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

and

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

 

Not only did Kari force me to go to my class reunion, she forced me to look at the way I viewed my life. My bad memories that were nothing compared to hers, but she always found something to smile about. We’d survived high school and became better people because of the adversity. In traveling back to the reunion,  we reconnected with some wonderful people.

The next year Kari fought cancer round-by-round, submitting to  traditional and experimental treatments and medications.  She talked like a doctor, educating and advocating her diagnosis and treatment. She vomited, lost her appetite, weight, and her hair. She shook, couldn’t sleep, and suffered mood swings. At times she was so weak she used a wheelchair. She tried anything and everything because she wanted to attend her children’s graduations, weddings, and meet her grandkids.

At some point, my husband coined the theme of our renewed friendship as “No regrets.” Kari was getting sicker and he knew I’d be devastated if she died. We talked on the phone several times each week, exchanged frequent emails, and I made several trips to Helena and stayed with my parents. I’d homeschool four kids and love on a toddler all morning, then spend the afternoons with Kari. I’m so thankful for the loving support of my family and parents during this time.

More than her cancer, Kari talked about her kids. Her kids were the smartest, most gifted, athletic, musical kids in the world. She loved her kids with a momma bear passion. She’d go through each of the  four and list their recent accomplishments. I heard play-by-play of basketball games, concerts, and Scout projects.   It wasn’t an innocent “my kids are so perfect” kinda’ blind love, but an honest love that could watch her kids grow, struggle, make mistakes.  She still proudly loved them and always believed they’d be successful and accomplished adults.The trials of her own upbringing became nothing compared to her joy of being the mother of the best kids in the world.

I especially remember a time when one of her kids was struggling in school. He was academically capable, but the school sent home disparaging reports. She clamped on her floppy hat and marched to the school. She drove in a car, but in my mind, she still marched. She got things done. She met with the teacher and listened to her complaints. Then Kari asked for the dates and time periods of the behavior issues. She shook her chemo schedule in the teacher’s face. (That’s how I picture it, anyway.) The dates matched. Perfectly. The teacher knew Kari had cancer, but she didn’t get it. Kari didn’t want her cancer to be the excuse her kids used to misbehave, but she did want it to be the reason the school was more compassionate and understanding.  She felt the pain of her cancer, along with the pain her cancer caused her children.

After her kids, we talked about mine. To Kari,  my kids were the smartest, most gifted, athletic, musical kids in the world. She praised them so much, sometimes I saw them differently through her eyes. She talked the same about her sister, nieces and nephews. She knew I took down prayer requests and freely gave me names and needs from their extended family. They had gone through many devastating events, and Kari was concerned about everyone.

When I visited Helena, the afternoons we had alone without our nine kids were made for talking. Not catching up, or bragging-about-our-kids talk, but serious heart and soul girlfriend secret-sharing conversations, of mistakes made and how we overcame those mistakes.

And, we spoke of death. It was the third wheel we couldn’t shake. I tentatively broached the subject and asked her if she minded us talking about everything, even her death. I told her I’d been looking up Bible verses about Heaven.

“Are you kidding? Yeah, I want to talk about it. Nobody wants to talk about death, it makes them uncomfortable.  But, I’m dying.” She said it so matter-of-factly, I stared at her. She was thankful for the many phone calls, cards, emails and the outpouring of support, but said if she tried to talk openly about dying, people often changed the subject. She knew her desire to beat cancer wasn’t enough to win the battle.  Sometimes,  cancer won.

At that point, nothing was off-limits in our conversations, and we fully understood why the Lord had kept me from causing her death years before.  Now, as a Christian who believed the Bible, I had found some answers we’d both been seeking. I’d still be a part of her death, but I wouldn’t be the cause of it. We often rejoiced that He cared enough about our personal lives to cross our paths at the thrift store at a time when we needed each other.

clip_image002

This is a scene shot out the window on my way to Kari’s, with one of the verses we discussed many times. Salvation is a gift given by faith,  not something we earn or deserve.   It’s not a faith placed in our own spiritual thoughts and ideas, but a faith placed in Christ, the author of salvation. 

Kari told me once she wanted to die in peace, and had taken on the mental exercise of forgiving those who had wronged her, even if they hadn’t asked for it. Another next step in peace-making is making peace with God. With this in mind, Romans 5 became another passage we discussed.

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Interwoven in all our conversations was the desire to make peace with our past, have peace in the present circumstances, and face the future (eternity)  with peace.

Kari made friends wherever she went. People noticed her when she walked into a room, not because she demanded attention, but because she gave attention. Even though they had just moved to Helena when she was stricken with cancer, she’d invested in her community and they invested in her. There were meals, and help with rides, and a fund raiser. Those of us watching from afar were thankful for this input.  Kari received cards and phone calls and was blessed by the outpouring of friends old and new.

The spring of 2000,  she invited me to her cancer support group. She explained the meeting structure and assured me I’d be welcome.

“Oh, it’s great because we talking about everything,” she said, “and sometimes we have Show and Tell.”

“Show and Tell?” I asked.

“Yea, someone might dig something out of her shirt, wave it around, and say ‘Hey, look at my new boob!’ Another person will unstrap their leg and throw it on the table. It’s pretty cool. We don’t have any secrets,” she explained.

Concerned I’d be out of place, I sat down with a quiet and polite greeting. Kari would have none of that. She introduced me and joked around until I felt connected. Then, they began their meeting. I was horrified by their experiences, but blessed by their camaraderie. At the end, I blurted out, “I wish I could be in a group like this.”

“No, you don’t,” answered one woman. I tried to clarify that I longed for intimate friendships, not cancer, but I gave up. My words were weak compared to truth of the situation. On the way home Kari explained that sometimes they don’t call themselves a Cancer Support Group but a Dying Club.

After that, we both watched the obituaries in the Helena Independent Record, and saw her support group, one by one,  lose their ability to support her.

image

We prayed for a miracle cure that would keep her signature from becoming an obituary headline.

 

to be continued…