“At Last. At Last. I’m Home At Last.”

At church on Sunday, one of the points in the homily was an exercise Fr. Joseph had completed in college.  It was what each individual wanted to have written on their tombstone.  He said that one classmate wanted “Found a cure for cancer”; another wanted “Visited all the countries in the world”; and a third wanted “At Last. At Last. I’m Home At Last”.  The ensuing homily centered around the notion of “home”.

I got to thinking about my home.  I have had several in my life.  Homes that I lived in with my parents, homes I shared with my husband, places that felt like home, even though I didn’t live there.  When you are away from home, it is a struggle to to feel centered – to have a place that you can go to and be accepted, a place that is a refuge.

Lately I have been thinking that (re)finding my faith is like finding a home.  The Church has always been a constant in my life – even when I was away from it.  It was always in the back of my mind and heart.  Even though I came back a few years ago, I wasn’t really back.  I had issues that I needed to address.  But through the combination of various people I have met, the priests in my parish, and the reflection I have been doing, I think I have begun to find my way home….home to the faith community that means so much to me; that has meant so much to my family; that has allowed me to experience the beauty of the Mass again.

I had a priest tell me yesterday that “God is easy, it’s the people that make things difficult”.  I think that helped solidify my notion of home.  I know that I have a home in my faith, in my belief of God.  I also know that I have a home on earth with those who love me and with those who support me.  My home isn’t necessarily limited by the four walls holding up my house, but it is built by the hearts and hands that are there to hold me up when I am struggling.  To those people, I say thank you.

What I am Thankful For – Days 11, 12, & 13

Here is what I have been thankful for the last few days…..

Day 11: My husband who served in the Army for four years.  He spent a year in Korea, serving at Camp Casey.  The remaining three years were spent at Fort Lewis, Washington.  He came hope from Korea, we were married a week later (on a Friday), and then moved to Washington on Sunday.  Those three years we spend in Washington weren’t always easy, but I was proud of him for his service.

I have a lot of family members who have served in the Armed Forces, both in war and peace.  It’s not always easy being the person at home, but it’s our way to serve.  I’m reminded of a paragraph in the Patriotism lecture in Rainbow:

Hers is the first battle, and hers is the first victory. It is the sister that kisses the brother good-bye, placing her sweet benediction upon his lips. He marches away under flying colors to the sound of martial strains; but she, in the silence that follows, fights the first battle. Womanhood stands back of the ranks and holds up the Flag at home, for if it were not for Womanhood and the love that is centered in her realm, there would be nothing to incite him to deeds of bravery on the field of battle.

That paragraph didn’t have the same meaning until I was that person at home, even though he wasn’t going into battle.

Day 12: I am thankful for my family – immediate and extended.  It is family that gathers around for special occasions – birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals – that makes life worth living.  Family gives you something to look forward to, people who love you no matter what happens, and people who rally around when things aren’t so wonderful (most of the time).  In the end, it is all that matters.

Day 13: Today I am thankful for naps!  Yesterday, we had two little girls who didn’t want to rest and take a nap.  That led to a very frustrating evening.  They got up too early this morning, so naps it was for the afternoon.  They must have been tired – they slept for over 3 hours!  Now, we have two little girls who want to snuggle and are well rested.

There’s No Place Like Home

Grandma and Grandpa

This was written at St Martin’s University in 1998.

Growing up in Iowa was more fun than it sounds.  Every summer, my mom and dad would load up us kids and trek us halfway across the state to my grandparents’ farm outside of Ames.  Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like that much fun either, but when you are a kid and you get to spend from the day after school gets out to the day before school starts again, it’s a blast.  Three months of sun, being outside with animals, spending time on rainy days making all sorts of little projects Grandma saw on TV, is a kid’s dream come true.

I spent every summer from when I was born until I started high school at my grandparents’ farm.  I guess I didn’t realize until I was older just how much I appreciated being there for long periods of time.  Not only did I get to spend time with relatives that I only saw every couple of months, but I was exposed to an entirely different atmosphere than at my parents’ house.  Mom and Dad lived in the city, but Mom had grown up on the farm.  At this point in my life, I realize that those moments spent next to my grandparents and great-grandparents are irreplaceable.

The images that I remember are of fields of corn in the summer…actually walking between the rows and pulling weeds and tassels; rows upon rows upon rows of soybeans…again, actually walking between the rows and spraying weeds for hours on end; rows of mown hay being bundled into bales…and more bales…and more bales.  Then there are the fun images – those of a calf first learning how to stand, all wobbly and scared.  A Brown Swiss cow standing in the midst of all the black and white Holsteins chewing her cud.  Getting up early in the morning to go feed the calves and to help Grandma with her chores (and Grandpa too…if you got up early enough).  Walking what seemed to be HUGE herd of cows down the road to the other form…and scared that they would run away and then what would happen?  I remember picking flowers, picking corn, picking beans (green beans, not soybeans), and my favorite — strawberries.

There are certain smells that always will take me back: the smell of a cow lot or pig lot (no one else seems to like that smell), the smell of fresh cut grass; the smell of my grandma’s house on anything she sends me; the smell of cookies and cakes and roast; the smell of corn on the cob just before it’s time to take it out of the pan to eat!  It is funny how something so simple can bring back a wealth of memories and feelings that you had forgotten about.

I was always amazed how Grandma kept up with all the people that were in and out of her house.  The “boys” (aka my uncles) were (and still are) always coming and going.  There is memorabilia all over the house from when they were in 4H. My favorite picture is the large framed picture of Uncle Charles showing the cow.  That picture hangs over the bed in the basement.  There are running jokes about how slow Grandma eats, or how she is always going to clean off the pool table, or how she’s going to get a head start on her Christmas cards.  I think that other things were just more important to her, and she wanted to make sure her cards and letters had her personal touch on them.

I remember when Great-Grandma was still alive and living at the other farm.  I used to walk over there to make cookies with her.  Great-Grandma had the coolest house – it was old and had all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide in.  At the other farm, the cow pasture (a real pasture) had a stream.  I was only allowed to walk along the stream one time.  Great-Grandma also had to get up really early and give the older calves their milk.  That was always scary because we had to go down into the basement (which everyone knew had a snake in it) then mix up the powdered milk with the water and VERY carefully walk up the narrow staircase to go outside.

Even if I went back now, I would still fall back into the same pattern that has been in place since I was born.  I would still get to sleep in the “Big Kid’s” room.  I would still sit at the same place at the kitchen table.  I would still know where everything was, because nothing has been moved in years.  Grandpa would still take a nap before lunch in his recliner, while Uncle Charles would take his nap after lunch either on the living room floor or downstairs.  Grandma would still take forever to eat and would fall asleep in her recliner at night.  Grandma still measures the grandkids (and great-grandkids) on the refrigerator. She still threatens to swat us with a fly swatter or make us sit in the corner if we misbehave.  There is a continuity at the farm that I haven’t found anywhere else.  It’s almost as if the farm exists in its own time warp.

I can remember when things were a little different.  The farm had its own gas station (for lack of a better description).  Uncle Mark lived at home (he’s the youngest), and he drew pictures and portraits.  Grandma drove.  Grandma kept a bigger garden – almost part of field.  I remember when Grandpa still grew sweet corn and we spent a lot of time husking it in the back of a pickup, then carting it into the house for the “womenfolk” to boil it, take it off the ears and freeze it.

Looking back, I realize that even though they weren’t obvious to me at the time, I learned a lot of lessons about life that have stayed with me.  The value of hard work and the benefits you receive from a job well done.  The satisfaction of playing when all the work is done, and even how to make what seems like a tedious job fun.

Note: In the 13 years since this was written, a lot has changed.  Grandma died a few  years ago after being sick with Alzheimer’s.  Grandpa no longer actively farms, although he occasionally raises some pigs for Iowa State.  The other farm is gone, it was used for a controlled burn a number of years ago.  But the feeling of family, of continuity, of love, still remains.  It is, and always will be, the center of our family’s gatherings.

“The Guardian Duke”….Leaves You Hanging

"The Guardian Duke"

The Guardian Duke by Jamie Carie was a wonderful book.  It’s not a romance novel in its typical definition, and it’s not Christian fiction in its typical definition.  I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but it grabbed me from the beginning.

Alexandria Featherstone’s parents have gone missing.  They are treasure hunters who never really wanted to have a child, but had one, and then proceeded to leave her behind while they went out on their adventures.  Their last adventure was a mysterious one that Alex doesn’t know much about.

Gabriel, Duke of St. Easton is one of the richest men in England.  He receives notice from King George III that he has been named Alex’s guardian since the Crown has determined her parents must have died.  What’s interesting is that after receiving the notice, Gabriel is visited by a peer who tells him the real reason he was appointed Alex’s guardian.  The treasure that her parents were in search of was stolen from the British Museum, and Spain, France, and England all want the item.

Gabriel is struck deaf early on by a mysterious circumstance.  With the help of his secretary/valet, he makes his way through society and England trying to find and help Alex.  They only communicate through letter, and she manages to stay one step ahead of him throughout the book.

Alex “collects” people as she journeys in search of her parents.  People are captured by her charm and sincerity in her search.  They want to help her in anyway possible.  She is often of two minds – wanting Gabriel’s help, but also wanting to do it on her own to prove herself to her parents.

I liked the communication by letter – especially when Gabriel realizes that Alex writes two different types of letters.  Also, I got the feeling that Alex’s attitude in her posted letters to Gabriel was an act to a certain point.

I also liked the way that Gabriel is written.  Usually, dukes are pompous, staid, and used to getting their way.  In this book, Gabriel kind of turns that on its head – he is dependent on a servant to help him; he is very smart and has studied a lot of different topics; while he tries to maintain appearances, he’s not afraid to show that he needs help.

This is book one of a series, and I can’t wait to get the next one.

Jamie Carie’s Live Action Book Trailer for The Guardian Duke

Amazon Product Page – (published February 1, 2012)

I received this book through the NetGalley system.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

What I am Thankful For – Day 3

Today I am thankful for my job – for several reasons. 

  • First, I am able to earn money that pays for my house, my car, groceries for my family, utilities to heat my house, and generally provide for my family. 
  • Second, my job provides health insurance, which I will have to use today when I take the girls to the doctor for possible ear infections. 
  • Third, my job allows me to use my education and experience for the betterment of the company.
  • Lastly, my job is 10 minutes from my house.  That allows me to spend more time with my family and be available for my kids if they are sick.

I have worked a lot of jobs in my life and I can honestly say that this job is one of the best I have had.  I appreciate the fact that they took a chance and hired me.

What I am Thankful For – Day 2

Picture taken by Todd & Kathleen Jacobs (c)

Today I am thankful for two wonderful little girls.  They came into our life just when they were supposed to.  Watching these two grow, learn, and evolve has been a journey. It’s always so entertaining to see what keeps them occupied.  With Autumn, give her a sketch pad or a book and she is happy.  With Skylar, give her a coloring book, some Playdoh, or just sit with her and she is happy.  I can’t wait to see what the future brings for the two of them (and for us).  There are days I still can’t believe they are ours.

Thank you girls for bringing light and joy to your parents.

What I am Thankful For – Day 1

Today, I give thanks for my husband who has been my partner for the last 15 years.  We have weathered many storms together, and I have always known that he is there for me and I am there for him, no matter the situation.  He is always there to balance me and lift me up.  From that day 20+ years ago when we first met to today when we woke up, every day has been treasured.  Sure, we have changed along the way, but we have changed together.

I am looking forward to our future.  Thank you, my love for taking this journey with me.

She’s Home to Rest in Peace

Two days ago, we brought our Duchess’ remains home.  It was rough.  Seeing her little paw prints on the clay disk brought back how much we have missed he.  I’m glad to have her home, and glad that she won’t be far from us ever again.  Over the last two weeks, it’s been an adjustment getting used to not seeing her.  It still feels weird that we aren’t giving medicine every night and every morning.  I have caught myself a lot asking Eric if he’s given her the medicine.  It’s an adjustment.

Here are some of my favorite memories and things that I miss…

  • Almost every night, she sat on the back of the couch above my head and swatted me with her tail while I watched TV.  I can’t begin to say how much I miss that.
  • Her smell – she always smelled like cookies for some reason
  • How she would play with a string over and over, until she realized you were watching her
  • How she would jump up to really high perches and then hide there for hours just watching you.  She would spend hours in the kitchen on top of the upper cabinets just watching people and the dogs.
  • She was always trying to go downstairs to the basement, unless you needed her to because of a storm warning
  • How her fur was such an undefineable color – it tended to match everything I owned
  • How her face never photographed the way I saw it – I could never understand that;  she was so beautiful, but it never truly came across in pictures.
  • How precious were her kisses – she wasn’t a licker (unlike Harvey), but when she licked you, you knew you were special.
  • She and I would occasionally share pieces of cheese – I could always count on her for that
  • Sometimes when we made dinner, we would leave the pan on the stove for a bit.  We always knew if she found it because we would hear her tags clank on the side of the dish.  She loved hamburger, although she always dropped it on the counter.
  • She never turned down a plate of tuna and would come running for her share.
  • She loved watching the fish (when we had them) and the birds outside the living room window.
  • She would sleep on the floor next to my bed.  It got to the point that I could wake up at almost any time and if she wasn’t on the bed with us, I could look down and she would be on the floor.
  • When we first adopted us,  she wasn’t a real affectionate cat.  She didn’t really want to be held, unless it was on her terms.  A couple of years ago, after I was laid off and was home all day every day for a month, she got to the point that she wanted to be next to us.  She wouldn’t always stay long, but she came and sat with us and on us.  She would sleep on me at night, or sleep right next to me.   She was just very independent and a true “CAT” in every sense of the word.  But she loved us and we loved her.

I still can’t believe she’s gone.  There’s a hole in my heart that I can’t fill.  I find myself looking for her when I come home, or reaching for her when I am watching TV.  I knew it would be hard, but I never thought it would be this hard.  Thank goodness for Eric and the girls.  They are keeping me occupied enough so that I can’t dwell on it.  I know that we will get through it and eventually the pain won’t be as much.  It’s just hard to explain to people who haven’t gone through it.  Thankfully, some of our friends and family have gone through it and having that support/understanding has been invaluable.  Our thanks pour out to them.

We love you and miss you Duchess.

Goodbye My Dear Friend

My beautiful cat

Today, I said goodbye to my beautiful cat, Duchess.  She was such a special lady.  In February 1998, we lived in Washington state.  Over the course of a couple of days, this beautiful cat kept scratching at our apartment door.  She looked thin, so we gave her some food.  Well, you guessed it, she kept coming back, and eventually moved in.

It took some getting used to.  At that point, she was an indoor/outdoor cat, but she came home every day.  When we moved to our next apartment, she made the move with us.  She loved that apartment…big windows on the ground floor….and even better, big birds (geese) right outside that she could chase from one window to the next!  Every once in a while, I would put her on a leash and we would walk outside to the pond behind the apartment to watch the geese.  She would stalk them like she was a vicious killer.  It was funny.

When we moved to California a few years later, Duchess got the royal treatment.  Dad flew out to Washington to help me move, since Eric has moved a few weeks prior.  Dad is allergic to cats, but he toughed it out with us.  She thought she was really special because we let her out of her carrier at night and she got to sit on my lap with her paws on the dash watching all the lights.

Harvey & Duchess

Duchess liked California, except for the fact that we got another cat, Harvey.  She barely tolerated him at the beginning.  She figured out that if she stayed away from him, he was more concerned with playing in the water than bugging her.

We moved back to Iowa in 2001.  Duchess made that move rather well.  She couldn’t ride outside her carrier on that trip, but as long as someone would talk to her or pet her, she was ok.  She moved with us 2 more times – from Mom & Dad’s to the apartment and from the apartment to the house.  She always adjusted well to new places.  Her favorite place in our apartment was the window sills.  We were in the upstairs apartment of an old house.  It had really wide window sills and radiators for heat.  We would put a towel down on top of the radiator (in front of the window) and she would sleep there almost all day.

When we moved to the house, any time we had a window open, she was in it.  She loved watching the birds and laying in the sun.  She didn’t like the dogs much, but they learned to leave her alone or they would suffer a swat to the nose.  When she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism 5 years ago, we knew that we would have to monitor her health carefully and stay on top of her medicine.  Some people said we should put her down at that point, but we didn’t see why.  We could handle this.

Duchess Loved Boxes

Her thyroid level bounced a lot, but we always kept an eye on it and gave her the medicine every day.  A week or so ago, we noticed she was getting thin again, so we figured her thyroid was off again.  However, the blood test came back normal.  At that point, I knew we were in trouble.  An x-ray showed fluid around her heart (so much that you couldn’t really see her heart on the x-ray, and it had pushed her lungs out of place), fluid in her abdomen, and a large tumor in her lungs.  That news broke my heart.

We decided that it was important to us to allow her to pass at home.  We spent the next few days petting her, talking to her, taking some pictures, treasuring every moment we had with her.  We even took her outside a couple of times so she could feel the sun on her fur and the grass under her paws.  I think she loved it.

We knew it was just a matter of time, but the time was important to us.  This morning, she passed after we had all left for work.

There are so many things I will miss…

  • Duchess playing in boxes (she was a HUGE fan of boxes)
  • Her purr – it was so loud and constant that they had a hard time listening to her heart at the vet’s office
  • Hearing her run down the hallway after using the litter box
  • Watching her play with strings or those silly toy mice (that lasted until we got Scooter, who ate the tails off all the mice)
  • Coming home after work at Christmas and playing “where’s Duchess now?” because she would play in the tree, or play with the ornaments
  • Her grumpy meow when you dared pick her up, or when you touched her back feet
  • The black spot on the back of one leg
  • How she would “attack” you if you played with her back legs or stomach
  • How she would come running when we had tuna
  • How I would wake up in the middle of the night to find her sleeping with me, only to move the instant I moved a muscle
  • Her crawling up beside me on the couch as soon as I sat down
  • Plus countless other things

What comforts me at this time is that I know she is doing all those things in Heaven and that she isn’t sick any longer.  I know she’s waiting for me, and that for her, that time will pass in the blink of an eye.  I, however, will miss her every day.

A Tribute to Three Very Special Ladies – My Grandmas

I had very special grandmas.  When I was growing up, we lived 3 hours away from them, so any time we got to spend with them was golden.  Luckily, my parents would send my brother, sister, and I to the farm every summer.  From as soon as school got out to just before school started again, we lived on the farm.  We played with our cousins almost every day, did chores, and generally hung out.  Mom and Dad came up occasionally, but most of the time, it was just us and our grandparents.

Grandma at my bridal shower.

My Grandma Fitzgerald (aka Fuzz) was a wonderful lady to know.  She lived in town, but we got to spend the night with her off and on throughout the course of the summer, usually on Saturday so we could go to church with her.  She was funny, loving, and spiritual.  She and Grandpa had 7 kids – the youngest was a teenager when I was born.  After Grandpa died, she was the glue that held the family together.  She worked for a number of years after Grandpa died, so we couldn’t stay with her all the time.  There are a few memories I treasure about those times I spent with her:

  • Going to the grocery store, Starbuck’s diner, eating popcorn for supper and watching TV.
  • Getting to use Mr. Bubble Bubble Bath when I spent the night (that wasn’t allowed at home).
  • Grandma’s voice and organ playing (there are still songs that make me think of her).
  • Her sense of humor (she once walked chicken legs walk down the table, telling a story the whole way).
  • Holy Saturday Mass (we walked to church one year and it was a beautiful service).

We lost her several years ago to Alzheimer’s, which has to be the worst disease out there.

Grandma sitting in her chair - not a usual sight.

My Grandma Sloniger was truly a special lady.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, or ask myself whatshe would do.  She was so kind to everyone, and so patient – especially with teenagers who may not always be the most respectful.  Grandma worked hard on the farm, making sure Grandpa and my uncles were fed, the house was clean, and her grandkids were taken care of.  It took a very special person to corral 5 to 7 grandkids almost every day – luckily, they lived on a farm and she could tell us to go outside.  Grandma and I spent a lot of time baking, walking around the cow lot, sewing, reading, and watching old movies.  Grandma spent a lot of time with our family because my youngest brother was sick so much.  She would drop everything at the drop of a hat and come and stay with us for months on time.  Not many people would do that – no matter who it was for.  Our tribal knowledge is specific to us.  To this day, every one of us grandkids can tell you the plots to the old classic movies – from Shirley Temple to Fred & Ginger to Spike Jones – much to the dismay of our spouses.  Ask any of us what the Purple Movie is about and we can name it (it’s the Glenn Miller Story, by the way).  Ask us what is on the menu at Hickory Park and we can tell you – in fact, most of the people at Hickory Park can probably name all of us, including spouses and kids.  And, we know that meatloaf and tater tot casserole has to be made is a specific casserole dish, and hamburger gravy has to be made in a particular skillet.  There are a couple of memories I treasure about my summers with her:

  • Gardening and canning in the summer.
  • Baking cookies and congo bars.
  • Taking afternoon treats out to the field.
  • Going for walks and bike rides.
  • Reading and her helping with homework.
  • Using her mom’s treadle sewing machine.
  • How she always had Rice Krispies for breakfast every morning (with ½ of a banana).
  • Having SPAM sandwiches.
  • How she kept every piece of paper we gave her.

After I got married and moved away, she would send me letters.  I treasured those because I could hold them and still smell the baby powder she used every day.  We lost her a few years ago to Alzheimer’s as well.  I think she knew what was going on and she didn’t want to be a burden to my Grandpa, so she let us go.  But she knew who I was when I came up to say goodbye to her.

Great Grandma - one of the few pictures I have of her.

Great Grandma Sloniger was another big influence on my life.  I have a problem when talking to my mom about her, because I grew up calling Great Grandma just Grandma.  So Mom and I always have to make sure we are talking about the right grandma.  Great Grandma and Great Grandpa lived 1 mile from Grandma and Grandpa, so it was pretty customary for us to walk over there – especially if we were moving cows.  Their house was “over home” and we took care of chores at both places.  I would go to her house and we would bake cookies (we did a LOT of baking in the summers!) and kringla.  She taught me how to knit and crochet.  After she moved to her apartment, I would still get to spend the night.  We still baked and did crafts.  She was very patient with me.  Even when she was blind, she never stopped knitting and crocheting.  Nothing stopped her from staying busy.  She was a teenager during the Depression (depending on what year she told you she was born), so that made a huge impact on her.  In fact, I have her rolling pin and it still has the Fareway bread loaf bag that she kept it in – I can’t bear to replace it.  She kept all sorts of fabric, and it still smells like her house.  A few of the things I remember best about Great Grandma:

  • Going to square dances with Great Grandpa, Grandpa, and Grandma.
  • Baking all sorts of things.
  • All of the flowers.
  • The hardwood floors upstairs in her house and the French doors at the bottom of the stairs (which I now have).
  • All of the cubby holes in her built-in buffet in the dining room.
  • Going downstairs to the basement to make the powdered milk for the calves.
  • Watching her create things.

She died in 1993 when I was 17.  While she had some health difficulties her last few years, she still kept going.  She made an impact on a lot of people and worked hard her whole life.  I remember her being a quiet person, but we knew she loved us.