Simple pleasures…

I think I chose the right time to move back home to Missouri ~ cold winters seem to be a thing of the past.  This year’s winter doesn’t even deserve to be called a winter.  It certainly doesn’t compare to the winters of my childhood when we had numerous snow days home from school, and my mom and I would walk the mile to Sloan’s store at Swiss (the precursor to the Swiss Meat & Sausage Co) where I always wanted, of all things on a cold day, a Fudgsicle.  It’s early January, and we are having spring weather with a high of 62 degrees today – this is either global warming at its finest, or a karmic force rewarding me for enduring the twenty-three snowy, gloomy winters I spent in Alaska!

My daily walk today turned into a stroll.  Normally I like to get my heartbeat up, and feel a little winded by the time I’m done, but today I just wanted to savor the warm sun and spend as much time outside as I could – maybe to avoid things I need to do and address.  My mind is full of thoughts and concerns as we go into the New Year – I’ve finished my MBA degree and now it’s time to find new employment – a task that seems both exciting and intimidating at the same time.  My husband, Mick, and I just purchased a foreclosed historic property in Hermann – an old brick building, circa 1850 – that we plan to renovate for additional visitor lodging along with our Grapevine Guest Suite cottage.  This, too, seems to be a challenging, as well as motivating, prospect.  Our plate is quite full of unrealized goals as we go into 2012, and when I wake in the mornings, I’m not sure whether to jump out of bed with enthusiasm or bury my head under the covers!

Recently I read a book titled Rules of Civility in which a single young woman named Katey, in the late 1930s, finds herself struggling at times to find her way in the world.  Katey relies on the only words of wisdom her father ever provided to her – regardless of how daunting the circumstances were for him, he knew that as long as when he woke each morning and he still looked forward to his first cup of coffee, then he could make it through any day.  “When a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane, she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger” ~ Amor Towles. 

That line in the book resonated with me to the point that I had to write it down and keep it as a reminder.  For Katey, the main character, the pleasure came from reading Dickens.  For myself, at least today, my pleasure came from an ordinary walk on an uncommonly beautiful winter day.  Our neighbor’s dog, Sophie, joined me which forced me to slow down even more as she sniffed out her own mundane pleasures along the road. 

Our neighbor dog, Sophie, joining me on my walk.

Taking my time, and letting my mind drift away from some of my self-imposed pressures actually energized me.  It was anything but a waste of time.  As long as something as simple as a walk along a country road, watching a dog chase a squirrel up a tree, continues to bring me pleasure, well, then I think I’m ready to tackle whatever the year brings…Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

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School days…

It’s good to see the school bus once again passing our house each morning. Thoughts of riding the bus do not actually bring back the fondest of school day memories for me.  When you grow up in a rural setting, you are certain to spend a majority of your young life on a school bus, but seeing that yellow blur each morning does stir up the nervous energy of first days – anticipating new classrooms, new teachers, new experiences. 

Starting grad school at this stage in my life still brought on that same nervous energy.  I could barely eat lunch the day I headed out for my first evening class on campus.  Would I fit in, would I seem old, what if the professor was younger than me??  Thankfully, he had at least ten years on me, but going back to school at age 44 is a surreal experience, to say the least.  I have t-shirts older than some of my classmates.

The advantage of being an older student is that you already come equipped with some knowledge of life.   Let’s face it, you can’t know much about life until you’ve lived it for a while. Over time you develop a sense of who you are, but I think a lot of that gets determined early on, indirectly picking up our values from home and school.

At the time I entered grade school in 1970, the Hermann school district had three outlying elementary schools for 1st through 6th grades.  These schools were in different rural areas of the school district.  I guess the intention was to keep the younger kids closer to home, eliminating the long bus rides to town.  I attended the Swiss School, named for a tiny community south of Hermann.  We had four classrooms and three teachers for six grades – each teacher taught two grades in one room, and the fourth room was used for the traveling music and art teachers who came once a week. 

Was it the finest primary education I could have received?  Probably not.  We learned the basics – there were no advanced classes for some of us over-achievers.  I read early, and I read quickly.  When Mrs. Scheer noticed, in first grade, that I kept skipping ahead in our reading books, she let me sit in the back of class to read what I wanted while she taught the rest.  No remedial courses either.  The multiplication tables came slowly to me, but that fell to my mom who got me on track with nightly sessions of flash cards.  If any of us had any particular musical talent, it probably went unnoticed.  A music teacher came through once a week, but generally we just sang songs, although I do remember a very young teacher around 1976 teaching us to do “The Hustle”! 

We may not have passed today’s No Child Left Behind program, but we learned a wealth of intangible qualities that have gotten me far in my life.  We learned respect early on, and how to work independently – when one grade was being taught, those of us on the other side of the classroom knew to quietly do our own work.   We learned how to recognize our strengths, and not worry too much about the weaknesses.  I was never very athletic – I wasn’t the kid who was the last to be picked for the games at recess, I was the one left standing.  No one gave me a hard time about it – and I didn’t dwell on it.  I knew that I wouldn’t be the top choice, and that was okay.  We learned to be accepting – bullying or picking on someone was not an option.  And we learned to have fun.  I know there are schools where personal achievement and competition are stressed above all else.  Our teachers gave us the essentials, but they never forgot to let us be kids.  We put on silly Christmas plays, we read Charlotte’s Web every day after lunch, we had hot dog roasts and cake walks at the first PTA meeting each fall.  In other words, we learned how to appreciate the simple things in life…

The community of Swiss is still on the map – just 13 miles south of Hermann on Hwy 19 – and it’s worth the drive. The Swiss Meats and Sausage Co. is located there.  This family-owned business has greatly evolved from the country store where we picked up bread and milk when I was a kid.  Housed in a great log structure, Swiss Meats has become famous for its sausages and smoked meats – it’s even been featured on the Food Network.  And save some room for an excellent burger across the highway at the Silver Dollar.  People come for miles to have a steak on Saturday night, but get there early, or you will have a long wait.

                       

A goodbye to Callie…

We lost our girl, Callie, this weekend.  After having several bouts with severe arthritis in her back legs, on Saturday her hind quarters became paralyzed.  So, after 13 delightful years with our best friend, Mick and I said goodbye to her.

As far as dogs go, Callie had quite an interesting life.  She came from a litter of 13, and was born in an old VW bus in a campground in Skagway, Alaska.  Her mother’s owner, Abby, was working in town for the summer and living in the bus, and her dog, Two Socks, had gotten pregnant.  I’m sure Abby was shocked to realize she would have to find homes for 13 puppies, but she carefully chose the homes, and we were one of the lucky recipients. 

Abby and all of us would have birthday parties for Callie and her siblings each summer, usually at the beach at Long Bay, with plenty of space to run around.  Beers for us, and hot dogs and meatloaf birthday cake for Callie, Jasmine, Blue Bear, Lucius, Hoss, Worm, et al.  Then we would take a group picture to commemorate the day.

When we moved to Haines, Alaska, we bought a house with large cathedral windows in the front overlooking the river and ocean inlet.  One of the first things we did was build a window seat there, and that became Callie’s domain.  People stopping by often commented that she must be the luckiest dog in the world with that view.  She kept an eye out for bears, emitting a low growl when she saw one.  She somehow knew not to bark and bring attention to herself, but still wanted to give us a warning.  Strangely enough, the only wild animal that actually scared her were the turkeys here in Missouri.  They always sent her running for cover!

Callie and I in the Redwoods

She was Mick’s constant companion when he was home from his job on the ferry, and especially after he retired.  They were inseparable.  Mick was very active at the community radio station when we lived in Haines, and Callie would lie on the floor of the on-air room while Mick did shows.  You could always recognize Mick’s truck before you saw him because Callie would be across his chest, hanging out the window with one paw slung casually over the rear-view mirror. 

When we left Alaska, we had our car packed with very little room to spare.  Callie was wedged in between coolers and boxes, but she took it all in stride, excitedly sniffing out the corners of a new motel room when we stopped for the night.  She saw a lot of the country – Seattle, the Oregon Coast, the California redwoods, even the Grand Canyon.  She was a hit there, posing for pictures with the other tourists.  After being on the road for a month and a half, the car had become home to her. Even after we got settled in Missouri, she would often want to get in the back seat of the Jeep for a nap.

On the road again: Callie on our journey from Alaska to Missouri

I have heard people say over the years that getting attached to your pet is just a heartbreak waiting to happen.  Losing Callie will be a heart ache for quite some time, but we don’t mind.  The companionship and love she gave us for all those years is worth it.

Scenes from a morning walk…

I’ve become a morning person.  I never used to be one.   My mom joked that it was a good thing I was in the afternoon kindergarten class, or she would have never gotten me there at all.  As each year goes by, I seem to enjoy the early mornings more and more.  My mind feels refreshed, and I feel I can get a jumpstart on my day.   Also, my husband, Mick, often has trouble sleeping at night, and usually sleeps in, giving me several hours with the house all to myself.

Since becoming a full-time grad student, I probably put in as many hours of work as when I was actually gainfully employed, but it makes for a much more flexible schedule.  One of the great benefits is having the time for a morning walk.

One of my favorite walks is down a narrow gravel road to a small Protestant church, the Bethany United Church of Christ.  In this rural countryside, you get the sense that many scenes have not changed through the years – this is one of those.  You meander down the road with a hay field on one side and woods on the other, and then you see a church steeple poking out through the trees.  A huge oak towers near the church – you can imagine its gnarled limbs providing shade for several generations of parishioners.  Cows graze in the fields beyond.  If you can overlook the electric lines to the church and the sound of drivers in the distance on their way to work, you will think you have walked back to another time.

The Bethany Church holds an ice cream social the middle of August each year – in fact, we were there just last Friday evening for it and spent time catching up with our neighbors, Bernadine and Larry.  There is a lot of “social” in this picnic.  It draws quite a crowd – the ice cream is good, but I think the homeyness of the setting and the opportunity to just sit and have an old-fashion visit is what brings folks back every year.

To find the Bethany UCC from Hermann, take Hwy 100 east for 7 miles.  Turn right on Z and drive about 1-1/2 miles.  You’ll see the sign for the church turn-off on the left