Tell Scott I said hi!

It didn’t matter if we had been chatting for quite a while or if it was a quick exchange of pleasantries, Jerry always ended each conversation with me with a quick, “Tell Scott I said hi!” And eeeeeeverytime I assured him I would.

I think Jerry really liked Scott. They had different backgrounds but were both ‘boots on the ground’ workers. A mutual respect was established early in our California days.

Jerry was an airplane pilot for the Air Force. At one time he was based out of Dover AFB so we talked about that area often. We’ve known about his flying career for the entirety of our friendship with Gisela and Jerry, our across-the-street neighbors. Pre-COVID, he was a docent for the Aerospace Museum of California. It was only recently that we found out his actual job was to fly the planes that did in-air refueling of the fighter planes.

This tidbit of information was particularly interesting to me because inflight fueling of planes always makes me think of my mother. She loved a sermon she’d heard (and referred to often) about the intricacies of this unique military maneuver. Hovering over the other plane at 20,000 feet, the refueling team pumps thousands of gallons of gas into the jet at 300+ miles an hour – all without interrupting the flight at hand.

The pastor presenting the sermon used this analogy to speak about the times in life when things are happening around us too quickly to simply stop everything and rejuvenate. Pressures and stresses are coming at us too rapidly and yet our resources are waning. Many (if not all) of us can relate to this feeling the past few years. In an attempt to keep all the balls in the air, our fuel tanks have neared empty far too many times.

Thankfully, God is able to surround and sustain us even while we are still maintaining 300+ miles per hour. He is able to refuel us within the trial, not simply before or after it occurs – just like the Air Force jets do so far above our heads.

Gisela texted me this morning, a very simple sentence: ‘Jerry just passed away’. Having fought cancer for the past two years, it was time for him to land the plane. I spent the morning with Gisela while she waited for him to be transported. There is a year’s wait for Arlington Cemetery, but that will be where he is finally buried. The majestic and hallowed Arlington Cemetery in D.C. While she took a shower, I stayed with Jerry. He had on a white AIR FORCE tshirt and I once again thought about Mom’s favorite sermon. I could hear Gisela’s blow dryer upstairs while I leaned in a little closer to Jerry’s ear. ‘You provided a marriage of exciting hikes and biking trails. You impressed us all with your intellect and travel stories. No more inflight biopsies or invasive procedures. Rest well now. And hey Jerry, tell God I said hi.

I felt sure that he would.

Grief

It’s been a rough week, hasn’t it? We are a mourning nation. Confused, sorrowful, and enraged. Mix in a wonderful visit from our daughter that happened to end in sync with the school shooting, and a bit more sadness is stirred into the mix. However, our focus lately has been on our two neighborly friends. One lady – strong and interesting (I’ve joked for years that I had a bit of a crush on her), passed away yesterday. Dreaded cancer that she found out about two months ago. And our other neighbor across the street who has battled cancer for a year, does not have much more battle to fight. Three years ago, Jerry and Gisela were the first to welcome us here, knocking on the door to bring a neighborhood newsletter. We’ve since shared numerous items back and forth across Will Rogers Drive.

Now it feels like there is only so much that lasagne and garden veggies can do. We keep doing clumsy, awkward things for them all. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? We check in with them and tear up when they tear up, all voices cracking in unison.

I stood at my kitchen sink today, watering my philodendron, watching a truck back into Judith’s driveway, back-up beeps interrupting an otherwise sunny Memorial Day. As the water ran through my houseplant, they loaded a now unneeded hospital bed into the back of the truck. How quickly life can change, then how quickly we crave a sense of order to return after it does. Not able to alter a life ended so early, the elimination of a hospital bed reminder is one item that feels doable and immediate.

We in our 50s. They in their 60s. Children in their single digits.

Outside chaos of all kinds clamor at all our doorsteps on a regular basis, but it has become less and less noisy to me lately as the people right in front of me suffer unexpectedly. Social media seems less important while simultaneously, the friends behind each profile photo are held with warm and happy memories.

Life is big and scary but also small and wholly clear. We are not promised days; live entirely into the ones you are allowed.

Scott and I are off this week to explore a few more areas of California we’ve not seen before – the Mendocino coastal region. As I organize how to get Jerry to the car tomorrow morning for a doctor’s visit, his wife texts me information on where to see the rhododendrons along our trip. Such is the recipe of everyday life: the bitter balances the sweet. I’m thankful for a few days away with Scott. He is my person, balled up socks and all. Menial things are blurry these days. The importance of the moment is holding court. Tilly will dictate our stops and starts along the way, blissfully unaware of gunman and disease. Give her an open window and the occasional duck jerky and she’s filled with immeasurable canine glee.

I’m going small for awhile…the week has been especially difficult on our street. ✨ Please take good care of yours. ✨ They are the field God has given you to care for. Swap lettuce. Lend books. Gossip about the price of gas and late night talk shows. Do that universal head nod and arm wave as your neighbor pulls into their garage after work.

He comforts us in all affliction, we have been promised. If you are willing to be present, joy comes in the mourning as well.

– g

THE FAMILY by Naomi Krupitsky

It is difficult to believe that this is Krupitsky’s first novel. The Family is both riveting and endearing. I picked up the book casually but held on to it thirstily. After devouring it, I am closing the back cover, satisfied and intrigued for more.

Krupitsky is a beautiful writer who seamlessly unfolds a story like a seasoned novelist. The good news is that I am certain she will have many more books to come. The bad news…I fear she put all of her fantastic material into this debut book.

The phrasing. The story build. The likability of the characters, protagonists and otherwise. I fell quickly for her writing style – her brimming descriptions and metaphors. She has a luscious grip on our language and an appealing orchestration of its words.

Winter can be a welcome means by which to narrow the world down to the most important parts.

As summer turns hot, deadly hot, and the asphalt softens and the buildings collect the sun so even through the night they radiate a thick warmth.

Two families, united in culture and Family involvement. Two mothers raising their daughters – best friends – in a world of Italian mafia men in 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s Brooklyn. The hardships (probably very different from your own) are recognizable. Krupintsky allows her readers the room to weigh the circumstances and question what they would do in a similar situation.

Antonia, measured and imaginative…

Antonia finds that though she is expected to stay inside her own body, she often feels like she is in Sofia’s body, or her mamma’s body, or the body of the princess in a story. It’s easy for her to slip away, spread out, and exist in the whole universe instead of within the confines of her own skin.

Sophia, daring and adventuresome…

Sophia never means to belittle Antonia, and perhaps Antonia lets herself be made small too easily.

You will be quickly immersed in the lives of Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo through childhood, teenage years, and motherhood – each stage filled with secrets kept. They have grown up together since birth. They feed on their differences until age threatens to separate them into different worlds. “They both want to speak. But they cannot hear one another over the roar of the old world as it turns into a new one.

Follow them as they wrestle with their desire for independence from the unspoken worlds of their fathers as they push against the expectations of place and purpose.

This 368 page, coming-of-age novel is a quick read as you absorb each sentence with excited expectation. The overarching themes of love and dedicated friendship will strengthen your own place within the relationships you find yourself in.

I suddenly realized, as I read the last pages, I was no longer sitting on my couch. I was leaning forward with my elbows on my knees, the book dangling in the air, as the plot became just as unmoored as the physical book in my hands. The ending will leave you somewhat breathless as you struggle to hold tightly to the scattered bits of available hope.

I highly recommend this book. Not because it’s a debut novel but because it is a damn good novel. The appreciative reader within you will stop occasionally to roll the words around in your mouth and the writer within will jealously wonder: “Why didn’t I think to write that phrase myself?!” Such a delightful story and the writing therein.

Prayer is an acknowledgement of fear, of that which cannot be controlled or contained or even understood. It is a surrender and an attack, all at once.

for this moment.

2020. Dude. We are tired.

Just like you, I have felt overwhelmed and confused and demotivated and quite frankly, just SAD this year.

I lost a college friend today to sudden heart failure. He was 58 years old. To some of you, that may sound logical. To someone nearer that age, you know how young that truly is. He left behind a wife, two girls in college and a 7th grade son.

He has served as mayor of a thriving city for 20 some odd years. He was beloved and effective and will be deeply missed.

My physical world, currently, is immersed in fog and smoke and terrible air quality from the California fires. So not only was I feeling heavy at the loss of Mike today, but I was surrounded by the physical reminder that all around me was the loss of property and animals and memories and ancient trees and breath-taking beauty.

It’s too much, God. It’s too much. I felt listless and directionless.

Then this verse came to mind and a small shift happened in my brain. While I am raising my fists and confusion to the sky thinking WHY do we have to live through this tumultuous time of pandemic and political division and racial injustice and illness and death? WHY do the punches keep piling up? Lord – come ON. Enough!

Esther says that perhaps…THIS is the time that was meant for you. YOU are needed right now. In the midst of all the grief, it is not that you have to live through such difficulty but that the difficulty and injustice and sickness and division needs you.

If you are here right now in 2020, is it because you are needed for a task uniquely suited for your talents? Your intelligence? Your capacity for compassion and empathy? Is that why you’re here today? Is this the moment that is waiting for you?

We were each fearfully and wonderfully and wildly uniquely made. What is the moment you were created to own? To lead? To listen to? To advise or protest or hug or cry or text or smile into?

Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

I miss Castle.

I realize this isn’t something I need to hide (anymore.) But you have to understand, I started this secret habit back before it was cool.

I was a full-fledged adult with full-fledged middle school and high school children when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants first came out. I hid in my bedroom and read every book. I was deeply invested in each character.

Hi. My name is Greta. I love to read memoirs and crime and history and fiction and non-fiction and……YA. Yes, I read young adult novels.

(Once a trend becomes acceptable and popular, it’s hard to break the habit of hiding your secrets!)

The main character in this YA book is Castle Cranshawl (aka: ‘Ghost’.) The narrative is from his own perspective as a middle schooler from a low income home. Sort of by accident, he finds himself learning a new sport: running track. What started as a competition between two students ended with an Olympic coach immediately recognizing Castle’s natural talent as a runner. As a reader, you are instantly on Jamal’s side and cheering for his new passion. If I could sit in the bleachers at one of his events, I would!

GHOST, by Jason Reynolds (a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature), draws you in quickly to Castle’s world while also addressing subjects like social inequality, an abusive parent, bullying, a hard-working mom, mentoring and what it’s like to be a Black kid from public housing learning to trust adults and even harder, his fellow track competitors. Sure – he’s got natural talent as a runner. But will his anger trip him up?

I wholeheartedly recommend this for your young reader. It’s uplifting and told from a first person’s perspective. Great conversation starters for your kids or students.

But I warn you, you’ll miss Castle, too, once the book is through. Lucky for us, however, GHOST is the first in a Track Series of 4 books.

Castle loves sunflower seeds. Readers will love Castle.

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

Books celebrating books. Authors paying homage to readers. This enticing concoction of book-celebrating is an intoxicating elixir when it occurs in a storyline and The Giver of Stars is no exception.

This book is based on a true story in American history.

Historical reference: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration created librarians – primarily made up of women – to ride horses into rural areas and high in the mountains, bringing books to those who otherwise would have no access to books at all. The purpose of this New Deal program was to expand the minds of those that knew very little of a world outside their own immediate family.

Pack-Horse-Eleanor

These women were often referred to as ‘book ladies’ or ‘packsaddle librarians’. Riding through snow, rain, and very difficult terrain, these traveling librarians dropped off books (and picked up returning books) to the outskirts of society. It is estimated that 63% of the state of Kentucky were without access to public libraries and around 30% of rural Kentuckians were illiterate. Roosevelt understood that education was the foundation of change and a path out of poverty and that the education gained from borrowing donated books could have a lasting effect.

Pack-Horse-1

This program also created jobs for women during the Great Depression. ‘Book ladies’ made around $28 a month (the equivalent of about $500 a month today), delivering books to homes and schoolhouses between 1935 and 1943. In 1943 the service lost its funding leaving many Appalachian communities without books for decades until bookmobiles were introduced in the late 1950’s.

The Giver of Stars is a harrowing story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, to bring books to those who had no access.

Alice Wright, born and raised in England, marries wealthy businessman, Bennett Van Cleave, an American from Kentucky. After settling into their new home in rural Appalachia, Alice soon discovers small-town living in Baileyville, Kentucky can feel very claustrophobic. When she learns of the packhorse book project, she eagerly signs up. ‘She covered her own anxiety with activity.’ The five heroic women who eventually form the book distribution team, soon learn to rely on each other as a means of support against familial and community outrage. Many townsmen (led by Alice’s wealthy father-in-law) were indignant that a woman would be capable of such a daunting task.

In any other town, such misdemeanors might eventually be forgotten, but in Baileyville a grudge could last a century and still nurture a head of steam. The people of Baileyville were descended from Celts, from Scots and Irish families, who could hold on to resentment until it was dried out like beef jerky, and bearing no resemblance to its original self.

Alice begins to gain confidence and independence through the difficult work of the packhorse library, traveling hours by herself in the beauty of Kentucky mountains and wide open skies, meeting the warm-hearted people of the rural country, while learning to trust and lean on her fellow librarians.

She had built a new Alice over the frame of one with whom she had never felt entirely comfortable.

I highly recommend this beautifully written book. At times it seems certain they cannot recover from many of their adventures and Moyes leaves you hanging until the last minute. Loss and love and renewal and commitment weave themselves through each adventure. Getting to know each of these remarkable women was a literary privilege for me as well as delving deeper into the historical facts surrounding this amazing chapter in American history.

grateful for a week of vacation…

Scott went back to work today after being off for a week. I am thankful for the week of vacation. I am thankful to be back to a routine. You know the feeling, right?

We all have different kinds of friends in life. It adds the spice to living. When we announced we were moving to California, almost to a person our friends said, ‘We can’t wait to come visit you there!’ It’s something you say, no? It just seems like the appropriate thing to lessen the upcoming distance in your friendship.

But not our friend, Rachel. As soon as we found a house here in California, she sent me a text with her available dates and asked, ‘When can I come?’ (big grin) For any enneagram followers, Rachel is an 8. She waits for no man! She strikes out and gets what she wants. A weekend trip to the west coast was what she wanted.

And we were more than happy to oblige!

Therefore, our week of vacation was spent preparing for Rachel’s arrival, the daytrips we took with her, and then spending some quiet evenings alone after she left – vegging and relaxing. It was the perfect week!

It was great having Rachel here. She is a bundle of sunshine and energy. But we were also glad to have a representation of Kansas City walking around in our California home. It was a nice connection to our home town and our first out-of-town guest.

We picked her up from the airport and drove to San Francisco – defying the rain to stop our plans. We ate seafood on the boardwalk and shopped at an adorable Marketplace on the pier that was filled with artisan cheese shops, meat and fish markets and everything in between. All local shops. Scott and I both want to head back there soon with a cooler in the trunk to buy some freshly caught fish and make – what I’m sure will be – the most amazing charcuterie board ever! We always look forward to going back to San Francisco. There’s so much to see and do. And there’s nothing quite like the smell of ocean air all around you.

I told Rachel my goal for the weekend was for her to be able to go home and say, ‘We saw the ocean and then the next day, we saw the mountains.’ That’s the greatest thing about where we live – we are a short drive to both extremes.

On Day 2 we drove to Calaveras Big Tree State Park to gawk at the enormous sequoia trees. For me and Scott, it was our first time seeing snow for the year. It was chilly but certainly not unbearable. Besides, the enormity of the sequoias and the immense height of the pines kept your mind off any cold. It was a beautiful, picturesque drive. We stopped to take the occasional picture (but never enough for me!) and even popped into a local donut shop in a small town along the way. After seeing the trees (and eating our picnic lunch in the middle of the park…but inside the warm car!), we stopped in a few antique shops in towns we passed on our way up the foothills. It was the perfect little daytrip.


(Scott is standing on the stump of a giant sequoia. For reference, Scott is 6’3″!)

We arrived back home in mid-afternoon as the Kansas City Chiefs were playing their play-off game against the Indianapolis Colts. We recorded the game so we could watch it a little later than the start time. We sped through the commercials and eventually caught up to the end of the game to watch with the rest of the world as the Chiefs decidedly, 31-13. We are now gearing up for the game on Sunday against the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. All fingers and toes are crossed.

On Day 3 – and sadly the last day Rachel was here – we drove around our nearby town of Folsom. We spend a lot of time in Folsom as well as attend church there. We wanted to show her our little historic church where we attend as well as some area shops. We did a little shopping, grabbed some lunch, then drove by the Folsom Prison (made famous by Johnny Cash) before driving to the airport in Sacramento for her return flight home. It was a jam-packed weekend and it felt invigorating and adventuresome.

For the remaining days of his vacation, Scott and I worked on a few projects around the house and did the normal running around town for this and that. But mostly, we took it easy. We watched some favorite movies and we watched some new ones. We played card games (complete with thick banter and bullying) and Scott made some wood projects in his workshop (which I will blog about soon.) I worked on my California Adventures album (also, an upcoming blog post.)

Scott and I are good at doing hard things together and doing slothful things together… we are a good team and you know what? I really miss him when he’s gone back to work after being off for a week…

We continue to enjoy our life out here on the west coast. It’s also a lot of fun when others come and enjoy it with us. Thanks for a great visit, Rachel!