Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Cee’s Black & White Challenge: All Things Farm Related

My mom grew up on a farm and I’ve been back to visit only a couple of times in many years.

Some of the barns on the farm where my mother grew up.

The farm remains in the family, and the current owner, my cousin, takes remarkable care of all the buildings.

Corn crib with tractors.

I remember spending time on the farm when I was a young kid. Exploring the barns, hanging out in the corn crib. Riding the tractors with my uncle.

Antique tractor.

Tools still hang in my grandfather’s shop. I never spent any time there, we were forbidden from exploring it, and it seemed kind of scary.

Tools hanging where grandpa or uncle left them decades ago.

The farm is a special place and I’m glad it’s still in the family, though it’s a huge responsibility and a lot of work to take care of it.

Time keeps rolling along.

I miss so many people that used to work or live on the farm. Sometimes I think I can see them just around that next barn corner.

Which way did they go?

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Late to the table

“Doesn’t anyone cook anymore?” I asked my husband as we stood in a long restaurant line after 7 p.m. on a Monday evening. We were, actually, there because I didn’t want to cook. Apparently not a unique position.

“But you usually cook,” he replied and I felt better somehow.

Now I wonder if cooking could have more than just health benefits. If you stretch your imagination a bit, think outside the box, maybe cooking could help fix what ails our country.

From the garden.

Don’t discount me immediately. That’s one of the problems we all have right now; we make instant decision about what’s right and what’s wrong before we hear a person out.

I have lots of time to think as I’m chopping and dicing, stirring and folding, preparing food for dinner. Today I’m making the marinara sauce for tomorrow’s eggplant parmesan.

And I’m thinking as I’m chopping onion and garlic that the problems facing our country, and the world, are so huge, so unsolvable, so much bigger than me. That I really have nothing to say that could change anything.

And yet.

I’ reading the articles and listening to interviews that point out people who stay silent are in fact condoning the hate and violence we all witnessed via twenty-four hour news this past weekend. Incidents that we’ve seen on other days too, prior to this weekend, and what we will likely witness in the days ahead.

I know I’m late to the table, but I don’t condone those hateful, racist, violent actions. I’m quiet because I don’t know what I, an individual, someone who hates politics on a good day, can do? What difference can my voice make?

It’s clear to me that the talking heads on television and on the radio aren’t going to fix the problem. The panels of people they bring in to ‘discuss’ the issues are entrenched in their own opinions, are spewing out the party line, give nonsensical answers to hard questions. Nothing is going to get resolved by watching their arguments.

And no one watching is going to change the minds they have already made up.

As I continue to chop and stir I contemplate the hateful events of the weekend, the political responses. The lack of response from me. And I realize that the only thing to change a person’s mind is talking, really talking, to another person.

And what better place to talk than over the slow preparation of a healthy meal?

One person listening to another person without forming judgement. And then having a chance to quietly, with logic and care express an opposing opinion. And continuing that discussion over the meal thoughtfully put together.

Getting to know someone who is different than yourself takes time and work and sometimes the overcoming of fear. But that’s the only way to make change in the world; getting to know people who are different than we are.

Chopping and thinking.

Oh I know the hate filled members of many white supremacist groups aren’t likely to have a calm discussion with anyone. They’re looking to escalate the hate. But there are plenty of people sitting on a fence about many of these issues, people that maybe voted in a different way than you or I might have. People who might feel strongly but may also feel a little doubt creeping in.

There are people from different religions with different ideas, people from different cultures, or just different upbringings who have ideas that deserve to be shared. Everyone has a story, and each story adds to the strength and value of all of us if we only listen.

There is actually much a quiet person like me can do.

So as I put the eggplant dish together I think I’ll push myself outside my comfort zone. I’ll try to stand up for that person getting bullied, voice another opinion when I think it needs to be heard, invite someone I don’t know to engage in thoughtful debate. I’ll stop reacting to Facebook politics, for either side, because that’s too easy, too anonymous and only reinforces opinions deeply held on polar opposite sides of any issue.

Lots of different flavors all stirred together in one pot.

And while I’m trying to understand the other side of some argument, maybe I can put together a simple meal and sit down and talk about it . Without rancor, without despair, without judgement.

Maybe a discussion held over a healthy meal won’t change anyone’s mind. But maybe it will. And at worst I’ll get a good meal, one I don’t have to stand in line for on a hot summer Monday night.

Maybe what our world needs is a food revolution of a different kind.

Summer hope.


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Happy Birthday

I wasn’t going to post about your birthday this year. After all it’s a private thing between you and our family; the whole world doesn’t need to know, or even care, that you’d be 89 today.

Eighty-nine. That seems like a very large number, and I’m having trouble imagining you there. Sometimes when I’m out I see little old ladies with their permed hair, stooped over, walking with a cane and I wonder if you would look like that.

But I don’t think so. You never did like your hair permed.

I think maybe you’d rest more, sit in your chair and read more, maybe cook less, maybe let us do more when we visited. Maybe. I think you’d probably not be traveling as much as you once did, but you’d still enjoy reading about new places, you’d still enjoy a good concert, a good piece of art. You’d still enjoy people’s visits, conversations, hugs.

I wish I could bake you a cake, plant candles on the top, watch you blow them out and laugh. Or watch you eat fresh corn on the cob with butter running down your chin as you grinned with the sheer joy of our summer tradition.

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You’d think with all the technical advances I’d be able to text you today, send birthday wishes, cyber hugs. Little smiley faces all in a row.

But I can’t, so this will have to do. Happy Birthday Mom. Tonight, if the skies are clear, I’ll be watching for meteorites and thinking about you just like every year. Send a few my way, OK?

Love, from all your kids, who miss you every single day.


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The stories she tells

I remember when grocery stores got carts, she says. Shopping was a lot more fun after that.

So what did you do before there were carts? I asked.

She looks puzzled, pauses, thinking back, then says she doesn’t know. Maybe, I suggested, the stores were smaller? Maybe there was a meat market and a vegetable market, maybe a bakery?

The suggestion of a bakery triggers more memories; there was a bakery just across the street and the man there saved day old bread for her mother.

“She made the best bread pudding,” she remembers. “Mom was a good cook.”

Cooking for a big family, day after day with very little money, must have been hard, we agreed. She says she used to hate having to cook daily herself, and she only had one husband and one son.

I never met my husband’s sister, she says, and she was coming to dinner. I didn’t know what to make so I bought a roast, a veal roast. Then I asked myself why I had done that. I didn’t know how to cook a veal roast. My husband told me just to cook it like any other roast, he liked my roast. So I did and it was the best thing I ever made. Roast veal and carrots and potatoes. It was so good. She never knew I didn’t know what I was doing.

We laughed.

She says it’s a lot easier now. She remembers when her dad and others cut ice out of the river, storing it in a shed covered with sawdust. It lasted until the middle of summer, in northern Minnesota, and was the only refrigeration they had.

She remembers riding the train from Minnesota to Detroit with her siblings and her mom, to join her dad in a town he had found work. She remembers being scared, and imagines her mom was too.

She remembers growing up in a large family who had very little money but had the only important thing that mattered; love. How they helped each other as they each grew and started families of their own, working in each others’ businesses, taking care of each others’ kids. Laughing together at the 4th of July picnics, gathering at Christmas, weddings, funerals.

The years flew by and now she’s ‘one hundred and one and a half’ as she likes to say. She’ll be one hundred and two in September. She doesn’t know where the time has gone. She doesn’t know how so many people she loves are gone.

But the memories and the stories remain — a century of memories stored in her mind.

Time has slowed for her now as she sits and waits for her next chapter. The days are long and fast, all at the same time. People visiting her are the highlight of her days.

She becomes animated as she talks about times long ago, she laughs and giggles and rolls her eyes. For a bit she forgets where she is, she forgets she’s over one hundred years old.

I ask her how old she feels.

She stops and thinks. Maybe in my eighties she replies. Yes…I was good in my eighties, and my head thinks I still am. It’s these darn legs that are over one hundred.

And then she laughs again and tells me another tale.


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Nothing to see here

What to say, what to say. There’s nothing happening around here, yet I feel a need to share photos with you. Photos of regular life in summer here in Michigan.

Little League at Katie’s park under a summer sky.

The grass is growing, the birds are sucking down food from the feeders, trees are fully leafed out and the afternoon skies are often filled with clouds.

It’s been pretty amazing.

Though we’ve seen lots of storm clouds we’re really short on rain. The yard is already turning brown. Watering the gardens will soon be a daily if not twice a day ritual. We’re not even to July yet.

No rain in these clouds.

It’s finally warm enough at night to camp and Katie and I have been on one adventure, but plan on scheduling a few more before the leaves start to turn. It’s still an adventure if it’s scheduled – right?

Hey mama! No rainfly!

For now we’re enjoying the air conditioning and watching the oriole feeder right up next to the window. Lots of things besides orioles visit.

Got any more oranges lady?

They all apparently watch for me to fill the feeder and then rush in to get their share. Or more than their share, depending on their size and boldness.

There you go Mr. Woodpecker!

The flowers have been beautiful so far this season. But now we’re moving into the dry heat of summer so we’ll see. A lot will depend on our watering habits.

Lantana smiles every day.

Really, so little to say, so much to show you. Guess I need to take you on a more formal walk sometime. Lots of beautiful places to go; what would be your choice? A lake? A woodsy park? The back yard? A bike path?

Wonder where that path goes?

All good choices, but each will require me to leave my comfy chair. And I can’t do any of them until I get some weeding done.

Still weeding is better than working a job…so I can’t complain.

Katie can, and does, but it’s all in fun.

Hey mama!


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Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

I’m looking at all the tributes to dads on this Father’s Day. They’re all over Facebook; lots and lots of pretty terrific dads out there. Of course you probably don’t know what Facebook is, I don’t think it was a thing back when you were on the computer. But I think you would have enjoyed it, kept in touch with a lot of your forward thinking friends. And your kids of course.

Speaking of which, we’re all doing pretty good lately. A couple of them are coming up to visit me next week, and I’ll be going south next month. Hopefully we’ll all be together at your lake house for at least a few days. I know you like it when we’re all there, just like the old days. I think the house likes it too.

And you should see our house and garden now. The remodeling is finally finished, you didn’t get to see the fireplace or the built-ins. The kitchen that was so new when you were here last is probably outdated now. I watch those television shows and wonder what a buyer would say when they walked in here. It’s certainly not a gut job, but it’s not white either. Buyers are so fickle! You’d laugh at the thought of someone ripping out perfectly good stuff and starting over because it wasn’t their taste. I think the same way, probably got it from you.

The kousa dogwood tree out front that you helped plant so many years ago is beautiful this year. It’s such a delicate pink and cream. And so many blossoms. I guess that’s because we had a warm winter. Or a wet spring. Or maybe both. You and mom would love it.

You’d both love the birds here too. You should see the huge woodpecker on the oriole feeder right now, stealing all the oranges I just put out. He’s really pretty. So are the orioles, of course, who often share the feeder with other hungry birds. Sometimes I go out to Kensington, one of your favorite parks, and let the birds land on my hand. I often think about how you would enjoy doing that. Mom too.

Hey! Have you noticed that Katie and I camped a lot last summer? We’re planning on doing some this summer too. Can’t believe it’s already the middle of June. I guess if we’re going we should get to it. Katie says she’s glad you taught me all about camping, because she just loves to be out there in the woods, and she sure loves sleeping in her tent. Remember the old heavy green army tent the whole family used to sleep in? Well, tents today are a lot different! And they don’t smell so much either, which is a good thing.

Speaking of Katie, you didn’t get to meet her. You remember Bonnie, right? The sheltie-girl without the tail? Well, Katie is sort of like her but on steroids. She’s wound like a top, and definitely over the top, but I bet you’d enjoy her antics.

And did you see that your third child has grandchildren now? You would have loved these little kids, they’re so cute! And fun in small doses, you know? You could have played with them on weekends and then enjoyed the peace of the lake after they went back home. I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience that. But I figure you’re smiling now anyway.

There’s not a lot of news, dad. We’re all doing fine, partly because of the way you and mom raised us. We’re thankful for what we have, but we sure do miss the two of you.

I was thinking about what picture of you to use for this Father’s Day post, realizing that I don’t have any recent ones, that there won’t be any new photos ever again and that made me sad. So I guess I’ll just use a few of those I’ve already posted, sort of a celebration of your life.

But gee, I wish I could take a photo with you today.


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Baseball, an American pastime and other music

Some of you know that I play in a Community Band. We’re a band made out of people who played in high school, maybe college too, often years, even decades ago. Some of us are retired, most of us are still working, and a few of us are still in school. We have whole families playing together, moms and dads and their kids all come to rehearsals once a week and play music.

That’s my favorite part.

Anyway, our last concert of this season is a week from last night. Like any group we’ve had our good and bad rehearsals, scheduling conflicts, missing music, lack of instrumentation. But we’ve overcome all of that, and with one last rehearsal next week we’ll be ready.

Which is good, because we’re playing Pastime, a Saute to Baseball by Jack Stamp. Give it a listen. At about two minutes you’ll hear the most difficult part, the fugue where the band is split up among several lines and if you’re not careful chaos reigns. Don’t worry, it all comes back together just before two and a half minutes. Still, the whole thing requires concentration and counting. There’s no guessing when to come in on this one.

So I’m practicing. Between now and next Wednesday I think I need to practice every night.

It turns out Pastime isn’t the only difficult piece. We’re also doing Sun Dance by Frank Ticheli. (You can skip the ad after a couple seconds. This is performed by Michigan State University, my undergrad alma mater, so I couldn’t resist. Plus they sound amazing!) It’s turning into a bit of a challenge too. I don’t understand why composers can’t keep the same time signature (the number of beats in a measure) for an entire piece. This is another one that requires concentration and counting. Listen, I think you’ll enjoy it!

But why is everything just so darn fast?

Wish us luck. I think it’s a cool thing, to play with other musicians from all sorts of backgrounds, to not give up our instruments when we graduate from school. If you used to play and haven’t touched your instrument for a few (or a lot) of years, think about joining a community band near you. Many of them don’t require auditions to join.

And don’t be nervous. OK, you’re going to be a little nervous on the first couple of nights. We all were. But you’ll find the other musicians are just happy to have you. We’re always looking for more people.

Trust me. What your brain has forgotten your fingers remember. It will all come back. Promise.

If you didn’t play, consider attending a community band concert. We’re always looking for audience members too. Mostly we ask our friends and families to attend, but it would be fun to look out and see a full house. Music always sounds better when the venue is packed. I bet you even know some of the people playing, and they’d be delighted to see you out there providing support. It’s a community thing, and we certainly could use a little community building these days.

Thanks for listening.


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Mom and her birds

On this Mother’s Day I’m reminded how much my mom loved birds. She kept a life list of birds she’d seen, and they figured prominently in her descriptions of travel around the world.

A busy morning at the feeders.

In the last week, here in Michigan, the summer birds are arriving. I have photos of some of them, taken in bad light, through a dirty window.

Still, I know if she had been here she’d have been just as thrilled as I am to see them return.

Mr. Oriole is a very nervous eater, twisting his head this way and that to see what we’re doing inside.

Whatcha looking at lady?

But he’s also a pig and can’t resist stopping for another bit to eat. Frequently.

Yum!

Mrs. Oriole is a frequent visitor too, a bit less nervous, but just as hungry.

Good morning lady!

Yesterday I saw the season’s first male rose breasted grosbeak. This morning he hung out at the feeder for a long time, not afraid at all even when my camera lens hit the dirty window separating us.

Don’t bother me, I’m eating!

And last night, with camera focused on the feeder, we had another visitor to our yard.

Backyard streaker!

Mom would have gotten a kick out of that too.

So…though I don’t have a recent picture of her, I still think of mom every day, especially as I share with her the wonders of my backyard.

Just like she shared with me her love of everything wild and beautiful.

Happy Mother’s Day mom. We miss you.

Another mom hanging out in my backyard.


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There will be tears

Today was day one; the first official day of the Truck Safety Coalition’s Sorrow to Strength Conference, held this year in Alexandria Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington DC.

Alexandria is beautiful. Yesterday evening my husband and I walked a few blocks of the historic shopping district, me trying not to trip as my bifocal glasses distorted the already bumpy brick paved sidewalks.

I watched the families, decked out in shorts and flip flops eating ice cream and laughing. I wished we were here on a vacation.

Pretty row houses.

Instead I spent a sleepless night going over my opening remarks, worrying about people’s arrival times, how to coordinate lunch, whether or not this person was going to get along with that person. Turns out I worried needlessly, as is often the case with me. Still, I can’t seem to help it.

Day one went really well, if you can call listening to story after story of horrific truck crashes, death and injury while wiping tears from our eyes going well. This year we have at least four new families, most of their losses are within the past 18 months. It was hard for them, extraordinarily hard, to stand up and tell us about the crash, and then later in the day tell us something special that they miss about their lost loved one, or about the loss in their own life if they were a survivor.

Pretty hotel.

It takes courage for families to show up at a conference like this, let alone speak aloud of unspeakable tragedy.

But I know that once they get that story out there, shared among other families who have suffered similar pain, they will begin to feel a tiny bit better. There’s no greater group of people to share their tragedy with than the families here. And tomorrow will be a bit easier as we’re focused less on our loss and more on getting change done. We’ll be learning about talking to politicians and media and agencies.

We’ll be gathering our strength for the fight.

During one of our sessions today a long time volunteer told the new families not to worry about understanding everything. “We’ve got your back,” she said. And she’s right. We’ve got these new families in our hearts and in our memories and even after we head home next week they will still be with us. We’ve got their backs and always will, And in two years when they come back to the conference, they’ll be in a position to help the next wave of new families.

Feels like a summer night.

Because there will be new families here at the next conference, and our hearts will break all over again to see their fresh and raw grief. But we’ll have their backs and the backs of the families after that and the ones that come after that.

We have to make at least some of this stop.

As one volunteer said today, speaking to us all, “Make your voice heard. Make sure they hear you in your meetings. Show your emotion, let them see your grief. They owe you that much. Make them hear.” We’ll be on the Hill Monday through Wednesday. I hope you can hear our voices all the way out where you all live. We’re going to be making a mighty sound.

And there are going to be tears.

Shared by another Truck Safety Volunteer on Facebook tonight:

“Tears are how our heart speaks when our lips can not describe how much we’ve been hurt.”

I felt you with me all day long Dad.

Younger dad.


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Storms brewing ahead


Today I took the dog for a walk at a local park. The clouds were heavy, dark, and hanging low over the fields and ponds. I felt melancholy and I wondered why.

And then I remembered.

The time is coming for me to attend another Sorrow to Strength Conference in Washington DC. The Truck Safety Coalition hosts the conference every two years; I’ve been to six of them since dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver in 2004.

The conference is a time for families to join others, all of whom have been damaged by preventable truck crashes, to share their stories, gain support, and learn about truck safety issues. Some families are struggling with permanent injuries, others are grieving the loss of loved ones. And some are trying to deal with both injury and loss.

It’s almost too much to fathom, all those people in one room.

But it’s a good thing too, because you won’t meet a better group of people to support a family in the throes of grief. These are people that know how it feels to get that call or to sit next to a hospital bed knowing that life will never be the same, but hoping for at least a semblance of normalcy sometime in the future.

It’s a difficult conference to attend, but it’s called Sorrow to Strength for a reason. We begin filled with sorrow, and leave, after several days, stronger for having been together. We’ll be talking to Congressional members, agency employees, and the media about truck safety issues. The current political environment in DC is not particularly conducive to regulation these days. But we aren’t giving up finding compromises that make our roads safer for everyone.

Everyone has trepidation as they head to DC for this conference. Attending dredges up all the old memories and emotions. Even after almost thirteen years I still get anxious thinking about the crash, anticipating the questions, planning for the meetings.

But then I think about dad. And so many others that I’ve come to know over the years. There will be new families attending this year, there always are. They are stark reminders that every year, every month, every day that goes by without solutions more people are being injured and killed. This is no time to let politics get in our way.

Wish us luck.