Monday, May 26, 2014

Honor

Thousands of service flags are carefully stored by a wonderful group of volunteers in Red Oak, Iowa and flown on Memorial Day. It is a true labor of love and deep respect. Red Oak lost a highly disproportionate share of soldiers in both the Civil War and World War II. These photos really do not do justice to the sheer number of flags that do not fail to tighten the throat or bring a tear to the eye.

Made up of young men from southwest Iowa, Company M was in north Africa, Tunisia, fighting the Nazis when they were ambushed in a place known as Kasserine Pass. Life Magazine ran an article on this event with a stunning photo of our town with the locations of the family homes that received telegrams in early March 1943 that their soldier was missing. The headline, "War Hits Red Oak:  A small prairie town gets word that 23 of its boys are missing in action after a battle in North Africa."

Red Oak lost more than 50 men in World War II, many of them in this battle. 

From her book, "The Home Fronts of Iowa 1939-1945," Lisa K. Ossian writes,

"In 1946 the nation noted its military losses as the Saturday Evening Post remembered Red Oak's:
     'If New York City had lost as many sons as this Iowa town, the dead would have numbered 70,000.'

     The article continued: 'Red Oak, Iowa looks like the home town we dreamed of overseas; rich and contented, with chicken and blueberry pie on Sundays, for whose sake some said we were fighting the war. It is the kind of town we wanted to be the same when we came home, at the same time it would somehow know what the war was about.'

Without a doubt, this is true 70 years later. Growing up in this town, in the early 1970s, this amazing story was never told. I did not learn of any of this until I was in college. Thirty years was still too close, too painful for many. 

There is also the sense of getting on with life. No one was doing this for fame, fortune, or glory. They did what they were asked to do. It was their duty and they threw themselves into it. When they returned, if they returned, the counted themselves as blessed because they had seen and experienced things no one should. Their next duty was to go back to their lives and make things right again. And they did. Quietly, they put these days behind them and honored them silently through their everyday lives. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

From where I stand

From where I stand, my forties are nearly past. Like in about eight weeks. 

I admit. I was sort of blase about turning 50. I've never really gotten my knickers in a knot about "big" birthdays. I tend to welcome birthdays because I do recognize that "it is a privilege denied to many." We have a list of those friends and family who left us too soon, don't we? However, the past few months have been a bit of a wake up call.

This spring, I've spent some considerable time with family. We traveled to visit our 80 and 90-something family members in Florida. As our trip got underway, my mother had emergency bypass surgery. Less than a month later, we celebrated the life of my stepmother and did our best to hold it together. We had several conversations about what my family members think about living in their 70's, 80's, and 90's, and how they want to live their lives from here on. We also talked about what many families avoid like root canals, a tax audit, and Miley Cyrus.

We had conversations about last days and how they hoped it would go at the end. Wishes and thoughts and memories from moments throughout their lives, long before I ever knew them. 

And now my dad is making plans to move out of the house he and my stepmother lived in for twentysome years and downsizing into something much smaller. More transition.

From where I stand, I realize that in a little more than 20 years, I'll be my parents' age. And that's when my knickers got in a knot. What do I need to do in the next 20 years to be ready?

In the midst of my slight panic came crazy things in the mail, like the AARP stuff. The universe and one's internet browser does conspire to provide some interesting ads in the sidebar. Like this, from our old pal from "Dinner and a Movie," Annabelle Gurwitch.

Yes. I'm heading to my local bookstore to order this. 

And I'm going to open this up and read it. I was honored to receive a copy as a gift and true to life, it's been a little too close to home to actually read it. Past that now! In her book, "How We Die Now," Karla Erickson says that we can expect to live 30 years longer than our recent ancestors. We are living longer lives than our grandparents and great-grandparents. Does anyone else remember how "old" their grandparents looked when they were in their 60s? Just looking back at photos of my grandparents compared to my dad and his siblings at the same age, there is little comparison. 

For those of us who graduated from high school in 1982, this means that living until we are 100 is going to be a little more common than it is now. 

Just take a moment and consider that. Maybe fifty MORE years? Really? When you think back on the past years of your life and then are told that you could live just as many again, that's a little staggering. The good news is that we can anticipate this and envision what it will look like. The other side of the coin is that life in our 80s will be a lot different than life in our 40s. Living longer often means needing more care and assistance in our later years.

Our trailblazers, the elder Baby Boomers, are already redefining retirement and senior living. And they are doing the same for elder caregiving and for what they want for their parents and themselves. 

Believe me, I'm not rushing this. But I am not standing here alone, am I? I'm raising teenagers and looking at college brochures at the same time I'm helping my dad downsize into a condo and facing the fact that I probably have 20 years left in a full time working world. 

I have some dreaming to do. Plans to put in place. Life to live. It is a little terrifying and a whole lot of exciting at the same time.

Almost thirty years ago, this little movie was in the theater and is one of those that most adults my age remember very fondly. Ferris is now 52. Look at that fresh face of our younger days. These words are still important, maybe more so now that we're halfway, right?

"Ferris Buller's Day Off" 1986

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Expressing Happiness

"It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, out there on the edge of the prairie..."

The blog has been quiet for several weeks, but life has been far from quiet. The truth is, it's been rather intense around here. There hasn't been any lack of topics to write about but rather too many to choose from. We did an epic spring break road trip to Florida to visit family. My mother had emergency heart bypass surgery and she's recovering beautifully, thank you.  My stepmother of 36 years passed early last month. Two of my closest and dearest friends each had major life issues that I wanted to be present and support them through. I was gifted a car. It's been a rather busy time, to say the least.

In keeping with the theme of "Gee, whiz" my kids met Garrison Keillor tonight and it's kind of a big deal. Keillor's radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion" on National Public Radio has been a Saturday night thing for our family forever, especially with their Grandparents Nelson.

Often, Dad and Pat would get in the car about 5 p.m., turn on NPR and listen to Keillor start the show. They'd drive to a nearby town, have dinner, and be back in the car in time for the news from Lake Wobegon. And I've written about this sort of happening before here on the View.

They enjoyed Keillor and the entire show for many years. They attended a show in Omaha years ago and had a wonderful time. Bertha's Kitty Boutique was a long time favorite sponsor.

After a lengthy illness, Pat passed quietly last month at the care center. While Dad and Pat love their church and have been active church members their entire lives, it was not a funeral they wanted. It was a celebration of life.

To that end, the celebration for Pat's incredible life felt a lot like A Prairie Home Companion. Laughter through tears. Good music. Something poignant that touches a place deep inside. Memories of long ago. And something to think about as it ends.

The day after Pat's celebration of life, I got the tickets for tonight's show for my kids and me to take Grandpa to the live broadcast in Des Moines at the Civic Center.

When the introduction began, there was a moment that was rich and full of a love that will never pass.

"Oh hear that old piano, from down the avenue... I smell the tulips, I look around for you. Oh my sweet, sweet old someone coming through that door...it's Saturday and the band is playing, Honey could we ask for more?"

The theme for my meditation today happened to be expressing happiness. If our sense of happiness is full and even overflowing, it can do nothing else but make others around us happy. This is an evening that memories are made of. This evening we felt Grandma's presence once again. And my kids met Garrison Keillor. With a little patience and perseverance outside the green room door, they were invited in, said hello, shook his hand, and got an autograph.

Full and overflowing. When we express happiness, we can't help share that abundance of joy. And a joyful night it was.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

And whatever you do, let the air out of the balloon as you go along

It's the weekend and I'm recovering from the week that was. Friday felt like Monday and what a joyful surprise it was when I could remind myself that it was in fact, Friday.

Let's just say that a couple of the Really Important People in my life were dealing with Big Stuff that threw us into a crisis mode. You know how that is. Coasting along and BAM, you get ricocheted into another orbit temporarily or forever. It's hard to concentrate on anything other than the crisis because dealing with those details becomes all-consuming.

By now, things are pretty well sorted out. And I'm hugely relieved. It's just that I forgot to exhale. You know, slowly, instead of all at once.

I'm the kind of person, and maybe this resonates with you, too, that when I am in The Zone of Crisis, I tend to be so laser-focused on what I need to do to get through the crisis that I forget to exhale and release the built-up stress.

Friday afternoon, I ran into a good friend and her teen who had had an accident. Nothing serious at all, but not comfortable by any means. The teen began to cry as Mom told the story of what had happened. And because I am who I am, I cried too. My friend said, "Don't worry, these are tears of release, letting out the stress of it all."

My p-shrink gets out the trusty balloon when I have those moments of complete overwhelm following some sort of big deal that requires a ton of my energy. He blows air into the balloon and says, "This is the energy, positive and otherwise, going into this balloon, into your situation. If I let go of the balloon, it depletes all at once." And the balloon goes whizzing around out of his grip. "If I let a little air out in increments, I can continue to hold on to it and control it." The other danger is where I used to be. Just keep blowing up that balloon, just keep holding on to that stress and adding more as you go, until the balloon pops.

I'm getting better at it. I do recognize that. But I often fight back those tears of release earlier in the midst of the crisis because I have some kind of belief that looking strong in the face of it all will somehow scare off the crisis? That it will convince me that I am strong enough to deal with it? Silly. I know I am strong enough. More than.

It's about honoring our emotions. Letting them come up, feeling them, and watching them subside. Because eventually they go if you let them leave. Often we are so scared of feeling something that might be perceived as negative or hurtful that we try to ignore it, stuff the emotions down with food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, (fill in the blank of your favorite means). If we just allow the emotions to come, experience them, and then let them go, then the emotion no longer holds power over us. If we ignore them or use other means to repress them, then those emotions control us.

I continue to learn and continue to put these lessons into practice in the heat of the moment, because that's when it really counts. I know all these things, and so do you, it's just actually remembering to do it. Noticing the signs of tension and the need for a healthy release rather than a toddler-type tantrum will help you deal along your way through crisis mode or every day issues that can put our panties in a knot. Let the air out of the balloon gradually as you go. (You know I am saying this for my own self, right?)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Making sunshine in the depths of winter

From the depths of January (must give credit to Jonna who first wrote that very descriptive phrase) into the depths of February. When one wakes to -12 F and the view from the porch looks like a freezer seriously overdue for a defrost, we are talking about "depths" on many levels.

It is nearly impossible to be anything but in the present moment when it is this kind of bone-chilling, "Little House on the Prairie" kind of winter. One may have a vivid imagination and can go to their "happy place" in their mind, but I think that might take some level of Zen mastery I have yet to accomplish. I've been following a ten-day series of saying yes to the simple and extraordinary beauty that constantly surrounds us. Being aware of what our senses are currently taking in is one way of being in the present moment.

Senses sensing...

It's just plain cold. My eyes see cold. My nose smells cold and the little nose hairs are freezing together. (the tried and true test to determine if air temp is below zero) My skin, what little is exposed, feels cold. I like winter. I do. I will gladly take a foot of snow in exchange for this kind of cold. SubZero is a fridge, not my kind of climate.

Days like this I hope to see sun dogs in the morning skies. I marvel in the sparkling of the snow and if I get a glimpse of the cardinals in the yard, all the better.

But even this Pollyanna is starting to wish for a slow thaw. Still six weeks until spring break, so in the meantime I'm defying winter blues by taking a long weekend to see dear ones and have a change of scenery. Granted, Iowa's west coast will look highly similar to where I am right now, but a little windshield time is good therapy.

Find something this weekend, wherever you are, to warm up your days. Make that coffee date with that friend you've been meaning to catch up with. Bake something - even if it is pre-made cookie dough. Plant seeds for a windowsill garden. Knit something. Put on your favorite dance music and shake what your momma gave you. (No one's watching so get over yourself and work up a sweat!) Snuggle with a special someone.

The point is, make your own warmth until Mother Nature catches up. What will you do to generate some heat?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Another chance

It's a snowy New Year's morning in Iowa and it fits with my desire for a fresh start. A new layer of snow, a clean sheet of paper, a blank canvas, all ready for us to make our mark. I've hung my new calendars - a lovely Carl Larsson art calendar I received as a gift and the functional on-the-fridge one that kinda keeps track of our family.

My grandparents, Pearl and Lester, were married on New Year's Day. A lovely and symbolic gesture of a new beginning.

It is a human concept, after all. This idea of calendars and ways of keeping time is something we've created, so why do we allow the turning of the year to have such power over us?

For those of us at a certain age, the concept of time is ever-present. We are beholden to our daily lists of things to do that we must schedule time with friends and time to play and time to just be. At the same time, we notice the dramatic march of time as we watch our children and grandchildren and our parents, and ourselves, grow.

And while today is just a Wednesday and tomorrow we return to work and school, there is something about that calendar of 365 days. How will those days be spent? Who will we spend them with? What do I want to be sure I get to do this coming year? Go gently with that or you could be totally overwhelmed, just saying.

What I hope you will consider is becoming more aware of the little things that make you smile, that make you think, that make you wonder.

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential."
-- Ellen Goodman


Saturday, December 21, 2013

My most dreaded question at this time of year

It's just days before Christmas and again I realize that it has come upon me fast. Things to do, things not yet finished, the thrash that this time of year can be is here in full force.

I have enjoyed this Advent a lot. The making-room-in-your-heart part of the season. In lieu of checking off items on the to-do list,  I have been spending time with people I care about. I have been knitting chemo caps. I have been reading a good and racy novel to a dear friend a chapter a week. I've been doing satisfying work at my job. I have learned a great deal about myself and those I love. I have enjoyed time with my kids. I have kind of bucked the trend.

Last night, I had a young man appear on my doorstep. "Good evening. I'm with the National Atheist Society and I have a brief survey I'd like to conduct with you."

"Uhm...no. No thank you. I support what you are doing, but I'm not interested in answering questions tonight."

No. I am not an atheist, but I am probably alot more closely aligned with him theologically than with some of my other Christian brothers and sisters. 

Would he have asked me if I am "ready for Christmas?" It's a common conversation thread at this time of year, like chatting about the weather. I choose to answer this one carefully when asked of me and it depends on who is doing the asking. Do you mean that all my cards have been mailed, my shopping done, presents wrapped, cookies baked, house immaculate and looking like a Better Homes and Gardens spread?

The follow up question as we return to life after the holiday is, "Did you have a good Christmas?" Does that mean that everything went exactly how it was planned? All Norman Rockwell, everyone minded their p's and q's and everyone was delighted with their gifts and we were with ours? 

Here's the thing. That place within us that is yearning to be touched isn't touched with gifts and food and stuff and cookies and reindeer and Santa.

As a child of the 60's, I grew up with "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In fact, in my copy of the book, there are notes written for me when I read the passage from Luke 2 as a little girl during a Christmas program. Charlie Brown is increasingly frustrated, depressed, and disillusioned about the commercialization of Christmas. Yes, even in 1965 when things were supposedly, simpler. He is about at the breaking point when he turns to his friend Linus and asks, "What is Christmas all about?!" 

And Linus replies, reciting these ancient lines from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter two.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."


"So there you have it, Charlie Brown. That's the true meaning of Christmas."

 Wait. That's it? No Christmas cards? No spritz cookie recipe? No obligatory obligations? No gift buying/wrapping/opening? No watching my beloved, "White Christmas?" But it isn't Christmas without these things!

Or is it?