When nothing is everything

I’m not going to lie, I was a little afraid the first time I got census cases assigned to me in a rougher neighborhood.

The neighborhood was known for its shootings. It was a place I was rumored to say I would never work. I didn’t fit in. In most other neighborhoods I could blend in.

I was the only white lady around town on that day. An older lady yelled out to me from her window that she had a knife and she was not afraid to cut me. She had to be talking to me because I didn’t see anyone else around. I ignored her and moved on. Was she crazy or was she seriously afraid of me?? I was glad I didn’t have to make a stop at her house to find out.

It was a hot Sunday afternoon. Too hot to stay inside without air conditioning. When I got there, I felt like I just stepped off the plane into some warm Caribbean country. The neighborhood was full of old houses. A warm breeze blew through the streets. Somewhere close by, but never seen, was the sound of a live Mexican polka band. I’m not sure what the music is called but it was very upbeat and relaxing. In a strange way, I felt like I was on vacation which helped calm my nerves.

I saw a family outside, an older man surrounded by his children perhaps. I was wandering around stopping at various houses at times lost. I stopped when their dog barked at me and asked if I was going in the right direction. They were very friendly. I told them maybe I would be back.

I ended up wandering back an hour later and they were still there. There had to be about 10 people sitting on plastic chairs laughing and talking. I was told I needed to speak to the grandmother of the house. She did not speak English but would have a grandchild translate.

The grandma beckoned me inside. As a census worker, we are not encouraged to enter homes to conduct interviews. It was not forbidden either. I felt like it would be rude to turn down the invitation. I entered the house and there were about 20 children inside playing. They were not on screens, they were not fighting, they were just playing quietly with each other.

The house was clean but sparsely furnished. They did not have much, but I was asked to sit on their modest furniture so I sat. I spoke to the grandmother. Although in the eyes of the world she had nothing, she had everything.

She had on a warm Sunday afternoon what most families are lucky to get on Thanksgiving. Even then it is usually filled with stress. Will there be fights about politics? Will Joe drink too much? Will all of the kids be on their phones acting bored? Maybe we can zone out and watch a game on TV so we don’t fight. This forced let’s try to pretend to get along thing just seemed to come naturally to them. Maybe it was something they did every Sunday afternoon.

I thought about how I did not see my brother yet this year. My other brother I saw months before back in January. We rarely talk. My parents are contemplating divorce. Broken families. Stress. Always busy. Rarely taking the time to just sit and rejoice in each others presence on cheap plastic chairs.

After the interview was over, I was offered something to drink. I felt very humbled by the experience. I told the family as I was leaving how blessed they were as I tried to keep the tears from my eyes.

They had nothing. The kids didn’t have cell phones. I didn’t even see a TV. The house was old. The furniture was worn. Yet they had everything.

Somehow I found myself envious of everything they had as I left to go back home to my big empty house.

Gratitude week 15

  1. It’s Easter! Although this is probably the first Easter that I didn’t go to church, it was one of the most enjoyable. We colored eggs while watching church online. We have the technology to do amazing things. Plus I didn’t have to dress up or anything.
  2.  And more compliments on my hair.
  3.  Clara was able to travel safely back home to Germany where she was reunited with her family.
  4.  We have been getting cards in the mail from friends and family telling us how special we are to them. It really means a lot.
  5.  I have been digging out memory boxes from storage from our wedding and when the kids were little. It brings back many happy times that I’ve almost forgotten.
  6.  A huge snowstorm is making its way through Wisconsin and it looks like it might miss us.
  7.  Life has gotten a lot quieter and less rushed. I like it more that way. When this whole isolation thing is over I might examine how busy I want my life to be going forward. It has given us the opportunity to look at what we want to keep or get rid of.
  8.  I am thankful for self-awareness.
  9.  I am thankful that all of my friends and family are healthy and safe.
  10.  I am grateful that today I am making the most out of the situation we find ourselves in. Although it doesn’t feel like Easter, or spring, we can take what we have and make the best of it.

My son’s graduation

It happened on a rare perfect day in Wisconsin. The temperature 75 degrees with a light breeze under partly sunny skies. No rain, no muggy humidity.

I’m not sure why we felt so stressed out that morning as my husband and I snapped at each other. Maybe the perfect conditions was a sure sign to be cautious that something might go wrong.

Last minute Alex couldn’t find dress pants that fit and had to borrow a pair of Paul’s. I was worried that he would be late for school one last time.

We sat with family on the bleachers in the gym. I tried to keep an open mind, yet inwardly I judged.

Did the people in front of us manage to have some of the few empty seats because they purposely didn’t shower? I ended up sitting behind them because no one else could stand the smell.

Then there was the mother with the ripped jeans and crop top like she was attending her daughter’s graduation from pole dancing school. I was appalled. I am not big on fashion, but made sure to buy myself a new dress. There are some things that one must simply look respectable for.

There was the child that sat behind us with an incessant whine.

Well at least they were there showing their support which is more than my dad did. He decided not to attend.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was filled with anxiety.

I was worried all week that I would get that knock on my door with a certified letter stating that my son did not meet the requirements to graduate. I imagined myself full of shame as I explained why my son’s name wasn’t called at the graduation ceremony when people came bearing gifts at his graduation party. But I emptied that anxiety just to fill it with more.

I had irrational fear that my son would end up punching someone instead of shaking their hand as he received his diploma. I still thought that maybe he wouldn’t graduate as he received his diploma. There was a part of me that was very unsettled. I felt fear that there could be a school shooting during the graduation. Sadly, I no longer feel safe in large crowds of people.

I saw my son’s friends come in that attended another school. Included in the group was the boy we took into our home that stole from us. I felt uncomfortable.

My brother Luke asked my daughter’s boyfriend Dan if he was having flashbacks of his own graduation there. He said, “Yeah, more like PTSD”.

The graduation ceremony was boring. It was hard to see, the nearby projector didn’t work and the microphone kept cutting out if the speaker didn’t have their mouth right on the microphone.

The guest speaker was a doctor of neurophysics. She showed pictures of herself and spoke of all of her amazing accomplishments in a monotone voice. I thought to myself that I needed to get out of all graduation ceremonies I can in the future.

After the ceremony was done, I felt very happy and giddy. I was ready to go out and pop champagne in the school parking lot. Would that be against the law? Never mind, I didn’t have any champagne. I hugged boy B’s mom. We did it! We convinced our boys that hated school to graduate. I can’t quite explain the feeling. I felt like I almost got hit by a bus, but at the last second got away. That feeling of just escaping disaster. My son was also the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time.

Afterwards, we had family over at our house. It was so nice that we were able to play games outside and sit on the patio with a fire.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. We are happy that our son graduated. I can’t tell you how relieved I am.

 

 

Birthday blessings

Today is a special day because it is the golden birthday of the child we recently sponsored in Togo, Africa. I’m sure he won’t be complaining that the birthday money I sent will be a little late.

This child comes from one of the poorest countries in the world. He has a big head and a tiny little emaciated body. Almost half of the people don’t have electricity. Most don’t have indoor bathrooms and have to walk for miles to get clean drinking water. That is their normal. I feel grimy if I can’t shower everyday. Showering is probably the least of their concerns.

The average annual salary in Togo is $400, so the $30 that we are sending him every month is considerable. But what is it to us? We probably spend close to their annual salary in one month of internet and cell phone charges. We are giving $30 out of our excess. Pocket change..coffee for a month..

It reminds me of the Biblical story of the rich man giving a lot of money and the poor widow giving the last of her money. Who gave more? The rich man. But did he really when the widow gave everything she had?

We had the opportunity to sponsor a child years ago but didn’t. Money was tight starting a business on one income with 3 little mouths to feed. It seemed practical to not spend any extra money. We didn’t give when we had little to give.

The child we sponsor sent a letter saying that he was praying that God would bless us for our giving. I’ll admit, it did give me warm fuzzies. But am I really that great if I am giving out of my excess? Maybe I should sponsor 100 children…but I would have to give up blogging to write all of those letters.

To tell you the truth, it is really hard to relate to a child whose favorite toy is a ball. He would be overjoyed to receive a new ball for his birthday. A ball? Not the newest iPhone? Or how about a fidget spinner? Or is that fad over now?? That’s right, most of the children in Togo don’t have the opportunity to stay in school. The literacy rate is horrifying, not to mention how the kids become easy target for sex trafficking.

Someday we would like to visit our child in Togo. I think it would be a humbling experience. Paul and I always spoke of doing a mission trip. We would love to help people rebuild their lives. But we wouldn’t be able to commit to anything until after our children grow up.

Paul mentioned how nice it would be to go to Togo to bring our sponsor child home with us to the land of milk and honey. Or the land of beer and cheese depending on how you view Wisconsin.

Can you imagine what it would be like to place an iPhone in the hands of a child who lived his whole life without electricity? He would be sickened by our excess.

Is it arrogant to think that our way of life is better?? I mean, my kids don’t call me a blessing every time they nickel and dime ($5 and $10) me. Which, come to think of it, happens pretty often.

I bet the food our country throws away in one day would be enough to feed another country. Remember the guilt trip our parents took us on about the starving kids in Africa when we didn’t eat all of our food? If only our parents could’ve sent our food there.

I think the average American would love to help those in desperate need if they could. If they can’t physically help, they would love to send money. The problem is that we are afraid. We all know of someone that was scammed. We cannot trust that our money is going to where it is supposed to go. There are some bad people out there that really ruin things for the people that need help.

Regardless, I feel blessed to help a child. Happy birthday to my other ‘son’.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!!

It wasn’t too long ago that I finished the 30 day writing challenge. Really, I told you everything there was to tell about myself and then some. What more is there to blog about? 

It was nice having a preset topic to write about every day. It has been an adjustment just thinking of what to say. To think that I wrote almost every day for a year and a half. Where did I come up with all of my ideas??

But I did miss writing about the day to day adventures. Oh, I have a few good stories to tell you about things that happened over the 30 day challenge that I missed writing about. But I’ll save those for another day.

Yesterday Angel came home from college for Thanksgiving break. Today my 2 daughters and I spent the last 4 hours in the kitchen. All we have to show for it is 2 cherry pies, 3 dozen deviled eggs, and a large stack of dirty dishes. And it is almost time to make supper! How did women do this everyday?? I suppose not everyday was Thanksgiving.

We are having a small crew this year…Just ten people…our family of 5 plus Angel’s boyfriend and Alex’s girlfriend, my mom, dad, and Matt. 

I would’ve had Alex bake today too. He is good in the kitchen. But he is spending the day with his girlfriend. They have been going out for 6 months as of today. Angel and her boyfriend have been together 3 years as of this month as well. They both picked good choices…no matter what ends up happening…I am thankful I am not worried about them dating horrible people…

Really, there is so much to be thankful for…things I take for granted…

I have a wonderful husband, 3 great kids, a good job, a warm house, food on the table, and so many blessings…

I am thankful for you…taking the time to get to know me..

Okay, enough of being all mushy! 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

17. What I wish I was great at…

Day 17: What is the thing you most wish you were great at?

I wish I was a great painter, but instead I enjoy painting beautiful pictures with my camera.

I wish I was a great at drawing. If I could draw, I could use a pencil to create something magnificent. Instead, I loop and swirl my pencil to create insightful words.

I wish I was good at gardening. I could plant the soil, water it, pluck out the weeds, and watch it grow. Then I would harvest the fruits of my labor. Instead, I work at fostering the growth of my relationships with those around me in a similar way.

I wish I was a great dancer. I could be flexible and graceful. But then I probably wouldn’t be a runner, something I love but probably wouldn’t have tried if I could dance.

I wish I was great at remodeling old houses. I could take what is broken and fix it. Although, I am enough of a fixer upper to last myself a lifetime of improvements. 

These are just a few things I wish I was great at…But there isn’t enough time in the day to be good at everything…So I’ll be happy with the gifts I have been given.

Until we meet again

Grandma, I know you said it was your time to leave. I want you to come back. I long to hear your voice. We should be sitting in a small town restaurant celebrating your birthday today.

Remember the time that Matt poked me in the eye? I cried and cried. You rocked me in your arms and sang to me. I wanted to hurt Matt back. You held Matt tight in your embrace. You comforted him. You taught me to love when I wanted to hate.

Remember the night that baby Luke was born? I was 4. You put the straight section of the circular green Davenport, as you called it, against the wall for me to sleep on. I told you that I was going to sleep with gum in my mouth. You told me it was a bad idea, but you didn’t stop me. I woke up with sticky gum all over my face and in my hair. You were right. Then you slept on the other part of the couch. The street light shining in on us through the window. Grandpa loudly snoring upstairs. 

Remember the doll house you made for me? You painted the walls, made curtains out of old lace that you thumb tacked to the walls, and used buttons as light fixtures. You squeezed your big fingers in the little material to make my doll clothes. Remember my doll stroller? Remember the doll that had buttons, zippers, and ties that would help me learn how to dress myself? Or giving me your hand towels for blankets when my dolls got cold? 

Remember cooking for me? You would send me off with a jar of cookies. You would prepare a feast when I visited. Remember me asking if my stomach would explode after eating too much of my favorite soup? Then when my kids were little, you gave them a tea party with juice in little tea cups. You had little plates of cheese and grapes for them. They were so excited.

Where would I be without you? You brought peace, comfort, and stability into my chaotic life. 

I will think of you today and remember all that you have done for me. I will celebrate your life! The candles are lit without a cake. I look at your picture as I smell the sweet fragrance of your favorite perfume. It is my ritual every year. For a brief second, I pretend that you are still here. I will never forget you.  

Happy birthday, Grandma! Until we meet again…

Grace uncommon, part 14

When I was a young girl, some of my best memories were of times spent with Aunt Grace. She would take me on bus trips to see musicals. Sometimes she would let me bring along a friend or my mom and grandma would go. I would stay overnight at Grace’s house the night before. I would always end the evening with a bubble bath. Then we were up before dawn to catch the bus.

One of the first shows that I remember seeing was Hello Dolly in Chicago. I don’t remember a lot about the show. Grace was excited that Mickey Rooney was in it. Plus the main female actress was rather old, maybe around 80. I don’t remember her age…I could be way off. What was old to me then is a lot different than what is old to me now. Heck, she could have been 40 but I don’t think so. Grace was excited that the female lead could do the splits and dance with the energy of a young adult. I remember being in awe of that too since I couldn’t dance, much less do the splits as a little girl.

Then Grace took me on a bus trip to see Oklahoma at the Fireside Theater in Fort Atkinson. I remember the meal before the show. Grace let me sit at the head of the table in a big theatrical wicker chair. They brought food out to the table that was on fire. I remember little of the show.

The next show that we were supposed to see, we didn’t end up going to. We were hit by a big snowstorm the night before and couldn’t go. I was so disappointed. Not long after that, Grace took me to see Annie at a local high school. Then she bought orange material and sewed me an Annie dress which unfortunately I did not wear that much.

When I was an adult, she still wanted to see shows. We watched Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon. I remember glancing over at Grace during the opening scene of Miss Saigon when the women came out on stage in thongs. I thought that she would be appalled, but she loved the show.

I think that all of those good memories prompted me to get on stage despite my shyness. When Grace found out that I could sing, she always asked me to sing songs in church. Then I started to audition for musicals at the local community theater. The first musical that I auditioned for, I took my daughter Angelique to audition as well when she was 8 years old. She has been singing and acting ever since.

The last couple of weekends, Angel has been auditioning for college and a summer performing job. She picked her college and auditioned for both the musical theater and vocal performance programs. The vocal performance program accepted her on the spot. We are still anxiously waiting to hear back from the musical theater program and the summer job which are much more competitive.

I feel that Aunt Grace was very instrumental in my love for the theater. This appreciation was passed down to Angel. I love the way that family blessings have a way of trickling down through the generations. Sometimes you never know the effect that you have on other people. Sometimes I wonder what my grandchildren will be like. Or I ponder over how different my life would be if I never had someone special like Aunt Grace in my life.

 

Grace uncommon, part 12

I remember it being a very difficult weekend. It probably would have been in the top ten worst weekends of my adult life. But who wants to keep track of such things.

I don’t think that I could adequately describe how it feels to take care of a loved one that is suffering and dying from dementia. It was different from being a caregiver for my autistic brother, Matt. Sure, they both had good days and bad days. With Grace it was a gradual decline. Most days I didn’t recognize her anymore than she recognized me. I grieved for her while she will still living because she was already gone.

I was exhausted to the point of where I thought I could no longer hold on to the loose strings of my sanity. I hadn’t slept. Dealing with sleep deprivation was never a strong suit of mine. My patience was running thin. I was worn down.

It was one of those weekends that Aunt Grace was up every hour during the night. I “slept” on the couch right outside of her bedroom. Just when I was almost back to sleep, she would be up again. The kids would be up in a few hours and I hadn’t slept yet. I was having a hard time.

As I was walking with Grace to the bathroom, she looked right at me and asked me my name. I replied, “My name is Alissa.” Aunt Grace looked at me and responded, “I once knew a girl by the name of Alissa. She was a very kind and caring girl. I think that if you met her, you would really like her.” She was talking about me without knowing who I was.

I think at that very moment, God was looking down upon me with mercy. He gave me a glimmer of light to help guide me down a dark road. It was such a meaningful blessing to me that it motivated me to finish the race strong. It was exactly what I needed to get through.

I will never forget that moment.

1oo followers!

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Thank you, thank you, thank you to my 100 followers! 

A few weeks back my employee gave me a 32 fl oz can of Badger State chocolate stout for a special occasion. He often brings back beer from around the state to appease me. So I said to myself that when I get one hundred followers, I will crack it open and share some with my husband. Somehow I thought that time would stand still for a couple minutes but apparently once again I was wrong. It happened last night before I went to bed and I couldn’t justify opening it right before bed. So seemingly by magic when I woke up I had 101 followers which was good because maybe one would back out and then I would have to let the beer sit longer.

Along with opening a special occasion beer, I am going to upgrade my wordpress account to make it more user friendly. I thought that I would have time to do that this morning, but after I got in to work it became quite obvious that wasn’t going to happen. There was problem after problem after problem. I took the afternoon off to run to appointments with the kids. This morning at work the employee that covers for me called in sick, so I became bottle necked at work. While at work I received a call that the 40 mph winds that we are having ripped my hot tub cover off. 

I did get the appointments and errands run efficiently then drove home through a blizzard. Yes, winter did finally make it to Wisconsin. We still have strong winds and are expecting a foot of snow tonight. Bring it on! Maybe I can finally use those cross country skis! Until then, I am cracking open a beer too celebrate.