Category Archives: Memories

Second chances..

Second chances have a way of making you thankful for so many things. Even thankful for things you could never see a reason to be thankful for.

While I was sick with Covid this spring, I wasn’t sure if I would survive. There is a tiredness that comes with being extremely ill.. that has a lot to do with oxygen levels being so low.. and struggling for each breath.. and a lot to do with your body being exhausted in its battle. I found myself wondering if my body had enough strength to give the medicine a chance to work.

I was content with whatever decision God had for me… and very thankful that His decision was for me to finish what I started on this Earth.

With each baby step of healing came Second Chances to do things I may never have gotten a chance to do again.

Second chances to do things I love.. like stand outside … or listen to my kids talk and laugh and sing… take more photos… sing while I cleaned…

Second chances to snuggle with my family on the couch and tell them how much they mean to me.

I also got Second chances to be thankful for things I was not thankful for before. Like Dairy-Free/Gluten-free fake cream cheese in jalapeño poppers. Or Gluten-free/Dairy-free Oreos ..

I know.. I know..

WHY would I be thankful for something that sounds so tasteless?

I completely agree.. and I felt the same way…

… before…

.. but after spending a week in the hospital where we struggled to find food on their menu that I could eat?

I was so thankful for a second chance to fall in love with foods that replaced the 49 food allergies/intolerances that I have.

Over the last 6 months?

I have found so many second chances to love my crazy life within the crazies.

But the second chance that I am the most thankful for?

They say that procrastination is the arrogant assumption that God will give you another chance to do a specific task.

I have arrogantly assumed that I would have a tomorrow to do the things I love most.

“I can write later.. I can be me later..”

“Today I am too busy doing what everyone else has asked… tomorrow I will do what I had intended.”

Finishing the books I had started… now I have that second chance.

Sharing the joy I have found through my Faith and my family… now I have a second chance.

Sharing the knowledge I have found through all my research.. now I have a second chance.

Sometimes… in this busy world?

… we put off what means the most to us because we feel the things we “should” do are more important…

…but what is the point of being us.. if we never enjoy who we are..

… what is the point of having gifts… if we never use them..

I’m not saying I’m going to stop throwing a frisbee for my huge puppies… and I’m definitely not going to stop taking care of my kids…

… but I am saying that I am thankful for a second chance to carve out a chunk of the day to ALSO do things important to the core of Julie.

What about you?

If you were lying in the hospital .. concentrating on each breath?

What would you want a second chance to finish?

Now..

How can you fit that into your day?

Collecting leaves…

This time of year has always been a reflective time for me.

With all the leaves falling and changing colors? I stop to think about the year so far.

Some of the leaves falling are bright colored and fascinating. Others fall already dark and dull.

Some of leaves fall right next to the roots of the tree .. and some travel quite a ways.

Sometimes those leaves can be pretty messy.. and not fun to clean up. But I cannot help but be thankful for the trees anyway.

The bright colored leaves are fun to collect. I’ve often thought about making a collection of them. But then I always toss them back into the wind.

In many way, the memories from this year are like those leaves. Some of them shine with bright colors and bring a smile to my face.

Some of them?

Some are darker moments.. and take a lot more time to process .. They are still part of my year but not the memories I want to dwell on.

But today?

Today, as I watched a brightly shining leaf fall on a dried up dull one…?

I wondered… would that leaf look so bright…?

… if it hadn’t just fallen after the darker one?

As I picked up the bright red leaf…

I remembered the moment I put my feet in the grass for the first time… after I had been too sick and too weak to do so for weeks.

That grass.. that ordinary grass… looked like the most amazing of God’s creations to me .. in that moment.

But would it have looked as amazing to me? If I hadn’t struggled to get down the stairs? If I hadn’t needed to carry an oxygen tank to get that far?

No. The grass would have looked ordinary to me.. without the dull colored leaf to compare it to.

This November, I am going to post my thankful posts. But they may look a little different. I’m going to be thankful 2021 style.

I am going to collect those brightest colored leaves before they blow away… and maybe a few dull colored ones while I am at it.

On my Father’s floor..

When I was a little girl, if I wanted to talk to my dad alone.. I knew I could usually find him in his garage. His garage was well used, so it was a little dirty .. and a little oily… and usually had someone’s car parked in it.

I can still smell it. Like old motor oil combined with the damp… and the smell of the trees blowing in from the open door.

I would walk right in… and sit on the floor of my Dad’s garage.

And I was never more content.

Why was I on the floor?

Because my dad was usually under the car… fixing it… and it was easier to talk to him from down there on the floor.

And talk I did .. from what I remember. But I also remember sitting in silence while he worked.

While I sat there, my dad occasionally asked me to hand him a tool. Sometimes I guessed the tool correctly.. but occasionally he would hold the tool I handed him for a moment… and then ask me for the tool he needed again. That time he would describe it to me.

So patient.

And I’d try again.

Sometimes more than once.

For me.. that memory is what my prayer space feels like.

A garage? …you ask…

Why not the image of a church.. or a sunny meadow…? Or a flower garden?

For me?

While sitting on my dad’s floor… I felt loved, and safe… and heard.

The same way I feel when I pray.

This last year has been a difficult one for me.

So much anger in this world… so much injustice… so much sadness…

… and some of my favorite people getting sick…

I have always told people that I won’t sit and wait for a storm to pass… I’ll find a way to dance in the rain…

… but this last year…?

This year I have found myself sitting on the floor of my Father’s garage..

…talking to God while He works on the world.

I’ve found myself bringing my prayers to Him.. like a child. Bringing my disappointments and sadness …

… sometimes I just sit in silence… letting His love seep into me…

.. and occasionally God asks me to help Him..

.. sometimes I do a good job of guessing what is needed.. but sometimes I need to listen a second .. or even third time before I am success at using my gifts for what He intended.

Especially this year… it feels like it is so hard to use the gifts I have been given.

.. writing..

.. encouraging..

.. all of gifts… left in that tool box ..

But as I sit in the quiet.. on the floor with my Father?

Once again I feel loved and safe and heard..

And His peace fills me..

So that when I pick myself up off that floor…

I am ready to dance in the rain again..

Losing that covid feeling..

… that covid moment…

My dad used to tell me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.. but you’ll be surprised what you can live through.”

I held onto that thought when I was lying in a hospital .. 5 weeks ago… concentrating on each controlled deep breath…

Controlled… because the instinct to panic and gasp for more air was strong.. but wouldn’t help …

Deep breaths … because keeping my lungs as open as possible would be the difference between a ventilator.. or keep the oxygen “nose leash”…

I will remember that moment for a long time…

… that moment …

… not scared… but respecting the gravity of the illness that I had…

… not panicking… but focusing on each breath in its entirety… like there was nothing else in the world…

… not wanting to leave my kids without a mom yet… but knowing that it was a possibility…

… and trusting… knowing that God had my situation in His hands… in His plans …

… so I thought about that saying my dad would say … I’d be surprised what I could live through… as I felt the ability to breath on my own get smaller and smaller…

And smiled…

That moment was my covid moment.. filled with that Covid feeling … Being so weak in body.. and fading.. but so filled with faith in God’s plan.. and filled with love from my Earthly family… that I took one more deep breath … and then another…

…. and I was able to keep breathing with JUST the help of that oxygen “nose leash”….

Now.. I know you all see me joke about the oxygen “nose leash” as my son affectionately named it.. that’s because laughter is the best medicine…

oxygen “nose leash” mess…

… I won’t lie.. sometimes that “nose leash” is the source of so much frustration.. The puppies get tangled up in it… it gets caught under something … and it pulls my face back.. or at the very least makes me stop in my tracks and fix the “trap”…

… not to mention that I’m limited to 50 feet from my machine… unless I hook up a tank that I have to pull or carry…

… but I’m still so thankful for the “nose leash” .. because the alternative? A ventilator… in the hospital wasn’t as appealing…

… or worse yet .. now that I’m home… if I didn’t have the oxygen.. I wouldn’t be able to walk to the kitchen to get my own coffee … or do any simple activity without getting short of breath.

This Covid thing isn’t limited to breathing though…

It was obvious things.. like coughing up red “junk”… the swollen neck… abdominal swelling .. leg swelling… the horrible headaches… the heart pounding… the massive bloody noses.. the face swelling….

… but I learned later.. there are the “not so obvious” Covid things too… the short term memory issues… the loss of being able to sign my name… learning to walk without a walker again… keeping my blood sugar above 70 … learning how to be less active … how to ask others to do things for me…

… you’d be surprised what you can live through…

Slowly, my family is losing that Covid feeling…

… the worry that mom will go back to the hospital… my son worried to let me out of his sight… my daughter exhausted from being “the mom” to us all… everyone too exhausted to do much beyond eating and surviving…

But I never want to lose all of the Covid feeling… I hope I keep the joy in the little things…

… the love I feel when I remember the things my parents taught me…

… baby steps

… the happiness I get from little notes tucked into much needed food delivered to the hospital…

… the way my cup overflows with the generosity of friends and their front porch drop offs…

… the joy of being able to go home… even with “oxygen nose leashes”…

… being content surrounded by my little family…

… the feel of grass beneath my feet

… the accomplishment of walking to the chicken coop with a portable oxygen leash

… wearing jeans for the first time in a month…

Being able to see the baby steps of healing as blessings during the storm… means the storm didn’t win…

… so for me?

I don’t want to lose all of that Covid feeling…

.. and I will no longer be surprised what I can live through.

Joy is fun Snapchats with my family…

The Storyteller…

Time Capsule … 2011?

Every family has a storyteller.

In my husband’s family.. that person was Grandpa Bennett.

Stories being told of Uncle Loren and Uncle Erwin… two souls that I never met… But the memories would bring out a fond chuckle from Grandpa..

… and a smile from my husband.

Some of my favorite stories were ones he told of my sweet mother-in-law.

How .. as a child… she had prayed for each chicken before he “harvested” them. He would shake his head at the memory.. and joke that they never raised chickens after that.

But more than the stories he told … I loved to see the happiness in his expression.

The joy that shone from his face…

… it took your breath away.

Grandpa

Grandpa Bennett turned 98 this last March.

98 years on this earth.

Can you imagine the changes he witnessed in this world from 1922 .. until 2020? It is no wonder he had so many stories to tell.

World Wars…

Great Depressions…

Computers..

Not all of it was good… it couldn’t have been..

… yet every story I remember him telling? He would tell with a happy chuckle.

…and every person he talked to? He greeted with a smile.

This week, Grandpa Bennett lost the fight with his weak heart… and he went to be with His Lord.

He will be missed by so many.

…by so many…

The next time our family can gather..?

He won’t be sitting at the kitchen table.. He won’t greet everyone by name as we arrive..

… but he will be there.

He will be there in our hearts. Alive in the stories he told us of his childhood… and beyond…

And he will be there alive in his children and all of his grandchildren.

Because the love that Grandpa gave freely grows in his loved ones still.

And when we listen carefully?

We can still hear that joyful laugh!

Thank you Grandpa Bennett for sharing your stories with us…

… and your joy ….

.. and thank you for raising such an amazing daughter.. so that I could have an amazing second mom.

May we all follow in your footsteps…

The world I choose to live in…

The world I choose to live in? Is very big…

.. and full of love…

Over the last six years, our family has chosen to bring young people from around the world into our home, into our lives .. and into our hearts.

.. and I have loved every minute of it.

I started hosting exchange students so that I could share the country that I love with the rest of the world…

… what I got?

These beautiful souls… they gave me the world.

A big beautiful world.

But ever since January?

The world has seemed a little smaller. We have been watching as the Corona virus has edged closer.. covering distances that look so far away on the map.

Edged closer to us in the USA..

… but scary for us… closer to my adopted exchange children scattered around the globe…

My current exchange student watched as it affected her country… the beautiful Thailand.

… we watched how it affected the countries on the other side of the world, while we continued to live life … trying to enjoy every moment…

As countries started to go into lockdown, we watched Italy where one of our girl’s family lives.

.. along with the UK where she was at school. Checking in when she was trying to get back home to Italy after the flights were getting cancelled.

At the same time watching Egypt… checking in with my sweet Egyptian girl when I hadn’t heard from her in a while.

.. and South Korea… Relieved that their numbers weren’t as severe, even being close to China…

.. and Turkey… talking with my girl there as she needed to leave her college and return to her hometown. To pray as she took a long bus ride with possible sick people….

… then as it got closer to our part of the world.. I added Brazil to the countries we watched…

… and Columbia… the daughter that just went home…

… And we watched Liberia where my sister was working…

… Not to mention ALL of the pieces of my heart that live in Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium…

We watched as this virus shut down each state in the US… one by one. As the sick count grew.. and the deaths started to rise…

…and I could go on…

I have family around the world now…

… and a love for people and places around the world…

… a love for food from around the world….

But this virus has taught me something else…

As I watched all of my daughters talk about being quarantined.. a few saying that they can’t even STEP outside. They can’t go to the store.. or work..

All of them saying they need to stay at home.

I can see so much clearer how similar we ALL are..

We all are a little worried about the virus…

…we are ALL worried about each other….

We ALL miss our family a little bit more when we can’t see each other….

…and….

Ha… and we are all very bored and can’t wait for it to be done.

In this world that I choose to live in?

It is so easy to see how we are all in this TOGETHER…

…together in love and spirit… even if we are separated by miles and oceans…

And even though my heart hurts a little bit more today… having the pieces of my heart divided all around this big beautiful world… I am so thankful for this world that I choose to live in.

Today as I pray for my family here in my house.. my family here in Michigan.. my family around the world…. I pray they stay healthy… but I also pray that they have joy and laughter in their lives while they are quarantined…

…. and a healthy dose of patience with the world… as we ALL are trying to figure out the next step…

.. a whole new world for all of us!!!

Love from my family to yours!!!

Empty chairs…

This theatre season, my cast worked through enormous obstacles to perform Les Miserables.

And then .. on opening night?

Covid-19 starting shutting down all assembling of groups.

So 10 weeks of hard work.. and the kids were only allowed to perform for their families. The cast was heartbroken… but they wiped their tears… and performed an awe-inspiring opening night.

I could NOT have been more proud.

For me?

This experience is a little surreal…

Surreal in the sense that everything was so different from where we were 2 weeks ago. 2 weeks ago, I was reminding the kids to hang up their costumes and to clean up their own messes.. and to turn in tee shirt money.

And today… I am JUST praying that each of my cast members stays safe and healthy..

And alive…

But it is also surreal for me in the sense… that ALL of my life I have been studying Plagues and epidemics .. and pandemics. The Black Death.. the Spanish flu (that started in The US)… siege sicknesses, the viruses that wiped out the Natives, etc..

Not so much for the illnesses or the deaths… because death and suffering saddens me…

…but how those illnesses.. and the fear… and the chaos affected the people. And how those effects changed the course of history.

How poor people could suddenly own land…

…How our children still sing “Ring around the rosies”.. to ward off evil spirits…

And here we are… smack in the middle of what WILL BECOME history. Someday, kids will be studying about the Covid-19 pandemic of 2019.. and wonder how the “population coped with the terror” and the isolation..

I wonder if the history books will tell how we had a shortage of toilet paper… and no shortage of the conspiracy theories?

Or will the future history books say that the “population” learned from the history books of the past? Will the history books state how we all chose to obey isolation and quarantined ourselves at home?

Will the history books say how we banded together to give each other hope for a future?

Because we WILL have a future.

Even the worst plagues… the survivors dusted off their hats.. picked up the pieces of their lives.. and made a future for themselves.

And little by little?

We learned from them. From the survivors. We learned to wash our hands. We learned to quarantine ourselves if we have been exposed. We learned not to panic.. and not to take the virus to the next town in our panic.

We HAVE so much knowledge at our fingertips THANKS to the records and observations kept of those pandemics in history.

Because we have learned from our history? We find ourselves in quarantine BEFORE it gets too bad. We find ourselves bored and creating funny memes about isolation “cabin fever”.. while we wait for the virus to run it’s course.

But … we will ALSO find ourselves with a better future.

A future that MAY hold graduations later in the summer. A future with delayed vacations.. delayed celebrations ..

A future with strange new school routines.

A future that has changed us all in small ways…

For me? I’m praying that my future has our cast performing Les Miserables when the crisis is over.

And I’m praying that when we hear Marius sing about empty chairs and empty tables… that there are no empty chairs in our community..

I’m praying there are no empty chairs in our cast…

And I’m definitely praying that we did our part enough.. that I won’t have ANY empty chairs in my family.

But even if we never hear our cast sing a song rejoicing in “one day more”… ?

I’m happy that our nation and our schools gave them their best chance at being able to sing another day.

Stay safe everyone! And God be with you!

The Story of our pages …

Life is what happens when you are busy making plans… or so it is told.

Spring time is often a busy time in our household.. and we live by plans…

We plan to do our jobs..

we plans to get our kids to their functions…

We schedule fun in… so we don’t forget to relax…

… and we try to schedule time in to visit family.

But each morning we wake up .. and we turn another page in our stories… … Some pages we get to write… and can be exciting…

…some pages are full of surprises…

… and not all of those surprises are happy ones…

While we were busy writing birthday parties into our pages.. and senior pictures … and book launches….

… life added illness to our pages…

… and sadness…

This week a beloved grandma took ill suddenly… and our family watched and waited to see if she would pull through…

… we turned each page, praying and hoping…

But with the waiting?

Her children and her grandchildren told fond memories of her… my husband recalling all the delicious foods she cooked over the years.

… and laughter…

My husband’s family is full of so much laughter…

Today.. a beautiful lady passed from this world and into the next… but she will still be alive in our memories… and she lives on the pages of our stories.

The page we are on.. today?

It’s a sad one…

…. but because Grandma lived?

….the story of our family’s life is full of pages of happiness, laughter…

Not to mention all that good food..

Thank you for every happy memory Grandma Great!! We loved every minute…

Thank you

This weekend we performed Grease at Maple Valley..

…and by “we”…  I REALLY mean..

“I wasn’t anywhere on stage at all.. nor did I play an instrument .. nor did I make sure a microphone was on.. nor did I make sure the lights were pointed at the right part of the stage. But I did HOLD back the curtain so it didn’t get caught in the Grease Lightning tires.”

So when everyone congratulated “ME” on a job well done? I feel like I’m a fraud for saying “thank you”.

You see?

I actually do a very small part of the magic you see on Maple Valley’s stage.

I have 2 other directors who help me. Miss Rachel directs the music .. but she doesn’t stop with her job description. She stays until the end and helps with blocking and characterization. She encourages these kids on and off the stage. I can’t imagine doing this job without her. Then our Mr. Rosin picks up the slack where we need it, helping kids learn music they miss in rehearsal and helping kids perfect their scenes near the end of production .. which frees me up to fix scene changes and costumes.

I had 2 student directors this season. Maddy and img_8288Emily. These 2 girls were workhorses. They kept us all organized and helped me come up with ideas and carry them out. I called them the “2 halves of my brain”.. and I appreciated all of their work. Emily took over the administrative side of my brain.. while still performing. And Maddy kept the backstage crew (and me) organized.

Our choreography was designed by a student, Kayli. She spent hours creating the choreo.. and hours teaching and reteaching the choreo. She spent extra time making sure it was a dance that would be fun for the kids to learn and perform. And it SHOWED!!

The performers!! Where do I start? This group of performers are talented, motivated .. and I encourage them to be responsible and take on leadership of their own roles.. and often give them other roles as well. I ask them to design their own costumes.. create characterization for the chorus roles.. and push them out of their comfort zone. And they OWN the stage and they Wow the audiences that come to see them.

The tech crew was led by a former graduate, Liam. I told them our needs and would guide them with levels.. and they organized everything else.

Our set crew volunteers on the weekends and late nights (and show weekend intermissions). Building and painting our set outside of rehearsal time. My poor husband guides a group of parents and students to create the set that we need.. often with poorly drawn sketches that I give him.. and the tight restrictions of a smaller school with a small door access. We had a dad design and build our Greased Lightning car!! And yet they do it with grace and help me keep the kids on a good budget. These sets give the performers a high class set on a small school budget.. and they don’t get enough credit.

The backstage crew often comes in at the end when the set is finally complete.. and has to learn the show (and its cues) in a short time. They fight the tight constraints of a small stage, change elaborate scenes in a small amount of time.. and patiently listen when I say we need to do it faster. These kids are in the back in black.. and are never in the spotlight. But they help the performers to shine .. The backstage crew is as important to me as any of the performers are!

The parent extraordinaires… so many of them. Coming in day after day to alter 30 prom dresses. Searching totes for the perfect costume for each performer. Moms and friends who go to every Goodwill in a 50 mile radius looking for pants in a very specific size and style.. or the prop I can’t seem to find. Moms who create 7 felt poodles for poodle skirts, because I think it would add a nice touch. Parents who come up with ways to print giant posters and fake magazine covers.. and others who contact the newspapers to get the show publicity. Moms and sisters who take pictures to capture the memories. Moms who take time from their busy schedules to make sure we have posters and tickets.. and a thriving concession stand… and programs that not only look good but have staples too. The ticket sellers, the potluck organizers, the bottle cap searchers, the snack providers, the clean up crew.. I could list every single thing these amazing people do.. but it would take forever.

Our orchestra pit are volunteers who take time out of their busy schedule to make our stage come alive with the magic of a live orchestra. This adds so much energy to our productions. They Bless us so much!!

And the makeup and hair crew.. making everyone look beautiful and era appropriate!!!

And me?

All I did was keep these groups organized and on a schedule. Encouraged them to keep their grades up.. and their chins up.

By the time production weekend comes along? They don’t need me at all. They own this stage.. they own this auditorium..

The beauty of Grease belongs to this whole group.. mostly Maple Valley students.. with some beautiful adults sprinkled in for support.

As for me? I’m in the back… holding back a curtain. My only job left? Being available for support if they need it.

So if you tell me “good job”…

…and I say “thank you”..

What I REALLY mean is.. “thank you on behalf of All of us directors, the talented actors, the backstage crew, the tech crew, the parents, the supporters… etc.” #theatrelife

No…

Growing up, we had a dishwasher.

For two girls who did the dishes for a family of nine? It was so cool..

…except …

Except for when my mom took it away.

Now.. I don’t remember the Reason why she took it away… exactly.. because, as is typical for young kids…?

I only remember the punishment.

And our punishment was to hand-wash dishes… until she was satisfied that we knew how.

We asked my mom to change her mind and let us use the dishwasher again..

..and she said “no.”

I remember promising to make sure every dish was clean before it got put away..

.. she smiled and said she knew I would .. because I would be hand-washing those dishes.

… the answer was still “no.”

So we hand-washed those dishes.

.. every day…

.. for … forever…

Then one Saturday? My mom left to go grocery shopping.. and I remember filling the dishwasher full of dirty dishes… and standing there impatiently willing it to run faster…

.. then as soon as it was finished running its cycle?

I hand dried all the dishes.. washing any that didn’t come clean.. drying out the dishwasher thoroughly… and even fanning it with a towel to cool it off..

When I was done? I was exhausted…

NOW?

Now, I know it would have been easier to just hand wash those dishes.

Sometimes, I think I haven’t learned that lesson still… That young girl showed me an important message..

…and I still don’t listen to what she is telling me.

Every day I pray .. I pray for my kids… I pray for their health.. I pray for their life… I pray for the plans they want or the plans we think will be good for them…

Basically, I am asking for God to give me the thing that we want on Earth.. if it’s according to His will…

Having a son with special abilities?

Most of the times, these aren’t selfish things..

Healing from one of my son’s surgeries, answers to autism puzzles… successful days at school…

.. an easy day every once in awhile…

… and similar prayers for my daughter… health and happiness .. and a little success on stage..

…but sometimes?

Sometimes, God says “no.”

Most of the time I accept that .. but occasionally I ask again.. wondering if I promise to be extra good.. if that will change the Almighty’s mind…

When the answer is still “no?”

Then I just keep on going down the path set before me… no matter how hard it is…

But I admit…

.. sometimes on a Saturday morning? I try to make “my plans” work and do it my way. I load that “dishwasher” full of good intentions and hard work.. and wait impatiently to see if it will finish working… before God returns and sees that I ignored His answers…

… but at the end of the day?

It’s exhausting!

.. and it would have been easier to hand-wash those dishes.

Today, I was standing in Barnes & Nobles talking about my books .. and I realized that I incorporated that lesson in my storylines …

.. I show Emma praying for the easy way out… praying to make everyone happy even if it isn’t what she wants… praying for loved ones to come home without the answers they need…

… and then praying for the strength to handle all the extra work and stress she causes herself…

.. I can write it into the pages for Emma … but I still struggle to write that lesson into the pages of my life..

Instead of doing the things God has laid before me.. in a slow patient fashion.. I continue wanting to do my things .. my way…

I guess I can learn a lot from 9 year old me…

What about you? What do you do when the answer is “no?”