As the Independence Day holiday approaches, so does my vacation. Every year over the 4th of July week, Bob and I head to the Black Hills for a few days of hiking, sight seeing, and relaxing. It is a time of rejuvenating for us, and I always look forward to it. We will probably hike around 45 miles over the 7 days we are there, weather permitting, and we will do some of the normal touristy things that everyone who goes there does, even though we have been there many times in the past. It is a place that we will always love to go.

There is a quiet peacefulness in the Black Hills that always renews my spirit. When you get out in nature, away from the crowds and noise, your mind can relax and regroup. The stresses of a busy life melt away, and I feel refreshed again, like I can go back and take on the world again. There is nothing like a few days hiking the trails in the Black Hills to do that for me, and the anticipation is building in me moment by moment. I think this might be a long week.

Many people go to the Black Hills every year, but few realize that there is a world there that is out of sight of the normal avenues of travel. Many people are rushing here and there trying to cram 14 days of sightseeing into 7 and hoping to take away memories that will last a lifetime, because many will never come back there again. I was that way too I suppose, until Bob and I discovered hiking, and got out into the real Black Hills. Now when we go over, it isn’t the touristy sites that appeal to me the most. It is the anticipation of what new sights we will see on the trail today. Like the part of the Mickelson Trail where there must have been thousands of butterflies. They were literally everywhere, and they seemed to have no fear of people. One little guy came around us and didn’t seem to want to leave. He would fly a little ways ahead of us and land, and as we came close, he would finally move a little more. At one point we got so close we might have been able to touch him…had we tried. He seemed to be begging us to take a picture of him, so I did, and then…satisfied, it seemed, he left.

When the week is over, we will return to our busy lives, a little sorry that our days of refreshing are over, but feeling very blessed to have been able to savour those sweet memories of a quiet time spent close to nature. It won’t be the last time we take in the elixer that is The Black Hills, but unfortunately, it will be probably another year before we get to go again, so I am thankful for the pictures, both on my computer and in my head, that will hold onto that sweetness until I am once again able to go again for a few days of refreshing in my Black Hills.

Today, as I was looking through some pictures, I began thinking about what it really is that makes up our lives. So often, when we look back on our lives, we wonder what we did that might be remembered, or might have at least pointed toward greatness, and it occurred to me that it isn’t about the biggest thing we did in our lifetime. If that were all there is too it, then many people would really have no reason to be here at all. Many people do not live lives that on the outside point toward greatness, yet they are great at what they do, and great in the contribution they make into the lives of those around them. The lives of the people whose hearts they touch with their love.

Many people live their lives doing little things that in all reality make them great people, but it is still the small things…the moments…that point to their greatness…not giant steps or huge accomplishments. And when we look back on the things that are important, it isn’t the awards we won, or even the degrees we earned, it is the precious little moments that we remember. Our wedding day, the birth of our children, becoming grandparents, watching the giggly little laughs on the precious little faces of our loved ones…these are the things that make us glad we took this ride called life.

Other people go through life missing those precious little moments because they are so intent on becoming something great, something that will make everyone see the contribution they have made. They are obsessed with it, consumed by it…in a desperate attempt to live a life that means something, and yet that very act of searching for greatness is what makes them miss out on all the little moments that were so great. How very sad that is for them.

I want to look back on my life and be happy in the knowledge that, while many people might not know my name or what I am all about, those people who are important to me will always have the memories of the happy times we spent together, and know without doubt, that they were loved by me. I want them to know that they are what makes my life great…made it worth living.

Maybe that is really it. Maybe no one can be great in this life by themselves. I takes the love of another human being to bring out the greatness that is in each of us…waiting to come out. And it is that love…that produces the moments that make up a life that while not necessarily great in the eyes of the world, is great in blessings, love, hope, and…all the moments of our lives.

My third grandchild, Caalab was born 14 years ago today. He is the younger of my daughter, Amy and her husband, Travis’ two children. Caalab has always loved his birthday, because he says it is the perfect birthday. It is exactly 6 months before and after Christmas.

Caalab is very much like his dad. He has the same sense of humor and a lot of the same abilities. He is a man of many talents. One of his favorite things is playing the guitar. He has been taking lessons at school for a year now, and he is very good. He also likes to draw, and is good at that as well, although he is quite critical of his own work. Some people just don’t know that they are good at something.

Caalab has always liked long hair. He loves to play with it so much, that I have always said that his girlfriend/wife needs to have long hair and love to have it touched, because with Caalab, that is what will happen. Since he was a little boy, he has loved to play with my hair…and anyone else’s that would let him. He was always very gentle, and never pulls my hair…although he has flipped and slapped it some. His style of playing with my hair has changed some over the years, but he has always, and I expect always will like to play with hair. And he is so comfortable in who he is that he doesn’t care who knows it.

Caalab is very much a kidder. He loves to play little pranks on people, especially his sister, which doesn’t always go over well, but I suppose that is simply the way of siblings. Someday, I know Shai will look back on their childhood and laugh about the little pranks and jokes he plays…but that will be down the road a ways, I think.

Caalab has a gentle spirit and is always eager to please. He hates the thought of being a disappointment to those he loves. Sometimes he worries about that too much. He shouldn’t worry, because it is so obvious that he wants to be a good man. While he may not see himself as good, others do. Caalab is a boy after my heart, and the hearts of those he loves. He always does his best to do the right things, and truly, could any of us ask for anything more than that.

Bob and I moved from Mills, to Homa Hills in the late 70’s, and then east, to the other side of town, past Evansville to a place in the country in 1980, and lived there until January, 1995. The area we lived in saw lots of antelope, which for those of you who aren’t familiar, are nowhere nearly as beautiful as deer, and are quite stupid, but that’s just my opinion. Deer, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as skittish as antelope, and we wanted to have deer hanging around our place, but it just never happened. I was always sorry, because I thought living in the country just came with deer.

In January of 1995, we sold our place in the country and moved to town. I knew that many things would change in our lives. Our girls were grown, our oldest daughter married, and our youngest daughter planning her wedding. Soon grandchildren would follow our initiation into the empty nester’s world. Our lives had taken a big turn, and nothing was going to be the same again.

We moved into our new home in January, so at first we didn’t see anything that would surprise us. Then spring and summer came, and we got a big surprise. Suddenly, the deer began to show up. It was always a surprise visit. There was no way to expect it. Some mornings we would wake up to up to 6 deer in the back yard. Sometimes, we would come home and as we left our detached garage to go into the house, we would step into our yard to find a deer or two standing across the yard from us.

They are never afraid. They are often curious about us. They let us move around our yard, as long as we don’t get too awfully close, but that is much closer than you might think. The deer are such a blessing. They wander in and out of our lives and our days, always bringing a feeling of beauty and awe along with them. They are graceful and quiet, and they make you want to hold your breath so that maybe, just maybe the moment might not pass so quickly and the deer in my back yard might stay just a few minutes longer.

My niece Michelle is currently in college studying to become an art teacher. Sometimes, when you think about the abilities of the younger generation, you find yourself thinking, “What talents do they have?” and “What will they become?” And you allow yourself to go along thinking of them as kids, probably a lot longer than you should. Michelle is just about done with her studies, and while I have seen her work before, every time I see it, I am in awe of her artistic abilities. Her art is truly amazing!

She has the ability to do a wide variety of art types, and in my opinion, she should get a website to show her art to the world. I suppose that will come in time…when her studies are done, and between grading papers and planning classes, and living life…hmm, I might have to push her on that one a little. Michelle has never been the type to “blow her own horn” and in fact, has always been rather quiet about that sort of thing. Maybe that is why I was so surprised when she told me what she wanted to do with her life.

Michelle has always been a very sweet and loving person…a trait to be proud of. It is her sweet spirit that has taken her to the places she has gone with her life. I suppose it is also that spirit, that essence of who she is that has brought out the artistic abilities that she most certainly has. I wish I could show you more of her work here, but there isn’t room, so I will show you the one that first took my breath away with its perfect lines, and real life form. I was like looking at the real thing, only black and white. I don’t understand how she is able to get the depth to it, but I guess that is the difference between Michelle’s artistic mind, and my…well, definitely not artistic mind. You really don’t want to see what I could draw, unless you wanted a good laugh.

One might expect that Michelle, being an artist would be living in a bit of a dream world, but she is an intelligent person with a great sense of humor. She, along with her cousins, sister, and brother, keep those around them in stitches much of the time, but all are very sweet people who have grown into wonderful adults.

I think Michelle will make a wonderful teacher. She is very dedicated to her work, and when she talks about teaching and art, her eyes just light up. You can always tell when someone loves their work. I also think her students will be very blessed to have such a wonderful, dedicated, and fun loving teacher. I see a wonderful future ahead of her, and I am very excited for her, and very proud of her.

Christopher and Shai were best friends from the very beginning of their lives. They were born 1 day apart, cousins and friends. They shared so many things in those early days…mostly because they spent most of their days together at Shai’s house, because her mom, Amy, my daughter babysat Christopher. Those were special days, for all of us. The kids got loving care from mom/Auntie Amy, and Corrie, Christopher’s mom, my oldest daughter, and I got to go over at lunch and spend quality time with the kids and Amy. It just doesn’t get better than that. I will always treasure those early days spent getting to know my grandchildren well. They were the foundation for the great relationships I have with them to this day over 15 years later.

Watching the kids play and their friendship grow was wonderful, as well as interesting. As most of you know, the friendships of children go through many twists and turns. One minute they are best friends, and the next minute they are worst enemies, and the next, they are friends again. That was the case between Christopher and Shai. They played together so well most of the time, but there were just things that were not allowed, and moments when they both wanted to choke the other…and might have even tried…or at least tried to beat the other one up. These are just typical parts of the lives of children, and the source of many headaches for the parents and other adults. Those little territorial issues, “that’s mine” or “I had it first” are simply a part of life.

Such was the case when Christopher one day decided that Shai’s infant car seat, that was soon to be used for her little brother, Caalab, was a great place to play. While Amy was waiting for Caalab’s arrival, Christopher and Shai played in the car seat. A car seat that the kids hated to be in as infants, became a great chair. So the kids would get in it to play, and it became a bit of a fight sometimes…like here, when Christopher was sitting in the car seat, only to attract the attention of Shai, who also wanted to be in the car seat. Her solution was to climb into the car seat behind Christopher, in an attempt to force him to get out of the car seat, so she could get in. Well, Christopher was having none of it, and they began screaming. Oh my gosh!! You would have thought they were killing each other.

Most times there was a way to decide who had things first, or who it belonged to, but every so often, the only solution was to take the item away from both children. Of course that didn’t exactly solve the situation. Not only did you still have both children crying, but now they were both blaming each other for being the one to start the whole fight in the first place. “If you had just let me have it, things would have been just fine” sort of comments rage back and forth at each other, until the parents, who have had enough of it, tell both kids to get away from each other. That solution usually solves the problem too, because the minute you tell them they can’t play with each other, that becomes the most important thing in the world. So, now all they can think of is playing with the very friend their parents have told them that they can’t, and they are friends again. Hmmmm…problem solved.

By the time Josh came along, Amy had gone to work, so she was not able to babysit her younger nephew. Our good friend Dani stepped up and took on the job of babysitting all 4 of my grandchildren. She was either amazing, or insane, and I was never quite sure which it was. She would take 5 kids, including her Brooke, to the store, lunch at Hamburger Stand, and various other places…ALONE!! And never lose one, or any other such disaster. I would have gone crazy, but she just did it like it was no big deal.

Dani’s youngest, at the time, daughter, Brooke, who has since passed away, and who I miss very much, because she was a delight to anyone who knew her, decided that my grandson Josh was her baby, and you had better not argue the point either. She had to be involved in every aspect of his care, and she did quite well with it, I might add. She was a natural born mommy. I didn’t have to be to work until 9:00am, and my girls had to be there at 8:00am, so I always took the kids to Dani’s house. Brooke couldn’t wait to get her hands on her Baby Josh, as she dubbed him. She wanted to hold him, feed him, turn on his swing, help with diapers, and anything else she could think of that she could help with. He was too young to play much yet, or she would have been in charge of that too.

Brooke totally loved Baby Josh, and he loved her too. I think babies can tell when another child is going to be gentle and kind. He just warmed right up to her, and they were best buddies. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure Brooke thought she was Josh’s babysitter, and not Dani. She was determined to be the one in control of his care, and if things didn’t go right…well those of you who knew Brooke would say that she would be sure to straighten out your misunderstanding mind. Hahaha, she was quite a character!!

Brooke was very much a mommy type, with all the bossiness that goes with that, and I say that in a loving way, because even with that, Brooke had a very tender side to her…especially where Josh was concerned. Her little mommy’s heart wanted to nurture him every moment that he was there. She was a good little babysitter, and I think Josh was blessed to have known her…as were we all.

Kids do so many funny things, but one one the funniest is learning to feed themselves. Food gets poured out and wiped on the face and the hair. It gets dumped on the floor and thrown across the room. And that is food they like!! So just imagine the food they don’t like, or think they might not like. It is quite the picture.

Many people in recent years buy a little cake for the first birthday, and turn the baby loose on it. Oh boy, is that a funny thing. Here is the baby looking at all these people who usually aren’t there at mealtime, but for some reason they are today, and then they give you this huge cake, and tell you to go to it. Well ok, sounds good, right? Absolutely!!

Yes, learning to eat can be quite the ordeal for the parents and quite the laughing matter for a baby. Some times the baby just wants to play, and what better way to play than to squeeze the food between their fingers and watch it ooze out. And even the parents must admit, that it can be funny to watch the whole process.

Well, Christopher was a wild one when he ate. The food went everywhere, and sometimes I think he liked putting on a little show for his parents. He has always been a bit of a clown. Maybe its just a boy thing, because as I recall, Caalab and Josh were pretty good at it too. Shai, on the other hand mostly didn’t like being messy. She was a girly girl from the very start. So, to see her really messy didn’t happen as much, but when it did, it was quite funny.

Unfortunately…or maybe thankfully, babies soon learn to feed themselves without all the mess, and those funny little moments are soon over. Perhaps, we should cherish them instead of worrying over them so much. I think that parents sometimes get caught up in the idea of having a perfect child, and they forget to enjoy the funny little imperfections that make up the child and make that child unique. All too soon, those days will be over and the child grown…but then you get the opportunity to go through it all over again with the grandchildren.

Today is Father’s Day, and while I wish all the dads a happy Father’s Day, I feel a little bit like an orphan. My dad went to Heaven 3 1/2 years ago, and it is something I will never really get over. I have felt like the impossible has happened. The world has continued to go on and my Dad hasn’t. It is just wrong that the world should go on as if nothing happened when our loved ones have left this world. I have feel like the world should sit up and take notice…why doesn’t it? Why?

I guess it is supposed to get easier…that time will dull the pain…but how long does that take? There are times when it seems like it has gotten worse. My heart doesn’t seem to know that it is supposed to hurt less with time. It just hurts!! I miss my Dad!! That doesn’t change!!

So, that said, my Dad is very much on my mind and heart today, as he is every day. He was such a sweet caring man…so patient with his girls, and I for one was a bit of a challenge. I always liked a…good debate…no I liked to argue, and I was very opinionated. But Dad was patient and put up with it…most of the time. And we had an understanding about it. When he said, “Don’t argue with me!!” I didn’t..anymore…at least for that moment. I knew that was the end of the discussion…he had had enough. Dad rarely lost his temper, even when we argued. He just got done.

Dad was a quiet hero. He fought for his country during World War II, but never spoke of it, unless we pried it out of him. He never thought of himself as a hero. On a rare occasion, when I took him to the airport to see the B-17 bombers, which is what he was on during the war, he told me a few things. He talked about where he stood and how he worked his gun. He talked about the work he did as flight engineer. The flight engineer was the go to man in any emergency. He had to know the systems and be able to do anything the ground crew could. If the plane was in trouble, he was the best chance they had to avoid a crash. That day did come for my dad’s crew when the landing gear wouldn’t come down, and my dad had to hang upside down in the bomb bay area and crank down the landing gear, saving the lives of his crew members.

Dad was all that to our country, and yet such a good dad. He always knew what to do to solve a problem. Maybe that came from his training, but I really think it came from his deep love for his family. He would have done anything to fix things for his family. He was an amazing husband and dad. We were so blessed to have him in our lives, and I just wish he was still here. Happy Father’s Day Daddy!! I love you and I can’t wait to see you again!!

Usually when people oooo and awww over a child, it is the baby that they are so excited over, and that is always a precious thing, but sometimes, the older child can have a profound effect on your heart. That is the case for me when I think of my sister-in-law, Marlyce. I have been thinking about Marlyce a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I have been going through old family pictures, or maybe it is just because she was so special. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I miss her very much. She went home to be with the Lord in 1989, when Cancer ravaged her 39 year old body, and ended her all too short life.

Marlyce was developmentally disabled, and I suppose that to some people that might mean living a life of less value than a “normal” person would have, but then, they didn’t know Marlyce. She was a loving, giving, caring person, even if she didn’t think and act like what people would call “normal” in today’s world. No, her way of thinking was, in my mind, superior to that. Marlyce loved everyone, unconditionally…especially children. She loved being big sister and later, aunt. Those babies were the greatest thing ever to her. I remember when my girls were born. Marlyce was so proud to be an aunt. She made things for them and played with them, and held them. She absolutely beamed.

Marlyce always had a soft spot for little kids and animals…and anyone who loved her in return. I was very blessed to be one of those who loved her and, in return, she was the sweetest sister-in-law anyone could ever ask for. I remember well her chocolate chip cookies, and her knitted hats…and to this day I can’t see either one without thinking of her, but it doesn’t make me sad, like you might think, the memory is always sweet, just like Marlyce was.

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