Like No Other Place

A few days before he died, I sat by Grandpa Jones’ bed in the nursing home. He fiddled with the blankets, frustrated that his life was nearing an end. He wanted to be home. He wanted things how they used to be. The silence was painful for me, and since I don’t believe in silence I started the conversation with a question. “Grandpa, what was the favorite place you ever lived?” 

Without hesitation he answered; “Survey Valley.” 

I wasn’t surprised. The Survey Valley is in the Sandhills of Nebraska, north of Ashby. It is the place they moved to, by covered wagon, in 1913. Grandpa was eight. He grew up there, he married there, and his heart really never left. He wrote about it in his books; the people and the places. 

From 1978-2005 the places I lived in Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota all led to a frequent traveling of Highway 2 through the Sandhills to get to Grandpa and Grandma’s. Even now, when we travel to Rapid City, we travel via Highway 2 most of the time, just from the opposite direction. So indirectly, I have developed a love of the Sandhills. It feels like home. It is the place of my roots. My Daddy was born in this sod house in the sandhills during the depression. My Uncle Jim is the boy in the picture. 

I remember once, when I was about seven the family made a trek one Saturday up to the site of the old sod house. It wasn’t there anymore. If I remember right, we found some foundations on the property and an old garbage dump. What I remember most though about that day was the feeling that pervaded the air. It seemed everyone was a little excited mixed with sadness. Everyone wanted to see the place where. . . 

Last September my sister and I drove Highway 2 on our way to, and from Grandma’s birthday party. I realized that I didn’t remember traveling the Sandhills in the fall. Maybe it was just the fact that the Sandhills never look quite the same any two years. This year, in particular the colors were amazing. Oh, not the bright colors you see out east, but subtle hues. It was awe-inspiring.

September Sandhills

Yesterday I spent a lovely sweet hour reading a book I ordered. The name is Like No Other Place – The Sandhills of Nebraska by David A. Owen. My cousin Gordon and his wife Jan brought the book to the reunion and I really wanted one of my own. Mr. Owen is from Connecticut and spent a year in the Sandhills learning the people and the land. He took pictures and then he put together this fabulous book. I could hear my Grandpa talking as I read the stories in the book. I can tell you, that if Grandpa and Grandma Jones were living, they would not only own this book, they would be its best promoters. Grandpa liked books with lots of pictures. Grandma loved the Sandhills too.

Gordon is pictured in the book which is fitting. I’ve always felt that Gordon is the most like Grandpa. He is the oldest grandson and benefited from the most years around Grandpa. He and Jan moved their family to the middle of the Sandhills. I still remember the pride in Grandpa’s voice when he spoke of their move. He was sad they would be farther away from him but oh my, there was a bit of jealousy that he couldn’t be the one moving there.

So, my recommendation today is that you go to Amazon, or your local bookstore and buy this book. Whether you have ever been to the Sandhills or not it will be interesting for you to read. I think he caught the essence of what the Sandhills are as well as what it means to be a Sandhiller.

Change is Life and Life is Change

Change is hard. I don’t know anyone that particularly likes change. I know I don’t. Well, maybe I should rephrase that. I don’t like bad change. But—and it’s a big but—who defines bad change. I only want good changes. Changes that will keep us all the way we are.

 But is that good? I guess not.

 I was all for the change of getting married five years ago. But that led to change that I didn’t much like; the change of living fifteen hundred miles from my family. The change of not being there every time one of my nieces and nephews celebrate a birthday. The toughness of going home and seeing the changes in everyone as they grow older. The wonderful change of marriage brought about difficult change. But I didn’t for one minute entertain the idea that I should refuse the loving husband God was offering me. Hello!!!

So many of the changes we experience are related to sin. The sin of Adam caused death; the aging process can be blamed on him too. The thistles are his fault; the pain of childbirth is his fault. Man. . . he really blew it. Others are given to us by God. Some to make us happier, some to make us grow, some just because that is how he created things to work.

 I have been sitting on my porch a good bit this weekend. The tree in the big yard is starting to change. Already. I know it’s only August, but a few over-achiever leaves have already changed to orange and as I watch they start dropping in the breeze, floating to the ground. Sometimes two drop at once.

Our house in North Carolina has seen a lot of change the past 4 years. Emptying out, painting, scraping, gutting the bathroom and starting fresh. There’s the porch, of course and the new siding and windows. Our last big improvement was the new flooring. It almost looks like a new house.

 But yet, the memories are still there for my husband. We kept the picture of Mary the mother of Jesus that has been on the wall ever since Bruce remembers. He thinks it was a wedding gift for his parents. It’s not our style, but its part of the history of this house. The house his parents built when they married. So we work at making this our house while preserving the memories. We refer to it almost always as “Mama’s house.” To my husband that’s what it will always be.

There are moments as we sort through the remnants of his parents’ life in this house that I sense the deep sadness in my husband. He misses his parents. He misses the way it was when Mama still lived here. We still keep things just because it’s too hard to part with. Sometimes the things we find prompt a story or two about growing up in this house. Stories about his Daddy taking them camping when he was switching shifts and had a long weekend.  Stories about the huge garden they grew, the garden that was essential to feeding four growing boys.  I love that. I want to know how it was for my husband. I want to see how the people in his life made him who he is.

The change I hate the most is the change of saying goodbye. I hate it. I hate moving because I have to say goodbye to my friends. But I always remind myself that if I hadn’t left the last place I wouldn’t have met the people I am presently saying goodbye to. So, I tell myself when I’m faced with another move,  maybe in a few weeks I’ll have new friends, new people I won’t want to say goodbye to. It usually helps put things in perspective.

In this world of change I’m thankful  for the one thing I know won’t change.

God.

 God is immutable. He cannot change. How can perfection be changed?

But, What If?

I feel like a four-year-old this morning. I’m in the “But, what if” stage. What if the publishers don’t want Book Two? What if I send it out and it’s rejected again and again? What if I try hard but not quite hard enough? I don’t have the money to publish another book the way we did the first one. Am I working hard enough on it?

Then I think, yes, but what if the publisher does accept it? Then I’m going to be doing this marketing for the rest of my life! And where has my life gone anyway! I’m going to be 50, yes, I said FIFTY in less than two years. My life is more than half over even with the best case scenario and I’m going to spend all of those years selling mysteries? Of course that’s only IF a publisher likes them. But, what if they don’t.

Then I’ll have to pursue a self-publishing route that is a little less expensive. But what if it isn’t out there. What if I don’t get as good of a product from a different self-publishing option. WinePress put out an awesome product. What if I use a different self-publishing company and the product is rotten. Then I’ll be frustrated and regretful.

What if I can’t get the next book printed at all. All of those people who are excitedly waiting for the next one will be disappointed. 

Well, as you can guess I didn’t sleep very well last night. There were too many what-if’s going through my head. I told my husband, “I’m afraid a publisher won’t take the book, and I’m afraid they will.”

His response, “well Miriam, remember what you often tell me. God is in charge of this anyway so I don’t need to worry about it.”  He had to go there didn’t he? I’m thankful for a wise husband. I’m thankful for enthusiastic readers and friends who encourage me. But, mostly I’m thankful for a God who knows all and can do all. He never has any “what if” moments.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13

Writers Group

One thing I have really missed since I got married and moved away from Rapid is my writers group. The group in Rapid City was instrumental in the development of my writing skills and in the completion of my book. Every month I went to the meeting, often with no writing to show for the month. However, whether I had written or not I came away with the reminder that I was a writer and I had a book to finish. Months would go by with no progress on my book but I still went to the meeting. I’m social, what can I say.

Through the conferences we hosted and even helping run a contest I learned more about the writing process. I also learned from people of diverse backgrounds. There were people of all political ideologies. There were people from various faiths. The things I heard weren’t always comfortable. We were there, though, to encourage each other in the writing process and in the meantime I made some dear friends. Friends I still miss.

In Florida I tried to find a group but I never did. Well, I found a group but it required getting on the interstate and driving in all of that traffic. I went once but never could quite get into the groove. Since we’ve lived in Newberry I haven’t been able to find a group. This spring after the conference in NC I came home to find a voice mail inviting me to a writers group in Newberry. I was thrilled. Leslie told me that they met once a month and read to a topic that they chose. You could also read something else if you wanted to.

It reminded me of Rapid so I made plans to go. Last night was the third meeting that I attended and I hosted it at my house. It was a blast. These five ladies are a conglomeration of ages but they are an encouraging group to be around. We end up in interesting discussions, sometimes with opposite opinions but it is a safe place to share our writing souls.

I am so thankful God put the Black Hills Writers Group in my life and I’m just as thankful for my little writers group in Newberry. Today I am in North Carolina sitting on my porch. I will be working on my book today. The goal is still to get it sent to a publisher the first of September. Please pray that the Lord will give me clear direction and will be opening the pathway for the book. 🙂

In My Heart There Rings A Melody

I love “favorites night” at church. Always have, always will. When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to shoot my hand up in the air and call out the number of my favorite song. It usually was an upbeat happy song, with a hallelujah or something for bolder people to call out.

When I first started playing the piano for church “favorites night” was a little scary. There were songs like “Jesus is Coming Again” with their impossible-to-play chorus. I dreamed of the day when someone, please won’t SOMEONE rewrite the music for the chorus of that song. It is just SO hard to play. Eventually though, I learned it and even got a thrill when I would accomplish the feat of making it through the chorus without any mistakes. At the proper tempo even! Amazing. Now I look at favorites as a challenge. There aren’t many songs in the hymnbook that are new to me but occasionally one will trip me up. It usually involves timing, never my forte since I play primarily by ear, secondarily by note.

Last night at church we had favorites and I realized another reason I love “favorites night”. As a child of a minister, PK in common vernacular, my life has revolved around church. Church is my culture and I certainly love going. I don’t feel right missing! The music is a highlight for me. But last night was a special blessing. After an initial song Pastor opened it up for favorites.

I can’t remember all of the songs but The Old Rugged Cross was one. I love playing that as a special, creating my own rendition, probably different each time I play it. It just takes me right back to my childhood. Another one was Onward Christian Soldiers which always reminds me of Vacation Bible School. Along with camp that was one of the highlights of my year as a child.

I played Servant’s Heart for the Offertory. It is a newer song. When I lived in Rapid City, before getting married we had a family in our church there for six years. They were Air Force so six years was a long time. They are from the Philippines and Arther led the singing for Sunday School. It was a rare Sunday that he wouldn’t choose Servant’s Heart. It was his favorite. So now, every time I hear, see, or play that song I think of Arthur Ortiz and the dear sweet family that I miss so much.

One other song we sang, Miss Barbara’s pick was Jesus is Coming Again. Miss Barbara’s hand shot up first and I almost giggled. This song always reminds me of my baby sister Vonda. (Sorry Vonda, you will always be my baby sister.) When she was little she misunderstood the words and she was always asking for the “Baby Soon” song. “Baby morning, Baby noon, Baby evening, it Baby soon.”

As I played it I got to the chorus. What? What is this? I stumbled along, trying to play the notes that had appeared in front of me. This was NOT how I remembered it. Someone had rewritten the chorus. Now it was in boring straight four-part harmony. None of the bouncy left-hand jumping from chord to chord thing. And I couldn’t play it. I found myself trying to revert to the way my mind remembered it. Of all the nerve. . . who would ever think of rewriting such an amazing piece of music. . .

Watermelon Memories

We bought a watermelon this evening. Yummo! I tell you what, there is nothing that spells SUMMER like a good watermelon. We also bought a cantaloupe!  I can’t buy watermelon and cantaloupe without thinking of my Grandpa Jones and the amazing melons he used to grow in Central Nebraska. Oh my. When it was a good year we were eating melons with every meal and for snacks. You just couldn’t eat them fast enough. We actually were staying there one fall when they had an especially productive year.

Another fun memory I have in regards to Watermelon happened the summer of 1973, the summer after my mother died. We were spending our week/weeks out at the ranch and Grandpa took us over to Uncle Jim’s place for the day. They were going to a 4-H meeting and invited us along. At the 4-H meeting they had a watermelon feed. There was a truck full of watermelons and the adults kept cutting watermelon as the kids kept eating. Somehow my cousin Vernon, his friend RP, and I got into a who-can-eat-the-most-watermelon-contest.

I am quite proud to say I won! I ate 13 1/2 pieces of watermelon and the contest ended not because we were done, but rather because they ran out of watermelon. Vernon ate 12 and I’m sorry RP, I don’t remember your count. Judging from how I felt after eating one large piece tonight I would NOT be able to repeat that performance today.

I remember the next spring when my Dad had us write a letter to our new mom-to-be I wrote about my watermelon eating feat. At eleven I apparently felt this was an accomplishment she needed to know about. She wrote back and told me that while she had never eaten that much watermelon she had eaten so much ice cream in one sitting it almost made her sick. With that one acknowledgement my new mother won my heart. I still remember the feeling that she did indeed understand me. She was a kindred spirit.

I am proud to say that I was right. Today is my Mom’s birthday. There are not enough words in this world to express exactly how much her coming to our home meant to me. She set things right in so many ways in my life and in our little family. I am so thankful for God’s ability to give us exactly the people we need in our lives. She has become one of the best friends I could have. 

So maybe it’s not so much the watermelon I’m enjoying although the taste is hard to beat. Maybe it’s the special people who have colored the tapestry of my life.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you!

Writer’s Block

There is a lot of advice out there about how to deal with writer’s block. Some people say it doesn’t exist. Some people say that you should take time off and really experience some life. Some people say just sit down and write, it is just procrastination. The best advice I read was that if you can’t think of what to write you should just sit down and write whatever pops into your head. You may end up with several pages of junk, but eventually you will get past the writer’s block.

I have been sitting here for a couple of hours trying to think of something to write about on the blog posting. I looked back in my old postings hoping for inspiration. I looked at Facebook about twenty times hoping something someone posted would inspire me. I puttered around the house, hoping to find inspiration in routine tasks. Nothing. So here I am. I have started to type and I am hoping for some inspiration. 🙂 OK. That’s not good. The word inspiration occurred four times already in this paragraph.

I did write the beginnings of two columns today. Maybe that has sapped my ideas . The discipline of writing a column every week along with three blog postings is good for me. It makes me feel like a real writer. After all I have writer’s block.

Of Mice and Men

Last weekend we had the privilege of getting together with a bunch of Bradley family members. We even had some staying with us in NC. They turned out to be some of my top book fans. I really think Miss Bethany could run my fan club. . . if I just had one! HA! We enjoyed the visitors and their willingness to put up with our “work in progress” house.

Besides the human visitors we also had mice. I mentioned the poor little squashed mouse in a previous post. After that we put out the D-Con which, just as advertised, produced some dead cohorts three days later. This in turn prompted another clean-out frenzy which I had been putting off. That delayed our arrival at home, but it allowed us to still be in NC when Bruce’s aunt wanted five more books. So, I guess I should say thank you to the dead mice??? Not so much. 

In the cleaning we discovered papers from Bruce’s parents. There were receipts from medicine they bought the year Bruce was born. Since he was sickly there were a lot. There was paperwork from when Bruce’s dad was in the Korean War. There were high school diplomas for three of the boys. There were treasures his Mom had stashed away. I am sometimes sad that I never got to meet Bruce’s parents. However, through cleaning out their house I think I’ve come to know them better than a lot of people. Through the things we save, the things we felt important we show a bit of who we are. I am thankful for the opportunity to help with the project of Mama’s house. It’s been a huge amount of work but it’s been a special blessing too.

At the Bradley reunion I heard more stories and had the privilege of meeting Uncle Robert and Aunt Sarah. I received a blessing from the message Uncle Robert preached in church Sunday. I loved hearing Aunt Sarah and her grandchildren sing. I enjoyed making music with some of the Bradley family at the reunion. I learned more about Bruce’s dad from his brothers and sons. I remember looking around at the roomful of people and thinking, these are my kind of folks. It is awesome enough that God gave me an amazing husband, but one who has a family that I can be instantly at home with? That’s incredible.

Friends

We just arrived home from our trek out to Nebraska for the family reunion, then our follow-up trip to Chicago. It has become our habit to swing through Chicago on the way home and visit friends. This  “tradition” started on our honeymoon. There were people Bruce wanted me to meet there so we included it in the trip from South Dakota to South Florida. Since then, about every year we have braved the traffic and ventured to Chicago. The friends there are definitely worth the effort.

Between us, we have a LOT of friends. But, to be honest, not all friends are created equal. You know what I mean. There are the friends that are just acquaintances really. There are facebook friends, some I’m not even sure who they are. There are some facebook friends that I wish I had taken the opportunity to know better way back then. They are hilarious and my kind of people and I feel like I missed my chance. There are childhood friends that you remember fondly, are thrilled to catch up with when given the chance, but who you don’t really know anymore.

There are friends that you rarely see, but when you do the time melts away and you start right where you left off. I have friends like that everywhere, even over-seas. One of them is my number one blog reader! Love you Missy.  There are friends that you call every day. There are friends that are more like family. I have one of those friends in Thailand right now visiting MY baby sister. Now, that’s a good friend. There are family members who are friends. I am blessed with more of those than I can mention . I even made some new family-friends this weekend.:)

There are friends that you would completely lose contact with if it was up to them. Why do we persist with those friends? Or why do they persist with us? I don’t know but I know that I have been the recipient of that kind of friendship. My friend, Laura from Nursing School days in Gillette, Wyoming is such a friend. In the past twenty-five years I have seen her twice. Once for her wedding and once for mine. We traded Christmas letters and that was about all. Except. Except for the times, always when I really needed a boost, when she would send me a little card. They usually said something like, “I just wanted you to know that I was thinking of you and I love you.” WOW! God has certainly used Laura in my life.

We visited friends in Chicago that have been there for Bruce in years past, and now they are there for us. They are the kind of friends who kept up on their side of the friendship. Rita is our dear friend. She comes to see us when she visits the ocean. She calls, she emails. She is one of my kindred spirits which is really neat since she is a friend from Bruce’s days in Chicago. We stay at her house, she stays at ours. She even mails us our belongings if we leave them there. We buy her CD’s for gifts, she buys my books. 🙂

The other friend we visited was Grandma Babs. She is Bruce’s adopted Jewish Grandma. He always gets a birthday card from her. She is 92 now and it was tough. We all felt the loss of Grandpa Hy when we gathered at the table.  She put on her brave face as she does each day and fit us in between trips to a framing shop and WalMart. When asked how she is she told me, “accordingly.” She explained that she now felt she was old enough to use that word. She said her mother used to say that because it fit no matter how she felt. Grandma Babs said, “I am 92 and 92 is 92, after all.” Then she shrugged her shoulders and smiled. The grace and humor with which she continues to live her life are an inspiration to me.

So whether you have been an occaisional friend, a forgotten friend, a family-friend, or an everyday friend, thanks for your friendship. Each and every one of you has played a part in my life. Would I be me without you? I doubt  it.

Turn Left for Adventure

We have been to two reunions and completed a road trip from Nebraska to NC via Chicago in the past week. We have enjoyed wonderful visits with family and friends. I sold or verified the sale of thirty books! Everywhere we went people asked me, “when is the next book coming out?” I wish I knew, but I am sure that it won’t come out until I finish the revisions and that’s where I’m stumped today.  I am tired. My brain is fuzzy. I just don’t want to do anything! So, sitting next to me is what I hope is a cup of motivation, coffee!

While I wait for it to kick in, let me tell you about the discovery of Greeley, Nebraska. Oh, it’s been there a long time but it is new to us. Last summer when we traveled west with the camper trailer we found that the trailer prefered the back road highways to the interstate. When we left Broken Bow headed east we took a north-eastern route across Nebraska to Blair where we crossed the river. It was a part of Nebraska I didn’t remember seeing and it was beautiful. This year we decided to repeat the experience.

When we came to a particular Y in the road the GPS told us to turn right, but it didn’t seem correct so we turned left. The GPS was correct, but as is usually the case it wasn’t the end of the world. After all, this was an opportunity to explore another small area of Nebraska. The first town we came across was Greeley. The sign on the highway pointed right to the cluster of buildings. It declared that they had food, gas, etc.  Since we needed a restroom and thought we could get gas we decided to explore. Another sign notified us that there were two churches in town, Catholic and Methodist.

Very quickly we began to see the history of the town unfolding itself. The first was Fynn’s Bar with a shamrock on the sign. When I spotted another shamrock on a building my mind started combining the puzzle pieces and came up with. . .Ta! Dah!  This was a town settled by Irish-Catholic immigrants. We drove downtown, then over to the Co-op because they had a gas pump. The nice lady hurried out and told us that if we didn’t have a Cenex card she couldn’t sell us gas, but she did have a restroom. She also had homemade chocolate cake on the counter.

I asked about the Irish heritage and she smiled and nodded. “Greeley has the highest percentage of Irish per capita of any place in the United States.” With slightly less than 500 people it isn’t a huge number but the Irish have the upper hand, that’s for sure. She went on to tell us that they have an Irish Festival there every September that draws 25,000 people. They bus them in from Omaha and Lincoln and people come from all over the world. It was an amazing thought.

After leaving the Cenex Co-op we drove around a little more and found a large Catholic Church with a parish house and school. Amazing for such a small town out in the middle of no-where, so to speak. We drove away feeling like we had experienced a special connection with a special place. I hope someday we can plan a trip out there for the festival. I would love to get to know that town a little better.

If you are interested in the Greeley Irish Festival, it is happening September 18, 2010 and you can find more information at www.greeleyirishfestival.com

I don’t know where we will explore next time we travel. My grandma was right. She said she didn’t feel the need to go overseas. “There is so much of America to see why would I need to get on a plane or a boat and go across the ocean.”