Third Day, an Easter Cactus, and More

Seventy (almost) degrees last Saturday. A dusting of snow on the ground this Saturday morning. In many years past, we’ve still had measurable amounts of white on the ground at this point in the season. I should be grateful that today, the winter layers of snow are all gone. But if I’m honest, last weekend’s weather makes a thirty degree plunge hard to swallow. I’ll get over it. Spring is just around the corner.

I still seem to be struggling with writing here regularly, so in the interest of catching up, I’m going to follow my friend MJ‘s lead, and offer some of what she would call “randoms.”

In music: I went to a concert last Saturday with a friend from work. We saw Third Day, a group that falls into the category of Christian music. If I’m honest (again,) I’ll admit that what first drew me to the group was the lead singer’s voice. Is it wrong to admit that I found his voice to be sexy? Listen and tell me I’m wrong.

But I’ve remained a fan because Third Day’s music is so much deeper than their appealing voices and sound. The concert was fantastic and uplifting, and we were so glad we attended. We left there feeling joyful and sorry it was over so soon. Still, I’m going to say that having now seen Third Day in person, the lead singer is not hard to look at! (Those dimples!)

In plants: For all the years of little ones running around the house … not to mention the cats … I could never have plants in the front window where they’d enjoy the most sunlight. My plants were always in sad shape, barely thriving. Now with kids grown and cats gone, the front window can finally be a good home to my plants. There resides an African Violet, as well as the Christmas Cactus that my sister gave me last Christmas. It’s almost Easter, and the Christmas Cactus is blooming! So is the Violet! My grandma, the queen of African Violets, would be so proud. Maybe if I get an Easter Lily, it will bloom on the Fourth of July.

In birthdays: A group of us at work have become a sort of informal birthday celebration committee. We make sure there are decorations and goodies on our coworkers’ special days. It was Tom’s birthday this past week. Being the last one to leave the office the day before, I took the responsibility of decorating his cubicle. I went a little overboard, decorating both outside and in, criss-crossing banners and crepe paper across his work space. As employees walked by, they would stop and chuckle. One called me sneaky! Tom was a good sport when he arrived the next morning. He worked all day in the midst of all the decor, even though that meant ducking in and out of his cubicle.

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In dog-loving: My former boss, now my boss’ boss, who is also my friend, stopped by this week to share a story about how her daughter rescued a lost puppy last weekend. She didn’t share this, as one might expect, to see if I needed or wanted another pet, but just because she’s a dog-lover. She said that as a dog-lover myself, she knew I’d appreciate the happy ending. (I did. New owner volunteered. Original owner found.) After we returned to our respective responsibilities, my phone buzzed with a text message.

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I smiled because I couldn’t have agreed more.

In Mom news: My mom had lots of plans this week. A friend of Mom’s, my niece, and my youngest brother had all made dates to have dinner with Mom, resulting in a “free” week for me. I was grateful as I had a lot of catching up to do at home. And I accomplished much. I finished and mailed invitations for the bridal shower I’m giving for my niece. Jack and I went out to dinner one night. I picked out paint samples to help me decide colors for the main level, (which I’ve been wanting to paint for three years now.) And I bought a dress for my niece’s wedding which takes place in May. (It’s red, with some bling. Chesney says it might be too flashy for a wedding, but we both agreed if I’m happy with it, I should go with it. I’m keeping the tags on for now, just in case I change my mind.)

As of yesterday, I hadn’t seen Mom since last Sunday! I called as I was leaving work because I missed her and wanted to stop by. Before I could tell her so, she said she missed me. She wasn’t used to going so many days without seeing me. She was thrilled when I asked if I could stop by before her dinner date with my brother. I did so, and we made plans to attend the Sunday evening mass at her church. We did that last week. She was happy to have someone to take her to church and I enjoyed the more contemporary music. A win-win!

And how was your week?

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Cold but not complaining

The real Minnesota winter reportedly arrives tonight. We’ve been spoiled so far. There’s a small amount of snow on the ground, but for the most part, temperatures have been pretty bearable ever since summer ended. That all ends today and it’s all they’ve talked about on the news these past few days. Especially as this weather relates to a pretty important football game which takes place here tomorrow. In an outdoor stadium. Where the high might reach 4. I’m glad I’m not a football fan but there are plenty of die-hards who are braving the weather to support the Vikings this weekend!

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The first post-holiday week of 2016 has gone by already. Can you believe that? I was worried it would seem interminable, considering I probably haven’t worked a full week since the beginning of December and having long weekend at home felt so nice the last two weeks. But it was a really great week. There is forward movement in my job and in my department, and it’s all very positive, team-oriented and exciting. More important than the inner workings and perks of my job though, I was reminded several times why I love not just what I do, but where I do it. And it has so much to do with the people who surround me.

I’ve been employed in this job long enough to have made some deep connections, and I thank God everyday for this. One of these connections is with C. On a professional level, she alternately either drives me crazy with the way her mind and priorities race from one thing to another, or feels like my closest ally. But no matter how annoyed I might sometimes feel, I admire her passion, drive and perseverance, and I often aspire to be more like her. In the past year, our common life circumstances drew us closer on a more personal level. C’s mom suffered and survived a massive stroke early last year and will never make a full recovery. You can imagine the repercussions.

Yesterday, I stopped in to C’s office to get some background on a particular project. After confirming the necessary details, I asked, “How’s your mom?”

C told me her mom was holding steady and that their holidays were enjoyable. She then shared that she came into the new year with a new perspective. Gratefulness. She said that all last year, she faced each day with an attitude of getting past certain circumstances  so that she could get back to a more comfortable and normal life. She told me that before the stroke, her mom was her best friend. C called her every day to talk about what was good, what was challenging, and what was ahead. After the stroke, those deep conversations with her mom were no longer possible. This was such a huge loss, and so devastating for C. But since then, she has developed a stronger relationship with her dad. It’s Dad with whom she talks every day. And they never hang up the phone without saying “I love you.”

I knew exactly what she meant. This stuff changes you. Now that my dad is gone, I can’t leave my mom without hugging her and telling her “I love you.” In recent years, that’s not been uncommon, but these days, our I love yous aren’t trite like they may have been in the past. Both the hugs and the words these days are deep and sincere. I often feel a tug on my heart at having to leave Mom’s side, even though I know I’ll probably see her again the next day.

C said that starting this year, she will try to embrace each day, not just try to get through it and on to something that feels easier. She said she has realized that such devastating circumstances have provided unexpected grace and blessings. She was crying by this time and telling me what a blessing I have been to her in the time we’ve shared such similar circumstances. What was meant to be a quick, professional visit to her office ended with tears and hugging. I said to her, “Don’t cry,” and she replied, “No, it’s okay. This is a good cry.”

She showed me a little journal that has become a part of her new goals. It’s a gratitude journal, and every day, she writes down three things for which she is grateful. She said she would be writing about me in her journal that evening.

I am inspired by C’s attitude of gratitude. For the past few years, I myself have worked towards recognizing and being more appreciative of all that is good in my life. But I have been inconsistent in actually documenting it. I like the idea and am going to try to do so on a more frequent … dare I say daily? …basis.

Well … I’ve got to start somewhere, sometime. Therefore …

  1. C – This one’s a little obvious, but I am grateful to have C in my world. Instead of feeling as if I’d hit the doldrums and dreariness typical of this time of year, she inspired me to rise above them and look forward to each day. She reminded me that even work doesn’t need to make us feel as if we’re going through the motions. There might be a gift inside each and every moment. But we have to look.
  2. Jack’s work schedule – While I’m often annoyed at how my husband’s job often keeps him away on nights and weekends, it allows me guilt-free time to be with my mom. This week, on a night I might otherwise have been eating frozen pizza alone at home, I instead cooked a walleye dinner and shared it with my mom. It was a nice change of pace.
  3. Heated seats – A genius invention. They make me feel spoiled, but I love the fact that even on the coldest day, I can get into my car and feel instant warmth!

On Dad’s Lap

This is my childhood home.

Growing Up House

This picture appears to have been taken in the mid sixties at the time when my parents bought the white stucco house that became their home of twenty plus years. The house looks so stark in this photograph, but in my mind, it is so much more colorful and warm.

My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they truly made this house our home. During the years I was growing up there, Mom and Dad added black shutters around the front windows. They planted vibrant flower beds in the gardens bordering the front of the house. The Maple tree in the middle of the front yard grew tall and the trunk so wide we could barely wrap our arms around it. During the spring and summer months, Dad was always doing something to keep the lawn lush and green.

Inside, the house was small for a family of six, but I never noticed. The kitchen was the hub of the household. It occupied the back, northeast corner of the house. There are pictures from my early years that show the kitchen with some breathing room…

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My third birthday

…but as our family grew, the room seemed to grow smaller. It was a long and narrow space, accessible from our “back” door, which was actually on the side of the house. When coming in from outside, you could either go straight down the stairs to the basement which was eventually finished, or to the right and into the kitchen.

I remember the kitchen best in its 1970’s decor. The walls were a peachy-salmon color and Mom sewed bright fruit-patterned curtains and valances for the windows. The table was the same one all the years my parents lived there. It had a brown formica top and an extra leaf to expand it to a large oval. The six chairs were originally cushioned with a goldish-brown vinyl. Later when the vinal began to show wear and tear, Mom reupholstered them herself with a more subtle beige. Mom could do amazing things with her sewing machine.

From the back entryway, looking into the kitchen, there was a free-standing cabinet in the outside corner of the north wall. The cabinet held miscellaneous kitchen stuff, like the electric mixer and cookie sheets. Mom’s cookie jar was always on top, and if we were lucky, we might open the lid to find her famous molasses cookies, or maybe chocolate chip, always with a slice of white bread inside too, to keep the cookies soft and fresh.

Side by side with the cabinet was the refrigerator, and immediately next to the fridge was our family table. The table was squeezed between the fridge and the west wall, along which spanned upper and lower cupboards, and two big, white kitchen sinks that Mom hated because it took weekly scrubbing with lots of Comet cleanser to keep them looking white. And behind Dad’s chair at the head of the table was the dishwasher. I think we lost valuable cupboard space to the luxury of a dishwasher, but as one of the main dishwashers, I was grateful.

The inside kitchen wall was lined by the stove, nearest the back door, and next to it, another free-standing cabinet where one of those new-fangled microwaves eventually made its home. And finally, there was the old wooden hutch, passed down from someone on my mom’s side of the family. Inside the hutch was always a variety of cold cereals. As I said, we didn’t have much money, but Mom and Dad bought us the good stuff, like Cocoa Puffs and Cap’n Crunch. And Mom’s Shredded Wheat was always in there too.

Every chair at the kitchen table was needed to seat our family of six for a meal. But due to the space limitations, the table never could make its permanent home in the middle of the kitchen where you might expect to find it. When not in use, it was pushed against the outside wall of the kitchen. When it was meal time, the table was pulled out and my sister and I would squeeze into the chairs against the wall. The brothers got the outside chairs. And come to think of it, the spoiled, youngest brother was often eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or chocolate Malt-O-Meal at dinner time when he didn’t like what Mom had cooked. Eating an alternative meal was a privilege only the youngest was allowed, just like sleeping in church! But I’m not bitter or anything! 😉

When meals were finished and as clean-up and dishwashing began, the table was pushed back against the wall to allow room for us to pass through the kitchen.

When I think of that house and the activities that went on inside, it’s the kitchen I remember the most. Every night after coming home from work, Mom would get dinner on the stove, and while chicken or a hot dish was baking in the oven, my parents would sit at opposite ends of the table. Dad (and sometimes Mom too) would sip on a beer or maybe two, depending on how long it took for the meal to cook. Sometimes they would read the paper and sometimes they would sit and talk about their days while something simmered on the stove.

In our younger days, Dad was the “yes” parent. If permission was needed, you stood a better chance of getting it from Dad than from Mom. Looking back, I realize Mom was probably overwhelmed most of the time, working full time while still managing all of the expected wifely household duties. A kid asking for anything that required additional effort from Mom was likely to be disappointed, unless of course, you were the youngest kid and looking for a bowl of Malt-O-Meal.

During those days, I could wander through the kitchen and while my siblings watched television in the nearby living room, or played in the boys’ bedroom down the hall, I would often climb up on my dad’s lap while he sat at the table during the pre-dinner hour with my mom. He’d wrap one arm around my waist and hold me against him while they talked. Usually, I’d interrupt at some point.

“Dad, can I have a sip of your beer?”

“Sure,” he’d always say, and I’d lift the bottle of Buckhorn to my lips.

I didn’t like beer. I asked and took a sip, only because Dad let me. I must have mentioned once that I thought it could use some salt, and I can remember Dad telling me that some people put green olives in their beer for just that reason.

I never asked to sit on Mom’s lap. It never would have occurred to me to ask. She always seemed to me too busy and hectic for such a thing, although I remember my youngest brother being quite comfortable there. But Dad always welcomed me, and sitting with him gave me a sense of comfort, and allowed me a rare bit of his sole attention. We four kids came into the world quickly, each one of us arriving two years or less after the previous child. We were a handful, always competing for our parents’ attention, and constantly bickering with one another. The youngest kids needed and received the most notice. I was sandwiched on the older side of the middle and although my oldest sister and I were expected to behave and stay out of our parents’ hair, I always seemed to be causing them exasperation. I didn’t mean to. I was just that kid. Those few minutes of sitting on Dad’s lap and sharing his beer made me feel loved and important, in spite of my challenging behavior.

… I just wanted to remember something good about my dad…