The importance of obedience

About five years ago our family went on a river rafting trip on the Green River. We entered below the Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah, and for the most part the rapids were pretty mild. Which is a good thing since our youngest at the time wasn’t even eight.

While floating down the river and its many bends a sign appeared ahead.

“Stay to the right.”

After less than quarter mile we noticed another sign.

“Stay to the right.”

The rapids ahead looked far worse on the right than they did on the left, but my husband and I decided to follow the signs. We paddled into the rougher water. The boat behind us decided to stay on the smoother side. They had even smaller children with them so at the time I could understand their hesitation to follow what the signs told them to do.

Once we rounded a sharp bend the reason for the signs became clear. The rapids on the left increased exponentially, raging right into a large rock jutting out of the left side of the river. By staying to the right, my husband and I floated our family right past the danger with ease.

However the boat behind us, unable to row out of the raging rapids, slammed into that large rock. The rubber raft folded like a taco on impact, launching every person into the water. Thankfully, they all wore lifejackets. But we, and many other rafts, had a heck of a time fishing everyone out of the water, especially the small ones before the crashing rapids drowned them. That day those people lost everything they brought with him on their trip–well…everything except their lives.

We have warning signs all around us. They often come in the shape of older, wiser people telling what we should or should not do. Remember that the next time a parent tries to warn you about something or sets down a rule you don’t like. They’ve been down the part of the river you’re on right now, and they are just trying to help you avoid as many rocks as possible.

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The importance of pushing through the hard

Besides working in the world of writing I also teach piano lessons. And, like I’m sure a lot of music teachers can testify, most of my students are beginners. It’s not that beginners are bad it’s just not very challenging for me. I’ve notice my students’ desire to quite tends to happen right around the jump from level one to level two. Up to this point, the piano students fingers haven’t had to move around too much beyond a set five-finger pattern, but that all changes in level two. The need for the student to shift their fingers multiple times in a piece increases. With eighty-eight keys to contend with, it’s an inevitable skill every pianist has to master. Yet learning to hit the same note with different fingers seems to put kids into a tailspin. Of course with this struggle I often hear, “I want to quit.” While I truly believe no student of piano should ever quit, it’s hard if you’re not a determined parent to keep them going. Hence, why I live mostly in beginner-ville. Sadly, level two isn’t the only place that sees many students jumping ship because of the rise of difficulty. There will be several plateaus with sharp inclines of skill level ahead. But I think learning to play the piano is a lot like reality.

Our lives are full of challenges, and though quitting might look like the most comfortable of choices, more than likely, it will be the worst thing you can do. You will not grow. You will not improve if you never push yourself to overcome hard things. There is a motto I hear often on the online platform I use to workout called Dailyburn. “If it doesn’t challenge you, it cannot change you.”

I don’t think truer words have ever been spoken. So don’t wish for your life to be easy, not if you truly want it to become something special by the end of it.

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Ramping up the sweat

When my mother passed away over five years ago, I kept telling myself that I was okay. And probably to most people I looked like I was. After all, I got up everyday, took care of my family, my job–putting one foot in front of the other. Then Covid hit. Trapped in a house day in and out, I became increasingly aware of my physical appearance. I used to be such a gym rat, working out constantly. But since my mother’s passing, the desire to do so had decreased until I pretty much didn’t work out at all anymore–and it showed. The tailspin had been such a gradual one I didn’t even realize I had been in one.

About five months ago I decided to stop making excuses. Nobody but me could do something about the fact that I didn’t like who I had become. I joined Nutrisystem to help me correct my bad eating habits and I went back to work. And I mean work–going all out like I used to in my twenties and most of my thirties. I thought that first month was going to kill me but I kept fighting. And over time, my ability to go even further grew. Hitting 40lbs of weight loss this week was a huge milestone for me. Looking back at the struggle and realizing I didn’t die gives me the courage to keep moving forward. Just another blessing that has come from all this pandemic craziness.

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A butt kicking dose of farm life

A couple of weekends ago, we received a call for help from my ranching in-laws. They had 1400 feet of 6 inch PVC pipe that needed to be laid in trench they had dug to deal with the overflow of their artesian well during the winter months. It had frozen out at the ranch that Saturday morning. My husband’s father didn’t think he would be able to get in the pipe in by himself in the few shorts weeks he might have left before winter truly set in.

It took the entire Saturday of me lowering each section of pipe down into the hands of my husband and father-in-law. And though I did my best to ignore the growing ache in my arms and back from the effort, I know my husband and father-in-law’s job was much harder. The mud in the trench was pretty deep in places and had to be shoveled out in others where the dirt walls had collapsed.

The saddest part, I’ve spent months getting my body back into shape, pushing myself to the limit in every workout I do, and still I wasn’t strong enough to not hurt the next day. And I’m not talking oh-I’m-a-little-stiff pain. Oh no. This was a I-didn’t-even-know-it-was-possible-to-hurt-in-so-many-places-at-once pain. I didn’t even want to get out of bed, yet I can guarantee my father-in-law got up the next day and still took care of the daily farm chores. He’s in his seventies and can work circles around me. Ugh! Farmers and ranchers don’t need weights, gyms, or personal fitness instructors to workout, their daily routines are already extreme enough.

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A special kind of family

This week, my youngest son played his last football game as a youth. Next year he will enter high school. That thought alone blows my mind. My baby will be a high schooler? How in the world did I get this so old so fast?

Last season, his team made an incredible come back to take the state championship for their age division. Though the boys played far better this year during the season, we were not going to be granted that same miracle this year. As you all know, I hate losing, but losing here, early in the playoffs, was worse, because it might very well be the last time my son plays together with the bulk of those boys.

My son is actually a year older than most of his teammates. Because he can make weight in the lower division, and we really love the coaching staff, he has dropped down to be with this team for the last three years.

I take comfort in the fact that there were a few others who also dropped down. So next year during Freshman football training camp it won’t be a total sea of unfamiliar faces, but how I will miss the boys we had to leave behind.

In our family we play a lot of different individual sports, but football is the only team sport we play. For all the frustration that can come from having to depend on others to accomplish wins in a team sport, it also creates deep bonds that seldom happen in individual sports. All that shared blood, sweat, and tears welds together one heck of a family. A family that I hope does even better next year, even though I won’t be there to witness it.

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There is good and bad in all of us

Social media really isn’t fun anymore, is it? I see far more people casting dispersions at each other rather than just enjoying how easy it is to see glimpses of each others’ lives in real time. Somehow, we’ve forgotten one simple truth–nobody is perfect. Yet, there is goodness in every person. Some people’s goodness might be harder to see than others, but I promise it’s there…

In my late twenties, my husband and I bought our first home. We had two children, our youngest and only daughter being around two at the time. The home we purchased came with a neighbor directly to the north of us, an elderly couple–a very Italian elderly couple.

Ted, the husband, was extremely vocal about his displeasure at seeing this young couple with kids move in next to him. Besides his blunt choice of words, he had a gruff tone whenever I heard him speak. My initial instincts labeled this man as someone ornery, and someone I should avoid as much as possible. However, my two-year-old daughter didn’t share my same instinct.

While outside helping my oldest son learn to ride a bike without training wheels in the quiet Cal-de-Sac, my daughter tottled over to Ted’s garage. He always had the garage door up, sitting on an old couch and reading. Of course, my focus was elsewhere so I missed her initial move into enemy territory.

I heard Ted’s gruff voice say, “What do you want, little girl?” and I just about died. I hustled up his driveway, an apology ready on my lips. I found her sitting on the couch beside Ted.

She whined when I tried to pull her away. “Read,” she said. She loved to be read to and had noticed the newspaper in Ted’s hands.

“I can read to her,” Ted told me in his gruff voice.

“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you.”

“You’re not,” he said. “I’ve nothing else to do.”

He sounded so angry, but I worried that declining his offer would only make our strained neighbor relationship worse. I let her stay, but believe you me, I stayed right in front his house, my eyes more on my daughter than my son riding the bike that day. He never offered to hold her on his lap, he just started reading aloud. His harsh tone was so clipped and factual I couldn’t understand why my daughter was so enamored, but she sat there for at least fifteen minutes before wandering back over to our lawn.

And so began my change of heart…

Every morning before school began, my daughter insisted on walking over to Ted’s garage to say hello before we walked her brother to the elementary school. Sometimes those hellos took seconds, sometimes I had to remind her that we needed to get to school on time. He was always there on that couch, responding to whatever babble my two-year-old wanted to share. One day she decided to pick some of the silk flowers in the pots in front of his house to give to him.

“Don’t pick those,” he said, rising to put them back. He pointed to the other neighbor’s house next him. “See those yellow flowers in the grass? You can pick those, you’ll be doing Virgil a favor.” And my daughter did, giving him dandelion bouquets on many occasions. He always took them.

Over the almost five years we owned that home, Ted did many kind things for our family. He took my trash can out to the street when I forgot to sometimes and knocked on my front door when I sometimes left my garage door up.

“You don’t want somebody stealing you blind.”

However, the man’s tone and manner never changed. He was prickly and had an opinion about everything, even the slightly less pink color I once painted the house. (It’s a Las Vegas thing, they love pink houses down there.) But by focusing on his actions, I realized this man, though outwardly he was one hard nut, he wasn’t all bad. And when my husband lost his job in 2008 and we had to short-sell the house, Ted was one of the last people I spoke to before leaving what I had wanted to be my forever home.

“Would it be all right if I hugged your daughter?”

I chuckled at his request and happily agreed. At now six, my daughter was just as sad at the prospect of leaving her elderly friend. I don’t know what he said to her, he’d somehow managed to make that gruff voice of his whisper. My daughter nodded and got back in our vehicle.

“It’s a damn shame, really,” he told me, shaking his head. “You and your family weren’t so bad after all.”

His words made me smile despite my welling tears. “And neither were you.”

I will always miss that ornery man and the goodness inside him. I’m thankful my daughter managed to breakdown those barriers of judgement we had both cast. Not getting to know Ted would have been a missed opportunity for me.

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Scaredy-cat runs in our family

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before but I generally avoid scary movies. And yet, I get such a kick out of showing my kids older suspenseful flicks, probably because I know when things are going to jump out.

For a family night, we showed our youngest son the movie Signs by M. Night Shyamalan. This movie is my all-time favorite for this director so I couldn’t believe we hadn’t shown him this one before. His thirteen-year-old reaction made it ever better for me. He started out on a beanbag, far from his uncool parents. I don’t think we were even halfway through the show before he moved to the couch, right up against my side. He tried to hide his head under a blanket during the tense scenes, but I kept pulling it back down.

“I promise,” I told him over and over again, “it isn’t bloody. Keep watching.”

It’s good to see he is as big of a chicken as I am. People get a kick out of me too when I go to the movie theaters for those kinds of shows. I try so hard to be tough, but I always end up being the squealing entertainment.

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Never be too old for playtime

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave was their willingness to play with us kids. My dad had wicked night-game skills, he always seemed to be the last one found. My mom tried out all kinds of moves on our trampoline, even a toe-touch or two. We played baseball as a family. We rode bikes as a family. I might have rolled my eyes as a teenager, but I am so glad my parents were always more than a spectator in my life.

So, this week, while I waited for my youngest son’s football practice to end, I noticed many of the younger siblings of the other families were playing a game of kickball at the other end of the field. After a few minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped in to play too. What a fun way to pass the time.

For almost thirty minutes, I laughed as I kicked, ran bases, and sometimes intentionally threw the ball away. And seeing how much the other kids got a kick out of watching me act like one of them, made it even more priceless.

Several times, I waved over to the other parents, inviting them to join us, but not one of them did. I just smiled and kept going. The power that happens when a parent plays with their child is always worth sharing, even when the kids aren’t my own.

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Springing a leak

This week was a funny reminder that life doesn’t often happen when it’s convenient and it seldom works out the way we plan.

My kitchen faucet sprung a leak. The faucet has an internal hose that attaches to the head so I can pull it down for close power sprays whenever I’m scrubbing dishing or the sink itself. At first, the hole in the internal hose was so small water barely dribbled out. By day three, the dribble had turned into a substantial stream. Even worse, I realized some of the escaping water was falling back down inside the faucet and dripping all over the inside of the cabinetry below.

I figured squeaking out time for an unplanned visit to the home improvement store from my busy schedule would fix the problem. And I was right–kind of.

The store only offered a universal-type hose that was supposed to fix every make and model. Once I got it home, we discovered that somehow my faucet’s make and model didn’t make the cut. The faucet’s neck was too narrow for the fitting on the end of the hose to go through. So now we had a non-leaking hose but it couldn’t be fed up through the faucet or attached to the head.

My next bright idea had me looking on Amazon. Blessed day, I found the exact part, but sadly, it would take a few days to get here. (Oh how I’ve miss one day shipping during this pandemic.)

I had a choice to make. Either put the original leaking hose back on, or leave the unworkable new hose snaking out from the doors of my cabinetry until the right part finally arrived.

We decided to go with the non-leaker, thinking that would help us avoid all unwanted water damage to the kitchen. Of course, that didn’t account for my thirteen-year-old son. He turned the hose on at full strength to fill a cup the first time he used it. He didn’t realize how much the faucet head regulates the amount of water that comes out, so he ended up spraying water everywhere and I ended up on my knees, towels in hand, soaking up the water as fast as humanly possible.

Oh what a grand adventure it’s been this week! Though it took many twists and turns to over come such a little problem, it did eventually get worked out. And that’s the most important lesson of all. Yes, life is full of curve balls. But no matter how bad it gets, it will eventually work out. So never give up and just keep plugging along.

 

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An unexpected audience

I love the fact that my daughter has become such a good pianist. For someone who likes to sing as much as I do, I’m constantly picking out new music I want her to play for me. Being sixteen means she rolls her eyes a lot, but like the good sport she is, she eventually plays anything I ask of her. It’s when I ask her to perform a piece with me in front of an audience that she gets much harder to coax, so I keep those to minimum.

For weeks now we’ve been working on the song “Speechless” from the new live-action Aladdin movie. It’s been a fun challenge for both of us. Okay, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and she’s just put up with me.

One morning while practicing this week, I noticed through the window that two older women had stopped on the sidewalk with their dogs. The way they turned toward our house with their heads cocked, I realized they were listening to our song. I didn’t say anything to my daughter, since she really hates performing in front of an audience. I, on the other hand, love it and performed with my full heart and soul like I was on the stage again. When my daughter hit those last notes, a round of clapping followed from outside.

My daughter buried her head in her hands. “Mom, the windows were open?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, saluting the women before they pressed on in their walk. “The air outside was so nice and cool today.”

“Ugh, I’m so embarrassed.”

“Why? They liked the song, and you did a good job.”

She didn’t say anything, just got up and closed all the windows before finishing the rest of the pieces she needed to practice. I shook my head and let her be. Sometimes my daughter can be a real kill joy.

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