In Need of a Friend

August 30th, 2011


I moved from Washington, DC, to Salem, Oregon, during the summer of 1979.  My husband, Bill, had finished his commitment with the US Navy and found a job in the state that he fell in love with during his college years. I was so naively “up” for this 2,700-mile moving adventure, I thought little about what I was leaving behind, which happened to be my entire biological family in New England, including the maternal grandparents of my one-year-old daughter, Emily, plus friends and a support group in DC.  We said “adios” to everyone, and our little family, our dog, and my youthful ignorance piled into our Plymouth Volare and headed west.

When you move from a crowded big city to wide-open spaces, it’s only natural to want land, right? So, lucky us, we found a nice home on acreage about seven miles outside of Salem with only one visible neighbor.  The adventures continued through that summer – we enjoyed working around our new house, exploring sights around town, and taking day trips to the Oregon coast . . . then fall arrived.  Mountains of pumpkins arrived daily at the cannery down the road, the smell of wood burning stoves filled the Willamette Valley air, and the stuff Oregon is famous for began to fall. The rains came and with them dark clouds also began forming in my personal life.

I had no friends. Other than my husband, my daughter, my dog, and our realtor, I did not feel connected to anyone. Our one neighbor was a single woman who worked full time. We never saw her. There were no sidewalks out in the country where I could take my daughter for walks to get to know those far-away neighbors. I did meet other moms and babies at toddler activities around town, but they were not shopping for new friends and didn’t adopt us.

At 27 years of age, I began learning how important it is to have a network of people close by who KNOW you? I longed for people to interact with, to share a meal with, to gripe with, or to just run into on an errand about town. Our happy little family was kind of anonymous in the very “lived-here-forever” town of Salem. Mostly, though, I needed a best girlfriend.

We managed to meet some of our neighbors that first year, and without exception, they were “salt of the earth” type people, so kind and good. These wise women sensed right away that I needed a social life, and began inviting me to different activities that they attended. By the time those pumpkins were showing up at the local cannery the next year, I had joined a weekly bible study, which also had a children’s program for Emily. It was there that I met my dear friend of the last thirty-one years, Dixie.

Sharing intimate feelings about God’s word is a perfect way to get to the heart of a person. Dixie and I began visiting a bit after class, and monthly luncheons gave us more time to get to know each other.  I got my best girlfriend by the time we finished our study that year.

Dixie has helped me laugh when I took life too seriously; she’s helped me understand my children and my husband; she has listened with great interest to every story I’ve shared; and she has encouraged me in every endeavor.  This three-decade friendship is one of the greatest gifts of my life and even though we live in separate towns now, the closeness continues.

This experience of making connections in a new town helped me understand what my daughter, Elizabeth, was going through when she moved with her husband and one-year-old to Seattle last December. Now, I’m praying that there is another “Dixie” out there for her.

3 comments » | Life-Story Writing Class

Life Story Writing

August 30th, 2011

IMG_0950I’m taking a life-story writing class. The class meets for six weeks.  Each week, we’re to write something from our own life related to an assigned prompt. Our instructor is an enthusiastic writer, who just moved to town. I believe her to be a divine being, because her gift of this class has united some precious people with amazing stories to tell.

Every student in the class is there for a different reason, but they all enjoy writing in some way.  I signed up because I’m a hospice volunteer, who’s been asked to help patients tell their life stories. Noble, isn’t it?  Well, after two classes, I’ve gotten a bit selfish.  I’m excited to see what I can produce from my own life as well. I can’t get enough of this class!

I’d like to share some of my stories on this blog.  Thanks for your patience.

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A Verbena Visit

August 17th, 2011

Sharing a few photos from Verbena’s visit to Nana and Papa’s last week.

Out to lunch with Mommy and Nana.

Out to lunch with mommy and nana.

Papa always has to measure her.  Verbena has grown two inches since Easter.

Two inches taller since Easter!

Some time was spent at the playground.

Time at the playground.

Verbena and Papa pick blueberries.

Picking blueberries.

Another lunch out with Mommy and Nana.  Verbena loves Mexican food!

Mexican food, yum!

Big girl haircut.

Big girl haircut.

Coloring time with Papa.

A little left-handed coloring.

Sometimes you need your shades first thing in the morning!

Shades first thing in the morning!

Papa made Bean a play house.

A cardboard play house.

Bean and Papa toasting with frozen yogurt.  Cheers!

Cheers! A frozen-yogurt toast to a great visit!

5 comments » | Grandmother

Summer Solstice

June 21st, 2011
Summer arrives in the northwest.

Summer arrives in the northwest.

My husband, Bill, has a whole life that I don’t know about between 4:30 and 6:00 AM. While I’m still dreaming, he’s up making coffee, feeding the dog, watering plants, grabbing the newspaper and getting a head start on things for work – a whirlwind of activity! Today, however, Bill eased up on the tasks and took his coffee and newspaper out on the deck to wait for the summer sun to arrive. Gosh, I wish that I had joined him!

Hoping you all make time to celebrate and enjoy summer’s arrival today!

2 comments » | Thoughts on Life

Everybody Has A Mother Teresa

May 18th, 2011
Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

Lately, I’ve allowed myself the luxury of reflecting on youthful misconceptions that I had about life. It’s kind of like checking back with young Susie to see if older Susie has made any progress. My younger self spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about becoming famous and respected for an outstanding talent, yet-to-be-determined. My youthful pursuits, based on these dreams of fame and recognition, quickly petered out, and I believe that I know why. They required hard work that I wasn’t willing to give (too lazy). They didn’t use my natural gifts or interests. And, most importantly, they were based on a VERY shallow value system. I had connected fame to worth.

What makes a person truly great? I thought about famous people, whose greatness cannot be denied. Mother Theresa came to mind. Her profound faith and humble, unselfish devotion to the poor, follows Christ’s guidelines to the letter, “Whoever wishes to become great among you, shall be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26)  I thought of Mahatma Gandhi, his peaceful, non-violent pursuit of independence for India is a playbook for any good revolution and his words are priceless diamonds, that still move us to do the right thing. Helen Keller, who overcame her own disabilities to devote her life to helping others who were blind and deaf, left a profound mark on the world. When I think about the level of frustration Helen must have felt to learn one letter, I wonder why I don’t speak several languages? There is no denying that these people are outstanding. The world is a better place because of them and countless others like them, but did they change MY world? Their examples have certainly inspired me and I might benefit from their work, but were they personally “great” to ME? No, they weren’t.

Who are the famous “greats” in my life?  Who are the people that served me, gave me words of wisdom, and showed me how to persevere through handicaps and trials?  Well, they are individuals who have the same qualities of the famous varieties previously mentioned. They care about others and they have a deep understanding of what is truly right. The choices of their lives are good examples for me.  The choices of their lives have directly impacted me in a positive way. They were/are joyful to their core, despite life’s circumstances. However, unlike the famous versions, I don’t have to read about them. I can or could touch them, talk to them, and observe their goodness first-hand. They are or were humble, accessible, loving, ready to give, ready to help, and ready to overlook and forgive. These people are as great, in my mind, as any of the aforementioned heroes. I didn’t always realize how incredible they are and have been to me, but thankfully, I’ve lived long enough to know better.

I realized many years ago that I am not that unique. By that, I mean if I’ve experienced something basic to being human, many others have experienced the same thing. So, I suspect that everyone has probably had a “Mother Theresa” or two in their life. Thank goodness, huh? Naturally, this research of the mind and heart has made me wonder if I will be a “great” for someone? I’m hoping to.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” -Mother Teresa

“Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.” -Mahatma Gandhi

“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” -Helen Keller

4 comments » | Thoughts on Life

Verbena Has Her Own Style

May 3rd, 2011

My granddaughter, Verbena, went with mommy and daddy to get ice cream on Friday EVENING. As with many toddlers, Bean has realized that she can choose what she wears, and she’s quite insistent once she makes her choice. Friday night’s attire was a winter hat, quilted purple jacket, and yellow, flower-shaped, sunglasses.

Great place to watch what's happening, but how much can she see with those sunglasses?

Great place to watch what's happening, but how much can she see?

With sunglasses perched perfectly on her nose, Verbena sat serenely in her car seat for the whole trip downtown.  Miss Bean and the “glasses” toddled into the shop and got comfy in a stool at the counter to wait for dessert to arrive.  When the creamy treat comes, the outfit doesn’t affect her ability to enjoy it . . . at all!

This laugh brought to you by Verbena and her patient parents. I want this in a 5x7.

This laugh brought to you by Verbena and her patient parents. I want this in a 5x7.

The shop lighting does look bright. Perhaps, it was a good idea to wear those sunglasses.  Also, very wise to keep your head warm in case you get that head rush, which is common with freezing cold ice cream. What a brilliant child!

3 comments » | Grandmother

Grandpa Bill Turns 60!

March 17th, 2011
What better way to say Happy Birthday - a birthday cake with a fireworks display.Bill’s birthday cake and fireworks display.

There was another milestone birthday during the first two months of 2011 in our family. Grandpa Bill turned 60 on February 13th. We gathered at Black Butte Ranch near Sisters, Oregon, for the weekend. Bill loves that place, so it was a perfect location to step into a new decade.

Heard the bike ride was a killer, but Grandpa and Auntie Em still managed to smile for the camera.

Heard the bike ride was a killer, but Grandpa and Auntie Em still managed to smile for the camera.

The hustle and bustle of packing and driving to the resort requires a commitment; travel times for everyone varied from three to five hours. However, as soon as you arrive, preparation efforts are forgotten and relaxation and rejuvenation begin. I always wonder why we don’t visit the ranch more often.

Verbena loved the six adults to one toddler ratio of the weekend!

Verbena enjoyed the six-adults-to-one-toddler ratio of the weekend.

We walked and walked – all of us – altogether. Some biked, some swam, some napped, some read, some watched Elmo DVDs. We dined at the lodge on the “birth” day and freaked Grandpa out with his sparkler topped birthday cake. A darn good trip that felt like it ended too soon.

One of our walks. Grandpa is taking the photo.

Grandpa captured one of our walks.

Grandpa Bill . . . we love you and we love the way you chose to celebrate!

The mountain the night of Grandpa's birthday

Bill's birthday view.

6 comments » | Wife

Eighty-Two Years Young!

March 12th, 2011
Pap Pap on his Doodle Bug.  We bought him a helmet and he promises he'll wear it.

Pap Pap on his Doodle Bug. We bought him a helmet and he promises he'll wear it.

Visited my husband’s father in Sacramento last weekend. Pap Pap, as he is known, is the original “Energizer Bunny” – he just doesn’t stop.   At an age when most would give up taking care of his several acre yard, Pap Pap is fastidious about all of it . . . his lawn, flower beds, vegetable garden and even the gravel in his driveway. It’s a beautiful place and the many birds that frequent his yard agree.

In his “spare” time, my father-in-law also maintains several vehicles. Besides his lawn tractor, he owns a Corolla, a pristine World War II jeep, and a “Doodle Bug” mini motorcycle.  The trusty Corolla is the usual around-town transportation, the jeep is great for a summer drive or the next Veteran’s Day parade, and the “Doodle Bug” (my favorite) is used for the half mile trip Pap Pap makes everyday to get his mail. He must give the neighbors a chuckle as he tears down the road on his daily mail run. To keep up his “rascal” image, Pap Pap is on the lookout for a pink, flowery basket to replace the cardboard box currently on the front.

Verbena's grandfather Bill and great grandfather Pap Pap. Notice the resemblance?

Grandfather Bill and great grandfather Pap Pap.

If you’re ever in the Sacramento area and you spy a feisty old geezer driving a grey Corolla, a World War II jeep, or a red and black Doodle Bug, all bearing US Marine Corps emblems, give the guy a wave. You’ve just encountered one of the hardest-working and most devoted family men in the country.

8 comments » | Thoughts on Life

Verbena’s Second Ash Wednesday

March 10th, 2011
Verbena waiting for mass to begin.

Verbena waiting for mass to begin.

Last year, Verbena and I attended mass on Ash Wednesday, just the two of us. Bean was about five months old. I remember the preparations before we left home to make the 8 AM mass. I remember wheeling her into church in her stroller, hoping that device would give me extra hands. I remember juggling her throughout mass trying to keep her happy, and I remember the kind and caring churchgoers that cheered us on. Ash Wednesday is a treasured tradition for me.  I felt so grateful that I was able to attend that day with my precious new granddaughter.  Getting ashes in 2010 will probably always be my most favorite.

Verbena enjoying her view of the baptismal pool.

Verbena enjoying her view of the baptismal pool.

This year, Bean attended mass with her mommy. What a difference a year makes!  She walked into church all by herself and, for a good while, sat in her pew like a “little catholic angel” (her mom’s words).  Bean enjoyed watching the school children file in, and the school children enjoyed Verbena’s giggle at a very quiet moment in the mass. Verbena refrained from swimming in the baptismal pool, but she never gave up asking if she could, from time to time. Mommy was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the whole experience.

A perfect little "Catholic" angel.

A perfect little "Catholic" angel.

Verbena’s abilities and behavior at this time are just part of a normal year’s growth and development for a toddler, but it feels phenomenal to the family that loves her. Watching Verbena become Verbena is a movie we don’t tire of. Old traditions like Ash Wednesday feel brand new when you view them through the eyes of a young person. Their reactions are not predictable, and their reactions are very honest, which adds a lot of fun to everything.

I wonder what Verbena is giving up for Lent?

6 comments » | Grandmother

Great Grandma’s Birthday

February 22nd, 2011
Great Grandma's birthday invitation. The photo is her high school yearbook picture.

Great Grandma's birthday invitation. The photo is her high school yearbook picture.

Great Grandmother, Virginia, turned 80 on the 25th of January. Verbena, her mommy, Auntie Em, and myself (Grandma Susie) traveled to New England to celebrate with the family.

L to R: My brother Jim, myself, Birthday Girl, sister Alyce, brother John

My mother with her four children. L to R, Jim, myself, Mom, Alyce, and John

The birthday party began with a mass at the only church my mother has ever belonged to in her 80 years. A soloist sang “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” one of my mom’s favorite hymns, and the priest waved the vocalist on to complete every verse, as a tribute.  Family participated in the mass, and Father announced her birthday to the congregation and commended my mother on her many years of service to the church. Attending mass was a very peaceful, calming way to begin the festivities – a kind of centering experience.

Great grandma Virginia with her birthday cake and favors.

Great grandma Virginia with her birthday cake and favors.

Then, it was on to the dinner party at a local restaurant.  My brother, Jim, toasted my mom eloquently. He said, “When I went to order the cake, the bakery asked what name they should put on it?” He answered, “That’s a hard one because she has worn so many hats in her life, and she’s been many things to many people.” Her name is Virginia, but she’s also mom, grandma, great grandma, sister, friend, GL, Blah Blah, Viggie, and, for a brief time in the 70’s, she was actually referred to as “Ginger.” Jim played some treasured Polish songs that my mom and her sister and friends sang effortlessly. Most of us, however, struggled through them to honor the birthday lady.  Jim also accompanied the crowd when we sang “Happy Birthday.”

All the great grandchildren.  L to R:  Connor, Keegan, Sam, Verbena, and Sophia

All the great grandchildren. L to R: Connor, Keegan, Sam, Verbena, and Sophia

We had many family gatherings during our visit. One thing I admire about my east-coast relations is they always make time to get together, no matter what family crisis/conflict is currently in the works. My brother, John, hosts dinners every Tuesday night, with few exceptions, for my parents, siblings, spouses, nieces and their children, and some adopted family joins in as well. These dinners are more than a ten-year tradition, that I suspect is very rare in America today.

Traveling in New England in January isn’t for the faint-hearted and we did have some weather-related challenges, but being there to celebrate my mom’s birthday and to visit with our whole east-coast clan was worth it. Have a great 80th year, GL!

3 comments » | Thoughts on Life

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