Lately, my book club has been reading memoirs. “The Glass Castle” and “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.” Both stories were so vastly different but interesting. As we enter the later chapters of our lives I wonder if anyone would really care about my family story, except maybe our kids or grandkids. Now that my grandparents are gone and my parents as well, I wonder what stories I missed. Are most lives interesting enough to write about? In their entirety, probably not – but segments of all of our lives are compelling and interesting enough to share. Hence, the popularity of blogging, the proliferation of memoirs and people writing novels loosely based on their lives. All stories can be interesting – depending on how we tell them, of course. Ah, KEY: how well do we tell the story? Another key: the RELATIONSHIP with our readers. Do they care? It’s something to think about.
Okay, what happened to November? It was here and now it’s gone.
I looked back at the calendar to see just why and it appears to have been inordinately busy, with family visiting, holidays, and birthdays. All good things. Is it my imagination or does time go faster as you mature? I suppose scientifically it does not – but it appears to, none the less.
There’s always something that needs to be done – but do we make good choices? I confess I don’t always. Do we make time for the things that truly matter? I hope so. Some things can wait another day, like dusting and laundry. But sharing a conversation or coffee with friends are important. Make time for them.
Our children grow up, move away and have families of their own. Soon the grandchildren are grown as well. Time does not stop or slow down for any of us, no matter how much we want it to. Some days I am amazed how much time has passed in my life then I think of all things I’ve experienced and realize it’s been not only productive but incredible.
Will things slow down in December? Doubtful. Will I enjoy it? Absolutely. I’d like to repeat myself – make time for the things that matter and have a healthy, happy December.
“Live and learn and pass it on” is a good motto, and one that hopefully will stay with me well into the new year.
So, what have you learned in 2015?
I’m going to give this a try myself and see what lessons I’ve learned this past year.
- Keeping your teeth healthy (brush, floss, don’t grind) is super important, unless you want to only eat soft foods after your teeth fall out. (Had two root canals this year.)
- Most really good accomplishments started out with the thought that it couldn’t be done. (This includes skills that you thought you had to pay for – installing light fixtures, tearing up old carpet or wallpaper or ceramic tile. I learned how and saved some bucks.)
- Exercise will keep you fit and feeling younger. (So will manual labor, but walking and yoga are more fun.)
- Warm cookies from the oven are far superior to cold ones from the cookie jar. (Therefore, I only bake a dozen at a time and enjoy them fresh each day or until the dough runs out.)
- Good cooking is all about the seasoning. (As is a good life.)
- Enthusiasm is catching, not something you can teach.
- Even when I have pain, I don’t need to be one.
- When you drop a slice of bread it always falls jelly side down. (It happening to my grandson was a good reminder.)
- There’s nothing more attractive than a smile. (It improves your face value.)
- We can’t be lovable all of the time, but when we’re not is when we need love most.
- Doing something in anger usually makes more work for later. (Especially when you’re stripping wallpaper.)
- You find out who your true friends are when you have a terrible job that you need help with. (And help might be in the form of prayer or a hug, or extra hands to do the work. It all counts!)
- I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you pay for. (Contractors is a perfect example. If they are called “Affordable” they do a cheap job.)
- Receiving (and sending) cards is a fabulous way to reach out. (I love getting and sending surprise notes in the mail.)
- An un-watched pot will either boil over or boil dry. Every time.
- Laundry is never “done.” (Unless you are in a nudist colony, I guess.)
- Reading a good book on a rainy day with a quilt and fuzzy socks is awesome. (And I do this as much as possible, with or without the rain.)
- The value of human touch is priceless, especially when the touch is filled with love.
- Not seeing your kids or grandkids for a year is TOO LONG.
- I’ve learned that storytelling is what helps us touch, teach and support one another.
- You can learn something from everyone you meet.
- Be generous with praise. It costs nothing and reaps huge rewards.
- You can find anything through Google. (My husband does it all the time.)
- Don’t wear white if you’re planning on eating salsa or tomato sauce. (Nuff said)
- Moving is really hard physically, emotionally, and financially. (Sometimes it’s worth it!)
- Pick your battles. Not everything is worth fighting about.
- Nothing is more delightful than a baby’s laugh. (Toddler giggles are up there, too.)
- Be kind. Always.
- Make time to do the things you enjoy.
- While humans plan, God laughs.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure before I drift off to sleep tonight I’ll think of another lesson learned. The point is living and enjoying the days we have on this earth. And taking care of each other, too.
Everyone is from somewhere and I just happen to be from Kansas, so that’s the location I write about. It is home. It’s where most of my family lives. It’s where I grew up. It’s a place that knows all seasons.
When I first started writing fifteen-years-ago I was told that nobody was interested in stories about Kansas. You know, that’s not exactly true – look at the Wizard of Oz. Many times I heard, why Kansas? Nobody famous is from Kansas. Ha. President Dwight Eisenhower might beg to differ. There have been many notables, for example: Nobel Prize winners, actors (Dennis Hopper, Dee Wallace…), authors (Langston Hughes, William Inge…), artists (like Gordon Parks…), musicians (Melissa Etheridge…), athletes (George Brett…), aviators (Amelia Earhart…), journalists (John Cameron Swayze, William Allen White…) and so many more. I’ve only listed a few of the many amazing people who were born in Kansas.
Every location, no matter how mundane seeming has Stories. Secrets. Families. Intrigues. History. People are born, live and die in Kansas and relate very well to stories about their home. The Midwest has its special qualities. The sunrises and sunsets in Kansas are amazingly beautiful across the vast flatness, as well as the Flint Hills.
There was a time when writers were told to only feature exotic places in their novels. All those who has lived or visited exotic areas raise your hands! I’m sure there’s quite a few, with remarkable and ancient things. But where can you find a place where you belong? Do you want to read about places you may never see? Okay, yes, I do – sometimes. But the stories that touch me deepest are the ones I can plop myself down on the couch and live there.
I’ll admit it. I love reading about other cultures. They are fascinating. But I never quite “feel” like I’m a part of the action. I’m only an observer. There are times to be an observer and times when you want to be in the middle of things. For me, Kansas is the middle of everything. That’s why I write about it.
What location resonates for you? What stories have you read that “took you there?”
In 1949, Earl Divine and his family moved onto Miller’s old farm five miles south of the Viola Baptist church on my tenth birthday. He was a tall, good-looking boy of eleven, with a shock of dark blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes. His crooked smile and easy laughter won the hearts of all the girls in our Kansas county, but most especially mine. For the first time in my life I wanted to look nice and make a boy notice me. The fellows liked him, too, enjoying his joking ways. This included my little brother, Tom.
I was a serious girl, doing all of the things Momma taught me – like canning, cooking from scratch, and gardening. I even plucked chickens, which everybody knows are God’s dumbest creatures. Tall and naturally thin, my crowning glory was thick and shiny red hair. I never cared much for freckles, but there’s not much I can do about mine. Papa said, “Them are God’s little beauty marks, Hannah.”
Personally, I think God’s got a leaky pen, and it splatters some when he draws our likeness.
By the time I turned fifteen, by shear determination I wore him down and Earl Divine and I became a “couple,” much to Momma and the other girls’ dismay. For three years we courted, going to dances, ice cream socials, potluck dinners at the church, and supper at my folks’ on Sunday.
In those days boys were polite about the fact that they wanted to kiss and touch. I’d been raised to keep my legs together, but it didn’t stop the warmth like hot maple syrup from sliding from one end of my insides to the other. That boy made me want to be bad, but neither one of us could bring ourselves to do the deed before marriage. We came as close as we could without breaking the rules, admiring all the parts of each other that weren’t expressly forbidden, often breaking out in a storm of sweat from the fight with our upbringing. Lord, what a beautiful body he had. The curly hair on his torso scratched and made me giggle.
Lord, forgive these raging hormones.
They taught us all about the crazy time we were going through and warned us not to succumb. The preacher made out like sex was evil, but if that was so there wouldn’t be so many big families in the county.
One evening we lay on the hood of Earls’ 1939 Buick gazing at the stars that peaked through the grove behind my papa’s barn. The night sky over the southern Kansas farm country was black as ink, but the stars were bright enough we could almost feel their warmth. Our breathing had finally slowed from a recent bout of heavy kissing. My body felt like cooked noodles and my brain had turned to oatmeal. I broke the silence. “I love the fresh smell of new mown hay,” I said, and filled my nostrils with the glory of the evening.
What a goofy thing to say, I must be crazy.
Earl snorted, but he didn’t make fun of my awkwardness. I think it was then that I truly fell in love with my fair haired beau.
(Excerpt from short story, Earl Divine, available on Amazon.com)
Everyone is from somewhere, but depending on how long you live there it may or may not feel like home. Wichita is home to me. I was born here and while I’ve spent some time living in Topeka, Wichita has always been the place I return to. Part of that was due to family, but honestly I love it here. It’s not too big and not too small. It’s smack dab in the middle of the country, which makes it fairly easy to drive anywhere BUT flying out of Wichita isn’t always fun. (That is a story for another time.)
I work for a global company whose main office is in France. Most of my coworkers have never been to the Midwest and associate it with “The Wizard of Oz” and tornadoes. They don’t see the spectacular sun sets, nor the splendor of a giant wall cloud. Kansas has it’s own beauty, complements of the big sky and flat landscape. We grow some pretty amazing trees, bent and weathered, much more interesting than those tall forests of stick straight ones. They have no personality. Our trees are few and far between and have to be tough to live in the plains. But the city of Wichita has lots of lovely trees that residents have planted.
We have all four distinct seasons in Kansas, except for this year when autumn lasted about two weeks instead of two months. Ah well, Mother Nature changes her mind a lot and we have to face it that the earth’s climate patterns are evolving. We have to learn to go with the flow…
And bloom where we’re planted. It’s slower here than say Boston or New York, but faster than in the Southern states. Yes, I’ve visited almost every state in the US, but not quite all yet. I hope to spend some time in the deep south and go up the east coast and see some of the places I like to read about: Tybee Island, Charleston, Atlanta, Savannah, Sullivans Island (to name a few).
Do you ever wonder why we live where we do? As mobile as society is these days I can see the appeal of moving from place to place. But moving around is for the younger generation. They are more flexible and less set in their ways. Change is not so difficult for them. The pace of living in Kansas is fine for me.
My dad was in the army, but while he was in the service I stayed with my grandparents. They gave me a home, a base, a foundation to build from. It’s a good one.
I sometimes wish I had been more adventurous when I was younger. Perhaps done some foreign exchange student stuff or interned in other states. I admire the kids now that grab every opportunity to experience other cultures and places in the world. Travel is one of my favorite things to do, but I always love coming “home.” This is where I’m from.
A close friend of mine died yesterday and I’ll miss her. I’ve known her for over forty years and she’s been Mom Finch to me for most all of them. She taught me so much, both little and big. How to make chocolate chip cookies, make sloppy joes, how to crochet. Many firsts in my life were experienced in the family kitchen: homemade ice cream, big – loud family dinners, quiet patience and giving. She sewed my prom dress in the same style as my best friend, her daughter and my forever friend, Maxine. She taught me how to make things stretch like money and food, to reuse what still had life in it, just like my grandmother did. She gave me so much.
She called me her “adopted daughter” and when her memory was starting to go she seemed to recognize me still. Perhaps not my name, but hopefully my smile and the love I felt for her. She lived a long life and right now I can’t remember if she was 93 or 94, but numbers have never been my strong suit. Suffice it to say she was a lovely nurturing woman and I am so glad she has been a part of my life.
She was as proud of my writing accomplishments as those of her own children. Mom Finch was the subject of one of my first articles for Active Aging, because I admired her so much. She was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary heart, and she took this lost girl in. She raised four wonderful women, one son, and me. They are blessed with her creativity and generous spirit. I’ve been blessed to be accepted as part of the family. Mom Finch is the mother of my heart and will always be my hero. I will never forget her.
Mother Nature has been a changing her weather patterns all over the globe the past few years. But it is fall in Kansas, you can tell by all of the colorful leaves littering our yard. Personally, I love fall. The colors and cooler weather make me want to walk, read, bake and write. Oh, and make chili. That is one of my favorite autumn dishes. It just doesn’t work for me in hot Kansas summers.
Those of you that follow me on Facebook know that I attempted to alter a pumpkin bread recipe and accomplished an Olympic fail. The dogs liked it, though. I’m Diabetic so I try to cut sugars wherever I can, but this time didn’t work at all. I have successfully altered my banana bread recipe, thank goodness, and it rocks with half the sugar. YAY!
Don’t tell Jim, but I cut the sugars back in my chocolate chip recipe and used coconut oil instead of shortening and we really like it. He was hesitant to try one even though they smelled good, but the aroma got the better of him and he has eaten the lions share.
It was fun to share them with our neighbors kid hot out of the oven (he’d just finished mowing the lawn) .
“Did you make these from scratch?” he asked.
“These are delicious.”
Hey, can’t beat that testimonial.
There’s something about baking in the fall when the house smells like baking bread or chocolate chip cookies that just feels like “home.” My grandmother didn’t do a lot of baking the rest of the year because it would heat up the house and the electric bill went up. She saved the cookies and breads for the holidays and that made it even more special. Whenever I smell banana bread baking I think of her. When I got married 39 years ago she gave me the recipe. I cherish it.
My cousin Anna posted a picture the other day wearing a pumpkin stocking cap (complete with stem) on her head. She was with her dad (Jim) and Lana. Anna’s brother photo shopped the hat on all of them. I never would have known if she hadn’t told me. LOVE THIS PIC!
One thing I really miss about fall is preparations for family gatherings. Crazy, huh? When my kids moved to another state I stopped decorating my house and fell into a funk during the holidays. This year is going to be different. I’m pumped about decorating. And while my imagination and reality may be vastly different in what I can and will do to alter my home, I’m enjoying that feeling of anticipation and change. Do you ever get that feeling?
Fall is time to prep for winter when he hunker down to stay warm. It’s time to break out the sweaters and hats and enjoy the leaves swirling down the streets. It’s time to wind down one year and prepare for the next. It’s definitely time to READ.
I love fall. Enjoy!
Do you ever wonder what you will do when you retire? There’s a great program called Life Ventures that has groups on the East and West sides of town. They’re learning programs for all ages and I had the pleasure of speaking to the East side group Oct. 28th. What a delightful group of folks came to listen and ask questions about writing family stories and my books in particular. Some came to hear me speak just because they had read my books and others were curious. I had a great time and hope they did also. East Heights United Methodist Church has a wonderful facility and I’m honored to have been asked to participate in this wonderful program. Thanks again!