The Blizzard of April 2018 (Part 1)

By mid-April in the South, temperatures routinely reach the 70s and 80s. Dogwoods, red buds, and azaleas bloom, grass turns green, and leaves green up the spectral branches of trees. To get my fill of warm weather that is still to come in Wisconsin, I usually watch the season in its glory as I watch the Master’s on TV. Living in the Midwest, I miss that slow unfolding of the spring every year, and here in Wisconsin I wear wool sweaters and pour over seed catalogs dreaming of warmer days.

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Bumblebee on a Red Bud tree blossom

Even after 20 years in the Midwest, I remain an eternal optimist that spring will reach Wisconsin before May, but that’s rare. This year, like last year, we had an April snowstorm, though not nearly as bad in Wisconsin as it was in the plains. The threat of a snowstorm this year brought back vivid flashbacks of last year’s blizzard. You’ll see why when I share the pictures. Today is the one year anniversary of that epic storm.

Beginning at night on Friday, April 13, 2018 (how appropriate) and ending on April 15, a blizzard vanquished our spring in one weekend. Mother Nature showed off by dropping every kind of precipitation on us, beginning with rain and ending with a blizzard. Snow on snow on snow. So much snow fell for so long it felt apocalyptic.

Sno on Snow
What I saw after the blizzard when I opened my front door.

On Sunday evening after the snow had stopped, the weather in Green Bay recorded 33 inches of snow on the ground. At my house six foot drifts covered everything. I’ve never seen so much snow. It piled up so high I couldn’t leave my house. And except for my Stella, my loyal Labrador, I was alone. My husband was in South Korea for the entire month on his last deployment there. Before he left at the end of March, we had a six inch snowfall, and while he was clearing that away, our snow blower broke. He parked it in the garage and said, “You won’t need that while I’m gone.” Right.

Where's the driveway
Hubby’s car is under here somewhere!

The world was white and cold, the snow too deep to walk through. I tried and sank to my thighs in the backyard. I shoveled the back patio so Stella could go out and use the bathroom. She sank to her chest where there were no drifts.

Stella and drifts
Stella exploring the drifts.

I tried to shovel the path out my front door, but the snow was too heavy. I ended up paying a neighbor kid fifty dollars to shovel my front porch and a path from my back door to the garage entrance. I waited for help. Before my husband left, he’d talked to our neighbors and asked them to help me if I needed it while he was gone. They called and let me know they help as soon as they dug themselves out. Then my closest neighbor’s snowblower broke. Keith, our further away neighbor, tried to use his machine, but it wouldn’t even make a dent in the huge amounts of snow in his driveway. We were all stuck.

car under snow

Finally, when I thought I might be stuck there until it melted, one of the neighbors from further away show up with a skid steer.

Skid steer to the rescue
Skid steer to the rescue!

It took awhile but I finally could see the driveway. I could finally get out of the house and walk around the neighborhood. But I had no idea what I would find a couple of days later.

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Love at First Sight

How love begins fascinates me, probably because of the way I fell in love. Sometimes people know each other for only a short time before they find they can’t live without each other. Sometimes they know each other for most of their lives and slip into life together seamlessly. Sometimes people meet and know almost immediately that they were meant to be together. That’s what happened to me. I fell in love with my husband the first time I saw him. I have no idea why, but something about him resonated with me, long before I ever spoke to him. He was my fairy tale, my Prince Charming, my knight in shining armor.

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I remember the moment I saw him like it was yesterday. I was in summer school, my last quarter of college, finishing the last two classes I needed for graduation. My friend Laura wanted me to go to O’Malley’s bar with her, but I didn’t want to go out that night. Laura could be very persuasive, and I went. I’m awfully glad I did. (Thanks again, Laura!)

O'Malley's

O’Malley’s on the Oconee 

Located on the Oconee River, O’Malley’s was a bar with a split personality. Inside a dance bar throbbed with music and crowds of people. Outside, young men and women enjoyed fine summer weather on the deck overhanging the Oconee. The first time I saw my husband, I was walking out to the deck from inside. I looked across the wooden expanse of deck filled with people and saw a man in a sky blue polo shirt sitting on the top rail talking to his friend. He had a beautiful smile and an honest face. When I saw him, I nudged Laura and said, “You see that guy over there in the blue shirt? That’s my husband.”

I can’t tell you why I knew that, but I did, as surely as I knew my own name. Only a few times in my life have I been struck with absolute certainty of the outcome of events, but each time I’ve had that feeling, what I’ve foreseen has come true. I was certain about him.

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Engagement photo: We were so young!

During the course of the night, I literally ran smack into him inside the crowded bar area. He said hi, and I said hi. Then he said he was going to get a drink, and I thought my chance was over. Later that night, the man I thought I liked asked me why the guys I was talking to were all guys he knew, which really meant I shouldn’t hit on his friends, I suppose. (I wasn’t.) I saw my future hubby sitting close by, and worked up some courage. I walked over to him, and the first thing he said was, “There you are,” like he had been looking for me. I was smitten.

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Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston

We talked the rest of the night. I found out he was only in Athens for three weeks. (the horror!) He was there for a class at the Navy Supply Corps School. Thank goodness I met him the second night he was there! He asked me for my phone number, and I gave it to him. But with drunken helpfulness, I tried to help him memorize it. Three days later, my friend and I were “laying out” by the pool at my apartment complex, and I wondered out loud why he hadn’t called. “He was so sincere, ” I said. “He just didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would ask for my number and not call.” Then I recalled our conversation and my “helpfulness.”

Once again, I worked up some courage, but this time no alcohol was involved. I called the Navy school and asked for him. The person who answered took my message. It was simply my name and the correct phone number. He called about 20 minutes later to ask me out for a date. That was in July. I proceeded to skip two weeks of summer school to spend time with him. I even missed an exam. When i went to plead my case to the professor, I told him the truth. I said I had met the man I was going to marry and had spent all my time with him. He allowed me to make up the exam. We became engaged the following January and married the following October.

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Marine Corps Ball 1986

Today, October 3rd, we have been married for 30 years, but it feels like we’ve known each other forever. He’s my best friend, the love of my life, and the man I will always follow wherever life takes us. We are living our happily ever after!

sword arch kiss

Happily Ever After!

 

Farewell, My Son

Trav and Mom
Our nest is empty. That reality seems so very final. I knew I would face this moment at some point, but it happened “slowly and then all at once,” as John Green says. After living with us for about a year after college, my youngest son has taken a job in the big city and moved out of our house. I miss him. I feel at once bereft and relieved, worried and proud, worn out and hopeful. You see, he’s my baby, my last baby, and I was reluctant to let him go. He was always the child who held on tight. When his brother dropped my hand and ran into the room full of kids for his first day of preschool, my youngest used to tell his dad and me he wanted to live with us forever.

I see a parallel in his time here and my oldest son’s time at home after college. I wrote of his time with me in The Gift of Time. I had each of them for about a year after college until they decided on a course of action for their lives. I’m not sad my youngest boy has started his own life; I just wish there were a way to see him more often, both of them actually. Giving up mothering has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Even though I know I’m not giving it up entirely and that they still need me, they need me differently now.

Travis and the packed car

My youngest son is not really much different from the boy he was growing up. He is still sweet, sensitive, and cautious, but he is also smart, tenacious, and determined. He goes after what he wants and rarely lets anyone or anything interfere with his goals. Over the years I saw evidence of his tenacity and determination when he played soccer. He never reached the level of play he wanted to when he was in high school, but I think that leftover hunger to reach his goals has served him well in teaching him to persevere, even in the face of obstacles.
I also see much of the same loyal and caring little boy his dad and I raised in his friendships, many of which he formed when we first moved from Florida to Wisconsin. He still is friends with the same group of boys he grew up with, but he also made some new friends in Minneapolis where he lives now, both in college and at places where he worked. Friends have always meant the world to him, even when he was three years old. Despite his affection for his friends, he is still an introvert, who needs quiet and time alone to recharge his batteries. And sleep. He needs sleep. Even when he was a little guy, he would go to his room to “have a rest.” That was code for some “me time” and, despite his assurances to the contrary back then, nap time.

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He spent his early years as a superhero, a cowboy, a fireman, and an intrepid explorer,
believing all the while in his invincibility. When our children are little, we don’t always appreciate the time when they are young, when we are their whole world and can make everything good and peaceful for them. It’s exhausting and difficult and wonderful. Often we say things like, “I can’t wait until he’s older so I won’t have to __________(Insert whatever you like here).” But really, the time they are little passes so quickly, quicker than I ever imagined. That time of mothering my babies was  an awesome responsibility but one I miss.

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At times I’ve wanted to hold on to my baby, (like I have recently). From the moment he was able to smile, he did and has been bent on happiness ever since. I miss his impish charm and lightning smile, his eyes crinkled up by dimpled cheeks, but the days when his dad and I were his whole world are over, and that’s how it should be. His world is expanding exponentially. I think one of the ways parents can know they’ve done a good job raising their babies is that their babies are ready to fly. That’s what both my boys have done. They were ready and they have flown. My youngest has big plans for his life, and I wish him everything good and wonderful and beautiful. Although the mom in me misses my little boy, I’m so proud of the man he has become.

 

 

 

 

 

Shannon Anderson to be in Word of Art 2

I’m very excited to go to Illinois to read my short essay “A Place of Peace” about my special spot by the river here in Wisconsin! I can’t wait to see the art that Sarah McCashland created to go with my words!
I’m buying a book for my mom. Is there ever a time we don’t want our mothers to be proud of us? I’ll post news and pictures of the event here on my blog. Stay tuned!!!

In Print Writers

Congratulations to author Shannon Anderson! Her work has been selected to be in the Word of Art 2 exhibition and publication! Shannon is an aspiring novelist and teacher. She has written one novel and is at work on two others, as well as short stories and some poetry. She teaches English in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. When she’s not teaching, she is writing or gardening with Stella, her silver Labrador, by her side.

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Two Months

Please read this essay by my talented friend Karla, aka K. J. Klemme, author of Tourist Trapped.

View from my backyard

cemetery2Two months ago friends and family gathered to say goodbye. Choking back tears, they expressed their sympathies, offered their support.

Two months ago.

Time passed and coworkers moved onto the next happiness and sadness. They stopped asking you how you are with expressions filled with sorrow. They forgot you lost the person who made you whole.

I didn’t.

I know your struggle, I know your pain, but you don’t realize I know.

You go home every night to your boys, fulfilling role of father and mother. Consoling and supporting, showing strength gained through years of surgeries, chemotherapy and prayer.

You survived the worst, the moment you dreaded for years. She’s gone, leaving nothing behind except pictures, her personal items, and the memory of the warmth of her skin against yours. Sometimes you can’t bear the pain, and other times you’re relieved you no longer carry the burden of a sick…

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What Outlander Taught Me about Writing

Outlander!Three weeks ago I dove headlong into my newest book and read with abandon. I’ve done little else since then. I barely noticed what was going on around me because, once again, I was living in the 18th century with Jamie and Claire Fraser. I’m sure most of you have guessed that I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Just as her other books, beginning with Outlander, captivated me, this one has plunged me happily into the past through the imaginary standing stones at Craigh na dun in Scotland and into the American Revolutionary War.

Diana’s books defy description and genre. They are a mix of history, romance, and fantasy, categorized as time-travel romance according to some people. Reading this latest installment has been a wonderful way to spend the last bit of my summer before school starts once again, and I have to turn my attention to work rather than my own reading and writing. Sigh. Mind you, I haven’t neglected my writing while I’ve been reading. I’ve actually learned a lot from reading these books, particularly this one, mainly because I’ve been paying attention!

1. Use interesting vocabulary. Here are just a few memorable ones from this book of the Outlander series.

  • hoik–to pick up of heave something.
  • gobsmacked–astonished, astounded
  • mizzle–misty drizzle
  • buckram–stiff cotton fabric used in book bindings
  • erstwhile–former, previous

Using interesting vocabulary might seem obvious, but we tend to use the same words repeatedly. Paying attention to our choices is important.

2. Make sure readers learn something as they read.

Gabaldon is a research professor, and her vast research shows ! Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser is the main character of the series. She is a nurse and then later a doctor.  We learn through Claire about what amputations are like, how surgeries conducted without anesthesia feel, how to set broken bones, treatment of burns, gathering of medicinal herbs and too many other tasks to count. We also learn a great deal about herbs and plants and their medicinal uses through Claire’s medical practice also. One such example of an interesting tidbit occurs when Claire is shot in this latest book. When her friend has to retrieve the bullet, Claire is awake but under the influence of laudanum. When she discovers that a French general of the Continental Army has sent her some Roquefort cheese to tempt her in her recovery, she has the surgeon pack her wound with Roquefort cheese because the compound the cheese contains is the same one penicillin is made from!

3. Appeal to the senses. I can’t possibly cite the whole book here, but I could. Here is just a sample of marvelous imagery from Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. “We slept that night in the public room of an ordinary in Langhorne. Bodies were sprawled on tables and benches, curled under tables, and laid in haphazard arrangements on pallets, folded cloaks, and saddlebags, as far away from the hearth as they could get. The fire was banked, but it still radiated considerable heat. The room was filled with the bitter scents of burning wood and boiling bodies.”

4. Trouble on every page! To start with, the book begins with Claire married to Lord John (Jamie Fraser’s and Claire’s friend) because she thinks Jamie is dead, drowned on the voyage to America. Lord John is gay, however, and only marries her to keep her from being arrested. Jamie isn’t dead and turns up at Lord John’s house in Philadelphia. While Jamie is at Lord John’s talking to Claire, his bastard son, William, whom Lord John raised as his own son, returns home, sees Jamie Fraser–he is the spitting image of him–and concludes rightly that Jamie is his father. He thought Lord John was his father. William proceeds to punch walls, knock down chandeliers, and break the front door in his anger at having been lied to. Jamie kidnaps Lord John…. Get the idea? 🙂

5. Give your characters jobs. Diana Gabaldon shows us Claire’s character through her profession as a physician. She responds to situations as a physician, often putting herself in danger to save others. Jamie is a warrior and farmer. Those two professions define who he is and what happens to him. Brianna, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, is an artist and an engineer. Roger McKenzie, Brianna’s husband is a musician and singer, then becomes a pastor. Fergus, Jamie’s adopted son, is a printer. The “jobs” the characters have are much more than just their activities; their jobs affect what happens to them and also what their reactions to trouble are, and trouble abounds in these novels!

6. Give your characters quirks. Claire uses a peculiar turn of phrase. When she is upset or surprised or taken aback she says “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” Certainly not ordinary swearing. It’s memorable and endearing, not to mention odd. Jamie, on the other hand, has a couple of quirks. He rubs the bridge of his nose when he’s making a decision and he drums his fingers on the table or on his leg when he’s agitated. He also calls Claire Sassenach, the Gaelic word for an outlander or outsider.

These are only a few of the lessons I’ve learned from reading Diana’s books. There are many. If you’ve never heard of Diana Gabaldon, you should go right now to your local book shop or library and check out the first novel in the series, Outlander. These are hefty books. The one I’m currently reading contains 825 pages, so if you love a long book that transports you to a world with unforgettable characters, these books are for you! After reading, you should  watch the new series on TV! That’s right. The STARRZ network is producing Outlander, a show based on Diana’s books. I don’t get cable out here in the boonies where I live in Wisconsin, but I can get Netflix and will so I can watch this story come to life! Here is a trailer for you! Enjoy!

10 Reasons I Love Summer

In the summer months I revel in the weather, my writing, and the freedom of not answering to a schedule dictated by bells. I realize as I write this my family down in Georgia is sweltering with the heat index ranging between 105 -110, and I must say I don’t miss that at all. In fact, I complain a lot about Wisconsin winters and springs because–let’s face it–winter lasts too long and we have no spring. Well, sometimes we do, but not this year. We rolled directly from late winter into summer in a matter of about two weeks. But since I’ve moved to Wisconsin, summer has become my favorite season of the year.

Yesterday I was reflecting on what I love about summer, and I had no trouble coming up with a list.

1. Waking to the sound of birds singing rather than an alarm ringing. With a river behind us and a stream running through the backyard, our yard is a haven for birds. And they wake up at about 4:30-5:00 AM to sing their little hearts out. It’s lovely!

2. Falling asleep to the sound of peepers and frogs singing and croaking. That little stream in our backyard empties into a pond where said peepers and frogs like to hang out. They put on a nightly concert just for us. Once, one of the tree frogs got stuck in the window next to my youngest son’s room. He couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from and struggled to fall asleep each night the singing was so loud!

3. Thunderstorms. Through some trick of nature or topography, my town doesn’t get a lot of severe weather. When we do, the storms are doozies, but usually we just have a gully-washer as my mama use to say.

Delphiniums by my soon-to-be complete vegetable garden.

4. Flowers–everywhere! I don’t know if all southerners are gardeners, but in my family we are or, at least, we profess to be. I love flowers, especially roses. What I’ve learned from gardening in the Midwest, however, is that my gardens don’t tolerate weakness of any kind (I think that may be a metaphor for living in the Midwest.) I don’t grow tea roses which were my daddy’s favorite, specifically Tropicana tea roses, but I do grow Knockout Roses. Ironically, they were developed by the brother of Tom Radler, the wonderful teacher I student taught with years ago.

5. The river and water in general. I grew up on Lake Sinclair in Georgia. We had a lake house (read trailer with an attached screened porch) where we spent nearly every weekend and a lot of weekdays for years. Once we even witnessed a tornado from inside–I know. It’s a miracle I’m still here after surviving a tornado in a trailer! We also spent a lot of time at Jekyll Island on the beach with two other families. Those are great memories, but I’m making new ones on this river behind my house. Once Bruce and I got caught in a thunderstorm while we were floating down the river! Scary but exhilarating!

6. Running and walking with my Stella. During the school year I don’t get nearly enough exercise. I usually put on about ten pounds. All summer I work to take that ten pounds back off! Luckily I enjoy the heat and humidity and also working up a good sweat. As I’ve grown older, it has taken longer to get back into shape, but I keep at it. Not only does Stella like to go with me, but she also gets to swim in the river to cool off. sometimes I wish I could join her!

7. Farmer’s Markets! I will feature my favorite one on my blog soon and show you all the beautiful flowers and vegetables we have available.

My favorite wine and my favorite husband!

8. Relaxing with my hubby on the back porch. We both love to garden, and when we finish, we often relax on the back porch after a dip in the river to cool off. One of my favorite things is spending time with my husband, and summer means I can devote quality time to him without being distracted  by grading papers in the evening.

9. Long days–really long! The sun rises here at about 5:00 and doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 at night. If my Norwegian relatives are reading this, they are probably laughing right now! When we went to Norway last summer, the sun never set because we were above the Arctic Circle. I went outside at our cousins’ house at about 3:00 AM, and it was light out! That was a little weird, but we adjusted. I love how long it stays light in summer here because in winter it’s often dark by four in the afternoon, and I thrive on sunlight.

10. Writing–for as long as I want every day! I saved the best for last. I am so excited about the work I did today. (I love calling writing my work!) On Twitter I found two new agents to query for my completed novel, did research for the one I’m planning at the moment, received a book I had requested for research, wrote one blog post and started another one!

Summer is definitely my favorite season here in the Midwest. I’m free to pursue my passion and enjoy the beauty all around me!

Going Home!

I once told my husband–or so he claims–that I would never live above the Mason-Dixon line. After this winter, I think I know why I said that!

Today, however, I am going home to Georgia after five years of being away. I’ve always gone back every couple of years, but the Great Recession stopped my travel this time. Now, we are back on our feet, and although I’ll be taking this trip by myself, I am looking forward to it more than any other trip I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to see my sister when she picks me up. I know I’ll cry!

Although I haven’t lived in the South since 1987, I still consider Georgia to be home and always will. I can’t wait to feel the warm air on my skin and touch the red dirt. Georgia is the place that reminds me who I am and where I came from. It is where my ancestors made their home and where most of my relatives still do. My, how I’ve missed you!

 

No Complaints

This year for Lent I decided to challenge myself in a new way. Rather than giving up sweets, which I usually fail at miserably, I decided to give up complaining. Easy, right? Until I began this challenge on Ash Wednesday, I was unaware how many little annoyances I complained about. I didn’t shout or belabor any particular subject, but I found fault with a multitude of mundane things without even realizing what I was doing.

What I found when I caught myself in the act of complaining was that complaining had become a habit. For example, I’ve moaned about our heater for years. We have geothermal heat at our house, but this winter, in particular, the heat pump has not been able to keep up with the demand. We employed a man to fix the well, but our water pressure doesn’t remain constant if the heat is on and the shower is also on. I usually rush to get ready for work, so my showers are quick during the week. Just yesterday when I was showering, the water was falling in a weak stream–my husband and I joke about our well needing some Viagra. I didn’t have time for the extra minutes I needed to rinse the soap off and started my usual harangue of the heat pump. Then I realized I what I was doing.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and said a quick prayer. When I thought about all I have in my life, I felt ashamed of wanting a shower that rinses me off in seconds. How many people would love to have a hot shower, never mind one that rinses them quickly. How many people would love  a roof over their heads, especially with the winter we’ve all endured? How many people want the security and love of a family? I’m blessed with all these and more. How could I be so thoughtless?

Rarely do I see my life with such clarity as I did in the shower mid-complaint. When I decided to give up complaining, I did it on a whim. What I’ve found, however, is that my lack of complaining has opened my eyes to the wonders of my life. And I’m grateful. I go home to a warm house and a loving husband. I have two children I’m proud of and love more than I can say. I have a difficult but rewarding job when others are struggling to feed their families. I have nothing to complain about. The necessities of my life are taken care of.

Before giving up complaining for Lent, I would have complained when it snowed yet again two days ago or that my son will return to school in a day or that Bruce will be gone for the rest of the week, but I am choosing to see the what I have instead of what I lack. Travis has been home for nearly a week, Bruce will be home Friday night to take me to the airport before I leave to see family in Georgia I haven’t seen in a long time, and the snow that fell two days ago has already melted.

Although Spring officially arrived in Wisconsin today, we won’t feel the warm breezes or see the earth come alive for a while yet. The blanket of snow still remains but is melting each day. Dreaming of the flowers, green grass, birdsong, and blue skies that will follow makes me smile. Spring and the Lenten season is a renewal not only of the earth but also of the spirit, just what I’ve been contemplating lately. I am trying to change the habit of complaining into a habit of gratitude, each day a new beginning and a fresh perspective on the wonder of living. I have no complaints.

My Old Stuff

For all of you out there who have “old stuff.” Enjoy!

Storyshucker

My coworker, Clarice, frantically motioned me into her office as I walked towards the copier. She barely looked up from her computer as her hand rapidly waved me towards her desk.

“Isn’t this Italian antique walnut burl carved armoire beautiful?” she asked.

What?” I asked in response. I wasn’t even sure she was speaking English.

She turned the computer towards me, pointed to the photo, and waited for me to be awed.

“Oh.” I said. “Where I’m from that’s just a wardrobe.”

You have one of these?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“No, but I have a cedar wardrobe that was my maternal great-grandmother’s.” I answered.

“Oh, of course. My uncle owns an antique shop in Baltimore.” she said as she turned the computer back towards herself.

“I like old stuff.” I said as I left her office to continue to the copier.

I do like…

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