Archives for : Savor the Moment

Being a Mom: The Hardest & Best Job I Ever Had

Being a Mom:  The hardest & best job I ever had   by Sharon Sheppard

I wouldn’t say that the day my two toddlers papered the walls of their room with Vaseline and Kleenex was my hardest day—not even close.  It was frustrating, right along with the day I caught Jonathan drinking out of the toilet using his shoe as a ladle.

But neither of those days came close to being as scary as the day I opened the refrigerator without checking to see if the toddlers were within hearing distance.  (Whenever they heard the refrigerator door open, they came running, and four hands grabbed anything within their reach quicker than I could pull them away and close the door.)

On this particular day, Jonathan grabbed a bottle of codeine cough syrup (this was before the days of child-proof lids) and before I could snatch it out of his hand, he had gulped down a huge swig. I called clinic and the nurse said, “He will sleep for a long time . . .” which sounded pretty good to me until she added:  “You’ll need to wake him every thirty minutes to be sure he hasn’t gone into a coma.”

A coma!  I gulped.  My toddler might go into a coma?  Panic!  And it was all my fault!  I felt like such a failure.

They were born 13 ½ months apart (what were we thinking???) and walked early:  Jonathan at 10 ½ months and Caroline at 9 months.  So we had two babies toddling around, getting into no end of mischief.

For a while my life consisted of cleaning up their messes.  As I was dealing with their latest disaster, the two of them were in the next room working as a team to create another.  One day when I was frantically dashing around getting ready for the in-laws to come from out of town, I had cleaned the kitchen and gone to take out the trash.  When I came in to get the second bag of trash, they had gotten into it and strewn the contents all over my newly cleaned kitchen floor: orange peels, coffee grounds–the works.

One day when we were playing our version of hiding an object and searching for it, 2 ½- year-old Jonathan came up with his own idea of something to hide.  “Where’s ant, Mama?” he asked.  Caroline and I looked everywhere but couldn’t find an ant . . .

Then he stuck out his tongue and there it was.

“Here’s ant, Mama,” he proudly announced.

What a clever hiding place!

I savor treasured memories of cute and clever sayings, homemade Mother’s Day cards, bouquets of wildflowers picked from the woods, lots of hugs, sloppy kisses, and “I love you Mamas.”

But those days didn’t last forever.  Adolescence was no picnic, but I’m delighted with the tender, loving adults they have become.  The two of them are still fun and funny, responsible, and very loving.

I am blessed beyond all measure to have them as friends.  Best friends!

With many thanks to them, and with much gratitude to my own loving mother who modeled all things good . . .

and

Best Wishes to Moms everywhere, Young and Old

Enjoy the Journey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spelling Bee

THE SPELLING BEE, a reminiscence by Sharon Anderson Sheppard. This story is told in the voice of a child, since that’s the way I remember it.  Though the story is true, I originally sold this piece as fiction to the Sunday Magazine of the Minneapolis Tribune.

 

Since April is the month when spelling bee finalists from all over the country are studiously cramming for the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held in Washington, D.C. in May, I thought I’d share my experience as an 8th-grader growing up in Backus, Minnesota, population 350.

 

 

If I’d have known that winning the school spelling bee meant riding up to the county seat with old Horace Botz*, I would’ve spelled “connoisseur” with one “n.”  Even though I’d been secretly hoping all year that I’d win, nobody suspected that it mattered a lick to me one way or the other.  But whenever I closed my eyes, I could picture that brass trophy with my name on it.

Sharon Elizabeth Anderson it would read in gothic script, County Spelling Champion, 1950.

Some people are pretty.  With freckles and kinda crooked teeth, I’m definitely not. If I had a choice, it sure would be nice to be pretty.  But I can spell—backwards and forwards.

It’s a wonder I can spell, since my folks grew up speaking Norwegian and Danish, and you can still hear Mama’s and Daddy’s Scandinavian accents when they talk.    If you asked me to make some generalizations about Norwegians and Danes, I’d have to tell you that Norwegians are quiet and reserved, and they don’t talk that much.  On the other hand, Danes are emotional and gushy and high strung.  At least that’s the way it is at our house.  Daddy doesn’t talk much, and he is always calm and in control.  Now Mama is another story.  She gets excited over the least little thing.  She’s got a real soft heart.  I hope I turn out like Daddy.

Anyway, I was telling you about the spelling bee.  When I came home with the news that I was the school champion, Daddy just smiled and said, “That’s nice, Sharon.  Real nice.” But his eyes were shiny and I knew he was proud.  Mama, on the other hand, shrieked and hugged me and whirled me around the room, and there were tears in her eyes.  I’m too big to be whirled around the room.  No sooner had we got that over with when she started worrying about what I was gonna wear to the county spelling bee in March.

That night we pulled out some options from my very limited wardrobe, and settled on a navy blue skirt and white blouse.  Unfortunately, the skirt had a small spot where a drop of bleach must’ve spattered on it.  But after Mama rubbed some navy blue ink over the spot, it hardly showed at all.  I just hoped it wouldn’t snow the day of the contest and smear the ink.

Everything would have been perfect if I hadn’t been stuck with old Horace Botz.  Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have a man for a teacher, and an old one at that?  My girlfriend’s mother even had him when she was in eighth grade.  I mean, he can’t help that he’s old, but the worst of it is, he thinks he’s funny.  Teachers shouldn’t try to have a sense of humor.  Anyway, I had to ride all the way up to the county seat with him.  He said I could choose a friend to go along.   I chose Mary Ann, who’s fun and funny and my best friend, now that Shirley moved away.

Meanwhile, old Botz gave me lists of words to study from, and I didn’t let on, but I went over every one of those lists dozens of times.  You couldn’t stump me on a one of them.  Like I say, I can spell.  You might say it’s almost a disease with me.  I read a lot, but not very fast because I like to look for palindromes and make lots of little words out of big ones.  Anyway, I’m good at spelling, but I didn’t know if I’d be good enough.

I’d been ready for almost half an hour when old Botz’s black Model A pulled into our driveway.  Mama kissed me (she doesn’t realize I’m too big to kiss) and told me she’d be praying for me.  Mary Ann was already in the car, tickled pink to be getting out of a day of school.  I was mighty glad to have her along, because she kept up a steady stream of chatter all the way up, and I hardly had to say a word.

When we hit the city limits, there was a big billboard that read Welcome to Shingobee Recreation Area, 127 lakes in a 10-mile radius.  By the time we had reached the high school where the contest was to be held, I had made 28 little words out of Shingobee, and still hadn’t exhausted all of the possibilities.

The first person I saw was Alice Klinghammer*, the defending champion.  I’d have known her anywhere from her picture in the county paper last year when she won.  She looked just as snooty in person as she had in her picture, and she was dressed like a persnickety city girl.  She was wearing a store-bought wool plaid skirt with a matching sweater and saddle shoes.  A tiny gold A hung from a fine chain around her neck, and her brown hair was all fluffed up in a stylish hairdo.  Sickening, really.

She was huddled with a couple of girlfriends, giggling.  The three of them sized me up, then whispered to each other and laughed.  I could feel my freckled face getting red, right up to the roots of my frizzy, dishwater blond hair.  Mary Ann squeezed my hand and whispered, “You’re gonna’ win, Sharon, I just know it!  There’s nobody here who can beat you.”

The pronouncer spaced us all apart so we couldn’t see each other’s papers for the written test.   They gave us each a sharp Ticonderoga pencil.

“All set?” he asked with a fake little smile.  No one said anything.  He took a deep breath and began.  My stomach felt like it had a couple of live frogs fightin’ it out, but after the first 20 words or so, I started to calm down.

The man droned on in his English-teacher diction, through chartreuse, supercede, candelabrum, and surveillance.  I struggled with “rotisserie.”  It didn’t look right.  Then the man said, “Pencils down, please.”  We took a break while the teachers corrected the written tests.

Mary Ann was waiting for me out in the hall.  I slurped a drink of warm rusty water out of the fountain, and water dribbled down my chin.  Across the hall Alice was putting on an act.  “Really, the words here today were so simple.  I think I got a perfect paper,” she bragged.  “I had so much fun at State last year!  I’ll just die if I don’t win!”  She straightened her gold necklace and whispered so loud every one of us could hear.  “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble.  These kids all look so young.  I don’t think there’s anybody here older than sixth grade!”  She patted her hair and looked at the rest of us like we were county hicks.  Which some of us were.

Old Botz came out and asked the contestants to come back into the room.  Slowly the emcee read the names of the top five scorers.  I swallowed hard.  Mine was the last one read.

The five of us lined up at the front of the room.  “Each word will be pronounced twice.  You will have ten seconds to begin spelling.”  The emcee licked his thin lips.  “Once you have spoken a letter, there will be no changing it, so think carefully before you respond.  Is everyone ready?”

We all nodded solemnly.  The five of us eyed each other surreptitiously.  (Bet I could get at least 50 words out of surreptitiously.)

“Charles, we will begin with you,” the pronouncer said.  His word was “paraphernalia,” and he spelled it correctly.  Douglas got “ricochet”; Margaret, “liaison”; and Alice, “renaissance.”

“Querulousness,” the man said when it was my turn, and I was grateful for an easy one.

On and on he droned, but nobody budged from the line.  Finally Charles went down on “vicissitude.” A few minutes later Margaret forgot the first “i” in “parliamentarian.”  She looked like she was gonna cry.  The rounds went on to more difficult words.  Finally only Alice and I were standing.  She glanced at me sideways, and she was beginning to look a little nervous.  I remembered that Mr. Botz would probably have to ride along in my dad’s old Chevy if I went to the state finals in St. Paul.  Alice sailed through hieroglyphic and lachrymose and syzygy.  I spelled pusillanimous and bacchanalian and catarrh.

I looked at the clock.  We’d been standing for 30 minutes and we were both getting tired.  Finally Alice faltered on tatterdemalion.  As soon as I heard her say that second “l” I knew she’d had it.  The pronouncer shook his head slowly.  “I’m sorry, Alice.”  She shot me a look of total disgust, taking in my frizzy hair, my shabby cardigan with its skillfully mended elbow, my skirt with the almost-concealed bleach spot.  She heaved a huge, unsportsman-like sigh, then stalked over to a chair on the front row and plopped down, nose high in the air.

I took a deep breath.  All I had to do now was to spell that next word correctly, and the award would be mine.  I thought about the obnoxious Horace Botz with his stale jokes and his stale breath, and I toyed with the idea of letting Alice have it.  Outside the door, lockers slammed shut and the oak floor creaked under its load of hurrying oxfords and loafers.  I thought about my parents learning to speak English, and about how my mom was still working to teach my dad to pronounce his “th” sounds, and how she was probably praying for me right this minute.

“Photophosphorescent,” the man said for the second time, hoping I couldn’t spell it.

“Would you please use that word in a sentence?” I asked, guessing he couldn’t.

“His face got red and he cleared his throat.  “Umm…the object is photophosphorescent,” he snapped impatiently.  I thought about all of the little words I could get out of that one.  Closing my eyes, I spelled it out, slowly, cautiously, so as not to leave out a single syllable.  There was a long, and as they say in books, pregnant pause.  I swallowed hard.  My heart was trying to break out of its cage, and I could feel a trough of perspiration dripping down from each arm to the waistband of my skirt.

The pronouncer stepped forward and held out his hand.  “Congratulations, Sharon Anderson,” he said begrudgingly as he shook my icy hand.  “A splendid performance!”

“Didnelps,” I said to myself, spelling it backwards.

The ride home was embarrassing.  I shoved Mary Ann into the middle again.  Old Botz was babbling on about how proud everyone would be and how nobody from our school had ever won the county championship before.  I’d never heard him give a compliment.  I bet it prit’ near choked him.

It was drafty by the car door, and the wind whistled through the crack where the window wouldn’t quite roll all the way up.  The sinking sun reflected on crusty banks of snow and jackpine-ringed sloughs.  I shivered in my sweat-drenched clothes, wanting nothing so much as to be alone.  My woolen mittens never lost their grip on the prize.  I thought about what Mama and Daddy would say, and I knew that they would be proud of me–very proud.

Mama was waiting at the back door.  I walked slowly into the house, holding the prize behind me.  “How did it go, Honey?” she asked.  (She still calls me Honey.)  “Did you win?”

“Yeah,” I said.  After enduring a lot of high-powered hugging, which I’m much too old for, I headed for my room to find some dry clothes and see if I couldn’t eke another dozen words out of Shingobee.

*Name has been changed

 

 

There are all Kinds of Surprises

There are all kinds of SURPRISES, and some of them look a little different from a kid’s perspective…Here’s One of Those Childhood Memories by Sharon Sheppard

One thing I figured out when I was still pretty little was that life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Just before my fourth birthday I ended up in the Pine River Hospital nine miles from home with whooping cough and pneumonia. I whooped and wheezed until my chest ached and my throat felt raw. I suppose it gave my folks quite a scare, because there wasn’t a whole lot anybody could do about it.

The doctor drilled a hole in my back and stuck a tube into the hole to drain some fluid off my lungs. I didn’t even know what lungs were until then, though I would just as soon have waited and found out some other way.

Anyway, right down the hall Johnny Russell was yelling his head off. He’s a kid I knew from my hometown who had whooping cough too, only he made a lot bigger fuss about it than I did. Maybe boys aren’t as tough as girls. Or maybe he was sicker than I was.

It would have been nice if Mama or Daddy could have stayed with me at the hospital, but Daddy had to work and Mama had enough problems of her own. She was about to have a baby, which nobody had bothered to tell me, and she also had to take care of my brothers. And to top it all off, she wasn’t feeling very well.

So every day after work, Daddy drove down to the hospital to see me. There was a pretty little pine tree outside my window, and Daddy and I adopted it. We called it “our tree,” and we checked on it each time he came. He read me stories, and every night before he left, he prayed and asked God to make me well.

I stayed in the hospital 40 days and 40 nights, and I didn’t like it one little bit. About half way through my stay, Mama came to the hospital to get the new baby. It turned out to be a girl! Finally some good news. I had a sister!

Her name was Dorothy Mae. I asked if Mama and the baby and I could all share a room, but the hospital wouldn’t let us. Mama had yellow jaundice, and I didn’t even get to see her and the new baby.

Mama and the baby got to go home before I did, and I cried with disappointment about having to stay. Finally, on the fortieth day, almost like Noah sitting in the ark with all those smelly animals waiting for the 40 days of rain to stop, I got to go home from the hospital. The doctor told Mama and Daddy that it was a Higher Power than his that pulled me through, because he didn’t think I was going to make it.

By that time our new baby was a couple weeks old, and I finally got to see what she looked like. She was skinny with no hair, unless you could count a little blond fuzz. I sure hoped she would get a lot cuter than that, but as it turned out, she never had the chance.

A few weeks after I got home from the hospital, Baby Dorothy started wheezing, and before I even got used to having a sister, something terrible happened. Our baby died and went to heaven. Going to heaven wasn’t terrible, but not being able to keep her with us was the disappointing part. I didn’t know exactly what it meant to be dead, I just knew I had never seen Mama so sad. I sure hoped it wasn’t my fault, the baby getting whooping cough and all.

Our Mama kept crying. I hugged her and tried to get her to stop, but she couldn’t. She went upstairs, maybe thinking we couldn’t hear her cry up there, but we could. I climbed the creaky wooden steps to give her a hug, and there she was slumped in a heap, sobbing her heart out.

“Mama, why are you crying?” I asked.

“Dorothy Mae is dead,” she said.

When I went back downstairs, I found my brothers standing in the dining room staring at our baby, who was sleeping on the table, wrapped in a blue flannel blanket in a bundle no bigger than a doll. She looked beautiful now, and she wasn’t wheezing any more. She looked like she was taking a nice, long nap.

Just then the doctor drove into our driveway in his big black car, picked up our baby, and took her away. And that was the last I ever saw of her.

After a while our mother didn’t spend so much time crying, at least when we were around. Then a year later, when I was five, we had another unexpected surprise. I guess our Mama and Daddy knew this was going to happen, but Ronnie and Paul and I didn’t.

We thought it was a little unusual that they sent us to the other church for Daily Vacation Bible School, since we had already gone to DVBS time at our own church. We grumbled a little about going to “The Cong”—our nickname for the Congregational Church down by the lake. And I can’t say we were thrilled when we finally figured out why Mama and Daddy were so anxious to get rid of the three of us that week either.

But one afternoon when we came home clutching construction paper drawings with pasted-on cotton balls for clouds, Daddy met us on the back porch. He was grinning.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” he said.

With all my heart I hoped that it would be strawberries and cream, but it was just another brother. That made the score three boys to one girl. Not a good ratio.

 

Hygge: Nesting in…

One of autumn’s coziest aspects is nesting–and what could be more inviting than a crackling fire on the beach, a Thermos of steaming hot chocolate, and the sound of loons on one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes?   by Sharon Sheppard

The Danes have a special word for it that’s become trendy in the U.S. in recent months.  And since my blog partner Mary (the City Cousin) and I (the Country Cousin) are both Minnesotans and half Danish by birth, we decided that fall is a perfect time to feature Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga or HUEgah, depending on whom you ask.

Though Hygge defies a tidy definition, it involves the art of savoring coziness—getting comfortable, being present in the moment, taking pleasure in simple things–soothing things.   Scandinavians are big on candlelight, sweets, music, board games, hot drinks, comfy sweaters, and wool socks, and more…

*Cooking food the slow way, often doing it with others, and enjoying the process.

*Savoring hot homemade soups and pastries, especially as the days grow shorter and temperatures begin to sink.

*Adjusting the lighting to a soft glow.  (Though Americans immediately think: fire hazard! Danes have lit candles in offices, school classrooms, and places of business.)

*Spending carefree evenings with family or friends, talking or playing board games.

*Nurturing a sense of feeling safe and shielded from the world.

In a survey among Danes, a team of researchers asked what things they associated with the word hygge.  Hot drinks topped the list, and candles came in second.

The Danes love tea, hot chocolate, or mulled wine, but their favorite hot drink is coffee.  They are the world’s fourth biggest coffee drinkers, consuming around 33 percent more per capita than Americans.

I come from a family of coffee-drinkers. My mother’s parents emigrated from Denmark, and I remember asking her one time, “Mama, on what day of the week was I born?”

She said, “You were born on a Saturday, just in time for afternoon coffee.”

With hygge as a defining feature of their culture, it’s no accident that Denmark consistently ranks as one of the top three happiest countries worldwide, according to the Happiness Research Institute, an independent think tank focusing on well-being, happiness, and quality of life in countries throughout the world.

Similarly, there seems to be a growing hunger in the U.S. for nurturing a love of simple joys.  And in a world of growing turmoil, it strikes me as a healthy trend.

Autumn is a great time to start.

 

Perspectives on Patience

PERSPECTIVES on PATIENCE… by Lacey, age 18, this month’s guest writer

As I live through my short life here on earth, I am constantly learning and experimenting with myself through trial and error, as we all do. Lately, I have become more aware of my recurring struggle with patience. Those who know me well know that patience is not something that comes easy to me.

While on a trip to Montana this summer I had the spontaneous urge to try stone balancing. This not only takes a tremendous amount of patience, it also forces the body to give all its attention to the feel of the stones and their placement. As I experimented with stone balancing, I noticed that the process made me go into a sort of meditative state, and to my surprise, I didn’t lose my temper when the whole stack fell down.

I found something that I enjoy and that also takes an incredible amount of patience. This may not seem like a big deal to some people on my friends list, but to me I see this as a success story. I am beyond proud of my little discovery and excited to move forward with this art form. This photo shows one of my stacks from today.

 

The Big Lake

The Big Lake
This summer has truly been the lazy, hazy days of summer. I, Mary
Zigan, have just returned from another Mille Lacs Lake get-away. In
Minnesota, it is the right thing to do…and it reminds me of my childhood and
all the fun times with family.
I thought of some more of the memories I wrote in my Memoir, An
Upside-Down Heart, and would like to share them with you:
Sundays in the summer after morning chores, we could hardly wait to
head north. Usually, my sister Sharon and I would be singing in the car all
the way because our first stop was the little community church in Cove Bay
of Mille Lacs Lake. When we walked into the church– typically, about 15
people made up the congregation—invariably somebody would say, “Here
come the Sorensen sisters. That’s our music for today.” We would proudly
sing one or two hymns.
Mother would always bring food to the lake in order to add to
everyone else’s supply in the family. One thing we kids dreaded was the
“one hour restriction” after lunch to go swimming. No one was allowed to
break this rule! We would walk through the woods to get to the Big Lake
for swimming. The big lake was the larger side of Mille Lacs and had a
public access with more beach front. We detested the blood suckers we
encountered while swimming, but knew they would come right off with salt
when we returned to the cabin. At one time or another, all of my cousins,
Jan, Gloria, KD, Pat, Kaye, Dean, Jack, and Jay, played in those waters.
We often ended up with beet-red sunburns, but, Noxema gave some relief!
Our times spent at the lake with cousins and family are happy
remembrances.
For more about my Memoir: mzigan2442@gmail.com

Thoughts on Growth

Hi, it’s Mary’s grandson Brad back with thoughts from Alaska.

The other morning, my phone showed me a photo, reminding me that it had happened exactly five years ago on that day.  The picture was of my friend Aaron on the 4th of July.  We had both been living in South Korea for about six months, and for the holiday we had decided to hike to an observation deck on a mountain to see the fireworks being shot off on one of the US Army bases nearby.  The photo isn’t anything spectacular, but I realized when I saw it the other day that it marked the beginning of my exploration into photography.  I remember specifically researching techniques that I wanted to try, and they had ended up working.  I was very proud.

There are many people who know me from my pre-Korea days when I had no particular artistic inclination. What I never actually realized is that most “talents” people have, artistic or otherwise, are really skills that have been developed over time. The person who made me see this, and in turn is due credit for what is now a large part of who I am, is my friend Aaron. He recognized the tiniest spark of interest buried inside of me, an interest I myself would’ve squashed because of doubt, and he encouraged me. His encouragement was almost like permission for me to be interested in something that wasn’t a “talent” and sent me on the path I’m on today. Aaron and photography taught me that we aren’t confined by what we are today. We can continue to adapt, change, and become better and more whole people by deciding to take baby steps each and every day. Think about this the next time you put yourself or anybody else into a box because of what you perceive them to be, and good golly, encourage them. You never know how important it will be in their life.

Just for fun, here’s a more recent 4th of July photo, taken in Juneau, Alaska.

Live it Up!

Live it UP!

By Sharon Sheppard

A scary thing happened the other day.  My daughter and her two sons were at my house, and before one of them was going to leave, he said, “I wonder if it’s snowing?”

All three of them whipped out smart phones and started checking their weather apps.  Then before any of them had found an answer to the question, the younger son said, “I suppose we could look out the window.”

He walked over to the window, opened the blinds, and said, “Yep.  It’s snowing.”

It’s scary because we’ve become a culture that tends to put more stock in technology than in reality.

This is not going to be a technology-dissing essay, just a reminder to you and to myself that life is precious.  Lately I’ve been asking myself how I want to spend the rest of it.

Okay, maybe I’ll indulge in just a teeny bit of tech dissing.

David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah, observed that “Through Twitter or Facebook or email, someone in your social network is contacting you in some way all of the time.”

Do I really want to spend a good share of my time checking and responding to messages? Or are there some personal relationships that could benefit from more focused, face-to-face time?

This quote might seem like stating the obvious, but Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

So my point is this: How will you and I wish we’d spent our days when we come to the end of life?  Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself:

  • Am I living life to the fullest? If, at the end of my time here on earth, someone were to hand me a tally of the number of hours I’d spent doing various activities, would I have some regrets?
  • Will I have spent time doing what I love?
  • Am I devoting my life to things that matter?
  • Am I living in a way that reflects my values and goals?

Admittedly, we all have to do some things we don’t love doing.  It’s one of the facts of life.  But there are things we can do to enhance our life experiences–even those that we’re not crazy about.

Here are a few suggestions I’ve gleaned from others (and am trying to put into practice) for living more mindfully and meaningfully:

STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN!

Slow down!  Sharpen your 5 senses.

Take time to eat slowly, savoring the taste and texture and aroma of your food.

Treat yourself to wonderful music that lifts your spirits.

Inhale the wonders of God’s creation, savoring the magnificent sights and sounds and smells, enjoying them to the full.

Treat your body with care, eating well and relieving tension by stretching and exercising.

Treat your mind with respect, focusing on positive, wholesome, inspiring thoughts and stimulating ideas.

Practice gratitude.  It does wonders for the disposition.

Annie Dillard says, “Spend the afternoon.  You can’t take it with you.”

 

From the wisdom of the Bible, here are some verses that have been helpful to me:

For those times when I’ve had to do hard things, like picking out my husband’s tombstone, I’ve repeated my favorite verse:  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:13

And for those times when life seems difficult, like when I left the home my husband and I had shared for most of our marriage so I could be closer to my children, I kept reminding myself of these verses:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…” 

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

REMEMBER:  God is good.  Life is short.  Live it fully!

 

Daydreaming: Cheap Fun…

Daydreaming:  Cheap Fun . . .

By Sharon Sheppard

Rustling leaves of orange, amber, and magenta scud across the walk, begging to be picked up.  I bend down and choose the most brilliant specimens: birch, boxelder, and assorted sizes and colors of maple leaves–too appealing to pass up–and bring them inside to savor.

My thoughts wander to school days when we used to gather leaves for projects, learn to identify the trees that bore them, and carefully mount them with paste on colored construction paper.  Today as I reminisce about the simple, low-tech/no-tech autumn days of long ago, I catch myself yearning for some of those homespun pleasures.

It gets dark early in October in northern Minnesota, but inside it’s cozy and warm. I’m back in the kitchen of the home where I grew up, seated with my parents and brothers at our gate-leg table.  I can smell again the fragrant aroma of hot loaves of homemade bread being pulled out of the oven of the wood range, roasted grouse my dad or one of my brothers has hunted, potatoes dug from our garden, along with string beans Mother canned last summer.  Warm pumpkin pie for dessert.  Everything is homemade.

Good-natured kidding.  Silly laughter.

Simple joys.  Homemade fun.

No extra charge for the reminiscing.

We need time to dream, time to remember, and time to reach the infinite.  Time to be.    Author Gladys Taber (1899-1980)

 

There’s No Place Like Home

HOME, SWEET ROWDY HOME

 

By Sharon Sheppard

 

Funny how childhood homes tend to shrink after you’ve been away for a while.

The last time I visited the small house where my brothers and I grew up—years after it had been sold to a classmate of mine—on a visit to my hometown I stopped to see her bearing a plate of muffins.

When I stepped into the cozy room we used to call the breakfast nook, it was only half the size I’d remembered.  A wave of homesickness swept over me, bringing a flood of nostalgic memories–sensory details that will forever spell home:  The aroma of Mother’s homemade cinnamon rolls hot from the oven, coupled with the smell of fresh coffee.  The tangy scent of her freshly canned pin cherry jelly.

The rhythmic bounce of the tennis ball my brothers dribbled basketball-style on the living room linoleum.  Halting notes plunked out on our out-of-tune piano as I practiced for my Tuesday lesson with May Johnson.  The whine of the saw rig just outside the kitchen window, filling the crisp fall air with the fragrant smell of fresh sawdust when Dad and my brothers put up our winter’s supply of wood.

How did the six of us ever get around the table in that tiny closet of a room, I asked myself.  And the adjoining kitchen—where did we find space for a bulky wood range, a sink with a pump, cupboards, a wood box, and our gate-leg table with six chairs.  That was before Dad enclosed the back porch, allowing us to spill out into the tiny room we grandly christened the breakfast nook.

New homes in the neighborhood where I live now boast thousands of square feet of floor space and include separate rooms for crafts, exercise, and media—whole rooms dedicated to TV viewing–with humongous screens, flanked by enormous, overstuffed sofas with built-in beverage holders.

Curiously, during our growing up years I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us that our little house was crowded.  My three brothers shared the second floor—one open, not-too-large room.  They sometimes complained about a skim of ice in the water glass on the nightstand on winter mornings, and claimed they occasionally woke up to snowdrifts at the foot of their beds, though I think they exaggerated on both counts.

On the other hand, as the only girl, I slept on the living room couch where it was warmer, thanks to the barrel stove.  One evening as I undressed for bed, I backed up a bit too close to the wood-burning heater.  For the next several weeks I sported a tattoo on my bottom that read Farwell, Ozmun & Kirk—the name of the factory that manufactured the iron stove door.

Some time around my twelfth birthday my dad enclosed the back porch, and a seven-by-eight-foot portion of it became all mine, the haven of quietness and privacy I’d always craved.

Known for their hospitality, our parents, Martin and Esther Anderson, opened our home to friends and acquaintances 24 hours a day.  Nearly every day we were blessed with drop-in company for morning or afternoon coffee (or both).  There was always room for one more unexpected guest at the kitchen table.  My mother produced an endless supply of freshly-baked pies, cakes, and cookies, along with a listening, empathetic ear that wouldn’t quit.  No wonder people kept coming!

With its full component of leaves, our dining room table could accommodate a pretty good-sized crowd for Sunday dinners.  Our parents invited those who were lonely or in need of a good meal to join us for the beef roast or baked chicken that had been left in the oven on low heat while we attended church across the street.

During hard times, transients hopped off the train, and, as though guided by an underground network map pinpointing the homes of gullible townspeople, they mysteriously made a beeline for our house, where they could count on a home-cooked meal our mother gamely dished out.

Ten-year-old Judy Beggs, a more gregarious kid than most and blessed with the Beggs sense of humor, regularly dropped in at our house and most of the other homes in town.  Once my mother said to her, “I’ll bet you’ve been upstairs and downstairs in every house in town.”

“No,” Judy replied, “I’ve never been in Spillanes’ attic or Eslers’ basement.”

Though physical space was at a premium, we loved it when aunts and uncles and cousins came from Milaca or The City for the weekend.  When our Danish relatives came to visit, the house brimmed with raucous laughter, an abundance of food, and a repertoire of maudlin stories that slipped into Danish just when the plot was getting good.

Unlike modern homes, ours didn’t have a media room.  The Philco radio didn’t take up much space.  But my brothers had a well-used indoor basketball court, a.k.a. the living/dining room.  I don’t know why my mother put up with this, but the boys had permanently mounted a hoop above the door lintel (the ring off a Folger’s coffee can), and, dodging furniture, they rowdily raced from one end of the room to the other, endlessly dribbling the ball and shooting.

Long shots arced over the dining room table and sometimes ricocheted off the wall dangerously close to windows or the china closet.  More than a few zapped me as I sat at the piano, stumbling through Handel’s Largo or a Chopin prelude, trying my best to ignore the din.

One of the boys customarily doubled as sportscaster, keeping up a dramatic running account of the game for an imaginary radio listening audience.  “Anderson shoots from the center line…and …he scores!”

To distinguish one Anderson from another, Ron and Paul and Carl often adopted the names of their favorite Minneapolis Lakers heroes: George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and Whitey Skoog.

One of the most appealing advantages of small town living was that you could walk to any place you’d want to go in ten minutes or less, and you’d know everybody you met along the way.

We lived two blocks from Bailey’s Grocery Store, four blocks from school, and four blocks from Pine Mountain Lake, where we fished and swam and whiled away the long and lazy days of a northern Minnesota summer.

During those simpler times, the pace was slower, the entertainment less structured.  A summer afternoon might include a barefoot walk on the railroad tracks to pick tiger lilies, a leisurely hunt for agates along the road to the beach, or a trap line check to see how many gophers we’d caught.  We could bring the gopher tails in to Backus State Bank and collect our bounty from Banker Aaron Zaffke–a dime a tail.                           Evenings we’d rustle up enough kids for a neighborhood game of Hide and Seek, Tin Can Alley, or Annie Annie Over until it was too dark to see the ball.  Afterwards we might watch the northern lights or punch holes in the lid of a Mason jar and catch enough lightning bugs to use for a night light.

Come winter, we skated, tobogganed out on Old Baldy, drove across the lake on the ice, and skied with a tow rope behind a car on icy country roads.

So when Lorraine Coon recently called to say that our old house was being torn down, memories of all those years of fun made my heart plummet.  How could they? I wondered.

Over the next few days I commiserated with my brothers by email and phone.  We reminisced about fish fries, practical jokes, Christmas Eves, and the notches hacked into the woodwork to mark our annual growth spurts.

I suppose I’d fantasized throughout the years that I could always go back to that house and nothing would have changed.  The attic would still be filled with old letters and castoff clothes.  The notches we’d carved into the woodwork by the stairway door would still be there, and I could see how tall I’d been the year I turned ten.  I could walk into the living room with its frosted glass panel above the big window and the etched scene in the window of the front door, and sit down at the upright piano and play one more song by ear.  “Love Lifted Me,” number 98 in the old brown hymnal.  I wouldn’t need the music.

The house we remembered wasn’t the one that was short on space, but the one that was long on love.  One that rang with music and laughter and wholesome fun.

As my brother Paul said, “The house might be gone, but nothing can take away our memories of the wonderful love we shared, and the godly values we learned there.”

It might be a cliché, but home, as it turns out, really is where the heart is.