Stealing Ellen

A few days ago I was listening to a podcast called ” Death Sex and Money”. It’s one of my favorites. On that day the guest was actress Ellen Burstyn. Now as if she isn’t wonderfully charming enough she coined a phrase on that day that I have to steal that’s why the name of my blog today is “Stealing Ellen” . I don’t think she will mind at all as a matter fact during the podcast she encouraged people to use this term and said that I have days when I’m not working I called them ” shouldless  days” and these are days when I don’t have anything I should do so I only do the things I want to, and Ellen was right!

Frankly, I think we have too many  should days. At least I do. Days are filled with I should do the laundry and I should pay that bill and I should clean the house but I really don’t want to. I want to run around town I want to visit antique stores I want to read a book I want to go shopping anything but what I should do.

My  shouldless days include no agenda just going with the flow. See how the day plays out.. I might get in my car and just go for a drive  I might sit on the couch and watch movie after movie only taking a break for some ice cream. I might go on a cleaning spree.

Today was one of those days. I started my day with a should. I should go to the doctor but from that point on I was shouldless. It felt wonderful and relaxing  and unplanned. I visited a fabulous vintage boutique called  Skeleton Key Antiques it’s located in an old funeral home and I loved every inch of it ! Interesting pieces of furniture, artwork, the creativity was simply pouring out of the cracks of the building. I actually felt as if every person who passed through the doors was somehow infused into the creativity that is now housed within the walls. After we went on the island hop antique walk and got our stamps at each of the local businesses for a chance to win a prize, we went to lunch at my favorite deli, Arthur’s and from there we went and got groceries  and the day just drifted away. It was really great and completely shouldless and completely want full. Hey maybe I’ve coined a new phrase wantfull…shouldless days should be wantfull.

May your shouldless days be many, I recommend it highly. So does Ellen.

Until Next Time,

LJ

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130,000 to 1

Those are the odds of having the same birthday as your grandma and your mom.  And that’s me, defying the odds.

My Paternal grandmother Jessie May (Gifford) Morris was born October 14, 1891.

My mother, Kathleen (Norton) Morris Cox was born on October 14th, 1937, in Manchester, England.

I was born October 14th, 1960 in Davenport, Iowa.

Jessie May was my Dad’s mom, she was wife to Ralph and mother to the Morris tribe, all 12 of them. My Dad was the youngest and only knew his mom for 17 years and then she was gone. Dad always said she died of catalepsy, which of course I doubted was real. I was wrong. She passed away in 1949, Dad graduated high school in 1950. Jessie Gifford’s family can be traced back the 1400’s in England, so it seemed only fitting that my Dad’s military career took him to England and he found a British Bird of his own.

Kathleen (Norton) Morris Cox was born in Manchester, England to Arthur and Winifred Norton, the youngest of three Terry, Brian and Kathleen. She was the apple of her father’s eye and I am sure made it all the more difficult when she decided to go across the pond to the USA. She has always shared the story of the day her dad took her to the train station. He wouldn’t tell her not to go, he just paced back and forth jingling the coins in his pocket. He told her she could always come back, she did but only a few times over the years. She arrived in Iowa in 1957 and my Father proudly showed her the “downtown”  to which my mother responded “Is this all there is?” Remember she was from a large industrial city, my Dad was from Indianola, IA.  Davenport in 1957 was a big city to my Dad.

My mom has always been a hard worker and I am sure has passed that trait onto us all.  She worked for 30 years at Strombeck Manufacturing and not a day goes by that the scent of wood doesn’t transport me back to my childhood. I always remember my mom coming home from work and her dark curly hair with those frosted 60’s bangs would have sawdust clinging to the curls. It was a beautiful scent. During her time at the factory my mother was a union representative and a fighter for the good cause, she often had clandestine meetings with Union Leadership ( in my mind always in a seedy location filled with danger and intrigue) all in the name of the fair terms for her union family. Our own Norma Rae. After the factory closed she went to work on a riverboat for 15 years and gained yet another family. And her last job was at a church, where she attends to this day. Although retired, she still works. at living. She is one of the most alive people I know. She is  walks 45 minutes a day is Facebook savvy and is always open to learning the newest app from her 13 year old great grandaughter. Her curiosity about life never ends, we should all be so lucky remain engaged for a lifetime.

My mom is something special, at 80 she is the person I want to be when I grow up. Alive and never slowing down.  She loves live music, always has since her childhood in England. During the summer months she has a route of live music venues where she can be found 4-5 days a week, sipping an adult beverage and tapping her toes.  And an each one she has friends, and if she doesn’t come with friends she certainly leaves with new ones.  Even at 80, she is feisty ,flirty and a force to be reckoned with.

I arrived October 14th, 1960, barely into the wee hours of the morning. I was 10 days late and a whopping 10 lbs 5 ounces, which for my 4’11” mother was a “bloody beastly” birth. I was put into an incubator due to fluid in the lungs, which my mom honestly observed “you didn’t look sick ,you filled it up top to bottom!”

It’s an honor to defy the odds with these two women, and mom is definitely one in a million!

Happy 80th Birthday!

Until Next Time,

LJ

 

 

The Shawl

Fall has finally arrived, I was in doubt that we would receive one but here it is! There is no time I love more than fall mornings. I am usually the first one up in my house and I awaken to the aroma of fresh coffee. A few years ago my guy bought us one of those that you can set the day before and it’s a simple pleasure to awaken to hot coffee, even better when he makes it, he has a knack for the best coffee. So I grab a cup and my shawl and out to the porch I go. The air is crisp and the leaves are golden from my front porch and the world is quiet.

I am alone at the moment, no one else in the house has drifted out to break the silence, off in the distance I can hear a dog barking, my neighbor is up early busy at remodeling his house and a train whistle as it passes through town. Those are the only sounds on this silent Sunday morning. The leaves are falling and although I logistically do not have a tree in my yard, it is full of brown crunchy leaves waiting to be raked or jumped in.  My grandsons often offer to rake my leaves, however, they never seem to get picked up.. just played with! When they lived in Florida they actually had leaves sent to them so they could have a fall festival…. and the pumpkin patch was a gas station with a table. They are anxious for the fall life the Midwest provides. Apple picking, pumpkin patches, corn mazes a plenty. The Rockwellian Midwest.

It’s the shawl that signifies its fall. The shawl holds special love for me and an indelible memory of the person who owned it.  it belonged to my friend Denita McCall. She has long ago departed us, but returns every fall to wrap me in warmth. I first saw this shawl around her shoulders, one brisk Spring morning in Colorado. She was hosting a dinner party for her girlfriends and that morning she went outside to let her dog out, she grabbed her shawl on the way out. At this point she lacked the energy to walk him so he she sat on the porch and watched from there with this shawl wrapped around her shoulders and a knitted cap on her head. As she sat in the crisp air with a bit of snow on the ground remaining and her breath captured in the air she was still gorgeous and full of life.

So each time fall rolls around, I unfold this shawl and put it on. It’s brown plaid with ribbons of red and white with fringe gracing its edges. It is like a magical cloak that covers me with a myriad of comforts. Through the fabric and across the dimensions, she gives me strength, she fought four kinds of cancer and won, it was the 5th one that stole her from us. She gives me love, she loved like no other human I know, fierce. She gives me warmth, she would give you the hat off her head if it would keep you warm, but it was her heart that generated the true warmth. She gives me joy, from the simple fact that I knew her. We laughed together, we cried together and thankfully we reconnected after many years and I got to know her again in the last part of her too short beautiful life.

She will resurface again in my writing, you never know when. There are stories to share. She was a beautiful soul, with dancing mischief filled dark eyes and force in my life. And every fall she comes around to remind me how lucky I am to be alive.

Who reminds you to be grateful for today?

Until Next Time,

LJ

Junior

Today a soldier left for Syria. His name is Cesar Augusto Andino, but to his family he is simply Junior. He is not related to me by blood, but by heart. He is my granddaughters oldest brother. He is 20.

I met junior 15 years ago, he was 5.  There were three, Laura, Junior and Juan Carlos.  They came into my life in a flurry. They fought like brothers and sisters do. We spent time watching Too Fast Too Furious, and we spent more than a few nights together. We shared many funny things, like the day he asked me why I had chicken pox all over my face and arms. Chickenpox? He pointed to my freckles. He had never seen freckles. Then he pointed to a picture on my wall “Hope” and asked “Why are you wearing a mask in that picture?” I said “You think that is me in that photo?” he nodded yes.

These were the brief moments I can remember when Junior was an everyday part of our life. Then as life does, it changed, and he slipped out of our life only a snippet here and there when I would drop my granddaughter off to visit her Dad, sometimes I would catch a peek of Junior.  Growing up before my eyes and then he became an older version of a boy and finally a young man.

During the last few months those three have been there for my granddaughter. They reconnected and spent some good time together and like a good soldier, he has her back.  And she has his.

Today when he said his goodbyes, there were tears and pride, evident by the photos they shared. My granddaughter couldn’t be there and her heart was filled with emotion over that fact. It is a hard lesson to learn that you can’t always be everywhere for everyone.

What a precious gift they received to be brother and sister again after all this time. And how wonderful that a man now stood where a little boy once was.

As you move through this life adventure into harms way in an effort to protect those who can’t protect themselves, remember your sister’s heart is with you, everyday waiting for your safe return to the USA and the people you love.

The bravery and fortitude you have demonstrated by making this life changing decision is not unnoticed or unappreciated. you leave here a young man and will return a weary warrior glad for his homeland and family.

Thank you for your service.

Until Next Time,

LJ

 

 

 

Thank you for your Service

I take a new job, I gain a new respect for the work that goes on behind the scenes, and the talented people who give it their all.

I recently changed jobs and joined the VA. There are many reasons behind this decision, the challenge of the unknown, the Iowa City VA took care of my Dad for many years, but probably mostly, it is a way to give back to fellow veterans.

Each day our halls are filled with patients from all branches of service, all periods of time. Our job is to help the veterans. A simply stated mission.

So far, I am enjoying the patients, as you walk the halls, greeting them, helping them locate a clinic or just directions to the canteen, our veterans appreciate every gesture.

Veterans come in all shapes and sizes and age groups. If you listen they will talk. About war, about drill sergeants, action, deployments or leave. And if you are real quiet, they might tell you about life. Old sailors who tell you a joke in the elevator, or aging soldiers who hold a door for you or just plain orneriness. The VA serves them all.

I never talked much about my time in service, but here I wear a badge card, red, easy to spot fellow Marines, it’s an elite club after all. This place should be called the halls of heroes. As I watch the little old ladies pushing their heroes around in a wheel chair or holding hands as they walk to x-ray together. Gently kissing a forehead as the bed is rolled into surgery. Or a daughter helping her Dad walk the halls and begin to heal.

Everyday is a reward to help a veteran. To say thank you for your service. It’s an honor to provide you comfort and caring and you make my day, everyday.

Knee, it’s alright with me.

Until Next Time,

LJ

 

 

Dad

The temperature today was 93, and currently I am sitting in my kitchen listening to the thunder and watching the lightning or is that my crazy dog in his cage? Probably both. It’s a big kitchen in an old house, built sometime in the late 1800’s. It has a warmth, charm and is full of quirks. Like Dad.

Two years ago the temperature was more Indian summer high of 77 low in the 50’s perfect football weather. The day we laid Dad to rest in the National Cemetery located on the Rock Island Arsenal. It was a fitting tribute to a Veteran complete with weapons being fired, presentation of the flag followed by silent farewell with taps, I still have the shell casings.

Dad got sick about 5 months prior to his final exit. I enjoyed our talks over those months, and treasure every single one. We didn’t change the world in those talks, we just chatted, as if we were on a front porch. Every visit ended with “I love you” there was never a shortage of that with Dad. And he meant it.

I feel him all around the Quad City Area. At Bowlesburg Elementary during a Dad’s club performance, something with a hula skirt and a coconut bra as I recall, at the bend of the road searching for glass pop bottles on a Sunday afternoon, a big bowl of pop corn on Sunday evening with Walt Disney, a baseball game at John O’Donnell, hating but loving the Cubs, helping the Hawkeyes win, every HyVee and Whitey’s I drive past. Dad is there.

One evening not long ago, I was traveling to a get together with my guy, as I followed him down River Drive I had a feeling wash over me. He continued on and stopped on Holmes Street right in front of Dad’s house. Ironic. Fate, Cosmos, big tumblers of life. Paths are always crossing. Our hosts told me they knew my dad and that he was a character. Yes he was.

Today yet another strange occurrence, I was watching a training film on the National Cemeteries and I became filled with emotion. Sitting in a room with 17 other new employees, tears welling up in the dark classroom, and then my tablemate said September 20, 2017 and I knew why I was so moved. It was Dad’s goodbye day.

His long goodbye started in the hospital where I now work and where I was watching the training film. Ironic.

Love you Dad.

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Until Next Time,

LJ

 

 

 

 

 

Needy People

What does a truly needy person look like? It is difficult to discern as I drive by families panhandling by the edge of the drive at the Wal-Mart if they are honest or not. My heart wants to believe they are.

Yesterday provided an interesting twist to the panhandling dilemma.  I was leaving a shopping plaza with my daughter and we drove past two families on opposite sides of the road panhandling. Both entire families, children and dogs.

Now since I don’t know the stories of either family I can only base my decision on who to believe ( I wanted to stop and chat to find out more, but my daughter nixed that idea) on my drive by analysis. Not exactly scientific, but it’s all you have in those brief moments. I am sympathetic and I ponder the same question every time I pass by someone with a sign. Do I give food? Do I give money? As I try to rationalize it out in the two seconds that I am passing by and come to a value decision, the light usually turns green and I have to roll forward.

Yesterday was no exception. The family on the right looked tired, worn out and hungry. The physical appearance was if they had been working outside all day and still couldn’t make ends meet. They were sitting under a tree near the local Subway trying to gather the most shade that they could from the sparse tree. The kids were docile and calm, they all looked exhausted. There was very little activity in the hot sun, they appeared as they had enough for one day. Even the dog was exhausted. I don’t remember what their sign said, but I do remember how hot and tired they looked.

Across the drive was another family,  what appeared to be two parents and two children. They didn’t look weary or dirty. The kids were doing cartwheels across the parking lot and their clothes were clean and their truck fairly new. Their sign said “Americans need help too” .

It bothered me because it implied somehow that they were obviously Americans and  that the people across the way were not, and yet, I do not know that to be true, but a cruel assumption. Even in the world of panhandling there is competition, apparently. I couldn’t help it, in my soul I doubted the integrity of the family with the “American sign” and felt compassion with the family who looked as though they could honestly use some help. One family was Caucasian one was ethnic, which was which is not important.

My heart tugs every time I see a needy person, I cannot help them all so when I can I do. I don’t know their stories or how they got where they are, but sometimes I wish I could ask, because I am a fixer ( or so I am told). I am also a skeptic and cannot believe everything or everyone who asks for help. But sometimes my compassion outweighs my doubt and  I want to help the entire world or at least that family sitting on the curb at the Wal-Mart on an Indian Summer day.

Pay it forward when ever you can.

Until Next Time,

LJ

 

 

 

Dumpling Day

 September has arrived and that can mean only one thing for the village of Hampton, Illinois, Apple Fest! This two-day festival takes place in bucolic Hampton, Il and showcases the centerpiece of  Hampton history, the Brettun & Black Store. The store opens its doors and allows a peek into its history, accompanied by delicious baked goods, handcrafted items and during the festival they open the café on the lower level. In the café you will find Mary Jane Nelson and her apple dumplings.
Her dumplings are nearly as historic as the village itself. Mary Jane is the 85-year-old matriarch of the Nelson family and a direct descendent of the McNeal family ,who are among the village founders.
As they say it takes a village to raise a child and preparing dumplings is no different. The entire process is guided with Mary Jane at the helm of the ship. She has lifelong friends who always show up during apple dumpling time to participate in this tradition. I joined this event four years ago at the bequest of my guy, her son. I thought how complicated can it be to rollout a bit of dough?
The behind the scenes building of an apple dumpling is nothing short of a precision military engagement and Mary Jane is the 4 star General of the kitchen. In the beginning she made upwards of 800 dumplings, as time goes on and age catches up, the numbers have reduced to around 250 and she always sells out, so get there early.
It begins with apple selection, a complicated process in itself. She selects the type of apple she wants that year and a supplier search begins, orchards are called, random trees are searched until the apples are located. This year the winning orchard was a local one, Stones.
Then the apples are brought home to the Nelson family home located a stones throw from the Mighty Mississippi. The aged two-story wood structure and former store sits on a double lot and is painted a soft yellow with two porches perfect for sitting on a Sunday afternoon basked in the Mississippi Sun.
This season the apple seek and find involved four of us. Mary Jane, her son, my granddaughter and me. The first location we stopped out was the local golf course, a couple of trees laden with fruit had been spotted one day during a round of golf, sampled and confirmed as perfect. Unfortunately, the self-appointed apple keeper of the golf course refused us the apples. We invoked the Wizard of Oz attitude and said ” We don’t want any of THOSE apples” and drove away. The next stop was Stones and it was a success! 250 Honeycrisp apples were loaded up and taken home.
Today is dumpling peeling/freezing day. The veritable assembly line of apple peelers is set up and the tradition begins! This year we have an entire new group joining the tradition. The Esparza family from East Moline is pitching in. The day involves many assignments, perfect for a family project. Peeling, bagging, running to the freezer seemingly endless bags of peelings and apples ( perfect job for two young boys), dough preparation and today she is teaching a young mom the secret of the dough.
The first year I participated, I arrived and was handed an apron. Mary Jane was a Home Economics teacher for many years, so the kitchen is her office. The apron I was allowed to wear was emblazoned with love from a class of students, many names I recognized accompanied by handprints to match.  I sat down and was assigned the actual assembly portion, under the watchful eye of Mary Jane. I was instructed how to roll the dough, how many section should come out of each bag ( the dough is carefully packaged in individual bags) and how to take the apple, place it in the center of the dough, fill the center with just the right amount of spices, wrap the apple and top it off with a cutout dough apple carefully dipped in ice-cold water on the top holding it all together. I followed directions for about 4 hours and our mission for that day was complete.
The following day, I could barely move my arm. Seems rolling is a workout for my rotator cuff. I had new admiration for rolling out 800 apple dumplings.  Once all the dumplings are prepared, they return to the freezer on giant cookies sheets ( they are just like those I used in the military) at the appropriate time (designated by Mary Jane) a baking day is set. Full baking sheets are brought in and the apples are topped with a simply syrup (with a secret ingredient known only to the inner circle). One by one sheets are placed in the Nelson family oven, and one by one, the dumplings are cooked.  No industrial oven here, just a simple kitchen, in a small town.
After each sheet comes out of the oven, it cools for a bit and then each dumpling is lovingly placed in a container and then boxed for transportation to the Brettun & Black Store.
On event day, her sons arrive with vehicles to transport both their mother (lovingly  known as Maw to the inner circle) the two blocks to the store. Dumplings are unloaded and set up downstairs in the café.  The downstairs is a quaint brick room, with a couple of windows from which you can see the river. It is set up with apple dumplings, pies, and other baked goods plus hot cider and lemonade.  A few dumplings are found on the upper level but those are a sampling more than anything else. To get the full experience you must venture down the grassy slope to the café and meet Maw. She will be seated in her usual place at the card table, always eager to share some history with you or just chat.
If you bake them, they will come. And they do.
Until Next Time,
LJ

New Ears

When I was first diagnosed with hearing loss, I cried. I knew in the back of my mind. I had been coming around cubicle walls for discussions for years, having and hearing conversations that never happened or were completely off base.  It produced many a laugh and a obsurd game of telephone at times.

But truthfully, accepting hearing loss and beginning to wear hearing was not hard once I put them in my ears. Yes, I fought a war with my vanity ( how can I hide them) and a realization of age.  Yes, initially I perceived it as a defect. But I was quick to learn it was just another adventure in life. My hearing loss was damaged cilia in the ear and not repairable. However, I could wear hearing aids and retain an acceptable level of hearing.

I moved forward and received my first pair from the  VA. They came in a few colors  and while I wanted red ( I always want red) I accepted tan. The day to get my hearing aids came and I went to Iowa City to pick them up. That first afternoon, I felt as if I was wearing a huge ear, I was like a spy. I could hear all the conversations, very clearly. I could also hear conversations, trees cracking, leaves falling  you name it I heard it.

Four years later, I got my second ones, an upgrade to a smaller version of my previous hearing aid. Again it was a gift. It was a snazzy silver hue in color (still no red) and half the size of the previous one and it works better too! I was actually excited for the day to arrive. The new pair fits perfectly behind my small ears and doesn’t fly off every time I put my glasses on. What I once viewed with great sadness is now welcomed with joy, Hearing aids are not for old people as I once perceived but simply for people who want to hear. I am one of those people.

I am lucky to receive mine from the VA, but there are many new cost-effective ones on the horizon, and some higher end ones that actually connect with your phone. Never deprive or deny yourself the sound of laughter and the music of your favorite song when help is wrapped in a stylish silver ear huggers.

Often times I explain that life without hearing aids is like listening to Charlie Browns teacher, wah wah wah wah…I prefer the crisp clear tones of nature, a favorite movie and voices of the people I love.

I never knew what I was missing until I heard it.

Until Next Time,

LJ

 

 

Eclipse Awakening

Sometimes in life we get to do amazing things and meet wonderful people. This past 4 days I did both.

A few months ago  my guy said “there is going to be a full eclipse” not being a science lover, I responded “oh cool” .. That was the understatement of a lifetime.

I had no idea the energy awakening that was about to occur on a remote farm in Southern Illinois.

The journey to Makanda, Illinois began far in advance of the actual event. It begin late one evening when I was handed a small square white box. I opened it and inside was a  pair of goggles, copper in color, steam punk in style. I put them on  and looked up at the light in my room, it was all I could see. The sensation of complete darkness was amazing. It was the beginning.

We  journeyed to Southern Illinois on the 20th of August. I had reached out to a friend in the area and he offered up lodging so we could stay in the area for the eclipse as rooms were hard to come by and very expensive. We accepted his kind offer.

On the morning of the eclipse, we went out for coffee and drove through Carbondale, the epicenter for this event. there were people everywhere and it was only 9 am. It’s funny we had wondered the day before where all the people who were expected to descend on this college town. It seemed they had arrived while we slept. Roads were closed and the stadium was alive with activity.  News cameras and trucks were getting set up for this event. As we wove our way through town and back onto Hwy 13, we lost the buzz of excitement and found coffee in nearby Murphysboro.

When we arrived home it was decided that we would celebrate and view the eclipse from somewhere called Dancing Willow farms. It sounded enchanting.  Our friends left before us, and we were confident in our GPS. We lost our signal as we drove and  decided to turn at a sign that said “Alto Pass” we were headed in the right direction As we drove through the winding hills of Southern Illinois admiring its unsung beauty, we were treated upon every rise to people, all looking up to the sky, enjoying the excitement and waiting for the event.  It was so amazing to see.

Finally, we arrived at the farm. There was around 30-40 people milling about. The white farm-house was open and inviting. There were children jumping on a trampoline behind the barn, horses in the pasture and lots of looking skyward. My guy got busy making his camera obscura and it generated quite a buzz.  Many curious people came over and gave it a try. It was a joy to watch.  As the moment drew closer, we found ourselves laying on the green grass and staring at science.

In the moments prior to totality, people became shaded and fuzzy around the edges and the sky become dusk like. As we watched the eclipse and saw the red kissing the edges of the moon, I knew I had been changed. I removed my glasses and for the full 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality, I observed, people, animals and nature. It was eerily silent and calm.

I saw people kissing and I saw children in awe. The group let out a collective sigh of wonder and true appreciation for the miracle we were seeing. And I was glad we were there.  In a place of nature and beauty. For us it was the perfect choice.

After the eclipse we all shared a meal, contributed by all who attended, and then a small celebration of welcoming back the sun.

After we left I couldn’t stop thinking about what we had witnessed and shared. And how total strangers became friends for a moment in time. And how truly wonderful that was and isn’t that something we should strive for in our everyday life? Those occasions to join with strangers and leave as friends.

I am grateful for the experience, the people I met and the difference I feel from the inside out. I feel enlightened somehow, and infused with positive energy.

And it all started with a pair of goggles.

Until Next Time.

LJ