In many ways I have always been late to the party: Slow to pick up on fashion trends and clueless when it came to knowing how to style my hair or apply makeup. For several years I wore the same pair of earrings everyday. I can recall observing the popular girls in my class as early as the 6th grade and making mental notes of what they were wearing; however, I had no idea how to replicate that look for myself. None whatsoever. Coming from a family of limited means with six girls meant we shopped for clothing and shoes at second-hand stores. Occasionally we were allowed to purchase something new but even then being small and skinny I just wasn’t able to pull it off. When it came to how I presented myself to the world I always fell short. Now that I’ve got the means my clothes closet runneth over. And while I’m still relatively small and petite I’m better able now to pull together a look that tends to flatter rather than detract.

While all my friends were excitedly waiting to get their learner’s permits and driver’s licenses I was reticent and fearful.

During my junior and senior year of high school I was surprised to hear my classmates discussing college. College? They may as well have been talking in excruciating detail about the lunar orbit or analyzing Greek mythology or explaining the social structure of the ancient Mayans. I dutifully registered for classes at the local community college but chickened out and cancelled prior to the fall semester. At the age of 34 years I decided to quit my job and go to college. It was the best decision of my life. Being a non-traditional student attending the state university with my soon-to-be husband (who I met at college) was an amazing experience.

When it came to drinking and carousing I was also a late bloomer. I was stunned to learn of my classmates (and even — horrors! — my younger sisters) drinking in high school. Pregnant, married and divorced by the time I was 21 I managed to make up for lost time. But I was woefully naïve and stupid about the whole thing.

As a child I was a very picky eater. Sweet corn. I’ll pass. Strawberries? Yuck. Those seeds! Onions? Are you kidding me? Stuffing at Thanksgiving? No way. I didn’t eat cheese until I was in my early 20’s (it was a great accompaniment to the Malt Duck my girlfriends and I liked to drink).

Before I met my husband I dated a guy who detested my reluctance to eat certain foods. So shortly after I met Bill he offered to run and get us burgers. I was hesitant to tell him I wanted mine plain with NOTHING on it. I cringed a little, waiting for the backlash. To my utter surprise I learned that he was just as picky an eater as I was. (I knew then it was meant to be).

In the twenty-three years we’ve been together we’ve both become bolder and more adventurous with our appetites. Strawberries, onions (caramelized even!), stuffing, cheese (glorious cheese!), sweet corn on the cob slathered with butter and coated with salt & pepper — yes, yes, yes — and more! While I draw the line at tomatoes — yes, some things never change — I’m more willing now to experiment with a larger and larger variety of foods.

The upside to all of this of course is while others have had many more years enjoying all of these things, for me it’s relatively new and therefore exciting and awesome and delicious. Late to the party? Perhaps. But it’s still a party nonetheless and I welcome it all with open arms.

Popcorn please!!!

Spring Storms

With our wide open view to the west we’re the fortunate recipients of some beautiful sunsets. On the flip side of that are the incredible storm clouds, wind and rain that we’ve been privy to witness over the years.

I’m one of those folks who loves thunderstorms. Driving rain, gale force winds, lightning and the sheer delight and theater of hearing those angels in the skies overhead bowling with a vengeance. I love it all!

Rainy, stormy weather is perfect for curling up with a good book or playing a game of cribbage or cooking up a pot of chicken & wild rice or even getting caught up with the ironing if that’s your thing which actually for me it is — I think ironing is sort of relaxing. Go figure.

I know there are some who are terrified of storms and perhaps rightly so. Common sense is important — safety first! But firmly ensconced in the comfort of my own home while the tornado sirens gather cobwebs, all is well in my little world while I watch Mother Nature acting out in her magnificent fashion!

There are six girls in our family of which I happen to be the eldest. (Cue the snare drum — I also like to joke that while I’m the shortest of the bunch I also happen to be the cutest, smartest and most modest but I digress).

To say that we’ve been close would be a bit of an stretch. Our familial ties have been strained over the years due to the usual sibling rivalries, petty fighting and misunderstandings. Add to the mix that each of us is so incredibly different from the others and it’s no wonder tension is sometimes in the air at holiday and other family gatherings. For many years I felt jealousy, resentment and not a little confusion whenever I observed sisters from other families who were close knit or who proclaimed to be ‘best friends’. What on earth was wrong with US I’ve often wondered.

Over the last several years I’ve come to understand why the tension and distrust is there. And while I won’t delve into the reasons for our discord (let’s just call it family dynamics and leave it at that!) I am happy to report that our relationships have steadily gotten better over time. Not ideal but definitely improved.

Two of my sisters and I spent a pleasant afternoon at a local winery today, joined by one of my sister’s friends. As we discussed some of our family history and the evolution of our sisterly bonds it was fascinating to learn that this woman’s family (and its underlying dynamics) weren’t all that different from ours. I recently chatted with another friend who reported similar disharmony between her and her sister. While it is sad to consider siblings not being each other’s greatest champions and defenders it’s also somewhat reassuring to know that my family — our family — is not so different from many others. Perhaps those Hallmark moments I’ve observed outside my own family circle that I yearned for all these years don’t tell the whole story. Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

It’s gratifying now to reestablish our relationships with each other discovering mutual interests while respectfully acknowledging those areas where we otherwise part ways. We have that joint history together — rainbows, laughter, warts and all — good times and bad — that only us girls gets or understands. And in the process I like to think we’re making some new Hallmark moments to hold on to and cherish that will sustain us going forward.

To describe something as ferocious conjures up a jungle image of a lion, doesn’t it?  Perhaps a tiger.  Maybe even a bear.  It’s a word you might use in discussing one’s appetite, sexual desire, ambition, a bad case of chiggers or the Santa Ana winds.

It’s often associated with the young.  As in those for whom youth is wasted.  Or a brave soldier in battle surviving against all odds.  Cancer that ravages a body is said to be ferocious in its assault.  It is lean.  It is strong.  It is determined.

Ferocity is a characteristic that’s hard to maintain but when its how I live my life in regard to the love I feel for my husband and my son (and truth be told the loving care that I should apply toward myself as well) it is these moments when I feel incredible, heady, alive.  To observe a robin angling for a worm in the grass or the breeze playing through the leaves or the laughter of children or the awe-inspiring human achievement of lift off at Cape Canaveral or the indescribable taste of a perfect peach — these are the moments for me that speak:  ferocious.  No holds barred.  Bam!  Life is amazing and good and delicious.

I want me some more of that!

Capturing the Moment of Sunset

Have you ever watched the sun setting? Which as I understand it is actually the earth turning away so that our glorious sun appears to sink down below the horizon. Some folks love a good sunrise but for my money it is so gratifying, beautiful and almost playful to watch the setting sun. You can see it slip lower and lower – by degrees – and it is an amazing sight to behold. Factor in the incredible colors of the sky — the pinks and reds and golden shimmer, the varying shades of blue and that fabulous hint of turquoise. There’s nothing quite like it.

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My father’s sawmill, with its huge sawblade, multiple levers and gears, planers, chains and stacks of lumber, was not exactly a safe haven for kids to play.  Most of the time my five sisters and I were scrambling up and down the (sometimes massive) log piles trying to see how far we could go hopping from one log to another without touching the ground — or before one of the logs shifted and then you better move quickly!  Despite Mom’s warnings to ‘stay off those logs’ we returned there time and time again.

A softer, more pliable, place for us to play was the sawdust pile behind the sawmill shed.  A farm elevator transported the sawdust to a spot out back, hoisting its cargo to the peak of the device and then dropping it to the earth below.  Sometimes the sawdust pile grew quite high – and quite irresistible to us girls – perhaps fifteen feet or more in the air.  My sisters and I traversed the elevator, grabbed an overhanging tree branch and flung ourselves out and then down into this waste product of our father’s livelihood.  Mostly the sawdust was warm and slightly damp but occasionally we’d land or step into a deliciously cool pocket.  Funny how some things remain etched in our memories.  Feeling that cool sawdust between my toes is something I can conjure up at a moment’s notice.  Another sawdust memory is the time I lost a brand new pair of thongs (that’s what we called what now passes today as flip-flops) to the sawdust pile.  I searched and I dug and I dug and I searched for a long time but that new pair — our summer shoes, really — was gone forever.

For something a little more dangerous (read: a little more fun) we would sometime sit on top of a plank of lumber and hurtle ourselves down the rails leading from the saw blade to the far end of the building.  As Dad cut a log to the prescribed dimensions the board was deposited onto these rails where the hired help then grabbed each one to stack elsewhere in the sawmill shed.  We girls would climb onto a board, make sure we were securely situated and then grab the sides of the rails to propel ourselves forward.  The ride was never long enough and we thrilled to the speed!  Care had to be taken in how one secured oneself to the board however.  If you grabbed it too fully with your hand you ran the risk of getting one or more fingers pinched between the board and the rails.  Likewise as you reached to grab the sides of the rails to move forward.  It’s surprising, really, that all six of us girls survived our childhoods with all our fingers and toes intact.

Me and my little man back in the day!

Wesley and I enjoyed exploring many of Iowa’s parks and recreation areas when he was a little boy. Our weekends were spent camping, hiking and spelunking in northeast Iowa. This photo was taken at Pilot Knob near Forest City.

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Travel and discovery with exposure to new places, activities, people and ideas — these things are the heart and core of what makes a person feel alive.

Part of what I want to accomplish with this new blogging adventure is a means of chronicling where I come from, where I’ve been, what envelopes me today and where I want to go in the future, not the least of which is the topic of retirement.

When we’re young we think of retirement as something old people do and it might as well be light years away to our 20-year-old / 30-year-old perspectives. We hit our 40’s and if/when we even start to contemplate retirement we begin to think “Hey, maybe this is something I should start thinking about. Maybe even plan for.” Our perspective morphs into something entirely different than our earlier years. The Big 5-0 rolls around and with it a bit of yearning perhaps or maybe a sense of urgency depending on how well we’ve heeded the admonishments of our financial advisors or parents or other well-meaning kin to save for the future. As for our 60’s let’s just say I’ll leave well enough alone at this point. Twenties, thirties, forties — been there, done that. Fifites? I’m workin’ on it.

The thing that fascinates me is how my perspectives have evolved over time — on many subjects certainly — but on retirement in particular. Work now serves as a means to an end. Strike that, reverse it. That sounds so ominous, doesn’t it, to use the word ‘end’ when we are talking about what many of us hope are our glory years. I prefer a new beginning or the much clichéd next chapter or perhaps reinventing ourselves. In any case, the crucial balance lies between obtaining the means to maintain a fruitful retirement and preserving ourselves well enough so we have the health and wherewithal in which enjoy it.

It’s all in one’s perspective.

Firewood

Growing up on a sawmill there was rarely a shortage of logs strewn about the place. These little fellas — firewood actually — await a smoky encounter with a fire-pit some cool summer evening. They do, however, evoke fond memories of their larger counterparts (stacked in a bric-a-brac fashion sometimes ten or fifteen feet high) that my five sisters and I used to hop, skip and jump across when we were younger.

To this day passing a semi load of logs on the interstate corrals my attention and that of my mom and siblings as well. Dad died in 2007, a year that marked 50 years in the sawmill business. Clark’s Sawmill was his pride and joy. He loved what he did as did my mom’s dad who was also a sawmill man. Dad told me once that when he went to bed at night he could hardly wait to get up in the morning to go back to work. How does that saying go? Something about doing what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. That described my dad’s philosophy and love of the sawmill business and, happily, his strong work ethic became his daughters’ approach to work and career as well.