Saturday, November 28, 2015

November 28, 2015: Road Trip in the Books

My panoramic view from my middle seat vantage point
Well, we are done. Road trip completed and a success.

Zach has his gun equipment. Delivered and set-up, his shop is almost opened for business.

The two drivers and their sidekick (me) are now cozy in the warmth of our Denver home. Christmas decorations are up. Simmering chili with freshly made cornbread are in the kitchen. And Stanford and Notre Dame are playing some pretty good football on the screen in front of us.

We collectively drove 1,070 miles over two travel days. Adding a one-way flight at the beginning and a one-night hotel stay at the end, the comforts of home are feeling pretty good right now.

Our 26 foot truck did the job. Carrying 4,000+ pounds of gun machining equipment, we named our diesel-loving and dependable rental, the Heifer. She was a bit stubborn going up hills and wanted a nap rather than a start at a truck stop in Iowa. But in the end, she faithfully did her job before we returned her to the Penske store in Fort Collins.

My seat was in the middle as Garrett and my father-in-law took turns at the wheel. The driver bounced in the bucket seat to the rhythm of the Heifer. The passenger usually napped or shared in our on-going conversations.

As for me in the middle, I knew not to provide input to the driver. The guy in the passenger seat had that role covered. I just kept on alert for diesel and McDonald's exit signs. Fuel for the Heifer and fuel for three coffee drinkers in the cab.

Our conversations ranged from faith and religion to relationships and companionship. Stories full of the firsts, the best, and random childhood memories. Laughs and lots of life sharing. All over the course of over eighteen hours on the road.

Two of my favorite trips in years past were road trips I took with my own parents. One weaved us through the western states and then east to Omaha. The second followed the ocean up scenic California Highway One.

Although this trip wasn't for the scenery, but a destination and delivery; it proved to be just as good.

I have often told people who are compiling their bucket lists to be sure to include a road trip with their parents. The best of times. At least with my parents. And my father-in-law. It really doesn't get much better than that.

Home. And for those not watching, Stanford won.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 25, 2015: Road Trip - Day 2

Larry, my town tour guide
Day two of our Thanksgiving road trip lacked roads and travel. This was our 'packing and preparing' day. We stayed stationary, enjoying the ambiance of small town living.

The setting was Monterey, Indiana. I am told the current population is 125. But in it's heyday, the count topped 250. Much has changed in these thirty years from it's peak, I've been told. The grocery store and butcher are gone, but the corner bar and post office remain.

My day started with a 6 am wake up call from my father-in-law, Larry. I had promised to join him for his morning coffee at the local tavern. This was his daily routine and I gladly tagged along. The promise of freshly brewed coffee at a bar was both alluring and inviting.

Corner Tavern at far right, end corner
As we walked through the streets of Monterey, Larry updated me on the buildings still in use and those long gone. The latest casualty, following the migration out of Monterey to neighboring cities, was the town's grade school. But the library and bank remained opened for business and per Larry's assessment, both have continued their fine level of service since the town's heyday.

Darlene is the proprietor of The Corner Tavern. She greeted us at the end of the long bar, along with her other morning patrons. Dark coffee simmered on dual pots with area news blaring on the bolted TV screen. The place was churning with early morning activity.

The quiet walk through the town and meeting the usual suspects sipping coffee had my brain churning with memories. I couldn't quite discern whether I felt like I was visiting Mayberry or was part of a film segment out of movie, Fargo.

And then I just took it all in. People cycled in and out the front and side doors over the course of the
The morning crowd
next hour and a half. Larry later told me that although unspoken, the seats were designated. When I inquired on whose seat I occupied, Larry explained that Karl had recently passed away. Larry had taken over Karl's spot, leaving the open seat for me.

The circle of life even exists in a small town bar.

Each person pouring their first cup would immediately do the rounds, filling the cups of others. And each coffee drinker had a story. It is amazing what you learn over coffee conversations. With every new face, Larry would provide an introduction, including their name and where their home was located in relation to his.

There was the RN filling her to-go cup as she ran out the door. Then there was Don, sitting directly across from me. He and Larry went to grade school together. They laughed about Don's tardiness to school back in the day. He had chores to do. And Larry was quick to point out that there was evidence left on his boots when he did arrive at school. Purportedly the principal didn't care.

Everyone knew that Larry had a road trip planned with his son from Denver. Many helped him load equipment out of his garage the day prior.

During that hour and a half, I never gave a thought to my cell phone link to the outside world. My typical top-of-the-morning routine. Instead I just sat back and took it all in. A cup of brewed coffee steaming out of a traditional restaurant ceramic cup. No green lady embellishing a white disposable cup with my name written on the outside. Not today. Not in Mayberry.

With refills abound, there was lots of talk on Notre Dame football, Indiana basketball, and the fate of the collapsed building across the street. We all just shared life for a while.

It made me miss my own parents and my deceased grandparents. Of those days in the past when adults took coffee breaks and the best conversations were face to face. It made me miss my own hometown and piece of small town charm. But most importantly, it reminded me of how life is all about human connections. Everyone has a journey and a story. You just have to take the time to stop and listen.

Our walk home. Library to the right.


Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23, 2015: Road Trip - Day 1

My views out the truck window 
Road Trip 2015 started today. With great anticipation, we boarded a plane to Indianapolis and immediately proceeded to Kokomo, Indiana to pick up a 26 foot rental truck. The journey begins.

An early morning with little sleep from the previous night led to some initial grumpiness on my part. As Garrett and I always start our day, I read out loud our daily devotional from the phone app "Jesus Calling". Never disappointing, the reading for the day hit home again.

My prickly demeanor was gone with a reminder of gathering daily bouquets...

"As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures strategically placed along the way. I lovingly go before you and plant little pleasures to brighten your day. Look carefully for them, and pluck them one by one. When you reach the end of the day, you will have gathered a lovely bouquet. Offer it up to Me with a grateful heart. Receive My Peace as you lie down to sleep, with thankful thoughts playing a lullaby in your mind."

It really is amazing the little treasures we find in everyday life if we live it with eyes wide and open hearts.

Our day is about to come to a close. Monday night football plays on the television as I enjoy conversation with my husband and father-in-law. Flannels and slippers have replaced our winter outerwear. The big yellow truck is parked in the street. The hum of the furnace with mysterious creaks and crackles fill the hundred year old house.

I sit back with a smile and review my bouquet of the day...

  • A plane filled with traveling young families bringing their babies home for the holidays. Nothing more pure than the smiling face of a baby. A loving puppy is a close second.
  • My first trip to a White Castle. Who knew such sliders slathered with onions existed? Hours later, we are still tasting them.
  • Catching up on life with my father-in-law. As we meandered through the Indiana county roads in his truck, Garrett trailed us in the big yellow truck.
  • Relaxation and putting my phone away. A gift I should give myself daily.
  • A fall sunset.
  • My father-in-law's homemade blueberry wine (anyone remember 'the recipe' from the Baldwin Sisters? hint...Walton Mountain).
  • Christmas shopping. The list is long, but the goal is small and thoughtful gifts for friends and family near and afar. Lots of work, but lots of fun. Who knew there were so many treasures on-line? I now understand why so many Amazon packages are delivered for the Lane boys.
  • A random text from an old friend.
  • A thankful note from a co-worker.
  • A thoughtful call from a son.
  • Loved the OWH story on Dick Van Dyke's call to HS theater director. I always loved this fictional husband to Mary Tyler Moore and penguin dancing man. I now love him even more. supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
  • Fresh homemade apple pie awaiting my sweet tooth husband. And his pleasure in a second helping. 
Some would say today was an ordinary day with nothing of note. A call this a good day.

Larry Brucker special

Saturday, November 21, 2015

November 21, 2015: Change of Seasons

A sampling of the Skutt 'blond bombs' of 2015
'Change of seasons' is the phrase that is lingering with me this morning. One would think this is obvious with the recent 'storm watching and waiting'. The Christmas music on the Sirius radio line up and blast of ads for the upcoming Black Friday are constant visual and audio contributors. But it's even more than that for me.

No doubt the weather app was the most accessed iPhone button yesterday. And although Omaha avoided a rush of white powder, my welcome mat last night to Denver was a blanket of winter wonderment.

Bundled up for the Hawkeye Express
My brother, the forever Hawkeye fan, is with his daughter among the masses at Kinnick Stadium. It is cold and full of snow. With the ongoing text updates I am receiving from him, it is apparent that Iowa was well represented in the recent snow fall. Nebraska got a bye.

This change of seasons has also led to practical thoughts. Like moving the guinea pigs from their summer and fall refuge of our garage to the warm house. Lots of holiday to-do's fill up my mind. A new adventure was my hiring the Holiday Light Rescue guy for hanging home Christmas lights (pictures will surely follow) and the old standard of coordinating the kid's holiday schedules.

This annual task comes with new forks in the road as the boys grow up. Their combined lives fill with newnesses of schools and jobs. And then there are the 'repeats' as Boy #3 is now following many of the paths of his older brothers in years past.

With each year, the boys each have new life experiences as they grow in years. And although my aging (near 50, mind you) brings fewer big changes, with most happening as a parent, I am not personally exempt. This year is no exception.

The biggest changes of season relate to life. And more importantly, they relate to how you live your life.
Ben...one of the original blondes
At our house, sometimes seasons change with a change of hair color. For football playoffs, Grant bleached his hair for good luck, tradition, and team comradery. Ben did the same with his team in 2013.

I love watching my boys follow their older sibling's footsteps with pride, waiting in anticipation for their milestones to come. Grant had been waiting in the stands for his day on the Skutt football field. Just like his brothers.

Although Grant's team didn't get the chance for the final title as his Ben's team, we have more seasons to come. And like I asked of his brother with playoffs in the seemingly distant past and Thanksgiving around the corner, the frequent request of recent is "Grant, when can we cut that hair off??"

Yes, this high school football season is now in the books. Many good times, new friends, and memories for all of us. On to Grant securing his first job and driver's license. A reminder that my many seasons of playing parental taxi are coming to a close as well.

Zach, head gunsmith for USA Liberty
November 2015. Zach is now a career man with little time off. Ben is busy enjoying year two as a college student. Grant is loving working his way through high school, following a path well paved by his big brothers. Garrett and Sandy take it one day at a time. Life in Omaha. Life in Denver. And a lot of in between.

Our collective worlds intersect daily with our combined friends and family. We are working our way through the seasons of relationships as well. Some come and go. Others go on forever.

It sure seems like the 'forever relationships' come to the top of the list during these times of thankfulness and family. Memories are strong. Connecting with the ones we love top the our list.

I am forever thankful for the little joys in life, like the daily texts from my Hawkeye brother and the great memories we share growing up as siblings. I see this sibling closeness repeat with my own grown kids. An embraced season of change as a parent.

And our seasons will keep changing. And, no doubt, at record pace. And life will keep changing too. Our jobs and daily routines are just background noise. It's the people and the experiences that matter. How we live our days provides opportunities to open ourselves to other people's lives and new experiences. Too often we get this order of importance mixed up.

In business, my philosophy is that if you take care of the people (customers, patients, employees, partners), the money will follow. Although common sense, many don't buy into this practical approach. In our personal lives, the same approach applies.

Take care of those around you with appreciation, whether gratitude to the grocery checker or a warm hug for the college son home for a surprise visit, and there will be dividends paid back to you. They may hit in different seasons, but they will happen.

A full and happy heart embracing the gifts of the seasons, however small or large, and learning from life's challenges and changes. That's what it's all about.


Monday, November 16, 2015

November 16, 2015: What I Learned from Vacation


I started writing this blog on Sunday, October 18th, shortly after boarding a plane heading home. We were straight off of a blissful one week vacation through the beautiful serenity of Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Tonight I am going to finish what I started. A bit of 'the rest of the story'.

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Vacation is in the books. And I learned a lot. There were some 'aha' moments and some 'what were you thinking?' thoughts. Amazing what a little down time away from the daily grind does for both the brain and the soul.

First revelation. I missed reading, writing, and quiet time. I missed these things a lot. My state of constant motion and nonsensical busyness really hasn't added to my quality of life.

Next revelation. I miss staying in contact with my family and friends. How did I let this happen? Definitely a lapse in judgment on my part.

Biggest revelation. I really missed normalcy with a focus on the things most important in life.

Things have been crazy for me over the last few years. Very crazy. I have quickly concluded that life is too short for crazy. I am too tired, too old, and now too smart for crazy. Call me a slow study, but at age 48, I get it. Nothing replaces the comforts of a loving husband, healthy parents, thriving children, reliable friends, and a faithful pup.

Faith. The funny thing about crazy is that it occupies time and conversation. It takes way from focus on faith and family. It's warped and tainted views on priorities sets the tone to what is perceived as most important in life.

As Garrett and I walked through Glacier National Park with no company but hiding critters, Garrett explained his interpretations of the Book of Job to me. Great conversations followed on the meaning of the scriptures. I have miss these uninterrupted conversations on what really matters centered on the real Book of life.

Priorities. Although one can conclude that chasing the crazy train for an extended period would result only in negative results, there is some silver lining. My occasional neglect of the Lane boys has resulted in unexpected results. They not only survived, but are are actually thriving better with me out of the way.

A month into his sophomore year, Ben and I were having a conversation about his classes and new apartment. Upon reflection, I realized I hadn't a clue on how Ben's sophomore year came together.

Me "Ben, I haven't helped you a bit this year. Sounds like you got everything figured out for housing and classes? Sorry if I left you hanging."

Ben "That's okay, Mom. I got it all figured out. And don't worry, it actually felt pretty good to do it myself."

We will call that one an unintended score to the positive.

Reflection is a good thing and tomorrow is a new day. I can court crazy or I can choose the good life.

Fast forward a month.

I sit in the quiet of my house. I have kept up on the Book of Job and am pretty certain I will complete this month's book in time for my book club in December. I haven't actually finished a book in some time. Score.

The refrigerator is filled with leftovers from home cooked meals and Grant has happily shared with me his night as we go about our quiet, but happy, existence together. Although Garrett is in Colorado, we look forward to a Thanksgiving road trip from Indiana with his dad. Two guys, a gal, a whole lot of gun equipment, and a big truck. Not a doubt that I will be blogging daily on that excursion.

The Huskers are winning again and Bluejay basketball has begun. Yes, life is back to normal. And although I haven't been blogging regularly, I have been busy writing hand-written notes and sending cards to my neglected family. One note resulted in a long overdue dinner with my Aunt Joan tonight. With her wiener dog dressed in a hot dog bun (ketchup, mustard and all the trimmings), Joan played the piano while I grilled the burgers.

And work, you ask? Quiet. My favorite reflection of last week was an elderly man dressed in his Sunday best. He was pushing his wife in her wheelchair with flowers in hand. She wore a chiffon dress and a big smile. I got a bit weepy-eyed seeing this couple as I thought of my own grandparents, long gone now. How they looked forward to their days out for these much anticipated appointments.

A shared smile and an exchange of pleasantries with this lovely couple reminded me that we were on the same page. Enjoy each day with the ones you love. Always dress up. And never ever forget to stop and smell the roses.

One of Paul's creations at Think's Agora bar