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.

What I am Thankful For – Day 8

This may be trite, but today I am thankful for the right to vote.  I am grateful for those who fought for a woman’s right to vote.  I am thankful for those who died to keep our country free, and allow me the opportunity to continue to vote each year.

I voted today in my local election.  I try to educate myself as much as possible on the issues, and then I cast my votes accordingly.  I have voted in almost every election – even voting absentee when living out of state with the Army.

It is a right and a privilege to be able to influence local issues and to show my support for candidates that I can trust to make the correct decision for my community.  It is the only way politicians know what the electorate really wants.

Did you vote today?

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.

Do You Give Up?

Quote

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up.

Paul the Apostle
Galatians 6:9

Thanks to Sam Parker (www.givemore.com) for the quote this morning. This has stuck with me all day.  Too often, I stop trying to do what I know I should do because it gets to be too hard.  This has made me realize that I need to keep pushing through and do what needs to be done.  The effort will be worth it, even if I don’t see the end result for a number of years.   I need to stop giving up.

Creative vs. “Creative”

Here’s the thing….I write (almost) all day, (almost) every day.  How much of my writing is creative?  I don’t really know. 

Here is what I write: policies, procedures, process documentation, manuals, etc.  Some of that is purely changing format because the text either can’t be changed or is actually pretty good.  Those days are good because I like being able to play with format in Word (plus I am pretty picky about how things look – that’s why God created Styles in Word people!).  Is that creative?  Somewhat.

People would argue that writing policies, procedures, etc. just can’t be creative in the sense that writing a novel, a poem, a play, or even a blog post is creative.  Why can’t it be?  Why should business documentation not be held to the same standard?  Sure, there’s no character development or point of view, but there is voice.  I try really hard to keep my voice out of the documents that I write and make them be in the voice of the person for whom I am writing.   I understand that the language in business documentation needs to be clear, concise, and have flow….but doesn’t all writing need to have the same things?

I caught myself today changing the following sentence: “[Company] is located on the banks of the Mississippi in a town that is home to approximately 20,000 people” to “[Company] is located in a community of approximately 20,000 people”.  A little part of me died when I changed that sentence.  (ok, not really, but it sounded good, right?)  Why did I change it?  I changed it because it didn’t fit the document.  Sure, it draws the reader a picture, but it’s not really necessary in the long run (plus, someone would have just taken it out later). 

So how am I creative?  I get to create words every day.  I take things that are difficult and make them easy to understand.  I take nothing and make something out of it.  I take the tiniest kernel of an idea and turn it into a manifesto of beauty.  Does that mean I don’t struggle with the “creative” part of my job?  Nope.  I struggle almost daily to breathe life into documents that may be called  dusty, dry, or boring.  Believe me, it’s not always easy…Those may be the days that I delete almost everything I write because I can’t find just the right word.

So if you see an otherwise serious document with the tiniest bit of “creative writing”, ask yourself if the writer just needed to liven a document…..either that or they wanted to see if you would catch it….

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.

When I Retire….

Today we had a retirement party at work for a man who has been employed with our company for 42 years.  There were some very touching moments, but most of all there was laughter….lots and lots of laughter.  I have only been with the company for about 3 years, but I’ve been to several long-term employees’ retirement parties in that time.  I saw people there today I hadn’t seen at another retirement party.  This man was truly liked by a lot of people.

It got me thinking this afternoon as I walked out of the building to go home.  What will be the reaction when I retire?  Of course, that’s 30 years away, but what will my impact be on the company?  Will people show up and enjoy many good laughs, or will it be like several other retirement parties where everyone comes, nice things are said, and then people drift away?  Sure, I’d like to think that by the time I will have been with the company for 30+ years, there will be a lot of laughs and lots of true friends; but no one knows the future for sure.  All you can do is to hope for the best and enjoy every day that you are working there.