Top 10 Excuses for the List that Almost Wasn’t

Toy truck

10.  The beginning of September and the swiftly diminishing daylight hours threw me into a deep funk.

9.   For the longest time, I could only think of 9 things for the list. Call me OCD, but I couldn’t publish this until #10 came to mind.

8.   Senior moment. I forgot.

7.   The computer died.

6.   There was a power failure.

5.   My family did an intervention, and I went off social media cold turkey for the long weekend.

4.   I celebrated Labor Day by doing no work…which meant no writing or blogging for me.

3.   Because writing never feels like work to me, I spent the weekend feverishly writing the Great American Novel.

2.   Writing three books in one year led to a bad case of writers’ block, and I couldn’t think of a thing to write about.

1.   I spent the weekend playing games like trucks, fix-it, garden, and yummy soup with our adorable grandson.

How was your Labor Day weekend? Leave a comment.

What Do You Give a Woman Who’s 84?

Mom turns 84 today. This year, we didn’t think she had the stamina to make the trip to the Labor Day Reunion being held in northwest Iowa. So in honor of her birthday, the post written for the occasion last year has been reposted below. If you read to the very bottom, you’ll find out there is something new to give a woman who’s 84!

What Do You Give a Woman Who’s 83?

Mom’s birthday was Saturday, and as was mentioned in a previous post, we (meaning 20 people in her extended family, including her baby sister, Donna, pictured above) celebrated in style with the traditional family birthday cake. What wasn’t mentioned in the post was my personal quandary that has grown more perplexing as Mom grows older.

What do you give a woman who’s 83?

Mom doesn’t like to be given stuff because once it’s hers, she frets about it.
“What should I do with it?” she asks.
“Where should I put it?” she asks.
“Do you want it?” she asks.
Kinda defeats the purpose of giving a gift, when she wants the giver to take it back.

This year, I rationalized away the quandary this way.
“Baking the German chocolate cake is my present to her,” I thought.
“Sharing my bed with her for the reunion weekend is my present to her,” I thought.
“Hiram sleeping on the floor for the reunion weekend so she could sleep in our bed is our present to her,” I thought.
“Hosting 20 people at my house for the weekend is my present to her,” I thought.

But do you know what?

Throughout the weekend,
the more I watched her listen to the young adults describe their forays into grownupdom,
the more I saw her enjoy watching everyone play yard games,
the more engaged she became during several rousing games of Catch Phrase,
the more I realized my thoughts were not rationalization.
Instead, those thoughts were the answer to the quandary.

What do you give a woman who’s 83?
The gift of your time.
This year, the sibs and I came up with something to give Mom. We had the signed poster she received from Kairong Liu, the Chinese artist she tutored when he was college student, matted and framed. We’re taking her out to supper tomorrow evening and giving it then. So shhhh, don’t say a word!

What Do You Give a Woman Who’s 83?

Mom’s birthday was Saturday, and as was mentioned in yesterday’s post, we (meaning 20 people in her extended family, including her baby sister, Donna, pictured above) celebrated in style with the traditional family birthday cake. What wasn’t mentioned in the post was my personal quandary that has grown more perplexing as Mom grows older.

What do you give a woman who’s 83?

Mom doesn’t like to be given stuff because once it’s hers, she frets about it.
“What should I do with it?” she asks.
“Where should I put it?” she asks.
“Do you want it?” she asks.
Kinda defeats the purpose of giving a gift, when she wants the giver to take it back.

This year, I rationalized away the quandary this way.
“Baking the German chocolate cake is my present to her,” I thought.
“Sharing my bed with her for the reunion weekend is my present to her,” I thought.
“Hiram sleeping on the floor for the reunion weekend so she could sleep in our bed is our present to her,” I thought.
“Hosting 20 people at my house for the weekend is my present to her,” I thought.

But do you know what?

Throughout the weekend,
the more I watched her listen to the young adults describe their forays into grownupdom,
the more I saw her enjoy watching everyone play yard games,
the more engaged she became during several rousing games of Catch Phrase,
the more I realized my thoughts were not rationalization.
Instead, those thoughts were the answer to the quandary.

What do you give a woman who’s 83?
The gift of your time.

Hard to Believe

This past weekend’s abrupt switch from summer to fall was hard to believe. After all, over Labor Day, our family gathered for boating and swimming, and to throw cousins in the the lake – all the good stuff that accompanies warm summer days and nights.

But Saturday evening Hiram and I, along with scores of other guests, sat shivering and dodging raindrops at an outdoor wedding. Our teeth chattered in rhythm with the processional. Steely-eyed bridesmaids willed away goosebumps and walked down the aisle, their bouquets dewy fresh and trembling in the cold. The bride, tall and calm, came down the aisle escorted by her parents. The weather bothered her and the groom not one bit. They had eyes for each other only, and by the end of the chilly ceremony, they were as married as they would have been in a warm, dry church.

After the festivities, Hiram and I went home to a chilly house and turned on the furnace. “Hard to believe,” I said, “that we need the heater this early in the fall.” The house was still nippy the next morning, so I turned up the heat a tad before we went to church. Surely, it would be warmer there.

It wasn’t.

Apparently, the custodial staff at the the high school, where we meet for Sunday services, found the weather forecast hard to believe, and hadn’t bothered to turn on the furnace. By the end of church, I couldn’t feel my toes.“At least it will be warmer when we get home.” I hurried to the car.

But it wasn’t.

“Must have turned up the night thermostat instead of the day control.” I fiddled with the dial again, made a cup of hot tea, and put on another sweater. “Hard to believe it’s supposed to be 85 tomorrow.”

“Well, today it’s freezing in here.” Hiram checked the thermostat. “Only 66 degrees.” He went down to check the furnace and discovered the pilot light wouldn’t turn on. “You better call the furnace guy tomorrow,” he suggested. “Gonna be a cold night tonight.”

But it wasn’t.

The outdoor temperature rose throughout the night, and by morning it was nearly as warm outside as in. By midmorning, it was muggy and humid outside. But the house was cool and dry. Quite comfortable, in fact, though the temperature was no higher than during my shiverfest the day before. Hard to believe a call the furnace guy could be necessary or wise.

But it was.

And though it’s hard to believe, when the next cold snap comes and our pilot light behaves correctly, I’ll be thankful for the weather’s brief flirtation with fall.

It’s hard to believe that the bride and groom will be be quite so grateful for the turn the weekend’s weather took. But they can be proud of this: for all who attended, their wedding will be one of the most memorable ever.

It certainly was.

Big Change Coming

We spent the weekend at our annual Labor Day reunion. Each September we gather, the two branches of our extended family with roots in the northwest Iowa town. For 36 – 48 hours we visit, eat, play, reminisce and create new memories as we have done for almost 25 years.

But this year’s reunion felt different. All weekend, I felt like a character in a fantasy story. You know, the oddball wearing animal skins who materializes at the edge of the forest. She sniffs the air and licks a finger to test the wind. After a brief pronouncement, “The wind is shifting. Big change coming,” her eyes twinkle wisely, and she disappears into the forest.

The cabin we stayed in over Labor Day didn’t have a forest nearby, just a cornfield on one side and a lake on the other. It was sweatshirt weather, too chilly for off-the-shoulder animal skins and prophetic announcements. But all weekend, I was sniffing the air and watching the wind change us.

Some of the children, who were babies and toddlers at the first reunion, are now married. Some are parents of their own babies and toddlers. The babies who joined our midst in the late 80s and early 90s, who made the S.O Weird Cousins videos each year, are college students. They don’t make videos any more. They sit around and catch up on one another’s lives and talk about getting what they call “real jobs” in the next few years.

My siblings and cousins and our spouses are the age our parents were when the reunions first began…though we feel much younger than they did, I’m sure. Our parents are older, grayer, content to observe the goings on instead of leading our energetic troops.

While we sat and ate and played and did all the things we do each Labor Day, our roles shifted slightly. The balance of power tipping ever-so-slightly to the younger generation. The old order of things is drawing to a close, and a new dawn is taking shape.

The wind is shifting. Big change coming.

How to Be an Adult

In one week, I’ve experienced a book release, a balloon shower, Mom’s 81st birthday, and a Labor Day Reunion at our house with 30+ overnight guests. I ask you, can life get much richer than this?

All Sunday evening and Monday, while this aging body recovered from too little sleep, too much food, a creek stomp at the Ledges, and a perfect combination of conversation and fun, the blessings God showered upon our family weekend filled me with gratitude. Here’s another bulleted list that make this former school teacher’s heart go pitter-pat:

  • The high school, college-age, and young adult generation wanted to come.
  • The septic system endured.
  • The weather was Goldilocks approved: not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
  • None of the dogs had any fights.
  • The little toads all over the yard were great entertainment.
  • Ice cubes down the shirt and pants bonded us like nothing else.
  • The Ledges captivated everyone who went creek stomping.
  • Our neighbor let us use his beautiful old tree farm for family pictures Sunday morning.
  • Somehow, though we only had three bathrooms for over thirty people, everyone was presentable and present at our Sunday morning photo shoot.
  • The younger generation kindly and gently told the older generation that the end of the annual S.O. Weird Cousins TV videos has come. They broke the news with one last instructional video about how to become an adult. In case you’re wondering, the steps are drink coffee, read the paper, pay the bills, fold the laundry, and drink prune juice. (I think I left one out.)
  • Both my children were present.

But since Sunday evening, I’ve also been wondering about how grateful I would have been if everything hadn’t been perfect. What if my son was still away from us, what if it had rained all weekend, what if the septic system had backed up, what if the younger generation had purposefully stayed away, what if Mom’s Alzheimer’s had made her mean and feisty, what if someone in the family had been in a car accident on the way here?

One day, one of those “what ifs” will happen, and our faith will be tested. How will we respond to the test? I hope that kindly and gently, my older generation will show the younger one how our good times have bound us together and prepared us to support one another. I hope they will see our tears will mingle with our laughter and learn what it really means to be an adult:  to be as grateful in our lack as in our abundance, and to trust God to use our deepest tragedies for good.

I’m Not That Kind of Girl

I’m not the kind of girl who expects God to work miracles in my life on a regular basis. In fact, I never expected God to work miracles in my life at all. When I was a kid, He didn’t make my sick dad get better. He didn’t convince my parents to get the cardboard vanity (with a complete set a play makeup) which was the only present I wanted the Christmas I was seven.

When I was a teenager, He didn’t make me cute enough to get dates or coordinated enough to avoid teasing in gym class. In college, He didn’t make me a world famous actress. When my son was born, He didn’t instantly heal my son’s physical condition.

However, earlier this week, when I saw a glowing clump of grass during my morning walk, I wondered if it was finally miracle time for Miss Jolene. Was God was in the burning bush business again and asking me to be a modern day Moses? Thankfully I realized the flames were only the sun hitting the feathery tips of the grass before I cut a willow switch and tried part the waters of the little creek down by the bridge.

But all week, the memory of that glowing grass warmed my heart, and I’ve been in the mood for a miracle. In face, I’ve pretty much been expecting one to happen. But God didn’t stop at one miracle. He performed a whole string of them.

On Tuesday, A Different Dream for My Child was released, and my no-frills rellies sent five balloon bouquets.

By Wednesday, I’d sold two cases of books.

On Thursday, the rellies called and said they’d be coming early for our Labor Day reunion because the college-aged cousins couldn’t wait until Saturday to see one another.

Today, the publicist at Discovery House said they submitted Different Dream for both the Christianity Today and ECPA book award nominations in the Christian Living category.

Tonight, my son will arrive for his first Labor Day in seven years. It will be his first reunion as an emotionally and physically, wholly healed young man. Both my kids are bringing their sweeties to the Labor Day for the first time. Last Labor Day, my daughter thought she would be an old maid forever and my son was a monk.

So if the first four items on the list don’t meet your definition of a miracle, I’m thinking this last one just might do the trick for you. It did for me.

Last week, I wasn’t the kind of girl who expected God to work miracles in her life. This week I’m sure He works them every day.

This week, I’m definitely that kind of girl.

Free as a Bird

I’m free as a bird this morning, thanks to our son. I called him yesterday to finalize plans for the Labor Day Family Reunion which will be at our house. Near the end of our conversation, he said he was making a list of everything that could possibly go wrong this weekend and worrying about it for me. That, and a box of fresh sweet corn from the organic farm where he works, would be his contribution for the weekend.

“I hadn’t even started worrying,” I told him. “My plan was to have fun and not worry.”

“Exactly,” he agreed, “and thanks to me, you can let your worries go completely.”

“What worries?” I asked.

“All sorts of things,” he said. “I’m worrying about falling limbs, so you don’t have to. And polyester. You don’t have to worry about polyester at all. I’m taking care of that along with fear of nuclear attack.” He listed several more items I can’t remember. They were all pretty random, far beyond my normal worry zone.

As he talked, the more potential worries surfaced. “Would you like to talk to your father?” I bailed and handed the phone to Hiram. “He’s doing all the worrying about the weekend for us,” I whispered. “Ask him about polyester.”

A few minutes later, Hiram hung up. “Allen said we don’t have to worry about cat AIDS because he’s taking care of that.” He looked dazed. “At first I thought Allen said ‘cat eggs,’ and asked him what cat eggs were. He said, ‘No, cat AIDS, but I’ll worry about cat eggs for you, too. Don’t think about it ever again.’”

So until after Labor Day, Hiram and I are not worrying one iota about falling limbs, nuclear attack, cat eggs, cat AIDS, or polyester. But we’re not calling our son again this week. We don’t want to know about the dangers posed by aluminum foil, ranch dressing, tree frogs, or anything else on his worry list.

Allen volunteered for this duty. He can have it. In the meantime, we’re free as birds and lovin’ it.

The Family Birthday Cake

Whew, I meant to get to this entry last Friday, but the day got away from me as I packed and baked for our annual Labor Day Reunion. The reunion participants include my mom, her kids and their families, along with Mom’s sister and her husband, their kids and their families – usually somewhere between twenty and thirty people each year. The two older generations visit, play games and eat while the younger generation films their annual version of S.O. Weird Cousins TV. More on that production in another post.

We celebrate Mom’s birthday during the weekend as she was born on September 3, which was Labor Day the year she made her appearance. The birthday cake is always homemade German chocolate cake, which is only made at our house when requested by the birthday boy or girl. It makes a moist, rich, dense cake able to feed the masses when covered with coconut-pecan frosting.

The cake recipe is inside each box of Baker’s German sweet chocolate, along with one for the frosting. But years ago, Mom copied an easier, just as tasty recipe from a magazine.  I’ve never seen it anywhere else, so here it is – in honor of Mom’s 80th birthday this coming Wednesday.

Easy Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting

3/4 cup evaporated milk                                    1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar                                  1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla                                               3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut                            1 cup chopped pecans

Combine milk, sugars, butter and vanilla in a sauce pan. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. (Mixture may appear curdled.) Quickly stir a small amount of hot mixture into the egg yolks; then pour that mixture back into sauce pan. Return to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add coconut and pecans. Cool to spreading consistency, stirring occasionally.

*Cookbooks tell you to frost between the layers and on the top of a German chocolate cake, but not on its sides. Mom always frosted the sides (it’s a little tricky) to keep the cake moist.