Grandma Rocke, A Self Help Book

In a portion of my recent interview with my dad’s mom, I was shocked and humbled by some of her responses. I asked her for a fond memory of her parents…and she launched into the details of her dad’s premature death, and the fact that she then became her mother’s right hand. While these were details that I did want to know, it didn’t answer my question, so I redirected her to “fun” family nights, vacations, weekend getaways, etc.

Silence. Vacation? “No, honey. The first time I took a trip was with your grandfather for our honeymoon.”

My mind flashed to the camping trips my parents took me and my four siblings on every summer of my youth. We camped in every state except for Hawaii and Alaska, and while we were always on a budget, we did incredibly fun outdoors activities, like white water rafting in Oregon, camping next to the California Red Woods, and hiking down into Crater Lake. One year we even splurged big time and went to Orlando for Christmas.

My grandmother, however, had not been privy to these childhood luxuries. She helped raise her siblings, cooked, canned, and gardened at a young age; she dropped out of high school her sophomore year when she joined the church. After committing her life to the Lord, the expectation was that she was grown enough to quit school and get a job; her situation was taking up a job as a nanny with a local family, making $2 a week in turn for caring for two children.

She didn’t attend school dances, participate in local activities, sports, or otherwise usual childhood experiences. She helped her mother, raised her siblings, and served the Lord.

Nicholas and I recently booked a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, and it’s literally the only thing we talk about at night…we read cruise reviews until we fall asleep, and check our “cruise countdown” app every morning.

I recognize the stark difference in my current life and that of my grandmother, and I listened in awe of her as she spoke so matter-of-factly about her life. Her voice didn’t resound with an invitation of pity or empathy for the childhood she experienced, the challenges of being married to a beekeeper who often didn’t make enough money to get through the Midwestern winter, or her current situation as a patient/guest at the nursing home; she speaks of her past with the same tone of voice she does about the Chinese food she had on Monday for her 98th birthday celebration. She sees the world through a lense of thankfulness. She’d never dream of being ungrateful of her experiences or wishing for more.

Every time I call her, and ask her about her care, she raves about the nursing home: the food? “Amazing. I couldn’t dream of more. Do you know they have unlimited ice cream? And for my birthday, they were willing to go to any local restaurant and get me anything I wanted. Of course, I asked for Chinese food.”

She’s incredibly resilient, and has so much to teach me.

I keep ordering and reading books about leadership, inspiration, and otherwise “self help” type books for my new career. The reality is, all I really need to do is keep interviewing my grandmother, and replay the audio when I need to refocus. Her life stories, experience, and wisdom is more powerful than any book I could order from Amazon—and I get the bonus of hearing her sweet, raspy voice with each replay on my audio. What a gift she is to me.

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An Ode To My Mason Jars

(Well, It’s not really an ode…just a blog.)

This past spring I made a few road trips from Atlanta to central Illinois, where my parents were cleaning out and preparing to sell the family farm. Regardless of whether it was just nostalgia, or a general need for certain items, I hauled full loads in my CX7 back to our townhouse, in hopes of preserving pieces of the farm in the city.

One of the many items I rescued was a serious stash of Mason/Kerr jars that were in my parents’ cellar or in the chicken house. Much to my dismay, my mom actually admitted that she had thrown a load away already, and terrified at the thought, I took as many as I could box up.

My sheer delight regarding my farm things hasn’t exactly been shared by my husband, who is under the delusion that I have inherited too many jars. Too many?? That’s impossible! The options are endless, but he doesn’t quite appreciate that, as he only sees the precarious stack of them on a garage shelf. I say I’m hoarding them because I use them for my homemade detergent, but the reality is, I have a hard time parting with them, even for a sale.

In perusing Pinterest the other day, I determined it was time to begin my fall decorating, and as I began changing the seasonal goods around our house, the ideas for my sacred jars began: candle holders, toothbrush holders, make-up organizers, vases, weight loss marble visual aids, and the list goes on.

I love to find a purpose for them, but I don’t mind just having a serious stash of them for the intended use—next summer when I have a neighborhood garden plot, I’ll can up any kind of fruit or veggie I can harvest from our red-clay soil. Until then, I love having them sprinkled throughout the house, and don’t mind that there’s still an un-used stash in the garage. I feel a bit of the simple, country life every time I dust one off and use it, and the older I get, the more inclined I am to cling to a few things from the past.

Disclaimer: I know this is a lot of pictures–that’s the point. 🙂

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Fish Filet Lessons, Rocke Style

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When I was kid, I was pretty “squeamish,” as my mom would say.  I hated the sight of blood, despised butchering day, and wouldn’t even consider touching a worm long enough to get it on my fishing hook.  I suppose this is probably par for the course for most girls, but as a “farm girl” with three brothers, I think the expectation was that I should be a little tougher.

This summer, my youngest brother, who is the closest person I’ll ever know to a real cowboy and professional fisherman, was catching and filleting fish in mass quantities at my sister’s lake house in central Illinois.  The family was all in town for the 4th of July, and what I assumed would be a leisure day in the hammock, turned in to a blood bath of catfish and walleye.

I kept watching Jeff skillfully turn a flopping lake catch into two fine filets of dinner, and decided I really  needed to know how to do this, too.  I think he thought I was kidding when I asked him to teach me–my white ruffled skirt was trimmed in delicate lace, and I had a pretty fresh manicure, but I was ready to take over the knife.

I’ll spare the bloody details, but after a few rounds of coaching, I did a pretty decent job of prepping a good size catfish for the fryer.  It sounds terrible, but after I did a few, I wanted to filet every fish that was unfortunate enough to be hooked that day.  We dredged filets in this yummy cornmeal called “Fish Fry” and golden-fried fish all day.

I know I didn’t master something crazy hard, but I was oddly proud of myself, and felt like I added a “skill” to my arsenal that I just may need some day.  You know, just in case I ever get stuck in the wilderness with a stream and a knife.

I still have a pretty weak stomach and am certainly not signing up to help with butchering day ever again, but the next time we’re all gathered and fishing at my sister’s, maybe I’ll give the knife lessons. 🙂

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September Resolutions

I know it’s a little early for New Years resolutions, but my cousin, Jolynn Hodel, posted a new blog tonight; it was her final post about their journey to a new home this past year, and I got to thinking about all the changes you never imagine will happen, and the hindsight that allows you to realize it’s all in a perfect plan.

I lost two great men in my life this year, my grandfather in March and my dad “Poppi” in July. My husband left a 14 year career without a new job secured, and my parents sold the only childhood home I ever lived in. I ended the only “career” I’ve ever known and have two degrees in a file folder that are, at the moment, irrelevant. And if that wasn’t enough change, an age old friendship ended abruptly this summer without explanation.

I’ve written before about change and transition, and at the risk of sounding redundant, I wanted to wrap up the changes like a Christmas present, and take this time to be thankful, press forward, and make some resolutions.

I resolve to have faith, in spite of the the need I have for control.
I resolve to spend time with the people closest to me because tomorrow is never promised.
I resolve to not be complacent in a job just because it’s easy.
I resolve to only maintain the relationships in my life that are positive and good for me.
I resolve to always remember where I came from, and keep calling my grandmothers every week.
I resolve to continue “Sunday gravy,” Italian style, even though very batch of red sauce stings a little.
I resolve to worry less about money, but keep shopping at Aldis.

And I resolve to eat a few more greens and drink less wine. 🙂

I know it’s just September, but a cooler night reminds me again that the seasons start over, and so should we. So here’s to a new season, a few resolutions, and a reminder that the only constant in life is change.

The Girls With The Dragonfly Tattoos

When I was 21, my best friend and I made a permanent decision: we tattooed a dragonfly on our right foot; it’s relatively small, but big enough to make a statement for us.

We had an explanation that only could have been created and understood by us. The “cool” tattoo at the time was a butterfly, and we scorned the cliché ideas we felt surrounded this “insect of beauty” and found it completely unoriginal to follow suit. Instead, we wanted to be like the often over looked dragonfly, who isn’t perhaps as ornately beautiful as the butterfly, but in fact is more interesting, complicated, and delicately beautiful in an obscure and undefined way. Thus, we decided we were like the dragonflies of the world, not the butterflies and decided to don them on our feet forever.

I know it seems silly, but I’m proud of my dragonfly, the bond that it signifies with my best friend, and the reminder of the insecure girl I was then, just trying to find my way and make decisions beyond my years. I love the permanent reminder of who I was then, and the older I get the more I’m proud that I haven’t changed too terribly much, in spite of how badly I wanted to break free and be different back then.

Denise and I continue to blaze our own trails in life and keep each other close, in spite of the entire continent between us. I was in her wedding two years ago, and one of my favorite pictures was the shot of our dragonflied-feet. Few things in life are permanent, but our tattoos and friendship might be as close as it gets.

My dragonfly and Denise continue to remind me to be different, take risks, and find beauty in the unconventional.

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