Cowgirls and mamas

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The scene is vivid in my memory. I’m 5 years old, riding in a light blue 1973 GMC pickup while Mom is driving. We’re towing a gooseneck stock trailer loaded with cattle.

“You watch that way and see if there’s any cars coming,” she tells me. The gravel road we’re traveling  meets the highway at the bottom of a hill. She explains that if we come to a stop, the truck won’t be able to pull all that weight up the hill.

I sit up on my knees, look out on the ribbon of highway stretching between fields, and tell her the road is clear.

“Here we go,” Mom says. She grips the steering wheel, presses the gas pedal to the floor, blows right that past stop sign and doesn’t let her foot of the gas til we crest the hill.

Mom could do a lot of things. She taught Sunday school, canned green beans, read story books and stretched $10 a long way in the grocery store.

Deep down, though, she was always a cowgirl.

cowgirl saying

I’ve been missing Mom a lot lately. It’s strange how big a hole can remain in your heart even after 20 years. I saw this quote by Dale Evans and it was the perfect description of Mom’s special brand of courage. It was Mom who taught me how to make elderberry jelly and coax a newborn calf to nurse from a bottle. It was Mom who showed me how to grow tomatoes and make hand-me-downs seem almost as good as new.

She woke us up early on Saturday mornings and asked, “Do you want to hoe, chop wood or work?” Life on the farm was tough, but Mom taught us we did it because we loved the life it provided, not because it paid well or brought accolades. She showed us there are a lot more important things in life than money.

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It was Mom, the cowgirl, who encouraged me to become an FFA state officer. When I majored in agriculture science in college, Mom told me that was fine, but I needed to take some journalism courses, too. She knew better than anybody where my skills would be best used.

I’ve had some new opportunities lately to chase some dreams and it’s been kind of scary. I’ve tried to imagine what advice Mom would give.

And I see her at the wheel, a 50-year-old farm wife — she was 45 when she gave birth to me, the youngest of eight children — running full throttle down the highway like the biggest cattle baron in the county.

She’d say you can do more than you think you can and sometimes, you have to “cowgirl up.”

I love you, Mom. Thank you for everything.

Some sweet truth

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Last June, I picked and preserved these delicious raspberries from my patch. The last few weeks I’ve been cleaning out the freezer – to make room for this year’s produce. A new recipe I picked up from the farmers market made some delicious raspberry bars.

I was also reminded of one of my favorite quotes:

The pursuit of truth is like picking raspberries: You miss a lot if you approach it from only one angle.

~ Randal Marlin

Wise words to remember in this information age – more information does not necessarily mean more truth.

On a related note, the raspberry bushes are greening up nicely this week. Good thing there’s room in the freezer.

 

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Put that on a motivational poster

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applesofgoldInspirational plaques. I’m starting to have a bad reaction to them.

It’s impossible to walk into a decorating store or craft display at the local festival and not be bombarded with a thousand motivational sayings.

Anyone else know what I mean?

Facebook is even worse. I can’t figure out what my friends are up to because of all the advice dished out in eight-word poems. Unwrap a piece of chocolate and it tries to tell you how to live life. I bought some cough drops this winter and they promised, “a pep talk in every drop.” Sure enough, each little wrapper was stamped with motivational thoughts. There’s only one thing I ask from a cough drop and it’s not advice.

I confess to have fallen under the influence. Here are sayings displayed on plaques in my home:

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.

Saddle up and follow your dreams.

Life is good.

A face without freckles is like a sky without stars.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, think on these things.

Amazing grace.

Friends are the family you choose.

Love hopes.

As Christians, we are some of the worst offenders. The gaudiest picture, with a few words of scripture penciled on it, suddenly becomes sanctified.

Why does this trend bother me?

  • Life is too rich and complex to always be summed up in a cute saying. There are situations where simple wisdom does apply, but much of the time, there are no easy answers and it’s a mistake to always insist on one.
  • It dulls me to the Bible. The living word of God starts to sound trite when it is stamped on every mug and coaster I own. Is it possible to have too much scripture? Maybe? I know it’s a pitfall for me to emphasis only certain verses and ignore others or to try to apply a verse to a situation where it doesn’t fit.

I probably need a plaque in my living room with this verse from James:  ”Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” I haven’t found that one at the store yet, but I also haven’t really looked.

Have I turned into a curmudgeon or is anyone else tired of all the motivation?

Or maybe I just have a case of the Mondays.

10 thoughts on Christmas music while the cookies bake

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A dozen naked Hershey kisses are lined up on the counter, waiting to be nestled in warm peanut butter cookies when they come out of the oven.

SONY DSCAnd as usual this time of year, I’m listening to Christmas music. Right after baking and all the lights, that’s my favorite thing about this time of year. I’ve drawn some observations from these hours of carols:

1. It always strikes me as odd that I have to turn the channel from a Christian radio station to a pop station to hear Christmas music.

2. Every time I hear a Carpenters song, I am amazed at the beauty of her voice. It also makes me a little sad.

3. Bing Crosby had more class in his little finger than any popular entertainer today.

4. When a hipster tries to make a hymn sound cool, it’s just embarrassing. Dude, a song written in 1818 does not need your help.

5. Speaking of 1818, “Silent Night” is one of the most beautiful songs ever.

6. Best melancholy Christmas songs: “Hard Candy Christmas” by Dolly Parton, “If We Make It Through December” by Merle Haggard and “Blue Christmas” by Elvis.

7. It bothers me that songs about mistletoe and snowflakes far out number songs about Jesus. Even on Christian stations.

8. Most over-recorded song: Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Most over-aired song: Chestnuts Roasting …. I can’t even finish this line I’m so tired of it.

9. The surest way for a singer to achieve near-immortality is to record a Christmas album.

10. If I could sing, I’d record an album called The Forgotten Carols of Christmas. I’d include songs like “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” “Birthday of a King,” “There’s a Song in the Air” and “Hark! The Herald Angles Sing.” (It’s not forgotten but it is my favorite.)

The cookies are done! I need to get back to work.

 

Thanksgiving Reflections

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This post was originally from 2010. I’m tearing up day-old bread for stuffing tonight and thought of it.

It’s Thanksgiving. I’m making pie, stuffing, baked squash and salads with jello and Cool Whip starring as main ingredients.

Alan Jackson is cued on the stereo and soon he’ll sing, “Let It Be Christmas.”

But for now, it’s Thanksgiving and that gives rise to a reflective mood. I’ve had some quiet time to let my mind wander as I’ve been cracking black walnuts. It’s a tedious task, pounding the hammer to crack the hard shell, then tapping it just right to jostle out a little bit of nut meat. It takes a special combination of patience and persistence to do the job well.

My Aunt Sis had both; she sold shelled black walnuts by the quart. We lost her this fall and she’s been on my mind, especially around Thanksgiving.

Her given name was Celia, but my dad called her Sis, so she was our Aunt Sis. She was never idle a moment, always crocheting, cracking walnuts or clipping coupons. She didn’t drive and she usually walked to town to clean houses. They only got a telephone a few years ago. And I don’t know if I ever once heard Aunt Sis complain.

She was a woman not of words, but of action. When she joined us for Christmas, she brought a sack filled with grocery items — each with the UPC code carefully removed to be sent in for a rebate. The year after I graduated college, I had a cold at Christmas time. Newspaper reporter salaries being what they are, I could only afford the discount brand of tissues and it felt like I’d been wiping sandpaper across my face. Aunt Sis handed me her goody sack and right on top was a box of name-brand, extra soft Kleenex tissues. It may very well have been the best Christmas present I got that year. It was a gift just like Aunt Sis herself – unpretentious and practical and immediately put to work.

I can afford the good Kleenex now. I’ve got several boxes sitting around the house. And I have much to be thankful for.

Cracking walnuts and reflecting, I remember Thanksgiving last year. I was working at a different job, making plans and thinking life was going a certain direction. But I quit the job, worked as a freelance writer for nearly a year, and now I have a different job. I’m growing my hair out and I rearranged the living room and in other ways, life is going in a different direction than I had planned.

I’m thankful. For my wonderful family. My friends, my job, my new computer, my country, my church, my house slippers, pumpkin spice coffee creamer, cell phones and that God not only allows new directions in our lives, he ordains it.

I’m thankful for Aunt Sis, for black walnuts and a few moments to reflect on it all. The pie’s almost done baking. The house smells like Thanksgiving morning. Blessings to all of you and may you have a few moments to reflect, as well.

Party like we’re Royals on my birthday

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When we party like it’s 1985, let’s not forget about my birthday.

Thrilling with the Kansas City Royals in their heart-stopping dance into the World Series this year has been so much fun. Talking with a young co-worker, she lamented how the Royals have been miserable for her whole life.

She is not exaggerating – she was born several years after their historic championship and last appearance in post-season.

“I remember when they won in 1985,” I said. “It was pretty awesome.” She sighed with envy and I couldn’t help but adding, “In fact, the biggest win in Royals history was on my birthday.”

This crazy World Series has sparked many nostalgic feelings. My niece sent me a sweet note on Facebook, sometime when the Royals were playing the Angels in an unexpected playoff round that turned into a rout. She said she’d been thinking of me as she watched the games and said, “Thanks for being the first and best Royals fan I ever met.”

My family had always been Royals fans – clear back to 1969 when they were born. My sister Paula said the caravan came to her school that first year and all the kids got stickers that said, “I’m a loyal Royals fan.”

My dad listened to Royals games on the radio after putting up hay. We’d sit on the patio, a square of yellow light shining out the kitchen window, the long summer night peppered with the sound of June bugs hitting the screen door and George Brett batting home runs.

Paula was the first Royals fan I knew and so I wanted to be a Royals fan, too. She took us to a game, the first major league game me or my dad or my mom had ever been to. That was when I got hooked. Listening on the radio was one thing; seeing it in person was a whole new level.

In 1985, the whole state of Missouri was ecstatic to host both teams in the World Series. In typical Royals fashion, they were behind for most of the series. The Cardinals came into fateful Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead.

The game was played in Kansas City on October 26. My birthday. I don’t remember anything else about that year I turned 12. But I remember staying up late with my mom to watch the game. Thank goodness it was broadcast on ABC, because that was the only channel we got on antenna. The Royals entered the bottom of the 9th behind, but refused to give up. With my own eyes, I saw Don Denkinger make the call that kept the Royals alive.

 Game 7 was on a Sunday night. Dad and I went to church, but Mom stayed home to watch the game. When we got home, she said, “You won’t believe this.” The Royals – our Royals! – were pummeling the Cardinals. They won 11-0.

Me and Mom

Me and Mom, 1987

I became a devoted fan. I listened to every game on the radio. I made my own schedule to track wins and losses. I even wrote up my own game stories – my first experience at journalism.

Then I started high school and got busy with other things. I still loved the Royals, but it was like my first high school crush – unrequited. As much as I cheered them on, the boys  in blue just kept getting worse.

 As a reporter at the St. Joseph News-Press, I covered agriculture and business – not baseball. I sat next to the sports desk and sometimes got to watch games on TV while at work which was a nice perk.

When Dayton Moore was hired as Royals General Manager, the St. Joseph Chamber hosted him for an event. I covered it for the newspaper and remember that Moore, a dedicated Christian, said working for the Kansas City Royals was the best job in baseball because it was the biggest challenge and, in effect, the team was so bad that even a small step to get better would make a big difference. I’ve thought of that perspective often.

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At the Louisville Slugger plant in 1987.

When I visited Dad last weekend, I went to the Northwest Missouri State homecoming where Bobby Bearcat led the parade waving a Royals flag. Dad had some boxes of pictures out. I found this one from 1987 when I went on a trip with Mom, Paula and my sister-in-law Cindy and we visited the Louisville Slugger plant.

A lot has changed since 1985. Last week, I rushed out to buy a Royals T-shirt. I’m happy for the new generation, including my young co-worker, who get to cheer on a good Royals team for a change.

 If the World Series makes it past four games, they’ll play Game 5 on October 26. My birthday. And we’ll party like it’s 2014.

Sweet and Sour Green Beans

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This is my sister-in-law Cindy’s recipe. It’s a Thanksgiving staple for my family. Familiar green beans get a fresh, tasty makeover that is perfect for a fall day.
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Sweet and Sour Green Beans and Carrots

Perfect for fall – apples, bacon and onion.

1 quart fresh or canned green beans
1 can sliced carrots (or fresh)
3 to 4 slices bacon
1/2 onion, sliced and diced
1 to 2 apples, cored and diced
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

If beans or carrots are fresh, cut until tender. Fry bacon, then cook onion in the bacon drippings. In stock pot, combine beans, carrots, crumbled baon and cooked onion. Add raw apple, salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar. Heat until the apples are tender and mixture is cooked through. May want to add more or less sugar and vingar depending on taste.

I  hope you enjoy Cindy’s recipe!

How a “smoke break” can bust stress

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I learned about a great way to clear my mind from the smokers at the office where I used to work. When they were frustrated with a project, they’d often roll their chair away from the desk and announce, “I’m taking a smoke break.”

One day, the injustice got to me and I muttered, “Why should smokers get a break when I don’t?” I realized there was no reason why I couldn’t take a break, too. So I went outside and instead of breathing in smoke, I got some fresh air into my lungs and walked around the block. I timed it and discovered that it took me less time to walk around the block than for a smoker to finish a cigarette, so I didn’t feel guilty.

I also discovered that a brief time away from my desk – moving my arms and legs, getting fresh air and seeing the scenery – helped me focus once I got back to my computer to write. Each work day, I usually take one or two “smoke breaks.” A young woman in our office actually worked here six months before she realized I am not and never have been a smoker.

Although these little treks around the neighborhood probably need a new name, this is a good habit I’m going to keep.

 

The power of a volunteer

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Gardening is good for the soul. This year, it has been both challenging and rewarding – but isn’t it every year? We’ve had a lot of rain, producing abundant crops. And weeds.

From one little seed.

From one little seed.

The thing I have learned this year is what volunteer plants can do. While mowing early this summer, I found a little plant growing in the yard near the back step. Since it seemed like a scrappy little thing – and I figured it must be watermelon – I couldn’t bring myself to mow it off, so I cut all around it and let the little plant grow.

And grow it did!

It turned out to be a canteloupe. This is a single plant that grew from one little seed that fell in the grass last fall. At last count, there were 10 canteloupe growing on it. I’ve already harvested one and it was delicious.

Patty pan squach

White patty pan squash. They taste great grilled or fixed in the microwave with a little butter.

Something unusual also sprouted from the compost pile. It turned out to be patty pan squash. I got some from the University Extension garden last fall. It’s a yummy little squash that is also adorable.

Never again will I doubt the value of a volunteer!

Saving June for January

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Sweet peas and raspberry brambles growing together in the backyard.

The long, hazy days between summer solstice and the Fourth of July – aren’t they just the best.

The raspberry crop is exceptional this year, thanks to abundant rainfall. With an old ice cream bucket slipped over my elbow, I’ve been picking piles of them. The overflow has been packed in containers and preserved in the freezer.

Always, the date is carefully penned on the lid.

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Setting a little bit aside.

Some day deep into winter, I’ll pull it out of the freezer and think about June 25. A day when I was preparing for the future.

I’ll remember a soft summer night when the fireflies twinkled and I walked barefoot through the grass to pick raspberries.

And smile because of a small slice of June saved for January.

 

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