Lucky Man

20160518_161422.jpgToday I have a dinosaur in my pocket and it made  me think of Dad.

Moving through the dozen rooms of our child care center each day, I pick up stray items, dropping small ones in my pocket or purse to take with me to its proper place in the building.  Often I promptly relocate the items.  Other days they go home with me, forgotten, but eventually returned days later.

That’s how little blue man ended up as a gift for my dad.

When we learned dad was to have major surgery, there was little time to get things organized before flying out to be with him. Cleaning out my purse did not make the to-do list. Somewhere above Missouri, before landing in Kansas City, I discovered little blue man among the pens and paperclips that always sink and line the bottom of my purses. Laughing at myself for carrying such an odd item, I decided to present it to dad as a lucky man, for a lucky man.

We always teased Dad about his luck.  In his lifetime he won recliners, televisions, microwaves, and much more.  Not a gambler, and years before State Lotteries were the norm anyway, he won by signing up at every possible free drawing at fairs and business promotions.  So I told him this little blue guy, now dubbed Lucky Man, was to remind him how lucky he had always been, and would be as he faced the major surgery and subsequent cancer treatment.  He laughed and kept it in his hospital room among the balloons and cards. (I knew he’d like it; the goofy gene in our family definitely came from Dad.)

Lucky Man earned a permanent place on Dad’s bedroom dresser for the almost four years Dad battled pancreatic cancer, post surgery. Lucky years for all of us, to have more time together.

We are a family of faith, and credit God with that time, not luck.  For me, counting yourself lucky in life is mostly about deciding to be happy.  It is choosing joy, wherever it can be found.  Even in the midst of fighting cancer, that was Dad’s  choice, and it served him  well.

 

 

 

 

 

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Grandma’s Noodles

My family alternated holidays between the grandparents when I was a kid. We had a Fat Grandma and a Skinny Grandma. Not that we called them that, but it was a noteworthy comparison.

I won’t say that we preferred one over the other, but Skinny Grandma served boiled okra as a Thanksgiving side dish.

Fat Grandma always had homemade noodles.

We entered her home through the kitchen; immediately greeted by the wonderful smells, and a kiss on the lips no matter how you tried to dodge it. While the men sat in the living room talking about the Army/Navy game, the women and children were put to small tasks to speed the meal. Not that Grandma needed much help. The turkey and stuffing (plus dressing on the side for those who preferred it that way) were baking, the pies and cranberry sauce already made, and the air humid from boiling pots of potatoes and broth. Grandma’s apron was already covered in flour as she began to roll out the noodles.

I loved watching this process. She rolled the dough almost paper thin and then rolled it up jelly-roll style to slice into long strips of noodles. I got to help unfurl each roll and hang it to air dry just slightly before she cooked them in the boiling broth.

Somehow, without aid of microwave, everything was served hot, crowded on the serving table, ready for Grandpa to say the blessing as we all gathered. We didn’t all agree that the noodles were our favorite thing, but with their melt-in-your-mouth perfection they were part of everyone’s Thanksgiving plate.

“Everyone” could be a sizable crowd. Various of Grandpa’s eight siblings, their children or grandchildren made appearances over the years, along with our family, aunts, uncles and cousins. Neighbors, friends, and strangers like a young missionary pair working in their town, joined our meal at times. We brought along last-minute friends one year, but feeding four unexpected teenaged mouths was no problem for Grandma. (I think they each got a kiss, too.) At her house, space would be made for all who came. There would always be enough food to share.

In many ways, it was always Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house.

Meeting the Flowers

White Peony

White Peony

“Peony” was one of the first flowers I remember meeting, the peony bush taller than me as I toddled behind my parents through the flowerbeds. They both loved to garden and talk about the plants, flowers, trees. Everything had a name. That was fascinating to me. Snapdragons, Honeysuckle, Four-O’clock’s, and Hollyhocks were my childhood favorites, fun to say, with flowers suited for play.

I met “Bachelor Buttons” at Grandma M’s house, a field of blue, purple, and pink growing wild atop her root cellar hill. We were allowed to pick as many as we’d like, a rare extravagance in childhood.

Of course, kids can always pick all the wild violets and dandelions they want...

Of course, kids can always pick all the wild violets and dandelions they want…


My mother-in-law introduced me to local wild flowers, Queen Anne’s Lace, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and others not common where I grew up. I’ve toured gardens with many relatives and friends over the years. Those memories flood back today at the sight of particular flowers enjoyed together. My yard has become a memory garden.
Japanese Iris.  Iris were often called "Flags" when I was a child.  People were proud of their many varieties.

Japanese Iris. Iris were often called “Flags” when I was a child. People were proud of their many varieties.


I never got to go on a “meet the flowers” walk with my husband’s Grandma Ruth, but we still enjoy some of her flowers planted on our property more than forty years ago. The Narcissus-faced Daffodils and Grape Hyacinth greet us each Spring, her lilacs still perfuming the air.
Narcissus-faced Daffodils

Narcissus-faced Daffodils

Patch of Grape Hyacinth

Patch of Grape Hyacinth

Grandma Ruth planted the four peony bushes that line our drive, too. I would love to hang a sign on our mailbox, announcing “Peony Lane”, but perhaps need more than four bushes to justify it. Two pink and two white bushes, the white ones bloom first. We always have peonies for Memorial Day.

Peony Lane?

Peony Lane?

Just Call Me

Grandma called me Christine Jeanie Karen.  She went through different name lists for others in the family, but the route to “Karen” was always the same.  I often wondered, but never asked, how I fit on this particular list.

Christine was my great aunt, rarely seen, but much remembered thanks to Grandma.  The same starting sound best explains why our names were linked.

Jeanie was my mom’s cousin, maybe fifteen years older than me.  Another rarely seen relative.  She and I were the only blondes in a brunette and black haired family.  That’s the best I can do to make any kind of connection with Jeanie.

I remember this fondly now, largely because I find myself struggling with family names, too.  The first syllable of my daughter’s and sister’s names rhyme.  Anyway, that’s my excuse for repeatedly calling them by the others name. The children I work with and my nieces and nephews often suffer through being called a siblings’ name – by me and others.  I knew better than to name my children with the same starting letter sound, but failed to apply that rule when we named our pets.  Luckily Dixie, Dogg, Daisy and Dexter don’t complain when I get their names wrong.

As the old saying goes, “I don’t care what you call me – just don’t forget to call me for supper.”  Maybe that should be our family motto.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names

I’m Smarter Than I Text

Call us grammar geeks or snobs; our family takes the use of correct grammar and spelling seriously. If I find I’ve made an error when it is too late to correct it, it bothers me for days. My geeky ways have made it impossible to accept the abbreviations and shortcuts so popular in texting.  I have scoffed at those who use 2, or B, to save the work of entering a two letter word.   Now it is time to humbly sacrifice my judgmental ways. 

I am new to texting as we (gasp!) use our cell phones on a very limited basis due to poor reception at our country home.  My adult children assured me they would communicate more often if we texted, so I have tried it a few times. 

This weekend we found ourselves unexpectedly heading to the city where our daughter and son-in-law live.  My husband was driving and suggested I find out if they could join us for a meal.  Chilly, I tried texting with my gloves on.  Nope. I gingerly removed one glove, but it was still slow going. I kept rephrasing my sentence to avoid the use of the shift key (and my gloved hand) to access apostrophe’s, question marks, and the like. Texting shorthand suddenly seemed like a good idea. I finally gave up to use both hands and got our message sent.  A response came quickly, and that is when my real troubles began. 

Evidently, for me, wearing sunglasses instead of my “readers” to operate my phone is as detrimental as wearing gloves to text.  Somehow instead of retrieving my daughter’s responding text I opened an old conversation between us and read:  Leaving lake now.  Mahattan 4ish?

We’re in the snow and ice region so I was surprised they’d been at a lake, though it was possible. But I knew of no town or restaurant called “Mahattan”, and it was 5:30.  As I am pondering this aloud, I accidentally sent this same message to my daughter, thinking I have accidentally sent a blank message.  So I text “Confused by Mahattan 4ish.”, to which my daughter responds: “Haha! The lake confused me.”

What? Wasn’t she the one who brought up the whole lake and 4:00 thing??? And what was Mahattan…

At this point I realize that the message I was responding to was not from my daughter. It was indeed my first ever text to her. Sent last July when we were heading from a lake in Missouri to Manhattan, Kansas. (N! see the problem a little spelling typo can create?!) I not only read this as from her, but sent it to her, missing somehow her actual response to our offer of a meal together.

I am laughing and trying to text an explanation to send her when my husband says, “You just need to call her.” As in, you really shouldn’t be texting. Just then my phone rang, my daughter having come to the same conclusion as her dad. And the mystery of the lake and the need for time travel to meet at 4:00 was solved.

The family is still making fun of me for “yelling” (texting in all caps) last summer to say, “NO TO WAMEGO. NO OZ.”, when asked if I had ever been to the town of Wamego or their OZ Museum. I’m sure jokes about leaving the lake can’t be far behind.

I’ll keep working on texting skills and drop my criticism of those who do it more successfully than I with fewer key strokes. And if someone invites you to Wamego, B sure 2 go.

The OZ Museum in Wamego, KS

The OZ Museum in Wamego, KS

Emerald City

Emerald City

Look out for the poppy field.

Look out for the poppy field.

Church-Family Christmas

P1010126Family is so special to us that calling any unrelated group of people family is one of the clearest ways to express the importance of those relationships. My husband, sister, and I do that in our workplace, where our staff and their children become such an important part of our daily lives. It always pleases me to hear a staff member tell someone else “we’re not just co-workers, we’re family”, and I hear that from time to time. More importantly, they act like family as they support each other and help us out in so many ways beyond their job requirements.

Many Christian churches refer to “our church family”, and most of these churches strive to create that sense of family connection. Seeing all other believers as “brothers and sisters in Christ” is a biblical principal. Like most principals, it doesn’t mean much unless it is shown in our actions. It is a glorious thing to see or be that family-love-in-action when rallying around someone in need with prayers, hugs, and gifts of food or service. It is humbling and wonderful to be on the receiving end of such church family love during a tough time in your own life.

Our church is large in a denomination of small churches, large in a small community, but it’s no mega church. We do not know everyone by name on sight, but recognize most regular attenders. It is large enough to come and go without much attention unless you seek connection, so we strive to make that connection happen with greeters and small group opportunities for people to get better acquainted. We want people to feel at home among family, to be loved by the body of Christ, His Church.

I saw a great visual for this idea of church family during the recent Christmas season.

Some talented people work hard to decorate our church each Christmas, and though they mix it up to change the look a little each year, it is always a very polished look. A beautiful, but definitely formal Christmas decor. I stood beside one of the trees, waiting for my husband as we were leaving the Sunday before Christmas. As I admired the red, green, and gold ornaments, I saw a new addition and smiled. A paper angel, probably made in our Children’s Church, had been added to one of the lower branches.

Nothing says family at Christmas time like a child’s homemade ornament. I am so glad the child who shared this angel feels like part of our church family.

A Standup Grandpa

To meet my grandpa’s approval, you could be thin, good looking, rich, a fellow Christian, or none of those things.  Only a sense of humor was required.  Often opinionated and gruff,  humor bridged his connection to others.

Visitors to his home were greeted with “Sit down and make yourself homely” and dismissed with “Well, I’d better get to bed and let you good people go home”.

We children collected jokes, gifting him with endless “knock, knock” variations, just to earn his smile.  He rewarded our weakest efforts, giving a joke in return. 

Whatever the holiday, our family feasts ended the same way.  While we were still at the tables, Grandpa would stand up at the head and do about twenty minutes of material.  Many were long, involved stories, meandering to the punch line.  Family members comprised most of the audience, so many of the jokes were familiar old favorites to them.

The adults laughed in anticipation as each joke began, getting more hysterical as he moved from story to story.  Observing from the kids’ table, the laughter-to-tears of aunts and uncles entertained us as much as the jokes, but I still strained to listen for the one joke I never heard him finish.

  As grandpa wrapped up one long story (about how the farmer finally figured out he could tell his two horses apart because the white one had longer ears than the brown one..) it happened again.  Grandpa said something about two men in a boat while all the adults howled with laughter.  Then he grinned and sat down.  Foiled again, I wondered why they never let him finish this last joke…

Years after Grandpa’s death I had the chance to visit with a cousin who spent many childhood years living with or near my grandparents. A great story-teller and comedian in his own gentle way, he told me a few of his favorites from Grandpa’s collection.  His retelling of the old jokes prompted my memory, and I asked him if he’d ever heard the end of the boat joke, expressing my frustration at never hearing the whole thing.

He gave me an odd look, and asked what I remembered of it.

“Something about two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.”

He grinned Grandpa’s grin.  “There were two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.  No…no…the OTHER man was the Captain…”.  In chagrin I realized I’d heard the whole thing all along.

I think of this joke every time I hear someone needlessly correcting the details of a story, and I smile, remembering Grandpa.