This morning, I was feeling sorry for myself, stuck in Iowa for the entire winter, slogging through the rewrites of my new book, day dreaming about February of 2009 when Hiram, my sister, and I went to sunny southern California for a long weekend visit with an elderly relative. This post from February 27 of that year shows that the trip was not the completely idyllic interlude of my recollection. It also reminds me of the parents who found comfort in my first book, A Different Dream for My Child, and who want to read the second one, Different Dream Parenting.
It’s also the perfect segue into a reminder for readers. The Readers’ Choice Awards contest is still on, and A Different Dream for My Child is one of five finalists, presently in third place. The hot and heavy voting continues, and you can vote once a day, every day, through March 8 at about.com. Thanks!
Waiting for the Ocean View
Okay, go ahead and laugh. We’re not in California and won’t get there until this evening since our morning flight to Minneapolis was delayed (mandatory rest for crew) so we missed our connecting flight. Our new flight doesn’t leave until later this afternoon, so Hiram and I are enjoying a day in the Omaha airport. Guess we can check that one off our Bucket Lists.
My sister, who drove to the Minneapolis airport through the snow, made her connection just fine. And to think that last night we were congratulating ourselves for picking the cheaper Omaha flight and missing the Minnesota snowstorm we would have driven through to fly out with her. She’s a really good sister. She didn’t even say “I told you so.”
But to wet my ocean whistle, I found this photo I took a few years ago. My friend, Helen, and I had a great afternoon, walking on the Atlantic beach and wading through the warm August ocean. After visiting Helen for a few days, I went to a writers’ conference near Boston. At that conference I hatched the idea for A Different Dream for My Child with the woman who advocated for my book and Discovery House Publishers and is now my editor.
This morning, we chatted with our linemates as we inched toward the ticket counter. We talked about our jobs and my book came up. One man asked how he could buy the book. He and his wife have one child, a five-year-old son with severe autism. I directed him to my website and gave him my business card, wishing the book was already published. Suddenly, the line moved. He went one way, we went another.
Afterwards I realized I didn’t know his name. But his son’s a beautiful, brown-eyed boy named Conner. And Conner’s dad said what every parent who needs the book says when they hear its title. “That’s exactly what it is,” he said. “A Different Dream, not a bad one.”
His attitude put one less day at the beach in perspective. It’s a different dream, not a bad one.
Though I’ve been back in Iowa for more than a week now, I’m still wrestling with culture shock. The rudest reminders that I’m no longer in sunny Califorian, but back in the Midwest, are the soy beetles.
These tiny critters first made their presence known around these parts in the fall of 2000. (I know this because they showed up the year Allen was a senior and our foreign exchange student, Adrian, lived with us.) The nasty little insects look like lady bugs, though they’re more orange than red and stinkier than all get out. They don’t do any harm, but they don’t do any good either.
Most of the year they stay outdoors, until the farmers harvest the soybeans and obliterate the soy beetles’ summer homes. The homeless, stinky bugs stay in the fields, shivering and immobile, as long as the weather stays cold. But give ‘em a sunny day to warm up their innards, and they become heat-seeking missiles, swarming the southern walls of every house on the outskirts of town, including ours.
But when the sun goes down and the temperature plummets, the bugs drop to the ground in small, orange drifts. The orange drift on the threshold of our kitchen door was my rude, culture shock reminder.
At the sight, I sprang into action, grabbing the broom and sweeping away the nasty proof of my return from paradise. Every sunny day, I sweep another drift away, humming while I work…I’m California dreaming on an autumn day.
On Thursday I spoke at our town’s local chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an organization for professional women. Several of the women were former teaching colleagues of mine an during the question and answer time, one of them asked me if I missed teaching.
I didn’t want to offend anyone by saying “No!” with too much enthusiasm and conviction. So I paused to think before speaking, a practice I should use more often, and something came to mind. “I miss my teaching friends and the relationships we forged together.”
Several women nodded in agreement and smiled. As they did, my thoughts raced back to San Diego and my stay in the guest house on the mountain top. One morning as I did laps around the exterior of the mansion and back and forth on the section of driveway which was not more than a 5% grade, a little girl popped out the back door and asked, “Why do you keep walking by here?”
I stopped to explain. “I like to walk, and there aren’t many places to walk on top of a mountain. So I have to go in circles.”
“Oh.” She thought for a minute. “I’ll come with you.” And she did, though her feet were bare, her wavy brown hair was a beehive bed head, and her pajamas were an old t-shirt of her grandpa’s that nearly dragged on the ground.
“How old are you?” I asked.
The words tumbled out and her soft brown eyes sparkled. “I’m just passed four. I’ve only been five for a few weeks. My birthday was September 22. That’s two twos.”
“Did you have a party?”
Abruptly, she stopped walking and put her hands on her hips. “Yes, I did. And I invited you, but you didn’t come.”
I defended myself. “But I didn’t know you then.”
She shook her head. “I invited you. I know I did.”
No matter how many different ways I phrased it, she wouldn’t buy it. Finally, I had to promise to come next year if she invited me, even though it would take a drive in the car and two plane rides to get from my house to hers.
And I realized, as I spoke at Delta Kappa Gamma on Thursday night, that is what I miss about teaching: life at kid’s level where for a brief moment, I could make a difference and become different by bending down and seeing things with the eyes of a child.
“There’s one other thing I miss,” I told them. “Life at kid level.”
They knew exactly what I meant.
In the last seven days I’ve seen so many beautiful things: California sunrises and sunsets, rolling desert mountains, palatial homes, the Pacific Ocean, the posh resort where the classic movie Some Like It Hot was filmed, the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, the Coronado Bridge.
But yesterday, between trips, I was home for 24 hours and spent one of them walking through the park. The leaves on the trees were brilliant, and I took picture after picture, trying to capture their beauty without much success. But when I left the park for home, walking on an ordinary small town sidewalk, I looked up at a tree so richly yellow it gleamed.
My heart skipped a beat, then I walked on. Seconds later, I retraced my steps, unwilling to abandon the shining moment. Ignoring the cars passing by, I aimed my camera up until the viewfinder was a solid mass of gold, and clicked. When I reviewed my pictures later, this one – the one I almost didn’t take, contained all the beauty of an Iowa fall morning.
In the past few days I’ve seen oceans and mountains, great cities and marvelous feats of engineering. But nothing has been more lovely than the pure gold I saw on an ordinary tree on an ordinary street in my ordinary little town.
The ordinary blessings, if I take time to see and appreciate them, are the greatest blessings of all.
One of the shining delights of this trip to San Diego, and there were many, was a visit with my grandfather’s cousin Muriel. She’s our family historian, so seven months ago my sister, Hiram and I flew out to pick her brain.
When this speaking engagement in San Diego materialized, along with a free guest ticket to the tea, I immediately invited Muriel. She immediately accepted the invitation. During the tea we didn’t have much time to chat, but afterwards we went to a little coffee shop and spent a couple hours catching up with one another.
In the seven months since we last met, the two Iranian immigrants Muriel had opened her home to moved out and are now in their own apartment. She’s still enjoying the “Read Through the Bible” class she attends one evening a week at her church. She’s also joined a writers’ group where she’s received valuable suggestions about how to expand and refine the biography she’s writing about her grandparents, Fred and Tabitha Hess, who are my great-great grandparents.
She hopes to pursue publication of the biography and the more than one hundred letters Fred wrote to Tabitha during his four year enlistment as a Union Civil War soldier. “And if I don’t get it published,” she told me, “it’s still valuable mental exercise.”
Did I mention that Muriel is eighty-one years old? As she shared the unfolding events of her life, my admiration for this remarkable woman grew, along with my gratitude for her single-handed efforts in recording and saving our family history.
After we said our good-byes and I watched her drive away, one thought came to mind. When I grow up, I want to be just like Muriel.